Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Warcraft - The role-playing game

Hello to everyone who reads this. I've recently gained an interest in writing reviews, so I decided to make a blog. The first few reviews are going to be expansions and rewrites of reviews I did on MMO-champion. These reviews are going to focus on the warcraft RPG, though I have plans to also write about other franchises.

Warcraft - The role-playing game
A trend I have been noticing lately in the more lore-oriented parts of WoW fandom is the growing reverence regarding the warcraft RPG. Whenever any change is made, I see posts decrying the new stuff as inferior to the detailed setting of the RPG books. So I decided to take a gander at this book, and see if it is all its cracked up to be.

Chapter one: A world at war
The book starts, rather sensibly, with the background story of the franchise. To fans of the franchise it should be pretty familiar, and there is little to nothing that it adds to the story. However, there is a bit of an issue here that will become far, far more annoying later in this book: When is the RPG supposed to take place? The history section mentions all of the events from the original Warcraft III, but does not mention those of the The Frozen Throne (TFT) expansion (which had come out just before this book). However, it does mention the events from the bonus missions of TFT. It could be said that the bonus missions take place during or before the expansion campaign, but the RPG explicitly takes place a year after warcraft III, while TFT starts a month after Warcraft III.

Chapter two: Heroes
Chapter two gives the rules to make your character. It provides a list of races, core classes, prestige classes and feats. Since not all of you are RPG players, a brief explanation. In the d20 system, your character consists of multiple aspects, most notably the race, class and feats. Races are simply picked from the list. Obviously, you get only one race, though there are also systems in place for hybrids. You also get a class. However, unlike most RPGs, you can actually have more than one class. Each level your character gains can be put into any class your character has access to. Core classes are classes that are easy to take, usable in most situations and with few prerequisites. Prestige classes are more specialized, representing a later career specialization (like becoming a dragonslayer rather than just a warrior) and usually have some requirements.

While the book uses the d20 system, it should be noted that they aren't actually included in this book. As with most d20 books, it assumes the player is into dungeons and dragons, where the system originates.

Races
Human: Right from the first racial entry, you start suspecting that this book might not be very good with warcraft lore, as the very first sentence claims that humans are amongst the youngest races on Azeroth (for the record, at least four out of the nine playable races included in this book came into existence after the humans). There are also a ton of minor errors, like claiming that the three great wars were fought against demon hordes, which is only true for the first one.

Dwarf, ironforge: The very first sentence of this paragraph is a goldmine of stupidity as well, with the claim that the dwarves in this book are just like the ones from dungeons and dragons, who are your basic generic fantasy dwarves. This is true, but only if you ignore the fact that warcraft dwarves use airplanes, shotguns and tanks, have a racial obsession with archeology and were actually portrayed as nice and outgoing, rather than stoic, before this book. In another note of stupidity, dwarves get the same abilities as the ones from dungeons and dragons. The ability to turn into stone gets handwaved by the dwarves discovering something new about their heritage, but the bonus damage against giants doesn't get any explanation at all. In D&D, the damage is explained by dwarves living near giants and having developed special fighting techniques. In warcraft, giants live in the oceans and in forest groves on the other side of the world, far away from any dwarven city.

Elf, high: Any fan of warcraft is probably a bit surprised at the inclusion of high elves in this game. For those of you who don't know, the high elves, during the TFT campaign, renamed themselves as blood elves, in remembrance of their fallen people. Betrayed by a human grand marshal, the race was forced to flee to outland, another planet, in order to survive. While those events did take place in the Eastern Kingdoms, near the human homelands, and the RPG takes place in Kalimdor, at the other end of the globe, the dwarven section made clear that there had been contact between the two continents. So why exactly are the high elves still calling themselves high elves? Why are they still following orders from a human that served the same nation that tried to kill their people? Never explained!

Even ignoring that, the description of the high elves is no better, as they have now all become paranoid racist douchebags. The night elves now kill the high elves on sight because of their use of arcane magic, despite warcraft III showing us that the relation between the two races had actually become really good.

Elf, night: Night elves have suddenly joined the alliance for no apparent reason. It could have worked with the events from warcraft III, as the night elves and blood elves were obviously getting over their old wounds in that game, but in the RPG, the night elves kill any high elf seen in their territory and have an intense hatred for all users of arcane magic. Do I even need to mention that the leader of the alliance is one of the most powerful users of arcane magic left alive on the planet?

Goblins: Actually a very decent entry, with little to comment on.

Half-elf: Ever heard of the term "Can't argue with elves"? It's a term used by the site TVtropes, which analyses common themes in fiction, also known as tropes. The trope "Can't argue with elves" refers to a common fantasy situation where elves (or any other single race) are always morally superior, who always know what's best for everyone, are physically superior, have better magic and are also ├╝ber-hot.
However, many writers realized that a perfect race isn't very interesting and decided to add some negatives. However, some writers don't want their perfect little race to have any flaw. Instead, they make the race discriminated against, with humans not being able to just admit that the elves are in every way superior to them. The half elves from the RPG are pretty much this, except taken to a ridiculous extreme. Instead of merely being prejudiced against, mobs of villagers try to kill half-elf babies out of jealousy. What's makes the situation particularly weird is that, in warcraft, elves and humans usually get along just fine, with the human kingdom of Dalaran having a notably large population of elves. Yet the children of these two races are intensely hated.
Which is still believable. There is presedence in real life for people hating those of mixed race more than those that who are just another race. What compounds the matter, however, is the presence of another hybrid race in the rpg: Half-orcs. Despite the half-orcs being born from humans and orcs, long-time enemies of one another, half-orcs are still mostly accepted in society. Yet we have to believe that half-elves are treated far worse?
Before you make angry comments, let me clarify myself. Racism is a terrible problem, which is still very much alive in today's society. But while racism is not logical in and of itself, there is a bit of logic behind it. If you hate a race, you either have a specific reason, or you just hate all races that are not your own. However, the only explanation we are ever given that this specific race is so hated is jealousy. But that explanation doesn't work since humans and elves do actually get along pretty decently.
And why the hell do we have half-elves as a playable race anyway? I can't recall a single half-elf character ever getting mentioned in the previous games. Yet somehow they get a spot in the main rules, while the much more important ogres, trolls, wildhammer dwarves and gnomes have to wait for the supplements.

Half-orc: Half human, half orc. Not fully accepted by either, but able to proof themselves by working really hard. Unlike the half-elves, there is actually a precedent for half-orc characters in the form of the orc assassin Garona.

Orc: The description is actually pretty decent. One problem however is the image that accompanies their section, which looks nothing like an orc.

Edit: I have actually found where this picture is from. It's the concept art for the orcish warlord, a unit from the warcraft III Alpha that never made it into the final build (there's quite a few of those). The screenshots I've seen of the in-game unit look like a normal orc, so I have no idea what was up with that piece of concept art.

Tauren: They're xenophobes now. Which perfectly explains why they befriended the orcs within ten seconds of meeting them. No wait, it doesn't.

That makes for 2 races that can join either faction (half-orcs and goblins), 2 horde races (orcs and tauren) and a grand whopping total of 5 alliance races (dwarves, high elves, night elves, half-elf and human). What's really amazing about that statistic is that they left out two fairly important horde races (ogres, trolls), yet still included the half-elves.

Core Classes
The RPG only keeps 5 classes from dungeons and dragons: the barbarian, who specializes in physical strength, the fighter, who specializes in weapons, the rogue, who specializes in stealth and special skills, the wizard, who learns magic through training, and the sorcerer, who has ancestry that allows him to naturally cast the same spells as wizards. In addition to this, they also introduce three new classes.

Healer: Pretty much the same thing as the cleric from dungeons and dragons, except with a dumb name. The healer, while good at healing, can do a lot more than just that, making the name rather non-fitting. Not to mention that the lore behind it is really shoddy. In the RPG, players start out as a healer, and can only later take the druid, priest or shaman prestige classes. But in the actual lore, characters start their careers as priests, druids or shaman, with no mention of healers to be found. So this class really shouldn't exist and be replaced by the priest, druid and shaman core classes.

Scout: Replaces the ranger from dungeons and dragons. It no longer has any casting abilities or an animal companion, but gains a lot more skills to survive the wilds for long periods of time.

Tinker: A truly new class, which is actually pretty cool. It specializes in mechanics and the construction of weird devices.

However, before we move on to prestige classes, lets take a minute to talk about the inclusion of sorcerers, which really baffles me. In dungeons and dragons, the distinction between sorcerers and wizards makes sense. After all, that game is supposed to fit into any generic fantasy setting, which often have unexplained magical powers. However, in the warcraft backstory, its made quite clear that arcane magic is something you actually have to study. So the sorcerer class doesn't fit into the setting at all. What compounds the matter is that they keep referring to Jaina Proudmoore (leader of the alliance on Kalimdor) as a sorceress, despite the fact that we saw her studying under a mage back in warcraft III

Prestige Classes
The RPG keeps only 2 prestige classes from dungeons and dragons: the archmage and the duelist. What's really annoying is that the book doesn't actually say it keeps those two classes, instead listing the classes it didn't keep, forcing me to cross-check. The archmage and the duelist are fine classes to keep though. It also introduces a bunch of new prestige classes.

Beastmaster: Based on Rexxar from the TFT bonus missions, the beastmaster specializes, in, you guessed it, beasts. He gets an animal companion and the ability to talk with beasts, which fits with the class seen in warcraft 3. However, he also somehow gets the ability to grow claws and horns, infuse his companion with magic and see through his eyes. Beastmasters are never said to follow a certain religion or practice arcane magic, so I wonder where the hell the magic powers come from.

Druid of the wild: Unlike the druids of the claw and talon in warcraft III, the druid of the wild does not limit himself to a single totem animal. The druid should really have been a core class, with druids of the talon and claw as prestige classes.

Elven Ranger/sentinel: Pretty much the ranger core class from dungeons and dragons with a bow specialization. Fits the setting. Alliance-only.

Gladiator(alliance)/Blademaster(horde): The naming of this class just confuses me, as it implies that blademasters are just the horde version of gladiators. However, anyone who plays warcraft III knows that that is complete and utter baloney. Gladiators are showy, fighting to amuse the public. Blademasters are stealthy, capable of becoming invisible. Gladiators are just guys you put in an arena. Blademasters have magical abilties. So how exactly do you merge those two concepts? I can't imagine a gladiatorial match where both contestants are invisible to be any fun. Plus, don't we already have a class based around duels, called the duelist? The gladiator part of this class is just completely unnecessary.

Horde assassin: They're horde assassins. The name pretty much describes their backstory. However, the horde assassins completely copy all the abilities from the assassin prestige class from dungeons and dragons, which includes arcane spellcasting, something the orcish horde is explicitly not very good at.

Hunter: Pretty much the ranger core class from dungeons and dragons with a melee specialization. Fits the setting. However, like the gladiator and the beastmaster, they have magical powers with no explanation where they come from.

Infiltrator: An alliance-only class who specializes in manipulation and spying. Unlike the horde assassin, the infiltrator operates mostly within human lands, to try and keep the factions of Theramore from tearing each other's throats out. The lore behind it is fine, but the abilities are a bit weird. Especially the connections ability. Basically, it means that you can roll to see if one of your connections is in the area. However, some of the connections you can roll for are a bit highly placed. Like Thrall. Silly doesn't even begin to describe some of the results you can get with this, since it can be used in any inhabited location and you choose the contact to roll for. So you could just walk into Theramore prison and roll for Thrall. BAM, leader of the horde is now imprisoned. Or, if you want some good blackmail material, just go to a black market and roll for Jaina. The possibilities for abusing this mechanic are endlessly hilarious.

Knight(human, high elf)/huntress(night elf)/raider(orc): A warrior who fights on the back of an animal. Fits lore okay.

Paladin warrior: Not sure why they added warrior to the class name, but hey. It's pretty much the paladin core class from dungeons and dragons, but that fits fine in the setting. Alliance-only.

Priest: Followers of the holy light or Elune. Fits lore pretty well, but should have been a core class. Alliance-only.

Shaman: People who communicate with the spirit world. Surprisingly enough, the class is not horde-only. Fits lore pretty well, but should have been a core class.

Warlock: Evil mage who specializes in summoning demons and offensive spells. Fits the setting.

That makes for 7 classes available to both factions(beastmaster, druid of the wild, gladiator/blademaster, hunter, knight/huntress/raider, shaman and warlock), 4 classes that are alliance-only (elven ranger, infiltrator, paladin warrior and priest) and only 1 class that is horde-only (horde infiltrator). Coupled with the races section, I think you might be starting to notice a pattern.

This chapter also includes new uses for skills and list of feats (specially trained abilities). They are basically lists with little to no lore information and are pretty okay.

Chapter three: Adventuring
This chapter offers more lengthy explanations for several other aspects of your character, namely affiliation, faith and equipment.

Affiliation
The affiliation starts out by mentioning that, while most members of a race are usually loyal to a single faction, that does not mean a player should be. Which is good, as it opens up a lot of possibilities. Wanna be a human mercenary that works for the warchief? Wanna be a tauren that doesn't trust the orcs? All is possible. Descriptions for both factions are also given. The alliance is strong, but fractured. It has weak leadership, the faction's can't agree on anything, and a large portion is racist. The horde is smaller, but more unified, led by the living legends Thrall and Cairne Bloodhoof. Players of World of Warcraft should get a giggle out of that, as the situation in that game is completely reversed, with a strong, unified alliance and a fractured, racist horde.

Faith
Archeology is a religion now. No, really. Apparently the dwarves no longer believe in the holy light because they discovered they were created by the titans. Not that the philosophy of the holy light contradicts that in even the slightest way. Not that the dwarves started praying to the titans either. It's just a religion. Without any beliefs. You figure out how that works.
The other religions described in here are a lot better though. We finally get a new explanation for the holy light, which was basically christianity in Warcraft I and II, but was retconned in Warcraft III. Now, its the spiritual background radiation of the universe. All the deities, elements, spirits and gods form a network of power that spans the planet, and the holy light is a philosophy to get in tune with that power. It's actually pretty clever. The other listed religions are shamanism, demon worship and worship of the lich king (lord of the undead).

Equipment
Pretty much just a list of items and material. It's all decent and there is some real fun mechanical stuff in there. Army knives, parasol parachutes, steam-powered jackhammers and pulley guns. It's a pretty good chapter. It even includes rules for making your own, unique, inventions. One comment I do have is that only rules for making arcane magical items are included, despite the existence of divine magical items in warcraft III.

Chapter fo... Wait!
Before we move on to the next chapter, I must address another subject; Editors. Most published books have them. It is their job to read through the entire work carefully, looking for errors. As such, I have to say that the editing in this book is TERRIBLE. Seriously. I only point out some of the larger or more annoying mistakes, as otherwise we would be here for hours, but every single chapter has dozens of errors that anyone should have spotted. Goblins being described as not using guns, despite getting bonuses on gun use in their race description. Multiple mentions of orc chieftains, despite their description saying orcs no longer have them. Even the map has errors, with durotar being misplaced. Now, the occasional mistake I wouldn't mind. But when every other sentence has such an error, I do get annoyed. Why do I bring it up now? Because the next chapter is terrible. I will only point out the largest of errors, but there are a few hundred more.

Chapter four: magic
This chapter is horrid. The background research is terrible. The morality is absurd. It utterly sucks.

Let's first take a look at how magic worked back in the days of Warcraft I, II and III:
Arcane magic, the magic used by wizards and sorcerers, has always been a bit corruptive in the warcraft universe. If not properly used, it can attract demons, or the user can get addicted to its power, making him feel bad when he has no access to magic. However, most of the modern practitioners are actually rather responsible at their use of arcane magic, and the high elves and the mages of the Kirin Tor have done much to safeguard the world.

Divine magic, the magic used by priests, druids and shaman, is drawn from other beings. It has no real inherent morality, instead depending on the nature of the deity that you draw power from.

However, someone told the writers of the RPG that subtlety is for chumps, and their portrayal here is quite different. Arcane magic is the magic of demons, a corrupting blight that has come from misusing the great gifts of the titans. It is the source of everything that has ever gone wrong in the world. Every user of arcane magic has his mind twisted and his body ravaged, becoming a hollow, nasty shell of his former self. Divine magic on the other hand is the magic of purity and humility. All the people who use divine magic are noble, upright beings with nothing in mind but the protection of the innocent.

I can't even begin to cover every single error in this chapter. Instead, I'll just give you the biggest two.
  • The arcane magic chapter blames the entirety of the third war on the fact that the elves arrogantly taught the humans how to use arcane magic. The third war, for those that never played warcraft III, was not started by human mages. It was started by a demon called Kil'jaeden, who turned the orc warlock Ner'zhul into the lich king, and planted him at the north pole of Azeroth. From there, the lich king started raising an army of the dead. Sure, he did use a number of rogue mages from Dalaran, but I sincerely doubt he couldn't have elves instead.
  • The divine magic chapter claims that the gods of Azeroth never directly interfere with the world, and no one is even sure whether they exist or not. This statement is utterly baffling. At this point in canon, there are four known groups of gods: the ancient guardians, the five dragonflights, the old gods and titans. Both the ancient guardians and the five dragonflights fought during the war of the ancients alongside the night elves, many of whom are still alive to this day. In addition, the high elves and the human nation of Dalaran had frequent encounters with the dragonflights. In addition, this very book revealed that the dwarves had actually found physical evidence of the Titans.
The chapter also includes a list of spells. For some reason, it also includes spells for the necromancer prestige class, which, as you can see above, is not included in this book. So why would they include it here?

Chapter five: The world of warcraft
This chapter is dedicated to the world of azeroth, mostly describing the various regions of the continent of Kalimdor, as well as describing the horde and the alliance. Again. Though with even more detail this time. I don't get why the affiliation paragraph was included in a previous chapter if the full explanation is gonna be given here again. Again, something an editor should have spotted.

The alliance chapter is really the only noteworthy description. As stated before, the alliance is a highly fractured. While some of it is expected, as the alliance contains so many cultures that now have to live in a single small area (which reminds me, there are no mentions of any culture clashes between any of the seven human kingdoms anywhere in this book), some of the reasons are just contrived. For example, Jaina has forbidden people of the alliance to live outside of Theramore. Despite there being plenty of unclaimed lands on Kalimdor. For another example, dwarves are not represented in the government at all. For no reason other than to create tension.

The descriptions of the areas are pretty decent, and should be old hat for anyone who played world of warcraft, and completely uninteresting for anyone else. There are however two points of note. One: the dwarves live outside of Theramore. Despite the fact that Jaina said the alliance could only live on theramore isle (which is admittedly a lot bigger in the RPG), there are actually two large dwarven cities, one in the barrens and one in ashenvale. Yet this contradiction is never even addressed.
Two: The night elves and where they are supposed to live. Winterspring, Hyjal, Ashenvale and Azshara all have the description that, while they are important to the night elves, they don't in fact live in those areas. Darkshore and Felwood may have been populated, but those zones were ravaged during the third war. And in Moonglade, it is mentioned that the night elves have no major towns in the area except their capital of nighthaven. Does this mean that the entirety of the night elf race, described in this book as savage, lives in a single massive city?

Also, in a unique complaint, I actually have to object to the font size used for the maps. It is completely inconsistent. Silithus, Feralas, Barrens, Mulgore, Darkshore and Durotar are all written in a large font, while the zones mount hyjal, ashenvale, stonetalon, thousand needles, dustwallow marsh and tanaris are all written in smaller letters. In addition, the echo isles and theramore isle also get the large font, despite only being described as sub-zones in the book.

Chapter six: Campaigning
This chapter consists of tips for game masters. It's mostly just a few short adventure hooks, some general descriptors for how quests should feel and a few quick hints for handling situations that can occur in the warcraft RPG that can't in dungeons and dragons. It's pretty decent (though still filled with dozens of minor errors), but not all that suitable for a lengthier review.

See you next time, when we take a look at manual of monsters.

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