Monday, 9 April 2012

Warcraft - Shadows&Light

Now, we tackle the final book in the warcraft RPG; Shadows&Light. I'm skipping the usual introduction for now, in order to talk about the title and the cover.

Those of you with a bit of knowledge about warcraft lore would probably guess that the book is about divine magic, with the light of the holy light and the shadow of the burning legion and the scourge referenced in the title, while the cover portrays the third major religion; the night elf worship of ancient guardians. That's incorrect!. Well, a few others of you may think, maybe its about the elves? The shadow representing the night elves and the light representing the high elves and blood elves. You're also wrong. So, what is this book about? Epic level (over level 20) adventuring. You go figure out how that ties to Malfurion being thought druidism.

So, epic-level adventuring. For the people here that don't play RPG games; The normal rules of 3rd edition dungeons & dragons (the ones used here and my personal favorite) only go up to level 20. At this level, the players have reached the apex of mortal power. If they continue adventuring, they will face things that no mortal ever could. They will travel amongst the stars/different planes and battle the gods themselves.

Epic-level enemies were included back in manual of monsters, giving statistics for most of the major villains on Azeroth. This book expands on those rules, also giving statistics for the various heroes, gods and everything in between. Let's not wait any longer.

Chapter one: Epic Warcraft
This book expands upon the core classes that are exclusive to warcraft. the healer, the runemaster, the scout and the tinker, as well as giving the epic levels for the various prestige classes.

Epic core classes
Epic class levels provided less additional benefit than normal class levels, as you've mastered roughly everything that your class has to offer at level 20. Instead, they offer small benefits, like bonus feats, and improvements on existing class abilities.
Epic healer: Still a dumb name, considering the epic healer can most likely destroy entire cities at this point. Epic healers only get bonus feats, which include all the item crafting feats (finally giving us some divine magic items).

Epic runemaster: Mostly gains melee bonus feats (focusing more on the monk part of the class), as well as stronger senses and continuing to slowly expand his knowledge of runes.

Epic scout: Becomes a silly name at epic levels, considering the scout is unlikely to do any actual scouting at this point. The epic scout becomes better at healing and detecting traps, as well as getting bonus feats focusing on movement or battling casters.

Epic tinker: Has a really tiny bonus feat list, with only 6 feats on it. Also gets better at scavenging equipment.

Epic prestige classes
Only includes rules for 6 prestige classes, 5 from the core rules and 1 from the alliance&horde compendium. There are 12 prestige classes in the core rules alone, with another 8 in alliance&horde compendium, 8 in magic&mayhem and 4 in lands of conflict. While I'm not arguing that every class needs epic levels, the choices made are a bit weird. Why include the marksman, but not the shaman? Why isn't there a single technological epic prestige class? The description of the prestige classes themselves is fine, and there is little I could comment on, so lets move on.

Epic feats
The feats themselves are decent, bringing a few new feats, as well as adding a lot of improved versions of old feats. It also includes a few feats for prestige classes that didn't get a description in the previous section, so its good to see them get some love as well.

Chapter two: Legends
I haven't really mentioned any of the short stories included in the various books thusfar. Every chapter starts with a small story. Most stories are uninteresting, confusing or just okay. However, the one included here is fairly amusing. Its about an orc visiting the valley of heroes, a bridge in stormwind where great heroes of the alliance have statues. He argues with the stormwind guard about who else should get a statue, mentioning several horde heroes and Jaina Proudmoore. When it is revealed that there only is room for one more statue, the guards argue whether it should be Anduin Lothar or Uther the Lightbringer, with the orc saying it should be Orgrim Doomhammer, causing a fight. It's well written and has some impact on the world, with World of Warcraft revealing the actual outcome, with Anduin Lothar getting a statue.

The chapter itself gives statistics for a large amount of the important characters of azeroth, including dead ones. The only ones that I'm missing from the list are Brann Bronzebeard and Rexxar. The chapter itself is well-written, with only a few small errors, like Arthas killing Muradin before taking frostmourne and forgetting to mention Archimonde is dead. I especially like Jaina Proudmoore's description, doing justice to my favorite character from Warcraft III. The illustrations in this chapter are made by a very large group of artists, with no artist doing more than 3 pictures, resulting in a very wide range of styles and quality. I do have to object to the portrayal of females in this book, not because of gender equality issues, but just because their pictures don't fit:

Maiev has become impossibly thin with her arms over-proportioned. Also, what the hell is going on with her hair?
Tyrande somehow wears even smaller clothing than in Warcraft III and looks like she is 16 years old.
Alleria has good proportions, but she looks much more like a night elf than a high elf due to the shading of her skin and the tattoos under her eyes. Also, that pose is terrible for shooting arrows, even if you were actually looking the right way and had your eyes open.

Chapter three: Eternals
What's this? The RPG writers noticing the warcraft universe does not have the same kind of gods as other fantasy universes? Astounding! This chapter gives an overview of the various godlike beings of the warcraft universe.

Ancient guardians
It adds a lot of depth to each of the Ancient guardians. The illustrations of the chapter are pretty good, though I can only call Azshara's porno-riffic (don't think I should post it here). I especially like the description of Aviana, messenger of the gods who was granted so much power by individual eternals that she eventually became their equal. The only description I have an issue with is Elune, which states that high elven magic made the human nations crumble into chaos right before the first war. And, on the more amusing side of things, Ursoc apparently made alewells, which I can only guess are moonwells filled with ale. The dwarves would love that guy.

Dragon aspects
The dragon aspects get great descriptions and a great expansion upon their backstory. The images are good, but don't always fit the images, like Malygos, who is described as looking long and serpentine (like an eastern dragon), but just looks like a normal dragon in the picture. The descriptions sometimes contradict the manual of monsters descriptions, but I'd call them improvements in all cases.

The elemental lords
Great descriptions, though I am happy they changed the design for al'akir later on. Tornado-dude looks rather silly.

The titans
The first real explanation of the titans in warcraft lore and a great first outing. Statistics are given for the two races of titan and their most prominent member. The chapter reveals several odd things about the history of Azeroth. The demons apparently attacked the world when it first formed, and the dragonflights were empowered to defend against them. Sargeras ultimate goal is actually azeroth itself, trying to absorb the limitless energy of the well of eternity. Which makes me scratch my head. The well of eternity, in the RPG, is the source of all arcane magic on Azeroth. However, demons, which are not from azeroth, mainly use arcane magic as well, meaning that there must be other wells of eternity. So why would Sargeras care so much about absorbing just another well?

Chapter four: Cosmology
This chapter describes the cosmology of the warcraft universe, which planes of existence exist, and how they relate to one another, as well as giving us the history of their study. This chapter is only a few pages long, and should have been combined with the next chapter, since they're about the exact same subject.

Chapter five: The planes
Meet the planes! The space beyond Azeroth.

The elemental realm: Very different from the one seen in WoW, with the four elements forming sort of their own planet. The fire realm is at the bottom of the world, Water and earth cover the surface and the air realm makes up the top. It was actually made by the titans back when they first shaped Azeroth to imprison the elementals. The main issue I have here is that there really is nothing to link the elemental realm to shamanism, which invokes the elemental powers. The realms also use the monster lists from dungeons and dragons, which doesn't always work as well, especially for the wish-granting djinni.

The emerald dream: The realm of the dreaming druids, the primal world. It's pretty much what you'd expect, though the writer apparently thought that civilization is responsible for fights between animals, as all they do is 'enjoy their freedom' (and yes, predators are confirmed as living in the emerald dream).

Outland: Finally, a look at outland in the RPG. The number of blood elves is apparently really low, as they aren't represented at all in the random encounter charts, while the draenei, who are also close to extinction, are. There are apparently still active portals on outland, which makes me wonder why Kil'jaeden hasn't sent a few thousand doomguard to take care of Illidan.

Twisting Nether: The realm that separates realms. Its population is again made up from dungeons and dragons monsters. It works a bit better than for the elemental realm, but the force dragons and prismatic dragons really shouldn't be on the list (why not just use nether dragons instead?). Also, the dreadlords apparently lease their infernals to others. And there are fel stalkers with buzz-saws attached to their head. This chapter gets a bit silly.

Appendix one: Spells and Magic items
The new spells are mostly focused on magic for powerful demons. The new items are the ones used by the various gods and heroes of azeroth. However, the item descriptions don't actually mention who owns the items, meaning you have to cross-reference everything.

The last outing of the RPG is definitely the strongest. It provides plenty of new lore, contains far fewer minor errors than the previous books and there is little more content that I could have expected from it. However, the illustrations are occasionally low quality and the descriptions of the realms can get kind of stupid. Still, it's a solid 7,5.

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