Sunday, 1 April 2012

Warcraft – Lands of Conflict

Warcraft – Lands of Conflict
And we finally get to the most famous of the books; Lands of Conflict. This book details the travels of Brann Bronzebeard and his assessment of the eastern kingdoms, hoping to convince Jaina and Thrall to take it back from the scourge. Writing it from the perspective of a character is a good idea, and unlike magic & mayhem, they actually act on it. Everything is written from the perspective of Brann, with the exception of the sidenotes, which give statistics, rules and hints for players.

Chapter one – History & Culture
The history chapter gives us the history of warcraft. Unlike the core rules, however, this book gives us a few new details, and it is written from a completely different perspective, with little knowledge about the events on Kalimdor. Because it's written from the perspective of a dwarf, it gives us a nice look at their history, as well as the history of their close allies, the humans. It also gives us information on how to play campaigns in earlier eras of warcraft history.

Several of the odder elements of the RPG, like the conflicts with the elves or the bad view everyone has of arcane magic are finally explained in a satisfactory manner, without actually making either seem evil on its own. Surprisingly, it skips entirely over the first two wars between orcs and humans, as it couldn't really bring anything new.

The second part of the chapter focuses on culture. Bartering and coinage (and how Brann paid for his travels through the ruined remains of lordaeron with a bag of fish hooks, whetstones and candles), languages, settlements and goblin trading posts.

Finally, it gives us a more detailed timeline. The only complaints I have about this chapter are in this part. It restates the fact that arcane magic was an accident, and, for some odd reason, there is 2900 years between the founding of Quel'thalas and the construction of the sunwell. There is again a bit of weird history regarding The Frozen Throne, with the order of events being completely garbled and the blood elves joining for magic rather than being saved from genocide. Can the writers really not play through the campaign at least once?

Chapter two – Azeroth
This chapter covers the lands of Azeroth (the subcontinent, not the planet). Unlike Kalimdor, the horde and the alliance are still at odds in these lands.

The blasted lands – The blasted lands were the place where the orcish horde first entered Azeroth. Now, it is populated by the brutish dreadmaul ogres, demons and draenei refugees. The only thing keeping these creatures from spreading is the small alliance fortress of nethergarde, populated primarily by mages. The dark portal has apparently been recently rebuilt, but I have no idea how, by who, or why the mages and paladins that guard it haven't started tearing it down yet.

The burning steppes – Lands destroyed by the war of the three hammers, it is the largest outpost of the old horde, with a small population of orcs still waging war against stormwind. This is also the first place where the issue of population really props up. This book gives population counts for each region and every village, and frankly, the numbers that are given are utterly silly. Blackrock deeps, the capital of the dark iron dwarves, has a listed population of only 300, while blackrock spire has a population of only 450.

Deadwind pass – Basically, the place is grey and it sucks to live in. It was where Medivh used to live. There is also apparently a population of nomadic humans who refuse to acknowledge the alliance or ask for help agains the ogres that populate the region. Hell, the resources of the region are listed as death and terror.

Duskwood – This region has a lot of trouble with the undead, which surprises me a bit. The listed population of undead is only 250, with 1000 ogres and 3750 alliance folk in the region. While 250 undead is indeed dangerous, it stretches disbelief for this small number to terrorize and corrupt an entire region. Also, I wonder how the undead got here. They are explicitly scourge undead, but the scourge started in northrend and doesn't seem to have spread beyond the continent of Lordaeron. Indeed, they cannot be found in any of the other areas of azeroth.

Elwynn forest – Why the hell are there 300 wildhammer dwarves living here? A population of 10000 alliance folk is starting to stretch the limits of my disbelief a bit. The kingdom of stormwind was sacked during the second war only 25 years ago. Yeah, they could have done some rebuilding since then, but its a bit weird for such a large population to live here again. With the population of duskwood and the blasted lands, thats almost 15000 humans, and an earlier text implied a large amount of humans in westfall as well.

Redridge mountains – Again, 120 wildhammer dwarves living here. Weren't those guys supposed to be solitary? Redridge has a bit more believable population, with 1800 alliance folk living there. It also becomes apparent here that the population list is very much incomplete. Apparently, the region has a lot of trouble with gnolls, but they aren't even listed in the given population.

Stormwind – I... I think I need new glasses. Does this book list the population as 200,000? That's... That's utterly ridiculous. There's also a hilariously large number of 2000 night elves living here, despite the fact that these guys do no see themselves as allies of Jaina (and thus the night elves). The rest of the subcontinent only has a listed population of 44,000. The rest of the eastern kingdoms only has a listed population of 275,000, and that's counting the undead. Also, the city map uses the map of World of Warcraft. Without scaling any part. Meaning that the royal quarters take up one-sixth of the city. Also, a day of mourning is set aside for the high elves, honoring the destruction of Dalaran. Apparently, the high elves feel really sorry about the loss of a human city, ignoring the destruction of their homelands. Stormwind is also sometimes attacked by harpies, which means those girls got really strong wings, needing to fly over half the world to get there and all. Also, I have to agree with Brann on one part; Why are you keeping the demons, ogre mages and other nightmares alive within your city prison? The entire section just feels silly. It was clearly written with information from WoW, but adds a lot of stupidity, not understanding the concept of scaling. It also adds the question of why stormwind has such a shortage of soldiers, to the point it can't send any troops to regions except elwynn, which isn't under any real threats. The listed enemies in duskwood, redridge and westfall are only 3000 in total, and with only 2 strongholds, one between redridge and the burning steppes, the other between duskwood and deadwind, the lands would be permanently safe. What threat are the stormwind soldiers actually fighting that is more important than the scourge, the old horde or the defias brotherhood?

Stranglethorn vale – Why are there 1000 darkspear trolls living in stranglethorn vale? Aren't those guys supposed to live on the other side of the world? I honestly don't understand why the horde would build an outpost in this territory. It's probably for the sake of World of Warcraft, but its still stupid. Couldn't they have added another goblin town instead? Also, it's been a few thousand years since the destruction of the gurubashi empire. Have the trolls still not started rebuilding any ruins?

Westfall – Brann is not at all sympathetic to the Defias Brotherhood, despite having worked along with the stonemasons to reconstruct stormwind. It's actually a fun bit of personal history, though it also reveals that, apparently, all the stonemasons were paid individually, rather than as a group, which is a very, very weird business practice. Also, rebuilding stormwind apparently took only 6 months. Without using mages. Westfall's description is itself pretty decent, though it again highlights the absurdity of stormwind not having troops to spare, with only 300 soldiers guarding the entirety of westfall.

Chapter three: Khaz modan
Similar to the Azeroth chapter, but focusing on the subcontinent of Khaz Modan, home of the bronzebeard dwarves.

The introduction says that khaz modan suffered at the hands of the scourge during the third war, but again; There is no scourge presence south of the Thandol Span, except, oddly enough, in duskwood. There is no indication that the plague struck anywhere but lordaeron. The scourge had no reason to conquer khaz modan, only needing control of Quel'thalas and Dalaran to summon the legion.

The Badlands – A large desert home to the ancient titan city of Uldaman. Weirdly enough, this region lists gnolls in its population list, when redridge did not. More population goodness: the dark iron dwarves have a fortress in this region with a listed population higher than their damn capital. Also, this section reveals that all the troggs in Khaz Modan come from Uldaman, awakaned by dwarven prospectors. Aren't the gnomes even the littlest bit angry that the dwarves awakened the people who destroyed their city?

Dun Morogh – About half the inventions on Azeroth are made by dwarves. It's a bit surprising considering the world also has gnomes and goblins, both of which are usually portrayed as more inventive than dwarves (who keep to guns). However, since the book was written by a dwarf, I'm just going to write it off as nationalism. Also, gnome parties are apparently great. Who wants to experience Rhadzi's Whirling Beer Bong? More fun population stuff with no listed trogg population, despite them being listed for the badlands. And this section claims the gnomes awakened the troggs. Luckily, this book has stopped considering 'the mystery of the makers' as a religion, and just has the dwarven religion listed as the holy light.

Grim Batol – Something is hidden here. That's really all the information given.

Ironforge – Like stormwind, the map is copied from World of Warcraft, with no concern for scaling or anything like that.

Loch modan – Can the book please stop listing wildhammer dwarves in every region? They are supposed to be insular. 

The searing gorge – A large blasted landscape, with lava flows that prevent any settlement from being built. However, the article itself also mentions The Cauldron, a massive mine where dark iron slavers force ironforge dwarves, gnolls and ogres to mine. This book is not the most consistent, is it?

The wetlands – Hrm, apparently the remaining dwarven fortresses in the region were destroyed by the scourge during the third war. I'm going to let this slip, as it is fairly close to the continent of lordaeron. The wetlands itself is a large swamp, with little to no resources (though an oddly large population of 25000, making it one of the most populated regions on the continent). Hilariously, the wetlands have a listed dark iron population of 2500, more than in the rest of the world combined.

Chapter four: Lordaeron
The third and final chapter to describe the lands of the eastern kingdoms, this chapter describes the northern-most continent of lordaeron, overrun by demons and undead.

Alterac mountains – the remains of the kingdom of Alterac, destroyed when it betrayed the alliance during the second war. The remaining nobles have formed the syndicate, a roving warband intent on taking as much land as possible. Another major faction are the crushridge ogres, a surprisingly intelligent group of ogres. There is no listed undead population, which makes me scratch my head. What exactly killed most of the population, if not the scourge? Sure, the alliance and the horde fought over the terrain, but the alliance isn't going to kill civilians and the horde was only there for a short period of time, not enough the cleanse the land. Yet the largest human city only has a population of 800 (though it is suggested there may be another one in the uplands).

Arathi highlands – The remains of the kingdom of Strom, mostly destroyed during the second war. There are a few thousand survivors, but for some reason, there is no scourge presence here either. Though they are mentioned as having assaulted and damaged the Thandol Span (wouldn't they want it intact?). It's at least explained why the population here is so low, as many people have traveled to Theramore.

Dalaran – Once one of the seven capital cities of humanity, it was destroyed during the third war. It was retaken by Lord Garrithos during The Frozen Throne, and after his death, it sealed itself off from the rest of the world with a powerful magical barrier, not letting anyone in. I wonder why exactly they have cut themselves off, as Dalaran could really use support from the rest of the alliance.

Eastern plaguelands – Finally, the first mention of the scourge that is supposed to rule this part of the continent. All the scourge in the region are loyal to the lich king (what happened the undead loyal to the burning legion?). Brann says that the human survivors, mostly scarlet crusade, stand no chance against the scourge. Which, again, makes me scratch my head. The undead population is listed as 33000(which is oddly low for their central location in lordaeron). The human population is listed as 9000, all loyal to the crusade. Yeah, the human population is outnumbered, but it is also united in a single army, while the scourge are spread over the region. The humans are a lot stronger individually, and have access to powerful healing and undead-smiting magic. I wouldn't say the win would be easy, but I'd definitely say that the war could go either way. Yet Brann suggests the scarlet crusade doesn't even form the slightest threat to the scourge. The entry also mentions that there demons are still allied with the scourge, which contradicts the events of The Frozen Throne, where the scourge and the burning legion started a war.

Gilneas – Having cut itself off from the rest of the world, Gilneas built a giant wall to keep out enemies. As the wall still stands, it's safe to assume the kingdom is still largely intact. It's weird that the scourge would leave such a nice source of new undead alone, considering the wall is unguarded. However, it is also suggested that Gilneas has been overtaken by the naga.

Hillsbrad foothills – Okay, it's starting to get hard to take the scourge seriously as a threat. This marks yet another region in lordaeron with no scourge presence at all. Even more, it is suggested the scourge never had a presence here, which makes it questionable how they could get to the thandol span.

Hinterlands – And yet another region completely untouched by the scourge, bringing the total to 5. I was happy to see that the high elves were not universally loathed, and at least one writer remembered their connection to nature, making the wildhammer dwarves and the high elves friendly to one another.

Kul tiras – And a sixth region to be completely untouched by the scourge. Kul Tiras is one of the seven human nations, and one of only two to have never fallen (making its low population of 10000 a bit suspect). The book states that the population of Kul Tiras does not know about the death of Daelin Proudmoore or the city founded by Jaina, which makes me wonder why Brann didn't tell them. The entry also makes it clear that the naga are a widespread enough problem to be ingrained into culture, but according to the Frozen Throne, they only first appeared about eleven months before this book took place. The entry also introduces the magical prison of Tol Barad, which should be familiar to any players of WoW. I'm still wondering why human nations seem so intent on taking powerful creatures prisoner.

Silverpine forest – A region fought over by the forsaken, the worgen and the mages of Dalaran. There is little to note about the region, except that it has a very low population, despite not having a scourge presence.

Tirisfal glades – Home of the forsaken and the former capital of Lordaeron. Only the second listed region with a scourge presence and even then it only has a force of 900 in the area.

Undercity – Again, usage of a World of Warcraft map with no concern for scaling. It does clarify that the undercity was made mostly out of crypts and dungeons beneath lordaeron, not just the sewers. Brann actually suggests that the alliance send an ambassador to the undercity. From what he can gather, the forsaken are a divided people, with some just wanting to prove themselves to the humans, while others hate all living. I know the nature of the forsaken is a big debate in World of Warcraft fan circles, but the piece gives little that is not already known. Surprisingly, the undercity has a listed population of 650 non-forsaken undead. No clue who they are supposed to be.

The western plaguelands – The third region with a scourge presence. It is home to the school of necromancy.

Quel'thalas – Quel'thalas is very different from the portrayal in World of Warcraft. The blood elves have burnt down the massive forests of Quel'thalas. The scourge, not interested in a burnt wasteland, has retreated from the region. There are no blood or high elves remaining in the region, though their spirits can sometimes still be seen. Shadowy creatures haunt sunwell grove, though the red and green dragonflights are trying to restore the sunwell. Also, apparently the blood elves don't want the sunwell restored. Because they are evil. *Facepalm*

Zul'aman – Dominated by the forests trolls. Unlike its portrayal in World of Warcraft, Zul'aman is a large region rather than just a city. Several small high elf and scourge warbands can also be found here, though they are not strong. The book also says that the witch doctors practice arcane magic called voodoo, while magic & mayhem said they used a form of alchemy called juju (and shadow hunters practiced divine magic called voodoo).

Over the past three chapters, we've seen all the lands of lordaeron. I have to say that I didn't really like them. They weren't very bad, but they were at least sloppy. The editing is very sloppy and there are many blatant faults in the population numbers. Most annoyingly, the scourge only has a listed population of 71,900, making them less numerous than the alliance. Speaking about population numbers, let's talk about the miraculous re-population of stormwind. It's stupid. It takes a lot of power out of the Warcraft III campaigns, as Theramore is now only a minor city, rather than the last great stronghold of humanity.

Chapter five – Adventures
This chapter contains a number of premade adventures. They all look pretty decent and I cam't really cover them without giving away the content. They are very well-written for RPG adventures, giving a good amount of details.

Appendix oneOrganizations
Appendix one details the new organizations found in the eastern kingdoms. Most factions should be familiar to WoW players, but there are a few others as well.

Caretakers – Caretakers are employed by nobles to guard important human artifacts. Originally from Strom, the leader of the caretakers (known as the caretaker of the sword) still guards the mythical trollbane. The caretakers of the chalice are regional leaders, employing caretakers of the ring to build clever hiding spots, caretakers of the crown to build vaults, caretakers of the coin to build traps, caretakers of the gauntlet to serve as guards and caretakers of the cloak for the general staff. Despite their rather mundane purpose, they are still an interesting faction.

Cult of the damned – The famous necromancers of the scourge. Responsible for the creation of the scourge armies. They have a listed population of 10,000 and are mostly human, based mostly in the western plaguelands (wait... The western plaguelands only have a listed population of 3250 humans, all scarlet crusade. Does that mean that the cult of the damned are counted as undead, which means there are less than 30,000 actual undead in the region, or are they not listed at all?). One of the writers really needs to be told that high elves are from quel'thalas, not dalaran, as this is the second mention I see of a high elf supposed to mourn for dalaran rather than their actual homeland.

Defias brotherhood – Okay, seriously, the nobles expected to get stormwind rebuilt for free? Are they kidding? The stonemasons need money to buy food, you know. And yeah, they got food during the construction, but that only applied to them, not their families. And exiling them for even asking for money? It's a bit convenient that all the defias brotherhood members are listed as evil, isn't it? In the end though, the organization looks quite interesting, and easy to work into campaigns. The brotherhood aren't just bandits and renegades, they are also experts at construction and mechanisms. They have a strong fortress in the form of the deadmines, and make powerful mechanical weapons to give them an edge in battle.

Explorer's guild – The new guild of archeologists, researchers and explorers, most famous of which is Brann, who gathered the information in this book. Surprisingly, Brann is not listed in the leaders section, despite being one of the founders.

Royal apothecary society – Forsaken wizards, rogues and tinkers banding together to provide weapons for forsaken society. Also, quick note for those discussing the forsaken morality; Sylvanas, in this book, does not appear to be evil. The royal apothecary society is quite interesting and I think you could get a decent campaign out of either working with or against them.

Scarlet crusade – The members of the scarlet crusade are slightly mad. Maybe it was the loss of their family. Maybe it is the poison mists that cover the plaguelands. Maybe they always were. But now, they stand united against the scourge. And the forsaken. And anyone that even has the slightest chance of being plagued. Or be a necromancer. And anyone of a race they don't like. Or just has shifty eyes. I just realized, these guys are quite a large organization for being so damn picky.

Stormwind assassins – Known to players of World of Warcraft as SI: 7, these guys are the operatives of the alliance, former thieves hunting down anyone who is considered an enemy of the state. They have agents everywhere. Coupling this with the treatment of the stonemasons and the rather large population plot hole, my guess is that Stormwind is an evil, totalitarian state that has censored Brann's works to make themselves look better. In this case, the military is used to repress the populace. Thoughtcrime doubleplusungood. It would explain why Brann is trying to convince Thrall and Jaina, rather than asking stormwind for help.

Syndicate – Basically, the syndicate is the human kingdom of Alterac, declared enemies of the alliance after they allied with the horde during the second war. As such, the organization, at 3000, seems way too small, considering each of the nobles in the group employs his own personal staff and army.

Appendix two – Miscellaneous Notes
The final chapter provides new character options.

Only 6 new feats, but all are decent. I especially like the distraction fighting one, where you just go about insulting the opponent until he focuses on you. Must be fun to roleplay.

Three new basic weapons are introduced; the bayonet, the greathammer and the dwarven warhammer. It's good to finally see the classical paladin weapon with statistics.

Magic items
There's a bunch of fun poisons in here. My favorite is the potion of racial confusion, which confuses the imbiber into thinking all he sees are members of his least favorite race.

Prestige classes
Dark apothecary – A character who specializes in brewing and employing deadly poisons. Can actually replace his own blood with poison (though there is no racial requirement for the class, meaning people who still need their blood may join as well). Looks a lot of fun to play with.

Defias renegade – A deadly renegade who serves the defias brotherhood. They gain skills with both technology and exotic weapons to help deal with any threat.

Dwarven prospector – Does this really need to be a class? And a combat-capable class at that? What's next, the elite fisherman prestige class?

Scarlet crusader – Again, does this need its own class? Can't the scarlet crusade just employ paladins and priests?

Not really much to say, but I do have to note that I really don't like the cartoonish illustrations used in this book. I didn't really like the illustrations in the previous books either, but at least they were passable, here, we get the chibi dark iron dwarves.

I wouldn't call this book bad. It presents a lot of interesting ideas and gives us a nice look at the various cultures. However, the editing of this book is terrible, the given numbers are complete bogus and the illustrations are mediocre at best. The RPG and the developing world of warcraft have influenced each other a lot, so its hard to say where the bad ideas come from at times. However, the resurrection of stormwind is, in my opinion, the worst mistake that any warcraft writing made. The book had a lot of potential, but didn't always live up to it. In the end, I'm going to give this book a 6 out of 10. When next we meet, we'll take a look at shadows&light.

1 comment:

  1. I've been looking through your reviews and I like them a lot. I use to enjoy Warcraft's lore before the people in charge of it (not including expanded materials) stopped giving a fuck.
    One minor thing is the formation of the Defias. It was caused by a certain member of the Black Dragons who disguised herself as a human noble. While yes most of the other nobles probably thought it stupid, a few diplomacy rolls, a few intimidation rolls, and a few mind altering spells later she would have convinced them.
    So that part has a different fault in my mind, failing to explain that kind of important detail.
    I think part of the reason they also leave it vague though is so a DM is free to make up their own reason why this happened for the sake of their own story.