Monday, 18 June 2012

World of Warcraft - Core Rules

We've already covered the entire first edition of the warcraft RPG. It had some good ideas, but it was mostly dominated by bad research, stupid retcons and sloppy editing. However, the last books that came out were surprisingly good. Which is why I am actually looking forward to reading the 2nd edition. Let's start with the core book.

The book starts of with an introduction, explaining the contents of the book, a breakdown of new concepts and some basic lore. Of note is that the game imports a few new mechanics from Arcana Unearthed, so the gameplay is a bit different from what DnD players are used to.

And right off, the RPG starts with something that pleases me. In the sidebar that explains why they started making a second edition, this line is included:

The end result is a game that faithfully honors the core concepts presented in the original Warcraft RPG and comes a bit closer to the vision of the Warcraft universe as developed by Blizzard.”

This line gives me hope that this edition will actually be faithful to the warcraft games, and will ignore the dumb retcons from the previous edition.

This book is absolutely huge, at nearly 400 pages. This is mostly so it can stand on its own (unlike the first edition, you don't need to also own the dungeons and dragons core rules). In the introduction, we are given the ten steps to creating a character. The explanations actually tie really well into the warcraft universe. Of special note is that a character's background must include a bit on what they did in the third war.

History and peoples
BAM! Right in the first paragraph of the first lore-oriented part of the book, it clears up one of my critiques of both the first edition and world of warcraft, explaining that demons are still spread around the world, though not in any great numbers. This is grea... *reads ahead* And then it mentions that this book takes place after lands of conflict, putting it in continuity with the first edition. Damn.

Next comes a timeline. While it does contain some mistakes (most significant being that it says the horde allied with the jungle trolls during the second war, rather than the forest trolls), its overall very decent. There's also a retcon that's actually good, explaining that the campaigns of the frozen throne took place over several years, which explains why Orgrimmar and Theramore were already so well established in the last campaign.

Next, it goes on to explain the relations between the factions. It explains that the alliance has essentially split into two factions now, one on kalimdor, one in the eastern kingdoms. The conflict between the night elves and the high elves has escalated even further, with the high elves actively plotting to take control of night elf lands. It also implies that the eastern kingdoms are in a much worse state than seen in world of warcraft, with the remains of the old horde posing a major threat to Khaz Modan and Azeroth. Because of this, Jaina Proudmoore is considered the de-facto leader of the alliance. Since this is actually a logical continuation from warcraft III (and because Jaina is my favourite character), I really like these changes.

I do have to bring up the editing again though, as the book contains a lot of minor errors. Mulgore is said to be south of Durotar (rather than south-west), the trolls are said to have not settled a land of their own (rather than living in the echo isles until they were driven out) and of course the mistakes in the timeline mentioned earlier. There's even some spelling errors scattered around. It's not quite as bad as in the first edition, just really distracting.

World of warcraft
This part explains the basics of the world of azeroth. One of the first things brought up is the city of stormwind, a section which still includes the ridiculously high population count from lands of conflict. It also claims that stormwind is 'the last of the great human cities', which is utterly false, as both Gilneas City and Boralus still stand.

The chapter also has some of the same issues as lands of conflict, including using world of warcraft in-game maps. Those maps are built to the scale of the game, not the scale of the world in the backstory. It's highly unlikely that Teldrassil is actually the same size as Durotar. There's also a lot of regions without an explanation. Winterspring, Feralas, Un'goro, the Arathi Highlands and Silithus aren't named on the map. Oddly enough, Grim Batol and Mount Hyjal do have entries, despite not being accessible in world of warcraft.

One positive thing I do have to say is about Ratchet, as it is again portrayed as a massive metropolis, rather than the lacklustre representation it got in world of warcraft. Though it also claims that the venture company is in charge of ratchet, which is patently false (the venture company are actually enemies of ratchet). However, the city listings in general are still lacking, as a ton of notable cities have been omitted. Thunder Bluff, Nighthaven and Darnassus are left out entirely, despite the latter two probably being the biggest cities on the continent.

The maps are also really confusing. In some cases (Quel'thalas, Kul Tiras and Mount Hyjal), the section describes a region that isn't named or shown on the map. In the case of Lordamere lake, both the description and the map are patently wrong, actually describing Darrowmere lake.

The first entry in this chapter is regarding the elemental plane, where it claims that the old gods are imprisoned in the elemental realm, which contradicts world of warcraft, where the old gods are imprisoned beneath Azeroth and the elemental lords were banished to the elemental realm. The descriptions also go into a lot of detail, much more than is necessary for an introduction. There are even explanations of how the different planes affect the rules of the game, despite the actual rules not having been explained yet. I can only imagine how confusing this must be to people who have no experience with RPGs.

Part One: Heroes
This chapter gives us the various races, classes and feats to make our character with. The races included in this book are: Ironforge Dwarf, High Elf, Night Elf, Gnome, Goblin, Human, Orc, Tauren, Jungle Troll and Forsaken undead. It's certainly a better selection of races than the warcraft RPG had, giving us all of the World of Warcraft races, as well as high elves and goblins. I'd personally have included ogres as well, but that's a minor complaint.

What's not a minor complaint is the issue of balance. In order to maintain a bit of balance, the playable races must be about equally strong. In the first edition, this was done by giving level adjustments, which would have races with stronger traits level like they were a much higher level character. Here, however, all the races are balanced without level adjustments, which can get sort of silly, as a Tauren is now just as strong as a forsaken. Instead, some races can take levels in their own race (don't ask me how that is supposed to work) to use their natural advantages. At least, that's what it says in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, racial levels are suddenly all about cultural heritage and becoming in-tune with your natural spirit. Which makes a bit more sense from a story progression standpoint, but doesn't really make a lot of sense from any other standpoint. Do Tauren not realise that they are humongous and strong if they haven't studied their cultural heritage? Don't they notice their own muscles? It gets especially weird when creatures that have been transformed into other creatures cannot take racial levels in their new race, because members of the race are infused with this knowledge at birth, thus it cannot be learned by new members. If they are infused with the knowledge from birth, why do they have to take levels in it?

Dwarf, Ironforge: And right away we run into a big problem with the RPG. The ability adjustments make no damn sense. Dwarves get the same ability adjustments they did in dungeons and dragons and the first edition: +2 stamina and -2 charisma. The stamina makes sense, as dwarves are tough little buggers. But the charisma really doesn't. Warcraft dwarves are hearty fellows, always up for a good laugh. Many of them travel the world, interacting with all sorts of people. Wouldn't -2 agility make a lot more sense?
On a more positive note, someone on the writing staff noticed that archaeology was not a religion, and the dwarves are back to worshipping the light.
Remember back in the first edition, when I said it made no sense for the dwarves to get bonuses against giants? Well, they get them again, this time in the form of their racial levels. In addition, they get the ability to turn to stone, resistance against magic and some strength bonuses, as well as bonus weapon skills.

Elf, high: Why does the high elf entry have the picture of a blood elf? Also, this entire entry pretty much consists of dissing the high elves for their use of arcane magic. It also mentions that the naga are the sworn enemies of elvenkind, which is stupid considering elves have only known about them for four years, and the naga have allied with all elven races on at least one occasion since then. There's also a line that I just can't figure out:
Most of the high elves have placed themselves under a self-imposed exile, ashamed of the damage that they have wrought upon the world of Lordaeron with their abuse of arcane magic.”
First of all, the planet is called Azeroth. Lordaeron is a continent. Second of all; what damage? I honestly don't have any clue what they're talking about here. Third of all; what abuse? The high elves used their magic mostly to improve the quality of their lives and defend themselves.
The entry also mentions that the philosophy of the holy light doesn't penetrate far into elven society, which is weird, considering that the priest unit in warcraft III was a high elf.
The high elves get +2 intellect and -2 stamina. The former makes sense, but the latter doesn't. Why not use -2 charisma? You made the entire rest of the article about the elves being dicks, so that would make sense.
The racial levels for High elves make a bit more sense, gaining agility and some abilities to enhance their spells.

Elf, Night: The article keeps using the words 'honorable and just' to describe the night elves. This is the same race, mind you, that attacked the orcs without warning because they weren't aware someone laid claim to the forest and put a man in solitary confinement for 10000 years, before banishing him for doing exactly what he was told to do.
The homeland of the night elves is also mentioned as Teldrassil, with no mention of Nighthaven at all. Even in world of warcraft, the night elves still had a significant population in ashenvale, darkshore and moonglade, but this section speaks as if Teldrassil was their only home.
Night elves get +2 spirit, -2 intelligence. The spirit makes sense, but the intelligence doesn't. In every other medium, night elves appear to be about as intelligent as humans.
Night elf racial levels give them the ability to blend into the shadows, give greater agility and give them resistance against the elements and arcane magic. The first one is a natural ability, so it doesn't really make sense that they have to learn how to do that. The second one does make sense. However, the third one outright contradicts lore, where the night elves gave up their resistance to the elements at the end of warcraft III.

Gnome: The gnome entry is actually pretty decent, though I think they should have gotten a larger strength penalty than a mere -2.

Goblin: Again, a decent entry, though with the same problem as the gnomes.

Human: The article claims that stormwind is the only powerful human nation left standing. Considering Kul Tiras is still intact, that's a utterly false. Then again, everyone apparently loves ignoring Kul Tiras.

Orc: Wait, sometimes women can be as tall as men? Truly, this is a remarkable fact not true for any other race. I mean, what an alien concept. Can you even imagine what would happen if human women could be as tall as men? Okay, it's a small line, but it's really weird that they felt the need to point it out.
Also, the article claims that Thrall “destroyed the legacy of Grom Hellscream”. I'd like to point out that Thrall lives in a palace called Grommash Hold, with a large statue dedicated to Grom's greatest victory right in front of it. He also declared a national 'Yay, Grom!' holiday. He must be really, really bad at destroying legacies.

Tauren: The entry claims joining the horde has led to more conflict for the tauren, which has led to a greater need for warriors and healers. Last I checked, the tauren were constantly raided by the centaur before joining the horde. In fact, the reason they joined the horde is because Thrall gave them a safe haven. Or has that been ignored as well? The article states that the Tauren joined the horde because they shared a similar spiritual vision. It also states that the tauren have changed attitudes to become much more contemplating and silent because of all the killing they had to do because of their alliance with the horde. Considering that the horde hasn't really started any major military offensives since the third war, and the fact that the centaur were constantly raiding the tauren before they joined the horde, I can't really imagine that the amount of killing they had to do has gone up.
Tauren get +2 strength, -2 agility. The attributes they chose make a lot of sense, but the size of the bonus really doesn't. +2 strength means that the average tauren is as strong as the average forsaken. Also, they're medium-sized creatures, despite being pretty damn big in artwork.
The racial levels for the tauren give them additional strength, spirit, a charging ability and greater resistance against scary stuff. With the exception of the strength, those do kind of make sense as racial levels.

Troll: Aside from the racial levels, I'm actually fine with the troll article. The racial levels have the usual oddness of having to learn natural abilities, like their enhanced healing. I was fine with that in Warcraft III because it was needed for balance reasons (plus, any RTS game already requires a few dozen other suspensions of disbelief), but in a more story-oriented environment like an RPG, it seems incredibly weird, because there is no real way to roleplay it.

Undead, Forsaken: Why are the forsaken their own species anyway? They're a bunch of random undead that rebelled from the scourge, so shouldn't they have the same species? In that case, this entry should probably be called Undead, Zombie.
The article brings up that Sylvanas allied herself with ogres (it was more like mind control, but I'll let that slide), however, like world of warcraft, it completely ignores any of the other groups that were used by Sylvanas.
The normal abilities of the forsaken are pretty decent. However, what the hell is going in with their racial levels? In the beginning, it was explained that racial levels were gained by a deep understanding of your race's history and culture. The entirety of forsaken society is only three years old! How the hell is it that the forsaken have racial levels, but the humans don't? Even if we use the other explanation (racial levels just representing natural advantages that got left out due to balance), it doesn't really make sense due to the nature of the abilities. The forsaken get natural armor (because undead flesh is more resistant to swords, I guess), further increased strength (a forsaken with all racial levels is stronger than a tauren with all racial levels. Must be all that muscle that... erm... has rotted away), gain a slam attack (Yes, undeath gives you the ability slam people. Normal humans can't do that!) and increased HP (okay, that actually makes sense).

The world of warcraft RPG presents us with 8 core classes: The arcanist, the barbarian, the healer, the paladin, the rogue, the scout, the tinker and the warrior. While these are pretty good choices for core classes, I do have issues with the paladin as a core class. Lorewise, they are knights who received additional priest training, so they should really be a prestige class.

Arcanist: Thank god they got rid of the nonsensical distinction between wizards and sorcerers. The arcanist is basically a catch-all term for users of arcane magic. Within this class, players can choose one of three paths: mage, necromancer and warlock (I assume more paths are added in later books). There are still a few weird remnants from dungeons and dragons, like all arcanists needing spellbooks and mages having familiars, but overall, its a pretty big improvement over the first edition.

Barbarian: Barbarian class Smash! The statistics of the barbarian class are just copied from the Dungeons and Dragons class, but it fits the setting.

Healer: The return of the dumb class idea! Wait, did they actually have this class make sense? Holy hell, they did. Like the arcanist, the healer is a catch-all term, compromising three paths: druid, priest and shaman.
I do still have some minor quibbles though, mostly in the way it handles alignment. To be more specific: An evil druid cannot cast the same spells as a good druid, which doesn't make any sense lore-wise. They also made all shamans non-lawful and most priests good, neither of which makes much sense in-universe (orc shamans act as community leaders, while troll priests practice human sacrifice). I'd have preferred if your powers were dependent on the entity from which you draw them (turning the three paths into Ancient guardians, Holy Light and Spirits). Also, the name is still silly.

Paladi... Erm... Hunter? The hell? These guys didn't get mentioned as a new class in the introduction. Seriously, who was the editor for this? Let's see... Ellen P. Kiley. She also did the editing for Lands of Conflict, alliance&horde compendium, magic&mayhem and Shadows&light. The editing in those books wasn't exactly spot-on either, but this is just terrible.
Though, while we're talking about the paladin, I have a similar complaint about hunters: They should not be a core class. They're really just scouts who have specialised in animals (and scouts are already nature-oriented). Having both scouts and hunters as core classes is extremely redundant. It's also unclear where exactly a hunter's power comes from. They clearly possess magical abilities, like summoning poisons out of thin air. My guess would be that the powers are druidic in nature, but that explanation doesn't fit with forsaken and high elf hunters (those two races aren't allowed to enter night elf territory, where the cenarion circle resides).

Paladin: Aside from paladin being a core class, the paladin code of conduct really doesn't translate well from Dungeons and dragons to warcraft. Since paladins gain their powers in the same way that priests do, it seems weird for the paladins to have a code of conduct, but not priests.

Rogue: The statistics of the rogue class are just copied from the Dungeons and Dragons class, but it fits the setting.

Scout: No real complaints.

Tinker: As always, the use of technology in the RPG is quite good, and this class is no exception.

Warrior: Exactly the same as the fighter from dungeons and dragons, though that does fit the setting.

Prestige Classes
Eight prestige classes are included in this book: Archmage of the Kirin Tor, Assassin, Beastmaster, Berserker, Duelist, Elven Ranger, Fel-sworn, Gladiator, Infiltrator and Mounted Warrior. Most of these classes were already seen in the first edition, and little has changed about them. The berserker and archmage are both from dungeons and dragons and fit the setting well. However, there is one new prestige class: The fel-sworn. These are people who have absorbed significant amounts of fel energy, even giving them a demon-like appearance. They actually fit lore pretty well.

We're skipping the feat and skill chapters, since those are fine. The description chapter gives instructions how to set up the backstory of your character. It also gives us updated information on the factions

The alliance:
The alliance in this RPG book is a really odd and self-contradicting mixture of the alliance from the first edition and the alliance of world of warcraft. It acknowledges world of warcraft's idea of the lands of Stormwind mostly being intact and thriving, but it still has Theramore City as its capital and Jaina Proudmoore as the leader of the alliance. It does uphold the grand tradition of ignoring Kul Tiras though, which gets mentioned all of once in the entire book.

The horde:While the tauren lore is actually handled well here, the trolls were not so lucky. Their homeland is now a small group of islands south-east of Kalimdor, which makes their backstory in warcraft III (where Thrall stumbled across them while travelling from Lordaeron to Durotar) pretty much impossible.

This line:
Although the Alliance and Horde encompass most of Azeroth’s sentient races”
No, they don't. There are dozens of sentient species outside either the horde or alliance. And, even for some races that are in the horde and alliance, there are large portions of that race outside the factions.

The RPG flat-out says that the dwarves are just studying the titans, not worshipping them. So why does it still count as a faith? Also, druidism is no longer listed separately, instead being grouped together under shamanism, which is something I have to disagree with. Shamans work with elements and the spirits of dead mortals. Druids work with the spirit of nature, the emerald dream and the ancient guardians. The two are close, but definitely distinct. However, I am really glad the RPG got rid of the stupid, stupid idea that the gods of azeroth never interfere.

Holy Light:
Are you freaking kidding me? The RPG again states that the dwarves have abandoned the light to pursue the study of their creators. How are these two incompatible? However, I do like the description of the holy light.

Shamanism and Nature Worship:
This quote about Elune:
It is her power that sheltered the world in the early days and her guidance that kept the night elves from falling into magic addiction like the high elves.”
High elves are descendants of the highborne, ancient night elves who were addicted to arcane magic. So yes, night elves did get addicted to arcane magic.

Mystery of the makers
Wait, the dwarves of Kalimdor want to move their entire race to Kalimdor to study Bael Modan? Isn't Uldaman, which is located in the eastern kingdoms, a much larger and more important titan facility? Aside from that, *insert usual complaints regarding archaeology being a religion here*.

Burning legion
This quote:
Once the Third War began, however, everyone saw the demons’ true nature”
Weren't there daemons assisting the horde in the first war? You'd think that the slaughter of thousands of innocents would be a good hint to the demons' true nature.

The lich king has Lordaeron under his command? Dude, I read Lands of Conflict. The lich king controls all of two regions.

I honestly really like this entire chapter. It contains all of the items that I would associate with the warcraft universe, as well as most weapons from dungeons and dragons (though it could have used a few more illustrations). The uses of coinage are pretty clever (alliance only accepts officially minted coins, while the horde and goblins accept gold or silver in any form) and the use of technology, as always, is a lot of fun.

Playing the game
Just the basic rules of dungeons and dragons.

This chapter contains tons of errors (the well of eternity being responsible for all three wars, modern use of magic still being as dangerous as that of the higborne, Xavius being an ancient guardian, etc.), but it still isn't nearly as bad as the original magic chapter. Arcane magic is presented as corrupting, but not as quasi-demonic, while divine magic is portrayed as gentle, but there are still some evil sources. It's not a good chapter, certainly, but it's still miles better than anything seen in the first edition.
The spell list is also pretty good, fitting both the Warcraft RTS games and World of Warcraft. There's still a couple of issues (avatar being a general war domain spell when it was suggested that only dwarves could do it), but all of these are minor.

This chapter includes some instructions for game masters, as well as some new playing elements. Most of this was already covered in the first book, so I'll just talk about some of the new rules. Oh, and some of the sillier mistakes: Arthas fell to the addiction of arcane magic (even though he was a paladin), Mulgore borders Durotar on the south (It's to the south-west, and there is a pretty big region separating them) and the alliance is opposed to cremation (King Terenas in warcraft III was cremated).

Hero Points: Specially awarded points that you get for doing heroic stuff and allow you to perform the impossible. They're a pretty interesting concept, though I'm not sure I'd like playing with them.

Community Rules: Rules for building communities and playing with them. It honestly looks really cool to me, though it might require some house rules (as the resource system is a bit lacking).

This book kind of disappointed me. It was still a massive improvement over the first edition core rules, but there were still a ton of major errors. What was weirdest to me was the number of problems that were almost fixed (archeology being a religion and arcane magic being pure evil), but where the later chapters went back to the incredibly stupid explanation. However, there was still an attempt, which is something I can appreciate, and there was a lot of good stuff in the book as well, though there were a lot of minor errors that an editor should have spotted. Still it was a big improvement over the first core rules and I give the book a 5.5 out of 10.

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