Friday, 14 December 2012

WoW - horde players' guide - part 2

And, after a long wait, the second part of the horde player's guide has finally arrived. I have a tad more free time coming up, so you can expect at least the next few reviews to be more frequent.

Chapter Five: History and Culture
And we rejoin Brann once more to look at cultures.

Orc: I really like Brann in this section. He is not entirely over his old prejudices, but is still willing to argue for peace. Otherwise, the section is actually pretty good. Brann actually points out a problem I have with the whole “first war is warcraft I, second war is warcraft II” thing, as there really wasn't anything to divide it into two wars in-universe. The history does skip over a few points, so this section can't stand on it's own for people who don't know the backstory yet, but otherwise it's really great.

The culture section is pretty good as well, but does have a few flaws. First of all, I dislike the idea that the clans have disbanded, as it takes away a bit of uniqueness. Plus, it contradicts WoW, where the shattered hand and the warsong outriders still exist. Another flaw is that it states that it was Thrall's policies that brought gender equality, despite the fact that women acting as full warriors within the horde dates back all the way to Warcraft I, where the orcish heroes were both female.

Jungle Troll: Another great section, augmented by the fact that troll history isn't really all that well-known. Most of Brann's information came from a single troll, Vok'fon, so he isn't too sure about the reliability. One interesting bit is that Vok'fon claims that the darkspear tribe merely reclaimed land when they sailed to the darkspear isles, implying that they lived in that area before either the sundering or the war with the night elves.

The culture section is also pretty good, contrasting the modern darkspear way of life with those of the other jungle trolls. The section focuses a bit too much on the other jungle troll tribes though, giving an incredibly detailed listing of hierarchy, which doesn't really apply to the darkspear at all.

At this point, I have to make a special side-note. Most of the books in the 2nd edition of the RPG have featured little side-stories along the text, usually about half a page in length each. I didn't really mention them before because... well, they really didn't have much to do with the content they were placed next to and were too short to be interesting. Even ignoring that limitation, most of the stories were mediocre at best. However, the side stories in this book are exceptionally high quality, tying into the text and sometimes even each other.

Tauren: The tauren history section is... minimalistic. It basically starts at the exact moment that the tauren met the orcs, not giving any history on what they were like before. It does go into detail a bit about how the tauren are changing their ways and Brann speculating that their insight into the world isn't as good as they think it is, but it's too short.

Forsaken: The history section is good, covering all that there is to cover. There is a minor mistake with Brann saying that Garithos' forces were the only remaining humans in Lordaeron, which is false, as, even if he was only referring to the nation rather than the continent, there is still the scarlet crusade, the solliden farmstead and the population of the Hillsbrad Foothills (though that group seems to have joined stormwind since then for some reason, which is something I'll address either when I do WotLK or just a general look at the alliance).

However, I do want to discuss the forsaken joining the horde again. The reason stated in this book is that, after the alliance (which the forsaken didn't want to join due to bad experiences with humans after they broke free of the scourge), the horde is the mightiest faction on the planet, hence why they joined. However, that just seems silly. The horde at this point consists of:
  • The freed remnants of the blackrock, shattered hand, bleeding hollow and warsong clans of orcs, who were so few in number that they could wholly fit on a small stolen human fleet, and that was before two shipwrecks, a massive war, the near-destruction of the warsong clan, the annihilation of Samuro's village, a smaller war, and the frostwolf clan retreating back to their homelands.
  • A single tribe of jungle trolls, which was so few in number that there was still room for it on that very same fleet.
  • An unspecified number of tauren tribes, the most powerful of which was nearing extinction when it joined the horde. A little wiggle room here for the horde to get numbers, but not much.
  • One village of ogres.
  • One nest of Wyverns.
Sure, there's a lot of variety in there and the individuals of all the races are pretty strong, but the horde is severely lacking in manpower. Daelin Proudmoore's fleet was a danger that could have wiped out at least the trolls and the orcs, and that probably wasn't even the full might of the Kul Tiras fleet. The illidari, the trade coalition, the naga and possibly the dark horde should all be at least as powerful, if not more powerful than the current horde, not to mention being in a much better position to help.

Another issue that gets brought up here is one I also raised: Why are nearly all the forsaken human zombies? The zombie part doesn't get addressed here, but the human part does. The forsaken themselves are not entirely sure, but they suspect it has something to do with the power of the human spirit, the fearlessness of humans and more nonsense like that. Seriously, RPG writers (and mr. Knaak), humans are not that exceptional in the warcraft series, so stop saying stuff like that. If you want an excuse, it's easy: Sylvanas' rebellion started in Lordaeron, and most of the undead there were probably locals. Undead that broke free from the lich king elsewhere were still surrounded by loyal undead and were slaughtered. Since then, the forsaken have only been raising the dead in the Tirisfal Glades, where the population was also human. Hence, most of the forsaken are human.

Otherwise though, the culture section is great, giving a lot of nice details, an interesting look at a society and some fun commentary by Brann.

As an amusing little sidenote, the book hints that Varimathras is secretly working for the scourge, sending information to Naxxramas. This would be different in WotLK, where he was secretly working for the burning legion instead.

Ogre: First of all, it's a good call to discuss ogre culture and history here, rather than just focusing on the main playable races. Second of all, this section makes no sense. It says that the orcs waged a massive war against the ogres when the horde first rose, exterminating or enslaving most of them to use in experiments. Because of this, ogres hate orcs to this very day. However, that doesn't fit with with what we see in warcraft at all. Back in warcraft II, there were ogres that were members, or even leaders, of the orc clans. In more recent times, the stonemaul are allied with the horde, at least 4 ogre tribes are part of the dark horde and one tribe was working alongside the demon-worshipping remnants of the blackrock clan.

Also, Brann claims to have fought ogres during the horde attack on Theramore, which makes all kinds of no sense. Brann has mentioned that attack about a dozen times throughout the books and he never claimed to have been involved before. Lands of Mystery, when Brann first traveled to Kalimdor, definitely took place after the battle, so there is no way to fit this into the timeline.

Forest Trolls: Very strong history section that, despite covering a large portion of history (all of recorded history in fact), manages to be fairly complete. It also addresses a few points in lore that had never been addressed, like the forest trolls fighting demons during the war of the ancients, as well as adding some new points, like the forest trolls leaving the horde after the defeat of Gul'dan, rather than waiting for the orcs to be defeated at blackrock mountain.

One thing that is odd though are the knowledge checks for the various horde races, which seem to be written for alliance players rather than horde. It's a bit weird that a member of the horde needs a DC 30 knowledge check to know that they are allied with a tribe of forest trolls.

The culture section is also pretty good, though, like the jungle troll section, it spends more time talking about the forest trolls outside the horde than the ones in the horde.

Cult of Forgotten Shadow: Ugh, organization alignments. You know, it really takes a whole lot of fun out of the setting if you announce up front which organizations are evil and which are good. Otherwise, the section is rather good though.

The Grimtotem Tribe: Calling this a horde organization is a bit of a stretch, as the sole goal of the tribe is not to be part of the horde. Considering the nature of the horde, it might have actually been a good idea to have a whole separate section with enemies that split off from the horde or were members of the previous hordes (in fact, they have a section on enemies to the horde that covers many of these things). Otherwise, the section is pretty strong though.

Chapters Six & Seven: State of the Horde and Threats to the horde
Like chapter seven of the alliance player's guide, this chapter should really have been merged with the one before it, as it repeats many things that were already said there and only adds a rather small amount of information. However, I'm pretty forgiving of it, because it is so well-written. The history section gives a clear oversight of the various races that are or were in the horde and their status before they joined, rather than only focusing on the orcs like most tellings of this story do. The section also has sections for the individual orcish clans and their place in history, which gives nice oversight. There's a couple of weird retcons here though, like the frostwolf clan having fought in the first and second war despite still not being corrupted by demons, or Gul'dan only heading for the tomb of Sargeras after the fall of Blackrock mountain. However, the section is still good despite those tidbits.

There is also a very interesting series of short stories in the sides, which follow the tale of a human paladin named Andarin, who was working to free a mysterious prisoner from the Undercity. In the end, it is revealed that this prisoner was none other than Calia Menethil.

Aside from the short stories, there is a lot of good stuff in this chapter, like the discussion of the various leaders of the horde and their positions, a number of mysterious expeditions centering around major characters (Rokhan seems to have gone off the maps completely and Sylvanas moves to and from Northrend all the time), the reaction within the horde when the forsaken were allowed to join and an oversight of the horde's various holdings. This chapter, along with the alliance equivalent, are probably the strongest chapters in the entire RPG. My favorite parts have to be where Brann points out how easily the warsong battleground situation could be solved:

This is one of many situations where an agreement could probably be reached, but no one bothers. The Horde needs lumber, the Alliance wants to keep the trees alive — so the Alliance could just give the Horde some wood extracted by their wisps. Seems simple enough to me.”

Hey Warsongs: Why cut down the trees in elf-dominated territory and antagonize the Alliance further, when other locations (such as Feralas) are nowhere near as contested? Just food for thought.”

I mentioned earlier that the holdings of the horde were discussed. The list that we are given is fairly complete, but there is one really notable omission: Shadowprey village. This is probably to leave room for a fan theory that the trolls of shadowprey village are not from the darkspear tribe, but are actually a tribe of dark trolls (there is a similar theory for the shatterspear tribe). As far as fan theories go, that one's actually a really good idea. The darkspear tribe has no reason to be in desolace at all, it would finally give the dark trolls some representation and some dark trolls joining the horde is a pretty logical follow-up after the two groups worked together during the battle of mount hyjal.

One more notable development here is that Brann seems to have turned far more neutral than in the previous books, speaking about the alliance as if he is no longer a part of it. This neutral perspective adds a lot to the sections written from his perspective. Despite this being a horde sourcebook, that doesn't mean he'll choose their side, but his dwarven heritage doesn't mean he'll flat-out oppose them on everything either. The alliance is listed right alongside the other threats to the horde, and is not treated differently. Speaking of the threat list, it is very well-written, but seems to have left out the dark horde for some reason.

Chapters Eight & Nine: Horde Military and Bestiary
Like the alliance chapters, this simply lists the various forces inside the horde. It is a bit stronger than the alliance counterpart due to going more into details about the military identities of the various races. However, like the alliance's dire cobras, there is an odd listing on the horde bestiary list in the form of the centaur.

In many ways, this book is similar to the alliance player's guide, starting out as just being fairly okay, and only growing better over time. I'd say that this book is a bit stronger than the alliance book though, as it takes a more detailed look at the culture.

Upcoming reviews: Second arc of the warcraft comic, war of the ancients trilogy, cycle of hatred, a special look at the alliance and something completely different.

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