Four Reasons Why Med’An Is Awful And Should Never Return

Whenever Med’an comes up in conversation, I will usually fall back on my joke about him spending time in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, training in 1000x Azeroth gravity, raising his power level over 9000. For most, I think this really communicates how seriously I take the character… which is to say I don’t take him seriously at all, because he’s really an awful character and BOY LET ME TELL YOU WHY:

Reason #1: Origin Story

Med’an’s appearance in the WoW comic series coincides with the reintroduction of Garona Halforcen into the Warcraft narrative, and retracing Garona’s history is a big part of the issue I have with Med’an: Garona was established as a half-orc/half-human in The Last Guardian, intended to be an agent of Gul’dan who ingratiated herself to the humans of Stormwind while getting close to Medivh, whom Gul’dan had cooperated with to open the Dark Portal but didn’t trust. The book has Garona eventually aiding in the assassination of Medivh, in which she gets cursed, loses her mind, kills King Llane Wrynn and later betrays Gul’dan while being tortured by Orgrim Doomhammer.

What the WoW comic would sell us is that Garona is half-orc/half-draenei (since the human part doesn’t compute with the retroactively shortened timeline of the First War period) and that despite Medivh being crazypants, he was able to romance Garona completely off-screen and get a child on her. Then, after the whole litany of stuff I listed before, Garona leaves her newborn child with an undead sorcerer and then disappears from the narrative for decades. Med’an grows up knowing nothing of his mother or his heritage, learning arcane magic and stick-fighting from Meryl, keeping 100% under the radar from the victorious orcish invasion of the continent, the human reconquest following the Second War, and everything since then. THis all presents a huge volume of unanswered questions:

  • How did Sargeras, who was INSIDE MEDIVH, not know of Med’an’s existence?
  • How did the romance go unnoticed and how did it work biologically when there’s no evidence of human/orc pairings aside from pre-retcon Garona?
  • How did Meryl become the only person Garona could trust specifically after she was cursed in a manner that prevents her from acting with any degree of loyalty to anyone?
  • Even if you can accept Med’an’s simple existence and survival on Azeroth, the final question about where his importance to the Twilight’s Hammer comes into play: how can there be a prophecy about him uniting a bunch of magical paths together to be a weapon for the Old Gods?

The avalanche of logical jumps we have to make in order to buy that Med’an even exists at this point is just part one of why Med’an is an awful character. His story is the same kind of contrived superhero comic book narratives that gave us the Maximum Clonage narrative for Spider-man, or Jean Grey surviving the Dark Phoenix saga. It strains credulity.

Reason #2: Power Scale

Med’an possesses an overwhelming aptitude for magic. This is to the extent where when push comes to shove, Jaina, Aegwynn, and a bucketful of other characters decide to pour their magic into him to make him the new Guardian of Tiris Fal so that he can throw down with the Old God-empowered version of Cho’gall. There’s no character in the entirety of the canon, not even Medivh, who has even the potential for that level of power. The original Guardian was always a champion specifically of Arcane magic, and while Medivh inherited that from Aegwynn instead of being granted it, and while his studies into demonology gave him access to fel magic, he still never expressed anything that employed divine magic, or shamanistic or druidic magic. To say that Med’an is gamebreakingly powerful is really an understatement, because there’s absolutely no one who has the same access to power that he appears to have, and which he appears to have acquired entirely coincidentally without any actual effort on his part.

Introducing Med’an into the narrative invites the Superman problem into Azeroth: if he’s got a full deck of powers he can draw from, what can possibly threaten him? What situation can challenge Med’an when he simply cannot be countered by anything? He’s a walking deus ex machina for any conflict. Quite frankly, within the gameplay of World of Warcraft, that role belongs to the player characters; there is no boss we cannot defeat if we are given an encounter with that boss. If Med’an were implemented as-is, he’d either have to be completely inconsequential to the story (which begs the question of why he’s being included in the first place) or he’d resolve the problem himself, shutting players out of the ability to resolve the problem by bringing the boss to zero HP.

Reason #3: Character

The problem with Med’an’s personal character is this: the only thing that differentiates him from Anduin as a character is his parentage. Otherwise, he’s exactly the same kind of earnest young hero who abhors violence, wishes for a peaceful resolution, but will reluctantly use force if it ultimately leads to peace. He’s neutral in the Alliance/Horde conflict. He’s got a conflicted and complicated relationship with his one surviving parent, and he’s got a surrogate parent who lately has become a little less than noble as a matter of consequence. Why do we need Med’an when Anduin hits all of the same notes without being gamebreakingly powerful?

There is nothing new or original that Med’an brings to the table compared to the list of existing NPC characters in the game, except for his grossly overpowered access to all paths of magic. Mitigate his superpower and he loses his only unique quality. Keep his superpower and he solves every problem without player engagement. Alter his character too dramatically and he’s not the character comic readers wanted. Maintain his character, and players who didn’t read the comic are going to be sitting there saying “who’s this fucker and why isn’t he letting me kill this boss?”

Reason #4: Completely Unnecessary

Now, could this be mitigated? Could Med’an be introduced in a way where he doesn’t have the same gross power potential and get deployed similarly to how Thrall and Jaina have been used to prop up the power of the PCs? Yeah, sure. But Med’an’s overall complete irrelevance to the Warcraft narrative makes it implausible to do that: why use Med’an when Thrall or Jaina or Khadgar or Maraad or Anduin or Drek’thar are all more recognizable options? The only place where Med’an WOULD have had any relevance would have been in finally killing Cho’gall in Bastion of Twilight, but neither he nor Garona (who swore to end Cho’gall and then did exactly nothing of consequence) showed up for that. Med’an might arguably have a beef with C’thun, but C’thun’s avatar in Cho’gall is already dead, and you can’t kill C’thun AGAIN. Med’an doesn’t have any other relationship with the remaining Old Gods, so deploying him there wouldn’t make any sense.

You’d need to come up with an entire narrative centered on why Med’an is the key to the story, just as Thrall was key to the narrative in Cataclysm as the stand-in for the Aspect of Earth. And the problem with doing that is that players didn’t really dig how Thrall got a whole bunch of screentime being awesome and doing things when the players were the ones keeping Thrall from totally failing his task.  This is then countered pretty strongly in Mists of Pandaria, because the narrative (Wrathion’s legendary questline especially) really turns the PC into the hero of the story; it’s the PC who unleashes the Sha, but then the PC who goes across Pandaria sealing the Sha again. It’s the PC who gets the Vale opened by the August Celestials. It’s the PC who turns the tide in the Darkspear Rebellion and makes it possible to defeat Garrosh. And it’s the PC who defeats Garrosh when Garrosh punks Thrall RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE PC.

So no. Med’an should never come back, because implementing him would only serve to either duplicate or supplant existing characters who resonate more with the players due to their longer history, OR it would be repeating the mistakes that Blizzard made in the past that broke player engagement in the first place by making an NPC more critical to the plot than the players themselves.

Med’an can stay in his hyperbolic chamber for all eternity. The game will be better for his absence.

Quick Update

Happy New Year everyone! Things have been quiet here for a bit, mostly because the holidays ended up getting way out of control (i.e. baby’s first Christmas with like five families, followed by his first birthday, followed by his mother getting sick) but it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. 

And I’m feeling GOOD. 

Big stuff coming soon, and you can also catch me over at BlizzPro, dropping science rather frequently

Community Blog Topic: Wrath of The Pitch King

Robin Torres wants to know what I’d pitch as a dream expansion. In the words of the Novice Engineer: “Oh, if you’re sure!!”

World of Warcraft: Scarabs of the Black Empire

Opening Event: Messengers from the Ramkahen report that there are strange rumblings south of the Scarab Wall in Silithus. Investigating the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj, adventurers discover the gateway to a monstrous new hive of the Silithid, the entrance to which is guarded by… wait, Nerubians? And Mantid? And led by a Qiraji prophet? What the hell is going on?

The greatest elders of the Tol’vir, investigating the ruins of the Titan facility with the help of Brann Bronzebeard, discover the truth; the true progenitor of the Aqir, an Old God called Shur-Narqoth, was sealed within the depths of the earth by the Titans. Shur-Narqoth was the last of the Old Gods to be defeated, and the most elusive, which is why the Titans buried it deeper than all the rest. Only now, after millenia of endless work by the dwindling numbers of the Aqir, Shur-Narqoth’s tomb has been located, and the aqir, united once more after their long sundering, are poised to open it once again. The Horde and Alliance are suddenly beset by great worms erupting from underground, acting as gateways for the Aqir to launch their assault upon the factions’ major cities. All surface-dwelling races recognize the threat of this Black Empire; the Zandalari even supplicate themselves to Warchief Vol’jin, stating that fighting the Aqir once united all trolls together and could do so once again.

Raid Tier 1: 

  • The Black Capitol: The command center of the Scarab Army, where the Qiraji Prophet Kassan and his Vizier Council direct the assault on the surface world.
  • The Thousand Cells: The outlying tiers of Shur-Narqoth’s prison, where its manifold body parts were contained separately to diminish the Old God’s power. With the Titanic defenses diminished, the cells are opening…
  • The Mithril Dragonshrine: The Titans placed the most dangerous Old God under the watchful eye of their most terrifying creations yet: a flight of mechanical dragons modeled after Neltharion, but immune to the Curse of Flesh and incorruptible by the Old Gods. With orders to destroy any living thing that comes within range of the Old God’s prison, the Adamantium Dragons do not discriminate when the heroes of the surface world appear.

First Content Patch: The Old God’s great gambit is revealed! The Aqir lured the heroes of the surface world to the prison in order to force a battle with the Adamantium Dragons, and as such, the Old God’s final jailors are dead! Shur-Narqoth begins to gather strength, and while the Horde and the Alliance gear for the fight of their lives, they are suddenly betrayed; the Zandalari, having struck a deal with the Aqir, launch a surprise attack on the surface world, aided by Queen Azshara’s naga!

Raid Tier 2: 

  • Zandalar, Jewel of the South: Having aided the Aqir in their manipulations, the Zandalari trolls must be stopped. But is the God-King Rastakhan a friend or a foe?

Second Content Patch: Brann Bronzebeard and the Tol’vir have an idea that might defeat Shur-Narqoth: if the Titans’ Re-Origination device can be turned into a weapon, it could be used to destroy the Old God without destroying the rest of the world in the process. A server-wide event to collect materials for and defend the Originator Cannon from an assault by the Aqir is the only way!

Raid Tier 3: 

  • Heart of the Black Emperor: The Black Empire’s most powerful creations launch an all-out attack on the Originator Cannon, but Wrathion appears at the head of a repaired and reprogrammed Adamantium Flight, clearing the path for the heroes of the surface world to breach Shur-Narqoth’s prison, contend with a horde of mantid Paragons and corrupted anubisaths, and present a clear shot for the Cannon to do its work.

Damn, I’m kinda proud of myself.

Instrumentality

As of this week, I’ll be contributing news on WoW and other Blizzard games with the fine cats over on BlizzPro. I’m pretty excited about this opportunity and I’m really happy to be working with a bunch of dedicated and cheerful gamers!

So what does this mean for PW:R? My coverage on Connected Realms will probably transition over, since that’s much more of a current news-like event, while most of my lore observations, hypothetical scenarios like the Infinite Sadness, and systems remixing will stay here. Depending on how things go, the coverage I hope to do on the Warcraft movie starting production soon may either end up here or on BlizzPro, but aside from the recent casting news, there hasn’t been a lot to talk about.

These are exciting times, and I’m happy to be able to share them with you all. ^_^

Zul’jin: An Overview, Part 2

Picking up from where we left off, Zul’jin joined Doomhammer’s Horde for glory and vengeance but came out of it short an arm, short an eye, and without the favor of the loa or the God-king. What’s next for the Warlord of the Amani?

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When the Scourge stormed into Eversong and began to break through the elves’ defenses, he was tempted to offer his services, but refused. He never trusted the death knights Gul’dan had created, and he had no reason to think that these new death knights were any different. Besides, they paid no attention to any trolls. Why interfere?

By the end of it, when the army of the dead had left Quel’thalas in ruins, Zul’jin’s scouts told him that hardly any elves were left, save mewling children and frail women. The warriors were all dead. There was no one worth fighting.

Zul’jin was one the one hand relieved but on the other annoyed. He would never have his vengeance in a meaningful way, but his people had no need to destroy the elves any longer. He took little comfort in having outlasted his enemy, and sat in Zul’Aman to brood on his “victory.”

Years passed. The Scourge rose and fell without ever troubling the Amani. Well, they may have troubled Zul’Mashar, but Zul’jin didn’t care, and the shadow hunters who had abandoned him never asked for help anyway. Satellite settlements in what became called the Ghostlands eventually started reporting that the elves were beginning to build some strength again, bolstered by dead soldiers. The irony that the elves would be saved by the same kind of power that had destroyed them in the first place gave Zul’jin no end of amusement. But even with their new (old?) allies, Zul’jin felt the elves were no longer worth his attention. He let the months and years flit past, bored but complacent.

Malacrass, it turned out, had ingratiated himself to Zul’jin by always speaking simply. He never talked about the chief’s arm, or the war, or promises of glory, or anything in the future or the past. Malacrass was focused on the moment, as it were. So when Malacrass came, telling Zul’jin about something he’d meticulously tortured out of some elven whelp, Zul’jin found he was interested simply because it was so outlandish.

The elves had captured some kind of divine being from the shattered homeworld of the orcs, and had learned how to siphon its power to strengthen their warriors, grant them abilities they never had before. At first Zul’jin was willing to ignore this, because the elves were just trying to survive, and now they might actually be worth fighting again. But then Zul’jin thought of divine beings, and thought of all the times that the loa had been invoked as though they had some great power over the lives of trolls, and how the loa had never done anything.

Now he saw a way to put the strength of the loa to work. Something tangible. Something he could SEE.

Maybe he had been too ambitious before. Bringing truth to the world? Maybe that was too much. Could he use this power Malacrass had discovered to crush the elves at last? Now that they might actually be a threat once again, he’d get some grim satisfaction from it. He heard the elves weren’t alone, that they had allies, but since when had that ever stopped the trolls from fighting them?

There were allies aside from the dead, though. They are orcs, his scouts told him, and Sen’jin’s whelp of a son from the Darkspear. Zul’jin spat at the mention of the orcs. Maybe he couldn’t put the blame for his losses entirely at their feet, but they’d proven to be less than reliable friends, and they deserved to die just as much as anyone else who’d stepped on the Amani before. And Sen’jin’s leavings? Jungle trolls were nothing more than blood-guzzling nihilists who’d sacrificed their best to an abomination, and anyone who could be cast out of what remained of the Gurubashi couldn’t be much of a threat.

Malacrass made all the preparations. On the northernmost ziggurat, they started the ceremony with Akil’zon, summoning the loa into the material world and then siphoning his essence into a mortal champion, who arose bristling with power. Zul’jin looked into the distance, and saw among the trees an Eye of Rastakhan looking balefully on as the Amani cheered the rise of their new weapon.

Zul’jin laughed again, for the first time in a long while.

“Tell de God-king, if ya like,” he said to the wind, wondering if the Eye could hear him, “tell ‘im ev’ryt’ing ya see. I don’ care. Ya can tell de whole world what ya be seein’, and it won’ change a t’ing.”

“No one gonna threaten da Amani. Come and try. We’ll put ya in da ground, where ya belong.”

*****************

Probably the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish with this is juxtapose Zul’jin against Vol’jin. Where the former was revered by virtually all the forest troll tribes for being the baddest, meanest, most accomplished Forest Troll of all time, Vol’jin was mostly spat upon (by most trolls aside from the Zandalari) because the Darkspear got their asses kicked by murlocs. The Amani and the Darkspear had something in common when it came to allying with the Horde, but when Zul’jin did it the reason was destruction and vengeance, while the Darkspear did it for survival.

And where the Amani lacked any love or value for Doomhammer’s orcs aside from their value as cannon fodder in a bid for conquest, the Darkspear came to love Thrall’s Horde as brothers.

Maybe the biggest difference is that Zul’jin is never painted as being anything other than a warlord, while Vol’jin is a shadow hunter. Shadow hunters are as much shaman as they are warriors, when it comes to their role in the tribe; they guide the tribe, they protect it, sometimes by doing stuff the tribe itself might not really dig. Zul’jin doesn’t really seem to have anything going on aside from sheer strength and greater-than-average tenacity, but Vol’jin demonstrates not only his combat ability but his devotion to shepherding his people.

I think it’s actually fairly easy to draw a line comparing Zul’jin and Vol’jin with Garrosh Hellscream and Thrall. The former is only interested in leading through strength, while the latter is interested in guiding through a blend of battle competence and spiritual conviction. While this strengthens the rationale for why Vol’jin is a great warchief in potentia, it also reinforces why Garrosh was a bad idea: if the orcs (or in Zul’jin’s case, the trolls) focus only on strength as a tactic, with weapons escalation as their trump cards and domination as the only victory condition, they’re doomed to failure.

One of the other major elements I was aiming at, though, was this: Zul’jin and Vol’jin are both confronted by crippling physical injury, and experience a crisis of faith in the loa. While Vol’jin is able to converse directly with Bwonsamdi and is clever enough to figure out the death loa’s game, Zul’jin evidently doesn’t have that connection. The idea that he’d be willing to weaponize the loa shows a level of disregard that I think can only be born out of bitterness, and losing an arm and an eye permanently (when trolls are used to coming back from that kind of damage) would certainly engender that bitterness. So the idea that Zul’jin bulls forward, ignorant of the huge affront he’s committing against the loa because he’s just deaf to them is a good contrast against Vol’jin, who even in the eyes of the Zandalari is begrudgingly respected as someone who has an exceptional insight to the loa.

Therein lies what I feel is the critical difference between Vol’jin and Zul’jin: because Vol’jin is able to come to the realization that Bwonsamdi revoked his regeneration because he’d “forgotten what it meant to be a troll” he’s able to correct himself, become a troll again, and regain his regeneration. Zul’jin can’t come to that realization, not only because he’s not getting told that by the loa but also because he’s too proud to admit it, even after all the trauma he’s suffered.

This ties into a bigger discussion about the Zandalari, though: Vol’jin eventually gets more personal assistance from the loa than the Zandalari themselves, when the Zandalari’s entire role in troll society is being the center of culture, the high priests, the servitors of the God-king, who himself is supposed to be the MOST favored of the loa. One shadow hunter from a disgraced tribe that couldn’t survive without relying on aliens for aid shouldn’t have been such a challenge to them, and yet at the end of the Pandaria Campaign, the Zandalari are still adrift, their offensive crippled, with Vol’jin being a non-trivial part of the reason why.

So where does this leave Zul’jin? Dead and buried. Maybe he’s even vilified or just plain forgotten by whatever remains of the Amani, because he dared to abuse the loa and wasn’t clever enough to win even with those weapons. His downfall is a great contrast against the rise of Vol’jin’s star, not only as an exceptional shadow hunter, but as Warchief of the Horde. But if Zul’jin represents the stubborness of the Amani, and the inability for the Amani to adapt to a world that hurtles inexorably towards the future, it serves as a prologue to the similar stagnation of the Zandalari; they dare not abuse the loa as the Amani and the Drakkari did, and they dare not offend them as the Gurubashi did, or ignore them as the Farraki did, but neither can they simply carry on assuming that they are still the favored servitors of the loa.

The Zandalari must adapt or die. Zul’jin failed to do that. Vol’jin has demonstrated that he is exceedingly adaptable. So the question is whether the Zandalari will figure out how to do the math.

Zul’jin: An Overview, Part 1

Something different this time; I wanted to go over Zul’jin’s history, because most of the people who play the WoW game and don’t have a background with WC2 aren’t really going to know what he’s about. And since we’re coming up on Warlords of Draenor, an expansion poised to bring a lot of WC1/2 heroes back into the limelight, I thought it might be nice to remind people about Zul’jin and what he was about.

Do note that this will have some shades of my account on the Zandalari, though hopefully, nothing here will contradict official lore in an overt manner. Oh, and also; some analysis at the end, which may contain spoilers for Mike Stackpole’s Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, if you haven’t read that yet.

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Zul’jin was not a shadow hunter. He was not a witch doctor. There came a point in his life where if he smelled the loa on you, he’s put an axe in your skull just for fouling his presence with them. But Zul’jin’s relationship with the loa was complicated.

Zul’jin was fairly simple to understand: he was the Chieftain of the Amani, a forest troll bred for strength, for cunning, who had survived the predations of quel’dorei Farstriders and Stromgarde’s arrogant nobility his whole life. Under him the Amani were almost strong enough to threaten the elves in their shiny towers… almost. His people had waited a long time for their vengeance, and they could wait a bit longer.

When he had first heard tell of the orcs, it was from a Zandalari emissary. The tale the emissary told went something like this:

Apparently, some Gurubashi fools had been wandering about in the forbidden swamps around the Temple of Atal’Hakkar. Their loa had whispered of a disturbance, and what they found made “disturbance” into an understatement. The southern reaches of the swamp had been taken over by a horde of warriors who were coming and going through a massive portal. Heavily armed and armored, with green skin and wicked steel, they were clearly establishing themselves for an invasion. When the Gurubashi returned to their witch doctors for advice, the loa whispered “these invaders are no different from the humans, or the elves. They are not-trolls, and they do not know the loa. They are of no concern.”

Still, the empty-headed jungle trolls had enough sense to send someone to Zandalar to inform the God-king. And the God-king, after confirming this by sending his Hands and Eyes to bear witness (and also to ensure that the Blood God’s temple remained untouched), was kind enough to send his straight-backed Zandalari to every corner of the world, telling the troll chieftains of the news.

How kind of the God-king.

So the loa said to ignore the orcs, since they were not-trolls, even if the Gurubashi reported that the orcs had made straight for the humans’ southermost castle. Zul’jin had thought, “they fight our enemies, maybe there’s something to be had in fighting with them.” But the witch doctors said no. And the Zandalari said that the God-king said no. And Zul’jin knew that trolls who defied the loa, or defied the God-king, well… they had a bad time.

Even when the orc warchief, Blackhand, sent an emissary to Zul’jin and asked for his aid in fighting the humans, Zul’jin declined, because it’s what the witch doctors said to do.

But then something happened that changed Zul’jin’s mind.

He got captured by some Farstriders. He’d gotten out of scrapes like this before, but these Farstriders knew him for who he was. They took precautions. Zul’jin knew he had no way out. And as they started to torture the other trolls who’d been caught with him, he started to wonder what would happen next.

It turns out that what happened next surprised him. The orcs came to his rescue, butchering the elves who held him captive. They said that they had a new leader, Doomhammer, who promised not just glorious battle but aid in destroying the elves if the trolls joined their Horde. And Zul’jin said yes without hesitation.

When he returned to Zul’Aman to gather his forces, the witch doctors were upset. They said the loa wanted nothing to do with the orcs. They said the God-king would not take kindly to Amani defiance.

Zul’jin reminded them, rather harshly, that it had not been the God-king who had rescued Zul’jin from torture and death. It had not been the loa, whom he had served his whole life. He’d made the sacrifices. He’d said the words. He’d done everything the loa had asked him to do, but he’d never seen them, never heard their voices, never witnessed their strength. And they could not deign to even afford the precious little effort it would have taken to free him from his bonds.

“De loa t’ink dey can leave me to die? De loa t’ink dey know what it means ta be a troll? Dey know not’ing.”

The orcs promised victory at last over their enemies. They promised the Amani an empire like none they had ever known. In the darkest recesses of his heart, Zul’jin believed that he could overthrow the God-king himself, and bring trolls the world over back to what was really important: strength, and the willingness to exercise that strength against one’s enemies. That was something the Zandalari had forgotten in their archaic preaching, their stagnating role as “preservers of troll culture.” If only Zul’jin had enough strength to show them all the truth… and maybe with the help of the orcs, and their ogres, their death knights, the goblins they had somehow employed, Zul’jin would be able to do what no troll had ever done with the blessings of the loa, or the auspices of the God-king.

He would bring truth to the world. Truth on the sharpened edge of an axe.

When it all came crashing down, Zul’jin could not help but laugh. The orcs failed because the Doomhammer had put his trust in someone who was obviously untrustworthy. And when Doomhammer took the bulk of his troops to correct what Gul’dan’s multiple errors had created, Zul’jin saw his dreams of empire and truth crumble before him. And when the Farstriders surrounded him once again, and called him by his name in their nasal, pompous voices, and he bore witness to the bitter humor of fate, he laughed long and loud.

Their torturer took his eye, and still Zul’jin laughed. Matis promised to make the suffering last as long as possible, to try and exact vengeance for every elven life Zul’jin had taken, and Zul’jin squinted his empty-socket to squirt blood on the elf’s pretty face. Days or weeks later, when some random hunting party of trolls bungled into the camp and caused a ruckus, Zul’jin cut off his arm and escaped, careless about who had died for him. He returned to Zul’Aman, a smile on his face, having cheated death and the loa from their prize. He waited for his arm to grow back.

It didn’t.

He swallowed his pride and asked what few witch doctors were left for help. One had the temerity to say he’d offended the loa with his defiance, and they had taken his regeneration away. Zul’jin put a hatchet in that one’s chest. While other witch doctors were more careful with their words, none had better answers, and none could make his arm grow back. Or his eye. Every shadow hunter who came back from the war told him of his mistake, and he killed most of them for the insult. Those who held their tongues quietly left, until no shadow hunters remained. At some point he was told that they’d built a new settlement on the other side of the mountains, called Zul’Mashar, and he found that he cared very little.

He’d been taught his lesson, though he would never admit it to anyone, even himself. Maybe defying the loa had been a mistake. The emissaries from the God-king never returned, though the Eyes of Rastakhan, the spies, did nothing to conceal themselves on the borders of Zul’Aman. While he still had a tribe behind him that was a force to be reckoned with, he had gambled on Doomhammer and lost much. So he sat in Zul’Aman, content to wait once again. He had plenty of time to waste.

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Part Two will cover the rest of Zul’jin’s fate, as well as some analysis on why he’s a pertinent figure to call to mind right now. Stay tuned. ^_^

Realm Remixes: Mysterious Ways

So some diligent work by some of the other cats paying close attention to the connection process has revealed an interesting detail, but first, a bit of set-up.

The current state of WoW’s realm structure going into this process involved four datacenters where the realm hardware is housed, which are located in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Phoenix. Realms in the same datacenter are the pool of realms that players are usually drawn from for all the cross-realm shenanigans like CRZ, LFD, Battlegrounds, and LFR, but of course if you’re doing premade cross-realm stuff like BattleTag/RealID groups, it doesn’t matter what datacenter your realm is in. Also, all of the datacenters have realms that are in all different time zones, so the location of the datacenter isn’t an indicator of what time zones or regions are served there.

What Weekender and Urashima on the official forums have determined is that the connections being made have certain patterns:

1. Realms in Phoenix are only being connected with realms in LA, while realms in New York are only being connected with realms in Chicago. (There are some connections that are exclusively between LA realms, and some exclusively between Chicago realms, but that’s not the case for Phoenix or New York.)

2. Consequently, once a connection is made in, say, a Phoenix realm, players who log into that realm have their traffic directed to a new address in the LA datacenter. Same goes for New York realms, with their traffic going to Chicago.

3.  As a result, there are some players reporting increased ping times to access their realms, but since there hasn’t been a really dramatic outcry about it on the forums, it doesn’t appear to be something most players have noticed.

The major thing this revelation does is help to narrow down the possibilities for which realms get connected to which, especially once you get into discussing the RP/RP-PVP realms or the non-North American regions served by these datacenters. And while it doesn’t create a universal rule (for example, the Boulderfist/Bloodscalp/Dunemaul/Stonemaul/Maiev CR draws four realms from the same battlegroup, and only draws one realm from the opposing datacenter, and some other connections don’t draw from the opposing datacenter at all) it does create something that can help predict how the rest of this is going to shake out.

It also explains one little mystery: Anvilmar and Undermine were originally announced to get connected to each other back in Round 7. That was put on hold before Round 7 was implemented, and later on, the pairing disappeared completely; not pushed to a subsequent round, but dropped entirely from the list. After comparing all of the existing and proposed connections together, it turns out that Anvilmar/Undermine was the only connection that drew two realms from New York, without connecting first to one in Chicago.

I think it’s still likely that those two realms will ultimately be connected together, but they will likely get connected to a Chicago-side realm first.

So, that being said, what are the rules that seem to govern connections going forward?

    1. Realms in PHX will be connected to realms in LA, and realms in NY will be connected to realms in CHI. Connections may happen in CHI or LA that don’t involve realms in NY or PHX, respectively, but the inverse is not true.
    2. Realms will always be connected along server types (PVE/PVP/RP/RP-PVP).
    3. Only one realm is added to a connection at a time.
    4. Realms will always be connected along region/language barriers. (There’s no evidence to support this aside from the fact that no Oceanic, Brazilian or Latin American realms have been connected yet.)

As for targets, it seems that the existing CRs are topping off between 5-6000 raid-capable characters across both factions. From this, we can infer the following:

    1. Realms that have more characters than the existing CRs will likely not be connected.
    2. Realms that can’t be connected with another eligible realm without going over the limit (and thus threatening to become a high-pop queued realm) will likely not be connected.
    3. Realms that cannot be connected because no eligible realm is available may be left unconnected.

If we look particularly at the three non-North American zones serviced by the NA datacenters, we can actually draw some conclusions:

1. EDITED: Out of the three Latin American realms (Ragnaros, Drakkari, and Quel’thalas), the former two are PVP, while Quel’thalas is PVE.  realms. However, only Drakkari is under the 5-6k threshold, at 3.7k characters. While that’s not an unhealthy population it could certainly be better, but there’s nowhere to go for Drakkari, unless Blizzard opens up some FCMs from Ragnaros. (Thanks to the anon commenter Me for pointing this out.)

2. There are five realms for Brazil, with two PVP and three PVE. Azralon, Goldrinn, and Nemesis are all above the threshold, while Tol Barad (PVP) and Gallywix (PVE) are well below the threshold, and might potentially hit it if they were combined. However, they’re opposing server types, meaning they can’t be combined… which is distressing, given that those are the two worst-progressed Brazilian servers, and are in the middle of many of the other realms that are being connected currently. As with the Latin American realms, FCMs could fix this, but it clearly not a priority.

3. There are twelve Oceanic realms, six PVE and six PVP. Almost all of them are in the 3-4k character range, meaning they can’t be combined with each other without going over the threshold. Out of the whole set, the only viable connections possible involve Gundrak and Dreadmaul, both PVP servers with relatively low populations and middling progression. While they could be combined with each other to possibly compete with the rest of the Oceanic set, they could also be used individually to buff the next two smallest realms (Thaurissan and Jubei’thos). The other two PVP realms are Barthilas, which is already over the threshold, and Frostmourne, which is the #3 server in the NA and DOUBLES the threshold as a super-high-pop realm.

As for the RP/RP-PVP realms and the remaining North American realms, that’ll have to wait for next time.

Quick Fix

Sorry for the big delay in posts… I’ve been laid up with a bum foot and an increasingly attention-seeking baby boy, so I haven’t been able to really compose anything the last few days. More coming, hopefully before the holiday!

Thanks everyone!

Garrisons: Follow Me

UMAD BREW?

UMAD BREW?

Man, where to start with followers?

  • They’ll have different levels of rarity, similar to Battle Pets. The rarity will determine how many skills the follower has access to, and since skills translate into success rates on missions (when those skills are invoked), higher-quality followers will certainly be highly desirable.
  • Followers will gain levels (going from 90-100) and then start raising their iLvl once they reach 100, similar to players.
  • They’ll come from all classes, and among the list of skills will be professions so that they gain access to profession-specific missions and can work at profession buildings.
  • Followers, as you accumulate them, will be visible around your Garrison, working at buildings when you assign them there, or potentially just idling around. Collecting followers thus plays into making your Garrison feel like a living place.
  • Apparently they’ll come not only from playable races, but from NPC races as well: the mockup slides showing the followers included what looked to be a High Elf Death Knight. And a direct question to Stockton about the possibility of arakkoa as followers got a response of “For sure.”

Followers as Future Content

Building off that last element, what non-player races are then possible as followers? Assuming that certain races would fall into faction-aligned or faction-neutral categories, I can imagine it looking like this:

npc followersOf course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to suggesting follower races; whether Blizzard decides to do it or not is another matter entirely. Coming up with a narrative for why an Ethereal Priest would roll up onto an unshattered Draenor to take orders from flesh-bags like our PCs is perhaps too big a question to leave unanswered. But the big thing I feel makes this suggestion handy is the possibility for seeding new playable races by having adventurers of those races show up as followers.

Yeah, I know that there are no new races planned for Warlords, and that’s fine; but if the old concept about “seeding” races as playable within the world before introducing them has any gravity to it, then followers would be a good method to do it in advance of future expansions.

Interplay with Buildings

While many buildings will simply be places that followers work (when you don’t have them assigned to missions) many of them will directly effect the abilities of those followers: for example, the Armory will provide melee followers with a damage buff, while the Mage Tower will likely do the same for caster followers. The Academy will apparently allow them to level faster, but thinking about that made me wonder:

Followers have an XP bar that’s purple, just like the PC’s XP bar, right? Why not assign followers to the Inn to get Rested, so that they then get a Rested XP bonus when they go on missions, just as characters do? The Academy, then, could serve a different purpose; allowing followers to learn different skills through study.

That’s currently one thing that appears to be missing in the rest of this system; if followers have randomly generated skills when made available for hire, or when they’re acquired as quest rewards, faction rewards, or dungeon drops, then there exists the possibility that you might not get access to a skill you want if RNG is unkind to you. So having an avenue to teach your followers specific skills, whether it requires a large time investment or resource investment (or both) would be beneficial.

Alt Characters as Followers

Some people have floated the idea of alt characters playing into the followers system. I’m of two minds on this, so let’s go pros/cons:

Pros:

  • It encourages players to keep a stable of alts, since they’ll be visible while you’re rolling about your main’s garrison, and vice versa.
  • It encourages leveling those alts, since they’ll potentially get to 100 more quickly than normal followers would, since you can log into them and quest to gain XP instead of relying on missions.
  • It encourages the profession diversity that many alts tends to have, since that adds greater flexibility in what you choose for your profession buildings.

Cons:

  • It trivializes the process of hiring new followers if players with a full stable are able to very quickly get into doing group follower content.
  • It raises a lot of questions about how followers get skills. If a follower is keyed off an alt, does the game randomly choose skills? Does the player choose skills? Does the follower get both profession skills or just one?
  • The inherent confusion of logging onto your priest main, dispatching your warrior alt-based follower on a quest, and then logging onto that warrior and doing actual questing sounds straight-forward at first, but it’s also very easily double-dipping if the follower is keyed of your alt’s XP level, but gain XP both from quests AND from your actions actively playing that character.
  • If there’s a permanent-death mechanism for followers (which as come up in some discussions but doesn’t seem confirmed by any official source yet) then having alts auto-generate a follower token would be cheating the permanent-death mechanism, since there’s no way that a follower death would translate to an alt’s permanent death.
  • If followers become a tradable commodity, alt-based followers would need to be soulbound.

Overall, I think that having alts becoming full-on followers would probably introduce many more problems with the overarching follower system than the novelty would be worth. Especially if the novelty can be accomplished simply by allowing same-faction, same server alts to have the same NPC behaviors around the garrison without actually being followers. For as many people as have been asking for this addition, I’ve seen plenty just asking for alt visibility over actual functionality.

Follower Actions as NPCs

A few choice suggestions about stuff for followers to do around the Garrison:

  • Unassigned, undispatched followers could be at the Inn. Drinking, dancing, socializing, playing Hearthstone. Seriously, the Hearthstone table has got to be in our Inn. ^_^
  • Followers could be hanging about at the Blacksmith / Engineer / Tailor / Leatherworker getting their armor repair. Have a random piece of gear visibly removed (i.e. pants) and emphatic gestures to demonstrate that the follower would very much like to get covered up again.
  • Followers could be patrolling the walls, occasionally checking the territory with a spyglass.
  • Followers could be gathered in front of the Barracks, drilling or practicing against target dummies.

There’s obviously a lot more to talk about regarding followers, especially as more information about the Garrisons systems become more evident. Expect a LOT of iteration.

Garrisons: Analysis Part One of Many

I really can’t talk enough about how much I love the concept of Garrisons for Warlords of Draenor. A lot of other sites have given the basic overview of how they work, so I’ll let Blizzard cover that while I get into some nitty gritty about it — insofar as gritty examination is possible when it’s clearly still in an early design phase.

Allow me to get that Disclaimer out of the way: EVERYTHING about Warlords of Draenor is in design flux at this point, and the information Blizzard has released, in addition to all of my analysis and speculation below, might end up changing dramatically before the beta AND before the release of the expansion. So take everything with a grain of salt.

All that said, there’s a lot that we don’t know about Garrisons as it stands right now:

  • What do all of the buildings do? For the primary profession buildings, it seems pretty straightforward: park followers who have the appropriate skill there, and they’ll research recipes and craft them. For some of the other buildings, we know what they’ll do either because something showed up in one of the mockup slides or Cory Stockton answered a direct question about them. For some of the buildings though, it’s not clear what they’ll do.
  • How many followers can you assign to each building? What kind of effect is there in having multiple followers at the same task?
  • How many followers are we talking about total? The Barracks adds room for discrete numbers of followers per rank, but that’s specifically for the number of followers you can send on missions simultaneously. This means that having a maxed out Barracks would allow you to dispatch a single raid, but then you’d have two followers left that can quest (because you need more than 2 followers to do anything other than quest, if it’s a mission).
  • There’s also a lot of questions about what mechanisms govern followers. Infirmaries reduce downtime for followers, which implies that followers will need recovery time after going on missions. Upgrading the Garrison from tier to tier improves Travel Speed for Followers, implying that there’s a method to reduce mission time, which the Stables might play into.

There are certainly more questions, but I’ll get into them later. For now, let’s talk specifically about plots and choices.

Building Dynamics

bconWoWRAD024

CLICK MEH SEYMOUR

By the time you get to the last tier (Tier 3, pictured above) your garrison appears to have 14 plots (4 small, 6 medium, and 4 large), but all told there are 24 buildings (neither count including the Town Hall).

  • 11 small buildings (1 each for the primary non-gathering professions, and Archaeology, and the Salvage Yard which doesn’t appear to have a stated purpose.)
  • 7 medium buildings (the rest of the professions show up here, with the Pet Stables, Trading Post, and the Lumber Mill, which also doesn’t have a stated or implied purpose.)
  • 6 large buildings (all of the major follower-affecting buildings are here.)

What this means is that the stated intent of “you’ll be able to cover professions you don’t have, but not enough plots to cover all of them” is definitely in play, since there are 10 small profession buildings (since the Salvage Yard doesn’t appear to be linked to a profession) but you only have 4 small plots to work with. Thus, with small buildings, there are a couple of interesting discrepancies to note:

  • Assuming the Storehouse is for Archaeology, that makes it the only secondary profession (aside from Fishing) to get a small building. Assuming that most players are going to use their four small plots to supplement the professions they don’t have, that puts Archaeology at a disadvantage, since it doesn’t generate gear or consumables, but instead only generates lore objects and vanity items.
  • Not knowing what the Salvage Yard is potentially restricts that choice even further; if it’s something that a player deems mission-critical, then that leaves only three small plots for supplementary professions. (More speculation on the Salvage Yard below.)
  • The Fishing Shack is mentioned as a starting building, but doesn’t appear in any of the mockups. Since Fishing only generates Cooking mats (and the occasional crate), that also puts it at a disadvantage compared to other primary profession buildings.

With medium buildings, there’s less constraint on choices, since you’ll have 6 medium plots but have 7 buildings to choose from. The interesting choice that comes into play is whether to aim for getting complete coverage in gathering professions and hiring followers while also reaping the benefits of the Trading Post and… whatever the Lumber Mill is supposed to do. (More speculation on the Lumber Mill below.)

With large buildings, there’s a greater constraint than with medium, but not as bad as small, since it’s 4 large plots and 6 buildings.

  • Without knowing how many characters you can dispatch on missions without a Barracks, there’s no way to judge how vital the Barracks itself will be.
  • The Academy is valuable in the leveling game while you work on building a team, but once you’ve got a diverse team it has less value. Assuming that we never permanently lose followers and that getting certain skills on followers won’t take an excessive grind, of course.
  • Assuming the Mage Tower provides a caster buff similar to what the Armory offers to melee followers, the Armory still has an advantage since it can also be used to train followers to a higher quality. However, the interesting choice between Mage Tower and Armory will be based on whether you can field a dungeon/raid team that meets the skill requirements of the mission AND hits the role requirements as well. The big question is whether the Mage Tower has a second purpose aside from the caster buff.
  • The Infirmary feels like it’s more valuable in an early game because reducing downtime means more income, but depending on what kind of follower population you can have, you might be able to mitigate the downtime penalty simply by cycling through followers, since you’ve got a max amount you can dispatch even with Barracks.
  • And not knowing what the Stable does makes it impossible to judge its choice value. It could improve travel speeds to reduce overall mission times, or it could just be a display point for our favorite mounts. Could be both.

So overall, even without knowing exactly what the limitations and abilities of certain buildings will be, there’s a decent amount of Interesting Choice to be had about all of the buildings, as well as a lot of replayability (or just making different choices with your alts’ garrisons). I feel, however, like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speculation:

Lumber Mill: Historically (as in the RTS games), the Lumber Mill strengthened building durability and was the delivery point for lumber. Since there’s no indication that the Garrisons will be attacked by external forces, and because lumber isn’t a player resource in this game, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Lumber Mill will get used for. It could play into the Garrison Supplies statistic, or it could enhance ranged DPS damage (which the Armory’s melee buff doesn’t explicitly cover). If so, it would be the only medium building to directly affect followers, which plays into the choice dynamics of large buildings.

Salvage Yard: The Salvage Yard uses an Engineering icon, and “Salvage” is the term that’s been used in the past for Engineering players to draw materials or vendor trash out of Mechanical corpses. However, in every slide where we see the Salvage Yard mentioned, there’s another small building (Tinker’s Garage/Engineering Works) that more directly connotes the Engineering profession. So what’s the Salvage Yard for?

  • Salvage Yard might be where you’d take items to be Disenchanted, since the Enchanter’s Tent will probably only research new enchants and apply them to your gear.
  • Building on that, I can imagine missions rewarding non-gear items that could be Salvaged in order to generate garrison supplies or new follower-specific gear.

More To Come:

There’s a lot to talk about with Garrisons, and I’m aiming to do this not only as an analysis of what was delivered at BlizzCon, but also an opportunity to make suggestions about the system and create a dialogue with Blizzard about how it works. All told, if this system is only half as dynamic as what was presented, it’s still going to be a huge selling point for Warlords of Draenor and likely the reason a good number of players come back. ^_^