Timewalker Rewards: Conclusion

So let’s run down that original list again to wrap this up. Note that each entry links back to the article where I go into more in-depth analysis about each subject, so if you want to see my work, that’s where to go.

  • GoldRisky as a reward because of the threat of inflation, but a little is unavoidable.
  • Experience: For the scaled character it’s not a reward, but for the player it could be a reward if tailored properly. It’s all you want until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Endgame Gear: Too risky given power-creep at the time it’s introduced; making Timewalkers mandatory for progression supercedes current content too strongly.
  • Gear Tokens a la Timeless Isle: Viable as a catch-up mechanism, especially if a content drought is coming.
  • Cosmetic GearRisky because of the asset cost in creating new cosmetic gear.
  • Loot Rolls: Dubious because it’s just a chance for gear, but also awesome because it’s a chance for gear.
  • Justice/Valor Points: Good night, sweet prince.
  • Unique Currency: As good as whatever the currency buys.
  • Reputation: As good as whatever it gates access to. Only good until you don’t need it.
  • Achievements: Foregone conclusion; everything has achievements.
  • Pets, Toys, and Mounts: Useful for collectors or for people who like the aesthetics, but otherwise useless.

All things considered, I think that the best solution is one that offers a unique gameplay experience, provides players a great deal of choice, but focuses principally on rewarding players by giving them a greater chance at getting rare drops from doing Timewalker dungeons. I think it would be simple to extend a gear strategy to this as well, but let’s cut to the chase and introduce the solution.

Introducing the Timewalkers Faction

Faction Background: Mortals of all races who’ve taken on the duty of aiding the Bronze Dragonflight in protecting the timeways. 

The Timewalkers offer a daily Timewalker dungeon quest to max-level players, directing them to complete a Timewalker dungeon. Completing the quest rewards a [Satchel of Time-Lost Artifacts], which contains the chance to acquire rare drops like mounts, pets, and unique equipment that normally drop in that specific dungeon, but at a higher percentage. For example, completing a Timewalker daily for dead-side Stratholme would give you a satchel that has an increased chance of dropping Rivendare’s Deathcharger.

Completing a Timewalker dungeon always rewards a [Mote of Time] as currency, which are used as a currency with the Timewalkers reputation vendor. Bonus motes are also a consolation prize if you fail to get any rare drops from the satchel.

At Friendly, the Timewalkers reputation vendor Llore offers a [Time-Lost Bag of Treasures] in exchange for motes. Opening this bag grants a chance to acquire a dungeon-dropped mount or pet that you don’t have, similar to the satchel, but drawing from all dungeons. At each successive reputation level, a higher-level version of the Time-Lost Bag is offered at the same price, with an increased chance for you to acquire the most rare mounts. In the event that the Time-Lost bag doesn’t reward a mount or pet, or if you’ve somehow acquired ALL of those mounts/pets available, the Time-Lost bag might reward a Seal of Tempered Fate or a lump of gold.

Hence, motes can be used the following ways:

  • Used to purchase Time-Lost Bags,
  • Used to gain reputation with the Timewalkers,
  • Used to buy unique mounts/pets,
  • Used to buy a Timeless Knowledge token, which when used grants leveling alts across the Battle.net account a 10% increase to XP gain. The mote cost of the token decreases with reputation gains,
  • Used to buy a Grand Commendation that increases reputation gains by 100% for all characters on the account.

This creates a number of interesting choices: you can either choose to gamble your motes on the possibility of getting stuff out of the Friendly-level bag, or use them to gain reputation so that your bag has a greater chance of getting rewards. Unique mounts and pets are there to provide a clear grinding objective (just like the Cloud Serpent mount did with Emperor Shaohao) while the account-wide tokens are there to help mitigate the grind for the reputation itself and for experience for the characters who need it.

Ultimately, at Exalted, characters will still have a use for the motes in the form of spending them exclusively on bags for rare drops. And since the list of rare drops is long enough that it’ll take an excessive string of luck for players to acquire everything, there’s a good incentive to keep running Timewalker dungeons to get motes even once all of the other rewards are exhausted.

I think that it would be easy to add gear into this reward structure by just making it cost motes (in the form of Timeless Isle-like armor tokens), or by making profession recipes that require mote-purchased crafting materials. However, I also think that gear as a reward (in any form aside from cosmetic gear or loot rolls) has the greatest chance of turning Timewalker dungeons from a fun side activity into part of the gear progression curve, which is not where it belongs.

The Wrap

Thanks for hanging out with me while I try to both make a suggestion and show my work while doing it. At the end of the day, this is really something of a hard thing to tackle on my own… it smacks of something that really requires multiple perspectives and a discussion between people to really nail down the best solution. And I have to imagine that boiling things down to a “rep faction with a unique currency that lets you get the mounts/pets from old content” doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but I’d like to think that after reading through all of this, my reasoning for that solution should be more evident.

Tell me what you think. ^_^

Hellscream and the Orcish Destiny

Parallels are something that I love being able to draw out.

In the WC3 cinematic that showcases Thrall and Grom’s bout with Mannoroth (and Grom’s epic death), the first hint we get of Mannoroth’s presence is him chuckling off-screen. The same thing happens with Mannoroth in the WoD cinematic.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth is expressing his dominance over the orcs; in WC3, he states it plainly, while in WoD, he calls the gathered orcs mongrels and goads Hellscream: “did you bring [the orcs] here just to watch you die?”

In both cinematics, the first attack on Mannoroth fails; in WC3, Thrall’s assault with the Doomhammer gets knocked aside effortlessly, while in WoD, the ballista’d chain meant to pin him down so that the Iron Star could end him gets countered.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth goes down in one hit from Gorehowl. It’s much more believable in WoD, because getting an axe embedded in your skull is more certain of a killing blow than getting it in the chest, especially with as much mass as Mannoroth has. To an extent, this is something that really remarks both on the strength of a weapon like Gorehowl, which has the most mundane of origins, and on the strength of the guys who have wielded Gorehowl.

It’s where the parallels give way to even greater shifts that I get really interested.

In WC3, Grom attacks head-on after he gets taunted by Mannoroth. This sells the idea that Mannoroth knows exactly how to manipulate Grom, and the only thing that goes south for the pit lord is that Grom gets a killing blow in past his defenses. In WoD, if you’re going in with the WC3 cinematic in mind, you expect Grom to do the same thing… but instead he smiles, and you see the catapult fire coming in behind him. This younger, uncorrupted Grom is already acting with greater foresight than his older version; all of this builds to the idea that this Grom is patently more dangerous.

Grom makes sure the Iron Star gets deployed rather than just going toe-to-toe with Mannoroth. Not only does this continue building the “new/improved Grom” concept, but it also demonstrates how the Iron Horde is going to marry the brawn and determination of an uncorrupted Horde with the Blackfuse technology that the Iron Star represents. It’s foreshadowing how much more technological this Iron Horde will be in comparison to the Blackhand/Doomhammer hordes of the past.

Clearly, having Grom get silhouetted against the explosion coming from Mannoroth’s corpse is a callback to the WC3 cinematic, but it’s so important that Garrosh dives in to keep Grom from getting killed. This is a huge expression of the heroic qualities that Garrosh has; your standard villain would probably let Grom die after doing his job, but Garrosh saves him. And while people drawing Back to the Future parallels might argue that Garrosh is only saving Grom in order to ensure his own future conception (which is a self-serving villainous thing to do) that’s dependent on duplicating that franchise’s plot devices.

Garrosh saves Grom because Grom is his father. Garrosh believes in the brotherhood of the orcish people when (and only when) the orcish people are being true to his vision, and that vision is modeled after Garrosh’ perceptions of Grom as his father. Saving Grom from death is emblematic of Garrosh rescuing the orcish people from what he feels was a degradation of their culture.

The other side of it, which some folks have pointed out, is that Garrosh saving Grom represents Garrosh doing something that Thrall failed to do. Thrall’s project in Lord of the Clans was to save the orcs from their bondage, both in terms of the internment camps and the bonds of Mannoroth’s blood curse. Thrall was able to do that, but he failed repeatedly to keep any of the icons of the old Horde alive or on his team; Orgrim died, Grom died, Rend and Maim refused to join him, and the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans both essentially stayed rogue. More specifically, it took Grom killing Mannoroth to finally free the orcs, since Thrall was demonstrated in the WC3 cinematic to be completely ineffectual against the pit lord.

Garrosh is, to a great extent, the  perfect complement to Thrall. Both of them want to embrace the old ways of the orcish people, but both are focusing on different things: Thrall wants a return to a life guided by the spirits of the ancestors and in harmony with the elemental spirits, while Garrosh wants a return to the life of orcs expressing their worth through acts of strength and valor. Both of these are facets of the pre-Legion way of life for the orcs.

Garrosh is not wrong for wanting what he wants. Where Garrosh goes wrong, and the reason he’s ultimately an antagonist instead of a protagonist, is that he wants the unified orcs to express their strength and valor against other equally heroic races. Moreover, by saving Grom and saving the orcs from enslavement, he’s ensuring that the Iron Horde will be empowered to do just that. Which ties in perfectly with Grom’s final line:

“We will never be slaves, but we will be conquerors.”

Thrall exists because of the enslavement of the orcs. Thrall’s name is a word for “slave.” It can’t get more overt than that; Thrall is a representation of what the orcs inevitably became as a result of drinking the demon blood. Grom’s statement (and you can almost hear Garrosh being the guy who planted the concept in his head, Inception-style) defies that future, defies the very idea that an orc like Thrall could ever come to pass, and instead sets the Iron Horde on the path of strength and strength alone governing their destiny.

There’s an elegance to this that I think a lot of players miss out on, and which Blizzard does little to emphasize by having so much of nuance of the game’s story outsourced to novels and short stories. There’s a nobility in the Iron Horde’s desire for self-determination that I think players are never going to see, because the orcs are going to be self-determining through butchering innocents, and as heroes, our job is to stop them. It’s a really different type of opposition than we’ve ever faced before (though there are hints of something similar with Lei Shen’s death line “I was only trying to do the work of the gods”) but I think it’s a bit sad that players are going to gravitate towards killing these guys because of their fat loot without ever questioning if it’s right to kill them.

 

 

The Dark Ancients (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday’s post on Agamaggan and Crokuta, here are two more of the Dark Ancients.

Kubo the Candlekeeper

Few remember this rat Ancient, but his efforts during the war against the Legion left a lasting impact. There once stood a great hill near the foot of mighty Mount Hyjal, and upon this hill the demons had constructed a fort from which to launch their attacks upon Cenarius and his resistance. Kubo, the Great Rat, and his children, the kobolds, labored silently but fiercely in digging tunnels under the great hill, intent on collapsing the tunnels and destroying the fort without loss of life. As fate would have it, though, the demons discovered the tunnels, and a battle raged beneath the fort between Kubo and the legionnaires. The Ancient was injured grievously, but the demons were driven back. Kubo knew that the only way to win the day was to collapse the tunnels, but he knew he could not escape due to his wounds. He ordered his kobolds to leave him with a lit brand of fire for his funeral pyre, and once they were safely away, he would bring down the great hill.

No one knew if Kubo died upon his pyre or not, but the hill fell, the land shattering into great chasms in the earth, which became called Darkwhisper Gorge. Kobolds shunned the place ever after, but as a token of remembering their patron, they always carry a lit flame with them.

Now that the Ancient of the Deeps has returned and rallied his children, no fortress that stands upon the earth is safe.

Analysis

To a great extent, kobolds get the short end of the stick as enemies. They’re not exceptionally fearsome, and in a lot of cases they’re just cheerfully laboring at a mine on their own when we, as heroes, come stomping in because there’s something in the mine we want.

I also thought there was an opportunity to really explore why the kobolds insist on keeping candles on their heads: if we assume the idea that these races have dropped in intelligence and culture without the guidance of their Ancients (as evidenced with the quillboar and harpies) then it computes that kobolds might adopt a practice that might persist through the centuries but take on a different, and in this case more ridiculous form. If the kobolds have to subsist through mining, they can’t have one hand tied up holding a torch. A candle on the head is almost clever.

A couple notes: I’m aware that Brann’s documentation stated that kobolds were somehow related to troggs, which is something that never made any sense to me. Creating Kubo would constitute a retcon, but I think Kubo’s got a better story than having an offshoot of an offshoot of a professionally-designed, purpose-built race suddenly gain animal characteristics for no conceivable reason.

Nakhbet the Dirge

In the deserts of Tanaris, at the far-flung edge of Kalimdor, it was said that Death itself roosted, a great black vulture with a shadow a league wide, waiting for unwitting travelers and foolish explorers to find themselves at her mercy. When a messenger from Cenarius arrived seeking Death, she was intrigued. “It is war,” said the messenger, “and where war treads, Death must follow. You are needed.” So Nakhbet the Dirge, Ancient of Death, took wing and flew north to do her duty.

When she entered the fray, Nakhbet claimed many lives, a terror for the demons but a mercy for her allies should their wounds prove mortal. When Azshara’s Highborne saw that Nakhbet had come, they knew fear, but their swollen power gave them pride. They believed that if they could kill Nakhbet, they would ensure that Death would never find their Queen. So they laid a trap for Nakhbet, and the Ancient, intent upon her duty, was ensnared. The Highborne laughed in their victory as they prepared the killing blow, but Nakhbet’s shadow fell over them, and she spoke: “Ignorant fools. You can not escape Death. Your Queen may yet live, but in life there is suffering, and with me gone, none will there be to give her sweet release. Come with me now, and know that your Queen shall curse your names forevermore.”

When the Druids of the Flame brought Nakhbet back into the living world, she inquired as to the fate of the Light of a Thousand Moons. “She has been twisted against her very nature, and suffers still, ten thousand years after the time when I was meant to claim her for the sake of the world.”

“She shall wait awhile yet. As thanks for returning me to life, Death shall serve you. For now.”

Analysis

I’ll admit that Nakhbet is really an original creation for me. I wanted an avian Ancient to round out the four I had (the boar in the front, the hyena in the back, the rat underground, and something in the air) and in keeping with the “animals with negative connotations” pattern, a crow or a vulture made the most sense. From there, a great bird that personified an ominous death through casting a great shadow wrote itself.

At the same time, I recognize that there have been many personifications of death in this franchise: the Lich King is the strongest example, but Yogg-Saron and Deathwing (in his anti-Alexstrasza “Aspect of Death” sobriquet) also played on this concept as well. As such, I wanted Nakhbet to try and represent death in as positive a light as possible: she’s destroying the Legion because for the living to die by alien hands steps on her domain, but she’s also granting a merciful death to her allies when it’s warranted. I also wanted her to treat death as a necessary sequel to life: the idea that she would find the immortality of the kaldorei as abhorrent as Azshara’s naga transformation is something I would love to play with further.

More to come later. ^_^

The Dark Ancients (Part 1)

Back during the Mongrel Horde remix, I mentioned the concept of Dark Ancients who would rise up to empower many of the mongrel races in order to make them a greater threat. I wanted to take an opportunity to expand on that concept a bit.

Some disclaimers before we get started:

  • My initial idea for the “someone” who proposes rezzing Ancients to Garrosh was Fandral Staghelm, but I’ll cheerfully admit that “Firelands was merely a setback” would be too silly. However, the Druids of the Flame as a group concept are easy to keep alive; they just need a new ringleader to be the frontman for the operation.
  • While the troggs were in the concept art for the Mongrel Horde, I couldn’t figure out how to link degraded Titan constructs with the Ancients.

With all of that out of the way, enjoy:

Agamaggan the Razormane

During the War of the Ancients, the great boar Agamaggan was petitioned by Cenarius and his students to fight against the armies of Azshara and her demonic allies. Agamaggan agreed, convinced that if the demons were allowed to run rampant, the world would suffer, as would his children, the quillboar. The great Ancient of Valor tore through the demons, until he faced off with the Legion’s field commander, the pit lord Mannoroth. Their duel was so titanic that it crushed all the life from an entire prairie, leaving it nearly barren, until at last Mannoroth stood victorious over the fallen Ancient.

Raised through the efforts of the fallen Druids of the Flame, Agamaggan has been petitioned anew: the Horde have encroached upon the lands claimed by Agamaggan’s children, and slaughtered them in their holy places. The quillboar have been driven to depravity and near extinction. Even Agamaggan’s former allies, the kaldorei and the children of Cenarius, have been a party to this massacre.

The Ancient of Valor hungers for vengeance and will crush whatever stands in his way.

Analysis

Part of the rationale behind Agamaggan is this: I wanted to take a familiar Ancient, one that wasn’t raised during Mount Hyjal, and show that with the proper motivation, he could be turned into an antagonistic character. There are airs of Okotto from Princess Mononoke here: namely that Agamaggan, in his absence, would return to a world filled with beings who had disregarded their pact with nature. His rage at this injustice would be matched only by his outrage over the sad condition of the quillboar; we know that Agamaggan’s spirit disapproved of Charlga Razorflank’s heinous sacrifices, but we also know that the quillboar fought to resist the Scourge in Razorfen Downs. Even if they are a bunch of savage pigs, they are a god’s treasured children, just as Ursol and Ursoc treasure the furbolg and Aviana treasures the harpies.

So to me, it makes a lot of sense for Agamaggan to be pulled back into the living world, get told a particular narrative about who the villains are, and charge off to smash the crap out of the offending parties, especially when those parties haven’t been friendly towards the quillboar.

As for the sobriquet “Ancient of Valor” I wanted to find a way to characterize Agamaggan’s heroism and his ignorance in one word. It helps that Imperius, the Archangel of Valor in Diablo 3, has the same kind of single-minded stubborness combined with matchless combat prowess.

Crokuta the Bonecrusher

Crokuta answered the call of the Ancients to fight against the Legion for a number of reasons; a curiosity for what demonflesh tasted like; a modicum of concern for her children, the gnolls; and mere bloodlust. After a massive battle in the wastelands of Desolace, she remained behind to feast on the remains of the fallen, and in her gluttony ate too much and fell asleep. That was how the demons found her, and in her sloth they made quick work of her.

Upon her resurrection by the Druids of the Flame and a reunion with her children, Crokuta recognizes that the gnoll champion Hogger was a true exemplar of what the gnolls are capable of. With sacrifices provided by her new allies, the Ancient intends to bestow gifts upon her children that will make all gnolls as dangerous as the Gnoll King.

Once it was said that the gnolls could conquer the world if they could only be rallied under one banner. The Bonecrusher’s banner has arrived.

 Analysis

Initially I wanted to call Crokuta the “Ancient of Cunning,” but when I realized that a cunning god wouldn’t have let herself get caught flatfooted after a meal, I figured the term wasn’t necessary.

Crokuta is female principally because of the legendary qualities of hyenas being able to switch genders; since there don’t appear to be any female gnolls in the game, I felt this was a neat way to introduce one, and spotted hyena social groups tend to be female-dominated anyway, so I figured it clicked. I can imagine drawing some lines with Shenzi from the Lion King only because it’s one of the few places in pop culture where a hyena is characterized, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s an inspiration.

The bottom line here is that having a domineering and cunning and greedy Ancient would help to demonstrate that while many of the Ancients are noble beasts, not all beasts are noble. Hyenas play a role in the cycle of nature by culling weaker animals, but are always contained by the existence of more powerful predators. As an example, I imagined a showdown between Goldrinn and Crokuta where the latter would at first put up a strong fight but by the end show her throat in submission to the more powerful Ancient.

Come back tomorrow for two more Dark Ancients.

 

The ReWrite: Past Scenarios

Much like the idea that player farms could have been a constant feature of the game, I’ve had some fun imagining where scenarios would have fit into the original design and the design of successive expansions. What occurs to me about scenarios is that they’re an excellent way to deliver story in a one-time circumstance, but if players want the option of completing it multiple times for rewards, that’s cool too.

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The ReWrite: World of Farmcraft

There’s a lot to be said for Blizzard’s iterative design philosophy: it means that new features are getting added to the game in each successive expansion, and it means that those features rarely get the opportunity to become stale by doing them over and over again without providing some new form of content.

All that being said, there are certain concepts that have been introduced into the game that I feel would have been really interesting to see if they’d been in the game from the very start. It flies in the face of iterative design to do that, but this is a chance for me to mix things up and that’s pretty much what I’m all about on PW:R, so here we go:

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Remixing the Mongrel Horde

During the original WoW Source interview for Warlords of Draenor, it was mentioned that one of the concepts for Garrosh’ story after Mists of Pandaria was for him to take the technology he’d developed and create a Mongrel Horde, employing a bunch of the mook races like kobolds, troggs, and gnolls. Obviously this was thrown out in favor of resurrecting the old Blackhand Horde, but I felt like the concept warranted a bit of additional thought.

The short version of why this concept dies on the table for me is because most of these mook races end up being low-ranking threats that players take out during very low-level play, and for the most part they don’t show up in higher-level zones. They get supplanted by threats like the Scourge, or the silithid, or trolls, and obviously all of the expansion threats that show up (which, admittedly, include upgraded versions of some, like snobolds and stone troggs). At its core, though, if you armor up a trogg or have a bunch of gnoll fusiliers or kobold sappers, they’re all still inherently less threatening than a horde of orcs and goblins in the same kit.

The stupidity that’s commonly associated with all of these mongrel races is really the thing that deflates their menace.

Now, one way you could work around this problem is if you introduced a change that made all of these races suddenly much more dangerous. And I think I might have a way to do that.

Brann Bronzebeard theorized that many of the sentient races on Azeroth are descended from or highly associated with particular Ancients: the quillboar are associated with Agamaggan, the gnolls with a hyena Ancient, the kobolds with a rat Ancient. We know that some Ancients, again like Agamaggan, didn’t survive the War of the Ancients against the Burning Legion.

We also know from Mount Hyjal that an Ancient can be brought back into the living world under certain circumstances. (The furbolgs did it earlier than that when they brought back Ursoc using the power of Vordrassil in Northrend.)

So let’s go out on a limb here: let’s say that Brann is right, and that all of these Ancients were responsible for these races. But like Agamaggan, these races all lost their Ancient progenitor in the War of the Ancients, and their civilizations failed to thrive as a result. So the reason the quillboar, gnolls, kobolds and other mongrel races lack anything better than a low cunning is because they lack the guidance of their Ancients.

Now, let’s say that someone approaches Garrosh with the idea of taking the gnolls, the quillboar, and the kobolds and making a fighting force out of them. Garrosh dismisses the idea out of hand for the same reason I did (i.e. “they’re all morons”) but this someone suggests resurrecting those Ancients in order to empower the mongrel races and giving them a reason to unify.

This dude. With an army of angry boar-dudes.

This has got a variety of effects to it.

  • First, you’ve got a bunch of troops who have got a renewed reason to unify and fight, because now they’re fighting for their gods. This is what quillboar society has always been centered around (they just haven’t really had the right numbers, and there was that problem with the Scourge messing up their base), and is exactly what the gnolls would need to actually become dangerous.
  • Second, you’d have the Ancients themselves as potential weapons to throw on the battlefield; Agamaggan was a hero in the War of the Ancients, so if he was motivated to fight for Garrosh, he’d be a devastating opponent. The gnolls’ hyena Ancient is basically what happens if you cross Hogger’s menace with Goldrinn’s power, and if played right could be authentically scary. A rat Ancient doesn’t sound scary at face value, but then his minions tunnel through your walls and poison your water supply.
  • Third, you can still play with Garrosh taking Blackfuse’s technology and deploying it with the mongrel troops. Maybe an orc with a machine gun is more physically imposing than a kobold with a machine gun, but it’s still a machine gun and it’ll still kill you.

So instead of Garrosh and his time-travel shenanigans, you’d have the Mongrel Horde be an authentic threat, because not only have you got the legions of suddenly-superpowered mooks running around with new focus and direction, but you’ve got their gods as enemies too. Maybe it’s not an expansion-headlining threat, but it could certainly be on par with many of the other mutually-aggressive enemy factions in the game.


 

Since I’m trying to do this #Blaugust thing (which you can follow more closely here), expect something new tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw out a new expansion concept or remix every day, but my hope is that I’ll be able to throw something every day. Keep it locked. ^_^

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?

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

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.

On the one hand, Zul’jin was 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 newest crop of warriors, granting 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.”

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Probably the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish with this was to 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 stubbornness 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’d 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’ southernmost 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 schemes had wrought, 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. ^_^

The Infinite Sadness (3 of 3)

We looked at what happened if the Infinite Dragonflight had successfully stopped Medivh from opening the Dark Portal, and what would have happened if they had prevented Taretha Foxton from implementing Thrall’s escape from Durnholde Keep. Only one Infinite moment remains: the Culling of Stratholme.

The last time Jaina Proudmoore and Uther the Lightbringer see Prince Arthas, he’s leading troops into the city of Stratholme, intent on killing the plagued inhabitants before they can be turned into the Scourge. He never returns. The Lightbringer has lost his greatest student, and Jaina has lost the man she loves. And now a horde of the undead swarms from the once-great city, desecrating everything in its path.

When the Prophet appears to them both, appealing to them to abandon Lordaeron and flee west, both rebuff him out of sheer grief and sadness… as well as a grim determination to not let Arthas’ death be meaningless. When Uther testifies to King Terenas Menethil and the other lords of the Alliance of the true threat of the Scourge, and of the death of Arthas, the Alliance is mobilized once more. Lordaeron becomes a battleground, awash in the dead, and as the battle rages on, Uther pulls every resource he can to aid in the battle… including a disgraced paladin named Tirion Fordring.

Uther gives Tirion a mission; rumors speak of a weapon of immense power hidden on the icy continent of Northrend, that may aid humanity in turning the tides against the Scourge. Tirion requests that his son Taelan accompany him, but Uther refuses, stating that Taelan’s talents as a paladin are needed in battle. The sooner Tirion returns with the weapon, Uther says, the sooner he can see his son.

By chance, Tirion meets with Muradin Bronzebeard in Northrend, following the same rumor of the weapon. As the quest continues, Tirion is haunted by dark dreams, where Taelan is beset by the undead, crying out for aid but receiving none. He grows more desperate and erratic, until at last he and Muradin locate the blade. Muradin balks after reading the inscription on Frostmourne, but Tirion ignores his warnings, intent on making any sacrifice in order to rescue his son. When he grips the blade, an explosion occurs, knocking Muradin back… but Tirion pays no attention, because through the sword, he hears whispers of an overwhelming will. Thus, when the dreadlord Mal’Ganis appears before Tirion, confident that he has given the Lich King the weapon he requires, Tirion decides to put the weapon to the test, and thrusts it through the dreadlord. Listening fully to the whispers of the Lich King, Tirion is confident that with the power of Frostmourne behind him, he can rescue his son.

Muradin emerges from the cave, knowing that Tirion is in the thrall of the Scourge, and makes his way back to Ironforge to tell Magni the bad news; if the might of the dwarves isn’t added to the forces of the Alliance in Lordaeron, no living thing is safe from the Scourge. When he arrives, however, he runs into Alexandros Mograine, who has come to request King Magni’s aid in crafting a weapon to fight against the undead menace. Hearing Muradin’s pleas to avenge Arthas, combined with the knowledge that the dread blade Frostmourne has been deployed against the living, Magni pours all of his own hunger for justice into the crafting of his masterwork: the Ashbringer. Mograine prepares to return to the front in Lordaeron with a pure weapon of immense power, with an army of dwarves at his back.

As Tirion marches in search of his son, the news spreads quickly that he’s returned as an enemy of the living. Uther mobilizes everything he can to try and stop Tirion, but with the runeblade and his own extensive battlefield experience, nothing can stop the death knight’s advance. Many heroes fall; Jaina works tirelessly to throw barriers in Tirion’s way, frustrating the Scourge advance, but ultimately fails, and Tirion raises her as a banshee for causing him so much trouble. Uther himself is unable to defeat Tirion, and dies cursing his own error in sending him north. All the while, Tirion resists the demands of the Lich King to assault the Lordaeron capital, intent on finding Taelan.

When father at last finds son, it is a bitter meeting: Taelan is appalled at what Tirion has done, swearing to defeat him and set right his father’s wrongs. Tirion struggles with containing the hunger of the runeblade and the whispered commandments of the Lich King, confronted with the disappointment of his own son. Despite having defeated far stronger enemies, Tirion withers under the assault of Taelan and his brethren, the Scarlet Crusade. Ultimately, Taelan impales himself upon Frostmourne, distracting Tirion long enough for the Mograine brothers, Renault and Darion, to finally defeat the death knight and wrest the runeblade from his grasp.

In death, Tirion finally experiences clarity, and is granted absolution when Taelan forgives him with his last breath. Father and son die together, united at last… but the runeblade remains, now without a wielder.

The Mograine brothers are torn over what to do with the weapon. Darion is convinced that it must be destroyed, but Renault looks upon the weapon and sees something that will allow him to elevate himself in the eyes of their father, Alexandros. Arriving with reinforcements, the Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan (secretly the Dreadlord Balnazzar, intent on salvaging the plans of the Legion in using the Scourge to destroy Azeroth) immediately takes Renault’s side, insisting that Frostmourne is their salvation.

When Renault takes up Frostmourne, Darion sees his brother’s inner darkness revealed, and learns the truth about Dathrohan’s deception. He barely escapes with his life, and flees to join his father, just now arriving with reinforcements and the ultimate weapon: the Ashbringer.

Will the Ashbringer be able to contend against Frostmourne? Can the Mograines and Muradin Bronzebeard contain Renault and his newly created Scourged Crusade, aided by the magical might of the Banshee Queen, Jaina Proudmoore?

Only time will tell.