Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who's the Hero Now?

While I enjoy reading about the WoW lore, it may surprise some people to know that I'm not a big fan of the books.  A great deal of my indifference is due to the design decision in Azerothian lore to emphasize the leaders at the forefront of everything.

Look at it this way: if you're out questing in the L1-L60 areas of Azeroth, when you report to a faction leader, it is a "big deal".  Sure, you can show up at any of the capitals, walk right up, and dance around Sylvanas*, but actual interaction with the story is fairly rare.  The emphasis, naturally, is on you as the hero.  You're out in the field, interacting with people who report up the chain to the faction leaders.  Now, there are third party groups out there you interact with, such as the Cenarion Circle and the Argent Crusade, but the lion's share of quests come from the two factions.

This format makes sense, because the faction leaders are consumed with less of the day-to-day and more  nation building and maintenance.  There are advisors and councils who deal with other things, such as the war effort.

Historically, by the time we reached the Age of Enlightenment it was a rare sight to see a monarch in battle, and a monarch having adventures was unheard of.  Monarchs weren't the strongest, most powerful, or most intelligent people in the nation, but their bureaucracies ensured that they didn't need to be.

Azeroth, on the other hand, has a bizarre environment.  In the time of WoW, Azeroth has lost a great deal of its population, but at the same time has tons of toons when a server is busy.  There are Native American inspired cultures and "the strongest rules" medieval type of societies, but also has the trappings of Steampunk and the later Victorian Era.  These are huge continents, but near instantaneous travel via portals is a reality.  And yet the societies don't have any cross pollination, despite the forces at work.

This is a world where --if you follow the books and the lore-- you have the faction leaders and their equivalents going off on adventures.  They are the focal points, because they are the strongest, the most powerful, the most intelligent.  In some respects, this is a lot like a David Eddings series.

And like a David Eddings series, after a while it starts to feel like a who's who of people at the top.  The rest of the Azerothians don't exist, except as a bunch of red shirts.

I suppose I can't blame the books, given that the authors are working within Blizzard's constraints, but it just doesn't feel right.  WoW has taken the focus of the game away from the folks at the top and given it to us, yet the books are still stuck in Warcraft 3 mode.

*Not to mention the inevitable question why you'd do such a thing.  Unless you have a death wish or something.


  1. Ohhh. That David Eddings comparison really hit home for me. I still have all those books and they are the kind of books that I'll sometimes go back and read - when I am feeling sick or just want something comforting, but you've really hit the nail on the head. Not only are the "lesser" characters red shirts, in an Eddings novel they'd TELL them as much. Add in all the Bel-, Gar-, Pol- names and it's a wonder I could ever keep any of them straight.

    I haven't read the latest wow novel (I tend to read them all) because it's seventeen dollars on my Kindle. Seventeen dollars! The print edition is $30, so I'm supposed to feel like I'm getting a deal, except that I don't. I will wait for it to drop in price because I could buy two really good books for that price. I did find the illustrated edition of Stardust at the local comic store the other day, now THAT I had no hesitation dropping $20 on. I love Charles Vess. You were asking me about my influences - he's one for sure! /tangent

  2. @Vid-- I got my oldest hooked on the Belgariad, so I got a chance to reread my old copies. The dialogue was still crisp and enjoyable, but I had to raise my eyebrows at the concept of an entire nation having similar motivations and culture.

    In that respect, it's very similar to WoW, with the different races having similar stereotypes as their culture. Think of the sneaky Drasnians or the Tolnedrans with their Roman-esque culture from the Belgariad, and just look at the "Tinker Gnome (from Dragonlance)" type of Gnomes, and the Victorian Worgen in WoW.

    I'm not going to argue about the cost of the novels, because I'm sure that the price point is high enough that the publisher feels they can make a profit on it. I'm the sort of guy who waits for the paperback or a copy to show in the library rather than shell for the HC.

    (Oh, and thanks for the info on your influences!)

  3. The Eddings comparison is surprisingly apt - like both you and Vid, I keep them around as comfort reads, I enjoy the character interplay and dialog - especially the dialog, I think.

    But can it possibly make sense as a real world, existing in a kind of stasis for 7000 years? Not really.

    I got a copy of Thrall, which was my first WoW book. It was enjoyable enough, I guess, as beach reading. I tried not to think about it too much and it worked on that level. I wrote about it on CFN, and noted that there wasn't really any space for me, as a PC, within the story.

    So while the places and people were familiar enough, I guess, it didn't hold much appeal to me as a player. In some ways it's like a Dragonlance book more than a Forgotten Realms book - you either have to play the PCs in the book to take part in the story, or you're not going to move the story along. Forgotten Realms books were wild and varied enough (with fewer world-shattering plots) that I still felt like there was room for my own stories.