Monday, September 24, 2012

Who's Manipulating Whom?

I realize that everybody else is busy counting down the minutes before Mists drops, and those few not doing that are waxing eloquently on the Theramore scenario.  But I can't say that I'm really all that interested with either Mists or Theramore.

There hasn't been a real event to get people excited about Mists, and no matter what people say, Theramore ain't it.  Having a sneak-peak special preview of Theramore's scenario tuned for L85 isn't the same as the Outlands invasion/Scourge invasion/Twilight's Hammer+Elemental invasion that we'd had in the past.  World events are supposed to ramp up excitement for the new expac, not leave us scratching our heads.*

Am I the only one out there who gets the feeling that Blizz is performing a Trial of the Crusader experiment on the lead-in to Mists?

If you'll recall, Trial of the Crusader was Blizz' response to the "moar boss less trash" compaints from some out there in the WoW-verse.  Instead of trash, there was boss after boss after boss.  They gave the complainers exactly what they wanted, but the raid itself fell flat.  ToC was yet another case of people  not exactly understanding what they really wanted; they didn't want no trash, they wanted no extraneous trash.  There's a big difference between the two.

Like ToC, I wonder if Blizz is simply foregoing the traditional world event because of the reaction to the previous world event.  People knew in advance that Cairne was going to die offscreen in The Shattering, so they paid a visit to him one last time.  When the Elemental invasion happened, I made a point of trying to be around Thunder Bluff, just so I could fight alongside Cairne, and I know I wasn't the only one doing it.

Blizzard took note of these little spontaneous in-game gatherings, and decided to do one better with the Mists event:  take advantage of the book to drive in-game behavior, by letting the cat out of the bag that Theramore would be destroyed, and have a reciprocal response from the players.

The problem with this idea is twofold:  Jaina/Theramore isn't nearly as beloved as Cairne was, and the circumstances behind Cairne's death was well known to the general WoW population.  Sure, Theramore bites it and we know the how, but nobody knows the why.  There's too much in the fall of Theramore that goes against the current questlines for this to make any sense, and even the book is silent as to why.**

My first reaction to this conundrum was that Blizz simply dropped the ball.  It wouldn't be the first time that I'd come across incomplete questlines or other head scratchers in the game, and it smacked of Blizz not spending nearly enough time on the transition phase and too much time to get Mists out the door.***  The more I think about it, however, the more I'm convinced that this lack of "why" is deliberate.  Blizz wants you to feel the mystery surrounding Theramore, and will use that to drive a wedge between Garrosh and the rest of the in game world.

But if that's the case, then they didn't get quite the reaction that they planned.  Like an Ed Greenwood novel, they overreached with their cleverness.

Sometimes it makes more sense to follow Occam's Razor rather than invent an even more convoluted in-game explanation.  I know that WoW's reputation was built upon corruption and the premise that the most bizarre explanation was the right one, but there are times when simplicity is better.  And no, I don't mean the ToC version of "simplicity", but a simplification of the plot.  The K.I.S.S. moniker.****

Think of it this way:  I've found that the best stories told in an RPG session are the ones where I --as the DM-- don't have much of anything to do with it.  I may play the NPCs with different motives, but the PCs are the ones who drive the story.  They interpret things, occasionally get stuff wrong, and make for memorable game sessions.  If I'm not railroading people along, the story takes on a life of its own and the players feel like they've a stake in the tale.  Additionally, I can then make the NPCs react to the players, creating new subplots based upon what the PCs did.  But my job is simple:  set the pieces in motion and step back.  Don't manipulate with a heavy hand.  If there's an overarching story to the expac, present it without making it seem like a) the players need to pay for access to "premium" content (the books), or b) the story dropped out of the sky, fully formed, onto the ground below.

Azeroth is a great place for storytelling.  It just needs to be used for that purpose.

*Or be the equivalent of a big neon sign shouting "Buy the book!"

**There's that 'read the book!' refrain again.

***If that's the case, then Mists was in worse shape when the release date was announced than we were led to believe.  I've worked in software, so I know what it looks like when a release is in danger of slipping.

****You mean you don't know this?  No, I'm not talking about the band, but "Keep It Simple, Stupid!"

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