Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Change on the Horizon in 2023

The other week I was in a dungeon group comprised of several raid team members* and the question of what happens after Wrath Classic came up.

I believe this question is one that we'll have to confront sooner rather than later, because the WoW Classic team demonstrated in TBC Classic that they were willing to push harder and faster than the original timeline for TBC, and my opinion is they'll do the same for Wrath Classic. After all, there already has been a survey of options for a potential Cataclysm Classic, and those options skirted around one major issue: the Cataclysm and reworking of the Old World itself. 

One person in the dungeon group started it off by saying that they had no interest in anything beyond Wrath Classic: this expansion was their swan song, and nothing after it would change their mind. Others held out hope for the Classic WoW team to create a divergent path from Wrath onward, thus skirting around Cataclysm and later expansions, but my suspicion is that simply isn't going to fly. Why would Blizzard create divergent timelines and double WoW's development effort when there's no real return given the current monetization of WoW Classic being part of the subscription price for WoW Retail? And if you said "Let Blizzard release new WoW Classic expansions for purchase," why would Blizz sow confusion among the ranks by having expansions for a game from the past?

I was the gloomiest of the assessments, stating that Cataclysm Classic is coming, and the WoW Classic team is trying to find a way to make it palatable to enough people to keep them playing, such as keeping the automated LFD tool in Retail only. I know of more than one person for whom they're actually looking forward to Cataclysm so they could play a Worgen**, but in general I don't know of many people who are looking forward to Cataclysm in general. 

That doesn't mean that Cataclysm doesn't have its supporters, because I expect we'll hear from more and more of them the farther down the Wrath Phase release path we go. We're still in Phase One for a bit longer, and the expectation is that Phase Two --meaning the Ulduar raid-- will hit in January.

And let's be honest: Ulduar is considered a very difficult raid for the era, along the lines of original Naxx 40 or Sunwell Plateau in terms of difficulty. If the WoW Classic team steps its foot on the gas and starts burning through content once Ulduar is released, Wrath Classic might start bleeding players as they discover that Ulduar is much more difficult than Wrath's version of Naxxramas was.


What are the other potential options for someone who reaches the end of their time in Wrath Classic and the WoW Classic team unveils Cataclysm Classic?

  • Return to Classic Era WoW

    That's a distinct possibility. I cloned several of my toons --although Linna is stuck at L26 or something in Classic Era-- but there's plenty of opportunity to continue to consume content as my players hadn't finished everything in the game. In the case of Cardwyn, she already has almost all of her BiS items --she missed out on the 1 Handed Weapon-- so she could just do whatever without any concerns for gear. 

    The major drawback to Classic Era WoW? No Neve or Quintalan. I mean, I'll survive, but I would miss Neve's Yang to Cardwyn's Ying.

  • Stay in Wrath Classic WoW Servers

    This is a big question mark: would the WoW Classic team maintain some Wrath Classic servers in perpetuity? After all, they emphatically did not do that for TBC Classic when it ended; and if you think nobody cared, let me introduce you to Shintar. I personally would have been more interested in TBC Era servers myself, given that I was unable to continue raiding in TBC Classic. I'd like to get a chance to see the raids that I was unable to see --or in the case of The Eye at Tempest Keep, actually finish-- without any external pressures involved. 

    And hopefully on another toon than Briganaa; raiding with her has been... tainted by dealing with the pressure to do more and more DPS when I began coming up against the limitaitons of my own physical abilities.

  • Move to Retail

    Dragonflight has gotten some good reviews from the player base, although to be fair the problems from Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands didn't really manifest until a couple of months after release. So while there's cause for optimism for Retail as an institution moving forward, I've decided that Retail is not for me. For all the people who say "try it, you might like it", Blizzard moved in a direction that was evident even back in Wrath that you are some superhero for merely doing the job asked of you, and I simply can't pick up Retail without being forced into that reality on a daily basis. My players are not superheroes, they began as raw recruits to assist Stormwind against a bunch of local thugs named the Defias. Or they were one of the few Draenei and/or Blood Elves remaining after their respective races were decimated by disasters far beyond their own control. They were there, and they began their journey to help their own people, no more and no less. 

    For me, this mirrors real life to a large extent. Just because I moved into management and have to deal with pushing paper and other managers and management from clients doesn't mean that I feel like I belong there. Like my toons in WoW, I'm an in-the-trenches person who does what they're supposed to do because... well, because that's what I committed to doing. And like them, I consider myself just an ordinary person doing their job.

  • Switch to another MMO

    This is another tempting option, as I've played enough of them over the years. I've plenty of options to work with, such as SWTOR, LOTRO, ESO, and GW2. This might be the time I finally try out Final Fantasy XIV and go playing with my son.

    But if I thought the "Chosen One" narrative was pretty thick in Retail WoW, that narrative is pretty much what you start out with in FFXIV.

    And to be fair, just about every MMO I listed above has a "Chosen One" or "Chosen Hero" narrative to them in some form or another; it is, after all, a staple of the MMO genre.***

    With one notable exception: Vanilla Classic WoW. 
So... I've got some contemplating to do.

It would seem that my best option once Wrath runs out is to return to Classic Era servers, since they are going to be around for a while at least. However, I don't see clearly enough to know what it is that the Classic WoW team is thinking, and despite best intentions I also believe that this upcoming 2023 will be the last hurrah for several of my Classic WoW friends. That sucks, knowing the end is going to get here, but I understand their intentions to shut it down when Cataclysm Classic rolls out.

You can't prevent change, only deal with it.

*We were attempting the so-called World Tour, where you hit every single 5-person Wrath instance in one sitting. I suppose if you had the time and/or were fond of speed running you could do it, but we ran out of gas (and willpower) after 7 of them. We missed out on The Nexus and The Oculus, the latter of which is one of the least favorite 5-person Wrath instances among the raid team for some reason. I personally like The Oculus, but I am definitely in the minority.

**I never hear people saying they want to play a Goblin, only a Worgen.

***And video game RPGs in general.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Meme Monday: Gifted Memes

In our post holiday euphoria, I almost forgot Meme Monday. But hey, there's always last second gifts such as mugs, right?

For the Healer who needs to remind people
of what they do for them. 
From Pinterest.

Found the mug worthy of carrying
my coffee. From Etsy.

Even my wife doesn't buy this
excuse. From Etsy.

I'm pretty sure that my team at work
won't understand this one. At all.
From Etsy.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Just in Time for the Holidays

For the annual Yule Festival in LOTRO, there's this soundtrack...

Happy Yule, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Gaming Weather, Part Two

This is what greeted me on Friday morning:

The top numbers are the indoor
temperature and humidity,
the bottom is the outside ambient temp.

Couple that with 21 MPH winds, our -6.5F/-21.4C felt like -31F/-35C.


The cold alone was enough, but if that were it I could handle that sort of cold temperature. But the wind...

Oh boy, that wind was something.

As in, lots of four letter curse word somethings.

You step outside and even if you're bundled up in thermal undergarments in addition to regular clothes and a parka, and that blast of cold wind just sucks all of the air right out of you in a gasp.


To shovel the snow out to the cars so that we could even scrape them off and start them up, I had to do the "little kid" routine and do something for a couple of minutes and then go back inside to warm up. Even those chemical pack "hand warmers" couldn't keep up with the cold temperatures, but at least they gave it the ol' college try. 

From Pinterest.

Between that and the lack of services --our trash pickup was cancelled, with a "we'll be back to pick it up next Friday!" from them-- and the lack of people on the road, it wasn't that bad. Just annoying.

Right now it's a balmy 10F, so... Yay?

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Gaming Weather, that's for Sure

I believe that someone, somewhere, had to have said that it'd be a cold day in Hell before Messi and Argentina finally won a World Cup.

Uh oh.
From Associated Press, photo by Martin Meissner.

I do know that people said as much concerning the Cincinnati Bengals and the Super Bowl this past January.

Double uh oh.
From Associated Press, photo by Charlie Riedel.

So... Be careful what you wish for, I suppose. Time to turn on the heater down below.


Time to batten down the hatches, here comes the Snowpocalypse.

From The Weather Channel.
NOAA's forecasts are more detailed
but the maps a bit cruder in design.

Okay, that's being a bit self serving, but most of the US is (or will be shortly) in the grip of what is being called a bomb cyclone, along with temperatures low enough that's not been seen in quite a while. 

From The Weather Channel.
Just search for "bomb cyclone."

Here in Cincinnati, the forecast is for -2F/-19C with wind chill reaching -28F/-33C (or worse), so...

Not gonna be fun outside, that's for sure.

I guess that means its time to play some games!

EtA: Corrected a grammatical error.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Meme Monday: Naughty Memes

Well, you know that All Seeing Eye of Santa...

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness' sake!

Well, since he's making a list and checking it twice, let's take a look at some memes on the Naughty side of that list...

Now I know what to wear when my
questing buddy needs an assist.

when Monty Python and Star Wars
intersect. From

We all have had that ONE
player that definitely walks
on the naughty side...

As DM I have become acquainted with this.

And one bonus meme, because why not have one about the Big Guy?

Why yes, as a lad I looked a lot
like Kris Kringle, the one in
the NG slot. From Deviantart.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

An RPG From the Past: Traveller

This is Free Trader Beowulf,
calling anyone . . .
Mayday, Mayday . . .  we are under
attack . . .  main drive is gone . . .
turret number one not responding . . .
Mayday . . .  losing cabin pressure
fast . . .  calling anyone . . .  please help . . .
This is Free Trader Beowulf . . .
                                        Mayday . . .
--The iconic distress call gracing the cover of various editions of Traveller

Back in the late 90s when I worked as a Software QA Engineer, one of my friends there* and I would spend about a half hour after 5 PM chatting about whatever was on our minds. He wasn't interested in "traditional" sports, but he was an absolute racing nut. He preferred the CART series** back then, so we frequently talked open wheel racing. One day, however, we geeked out over RPGs, mainly because of the upcoming D&D 3rd Edition.

"I never really played D&D," he confessed. "I played Traveller."

"What's that?" I thought I knew of most of the RPGs at the time, but this one was new to me.

"It's a Sci-Fi RPG."

"Like Gamma World?" Gamma World was put out by TSR, the publisher of D&D, and was essentially D&D in a post apocalyptic setting.

Be warned, the prices for the
Gamma World 1e rulebook can
spike. A LOT. From eBay.

"No, although it was closer to Star Frontiers." Another TSR game, this time set in space.

Yikes. This is the $90 copy on eBay.

"I'd never heard of it before."

"Oh yeah, it was really cool. It came out right around the time Star Wars was released in theaters, so it got kind of a boost from that."

A few days later when I stopped by his cubicle, he handed me a small booklet. 

"The Travellers' Digest?"

"Yeah! It was a periodical that was put out to support Traveller. It had premade adventures, like early Dragon magazines, but in a scientific journal format."

I flipped through it. "Looks pretty cool."

"Hey, you can have it. I don't play any more, and I happened to stumble on it the other day while I was moving boxes."


It's digest sized too, much like the
original Traveller rulebooks were.

That was the extent of my knowledge of Traveller until several years later, when I was perusing the RPG section at a (now deceased) local game store and came across a few Traveller books under the GURPS license.*** As it turned out, the employee at the store was in a long running campaign of GURPS Traveller, and over the course of a half hour he filled me in on the history of the game.

I found this pic from
No, I've never acquired a copy of
the original version.

Traveller was published by Games Designers' Workshop, a wargaming company, in 1977. Marc Miller was the primary designer, with Loren K. Wiseman, Frank Chadwick, and John Harshman assisting. The original intent for Traveller was to be a generic space RPG system, but what ended up happening was that the Charted Space setting, released by GDW over the years, became so associated with Traveller more people think of Charted Space when they think of Traveller. (Kind of like how D&D and Forgotten Realms are so intimately intertwined.) GDW also kept up with an "official" timeline of what is going on in the Third Imperium****, in much the same way that White Wolf did with Vampire: the Masquerade, so that further integrated Charted Space into the Traveller RPG.

Traveller has seen many iterations over the years. There was the original Traveller, then Megatraveller in the late 80s, then Traveller: The New Era, and Marc Miller's Traveller (4th Edition). There is also a 5th Edition of Traveller put out by Marc Miller, but that version has returned to its roots as a "generic" space RPG system and is mostly comprised of tables upon tables of stuff. Hey, if you like tables to generate things for a space RPG game, there you go.

But for me, Traveller took on new life when it escaped the confines of GDW after GDW closed up shop in 1996.

Among the first of the "non-GDW" Traveller games was GURPS Traveller, supposedly a deal made with a handshake between Loren K. Wiseman and Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games, the publisher of GURPS. GURPS Traveller followed an alternate timeline than the "official GDW timeline", and Steve Jackson Games put out quite a few high quality settings books for Traveller.*****

The starship on the cover of Behind the Claw
is the Beowulf Class Free Trader.
The Spinward Marches is a contested sector
in Charted Space that is the starting
point for many Traveller campaigns.

There was also a d20 version of Traveller, called Traveller20, Traveller Hero (using the HERO System), and what is commonly known as "Mongoose Traveller" (a version of Traveller put out by Mongoose Publishing). Of all of those various versions of Traveller out there, the most popular one that's currently being supported and published is Mongoose Traveller, which is presently on its Second Edition.

Over the years I acquired several GURPS Traveller splatbooks, but I could never get into the GURPS system enough to warrant running the gauntlet of configuring GURPS for a campaign of my own. But Mongoose Traveller...

Now, that's a system I can get behind.

The late Andrew Boulton created several short videos
based on Traveller and the Charted Space setting
about 15 or so years ago. This is the best of the bunch,
using "He's a Pirate" from Pirates of the Caribbean:
Curse of the Black Pearl for the music.


Mongoose Traveller is a bit of a throwback to the original Traveller system in as much the same way as D&D 5th Edition borrowed from Old School D&D. If you want to play a game of Traveller today, most people will be expecting a game of Mongoose Traveller, so if you say "Let's play Traveller!" this is what people expect you to pull out:

It is functionally the same as the
Traveller Second Edition Core
Rulebook, just tweaked for clarity.

Traveller is one of those games whose character creation was a mini-game of its own. You start out as a fresh faced 18 year old, then you go through some (or many) iterations of "professions". You could be a student. Or join the military. Or be an assistant on a trading crew. Or... you get the idea. After that iteration is over, you make a few rolls to see how that period of your life came out, you gain skills, potentially gain "defects", and either join the campaign or spend more time in another iteration.

If somewhere in the back of your mind you're thinking, "That's nice and all, but it's not like your character is ever in any real danger during this character creation process, right?" Well, it's a good thing you're not playing the original version of Traveller.

Why? Because in the original release of Traveller back in 1977, your character could actually DIE during the character creation process.

You read that right.

It was one of the quirks that Traveller was (in)famous for.

Thank you, John Kovalic.
Dork Tower April 4, 2019.

The modern game, starting with GURPS Traveller and Mongoose Traveller, does not allow for character death during the creation process; it's merely "optional" in Mongoose Traveller. I suppose you could use that rule if you really wanted an "old school" feel to your game, but why bother? The point is to create a character that you can play, not realism to the point of having a useless or dead character.#

Another quirk that is not so unusual these days is that character creation in Traveller is a shared experience. Instead of creating a character --in consultation with the GM-- and then showing up with the completed character on the first group session, Traveller expects that character creation for the entire group is what happens in your first session. Along with other RPGs, such as FATE and Burning Wheel, characters in Traveller are created with character hooks, so that each character has a connection with the others. (Or some of the others.)

This is one of the big editing changes
in the 2022 Update version of the rules.
If only other RPGs did this!
(I'm looking at you, Ars Magica...)


One thing that distinguishes Traveller from, say, Paizo's Starfinder or the various iterations of the Star Wars RPGs is that Traveller skews much more toward hard SF. Elements of Fantasy --Magic, Force wielders, etc.-- are not found in Traveller. There's SF handwaving in terms of how faster than light (FTL) travel is achieved via the Jump Drive, and there's Psionics among some species --such as the Zhodani, a sub-species of Humans-- but aside from that, Traveller is very much a hard SF setting. Even The Ancients, a mystery species (well, not to the GM) who planted human ancestors across Charted Space and tinkered with and/or uplifted others, are less Fantasy and more SF. I mean, CRISPR-Cas9 exists already.

Unlike Star Trek, where players typically are members of the crew of a Starfleet or Klingon starship, the Traveller crews can fill any number of potential roles:
  • Independent Trader
  • Naval
  • Mercenary
  • Pirate
  • Espionage
  • Smuggling
  • Warzone/Rebellion
  • Exploration
  • Diplomacy
  • Etc.
All that's limited is your imagination.

Yeah, Smeghead.

  • Want to play a campaign inspired by Firefly? Traveller can do that. 
  • Want to play a rebellion campaign without Fantasy elements, such as Star Wars Andor or Blake's Seven? Traveller can do that.
  • Want to play a bounty hunter space campaign inspired by Cowboy Bebop? Traveller can do that too.
  • Want to play James Bond in Space? Or an Ocean's Eleven in space? Traveller again.
  • Want to play a space exploration/horror campaign where your crew encounter aliens based off of Alien or The Thing? Or even Men in Black? Yeah, Traveller has you covered.
  • Want to play a military oriented campaign in the same vein as John Scalzi's Old Man's War? Hey, if you want to homebrew the setting a bit, Traveller can do it. After all, there's a Traveller setting called 2300 A.D.
  • Want to play a space opera where Duchies encompassing different star systems vie for power and prestige in a galactic empire? Let me introduce you to Traveller's Third Imperium, set in the Charted Space universe.
  • Want to play a game with a lot of starship oriented combat and maneuvers? Traveller was built with starships in mind at the beginning, not bolted on at the end (Starfinder) or added in an expansion (Star Frontiers).
In fact, Traveller's Charted Space setting can handle all of these campaign ideas and more, while providing a familiar framework to fall back upon. Even Charted Space itself may feel familiar to SWTOR fans in an unexpected manner, as the Third Imperium's modus operandi is that the Imperial Space doesn't mean that the Imperium centrally controls worlds or systems, but the space between the systems.


Mongoose Traveller uses the six-sided die as its main mechanic --typically 2 six-sided dice rolled, with the nomenclature of 2D instead of 2d6-- but aside from that the basics of RPGs are still intact. There are skill checks, combat checks, etc., all things you'd expect in an RPG. While Traveller is definitely a hard SF game, don't mistake the game as being entirely centered around combat. 

It's not.

Traveller was designed from the beginning to handle a lot of campaigns, and while the "free form trader" type of campaign is the most ubiquitous type of Traveller campaign, that doesn't mean that you spend all of your time examining spreadsheets and figuring out optimal profit margins as if you were playing a pencil-and-paper version of EVE Online.## 

Heh. If you really want to, I guess both.

But campaigns aside, let's talk about another elephant in the room: advancement.

Traveller may not be so unusual today, but the concept of a game where there is little if any skill advancement once character creation is complete very much went against the grain back in the 1970s. Think about it this way: what would WoW be like if there were no levels or power ups or skill progression such as is currently found in the game? If the point of the game wasn't to become powerful but the telling of the story and your character's progression through the story? While you may potentially learn more skills (and/or spells, attack moves, etc.) and you might find better arms/armor/weapons, the concept of raid bosses with explicit and/or implicit affiliated gear checks would take on a different meaning. 

If you were a crewmember on the Firefly (or the Bebop), your focus isn't on progression, it's where your next meal is coming from. If you were Fezzik, Inigo, or Westley, your "character progression" in The Princess Bride happened before the real story began, when Princess Buttercup was captured. The entire adventure didn't end with someone "leveling up", but rather their escape from Prince Humperdinck's clutches. Their adventures certainly didn't end there, but they weren't running around looking for loot and better magic items to use. 

My point is that the mindset we have with a lot of our RPGs is very much advancement/loot oriented or maybe min/max oriented, and Traveller is not built for that. Sure, you might end up with a better ship than the Beowulf Class Free Trader --hey, that Empress Marava Far Trader would work-- but how you got that ship in place of your old one is worth an extended campaign all by itself.### In fact, there's a starter adventure hook out there that is exactly this: your crew purchased the rights to a starship that's sitting out in the wilderness, having landed there a while back and the owner wasn't able to get back and take off. It's all yours, but it's out there, somewhere. Surely that's not a big deal, is it? Is it?


In the end, Traveller is one of those RPGs whose Charted Space setting is so amazingly deep that if the game mechanics don't suit you, I could easily see Traveller's Charted Space being used as the setting for another RPG, such as FATE or Savage Worlds. Still, Traveller itself has its share of devotees even today.  Not too long ago, my oldest was hanging with a couple of friends from her high school days. The boyfriend of an acquaintance was there, and talk eventually turned to RPGs. "Oh, I play this Sci-Fi RPG that hardly anybody has ever heard of," the boyfriend piped up. "But we like it."

"Oh," my oldest replied. "You play Traveller?"

"Holy crap! You've heard of it?"

"Yeah, my dad has a lot of splatbooks for it."

Score one for the Sci-Fi devotees!

Free Trader Beowulf . . .
Come in, Free Trader Beowulf . . .
Can you hear me?
Come in, Free Trader Beowulf . . .
Hang in there, Beowulf. . .
                . . . help is on the way!
--From Steve Jackson Games' GURPS Traveller website

*Before anybody asks, yes he was one of the people from this story. I still keep in touch with him, even after he left our company and moved to Houston to take a job with NASA. Yes, he works at NASA as a third party programmer, and presently is coding various systems for Artemis. The lucky dog.

**It's morphed into the IndyCar Series of today. It's a very long story as to how CART led to a rival league, the IndyCar Racing League (IRL), and how after several years one league folded and the resultant fallout created the IndyCar Series.

***GURPS is one of many generic role playing systems out there, but also one of the more complicated ones to set up. It is so detailed that it is difficult to configure the way you like it, but once you've decided on a system and customized a set of abilities it is easy to implement. That being said, I frequently like to quip that GURPS is a game where the system tends to get in the way of a good time.

****The Third Imperium is the largest star empire in Charted Space, and so you frequently see Charted Space and Third Imperium used interchangeably. If you're like me and see a space game with a name like "Imperium" in it and immediately think of "Evil Galactic Empire", don't worry. The Third Imperium is definitely NOT that. The closest way I can describe the Imperium --and Charted Space in general-- is that it is the Age of Sail in space. Distances still have to be crossed for communication, and while the Jump Drive does connect star systems, it does take time for a starship to cross the vastness of space. Subspace communications --ala Star Trek and Star Wars-- simply don't exist. 

*****If you ignore the GURPS stat blocks and/or tweak them to your own version of Traveller you're using, the writeups for these GURPS splatbooks are fantastic to mine for ideas and setting materials. I think the only drawback now is that they might be hard to find in print. Not as hard to find as MERP, for example, but definitely not something that'll just show up in the cheap bin in a random game store. However, Steve Jackson Games has PDFs of the splatbooks for sale at their Warehouse 23 website.

#This is a pale echo of the same argument about "realism" by modifying a PC's character stats in AD&D 1e due to aging or gender. I understand the desire to make a PC "realistic" by modifying character stats if you want to play an aged Cleric, for instance, but you don't need to modify stats for that. Any DM worth their salt would accommodate this without resorting to changing a character's stats at all. Same with playing a male vs. female Human PC: just because the average male Human is stronger than the average female Human doesn't mean that female PCs should have a lower ceiling on their Strength stat: after all, you're playing an outlier to the "average" Human, so artificial limitations to the stats for the sake of realism make no sense.

##I know NOW that EVE Online isn't like that, it just seems like it at times. So that little quip here was to just tweak the EVE fans out there.

###After all, we can't all be so lucky as to win a freighter in a game of Sabacc. And if you did, can you imagine that the crew of said ship would be happy about that?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Are We Not Gods?

It's a problem that every RPG DM or developer has to grapple with eventually: what do you do when the players in your campaign (or game) become too powerful? 

I'm not talking "famous" or "powerful" or "admired", but POWERFUL.

As in "demon lord slaying on home plane" powerful.

Or "defeating Death" powerful.

Or "Godslayer" powerful.

Or... You get the idea.

That was a problem I grappled with back when I first played D&D, as my first characters to survive to L20 or higher were so powerful that I had to do something with them. They steamrolled Orcus and Demogorgon, for pete's sake, and while that was also back in the days of dungeons containing rooms filled with "five red dragons!", I at least understood enough that I ought to retire my characters. So, I rolled a die and adjusted my characters' stats upward, anointed them as gods*, and retired them. Having the original Deities and Demigods book by TSR around didn't exactly hurt in that regard.

But still, what to do with overly powerful characters is a problem that people wrestle with all the time, whether it be in a pencil-and-paper RPG campaign or a video game.

Baldur's Gate 2 confronts that problem in the course of the main storyline, and without invoking spoilers, let's say that I totally understand Bioware's solution to the conundrum. I'd like to think that I could handle that situation as good as they did, but I do realize that I never really had the chance. That solitary situation in my youth was the only time I've ever been a part of a campaign where my characters' levels reached crazy powerful territory. I mean, the Cleric in the recently concluded 20+ year D&D 3.0 campaign never reached above 9th Level. It was just the nature of that game to not progress fast, and while that lack of progression didn't bother me, the lack of progress on the overall story did.

None of the games I cited above had the baked in issues that are confronted by online games, such as MMOs, however.


MMOs --especially those who have a progression based model-- will eventually confront the problem of "the characters are too powerful". And I don't mean "too powerful for low level zones" either, because that's a separate (although related**) issue. This is more along the lines of when a main character in a novel becomes so powerful that they venture into Mary Sue/Marty Stu territory, such as Pug and Tomas in Raymond E. Feist's first Riftwar series.

Or, say, the problems confronted by Saitama, the One Punch Man.

Yeah, pretty much.

Part of the problem is the scale of the enemies a player faces; because of the scaling up in power, the enemies have to scale up as well. So you may have started from humble beginnings, but by the end you're hobnobbing with the rich and powerful.

Every video game RPG ever.
From Reddit.

Do this a couple of times over the course of a few expansions, and the next thing you know you're consorting with godlike beings. 

"Here goes nothing."


Now, this trajectory doesn't have to happen --at least to at this much a degree as it has in some MMOs-- but eventually all online RPGs that hang around long enough will hit this wall. 

But is it a wall?

Well, once you get past a certain point, the scope of the game changes. You're no longer in "Kill Small Creatures" questing scope but "Kill Big Ol' Demons" territory.

Or you progress beyond that into "Slay an Old God" territory.

The people you interact with in game changes --either slowly or quickly depending on the game involved-- and you're far beyond those salad days of digging up turnips for a farmer in The Shire.


He looked all round him and it was only then that he recognized the place as his own cell.

'Yes,' said he, 'there's the stone I used to sit on! There are the marks where my shoulders rubbed their shape on to the stone! There's the stain left by the blood from my forehead the day I tried to batter my brains out against the wall! Oh, and these numbers . . . I remember . . .
--From The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Unabridged Edition, pp 1048.

Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo --D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers is another-- comes into power and consequently the story changes around him. The stakes are higher, because the people Edmond seeks revenge upon have maneuvered themselves into positions of power and prestige, but they remained fundamentally the same lowborn conspirators who betrayed him all those years ago.

Or in Baldur's Gate, you're introduced to the Big Bad (in game) in the intro, only you don't realize what the context is until you've played the entirety of the game. By the end of the game your position in life has changed, but the Big Bad has not. 

Both, however, are works with a defined beginning, middle, and end. MMOs don't really have that luxury, so the stakes constantly change with each expansion. And the easy way out for MMOs is to raise the stakes with each successive expansion. Unfortunately, that can back developers into a corner, content-wise. 

A Legion thing I presume.
From Know Your Meme.

That meme aside, when you get successively more earth shaking and more powerful end bosses in each new expansion whose plots to do "whatever" are even more outlandish than the one before it, you get past a breaking point. 

LOTRO had it easy, relatively speaking, because that MMO followed the books, right up until the end when the Ringbearer completed his quest and Sauron was destroyed. Now the MMO becomes, "What do we do next to top that?" And there's no easy answer.

But other MMOs, such as WoW, have a harder time of it when you have to raise the stakes with each successive expansion without falling into any one of the following traps:
  • "I'm not bad, I'm defending us from the NEXT Big Bad!"
  • Meet the new Big Bad, same as the old Big Bad.
  • Bait with one plotline and Switch to a repeat of an old plotline.
  • An "I was Good (or at least Neutral) but now I'm Bad" Big Bad.
  • Changing the backstory to create a new Big Bad out of whole cloth plotline.
Even if the plotline of an expansion covers one of these traps, you can still find an MMO story/expansion that doesn't necessarily have a corresponding escalation in power to match the players' own arms' race. It's not a given by any stretch. However, it takes a rare MMO to avoid falling into the "more bigger better MORE" design. 

More gear.

More shinies.

More powers.

More everything.

And then you wake up one day and wonder just how you started out as this:

And then you find yourself looking like this:

And this is before the current
expac in WoW Classic.

And you are hanging around with people like this:

You bet your ass she's bowing.

Or this:

I'm running out of screen space.

How the hell do you describe this to people back home without them wondering what has become of you? And what do you do when a suitably lofty opinion of yourself creeps into your psyche? When beings of this amount of power and prestige call you friend and invite you to sit at the table, it can't help but influence your opinions of yourself, and just how far away from your beginnings you have come. 

"More" indeed.

There's no easy answer to the power creep per se, since to a lot of people there is no problem at all. There's always another hill to climb, another challenge to overcome. But I guess getting on toward middle age has taught me a bit about that spiral; how there always is an upper barrier on what can be achieved, and eventually we all have to live with our limitations, our regrets, and our failures. 

Of course, a game that provided such an outlook wouldn't have a lot of players, because it's more fun to win than be reminded of our mortality. (Dark Souls notwithstanding.) Even changing the overall trajectory of the power creep just a little bit, whether it be by level squish or moving the focus away from a world shattering in-game story, can engender more than its share of angst. Think of Dragonflight, and how there were more than its share of detractors when the expac was announced. I, for one, applauded the movement away from "the world is ending" vibe that tends to permeate the WoW ecosystem, but I wasn't so foolish as to think that WoW was going to stop being on a gear treadmill once the Dragonflight released. That treadmill is still there, and the surest sign that WoW is still WoW is that you get to help choose the next leader of the Black Dragonflight.***

Think about that for a moment: why would the two rivals for leadership of the Black Dragonflight, a Flight (in)famous for their haughty attitudes toward all "lesser beings"****, be wanting your support? They only respect people more powerful than their own. That I've yet to see a post saying "Hey, waitaminute" from my blog feed pretty much shows that people simply accept that you can make the choice. Not necessarily that you may want to, but that you are in the right to do so. In effect you are the Cardinal Richelieu of Azeroth.

"Who are you for, King Wrathion or Cardinal Sabellius?"
--D'Artagnan, probably


I guess that this is the nature of the beast, that power creep is inevitable and you either accept it or jump off the train. Okay, there's a third option, to simply ignore it and...

I hear Silvermoon is nice this
time of  year.

Or maybe just hang around The Pig and Whistle and roleplay? Or maybe The Lion's Pride?

From Reddit.

Or create a twink for BGs and just do that?

Or run one of those places in FFXIV?

Or form a band and play in Bree on Fridays?

Or maybe be a roadie for that band.
(FWIW, this band still plays on Friday
afternoons on the Gladden-US server.)

There are things to do, but they are decidedly against the spirit of MMOs.

Or are they?

Nothing says that you can't simply ignore what the developers want you to play and just do your own thing. Crafting your own resolution to The Hero's Journey isn't necessarily a bad thing to do, after all. You're in effect doing what I did all those years ago: retire your character from active adventuring.

And again, nothing says that you can't spend your days playing a D&D campaign that consists of minding a tavern as adventurers pass through.

Just gonna put this here.
I was so happy to give my 
local bookstore my money for this.

Of course you're not obligated to buy any new MMO expansion --or in the case of LOTRO or SWTOR or some other MMOs you don't have to buy anything at all-- but that's up to you. If nothing else, you can control your own resolution to the power creep, which is a good thing. You have the option to say that you are not a god, you are a person. And even the heroic need a reality check from time to time.

*I think I "officially" called them demi-gods, because being a good Catholic kid I wasn't messing around with actual godhood itself.

**Some MMOs --Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, Elder Scrolls Online-- adjust your level downward if you're in a low level zone, and dole out rewards accordingly. This has varying levels of success based on the amount of tuning the devs have performed, but at least it's an attempt at a solution. Some MMOs don't even bother trying.

***I'd have called it spoilers, but you can't throw a stick in a Retail WoW blog without some mention of it in there.

****Admittedly, the Twilight Drake Vesperon says "You pose no threat, lesser beings! Give me your worst!" But come on, where do you think that Vesperon got that idea from?

Monday, December 12, 2022

Meme Monday: Miscellaneous Memes

Because the memes can pile up without a specific theme, here's a few of an assortment of memes:

This is Cardwyn as DPS facing
Patchwerk in Naxxramas. Pretty much.
From Pinterest.

Because I can't resist teasing my son.
But there's a bit more to this than just
that; something worthy of an actual
post. From Know Your Meme.

This, along with "it took
you more than a week to get
to level cap?" are two defining
features of old versus new
MMOs. From Elder Scrolls
Online forums.

And that's why I'm a bit of a minimalist
regarding addons. From Know Your Meme.

Friday, December 9, 2022

And We Just Couldn't Get Rid of Him

Well, I guess the era of megamergers is over, for the time being.

This is the graphic the BBC used for
Activision Blizzard. I was about to use
the acryonym "AB", but that was too close
to Anheuser-Busch for my mind.

The US Government filed suit to block the Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Blizzard was essentially along for the ride anyway with this acquisition, as this was mainly about Activision and Call of Duty. Go figure, right?

I guess that means that we're still stuck with Bobby Kotick for now. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Meme Monday: You All Meet in a Tavern Memes

It's a standard trope in any RPG, whether it be a tabletop game, a video game, or even an MMO*, that "you meet at an inn/tavern" is how the party gets together. Given that I spent my weekend repairing my tavern (painting my home office and moving stuff around), I thought it appropriate to share some tavern themed memes.

At least I can read/write Common.
From Dungeons and Dads on FB.

You know, I don't think I have
started a tavern fire yet.
From Pinterest.

You know, I could make
a month's worth of Meme
Mondays just dedicated
to Goldshire. And not
have them officially NSFW
From Pinterest.

...and one straight outta Jojo's
Bizarre Adventure.

*Think Goldshire... No no... DON'T think Goldshire! Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Watching the Bronco Busters Work

I'm watching the initial posts about Dragonflight from the sideline, such as Kaylriene's, and I wonder whether Dragonflight is for me.

Or maybe a better question to ask is whether Dragonflight is for someone who liked the open world of Vanilla Classic but gradually became disappointed with the tone and direction of TBC Classic and Wrath Classic. 

I already know I don't like the revamped Old World brought about by Cataclysm over a decade ago*, and the focus of you in Wrath (and onward) as a sort of superhero for merely doing the job of killing ten rats kind of wears on me. Yes, other MMOs have something similar in design --such as SWTOR and LOTRO-- but... the transition from Vanilla's do a variety of things or a couple of mini stories in a zone to your character having a soundtrack straight out of a Bonnie Tyler song by the end of Wrath doesn't quite do it for me. 

If I'm coming back to Dragonflight, it will be from the standpoint of a player who had effectively retired after defeating Arthas, teaming up with Neve to teach apprentices away from the crowds of Stormwind and Silvermoon. Card would have to be coaxed out of retirement by acquaintances among the dragonflights; in her case it would likely have been Haleh (or maybe Awbee) asking Card to come help explore the Dragon Isles since her eye for detail would prove invaluable. 

Coming back into the fray after having been (effectively) away for 20 years would be difficult for Card, which mirrors my own difficulties stepping back into Retail and finding so many different systems and expectations beyond what things were like in Retail Wrath.** Look at it this way: there have now been just as many expansions in World of Warcraft after I left than before I left, 8 years ago. That's a lot of "learn something only to discard it two years later" playing, but also a lot of changes to the basics and the systems behind the game. 

One need only look at the map to see evidence of that.

This is Wrath Classic, but it's functionally
unchanged since Vanilla Classic.

Yes, that's the original Azshandra.
The map is that smallish thing
with all of the quest markers and
whatnot in it.

The integration of the map with quest markers --along with other items-- would have been provided with addons until when the default map was changed, sometime after the Mists of Pandaria expansion. 

You can customize the map to an extent:

I had to hunt around for it, but this
is brought up by the magnifying
glass, above.

But not too much. The main quest markers are still present.

I guess I wouldn't complain about it so much if it was something I was used to from the start, such as SWTOR's map, 

Courtesy of my baby Imperial Agent.

except that SWTOR's map has changed a bit over the years. Some of the "non-story" quests are now hidden by default, and you have to manually select an option to show them, but largely it has remained the same. In fact, the quest design itself behind SWTOR is very similar to that of Wrath Classic, down to the display in the default UI.

Linna taking a short break at
Valiance Keep. Note the list of quests
in the upper right.

It's been so long since I played this
Agent that some things have been
reset, but the quest list is still present,
again in the upper left.

Of course, I never knew that the quest list being turned on by default was an innovation in Wrath itself until I began playing Vanilla Classic and discovered it simply didn't exist wasn't turned on. [EtA: corrected this but kept the original in editing. Thanks to Indy for pointing out the miss here due to my lack of clarity.]***

What I have found is that throwing away the map and playing in a non-optimized manner allows me to just explore and figure things out on my own, something I'd never experienced before in MMOs until I had the chance to in Vanilla Classic. I'm obviously in the minority here, because MMOs have evolved away from exploratory play and in favor of directed play. All you have to know about that is that Retail conditioned players to sprint to max level to begin the grinding of prepping for raids, despite design intentions in Dragonflight to counter that FOMO.

The relevant portion is at 0:51:10, about the
design change of players logging in without
mandatory content. However, if you've the time
the entire video is VERY much worth it.

Old habits are hard to break, particularly when the next expansion is well underway.**** 


All of that aside, the question remains: will a person who likes more of the open world, more cold war version of the pre-Cataclysm World of Warcraft find enough to love in Dragonflight, which on the face of it seems to be a completely different game?

If it were a matter of using the same subscription to go ahead and play that'd be one thing, but WoW still requires a person to pay for the expansions, so it becomes a matter of whether $50 is worth it to buy, play for a few hours, and then discard if I don't like it. And I don't know about you, but especially during the Holidays I don't have $50 just sitting around to blow on what to me seems a pretty risky gamble, so I'm going to sit on the fence for a while. I'm kind of used to that, as after all, it's not like I haven't done that before.

*I've been pondering that quite a bit lately, and I considered several reasons why I didn't like the revamp: the focus on the Horde and Alliance conflict, the shoehorning of Goblins and Worgen into an already existing world, and the constantly depressing viewpoints of the conflict (::cough:: Hillsbrad ::cough::). But I think the biggest reason why I didn't like the revamp was the need for every single zone to have an overarcing zone story. In Vanilla WoW, and to a lesser extent TBC and Wrath, there may have been stories set within a zone, but with a few notable exceptions (such as Westfall) there hasn't been a singular dominant story arc like that found in The Storm Peaks in Wrath. However, almost all of the revamped Old World zones have one dominant zone story to help propel the questing from hub to hub.

**Yes, for the record I stopped playing at the end of Mists, but I effectively stopped playing any sort of PvE group content shortly into Cataclysm; the toxic atmosphere and LTP noob nature of the LFD tool killed any interest in learning how to do group content beyond the occasional Normal dungeon run. Instead, I focused on (regular) Battlegrounds and by the time Mists of Pandaria was coming to an end I grew tired of the pervasive nature of bots and how the Alliance could only win the 40 person BGs. 

***Hence the prevalence of the Questie addon in the Classic community.

****It's like that in any software development house. At the one I worked at back in the 90s, the "official" release of our product was barely noticed by the development staff, as we were about 1/3 of the way into the projects already identified for the next release. And we didn't have issues like MMOs do, where the reception of systems and changes for the current expansion won't have a true impact on the game until two expansions later. That's because you simply can't change direction on a dime and devote a huge amount of resources to changing the game potentially mid-to-late expac development. In our case, it was a matter of which project got priority more than changing projects entirely.

EtA: I meant to put the proper code for Preach's YouTube video in there, but I forgot. Oopsie.