Monday, January 31, 2022

Something I Never Thought I'd Ever See... Ever

I opened my email this morning to find this there:


As a Cincinnati native, I was attending college the last time the Bengals were in the Super Bowl --yes, I'm old-- but after decades of losing and heartbreak and bizarro stuff that can only be described as "losing in the most Bengals way possible", my team has climbed the mountaintop to reach the summit.

It's as likely as me picking up Retail WoW and declaring it the best thing ever.

But here we are.

If we win, great. If we lose, that's okay. But we're back, and I'm still stunned.

Friday, January 28, 2022

An RPG from the Past: Ars Magica

Note: This is likely the first of an occasional series about RPGs and/or other games that I've either played or wanted to play in the past. Look, I get that people aren't likely to find these interesting, so I'm doing this more for my own trip down memory lane. Up first is a game that's been a lot on my mind lately, Ars Magica.


A long time ago, around the time my wife and I were married, she worked at the Cincinnati Museum Center* and we got to know several fellow recent college graduates on staff. This was during the first huge surge of popularity for Magic: The Gathering, and a couple of her friends on staff offered to show us how to play the game. We'd played Talisman and other board games such as Advanced Civilization**, so I figured we were ready for a new challenge. We met up at a coffee shop attached to a local bookstore, set up the cards, and started playing. 

The game was okay, I suppose, but what I remembered the most about that evening was one of my wife's friends casually mentioning role playing games. 

"Sure," I said in reply. "I played D&D back in the day, lived through the Satanic Panic, and I played MERP as well."


"Middle-earth Role Playing."

Oh, Iron Crown Enterprises.
My old friend. I have waaaay too
many splatbooks from them.
(Pic from

"Ah! Have you tried Ars Magica?"

"No, I haven't," I replied after a short pause. I'd tried a couple of less well known RPGs, such as Gamma World, Top Secret, and some indie games people were developing, but Ars Magica didn't ring a bell.

"Oh! You have to try it!" he replied. "It's a game where the main characters are all Magi and it's set in Mythic Europe, where all of the myths are real."

"So like the setting for Darklands, then," I added, making the connection between the Microprose video game and his RPG.

"Yeah, but the system is really different. Magi are really the main characters in the game and are much more powerful than any other character."

"Oh." I preferred playing Clerics and healer types, so that kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm. Still, I didn't want to turn down the potential offer of playing another RPG, so I kept him talking about the setting and how it all worked out.

The next Friday that we got together to play some M:tG, he handed me the core rulebook:

From all over the internet, but
this one was from Atlas Games.

I was used to an RPG having multiple rulebooks, such as D&D or Rolemaster, so a singular rulebook of around 160 pages or so kind of threw me. I was expecting something, well, more massive than it seemed. 

But still, when I read the first words of a narrative story provided to the reader...

The wisps of mist swirled around Lucienne as she trudged the last few yards up the hill with the others. Nearing the summit, she stopped and looked up to see the goal of her journey, the tower of Mistridge Covenant thrusting heavenward through the gray fog. Perched on the parapet at the top of the tower was the ragged silhouette of a woman clawing at the air. A screech echoed over the hill as she suddenly plunged earthward. In a mad flurry of feathers, she turned into a large raven, then flew off across the valley.

Watching the bird disappear into the distance, Lucienne looked behind her. There lay the rolling countryside, lush, green, and fertile, home of the common folk, home of the life she was now leaving forever. Somewhere just beyond the horizon lay Foix, the city that had burned her father for heresy and left her mother dead in the gutter. In that city she had no future, but what lay before her now?

She glanced uneasily at the tall, gray-robed wizard beside her. Grimgroth, her future mentor: she would call him master. He had stopped beside her and was searching her face with a somber, inscrutable gaze.

Avoiding his eyes, terrified of what she might see, Lucienne peered forward to see the gate of the covenant through the mist. Once she passed through that portal, there would be no turning back. Inside awaited a whole new world.

Thoughts and memories of her former life rushed through her mind. Of her years as a forlorn waif running through the crowded streets with a gang of urchins. Of stealing bread from the market stalls beneath the disapproving gaze of the looming cathedral. She remembered her only friend, Friar Ambrose, who would sometimes gather her into his robes at night, offering her the only peaceful sleep she ever enjoyed. After the death of her parents, there had been only the cold, the hunger, and the loneliness.

Then one day he came, a tall, gray shadow, whose stare tugged at feelings of awe within Lucienne. He had followed her around the city for days, watching everything she did, scrutinizing her very soul. She had been terrified, but there was no one she could turn to. In the end he had asked her to go with him. And she had gone, compelled by a nagging curiosity, tinged with a hint of fatalism. Anything would be better than the streets.

She had heard stories of the wizards and their damnable deeds. The tales were mainly the babblings of old women and over-zealous priests, but what if there was some truth in them? As she began to realize what might lie before her, a feeling of panic clutched her heart.

"What am I doing here?" she said in a whisper barely audible above the wind that raced over the hill.

Grimgoth, who had waited patiently for her, said gently, "You, Lucienne, are becoming a magus, to learn the art of magic, and to learn of yourself. You have the Gift within you, and I will draw it forth. Come."

Her worries somehow laid aside, and her heart filled with new courage, Lucienne walked with Grimgoth the last steps through the mist to the tower, entered through the gateway, and heard the thick, oaken doors shut behind her. A new life had begun.***

There was more to the story, of course, scattered throughout the rulebook, but past that first page I was drawn into what the designers wanted. 

The game was a "troupe" style narrative system, where the players would create several characters --one mage and several others-- and who they played depended on the scenario and the GM. The GM position rotated among the players as well, so that gave everybody a chance to direct the story as well as play different characters. Since you had a stable of characters, the imbalance inherent in Ars Magica with vastly powerful Magi coupled with Grogs and Companions (both "normal people") meant that nobody felt left out in the game. 

A lot of the illustrations from the 2nd Edition
would have been at home in old style D&D books.
From Ars Magica 2nd Edition, page 102.

Magi in Ars Magica are vastly more powerful than the other characters in game, but they are limited in social interactions and by the code of the Order of Hermes, which all magi belong. The long and short of it is that The Gift makes people uneasy around magi --magi included-- and magi in general lack in social skills. On top of that, the code which all magi swear to is to avoid being pawns or meddling in mundane affairs (those without the Gift) or that of the Church or Infernal beings. If a magi breaks the code, the inquisitors of the Order investigate and can order the destruction of any mage found guilty of breaking the code. Given that the Divine can wipe the Order of Hermes off the map if it chose to do so, staying out of mundane affairs is a prudent path forward.

Of course, that doesn't mean that magi don't make problems into their own, such as Faeries attacking a nearby village becoming the magi's problem when people blame the magi for the attacks. To clear their name and possibly obtain rare resources in the process, the magi investigate to determine the truth of the matter, beginning a campaign in Ars Magica.

One last bit of the basics of Ars Magica is the Covenant, the "home base" for magi. A group of magi come together to form a Covenant that operates much like a self contained keep or manor house, complete with people who run the place (non-Gifted humans known as Grogs and their more specialized Companions). Covenants themselves have vigor and importance based on the "seasons" of their life: Covenants in their Spring are brand new, full of vigor, but hardly any influence; Summer Covenants have grown in arcane power but political power lags; Fall Covenants are at their height with political and magical power in abundance but the seeds of their decline are already planted; but Winter Covenants are those that have lost their political and magical power, and are but a shell of their former selves.

The game could be combat heavy, politically heavy, or research and development heavy. Sometimes all at once, sometimes something different entirely. It was entirely up to the players in the same way that a modern FATE or Burning Wheel game is today. And that free form magic system that was in place... That was something totally unique to the time. I can't really describe it as anything other than placing latin words to magical effects, and the mixing/matching that goes on courtesy of the naming is something else.


I never got the chance to actually play Ars Magica, because the person who let me borrow the rulebook for a while ended up dating someone who consumed almost all of his time, and that was that. Some years later I stumbled across a 3rd edition of Ars Magica and picked it up, but it was a slightly edgier version of the same rules than I'd experienced before.

I found out later that Mark Rein-Hagen had taken some of the basic rule design of Ars Magica, in particular the "troupe" style of play, and created Vampire: the Masquerade, which happened to become a bit of an RPG hit in the 90s. I suspect the edginess from 3rd edition came from that association with V:tM as well as another descendant of Ars Magica, Mage: the Ascension. 

The game whose popularity in the
90s eclipsed that of D&D.

For some reason, Ars Magica's edginess and association with V:tM bothered me. I wasn't a prude by any means, but I think that my dealings with the Satanic Panic back in the day made me sensitive to how games could be perceived by the religious parts of society, and the Mythic Europe of Ars Magica skirted that border so much that it made me uncomfortable. You'd think that someone well versed in Fantasy and Science Fiction wouldn't have such issues, but I did. I guess I wasn't as secular as I thought I was, because it took much longer for me to make some peace with my ghosts and move forward.

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a 5th Edition of Ars Magica --the current version-- and on impulse I bought the game. 

A better quality photo than I'm
capable of.


It still has its players but is nowhere near as popular as D&D, Pathfinder, or even its own descendants, the World of Darkness games. That's a real shame, because the game has an extremely well thought out design and a game world that is both immediately recognizable and familiar to players. I have made my peace with the troupe style of play, due in no small part to playing Mages in World of Warcraft and other video games, and if I had the chance I'd jump at trying my hand at an Ars Magica campaign.

*Back then she worked in the Natural History Museum as floor staff. Eventually, she transitioned off that job and into working evening events, which worked out well for her once we started having kids. I could take care of the kids in the evening, and she could go out and work an event or four per month.

**The Avalon Hill boardgame, not the one based on Sid Meier's Civilization.

***Tweet, Jonathan and Rein-Hagen, Mark; Ars Magica, 2nd Edition, 1989, pg 4. What I find most interesting is who also contributed to the book: Lisa Stevens, now the head of Paizo; Doug Shuler, artist for M:tG and plenty of RPGs; and John Nephew who went on to form Atlas Games.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

No Regerts*

When you're a Mage, you don't have to wait for Summer to enjoy some sun and relaxation.

Time to conjure up another frosty drink.

While Cardwyn has been enjoying some fun in the sun, I've been contemplating what to do with her. Originally, my plan was to see how high her leveling in the Old World could go before I run into practical limits --and I still want to see how that'll work out-- but I'd rather not just grind mobs all day for fun and (dubious) profit. Like maybe work on a mount or something.

Or at least finish some quests out there that I'd originally skipped on her while getting to L60. 

One thing about TBC Classic is that you don't gain access to new spells until you go to Outland, so my refusal to take Card through the Dark Portal means that I'm invoking "hard mode" back in the Old World. Sure, I get more mana and more health, but I don't get anything else along the way. It's more of an annoyance than anything else at this point, but every time I run into that limitation it gets me annoyed enough to say "Okay, fine. I'll do it my way, and I'm gonna like it!"**

Kind of like how every time somebody asks when I'm going to level Card in Outland, it reinforces my decision to be obstinate.

Or go play Neve more.

Speaking of whom...

I like how Melisara thinks. Very Orc-like.
But don't tell her I said that.

Having access to teleports all over the place makes Neve's questing a lot easier than Briganaa's ever was. I'd forgotten how nice it is to just pop over to wherever and then have a much shorter flight to the zone you needed to be. If anything, she leveled so quickly that I had to go back and work on leveling tailoring so I could gain access to useful patterns for her. 

I have been keeping an eye open for instances, but like the LFG channel on the Alliance side, there's not a lot out there that's not strictly for Outland. Or the occasional boost.

And yes, boosting does go on, based on the requests for SM and ZF boosts. I guess that could get me some gear, but you also must have gold to get boosted, and with Neve's perpetual poverty that's where some crafting and farming come into play.

But I'm also not in any particular hurry to get Neve to Outland, as I'm enjoying seeing the Old World quests from the Horde side for a change. It also gives me a welcome respite from having to think about anything Black Temple or Hyjal related.

Believe me, I'm not missing having to get ready for those raids. My gear is still subpar, but even if I do get into a raid this coming Monday*** I'm not planning on bidding on any gear. It should go to people who are continuing in progression, not me.

There was a request in our guild Discord for a run in Heroic Mana Tombs to get the DPS totem for a Shaman, and the people involved wondered if I wanted the totem too.

"No thanks," I replied. "It's no longer a priority for me, so go for it yourself."

And after I typed that, this was my reaction:

No, I wasn't eating sand, but...

Or maybe it was this:

"The hills are alive..."

No worries about being an example for people, or being judged for gear (or lack thereof), or getting judged for my commitment to the raid, or anyone of a half dozen things that would float through my head and just get me depressed about the situation I found myself in.


Stepping back now, I can see that my feelings about progression raiding actually have been haunting me for longer than I cared to admit. 

All of the farming for mats to make the consumables that went on for the entire time we spent in Naxxramas wore on me to the point where I'd not login on Card unless I absolutely had to. Since most of my farming was done on Azshandra, I could hide from people. Well, since I wasn't in Valhalla at the time, that little fact made my life easier too, but looking back on it everything was about the raid****, and nothing about what enjoyment I got out of playing WoW. Trying to keep my raiding life separate from my non-raiding life was becoming more and more difficult, and I can now see why some people left the raid back then. TBC Classic and the meta only accelerated some aspects of the turnover to where it was blatantly noticeable to even me. 

But still, despite the stress I did have some fun times.

No regrets? Nah. I have regrets. I just can't let them tie me down.

*Intentionally misspelled. It's based off of this commercial for Milky Way:

**Stubborn Midwesterners and all that.

***It's looking more likely for the Vashj kill, as one raider still needs it and another raider had already gone into SSC this week thinking that we weren't going to SSC this Monday. So I'll likely drop in for the Vashj portion of the raid, after everybody else is finished working on Kael'Thas.

****And a significant portion of that was devoted to people trying to recruit me into Valhalla.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Not a Bang, But....

We spent over 2 hours on Kael'Thas last night and couldn't bring him down.

Our best chance ended up being our first, where we got to 20% before enough healers went down that the rest of the raid started dropping due to attrition.

We had mind controlled people running in the raid, we had people dying early in Phase 1, we had people pulling threat in Phase 4, etc. etc. Stuff that I'd say --for a raid team that has been after K'T for 3+ weeks now-- shouldn't be happening. You can only expect healers to heal through so much, but making it worse and dealing extra damage to the raid? Well, we ran into our limit.

And that's how my progression raiding ended.


I was supposed to go next week, but since we decided on my replacement in the lead meeting after the raid, I said I'd sit next week out so that my replacement could get the Kael'Thas kill. I'd like to have a K'T kill myself, but with Hyjal incoming it made practical sense to let my replacement get the kill in so she could go to Hyjal with the rest of the raid.

So I moved myself to the bench for next Monday, and that's that.

I seriously doubt that I'll make it into Monday's raid, but every time in the past that I've been on the bench I did make it into the raid, so you never know. But I'm not counting on it.

Friday, January 21, 2022

"Shane!!! Shane!!!"*

I wish I'd recorded it.

That somewhat flippant comment was my takeaway from Monday's raid.

But if you'd seen what I saw, you'd understand.

Until I opened my mouth during pre-raid announcements, only four other people in raid knew I was leaving: the three other raid leads and my questing buddy**. As soon as I said*** "My job is changing, and not by choice, so I'm going to have to start over with a new position at work," the whispers began.

At that point, when I said that I'm not going to be able to raid until 3 AM while I'm trying to learn a new job, the whispers were flying by so fast I couldn't possibly read them. I finished my (semi) prepared remarks with "I'll miss you all. I'll miss progression raiding with you, and I'll always be proud to say that I raided with Team Loki and with Valhalla in Classic." I'm not sure how I managed to stay focused after that.

When the raid lead said (officially) that she was going to miss me, I finally had to step in and say that "I've been getting a ton of whispers and there's no way I could personally respond to them all, but thank you for all your kind words." I'm pretty sure my voice got pretty rough along the way.

I've quit jobs before, but this was harder. In spite of everything --and TBC's Meta-- I did look forward to raiding with friends. And I still have Friday and Saturday to work with, but I won't be in progression. And to be honest, since I'll have dropped progression, I'm not sure how much longer I'll remain in guild. That divide will grow over time, and the unintentional separation will just snowball to the point where I'm (effectively) out of the loop on a permanent basis. So while I'd hope otherwise, I think this is the beginning of the end.

Cue 'Happy Trails'....

*Surely you've seen the ending of the movie Shane, haven't you? 

**I told her first, because she deserved to know first. There were others I would have told as well, but they've all burned out and left, which hurts. Understandable, but it still hurts. I also presume the co-GMs knew as well, but they're in the hardcore raid.

***Paraphrasing. I couldn't remember exactly what I said if my life depended on it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Raised Eyebrows

 Well well well.

I thought at first it was just a hoax, but since it landed on the Washington Post's and New York Times' websites, I'd say it's legit.

Microsoft is going to buy Activision Blizzard.

Alas that Bobby Kotick is going to stay as head of the new MSFT subsidiary, because if he were kicked out Microsoft could put one of their own people in charge and bring salaries in line with the rest of Microsoft. But I guess Bobby wouldn't like that, would he?

So for gamers, this is a non event. The people in charge of the Titanic are still there.

EtA: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bobby will be officially gone after Microsoft closes the deal. Of course, that doesn't change anything until Microsoft actually does something with ActiBlizz. So I'm not exactly waiting with baited breath for WoW's content to suddenly improve; so the old line of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" still applies until proven otherwise.

Monday, January 17, 2022

I Am Not Amused

I have been caught by my own nocturnal activities.

It is presently 3:22 AM local time, and I am wide awake.

I woke up around 11 PM to make sure I took my insulin*, and I haven't been able to get to bed since.

I've tried all of the usual remedies --outside of drinking milk or eating anything with excessive carbs, of course-- without any luck. And I am absolutely not going to try to use an over the counter solution for fear of accidental addiction. Besides, there's an inch of snow atop 1/3 of an inch of ice outside, and I'm not running to the 24 hour drugstore just for this.

So I got on Neve and knocked out a quest or two, then logged and spent time perusing YouTube for interesting things to watch.** 

Courtesy of a replacement piece,
she now looks less a mage and more
a "sexy pirate". Sexy Pirate Mage?


This is something that is going to have to get corrected soon, because I'm living on borrowed time.


Aside from that, seeing the prep work for Phase 3 has made me realize this is going to be harder a transition than I thought. I got twitchy about needing to get on and do things, and I had to tell myself multiple times to relax and that I won't be having to do any of that going forward. Given that a couple of weeks ago I was getting twitchy and nervous about having to do all of that Phase 3 prep, that my body did a 180 the past couple of days caused me no end of consternation. "Irony, thy name is raiding," I muttered.

Take the edge off, as well as just get back into exercising, I made a trip to a nature preserve on the east side of town and went for a hike.

Volunteers replaced the old, rickety
bridge since I was last here.

Although overcast, the weather hadn't turned yet, so that was an additional bonus. The hike gave me time to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other and enjoy the woods for what they were. No deadlines, no raids, no blood pressure, no diabetes, no min/maxing. 

No nothing.

It was fun while it lasted.


Now I just need to accept what's going to come on the Monday raid when I make my formal announcement.

*Still hate needles, but it has to be done.

**Such as the America's Test Kitchen posts on a good 12 inch stainless steel skillet. Or understanding just what the hell ASMR is. And to be fair, some of those ASMR videos make me more than a bit uncomfortable, given how the woman in the video sounds; it's less soothing and more... seductive. Keeping that sort of thing up for about 30 minutes or more makes me feel like every woman who's used that tone of voice with me has been pulling my leg.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Blessed Relief

Monday's raid was bittersweet.

I was going to have to tell the rest of the raid lead team that I wasn't going to be able to perform progression raiding for at least a couple of months*, but what made it uncomfortable was that I was going to tell them after the raid.

Why so uncomfortable?

Because I've been the subject of some talks about why my DPS isn't measuring up. 


I've been among the bottom five DPS for months. Some of it is gear --for example, I finally got the T4 shoulders on Briganaa last weekend from the High King**-- some of it is that I needed to tweak my talents --again, I fixed that right before raid-- and some of it is my rotation.

Here is what an Enhancement Shaman's rotation has to involve:

  • Keep totems up
  • Totem Twist for Windfury/Grace of Air
  • Totem Twist for Fire Totems
  • Shock Twist (Alternating Fire Shock/Frost Shock and Earth Shock unless you're supposed to interrupt)
  • Cast Stormstrike on CD
  • Get your weapon swing timing aligned (involves casting something periodically to reset your swing timing).

That's a lot of irons in the fire, and a lot more complicated than most other rotations I've experienced in Classic.

For me, it's also been a question of which ability to utilize if multiple abilities come off CD at once (or close enough that they fall within the GCD). I've taken the approach that the Windfury/Grace of Air Totem Twist is the highest priority since it impacts the entire group, but after having several conversations it sounds like Stormstrike is higher priority, so I said so.

Oh no, I was told. The idea is to do all of it while keeping all the twisting up.

It was then that I realized that maybe --just maybe-- I'm hitting a wall with my age and that I'm simply unable to button press as much as I should be able to as a progression raider.

When you couple that with the "you need to get a belt crafted, a cloak crafted, a ring from Lower City reputation grinding, a totem from Heroic Mana Tombs, a ring from Prince Malchezzar, etc. etc." and I found myself realizing that none of this was that fun anymore.

And here comes my job, basically demanding I give up raiding during the work week, at the same time as the likelihood that someone might look at a gear drop and say "Hey Brig, you should get that for your gear set." Or to put me even more on the spot, "Why didn't you roll for that piece of gear? You need that badly!"*** I didn't want to have to tell people right then and there that I was leaving and it would have been incredibly selfish of me to bid on something when I was going to leave in a couple of weeks.

Thankfully, however, the nightmare scenario didn't happen.


Still, I had to tell the Lead Team afterward, and I hated doing that.

"I don't like to lose," Admiral James T. Kirk once said, and this amounts to throwing in the towel and admitting that Rocky couldn't beat Apollo Creed.

Especially after Monday when we were cruising against Kael'Thas and it looked like we were gonna kill him at long last, and... The trash packs in his room began to respawn underneath us.

I shit you not.

So there was that frustration to deal with, coupled with the knowledge that might have been our single best shot I might see against Kael. 

I also knew how hard it was to get a consistent raid together, because just when we thought we had a stable lineup somebody else would vanish, or gquit and ghost us, or have real life intrude and have to drop from the raid. Or, in other cases, would decide that progression raiding one night a week wasn't enough and would move to the other raid team that raids on Tuesday/Thursday.****

And here I was, going to blow up the raid again. Especially with the knowledge that Enhance Shamans are pretty much unicorns at this point in the expac. You're better off trying to recruit a Boomkin in terms of rarity.


I got the announcement out of the way first.

There were the usual condolences, and my admission that the reason why I could raid until 3 AM local time was because I'd been at my job for so long I could be a zombie for several hours in the morning and still get my job done, something I simply can't do in a new position working for a new customer.

I hung in there until the meeting was concluded, and that ended around 4:30 AM local time. Even I was dying for the first several hours of work on Tuesday, and I knew right then that I made the right decision and that I couldn't do this at a new position.

But around Noon on Tuesday, it hit me that outside of any Friday or Saturday runs, I wasn't going to have to worry about raiding at all. 

Or gearing.

Or (not) DPS-ing well enough.

Or grinding gold for stuff.*****

Or (avoiding) Dailies.

Or reputations.

Or attunements.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

The long road of the TBC Classic Meta has ended, at long last. I didn't burn out completely, and it wasn't the reason why I had to give up raiding, but I don't think I could have held out much longer. The Meta had worn me down to the point where I was resenting even people I liked a lot because they were more invested than me in raiding, and they were still doing all the things to keep themselves at peak performance.

I think I kept going not for me, but for people who were depending on me to be there, like my questing buddy (who has long since run laps around my questing/gearing/dailies/etc) or those others who needed someone to be a friend to them when they were having a rough time.

Something I can now do a bit more of:
just lounging around and chatting.

Now, with my job (and my health) taking more of a center stage, I suppose it's time to take care of myself for a change. And maybe rekindle a bit of love for Classic.

*I'd say May or June at the earliest.

**I also won the Dragonspine Trophy a month and a half ago in Gruul/Mags, and I feel guilty about leaving when I'm one of only a couple of people on either raiding team who has one.

***As Loot Master, I frequently put something up for auction and then realize too late that I should have bid on something. I've gotten better at it, but I know there's a ton of people with DKP to spare who simply don't spend it very much, or bid on gear, and I think "they need it more than me".

****Most of the sweatiest people are on that raid team, and since they raid twice a week they've (at least) twice as much gear as our raid team has. That makes SSC and The Eye pretty much a walk in the park at this point. 

*****No, I still don't have a fast mount. And I don't want one very much either. I'm practically the only person left in guild who doesn't have a fast mount on at least their main, and right now it's a badge of honor. And besides, paying for the rest of the mats for Mongoose enchants on both of my weapons hit my reserves hard.

EtA: Misspellings....

Monday, January 10, 2022


Well, that escalated quickly.

I went from "Things are kind of getting back to a new normal" to "Well, THAT's gonna leave a mark" real fast.

Oh no, I didn't have any issues with my health this time, but things are about to change at my job.

As in, my entire job is about to change. And not by choice.

No, I'm not getting let go. Okay, kind of, but I have places I can land at work, so the old adage about when one door closes another opens isn't too far off the mark. And yes, there's internal politics involved, but there's also the knowledge that my bosses have my back, and they're in favor of a scorched earth policy regarding the people behind the shenanigans.

What this all boils down to is that the job I've had in one form or another for about 20 years is going to be upended, and I'll have to start from scratch. Which means that raiding until midway through the night on Mondays isn't going to be feasible.


I recognize that people might ask when progression raiding until 3 AM local time ever was feasible, but I could do it because I knew my job inside and out, and I could do my job with my eyes closed. That might have meant I needed newer challenges, but it also meant that I could handle other duties at work than strictly what I was supposed to be doing. 

Or that I could be a zombie for an hour or two in the morning and still work at a high level.

Since I'm starting over --albeit in a similar position but at for new customers-- Redbeard the Zombie is going to have to shelf progression raiding. 


Like I said, this all came rather fast. 

I knew a change was coming, as I have ears to the ground, but I wasn't expecting it to be this soon. I was expecting it to be at least through the end of Phase 2 and the beginning of Phase 3 in TBC Classic, and even into March, but that didn't happen.*

And because of the shortened timeline, I'm going to have to devote a lot of time toward my new position, and that will mean I simply won't have time to devote to trying to get my DPS up to acceptable levels.


Tonight's raid is going to be one of my last in progression. I can still run raids on Friday and Saturday, because it's the weekend, but my current main raid I'm going to have to walk away from. The Lead meeting after tonight's raid isn't going to be a pleasant affair.

*That scorched earth policy again.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Hey, You Exist

What makes a home?

When you play an RPG --video game version or not-- you are frequently out in the world, adventuring. You leave home --whatever it's defined as-- and do your thing.

But what is a home to an adventurer?

Are they just dopamine junkies, moving from one experience to the next, without something to anchor them? Or is their wandering a subliminally driven search for a new home? Or do they have a home they want to get back to, but can't for some reason or another? 

Deep thoughts for a Friday Sunday, I suppose, but this invaded my head when I considered the plight of the Draenei and the Sindorei while I was doing other things. 

In both cases, their original homeland has become untenable, so they flee to what they consider a better alternative: Draenei to Azeroth, and Sindorei to Outland. In both cases, they discover that their new, adoptive home isn't what they thought it was. The Draenei discover that the isles The Exodar crash landed in have enemies that followed them from Outland as well as the ecological disaster caused by The Exodar's crash. The Sindorei arrive in Outland to discover their leaders --and a lot of their best and brightest-- have betrayed the rest of their kin and sided with either Illidan the Betrayer or the Burning Legion itself.*


Where does Brig consider her home to be? Shattrath? The Exodar? Somewhere else? Nowhere?

It's kind of hard to say, because WoW --both Retail and Classic-- doesn't have that sort of grounding for a player. It can be both simultaneously freeing and terrifying, because the player is free to do whatever.

And to be fair, most players don't give a crap about existential issues such as finding a home; they'd rather do other things such as raid, PvP, run dungeons, or quest rather than muse about their toon's home or backstory. But there are those --especially those who have played pencil and paper RPGs, who are used to this sort of thing-- who DO care. And I'm one of them.

That doesn't mean that I'm in favor of player housing. WoW tried their own version of that once already, in the Warlords of Draenor expac, and it was widely panned for being more isolating than anything else. My personal opinion is that the isolationist trend was already present in WoW, and the implementation of Garrisons merely encouraged it. After all, there's been a big trend in WoW for quite a while now to login, do your dailies, raid if it's the time and date, and log. There isn't a lot of lounging around; even if you don't do the minimal amount described above, you're likely leveling an alt and/or doing the same thing there. There is a subset that are checking the PTR for info and raid strategies, min/maxing, and other highly obsessive items, but that is a very specific subset.**


What I am in favor of is some player grounding.

In BC (and BC Classic, apparently) if you're Exalted with the Cenarion Expedition and you arrive at their home base, some of the guards will acknowledge you as you pass by. I thought this was introduced only in Wrath, but it's an occasional nice reminder of your reputation. Now, what I'm not suggesting is to have everybody acknowledge how great you are, but occasional interactions/commentary from NPCs in locations that, well, you exist. Well, exist without the "sales" angle that you see from that Troll in Lower City, who is constantly trying to sell you trinkets, or "Topper" McNabb trying to shine your shoes for a copper. Kind of the "Hello, Cardwyn, good to see you again," you'd expect when you pass by the guards at the checkpoint in Elwynn (near the logging camp) after you completed quests for them. Or if you hit a certain number of logouts in a specific inn, the innkeeper greets you as a regular. Small stuff like that which are fairly easily implemented.

Kind of like this. Sorta.


Of course, I'm talking about this like it's going to happen in Classic, but a guy can dream, right?

But please, no more ego trips about how awesome the player is. After a while it feels, well, ridiculous.

*I could easily see both Card and Neve yelling at those Blood Elves "You are a disgrace to your ancestors!" It's personal for both.

**To that crowd, even our Turkey Award, given out to the player with the most deaths in a raid, detracts from the emphasis on "winning" the raid. I've seen killjoy comments after a Turkey Award posting and it's affiliated banter saying "remember, the point is to avoid deaths" and "it's good to see the number of deaths go down". To me, those comments strike me as tone deaf and missing the point of the Turkey Award: everybody knows you're supposed to not die, but nobody --and I mean nobody-- sits around and says "Hey, remember that time we ran Naxx and had only about 4 deaths at most?" When people remember raids, they remember memorable boss kills, raid drama, or memorable player deaths. This is just like real life: if you're doing your job, you're kind of invisible.

EtA: I started this post on Friday, but finished it on Sunday. So I replaced one with the other.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Lipstick on a Pig

I still remember my first time with a Looking for Group automated tool.

Maybe because my anxiety at meeting other people was so high that it was burned into my head, but I remember it well. It was an Ajol'Nerub run, a 15-20 minute affair, and I'd recently switched from Holy to Retribution on my Paladin, Quintalan.

Ajol'Nerub is a pretty straightforward instance, and by far the biggest issue with the instance is figuring out where to go because the graphics kind of make it hard to figure out. 

"You just follow the webs and...." I was told once when I couldn't make heads or tails of the graphics on screen. 

Surely I must be nuts because there was no obvious path. "...and what? It can be hard as hell to distinguish differences in the webs."

"Well, just follow everybody else."

I rolled my eyes back then, but going in solo? You don't want to project "noob-ness"; you want to be seen as cool, calm, and collected. In short, anything but a noob.

For a brief foray into Heroic Wrath of the Lich King LFG queues, it was pretty much a non-event, but mentally it was like my first time venturing into Orgrimmar, only without the random person coming up to me and asking for a guild signature.

Ever since, I've had the same stomach flip-flops whenever I grouped up for any PUG, whether it be using the automated tool or not. 

You can dress them up as much as you
want, but they're still Pugs.
(From The Spruce Pets.)

Being in WoW Classic --and avoiding the automated queues of more "modern" MMOs-- has helped to an extent, because bad behavior in PUGs will earn you black marks among people. While I know that among a couple of thousand players on a server an individual is hard to remember, it's far easier to remember the asshat than the person who did a good job. 

Having the perspective of over a dozen years playing MMOs, I'm all the more impressed by my old friend Vidyala and her pugging experiment, as chronicled in her (now retired) blog, Pugging Pally. It did make fodder for plenty of posts, but I doubt I would have had the mental fortitude to do what she did and PUG her way to L80.* From that viewpoint, I understand why people prefer to run instances within the confines of a guild. They're people you know (minimally, at least), and they're people you can trust.


That being said, I had a conversation with some people in Classic about Wrath Classic which is on the horizon. It was kind of funny in that people were talking about how hard killing Arthas was, and the breakups of guilds over ICC raids, but there was nary a mention about the automated LFG tool. I found that conversation somewhat odd, given the poor reputation the LFG tool has, but I kept quiet about it. 

But the LFG tool is out there, lurking, and while I'd prefer that the tool never make an appearance in Wrath Classic I do believe that it will show up eventually.

In a bizarre way, I'm watching the rollout of Classic --and it's associated reactions-- as a repeat of what happened in the original WoW rollouts, only the timeline has shrunk a bit.** I remember the blogger debates over the LFG tool rollout, and how it was largely greeted as a positive development, and I hear the arguments now about how hard it is to get a PUG run together and think that people will --by and large-- have a positive reception of the Classic version of the LFG tool. Which seems silly to me, given the long term effects of the tool on the in-game community, but I guess I've played WoW long enough to see history repeat itself.

But still, I do believe that the problems created by the Meta in TBC Classic will also carry over to Wrath Classic, turning Wrath Classic into a weird reflection of both Classic and Retail at once. For me, having been on the short end of the stick in TBC Classic, I am leaning toward taking a hard pass on progression raiding in Wrath Classic. I'm not planning on sprinting to L80, maxing out reputations, and other bullshit that the Meta foisted on people just so they could min-max their way through progression raids. I did not have anything resembling fun in the first half of the TBC Classic Phase 1 experience, and I'm not intending to repeat that at all. 

I guess that's not a big surprise, but I'm putting it out here now before I forget and/or get talked into progression raiding after all. And I'm not making this decision while I'm in a bubble, either: of the Leveling Shamans, both the Leftovers and those that managed to sprint quickly enough to L60 so as to not get left behind when the Dark Portal opened, there's only 3 of us left. The others are gone, having burned out on the game and either left it behind entirely or stopped progression raiding and are on other toons doing anything other than Shaman work. And to be fair, once you get to progression raiding, parsing well as a TBC Classic Enhancement Shaman is hard, so the pressure doesn't really let up once you get to progression raiding. As much as I like Briganaa personally, the Enhancement rotation, coupled with totem twisting and shock twisting and swing timers, really really sucks. It's twice as difficult as the Rogue and Mage rotations in Classic, as the sheer number of irons in the fire you have to maintain are nuts.

There will be another post on my foibles getting the Shaman rotation down --or rather NOT down, as it were-- but I will say that rotations for raiding are a totally different animal than anywhere else. Just setting up your rotation in a lot of non-boss scenarios takes enough time that the fight is over once you're "ready", a problem I found in a lot of nerfed raid trash as well. While other players' DPS may go down over time, an Enhancement Shaman's DPS may actually go up because that initial burst that a Mage or Rogue might have doesn't exist for an Enhancement Shaman. There's reasons, of course, but that'll come later. I promise. 

But yes, there are times when I miss Card for her relatively high output and uncomplicated rotation. At least when I got into PUGs with her, there wasn't any extra anxiety over trying to maximize my DPS; that pig didn't require more makeup than some lipstick.


*We were on different servers --and on different factions back then-- or I'd have helped her out from time to time. Well, I'd like to think so, but I also believe I would have been too shy to ask her if she needed an assist because... Well, that's how I am: not exactly a pillar of confidence. (And before anybody gets in their head "Just how on earth did Red ever meet his future wife if he's so damn shy?" the answer is that she made the move first.)

**Or at least it feels that way.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Other Things I'm Not Good At, Part Whatever

When I was a kid, everybody (and it certainly seemed like everybody) had an Atari 2600. If their parents decided that the Atari was too "inferior" --which meant that they listened to George Plimpton's commercials-- those kids had an Intellivision instead.

My parents, despite my brother's and my pleas, had neither system in our house.

We did have a basketball net, however, and since I played basketball in grade school* I played a LOT of basketball during the summers. One day, as motivation, my dad said that if I could make 10 free throws in a row, I could get an Atari.

"Cool beans!" I thought**, and proceeded to miss several free throws in a row. 

This was not gonna be easy.

Yeah, kinda like this. Only that
I'm not an NBA caliber player.

I spent the entire summer shooting free throws as often as I could, and finally one day in late September I made all 10 with my dad watching.

"Woo!" I exclaimed. "We're gonna get an Atari!!"

"I never said that," my Dad replied.

That brought an end to my celebration real fast. "What?? You said that if I hit 10 free throws in a row you'd get us an Atari!"

"I never said that," he repeated.

And that was that.

Nursing my resentment, I made a vow to never do that crap to anybody else. It meant I was never going to be a good salesman, but I could live with that. The casual half truths that salespeople tell*** drives me bonkers, and I could never do that.

I was thinking about my Atari misadventure when I was perusing the Steam sale listings a few days after Christmas. Not because I was hunting for Haunted House --we do have an Atari 2600 now in storage, with a ton of cartridges-- but because of the decisions that go into buying a game these days. 

Despite the Steam sale, video games aren't cheap. 

Look at The Sims 4 as an example. The base game on sale is under $5. Great deal, eh? Well, look at all of the addons for it, including ones (such as Cats & Dogs or Get To Work) that you'd think would be part of the base game, but it isn't. When you add up all of the addons, the price for The Sims 4 is over $500. Which is kind of nuts for a life simulator that The Sims 4 is.

Awkward first date or sticker shock
from the price of what The Sims 4
really costs? You decide.
(From the Steam Store sample pics.)


Of course, here I am talking about that while I pay a subscription fee for playing a couple of MMOs, but I digress. The point is that even when things seem cheap, the reality is something different. It's like the bait-and-switch at a car dealership, where you go in with a checklist in hand, a loan pre-approved, and a car make and model in mind, and the salespeople try their damnedest to get you to over commit so they can maximize their profits. The difference is that there's no visible salesperson there, prodding you to plunk down your money on video games. There's only you, the Steam app, the "reviews"****, and the ticking clock on the upcoming end to the Steam sale. It's all in your head, but you're conditioned to "seek a bargain", and seeing the posts for "50%" or "70%" off, you get this urge to pull the trigger and reel that bargain in.

Not everybody has that willpower.

This kind of bothers me, not because I feel superior or anything, but because people who shouldn't be blowing money on a Steam sale (or whatever sale, whether it's at a car dealership or Amazon) are out there doing it. As if we never learned anything from the last debt bubbles.***** I'd see this sort of behavior at gaming conventions as well, where people would think nothing of blowing several hundred dollars on games and gaming material, or to bring things closer to home people dropping a couple of thousand dollars on fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Remember to shoot those
fireworks off safely....
(or someplace like that.)


Oh yes, I've neighbors who do the whole "we're gonna blow close to a month's worth of salary on fireworks" thing. And yes, several thousand dollars' worth. And I just shake my head and say "at least I'm getting a show out of it".


But to tie this whole thing back into gaming, from another angle, there's the whole in-game economy thing that goes on. Unless you do what I did in late Classic and basically made all my own potions to save on gold from the AH,  you're going to have to spend gold if you're a raider.

Or if you want epic flying in TBC Classic, you have to get 5000 gold.

In both cases, that means you have to make some gold somehow.

Unless you're like me, who is notoriously uninterested in being a slave to the Metagame, and instead tries to skate by doing as little gold farming as possible. 

Seriously. I'm practically the only person left in the raid team who doesn't have a fast mount on their main, and I wear that like a badge of honor. After all, I made the choice that if I had a couple of thousand gold in my pocket, why push to get fast flying? So I could get to the raid faster? So I could then farm for materials quicker? So I could spend more game time doing things I'm not that keen on doing?

No thanks. I'd rather do things on my own pace. And dailies? Please. I'd rather read something, or go for a quick walk, or even chill before raid time. I'm so anti-Dailies that I've never even completed the seed quests for Ogri'la and The Shatari Skyguard. I did the dailies thing back in Wrath, and I'm good.

To me, the acquisition of gold isn't very interesting --or important-- because in the end it would kind of suck for people to say of my time spent playing as "Well, Cardwyn knew how to make a lot of gold." I'd much rather be known for other things, such as being a friend or helping people out. 

But you know, some people want to be known as the Greedy Goblin type. Gevlon certainly did.

*I was good enough to be on the "A" team from 5th through 8th Grade, but I sat on the bench for the most part. My 8th Grade year, due to a leap in physical performance and a sudden ability to actually make some shots, was shaping up to be very good for me until I broke my collarbone during school recess. I was out of commission for almost two months, and by the time the brace holding my shoulder together came off I was relegated back to the bench.

**Hey, it was the 80s.

***With many of my so-called friends in high school having salesmen for fathers I got to see this in action all the time. Well, that and their parents' explicit racism too.

****Most of those reviews are totally worthless. You can spend more time combing through the reviews than actually playing some games. 

*****Like the people who went out and spent over $50,000 on a half ton pickup truck and are now complaining about the price of gasoline to fill those gas guzzlers. If you need one for work that's one thing, but you should have known going in that gas prices weren't going to stay historically low forever, and they still haven't hit the high points of the mid-2000s yet.