Friday, April 29, 2022

The World's Okayest...

Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.
--Sir Isaac Newton

I guess ol' Isaac never played video games.*

Even though this is a rotation for the
Enhancement Shaman circa 2016,
I laughed. (From Reddit)


Playing a video game for any length of time is an exercise in managing complexity. Even the simplest of games, such as Tetris, get complex the farther along you play. (Or faster you play, in the case of Tetris.) 

But the scope creep of video game complexity, particularly in MMOs and other games that require multiple moves and an ever evolving amount of complexity to play at a high level, is very much a real thing.

I thought about this even before I saw posts from Shintar and Bhagpuss on their blogs, but their posts certainly did push these thinky thoughts into the forefront. And rather than contemplate the state of Briganaa's and Linna's gear** I'd much prefer to instead poke that roadkill that is theorycrafting.


On the face of it, theorycrafting deconstructs a video game into its component parts --numbers and data structures-- and attempts to make sense of it all. The overall goal is to find the "best" way of doing things, which can be both bedeviling and satisfying at the same time.

Yes, there is both a good and a bad to the meta.

The bad is that the meta becomes all consuming to a not-insignificant number of gamers, to the point where if you're not doing it perfectly there's bound to be problems.


Totem twisting as an Enhance Shaman
in TBC Classic. Thankfully, I've never
had to deal with very many of these types.
(From Reddit.)


But the good... Well, the good is that you still have to execute the meta to make it work. Just showing up with the correct gear might be 3/4 of the battle, but you still have to play well.... in a group.

I highlighted that last part because what works out in the field while questing in a solo format may not work well in smaller groups, and that may not work in raids.

For example, Linnawyn is a Retribution Paladin, and one of the hallmarks of Ret Pallys is that they need water to regen mana. Lots and lots of water. When I go out into the world to quest with her, I typically carry 80 food and 80 water with me, and that doesn't last nearly as long as I'd like. I also have to freaking drink after every pull --my questing buddy can tell you allllll about that-- so any way to improve my mana efficiency and keep me able to fight enemies longer is a welcome thing. 

If you read up on Ret Paladin rotations and whatnot, you constantly hear about keeping the Seal of the Crusader judged on the enemy you're attacking --I'm not even going into the Seal of Blood/Martyr part, as I'm keeping this simple-- but all of this costs mana and will suck you bone dry. So... Enter Seal of Wisdom and judging that Seal while out in the field. Sure, my DPS takes a hit, but I can handle twice as many enemies before stopping to drink, which is more important when questing as opposed to simply killing something quick and then having to drink far more often.

I suppose someone could calculate the timing difference between taking a few seconds longer to kill an enemy versus the extra downtime spent drinking, but my admittedly "winging it" feel to the game seems that I gain a bit more uptime when judging Wisdom rather than Crusader. 

However, I get to spend more time doing what I want to do --questing and exploring-- without as much downtime spent drinking, so my modification to what is "supposed to be followed" is based on my solo questing experience on Linna. 

Yep, that's me.


This simple explanation about the best way to play a Ret Paladin goes totally off the rails once you start talking about maximizing DPS in raids. 

There's the "Basic" option of Judging Crusader and keeping that going with Crusader Strike, and then keeping Seal of Blood/Martyr going to maximize DPS at the price of your own health, not to mention keeping the Judgements going as soon as it comes off of CD. Oh yeah, and there are other attacks to sprinkle in there, but that's the Basic option. 

The "Advanced" option, however, is Seal Twisting, where you try to get two Seal effects within a single melee strike. So you have to have a swing timer to get that just so that you can hit that second seal in the last 0.4 seconds before a melee swing engages. Oh, and did I mention that even sites such as Icy-Veins say it's a very advanced tactic that is very hard to do, but you can seriously up your DPS if you get it right?

Well... guess what version progression raid teams want your Ret Paladin to do?

I mean, the numbers don't lie, but can you execute it?

I know my answer to that question: I can't.

From the comment section of the Reddit
post of that Windfury pic shown above.


It doesn't make me a bad player, despite what the hardcore crowd might think. I just simply can't do it. Maybe a decade ago I could, and if I'd the time to practice a lot maybe I could pull it off even now, but given the stress of totem twisting + shock twisting + AOE totem twisting***, I'm just not interested in dealing that stuff.

I suppose it's a matter of the old saw about how "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink," but despite all the numbers pointing toward an optimal method of doing something you still have to execute. And the numbers can't make someone execute if they don't want to. 


In case you think I'm picking on WoW,
here's a rotation posted on MMO-Champion
on a thread titled "Do All Classes Require
15+ Buttons Rotations?" for FF XIV. Makes the
Enhancement rotation at the top look quaint.

The thing is, most people will figure out a basic rotation without needing all of the theorycrafting, just on feel alone, and will come pretty close to something that the numbers say works. If you just play and fiddle around with what seems to do the best mix of efficiency and damage, you'll get probably about 75-80% of the way there. 

So yay, common sense.


But let's talk about the other part of theorycrafting: gear + enchants + gems + whatever.

You know, the part that might or might not fall into your lap during a dungeon run or a raid.

That's not quite true: you can buy some stuff using gold and/or badges (or whatever), and having a ton of gold does solve quite a few ills. Art truly does imitate life in this regard. 

The irony about Classic WoW was how far off the tier sets were compared to what gear popped out as the "best" gear when crunching the numbers. 

Which is how you ended up with
this Holy Pally meme in Classic.
This is why Cardwyn never had her
head slot visible: that damn pre-raid BiS
turban looked incredibly stupid.
(From Reddit.)

Crunching the numbers to find the best gear makes sense. 

But understanding what is the best gear for you, that involves nuance. 

For example, our Mage Lead recently told me that he was going to switch back from Arcane Specialization to Fire, even though Arcane had more DPS. "I just like Fire more," he told me. Because of that, he's going to optimize his gear for Fire Mages. 

So what if it's a pencil and
paper RPG thing. It's still fire.


Or for me with Neve, I have no designs on taking her raiding beyond maybe Karazhan and/or Gruul/Mags, so I'm planning on sticking with Frost for her. If you listen to the guides and theorycrafters, the DPS isn't optimal and the gear is different, but if you go with what you like you can still find what works for you (and what's optimal gear for that specialization).

Now obviously Fire Mages aren't that off the top of the damage meters compared to Arcane Mages, and they have the additional bonus of giving Destro Warlocks who specialize in Fire an additional DPS boost. So it's not like you walked up to the raid leadership and said "Hey, I want to suck at DPS but since I like it you have to live with it." There's a tradeoff here. And when I was recruited into AQ40, it was explicitly stated that I'd have to switch to being a Fire Mage, because even if my DPS personally sucked, my presence would boost the DPS of the rest of the Mages. But still within the realms of reason you should be able to do what you want to do, and what works for you, and still find a way to do well within that paradigm.


So what am I getting at?

Well, the TL;DR here is that while theorycrafting does a good job of identifying what the meta is for a specific class and/or build, telling you what rotation and gear are both optimal, you can't simply be a slave to it. You have to do what feels good for your enjoyment in a game, complexity or not. Some people love their meta, and some people have their own way of doing things. Telling people "yr doing it wrong" isn't going to win you friends and admiration of your peers. 

People will figure things out on their own if you give them enough time and a basic understanding of how a game works. Even when it may seem counterintuitive to do so, just letting people learn at their pace does wonders for their enjoyment in a game. It's when you try to accelerate the process artificially --such as the race to max level when the Dark Portal opened-- that people stop having fun and become slaves to the meta, because they don't have the time (or inclination) to figure it out for themselves.

Of course, that sort of idea kind of flies in the face of "how to play an MMO correctly", but that's the crux of the thing: there is no one way of playing an MMO correctly

That's the entire point of an MMO: to allow people to play the game their own way. If you want people to just "play it right" by following the meta, then why have all this extra crap lying around in the first place? Because it's "how things are done?" No, all of the extra stuff in an MMO isn't there to bedevil the people who tinker with the meta, it's to allow people to have options. Perhaps too many options in the case of Retail, where it frequently feels like you have to do all the things in order to satisfy the meta, but those options are there for people who want to play and figure things out for themselves. 

Or just hang around and fish all day.

*Or tried to solve the Schrodinger Wave Equation for the Hydrogen atom, for that matter. Admittedly it's the easiest of the elements to solve, but I remember it taking at about a month in my Atomic and Nuclear Physics class to go through it for the first time. When we commented on the difficulty involved, my professor told us about this one grad student he knew who decided that his dissertation was going to be solving one of the higher level elements --I think an atomic number somewhere in the 80s-- and we all just kind of shuddered.

**Maybe in another post, but not now. I'd prefer to pretend that we're still back in Phase 1, where Karazhan + Gruul/Mags gear was the best you could get, because the reality of where I am versus where seventyupgrades says I could be is pretty damn depressing. And that's just for Brig; Linna is still entirely in quest greens, having not poked her nose into a BC instance this entire time.

***And moving around. Don't forget that part. Throughout Karazhan, Gruul/Mags, Serpentshrine Cavern, and The Eye, I've yet to find a melee friendly raid like there were in Classic. There might be a boss or two here and there, but when you're constantly on the move your totems ain't worth crap once you move out of their range. At least Ret Paladins do have that advantage over Enhancement Shamans in that their Judgements are on the enemy, not a specific place on the ground, but still, the mana costs do add up.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Checking In, Five Months After

Five months ago, I spent my Thanksgiving looking out the window from Good Samaritan Hospital while being treated for congestive heart failure. While this date may not be the traditional six months/half a year mark, I figured I ought to fill a few people in on what's been going on in my (non-MMO) life.*

Good ol' Ozzy. Still the Prince
of Darkness (since 1979).

  • My heart hasn't killed me yet.

    I mean, well... duh. I'm still here.

    I haven't exactly been raising hell or anything like Mr. Osbourne has, but after my little "adventure" my heart has settled back into it's typical non-existence.

    Last week I had an echo cardiogram as a follow up from my hospital stay, and the cardiologist was extremely pleased with the results. My heart, she informed me, is back to pumping at its proper capacity. There is a slight leak in one of the valves, but that is not a new event so she isn't concerned about it. That leak is more of a matter of "It might have always been there, so we'll just keep an eye on it and go from there."

    The way forward for me is to maintain my current drug cocktail and then after a six month follow up scheduled for October we might begin to wean myself off of some of the drugs. The cost isn't that problematic (yet), because my highest drug costs come from monitoring my diabetes as opposed to everything else.

  • I have more energy now than I did for most of 2021.

    This has taken some getting used to, because I wasn't expecting this.

    Yeah, my hospital stay had flushed out a lot of built up fluid from my congestive heart failure, so you'd think that on the face of it I'd have some improvement in my energy levels, but I didn't expect it to be quite like this. Part of the additional energy likely comes from managing my diet, because my blood glucose and blood pressure were definitely not in a safe zone, but I also think that there's more to it than that. I also believe that there's a direct impact from...

  • I've taken some steps toward getting back in shape.

    I'm not about to tell you that I've gone crazy or anything, because I've seen the Peloton memes. And thankfully I've not been bombarded by people trying to tell me how great spin classes and Peloton are, because even if I were interested in trying it out --I'm not-- the fervor of the True Believers is closer to what you'd see out of Twilight's Hammer than anything else.

    Yeah, this.

    Regardless, my reality consisted of two problems: my muscles atrophied during the course of my congestive heart failure in 2021, and I was in bad enough shape that I couldn't even put the outdoor Christmas decorations back on the shelf there they reside. I knew I had a long road to go to get this fixed.

    So I began walking.

    A view from Cincinnati Nature Center
    in early February.

    And walking.

    The pavilion seen through the trees at
    Ault Park.

    Until my knee --the one I'd injured back in 2020-- said "Fuck you!" and refused to behave.

    So while my knee has been recuperating, I began to lift weights. Not anything nutty, to be sure, but just some barbells to try to get some muscle back in my arms and shoulders. For people who haven't lifted weights before, one of the oddball things about exercising this way is that muscle weighs more than fat, so when you initially begin lifting, you actually gain a few pounds. That's because you're converting some fat to muscle, so it's quite common to see an initial bump in your weight before you start losing pounds.

    Well, I didn't have a bump in weight, but I didn't lose weight either. So I was a bit confused about all this until I spoke with the Diabetes team about it on a recent check-up, and they went through my diet and found quite a few hidden calories that I could cut out and maintain my current low-carb + low-salt diet. It's one of those scenarios where playing it smart adds up to some real results in the long run.

    But despite my not "losing weight", I have lost volume. I can now fit into clothes I was unable to back in 2021, and I've actually had to buy jeans two sizes smaller than where I was in 2021. To be fair, those jeans are starting to look large on me as well, so I get the feeling that I'll be getting these jeans replaced in a month or two.

    So at least there's that.

  • Dealing with a low salt diet is MUCH harder than dealing with a low carb diet.

    No, I'm not talking about the prevalence of Atkins and Keto dietary stuff lying around helping out, because those diets deal with things such as "net carbs". As a T2 Diabetic, I can't play around with numbers like that; I have to have a laser focus on total carbs, whether I like it or not. My current target is 60 grams of carbs per meal. No 'ifs', 'ands', or 'buts'. I can't trade carbs between meals like you can with total caloric intake, either. When a nutritionist visited me at the hospital on my first day there, she drew a circle on the paperwork in front of me.

    "This," she said, "is a plate of food for a meal. You have 60 grams of carbs to work with."

    She then portioned off 1/4 of the plate. "This is for meats and other proteins. Aim for about 15 grams of carbs from this section."

    Another 1/4 of the plate was portioned off. "This is for root or starchy vegetables. Aim for about 15 grams of carbs from these."

    Finally she circled the half of the plate that remained. "And this," she said with a tone of finality, "is for leafy greens. You can eat as many of those as you want. If you want to add something such as a roll or a slice of bread, fine, but you can't go over 60 grams total. And be wary of things such as salad dressings and other items in salads, because they'll add up fast."

    But I've discovered that handling 60 grams of carbs per meal is actually fairly easy when compared to a low salt diet.

    This is my life now. Look at
    the amount of sodium in
    a cup's worth of generic spaghetti
    sauce. The "low sodium" option
    isn't much better at probably
    66% of that, and I'm supposed to
    aim for around 1000 mg
    of salt per day.

    Things like this chart above show how hard it is to find truly low sodium options in a world where salt is freaking everywhere. For this example, I'm lucky in that I can find "no salt added" tomato sauce that I can work with and season the way that I prefer, but for many other items you simply can't avoid salt unless you have to take the bull by the horns and make it yourself.

    Once you've figured out how to manage a truly low salt diet, then you discover just how salty everything tastes. Much to my chagrin, a low salt diet has truly become a double edged sword.

  • I keep hearing how great I'm doing, but I certainly don't feel like I'm doing anything special.

    Okay, so this is gonna sound a lot like me discussing MMOs and whatnot, but I've had this conversation with both the Diabetes team and my cardiologist, who have all assured me that I'm doing very well.

    "But I'm doing what is being asked of me, and I haven't exactly been hitting my salt targets that well. It certainly doesn't feel like I'm doing a lot."

    "You have to understand," one of the Diabetes team members told me, "you doing just that means you're ahead of a lot of people who have Type 2 diabetes."


    "When just getting people to admit they have to change their diet is a chore, what you're doing is fantastic. You've never complained or bitched; you just went and did it. So just keep doing what you're doing, and you'll be fine."


  • I'm really lucky in that I've got a good team in my corner.

    I simply can't sing the praises of the Diabetes Team loudly enough. The same goes for my cardiologist, whom I simply adore. I completely trust their judgement, and I've hopefully had it reciprocated by my trying to follow their instructions to the letter. That's not to say that there haven't been complications --there have been, and I'm not prepared to talk about those right now-- but they're a very good team and I know I'm in good hands.

I think the biggest take away that I have had over the past 5 months has been that this is a process. I'm not going to "solve" my health issues in a simple one-off solution. I could wake up tomorrow and discover I've become allergic to one of the medications I take, or that I could have a stroke while goofing around on WoW. None of this is easy, but in the end I hope to be kicking around here a bit longer.

Can't get rid of me yet....



*My life has, overall, taken a turn for the better by keeping my Facebook usage to an absolute minimum once the pandemic began. I think it says a lot about the state of Facebook when Reddit gives me less stress.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

More Dragons Needed, Please

In case you watched the World of Warcraft reveal and said to yourself, "This is great but there simply aren't enough DRAGONS in there!" 

Well, have I got a deal for you:

There's plenty to unpack here, from the reintroduction of Spelljammer (last seen in 2e if I recall correctly), to Baldur's Gate 3, to a collection of new adventures, to some cool designs for tabletop enemy sets, to even a new Starter Set with a new adventure.

But for me, they did save the best for last. At 26:26, they lead into the big reveal.

Oh myyyy.

Yes, Krynn will be coming to D&D 5e.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Time To Dip Into Those Sports Analogies

"Franchise [Joe Burrow] says he is tried of that 'why not us' ****. It is us! We are these ****ers right now!! Let's ****ing go!! We're winning the whole ****ing thing!!"
--C.J. Uzomah, after the Bengals won a playoff game for the first time in 30 years


Blizzard could have been channeling C.J. for all I know.

If I squint, I can pretend that these didn't exist:

Mists of Pandaria
Warlords of Draenor
Battle for Azeroth

That works, right? That's how Blizz wanted us to pretend things are in Retail, right? That the previous expacs didn't exist, and we can skip right to the current expac?

Because I'm far more interested in Dragonflight than I ever was for all of those expansions listed above. 

Okay, that's not quite true, because I was hyped for Cataclysm until it actually dropped, and then I found out after a playthrough that I didn't like what Blizz actually did with the reworking of the Old World. But that's all old story now*, and Dragonflight seems to have a lot of potential.


Or, as we Bengals fans like to say before football season starts, we're "cautiously optimistic".**


But first, I wanted to talk about tone.

As I'd said in comments over on Kaylriene's and Bhagpuss' blogs, I was shocked to see Blizzard actually eating some humble pie for a change. Maybe the events surrounding Battle for Azeroth and their "traditional" response during the corresponding Shadowlands release blowing up in their faces had something to do with it, but you never know for sure.  I certainly did not expect a (relatively) contrite tone, particularly given that their community council is filled with hardcore raiders, the group that they basically pander to 24x7. If Blizzard had doubled down on what they did in Shadowlands because the hardcore scene wasn't that affected by "events", nobody would have been surprised. 

Well, call me surprised.


The tone expressed by the WoW team at the release was rather subdued compared to over the top stuff from reveals at BlizzCon, which was good, but it was also somewhat contrite, which was shocking. The presenters admitted --kinda sorta-- that things hadn't been going well and they'd made steps to fix them, and they're moving forward with more long term fixes. Multiple people have commented on the lack of any mention of borrowed power, but since that entire trend came --and apparently went-- without my ever playing the game at that time, I'm not missing anything.

The trailer at reveal was also notable in that there wasn't a peep of any of the following:

  • The end of the world coming
  • Any Big Bad
  • Horde/Alliance conflict

Again, there was drama --it is a Blizzard trailer, after all-- but it was a subdued sort of drama. I got the impression that hey, the world has been crazy and we had to help it, but now we want to come back home. To fix things. To explore and build. All of which the game desperately needs, because this endless cycle of war will eventually end with nobody winning. Look at human history, and the worst of wars that were fought left wide swaths of land totally depopulated, and the victors themselves were weakened to the point where they were conquered a few generations later. That is the endgame that awaits Azeroth if the cycle isn't broken.  

As far as decor goes, the room has more
of a gamer's hidey hole feel than some
corporate office space, like what you see
in the front of Blizzard's offices.***
Oh, and "Go Team Red!!" --Redbeard
(This is a screen cap from the Reveal Livestream.)


I do have to wonder whether Holly Longdale's presence has helped to mitigate the Blizzard attitude a bit. She is enthusiastic, but as Wilhelm Arcturus put it so well on Bhagpuss's post, she presents it in the same vein of someone who actually plays and enjoys a variety of parts of the game, not just the raiding aspect. Too frequently we've seen parts of an expac where devs gush about how beautiful it is, and then.... Okay, onto the raiding part! 

Yeah, like this.


But I felt that Holly helped to keep interest on parts that have very little directly to do with raiding, such as crafting. "Can I wear a chef's hat?" she asked at one point****, helping to direct conversation to the fun RPG elements in the crafting overhaul.

To be fair, RPG elements have been kind of overlooked in Retail --not by players, mind you, as any perusal of Kamalia's blog will show you-- but by Blizzard itself. In their need to keep people "engaged" by "dailies, rep grinds, and gating!" any RPG elements have had to be provided by the players themselves. This time, it feels like Blizz finally got the message that not everybody is truly interested in raiding, and Holly was helping to direct conversation that way.


But it has to be said that WoW no longer being the Top Dog in MMOs probably had something to do with all of these changes. 

I asked in guild chat --and Kaylriene on his blog-- about whether FF XIV's influence could be felt in the wholesale UI changes and crafting overhaul. My guildies who play both games felt that FF XIV was more in line with the crafting overhaul, like the aforementioned Chef's Hat being something that they felt was straight out of FF XIV. The UI, they felt, was Blizz adopting aspects of the ElvUI addon, while others felt it was closer to GW2. (My opinion was that it did feel closer to GW2, but there were SWTOR elements in there as well.)

Other parts of the expac --the new playable race of Draconians Dragonborn Dracthyr, for one-- had me kind of shrugging a bit. It was controversial enough when Dragonborn became a playable race for D&D 4e, so seeing it here in Dragonflight is kind of an "okay, I've seen this already" thing. The single class dedicated to the Drakthyr is very unlike Blizzard, however, and graphically I felt they captured the hybrid fairly well. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who wouldn't care for the Drakthyr's looks, but to be fair I dislike the 'pandering' look of the Pandaren, so to each their own. I'm just glad they didn't create an actual dragon class that shape shifts into humans/elves/whatever, which if it were to be true to WoW's NPC dragons, would be hugely overpowered from the get go.# After all, you never see drakes or whelps shape shifting, only the adult dragons.


And yes, Wrath Classic was officially announced to drop in 2022, which doesn't shock me at all.


My expectation is that since Sunwell is now in the PTR, Wrath will likely drop in an August/September timeframe. It just feels way too fast to give enough people a real shot at downing everything, particularly since WoW Classic had close to two years to work with, and TBC Classic will probably get only 15 months in operation. Holly notwithstanding, this is being driven by the hardcore top guilds alone, not by the majority of the playerbase, which is going to bite the Classic team in the ass.

Additionally, since the Classic team announced that there will be no automated LFG tool, there's going to be Trouble in River City. There's a huge imbalance between the large pop servers and the smaller pop servers, and simply giving free transfers to the large pop servers isn't going to cut it. It's bad enough trying to get some farming in on the lower pop servers that I can't imagine what it's like on Pagle or Atiesh, which are 5+ times the size of Myzrael. "Something will have to be done about the lower pop servers," several guildies commented. I personally think mergers are the answer, but the two largest US servers are almost totally Horde or totally Alliance, and that's a problem that can't be handwaved away by mergers or free transfers. It might take account/user creation bans on the highest pop servers combined with server merges of the lowest pop servers to get guilds to move off and spread out, but it's just a guess on my part. After all, FF XIV had new users/accounts banned on a lot of their server equivalents because of the influx of new people --I know, because I tried to make a toon on my son's FF XIV server and couldn't do it-- and Blizzard might have to go that route too.


It's a long way between now and Dragonflight's release --Wrath Classic will come much sooner--  but I have to admit I'm, well, interested in what's going to happen now in Retail. Like I said, it's been a long long time since I looked forward to a Retail expansion, so this is unfamiliar territory to me. Blizzard has plenty of opportunity to screw this up, so my years of wandering in the wilderness as a Bengals fan has prepared me for this eventuality. Hopefully they won't let me down one too many times, like baseball's Cincinnati Reds have##, and turn me against Retail for good.

*Or, in another way of putting it, "It's not that deep, bro." Oh, I am so owning this line now, and no, not for snarky reasons. It's because I need the constant reminder without being hit over the head with a clue stick.

**Until last year, the preseason --and our corresponding cautious optimism-- would be the high point of every season. Now, after the surprise success of last year, I'm kind of adrift; this must be what it was like for Leicester City fans the year after they won the Premier League back in 2016, only we didn't actually win the Super Bowl.

***For the record, it's this:

Pretty standard office park stuff out front.
Orcs notwithstanding.
From Wikipedia.

****The answer is "yes", btw.

#A quick aside that while I appreciate being able to play as a High Elf in LOTRO, from a lore standpoint anybody playing a Noldor --the only High Elves who returned to Middle-earth in pursuit of Morgoth were Noldor-- would be drastically overpowered from the get-go. Standing Stone kind of hand waved that away by having your character be in suspended animation for centuries after the days of the Last Alliance, but come on. They'd have been better off choosing to allow you to play a Gray Elf --a Sindar-- rather than a High Elf.

##When the son of the team's owner gets on television for an interview and basically says to all those who saw the ownership sell off a ton of good players during the offseason that basically [paraphrasing] "Who cares what you think? Who else are you gonna cheer for?" you can bet your ass that people are calling for the owner to sell the team. 


EtA: Corrected a couple of grammar issues.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

"This is a Fantasy. You DO know that, right?"

"You don't mean--" 

"It took me a while to accept it myself, actually. Poledra was very patient and very determined. When she found out I couldn't accept her as a mate in the form of a wolf, she simply found a different shape. She got what she wanted in the end." He sighed.

"Aunt Pol's mother was a wolf?" Garion was stunned.

"No, Garion," Belgarath replied calmly. "She was a woman -- a very lovely woman. The change of shape is absolute."

"But--but she started out as a wolf?"


"But--" The whole notion was somehow shocking.

"Don't let your prejudices run away with you," Belgarath told him.

Garion struggled with the idea. It seemed monstrous somehow. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "It's unnatural, no matter what you say."

"Garion," the old man reminded him with a pained look, "just about everything we do is unnatural. Moving rocks with your mind isn't the most natural thing in the world, if you stop and think about it."

"But this is different," Garion protested. "Grandfather, you married a wolf --and the wolf had children. How could you do that?"

--From Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad, Book 4, page 290) by David Eddings


Garion and Belgarath, cropped from
the original cover of  Enchanters'
End Game, Book 5 of The Belgariad,
by David Eddings.

All eyes turned to Silvara.

She was calm now, at peace with herself. Although her face was filled with sorrow, it was not the tormented, bitter sorrow they had seen earlier. This was the sorrow of loss, the quiet, accepting sorrow of one who has nothing to regret. Silvara walked toward Gilthanas. She took hold of his hands and looked up into his face with so much love that Gilthanas felt blessed, even as he knew she was going to tell him goodbye.

"I am losing you, Silvara," he murmured in broken tones. "I see it in your eyes. But I don't know why! You love me--" 

"I love you, elflord," Silvara said softly. "I loved you when I saw you injured on the sand. When you looked up and smiled at me, I knew the fate which had befallen my sister was to be mine, too." She sighed. "But it is a risk we take when we choose this form. For though we bring our strength into it, the form inflicts its weaknesses upon us. Or is it a weakness? To love..."

"Silvara, I don't understand!" Gilthanas cried.

"You will," she promised, her voice soft. Her head bowed.

--From Dragons of Winter Night (Dragonlance Chronicles, Book 2, page 244) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragon of Mystery, by Larry Elmore.
You can go buy prints of Larry's work,
like this one, at his website.

I finally got my prior post about my dislike for the lack of mystery surrounding the Dragon Aspects out of the way when Shintar, in her traditional manner of getting me to think, poked me about my dislike for the Jaina and Kalecgos romance in a quip within her comment.

And I'll admit that it brought me up short. I have a specific aversion to that entire relationship, and I ought to be able to explain it better than I already have. Therefore, this short interlude will cover why I'm not a fan of a dragon relationship with one of the "mortal races" as is presented in WoW.

  1. It's a power imbalance.

    Let's be honest for a minute. If we grant Jaina the title of "most powerful arcane wielder ever" --something that some Titans would raise an eyebrow at-- she's still a mortal human. She will kick the bucket. No amount of arcane power will prevent her death, and it won't even delay it without veering into necromancy*. However, A Warcraft dragon is immortal, and even if they are mortal their lifespan is so long compared to one of the mortal races as to be rendered moot. So no matter what Jaina can do, she will not be able to spend the rest of Kalecgos' life with him. There's also additional power perks of being a dragon, such as the physical dragon form itself. Being the alpha predator in the environment conveys a large degree of power in any relationship, no matter what the mortal might think, and the dragon ought to know this better than anyone else. After all....

  2. They're a dragon, not a mortal. Their thought processes are different than a mortal's.

    The timeless Blizzard miscue of "You think you do but you don't" definitely applies here.

    A lot of ink has been burned in Fantasy novels and RPGs about relationships between dragons and protagonists, from Dragonlance (Gilthanas and Silvara, Huma and the Silver Dragon, etc.) to the Truth Series by Dawn Cook (who is better known as Kim Harrison). If you want to extend it beyond dragons to other non-bipedal species there's an additional rabbit hole to fall down, from David Eddings' Belgariad to a lot Urban Fantasy that uses were-creatures to all sorts of weird and dark corners of the internet. The stories tend to follow a few distinct patterns, from the "hey, when they're in human form you're having a relationship with a human, not a dragon" to "I can't forget that this person is not a human despite outward appearance, and that poisons the relationship" to "who cares? let's bang!"

    I fall under the camp of "this dragon/wolf/whatever is a different species and we might think we know its thought processes but we really don't." If the dragon truly becomes a human (or elf), then it is subject to the same biological frailties as that human or elf, --which means the dragon would have to give up all of their physical advantages-- and that includes emotions. However, the ability to shift back and forth --while retaining memories, intelligence, and their mental abilities (such as wielding magic)-- also implies they retain more than just that. So from my perspective, they may look human but they definitely aren't.

    I guess that puts me in the camp of how Michelle Sagara writes the Cast series of novels, where the dragons that Kaylin encounters might have a human form, but everything from the carriages they ride in to how they walk implies that their entire dragon weight is still there, only just "hidden" by something that's better than an illusion but not as good as a total change of form.

    Since I fall under the camp of "they retain enough of themselves that they shouldn't fall in love or feel jealousy or anything else the same way we do," that leads me to...

  3. A dragon falling in love with a human is likely a lot closer to a human falling in love with a dog.

    Dragons are the apex species --Old Gods and Gronn notwithstanding-- of Azeroth. The mortal races can see them in their human form and experience the usual gamut of emotions, but a dragon still views us through their eyes, in which we have a lot more in common with the cattle that they may decide to feast on than as equals. After all, Onyxia said the quiet part out loud when she makes the quip during the initial pull about how she typicaly "must leave [her] lair in order to feed." The other flights aren't so blunt about it and may avoid eating the mortal races as a general rule, but the cat is out of the bag: dragons look on us as "talking meat" or "talking pets" than anything else. And if they do care a lot about mortals, it's more of the paternal, often patronizing type of caring. A dragon falling in love with a human would likely also be frowned upon by draconic society in the same manner as a cross species romance would be in human society. Even if a bonobo or a dog or a dolphin could love in a similar manner to that of a human, the species are still different enough that our society certainly wouldn't view it as a love between equals.

    Fantasy novels have an end run around these problems, of course, and typically involve wish fulfillment more than anything else. These relationships in a Fantasy or Science Fiction setting can --and frequently are-- a stand-in for commentary about our own racial prejudices, merely taken to an extreme. Being able to use a character's inner voice to demonstrate that the dragon or elf or draenei has the same mental and emotional acumen as that of a human allows an author to demonstrate that despite outward appearances, "we're all the same inside".

    But as a practical matter, there's a huge difference in falling in love between species versus different races of the same species. And despite authors (or the Blizzard story team) waving their hands and allowing inter-racial children to exist (gee thanks, ancient Mythologies!) what we know of genetics basically renders that sort of outcome impossible. And before anybody starts catcalling "Mules!" from the rear of the auditorium, let me remind you that the genetic differences between burros and horses are a lot fewer than humans' closest living relatives, the bonobos. And we can't interbreed between bonobos. Those relatives of modern humans we could interbreed with are those that no longer exist, such as Neanderthals and Denisovians.

    But still...

  4. I can't swim against the tide forever, and a story team --or an author-- with the blessing of management is going to get their way, whether I like it or not. And that, more than anything else, gets my goat. It's their vision that is implemented, and their story to tell, not mine, despite that I'm the one playing their game. It obviously has no direct impact on the game, because it all happens "off screen" in the novels, but the concept of the whole thing just kind of bugs me. And that it happened to one of the two characters in the WoW-verse that are most in Mary Sue territory probably annoys me even more. If it was anybody else, I'd probably not care, but I look at it as a continuation of the storyline concerning the destruction of Theramore for no other good reason than to make sure we know that Garrosh is "the bad guy". Again, my complaints about setpieces versus good storytelling fit perfectly here. Blizz' teams are enamored of a nice setpiece, and frequently confuse those setpieces or cutscenes with good storytelling in general. And the Jaina/Kalecgos romance is an omnipresent reminder that those scenes do not necessarily make for a good story.

So there you have it.

I know that this post is gonna get buried in a few hours by people excitedly talking about the new WoW expac --or the release date for Wrath Classic, or Diablo 4-- but I felt I ought to get this out there. At least I can say that I explained my position; not well, perhaps, but at least I explained it. 

And if anybody has wondered about where I learned to write dialogue, these two series quoted above provide part of the answer to the puzzle.



*Ars Magica notwithstanding. Yes, in Ars Magica, you can use magic to artificially extend a Magus/Maga's lifespan, but at the cost of being rendered infertile. For a Magus or Maga, this is pretty much a tradeoff they're comfortable with, but even then they can't extend their lifespan indefinitely. At the very least, a Final Twilight will eventually catch up to them, or an enemy will finally end their life.

EtA: Corrrected a grammatical error.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Corking the Bottle

So the latest WOW expac is likely to be Dragonflight, apologies to Anne McCaffrey I suppose. 

Want to discuss The Dragonriders of Pern?
I'm ready.

I am conflicted about this, but not likely for the reasons that you might expect.

You see, having been reintroduced to the dragonflights by way of Classic, I miss how they were presented there, and I long for a return to that level of storytelling in WoW, where the Dragon Aspects were these remote beings that were simply not seen or heard from directly.

Even in Burning Crusade, the dragons you met operated as their own agents, and always undercover, posing mostly as humans or elves. (Chromie is not seen in BC, although her flight did have a significant part to play.) At best, in Classic and TBC you met the prime mate or the matron protectorate of a flight, not the Aspects themselves. Even then, it was pretty explicitly stated that the flights were not to interfere with the affairs of mortals, and was only the depradations of the Black Flight (and the Gronn) that forced their hand. The best they did was provide some guidance and support; anything more direct seemed doomed to failure (see Sunken Temple and Blackwing Lair for example).

Even though I did like a lot of Wrath –it was my introduction to the game, after all—that expac began the shift in how the dragonflights and the Aspects were presented. The result was to make them more familiar and mundane, which kind of ruined them as a part of Azeroth.

It can be hard to express my sentiment here without an analogy, so let me put it this way. If you are an average French citizen circa 1700, King Louis XIV is some remote figure that you knew of but didn’t have a personal relationship with. The Sun King was no Prince Hal out of Henry IV. But if he did start hanging out with you, having you over for dinner and asking your opinion on the politics of the day (and not threatening to have to imprisoned if he didn’t like what you had to say) he would cease to be the Sun King and instead just be closer to “Lou the Baker” who lives next door. The mystique would be gone, and with it the familiarity that replaced it would make the storytelling less by comparison.

Which is what happened in Wrath and Cataclysm.

I will freely admit that the first time I was summoned to Wyrmrest Temple and flown up top was kind of daunting. 

Ever had that feeling you're in over
your head? Yeah, like right about now.


I just didn’t know how daunting that would have been to someone who’d been playing since 2004 (or earlier), seeing Alexstraza and company for the first time. Of course, the members of the Accord being 15 feet tall* didn’t exactly make them feel all that chummy either...

You were always the smarter sibling,
Neve. Kneeling is a damn good idea.


...but by the end of that entire expac you were on a somewhat first name** basis with the entire Wyrmrest Accord. Which when you think about it, is rather…. Odd.

You started off your career killing some imps in Durotan or Defias in Northshire Abbey, and now you’re talking to the most powerful beings on Azeroth as if you’re on equal footing with them.

Go figure.

Then Cataclysm came along, and while it is very much the Thrall story***, it is also the story of the dragonflights and their Aspects. Over the course of the expac you end up being very chummy with the Aspects, as in “we’ll have you over to dinner and gaming next week” sort of chummy.

I do have to admit there are a few nice
perks being friends with dragons.


Set piece-wise, very cool. But story-wise from a logical standpoint, that makes no sense at all. You are not one of the most powerful people on the planet; there’s a ton of others hanging around Dalaran or Stormwind or Orgrimmar right then and there, so either you’re far more powerful than you thought or the Aspects are far less powerful than you thought. Either way, this serves to completely undermine all of the storytelling that went on in Vanilla and TBC.

And I’m pretty sure that the WoW story team doesn’t see the problems inherent in that, but once you uncork that bottle, you can’t stuff the genie back in.


Heading back to Wrath, the entire subplot about Malygos going crazy was completely lost on me at the time, because I didn’t have the backstory or the weight of in-game history. But now I do, and I can now say with a degree of certainty…


You really took one of the four most powerful beings on Azeroth and just up and had him decide to go bonkers one day and decide to kill all of the arcane wielders just because? Except for those who hung out with Malygos, of course, because that was what he did: he wanted all the magic for him and his entourage. Hardly any explanation, and he was given an Onyxia-style one shot raid that was hardly worth it when compared to Discount Naxx, Ulduar, and ICC. Hell, Wintergrasp’s raid was more well attended in the guilds I was a member of than Malygos’.

So what was the point? That Malygos was out of the way so that Jaina could be making out with Kalecgos, the Aspect-in-absentia?


Anyway, I’m aware that in Legion (or thereabouts) Ysera dies too, so I guess I should be glad I didn’t play that expac. It certainly seems that the in-game lifespan of a Dragon Aspect throughout WoW isn’t exactly very long. At times it feels like the Roman Emperor Commodus lived longer than some WoW leaders. Or the average Doctor Who companion in the New Who era. And yes, that’s a snap at the WoW story team; I didn’t sign up to watch leaders go crazy or die or whatever just because you needed a good dramatic setpiece. Work harder at crafting a plausible, well told story and you won’t have to rely upon a virtual bloodbath whenever you want drama.


But in the end the familiarity, the deaths, the inconsistent story, and a lot of other small things add up to the dragonflights not being a big deal compared to what they once were. And while I should be excited that the dragons will take center stage, I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to give them back their majesty and remoteness that they once had.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get the grill started. We’re having Alexstraza and her Consort over for steak and roasted vegetables, and we’ll be playing Concept afterward.

"The easiest route is to take I-75 north
across the bridge and get onto I-74..."



*I presume they could be any height they wanted to be, since dragons were master manipulators of the arcane even before the Highborne. It’s just that they chose to be gigantic to intimidate the lesser races. But as I’ve pointed out before, I suspect that at least someone on the WOW dev team had a thing for giantesses.

**When I was first typing this post out this little section autocorrected to “you were on a somewhat first base basis”. I snickered, because Jaina certainly was during the events in at least one of the books. 

"So you're the one that Jaina is shacking
up with? You know, you ought to do more
to disguise yourself. The super size
look and blue hair kind of gives you away."

And for people unfamiliar with the baseball analogy, each base corresponds to a certain level of physical intimacy. First base is kissing/french kissing. Go look up the rest in urban dictionary if you’re curious, because the quickest way to get me to blush and stammer is to have to explain to a girl/woman what second base and third base are, let alone a home run.

***I’m calling it here now, that if part of the expansion is the restoration of the Aspects and selection of new flight leaders, then Jaina will end up leading the Blue Flight. Because that’s a natural yang to the ying of Thrall being whatever the hell he is these days. And that Blizzard can’t seem to help themselves with the Mary Sue and Marty Stu that are Jaina and Thrall.