Tuesday, June 28, 2022

An RPG From the Past: Middle-earth Role Playing

During the height of the Satanic Panic in the 80s, my parents decided --with the help of some "encouragement" from watching The 700 Club* and from hearing some of my mom's hardcore evangelical in-laws-- to get rid of all of my brother's and my D&D material. 

Looking back on it now, I still get angry about the whole affair, especially knowing what an original Deities and Demigods (complete with the Michael Moorcock section) is worth nowadays, but in a bizarre way it pushed me into other RPGs that I would have ordinarily never tried. So... I guess I have to thank my parents for expanding my RPG horizons a lot.

Such as Middle-earth Role Playing by Iron Crown Enterprises.

ICE put out Middle-earth Role Playing --MERP for short-- in 1984, basing the game on a streamlined version of their Rolemaster system. ICE put out a Second Edition of the game in 1986 --functionally the same, but cleaned up in presentation-- and continued to release supplements and support MERP up until they lost the license granted by Tolkien Enterprises in 1999.

This is probably about half of ICE's output.
And no, I'm not selling any of them. I've had
most of these for 25-30 years.

I realize some people prefer The One Ring or the D&D version of a Middle-earth RPG as their go-to for adventuring in Middle-earth, but for me MERP was it. From practically the moment I spied the MERP RPG materials at our local Waldenbooks and opened up a few of the splatbooks, I fell in love with the game.


Okay, you have to be wondering how on earth I managed to hide a boxed RPG set --never mind the REST of the splatbooks-- when my parents were incredibly anal retentive about controlling major aspects of my life.** Therefore, I ought to take a step back and describe exactly what went into my thought process when I finally decided to pull the trigger.

Having attempted to toe the line for a couple of years, I began to look into RPGs again. I mean, I thought the entire "Roleplaying is Satanic" thing was bullshit***, but since I wanted to keep my continuing interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy novels/short story collections alive, I figured I had to toe the company line for a while. And believe me, when I bought the Dragonlance novels that was truly put to the test, as my brother conspired to use the fact that they were printed by TSR --the same company that put out D&D-- against me in an argument with my parents. Luckily, my parents didn't take my books away, but I knew I was walking on eggshells.****

Still, I wasn't going to give up on this. I knew I had to wait until I got to college to be more open about playing RPGs, which is rather ironic given the extremely low social status RPG players had on the teenager social scale, but I'd seen through the bullshit and I figured there had to be a way to pull off playing RPGs.

Normally, you'd just find someone playing D&D and sit in on their game, but the people I knew who played D&D had discovered girls and cars, and that was that. So if I wanted to play, I'd have to get a game group together myself.

So all of this was on my mind when I stumbled across the MERP materials at the bookstore, and I thought that this could be exactly what I needed. The books were all soft cover, the boxed set was the size of the old D&D Basic set with the Errol Otus cover art, and because of the (relatively) cheap production values the books were much cheaper than comparable D&D books. That they were softcover meant I could hide them inside my copy of this game without anybody noticing:

There was a LOT of extra space inside
once you put the ships together.
From Mandi's Attic Toys.

Between that and my copy of Risk, I could hide the boxed set and a couple of expansion settings. 

I then targeted my friends who loved reading SF&F, and I got a couple of people together for regular game sessions. They all knew my parents' opinions on role playing, so they were more than happy to be the hosts for the games. 

There were more than my share of close calls with my parents, but once I got away to college --and bought myself a footlocker to carry my books and whatnot back and forth from college over the summers-- I was set. Once my girlfriend got an apartment nearby for grad school, I just moved my MERP collection over to her place and I was set. Looking back on it, I'm shocked I wasn't caught with my hand in the cookie jar, because my 50+ year old self looks back at the risks I took and think that I had to have been out of my mind to think I was going to get away with it.

I mean, I did all the following:

  • Created a false bottom in the drawer in my old wooden desk
  • Built a false bottom underneath one of the shelves of my bookshelf  (I got cold feet putting the books there, so I put some of my old classwork from high school there instead. If it was found, the fact that I didn't want my old classwork thrown out would have worked in my favor.)
  • Hid some of the books under my dresser
  • Put some of the books between the box spring and the frame of my mattress
All of which sound on the face of it that I was hiding marijuana or condoms or Playboys.


The TL;DR of that whole thing is that compared to D&D, MERP was modular, cheaper, and had much better splatbooks than D&D had. The ICE team worked their collective asses off on MERP (and Rolemaster), and it showed.

And, in my opinion, until D&D 3e came along, MERP was the superior game.

If you looked at a MERP character sheet, it looked a lot like a D&D 3e character sheet. 

This is a scan of a character I created
when I was learning the game. The
photocopy came straight from the
core rulebook itself.

I absolutely love this version
created by Tensen01 on DeviantArt.

You see skill ranks, character stats, languages, and a few other odds and ends. Instead of the modern MMO nomenclature of "Mana", you have "Power Points" for casting spells. The Stats and rolls are all based on the d100 system, so no other dice are needed other than a pair of d10s. Oh, and those Languages? Yes, they have skill ranks as well, from 1 (can say a couple of words) to 5 (speak like a native). Each level you go up, you get a certain number of skill points to distribute, no fuss no muss.

All of these skill ranks and the d100 system made so much sense that I wondered why D&D bothered with all the assorted dice. And until 3e came along and basically took a lot of the MERP/Rolemaster system along for the ride, D&D felt weak by comparison. 

MERP did suffer from one major drawback, which was that the game went up until 10th Level. If you wanted to utilize higher levels, you had to use Rolemaster for that. But given that Rolemaster, or RM for short, was also straightforward I didn't have any issues with using RM on an as-needed basis.

But the sheer joy in MERP lay in the splatbooks and modules. And oh, were there a ton.

I found a couple of copies
of this in the box set.

I even kept track of what I was missing.

I'm biased, but I really liked Lorien a lot.


The default setting for MERP was in the mid-Third Age, while there still was a Kingdom in the North (Arthedain), the Balrog hadn't been unearthed yet in Moria, Rohan hadn't been founded yet (but the Horse Lords roamed south of Mirkwood), Minas Ithil was still intact, and there was a King in Gondor. There's plenty of opportunities for campaigns in this era, and if you wanted to run a campaign in another era, the books were easily adapted to those. Well, within reason: Minas Ithil was not going to be the same once the Witch King got a hold of it. The Balrog the same with Moria, but the largest difference between the two is that we know --courtesy of The Fellowship of the Ring-- that the rooms in Moria were largely intact, if unused or had signs of fighting in them.

The sad thing is that ICE lost the Tolkien license right before the Peter Jackson LOTR movies came out, because it would have been a huge shot in the arm to the system. Then again, people would have wanted to play in the era of Lord of the Rings in the same way as people do in LOTRO, so the concept of a mid-Third Age setting wouldn't necessarily have worked as well as I might have thought. But still, that the game is a love letter to Tolkien's works is something that can't be overlooked. The world of Middle-earth is so diverse that you could spend an entire campaign in the area around Bree, or maybe have an urban campaign down in Gondor, or even a wilderness campaign out in Mirkwood. 

Faerun ain't got nothing on Middle-earth.


It's a shame that the used prices for these splatbooks can be pretty high, because they're very much worth a perusal if you're a Tolkien fan. I'd checked out some of the splatbooks I was missing in my collection, but when I saw they were over $100 for a "meh" quality version, I took a hard pass. Finding PDF files of these rulebooks and systems are very much worth pursuing, however, because that's one way of keeping costs down.

If you happen to come across some of these books at a yard sale and you're interested in an RPG based on Lord of the Rings, I'd recommend picking them up. 

*Commence groans. Oh yes, I had to defend my listening to Rush of all things because they showed up on one of Pat Robertson's lists of "Satanic Heavy Metal". (At least Triumph avoided that listing.) If anybody knows anything about Heavy Metal, maybe --maybe-- you could count Rush's self titled first album, but that's it. 

**This absolute need to control my life fueled my desire to go to college away from home. Admittedly the University of Dayton was only 54 miles away, but it was just far enough away in the days of a 55 MPH speed limit that my parents weren't going to drop in on me unannounced. However, I found out a couple of decades later that during my Freshman year my father did just that, dropping in on the Physics Department and asking the Department Chair how I was doing. "We don't discuss such things with parents," he stonily told my Dad and showed him the door.

***I once had a huge argument with my mom over this, saying it was the same as acting, as playing a role is what actors do, but I swear the mental gymnastics on this she used to try to split hairs was absolutely ridiculous. "Playing a role" was fine, she said, but "role playing" was Satanic.

****My brother also tried to tie my interests in music to Satanism, but given that I didn't have bands like Ozzy or Black Sabbath in my music collection at the time, that failed as well.

EtA: Cleaned up some grammar.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Blizz Cut the Ad Budget, I See

That snarky little comment is because of the WoW Classic announced XP buff for the four weeks prior to Wrath Classic's launch.

The buff's name?

Joyous Journeys.

Sometimes you can't just make this stuff up, because when I read that my first thought was "So... when you finish a Joyous Journey, is there a Happy Ending?"

In case you have no idea what a "happy ending" is, go look it up in the Urban Dictionary. I'll wait.

Okay, maybe I have a twisted sense of humor, but it just tumbled off the tongue so easily that someone inside Blizz just had to have pointed this out to management.


Humor aside, I suppose that's my cue to push forward and finish Card's journey to L70, because I want to complete that before I get any unintended "boosts" to her. I'd like to think that the Joyous Journeys 50% XP buff is going to be a clickable buff, but I kind of doubt it. 

For a quick update, Card is sitting at L69* and about 50% through to L70. Neve is presently breathing down her neck at L69 as well, and about 40% of the way through to the end. It's gonna be a race to see who finishes first, and it'll depend upon how busy I am early in the day when I tend to grind some mobs on Card. 

And Neve's brother?

The hormonal scamp is busy hanging out at Lord Saltheril's party in Eversong forest.

Sigh. Must be the hair.

But that's not all he's been up to. Apparently some of Neve's friends were unaware that her younger brother was all grown up...

I've had this conversation before with
friends of my own brother.

And he still carries good wishes from Neve's old Magistrix when he visits Fairbreeze Village.

*Yes yes, I know. Insert crude joke here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Speaking of Endings

The elephant in the room finally materialized on Myzrael-US.

The top guild on the server, Variance, is planning on leaving for Atiesh-US on July 1st. 

Variance is not merely the top guild on Myz, but it is also one of the top guilds in all of TBC Classic. I've occasionally referred to the Myzrael progression raid scene as "Variance and then there's everybody else". Until they ran into Sunwell Plateau, they were able to down every single raid they came up against the first night. (It took two nights for them to finally finish the job on SWP.) Yes, that included Naxxramas and their full complement of bosses. 

They are that good.

What's more, there's likely about 200-300 raiding toons in Variance, so when they leave the Alliance raiding toon listings will take a 20-30% hit. 


What this means for the server is... Not good.

Well, if you're doing progression, anyway.

The problem about that is that progression is the straw that stirs the drink in TBC Classic*, and without a healthy amount of raiding toons, guilds will leave the server for greener pastures. This began in early TBC Classic when Imperium --the #2 guild on Myzrael-- left. Then the drip drip drip began.

Nox Terrorem (Horde) left.

Infernal hit the road.

Midnight Souls imploded and many people in that guild left the server.

Conquerors dissolved. 

Limelight moved on.

Anubis migrated off.

As did Carnage Asada. 

And there are a bunch of smaller guilds who have also migrated off, seeking their fortune elsewhere.

But losing Variance? That's something the server may not recover from.


There was a short but vigorous discussion about the server's fortunes in our guild's Discord, and the overall sentiment is that the guild ought to move sooner rather than later, because it certainly seems that if Myzrael as the #2 sized US-West PvE server is getting ready to implode, we shouldn't wait for the fallout to hit an unsustainable auction house or anything else.

One of the options? To move to Pagle-US, which is almost 100% Alliance. It is also gigantic with over 10000 raiding toons. The other potential option Atiesh-US, where Card 2.0 resides, has about 6000 Alliance raiding toons, but an 80:20 Alliance:Horde split.

I will be watching this with great interest, but given that the only raiding I'm doing is the Friday Karazhan raid, I might be seeing it's last days if the guild decides to migrate off of the server. After all, I haven't decided what to do, and I'm not deleting Card 2.0. I've invested too much time in her now.

Shintar, we haven't reached the "Blizzard destroyed my server" point yet, but right now their inaction on propping up the smaller PvE servers in the Classic environment speaks volumes.

*And WoW in general, but I digress.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Creating Wilderness When There Is None

One day, a couple of decades ago, I was working away at my job as a Software QA Engineer*, with the NPR interview program Fresh Air playing through my headset. 

The subject of Terry Gross' interview that day was Jon Krakauer**, the author of Into The Wild. For those unfamiliar with the story, it's about 22 year old recent college grad Chris McCandless, who grew disenchanted with his family and decided to basically take off on his own. He abandoned his car, gave his entire savings to charity, and even burned the cash in his wallet, and set off into the unknown. Eventually his body was found in the Alaskan wilderness, having starved to death. Jon originally wrote an article for Outside magazine about Chris, and later expanded it into the book we know of today.

After listening to the interview, I made a point of stopping by our local bookstore on the way back home and picking up a copy. After a week or so of staring at it, wondering whether I was ready to read it, I finally gave in and devoured the thing in a day. Today, you can find Into the Wild --and Jon's most well known book, Into Thin Air-- in summer reading lists for high schools and universities. When I last visited my local bookstore, Into The Wild was on the large "summer reading list" shelf, surrounded by more classic fare such as Dune and The Aeneid.

Into The Wild is a tragedy caused by hubris, but a fascinating one nevertheless. 

When I read the book, one thing kept coming back to haunt me: just how, in the age of maps and global knowledge of entire areas, did Chris McCandless get lost in the wilderness? Even in the 90s, before smart phones that were more powerful than the best PCs of the era, you had access to everything you needed to survive in the Alaskan wilderness: where you were and where to go. Chris wanted to go to a blank spot on the map, and without any of those left, he decided the best way to achieve his goal was to simply get rid of the map.***


I've thought a lot over the years about that decision Chris McCandless made to throw away the map, because it has a certain amount of appeal. While it is frequently construed to sticking your fingers in your ears and going "LALALALALA I CAN'T HEEEEAR YOU!!!!" if you want to test yourself without relying upon modern conveniences the cheapest way to do so is to remove those conveniences. How much of a challenge is the challenge if sensors and monitors tell you everything you need to know in the same way a GPS vest is worn by footballers these days? Certainly even with all of the advanced tech in the world there's still plenty of challenge, and in quite a few endeavors that challenge can still prove fatal.****

I suppose that is the same sort of impulse --and hubris-- that causes people to ignore instruction manuals when installing/building something, only with potentially far more disastrous results.

The thing that gnaws at me about Chris' throwing away the map is that I do that sort of thing in some of my own endeavors. 

When I was about 13 or so, my parents drove the family up to Indianapolis to visit the Children's Museum. (If you ever are in Indy, it is worth a visit.) 

If your kid (or you) likes dinosaurs...
From theculturetrip.com.

One of the exhibits there was about gears and levers, and among the interactive displays they had there were two differing gears with their teeth intertwined. The idea was to provide an example as to see which could move first: the smaller or the larger. If you know your mechanical engineering, or you've ever ridden a bike with multiple gears, you ought to know that the smaller gear has the advantage here. And yes, even back then, I knew that courtesy of 6th Grade science class. But when my father offered to compete against me, I chose the larger gear.

Why? Because I wanted the challenge to see if I could win through physical strength even though all the advantages were with my dad. 

Of course I lost, and as he began to point out why based on the display I said, "I already know that."

"Then you shouldn't have chosen the wrong gear," he snapped and walked away.

Yes, I was an arrogant adolescent teen, but how could I explain to my dad that I deliberately chose the larger gear because I wanted a physical challenge rather than the safe --and smart-- option? He was in absolutely no mood to hear about that, and to him I just proved my stupidity by choosing the wrong gear rather than using my mind to choose the correct one.


Compared to this stuff, the way I play video games is pretty much small potatoes. 

However, my approach to video games --and to a lesser extent boardgames and pencil and paper RPGs-- is to eschew the optimal or smart option and instead deliberately choose other options because... Well, just because.

Like, say, leveling Card via the Old World instead of going to Outland.

Okay, that's not a fair assessment, because that was a very specific challenge. But I'm thinking in terms of playing as a Frost Mage when Frost is considered the "inferior" Mage spec when compared to Fire and Arcane. Or ignoring the allure of all sorts of "required" addons and playing with as few addons and/or Weakauras as possible. After all, I didn't even install DBM at all in WoW Classic until my first foray into Zul'Gurub, and I learned to expect different boss mechanics the old fashioned way, by watching for visual and audible cues from the bosses themselves.

But by far, the biggest addon I refuse to use is the one that I think of first when I think of throwing away the map: Questie. 

I will admit that there is one thing I completely enjoy about Questie: that I can tell exactly when other people I'm grouped with are done with a quest. It allows me to make an informed decision as to whether I want to continue grinding toward my own quest completion or just go with the flow and follow the others and work on their completion at the expense of my own. 

Before you say it, I'll insert a frustrated reaction from my Questing Buddy to cover it for you. 


I've had this conversation with people before, so don't bother. I really don't care about whether I complete quests when I'm grouped with someone: that's not why I'm grouped with them. If I do ask to group with someone so I can complete a quest, that's a different story, but when I'm just grouped with them to go "questing" or be social, I really don't care if I complete any quests.*****

The thing about addons like Questie is that it also defeats the purpose why I play video games. I don't play for the end, but for the journey. In a video game, throwing the map away by eschewing addons --or not looking at a map too hard when you can't turn that stuff off in game-- means I explore and take my cues off of what is presented to me. Sometimes it takes me a while to find what I'm looking for, but you can bet all the in game gold or credits you have that I'll remember where it is the next time I pass through. I'll look at road in LOTRO before you reach the Ford of Bruinen and go "Okay, this is where those trolls caught me at night; I'll have to go around right *here* to avoid them." Or, in TBC Classic, "This is where those Bog Lords have a bad habit of respawning quickly, so I'd better be ready for a rapid exit if that happens while I'm fighting these two out there now."

Events like that are why I play video games; the questing and raiding and instance running are all incidental to that. So why would I want to use something that minimizes my enjoyment and wonder to reach the end quicker? 

Now, I get that for a lot of people, the end IS the goal, so addons like Questie or Dailies or Attune make perfect sense. As a guildie put it --and I suspected that he said it to tweak me, since there were only three of us online at the time-- "Sure, doing dailies is boring and repetitive, but you never have an excuse to not have gold ever again." But for someone who revels in the challenge of the journey, forgoing these addons is akin to throwing away the map and proceeding onward into the wilderness. 

There's a whole world out there waiting.

Is that arrogant? Yeah, probably. 

Not very smart? Oh, definitely. 

Does it give me a sense of accomplishment in an era of FOMO and rushing to the end? Hell yes.

*Yes, that was the real title. Considering that I did just as much coding --albeit for the test harness and to integrate the testing designs properly-- as a regular developer, I certainly earned that "Engineer" moniker.

**Jon is probably more well known as the author of both Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven, but his entire catalogue is worth perusing. Here's the audio archive of the interview, which based on the date means I likely heard the interview on a Friday, which is when Fresh Air repeats previous interviews from that season. Why Friday? Because the air date was in January, and I started that job in February.

***Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. Hardcover edition, 1996. Pg. 174.

****Such as what happened in Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air, which details his account of the disaster on Mt. Everest in 1996. Jon was actually there at the time, climbing Everest as part of an Outside article about companies that will essentially escort you to the top of the mountain, when the weather disaster unfolded. In spite of all of the advanced tech of the time, 8 people died. More would have died were it not for the heroics of fellow climbers (including an IMAX team present for a separate assignment) and a Nepalese helicopter pilot who pushed his craft to the limit to reach crippled climbers and get them to safety. When Jon came through Cincinnati next year on a book tour for the release of Into Thin Air, his presentation was gut wrenching. Here's his interview with Terry Gross about it.

*****Last night my questing buddy was NOT having that. At all. So I had to complete at least a few quests with her and her husband while I was grouped with them, or she'd get that Mom voice out and boy, would I be in for it.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

When the Game Betrays You

Okay, that title may sound melodramatic, but hear me out on this.

As everybody knows, WoW Classic and its descendants aren't exactly graphics heavy. As a salesperson at Microcenter snarkily put it, you could use a graphics card powered by a potato and some metal strips and run WoW Classic. Still, you can crank up the graphics and get a rather nice modern experience while running Classic. Everything is sharper, the woods and fields are denser/fuller, and even the obnoxious parts of the gear are, well, more obnoxious.

"Indeed." --Cardwyn

But there are times when the graphics make what is on the face of it a simple quest into something far more difficult.

I've explained this to in-game friends more than once, but it's better understood seeing it instead.

In the Nagrand zone of Outland there's a quest, called A Rare Bean, you're sent on to do something pretty disgusting: hunting through animal scat for undigested caracoli.* Now, on the face of it, the quest is simple: find animal scat that is conveniently located near to the quest giver, click on it, and get the caracoli. This is out in the plains, so it should be easy to find, right?


This is at max graphics setting.

One is right in front of me. Do you see it?

What? Kind of hard to find?

Okay, let's lower the graphics to the "Classic" setting:

There we go. Better?

Or, you could lower the graphics alllll the way down and get this instead:

Yep, it's right in front of me.

Now you see --or rather didn't at first-- what the problem is. 

The graphics look fantastic until you have to go hunting around on the ground for the scat and there's no little *sparkly stars* floating above where the scat is to find it easier. Then you have a couple of options: lower the graphics until you can easily find it, create a macro you spam while running around the fields to target the scat, or utilize and addon --such as Questie-- that makes the scat stand out. 

When I was out by myself, it was a no brainer: I just dealt with it as a side effect of having nicer graphics. However, when I was grouped up I quickly discovered that my friends thought I must have been going blind or crazy (or both) because HOW COULD I MISS THESE RIGHT OVER THERE??!!!


At that point I had to explain the graphics was too good and it hid the stuff. 

"Not on Questie!"


I would much rather lower the graphics until I could see it rather than use an addon designed to get me through quests more quickly without trying to solve anything. Sure, A Rare Bean is supposed to be an easy quest, but when the graphics give you lemons, you make lemonade. Adjusting the graphics fixes the problem for this quest without sacrificing my entire philosophy of playing the game.

And now you know I'm not crazy.

This time.

*And if you thought hunting through scat for caracoli like a parent hunting for a penny that a kid swallowed is bad enough, you probably don't want to know what the Shaman does with those caracoli afterward.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Journey's End... And Beginning

Well, this happened:

If only the light would chase away
the gloom around here.

Yes, Cardwyn has reached L68, grinding her way there without having set foot in Outland.

I was planning on sitting on this until I could spring it on my questing buddy as a surprise, but the stinker had the Guild Roster Manager addon and so she already knew I hit L68 without me telling her.

(Have I mentioned before that I hate addons like that?) 


Before anybody brings up the obvious, yes, I spent the time after Cardwyn got her Frostsaber mount (a little bit into L66) until now grinding in the area outside of Karazhan. So yes, people who would be "yes but" about her grinding in a zone that had its mobs adjusted to an "Outland" type of level --from L60 to L69-L70-- making this moment possible, I will say this: I'd be here outside of Karazhan whether or not the mobs had their levels adjusted. Once you get up to L66, your opportunities for finding L60 mobs shrinks to very few locations: Silithus (Staghelm Point and Silithid caves), Winterspring (the Giant area in the south), and outside of Karazhan.

I did spend a few bars' worth of grinding in Silithus a couple of days when the crowd outside Kara began to grow when people dropped by to farm greens and Netherweave cloth*, and while yes, it can be done exclusively in Silithus and Winterspring, it would have taken about 2-3 times as long to level from L66 to L68.

That being said, while the "issues" I had training seem to have gotten fixed by the time Neve hit L64 --I was unable to train at all from L60 through L64 for some strange reason until the trainers suddenly allowed me to at L66-- I refused to update my talent tree at all. Therefore, my talents were exactly the same as they were at pre-patch at L60. That was a deliberate choice, because while I hoped I could utilize the mobs outside of Kara to level I wanted to compensate for that advantage by not utilizing other talents available to me. 


When I arrived outside of Karazhan at L66, I was uncertain whether I'd even have a chance at downing mobs 3-4 levels above my own. Much to my surprise, however, I was able to clear the mobs without dying once. There were plenty of times where the mobs resisted my attacks --oh boy, were there plenty of those-- but I was able to down all of them if I took my time and ate/drank after every other pull. 

I will also freely admit that if I tried to do this grind on just about any other toon, I'd likely have not been able to make it to L68. Part of that is due to the glass cannon nature of a Mage, but also the fact that I had a full T3 set at the end of Classic. The T3 set has been surprisingly good all the way to L68, and at this point I see no reason why I should replace it with anything BC related at all while we're counting down to Wrath.


A few other notes about the journey...

While I proved that this can be done --and one guildie mentioned to me that they'd never heard of anyone actually pulling this off-- this grind is not for everyone. 

All of those people who did quests at L60 for extra gold would have been severely hamstrung in trying to do this, because I got two levels worth of the grind completed because I did all of those L60 quests that I never bothered to do on Card. Another level came from completing Fire Festival quests, and three levels came from the Frostsaber grind. So... if you were a completionist --or gold/mount hungry-- and did all of that before TBC Classic dropped, well, good luck with that grind. 

Yes, I was able to hit L68 and technically will be able to go to Northrend when Wrath Classic drops**, but were it not for the mobs outside of Karazhan that'd probably be the upper limit Cardwyn could attain. The only mobs that are available for Card to grind right now for XP are those that are a minimum of L60, which makes the grind much much worse. Any zone you'd be considering grinding at would have at least half of the mobs not granting any XP at all, and I don't think you'd be able to get very far at all before Wrath Classic dropped. However, since the L69-L70 mobs outside of Karazhan exist, I ought to be able to grind Card all the way to L70 before the pre-patch for Wrath Classic.


This completes one of the three main goals I had for TBC Classic. At least this one was a goal I could achieve without the aid of others, which is why I was able to finish it. The other two, which were to get a full set of one of the T4/T5/T6 gear for Brig, and to finish Phase 2 for Brig with a Kael'Thas kill so I could get the achievement/title for doing so, are going to be unresolved at this point. Nobody does Gruul/Mags anymore, so my closest shot at a full Tier set (T4) isn't going to happen. And nobody does Tempest Keep either, so the closest I'll have gotten to a Kael'Thas kill was when we got him down to 10-15% the week before I had to stop raiding.*** Even if there was a TK run available, my gear is such that it would feel like a carry, and I positively HATE being carried. I wanted to earn those goals, not have them handed to me as a charity case. So no, if offered a chance to go at this point --even in a pug-- I would give a hard pass. And I don't care who knows my feelings on the matter.

I'll still be putzing around in TBC Classic at this point, but not because I have any real goals to achieve. Mainly just to play around, I suppose. While I tend to be a private player, I also tend to be social in the right setting. I'll just continue to seek those situations out and work from there.

*I've been surprised and pleased by just how much Netherweave drops outside Kara. Having watched my questing buddy level Tailoring more than once, and seeing just how much Netherweave she went through each time... Yeah, it's a good thing to know.

**The looks Card would probably get after disembarking at Boring Tundra while wearing her T3 gear would be worth it. If I were on an RP server, the "Hey, who's the fossil?" commentary would have been really amusing.

***My replacement was there at Tempest Keep the last week of January when the Monday raid finally downed Kael, but she had already been locked out of SSC so she couldn't go. Since I had moved myself to the Bench so that she could go to the raid, I filled in for her on the SSC portion of the raid. And the fact that we couldn't down Vashj with me there as opposed to her being there for TK is all you need to know about the difference in DPS she brought to the table.

EtA: Corrected grammar issues.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Now I Know How Jerry Renault Felt Like

The steady drumbeat is relentless.

Doesn't matter if I'm on a new toon or an old toon. Whether I'm on Myzrael or Atiesh or even on the Season of Mastery server I'm on.

You can't escape it.

"Do your dailies!" is the cry from people in a guild discord or an LFG chat. Or even randomly shouted in a zone.

"Complete the war effort!" is the slightly different --yet ultimately similar-- comment on Season of Mastery, which is in the Ahn'Qiraq War Effort mode.


I feel like I'm in a Robert Cormier novel, The Chocolate War, where instead of refusing to sell chocolate for a 1970s era Catholic boys high school fundraiser I'm harassed about doing dailies so that more parts of the Quel'Danas zone are unlocked with more dailies to do.

If I ever wondered about how gated progression in Retail is like, this is likely it.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

What Awaits Blizzard

I read with interest the experiences of Bethesda's disaster of a game, Fallout 76, in an article just published on Wednesday by Kotaku. While the article itself could have used better editing*, the basic premise remains the same: Bethesda refused to listen to the multi-player part of the studio, used crunch needlessly on QA and dev staff, refused to let the release date slide, utilized a game engine not built for what it was being used for, and relied upon snitches and bad management to deal with a project that chewed up and spit people out.

It sounds a LOT like what happened to Bioware with Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda, doesn't it?

But for me, the most interesting part of the article was how the QA and dev staff thought they were gonna be saved when Microsoft bought the game studio, and once they came onboard they were sadly mistaken.

Microsoft operated in a "hands-off" policy, mainly because they feared too much corporate interference would disrupt the "secret sauce" of the creative nature of game development.

“The impression that I got was that Microsoft would not make big changes unless they needed to,” one staffer told Kotaku. “Simply because they’re like: We hired you to be excellent. And if we touch you, it could be like a house of cards situation where you just fall apart [as creatives]. I don’t think health benefits are going to do that to anybody.”

Microsoft did not address a request for comment by the time of publication.

A former Bethesda employee told Kotaku, “[Xbox CEO Phil] Spencer’s word when picking up Bethesda [and ZeniMax] is largely that his preference is that studios be let to operate as they always have, let the talent be the talent.”

One source spoke cynically about Bethesda’s potential for changing from within: “It would be great if something like [Activision Blizzard worker advocacy group] A Better ABK existed for Bethesda, but everyone is terrified...because [Bethesda] HR is super cutthroat.” A current employee agreed it did not feel like Bethesda HR was actively interested in addressing “any real employee concerns.” Similar cynicism is reflected in the company’s Glassdoor reviews.
--From The Human Toll Of Fallout 76’s Disastrous Launch

My big takeaway from this is that if people thought that Microsoft would "right the ship" with Blizzard's handling of World of Warcraft or any of their other franchises, they are being naive.

There isn't going to be a big cultural shift at Activision/Blizzard, and there isn't going to be a sudden improvement in the quality of the work done on WoW. The stories aren't going to get better (or worse, I suppose), and the focus on WoW isn't going to change from raiding and Mythic+. And Diablo Immortal? It's not going to change from it's own insidious version of gambling mechanics.

Unless Blizzard itself wants it to change.



*Having blogged for almost 13 years has given me some appreciation for that part of the creative process. I mean, I read an old post I'd made and cringe at the grammatical errors I find, years later. And don't get me started on One Final Lesson; every time I go back and reread it I find new areas I could rewrite and improve the flow of the story.

Friday, June 10, 2022

A Short Run

Yesterday, I thought I'd login to Retail just to look around a bit.

I wasn't planning on doing much of anything, just wandering around Stormwind and Elwynn, just to see how things looked. There's been a lot of times in Classic when I'd drop into Goldshire as Cardwyn and wander around for a bit, soaking up the scenery and checking out the sights. After all, Darkmoon Faire is in Elwynn on Myzrael this week, so it just feels good to get a glimpse of some of what the Goldshire Harvest Festival might have looked like.

The toon I found was a lowbie Paladin that I'd created and really not done much with, so he was pretty much perfect for the area.* He was still in Stormwind, and as I logged in he was at what was my favorite spot, right under the tree where --in Classic, anyway-- it's right next to the Auction House.

So I ran down from Stormwind, eschewing the flight path, because... come on. Using the flight path to Goldshire from Stormwind is like watching one of our newish neighbors zip around the neighborhood on their golf cart; if you can't handle walking around the neighborhood, maybe you've got bigger problems.**

But as I approached Goldshire, I noticed that things were, well, off.

Let's see if you can spot the motorcycle,
the dinosaur, the celestial mounts, the
flying mounts, and the pack horse type
oversized riding mount. There was also
a spider-ish mount that skittered away
when I took the screenshot.

I just kind of looked around and thought, "Well, there goes my immersion."

All I could think of as I took it all in was this video:

More specifically, the 1:39 mark.

Well, at least it's not TERA.

*I think; with the level squish I'm never quite sure as I haven't internalized it yet.

**Last night while I was doing yard work, I saw one of the 20-something adult men popping wheelies on a mini-bike --and smoking like a chimney-- while the golf cart trailed behind with 4 40-ish women on it, all of whom (including the driver) with alcoholic drinks in their hand. You couldn't get much more stereotypically white trash if you'd tried; the only things missing were the cranked up Country music blaring from speakers and the occasional "yee haw!" out of them, not to mention having political bumper stickers on the golf cart.

EtA: Apparently I accidentally removed "this week" about Darkmoon Faire. Fixed.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A View from the Other Side

"I have seen the enemy, and it is us." --Pogo


Given that I've been enjoying myself more on the Horde side of the fence as I've been leveling Neve, I suppose it was inevitable that I'd try out what's going on in a far more populated server as well.

My questing buddy, as usual, led the way when I logged in last evening and found her on a new toon on Atiesh-US. When I whispered her a 'good evening', she invited me to create a toon over here and explore like she was doing. "Hop into the Discord with the rest of us!"

Rest of us? Just how many people were over there?

Turns out there were 4+ people from an old guild she still has a toon in, and I was already in their Discord, so I put on my headset and joined their group. 

And what did I do?

Create another Cardwyn, because I am so original.

"At least people will know it's me,"
I said to myself.

As soon as I logged in, I discovered things were different than on Myzrael.

"Hey, there's toons here!" I exclaimed as I got started around Northshire Abbey. Outside of when I created Briganaa, these were the most new toons I'd seen in an intro zone at one time in quite a while.

"Wait'll you see Stormwind!" another friend --who also raided with the Monday team-- replied. "It's the most people I've seen in Stormwind since Classic!"

Given that I knew that Atiesh was roughly 5 to 6 times the size of Myzrael*, I wasn't exactly surprised, but when I went there a couple of hours later I was shocked. It was far more than just 6x the toons; it was actually active in a way I hadn't seen since.... Maybe circa AQ40? Oh, definitely not on the level of when the Ony buff would drop --as the place would explode with people during those times-- but at that time of night, much larger than a predicted "6x the size of what you'd see in Myz". 

As my questing buddy is a bit of a social butterfly, she'd already joined a leveling guild that yet another friend of hers was a member of. I was then informed that their guild regularly purges their ranks of people who haven't logged in 30 days. "Do you mean individual toons or people in general?" I asked.

"They try to keep track of alts, so people in general. But if they miss someone you can always whisper when you get back online to get an invite again."

"Makes sense."

It turns out that this guild had well over 40 people online the other night, which as my questing buddy put it was more than she'd seen from Valhalla even on raid nights in a very long time. I'd found similar logins on my Horde leveling guild compared to Valhalla although to a lesser extent --around 25 to 30-- even though that Horde guild doesn't raid at all.

I did point out that it doesn't mean that people aren't on; after all, I typically am online, just not on a Valhalla toon. But still, the size of this guild on Atiesh threw me for a loop.

It's kind of like Texas, I suppose. Everything is bigger over here on Atiesh.

The next couple of hours were spent grouped up and questing in Northshire Abbey and Elwynn. I'd like to say there was a downside to this, but it was an enjoyable couple of hours being a lowbie and exploring the Old World again. But here's the kicker: there were other people around. Were it not for those others, it would have been what has become a pretty typical experience: a largely empty world, devoid of flavor, with people clamoring for boosts in LFG. But I actually found people wanting to run instances without boosts in LFG chat, which meant that others were leveling just because, rather than raiders rushing to get to endgame.


What does that mean going forward?

Well, I'm not planning on moving any of my toons over to Atiesh unless it's a free transfer, so there's that. I'm not made of money, despite what Blizzard thinks, so my old stable of toons will remain on Myzrael for the time being.

However, this is the closest I've been to the original Classic experience in a long time. 

Obviously the Old World is not current content, so I have no idea what the crowd is like in Outland. Given the sheer number of raiding toons listed in ironforge.pro, you'd think that the size of people just hanging around Shattrath would be gigantic. It could be that once we get to Outland, we'd discover what the downsides to a server this size really are. Or that just like Myzrael, toons are raid logging and suffering from burnout from following the Meta too; it's still an unknown, and I'm not likely to get to Outland on this version of Card until Wrath drops. 

Still, this provides an alternative to my current Alliance stable of toons, with a more active Old World going forward.


I don't have an idea as to what I'm going to do in Wrath, but I do know that I'm not planning on doing any progression style raiding. I did all of that for half of an expac, and I saw what the "chasing the meta" is like, and I'm happy to not be on that treadmill any more.

And, from what I can tell, more and more people are indicating to me via private conversations that they're at least considering stepping back as well; while they've not totally burned out on progression raiding, the state of chasing the bleeding edge in TBC Classic has soured them on that for Wrath. I've even heard/seen a few things in just idle chat that makes me think there's also going to be a shake-up in raid leadership for Wrath, which doesn't surprise me much given that as much as the meta is for the raiders, for raid leadership it's even more so. 

For all of the people in guild who are clamoring for automated LFD, I'd say be careful what you wish for; if there's an easy alternative to endgame progression raiding in Wrath, the number of people who are wanting to raid will likely plummet. If nothing else, this is what chasing the meta in TBC Classic will likely lead to: a similar situation to Retail, where you have a smaller amount of progression raiders pushing content and a larger group that will unsub and sub based on access to new content. 

It won't have been the Classic Team that will have "Retail-ized" the Classic experience, it will be the Classic players themselves.

*Just checked, it still is, but due to the declines in Myz's raiding guilds it's now much closer to 6x.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

...To the Happy Home with Trees and Flowers and Chirping Birds...

This is a bit of an unusual post for PC, but I was inspired by conversation in the typically maligned* LFG Chat Channel. The other evening, I was on Neve, questing away, when conversation in Horde LFG Chat turned to music. I can't remember the exact exchange, but I think it involved someone saying "Who?" to a comment I made about how someone was almost as old as the Violent Femmes' first album.


"Please tell me you're joking," I replied.

"No, I'm not."

"Crap. I just suddenly felt really old." I reached into the back of my mind and tried to figure out what would be roughly a contemporary of the Violent Femmes, but would be lighthearted enough --and common enough-- to discuss in LFG. 

And I struck gold. 

"Instead of the Femmes, do you at least know of Doctor Demento?"

Now THAT got a conversation going.

First there was Napoleon XIV with "They're Coming to Take Me Away",

Then I mentioned "Rock and Roll Doctor", which is spoken word, but it rang a bell,

And then someone mentioned that they had that first song stuck in their head, so I countered with the Weird Al classic "Yoda",

Which inevitably led to The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, sung by Leonard Nimoy...

"No, Spock! WHYYYY" was the response.

It's right up there with William Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"

We kept on going for the next 15 minutes, covering a lot of ground, from The Frantics' Roman Numerals

to Polka-dot Undies, which sounds like a Bob Dylan song:


to the Chuck Berry classic, My Ding-a-ling:


I could have kept going for a long time. My roommate my freshman year of college used to tape Doctor Demento's radio show --we didn't have it locally-- so I used to listen to his tapes throughout my freshman year. Given the transition from high school to college was rough at times, being able to laugh was a premium.

Eventually the conversation switched to something else, but for a short period of time LFG Chat was glorious.

*And with good reason!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Entering the No-Judgement Zone

(Apologies to Planet Fitness for co-opting their slogan.)


Here's a question that I've been wondering about lately:

Can you even play Retail these days without an external guide?

Or maybe a better question is whether you can play either Retail or the current iteration of Classic without external guides, but the Retail version of the question came out when I began contemplating what it would take to begin playing again before Dragonflight.

I'm still on the fence about it, especially given the experience this YouTuber had picking up the game.

"With that being said, I plan to talk about my adventures through the story as the narrative is very important to me in video games such as World of Warcraft. I'd expect the story itself would keep a hold on me, but what I found out while playing through Shadowlands and BfA was something I can personally compare to was jumping in the middle of new playing film which is on its fifth sequel."

And I thought, "Uh oh."

Apparently he had the extremely bad luck to choose the three class/race combos that don't start in Exile's Reach, but that's on Blizzard for making those decisions. If you want a new player to start in Exile's Reach, don't give an out for a few class/race options. That's a huge mistake.

The Blizzard Forums thread about WoW and casual players where I found the YouTube video shown above began with this YouTube video being posted,

and reading through set of forum comments that was enough to make me wonder whether it was worth it to try to catch up in Retail at all. I mean, Shintar was able to pick up Retail fairly easily after having been away even longer than I have, and she is enjoying the game as a casual player, but she also wasn't fazed by all of the systems that had sprung up since, well, Cataclysm. (Mists doesn't count, since I'd kind of mailed it in on PvE content --and especially group content-- at that point.) She also has the advantage of being a long time raider and officer in a raiding guild on SWTOR, so she's far more used to picking up the complex end of MMOs than I am.

Which is when I realized that I'd need to do a ton of out-of-game reading to try to figure everything out.

Hence the question.


I suppose that the question itself is a bit of a bait and switch, since I'm about 95% confident that the answer is "no".

As I mentioned in a comment on one of Kamalia's recent posts, I was helping my questing buddy make the transition from Enchanting to Tailoring and so I hit Wowhead to see if my memory was correct in where the best places to farm Silk and Mageweave were. That was when it hit me: I already had done this for Neve (and Cardwyn before her) by memory and educated guesses, confirmed by Wowhead, just a month or two ago. I've also been playing Classic since launch --and then the pre-Cata Retail back in the day-- so why should I feel the need to look it up?

But I did anyway, approaching the question like I do most other research topics.

That experience does beg the question I asked in the comment: why should we feel the need to do this in the first place? Have we been conditioned to look at guides for the meta on various things in MMOs so much that we never realize that we're basically utilizing unofficial third party documentation as manuals?

And how on earth did we let game companies get away with letting their fans write the manuals for their games without the game companies paying them?

After all, that's what Wowhead and Icy Veins and other websites are: the game manuals and reference manuals for WoW. The meta that I beat on quite frequently is basically the "how to do it" manual for WoW.*


I'm old enough to have PC video games in storage that not only came with a real manual, but a manual filled with historical details, such as the Lawrence Holland developed video games from LucasArts

Those manuals were more like a textbook, complete with references, and developers spent a ton of time working on them.

And for popular games, there were also the third party "how to do it" manuals, like this: 

I have a copy around somewhere.
From eBay.

Given that --comparatively speaking-- the manual for Civ was pretty thin, having a guide along from people who loved the game** was a godsend. 

And I suppose these sort of manuals were the genesis of the current phenomenon of requiring a visit to Wowhead before you can do pretty much anything in game.


So I guess it's not a matter of these external guides being a requirement to play the game, because you can try to play without any guides at all, but if you want to do any form of decent group content you're pretty much going to have to follow said guides. 

And you thought peer pressure was merely part of your growing up. 

For example***, one of the most recent times I was in an instance on the Alliance side, our guild group was joined by an unguilded Warlock. More than once, one of the guildies commented on his rotation, wondering why the Lock was doing some of the things they were doing. 

"They could have learned to do this out in the field, where you do things differently than in group content," I posited. "When you're a Fire Mage in group content, you lead with different spells than when you're out questing where survival is more important."


"You could provide some guidance," another guildie added. "If they joined the guild they could find out how things worked in group content."

"....Nah. Not worth the trouble."

Okay, maybe not all guilds have those sorts of discussions when running group content, but having seen how the sausage is made in both these sorts of runs --or in reviewing personnel to join a raiding team-- you can't unsee it. The lead team examines gear, raiding logs, and rotation before they make a decision to give someone a tryout. Sentiment and emotion aren't allowed into the review process when you're trying to stay on current content.

From the movie Invincible (2006).****

It can be soul crushing at times, and it frequently feels like the managing by spreadsheet crap which I rail about at work all the time.***** There's no room for hunches or for how well people fit into a group environment; if they don't follow the meta why should you take a chance on them?


I guess the answer to the overarcing question as to why we use these third party guides all the time is because of the age old problem of peer pressure. It may not be obvious to the uninitiated, especially if you've been steeped in the game for so long, but the pressure to conform if you want to do anything beyond solo content and some basic group content is a constant. The desire to not look like an idiot can be a big motivator to conform to what the guides tell you to do, especially if content in those guides are what the team/raid leaders for high end content are looking for. 

For a non-conformist, who zigs when everybody else zags******, that can be the death knell of interest in a game.

Does it mean that I'm going to set aside my interest in Retail? Not yet, but I'll admit that my interest is dimming somewhat when I realize just how much work I'd have to do just to get current with things. Because I'd like to do some group content, and realizing that I've just as much work ahead of me as if I were going progression raiding does not endear me that much to the process. Add to that I'm apparently supposed to do BfA content to get to Dragonflight isn't a favorite topic of mine, either.

From Blizzplanet's interview with
Jackie Wiley and Tina Wang.

*For all those posts in forums and elsewhere about how "casuals don't even know Wowhead exists", I call bullshit. If you play the game for any length of time and look at in game chat channels, you'll see people told to look at Wowhead, typically in a condescending fashion. Or if you have a question about the game and do a quick search, Wowhead inevitably comes up. It's not like other games --especially RPGs and MMOs-- don't have their Wowhead equivalents. So I'm not buying that crappy "casuals don't know" excuse. It's just that people who say that about casuals have their heads in the sand; people know about Wowhead, they just don't really care about slavishly following everything it suggests.

**And with an official imprimatur from Microprose, too.

***Again, paraphrasing. I don't have all the conversation written down, and I don't turn on recordings while on Discord.

****Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) noted his name was spelled wrong in his locker after being granted a tryout as a walk-on with the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team. The equipment manager wasn't exactly concerned about that, given he believed Vince was going to be cut from the team in a week or two.

*****Part of the reason why this is bugging me so much is that I noted that --in pursuit of the meta-- the 2x/week raid team began putting one of their two Mages on the bench in favor of pulling in an extra Warlock, who used to be a Warrior but then changed to a Ret Pally before they had a Ret Pally join their team. So nothing personal, buddy, but we only need one Mage now and you're out of luck. Which drives me bananas, because I wanted so much to make sure that all of the Mage crew from Classic had a landing spot for TBC, and despite all that one of them is getting put on the bench for Sunwell. 

******Guilty as charged. I still haven't regularly done any of the dailies in TBC Classic aside from the occasional PvP daily, and for the dailies from places like Ogri'la, Terokk, and Quel'Danas, I haven't even picked up the seed quest for them. The easiest way to get me to NOT do something is to be loudly told by everybody in every single channel I'm in --guild, global, or whatever-- to DO YOUR DAILIES.