Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remembrancer, Part II: Tsurii's Decision

Four Hours After Deathwing’s Awakening…

I watched the elf as he paced back and forth in our meeting hall, one of the numerous hidden catacombs that dotted Undercity like Alterac Swiss. His hammer made a rhythmic clanking sound as it bounced off his leg armor, one hand absently rubbing his forehead with frustrated ferocity right where his newly-acquired helm still chafed. Katsuko’s magic-powered lanterns burned brightly in the dank cavern without the haze of smoke associated with a Dwarven or Tauren dwelling, yet the air was still hazy and thick with dust as the aftershocks of the tremendous earthquake we had all felt continued to rattle our senses.

I absently sat polishing my giant sword, testing the edge with a skeletized finger for the hundredth time. Try as I might to lighten the mood, our “General” was in no humor for frivolity. Even my Sylvanas v. Thrall deathmatch shadowpuppet show had failed to rouse a ghost of a smile. Kusamoto had simply looked over at me and said, “Tsurii, honestly, now is not the time for childish nonsense. Information. We must have information. All hell is breaking loose out there, and you want to play pretend? Make yourself useful and find us something to eat.”

It hurt a little, I admit, to be dismissed like a common serving knave. Besides, even the Banshee Queen herself had declared that my reinterpretation of the retaking of Undercity, while totally fictitious, was in every way an improvement on actual events. People just don’t appreciate real art, I suppose. Especially Blood Elf people.

Luckily, I was able to find a panicked, but still coherent, vendor in the main hall who hadn’t sold, lost, or eaten his entire stash of day-old bread. He wasn’t paying much attention as I handed him a stack of gold that would have made royalty blush. He absently pocketed the jingling coins while grimacing in trepidation as another aftershock rattled the foundations of old Lordaeron. Oh well. He deserved it for still being here. If he lived, he’d have a pleasant surprise when he checked his books later.

If he lived.

I headed back, quick to skirt through the ancient archway, more aware than ever that we were snugly cocooned under thousands of tons of masonry and rock that could give out if another monstrous quake came our way. I turned the corner, realizing too late that someone was standing there, waiting for me or another unlucky soul. Vermin, these looters. Almost as bad as the elementals Katsuko and I had fought to dispatch in Orgrimmar earlier in the week, except without the good sense to retreat when they were outmatched.

It was probably too late, but I whipped the bag of stale bread at the hooded figure and drew my blade, cold fire and the starlight from the heart of diseased suns flashing along its edge as I rose to strike. Only then did I realize that my improvised missile had not only missed the target entirely, but was now floating two feet from me in a halo of greenish-blue mist.

“Raising arms against your Queen, Colonel Tsurii?” came the corpse-warm voice it seemed like I had heard my entire life. “And here I thought you at least as intelligent as you were irreverent. It appears I may have to reevaluate my opinion of you.”

She stepped into the light, simultaneously beautiful, horrific, alluring, and repellent. I felt something stir inside me, as I always did in her presence, which I thought long since vanished. A powerful longing for something to believe in. Something worth fighting for. Something to make this cursed existence worthwhile. Who wouldn’t die for that, or kill for it?

I knelt, holding my sword pommel-first toward her as a sign of fealty. “My sincerest apologies, Queen Sylvanas. I’ve been set upon by these thieving wretches too much of late, and my paranoia is running higher than usual.”

Sylvanus chuckled, idly motioning for me to rise. “Forgiven, my loyal servant. Of all my Forsaken, you may be one of my favorites, even if you are somewhat lacking in tact. Destroying you for a misunderstanding would bring me no pleasure.”

I shuddered imperceptibly as I rose and sheathed my sword. Notice she didn’t say she wouldn’t, just that it wouldn’t be fun, I thought. “Much as this unlife is sometimes not to my liking, I think the alternative would be just as, if not more, unpleasant.” I took a deep breath, more to steady my nerves than any real need for oxygen. Breathing was a reflex with our kind, and nothing more. “My Lady, is there any news from our forces in Silverpine? Northrend? Felwood? We need on-site intelligence to allow us to plan any kind of strategy. Is it true that Booty Bay has been wiped off the face of the world? What of the reports of Twilight Hammer forces seizing large swaths of Durotar?”

“Patience, my friend, patience,” the Banshee Queen replied, raising a hand. “Walk with me. Time is short and we have many decisions to make.”

I nodded, falling in to step beside her. For the first time, I noticed her usual retinue of rangers was conspicuously absent. Sylvanas never traveled alone, especially since a large portion of the royal apothecaries had been purged from the ranks some three years previous.

With a small smirk, Sylvanas noticed my questing glance and what it signified. “I have sent my rangers to the farthest corners of the world,” she explained, “to act as my eyes and ears. More than ever, I must have scouts that are absolutely loyal to our cause to feed our generals accurate information. To feed your General accurate information, as well… even though we both know who truly issues the marching orders for Kusamoto’s Army.”

I opened my mouth to protest, shaken to the core that our secret had leaked out. The reality was that Kusamoto was a figurehead, nothing more. Katsuko and I were the ones who strategized, who planned, who conspired with turncoat Alliance spies like Morney and Lorosaphne for information on troop movements. Kusamoto was the face, the artful diplomat, the fiery speaker, the symbol of our organization to further the Horde’s goals. And while I might have been the brains, Katsuko was our beating heart and need for vengeance. We made a fabulous team, and had won more plaudits for our actions in Outlands and Northrend than I could count. We were loyal to the Horde, forever, for our lives. Did our Queen now think us disloyal?

A look from Sylvanas snapped my mouth closed around the dissembling I was about to engage in. “I am…somewhat surprised…that we were that transparent, My Lady. I hope you do not believe us traitors to the Horde, or to you. Our army exists alongside your own, furthering our own goals, and supporting yours when necessary. I hope you do not think-"

“What I think,” she interrupted, “is that you and the girl – Katsuko, isn’t it? – have done a marvelous job with very limited resources. Choosing that comely Blood Elf as your mouthpiece was a stroke of brilliance. And fear not, Tsurii. I know where your allegiance lies. You are fiercely loyal to your friends, your comrades, and most of all, your Queen. And I appreciate having an experienced strike force to apply with precision at a problem, which is exactly what you have given me.” She shook her head. “But there are events occurring that you and your General cannot stand against. Not yet. You see, Deathwing is loose from his prison in Deepholm. Those idiots, the Twilight Hammer, have released him to bring about their damned apocalypse. That’s what’s behind all this; that was the earthquake we felt, that was what demolished Booty Bay, and that’s what’s coming for us.”

I stopped and sagged against the wall. Deathwing? The Deathwing? How could…why would they… ? “Gods, do they truly know what they’ve unleashed? What he’ll do?”

Sylvanas shrugged as we continued down the hall, now just a few yards from the Army’s bolt hole. Around us, blacksmiths, weaponsmiths, combat trainers, and civilians streamed out of the city in all directions, looking for some supposed safety. “Who knows? Do they actually care is the better question. To them, the Father of Terror is simply a means to an end. A tool to be used to upset the old order and replace it with their own. But to him…they’re food.”

I shook my head. It was inconceivable, but the pieces began fitting together in my head: The elemental attacks, the sudden resurgence of the Hammer, formerly rock-solid sources of information suddenly going silent, never to be heard from again. All of it orchestrated by Deathwing from his prison of agony.

Sylvanas was right: Our Army could never hope to fight this, not directly, and my fists clenched in impotent rage at that thought. We had ended everything that had stood as a threat to the Horde, to the world, even. Blood Princes, upstart Emperors, elemental masters, even the Lich King himself. None could stand against my steel and resolve, Katsuko’s magic and fury. We had ended other threats, we could end him, too.

“My Lady,” I said, “I have served from the ranks on up. You know my record, you know my dedication. Command me, even if it is to go into Hell itself to fight this monster. Say the word and I will tender my resignation to Kusamoto and lead whatever forces you wish to place in my care. Win or die, we will be who we are, and we show Deathwing that his will be a short reign. I beg you, My Lady, command me.”

For the first time in years, I saw her actually smile as she placed a delicate hand on my shoulder. The feeling was electrifying, and I knew then I would give anything, anything to keep her and my people safe. Even my own life, paltry as it was.

“You do me more honor than you know, Tsurii,” she said, “but I am no fool. A strike against Deathwing now would simply waste resources we cannot part with. We have to come at him sideways, destroy whatever infrastructure he is attempting to build, before an assault can be mounted. And for that, I need everything you have in your arsenal, including your figurehead. Except…he isn’t precisely a figurehead anymore, is he, Tsurii?”

I frowned, trying to discern her meaning. Kusamoto? He was a scribe, an excellent speaker, a healer with great potential. He was also raw, untested, irritatingly moral…

And with a start, I realized what had happened since Katsuko and I had returned from Icecrown.

How he had slowly taken over the majority of our recruiting.

How he had taught himself finance and overseen Taka’s ordnance and supply decisions, thereby doubling our reserves.

How he had quietly suggested that Undercity, not Orgrimmar, would be a better base of operations, and how we had unquestioningly gone along with it.

And how our ranks had actually grown, our influence spread, while the “brains” of the operation toiled against the scourge in the Frozen North.

“He’s a natural leader,” I said with wonder. “How did I miss it?”

“Because he doesn’t see himself as one either, Tsurii,” Sylvanas said. “He believes you are still the one really in charge, when in reality, he has been for almost a year. But that means if something happens, he will expect you to bail him out of trouble, and that weakness will get him killed. I need him, my friend, so he must be ready when the time comes.”

I straightened, realizing I could hear Kusamoto issuing orders from just down the hallway. His awareness of the situation was total, even though everything around him seemed to be falling apart.

“Relay this to Ginawa,” I heard him say to one of our runners. “Silverpine is in chaos, from what I’ve heard, and he’s been out there for a few weeks. If anyone knows what the situation on the ground is, it would be him. Now. Go. Don’t stop for anything.”

I turned to Sylvanas as a juvenile Orc raced around the corner, oblivious to our presence, the copper and gold lion etched on his armor gleaming brilliantly in the muted light. In a moment of clarity, or perhaps prescience, I saw our crest flying high on a standard above a battlefield of unspeakable carnage. Tattered and torn, but still flying high, and beneath it, shouting out our last breaths in defiance, stood Katsuko, Kusamoto, and I. We were dying, but somehow, I knew our sacrifice had bought the world victory.

Dying wasn’t on my list of things that needed to be done anytime soon. But if I couldn’t die at my Queen’s side, it wouldn’t be a bad death, at that. A good death, in fact. An honorable one. “What must I do, My Lady?”

Sylvanas pointed in our General’s direction. “Send him to Outlands, Tsurii. He is more than ready. Send him alone, with only what he carries, today. If he survives, he will be the weapon we so desperately need in this dark hour. I have skill; I have legions at my beck and call; I have all the powers of the etherium at my fingertips. But I need leaders, generals, respected commanders, or else we lose. The whole world loses. He must be who he was born to be, and soon.”

I nodded. “It won’t be easy to convince him, but in the end, he’ll go. This I swear.”

Sylvanas smiled and started to say something else, but I never got a chance to hear what it was.

A tremendous explosion rocked the hallway, and I was thrown through the air to land in a heap of rubble. Dust and pain obscured my vision, but I fought against unconsciousness, straining to catch a glimpse of our Queen. She couldn’t have been caught in that explosion…she couldn’t be…

With a pained sigh, I saw her form emerge from the obscuring detritus of the blast, shimmering faintly behind a protective shield of sickly green light. She padded over to me as I heard the shouts and curses of our forces as they stormed in our direction. “Remember, Tsurii,” she whispered, “it’s Kusamoto’s Army. Make sure he realizes that.” With a high-pitched whistle, reality bent sideways and swallowed her in a wash of magical energy.

The last thing I remembered as darkness claimed me was the elf running in my direction, the healing light already forming at his fingertips. I thank you, my old friend, I thought, but if you knew the decisions I am making for you, for your own good even, you would curse me rather than heal me. And you would be right to.

I would.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Scenes from Azeroth II

Well, since we're having server authentication problems, let's get caught up. Where has the Army been? Fighting against the horrors of Deathwing, of course...

Here's Katsuko shortly after Deathwing's arrival on her way to Vash'Jir. One of the best screenshots I've ever done, methinks.

I'd talk about this quest if I could stop laughing.

Give an undead an ugly stick and then step back and just watch...

And here's Katsuko now. She was the first of the Army to the new level cap and is a very irritating 2 GS points away from being able to run heroics. Only having access to 2 Ramkahen dailies is really exasperating, since they easily have the best caster rep gear. I do appreciate the Cowboy Beebop anime hat, though, from the Earthen Ring folks.

Oh, and for you old schoolers? Outlands armor? Still outlandish.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Katsuko: Guardian of Dalaran

A pall has fallen over Northrend. A nameless dread, a constant reminder of what we had and what is no longer. So much joy, so many celebrations, so many friends made and promises kept.

Naxxramas is destroyed.

Ulduar lies in ruins.

Even the Lich King, our hated nemesis, has been bested.


Now there are only memories of faded glory. A ghost of the greatness that was, and what never will be again.

The heroes have moved on, left the once-glorious floating city to its own devices. In their place, only the desperate, the corrupt, the forgotten remain. Organized crime, petty thieves, rapists, murderers...they are legion within the city, now.

My city. My beautiful, wonderful metropolis. I spent so many happy hours here. Yes...happy. Me, of all people. I was happy here. Content. At peace.

But now...

I cannot look at the shell of this place and not feel...rage. Rage against the people who sully it. Rage against those who abandoned it. Rage for all those that must remain and deal with the daily despair of life.

And that rage needs victims.

So while you heroes of the frozen north run back to Azeroth...

While you succumb to the consumerism of the Bilgewater Cartel...

While you quibble over useless theological debates between Thrall's followers and Hellscreams'...

I will remain as I always have. I will stay and defend those who cannot defend themselves. I will be the guardian they no longer have.

I am a poor champion, I admit. But if I am all they have, then so be it. The darkness that rules Dalaran now has an enemy. The people have a guardian.

Because for them I can be what I never have been. What I never tried to be. What I never wanted to be.

A hero.

(with apologies to Batman, Daredevil, and The Maxx)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Tonight, Deathwing Returns…And Now Here’s Bob with the Weather

So patch 4.0.3 hit last night and everyone is either a) up in arms because their portals/favorite spec/damage/heals/old tree form/cappuccino bar is gone, or b) very pleased with the changes in the world landscape/questlines/race-class combinations/guild mechanics. Personally, I’m a little of both of these. Am I happy that Warriors got hit with the ugly stick yet again? Not at all. Do I like the cosmetic changes to the old world setting? Absolutely. Do I want my portals back? Hells yes…well, except for my mage. Katsuko is raking in portal tip cash by the bucketful. I’ve already had to go get more portal reagents twice in the last 2 days (normally I only need to buy them once every few weeks…guess I need to rememorize the location of reagent vendors in Org and Dal again). Am I having fun? Dude, I’m having a blast. This is just what the doctor ordered for this game.

So like one of my favorite blogging compatriots, Dechion, the first thing I did after getting the kids fed and put away for the night was log on and roll up my undead hunter, which was THE thing I was most looking forward to. Had a name picked out, bags and gold ready on my trusty bank alt, and even knew where I was going to train his main pet (a Lion that will be getting named “Akodo,” naturally). Ergo, Shigetoshi was born…or died…or both; and let me just say that the new “awakening” portion of the Undead creation process is fantastic. Levels 1-10 are completely updated with very compelling vignette stories, which I certainly appreciate, and immediately immerses you into the game experience. Compared to early leveling before, this feels much more like you inserting yourself into the canon story rather than playing an FPS until you get to Silverpine/Barrens/Westfall/wherever. For now, Shigs has a Darkhound pet, which is very not bad for leveling as far as ferocity pets are concerned.

Also, the scenery! The beauty of the environment is outstanding, and I was very happy with the way the early Brill/Tirisfal questlines were arranged. No more running halfway across the continent to do inane things with/to Gnolls or grinding 200 mobs for 8 moldy fingernails. Quest item drop rates are much higher, at least early on, which can only increase your sense of accomplishment if you’re just now picking up the game.

I could go on and on, but let me just finish up with a few nice things I’ve noticed:

The faction-specific quartermasters. This is an outstanding addition. For 10 silver, you can buy a tabard for each faction in their major cities. Like the LK factions, these tabards will allow you to grind rep for that faction while in any dungeon. Once you hit Exalted, which shouldn’t take too long with your home city, there are a number of excellent blue BOP items for sale at low prices, and a 16-slot bag that runs a little over 1G is available at Revered.

FPs in starter cities. Brill, Razor Hill, and the cow city all now have FPs to the capitol a la the Space Goat and Blood Elf baby pools.

Cosmetic baby gear improvements. Your starting gear looks much more like a military uniform or Nordstrom’s off-the-rack stuff, rather than something from the Homeless-Crackhead-of-the-Month-Club catalogue.

Hellscream's Temporary Staffing Services, Inc. I mostly just found this amusing. However, I'm interested in seeing what odd jobs for heroes get tossed up there in the future. Maybe unique weeklies? Special quests that hand out Feat of Strength achievements? Envelope stuffing for the Argent Crusade's membership drive?

New Orgrimmar. My God, Blizzard outdid themselves here. I really wish Undercity would have gotten a facelift like this, but Orgrimmar is a beautiful sight to behold. It can almost make me forget that Hellscream’s dumbest progeny is now running the place. Almost.

Dude, valium. Speaking of, I talked to Hellscream last night just for fun and HE STILL TALKS LIKE THIS NO MATTER WHAT HE IS SAYING! CAN I BORROW A CUP OF SUGAR! I'M MAKING PIE AND NEED SUGAR! GIVE ME SUGAR OR I WILL DESTROY ALL YOU LOVE! I miss Thrall already...

OK, time to go. Need to jump back on my hunter for a bit. Remembrancer: Part II is in the can and being edited. Be prepared for a time jump.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Feature! Random Screenshot Thursday!

Because, "Work sucks and I have no idea what to post and Rembrancer: Part II is still at the shop getting new tires, so I can't do that," didn't have the same catchy marketing title to it.

Yes, a 40-man raid defense of Orgrimmar from the forces of elemental destruction infesting the world; because that's how we Silver Hand Horde roll. If there's a problem, yo, we'll solve it.

Having never been in a 40-man raid, I really don't know how you old-school folks did it back in the day. It's total chaos...but with more running and screaming.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And Now for a Word About Characters

So, my wife is currently waiting to have her traitorous galbladder removed. I am scamming the hospital wi-fi, trying to think of things to do to keep myself occupied, and not going batshit crazy with worst-case scenarios. It's a simple procedure, but I had the same thing done 3 years ago and they had to do it the old-fashioned way...with a chainsaw and a baseball bat, apparently.

But that's as it may be. I'll try to keep off that. I wanted to go into how I choose and develop characters a little bit, since this is a question I get with a fair amount of regularity IRL.

So, I've been playing various RPGs for a really long time. In fact, I remember the old West End Games Star Wars System. Loved it; roll far too many D6's for no good reason. Yeah, I'm getting grey, I know. I've played AD&D 2nd, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, L5R, Rifts, Doctor Who, B5, WoT, V:TM, and so on. I go to GenCon every year, half to play the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, but half to see the weird new RPG tabletop experiments that are coming out. So I've got a fair amount of experience playing make-believe.

All those systems varied wildly from each other, for the most part. But the one thing that remained constant was the characters. Any RPG, no matter how poorly designed or executed, can be a really good time if you have interesting characters you like, care about, and enjoy playing. Conversely, the best-designed system in the world will fall absolutely flat if you don't give a damn about what happens to the main players (The Phantom Menace, anyone?).

That being the case, I go out of my way to build and play characters that are not just fun, but have history, personailty quirks, annoying habits, hopes, dreams, goals, character flaws...in short, I try to make them as close to real people as I possibly can, because that makes for interesting dialogue and game play.

What do you do, for instance, when your main group of characters has been hired by the mob to do a smash-and-grab at a local jewlery store, which sounds fine, but one of the PC's uncles owns the store and actually was a huge influence in his or her life? Maybe got him or her into NYU through his connections with the geology department? Or if another of the PC's was busted for petty theft 6 months ago and has been turned into a narc to avoid prosecution. How does he react to this? Does he do the job on the down-low, or does he stoolie out and run to the cops? Or how about a third who is naturally conceited and can't helping bragging to a few of his buddies after the job, and is overheard by a friend of the jeweler's?

See? Good, rich characters can make something that seems pretty ordinary on the surface (listen to the bit about the sandwich) and make it, if not epic, then so much more realistic, deep, and fun.

The same rules translate over to WoW, as far as I am concerned. Arthas, Sylvanas, Varian Wynn, Tirion, Thrall...these are all fantastic characters with rich, meaningful storylines. To create characters that are any less than 3-dimensional then, to my way of thinking, is an affront to the people who imagined up this awesome world. Therefore, my three flagship characters, Kusamoto, Tsurii, and Katsuko, have been developed over the course of months, even years.

Kusamoto, in particular, has a rich history, as he is my L5R alterego. I've been playing that game so long, in fact, they folks at AEG decided to give in and make him, and I, a part of canon. It's a nod at my peserverance and in a really strange way gives him, and therefore me, a kind of immortality most people can only dream of, so I am immensely humbled by the honor Shawn Carman and company have done me. So, here's my alterego, Kusamoto, in the card game:

Naturally, who else could I have chosen to create for my flagship WoW character? Since I play horde almost exclusively, the racial choice wasn't much of one (Blood Elf was the only thing that came close) and class was similarly chosen for me (Pally, of course). So I roll him up along the same lines as my card game character, and here's what I come up with:

You can see the similarities in type, which is why I was immensely pleased at how he turned out in game, and was really looking forward to playing the hell out of him. Only one minor problem:

I didn't like him.

In fact, he sat on the shelf for about 4 months before I started grinding away at the Blood Elf starting quests, but I still wasn't having any fun with him (and I'm certain the reverse was true). I couldn't figure it out at all. Until one day, in SFK, I chose DPS or healer, got in as a healer, and realized my mistake.

THIS Kusamoto was NOT entirely "my" Kusamoto. He preferred healing over righteous fury, and more "white collar" pursuits, like Inscription and Herbalism, over the down-and-dirty professions like engineering or mining. While this originally came as quite a shock, it made perfect sense with the background I had in my head of a mid-level functionary's son forced into a role and profession he never really wanted. And now, he finds himself, by virtue of his skills in writing and oratory, as the political figurehead of an organization he is more than glad to let Katsuko run behind the scenes while playing straight man to a undead warrior.

Even though I had built the character along the same lines as my true alterego, he changed and grew before my eyes in surprising ways because of the same rules I follow when building characters, not in spite of them. It's frightening when that happens; when a character you have made, played, and were both mother and father to, suddenly matures into something you never expected. Frightening, but also very exciting. It means you've done your job in creating and raising him well, and now you are simply along for the ride.

So, this has been pretty wall-of-textish, but I hope I got my point across. WoW is, for all intents and purposes, a tabletop RPG in a lot of ways. Character creation and development is similar, and if you go out of your way to make interesting characters with breadth and depth, it will never get old, no matter what changes are made to the game, and you will always enjoy playing it.

OK, back to the really real world of waiting for my wife to be out of surgery. But let me ask everyone: Who is your favorite WoW character (NPC, your own, or someone else's) and why? I'd love to hear your opinion.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I must thank Ratshag for the cool addon he linked from his blog, even if it was just peripherally. I suspect it will make my life a lot easier. Plus I can catch important moments in the Corps' life much more grandly, like this:

Ginawa got a horse!

Or this:

DK Space Goat levels right in front of King Varian Wynn. Courtiers aghast. Film at 11.

And action shots like this:

That's a lot of fwoosh.

But I am very glad I was able to get this one. Kats would have never forgiven me if I'd missed this huge milestone in her quest for vengeance:

Teaser alert! More on Kats' first journey into ICC to come!