Fans Extend the Universe Farther than Warcraft Could Dream

I was going to post up a fluffy item creation post today but I got to thinking about other things because I spent a lot of my weekend on other WoW projects as well as hanging out with some fandom friends on Tumblr.

I’m still horrified by the state of lore discussions in the WoW community whenever a good percentage of men want to involve themselves. I went to sign up for Scrolls of Lore this weekend and immediately was greeted by the default avatars being giant pics of WoW races’ asses, most of them being female. Then there’s this thread, made by a friend of one of my Tumblr pals. It is a great OP and I love seeing lore discussion that pokes at how sexist or problematic the writing in WoW is. But it doesn’t take long for people to hop into the thread to make snipey comments about how we’re all wrong and women aren’t treated badly and we must have some agenda.

The rest of the story forum seems to read very heavily in that direction and this is why I really do not like involving myself in lore discussions where it’s inevitably dominated by men. The analysis is thoroughly limited and usually amounts to whinging that a certain character is not written well but nothing about the reasons why that might happen. Women characters are derided along typical lines like being crazy, emotional or unimportant.

But I digress. I came here to be positive.

What gave me utmost hope this weekend was the number of cool people discussing their problems with WoW lore, their awesome headcanons that expanded on the pretty basic writing we find in the game and extended universe. It gave me hope. It gave me ideas. It made me realize that there’s still so many people not getting credit or recognition for writing a World of Warcraft that I’d want to spend years playing in or writing about. A Sylvanas that beckons the Forsaken from their graves due to unfinished business. Gilneans that address class struggles, crusaders that aren’t afraid to hold their girlfriend’s hand. Women leaders that lead and don’t attach themselves limpet-like to their boring spouses, or die because of it. Tumblr gets a lot of shit from the nerd community in general for daring to foment some form of social justice that they find overblown and irrational, but I find the fandom that is outside of the control of pretty heavily purist, male-dominated ideologies to be extremely powerful and a lot more entertaining. Nerds have an unhealthy obsession with prescriptivism despite the fact that treating lore as a pure text when it’s penned by people who are ignorant to larger concerns of representation and tropes is terrible. The older I grow, the more I want to reject lore and canon utterly because it doesn’t represent a world I’d be welcome in, as either a character or my actual self.

What keeps me going is just the fact that no matter where I turn, there’s always some rock I didn’t turn over with people that want to discuss these things. People who are okay with listening to zany-ass ideas, have thoroughly negative conversations about fan-favorites (slaying all your male character faves for LIFE) and generally just not being stuck up about what gets handed to us on a regular basis and doing better. The fact that a lot of these people tend to be way younger than me is also heartening too. It makes me glad that there are people, particularly teen girls who are already into this stuff because when I was 16, I was pretty much in the dark and watching Sailor Moon without a real grasp of what it all meant.

The fact that all of us can come together as a community and have these great discussions across all ages and lifestyles is amazing. Let the haters get mad at Tumblr, or Twitter, or social justice warriors all they want (I’m a social justice mage, by the by.) I’m going to stay here and keep supporting all these rad people coming forward who want to turn this lore shit on its head, who want to share their experiences and be a part of the community.

 

Patch 5.4 Trailer – Burn in the Fires of My Hate

Garrosh stares hatefully.

 

Blizzard dropped the Patch 5.4 trailer for Siege of Orgrimmar on our heads early this morning and what a trailer it was. The overall quality and storytelling of each successive patch trailer has gone up significantly since their inception way back sometime in Vanilla but all of them have never failed to make me utterly hyped to play some more Warcraft. Blizzard’s got a real strength in their animatics/cinematics division and this was no exception – I am itching to log in and do anything in preparation for Patch 5.4.

Let’s review some of the things that were going on in this particular trailer, though, shall we?

Garrosh has gone completely corrupted/power-hungry at this point.

I can’t say for sure which one it is because it seems equally likely – he’s both influenced by the Sha but he’s also incredibly puffed up on his own ego, importance and hatred right now. He’s just as much a warmongering tyrant with something to prove who’s gotten way into his own ideology than just a pawn of the Sha-corruption. And honestly, a powerful male figurehead being lost in his own childish autonomy is far more fascinating than just him being taken over by the Old Gods. His dialogue in the video is similarly fiery, obstinate and hateful.

No one is going to get in his way and he’ll kill and hurt anyone who tries to. Which leads me to…

Taran Zhu got some snaps in before his supposed end, at least. (Edit: Dave Kosak cleared up that Taran Zhu’s is alive.)

I’ve not liked Taran Zhu in a lot of ways; he’s more of the same patronizing nonsense from other male leaders. But given his position as the only line of defense against whatever might ravage Pandaria (mogu, Sha), it’s probably justified in a lot of ways. While I feel that his initial presumption that the Alliance and Horde conflict was entirely to blame for the havoc within Pandaria’s own land, I feel like his assertion has finally come to bear. The fight between Taran Zhu and Garrosh was full of egos, certainly though. While Taran’s line about Grom was not only timely, correct and a sick fucking burn, both of them were taunting each other and it got the better of Taran.

Taran didn’t bring this on himself though, and for that I feel bad.

Vale is irreparably damaged now.

This is one of the biggest changes that really bothers me, even when Garrosh’s mining operation set up. Pandaria is such a beautiful, serene continent and we already saw parts of it that were completely given to destruction and corruption like the Dread Wastes. The idea of the Vale, the zone that the Celestials gave to us in order to help everyone is now being used by Garrosh’s plan to re-ignite an Old God makes a dramatically sad change to both the game and the story. I felt the same way when the Goblins were allowed to terraform and essentially destroy Azshara. There’s something about purposeful destruction of the most beautiful landscapes in WoW that really make me feel awful. Vale is where I spent a lot of time just hovering in the air, watching the sun go down.

There was a relative lack of anyone else that might have any involvement in bringing the fight to Garrosh.

I feel that the cinematic had a missed opportunity to do some strategic cutaways or montages over the dialogue (instead of the badass fight scene we got) to allude to anyone else that might be mad at Garrosh now. Taran Zhu mentioned the other members of the Horde, but absolutely nowhere were the Alliance mentioned or involved. A montage of people fighting while being referenced might have helped assuage my feelings that once again the Alliance get left out of a fight that’s rightfully ours to have. As I told Tzufit on Twitter: “(We’re) late to our own revenge, absent from our own war.”

While I can grasp that Taran Zhu is the ultimate symbol of the Pandarian people at this point, and so the fight was the struggle between the Azeroth factions and Pandaren-kind, the fact that the raid will involve all of  our fates, intertwined, left a bad taste in my mouth. Alliance are probably not going to get any payback for their grief at Theramore, nor any pro-active stance other than allegiances with the trolls. It still feels like we’re on the backburner for a fight that is igniting both factions right now and throwing power relations into the air. If not showing Varian, then at least Jaina?

Also why didn’t Taran Zhu have any sort of backup going on here? Where was Yalia? Where was Taoshi?

Overall, I’m excited. 

It can’t be helped, I’m always overwhelmed with purpose and emotions when I watch any of these trailers. The swell of music, the clang of weapons – it gets me right in the heart (same for Taran, I presume. Too soon?) and I want to just run and conscript myself back in with the Alliance army even though we’ve been relatively shafted in this conflict. The Barrens battles were relatively lukewarm as far as hyping me up for the growing war and subsequent raid instance. This was yet another sustaining breath of fresh air and I know that my guild is going to be lining up that first week, pumped to take down Garrosh and make him pay for his crimes.

 

 

 

Who is Andrestrasz?

Picture of Andrestrasz, red dragon.

Photo courtesy of Wowpedia.org.

According to some sharp-eyed forum posters (The original thread got deleted. It was brought to my attention by @GontierWoW), as of 5.3, a red dragon by the name of Andrestrasz was quietly added to a small cave no one knows about on the backside of the Ahn’Qiraj outside zone. The cave used to be part of a larger abandoned Tauren-style farm on the coast before the Cataclysm changes, but now is the only thing that remains. So why was a level 5 red dragon, who for all intents and purposes seems to be asleep (with the occasional silent yawn) stuck into a locale in the ass-end of Silithus that no one goes to, let alone knows about? There’s been some early speculation and I’ve been racking my brain to come up with answers. Let’s run down some theories, far-fetched as they may be, for why that dragon might be there.

Andrestrasz is Rhea’s last egg, all grown up.

  • This was my initial thought moreso than any other theory. The world seems to be populated with the other dragon involved in that questline, so why not Rhea’s kid too? What wouldn’t be explained though is why he’s big enough to be a full-grown dragon (even if he’s level 5) and why he’s all the way out here. 

He has to do with future legendary quests.

  • Interesting for the same reason my initial theory, but possibly not the case for the same reasons I outlined. The legendary quest thus far has been restricted to Pandaria content, if not the main continent itself. Going to the back-end of Silithus makes no sense for this theory.

He’s a tribute to a player.

  • All player tributes (usually who are deceased) have usually been in some way public – either as NPCs with flavor text, parts of questlines or with their own marker somewhere. A dragon with no notation or gossip option in a cave no one knows about would be kind of a terrible tribute. 

Andrestrasz might have something to do with Caelen and Ahn’Qiraj lore. 

  • This is another theory I came up with – the last time red dragons had a presence at the ruins was during the time of the Scarab Gate. Caelestrasz was one of the protectors of Ahn’qiraj before the gates were opened but moved onto Cataclysm content, meeting his untimely death at the hands of Sinestra. Could Andre here be a replacement? That doesn’t explain why he’s not at the actual gates or inside the raids, however. 

If he’s not guarding Ahn’Qiraj, what is he guarding?

  • The red dragonflight are historically known as guardians and protectors. What would a red dragon be guarding in an entirely empty cave (save for some skeletons)? There has never been anything in that cave whatsoever. It didn’t even have a name, unlike the weirdness with random Ortell’s Hideouts there’ve been.

All in all, this poses a significant mystery to those of us who have been puzzling and speculating about things for years. Players have also been trying to evoke a reaction out of the dragon or change, perhaps to chase some origin out of him. There’s no change to the dragon whatsoever if you are alive or a ghost. He does not react to the legendary rogue daggers, Dragonwrath (I tried this myself), Runesword of the Red, having a Crimson Whelp out, or Archmage Vargoth.

Perhaps he’s just an Easter Egg dropped there by Blizzard to reward explorers like myself, like another mob in the area. Maybe he’s integral in larger plans in the future, who knows! I just hope we find out before the curiosity eats me alive. The WoW world has felt mostly examined and solved for a while now and this introduces some un-datamined mystery back to the world.

And the New Warchief Is…!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

One of the questions on everyone’s mind is who will be ascending to the title of Warchief after Garrosh bites the dust in 5.4. According to my sources deep inside Blizzard, apparently this will be none other than the wonderful Sassy Hardwrench. Miss Hardwrench, not content for being someone’s assistant and being passed over for leader of the Goblins, is a larger part of the raid on Orgrimmar than players may expect.

“We felt that the Horde, as well as the other leaders of Azeroth had too few women in charge and we felt that this was a pretty grievous error on our part. The idea of having the second most recognizable leadership of the Horde be Sassy seemed like a natural choice,” said a person who does not look like or sound like Dave Kosak in any way, shape or form. Other Blizzard story developers declined to comment on the record but it seemed to be like a unanimous decision.

But how will Sassy take over an entire population of orcs? Isn’t she busy running her weapons depot in Stranglethorn? Apparently her good looks, charm and even suspected romance with an unnamed (as of yet) lady orc warrior help win her the hearts of the people.

“There’s some gaps in our representation and we feel that Sassy is a perfect in-road towards showing more kinds of characters in the future.”

Good on ya, Blizzard!

Kirin Tor Offensive and the Uprising of Women

Archmage Modera, Jaina, Nasani, my shaman and Vereesa talk business.

Archmage Modera, Jaina, Narasi, my shaman and Vereesa talk business.

This week, like many other servers, my little RP server participated enough on the Isle of Thunder in order to unlock Stage 2. For anyone who hasn’t really poked at Patch 5.2 content, the newest daily hub features the forces of the Kirin Tor Offensive versus the Sunreaver Onslaught. These two factions are the continuation of the story from Patch 5.1 involving Jaina and the purging of Dalaran, and for the Alliance. What makes it so unique is that it’s one of the few places I’ve seen so far that is a largely woman-dominated part of the story, at least Alliance-side. What got me thinking about all this is the scenario (“Assault on Shaol’mara”) that players have to do that bridges Stage 1’s landfall on the island to securing the tiny outpost in Stage 2. The scenario, especially if you play a woman PC, is entirely driven and acted out by women NPCs – Jaina Proudmoore and Vereesa Windrunner in particular. There are also a couple other notable Kirin Tor Offensive names such as Archmage Modera and Narasi Snowdawn from the Silver Covenant.

It’s the first time that I can remember in-game that the story moving around me wasn’t really due to the actions of men or being plodded forward for their benefit. Even more astounding is that it isn’t really a diplomatic mission but it’s you fighting to push back the trolls in a skirmish. Vereesa is your guide Alliance-side and you and her fight with panache (she even says she likes your style!) and help gain ground so that the Offensive can set up a permanent base of operations on the island. It is a short scenario, to be sure, fighting a couple of bosses and trash but it felt a lot more immersive than some of the other story scenarios I ‘ve done, save for Operation: Shieldwall, but the fact that this particular group is headed up by Jaina and her lady pals is a welcome change from a world where she’s (and other women NPCs) have been shit on for taking the reins. While Garrosh and Varian are still duking it out like saggy diaper babies over Krasarang, Jaina and Vereesa are pushing with the Shado-Pan to unseat Lei Shen’s forces from the Throne of Thunder.

I always thought it was particularly weird that despite Azeroth being mixed gender, that women NPCs haven’t largely been as visible as “fighting” forces outside of Sylvanas. Even as leaders, they still assume more of a “calm” face to opposition. It wasn’t until Mists of Pandaria that it’s been more or less shaken up and not always in ways that I appreciate. Varian has always been presented as a hot-head but it isn’t until Jaina or Tyrande (in the Little Patience scenario) get their own need for anger that it’s suddenly not okay to be an aggressive person. I’m over-simplifying a bit but it seemed a little bit like women were still getting painted with a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The Kirin Tor Offensive feels like a somewhat better outcome for the Jaina vs. Varian power dynamic than what Patch 5.1 had initially implied with Varian tsk’ing her into a corner because she had dared to go against his plans that she wasn’t even allowed to be a part of.  Jaina’s anger has always felt justified to me, especially as someone who read Tides of War, and I felt sad that most players, particularly Horde-side ones, wouldn’t necessarily grasp that her disgust with the Sunreavers would come from the fact that the ultimate betrayal of Theramore came from someone inside of Dalaran. The fact that the Offensive is also staffed and maintained by high-profile women that haven’t been seen in a while and would have largely been left to rot in Dalaran is a fresh take on the “daily hub with even more reputation grinding” dilemma.

For all of the problems that Mists has had so far with some of the PVE progression, the storytelling feels pretty top notch. I’ve long been a critic of some of Dave’s Kosak’s work in story development (I really hate his NPC!) but if this was his baby, particularly the scenario, then I can’t help but thank him. Women have too long taken a backseat in Blizzard’s stories and it is nice to see them doing something proactive and unguided by the desires of a male leader thus far. I’m really interested to see where the Kirin Tor Offensive goes as we unlock more stages, and I definitely feel more optimistic about then I have about some of the other things in this expansion.

Patch 5.2 – The Problem with Twins, Part 2

Patch 5.2 finally drops next Tuesday and with it, there has been quite a few things of note, particularly regarding the Twin Consort bosses I discussed. The 5.2 trailer, which was posted yesterday, was actually exciting and got me pumped for the raid content. The poetry, the story, feels like some of the patch trailers we’ve gotten before but a lot more cinematic. And while we got a glimpse of a lot of the story behind the Thunder King and his lackeys in the raid, guess who were missing.

That’s right, our wonderful twin ladies, Lu’lin and Suen. Kinda curious, don’t you think? Unfortunately my cynicism that Blizzard left them out of the trailer due to overwhelming shame might have a slightly more logical explanation, courtesy of the developer interview regarding all of the Throne of Thunder bosses earlier this week. This interview, incidentally, is what spurred me to post yet another discussion about these two Mogu sex robots bodyguards.

My thoughts on why the Twin Consorts were left out of the trailer might have been a mid-stream design change to their lore, as per Lead Encounter Designer Ion Hazzikostas:

An earlier version of the concept for the fight had them actually being spirits of the Sun and Moon, but that didn’t feel quite right (and we all know that the only true spirit of the Moon is Elune, and clearly she was not locked away by the Thunder King).

Now, this exceptionally generous on my part, but I suspect it is the only reason why they’d leave these female bosses out of the trailer video, given how long the machinima take to make. But like so many other things, I wonder if it because they like to leave developing female models for things out or to the last minute because everyone at Blizzard apparently is terrified about designing female models (worgen anyone?) Either way, it’s pretty odd that they are not in the trailer. I can distinctly remember most of them getting at least a second or two of screen time. (The only other female boss is Mar’li and the Council fight she’s a part of wasn’t in the trailer either.)

From people who have tested the bosses on PTR, and in even in just looking at the boss design, it’s pretty clear they kept the Sun/Moon aesthetic in the two of them.

It’s the rest of the interview that left me sputtering yesterday on Twitter:

  • Rumored to be the only known female mogu in existence, Lei Shen keeps his trophies close, and their combined arsenal against interlopers closer.
  • Players may have noticed the complete absence of any female mogu in their exploration of the continent of Pandaria.
  • Indeed, these were specifically created by Lei Shen and empowered to serve and guard him, and they are a direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole.

Are the developers reading my blog? It seems like they are taking the heavy early criticism of why the hell there’s two female Mogu as raid bosses but not anywhere in Mogu society to heart.  However, there’s so many more questions left open here now that it’s canonically known that they are the only two in existence and only created by Lei Shen. Such as, “Why would an essentially monogender culture have a leader that creates women” or maybe “Why are they sexualized?” Consorts are very specifically a sexualized term, and maybe the developers are mixing real world stuff with Mogu again, but there’s this lingering feeling that these two women weren’t shaped out of stone just to guard Lei Shen. All of this bothers me, little piece by little piece.

Maybe it’s the objectified language in the copy and interview – “treasures” “possessions” “trophies.” Lei Shen created the only two women in existence for their race and they aren’t even granted true humanity in any discussions surrounding them. It’s the fact that they were created to be submissive and servile to him, to protect him. It’s the fact that they are the sexualized equivalent of guard dogs. Giving life out of stone is a pretty terrifying concept as well when you wonder where Lei Shen got the souls (do they have souls) for this purpose.

The only high point in the discussion about these two was the fan-ramblings about what possibly inspired Lei Shen – why not create a bulky Mogu woman, particularly if they are bodyguards? Cynwise suggested that it might be possible fashioning after Burning Crusade eredari, which would explain the model choice. However, I suspect the model choice is less a reflection of Lei Shen’s ideals and more the developers still.

All in all, these two bosses are a serious dig in my excitement for this upcoming patch. We’ve had a lot of trouble with female NPCs in Pandaria thus far and the raid dungeons have not been exempt from this – the last three did not heavily feature any canonically indicated female bosses aside from Lei Shi (the elemental) and Grand Empress Shek’seer (whether or not any of the other Heart of Fear bosses were women is up in the air.) So the fact that the new raid only features three women, two of whom are prized constructs created by Lei Shen and were left out of the official trailer, makes me upset.

Throne has an abundance of bosses and only 3 of them (the Twins, and Mar’li) are actually women. This is in fact a step up from the last raids we have done, but it still feels like a step backwards in terms of Blizzard’s creative development choices.

Patch 5.2 – The Problem with Twins

New Mogu female model in Patch 5.2.

Last week a preview of patch 5.2 dropped, with all the attendant fanfare and data-mining. It seems the focus of this newest content patch (which is going up on the PTR after the holidays) is the Thunder King, along with a corresponding raid Throne of Thunder, which is supposedly reminiscent of Ulduar in both size and aesthetics. What caught my attention initially, other than benefits for Sunsong Ranch was this gossip about how a female mogu model had been dug up.

I raced over to Wowhead to get a gander at what it might look like and was presented with this. We finally get a female version of one of the NPC races in game (out of so many that do not have female counterparts) and it is that? I mean, I’m always glad for more representation but this feels like a step in the wrong direction. It is obviously skinned over a draenei female’s animations/skeleton for the most part, but it is intensely dimorphic (like draenei, troll and worgen women) and very sexualized. Granted,  while the clothing isn’t much different than what mogu dudes wear, the effect combined with the posture, ornamentation and -ahem- ample cleavage skews the aesthetics in quite a distinct direction. At the very least the faces and headdresses radiate more power than sex. That is something, right?

Wrong!

Apparently this model isn’t an added NPC model for mogu areas, this is one half of a set of raid bosses. Yup, that’s right, we’re getting the Eredar Twins v.2 in the Throne of Thunder! Two more specific, incredibly sexualized models that only ever make an appearance as a raid boss (and one quest NPC.) And get this – the name of these mogu women in the raid are Twin Consorts. That’s right, the Thunder King has two royal “partners” (or chattel) in whatever way you take that to mean. But given the name, the attire and the history with this sort of thing, I am guessing we are in for a boss encounter that is full of breathy, sensual emotes. We’ve seen it before, why not again? Why not make them curled up and flanking the Thunder King’s throne? I’m not holding my breath that there’s going to be some radical change of tack for these ladies.

But that’s not even the weirdest part.

Given the idea that these Mogu female models are only going to be present in the raid, it sort of rattles the tenuous consistency that pervaded the Mogu as a race. While most other NPC races that only feature male models sort of laugh off this idea that their women are tucked safely away in villages somewhere, Mogu could pass as a seemingly male-only race because as far I could understand, they weren’t really constrained by the issues of flesh that most other races are. The idea that they were brutish proto-beings (or maybe even Titan constructs?) twisted by the waters of the Vale gives rise to the idea that created, rather than born. This means that they aren’t tied to reproduction and so Mogu females could just be a figment. Or, if they originally were mortal, just hidden away from view like every other group of NPCs that Blizzard has neglected to realistically portray. It raises a lot of questions and creepy concerns with this sudden and very specific appearance of just two women in the entirety of Mogu society – especially if they are merely decadent sexual companions to the Thunder King.

The Mogu are adept fleshcrafters and spiritbinders and very often view death as inconsequential. They also have a habit of putting spirits into shaped stone bodies, some from Mogu who “died” and were resurrected and others from those they’ve conquered or enslaved. Are the Twin Consorts created out of stone and enslaved spirits of the Thunder king? Were they his lovers or companions prior to his death and entombed with his unmarred body? Were they brought into being as some sort of Mogu ideal of decadence, like Pygmalion creating his ideal woman out of marble? So many possible theories and all of them make me squirm. Given the fact that Blizzard has a terrible track record with populating the NPC world with women, coupled with their narratives regarding their place in the world, it seems likely that these consorts could be far more chilling than I could ever imagine.

This expansion has been slightly better than most in terms of representing stories and background characters that are also women. This just feels like a step backwards and a reminder that so many times, women are an afterthought to the creative development team. I know that making two models just to represent a non-PC race is extra development time, but default models for NPC races are still coded as men only (Vrykul/Hyldnir aside), and this bothers me. It makes the female exceptions in the Eredar and now the Mogu stick out like sore thumbs and it always seems to give rise to really sexist representations.  This creates the message that the non-PC women of Azeroth are not terribly important.

In all likelihood, Blizzard doesn’t see this as a problem and it definitely shows. Taking the time out to fully represent NPCs races in such a narrow way intimates a very specific mindset. It is probably “natural” to stick a couple of women (sexy ones, no less) to “change it up a bit” probably because so much of our world (not just Azeroth) is still depicted as men only. It is catering to a male audience and the male gaze when the token women stuck in the scenery are there as eye candy. While Blizzard has made leaps and bounds in both their main stories and player character races (to some extent), their lack of thought into fleshing out the rest of the world is pretty clear to anyone who cares to look.

 

Amber is the Color of my Gender

Technically I meant to title this as “Amber is the Color of my Sex” to be scientifically accurate but I figured it might attract the wrong kind of attention. Yesterday on Twitter, I was reading a really interesting discussion on the nature of Klaxxi gender. The reason for the speculation was because, despite Blizzard’s past laziness with regards to gendering their non-player races, it could easily be left open to interpretation with a bug race like the Klaxxi.

World of Male-craft

Unfortunately my skepticism that Blizzard made a race that wasn’t populated with dudes unless otherwise specified (Grand Empress Shek’zeer) is high. While Blizzard is exceptionally clever and the Mantids have been left open to interpretation, I don’t think it was done on purpose. Warcraft constantly defaults to “maleness” as the norm when it comes to NPCs unless there’s a reason to duplicate women elsewhere (in the case of some NPCs that have player races.) This isn’t surprising at all given that it is way cheaper on both resources and development time to only create men. Why?

Their logic seemingly is that in a world of war and aggression, wouldn’t most women die or be hidden away so you can perpetuate your tiny little race infinitely after adventurers slaughter billions of your kind every day? On top of that, they seem to not quite “grok” how to gender models as women without extensive time put into it if a model doesn’t have tits or a pink bow on it’s head. Those two facts make representation in the game world a fairly open-and-shut-case. There are notable exceptions to this: Centaur, Naga (who have explicit male/female models), Dragonkin (at some levels), and Harpies/Dryads (who are exclusively female.) The rest are seemingly neutrally gendered or typed male, even in the face of actual logic. That’s just how gameplay will always clash with lore.

This is the largest point in the idea that Blizzard may have made the Mantid at large a mixed gender race. However, this doesn’t stop us from using their lack of detail to our advantage to speculate otherwise.

BUGS, BUGS, BUGS

I’m not an entomologist but insect societies, which the Mantid and such seem to based on, wouldn’t necessarily conform to Blizzard’s “all men all the time” rule when it comes to NPC races. By setting up a female Grand Empress with an unclear line of succession (there’s combat and corpse eating but it doesn’t say if it is matrilineal or what) as well as offspring being sired by her (presumably), they seem to leave the door open for contradicting themselves with their own male bias. Insect societies that behave with a “queen” being the mother figure (see: Grand Empress Zek’hara) like ants and bees do not have an overwhelming majority of their society as male. Most of the workers tend to be female drones, with some breeding males groomed for the queen. It would stand to reason that if the Mantid were similar to these species in terms of being colony insects, that most of them (including the Klaxxi) would be women. However, a couple of facts about the Mantid move them away from being simple colony insects.

1.) They are fearsome in the singular, more-so if fighting in a swarm.

Insects that are typically colony-based do not have individual characteristics such as these, whereas Mantid seem to be capable of doing great damage all on their own, moreso if any group of them stick together.  A single Mantid is able of making personal decisions as well as defending themselves, and could live away from the group.

2.) They do not communicate via collective.

Unlike the typical sci-fi/spec-fi convention, Mantid and Klaxxi talk to eachother using technology via sound frequencies boosted over large areas and developed language, rather than things like scent markers, swarm intelligence or the ubiquitous “hive mind” where all members in the society are linked telepathically to the central power and do not think independently.

These two indicators mean that it is very possible that Mantids are not specifically majority female and may perhaps be a mixed-gender population (which is still not majority male.)

Not So Much Man-Tids: Meritocracy Within an Aristocracy

My strongest case for there being mixed gender despite Blizzard’s plans to leave a fairly non-dimorphic insect species mostly male is the cycle of the Mantid Swarm.

Mantid assaults on the Serpent’s Spine are a terrible thing to experience, both as a defender, and as a mantid. Only the smartest, strongest, or most agile of the mantid survive this encounter, and pandaren defenders are slaughtered outright in terrible numbers.

Mantid survivors make their way back to the great trees, often bearing trophies of their conquests. There, they are welcomed back into the mantid society, and take their place among their civilization according to the level of their deeds. The purpose of this rite of passage is unclear. but those who travel beyond the wall are forewarned: any mantid you encounter beyond the wall is a hardened veteran, to be feared and respected.

Mantid Swarm lore scroll in-game

In short, the Mantids and by virtue the Klaxxi, are a merit-based insect society. Those that we see in-game that are not throwing themselves against the wall as cannon fodder are the highest achieved in Mantid culture. At no point are these best and brightest codified as male, even those who are pegged as the most strong. Blade dancers, manipulators and bladeguards alike are, despite the game’s norm, potentially female. Due to WoW having no dimorphism in body types among the Mantids (save for the Empress) means that we have a potential for yet another mixed-gender NPC race. Granted, I still believe that this is by accident, but the idea of the Mantid society defining themselves by accomplishment seems more a true reflection of the Warcraft gender politics than even us as player characters are. In this vein, it’s very possible that the Empress ascends to the throne by virtue of being the most accomplished female within the group, rather than strict familial succession. We could conjecture even further and say that gender is fairly irrelevant as how Mantids define themselves in all aspects other than the singular Empress hierarchy. Gender as a societal construct seems fairly irrelevant to them and solely a biological indicator of sex. What a Mantid does during and after the Swarm cycle is far, far more important and is the pinnacle in individualism.

In this respect, despite Dread Wastes giving me the major wiggins, I find the Klaxxi/Mantids very exciting and hope that we see more lore about them in the future. As someone who uses the game to escape the ridiculous gender politics of reality, seeing a society work solely on individual merit makes me gleeful.

Headcanon: Two L’s

Life will always blossom from the darkest soil. – Alexstrasza

Blog Azeroth had a really amazing shared Blog Topic last week that I really, really wanted to talk about but I got caught up in other stuff. Akabeko from Red Cow Rise suggested it:

Canon refers to the actual events and characters that exist in a fictional world. Headcanon refers to any situations or characters that are imagined by fans of said fictional world. Sometimes they are silly, like the fact that Garrosh’s favorite treat is lemon squares. Sometimes they are serious, like positing that tauren store grief in the lungs. For my writing, I’ve come up with a lot of headcanon. Got a theory about a torrid romance between your favorite auctioneer and the patrolling guard? Given any thought to where mounts and pets go when they aren’t summoned? Do you know how your characters do their laundry, or what Baine Bloodhoof does in his free time? What are your headcanons, and where did you get the idea?

As I’ve explained before, I practically live in a world of my creation when it comes to World of Warcraft. My grasp on lore is shaky at best and I have some very strong opinions that Azeroth could be better if I was one of the Titans. As someone who frequently isn’t represented in games because I’m queer woman, a lot of what I have to do is fill in the gaps when it comes to representation, amongst other things. So it should be no surprise that a lot of my headcanon satisfies that need to see “myself” reflected in the world I spend so much time playing in.

It all started with a rare out in Tyr’s Hand and Rades. If anyone ever listened to the best episode of Bifactional that we ever did (about rares), one can remember the discussion that was had about the mysterious Lynnia Abbendis. Why is she there? Who is she? What kind of life did she have? It was joked that Lynnia must have known Lilian Voss and the two could fight crime together. I dreamily imagined the idea of two undead women careening around Eastern Kingdoms righting wrongs; so many things right about that scenario and yet I felt it was missing something.

Love.

I really don’t consider myself some sort of “shipper” because I tend to adhere to an author’s wishes in romantic choices and I don’t like to pare away stories to just flat and rigid relationships. However, the idea of two young Scarlet Crusade women finding solace, friendship and dare I say it, some sort of complex companionship over the tenure of their brief lives before meeting tragic ends is right up my alley. Since that seed of a thought got planted, it’s only grown stronger and thicker until now when it has managed to strangle a lot of my other ideas about Azeroth. It is a story that deserves to be told and expressed. There’s no way, in my mind, that this couldn’t be the truth. There really could have been a Scarlet Crusade academy, and all of the young Crusade children could have been friends with eachother (it’s canon that Voss and Gebler were). Considering that Lynnia is an Abbendis, it’d be assumed she’d also be there. Lynnia and Lilian strike me as having some sort of age differential but nonetheless could have been friends or close to eachother.

You can see what kind of castles I’ve constructed out of the air from the tiniest motes of dust.

I’ve spent at least 2 IM conversations with Rades discussing the plotline and arc of these two women’s lives when they still had a pulse and what might be in store for them now. What would have lead the two of them to have such different places in the game? The obvious answer is because I am the only person that considers them linked in some way but as far as a story concept, it does bend what ifs in a particular direction.

Loss.

The story of Lynnia and Lilian is a sad one, even if I truly believe there could be a bittersweet ending for both of them. Lilian’s childhood was controlled by her father and Lynnia is called the Fallen Hope. They are in wildly different locations and doing very different things when we find them in the world. There’s not a lot of sunshine and kittens to be had here. And now that the two of them aren’t even “alive,” it seems to me that joy is in short supply. Maybe that’s why the idea of their feelings for eachother surviving is so persistent in my brain; to give them an ending that Blizzard never intended and never wanted for the tragedy that was the Scarlet Crusade. What would the two of them meeting now be like? Have they not seen eachother since they died? I get a little choked up thinking about it. It spurs me to put words on the page and draw lots of art.

I have hope though, even if the story will never be told by Warcraft. It is something that can live on in my imagination for now. Considering that Voss plays a very large role in the new heroic dungeons in Mists of Pandaria, I will not let this story fade to black just yet.

 

 

Remembering Scholomance and Caer Darrow

The Headmaster's room in Scholomance. I think I’m getting on my WoW-years because I’m spending less time reading and looking forward to Mists of Pandaria and today, on the literal day of patch 5.0.4, looking back at the things that have changed. I thought I’d be okay; it wasn’t like Cataclysm where everything was being destroyed. However, I find myself being a little verklempt at even the smallest things. It hit me as I was running in and out of Scholomance five times an hour to try for a Sawbones Shirt.

This place wasn’t going to be the same anymore.

Any time change creeps up on me, I get caught out a bit. Old dungeons that I remember doing fondly in Vanilla are obviously no exception to this. The fact that stuff like the Tabard of the Scarlet Crusade, Whitemane’s Chapeau just vanishing into the air because their bosses are too is weirding me out. The more this stuff fades into the sands of time, the more I feel myself wanting to snatch grains of it out of the air to keep safe.

Scholomance may had not been the quintessential dungeon that Scarlet Monastery has been, but I have fond memories of the place. It was long and unforgiving even after it was taken down from a raid instance to a 5-person dungeon. It had many, many secrets and quests tucked within.

The Secrets Long Past

It is unfortunate that most of the really, truly neat things about Scholo were removed with Cataclysm.

Easily the most interesting part of Scholomance back in Vanilla was the quests associated with the place and the island. The quest to kill the boss Kirtonos the Herald netted you a Spectral Essence, which was necessary to see all of the ghosts that wandered around the island, including vendors that had rare patterns. The vendor is visible now but a lot of NPCs are lost to players because the Spectral Essence is no longer obtainable in the game. The quest that originally rewarded it, “Kirtonos the Herald” no longer gives it as a reward. (It also doesn’t require you to kill a succubus for a vial of Kirtonos’ blood to summon him with the brazier.)

The Spectral Essence was key to a lot of other quests on the island that were only given out or turned in to ghosts in Caer Darrow. One of these ghosts was Magistrate Marduke, who gave you the quest for Ras Frostwhisper. It was a 5-part chain that sent you packing to Arathi to search all over Stromgarde for a book tucked away in a random fireplace. I spent at least 3 or 4 hours looking. I’m not kidding you. It also required you to go into Stratholme with the book to draw out Ras’ soul so you could eventually turn the lich inside the dungeon to a mortal and kill him. Stuff like this was secretive, meandering and full of lore. Definitely not the caliber some quests have today, but definitely not easy to finish.

You also completed one of the quests in the Tirion Fordring quest chain that was in Eastern Plaguelands (before the revamp) from an artist on the island.

The hardest quest associated with Scholomance was definitely the key quest, however. A lot of the end-game dungeons in Vanilla, like UBRS, had key quests so it could further alienate people who didn’t feel like doing them. (My boyfriend when I brought this up to him – “Fuck that key quest, I didn’t do it. You could die and walk through the door that way.”) I dutifully did the Scholomance key quest because I was a level 60 in my guild who came to it late and wasn’t really taken on raids. After proving yourself with some Andorhal quests, you were set to create a skeleton key, literally. After killing skeletons for fragments, you had to travel to Gadgetzan to get a mold made, paying 15G of your hard-earned cash (having 100G back in Vanilla was the same as having 10,000 nowadays). Then you had to take the mold to a volcano. Then you had to gather a GROUP of people to take down the lich Araj the Summoner for his scarab pendant. Then you finally got a key.

Remind people that this is what they look fondly back on when they talk about “vanilla being the best expansion.”

Not everything that was hidden about Scholomance was something on the outside though – many of the secrets lay inside the actual instance. The one that really threw me for a loop was the secret torch. Despite being someone who spent the better part of her level 60 existence crawling through this dungeon, I had no idea about this until this year when a guildmate (or a friend, I cannot remember) pointed it out to me.

There was an executable torch in Jandice Barov’s mortuary room, to the right of her alcove. Turning it unlocked a gate in the Viewing Room, which held a chest.

It only ever really held greens, but the idea that Blizzard stuck something this hidden inside was just fascinating to me, a veteran like me. Who goes around clicking on walls to see if torches work? But it makes sense for the atmosphere of the place. Why wouldn’t a hugely corrupt and rich family keep things tucked away in a hidden locale?

Memories

I think one of my reasons for being so persistent about collecting items from places like this when they change is because, like in real life, sometimes memories and emotions are all you have. In a video game, your experiences someplace are reduced to screenshots and remembrances shared over voice chat. The ability to go and take a “tangible” reminder of what something was like “back in the day” is something you aren’t really afforded in real life, usually. Scholomance was one of the places I remember best from Vanilla and it is sad to see it change.

I remember:

  • Helping at least 6 or 7 paladins from Northrend Commonwealth get their paladin charger in the finale of the quest chain.
  • Doing a run at 3 AM and my bags being full so I left without looting my Magister’s Crown and having to ticket a GM.
  • Accidentally pulling the summoners in the Summoning room because I counterspelled them thinking they were attacking us. Turns out I was just being anachronistic.
  • Being able to climb out of Kirtonos’ room to explore instanced Caer Darrow.
  • Those horrible magic resist skeletons.
  • Being terrible at fighting the monsters that you got locked in a room with during the Gandling fight.
  • Someone being really excited about Robe of the Void pattern dropping.
  • Dark Runes, the ultimate in trickery for RP.
  • Farming for Ichor of Undeath for Greater Water Breathing potions.
  • Seeing the Headmaster’s Charge drop twice (Didn’t win it either time.)
  • Learning how to expertly polymorph mobs in the packs in the middle rooms.
  • Making flasks at the alchemy table in Ras Frostwhisper’s room. (The only other one was inside of Blackwing Lair.)
  • Coming back in later expansions to farm Skins of Shadow for my Insane grind.

I know that nothing is going to take away those things from me, but part of me still tried to race up there and codge a shirt out of Rastinov all the same. New Scholomance, with the hints of the Lilian Voss storyline and smoother redesign will be better for everyone, I know this. But part of me still misses the confusing and punishing complexity of the former dark arts school.