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.

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.