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.

Mists of Pandaria Monday: Three Hours of Sleep Edition

Welcome to Mists of Pandaria Monday! I’m your intrepid Apple Cider and I got literally three hours of restless sleep today due to the fact that I was up chatting about Lilian Voss on Mumble with people intently researching all of the new MoP information for you, dear readers. Pardon me while my research intensity leads to things like belligerent opinions, dead links, spelling errors or possibly not finishing sentences. A lot of really thorough coverage went up at almost 12 AM PST and I urge you all to go read it; WoW Insider and Wowhead did an amazing job collating and organizing all the relevant bits for your perusal. As it stands, I will be bullet-pointing and discussing the things I found most exciting personally before I fall face first into my keyboard.

Female Pandaren: More Bounce By the Ounce

I discussed my feelings on the potential aesthetic of the female pandaren last week and when the screenshots of the in-game model finally were debuted, I found myself quite happy with the results. As reported, the females will have fur color options, with the red panda fur look including a tail. This doesn’t make sense to me personally, because while I can swallow that this a magical fantasy world where red pandaren and black/white pandaren are the same species, why would only female red pandaren have tails? It seems like one of those weird evolutionary quirks that seems more “pandering” than plausible. As far as my concerns towards the body and figure of the women? Settled for the most part. I would have liked to see an even more rotund, hefty lady (or eventually a slider) but this will do for now. She’s got curves that suggest a physical but comfortable life and also slightly more bottom-heavy and animalistic than more humanoid counterparts. I can see her hefting a barrel of home-brewed stout or cooking up Pandarian Death Peppers just as much as fighting with a bow staff. A lot of criticism has come down heavily on the face that is presented in a lot of the official art but I think they are cute as heck. I have a feeling there will be some leeway on facial features and expressions for those who want to look more fierce. I also have some faith that Blizzard’s continued improvements with in-game models will give them a range of emotion in their face as well. The screenshots we’ve seen so far give them concrete personalities too that range from meditative to dreamy.

Now, interestingly on WoW Insider’s live Mists of Pandaria podcast this morning a fan-done “revision” of the model was linked (warning: Picture is SFW, but DA account has some NSFW if you browse further) that simply added a touch more weight to the face and body. Personally I like how it looks, but someone in the chat inevitably remarked about “furries” and how it’s just a “fetish” picture. Sorry, but liking a woman with weight on her is pretty typical, especially since women’s bodies fall all along the shape spectrum. There are fetishes for certain kinds of body figures or figures caused by various things, but finding appeal or aesthetic value in all sorts of body shapes, including larger ones, is not fetish material or even sexual. So let’s keep the weird rhetoric to a minimum.

A Farm of One’s Own, Lorewalking and Other Casual Pleasantries

As part of the intense shift towards more “casual” non-PVE/PVP centric content for Mists, one of the reputations you can encounter in-game is the Tillers. This is part of a quest to help a farmer and his rundown farm back onto its feet, eventually netting you your own in-game farm that will include dailies that help you grow plants (whether this is herbalism nodes or cooking mats), obtain livestock and decorate your farmhouse. As someone who has always loved the idea of things like Harvest Moon, Farmville but didn’t like the intense timesink elements of the latter, this little farm outlet in Pandaria is intriguing to me. I want to have my gnome grow all her own alchemy mats, till the earth with a yaungol and prosper. A lot of the information coming out about MoP‘s questing content and reputations suggests that a lot of people who enjoy doing story content but dislike some of the rote, impersonal challenges of dailies will enjoy this stuff to no end. Molten Front was the carrot-on-the-stick for those of us who are like this when Firelands came out but was such a logistical nightmare and failure of entertainment. This feels like a breath of fresh air. Another set of dailies will also allow us to obtain a beautiful cloud serpent, much like the Ravasaur or Wintersaber mount, putting meaningful and personally exciting rewards for those who chose to do the quests.

In this vein of adding additional things for those of us who like poking and prodding is the Lorewalkers reputation. I’m unsure whether this is what archeology is getting rolled into or if this is seperate, but players will be able to find Pandaren artifacts around the world and turn them into these culture keepers in return for an elaborate show depicting parts of Pandarian history and lore. It is a highly interactive way of learning about the world’s story that will grab our attention, in case we pass through questing too fast to absorb the story.

The most hotly talked-about feature though is pet battles. I missed the Pokemon train, unfortunately, so the sheer intensity of support for this mini-game that is being implemented is a little bit beyond my ken, but as an avid pet collector, the fringe benefits of being able to add value to my pet collection and cross the globe searching for new rare pets in the wild to add tickles me. It also introduces a style of combat game that has none of the drawbacks of PVP: no loss tallies, no contact or interaction with the other party, and the flexibility of pet dueling or pet battle queueing from anywhere. This might be a style of player-versus-player that I spend at least a little time dabbling in, even if it just putting together teams consisting of Alliance Balloon, Rustberg Seagull and Perky Pugs.

Overall, I feel that they are really putting in a ton of content for those of us who like to do a variety of things on a variety of characters.

PVE Explosion: Heroic Scholomance, Challenge Dungeons, and Minor Glyphs

For those players who like taking a big bite out of some PVE content though, I will say that WoW has gone far beyond a lot of the criticisms that plagued Cataclysm and bursting at the seams with raid, dungeon and extra perks for those who want to face some bosses and get some nice purples for their trouble.

Most exciting out of this news is the revamps of Heroic Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery. Not only is there quite a few hints that the story has been updated significantly to shape the old bosses, but there are new (???) villains lurking around every corner. Even the corners have been updated, promising a more linear and overall detailed dungeon. This is most present in Scholomance, which got a completely new facelift and floor layout in order to remove some of the weird boss backtracking and ridiculousness with trash that players encountered in vanilla.  Also included is the intense and mysterious Lilian Voss, powerful former Scarlet protege, now-turned-undead, fighting against skeletons in one of the rooms in the school of dark arts. What is she doing there? This question is playing on any lore junkie’s mind (including my own) as well as who is left in the Scarlet Monastery. Why hasn’t Whitemane gotten the same overhaul as the other models? Hopefully these will be answered in time.

A thrill that I am looking forward to as an ex-raider who still likes the adrenaline rush of executing content is challenge mode dungeons. These dungeons will require specific teams of people completing objectives within the instance for achievements, rankings and extra rewards such as vanity loot. It is reminiscent of bear runs or timed Culling of Stratholme, where perfect play nets you an extra special shiny but now with an additional challenge of being on a leaderboard. It is assumed to not only foster togetherness within guilds but inspire some level of server-based competition that is a little less time intensive than raiding. I want to put together a crack squad of people to tackle heroics and get some wicked looking gear, not going to lie. Given how much I have in dungeons right now with my guild, I am definitely sinking my teeth into this wholeheartedly.

Finally, the fact that Warcraft is going to debut with 14 bosses for the first raid tier is exceptionally intriguing, but mostly I’m just excited about minor glyphs letting me ride around on my guildies who are druid-stags. Vanity, flavor and usefulness seem to be the things most present here with the glyph revamp and I couldn’t be happier. Flat stat changes are not an exciting area of development and I’d rather see customization, personalization and choices be part of my glyphing process.

Story and Art Development

I’m going to swoon here for a moment – it looks like so far, Blizzard has put a fuckton (pardon my French) of work into creating this brand new world inside of their very old world of Azeroth. The rising conflict with between all of the native (or not-so-native) races of Pandaria, combined with obvious and deep Asian influences in the art design makes for an incredibly detailed, exciting world that I want to explore. I want to see all 10,000 waterfalls. I want to see all the new species of animals. Cynicism about rampant Orientalism aside, I really feel incredibly bowled over by how this world is going to look, feel and act, especially when my gnome steps foot on the shores.

I haven’t felt this excited for World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade came out, and I for one, am optimistic that Blizzard really is doing something very right.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the Mists of Pandaria announcements so far in the comments or on Twitter!