World of Warcraft Dragonflight Talent Calculator

Wowhead has made available a talent calculator for Dragonflight on the basis of preliminary info on the upcoming expansion. Hooray, we get to dink around with test builds ahead of time!

At this writing, there are only a limited selection of classes to try: death knight, druid, hunter, priest, and rogue. In addition, the new race / class combo, Dracthyr evoker, is available for preview. Excitement! Below are some thoughts from the point of view of my main toon, a balance druid.

Wowhead Dragonflight Talent Tree Balance Druid

On one hand, there still isn’t quite enough information available. For example, on the Druid Tree, I’d like to pick Frenzied Regeneration, but the description doesn’t say whether it’ll pop you into bear form immediately upon use, which would make it less useable for me. (I assume it does, but the button doesn’t say.)

It’s great, however, that you can elect to skip certain spells. For example, I’ve never taken to Typhoon or Cyclone; they’ve always felt awkward and unconducive to my playing preferences or our joint style when Erik and I play together.

So, assuming that I’ll skip a number of lower-tree talents due to personal preferences, I’m having a hard time assigning enough points to reach the 20 required level. If this tree configuration is retained for the release, I’ll just have to hold my nose, pick talents I’d rather skip, and just not drag them onto my action bars.

On the other hand, I love that a balance druid gets more healing spells than is available in Shadowlands. When we play our druids together, we have quite a bit of staying power. I used to play a healer when we raided, but when it’s just the two of us it’s more beneficial to have a tank + dps combo. At times, though, I could use a bit more heals—the tanks are more than fine—and now I’m going to get it. Yay!

In the Balance Tree, it’s especially delightful that we can choose Convoke the Spirits, a Shadowlands covenant ability. A huge surprise was that they’re moving one of my favorite spells, Fury of Elune, to an end-tree position.

What remains to be seen is how the spells and talents become available as you progress, but so far it doesn’t look too awful. 🙂

Image: screencap from Wowhead

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

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Dwarven Windwalker Monk Transmog Tweak

Besides the Blood Elf subtlety rogue transmog update I already shared, I’ve also tweaked my Dwarven windwalker monk’s mog for Shadowlands. This new look is more sombre and subdued in color as befits the expansion’s theme.

Shadowlands F Dwarf Windwalker Monk Transmog

As before, the head and shirt slots are hidden and the bracers aren’t visible. I also retained the two fist weapons mogs (Silithid Claw).

The update is built around the Bronzebeard Heritage Armor set. Since I tend to find the pre-made sets often a bit lifeless, however, I only used the shoulders, chest, hands, and feet, and filled out my new transmog with Dignitary’s Traveling Cloak, Stygian Belt, and Harvester’s Court Leggings. I was suprised how well the diamond-patterned quilting in the Revendreth pants fit with the diamonds in the Bronzebeard shoulders, and the red in the belt exactly matches the pants.

Finally, I added some red tattoos (Gryphon pattern) to match the pants color and the detailing on the shoulders.

If interested, you can have a look at the set in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Venthyr Shaman Transmog

I’ll admit, Venthyr is not one of my favorite covenants. The gothic vampire vibe just doesn’t do it for me. But when I saw that the Venthyr mail set has candles on the shoulders, I knew I had to have it for my Tauren shaman.

Here’s a transmog set based around those shoulders. For obvious reasons, I call the set Playing with Fire.

Image: Screenshot from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Blood Elf Subtlety Rogue Transmog Tweak

It was time to re-do some of my World of Warcraft transmogs. Among others, I updated my Blood Elf rogue’s look. I still like her previous shadow concept mog a lot, so this update was more a teeny tweak than a grand change.

WoW Shadowlands BE Rogue in Bastion

Her chest remains mogged to Ghostclaw Tunic, but I updated her legs to Jadefire Pants and hid her belt. Then I dinked around with her weapons and ended up with Enchanted Azsharite Felbane Dagger as a partner to the ever-gorgeous Ethereum Phase Blade.

Here is the outfit in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

Image: screenshot from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

DM-ing Past an Impasse

One of the difficult situations you can find yourself in when acting as Dungeon Master / Game Master for a tabletop role-playing game is when your players find themselves stuck. An adventure is about forward movement, whether it’s fighting the next band of goblins so you can take their loot, discovering the secret door that leads into the hidden underground facility, or navigating through the asteroid field to get to safety. When your players feel like their characters aren’t making progress, that can sap the fun out of your game. What can you do as a DM to help your players get past an impasse?

Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything. Remember that your players are not the same as the characters they play. Being on an adventure is often not a lot of fun for the characters as they face danger, uncertainty, and the possibility of death. Sometimes even though the characters may be stuck, the players are still having a good time. They may be relishing the chance to role-play how their characters deal with failure or enjoy the prompt to think outside the box and come up with wacky new schemes so crazy they just might work. Some players want a game that plays strictly by the rules, even if that means they “lose.” When the characters run into trouble, watch how your players react. If they’re still having fun, you can just let them keep at it, but if the characters’ frustration leads to your players being frustrated, then it is time for you to step in as DM. In that case, here are some things to think about.

Break the DM Wall

As DMs, we have a barrier between us and the players, not just the physical barrier of the DM screen (for those who use them), but the distance between ourselves, who know all the secrets of the adventure, and the players, who do not. When your players are feeling stuck, it can help to open that barrier a little.

Suppose your players’ characters are trying to get into a castle to stop the evil duke from doing an evil ritual with an ancient artifact of evil. They try to get through the front gate and are stopped by the guards. They decide there are too many guards to fight, so they try to bluff their way in. The bluffing doesn’t work, but the players are committed this plan and keep trying to argue and make rolls to get through the gate.

Try saying something like: “I’m stepping in as DM to let you know that the guard just isn’t going to budge, no matter what you say or how well you roll. You’ll have to find another way in.” Giving the players this out-of-game information can help in several ways. It lets the players know that they weren’t on the right track so they can focus their energies on something else. It reassures the players that you are playing fair with them—they didn’t do something wrong, this approach was just never viable, and there is a way forward if they can figure it out. It also helps everyone take a step back from the characters’ frustrations to refocus on the fun of the game.

If your players like to actively role-play their characters and speak for them, it can help to shift perspective and speak about them instead. If you can get your players from “I’ve tried everything I can think of, but this guard captain is just stonewalling” to “Whiteleaf the bard is feeling frustrated and at a loss because her skills aren’t helping her group accomplish their mission,” that can help your players reframe their problem and work toward a solution.

No, but

You may have heard of the rule that in improv you always want to say “Yes, and.” “Yes, and” means you accept whatever ideas someone else brought to the scene and add your own contribution to develop it further. DM-ing is a kind of improv, but an adventure is also constrained by rules, rolls, and the story you have built for your players to explore. Sometimes the best thing to do is just throw out the other stuff and go with your players’ ideas, but if you always ignore the rules and the story, then you leave your players without a structure to work within. So there’s a corollary to the “Yes, and” rule: the “No, but” rule.

“No, but” means that when you say no to something your players want to do, you nudge them toward an alternative. This could be anything from a subtle hint on how to sway the current encounter successfully to a neon arrow pointing at the next plot point.

In the example above, you could “No, but” as you play the castle guard with a grouchy reply: “Look, His Grace said no one gets into the castle but Merchant Severan’s crew with the monthly wine shipment. I don’t see any wine barrels, so you’re not getting in here.” Alternatively, you could step out of character and say: “As you continue to argue with the guard, you notice that the northern wall of the castle overhangs a sheer cliff; there are no guards there, for obvious reasons.” These options give your players a hook for a way forward without interrupting the scene.

It’s up to your players to pick up on the “No, but” and figure out how they want to take advantage of it, but it allows you to steer them out of a dead end and back into the adventure without breaking the immersion of the game.

Change something

If your players just keep trying something that won’t work, you have the option as DM to change the rules and make it work. If necessary, you can always just say: “Okay, ignore that last roll. You succeeded. Move on,” but it’s better if you can fit the change into the story. If the situation the players’ characters find themselves in is a deadlock, you’ll want to either add something or take something away to break the stalemate.

Adding something may mean a new character comes on the scene, an event occurs to disrupt the current stalemate, or the characters get new information that gives them a way forward. For instance, perhaps the evil duke himself comes out to see what the fuss is and decides to invite the characters in so he has someone to gloat at as he does his evil thing. Perhaps a band of marauders swarms out of the nearby woods, giving the castle guards something more important to focus on and letting the characters take advantage of the chaos.

Instead of adding something, you might take away one of the things causing the impasse. Perhaps the guard captain gets frustrated and walks away to let her subordinate handle the characters, and that subordinate turns out to be much more gullible or a secret ally to the party. Perhaps several of the guards get called away to handle another problem elsewhere in the castle leaving a smaller number that the player characters can take in a fight.

In the end, remember that a role-playing game is a collaboration between players and DM. The most important thing is that everyone, including you, gets to have a good experience. Sometimes your players are going to get themselves into places where they aren’t having fun, but as a DM you have options for helping them get out.

Image by Erik Jensen

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Nerdy Achievement: One Million Gold Pieces Total

For quite some time, I’ve been planning to buy a stack of game time tokens, which of course means gold farming and saving. So, I was very pleased when I hit the mythical sum of one million earlier this month.

WoW One Million Gold Pieces

I bought a stack of tokens a few years ago, too, but as the going rate was much lower, I never came near a million then.

Of course it’s all imaginary, and of course it’s all gone again, but it was neat for a while to be a millionaire—even in a computer game. 🙂

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Shadowlands, A Year in the Land of Death

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands released a year ago today. Can you believe we’ve been adventuring in the after life for a whole year? For only a year? What is time even?

We thought we’d mark the occasion by looking back at our experiences with the expansion so far and talking about what it’s been like to play in WoW‘s eighth expansion.

New systems

Eppu: The new mission table seems hardly to have changed from its previous iterations, but since my playing time has been very limited during this expansion, I can’t say I’ve really understood all of the mechanics of leveling and missions. I can say, however, that accumulating companions is surprisingly speedy. However, the animated-by-default battle at the conclusion annoys me—considering what a minuscule part of the game it is, that’s a waste of processing power and having to always bypass it with a click is a waste of time.

Soulbinds is a more interesting case. Essentially, they’re a version of the old talent trees, with the exception that you can have three separate ones and that switching between them is easy. Accumulating a good smattering of basic conduits via world quests is simple, too.

Anima, unfortunately, is where Blizzard over-corrected in this expansion. The system is clunky and complex and not intuitive. For example, gathering anima for X purpose is added to the quest tally when you complete a quest that grants anima rewards, as opposed to Y purpose it’s counted when you empty the anima rewards from your inventory into the reservoir.

Erik: Anima really seems like a step back. We’re getting a lot of clutter in our bags this expansion after Battle for Azeroth did a much better job of streamlining its power-accumulation systems. Conduits are another piece of bag clutter I could do without, but the overall soulbind system works pretty well. It allows a fair amount of flexibility in customizing your character’s play style with some interesting trade-offs to think about.

Blizzard keeps tweaking the mission table, but it’s never been particularly interesting. I do it because it’s a low-effort way of getting small amounts of anima and reputation, but it’s never been a compelling part of gameplay. After four expansions, I still don’t understand why I am sending other people off to have adventures instead of having them for myself.

I have to say that after a year of playing in this expansion, I still don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing with a lot of my covenant sanctum things. It’s at least partly because anima has been so hard to get that I haven’t activated or upgraded most of what’s offered. I supposed that fits the theme of the “anima drought,” but it also makes anima a really unwieldy game mechanic.

The one new system I like the best is renown. It feels much more accessible and rewarding to build renown levels with a covenant than to grind out reputation.

Eppu: Renown is a nice change from grinding rep, you’re quite right. For such a long time, everything used to be a grind; it’s nice to have some variety.

What do you think about the transport networks within covenant zones?

Erik: I like them, and I also like that they are thematic to the zones they’re in. It’s a good combination of artistic and practical designs. (And we get to hang out with a cheerful old mushroom guy.)

Torghast

Erik: One new system that stands out from the rest is Torghast, the randomized, size-flexible dungeon. I have to say that Torghast is one of the best things in Shadowlands for me. I really like that there is content that is so replayable, with so much flexibility for difficulty level and group size. I’ve done a lot of solo running through Torghast, and we’ve done plenty of it together. For such a long time I have wished that there was content in WoW of a comparable challenge level to running a dungeon but tuned for two players instead of five, so that we could do something challenging but doable together. Torghast is finally that. I hope this is a system they keep developing for future expansions.

I also love how adaptable Torghast is. If I just want to go squish monsters and get fun new powers, I can set it low and crash through; if I want something that pushes me to use my skills an abilities to their fullest, I can set it high and enjoy the tactical challenge.

The one thing I wish were different about Torghast is that I wish there were some reward to running it beyond gathering materials for the legendary system. As fun as Torghast can be, it doesn’t really feel worthwhile to play when I know I won’t get any gear or new transmog appearances at the end, or much else to reward me for my time and effort.

Eppu: You’re right; for me, too, just about the only major flaw in Torghast is the lack of any fun transmog gear. (Otherwise, I still stand by my previous opinion.)

New zones

Eppu: I quite like the design of three new zones: Ardenweald, Bastion, and Revendreth. The really fascinating feature about the Shadowlands landscapes is how aggressively height differences—ledges, ridges, ginormous trees, stupendously tall buildings, levitating platforms—are used to squeeze questing areas side by side in order to keep the whole zone from ballooning out to an uncontrollable size. Blizzard has used the same principle before; in Shadowlands it’s really matured, but I don’t think you could take it any further without land shapes turning ludicrous. (Then again, this is fantasy, perhaps they could do it and make it work!)

It’s an interesting choice to tweak each zone’s color scheme so far, though—it’s not unheard of to have a subtle overall color in zones (e.g. Icecrown, Suramar, or Drustvar)—but this time Blizzard really pushed it. There have been times when I’ve switched zones after a while, because I’ve wanted more variation in the colors around my toon.

Lastly, I’m irritated that moving between covenant zones only can take place via Oribos. (Forced hub-centered travel is one of my pet peeves in the real world, too.)

Erik: I agree about wishing for ways to get between zones that don’t rely on Oribos. I understand the idea of Oribos as a central point, but we’ve seen individuals travel directly between zones in the questing experience, and I see no reason we as players couldn’t have gotten some options for that, too.

The artistic design of the zones is really strong this expansion. Each zone feels very different not just in terms of color palette but landforms and buildings. There are some that I like (Bastion, Ardenweald) and some I don’t (Revendreth, Maldraxxus), but every zone feels like a deeply concentrated expression of an idea. I find that Bastion and Maldraxxus feel small, while Ardenweald and Revendreth feel big. I wonder if that’s intentional, or just an effect of how I experience the zones.

And then there’s the Maw. All I can say is that they did such a good job designing the zone to feel like a bad place to be that I spend as little time there as possible. If the Maw was supposed to be what kept our characters occupied once they got to max level, it missed the mark.

Although my favorite covenant is the Night Fae, I think my favorite zone to spend time in is Bastion. Do you have a favorite?

Eppu: Hm. Ardenweald or Bastion, for both have strong pros and some cons. Although I have to say none of the areas feel quite right for hanging out with my numerous female Dwarves.

WoW Shadowlands Bastion Near Heros Rest

Story

Erik: I’ve enjoyed the story of Shadowlands on the whole. It’s interesting to go to a new place we’ve never known about before and start figuring out just how it all works. We have met a lot of compelling characters and seen some great moments along the way. They’ve done a lot with the characters we interact with to help us understand the nature of the different realms of the Shadowlands, from the earnest soul-searching of the Kyrian aspirants to the gung-ho warmongering in Maldraxxus, the intertwining of despair and hope in Ardenweald, and the crumbling ancien regime in Revendreth.

The parts of the story that haven’t worked for me have been the overarching plot involving the Jailer and the Maw. I know some people really enjoy digging up secrets and spinning tin-foil-hat theories about the nefarious motives of cosmic powers, but I’m not among them. The Jailer is just one more generic villain to me. I am also utterly uninterested in Tyrande’s super-powered vengeance rampage or the emotional life of Sylvanas. As so often in expansions past, I find the little, ground-level stories in Shadowlands much more interesting than the big story of the overarching plot. Give me more Kyrian buddy cops and Night Fae drama nerds, not another giant villain vaguebooking about their plans to conquer reality.

Eppu: I’m trying to figure out just why I felt that playing through the zones differed from previous expansions. The basic progression through all of the covenant zones is surprisingly similar from area to area—until you hit Maldraxxus. There we get an item with runes periodically slapped on along with the story reveal, which felt more drastic to me than reveals elsewhere. The other areas felt more or less like the usual quest grind. Combined with the utterly unique landscape design ethos, Maldraxxus really stands out to me.

Have a take of your own? Do chime in!

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Scenes from Among the Trolls

Forbidden Studios is an independent game development studio based in Turku, Finland. Their first game is in development now. Recently the studio shared a few more pictures from Among the Trolls on Twitter:

Among the Trolls Forest w Birch

All of the scenery looks absolutely lovely, very much like home, which I’m not used to seeing in a video game, and they prompted me to go look for more. Below are a few other shots that reflect a location firmly based on traditional Finland:

Among the Trolls Cabin Interior

A traditional cabin with what’s clearly a ryijy wall hanging. Nice.

Among the Trolls Sauna

It’s a sauna! Ha! 🙂

I’m now looking forward to hearing more about the story. At this writing the description only says “Among the Trolls is a first-person survival action adventure where the strange mysteries of Nordic forests are unraveled.”

On the basis of the current demo video, among other things you can pan for gold and have a sauna bath; at least two things that are highly unusual. (In fact, a sauna bath provides more sisu in game, which can save your life when all else fails. How fabulous!) On Twitter, Forbidden Studios also shared a clip of rune singing, which is clearly a reference to the Kalevalaic poetry. More unique Finnish goodness!

There might be one potential problem, unfortunately. If the Forbidden Studios gallery and Twitter stream are anything to go by—and they might not—there is only one woman in the plot. (The protag’s grandmother Elina Kantola, who has disappeared along with her husband Aarne.) It could be a stylistic choice; it’s not at all uncommon for Finnish storytellers to focus on lone men in the woods. If true, however, that’s a problem for me.

As fantastic as it is to see the kinds of environments I grew up with reflected on screen, if there aren’t female characters beyond the obligatory Smurfette / wife / girlfriend / (grand)mother type, I’m not interested. At this point in my life the lack of multiple individual, nuanced women in a story is as hard and immediate a turn-off as horror and dystopia are.

Images by Forbidden Studios: Forest via Twitter. Cabin interior via their website. Sauna scene screencapped from the video demo.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

WoW: Reminiscing about Past Feature Additions

Our home is finally starting to function and look like a home (instead of a storage area for n+1 boxes) after our transatlantic move. We’ve been even able to play World of Warcraft a little in the midst of cleaning and organizing and bureaucracy and starting work again.

That got us reminiscing about the various expansions, specifically their new features we liked or loved at the time that have since become—begging your pardon for the pun—quite vanilla.

Below are some of my favorite changes, listed in expansion order.

(FYI: I just couldn’t remember and failed to find online the exact timing for some features, so I’ve given my best guess. If you know, please let me know in the comments!)

The Burning Crusade

-Ahh, the amazing, breathtaking sky over Hellfire Peninsula!

-Multiple flight points per zone—what is this awesome magic?

-Expanding the availability of paladins (one of my favorite classes).

WoW BC Hellfire Peninsula Skies

Wrath of the Lich King

-In Northrend the environmental design definitely progressed from lumps of mashed potato. (Overall, though, they really didn’t know what to do with the icy zones, Icecrown and Storm Peaks.)

-Improved music, especially the Grizzly Hills intro music. That’s still one of my all-time favorite WoW themes.

Cataclysm

-Changes to Orgrimmar and Stormwind. It took me time to get used to, but I wouldn’t go back.

-Flying in old world zones.

-Phasing, but only when it doesn’t mess up the rest of the gameplay.

Mists of Pandaria

-Pandaria is where the environment design turns truly good. By this I mean natural-looking shapes in the landscapes, undergrowth with variety (including height), mountains that look like actual mountains, etc. To be sure, Cataclysm tried very hard as well, but graphics just got so much better by MoP that it was more feasible to do better. (Trees still look clunky, though.)

-Area-of-effect looting. The shift-click looting did help, but, man, I NEVER want to go back to picking. Each. Individual. Loot. Item. One. At. A. Time—AOE loot helps so much.

-11th character slot per realm. Obviously it’s changed again since, but at the time it was big.

WoW Pandaria Jade Forest Arboretum

Warlords of Draenor

-The toons’ new and improved looks. I didn’t like losing some of my favorite female Dwarf faces, but overall the change was good.

-The little gold coin marker for vendor trash in your bags. Hated it first, grew to love it.

-No fighting over gathering nodes anymore, since more than one player can get the same one. (If it was WoD? Or was it Legion?)

WoW Arms Warrior Roar

Legion

-The new transmogging system that automatically saves all applicable reward looks into your wardrobe. Oh, and being able to hide certain gear slots in your mog.

-Trees look so. Much. Better!

-Worldquests.

Flight Master’s Whistle.

WoW Legion Druid Classhall Xmas Gear Dec 2018

Battle for Azeroth

-Allied races.

-This is slightly esoteric, and definitely not a gameplay feature, but I love the penguin sledding world quests!

-Overall my favorite expansion, by the way.

Shadowlands

New customizations for the core races (skin, hair, jewellery).

-After opening Shadowlands with your first character, being able to choose whether you do the storyline or not on subsequent toons.

Torghast, of course.

I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a lot. Love to share your favorite tweaks to the game? Comments are open!

Images: screencaps from World of Warcraft.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.