Unleashing the Beast

Those of you who keep up with my increasingly irregular diatribes on the House of Paincakes have no doubt bewailed and bemoaned the recent loss of my RPG mojo (and if you haven’t, I don’t wish to hear about it, so could you just feign a spot of bewailing and bemoaning for the sake of appearances? ta very).

The good news is, I’ve found it again, down the back of a sofa in Wolverhampton. Over half term, the Dark Ages Vampire game received a monumental boot up the arse as I finally got to run a proper RP session of some eight hours. With all respect to the in-house group, whose preferences are clear, valid and informed, two and a half hours of intermittent play is not as rewarding as eight hours of sustained play, and that’s an end to it. The Dark Ages game is everything that I think a good game should be – by turns moving, hilarious, wildly improvised by the minute but excruciatingly planned in the grand scale.

It feels like something of a professional failure to admit this, but it might be that I’m burned out less on RPGs than I am on introducing people to them; maybe there is such a thing as too much teaching, and maybe doubling up on andragogy at home and at work is a nasty case of making my hobby into my job. After all, I oblige myself to teach people things for four days a week, and it’s not outside the realms of possibility that what I do on the other three should constitute a break from that.

James S, who is usually right about these things, suggested that maybe there’s an incompatibility between the kind of RPGin’ that I find rewarding, which is borne out of years upon years of playing and thinking about these games, and the kind of RPGin’ that works as a demonstration to people who’ve come to the practice later in life. Given that my other voyage into RPG-town, a short session of Pathfinder based on the Histhaven module I still have sitting around from Free RPG Day last year, was an over-planned stall-fest which didn’t really serve as a worthy demonstration of the hobby to any of the nabs involved, I think he might be right. While this does make me feel a little disappointed in myself, and wonder how Hark managed to get into playing – maybe it’s because she was the only novice in an otherwise experienced group, and there’s a critical mass of new players that makes the kind of game I run a little awkward – I’m not entirely sure that I care all that much, since… well, this is supposed to be not-work, after all, and though I do take a lot of what I know about stuff (including teaching) and apply it to the RPG experience (and vice versa), I’m starting to wonder if it really has to be my job to sell this thing I do to new people.

So, that’s one place that I’ve found my mojo. The other place is in the shiny new toy I bought myself after I paid off my MA loan and fried my desktop in the same week. I’ve bought myself a shiny new laptop and, despite an initial compulsion to dub it simply ‘the Beast’, she’s proven too pretty for that so I’ve named her Morrigan.

15.6″ Genesis IV:
Intel i7 Quad-Core Processor (2.40 GHz)
16 GB Kingston Hyper-x Genesis 1600 MHz DDR RAM
NVidia GeForce GT 640M (2GB DDR)
120GB Kingston V+200 SSD
something called a DVD drive, don’t really use those
Gigabit LAN and Wireless Intel Ultimate-N 6300 (450Mbps)
Windows 7 Home Premium
and a cooling stand.

In a triumph of Frugalism, she was specced out through comparison with what Alienware are currently hocking and then, at the sage counsel of some learned colleagues, actually built (to a slightly higher spec) for about two thirds of the price by PC Specialist, who I am recommending to all my friends, as well as the wastrels who read my blog.

The long and the short of it all is that for the last few weeks I’ve had a computer which can a) reliably connect to the Internet and b) run WoW very comfortably indeed, while doing a good deal of other stuff in the background. This has meant I have plunged myself into those Mists of Pandaria that there’s been all the talk about, and the thing is, stop me if this sounds utterly barking, it’s been… fun. Fun in a way that the last expansion utterly failed to be after a few hours in the beta test.

One of the people with whom I conduct guild business has suggested that Cataclysm stalled so badly in part because Deathwing just wasn’t that interesting, especially not after we’d just toppled an adversary who some of us had been engaged with for over a decade and actually remembered enabling the ascendancy of; partly because the attempt to accelerate Horde vs. Alliance conflict jarred with the “world is in peril and we must unite to save it” storyline; and partly, crucially, because not much changed about the way players actually interacted with the game.

Well, Pandaria has definitely changed a few things, like gutting the whole micromanagement of talents thing and, in general, ensuring that the three specialisations available to each class actually play differently from one another. In some cases, like the Paladin or the Druid or the Monk, this is pretty easy, as they’re all hybridised for the three classic MMO roles; in some, like the Shaman, there’s a distinction between melee damage, ranged damage and some other role. In some, like my preferred Rogue and Warlock (why yes, I like to PvP, I’m glad you noticed), the challenge has been to make three different flavours of melee or ranged damage dealer.

They’ve done a sterling job of it, those Blizzard people. I’ve never been into Destruction Warlocking, I always thought it looked too much like playing a Mage, but man, Affliction and Demonology have never felt so different, nor so flexible. I have an Affliction build that runs on instant-cast fear spells and souped-up pets, and a Demonology build that actually doesn’t require me to summon a pet for more than a few seconds every hour and encourages me to close the distance, bung some auras up and start hitting things and throwing them around and dropping meteors on them. It’s hilarious. It’s different. It works, and I don’t feel like an idiot for trying it because there aren’t any obvious must-do-this routes into playing the classes. I don’t know if part of that isn’t quitting the raid guild and going back to just playing things how I want to, it might well be, but the change is there and it is real and it is fun.

On that topic of playstyles, the arrival of a whole new continent where the developers have actually thought that preserving some empty space with interactable objects for people to RP in and providing a story with some controversial elements for people to react to has, shockingly, invigorated the old RP scene a bit. People are starting to trickle back from Star Wars: TOR and Guild Wars II and all those other things they buggered off to do when Cataclysm got boring, and there’s stuff for them to do and stuff that makes them want to do it and spaces to do stuff in and basically, it’s all looking like fun again.

And I never have to run things. That’s a big part of the appeal. That I am quite willing to put my feet up and participate as a player is making the WoW-RP invaluable in getting my proper-RP head together, and it’s showing in a resurgence of that capacity to think deeply about the games that I actually enjoy, put a lot into them and get a lot out of them.

It’s a shame that the Backswords and Bucklers didn’t really take off, or turn out all that fulfilling, but it’s taught me a lesson that I’d like to share with you all. It doesn’t matter what the Internet cool kids are playing. It doesn’t matter how much you appreciate the distinctions between story gaming and the old school renaissance and the different gaming experiences offered by each one. ‘Your game’ will always be the one which, intellectual engagement aside, you give enough of a crap about to play, and actually enjoy playing.

With that in mind, I’m off to blow shit up with my Warlock, and I’m running some Vampire on Sunday.

5 thoughts on “Unleashing the Beast

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  1. I completely share your Pandaria analysis. It’s more fun than ever to try new classes, given that you don’t have to read up on builds for hours – the way a spec works is now evident through the game itself.

    Since I’ve started playing a warlock, I’m interested in how you run that pet-less demonologist? Sounds different and I’d like to give it a shot.

    1. I’ll do a full post on the Warlock spec later, ’cause I think it’s sort of interesting and it may be a way to blog about WoW. Still trying to work out how to say anything interesting about the game…

      1. Cool, I look forward to it.

        While we’re on the subject, here’s an article you might find interesting. It’s about how Blizzard’s design has started to lean toward the casual player, and how they’re keeping gameplay fresh by replacing huge chunks every now and then. Very much like Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast.


  2. Glad to hear you a good game! I er… have to admit I skipped all the stuff you wrote about WoW because I’ve never played it, but that’s good advice at the end there.

    Your new computer sounds pretty nice too. I’ve been wanting an Alienware laptop mainly because I like that it has a glowing grey alien face in the front, but they’re a little pricey as you implied. Maybe I should do what you did and put some stickers on it so it makes me feel like a cyberpunk.

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