Monk Set Mastery

Monk is probably the class I have played the least in D3. I mean I don’t love the barbarian, but I had at least leveled one to 70. Not so with Monk. That made a bit of extra challenge, since I had to spend a lot of time leveling and farming to get reasonable gear for this project. After having done these dungeons, I still don’t really enjoy monk, but I’m not as intimidated and annoyed at playing melee.

MonkBanner

The first monk dungeon I tried was the Inna’s Mantra one, entirely because that’s the first full set I found via my farming. That might have been a mistake. Inna’s is one of the dungeons where too much power is a terrible thing. The objectives are to avoid getting frozen, which is incredibly easy, and to unleash mystic allies on 10 enemies within 10 yards (x5). Unfortunately my allies were a bit too helpful and kept killing the enemies well before I could round up a group of 10. I had to play a game of stripping off my legendary gems and swapping out gear until I got to a point where I could meet this objective even once in the dungeon, much less 5 times. I finally got it thanks to a combination of moving gear around and getting extremely lucky with spawns of enemies. In the end I had to remove one of my rings entirely, which seems questionable. Definitely a frustrating start to this group of dungeons.

Next up was the Dungeon of the Raiment of a Thousand Storms. The two objectives are very straightforward, reach the golden chest in under 2 minutes and do not get hit by a single succubus projectile. This took a couple tries, since you have to find a good balance between clearing the early parts of the dungeon and getting to the middle of the maze to hit the chest in time. The first few times through I could either hit the chest or clear enough enemies but not both. Eventually I found that clearing most of the straight outside path, rushing to the chest, then backtracking through the maze seemed to work pretty well. Even though it took a few attempts, this one felt more like a fun challenge than an annoyance. I liked it!

Third on the list was Uliana’s Stratagem. The first time through I didn’t complete either of the objectives, I’m not sure whether that is the fault of the dungeon or my unfamiliarity with monk. The requirements are to simultaneously explode 15 enemies marked with exploding palm (x4), and to take no fire damage at all. Only the elites have fire attacks, but unfortunately the dungeon itself has various fire traps in the floor you have to watch out for. This dungeon is also quite large and sprawling, so it pays to either look up a map or run it a couple times to get used to the layout. On my second attempt I got both objectives but was still missing around 50 enemies, simply because I hadn’t cleared fast enough. I ended up “cheating” the fire damage with the Star of Azkaranth, and got it on my 4th try.

Last but not least was the Sunwuko (Monkey King) set dungeon. The objectives are to maintain sweeping wind for the duration of the dungeon, and use decoys to hit 20 different enemies in 6 seconds (x5). On my first try of the dungeon, I both failed to keep up sweeping wind and also died because I was dumb. I got the mastery on the second attempt. I’d say this was definitely one of the easier dungeons to master. The map is big but manageable with dashing strike, and there were plenty of enemy groups to hit for the decoy objective. I think there’s a legendary belt that might have helped me keep up sweeping wind more easily, but I didn’t have it and I managed fine without it.

This group of set dungeons was a very mixed bag. They ranged from incredibly annoying (Inna’s), to very easy (Sunwuko’s). They also included one with a gimmick that I suspect some people probably hate but I thought was actually pretty fun (the golden chest in Thousand Storms). I was afraid at the outset that I was going to struggle more than usual with these since I had never played monk before, but it turned out not to be much worse than any of my other set dungeon struggles. Now only the barbarian stands between me and two pairs of awesome wings!

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Book Challenge #91: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

I’ve been reading at what feels like a pretty good pace, and so it is challenge time once again! This is #91 on the list, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury published in 1951.


This is the second book in a row that made me wonder how the heck it ended up on this list. Unlike the last one, this one isn’t mediocre or out-of-genre. It just isn’t a novel. The Illustrated Man is a collection of short stories, tied together loosely through the construct of the titular illustrated man, whose moving tattoos tell stories that play out every night. The illustrated man concept is a neat wrapper, but it didn’t fit all that well with the general theme of space stories over most of the book. Overall it was enjoyable, but this book feels weird to have on this list. Although now I’m really interested in a “top 100 sci-fi short story collections” list because I would read the hell out of that.

Since it is a collection it is a bit difficult to pin down any general thoughts on this one. I enjoy Bradbury’s style and there’s some nice thought-provoking tales in here. Some of the writing feels dated at times, and occasionally suffers from the curse of “this feels really cliched now but it probably wasn’t as much of a cliche when it was written”. Many of the stories are also very grim, so much so that this collection could instead be called “Many new and awful ways to die in space.” Even when the content is harsh the stories are usually thoughtful, and often contain a humanity that often gets lost in short fiction like this. Too many times short stories can be more about the twist or “aha!” moment than about characters or places, but some of these stories combat that nicely. One of my favorites from this collection is about a family where the father is a spacer and the mother acts like he is already dead to shield herself from what she believes is his inevitable death out in the stars. There’s still a twist but by the time you get there you at least understand a bit about this family and how they survive with each other.

 

TL;DR:  A nice collection of Bradbury’s short stories, in which many people die in space.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: I’d recommend it if you like Bradbury or sci-fi in general from that era. With lots of stories you will likely find something to enjoy.

Next up: The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

Book Challenge #95: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

Once again it is my reading challenge list time. This time we’re discussing #95, The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. The first volume, Red Mars, was published in 1993. The subsequent two novels, Green Mars and Blue Mars were published in 1994 and 1996 respectively. This time we get two firsts for my book challenge. This is the first time I’m revisiting a book I’ve already read, and the first time I enjoyed a series entry enough to read more than the first book. I had read Red Mars a few years ago and remembered liking it, but I never read the other two. This time around I decided to give them a shot, which is why there’s been so much time since my last book post!


Since this is a series I wanted to comment on the books independently before I give my final verdict, so let’s walk through each book.

Red Mars: This is the story of the colonization of Mars. The novel actually starts off in the middle of the story with a point of crisis, then goes back to show the journey of the “first 100” colonists from their voyage from Earth through several decades of life on Mars. This is definitely a hard science fiction novel, and if you don’t recognize words like thermokarst or polyna you might be spending some quality time with a dictionary as you read. However, this novel also looks at the social interactions between the first 100 and the larger political landscape with just as much interest and detail, and that’s why the book is so engaging to me.

We get to see the landscape of this alien world, and how human activity changes it for better or worse. Some characters want to preserve Mars as much as possible, others want to terraform it completely, with various factions at different positions between these extremes. All of these intentions also get clouded by normal human things, romantic entanglements, pettiness, greed, and jealousy. In the end Mars becomes a very different place, and most of the original 100 colonists have died, but you are still left on an optimistic note because there are some groups still standing and there is still work to be done.

I remembered enjoying this book a lot when I first read it, and I enjoyed it again this time so I decided to keep reading the next in the series. Considered on its own I’d be tempted to give this one a rating of 4.5 or even 5 out of 5.

Green Mars: This one picks up a bit after Red Mars left off, starting with the hidden colony under the polar ice cap. At this point at least 2 generations have been born on Mars, and initially it seemed like the story was going to follow mainly their stories but in fact like the first book it bounces around between lots of characters. The points of view include the grandchildren of the original 100, new immigrants from Earth, and several of the first 100 who are still around.

Like the first book, there’s a lot of the science of Mars here, along with other disciplines like economics and sociology. I’ve got a firm grounding in a lot of the science so I was fascinated by it, but if for example you don’t know or care why the percentage of nitrogen in the atmosphere is important then there will probably be big chunks of this book that don’t appeal.

The story here isn’t too different from the later half of Red Mars. There’s fascinating worldbuilding (both in the literary sense and the actual terraforming of Mars sense), but it is also extremely slow paced. I’m invested in the surviving members of the first 100 but it is strange seeing them live to unnatural ages, still driving the destiny of Mars when they should be part of its history. By the time I finished I was satisfied with the story but also unsure whether I wanted to invest the time reading the last book in the series. Taken on its own I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Red Mars, more like a 3.5 out of 5 rating.

Blue Mars: This book is even more of the same. There’s a lot of long descriptions of martian scenery punctuated by the politics of Mars and the little vignettes that make up the long lives of the novel’s characters. There were a couple of moments in this one that fell flat for various reasons ranging from changes in the characters to lack of obvious narrative direction. The one that broke my suspension of disbelief the most was seeing Sax, the quintessential scientist, be amazed at the existence of a woman math genius. It felt weirdly inconsistent not just with my hope for progress, but with the novel itself, a world hundreds of years in the future where we’ve colonized Mars, where people of different genders and races seem to share life and work and politics and everything else fairly equally.

The few times where I got jolted out of the story in this book also made me think hard about what the narrative was about, and whose story it really is. There’s not much of a coherent journey in Blue Mars for any one character. Instead I suppose this book and the series as a whole are really the story of Mars itself as it gets infected with life and evolves over a few hundred years, or perhaps the story of humanity as it leaves the Earth behind. Taken on its own this was my least favorite of the three books. I would rate it 3/5.

TL;DR: Red Mars is pretty great and I’d recommend it. The other two books in the series have some interesting ideas but get bogged down by slow pacing and lots of descriptive text.

The Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) by Kim Stanley Robinson

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: Thought-provoking hard sci-fi about colonizing another planet, and about social and political power. It is a very long, slow read but full of interesting ideas that make the journey worth it. Would especially recommend the first book of the trilogy.

Next up: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.

March 2017 Gaming Goals

Another month, another chance to see how badly I failed to meet my gaming goals. How did I do in February?

February Goals

FFXIV: Finish the available Main Story Questline and see the new-to-me raid content.  – Check! Well, almost. I’ve done all of alexander and Dun Scaith, plus Sophia. The only thing I’m still missing is the last trial of the warring triad, and I’m hoping to see that this week.

FFXV: Pick this back up and play at least 2 chapters. – Nope! I did pick it back up. I really really tried to play. But where I left off skytroopers kept dropping in on me every few minutes and they were so much higher level than me I had no chance. Running away constantly is not super fun. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong but I’m probably going to have to restart or ask for help so I can move on.

WildStar: Keep playing once a week, and get my new esper alt to level 30.- Sadly Nope. I played a little in February but my interest tapered off as I got drawn deeper and deeper into the FFXIV abyss.

Justice Monsters V: Clear all of the quests on any difficulty. -Nope. I really thought I’d get through this but I didn’t quite make it. I’ve been playing but mostly farming crystals to upgrade my monsters instead of doing the quests.


March Goals

FFXIV: Keep up with the MSQ as it releases. I don’t want to be left behind when the expansion arrives.

Get at least one more job to 60. This should be easy since ninja is at 58 and astrologian is at 56. I just want at least one more option to mess around with in the down time before Stormblood.

Do the new Hildebrand quests. I haven’t even started the new set that came along during Heavansward. I should probably get on that.

Avoid burnout! This is a strange one, but one of my goals for March is to play FFXIV a bit LESS than I have been. I’ve been running all the raids and doing my daily roulettes and chain running palace of the dead recently. I need to dial things back a bit so I’m not burnt out before all the fun new stuff gets here.

WildStar: Keep playing every week. I’m holding on to this game by a thread and I don’t want to fall completely away from it again. I need to keep setting aside a little time for it.

FFXV: Make some headway. Either by forging ahead through the troubles I’ve been having with random encounters, or by starting over and seeing if I can get myself off to a better start. I really want to love this game but after my initial infatuation with it I’ve been bouncing off it so hard.

Horizon Zero Dawn: I was fully prepared to miss out on this one, or at least wait a while until the price came down. However the amazon prime preorder discount coupled with a forgotten gift card leftover from xmas meant that it’s actually within my budget. I started it last night and so far it’s been AMAZING so I think I’ll be pretty motivated to finish this one.


It’s a pretty FFXIV heavy month here honestly. I’m hoping I can walk the line of getting things wrapped up before the expansion and not completely burning myself out.

I’m a Bard

I had a lovely long weekend and spent most of it doing increasingly silly things in FFXIV, and tying up loose ends in WoW. On the WoW front, I’ve been gradually losing interest since Nighthold released, and only partially sure why other than being distracted by FFXIV. I’ve resolved to let my subscription lapse for a little while, so I spent some time cleaning up my bags, making sure my mail was empty, and other housekeeping things. I realized that the Love is in the Air event was about to end and I had barely even tried to get a rocket this year, and I’m surprisingly ok with that. Even though they changed it so you don’t have to be max level to try, I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough to grind myself into the dirt trying for such a low drop chance mount. I did grind archaeology a little bit, since the bi-weekly quest is currently rewarding a ghost moose mount. Somehow grinding for a set endpoint is much easier to stomach than grinding for a tiny random drop chance. Anyway now I’ve got a sweet new mount and can walk away from the game for a break in style.

On the Final Fantasy front I am fully engaged in what feels like a series of weird side projects with no main overarching goal. My scholar is now geared enough that I feel comfortable that I’ll be able to get into whatever the next set of dungeons is without issue. That means that I’m still slowly working on her gear but it is no longer any sort of priority. I also managed to get my summoner’s gear over the threshold needed for expert roulette. This not only means that I get showered in upgrades, but also that I can actually run dungeons with my healer buddy again finally. Hooray! Mostly the end-game stuff feels like keeping time until the next new thing arrives, and I’m ok with that. I have a lot of other silly things vying for my attention.

One of the silliest things actually got completed this weekend. I finally finished my scholar’s zeta weapon. It took way too long, and probably wouldn’t have happened if most of the steps hadn’t been nerfed into the ground by the time I got to them, but I still feel weirdly proud and happy to have completed it. I will be starting the Heavensward weapon quest soon, but it will be nice to take a breather for a little bit before I start.
bard
Another thing I’ve been doing a lot of is running Palace of the Dead. In my last update about my bard, she was trapped deep in the hell of the subligar levels. As of Monday she’s now level 50 and looking much better. I didn’t have any ironworks gear laying around for bard, but I did have some ilevel 100 gear that looks just lovely with her garuda bow thank you very much. Aside from the bard I’ve also gotten my lancer and marauder up to 30 this way, which means I have a freshly minted dragoon and warrior. I doubt I will be playing either of them very often but it has been fun to try them out and to see their class stories. Now I am only missing monk, paladin, and dark knight and I’ll have all the combat jobs unlocked.

The last week or so have seen a renewed flurry of activity in my free company, with lots of new faces and old friends returning to the game in preparation for Stormblood. It has been really fun introducing some people to the game, or helping folks gear up and run new-to-them content. Playing with friends definitely helps make a game more fun and more “sticky”, I’m constantly bouncing around doing all kinds of things I probably wouldn’t be doing on my own. My only real concern is that I’m going to get burned out before Stormblood gets here, so I’m planning in advance to take a mini break before that happens. Other than that I’m settling in and enjoying all the company and the silly things to do!

The Subligar Levels

ffxiv_02132017_234555

I’ve been playing more FFXIV than anything else for the past week or so. This has led to some fun times and some questionable fashion choices. Not that anybody would choose to wear this outfit if it weren’t the best available gear for the level. The subligar levels are not kind.

Palace of the Dead got added to the game right around the point when I was drifting away, so even though I was subscribed at the time I never ran it. Since I’ve been back I’ve been making up for lost time, chain running it to level some alt classes and score a sweet weapon upgrade for my scholar. I waffled a lot over what class to level. I started with my ninja since that’s closest to being done but by the time I hit 55 I needed a break. Then I decided I wanted to level all my low classes together so I could start getting rid of lowbie gear. I managed to get everything to at least 26 or so before a clear winner emerged. So now I find myself leveling a bard.

Barding it up in the random levels of PotD is a super relaxing time. Unlike ninja, where I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with my ability buttons, bard has a rotation I can keep on top of with relative ease. It also keeps me safely out of melee and back in my comfort zone, as far away from angry monsters as possible. Running the 51-100 floors means the exp is coming at a furious pace, plus I can start working on more weapons now that my scholar’s is fully upgraded. I suspect when I hit 50 and the exp slows down I might get bored and swap to something else for a while, but for now I’m having a blast.

Meanwhile my scholar is also making progress. On the nonsense front, I’ve moved to the zodiac stage of my relic weapon quest thanks to my old FC mate who was gracious enough to bake me some sort of horrible eel pie so I could finish the prior step. Now I just need to farm some light to finish that off so I can start on the Heavensward version. Let’s all take a moment of silence in memory of my sanity.

In the slightly-less-nonsense realm, I’ve continued to make steady progress gearing up. Notable additions include the previously-mentioned weapon from PotD, and the healer hat from Dun Scaith. The hat came with a side of salt, since I won it while running with my white mage buddy who desperately wanted it for transmog but had already won an item on the previous boss. Ah, those delicious white mage tears. To add insult to injury I immediately glamoured it into the scholar tophat because the scholar tophat is the best tophat. Sorry friend!

I’m not sure if I’ll get to try out my new hat at our weekly FC raid night this week since tonight is some sort of holiday or something. I am sure that I’ll be spending a lot of time in Eorzea this week though. Hopefully it will be enough to get my bard far far away from the subligar levels for good.

Gaming Goals February 2017

Whoops I posted in a new month without going over my gaming goals first. Let’s remedy that, shall we? First, a look back at January’s goals

January  Goals

WoW: Get that starbunny pet. Nope. I didn’t solo a single raid or even look for pets on the auction house. My WoW time took a nosedive last month, and I’m taking it off the goal list for February.

Diablo 3: Get all the cosmetic goodies from Season 9. Yes! And I got my stash tab! This is the closest I’ve ever come to finishing the season journey entirely, since I got 3 conquests done without too much trouble.

Get all the goodies and achievements from the Diablo anniversary event. Yes! It took a couple evenings of farming temporal priests and named monsters but I got it done before the event ended.

Destiny: Run some strikes with friends. Nope. Barely played Destiny at all last month.

Justice Monsters V: Clear the normal quests on Master difficulty. Nope. I discovered another round of quests past the 10-x series that have dual elemental focus so I’ve been working my way through those.

WildStar: Play once a week. Yes! I’ve actually been playing a little here and there and really enjoying myself again. It turns out that leveling a new alt was just what the space zombie doctor ordered.


February Goals

FFXIV: Finish the available Main Story Questline and see the new-to-me raid content. This is all locked behind an item level requirement of 230 or 235 so it means a bit of grinding but I’m sure I can get there.

FFXV: Pick this back up and play at least 2 chapters. The game is great and for some reason I dropped it suddenly. I need to make progress on it so I can eventually talk about it on the podcast!

WildStar: Keep playing once a week, and get my new esper alt to level 30. I’m keeping these goals modest because I don’t want to wreck a good thing. I’m just happy to be back in the game and see some of my old friends again.

Justice Monsters V: Clear all of the quests on any difficulty. I’m revising my goal from last month since there’s a bunch of quests I didn’t know existed then! I’d also really love to upgrade one of my monsters to legendary before the game ends, but without pouring money into a dying game that seems unlikely to happen.

Solo Dungeoning

I finally got myself back into WildStar on a regular basis this month. I’m still having trouble finding purpose on my max-level main, but I’ve been doing what I love most and running expeditions. The last time I played with any regularity was right when the Arcterra content was launching. Because of that, I never played through the Vault of the Archon story dungeon. Now I have fixed that oversight.

The Vault of the Archon is the second max level story dungeon, and it is focused on solving the mystery that is uncovered at the end of Omnicore-1. As an Exile, I got to journey alongside Deadeye Brightland and Dorian Walker in search of Eldan secrets. To be honest, the whole thing was worthwhile just to listen to the banter between these two characters. There’s a mechanic where you have to scout ahead and secure safe spots for everyone, and each time you clear a new one they have a small conversation when they catch up to you. On my first playthrough I didn’t do all of the side content so I only saw a small part of their interaction, but the second time I made sure to clear the entire place just so I could hear them talk. I would love more of this kind of storytelling in games please.

As for the dungeon itself, it wasn’t super challenging in my out-of-date raid gear but it was fun. If I want a real solo challenge I’ll be getting one in their next update anyway with the new expedition and “Mythic +” style scaling difficulty. Doing all of the optional exploration in the dungeon for a gold medal was pretty time consuming but now that I know my way around I’m sure it will speed up. There’s way more encounters in this one than in Omnicore-1 if you do a full clear. Running both of these story dungeons back to back took up an evening of playtime but did a great job of reminding me why my heart will always belong on Nexus.

January 2017 Gaming Goals

Let’s see how I did with my very modest December goals, shall we?

December Goals

WoW

Clear Trial of Valor: Yay we did this! I’m lucky to have a raid team that I still enjoy playing with and that seems to be making reasonable progress. Also bonus rainbows.

Level a hordie alt to 110: Technically I finished this on January 2, but I’ll call it a win anyway. My horde priest is now at 110 and can go back to being abandoned as soon as I finish her order hall campaign.

Complete the new raiding with leashes and get my starbunny pet: Nope. I’m still missing a couple pets from ICC and I didn’t run it once the whole month. Whoops.

Destiny

Get my connection issues resolved and play some strikes with my friends without getting disconnected: Well I got part A of this down, but never ran any strikes. Half of a goal is better than nothing I guess?

Get my light level up above 310: I did this and then some. Hooray for sparrow racing league!

WildStar

Play at least once a week: Nope. I can’t tell you how sad this makes me.

Diablo

Beat Diablo 2 in time for our Aggrochat game of the month podcast: Nope. I gave up partway into act 2. Some games are better left in the past.


January  Goals

WoW

Get that starbunny pet. I’m super unmotivated to work much on my main now that I got my 5% healing boost, so I should have plenty of time to finish this.

Diablo 3

Get all the cosmetic goodies from Season 9. Yay new pet!

Get all the goodies and achievements from the Diablo anniversary event. I’ve been looking forward to this since it was announced and I’m annoyed it didn’t start on the 31st! I want to play in glorious retrovision!

Destiny

Run some strikes with friends. Same goal as last month. I’m super casual about this game but it is definitely more fun with friends.

Justice Monsters V

Clear the normal quests on Master difficulty. I’m so sad they are pulling the plug on this game in March. Before it disappears I want to try to get through as much as I can.

WildStar

Play once a week. I’m gonna keep putting this on the list because I love WS and I really do want to play it. If I can just get over the “returning to a MMO inertia” I know I’ll enjoy myself.


That’s it for January goals. I’m trying to keep them modest again because I find if I have too many goals I get overwhelmed and end up accomplishing nothing. Here’s hoping this is the month I finally get back into WildStar!

December Gaming Goals

First, how did I do on my November goals?

November Wrap-up

WoW

Level another alt to 110 – Yep! Got my druid up there high enough to run LFR.

Get a Legendary for my Monk – Yes, though sadly it was literally the worst possible one.

Get one of the falcosaur mounts – Check! I’ve been riding my snowfeather since I got her.

Clear the new Karazhan – Check! We’ve fully cleared it two weeks in a row.

Destiny

Run some strikes with my friends – Sort of? I ran one strike with my friends, but when I tried to run more I kept getting disconnected.

WildStar

Play at least once a week – Fail. I’ve ducked in just twice in November.

Finish seeing the Arcterra content – Nope. Not even close 😦


December Goals

WoW

Clear Trial of Valor. We got Helya to phase 3 last night so hopefully as long as everyone keeps showing up for raid as the holiday approach we should get this.

Level a hordie alt to 110. My priest is 105 so hopefully this should be easy as long as I avoid more pugs like this one.

Complete the new raiding with leashes and get my starbunny pet. I only need one pet from the Lich King to get my invitation to Algalon’s trial.

Destiny

Get my connection issues resolved and play some strikes with my friends without getting disconnected.

Get my light level up above 310. I’m still sub 300 right now but if Bel keeps dragging me around this should go quickly.

WildStar

Play at least once a week. I’m gonna keep trying because damn it I love this game.

Diablo

Beat Diablo 2 in time for our Aggrochat game of the month podcast. Right now I’m almost finished with chapter 1 so I need to spend some quality time.


I set relatively modest goals for December because honestly I want to spend all my time playing Final Fantasy XV. I’m not setting any goals for it though because I don’t need any motivation to get me to play, and because I’m not far enough into it to know what reasonable goals would look like!