Reading Challenge #89: The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

It’s reading challenge time again! This time I’ll be sharing my thoughts on #89, The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. This a relatively modern novel, as it was published in 1991. It is also a romance novel, a type of fiction I probably have not willingly read since around 1991. I had plenty of warning. It’s right there in the description on Amazon that this is a time travel romance novel. I’m not sure why I was surprised that it ended up being exactly that. I guess deep down I am still an optimist.

TW: discussion of abuse, torture, sexual assault

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Stormblood This Week!

I have this weird mix of excitement and apprehension over the early-access launch of FFXIV Stormblood this weekend. On the one hand, I’m always glad when the stars align and all or most of my friends are actively playing the same game at the same time. On the other hand, I’m feeling pretty apathetic about FFXIV and MMOs in general lately. Sure, I had a brief burst of enthusiasm after the last live letter when we got to see cool things like the summoner getting to summon MFing Bahamut. However this has been tempered by the usual mix of positive changes, nerfs, and sidegrades that mean I’ll be relearning whatever class I decide to main. Because of course I still have not completely decided whether to be a scholar or astrologian this time around.

I wish I could steal some of the excitement my friends are feeling about this expansion. The sad truth is that I care even less about the Garlean empire and Doma than I did about the annoying pompous elves of Ishgard. I’m cautiously optimistic about the underwater content that’s been previewed. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know I’m a sucker for beautiful sea creatures and underwater zones. The general consensus in gaming, though, is that underwater zones are really hard to get right, and a lot of people hate them. Hopefully FFXIV does them justice.

I’ve been playing tons of WoW lately and you might think that means I’m not excited about Stormblood because I think WoW is “better”, but you’d be completely wrong. WoW is currently scratching an itch that is more about nostalgia and inertia than any sort of compelling gameplay. In fact the most joy I’ve gotten out of it recently has been from ignoring what I’m “supposed” to be doing and just faffing about on alts. This makes me suspect that my return to FFXIV could be smoother if I try not to care about getting through all the content quickly and instead focus on enjoying whatever happens to capture my attention. Unfortunately if I want to capitalize on the brief time when all my friends are around and active, I’ll want to level quickly and be available for dungeons, trials, and raids. I don’t want to miss out on that all-important first-time-seeing-the-instance fun. That fear of missing out doesn’t mean I have to power level, because my friends are mostly adult people with jobs and families and things that mean we can’t all play for a week straight. It does mean I should probably pick one job and move through the leveling story with a purpose so I don’t get left behind.

There’s no easy choice for me between SCH and AST but at least I know I’ll still be maining a healer either way. And regardless of my apathy about the expansion itself I am genuinely excited to hang out with my friends and kill internet dragons or whatever their Doman equivalent is again.

More Class Mounts

After my previous run of class mount acquisition I thought I’d slow down a bit. The next mount on the list was actually not a mount, but druid flight form. I like Thisalee Crow, so I was happy to help her when she asked. We’ve got to defend the shrine of Aviana from a demon invasion, and take back the idol they stole so we can restore the flight form for all the druids of the talon who depend on it. This quest was surprisingly action-packed, and even though I’m not quite sure yet whether I like the new flight form, I definitely liked the quest to get it.

WoWScrnShot_061017_235310Next up was my rogue. I have loved everything about the rogue class hall and story so far, and this one started off with my favorite buddy Lilian Voss so I was excited. Unfortunately this quest chain is somewhat pvp focused and it stressed me out a lot. You have to kill marked targets in each of the opposing faction’s capital cities. This means using a lot of your various rogue-y tricks to infiltrate and murder your target before you get caught by guards or players. After I finished this quest I kept seeing Alliance rogues hovering around outside the Horde cities and now I know why. I have so much sympathy for them. On the plus side, I think this might be my favorite mount of all the new class ones.

Warlock started off slow because you have to gather a bunch of items up front, and one item you need only drops from the end boss of legion invasions. It felt very parallel to the pally quest, which makes sense since both of those classes had previous mount questlines. However where they pally one made up for its annoying start with a nostalgic romp at the end, the warlock quest just felt annoying. It might be because I’m not great at playing a warlock, but I didn’t think their mount quest was very fun. I do really like their mounts though.

The demon hunter quest might have been the easiest of all of them. They just have a short scenario where you fly down to the planet of the felbats and have to punch the felbat brood mother until she decides to be your friend. Or something. You have to chase her around a little bit and there is a cool moment where you have to glide down to her and jump on her back in mid-air. There’s also a set-up where you can use your demon sight ability to try to track her down, but it wasn’t strictly necessary to complete the mission. I might have been cooler to set up something that made it more vital, but it is difficult to make that work and not just be annoying. I was fairly happy that it was easy anyway, since I still felt like I was recovering from the rogue quest even after several days’ break. The mount is kinda cool looking although I hate the weird blade-on-the-head thing.

The only character I have left at 110 that doesn’t have her mount yet is my hunter, and she’s still a few days’ worth of questing away from unlocking the start of that chain. My shaman is still level 100, and the highest level warrior I have is only in the 70s, so it will be a while. So far, aesthetically the rogue mount is my favorite. As far as the quests go, if the start of the paladin one hadn’t been so awful that one would probably be my favorite. But because of the hangup of having to get crafted items and Suramar stuff it got knocked down a peg. Instead I have to say that the priest quest has been my favorite overall.

Class Mount Quests!

After how long we’ve had to wait for them to unlock, I was half expecting the quests for the new class mounts in WoW to be epic and complicated and time-consuming. This was not the case, and honestly I’m glad. Leveling up all the alts and finishing all of the broken shore quests to unlock the class mount quest was enough of a challenge. And for those who are dedicated to one class, there are a few extra goodies like spec-specific mounts and bonus pets for unlocking concordance. For me as someone who merely dabbles in all the classes for completion’s sake, I’m happy I get to see this little extra flavor content, and increase my mount stable a bit in the process!

For all classes, you need to complete the “Breaching the Tomb” achievement in order for the mount quest to unlock. It has been a lot of painful busywork doing those quests over the past few weeks, waiting for each new one to open up with the weekly reset. Now that they’re all available you can motor through them on new alts with no waiting. The main things that will slow you down are having to wait for an invasion for one of the early quests, collecting nether shards (I wait to spend any on new alts until after I finish this quest), and completing the broken shore order hall missions (if your champions aren’t leveled and geared yet). That last one was my biggest sticking point on many alts, but now that the requirement has been nerfed from 3 missions down to 1 I can finally move forward.

I haven’t done all of them yet, but much like the initial class hall quests, the mount quests are quite variable. Spoilers and opinions about the specific quests follow.

The monk quest was the first one I did, since that is theoretically still my main. Also because I can use the mount on my baby monk for our level-locked silliness. I was all ready to have more fun times with beer because that was pretty much the entirety of the monk hall quest line, but sadly after buying beer for one Master in exchange for a story there was no brew to be had. The quest has you running back to the peak of serenity to look for the tiger spirit who traditionally serves as mount for the grandmaster. It seems he’s been in mourning since the guy you replaced was killed in the demon invasion, which is why you didn’t know anything about his existence until now. It definitely has a very strong monk flavor even without much beer in it, and the mount is extra cool because he is a sentient being and will occasionally talk to you. Since this is my main I will also be attempting to get concordance eventually so I can unlock the matching tiger pet as well.

Next I did the pally quest. Sadly, one of the first things you have to do is buy a gem from some elf in Suramar. Did I mention I almost entirely skipped Suramar on all my alts? Before I could do the mount quest, I had to do Suramar far enough to unlock the mask so the vendors would even talk to me, and then I discovered I needed 500 ancient mana. My current cap was 300 so I had to first run and find 2 of the items that increase your  cap, and then go pick a few flowers in the vineyard until I had enough to buy the gem. After this inauspicious start, the rest of the mount quest was amazing. It is a huge callback to the original paladin mount quest from vanilla. You get to go back to Stratholme and kill a bunch of undead with a NPC all-pally party, and eventually purify Rivendare’s mount to turn it into your sweet new holy steed. I’m not entirely sure how I brought that undead horse back to life but I still enjoyed this quest a lot!

The next class on the list for me was priest. As someone who used to main a disc priest, I have not been happy with the direction of the “class fantasy” or the feel of priest healing in this expansion. This makes everything I do on my priest bittersweet these days. Anyhow, the priest quest premise was intriguing: Magni Bronzebeard, the dwarf who turned into a diamond and now speaks for the spirit of the planet itself, had a vision and sent me off on my quest. After my own heart, the quest sent me deep under the ocean in a submarine to a lost titan vault. Once there I got to see some banter between the Bronzebeard brothers and relive one of the most annoying Wrath-era dungeon fights with snarky dwarven commentary. It could have been obnoxious but I found it really charming. It didn’t feel especially “priest flavored” but it was an amazing quest and definitely one of my favorites. It also helps that I like the look of the priest mount a lot.

After priest, I tackled the mage quest. For that one you chase down a magic flying disc that Antonidas had been working on. It involved tracking down a couple archmages in various places around the world, and then a trial in the Eye of Eternity. I was hoping for some clever puzzles or something here but it was mostly a matter of tracking down the right mage and asking nicely if I could have their priceless artifact, please. The mage quest wasn’t as exciting or nostalgic as some of the other ones, but the trial was fun enough. You get to murder elementals of fire, frost, and arcane, which somehow bleeds off the excess energy from the disc parts and lets you combine them together into something that works. Sure, Antonidas never figured out how to do this and it was part of his life’s work and you knocked it out in 20 minutes. You’ll forget all about that once you’re riding around on your cool new mage frisbee.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the past 2 days, but Druid, Warlock, and Rogue are all ready to go and Demon Hunter is not far behind. I’ll have my comments on those quests up as soon as I get through them!

Silly Inspiration

Sometimes you get a weird bit of nonsense stuck in your head and there’s nothing for it but to see where it takes you. Such was the seed that started with a conversation lamenting that WoW doesn’t have level scaling in its dungeons like FFXIV does. This led to a discussion about the Herald of the Titans achievement (for killing Algalon at level and at the proper ilvl), and guilds that level lock themselves to do old content.

Suddenly this seed started taking root in my brain. I would love to do all those old dungeons and raids in a way that still felt meaningful, and let me have fun with my friends. Unfortunately I have no desire to try to find a guild that is already doing this, and I was doubtful that we could wrangle enough interest amongst our circle of friends to make it work. But. With three interested co-conspirators, we could still potentially do something silly and fun with the idea.

Thus a new guild was born. We three buddies would roll a new tank, healer, and dps and try to do all the dungeons in the game at level. Maybe even throw ourselves at the raids too, and laugh as we die horribly without a raid group. I think this will nicely scratch the itch to do something silly and fun with my friends for a little while, and should keep us entertained at least until FFXIV Stormblood gets here later this month.

Since Belghast beat me to the punch blogging about this, make sure to wander over there for his take on this nonsense. Maybe we’ll even stream our adventures!

Reading Challenge #90: The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

I read this one while I was traveling, so it took me a little while to write up my thoughts. If you’re following along with my reading challenge this is #90 on the list, The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. The first Elric novelette was published in 1961, with continuations, sequels, prequels, etc. being published through the early 2000s.

This one was tricky to get started on. There are a lot of Elric stories floating around and I had to resort to a chronological list to try to figure out exactly what I was reading and where it fell in the scheme of things. I ended up reading a collection that contained most of the stories from the 1960s, from Elric’s first appearance through the one in which he meets his end. From what I gather, the stories and novels published later are all meant to fill in the spaces in-between these original tales. While I enjoyed what I read enough to want more, I decided to stop in the interests of moving forward with this challenge, and not potentially ruining a good thing.

Elric appeared on the scene at a time when high sorcery and adventure were in favor and instead gave us a moody, evil, and ultimately weak anti-hero. The stories take place in a place and time that might be future or past but has to exist because the stories of heroes keep having to retell themselves. Elric himself is a long-lived, elf-like being, one of the last remnants of a dead civilization that’s been replaced by younger races. He’s the last of a royal line, but he’s sickly and weak and marked as an outsider by his albinism. The guy should be a giant walking cliche but even though I was rolling my eyes at the start, it turns out that these stories are actually strangely compelling.

There’s a thread of addiction and loss that feels personal even though it is presented in fantasy trope trappings. Elric’s sword, Stormbringer, feeds and empowers him via the souls of those he has killed with it. With it in hand he is nigh invincible, without it he can barely function, but in addition to being outright evil, it also has a penchant for claiming the souls of those closest to him whether he tries to prevent it or not. In the end Stormbringer is a necessary evil because without it Elric would be too weak to fight and chaos would take over the world.

The greater battle in this series is cast as chaos versus law instead of evil versus good. Many of the ideas presented here have percolated their way through so much of the fantasy media and games I’ve consumed, unknowing, over the years. In retrospect it is not surprising at all to me that some of the pantheon from these stories ended up in one of the early monster manuals for D&D. Again and again what was surprising was the quality of the writing itself and its somewhat more literary approach. Sure, some of its metaphors are heavy-handed, but at least there are metaphors instead of beating you about the head with the obvious like many genre works do.

Looking at the covers, the descriptions, and the date of publication of the Elric stories I would have guessed that I would be panning this series. Instead I really enjoyed it, and would recommend checking it out. Something about judging books by their covers I guess…

TL;DR:  A brooding anti-hero with a magic sword that manages to be engaging instead of completely cliched.

The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: I really enjoyed these, in spite of myself. Sword and sorcery isn’t usually my favorite genre but when it is this well written it is easy to see why so many people love it.

Next up: The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

June 2017 Gaming Goals

Hello again. I’ve survived yet another month and that means that it is time for this month’s edition of gaming goals.

May Goals Recap:

FFXIV: Get enough scripture to buy a weapon, and get it upgraded. Nope. I’m still sitting on all the materials for this because I could never decide if I wanted to buy it for scholar or astrologian. Then I stopped playing FFXIV for a while so it was moot.

Finish the aether oil step of the anima weapon. Yes! By some miracle I actually got this done. I blame a brief burst of enthusiasm for the game fueled by the most recent live letter with all the new Stormblood info.

Diablo 3: Complete the season. Yes! I honestly surprised myself with this one, because I was afraid I would get bored and wander away just before the finish line like last season. Instead I followed through and was weirdly proud of myself for accomplishing this.

WoW: Level one more class that I don’t already have at 110. Yes. Hahaha! I’ve been playing way too much WoW lately. The only classes I don’t have at 110 in some form now are Shaman, DK, and Warrior.

June Goals:

WoW: Level one more class to 110. I can tell I’m getting close to burning out on WoW, and with Stormblood on the horizon I know I’ll be putting it down once this month’s sub is finished. Hopefully before then I can get one of the 3 remaining classes up enough to see their story.

Subnautica: Rebuild my sweet sea base empire. This is my AggroChat game of the month for June, so I have to play it at least a bit. My intention here is to see what has been added in the 6+months since I last played, and to do my best to recreate some of the cool stuff I had acquired in my earlier playthroughs.

FFXIV: Play Stormblood. Ok this is basically cheating, of course I’m going to do this! But I don’t want to have any more strict goals because I want to be very chill and just enjoy the launch and the leveling process without having to rush things.

Once again this is a month with really modest goals. I’m hoping that means I will actually accomplish them for a change. And I know myself well enough to know that when Stormblood launches all other games will be purged from my attention for at least a few weeks, so there’s no sense trying to do anything ambitious in June.

Class Halls in WoW Legion

12. That is the number of characters I now have sitting at the level cap in WoW. Why on earth I have done this thing I do not know, but there it is. Except for the demon hunter, which was number 12, I have finished everybody’s order hall quests and have all the horde ones plus one ally monk caught up on the broken shore quest line as of last week. Even with 12 characters, there’s some duplication, so I still haven’t seen quite all of the class stories yet, so that’s still a goal. The only one I’m really dreading is warrior, simply because I don’t have a warrior leveled at all, so instead of having to dash from 100 to 110 I’ll need to grind myself all the way up from level 20. That process of getting from 100 to 110 is incredibly painless now, especially with invasions. Those events are fairly quick and in addition to decent experience they give way more AP and order resources than you otherwise have access to while leveling. That, combined with gifts of an AK tome and some boxes of resources from the blood trader from more established characters, makes the initial stages of gearing up at 110 and upgrading the order hall a breeze.

Something that becomes increasingly apparent the more class stories you see is just how variable they are in terms of gating, story, and difficulty/annoyance factor. The really frustrating difference to me is the amount of dungeon runs required. Some, like the demon hunter I just finished, don’t make you run any dungeons at all until after you hit 110. Others send you to one or two. The druid is the worst offender, forcing you to run at least 4 dungeons and then even more once you reach 110. Some of the story quests are also expensive, requiring various crafting materials to finish. I think some of this may have been nerfed since Legion started, but it is still weirdly frustrating that some classes had this step and others didn’t. Finally, don’t get me started on the differences in order hall upgrades. I like that in theory there’s some differences there so that every class isn’t just given the same choices with different flavor text, but a few classes make out like bandits while others are left with really lackluster options. Druid loses here again in my opinion. There’s a couple key abilities that make life way easier in the order hall: the ability to complete one free world quest per day, an NPC that lets you place work orders for champion equipment, and the option to get bonus resources when completing world quests. The poor druids get none of these, which means leveling and gearing up your champions is much slower, and you need to do more world questing to be able to afford to run missions. Meanwhile my mage, pally, and lock are fairly set since they can all place orders for equipment and also get one free world quest per day. Some of these bonuses will matter less when some more time has passed and champions get fully leveled and geared, but for a fresh alt these perks are really helpful.

As for the stories, there are some definite winners and losers there too. At some point when I’ve finished all of them I’d love to go into detail about which are the best and worst and why. So far my favorite is surprisingly the rogue story. It has a real authentic rogue flavor with lots of sneaking and subterfuge (and some pirates too!). It wasn’t the most original thing in the world but it was executed well and made me feel important in the story of Legion without having to be a big damn hero or a cookie-cutter version of what everyone else was doing. It also helps that the bonus companion rogues get from the broken shore quest line is one of my favorite characters in the game, and now she and I can go be buddies murdering demons out in the world every day.

I’ll wrap up here with my top three order halls (the ones I’ve seen anyway) for flavor of the hall itself (layout, atmosphere), story, and convenience:

Flavor of the hall itself:
Mage – It’s Hogwarts in Dalaran. ‘Nuff said.
Rogue – Secret passages, vaults of loot, and a fighting ring. Much better than “the Dalaran sewers” makes it sound.
Druid – A tiny piece of the Emerald Dream and a beautiful grove in Val’shara. There’s even a barrow den, which, annoying as they are to navigate, definitely exude druid flavor.
Worst: Hunter – A lodge on top of a mountain with very few distinguishing features. It is pretty, but so boring.

Class Story:
Rogue – Subterfuge, treachery, pirates, secret codes, and Lillian Voss. Clear winner.
Druid – Very true to druid class flavor and ties directly in with major world story events.
Monk – Beer beer and more beer. Once I got over how silly it was I realized how much fun I was having and how different it was from the other classes.
Worst: Hunter – loses points again for boredom. I was not interested in their organization or their story at all. I love hunters! Why is their order hall stuff so boring??

Mage – Easy teleport access from anywhere, optional portals to every Legion zone, free world quest completion, compact layout
Warlock – Mostly tied with Pally for including lots of useful options in the order hall upgrade tree, it wins over pally for the slightly better layout.
Pally – Like the Locks, Pallies get useful hall upgrades and as an added bonus it’s an extra way to get to the Eastern Kingdoms in a hurry.
Worst: Druid – As stated above, they are missing key quality of life options in their hall which makes starting out and maintaining resources more annoying. Also their hall is huge and sprawling (but at least you can fly in there).

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

Season Journeyed

Season10I can hardly believe it, but last night I finished the final step for the Guardian level of the season journey in D3.

When the season journey was first introduced in its current incarnation, it was something I was excited about for the cosmetic rewards far more than anything else. Since I’ve been participating, I’ve grown to love the “new game smell” of the start of a new season, complete with a decent sampling of my friends flocking back to the game to see what’s on offer, level together, and get the new goodies. I was completely casual about my playtime, enjoying murdering demons for the fun of it without pushing myself too hard. A few seasons in, I started hanging around with a few friends who would go all out at the start of the season, and were willing to carry me around so I could progress a bit farther. Those carry seasons saw me get my first bonus stash tab, and saw me start to push myself a little bit in terms of difficulty even when I was playing solo. The evidence that it was possible to meet the goals of the season was in front of me, and I got the urge to spend less time getting carried.

The past two seasons have seen me push way outside of my original comfort zone. I unlocked all my bonus stash tabs, and pushed into higher and higher greater rifts. Last season I got pretty close to completing the Guardian level of the season journey. I had all my conquests done, I just stopped short of a few other goals. The current season has been a little strange, since way fewer of my friends decided to come back for this one. Other than a little bit of paragon level farming in the first few days, I didn’t get carried to anything this time around. In fact, I was the one carrying some of my other friends more often than not, or at worst trading power leveling so we could do the set bonus conquests.

I pushed myself to get to GR70 solo as soon as I possibly could, so I could unlock the sweet sweet primal ancient drops. (Sadly this determination was repaid in a primal ancient Blackthorne’s piece and yes I am still bitter.) I ran rifts and bounties to gear up and level gems. I worked my way through 8 set dungeons and GR55 with 6 different set bonuses. And last night I soloed Adria in under 15 seconds on torment XIII and finally finished the Guardian requirements and officially completed the season journey. It was stressful sometimes and frustrating at others, but in the end it was an achievable goal and I’m glad I finally got motivated to follow through on it. I’m not sure whether I want to keep going in the season or switch to my non-seasonal stable. I am sure I will probably be taking a break from D3 soon, but maybe not right away. A friend recently asked if I was going to try for the achievement and wings for mastering all of the set dungeons for every class and I dismissed it because I figured I’d be working on the season journey for a while longer. Maybe I will try to get those wings after all.