(This story came out of the convergence of two things. One is the Feathermoon Peace Summit, a bit of RP that’s happening tonight, Friday 7 September, in Dalaran; a group of PCs from both factions will be meeting to attempt to broker at least a tenuous peace and time to heal in the wake of Deathwing’s destruction and the end of the Cataclysm. It will, of course, all go spectacularly wrong in two weeks or so…but the characters don’t know that.
The second is trying to explain the fact that I haven’t played World of Warcraft for going on six months now, and hadn’t played my dwarf hunter Beltar for a few months before that. He’s been absent for almost a year. I offhandedly mentioned something about this on Twitter one day a few weeks back and Marty–the guy behind Bricu Bittertongue, driving force behind the Peace Summit, world’s most ascerbic paladin and Number Two of the Wildfire Riders–came up with this idea. I took it and ran with it. Combine the dwarf’s newfound love of archaeology and the heightened state of tension between the Horde and Alliance, and season it with my tendency to do horrible things to my own characters, and, well, here you are.
There are several other parts to the story, which will come in due time as I write them. And yes, this means that I hope to get back to WoW blogging, and blogging about other games as well, on a more consistent basis. I don’t know if I’m over my critical WoW burnout, and my head is still kind of fucked up in a lot of ways, but with a new job and living in a new town taking some of the pressure off things, I am somewhat optimistic–a rarity for me–that I can get my poop collected enough to get my blog groove back.
Oh, this story is rated “R” for language, thick dwarven accents, and exploding heads.)
Beltar Forgebreaker had never been very good with numbers.
Mathematics, advanced or otherwise, had never been a subject that the School of Hard Living had bothered to teach him. He could do what he termed “simple cipherin’,” if he had quill and paper, or perhaps charcoal and rock, or even stick and dirt, to hand. He tended to count on his fingers a lot, out loud. Someone had once told him that if he’d apply himself to learning some sort of bizarre form of science he only remembered as “trigganawhatthfuckever,” it would make him a better shot. But that was pigshit, he knew. He didn’t think about being lethal behind the stock of a gun, he just was. He sighted, he fired, things died, and he didn’t waste time or effort worrying about the whys and wherefores of it. “Why mess it up with thinkin’?” was his reply.
Fact was, he simply didn’t need to be good with numbers. He could count the coin in a purse given to him after killing a target or completing a job as a bodyguard, and when that was empty, he went on to the next one. The nuances of finance, of computing compound interest or balancing a ledger, that was best left to others. As long as he had enough to eat and drink and whore and buy what he needed, with a little stuffed away in a sock for emergencies, that was fine.
But there was one number, now, that Beltar never lost track of, and never forgot. He carried it with him, every waking second, and he knew exactly how to cipher it and how he had arrived at the result. That number was precisely three hundred and sixteen.
It was the number of days since the orcs had captured him.
(The Pig and Whistle, just shy of a year earlier.)
Taverns like the Pig don’t operate on the same schedule as the rest of Stormwind, or even the rest of Old Town. The quietest time inside the Pig isn’t the darkest part of the night, just before dawn, but instead is the brightest part of mid-morning, when the good citizens of Old Town (there are a few, believe it or not) are at work, and everyone else is still sleeping off the previous night’s adventures.
This sunny, quiet morning inside the Pig’s main room, there were just two people up and about. One was Reese Langston, doing what Reese had gone for gods alone knew how many years, even before the Wildfire Riders had come along and taken over…cleaning mugs, arranging taps, preparing the tavern for the day ahead. The other was Beltar Forgebreaker, perched awkwardly in a chair too tall for his dwarven frame as always, gun propped against the table and bulging pack taking up another chair nearby. He was enthusiastically polishing off the last of an egg-and-steak breakfast, letting fly with a huge belch as he put down his fork.
“You knock the mugs off my shelf burpin’ like that, Forgebreaker, they’re coming out of your beard,” Reese growled without even looking up.
“Bah,” Beltar replied. “This little trip o’ mine works out, I’d get ya sommat fancy glass t’replace ‘em…y’know, fer ‘em tea-drinkin’ mage types.” He wiggled his fingers at Reese.
The barkeep snorted. “You ain’t said where you’re goin’ on this trip, anyhow.”
Beltar eased down off the chair and began arranging items in his pack. “Kalimdor, ain’t as sure ‘zactly where yet. Hirin’ on w’ Explorer’s League, doin’ some ruins diggin’ over ‘ere. Turns out Deathwing, in addition t’damn near destroyin’ th’ world an’ all, cracked open a few ol’ night elf an’ dwarf ruins, an’ th’ League’s been lookin’ fer folks t’, ah, ‘freelance,’ shall we say. Y’know, workin’ fer ‘em but not quite workin’ fer ‘em, case th’ locals git techy ’bout it. ‘Plausible deniawhatsit,’ one ‘em perfesser types called it.”
“Never pictured you as the archaeologist type, Forgebreaker,” Reese said, putting down the mug he’d been polishing. “I always thought you’d use artifacts for target practice.”
Now it was Beltar’s turn to snort. “I ain’t no pointy-headed Harrison Jones-type what can’t tie ‘is boots, lad. But…Nether, I dunno. Gotta have somethin’ t’do what with peace breakin’ out like a rash, aye? ‘At Jones ponce gave me a coupla books, I read ‘em, dig some diggin’, found out I kinda liked it and apparently I ain’t ‘arf bad at it.” A shrug. “Must be in our blood ‘r’ somethin’, dwarves diggin’ up ancient shit.”
“You told Tarquin or Annie?”
“Nah. They don’t need t’know.” Beltar went back to arranging his pack.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong.” Beltar didn’t turn around but kept working on the pack.
“Horseshit. Don’t lie to a bartender, Forgebreaker. You oughta know by now that never works.”
“Ain’t nothin’ what needs t’be talked about, Reese,” Beltar replied shortly, still not making eye contact.
The dwarf stopped working on the pack, hung his head, and sighed before looking back up at Reese. “Aright, lad. Y’want yer answer? The short of it is, it ain’t like they need me ’round here noway.”
“What are you on about?”
“Take a look ’round, Reese. Deathwing’s done. Shaw’s backed down. Boss’s turned legit, as close as that boy’ll ever git. Riders got ever’thin’ under control ’round here. Sevens ain’t even fuckin’ wi’ us no more, on account’a th’ Riders bein’ dragonslayers ‘n’ shit. I ain’t no dragonslayer. They didn’t need me fer any ovvit.” He turned back around and started yanking on straps and drawstrings on the bulging backpack. “Ain’t but three things I ever been good at, Reese—used t’be four but I’m gettin’ on too old fer ‘at one. Number one’s killin’, number two’s drinkin’, an’ turns out, number three’s diggin’. Got ’nuff people ’round here t’handle number one, an’ it ain’t like y’can make a livin’ outta number two. So I’mma go dig. Might help git m’head right, might not, who knows? But hangin’ ’round here w’ fuck all t’do surely ain’t.”
Beltar awkwardly hoisted the pack onto his back and began strapping it on. “Figger they all might notice I ain’t been ’round in a few days, ‘r maybe not. Reckon if they don’t, ain’t no loss on either side, aye? ‘S all covered either way. I ain’t left no notes ‘r’ nothin’, figger y’can tell anybody askin’.”
Reese stood there with his mouth half-open as the dwarf finished adjusting his backpack and started walking for the door. “That sounds damned final, Forgebreaker. You are comin’ back, right?”
Beltar shrugged as he picked up Black Death, his rifle. “Prolly. I ain’t plannin’ t’git m’self killed, if that’s what yer askin’. Guess…I dunno. Guess a change o’ scenery might do me some good, I reckon. Feel like I’m actually part o’ somethin’ again, y’know, ‘stead o’ just th’ ol’ dwarf in th’ corner wi’ a pig an’ a ale.”
He stopped and turned back as he reached the threshold and stared out into the bright Stormwind morning. “Take care o’ yerself, Reese. I’mma miss yer cookin’.” A forced grin. “An’ mornin’s like ‘is. Yer…yer a good man, lad. See ya soon.” He stepped forward and disappeared into the dusty sunlight of the street outside.
“You too, Forgebreaker,” Reese Langston said softly.
That afternoon, when Reese went back around to the stable, he saw a familiar black shape standing in a stall to greet him. Squealer oinked once, seemingly pleased at Reese’s expression of stunned exasperation. There was a note pinned to a string around the boar’s neck:
Reese. Take care of the fat bastard for me, Jolly the drool factory too. Dog’s downstairs, he knows to go out to pee and shit. Not so sure about Squealer even after all these years. He ain’t bacon so don’t even. Beltar.
(Stonetalon Mountains. Nine days later.)
The view, Beltar had to admit, was worth the trip it had taken to get here.
The cliff to the north dropped a hundred feet or more into a green valley, dotted with scrubby trees. Beltar knew that the sea was off to the northwest, but a wall of rocky hills similar to the one that surrounded him blocked sight of it. No one seemed to live down there, which was odd to him; he knew the soil in the Stonetalon Mountains was generally too poor for farming, but he also knew the Tauren were hunters, and he’d seen signs of game when they had explored down there a few days earlier. Ain’t bad country fer Kalimdor, he thought. Beats all outta Desolace fer damn sure, least until th’ Cenarions get done with ‘er.
He turned back around and looked at the ruins that had brought them out here to this northwestern corner of Stonetalon, a place that was so damned remote that the maps didn’t even bother to name it. The Cataclysm had partially opened up the high valley in which he now stood and revealed what might have been some sort of pre-Sundering elven town or outpost—so the “perfessers” said. To Beltar, the columns did resemble some ruins he’d seen while flying over Azshara years earlier, but that was about as far as his knowledge of architecture went.
He, two archaeologists, and two Explorer’s League guards had been here for three days, digging and cataloguing the old elven ruins. They’d ridden in following the lead of a goblin that they’d paid a damned exorbitant sum to lead them through a tortuous pass in the mountains up from Desolace. The journey had cost them one of the pack rams that had been shipped in special from Loch Modan, and that had just been the beginning. Their erstwhile guide, the day after he’d gotten them to the valley, had up and disappeared. Beltar had a good eye for terrain, and thought he could get them back out to Desolace when they broke camp tomorrow, but the goblin’s sudden vanishing act had him nervous. These lands, he knew, were not only wild, but a war zone between the orcs and the Alliance. And as near as he could figure, the Horde was winning.
The sounds of an animated discussion carried over to him. Beltar looked over at the great white worg next to him and sighed. “Fuckin’ eggheads, Furball,” he shook his head. “Better see what’s what afore the perfessers stab each other w’quill ‘r’ sommat.” He picked up his rifle and walked over to the other side of the ruins, Furball casually padding along behind.
The “perfessers”–Dolwin Longstride of the Explorer’s League, and a Kal’dorei from Darnassus who had just introduced himself as “Carnelius” and hardly said six words to Beltar since—were standing over a half-buried piece of statuary, having a heated argument.
“I’m telling you, Professor,” Carnelius said, drawing the title out in a way that made it quite clear what he thought of it. “This is not what you think it is. There is no possible way that this could have been used in elven worship. It is a simple ornamental house statue from a period no further back than two hundred years before the Sundering, and has no real historical value whatsoever!”
“Far be it from me to correct ye, Professor, about yer own people’s history, but yer full o’ dung!”, Longstride roared back. “I read every history yer own scholars wrote on late Azsharan religious practices, an’ I’d bet a week’s bar tab in Ironforge that this here is a temple offerin’ statue. An’ see those jewelry carvings? That went out of fashion five hundred years earlier than what you said. This is a find, ye stuffy ponce!”
“Um…”, Beltar interrupted, straddling the statue to stand between the two academics. “I don’t rightly know whether ‘is bit o’ furniture’s from a temple house ‘r a house house ‘r a fuckin’ shithouse. What I do know izzat twilight’s comin’ on, and y’d best keep yer damned voices down! Sound carries a ways off those rocks up there, and in case y’ hadn’t heard, there’s about a shitload o’ orcs two valleys over what ain’t gonna take kindly t’us furtherin’ yer academic study. So pack yer shit up, an’ be ready t’ ride outta here at first light, ‘cuz we’re pushin’ our luck bein’ up here. Unnerstand?”
In the tense, echoing silence that followed, the only sounds were the chirping of the birds and the suppressed snicker from one of the caravan guards.
“Now see here, dwarf,” Carnelius finally managed to grit out through clenched teeth. “I do not take orders from…”
“Fine, lad,” Beltar cut him off. “Y’ don’t take orders from th’ likes o’me? Tell Garrosh Hellscream all ’bout yer ornamental house statue while th’ rest of us ‘r halfway back t’Theramore. This ain’t a classroom, y’ poncy git! This…”
Beltar stopped. Furball was staring up into the rocks to the east, growling. His fur began to bristle.
“Fuck,” Beltar hissed, and that one word had a weight of meaning behind it.
“What’s…” Beltar cut Longstride off. “’That there worg can hear ‘n’ see better’n any of us, an’ th’ way he’s actin’, I’d say we got company.” He glanced up and saw that the guards had already drawn their blunderbusses and moved near some defensive positions. Good lads. He reached down beside the statue, where he’d set Black Death down when he’d first come over. “Find yerselves a place t’hide if y’ain’t innerested in gettin’ in a fight, lads. I’d say this might be ’bout t’git ugly.” Fuck, why am I not wearing my armor? Because you can’t dig in armor, dumbass, that’s why…
There was a hissing sound near Beltar’s right ear, just over his head, from behind him. Reflexively, he turned and brought Black Death to his shoulder. The sight settled on a red-clad troll that had just stood up from behind a rock forty paces up the shoulder of the valley to the west, the other direction from where Furball had been looking. The troll’s arm was extended forward. Details burned into his mind—teal skin, green hair, yellow tusks—as Beltar stroked the rifle’s trigger once. The crack of the gun boomed off the walls around them as the troll flung his arms wide and disappeared back behind his rock.
Beltar spun back around to see Carnelius still standing there looking down…not at Beltar, not at the statue, not at Longstride. He was looking at the throwing axe protruding out of his breastbone. He touched it, eyeing it with what could have almost been academic interest had it been buried in someone else‘s chest. He looked to the rock where the troll had stood, coughed once, and collapsed in a heap.
“Move!”, Beltar screamed, and dove for the excavated area around the statue, trying to find some cover. The others did the same, and even as they did, the hills around them—all around them—erupted in shouts and screams. A throwing spear clanked off the statue as the old dwarf landed awkwardly and rolled behind it. Booms from the guards’ guns mingled with battle cries as Beltar stuck his head up and tried to come to grips with what was going on.
Orcs, and the odd troll, were pouring down off the ledges overlooking the digsite. A couple dozen, maybe more, Beltar guessed, all wearing identical spiked brown shoulderguards and matching breastplates. Some were throwing spears, others were waving swords and axes. All of them had bloodlust in their eyes and curses on their lips.
Beltar felt no fear…there wasn’t time. Time slowed down and his actions became automatic, honed by decades of training and experience.
Find a target. He peeked up from cover and picked out a particularly large orc near the front of a group of five clambering down the western slope toward him.
Aim. Black Death’s unwieldy barrel and bayonet cleared the lip of the pit and the sight settled on the orc’s massive head.
Fire. One gentle squeeze of the trigger, a flash and crack, and the top of the orc’s head exploded as he turned to urge on the ones behind him. Bone and brains sprayed as the orc’s neck and shoulders snapped backward while his legs, improbably, carried forward another step. The net result was an almost laughable cartwheel, the orc’s bare feet flailing in mid-air for a split-second before his lifeless body, pitched parallel to the ground, crashed straight down into the rock. Beltar didn’t see it. He was already behind the top of the pit again, jacking another round into the chamber.
A scream from his right…the orcs had reached the column one of the two guards had been using for cover. He had thrown down his blunderbuss and drawn two hand axes to try and defend himself, but there were four of them and but one of him. One orc rolled on the ground in front of him clutching his stomach, but another smashed an axe through the young dwarf’s helmet and on into his skull even as a troll speared him through the gut so hard the guard’s feet left the ground.
Beltar aimed and fired again. The orc he’d picked out fell forward, dead before his face met rock, and the one behind him clutched his shoulder and spun backward—not dead but at least wounded. But still they kept coming, apparently not slowed by any fear of death.
A yelp, from his left this time. He saw Furball covered in blood—some his, some not, judging by the two motionless orcs in front of him. He leapt onto a third, driving him to the ground with fangs sunk into the orc’s huge neck. Then he disappeared under a wave of green skin, brown armor, and flashing blades.
No time to mourn. The fourth orc went down to a shot in the gut, and then the fifth was upon him with no time to reload. Beltar was no lover of close-quarters fighting, fair or unfair, but he wasn’t entirely unskilled at it. He couldn’t match the orc strength for strength, even in his younger days, and he was far from those. So he wasn’t even going to try.
The orc bellowed a war cry and brought his great two-handed axe down, trying for a single killing blow. Beltar side-rolled to one knee as best he could, using Black Death to parry the downstroke. Sparks flew and metal screeched as the parry pushed the axe aside just enough to send it sticking into the soft dirt at the edge of the pit. The orc, still carrying some forward momentum from his charge down the hill, couldn’t stop and went ass-over-elbows down the slope, crashing into the base of the statue leaving the axe stuck in the ground. Beltar staggered to his feet and bayoneted the orc in the throat before he had a chance to recover.
He dropped back to one knee and grabbed another round to reload. He faintly heard the noise of movement behind him, and turned around as he brought the rifle up to firing position.
He saw a huge orc with brown skin. He saw the flash of a hammer. And then he saw nothing.
Back before Wrath of the Lich King was released, the officers of The Anvil, the 25-man Horde raid on Feathermoon that I tank for, sat down and set one simple goal: The Anvil 25-man would kill Arthas before the next expansion came out. That was it. Everything, all the other raid instances, all our activity as a raid, was pointed toward that goal. Naxxramas, Ulduar, Trial of the Big Round Room…they were steppingstones toward Icecrown Citadel and our ultimate goal of doing something we’d never done before: beating “the” boss of an expansion while that expansion was still current content, and making the Lich King our Bitch King.
Now this was a stretch for us. Since the days of 40-man raiding, we’ve never been a cutting-edge progression raid…call us “hardcore casual” if you will. In vanilla, we never cleared Blackwing Lair, much less Naxxramas 1.0; Nefarian only died after The Burning Crusade came out. When we hit Outland, we stalled at the end of both Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep. Vashj eventually went down after six or seven weeks, but we never really even got close to killing Kael’thas until patch 3.0 dropped, at which point the fight instantly turned from a near-impossible exercise to a stupidly easy no-death one-shot. We managed to get 3/5 in Hyjal before 3.0 hit, but never visited Black Temple except for one visit post-patch, where we one-shotted the first seven bosses and couldn’t get past the Illidari Council. Linedan’s still never seen or killed Illidan, Archimonde, or anything in Sunwell Plateau.
Four months ago we dropped Sindragosa for the first time and took the teleporter up to stand before our final goal. That night, we began working on the fight. And through the summer, we kept at it. Again. And again. And again. I started likening progress on the Lich King fight to the Battle of the Somme…immense casualties for just a few yards, or in this case percent, gained. We extended lockouts and threw ourselves at him for three straight hours some nights. I counted fifteen wipes one night, that’s a 200 gold repair bill for me. We tried several different strategies regarding Defiles and val’kyr handling, with varying degrees of success. Time and again normal summer schedule issues ravaged our lists and left us frantically pulling in subs, or dropping back to clear lower ICC again, or even calling the raid entirely.
Last night, we faced down Arthas again. We started off with two excellent attempts that moved efficiently through phase 2 and got into phase 3 with most of the raid still standing. Our DPS was the highest I’d ever seen it, across the board. Unfortunately, both times things fell apart fast and we died quickly in phase 3, not getting Arthas below about 35%. Then we started backsliding into the pattern that’s dogged us the whole time…mistakes in phase 2, bad placement of Defiles, unlucky timing on the different cooldowns for valks vs. Defile, stuff like that. After a few more of those, we took a break, came back, and went at it again.
It was the sixth, or seventh, or eighth attempt, I’d lost track at that point. We started off same as the others–me on Arthas, our paladin tank Keltyr on the ghouls and horrors in phase 1. Phase 1 was dispatched quickly and smoothly, likewise the 1-2 transition. We hit phase 2, and the real fight began.
You know that feeling you get when you just know that everything is starting to fall into place? We had that. Defile placement wasn’t perfect, but it was workable. Everyone adjusted, standing behind Arthas, all facing the same direction to keep the valks clustered together. For once, the timers worked properly so that we weren’t all clustered up for valks and getting hit with Defile instead. We shifted, we adjusted, we moved in and moved out, and we got to 45% with everybody still up.
Then at 43%, here came the valks. And the shout went out from our Chief Cat Herder: “Forget them, burn Arthas down!” It was a crapshoot. If we couldn’t get him to 40% while dodging the upcoming Defile, we’d lose two DPS and a healer. Everybody ran for Defile, ran back in and laid into the Lich King while I drug him toward one edge…
..at the last possible second, he dropped to 40%, ran back to the center, and started the phase 2-3 transition. The ledge reappeared, and all three of our raidmates landed on solid ice with just mere feet to spare.
The spirits came up and we laid into them like we never had before. At the end of the transition, two were dead, one was at 30%, and the fourth was full up. I had the weaker spirit on me, so I headed back in and said hi to Arthas again, and phase 3 began.
The next few minutes are still a blur in my sleep-deprived mind. Phase 2 is barely-controlled chaos. Phase 3 felt like it removed the “barely-controlled” part. People were scattering everywhere to avoid Vile Spirits and Defile. We were handling tanking differently in the 25 than we did when I got Arthas in my 10, and I had only the vaguest of ideas when to taunt Arthas and move him. More than once I taunted Arthas and immediately got a Soul Reaper countdown, and only Keltyr’s fast action saved me.
Things were getting nuts. We had a death or two. The fight devolved into a screaming mass of taunting, moving, and keyspamming. Calls of “I can’t reach the tanks!” followed by another healer saying “I’ve got ‘em.” Vile Spirits exploding everywhere. “Defile, move!” “Spirits coming down!” “Gore’s harvested!” And all the while, I saw that big Threat Plate over Arthas’ head slowly count down numbers. Twenty-three percent. Twenty percent. Eighteen percent. Fifteen percent. Holy shit, are we actually going to do this?
I taunted him back at about 13%. I was getting ready to hit Vent and say “a million to go, guys, WE’VE GOT THIS”…and I died. I got too damn far away from my healers trying to get Arthas clear of the Vile Spirits, and there I was, in the Sprawl of Shame, with the Lich King at 12% health.
“Shit, Lin’s down!”
“Want me to pick him up?”
About four of us (me included) said “No!” at the same time. He was at 7.1 million health, under 12%, one tank up, don’t shift out to battle rez just burn his ass down. One million more health to go, dear God please don’t let me dying fuck this up now go go GO GO GO DAMMIT GO…
His health on the plate ticked over to 9%.
I won’t spoil the fight for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, but let’s just say, if you get him to 10%, you’ve won, despite appearances. There’s a pause for some in-game exposition that you get to watch. When that started, there was a second of stunned silence, as if all 25 of us couldn’t believe we were seeing what we saw, and then Vent erupted with screams. And just as quickly, was shushed…after all, many people there hadn’t had a chance to see the show before.
I didn’t say a word. I was too busy sitting there, staring at the screen in slack-jawed shock, my hands shaking and tears forming in my eyes. We had done it. We killed the Lich King.
Two minutes later, the hoedown was over, and the fight entered the last 10%, aka Pinata Mode. And then, it was truly over, cue the acheesement spam. At 11:33 pm Eastern time, Thursday, September 16, 2010, Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, whatever you want to call him, lay dead at The Anvil’s feet, and we sat in silent shock and relief while Cutscene Happened.
We were Kingslayers.
We had won the game.
I spent the rest of the evening in an advanced state of shock. It took my hands half an hour to stop shaking and I didn’t get to bed until well past 1:00. The happy crew gradually dropped off Vent and out of WoW, off to bed.
While that happened, I sat and reflected, and got hit by an incredible wave of emotion that almost started me crying. The realization of what we’d just done, and my small part in it, hit me.
A bit over four years ago, I first started running with The Anvil as a scrubstitute, a few months after the raid initially formed. I had no business being in Molten Core given that my gear was mostly greens and I was a pretty shitty warrior, but in 40-mans, you could carry scrubs, and after weeks of not being selected to go, my wife Rashona and I finally wormed our way in. Back then, our daughter Nublet was only an infant so Rashona and I basically had to alternate weeks to go on those Sunday afternoon MC runs…one of us raided while the other tended the baby. We switched weeks, sometimes we even switched mid-run if the officers were OK with it.
I hung in there and kept getting invites despite the fact I really did suck. My DPS was lousy, I couldn’t offtank rock elementals on Garr to save my ass (or anyone else’s), I wiped the raid running the wrong way on Geddon more than once. Slowly, on the long grind through Molten Core to Ragnaros and then into Blackwing Lair, I got better. Not good, but better.
The Burning Crusade came out. By the time I made it to 70, I was behind most of the other Anvillains. The Anvil had formed two 10-man Karazhan raids and didn’t have enough people for a third, leaving me and Rashonakitty screwed. Fortunately a friend of ours was starting up her own Kara (called “Dissonant’s Softcore Raiders”) and the wife and I came on as the two tanks. I went Prot, and never looked back. We helped take that raid from wiping all night on Attumen all the way to one-night full clears and lots of Prince kills. It was a fantastic experience.
When The Anvil went back to running 25-mans in Gruul’s Lair, I got in again despite the raid being overloaded on tanks. And somehow, I guess through just sheer attrition and my own stubbornness, by the time our TBC raiding career ended, I was the permanent second offtank.
Wrath of the Lich King brought us death nuggets, and one of our warriors switched to DK (realm first 80 DK, in fact) and became astoundingly good at DK tanking–so good that he pushed me down to the #3 offtank, in an instance (Naxx 2.0) where few fights needed four tanks and dual specs hadn’t come in yet. The raid officers kept me on, thank God, and we’ve carried four tanks all through Wrath (the original DK left and has been replaced by an even better DK), eventually going to a rotation system where we all take turns tanking and DPSing.
The Anvil took me in when I had no business raiding. They let me back in after I took time to head to greener pastures in Karazhan. They kept me on and rewarded my persistence with a permanent slot. They kept me on again when better-geared, better-skilled tanks “took my jerb.” They kicked my ass when I needed it and reassured me when I needed it. They had faith in me when I had lost my own faith in my ability to play this game. They gave me the room and opportunity to develop the confidence to turn, eventually, into a pretty decent warrior tank. They are my friends, and I’ll do anything for them.
And last night, the scrubby hybrid-spec warrior in the mismatched level 55 greens…now transformed into the fully-sanctified-T10-wearing badass tank he never thought he could become…tanked the bloody Lich King. And won.
All of the problems that were spinning around me yesterday are still there this morning. Our one working vehicle is still laid up at the mechanic and we don’t know how we’re going to pay to fix it. One of our cats is still a bit sick in his tummy and stinking up the place. We’re still broke. The house is a mess. I still have four projects at work in various stages of “oh shit.” None of that has changed.
But for a few magical minutes last night, none of it existed. There was nothing but a group of friends, accomplishing a task set in front of them, and culminating a journey that started four and a half years ago. Winning the game.
For now, the world can bite my shiny metal ass. I’m a Kingslayer, biatch.
Well, actually, four and a half seconds if you’re being really precise.
That’s how much time The Anvil had left on the enrage timer last night when we finally downed Anub’arak in 25-man normal Coliseum, after three weeks of trying.
To say that Anub’arak was a notch higher on the difficulty scale than the rest of the fights in the Coliseum (Faction Champions excluded, but more on that later) would be an understatement. After all, Northrend Beasts is basically three gimmick fights in a row. Lord Jaraxxus makes the healers cry, but as long as people know to run toward the wall and not stand in Bad(tm), it’s not too rough. Twin Val’kyrs? The ultimate gimmick fight, but if you can tell light from dark and can interrupt Twin’s Pact, it’s no big thing.
The Nub is a little rougher. We’d gotten several good shots at him last week but the healers were having real trouble keeping the offtanks up. Our plan was to have the offtanks grab and hold both pairs of Burrowers so DPS could focus on the big guy; otherwise we had no shot at dropping him inside his short enrage timer. But despite having excellent healers in the raid, our DK offtank (who’s got more health than any of the other three of us) kept falling over.
It was then that our raid officers, looking through the logs, discovered what Spinks posted about over at Welcome to Spinksville yesterday: The Anub’arak fight is one of the only encounters in WoW where Shield Block rules.
The Nerubian Burrowers stack a debuff called Expose Weakness. Each stack causes you to take 25% more damage, up to a maximum of 225% (9 stacks, down from 10 pre-3.2.2). But the catch is, apparently if you block one of their attacks, your shield block value is subtracted from their damage before the Expose Weakness debuff multiplier is added. Burrowers only hit for about 2500 to 3000. See where this is going? Our 46,000-health DK, with no shield, had no way to mitigate the 12,000 to 15,000 he was taking per hit from two burrowers except his jealousy-inducing 33%+ dodge. Our warrior, the other offtank, did. The DK died. The warrior didn’t.
So last night I was the #3 tank, and I was on burrower duty. I dutifully loaded up my “trash” set instead of my normal boss-tanking set. My trash set is a real hash of things, built for block value over even block rating. I still rock the T7 helm with it, plus some of my four T8 pieces, other bits and pieces from Ulduar and maybe one other from Naxx still. It isn’t so much designed for block tanking as it is designed for DPS…I even normally run two crit trinkets instead of tank trinkets (although for this fight, I strapped my tank trinkets back on) because it’s a set designed for light-hitting trash and any situation where I need to rip an 11k Shield Slam out of my ass. I ended up losing about 10 points of Defense, a crapton of dodge%, and maybe 1500 health from my boss set, but my buffed shield block value was a tasty 2593, and I was still at 543 Defense and 42,200 fully buffed health. My block rating was a bit low at 22.78%, but as a warrior, I’ve got two other tricks up my sleeve for that–Shield Block, for almost complete immunity to damage for 10 seconds out of 40, and 3/3 in the recently-buffed Critical Block talent, meaning 60% of those blocks wouldn’t be for 2593, they’d be for almost 5200. I couldn’t block everything, but when I did block, I made it count.
The strategy, I’m pleased to say, works like a charm, and you don’t have to build a super-block set that gimps everything else to do it…well, on normal, at least. (On heroic, yeah, you probably do.) We did run into trouble on the first time we got Anub’arak to phase 3 when we had four burrowers up. As good as our healers are, keeping up a tank with two burrowers, with 50% haste, and 9 stacks of Expose Weakness, and Swarming Leech, just wasn’t happening.
The last two attempts we got him to phase 3 with only one set of burrowers up, and as long as we kept the burrowers separated so they didn’t buff each other, the healers could keep myself and the other OT (paladin) up without much trouble. Tanking one burrower, even with 9 stacks of Expose Weakness, isn’t too bad. The first attempt, we just ran out of time and he enraged at 4%, finishing the last of us at 2%. On the killshot, I thought we weren’t going to make it because he was still at 18% health with one minute left. A couple of the healers shifted over to DPS, we lowered everybody else’s health in the raid even more to slow down the Leeching Swarm, and all of us blew everydamnthing we had (I was tanking a burrower while beating up on Anub). And he fell over with precisely 4.5 seconds left on the enrage timer.
Now is Blizzard going to “fix” this little trick? I don’t know. Shield Block has evolved into a mechanic that doesn’t really fit with anything…it’s overpowered against trash and underpowered against bosses. It’s good to see a fight where it actually matters, and fortunately Anub’arak is quite easy for a druid or DK to tank so there’s still great use for them there. It seems mighty cheesy to be able to build a set that allows one warrior to tank four burrowers–on heroic, no less, as Spinks documented–with impunity, but that’s a very extreme example. I wouldn’t put it past Blizzard to break our little Shield Block trick, but if they don’t, and until they do, we’re going to take full advantage of one of the few bones they throw us on a fairly challenging fight.
Oh, and as you may remember from the rant immediately below this one, I kinda hate Faction Champions. And by “kinda,” I mean I’d like to find the guy at Blizzard who thought this was a good idea and beat him silly with a wiffleball bat. Well, there was a little patch note in the 3.2.2 release that mentioned some changes had been made to this fight. We didn’t know what to expect going in last night. But here’s what you need to know.
First week, seven wipes. Second week, five wipes. Third week, three deaths.
Faction Champions got nerfed TO THE GROUND, BABY.
The biggest change? Taunts no longer have diminishing returns on them. Think about that for a second. That one change alone, not even including the damage reduction they put in, turns the fight into cheesymode. Seriously. They assigned me to harass the death nugget. I could just spam Taunt every 8 seconds, with total impunity, to pull him off of a squishy for a few…enough time for me to drop a Charge or Intercept on him, or Shield Bash him to slow him down, or Concussion Blow or Shockwave to stun…oh, and they didn’t go immune to my stuns, either.
Sure, there were times where the DK got away from me. But not many. And when he did, I got him right back.
As much as I hate that fight–and I still do, with every flabby fiber of my being–I almost felt dirty at the end of it, that’s how easy it was. It reminded me of an AB match when a premade runs up against a PUG, except the Faction Champions didn’t /afk out halfway through. Yep, after whooping it up at our expense for a couple of weeks, ol’ Wrynn the Chin saw his boys and girls get a straight-outta-Compton gangsta beatdown, Hordesiyyyyyde style. Word up, yo.
Finally…so what reward does ol’ Tirion Fordring give us for completing the Trial of the Crusader? The chance to do it all over again on heroic! Well fuckin’ yay there big guy, excuse me if I’m somewhat less than enthused about going Groundhog Day on your little spectacle. Catch me next week and we’ll talk about it.
Well, she’s my fourth level 80, and she’s been getting a big chunk of playtime lately, so it’s time to introduce the “lady” that’s displaced a few of my older alts…my death knight, Moktor.
- Full name: Moktor
- Created: November 2008
- Level/race/class: Level 80 orc death knight
- Spec: Blood (53/2/16)
- Age: 21 (sort of)
If you follow the Blizzard explanation of death knights, they’re born of heroes of the Light that were turned to the Scourge by Arthas after they fell in battle. Some people roleplay that their death knights actually volunteered (or were coerced) into taking the job.
Moktor is the proof that any rule has an exception.
Moktor, y’see, was nothing more than an Orgrimmar street thug. Orphaned in the interment camps (I think I’ve got the timeline right on this), she lost her entire family and ended up falling through the cracks of the nascent post-demonic orcish society. She ended up scraping out a bare existence in begging and theft, first in the camps and later on the streets in Orgrimmar, lean, hungry, and tough as raptor leather.
As she got older, she fell in with a troll rogue named Dabashi and his small pack of teenage urchins, where she began to learn the fundamentals of roguing…to a point. She never was good at the subtle part of things. Strong, wiry, and always willing to commit violence, she was the headsmasher of her crew, and when Dabashi fell under a Grunt’s axe, she became its leader as well at the tender age of 15.
To avoid Dabashi’s fate, a few years later she “went legit” and fell in with the Black Hand, and headed out into the world. She’d just begun to eke out a living as a free agent when…Scourge Happened. To be precise, Arthas’ latest plague that his human agents unleashed on the settlements of Azeroth and Outland. Back in Orgrimmar, still hungry and broke after an ill-fated expedition into the Stonetalon Mountains, she slipped into the inn and stole some food, including some bread made with the plagued grain. And thus, Moktor became one of Orgrimmar’s first zombies.
For 99% of the people turned by the plague, the story would end there. But Moktor, through whatever happenstance, retained a modicum of her former intellect and skills. She hid. She struck in ambush and kept herself fed. And she managed to “live” quite well. In doing so, she attracted attention. The Cult of the Damned had agents in major cities, and through magical means, they took notice of this particularly hardy and effective zombie surviving in the midst of the chaos.
So just before Putress’ cure was deployed world-wide, Cult of the Damned necromancers cornered and killed zombie-Moktor, removing her soul as they did so and taking it with them back to Acherus. Her orcish body was destroyed, so they found another one–not exactly the same as her old one, this one was slightly taller, more muscular, not nearly as lean and half-starved. Her soul and consciousness was implanted into the necromantically-animated body, and thus was born Moktor Mark II. She was put through the battery of gruesome and near-fatal tests to become one of Arthas’ chosen, a death knight, and as she had always done, she survived through sheer toughness.
Physically, there is no possible way that you can’t tell Moktor is a death knight. She’s fishbelly green-white all over, with lank, dirty, stringy shoulder-length purplish-black hair. Her pale skin is stretched a little too tight across her cheekbones, her fangs are yellow and nasty, and her eyes glow with the blue light of the undead. She has several large scars across her torso (the wounds that killed this body’s previous owner), all usually covered by clothing or armor. Her voice is harsh and creaky and has that slightly off-putting timbre that many death knights have, and oddly enough, even though she’s speaking Orcish, she has distinct trollish overtones in her cadence and word choice–one of Dabashi’s legacies to her.
The original Moktor was my attempt at playing a rogue. Despite the fact that I am, in general, a physical DPS-loving guy (as witnessed by my alt list), rogue is the one class I never have been able to “get.” Moktor was no exception. I had plans to take her combat maces as just a brutish, face-smashing thug with a little bit of stealth. Instead, she never made it past level 26 and eventually got deleted several months before Lich King came out.
My first attempt at a DK was actually a gnome with his own backstory (a nerdy scientist of Gnomeregan who fell in with the Cult of the Damned, was found doing necromantic research, killed by the Alliance authorities, and raised by Arthas as a very reluctant nerdy death knight). I just couldn’t make it work in my head, so the gnome got deleted…and then I remembered Moktor. The class didn’t work for me, but I liked the character concept. Plus, female orcs are very rare on Feathermoon, not to mention first-rate booty-shaking badass in combat (their fighting animations are among the best of any race IMO). And then the whole story just clicked together–instead of a mighty and tragic fallen hero, here’s an amoral no-name thug from the streets…who’s just become an amoral, no-name, much more powerful thug. It was perfect. It took that whole “woe is me, what have I become” thing and stood it on its head.
See, Moktor is the least angsty death nugget you’ll ever find. While fallen paladins and turned blood knights curse their condition and struggle to deal with who and what they are in a world that hates them…Moktor has never been happier, because everybody (she thinks) always hated her anyway, so why not turn it up to eleven? She loves being a death knight now that she’s free from Arthas’ thrall. People are scared of her? Cool, maybe they’ll do what she tells them. You want to pay her to kill things? She grins and says, “where do I sign up?” Forget hiding in corners cutting purses and scrounging for garbage…she’s running around in heavy armor, with a huge-ass mace, her own deathcharger, the power to command frost and disease and blood…what’s not to like? If ever there was a character whose personal motto was truly oderint dum metuant–“let them hate, as long as they fear”–it’s Moktor.
So even though she’s a total screaming bitch with no morals, Moktor may well be my most “well-adjusted” character in some ways. She’s comfortable in her own slightly-rotten skin. She totally accepts who and what she is.
On the other hand, this makes her hard to roleplay, which stunts her development from “idea” to “character.” I’m shy, and it’s hard enough for me to roleplay my basically-decent characters like Linedan and Illithanis. Beltar has his moments where he crosses the line toward darkness, but in general, he’s still not a bad dude. Moktor, on the other hand, doesn’t have many redeeming qualities besides being good at killing bad guys. I find it very difficult to let go and play a character with a negative personality, someone who’s bossy or manipulative or worse, a loner who doesn’t feel herself bound by any law or moral code at all–not even loyalty or friendship. So because of this, I haven’t taken many chances to roleplay my little fresh level 80 thug a whole lot, and so her concept is not yet fully fleshed out.
Hopefully I can loosen myself up and work on RPing her a bit, because I think it would be an interesting experience.
We got it on the fourth try.
That is easily the most insane fight I have ever seen in WoW. It makes all the stuff I thought was crazy–Majordomo Executus, Vashj, even Kael’thas–look like it’s moving in slow motion. Trying to gather little fire elementals and drag them out of the way before they get hit by lava walls and become big pissy fire elementals while also grabbing drakes and trying to stay alive while doing all of it…daaaaaaaamn. And there’s still one more drake left to go.
I have got to get better at add-gathering. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I sucked out loud doing it tonight, even on our successful attempt. Fortunately we had a kick-ass paladin and a hunter who was fast on the icerink traps. Gotta work on it for next week.
After seeing heroic Sarth +2, heroic Sarth +3 has got to be…ugh. I’m simultaneously amped about it and dreading it.
Some really interesting thoughts about Alliance vs. Horde and “good” vs. evil over at Going Bearfoot. It’ll make you stop and think about just who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are in WoW.
(Hat Tip: Varenna over at Binary Colors. Enjoy that new T8 paladin belly-shirt armor!)
It’s time for another installment of “Dramatis Personae,” where I introduce my various characters that I occasionally mention here on Panzercow. Today, meet my blood elf hunter Illithanis.
- Full name: Illithanis Jadehawk
- Created: November 2007
- Level/race/class: Level 76 blood elf hunter
- Spec: Beastmastery (currently 53/14/0)
- Age: 119 (human equivalent 20)
“Illy,” as I call her (and she does not call herself), grew up in Quel’thalas, where her family, the Jadehawks, had considerable land and holdings south of Silvermoon in what is currently the central portion of Eversong Woods, on the western edge of the Dead Scar. Many generations of Jadehawks before Illithanis served proudly as Farstriders, the ranger corps of the quel’dorei, dating back three thousand years to the Troll Wars. Skill with bow and sword, and a great affinity with taming and training winged animals such as dragonhawks, ran in the family.
All that changed when Arthas showed up seven years ago and led his assault on the Sunwell. Illithanis and her fraternal-twin brother Althoris were sent to Sunstrider Isle in a last-ditch effort to preserve the family line–both were very indignant at this fact, as they wished to fight the Scourge. In the end, they were two of the few survivors of the quel’dorei, renamed the sin’dorei–blood elves. (Miraculously, both Illithanis’ parents also survived, though their landholdings were all but destroyed and the elder Jadehawks were forced to abandon the rest, and now live inside the rebuilt city of Silvermoon in moderate circumstances.)
Illithanis attempted to follow in her family tradition and join the Farstriders. But with the ascension of the Blood Knights and the Magisters, the Farstriders found themselves greatly diminished in power, prestige, and size. In addition, Illithanis’ rather negative opinions of Lor’themar Theron and the post-Kael’thas administration of Quel’thalas rendered her politically “unfit” for service. She became the first Jadehawk in three thousand years not to serve Silvermoon as a Farstrider, and made her own way out into the world as a free agent. Her brother Althoris, on the other hand, became an eager young Blood Knight.
Physically, Illy is fairly unexceptional; attractive, but not memorably beautiful, with regular features, something of a long face, pointy chin, and thinner lips than she’d like. She’s of a normal blood elven build and height, perhaps a bit more athletic than a caster-type but by no means muscular (“wiry” would be a good word). She has jet-black hair of just over shoulder-length, held back of her ears with a jade-encrusted clasp. She’s got the complexion of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. She hardly ever wears makeup, and her only jewelry besides her hairband, rings, and trinkets is a small jade hawk earring in her right ear. That doesn’t mean she’s slovenly; far from it, she bathes as regularly as she can, and her clothing and equipment are always repaired and as neat as she can possibly keep them.
I’m still working on Illy’s personality. Some things I know about her, and some things she’s steadfastly refused to reveal. I know she’s a generally decent sort, especially for a blood elf (which fits in with what lore says about Farstriders in general). She can be arrogant and doesn’t suffer fools well. She despises what she sees as the lazy, indolent, corrupt culture of the “elite” in Silvermoon and fumes at what’s been done to her beloved Farstriders, especially by the Blood Knights–and yet, up until patch 2.4, she was an unrepentant Kael’thas fangirl. We’re talking poster-on-the-ceiling levels of squee here. She saw him as the savior of Quel’thalas in the Third War (such as was saved), and constantly wished he would return from Outland, sweep aside Theron and the Blood Knights, and reset the sin’dorei on the path toward greatness yet again.
Then came patch 2.4. Whoopsie. Come to find out that Kael really is a bastard who stole his own people’s naaru and left them starving for magic. Illy’s still getting over the betrayal. It’s left her with a huge distrust of kings and magisters in general, and deepened her hatred for her native Silvermoon even more. She only comes there now to occasionally visit her parents and sometimes to train with the Farstriders.
I do know that Illy has taken to the Horde more than a lot of blood elves. She respects the warrior tradition of orcs even as she’s repulsed by some of their bloodier aspects. Tauren culture fascinates her, but it’s in sort of a patronizing Jane-Goodall-and-her-chimps kind of way. She stays well away from trolls–hey, 3000 years of conditioning is hard to break–and Forsaken squick her, even though her #2 idol, Ranger-General Sylvanas Windrunner, is one. She’s neutral on dwarves, gnomes, and Draenei. Humans infuriate her for what she sees as Garithos’ betrayal, and she really looks down her nose at night elves, thinking them stupid redneck country-bumpkin tree-humping idiots. If she calls you a night elf, she just insulted the hell out of you.
The other hook I’m trying to hang onto with her (but may not be able to) is that she only tames and works with flying animals. She started with a dragonhawk, then switched to a Thousand Needles venomous cloud serpent at level 28. At level 44, I found her a beautiful red Feralas rogue vale screecher, named it Bloodwing, and she’s used it until now. (And yes, I admit it, I tamed it because at the time, her armor was all red, and they matched.) Bloodwing may get honorable retirement, though. Yesterday I tamed an Emerald Skytalon from the Emerald Dragonshrine and named it…Emerald. C’mon, her last name’s Jadehawk, how could I not tame a bright green bird of prey?
And for slogging through this wall of text, you get a bonus…my tribute to one of the greatest scenes in movie history, Ursula Andress’ famous entrance as Honey Rider in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, done WoW style:
This morning, after wiping on the Insomnia boss, I got my blood elf hunter Illithanis through the last part of the Wrathgate questline, saw the Cutscene of Cool (SPOILER ALERT!!), and completed the Battle for the Undercity (gaining level 75 in the process). Illy is the third character I’ve run through the Wrathgate (now two Horde, one Alliance) and it’s still pretty much made of awesome. But as I helped Thrall clean up the mess in Undercity, my sleep-deprived mind started wandering, as it is wont to do, and got me to thinking…
(CAUTION: Spoilers lie under the cut. If you are one of the, eh, fourteen or so people out of 11+ million who don’t know how the whole Wrathgate/Undercity event goes and want to wait until you see it for yourself, then you may want to skip this and read some of the other fine content on this here blog thang or check out the blogroll.)
…if you’ve been bad this year, Greatfather Winter brings pain.