Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Becoming the Hunter, part IV

Do I really need to link parts I, II, & III?

* * * * *

The hot, dusty air of the Barrens burned Kwazimoto's lungs as he drew each laboring breath, but his legs? His legs ached and his calf muscles screamed at him to stop running, but his ankle? His ankle throbbed from when it had rolled under him as stepped into the Prairie Rat hole, but his heart? His heart beat like it was fit to burst, and the pounding in his ears sounded like the war drums of the Horde.

The Horde: the very reason why he couldn't stop running.

"Stop!" yelled a guttural voice from behind him. "We'll make it quick!"

Kwazi kept running, east, towards Ratchet. He hoped towards Ratchet. It had to be this way. This was the way the signs had pointed. If it wasn't this way, well, Kwazi didn't want to think about that, so he did the only thing he could do; run.

When he'd seen the sign posts earlier, pointing south towards Crossroads and the Goblin village of Ratchet, Kwazimoto hadn't realized he'd actually pass so close to the Horde town. In retrospect, it made perfect sense, given the town's name. It was called Crossroads, so logically it should be at a crossroad. And it was. On the crossroad leading to Ratchet!

Fortunately for Kwazi, despite the entire town seeing him pass by, they'd chosen to do nothing but point and laugh at the young Dwarf. But the hunting party was another story. Made up of a few young Orc Hunters all eager to earn their first coup, they had given chase. More fortunate was that being so young, none of the Hunters had achieved riding status in the tribe so they were all on foot, just like Kwazi. And being young, none of them were armed with anything more than training bows, strung loose to force young Hunters to learn to get close to their prey to make their shot count. And yet some of the arrows fired from those bows had still come dangerously close to Kwazi. Simple bows they may be, but these young Hunters knew how to use them.

"Come on! Faster!" he heard one of the Orcs behind him say. "He's gonna get...to Ratchet...if we don't...catch him! Faster!"

So it was this way. That little bit of knowledge buoyed him up, and Kwazi felt his second wind, or was it his third? Who cares! Run!

Don't...Stop!

Don't...Stop!

Don't...Stop!

He ignored the pain in his body, the pain of his body. It hurt! His whole body hurt!

No! Stop that. It doesn't hurt. Keep running. He heard Raene's voice, urging him on, and so on he ran.

The ground gradually sloped down, and he could smell salt on the air. Ahead, far ahead, so close, but still so far away, the white capped waves of the ocean beckoned him. Ratchet. He could see Ratchet. So close.

Keep running. Keep running. Keep running!

Shhhhooonk!

An arrow struck the road just ahead of him and Kwazi stumbled and almost fell. He managed to catch himself before he plowed face first into the road, and being bent over at the waist, with arms and legs churning as he fought to keep his balance, actually saved him.

Shhhhooonk!

He felt the wind of the second arrow as it passed above his bowed head.

"That one would have hit me square in the back," Kwazi thought to himself, perhaps a little too calmly given the situation. The Dwarf managed to straighten up without slowing down or losing his balance, and with arms and legs pumping he flew down the road with the hunting party still giving chase.

"Sttoooopppp!!!" came a yell from behind him.

"Pigs!" thought Kwazi to himself, as he ran into Ratchet and finally collapsed next to a Goblin Bruiser standing watch at the Pier. But the yell wasn't meant for Kwazi. As he rolled over and looked back he saw one Orc had followed him into Ratchet. The young Hunter stood barely a few ten-feet away. His bow was drawn, and a wickedly barbed hunting arrow was nocked and at the ready. The Orc's chest heaved as he struggled to catch his breath, but Kwazi noted the arrow's point barely wavered. The young Orc was obviously winded from the chase, yet he was also clearly capable of still making an accurate shot. Kwazi was impressed.

"Thrag! No! Don't!" yelled one of the other Hunters. Unlike Thrag, the rest of the hunting party had all stopped short of what had to be Ratchet's border. "Neutral ground, Thrag! Neutral ground! Don't!"

Thrag's eyes narrowed and his breathing slowed. "Bastard dwarf," he snarled at Kwazi, and released the arrow, which struck the shield the Goblin Bruiser had lowered in front of him. There was a muffled thump, and when the Bruiser lifted his shield Kwazi saw Thrag's unconscious body was now entwined in a net and being carried off to Ratchet's makeshift prison.

"Damn it, Thrag," said the earlier speaker, "told you to stop. Never bloody listen. Pop is gonna love this one. Well, Dwarf," he said - Kwazi raised his head - "You can run. Yeah, you sure can run, but you can't hide!"

"Oh, you'd be surprised," replied Kwazimoto, "I can hide pretty well when I need to."

The Orc laughed. "Good hunting to you, Dwarf!" he said, thumping his fist against his chest.

"Good hunting to you, Orc," Kwazi replied, returning the salute. "May Orion guide your arrows to their target."

The Orc stared at Kwazi for several long seconds, before smiling - It was probably meant to be a friendly smile, but tusks and a mouthful of fangs don't make for very friendly smiles - then he nodded his head, turned, and as one the Orcs began running back towards the Crossroads. Not walking, not jogging, but running. Kwazi smiled and shook his head in wonder. They breed them tough out here in the Barrens, he thought. Now, where's that Inn? I need a drink.

* * *

Kwazi had to admit, fishing off Ratchet's pier was extremely relaxing. Each day two ships sailed from Ratchet to Booty Bay, one in the morning, and one in the early evening. Most folks chose to ride the one in the evening because it allowed them to sleep during the trip and wake at Booty Bay in the morning, but there were still a few folks that sailed out on the morning ship.

For almost a ten-day Kwazi had done nothing but fish off the pier. Fish, and wait for the right ship, although it would be more accurate to say he was waiting for the right passengers. Kwazi needed a morning ship to set sail with absolutely no Horde on board. Alliance would be fine, but not Horde, not for what he had in mind. Chatting with the Goblin sailors Kwazi had established that as they sailed out of Ratchet, their ship passed fairly close to the Echo Isles. Rather than approach the Isles by land, via Durotar, and pass dangerously close to Orgrimmar, Kwazi was choosing to go by sea. Dwarves can swim, they just prefer not to, not if they can avoid it. But when the need arises or their life depends on it Dwarves have been known to swim short distances very, very quickly.

Kwazi needed a morning ship with no Horde passengers, because any Horde warrior worth their salt would pursue a member of the Alliance jumping ship so close to Orgrimmar. And so Kwazi sat on the pier, and fished, and waited. Hunters are very, very good at waiting. If they weren't, they wouldn't be Hunters, and Kwazi was a very good Hunter, which is how he could sit on the pier for half a ten-day and do nothing but fish. Of those he caught a few small ones were tossed back, a basketful went to the Innkeeper to pay for his lodging, and a handful were smoked as provisions for the future. Kwazi had a special pouch, with heavily greased water-resistant leather, that kept things like tinder, gunpowder, and dried provisions as dry as possible, and he had this pouch stuffed full of smoked fish and some Kodo Jerky the Innkeeper had made, which was actually quite tasty.

Finally the day arrived when the only travelers waiting for the morning ship were a couple of Alliance soldiers, and when the ship set sail it did so with just three passengers. While the two soldiers headed below deck, Kwazi stood on the portside of the ship, and waited. As the wind filled its sails the ship pulled away from Ratchet and Kwazi watched the mountains slide by. It was when the ship started turning more and more to the south, away from the mountains, that Kwazi made his move and jumped.

It was not a graceful entry and it was not a masterful stroke that propelled Kwazi through the water, but it was effective, and after several long minutes he was able to stand up in chest high water. With the hills rising almost straight up out of the water, Kwazi had no choice but to begin slowly wading east, towards the Echo Isles, but when they finally came into view, so, too, did a Troll fishing village.

Fortunately for Kwazi most of the Trolls of Sen'jin Village had long since headed north to Orgrimmar, to serve Thrall, so on this morning only a couple of Trolls were about, and none were looking towards the ocean. They certainly weren't expecting a Dwarf to be wading up the coast from Ratchet, so Kwazi was able to start swimming across to the largest of the Isles without being seen.

When he finally made shore he unwrapped his water-resistant pack and took out several pieces of fish. The grease had done its job, and unlike Kwazi, the fish had not been affected by their prolonged exposure to the water. As Kwazi slowly chewed one piece he felt his strength return, but it was the Innkeeper's Kodo Jerky that sealed the deal and Kwazi felt ready to take on the world. Although for now, an Echo Isles' Tiger would have to do.

As Kwazi stood up to go searching for his Tiger he realized one had already found him. Maybe it was the aroma of smoked fish, perhaps the Kodo Jerkey, or possibly just the strange scent of wet Dwarf that drew it out of the cover of the jungle. Whatever it was the Tiger only had eyes for Kwazimoto, and Hunter and Beast stopped and stared each other down.

It was the Tiger that made the first move, as it had to, for Kwazimoto's role in this play was simple; stand firm against the Tiger, and make it see that its attacks were futile. Kwazimoto had to be the dominant one, the stronger of the two. He had to be Alpha, and the Tiger had to be made to realize that.

As the Tiger charged in Kwazi did nothing but stand his ground, meet its gaze, and stare it down. The Tiger crossed the distance between them in a heart beat, but under Kwazi's unwavering gaze it balked, and swerved away. The Tiger made a huge circle back to its starting point where it stopped and looked at the Dwarf, clearly confused.

Wasn't this prey? It smelled like prey. Then why didn't it act like prey? Why didn't it turn and run? With a snarl it leaped at the Dwarf a second time, and again Kwazi stood his ground, and once more the Tiger checked its attack and turned away. Again it made another large circle and finished up back where it had started.

Kwazi glared at the Tiger which now really wasn't sure what was going on. This creature clearly smelled like fish, and something else delicious, but it didn't act like prey. So if it wasn't prey, it was competition for prey. It was competition! The Tiger turned and made one last charge, coming right up to the Dwarf where it drew back a huge paw with wicked claws extended and...it made its last mistake; it looked up into the Dwarf's face.

Kwazimoto stared back into the Tiger's amber eyes, barely a couple of feet from his own. He could see every whisker on its face, and smell the last meal on its breath. He stared into the Tiger's eyes and the Tiger finally realized this was not prey, and it wasn't competition; this was Alpha, its Alpha. The Tiger lowered its paw, rolled over, and offered its belly to its Alpha.

Kwazimoto let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and took out a second piece of smoked fish, but instead of offering it to the Tiger he took a huge bite and chewed with gusto. The Tiger whined and looked longingly at the fish, until it caught Kwazi's stern stare. The whining stopped and it lowered its gaze.

Kwazi took out the third piece of fish and took another huge bite, and only then did he offer the remainder of this piece to the Tiger. Slowly, carefully, it took the offered fish from his hand, then swallowed it whole and looked up expectantly.

More?

"No."

While it may not have known the word, the tone was quite clear, and the Tiger immediately understood that it only got food from its new Alpha when it was offered, and not before. Still, no harm in asking, right?

"No!

Ok, fine. No more food just yet. So, what do we do now? Where are we going?

"Well, Tiger," said Kwazi, "I probably should have thought this crazy idea of mine through a little better, because I have no clue how we're getting back to Dun Murogh."

The Tiger looked up at him, and like Tigers sometimes do, gave an amused woof.

Kwazi gave its head a rough pat. "You're a fat lot of good, aren't you? Then again, I guess I'm not much better. You know what, Tiger? I didn't see Durotar on the way over. I guess we could go back that way, through the Barrens, and head back up to Ashenvale. I know a pretty Elf there who'd like to meet you. What do you say, Tiger?"

The Tiger had no clue what its Alpha had just said, but it knew it was being asked a question and it gave another woof.

"Good answer, Tiger," said Kwazimoto. "Let's go."

* * * * *

To be continued? I don't know. Maybe. If you never read it, there is one more Kwazimoto story, where he faces down Klinfran the Crazed, the Burning Steppes demon who's part of the old level 60 Epic Hunter quest. You can find it here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Becoming the Hunter, part III

In case you missed them, click here for Part I, and here for Part II

* * * * *

With resounding roars from rider and mount alike the Horde raiders swept into Astranaar. A huge Tauren warrior riding a giant Kodo had point, and his massive beast crashed into the two Night Elf Sentinels stationed at the eastern bridge, sending them flying into the air. In a clear display of the Elves' legendary dexterity one of the Sentinels drew her bow and loosed an arrow while still in midair. It was an impressive shot, considering the Sentinel was upside down at the time, even if the arrow did nothing more than glance off the Tauren's plated helm.

The Tauren's two companions rode in behind him, and as one all three wheeled their mounts around then leaped off and prepared for battle. A few arcane words from the Orc Shaman saw lightning spark and flash from the head of his mace, while small balls of lightning appeared from thin air and began to swirl and dance around him.

The dark robed figure behind the Orc hissed, then muttered something Kwazimoto didn't catch, but the hair on his neck stood up as an unholy stench swept his way. A shimmer appeared in the air beside the Warlock, not unlike a heat wave, then a giant, armored figure slowly appeared in what was obviously a rift to another dimension. As the demon materialized it bellowed, "Who dares summon me?!"

"A Felguard!" gasped Raene Wolfrunner, who stood watching with Kwazimoto. "These are strong opponents indeed, young Dwarf. Best you stay back and leave this fight to us. Come, Dagri! To battle!"

As Night Elves rushed from the buildings to defend their tiny home in the middle of the Ashenvale forest, Dagri, Raene's wolf, darted in and started harassing the Warlock. Raene herself fired several arrows in quick succession, and although all found their mark they seemed to do little more than attract the attention of the Felguard, which turned and charged her position.

Raene pulled another arrow from her quiver and said something in Elvish that Kwazi didn't catch, but he was duly impressed when a spiderweb pattern of light began flickering up and down the arrow's shaft. The Hunter fired the arrow at the fast approaching Felguard, and Kwazi gasped as the shaft buried itself in the ground between the demon's feet. She missed? How? And then the arrow exploded into thin filaments of light that wrapped around the Felguard's legs and brought it crashing to the ground, immobile.

Raene drew another arrow, muttered some more words in Elvish, then launched this arrow towards the Horde raiders. Almost as soon as it left her bow the shaft split into three separate arrows, with each seeking one of the three raiders.

The Felguard climbed back to its feet, shook itself free of the last of the magical net, then resumed its lumbering run towards Raene. The Hunter fired her next arrow straight into the Felguard's face while shouting yet another Elvish word, but this was a word Kwazi did know, because Raene had taught it to him that very morning.

Scattershot!

The arrow exploded in the Felguard's face, stunning it, and for several seconds it wandered aimlessly on wobbly, unsteady legs. That was all the time Dagri needed to return to Raene's side and begin worrying at the Felguard, which forgot the Warlock's earlier orders and focused all its attention on the wolf. Kwazimoto heard the Warlock curse but the distance between the Warlock and its minion was too great. The Felguard ignored its master's orders and concentrated on trying to strike the elusive wolf that kept snapping at its legs.

While Dagri kept the Felguard occupied, Raene launched arrow after arrow at the raiders, which is when Kwazi noticed something not quite right. His keen eyes had caught movement where none should have been. What was that? Tusks? And was that...a dagger? As if a spell had been broken a young Troll appeared in front of him, creeping towards Raene. Clearly it was unaware it had been spotted, for it continued its deliberately slow movements towards the Elven Hunter. In fact Kwazi found his attention start to wander and it took all of his willpower to focus on where he knew the Troll was, and not "Look away! You don't see me!"

Kwazi shook his head. Was this how they did it? He'd heard of the Rogues' uncanny ability to disappear in broad daylight; how they could apparently stand out in the open and not be seen. Was it some kind of learned magic by which they forced any observers to look away, to literally not see the Rogue standing right in front of them?

"I see you," Kwazi told himself. "I SEE YOU!!!"

There! Creeping around to get behind Raene! There it was! Kwazi shouldered his rifle, took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger.

Ka-Boom!

Raene spun at the sound to see the young Troll collapse in a heap beside her, still holding a wicked dagger tightly in each hand. She looked over at Kwazi to thank him, then her eyes widened and her focus switched from his face to over his shoulder.

"Bastard!" hissed a voice in Kwazi's ear as something slammed into his lower back. Then came a second searing pain higher up. And then he felt nothing at all.

The last thing Kwazi saw was Raene launching another arrow straight at him. No, not at him. Over his head. He heard her yell something in Elvish. He knew that word. What was it again? Oh yeah. Scattershot. Then his world went black.

* * *

Kwazi's head hadn't felt like this for a long time. Not since the morning after he and Jarven tried to drink every last keg of Thunder Ale in the Kharanos Inn. Actually, now that he thought about it, that still hadn't been as bad as he felt now. Just how much had he had to drink this time? He hoped Jarven felt even worse, because he just knew his old friend was behind this horrific hangover.

Slowly and carefully he cracked open one eye lid, expecting to be blinded by the fire in his room at the Kharanos Inn, but there was no fire. And this wasn't Kharanos. So where was he? And why was everything so green? Kwazi opened both eyes, and one of the most musical voices he'd ever heard cautioned him to take it easy.

An elf? Oh yeah. It all came flooding back to him.

The Druid who kept yawning and muttering something about the Emerald Dream, who had asked Kwazi to escort him from Auberdine to a giant tree-like demi-god in some outdoor temple.

Another Hunter - this one an Elf - and his bear companion. Kwazi got the feeling traveling with them that while two was company, three was definitely a crowd. He remembered parting ways, with the Elf saying he was going to investigate a Furbolg camp.

Then there was Astranaar, and Raene Wolfrunner, and...the Horde! And the young Troll Rogue that he'd shot, only to be ambushed by...another Rogue?

Kwazi tried to sit up and pain shot through his body, from two points in his back, to be precise. Again the musical voice cautioned him to take it easy before calling out, "Raene! He's awake!"

A tall, lithe body blocked the light of the doorway for a second as Raene stepped inside the hut. "Don't try to get up just yet, Kwazi," she told him. "You got that first Troll, but his brother got you."

"I thought I was a goner" said the Dwarf.

"You were," said the owner of the musical voice, "but you seem to have made some interesting friends in your short life, Hunter. Although Dwarves were never meant to walk the Emerald Dream, it sounds like you are one who has. When Raene brought you to me you were so pale that I thought you were already lost to us. But as we lay you down you gasped, then uttered the name of a powerful Druid. 'Kerlonian Evershade! What are you doing here?' you said, and that was when I knew you still had a chance. Oh, I'm sorry. Where are my manners? I am Tra'onna Evershade, daughter of Kerlonian. It is a pleasure to meet you, Kwazimoto."

Kwazi finally managed to sit up but decided against trying to stand just yet. Instead he bowed his head and said, "Well met, Tra'onna Evershade, daughter of Kerlonian Evershade. I am Kwazi'Moto, son of Kozi'Moto, son of Quasi'Moto, and I am honored to meet you."

Tra'onna laughed. "And I am glad we were able to meet, Kwazi'moto, son of Kozi'moto. I've heard the Dwarves are legendary for two things in particular. Their sturdy constitution and," she smiled to show she meant no malice, "their stubbornness, and it appears both traits have served you well these past few days. Yes," she said, noting the shock on Kwazi's face, "it's been half a ten-day since we were last attacked, but given the severity of the wounds you suffered, I'm amazed to see you awake so soon. Still, I don't think you're ready to resume your hunt just yet, Kwazi'moto."

Kwazi would have liked to have argued otherwise but he was forced to admit Tra'onna was right, especially as the room had been slowly spinning ever since he sat up. "I think...I'd like something to eat," he said, "then...maybe I'll take another nap, if you don't mind."

"How could I object to such a polite request, Kwazi'moto, son of Kozi'moto," laughed Tra'onna, as she prepared a bowl of broth for him. "Here. I think you will find this surprisingly satisfying, for a simple bowl of broth."

Kwazi took the offered bowl of what appeared to be little more than hot water, but Tra'onna was right. A delicious aroma filled his nostrils, the broth filled his stomach, and within seconds of draining the bowl Kwazi felt his mind grow heavy and he carefully lay back down on the woven grass mat.

"Sleep, Kwazi'moto, son of Kozi'moto," sang Tra'onna. "Sleep. Your body needs to rest to heal. Sleep."

* * *

Kwazi spent many more ten-days in Astranaar before Tra'onna felt he was strong enough to continue his journey. During that time he studied under Raene, and the Dwarf learned what being a Hunter means to the Night Elves. Although both the Dwarves and the Night Elves produced Hunters, there were distinct differences between the two races, and Kwazi realized they each could learn a lot from the other.

He also learned a lot more about the Horde, as it seemed not a single ten-day could go by without raiders attacking Astranaar at least once. Kwazi learned that in the center of the Barrens was a Horde town known simply as the Crossroads. Raene told the Dwarf that just as the Horde frequently attacked Astranaar, so, too, did soldiers of the Alliance almost constantly raid the Crossroads.

"If one was in retaliation for the other," she said, "then it was so long ago that nobody remembers who was the initial aggressor. Now they attack us, we attack them, and the circle continues. Aren't you familiar with a similar situation in your own Eastern Kingdoms?"

Kwazi was forced to admit that his knowledge of almost anywhere outside Dun Murogh was severely lacking.

"In the land known as Hillsbrad," Raene continued, "to the north of Ironforge, there are two towns, one Alliance, one Horde. Located so closely together they are almost constantly at war." The Night Elf shook her head sadly. "Many battles have been fought there, many heroes slain, and much blood soaks the fields between these two towns. We attack them, they attack us, and the circle continues."

They were definitely words to ponder, Kwazi thought to himself, and something to keep in mind if he was to return from this journey. Clearly not all lands were as safe as Dun Murogh, while some appeared to never know peace at all. He would need to be especially careful when he ventured south into the Barrens. If the Alliance harassed the Crossroads as often as Astranaar had been raided these past few ten-days, Kwazi knew the Horde of the Barrens would not hesitate to attack a solitary Dwarf trespassing on their land.

But it was not just the Barrens that Kwazi must pass through, but Durotar itself. Named after Thrall's father and home to the Orc capital of Orgrimmar, Kwazi knew that the greatest test of his abilities was still yet to come.

But somewhere south of here a Tiger called his name, and Kwazi'moto, son of Kozi'moto, had no choice but to find it.

(Continued in part IV)

* * * * *

I've added something a little personal to this story, that being Kwazimoto's lineage.

When my father retired in the early '90s, one of the things that occupied his free time was playing the Forgotten Realms computer games on my old Commodore 64. Differing from WoW and other MMOs of today, these single-player games required the player to create and manage a full party of adventurers. My father could play through them again and again, creating new parties each time, but there was always one constant to each party; they would all include a Dwarf named after Victor Hugo's famous hunchback, Quasimodo, and the spelling of Kwazi's father's name was one of my father's favorite choices.

Later when my father played AD&D the character he naturally chose was a Dwarf, which he named Kozimoto, of course. One of the goals he had for Kozimoto was to have a wolf as a Pet, and he was delighted the day I DM'd a small adventure where I allowed his Dwarf to buy a baby wolf from a traveling vendor.

When I began playing WoW in April 2005, neither Kwazimoto nor the Hunter were my first characters. I actually rolled a human Paladin, but after playing for the evening I wasn't too enamored with the experience. I brought the manual to work with me the next day to read on the bus (yes, I actually RTFM ;) and something about the Hunter, particularly the Dwarf Hunter, appealed to me. When I got home I rolled my new character and while debating a name decided that like my father, I'd go with a play on Quasimodo. As Dad would frequently go with Kozimoto, I chose Kwazimoto, being not just a play on Quasimodo, but also Quasi as in similar to my father.

My Dad would have loved WoW and without a doubt he would have played a Hunter. And with me living in the U.S it would have been a great way for us to stay in touch, except for one small problem. Dad died in March 2005, just one month before I started playing.

I actually rolled a Kozimoto, for Dad, but there was something about doing that which felt wrong and I deleted that character. But Kwazi'moto, son of Kozi'moto, son of Quasi'moto, lives on (even if I don't play any more ;)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Becoming the Hunter, part II

Continuing Kwazimoto's story. Part I can be found here.

* * * * *

A trip through the Wetlands would normally have been far more hazardous for a young Dwarf with so few seasons under his belt, except for one thing. As Kwazimoto entered the tunnels of Dun Algaz, he noticed the guards who were charged with holding back any Horde ambitious enough to come down from the north, guards who usually took their jobs very seriously, had huge grins on their faces and in some cases were doubled up with laughter.

"Quick now," one of the guards chuckled to Kwazi as he waved him on through the tunnels. "You'll be fine, if you...you catch up to...them! Ah hah hah hah ha!" The guard couldn't contain his laughter any longer and he held his stomach as tears rolled down his face.

"Hurry now, lad," said another guard with more self control. "If you're quick, you can catch them before you pass through the lower tunnels. Run like the Snow Leopard, son. Go!"

Confused but obedient Kwazi raced through the first tunnel and met more guards, who, like the first, were a lot more jovial than expected. As he emerged from the tunnel they turned with expectant looks on their faces. "Another one? No, it's a young dwarf. Quick, me lad. Run! Catch up to...them! HA ha ha!" And like the earlier guards they also burst out laughing.

Kwazi entered the second tunnel and his speed picked up as he raced down the slope. Ahead of him he could hear a strange sound. High pitched yelps. A lot of them. Like a thousand children crying out with sheer abandonment and exultation.

"Hup! Hup Hup! Hup hup hup! Hup hup! Hup hup hup!"

Kwazi burst out into the second clearing and the sight that met his eyes was one he'd never forget. Were they crazy? Suicidal? Was it a cult of some kind? What in Orion's name was going on?

Why would so many Gnomes strip down to their underwear, then run through the Wetlands? Because clearly Dun Algaz was not their final destination although sadly, for some, it was.

But even as the arrows of the Dragonmaw Orcs brought down their companions the rest of the Gnomes kept running, and now Kwazi realized what the guards had meant. If he stuck with these suicidal gnomes (or whatever they were), as much as the thought churned his belly, their deaths would provide him with safe passage through the Wetlands. Although Kwazi stood a good head and shoulders above his companions, the fact that they were naked, or perhaps just that they were gnomes, drew the ire of the Dragonmaw, and the dwarf passed through the clearing and entered the third tunnel unscathed.

The high pitched yelping of the gnomes echoed unpleasantly off the stone walls and Kwazi tried to pass through the confined space as quickly as he could. But although he shoved and jostled many a gnome as he pushed his way through, not one of them protested at the rough treatment.

"Hup! Hup! Hup hup hup!" was the only sound they made.

Kwazi emerged from the tunnel into the third clearing where the path ahead looped back on itself to enter the final tunnel below. He had no idea how many gnomes were behind him, but clearly there were still a lot more in front. As they ran ahead of him down the slope they jumped and leaped and spun in the air, not unlike sheep in the spring when they're relieved of their wool, which, Kwazi thought to himself, was an all too accurate analogy.

Using his greater size and strength, Kwazi shoved gnomes out of the way as he raced down the path and entered the fourth tunnel, and there ahead of him he thought he finally heard something other than the gnomes' inane, high pitched yelping.

Was that the clip-clopping trot of a Dwarven Battle-Ram?

As he emerged from the final tunnel and entered the damp, fetid heat of the Wetlands, Kwazi saw the front runners of the pack were being led by a Dwarf astride a Ram. The Dwarf was obviously a fellow Hunter, because at his side ran a big cat, a magnificent, heavily muscled beast. White with a slight violet hue to its stripes, it was clearly from Winterspring.

Although surrounded by yelping gnomes the big cat seemed to sense his presence, and it turned and looked straight into Kwazi's eyes. A cold, calculated look that turned Kwazi's blood to ice. Then, just like the tiger of his dreams from the night before, the big cat dismissed him and continued loping along, clearly not bothered by his presence. As if they shared a non-physical connection and an unspoken message had passed between them the Hunter turned and looked back inquisitively, and his face lit up when he saw Kwazimoto.

"Come on up!" he yelled, beckoning to the young Hunter. "It's a little clearer at the front. Less gnomes...for obvious reasons." He grinned, and Kwazi resumed pushing his way through the throng. The gnomes let him pass without saying a word, except for "Hup! Hup! Hup hup hup!" of course.

As Kwazi got closer to the front of the pack he saw what the Dwarf had meant by "obvious reasons". The Wetlands were home to Giant Spiders, Crocalisks, and Raptors, all dangerous beasts to a Dwarf as inexperienced as Kwazi, and equally as dangerous to young gnomes like those around him. Here, a Croc rushed from the water. There, a Raptor emerged from the mist. And with a snap of jaws and a Yelp! they disappeared just as quickly, but not empty handed, or empty-mouthed as it were.

Seeing the shock on Kwazi's face the Dwarf spoke up. "It's just the circle of life, son. I'd expect a fellow Hunter to understand, be a little more in tune with nature. All things must eat, and we're not always at the top of the food chain, you know. Now, don't get too close to the front. See?"

Another Snap! and Yelp! caught his attention and a horrified Kwazi realized it was only the gnomes at the very front who were getting picked off. Now he knew why all those other gnomes had let him through so easily. As long as he or someone else was ahead of them, the Crocs and Raptors would take that person first.

The old Hunter laughed as the young Dwarf, noticing the ranks around him had become dangerously thin, tried to slow down and let a few more Gnomes back in front. But the Gnomes behind Kwazi were a lot less enthusiastic about him falling back than they had been about letting him passed, and Kwazi felt tiny hands shove him forward, keeping him out in front.

Kwazi looked around in panic then realized that while the Raptors and Crocs were taking the young gnomes, they were giving the old Hunter a wide berth. Being animals didn't mean they weren't smart. The Crocs and Raptors knew it was easier, and a lot less riskier, to take the younger, softer, less armored gnomes, than to try for a well armed, clearly dangerous Hunter...or his big cat.

Quickly Kwazi moved over and began running alongside the old Hunter's feline companion, who uttered a single, low, cough of a grunt, but otherwise made no sign he even knew Kwazi was there.

"Smart thinking, young dwarf. We might make a Hunter out of you yet!" the old Hunter said with a laugh, as a snap and a Yelp! saw yet another gnome carried off into the mist.

Kwazi ignored him. He was too busy trying to keep up with the big cat and, more importantly, stay as close to it as possible without making it angry or giving it an excuse to eat him.

Finally, after running for what seemed like hours, the ground underfoot changed from the dirt path of the Wetlands to the wooden planks of a bridge, and ahead of him, somewhere in the mist, Kwazi heard the sounds of civilization.

Horses neighed, hammers rang on metal, ropes creaked and...sailors were singing and gulls were crying. Menethil Harbor! With the end in sight, figuratively more than literally, the Gnomes stepped up the pace and began pushing and shoving each other as they jostled and fought for first place.

A shout came from somewhere ahead of them. "Here they come!"

Cheers went up, the yelps of the gnomes got louder and even more higher pitched, which Kwazimoto hadn't thought possible, and it dawned on him that the countless, senseless deaths he'd witnessed this day, had all been for nothing more than a race.

The gnomes poured across a wide stone bridge and the two Dwarves were literally carried along with them into Menethil Harbor, which quickly became the biggest party town this side of Goldshire.

Later, Kwazimoto joined the old Hunter in the Deepwater Tavern for a drink and a bite to eat.

"You weren't here for the race," the old Hunter said to Kwazimoto. "So, what brings you to Menethil Harbor?"

"I'm just passing through," Kwazi replied. "I...had a dream last night," he said, deciding to confide in the old Dwarf. Surely a fellow Hunter should understand. "I had my final lessons yesterday, and I tamed a Leopard, and a Bear, and a Wolf, then I sent them all away. None of them felt right. Then in my dream last night I fought beside a Tiger...and...I knew it was the one."

"Aye, that's how some of us know," the old Hunter nodded, then took a long pull from his mug that left his mustache covered in white foam. "Some Hunters are happy to grab the first Beast they come across. But others...others like you, they want the right companion. And they're never happy until they find it...or it finds them." He winked at Kwazi, "Like yer Tiger found you. Aye. You'll make a good Hunter, I can see that. Now if you'll excuse me," the old Hunter drained his Mug then slammed it down onto the table, "It's been a long day, herding gnomes from Coldridge Valley all the way out here. I'm going to get some shut-eye. But I think that bell means your ride to Auberdine is getting ready to set sail. Better hurry, young Hunter. Be seeing ya!"

And with that the old Dwarf turned and headed upstairs, accompanied by his big cat that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. And if anyone had any objections to the animal being in the Inn, nobody was prepared to voice them.

Kwazi smiled to himself, tossed a few coins down on the table, then shouldered his pack and slipped outside. As he made his way out onto the pier he saw the old Hunter had been correct. The ship to Auberdine was already loaded and the crew were making their last preparations as Kwazi trotted on board and was directed to his cabin. The ship would sail through the night and in the morning, when he woke, Kwazi would find himself in Auberdine, on the north-west coast of Kalimdor. But even there, as far as Auberdine was from Ironforge and the hills of Dun Murogh, Kwazi's journey to find his tiger companion would still be far from over.

(Click here for part III)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Runes of Magic

So long without a post, and I notice I'm not the only one. So what have I been up to?

Aside from life in general, Tae Kwon Do and Golf lessons for my son, Cub Scouts, and other family activities, not much has been happening.

I did let Saylah convince me, through her Blog, to give Runes of Magic a try, and it's been a fun game so far. Almost all of the folks I've encountered have been friendly, and it's not uncommon for high level players to offer their help in general chat, "Anyone need help with anything?", there's a distinct lack of Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, etc, and the Murloc movie title references and Chuck Norris jokes are conspicuously absent from general chat, but aside from all that it's remarkably similar to WoW ;)

I rolled a Rogue at first and having heard the problem with Talent Point respecs I leveled up to 5 or 6 before I assigned any Talent Points to any of my skills, with the subsequent result that it was like playing my Hunter in WoW for the first time, where I forgot about my Talent Points, and never trained my Pet in anything, and wondered why the more I leveled the harder the game got.

So at level 6 I decided to level up a couple of skills and looking at my Talent Points it was a classic No Brainer where I should invest first. I maxed out the standard Rogue attack Shadowstab (being the RoM equivalent of Sinister Strike), and because wielding a Dagger while casting/spamming Shadowstab puts a 6-second Bleeding Wound debuff on my opponent, and the Rogue skill Low Blow inflicts extra damage on targets with a Bleeding Wound, I subsequently dumped Talent Points into Low Blow as well.

Just as an aside, unlike WoW, you don't get Talent Points each time you level, you actually get them from every Mob you kill. And Leveling up a Skill doesn't require just 1 TP as in WoW, but multiple TPs, but unless you try to max out every single Skill your class has access to you shouldn't have a problem with the amount of Talent Points you have available. RoM also follows a Talent Tree structure that more closely resembles Diablo II than WoW, by which I mean a Level 6 Rogue can increase Shadowstab, Low Blow, and the Level 6 Skill Wound Attack to level 6, then when your character reaches level 7 you can dump more TPs into those Skills to level them up to 7 as well.

I just mentioned the Level 6 Rogue Skill Wound Attack, and this was the 3rd Skill that was a No Brainer recipient of my valuable Talent Points. If your target is inflicted with a Bleeding Wound debuff and you hit them with Low Blow, they suffer a 10-second Grievous Wound debuff. And if you hit them with Wound Attack while they're under the effects of both a Bleeding Wound and a Grievous Wound then that's just about all she wrote.

Up until I dinged level 6 combat had been little more than me spamming my level 1 Shadowstab, which was fine against level 1 & 2 Mobs, but against the level 3 & 4 Mobs I faced at levels 3, 4, & 5, level 1 SS wasn't cutting the mustard, combat was a real drag. Then I dinged 6, spent my Talent Points as I just described, and now I had a 1-2-3 combo, with 1 being Shadowstab, 2 being Low Blow, & 3 naturally being Wound Attack. Now combat was not only over in seconds, but culminated in an explosion of red pixels. Awesome! RoM Rogue with properly spent Talent Points = FUN!

I quickly leveled to 10 then faced a major decision all RoM players face at that point. What to make my secondary class? Imagine a Rogue with access to Hunter skills, or Priest Skills, or Warrior or Mage skills. Yep, RoM is kind of like that. At level 10 you approach the Class Trainer of your choice and commit to a second class, and here I made a mistake. I chose Knight (the RoM equivalent of a Paladin), and it's not bad, but it detracted from the fun of my Rogue. What I should have done was rolled a brand new character, i.e., a Knight, and seen if I liked playing that class first, but I didn't. Later I rolled a Warrior and a Scout (Hunter) and decided I really like the way the Scout played. There is no Deadzone with a Scout. You get up in a Scout's face, and he can still shoot you, while simultaneously attacking with his Melee weapon. I played the Scout up to level 10 and said, I want this guy (actually a female character ;) to be a Scout/Rogue.

As a Scout/Rogue I do not have access to the Rogue's Low Blow and Wound Attack, unless I switch my Classes (which you can do) so Rogue is my primary and Scout is my secondary class, but then I lose access to some of the Scout-specific skills/shots. I found that the Rogue & Scout classes compliment each other, utilizing similar weapons and armor, but like any combination of pure DPS classes they naturally create the ultimate Glass Cannon. Wicked DPS with low Armor means you need to kill your opponent fast or you're going down. Now in PvE you do kill fast so it's not a big deal, although apparently at higher levels you need a Healer to keep you alive, but I'm not there yet so that's not a huge concern. Apparently Rogue/Scout classes also suffer in PvP, for the same Glass Cannon reasons. But I haven't done PvP in RoM yet, either :P

Questing is where RoM again compares to WoW, but it likewise could be compared to almost every other MMO out there as well. You have the regular quests you do for various townsfolk in your current Quest Hub, but you also have Daily Quests you can do that reward you with Tokens you can apparently later spend on cool stuff, like Permanent Mounts, because most Mounts in RoM are temporary-hire objects, that disappear from your backpack after a certain period of time. You get to keep them for longer periods if you pay more up-front, but unless you shell out real cash for Diamonds (the RMT Currency), or sell "stuff" on the Auction House for Diamonds, you're going to find yourself running around on foot or renting your Mount. If you play RoM and like it, and think you'll keep playing it for a while, a Mount costs about the same as a single month of WoW. Considering you don't have to buy a copy of the game but can just download it for free, and that you don't have to pay a monthly sub, I don't think it's unreasonable of Frogster to tell folks, "You want a Mount? Then pony up!"

I'll probably keep playing Runes of Magic for a while. It's a fun game, and it's well put together. Yes, there's a couple of quests that are broken, and have been since the game went Live! but those broken quests are in themselves not game breaking (even if one of them is a limited-time "seasonal" quest). And while the variety of classes is nothing new the ability to combine two classes does make things a lot more interesting. But the best thing of all is it's free. Considering the quality of the product you're getting, that's a price you just cannot beat.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

LG Vu

Liz and I picked up new phones on the weekend after a run-in with a cup of coffee took her Razr out of commission. Initially she was just going to get herself a new phone but we noticed AT&T had cunningly decided to have a 2-for-1 sale on their LG Vu and as that was the phone Liz had her eyes on, I ended up getting one too.

It's a pretty good phone, reception is quite clear and calls are very audible, although when using Speaker-phone, if a caller raises their voice too much it becomes distorted.

Like the iPhone it's a predominantly touch screen phone (with 3 regular buttons, and a couple of side buttons) and it works very well, although the on-screen slider is sometimes a little dodgy, but maybe that's me and my big thumbs.

What I'm not too pleased with is the flimsy plastic cover over the combined headset/power socket, which has to be pried open every time you need to charge your phone. I had a similar power socket cover on my Razr, which snapped off shortly after I got it, and I can see this happening with the Vu as well. Especially given the goodies that come with it can make charging the Vu an almost nightly affair if you want to be able to use your phone when you need to.

Our upgraded contact came with AT&T Mobile TV and watching TV on your phone is surprisingly easy, especially on the Vu's 3" screen (that's just 1/2" smaller than the iPhone). After eating at Souplantation last night I took the kids home while the wife went on to run some errands, and the bunny's tears at not going with Mommy quickly dried up when Spongebob Squarepants appeared on my phone. Listening in as we drove home, even though I took the Freeway, not once did I hear the skip or stutter I occasionally get while watching on my bus ride into work (I blame the bus's suspension). Incredibly, around 5th & Grand in downtown L.A., as in right in the heart of the CBD, my phone loses the Mobile TV signal. It can make and receive calls just fine, and even surf the 'net, but it will not do Mobile TV past that point. I'm sure somewhere south of my office the signal picks back up again (probably closer to the residential area or around USC), but right now I'm unable to get a signal, even though I'm right across the road from AT&T's HQ!!!

Okay, back. Sorry about that. Just conducted a little experiment. I walked across the road to the AT&T building, and I can't get Mobile TV there, either. The Vu did start to acquire the signal but couldn't establish a connection and was forced to admit defeat. Sad. Not a fault with the Vu though, more with AT&T's Mobile TV.

The games that come preloaded with the Vu are a sad bunch, and although the Vu is a touch screen-capable phone most games throw up a virtual keypad, so instead of playing the game by touching the playing field and giving your avatar directions, selecting puzzle pieces, etc, the Vu asks you to press virtual arrow keys at the bottom of the screen. The arrows are not even in an intuitive + or T formation, but are in a straight line across the bottom of the screen so you have to look away from the action to make sure you're pressing the correct button.

At least Bejeweled asks you to touch the Jewels in the gameboard, and considering how small each jewel is I rarely selected the wrong one, but it's a Timed Demo/Trial that lasted barely a minute before telling me I needed to buy the game to keep playing. I checked out the other Demos and they were all the same. Very sad was the Timed Trial/Demo of Midnight Pool, for which I made one shot (the Break) then sat back and watched my computer(phone?)-controlled opponent make several shots in a row and that was it. Trial/Demo over. Do you want to buy the full game? I had Midnight Pool on my Razr but I think I'll pass this time around.

Then there's the cool Internet feature. Moving into the 21st Century I can check my Yahoo! email and even log into Facebook via my phone, which to those who've had it for a while is probably no big deal, but I think it's pretty cool.

The Vu also comes with a 2.0-Megapixel camera, which is pretty impressive for a phone, and it can (apparently) take photos up to 1600x1200 resolution. The video camera is not so hot, and can only manage 320x240, which is more than enough to watch short, home movies on your cellphone, but not really "burn a DVD to send home for Christmas" quality. It comes with a 2x zoom, but as it's purely digital zoom, not true optical, you really don't want to be zooming in with it. Besides, there's really something wrong if you're using your phone to capture those happy family moments. That's what cameras are for :P

When all is said and done the Vu is not an iPhone (but is that really a Con?), but it's still an excellent touch-screen phone in its own right, and is (currently) capable of doing things the iPhone cannot...such as sending photographs via Txt (aka MMS). Remember the ad where the young couple is in some Asian country? One of them is out seeing the City when the urge to use the restroom struck. The language barrier escalated the situation but their phone came to the rescue when the person in their hotel room sent a photograph of their toilet to the stricken one's phone and saved the day. Yeah. For everything it can do, the iPhone (currently) cannot do that.