Overthinking It: Bread and Circuses

Welcome to Overthinking It – a column where Fussypants delves entirely too deep into something not nearly as nuanced as she’s interpreting it to be!  What follows is undoubtedly a fine collection of speculation, assumptions, and general tin-foil hattery. Today, we tackle a divisive subject: the potential impetus behind the current Battle for Azeroth expansion.

Why are the Horde and Alliance fighting once more?  This seems to be one of the quintessential questions of the current expansion – after all the destruction suffered in the string of past expansions, one would think that the collective peoples of Azeroth would like to just sit down and take a break for a moment.  But instead, we’re up and at it again, waging major campaigns against densely populated cities like there’s no tomorrow. And, with the state the planet itself is in, there may very well be no tomorrow.

There’s a lot of possible answers to this question of ‘why’.  According to Blizzard, it’s due to deeply ingrained animosity mixed with the advent of Azerite.  Talk to Blizzard detractors and it’s because the company has “lost all it’s creative juices and just keeps rehashing the same ol’ garbage for the fanbois to lap up” (no, I’m not a particular fan of this explanation).  Ask Taran Zhu and it’s because the leaves fall. Or something like that. I don’t particularly love any of these answers. So, I’m going to logic out my own.

Why are the Horde and Alliance fighting in Battle for Azeroth? One word answer: Food.

When questing through Kul’Tiras for the first time, I stumbled upon a most interesting grey item.  The Old Sailor’s Almanac wasn’t the most lucrative piece of vendor trash, worth only about 5 gold, but the riches it had were in words instead.  The flavor text of the item read “Decades of meticulous notes about the weather, tides, and navigation rendered useless by the Cataclysm.” The first time I saw this, I chuckled at the obvious surface humor.  Haha, obsolescence, amirite? But then I began to think deeper. This almanac hinted at a more serious problem than I first imagined.  

We all know about Deathwing’s rampages across Azeroth, whether we were burned directly or we quested through the altered zones.  The Barrens rendered in two. Hyjal burning. The Wetlands somehow even more wet. The Insane Earthwarden wreaked immense damage on the physical features of the world but, apparently, he also did a number on the physical cycles.  Wind patterns, ocean currents, temperatures, rainfall.  This last item is key.

In a world such as Azeroth, just as is the case in our real world, farmers, ranchers, hunters and gatherers of every kind rely on the steady and predictable cycles of nature in order to produce food.  We plant corn in the spring and apple trees in the fall. We grow barley up north and rice down south. We tend to our animals based off their rhythms, which are in turn driven by nature. Any massive disruption in these cycles can cause a cascading effect of food production failure.  Crops fail, animals die, and people starve.

When Deathwing burst free from his lair, he didn’t just cause the Stonewall Dam to fall, he disrupted something as fundamental as the weather.  That, undoubtedly, resulted in droughts and flooding which would drastically alter how everyone on Azeroth eats. Even if this effect is only temporary (and the evidence points to it being a permanent shift), a change this big would have a ripple effect outwards. 

Now, you might be saying something along the lines of “Deathwing might have ruined some farmland but he probably also created new fertile areas, right?”  You probably are correct in this assumption, but if anything, this makes the problem even worse.  Firstly, there is an issue of infrastructure.  Regions that, traditionally, have been farming hubs typically have a lot of processes built up over time that aid in that – roads, irrigation systems, the like.  These new fertile regions won’t have these things built up, which means that even though food production potential is there, it’s going to take a hot second before farmers can move in, settle, and access that.

However, there’s an even more pressing issue – much of Azeroth is contested territory.  The Horde and Alliance claim only nominal control over these regions, and they’re often pressed right up against territory of the enemy faction.  It’s a patchwork of blue and red out there and now each side is trying to consolidate.

In a way, this problem is similar to that posed by the appearance of Azerite.  We’re talking about valuable resources which have popped up in unexpected, isolated, or contested areas, which will obviously resort in a massive scramble to gather and hold.  However, there’s a critical difference between Azerite and arable farmland. Azerite is a strong military advantage. It helps immensely in warfare and could give one side the edge in battle over the other.  Arable farmland however, is vital.  If there is no food then there is no army, no matter how strong their weaponry is.  What’s more, this extends far past just the battlefield; this impacts almost every single aspect of life for every single individual of your faction.  Everyone eats after all (except maybe the Forsaken, so they’ve got a leg up here I suppose).

Image courtesy of Reddit

Let’s break this down even further.  Pretend you’re Anduin Wrynn, King of Stormwind and leader of the Alliance.  You’ve very recently assumed the throne over a very large and very diverse confederation and you want to do everything you can to ensure your people are contented with your reign.  You know the price of unrest – your mother’s death can attest to that – and you also have a pretty good idea of what causes the kind of unrest that leads your people into rebellion.  On the surface, money. People want to be able to support their families and not be thrown into abject poverty. But even simpler than that, food. People want to eat. It’s not from your universe but you’re likely familiar with the idea behind the phrase “bread and circuses”.  Bread in particular in this case.

Speaking of bread, you’re very worried about this commodity.  Westfall, the breadbasket of Stormwind, your capital city, has been suffering from drought-like conditions pretty much ever since the Cataclysm.  That’s been a lot of years now, so you’ve likely worked through much of your grain stores in the interim. Now that you’ve finally finished up fighting off the Burning Legion, this has become the most pressing issue on your agenda.  You need a new breadbasket, and fast.  

Unfortunately, so does the Horde.  While their Forsaken members may not need to eat as much, or even at all, the other citizens of the Horde definitely do.  If you’re Sylvanas Windrunner and you’re already having problems with unrest, you certainly don’t want to add to that fire by adding in a famine.  A few individual leaders dissenting is one thing, but every member of the Horde outside of your specific faction?  That’s just the kind of thing that took Garrosh Hellscream down.

Let’s say, in this scenario, there are a few WoW zones that become particularly fertile regions.  These are zones with plentiful resources. Zones with lots of good soil and water. Zones without major polluting influences like the Scourge or the Legion.  Zones adjacent to major transportation hubs. Let’s choose, for example, Darkshore and Arathi Highlands. And gee, wouldn’t you know, these two zones are already warfronts!

Some of you might be asking, where exactly does the Azerite fit in with all of it?  The resource is too important a factor to be a complete non-issue in the considerations of the Horde and Alliance.  I would generally agree with you. You remember how earlier I mentioned the idea of bread and circuses?  Azerite is our circus, folks.

Think about it this way.  The armies of the Horde and Alliance are gearing up for a big war for arable land and they need a new recruitment drive.  They previously just used the classic “Enlist to protect your families!” with the whole Burning Legion thing and now they need a new angle.  Unfortunately, while food is an important part of a happy populace, it doesn’t make as good as a motivating cry unless your people are already starving (and there’s been little evidence I could find which points to that being the case).  If you offer food as the reason people should go to war and lay down their lives, they’re going to scoff at you and walk away.  It just doesn’t seem that dire yet, even if it is. Your citizens see their own personal little picture, not the overarching big one.

What you need is something more dangerous, more exciting, and more explosive.  You need a new threat which merits response even when people are tired and war weary.  Enter Azerite.  A glittery material literally oozing from the world’s pore (enjoy this imagery) with the potential to save your life or end it.  And look, the enemy might get it first!  Now that’s a good recruitment pitch.  That’s a good circus.

While the Horde and Alliance may have their official rhetoric about the volatile new threat of Azerite, the mineral merely acts as a reason to go to war rather than the underlying cause.  The Horde and Alliance fight because of food.  The two factions battle it out because they need reliable breadbaskets to feed their people if they hope to do anything in the future, and that anything even includes eventually making peace.  Both sides are vulnerable right now, and in that vulnerability, they’re frantically scrambling for basic resources.  The current war may be complicated, with dozens of moving parts and conflicting players but the motivating factor is quite simple.  Folks need to eat. 

Or, ya know, maybe I’m just adding way too much realism to my video games.  But hey, it’s a fun thought experiment!

Tin Foil Hat: Battle for Azeroth

Battle for Azeroth.

All things considered, it’s a pretty great title for an expansion. It’s snappy, easily acronymed (the internet has determined, BfA it is), and vague. What are we battling for? Well, Azeroth. But does that mean actual land territory? Or maybe the titan soul within the planet itself? And who is doing the battling?

When I first saw the expansion title, fading in all slow motion and awesome-like after the cinematic, the first place my mind went was oh, this is a Horde versus Alliance expansion. And when you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Both factions are going to be spending much of their time trying to conquer the cities, zones, and continents of Azeroth. It is quite literally, a Battle for Azeroth.

But a question kept coming up.

Why?

Why now, after seeing the value of working together to defeat threats like the Legion? Why now, after learning via Magni of the dire fate that Azeroth is in? Why now, with a King on one side who favors peace and a Warchief on the other who just wants her people to be left alone?

Something doesn’t add up. While we don’t have all the story yet (the expansion is many, many months away, after all), it doesn’t make sense that the Horde would try to burn Teldrassil. It seems downright insane that the Alliance would attack Lordaeron. It seems downright insane….

One of the biggest threads left over from Legion (at this point) is the resurgence of the Old Gods. From the Shadow Priest artifact experience to the Magni questline to the entire zone of Val’sharah, it’s clear that the Deep Ones are beginning to gear up for something big. The world soul within Azeroth is vulnerable, and the Old Gods may be trying to capitalize on that weakness.

Unlike the other foes we face though, the Old Gods are never direct about anything. They don’t open portals and send armies through in endless hordes. They don’t tear free of the ground, burning all in their path. For all intents in purposes, they’re barely seen at all. Instead, Old Gods manipulate. They act behind the scenes, whispering to this person or that one to slowly but surely create chaos in their favor.

What better form of chaos is there than a global war? If all of the defenders of Azeroth, all of the people who could potentially see what the Old Gods were up to and put an end to their actions, are otherwise occupied fighting and killing one another, that gives the forces of madness plenty of breathing room to do whatever they please. No one’s eyes are on the old Titan holding facilities anymore, they’re all trained towards the enemy faction.

So, here’s my tinfoil hat theory: Battle for Azeroth has nothing to do with the conflict between the Horde and Alliance. Instead, it is the struggle between us, the heroes of the world, and the Old Gods who wish to corrupt the world soul. And, at this point, we’re losing. Badly. We don’t even see the threat.

Looking at it through another lens, the only other expansion we’ve had that, from first glance, appeared to focus predominantly on faction warfare was Mists of Pandaria. However, as we went through the campaign, we quickly learned that there was other forces involved. Specifically, the sha, remnants of a long dead Old God who were still inciting negative emotions and stirring up chaos. Mists of Pandaria taught us that using our own deep-seated hatred for one another is a classic Old God tactic. And if they used it once, they’re bound to use it again.

It took an entire expansion to fight off the effects of one dead old god (and his sha-infused orc puppet). What would happen if several, very much alive Old Gods decided to play with some emotions?

World war. We’d fight each other more viciously than we’d ever fought each other before. We’d burn down sacred places despite our own respect for them (the World Tree, while home to the Night Elves, is also revered by many other races). We’d attack the husk of a long dead city out of a vain desire to rout out the woman who runs the place. We savagely go at one another, all because someone or something is quietly dropping hints in the background.

I don’t think it’s any mistake that our “artifact” for this expansion is The Heart of Azeroth. There’s something going on at a much larger, more cosmic level than just an escalation of the faction war. While I do think it is pretty plausible that the Horde and Alliance would, when given the chance, keep fighting, the intensity at which they’ve picked up the fight seems extreme.

Azeroth is in immediate danger. The Azerite leaking out all over the place is the most visble symptom of a world soul under attack. Every moment that the Alliance and Horde spends fighting is another moment that Azeroth battles the Old Gods who would corrupt her. We refuse to listen to Magni’s warnings and our world soul only weakens further and further. It’s a race to see which will run out first: our hatred for the opposite faction or the nascent Titan’s life essence.

My prediction is that the first couple patches are going to be centered solidly around the faction warfare. We’ll fight, and fight, and fight some more. But, similarly to how we went to Argus halfway through Legion, I’m guessing that we will see a shift. Whether it be at the faction level, with both sides ceasing their battle or at the individual player level with us, the heroes of Azeroth, being pulled away from the battlefield for a much more pressing threat, I’m predicting that the focus of the expansion will shift to a more holistic scale. To a more… Old God scale.

War is never well timed. But this global conflict presented in Battle for Azeroth seems suspiciously ill-advised. The Horde and Alliance have a history of pulling together when it counts, so for us to be splintering now is downright worrying. There is something more going on.

Sk’yahf qi’magg luk sshoq anagg’qen, my friends.

Tin Foil Hat: What is the Light?

Priest Healing
Warning: What you are about to read is pure speculation, a Tin Foil Hat article if you will, about the nature of Light and Magic in World of Warcraft.  Please do not take this as 100% true fact until you hear Blizzard themselves confirm or deny it.

Last night my guildies and I had a very interesting and speculative conversation about the Light in World of Warcraft.  It all started off with a discussion of Sylvanas (as all good conversations do).

As the lore goes, Sylvanas was first killed by Arthas during the Third War and then resurrected as a banshee.  Her first experience with the afterlife was peaceful, comforting, and warm. When Arthas was killed at the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Sylvanas jumped off of Icecrown Citadel to her death.  However, this second experience with the after life was starkly different.  It was dark, painful, and terrifying.

These two versions of the afterlife (Azerothian Heaven and Hell) seem to be connected with the Light since Sylvanas was a High Elf originally (and the High Elves were believers in the Light).  So it is safe to say that the second time Sylvanas died, the Light had abandoned her.  But this begs the question, why?

Was it because Sylvanas did evil things in her second life? Or was it purely because she had been raised by necromancy and the Light had deserted her right after that regardless of her own morality?

Pulling evidence from other Light users in the game lore, neither option seems to be the answer.

The Scarlet Crusade is many things, but morally right is not one of them.  They commit acts of murder, torture, and worse.  However, the Light has not abandoned them.  In fact, the Light is one of their principle tools for wrong-doing.

Or another instance, the Blood Elves.  Their Light practicing started out with them literally sucking the Light out of a Naaru like vampires.  They stole and slowly killed Muru but were still able to wield that Light energy.

So is the Light simply a tool? Is there no morality, no good and evil attached to it?  Wielded by the Scarlet Crusade, the Light seems more akin to the Force of the Star Wars franchise.  But then that means Sylvanas was abandoned to the light because she was resurrected by corrupting necromancy.

This would make more sense when compared to other instances of Light abandonment.  Take for example, Nobundo.  Nobundo was a paladin fighting against the orcs in the original timeline.  However, exposure to Fel magics caused the light to abandon him and he turned to shamanism.  So there is yet another example of the Light abandoning because of corrupting forces.

But there is still a wrinkle here that hasn’t been explained.  What qualifies as a corrupting force? How much exposure must a Light user have to corruption before the Light leaves them?  And why is the Light so different between races?

The Blood Elves bear the fel taint in their very eyes, but they can still use the Light.  However, the Broken have been exposed to fel and their connection is cut off.  Night elven priests wield the Light of Elune (the Moon) whereas Tauren priests pull from An’she (the Sun).  And what about Pandaren priests??

The more you look at it, the more inconsistent the Light seems to become.  So many different races use so many different Lights and all of them have slightly different rules.

Is it possible… is it possible that there are different Lights?

But how?
PrismWhat if there was a spectrum of ‘Light’ and every race pulled from a different part of that spectrum?

That way all Light users are using the Light, but each Light they channel is slightly different.  Because of the cultures of the races, they are more attuned to pulling a different ‘flavor’ of Light.

What if all magic was that way? All part of a spectrum of Magic with Light being just one ‘color’?

Imagine that magic in Warcraft is white light reflecting through a prism.  So we have warlock, priest, shaman, druid, death knight, and mage magic are all different colors on the spectrum but essentially all part of the same rainbow.  The rainbow of magic (oh how corny).

But if that’s the case, then what is the white light?  What type of magic can be broken down into all of these varied forms.  I would argue that it is Arcane.

When you think about it, every type of magic except arcane is modeled off of a natural phenomenon or element.  Fire, Water, Shadow, they are all mimicry of a real thing in the world.  But Arcane is the only one that is not.  Arcane is not corrupting, nor does it copy an element in the world.  Arcane seems to be the pure form of magic.

However, once you add the ‘prism’, Arcane magic can be broken down into many different colors of magic.  So, within arcane magic, you can find the magics of every other class in game.

This can also help to explain why different races seem to use slightly different variations of the name magics.  That is because they are pulling from different ‘shades’ of one color of magic.
Going back to light magic, Draenei, trolls, and Pandaren are all pulling from the part of the rainbow of magic that contains Light magic, but they pull from different colors of that spectrum.  So for example, if Light were yellow, the Trolls might pull more of a green yellow color while Draenei pull more of a orange yellow and Pandaren pull the true yellow.

This can also explain why certain magic users seem to overlap in their magic types.  Mages, Shaman, and Druids might pull from ranges of the spectrum that overlap, but they do not pull the exact same colors.

A races’ society and natural adeptness influences what types of magic they can pull from the spectrum of magic.  And this spectrum is what creates the varied forms of magic throughout the World of Warcraft.

/end Tin foil hat