Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Grizzly Bears deck

I am still playing Magic the Gathering in the form of Magic Duels on iOS every day. Today a new expansion, Aether Revolt, came out and I'm looking forward to playing with the new cards. While I spent some money on Magic Duels at the start, my daily playing gives me enough gold that I can buy a complete new expansion the day it comes out without having to spend any real money. So far, so good.

Like most other games, in Magic Duels I mostly play PvE against the artificial intelligence. I don't know how many people play Magic Duels on the iOS, but if you choose a PvP game you frequently wait a long time before you find an opponent, so long it sometimes even times out. And then you run into the usual problems of PvP, with people throwing games as soon as they run into the first difficulties. So while theoretically a PvP game could give you a much bigger challenge than a PvE game, in practice it frequently doesn't.

So where is the fun in playing against moderately challenging AI opponents? Well, for me Magic the Gathering was never about building the unbeatable deck and refining it to absolute perfection. There are a lot of people on the tournament circuit out there who do that. The result is always the same, an environment in which only a small handful of decks is viable. Many other deck ideas are more fun, but less efficient, and thus get weeded out. By playing against a moderate player in the form of the Magic Duels AI, the fun decks become viable options. So I can amuse myself all day building crazy decks and trying them out.

In the basic set of the early editions of Magic the Gathering there was a creature card called Grizzly Bears. It never was a particularly good card, costing 2 mana for a 2/2 vanilla creature. But it resulted in an interesting thought experiment: What if your opponent was playing a deck consisting of 20 forests and 40 grizzly bears? (Not a tournament legal deck by any standards, it's a thought experiment). What that opponent would play every turn and how he would attack is rather predictable, so you know you would face the first grizzly bear in turn 2, another in turn 3, possibly two more in round 4, etc. The argument of the thought experiment was that if the fanciful combo deck that you just imagined can't beat this imaginary Grizzly Bears deck, you should throw your deck away and try a different idea. The Grizzly Bears deck isn't a real opponent, but it provides a minimum challenge that your deck must be able to beat in order to be not completely ridiculous.

For me the AI decks in Magic Duels are somewhat improved Grizzly Bears decks. They usually are all about playing more and more, bigger and bigger creatures. There is sometimes a bit of removal, but never any mass removal that would completely change the environment. And there are sometimes cute tricks with enchantments and artifacts, but never devastating combos that one-shot kill you. They are far from the decks a tournament player would play, but they provide a good challenge between easy and medium (depending on the difficulty level you choose). And that gives me the perfect environment to try out fun decks.

By the way, even a tournament deck can lose a game against a Grizzly Bears deck, due to the inherent randomness of Magic the Gathering. If you draw only lands, or not enough lands, or lands that don't fit the color of your spells, or any other combination of cards that just don't fit together, even a mediocre AI with a mediocre deck will win the game. In Magic Duels I have some doubts about the random numbers generator, which appears to produce clumping far more often than statistical probability would predict. In any case, a deck I build as a fun idea is far from being an automatic win, even if I win far more than half of my games. There is never "no challenge at all".

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
More fake news, please!

There has been a lot of discussion lately about fake news, so much that politicians are now considering what to do about them. Which is pretty much doomed from the start. I don't think there is a single news outlet existing in the world in which each and every report contains only objective truth, not even scientific journals. And what exactly is fake news? A newspaper headline stating "Trump says Obama wasn't born in America" is both true (Trump said that) and fake (Obama was born in America). The same can be said about "Intelligence organizations have dossier about Trump visiting prostitutes in Russia", or "Woman claims Trump sexually assaulted her". By reporting that somebody else says something a newspaper can always claim that their report is true, even if the root of the news is fake. "Trump says X" will always be news, even if we all know that not everything Trump says is the truth.

What the discussion about fake news reveals is two major societal weaknesses: One is that news outlets are mostly copying news and doing very little investigative journalism. The other is that most news outlets don't even try to be unbiased any more. Something happens, both Fox News and the Huffington Post copy the same source, but put a very different spin on it that is designed to help their side rather than to communicate any actual truth. People don't read news to be informed, they read the news to be comforted in their existing bias and choose a news outlet that shares their bias.

If you wanted to purge the news from fake news, you would first need to agree on what the truth is. It is pretty obvious that even on the most outrageous claims there is never any agreement on that. You can't put politicians in jail for telling lies about their opponents, and you can't put journalists in jail for printing those lies. What you can do is establish a tyranny in which the word of the ruler is absolute truth and everybody disagreeing will be persecuted, but very few people in the USA actually want that.

The only way out is media competency. People need to be aware that news isn't reality, isn't truth, isn't unbiased. If you storm a pizza restaurant with an assault rifle because you read that Hilary Clinton is running a child sex operation from there, you obviously didn't have the media competency required to make even the most basic reality check on stuff you read. What we need is more fake news, until media outlets become wary of copying stuff that gets them into trouble later and start investigating the truth themselves instead of looking for it online. We need more fake news until everybody realizes that news aren't truth.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017
My Amazon Prime experience in Belgium

Wikipedia describes Amazon as "the largest Internet-based retailer in the world". But once you scratch the surface a little bit it turns out that instead of having one large international company, Amazon is run as a bundle of now 19 local companies. And if you don't live in one of those 19 countries, things sometimes get a little weird.

Last month I signed up for Amazon Prime, a service that bundles access to a video streaming service with other advantages like free one-day shipping. However it quickly turned out that this is a very local offer. If I sign up from Belgium, I sign up for and nothing else. Free shipping only from, and access to Prime Video only to the selection of Unfortunately is frequently more expensive than let's say, and the Prime Video catalog is by far the smallest. And often dubbing or subtitles are only available in French, which is my least favorite language of the three I speak. That is especially annoying for the Dutch speaking half of Belgium, but isn't ideal for expats either.

During my Christmas holidays in Germany I thus signed up for Amazon Prime for I had to use a different e-mail address for that, as signing up for Amazon Prime on two Amazon sites with the same e-mail is causing an error message. The big upside of over is cheaper prices and a much larger selection of films and series on Prime Video. The downside is that the free shipping only applies to shipping addresses in Germany and Austria. And as soon as you leave the country your Prime Video access is limited to Prime original series. Just like Netflix you can circumvent that using a good VPN like ExpressVPN.

In balance I finally cancelled the French Prime and went for the German one. I only get free shipping when I send things to friends and family in Germany, but for the items I send to Belgium the lower price on the German site more or less makes up for the shipping cost. And I never subscribed to the notion that circumventing regional restrictions for media somehow constitutes "piracy", there is a big difference between smugglers and pirates. The one series I really want to watch, The Grand Tour with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May is a Prime original anyway and can be watched without regional restrictions. Maybe one day services like Amazon and Netflix become really international and serve people not living in their native countries better.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017
Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 16 (and last)

In the previous session the group finally killed Cillian Creed, whose killing of a young girl had kicked of this adventure. They had arrested Mayor Reed Macbannin and thus taken care of the main characters behind the production of witchoil. What remained to do now was to stop that production and prevent what could best be described as the first industrial disaster of that world. Besides the mayor, who was willing to help to stop the catastrophe, the constables also relied on the help of a technician whom they found hiding in one of the rooms of the witchoil laboratory. They kept the two apart so that they couldn't agree on a story and could be questioned separately on the technical details.

The problem as the mayor told them was that on the lower floor there was an enchanted eldritch machine which tapped a rift in the Shadowfell plane to produce an endless flow of witchoil. Normally that witchoil was then pumped deeper into the mountain for a purpose the mayor couldn't talk about. Couldn't as in really couldn't, as apparently he was under a geas type of spell that prevented him from talking about the purpose of the witchoil operation. The earthquake had stopped the pumps and the power supply, but the group had already managed to restore the power.

Now they went downstairs, where they found the room where the eldritch engine was supposed to be already flooded with witchoil. An alarm rang out from the pump room, but no pumps were running. With the help of the technician they disabled the alarm and started the pump. However that caused another alarm, and the technician quickly shut down the pump again. He showed the group a pressure gauge that indicated a dangerous rise in pressure when the pump was turned on. Apparently the relief outflow pipe of witchoil had been crushed. The group went to the room and crossed some catwalks to reach the outflow pipes. A big lever was set to "relief", and they moved it in the other position, "down". Now they could restart the pumps and the level of the witchoil dropped. Once the level was low enough to empty the room with the eldritch engine, the mayor warned them to stop pumping oil down because of serious consequences he still couldn't talk about. So they stopped the pumps, went to the eldritch engine and turned the spigot off. Eldion even managed to close the rift and permanently disabled the eldritch engine.

They discussed destroying the witchoil laboratory completely, but the lab was their main piece of evidence of the wrongdoings of Mayor Reed Macbannin. So instead they sent two group members to fetch their boss, Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft. Delft was somewhat reluctant, because his boss, Lady Inspectress Margaret Saxby was absent, but they could persuade him that this was urgent and so he came with soldiers and other constables to secure the witchoil laboratory. The manor was on fire from the earthquake, so the group couldn't search it. So they followed their boss's instructions and transported Macbannin to the court house, where a special hearing was convened for the next day. Not allowed to stay and guard the mayor, the constables returned with their boss to the Royal Homeland Constabulary HQ. There Lady Saxby had returned and gave Delft a bollocking for having acted without her approval. The group was nevertheless commended, but removed from the case in order to "prevent negative effects from their rising notoriety" (while Lady Saxby then went to give an interview to the newspapers how she personally had overcome this danger to the city).

The next day the court hearing started, but the accused wasn't present. The constables went to the holding cells, where they found the guards in disarray and Macbannin dead. Apparently the mayor had first started talking to himself (one guard thought he heard mention of "the council"), then asked a guard for a cigarette; after smoking that Macbannin repeatedly crushed his skull into the cell wall and died before the guards could open the cell door and restrain him. Thus the hearing ended prematurely and the constables returned to the HQ. There they were told to not involve themselves any more with the witchoil case or Gale, but to prepare security for the Kaybeau Arms and Technology Exposition in two and a half months time. With that we ended the session, and the characters reached level 5. Soon we will start the next adventure of the campaign, Digging for Lies.


Thursday, December 15, 2016
Amazon Prime Video now 900% more coverage

The video streaming business must be the weirdest failure of capitalism. No other business is so inherently suited to globalisation, because anyone, anywhere with a broadband internet connection can theoretically be a customer. And no other business fails so dismally to live up to that promise of globalisation. If you live in the USA you are up to your eyeballs in offers of video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and lots of others. If you live in Belgium most of these services refuse to sell to you, and actually have security measures in place to prevent you to sign up with a fake address or something.

Last year Netflix went global, although local regional content is much more limited than what is on offer in the USA. Today Amazon Prime Video went global, and expanded its coverage from the 19 countries which have a local Amazon site to 200 countries, that is pretty much everywhere except China. That is especially nice for Belgium, because while I could freely buy films on DVD from the three neighboring country Amazon sites without regional restriction, and when I searched for a film or TV show the Amazon video offer was displayed, I was then unable to access the videos previously. Today I was able to sign up for Amazon Prime and get access.

I don't know yet how the number of films and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video compares to Netflix, especially since the catalog on Amazon is a limited, local one, just like Netflix's. However Amazon Prime is cheaper than Netflix and is bundled with other services like fast free shipping, cloud storage for photos, and free Kindle eBooks. The user interface of Amazon Prime Video is a carbon copy of the Netflix UI. And both now have the ability to download videos and watch them when you don't have access to internet.

Previously I could have signed up for Amazon Prime, but would have only received the other services like the free shipping, and not the video. The added video streaming service, and especially The Grand Tour (the spiritual successor of Top Gear) now made me sign up for Amazon Prime. As I am a frequent customer of physical goods on Amazon, I'm nearly certain that the service is going to pay for itself, with the free shipping alone being worth the fee. So I don't mind being now subscribed to both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

I will have to see how the offer on the two services evolves over time. The Netflix video streaming business is the main business of Netflix. Amazon video is a minor part of Amazon. They can offer me more videos for cheaper, because they can count on me buying stuff on Amazon more often with the bundled free shipping. But both Amazon and Netflix still suffer from not having the right to show all of their content globally. We will see which one of them overcomes that restriction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Ahead of the curve on AirPods

The talk of the week on sites discussing technology is that Apple released its AirPods, the $150 wireless earphones, for sale. Now I'm not one of the people who queue before Apple Stores to always have the latest and greatest in technology. But on AirPods I am way ahead of the curve, as I have been wearing $4000 wireless earphones that work with iPads and iPhones for half a year now. Only they aren't called AirPods, they are called hearing aids, and are more usually associated with senior citizens than with technology geeks.

I am over 50 years old and while I am neither blind nor deaf, I do see better with glasses and I hear better with hearing aids. That is just a fact of life that your body peaks around age 35 and then various functions decrease over the rest of your life. Technology can help you to stem that decrease of abilities. Unlike glasses, where new technology is mostly in the area of high-refraction polymer materials, hearing aids are electronic devices and benefit from the general progress in miniaturization of electronics. And as good hearing aids are already rather expensive, you can add additional technology like Bluetooth data transfer to it without that affecting the price too much.

iOS (unlike Android) has built in support for Bluetooth hearing aids. So the hearing aids I am wearing work perfectly well as wireless earphones. The main difference to AirPods is that my hearing aids are "receiver in ear", which means that they don't block outside sound. In some situations that is better, because you can watch a movie in an airport lounge without risking to miss an announcement about your flight. But if there is a lot of noise around that can be a disadvantage too.

Overall the iOS integration has turned my hearing aids from a crutch against a handicap into a useful device that allows me to do more. And I can ignore the heated discussion about AirPods.

Friday, December 09, 2016
Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 15

In the previous session the constables of the Royal Homeland Constabulary attempted to search the manor of Mayor Reed Macbannin. But an earthquake prompted a fight in which they managed to arrest the mayor. This session started with the mayor agreeing to help them, in order to prevent an industrial catastrophe. He told them that he had a hidden basement in the Shadowfell parallel plane, in which he was creating and storing large amounts of witchoil. The earthquake damage might cause this witchoil to spill down Cauldron Hill into the Nettles quarter and cause countless deaths.

He led the constables to the garden shed, where they found a woman apparently half sunk into the stone floor, dead. She was holding iron amulets, which the mayor told them were necessary to see and use the entrance to the basement. Putting on an amulet, Merian saw that the woman had in fact come up a staircase when she succumbed to her injuries, and that there was an elevator further on. Taking the staircase the group descended into the basement.

The mayor explained that the whole complex was powered by an engine which ran on witchoil, but apparently the earthquake had shut down that engine. The danger was that another device, magical in nature, tapped the Shadowfell energy for an endless stream of witchoil. Normally a pump emptied the reservoir and pumped the content further into the mountain (the mayor refused to say what for), but it wouldn't run without the engine powering it. So the reservoir could run over and spill witchoil, which caused damage on contact, down the mountain.

The group advanced towards the engine, but in the engine room they were attacked by Creed, the killer with whom they had had several encounters. Prompted by the constables the mayor tried to get Creed to give up, but to no avail. A fight ensued with Creed, two rogues from Lorcan Kell's thieves guild, and three flayed jaguars.

Unlike the first fight against the jaguars, this time the group remembered the option to try a strength check to rip off their chest plate and expose the witchoil-powered heart. With some lucky rolls all three of the jaguars died very quickly. The rogues and Creed took longer to kill, and Creed did some serious damage, but in the end the group prevailed. At that point we ended the session, leaving the final cleanup of the adventure for next year.


Thursday, December 01, 2016
Quiet revolution at Netflix

Netflix has revolutionized its service this week. You might well have missed it, because there was very little communication about it. Since the latest update of the app on iOS and Android, you can now download part of the Netflix offer of films and TV shows on your mobile device to watch them later.

While there are more and more places offering WiFi, watching Netflix on the go was a problem up to now. Half of the hotels I visited on private or business travel over the last few years either had a WiFi connection too slow to watch films on Netflix smoothly, or they downright blocked access to the Netflix service in order to preserve bandwith for other customers. I once experimented with watching Netflix over a 4G connection, which worked surprisingly well, but then I got hit with a €60 bill for using far more than my data limit. There are still very few planes with any WiFi at all, and certainly not broadband WiFi, and WiFi service in trains is also spotty to non-existant. We are still decades away from having broadband WiFi service available everywhere.

The new Netflix app solves that problem by allowing you to download the films you want to see at home and then watch them in the plane without needing an internet connection. Only part of the catalogue is downloadable, and there are some weird restrictions: There doesn't seem to be a limit how long you can keep the movie you downloaded, but once you started watching it there is a little warning label that the downloaded file will expire within 48 hours. I don't see why, it looks like a feature from Mission Impossible to me: "This video will self-destruct in 48 hours. If you get caught we will deny having given it to you.".

As a change of business model this is rather huge. A movie downloading service and a movie streaming service are two very different things. Not only for travelers, but also for people with slower internet connections, which makes Netflix now far more attractive globally. But the elephant in the room that Netflix is so silent about that they barely announced the change is piracy. Of course I am perfectly aware that software exists to rip streaming movies. But having the movie downloaded as a video file somewhere on your device presumably needs a lot less work to pirate it. Which is also presumably the reason why the download functionality only works on mobile devices, and not on home computers.

Personally I am a strong believer in the idea that a large part of piracy is due to content not being available legally for a reasonable price. That is an explanation, not an excuse to break the law. But if I have access to a movie via Netflix for a low monthly flatrate, there is no reason for me to pirate that movie. Being able to download the movie on my mobile device makes the pirated copy *less* attractive and valuable to me. However Netflix still has a big problem with their US catalogue of films and TV shows being so much superior to their global offer, so I can see how this change could facilitate Netflix content being normally available only in the US to migrate via the darker side of the internet to other countries.

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Playing at your own pace: Priceless

Before Mastercard sues me I'll have to admit that I borrowed my title from their ads. Specifically it was an add that suggested that the freedom of traveling where you want when you want is priceless. And that struck a chord with me regarding the way I play MMORPGs these day. Because it answers the old question of why somebody would play a "massively multiplayer" game solo.

I am clearly missing out on both content and the best rewards by playing World of Warcraft solo instead of organized in a guild. I can do normal and heroic dungeons with the LFG functionality, but haven't even tried mythics, where you either need friends/guildmates or a more complex version of the group finder. And I have only done one raid in LFR mode for a quest. So there are several raid dungeons and mythic dungeons which I haven't seen yet, because they aren't available (yet) for LFG/LFR.

It isn't a problem of skill or gear. My three level 110 characters are all above 840, and the main in above iLevel 850. I have found two legendaries already, albeit on two different characters. And while my dps skills have always been mediocre, my healing skills are pretty good because in spite of many changes group healing is still very similar to what it was when I was playing in a top notch raiding guild years ago.

Rather the problem for me with organized play in a guild or with friends is that it puts me under a certain amount of pressure. I'd want to keep my gear level up to par with the other guild members. And I'd have to be there at certain times for a certain number of hours to play with the guild, especially if you explicitly sign up for some raid. And I don't want to feel compelled to play any more. I want to decide at any given moment whether I feel like playing or not, and what I feel like doing. I don't want to measure my progress against others. I want to play at my own pace.

And while World of Warcraft sometimes feels like it is designed for people doing raid content, in some other ways it feels as if it was designed for my slower pace as well. Even if expansions are now coming slightly faster than once ever two years, and there are slightly more content patches, World of Warcraft is still far away from expansions that really offer two years worth of content. I can play as slow as I want, and there is still zero danger that one day the next expansion comes out before I have finished Legion. I already have three level 110 characters, and my main reached exalted with the Nightfallen and is now on the most current chapter of the Suramar storyline, Insurrection. Unless patch 7.1.5 and 7.2 come soon, I'll run out of content before Christmas. Playing at my own, slower pace seems to be a better fit with the speed with which Blizzard can add new content. Missing out on running the same raid dungeons over and over again to me seems a small price to pay for the priceless freedom and better story pacing that solo play gives me.

Thursday, November 24, 2016
A disappointed liberal

Since I was old enough to form a political opinion, I have been a liberal in the European sense of the word. That has never been an easy position in a political world that has mostly been about the left fighting against the right, as both sides were half liberal and half anti-liberal: The right was liberal on economics, but anti-liberal on social issues; the left was socially liberal, but anti-liberal on economics. If you wanted the state out of your wallet *and* out of your bed, you didn't have much of a team behind you.

But then around the end of the 80's something curious happened: Economic liberalism won. Well, mainly the alternative of a communist economics catastrophically lost, but the effect was the same. Suddenly we got left wing leaders who were fiscally responsible economic liberals. And then some sort of truce developed: Left wing politicians coming into power advanced social liberalism while leaving economic liberalism alone. Right wing politicians coming into power advanced economic liberalism while leaving social liberalism alone. Some countries ended up being governed by coalitions of center left and center right parties, who agreed on a common platform. Liberalism went only ever forward for decades, and a sort of great liberal consensus developed.

It is when your side wins that the flaws of your position become obvious. Liberalism isn't perfect. Economic liberalism was proven to be great at wealth creation, but relied on the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. It didn't, some boats were left behind and the rising tide gave them the impression of sinking. Globally the wealth creation did happen, and literally billions of people were saved from abject "less than $1 per day" poverty, and ambitious "Millennium Development Goals" on poverty reduction were reached early. But in the already rich countries the created wealth went only to a small elite, while a middle class majority profited very little from economic liberalism and globalisation. Even minor efforts to distribute the wealth a bit more fairly in the rich countries were decried as anti-liberal and met strong opposition.

Social liberalism developed two failure zones: Religion and nationality. The ultimate liberal position is one in which neither your religion nor your nationality matters at all any more, and we are all free to believe whatever we want and live wherever we want. But on the religion side that means that religion simply doesn't matter at all any more, which wasn't really a position that religious types could support. And even within itself liberalism failed to provide an answer to the question whether granting religious freedom to somebody whose religion had strong anti-liberal elements should be done. Political systems that were based on nation states developed issues with the free movement of labor and capital. Liberalism clashed with patriotism and nationalism, and couldn't provide answers to pressing questions like how to responsibly handle immigration. Liberalism completely failed to even acknowledge that the talk about immigration wasn't just xenophobia and racism, but a very fundamental question on what exactly the advantages of being a citizen of a nation state should be, compared to being a foreigner in that same nation state. I personally experienced a situation where I as an immigrant received preferential treatment over the locals, and I have fullest understanding for people who think that this isn't the way it should be.

On the political front the recent electoral defeats of liberalism against anti-liberal forces like Brexit and Trump are clearly mostly related to the inability of liberalism to give answers to the burning questions of the voters. It isn't as if the Brexiteers or Trump appear to have those answers, but at least they aren't denying the importance of the questions. What advantages does economic liberalism bring to the middle class voters? What should the contributions and benefits of foreigners be compared to citizens? As long as liberalism refuses to even acknowledge these questions, it doesn't stand a chance in elections.

For me as a liberal, the greatest betrayal of the liberal movement to its core values is how the movement became overly obsessed with language to the detriment of the value of freedom of speech. Today the liberal movement is one that is perceived as being more concerned with policing the thoughts and language of others than it is with freedom. People are being told that they don't have the right to be offended by a guy in a dress entering a girl's public toilet, and they don't even have the right to make a joke about that guy because *he* might be offended by that. Pretty much any sort of joke has become a target of the liberal movement. That not only makes them look like sourpusses, but is also psychologically unwise. Since language was invented, making jokes about something has been a relief valve for people to deal with situations they don't fully understand. Closing that relief valve only risks to increase the psychological pressure, until people react with harsher means than words. The obsession of the liberal movement with language becomes downright embarrassing when you have to watch the naive belief that somehow the problem of Trump becoming president can be solved by calling him a fascist. As if that would change anything.

My hope as a liberal is that the cultural hegemony of liberalism dies out in favor of free speech and true political discourse on the advantages of economic and social liberalism. Liberalism can be a force for good, but only if it is a position from which compromise can be found. The complete annihilation of religion and the nation state are not viable goals, and liberalism needs to find answers for voters who believe in religion and the nation state. On immigration the unrestricted movement of labor and internment camps are not the only alternatives, and compromise has to be found on what exactly the contributions of immigrants to their host nation should be, and what benefits they should be given in comparison to native citizens. Liberalism needs to find answers on how the wealth of nations should be distributed among its citizens. And maybe liberalism needs some more electoral defeats to get to that point.

Monday, November 21, 2016
Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 14

After the previous session filled with investigation, this session had a bit more action, even if it took us two hours of discussion to get there. Their investigation had clearly identified a prime suspect, Reed Macbannin, mayor of the Nettles quarter of Flint. And their boss had provided them with a search warrant for Macbannin's manor, so the path forward was very clear. But two of the players just wanted to avoid any direct confrontation.

So the group first talked again to Julien Lebrix, head of security of the Danoran consulate. Lebrix had previously been prevented by the consul himself of pursuing his investigation further. Asked whether he knew who was behind this, Lebrix could only speculate that it might have to do with the person who had been visiting the consul that morning, and who had shot Nilasa (a fact that Lebrix had tried to conceal at their first visit on order of the consul). That visitor was Cillian Creed, and Eldion remembered that name as being Macbannin's butler.

So after a long discussion and having run out of other clues to follow up, the group finally went up Cauldron Hill to search Macbannin's manor. They were greeted by the mayor himself in a friendly fashion, but there were quite a lot of Macbannin's staff around. While the constables were still discussing with Macbannin, suddenly there was an earthquake. The city had experienced minor earthquakes in the days before, but this was a bigger one. At that point the group and Macbannin were in the garden of the manor, and at a random location in that garden a sinkhole opened up and started to fill with witchoil. Macbannin shouted to Creed to "check the reservoir", while he himself and his staff turned to attack the constables.

Now Macbannin was using a form of black magic which linked his life to the lives of his staff. For every 11 points of damage he took, one member of his staff died, while he remained unharmed. The staff was otherwise not too dangerous, just throwing bricks and using makeshift weapons, although during one turn in which the dice rolls for the staff attacks were unusually high, that ended up doing noticeable damage. Besides Macbannin there were two of Lorcan Kell's gangsters disguised as gardeners.

The fight was made more interesting by the earthquake: At the start of each round another sinkhole opened up in the area where the group was fighting. At one point a sinkhole opened up right in the middle of the group, with 4 group members falling in. But they all managed to get out before the hole filled with witchoil and started to damage them. Macbannin was casting rather nasty black magic curses on James, but between saving throws and Eldion dispelling the black magic with religious chants the curses were countered. After killing the two gardeners and all the staff, Aria asked the mayor to surrender, and he did. As it was already rather late at that point, we stopped the session there.


Friday, November 11, 2016
Assassin's Warcraft

I finally got around to try and do all the quests in Suramar, of which there are a lot. I liked the quests that take place further into the city, where the game gets a sort of Assassin's Creed feel: I sneak around, trying to avoid detection, and I climb up buildings (although only at specific grapple points, WoW doesn't have real climbing).

Unfortunately after one afternoon of having fun in Suramar, the fun suddenly stopped very abruptly: The next two quests in the series require me to kill specific mobs in specific dungeons. On mythic difficulty!!! Which means no LFG functionality. Hey, Blizzard, if I had a large group of friends to do mythic dungeons and raids with, I wouldn't be doing your quest content! It really annoys me that Blizzard can't keep their content separated, but must always try to force people into content they don't want to play.

Apparently there is a workaround to still get the Good Suramaritan achievement, which at some point in time will be needed for flying. But that workaround required exalted reputation, which as I have run out of quests requires grinding world quests for a long time. And then I still need to do a raid, although I can wait until that raid is available in LFR mode. So right now the story line of how the resistance movement in Suramar is faring is closed to me. Which at least brings me to the point where I can see the end of Legion, with every content available to me done. I had hoped Legion would last longer than that.


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