Thursday, January 30, 2014

3.52. The Case of the Sinister Squashling

"The Headless Loser"
Artwork by Sum (After-Eleven)

The Righteous One

There were bodies everywhere.

The entrance to the Scarlet Monastery's graveyard was awash with bones. A massive assault between the Alliance and the Horde had taken place here, racing against one another toward the swirling glow of the instance door. Nestled deep in the northeastern hills of the gloomy Tirisfal Glades was a low-level dungeon WoW players had all grown familiar with, and one of the first memorable instances of Vanilla. In the days of yore, the Scarlet Monastery was split into four separate wings, and entrance to each was gained by its own respective doorway. As far back as I can remember, WoW players attacked these individual wings in the order of right to left. The eastern-most door exposed the Library, the end of which revealed a key that, in turn, granted access to the next door to its immediate left -- the Armory. Once through the Armory, players shifted left again to the Cathedral, ending with the death of High Inquisitor Whitemane. As the silver-haired zealot breathed her final breath, WoW players typically patted each other on the back and went their separate ways. Oft ignored, the fourth and western-most door led those few players who took note of it down into a torture chamber, eventually emerging at the entrance to a graveyard. There was little loot of importance in this area and no quest chain directed players to it, so the rows of headstones went largely neglected by the player base. Most players didn't even know it existed.

That is, until Blizzard added the Hallow's End world event to the game.

During our in-game version of Halloween, many a World of Warcraft player's speakers are filled with the blood curdling laugh of the Headless Horseman. For a week in October, a ghostly spectre gallops across the night sky on the back of his fiery warhorse, pitching pumpkin-head bombs down onto the rooftops of various towns throughout the land, leaving them ablaze in his wake. Players seek him out in his penultimate hiding spot: the Scarlet Monastery graveyard, in the hopes of acquiring his coveted Horseman's Reins, awarding the player the very same fiery warhorse the horseman rides. The Headless Horseman also happens to drop a number of other unique items that players use to augment their gear, and even has a chance to drop a unique pet -- a tiny plant-like creature boasting a jack-o-lantern as a head. Many completionists strove to collect pets like these, so the Sinister Squashling could, at times, be as important to a player as the mount.

Upon my arrival at Brill, the Horseman's echoing voice recited his infamous poem which preceded his cackle of delight.

Prepare yourselves, the bells have tolled! 
Shelter your weak, your young and your old! 
Each of you shall pay the final sum. 
Cry for mercy, the reckoning has come!

I watched as the Horseman gleefully fire-bombed the town, watching as low level noobs scrambled to figure out the water brigade mechanic; a terribly simple point-and-click targeting system allowing them to toss buckets of water on the fire. As was typical of the new players, it wasn't simple enough, and the town burned while they spun randomly in place, shouting obscenities in general chat in frustration. I was too busy to help them, currently en route to the Scarlet Monastery.

"Are you the guild leader of Descendants of Draenor?" an anonymous player asked as a whisper arrived

"I am. What can I help you with?"

"I want to report one of your players for being a ninja."

I couldn't tell if my screen went red because I had aggro'd some new monster...or because all the blood was rushing into my eyeballs with fury. It was not going to be a good day for a guildy.

All of the bosses in the original four-wing
version of Scarlet Monastery

In Contempt

I proceeded to field whispers from the anonymous alleged victim who claimed there was a ninja stowing away aboard my ship. Arriving at the entrance to the graveyard now peppered with the bones of slain players, his story continued to unfold.

"What was the item in question?" I asked the player.

"Squashling," was the lone word typed back to me. 

"And who is the supposed ninja in question?"


The virtual rolodex spun in my head; his name was only vaguely familiar. I knew he was a fresh recruit, finding his way into the 25-Man rotations a number of times. He did respectable damage as a death knight. Now, more than half way through Wrath of the Lich King, death knights were everywhere. Their uniquely powerful abilities coupled with their ease-of-play and expedited leveling (starting at 55 rather than 1) quickly made out death knights to be labeled the supreme douchebags of the game. It saddened me, because I felt class was more fun to play than any other. They were attractive because they were new, because they were overpowered. To both seasoned and amateur players, death knights appeared to require no skill whatsoever. This assumption simply added to the illusion. Regardless of what impassioned death knight players knew as fact, the court of public opinion had long since rested their case. Even the hardcore death knight players managed to crank up the asshole quotient on the Elitist Jerks forums, leading moderators like Kaubel to shorten the rope to such a degree that nearly every single post in the DK thread was deemed worthless. Even within the protective sphere of Descendants of Draenor, an expression was repeated jokingly that I had to take in stride:

Not all death knights are bad players, but all bad players play death knights.

This across-the-board punity towards death knights would be Hellspectral's only saving grace...if he were to get any at all. Loot problems were abound and the most recent events had left me fuming. He picked a shit-poor time to violate a fundamental rule in DoD and I would not stand for it. Ethical indiscretions were the most egregious. If the anonymous player spoke the truth, Hellspectral would soon be on the receiving end of a swift boot in the ass out of the guild. This was a non-negotiable, no second chances, no "just hear me out" type of rule. Break it...and you're dead to me.

"I'll have a word with him. Thanks for the report and I apologize in advance. If it turns out to be true, I expect he won't be in the guild much longer."

I popped open the roster, and saw him online.

"Hellspectral. Need a quick word with you."


"I just received a report that you ninja'd an item."


Wow...the balls! I admired his honesty; the cojones on some players were made of far thicker steel than I could imagine. My itchy trigger finger hovered above the "Remove Member" button in the guild roster. As I debated taking this a step further, I remembered the promise I made to myself early on in the reboot of the guild. You can't save everybody. Put the energy into only those you deem saveable. You have a life to lead outside of WoW and can't spend every waking minute trying to convert people to your way of life. If they aren't going to take that path on their own, it isn't your job to hold their hand.

"Thanks for being up front with me. Sadly, we don't behave like that in this guild. Best of luck to you."

I clicked the bright red button, and in an instant, Hellspectral was purged from the guild. As guild chat lit up with the typical curiosity surrounding a member's removal, I typed a message back to all of them:

"Hope the Squashling was worth it."

Unbeknownst to me, a freshly appointed melee officer was moving quickly behind the scenes. It was an attempt to repair the damage caused by a short-tempered guild leader fed up hearing about loot issues.
"Sinister Squashling I Choose You"
Artwork by Wendy Harmon

A Roll of the Dice

I stood at the doorway to the graveyard, bones scattered randomly at my feet. A night elf druid turned a corner and shifted into cat form, racing for the door as the familiar sprint sound effect kicked out of my speakers. Some Horde players collapsed onto the feline and tore it apart as it struggled to shift out the barrage of snares. I dropped a single Chains of Ice onto the druid while the remaining Horde finished him off, and the purple-skinned abomination fell lifeless inches from sanctuary. Whispers began to arrive in my chat window.

"Jungard says I should tell you the story anyway."

The damage is done, I thought. Why waste my time with this any further? But if what he said was true, I owed it to Jungard to hear this ex-guildy out. After spending as much time as I had debating who to put into a role of leadership, it seemed counter-intuitive to not consider Jungard's opinion if he felt the issue demanded it. I owed it to him.

"I'm listening."

"K, just a sec."

I took a deep breath and remembered the recent events surrounding loot, waiting for Hellspectral's full confession. Had I let these events cloud my judgement? Or was it the fact that he was just another douchebag death knight, the likes of which few in WoW were giving the time of day to. Before my conscience wracked me with guilt, the ex-guildy shot over his first response:

"What happened was we killed the horseman and the pet dropped and we all rolled need. The other guy and I both rolled a 77. Then the pet went to me."

A tie-breaker. In Blizzard's loot system, if multiple players tie on a roll of the dice, the game is programmed to re-roll quietly and automatically issue the item to those who tied the first roll. In other words, World of Warcraft itself breaks the tie, completely out of the hands of any player. In this case, Hellspectral pulled ahead as the lucky winner. So where did the 'ninja' part come into play? I kept my cards close to the chest to see what else he'd cough up on his own, the kind of strategy I commonly employed to extract info from unsuspecting players.

"Go on."


The temporary quietness around the graveyard’s entrance was a bit unnerving. Suddenly, Moonfire spam boomed out of my speakers from behind me. I spun Mature around to see another druid headed toward the door. My death knight reached out with an icy grip and snared the druid with another Chains of Ice cast. The druid shifted, its icy chains shattering and falling to the tiled floor, and its cheetah form bolted for the door. Instantly, the druid was stunned in place by a charging warrior who appeared near me, driving his blades into the druid's spotted fur. The night elf cried out, spun, and toppled quickly. I watched while the warrior stood atop the fallen druid and performed an MC Hammer-themed dance as a sign of victory. Another wall of text arrived in my chat window.

"So then the other guy says it was tie we need to roll again to be fair. And I said that ain't gonna happen. And he got all up in my face about it and said he was going to report me for being a ninja and I said make sure you spell my name right."

I laughed.

"That's it?"

"That's it."

I shook my head at the audacity of some players; you could cut the sheer entitlement with a butcher knife. It was as if the game was made for them, and them alone. Apparently the "massive" part of massively multi-online means nothing. Then...the realization set in. I had made a terrible mistake. Recent loot events had prevented me from giving this random death knight an opportunity to give me his side of the story. The World of Warcraft player base had collectively decided to label death knights as outcasts, and err on the side of not bothering to give them the time of day. Now I stood among them. The hypocrite.

Hellspectral has joined the guild.

I typed a response back to the unjustly crucified death knight.

"Please accept my sincere apologies, Hells. You behaved exactly as anyone would be expected to. We're respectful to other players but that doesn't mean we bend to their every demand, especially outrageous ones. Thank you for being honest. And for giving a shit about being a member here."

Hellspectral was gracious and humble, "no prob."

Whispers arrived shortly thereafter from Fred mirroring Jungard's position. Both were glad to hear it had worked out; they regarded Hells as a quality member regardless of tenure. Leadership is not a one-man show. If I had put a player less attuned to the needs of others in that role of responsibility, Hellspectral may never have set foot in Descendants of Draenor again. I took comfort in the knowledge that I was putting the right people in charge, and was appreciative that this mistake could be reversed.

I would soon learn the value of being called out on my decision. An emergency situation would cause me to turn to the nearly-ejected death knight to solve a problem that, once again, came completely out of left field. I needed a solution, and fast. The strongest arm of my 25-Man progression raid hung in the balance: the melee team.


Anonymous said...

I hate the whole "We tied, Blizz gave it to you, roll again" crap. When there's a tie, there's a second invisible roll, and the item goes to the winner of that second roll. No additional rolls required. And as someone who's lost some really good loot from tie rolls, I know the feel of both sides on that one. XD

Loved how he kept saying "Sec" or "Second", I used to do the same thing when I was taking my time to type correctly.

I played a hunter at the start of Wrath/end of BC, and I was actually somewhat glad for the accession of DK's and Paladins. I didn't hear any Huntard jokes for over a year. :P

----Catelina, KT Alliance Holy priest

Shawn Holmes said...


Exactly my feelings on the tie-breaking rolls. Someone always feels like they deserve a third, fourth, fifth, etc. chance though. Life is never fair, right?

PS. You are one of my early-bird readers (which is great!) but as such, are subject to my work pre-edit (which is not-so-great), and I'm sad to admit I got a major piece of this story *wrong* on the first pass. Please give it a second read now that I've made the changes.

PPS. It's never too late for a Huntard joke!!

Shintar said...

Love the random interjections of night elf ganking! Though I always feel bad for people who get mobbed like that.

Alex said...

Mangetsu, the return of our hero Blain and now Hellspectral. I must dissapointed if this not a build up for a greater story.

Saerath said...

All we need now is for Ater to make a return!

Anonymous said...

Heh, I remember the SM GY because there was a silver/rare spawn there that had a BiS ring for several classes in the 20-29 battlegrounds, so I'd run it frequently for my twink, or would run others' characters through it for 10-20g per attempt.

Zanshin, Kil'Jaeden server