Okay. I have no idea if this is actually going to work.
I haven’t played StarCraft 2 in weeks, mostly because I’ve been taking it too seriously. It’ s one thing to want to improve one’s performance and quite another when it overshadows having fun in a game or making time for other distractions. I simply don’t have enough free time to devote to both improving StarCraft 2 and being a writer.
What I would like to do, then, is compile The Art of Thor into one place and make it available for public consumption. Maybe a downloadable PDF, maybe a cheap e-book, something.
I’m nowhere near an expert on the game, nor will I ever claim to be. But I’d like to think that the advice I’ve given has been helpful to some, if not entertaining. I could be wrong, of course.
What do you think? Can The Art of Thor work as a standalone guide to the StarCraft 2 newbie, or is it best left in the past?
Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this tale can and will deviate from series canon.
The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. Two minor Houses have come into contention: House Luxon, sworn to the Starks of Winterfell, and House Mortmund, sworn to the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. A savage turn of events and a tireless pursuit has revealed that Lord Mortmund had employed a Faceless Man, sent the assassin to slay noble heads of Westeros nobility, while thieves and scavengers collected Valyrian heirloom blades to keep for himself. While the Luxon forces stormed and razed the Mortmund keep, a bastard named Cadmon Storm recovered the blades and killed the Faceless Man. Victor Luxon, son of Lord Goddard, went with the bastard and John Nurem, steward of the House, to King’s Landing. At High Court they presented the blades of House Baratheon to Robert, the First of his Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. Following a decree that named Cadmon the trueborn son of Baelor Hightower of Oldtown, the trio proceeded down the Rose Road to Highgarden, continuing to distribute the stolen blades to their rightful owners…
He hated the South. He hated the heat. He hated the moisture. He hated the way the greens and yellows and reds of the feilds assaulted his eyes. He hated the stinging of pollen in his eyes and the way it left dust on his arms and armor. Most of all he hated the false smiles, the courtesies, the bowing and taking of knees and “m’lord” this and “m’lady” that. He missed the North, the biting vibrant cold breezes, the heft of his weapons and the comforting weight of armor on his shoulders.
He pushed John Nurem aside and set about adjusting his clothing himself. The steward bowed and muttered some sort of apology. Spineless toad. Victor appreciated all the merchant-turned-majordomo had done for House Luxon, but more often than not he just got in the way. He looked down at his sleeves, a dark blue fabric slashed to reveal the cloth-of-gold beneath, then tugged at the fine trousers of gray with their silver piping, tucked into polished black boots. The steward swept the ermine half-cloak around his shoulders, the cloth-of-gold lining catching the light from the hearth as Victor fastened the clasp, a golden acorn. Victor reached for his swordbelt and fastened it around his waist as the knock came at the door.
“They’re ready for us.”
“In a moment, Storm,” Victor snapped. He checked the hang and fit of his clothes, thanked the gods that nobody was around to stick him with any more pins, and threw open the door. Cadmon Storm, now recognized as a Hightower, stood just outside, dressed in his own finery, the hilt of the Veracity visible behind his left hip as he tugged on the white leather gloves he wore.
Royal decree or no, the stripling’s Storm to me. “Which way’s the solar?”
Cadmon gestured with a smile. “This way, my lord.”
“Yes, your lord, and don’t you forget it, bastard.” Victor had starting itching already. It was going to be a long afternoon. Despite the powerful stride he adopted to move through Highgarden to Mace Tyrell’s solar, Cadmon had no trouble keeping up. “My father did you a great boon by taking you in, considering you showed up at our gates with naught but a bastard’s name and some pretty words.”
“I’ve proven everything that I’ve said, have I not?” The bastard didn’t stop smiling. A Southron through and through. “We destroyed a potential enemy of not only your House, but the Lannisters as well, and Luxon’s growing in respect with every stolen blade it returns.”
“Just remember it’s Luxon doing it. Not you.”
“I doubt I could forget, considering how you constantly remind me.”
“And keep your distance. I won’t have you interrupting me this time.”
Cadmon placed a gloved hand over his slashed doublet. “Why, Victor, you wound me. I thought you of all people would appreciate the need to cut to the quick.”
“Not in front of the bloody king!” The insult still burned him. He’d been telling the story of how they’d come across the blades, in detail, leaving nothing out. He wanted no secrets before the king. He learned afterward that one of the small council, the pointy-beared whisp of a man everybody called Littlefinger, had started yawning. Cadmon had interrupted, kneeled before the king and laid out the Baratheon blades taken from the serial killer that had lived under the guise of a Lannister bannerman. The delivery had won them reknown throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and a letter from Tywin Lannister himself had called upon Robert to decree Cadmon the trueborn son of Baelor Hightower, but Victor wasn’t about to let the slight go unremarked.
“Just let me do the talking this time.”
“As long as you don’t do too much of it.”
Victor growled. “You try my patience, bastard.”
Cadmon shrugged, his only reply as their quick pace had brought them to the solar. He opened the door for Victor and gestured grandly for him to enter. Cadmon fell into step behind him. Sitting in a comfortable chair with the remnants of his breakfast in front of him, Lord Mace Tyrell, Defender of the Marches, High Marshal of the Reach, Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South, wiped his hands on a napkin and gestured for them to approach. His daughter Margaery sat nearby, hands folded in her lap and smiling at Renly Baratheon, who sat nearby speaking with her quietly. Nearby, Mace’s son Loras looked on, the embroidery in his fine cloak and worked into the leather of his scabbard unsurprisngly showing various types of flowers. A slender woman with long silver hair and a dignified look smiled as they entered, walking past Victor to place a hand on Cadmon’s shoulder.
“Oh, my brother will be jealous. I get to see how handsome his son is before he even reaches Oldtown.”
“You must be my aunt Alerie.” Cadmon took her hand in his. “I’m so pleased to meet you.”
I’m going to be sick. “Lord Mace, I have no wish to overstay my welcome. May I present you with these blades of House Tyrell, taken from…”
Mace held up a meaty hand. “I did hear tell of most of this tale from my son Loras, and from Renly, when they arrived. May I see the blades?”
Victor knelt and laid out the bundle they’d made of the blades of Tyrell. Loras walked over to look down upon them as Mace leaned toward the opened canvas. He reached down and picked up the broadsword from the bunch, the central feature of its hilt being a golden rose. A matching dagger was beside it, which Ser Loras picked up.
“These were my father’s blades,” Mace said. “They said he’d fallen from a cliff, looking up and not minding where he was going. There was always something odd about that story.”
Victor nodded. “Regardless of how they came to be parted from him, they are now yours once again, Lord Mace.”
“And well I thank you for that. You do good service for your house, Luxon, and for that of your liege lord. I shall not forget it.”
Victor stood, adjusting the leather belt around his waist. He was eager to wrap this up and get into more comfortable clothes. Lord Mace invited his guests to dine with him that evening, which Victor accepted before he left the solar, leaving the bastard to speak with the woman from Oldtown.
“Victor, if I might have a word?”
He turned, to find the well-groomed Renly Baratheon following him into the corridor.
“I apologize for my brother’s brusque nature in King’s Landing. He’s so unflatteringly impatient during high court. You understand.”
“I do.” Victor shifted on his feet. “I took no offense.”
“It simply seemed unfair to extend the potential for knighthood to one such as Cadmon Hightower, and not do you the same courtesy.”
“What are you saying, my lord?”
“If you wished to squire for me, or perhaps Ser Loras, all you have to do is ask. You fought alongside us in the Greyjoy Rebellions. Your quality as a warrior is known. Why not add the reknown, respect and rewards of knighthood? What say you?”
Victor stared to Renly for a long moment. Then, taking a deep breath, he answered.
“I appreciate the offer, my lord, and I would be interested in squiring for a knight, but not for you, nor for Ser Loras.”
Renly blinked. “I beg your pardon? Why ever not?”
“You know why.”
The king’s brother narrowed his eyes. “I am attempting to extend you a courtey and opportunity, ser. You’re letting prejudice blind you.”
“The truly blind are those who still profess to love you while being ignorant of what you really are.”
“And what, exactly, am I?” Renly hand drifted to the hilt of his sword. It was one of the swords Cadmon had brought back from Mortmund’s ruin. Victor scowled and said no more, backing up a step and turning away.
Victor strode back to his quarters with haste, fueled by hatred. Was Renly simply trying to expand his collection of admirers? Victor didn’t think he was Renly’s type. He was burly where Ser Loras was slight, direct in speech where Ser Loras was circumspect. He was of the North, and Ser Loras of the South. Maybe the queer cock doesn’t discriminate, Victor thought bitterly. He slammed the door of the quarters behind him, which earned him a shriek from the bed chamber.
“Did… did it go well?”
The face of his wife poked out from the other room. Victor glared at her as he pulled the golden acorn open and yanked the ermine cloak from his shoulders.
“Lord Mace has kind things to say about House Luxon, now, giving us one less overt enemy in the South.”
“Oh, that must please you!” She moved to help him undress, her fingers slightly clumsier than those of John the house steward. She might have been on the homely side and not terribly bright, but she as at least a woman, and her hands on him working with his clothes didn’t make him so uncomfortable. “Tell me, was Lord Renly there? Or Ser Loras? Oh, he’s so elegant, with his floral armor and his…”
“Yes,” Victor hissed, exasperated. “He was there.”
Jaine giggled. “Oh, forgive me, my lord, he’s just so…”
“I know what he is. You owe me no apology.”
She responded by giggling more, especially when she was helping him out of his breeches. He sighed. Once again, the ship has left the dock with no one on board.
“Shall I help you relax, before we’re feasted by Lord Mace?”
“We have time, yes.” At least it’ll shut you up. Would that I could silence Renly or Ser Loras or that bloody bastard Storm as easily. He resolved not to think on those men any longer, however, as his wife began. Such thoughts would just be strange in this situation.
Are we more than what we seem? We all walk around in similar skins, physical forms that are at once miracles of evolution and unremarkable slabs of gradually decaying meat. For ages man has posited that their existences reach beyond the ticking clock under which we all live. Man has sought gods, crafted timeless works, birthed and fathered the sciences, all in the name of creating something that lasts. Every individual knows on a basic level that our time in the world is fleeting, and at one point or another we wonder if there’s more than what we have before us.
Imagine, for a moment, that the answer is “yes”.
Amaranthine is an exploration of this answer.
Amaranthine is a tabletop role-playing game to be played with friends in a comfortable, conversational setting. It boasts no overt gimmickry, no miniatures or fancy dice. You just need a handful of six-siders. It’s the premise, mood and execution of Amaranthine that set it apart.
The premise is that the Amaranthine of the title are, in essence, immortal. Each is reincarnated over and over again throughout the ages, dying only to be born again with their knowledge intact, if tucked away in a mental steamer trunk for a few years. Contact with familiar places, lessons of the past and other Amaranthine draw out their true natures. By the time they reach young adulthood, an Amaranthine can already be operating with hundreds if not thousands of years of experience upon which to draw, yet they look no different from you or me.
Amaranthine’s mood is one of limitless potential, of destiny and the shadows. It’s an atmosphere any afficionado of the World of Darkness (old or new) will find quite familiar. Yet the Amaranthine are not monsters, and the point of the game is not to rail against one’s nature, but to embrace it. Being one of the Amaranthine means being excellent, living a life of epic proportions that mere mortals can only dream of.
The true crux of the game comes in its execution as a group-based experience. The lives of the Amaranthine, present and past, are mercurial and somewhat unpredictible. Those you consider friends now may have been rivals in a previous life, and those now your enemies may have been allies or even lovers in years gone by. These relationships and the decisions players make regarding them build a sense of scale into the game as well as helping it feel deeply personal.
A word on the quality of the printed version of Amaranthine before I get into the meat of the text. This book is, without question, gorgeous. It ranks with the best offerings of White Wolf or Wizards of the Coast. It boasts bold colors, fascinating choices in type and a comprehensive indexing system that makes information easy to find. But all that is sound and fury; the significance of the book is in what the text says, not how it looks.
The tales within the Amaranthine rulebook underscore the concepts and themes listed above. The early chapters draw players into this appealing world and give them the tools necessary to become a part of it. It concerns itself more with questions than with statistics, however: Who were you before? Who do you want to be now? Who mattered to you, and who still does? The stats systems, using the four humors as essential resources for the character, are at once familiar and unique.
Deeper in the book those brave enough to become Directors find the depiction of our world through the immortal eyes of the Amaranthine. From the ways they organize themselves to the threats they face, the book ensures a Director is well-equipped to tell a tale as sprawling or intimate as they wish. Threats to the Amarthine are describedin detail, and are not limited to creatures such as vampires, dragons and the fair folk. The Void is an ever-present aspect of the Amaranthine, to which they all must return and from which all draw strength… for a price.
I knew when I first heard David of Machine Age pitch Amaranthine that he was on to something. He and his wife Filamena have never been ones to sit idle working on gaming materials for others. They’re unafraid of the risks inherent in pursuing their own ideas and have the intestinal fortitude to see their dreams through in the face of adversity, mediocrity and doubt. They’re a couple of those troublemakers I go on about sometimes.
Their first game, Maschine Zeit, perfectly captured the dread and mystery of a quiet and horrible apocalypse of our own making. Guestbook makes playing a quick game with friends at a convention, train station or meeting so easy it seems almost shameful. Amaranthine encourages excellence, exalts in an epic scale and allows players to explore and answer questions about their own natures just as much as it pits them against creatures of the night and wonders from childhood myth.
Amaranthine is a high-quality, deep-concept gaming experience that I Would recommend to anybody even remotely interested in a modern setting for a tabletop role-playing group, and if it doesn’t put Machine Age firmly and permanently on the map of leading pen-and-paper game producers, it bloody well should.
My time in the House of Black and White that sits in Braavos taught me several things. I learned patience, for those days after I awakened in a small acolyte’s room were long and quiet. I learned how precious every moment is, considering how I’d simultaneously delivered a soul onto death and nearly fell into its arms myself. I learned that while I was recuperating in the temple of the Many-Faced God, the face of the weirwood of Storm’s End was the one that came to mind when I felt the need to pray. I learned to speak more languages, to listen to whispers, to watch how people moved and looked around when they spoke. And I learned the water dance from Mavek Kushahn, Third Sword of Braavos.
She took my dagger from me, letting me fight only with wooden swords. It wasn’t until I took her practice weapon from her hand that she returned it. That same day, I thanked the priests in the House of Black and White and, wearing the clothes of a bravo, hired myself as a deckhand and sellsword to a trading ship. So it was for years, before wanderings and adventures brought me to Pentos.
I was days from turning ten and seven, a man grown by Westrosi reckoning. I had taken scars and lives alike, and as I walked through the city to make my delivery I drew in the salty sea air and thought of how different it smelled from the spray of Storm’s End and the cold loam of Dragonstone. I didn’t miss them, precisely, but I knew they were the foundation upon which Cadmon Storm the bravo had been built.
I handed the wineseller his cask and took his money. I was counting it for the third time – just to be certain – when I bumped shoulders with a youth just a few years older than me. He had his hand gripped tightly around the wrist of a young girl who caught my eye. While the teen pulling her along called me a fool and to watch where I was going, I found myself staring, the image of her searing into my memory.
Her hair, caught in the breeze and sunlight, looked as if spun from a metal more precious that silver, more rare than gold. She was wearing a fine if somewhat insubstantial dress that was very much in keeping with the fashions of the upper-crust ladies of the Free Cities. What captured me, though, were her eyes. Not their color, though you don’t often see them the color of amethysts. No, it was the sadness. The longing. Though she was dressed in the manner of a daughter of wealth, she looked very much a prisoner.
A little voice in the back of my mind told me I would embarrass myself if she caught me gauping, and I tore my eyes away from the sight of her. Her escort, whoever he was, turned his eyes to me, eyes the same color as hers, and if looks could kill I would have dropped dead on the spot. Instead, I bit out an obscenity in Valyrian – another skill I’d refined in the House of Black and White. His eyes went wide and I winked at him, before he himself ran headlong into an oncoming traveler. I ducked out of sight before the drama unfolded any further.
There was something about that pair, a feeling in the back of my brain that coiled and writhed in a mix of uncertainty and excitement. Who had I just seen? Why did this notion of destiny poke at my heart? I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter. I had coin, and free time, and I knew what to do with both. Pentos had more than its share of taverns, and I had a favorite, the “Sea Lady’s Chamber”, a short walk from the docks.
The Chamber is a home away from the sea for sellsails, oarsmen, and shipwrights of all types. One at the bar was smiling and laughing with a pair of ladies, wearing a dark tunic with a strange device over his heart: an onion, embroidered in white.
It was a device I knew well.
The ladies were striking in their own right. The more flamboyant of the two was also the larger, a collection of curves and bright flashing gold hanging from belts and sashes. Her bright hoop earrings and bold-colored scarves on her head were a stark contrast to her dark skin. She didn’t look like one for fighting, but all the same, a jeweled scabbard holding a sickle-like dagger was prominent on the front of one of the many sashes around her waist.
Her companion was more slender, her curves more modest, the caramel of her skin subtly accented by her fashionable skirt, slit up to her hip to expose bare leg running to the boot that came to just below her knee. A gem flashed in her navel, set in a taut belly shown by the tied-off sleeveless shirt in the same sandy color as the skirt. Behind her cocked hips, I could see the hilt of a Braavosi blade. Her hair was long and ebony, braided with threads of silver woven through it. The only other decoration she wore was a slender silver chain that encircled the base of her neck, itself braided at the hollow of her throat and hanging down between her full breasts and into her shirt.
Again, the eyes got my attention. But they weren’t exotic, like the amethyst orbs I’d beheld earlier. No, these eyes were a stormy, expressive blue. Familiar eyes. Eyes I’d caught sight of in mirrors or polished glass from time to time.
Curious, intrigued, and perhaps a little aroused, I began to make my way over.
Three bravos burst into the Chamber behind me. I stepped to one side; I didn’t want to be seen as an obstacle to them. Not yet, at least.
“Dale Seaworth!” The bravo that called the name drew his blade. “You will come with us!”
Dale looked at the bravos, then his companions, then drank down the remnants of his wine. “Why would I do that?”
“Your ship has raided and taken the property of our employer.” It was the middle bravo who spoke now, his Westrosi Common slightly more refined. “We’ve come on behalf of our lady, Betharios of Braavos, to demand recompense.”
The slender woman set down her goblet and crossed her arms, the firelight reflecting from the studs of her fingerless gloves. “Dale. Have you been pirating?”
Dale shook his head. “The ships were carrying slaves towards Westeros. I turned them back.”
“Lies.” The bravo who hadn’t spoken yet, the largest one, had a voice like gravel being ground underfoot. “You kept the cargo of Betharios for yourself.”
People are not cargo, I wanted to say, but Dale beat me to it. “I daresay that people are not, in fact, cargo.”
“I know Betharios,” said the large woman, leaning on the bar. “She’s a bitch. I’m not surprised she sent dogs to do her dirty work.”
The first bravo spat. “We are no dogs!”
“And at least we are not pirates and thieves,” the second agreed. “Not like you. Now will you come with us or shall we draw your blood now?”
Dale got to his feet. People were quietly leaving the tavern or getting into a better position to watch. “I can’t leave. My ship departs with the tide. I need to be on it, you see, as I am her captain, and we have goods to take back to Westeros. Goods, I might add, that were not taken from the leaky boats of Betharios.”
“We are three.” The first bravo grinned, a smile missing a few teeth. “You are one. Odds are not good, pirate.”
“Learn to count.” The slender woman uncrossed her arms and moved, hips almost in a slither-like motion, to stand by Dale. “We are two.”
The grinning bravo moved his hand to his hilt. “I can count. And we still number more than you.”
“You there. Tall, dark, and ugly.” I stepped out of the crowd, lifting my chin to the big, stoic one. “We shall duel, bravo, you and I.”
He blinked at me. “You will stand for this Westrosi seadog?”
“Aye. Any seadog of Westeros nursed at the same bitch I did.”
Dale smiled. “The Narrow Sea’s a cold, hard one.”
The woman smiled, too. My heart might have skipped a beat.
“Enough talk!” The first bravo roared as he attacked. We paired off immediately: the first with Dale, the second with the woman, and the big one with me. I parried and gave ground. He was strong enough, but he lacked finesse. Dale was quick on his feet and had a Westrosi longsword in his hand before his bravo could get close enough to stick him. The woman, for her part, ducked and darted like a snake, and I read in her water dance a placid patience, moreso than any sort of fury or malice, as she looked for the perfect place and time to strike. I kept mine busy, moving around the tavern and letting him grow tired and stupid… well, more stupid than usual.
Sure enough, he over-extended his thrust and I took him in the chest, just below his heart. He slid back off of my blade and staggered, looking down at the wound in shock. I raised my blade to my face in salute, then turned to the other as he backed Dale into a corner. Dale wasn’t used to fighting water dancers, and while he was holding off the attacks, it was only matter of time before he was disarmed or worse. The other bravo saw me moving, and was about to shout a warning when the woman capitalized on the distraction, her thrust landing in his throat. Winking at her, I turned back to the first bravo, my left hand reaching for my dagger. Valyrian steel whispered through the air as I ducked low, slicing the tendons at his heel. His leg turned to rubber, but he somehow stayed upright, clearly well-trained enough to keep his balance despite the sudden handicap. The large bravo shocked me when he roared and came at with with a final burst of energy. Effortlessly, the woman spun into his path, the tip of her blade slashing his face. He stopped, mid-stride, even more shocked than before. A good shove from her put him down on the floorboards. He didn’t get back up.
Dale finished off his hobbled foe when the bravo pressed an unwise attack. He slapped the thin blade of his opponent aside with contempt, and cleaved the man’s neck down to the spine on the reverse stroke. The bravo bled all over his flamboyant clothing as he sank to his knees, then fell to one side. Dale cleaned his blade, nodding in my direction as the woman sidled up beside me.
“You made that a lot easier than it could have been, friends. Thank you.”
“Any family of Davos Seaworth is family of mine.”
“You know my father?”
“Quite well. This dagger was a gift from him. He helped me leave Westeros. I was in a place where bastards like me are seen the way a noble looks at a pile of horseshit he just stepped in.”
The woman was studying me intently at this point. She smiled, and again, the effect it had on me was undeniable. “I know a bit about being a bastard of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a shame your experience was so negative.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t have the advantage of your charms.”
“Don’t go trying to seduce my first mate away from me!” The large woman walked over to us and laughed. “She’s far too much of an asset to the Pillowqueen.”
I knew that ship name. My face split into a huge grin.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet the great Madrosa Saan!” I removed my hat and swept low in a bow. “I hear that business is treating you and your family well.”
Large dimples appeared as Madrosa smiled at me. “It is, young bravo, but you do have me at a bit of a disadvantage.”
“My name is Cadmon Storm. And, if I may, I find myself between jobs, and I’d be honored to be considered for your crew.”
Now the woman by my side was openly staring. “‘Storm.’ As in Storm’s End?”
I turned to her, blinking. “Yes. I was born there. My mother is…”
“Rhiannon Penrose.” She took my arm. “Walk with me.”
We left Dale Seaworth and Madrosa Saan watching us in confusion. I glanced over my shoulder, and I saw them exchange a look and a shrug. We walked across the street and down the docks, under a cloudless night littered with stars. The moonlight did fascinating things to the woman’s skin. I noticed, now, that she was closer to my age than I’d originally thought. She turned to me when we were alone.
“I know who your father is, Cadmon. Because he’s my father, too.”
She reached between her breasts, into her top, and drew out the end of the chain. At the end of it was a large ring. She placed it in my hand. It was heavy. It had a thick band and fit over the long finger of my left hand. Its central accent was not a gem, but a signet of white. It depicted a tall tower with a flame at the top. I studied it for a long moment, then looked up into her eyes.
“I didn’t know who he was until after I arrived in Braavos. My mother kept his identity secret, even to me.”
“My mother had no need for such deceptions.” She rested her hand on mine, the ring now shared between our skin. “My name is Sylvaria Sand, and I’m your half-sister.”
I suddenly felt a little abashed for feeling so attracted to her. She must have noticed this, because she flashed her alluring smile. Even with this new revelation, I couldn’t help but notice the fullness of her lips.
“No need to be so bashful, Cadmon. This isn’t Westeros, and we’re not intended for high seats. We should embrace what’s beautiful, not hide from it. My mother, herself a bastard, taught me that.”
I tabled that for the moment. Plenty of time for such talk later.
“I can’t help but feel there’s a reason we met tonight,” I said. “Both you and Dale Seaworth, in the same tavern at the same time, on a night I arrive there… Do you believe in fate, Sylvaria?”
She gently slid my finger free of the signet ring, but did not let go of my hand. “Sometimes, it’s hard to deny that there might be such a thing as fate. And meeting you, as delightful as it is, reminds me of home, and how much I miss it. The Water Palace, and my mother’s love, and my sisters. I should very much like to see them again.”
Something wells up in my heart. “My mother and I haven’t seen each other since I left.”
“It’s settled, then.” As boldly as she stepped up to fight for Dale Seaworth, my half-sister leaned into me and placed a warm, gentle kiss on my lips. “Let’s go home, Cadmon.”
He who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven.
StarCraft 2 encourages aggressive play. It’s why we see so many infantry rushes. But your foot soldiers are not the only weapons at your disposal if you want to bring the battle to a swift end. Not every player will agree, but the mid to upper echelons of the tech tree hold some very powerful tools – air units.
Air power quickly came to dominate the battlefield in the 20th century, and the battlefields of StarCraft 2 are not terribly different. Producing units that fly not only provides vital and rapid intelligence but often opens up options that might not normally be available with earlier technologies and forces. While every race has the means to carry out drop play, that is a subject for another post, as there are some general aspects of that tactic that apply to all races. In this article I wanted to discuss specific units from each race that can cause a major swing in momentum.
Zerg – The Mutalisk
One of the first mutations available to a Zerg player that spawns a Spire is that of the dreaded Mutalisk. It’s a versatile and relatively inexpensive flyer with good range, splash damage and the capability to target both air and ground units. As in the first StarCraft, even a small flight of Mutalisks can form the spine of a fearsome airborne Zerg swarm.
When accompianied by Zerglings or Banelings they are particularly resilient to return fire from the ground. They’re effective at harrassment and assaults on the enemy mineral line. Also worth considering is the fact that every moment your opponent spends chasing your Mutalisks or building anti-air defenses is one less moment they’re spending building units to attack you directly or counter a mixed ground assault. These are all uses for Mutalisk to consider as your Spire emerges from the creep.
Protoss – The Void Ray
Like all Protoss units the Void Ray is a lovely construct of sweeping curves and glimmering crystals. It is not, however, terribly fast and is somewhat fragile when it comes under focused enemy fire. This is balanced with its cost, its range of vision and the fact that the longer its beam is active, the more effective it becomes. At their apex they burn through buildings with frightening speed. Like the juggernaut, a well-managed flotilla of Void Rays may take a few moments to gather momentum, but once they do they are very hard to stop.
It is important, then, to ensure the Void Rays get where they’re going unmolested. Scouting routes, distracting the enemy’s units and feinting at their base entrance all increase the longevity of your flying glass cannons. Ideally, your opponent should not know that a dozen Void Rays are reducing their buildings to slag until the moment they turn their beams on the base. I’ve heard of some players who turn their Void Rays on each other just before making their assault. They switch targets at the right moment, of course, before destroying their own units, but this is something of an advanced technique. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about it – I play Terran.
Terran – The Banshee
Bashees, unlike Mutalisks and Void Rays, cannot attack air units. Like Void Rays, they’re somewhat fragile. Like Mutalisks, they’re relatively inexpensive. However, what sets them apart from the other racial air units we’ve discussed is a seperate technology that must be researched: the Cloaking Device.
Invisible to all but detectors, Banshees with active cloaks are every bit as effective at harassment and mineral line assault as Mutalisks. They also shine in support of an infantry or tank advance, where they can surgically remove problematic units while the ground units soak up damage and push forward. As with Mutalisks, they can cause an opponent to scramble in building detectors or air defenses, allowing you to rapidly respond with a follow-up attack or a quick change in tactics.
Of course, all three races are vulnerable to early attack if they go for air tech early in the game. Base defense and proper build execution are crucial. However, if you can hold off initial rushes and keep your economy flowing, the power and versatility of these relatively basic air units may surprise you.