Wireless Network Security Is Important (part 2)

In the last part I briefly described why you should be concerned with your wireless network security.  In this part I’ll describe the various ways, and indeed, the ease with which some passwords can be cracked.

But first you need to know what the various types of wireless encryption are.  At least in the U.S., the basic types of encryption that you’ll run into from the major wireless router manufacturers are:

* WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) – You will not see this type of encryption used on any recent wireless router because it’s extremely unsecure.  If you’re router is running this, and yes they’re still out there, you probably don’t have any option to change to another encryption method and should consider purchasing a new router as soon as possible.  Believe it or not, there’s still two of these running in my neighborhood.

* WPA/WPA2 (WIFI Protected Access) – WPA replaced WEP in the early 2000’s, and has itself been replaced by WPA2.  WPA2 is the standard encryption method on modern wireless home networks, with a few varieties to choose from.  WPA-PSK(TKIP), WPA2-PSK(AES) and a few select others are normally options.  WPA2-PSK(AES) is the highest level of encryption you can set in most recent wireless routers, and should be selected from among the various options your router may give you.

One work of advice regarding -PSK.  PSK stands for “Pre-Shared Key”.  Meant with the best intentions, PSK is a means of enabling connection to your wireless network through means of a PIN code instead of a password.  Unfortunately PSK is unsecure and easily cracked as there are a finite number of PINS.  Its best to disable PIN access to your wireless network all together, but if you intend to use PSK then try to use a wireless router than has a security feature that automatically disables PSK functionality after X number of attempts.

So here you are, with your brand new wireless router.  You’ve selected WPA2-PSK(AES) as your encryption method and you’ve entered an 8 digit complex password (numbers, lower and upper case letters, and special characters).  With your router plugged in and operating, you’re thinking to yourself how secure you are as you connect your phone to your new home wireless network.  You’ve erected a virtual mote around your home castle, and no one is going to be able to storm your gate!  Right?

Well, actually, you’re quite wrong.  It’s actually very easy for someone within range of your router to probe your defenses.  And in most cases, they can probe your defenses for considerable time without you ever knowing.  I say “considerably”, but in actuality, I mean forever because the tell-tale signs they may leave while doing it are so innocuous that no one outside of the most security conscious individual would ever notice.

How could this be?  How could someone try to hack my wireless router without me noticing?  Well, for starters, the average person isn’t IT conscious at all.  The average person wouldn’t know the difference between WEP and WPA/WPA2, or know what a handshake is, or even know that most recent wireless routers have a logging function (though disabled by default).  Or even know what to look for even if they enabled it.  And to be honest, probing can be done entirely passively.  Meaning the adversary (mean hacker person) never actually actively attacks your network.  He or she can speed this part of the process up a bit by employing an active “attack” that’s actually quite minor and wouldn’t be noticed by 9.9 of every 10 people even if they saw its effects during the actual “attack”.  That’s because the “attack” is a normal network function, but in this case is done by a specific person for a specific reason instead of as it normally would, by your router without any prompting by an outside source.

I’m writing at a relatively high level here, and not intending to be technically specific in any detail.  That simply isn’t my intent.  Quite honestly, if you want to know more about this subject you can find everything you need very easily with just a few minutes in any search engine.  I’m also very specifically not going into detail on actions you can take to combat some of the tactics that can be used against your network.  Most of those details would be beyond the average home user anyway, and those users that are technically savvy will know where to find that information.  Again, this blog post is not intended for those purposes.

Be that as it may, a person sitting in a car down the street from your home, or someone on another street in your neighborhood can very easily capture network traffic from your wireless router.  Whenever a device connects to your network, those specific packets contain key information someone can then use to crack your password.  All of this can be done entirely passively, without ever actually performing any action against your network.  But as I said, if the individual wanted to speed this part of the process (reconnaissance) up, they could employ an active tactic to force your wireless router to send those packets.  One way or the other, as long as you have a wireless router, and devices that need to connect to it, your router will send the packets that are needed for those devices to connect.  And anyone listening can record them.

So, if your wireless network is so unsecure, why are there wireless networks at all?  I said an individual who was listening could intercept the packets they would need to try to crack your wireless password.  I never said your network was unsecure.  In fact, this question touches on why I went into the math bit in part 1.  Your phone needs to exchange information with your wireless router in order to connect.  This is called the handshake, and there’s no way to successfully connect without some kind of a question and response dialogue between the two devices.  This is what your adversary is listening to.

The handshake is intended to be secure, but its just the front line.  Think of it as the mote around your castle.  Its an obstacle and nothing more.   Infinitely more important is your password, or pass phrase as its often also called that is passed from the end device (your cellphone) to your router during this handshake.  All of the information is encrypted, but the packets of information that are passed between the two devices are in a standard form.  So your adversary will know which encrypted bits are the network’s password and those that aren’t.  He can’t read the password yet though, so the next step for him is to try to crack it.  Again, this is why I went into the math in part 1.

Once someone has recorded at least one handshake from your network — that is an actual connection between an end-device and your wireless router — they have everything they need to begin the next phase, which is the password cracking.  The adversary can’t do anything more until they do crack your password, so remember what I said about lengthier, complex passwords being best.  And especially what I said about the type of encryption (WPA2 with AES).

The general gist of how someone goes about trying to crack your password is that once they have at least one set of handshake packets, to run the captured packets through a decryption program.  There are many, and all of them are good at what they do, in their own specific way.  Some programs are designed to use the the computers own computing power (CPU), while others are designed to use the computing power of the systems graphics card (GPU).  In my experience, CPU intensive decrypting can be fast but nowhere near as fast as what can be achieved through GPU decryption.

What ever program the individual chooses to use they all go about the act of decryption in the same fashion.  There are two widely, and most utilized methods of decryption and a few others that are less widely used.  I’ll focus on the two most widely utilized methods:  Dictionary and Brute Force attacks.  In a dictionary attack, the program compares the encrypted password against a list of words, encrypted in the same method your network password is.  And if a match is found, your password then becomes known.  Dictionary attacks are the fasted method to decrypt your password, so here is where the math in part 1 should really start to take hold.

While creating word lists is trivially easy, it does get more complicated as you add complexity.  A word list of just number combinations is smallest, whereas a word list containing possible passwords composed of numbers, upper and lower case numbers and a set of special characters can be gargantuan.  So gargantuan in fact that it can be physically difficult for the system to work with.  Especially if you realize the word list must have every permutation of complex words from 8 digits upward to some number.

Most word lists I’ve seen instead contains only possible passwords for numbers, lower and upper case letters from 8 to 12 digits in length.  The word lists are very large, but manageable.  And quite frankly, unless an adversary wants to get into your network specifically, and you aren’t some random network he’s simply probing, the harder you make that for him the better.  So the random hacker isn’t looking for hard targets, he’s looking for easy targets.  Someone’s network which password is between 8 and 12 digits long and which probably doesn’t use special characters.  And most especially those networks which password is only numbers or which are comprised of actual dictionary words.  Never, ever use a password that is only numbers, or is only an actual dictionary word.  Ever.  Because your password will be cracked in seconds to minutes, regardless of the type of encryption you employ.  Trust me on this.

A dictionary attack can take an attackers computer seconds to minutes to compare your networks password against all the words on the word list.  Depending on a number of factors, including how large the word list is mostly.  Suffice to say the attacker will know within a few short minutes whether they can crack your password easily through this type of attack, or whether they’ll need to devote more time to it.

If your password was not among the word list the attacker has, and If they decide to devote more time to it there’s a second, more powerful method of attack.  One that theoretically is capable of decrypting every possible password in existence.  Given enough time.  And there’s the rub.

The second widely used method of decryption is brute force, and means just as it sounds.  Its a means of your computer trying every permutation of words against your networks password and seeing if it matches.  Typically the Brute Force method is tried only after various dictionary attacks have failed because brute force attacks are much slower than a dictionary attack.  The computing power the attackers program uses for decryption doesn’t really matter, but it does in a brute force attack.  The more computing power the better, as more computing power enables the system to attempt more key sequences per second.  Here’s where the math comes in.

In an 8 digit numeric only password example, there are 100,000,000 possible passwords.  For the sake of argument lets assume someone decides to brute force the password instead of dictionary attacking it.  If someone had attempted to dictionary attack a numeric only password they would absolutely cracked it, but for our example an attacker never tried that method and instead skipped right to brute force.

So here an attacker is with 100,000,000 possibilities and they launch a brute force attack to crack your password.  How long do you think that might take them?  Processing power is everything.  In a relatively low powered laptop, using only CPU power, a system might be able to attempt 1,500 keys per second.

100,000,000 / 1500 = 18.5 hours.  But within that 18.5 hours it would indeed crack that password.  By comparison a dictionary attack against the same 8-digit numeric password took mere seconds.

a more robust system, using GPU power can easily attempt 30,000 to 100,000 keys per second.  So the same 8-digit numeric password brute force attack would take between 18 to 54 minutes to crack.  This isn’t a guess, this is mathematical certainty.  Either way your numeric only 8-digit password will be cracked, its just a matter of time.  Don’t make numeric only passwords, regardless of their length.

But lets look at the math for more complex passwords.  How long could it take to crack an 8 digit password, 10 digit password and 12 digit password with increasing complexities.  As above, we’ll assume that only Brute Force attacks are attempted, and that dictionary attacks were skipped entirely for some reason.


Numbers Only (times in hours)
1,500 keys/sec 30,000 keys/sec 100,000 keys/sec
8 Digit Combo 18.5 0.9 0.3
10 Digit Combo 1,851.9 92.6 27.8
12 Digit Combo 185,185.2 9,259.3 2,777.8
Numbers & Lower Case Letters (times in hours)
1,500 keys/sec 30,000 keys/sec 100,000 keys/sec
8 Digit Combo 522,427.8 26,121.4 7,836.4
10 Digit Combo 677,066,377.8 33,853,318.9 10,155,995.7
12 Digit Combo 877,478,025,615.1 43,873,901,280.8 13,162,170,384.2
Numbers & Lower/Upper Case Letters (times in hours)
1,500 keys/sec 30,000 keys/sec 100,000 keys/sec
8 Digit Combo 40,433,352.9 2,021,667.6 606,500.3
10 Digit Combo 155,425,808,494.1 7,771,290,424.7 2,331,387,127.4
12 Digit Combo 597,456,807,851,463.0 29,872,840,392,573.1 8,961,852,117,772.0

You can see complexity greatly increases the time it theoretically takes to crack a password, and I didn’t even display figures for passwords including special characters.  The times assume that all possible combinations are tested and the actual password is the last tested in all cases.  Which you should realize isn’t going to be the case.  Also, these figures assume a single low to moderate system.  The times decrease with the addition of systems and power, obviously.  But again, the run of the mill hacker isn’t looking for a hard target, he’s looking for an easy target.

Make yourself a hard target.  Most usually an adversary isn’t looking to spend days, weeks, or months trying to crack your password.  Unless they know you, and dislikes you.  In which case as long as you’re password is 12 digits or more and is complex, they’d have to dislike you a great deal to spend the time and resources that would be necessary to find your password.

Once someone has cracked your wireless password though, they can connect to your network at will.  And unless you are unusually vigilant, you’ll almost assuredly never going to realize it.  For all intents and purposes, once someone with the skill has broken into your network, they will have the freedom to explore your network and act against systems that are connected to it, or use your home’s internet connection for their own purposes.

I trust that you are now armed with enough knowledge not to become one of those people.

Posted in Information Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wireless Network Security Is Important (part 1)

It’s 2015 and everyone has a wireless network at home.  It’s the age of mobility, with the average household having several cell phones, tablets, laptops, personal computers, and other internet connected devices.  Most of which would be wirelessly connected in the typical household.  Why wouldn’t they be?  After all, Wireless connectivity offers tremendous convenience over having to wire connect the range of devices that we’d find in most homes.  A wired device has a rather limited area where it can be operated, while a wirelessly connected device can be operated virtually anywhere within the range of the wireless router.

Unfortunately, with convenience also comes very real security concerns.  Which, unfortunately again, most households don’t realize, or don’t bother to keep up on.  You may be asking yourself why you care about any of this.  Its quite simple really, you should care because troves of your personal information are potentially within grasp of others. Information from personal photos, documents, to login information to any and all of the web sites you visit.  Got a teenage daughter who likes to chat with her friends on her webcam? Have a Smart TV which has a microphone in your bedroom?

But that’s hardly the end of the risks.  Perhaps you live an utterly boring life, and truly have nothing on any of your devices that anyone would care to copy, or that you’d be the least bit worried about anyone else seeing.  And perhaps you don’t do online banking, or online tax filing, or have access to your online medical records, or have webcams or microphoned Smart TVs in your home.  But one thing you do have, which is valuable to anyone bent of criminal activity, is an active internet connection.

Perhaps you didn’t realize, but to the outside Internet world you are nothing more than an IP Address.  You aren’t Tom, or Bill, or Harry.  You’re, or some such IP Address.  Regardless of how many Internet surfing individuals are actually in your house, you’re all (with exceptions of course, but we won’t go into those various exceptions).  And so is someone who may have cracked your wireless network password and is now using your internet connection to do criminal things.

Think that is far fetched?  Far from it, it happens. Home Owners do occasionally get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, plead their innocence to everyone that will listen, and just hopefully,  will be exonerated later on.  But in the interim, their names and mugshots are in the news along with the horrendous details of what they “did”.

Of course that’s the worst case scenario.  Its much more likely that if you have a weak wireless password, or no password at all, that you’ll be subject to a sneaky home network invasion and will never even know.  I mean, who cares if some perv is staring are you daughter while shes undressing in her bedroom through her webcam?  Or who cares if someone is listening to your argument with your spouse.  Nothing interesting is ever said in an argument, right?  Or who cares if someone looks through your trove of pictures in your outdated Windows XP machine.  Or who cares if someone looks through your backup copies of your tax documents, they only have your SSN and other personal information in them.

By all means, keep your weak password, or open wireless network.  But if you’re the least bit concerned about your privacy and security then most of what you need to do to protect yourself from all of this is set a complex password on your wireless network of at least 8 characters.  By complex, I mean a password that mixes numbers, upper and lower case letters, and has at least one special character.   Your safety increases dramatically as your password length increases, but it increases exponentially if you use all of the types of characters.  Frankly, if you don’t use all of the types of characters the likelihood of your network being hacked is high.  Its a matter of math.

So lets look at that math for a few minutes.  If you set an 8-digit password on your wireless network and use only numbers, the number of possible password combinations seem large but in actuality are miniscule.

10 possible numbers, 8 digit password = 10^8 possible combinations = 100,000,000.  That looks to be an astonishingly large number, does it not?  In a purely numerical sense, it is.  But when dealing with computers that can perform millions of calculations per second, that’s actually not a large number at all.  And smaller yet when I describe to you how someone would go about cracking that password in the next part.  Would it surprise you that an 8 digit numerical only password could be cracked in mere seconds?  Even if you were running a WPA/WPA2 encrypted wireless network?

But, first things first, explore the math.

8 digit password (all numeric) = 100,000,000 possible passwords
8 digit password (numbers, lower case letters) = 2,821,109,907,456 possible passwords
8 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters) = 218,340,105,584,896 possible passwords
8 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters, special characters) = 576,480,100,000,000 possible passwords

You can see now what I was saying earlier, that the number of possible passwords rise quite dramatically as you add complexity. And the number of possible passwords rises even more dramatically as you increase the password length.

10 digit password (all numeric) = 10,000,000,000 possible passwords
10 digit password (numbers, lower case letters) = 3,656,158,440,062,980 possible passwords
10 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters) = 839,299,365,868,340,000 possible passwords
10 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters, special characters) = 2,824,752,490,000,000,000 possible passwords

12 digit password (all numeric) = 1,000,000,000,000 possible passwords
12 digit password (numbers, lower case letters) = 4,738,381,338,321,620,000 possible passwords
12 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters) = 3,226,266,762,397,900,000,000 possible passwords
12 digit password (numbers, lower & upper case letters, special characters) = 13,841,287,201,000,000,000,000 possible passwords

Those get to be some mighty big numbers, do they not?  While 8 digit passwords are the minimum length for a WPA/WPA2 wireless network, a 12 digit complex password, utilizing numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special characters is the minimum size and complexity is the minimum I’d personally recommend.  And in the next part I’ll explain why by showing you how someone goes about trying to crack your password, and how easily some passwords can be to crack.

Posted in Information Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Blizzard snuck a new invasion in

This is what I witnessed at my Garrison gate this morning.  An invasion army more horrendous than any that has come before it!  Luckily I was able to beat it back.


Posted in Gaming, MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sun Setting on a Legend

Peyton ManningThis last weekend was pretty rough for me, as such a time will normally be.  I knew this day was coming, and actually had expected it before the season even began.  Sunday was the day where I definitively said that Peyton Manning should retire.  Sunday was the day where I could no longer overlook poor performances and shift blame to a myriad of other factors.  Sunday was the day where I knew beyond any remaining reservations that Peyton Manning is at the end of his career.

The last several weeks of the season showed a marked decrease in proficiency, accuracy, and velocity on his passes.  Which is no great surprise considering his age.  But compared to last year and even earlier in the season?  Manning attempted a handful of long passes greater than 20 yds on Sunday, not one of which were accurate enough to be caught.  I think all of them were overthrown.  Which leaves only his bread and butter crossing and underneath routes, and a run game.  But when good physical defensive units no longer fear the long pass, they have many options for disrupting the routes Manning relies on.  Not to mention stifling the run.

And that’s what we witnessed Sunday by the Colts Defense.  They played well enough to keep Denver receivers honest and gave up no wide open long passing opportunities, and shut down the run game.  Which left it all on Peyton’s shoulders to pull off the win with his patented ability to read defenses.  In days gone by Peyton still would have won, but not on Sunday.  With only short crossing and dumps to pass to, Denver averaged a measly 4.2 yards per passing play.   Which was actually less than the 4.4 yards per rush average Denver also established against the Colts. 3rd down conversions were an abysmal 25% because of it.  Denver left itself in horrible position on its possessions, needing long yardage to convert for 1st down and was rarely able to overcome.

Why?  Because with no long passing threat the Colts were able to artificially compress their defense.  Normally offensive teams would deal with that within the red zone, but Denver was essentially dealing with it the entire length of the field on every possession.

I’ve seen the reports that Peyton was dealing with a quad tear in is right leg and a quad bruise in his left.  Both suffered against the Chargers on Dec 14th and coincided with some of the performance drop off.  But by Peyton’s own words indicated neither injury was serious, and that his quads felt good going into Sunday’s game.  I do happen to think some of his late season issues are injury related, but that’s the point.  Similar injuries to younger men are more easily overcome.  When you’ve been in the league 17 seasons those bumps and bruises aren’t so easy to recover from, yet you know you’re going to get them.  Coupled with his reduced passing range, he’s not going to be able to carry a team as he once did.  Peyton’s mind remains as active and sharp as even, but his body is beginning to fail him.

From one of his greatest fans, to Peyton Manning, its time to hang up the cleats.   Time to go out with a large share of dignity.  Don’t be one of those players who limps on beyond all reason; who makes a caricature of himself and is laughed about, even if behind closed doors.   You have nothing to be ashamed of, it happens to us all.  And like the great QBs of previous years, join them in a well deserved retirement and eventually a coveted spot in the Hall of Fame.   Long live the king.


Posted in Football, Sports | Tagged , | Leave a comment

So I guess you’re going to find another group

It’s wonderful having a supportive wife, but it would be just as wonderful if I had a supportive raid leader as well.  I’ve been busily looking for a local weekend D&D group to join, but so far no joy.  What is it with everyone wanting to play on Monday or Wednesday nights?  Starting around 6pm no less?  Monday and Wednesday nights are my raid nights in the World of Warcraft!  Not to mention 6pm is dinner and family time, and no matter how supportive my wonderful wife is with me jumping back into D&D, she’s not giving up her time with me.

But I was chatting up my raid leader this morning about the situation.  He plays D&D also, so one would think he’d be supportive and understand the need to de-conflict scheduling issues right?  One would think he’d be willing to help a brother out, and say, switch one of our raid nights to Thursday or Friday?  His simple answer was “So I guess you’re going to have to find another group”, referring to the D&D group.  Because, like my wife, he’s not giving up his time with me either.  That was his ever so kind way of telling me we’re not switching nights, and I’m not leaving the raid team.  Its so nice to be wanted!  Oh wait…

I was commenting on Twitter a couple nights ago how nice it would be if WotC had an online aggregating tool that helped players and DMs get together.  WotC does point you to registered groups near you, but its a simple tool that doesn’t tell you anything other than a group is located at a specific location.  I’m actually looking for something more.  A match making tool.  Haven’t found one yet for D&D, however I have run into a couple of additional online tools for group registrations, including meetup.com.  Which listed a few more groups that are playing in my geographical area.  One of which does play on Friday night starting at 6pm.  But Friday night is date night and I’m not silly enough to ask out of that.

So my quest to find a D&D continues!

Posted in D&D, Gaming, MMORPG, RPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Nostalgia Comes With a Price

D&D Players HandbookIts been a wondrous week for me as I trod down memory lane. I’m still busily readying the latest editions of the Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide, but it got me wishing I still had all my old books and materials. I honestly don’t recall what befell my original 1970/1980’s editions of D&D books, and dungeon folios. I’d had the original D&D hardback versions of the Players Handbook, Dungeons Master Guide, Monster Manual, and the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, Dungeons Masters Guide, and Monster Manual as well.  Plus several other books, folios and the Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms campaign boxed sets.

Most of of which appear to be selling for premium prices on Amazon and Ebay if you want to buy any in decent condition.  Especially the 2nd edition Players Handbook which is selling for $100 or more.  The original 1st editions seem to be quite reasonable by comparison, which I take as a measure of popularity.  I admit, I loved the 2nd edition. Guessing everyone else did too judging by the prices I’m seeing.

Be that as it may, I find myself wanting to own them again.  For sentimentality as well as genuine curiosity.  The original rule set was pretty good, and the 2nd edition rule set was even better.  I’m curious why WotC released edition 3, 3.5, and 4.  I know why they released edition 5.  I’ll pick up editions 1 & 2 and eventually compare them against the others.  Besides, they’ll all make wonderful resources for making up home rules.

Posted in D&D, Gaming, RPG | Tagged | 2 Comments

Admissions Aplenty

I’ve been a fantasy and Science Fiction fan from an early age, a love that has now lasted for a few decades. I may be aging myself, but it was probably 1977 when it all started for me; when I saw the original Star Wars in a drive through with my Aunt and uncle. I loved it from the start, and few things would supplant Star Wars (Han DID shoot first) in my thoughts for the next several years. That is until Dungeons and Dragons came along in my life, and I discovered the writings of JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Robert Howard. Later on I’d count the likes of Frank Herbert, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, RA Salvatore, Isaac Asimov, Robert Aspirin, and Piers Anthony as pivotal influences in my early years as well. There are probably others I’m just forgetting at the moment, but together these influences changed the direction of my life, and placed me on a trajectory upon which I still find myself all these years later.

It was never very “cool” to be a gamer, or a fantasy or science fiction fan growing up. Not like it is today, where gaming, fantasy, and science fiction are accepted, and in fact, are valued in today’s society. Gamers were a cliched and mocked sub-culture when I was a kid. But I didn’t care. I loved what I loved, and I wear my nerddom as a badge of honor. But I’m glad my son’s generation is more accepting of certain things, like being a gamer. Though the term “gamer” doesn’t specifically denote table top RPG players today as it did in my generation.

Unlike in my own childhood, my son has had a steady influence of fantasy and science fiction from his earliest days. Our children are but a mirror of ourselves, so it was no great surprise for me when he and I played our first MMORPG together and he loved it. It was Star Was Galaxies by the way, and he’s been an avid computer gamer ever since. I was never much of a computer gamer prior to Star Wars Galaxies, I must admit. Sure, I played several computer and console games previous to that, but nothing truly captured my heart. Certainly nothing like Dungeons and Dragons in my earlier years, though the World of Warcraft is as close to it as I think is possible.

A game that if someone had told me in the 80’s or early 90’s that I would stop playing I never would have believed. But I did. Adulthood and career forces certain decisions. By the time I got back to serious game playing in the early 2000’s Dungeons and Dragons just wasn’t among my activities. But my son has finally discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and in fact has been playing it for the last several months. Something that makes me tremendously happy and has also made me tremendously nostalgic of late. And more importantly, has given me the incentive to re-connect with the game myself.

My first introduction to Dungeons and Dragons was in the Summer of 1980 while I was visiting a cousin’s house for the 4th of July week. He tried to explain what Dungeons and Dragons was, certain that I would love the game. But try as I might, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to describe. As I would come to find later, it was more his lack of understanding of the game and lack of source materials to show me than my inability to learn something new. But that’s all beside the point. By 82/83 I was a full fledged and hardcore player. My friends and I would stop off at the public library after school and game for a couple hours before heading home for dinner; we’d commandeer a meeting room at the library on the weekends and game; and by 85 we were binging on all-weekend game-a-thons at friends houses. Nerd cred was running super high in those days, but it makes me smile thinking about it now.

In the early days we played in the world of Greyhawk, but switched to the Forgotten Realms setting when it was released. Fortuitous since a goodly part of my favorite D&D related stories are set in that world. I never did play in Kyrnn, though its the setting of more of my favoirite D&D related stories. I’m elated that all settings are still around. Forgotten Realms still appears to be the primary world after 27 years, which must make Ed Greenwood a very proud man.

I hadn’t kept up with the current events of the game over the years, but it appears that the rule set has been in something of disrepute since I played. I genuinely liked the 1st edition rule set of AD&D, and had just picked up the 2nd edition rule set prior to quitting. So luckily I missed the 3rd edition, 3.5 edition, and 4th edition rules. I’ve been busily reading the latest edition — 5th edition, since Christmas and I recognize a lot though there’s been quite a bit added that’s new to me. Nothing stands out to me right now that I wouldn’t like, but I do see a number of things that are new to me that I know I’ll like. Like the new classes, and Druid in particular. And the new races. There’s a couple new and very interesting additions to the list of races since I played. Maybe in the not too distant future I’ll them out.

In the mean time I’m skimming the manuals and digesting it all. My son has a group of friends he plays with and I was teasing him by hinting strongly how much I used to love to play. The poor kid, it looked like the blood drained from him face when he told me I was welcome to join him. I’m so bad. The shop he plays at isn’t that far from home and is always full of people, so my next task will be to meet some new folks and find a group of my own to play with. Maybe later I’ll get to play with my son when he decides I’m cool enough to bring among his friends. A dad can dream, right?

Posted in D&D, Gaming, RPG | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Completing Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest

So I just got this and it took me months:

I stopped playing WoW for a while immediately after Firelands was released. Think I was gone about 5-6 months, so we were onto the next raid when I did come back. Looking back on it I’m surprised I took a break at that particular time, considering the few things I really wanted from Firelands.  One of which was this Legendary.

Who knows if I would have gotten it when the tier was current, but I started slowly working on the lengthy quest chain at some point after I came back.  Then I stopped progressing for a long time and picked it back up again several months ago.  Every week I religiously ran Firelands, looting both mounts, Fandral’s staff, and today Dragonwrath.  I don’t care if its a bunch of pixels, it feels great to complete something I’ve worked so hard and for so long to complete.

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Leave a comment

Highmaul LFR May Need a Tuneup

Time has a habit of playing tricks on us when we’re waiting for something to happen.  It seemed like forever since raiding started last week, yet it’s only been seven days.  What am I talking about?  Highmaul LFR, which opened up to the masses last night.  Even if only the first “wing” of it.  Despite a relatively bad experience in LFR in MoP I feel compelled to continue running LFR for gear because it could give me incrementally more power when we’re running Normal and Heroic.  At least until I replace my remaining 530/520 pieces.’

So there I was last night, waiting until after dinner to queue for LFR.  Simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the coming experience.  Dreading it because it’s night one and I remember all too well the horrible experience I walked into when SOO first opened.  That horrible experience carried on for some time, and didn’t get markedly better until later in the expansion.  But I was also looking forward to running LFR last night because of the hope for gear.  Hope springs eternal in WoW when progression is concerned.

As I sat in the queue I steeled myself for what was to come.  I told myself that as long as I did what I needed to do, things would be fine.  Well, fine as long as our tanks and healers weren’t completely terrible.  I could make up for at least another DPS or two, right?
As it turned out, I was steeling myself for naught.  Our raid leader announced in guild chat that we’d be running LFR around 8.  I think I broke records removing myself from the queue, but I don’t think I’ll worry about it next week.  Turns out LFR is so easy even a cave man can do it.  Tourist mode I believe is what Ghostcrawler called it?

About half of the raid ended up coming from the queue, but after the run last night I’m completely convinced that even a full queue raid could complete at least the first wing without any trouble what so ever.  Our two main healers were complaining on vent last night that there wasn’t anything to heal, and were letting their passive healing affects do all of the healing for them at various points.  And someone on vent commented about us ignoring fight mechanics.  So yeah, tourist mode.  Enjoy your ilvl 640 pieces everyone!

But it got me thinking that Blizzard may have tuned LFR a tad too low.  We went from one extreme to another, though “extreme” is perhaps not the best word to use in this specific circumstance.  There needs to be some level of difficulty in raiding, but there just isn’t in the part of Highmaul LFR I witnessed last night.  I’d be very much surprised if anyone wipes on those bosses, which I think, will reinforce the core problem we’ve had in LFR all along – the lack of accountability and preparation by players.

The LFR tier should be easier than the other tiers, but it should rightfully act as a preparatory tier to higher level raiding.  Players won’t learn how to properly raid if they can mostly ignore mechanics and the healers can easily keep everyone topped up.

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Who has time for alts?

At no point in the nearly 10 years I’ve been playing WoW have I not played significant amounts of time on alts; Including raiding on multiple toons.  Until now.  Warlords may be a first for me.  There is so much to do in Warlords that I am seriously considering not playing any alts, what so ever.  And by that I mean do nothing with them other than Garrisons.  And even that, on only my alts that will be profession producers for me.

Compare that to MoP and previous expansions where I had a full slate of alts running.  I didn’t raid on them all, but I think I raided on 7 different characters at some point.  Often several of them at the same time.  So why the change now?  In simple terms, I’m a completist.   I want to finish all the things.  If Blizzard introduces a rep I must level it to Exalted.  If there’s an achievement, I must complete it.  And don’t give me any of this “it’s not mandatory” stuff.  It’s in the game!

That hasn’t been much of a problem in the past, but Warlords is a bit on the grindy side.  Reputations gains are earned while leveling in each zone, but you’ll need to kill mobs to finish them each off.  There will be lots of grinding for that, but luckily I can bring my wingman in training along with me and knock out that achievement at the same time.  Don’t even get me started on Nat Pagle and Lunker fishing.

Cooking and Alchemy will require either significant forays to the AH or a lot of hunting and fishing.  Most people I think will go the hunting/fishing route, if not for themselves, at least to help out their guild.  I also need to gear up all four roles (Druid) for both PVE and PVP, finish treasure hunting, exploration, get ready for raiding, and more.  Finding time to level each of my alts to 96 will be hard enough as it is, I just won’t have time to actually play them.

On some levels I like that Blizzard is keeping us extremely busy.  Or at least those of us who venture toward the completist side of things.  But on the other hand I know I will miss playing my other alts.  Quite a bit different from my preparations in the weeks leading up to WoD where I had grandios plans to play four characters to max level, raid, etc.  Two weeks into the expansion and I’m thinking I just didn’t know what I was preparing myself to get into.

Ahh well, onto more achievements and grinding.

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

End of the Beta

The WoD Beta ended a couple nights ago to much fanfare.  I wasn’t there, though I was following along on Twitter as best I could.  Looked like Blizzard and the players had great fun, and was the perfect end to a very well ran Beta.  All else aside I’ve never believed anything but that Blizzard, as an organization, has a deep and abiding appreciation for its players.  The open dialogue Blizzard keeps with its player base, the way it runs its Beta’s, and extravaganza’s like last night show it.  It’s no coincidence that WoW continues to dominate the market.  I just wanted to take a moment to thank Blizzard, and the many developers, customer service reps, and team leads individually for all that they do.  Thanks guys!

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I Love This Time In An Expansion

The troubles of the current expansion are all but forgotten and exuberance for the next expansion begins to bubble over. Many people traditionally take time off from playing in the final weeks or months of an expansion, but start to come back and work feverishly to finish up the final tier. But for me it’s a time of relaxation and achievements.

I generally stop raiding which leaves me a lot of time to pursue those remaining expansion achievements I don’t have, as well as catch up on the achievements I’ve either ignored or just haven’t had the time to complete. I’ve said it many times before, but I love achievements and think it’s one of the best things Blizzard has introduced to WoW. For goal oriented people like me, it’s pure candy and right now I’m chomping them down like they’re going out of style.

It’s a busy but so very relaxing time for me. I’m raiding old content on four characters weekly, working on mount drops and legendary weapons. And I’m working on the last four zones I need for Loremaster, and collecting the remaining battle pets for those achievements along the way. It sounds like a lot of busy work to some people, but collecting and pet battles are just two of the mini-games available in WoW that help make it what it is. As well as why it continues to dominate a crowded MMO market after 10 years.

Its little things like pet battles that make me really appreciate WoW. People have been collecting non-combat pets in WoW since vanilla, but in true Blizzard style, they took it several steps forward such that you can now literally collect hundreds of pets. And actually do something with them, other than have them just walk around behind you as you move. And expect that Blizzard will support the mini-game in perpetuity by adding more new pets every expansion.

Pet battles are kind of fun, though I haven’t played with them more than on and off throughout MoP. But what I genuinely like about the mini-game is the ability to collect new pets. That I truly like, and so I’m enjoying running around collecting one of every pet available in the game. I’ve completed the Eastern Kingdom and have maybe 10 more to collect for Kalimdor before I move onto the other continents. I wish every pet had some fun animation or something but I realize that would a lot of artistic work that is probably better spent elsewhere.

Especially right now where the art team is finishing up the next expansion, working on the last tweaks to race models, and working on the next expansion. Speaking of, Blizzard apparently recently trademarked “the Eye of Azshara”. Which may, or may not be someone’s troll. Or it may, or may not be the name of the next Hearthstone expansion rather than the name of the next WoW expansion. Either way I’m hoping Blizzard sorts that out at Blizzcon this weekend.

I was actually surprised Blizzard was holding Blizzcon this year, considering it doesn’t line up with Warlords release and it may be too early to discuss the next expansion. But a little piece of me is holding out hope that Blizzard will indeed release some preliminary information about the next WoW expansion, though most of Blizzcon appears to be taken up with Blizzard’s other games. Blizzcon is about WoW in my own personal world. I know in reality it isn’t, but you know what I mean. I want WoW information, and unfortunately in this year’s Blizzcon it doesn’t appear we’ll be getting much of it.

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Leave a comment

How will Garrisons not Destroy Server Economies?

I simply don’t understand what Blizzard is trying to do with the Garrison’s.  They serve an RP purpose to be sure, but the ready access to all professions is destabilizing and is so apparent that I can only reason that I’m evidently missing something important.  The profession buildings are bad enough, but the a Garrison with a Trading Post is the worst of all.  I have yet to see a combination where the Trading Post doesn’t lead to infinite resources. And at a profit in terms of Garrison Resources.  I haven’t seen anything about the Trading Post being removed, or the GR costs being adjusted.  But perhaps I missed it.  if not, this needs to be seriously adjusted or removed outright.

Here’s some examples:
– Gatherers:  make gold by herbing and mining and selling the mats on the AH.  It can be quite profitable, and profitability rises with time investment.  However, anyone with a Garrison will not only have a farm and mine they can herb and mine from but will also be able to spend an infinite number of GR at the Trading Post to buy whatever herbs or ore they need.  Result will be a large impact on Gathering professions.  Players with multiple characters, all with Garrison/TP set up will compound this issue exponentially.  I can see prices on herbs and ore being in the extreme low silver or copper range if the current trading post and GR costs goes live.

– Enchanters:  Selling enchantments can be quite profitable but is limited on live by material availability. However with Garrison/TP a character can spend an infinite number of GR at the Trading Post to buy as much Draenic Dust they need. For non-enchanters this is all that’s needed, though characters with the Enchanting professions gain access to higher level patterns which require additional resources.  Those resources must be gathered though DEing, but players without the Enchanting professions can easily access those materials as well through the Enchanter’s Study DE ability.  There’s likely to still be some market for the higher level enchanting materials, but since virtually everyone will have access to all the enchants, save the highest level ones, I suspect the ability to sell enchants on the AH will be severely impacted.

– Jewelcrafters:  Virtually everyone I just wrote about Enchanters can be said about Jewelcrafters.  Non-Jewelcrafters can make everything except the highest level patterns and need only ore and Taladite which they can get from work orders.  The ore can be mined or purchased from the Trading Post.

I needn’t go on because you see the point.  A player who has only a single character can be almost self sufficient with their Garrison.  A player with multiple characters, and particularly with characters who have professions such as Enchanting, Jewelcrafting, and Alchemy should never need to use the Auction House.  Or at the very least, use it so sparingly that their impact on the server economy is so small as not to matter.

The problem is obvious.  If the profession buildings must stay, then something needs to be done with the Trading Post.  The least intrusive solution is to remove work orders from it.  In that way players can still purchase resources but with a finite pool or GR, at least there is some mitigating force that should help the economy.

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Assault on the Dark Portal

Something is stirring in the Blasted Lands.  The Dark Portal is thrumming with new energy, and the omens tell us something evil is about to be set loose upon us.  Unfortunately we can’t see that part in the Beta yet, and perhaps never will so you’ll have to imagine all of that has happened (along with the tumultuous battles between Iron Horde Orcs and the Alliance) it when you see me click on Khadgar in the video and magically appear on Draenor.  I’m looking forward to patch 6.0 so I can see what lead up what I go through in the video.

As with Blizzard’s recent design trend, there’s a short introductory quest chain to the new expansion.  It takes about half an hour if you know what you’re doing, and there aren’t too many other players around to compete for mobs.  I’d rather Blizzard used personal phased instance areas, or for groups, but since its not you can expect something similar to the initial experience in MoP’s initial quest chain with regard to the crowd for at least the first week or two.  Though the Assault on the Dark Portal area of Tanaan appears to be larger than the area SW of Paw’Don Village in MoP, the track is very linear and circular and isn’t as big as the geography might appear at first.

None of the quests in the chain should be a challenge for anyone. I’ve performed the chain in both starter ilvl 500 gear, as well as ilvl 566 and ilvl 580 gear.  Obviously things dies quicker with higher ilvl gear, but ilvl 500 greens are perfectly adequate.  Blizzard isn’t attempting to challenge players, so much as they’re simply introducing the RP elements necessary to more seamlessly move you into the new expansion.

Insofar as the quests are concerned, and particularly the role play of it all, I didn’t feel they were the strongest.  I loved the sense of great battle in the initial part of the chain — when you step through the portal and see the fighting for the first time. That’s what I expected and Blizzard didn’t disappoint.  But once you move behind the portal and start working around the area I felt the story was a bit weaker.  I’d call you filler.  It isn’t until I got back around to the other side of the battle that I again felt the large scope of the fighting again.  I wished Blizzard was able to make us keep that sense of scope throughout.

Towards the end of the chain you take control of an Iron tank and turn its defenses against the Iron Horde.  But just when you feel things are starting to go your way you’re unceremoniously dumped out of the seat and Khadgar starts yelling for everyone to run to the docks.  There’s no real explanation as to why and I feel that’s a weakness in the chain that particularly needs to be propped up.  Likewise with the docks sequence where we’re shuttled along to Shadowmoon Valley.

There’s the barest of mention about needing to hook up with the “natives” and then we’re told “to Shadownmoon Valley”.  No real roleplay between Khadgar and Maraad that I feel would go a long way toward flushing this part of the chain out as well.  Once the boat starts moving, you next appear on the shores of SMV and the Assault on the Dark Portal chain is finished.

If you watch the video you’ll see there are a number of visual bugs.  Some objects can be seen strait on from a short distance away, but once you get close to them they disappear unless you change your viewing perspective from behind the object.  All of those, and the obvious mini-map issue along the north west side of the area should be fixed by release.  Or at least I expect them to be.  Other than the bugs and the nit-picky RP elements I mentioned it’s a pretty standard and solid introductory quest chain.  Nothing too flashy, and certainly nothing very difficult.  See ya in there release night!

Posted in MMORPG, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lag Comes With a Cost

In spite of being an avid gamer for a number of years I’ve never owned a true purpose-built gaming system. The systems I’ve owned have generally been mid-tier (performance wise) desktop workstations, though I have almost always upgraded the video cards. And at least in the past 15+ years those systems were off the shelf purchases. It’s been three years since my last purchase, which I actually made because of SWTOR. The system was at the minimal level for running SWTOR but ran WoW just fine until MoP.

Prior to MoP I experienced no lag or frame rate reduction while set to “Good” video settings. I used to regularly record various activities with FRAPS, and even large fights were no issue while FRAPSing. But in MoP things changed. I found FRAPSing always caused noticeable frame rate reduction, and FRAPSing during any significant activity was simply out of the question. Even when not recording I had to set my video settings down to fair, but even then still experienced some lag and frame rate reduction on many boss fights or during large PVP encounters like the workshop on IoC. The initial Malkorak and Ordos encounters (and even more so with heroism popped) were just killers. I’d be playing along in a slide show.

And frankly the plan to dramatically increase polygon counts in WoW models in WoD had me worried about my ability to continue playing with my current system. I’d been looking at upgrading or replacing my system outright for a number of months and finally made the decision a couple weeks ago that I’d had enough. I finished putting the remaining touches together on a new system yesterday and I’m completely happy I finally made the decision to move on from my old system, which is now relegated to file storage, processing, and other menial tasks on my home network.

Instead of buying a system off the shelf as I normally do I opted to piece one out. I went with an Intel I7 4790 based system with 16 GB of SDRAM, an ASUS Z97-A motherboard, GTX 770 video card, and a split SSD/SATA drive system. I loaded Windows 7 on it because, frankly, wild horses couldn’t drag me toward Windows 8. After a number of streams and recordings, with my video settings set at Ultra, there’s simply no lag. It’s wonderful and cost a lot less than every similar “gaming system” I reviewed. Frankly the cost of those gaming systems is why I balked at upgrading for as long as I did. It’s not that I couldn’t afford the systems I was looking at, but I just didn’t feel the value was there. I couldn’t justify paying that kind of money for a system I felt should actually be much cheaper. In the end I may not have every bell and whistle that some of the gaming rigs have, but I have every bit the performance. And frankly, that’s all that matters.

I’ve commented in the past on Twitter how the other Feral in my raid always seemed to be 30-50k+ DPS ahead of me even though we have similar gear and are within a few ilvls of each other. I know he does some snapshotting, which I don’t generally do, but I couldn’t put my finger on anything else really tangible that would contribute toward such a spread. Until I recently started to regularly reload my UI, and with my video settings on fair, began to notice a decrease in the separation. On some fights I was even ahead of him. Over the course of a night I could see a dramatic swing in my DPS as my lag increased or decreased.   In the week I’ve had my new system I’ve seen a 30k DPS increase on training dummies. I haven’t been able to compare my DPS on Heroic fights yet, but the lag is gone so I suspect I’ll see a similar DPS increase in real fights as well.

The moral of the story here is what I knew it to be. While there are definitely limits involved, you get what you pay for.

Posted in MMORPG, SWTOR, WoW | Tagged , | Leave a comment