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Old 01-23-2014, 01:28 PM
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Default The One Power as a Magic System.

So, in the Hugo thread, I brought up hard vs soft magic and I thought it would be fun to look at those concepts as applied to the One Power.

I'll re-post a link to Sanderson's First Law.

http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/

In that entry, Brandon looks at the difference between hard magic and soft magic.

Hard magic, when done right, sets up a series of rules that govern how magic operates and set up expectations for the audience. Any of Brandon's magic systems serve as good examples. Awakening from Warbreaker, for instance. An Awakener must have three things to practise his craft: a surplus of bio-chromatic breath, the ability to speak in a clear voice and colour. His commands must be clearly stated. If he has enough breath (Say 100 breaths), a portion will be transferred to an inanimate object to bring it to life. The more elaborate the object's task, the more breath required.


Hard magic works almost like technology. Each "spell" will do the same thing every time and there are a limited number of spells. This limits its ability to be used as a get out of jail free card.

Soft magic works in the opposite way. When done right, it has almost no rules and can do just about anything the writer imagines. Need a dead character brought back to life? No problem. Teleport to the other side of the planet. We've got you covered. But soft magic is kept in check by its unpredictable nature. Spells have dangerous side effects or don't do exactly what you thought they would do. Powerful spells often require sacrifices or take something from the caster. A Song of Ice and Fire usually has good soft magic. Melisandre can give birth to a shadow creature that kills Stannis's enemies but it takes some of Stanns's life force to do it and he can only do it so many times.

Hard magic is rigid but reliable.
Soft magic is flexible but unreliable.

Which brings us to the One Power. The One Power, unfortunately, tries to give us the best of both worlds, which means it also give us the worst of both worlds. It is both reliable and flexible, which means it's often used as a source of deus ex machina.

Have to fend off 100 000 trollocs?

Well, we can open portals and suck them up (conveniently killing them in the process), set off massive explosions, tear chunks out of the earth and all with no lasting consequences to ourselves. Our characters have enormous power with no real cost. This is why some people - myself included - complain about the action in the later WOT books. Not because it doesn't exist but because when it does exist, it isn't done well. Even Brandon - who usually has a lot of success when it comes to writing climatic battles - struggles with the One Power. Part of this is that the magic makes it too damned easy.

When it's too easy, there's no suspense and your audience loses interest.

A lot of people complain about Androl but what I think gets overlooked when these complaints come up is that one reason why Androl exists is to satisfy the reader's need for a climax to this fourteen-volume story. Androl was designed to be a character with a handicap, thereby forcing him to rely on a very narrow range of abilities similar to what you get in many of Brandon's books. What can you do to get out of a tough spot if the only tool in your kit is the ability to open portals. It was a good idea.


I think the reason it didn't work as well as Brandon would have liked is because it still came off as a bit too easy. Androl takes out a dozen evil channelers by dumping them through a gateway but... We're talking about a DOZEN evil channelers. Not one of them thought to slash his weave before the gateway opened? Is he really that fast?

Shouldn't a gateway require some prep work? It's a very powerful spell! And don't say "Well, you're supposed to know you're environment first" because THAT would have been accomplished by the fact that Androl was down in that room and conscious for at least a few hours before the fight began. I'm talking about the actual weaving. Shouldn't it take thirty seconds or so to get the threads in place? Maybe requiring Pevara to cover him?

Some people might reply by saying "Well, most of those evil channelers were black sisters who wouldn't see his weaves...." which is another problem with the magic system! It provides no mechanism for what happens when men are forced to fight women. I mean, haven't you ever asked the question, "What happens when a Red Sister discovers a man who can channel and he fights back?"

True, if he throws a fireball, she can snuff it out without having to attack the weave that made it but there should be SOMETHING she can do to prevent him from using an invisible weave that will boil the water in her body before she even knows what's happening. Yes, I'm aware that, according to Lanfear and Asmodean, it is quite possible to disarm weaves you can't see but they give us no indication of HOW to do it. Knowing that simple fact would have made it easier to write the scene when it came time for Egwene to go up against Taim.

And this is just from an action perspective.

I've got a whole post about other ways the One Power "makes it easy" that have nothing to do with one character trying to kill another. More on that later.
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Old 01-25-2014, 06:25 PM
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Okay, I'll bite. I agree that the One Power was an attempt to make the best of both worlds when it comes to hard vs soft magic.

I dont think it started out this way with RJ and later with BS (who, in my opinion, went completely overboard with it) but it became that way. They fell into the common fantasy trap of there was always another stronger, more powerful channeler (just like each woman was more beautiful than the last...another common fantasy trope).

In the early books, there are some very definite limits on Channeling and RJ shows it quite clearly. Moiraine is a very powerful Aes Sedai but she can't fight off multiple fists of Trollocs and their associated Myrdraal even with her angreal. In the later books, this would be taken Rand or another powerful channeler a few seconds but for Moiraine, it was a very close shave that was only averted due to finding Shadar Logoth. Same with later in the same book where Agelmar clearly states that she would be "worth 1000 lances at Tarwin's Gap". Yet, Rand is later able to kill hundreds of thousands of trollocs with just the help of the fat man angreal (outside of Maradon).

Personally, I think BS went way too far with it in the last few books and it got ridiculous. The gateways and Androl are just the worst of it. Making it a "Talent" did not mitigate the stupidity of it just like it didnt when RJ did it with the Wise Woman who could shield anyone. It was stupid then and stupid when Androl could do everything and anything with gateways.

Basically, the rough point I was trying to make is that RJ started off with very solid rules on the OP and it started to jump the rails as the story went on...BS merely exacerbated this trend when he wrote the final 3 chapters of the story.
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Old 01-26-2014, 01:01 AM
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Believe it or not, I agree with you. At least I agree with 95% of what you said. The One Power became more and more of an unstoppable menace as the series went on but the first time that it really stretched my suspension of disbelief to the point of snapping was the battle at Lord Algarin's Manor.

A few dozen channelers against 100 000 trollocs with only 19 Saldeans as casualties. Explosions that take out hundreds of trollocs in a single stroke, death gates that swallow up dozens. 100 000 is a huge number. That's the population of several mid-to-large sized cities. The idea that an army that big could be undermined by less than fifty channelers. It was too much.

So, RJ set a bad precedent with that and then Brandon took it to the next level with Maradon. That was even worse because it was really just Rand. One man against an army. It undermines the basic premise of the series which was that Rand was supposed to be an ordinary guy.

I wrote out post where I compared the One Power to the Force in Star Wars because the same power creep happens in the films. The original trilogy showed the Force as a useful tool to augment standard gunfights or sword fights. Luke could call his blaster to his hand, anticipate a potential attack, hurl a few objects at his opponents and deflect a LIMITED number of blaster bolts. Then the prequels took it too far, pushing the Force into levels of absurdity. Suddenly, you have Jedi surviving fifty-story falls without a scratch, hopping through assembly lines, fending off hundreds of droids all shooting at them. It stretches it beyond most people's willing suspension of disbelief and makes the Jedi practically invulnerable.

I felt the same thing happened with the One Power. When Rand was limited to his wits, a flaming sword and maybe light telekinesis, the action was exciting. Being surrounded by dozens of trollocs was a real and legitimate threat. When he gained the ability to take out hundreds of them with a wave of his hand, it reduced the trollocs to a laughing stock.

I'm not saying that "weaves of mass destruction" shouldn't exist but rather that they should come at a cost. Maybe one of those blossoms of fire would require a linked circle of at least three or four strong channelers. Also, while the act of channeling takes a toll on the person doing it, there should be some proportional relationship between the energy expended and the fatigue that follows. If you want to sit around hurling fireball after fireball and picking off your enemies one by one, then you can probably keep going for a few hours. But if you want something big - a massive explosion that incinerates dozens of trollocs - then casting that one weave should leave you drained and unable to hold the Source until you've rested.

As for Androl.

I liked him as a character. I felt he was an interesting addition to the cast and creating a character with a handicap was a good idea. The reason it didn't work is that it didn't end up being an actual handicap. The fight scene where he dumps the black sisters and turned Asha'man through a portal was too one-sided. And too flat in its descriptions.

"They hurled weaves at him..."

Okay... What kind of weaves? What should I expect them to do when they make contact? It would have been better to pit Androl and his gateways against a single turned Asha'man who used standard channeling techniques. Move and counter move. Make it so that Androl is actually struggling to keep up.

More tomorrow.

Night.
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Old 01-26-2014, 01:51 AM
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Actually, both the 100,000 Trollocs scene and the Androl-in-a-cave scene have a feature which you seem to be overlooking: bottlenecks.

To start with the latter: it does not really matter what weaves and how many are hurled at Androl, as long as he can get a gateway to fully cover himself he's protected. If there had been room for those Dreadlords to step to the side and hurl a fireball around his gateway, or to lob it in an arc over it, they could have set his hair on fire and distracted him from what he was doing. But there wasn't room for that, which is the only reason why his limited approach could be as successful as it was.

Then the Trollocs. Yes, there were a lot of them. But they could not all act at once, they got in each other's way when they tried. They had to charge a fairly tightly packed circle, which meant that at any one time there were not all that many Trollocs facing a sort of similar number of humans and Ogier. Yes, the Trollocs still had the numerical advantage, both in total and along the front lines, but nowhere near by as large a margin as would have been the case if there hadn't been spatial limitations.
What does stretch credulity is that all those Trollocs would stay there after the first thousand or so got butchered. The rest would scarper and disperse across the landscape, eating people left and right and elsewhere.

Quote:
just like each woman was more beautiful than the last...another common fantasy trope
It is a fairly common trope, but not applicable to the WOT. None of those women were more beautiful than Lanfear, who was introduced on screen in TGH.
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Old 01-26-2014, 02:59 AM
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It undermines the basic premise of the series which was that Rand was supposed to be an ordinary guy.
I'm not sure where you got this idea; despite Rand's urgent desire to "remain" an "ordinary guy," he was the Dragon Reborn, the most powerful Channeler of two Ages, and predestined savior of the Wheel Of Time!

I never took Rand as being "an ordinary guy" for more than the moment required to identify him as "The Chosen One."

I wish we knew more about the One Power after T'G. How quick does the OP recede to the near-inaccessible level of our Age? Is the Third Age atypical; is the amount of OP accessible/useable necessary for Rand's actions at T'G?

I think the problem with 100,000 Trollocs is more a matter of a misplaced decimal point than the amount/manner of OP required to devastate the Trollocs. RJ (exacerbated by Brandon) tended to overstate army/horde/population numbers by at least an order of magnitude; I had much more trouble suspending belief about 100,000 Trollocs than I did the OP usage. (1,000 would have been plausible, but 10,000 would have been "believable.")
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Old 01-26-2014, 03:12 AM
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I think the problem with 100,000 Trollocs is more a matter of a misplaced decimal point than the amount/manner of OP required to devastate the Trollocs. RJ (exacerbated by Brandon) tended to overstate army/horde/population numbers by at least an order of magnitude; I had much more trouble suspending belief about 100,000 Trollocs than I did the OP usage. (1,000 would have been plausible, but 10,000 would have been "believable.")
It may be a case of the victorious army overstating the strength of the opposition. Wouldn't quite be the first time in the history of warfare that something like that happened. Here's the count from the other side:
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Originally Posted by KoD, Chapter 3, At the Gardens
Moridin’s jaw tightened. “I don’t know.’’ he said at last, reluctantly. He never liked saying that. “But they sent a hundred Myrddraal and thousands of Trollocs into the Ways.”
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Old 01-26-2014, 03:22 AM
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I'd have to go back and re-read it, but I don't recall them saying 100,000 Trollocs at the manor. I recall them saying "thousands" and maybe "tens of thousands", but not "100,000".
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:21 AM
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I'd have to go back and re-read it, but I don't recall them saying 100,000 Trollocs at the manor. I recall them saying "thousands" and maybe "tens of thousands", but not "100,000".
However it is phrased in the book, my point was that the inflated Trolloc numbers bothered me more than any excessive Channeling capabilities.

Channeling is definitely "supersized" as the series progresses, but, imho, it is done deliberately, in support of the basic premise. In order to save the world, Rand has to be extraordinarily powerful and have equally powerful allies. Even then he needed the Chodean Kal for the Cleansing and Callandor for T'G.

Rand's opponents were among the strongest Channelers of the Second Age (AOL) so he and his allies had to be "Forsaken Strength" to survive. Since Rand is the reincarnation of the most powerful Channeler of the AOL, the root of the supersizing of the OP (in a literary sense) started with RJ's basic plot element -- The Dragon Reborn.

In one sense, the entire series is a cautionary tale about the dangers of constantly seeking/gaining more power; Rand's job was to put an end to such power-seeking and put the WOT back on track for technology to trump magic for a few Ages.
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Old 01-26-2014, 07:54 AM
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Also, in the first books, Rand is just learning to channel. It makes sense that his strength would increase as the stories go on. Also, given the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn, it makes sense that he would be powerful enough to do things that an ordinary channeler would not be able to do
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Old 01-26-2014, 11:12 AM
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In one sense, the entire series is a cautionary tale about the dangers of constantly seeking/gaining more power; Rand's job was to put an end to such power-seeking and put the WOT back on track for technology to trump magic for a few Ages.
Then again, it was Perrin, not Rand, who broke her neck.
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Old 01-26-2014, 12:32 PM
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Okay, LTT took 113 channelers and 10,000 soldiers with him to Seal the Bore in the AOL.

Given what we now know about channeling in battle after the final few books...why even bother with the soldiers? 113 of the most powerful male channelers (meaning a good number of those were Forsaken level strength or pretty damn close to it) makes those soldiers simply fodder at best and more of a nuisance at worst that they had to work around and defend.

Why bother when 20 weaker channelers, with the exception of Rand, Logain and Nynaeve, could take out tens of thousands of Trollocs all by themselves?

Seem a bit silly in retrospect to bother with the soldiers.
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Old 01-26-2014, 01:26 PM
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Actually, both the 100,000 Trollocs scene and the Androl-in-a-cave scene have a feature which you seem to be overlooking: bottlenecks.

To start with the latter: it does not really matter what weaves and how many are hurled at Androl, as long as he can get a gateway to fully cover himself he's protected. If there had been room for those Dreadlords to step to the side and hurl a fireball around his gateway, or to lob it in an arc over it, they could have set his hair on fire and distracted him from what he was doing. But there wasn't room for that, which is the only reason why his limited approach could be as successful as it was.
Can you demonstrate that they couldn't? The dimensions of the room are never given but we do know that it contained thirteen black sisters, thirteen myrdraaal, Taim, Graendel, several of Taim's cronies, Androl, Pevara, Emarin, Logain.


We're looking at at least 35 people. The most likely layout for a room that can hold that many and still give them room to move about freely (which they clearly do) is a large open space.

So, where's this bottleneck you speak of?

Besides, your response doesn't even address my objection. I have no problem with Androl using gateways. My problem is that he creates them at the speed of thought. Even given his natural talent, the weave is very complex and I can't believe no one cut his flows before the gateway formed.

Quote:
Then the Trollocs. Yes, there were a lot of them. But they could not all act at once, they got in each other's way when they tried. They had to charge a fairly tightly packed circle, which meant that at any one time there were not all that many Trollocs facing a sort of similar number of humans and Ogier. Yes, the Trollocs still had the numerical advantage, both in total and along the front lines, but nowhere near by as large a margin as would have been the case if there hadn't been spatial limitations.
The trollocs were running across the an open field. Even if they're scrambling over their fallen comrades, I still don't see a bottleneck.

Moreover, you're not really addressing the issue. The fact that this scene stretches credulity is only a small part of the problem. As a piece of literature, it fails to do what it was trying to do, which is create drama and suspense by means of putting our heroes (All of them, not just Rand) in danger. Rand and his friends laugh off an assault by an overwhelming force with no casualties except 19 people we've never heard of.

If that's possible, then the channelers are too powerful.

Now, I know someone's gonna say "But what about the Rand vs Lews Therin aspect of the scene and the fact that Rand nearly committed suicide? Doesn't that create drama?"

Sure it does.

But there's no reason that Rand has to massacre thousands of trollocs without even breaking a sweat for that plot point to exist. Hell, it could have been a fight against 100 trollocs with Rand using his sword. while Lews Therin did the channeling and it would have still served the Rand/LTT conflict.

Make it up close and personal.

Imagine the tension of Rand fighting of a Myrdraal with his sword while Lews Therin maniacally casts fireballs at trollocs and pretty much ignores Rand's pleas for help. How much more exciting would that be?
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Old 01-26-2014, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Weird Harold View Post
However it is phrased in the book, my point was that the inflated Trolloc numbers bothered me more than any excessive Channeling capabilities.

Channeling is definitely "supersized" as the series progresses, but, imho, it is done deliberately, in support of the basic premise. In order to save the world, Rand has to be extraordinarily powerful and have equally powerful allies. Even then he needed the Chodean Kal for the Cleansing and Callandor for T'G.

Rand's opponents were among the strongest Channelers of the Second Age (AOL) so he and his allies had to be "Forsaken Strength" to survive. Since Rand is the reincarnation of the most powerful Channeler of the AOL, the root of the supersizing of the OP (in a literary sense) started with RJ's basic plot element -- The Dragon Reborn.
Okay, step through your thought process here. "RJ had no choice but to give Rand god-like powers because the villains all had god-like powers." And who gave the villains god-like powers again?
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Old 01-26-2014, 04:38 PM
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Okay, step through your thought process here. "RJ had no choice but to give Rand god-like powers because the villains all had god-like powers." And who gave the villains god-like powers again?
If you import your villains from an "Age of Legends" -- an Age filled with Heroes and Villains with "Godlike Powers" -- then you sort of have to give those Villains "Godlike Powers."

Taken just in the context of Rand's (and his Allies) progression through the two or three years of the storyline, you have a point. But the One Power taken as the culmination of at least two Ages accumulation and development isn't completely out of hand. I don't think RJ could have told the story he wanted without outrageous, almost parody, levels of OP usage.
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Old 01-26-2014, 05:29 PM
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Its important to remember though that Rand didnt win the Last Battle with massive amounts of Channeling at all. The Channeling there was almost incidental in his back and forth with the Dark One. The Light was never going to win with brute force...you'll note that this was even demonstrated with the flaw during the AoL with Latra Posae's plan to use the super sa'angreal to seal the bore...using both powers would have tainted both. Thus, brute force was never an option so there was no need to show such ridiculous feats of Channeling with the One Power.

Maradon was "fun" to read for a bit but it was a bit silly in the end given that we find out that it was just Rand with an angreal and not something crazy. Even with an angreal, he shouldn't have been able to split his flows that many ways. If so, how come Moridin didnt simply capture him over Falme as its not as if Ishy wasn't just as strong a channeler as AoL Lews Therin? There was no reason for Ishy to lose there...the Stone can be explained by the use of Callandor but otherwise, its a bit silly.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:15 PM
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If you import your villains from an "Age of Legends" -- an Age filled with Heroes and Villains with "Godlike Powers" -- then you sort of have to give those Villains "Godlike Powers."
Why?

No, seriously, why? The only point of contact with Age of Legends that the reader has is in the form of exaggerated stories that are only half true at the best of times. RJ could have made the Age of Legends and the people from that age anything he wanted. There's no reason he HAD to make them capable of wiping out hundreds of enemy soldiers with a flick of the wrist. There's no reason he couldn't have added limiting factors. The man was not held hostage to his own story.

Instead of giving Rand the ability to make a shield of Air, tie-off the weave and sit comfortably while his enemies shoot arrows at him, include a rule that only passive weaves can be tied off. (A weave that sets you on fire when you try to steal Callandor. It's not doing anything until to trigger it. There's no energy expenditure until someone trips it and then the weave unravels) A shield of Air - which requires active energy to power it - would require Rand to hold the weave the entire time. Then have him tire quickly. After a few minutes of holding that shield, he'll collapse from exhaustion. This forces him to think his way out of a tough spot instead of just blowing his enemies to smithereens.

You yourself said that the power levels of channelers in the later books was approaching parody. Well, I'm pretty sure that the story RJ wanted to tell was a compelling fantasy epic. That requires suspense.

As for Brandon's contributions, well I'm pretty sure he was doing the best he could in a tough situation (the insane power levels had already been established) but he's not without fault. The Maradon scene was ludicrous.

To quote Red Letter Media. "Bigger is not always betterer" (No, that's not a typo). Watching Rand slaughter trollocs by the thousands doesn't make cheer "yeah, get em!" in the same way that watching Rand fight Ba'alzamon did. Instead, it makes me yawn. Oh... waves of fire... Okay. Shards of ice... Sure, whatever.
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He bought two fifths of lead-free gasoline.
Said the bottle is dusty, but my engine is clean.
He bought a nice blue suit with the money he could find.
If his bride didn't like it, St. Peter wouldn't mind.

Well, now I lie here so out of breath and... over opiated.
Maybe I couldn't catch up no, but maybe she could have waited.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:18 PM
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Its important to remember though that Rand didnt win the Last Battle with massive amounts of Channeling at all. The Channeling there was almost incidental in his back and forth with the Dark One. The Light was never going to win with brute force...you'll note that this was even demonstrated with the flaw during the AoL with Latra Posae's plan to use the super sa'angreal to seal the bore...using both powers would have tainted both. Thus, brute force was never an option so there was no need to show such ridiculous feats of Channeling with the One Power.

Maradon was "fun" to read for a bit but it was a bit silly in the end given that we find out that it was just Rand with an angreal and not something crazy. Even with an angreal, he shouldn't have been able to split his flows that many ways. If so, how come Moridin didnt simply capture him over Falme as its not as if Ishy wasn't just as strong a channeler as AoL Lews Therin? There was no reason for Ishy to lose there...the Stone can be explained by the use of Callandor but otherwise, its a bit silly.
THIS!
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He bought two fifths of lead-free gasoline.
Said the bottle is dusty, but my engine is clean.
He bought a nice blue suit with the money he could find.
If his bride didn't like it, St. Peter wouldn't mind.

Well, now I lie here so out of breath and... over opiated.
Maybe I couldn't catch up no, but maybe she could have waited.
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  #18  
Old 01-26-2014, 06:27 PM
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If you import your villains from an "Age of Legends" -- an Age filled with Heroes and Villains with "Godlike Powers" -- then you sort of have to give those Villains "Godlike Powers."

Taken just in the context of Rand's (and his Allies) progression through the two or three years of the storyline, you have a point. But the One Power taken as the culmination of at least two Ages accumulation and development isn't completely out of hand. I don't think RJ could have told the story he wanted without outrageous, almost parody, levels of OP usage.
Time and time again, it was shown that the Forsaken were not God-like at all and that it was once again one of RJ's common theme of real history becoming myths and myths becoming legends as the Wheel spun. Thus, there was no real need to go that route. Also, if they were so god-like, you'd think they would have utterly destroyed Rand when he was still in the learning phase and not at full strength. Yet somehow they only get stronger and more dangerous as Rand does.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:43 PM
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Why?

No, seriously, why? The only point of contact with Age of Legends that the reader has is in the form of exaggerated stories that are only half true at the best of times.
If the Forsaken weren't at least demi-godlike, then RJ couldn't tell the story he wanted. There was "no reason" he had to include survivors from the AOL as Villains, but it wouldn't be the same story if he hadn't.

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You yourself said that the power levels of channelers in the later books was approaching parody. Well, I'm pretty sure that the story RJ wanted to tell was a compelling fantasy epic. That requires suspense.
There is plenty of suspense in the WOT: Will near unlimited, near-godlike, power go to Rand's head or will he figure out that T'G requires Brains instead of Brawn.

RJ did want to tell a compelling fantasy epic; he just didn't want to tell the same fantasy epic other authors were telling.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:52 PM
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Which of the Forsaken ended up as actually semi-Godlike?

None of them other than maybe Ishy/Moridin really lived up to their billing. Demandred maybe did but it was far too little, too late. In the end, Lan kills him? Really?

Yeah, godlike there.
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