Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Archive for August, 2011

Guilds, Cliques, and You

It may surprise you to know that I was once a horrible guild member. It’s true, I was. No, I wasn’t overtly rude or mean. I participated in guild chat. I greeted everyone with a friendly hello! But I was also part of a clique. There were five of us (not coincidentally, a five-man group). One rogue, one resto shaman, one mage, one protection warrior, and one hunter. We were inseparable, spending most nights running dungeons, doing battlegrounds, or hanging out together on Vent. We snickered about other guild members in our private chat channel. We were very “us versus them,” and unsurprisingly, we ended up leaving the guild in question – all at once, en masse.

I’m not proud of this, by the way, but I am using it as a perfect example of what I want to talk about. I believe that the story could have ended differently, had the leadership in that guild been paying close attention and made any efforts whatsoever. There were warning signs. Here are the circumstances that led to the situation I describe above.

First, Voss and I joined this guild at a fairly low-level. We were about level thirty, while of course the majority of guildies were 70. It’s difficult to run things with people who aren’t even your level, and a few guildies made an effort but for the most part we were very much on our own. So that’s an unavoidable circumstance (although one that’s readily ameliorated, given time). We were so sure that if we just got to level 70, we would fit in! We would have people to do things with!

On the surface, this guild was “friendly.” In actuality, most of the people in it were primarily interested in hanging out with the people they already knew. That’s natural, and it happens. What it did was serve to isolate us further, but around that time a new member joined the guild – a hunter, just a few levels behind us. He deliberately sped up his leveling so he could be of a level with us. Then, a couple that had been in the guild before us (but taken a hiatus) came back. They were around level sixty, which is where we were at the time. We thought we might try some five-mans. We went through each of the Burning Crusade five-mans with our hunter friend driving us. He had greater game experience than any of us, and had left a hardcore raiding guild to reroll on an RP server in order to take it easy. Little did we know, he was honing us to be a very efficient five-person team.

By the time we hit 7o, we geared up very quickly (again, I didn’t realize this at the time, but our hunter suggested instances that would have upgrades for all of us.) By the time we moved on to heroics, we really worked well together and we’d found out something, too: we no longer needed our guild. For the most part, if all five of us weren’t around, we simply didn’t run anything. The attitude of most other guildies towards us hadn’t improved. We expressed interest in raiding and the guild leader said that perhaps an alternate Kara run could be put together. Another guildie we didn’t know remarked on the forums that it could be like “Kara on training wheels.” This air of condescension didn’t improve matters.

Each week at the guild meeting (held in a spooky location in Duskwood) we attended and crammed ourselves onto one long bench, all five of us. As I said, all of the signs were there. We weren’t integrated with the rest of the guild, frankly didn’t care what they thought, and eventually grew so fed up that we left (and when we left, of course, we all left together).

One of those friends has since been lost (MIA), the other two both stopped playing the game. Naturally, Voss and I still play together. I have fond memories of them. Here we are in another guild (guild name pictured is not the guild discussed above. I’m trying to be classier than that). Besides, I know that we were trouble for that guild. It isn’t all, “Oh, how we were wronged.” We stopped trying to be friends with them and instead opted to be the bad kids at the back of the room, doing entirely our own thing. It’s a tough thing to handle, as a guild leader or officer, but I do have some suggestions.

Set Expectations

Have a clear vision for what you want your guild to be. I’m sure in larger guilds it’s harder to manage cliques, because you do have so many people. People are going to naturally want to split off into smaller groups. That’s fine. The expectation in my guild is that everyone is going to get along (even if they aren’t the best of friends, we are all going to be civil and friendly to one another). Anyone will run five mans with anyone else. We’re all in a smaller guild because we want to get to know our fellow guildies, and know them well. It’s part of the experience we’re seeking, so we have the advantage of a very clear bottom-line: you don’t have to best friends, but you do have to get along and be inclusive of other members.

Make sure your guildies know what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. I think our biggest problem with the guild above was that we joined it expecting to meet people we could spend time with (it was, after all, an RP guild on an RP server; even at lower levels we could have gotten together to RP) and I’m not actually sure what they expected of us. Probably they didn’t expect that we would leave and take five people out of the guild at one time.

Divide and (Befriend)

Cliques usually become more of a concern when:

1) members have a pre-existing attachment to each other, either from a former guild or real-life friendship or both,

or 2) some circumstance in the guild drives people towards each other in the face of adversity.

If anyone feels under attack, isolated, or otherwise excluded from guild activities – they are liable to gravitate towards other people who feel the same way.

What’s the solution to this? Be as inclusive as you possibly can. Make an extra effort to get to know specific people. You don’t always have to be the one spending time with them, but bringing them into a five-man group with other guildies might make those guildies more inclined to run together later. One of the best officers I ever had was a lady from the guild pictured above. Each week she’d say to me, “Oh, so-and-so is my ‘project.'” She meant by this that each week she was focusing on getting to know one person specifically, to talk to and include them. Of course you have to do this with moderation. If someone is an introvert, being badgered constantly is probably not going to earn their friendship; it might get them to stop logging in with exasperation. So this is your first step, you must get to know people and include them. The second component to this (if a clique already exists) is to try to do it without existing friends around.

See if you can get the guy who is usually quiet in guild chat into Mumble to run some five-mans. Most people will open up a bit more in that circumstance, plus they get to know you as well. Do this with everyone you can – separately. People who realize that you care about getting to know them as individuals are much more likely to feel at home in your guild, and much less likely to only talk to their close friends.

Limit New Folks

This one is easier said than done. One guild I was in actually had a hard and fast limit of members they would accept within a given time frame. This ensured that before new members joined, others would already be a part of the guild. The needs of a raiding guild can sometimes preclude this, unfortunately, but it’s still important to keep in mind. Each new person you introduce into a group will unbalance it simply by being there. Everyone has to get to know the new member, and assert their role within the group. It takes time to settle down. When you have many new people at one time, you run the risk of completely unbalancing the preexisting social dynamic. You can even isolate the guildies you already have, because things have changed, and they may no longer see themselves in the change.

For this reason I’m especially wary of groups of players. You see these ads on the forums, “Mage, H Pally, Druid LF Raiding Guild.” Sometimes, maybe these will be a great find. Just be aware that you may be letting yourself in for a ready-made clique that could prove difficult to integrate into your guild.

In Business Time, we all get along, because we're all Voss.

Respect

This may seem overly simplistic, but if you respect your guild members are a up front with them about any issues or problems, I have a naive belief that you can’t go too far wrong. It’s tough, because you can’t exactly tell someone “I notice you only hang around with these two other people. Could you try to spend time with other people too?” Small cliques and groups will naturally form in any group of people. They aren’t even necessarily something you want to avoid at all costs, so much as be aware of. Does it matter if Jim, Jacqueline and Joe have an arena team together? Probably not. Do they have an arena team together but also never run five-mans with anyone but each other? You might have a problem there. What you CAN say is, “Hey Jim (or Jacqueline, or Joe), want to come run this five-man with us?”

If folks are still sticking to themselves primarily, you could just ask them separately if there is a problem they want to talk about, and whether everything is okay. Maybe they had a conflict with another guildie and are specifically avoiding him/her, or maybe they are shy and haven’t known how to expand their social circle within the guild. Whether there is a problem or not, you won’t know unless you ask. Taking the time to talk to someone is far preferable than saying later, “I am always available to talk! Why didn’t you come talk to me?” Plenty of people aren’t comfortable approaching leadership about anything “official,” or they themselves may not know their problem is big enough to need addressing. If you take the time to check in with your guildies periodically just to see how they are doing, I guarantee you’ll have a healthier guild as a result.

I should add, as an aside, that I sometimes feel a bit odd writing posts like this when I know that some guildies read my blog. Yes, I think about “management stuff,” but it isn’t motivated from a place of wanting to manipulate guild folks. I’ve seen this attitude of “We are such a small group, so we don’t need rules” or “We just want to have fun, we don’t need any management BS,” but I actually think that having people who do consider these things is what helps to ensure that everyone has fun. Most of the time, I’m just thinking, “Hey, let’s go kill some internet dragons!” and having fun with the people in my guild. But I do stay attuned to the social currents, if you will, to make sure that potential problems are waylaid before they ruin anyone’s good times.

So have you had the trouble of cliques in your guild before? Were you a member of one (like I was?) What did/would you do to handle them?

Tuesday Art Day: Corycia

I’m cheating a bit today with some older art (that I know I haven’t used for a Tuesday art day). This is a postcard sized watercolour I did of my draenei shaman, Corycia, wearing gear she doesn’t own. (I love this shaman set from Burning Crusade!) I have done another watercolour recently that I’d love to post but can’t, because it hasn’t yet been gifted to the surprise recipient! Look for that one coming soon to a Tuesday near you.

Update on Settling Into A New Role

I’ve been raiding as a paladin now for just over a month or a little bit longer. It’s been an interesting transition, further complicated by the fact that I feel obligated to re-do many achievements with Vid. I thought it’d be fun to provide a kind of update with how things have been going.

DPS: Now With 100% Rear Boss View

For the occasions when we’ve needed a healer to DPS, I’ve been gearing and working on my retribution spec. Thanks to some help from Antigen and our guild’s protection paladin, I even know what to do (more or less). The only thing I can say is that melee DPS is weird, yet oddly calming. I feel as if I have to frantically spam buttons quite a bit less than as a mage. Oh, I’d definitely be failing if I were just auto-attacking, and that’s not what I’m doing, but it is reassuring to know that my character is always hitting if I’m in range. (Thank you, startattack macros). I’m by no means the world’s greatest retribution paladin, but we still managed to kill bosses with me as a ret (I am the ret). It’s been awhile since I’ve had to go ret for a raid and my gear has improved so I imagine if I were to do it again I would be even better.

I got to hit Rhyolith’s feet and run around frantically! I also went up to attack Beth’tilac, which proved to be convenient because I later went up to heal the tank on Beth’tilac. I got to stand there and DPS Shannox, which kind of feels like cheating to me. Even Staghelm from a ret perspective was almost peaceful, but he was still progression then and so I have only healed for our subsequent kills. I think it’s safe to say that I never imagined I’d be melee DPSing in a raid, but it’s fine. 95% of the time I will be a healer; for that other five percent I’m happy to do whatever is necessary.

"What is this I don't even..."

Achievements

Continuing to work on Vid’s achievements has helped me to feel engaged with her, even when I’m not raiding. To me, Vid (as a character) has been something of a sleeper hit. I made her in 2009 for a lark, did the whole dungeon-leveling thing, wrote a blog about it, etc. I never imagined she’d shoulder her way to the front and wind up a main. I always assumed that if I healed full-time it would be as a druid. I was clearly wrong.

As far as achievements go, her pet collection is up over a hundred now, her mount collection is somewhere around fifty. There are a few pets she won’t be able to get for awhile (Midsummer, Love Is In The Air, etc.) but such is life! I finished the Higher Learning achievement with her as I was writing this post. Up next: continuing to kill poor TB foxes and camping the spawn point for Jadefang.

The biggest trouble I have is trying to catch up with achievements as if I’m on a time limit. I want to catch up yesterday and so sometimes my focus wanders as I try to do everything all at once. I finally, finally finished the last Molten Front “unlocking” and so now will do those dailies until Zen’Vorka’s cache sees fit to give up a pet. Meantime, I have to remember that nobody cares about my achievements except me, nobody cares except me (it’s my new mantra).

Blogging

I’ll admit, I did worry a bit that I might lose readers when I switched from raiding as a mage – and perhaps I did. The funny thing is, though, that very little of my content was mage-specific. I wrote the five-man guides (but never updated them for the Zul instances) and a gear guide, but other than that the things I write about are seldom class-specific. Now I’m in this odd limbo where I don’t feel I have anything to teach or say to paladins, nor do I have mage experience in Firelands. It’s tricky how your personal identity can get tied up into your class identity, so I’m trying not to worry about it overly. I’m just going to write about things that interest me, be they mage, paladin, or guild-related, and hope that they’ll be of interest to someone, somewhere.

Raiding

Make no mistake, switching from being a DPS (especially a pure) to a healer is a big adjustment. I heal five-person content a ton but hadn’t healed a raid in about a year. It says something about my guild’s trust in me that they were willing to let me dive in. Especially being somewhat undergeared for Firelands (I did the best I could, but was definitely behind the curve), healing FL was kind of like performing without a net. It’s been a rush, it’s been exhilarating, frustrating, and triumphant. It’s been humbling. I’m still constantly learning how to be a better paladin, but I’m happy with how it’s gone so far. With my usual zeal for gearing, I’ve managed to squeeze every last upgrade out of non-raid content and I can definitely feel the difference. Especially getting a new weapon and the two-piece T12 bonus have made me feel pretty unstoppable in heroics.

The biggest shift is a mental one, and it’s taken some time. I’ve had to teach my brain to recognize mild stress as ‘the norm’ and not freak out and just do its thing. It was funny when we went back one night to eight-man BoT for valor points. Remember, I didn’t do BoT as a healer, only as a DPS. So we’re on Ascendant Council and I lost range on my tank and my brain just kind of zoned out a bit. There was a part of it that thought, “Gosh, tank’s health sure is getting low.” A few seconds later, the other part of my brain screams, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HEALING THAT TANK.” Ohhh right, that’s my thing!

I haven’t done this in current content, it’s just interesting to me how the encounters themselves (and the way I have learned them) are so intertwined with the role I was playing at the time. When it comes to Firelands, I’ve only healed (or melee DPSed them) and so I don’t suddenly forget that I’m healing; all of my knowledge is centered around healing patterns, incoming damage, and needed cooldowns.

Recruiting

It’s been a long time since we’ve had three trial members at once. It’s not something I like doing, really, because each new person takes awhile to integrate into a group. Because of our relatively small number, an influx is especially unsettling and runs the risk of unbalancing the group paradigm. Also, they may not get the kind of one-on-one attention and feedback that we like to give, but I think we’ve managed well enough in this regard. I still reflexively catch myself going to check out recruitment ads until I remember – oh right, I don’t have to do that right this instant! It’s nice. They have been doing well, and of course time is the most important factor here. Everyone will naturally ease up as they get to know each other, given some time.

“Those” Raid Nights and What To Do About Them

We’ve all been there. You show up ready to raid. You have read the strats for the progression fights. You’ve been talking about how to better execute fights that you’ve already downed. You have flasks, you have food. You have nine or twenty-four other people.

Or maybe you don’t even get to that point. Maybe someone’s internet is down and you can’t get ahold of John to step in. Someone disconnects as you pull the boss or someone has an addon problem or someone makes a mistake on something you’ve done a million times before. Whatever the reason, something is just off. You’re in for one of those nights.

I wish I had the magic recipe to prevent them. I don’t. Sometimes storms are hitting several areas. Tonight the storm was in our area – massive chunks of hail pounding on the roof so hard during Shannox that I had to turn my sound up just to hear the aural cues I am used to! Thankfully we didn’t disconnect, and no one had any technical difficulties. Regardless, for us it was one of those nights.

Call it a full moon, call it bad luck, call it a combination of factors – we’re still getting to know our new raiders, we had one more melee than we usually do, we made a mistake on assignments, we swapped healers to roles they weren’t used to, and tanks to roles that they weren’t used to. We started the raid night with high hopes for a certain number of bosses that we didn’t achieve. It’s the kind of night where you finish and can feel the collective sigh of relief and discouragement over voice chat. Everyone’s demoralized. Where do you go from there?

There are a few ways to handle it. You could cascade into a doubt spiral, second-guessing everything that happened and your role in it. You could lay blame, you could pout or gnash your teeth. Here’s what I do.

Recognize that it happens to everyone

No, really. You may feel like there is no other single raid group that has struggled as your group struggled on that night. Trust me on this – Vodka has nights like this. No one plays perfectly all of the time. I challenge you to show me a raid group that hasn’t had a crappy or an off night. (Okay, an off night for Vodka doesn’t mean the same thing as it does for other raids, but that’s not the point). We all have times where we feel like we didn’t play to our potential, that we could have done better, that we failed.

We’re human. It happens. So then what?

Take a break

Our group takes regular breaks anyway (once an hour for six minutes), so I always seize this opportunity. Some of the things I do during breaks include:

  • Rub the dog’s belly.
  • Run downstairs.
  • Give the dog a carrot.
  • Open the back door and take deep breaths of fresh air.
  • Yoga. (I’m serious.)
  • Make sure I have a big glass of cold water on my desk for the end of the break
  • I’m kind of a hippy like that, so I have essential oils (mint!) and I’ll put a dab on my wrists or neck or temples. Mint and citrus smells can help reduce stress and aid focus. Lavender is calming, unlike the Firelands, which is…well, on fire.

Sometimes you just need to get your body thinking about something else. I like to stretch my legs and move around during breaks if I can. Long periods of sitting combined with tension can lead to muscle cramps or aches. Focusing on something else even for a few minutes can help you to do better when you come back and sit down.

Switch it up

If you’ve been beating your head against a boss wall for hours and you aren’t seeing any progress, don’t be afraid to tackle something new. It may not result in a kill, but at least it’ll present new frustrations. If your faction has Tol Barad, go do a Baradin Hold run. Kill some more trash. Even switch instances if that’s an option and you have the time to do it.

Get some perspective

Was your night really all that bad? For our raid night, we didn’t kill all the bosses we would have liked, but the ones we did kill we killed pretty cleanly. I healed a different tank than I usually do on Shannox; our other tank healer got a chance to experience the damage patterns of the opposite tank as well. Beth’tilac went down very easily, and it was again a new tank doing the “upstairs” task. It could have been worse. We could have killed nothing. Or one less boss, or two less bosses. We got some valor points. Trash went very smoothly. I was mostly happy with P1 of Alysrazor as well. We’ve killed these bosses before. We will kill them again.

Above all else, no matter how many internet dragons did or didn’t die in any given night, I’m always happy to hang out with BT folks and have fun regardless. So I’m not going to dwell on the raid night. As far as I’m concerned, once it’s ‘in the bag,’ it’s over. There’s no sense beating ourselves up about it. That said, though, the next thing I want to do is:

Identify and learn from your mistakes

I already know what was going wrong with Rhyolith. We made some poor calls on assignments. The melee are going to have to put their heads together when it comes to driving duties. I did not do the best I could in my new role. So there’s a few lessons there, but most importantly I want to find out was going on with Baelroc. What was I doing wrong? Why was it so hard at first, and what can I do better for next time?

Depending on how you work, it might be a good idea to wait before you proceed with this step. If you go in still frustrated, tired or upset, you’re liable to just beat yourself up over things you can’t change.

Put that thing to bed

The single best thing you can do, I think, is just sleep on it. You’ll be able to process tomorrow what may seem hopelessly aggravating right now, because it’s still too close. Re-evaluate your performance and the overall raid performance the following day when you have a clear head and a rested perspective. Ask yourself, was it really that bad? Even if it was, it’s still over, and tomorrow is another raid day.

So how about you? What do you do when your group is having one of those nights? Don’t try to tell me you never do, either! I know you’re fibbing.

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