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

Archive for the ‘Druid’ Category

Worgen Frustration (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Night Elf)

After leveling to 85 and spending some time on instances and reps to gear my main, I thought I’d set some time aside for a little lowbie alt. I’ve come to accept this about myself – I like leveling. Whether it’s through instancing, questing, exploring – or lately, herbing – it’s a relaxing process for me. Some people are one character people, and I respect that. But I wanted to see the new zones.

I’ve even come to accept that I’ll never have “one 85 of each class,” because there are honestly some classes I don’t want. So instead I have multiples. That means two warriors (81 and 28), two mages (85 and 80) and most recently, two druids (80 and 27). But this druid has assumed two different incarnations.

What Big Teeth You Have, Grandmother

I was excited to make a worgen druid. Originally the plan had been to make a warlock, but as I mentioned, I accepted that I don’t necessarily want one of each class. I had cloth/caster heirlooms that would serve as well for a druid, and I’d love to have a power-gathering character. (She mines! She herbs! She is the incredible flying druid!) I was a bit torn on the gender; the odd, foxy features of the females didn’t immediately appeal, but I figured they’d grow on me.

Looking despondent - probably because when they put her in the stocks they wedged her staff into the wood. I'd be bummed too.

So here’s Francisca, worgen druid. I played her to level thirteen. My impressions of the starting zone were mostly positive. I liked how quickly the action moved and the quests were organized in a logical manner. The flow was very nice, and the point at which the quests shout back to previous Kaldorei lore were great. I enjoyed the eerie feeling of the zone, the little things (like mastiffs and foxes!) and the accents of the NPCs. They’re a bit over the top but they still give strong flavour. You know you’re definitely not in Stormwind any more.

What I wasn’t feeling as attached to was my worgen herself. She lumbered everywhere, wrathing and moonfaring, but I just wasn’t feeling it. No matter, I thought – she can always remain human most of the time. The only problem with this is using the worgen racial, Darkflight – means that you are, naturally, transformed back into a worgen. And I use things like that on cooldown – it makes you faster! But despite that, I liked her as a human and ultimately intended for her to spend most of her time in flight form – so it didn’t really matter. I probably would have kept playing her, until I reached a pivotal point in the quest progression.

I’m trying not to give spoilers here for folks who want to do this, but essentially it’s a series of quests that make heavy use of phasing. You take one quest, proceed to accomplish it, and pick up the next quest afterwards. The next part has you following an NPC with an aggravating habit of dashing off in an unseen direction. I happened to get this quest just as it was time for us to head out for the evening (and I’d failed it). So, no problem (I thought) I’ll just drop the quest and park myself in front of the NPC that gives it, so that I can pick it up the next time I play.

The next day, I logged in to continue with my druid – the NPC didn’t have a quest for me. I was sure it was the correct NPC; but she had nothing. I tried moving around the phased zone by myself to see if I’d missed something. I went back to the beginning of the chain, thinking perhaps it had bugged out and I needed to start all over again. Nothing. I checked the Wowhead comments – I wasn’t the only one who’d had this happen.

I thought about my willingness to open a ticket and wait a very long time to have this one quest fixed. I thought about how this is a pretty major bug to have made it into a game, especially since it’s happened to other people, and I was frustrated by it. I thought about my lumbering druid with the interesting, albeit bugged zone.

Then I logged out, deleted her and made another night elf druid instead.

No Place Like Home

The world's stealthiest night elf. No, really!

I quite like the changes to the night elf starting area. They’ve streamlined things like silly gathering quests. When you go to kill spiders you bring the NPC with you so that you don’t have to run back and tell her, “I found this big, evil boss spider!” only to have her tell you, “Please go and kill the head honcho spider!” and then get lost in the cave again…although maybe that’s just me.

It is still a slower experience than the worgen starting area, possibly simply because of zone size. Shadowglen is a large zone – and I think the sole building needs an entrance at either end, because every night elf character I’ve ever leveled has circled that building at some time or another to find the front.

Other positive improvements include: putting the tree with the strange fruit along the shore of Lake Al’Ameth instead of wayyy on the other side of the zone, and also the escort NPC that accompanies you into the barrow dens is stupendous. She comes with a “we’ll point the way” green mist orb thing, incidentally my new favourite thing in the game. If I had a mist like that for running instances I’d never hesitate to tank them!

The Darkshore experience is definitely improved. My only regret (note, regret, not complaint) is that the combination of guild experience gains along with my heirlooms means I am outleveling my quests ridiculously fast. I haven’t done a single instance (although I am herbing and mining like a fiend) but all of my quests turn green and even grey before I have had a chance to hand them in. I’ve had to skip entire quest hubs for this reason. I’m a bit torn about it because I like to do every single quest possible, but my primary goal is to get this character high level so that she can start herbing and mining for me simultaneously. So I realize I could take off the heirlooms and slow the process down, but I’m unwilling to do that.

I had a tear in my eye as I ran through Ashenvale. I imagine I can hear all the Kaldorei characters I’ve ever known crying their outrage. Unfortunately, again I’ve out-leveled it and I may have to hop over to Stonetalon. I do really appreciate the new “Hero’s Board!” quests in the major cities. I know that I’ve often heard people ask, “Where am I supposed to go at level x?” These conveniently answer this question at any level, and they mean that you can pick up the quest there instead of having to find a breadcrumb in a lower zone before you can move on.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying leveling my new druid – apparently, since she’s now double the level my worgen was when I dropped her. My other unspoken goal for her is that I’d like her to cover her own expenses – epic flying, possibly even the faster-than-epic-flying if that seems possible. I often level characters that end up draining my main character’s resources. If this one can be self-sufficient I’ll consider her quite a success.

 

The Hybrid’s Dilemma

With Wrath winding down and Cataclysm just on the horizon, everyone’s mind is on the future – fresh new raids, leveling, and this strange broken Azeroth we all inhabit now. We’ve been focused on making sure our roster is “set,” and it pretty much is. We have some player shuffle; no one is leaving but several folks have switched characters. We have a druid migrating to a warrior, a hunter becoming a shaman, a paladin becoming a rogue, and a moonkin becoming a mage (that’s me).

What you might observe there is a distinct lessening of hybrid classes. We’ll lose a healer who could also DPS, and a DPS who could also heal. Especially in a ten-man setting, these hybrids can be crucial. Being able to off-heal for our group was the major motivating factor behind my switch to Moonkin – I’d actually planned to be more or less full-time resto, but it so happened that we recruited an awesome resto druid that week. Three resto druids isn’t exactly a stellar combination, so mostly I was an owlbear. And it was okay. (I did enjoy the “forest for the trees” jokes, though). But there were many things that were less fun about it, and I’ve been thinking about why I’m more or less okay with our group losing some hybrids.

"What, there's a dragon behind us? Never noticed."

Jack Of All Trades, Master of None…

For some people, not excelling at any one role wouldn’t really be a problem. They embrace their versatility (and it’s wonderful). Don’t get me wrong, I flatter myself to think I was a decent hybrid player. When I healed, I wasn’t standing in fire. I did the best I could. But I could never quite match our “regular” healers. Even though they didn’t think so, I always felt that I was a handicap and that we’d do better if we had a “real” healer for that night. I know, it’s a mental obstacle – but it was there.

Likewise, when you are a hybrid that plays both your hybrid specs, it can start to affect your play in either role. I felt that my DPS always lagged behind where it could be on many encounters. It was just never quite there. Keep in mind, I’m talking about raiding when it was actually still tough (before the thirty percent buff was finished rolling out, and while we were still working on heroic modes we hadn’t yet downed). Every point of DPS counted, every HPS could be crucial. I was actually healing for our guild’s first Sindragosa kill, and that was pretty fun. I healed it for a few weeks – and the first time I DPSed it I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.

Yes, I knew my rotation – but it’s the subtle nuances of a fight that are hard to remember when you aren’t in it that make the difference. Can I use my Treants at the very beginning and have them ready again by the time we use Heroism? Should I put a DoT on the iceblock while I’m dodging (the answer, by the way, is no… At least it was that time we narrowly avoided being blasted into oblivion by a block that broke a bit early). It turns out I was also meleeing it with my staff. Don’t judge me.

The Landscape of an Encounter

I was trying to explain this to Voss the other day and I hit upon a metaphor that really works for me. Imagine that each encounter is a landscape with specific challenges. Perhaps they are hurdles you have to jump over. As a DPS player, you approach that encounter from the perspective of: “Anything that causes me to stop casting at any moment is the enemy.” So movement is your hurdle, as well as other mechanics. Depending on the encounter, you might have specific tasks, and there are things that will force you to move. Let’s take heroic Blood Queen Lana’thel as an example.

DPS: We arrange ourselves in a loose circle, with the center area being reserved for folks who are linked. Don’t stand too close to someone else because of the proximity damage. Perform your rotation as hard and fast as you can because this is a DPS race. Your obstacles are:

  • Movement: Plan ahead for what you can cast while running to another player if you’re linked. Make sure you have an eye for where your shadow flames will go if you get the debuff for those (if you’re a druid, keep a cat-dash macro handy).
  • Planning: If you are the first DPS bitten, you’ll need to make sure you know where the next DPS is standing and not be too far from them. If you are to be bitten, try to get near (but not too near) to the bitten person.
  • Be ready to scatter when she flies up in the air and casts her fear. Don’t be near anyone else. Hit it like you mean it.

That’s the fight from the perspective of a DPS player. If you’re following along with my simile, picture it as a tophographical map with mountains you have to jump over, and valleys you have to avoid stumbling in. You’re running over the ground and those mountains and valleys fall at fairly predictable places. You know them. You don’t have to look to keep your footing. Suddenly, the healer is unavailable for that night. Guess what, hybrid with the gear to do it? You’re healing! Here’s the fight from that perspective:

Healers: We still arrange ourselves in a loose circle and don’t stand too close to anyone. Depending on your assigned role (are you tank healing? raid healing? HoT spamming?) your focus will be different. Let’s assume you are a raid healer. AoE damage is crazy in this fight – something I really didn’t know until the first time I healed it. So you have your own topographical map… Let’s say the healing version has boulders being thrown at you from above, which is really what it feels like the first time you heal a fight you don’t know. I knew there would be boulders hurting the raid. Did I have any idea where they’d come from? Not a clue.

  • Movement. You still have to run to linked players, but you also have to heal yourself while you’re doing it, or hope another healer is covering you. Likewise, if you are tank healing and you get the shadow flame debuff… nobody is healing those tanks while you’re running unless the other healers know to do so (they’re dropping boulders on the taaanks!)
  • Planning: Like the DPS, you will always be casting, but you’ll be HoTing the heck out of the raid. Suddenly, you can’t just ignore the people who are linked if they aren’t you – they need healing now!
  • Still be ready to scatter when she flies, but also be ready to heal everyone because damage from this phase is heavy.

The first time I healed this fight to fill in for a missing healer was, to say the least, intense. I don’t know how the healers were doing it with just two at that gear level, and I understood why it was so hit-and-miss. We pulled it off, I’m not saying “I wiped the raid!” The learning curve was steep. That’s just one fight, and yet the mechanics affecting a DPS or healer are in some respects completely different. It’s a different mindset – a different landscape, if you don’t mind my tortured metaphor. You can learn to navigate both landscapes and even switch mindsets if need be, but it’s a rare player who can pull each one off seamlessly or as well as someone who knows that landscape intimately. I’ve caught myself bracing to throw HoTs in a heavy-damage phase only to remember “Duh, you’re DPSing right now,” or preparing for heroism only to think, “…You don’t do anything special for heroism, you’re healing. Keep healing.”

You will have players who thrive on this challenge – the multifaceted challenge of knowing an encounter from more than one perspective, but it’s not easy. Some fights present less of a challenge than others, but switching mental gears (at least for me) was the largest obstacle.

This was the second largest obstacle.

Can I Have That For Offspec?

In our raid, everyone is expected to have and gear a respectable offspec. Even the pure players have two viable PvE specs that might be better suited to different encounters. I know our other mage is itching to go Frost for Cataclysm, and that’s fine. He’ll probably keep another spec. There are some differences between spec gear priorities that can crop up for pures, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be like for hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how that shakes out for hybrid classes in the expansion, with spirit to hit conversions and etcetera. Even with that in mind, though, hybrids will still have a “main” spec, and it takes time and many drops to adequately gear up an offspec properly. I have teased Voss because the one night he had to possibly switch from tanking to DPS he was “not prepared.”

Later that night, he shamefacedly admit that he hadn’t gemmed his DPS gear for a pretty good reason. He needed nearly twenty cardinal rubies to do it! As someone who has kept two sets of gear “raid ready” I sympathize with this wholly. Having plenty of alchemists and jewelcrafters I could afford it, but it’s still a considerable expense that other folks might not incur to the same extent. By the end of Wrath, my moonkin’s two gear sets were equally awesome – more or less equivalent to other folks in either role – but of course I was never going to take gear from “main” spec healers in order to do that. (Our healers were very generous with me, though, and so this is no gear complaint. They’d say, “It’s a sidegrade for me, give it to Shae,” and the cooperative spirit was a big part of the reason I was able to be so well-geared for when we needed it.) Still, things like trinkets are rare enough for main specs – it takes a long time and great fortune for an off-spec to even sniff them, which is as it should be. But it’s part of the hybrid handicap that prevents us from being as good as main healers when we need to be. Your gear can be “the best you’re able to get,” but it will probably still fall a bit short in one spec or the other until the content has been on farm for quite a long time.

Neither Fish, Nor Flesh, Nor Good Red Herring

Ultimately, the burdens and rewards of being an excellent hybrid player depend on the individual. Some people might thrive on the challenge and not mind the confusion and gear lag. In my case, I loved being a resto druid, and I loved being able to help the raid when it was needed. Unfortunately, I just didn’t love being a moonkin. It was tough for me to admit that to myself (and my fellow raiders, who had put the time and effort into gearing a character I no longer wanted to play at the end of the expansion). I still regret that and worry that folks may have seen it as selfishness on my part or a desire to gear a character then move onto another. I had concern that two mages was less useful for the raid than a moonkin and a mage – and in a way, that’s true, but what is most useful for the raid is people playing what they love. I’d rather have ten people truly passionate about their class and role – with less raid flexibility – than a few hybrids who really don’t want to be where they are but will do it “for the good of the raid.”

So we’re going to be a bit less flexible when we start raiding in Cataclysm, and we’re going to have to lean more heavily on our full-time healers. I hope that it turns out fine – and if we’re coming up short, we’ll recruit, because I’m confident in my character choice. I could be a hybrid, but at the end of the day I just don’t want to – and I think that’s okay.

Whenever I'm tempted to be a hybrid "for the good of the raid" Voss yells, "NO. Now, we're short on healers, what do you do?" "Well, I have a paladin that..." "NO!"

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