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

Archive for the ‘Gameplay’ Category

Revelations (That Are Not Actually About Cookies)

Just over a week ago now, Canadians were preparing for our version of stuffing ourselves silly and being thankful about it. Thanksgiving! (Yes, it’s the same holiday as in the U.S. pretty much, except ours is a little earlier). We’d acquired a turkey, friends were due to arrive, and as with any major holiday – I happily took a welcome excuse to do some baking. The centerpiece of my endeavour was to be pumpkin cupcakes. Voss, who doesn’t especially like pumpkin, asked if I could perhaps bake something else on the side for him. Some cookies, maybe? (Insert big pleading eyes here.) Chocolate chip cookies, maybe? It doesn’t usually take much to get me to do more baking, so of course I agreed.

And here I paused. For years now, I’ve been experimenting with lower fat baking. It’s possible to do and still have recipes taste good. My low-fat chocolate chip cookies are pretty decent – but they tend to be a bit harder, definitely “dippers.” You have to be so careful with the dough not to overmix it. I hesitated. Did I want to make the “healthy” recipe – or did I want to go back to my tried-and-true?

I haven’t made this recipe in years. It was faithfully copied from my Mom’s recipes when I first moved away from home a decade ago. I looked at that recipe, carefully written out. It has twice as much butter as the other recipe. I know they aren’t as “healthy” (if any cookies can be considered healthy). The thing is, butter serves a specific role in baking, just like all the other ingredients do. It helps with texture, establishing both moisture and crispness. It’s possible to make things with much less of it (I hardly use it at all in “regular” cooking) but in baking it’s a tough thing to do away with.

I made my Mom’s recipe. They weren’t as pretty to behold as their low-fat counterparts. I watched them cooling on the rack a bit uncertainly – they’d flattened out more than I’d expected. I wasn’t sure how they were going to be.

I took one bite of that first cookie and the taste of it exploded in my mouth. It tasted of a hundred happy moments mixing with my Mom, adding vanilla, adding eggs. It tasted of licking the beaters of the electric mixer (raw egg be damned! I came through childhood just fine). It tasted of the time that our old, long-departed cocker spaniel opened a container of cookies and helped himself (one by one, at his leisure!) It tasted of home. It just tasted right, and in that moment I didn’t care that the cookies had twice as much butter as the other kind. They were perfect.

I have to admit, I’d been having a tough time getting into the Thanksgiving mood. For awhile now, I’ve been labouring under an indecisive funk. I wrote all about how I felt playing retribution all the time. I’d even planned to write a “Thanksgiving” Warcraft post that never materialized because I just felt like I was going through the motions. The thing is, I have a lot to be thankful for (both in and out of game) but I wasn’t feeling up to expressing it. I’d begun playing my paladin at the start of this tier because I felt that it was how I could best help the guild. I felt that it was best for the guild. What I didn’t consider deeply enough was whether it was what would be best for me.

For years, I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies as a treat that are “better for me,” but they aren’t RIGHT. I’d rather eat them half as often but enjoy them twice as much. Or actually, what I’m trying to say – in an extremely roundabout and cookie-based way – is that last week, I took Millya into Firelands for the first time. (It’s appropriate if mage metaphors include baking, you know).

The first raid, I was really nervous and I definitely didn’t play my best. There’s an element of wanting to “prove I’ve still got it,” and focusing on that led to a few bonehead maneuvers. But it was okay. The second raid, I was feeling more comfortable, and I really let myself exult in the feeling. I love being a mage. I love everything about it. I love blink, I love firing spells off like a deadly turret, I love conjuring cakes for everyone and seeing my mirror images sprinting all over the place and even my stupid flame orb wandering off on its own to explode and attack, seemingly, nothing. I love my serious little goat woman and her wild hair and earnest horns. I love wearing a dress. I’m crazy about it. I always have been. I missed it when I was a priest, and a druid, and now a paladin. I missed it because it was the right thing for me to be and I never should have lost sight of that.

“You always preferred your mage,” a few guildies have told me gently. I’ve received more than one whisper from people saying they’re happy to see my mage again, and that it feels “good” to have me be a mage. It does feel damn good. I am still feeling pangs of guilt, as our discussions about two versus three healing came to an uneasy commitment, and I know that me leaving that team leaves us one healer down and bloats the DPS roster. If we need to, we’ll have to recruit another healer in the next tier. It is selfish of me – I’ve admitted I was wrong to switch characters. Not because I can’t do it. I think I was a pretty good paladin, and a pretty good healer. But it’s not what I love the most, not like my esteemed paladin friends – who live and die on paladin news and are really, some of the best folks I know. I was proud to be among them, and it has nothing to do with the class. I don’t want to attribute too much meaning to a video game, or a virtual persona, but there is a thin line between what you play and who you are.

I don’t want to have to write another entry like this in one tier, or two. No matter how much I think “I could help out” as a healer, I shouldn’t do it. When I stepped into that second raid, my eyes actually momentarily stung, I was so happy. The familiar sensation rolled over my finger tips as I spammed two like my life depended on it. This character is home. I regret the inconvenience it causes my guild and my guildies, but I need to be selfish about this. It was silly of me to think I could be as happy playing anything else. Every time I’ve switched has been to try and fill a niche or role we’re lacking, but I’m no good to anyone if I’m playing something but secretly and sadly miserable. Thursday’s raid was an absolute blast, and I don’t know if it’s because good moods are infectious or what but it felt like everyone had a better time. We have a secret paladin turned warlock going back to his paladin and I think he’s as happy as I am to trade his robes for plate. (He probably didn’t tear up about it because he’s far too stalwart for that, but I’ll bet he sang a song). I remember that this is the right thing to do every time I wonder what reputation grind I need to be working on (re-doing) now and then I remember, I don’t need to be re-doing any of them because I’ve already done them. This is my main we’re talking about. I’m baaaaack.

Oh, and P.S. – The cookies are going to be a rare and occasional treat, but when I make them, you better believe I’m going to make my Mom’s version.

P.P.S. – I used eight images in this blog post, but I probably had twice that many I could have used. More evidence.

Of Tanks And Healers

This post originally appeared at Pugging Pally (my previous blog), but Twitter was having a “Retro Wednesday” and I thought I may as well just repost it here. So if you read my blog then, it’s old news to you, but I think it’s still relevant!

It’s a special moment, isn’t it? You look into each other’s eyes. You think to yourself, “Now here’s someone who would make a Last Stand for me.” They see a certain something in your gaze, a spark. You might even say, a Flash of Light. You know that this is The One. A tank that you can trust.

There’s a certain something about a tank and healer pair, something that people who’ve never played either might not understand. I don’t mean this to be exclusionary, after all – my main raiding character is primarily a damage dealer. But I’ve been a healer and played many healers and it’s truthfully the thing that often draws me back to healing. I find myself missing it.

The tank and healer must cooperate in a way that no other role does. Tanks work together to coordinate pulls, taunts, and specific tasks. Healers work together to know who’s going to heal who and when. You have to be able to trust everyone in your raid team (more about that another time). Of course the tank is watching out for everybody, if they’re a good tank. But your primary task is to keep them alive, and they know that if you die – their grisly demise comes shortly thereafter.You have to be able to depend on each other.

I’ll never forget the time we went back to Ulduar with a new tank. He was new to our group and the encounters. One of the first bosses we tackled was Ignis. This tank was a paladin, and his job was to keep the angry automaton adds off the rest of the raid. We had a Discipline priest healing with myself (resto druid) so the obvious choice was for me to heal the raid, and the OT. Okay. So I was healing this paladin and he missed one of the adds, which merrily proceeded to try and eat my face. I popped Barkskin, started hotting myself up, and then I called out in Vent, “Add on me!”

He snapped back, “I’m a little busy here.

I made a scoff-choking sound of indignation and rage, and then yelled at my monitor (without pushing to talk, naturally), “SO AM I. I’M BUSY TRYING TO HEAL YOUR SORRY *SS.”

I know that he was stressed out because he was new to the encounter, and possibly he’d forgotten that I was a healer… I used to play a DPS role. But I was left with a feeling of betrayal. This tank and I weren’t headed for a good relationship.

The tank’s just not that into you

All the signs are there. They’re pulling away – way, way ahead of you. She says things like, “Heals?” or asks where you were. Actually, amendent, the tank calls you “Heals.” She’s gone while you’re drinking. He doesn’t taunt when something is trying to kill you, or he AFKs when he should be throwing heals your way. There’s no trust there.

I hope we’re not talking about a tank in a raiding situation – but the tank-healer relationship exists in a pug too. Except that pugging is like the equivalent of blind dating fifty people in a row, each less attractive than the previous. They chew with their mouth open or you split the bill and they don’t tip. So what can you do to foster some good tank-healer vibes, both in the short and the long term?

What we have here is a failure to…

I can’t stress this enough. In a pug, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’re tanking, ask your healer to let you know if their mana is low. Watch their mana. Ask them if they’re comfortable with you making larger pulls. When in doubt about anything, just ask. The healer will know that you are a responsible tank who wants the group to succeed. And you’ll get to know what you can expect from your healer. Even if you’re only together for an hour, you still have to work as a team to get the job done. Don’t ever get accusatory with a healer who seems to be struggling – a bad situation can go from bad to worse. Perhaps they’re new to healing, or maybe you’re harder to heal. If you ask, you can pace yourself accordingly – or maybe even consider things you could do with spec, gear, or glyphs to make healing you easier if you’re inexplicably squishy.

As a healer, I’m going to say it again, communicate, communicate, communicate. You need to drink? Let the tank know. Make a macro if you have to. I made a stupid one for my druid while I was leveling her that was really corny, along the lines of, “Don’t leaf me behind, I’m watering the plants, otherwise I’ll have to bark at you.”

Yes, I know. I like stuff like that, but you’re here reading this, so you already knew. It was lighthearted and a bit nerdy, but it got the point across. Very simple things like owning up to mistakes and just being forthright with how things are at your end can help smooth over what might otherwise be a nightmare pug. When I got lost, I admitted I was hopelessly lost, and my group helped to find me. When I had to continually ask to stop and drink, I confessed that I’d been having mana troubles lately. Especially in pugs while you’re leveling, everyone is in the same boat. They may have struggled with mana, or something else that led to them dying. Most people are just regular, good people. Yes, there are well-documented exceptions.

So if you need to give the tank pertinent information, or something is bothering you, or you aren’t sure about something, ask! There are no stupid questions (except “Who’s the tank?” There’s a shield next to your name, doofus.)

Going Steady

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be in a guild with a tank you really like, or you just have a tanking buddy you get to hang out with often, or a similarly fantastic healer. This is a great place to be. If leveling a character via pugs is like blind dating, a solid tank or healer you can trust is like a marriage. She leaves toast crumbs on the counter, but you expect them. You know he’ll be your Guardian Spirit and you’ll be there with a Shield Wall when he needs it.

Often tank-healer pairs really are married in real life. My husband plays a tank, and when I was healing him it was great. We’re sitting in the same room, so I could always say to him, “Go ahead and pull these next three packs, I’ve got you,” or he’d hear that chokey yelp noise I make when I’m throwing out HoTs as fast as my branches can toss them and know that he needed to use a cooldown to give me some breathing space – or I would say to him, “Use something NOW.” It’s a pretty handy situation, but you don’t have to be married to your tank or healer to have a good relationship with them.

I’m going to keep harping on about this, but when you aren’t in the same room with your tank or healer, communication becomes even more vital. Use Vent. The more you run with someone, the more you’ll get to know their idiosyncrasies. “Slaphappy always charges ahead when he’s going to engage a group of mobs, I’ll have to make sure to stick closer to melee than otherwise, so I don’t get left behind,” or “There’s a lot of movement in this fight so I know that Shamtastic might be distracted and need me to use a cooldown at some point.”

You won’t always know exactly what’s going on with the other person – but that’s when you ask. I actually went through a bit of these growing pains myself, when our guild was doing hardmode Mimiron. My job was to tank the head in phase three, and at that time our awesome pally healer would switch off and heal me. It was a bit strange for me to be in a tanking role, and I was goofing it up. His healing skills amazed me. He kept up my squishy self through damage I would’ve never expected to be able to live through, even with mitigation talents. But a few times, I died. I whispered him. Guess what I said.

“Heals?”

NO! I said, “Gee, I’m still getting the hang of this. What can I do better?”

He said that my blinking was making it a bit tougher for him to always keep up with me, and that a few times when I had been line of sighting Mim’s head around a corner, I’d left him completely behind. I was more careful the next times to watch where he was before I blinked away willy-nilly, we stuck together, and his healing kept me alive while I was tanking. We made a great team.

Always Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

I’ve met a lot of tanks during the course of my pug leveling. Some have been good, and I connected with and liked them a lot. Some of them have been very bad. (Maybe they thought that about my healing, too). It’s possible to have a positive experience and a tank-healer combo that communicates well in a pug, but I won’t lie, it is more rare especially in these LFD days when many folks queue as a tank or healer simply because they know it will get them a group instantly and not because they enjoy it or actually know what they’re doing.

To borrow my earlier analogy, if pugging is like blind dating, lately the rejection has been starting to get to me. I struggled for a way to end this entry because I realized that the reason I was writing about tanks and healers was that I was weary of feeling I couldn’t trust the person nominally ‘in charge’ of each run. It became clear to me during my last few Mana Tombs run. In one, the DK tank zoned in, pulled all the trash and nearly died although I was healing him the whole time. “This isn’t right,” I thought, although in party I said “um, omg.” He responded cleverly, “omg ur mom.” So I just said, “Why did you nearly die? That was just trash.”

“Oh, my gear is mostly red and yellow,” he said. “Guess I should go repair.”

Yes, DK, I guess you should. He disconnected instead and we voted to kick him, bringing in a marginally less clueless DK.

Another Mana Tombs run saw me zoning in with a different tank – “Misspladin” [sic]. It didn’t start well, beginning with my usual “Excuse me I just have to respec and regain my mana,” statement. “Please hang on a sec while I drink,” I told the tank. She started pulling right away and didn’t stop, period. I was completely OOM, but I managed to type, “Or you could just ignore me and start chain-pulling, that would work too.” By some miracle we managed to down the first big shadow boss guy, and then the tank did a curious thing. In chat, he typed only a sort of wicked, evil emoticon… crashed into the next three groups of mobs, and then bubble-hearthed and dropped group.

“OH NO HE DIDN’T,” I shouted in party chat. I’m not going to dwell on what causes people to do things like this. One of the DPSers said she could get her boyfriend to come in and tank. He was a 70 DK. It’s Mana Tombs. How hard can this be, right?

Hard enough that we all nearly died with the exploding arcane wyrm things. Enough that when I said, “Mana,” he ran ahead and kept pulling regardless and we all did die. Again. I said, “And that’s what happens when you pull and your healer is OOM.”

“Having mana is overrated,” he said to me.

“So is dying repeatedly,” I told him.

Faced with a future of tiresome pugs, Vid contemplates exchanging her healing shield and mace for a metric ton of chocolate.

And I meant it. I left the group, wondering if I’d ever even finishing leveling poor Vid, or just start questing and never look back. I was resolved to do it, but then was prevailed upon to give it one last go.

Mana Tombs again, and this time a bear tank. “Let me know if you need to drink,” she whispered to me, “But I’ll keep an eye on your bar.”

The instance started out promisingly with the usual suspects – a DK who felt that he could go ahead and do all the pulling for our bear. But unlike any other tank I’ve seen in all my pugging, she stopped dead.

“You pulled that,” she said, “You fight it.” She stood there. The DK struggled with the group, flailing around as his health took a massive beating. Taking my cue from her, nary a heal went his way. He very nearly died – oh so close to dead – I think she may have taunted the final mob at the last second, or else he just lucked out. I laughed a lot. “Now, are you finished wasting time?” she asked.

Uber-DK lurched ahead and pulled another group. “Apparently not,” remarked the druid, and we killed his extra group, and then kicked him. The rest of the group was pleasant and easygoing, and the run was completely smooth. We didn’t have any deaths or any problems. My heart wasn’t beating out of my chest, nor was I shouting at my monitor in frustration. I knew when I had to drink I could, but I hardly had to drink at all because my tank was so practiced with cooldowns, surgical with pulls, and threw an innervate my way when I needed it.

In short, it was the absolute most fun I’ve had in a pug in a long while. I could relax and actually enjoy it. We went on to do Sethekk Halls afterwards and it was just as good, enough that someone at the end remarked, “Solid group.” It was an incredibly solid group, unbelievably so, and I firmly believe it was so because the tank and I trusted each other and communicated.

(Incidentally – a DPSer named “Bumpirate?” I don’t have to say anything more about that. This stuff writes itself).

But I have to admit, I’ve been holding back on you a little bit. I’ve told you the story but not the whole story, or the whole truth.

The truth is, I went into those last two pugs knowing my tank. If you ever read my comments here, you may also know my tank – she’s Lara, and she’s awesome. Having no prior commitments and looking for a new server for her character, she chose to move her druid alt to my server. I said that I started this experiment because I wanted to experience the game alongside other people, and that’s absolutely true. Writing about it has been a blast, even if the experience itself has been frustrating at times. Having been able to find a friend I can pug with – that I never would have found if I hadn’t done all that pugging, written about it here – is indescribably awesome. I trusted Lara from the first, and I think we both had so much more fun because of it. So if there’s anything that all this pugging has taught me, it’s that it’s a means, not an end – a way to meet people you want to run with again, so you don’t always have to have an endless merry-go-round of what-are-these-people-thinking. Sometimes the tank or healer you were looking for is closer than you think.

I almost gave up on pugging today, but I’m pretty glad I didn’t. In Lara’s words, “I felt good knowing you were back there with your tuning forks!”

To which I can only reply, there’s nothing like having a bear butt you can trust!

Memory Lane: Burning Crusade Edition

I found this entry in my draft folder from June! I don’t know how I forgot about posting it, but it seems particularly appropriate now as many folks endeavor to recapture and revisit old content in preparation for Azeroth’s greatest fashion show.

I was struck the other day by nostalgia. I don’t think I’ve played any other game so consistently for so long. (And I’m not an “old-timer,” I only started at the end of Burning Crusade in approximately May 2008.) But that’s still three years of time!

I remember being so completely awestruck the first time I saw someone riding a Talbuk. It was in Menethil Harbor and we’d just taken the boat. Someone rode by on one and I gasped to Voss, “What is that? I want one!” I swore then and there that I would have one. I was the first person of my acquaintance to complete the grind with Kurenai. Talbuks have been Millya’s preferred mount ever since. They just seem so perfect for draenei to me, and even when I hadn’t seen Nagrand at all I somehow knew they’d be “right.”

Before I had a talbuk, though, I had my eyes on another prize. The first time we saw the Barrens I was similarly enamored with the Zhevra. It’s a unicorn, but it’s also a zebra! I was crushed to learn that they weren’t actually available as a mount. Until about a month later, they were announced as the very first mount reward for Recruit-A-Friend. Naturally, I knew what I had to do.

Millya's first "fast" mount.

I remember feeling very pleased with myself, too, because I saved money by not having to buy one of the mounts. Yes, the money at the time was a big enough deal to me that I was concerned about saving enough to buy a mount. At the time, WoW felt very much like the “haves” and the “have-nots” and I was squarely in the “pretty poor” camp. This was something I could have, and I was happy with it. (Note, I’m not whining here about my broke state. I hadn’t learned to use the AH or make money in any way. Nowadays it seems really easy to make money and there are plenty of resources for folks to learn how.)

So fashionable!

The other thing I greatly looked forward to was matching armour sets. When I hit 70, I had my pieces of Spellfire robes ready to roll because I’d been painstakingly crafting cloth (and borrowing the CDs of others) for weeks! I was so excited to have a set of armour that matched. I then spent a week straight in Alterac Valley to get the best (PvE and PvP) entry-raiding staff that there was:

Giant Pink Lipstick of DOOM!

Every caster had this, because it was awesome. I still have it in my bank because I am so proud of it. I’d never PvPed before, but I wanted the best thing available to me. It was nice to go to Kara and be passing on stuff because it honestly wasn’t an upgrade. (My obsession with gearing my characters even outside of raiding started really, really early).

Firehawks and lynxes and bears, oh my!

One of my other great memories is going to Zul’aman with our ten-man group and downing it all. I think we missed the nerf by a week; I can’t remember if this was pre or post-nerf but I was so proud that we did it. This was as far as ten-man progression allowed at the time, and we were just a small guild. This screenshot of old friends makes me smile.

"Wicked, wicked, mortals! The forest weeps. The elements recoil at the destruction. Ivus must purge you from this world!"

In the time I spent doing AV, I got to summon Ivus the Forest Lord not once, but twice! For those who are unfamiliar, you can summon this big bad when an AV match is interminable. It seldom happens now because there are things you need to do beforehand and most AV battles tend to be zergs. This is what the summoning looks like. I unfortunately lack a screenshot of the Horde players flailing around as we rode forward with Ivus ahead of us, scattering players like popcorn. The element of surprise was on our side because I think most of them didn’t even understand what was happening and had never heard of Ivus, let alone seen him. This is still hands-down one of my favourite AV memories.

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings..." (John Gillespie Magee Jr., "High Flight"

Finally, this is a screenshot I just had to include. Do you remember how you felt when you were first able to afford a flying mount – any flying mount? Who cared that it wasn’t as fast as the other ones? I imagine for most of us, we’ll never have the actual feeling of piloting a plain or hang-gliding. Yet who isn’t captivated by the idea of flying off into the sky?

I know some folks are not happy about the changes to Azeroth and the addition of flight. I think that it’s absolutely a shame if you never come down to the earth to pay attention to all of the details and work that’s been put into creating this world. At the same time, I love being able to fly everywhere since the first moment I could fly, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

How Playing My Alt Was Hurting My Raiding

I once wrote about how I think that playing alts can actually make you a better player. I still believe that to be true. If you’ve played a class, you’ll often better understand the cooldowns and abilities available. This helps with leading raids and organizing rosters. In PvP, it helps you understand how to counter another class because you know what to expect. I am a staunch advocate of alts! I love getting inside another class and seeing what makes it tick – or in the case of my paladin, making a list of spells with various iterations of Hand, Blessing, and Divine to try to keep any of them straight.

There’s just one possible pitfall, and I’m afraid it blindsided me. I think it’s a fairly common scenario. If you’re a raider, your raiding main is decked out in great gear. You take your main to raids, but other than raids, they don’t “need” anything. So… If you’re like me, you play an alt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and of course, it all depends. There’s no right or wrong way to play a game, there’s only deciding what’s right for you. But if you are a progression raider looking to maximize your play, I’m going to suggest something radical: playing too many alts might be hurting you, as it was me.

On the surface, there wasn’t a problem. I mean, I wasn’t routinely at the bottom of the meters in raids. I think my performance was solid. I continued to enjoy raiding as a mage. I was just playing Vidyala, my paladin, constantly outside of raids. She was the one who needed Valor Points to upgrade her gear! She was the one who needed gear. I get a bit obsessed with upgrading gear, because it’s such a tangible improvement. I’ve geared alts to the teeth only to completely abandon them once they no longer “needed” anything, having hardly used the gear at all. I just like the completeness of it. It also happens that I enjoy healing, and I enjoy five-mans, and so I didn’t see any detriment to this alting – except when I started to take a hard look at my own performance. With the kind of gear I have, I felt I should be performing better. I’d grown complacent. I wasn’t pushing myself to excel and find ways to maximize my damage output, due in large part to the fact that I wasn’t playing Millya as much as I could be.

I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the state of my DPS or my play. I wrote a whiny blog post (and deleted it, unpublished). I asked myself, “Do you want to put energy into complaining that your numbers aren’t where you’d like them to be, or do you want to put that energy into figuring out how to improve your numbers?” I checked up on mage resources to make sure that my theorycraft was current. I asked our guild’s other mage, Fsob, to look at my World of Logs. He is both my respected colleague and a wizard (har) when it comes to reading WoL. He gave me some valuable feedback that I used to plan my improvement, but the grunt work would have to come from me. I needed to play Millya as much as possible. One of my problems was not casting enough. Especially when a fight is new, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and movement and not nuke as often as you should. To improve this, I was going to have to really focus on it.

I resolved that when I wanted to run a pug, I’d do it as a mage (thirty minute wait be damned). When I ran a BG, I’d do it as a mage. I ran dailies constantly. Tol Barad fears my name. The Argent Tournament is tired of seeing me. I was all mage, all the time – and I got results. Really and truly. Partly through a combination of research and practice, I improved my damage on heroic Valiona and Theralion by 1000 in just one week. I nearly doubled my number of “main nuke” casts, while keeping Scorch casts at the same amount. If you’d asked me before, I would have answered that I was “always casting” on the first V&T fight I looked at. But to see such a marked improvement in such a short time the following week floored me. I hadn’t received any significant gear upgrades in that time. I was just playing better.

"Thanks for killing my worthless minions!"

What Alts Can Do For You

(Doesn’t) Stand In Bad
If your goal is to maximize your raiding performance, in some ways alts can help you with that. Some things are completely universal – situational awareness, for example. High survivability is something I’ve always prided myself on, and that tends to be true no matter what I’m playing. As a healer, I can usually dance out of something oozey and painful very quickly. As a tank, I can neatly sidestep something coming my way. I believe situational awareness is a skill that can be learned, or at least honed – and you can practice that no matter what you’re playing.

You know the big spider forest in Tol Barad, and how those spiders will spit a big puddle of green goo at you? Did you know that you can usually start to move before the goo hits the ground so that it never hurts you? Half of situational awareness is anticipation. The same thing is true of the dark oozes that play a huge part in the heroic version of Maloriak (and it used to be the case for Trial of the Crusader and countless other raids). You can see the ooze flying at you and actually move before it hits the ground. Forget about getting out of bad – how about never getting in it? Of course, this isn’t possible for everything. There are some things that will hit you no matter what you do, and you really do have to move out of them. That’s something you can practice no matter what you’re playing!

At What Level Did I Get That Ability Again?
Another thing that you can do if you love alts and don’t always want to be playing at end-game is to level an alt of the same class as your main. I know tons of people who have done this! Vosskah has something like four warriors. I have two level 85 mages, as does Fsob. I know that Kurn just finished leveling another paladin. Leveling your “own” class can give you insights into it. The game has probably changed since you leveled up for the first time. Even if you don’t level as the same spec, it can be a valuable experience (and still scratch that alt itch).

I’ve had folks laugh at me for having two mages at maximum level. It’s kind of a running gag for people who wonder why you’d ever want more than one character of the same class, but it’s actually more common than you might think. If you’re playing a class at 85, it’s probably because you enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the best players I know have “multiples.” They are so passionate about their class that it’s no chore to make a second one. I sometimes wish I could “unlevel” Millya just to do some quests again and revisit zones that I liked. That’s not possible, but leveling another mage alt might be the next best thing.

Playing alts (especially in pugs) definitely accustoms you to the controlled chaos of a raid. Or at least, it accustoms you to chaos!

What Alts Can’t Do For You

I’m Sure Iceblock Is Around Here Somewhere
My pugging has honed my emergency button reflexes. My instincts have me reaching for Hand of Sacrifice so quickly; it’s like lightning! Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me whatsoever when I’m in a raid, because I don’t raid as a paladin. You might have lightning reflexes that are completely useless if your muscle memory isn’t remembering the right thing. (I also happen to have a lightning-fast Iceblock reflex, but that’s neither here nor there). Experienced alters often mimic a “basic” keybind set-up between all of their characters. So if you’re playing a druid tank or a warrior tank, your taunt is the same button (no matter what it’s called). This can help ease the transition between different characters when you do play them. I think there’s no substitute for playing your own character, though.

In a raiding situation, you can’t look down at your buttons and try to remember where you keybound your emergency heal or health potion. Well, you can – but you might be dead first. The faster you can instinctively reach for your key abilities and cooldowns without even thinking about it, the better you’ll do. You also learn a rhythm for when things are available. It’s weird for me to play my second-string mage, Tazya, because she has less haste than Millya and she feels sluggish. I think the effective difference is only a fraction of a second, but it makes a big difference when I’m playing her.

Being attuned to the nuances of your own class takes time, and here’s the thing… the time we all have to spend on WoW is finite. We all have other obligations, families, lives outside of WoW (hopefully!) It can be a fun diversion to level an alt for awhile, but if you aren’t 100% satisfied with your performance and your main, that’s time that you don’t spend improving and learning it.

Practice Makes…Probably Not Perfect, But Closer

I feel that I need to add a huge, honking caveat here. I’m not saying that “You shouldn’t play alts,” or “Playing alts makes you a bad player.” No. All that I am saying, from my own, highly subjective and biased personal experience is that I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to, and I think part of the reason was because I was playing too many alts. That’s a decision that only you can make for yourself. If I was in a guild where I could casually top the DPS meters in a raid, I’d probably never have worried about it. It’s only when I thought, “I could be doing better,” and started to seek out reasons why that I hit upon this conclusion.

I’m a big proponent of doing what makes you happy; in life, in WoW, wherever. If hitting the fifty character limit is something that’s fun for you, why not do it? Cynwise wrote a great post about making a low-level PvP character just for kicks. If you get tired of them and want to delete them, no harm, no foul! (I’ve been thinking of doing this…with a mage, naturally). For me, what’s fun is progression hardmode raiding. That is my passion, and it’s one that is shared by the people in my guild. If I’m not doing the best I can, then I’m not just hurting myself, I’m letting them down too.

So lately, if you’re looking for me, it’s a pretty sure bet I’m flinging fireballs at trolls, or freezing Horde to the ground in a BG, or running around a grim island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms stealing fish from villagers. I’ve been digging through WoL to figure out ways to increase my DPS, and usually when I’m in-game I’m practicing. Diversions like learning PvE Frost as my raid off-spec have kept me occupied. Far from being bored, I keep finding out things I hadn’t thought of before. Besides, playing a mage is never a chore! It’s my favourite WoW thing to do. It’s been nice to see tangible results, too. I’m sure I will always have plenty of room for improvement.

What do you think? Are you a one-character sort of person, or do you wish Blizzard would increase the ten-character per server limit? Has playing an alt helped you improve your main character’s play in an unexpected way? Zinn over at Jinxed Thoughts wrote some great tips for dedicated alters while I was still working on this draft, and the irony wasn’t lost on me! I’ll admit, I still have and love playing a bunch of different alts, I just intend to temper my playtime with equal dedication to my main!

There’s Only One Way to Spell Heals

In Cataclysm, it’s been pretty firmly established that I am playing a mage (primarily) and my Holy paladin is my real secondary character. I have a group of lesser-played alts, none of which have hit 85 yet. It allows me to experience different aspects of the game as it suits my mood. Now that Millya doesn’t need anything from instances, I make sure to pug a heroic as a healer pretty regularly. I’ve also been driving myself crazy trying to get this trinket for Vid but we won’t talk about that. Oh no. I did a whole stint of archaeology over the holiday weekend until I just couldn’t take it anymore and I needed a break.

Then I started queuing for battlegrounds with my guildie Fsob. It’s been a fun experience, I haven’t PvPed with any regularity in ages. And of course, I used to do it primarily as a mage. It’s fun to be able to keep your team mates alive while they kill the other team. Going back into battlegrounds I’ve discovered a few things.

People don’t really change. I’d forgotten about the NERD RAGE that PvP seems to inspire in people. Usually at least once per battle (no matter how well the battle is going for our side) someone is raging in bg chat. “Why are you noobs fighting in the ****ing middle?” and “Way to go you ****,” is pretty much the order of the day. You have to either completely ignore what the people are saying (apart from when they’re calling incoming people) or just maintain a thick skin where nothing anybody says will bother you.

BGing with a friend (or friends) makes for insurmountable fun. When I BG alone as a healer, I usually try to pick a competent looking DPS and stick with them as best I can. The problem is, it’s often a crap shoot as to whether that person notices or cares about what I’m doing, so it often led to frustration on my part. I don’t have this problem when I’m playing (quite literally) someone’s pocket healer. Thanks to slowfall and a chopper I stuck to Fsob like glue and we’d soar off cliffs and rumble down the road, being a pretty devastating team. We used Vent/Mumble (yes, we’re currently sort of in-between on these) to communicate things quickly, like “This rogue is all over me,” or “I’m sheeping the paladin.” It was seriously awesome good times.

PvP can’t get stale the same way PvE sometimes can. At one point we were guarding the flag at Farm in Arathi Basin. There was a warlock on the Horde-side named “Puzzler.” He was a real puzzler, because he charged up to where the three of us were – all by himself, and we killed him in about five seconds. In just about the time it took him to rez and run back, he did this again. Initially we just thought he was a bit slow, but then we realized he was a bot. He’d always run up to the same spot, dismount and begin casting the same spell rotation (shortly before we killed him). It occurred to me that he might as well be an NPC or “mob” instead of someone PvPing, and the difference was incredible. In an environment that changes depending on the players, he was completely static and that made him a joke. He was like a PvE encounter. “The boss will do this at x percent of his health, or he’ll begin to channel this spell.” Sure, real bosses have more RNG. But a real player doesn’t move like that, either. And even if you’ve been in the same BG a hundred times, the people there with you will never be the exact same twice! That’s pretty neat. (a.k.a. this is the stuff I think about while I’m standing at Farm).

In one WSG match, the only people to successfully return the flag (twice) were the two of us. I didn’t know flag running could be so much fun! I think Fsob agreed at least partially, because he said, “This is so much easier with a healer!”

I’m actually trying to adapt my healing to suit a BG as we keep practicing. The nice thing is (from what I can tell) a PvP healing spec and a PvE healing spec really aren’t that different. I ran into a few holy paladins that were obviously great BG healers so I had a look at what they were casting. I still need a good PvP trinket, and I’m pretty sure that PvP gear will help me. Anyway, one thing is for sure, I will be doing this again. I’m going to have to dust off Millya’s PvP set as well and maybe do more mage PvPing. The thing is, it’s not as unique. You can hardly move in a BG for tripping over six water elementals. Yes, I like to be a special snowflake, and I’m okay with that. I’ll be sure to update as we proceed – I might even try arena, something I did for a mere evening back in Wrath. With any luck I’d run into other people with as little clue as I have, and less clue than my arena partner might have. How badly could it go, right?

I don't have a screenshot actually relevant to this post content, because when I'm BG healing it sounds something like, "Oh no, okay, oh what the heck, OH GOD, DON'T DIE." You can imagine it doesn't leave much time for screenshots.

Other minor highlights:

An orc shaman named Mooches that charges up to us at Stables on a Kodo and is promptly annihilated. I see the emote, “Mooches thanks you.”

“What the heck?” I said in Vent. “Why did that orc thank me?” Then I looked closer – I was sporting a pair of bunny ears. I’d forgotten about those achievements! He must have needed a draenei paladin and was just thanking me for being me. Well, I’m okay with that. We saw him again later and I thought we were friends now so I blew him a kiss but he tried to kill me anyway. It seems that what we had wasn’t special after all.

*

I see, “Masterbait has assaulted the Gold Mine!”

“You know, that guy is on our team,” I remark.

“Classy,” Fsob replies. Several minutes later:

“Fsob. I’m healing ‘Masterbait.'”

“You might not want to do that.”

*

“OH MY GOD what are there, eight of them? They’re all killing me!”

“Every single one I’ve targeted has been targeting you, haha.”

*

Facing down an inexorable Tauren paladin in WSG:

“This paladin really, really wants to kill me. Like really badly.” I kited him around the Alliance flag room, back down the corridor, back up the corridor, I bubbled, other people attacked him, he bubbled, he was slowed – and the whole time he just charged on towards me in slow motion. I healed myself, I fled. The whole thing felt like it went on about five minutes. “Seriously, he is STILL TRYING TO KILL ME. Why – won’t – you – just – DIE?” Eventually someone got him from behind and he collapsed at my feet. “FINALLY.” He put up a good fight, though, and he nearly got me several times. Then Fsob stole his wings. Poor Tauren paladin, you put up a good fight!

*

A warrior named “Sniggaz” is raging in raid chat. “CAN WE GET A HEALZ TO LM I’M TRYING TO GET WRECKING BALL.” He continues on for the next few minutes.
“WHERE ARE THE FING HEALZ.”

“I’m not going to be healing him.”

“Really? But he asked for healz. With a ‘Z.'”

“I’m not specced for those. I only give out grammatically correct heals.”

I Miss The Horde

This is going to sound crazy coming from me, because I am so die-hard Alliance. Really – I’ve tried playing Horde. I’ve even documented the results. I faction-changed my shaman and it lasted a few months at best – I faction changed her back. I managed to level a Horde mage from 1-80, but at the first opportunity I moved her to another server and made her a draenei. Yes, I have two level 85 draenei mages now, do you want to make something of it? Also, Blizzard makes a fortune because of people like me. I can’t ever add up the amount of money I’ve spent on server-transfers/faction/race changes or it would cause my head to explode.

I know that the vision for this expansion was to really put the emphasis on the capital cities again, and I can appreciate that. I never thought I’d hear myself say this. But I really miss seeing the Horde around. When we used to share first Shattrath and then Dalaran you really got the sense that there was a whole half of the world you were ‘missing out on.’ Oh, sure, I can visit Orgrimmar and Thunder Bluff (and I do, every time I’m doing archaelogy and I accidentally fly overhead and flag myself for PvP…) but I never see the people playing. I know Horde players exist (err, hordes of them…?) Voss and I went to Video Games Live this past weekend and after they played the Warcraft music some guy yelled, “FOR THE HORDE!” We really need a better battle-cry. It doesn’t have the same ring. Although someone else a few rows back from us yelled back, “Let’s take this outside!”

Part of my problem might be that my server doesn’t have a healthy population balance so there are fewer Horde players to see. But there are dragons perched on every surface in Stormwind, the banks are constantly jam-packed with people, and it’s starting to make me feel a bit stir crazy. At least running into an orc or seeing a Tauren around was a change of pace. Now there may be a crowd of people, but there’s also a sense of sameness.

So there, I said it: I miss your fur and horns, green skin and rotting knee-bones. I know it’s the world of Warcraft and so we’re kind of at war but we’ve done some things together, right? We’ve killed some common foes, and all. I know you’re out there, but I don’t see you any more! Maybe I need to hit the BGs (although it’s not quite the same as sharing a bank).

What do you guys think? Do you miss me too?

The World’s Worst DK

My history with Death Knight characters is pretty simple: I don’t play them. I created one on my current server an age ago, to check out the local culture. I leveled her through the DK starting zone while keeping one eye on my prospective guild. I wanted to know who was online at what times, I wanted to see what the economy was like, and just generally get a feel for the server. This Death Knight became my bank alt after I parked her in a city, and was later deleted in favour of making one of my level 80 characters into a bank alt. I didn’t regret her loss, especially since deleting her meant that Millya is at the top of my character list.

But recently, I offered to help a friend out by being a villain in a storyline of hers. Naturally we aren’t on the same server so I needed a character high enough level to get around. It was with some trepidation that I made another Death Knight and then proceeded to not level it. I asked Snack for some tips and he wrote me a long, comprehensive e-mail that covered speccing and rotation. I put the buttons on my bar in the exact order they were to be cast in. I began completing the quests to earn some talent points. I thought things were going well enough, but I had forgotten an important fact: I am the world’s worst DK.

I death grip when things are already standing right next to me. I get flustered and just roll my hand across the line of buttons, forgetting the carefully calculated sequence. Just when I was starting to feel okay about things – having a few levels under my belt – I was sprinting around feeling all fearsome when I FELL OFF the Ebon Hold. Yes. There are no guardrails there. I fell right out of the dread floating base and plummeted to my (re-death) far below. Chagrined, I released before any other new death knights could witness my shame. I’m not sure what Arthas would actually say. “We went to all this trouble to make you a weapon of death and destruction and you die from FALLING? Come on, work with me here.”

Still burning with the shame of that, I continued slaughtering the innocent and otherwise generally making myself a nuisance throughout the countryside. I was happy to talent deep enough into Unholy to obtain something I’ve never had before: a ghoul with a name! I was excited to meet my new companion in death nuggetry. He was just perfect. Or should I say, we were perfectly suited to one another.

I hope you have all your pebbles in a safe place.

Yes, Pebblethief. My frightening companion in crime apparently earned his moniker performing such evil tasks as…stealing pebbles. Not even rocks, just pebbles. From whom? Well, we’ll never know. Maybe kids with a rock collection? We made a good team! Well, this is partially true, even though he caused me some unnecessary upset. If you’ve made a Death Knight before, you know the part where you are told to go and dispatch one of your own kind. This varies slightly from one race to another, with words carefully calculated to absolutely devastate you unless you have a heart made of…pebbles.

Here was my encounter. It’s been so long since my first DK that I screen-shotted the text. I wanted to have it in case I ever wanted to work it into a draenei-related post later on. Yes, that is a mage addon in my UI, blinking frantically to tell me: You don’t have any mana gems! I’m not sure it’s possible for you to not have any mana gems! Are you even a mage? What’s WRONG WITH YOU.

"I'd recognize those face tentacles anywhere!"

So I suffered through the speech. “They’ve tried to drain you of everything that made you a righteous force of reckoning. Every last ounce of good…Everything that made you a draenei!” I knew I was going to have to kill this guy, but at least I could sort of cringe through it and then never think of it again. Except that when the time came…he died, and I didn’t get quest credit. I was confused. I ran back to the questgiver. I checked my quest log. Nope, definitely no credit for having killed Valok the Righteous. I waited for him to respawn. I did it again, muttering under my breath, and again I didn’t get quest credit. I dropped the quest and ran back to the questgiver to make sure I had the right quest and why are you people tormenting me by making me kill draenei over and over again. A third time and STILL nothing, when Voss casually walked by and said, “Oh, look, your ghoul is killing him too quickly. Or maybe it’s just that you really like killing draenei so you wanted to do it again, and again…”

Ugh. He was completely right, and dismissing Pebblethief before attempting this horrible task did the trick. Poor Valok, I’m sorry. I run with a different crowd now.

Pebblethief, my trusty ghoul. We quested along together right up until the point where I was going to hide in a minecart, sneak onto a ship and wreak havoc. I should preface this by saying that I don’t play pet classes very often. I realized my mistake too late. I hopped into the minecart and it began to move. Pebblethief blithely followed along as my mine cart was towed onto the ship. A chill ran down my spine as I realized what was about to happen. I couldn’t unsummon him, and a whole crowd of elites awaited. (I’m not going to say anything about the relative intelligence of the Scarlets, who weren’t suspicious about a mine cart being chased by a ghoul.) Alas, poor Pebblethief, a ghoul cut down before his time. May you live (again) in gentler times, my friend. Preferably with a DK who isn’t a complete noobcake and will remember to unsummon you before embarking on any “secret missions.”

I’m good with artillery, though, so the mission on the ship went off without a hitch. I obtained a new ghoul afterwards with a forgettable name and continued questing towards DK freedom. Everything was going fairly according to plan (thanks to Snack’s instructions) and I was nearing the big dramatic scene at Light’s Hope Chapel. I waited patiently for the battle to begin, and then began slaughtering the forces of Light with abandon. It was fun, and then it was dramatic, but there was a problem. Once the actual talking scenes begin, everyone is supposed to go neutral and wait for their betters to finish being dramatic. Well, this guy didn’t get the message. (p.s. This whole scene is better if you listen to this music at the same time, much thanks to Rades).

I come in peace.

You may have noticed, he’s also a boss. So I ran up to stand with my undead buddies and listen to what was happening – he pulled out of the pack, ran over and one-shot me. (I’m only level 58!) Thinking he’d be sated by my needless slaughter, I quickly released and ran back to my corpse so that I wouldn’t miss the scene. He was still there, and he casually cut me down again. This time I spirit rezzed, so that I could come back on my trusty steed dead horse thing and stand a snowball’s chance of actually running away from him before he killed me again.

People with skulls on their nameplates have a really large aggro radius when you are level 58. He began to chase me, the entire time this was going on. “He’s sent you and your death knights to meet their doom, Darion!” Imagine, extremely dramatic scene, very important lore figures…and one jackass death knight on a horse sprinting CIRCLES around everyone present with Lord Maxwell Tyrosus hot on her tail. I ran this way, large, looping circles (trying to stay near enough to still get quest credit at the end) throughout the entire scene. Even when the talking was over and I had to go and pick up the quest to learn the Death Gate spell – even then, he didn’t relent! I had to kite him far away from the chapel so that I’d have enough lead time to turn in and pick up the quest before he could reach and kill me.

I can just imagine the irritation from all these high-ranking death knights and paladins.

“What is that one doing, Mograine?”
“Oh, you know, sometimes their brains have started to rot a little… Stop that, will you?” (Gallop, gallop)
“Tyrosus, why are you chasing her? Stand down, man!”
“Death knight scum! /froths”
“Oh, forget about it, let them play, we’ve got to do this scene. Ahem– You have been gone a long time, Father.”
Me: *whimper*

I completed the rest of the quests with resurrection sickness, the debuff falling off just in time for me to go to Stormwind and get pelted with fruit. I have a question about that, actually. The spitting, that I can understand. That’s easy. But why do all these Stormwind guards just happen to have pockets full of rotten fruit? It stretches my suspension of disbelief a little. Is it yesterday’s lunch, just ripe for death knight pelting? Why do they ALL have it?

Death Knights can’t catch a break. Now that mine is level 58, she’ll only be venturing out to help with Rhoelyn’s story, and I think it’s time that I accept – I just wasn’t meant to level a Death Knight! Just be happy you’ll never run into me in an instance. It could be ME on the other side of LFD.

"Hey guys, what's up? We going to kill some paladins?"

Character Hierarchy: Who’s the boss?

I’m always interested in discussions about which character people consider their ‘main.’ I know people who have two mains, one they raid with and one that is their achievement/collector. Is your main your oldest character? The one you love the most? If you’re an RPer, perhaps it’s the character whose story you are most invested in. Changing mains can lead to mixed feelings and even a confusion of identity. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s true! My friend Rades has been playing his death knight character primarily since he was unhappy with the hunter changes, but his identity in the WoW community is still pretty strongly a burly green hunter. After all, his blog is called Orcish Army Knife.

Millya's (and my!) first raid ever. I love this screenshot; I can feel the tension I felt at the time being told "Go stand here," while we waited to pull - and to me Millya looks as if she feels the same way. (p.s. Spellfire set and PvP staff, so retro).

I remembered being flat-out shocked when Wrath came out that people would change “mains” at this time. This was naivete on my part, to the tune of, “But you are a priest, how could you level your druid first?” Plenty of people I know switched characters at the beginning of Wrath (from a bear to a paladin! from a priest to a druid! from a hunter to a death knight!) I had to reconcile myself to the fact that people won’t stay the characters you expect them to stay. The death knight was especially rough because we had to wait for him to catch up to us at max level. The new expansion was a valuable experience, though, because when Cataclysm was coming out I knew to expect it and I started the conversation in-guild really early: Who are you going to want to be playing in Cataclysm? Several people seized on that opportunity, and of course now I understand at least partly why. If you are dissatisfied with your class or just want something new, nothing levels the playing field like the gear reset at a new expansion.

I’m continually surprised by how even when you think your main is clearly defined, other characters can sneak up in the rankings and even dethrone the long-time king or queen. Unexpectedly during Wrath, I dropped all of my max-level characters to play Shaedra – a character who was level forty when I was raiding Naxxramas turned out to be the healer I brought into Ulduar. I really fell in love with being a druid, and the character herself (as I was still on an RP server at the time) was a ridiculous amount of fun to play. Her personality was outrageous and she made people laugh, and I think that was a large part of why she became my “main.”

I took many screenshots of Shae because she was fun to photograph. She's posing here with what was actually a feral staff from Ulduar but it looked so neat I used it for screenshots.

As a confirmed altoholic, I have to admit that there’s always a certain shuffle going on with my characters. I had to play a healer because of raid group requirements, and I found that at the time I preferred to be a druid. I’ve since done this several more times. I remember one of my RLs famously remarking, “You can bring anything you want! But, can you bring a healer?” (Sorry, Saif!) It’s not that I didn’t enjoy healing, but at the time I had an awesome partner. It was fun to rock through Naxx with my druid buddy, two-healing everything. We were a great team.

My later experiences with Shae in Ulduar didn’t really match up with that. No one else in our group wanted to/was in a position to heal, so every week we’d be pugging again. There was the priest who asked whether I was a guy or a girl on Vent (okay, I know I don’t have a high-pitched voice, but I think I still SOUND like a woman), there were healers who would DC, there were healers who clearly had no idea what the heck they were doing. In one week’s run, I did sixty percent of the healing, the other healer did twenty (twenty!) and the rest of it came from other sources. On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to feel superhuman. On the other, I’d finish each raid with a crazy tension headache and started bursting into tears for no reason. This is when we realized that we were not succeeding at running a raid group, and I was burned out on being a healer.

My poor Holy priest, she is the epitome of "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." I have since race-changed her to be a draenei and she really doesn't have a story of her own.

So, I was happy to begin raiding as a mage again when I server transferred and moved to Business Time! They needed a mage. I had kept Millya’s gear at around T9 level because I can’t bear to let my beloved characters languish. BT didn’t really need a warrior but they accepted Voss grudgingly on my good merit (and conjured cakes). The truth is, I played a healer because a healer was needed, but I’m not sure any character was ever my true “main.” They are powerful second-string characters and sometimes I play them, but for me, there’s only really one true main.

Millya's triumphant return to Ulduar hard-modes - i was absolutely floored by some of the scenery in later Ulduar. Please ignore the fact that she is wearing pants, something that would never, ever happen if she had a say in it.

My screenshots folder tells the tale. As I rummaged through looking for good shots of all my characters, I saw the amount of documenting I had done for my behooved spellslinger. There are shots of her in every raid instance, dinging level 70, level 80 – learning how to polymorph people into pigs and wearing the worst Burning Crusade fashion choices. In a way, she’s my least exciting roleplay character because she is me. My other characters are often fun because I deliberately try to make them different – an outspoken booze hound/hedonist, a determined inventor, etc. She’s a bookish intellectual with a temper – not really my most creative decision given my personality. This doesn’t mean I never get confused about the main/alt issue. As recently as this week I’ve thought about playing one of my healing characters because it’s what the raid group needs. This time, fortunately, I faced up to the reality that even if I did it “for the good of the group” I would always miss her. If mages had a healing spec (a la Rift) I would not hesitate! I would chloromance the heck out of my raid group. But that’s not an option.

My feelings towards individual characters is a shifting thing. I haven’t been as excited about Shae since she is no longer a happy tree healer. It’s sad, but true. She’s languishing at level 83. Vidyala became such a favourite that I seriously considered playing her in Cataclysm, but she never quite made it. She is the queen of pugs and possibly an eventual alt run, but she isn’t my main.

Vid-on-ice. Or is that in ice? Anyway, you all know the fight. I guess my pathetic magic had betrayed me.

She is my top pick for when we’re branching out into alt-territory, though! This tier of raiding doesn’t seem very pug-friendly so I’m not sure how much raiding she’ll do, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have time to maintain two “complete” characters. Besides, if I weren’t running LFD pugs, how would I get crazy pug stories to write blog posts about?

Fireballing M.A.G.E.

I knew that when I felt a rush of relief at not having to switch characters to fill a healing slot that it was the RIGHT decision. I don’t want to not be a mage! I don’t know if it’s the class so much as Millya herself. If I could change her class and keep my mounts, titles, and achievements, I might consider changing her to a priest. Barring that, I don’t see it happening. Incidentally, I’ve heard that they are introducing the option to rearrange your characters on the character screen and I am so happy about this. It’s actually okay because Millya is at the top – I deleted my 58 Death Knight just so that she would be at the top. I don’t know why, I am OCD about some things. Now I will be able to put seldom-played alts at the bottom and arrange my other characters in the true pecking order.

How about you? Do you have one main forever? Did you find yourself switching when you least expected it? And why does your main hold the title?

Further Adventures in LFD (Paladin adventures, of course).

A snapshot from Vid's pug life - every single mob in Stonecore descending on us simultaneously.

I ran a pug last night. This is nothing new. Actually, Vidyala – the erstwhile Pugging Pally – dinged 85 some weeks ago and has been quietly running many pugs since then. Of course, I try to run with guildies when available. Guild XP is valuable! But when they aren’t, I pug.

The first pug had me zoning in to Grim Batol, right in front of the first boss, General I-Charge-People-In-The-Face-Guy. This isn’t usually a good sign, because it means that the group probably just wiped on that boss and then their healer left. I assume their healer left, since it turns out that all four other people were from the same guild. I said hello, as I do, and after a few minutes one person said, “No Englis.” Okay. It’s going to be sort of tough to talk about boss strats if nobody speaks the same language, but I figure there’s no harm in trying. Most people know these bosses, yes? Let’s give this a try anyhow.

It does not go well. These people don’t seem to understand the Blitz mechanic, because each time he does it one of them dies except one lone DPS. When I try to tell them of course, they don’t understand me. The tank is not tanking the trogg adds and they are all over me, no matter that I ran them to him. The DPS do not kill them. We all die. I’m starting to understand why they may have lost their first healer.

We pull him again. We lose a DPS to the first Blitz, and then another to the second. At this point it’s just three of us left and almost every Blitz is on me. I hold it together as long as I can but my mana can’t take the length of time one DPS, a tank and a healer will require to kill a heroic boss on their own. I drop group.

Enough time has passed that I’m not on random cooldown anymore so I am able to queue up again immediately and wait ten minutes for a group that I can hopefully communicate with. Soon I see the Vortex Pinnacle load screen.

“Hey guys,” I say. This group all says hi, and then the DK tank declares in party chat, “We have 50 minutes until reset, so lock and load.”

I think, “Oh boy,” but Vortex Pinnacle isn’t a long instance. We’ve got time to do this. What that seems to mean in DK parlance is “Chain-pull forever and never pause.”

I will grant you, Vid is my alt. I do work on and love her as much as I can, but she’s no Kurn or Walks (and nor am I). We have two melee DPS and one mage. There is tons of incidental melee damage in VP. I can keep folks alive, but even using Divine Plea on cooldown is not going to cut it, I need to drink to do that. The resulting series of pulls is something like a snowball rolling downhill and gaining momentum. I am able to regain less mana after each pull, and by the time he pulls the last trash pack just before the first boss, I am completely, 100% OOM. Frustrated, I can’t even start drinking because I’m already in combat. I manage to eke out the pull by judging my face off, Crusader Striking and using Word of Glory as much as I possibly can. It’s not fun.

I say in party chat, “Please don’t pull when I’m completely OOM.” The DK is quick to retort, “I had cooldowns, it was fine.”

Continuing, I say, “I know you guys want to do this fast but we’ll get it done faster if nobody dies.”

“If I had died it would be on my own head,” the DK says.

His DPS DK guildie chimes in, “It will make you a better healer.”

I bite my tongue on any further possible reply and just resolve to do the best I can. I’m pretty mild-mannered when it comes to most pugs – if something is intolerable (people who don’t know a boss that I can’t even explain it to) I might leave, but most times I’ll roll with what’s going on. This riled me.

First of all, it’s the dismissive attitude. Some groups make me feel like a walking first aid station. This casual disregard for what I was saying, “Hey – let me get the resource I need so I can do my job,” made me feel like even less than that. I felt invisible. This was not a tank I could trust. Of course, you can’t have the same affinity with a pug tank you just met that you will have with someone you know and trust. I wouldn’t ever expect that. And perhaps I am spoiled, because the tanks I tend to run with respect their healers.

But for that statement, I probably would have just shrugged it off. It’s as if this guy and his buddies said to me first, “We’ll decide when you need to stop and drink, AND shut up because it will be good for you.”

I heal pugs because I want to be a better healer. There is nothing that forces me to react quickly, think on my feet and become familiar with my tools and tricks more than a pug. It’s why I’m there. I didn’t even need a daily when I ran this VP – I’d done one earlier with guildies. I just felt like healing an instance. So I don’t need some random pug DK telling me what I do or don’t need to do to ‘be a better healer.’ I thought about this the entire run.

Was the breakneck pace and lack of CC making me work hard? Definitely.

Would it ultimately make me a better healer? Probably.

Was I free to leave at any time? Sure, but I stayed out of pure cussed stubbornness. (You’d be surprised the kinds of things stubbornness gets me to do).

Was it fun? Not at all.

Did any of them say thanks at the end for a job well-done? Of course not. I could have been any person with a plus sign next to my name; they don’t care that the intense AoE healing I had to do to keep all those melee up without CC was tough. They’ve already forgotten me, or if they remember me at all it’s to congratulate themselves on “giving that paladin healer a challenge.”

I am ranting about this because it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this attitude. The other day I ran Throne of the Tides with a hunter and mage friend. The paladin tank thought he was pretty hot stuff. Fsob said, “Feel free to mark Moon and I will sheep things,” and the tank said, “It is more fun without CC, I won’t be doing that.”

“No thanks,” I replied, and asked Fsob and Fuzz to CC anyway. Of course they did, and I could actually breathe. This tank did not have the kind of gear or skill to sustain an “all or nothing” approach to current heroics, yet he clearly felt he was entitled to dictate how the run would go. I’m not sure how it would have been without my friends there (both awesome DPS, and both ignoring the tank in favour of CCing). He then proceeded to freak out because “MYYY PAAANTSS!1!!1″ dropped at the end of the run, and then he needed on the +Spirit trinket for good measure, so obviously this guy had deeper problems.

What this all boils down to, as far as I’m concerned, is a simple bottom line: Be courteous to the people in your run, no matter what their role. If your healer says, “Please CC,” and you have CC available – do it. Because not doing it presumes that the healer should work twice as hard because you just want to be lazy.

If your healer says, “Hey, I’d like to drink sometime,” don’t get belligerent and insist that you’re just fine without the healer. I have a newsflash for you! Other people take damage besides the tank. They don’t have cooldowns. They don’t wear tank gear. If I can’t heal them, THEY might die, and you’re just wasting all of our time. I would never, ever pull a mob or group for the tank and then say “It’ll make you a better tank if you have to taunt the mobs off me instead of pulling them yourself.” As a tank, I wouldn’t refuse to taunt something back from a DPS who pulled and say, “It will make you a better DPS.” So don’t flat out refuse a reasonable request I make as a healer, or at least – don’t be surprised when your LFD queue times increase because healers are tired of dealing with this kind of thing and they just wait to run with their guilds instead.

Orcalicious

Sometimes when you hang around friends a lot, you can start to pick up on each other’s habits. Speech patterns, habits, you know. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I haven’t been true to myself. As a result – please click through to see my blog redesign and a new name, too!

This is the real me, you guys. I’m just Horde at heart, and I was meant to write about orcs.

Home sweet Orgrimmar.

I’m still going to write about mages, though! Because of course, some things never change. I’m afraid if you want to read about draenei from now on, you are going to have to go and check out my good friend’s blog. It’s awesome! It’d be even better if it were about an orc, though.

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