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

Archive for December, 2010

Housekeeping for Cataclysm

I’m not the neatest person in the world. It’s true, I’ll admit it. You’ll just have to take my word for it. I consider myself mostly in the category of “messy.” When I clean things, they will be spotless (this is a legacy of my mother’s neat freak tendencies) but sometimes it’s…finding the things underneath other things in order to clean them that is my issue.

There’ve been plenty of great posts about getting your finances, guild bank, and gear list in order for the launch of Cataclysm. What about your real-life environment and your food list? Most WoW players like to have some time to focus on the game to the exclusion of all else, at least initially. No, you don’t need a catheter at your desk – but if you take care of your environment beforehand, you can focus on the game in comfort and (relative) cleanliness! Here’s my plan.

I do wield a broom like this.

 

The White Glove Test

  • Set a time-frame. Last week I made sure the main floor of the house was spotless. This week I’m setting my sights on the upstairs – office and bedrooms, which are really the hardest parts. I am going to declutter these over the weekend before Monday and get them pretty clean.
  • Clean a little beyond your usual standards. If you’re pretty sure you’ll be occupied with Cataclysm for awhile, clean a bit more than you usually do. It doesn’t have to be spotless (unless your Mom is my Mom and let’s be honest, what are the odds of that?) but the cleaner it is, the less you’ll have to worry about for the next week or so.
  • Keep your goals reasonable. If your apartment or house looks like ground zero right now – it’s probably not going to be spotless in a week. Don’t sweat it. But put some time into it if you want – you’d be surprised what a difference even an hour of decluttering and cleaning can do!
  • Think how awesome this will be when you’re leveling and you’ve got everything to hand – No, “Aggh where is my authenticator?” or scribbling on the backs of receipts and things to jot down a note (not that I’ve done that…)

Sustenance

If, like me, you’d like to not weigh twenty pounds more by January, it behooves you to think about this. That’s why this list is going to focus on ideas for healthy meals and snacks to prepare. It’s both Cataclysm AND the holiday season. If you plan or at least think about this in advance, you’ll be thankful you did later.

You aren’t going to want to cook. No, really, you aren’t. You may still want to stop and cook, or you may not, or you may order pizza. Make it so that you don’t have to – pre-cook and freeze some meals! I’ve used this trick to help with exam times when I was still in school, or other busy life periods (not pregnancy, but I did help fill a friend’s freezer for when she was pregnant). Things that freeze well include:

  • Hearty meals like chili, spaghetti sauce, and stew (only if the stew doesn’t contain potatoes, as their texture is drastically altered by freezing)
  • Homemade soups
  • Pasta dishes, most rice dishes, most meat dishes
  • Things that don’t freeze well include: potatoes, eggs, anything that includes milk – they will tend to separate – Not very tasty.
  • If you’re not big into cooking, you could still secure some frozen meals from the grocery store. It’s more expensive to do it that way but definitely a viable option. I’ve had some “pasta dishes in a bag” that were reasonably low-fat and basically just get tossed into a frying pan and heated. They tasted fine! Also frozen fish and instant rice packages with frozen vegetables makes an easy and fast meal – it’s actually my meal of choice for raid nights when I don’t have much time. I tell Voss, “Well, there’s always Emergency Fish.”

In-between actual meals, you are still going to want to snack on things. I plan on having many easy things on hand – and when I say “easy things” I’m not talking bags of chips. Here are some of my snack ideas (I use these for raiding, too, but you bet they’ll apply to Cataclysm). I’ll be stocking my fridge and pantry with these!

  • Cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, snap peas, mushrooms, cucumber, sliced sweet peppers, broccoli florets
  • Low-sugar cereals
  • Small containers of yogurt
  • Cheese sticks or individually wrapped low-fat cheeses, with or without crackers
  • Small cans of flavoured tuna (preferably not packed in oil), these are awesome on crackers!
  • Low-fat pepperoni sticks, lunch meat
  • Apples, many apples – I usually eat one with a bit of peanut butter on it, they are also good sliced with cheese and eaten on toast
  • Nuts, nut mixes – I like roasted soy nuts and also these nuts I’ve been eating recently– Almonds with a bit of cayenne? Note, nuts are higher in fat, but it’s unsaturated (“good” fat) so long as you don’t overdo it
  • If you must have sweets, consider baking your own cookies or other treat. Homemade is usually much better for you than store bought.
  • Pitas/tortillas
  • Low-fat herbed cream cheese spread, hummus
  • The two items above are great with vegetables – you can toss some veg into a pita with hummus and you have a snack, or spread cream cheese on a tortilla, cover with lettuce and add low-fat meat and you have a wrap!
  • Low-sodium canned soups and other easy-to-prepare meals
  • Bread for sandwiches – you can even freeze a loaf or too if you’d like.
  • Canned beans – tomato based, I don’t like the really sweet kinds. I eat them on toast.
  • Baked tortillas and salsa make for another easy snack.

Of course this depends on your tastes and things you like to eat generally – you’ll notice I didn’t put “three bags of chips” on my list, or any pop/soda. I might have a few fruit juices, but generally I drink water and milk and that’s it. Even if you like to have these other drinks consider that you’re probably playing more than you usually do – things that are just “sometimes” might become more like “all the time” right after Cataclysm hits. Not loading your body with sugar and caffeine will help you play longer because you won’t crash after they wear off! You probably won’t feel like you’ve gone on a bender, either.

Emergency fish are for before. Not after.

All Good Things

Although I fully intend to play the heck out of Cataclysm when it hits (see: food and house preparation plans) I also know that it’s important to have a break from it. Rest your eyes, take your dog for a walk and peel yourself away from the screen for a minute. It’ll be there when you get back, I promise. In a few years it will be old news and we’ll be hoping for the next expansion, so why not savour it a bit? Moreover, if it starts to feel like a job and you aren’t having fun – turn it off. I know some folks have big plans to get server firsts, fair enough – planning these things will help and not hinder you! But once you’ve achieved a milestone, make sure to get some sleep. You’ll have fun and be rested for any holiday celebrations you’ve got planned later in the month.

Do you have any ideas for snacks or things I didn’t mention? How are you preparing yourself for Cataclysm?

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!"

Ritual of Refreshment – Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered and sent a recipe or a story! I put your names into a hat (no, really, the program was called The Hat) and drew one out…

(drumroll)

A winner is...

Arinne, who sent me her family’s 50 year old cookie recipe! (The recipe, not the cookies). I received a number of recipes I’ll probably be posting over the next little while here. Thanks again for entering, and enjoy the moonkin, Arinne!

Christmas Cookies

These are Martha Logan’s “Can’t Fail” Christmas Cookies which we have
been making for a good 50 years or so now! The original cookie cutters
have become too frail to use anymore, but luckily we recently found a
site where you can order cookie cutters just like the old ones. For
Christmas Cookies you want the Merry Christmas Set and the Happy Day
Set (contains the snowman cookie cutter) . You can use this recipe
with non-Christmas cutters too of course. The Happy Day Set has a nice
pumpkin cutter for Halloween, etc.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup eggs (1 to 2 eggs, depending on size)
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Combine butter, sugar, salt, flavoring and eggs
Beat until smooth and light
Stir in flour
Chill dough for at least 2 hours

Because it is so important to work only with chilled dough for these
cookies, we found it best to pat the dough to about 1″ thick, and wrap
in waxed paper for chilling. This makes it easy to divide into small
portions, also to roll to desired thickness with the least amount of
handling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Use a pastry canvas and covered rolling pin. Flour both lightly. Now,
take out 1/4 or less of the dough. Always keep remaining dough
chilled. Roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Flour inside of cookie
completely, but lightly. Tap cutter against hand or table to remove
every bit of excess flour, leaving stippled surface with lightest
coating of flour possible. Place cutter on dough and press down firmly
with fingers all around edges to make sure the entire edge is cut.
Slap cutter down on table or cookie sheet and dough will come right
out. Wipe inside of cutter with a towel to keep it clean. Flour it
each time before cutting. Do not allow small holes in cutter to become
plugged.

Bake cookies on cookie sheet 12 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to brown.
Remove from cookie sheet and cool thoroughly on cake racks before
decorating.

Decorating

Then comes the decorating! You will need:

  • egg whites
  • red, yellow, green food coloring (other colors optional)
  • red, yellow, green colored sugar (other colors optional)
  • small decorating items (raisins, silver balls, etc)
  • 1 bag of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • small, inexpensive paint brushes

Slightly beat egg whites. Divide into 3 cups or small containers. Mix
a few drops of food coloring into each – red, yellow, and green. If
you can’t buy colored sugar, make your own. Own a piece of waxed
paper, add about 1 teaspoon food coloring to 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
As it dries, stir with a fork or crumble with fingers. For decorating
icing, mix confectioner’s sugar with milk, vanilla extract and butter
to desired consistency: a thick paste. Add more milk or sugar to get
the right consistency. Dip a paint brush in colored egg yolk and paint
the area of the cookie you want to color. Then sprinkle the colored
sugar on top of it. Shake off any excess. Use the icing for Santa
cookies (beard, eyebrows, rim of hat), Snowman cookies, etc.

And even with a picture of in-progress cookies. I love it!

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