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

Archive for the ‘Gameplay’ Category

A birthday surprise

Rades and I use a system with Google Docs to coordinate the script for From Draenor With Love. I had already known for probably months that he wanted to have a page wherein Rades gives Vid a pink sky golem as a birthday present. Based on the trajectory of the story he decided to do it early in March, specifically because “It fits since it is around your birthday, too!”

I was a little suspicious. But I mean, I didn’t want to assume anything. And he admitted that he actually hadn’t been planning anything up until a few weeks beforehand. That’s when he realized that he had a lot of materials lying around that he’d been faithfully making on Rades each day, and also that he could give a mount to my Horde character and have it useable on any of my characters.

So when I saw in the FDWL script that he’d written “LOG IN ON VID ON DRENDEN AND CHECK YOUR MAIL” under the “refs” section for that page, haha, well…

This was waiting for me:

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Of course, it can’t be actually pink (alas!) But it was still such a great surprise. It’s been an interesting trip, working on FDWL, to go from being friends with someone to self-directed colleagues and really almost coworkers. Rades and I have met in person twice but we talk pretty much every day via chat (and once a week with voice chat to plan the week’s strip). Of the two of us, I am probably the hardest to work with because I get frustrated more easily. Rades could best be described as “extremely mild with the conviction of a rock.” I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him angry, though I’ve definitely seen “firm.”

We both pour a lot of ourselves into FDWL. While the visible writing is his and the visible art is mine, he has a great deal of input into the art and I often weigh in on the script as well. The best and worst part about working with Rades is his exacting perfectionism, which is also the only conflict we ever have. Often times to me something looks “good enough” and he always pushes me to make it better. It’s a rare person who will do that, and I’m grateful to him for it (even if I don’t always sound grateful, haha). I’m really fortunate to have a friend who I can create something like this with, and also who has stuck by me through some pretty difficult times on a personal level. Basically when you find a friend like that you should stick to that person like a blood elf’s hair gel and make sure not to let go!

Thanks for the surprise birthday gift, Rades, and for everything else too.

Bipsi’s Bobbing Berg: this berg is for you, mages

A funny thing happened during raid last night. See, I haven’t finished leveling Anglers rep yet. I know, I’m really far behind. I just got so burned out on dailies. I’m doing it now. But I don’t have the waterstrider mount. When our raid gets to the part of Siege of Orgrimmar where Jaina gets all portal-happy, they all jump off the boat and run for shore instead of waiting for her.

I get it – nobody likes to wait for a mage’s portal. Ingrates! You’d think that because Voss plays a death knight I’d be assured of getting Path of Frost – nope. He never waits. So yesterday I jump off along with them, hoping I’ll be in time, only to land sadly and flounder in the water.

“No one ever waits for me!” I cried piteously. Our shaman turned around, came back and cast water walking on me. He is my only friend.

But Rhidach said, “Don’t you have that MAGE thing? That ice berg?”

“The what now?”

“You don’t KNOW about it?”

“Know about what?!”

“It’s an iceberg like the fishing raft. The one you shout at to make it go faster.”

“Get out of town, that does not exist!”

“I WILL BET YOU FIVE GOLD THAT IT DOES.”

And he was right. If you are Revered with the Anglers, you can purchase Bipsi’s Bobbing Berg for a mere 777 gold. “Save a tree, conjure a raft!”

Important to note: If you are not a mage, you cannot conjure the ice to make this raft. You won’t see it as a purchasable option from the quartermaster. You must use the more pedestrian wooden option.

AHH iceberg raft!

AHH iceberg raft!

I can’t even be annoyed at Rhidach for costing me 5 gold, since if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have a way to go across the water as well as a really cool new mage only trick. I guess it costs 782 gold if your profiteering guild mate has to tell you about it first!

Challenge Mode Progress

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Worst screenshot. Best CM friends.

We’ve been working on challenge modes for several weeks now. I realized that if we didn’t schedule a specific time and day, we’d never get them done. So sometime last month we finally got it started, choosing Sunday mornings as a time that works for all five people in our group. We do them for about two hours, which seems to be the magic number to make progress each week and end before people get too tired.

Challenge modes are both exhilarating, and exhausting. When we first started doing them we did very little research beforehand, and just did whichever one happened to be the daily quest at the time until we had worked our way through all of them. Most of the Bronze rewards are a given and we were usually able to snag a Bronze without any preparation. There were a few instances where we achieved a Silver our first time through: Siege of Niuzao and also Temple of the Jade Serpent.

The most commonly recommended “easy” first Gold is Gate of the Setting Sun but we did not find that to be the case for our group. We have Rhidach (prot/ret paladin), Itanya (resto shaman), Shaen (elemental shaman), Vosskah (Blood/Frost DK) and myself (Fire/Frost mage). When we were working on Gate, Rhidach was tanking and I was still fire. We had many frustrations with all of that initial trash. People getting killed by the sappers, people getting killed by bombs. It was aggravating in the extreme. We eventually ended up deciding to focus on another CM for awhile before coming back to that one.

Our next target was Temple of the Jade Serpent, because we’d gotten a Silver there without trying. It’s considered a medium difficulty challenge mode but it seemed like a good fit for us. As we worked towards a Gold, we really had to refine our strategy. We used invisibility potions to skip trash in-between the first boss, Wise Mari, and the second encounter. This has to be carefully orchestrated because if you skip too much trash you won’t have killed enough enemies to complete the challenge. The most challenging part of this instance was really the final courtyard and the trash packs here. Many times we wiped to those pulls prior to the Yu’lon fight. We weren’t even sure what we were doing wrong or what we could do differently. In the end, we decided to change tanks between Rhidach and Voss and see if that made the difference. It really did, mostly because Rhidach’s DPS is a ton better than Voss’ (sorry, Voss). And Blood DKs do so much damage anyway that he was actually doing more damage after switching to tank than he had been as a DPS.

It’s tough, because you want to just bring your friends in their preferred roles to CMs, but in order to get Gold we really did have to do some optimizing. We still have a tank playing off-spec though and he’s getting more comfortable in the role all the time. Just this past Sunday Rhi couldn’t use an invisibility pot because he’d used a strength potion on the boss – I was so proud. Granted, it wasn’t the best time for a potion but using potions at all is a great DPS impulse. I really appreciate that Rhi has been willing to step outside his accustomed role in order to ensure success of the group. And we did have success, snagging our first Gold from Temple just a few pulls after switching things up a bit.

We decided against using the technique to have one person pull the last three trash mobs and then lose aggro on them in order to skip them. With dragging them into the Sha’s room and alternately freezing and DPSing them they didn’t hit too hard and we were still within the Gold timer when we downed Sha. Whatever works, right?

That brings me to the other major change that happened in between some of our struggles in Gate and our success in Temple. That was when I switched from fire to frost and it made a huge difference. I don’t think on boss fights it’s necessarily as large a margin, but with Glyph of Cone of Cold and Glyph of Ice Lance the AoE burst that a frost mage can put out is ridiculous. They also scale very nicely with a lower item level of gear and so overall I felt like a powerhouse instead of struggling with my crit rating as fire. It took a few runs to really get the hang of running as frost and to truly maximize the capabilities. A well-placed Frost Bomb, elemental freeze, Deep Freeze or Cone of Cold can really make some of the trash packs more manageable. It was also fun. Not because fire isn’t fun, but because doing really good DPS is fun. Feeling like your contribution matters is also fun.

Switching to frost in CMs had the unintended effect of making me frost all the time for right now, which is okay too. I may swap to fire once Siege of Orgrimmar comes out, but current Combustion nerfs on the PTR are staying my hand for the time being. It helps that it’s enjoyable to play. I’m nervous about the new frost mastery. It sounds like it is not good in situations when you can’t accumulate Icicles quickly enough, and compared to Frostburn there are times when your mastery isn’t active. We’ll really have to wait and see, though. I think it will actually be beneficial in cleave situations, so continue to be very strong for Challenge Modes at the very least. If frost lags behind in raids, I will swap back to fire.

Our current CM challenge is Siege of Niuzao. We had our best time this weekend, a Silver very faintly tinged with Gold. The biggest stumbling block has been the second to last boss with his immunity shield and bombs. The way to quickly move past this entire area is to not pull any trash beforehand. The first time he goes immune and begins summoning bombs, you use the bombs to easily dispatch all of the additional trash as well as the trash he summons during the fight. The problem with this has been that we keep having those existing adds run at us during his phase. One time it was my stupid Mirror Images; another time it was possibly a totem. I don’t know whether my water elemental will also pull them so I’ve been dismissing him as soon as that phase starts. It’s frustrating because it feels a bit random in terms of being able to achieve it and it comes after such a long run to get to that point. I think our scheme for next week is going to work though. I’ll be sure to put Ring of Frost down on the other side of Voss to keep him from going splat the way he has been. Even if we can just buy enough time for bombs to start coming out it should work. That time saved should be the difference between a Silver and Gold run, so I’m hopeful for next week.

Challenge Modes have been a great way to push ourselves to play better and to think creatively. They might just be my favourite thing added to the game during Mists – and that’s saying something, because there are so many things about Mists that I have enjoyed. My only regret about CMs is that unlike raids, I don’t get to do them with all the people I like to play with. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to two separate CM groups. Have you tried Challenge Modes at all yet? How have they been going for you?

Brawler’s Guild

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Back when there was a great furor about the availability of Brawler’s Guild invites, I didn’t really get involved. It sounded interesting in passing but not something I would really get into (I said at the time). As far as the invites themselves went, I could afford to buy one on the BMAH if I wanted to get one, but I figured “Why would I bother?” I had friends who were really into soloing PvE stuff and I knew that they would be all over it but it didn’t seem like my cup of tea.

I did end up buying an invite when they were available and then I sat on it for weeks. (Sorry folks, I really meant to use it, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk). I could never quite work up the nerve to actually go and do one single fight, though. Something about the idea of it just freaked me out, and it didn’t help that the first night I’d gone (the night I had the invite) I saw a lot of heckling and chatter. I didn’t want to be the focus of that potentially negative attention. Then I saw that Vosskah was brawling the other day and he was having a blast. I was quietly intrigued. I asked if he’d go and do the Brawler’s Guild stuff with me in case there were any hecklers or people being jerks. So we dropped by the tram on Sunday morning and I watched a few matches to see what the whole thing was about, and then put my name in line for a fight.

I didn’t know anything about each fight before it began, which I think adds to the fun of it. A few fights I had seen previewed as other people had done them which gave me some insight into how they operated. Most of the fights are similar to your average boss fight, especially the ones at early difficulty levels. This guy does this one thing that you get out of, or you have to to interrupt this other thing, etc.

The PvE stuff was fun, but on top of that I particularly enjoyed the little community that had sprung up around the brawlers gathered there. I was invited quite early on to a “buff group,” a raid that people hang out in and buff each other before their fights. They will also rez you if you lose a match (I don’t think it’s far from the graveyard but this is still a nice touch). Far from being hecklers, all the people I encountered that day were super nice and encouraging to each other. People would tell each other “Good luck!” and commiserate after a lost match or offer encouragement or strats to people who were struggling. Other random stranger situations in Warcraft could take a lesson from these Brawler’s Guild folks – this is not your regular LFG or LFR group. I did have one random guy, and I’m not entirely sure why – he /cheered at me (you get an achievement) after I had won a match, and then he /spit on me. I guess he wanted to make it clear he wasn’t ACTUALLY cheering for me, but had just wanted the achievement. Whatever helps you sleep at night, buddy! I gave him the proverbial WoW finger /rude and he didn’t bother me or say anything else after that. I don’t know why he did it and I don’t really care. He was the one dark spot on an afternoon spent with largely encouraging and nice people.

I had to stop for lunch somewhere around the middle of Rank 2 (I think). The last fight I did was a big dinosaur; think like the devilsaurs of old! He took a few chunks out of me but I emerged victorious. This was the first fight that had me yelping and hollering at my screen as I’m inclined to do. “Oh man! Whoa! Okay. AH!” (Gaming time gets exuberant around here. Mostly I only do this when I’ve pulled aggro from a tank). All of the other fights up until this point were reasonably easily kited, but this dinosaur was all RAWR and then CHOMP and he actually damaged me. From what I can tell, the difficulty level of the fights ramps up sharply by the time you hit Rank 7-8. A rogue in our little group was trying to do a fight where you’re facing a tiny robot and there are two sweeps of laser beams coming across the room the entire time.

This part is actually interesting because as a melee you need to jump the laser beams, DPS the little robot, and also avoid the tiny light balls that are swirling around. I had seen other people attempt this fight after having a priest give them levitate, and after the fourth time or so that the rogue died to it I asked him about levitate. His answer was very unequivocal; “I will not use levitate. I think it’s cheating.” That’s fair, and I completely respect that. Unfortunately this fight is seriously hard if you don’t use levitate and especially as a melee. Towards the end of our brawling time he wasn’t getting as far into the fight and I think he was starting to tire. He also pointed out that it’s tough to progress when you have such a long break in-between attempts – by that time the brawling line stretched into 10+ people and you’d only fight about once every half hour or so. I really hope he got the fight down, whether that day or a little bit later! I respected his commitment to doing it “properly.” (Confession, I may well use levitate when I have to do the fight myself. I think if they didn’t want you to use it at all, they’d have made some kind of ambient damage that breaks it. If you can bend the laws of physics, hey…!)

The Brawler’s Guild is probably the most entertaining thing to be added to the game recently (for me personally). It gripped me in a way that pet battles haven’t, which is nothing at all against pet battles. I like being able to face off against a big bad using my magely wiles and with nothing between me and the monster but some fireballs. I look forward to the next time I get a chance to drop by and move up in the ranks somewhat. If I can get to rank 7, I get an invite to give to a friend!

Millya of Pandaria

We’ve been in Pandaria for three weeks now! Time sure flies when you have 50 dailies to do every night, doesn’t it? Sorry, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, I’d better begin at the beginning.

I love Pandaria. I really do. In fact, I probably owe a big ole public apology to Rades because I made such a stink about pandas and now I am eating crow. (Although actually, it’s crow/birds of prey that are eating me – have you ever gone AFK anywhere in Valley of the Four Winds?) I think that so many things are right with Pandaria. Perhaps I wasn’t captivated exactly from the first moment:

Because this happened.

But after I gave up on the idea of leveling Millya right away, I really got lost in the landscape. You see, two of my guildies, Fsob and Supplicium, were aiming to be server first Mage and Warlock, respectively (as well as server first level 90s, period). There is a trinket for alchemists with a 4000 int proc or something similar that Fsob could only get by turning in three Golden Lotus. So I’d promised to help him get them using my herbalist druid. I ended up logging her in and just jumping off the airship into Pandaria and herbing and mining my way all through the Jade Forest. I was on Mumble with other guildies and friends who were leveling so it was far from lonely. I admit that I started to lose steam long before I’d actually found any Lotus for Fsob but I wanted to help however I could so I pressed on. He did pay for me for the lotus too, so it’s not entirely altruistic. It took about four hours to get my herbalism up to the right spot and find the lotus. I was looking mistakenly in the wrong place, assuming lotus would be more plentiful in the later zones. It was Walks who pointed out that he’d seen them mostly in the starting zone, which makes total sense. Because GL are a rare spawn on a random herb node, they would be most plentiful in a place where the herb turnover was high. In Jade Forest, lots of people were picking herbs but very few had the skill to pick the lotus itself. When I doubled back and started combing the Jade Forest for them, I found Fsob’s three within about an hour. Success!

Fsob and Supplicium achieved their server first goals as well, so congratulations to them! I think they had a fair lead on everyone so the lotus was probably extraneous but as Fsob put it, “I like to be sure about things,” which is a good trait to have. Every little bit helps! So that was my first night in Pandaria, and I actually love that my first experience was mostly as an explorer and gatherer. Running through the forest, jumping off cliffs and dodging angry orcs and shadowmelding and using travel form to escape gave me a real sense of immersing myself in the new continent. That sense of danger and wonder only deepened as I ventured into Valley of the Four Winds. I kept exclaiming aloud – giant carrots! Giant turnips! A MOB OF ANGRY BUNNIES COMING STRAIGHT FOR ME RUN AWAYYY!

Pandaria was perfectly and cleverly designed to be seen from the ground. The scope feels epic and vast, there are so many hidden things and little nooks and crannies, corners and waterfalls. It is luscious and beautiful. Once you hit 90 and can take to the air, it’s just as perfect because it’s not too big. You can easily fly most places in Pandaria in a few minutes without it feeling onerous. It even still maintains that sense of danger because of aforementioned birds and other hostiles. I recently went AFK in Vale of Eternal Blossoms and returned to my screen to find myself dead. I have no idea what happened, but it’s definitely an environment that will punish you for inattention.

The Good

Pandaria is beautiful, and there really is so much to do. I’ve spent hours just relaxing and fishing, seeing the scenery, questing through it with Voss, tending to my farm and yes, doing dailies. I’ve also really enjoyed most of the instances so far. A few of them feel a little bland – whichever one has you dropping buckets of goo on advancing bugs, and the one where you fight a boss that blows you backwards with wind – these are encounter designs that probably sounded better on paper than they are in reality – but overall I enjoy them. My favourite is probably Shado-Pan Monastery, much to the chagrin of all healers everywhere because I understand it’s toughest for them. I like the fights and the trash and the length of it.

What I’ve seen so far of the raids has been excellent as well. The first three bosses of Mogu’shan Vaults are all interesting with enough “different” stuff to keep your attention and no mechanics that are really annoying. I have a secret love of fights where I get to go to another “world” as it were, so Gara’jal might be my favourite so far. We’re going back in tonight, so we’ll see!

Farming deserves its own paragraph, I think. I can’t express how much I love my farm. Not just because planting and harvesting useful things is fun and completely self-directed, but because it’s a private space that is entirely mine. I’m not usually one to make a big fuss about player housing (although I’ve missed having my own “place” since my Ultima Online days). Honestly, I often get lost in my own world and forget about the people around me but occasionally you are jarred back to reality that other people can see you or are watching you. Someone who has you targeted in a public place, random whispers, or my guild mates making fun of how I fly – we’re very much in a crowd. Sometimes I do things that are embarrassing. It varies from character to character – because of where I’d put my heroism button, inevitably on my shaman alt I hit heroism as I’m standing at the mailbox. I can only imagine how this looks to other people. Random /CROWD CHEERS and then a giant draenei standing and checking her mail. On my shadow priest banker I keep hitting dispersion as I go into the auction house, and it makes such an obnoxious sound. Hey guys, giant purple cloud come to do some auctioning, don’t mind me! So anyway, my point is, your farm is a place where you can do really whatever you want. If I want to just stand there among my veggies for a few minutes chatting with guildies, I can do that, and there’s nobody else around, period. That tiny solace and reprieve from a dangerous world is much welcome and I think it’s a big part of why I personally love the farming. I’m sure the fact that my virtual veggies are much more successful than my real life ones ever were doesn’t hurt, either!

The other thing I’ve enjoyed so far, and I think everyone should do at some point, is making a Pandaren character to play through the starting experience. It’s head and shoulders above the starting experience for either Worgen or Goblin. It also gives some insight into the inherent conflict between the Horde and the Alliance and why we have such a hard time seeing eye to eye. If you haven’t had time to make a Pandaren yet and you want a break from your “regular” stuff, I highly recommend it. I won’t say more than that, although I’d love to talk about it with you once you’ve done it. I think it is a better setup for Mists as an expansion than the entry quests as a level 85 character, but I’d be interested to know what other people think.

Other things I love include the questing, the grummles, yak washing, air balloons, and fishing. At the start before I could actually fly, I got overexcited and jumped down into the reservoir between Jade Forest and Valley of the Four Winds to fish the Jade Lungfish pools, not realizing there was actually no way for me to get out of the reservoir again. I was doomed to swim in the reservoir forever like a Sim and die of exhaustion. (Well, I’m a mage so I just ported myself out, but it was still pretty funny).

Also the lore in Pandaria is amazing. I would probably pay Blizzard too much money to have similar “gather the story” quests for Burning Crusade or even Wrath. Run around finding scrolls that each contain a part of a story and then be treated to a little re-enactment narrated at the end? Yes please. I want to hear the story of the flight from Argus or other things from Draenor. In a way, it’s a bit like the Muradin story you uncover as part of a questline in Northrend, only there are more stories and it’s an actual faction. The little flying disc reward at the end is just icing on the cake for lore nerds.

Pet Battles are probably something that deserve their own post – the kind of thing I could easily waste days of time doing. I was surprised by the depth of something that was “just” a mini-game (I never played Pokemon, so I have no other frame of reference). I think it’s a fun addition to the game and jokingly teased my guildies who weren’t level 90 yet but getting pet battle achievements. “Hey, I thought you were leveling! BUSTED.”

The Bad

This is where the nitpicky stuff goes. I’d say for me it’s probably an 80/20 split. 80% I love Pandaria. If you’d asked me before I hit level 90 I would’ve had only good things to say. After the fact, I do have some complaints that have already been detailed by other folks. Here’s my big one: putting Valor Point gear behind reputation vendors. I hate this idea, and I don’t use that word lightly.

I can appreciate that they removed reputation tabards because they didn’t want “double dipping” and reputation tabards didn’t necessarily make much sense in the context of a game world. “Oh, you’re killing me AND you like the Tillers? Fair enough.” So that’s fine. It essentially combined two activities into one so that you could just run dungeons and never interact with a faction you wished to impress. And historically, factions have had desirable items since the Burning Crusade. You could grind reputation with the Cenarion Expedition to get their mount, but they also had some epics and rare items to purchase at various levels, and this was also true in Wrath and then Cataclysm. This model is fine. But having to grind out all of these different reps just to spend VP points to get gear? I don’t like it. It seems like a major throwback to a grindier, more time intensive time.

This complaint feeds into the next, one that I know is shared by many. Dailies. So many dailies. I started out, over zealously trying to do them all. I’d do Klaxxi, Golden Lotus, Tillers, Cloud Serpents, Anglesr, and the Lorewalkers. It got ridiculous. I started to have to dial it back, and so soon enough I was only doing Golden Lotus, Tillers, Cloud Serpents. Now I’m doing Golden Lotus and Tillers, and that’s it. I want to open up Shado-Pan, I needed Golden Lotus for the tailoring epic recipes. Keep in mind, too, that I am someone who likes dailies. I always have. I have diligently done dailies in many quest hubs since I started playing this game, and even for me it’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that the dailies exist. I look forward to diving into Anglers rep (har) and finishing my Cloud Serpent stuff. But that’s the crux of things, there are so many “mandatory” (ie I need the gear behind them) reputations that it hasn’t left me the time to spend on the fun reps I want to work on. Had the VP gear just been on normal vendors like before, with the slow rate of VP acquisition the gear would have still been “gated” plenty. It feels a little bit like they just wanted to force people into or extend the content that was there, and that bugs me because there’s plenty of content and I would like to do it on my own time. I have yet to do more than one scenario. Challenge modes? They sound like a blast, but who has time? I’m in favour of gating SOME things. Like the way raids have been released – I like that. It’s better to slow it down at the beginning than drag it wayyy out at the end (Dragon Soul, I’m looking at you). But that’s the most frustrating thing about all these dailies. Was it really necessary? I’m inclined to think “no,” although of course you may disagree.

Of course, you can always argue about what is or isn’t necessary for individual people and their gaming wishes and expectations. So for some people 300 stat food is absolutely mandatory for their progression. For the average player, it’s probably not the best use of your time. Some people must gain access to the VP gear from various reps as soon as possible, others might say “Forget this.” I’d say we’re somewhat middle of the pack. Personally, a number of us pooled resources to make sure we got Darkmoon Faire cards when the Faire arrived, but we didn’t expect every single person in the guild to do so. I recognize that it basically comes down to this: you suffer what you choose to suffer, but when you want to maximize your performance, sometimes a little less sufferance might be nice.

For example, what’s up with cooking? I love cooking. I like to put on my chef’s hat and cook up some grub. Yesterday I was talking to Voss about this and I exclaimed suddenly, “I’ve made food in REAL LIFE that took less work than this!” I’m not even kidding. With the 300 stat food requiring x amount of vegetables, one fish, one meat, and one Ironpaw token, it’s a little ludicrous. I could actually cook an honest to goodness stir fry in the time it takes to do a daily to get a token and vegetables and everything, and that’s assuming I am just buying the vegetables instead of growing them on my farm. Granted, in real life I don’t have to go kill a chicken to make my stir fry, but the point still stands. I feel like the mats involved in cooking this should make a stack of food, not just five. It pains me to have cooking, one of my favourite WoW pastimes, become arduous. I haven’t become Master of the Ways yet (too busy selling vegetables) which also gives me a pang. Cooking/baking is somewhat integral to Millya’s character, but I’m going to metagame it for the time being and put her wishes on hold.

The Ugly

My biggest complaint about Pandaria is really the time sink stuff. Right now, trying to do Golden Lotus or Tiller dailies is an exercise in patience. People will steal your vegetables out from under a mob that you are fighting, they will try to tag a mob you are almost standing on top of, and just generally all civility and decorum has gone out the window. Quest givers are covered by stupid flying mobs and it brings out the worst in folks that I don’t much care for. The same has been true of some of the pugs I have seen since hitting 90 – just some really incredibly rude people. Two of my guildies have been kicked out of pugs for shenanigans that didn’t even make sense – a tank aggros three of those Shado-Pan packs and when the group wipes, they kick the healer for being a “scrub”? Um, right. We were in a pug where the healer would’ve surely tried to kick our bear tank because he “wasn’t geared for this/was wearing pvp gear.” His ilevel was fine, his tanking was fine, and as far as I could tell the healer didn’t have trouble healing him at all (despite being all in PvP gear himself, something I hear is hardly a cardinal sin these days). So some people are rude and impatient. Also, I don’t know why they re-introduced the “extra benefit for one daily PER DAY” rule. It was great that you could do your weekly heroics on your own time, now we are back to a daily obligation if you want to cap your VP each week most efficiently each week.

Pandaria is beautiful and overall I love it. Honestly, even the bad is not SO bad because I know it has an ending. We’ll reach a point where none of the gear from those vendors matters. We’ll either have gotten what we need from finishing the reps or from raids or similar. Right now, I’ve just had to make some hard decisions about pursuing fun things or pursuing chores. Millya has more errands to run than I do.

“Okay, I have to reseed the farm, cook some fish cakes for the Cloud Serpents, fish up some Golden Minnows, kill some Mogu in the Vale, free some Pandaren spirits, stomp on some fires, kill some pixies, kill some spiders, kill a big spider, fish up some fish for supper…”

It’s a good thing we are superheroes, because all of these chores won’t do themselves! That’s what I need – the next guild perk should be an assistant hired to take care of all these things! He/she can pick up my dry cleaning, too.

The Road to Perfection

Joe Perez (Lodur) over at WoW Insider wrote an interesting article about using the new scenario dungeons to create a way for healers to learn/practice on their own, the same way that fancy new DPS dummies in Shattrath simulate a raiding environment by granting raid buffs etc. I’ve also heard that these new dummies are only for beta use and won’t make it to live, but that’s beside the point (and I’m not sure either way).

I used to spend more time with target dummies than I do now. It’s a certain mark of pride for a DPS player – make a new spec, test it out on the dummies. Want to try different gear configurations? Test them on the dummies. Playing a character you aren’t that familiar with? Get a “feel” for the rotation by paying a visit to the target dummies. I remember when I was still pretty new to the game and a player I admired used to say, “Time to go visit the target dummies.” It cemented itself in my mind as something that “serious” players do. They serve a useful purpose; sometimes you want something to attack that won’t just keel over like a regular world mob. When I wanted to figure out what I was doing with tanking, I went out and found some of the big elites in Icecrown and that was somewhat useful but not exactly the same. The premise of giving healers a place to practice healing (especially if they are new) seems to follow along with this notion. DPS players have target dummies, tanks and healers have a harder time “practicing” what they do.

I think that’s a good thing, though. I don’t think target dummies are all that useful, either, as any DPS will tell you. They can give you an approximation of how you might perform in a raiding or boss environment, but we know not to expect those numbers to be accurate. Firstly because the “live” dummies don’t give raid buffs – I hear the ones in Shattrath do, so that’s a step closer to “reality.” But dummies can’t simulate things like movement, or adds, or phases, or distractions from Mumble or otherwise. I know that if I stand there until my evocate and mana gem are on CD I may have done x amount of DPS over the course of three minutes, but during a raid fight it’s going to be a different story altogether. The same is true for healers. When it comes to being a healer, my “testing” usually consisted of asking someone to group with me so I could make sure my UI was correct. There’s always the tried and true method of casting spells on yourself. And Joe is right; in no way does that prepare you for an actual healing situation. You don’t see those bars dropping. You don’t have someone ignoring an important mechanic almost getting one-shot – someone who might be your tank!

At the same time, though, while I can see the value of such a tool I am almost leery of introducing any more of these types of practice activities or zones. Why? Well, because at some point I just want to play the game that I am here to play. I don’t know if this is a reflection of my newer, more casual mindset, but pretend DPS or pretend healing strikes me as the height of boredom. If I want to practice DPSing I don’t go to a target dummy, I’ll queue for a five man or LFR (with or without friends). I’m not ashamed to admit that after I got my Dragonwrath I queued for LFR repeatedly just so I could pit myself against other casters with DW in a raid-like environment. (And no, I never post a meter or boast about my DPS and if you do that there is a special place in hell reserved for you where a voice echoes endlessly, “Is anyone running Recount? Is anyone running Recount?”) When I was learning to heal, I mostly did it with friends in five-mans. Actually, the first dungeon I healed was as a former shadowpriest at level 40 something in Zul’Farak. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’d never healed an entire group. Someone in my guild needed a healer for ZF and this was before the days of LFD so I was roped into it.

I was practically hyperventilating the whole time. Did someone die? I’m pretty sure they did. Was I perfect? Not even remotely, but that’s how you learn. To me, that’s what playing a game is about. The comments on that article are interesting because some of them say, “We tell our new healers to go practice in pugs.” Other people reply, “How can you DO THAT to your friends? I would hate to be in your guild,” etc. I’m actually 100% behind the first guy. You all know I’m not a stranger to pugging. Pugging is one of the best environments to learn to heal. You have an element of chaos and unpredictability that you’ll seldom find in a “safe” guild or friend run. Yes, it can be taxing and frustrating. Yes, you may leave some groups. But you will leave those groups a better healer than you went in. I like to play a little game with myself. Instead of practicing retribution healing, I make it my goal to keep the worst player in a group alive. Does the group have a melee DPS who’s never heard of fire on the ground, pulls aggro on every pull and then tries to run from the tank? That guy right there is my prime target. In addition to keeping everyone else alive, I will keep that guy’s bar above zero, against all odds. It’s like a mini-game.

That’s why I could go from healing five-mans to healing Naxx to later healing heroic Firelands coolly. Not because I am this awesome super healer, but because I practiced and I wasn’t afraid to put myself in situations where I was at a disadvantage. I’ve been the healer barely able to drink, slamming mana recovery abilities on CD, desperately chasing after my tank and hoping he doesn’t pull an extra group because I’m still clad all in greens. I understand what the article is saying – the punishment for a tank or a healer who doesn’t perform well is usually much more severe than that of a DPS. Many DPS get by simply coasting, and it’s not fair but they are less likely to get called out. There is great power and responsibility in the healing and tanking role and they are hard to step into. You have to cultivate a thick skin. I ran a Zul’Aman pug with a guy once who made fun of me every time I used Tranquility.

“lol why you Tranquility?” he’d say. I grit my teeth and ignored him; he continued. I finally told him, look, it’s a three minute cooldown, not ten minutes anymore. Using it on trash doesn’t hurt you, it heals the group, and will you just shut up about it? If you want, next time YOU be the druid and ignore your Tranquility button all you want. Until then, this is my show.

There will be guys like that. You may need to leave groups. You may be removed from groups. But the only real penalty there is pride. If you leave an LFD group, you may have to take a deserter debuff – play another character or do something else until you can queue again. It’s not really that big a deal. I’m reminded of this book I read a few years back by Carol Dweck called Mindset. Basically, in a nutshell: everyone is one of two mindsets, either fixed or growth mindset. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book changed my outlook and even my life. I grew up with a completely fixed mindset, no question. I was proud of my accomplishments but I also felt that I had to be perfect…at everything. With this mindset, you might find that you attempt less because if you try and fail, you will be a fraud or a failure. It’s better to “play it safe” and do things you know you can excel at. Everyone thinks you are really smart and awesome, and nothing ever happens to challenge that.

A growth mindset is different. It approaches the world and challenges from a malleable perspective – everything is a learning opportunity. Of course you will fail at things and you won’t be perfect at them right away because you have to practice in order to be perfect. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If there was a place for healers to practice in a basically no-risk environment, sure, it might help them to try healing when they otherwise wouldn’t. But I’d argue that it’s a lot better to just dive in and start healing from the get-go. There will be bumps and scrapes, but who cares? It’s not a reflection on your character, it doesn’t mean you’re bad, it means you’re learning. And anyone who has a problem with that can take a hike (or you can leave them in your dust). I was thinking just last night about how Voss and I joined Business Time. Without any hard mode experience and with gear that was only as good as we could get outside of raids at that point, we were more of a liability than an asset. But we promised we’d be able to learn quickly. I studied the Mimiron hardmode video for hours. I took notes. I knew I could apply my skills to that environment. Over the years since then, I’ve taken on tasks I’m not always comfortable doing. I hate messing up and feeling like I’m wiping the raid – and obviously, it’s a continuum. You start out learning in places like five-mans, then maybe LFR, then a raid. You can start PvP healing in a battleground and then move to arenas if that’s your goal. All experience in the game will serve you elsewhere, whether it’s just to sharpen your reflexes or help you fine-tune your UI or whatever.

When 5.0 drops next week, I’ll respec and set up my UI and probably visit the target dummies to make sure all the buttons are in their proper places and get a feel for them. After that, I will want to hit some fives or an LFR or whatever else is going on, because I’ll want to really learn what’s new and the only way to do that is with practice, practice, and more practice. Remember that there’s no shame in being new, or needing to improve, no matter what anybody tells you. Whether you’re playing an unfamiliar alt or a completely new spec or role, you can do a certain amount of preparation on your own but at some point you’ll need to play with other people to really learn and get truly great.

This Was A Triumph

Here's a shot of Deathwing before he became too busy tossing people off his back in LFR to burn the world. This was taken moments before I met a fiery end while trying to fish peacefully in Uldum. "Oh, the fire won't extend this far..." Famous last words, DW, but I got my revenge.

I was actually awake when the NDA for Mists lifted! I could have written a blog post then and been a forerunner in blog news. Instead, it’s a few days later and everyone has had time to pick over and digest all of the new information and so you won’t learn anything new here!

Of course there were some things I am interested in with Mists. One is a new character slot – hallelujah! Of course, I would have preferred a few new character slots (five, maybe?) but I’ll make do with one. The hardest thing for me is looking at my roster of characters and deciding who is going to die. Which one gets the axe? I know there are some folks for whom deleting characters is actually somewhat cathartic or commonplace, but for me it’s a big deal! I’ve only ever deleted one character who was higher level than 40; my ill-fated hunter. I just never “clicked” with her. Actually, I lie – I didn’t even delete that character, I transferred it to Voss’ account. So the highest level character I’ve ever deleted was twenty.

I’m not sure if it’s because of my inherent RP attitude that it’s tough to do – although I did joke that I “killed” my night elf priest when I race-changed her into a draenei. It’s like I’m murdering a person? Anyway, I need at least two new character slots, one to house my draenei monk and another for a pandaren of some persuasion. Characters that are currently on the chopping block:

-Sarika, 32 Draenei warrior: Warriors are pretty fun and all, but I seldom play her and don’t have much interest in tanking generally. My intent was to level her as a tank and blog about it. She doesn’t have much story or background to speak of either so as far as “murders” go it’s pretty low-risk.

-Jun, 16 Night Elf rogue: I finally made a rogue but I only played her for a day. I have to admit, the lowbie rogue experience seems to be lacking in some way? (Or else it’s me that’s the problem). I learned poisons but they didn’t tell me squat about poisons, and the only way I found a poison vendor was looking on Wowhead. If I had been a new player with this rogue I probably wouldn’t have put poisons on my dagger for approximately 50 levels or similar, as it was it’s a miracle I remembered that you could put poisons on EACH dagger. So Jun’s fate is uncertain, at the least I will probably keep her and use the name for my pandaren.

-Mildred, 41 Forsaken priest: Actually, Mildred’s name probably doesn’t belong on this list because I can’t bring myself to delete her because her name is Mildred. Even though I have little interest in playing a priest or a Horde character at this time. I’ve considered deleting her just to remake some other class so I can experience the “new” Forsaken experience everyone is talking about. But Mildred is the perfect foil to my Millya, so she’s probably okay. Plus Voss has adopted her name as a means of referring to someone who is doing something annoying, such as running halfway across a zone to pick a Mageroyal, losing track of every person in your leveling group, then stopping to pick 8000 Peacebloom. He hollers, “MILDREEEDD!” I suppose you have to hear it to appreciate it.

Anyway, one of those characters will need to die so I have sufficient slots. I had intended to level Jun so we could work towards the Classy Night Elves achievement, but I grossly overestimated available time and interest. Maybe Mildred should be a mage instead (because I need another one! No, really!)

Mists sounds like it’s going to be pretty great for pet collectors, clothes horses goats, and folks who have a sick addiction to dailies and rep grinds like I do. I played Farmville for awhile, until the pressure to harvest imaginary vegetables made me ask myself, “Why am I logging in at specific times to plant more blueberries when I could be playing WoW instead?” Now I’ll never have to experience that dilemma again. I’m not even being sarcastic, I’m excited to plant Warcraft vegetables. I think this addition might just tip the scale and get my Mom to play WoW too, which is why I’m not going to mention it to her. I was telling some guildies the other day that I asked my Mom if she wanted to try WoW because I thought her tolerance for repetitive activities would make her the ideal herb-farmer and miner. In her off-time, she would collect pets. I’m informed that considering using my Mom as an herb farmer makes me a horrible person, which is probably true. But she’d be so GOOD at it!

I like the female Pandaren models. I’m interested to see more of their faces, but I think they are much better than they could have been; they are obviously not an afterthought as female worgen were, which shows that Blizzard was listening to those criticisms, which I appreciate. I’ve heard that some bottom dwellers have already come out of the woodwork to complain that they are fat, to which I say, they are PANDA PEOPLE. Get over yourself! She could have been even fatter and I would’ve been happier, but she’s fine the way she is. I’ll be happy to play one, which is pretty different from my initial feelings about the Mists expansion.

Generally, everything I read about Mists made me more excited to play it. I think the story sounds interesting, I think exploring the continent sounds exciting – even the 10,000 waterfalls, which I will no doubt visit because I like a healthy dose of masochism with my gaming. There will be so much content at level 90 that I can’t possibly be bored. Not being a Warcraft III player, I had no basis for the existence of Pandaren but as friends urged me to keep an open mind I put any premature judgements on hold. Even Voss has warmed to the Pandaren and is looking forward to leveling one with me. The only thing that will need addressing before Mists is my serious dearth of bank space. I finally sold my Darkmoon Card: Volcano just the other day in desperation and to free up one more slot. Farewell, old friend. You served me well for three tiers. You will not be missed.

I eagerly await the time when mounts are made account-wide so that I can ride my ridiculous and awesome rooster mount on any character. They’ve said it’s next on their list after pets, now that the tech is in place to make it happen. That’s a feature worth having, as far as I’m concerned! Cory Stockton also said that there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are raiding since LFR was introduced; he had to be a bit sly about specifics, so no percentages or numbers, but that’s pretty neat to hear. LFR obviously has its upsides and downsides, but the ability to queue for it with friends from other servers has made a big difference to me. Plus, I’ve been using loot from it on my main for months now so I should probably not say much!

Last but not least, here are two links to things that caught my eye today.

My fellow Moonrunnerian (Moonrunnerite?) over at Double Protection wrote about a topic near and dear to my heart: Loot! Don’t lie, you love the purples too. Specifically, he’s addressing a problem that our raid group has experienced – loot distribution for tens. We had six weeks of constant Conqueror tokens, I’m not even kidding. We only recently started to get Vanq again, I got my four-piece bonus just a short time ago, and two of my pieces were from LFR. I like some of his ideas.

Alas of Kiss My Alas fame is sadly wishing the Warcraft blogosphere farewell (Kiss this Alas goodbye). Alas’ voice will be missed, also her querulous sheep that never fails to make me guffaw. (Okay, I’m biased, so what). Best wishes, Alas! Mage mage.

And Cynwise did a reading round-up just today, so in a lazy roundabout way you should check out his post if you’re looking for yet more great posts!

 

 

The New Guild Order: Why Your Guild Tag Matters Less All The Time

It’s been quiet around here because generally things with me have been status quo. I raid with BT once per week on our “new” casual schedule, and enjoy it a great deal. I play WoW on the other days when I feel like it, but otherwise all of my management responsibilities have been greatly reduced. I don’t have to stress out about performance or progression because we aren’t pushing for it like we used to. I hope the rest of the guild doesn’t mind, but if anyone does mind they haven’t mentioned it to me! On the contrary, the past month has seen an explosion of guild activities, more than we ever had before outside of raiding. There was a brief lull after we slowed our pace, and then all of those free raid days began to fill up with other activities organized by other people. There’s an arena team that runs Tuesdays, people run BGs together a few times a week. I started a Firelands run on Saturdays which is a whole entry unto itself, and Fsob has been organizing what he dubbed “MMLA” runs (you heard it here first, people). That is: Mounts, Mogging, Legendary and Achievement runs. Because Real ID now allows for grouping up to do old content, we’re no longer limited by the number of people available to us.

These runs started off small – a concentrated group of BT people and a few friends doing Sunwell, Black Temple, etc. But the changes to Real ID have allowed it to explode into almost an entire group of people running Ulduar 25 for achievements, a shot at Mimiron’s Head, transmogging gear, and meta-achievement drakes. A few people even brought characters locked at level 80 because they need the gear to eventually do a Herald of the Titans run. I was thinking about something as we were doing Ulduar last night, hanging out on Mumble and “meeting” some of the people I’ve known via Twitter for a long time. Business Time’s footprint is small – I mean, we are a small guild, kept that way intentionally. We have maybe twenty members, tops, at any given time. (Probably less). But our reach is wide. Through Twitter networking, blogging, and runs like Fsob’s run, we interact with a great many more people than our small guild size would seem to suggest. The fact is, the guild we are in almost doesn’t even matter anymore, and will come to matter even less after Battle Tags are implemented.

Think about it. Via Real ID, I have been running Firelands with a holy paladin from Apotheosis for a month now. We were friends before, but now we also raid together. Likewise, the guild leader of Waypoint on Medivh has been running with us each Saturday. Last Saturday we brought Tikari (also of Apotheosis). Now of course, Nowell and Tikari are still members of Apotheosis, and Karanina is the guild leader of Waypoint. But what are they to me, and what is BT to them? It’s not exactly nothing. You might call them “friends of the guild.” If they wanted to make an alt and hang out in BT, I would absolutely say yes. The bonds of friendship online, in a game like Warcraft, are forged through three things: communication (via text), communication (via the spoken word) and shared experiences. I’ve been raiding and talking to all of these people once a week for a month now. I raid with my guild once a week. So how do the two groups differ?

I think in many ways, they don’t. The most important and key way, obviously, is progression raiding. Apotheosis is raiding hard-mode content with a group of 25 people. Their policies and involvement may differ considerably from Business Time’s. But in the space that we intersect, we get along famously. I also cannot overstate that this is absolutely the best thing that could possibly happen for guilds of any size or goal. Guilds have typically been (largely) insular operations. You have your own guild chat, you have your guild events, you may sometimes invite “outsiders” along but generally it’s all about what happens within a guild. Thanks to the new connectivity between guilds, this mentality has been exploded. Small guilds (such as ours) can tap into a much larger resource of players. The challenge to keep your guild engaged and interested has just been greatly reduced! It used to be that I worried if I wasn’t online every day, or I worried if we didn’t have enough events being planned outside of raiding that people would get bored, or stop logging in, or even leave. I imagine that other guild leaders may have the same fears. It’s tough to maintain a community of people when everyone has commitments outside of playing a video game. Especially in smaller guilds players can be like ships passing each other in the night – never even seeing another soul online for hours at a time. That may still be a true, but an influx of organized activity that members can participate in keeps people happy and engaged. As far as I’m concerned, there is no downside to this at all. I get to meet and raid with friends that might not necessarily share the same progression raiding goals as I do, and we don’t have to be in the same guild, but we still have a good time!

It also means opportunity for everyone involved. Cross-pollination of guilds widens the community, and bridges the gulf that’s always existed between isolated guild communities without impacting the singular goals of the guilds themselves. Thanks to the contribution of these folks, I am making progress towards building a Dragonwrath. Yes, I decided to go ahead and get it done, no matter what it took. That wouldn’t be possible without the help of these friends. We usually have a critical mass of BT players each week, but are just 2-3 people short of a “guild” run. To me, it’s been pretty amazing. We’ve been doing heroic modes and having a blast. I think everyone has fun. (Although ask them how they feel in a few months…) On the flip-side, Val’anyr shards have been going to Jasyla in the Ulduar 25 runs. Somehow it seems “right” to me that our guild members can help her build a legendary while some of her guild members are helping me build one, too. I’m not a member of Apotheosis, and they aren’t members of Business Time, but as I said – we aren’t nothing to each other, either.

Meantime, I haven’t even touched on the raiding communities that have sprung up as a result of this Real ID change – people who want to make cross-server raiding their primary game activity! The guild that you are in at that point matters even less, because there is not likely to be a “central” guild organizing an event, rather it’s an individual bringing together raiders from all over. It’s radical to suggest that you might not even need a guild to enjoy raiding content, but with Looking For Raid and cross-server raiding, that has very quickly become our reality.

So where do we go from here? Let’s break down even more barriers. I wish I could group with people from the EU. I wish I could raid with my cross-faction friends. Let me invite friends from other servers via the in-game calendar! Consolidate these things so I am spending more time in your game. Let me offer guild repairs for everyone in my raid, the same way I can drop a feast and provide flasks for them. The final one, I’m a bit more trepidatious about: the ability for Real ID groups to join raids for current content. If that one becomes a reality, your guild tag really might cease to matter in a way that’s dangerous for guilds, although it might also really help to be able to fill a raid last-minute with a friend. The structure of guild and group play in WoW has been fundamentally altered. I’m not quite sure where it’s heading, or where Blizzard will draw the line, but for the time being I am pretty happy about it. The recently announced Scroll of Resurrection plays into this too. Characters and guilds and play are ultimately malleable at this time. It’s as easy as snapping their fingers for Blizzard to create a level 80 character, to race/faction change a character, and send them to whatever server they want. All of this is accomplished usually in a matter of minutes – I know, because I’ve poured money in that direction before. Now that the floodgates have been opened to allow us to play together, I predict that people won’t be content to stop there. We’ll probably see current content Real ID raiding, guild raiding coalitions, possibly even guild mergers. (It’s possible to server transfer a guild now, too!) More and more, we’re going to be playing together however much we want to be.

So how about you? How have the Real ID changes impacted your gameplay? What do you think about the “new” social reality of World of Warcraft?

Looking For: Community

I was a bit late getting my Christmas shopping done this year, so I found myself in a department store at the jewelery counter. You can imagine the kind of swarm that exists around any department store’s jewelery counter at this time of year. (Vosskah and I have been laughing at a radio ad we heard in which a middle-aged lady is listing all of the possible gifts to be found at [Store], “Sweaters! Perfume! Jewellery,” and she utters the last word with the kind of lusty eroticism I never expected to hear on the radio. Jewellery is a Big Thing, apparently).

So the department is crowded; I’m only there to find some clip-on earrings for my Grandma, and a kindly lady shows me how they are mixed in and where I can look, etc. I feel for this woman because she is clearly petrified and it’s her first day on the job. When I find the earrings I want and am paying for them, she is taking the time to get gift boxes for them, and tissue paper to go along with the sweater I was also buying. She’s not moving at light speed, but I think it’s a reasonable length of time for a transaction. Before my things have even been bagged, though, the lady behind me has moved up to the jewellery counter and is placing her items while impatiently asking, “Is it possible to get some service here?” I’m still inputting my PIN into the machine at this point and the lady is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. The poor woman helping me finishes up our transaction while the woman training her takes over for Ms. Can’t Wait Two Minutes. I walk away from the jewellery department exclaiming to Voss, “Did you SEE that?”

As far as these stories go, it’s a pretty mild one. Entitled lady doesn’t think that waiting in line is necessary, she wants service and she wants it now. She’s the real life equivalent of a “go go go”-er. However quickly things are moving, it’s not fast enough for her. They’re unpleasant in real life as they are in a video game, and I’m afraid that more and more the game is tailored to them.

I've been taking screenshots of LFR chat here and there since the patch, here's one of them with more to follow.

This is fairly radical for the erstwhile Pugging Pally to admit, but I don’t like LFD. I don’t like LFR. Wait, before you scroll to the bottom and start typing an angry comment, let me clarify. I understand the dilemmas that LFD and LFR were introduced to address. I’m not one of the elite raiders who feels that only 1% of people playing the game should see end-game content. I don’t need other people excluded from things so that I can feel awesome about myself. It turns out, it is possible to have your internet dragon and loot it too. No one else can take away from your accomplishments in-game because they’re yours. So that’s not my problem. And on the surface, LFD and LFR work. You want a dungeon? You can be doing one anywhere from instantly to twenty minutes later, most any time of day. It turns out that the same is true for LFR; you probably won’t wait in a queue longer than twenty minutes and probably less for that, too. I have run LFR solo, I’ve run it with my guild, I’ve run it with just a few friends. I’ve done it as a druid, a paladin, and a mage. I’ve had plenty of experience with it. And here’s where I think the problem lies.

What it purports to do, and what it actually does – are two completely different things. In theory, LFD and LFR lets you get together and cooperate with a group of people to achieve a group goal: killing internet dragons of various ilks. In practice, they mask singular goals with the illusion of group play. Yes, you have to more or less cooperate to successfully complete an LFD or an LFR run. But are you there to cooperate, or are you there to acquire loot/VP? Herein lies the problem. Once upon a time, I used to run dungeons yes, to acquire emblems or points or gear or whatever, but also because just running dungeons was fun. On my old server, I had a massive friends list of people who might want to run a dungeon at any given time. If nobody felt like trying to run a dungeon, I would hit Trade or the now-defunct Looking For Group channel. It wasn’t elegant, but generally it worked. More importantly, it allowed me to make friends and build a reputation for myself as a nice/fun and competent person to run with. I did this across several characters. Usually, if I felt like running a dungeon, I could make a group to do so. If I couldn’t manage a group, I’d put it off and do something else.

Now before you counter that it’s still possible to assemble groups this way, it’s true, but unlikely. I’ve tried. I can usually gather up guildies to run things if enough are interested and perhaps if I wait a bit. I’ve tried different channels to ask if people want to run something, with very little response. I can check my same-server friends’ list and usually folks are raiding or already IN a dungeon. And why wouldn’t they be? Joining one as a tank or a healer takes all of ten seconds. You can’t blame people for taking the path of least resistance. I’m more likely to group up with friends on other servers – many times, friends I have made via this blog and Twitter. So I’m in the interesting position of having to build a reputation as a good player outside of the actual game in order to run with people I enjoy playing with. I’m sure my server has such people, but it’s unlikely I will find them because they’re either running with their own guild, or running quick pugs with LFD.

This was a guy raging on Zon'ozz because no other healers were dispellers (I joined the group after they'd wiped on Zon'ozz).

So it goes with LFR. And I will be completely honest – yes, there are good parts of LFR, but overall LFR alarms me because of what it represents, and because of its potential impact in many different ways. First of all, if someone gets their introduction to raiding through LFR I fear for what they think raiding actually IS like. A raid full of people face-pulling the boss, ignoring strats, backtalking each other and constantly squabbling, ninjaing loot they shouldn’t have (feral druids winning Int gear, I’m looking at you). LFR is a bad LFD pug writ large, with a proportionately larger number of Go Go Gos and bad attitudes. The issue with LFD and LFR both are that the majority of people feel that they’re being put in a position where they have to ‘put up with’ other people to get what they want. It’s not an opportunity to meet new folks or make friends, how could it be? There is no additional benefit to befriending people via LFD, and even if there were, you’d need to be willing to add that person via Real ID to take advantage of it. Most of us won’t do that.

Now, Blizzard has taken some steps towards addressing these issues. They acknowledged the erosion of server community by coding a preference in LFD to group you with same-server folks wherever possible. I think it was a bit too little too late, though, because most of us are already conditioned to join the group, begin killing things with the other four, faceless and anonymous people in our group, hope that it’s a “good group” so we collect our loot, points, or whatever and then move on to the next group. I’ll sometimes remark, “Hey, we’re both from this server!” and the reaction is almost always the equivalent of a shrug. If I don’t mention that we’re from the same server, then it usually doesn’t get mentioned. There’s a confusion of paradigm in what exactly is being awarded. So we’re grouped with people from our server; but tanks and sometimes healers can also obtain a satchel of loot if they are willing to join on their own. Even if a pug tank likes the group of four he/she is put with, there’s no benefit to them for staying with that group, and there is benefit to dropping group and re-queuing to obtain another satchel.

The second thing Blizzard is doing is introducing the “Battle Tag” system (currently being tested in Diablo III) that is probably what Real ID should have been all along. You’ll be able to choose a pseudonym that others will see if you choose to friend each other mutually, and gain the benefits of Real ID without letting people know your real name. This has the potential to enable friends lists to transcend server restrictions, and possibly even make reputation matter again to a certain extent. You could build a network of folks you’ve run with and would like to run with again, no matter what server they are on. For me this has great potential, and I’m watching it with interest to see what develops. I don’t just want to whine about things uselessly – I recognize that LFD and LFR were introduced with a purpose. Especially for smaller population servers, and for dungeon grouping while leveling, these systems have been a great boon. They enabled myself and other players to see lower level dungeon content that we probably didn’t have the opportunity to see before. Assembling lowbie groups was always a bit of a crap shoot – find four other people near your level, traipse out to the dungeon (possibly located in a place you hadn’t been, or you had to get there without a mount). Now we get mounts at level 20 so that’s much less of a concern, but LFD has made that completely moot anyway. It’s never been easier to join a group to do a dungeon, or as it turns out, a raid. At least, something raidish, with a raidish shape.

The overall DPS of this group WAS pretty low. I wasn't going to say anything about it, though.

I am concerned that LFR takes my favourite part of the game (raiding) and makes it so effortless yet empty to me. When you can roll in and kill Deathwing in under two hours, where is the impetus to join a long-standing, dedicated raiding group? Is it going to be worth it to the average player to say “I killed it on normal mode,” or “I killed it on heroic mode?” It was already reasonably tough to find people driven to complete heroic modes – what about now, when there seems to be three options of difficulty? I’ve had at least one friend privately confide to me that they weren’t much inspired to kill Deathwing on normal mode, having ‘seen’ him on LFR difficulty. Hard modes always stretched the veracity of the game for me in terms of lore considerations, which is more of a concern for RPers, but it does matter. There IS a “roleplay” in this MMORPG we all play, after all. Does Deathwing care if we killed him on “Looking For Raid” mode, normal mode, hard mode?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I was already a bit worried about LFR when it was announced. How will that work, I wondered? It’s the size and scope of a raid, and all of the art, without the heart. It doesn’t have the voices of my guild friends along with it; it has random and unpredictable people. It has that guy who will queue as a healer and then go ret instead and win the caster ring from Hagara and never say a word. It has mercenary people who are just in it for themselves, it has verbal abuse. (I’m not excluding myself from the mercenary people category, by the way). There is no benefit to being magnanimous or sharing loot or anything in LFR. It doesn’t have the jokes or the camaraderie or the time or the dedication. It doesn’t have what makes raiding fun for me. Yes, I know, it’s 1) not for me and 2) so just don’t do it then. I will stop doing it when there is no benefit for me, or I will do it and quietly do my job. But what worries me is the people who are doing it who might get the impression that they’ve experienced all the game has to offer and don’t need to seek a guild who will help them to reach those goals on ‘normal’ mode, or worse, the people who’ve never raided and are left with the impression that this is what raiding is. There’s no question whether Blizzard has managed to make a random grouping tool that enables pugs to down ‘raid’ content. For me, the question is really whether or not they should have.

What do you think? Please don’t hesitate to respond and say that you love LFR and are really happy with it, and your reasons why. I don’t consider my opinion any kind of definitive one here, it’s just mine, nor am I going to argue or get defensive with you. LFR has enabled me to get three pieces of loot I wouldn’t have obtained from our regular raids – and I’ve been doing it because I know it can help me perform better for my actual raid. I know many of my guildies have been doing the same. I’ve already seen a marked drop in overall LFR speed and efficiency since the first week, though. I wonder what it’s going to be like a month from now? I’m interested to hear what you have to say about all of this, whether good or bad.

DO IT THE RIGHT WAY

It’s Okay To Love DPS

Part of a sketch I never finished.

Cynwise and I have been on a similar wavelength lately. If you haven’t yet read his post that was a response to my post – it’s a great read and it will make you think. I started drafting a reply in his comments and I quickly realized it was going to become a full-fledged entry. So there is the background for you, and here are my thoughts on finding the character you love, and why it’s not always that easy.

The first problem is that DPS have a certain image in the community, especially pure DPS. I can’t even claim to be immune to this myself; there is something about tanks and healers that wants to invite trust. When I zone into a pug, I automatically assume that the tank and healer are reasonable people who want to succeed in the instance. (This isn’t always true, but we’re talking about my assumptions here). I assume that the DPS might cause trouble or disruption in some way.

Yes, I admitted it – I am prejudiced against DPS players, even when I’m one of them. The stereotype exists for a reason, and I think it’s self-perpetuating for several reasons. Self-fulfilling prophecies are funny that way. Let me tell you about a trollroic I ran a few weeks back (as a mage).

First off, I was excited to be there! I waited twenty minutes for the queue to pop, determined that I wouldn’t let the lure of quick queues dissuade me from getting some VP for Millya. We zoned into Zul’Aman and I did as I usually do – made a table, buffed the group, said hello. Everything went fine for a little bit but of course it was one of those rushrush jobs, everyone is in such an incredible hurry. We got to the Dragonhawk boss (I don’t even know their names at this point) and the tank said “Kill hatcher on the left.” Well, folks – left when facing the stairs and left when standing on the stairs are two different beasts. I killed the wrong hatcher. I’ve been in plenty of groups where this has happened, but this tank was so rigid that he stayed in the spot he’d been waiting for the eggs to spawn from. So mea culpa, I killed the wrong one, but at least a hatcher was killed. This fight doesn’t need to be a wipe unless no hatchers are killed at all (even then, I’ve healed through no hatchers being killed, but that’s neither here nor there). The group got really snarky with me, “MAGE killed the wrong one” etc, and everything continued in this vein for the entire instance. They wouldn’t sheep the mob I asked for (so I could spellsteal the buff). The fact is – I’m a keen pug observer, and I knew quite well that the real issue was the resto druid was not a very strong healer, except that I’d never say so. Somehow, I became the de fact scapegoat for this run. (No goat jokes, please). We wiped on the last boss because they wanted to do the “stand in the square” achievement, and I thought to myself (and almost typed sarcastically) “How are they going to find a way to blame THIS on me?”

Well. As it happens! I should NOT have used Time Warp at the Lynx (I always use Time Warp at the lynx) because the Dragonhawk is harder to heal and so clearly that is the reason we failed. At this point I just threw up on my hands and didn’t fight it. We killed the boss, not without a struggle (Time Warp notwithstanding) the druid let the tank die and then had to battle-rez him. I should mention, as a footnote, that I did 40% of the damage in this instance. Yes, that’s integral to the story, because apart from the Dragonhawk mix-up I think I was doing a pretty good job. When I left the group, the tank and healer were still congratulating each other on their respective awesomeness, because WHAT AN EPIC BATTLEREZ.

The point I’m trying to make is that DPS get no respect. I have seen this attitude mostly in tanks and healers, and yet also adopted by the DPS themselves. Think of self-deprecating comments like “I’m just a DPS,” or “He/She is JUST a DPS,” or “We just need a DPS.” There are more of us, so naturally, we’re expendable in the extreme. Heroic runs can be a revolving door of DPS players and nobody cares. There are three per group, or 5-6 per raid group. People think that what we do is easy, we are highly replaceable, and really not worthy of respect. Therein lies the problem for those of us who have the ability to play multiple characters: If everyone is going to assume you are a meter-humping mouthbreather, why wouldn’t you want to play another character?

Here’s where the problem gets sticky, especially for those of us who are responsible adults. You want to help (your guild, your friends, random pugs, whatever) so you make a tanking or a healing character. For a double-dose of responsibility you can make a tanking character with a healing off-spec! Now there’s no problem with this. It’s true that fewer people play tanks, and fewer people play healers. It may not seem so based on the blog community – I think there are more healing blogs than DPS blogs and more of both types than tanking blogs – but in general, the population is a pyramid with DPS on the bottom and tanks at the top. LFD queues bear this out as well. So someone has to play them – and the natural response of a thinking, responsible adult is to want to fill these roles. Because we know we are capable of doing them, but not because we truly love them.

This becomes a problem. I actually chose to play a priest when I first started playing because I thought it would be the most useful. The book that I bought about Warcraft (don’t laugh) actually asked the question, “Do you like to help people? If so, then being a healer might be a good role for you.” I did like to help people, and a priest could do that. It was the ultimate healer, a healer so healy that they had more than one tree devoted to it. I didn’t dislike healing. I still don’t necessarily dislike it. But the guild we were in had an abundance of tanks and healers, whereas truly good DPS were a great rarity. Consider the opposite to what the Warcraft guide was inadvertently suggesting: If you DON’T like to help people, you should play a DPS.

It’s not often you see DPS players advocate for each other. I mean – we are so disparate, a lot of times. You aren’t likely to have many people of your same class in a raid, especially a ten-person raid. You won’t hear a mage talk about solidarity with rogues or shadow priests. The other issue is that DPS are tacitly “competing” with one another. We want to be the best, to do the most damage, and that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a fellow feeling with other DPS. This only compounds the problem: DPS are seen as being selfish. They aren’t assuming the responsibility that the tanks and healers are, they get off easy, they’re a dime a dozen, etc.

It’s this attitude that drives people to heal and tank. Which wouldn’t be an issue on its own, if they weren’t hating every minute of it. Are you playing the class or character you’re playing because it’s what you really, truly love? Or is it because you feel that you have to because no one else will? Trust me, because I know. It leads to resentment. It leads to frustration. And ultimately it may lead to you not even enjoying the game you are playing, so that at one point you sit up in your chair and wonder what the heck you are doing devoting hours of your life to something making you miserable.

The problem that Cynwise and I both share (if you choose to see it as a problem) is that we are adaptable players, able to play multiple characters and learn how to fill other roles. That’s not me being self-congratulatory, and I also specialize in just two – tanking isn’t really my thing. This is a problem because we’re also the kind of people who want to feel as if we matter, and who want to help people. This is always going to result in a pull away from the somewhat isolated, self-sufficient damage dealing role. We’re not as helpful, not as useful as we could be, and it’s that potential that gets us in trouble. As Cynwise said, he can’t help but feel he could better contribute to the success of his team if he were playing a healer. Honestly though, I’m not sure.

An old friend of mine, a fellow DPS, once told me that many more people can play a healer decently (not necessarily exceptionally) than can play a truly outstanding DPS. I think it’s the kind of statement that can’t be verified, but the part I want to take away from it is not anything disparaging against healers, but rather, the clearly stated DPS pride that he espoused. He was the first person (and one of the few) I have met who was truly dedicated and proud of being a DPS player. Never apologizing just for existing, or for taking up a spot in a group, he knew that in any group he was a major factor in its success, and he was right. I know I could definitely stand to examine my own attitude towards DPS players, and I suspect we probably all could. Appreciate the unique challenges of all the roles without assigning value to them. Yes, there are fewer tanks and healers in a raid group. The role comes with greater responsibility and somewhat higher visibility when it comes to failure. But we can’t tank and heal the bosses to death. I think it’s sad that a mediocre tank or healer is more likely to receive accolades than all but the greatest DPS players. We’re playing what we love. It doesn’t make us shirkers, slackers or fail players. You have to play what you love, otherwise why are you playing?

Another unfinished sketch, this time of my mage on the OTHER side, Jikali.

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