Late-night Thoughts on Guild Dynamics

Once upon a time, I knew absolutely no one in the World of Warcraft.

So I introduced my brother to it.

He joined up with something like three guilds before I even joined one. He met people. He’s always been the more socially outgoing of the two of us, and it seemed that trend would carry over into WoW.

My brother had joined Fated Heroes while I was in Kindred (which then morphed into Kindred Knights). I got a lot of pressure to join FH and, eventually, I succumbed, on the very day I dinged 50, which was, I believe, early February of 2006.

I have been playing with the people I have met in Fated Heroes pretty much since that day. It’s where I met Tia and Kam, Majik and Toga, Daey and Dar and so many others.

I was thinking about guild dynamics tonight because Daey, who has been an officer in each incarnation of Apotheosis since the start, recently stepped down from officerhood and, due to work and other commitments, he’s been unable to raid regularly (read: pretty much at all) this whole month. I’ve kept in touch with him and we’ll see if this upcoming reset works out for him now that hockey is over for him and go from there.

Dayden, one of our officers in the last incarnation of Apotheosis, and through Firelands in this version as well, has returned to the game after a long period of staring out of his window during all the free time he had. ;) Except he’s unavailable for, oh, three weeks, smack-dab in the middle of his trial.

I’m okay with both of these situations — Dayden because he gave us notice way ahead of time and Daey because I’ve been in contact with him regularly throughout his absence and has given me straightforward information about a timetable for his return.

I then got to thinking about how it might look to others in the guild. “Weird,” they might say, “Daey hasn’t been in a raid in like a month!” Or “oof, that’s right, Dayden’s not around for the next three weeks, man, that’s weird.”

At that point, I started thinking, “you know, if people have a problem with it, although I have no evidence thereof, they can…” and I trailed off in mid-thought. No, they cannot just “kiss my ass,” which was how that thought would have ended. ;) “But why not?” I asked myself. “I’m the GM and while that doesn’t mean I’m a dictator, I should occasionally be able to be dictatorial, right?”

No. It doesn’t mean that. Being the GM means that I, above all others, should hold myself to a certain standard of behaviour and, within raids, skill/familiarity with my job.

“What is the point of being a GM if you can’t do X, Y or Z for your friends?” I found myself asking, even though I don’t feel I’m doing that at present.

The point of being a GM is to help manage things, make things run smoothly for everyone. I have never been a fan of using one’s power (either in-game or in other, RL situations) to manipulate situations for one’s own benefit. Had there been a healing legendary this expansion, I would have been the first to say “nope, I should not get the first”. In my mind, being the GM does not mean my friends (and family, since my brother does still play) should get a free pass. And I don’t believe Dayden and Daey are, and no one’s complained about them and their situations (no, guildies, you should not start now), but it started this really interesting series of thoughts in my head, which I thought I would share.

I play WoW for a few reasons. One of them is to play with my friends. But they were, once upon a time, all strangers to me. Over the years, some have quit playing, others have moved on elsewhere. You cannot count on everyone to be as dedicated as you might be to the group or the guild or the game. There will, inevitably, be turnover and you’ll stop seeing friends log in. Or maybe it’ll be you who stops logging in.

Starting up a guild with the goal of “to play with friends” is noble, to be sure, but the biggest warning I have to anyone about that is you will rarely be able to only play with your friends. Billy has class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he’ll miss Tuesday’s raid. Clyde will step in for him Tuesdays, but he can’t make Sundays. But Sophie is there on Sundays, but can’t make Tuesday or Thursday. So you go recruiting and you hope to receive applications from qualified, skilled, like-minded individuals.

But here’s a secret — no one you recruit will ever be exactly the same as your current group of friends. And hell, even in that group of friends, there are dissenting opinions and there will, inevitably, be some form of drama somewhere that may, or may not, be dealt with in a respectful way.

As soon as that one “outsider” joins the guild, all of a sudden, it’s not just a group of friends anymore. Now you’ve become a team that integrates people who have the same goals and availability and, hopefully, skill/talent/ability. That team integration is one of the biggest hurdles any guild faces and it’s also the reason that policies and rules and regulations need to come into play in a guild. It may be possible to not have any rules when it really is just a group of friends, but as soon as that “outsider” joins, they have a lot of catching up to do in terms of how the guild works.

Apotheosis didn’t always have rules and policies, but we added them as we came across various situations back in Burning Crusade, and those rules and policies have served us very well over the years. We still maintain them and we still add in clauses and such as we encounter them in new situations.

So even when you’re forming up and you’re all “hey, yeah, I get to just play with my friends!” be aware that the dynamic will inevitably change and new people pulled in may not have the same background and ideas as you. It’s not a bad thing, but it means things that you’ve taken for granted need to be codified (you know, written down) for the new people to learn and accept them.

In looking at the Heroic Blackhorn kill shot, I see familiar names, but I only see two that have raided together since 2006; Madrana and Majikmarine.

I see Chronis (Division) and Kaleri and Merkavah and Nowell, all of whom I raided with at various points in Wrath of the Lich King. I see a bunch of people I’ve been raiding with for about a year and I see a few newer names.

Much as I like these people (and I really am quite fond of my guildies overall), they were not the people for whom I restarted this guild. I have a responsibility to these people, the “new” people, although I really don’t think of them that way any longer. That responsibility is to uphold the guild’s standards, maintain order and lead us through the various encounters in current raid content.

Sometimes, it astounds me to see how far Apotheosis has gotten from the original incarnation, when we were just a bunch of people who wanted to play together and eventually down Illidan. It’s grown into such a diverse community of people — raiders and non-raiders, left-wingers and right-wingers, members of the GLBT community and heterosexual people, people of different nationalities, religions and ethnic backgrounds.

So I don’t mind that our little guild has grown from a group of in-game “friends” to a great community and I don’t mind that it means I need to ensure things are fair for everyone. I do, however, have to chuckle at how naive I was, back on June 1st of 2007. I really did think we could have this perfect little haven where rules and policies and such weren’t necessary and everyone just innately understood how we did everything. In that little idealized society, it wouldn’t be a big deal that Daey’s been unable to raid or that Dayden will be missing time. It’s not a big deal in Apotheosis at the moment either, mind you, but I’m forever anticipating such issues and thinking about how such things will be interpreted.

Sometimes I miss being that innocent about things like guild and group dynamics, but my sociology education and being a GM are the two things that have really caused me to be hyper-aware of how others might interpret things and how I should work to pre-empt those misinterpretations.

MoP Beta Access

It seems another bunch of beta invites went out today. I logged in to my account and was rewarded with beta access of my very own.

I’ve already copied my hunter and paladin from Eldre’Thalas to Lost Isles (US).

If you have questions about stuff for hunters or (specifically holy) paladins at this point in the Mists beta, please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. I will be taking a TON of screenshots, too, and babbling about general game stuff, I’m sure.

Just don’t expect me to roll a panda or a monk. :P

My Raid Group's Strengths

I posted about Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn yesterday and in that post, I detailed the number of ways my raid group struggled with the encounter. My guildies obviously took exception to the post and I got comments from them complaining that I made us look incompetant.

Clearly, if we’re 6/8 25-man HM, we’re doing something right, Kit pointed out.

So today, I will follow up yesterday’s post with a short (hah) discussion of where my raid group’s strengths are.

1) Healing. Myself excluded, my healers are fan-fucking-tastic. I can (usually) keep up, but the other healers are amazing. I guess that’s what happens when the guild master runs a blog tailored to a healing spec – the healers I tend to get are top-notch. I am consistently in awe of Jasyla, Featherwind, Kaleri, Sara, Kit and Walks. Not just their throughput, but their ability to follow instructions and mainly making good decisions. While I know I need to have enough healers to run raids in case a bunch of people have something come up, having more healers is genuinely problematic for me because so many of us make so many raids and having to sit someone out is always, always a difficult choice.

2) DPS. My DPS can bring it. No ifs, ands or buts. We have never had problems with an enrage timer if we have executed the encounter appropriately. We have a great group of talented, skilled raiders who bring their best efforts to the raid. It’s as though I’m a general and I have this elite force available to me and I can point at a target and say “THAT ONE, KILL IT!!!” and they go forth and kill it with ease.

3) Tanks. Not only do I have two talented players for tanks, I have three capable DPSers as designated OS tanks. I am fortunate to have five players (there are more than that, but a minimum of five) who know their classes well enough to tank through various encounters. We’ve had main spec DPSers be the main tanks on several occasions (Heroic Maloriak, Heroic Baleroc, just to name a couple) and we’ve kicked some ass with the versatility our tanking crew brings.

4) Attitude. By and large, we are not a cranky group of people. Sure, we all have off-nights and we all get frustrated sometimes, but we’re easily amused and our chatter during raids consists of things like poop (I don’t even know) and mocking Majik (and me). A good time is had. It’s a huge difference from the impending dread and doom I had back in Wrath when I was raiding with my RL Friend the Resto Druid (not that my friend is evil or anything, but the guild atmosphere was toxic). It is, overall, a joy to raid with this group of people.

5) Perseverence. My group doesn’t quit and my officers and I know when to push them and when not to. When to push? Tier 11 heroic modes. We got H Conclave and H Valiona & Theralion down and were working on H Omnotron when Firelands came out. When not to push? H Ragnaros. We pulled him a few times but recognized that wasn’t the best use of our time or energy given how close Dragon Soul was to coming out.

6) Interaction. We talk a lot. We tweet at each other, we comment on each other’s blogs, we listen to podcasts to support each other, we post on the forums consistently. We talk about all kinds of things, including, but not limited to, the current progression fight we’re on. My Ontario-based healers have Wine Nights every so often. There was a Vegas trip. People text and talk outside of the game. People play other games together. We’re not just a group of people that sees each other at raid time three nights a week. Actual friendships are born in the guild and that helps keep us going strong as a guild. It’s a real community that goes beyond the boundaries of World of Warcraft.

These are all strengths for my raid group, though I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Those are the ones that came to me when thinking about what to write today, after discussing our flaws and weaknesses yesterday. We can overcome the weaknesses (as shown by defeating Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn) and the strengths serve to tide us over through our struggles.

Apotheosis, you rule. :)

Heroic Blackhorn

(Before I begin my ranty thoughts on Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn, I’d like to state that my guild has killed him on 25-man and that now that we’ve killed him, we are unlikely to change our basic strategy, so please, no “you should try this” or “no, no, do THIS” comments. Thank you.)

Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn has got to be the worst fight out there for my particular group of raiders.

I know, Heroic Spine awaits. We haven’t had a single pull on that encounter yet. I know it’s boring, monotonous, etc, etc, where nothing you do matters except for like, 18 second burns. However, I believe that’ll be something we’ll be able to accomplish with some time.

Allow me to tell you about some of the uncharitable thoughts I had about my raiders (my officers and myself included) during our 130+ wipes on Heroic Blackhorn.

“How the hell did they fall off the side?”
“… how the hell did they fall off the side AGAIN?”
“Move movemovemovemove goddammit, thanks for not moving and killing me.”
“Oh shit, they’re taking that one?! runrunrun dammit, shit, that’s my bad.”
“How many barrages can you die to in a single night? And whose fault is it if everyone in your group doesn’t go but you do?”
“How many times?! HOW MANY TIMES do we have to remind you to MOVE OUT because of Blade Rush!??!”
“A SAPPER got through? SERIOUSLY?!”
“Oh good Christ, no battle rezzes are UP yet?”
“How many times can someone die to Degeneration before I sit them? Oh, wait, I DON’T HAVE A BENCH TONIGHT.”
“Yes, thank you for missing your Onslaught cooldown, now we are all dead.”
“Holy shit, we’re in Phase 2! … crap, that’s a wipe.”
“If you say even one more syllable, I will track you down and eviscerate you and I WILL ENJOY IT.”

This fight took every single weakness we have as a raid team and made it an integral part of the encounter.

1) Positioning. We are bad at positioning, collectively. I basically can’t say “spread out”, I have to draw out maps with specific areas for specific people to go to. That’s okay. I can deal with that. Drawing maps and layouts is part of a raid leader’s job. But we’re bad at it. We don’t clump when we should clump, we clump when we should spread. And, leading in to the next point, we are collectively awful at moving to somewhere we’re not necessarily expecting to be.

2) Dynamic fights. Again, collectively, we are awful at unexpected events, especially when they involve us moving somewhere. Heroic Majordomo Staghelm is a perfect example. I would organize everyone to stand in specific spots, but then fire would invade their spots and people would run around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s similar on Heroic Blackhorn and Twilight Barrage soaking. I discovered that my entire raid team, myself included, is awful with deciding whether or not to grab a Twilight Barrage and anticipating whether or not someone else will grab it. The sheer number of restrictions as to whether or not someone grabs a Twilight Barrage is absolutely ridiculous. (Is it centered on a beam? Screw it. Is it outside your immediate little box? Screw it. Is a Twilight Onslaught ABOUT to happen? Screw it. Did a Twilight Onslaught JUST FINISH? Screw it. Have we gone through two sets of drakes? Screw it.)

We tried four groups of four, we tried groups of 2 and 3, we tried damn near everything and tried keeping people paired with the same people more often than not so that they could get a feel for whether their partners would grab that one or not. In the end, we had four groups of 3 and two groups of 2 and this seemed a little more workable.

But by and large, people just kept immediately dying to barrages as we learned this fight. Over and over and over again. Generally, all my battle rezzes were used by the 90s mark. Actually, that’s an improvement from the earlier attempts where all three of them were blown by the 50s mark.

3) Decisive action. I am a fairly conservative raid leader. I always have been. I like to weigh my decisions before making them. That includes battle rezzes and calls for wipes. Delaying either on Heroic Blackhorn wastes a ton of time and with only 9 hours of raiding a week, with a total of ~30 minutes of breaks, means we don’t have a lot of time to waste. In the early attempts, I was hemming and hawing a LOT. By the last couple nights of attempts, I was like “fuck it, we are wiping” more often than not. But then, wipes are discouraging things, too. It’s a fine balance and it took a lot of time for me to figure out what was The Best course of action for the raid group.

4) Cooldown rotations. We’re actually not bad at this. We got REALLY good at them during Firelands (you kind of had to!), but incorporating the tank/DPS cooldowns makes things a little more difficult and yes, a little more — you guessed it — dynamic! And the tanks/DPS aren’t altogether used to being called on for CDs so they’ll miss them on occasion. I can’t even blame them — they just don’t always get asked to use those abilities.

5) Target swapping. We have, collectively, never been very good at swapping targets, dating all the way back to Tier 11. There were problems with people switching from Onyxia to Nefarian, for example, or on and off Al’akir’s adds or getting on or pulling off the right tron in the Omnotron encounter… Yet on this one, the ranged go from melee adds to ranged-side drake, to melee-side drake, to melee-adds. And the melee are going from melee add to melee add (not chasing when they Blade Rush), then swapping to the freaking drake, then back to melee adds. Oh! And yes! The Twilight Sappers, too! Not to mention how we don’t even really want to LOOK at Blackhorn funny until Goriona flies off.

It’s as though the deck was stacked against us for this encounter. It has been, by far, the hardest encounter for us to get down this entire expansion. And Spine awaits. Oh, good. ;)

That said, I have to say that the guild did a great job in holding in their frustrations, for the most part. We struggled, we were frustrated, we were angry and yet… we’re still going. We even managed to have some laughs in the face of such adversity.

Behold… the Countdown to Heroism/Wipes? video. It’s comprised of 11 attempts where we called for a wipe just after Heroism was called for.

Thank you to the Apotheosis raiders for making this fight doable with laughter all the way through as we defeated a boss that seemed to be designed to expose our collective flaws!

Mists of Pandaria Beta Stuff

I’m not in the beta yet, but beta invites have definitely gone out and the various WoW sites, like MMO-Champion, are going nuts with info.

So I went digging through the Curse/MMO database site at and dug up some interesting paladin-related stuff. Bear in mind this is JUST data-mined stuff. This is stuff that may not be implemented, etc.

Battle Healer: This appears to be a glyph. And it appears to encourage paladins to stand in melee range with Seal of Insight up. Interesting. Is this Blizzard saying “hey, holy paladins! YES, you! YOU have been designed to heal in melee range. For real. Here’s the proof.”? Or is it allowing our prot and ret cousins to help out? Or something in between?

Beacon of Light: This also appears to be a glyph. No GCD on Beacon? Well, now. This speaks to lots of beacon swapping? Perhaps?

Blinding Light: A new ability at 87. Meh?

Boundless Conviction: A new passive at 85. Whee? I mean, I can see the benefit here, but I’m afraid they are going to throw this out because we will be totally imbalanced. :P

Cleanse: Looks normal, right? WRONG. Hello, 8 second cooldown!

Cleansing: Appears to be a glyph. Interesting.

Divine Plea: Appears to be a glyph that will reduce the healing penalty AND the mana return on Divine Plea? Would love to see what the actual numbers end up being.

Divine Protection: Looks as though the current glyphed Divine Protection is going to become the standard…

Divine Protection: And it looks as though the glyphed version of Divine Protection returns the physical damage portion. This makes a lot of sense, actually, because I almost never remove my Divine Protection glyph.

Divinity: Interesting! Looks like the standard glyph BUT, instead of just returning mana when you cast Lay on Hands, this glyph will increase the cooldown as well.

Double Jeopardy: Looks to be a ret glyph.

Frugal Blessings: Finally, those two minors are combined into one.

Holy Shock: Oh boy. A glyph that will, single-handedly, convince people out there that being a “shockadin” is finally viable. Or something.

Illumination: This *appears* to be a glyph that returns to us our dearly departed Illumination, albeit in a different form. 1% mana return on every critical Holy Shock, but 10% less mana through Meditation. Interesting. The return of crit stacking?

Improved Judgement: This appears to be a passive. And I’m so confused. There are SO MANY ways to get mana back…

Supplication: Some kind of ability. This would ostensibly replace part of the Crusade talent in the ret tree.

The Mounted King: Apparently a glyph. I do not see the use. At all.

Turn Evil: Looks like they’re changing this ability of ours to double the fear duration. Perhaps the Sha are “evil”? Hm.

And that’s about all I’ve found with tooltips thus far. More soon, I would imagine. :)

Mists of Pandaria Hopes

First of all, I have approximately 23 draft posts that have yet to be finished and may never see the light of dawn day. Life has been busy lately, to say the least, so forgive me my lack of posts. (You should listen to my mostly-weekly podcast, Blessing of Frost, if you miss my opinionated self.)

At 3am ET tomorrow, Monday, March 19th, all the WoW sites everywhere will basically explode with information about the forthcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria.

It would be an understatement to say that I have been a negative nancy since I learned that pandas were going to show up in this game. In fact, I no longer say “sad panda“, which I’ve said for years. I’ve taken to saying “sad moose” instead (often #sadmoose on Twitter!). One of my guildies, Kamilla, actually made me a sad moose of my very own! (I love him. Isn’t the tear awesome?)

Anyhow, this blog has chronicled my feelings and experiences from Burning Crusade through Wrath of the Lich King and through Cataclysm. I have played since 2005. As negative as I have been about the panda expansion, I would be lying if I didn’t say I had some measure of hope that maybe I’ll find something to be excited about.

I know that there have been spoilers and leaks, but I haven’t checked them out. I’m content to wait until 3am.

However, due to the fact that I am unspoiled beyond what Blizzard’s already told us, I thought I’d share some of my hopes for the new expansion, some of which will surely be crushed in about seven hours.

  • Exciting raid content for 25-man raid groups. By “exciting”, I don’t mean “gimmicky”. I do not mean “vehicles”. I do not mean “instances completely full of trash”, nor do I mean “instances lacking trash entirely”. I do not mean raid instances reliant upon the interrupt mechanic. I do not mean a state of flux with regards to the number of healers, tanks and DPS from encounter to encounter. I do not mean encounters where a single person can and will wipe the entire raid without question if they make a single mistake. I mean exciting raid content that is well-balanced, well-tuned, challenging and dependent on people to do their jobs well, but if there’s a mistake (or two or three) made, it’s still recoverable.
  • Less grindy stuff. Or at least stuff that feels less grindy. I know. It’s an MMO. I don’t think Valor Points are going anywhere and I don’t think grinding out your weekly VP will go anywhere. Is grinding VP any different from running Scholo 24 times for my helm? Not really, but it’s less “fun”, I guess. See, part of my issue with the direction the game’s taken is that they make it really easy to do things alone. Oddly, this bothers me. I LOVE being self-sufficient and self-reliant, but I think the fact that I can queue up for random dungeons or raids takes something from the game. I spent hours and hours and hours running the dungeons back in Vanilla. Hours upon hours. And I laughed. I had so much fun! I was challenged — 45 minute Strat run, anyone? I think that incenting us, somehow, to run things with friends (and yes, I know that you get guild funds for doing the dungeons with guildies, etc) rather than just queue up whenever I feel like it, would be helpful in getting rid of the grindy feeling. I always do stuff on my own because I CAN. But some of my best memories are with other people in this game. Most of them, really.
  • Relatedly, the challenge dungeon things? I am hopeful that they will be awesome. The gear normalization thing would really have to pan out and be done well, though. This is something I could get really excited about and, to be honest, I hope I do. I would love to not be limited to level 90 dungeons with it, though. Like, let me go do Strat Undead competitively.
  • I would love to see some kind of reward for older players. This is something that Blizzard has never really done until transmog/void storage came out. Sure, there’s all kinds of fancy new stuff for everyone, but hey, I just lived through an expansion (or at least part of it). Doesn’t my loyalty mean anything? I have zero clue what that kind of reward would be. Maybe it would just be acknowledgement. Maybe it would be in-jokes about Rhyolith or Yor’sahj or Nefarian. Maybe it would be a pet or a title or something. Just… something. To indicate that we long-term players matter. Even though we clearly don’t. I WANT to drink the Kool-Aid, Blizzard. Give me a reason to do so.
  • Attunements. GOD, I want attunements and keys back. I know, this will be crushed shortly. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
  • Epic quests. Fewer legendaries, more epic class quests that force you to use your class in the most awesome ways. See: Rhok’delar quest, Benediction quest. I know it won’t happen. But I want it to.
  • Finally, I hope that Mists of Pandaria, being the first expansion without a “big bad” to kill (no Illidan, no Arthas, no Deathwing) can maybe return us to the days of Vanilla, where we fought many big bads along the way (and many smaller bads to boot) and had a great time doing it. We didn’t really know what would come next (at least I didn’t) and it was a real surprise to me to learn that progression went MC -> BWL -> AQ40 -> Naxx. There didn’t seem to be an underlying story through them all. Maybe we can get back to that. That could be fun.

Oh. Wait, one more.

  • I fully expect beta for Mists to be out in April sometime and I expect a beta announcement in this press thing.

See you on the other side.