Ruminations about Raiding from the Retirement Home

Well, hello there, folks. Apologies for the dust, but that strange thing we call “Real Life” seems to have expanded significantly since I stopped playing. Plus, who wants to hear about WoW stuff from someone who hasn’t played it since November?

Of course, though, I have things to say. I always have things to say. As usual, whether you play or not is your choice. These are just my ruminations about raiding. I’m not calling on people to quit en masse, I’m not encouraging everyone who’s ever quit to go back. I’m just writing because I have stuff I want to write about.

I’ve kept up with some of changes that have happened in the game since I quit in November. A lot of the smaller changes have escaped my notice or interest. To be honest, I don’t care about most of the balance changes, I don’t care about VP upgrades, Elder Charms, dailies or anything of the sort. However, what has struck me as interesting has been some of the discussion between Blizzard reps and various players about a couple of subjects. Specifically, the 10% nerf to 5.0 raids that is coming up in 5.2 as well as some responses to a thread on the forums about raiding being too hard and time consuming.

In order to address these points, I want to talk about my own philosophy and what encouraged me to raid.

RAIDING WAS THE PVE END-GAME

We typically spent a lot of time getting our toons from 1-60 in Vanilla. It took me 30 days of /played time, one full, real-life month (!) to get Kurn to 60. It was a long slog. Part of it was that I had no idea what I was doing to start, part of it was because I was distracted by all the cool things I could do in the world. (I spent way too many hours on a run from Desolace down through Feralas to Tanaris in order to explore the neutral Auction House, for example. There were many deaths as I ran down there at level 28 or so, collecting flight points along the way. I still had a blast, because it was all new and exciting!) I eventually hit 60 and was getting the hang of the various 5-mans available to me. I soon learned the best ways to clear LBRS, that the Father Flame event in UBRS was SO not worth it, that unless a warlock needed shoulders you should probably avoid Jandice Barov in Scholo, memorized the pulls in Strat Undead, figured out how to summon the Postmaster in Strat Live, figured out how best to navigate around Dire Maul’s various wings and, possibly most importantly, knew every square inch of Blackrock Depths and how to get everyone through Molten Core and Onyxia attunement. (Damn you, Windsor, DAMN YOU!)

As I saw it, the 5-mans (and LBRS/UBRS 10-mans) were stepping stones to the REAL end-game, which was raiding. I also acknowledged that not everyone wanted to raid or even had to raid. But the max-level instances were there to help attune us to the raids and also challenged us to learn how to play, basically. That’s where I learned how to pull properly, but that took time. I still remember killing more than one group after the rat cage in Strat Live because I pulled the patrolling abomination at precisely the WRONG time, causing a group of undead to join in the fun. But I learned to time things better and got to be good at pulling, as well as CCing and controlling my pet. (We will not talk about how my cat, Whisper, once wiped us all in BRD because we jumped off the “high road” and Whisper took the long way ’round…)

As I understood progression within the game, it was very linear. You got to 60, did these instances, then started raiding. And you would start raiding with the 20-mans, Zul’Gurub or the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj, if you didn’t have 39 friends to go raiding with. So we cleared ZG and half of AQ (always less popular than ZG with my guild). We recruited constantly and only ever twice had a full 40-man group to go tackle Molten Core. We would usually be around 32ish people or thereabouts, of varying levels of gear, skill and specs. We once walked into MC with something like nine warriors. Awkward. But no more awkward than 26-manning Gehennas one night.

MC would lead to Blackwing Lair, which lead to AQ40, which ultimately led to Naxxramas, the original level 60 instance. Somewhere in there, around the midpoint of MC, you could probably start working on Onyxia, which dropped T2 helms. (Insert moment of shock when you think that they’re about to release Tier 15…!)

Guilds were supposed to work their way through the content and eventually arrive at Naxx and Kel’Thuzad.

It didn’t really work out that way, though. Given the amount of people needed (at least 40 to have a full-powered raid) and the amount of time needed to prepare to raid (flasks, food, all the farming), many guilds just fizzled out, the guild I was part of at that time included. You have to know that in any guild, you have a lot of chances for things to go kablooie. The raid leader or GM quits? The chances to come back from that (if it’s unexpected, especially) were slim, back in those days. When you had 40 people, at a minimum, to manage, things got crazy hectic and there was even less of a chance of overall consensus or acceptance of various strats because there were even more people who could disagree with you. Maintaining order was challenging.

So, to me, it’s not at all surprising that so few people ever cleared the original Naxx. You weren’t expected to even SEE Naxx back in those days. It was accepted that most people, even raiders, would maybe get somewhere into Blackwing Lair, maybe early AQ40, and that’s where they’d basically fall apart. It was only the most dedicated and talented (and, in some cases, lucky) players who would get through Twin Emps and C’thun and get deep into Naxx.

There was, of course, a time limit. Naxxramas came out with Patch 1.11, June 20th, 2006 and Burning Crusade came out on January 16th, 2008. (Wow. Imagine less than ten months between the final instance of an expansion and the release of the new expansion…) So guilds only had 7 months to get to and clear Naxx.

It wasn’t really possible for people to catch up and get to Naxx. That’s why Naxx (much like Sunwell Plateau later) had so few guilds that ever even got to it. That’s why they could re-release an easier version of it as Tier 7 at the start of Wrath of the Lich King. So few people had seen it when it was current content, it was like a brand new instance.

BURNING CRUSADE MAINTAINED LINEAR PROGRESSION (MOSTLY)

Burning Crusade was more of the same game that we loved. We still had to go through and do the instances at level cap before we went off to raid, only they also introduced “heroic modes” and made those attunement quests rely heavily on mastery of level 70 heroic instances. I won’t talk about the rep requirements for heroics, nor will I talk about how some of the heroics were really quite difficult, even for people who knew their classes quite well. Entry into Karazhan didn’t require heroic dungeons to be completed, but Serpentshrine Cavern required time spent in Heroic Slave Pens and Tempest Keep’s The Eye required all the Trials of the Naaru to be completed — which included Heroic Shattered Halls, Heroic Shadow Labyrinth and Heroic Arcatraz to all be completed. (They were all considered to be some of the most challenging dungeons.) Once you cleared SSC and TK, you could get into Hyjal. Black Temple attunement required an extensive questline and for you to kill certain bosses in SSC, TK and Hyjal.

Long story short, progression here was extremely linear up until the point where they removed the SSC, TK, Hyjal and BT attunements and released Sunwell Plateau which was open to everyone without attunement (although the last three bosses were gated for two months).

Still, things were pretty linear because in order to participate in T6 content, you pretty much needed T5 gear. You couldn’t very well show up to a Tier 6 boss and do your part as a team member in gear you got way back in T4 out of Karazhan. It would be like doing some of Molten Core and then showing up to Naxx back in Vanilla. You couldn’t do it — your stats would not be high enough to justify giving you that spot, unless you were in an exceptional group who dragged you through farm content to gear you up.

So we went:

60-70
Normal level cap dungeons
Heroic dungeons
Karazhan (10 people)
Gruul/Magtheridon (this is when raids started requiring 25 people)
SSC/TK
Hyjal
BT
Sunwell

Somewhere in there, I think with the launch of Sunwell and the Shattered Sun Offensive, Blizzard gave us badge gear. We’d had Badges of Justice for quite some time, but now it could be used to purchase gear that was … interesting.

These badge-obtained items weren’t quite T5 (ilvl 133) but they weren’t quite T6 either (146). They were in the middle, leaning closer towards T6, with an ilvl of 141, for the armor. The weapons were ilvl 146, which was BETTER than what could be gotten out of BT, just from a stat perspective, with the exception of weapons off Illidan (151, except the Warglaives, which were 156).

All of a sudden, you could go from being all decked out in Kara gear to farming badges for this badge gear and you could move from being relegated to T4/T5 content (none of which most people touched in pugs except for Karazhan, at least on my server) to being able to join a guild progressing in Hyjal and Black Temple or even Sunwell.

This was the introduction of the catch-up mechanic. While the removal of the attunements was the preliminary step, the introduction of this badge gear was the thing that actually enabled people to move from T4 to T6 content without ever seeing T5 content. You could go from pugging Karazhan or even just doing heroic dungeons, to a Sunwell Plateau pug on your own.

It’s as though, midway through the expansion, Blizzard realized “dude, if guilds keep getting stuck at these entry requirements (attunements) for each tier, no one’s ever going to see Illidan,” and then once they lifted the attunements, they realized that the gear was the stumbling block. “Let there be gear!” they said, and there was.

Despite this, and despite the blanket 30% nerf at the 3.0 patch drop, about a month before Wrath came out, Sunwell Plateau was not seen by a ton of guilds. It was more popular than Naxxramas was for a variety of reasons (no attunement, the ability to pug trash for epic drops, etc), but I know hardly anyone back on my server went into Sunwell. Even very progressed raiders on other servers had a lot of difficulty with Sunwell and many guilds broke up while coming up against the second boss, Brutallus, who was well-known for being a “guild-breaker” and the sole reason many people picked up Leatherworking, for the Drums of Battle that could be used for a “permanent” haste buff, which stacked with Heroism/Bloodlust.

BURNING CRUSADE-LIKE BADGE GEAR BECOMES THE NORM

So off we go to Wrath of the Lich King.

In Wrath, tier gear was available from badge vendors right from the start. Sorry, I mean emblem vendors. Remember all those emblems? Emblems of Heroism, Valor, Conquest, Triumph and Frost. I still call them badges. :P

Anyhow, you could now get TIER gear from these vendors. Not all of your tier at first, but once the Trial of the Crusader raid (T9) came out, you could use your badges (which you got from basically any PVE content, including heroic dungeons and even a random normal one, once a day) to purchase your entire tier set from a vendor.

This continued with Tier 10 gear from Emblems of Frost, although your methods of gaining Emblems of Frost were a little less varied than Emblems of Triumph. Here, this page explains things pretty well.

So it was during this period, around Tier 9, that you suddenly not only had a “catch up” mechanic, or a mechanic to help you out in case your tier token is packed or to help with bad RNG. Suddenly, players had an alternate method, aside from raiding, to gear up entirely. What’s more, since the badges were EVERYWHERE, basically, people weren’t using the gear to “catch up” in order to go out and raid. It was more just to improve their own characters for the hell of it. And who could blame them? If you have the ability to upgrade your gear, especially with such ease, why wouldn’t you do it?

This is also the point where, in my never-remotely-humble opinion, raiding stopped being so much about the gear, which had been a huge incentive for people for years to this point. Until T9 came out, you were never able to get all of your tier gear without raiding. Gear was many people’s GOAL for raiding. (Not mine, mind you, although it was always nice to get upgrades.)

Gone was the linear progression, entirely. You could now level an alt to 80, do a ton of heroics, get the lowest tier of your tier 9 and then jump into PUGs without being a drag on the group due to your gear. (That’s not to say, of course, that you wouldn’t be a drag on your group at all, but that’s another story.) In theory, a knowledgeable player could get an alt to 80 and decently geared in an extremely short period of time. It was during this time that I actually levelled a bunch of alts. I had levelled my hunter and my paladin, but I levelled a druid to 80 as well as a priest, a shaman and even got my mage from 70 to 80. I healed pugs on all my healing-capable toons and did gold-DKP runs on my hunter. I knocked out dailies and weekly raid quests on most every character. Without a doubt, I was the most active I’d ever been in-game, with six characters at level cap and almost all of them had at least a full set of T9 and I was capable of doing just about any content I wanted to with them (barring heroic raids).

JUSTICE POINTS, VALOR POINTS AND CATACLYSM

Once Cataclysm launched, not all tier was available from the vendors. Clearly, Blizzard had realized “hey, we should probably keep SOME of the tier to raids only…”. Still, players had all kinds of options from their Justice/Valor point vendors. While there were a couple of slots that were notoriously hard to upgrade (helm and shoulders in particular) in early content, but there were several off-set pieces available to people, such that it was also pretty easy to gear up an alt or a new level 85 character. Combined with Darkmoon Faire trinkets, plus crafted gear from various professions, someone could level a toon to 85 and then get geared and hop into a raid pretty quickly. Even while running a guild, raiding with that guild, raid leading with that guild, I levelled a second holy paladin from level 1 to level 85 and geared her appropriately for T11 content in less than two months. If I’d had all the free time I wanted, that would have dropped to maybe three weeks, total.

It only got easier once Dragon Soul was out and the Heroic Hour of Twilight instances were out. Plus LFR joined the fray.

It was clear that LFR (in conjunction with the nerfs we saw in T11 and T12) was brought out to push people back into raids. However, given the precedents set in Wrath of the Lich King (where people were able to get good gear just by virtue of doing daily dungeon runs over a period of time), the challenging aspects of the LFR raids were toned down, if not eliminated.

Blizzard claims this is due to LFRs being a group of 25 people who don’t communicate and don’t plan things out. That’s fine, I get that. But there were very few, if any, negative consequences for screwing things up in Dragon Soul’s LFR. People didn’t have to soak on Morchok, bounce the ball back on Zon’ozz, even switch to the “proper” slime on Yor’sahj. People could eat Ice Waves on Hagara and manage to live. People could easily ignore the twilight realm on Ultraxion while healers didn’t pick up the healing buffs and still live. LFR Blackhorn wasn’t anywhere near as challenging as its normal version and was a pale imitation of the heroic version of the fight. LFR Spine saw healers twiddling their thumbs throughout while DPS mindlessly did damage and countless abominations died before they were pulled into the proper position. Thrall kept dropping people on Madness.

So LFR Dragon Soul was laughably easy to get through, with most of the issues stemming from griefers: those who would start the fight before people were ready or the group was even full, those who would deliberately kill abominations before they were in place and the like.

At the same time, normal Dragon Soul wasn’t terribly difficult. My own guild stomped the first four encounters on Normal on the first night we were in there. Two weeks later, Deathwing was dead and we could start in on heroics.

Meanwhile, non-raiders could “catch up” through LFR and get very similar gear to normals, albeit slightly less powerful versions. Again, though, these people weren’t trying to “catch up”, they were trying to progress. And that’s fine, that’s what LFR is for, IMHO. It’s for the casual raider who wants to see the content and do the encounters but doesn’t have the time or desire to raid in an organized, progressive fashion.

But then, they nerfed the crap out of Dragon Soul, both normal and heroic, despite having LFR available.

WHAT IS THE ACTUAL PURPOSE OF LFR, NORMAL AND HEROIC DIFFICULTIES?

After they had nerfed T11’s normal modes after T12 came out (by ~30%), I know I assumed they would go forward and nerf T12 by the same amount (normals only) once T12 was done and T13 came out. But just three months into T12, they nerfed everything in Firelands, pretty much, on normal and heroic. Why? So that people could progress and see the content.

Once LFR came out with T13, I know I assumed that normals and heroics would remain untouched in terms of being nerfed. After all, anyone with ilvl 372 could get into LFR and see the content.

But no. They started nerfing Dragon Soul normals AND heroics just 9 weeks into the release of the instance, and that’s with an active LFR.

It was no longer about allowing people to “see the content”, as they had previously claimed. If all they wanted to do was to expand the number of people who see instances, they’d done that with LFR. No longer would instances mostly go unseen, as had happened with AQ40, Naxxramas and Sunwell Plateau. The trouble is that, due to the ability to catch up even more quickly, fewer people were seeing the earlier instances, although likely not as few people saw the early raids as the late raids back in Vanilla and BC. Anyhow…

Here’s what Blizzard said about the nerfs to Dragon Soul.

For any number of reasons a group may be having difficulty on a specific encounter each week, and our intent in adjusting the content is to ensure the ability to keep progressing, enjoying the content, and gearing up. […] Very few players are willing to suit up, buff up, do all the necessary requirements to raid, jump in, and then do no better than they did last week for hours and hours, only to return next week and do the same.

So it became clear: Blizzard wanted people to eventually see any difficulty level without always putting in the required time and energy. Right?

MISTS OF PANDARIA AND A RETURN TO DAYS OF YORE. KINDA.

Well, not really. Nethaera recently replied to a poster on the official forums, who had complained about being in normals for three months and wiping for 8 hours a week and she suggests some things that may be causing issues in the person’s normal raids.

You’ve found a bug or an imbalance in an encounter that’s causing you issues.

Your Raid team may not be using solid achievable tactics to approach the encounters and may need to refine them more.

Members of your Raid team may not have the most appropriate gear for the encounters. which can cause additional burden on other members who do have appropriate gear.

Members of the Raid team may need to change spell rotations or even talent options for specific encounters

So Nethaera is telling people to basically gear up, learn how to play their class, examine tactics and to submit a bug report if they think they’ve hit a bug.

This sounds like a perfectly reasonable response to me. This is what people used to do! This is how I’ve always approached the game. Make sure you have the gear, the skill, the knowledge and a strategy (or two… or three…) and note any weird behaviour that could be a bug. But Neth is telling this person who is stuck on normals to basically learn how to play the game. Good! It’s said a lot more diplomatically than, say, I would put it, but this is a case where the person who is complaining is basically saying “give me my loot with very little effort required”. And Neth says “no”. Yay!

However, at the same time this exchange is going on, the news comes out that they are nerfing T14 by 10% when 5.2 (and thus, T15) comes out. Bashiok says that they went “too far” in Cataclysm, meaning that they allowed people to skip all previous content, later on in the game and that fresh 85s could just hop into Dragon Soul. So now they’re going to try to force people to go through T14 content before hitting T15, and in order to make it a little more palatable to pug it, they’re going to nerf both normals and heroics by 10%.

But hey, if you killed various bosses in those instances PRE-NERF, you get a “Cutting Edge” (for heroic) or “Ahead of the Curve” (for normal” feat of strength! Snazzy. I guess…

SO WHAT’S THE POINT OF THIS POST, KURN?

I guess my point is that Blizzard is being inconsistent.

In the beginning, raiding was basically reserved for those who had the time to dedicate to it, but this was unacceptable.

They wanted more people to raid, so they lifted attunements in BC and implemented badge gear.

This presumably grew the game and so they continued with that trend in Wrath, with the game reaching

They feel that they did too good a job in allowing people to “catch up” in Cataclysm, so in Mists, they’re going to go back to the linear model, but make it easier to complete than it was before (10% nerf).

At the same time, by virtue of what Neth is saying on the forums, they are seemingly okay with someone in a sub-par raid group because there appears to be a limit to what Blizzard will do to allow people to progress without those people doing “the right things”, like gearing up, figuring out how to play and the like.

REALLY? NEARLY 4000 WORDS AND THAT’S YOUR POINT?

Well, there’s more to it than that. WoW is down to 9.6 million subscribers in Q4 (October, November, December) of 2012, down from “over 10 million” in Q3 (July, August, September). The Annual Pass ended, for many people, in November. Is the reason Blizzard is forcing people to go through raid content in a linear fashion because they’re hoping to get back to Wrath basics, where the game population grew substantially and everyone had alts? Is it because their early instances are being completely abandoned even by newer raiders in the more recent expansions? At the end of Wrath of the Lich King (reporting for Q3 2010), there were over 12 million concurrent WoW subscribers.

There are now 9.6 million.

I don’t think WoW is dying, I don’t think 9.6 million subscribers is bad. It’s leaps and bounds more than most MMOs have these days.

However, if I worked for Blizzard, I’d be looking back at Wrath and trying to figure out ways to entice people to keep playing. What could I lift from the extremely popular WotLK expansion and drop into Mists? At the same time, I’d have to balance how to keep the better/smarter/more talented players around.

I think the problem is that WotLK is when Blizzard got an influx of “the masses”. Not gamers, not people who understand what an MMO is or how things like aggro work. We’re talking people who don’t bother to train their skills, who don’t understand the game and they’re inflicting themselves on other players. So as game population went WAY up (and it clearly did), the overall ability of a random group dropped down into the basement.

I think that Blizzard needs to ask if they want 12 million bad players running around, making life miserable for everyone else on every single random dungeon or battleground or LFR they run OR if they want to keep the game interesting for the more talented players, even at the risk of alienating some of the bad players (and thus, their subscriptions).

I think a lot of this is tied in with how they approach gear and available PVE/raid content.

I don’t claim to have the answers. All I can say is that, if I were in Blizzard’s shoes, I would have wanted to keep people like me (GM, raid leader, blogger, podcaster) interested in the game. Since I am not interested in the game any longer (okay, not interested in PLAYING the game, since I’m obviously keeping up to date on some of the happenings), I can only imagine that people like myself (and Majik, for example) are being replaced by the people Nethaera responded to on the forums, who complain about 8 hours of wipes a week on normals for three months.

Which type of player is better for the game? Which approach is best from a financial standpoint? How can in-game changes to gear, gear acquisition, raid content and nerfs be used to maintain and grow this population? How can Blizzard balance the game population? Do they even want to?

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I can only guess that we’ll learn more as Mists of Pandaria matures. Where will WoW’s population be for Q1 2013? We’ll find out in early May and that, combined with in-game changes, may give us an idea of where Blizzard is heading and what its true intentions are with regards to the type of players it wants playing World of Warcraft.

(PS: The final episode of Blessing of Frost is out. Enjoy!)

Old Habits and Updates

One of the things I loved about WoW is that I could play it at any time of day or night. I could always find something to do in World of Warcraft that would be beneficial for one (or all) of my characters, even at, oh, 4am. For a long time, it was a habit to play WoW until I was just so exhausted that I would have to go pass out.

This was especially the case when I had a headache.

You can make all the jokes you like about a raid leader/guild master/etc having game-induced headaches (God knows I did get some headaches due to other people in that fashion), but since the age of 18-19, I’ve had some seriously bad sinus headaches on a fairly regular basis due to something called vasomotor rhinitis. I was on a steroid nasal inhaler for this for quite some time, but for the last several years, they haven’t made that particular inhaler any longer and other prescriptions don’t work quite as well to the point where there’s no real point to taking any regular prescription for the condition at all.

What works best for me, during some of my most severe headaches, is taking an over the counter decongestant, along with some Tylenol, waiting for it to kick in and then taking a nap or going to bed when the pain is bearable enough to ensure lying down. (Lying down always makes it worse for me, and sleeping while sitting up sucks.)

WoW was a great habit to have when I had headaches. I would be sitting up (good for my head), I would be entertained (thus distracting me from the pain) and it wasn’t something that required a ton of attention when I was obviously not feeling 100%. But it required SOME attention and that was really, really awesome.

It’s been over two months since I last played WoW. I haven’t uninstalled the game yet, but my account is inactive and I have no plans to reactivate it. I haven’t really missed it all that much. Part of it is that I threw myself into National Novel Writing Month (and “won”, by writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November), so when my account was disabled on November 10th, I didn’t really have a chance to miss it ’till December. And I didn’t really have a chance to miss it in December what with the holidays and family and all kinds of stuff.

I find I don’t really miss WoW very much now, either. I sometimes miss the idea of raiding and I certainly miss the idea of being really good at something (tank healing!), but other things are taking the place of most things I used to do in-game.

Except farming when I’m up late with a headache, like I am right now. There’s still not a good option. Television is loud and is also too passive, mostly. Reading is too difficult with the headache. Other games aren’t as interesting. At least when I’d farm in WoW when I was up with a headache, I felt like I was doing something useful with my time. I do miss that aspect of the game.

But, having said that, I guess I’ll go try to watch some TV or a movie on Netflix and hope that’s enough to distract me until the Tylenol and decongestant kick in.

Hope you’re all doing okay out there. Aside from this killer headache, I’m doing pretty well. :)

PS: The last episode of Blessing of Frost is being recorded Soon(tm). Let Majik and I know what your favourite bits were — episodes 43-74 only, please! :)

Retirement Reasons and Reminiscing Part 4

Over the last week or so, I’ve been discussing my reasons for my retirement from raiding and, thus, my departure from World of Warcraft. I’m not trying to tell anyone else to quit as that remains a very personal decision and it’s not one anyone can make for you. I’m just trying to share my reasons and help myself (and anyone else, I guess) gain a better understanding of why, exactly, after seven years of playing this game, I’m pretty much done.

As always, please do respect the comment policy. :)

Reason 4: Not being excited by the new expansion and new changes.

I wasn’t thrilled when, while watching the live Blizzcon stream, I discovered that the new expansion was Mists of Pandaria. PANDAS? Really? I wasn’t thrilled. Nor was I thrilled with the new talent system. Nor did I particularly like the idea of not really having one “big bad”. I didn’t like that it was “only” another five-level expansion (although I had expected it). So my initial impression was disappointment and that certainly coloured my views going forward.

So let’s talk a little bit about each of those things.

1) The Pandaren (and monks). Wasn’t thrilled. Still am not thrilled. I think the Pandaren seem fairly goofy. I do, however, love that they can be either Horde OR Alliance. That is pretty great. As to monks, I gave monks a lot of thought. I compared them to death knights in my head, remembering the introduction of the DKs in Wrath of the Lich King. DKs were completely overpowered and unbalanced in virtually every single encounter, including Sartharion with three drakes. Hell, DKs were still OP even in heroic Dragon Soul content, if you ask me — both DPS and tanks, but particularly tanks. So I knew that, come this expansion, monks were going to be pretty powerful. I haven’t done a lot of reading about monks in general for Mists, but I had an idea that we’d see similarities between the power of DKs and the power of monks. What I’ve ascertained through reading various blogs is that mistweaver monks, the healers, are very OP. I think the tanks are doing well also. The issue appears to be with the windwalkers, the DPS spec, as apparently there’s a learning curve that many people are not quite grasping and, even if you’re great at it, they’re kind of middle of the pack in terms of damage. All of which is fine except that monk healers are dominating pretty much every other healer out there, which is problematic for a variety of reasons.

Having a new race is fine. New continent, new race, okay, I can deal with that.

Why did we need a new class? Did we really need a sixth healing spec and a fifth tanking spec and what is technically a 23rd DPS spec? Seriously, 11 classes, all with 3 (except druids who got guardian to separate it from feral which makes sense, I think) specs + guardian = 34 specs in the game, spread out over a total of 13 races? Good God. The combinations are getting pretty nuts, too, especially after old classes were able to be new races in Cataclysm (night elf mages, for example, or dwarf warlocks).

I don’t know why this bugs me, which is partly why I’m writing about it. I guess the monks are integral to Pandaria and the Pandaren or something, but with the dilution of 25-man raiding, is there really a huge need for a 5th tank, 6th healer and yet another DPS? I mean, even in 25-man raiding, you can’t support all five tank specs and it would be rare to support all six healing specs.

Maybe the introduction of a new class of healer and tank was in order to help reduce queue times for all random group content? It never hurts to have more tanks or more healers in the population. But if that’s the case, that hasn’t really worked out particularly well. My hunter still faces queue times anywhere from 20-30 minutes for any random heroic dungeon, just like in Cata.

Anyhow. I wasn’t thrilled with the Pandaren and the monks. I still remain unimpressed, although the fluid animation of the Pandaren models make me jealous as all get out.

2) The new talent system. The big complaint everyone had was “oh, it’s dumbed down” because we went from 41 points to spend to a grand total of… six. One every 15 levels. Which is a far cry from Vanilla. But no, it’s not dumbed down so much, because you are now expected to change your spec frequently. As well as your glyphs.

I admit that it was challenging for me to remember to change my glyphs around in Cataclysm. I would occasionally forget to swap glyphs and would inadvertently take more damage than I needed to for glyphing/not glyphing Divine Protection and the like. The glyphs didn’t seem to matter too much for me in 5-man content, but in raiding, I did have to occasionally change out glyphs and even had a second holy spec for pretty much the whole expansion so I could have a “standard” spec for most fights and whatever progression fight I was on would have its own custom spec, basically. (Like Chimaeron and Yor’sahj, for instance.)

But there was always so much going on in my raids, particularly for me as the raid leader, that it was really easy for me to forget to swap glyphs/specs/etc. So the idea of doing that but also with talents is, in a word, daunting. I’m very used to a “set it and forget it” type mentality when it comes to my talents. The game has taught me that over the last seven years. It’s a hard habit to break and while I’m sure I could do so, that’s not particularly engaging gameplay for me. “Oh, hold on, I need to swap that and that and dammit, hold on, let me reload my UI. And crap, does anyone have any Tomes?” The actual process of swapping things out is not engaging to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing something and going “man, this talent/glyph would be GREAT for that fight!” and I enjoy tailoring my abilities to a specific fight. I’ve been doing this on Kurn as I swap between dungeons, dailies, rares and such. But in a raid situation? When you can’t do the swaps in combat? When it’s just one other thing you have to remember to do in addition to your food buff, watching your flask timer, listening for or reading your assignments, trying to remember when to best use various cooldowns on this fight…? Ugh. If I could plan out a “by fight” plan for my toon, like “as soon as I see Morchok, unglyph Divine Protection” and “as soon as I see Yor’sahj or Zon’ozz, reglyph it” and it would DO it for me, that would be great. That would take the busywork out of the equation and just leave the planning in place. Which I really enjoy. But at the same time, pre-programming your spec and glyphs sort of automates stuff in the game and I know the devs don’t like that. Still, there must be a better way than manually opening your talents up and doing all that in the midst of prepping for a pull.

So while I don’t think the talent system is particularly dumb compared to the talent trees of old, I don’t think it’s particularly efficient, nor do I find it engaging at the mechanical level. A small complaint, perhaps, but that’s my two cents.

3) No “big bad”. The last time I raided without a “big bad” was in Vanilla. The big villain in Burning Crusade was Illidan and then, later, Kil’jaeden. In Wrath, it was Arthas — he was everywhere. He taunted you. Youwanted to kick his frozen ass. In Cata, it was Deathwing — this is the jackass who obliterated Auberdine, who fried us as we were out in the world, innocently doing our thing. Vengeance would be ours!

I don’t always need a reason to kill things. I’m not big into the lore. But it helps to engage with “the big bad” as you level up to encourage you to do what you can to get to That Fight, you know? Vanilla raiding, for me, was trying to clear ZG (done!), AQ20 (3/6), kill Onyxia (guild never did it) and Ragnaros (we spawned Domo, never got him or Rag down, as a guild). Why? BECAUSE IT WAS THERE.

It’s likely the same kind of attitude today (I haven’t read anything about the raids), but I feel a big bad sort of ties things together in a way that made things more cohesive and coherent in BC, Wrath and Cata than in Vanilla.

4) Five levels. Again. I hated the five level part of Cataclysm. I really did. Levelling was clumsy, gearing was awkward and the levels were insanely long with very little reward, it felt like. And it feels exactly the same way to me in Mists. I’ve got two 90s now, my hunter and my shaman, and while I used to really enjoy the levelling process in previous expansions, it felt like such a chore to do it this time around. Some of the quests are great. Some of the zones are amazing. But the levels are so long and again, there’s little to no reward for dinging. Grats on 86! You get… nothing. Grats on 87! You get one new skill. Grats on 88! 89! And you get nothing for that. At 90, you get your level 90 talent and the ability to fly and that’s great, but it’s like, what is the point of 86, 88 and 89? Now, more than ever, to me, the levelling process has felt like an artificial barrier before dinging max level.

Now, a 10-level jump would have brought us to 95, so I can understand why it was another 5-level expansion, but the levelling process in, say, BC, meant abilities every couple of levels and talents every other level and it was spread out over 10 levels with only the last one before max level was really particularly bad. Same for Wrath. But I felt it was a chore in Cata and even moreso in Mists. Which makes me sad. It took me 30 days (THIRTY DAYS) of /played time to get Kurn from 1-60. I took my time, I enjoyed things, I explored the world and I eventually got to 60. It was an accomplishment on its own. Now, max level is a pesky pre-requirement for all the “content” they’re putting out, I find.

So those were all things I was concerned about before the game even launched. Since the game has been out, there’s one more thing that has caused me to think that I’m making the right decision in quitting.

5) The devaluation of organized raiding. (While I’m a proponent of 25-man raids, I think what I’ll be discussing also affects 10-man raiders, for once!)

Mists of Pandara has a crapton of PVE things you can do at max level. I mean, a crapton.

– Dailies
– Scenarios (still haven’t done one since Theramore and I’m pretty pleased about that, to be honest)
– Dungeons
– Challenge mode dungeons
– LFR
– Organized raiding

There are more things, of course, but all those things give you Valor Points, which is basically the upper-tier PVE currency. The current VP cap is 1000 VP, with a hard cap of 3000 VP.

The ways in which you can get Valor Points is pretty crazy, with all kinds of “bonus” VP for the first time you do a certain task. Here, Wowhead has you covered.

It says that the first LFR of the week that is completed gives you 90 VP. Assuming that’s, say, the first half of Mogu’shan Vaults (3 bosses), that’s approximately 30 VP per boss.

That is more VP than in 10/25 normal/heroic modes, which only garners you 25 VP per boss.

That is only the first LFR of the week, though, true, but a daily Challenge mode is 60 VP, plus other amounts if it’s your first gold/silver/bronze of the week.

Scenarios net you 60 for the first, 20 for the second every day.

And don’t forget the dailies where you get 5 VP for each daily, up to 48 dailies a day.

Valor Points are needed (along with reputation with various factions) to gain some of the top PVE gear available, particularly in the early stages of the expansion. Previously, you could cap (or come close to it, at least) by doing dungeons or raiding or a combination of the two.

Now, you cannot VP cap by killing 18 bosses at 25 VP apiece. That’s only 450. In order for raiders to get another 550 VP, what should they be doing? Well, that’s where we run into problems with time and effort and the like. Right now, there are “only” three LFRs open, as I understand it: Mogu’shan Vaults 1 and 2 and HoF 1. So, if you full-clear MV and HoF, which is the entirety of the raid content right now, that’s 12 bosses at 25 VP per for 300 VP. Then if you do all three LFRs successfully, you get 90 + 45 + 45 = 180, so that’s a total of 480.

But what if you kill all 18 raid bosses and then all FIVE LFRs?

18 raid bosses = 450 VP
LFR x5 = 90 + 45×4 = 270

Total Valor Points available through only raiding: 720.

Well, gone are the days when you could even come close to capping out VP by solely doing raid content.

In Blizzard’s desire to make things accessible and give people choices, they have (perhaps inadvertently) forced people to do content they don’t want to do in order to get the rewards they want to better equip themselves.

Let’s say you want something pretty from, oh, the Shado-Pan. Let’s say you want a helm, like Six Pool’s Open Helm. It requires Revered with Shado-Pan and 2250 VP.

In order to get Shado-Pan rep, you have to open up their faction and I believe that means first getting to Revered with the Golden Lotus.

So you have to do the Golden Lotus dailies until you’ve gotten all the way through honored (which is, frankly, when I gave up). Then you have to do Shado-Pan dailies until you get to revered with these guys. And then, you have to make sure you have 2250 VP. If you’re capping, that won’t take too long, but in order to cap, you will probably default to doing the dailies which you have to do ANYWAY in order to get the rep. (Plus, DPS players don’t have to wait 30 minutes in queue for dailies, so it’s something you can do more quickly and perhaps more efficiently than waiting in queue for a dungeon, unless you do dailies while you queue. Anyhow.)

And then when you’re exalted with everything and a new bunch of VP gear comes out with the next tier, then what? Are you still going to be unable to cap while solely raiding?

Sure looks like it judging by this tier.

Let’s be clear, Valor Points are the successors to “badges”. Back in Burning Crusade, the developers realized among other things that there existed a huge gap in gear. You often had a bunch of people who were geared from Karazhan (T4 gear) and a bunch of people who were geared from Mount Hyjal, Black Temple and, later, Sunwell (T6 gear) with few people in between. Many guilds and raiders who tried T5 content simply broke up or gave up. This led to a major problem for guilds in T6 content — they couldn’t recruit anyone and expect them to keep up with healing or DPS or even threat/survivability for tanks.

I’m not saying this was the sole reason for the introduction of badge gear, but that’s when badge gear was introduced. You could take your Badges of Justice and go purchase gear with this currency that dropped in ALL the raids. You could farm the crap out of Kara with its 12 bosses or whatever and use that to buy near-T6 equivalent gear. Voila, people pushing T6 content could now recruit people with halfway decent gear without keeping T5 instances on their raid schedule specifically to gear up the recruits.

That’s the start of the Valor Points we use today. It was used to allow raiders — raiders! — an opportunity to gear up for the current content without having gone through the previous tier. That was new, it was ground-breaking and it was probably a really good thing.

But nowadays, everyone can get VP gear and raiders no longer can get capped exclusively through raiding.

For me, this is indicative that there is less value being placed on raiding. The way I’ve always seen raiding has been the pinnacle of PVE content, where you see the most challenging encounters, requiring the most people. It’s changed, obviously, because now you can raid in LFR with 24 people you don’t know OR you can spend 10 hours a day raiding heroic modes trying to get world firsts. Either way, however, by trying to make sure raiding is accessible and trying to give people “more things to do”, they have, perhaps mistakenly, removed some of the incentive to raid in an organized group.

If you want to see the content, do LFR.

If you want to cap VP and get VP gear, do LFR and dailies and dungeons and scenarios, whatever.

If you want to raid, you can pick your kind of group (10 or 25) and difficulty (normals or normals and THEN heroics) and raid.

People used to raid for a lot of reasons — to see the content, because normal raids were the only way to do it (pre-heroic raids, of course) or to get gear (because you didn’t used to get badges from dungeons or anything except raiding) or to work together as a team.

Now, you can see the content elsewhere, you can get gear/VP elsewhere… and all that’s left is the “working together as a team to defeat encounters” aspect. Don’t get me wrong — that’s why I raided. But I was always aware that people raided for other reasons as well.

By giving us so many choices, did Blizzard shoot themselves in the foot? Did they give us too many methods to cap out VP without thinking about how that will affect raiding populations?

I guess my point here is that, due to the variety of issues I’ve already outlined, I don’t trust that Blizzard has thought this stuff through adequately. I don’t trust them. At all. They’ve eroded it over the years and now it’s just gone. While I don’t know that people will stop organized raiding, I think it’s a possibility. I think the amount of stuff to do out there devalues what I always felt was the pinnacle of PVE content, was always the end goal of any PVE-oriented person.

Along with the nerfs, this kind of lack of respect for raiding and raiders really underlines why my decision to quit is the right decision for me.

The next, and likely last, post in this series will discuss the fact that I feel fairly well-accomplished and how I feel as though I’ve met most of my goals that I set out to achieve in this game, leading to an overall lack of incentive to continue playing.

Kurn's Attunement Ramblings

Scattered throughout this blog are countless mentions of old attunement quests. Jailbreak. Attunement to the Core. The BWL attunement. The Black Temple attunement. They’re all over the place. I even wrote about keys last year.

Apparently, attunements are currently being discussed in the blogosphere. I’ve been wanting to jump in since day one, but I feel as though I don’t have a ton to contribute to the discussion, because I’ve already talked about attunements. A lot. (Seriously.) Then again, why should I let that stop me? ;)

The latest round of attunement discussion arose due to a few blue posts by a European Community Manager, Draztal. In essence, some people are clamouring for the return of attunements because it’ll “give people something to do”, to which Draztal responds with challenge modes, scenarios and pet battles, amongst other things. Others claim that attunements were great for explaining why we’re fighting these bosses and that lore is missing, to which Draztal responds that some people didn’t care about the lore and found that attunements were just “getting in their way” because they would be declined entry into raids that required attunements.

One of the more interesting parts of his posts was this, his second-to-last post:

I doubt it was very fun for the players that were being told “no, sorry, you need to get these attunements to join our guild” and was being rejected when he said “but noone is running these right now because it’s not current content anymore”.

Was it fun when it was current content? For some. For some others it was just another unnecesary wall preventing them from getting to the content they really wanted to do (raiding).

I’m not kidding when I say this: I could write a thesis about attunements.

But because I like you, I won’t inflict that upon you. ;) Instead, let’s talk a little bit about what I think is important about attunements and why I think they should exist, along with what changes I would make to them.

But first, let’s look at…

ATTUNEMENT HISTORY

Level 60 was the first level cap. As a brand-new level 60 character, you could not enter into Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj (*) or Naxxramas (the 40-man version) without first doing various attunements. (* Technically, once someone on your server had done the excruciatingly long and difficult Scepter chain, you never had to do an attunement to get into what was called AQ40, but neither AQ20 nor AQ40 were available until someone had done that quest chain and banged the gong.) There were no heroic dungeons at 60, so there were no other kinds of attunements. (There were several key quests, mind you, but only one person in your group needed the key. They were pretty optional, although I had ALL the keys and loved them dearly.)

You could enter Zul’Gurub (20m raid instance) and The Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj (also known as AQ20) without any attunements (so long as someone had done the Scepter chain) once you hit level 58, but hitting max level did not magically imbue you with the ability to do, well, anything. No one was going to pug AQ40, so that forced a player to either continue to do 5-10 man content (by which I mean dungeons, including UBRS) or start getting into ZG/AQ20 runs (either pugs or guild runs) or work on their attunements to get into more challenging content.

In Burning Crusade, where the level cap was 70, there were reputation requirements to earn the heroic key of the various dungeons available. You had to hit Revered (initially, then later, this was brought down to Honored) with the associated faction in order to get the heroic key to literally unlock the heroic version of the instance. So for the heroic versions of Hellfire Ramparts, The Blood Furnace and Shattered Halls, you needed to be Revered with Thrallmar or Honor Hold, for example. (Shattered Halls also had its own key quest!) In addition to this, the first entry-level raid, Karazhan (a 10-man raid instance) had an extensive attunement process that everyone had to go through on every single toon they wanted to bring into the raid. (14 months after BC’s launch, they lifted the requirement that everyone have a key.)

While Gruul’s Lair and Magtheridon’s Lair did not require attunements, one typically had to start gearing up through Karazhan before they could hope to get Gruul or Magtheridon down.

Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep were the Tier 5 instances. This is where, perhaps, attunement nay-sayers who lived through this time may have a point. The Serpentshrine Cavern attunement was relatively straightforward: You had to go to Heroic Slave Pens (thereby being Revered with Cenarion Expedition), kill the first boss, find the captive Skar’this and get his quest.

His quest asks for the Earthen Signet (a drop from Gruul) and the Blazing Signet (a drop from Nightbane in Karazhan, a boss that required at least one person in the raid have done a series of quests for — in essence, its own attunement). Maybe I lied about it being straightforward…

Still, that’s “all” that was required for Serpentshrine Cavern access. It wasn’t too complicated; if you were killing Gruul and Nightbane regularly, it wasn’t a big deal to get these drops and get attuned. This attunement was lifted in June of 2007, just five months after Burning Crusade’s launch. (As such, I never did this to completion, although Kurn had the Blazing Signet at some point.)

The tricky part is Tempest Keep. Hands down, this sucked. And I never actually did this attunement either, because it was lifted in June of 2007 as well.

Long story short…

– Excessively long quest chain, then:
– Trial of the Naaru: Mercy: Heroic Shattered Halls
– Trial of the Naaru: Strength: Kalithresh in Heroic Steamvault, then Murmur in Heroic Shadow Labyrinth
– Trial of the Naaru: Tenacity: Heroic Arcatraz, rescue Millhouse Manastorm
– Trial of the Naaru: Magtheridon: Kill Magtheridon

Now let’s be clear, here. This was pre-LFG. This was back when even finishing a single Heroic Shattered Halls run was a crapshoot unless you were with a competent group, which usually consisted of a prot pally tanking. Heroic Mumur was painful. And doing Heroic Arcatraz was an exercise in masochism. Even I think Tempest Keep attunement was rough. People who did this got the Champion of the Naaru title. Champions indeed; I have a great deal of respect for people who did it, even at the end of the expansion.

Two of the Tier 6 instances, The Battle of Mount Hyjal and the Black Temple, had their own attunements, as well. (Sunwell Plateau did not.)

Hyjal required you to kill Lady Vashj in Serpentshrine Cavern and Kael’thas Sunstrider in Tempest Keep, commonly known as the Vials of Eternity quest. This was pretty straightforward, although no easy task. Black Temple attunement was considerably more annoying. It consisted of a LOT of quests, an Arcatraz run, a 5-man quest, a trip to Fathom-Lord Karathress in Serpentshrine Cavern, killing Al’ar in an Ashtongue Cowl in Tempest Keep, killing Rage Winterchill in Hyjal and basically that’s the worst of it, followed by some more questy stuff in and around Black Temple.

For being attuned to both Hyjal and BT, you got the Hand of A’dal title, since both of these attunements were no longer needed as of March 25, 2008. (This is why I tend to default to wearing my Hand of A’dal title, and I do it proudly.)

(Looking back, how in the hell did we manage to get everyone attuned to stuff? We did the BT/Hyjal attunements for most of the guild, but good gravy, in retrospect, I’m suddenly really impressed with the BC-era Apotheosis!)

Wrath of the Lich King arrived and, as is typical of Blizzard, pretty much all attunements were thrown out the window. What do I mean by that? I mean that Blizzard will find something they enjoy (in this case, attunements) and will introduce it all over the place and then when the community complains enough, they’ll swing way over to the other side of things and have very little of that thing. Another example would be the reliance on interrupt mechanics in Tier 11 content: Omnotron, Maloriak, Nefarian, Halfus, Ascendent Council, Cho’gall, which is half of the normal encounters in T11. All of these fights required people to interrupt basic boss abilities. Interrupting played an important part of precisely one encounter in Firelands (Alysrazor), or 1/7th of the encounters in Firelands.  I don’t think any actual interrupting goes on in Dragon Soul boss encounters… Anyhow, I digress. My point is that Blizzard will really overuse something they particularly like and then will throw it out the window entirely in newer content. I think moderation is the key, but what do I know?

So attunements in Wrath got thrown out the window, basically, after the attunement craziness in Burning Crusade. You dinged 80? Great, you can now enter every single raid instance and are automatically able to do heroic dungeons. The one exception is that you had to get the Key to the Focusing Iris from Sapphiron in Naxx in order to be able to do Malygos in Eye of Eternity.

Later, the raid leader had to have cleared all of Trial of the Crusader (defeat Anub’arak on normal) in order to attempt the heroic version of that raid, which was also known as Trial of the Grand Crusader. You also had to have the raid leader have killed Lich King on normal to activate heroic modes in Icecrown Citadel. There were also specific things you had to do in order to be able to face Algalon in Ulduar, but by and large, attunements didn’t exist and those that did certainly weren’t anywhere near the level they were at in Burning Crusade.

In Cataclysm, the only form of “attunement” is in terms of accessing certain bosses. You can’t do Sinestra (heroic only) if you don’t do Heroic Cho’gall. You can’t do Heroic Ragnaros without doing the previous six bosses on heroic in that particular reset. You can’t do Heroic Spine (or Madness) without doing the previous six bosses on heroic in that particular reset, either. And you can’t swap things to heroic without the raid leader having cleared things on normal.

Geez, that got long. But it was important background information to show how much attunements have changed over the last several years!

WHAT KURN THINKS IS IMPORTANT ABOUT ATTUNEMENTS

I feel that attunements have two major facets to them that are often overlooked, particularly by the more “entitled” crowd, which (I am generalizing here) is, in my observations, more likely to consist of “newer” players to the game than people who played in Vanilla or Burning Crusade. (Some of the players who dislike attunements certainly lived through the attunements of Vanilla and BC, though. Let’s not forget that not all attunements were “fun”, even for someone like me who is generally in favour of attunements.)

The first facet is that attunements act as a barrier to entry and I’ll talk a bit about why I think this is desirable. The second facet is what I will call the “Fire-Forged Friends” or “Band of Brothers” element.

BARRIER TO ENTRY

One part of an attunement process is the barrier to entry, which means that you can’t ding max level and zone in. There’s something to be done first. I like this for four reasons.

1) A sense of anticipation. Nowadays, you ding max level and can, more or less, walk into any raid instance. (LFR currently requires a 372 ilvl, but using the same-server raid finder tool has no such requirements and pugs don’t always check people’s gear, etc.)

Where is the fun in that?

For me, and for a number of people with whom I’ve played over the years, attunements for opening up raid content was often a solid step on the way to becoming a raider. It’s really hard to remember a time when I didn’t raid, but I assure you, there was such a time. It was spring of 2006 when I was wanting to start raiding, after my brother had guild-hopped (from the guild I had just joined!) to a guild that was working on Molten Core.

I was all of level 53 or 54 when he left the guild. I wasn’t attuned to the core, I couldn’t even pick up the quest (which I snatched up quickly at level 55!).

So I was not yet a raider. But I wanted to raid, so I did my homework, read up on the quests at Thottbot, then started in on various quest lines, such as Dragonkin Menace (the starter quest for the Onyxia attunement) and started making progress on various attunements.

Getting attuned to Molten Core was a huge rush. I was going to be able to go in there and kill these huge, epic bosses! … I just needed 39 other people to go with me.

My guild at the time started out small in Zul’Gurub (no attunement needed) and then started in on Molten Core in the summer and recruited and recruited and while we only ever fielded one single 40-man Molten Core raid, we did a lot with around 30-35 people. We did spawn Majordomo Executus twice and attempted Onyxia a few times. Possibly the greatest accomplishment was actually attuning everyone to Onyxia and Molten Core, to be honest… but the sense of accomplishment for completing the attunements was huge. It was a big step towards becoming a raider, because, well, not everyone COULD be a raider. If you were attuned to various raids, it was a huge boost for you and your guild. I remember this group of three guys who applied to our guild — holy paladin, rogue and a DPS warrior. They had three-manned the Onyxia chain together. Including Jailbreak. This was hugely impressive and based primarily on that, we invited them to the guild. They were excellent players and how they tackled their attunements proved that to us.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with delaying the start of raiding by adding an attunement. It adds to the sense of anticipation. It adds to the idea that you’re working towards a goal rather than just walking in and hitting a loot pinata.

2) A chance to actually gear up for the content. Okay, this is one of my pet peeves. Drives me up the effing wall. Using PVP (or other, inappropriate gear) to fool the item level checker drives me nuts. I think that the one time this is actually okay is if you have heirlooms that work from 80-85, which are counted as level 1 by the item level checker, but by and large, when someone buys a couple of PVP items to fool the item level checker, I get pissed. (I swear, this game has had a negative effect on my blood pressure.) By putting attunements in, you give people the opportunity to run dungeons that are appropriate to their level before they group up with others in LFR or heroic/etc dungeons. I am ALWAYS careful not to be a drag on my group. Always. Kurn is always hit-capped (as is my mage), for example, while I do my absolute best as a healer to help out with the mechanics of a fight (interrupting, if I can, not standing in bad, explaining things if people don’t get it). I’m that person who loves to CC to make life easier for people. I would CC regularly in Zul’Aman’s 5-man dungeon version on my paladin, by using Turn Evil on (essentially fearing) the demon guy in the temple. I love dropping traps on Kurn. I even used to kite General Drakkisath in UBRS (until the ever-awesome Toga decided to do that for us, more often than not). In short, I am basically a team player as soon as you throw me into group content.

What Blizzard did in Cataclsym is introduce the item level checker to sort of make sure that people weren’t running into various dungeons while completely unprepared. Unfortunately, since PVP gear had a higher ilvl, people quickly realized that they could have an ilvl of, well, 0, so long as they had a full set of PVP gear in their bags.

If you have an attunement, you give people a chance to get gear that will legitimately help them before they move on to more challenging content. Want to make sure someone has a great weapon? Make it a reward for the last bit of the quest. Give them armor along the way, or a trinket, or something. There should be both an emotional gain (the satisfaction of doing the attunement) as well as a material gain (gear) in order to encourage people to actually do the attunements, especially on more than one character.

3) The possibility of gaining for experience on your character before hitting content. Let’s face it, tons of people have zero idea how to play their characters efficiently for group content. If you want to quest on your own, that’s fine. As soon as you enter group content, if you’re not playing in a way that allows you to do appropriate DPS or healing for the content, you’re screwing other people over. Tanks are not immune to this either, obviously. (I am talking to you, DK tank I once had in Vortex Pinnacle, who focused on one mob alone, not spreading any diseases or dropping D&D, which meant that even a holy shock on him meant that ALL THE OTHERS would turn, as one, and beat the crap out of me.)

By delaying entry into a raid setting, you give people the opportunity to spend a bit more time learning how to play their class by being asked to complete an attunement. Sure, these same people can grind out VP on a weekly basis to get gear to bypass ilvl requirements legitimately in Mists (since PVP gear will have a lower ilvl. Level 90 crafted PVP gear seems to be at 450, while heroic gear from a dungeon is 463. Epic PVP gear is 464. Raid Finder gear is 476/483. Normal raid gear is 489/496. Heroic raid gear is 502/509.), but with the crazy amount of things you can do at 90 for Valor Points, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be engaging in relevant group content too much before trying to jump into LFR or pugs and making life miserable for those who DO know how to play their classes.

4) It can be used to artificially extend the content’s life. Let’s be serious. It’s July 13th. On Tuesday, July 10th, Apotheosis cleared Heroic Dragon Soul in 2h24m. And that was with a few screwups on H Zon’ozz due to some miscommunication on my part. Dragon Soul launched on November 29th. That means we’re approaching the 8-month anniversary of Dragon Soul. The nerf is about to go up to 30% next week. This is tired, stale, old content for many people. If Blizzard cannot provide us with new content, then why not try to extend the life of the content? I’m not talking about something ridiculous like having one new boss available per week, they way they did with Trial of the Crusader, but maybe various wings opening more slowly, the way they did in Icecrown Citadel (albeit without the limited number of wipes, which only forced the more hardcore people to level and raid with alts before getting the strat down and then downing the boss in their main group). Or, you know, a form of attunement. Maybe in order to get into Throne of the Four Winds, you would have had to clear Bastion on normal. Or in order to spawn Nefarian, maybe you would have had to do a questline that included Heroic Blackrock Caverns and a quick trip to an instanced Blackwing Lair, where you might have been able to see Nefarian retreat into Blackwing Descent? See Onyxia be reanimated? How much cooler would that have made Blackwing Descent?

I don’t mind a long attunement quest chain, obviously, but what if you started doing one when you’re two levels from max level?

What if there existed, in Mists of Pandaria, a long attunement quest chain that started at level 88 that you could work on ’till you got to level 90, then were asked to run, I don’t know, three specific heroics in order to be attuned and then that’s it for attunement? It would give XP as you were getting to 90, with some nice rewards now and again (especially at the end) and it wouldn’t be dramatically difficult, but it might give people the opportunity to learn more about what they’re about to do, or even, I suppose, what they’re about to be able to do.

I’m thinking out loud and this blog is already almost 3500 words long, so I’ll move on to my next section.

FIRE FORGED FRIENDS” / “BAND OF BROTHERS” ELEMENT

Do you know what I remember most about killing Lady Vashj, apart from the 15k crit Lay on Hands that saved our tank’s life at ~3% on the boss left? I remember the people. I remember one of the tanks dying, getting a battle rez and then dying in poison. I remember the “west side” of the platform, which got three of the tainted elementals, and I remember exactly who was on that side (WEST SIDE STRONG SIDE!). I remember the cries of joy and sheer triumph that came from my Vent, practically deafening us all.

These were people I had sweated with through the rest of SSC. These were people I worked hard with to defeat those other bosses. These were the people I was technically working with the complete the attunements to Hyjal and BT.

I remember the Onyxia attunement — running Jailbreak over and over again. I remember getting the Blood of the Black Dragon Champion from Drakkisath to finish off that attunement, and how they were limited drops that only a couple of people could get. I remember working with the same people over and over again, getting better at working together as a team, accomplishing these steps in attunements for people. I remember saying to apps “Not attuned to the core? No problem, we have a team that can take care of that for you,” and they were like “REALLY?”.

It was a bonding experience. We fought together, side by side, getting bosses down through sheer will and, occasionally, dumb luck. Every single step we took together, through attunements and into raid instances, felt important and everyone learned so much about not just their characters, but their fellow guildies.

Do you know that, to this day, I can basically tell which add Majik is going to sheep and I can trap another one? I’ve been playing alongside him for so long that I can anticipate just about everything he’s going to do. Part of that is because we’ve played together a LOT, including attunements.

These memories of attuning yourself to a raid, they’re not worthless, especially if you’re doing it with your friends or your guildies. They’re part of the journey you’re taking together.

Maybe I have a different perspective on things because I wasn’t always a raider and I’ve always viewed the steps to becoming a raider as being particularly important. Maybe I put too much emphasis on that epic six-hour BRD run when I got attuned to the core. Maybe I should forget about those last-minute, 30-minute pre-raid attunement runs for MC, even though we got GOOD at them and had a blast.

I don’t think I will, though. We’re coming to the end of my WoW career and what I will remember is not dinging 80 or 85 and running heroics. I’ll remember Majik dying on his Jailbreak run and having to do it over again. I’ll remember being in awe at the sheer size of Blackrock Depths as this hunter and paladin dragged me (on Kurn), my guildie (a paladin) and a pug mage through everything, including an Emp run. I’ll remember getting Hand of A’dal after killing Kael’thas Sunstrider. I’ll remember the journeys I’ve taken with so many people over the years, and attunement is a huge part of some of those journeys.

CONCLUSION

I think that attunements would be nice. I think that you could even have guild-level attunements or, my preferred option, account-wide attunements. No one liked doing Jailbreak a second time or running through BRD to get attuned a second time or doing the crazy BT attunement for a second character. (Am I weird if I liked doing Karazhan attunement a lot? I thought so.)

More than that, though, I think attunements served a purpose. I think they could still serve a purpose.

I just don’t think Blizzard and I will ever agree on the subject and that’s just one more reason why I’m calling it quits after Cataclysm.

Your Mouth and How to Shut It

Hilarious title, when you consider that I’m the author of this post, right? One of the longer-winded bloggers, whose posts can often exceed 3000 words, is advising people on how to keep quiet? INCONCEIVABLE!

But seriously, folks, there is a very interesting issue that can arise in a raiding guild, particularly when you feel you understand a fight better than those who are organizing it.

Full disclaimer: I do both. I organize fights for Apotheosis (still seeking skilled DPS, including WARLOCKS PLEASE) and I’m a part of the rank and file in Choice.

One thing that I have noticed, as a raid leader for Apotheosis (both now and back in BC) is that I loathe people telling me what to do when I’m the raid leader. Note that this is very different from entertaining suggestions or people offering advice. I loathe when people say “Kurn, you’re doing it wrong, we have to do it this way”. It drives me crazy. In part, it’s because many times, the individuals who say these things to me are wrong (in that they’re forgetting a key part of the fight or encounter or whatever), but it’s also like, “hey, now, buddy. Show a little respect for the pecking order.”

In Apotheosis, I’m in charge. I oversee the raids, I am the guild master. I don’t run the guild like a dictatorship and I don’t have vetos or anything and I largely view my role as one of a mediator/administrator/communicator, rather than one of SUPREME DICTATORSHIP. (Although I have fantasies about being able to do anything I want, from time to time.  What guild master doesn’t?) But really, I don’t have to “answer” to anyone, technically, when it comes to raids. (Apart from showing progress for my raid group, lest they lose faith in me.)

Having said that, we do have review threads up for every single raid and everyone is welcome to chime in about what they thought worked/didn’t work and how to better improve something. 25 pairs of eyes is better than one, after all. I’m more than happy to hear what the guildies saw and what they think and I may (or may not) incorporate their suggestions/observations into further refinements of strategy.

I will even sometimes ask during the raids if anyone has an idea for something or if people have any suggestions, although most of our discussions take place on our forums.

And I also constantly consult with the officers to see what the impressions/problems are from a DPS/healing standpoint as well.

So it’s not that I don’t like taking advice and it’s not that I don’t like hearing what others think. I just feel strongly that there’s a time and a place for it and, in our guild, more often than not, it’s in the raid review forum.

Now flip that around.

Two nights a week, I raid with Choice — as a holy pally (on the “baby pally”, as I call her). The fights are the same as what I’ve seen in Apotheosis, since we’re both raiding Dragon Soul and attempting heroic bosses, both on 25-man. My own role is almost easy, because all I have to do is heal my assignment, as opposed to heal as well as oversee everything. It’s FUN to raid without any additional responsibility.

All of a sudden, however, I am keenly aware that I know the fights very well (given my other role as a raid leader with Apotheosis) and possibly know them better than some of the people in that guild.

The question here, when the raid group is struggling on an encounter, is “do I say something or do I keep my mouth shut?”

Since I absolutely loathe being told what to do in my own raids, I try to approach being a raider the way I want my raiders to act towards me. I will likely, privately, point out some issues to an officer and if the officer encourages me to do so, I’ll whisper the RL themselves. Or, even more likely, I’ll send a PM to an officer at the end of the raid, or occasionally post something in the raid forum after the raid with some of my identification of issues.

Throughout the raid itself, I will usually not say a lot with regards to strategy. That’s not my role. It’s not my raid group. And since I only raid twice a week with them, the officers are a lot more familiar with their group than I am. While most strats for most bosses share a similar basic strategy, it’s the nitty gritty parts that can, and do, change from raid group to raid group. I have to trust that the leaders in Choice are doing what’s best for their group.

Even if they’re struggling.

It’s occasionally frustrating to see the raid group not doing as well as they could be. The question isn’t actually saying something versus not saying something: it’s “do everything I can to make sure the raid succeeds versus letting them figure it out themselves”.

While I have no doubt that Choice will eventually get to the point where they want to be for kills and progression (they’re just one boss back of Apotheosis), it’s still sometimes hard to see them hit the exact same struggles we saw, because I KNOW how we solved that. Hell, I probably HELPED to solve that problem. And since they’re so close to us in progression, it’s really fresh in my mind as to how we solved those issues.

But at the same time, I know that I would quickly lose patience with some know-it-all who showed up in MY raid and proceeded to tell me how to do MY job as a raid leader.

So I largely keep my mouth shut with regards to strategy in a raid setting, unless I’m asked about something in particular.

But I do touch base with some of the officers to let them know of my concerns or issues or suggestions, usually after the raid. Choice has a raid forum for discussions, but they don’t do the level of raid review that Apotheosis does, so on the rare occasions I’ll post something public in the forums, it’s often just a lone post from me saying “well, this is why the tank died, this is who blew up the raid with deep corruption” and the like.

That’s also kind of frustrating, because I know the people there are interested in bettering their performances and preventing mistakes, but since it’s usually me posting these things, I feel like the mean ol’ person calling people out. In Apotheosis, that’s fine! I’m the raid leader! I can do that! In Choice, it’s somewhat more difficult to get my points across without seeming as though I’m an authority figure, or trying to BE an authority figure.

So for me, the best way to deal with this is to whisper or private message an officer with my concerns and post where appropriate on the guild forums.

My advice to those who are watching their raid group struggling, who think they have a better idea — unless asked for your advice during a raid, hold off until afterwards. Chime in on a review thread, or start your own, or chat with your role officer/friendly officer about your thoughts and ideas.

So it’s not exactly shutting your mouth. It’s more like holding your tongue until you have an appropriate time and place to discuss those things. And something else you need to be aware of: your advice may not always be taken or listened to. Unless you’re in charge of the raids, you always have to expect that your advice may be dismissed by the leaders. And that’s okay — you’re a team and your leaders may choose to go in another direction. The best thing you can do, as a member of that team, is support your team and team leaders and throw in your two cents’ worth at appropriate times in appropriate places.

(Also, have you listened to Episode 52 of Blessing of Frost yet? Why not?)

(Seriously. Warlocks. Apply now. Please.)

Account-wide Achievements and Questions of Identity

There’s been talk recently about having account-wide achievements in Mists of Pandaria and it leaves me (and I suspect many others) unsure as to how to feel about this.

I am not the only person who raids with a different character now than she did in Vanilla or Burning Crusade or Wrath or even earlier this expansion. Kurnmogh, my hunter, hasn’t seriously raided current content on a regular basis since Vanilla. I managed to get in for the Tidewalker kill in SSC on the hunter, as well as the Gorefiend kill in Black Temple, but, by and large, since Burning Crusade, I’ve been healing in 25-man raids, while farming and doing silly things on my hunter.

That means that while I still have a huge attachment to Kurn (obviously), all my raiding achievements (and titles) are on Madrana.

It took me a bit of time to accept this, especially the title part of it. I was not so pleased to miss out on getting Hand of A’dal on Kurn, while I was thrilled to get it at all.

As the years went by, the achievements, titles and mounts started piling up on Madrana. Hand of A’dal. Twilight Vanquisher. Astral Walker. Kingslayer. Glory of the Icecrown Raider (25). Defender of a Shattered World. Glory of the Firelands Raider. Destroyer’s End. All of them gotten while the content was current, except for Astral Walker, gotten during Tier 9 content.

In the meantime, Kurn got all the holiday titles and even managed to get the Baron’s mount. Kurn managed to snag of the Nightfall in T10 gear and also got Kingslayer, and Defender of a Shattered World but most of those came when it wasn’t current or was heavily nerfed (30% buff in ICC, zerging Sarth 3D 10-man for fun, post-nerf T11 content).

And then there’s the OTHER holy paladin. I am the same player playing that holy paladin, Madrana of Skywall, as I am playing Madrana of Eldre’Thalas. Madrana of Eldre’Thalas WAS Madrana of Skywall for about six months at the end of Wrath. But the current Madrana of Skywall is a new toon, the baby pally, I call her. She hasn’t earned anything.

I lie, she’s got “the Patient”, “Kingslayer” and “Destroyer’s End” (and the Kingslayer was because I helped out a group of guildies get the Been Waiting a Long Time achievement on LK, then got the kill and the title).

But just because I haven’t earned anything of note, really, on the baby pally, does that mean I’m not capable of having done so? No, because I clearly did all that on the OTHER Madrana.

It makes my head hurt.

So I’m going to say that no, I don’t think achievements should be account-wide. For me, my achievements show a very clear snapshot of what I was doing at a certain time in my WoW career. It reads like a resumé. I am so very proud of so many of my achievements and titles and mounts that I got on Madrana. While it would be nice to have them accessible to me on the baby pally, or ride my Icebound Frostbrood Vanquisher or Corrupted Egg of Millagazor on Kurn, it seems inauthentic.

Terribly strange, isn’t it? I mean, they’re MY achievements, MY titles, MY mounts, but I feel if I didn’t earn them with a specific character, that character shouldn’t get to benefit from them. (Conversely, this does not mean I don’t think arcanums should continue to be account-bound, but that’s more because I’m lazy and hate rep grinds, not because of anything larger.)

I guess it comes down to what do those achievements, titles and mounts mean to me? I find the idea of being able to wear the “Hand of A’dal” title on Kurn to be, well, devaluing the work and time I put in on the Lady Vashj and Kael’thas fights on Madrana. I know, it’s weird.

But let’s take account-wide achievements a step further to maybe illustrate my point.

The baby pally has 525 cooking, as do Kurn and Madrana of Eldre’Thalas. Both Kurn and Madrana of ET have the Chef’s Hat. Having not spent two years in Wrath of the Lich King content, the baby paladin never got 100 Dalaran Cooking Awards and never was able to buy the Chef’s Hat. (WTB one of these for each profession, by the way.) This means that the baby pally’s hearth is currently in Dalaran so she can do cooking dailies efficiently (and also take the CoT port from Dal to get down to Dragon Soul quickly) and I’m at a woeful 52 tokens. (No, she doesn’t have high enough fishing either to do the Dalaran Fishing Dailies in the hopes of a Waterlogged Recipe, either.)

Should I need to grind that up to 100 to get the hat? I have it on two characters, already, shouldn’t I just be able to send that along? In a world where my level 5 bank alt could potentially wear the Hand of A’dal title, why on earth shouldn’t all my characters have access to at least one of the two Chef’s Hats I have?

For that matter, why should I have to level up cooking to 525 on THREE characters? Surely just one character knowing cooking ought to suffice. Same with first aid and, of course, fishing!

But if we go that route, what about “real” professions, like Leatherworking, Inscription and Alchemy? No kidding, I have four characters at 525 Alchemy, three at 525 Inscription, three at 525 Herbalism, two at 525 Mining and basically one of everything at max level save Engineering and Blacksmithing. Shouldn’t that stuff carry over as well? I mean, I’m the one who did all that work, right? I’m the one who sat there and milled ’till my fingers were raw (okay, not quite that bad, but still). I’m the one who did all of that on all kinds of different characters, on a variety of servers.

So if we open the door to account-wide achievements, titles, mounts and pets… where does it stop? Where should it stop? Where do you draw the line between “quality of life improvement” and “completely freaking ridiculous”? Is there even a line TO draw between those two points? I would argue that the Chef’s Hat, for instance, would be a quality of life improvement, but my level 5 bank alt being a Hand of A’dal would be completely freaking ridiculous. But someone else might think that the Chef’s Hat is ridiculous and the level 5 bank alt with that title would be AMAZING.

I strongly suspect that questions like these are the primary reason we haven’t seen much account-wide stuff to date and why they’ll probably “test out” account-wide pets and the like first. The slippery slope is just too slippery. What is completely acceptable to one person is a step too far for another. Taken to the extreme, you could make an argument for throwing out the levelling process because “hey, I got to level 85/90/100 on one character! Make all my toons that level!”

I do agree I’m probably a little strange with my identity issues (“But KURN never killed Vashj and Kael!!!”) but I think my own situation, particularly with the baby pally thrown in the mix, illustrates an interesting conundrum with regards to the value of these rewards and the reasons people attach meaning to them. I think all of these are important questions and situations that need to be looked at before they throw the doors open to account-wide achievements.

(Blatant guild plug: Remember, Apotheosis of Eldre’Thalas is 2/8 HM with Heroic Yor’sahj to 22% and is recruiting!!!)

Do I think World of Warcraft is a game?

The other week, I asked you all if you thought World of Warcraft was a game, based on this (admittedly very specific) definition of a game:

“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” – Sulen and Zimmerman

My first instinct was to say yes, WoW is a game. Then I realized something. While WoW attempts to set you up, right from the start, in this artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome, you don’t have to do what they’re telling you to do.

When you start a character, you are placed in the starting zone and you are right next to a quest-giver. (Bear with me, I’ll be speaking primarily of the human starting zone.)

The developers (and common sense, really) expect you to interact with the quest-giver and complete the quest. Right off the bat, there’s the artificial conflict — you need to go kill wolves in Northshire, for example. As soon as you accept a quest, you are thrust into the artificial conflict. That initial human quest (as all others, I would imagine) immediately pits you against the environment and NPC mobs (wolves or what-have-you) in that environment.

Once you accept the quest, you have three options:

1) Complete the quest (quantifiable outcome — experience, quest rewards)
2) Drop the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)
3) Ignore the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)

All of that, however, hinges on actually picking up the quest.

If you don’t pick up the quest, there’s no immediate conflict. Nothing in the starting area will aggro on to you. You can essentially run around with impunity until you leave the Northshire gates and enter Elwynn Forest.

When you enter Elwynn Forest, you will encounter NPCs that are, for the first time, hostile to you and will attack you upon sight. This is a conflict and it’s defined by rules. The rules are simple: defend yourself with attacks until either you or the NPC dies or run away, knowing that the NPC is limited to a small area and will almost certainly not run away themselves. The quantifiable outcome is either victory (you lived and killed the NPC), defeat (you died because the NPC killed you), or a stalemate (you ran away and both of you lived).

My argument is that WoW itself is not a game. WoW does not inherently force you to engage in any of its sub-games, such as questing or exploring, PVPing or raiding, dungeoning or crafting, gathering or levelling.

Having said that, I believe that WoW is host to many, many games. Everything that can grant you experience, gold, achievements or feats of strength is a game. Anything that puts your character in danger of death is another game. Healing is a huge game with many sub-games, such as tank healing, raid healing, cooldown use, mana management, as well as the various encounter mechanics. (I’m not even going to touch on PVP healing!)

It might be splitting hairs to some, but I feel strongly that WoW is not a game on its own. It is a system that hosts a plethora of games. Most of those games, like healing, have sub-games within them.

However, I feel that WoW is more than just a system. It is definitely a system, but it also comprises all the social interaction that comes with an MMO. While there can be arguments made that “the social game” is a game, I think that the social part of things is less of a game, from the definition I gave, and more of a tool that can either help or hinder you in your game-related goals.

Following instructions in a raid setting will help your team defeat the encounter (assuming a competent raid leader) while not paying attention to instructions will likely end up killing you or others in your group. As such, the game of raiding within WoW relies heavily on communication and cooperation between raid members to emerge victorious after an encounter attempt. This is, of course, very different from the “socialness” of Trade Chat.

Is Trade Chat’s “socialness” a game? Again, I would argue not. It is merely a tool to help you to know who to avoid teaming up with, or that some people may be seeking others to help them with a dungeon or raid. Perhaps people playing the Auction House game (I do believe that’s a game) use Trade Chat to announce their auctions. Chat is a tool, not a game in and of itself. And chat belongs to the system that is WoW.

Essentially, while I do call World of Warcrat a game for simplicity’s sake, there are really just a multitude of games that WoW hosts and those are the games about which we are passionate.

Excuses, Excuses

A lot of raiders have what I like to call an automatic self-defense system. It’s called “the excuse”.

You may have seen it before. “Sorry, I must have lagged,” someone says, directly after they’ve been blown up by something. Or perhaps “wtf was that? I was nowhere near that!”, they’ll exclaim. Maybe it’s more along the lines of “I thought I was assigned to A, not B…”

Whatever the case, raiders almost invariably have an excuse at hand to try to pardon — not explain, but pardon — their poor choices or decisions or execution.

This happens in 5-mans, too, to be sure, but I wanted to talk a bit about excuses from the perspective of a raid leader in a progressive raiding guild. We’re not cutting edge, not by a long shot, but we hold our own in terms of server progression.

When a raid attempt goes south, one of the first things I ask myself is “What went wrong?”

I use the mod Fatality. It’s a great mod that tells you what got the killing blow on people as they die. Here, let’s look at an example from that recent T11 raid night I went to on Kurn.

I have the output going to /raid. I figure it’s an easy way for EVERYONE to see what happened. (Warning: this only shows the killing blow. Sometimes there are other factors apart from the killing blow. I like to double-check in World of Logs before I draw any permanent conclusions.)

So you see here, I have died to Al’Akir’s Lightning Clouds, which hit me for 17.5k with a 5.8k overkill.

A typical raid leader question here would be “Kurn, how (or why) did you die to Lightning Clouds?” which may or may not be asked. Allow me to let you in on a secret: raid leaders don’t always care about the reason why something has happened, particularly if it doesn’t happen again. I sit there and look at the various deaths and can usually pinpoint the reason for a wipe fairly quickly, confirming with World of Logs or Recount or Skada. If your death was the main reason for the wipe, I don’t care why you died. At all. I just care that the next time, it won’t happen again.

Let’s go back to my example. Say that the raid leader asked me how (or why) I died to Lightning Clouds.

The Bad Response: “Seriously, dude, I don’t know! I was flying away from the person with the lightning thing on them and the next thing I know, I’m not controlling my toon anymore and then it like, DEPOSITS me at the top of Al’Akir’s head, like it did when the phase started and there were clouds there and I couldn’t escape and… yeah, dead! Crazy, right?”

Yes. It is crazy. I guarantee you that even though that’s exactly what happened to me, the raid leader in a progression raiding guild who bothered to ask that now thinks I’m an idiot. That’s not the way to make yourself understood, not with a rambling explanation like that, even if it’s true! That is an excuse. It is not an explanation. That response is me deflecting blame and essentially blaming the game.

The Good Response: “Well, I think I must have flown too far to the side and the game reset me to the P3 start position. That’s my bad, I didn’t know that could happen. Won’t happen again.”

What’s the difference? First of all, this response is concise. One sentence and it explains what happened, or what I think happened. Secondly, and most importantly, the second sentence takes responsibility for the death. I freely admit that it’s my fault because I wasn’t aware that, during the Al’Akir encounter, it will reset your position under certain circumstances. Thirdly, and not quite as important, but still nice to see, is the third sentence. With three words, I have assured the raid leader that I won’t let it happen again. Of course, I might do it again, and we both know that, but I might not, and having put that out there, that it won’t happen again, I’ll be hyper-aware of the possibility and therefore will work hard to make sure I didn’t just lie to the raid leader. It also indicates that you are willing to learn from your mistakes, which is an important trait in any raider.

Excuses deflect blame and responsibility, while explanations accept blame and responsibility.

That’s a key difference for any raid leader. I swear to you, we 100% do not care if your cat stepped on your keyboard, causing you to eat environmental damage and die — as long as it doesn’t happen again. We don’t care if you accidentally pulled a boss because you were changing your mouse batteries and accidentally hit both buttons at the same time, while putting the battery panel back on, causing you to run up to the boss and facepull — as long as it doesn’t happen again. (And yes, I have had both of these used as a reason for people’s death!)

As I said before, explanations might not even be asked for. You should probably not offer an explanation unless asked for one. If you desperately feel the need to defend yourself but you’re not asked for an explanation, I would talk to the raid leader after the raid (or perhaps send a PM on the forums or in-game mail) explaining, not excusing, your behaviour.

I learned about the difference between an excuse and an explanation back on Proudmoore, when I was raiding with a raid leader who was, and let’s be fair to him, a complete douchecanoe. Imagine learning Trial of the Grand Crusader with a guild more progressed than any you’ve been in before, after seeing people being removed from the guild DURING RAIDS due to their poor performances in that particular raid and then being asked what happened to you, why you died?

“mad,” he once said to me, in /raid, “mad, fire is bad. why did you stand in it?”

My RL Friend the Resto Druid (and my healing lead) had coached me in preparation for questions like that. “Just apologize and say it won’t happen again. And then don’t let whatever it is happen again!”

“I’m sorry,” I responded to him, “that was my fault. Won’t happen again.”

“k,” he replied. And it was dropped. Just like that.

I remember once, on Heroic Anub’arak attempts, we used a strategy where we would cast Hand of Protection (BOP) on whoever the second target was in the burrow phase. The first person would run all the way back to the entrance, then the second target would stand right beside an ice patch and get a BOP and then step on to the ice patch just as it was wearing off. On this particular attempt, during the first burrow phase, I used my BOP on the target as normal and then I was the second target during the second burrow.

Unfortunately, the first target had run the wrong way, so I was forced to run back towards the entrance.

The raid leader said to me in chat, “mad, bop yourself when he gets close”

But my BOP was on cooldown. And I was waiting for the BOP from the other holy pally. Which never came. And so I died.

RL, in chat: “or you could just die. what the fuck?”

“Sorry,” I said, “I was assigned to the target in the first burrow, so my BOP was on cooldown.”

“ok so who was supposed to bop mad?”

Silence. Crickets.

“fix it,” he said, after a moment or two.

And that’s how it was, raiding with him. He didn’t care what happened as long as it didn’t happen again. Excuses did NOT fly with him. If I had said, regarding my standing in fire, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the fire until it was too late and I couldn’t stop healing or you would die,” even odds were that he’d just throw me out of the guild.

I don’t think most people are as completely unreasonable as he was, but he did have one thing right: excuses are bad while explanations and accepting responsibility are good. Raiding is full of finger-pointing and accusations as it is. Don’t add to that. Step up, take responsibility for your actions and do what you need to do in order to prevent your mistakes from happening again.

Keys: Keepsakes from Another Era

When I started playing World of Warcraft, I had no idea what I was doing. I strongly suspect that a lot of people were, or even are, in the same boat. Over time, I educated myself about the game and what I, personally, needed to do in order to advance myself in the game. As I started playing in Vanilla, that meant getting attuned to Molten Core, Onyxia’s Lair and Blackwing Lair.

Along the way, I picked up a bunch of keys. The quests involved in forging the Scholomance key were great experience and fun, if a bit lengthy and, at the time, pricey. Back in those days, keys actually took up precious bag space and it was not at all uncommon for people to not actually own the key to an instance like Scholomance or the undead entrance for Stratholme. Even more common was the single person in the group (a group you had probably painstakingly assembled over the course of over an hour) who had the key had almost certainly left the key in their bank.

The keyring was excellent. No longer would we forget keys in the bank!

I always liked my keys. I even had the key to Searing Gorge on more than one character! The one key that eluded me was Gnomeregan and I picked that up shortly after 3.0 dropped so that I would get the Keymaster achievement when I got the key to Violet Hold in Wrath. I was so, so sad when they removed a bunch of the keys for Cataclysm, like the Scarlet Key and the Key to the City.

It must seem foolish to speak so fondly of an old, antiquated system, to many readers who are newer to the game or who remember all the keys we needed to do heroics in Burning Crusade. But key quests and attunements were bonding experiences.

I can hear the scoffing from newer players. I suspect the older players either think I’m certifiably insane or they’re nodding their heads in agreement.

One of the all-time longest attunements that people regularly did (no disrespect to AQ gong ringers!) was the Onyxia attunement in the original WoW. I’m not sure how bad it was for the Horde, mind you, but for the Alliance, it consisted of something like 16 quests. And we’re not talking easy quests, either. A lot of them had to do with group content and instances.

In particular, the sticking point for a LOT of people was this one quest called “Jailbreak!”. In it, we are tasked to go to Blackrock Depths and free Marshal Reginald Windsor from the prison there. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Not only did you have to form a group of people willing to help you out with this task, but you had to be at the right part of the quest chain to benefit from the pain that was freeing Marshal Windsor. You also needed to have the prison key from the boss in that section of the instance. (Possibly a rogue would also work, but as I was a hunter at the time, I needed the key.)

Then, you had to be really good or really lucky to free Windsor without pre-clearing all the trash along the route Marshal Windsor wants to take, once he’s freed. And guess what? He wanted to exact revenge on several people in the prison (and free someone else) before he would save his own skin.

Not only that, but he would trudge so slowly through the instance that you just wanted to kick him in the ass to speed things up. At one point in time, although this might have been fixed, later on, if you went too far ahead of Windsor, he’d despawn.

So we had to:

– form a group of like-minded individuals (either willing to do Jailbreak! or on it themselves)
– get to the instance
– know what you needed to do once you were there and likely clear both rings in the prison section — possibly killing the prison boss as well
– then free Windsor and wait for him to catch up to you every few seconds

Finally, at long last, Marshal Windsor would run for the entrance of Blackrock Depths.

But were you done?

Hell no.

THEN, you had to go back to Stormwind and WAIT for Windsor to show up. (Sometime AFTER I’d done the attunement, they brought in “Squire Rowe”, who stands by the gates of Stormwind. You talk to him and that essentially triggers Windsor’s arrival.) Then you walk with him through Stormwind (again, he used to despawn if you went too quickly) where he would confront Lady Katrana Prestor and accuse her of being Onyxia and then Bolvar Fordragon (SOB, I miss that guy!) would open a can of whup ass on the guards — who were all disguised dragonkin in service of Lady Katrana Prestor.

That was a cool part actually, but then we return right to more suck. We then had to go to Upper Blackrock Spire (never you mind that this required a whole other epic quest chain itself AND ten people!) and kill General Drakkisath for the Blood of the Black Dragon Champion. They eventually changed it so it was lootable by anyone with the quest, but for YEARS, it was a green item that only one or two people could loot (more than one could drop). That meant multiple UBRS runs.

Once you got that taken care of, you would receive the Drakefire Amulet — a fire resistance necklace that you needed in your bags in order to enter Onyxia’s Lair.

Epic-sounding, right? No doubt this is why they started out with such things. It quickly loses its appeal, however, when you’re on your third or fourth toon who you decide to attune.

Speaking as someone who was an officer in a Vanilla guild, attuning people was a pain in my ass.

Hell, attuning people to Black Temple in Burning Crusade (even after the attunement was lifted, just so that we could get the Medallion of Karabor for the shadow resistance!) was a pain in the ass.

As much as it was all a pain in the ass, though, it was what you had to do to get into 40-man raid content back then. So people did it. There was a never-ending swarm of people who applied to guilds and needed their attunements done. I can’t tell you how many times I ran Jailbreak or ran people through BRD to get attuned to Molten Core.

But there was something about that shared suffering that bonded people together. No, I’m serious!

To this day, I will always remember getting attuned to Molten Core. I was in BRD for six hours that night. We had a paladin (!) tanking, a paladin (!) healing, another hunter and a mage. It was me and the healing paladin who were there from Fated Heroes. The tank and the other hunter (who was survival! That was SO rare then!) were from another guild and we picked up a mage to help because we were doing what was called an “emp run” — that’s to say we were going to clear the last boss.

That night, I got attuned to the core, got my Shadowforged Key, did an Emp run (which is where the T0 paladin gloves used to drop until they moved them to an easier-to-kill boss), knocked out a ton of quests… it was epic. The only thing we didn’t do was Jailbreak, because no one had gotten to that point in their quests.

And it was FANTASTIC. It was great!

I don’t remember the name of the puggers, but I do remember we were, collectively, awesome.

To this day, I will always remember running with Majik to get his Jailbreak done. We had to do it TWICE. We went in, did it (it took about 45m-1h back then) and then realized that since Majik had died during a pull, he had failed the quest. So we had to reset the instance AND DO IT AGAIN.

To this day, I will always remember getting Toga and a couple of his cousins attuned to Molten Core. We pugged a healer who then joined the guild. (Granted, he guild-hopped on us TWICE in as many expansions, but it was still a great attunement run.)

My own Jailbreak run had my brother on his druid, a dwarf (!) priest from our guild, another hunter from our guild and … someone else. We didn’t know to pre-clear first. We had to blow my brother’s half-hour cooldown Rebirth (battle rez) on the priest at some point and my brother even blew Tranquility at some point. Totally epic!

I will always remember that I essentially soloed a 5-man portion of the Black Temple attunement. I killed a bunch of adds and was well on my way to killing some elite quest mob all by myself, because my guild (love them!) essentially all said they were “too busy” to help me out. So I did this part of Shadowmoon Valley all on my own until some wonderful shaman from another guild whispered me with “invite!” and I invited him and he HEALED ME and we both got credit for that mob.

Going through steps of attunements was a GREAT bonding experience.

Keys were a way that you could show people you cared about your character and its progression — particularly the more difficult keys. Attunements were a way that you could show people you cared about your character AND that you could get through the difficult challenges most of these involved. It also usually proved that you could work as a member of a team and what is raiding if not working together as a team?

So as we anxiously await Firelands and 4.2, let’s take a moment to remember the countless hours spent on getting keys. Let’s take a moment to remember that, once upon a time, we couldn’t just stroll into a raid instance without being attuned, having an amulet, doing a huge number of quests or even paying gold.

Attunements are already a thing of the past, but I’ve held on to my keys all of these years. I’ve been proud of having them, all of them, and so, as I download 4.2, I will take a moment to think about all these entry barriers I successfully navigated and the crazy shenanigans that usually went along with those runs.

Goodbye, my dear keys. I don’t regret a single moment I spent getting any of you.

(Pictured, from left to right, top to bottom:
Prison Cell Key – BRD, Key to Searing Gorge – Quest, Relic Coffer Key – needed for a portion of BRD, Jump-a-Tron 4000 key – Nagrand quest, Boulderfirst Key – Nagrand quest, Coilskar Chest Key – Shadowmoon Valley quest, The Violet Hold Key – Quest, Zuluhed’s Key – Shadowmoon Valley quest, Flamewrought Key – Heroic Honor Hold key, Key of Time – Heroic Caverns of Time key, The Master’s Key – Karazhan key, Reservoir Key – Heroic Coilfang Reservoir key, Auchenai key – Heroic Auchindoun key, Warpforged Key – Heroic Tempest Keep instances key, Gordok Shackle Key – Nagrand quest, Rusty Prison key – fished up in Dalaran.)

Adventures as a Baby Paladin

I must have a screw loose or something.

Five years after I rolled my first paladin, and decided to make her holy, I rolled another one. Primarily, this is to help out those lovely people I talked about who are in Choice of Skywall. If they can’t have Madrana (and they can’t, because she’s with Apotheosis until death do they part), then why not attempt to clone myself? After all, it’s entry-level raid content that I know how to do, it’s just a matter of getting the toon to 85. Right?

After an initial burst to 22, I got to 24 in a week. Then to 26 in a week. And now, as I write this, I’ve gone from 26 to 43.

Even if Choice doesn’t need another paladin healer (they probably will, though, unless one of you fine people applies today!), it’s good blog fodder. Everything I knew about levelling a paladin is completely out of date.

– You don’t get Cleanse until 34! And even then, you need to hit at LEAST 39 in order to spec all the way down into Sacred Cleansing to allow your cleanses to cleanse magic. Crazy!

– With Holy Shock, Holy Light, Word of Glory and Flash of Light, healing is seriously boring. Two instants, one quick cast, one long cast. None of them hit particularly hard. (Except for Lay on Hands.) I keep reaching for my shift key, since Shift-Right-Click is my Clique bind for Divine Light. What’s that? No Divine Light? Nope. Not ’till 62.

– No Divine Shield! Seriously. Not until 48 do we get our much-adored bubble. I’ve been BOPping myself when I get in trouble or the tank is just that bad.

– I dinged 39 and was able to spec into Beacon of Light (I went for BoL before Sacred Cleansing) and was thoroughly amused that for the rest of that run, I kept catching BoL and refreshing it with about 15 seconds before it fell off. I have it showing up on Grid, of course, but I don’t have a duration there. My duration is usually shown to me by CLCBPT, at least on Madrana, but I hadn’t enabled it for the baby pally yet. Still, it appears that I’m able to time things pretty well even without my timers. I was very amused.

– Speaking of Beacon, wow, totally forgot how kind of lame it is when you can’t heal your Beacon target to get holy power. That’s right, no Tower of Radiance yet.

– No Hand of Sacrifice. Until level 80. Are you freaking kidding me?! LEVEL 80?! I use HoSac all the damn time at 85. And did so while levelling to 85. I can’t believe they couldn’t give me that at like, level 38 or something. Level 38 was lame. No talent point, no abilities to train. Nothing. Just “You have reached Level 38!” Well, thanks. What good is that to me?

– Glyphs. I’m limited to 3 glyphs ’till I hit 50, then I get another one of each. So strange to not have Glyph of Seal of Insight in use, but, in all honesty, I don’t really need it. I feel pretty overpowered.

The other thing I’m noticing is people don’t know the damn instances. Pretty much at all. We’re talking people don’t know where the deeds are in Scholo or even that Jandice and Rattlegore exist. People who have no idea what the pylons are in Dire Maul West. It just… makes me want to cry. I’ve been running these instances for five years. I know them all very, very well. Except Mara and Ulda. I get lost there. But hell, I’m not asking people to run BRD blindfolded or anything. Scholomance is relatively straightforward. How are people getting LOST there?

I would understand getting lost in Blackrock Spire too, but Scholo? Eh.

I’m very tempted to spec prot and queue specifically for the dungeons I know, over and over again, just to give people a good dungeon run. As it stands, the last Dire Maul West and Scholomance runs I did, I acted as the guide. “Stand here. Wait. Kill that. Go. Run. Over here!”

That said, I know very little about prot right now and, while it would be a great time to learn, I don’t have a pocket healer. Meanwhile, my brother’s warrior is 44, so I’m going to get him to tank for me, I think.

I tried questing a lot and knocked out a bunch of levels doing the Cape of Stranglethorn (I love all the Booty Bay/Bloodsail Bucs quests!) but ultimately, even though I like doing things on my own and at my own pace, I feel like it’s just faster to whip through the instances right now. Praise be to any god you believe in, I only got Gnomer twice. Woot! :D

So, yeah. Weird to not have bubble, HoSac or Tower of Radiance. Weirder still to be the only one who knows the instances in so many cases. I need to do those videos I was talking about ages ago, but I’ll hold off ’till my new computer shows up.

But seriously, go apply to Choice of Skywall if you’re a holy paladin who’s looking for a new home, so I don’t have to. ;D