Jan 20 2011

An Epistle to Tanks


Herein find some suggestions for how you can make Cataclysm instance runs exciting and interesting for healers.

  1. Make sure that you start pulling the next group of mobs while the healer and other magic users are regaining mana. We know that retaining a high level of rage is important, and apologise for not being able to retain mana when we cast.
  2. When the fight is over, and the healer is out of mana, and you’re low on health, don’t waste any of your bandages or food. Instead, remember to hassle the healer to top up your health as quickly as possible, and don’t forget to complain when the healer has to sit down afterwards for a cold drink. Healers wear dresses, and are soft and lazy.
  3. Run out of range of the healer and start pulling while the healer and other magic users are regaining mana. Blizzard should just fix things so that healers can drink while running into range. It’s not your fault.
  4. Don’t waste any time marking up pulls. The excitement of having to heal up the ranged DPS who’ve just pulled a mob away from you makes life interesting and breaks up the tedium of runs.
  5. Make sure that you break any crowd control without getting thread on the mob. Rampant free angry mobs are great fun, particularly when they jump on the healer after eating the mage. After all, mages wear dresses, and are soft and lazy.
  6. You can safely ignore any encounter mechanics, and just stand there hitting the boss in the face while complaining that heals can’t keep you up while the DPS are too slow burning the boss down. Moving bosses so their attacks don’t hit the rest of the group is just a waste of time, and you don’t have the time to figure out if the stuff you’re standing in is good stuff or bad stuff.
  7. If the gear you’re hoping for doesn’t drop off a boss, quit the group and requeue. You’re a tank. You deserve the best.

The important thing to remember is that Cata instances are just like Lich King instances, and are designed for you to bulldoze through as quickly as possible. Finesse, control and care are for spreadsheet-fiddling rogues, and anyone pursuing the quests in instances deserves what they get.

Dec 10 2010

So close!


So I got home from work today to find an enticing box had been delivered… cracked open the plain cardboard outer box, tore through the wrapping, and there was my shiny Collector’s Edition Cataclysm. I fed the cat, had dinner, washed the dishes, opened the box. Began the install… installing…. installing… installing…. for about 40 minutes. Then the download started. 6.7 Gb to download? eh? I thought it would be on the disk. I expect at this point that it will take at least 4 or 6 hours. So close, and yet so far!

I haven’t logged in since Cata was released. Call it superstition, but I wanted to wait until I had the product installed, and was happy to wait until the first few days of release-day frenzy had passed. So on the weekend before it dropped, I dinked around with a bit of this and a bit of that. I rolled a fresh gnome to have a look at the new starting content, and had a blast – the music and ambience are great fun, and there’s a nice feel to the whole thing. Highly recommended. And I took Belmann off to have a look at some of the sights, and to run a last WoTLK heroic dungeon just for old time’s sake. And I was a Very Naughty Healer.

Even right to the end there were egregious twits. I guess we are forever stuck with them. This one was a mage. We zoned into Utgarde Pinnacle, with a mix of seriously over-geared players and two reasonably-geared alts. Somebody was after the Incredible Hulk achievement, so we tackled that. Easy enough, but the mage kept complaining about how he was doing all the work, and carrying the group, and constantly topping the DPS meters. We got through the achievement trivially, and continued powering on. And he kept on, and on, and on complaining about how he was doing all the work. So when we got to the last boss and he once again pulled aggro off the (very patient and long suffering, not to mention competent) tank… I let him do all the work of healing himself too. I wish blizzard would put in a mechanic whereby dead players in pugs couldn’t keep talking. The other three players appreciated it though.

There was a fitting and shiny end to the run though – one of the last trash mobs dropped the Super Simian Sphere, so I spent the last 15 minutes of wrath as a big white gorilla inside a glowing purple bubble, rampaging around Dalaran for the amusement of all.

Dec 4 2010

Who’s Your Daddy?


I took Hannarrgh the combat rogue through the chains of quests in Westfall today, and they are awesome – they are fantastically designed to lead you up to and into the Deadmines, introduce a context and background for the instance, teach you the route through the mines to the instance, and tell a great story. The story is, for those of you living under rocks, that Van Cleef had a daughter who witnessed his callous slaughter at the hands of 5 adventurers some 5 years ago… and now she is all grown up, not particularly stable, and really pissed.

The instance layout is unchanged, but the content is radically different. It turns out that players at level can get through it without the endless wipes of the original version, and it’s significantly faster to run. A fun aspect of the instance is that there’s a variety of new mechanics to take advantage of, and to deal with. I won’t go through the boss fights, since they’ll be documented and described all over the place, but two things to look out for:

1) the cannon early in the instance (and late as well) can be used to deal with trash, throwing down a very powerful AOE attack;
2) don’t kill the monkeys – click on their ball-and-chain to release them, and they will help you take down the trash.

Now, the less pleasant part of the first run through, and a taste of things to come. The instance was not hugely difficult, but not a push over either. And it’s definitely not somewhere for baby tanks to barge through the way we’ve gotten used to seeing in Wrath. The first tank we had died four times, then rage quit after telling everyone else that we sucked. Actually, that’s not quite what he said, but this is a PG blog. The next tank did much better, and tried to slow down, but there was still way too much rushing going on, and on every pull mobs were running everywhere. We got through because of a combination of blind luck and a good healer.

I’m going to run it again though, and try to get people to slow down and enjoy it – the easter eggs in the instance are delicious, and quite funny.

Dec 4 2010

Deathwing ate my teddy bear.


On the other hand he also bought me Withers and a singing sunflower, making him sort of giant fire-breathing bi-polar Father Christmas, bringing stuffing stockers to good dwarves and lumps of coal to miners.

My active character set is neatly bifurcated, if we leave aside my mopey level 70 bank alt: three level 80s, three leveling characters. The nice thing about this is that I realized last night that my Cataclysm experience is going to be similarly bifurcated: my intention is to level the three 80s in parallel (which of course will take longer), spreading them across as many different zones as I can (although Belmann will probably still do almost everything there is to do); and to level the other three characters in different zones (if possible).

It’s this latter part that has been great fun since the world got broken apart and rewritten. I spent a few hours with Belmann running around looking at things and saying “oooh, that’s shiny and new”, then sent the three low level characters off in different directions, hopefully to take different paths to level 60. And straight up, I’m going to say that Blizzard have done a superb job of preparing content and zones to make the progress from 1 to 60 smooth and fast while still being engaging.

I nipped off to WoWWiki to find out the new zone/level matrix, and was excited to see that Glymly the hunter could head off to the redesigned Eastern/Western Plaguelands, Maarisuu the baby tank could go to a freshly submerged Thousand Needles, and Hanaarrgh the rogue (yes, my secret project is to try a rogue again) could continue in Westfall – exciting for all three because I knew that they’d redesigned all zones. And boy, have they ever redesigned. At a simplistic level, I am loving the sense of the old world having advanced about 8 years, and the references from the new content back to the old versions filled with humour that is often only going to make sense to players who started with Vanilla – a whole new world of easter eggs just for us.

Western Plaguelands was probably just under Glymly’s level, and I think that he started in the middle of various questlines before being shunted off to Eastern Plaguelands quickly. WPL has been radically overhauled, thematically, and most of it has either been reforested, or is being reforested, with quests that carry through the theme of various forces working to rehabilitate the zone now that the Scourge has been defeated. He entered EPL with a bread-crumb quest to find a (worgen) NPC at the border of the zone. That NPC set him off for a couple of quick quests due north and south along the river, then invited him to climb on her peddler’s wagon to drive to the next quest hub. He’s finished most of the quests there (hey, alliance has finally secured at least one of the towers, and built a permanent base there), and presumably will get bread-crumbed along to the next hub. There are two aspects for me that highlight just how much effort and careful planning has gone into content that a lot of players will just grind through as quickly as possible: they have put in a *lot* of new flight points, eliminating virtually all of the horribly slow travel that characterised Vanilla, and thus speeding up the levelling process; and the quests have been carefully designed to provide a logical flow of development (both of plot and character).

Maarisuu had a similar experience in the new, and quite lovely, Thousand Needles – an initial quest sent her to a staging point in Feralas, which in turn sent her to Waterworld to visit Kevin Costner. I mean, to the floating barge above the submerged race ways. There was a superb set of quests that logically and quickly carried her through three apparently divergent chains in three different areas, along with a handful to introduce the mechanics required for dealing with the watery environment, leading up to a final quest that sent her on to Gadgetzan. Naturally the physical changes in Thousand Needles are spectacularly noticeable, but the more subtle changes in the world were most intriguing – as an Alliance character she’s not privy to the internal changes for the Taurens, but is still given an insight into them as she reclaims ground from the Bad Cows, and then was duped into aiding the machinations of Mama Bad Cow. Similarly the rivalry between gnomes and goblins has been raised to the point of fisticuffs… while at the same time goblin and gnome children play games all over the barge. For my money this region, so far, is the one that shows off most clearly how tight (and deep) the writing has become, and how much thought has gone into ensuring that players don’t spend their time killing ten rats.

Not that the quests that Hannarrgh faced in Westfall did not encompass new versions of the old low-drop kill-ten-rats quests. The distinction now is that it appears that these quests in low-level zones have 100% drop rate on quest items. It may have taken 6 years, but Blizzard finally seemed to have accepted that low-drop quests inspire a player to homicide, not a sense of epic grandeur. The changes in Westfall are particularly poignant and interesting – a large population of refugees, a build up of the military presence and facilities in the center of the zone, and an obvious issue with an expanding gnoll population. It was only today that I realised that she’s at the right level to venture into the revamped Deadmines instance, and I’ll take her there at the earliest opportunity. I’m guessing that there will be some sort of bread-crumb quest chain to take her down there, and am given to understand that the instance quests are sourced inside the instance, or inside the instance entrance zone.

I’ve noticed that there is a fair bit of complaint in the blogosphere about the jump in timelines in the old world. I know that I was surprised to see it when I first logged in, but on reflection I believe it’s the only way that Blizzard could have handled the scope of the changes they wanted – and needed – to make. It was suggested in a few places that they could have phased the changes in over a period of time. Yes, it would have been technically feasible, but I think the reality is that to have done so they would have had to release 4.0.x, then spend at least six months rolling out nothing but content patches to advance the story before releasing the expansion. The player base, and the shareholders, would not have accepted that. Similarly they would not have accepted an expansion that did not have accepted an expansion without the magnitude of content changes now in place. Yes, there’s going to be some odd discontinuities in timeline – level 60-ish characters will have a weird jump back in time to deal (briefly) with Illidan’s homeboys in Outlands, then spend six or eight levels dealing with the Scourge again. Similarly new worgens and goblins will have a strange discontinuity between starting zones that are timed around the time of the Cataclysm and the broader world which will be eight-odd years later. At least Blizzard have acknowledged these issues, and have indicated a desire to do something about the Outlands and Northrend discontinuties, without committing to dealing with a really tough problem. I suspect the long term solution may be to reforge the story line for those expansions to be dealing with forces that have arisen post-cataclysm (somehow). Or maybe just say “you travel back in time, deal with it”.

In summary, some ridiculuous number of lines later – I approve. The post-shattering world is awesome.

Nov 26 2010

Rights and Responsibilities


Reading through what Spinks over at Spinksville wrote about FrostGate got me thinking: what are the assumed rights and responsibilities I have when playing various characters? I know that I have those assumpitons in play, they are informed by the culture, and inevitably shaped by the community and interactions with other players. But I’ve never attempted to articulate them. Let’s have a go.

Belmann. I’m a holy healer, most of the time. When I’m in shadow spec, I’m just another DPS standing up the back. I assume I have the right to regain mana, and have the responsibility to keep as many people functioning as I can. I assume that healing usually takes precedence over dispelling and removing diseases, and I have the responsibility to throw out whatever buffs and damage I can when I can. I assume that I can reasonably expect other players to not stand in the stupid, to use the lightwell when I throw it down, and to not pull when I’m either not ready or out of range.

MacMorris. I’m a melee DPS. I assume that I have a responsibility to let the tank select targets to pull, then hit them as hard as I can once they’re focussed on her. I assume I have the responsibility to get out of the stupid when it bubbles under my feet, stand behind the mobs, do whatever self-healing and self-buffing that I can, and to maintain an awareness of what’s going on so that I can grab mobs that get away and start eating the cloth-wearers’ faces. And above all, a responsibility to not steal aggro from the tank. On the other hand I have an expectation that the tank will make reasonable judgements about what will be pulled and how. I don’t have an expectation that the healer will heal me while the tank is in trouble, and don’t have an expectation that the healer will top off my health if I die.

Morkhaeus. I’m a ranged DPS. I assume that I have a responsibility to let the tank select targets to pull, then fry them. All while making sure that I don’t steal aggro (which given the threat I can currently generate, is not very likely). I have a responsibility not to stand in the stupid, and to be prepared to ice block or go invisible if a mob gets away and heads toward me. If a mob breaks away and goes for the healer, I have a responsibility to try to fry it before it gets to the healer. I expect other players to have at least some awareness that I burn through mana like crazy, and respect that I have to regain mana between fights. I expect other players to not snap their fingers and say “mage, food” or “mage, buff”, just as I assume I have the responsibility to proactively buff and offer food. And above all, if I turn a mob into a sheep (or penguin, as the case may be), I expect other players not to immediately hit the damned thing.

My other toons are not well enough developed to have a clear idea of what I expect. Glymly the hunter is somewhere in the mid-40s, and doing reasonable damage in instances, even though it’s a bit clumsy and face-rolling. I think the main responsibility he has which is unique to being a hunter is to make sure that the pet is not stealing aggro from the tank, and to throw down traps in front of the clothies.

My baby tank Maarisu is still mired somewhere around 38 (so much for my plan to level those two dwarves in parallel), and I’m finding it really difficult to articulate a role for her. As I’ve alluded to before, I find that the change in player behaviour in Vanilla or low level instances makes it really hard to tank effectively, and half the time I feel like I’m battling the other players, and not the mobs. It tentatively feels like as a tank I have a responsibility to keep the mobs focussed on me, while at the same time I have a right to pull mobs and gather together groups in the style and at the pace of my own choosing. That’s definitely the thing that twists my knickers playing her through 5-man instances so far – even when I state it explicitly, there’s seldom any recognition of the simple facts of the mechanics of a prot warrior: it takes a few seconds to build up rage, and if I haven’t got the mobs’ attention when the DPS open fire, it’s needlessly difficult to bring them all back together.

I have to say that dipping my toe in tanking gives me even more respect for good tanks who stick with it. It’s a rotten hard role, I think.

Nov 24 2010



I woke early for work this morning ( think east coast of Oz) and decided to start up the downloader in case there was anything for tonights raid. Woe! The end of the world. “ok” I think, “allow yourself 30 minutes for a quick peek”

Oh poot, priest talent trees reset. Double poot, the servers will be down for another few hours. It might be hard to focus on work.


Nov 17 2010

Want some libertarian comment with that?


I am loving the pre-Cataclysm events and story line that are playing out. The overall story arc and NPC character writing is very good, and there is much more sense of a deep and persistent back-story then there was with the Wrath pre-release (and really, the BC pre-release was pretty well non-existent). They’ve also listened to the player base and made the events much less intrusive – players can opt to ignore the pre-release activity, engage in it lightly, or throw themselves fully into it.

The pace of the events has been excellent as well, particularly if you step back and look at a key facet of the in-game world: the characters we are playing, the puppet avatars we all (one way or another) role play through, and the NPCs, are not aware of what is happening. Step into the game world with me for a moment: everyone is aware that something weird is going on. Nobody has the full picture, nobody has a prescient view of the impending cataclysm. It’s a world where the political leadership is exhausted from fighting the Lich King, and where political and religious institutions have been badly fractured by conflict arising from the war in Northrend. Everything is a bit of a mess, it’s looking like a new war with the Horde is on the horizon, elemental forces are upset and confused, and the earthquakes are coming faster all the time.

Now look at what the events have involved (alliance blinkers on here, I have no idea what the horde events are). We started with the usual sort of vague “there’s something odd happening, go see what it is” quests that we’re used to from the druids. It escalated into a rather more pointed series of investigations on behalf of the military/police of Stormwind, dealing with what they suspect to be a present threat from the latest freaky cult. Which quickly escalated into you going out on the streets of Stormwind and telling the population that the king and security forces are suspending their expected and traditional liberties. This is a pretty grim situation – the general overall ethos in the Warcraft world is a vague adherence to secular humanism, with a heavy overlay of belief in personal freedom married closely to personal responsibility. In other words, fairly standard post-Tolkien fantasy role play.

Going further with that thought. King Varian Wrynn is generally and basically the Lawful Good archetype (yet another Paladin with a rod up his royal backside), and when you take that to extremes you get some pretty questionable behaviour. And he’s done some pretty questionable things. Invading the Undercity is high on the list. Even though it’s the “right” thing to do, there surely would have been less bloody minded and dogmatic ways of dealing with the issue. And this whole “tell the citizens I’m putting a fence around them to protect them, at the cost of their liberties” is pretty questionable as well: at this stage, he’s not really got evidence that the cult is that much of a threat. The reactions is dispraportionate.

Stepping back out into the Real World – it’s a lovely piece of detailed and quite deep world building, presented in a way that players can engage with it at whatever level they choose. It makes me excited for Cataclysm – all those extra writers and designers they have are going to have made some really neat toys for us.

Nov 17 2010

Blog Lag!


Once again I have to beg indulgence, as the the thing that has been squeezed out of my timetable is writing here. So many good ideas, so little time to commit them to pseudo-paper.

Looking back at my last post, given all that has been going on, I’m surprised how much I got done. Admittedly it could be in part because I spent a week ill and mainly in bed.

I did get Morkhaeus up to level 80, and have been running all three 80s through randoms heroics in a desultory fashion, getting the two “lesser” 80s a bit more geared up. I’m not stressing about that though, as I expect by the time they hit 85 all three will have roughly equivalent gear.

Belmann got the Well Read achievement, with the help of various walk-throughs on the web. It’s a silly one, but one of the several that I feel will mean something later to me to have done with Vanilla content before it goes away. He also got a complete Tier 10 set, which is the first and only time any of my characters have had a complete Tier set of any kind. As he replaces gear, I will hold onto all that set, as a memento.

The other goals are in general terms still progressing, although the unstated goal of downing the Lich King remains unfulfilled. I’ve seen the fight a couple of times now, and am frustrated that others in the guild are getting him down, but I’ve never quite got him. So close, and yet so far. The committment needed by the guild to get individuals up to the fight is pretty strenuous, and it’s been exacerbated by the end-of-expansion malaise, and so I frequently applaud the individuals who are opting to spend their game time to help others in this. A strategy has evolved where they try to have rolling raids going on before the “main” raid night that have downed most of the bosses, meaning that those of us who are after the Lich King can pretty well get straight onto that fight, rather than spending most of the night just getting to him. Fingers crossed I will get this before the expansion drops, but I won’t be surprised if I don’t.

I realised, as I was consolidating what the other characters are doing, that a real meta-goal (and to some extent one that Blizzard supports and encourages, just not very vocally), is to get most of the professions maxed out across the various characters so that I can be pretty well self-sufficient. This is particularly true with Gems, and I’m keen to get Morkhaeus levelled up so that I stop spending a fortune on Gems for new gear. The only problem is that it’s turning out to be slow and expensive. Belmann did max out both enchanting and tailoring though, which means that when the expansion hits it should not be too much of a grind to build them up to whatever the new max level is.

As an aside, the changes to enchantment vellums finally make them useful, and make enchanting useful. This little-heralded change has finally made it possible for one character to enchant another high-level character’s gear, and there’s a nice little work flow in play where Macmorris can make the vellums, send them to Belmann for the relevant enchantment, who then sends them on to (for instance) Morkhaeus.

Unlike a lot of folk, I found the 4.x releases to be generally a Very Good Thing. The user interface changes in particular are welcome, and has reduced the number of addons I’m using. I’ve always preferred to have as few addons as possible, to reduce the load on the central game engine, and have found that really for most of my characters the only essential ones are Omen and Dominos, and in the case of Belmann, VuhDo. I might write up something about my addons and UI.

The simpler currency they introduced, reducing the number and variety of badges, is welcomed, but it’s spottily implemented. Various vanilla tokens and currencies are still being awarded, and some of the BC ones as well. While this doesn’t affect levelled characters, and may go away after the expansion, it does mean that leveling characters (or LoreMaster hunters like Belmann) still collect junk tokens as they progress.

In general all three 80s seem to be more effective after all the nerfing, de-nerfing, re-nerfing and anti-nerfing has been finished (for the time being, until a week after Cataclysm). I’m not running any sort of DPS meter on any of my toons (I rely on Omen instead to judge the important thing: am I pulling the mob off the tank) but in general solo play both the frost death knight and the fire mage seem to be knocking things over faster and more easily than they used to. Belmann’s heals are definitely up, at the cost of significantly more mana use, which I think is going to be one of the major challenges for healing as a holy priest in Cataclysm .

Morkhaeus manages to produce some satisfyingly big numbers for a barely-equipped fresh 80, but fire mages remain delicate little snowflakes. In 5-man dungeons, he can throw down quite satisfying damage (although it’s hard to get full rotations up and effective, as other players are generally so over-geared that trash and bosses are going down too fast), but in solo play the consequences of running out of mana, or letting too many mobs get too close, are dire. It’s particularly a problem since there is no longer a viable knock-back spell that can keep mobs away long enough to zap them, and the other escape spells are only really effective when there’s a tank to pick the mobs up again.

The Death Knight talent trees feel much better defined and differentiated, but again, MacMorris has trouble building up effective rotations of attacks and abilities because fights don’t go for long enough.

There are a lot of small, barely noticeable changes in the 4.x patch, many of which have gained little press attention. I’m thinking particularly of little UI changes like the pop-up buttons for teleports and portals, and summoning pets and minions. And merging the personal-buff and group-buff spells, and removing the reagent cost (no more buying 60 candles for a night of raiding)

And the water is pretty.

Oct 6 2010

What Now?


Yet another post tapped out on the train. This is starting to be a habit. So. Something like 9 weeks to Cataclysm. What will I try to do before then.

The reality which may not be fully and generally understood is that the next few weeks will be tumultuous, even before the pre-release world events.

We know that Blizzard want to, need to, get 4.0.x out before Cata – they have no choice because that patch is needed to ensure compatible experiences for players in that week or so after Cara when some have the expansion and some don’t. Going further we can expect two patches, not one – at least one week out before cata, more like two, they’ll get out a patch to fix the 4.0.x bugs. Which means we should expect 4.0.x in the next two weeks so that people can get familiar with the changes, and key add-ons fixed.

So we should expect that over the next couple of months we’re all going to be relearning how to play, how the economy and trades will work, and how to obtain and improve gear. A substantial amount of WOW 2.0 is going to be delivered with this patch, and Cata itself is 2.1

So what might be achievable in that time? I’m hoping to get the following sorted:

  • get Morkhaeus to 80
  • level Mork’s jewel crafting
  • level Macmorris’s trades
  • get Belmann’s enchanting leveled and make a bunch of scrolls
  • get the “well read” achievement.

Check back and see how I went.

Oct 6 2010

Face palm moment


I’m going to pretend that it was because I’m a bit under the weather. But last night I was *that* player in a PUG.

I can’t remember which instance it was. One of the bug instances in Dragonblight. Belmann pops in, and straight off sees the other four are the leader and officers of a guild. This could be good, or could be bad. Their gear was good, so he thought he’d judge how it was after some trash mobs.

The group operated with smooth efficiency, going through the mobs like a chainsaw through butter. I pause to compliment them, the tank goes out of heal range around a corner – and the mobs ate him for breakfast. Turned out he was relying on big heals and overpulling. A vote of confidence, but facepalm.

Resurrect, run in, buff as we run, top em off, get back to where we were. The tank is beating on a group, and my mana is getting low. So I get out the shadow beast, JUST as the mobs went down and the tank head off downstairs. Of course the shadow beast tore off after a group of mobs we were skipping, aggrod them, died, and the mobs overran the clothies before the tank could get back.

To my relief they thought it was funny, and the rest of the run went perfectly and in good humour.

The lesson being… Keep your finger poised over the get-back-here button when you pop the shadow beast.