We’re not as stupid as we think we are

A post in three parts.

You’re probably reading this in a feedreader, so let me tell you about a change to the page layout of Mysterious Buttons that you haven’t seen and don’t care about. I’ve removed the wall-o-links sidebar that was my blogroll, and also the single largest thing on the page. I’ll keep the “recently updated” widget, but the blogroll has moved to its own page.

As part of the move, I’ve separated the blogs into categories (not by class or anything quite so useful — it’s me, remember?). One of the categories is “Near and dear”, which is people I play with/have played with/admire/nerdstalk.

Recently, I’ve found myself skipping merrily through the posts listed in my feedreader, barely reading *any* of them. A good number of wowblogs appear to have switched to more-or-less full time Cataclysm coverage, and I find myself less and less inclined to read. I think I’m at the point where I’d rather just take it as it comes. I don’t need to race to 85. I don’t need to optimise my rotation for a Worgen rogue I haven’t started to level yet. I won’t be competing for server firsts, or to own the <insert moneymaking thingy> market on the auction house. So I might as well have the pleasure of tripping over things, making mistakes and finding my own path. I can always look up what I’m supposed to be doing later, once the wrinkles are smoothed a little.

Unrelated? Not exactly. 2fps is one of the sites in the “near and dear” category and so I actually read Shay’s recent post on tanking on the PTR, “Rise of the Chicken”, and it made me wonder if we, the wow-playing peoples, are giving ourselves too little credit.

I feel like I’ve seen a good number of posts on healing/tanking in the Cataclysm model, and how playing in an “AoE everything” fashion will have terminal consequences for your party. My impression, based on the bits I *have* read, is that crowd control may be required (/wink). That focus fire will matter. That tank health, tank healing and tank threat will all conspire to prevent massive pulls from being anything other than a wipe-inducing mistake. Fine.

There also seems to be a widespread belief that your average wow-player will struggle to cope with this — particularly those who weren’t around for BC or vanilla WoW (where I understand this was the norm). That every PuG dungeon or raid will be wipe after avoidable wipe because drooling DPS idiots can’t keep their fingers off the max threat button, that tanks will blindly charge in, collect 200 trashmobs, die, and start flaming the healer.

I’m not convinced.

When I was very slowly and with much foolishness learning2play, I did so at first by seeing what worked and what didn’t, and (I suspect) playing incredibly badly. Thankfully, I was mostly soloing so I wasn’t inflicting my special brand of idiocy on others, but still. It was a fair while  before I started looking at the fantastic array of resources available on talents, rotations and the like. Even having visited them and read through the content, I still needed (and continue to need) to try things in game before I really absorbed anything. I’m not convinced I’m unique in that respect.

I’ve learned since via a number of mechanisms. I’ve learned by trying stuff, and seeing what got me dead or shouted at. I’ve learned with the help of others, who’ve offered advice on what to do, or what not to do, and why. I’ve learned by reading hugely instructive and helpful blogs where information is presented not just as “do <this> otherwise U R BAAD” but with reasoning and with alternatives. By reading the resource sites like Wowwiki, Wowhead, EJ etc.

Here’s the thing: I can do it again. And so can you, and so can she *points randomly*. We all can, as long as we give each other just the tiniest chance to do so. Sure, some habits might be hard to break. Some skills might need to be (re-)learned. But we can all do that, and if we help each other (rather than scream at each other) not only will this dungeon or raid or battleground or quest go more smoothly, but future ones will too.

Sure, there’ll be the occasional idiot who pointblank *refuses* to modify their behaviour, even after you’ve asked nicely. Even after you’ve explained why. But if we all start off assuming anyone who isn’t perfect already is somehow irredeemably bad, the game will be fundamentally broken.

So, this is my plea: if you see someone “doing it wrong”, forget all the times you might have tried to offer a suggestion and had it thrown back in your face. Try to help. Send a whisper. Or just do your damnedest to be non-confrontational when asking for something different. Obviously “FFS noobz, lern2CC” is unhelpful, but so is “Why didn’t you <ability>, mage?”. Use names — the pace of the dungeons seems likely to be slower, so you’re not gimping the emblem flow if you take an extra second to check a person’s name first. “I think we need more CC — Centrella, could you sheep the moon please?”. “Ano, I know it’ll reduce your DPS a bit but can you focus on cleansing for this pull? ‘Oother’-the-holy-pally needs every GCD for heals”.

My bet is that people will actually be keen to learn, and to help. I know I am.

Virtuous pugging

Everyone (including me) has a million and one tales of horrible pug experiences, whether they’re via the dungeon finder (aptly nicknamed Sanity Tap a lifetime or two ago) or the via the joys of pug raiding and everyone’s favourite “Link GS and achivs” tradechat ads. Bad players, mad players, afk-ers, stoners, the clinically depressed and the clinically insane. Groups that fall apart after the first wipe. Groups that fall apart before the first pull. Groups which feel like a persistent low-grade infection — you can get through the day (raid) but the shine falls off everything.

How much of that is down to the way the raid is organised?

The most significant problem my guild faced when chasing that elusive first LK kill was the difficulty in getting ten of us online at the same time. We’re a little understaffed anyway, and once you factor in RL aggro it becomes very difficult to put a team together. In an effort to find opportunities to raid with a full group we took to throwing up signup threads in our forum which said “when are you available this week?”, and then trying to put together a raid on the night with the most people.

A couple of Fridays ago, we were all set to spend the night wiping on killing Arthas but last-minute problems meant we were missing people in key roles. I didn’t see the “sorry, raid cancelled” update in our forums and so logged on to find four or five others in the same boat. It seemed a shame to just do nothing…why not grab some alts, grab some random folks from trade and run ICC anyway? And, as it’s Friday night, commence drinking!

As a guild, we’re generally pretty allergic to PuGs. We have people with a single 80. We have people with multiple 80s who don’t want to run with randoms. We have a shared lack of tolerance for the more horrible people you can encounter in LFG etc., and amused disdain for the “LFM ICC10, need 5.8GS/Link Bane of the fallen King. Aiming for first 4+ bosses.” spam you see in amongst the goldsellers and stupidity in trade.

ASIDE: I keep pimping this to my guildies but since installing the dubiously-named BadBoy Antispam I don’t think I’ve seen a single goldseller in my chatbox. YMMV, naturally.

Anyway, we jumped on alts and I *gasp* crafted my first “LFM” for trade. It was something along the lines of “LFM ICC10. It’s a mostly-guild alt fun run, and we’re drinking! Need [roles]. Don’t bother telling me your gearscore, we don’t care. C’mon, it’ll be great!”

At the suggestion of one of our guildies, I asked each person who replied “Do you have much (or any) experience of ICC?”, and got a variety of answers ranging from achievement spam to simple “yeah, done X/12 on my [class]”. Anyone who sounded plausible got an invite, and was quickly submerged in the silliness that was our already-merry raidchat. One respondent asked how far we were planning to go. “Not sure”, I said, and explained that while we all knew what we were doing, we were a) on alts, and b) getting plastered and having fun, so if he needed to get to Arthas tonight we might not be the right group for us. He joined anyway, and soon we were off.

We had an a lot of fun. The banter in our vent channel between guildies made me wish I knew how/whether you can set multiple passwords for different access levels in vent, to make it easy to invite randoms without changing the main password. There was a fair amount of silly chatter in /ra too.

Our tanking guildy did very brief tactic reminders before each encounter, with a “shout if anything’s not clear or this is new for you”- addendum and we cleared the first six bosses before a number of people realised the time and had to go. We had a few deaths here and there, but I don’t remember any wipes and best of all, everyone was tolerant, funny, friendly and easygoing.

I’m not an experienced pugger but I have been on a few pug raids now – mostly on Centrella. One of the common features seems to be a general intolerance of other people’s mistakes, or of anything which impedes progress (the classic “FFS this should be easy” response). Generally speaking, I’ve also found a correlation between the “choosiness”  of the raid organiser (i.e. how many “achivs” and GS required) and the amount of arseholery in the resulting group – the “better” the group, the more likely it is to be full of whiners and the terminally angry.

Contrast this with our little group: stated fun aim, no “must have X” requirements, result: a group of friendly, fun, competent players. Is there a relationship here, or is it just the weight of numbers effect of 5 guildmembers in one raid forcing people to conform?

It’s hard to know for sure. It does rather make me wish I a) had a little more confidence, and b) could be bothered to spend time learning the fights from perspectives other than my own. It would be an interesting experiment to try running some partly- or even fully-pugged groups where the entry requirements are based around being friendly and fun, and taking people at their word when asking “do you know how to do this?”. Obviously you’d also have to be reasonably firm when intervening in bad behaviour, but that should be relatively straightforward if handled directly and openly.

Does anyone else put together runs like this? Runs with little in the way of entrance requirements, focused more on the fun of being with people and maybe killing a few bosses rather than desperately pushing through for badges and loot? I guess if you’re a really experienced raider accustomed to only failing on hardmodes, the idea might not grab you, but a bit of no-pressure-let’s-have-fun-the-gold-is-virtual-y’know raiding on an alt might appeal even if your main is pushing for 12/12 heroic.

Things I’m (kinda) learning: Raid healing

PREFACE: I’ve discovered a collection of unpublished drafts from the past month or so and am gradually cleaning and releasing. Expect random jumps from subject to subject!

Not too long ago, I attended one of our Thursday night raids instead of stumblingly mispronouncing bits of Japanese, but in an unusual (read: never before attempted) capacity. As a healer. One of our warrior tanks was unavailable and it was looking likely we wouldn’t be able to raid. Except, wait a minute, our disco priest’s alt is a warrior1. With a prot spec. Except now we’ve only got a single druid healer. Unless the ret paladin goes holy. *eep*

I’ve been making better use of my holy offspec for a while now. Well, I’ve been healing the odd guild 5man so the mainspec healers can relax and pewpew a bit, and shortcutting the DF queue for personal gain. I think that counts as “better”, no? And, thanks to the “no-one needs spellplate” problem, I have a mostly-251 healing set (even if I haven’t bought any tier 10), so I didn’t have a “not geared” excuse to fall back on. So I did a quick bit of reading on healing in raids (heal the tank, lol), swapped out a glyph (5% FoL crit instead of a 90s beacon? Which idiot rolled this character?) and got ready.

I felt very much how I remember feeling before my first guild raid; incredibly nervous and unready but excited too. A bit of ranged DPS on Cent is tons-o-fun, and a change, but it’s still the same basic concept. This was going to be *different*. Things got off to an interesting start with the weekly, good old crotch-pot guy in Ulduar. I don’t know if you remember the trash before you get there but OMG CHAIN KNOCKBACK? Chain knockback, in this case, accompanied by me landing in the middle of the next pack and pulling them too. We didn’t wipe, but ze tree and several DPS needed a res. “Not a good start.”, I thought.

Ignis himself was fairly straightforward, with ze tree taking care of crotchpot swimmers before I could even think about switching heal targets, and so we carried on to VoA for a quick frost run which (yes!) netted a piece of T10 for one of our shamans shamen shamens totemgoats. Then we zoned into ICC.

Progress through the pre-Marrowgar trash seemed surprisingly smooth, most likely due to the absence of some idiot spamming divine storm focus fire from the dps and, although we were a bit shaky on Marrowgar himself it came right in the end. On we trundled to the Lady D, where by a combination of bad luck and bad positioning we managed to pull all of the trash AND one of the big guys at the same time. Which was … intense. By the time they were all down, my fingers were sweating, my mana below 30%, my cooldown timers were ticking away and there were a couple of squished dps but we again didn’t wipe *phew*. Lady D herself was almost a pushover by comparison — although I now realise how much healing it takes when someone doesn’t move out of her DnD, via the excellent method of being a little slow myself and watching my health plummet.  OMG OMG shit run stop running healhealheal.

Of course, as I was in healing spec the Whispering Fanged Skull dropped, and once again it was made plain that I am destined never to use this trinket. On the previous two occasions it dropped I was beaten by a rogue and a hunter. This time it was a different hunter that beat my roll. The following week, when I wasn’t able to make the raid, it dropped *again* and was won by *another* rogue. Clearly, the Lady whose name once should never speak wishes me to have the heroic version… or possibly just hates me. Anyway, we carried on as far as a couple of wipes on Putricide before finishing for the evening.

I found it a surprisingly different experience, standing at the back and healing, even though I’ve done a reasonable amount of it in heroics. I’m not sure I’d want to do it full time, but it is fun. Of course, it helps if you’ve got an experienced healer covering any shortfalls or cockups, but it’s quite the different game. Movement is suddenly a big deal. I mean, on Cent movement’s a DPS loss, sure,  but movement at the wrong time as a holy pally could mean a DPS lost, or possibly even a tank. We didn’t really make a serious attempt at the Professor, but in the couple of attempts we *did* make I was struggling to understand *when* and *how* I was supposed to move so as not to let people die. Naturally, there’s an awkward part of me that now *really* wants to work on the Prof as a healer, to see if I can do it, but I’m sure I can persuade him to pipe down.

Observations on my first raid healing experience

  • Movement is brutal. Even with well geared, highly skilled tanks, bosses still hit hard.
  • I still can’t use utility abilities/healing cooldowns well. Perhaps it’s a question of experience, but whenever I thought “gee, a cooldown would be good about now” I  was generally spam-healing and unwilling to stop. Something to practice in heroic dungeons, I think.
  • It’s hard to maintain any sense of situational awareness when you’re focused on the ever-moving bars in Vuhdo. Possibly my UI layout doesn’t help: it was designed with DPS in mind and puts my raidframes at the bottom of the screen, with primary actionbars front-and-centre. Even so, I was barely aware of what was going on, beyond incoming damage. I wonder if this is something healers learn to compensate for, or whether there are full-time raid healers who would enjoy a dps-tourism trip where they can feel free to look around?
  • It’s no great surprise that, in my limited pugging experience, groups that have managed the first four encounters fairly comfortably often falter in the plague wing. The encounters are more complex and, as was confirmed for me, the incoming damage is significantly greater. And of course, Putricide is the first big test of a raid’s ability to work together and be co-ordinated. Movement, positioning and control make the difference between a wipe and a clear.
  • Moments of greatest excitement as a DPS are often the most terrifying and stressful for healers. Note to self: remember that in future and, y’know, say thanks.
  • Getting a last-millisecond heal in on someone about to keel over is, in a strange way, not much more exciting than timing your heals so that people stay at high health. I guess the “Yay! Saved her!” is slightly offset by “Hells! Nearly let her die.”, and there’s a certain satisfaction in watching the heal you started casting a second or so ago (because you spotted the upcoming danger) land only moments after the incoming damage.
  • Beacon of Light is a bit of a cheat. I can see why they’ve changed it so much for Cataclysm. To be able to keep one person (say, a tank) up without really thinking about *them* but simply by spamming heals on *other people* seems a bit cheap (even if it’s a great crutch for noob healers like me).

This brief burst of healing has also seen me farming ToC normal in search of Tears of the Vanquished. Even though I was able to randomly collect Je-Tze’s Bell, I have a notion that (paired with the Talisman of Resurgence) it would be a great trinket for someone without access to ICC healing trinkets. Even though I have no need of extra intellect in random heroic 5 mans. Even though my raid healing experience is likely to be limited to this single run. Even though, after 20-something runs, the blasted thing remains invisible.

Just in case, you understand. Just in case.

  1. For whatever reason, we seem incapable of attracting/retaining tanks who aren’t warriors. We’ve got four. And (currently) nothing else []

What to do?

Or rather, what to do next?

Now that we’ve finally toppled the Lich King ourselves, it’s a question we need to ask. For many guilds, the answer to that is a straightforward “heroic modes, of course” but it’s not quite so cut-and-dried for us.

Don’t get me wrong: the next time we go into ICC, I’m sure we’ll have a go at a few. If we’re fielding a full-strength team, there are a number of encounters which (based on little more than what I remember from reading on the wowwiki strategy pages and a couple of recent “heroic bosses in order of difficulty” posts) I think we’ll be able to manage relatively straightorwardly. But at this late stage in the expansion there’s not quite the imperative to go do hardmodes that there might once have been — given the impending Cataclysm, even 264 loot is likely to be replaced fairly quickly. It’s certainly not something I think we need a laserlike focus on (although there are a couple of guildies deserving their own Kingslayer titles who weren’t present for our first kill)

There is, of course, also the siren call of “things which aren’t ICC”. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been raiding ICC for long enough to be burned out on it by any means. There are other raid instances worth a visit though: I’ve not fought General Vezax or Yogg in Ulduar. I’d also like to be part of a Mimiron kill where I *didn’t* get over-excited at the prospect of hanging out with the button and kill myself within the first 30 seconds. I even harbour a secret hope of seeing Algalon.

Then there’s the Ruby Sanctum. It’s not big, and we didn’t spend all that much time on it, but we’ve never downed Halion — we’ve barely made it to phase 3. It’d be nice to poke that particularly dragon too.

Selfishly, I’m a single Kel’Thuzad kill away from the Champion of the Frozen Wastes achievement, which would be nice to pick up, and only a couple of random bosses away from a bunch of Naxx achievements (I seem to have cleared 3/4 of the bosses in each wing, somehow).

About the only thing I *don’t* have any interest in is downloading the PTR client and fiddlng about with what will soon be live. The laundry list of Stuff To Do above is in no way comprehensive. There are still a few heroic achievements I need for a protodrake. There are still a few (well, two) Outland dungeons I’ve *never* seen. I’d like to pay a visit to the Ahn’Qiraj Temple, to complete the Classic Raider achievement. Having finally reached exalted with the Dwarves, there’s a little voice at the back of my head saying “go on, get the Ambassador title, think of all those funky mounts” which is sounding less like the rantings of a madman as time goes by.

And then there’s Cent. Overgeared and underused Cent. Cent, who was almost able to break out on her own and be an independent woman, but whose good fortune failed her at the last hurdle. Cent, currently fending off the advances of a priest (note for the Brits: topical!) and wondering where all the rumours about her underwear have come from. Cent, whose furthest foray into ICC is Rotface, despite clearly being geared for a shot at the title (even if her assitant’s skills might be subpar). It’d be nice to take her out for a guild run, rather than leaving her at the not-so-tender mercies of tradepugging, and a recent Friday night drunkrun in ICC which was half-guild, half random bodes well for her capabilities when sober and surrounded on all sides by friends.

So many choices. So little time. Whatever to do?

I suspect I might be the only person who’d be *happy* if Blizzard announced a delay to Cataclysm. *ducks*


Do I need to write much more?

Oh, ok then. At about half past midnight, on try number… 17? maybe, we made it. With the patch preloading, and various guildies about to be unavailable for a while, it looked like we had one last night. We tried hard. We didn’t make it. We were soooo close, but a couple of the raid team had to go to bed. But wait — there are two more guildies just idling in Dala? Should we? Could we? Bring them in?

We could. We should. We did. It worked.