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Friday, May 27, 2011

And The Bell Tolls...


OK, now this blog is dead. :)

Some folks will probably wonder why...

I did not come to WoW on my own.  I was recruited by a "real life" friend* that played and wanted another person to play with so he did not have to recruit strangers.  And that's not a criticism, just a fact.  It's perfectly human and understandable to want to play with your friends, especially in a game that demands groups for much of the content (this was back in "vanilla" WoW, so even questing required frequent help).

* - someone that I knew face-to-face in the real world.

Before that, my only MMORPG was City of Heroes (COH).  Again, I did not come to play that game on my own.  The same friend recruited me to play that, for the same reasons.

You see, prior to that, I was pretty dead set against playing Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), so much so that I refused to even try them.  My main concern was hearing how much time and attention they consumed.  I was stunned that anyone would dedicate themselves so fully to a computer game, an activity that, to me, was a completely disposable recreation that you could pick up or drop whenever it was convenient.

Then our circle of friends started raiding.  I dragged my heels and generally was not a fan of raiding, mainly because of the huge time sink (and the frequent waiting around for things to happen kinda sucked too; I had enough of "hurry up and wait" on the parade grounds in the Army).

Then we joined a raiding guild that kinda sucked.  I kicked into "solve the problem" mode for the next 4 years and then one day it occurred to me that I was pouring incredible amounts of time into the game, something I had explicitly wanted to avoid.

And just to be clear, I am talking about 4-7 days a week, 10-20 hours a week, every week of the year.  Hell, I probably put in 30-40 hours some weeks, maybe more.

The real devil in that is that when you have that big of a chunk of time and mental/emotional commitment, the importance of other things can be severely clouded and you can easily find yourself avoiding other commitments, even ones as simple as going on a social outing with others, because of this crushing sense that you can't possibly spare the time/energy.

It was incredibly insidious, too.  It's not like I woke up each day and consciously thought, "I have work, then WoW, let me check my calendar".  Rather, I just had this vague unconscious, overbearing sense that I did not have time for anything.

So, I would find myself not taking up people on offers to do stuff because I was worried that there would be a time conflict.  And it became reflexive.  Worse, this was true for me and my significant other, so there was no "WoW widow" to snap either us out of our stupor.

Unfortunately, I am an independent grown up, so I don't have a parent there to scold me for spending too much time on WoW. :)

Well, anyway, back to the topic at hand.  In that lucid moment, I realized that I had prioritized WoW too greatly...even if not intentionally.  So, I pulled back.  I stepped down from co-leading the guild, then stepped out of the officer ranks entirely.  Finally, I stepped down from raiding status.

Then I rediscovered many things in life.  Chores were done in a timely fashion.  Little things I had been meaning to do, got done.  I started looking for activities.  I rediscovered computer gaming as a true recreation.

You might be thinking, "but WoW is a recreational activity".  Perhaps it is for you.  But for me, it was essentially a charity (my guild) that I supported for 4 years with incredible of amounts time, money, and energy...amounts I had never spent on real charities.  In fact, outside of work and college/university, I had never spent anywhere near the time I spent on WoW on anything, especially when you factor in the relentless year-round commitment.

So I went casual and took my blog to a casual place as well.

And the trend continued.  I found more to do outside of WoW.  I started and finished multiple excellent computer games that I just never seemed to get around to playing.  I started up another blog that better matched my complete set of interests.  I even gorged myself on a computer game and played a bunch...but even then it was less than the minimum time of 10 hours per week required to support a raiding schedule (in our guild).  And I was able to accommodate spikes in work responsibilities or travel at the drop of a hat with a lot less stress; this is important, as I have a full-time job that demands great flexibility in my schedule and availability.

Which brings me to now.  What little I play WoW will be purely for curiosity.  I will never again let my guard down and myself slip into such a time-consuming rut like I did.  It's just not worth it.

WoW is not a bad game, but playing WoW "seriously" is just not for me (unless WoW changes dramatically so that "serious" requires a much lesser commitment).

This blog has often catalyzed an academic pondering that turns into playing the game to learn something or figure out a mechanic.  That just feeds the insatiable time-eating beast that is WoW.  So, the blog has to die.

Thank you for following my rambling. :)

UPDATE: And it appears that I completely missed out on BlizzCon tickets because I was not paying attention.  I'll take that as reinforcement that my time as a serious WoW player is at an end.  Of course, it would have been more funny/tragic if I managed to finally get tickets this year...

/cancelreservation Hilton Anaheim

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Distractions" (or Not Dead Yet?)


When I went casual, I pondered if I would keep this blog going.  For now, I do plan to keep it going, but I thought it fair to warn you that I am keeping myself busy blogging about things that are more relevant to me now, mostly Real Life stuff.  And it's hard for a blog specific to a single game that I play casually to compete with that.

It's not dead yet, but who knows what the future will hold.  Don't be surprised if you don't hear from me until 4.1...or never again.  It doesn't mean I don't love you, I just feel I need to blog with other topics. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[4.0.6] Raid Tank Buffs, Debuffs, and Homogenization


Three Tanks walk into a bar...no that wasn't it.  Oh yeah, I remember now.  Three Tanks walk into a 25-player raid...and it doesn't matter which class they are.

The other day, at lunch, it was posited that have a mix of Tanks was important. Six months ago, I probably would have endorsed that, but when I think really hard about it now...not so much.

Homogenization of the Lich King

During Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK), we saw great strides towards homogenization of classes, which Blizzard referred to with the catch phrase, "bring the player, not the class".  This has two chief consequences:
  •  Raid groups (and guilds) can worry less about getting every class into their raids, so they can be more tolerant of class mix
  • To achieve this, classes require greater homogenization (shared/redundant abilities), which makes them individually less special/unique
For the most part, it's been a good thing, but I will be the first to admit it came with some pain.  I play a Druid as my main because of an affection for the class concept, and that included the unique things they could do. But unique capabilities are so last expansion now.

I say that, because, for the most part, they went away in WotLK and, by the time Cataclysm hit the shelves, we had seen some rather dramatic changes from what we remembered.

The New Era of Tank "Mix"

The premise that you want a mix of Tank classes rests upon the diversity they bring to the raid in terms of game mechanics.  This begs the question - in what ways do they differ?

Debuffs are where we see some of the canonical Tank abilities.
  • Melee attack slow - all Tanks can slow their primary target; Warriors and DKs can easily slow multiple mobs (at the risk of breaking CC).  The latter is nice, but the former is the critical capability, and DPS DKs can provide the latter too.
  • Physical damage reduction - all Tanks can reduce the Physical Damage they take; Warriors, Druids, and DKs do it via an AoE, Paladins can apply it to one to three targets at a time and that's plenty.  If you were to rely on DPS to help, Paladins and Feral Druids could maintain it on their target without DPS impact; Warriors could do it with negligible DPS impact; but DPS DKs rarely dip into the second tier of Blood, so I would not expect them to be able to do this.
  • Armor debuff - This is pretty important and, surprisingly, it has not made it to all Tanks. Only Warriors and Druids can do this right now.  The good news is that this is a DPS concern more than a Survival concern (and yes, the fast the boss dies, the better).  Rogues, DPS Warriors, and Feral Druids can provide this debuff, but it is generally less of a DPS impact if provided by the Druid, since Faerie Fire (Feral) lasts for five minutes and it is not uncommon for a Raid DPS Feral to have the Talent to apply all three stacks at once.  Warriors and Rogues would need to re-apply more frequently and for Rogues, the need to use a combo point and a finishing move makes this relatively costly.
  • Casting speed slow - This is an interesting ability that only one Tank can do - DKs.  That said, I am not sure how desirable it would be to work Necrotic Strike into a Tanking rotation.  Arcane Mages and all Warlocks can also provide a similar debuff, as well as Rogues (Mind-numbing poison), which increasing impacts on their individual DPS.
As for buffs, they are a mixed bag but, for the most part, they are not special to a Tank.  However, if you have a paucity of a given class or spec, you might need to tune a bit.  I recommend using MMO-Champion's Raidcomp tool to make sure your raid is covered.

Your Raid Needs Class Coverage, Not Your Tank Corps

The title says it all, really.  The buffs and debuffs are plentiful. Your real concern in class coverage should be aimed at making sure your raid has what it needs, not your Tank corps.  So, if you have three Tanks all of the same class, that may be just fine, as long as your raid covers the buffs and debuffs you need.

Is There Any Reason to Have a Specific Tank?

For the most part, not really.  We all have ways to address what we need to do.  Picking up multiple mobs as range is still a little challenging for Warriors and Bears, unless charging in and smacking the mobs is OK.  That said, in most cases where you need to Tank at range, a ranged DPS may be the better choice.

Sure, there are subtleties, but again it comes down to your raid.  For example, if you had no Rogues, Warriors, or Druids at all in your raids, then maybe you would ask a Hunter to bring a pet that provides the armor reduction.

Some of the buffs are less distributed.  The armor *buff* is only brought by Paladins and Shamans, as is "push back" protection for casters.  The stat multiplier provided by Druids and Paladins can also be provided by a Shale Spider pet.  But if you have none of the three, then no stat multiplier for you.  For the most part though, you would need to be missing at least two classes completely from your raid before it was an issue.

So, yeah, don't worry about diversity on such a granular level.  If your raid has the class abilities covered, you should be good.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

[4.0.6] No Endgame For Old Men


So, there I am, geared up as much as I can be from Honor gear and I even have a few Conquest pieces.

My Honor is capped and there is nothing I really want to buy.

The Random Battleground (BG) queue system is screwed up and I keep passing the "average wait time" and having to drop and re-queue unless I want to wait 30+ minutes for the queue to figure out it passed me up.

Every BG is good news & bad news:
  • Good news - I am one of the best players on my side, maybe even the best
  • Bad news - Almost all of the other players are undergeared, disorganized, and ineffective*
* - Because I am by no means the best skilled, most experienced, or geared PvPer

I remember the good old days when the guy from the RP server (me) was the weak link, i.e., most everyone was as good or better than me.  But I swear it felt like almost everyone on my side was drunk, new to BGs, undergeared, accidentally queued for PvP (and have no idea what is happening), or all of the above.

Broken queue, broken queue, broken queue, bad BG, broken queue, bad BG, broken queue, bad BG.

It's like WoW has finally become a self-aware entity and is doing its best to annoy me to death.

Monday, April 4, 2011

[4.0.6] Does a Bear Golf in the Woods?


So, now that I have "retired" from our guild's raiding rank?  What do I do to keep myself busy?  Candyswiper?  Orgimmart greeter?

Once I took the plunge there was a cascade effect.  I have lost all interest in daily quests and dungeons. I lost interest in logging in with my alts except maybe for an *occasional* Jewelcrafting daily, but that is passing.

PvP has suddenly become far more interesting to me for the same reasons that it likely attracts most people:
  • It's accessible - There are zero requirements to enter a Battleground beyond level (this can be a bad thing when the occasional heavily undergeared person shows up, but you get the bad with the good)
  • It's dynamic - the games always feel different, because my opponents are human beings, not scripted monsters.
  • PvP "raids" (battlegrounds) are automatically formed for you.  I can pretty much jump in and do it whenever I like

I like raiding, but I am increasingly of the opinion that Blizzard has crafted raiding so that it is only really accessible if you give what I consider an unacceptable time commitment to it.

If there was a guild out there that raided once a week, I might give it a try, but I also might not.  Stepping off the raiding train had a sweeping effect.  With all of my alts already leveled, and no raiding main to support anymore, my desire to sign on for ancillary activities has evaporated.

WoW has become just another computer game and when measured against the other single player RPGs and PvP games I can play, it isn't actually all that remarkable. In fact, there is quite a bit of tedium to it.  The last two nights, it has taken 30+ minutes to get into a BG, even though the queue kept saying "4 minutes" average).

I also don't care for the fact that the best gear is almost completely unobtainable unless you participate in activities that require group formation.  Consider, for example, Conquest points.  You can earn 1343 Conquest points in a week, you can earn that in a few rated BGs, but if you try to do that with a daily random BG, you are going to earn a maximum of 175 Conquest points.  So, in 20 weeks you can buy a nice PvP weapon...if you can stomach being slapped around like a pinata by the folks that are earning the points almost eight times faster than you.

Full disclosure, you can also get Conquest points via arenas, but again, form a group, schedule arena nights, and hope everyone actually shows up consistently.  In my experience, that lasts about 5-6 weeks at best.

Valor points (PvE) are a little faster, but the amount of gear you can get is more limited.

As for crafting, you can only craft a few epic pieces for PvE and none for PvP.

Long queues and hard limits on accomplishment/gearing unless you make a greater scheduling commitment to the game.  Compare that to first person shooters where you can unlock everything on your own and in many/most cases, queue up very quickly for games.  They are looking a lot more attractive.

So, now, that monthly fee is looking like more of a waste and I am pondering something I never thought I would - letting my account expire. /dramaticmusic

Friday, April 1, 2011

[4.0.6] How Much Time?


Leading up to my "retirement" in my guild, one of the key topics of discussion I covered with my wife, other officers, and myself, was the time commitment.

I am going to use the Grim Legion's expected raid time commitment as my example.  There are guilds with similar commitments, some with more, and some with less.  Grim Legion is not unusual in its time commitments, it is commonplace for a guild with any focus on progression to have one.  This is but one example.

In the Grim Legion, the current time commitment is 7:45 PM to 11:00 PM, three nights a week, every week, without interruption.  It is assumed that we are playing on holidays unless otherwise noted.  In the history of the guild, I think we have actually canceled a raid beforehand due to holidays a handful of times in the 4.5 years the guild has existed and while we might have discussed or declared a break from raiding prior to an expansion, in practice, it generally did not happen.  The only real breaks from raiding that I have seen were when a new expansion came out and we had to take a break while we waited for enough people to gear up.

"Just" Three Hours a Night

I remember when this statement seemed reasonable for me.  It was around the time when we stopped playing four hours a night.

I have a job and I have to eat, sleep, shower, etc.  On a good day, I have four hours to myself without depriving myself of sleep.  For me, this means my night is shot if I do anything for "just" 3 hours.  When you factor in things like daily quests or daily random dungeons (a necessity until you have all of your gear), it absolutely shoots the evening.

As a result, I can't plan any other activity on those nights.  I can't partake in a social outing for dinner, because it will take too long or I will have to excuse myself prematurely.  Errands and chores get postponed.

Obviously, it's not really just three hours either.  It's always more, typically at least 3.5 hours.  And real life is still there, giving you things to do, so even "just" three hours in a night can mean some minor sleep deprivation when real life is factored into the equation.

"Just" Three Nights a Week

I also remember when this statement seemed reasonable for me.  It was when we trimmed down from four nights a week and when there were still many hardcore guilds raiding five nights a week.

Now, it seems almost comical to say that.  That's almost half of your evenings shot.  That's a LOT.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  How many commitments do you have that take three complete evenings out of your week every week of the year, without end?  That's on par with the same commitment to earn a degree in night classes, except that college has breaks, sometimes for months out of a year.

Another ting you don't really appreciate at first, is the rigidity is imparts to your schedule.  Every week, you start with only four evenings open.  Yes, you can obviously choose to not show up to a raid, but you do start with that assumed commitment every week (and you might have a limit on allowed absences, as has been recently put in place in our guild).

The Eternal Season - Persistence is Painful

One of the key things that really gets me is the never-ending aspect of most raiding commitments. It's not every other week, or three weeks a month, or a three month "season" followed by a one month break. It's every week without interruption.

Of course, people want to have fun, and most people are going to spend more than 10-11 hours per week doing that, but that's a world of difference from a rigid schedule that obligates multiple, specific nights every week throughout the year.  Then it becomes a vocation.

And that is the primary nail in the coffin.  For me, only things that have significant real world benefits really warrant that level of commitment, in my opinion, e.g., work, family, health, religion, education, etc.  Having fun is good and doing the same thing for fun all of the time can be OK (although probably not ideal), but *committing* to a rigid, pervasive schedule that persists through every week of the year to play a computer game.  I am not sure that can be part of a healthy life.

So, Is There A Place in My Life For WoW?

Yeah, I think so, but right now it looks like only as a casual.  Even if I resumed raiding, I can't be that 100% attendance wunderkind.   Too many things to do, and too much to see in the world.

I soldiered through some pretty crazy time commitments out of a sense of obligation, but I just cannot do it anymore.

What If I Had More Free Time?

Well, the one thing this has really brought home for me was the sheer magnitude of time being spent.  So, I don't think it would change if I had more free time.  Sure, I could definitely consume it cheaply with WoW, but I think I would rather use that time to diversify my activities.

While everyone needs some good mindless fun, there are far too many interesting and/or beneficial things to do with my time and, frankly, a lot of other choices for mindless fun.  Why not choose some that strengthen my circle of local friends and family, or that make me more physically fit?  Or, at the very least, elect flexible commitments.

I still clearly remember that about nine years ago I mocked the very notion of playing a MMORPG.  I would say things like, "I don't want to get addicted to Evercrack."  Then someone invited me to play City of Heroes, then WoW, and boy did a lot of time whiz by over the years.

It's not like I haven't put a lot of time into something for pure recreation.  Oh my, those weekend-long Civilization marathons.  And those few months when I was assembling an army for, and playing, Warhammer 40k.  Yeah, a lot of time spent there.  But the key is that it was a spurt of activity, not a persistent year-round commitment.

And that really is the kicker.  I need it to be something I can drop at a moment's notice for an indefinite period of time, whenever it suits me, without feeling like I am letting people down.  You know, like a regular game. :)

I am happy with putting WoW in its place as just one of many computer games I have enjoyed.  Onward with the casual gaming experience... :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

[4.0.6] "Retiring"


So, two weeks ago, I "retired" in my guild.  We have a rank structure that includes "Reservist", a rank that has no expectations and no privileges, beyond guild membership.  It was hard to take the plunge, but it is something I should have done a long time ago.

4.5 years ago, my wife, myself, and a third person founded the Grim Legion.  I founded the Tank corp of the guild and, in fact, was the entire Tank corp for the first eight or so months of the guild's existence.  I have interviewed, trained, and geared many hundreds of people in that time (turnover was fantastically higher when we were a younger guild).

For a very long time, around 2 years, I have been pretty unhappy with the raiding commitment.  When I look back, I am still shocked that I stomached the dual-raiding nightmare of WotLK where we raided both the 10-player and 25-player versions of the content, leading to weeks of raiding the same content 4-5 days a week.

Way back when we founded the guild, the commitment was simply "to see all of the content".  Of the three founders, I was the least interested in raiding and I made no secret of it.  I raided, and I enjoyed in small amounts, but it was my least favorite activity.  In fact, we founded the Grim Legion after leaving a raiding guild because we felt the commitment to raiding was too onerous in that it took priority over everything.

As our guild membership grew, we started to dip our toe into raiding with good old Karazhan.  As our numbers grew further and we started reaching close to 25 raiders, we added more days to our schedule for raiding.  However, it's critical to note that we did that because we could virtually never field a full raid each night.  In practice, we would average two nights of raiding.

Another important thing to consider is that we would stop trying to down a boss after a handful of attempts, as opposed to wiping on him until the end of the night.  I.E., we would end the night early and work on increasing our knowledge of the fight for the next time via the forums.

Also, if we felt the assembled raid group was not clicking, we would also call it.

So, even on weeks where our schedule might have shown 4 nights of raiding, we almost never raided that often.  And, when we did raid, there was an expectation that we would not keep smashing our head against a wall for tiny incremental improvements.

Fast forward to today.  Thanks to years of hard work, for well over a year, we have consistently fielded 25-player raids, even when other guilds fell off the radar due to ennui.  For well over a year, if you were an active raider in our guild and showed up regularly, you raided at least three nights a week and at least 3 hours each of those nights.

Ending the night early was incredibly rare.  Ending late so we could do "just one more try" was incredibly common.  And if you were a Tank, sitting out was highly unlikely because our Tank corp struggled to maintain three people, let alone extras.

And that was just too much for me and, I would argue, too much for anyone; it's just too hard to maintain that kind of schedule 52 weeks per year without skewing real life.  I also felt that we could achieve great progression with less raiding time and I fought for it, but I was outnumbered greatly; it's an unfortunate consequence that when you recruit dedicated players to become officers, you tend to end up with the most hardcore players in the guild.  So, naturally, my arguments for a reduction in raiding commitment were more tolerated than considered as serious propositions.

I had hoped that less responsibility would help.  My wife and I stepped down from leadership ranks when Cataclysm came out, and we worked hard to insure there was a good transition.  I worried about stepping down, though, as it seemed I was the only person willing to stand at the "casual" end of the spectrum and fight to keep the pendulum in the middle of casual and hardcore.

After three months of being a regular member, it was still too much of a commitment.  My responsibilities at work were growing and maintaining the guild's raiding commitment was becoming a source of pure stress.  So I moved to the Reservist rank.

It was very hard. It took a very high level of frustration and stress to push me to take the plunge.  I helped found this guild.  My wife and I have been the only constants in the guild. Everyone else in the guild either took long hiatuses or have been there for significantly less time.  I have been there for all of the hard lessons we learned from our mistakes.  I wrote virtually all of our policies.  I rebuilt all of our guild infrastructure (web site, forums, Ventrilo, etc.) after the third founder left and decided to burn it all down.  I am invested in the guild.  The fact that my wife is in the same boat and has been there with me through it all magnifies it greatly.

But the raiding commitment was finally just too much.

That means no more raiding for me unless I find PUG runs, alt raids, or another guild.  Sure, there may be an occasional dip in attendance in the regular raids that might create an opening with no one else to fill it, but for the most part, that change closes the door on raiding for me.

The punchline is that I do like raiding, I just can't tolerate WoW as a second job anymore.  It's a disservice to everyone around me and myself.

It was a great decision.  I am thankful that real life created enough pressure to force this choice, because I would have soldiered on purely out of a sense of commitment and obligation.  That is admirable when serving your country, supporting your family, earning a degree, feeding the hungry, etc., but not so much when it's just playing a computer game.

Monday, March 28, 2011

[4.0.6] My Altosis Has Been Cured!



As you probably noticed, my blog has been renamed "Casual Feral" and "moved" to casualferal.blogspot.com.

Eureka!  My altosis has been cured!

As you know, I have battled with a debilitating case of altosis for years now.  A horrible affliction that caused me to want to play and understand every class in the World of Warcraft.  Well, through the application of a magical cocktail, I have been cured.

Here is the recipe:
  • 1 part Blizzard changes to homogenize characters (aka "Bring the player, not the class")
  • 1 part increase in workload at work
  • 1 part retire from guild leadership
  • 3 parts retire from "serious" raiding
One sip of this and your interest in maintaining your alts will evaporate.  You might even pondering quitting WoW altogether, so be careful how large of a dose you take.

I decided to move the original blog and just create a new one to forward people from the old location, so I would not have reformat everything, rebuild the various web parts, lose my followers, and so on...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

[4.0.6] The Failings of Guild Reputation


Imagine for a moment that you are just a regular person that decided to try out World of Warcraft (WoW).  You don't have good friends that you know personally in Real Life (RL) begging you to play, promising you gold, bags, and easy leveling.  You just bought the game, followed the directions, and figured it out.

Eventually, you come across a guild that you like and you join it.  Cataclysm is released and you level up quickly.  The guild reputation caps are so ridiculously low that you cap them out early every week, meaning you lose out on varying amounts of wasted rep every week.  Eventually you clear all of the zones and find that you are still only Revered with your guild.

That sucks, because now you have to keep killing bosses, doing daily quests, or running rated BGs.  Oh and earning Guild Achievements (a little more orchestration needed for that one).  But you soldier on and grind out the mind-bogglingly boring daily quests over and over and over and....

As if that is not bad enough, something goes awry in a random guild chat discussion and a guild officer takes a disliking to you and kicks you from your guild.

Such was the story of a poster in the WoW forums.

While just about everyone was focused on the complaint that the current system seems to encourage people to kiss their guild master's butt, I was more interested in the other point - it's an even greater pain to level guild rep when you have shot your questing wad.

The thing is, there are a lot of ways you can find yourself having to start from zero guild rep.  Maybe you are distancing yourself from drama or a stalker.  Maybe you had a bad day and they officers are twitchy.  Maybe your guild master disappeared without notice and you eventually left the guild because it was crippled by an absent GM.  There a a host of ways that you can find yourself in a new guild, staring up the steep slope of Mount Guild Rep, the lofty peak obscured by clouds and seemingly unreachable.

Well, I am sorry to report that I don't have a good solution for you.  Once the zones are complete, you are in a bind.  You have to get through Neutral (3k), Friendly (6k), Honored (12k), and Revered (21k),  That means you need to earn 42k reputation.

What does that mean to a new guild member?  Well, right off the bat, it will take you at least 12 weeks to hit Exalted, if you max out your reputation every week (the cap is 3.5k/week).

And how can you hit that cap each week?  Well, as you may recall from my post on Effectively Earning Guild XP, there are only a a few options available:
  • Quests
  • Killing bosses (dungeons and raid)
  • Rated Battlegrounds (BGs)
Note: Currently, there are plans in 4.1 to increase rep from PvP significantly.

If you have cleared out the zone quests, as the person in this scenario has, then the only quests open to you are the daily quests and only Fishing, Cooking, and Tol Barad dailies give you level 85 XP/rep rewards.

For the most part, you can expect to spend at least an hour a day on average working towards this, and it will take you 84 days to get there.

You might think that being in active raiding would make a big difference.  It does, for the guild, but not so much for you.  Downing all 12 bosses only really accounts for about 2/3 of your weekly need and it's likely going to take you more than 2/3 * 7 = 4 2/3 hours to down all 12, so you are not saving time nor spending it more efficiently.  However, it's good news if you like raiding more than everything else in the game.

And My Point Is...

Earning Guild Reputation is a long, painful process.  It requires at least three months of dedicated effort to reach Exalted.  And that can be obliterated by any guild officer with the ability and willingness to kick someone from a guild.

At the very least, I would suggest that Blizzard let people keep some portion of their earned Guild Reputation or perhaps set a minimum for anyone that leaves a guild, e.g., if you are below Friendly, you lose nothing and if you are above Friendly, you are knocked down to 1 point from Honored.  It may not be much, but it would take the edge off. Sure, it may make it easier to get the "Stay Classy" Achievement, but does anyone think that's a bad thing?

Consider if a professional sports team hired a renowned player from another professional sports team, that person would certainly not be treated like a rookie.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

[4.0.6] Tolerance, Patience, and Support


Note: I will speak from the perspective of a 25-player raid guild, as that is my experience.

Keeping a raid guild operating effectively is challenging.  You have to keep well over 25 people not only engaged, but performing at a certain level.

In an ideal world, you would just express your interest and 24 other people, which perfectly fill out your raid with the necessary roles and a good mix of classes, would show up on your doorstep, ready to raid at the times you want 100% of the time, and play as hard as you want to play.

Well, that's not how it works out.  In any given raid/guild, there will be people that are relatively more hardcore than the average and those that are more casual than the average.  The trick is finding a path that works for all of them.

When the 2010.08.31 WoW Insider article on playstyles came out, the officers of the Grim Legion concluded that we were best described by the author's definition of "serious":
I participate in endgame content and push myself to be better. I play in a group with endgame goals, whether it's battleground wins, arena points or boss kills. I'll spend time out of the game doing research for my in-game goals. I "don't always approach fights 100 percent optimally," but I still get good results! (Credit to Celendus' comment on Rhidach's post for the term.)
While that works great for most people, we still end up with some folks that are more casual or more hardcore.  So, there can be tension as we aim for this middle ground, in that we will likely frustrate those on the outer boundaries to some extent.  Some may find reading strategies and watching videos ahead of time tedious or even a spoiler, while others might consider it the bare minimum.

So, how do you keep a group like that going?

Tolerance, patience, and support.

Support

If you had a clone army raiding with you, then they would all be equally prepared and geared, and their expectations would be identical.  So, you would all hit the content and progress at a pace that makes you happy.

But until then, we need to deal with other people of varying expectations and capabilities.  That means someone (or more than one someone) will always be a relatively low performer.  The success of the guild begins with how well you handle this.

Pointing someone at a web page and washing your hands of the problem can work sometimes, but generally you have to realize that a low performer can have a multitude of causes for their performance:
  • Not enough study: Not really interested in following the latest theorycrafting on their class
  • Not enough practice: Don't have the time or interest to play enough to maintain their performance
  • Physical limits: They have a crappy rig, slow connection, disability, etc. that fundamentally limits their ability to perform
The last ones are hard to deal with and in those cases it may be reasonable to ask if membership in your guild makes sense for their overall happiness.  Being forever consigned to be the person holding everyone back would suck.

In the first two, you have some obvious paths to success, which is nice.  However, you have to handle it respectfully.  Never forget that the person on the other end of chat, Ventrilo, etc. is a real live human being.  They are upholding a commitment to sacrifice their valuable time routinely to attend your raid, and they have probably already spent a lot of time just getting geared for the experience.

So, before you even start, if you cannot wrap your head around the fact that the person is already doing you a favor and you should treat them accordingly, you probably should let someone else handle it.  People matter and time is precious; those reasons are part of why you are talking to them and they are why you should do it with respect.  The $15 per month is generally irrelevant, but when you start looking at the time you have to dedicate to raid, prepare for raiding, gear for raiding, re-itemize and augment your gear when you upgrade, etc. it easily hits 40+ hours per month.
  • Objective data is nice: [Speaking to a Fire Mage] "Hey, I was searching World of Logs and I found this Fire Mage with similar gear to you; here's the link.  He seems to be putting out 75% more damage on the same fights.  When I looked at the spells/Talents he was using, I noticed some differences in how much he used certain spells and there were some key difference in Talents he chose...what are your thoughts on those?"
  • Remain solution-oriented: No one spends $15 and 40+ hours per month so that some douche bag on the other end of Ventrilo can make them feel like a loser.  As far as you know, this person is playing their heart out and simply falling short because they misunderstood some prioritization, or they are missing a key addon, or whatever.  Focus on ways to improve, not ways that they suck.
  • Be diplomatic: The typical things, like being careful of your language choice.  For example, try not to hammer them with a lot of "You do this badly", when instead it could be something like, "From what I understand, Fire Mages use [insert spell] a lot more often than what the logs show for [insert character name, not "you"], do you think there's anything to that?"
  • Socratic method:  Well, my examples already reek of it but using probing questions instead of declarations, in the fashion of the Socratic method, can be very useful for this.  There are two key benefits - 1) you avoid preaching ("Elitist Jerks says you should do this; you should do it" is more likely to push the discussion into a conflict and you might be wrong, the info outdated, etc.) and 2) you increase the chance that more subtle issues might be identified as the person is prompted more to examine their practices and discuss them more fully.
Patience

Well, if it's not already obvious from the above, you need patience.  As time goes on, it's easy to become more impatient with people and progress.  You need to be able to reset your patience meter when a new person joins the raid or a new problem appears.  I am not saying it's easy, but you need to consciously make an effort because the little monkey in the back of your brain wants what it wants, and it wants it NOW.

I think the real test of patience comes from the fact that you are going to need more than just 25 raiders to be successful.  You need extra everything to insure you can raid regularly.  More Tanks, DPS, and healers.  Aside from the myriad logistical and morale issues that brings up for you to manage, it brings up one very key concern - variable levels of experience with a fight.

It's just simple arithmetic that the less someone raid, the less experience they have with the content.  This can and will lead to nights where you show up with 23 people that are jaded veterans of a boss fight, but the other two people have never seen it and, lucky you, it is one of those fights where one weak link means everyone dies.

EVERYONE needs to be patient, it's in their best interest.  Whether your technique is to explain it first then fight, or just go ahead and pull and give them point instructions on the fly, there is a very good chance you will wipe, and if it's a progression boss, possibly many times, especially if they are in a critical role.

This a test not only of the leadership, but also the guild as a whole.


And you need to make sure you pass this test, because there is no raid heaven where you have 25 players with a perfect mix of classes and roles that can attend 100% of the time and be just as prepared/motivated/skilled as you.

Without those people, you are not immune to raid cancellations due to inadequate attendance and that means less raiding and less progression overall.

Moreover, people come and go in any guild.  If you can't be patient with new folks, you will stumble and possibly fall.

Tolerance

The overall meta-lesson is tolerance.  And just so we are clear on what I mean by tolerance, I am focused on the following meanings:
  • 2a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own b : the act of allowing something
  • 3 : the allowable deviation from a standard
This means that even though you might show up to a new boss having critically analyzed a strategy for how to defeat him, to include carefully watching one or more videos, you need to accept that not everyone in the raid may be as intimately knowledgeable as you.  Perhaps it is not a requirement, or perhaps they simply skimmed the strategy, and watched the video once (no pausing, no looking up what that strange effect they saw in the video was, not taking careful notes of where they should stand at every moment of the fight, etc.).

Now, you may notice that I have leveled this mostly at the perspective of the hard core players.  There's a really good reason for that.  Five years of raiding has taught me that the casual players will keep doing their thing and are more likely to just stop.  It's the nature of the beast.  The person that wants to spend twice as much time preparing for a fight is also the person that is most likely to be passionate and vocal about their frustrations or "helpful" advice.

Where Did Everyone Go?

I am not going to pretend the above is easy, but that's why guild leaders get paid the big (nonexistent) bucks. :)

Left to their own devices, I have seen a common tendency for the more hardcore players to start turning inward, e.g., forming private chat channels to commiserate at how much everyone else sucks, and then something breaks.  In other guilds, I have seen the leadership get sucked into it and start increasing the requirements, abandoning anyone that did not want to be that hardcore; in essence, retroactively un-recruiting them.  Eventually, one group starts showing up less, are less interested in performing at the expected standards, they leave because they guild is too serious for them (or not serious enough), or they leave so they can "do it right" (usually the hardcore folks).

A LOT of the people that came to our guild did so under the above circumstances.  We have watched so many guilds, which seemed to be fine, crash and burn.  They all had varying levels of progression, but in most cases, it was stunted progression for a variety of reasons.
  • Recruiting stopped - people come and people go; you need more than 25 people to maintain 25-player raiding; that means recruiting when you dip below 30-35 (tune to taste)
  • "A Team" and "B Team" - ah, yes, the most effectively way to insult, alienate, and encourage all but 10 of your guild members to look for another guild.  If you want to accelerate the fracturing and destruction of your guild, this is an excellent choice.  We gained a good chunk of members from guilds that did this
  • Ineffectual or token leadership - There are so many flavors - the person who is guild leader simply because they bought the charter, and that is where their leadership of the guild ended; a fracture among the officers for any number of reasons that leaves a potentially disillusioned and overwork skeleton in its wake; and many others.
The Grim Legion is far from perfect.  Around the time Ulduar came out, we saw one of the above scenarios play out.  We let a small group of intolerant hardcore players build a lot of momentum and the resulting fracture reduced our ranks by almost ten people.  That set back our raiding for a few weeks.  It would likely have been a lot more, but we had a good number of people on our roster, so the hit was not so damaging.

WoW exists in a medium that provides ample opportunity to be a completely intolerant, bellicose douche bag.  However, to be successful with raiding, an activity that requires a significant, persistent, long-term commitment, you have to rise above that and foster an environment where everyone else does the same.

Holding hands and singing Kumbaya is probably not neccesary, but being tolerant, patient, and supportive of all of your guild members is a great start.

Friday, March 11, 2011

[4.0.6] Checking Up on the 4.1 PTR Updates


Note:  You can go check out all of the updates on the official WoW blog page for Patch 4.1 PTR.  Now, for the current stuff that I find interesting. :)

First, let's include their disclaimer:
Important: These patch notes are not final. Additional updates will be made, and all existing changes are subject to revision during the course of the testing process. More information regarding patch 4.1 can be found here. Visit our Public Test Realm forum for more information about the testing process.
Rather than list everything here, I am going to focus on stuff that I find particularly interesting.  Hey, it's my blog after all.

General

All non-damaging interrupts off the global cooldown will now always hit the target. This includes Pummel, Shield Bash, Kick, Mind Freeze, Rebuke, Skull Bash, Counterspell, Wind Shear, Solar Beam, Silencing Shot, and related player pet abilities.
Finally!  Just the notion of having to cap your Hit so you can reliably interrupt is goofy.  And for those that don't think this is a big deal...wait until you fight Nefarion and you have to interrupt the Blast Novas from three Chromatic Prototypes, spread out around the room. The cooldown on their Blast Nova is less than 10 seconds, so you need a lot of interrupts and if you want backups, you need even more.  Worse, if they one interrupt is missed at the wrong time (say, in conjunction with Electrocute), a large chunk of your raid may die.  But I digress...

Death Knights
Raise Ally has been redesigned to be a battle resurrection, analogous to Rebirth. It is instant cast, but costs 50 Runic Power to use, and has a 10-minute cooldown. It shares the same global battle resurrection cap with Rebirth and Soulstone.
Yes, you read that correctly.  Death Knights now have a battle resurrection ability.  If you care about lore or class aesthetic right now, you probably need to take a minute to staunch the bleeding from your ears that started when a small part of your brain exploded from reading the above.

It is so incredibly goofy, that I lack the words to properly convey it.  Death Knights are creatures raised from the dead into a twisted mockery of life fueled by Scourge magic.  But somehow, they have figured out how to bring others back to life flawlessly. Seriously, it feels like Blizzard developers just drag and drop mechanics into class buckets, without any regard for class lore or aesthetic.

That said, it will be nice to have another class with a battle resurrection.  But why did it have to be Death Knights, the one class that is arguably the most diametrically opposed to natural/holy healing?
Blood of the North (passive) now permanently converts both Blood Runes into Death Runes. There is no longer any proc interaction with Blood Strike required to activate Death Runes.
This is pretty awesome for Frost Death Knights (DKs).  Currently, they have to use Blood Strike or Pestilence to convert their Blood Runes into Death Runes, which they can then use for the abilities they actually need to use.  It's tedious and puts a senseless amount of management into the priority.  Now, they can just use their Frost abilities which is nice.

Druids
Feral Swiftness now also causes Dash and Stampeding Roar to have a 50/100% chance to instantly remove all movement impairing effects from the affected targets when used.
This is bittersweet news.   A few weeks ago, I posted on the Feral Druid plummeting from being the best at breaking roots to being one of the worst.  When Blizzard removed the ability of a Feral Druid to break roots by shapeshifting, they not only devastated the feel of the class, they took them from being able to break any root at any time to not being able to break a root at all without using a PvP trinket.

This change gives us back some ability to break roots.  However, Dash  has a 3-minute cooldown (2.4 minutes with the Glyph of Dash, which is admittedly quite common) and Stampeding Roar has a 2-minute cooldown.  This is a Talent that most Ferals take at 2/2, whether DPS or Tank, PvP or PvE, so at least it's sort of "free" for Ferals.

This only puts us in the middle of the pack for being able to breaks roots, though.  Paladins (all types) and Fury Warriors have us beat.  Some might argue that others in the middle of the pack are clearly better.

Those concerned with our mechanical effectiveness over our aesthetics will no doubt be very happy with it.  For such folks, their concern was not having enough tools in their PvP toolkit.  Those that loved the freedom of movement that being a Feral Druid provided may find it cold comfort.

But hey, let's look on the bright side and focus on the phrase from the affected targets.  This actually adds something that Ferals did not have, the ability to free team mates.  Stampeding Roar affects everyone within 10 yards.  And in 4.1, it's getting a boost too:
Stampeding Roar's duration has been increased to 8 seconds, up from 6. The movement speed effect has been increased to 60%, up from 40%.
So, it lasts longer, gives you a greater boost to speed, and, with Feral Swiftness, can break roots for everyone affected.  Definitely an interesting new ability if it makes it into the live version of 4.1.  At this point, I honestly would not be surprised if this went away and they stripped us of yet another Druid mechanic to make game balance easier, i.e., get closer to rock-paper-scissors.
Swipe (Bear) cooldown has been reduced to 3 seconds, down from 6.
Another bittersweet change.  Swipe is not considered a very good Threat-generating ability right now.  So, the solution is to make it possible to use it twice as often.  That might sound good, but that is one less ability I can use on my primary target, which means an even greater risk of losing my primary target if I generate as much multi-target threat as possible.  On the bright side, it means that Swipe is less likely to be unusable because it is still on cooldown, so enemies that are scattered and approach in a staggered fashion may be easier to scoop up.
Druids now innately have 100% pushback protection from damage while channeling Tranquility.
This is a nice quality of life change for all Druids.  For me, personally it's nice because I need my Barkskin for Tanking, so when there are times when I need to pop out and use Tranquility, it will be nice to know I will provide 100% of the healing possible and still have Barkskin for Tanking.

Hunters

The Happiness/Pet Loyalty System has been removed. Hunters will no longer have to manage Happiness for their pets, and the previous damage bonus for pets being happy will now be baseline for all tamed pets.
And...
Tame Beast now tames pets to match the hunter's level, rather than 3 levels below.
This is a nice quality of life change, especially for Hunter alts.  No more painful leveling of pets.  No more bag space wasted with having appropriate food for all of your pets.  I still remember when you had to level them up from the level they had when you tamed them.  I wonder how many Hunters wasted hours leveling up their Rotting Agam'ar from Razorfen Kraul?  Oy!

I wonder if Hunter mains will find this offensive?  For me, it's a nuisance, but for them it might be part of what makes a Hunter feel like a Hunter.

Mages
The root effect from Shattered Barrier now shares diminishing returns with the root from Improved Cone of Cold.
[If you do not know what Diminishing Returns are, or simply want a refresher, check out the wowpedia page on it.]

What?  It didn't already? I can't find any data on whether or not Improved Cone of Cold (CoC) has its own diminishing returns (DR) or not.  If it was on its own timer, then this is clearly just a bug fix.  I am surprised they put it with Shattered Barrier (SB) though, since SB is a random root and CoC is a controlled root.  If I understand DR correctly, that should mean that ICoC shares DR with all random roots - Frostbite, Improved Hamstring, and Shattered Barrier.  Oh well, at least its another spell that might reduce the root time from SB.  Two roots on different DR timers is already overpowered, three is just ridiculous.

Priests
Priests now innately have 100% pushback protection from damage while channeling Divine Hymn and Hymn of Hope.
I admittedly play my Priest very little and I don't think I have ever raided with him.  That said, I know that this is a big quality of life change for Priests.  It is very common that when you need these spells most, bad things are happening and that includes damage on the Priests.

Shamans

Shamans are getting a lot of love in 4.1.  A big chunk of it is consists of improvements in their AoE capabilities, but a number of classes are seeing improvements there.
Fire Nova has been redesigned and decoupled from shaman Fire totems. Instead, it now pulses the Fire Nova effect from each target that is afflicted by the shaman's own Flame Shock debuff. It now damages all enemies except the target hit by Flame Shock. The ability's cooldown has been reduced to 4 seconds, down from 10.
Earthquake is no longer a channeled spell. It now has a 2-second cast time, lasts for 10 seconds, and has a 10-second cooldown. Its damage has been reduced by 40% from its channeled version.
Good solid improvements, although not having the Fire Nova affect the target with Flame Shock is a little goofy, but I guess they had to do something with the old Mind Sear mechanics.
Spirit Link Totem (new [Restoration] talent) reduces damage taken by all party and raid members within 10 yards by 10%. This lasts 6 seconds, and every second it is active the health of all affected players is redistributed among them, such that each player ends up with the same percentage of their maximum health. This counts as an Air totem and has a 3-minute cooldown.
I like this a lot only because it is so interesting.  This could be very useful when Chimaeron is Feuding or perhaps on the pillars during Nefarion's flight/lava phase.  I could also see it helping save a Tank during heavy spike damage or backfiring and possibly getting a Tank killed because of heavy AoE damage.  Either way, an interesting tool for Restoration Shamans.

Warriors

Wow, do they have a lot of changes.  And they are changing so rapidly that by the time you read this, something will likely change.  So, I offer up this WoW Insider post on the Warrior 4.1 PTR changes as consolation.

Miscellany

There are a host of other small changes all over the place.  Of them all, I am most intrigued by the new Troll dungeons coming out, Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub, in place of the old raids of the same name.  This leads to a very cool thing:
With the Zuls returning, you may be wondering about the unique mounts that were once contained therein. New versions of the rare raptor, tiger, and bear mounts will be available, while the old versions of these mounts will remain unique to those who already have them. We'll reveal more about how these updated mounts can be obtained in the future.
I was happy to get my Zulian Tiger mount before the Cataclysm, but I feel sorry for the folks that did not get one and no longer can.  So, this is pretty cool.  I have heard rumors that the new tiger mount will be a black panther, but that was thirdhand information at best, so take it with a grain of salt.

And if you had not already heard, Blizzard will not be putting out any new raids in 4.1 because they feel that too many people are still working through the current raid content.

Well, there ya go, lots of stuff coming in 4.1 (potentially), so keep your eyes peeled and check that blog page every now and then.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

[4.0.6] Rolling With the Punches


So...even though the changes from 4.0.6 have permanently reduced my enjoyment of my main and thus the game as a whole, I am still Feral/Feral for now.  With the almost expected neutering/declawing of Ferals in each update or hotfix, I am starting to wonder if the statement on the picture above is correct.

I pondered the decision a lot.  I discussed it with my wife at great length (probably more than she wanted; btw, she plays WoW as actively as I do).  It was a hard decision to make and, frankly, I am not 100% committed to it, but more on that later.

Inertia

The first consideration was sheer inertia.  As I write this post, I am the fifth most geared Feral Druid on our server, with an average item level of 360 in my current Tank gear.  Acquiring that has been a very slow process.

Although I am in a raiding guild and can't find anywhere near as much time as I would like to PvP, my PvP set has an average item level of 356; that includes PvP gear in every slot but weapon (BIS for PvE Feral) and feet (they are epic and they have an epic enchant).  That, of course, includes a full Feral PvP armor set, so I have my nifty little set bonuses and glove bonus.  Given how much opportunity I have to PvP, building another set will take a long time.  I pushed hard to build out my Feral set, and it benefited from the temporary boost to Honor income when Tol Barad gave out a lot of Honor for a win.  While I was not a fan of win-swapping, I was a beneficiary whether I liked it or not; when most of your team does not fight, you are gonna lose.

That said, the mind-numbing hours of grinding Heroics left me with lots of caster gear.  With the exception of 1 or 2 pieces, I could sport an IL 346 set of Balance or Restoration gear immediately.  As I earn more Honor, which is now pretty useless for my Feral set, I am slowly buying a Restoration set.  Sure, there are a LOT of gems and enchants that are needed for that gear, and it's no surprise that I never have enough Inferno Rubies, which is a big part of a caster or healer set.

However, for PvE that's just gold, which I have.  For PvP, I could probably get by with a defensive build/strategy as a Healer with mostly PvE gear while I built out my PvP Healer set; that was the plan I was pondering for PvP, and I continue to ponder it.

So, it was a bit of a hurdle, but not a big one.

What You Know

WoW is not rocket science.  In fact, compared to many computer games, it's pretty easy. There is a lot to learn, yes, but the harder stuff is general knowledge, like using macros properly, acquiring and configuring the right addons, setting up keybindings, and developing muscle memory.  For every class and Talent build, you can find at least one person that has spent a great deal of time thinking about the best gear and best use of your abilities.  I know this, because of my army of alts.  I can read one good write-up and start kicking butt right away (anyone with a decent rig and gaming experience can).

As a result, knowledge base and experience should not hold me back.  However, there is a lot to be said for nuances of a role.  During Wrath of the Lich King, I even had some brief vacations in other roles.

I ran my Druid as a Healer for a few months of raiding.  We were desperately short on Healing in our raids, had no Trees, and we had ample Tanks.  We also had a second Feral Tank (who later faded away), so we had the Feral Aura covered.   I did well as a Healer and even managed to top the charts for healing occasionally in spite of my newbieness; granted, this was a time when Druid Healing was not very hard. Once the healing shortage was addressed, I went back to Tanking.  However, I did continue to PvP as a Tree for a while.

I also ran him as a Caster (Moonkin) for a few months of raiding.  We were short on ranged DPS and this was back when you needed the +3% Hit buff for the raid, which only Shadow Priests and Moonkin could provide.  More importantly, this was before the "bring the player, not the class" philosophy had manifested in game and we were missing the unique and highly beneficial Moonkin aura.  For a mixture of reasons, I again returned to Tanking.

Admittedly, I also happen to have Druid alts with which I keep my Healer and Caster skills maintained, so it's not a big leap when I change things up like that.

So, knowledge was not a hurdle.

The Momentum of Role

Not only was I a founder of our guild, I also founded our Guild's Tank corps.  In fact, I was the only guild Tank for a good seven or eight months after the guild was founded (boy were my paws tired).  Since then, I have been Tanking our raids (aside from the few months noted above).

I work very hard to do my job as well as I can.  I constantly speculate and anticipate what a given target(s) can or will do, what the optimum kill order should be, the best application of crowd control (CC), the best Threat generation for the pull, and the optimum positioning for keeping the targets focused on me without compromising: my avoidance (i.e., don't let them get behind me), CC, the rate of damage on the targets, or healing on me.  Every second of every fight I am evaluating how I can further optimize the current situation and the next time I do that pull.  I also work hard to provide good, concise, effective communication via Ventrilo on my use of survival cooldowns and events that might affect how much damage I am about to take or possible changes in my Threat generation (e.g., stunned) so that the raid can respond appropriately.

I am also very adept at Tanking on the move and using my class abilities to their fullest.  I pay close attention to how the Threat generation of my abilities changes from patch to patch.  I find gaps when I can Rebirth someone safely.  I proactively use my Tranquility and Innervate when appropriate.  I even use good old Nature's Grasp sometimes to pin adds and mitigate damage.  I have every macro slot filled with a macro and I have dozens of keybinds, many with modifiers so they can serve multiple roles.

In my experience, most Tanks do not push that hard.  In the history of our guild, we have never had more than three Tank mains approaching that performance level.

As such, I bring a lot of value to the guild as a Tank and I am not sure if I would bring the same value as a DPS or Healer.  And I would worry about the impact on our overall Tanking capability.  That said, there are a couple of melee DPS that are interested in Tanking and it is likely that at least one would push to perform at the appropriate level.

As frustrating and tiring as Tanking can be, I might miss it.  My greatest concern is that I create a void and the person that fills it is so frustratingly mediocre that I feel compelled to return to Tanking to mitigate their impact.

The Aesthetic

If it is not already glaringly obvious, this is really important to me.  The 4.0.6 changes were incredibly disappointing because I feel that the Feral aesthetic has been seriously damaged, as I have noted in a number of recent posts.  About the only thing that we have left is that our stances have furry skins attached to them.

The Feral aesthetic has been greatly diminished.  The Balance and Restoration aesthetics appear to be intact.  If you loved being in Tree Form all of the time, you might not be happy, but since a tree is not a humanoid or beast, I sort of prefer the temporary nature of it.  It kinda makes sense to me that you can't stay in the form of a plant all of the time, because it seems that it would be a very difficult form to hold.

That said, I think at this point, with all of this damage done to the Feral aesthetic, I am simply at a point where none of the Talent Trees - Balance, Feral, or Restoration, are especially appealing to me.

So, aesthetically, it's kinda neutral.

Timing

If I were to switch even my role, this is not a great time.  Most of our raid is geared up and we are working on the harder end bosses.  So, my change might negatively impact the guild.  A better time would be when a new raid tier is released, like 4.1; no, wait, that would be 4.2, since they have announced no new raid content for 4.1.

Lore

I like the fluff behind the Druid class.  I like the nobility of Taurens.  Those things have not changed, even if the concept of Feral Druids has been taken out to the wood shed and beaten until it is almost unrecognizable.

The Character Slot Inertia

There is something to be said for all of the other crap - the Achievements, the pets, the mounts.  I have the mount Achievement and all of the pet Achievements; and yes, I will probably immediately earn the new pet Achievements that they will add in 4.1.  The idea of trying to redo all of that on another character is just painful.

As a result, it becomes a huge hurdle to wanting to play a different character.  It changes the question away from, "Do I want to play this character?" to, "Do I *really* need to stop playing this character?"

If they ever make this crap an account level thing, it would definitely be liberating.

Going Forward

So, what keeps me playing my Druid?  Hell, I am not really sure anymore, which is a big part of the reason I wrote this post, hoping that I could crystallize my thoughts.  They crystallized, but I am not sure I am any closer to understanding.

Frankly, a significant factor is the character slot inertia.  I can't bear the notion of even trying to get caught up with another character on all of that crap.  If Blizzard would make the pets, mounts, etc. account bound, then it would free people up more to play what they like and change things up as frequently as they like.  Heck, they could even start from scratch with an entirely new character, knowing that they will have all of the nifty mounts and pets.

Is it hybridization?  I still like the notion of a class that can fill any role, but in the last year or so, I am not seeing that as favorably as I used to see it.  For well over 90% of the time I played my Druid, I was Tank and melee DPS.  I can do that with four other classes, Druids are not unique in that regard.  The one distinction is that our melee DPS has some Rogue-like abilities, which is a blessing and a curse.

Another of my problems is that Blizzard seems content with just insuring that one Talent Tree per class is good at PvP.  Restoration has always been good, so there is a sense among Druids that Feral and Balance will always be lagging, except for occasional, accidental spikes in PvP performance.  On the other hand, if I was a Warrior, I can be pretty sure I would not have to switch to Caster or Healer for good PvP performance; which also means not having to collect a completely unrelated set of gear. :)

Frankly, there are many times when I am envious of the pure DPS classes.  One set of gear to gather and just one primary expectation - do damage.  They only have to know who to kill and what stuff they should avoid.  That sounds pretty nice.

Even though basic shapeshifting is fast becoming the only thing that distinguishes a Feral Druid from other classes that can perform as a Tank and melee DPS, it is still attractive to me.  It is more troublesome than it appears at first glance, e.g., when your Bear mounts up, he changes to his humanoid form and is a pale shadow of the Tank he should be, whereas a Paladin, Death Knight, and Warrior Tank retain their full Tank capabilities at all times.  That said, I still like the idea of being able to change into a Bear or Cat.  Of course, any Druid can do that...

There is a tiny glint of light at the end of the tunnel.  As of March 3rd, Blizzard is reporting on the PTR that patch 4.1 will give both Dash (3 minute cooldown, 2.4 minutes with the Glyph of Dash, which is admittedly quite common) and Stampeding Roar (2 minute cooldown) will break immobilization on use (so not an immunity while it's up just breaking root effects that are in place when first cast). To gain this effect, Ferals will need to have Feral Swiftness 1/2 or 2/2 (50% or 100% chance to break roots, respectively).  Fortunately, that is a Talent that most Ferals take at 2/2, whether DPS or Tank, PvP or PvE.

As I stated in my last post, this puts us at the middle of the melee pack, maybe a hair above, but still clearly trailing Paladins and Fury Warriors. The important thing, in my opinion, is that it simply cements Ferals as just another PvP melee DPS.  We have a a median ability to break roots, combined with above average movement speeds in certain forms.  We are more like other melee DPS than ever before.  I am glad for the change, but it still is not quite enough to recapture the sense of freedom and mobility that defined Ferals.  To get that, you need to be a Paladin or Fury Warrior.  /sadpanda

I guess that ultimately it is mostly the barriers that are keeping me in place, and I won't really know until they are gone. That clouds my perception, so I cannot be sure if the reason(s) I continue with this character as a Feral/Feral is because it's more tolerable than the other options, or because I actually like it.  /confused

The only thing I know for sure is that my interest in playing WoW has waned significantly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

[4.0.6] The Feral Druid Then and Now

There was a time that a Feral Druid was uniquely defined as a spec and class by the following:
  1. Shapeshifting
  2. Dramatic synergy in gear and spec that allowed them to switch on the fly between Tank or DPS and be highly effective at either, doing it well enough to turn the tide when a Tank or DPS died unexpectedly; I remember picking up Tanking on Nightbane many times when a Tank died and Tanking him until he died (this prompted the term "Iron Kitty")
  3. Nothing can prevent them from staying mobile (which all Druids could do)
  4. Their mastery of shapeshifting was such that they could shift out of spells that changed their shape, e.g., Polymorph (which all Druids could do)
  5. Self healing
  6. Providing a unique buff for the raid's physical DPS
  7. Providing a self heal for the raid's DPS
  8. Providing an ability to resurrect in combat (which all Druids can do)
Today, that list looks more like this:
  1. Shapeshifting
Our synergy continues to be hammered as Talents become increasingly disparate.  And while it helped a lot that Agility became a good choice for both Bears and Cats again, it does not mean that one set of gear can serve both roles optimally.   PvE Cats can't afford to take key Tanking Talents and PvE Bears cannot afford to take key DPS Talents.  Because of the importance of Dodge and the Austere Shadowspirit Diamond for Tanking, a PvE Bear will tweak his gear set to be increasingly less useful for DPS.

Note: I did favor Mastery over Dodge for a bit, which helps make gear more generally beneficial, but it significantly reduces your hardiness as a Tank, according to the leading Theorycraft and comments from one of my Healers.

Mobility has been hammered.  Not only can Feral Druids no longer shift out of roots of any kind, I am finding more an more effects with slows that I cannot break with shifting, e.g., the poison in Tol Barad, a Blast Wave-like effect in one of the instances.  As I explain in my post comparing the root-breaking ability of melee DPS, we went from the top to the bottom.

We can now be Polymorphed and stuck there any time we are caught in Humanoid form.  Apparently, when we are Polymorphed, we temporarily forget how to change our shape.

Our self healing has been spread all over the place, as I mentioned in my last post.

Our buff is no longer unique, but I don't mind that.

The self-heal our aura used to provide to DPS is gone.

Our ability to resurrect in combat will now also be given to Death Knights, quite possibly the absolute worst choice, lore-wise and aesthetically speaking.  Scourge-empowered undead being able to breathe natural life back into a person is so incredibly wrong on so many levels.

Between taking away canonical abilities or diluting them across other classes, the dismantling of the Feral aesthetic has been quite profound.  /sadpanda

As of March 3rd, Blizzard is reporting that the PTR 4.1 mechanics give both Dash (3 minute cooldown, 2.4 minutes with the Glyph of Dash, which is admittedly quite common) and Stampeding Roar (2 minute cooldown) will break immobilization on use (so not an immunity while it's up just breaking root effects that are in place when first cast). To gain this effect, Ferals will need to have Feral Swiftness 1/2 or 2/2 (50% or 100% chance to break roots, respectively).  Fortunately, that is a Talent that most Ferals take at 2/2, whether DPS or Tank, PvP or PvE.  So, this puts us at the middle of the melee pack, maybe a hair above, but still clearly trailing Paladins and Fury Warriors.

Friday, March 4, 2011

[4.0.6] Self-Heals, They Ain't Only For Ferals Anymore


Remember when self-healing melee was something primarily associated with Feral Druids?  It made sense, of course, since Druids draw their power from Nature and who wouldn't expect magical Bears and Cats to have remarkable healing powers?

Over time, the other melee DPS from classes that can heal, Shaman and Paladin, have gained increased abilities to heal themselves.  I am cool with that.  Again, any class that has magical abilities to heal should be able to tap those in a limited form even if they are melee DPS.

Well, now we are in a strange new world where self-healing is the norm for melee DPS, even the ones from classes that can't heal:
  • Death Knights - all specs have the self-healing of Death Strike, and Blood DKs have ridiculous abilities to heal themselves
  • Rogues - they have gained the surprisingly potent Recuperate, which will be buffed in 4.1 (although those with two points in the Improved Recuperate Talent will see no change)
  • Warriors - they had some self-healing that was generally on the low side; then they got a big pulse from Victory Rush and some time during Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) Blizzard decided that Warriors needed a big heal button just like Druids and they were given Enraged Regeneration, which is many ways superior to the Druid's Frenzied Regeneration.
So, how does this compare with our Leader of the Pack Talent? You did know that we actually have to buy the ability, right?  Yes, us Nature-empowered magical beasts have to invest a Talent point for our ability to self-heal. /sadface

All righty, let's start with Death Knights.  Aesthetically, I have to concede that the notion of Death Knights draining the life force of others is nothing new.  It has been present in multiple iterations.  They can heal for a minimum of 7% of their maximum health with each Death Strike.  This is a class-wide ability.  For the most part, that means at least 14% of their Health every 10 seconds, which kicks the crap out of LotP.  My only real complaint would be that they simply do it too well/easily for undead creatures that are not actual Vampires.

Giving Rogues a self-heal really blew my mind.  LotP gives a Feral Druid a maximum of 4% of their Health every 6 seconds.  The basic Recuperate in 4.0.6 gives 2% of their health every 3 seconds.  While Rogues need to burn combo points, Ferals need to score critical hits in melee, so as soon as we stop hitting something, our self heals come to a dead stop and, given the timing of crits, it is virtually impossible that we will ever maintain the maximum healing rate.  So, out of the gate, every Rogue can self-heal for more.  If it's Talented, it jumps up to 4% per 3 seconds, or TWICE what a Feral Druid can do.  On top of that, the Talent confers a 6% damage reduction.

In 4.1, the baseline Recuperate will jump up 50% to "3% per tick".  However, the Improved Recuperate Talent will come down to 0.5/1% bonus, meaning they will still heal for the same amount.  So, every Rogue will be able to self-heal for significantly more than a Feral Druid.

Warriors.  They have had some self-healing Talents for some time, but I never really paid attention.  I cannot imagine for a moment how it makes any sense whatsoever for a Warrior to have a self-heal.  They are completely non-magical in every way.  They are not spell users, they are not Jedi-like characters, they are not like the Physical Adepts of Shadowrun that channel magic to enhance their bodies and physical abilities.  They are guys that wear heavy armor and swing weapons around.

I comprehend the desire to convey a Berserker type of character, but I would STRONGLY argue that when you think of that, a Warrior is probably the wrong person.  The canonical Berserker comes from the Celt armored only in blue paint, or the ancient German tribesman clad mostly in animal skins.  The premise being that they are so fired up that they get into the fray and slaughter things before they get killed, avoiding the damage or simply not caring about it until they drop dead.  Admittedly, Last Stand fits this concept, but it just doesn't make sense for the guy clomping around in Plate.  But I digress.

So how can Warriors self heal?  Well, everyone of them now has Enraged Regeneration, which I stated is superior to Frenzied Regeneration, the ability from which it was copied (sort of).  You see, Warriors had  Last Stand and Bears were hurting for a lack of survival cooldowns, abilities that allowed us to weather large spikes in damage.  Well, as the bastard children of Warriors (mechanically-speaking) one of the abilities given to Druids was a Last Stand-like ability with a Druid twist.  We got the same ability with Frenzied Regeneration, but it also came with a self-heal.

Historical note:  This used to work a little differently.  Survival Instincts raised your Health and  Frenzied Regeneration was just a heal.

Well, time passed and someone decided that Warriors need a heal that copied the Bear's Frenzied Regeneration.  So they gave it the rather unimaginative name Enraged Regeneration.  If you do the math, if Frenzied Regeneration heals us for the maximum amount possible, then it heals us for 30% of our maximum health, just like a Warrior's Enraged Regeneration, but it consumes 100 Rage in the process.  Warriors can pretty easily pop into an Enrage state, so their Enraged Regeneration is superior in the sense that it costs no Rage, so they can be sure it will heal for the full amount, and they can reliably activate it whether or not they have Rage, even out of combat.

It is worth noting that all Druids have access to Frenzied Regeneration.  All Warriors have access to Enraged Regeneration (the heal), but you have to be a Protection  Warrior to pick up Last Stand (the ability to temporarily increase your Health Pool).  HOWEVER, you have to be in Bear Form, generating Rage for Frenzied Regeneration to work.

But that's not all of the healing they have.  Arms Warriors, and anyone who wants to dip 7 points into Arms Talents, can get Second Wind, which has a self-heal.  Fully Talented, it actually give 5% of your Health over 10 seconds, which matches LotP.  Yes, you have to get struck by a Stun or Immobilize, but in PvP, that's so bloody common, I could imagine this heal being active most of the time.  So, this puts Arms Warriors in the same ballpark as Ferals.

Fury Warriors get two self-heals.  The first, Blood Craze, only requires 3 Talent points in the first Tier of Fury, so really any Warrior can pick it up.  It heals for 3% Health over 5 seconds, which is better than a Druid, but it only has a 10% chance to be triggered from damage.  I am not sure how much that stays up in combat if the Warrior is not being focused.  However, Fury Warriors also get a self-heal from one of the DPS abilities that they tend to spam, Bloodthirst.  Since Fury Warriors dual wield two-handed weapons and I am not sure if this is triggered by special attacks, I am not sure how fast those heals happen.  If they were consumed before the next Bloodthirst, then that would be 1.5% Health every 3 seconds, which, all by itself, would match Feral self-healing.

So, there you have it.  With the advent of Death Knights in WotLK and the changes to Rogues in Cataclysm, Ferals are barely competitive in the self-healing department...and definitely not at the front of the pack.

In researching the above, I had this weird thought...Fury Warriors are better at being Feral than Feral Druids are.  /sadpanda

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

[4.0.6] Effectively Earning Guild Experience


Many folks look forward to the nifty perks provided by the guild leveling system.  Of course, to get there, you need to earn guild experience points (GXP).  As stated in the tooltip, you get these from completing quests, killing dungeon bosses, participating in rated battlegrounds (BGs) and killing raid bosses.  You do NOT get GXP for killing random mobs, gathering, PvP outside of rated BGs, fishing, dancing on mailboxes, etc.

Raid bosses net a tidy sum - 78,700 GXP/boss.  However, in most guilds, your opportunity to kill raid bosses will be controlled by either your leadership or by whoever puts together the PUG (pickup group) raid you attend.  That leaves two methods that are more in your control - dungeons and quests.

The Dungeon part is pretty straightforward.  You need at least 3 guild members to earn GXP.  The earnings vary as follows:
  • 3 guild members - 50% GXP
  • 4 guild members - 100% GXP
  • 5 guild members - 125% GXP
So, in terms of earning GXP, hitting up a dungeon solo or with just one other guild members is pointless.  When you do, however, you stand to earn quite a bit, capping out at 46,500 GXP/boss in Cataclysm Heroics for each group member, in a group composed of 5 guild members.  Now, if that was only 3 guild members, it would plummet to 18,600 GXP/boss.

How do quests compare?  You earn 25% of the XP as GXP.  As a result, an important aspect of quests is that level matters greatly.  You can spend all day leveling a sub-80 alt and barely scratch what a Cataclysm level character can earn very quickly, especially a level 85 character that can access all of the daily quests.  The higher level the content, the more XP awarded and thus the more GXP you earn.  For example:
  • Therazane daily quests (accessible at level 82) - 10,975 GXP/quest
  • Dragonmaw daily quests (accessible at level 84) - 13,800 GXP/quest
  • Tol Barad daily quests (accessible at level 85) - 17,350 GXP/quest
  • Cooking Daily (for level 85 characters)* -  17,350 GXP
  • Fishing Daily (for level 85 characters)* -  17,350 GXP
* - these quests level with you, so if you pick it up at level 85, you get the reward for a level 85 daily.

I find that most level 85 characters are capable of doing the six Tol Barad Peninsula Daily quests in 20-30 minutes.  That nets a respectable 104,100 GXP.  If you can access the six quests unlocked by PvP, that's another 104k.  If you did that every day, that alone would almost hit your weekly cap.

What if you simply did the six Tol Barad Peninsula (the PvE zone) quests, five Dragonmaw quests, and six Therazane quests each day?  That would net you 239k GXP each day, and you would hit your weekly cap each week.  If you are doing the relatively quick and easy Fishing and Cooking dailies, you'll cap even quicker.  Not to mention, the guild reputation, a decent amount of gold, and those nifty Tol Barad tokens you can use to buy mounts, a pet, etc.

The take away message is that a little diligence goes a long way; how you spend your time in game profoundly affects the impact you have on your guild progressing through levels.  It is very easy to spend a lot of time in game without earning a shred of GXP, so be mindful as you play if you want to see that next guild perk sooner than later.

Note: If you would like more detail, I came across a more lengthy discussion of this topic on the World of Warcraft forums while composing this post.