Category: Skill & Playstyle

Jul 20 2013

Proving Yourself in Proving Grounds

This PTR build of patch 5.4 introduced a long-awaited feature to the game: Proving Grounds!  Proving Grounds are solo scenarios where a level 90 player can test their skill in their chosen role against wave after wave of enemies that get progressively harder.

•  As a DPS, your job is to kill the mobs before the next wave spawns.  It’s just you and your toolbox of spells and abilities to burn them down, interrupt their heals, and keep yourself alive.

•  As a tank, your job is to protect your NPC healer by picking up the mobs as best you can, interrupting them, and using your own cooldowns to survive.

•  As a healer, your job is to keep your party alive.  Your party is a team of NPCs – a warrior tank, an assassination rogue, a hunter and a mage.  The AI is pretty smart — they are good about interrupting and focus firing — while still being realistic in the sense that they are occasionally being slow to get out of fire or meandering out of your healing range.  You’ll need to do a lot of healing and dispelling here.

If you fail in your role objective, you get a failure message and the mobs despawn and you have to talk to the NPC to start again at wave 1.  If you get “killed,” you are actually just reduced to 1 healthpoint – so no death repair bills!  You do take wear-and-tear durability damage, though, and there is an NPC inside the instance who can repair you.

Healer PG

Goals

Proving Grounds can serve several useful functions:

  • First and foremost: it is something fun to do!
  • It gives new players a safe but real-time environment to practice their skills and improve their play.  Whether you’re new to the game or just new to a role, PGs are a wonderful place to hone your skills without worrying about irritating or — worse — killing four other players in the process.
  • If gives players a place to test out particular talents, glyphs, as well as fiddle with their addons and keybinds.

Gear Scaling

To make sure Proving Grounds are a challenge of skill and not of who simply has the best gear, all equipment is scaled down in a similar fashion to Challenge Modes.

  • Gear scales to 463
  • Gems do not scale
  • Set bonuses do not count

Unlike Brawler’s Guild where players can hit a ceiling on their success because their gear is subpar (or get further because great gear gives them more margin for error), the equalised equipment means ranking accurately reflects true skill.  Of course, if you’re exclusively a tank or healer, you can’t do Brawler’s Guild at all!

You can use flasks and foods, but not potions; they didn’t want you to have to bring stacks and stacks of pots just to make it through.  There is a soulwell for health cookies, though!

There is also a reforger NPC in case you need to make any gear tweaks, and a vendor who sells  Tomes of the Clear Mind so you can tweak your talents and glyphs as much as you need.

Tuning

First the obligatory disclaimer – All of this can change!  Proving Grounds are a brand new feature and it’s possible Blizzard may shift their goals with what they want with them.  Additionally, right now the tuning on the PTR is really easy — far below what I was told was intended (and what I outlined below). It is likely untuned right now, but being the PTR I imagine they will be tweaking them quiet a bit over the next month or so.  Give them a try, leave feedback on the tuning whether you prefer it harder or easier!

You begin with bronze mode.  The plan is for bronze to be tuned to a player ready to step into heroic 5-mans, so this should be easy for just about everyone.

After you beat bronze, you can step into Silver.  If you’re a normal mode raider, you should be able to make it through this level, with maybe some difficulties in the final waves.

After that comes Gold.  Beating gold is intended to reflect comparable skills to a player that is ready to raid heroics.  Expect to use your whole toolbox to make it through Gold.

After you beat Gold, you are eligible to try Endless mode.  Endless mode, as the name implies, has unlimited waves of increasing difficulty.  Each wave does a percentage more damage and has an equal percentage more health than the one before it.

Your furthest wave will be tracked so you can come back try to beat your high score later, and so you can compete with your friends.  Although there are no in-game leaderboards like for Challenge modes, this information is tracked in your character statistics and can be pulled up in the armory, so expect third party sites to run rankings eventually.

Rewards

There are achievements for reaching each rank in each role, as well as surviving 20 waves into Endless.  There will be titles, as well.  “[Name] the Proven [Healer / Tank / Damage Dealer]” probably earned by completing Gold for a given role.

Perhaps later other rewards will be implemented, but that’s it for now.

I got the opportunity to test Proving Grounds a couple weeks early thanks to an awesome dev, but now they are a little more polished and available for everyone to try.  Just speak to your class trainer* or the NPC in the Temple of the White Tiger in Kun Lai Summit to be sent in.

 

* NYI this build – go to Kun Lai

Outside Resources

 

Dec 14 2011

LFR Tool: Raiding Lite™

The new Looking for Raid (LFR) tool is a new avenue of advancement introduced in 4.3 for characters.  Out for a few weeks, the feature has had enormous popularity with players.  For those of you who haven’t experienced it yet, here is an overview based on my experiences using it.

LFR is raiding with training wheels.  To compensate for throwing a bunch of strangers together, many of whom will be inexperienced or underskilled or just bad as following directions, the fights are stripped down and tuned to be very, very easy.   They are designed to be successfully done provided at least half the raid is conscious and capable of following basic instructions, a difficulty level that is arguably necessary to ever get anything killed in such an environment.  As a result of their ease, they offer low quality loot — just slightly better than the new heroics — and lack the perks of regular raiding like achievements, epic gems and Valor-points-per-boss (LFR awards VP only for completion), or the ability to work on the tier’s legendary.

To use it, one queues through an icon on the menu bar like with random dungeons, and is automatically matched up with 24 other players.  It can be done multiple times a week (although you only have one chance at loot), and will not lock you from doing the raid on normal mode.

Organisation

The group is composed of two tanks, six healers and seventeen DPS.  The fights are designed to always use this same comp, so there is no need for dual spec or talent switching during the raid.

Raid leadership is on a volunteer basis.  To queue as a potential leader, one must check the box on the queuing window along with their usual role – same as is done for the LFD tool.  If the raid leader leaves, a new one is assigned from amongst the other volunteers.  Raid leaders get no special perks or powers and mainly exists as a way of saying “yes I will give any new people instructions if they want them.”  Unlike with a real raid group, here the leadership rarely is required to do anything different than any other raid member, although you shouldn’t volunteer for the job if you’re not interested in explaining the fight mechanics.

Players are in and out of the raid group constantly.  It is not uncommon for people to leave mid-fight, or to start a boss down a few people.  The tool is very efficient about replacing these people the instant a group leaves combat, but the fights as also easy enough that the empty spots are rarely a problem.  For this reason, no player should feel intimidated about having to bow out before a run is finished; it is possible no one would even notice.

Niche

LFR has such a huge scope of utility across all spectrum of players, that it’s hard to just pin as “raiding for casuals,” although this is the thing it is typically billed as.

However incomplete that statement might be, though, it is still very much true.  With the difficulty level so low, even someone who has never played in a raid environment can stumble through it successfully.  The tool is an amazing way to let players see the raiding content they might have not otherwise dared to try.  The DPS checks are minimal, and even a few stronger players can balance out a handful of inexperienced ones.

Additionally, with the [currently] very short queues for DPS and healers, players who don’t raid due to lack of time may also find LFR to be an exceptional tool.  Not longer do forays into raiding content require regularly scheduled groups and hours and hours of attempts learning new bosses and farming old ones.  Instead, these players can opt for a limited “demo” version of the raid instance on their own schedule as an alternative to seeing nothing at all.  Currently, both wings of Dragonsoul in LFR take about an hour each and with so many players in and out constantly, it is not harmful to your teammates if you need to bow out even earlier.

Another advantage is that LFR provides a way for all players, serious or casual, to have an opportunity to try raiding on an alt that they wouldn’t have otherwise raided on.   Whether you just want to get more familiar with that class, or take a break from your main, or practice with them for a potential re-roll, the tool can fulfill this niche.

The LFR tool can also be extremely helpful as a tool to help seasoned raiders become familiar with the fights in advance.  Although the stripped down nature make it nearly useless for learning the mechanics themselves, seeing even the basic version of the fight can be helpful in figuring out position, learning spawn points for adds, what that special mob or ability looks like visually, and getting a general feel for the way the particular fight works.  Instead of just watching that tankspot video, now you’re immersed in it, and you can control the camera angle and zoom yourself. Paired with a written guide or a video, I’ve found the LFR tool to be immeasurably helpful in understanding a fight.

Finally, let’s not discount the huge advantage LFR provides for gearing up new players, alts and rerolls and for filling in gearing holes on raiding characters.  It also allows for main raiders to get their set bonuses faster and get small upgrades more often, and the nerfed tier pieces will still work towards completing a set bonus.  Lastly, as a source of Valor Points, you might choose to get the currency to buy those VP items through LFR rather than LFD.  Although its steeper item level requirement means you can’t just waltz in as a fresh 85, the requirements can still be met by doing the new heroics rather than raiding.

Success Ratio

Queuing at least once weekly on four characters, I’ve had very good luck in terms of success with my LFR groups.   Most bosses take just one or two tries to down, with ample forgiveness for mistakes.  Trash wipes typically only occur when someone facepulls several packs or the boss itself (or both in the case of the slime boss).  The worst group I’ve encountered spent 45 minutes just on the first boss of part 2, which is still a good deal faster than a real raid might take, and they still went one to one shot every following boss.  In the best group, I’ve cleared part 1 of Dragonsoul in just over a half an hour on my lunch break.  The raid is definitely succeeding it its goal to be painless and easy.

Loot

You can roll on loot for each boss in LFR once per week. Once you’ve already beaten that boss, you will be ineligible to roll on loot from that boss again during the week if you continue to queue.  Many of the items are now limited to particular appropriate classes (ie, a rogue cannot roll on a strength sword).  Roll bonuses are given if you are ‘need’ rolling on an item for the spec you are queued as, so if a piece of intel/spirit mail drops, the resto and elem shaman will have an advantage on it over the enhance spec’d one, but the enhancement shaman may still roll for their offset without worrying about the item getting dusted.

The system is far from perfect and is still peppered with bugs and oversights, but overall it is a large improvement over LFD.

Attitudes

Just as any environment in which anonymous strangers are thrown together and forced to interact, LFR certainly contains its share of jerks.  Every group has the one DPS who spams Recount after every attempt to brag about his numbers, and the other guy who spends more time bitching about the weaker DPS than he does doing his own job.  You do encounter those two people who get in a fight over something petty and insist on holding up the entire raid so they can bicker over it.  And yes, there is the guy who tries to publicly shame anyone who makes a mistake or taunt everyone who dies with “newb!”   There are also people who are abusing the system by joining then going AFK, and those lazy people that don’t want to help with trash or run back after a wipe.

However, I have been largely impressed by the bulk of groups.  For every asshole throwing a tantrum, there are three people telling him to shut up.  I have encountered players who have made special effort to explain the fights to the people that ask, who give helpful call outs and reminders, who present solutions instead of complaints.  There are those people who are cheerleaders and in the face of others bitching can say, “we were really close, we can do it, we just need to be a little more disciplined.”   There have been people who win duplicate loot and gracefully hand it out to the second highest roller.  I have seen more people booted for being a jerk than I have for making mistakes or doing low DPS.

Overall, I’ve found it to be a smoother and more enjoyable experience than doing PuG five mans.  The jerks are diluted in a sea of people, and the bad players don’t hurt the raid’s success and there are always at least a couple good and patient players to help teach the inexperienced what to do.

My conclusion on LFR is that it is a wonderful tool that many people will find useful and/or enjoyable.  Since it is only a few weeks old, I suspect that once the novelty wears off and people are capped on valor goodies, the demand for running it will decrease and queue times will grow.  Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe it will still be one of the most popular game features Blizzard has ever implemented in WoW.   Love it or hate it, the thing is clearly a hit.

Oct 23 2011

Monk Class: Blizzcon Preview

Blizzcon just finished and I’m sure we’ve all heard the new announcements by now.   New race: Pandaren.   New class: Monk.   Demo computers were available to see both the Pandaren starting zone and give the new class a whirl.

WoW fan sites have posted the details of all the new World of Warcraft announcements, ability lists, gameplay trailers, etc, but I thought I’d do something different and talk a little bit about how actually playing the new monk class felt and give my own impressions.

Remember, all of these details can change between now and when the expansion goes live, and probably will.

Basic Information

Monks are a new hybrid class; they have specs that will allow them to heal, tank, or melee DPS.  They are heavily martial arts themed, aiming for the archetypal monk class.  They are not a hero class, and will begin at level 1.

They wear leather and will share their gear with rogues and druids, depending on their role.  They start in leather gear from level 1.  They can currently use fist weapons, polearms, staves, and 1-handed swords or axes. As healers, they will use offhands rather than shields.  The current plan is for tanking to lead towards 2h while DPS and heals will use the 1h weaponry.

They will use stances, presumably similar to a warrior and based on their role.

They are available for every race except Worgen and Goblin.

Resource System

Monks use a unique resource system different from the current ones in game. They have an energy bar, called Chi, which functions similar to that of rogue and cat druids by refilling quickly to a hard cap.  This is paired with a combo points-like system, but this is where it departs from the familiar.  Monks get two sets of combo points — Light and Dark Force — and these are tied to the player and not the thing you’re fighting.  They do not appear to decay (although they probably clear at log out) so you can carry them from fight to fight.

Your basic attacks cost Chi but build combo points of either the Light or Dark Force or both.   You then spend those force points on special stronger attacks.  Unlike the finishers that rogues and cats spend their combo points on, these abilities don’t scale based on number of points – they cost a flat amount.  Because of this, you will not be capping your points and then spending them, but rather using a rolling priority system of using both as needed.  The playstyle ends up being very different than the usual “point-point-point-finish” feel of other energy classes.

Blizzard has said that when Monks are spec’d for healing, their Chi bar will be replaced with a Mana bar.   It was not explicitly stated but seems obvious based on their design goals that the class will still keep its Light and Dark Force bar for healing, allowing it to maintain its unique feel in all three talent specialisations.

Abilities

Here are some of the spells & abilities that were available in the demo:

Level 1 Abilities

Jab
40 Chi – Melee Range, Instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You jab the target, dealing 5 damage and generating 1 light force and 1 dark force.

Jab is your basic attack. This is the button you are hitting the most to spend your Chi and generate your Force points. I imagine you get different ones later as you level and based on spec.

Tiger Palm
1 Light Force – Melee range, instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
Deals 10 Physical damage, deals 5 additional damage if the target is above 50% health.

Level 2 Abilities

Roll
50 Chi – Instant
Roll a short distance.

Roll is a mobility tool to keep you moving around the battlefield (and, when out of combat, to appease your pining for that mount that is eighteen levels away).  It costs only energy, so you can zoom around as often as your bar refills.  It’s very fun for getting quickly from enemy to enemy or just getting around faster.  You can roll in any direction, including backwards and sideways.

Level 3 Abilities

Blackout Kick
2 Dark Force – Melee range, Instant
Kick with a blast of energy, causing 28 physical damage to an enemy target. If the target is killed by blackout kick, you are returned 1 Dark Force.

Level 5 Abilities

Flying Serpent Kick
8-40 Yards range, 25 Seconds Cooldown, Instant.
Soar through the air towards a targeted enemy, knocking them down and stunning them for 2 seconds.

Spinning Crane Kick
Instant, 2 Lights and Dark Forces
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You spin while kicking in the air, dealing 23 damage every 1 second to all nearby enemies within 8 yards. Movement speed is reduced by 30%, last 6 seconds.

Some other abilities were loosely discussed at the various panels, but were not in game to try.

Auto-Attack

Monks do not have an auto-attack like every other class.  Blizzard developers said they wanted the monk to have a “street fighter feel” where each button press from the player is an attack from your monk.  This is very unique to the game, and it is controversial enough that this may end up not going live (in fact, I would predict it will be in and out of the beta several times before a decision is made).  There are some concerns about that, and I’d like to address them the best I can for a player who has only played the first six levels of the monk class.

The first worry I have heard expressed (totally justifiably) is that this will make playing the Monk very spammy.  I’m sure those of us with Warriors heard the announcement and were thinking old school Heroic “I eroded a hole in my keybind” Strike.  The good news is that it does not feel like this at all.  Your Jab costs enough that you are not hitting it a million times a minute, but fast enough that you don’t feel like you’re standing around waiting for energy regen (usually… more on that below).  You are also limited by your GCD, which is current the same 1.5 seconds of most players [note:  I am pretty sure Jab is limited by the GCD]. The playstyle is fast paced but far from overwhelmingly or spammy.

However, the lack of auto-attack does have some weaknesses that need to be addressed eventually.  It is annoying when you find yourself in a situation with neither Chi nor Force points and you’re up in some mob’s grill unable to do literally anything but stand there.  That might not happen often, but it can happen in numerous circumstances:

When moving quickly from fight to fight, the small delay before your opening attack could prove frustrating in those situations where you’re racing to tap a rare mob and have to stand there waiting for the precious energy to claim it as yours.

As a raider who currently plays a rogue, I can think of a lot of current situations in group play where I am swapping to an add and auto-attacking it until I have enough energy to use Mutilate.  This would be very frustrating to find myself in that position as a Monk, chasing an add but doing literally no damage.  I can think of a lot of situations where the add dies before I get enough energy for that special, making my only contribution my white damage (or perhaps I am pooling for when I return to the primary target).  For a monk, there would have been nothing.

I can also see it being problematic from a tanking perspective, where one at least builds minimal threat in the seconds before or between breaking out a special, especially if you’re juggling multiple mobs at once.  Those white attacks can often be the difference between you or the healer tanking in those first microseconds of a pull.

There are also the circumstances of when a mob has a sliver of health left, and one would finish it off with auto-attack. A Monk would be forced to use its resources which perhaps it wanted to save for the next fight. At the very least, it would be a bit overkill.

The other thought that occurred to me is doing old content.  When I was working on Loremaster, I often had to bare-knuckle auto-attack mobs that I needed to get low but not kill for some quests.  If a Monk can only use specials, how would he do such quests?  A level capped Monk would surely one shot these low level mobs in a single Jab.

That may sound like a lot of problems, but they are very situational.  I actually like the feel of the gameplay and being in total control without the auto-attack, so I hope these issues can be resolved in a positive way that allows Monks to keep this unique flavour.  Perhaps a no-cost but super weak attack with a cooldown to use in those situations?  Still, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Monks went live with auto-attack like everyone else.

Healing

My disclaimer here is that this is all based on Blizzard’s conjecture and will [very probably] not end up like this on live.

They want the heal system to be unique and involve damage reflected into AoE healing for friendlies, rather than the traditional three-cast-time-heal bread and butter for current classes.  For example, Blizzard envisions moves like this to be the means through which a Monk heals its party:

Statue of the Jade Serpent
5 Sec Cast
Summon a statue at the target location. Anytime you deal damage, a nearby friendly target within 20 yards of the statue will be healed. You can have up to 3 Jade Dragon Statues active at a time.

I have serious doubts that the class with go live with things like this as their primary means of healing.  It’s too different, too hard to balance and seems like the kind of thing that would end up overly powerful in some circumstances and too weak in others.   Statues radiating heals seems like it would be very awesome as a raid healing, but what about five mans, or high movement fights?   What about when the healer needs to keep up a tank taking a lot of damage?  What about when the monk is forced to move out of melee for whatever reason?  It’s a very big move away from the “we want all the healers to be able to do successfully do all roles” design goal that Blizzard just implemented, and against the homogenisation that all other healers faced in the last expansion.

The current design goal for healing is to heal through DPS, making the Monk the true melee healer.  This is something they’ve toyed with trying to achieve with Holy Paladins with limited success.  The difference is that Blizzard wants even healing Monks to do “massive” damage and for that to be the vehicle for their heals.

I’m not sure what the implications of that will be for gameplay if we have one healer who is able to contribute significantly to DPS while the others are not. The worry is always that the other healers will be less desired if a raid could instead choose one that helped with those tight enrage timers — a variation of this was voiced frequently when Death Knight tanks were doing a lot of damage and while it didn’t end up proving true, DKs did ultimately receive a series of nerfs in this area to bring them in line with other tanks.  I can see this also having negative PvP connotations if your arena player can both DPS and heal effectively at the same time.  And what of the shadow priest, whose passive raid healing was nerfed because it was too powerful in conjunction with strong DPS?

I suspect that when Monks are being beta tested and tweaked, we will find them being homogenised into the same foundation as the other healers, with the [fast expensive heal], [long, big heal], and [slow efficient heal] and the moves like the statues and vampiric-embrace-like abilities will be dropped to supplemental, expensive AoE heals like Prayer of Healing or Tranquility.  I think they will use melee attacks to add the flavour of their class and to earn the Force Points to do unique and different things with their heals in order to keep their very unique class feel.  I suspect they will not end up doing significant damage as healers, and may perhaps be more in line with a tank or smite-spamming Disc priest.

Tanking

We don’t know much about Monk tanking, except that it will probably involve using staves and polearms and the gearing will be about the same as current Bear druids.

Overall Impressions

Despite being somewhat similar to rogues (my primary reason for being uninterested in feral cat), I found the Monk to be fresh and engaging and am definitely interested in leveling one up in Mists of Pandaria.  Monk is definitely appealing to me a lot more than Death Knights did initially (the DK class and starting zone was amazing but I found the resource system cumbersome and the pace at which you get abilities as a hero class overwhelming).  I thought the resource system here was unique and fun but still very intuitive and user-friendly. The abilities are fun, simple, and well paced.  Roll is super cool.  That handful of levels I got to play in the Blizzcon demo was very enjoyable.

I love hybrid classes and I’m interested in trying both tanking and healing as this new class.  I’m already thinking about which races I will choose for each faction.

Apr 14 2011

The Problem With [not] Healing PuGs

As Blizzard scrambles to bribe healers and tanks back into the LFG Randoms using pets and mounts, I would like to talk a little bit about one reason why we’re struggling to find people to fill these needed roles. More specifically, I’d like to talk about what it is like as a healer using the LFG tool this expansion.

The shortage of healers is due to many factors. It is true that some players just prefer DPSing. It is equally true that many people don’t like the additional responsibility that comes with playing a tank or a healer. It may also be the case that some healers were dissuaded from healing this expansion due to the increased difficulty. However, it is also because many healers have started queuing for heroics as DPS (or forgoing randoms entirely) because they are tired of being the punching bag for other players who can’t handle the increased difficulty. Of these points, only the latter one is a legitimate problem, and it is the one I am going to address.

Choosing Pew Pew Over Heals

I consider myself a decent healer on my restoration shaman. I have healed extensively since classic WoW, both in PvP and PvE, in hard modes and regular content, and doing so has been some of the most fun I have in the game. I like the increased challenge in heroic dungeons in theory, but I hate the indirect consequence that has turned every bad PuG into a nightmare of finger pointing and name calling. Healing for LFG PuGs has gone from something that was mildly frustrating on occasion to being completely unbearable anytime there is a bad player or two in the group. As a result, I just will not heal heroic PuGs anymore. If I need to random, I will take a queue that is 45 minutes instead of 5 minutes to do something I enjoy far less, just because I don’t want to deal with being the scapegoat for every other poor player in the game.

This is not an issue unique to me; I have multiple friends in the same circumstances: great healers who just don’t want to put themselves through the torture and abuse of healing PuGs anymore. I have spoken with many more who feel the same, both in-game and on the forums. Players like this may not be the majority but there are obviously enough of us to merit discussion. And while this is our choice, it does impact your LFG queue times by aggravating the existing healer shortage, which is an issue Blizzard is trying to fix as I write this very post.

LFG Heroic Dungeon Climate

In Cataclysm, heroics are designed to be more challenging than Wrath on several levels. Crowd control is more desirable and often mandatory if the team is not overgeared. Avoidable damage is far less forgiving than before, often one-shotting or severely injuring players who don’t pay attention. Healers are no longer responsible, as some like to put it, for “healing stupid.” Although design has shifted, player mentality about how heroics are “supposed” to go has not. Players still expect to be kept alive and at full health regardless of how they play. I would have thought this would have improved as the months passed and more and more players experienced the new content, but it hasn’t.

Of course, it is no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of bad players in heroic randoms because we’ve all encountered them. There are players who take the same nonchalant attitude towards heroics on their grossly-undergeared, fresh 85 tank as they might on their raid-geared main. There are tanks who refuse to use CC because their “threat is fine” even though they take massive amounts of unnecessary damage, or who are incapable of doing a pull without breaking what CC was used. There are tanks who don’t know how to kite, who are trying to tank in DPS or PvP gear, who don’t use their defensive cooldowns, or who chain pull without watching mana or waiting for the rest of the group. There are players of all varieties who stand in void zones, get cleaved by the boss, are terrible at interrupting, or who ignore the adds that need to be killed. There are lots of players that don’t run away from insta-gib mechanics, pull aggro by attacking the wrong mob or laying in too early, players who often suck at positioning, break CC or have no idea how to apply it in the first place. And of course, there are the garden-variety-bad DPSers who put out about half the amount of damage they should be, making the fights far too long.

Dual Spec:  Healer/Scapegoat

Healers have always had increased responsibility by nature of their job. They are also used to fingers being pointed at them when things go wrong (both with and without merit). Unfortunately the difficulty level of this expansion has made things far, far worse. In the past, healers could cover for people’s mistakes. And while PuGs have always full of jerks, before they were appeased by how smoothly runs went no matter how badly people played. All those stupid mistakes before really didn’t matter. Now they do. Now the people who play poorly will die. If they don’t die immediately, they run the healer out of mana later. And when that happens, the player who gets berated or booted isn’t a DPS or tank. The player who is punished the most for mistakes isn’t the person that made them: it is the healer.

It is no consolation to a healer to know that they were not at fault when booted from a group after already investing 45 minutes in a dungeon; knowing it was someone else’s mistake does not give back time lost. The fact that it is the DPS who fails at a mechanic does not make the healer feel better when they have to spend an entire dungeon being berated every time that lousy player dies. The knowledge that healing is designed so healers can’t always keep everyone topped constantly does not filter out the players demanding heals, cursing or name calling when they don’t get them immediately. It doesn’t console the healer to know that after they leave the party (either by choice or by force), the party is going to have the same problem with the replacement since the issue is the group itself. The healer is not comforted through the scapegoating just because they know that the reason they ran out of mana wasn’t because they were using improper spells but because the DPS was so bad that the fight lasted twice as long as it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter who is really to blame when a dungeoning experience has ceased to be fun and started to be legitimately stressful and draining any time a healer gets a group that is less than stellar.

Now What?

To clarify for people who tend to skim articles: this is not a complaint about Cataclysm heroics being more challenging. While I understand that some healers don’t like the new design, I’m not concerned with those players; you can’t please everyone. Overall, most healers — myself included — seem to enjoy actually having things to do in heroics, unlike Wrath heroics where we were barely needed. And the reality is, healing is not really that much harder once you learn how to manage the new playstyle assuming people aren’t taking excessive damage.  However, it seems like a design failure when an indirect result of the difficulty level is that players who like healing and prefer to heal refuse to do so because being brutalised by other players — who regularly do take excessive damage — has made a job they previously loved into a miserable experience.

Blizzard obviously can’t control the actions of their players, but their design does influence the environment and attitude, and one could argue it is precisely that design that is encouraging players to act poorly. As long as the punishment for failing at a mechanic is damage to a player, healers will be blamed regardless of whose fault it actually is. Between this and the fact that you need addons for tracking fails or discerning death reports (the default combat log is too incomprehensible for the average players), it far too easy to shift the blame towards the healer because the punishment for every mistake is damage, the very thing healers are tasked with solving.

I don’t know of an elegant solution to these circumstances without reverting heroics to super easy and giving healers godmode again, which I don’t think anyone wants. However, I think the issue is worth discussion. There has to be some other way to keep the challenge level while keeping individual player responsibility from drifting to other players. Perhaps possible alternative solutions should be explored, whether it is changing the consequences for failing at mechanics to something that gimps DPS or threat (like Putricide’s slime debuff) rather than damage or deaths, or making it easy to see why someone died or why things went wrong within the default UI.

What do you think?  Have you had similar experiences?  Have you been kicked from a PuG you were healing for someone else’s mistake, or seen it happen to another?  Do you still heal in LFG PuGs?

Apr 06 2011

Forming A Raid Alliance: The Why & How

In my last blog entry on the current situation of raid recruiting, I proposed that guilds who are struggling to build a full roster should make alliances with other guilds for the purpose of raiding. Instead of having three or four guilds all with empty spots that prevent them from raiding, these guilds could join together and build two or three raids to work together so that everyone can keep raiding while still maintaining their individual identities.  Raiding alliances may be the future of small guild survival.

Creating and maintaining a raiding alliance can be a daunting task — but ultimately very rewarding — so I thought I would offer my insight from my experience from MCA.  I use MCA as my example because not only have I raided with them for years and am a member of the leadership committee, but because as my server’s oldest and largest raiding alliance, I think MCA’s system and policies have been refined over the years to become a truly successful model.   [further reading: The MCA wowpedia entry]

Why You Should Form A Raid Alliance

The biggest advantage of a raiding alliance in the current climate is that it allows small guilds who might not otherwise be able to to raid to do so again.  If your guild is unable to build a full roster but you want to maintain your guild tag rather than disbanding or folding into another guild, an alliance may be the only solution for you to keep raiding.

On a deeper level, a raiding alliance can fulfill a lot of needs, even for guilds that are mostly self-sufficient for their roster. One obvious example is that a raiding alliance gives you a place to find subs when there are absences, and houses a pool of people that you know and have played with before, and are usually of higher quality than random people one might pluck from /trade. These people may be alts of skilled players, mains who didn’t raid that week or who raided a different instance than your objective, or players who want to raid but cannot commit to a regular schedule. Sometimes they are great players who prefer to be unguilded, or even raiders from “hardcore” guilds that can no longer make their guild’s schedule but doesn’t want to leave their guild. A raiding alliance also benefits from shared resources and knowledge and the insight of dozens of experienced raiders.

Equality and Fairness

Setting up a raiding alliance that has the potential for success can be a very big project. You will need to attract like-minded players to join, establish a solid leadership, set universal policies and create a shared chat channel and webforums. The foundation upon which you build all this is equality and fairness to your members.

Standardised rules and universal policies are extremely important to raiding alliances on two fronts:  First and most importantly, it allows members to always know what they are getting into regardless of whose raid they join. It allows the information readily available to everyone and known in advance when building new raids or pulling subs.

Fairness is a critical component for success and you cannot have a happy raiding alliance without it. Having all members operate under the same rules and held to the same policies, regardless of guild affiliation, friendship, or reputation ensures this. As a result, it greatly limits drama (because who needs that) by putting on players on equal footing, making everything transparent and pre-established by the leadership.

Finally, when the rules are accessible and reasonable, you will gain loyalty from your members and trust from your subs.   When we have a stable roster in a guild, we might not care about keeping the people who sub for us happy (since you may never see them again), but in a raiding alliance — especially one that is built for the purpose of allowing small guilds to raid — it is extremely important that you make sure the non-guildies that run with you are treated equally and are happy. Those loyal subs are what will keep your raid together; we all support each other.

Getting Started

Your first step for building a raiding alliance is to approach other guilds on your server that seem to be “on the same page.”  Don’t just advertise in /trade or the official realm forums when you are first starting up.  Raiding alliances rely on a degree of exclusivity to be successful, otherwise they are no different than a random PuG.  You may choose to open up later once you have an established core of good raiders, but don’t do this during formation.

You need to find guilds that are very similar to your own in terms of skill and progress. Approaching guilds that have good players means that anytime you pull from channel, you know you have a quality player who approaches raiding in a similar way, even if you have never played with that individual before. You want skilled members who want the same things out of the game and don’t expect too little or too much of each other.

It is also very critical that the alliance has a shared attitude about raiding, progression and atmosphere. You can’t have a successful alliance where half of members want to raid 20 hours a week and the other half wants to raid six. You can’t field successful raids if you mix people who like to take things slow with raiders who are fast-paced and aggressive. You need players who have a similar mentality with regard to their seriousness, pace, and expectations.

Finally, you need to make sure you recruit guilds whose schedules can actually merge with yours. If your guild primarily raids weekends, you need to look for other weekend guilds. If you raid late evenings, seek out others that do the same. In the future, a successful raiding alliance may be able to field a variety of raids scheduled at all different times, but when you’re starting off, it’s more important to get your raids off the ground by finding people that can raid with you.

Leadership

Once you have some guilds on board, the next step is establishing your leadership. These will be the people that set the policies, quell any drama, and manage the alliance. Unlike a guild, a raiding alliance functions far better with an egalitarian committee of leadership rather than a hierarchy. It may be tempting to make your guild the “boss” since you started the alliance, but this approach will spell your demise in time. Instead, you should pick a handful of people (depending on the size of the alliance) that you think are capable of being reasonable and will look out for the interests of the group. The people who intend to lead raids are probably the best place to start, while guild leaders (unless they are one and the same) can sometimes be the worst since they are not only overwhelmed with other responsibilities but may not always be able to see past their own guild loyalties.

Each member may have a unique role (forum management, recruitment, etc), or they may split all jobs between them, but the important part is to value each person’s opinion as much as the next.

The leadership should establish a private area where they can set policies and discuss issues, and should set up a ratification plan for making suggestions become official rules. Allow the leadership to round table discussions, put them to vote, and gain a consensus with what works best for members.

In MCA, the leadership team is made up of the raid leaders, but also has included active players that put in a lot of time helping the alliance. We have found that a “set the policies, then hands off” approach has worked best for keeping our members happy and the atmosphere relaxed.

Chat Channel

Set up an in-game channel for members to join. This channel will be used to recruit for raids and fill spots due to absences. It can also be used to create heroic groups, legacy runs, trash farming groups, find crafters, and make Baradin Hold PuGs so players can get familiar with playing together. It also is a good avenue for social interaction to build friendships. Encourage members to join on their alts and also to invite raiding friends and good players they may encounter in PuGs. This has the advantage of not only being accessible even outside cities (unlike /trade), but is much more inclusive than a guild channel that can’t communicate with alts or allied guilds, but still exclusive enough to weed out the morons. This channel will be the foundation of your success.

It is very important to establish some ground rules for the channel regarding raid recruitment. You do not want people creating spur-of-the-moment PuGs for current content raids in your channel, as this will mean players who might have otherwise made viable subs will get locked out, hurting your legitimate raids later. In MCA, our channel rules permit only recruitment for established MCA raids (or new ones that are being built) for all current tier instances. Regularly scheduled PuGs are allowed and function like normal raids except with a fluid roster. Making legacy raids, five man groups, raids for prior tiers, or PuGs for things like Baradin Hold are permitted, and many members enjoy grouping together for these things. The one caveat is that when an established raid is doing invites for their regular run, no recruitment for anything may occur in channel until they either fill the raid or until it is 15 minutes past their usual start time.

You may also wish to set rules regarding language, spam and channel content, and even age restrictions, to prevent your raiding alliance channel from degenerating into /trade or making your members uncomfortable. Your guild may be used to bawdy jokes, but your new friends may not and you don’t want to scare them away.

Shared Forums

A shared webforum is also a necessity for a raiding alliance. It gives every member a place to meet, have access to rules and policies, and to socialise. Every member who wishes to raid with the alliance should be required to register with the forum, and individual raid leaders may request that their members check the forums on a regular basis for updates and details about their particular group.

The alliance leadership should give each raid its own subforum, and give the raid leader moderation privileges so they can create stickies, make polls and control the flow of discussion. Each subforum should include that information on its raid including roster, schedule, rules, leadership contact information and can be used to communicate absences, strategy ideals, or current goals.

MCA requires that all raids utilise the MCA forums for raid-related communication instead of their guild forums. This makes sure that all members of the alliance — including potential subs and new members — have equal access to rules, information, and communication without having to register at a guild’s personal website. It keeps all the data consolidated and available for all members.

The forums are also a necessary tool for building rosters and hammering out schedules among members who may not share a guild. It will also allow you to advertise new raids and raids that are seeking new members, drawing the attention not only of players who are seeking a raid, but those with alts who may wish to help out.

Finally, shared forums bring the benefit of inter-raid communications. It gives you a place to share strategies, resources and help one another. Your alliance may choose to let other members know when they got a rare in-demand crafting pattern, post a useful macro or to ask advice on that final end boss.

Loot Policy

The next critical policy your leadership must set is the loot rules. The loot policy for a raiding alliance should either be a standardised system used by every raid in the alliance, or there should be a requirement that each raid to publicly post its rules in advance so that everyone may have access to them and to prevent spur of the moment changes. If you use a points-based system like DKP, the points should be unique to each raid (not universal across the alliance) and they should be posted for fairness.

A very important factor to consider when setting up your raiding alliance’s loot policy is sub raiders. Although it seems counter intuitive, it is necessary for your raid’s success to institute a policy that is at least somewhat favourable to subs. If subs do not have a chance at loot, they will not raid with you, and a raiding alliance — more than anything else — relies on these players to keep raids running in times of player shortages. Your policy does not need to shower these players in loot, but they need at least a chance to benefit. Remember, they are helping you out by being there. Consider implementing a policy that allows them to win loot, but limits them to one item a night, or something that allows them to roll but permits reserved raiders to lock them out on critical pieces.

The simplest system, and the one most of MCA uses today, is a simple need/greed with minor limitations or custom tweaks. In my raid, for example, every reserved player is allowed to win one item by ‘need’ a night, but greed rolls are unlimited. Subs are allowed to roll ‘greed’ on anything they will use but can always be locked out by a reserved player’s ‘need roll.’  Special loot items may be established ahead of time to be separate from these rules (fun items, tier tokens, etc).

Your alliance will also need to set up a universal system for handling BoE drops. Unlike a guild, which may use these to fund their guild bank, these items are earned by a multi-guild roster with no clear way to share the bounty. You may choose to open roll these among members to do as they desire, or you may choose to distribute them like regular loot to the characters that will use them. You might even offer to share them with other raids in the alliance, or to sell them and distribute the profit equally among all members who were present at the time of the drop.

In MCA, we allow people to request BoEs for personal use (raiding characters only) provided they equip them to prevent selling. If no one present in the raid wants to use the BoEs, we allow other MCA raids to request them for their members (sometimes we trade if they have a BoE we want and vice versa). If they are unneeded within the alliance, the BoE is sold and the profit goes to the raid members.

Consider also how you will distribute legendary weapons, crafting patterns and materials, and raid gold.  You may choose to provide maelstrom crystals from sharded gear for your raiders free-of-charge. This is not only a nice perk for your members, but also encourages people to use the best enchants (which in turn helps your raid). If your raid is financially successful, you may also choose to distribute gold to your members or give people a repair “allowance.”  You may handle these things on a per-raid basis, or you might require all your raids to pool their crystals and other resources so that all raiding members may request them.

My final word of advice in this area is that I highly recommend against using loot council in a raiding alliance. Loot council can be a great system when used among a tight team, but it is a nightmare and a drama magnet when used with PuGs and players outside your guild. In the MCA, the only time loot council is ever utilised is for legendaries, to ensure they stay within the alliance, and this policy is established in advance and made clear to all members.

Roster & Attendance Policy

In a guild, it is always clear who has priority on a raid spot when inviting players from outside of the guild: your guildmates, of course. However, things are not this simple in a raiding alliance, both due to a multi-guild roster and the fairness requirements. Because of this, it is necessary to establish an attendance policy to allow people to “earn” their spot in the raid.

The policy should be clear how many raids need to be attended in order to be considered a regular, and should set rules regarding finding subs for players who will be late or absent. For fairness, it should be accepted that once a spot in the raid has been filed for the night (either because a player was late, missing, or failed to accept their invite), their sub cannot be removed from the raid should the original raider show up later or should a more “desirable” option log in (like a guildmate), unless you establish that plan with their replacement ahead of time. Sub raiders should only be removed from the raid for behavioural (or connection-related) reasons.

In MCA, attendance of four out of every six raids is required to earn and maintain reserved status. However, just meeting this requirement does not automatically grant a person reserved status; the final say is always with the individual raid leader. A raider leader may choose to keep a spot open because they need a particular class for balance, or because a regular raider is expected to return after an extended absence or for a number of other reasons. However, raid leaders must publish their reserved roster on their subforum so raiders players know where they stand in the raid. This is to prevent a raider from subbing for a number of months without knowing they are not considered reserved, and then being replaced unexpectantly by someone’s guildmate or friend. However, raid leaders should be aware that if they hold a spot for too long without offering the player a reserved spot, that that member may lose interest in the raid and they may lose the player they have been gearing and training for weeks.

Lastly, it is important to consider that an 80% guild roster can earn guilds achievements and experience and because of this, lot of guilds will try to maintain this ratio even in a raiding alliance. It is important that these raids be allowed to do so, however it is paramount that these raids still understand the premise of equality among members. Your leadership must establish policies to make sure that the other 20% of the raid is treated equally, with equal access to loot, funds and other advantages you offer to your raid membership.

Raider Responsibility Policy

Another universal policy you may wish to establish is regarding what things each raider is individually responsible for. In a raiding alliance, this usually extends far beyond what might be provided by a guild raid with a shared bank.

If each raider is expected to bring their own food, flasks, reagents, and gold for repairs, this should be clarified in the form of official policy. The rules should also be explicit if raiders are expected to keep their gear enchanted and gemmed proactively and on their own dime. Consider unique situations like resistance gear, too.  If a raider is expected to maintain the spec, talents and glyphs that he or she signed up with (you might never think that your main tank would show up one day spec’d Retribution and demand to DPS, but it can happen!) or if a raider is expected to change talents or roles at the demand of the raid leader, this should also be set as official policy.

These rules can be set alliance-wide or by each individual raid. If each raid takes its own approach, you should require the raid leader to post their policy on their sub forums.

Summary

The basic message your small guild should take from all of this is:

• Approach guilds with similar skills, attitude and schedule to raid together.
• Use a shared chat channel and web forums for recruiting and communication.
• Treat all members equally, regardless of guild affiliation.
• Reward subs and encourage them to keep raiding with you.
• Establish standardised rules and policies for all raids to follow.

If you think your guild or server can benefit from a raiding alliance, don’t wait for someone else to start one.  Get out there and work with friendly guilds to make it happen!  Good luck!