When the Levee Breaks

2007543-lg Sometimes you just have those nights when the stars are aligned against you.  Last night was one of these nights, that for a whole series of events that could not be avoided lead to a very painful experience.  All of the members in attendance performed to the best of their abilities, paid attention on all encounters, worked amazingly well as a team…  the problem is there simply were not enough of them available.  We had to PUG in 6 players who were massively under geared for the encounters we were doing, and as a result performed much like extremely under geared players.

With the onset of summer this seems to be coming to be more and more of an issue.  Duranub is made up of mostly “30 something’s” with honest to god lives outside of the game.  As a result things come up that make them unavailable at times.  Lately these have been happening in clusters, where we either have a feast of great players available, or we are having to scrape hard to be able to pull together any raid at all.  Nothing is more frustrating than desperately working your friends list and social channels trying to make those last few players magically appear.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

20080628002112_bridge over troubled water small So here we stand at a very difficult decision point.  We need to somehow bridge this gap in our membership, so that we can continue to keep moving forward.  We have never really recruited members openly.  Our raid has been one that has grown organically through our network of friends and family, growing as players came available and fit well with our mixture of personalities.  However there has been a rash of players needing to hang up their hat temporarily, encountering everything from spousal aggro to complete and total system meltdowns.  With each absence from the group our pool of alternate players has been stretched thinner forcing us to take players who are either underperforming or not quite on the gear level of the encounters we face.

The biggest question standing before us is, where do you find good players?  It’s often hard to find dedicated and skilled players who are at the same time not mercenaries or elitist jerks.  We have carefully fit players for our overall group dynamic as a whole, often times taking players who mean well and are hard workers over players who are genius players but know it.  I’ve always been a cautious warden of the mixture of personalities our raid has, and the thought of moving to open cattle call recruiting really concerns me.

A Few Good Men… Women… Peoples?

uncle_sam No matter how distasteful recruitment is to me, we have to do something, and do it quickly.  We have all worked and fought too hard to make this raid work, to let it start to flicker out through lapses in attendance.  We have a lot of positives on our side.  Our loot system is very open to new players allowing them to often times win gear on their first outing.  The fact that we raid separate from guilds, and later in the evening appeals to many older social gamers, who are like me unwilling to leave their guild just to raid.  All this paired, with the fact that we are fairly successful considering we only raid 5 hours per week should put us in the positive column for many of the players that would fit our group dynamic.

Right now we are trying to furiously work all our contacts and reel in any players who have been waiting in the wings for something to open up.  On top of this, we posted on WoW Headhunter, a nifty tool for fielding incoming applications.  It allows players to apply directly through there and offers some cool tools for promoting your recruitment drive, which I am embedding below.

In addition to WoW headhunter, I re-upped my recruitment post on WoWRaid.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you are looking at it, their UI appears to be broken and even though I only clicked the four bosses we had downed in Ulduar, it is giving us credit for clearing the zone.  We had actually already received one player through this tool, but unfortunately he was quite a bit under geared for Ulduar.  This is one of the weaknesses we have.  Since we only have 5 hours of official raiding time, there is no time to farm old content for the purpose of gearing up new members.  I fear we are going to have to do some kind of official “un-official” 25 man Naxxramas weekly as we try and gear up a new crop of players.

 

If you are on the Argent Dawn server and looking for a good place to hang your hat, please consider applying.

Failure for Winners

There is not a single player who can honestly state that they enjoy a night filled with wipes.  However a good failure can often times do more for your raid than an easy win.  When you steamroll content, much like players did in Naxxramas, there were little to no lessons learned.  However in the face of a hard fought battle, it presents the opportunity for players to truly evaluate their own role in the raid, and how best they can modify their actions to provide that elusive win.  Most raid groups see failure as a bad thing, but in the light of new content, I see how we fail as being far more important than how we succeed.

Fail Often, and Fail Well!

I present to you the concept of how to “fail” successfully.  My goal in this post is to outline some of the basic processes that a good raid should go through as they present content that is obviously kicking their butts.  Like anything in this game, or life in general, failure gives you the opportunity to fully understand why things are going wrong and as a result give you insight in how to fix the issues at hand. 

There is a concept called “deep practice”, quickly gaining popularity in the sporting world.  It revolves around the concept of understanding your mistakes, diagnosing them, and then adjusting them in small batches until the whole activity becomes easier.  This same basic approach can quickly turn a fight that your raid cannot seem to grasp into a farmed encounter.

Diagnose the Problem

Give the problem a careful eye The first step in fixing and issue is understanding what caused it in the first place.  You need to quickly deconstruct the issue at hand.  View the situation quickly from all angles.  Did the tank take an unexpected burst of damage?  Did adds not get handled correctly?  Did players die to environmental damage or were not in the right place at the right time?  You need to take a critical eye at the previous attempt, outline what mistakes were made, and address them openly.

So many times this can break down a read into a flurry of accusations, where each player is certain they did nothing wrong.  It is important for everyone to be willing to evaluate their own performance as it pertains to that of the whole.  If for some reason, a player is getting overwhelmed in their role there is no shame in asking for some assistance.  Last week on XT, our mages were being overwhelmed by adds and unable to pour out enough damage to keep them cleared.  As soon as this key fault was identified we adjusted and came back the next attempt and pulled out a victory.

A willingness to view your own actions with an introspective eye is crucial.  You must be willing to accept faults as you make them, and at the same time be willing to adjust accordingly.  There have been many fights where the issue sat on my shoulders.  I don’t believe anyone thinks I am a lesser player for having screwed up.  But instead respected me, for admitting it freely and in turn trying to decide how to effect a change.

Brainstorm the Solution

Throw out ideas Once the problem is understood, comes the hard phase of deciding how best to fix it.  One of the mistakes we made early in the process of Duranub, is to try and take all strategy discussion offline.  We have traditionally done this in channel separate from the raid, letting the strategists brainstorm a solution.  We are slowly trying to change this.  I believe now that it is key to involve as much of the raid as possible in the process.

The druid that rarely speaks up, might just have noticed something that the rest of the group has not.  Sometimes these little revelations provide the evidence that adds up to the answer.  Critical thinking is key in the process of crafting an alternate change.  Discuss the tanking, the dps, the add management, the healing, and the placement.  You can quickly determine which components were working well, and which need adjustments.

Be Flexible and Willing to Change

FlexibleWire It’s hard to think for yourself sometimes.  In a game like WoW we get to draw on the experience of the players who have come before us, but at the same time these experiences can often times pollute our own thought processes.  If a strategy is not working for you, then its important that you are willing to adjust to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of your group.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned is there is no one right way. Reading Tankspot, WoWWiki, and StratFu can give you a basic understanding of the working parts, but ultimate you need tailor your strategy to fit your own group.

In a previous raid group, we struggled with a certain fight for over a month, in part because of the inflexibility of our strategy.  With bullheaded certainty we kept attacking the encounter with fervent certainty that we were “doing it right”.  Benjamin Franklin said that "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”.  The week our leadership finally accepted the concept that there might be an easier way, and adjusted to handling the adds in a different manner we got our first kill.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is only one means to an end.

Never Give Up

Stay Stalwart.... no Pun Intended It’s easy to, as my father says, “Get your dobber in the dirt”, and stop trying as hard as you should be when things seem hopeless.  This is the natural response when presented with a task, that seems insurmountable.  Much like working a rubic’s cube, if you diagnose the problems, make adjustments and try again, sooner or later the pieces will slide together.  Many times when you fix one issue, it will lead to uncovering a problem that was somehow hidden.  The important part is your resolve to keep at the task at hand until all the issues are resolved.

As a programmer, I have never written a single piece of software that ran flawlessly the first time.  There are always little tweaks, changes, fixes, that come out through the process of debugging.  As a leader and member of your raid, you have to be willing to “debug” everything around you.  Start with yourself, and move outward, fixing each problem you see as you go. 

Often times you can spot an issue that you have already solved in the players around you.  As you give advice to your fellow players, its important that you do so in a gracious and non-judgmental fashion.  Many times players are “screwing up”, in the first place because they either do not understand the situation or their role in it.  Aggressively going after another player only causes them to close down to suggestions, and in the end leads to a disgruntled member who won’t be giving their all to the group.  As I have said before, raiding is a team sport, and its important that we all arrive together at the same place.

Always Remember

Elephants Never Forget! This is probably the most important part of the equation.  While things get a new coat of paint from time to time, there are very few truly new things.  Each encounter you see from this point on will have some connection to activates you have done in your past.  How many times have you heard a seasoned raider describe a current fight to working like an old world encounter with only a minor twist.  If you can reach a point where you can easily identify this connective tissue ahead of time, you will be able to adjust and more accurately build solutions.  Your experience counts, so its important for you to remember the problem as well as the solution.

Taking one for the Team

Iron Balls McGinty!! When the 3.1 patch landed, most warrior tanks like myself were excited about the prospect of finally being able to pick up a solid dps spec without having to sacrifice our tanking ability.  This was a fun notion for awhile, and through the course of running a good deal of 10 and 25 man content, I had amassed a decent fury and arms gear set.  I have been able to shift to my present fury offspec and deal a good amount of damage when needed.

However the grand idea about having two specs was that in some way it would make grinding quests and farming materials more enjoyable.  Alas this really wasn’t the case, as all the sudden I started having to carry non-stat food and more bandages for the purpose of…  healing.  Gone was the ability to roll from pack to pack with no downtime and no need for any healing.  No longer could I easily solo over world elites that seem to pop up from time to time in Icecrown when you least expect them.

So what do I end up doing?  I end up carrying around a set of dps gear that never gets used as I continue to grind happily in full protection gear and tanking spec.  Of late the fact that I have this unused second slot has begun to bother me.  I have a level 80 Boomkin that is getting to be pretty well geared, and a 80 Retribution paladin who is more than ready for Ulduar dps.  Trying to maintain the notion of Belghast as any form of DPSer already seems pretty defeatist compared to my other options.

Cookie Specs are fail

Evil Cookie Cutter of Puzzling Doom! I’ve never been a huge proponent of the cookie cutter spec.  While I generally suggest a newer player “pick” one of the general spec designs I view these like riding a bicycle with training wheels on.  You use the tried and tested design until you get a feel for your own particular play style, and then after that you choose a spec that is tailored towards your own style.  If you look at most of the higher end players, they make little deviations here and there from the “accepted best spec”.

In a raid I have been expected to fill two very distinct roles.  I am our main tank, meaning that I need really solid single target threat generation.  This role also requires that I have as many tricks up my sleeve for being able to survive those big boss hits.  There are many talents available on the fringes of the trees that offer some added survival.  In addition the deep wounds ability allows you to general really great single target threat.

The second role I play in a raid is tanking trash, and even though blizzard denoted that Ulduar was the crowd control instance… we still end up pulling everything and AOE tanking it down. In this role you need to general a lot of threat on as many targets as possible.  The bread and butter of this process has been the glyph of cleaving.  This allows me to hit 3 targets with the equivalent of a Heroic Strike, which is really great for pissing off many of targets at the same time.  Combining this with Thunder Clap and Shockwave allows the warrior to have much of the same AOE tanking utility of a paladin, even if we have to work much harder to get it.

As a result of these two very different roles I have been forced to shoot down the middle and build a hybrid design that attempts to be the best of both worlds.  Going with a hybrid design means that I am losing some of my survival ability, but also not maximizing my potential for AOE threat generation.  I have been kicking around the idea for awhile of scrapping my unused DPS spec, for the purpose of designating two very distinct and unique builds for the purpose of being the best I can be at both roles.

Making Lots of People Angry… at once

Whirlwind!!! RUN AWAY!!! Okay so the first design I have been kicking around is a build to attempt to maximize the warrior talents for the purpose of generating AOE threat.  Several weeks back I experimented with a build that used Unbridled Wrath, and Improved Cleave in order to give me massive AOE spamming damage.  This turned out to be a great build for tanking heroics and trash, but a fairly horrible build for boss tanking, as I had more rage than I could ever actually spend, and as a result had to give up some of my defensive ability.  However for the purpose of building my new AOE tanking spec, this served as a great building block.

5 / 15 / 51

The build is much the same as my previous design with one small tweak.  Since the entire purpose of my spec is to the best job at holding multiple targets I added Piercing Howl, which should do well at both adding cheap threat to a large number of targets, and dazing targets for the purpose of kiting them.  I only go 5 pts into the arms tree since talents like Improved Heroic Strike are defeatist for this design.  I will be using Cleave as my aggro dump, and for the most part will only ever touch Heroic Strike if I find myself taking enough damage to peg my rage.

Primary Abilities

    

Glyph of ShockwaveGlyph of CleavingGlyph of Vigilance

Other major usage abilities will apply like Revenge if its available, but the above are the primary attacks.  If sword and board procs we will be hitting the primary target with a free Shield Slam, but much like the revenge procs since single target aggro is not our focus I did not directly list them in the mix.  The goal of the build is to be able to charge into a pack and hit as many targets hard and fast so that your AOE does not have to hold back for long.  We are using the Glyph of Vigilance for the purpose of placing this on your primary AOE damage dealer.  This spec design is untested at this point, but I plan on giving it a thorough  workout tonight in 10 Man Ulduar.

How not to get hurt… srsly

Cute but DeadlyThe second spec is built around the concept of dropping some of the AOE friendly warrior talents in order to buff up some of the survivability.  Since we wont be needing to AOE tank things, it allows us to drop some of the talents like Improved Thunder Clap and Shockwave, and pick up some talents like Improved Disciplines that give you more survivability.  In addition to these we move down far enough into the arms tree to pick up Deep Wounds, which will give me a great threat return on rage spent.

16 / 3 / 52

Primary Abilities

 

Glyph of BlockingGlyph of Last StandGlyph of Shield Wall

Like most single target builds this is designed to use Shield Slam and Revenge if they are up, then I throw in the usage of Concussion Blow because it is a high threat ability with a long recycle.  Last priority is to stack Devastate and use Heroic Strike as your rage dump.  We are relying on Glyph of Blocking to be proccing often from the shield slams and giving us a constant flow of Revenge ability procs.  Glyph of Last Stand and Glyph of Shield Wall are in the mix to give us faster recycle on our primary oh shit buttons for maximum survivability.  This will play a more critical role on longer fights, where I will be able to use these more frequently to give healing a break.  Again this build has not been tested fully, but I plan on giving it a work out in 10 man Ulduar tonight as well.

Bulletproof

I'm the Juggernaut Biatch! Well… not really, but my idea is to be able to be the best of both worlds.  Sure I lose my ability to “lolfury dps” in instances, but I also add more utility to the raid as a whole.  Hopefully allowing me to shift from being the best single target tank, to being one of the best AOE tanks at the push of a button.  I created Belghast solely for the purpose of tanking, so its fitting that as we gain more flexibility with our classes, I turn around and use it to become a better tank.  Besides, when you have 3 fairly well geared 80s, you can afford to specialize each of them for a unique purpose.

My goal as always, is to be the best tank I can be and I think this new path is going to lead me to that goal.  I want to be able to generate as much threat as I can, but at the same time be easy for my healers to heal.  It is all about the team effort, and I think being able to switch hit between two distinct tanking roles will give me a lot of options as we move through the content.  The single target build will give me the survivability I need for progression content, and the AOE build will allow me to still tank content below my gear level easily without rage starvation.

 

Belghast – Soon to be Prot/Prot Warrior

Herding Cats

Roll'em Roll'em Roll'em “Herding Cats” is the term I have used many times when trying to describe the process of leading a 25 man raid.  Trying to take 24 other unique personalities, skillsets, and agendas and somehow get them to meld into one purpose is mindboggling at times.  It is quite literally like trying to get a room full of cats to all march into the bedroom at the same time.  Most of the time I can’t even get my cats stop trying to lay between me and the keyboard.

This week was a pretty solid one.  As mentioned earlier we downed Leviathan and Razorscale on Tuesday and after a few attempts managed to get our first Ignis kill.  This left us our entire Thursday raid to work on pulling together the XT-002 Deconstructor fight.  Last week the impromptu 10 man Ulduar I was part of managed to nail this fight without much issues, so the officers at least knew the basics of the fight first hand.  It came down to a matter of testing our ability to convey the basic concepts and get 24 other people to function as needed.

Nine Lives Lost

xt002_down Over the course of nine attempts, we tweaked, prodded, and changed strategies trying to tighten up the fight and improve our performance.  We tried several things in the mix; having everyone clump up, having everyone spread out, mages take care of the corners.  The final magical mix for us at least turned out to be, a deathknight picking up the pummelers, and mages and hunters handling the bombs.  After each heart phase ALL dps would fan out and clear the scrapbots, then return to the boss to burn him to the phase.

While it took us many of attempts, each time we got a little bit closer to the goal.  We had players who had never really spoken up before, calling out status updates and giving suggestions.  The communication of the raid was better than it really ever has been to this point.  We had a few problem children causing several of the wipes but with time we adjusted strategies to take this into account.  One of the pieces we realized late in the game is that the scrap-bots were literally too much for our mages to handle alone.  Once we had all of our DPS fan out and clean up the adds, we were able to burn him the entire way.  We moved more quickly and efficiently.  We managed to get our first XT-002 kill and at the same time get two different achievements.

xt002deconstructor

Signet of the EarthshakerThunderfall TotemTwisted Visage

Heroic: Nerf Gravity BombsHeroic: Nerf Engineering

We got our second click moment for the week.  There were so many great performances this week, but I have to give some extra special kudos to our heal team.  This is a very heavy damage fight, and required a constant stream of heals flowing into me to keep me upright.  For most of the fight each hit I was receiving was between 20,000-25,000 damage per swing.  So if I did not have complete faith in my healers there is no way I could have tanked this fight.  After awhile you just have to keep your head down and stop watching your bar so closely.  Careful use of my oh shit buttons, and communicating it with my healers I think helped the fight overall.

No Gain Without Pain

The day after I am starting to get some rumbling about various members of our raid complaining about the large number of wipes last night.  Unfortunately…  we are now doing REAL raid content, and wiping while learning is the stark reality of progress.  I blame Karazhan and Naxxramas for bringing about a feeling that raid bosses should be pretty easily learned.  In truth I don’t feel like anything we did in Naxx was terribly hard, it was a simple matter of stopping people from doing stupid things.

In Ulduar the fights so far all have one or two aspects that are raid wiping events.  One player not doing what they should be doing can start a cascade effect leading to the ultimate death of the raid.  Sure we wiped nine times before we got the mix down, but the fight attempt, as evidenced by the fact we got two achievements, was a near flawless execution.  I personally would far rather spend one entire night working on getting a fight stable, so that when it finally clicks into place we know we have it solid, than spending dragging the learning process out over a few weeks.  Each rapid succession try allowed us to adjust quickly to see what was going to work for us and what was ultimate not.

Ulduar is quickly sifting the players into two groups;  those who are progression focused and willing to do whatever it takes to make our raid better, and those who probably would have preferred to stay farming Naxxramas.  Progression hurts, but until another raid member can beat my repair bills I will probably continue to have little sympathy.  Were we not making progress last night, we would have not kept pushing forward.  However each individual attempt got us a little bit closer to the goal, allowing us to tune the effort and push out a win.

We proved we were better than we have been

Can’t Brain… has the dumb

Sitting here at home today sick and as of yet unable to think of anything worthy of actually posting.  I had promised myself that I would be posting something everyday even if completely silly.  So here I am confronted with the process of making good on that threat. 

I’ve been to the doctor and several powerful meds to remove this debuff from me.  Luckily thusfar however my evil Asthma has yet to rear its ugly head.  In the absence of real content I thought a good compromise would be to post a few links to things I found good this week.

It’s Just a Game

There is a great guest post up on Larisa’s Pink Pigtail Inn, a great blog for those not currently reading it, talking about the dissatisfaction with players excusing actions with the denial of “It’s Just a Game”.  It’s a great read, but left me with the realization that we the bloggers are the cheerleaders that wow needs.   That statement will make a lot more sense once you have read the post.

When to Use Shield Wall

Spinks over at Spinksville presents a nice concise guide to some of the thinking surrounding how best to determine when is the right time for you as a warrior to blow your most powerful cooldown;  Shield Wall.

Should you Gear, Gem and Enchant for Defense

A good discussion on the Tanking Tips blog regarding whether or not the process of specifically gearing and gemming for defense is a good idea or not.  Good read for warriors and asks some good questions.

Saying No To Cookie Cutter Builds

Sylly over at Rolling Hots has a good post from a druid perspective on how the cookie cutter build is not always the best for your playstyle.  Includes some great discussion on how to arrive at the build that is going to work for you best.

 

Real content will return soon

Click, Click,… Boom

Last week I stumbled across a great post on Achtung Panzercow entitled… The Tao of the Click.  After the rough week we had last week, I had almost decided to craft my own post called The Tao of the Clunk.  We were having one of those weeks when nothing really seemed to be going right.  We were short on healing, we were down a tank, and we were having to scrape hard to pull together 25 smiling faces to raid each night.  It very much felt like we were clunking along trying to get a break.

Over the tail end of the week and weekend we put much of effort into trying to smooth out some of our attendance.  I got the fun job I wrote about earlier of trying to help bring up a few of our wayward dps.  Through a good deal of adjustment, mobilization and some luck we pulled out one of our best performances thus far.  We managed a second Flame Leviathan one-shot and our very first Razorscale one-shot as well.

Gears Meshing

Last week it felt like at several points we were close to reaching that illusive click moment.  We understood the strategy for Ignis and would have promising starts, only to have things fall apart quickly.  When a key player would get placed in the pot it, a ripple effect would ensue.  After a short period of time we would get behind and start reliving the Lucy in the Chocolate Factory episode.  We had some fundamental issues with each aspect of the fight from healing, to add management and even shattering.  For the most part the movement would go smoothly, but players not stacking would often cause a scorch to go down in unexpected places, making it extremely hard for the add tanks to get the constructs molten.

We are one of those raids, that when we finally understand the fight it just happens.  It is very much the click moment that Panzercow talked about.  We needed the weekend to ponder the fight; what we were doing, what we could do better, and what elements were simply out of our control that we would have to adjust for accordingly.  When the pieces all fall into place it seems we move from impossible to farmed in a moments time.

So after two nights of focused attempts, we stood preparing for the pull.  Players executed, adjusted, and we managed to get him down to 40% on our first attempt of the night.  When we pull a single phase boss like this past 50% I know without a doubt we have the stuff to beat it.  It is just a matter of tightening things up and paying closer attention.  The second attempt starts rather inauspiciously with healing falling behind and me, the main tank, dying. 

Click

ignis_down This I think served as a much needed wake-up call to the entire raid.  In a moments time we were flying without a safety net, we had to be flawless now.  Admirably that is what happened.  Each and every player dug down into that intangible stash of grit, and pulled out an amazing performance.  Every single player kept their heads down, focused and lean, only paying attention to the job at hand.  Communications were quick and efficient, and directions kept clear and precise. 

I sat there watching helplessly as my raid learned how to conquer the fight.  I can’t pretend that these kind of things just happen.  I could tell that our members had pondered the fight all weekend long.  Each and every member did something, even if small, to improve the previous weeks performance and pull out the victory.  We downed Ignis, before the nerf, and that is something Blizzard can never lessen.  In fact we somehow managed to get the Shattered achievement in the process.

ignis

WorldcarverGirdle of EmbersIntensity

In other news we got our very first Fragment of Val’anyr from Razorscale.  It went to Elnore, our healing officer, and was very well deserved.  I hope they start coming more regularly so we can be close to crafting one by the time we down Yogg-Saron.  It was yet another week without a Titanguard drop, so once more I was both bummed and annoyed at the same time.  In pretty desperate need for a modern era tanking sword, so I am hoping that Ulduar stops being an ass soon and drops me one.  I let the only Last Laugh go uncontested to our second tank, because by similar bad luck she was still tanking with Red Sword of Courage from Utgarde Pinnacle.  Being a good friend tends to bite me in the ass in the long run, but I can’t change who I am.

Twisted Nether T-Shirt Contest

The good people over at the Twisted Nether Blogcast are hosting a T-Shirt design contest.  The hosts are resolved to attend blizzcon and want a nice shirt to wear showing off the website.  I decided I would throw my hat in the ring and try and cobble something together.  If anyone out there is feeling artistic its to support a good site and they are offering some nice prizes including a 60 day wow game card for first, and your choice of a common TCG loot card for second and third places.  The monstrosity below is my submission.

Blog Azeroth: A Good Guild

It’s a fairly crappy day here in Oklahoma.  It has been raining nonstop for weeks, and the ground is roughly the consistency of chocolate pudding.  The combination of overcast day, pounding rain, and my seemingly lack of solid sleep last night have put me in a mood not exactly conducive to creativity. 

Once more I am dipping into the well of ideas, known only as the Blog Azeroth shared topic.  In public channels and forums you often find someone asking for “A Good Guild”.  Copra from BA posed the question…  “what is a Good Guild from the standpoint of a player looking for guild OR from the standpoint of being in the guild?”.  Several of the regulars have now answered the call, but for some reason I guess I have saved the topic as an ace in the hole for a day much like today.

It’s the people… stupid!

It's PEOPLE!!!!  IT'S MADE FROM PEEEEEEOPLE Last night I found myself thinking those exact words as my friends slowly filtered offline to get some much needed sleep and bit by bit I found myself with little reason to be logged in at all.  It was too late to start anything new, having just pulled out of a 10 man Ulduar run.  As a couple of my best friends decided to call it for a night, I came to the stark realization that my enjoyment in the game is almost entirely tied up in the people that I play it with.  My guild is my extended family, that I have collected over the years.  So the most simple answer to “What is a Good Guild” in its most basic form is, “Good People”.

If you build it, they will come…  eventually

He Who Walks Out of the Rows! A good guild is like a snowball rolling down a hill.  While in motion it has it’s own gravity, drawing in players left and right.  However if it reaches the bottom of the hill and is allowed to stagnate it quickly melts and crumbles around you.  Just like a snowball you have to have a bit of good stuff gathered together before you can start it rolling in the first place.  Every guild needs a core to build upon, and a successful core is usually a group of close friends.  Finding the core group to build the guild around is the easy part.

The next step in guild evolution is the part that everyone seems to get wrong.  If the core stays a cohesive unit there is no room to grow.  In a game like wow you are locked to only being able to do things in fixed units of 5, 10, and 25 players.  If the core group is unwilling to be split up there is no room as new players enter the mix, and continue to feel as though they are outsiders.  Each of the core members must be willing to branch out and meet new people, as a result bringing many of them into the growing “clump”.

Some players fit well into the mix, others don’t but you have to have faith that the ones who understand the purpose will stick around and help the group grow.  The next important tenet is to make sure that you allow the guild to grow at the pace it needs to.  Every guild needs a fresh infusion of ideas from time to time, but just like in life it’s weakest point is during one of these growth spurts.  If too many new people enter the mix at once, you risk fragmenting a once close unit into a bunch of individual cliques.  It’s important to instead let the guild expand at the rate that seems natural.  There are going to be moments of rapid growth, but it is important to make sure you incorporate these new members into activities to let them gain a better foothold.

Staying in Motion

How exactly are we gonna get this snowman head onto the body? A guild that stays in motion, stays together.  It is important to develop a strong sense of community, and reinforce this each time new members join.  It is important to try and go out of your way to work new players into groups and activities, to let them carve out their own niche in the guild ecosystem.  It’s important that the members have a sense of ownership in the guild’s direction. The sense of community is reinforced by structure, and even in the most freeform of gatherings you need a strong backbone to build upon.

The Warders of the guild community are its leadership.  Building a strong group of officers is the greatest challenge a growing guild has.  You need to find officers who are willing to get their hands dirty and make positive change on the community.  At the same time you must carefully choose members who can handle the responsibility of carefully nudging the group without bending its will and purpose to their own desires.  You will often find that the best leaders are the ones who have reservation about accepting the position.  These are the members who most understand the challenges that the mantle of responsibility will present.

Building a Guild, Not a Raid

Leggo my Raido? In 2004 I took the responsibility of forming House Stalwart at the release of the World of Warcraft on the Argent Dawn server.  It was not a job I necessarily jumped into with great gusto, but I wanted to play this new game with people I enjoyed.  Based on bad experiences with tyrant guild leaders, I felt that I had to protect this fledgling community from ever letting that happen again.  I felt that I didn’t have it in myself to dominate the lives of others for my own personal gain.

With a group of close friends we sat about to gather up friends and comrades from various other games we had played throughout the years.  Drawing them all together under one banner with the purpose of providing a relaxed low drama community to be able to enjoy this new game.  We set out to build an extended family, not a raid group, and I feel that’s a key distinguishing factor.  I feel that building a successful community and building a successful raid are two separate but not exactly join goals.

A successful guild is built around a sense of community, shared destiny and joined purpose.  At its core is a center of friendship and camaraderie.  The structure and leadership reflects the goal of binding disparate players together in a cohesive union.  A good guild is a group of players that enjoy the company of each other.

A successful raid is built around a sense of achievement, shared skills and joined purpose.  At its core is a center of worth ethic and goals.  The structure and leadership reflects the goal of binding separate players together into a cohesive work unit able to execute orders for the good of the collective raid.  A good raid is a group of players with similar skill levels, competitive drive, and shared goals.

Know your purpose

I intend to use my special purpose every day! At their core the two are similar,but you can immediately tell that the cores of each are grounded in very different places.  It is important for you to know your personal focus and the focus of your guild.  I chose to build a guild and not a raid, and then in turn chose to build a raid independent of guilds.  House Stalwart has the clear focus of trying to be a good guild, in which players feel comfortable and happy to be part of the larger unit.  Duranub Raiding Company has a similarly clear focus, trying to be a good raid in which players feel like they are actively part of the success of the whole.  Each serves a very different purpose, but each exists successfully independent of the other.

I think one of the issues that shipwrecks many raid guilds is the attempt to be too many things to too many different people at once.  Guild drama is a horrible thing.  Raid drama is can be atrocious.  Raid Guild drama, however can reach near post apocalyptic levels that can from time to time shake entire server communities to its core.  Loot brings out the worst in everyone, and not having that distances between guild and raid means often that when things are not going well, there is no place someone can escape the ravages of war.

What is a good guild?

Riddle me this A Good guild most simply is a gather of good players.  Players who work together well, have common goals and common ethics.  The average player looking for “A Good Guild” in public channels, are simply looking a free ride in order to achieve whatever goals they personally have.  A true good guild, is however neither something that serves the player or that the players serve.  It is a community that experiences both the good and the bad, and somehow comes together, after it all, still working group as a group.  A “good guild” is a very rare thing in an often time self serving game like this.  When you find one, you should hold on with both hands and try not to let go.

 

I hope you are all lucky enough to find one

The WoWinsider effect

WoWInsidered First let me apologize for the lack of the new post on Friday.  I had been trying really hard to keep something fresh coming up every day.  However for lack of a better term I was overwhelmed.  Friday was a very busy day, I had been fighting with a bit of video at work trying to get it ripped and encoded and onto our webpage.  So from the start my blog post was going to be coming later that afternoon.

However around 2:30 that afternoon, my “keyboard turning” post was featured on WoW Insider.  My highest readership shot from 60 unique users to 6000+ unique users in a single day.  I was deluged with comments and did not get a chance to put up any new content.  Then the weekend happened and with it came a wedding, all the mothers day festivities and a night out with friends.  And while I had the cultural awakening of experiencing a “biker” wedding, it was not necessarily proper fodder for my blog.  I am hoping with the new week that things return to normal, but maybe with a bit of an increased readership.

Dirty Jobs

DirtyJobs_Video Where is Mike Rowe when you need him.  Of all of the jobs that falls upon the raid leadership, the most distasteful is pulling a member aside and talking to someone who has been underperforming.  You can look at the meters and see that something is drastically wrong… but I personally have no clue why.  Were it a warrior, rogue, paladin, or even a boomkin I would be able to look at their ability rotation and glean some basic understanding of the thought process they are going through to piece together their attacks.  However, I am presented with our present under performers being classes I have never played for any amount of time.

So I am forced to go into the battle under informed, and tackle issues that face “finger wigglers” when I have often had a disdain for actually playing a dps caster myself.  I am slowly adjusting to them myself, since I am trying my best to play as good of a Boomkin as I can.  I am trying to rely on players who seem to be doing a phenomenal job playing that class as a basis of comparison and a resource for suggestions.  However I still feel completely blind rushing into battle with someone who honestly feels like they are doing everything right.  I am hoping this gets easier with time.

In Naxxramas, we needed 15 players who were performing exceptionally, and could drag along 10 players who were under performing their classes either due to lack of gear or skill.  As we have moved into Ulduar this is not the case.  During many of the fights like Ignis we are literally 2 or so players away from a successful kill.  So I have taken it upon myself in a few cases, the uninformed habitual melee, to try and work with players and find out exactly what the issue is. 

I try and take the meters with a grain of salt, but at the same time feel that DPS should been fairly tightly clumped.  When there are outliers to the negative side, I feel those players are underperforming their abilities.  Someone has to be dead last, its a given, but when there is a wide gap between the DPS haves and have-nots, I feel there are other issues at work that can be adjusted.  We have actually managed to increase a few of these players performance through this process of talking to them…  so here is hoping that the latest crop can be effected the same.

300

300_Logo_Small I am still very much licking my wounds from our last trip into Ulduar.  Thursday night, our various attempts on Ignis ended up costing me around 300 gold for the night.  I am not really sure how much it was, all I know is I went in with 1600 something gold, and came out with 1300 something.  Granted many of those attempts included me getting battle-rezzed mid fight, so I took far more deaths than I would in a normal run.  But when each repair costs between 20-30g it adds up quickly.

Ulduar is giving us a much needed scrying stone that we’ve have never had before.  Considering the ease at which we moved through Naxxramas content, it was difficult to sort out the players that were doing well and the players that needed lots of work.  In truth it was more that so long as we were progressing smoothly we had more important “fish to fry” than to figure out why certain players never seemed to perform the way they should.  We should have taken time back then, but when the raid has been held up on the shoulders of two people for months…  we just did not have the bandwidth.

So now we have set in front of us a path that is going to force us to deal with the little issues standing in the way of success, and as a result force us to make significant efforts to recruit and replace those members who are not currently performing.  In the coming weeks I am sure there will be many feelings hurt, and many players who cannot see the big picture.  Players who won’t be able to separate the fact that anything I do, I do for the good of the raid, and not because of personal agenda. 

I have seen comments brought up already, that people want to play this game for fun and not like a job.  I agree this game should be fun, but fun for everyone.  Let me tell you, playing 300 gold for 2 1/2 hours worth of repairs is in no way fun, especially when it was caused by the fact that not all of the players were giving their full measure of devotion to the effort.  Wiping is not fun when there are many players fighting harder than they should to try and even out the effort.

The Hard Path

2003-08-15_Badlands_National_Park_foot_path_along_the_eroded_buttes_1 As a raid we have to accomplish in 5 hours a week what most raids do in 15.  The only way we will do this, is through the hard work of the entire raid.  This is going to take research on the part of each player in order to make sure they are doing everything they reasonably can.  Raiding is a team sport, and we can either allow ourselves to be beaten by it, or all rise to the occasion and get past our difficulties.

We’ve never been a hardcore raid, and I hope that we can continue approaching content in a casual but serious fashion.  However as a part of this, we as a raid with have to arrive at some form of a cultural ethics, and an agreed upon level of effort expected by every member.  The path ahead of us for the next few weeks I feel will not be our most enjoyable.

We are better than we have been

Keyboard Turning Is Killing Your Raid

I realize this is a very bold statement. I believe, however, it is as clearly as I can possibly state it.  The latent “keyboard turners”, are I am sure, offended, but there are times you have to be blunt.  It still seems astonishing the sheer number of players that use the inefficient method of turning with the keyboard alone.  This is an issue touted amongst the PVP circles, but in truth it is effecting your raid as well.

The act of rotating your character with the keyboard is physically slower than methods you can employ to turn with a mouse.  When you combine this with the fact that many fights in Warcraft require split second movement and decision making, this choice of turning means your reaction speed is greatly slowed.  Players who habitually move with the keyboard often have issues running out of area effect spells, staying out of the frontal cone of bosses, and can take as many as 2 extra ticks from environmental damage.  Standing in the “fire” for more than one tick means death for most classes. So quite literally keyboard turning might be killing your raid.

What caused the cultural divide?

The World of Warcraft engine was rather unique at the time of it’s release.  It combined the fast reaction time of a first person shooter, with the core of a role-playing game, creating a new paradigm appealing to proponents of both genres.  For players who cut their teeth on FPS games like Doom or Quake, the concept of using a mouse to turn is so ingrained that it is unimaginable to use any other method. 

However the large bulk of WoW players came from the older MMO genre.  These titles were for mostly designed around the concept of using the keyboard to turn.  Prior to Warcraft none of the MMO genre titles required fast paced reactionary movements, so this construct worked fine.  As players have moved from other titles to WoW, they have carried with them their game play habits and the game engine has done an amazing job of accommodating different play styles.  However in the case of keyboard turning it has simply reinforced bad habits.

How can I change my ways?

I’ve heard from the PVP circles that the single greatest thing you can do to improve your success is to abandon using the keyboard to turn.  This might be overstated but I believe that the transition is one that can benefit any player.  Using the keys to turn often means you are working harder than players for a less successful result.  There is an excellent guide to mouse movement on Allakhazams, but I will cover some of the finer points below. 

 

MouseMovement

Above is a basic diagram of the default key binds WoW uses for mouse movement.  The W and S keys are used to control Forwards and Backwards movement of your character.  However soon you will have picked up several tricks that make using the “Back key” in almost all situations obsolete.  So for optimal motion your left hand should be centered over the Q W E keys, with your middle finger resting on the W key, considering which will be depressed when you are in motion.  Your mouse should be held in a way that it is comfortable for your right mouse button to be depressed at almost all times. 

Holding the right mouse button while moving the mouse allows you to spin your character easily in an arc by pushing out or pulling in on the lower half of the mouse turning it sideways on your mousing surface.  The effectiveness of this can be increased by employing the Q or E keys to “Strafe”.  Strafing is the act of moving your character to either side, and when combined with mouse movement allows you to rotate your character in a much more subtle manner.  After awhile it becomes instinctual but this is after lots of practice.

Advanced tips and tricks

Using strafing in combination with with mouse movement allows you to do a number of “special” maneuvers that can be valuable in certain situations.

The Circle Strafe

circle_strafeThe “Circle Strafe” is a maneuver that allows you to orbit a single point in space.  This is extremely useful when you need to quickly circle a mob.  Normally this is used by melee or PVPers in order to land attacks on the backside of an opponent, which negates certain defense mechanics.  However as a tank I often use this tactic in order to spin certain mobs like Maexxna that I wish to place in a certain way.  This tactic is achieved by sliding the base of your mouse in the opposite direction you are strafing giving your movement a nice wide arc.  One of the best ways to practice this is to target a player and spin around them in a public area.  If done correctly you should be able to easily “orbit” them with minimal effort.

The Instant Turn

The next trick uses two features of the game that I have not covered: camera movement and moving forward with only the mouse.  If you hold down the left mouse button while sliding your mouse to the left or right you are able to rotate the camera around your character model.  As a tank I use this functionality during almost every fight, since I need to keep aware of my surroundings and the positioning of the individual mobs.  The next feature of the movement system is the fact that if you press down both mouse buttons at the same time, it causes you to move in the direction the camera is facing.  When you combine the two of these together, you can rotate the camera in any direction and simply by pressing the right mouse button while the left is held down you turn instantly in that direction.  This is especially useful on fights like Loken and Murmur that require the player to run out of a point blank blast effect.  Using this trick to instantly run away from a mob allows you to shave a good 2 seconds off of the process and allows you to move out of these effects with plenty of time to spare.

The Jump Spin

Using this trick properly allows you to quickly shift the position of your player while continuing motion in a forward direction.  This functions through a quirk in the WoW movement engine which allows you to rotate your character model completely while jumping.  This maneuver is performed while moving in a specific direction, most often while moving forward with the W key.  While moving forward you press your jump key, which is by default bound to the spacebar.  As your character model leaves the ground you slide your mouse to the left or right while holding down the right mouse button.  This will cause your player model to spin freely while in the air.  As you land, you will be facing in the direction that your model now is.  Hunters who are extremely quick about it, can jump, rotate, fire an instant shot, rotate back, and land without ever losing forward momentum.  Personally as a tank I use this trick often to run through a mob without ever exposing my backside to harmful attacks.

Pulling it all together

Shifting from keyboard turning to mouse movement will not cure all problems.  These tricks will not replace good situational awareness, but they will buy you much needed time to react to changes in the various fights of the game.  A player who simply does not pay attention will still “die in the fire” each and every time.  However a player with good reaction times and a high degree of movement skills will be able to move in and out of fights more freely.  For casters this means more time to land your attacks.  For melee players this can often mean the difference between life or death.

You should realize going into a major shift like this that it is not going to come immediately or easily.  However changing your movement style will make you a more efficient player.  One of the best means to practice this is by playing First Person shooters in your downtime.  A great free to play shooter is Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  It runs on the Quake3 engine but offers all of the basic constructs of game play driven by mouse movement and it is playable on both the PC and Mac platforms.  Another great resource is the positioning and movement video provided by Ciderhelm at Tankspot.

Getting That “Perm Spot”

A Primer on breaking into an existing raid

It is yet another Wednesday, and as is often the case with the morning after a raid I begin thinking about the various issues of the night before.  Last night was one of those rare concordance of the planets that served to get us an unusual drought of players.  It is something that happens in every raid, and this is the time that players who have been standing on the outskirts of the core are given a rare and special opportunity.  The opportunity to take a step up and get noticed, saving the day for the raid and as such improving their personal capital.

Too often however players prefer to wait for a “sure thing” before committing to showing up on a regular basis.  Being a raid leader I assure you, we notice the players who wait in the wings patiently for their turn at bat.  We also however notice the players who ask for special treatment, but are not there when the raid needs the additional support.  This is my attempt to put down on paper a good approach at how to carve out a niche for yourself in a well established raid.

Be Patient

Patiently Wait One of the negatives of running a raid is the fact that you need a much larger pool of available players than you have spots on any given night.  As a result when a player is brought into the pool of available players it does not mean they are necessarily filling a permanent vacancy.  Each leader and raid has a different way of managing this, but as I stated in an earlier post our system basically has newer members vying for spots that we are not able to fill through more seasoned players.  This means until a player gains a foothold, and proves their abilities against existing members they will be relegated to the role of “fill ins”.

One of the best traits you can have is being patient with the raid.  Asking for repeated updates as to whether or not there will be room for you that evening only serves to frustrate and annoy raid leadership.  If it is a raid worth joining, then you have assume that the leaders will take into account all available resources and choose the team that best suits each evening.  As a junior member of the raid, you should expect that there are going to be many nights where you will not make the cut.  However with time, openings appear and if you have a proven track record you will be able to slide into one of them more easily.

Be Ethical

Show Integrity I think it’s human nature to try and work whatever advantages you have available to you in order to achieve your own goals.  When it comes to getting into a raid this is a slipper slope.  If you truly want to become a lasting fixture in the raid structure, it is important for you to get in on your own merits.  Having another player acting as your arbitrator shows the leadership that you either lack the self confidence to stand on your own, or that you don’t respect the process.  When a player consistently tries to “pull the strings” it gets noticed quickly.

When you do finally get into a raid regularly its important for you to remember this as well.  The players who flit from officer to officer until they get the answer they were looking for are also noticed.  Players who consistently try and work the system earn a special disdain.  If you are honest and straightforward in all your dealings it gets noticed and you will develop a good reputation as a result.  It is important not to abuse your friendships, if you want them to last.

Be Available

Make yourself available It is important for you the prospective raider to be online, in the appropriate channels and ready for invites at the specified time.  Nothing frustrates a raid leader more than trying to chase down players when there is a shortage.  The players who show up every week regardless if they are “guaranteed” an invite stand out, and are the players who get into the raid.  Some raids have formal rules about being on “standby”, but even if the prospective raid does not, it is important to make every effort you can to be available.

Not being available when the invites for that night go out, is the surest way to get yourself skipped over.  It is a sign of disrespect for the member of the raid as a whole.  It is understandable that from time to time players will not be available, but when it is the rule not the exception you lower your value to the group effort.  Having a spotty attendance record before you have entered the raid fully, tends to almost guarantee that you will never be looked at as anything but a last minute fill-in. 

Be Humble

Accept Help and Critique When entering a raid, it is important that you leave your ego at the door.  Each raid has its own rules, strategies and procedures.  It does not matter how many times you have done an encounter before, when you are applying for a raid the burden lies on you to prove yourself.  Be willing to adapt to new methods and accept the way things are being done currently.  The last thing a leader wants to do is bring in someone who will upset the existing balance.

Players with an overdeveloped sense of bravado tend to have an underlying tapestry of insecurities.  The players who are humble and prove their worth through actions instead of words are the ones who stand out in the long run.  Accept advice and criticism graciously even when you feel it is unwarranted.  It is often the player who can meld the most seamlessly into a group that gets invited back the most often.  The players however who constantly subvert the natural progression of the raid, get left out.

Be Prepared

Boy Scouts had it right The number one thing you can do to impress a raid leader is to be fully prepared for all encounters.  The backbone of any raid is the player that shows up knowing the fights, geared properly, with all necessary consumables for the situation at hand.  These are the players who not only get invited back every week, but are the players who become the core of the raid.  If you integrate into the existing strategy, know your role, and execute it flawlessly it is almost guaranteed that you will get invited back often.

However if you show up to the event unprepared, unable to understand the basics of the fights at hand and do a half hearted job executing your duties there is no reason why a sane and rational leader would offer you a second chance.  There are simple cardinal rules of raiding, like don’t stand in shit unless otherwise told to, that when ignored immediately flags a player as not being “up to snuff”.  The “doing stupid stuff” quotient, already occurs amongst the active raiding population, but the surest way to pull yourself from contention for a regular invite is to be the guy that is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A few hours of your own time spent can often mean the difference between looking like a seasoned veteran, and looking like a complete failure

Be Reliable

Sturdy and Stable Every raid leader is looking for players that they can count on.  Everyone has their on days and off days, but it is important that each player provides consistent performance.  You need to make yourself the kind of player that the rest of the raid can depend on.  Often times this means showing up and doing each of the above topics, every chance you are presented.  You are the player applying to this raid, and no matter how you found yourself filling out that application, it is up to you to prove yourself to the entire group.

A player who gives an unreliable performance will find themselves passed over or even replaced by players who show up and give the same stable effort each week.  Accept the fact that you are the “low man on the totem pole”, and even embrace it.  Use it as a chance to prove yourself every single outing.  Excelling at the jobs that no one else in the raid wants, shows a willingness to work and adapt and before long you will find yourself one of those raid cornerstones.

Be Resilient

Roll with the punches In life, sometimes things just don’t work out quite the way you want them to.  Sometimes you do everything right and simply not get into the group.  When this happens, try not to take it personally.  Often times there are issues at work behind the scenes that you are not necessarily privy to.  If you consistently follow the theory of this post, and not starting to get invites then it may very well be time for you to move on.  Every raid has its own structure, tenants and style.  Not everyone is a fit for every environment, and when this happens be gracious and move to your next opportunity.

Following this approach will in most cases pull you from being an outsider to being a valued member in no time.  When you do finally get that coveted “Perm Spot”, realize all of the reasons that lead you to it.  It is important that you continue to strive to

  • Be Patient:     Not everything is going to go your way
  • Be Ethical:      Don’t abuse your relationship
  • Be Available:  Report on time ready to perform
  • Be Prepared:  Know your encounters and how your class fits in them
  • Be Reliable:    Deliver consistent performance
  • Be Resilient:   Be Gracious when things don’t go as expected

Be Exceptional