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

This is my… Boomkin!

Loamis da Boomkin! Getting up at 5:30 each morning is one of those facts of life I have come to accept.  I’ve never been known as a morning person, in fact I am barely verbal before 9 am.  However I have managed to adapt to normal society with only the occasional brutal mauling.  As a result, I have had to force myself to keep a hard cut-off time of midnight in order to retain any semblance of functionality.

Most nights this is no big deal, as generally everyone is shuffling off to their own warm beds around that time period.  Last night however, was one of those nights where I wish I could have had one more hour.  As I sit there, staring down the barrel of 12:01, I am standing in Storm Peaks only 4% away from level 80.  Pulling the plug was something I had to do, but god it was annoying to not be able to just push through and finish the level off that night.

Tree Huggers Unite

You can love the tree... just dont LOOOOVE the tree. I can’t really say what made me start leveling my druid, but over the last few months it has become my growing obsession.  There is a pattern in my alting habits.  When I reach a point where I can no longer progress my main, I start spending more and more time playing other characters.  After essentially maxing out my Warrior, and Paladin both of which have full epic main and off-spec sets, my attention rolled to another character.

I think my grand intention was to run my druid up to be a healer.  Considering at the time Druid healing seemed so ridiculously overpowered as a whole.  However this naive ideal was quickly destroyed by the fact that leveling Resto is as enjoyable as being repeatedly kicked in “the junk” rapid-fire, by a hyperactive 6 year old on a sugar rush.  That was the king of all run-on sentences, but it was required to relay exactly how horrid that notion was.  Having geared for spellpower already, and finding myself feeling retarded in cat and bear forms, the only option left was that of the noble chicken-man.

Decent into Madness

PUGs are not bads! So over the last few months I have been grinding away at leveling my Boomkin with the grand notion of having 3 raid lockouts.  Throughout the week I get a truly silly number of raid invites from friends and former raid members, all of which I want to be able to help out as much as I can.  However most of the time I am cautiously guarding my raid lockouts to help with official and un-official Duranub content.  Having a “throw away” raid lockout like I did in Burning Crusade with my rogue Renjihara was awesome.  I could help out the “friends of stalwart” groups who just needed a warm body that was not going to screw things up.

The problem with this proposal is that I detest questing with a passion.  However in wow, “quest grinding” is still the most efficient means of leveling.  So with my trusty Carbonite in hand, I set out to start burning through quests as fast as possible.  This for the most part works, but I am a dungeon runner, it’s in my blood.  I leveled Belghast through the outland almost exclusively by tanking instances, so I feel completely out of my element when not in the murky bowels of a dungeon.  This however presents a problem.

I am known for NOT pugging.  Being a fairly well respected tank with a good network of friends on the server, I have never really HAD to.  I can pretty reliably pull together a group of “known good” players from guild, raid, friends, and any of the numerous social channels.  Prior to playing up my druid, I have honestly NEVER used the Looking For Group tool.  After hearing horror stories from members of my guild, I avoided PUGs like the plague.  I figured why subject myself to the frustration when I didn’t actually HAVE to do it.

This issue with the concept was the fact that I chose to level my druid, during a period of “alt drought”.  So without a good pool of sub-80 players I was forced to do the unthinkable.  I hit “I”, chose a few dungeons and then went about my merry way.  Around 45 minutes later the first of many group invites came in, and I was running Utgarde Keep with the unwashed masses.  The shocking thing…  it was NOT a bad group.  We had a few issues with the fact that we were all under geared, but across the board the players were not the “horribad” troglodytes that our mothers warned us about.

Changing Instances, Gear…   Attitudes

How I Can Has Tree?!?So as I sit at almost level 80, I have run more than my share of PUGs as a boomkin.  And while I have encountered a few horrible players, for the most part they all seem to be seasoned players being forced to level their alternates via pick up grouping.  I would have to say the state of pugs at least in the sub-80 range is pretty good on Argent Dawn, and 4 out of 5 groups I have been in have been a rousing success. 

Granted, when I ding 80 and can start DPSing Heroics I will probably fall back into my anti-PUG habits, but for the time being I no longer fear the reaper.  Along the way I have even managed to add a few names to my friends list, and our guild gained a good Quebecois Warrior/Priest team.  When it comes time to level my next character, I don’t think I will shy away from the LFG tool quite as much as I have in the past.  I should be able to finish off 80 before the raid tonight, and over the next few days I will start frantically gearing Loamis

Now I just have to learn how to Tree…

Double Teamed: Childrens Week PVP

brat If you read my Noblegarden post, you well know the fact that I do not much enjoy holidays in the World of Warcraft, however being the loot-whore I am…  I feel compelled to do them in order to get the Violet Proto-Drake.  So when a holiday event comes up that involves a PVP component, the Argent Dawn server as a whole shudders.  While Argent Dawn has a few notable pvp organizers (tower), we are without a doubt the biggest blue stain on the Ruin battlegroup. 

During BC our players PVP’d for one reason and one reason alone…  welfare epics.  I freely admit to doing this myself in order to get my healadin a solid healing mace.  However when it comes to successful PVP, as a whole our server does every single thing that makes non-pvpers annoying.  Knowing this, we started over the last week trying to plot out best to help each other get our PVP achievements out of the way. 

We tackled things as a guild, trying to get 4-5 players in each battleground helping run cover for whoever was getting the achievements.  This for the most part was successful… however Blizzard single handedly brought every battleground to its knees this weekend, making play almost impossible for the cacophony of frustrated players actually trying to enjoy this aspect of the game.

It’s a hard-knock life

annie_jr_011 The villain of the weekend was the meta achievement, School of Hard Knocks.  While I do not oppose the notion of having PVP components to world events, I do however oppose the fact that often times Blizzard doesn’t take into account the effects of a wide reaching achievement like this will have on normal game play.  In each case the achievement led to bad habits in the battlegrounds making it hard for the game to actually progress.  I’m going to take a few minutes to go over each battleground achievement and how it leads to bad game play habits.

Capture the Flag in Eye of the Storm

ss1 As the subheading states the achievement in EoTS was to capture a flag and run it back to one of the bases your team held.  There are two major issues with this achievement.  For starters it was in fact EoTS weekend, meaning all the actual honor farmers were out and active.  The second issue is the fact that as soon as the game started every single player vying for the flag ran to the middle trying to capture it.

This behavior allowed the honor farmers to easily run around and capture at least 3 of the 4 objectives making it nearly impossible to run that precious flag anywhere capable of capturing it.  We were finally able to offset this however by running a group of us to one of the objectives in order to hold it, while a chosen member of the guild waited to pick the flag up and run it safely to us. 

I personally however did not get my achievement until Saturday morning.  The early morning crew tends to be populated with Aussies, who in general are more PVP oriented on Argent Dawn and as a result were actually playing to win.  Being a protection warrior, I was actually a good choice for running the flag and was allowed to do so rather easily.  However if you are trying to do this one during primetime, bring a group of 5 players.  Have 3 hold the objective, and one guard the player currently running the flag.  With any luck the rest of the BG will catch on and help in the process.

Assault a Flag in Arathi Basin

3358 Of the meta-achievements this is probably the easiest, and the only one that actually somewhat reinforces successful strategy.  Traditionally in Arathi Basin you have a roving squad of players alliance side that rolls from flag to flag never guarding anything.  This is for some reason the default mode that Alliance exist in, the zerg.

While there were still plenty of players zerging flags, the majority of players did fruitful things like guarding heavy horde targets like Farm and Blacksmith.  These objectives naturally have high turnovers, so within a few minutes we were able to get the meta on our entire party.  Unlike most players when we got the meta, we tended to start “playing to win” which helped out the battleground as a whole.

So my suggestions here for alliance players is once more to bring a group in with you.  Stick to attacking high turnover targets like Farm and Blacksmith, or as a Horde player go after Lumber mill and Stables.  Designate one player to cap at each time, and the rest of the party go on defense while the player caps.

Assault a tower in Alterac Valley

2597 For me this was another simple one to get, but it proved hard for some of our guild mates without a firm knowledge of the Alterac Valley map.  In the old world, this was THE battleground to play if you were alliance.  It was the only one we traditionally won, and as a result almost all of my raid buddies… myself included spent our time in game waiting in its queue.  As a result I know how to rush the relief hut with the best of them.

I spent a good deal of the weekend suffering from disconnects every 30 minutes (which lead to a fun time in ulduar), this however for AV was a good thing.  On one of my disconnects I ended up logging back in near Galv, with that tower untaken and no one guarding it.  I simply jaunted to the top and got my achievement in moments.  For the bulk of our guild this was not the case.

The AV game became a zerg rush to the nearest towers attempting to capture them.  For our two rogues participating this was childsplay.  Simply keep up with the pack on mounts and then when hitting the tower sprinting up to get the flag cap.  For our priest this was more than a bit difficult.  She finally got the achievement I believe by forcing her way to frost wolf and going after one of the towers there.  The first two towers were always contested all weekend long. 

As a side note, this is the first time I have ever heard players curse you for attacking and taking down Drek quickly.  Sadly this one is all about connection speed, reflexes, and luck.  I wish I could say that going in as a team would serve any kind of boon to players, but in truth it comes down to either lucking out and retaking a horde defended tower like I did, or being quick on the draw and simply beating the unwashed masses to the top.

Return a fallen flag in Warsong Gulch

3277 WSG, oh how I hate thee.  This battleground has without fail been my least favorite since inception.  With the achievement in play, it got worse.  The end result is that all 10 players hang out near the flag in the rare hopes of a horde trying to take it.  For the poor horde attempting, it means near certain death.  Of all of the battlegrounds WSG became the LEAST playable this weekend.  Getting the achievement became a brutal game of the “quickest fingers win” loot system.

Now comes the time for glaring stereotypes children.  In the ruin battleground, as a whole the Horde are FAR more pvp oriented than the alliance.  As such if you start capturing flags you will drag out an all out assault on the alliance base, it becomes a pride issue.  From what I could see, the best strategy here was a good frontal offense.  Build a good flag capture team and start running it.  After a capture or two you will have beat the horde players into a frothing mess, causing them to blindly strike at your flag to “catch up”.

When the “waaagh” takes hold, simply return to defense and pray your nimble fingers and beat the other players to the flag.  For the horde, I pray for you.  The alliance seem all to happy to stay inside our comfy base and camp the podium.  Getting the alliance to even attempt taking your flag has to be a feat in itself.  Whereas EoTS was the alliance bottleneck, I am sure WSG becomes the Horde Bottleneck in this event.

“School”s Out Forever!

INV_Misc_Toy_01 After a night of frustration I am done with yet another world event… forever.  It was however entertaining to hear, someone who is without a doubt our most calm and collected member turn into a frothing f-bomb dropping mess within the course of an evening of PVP.  In truth this title came far easier than i expected.  I am not sure if it was the fact that we organized ahead of time to knock out what we all believed to be the bottleneck or the fact that other than the PVP requirement the rest of them simply took a little time (or money for the food).

I loathed Noblegarden with a deep dark passion, but all in all Childrens Week was like a flu shot.  Slightly painful, but over quickly and easily forgotten.  I do think however when blizzard approaches PVP objectives, they need to seriously consider what type of impact their achievements have on players who simply want to get into a battleground and PVP for real.  The meta-achievements themselves lead players to play in a fashion that was not entire conducive to winning.  That tells me, that the meta-achievements themselves were poorly designed.

Suggestions for next year

If the blizzard designers took a few simple tweaks I feel it would make the achievements more successful.  I am leaving Arathi Basin out of it, since that one already works well for the way the battleground is played.

  • Capture and Objective or Flag in Eye of the Storm

This tweak allows players to actually take and hold objectives to get the achievement OR run the flag.  I feel this has two benefits.  Firstly it does not adversely effect gameplay, as it reinforces both taking and holding bases and capturing the flags.  Secondly it means that players who are not in the BG to win can completely their objective quickly and leave the game up to the players who actually care.

  • Assault or Defend an Objective in Alterac Valley

Opening this up to multiple objectives means that players can continue to play the map like they normally would allowing objects like graveyards, relief hut, and towers to count for the objective instead of just the towers means fewer players would zerg certain areas of the map.  Life goes on like normal for people actually trying to win the map.  You would still end up with contention over certain targets, but it would however give players a reason to actually stay on the defense trying to slow the opposing side’s progression.

  • Capture or Return a Flag in Warsong Gulch

This tweak allows players to ACTUALLY play the game and still get the achievement.  You would get equal credit for a good offense as a good defense.  This keeps in the theme that the meta-achievement should not cripple a battleground.

A few tweaks like this, and this holiday event will no longer be the painful pox on your small but dedicated PVP community.

Harpoons and Slagpots

razorscale_down Last night Duranub had our second outing in Ulduar.  It was one of those nights with tons of things going wrong out of the officers control.  Pulling together the raid was a bit less than easy, with more than a few of our solid core members having to be gone for various valid reasons.  Next we received command performances from a few of our most heinous serial AFKers with zero options to simply replace them and be done with it.  In addition to all of this, my connection was completely unstable causing  me, the main tank, to disconnect in the middle of a couple of solid razorscale attempts. 

All of these issues aside we managed to still come in, tighten up the razorscale strategy and pull out our first kill in spite of having two tanks DC in the middle of it.  It turned out to be a very frustrating night in general but all of that aside we performed very well on the content we managed to attempt.


Shoulders of MisfortuneBracers of the BroodmotherRemorse

After downing razor we moved in to Ignis putting in several attempts.  Towards the end of the night we seemed to be getting the rhythm of the fight down.  Sadly we ran out of time, but I believe that Tuesday we can tighten things up and with any bit of luck pull out our third boss kill.  I am still impressed with the difficulty, it seems to be the perfect balance.  I realize we have only been a few bosses into Ulduar, but I am greatly saddened by the news today that they appear to be nerfing by as much as half the damage taken from various effects within the zone.

nerf logo I understand tuning encounters when they fall into the category of being “cheap”.  Meaning there are overpowering attacks that cannot be predicted or mitigated in any reasonable fashion other than praying for good luck.  However so far every fight I have seen in Ulduar appears to simply be a matter of learning the pattern of the fight, knowing how to adjust to each change, and then executing well. 

Dumbing down content due to player whining always disturbs me a bit.  Maybe they are looking at the numbers and seeing larger majorities of raids wiping over and over to content, but to me Ulduar seems tuned JUST fine.  What I do see however is players who have been lulled into a sense of complacency by the “lol-easy-mode” content that was Naxxramas.  Several raid groups I am friends with, each have a faction of players who just want to return to farming Naxx because Ulduar is ‘”too hard”. 

The best things in life, are the things that are earned.

Rainy days and err… Thursdays?

1FAIL I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it is a dreary and sullen Thursday or that I am under the gun to finish up a website replication component for a project here at work, but I have zero “oomph” create a passable blog today.  I promised myself that I would try and post at least something everyday so what you are getting now is the result.  For those of you not old enough to get the title…  [click here carefully]

I am continuing my descent into the wow blogosphere.  Been connecting a bit with some of the other authors and spending a good deal of time between tasks reading various topics.  I figure it might be at least an informative topic to share some of the things I found interesting.

You down with CPP?

VB002206.tif Stabs over at Death Knight Spree presents us with the concept known as the Consumer-Producer Paradigm as applied to MMO games like WoW.  The 500 ft view is that essentially everyone breaks down into the role of consumer or producer in this game, and various classes tend to split along certain lines.  Stabs has a short questionnaire to help you determine which role you play.  On the quiz I scored 6 to 3 that I was a producer, which based on the theory is pretty obvious considering I’m a guild and raid leader.

I think it’s a nice clean elegant theory, but in real application it breaks down a bit.  I don’t feel that anyone really can be defined in such simple terms.  I tend to think of players breaking into 4 basic groups, and I plan on elaborating on this at a later date, but the quick summary is like this.

  • Proactive:  These players make up your leaders, they are the self starters who are either by choice or by lack of other options organizing and helping others.  Proactive represent the small group of players that make things happen and get the job done by giving the other players something to rally around.
  • Active:  These are the players that are always willing to help out and respond openly in chat when someone requests something.  They rarely organize a group but are the first to align themselves with an initiative when one is formed.  These are the supporting staff that no guild could survive without.
  • Reactive:  These are the players who want to participate but for some reason do not understand how to.  Either by shyness or unfamiliarity with others, they tend to only respond when contacted directly and asked point blank questions.  These players tend to be live on the fringe of activities, often times less than reliable, and often times bad with communicating their needs.  However with “handholding” they can become very valuable members of a team.
  • Inactive:  The Solo-artist.  These are the players that exist on the outsides of the group.  They play an MMO like a single player game, concerned with their own needs and only interacting with the community when they directly need something from another person.  Often times these players enter a guild on the coat tails of another member, but do not feel like they are a true part of the guild.

Nonetheless both approaches are food for thought.  There are several other bloggers discussing this concept but one of the better breakdowns comes from Larisa at The Pink Pigtail Inn.  I hope to revisit this whole concept in a proper post but for now I would just suggest you spend some time reading the posts.

Does the MMO Market ignore the female audience?

UltimateGamesForGirls There are several blogs out there to this effect, but one of the best posts I have read lately is from Spinks over on Spinksville entitled “Is it time to stop making MMOs for a hardcore male audience?”.  I am not sure what the magic bullet is, but considering there are more female gamers playing WoW than any previous MMO I have played it appears the blizzard has hit on a formula that is at least working.  Sure there are controversies, like bikini plate mail, and the playboy bunny quest.  Personally I find the image on the left for “Ultimate Games for Girls” more condescending but I was informed by a friend of mine that those are in fact games little girls like.  Both articles however are good reads and I suggest doing so.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Premium_Media I’ve been using the Curse Gaming updater for awhile now without any issue.  In fact I’ve gotten rather addicted to it.  Somehow I managed to get in on the beta test period for the premium features, so I have had access to all the nifty things like auto updating of add-ons for the entire time I have been running it.  Last night however, they shut off the morphine drip… and in a moment of weakness I subscribed for a year to their premium service.  I will let you guys know if they are in fact the devil.

I’m not entirely how, but I have managed to create a blog post… about nothing.  I promise real, semi-intelligent content soon!

Ulduar: Welcome to Raid Content

flameleviathan_down Last night was the much anticipated first Ulduar raid for Duranub Raiding Company.  Most other groups have been banging against the zone for two weeks, but we tend to take a more measured approach at things.  Our timetable was in part to account for the fact that playing on Argent Dawn after a major patch means you will be dealing with raid crippling lag and instance instability, which is especially true for a raid that starts late in the evening like we do.  The other component was to have a week to say goodbye to the tier 7.5 content and let everyone have one last shot at those items they never could get before.

Maybe this was a bad idea as last week ushered in some of the absolute worst performances our team has exhibited.  However I did end up with far fewer abyss crystals than previous weeks, and we had a good number of points exchanging hands as loot gear awarded.  Personally I was able to pick up a few items that had eluded me up to this point: Sabatons of Endurance and Rune of Repulsion.  Both items I believe well help with my personal survivability moving forward, which is pretty great being the main tank and all.

The Confused Start

After explaining the fight, sorting out vehicle assignments… and re-explaining the fight we started roughly 40 minutes behind schedule.  For some raids this wouldn’t be a huge ordeal, but for Duranub when you are talking about a pool of only 2 1/2 hours, 40 minutes lost means quite a lot.  We start clearing trash and folks start to get their feel for each of the vehicles.  It goes for the most part pretty smoothly, until we got to the courtyard for the Leviathan fight.

Before I can get the warning of not to pull the last two constructs we have already done it.  I start giving frantic instructions over ventrilo, and telling players to move up to the first “brown line” on the floor.  As predicted a few players were not paying attention and got locked out.  We fail miserably on this attempt across the board.  Nothing was done correctly, however this was to be expected. Leviathan is not one of those fights that you can really explain, you have to experience it.

Adding insult to injury, one of the locked out players draws aggro and Leviathan twitches through the gate.  This in turn resets the encounter, which would have been awesome had everyone moved out of range.  However we fail at this as well and he simply resets only to aggro again.  I call the wipe and we start running back, trying to tweak and fine tune things over officer chat and open ventrilo as we go.

Gears sliding into place

The next try things start to happen.  The cycles lay down a good kiting circle of tar and keep it up.  The siege engines and demolishers are better about kiting onto the tar.  The catapult team still for the most part fails, but we at least get a few players up top and get one overcharge phase.  The end result has us getting him down to 25%. I know that if we tighten up a few more things, we have this fight.

Some last minute tweaks go out over ventrilo and we try again.  For the first time we get the entire catapult team up top, and get an overcharge early into the fight.  The kiting is much better as a whole, and the motorcycles start doing a decent job of picking up players as they get knocked off.  The interrupts on flame jets are also happening pretty reliably.  Players are starting to communicate freely on ventrilo, calling out timers and aggro shifts.  All the gears engage and the fight just clicks.  While there was the frantic burndown that always seems to occur on a first kill.   We managed to pull across the finish line without much issue.


Iron Riveted War HelmMimiron’s Inferno CouplingsSteamworker’s Goggles

I am very proud of the team.  In all honestly, I was more than a bit on edge about last night. Our performances the week before had been extremely bad, however we all rose to the occasion and pulled out some excellent performances on progression content. 

We moved on to Razorscale and came close to the transition on one of our attempts.  That fight is going to take a good deal of organizing and fine tuning. However I was pretty pumped that we did not get completely blown out of the water, as I have heard so many raids do.  Without a doubt I feel we are truly ready to start making a dent in Ulduar.  Thursday we should tweak our strategy, get some solid attempts in, and with any luck a Razorscale death.

Raid Content:  I missed you

It feels so much that Ulduar is what Naxxramas should have been.  This is real actual raid content, and for the first time since the release of Wrath I felt actually challenged.  Naxxramas had a good number of stupidity checks, but if your players paid attention it was not unlikely that you could clear almost the entire thing on your first time in.  It was very much the Upper Blackrock Spire of Northrend.

Ulduar however in every aspect of the word feels epic.  God how I have missed this style of content.  I freely admit that it will take us months to clear the zone, and that fact excites me.  Each boss will be hard fought, and as a result will love every minute of it.  Sure, it is going to force our raid to step it’s game up.  Simply proving that we have a cerebellum will not cut it anymore.  But in the end, we will be a far better group for it.

Ulduar is the infusion that I needed to keep this game fresh and enjoyable.  Sure, I will be paying a hefty repair bill at the end of every night, but at least it will feel like I earned it.  In Naxxramas as the main tank, the only time I frequently died was when someone else screwed up (thaddius I hate you).  We never wiped because the fight was tough, or we did not understand the mechanics…  we wiped because someone was stupid.


Thanks Blizzard for bringing back raiding.

Blog Azeroth: How would you distribute the Legendary?

This is my first attempt at a “Shared Topic”.  I apologize to the good readers of Blog Azeroth as I did not really understand this concept at first.  But now that I at least think I do, I am attempting to “write” the wrong as it were.  The topic question was posted on the BA forums and for those who like me were not familiar with the concept of a shared topic, the idea is essentially to have multiple authors write about the same topic.  Feeling rather daring, here goes nothing.

Fragments of Sanity

inv_ingot_titansteel_red Honestly the issue of deciding who is going to get the Fragment of Val’anyr is something that somewhat “snuck up” on us and is fixing to “bite us in the butt”.  We stand on the precipice of our first Ulduar raid tonight, and the issue is still very much under discussion.  I feel confident that the officers will hash out something throughout the day and make our professional-esc decision before we start the invites tonight.

The whole issue of who gets the Fragments honestly gives me a massive feeling of Déjà Vu, as should it any group that’s been around long enough to have raided the original Naxxramas.  If you remember back into the annals of time we have dealt with this same issue regarding the Splinter of Atiesh used to create the previous omg-caster-legendary Atiesh.

The deciding of the loot process for it was somewhat of a debacle, but not because of the design.  The low drop rate combined with the general horrible luck that our raid had (never saw a single binding of the windseeker in 2 years of raiding MC) meant that nobody even got vaguely close to the “staff of awesomeness”.  What we were left with were a few scattered splinters and everyone with a nice hollow feeling.

The Shattered Plan

inv_ingot_titansteel_red As we now sit on the verge of our first foray into Ulduar I see that we are starting to arrive at a similar play for distribution.  The Elders have all agreed that this item is far too precious to allow it to go to something and fickle as random chance.  We use a Zero Sum dkp system with a 5 week vesting period, so in theory it would be conceivable for one of our less seasoned and dedicated players could wind up winning a pure bid war as well.  In addition, the last thing we want to do is reward a player who has been hording points and in essence hurting the performance of the raid by not taking upgrades.  Simply dictating which player is going to receive the item also seems heavy-handed and unfair.

We are far from a hardcore raid.  We only exist by the cohesion of the players, and in making this key decision we have to be conscious of this.  So right now the “best” avenue appears to be an open vote.  Our raid is organized into function teams;  The tank team, the healer team, the caster team, and the melee team.  Thanks to the dual specs, these lines are a little bit more blurry than they used to be but in general we still organize along those lines.  What appears to be the fairest method is to put choosing the first candidate for Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings up to a vote of the active primary healers.

The Theory

inv_mace_99 So as it stands right now, it is looking like a vote will be made by the active healers in the raid.  Who better to choose a worthy holder of the legendary weapon than those in the healing trenches?  To keep things fair and unbiased, the vote will be held in private tells to a non-healer officer and tabulated at the start of our raid tonight.  This player will become our first candidate for the epic.

Now the big point of debate is who much this “right” is going to cost the member, and how we are going to deal with points.  Since Zero Sum dkp works best when there is a steady trickle of points, as it stands right not we are looking at a fixed point per Fragment, and then a kicker cost a the end when the weapon is created.  This should serve two main purposes for the overall health of the raid.  The first is that the point drain will cause points to keep flowing into the system for the players who attend each raid where a fragment drops.  Secondly this places the chosen healer in a position where they are less likely to be able to contend with the other healers for “first drops”, making it at least fairer to all in the system.  If for some reason the chosen player cannot attend a raid on which a fragment drops, the spot of “second legendary” will be put up to an open bid.

Is this going to work?  Is this going to be fair to all players involved?  Is this even going to be the solution we wind up doing tonight?  In all honesty I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but for now it appears like for the good of our raid, this is the best possible solution.  Only time is going to tell whether or not this scheme is going to work better with Val’anyr than it did with Atiesh.  At least in this scenario we are dealing with a smaller pool of potential players, which in my mind can only help the process.

Holidays Suck: Noblegarden Edition


I had originally planned on this great post contrasting my 5 favorite raid mechanics and my 5 most hated raid mechanics, but on the day after Eggs-mageddon I had to post a note about the holiday event. First off, let me open this with the blanket statement of…  damn you Blizzard for giving me the carrot that is the Violet Proto Drake.  As a result, I am obsessed with obtaining every holiday title so that come brew fest I can get the drake. 

The key point here that you all need to know… is that I HATE the holiday events with deep burning passion.  I enjoy the events like brew fest, hallows eve, and fire festival because they have “bosses”.  Killing a boss over and over for epics is fun, doing a bazillion mind numbing meta-achievements however is not.  Needless to say, I am not the player this content was designed for, however I feel obsessed to conquer it much like a raid boss…  but in this case it isn’t for loot, its for the reward of never having to do it again.

Somehow I guess I had blotted out of my mind that yesterday would be lost completely to mindlessly playing a game of trying to get to the egg spawns before all the other players.  I was still logged in Saturday night/Sunday morning when the content rolled in and players in guild started talking about it.  I cringed knowing that my Sunday would be lost no matter how hard I tried to avoid doing so.  I found a sweet spot in Kharanos at the start where I could reach two eggs.  However anytime I was a second late clicking the egg as it would spawn, I would miss out and end up cursing wildly. 

I am not a friendly player during these events.  I turn into an obsessive and boorish asshole, and I decorated our guild chat with more expletives than I have said in months.  Why you ask?  Because my luck is horrible.  I was one of those 7/8 people back during the Valentines event.  I got 4 bags of candy, and managed to still wind up one candy short of the title.  So going into Noblegarden I expected that I was going to need the 305 chocolate candy that is required to acquire all of the BoP items needed to get the title.

Sad thing is… this assumption was not far off.  After 165 eggs carefully stole from unwitting players also vying for them I got my very first non chocolate drop, the White Tuxedo shirt.  Another 15 eggs later I got a duplicate.  I took a break after 205 eggs, and did the Chocoholic achievement, bought my Spring Robes and Spring Flowers and proceeded to try and get as many achievements done as I could, so I would at least feel like I had made some progress for wasting my entire day.

Honestly the Shake your Bunny-Maker achievement was far easier than I had thought it was going to be.  Honestly being able to dual box and log in a horde alt to communicate with players was invaluable, but I imagine that /beg and /wait used together would have done the same thing.  I set out to grab all the horde players first, and within a hour or so I had all of them knocked out.  Then I grabbed the rarer alliance first, leaving dwarf female for last since we have several of those in guild that I would harangue into coming to Dalaran.

Finally this left me with nothing left standing in the way of my title other than the Spring Rabbit.  So I grabbed a fresh drink and sat down resigned to knowing that I was going to have to farm up another 100 Chocolate Eggs in order to buy it and complete the title.  I had already done 205 to this point, I could handle another 100, I could brute force my way through this.  Finally my luck started to pay off, around egg 250 I got the Rabbit’s foot to drop.  After some ping ponging around the map, I got my Noble Gardner achievement and I was done with this hell by around 3:00 pm server.  So now I sit on the near side of the mount, 5/8 titles out of the way.

The stuff that didn’t suck…

The key point of the weekend was Saturday night I got asked to fill in as DPS in a friends semi-pug Ulduar raid.  They use the shroud system for loot, which I was unfamiliar with, but I went in to experience some of the fights and not for loot.  We are planning on taking Duranub into Ulduar for the first time this Tuesday, so to me any pre-game reconnaissance was invaluable since in a few short days I would be expected to lead the troops through the content.

We downed Flame Leviathan without much issue.  It’s a very fun fight, or at least I enjoyed it far more than I expected to with a “vehicle fight” (damn you Malygos phase 3, damn you all to hell!).  I played a chopper, which was ridiculously fun laying down patches of tar for the kiters.  I think honestly what makes this fight fun, is movement is in the 2D plane, no more trying to gauge distance and height and all that crap.  My friend Aigie who also went along on the run managed to pull out a winning bid on the epic priest gloves, so was I thought going to be our high point for the evening.

However we move on to Razorscale, and through much work we manage to down him.  This was coincidentally this groups first time doing so, so everyone was very pumped.  I click the corpse and see it… the object of my growing obsession.  See when it comes to loot, I tend to obsess over whatever item is the hardest to find a replacement for.  In BC it was The Unbreakable Will, in Naxxramas it was Slayer of the Lifeless, and there on the corpse was my current obession…  Veranus’ Bane.

I am thinking to myself… there is no way in hell I am getting it, but I will bid all my points.  Turns out, this group apparently has NO warrior tanks, and none of the dps were willing to risk any significant amount of points on an offspec ranged weapon.  So now here I sit, not even really raiding Ulduar in earnest yet with the best tank gun in the game already acquired. 


Life is good 🙂

To All The Blades I’ve Loved Before…

Most players develop some kind of emotional attachment to the various baubles that we pick up along the way in azeroth.  I’ve known players who sacrifice storage room for sets of gear, roleplaying clothing, various doodads from quests.  As a warrior, my fetish has always been the weapons I used to tank.  For some reason I have always developed a bond with them, and above any other piece of gear I aquire it is the one I am most likely to keep.

In fact my vault is littered with weapons that have long become outmoded and useless.  Looking back through it you can see a history of sorts of the progression I made as an “aggronaut”.


The Old World Era

During the old world, I was relegated to the role of a tanking alt.  Back then raided actively as a hunter, and a pretty piss poor one at that.  Lodin was the character I played for business, and Belghast the character I played for fun.  As a result I whored myself out to any group that would take me as a tank.  I managed to get experience tanking Ony, MC, BWL, ZG, AQ20, AQ40, and a little bit of Naxx.  I never had the best gear available, but I managed to accumulate enough to make me a viable tank in most situations.

 Ancient Hakkari Manslayer – This was my first real epic mainhand.  I remember how proud of I was of this weapon.  Back then House Stalwart was a mostly casual guild, and I was one of our few players that had an epic anything, let along an epic “tanking” weapon.  I used this thing with pride for months.  I still think it was one of the coolest weapons I have ever had the luck to swing.

 Bloodlord’s Defender – This was my first true tanking weapon.  I had been waiting for months to see one of these drop and when it finally did I beat out a few other tanks for it.  I swung this with pride all the way until Burning Crusade was released.  I never did manage to get an Aegis of the Blood God to drop in the time we were actively running Zul’gurub but I have since picked one up to use as a set.


The Burning Crusade Era

Burning crusade was the great equalizer.  Most players sat around and bellyached about replacing hard fought epic gear with quested greens, but for me I looked at it as an opportunity to catch up to those bulletproof tanks I admired so much.  It was in BC that I shifted my focus to be the best damned tank I could be.  In truth it was a good thing, most of the old guard of tanks had gotten disillusioned and moved on to dpsing so the voids were all too neatly filled by me who was more than willing to do the leg work.  While the expansion ultimately killed the Late Night Raiders, I was able to keep my contacts and keep raiding.

 Latro’s Shifting Sword – This was the first weapon that I used with any frequency in the outland.  While not technically designed by blizzard as a tanking weapon, it did an amazing job at generating aggro.  I’ve kept it all this time because of the graphic.  I still think this was the best looking sword of the BC era.  It has this whole futuristic swashbuckler appeal.  It only became cooler after sunwell when they introduced it as part of a new weapon set.

 The Sun Eater – I ran heroic Mechanar every day for 2 weeks before I finally saw this beauty drop.  After getting mine it started dropping every single time we went in.  Our mages, warlocks, rogues…  basically every player that could wield it had one for cosmetic purposes.  Still one of the best looking tanking weapons especially when enchanted with mongoose.

 King’s Defender – Yet another weapon that was hard to acquire for me.  I think we ran Kharazhan for 3 months before I saw a King’s Defender drop out of the chest.  This weapon was such the archetypal burning crusade tank weapon.  You weren’t a serious tank until you had this thing or better.

 Mallet of the Tides – This weapon and I have a love/hate relationship.  It was the be all end all tanking weapon of the day, but without a doubt the ugliest piece of shit the blizzard artists have ever thrust upon us.  I am pretty sure this was designed by a summer intern…  and simply never got replaced with a real graphic.  I keep it as a reminder of how awful the blizteam’s sense of style can be.

 The Unbreakable Will – The night this weapon dropped was one of my happiest moments in WoW.  If I did not clearly state it above, I hated the Mallet soooo badly that I was jumping out of my skin at the prospect of replacing it.  The side benefit was the fact that was hands down the best weapon a human warrior could wield.  It served as my best friend all of the way leveling through Northrend content.


Northrend – The Modern Era

While I am not sure you can really count these as classics yet, they are still adding to my armory of tanking history.  I am hoping to keep replacing them with better and better main hands all the way through the northrend dungeons.

 Red Sword of Courage – This is the defacto first Northrend tanking weapon.  While Utgarde Pinnacle is not the easiest of heroics, it takes the place of Sun Eater as your first farmable epic tanking weapon that can carry you onward.  Due to shitty luck, our secondary tank has been using this weapon all of the way through 25 man content only to be recently replaced by Last Laugh.

 Broken Promise – I picked this weapon up, wanting to test out tanking with a slow hard hitting mainhand.  It wasn’t for me, so this one hands out in my bag for fights where I am needing to conserve rage.  Not exacty the best looking weapon, but it is certainly unique.  There are many tanks out there using this one with pride.

 Slayer of the Lifeless – This was the one weapon I HAD to have before moving out of Naxx.  I wanted it back in the oldworld when it was called the Hungering Cold, and I like it all the same under its new name as well. For a human warrior I still believe this is the best pre-Ulduar tanking weapon, and as a result I still use this with pride.  I am however ready to replace it with a Titanguard as soon as I can.  I wanted this weapon for stupid reasons as well.  There is a DC Comics action figure that looks almost exactly like Belghast, and this is the badboy he is swinging.


A Weapon Out of Time

Every so often I get something stuck in my head and I have to acquire it out of all costs.  Towards the end of BC one of these mad quests hit me.  I had to track down Foror’s Compendium of Dragon Slaying at all costs.  After much farming of Dire Maul with no luck, I finally located the book on the horde auction house and traded it across in Booty Bay.

 Quel’serrar – In the classic game, I wanted this weapon more than almost anything.  I had no luck getting the book to drop, nor could I have ever afforded the 1500g price tag attached to it on my server.  So I stood at afar lusting over its awesomeness.  During the pre-Wrath boredom that sat in, this became my obsession and after lucking across the book for 200g I pulled together a spur of the moment Onyxia run late one night and forged the badboy.  Since then I have tanked all manner of content with it.  I find it a challenge trying to hold aggro with this old of a weapon. but damned does it look sexy.


The Naked truth

Now you all know what my personal obsession is in this game.  Everyone has one.  I know plenty of pet and mount collectors out there.  What are your obsessions?  What are the doodads you have littering your vault that you will never be able to bring yourself to part with?

The Dark Art of the Raid Invite

confused_bush Tonight is yet another Duranub raid night… something that I both look forward to and dread at the same time.  There is one aspect of being a raid leader that I will never get used to; the raid invite.  In lean times I hate trying to magically pull a workable raid group out of my ass, and in good times I hate trying to decide who is going to make the cut and who is going to have to twiddle their thumbs that evening.  No matter what decisions myself and the other officers make, it is always at great personal cost to my digestive tract.

Lately it’s come to my attention that many of the players who are late to the party simply think that I in some way do not like them, and that is the reason why they are not receiving regular invites.  While this came out in part on the empyreal forums this morning, I thought I would take some time to type up a post on my blog about it.  Maybe as a way to explain the thought process that goes into invites and some of the things that our players do that drive me up a wall.

The first concept players have to get into their heads is a confusing one.  Raid Leader Belghast, Guild Leader Belghast, and Friend Belghast are three completely different entities.  It’s like the triumvirate… and even less understandable.  When I am wearing my Raid Leader hat, my only concern is about the success of the raid and dealing with any issues that are in the way of us going in and clearing content quickly and efficiently.  We try our damnedest to leave our feelings out of it.  This doesn’t always work, but in general is a benchmark we try and work from.


7 Habits of Annoying Players (well just 2)

Please sir can I have some more?

domoPumpkin On any given raid night during the course of the evening I will have received a tell from 20 or so players each wanting some form of special “care and handling”.  There are two behaviors that just drive me up a wall.  The first one is the players, and this is a LARGE group who start messaging me the moment I log on during a raid night, and in some cases days before trying to “reserve” their space for the next raid.  Unfortunately the Duranub invite system is not a car rental company. 

The most common question myself and the other officers receive is…  “Is there room tonight for me?”.  In 99% of all cases the answer will always be “I won’t really know until we do invites.”.  Which is the gods honest truth.  Unless I know up front that one of our regular “core class” players is missing, then I do not know ahead of time whether or not there will be “Room in the Inn”.  Pressing the point only serves to make me either annoyed or feel like complete shit that I can’t give you a straight answer.

We Built this City… err Raid…

The next trait that just drives me up a freaking wall is…  the player that EXPECTS a raid invite.  It does not matter who you are, or how long you have been with a raid…  we are all expendable for the good of the raid.  This includes myself and any of the other raid officers.  The good of the group is our driving focus, and every night we try and assemble out of what we are given the group with the highest likelihood of success.  From time to time this means that one of the “regular” members is going to get asked to ride the bench.  When this happens please take it gracefully and understand that there were more factors in play than you will realize.


How The Invites Work

m12troop There is in fact a dark science as the topic states to all our invites.  Essentially starting somewhere between 8:30 pm -9:00 pm the Duranub officers begin evaluating who is available in the Duranub channel.  If you are NOT in the channel, then that is the first critical mistake you can make.  Being in the channel is part of your responsibility.  This is not a House Stalwart raid, and as a result we do ALL our invites from those who are sitting in the Duranub channel at invite time.  We take this as your signal that you are available and ready to raid that night.  Please do not expect us to track you down from guild, our friends list, other social channels… we have a million things going on every raid night and the surest way to get left behind is to not be where you are supposed to be on time.

We officially start invites at 9:00 server or shortly thereafter.  Please be available for an invite at this time.  This time has been announced publically for going on 2 years now, so you should expect to start receiving invites at this time.  It is disrespectful to the members and officers to be unavailable at this time.  There are many annoying behaviors that end up digging under my skin.

  • Not taking raid invite because you are furiously working on daily quests
  • Being in another group at the time invites start going out
  • Pushing your luck and trying to finish and instance run prior to the raid
  • Being afk – There are mods that auto accept group invites from people on your friends list.  If you have to habitually go afk FIND one and use it. (example)
  • Spamming officers as to if invites have gone out yet, or as to why you haven’t gotten one yet

We approach invites in multiple phases.  Basically we weigh a number of factors when we attempt to do a raid invite.  This is not an exact science but basically this is the theory that is applied.

  • Core Classes/Class Balance – We invite players first who play a unique role that is vital to the success of the raid.  This is not limited to but includes tanks, healers, players with uniquely needed specs
  • High Performers – we invite the players next who have habitually shown the ability to always perform above and beyond the curve of the raid.  These are the players who carry the raid on their backs every single night and without whom we would have a harder time succeeding.
  • Players Who Got Left Out – This filter is to catch players from that would have normally gotten an invite but for some reason got left out for the good of the raid the previous week.
  • Senority/Dedication – We invite the players who have always been there for the raid, have always done whatever was asked of them, be it change classes, be it change specs, be it take a particularly annoying but needed role. 

Throughout this entire process as many officers as are available are sifting through all of these decisions verbally.  If there are still openings to fill we begin to look towards new applicants and other folks that are currently available and willing to go.  We take into account melee vs caster dps balance, healer diversity, buff diversity, and all other manner of subtle issues that can’t be directly quantified.  The basic point that needs to be taken away, is that if for some reason you get skipped over for an invite there were dozens of other points that went into making that decision.


The Money Shot

explosion Now we get down to the crux of this point.  Running a raid is hard work.  The officers and raid elders spend countless hours each week doing various things we would probably rather not be doing.  All of this to bring everyone the relaxed but successful environment that I hope we all enjoy.  We do in 2.5 hours 2 nights a week what other raids do in 4 hours per night 3-5 nights a week.  We start at a huge disadvantage already, so in order to be successful we have to pull out all the breaks we can and remain focused. 

When you disagree with a decision that has been made or for some reason feel wronged please let your first reaction be to take a step back and evaluate the situation.  We are making decisions every night for the good of the raid, not for your benefit and not for the benefit of ourselves.  Nothing kills the morale of the officers than receiving nothing but complaints, but it is human nature for players to ONLY speak up when something is wrong.  We are going to do our best to handle things in a manner that makes everyone happy, but at the end of the day please be gentle.


That in a nutshell is the Dark Science of Raid Invites.