Growing your own raiders. And I come not to damn TotC but to praise it.

LoadScreenArgentRaid

This weekend, I had a revelation.

DREADSCALE IS THE FIRE SNAKE!

I had a post half written when patch 3.2 went live to list why I loved Icecrown Citadel; and the number one reason was because I no longer had to remember which snake was which. Anyone who ever tanked Trial of the Crusader will be familiar with this conversation in the tank channel before the start:

Which snake do you want to tank?

I’ll take the fire one, is that acid… dread … whatever it’s called?

Is that the stationary one?

No, moving one. It’s on the left. I mean right as we’re standing.

Could I have that one? I always take the one on the right

((etc))

But we were back in the Argent Tournament arena this weekend, and I remembered the gorram snake’s name. It feels like a major achievement.

Raiding with less experienced raiders

As to why we were there, that’s a longer story. Our raid group has been more progression focussed in Wrath than we ever were before. We have class quotas, and role quotas, and all that sort of gubbins which means that raiders don’t have to sit out too often.

But our member guilds (we are a raid alliance) also have members who don’t raid with us. Some are more casual players, or unable to commit to a timetable for RL reasons, or just don’t have much interest.

I think we all have been aware recently that some of these guys would love to raid with the alts, or in the non-25 man raids. But it has been difficult to arrange because ICC-10 is simply not a welcoming environment for new raiders. No matter how much people say that the game is dumbed down, it’s not easy for new players to fine tune their dps while getting out of fires, avoiding adds, target switching, and paying attention to the threat meter.

And the instance simply isn’t tuned so that experienced players can carry the less experienced ones while they learn. It is after all the last raid instance of the expansion, and if it was undertuned, people would definitely complain that it was too easy.

Moreover, it’s not possible to really learn how to play your class in heroics any more. They are AE fests. I don’t recall much in the way of target switching requirements, and healers will usually heal through fires anyway. (I’m not saying it’s right, but that is how things tend to go.) Or at least, you can’t learn to play it well enough to raid endgame, unless you are already an experienced raider and it is an alt.

So that’s where Trial of the Crusader comes in. It was suggested that maybe a 25 man TotC run would give us the chance to bring both experienced and inexperienced raiders. We all agreed that in theory this might be a good chance for the newbies to get their feet wet. But would we get enough people to sign? Would we get the mix of experienced players (who probably didn’t need any of the drops on their alts) and newbies? Would newer players be able to follow instructions – you can’t just steamroll TotC in the gear they’d be wearing?

And I foolishly said, “I’ll run it,” and put the run up on the calendar

And people signed. Not just the new guys, who were very excited at the prospect of a 25 man run where no one would shout at them, but also some of the more experienced raiders who were willing to come and help out. Also some people brought well geared alts along who don’t often get a look in on the 25 mans.

I had said from the beginning that if we didn’t get 25 signups, I would cancel the run due to lack of interest. I knew last Wednesday (the raid was scheduled for the weekend) that I wouldn’t have to cancel it.

At that point, I put up a prospective raid list (i.e. list of people/ characters who were picked) and the boards lit up with new people starting threads asking for advice, experienced raiders writing up guides, and threads about addons and consumables as well. I don’t remember if TotC was this well analysed when we were running it as progression content :)

When we all rolled up on Saturday night – everyone was on time, by the way – I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I think I’d assumed we’d wipe a few times on Icehowl as people got the hang of moving out of the way, and that Faction Champions might also claim a few scalps.

What actually happened is that we were successful beyond my wildest dreams.

We one shot the first four bosses (IIRC) and got Anub’Arak on the third attempt. I reckon about two of the raiders had never been in a raid, three more hadn’t been in a Wrath raid, we had a tank and a few healers who had never been inside that instance before, and about 8 of the dps were undergeared (i.e. undergeared for TotC). Some of them found PUGs so intimidating that they didn’t dare sign up for them at all, even 5 mans.

I was very proud of everyone, because it was a true team effort. We could not have done it without some experienced guys being willing to take one for the team and give it their all. We could not have done it if the newer players had not been totally focussed, listened to instructions, and done their homework.

After the second wipe on Anub, where we wiped at 5% (due to hitting the enrage timer), we discussed the fight in detail on voice chat as everyone was running back. We discussed why we used bloodlust when we did, how the spikes worked, what had gone wrong and what had gone right in previous attempts. And everyone, new guys included, was brainstorming how we might be able to find that extra 5% damage on phase 3.

At that point, the difference between them and hardcore progression raiders was simply a matter of time, practice, and gear. Job done. (The fact we got Anub on the next pull was icing on the cake.)

And TotC succeeds as a training environment in all the ways that the heroics fail. You cannot ignore the proper strategies there when half the raid is undergeared/ inexperienced. People will have to move out of the fire, switch target neatly, and listen to raid leaders. It is in every way a true raiding experience.

In retrospect, I’d been playing with fire when putting that raid together, and fitting in as many of the less experienced guys as I could. But what is life without a little risk. If we’d known that it was going to be a walkover, then it wouldn’t have felt like such a good achievement, and we’d have been cheating the new players as much as the old ones out of that. As a raid leader you have to balance up the raid’s objectives:

  1. Run a successful raid, lots of loot, happy raiders.
  2. Get as many of the inexperienced raiders and raider alts in as possible.

You know how some raid leaders are talented at running different types of raids. Some people run awesome farm raids, or are really good at getting people to optimise their performance. Some people are amazing progression raid leaders and can analyse where the group needs to improve on a new fight by some form of psychic ability.

I suspect my strength may be dragging mixed ability groups through content. I admit this is … marginally useful. But hey, it’s a thing. I cannot honestly say that I had to work hard – people taught each other. But still, you cannot teach someone who isn’t willing to learn.

We can do it, but why should we?

So what have we proved, at the end of all this? We can set up successful raids where both experienced and inexperienced raiders play alongside each other. And where the new guys can get some support, coaching, and encouragement. And, more importantly, where everyone can have some fun and even the old guard has a chance at some loot which they wanted.

But in order to do it, we have to flout just about every pointer in Warcraft that directs players towards the latest, greatest raid instance. We have to ignore the pressure to do everything as fast as possible, to focus only on our own goals, and to ditch the weak to make room for the strong. It may be possible to have everyone playing nicely together, but there’s no in game pressure, or encouragement, or reward. Only the social reward of making a lot of people very happy, of knowing that you have a guild/ raid that is socially cohesive, and of rising to meet a challenge together. It’s an achievement for our whole raid group that we were able to pull it off, but not an achievement recognised by the game.

I was comparing this mentally to Gevlon’s undergeared challenge. I see our newbie raid as the social equivalent to that, where we deliberately handicap the raid by bringing weaker players. I know I’m not the only one who pondered that, since at least one of the other raiders commented on it to me also.

Ultimately, I think this highlights a weakness in Warcraft that will pull the game down. If Blizzard cannot encourage players to teach each other in game, then all they can ever do is make things easier so that there is less to learn.

Even though it was a fun raid, and felt like a good achievement, I cannot run these newbie raids every week. I cannot ask the experienced guys to keep doing this week in and week out for no real reward. No one is that altruistic (I’m certainly not) and whilst I’m proud of my friends and raid allies for pulling it all together, I also don’t particularly want to run TotC every week.

Maybe guild achievements in Cataclysm will help to plug this gap, and perhaps there will be perks for the guild that is willing to grow its own raiders, and teach its own newbies.  But I suspect that they will choose to reward the hardcore instead. Who will continue to rely on ‘social’ guilds to train their new recruits for no reward, because the things they enjoy doing (supporting each other, building community, teaching and mentoring) are outside the achiever’s purview.

The Thrill of the Last Boss

First there was silence. Grim determination. Clipped orders barked out. As time goes on, everyone keeps an eye on the clock, everyone keeps an eye on the meters, everything thinks, “This is looking good,” but can’t spare the time to say it. People call for heals, add switches, targets. The tension mounts. Phases change, people jump, health bars shoot up and down. Towards the end, someone yells “ten percent!” and everyone’s heart starts to beat that bit faster.

Then finally, the last percent (which always seems to take forever) clips out and the boss goes crashing to the ground. Voice chat erupts with cheers. It’s at least a minute before it is quiet enough for anyone to be heard. One of your healers whispers you to say that they didn’t think you were going to make it. And your raid has cleared the instance for the first time.

This is why we raid.

What’s so special about the last boss?

anubarak

So last night we got Anub’Arak down for the first time in the 25 man normal version of Trial of the Crusader. (I feel privileged to have been there and very proud of the raid and especially the raid leaders and healers – it’s a particularly testing fight for the healers). It was an absolutely classic first kill, we’d had a few previous tries, each one getting slightly better. This was the last try of the night, and we all were getting tired.

This is a familiar tale. So many times a first kill has happened on the last try of the night.

I know it isn’t just my raid group, other people follow the same narrative. Maybe  people try harder when they know it’s the last attempt, or being slightly tired makes it easier in some obscure way – perhaps thinking is not as helpful as just reacting at these times. But I do know that it is quite common to get a first kill on a challenging boss late in the evening, on the very last attempt.

And there really is something special about the last boss in an instance. Raid instances are usually sold to us as ‘belonging’ to one main boss who just happens to let some of his/her friends or employees rent rooms there too. The lore is all about the big guy at the end. S/he is the sole reason you are there, notionally.

To make the main guy even more significant, the last boss is also usually harder than the rest. So the gameplay is fitted to the lore ie. the lore says that endboss X is very powerful, the gameplay says that the fight is the most challenging. Plus of course the last boss usually has the best loot. This keeps the achievers happy.

It is also cool to be able to say “We cleared that raid instance.” It means you have seen all the content, and so the explorers are happy too. It also means that you feel a social bond with the rest of your raid group – we cleared that raid instance by working together. Again, good for the social players also.

So we really are all set up to prize these boss kills more highly.

A fight to challenge the healers?

I’m not overly excited by the Trial of the Crusader, but for all that, Anub is a cool fight. Blizzard is often guilty of testing healers by brute force. They can make a fight hard for the healers by making everyone take tons of damage, throw in the occasional silence effect, and have something really hard hitting on the tank for extra spikey damage. But harder doesn’t always mean more fun.

In phase three of the Anub fight, the healers are challenged to try to keep the whole raid alive but at low health. We’re taking constant damage which in turn heals the boss, but it is at a rate of 10% of your current health per tick. So if everyone was at full health, he would be getting more heals than we could nuke down inside the enrage timer. But … if you can keep the raid alive with less than full health, that means he can be killed.

That’s not the only interesting side to the fight but I thought it was one of the more interesting healing challenges I’d seen in a raid. I also know that a lot of people find the Coliseum too easy but I thought that particular boss was well-tuned to give us a good challenge.

I also used to think that Tiron Fordring was quite cool. His response to us killing this massive evil spider boss? Oh, why don’t you try the heroic version next?

Well OK, but a thank you would not have been out of order. Git. (Paladins are all gits, a warrior would at least have offered beer.)

Kill the raid boss … or rescue it?

icehowl

And here we see a peacefully sleeping raid boss.

As you can see, it is tethered by all four feet and given no room to move around or stretch in its captivity at the Argent Tournament. The creature is kept in a state of constant hunger, and is periodically tortured with zapping rods (provided generously by the Kirin Tor as long as someone else uses them) to train it for its ultimate fate.

On tournament off-days, the yeti is transported into the arena and forced to fight teams of bored adventurers for the amusement of the gathered audience.

We’ve had funny fanfic before about what raid bosses do when there isn’t a raid around. But this is the first time we’ve actually been able to see it for ourselves. The Beasts of Northrend who comprise the first encounter in the Coliseum raid actually are tethered in captivity around the tournament grounds. It’s all a bit miserable.

I wish I could set them free. Maybe they’d even eat a crusader or two on their way home.

Beginners Luck #2

Darraxus writes about beginners luck – which is when a new player gets really lucky on a drop that more experienced players took ages to get.

I think there’s something similar going on when I decide (after some thought) to upgrade the gem in my shield to an epic one – after all, shields never drop, right? And then we run the first boss in the new 25 man instance, and … guess what drops?

I didn’t even bid for it out of sheer irritation at sod’s law. I’ll grab it next time since we really don’t have many shield tanks. But meantime, I will get some use out of that epic gem, dammit :)

I can’t really complain about my luck because Spinks has been mopping up on tank trinkets recently. Not only did I swipe the Heart of Iron from Ignis (picked the one day that the tanks who had more DKP than me was away, which where the luck really came in) but I also snagged The Black Heart from my first ever run at the new 5 man instance.

I am never this lucky, so am enjoying it while it lasts. (If you’re in my raid, I promise not to whine about my luck with drops ever again, at least until the end of this expansion!)

First impressions of patch 3.2

I logged in yesterday with my druid to check out the new cat form, even though she’s a resto druid so I’ll never actually use it in anger. Was paged almost immediately to ask if I wanted to go join a pick up group and heal in the new instance. I said sure (the thinking goes that I’d want to see the place sometime so might as well practice by mishealing people I didn’t know, rather than friends), took about 10 minutes to find the entrance (5 man entrance is on the North side), realised that no one in the group had read anything about the encounters at all, and felt an oddly liberating sense of, ‘OK, let’s try it on heroic and see what happens.’

I actually have no idea how hard the new instance really is. We managed it fine in my PUG. Then we ran it again on normal mode, and decided that there wasn’t a huge amount of difference in difficulty.

Brief notes:

  1. First encounter. Grab a wolf (or horse if you are Alliance). Make tea while the Argent Tournament champions parade around the arena. Enjoy the adulation of the massed NPCs from your home faction. Then charge a random mob as chaos ensues. When fighting the bosses, try to kill them close together if you can – it makes it easier for the tank to pick them all up at once and also makes it easier for you to trample them down if they try to get up (I am not actually sure that this is sportsmanlike but as an undead warrior Spinks doesn’t bother with sissy paladin things like honour.) In heroic mode, you will want to mark the champions so you can focus on one in turn in the last phase of the fight, when you all are on foot. I don’t think the kill order is really important but don’t all fight different ones.
  2. A few easy trash packs to warm up. Kill the priest first, and the evil lightwell will disappear with them (if our priests got evil lightwells as a spell I’d totally re-roll one). You may get one of two bosses. If it is the paladin, turn away from him when he starts to glow, and if you are healing then start to cast as soon as he emotes that he starts to throw his hammer at someone. If he throws the hammer at you, you can catch it and throw it back. If it is the priest, she will summon shadows of familiar old bosses to fight – when she does this, focus fire on the image (her shield reflects damage while it is up). Most of the spells can be interrupted.
  3. The Black Knight. He’s a lot of fun. The fight is in three phases, first you fight him as a zombie (he will revive the blood elf as a ghoul so if you are tanking make sure to pick that up also). Then you fight him as a skeleton with some ghoul minions. Watch out because the ghouls explode at low health. Then you fight him as a ghost. When he is in ghost form the fight becomes a dps race because he puts out a debuff that increases magical damage taken with every tick and also deals magical damage to everyone in the group. If you are healing, check who has the marked for death debuff because they’ll be taking extra damage. (The third phase of this fight was the hardest healing in the instance, I found).

And for any Confessor Paletress fanboys, here’s the script of all the confessions she takes in the Argent Tournament tent. The forsaken one makes me proud to be undead!

We also ran a successful 25 man raid last night, despite half the addons working oddly. The first encounter in the new raid instance didn’t cause too many problems – I actually think it’s quite dull. Note that it only requires two tanks.

Then on to Ulduar which also has a few issues this patch, which are being hotfixed today, hopefully. Despite this we one shotted a few bosses, including XT with all the extra adds. I can’t say I was a great help on that particular encounter because I was in dps mode and managed to die fairly early on.

Must have been still getting over the trinket shock.