The Shape of Things to Come

This morning, I spent some time back in Middle Earth, mostly because I’d caught up with yesterday’s twitter comments. There’s been a new development, and it’s actually hit the EU servers at the same time as the US ones (nice work all involved). Five mysterious relic stones have appeared throughout Middle Earth, and are heralded by a letter that appeared on both Turbine and Codemasters’ forums:

Numerous residents of Oatbarton and the surrounding communities were aware of my intention to submit plants from my pipe-weed crop to this year’s Growers’ Festival. You may contact me for names of good, honest folk who can attest to this, such as my wife Opaline or our good friend Rosalyn Smallburrow, also of Oatbarton.

I have not changed my growing habits or techniques since last year, so there is little reason to expect that my submission for this year’s festival would be of lesser quality than my previous, prize-winning entries. I do not mean to boast, but my pipe-weed plants were shaping up to be of even higher quality than in years past! You can speak to the individuals noted above for their opinions, and they will certainly agree that my pipe-weed crop was proceeding exceedingly well for the season.

Given those facts, you can see that I take a great deal of pride in the quality of my pipe-weed. Imagine my alarm when I woke up this morning, drank my morning tea, prepared a small breakfast, and took my customary mid-morning stroll to observe my plants… and found them withered, brown, and wilted! They will win no prizes in this state! They are fit only for compost now! Unimaginable!

Right in the middle of my field, someone had placed a tall stone block bearing unpleasant symbols. I do not know what to call it, but I would not like it anywhere, let alone in the middle of my pipe-weed field: the pipe-weed field that was thriving yesterday, but after the appearance of this horrible thing is no more!

Starting in Oatbarton, I went to investigate and opened a deed to find five mysterious relics throughout Middle Earth. Now, being a lazy (but honest) Captain, and making use of the fact I wasn’t online on the day all of this broke, I cheated and used the guide over at Casual Stroll to Mordor, which gives locations of the stones. You don’t need to do that, there’s no real sense of hurry!

Initially, on twitter (thanks to all the people who were tweeting about this, it helped me get a sense of real occasion and also some of the speculations about the stones), there were many suggestions of what these relics could be – my favourite was that they might be tied to the five Istari (love ties to lore, after all). But, it became clear quite quickly, and from doing the deed myself – that these are heralding our new instance and raid cluster, due for February-ish. First of all, the title you get for completing the deed is ‘Calm before the Storm’. The relics all take aspects of debuffs in LotRO (there’s a fear one, a poison one, a disease one, etc), plus of course a big Evil one which almost certainly signifies the raid. Additionally, they’re all located near walled off locations, closed doors, possible instance entrances. And as mentioned by Roll One Hundred, they each signify one of five gaunt-lords (named in the comments thread as: Ivar the Blood-hand, Ferndúr the Virulent, Drugoth the Death-monger, Thadúr the Ravager, Gortheron the Doom-caller by Merric of Casual Stroll to Mordor). Interesting times, so we have the basis for a storyline leading up to the release of the next instance cluster for LotRO.

There’s some talk on forums this morning that simply doing this deed will be the gating system for allowing you to start these instances (sorry, couldn’t find the reference immediately). Remember, we’re losing radiance-gating (HURRAH!) and this seems a neat way to do it. When Turbine were asking what people would prefer to radiance, one of the options was deed-gating. It’s also become clear that you can’t complete the deed if you don’t have the relevant quest packs for the areas. So, any free-to-play players will need to stump up the cash for the various areas if they want to progress through to this deed. We have no idea if it will be a gating system though, but it does suggest the new instances will be spread throughout Middle Earth, perhaps another way to ensure quest packs are sold and used (which, in my opinion, makes  sense and would be the same as having to pay to get access to the instances!).

I have to say, I’ve been fairly down on LotRO lately, mostly due to raiding and kin issues, but this little deed sparked my attention again and showed how Turbine can drop little neat things into the game with little fanfare and manage to get us all that little bit interested again, even if you only do the deed for the cool title (which was my initial spur!).


Gearing, Gating, Attuning. And sometimes I miss the resistance fights …

national (OK, which tank has a fire resist set?)

Rohan wrote a post at Blessing of Kings which has been on my mind recently. He asked, “Was Blackwing Lair Boring?” Blackwing Lair (BWL to friends) was the second of the old 40 man raids from Vanilla WoW. It featured a large amount of dragons, and a storyline about Nefarian, the Black Dragon who was trying to breed a new strain of dragonkin. It also involved the best looking tier set in the game’s history.

And we adored it. I have very fond memories of Blackwing Lair, and even when my 40 man raid was way overgeared for the instance, people still enjoyed the weekly runs and happily signed up for them.

So I was thinking some more about how raiding in WoW has changed since then. These days, you show up on your weekly raid night/s for a few hours killing with your friends/ guildies/ random people from trade chat and then you’re done. You won’t need to farm raid food unless you are keen, someone will probably bring fish feasts which provide enough for the whole raid. Your repair bills will be handily covered by a few daily quests or dungeons. You will probably want some potions or flasks, which are easily bought, and gold in the game has never been easier to come by.

Back in the days of BWL, the raids would be the focus of your raid group for most of the week, even when you weren’t actually raiding. You would spend more time farming to cover repair bills, or for extra buff items. You might be helping your guildies to farm up some resistance gear, or quest items that they needed to build legendary weapons like Thunderfury. And if you needed any flasks … well, the only places in the game where flasks could be made were deep inside the Scholomance, or inside Blackwing Lair.

I remember getting permission to use my BWL lock (to our cleared instance) to let my friends from non-raiding guilds come in and use the alchemy table. Blackwing Lair had another bonus for crafters too, it was the only place in the game where miners could learn to Smelt Elementium, a material that was used to make legendary weapons.

Crafters were also involved in creating the resist gear that was needed for some of the fights. We had tanks in fire resist gear to tank the drake bosses. Everyone needed their own Onyxia scale cloak for the last boss also. And in that way, BWL was tied both mechanically as well as thematically to Onyxia (another black dragon boss). You HAD to kill Onyxia enough times to provide materials for cloaks for your whole raid before you could attempt Nefarian. The raid needed good crafters who had collected the right recipes – which also either dropped in raids or were bought with reputation that was collected in raids.

Raiding wasn’t just about killing bosses and getting loot. (Just mostly.) It was about completing raid instances in the right order and learning how to use drops from one raid to help complete a puzzle in another. The raid game back then was designed to be able to focus people’s attention completely.

Overcoming Barriers Together


No one will deny that being forced to collect resistance gear could be tedious, time consuming and annoying. I don’t think many people enjoyed it and I doubt anyone was sorry to see the resistance fights disappear. But often, the rest of the raid group would chip in and help.

I remember in TBC that our raid group helped to collect the materials to craft frost and nature resist gear for our tanks on Hydross (a boss which required one tank with frost resist gear and one with nature resist gear). It was a way for people who had more time and energy to contribute to the raid effort, even if they didn’t raid so often themselves. (We were more casual back then.)

In many ways, I think Blizzard has been toying for a long time with the notion of letting crafters and non-raiders be a part of the raid effort. They’ve just not found a successful model yet.

In Wrath, BoE raid drops (ie. runed orbs, crusader orbs etc) can be used by crafters to make some extremely nice and desirable gear, all of which is BoE and can be freely traded and sold. In Ulduar, recipes were random and rare drops from bosses. In TotC, the recipes were still random drops, but were much more common and also BoE so can be found on the auction house. A rich crafter could quietly buy them up. And in ICC, the recipes are no longer random drops. They are bought with frost emblems (indirectly, they’re actually bought with primordial saronite which can be bought with frost emblems).

So it’s never been easier for a non-raiding crafter to make those raid items.

The other side to resistance fights was the sense that the whole guild/ raid was working together on an ongoing basis to achieve a goal. Barriers are annoying, that’s their whole point. To annoy you until you overcome them. But the sense of working together on a common goal doesn’t apply to PUG raids in the same way.

If your pick up raid needs a tank with frost resist, you won’t be motivated to help them to gear up. It’s much easier to just shout in trade chat, “LF1M tank for raid X. Need achievement, gearscore, and frost resist gear check before invite.”

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I don’t miss the annoyance and frustration of resistance fights. I don’t miss the feeling that I was letting the side down if I had been unlucky with nature resist drops, or didn’t have enough time to farm my primals on that particular week. But I do miss the feeling that my raid was a team that was working together on overcoming obstacles, and that team included crafters and non-raiding members too.

And I have high hopes that Blizzard’s plans for guilds in Cataclysm will bring that feeling back.

* Picture notes. I wanted images that showed people helping each other to wear protective clothing and overcome obstacles. I know these ones are (semi-)military but the alternatives were pictures of kids at camp and I was uncomfortable using those, even when they had a creative commons licence.

** PS. Screw you, Princess Huhuran and your nature resist grind. But damn did it feel good to get you down.

Onyxia vs The Argent Coliseum

I know, I know. We’d all love to see Onyxia swoop down and engulf the entire Argent Coliseum in flames. If any Blizz developers are reading by the way, we would love you forever if anything like that was part of the revamped Onyxia encounter.

But that’s not what I was planning to talk about today. Point is, Onyxia is a raid encounter based in a single room. Granted there’s a long tunnel through which you have to go to reach it, but her cave is probably the same size as the interior of the Coliseum. For sure, she’s a three stage fight that was considered complex at the time, but the Coliseum has several bosses, some of whom are also multi-phase fights.

So why does everyone love Onyxia, but hate the Coliseum?

I’m making lists this week, so just for the record, this is why Onyxia was considered such a big deal by more longstanding players.

  1. She’s a dragon. Onyxia was actually the first real dragon that players encountered in Warcraft, anything you saw prior to that was dragonkin or a drake which is not the same. Dragons in fantasy games are always awesome, even if they appear in Tier 1 public quests. It’s a kind of rule of the genre. Onyxia set some of the standard expectations for WoW dragon encounters also – the fiery breath, the tail swipe, the fear, etc.
  2. Woven deeply into the lore from level 1. Onyxia turns out to be behind a lot of the problems you encounter when levelling as Alliance. With hindsight, we might wish that the Alliance had realised that she had a genius for practical politicking and annointed her queen rather than fetching the chin back from exile. Right back to the defias bandits in the starting zone.
  3. Handcrafted instance all about her. This part is true for the Coliseum also. But you interact more with Onyxia’s lair. You have to keep out of the whelp caves – whelps fly out of them in phase 2 and need to be controlled. You have to mind the gaps in the floor that flare up with fire in phase 3. You have to watch the flying dragon in phase 2 and make sure you’re at the right side of the room. The Coliseum on the other hand is just a room.
  4. Long keying quest chain with storyline attached. Some people love gating, others hate it, but making players do a long and involved quest chain certainly focusses the mind and makes the end boss feel more meaningful. (Anyone for jailbreak?)
  5. First multiphase boss encounter. I’m relying on my memory here but I know that Onyxia was the first boss encounter that I had seen that ran in several phases.
  6. Deep Breaths. Ah the legendary deep breaths in phase 2 that wiped half the raid if they weren’t paying attention. Were they really random or did you get them more often if you had two retridins and a moonkin in the raid? Who knows? But guaranteed after every patch, people would ask whether Onyxia was breathing more often. It was one of the first WoW raiding memes.
  7. See where she flies! Flying dragons that breathe fire onto the raid are cool. Also, need more dots.
  8. The loot. Everyone knows that dragons love to hoard epics and back in the day, Onyxia kept hold of the Tier 2 hats. Back when Tier 2 was associated with the hardcore magical mystery realm of Blackwing Lair, this was quite exciting. She was also tied in even further because in order to make cloaks that could withstand the last boss of BWL, you needed Onyxia’s scales.

Now, I have no idea if a revamped encounter can capture the magic. What it all adds up to is a sense of great excitement when you and your (40 man) raid first zoned into her lair. You’d all completed a long key chain and were on the verge of fighting your first ever dragon. Now it’s all old hat,  we all chat to dragons on a regular basis and even helped kill an aspect. Multi-phase fights are the norm rather than the outlier, and our tanks can probably grab adds in their sleep. But I’d still rather fight Onyxia than the Argent Coliseum.

My personal gripe at the moment is that it scales badly for 10 man. We noticed this particularly with the first encounter, and the snakes. When only one person has the burning bile debuff that’s needed to counter the poison debuff and they just died … well, you’re in trouble. In 25 man, you have some extra debuff carriers which provides the raid with more redundancy.

Also, Faction Champions. PvP = ugh.