Deciding on loot rules

You cannot play an MMO for very long before butting your head against the notion of loot rules. In fact, the first time you are in a group and some item drops, what do you do?

Maybe a little box comes up on screen with some obscure symbols. Perhaps it says need or greed. So you press some random button because you don’t know, and if you get it wrong people yell at you. If you’re polite or with friends, you ask them first. If you’re not then you just hit need and hope for the best.

None of this is obvious to new players. But a large part of MMO culture and social custom is centred on looting rules; when you can loot, where you can loot, how you can loot,  and what are the looting taboos. In WoW, different servers can even have different customs.

Looting in PUGS

The requirements for a good PUG looting rule are:

  • Should be known in advance, so that people who don’t like the rules can turn down the group.

That’s the only important rule. But it’s actually quite rare that people will discuss loot before a run. They’ll assume usually that you go with whatever the server custom is.

Some people are also very fussy about letting others roll on off-spec gear. Game custom is usually that you roll for gear that supports the role you are currently playing. But it’s a PUG so who really cares what they think? It really isn’t worth fussing too much about such things, and if you’re concerned about the social implications of rolling for off-spec then just let people know what you plan to do at the start.

But players do have a strong sense of ‘priority loot’, and which of the possible drops are ‘theirs’. And if you are relying on PUGs to help gear up your tank/healer for raiding, you can understand why it is annoying to have the rest of the group roll for something you need when they may or may not ever use it. I think this is mostly silly but that’s how PUGs roll.

  • Looting should be memoryless.

Looting rules in a PUG shouldn’t care about what players were doing before they joined the group. It doesn’t matter how many times you have already run an instance to try to get a specific drop, it doesn’t entitle you to automatically win it in the next PUG if others want it also.

Raid Rules

There’s been so much said and written about DKP schemes and raid looting rules. The purpose of loot rules in a raid are very different from a PUG. This is partly because they’re often used more as incentives than as pure loot distribution, and also because of the history of raid loot.

It’s hard to imagine now, with Naxxramas practically throwing loot at raid groups, but in the past you’d expect to kill a boss and get two items to distribute between 40 (or more) people. That’s the atmosphere in which DKP was devised. Somehow it had to make for a fair scheme that would get those 40 people to keep coming back until everyone was kitted out. And because loot was so rare, it was important not to ‘waste’ it.

So that meant raid leaders wanted to prioritise giving loot to the more active raid members (loot gets used to help the raid more), giving loot to primary specs and often to tanks and healers first (loot helps the raid progress more quickly) and sometimes penalising players who slowed down or messed up the raid (-50DKP!!!!). And it had to give players an easy way to see that if they turned up more frequently they had a better chance of getting loot.

And, equally important, raids were difficult. It was quite likely that you’d spend all night wiping and picking up no more loot than repair bills. But you needed people to be willing to keep coming along and doing that, in the knowledge that their effort would be rewarded once the loot started dropping.

I reject most of these criteria. That was then, this is now. We have more loot to share around and people will find other things to do if the raids aren’t fun. And, more importantly, the current 10 mans are fairly easy. So it isn’t so important to lure people along for wipe nights.

Will it work in future too? Only time will tell.

My 10 man rules

These are my criteria for picking loot rules:

  • Must be fair (or at least equally unfair to everyone involved)
  • Must involve as little work as possible for raid leader (ie. me!)
  • Must be easy for everyone to understand.
  • Must be sufficiently rewarding that players feel they always have a shot at any item they particularly want

My personal experience of running large raids in the past has always been that prioritising gear based on main spec sucks. This is because it requires the raid leader to be able to rule on which gear is appropriate for which class or spec. Other people may be happy trying to rule on whether paladins need expertise or resto shamans need crit, I am not.

They’re all grown up, and they’ve all been playing their classes long enough to know what works for them. So I rejected this at the start.

Instead, because we’re just working with 10 people, I decided that I would invite people who knew their own class well enough to know what they want, and/or would get on well enough to discuss it if they weren’t sure.

I also wanted to keep the memoryless aspect of PUG looting. This was to be a casual raid. I hoped very much that people would find it fun and profitable and would want to keep coming, but I also wanted people who couldn’t make every week to feel that it would be a good use of their time. So no DKP (hurrah!).

I also decided that gearing people up for off-specs was going to be one of the main goals of the 10 man runs.  There have already been a few times when I’ve asked a tank or healer to respec to dps because it made the raid balance work better. So why would we not help players do that? Plus it’s an extra incentive for people to keep coming after they have their main spec gear. So I decided on no loot priorities.

What I actually said in the rules was that people were welcome to discuss it but that if there were any disagreements, we’d go with a dice roll. In practice, players often do pass gear to people who want it for a main spec but I don’t have to be involved. (That’s a win from my point of view.)

I also decided that if anyone brought an alt, they could roll on an equal footing with the mains. Gearing up alts is a perfectly good aim for 10 man runs, encourages people to keep coming along, and there’s no reason not to reward people equally if they put in the same time and effort.

The final tweak was because after a couple of weeks, I noticed that a few people really were just raiding because there was one specific item they wanted. So I let people specify a priority list of 1-2 items. And if that item drops then only people who named it can roll. There’s no guarantee that they will be the only person who will roll (if more than one have it on their lists) but the chances should be a bit better.

This is a bit more housekeeping than I really prefer to do (I can’t be bothered with DKP or bidding mini-games). And in practice people tend to pass for main spec anyway. I’m not actually convinced this priority list idea is anything but an empty incentive, but people do seem to like it. And it encourages players to come along  for that one last drop.

I also let people specify if they want priority on abyss crystals for some enchant, but they can’t also claim priority on a drop if they do that. So after the run, we split the crystals by first giving them to people who prioritised them (ie. just give them as many as they need, assuming we have enough) and storing the rest for future use. Another goal of the 10 mans is to provide people with expensive enchanting materials. But they have to actually come on the raid and help get them.

Anyhow, it has been working fine. People seem happy. Lots of gear has dropped and been given out. It’s quick and easy and if people get frustrated, it’s at the RNG and not at me 😉 But it does very much require that you can trust your own raiders to know what gear they want.

What I hope you can get from this is that I designed the incentive/reward system to fit the type of raid I wanted to run and emphasise not only the fun, casual nature but also the fact that I actively encouraged people to come get offspec gear and kit their alts up.