[Guest Post] Raid Leading in Wrath, One Tree’s story

(Thron is known in other parts of the Internet as Natural20.  You can
find him on Livejournal here –
http://natural20.livejournal.com/ or on
Twitter here –
http://twitter.com/natural20 He tends to talk a lot
about Irish politics as well as gaming and conventions, you have been

thron poses in front of the frozen throne

It's a long way from Zul Gurub ...

A short introduction, I’m Thron, a Resto-Druid and raidleader of Cobra, the raiding community that Spinks mentions here.

I’ve been raiding with Cobra since the community started up in Zul’Gurub and I’ve been a leader since Karazhan.  As Spinks mentioned we’ve recently killed the Lich King and I wanted to share some thoughts on leading the Cobra community through eighteen months of raiding in Wrath, from the first boss in Naxx to our final victory atop the Frozen Throne.

Cobra was set up with the express intention of getting members of three guilds (Ashen Rose Conspiracy, Oathforged and The Red Branch) into content they would never see if they didn’t band together.  In Wrath we wanted to progress more than we had in TBC, but also try, as hard as possible, to bring as many people with us on our journey.  The goal was, of course, to have Arthas lying at our feet, but we knew it was going to be a very long road.

Thron and Cobra killing the lich king

Spot the tree

We benefited hugely from the company of some raiders from outside the three guilds who were looking for a more casual group than they’d been with in TBC, or those whose groups disbanded at some point during Wrath.  Integration has been hard on occasion, making sure that we held true to our guiding aims, while trying to make sure people didn’t get bored.  As all raidleaders will know, this is far from an easy task.  It’s also something I’ll come back to later.

The raid pool has always hovered around fifty toons, but the composition and balance has varied greatly.  There were times we thought we’d never want for healers and other times we’ve wondered if the hunters had a secret breeding programme going which would eventually overwhelm the group!  To be fair, druids have always made up the biggest single class, but that has always seemed right and proper to me.

This has meant we’ve struggled at times and mostly we’ve been saved by folk who were willing to play more than one spec, but we’ve held fast to our rule of only allowing one toon per player, it’s kept things much more straightforward.

So, we started out in Naxx in January 2009, speeding our way through the bosses as most groups did, running up against our first roadblocks with the Four Horsemen and feeling very accomplished when Kel’Thuzad gave up his first Journey’s End, although that’s all we ever seemed to get from him.  But clearly Naxx, easy as it was, showed us we could do it, at the appropriate gear level.  According to the realm forums we were in or around the seventh Horde-side raid to clear the instance, a position we were to occupy most of the way through the expansion, with a few notable exceptions.  This gave the raid group a lot of confidence, knowing that we wouldn’t be at the forefront of progression, but we’d be keeping up, managing to get through the content on an average of six hours raiding a week.

death of malygos, with the raid all mounted on red drakes

The Cobra synchronised red drake flying team never won any marks for style ...

And onwards we went.  While we never managed Sartharion + 3,  we killed Flame Leviathan the day Ulduar went live and pushed on until Yogg-Saron was defeated.  Trial of the Champions had already opened at that point, so we did outgear the god of death in the end, but we were happy to take the kill.  TotC was almost the death of Cobra.  Like many raid groups the instance bored us very quickly, but the heroic versions were just too difficult for us and wiping repeatedly without any sense of progress gets very boring, very quickly.  This lack of progress (and mindless repetition), combined with a number of situations where one mistake could wipe the raid didn’t please anyone.

Cobra has improved in leaps and bounds since we started, but that kind of situation has never suited us and the awful instance design and bad tuning didn’t help.

cobra eyes up rotface

We were incredibly lucky that Ice Crown opened when it did.  The raid is almost as much fun as Ulduar and the increasing buff seemed to be designed for a group like Cobra.  It was far from all plain sailing, but up we climbed, sticking with our six hours a week schedule and even getting a Horde-side first kill along the way (Princes).  And then finally, with patience and the 30% buff, we managed to kill Arthas.  What an amazing night that was.  I cracked open the very expensive whiskey and got to sit back and bask.

And reflect, with articles like this, on the journey.  We started off in Wrath with four raidleaders and we’ve ended with three.  Between us we have encouraged, explained, dragged and occasionally bullied Cobra through the expansion.  We have been amazed by just how good the group is and how individual brilliance has saved a wipe, while at the same time wondering if sometimes players just ignore everything we say before a pull.

death of halion

We’ve dealt with emo, both explicable and inexplicable, and despite Spinks’ request I’m not going to reveal which group generated the most!  We’ve managed to compromise between the hardcore raiders who want to push on to hardmodes and the more casual players who sometimes forget just why standing in fire is a bad thing.  I’m not entirely sure how we’ve managed this, mind, probably because the people in question trust us, at least that’s the assumption I’ve got to make.  We’ve nearly kicked people from raids and we’ve nearly had people quit mid fight.  Toons have come and gone, some will be missed, others less so.

Over eighteen months there have been nights when I just didn’t want to log in.  I didn’t want to have to guide the twenty-five brave souls on the list for that raid through the content and there have been times when the ten minute break couldn’t come fast enough.  But these times have been far outweighed by the moments of brilliance and fun.  And this is what sets Cobra aside.  This is why I think we’re one of only four Horde-side (25 man) raiding groups on Argent Dawn (EU) to kill Arthas.

We’ve been through things that would kill other groups dead and there have been moments when I’ve thought I was going to get zero sign-ups for the next raid, but the actual sense of community and friendship has carried us through.

map of the world

We come from all over the world

Our raiders come from as far north as Finland and as far south as South Africa.  We have raiders from Donegal (in the extreme northwest of Ireland) and others from far more easterly climes in Europe, it’s a varied bunch.  But it’s a bunch that have grown to know each other, to take humour from the strangest things, to laugh when the only other option is to cry and, ultimately, to support Phoenixaras, Elelereth and I while we, in turn, try to support them. I don’t know of any other raid group who would react to repeated wipes by riding mammoths around Deathbringer Rise and then jumping off, one by one, while voice chat is filled with gales of laughter. Cobra is a true community and it has, when we look back, managed to fulfill the mission and it’s made me proud.  It’s probably also shaved about ten years off my life, but thems the breaks.

We’re looking at Cataclysm now, staring down the barrel of a complete change in how raiding works in WoW, and I don’t know what Cobra will look like once everything changes.  My hope is that we’ll keep on raiding, but we really won’t know until decisions have to be made.

Either way Wrath raiding will always be a special, wonderful, frustrating, maddening and ultimately rewarding experience and I’d probably do it all again, even knowing what I know now.  That said, I do a few things differently, increase the number of raidleaders from day one and refuse a few applicants who turned out to be more hassle than they were worth, but these are the things you learn and nobody ever said learning was painless.

For now we’ll get the rest of the raidgroup Kingslayer, then relax for a little while and see if there’s a bunch of raiders who still want to be given orders by a loud Irishman (me) and a soft spoken Englishman (Elelereth), while a rogue picks their pockets (Phoenixaras).  I hope there will be, there are still stories left to create.

*** (Blame Spinks for the lack of good kill shots and general lack of any screenshots of Ulduar (!) )

Naxxramas Revisited

I’ve been back to Naxxramas a couple of times this week. Time has dulled the pain of over-exposure — I was really quite bored of the place after having run it twice a week (once on 10 man, once on 25 man) for a few months. Despite the sub-par graphics, I’m quite fond of the old instance. It does have a good variety of encounters, even if the tuning was never quite right.

The biggest flaw to my mind is that it’s far too easy to brute-force the Spider Wing. But by doing that you lose the most interesting parts of Anub’Rekhan and Faerlina as boss fights (what’s the point of Faerlina if you don’t have to mind control and sacrifice the adds?). The second biggest flaw is that there are too many bosses to clear in a 3 hour raid unless you are all being very hardcore/ disciplined about it, which doesn’t happen even in successful PUGs. A smaller raid instance or a set of winged instances would have been more manageable.

I wouldn’t say I’m overgeared, it’s just undertuned

My first Naxx rerun was in a raid that a friend in the raid group organised for alts and new level 80s. She’s very concerned that they don’t have much of a chance to learn how to play their characters in raids, especially some of the (female) players who are nervous of being shouted at in PUGs. We’d hoped to have enough signups to run a 25 man raid but in the event we only had enough to run with 10.

Although I do have a couple of level 80 alts who could have gone, I offered to bring Spinks to help them out. I doubt there’s anything I need from Naxx-10 even as offspec but I eyed the signups and figured they’d have a much better shot with at least one (over) geared tank. Also, I suspect seeing my name on the signup list made them all feel more comfortable about the run.

The raid was a moderate success. We got the two easiest wings down, and a few people learned the fights who had never seen them before. A new raid leader had a chance to order people around and see bosses die. DPS was generally low, and I’m grateful they didn’t want to go on to the Construct wing as I don’t think we could have taken Patchwerk. So although many people would consider that raid a failure, most of the players had their expectations met. And some of the fights were still exciting — they may have been exciting because people weren’t playing especially well but we still had some fun skin-of-the-teeth kills.

I fear there isn’t really much you can do for people who want to learn to raid but are nervous of PUGs and heroics and mixing with people they don’t know. There comes a point at which you can only learn through practice and these things aren’t really designed as fun social experiences for nervous raiders. Plus a lot of people in the raid group really are burned out on Naxx and won’t want to spend time there when there are other things they can do which would be more beneficial to their characters.

I do think it’s possible to teach nervous players to raid based on one raid per week, and I won’t be at all surprised if dps improves next time. But it’s a slow process and it really isn’t guaranteed that other players will be as patient as the newbies might need. They could help themselves a lot by getting over the PUGphobia.

And then there’s the raid I walked out of due to sexist quips …

I swear I have a pretty good tolerance for off-colour humour among gamers. I can sit back quietly and let them have their fun even if I don’t have anything to add. But what I don’t have is any tolerance for sexist, racist, or homophobic jabs. Not funny. And I will tell people if I’m not amused. And if they persist then I’ll walk. I figure you get one chance to realise ‘wait, someone here is uncomfortable with this’ and if you don’t take it then I’m so very gone. And if I’m one of your healers then you may be very stuffed.

So. The second Naxx raid was a 10 man PUG that I hopped into on my resto druid. Again there aren’t really many drops I need from Naxx-10 but I’m still at the stage with that alt where I figure I could use the practice. One of my friends was there too, also healing with her paladin. Unfortunately she had a power outage near the beginning so they had to replace her.

And it was a good PUG. People were chatty, we cleared through the Spider wing smoothly and then the Plague wing as well. It was only after we killed Patchwerk that things started to fray a bit at the seams. One of the holy paladins flew into a rage when one of the moonkins asked why he was rolling on spellpower leather which had spirit on it and left. (This boggled me, because the piece might still have been an upgrade for him but if so all he had to do was say so and I don’t think anyone would have minded if he’d taken it.)

But fortunately my friend had her power restored at this point so we invited her back. It was actually more amusing than this because she’d only just logged back on at the time and had just paged me to say how sad she was to have missed the run. So I’m like, ‘Hey, do you want to come back then? Our holydin just flipped out over loot.’

So we’re trucking on through the Construct wing. The last two bosses here have tended to be the skill checks for pick up Naxx groups. No one ever wants to kite the zombies at Gluth and Thaddius continues to confound PUGs (it may be his role in undeath). After a second wipe on Gluth, our MT was getting grumpy. And the sexist jokes were coming out. I was chatting privately to my friend about this and we were both agreeing that neither of us really needed the Naxx loot and didn’t really see a reason to stand for it. So after one warning, which he ignored, we apologised to the raid and left.

I was paged about 10 minutes later by one of the raid, saying that they’d booted him and would we be willing to come back. Since they’d been nice enough people (and competent too) that’s what we did. Awesome guildies were nice enough to agree to come fill in the other spare spots (a dps had to leave for RL reasons too) and we rocked through the Military wing. By that time, people were tired and wanting to go eat so we called it.

And the bonus? One of the nice players contacted my friend later, asking how she could apply to join our guild (and as it happens, I know it was a female player and she was attracted by the fact we’d no tolerance for the sexist guy and we’d been able to bring other friendly guildies in to finish the run). Now let me tell you, any PUG in which you get the chance to recruit a friendly, competent player is in no way a waste of time … Also, dps shaman! 🙂

The other interesting side-fact was the class makeup of that 10 man PUG. Three druids, two paladins, three shamans, two deathknights. It’s an interesting view into what alts people are playing at the moment.

Clumping the player base

When patch 3.1 comes out, I intend to drop our Naxxramas raids off the schedule and run Ulduar 10 man on Saturday nights instead.

By that time I expect everyone will have gotten all the gear they wanted. Alts will be geared. Offspecs will be geared. Players will be bored and looking for new mountains to climb. And if anyone still needs any of the drops, chances are that there will be something better in the new instance that they can aim for instead. Maybe we will occasionally run Naxx again on off-nights as fun runs, for alts or achievements, or for people who come later to the game to play tourist.

I expect our 25 man raid leaders to make the same decision. (I’ll be disappointed if they don’t.)

In fact, I expect 95% of all current raids to drop Naxx like a stone when Ulduar is released. Farewell, Heigan. Sayonara, Patchwerk. Auf Wiedersehen, Anub’Rekhan. Adieu, Kel’Thuzad. Nice knowing you, and thanks for all the loot.

Think about this for a moment. When in the history of the game has a new raid instance been patched in that so many raid groups were immediately ready to attempt? When in the history of the game has everyone been finished with the same tier at the same time?

The answer is never.

Although the majority of the player base has a max level character for most of the time (barring the first month or two after a new expansion), they’re usually spread through the end-game content. In the past, some people would still be struggling with the entry level raids while the hardcore were two or three tiers of raid instance ahead of them. It had some big advantages: everyone could pick at the content at their own pace and hopefully find something to challenge them. It had some disadvantages: the playerbase grew more cliquey, more stratified, and had even less motivation to mix with people outside their own raid group.

The problem of getting people to mix with the rest of their realm is a knotty one. Games like Warhammer (and DaoC before it) have solved it handily with their PUG friendly PvP endgame. It isn’t for everyone. It can get dull. But every warm body who knows roughly what to do can help contribute to a victory and every raid leader knows it.  Although PvP is unpredictable by its nature, you can log into WAR and if it’s a busy PvP night, you can be straight into a busy raid in a few minutes (plus how long it takes you to get to them).

There is an actual strategic value in having greater numbers. So when you log in, you’re a potential asset to your realm. Sure, the zergy play style doesn’t suit everyone but it definitely does make it easy for players to get involved – you can easily find yourself in a raid group including members from both hardcore and casual guilds. Taking keeps in large groups is not remotely difficult. There’s no special challenge to it. But it can be quite fun and  at least you can easily socialise and get into a group.

WoW is taking a different route. Instead of encouraging casual and hardcore to play together, they’re  making sure we all have roughly the same gear and are at roughly the same level of progression. So if we did want to play together, we could. But they also know that they can’t drop the difficulty so much that casuals and hardcores really could play in the same raid. People do enjoy the challenge of WoW PvE. And WoW PvE is not a zergy numbers game.

Achievements now take the place of higher tiers of raid instances. They don’t excite people who were motivated by wanting to see new and different content, but they suffice well enough for people who mostly wanted boasting rights.

And it isn’t just the raid instances that are effectively phased out. Normal level 80 instances were outdated as soon as players realised that they could pretty much hop straight into heroics. The intention is that we all get to the same place and then stop, and wait for the next patch.

When that comes out, we advance to the next square on the board. We complete the task on it. And then we stop, and wait for the next patch.

This is all well and good. However it works out, it is a solid plan. I expect that somewhere in patch 3.1 will be a way to get gear that lets new level 80s join the Ulduar party – hopefully without needing a boatload of runs through heroic instances that no one else can be bothered with.

Help, I’m a prisoner in Naxxramas!

Immersively, I feel as though the endgame has become smaller and more claustrophobic. And not just because of running the raids on 10 man as well as on 25 man.

The raiding end game felt larger when you knew that raid groups were working on different content, each one struggling to make its mark on the progression line. When it meant something to be a Black Temple guild even to the people who weren’t in one. Does it really mean the same to be in a Sarth+3 guild?

I don’t think so.

I don’t much care personally about boasting rights or which raid is in which instance. But I do feel hurried by Blizzard’s very obvious schedule that tells me which raid I should be running at every point in time.

Is the theme park of WoW becoming a park with only one ride?

My raiding round up

Last week, our 25 man raid group stormed through Naxxramas, killing all but two of the lower bosses. This week, things didn’t go quite so well.

On Wednesday’s raid, we set out to clear the Military wing. This did (eventually) result in a first kill on the four horsemen. I was puzzled that our tactic successfully involved burst dps on the first horseman to kill him within four marks (each horseman has an AE debuff which involves stacking damage but it only stacks with itself, not with the other horseman’s marks, so the standard strategy involves lots of running around and tank swapping). The reason I was surprised is because this is a brute force strategy, I get that brute force comes into play when raids are overgeared but were we really supposed to be able to do this on a first kill?

My gut feel is not that the Wrath raids are too easy, but that they’re a bit undertuned. It’s a subtle difference, and mostly means that I think the penalties for brute forcing encounters aren’t high enough. You should have to do the intricate strategy a few times at least.

After this we messed around in the Construct wing. After people had stopped pulling slimes, and then pulling more slimes, and then pulling a whole room of respawned slimes with a badly placed totem, we made a clean kill on Patchwerk. And then it was raid end.

I was absent Thursday, and the Thursday raid was a bit of a mess. These two facts aren’t really related, some of our top dps were away this week also. They started where we’d left off in the Construct wing and spent most of the evening wiping on Thaddius.

Needless to say, the mood on the alliance forums is more sombre today. Raid leaders are realising that we’re going to have to do something about people who turn up wearing unenchanted green gear and that some people may need to be more motivated about picking up their dps.

We get some drama also

I was chatting to my feral druid friend this morning and she mentioned casually that she was taking a break from 25 man raiding. She is a really awesome tank, has great gear, and I can’t think of anyone I would prefer to tank with on the 10 man runs. She also has good dps gear, and therein lies the problem.

She felt that the raid leaders kept slotting her into the raids as dps or as ‘third tank’, when some of the other tanks just weren’t as good or as well geared as she was. And she’s right (one of our tanks is the worst paladin tank I know, I didn’t even know it was possible for paladins to be as bad at AE tanking as he is). I know why they do it, it’s because she puts out better damage than the o thers when she isn’t tanking. But it’s miserable for her to see herself low on the damage meters because bear spec dps isn’t really competitive with proper dps specs.

Or in other words, she feels that she’s being punished because the other tanks can’t be arsed to get dps gear and she could. There’s no intentional punishment involved but in practice she’s being cut out of her favourite role so that less skilled/geared people can do it instead. In particular there’s another feral who gets to tank more often because his dps really isn’t very good.

It may make sense from the raid leaders’ point of view but they just lost a pretty good asset right there. I have found through bitter experience that if you really want to tank, NEVER TELL YOUR RAID LEADER THAT YOU HAVE GOOD DPS GEAR.

In which a lich dies and I walk a lonely road

wot I did this weekend

wot I did this weekend

This is an achievement shot with a story behind it, it may not be a very exciting story but it’s mine!

The Gang’s All Here!

I’m going to go back a bit in time for some background … a month or two ago, I was busy getting lost in Dalaran when I was whispered by the alt of a friend I hadn’t seen around in a long while. She and her husband are good friends of mine in real life. The sort of friends you sometimes don’t run into for a few years. But when you do you’re always happy to see them and hang out. She sounded very down. And she wanted to know if my guild was still as laid back and chilled out as they used to be.

You can probably guess the rest of this. They had been playing on a different server, they had run their own guild, and it had just split up very painfully due to raiding drama. She just wanted somewhere friendly and supportive and non-drama prone to hang out that was far far away from them all. So we said, ‘Come join us! We love you guys!’ and a couple of weeks later both she and her husband decided that they liked it enough to transfer their level 80 characters over. And they turned out to be a feral druid and a resto shaman (ie. tank and healer) who were well geared, good players, and liked friendly raids.

At the same time, my husband was chatting to one of his mates at work who played WoW and persuaded him to transfer his character over to Argent Dawn so we could all hang out. And he turned out to be a well geared, good player, who liked friendly raids, and had a holy priest with some shadow gear also. (ie. another healer, who could also be ranged dps).

And it did not take long to occur to us that together with my protection warrior and my hubbie’s affliction warlock, we had a very solid nucleus for a 10-man raid group. This was pure luck.

The hardest job of all

So having discussed with the guys and checked that they all were free on Saturday night, I started talking to other guildies to see if I could put a 10 man group together. It was a delicate job because I didn’t want to promise more spaces than I had, but also I didn’t want to guarantee a spot to anyone unless they were sure that they could make it.

I also decided not to just announce the run openly on the guild forums. This was for selfish reasons, and although they were good reasons, I’m not proud. If you announce a raid openly, you can guarantee that half the people who sign up will be undergeared, underlevelled,  or just want to come to play tourist. And much as I’d love to bring everyone who was interested, I also selfishly wanted to take the best group I could.

I also hate telling people that they can’t come. I don’t get paid enough in this gig to have to give people bad news. So that meant personal invites to the top dps, who also conveniently are nice guys we’d been running a lot of heroics with. Some I whispered, some I sent private messages to on guild forums, and by Saturday I was fairly sure we’d be good to go.

However, there was another raid being put together via an open forum post by someone from one of our allied guilds (this was happening simultaneously with me trying to get in touch with people privately). And I knew fine well that some of the people who had signed up to his list had also agreed to come to my raid. And I also knew that because I was able to say, “Want to come on a guild-only run? We have the tanks and healers sorted out already,” that every single one of them would choose mine.

I’m not beating myself up over this. Raid leading is a bitch and putting the group together is by FAR the hardest part. And also, players can decide for themselves what they want to do of an evening. But raid leading is a bitch. The only thing that can make it worthwhile is for the raid to be so successful that people forget about the rest.

Plateramas does not disappoint

The rest was more fun! We rolled up on Saturday evening (just for the record, the group was: protection warrior, feral druid, resto shaman, holy paladin, shadow priest, affliction warlock, moonkin, fury warrior, retribution paladin, (blood?) death knight) and headed into the floating pyramid.

Four hours later, 12 bosses were dead. Vast amounts of shiny purple loot (much of it plate) had been distributed. We knew we had a good group going in, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to make such a clean sweep of it. And at least one of the guys hadn’t seen most of the fights before.

People were commenting, “You know, maybe this is a bit too easy?” I was thinking, “Yes!! I put the raid together and am attempting to lead it and it has not been a total flop!!!”

And it was 11pm which is our usual raid end time so I called it before we made any attempts on the four horsemen. I figured people were getting tired (ie. I was getting tired) and I’d rather end on a high note.

Second day, same as the first

That was going to be it for this week’s 10 man raiding. But our raid group, which only runs 25 man raids, had a Sartharion kill scheduled for Sunday evening. And it just so happened that almost every member of the previous night’s 10 man group was there. The shadow priest couldn’t make it so we swapped in a second death knight instead.

So after the Onyx Guardian died, we went back to finish the job. This was by far the harder and more fun raid. These were bosses which we hadn’t yet killed in the 25 man version. We had some learning wipes but it was fun, and we had to think a bit more about our strategies and what would work for our group.

My husband in particular was thrilled because he got to tank one of the four horsemen in the successful attempt and he loves doing that sort of stuff with his warlock. I say successful attempt — it was the second attempt.

By the fifth wipe on the big undead frost dragon Sapphiron (the novelty here is that you have to get out of the icy chill, not out of the fire), I was thinking that I would really rather have had a night off from raiding. He died on the sixth attempt.

And then we ran down a corridor and were staring at the end boss of Naxxramas. We decided to take a 5 minute break to get tea — did I mention that we’re mostly English? (The dutch guys have largely acclimatised to us by now 🙂 )

Our first attempt failed due to a combination of me failing to correctly estimate the size of a void zone when getting out of it and too many melee clustered around the boss. It is a fight where they need to stay as far apart as possible. So for the first time in known guild history, people observed our retribution paladin actually casting heals. He nobly volunteered to stand back and help heal so that the other melee would have more space.

Our second attempt was one of those heart rending 1% wipes that seemed to be so much more common back in the day. This one was due to an unlucky ice blast on our bear just as the adds turned up in the last phase, and before she had a chance to grab them. We wiped when Kelthuzad had 1% health left… but it was 11pm.

So as is traditional, I called a vote on whether we wanted to stay for one more try. And the rest is history.

Why do I always miss the good raids?

We had another surprisingly good week in 25-man raids. On Wednesday after the reset the raid leaders scheduled us up for the one wing in Naxxramas that we hadn’t attempted yet….

You’re in the army now!

The military wing is notable for its execution fights and it probably says a lot about our raid and it’s general (lack of) coordination that the RLs left this one till last. When I say execution fights, I mean encounters that aren’t as gear dependent as they are ‘people knowing what to do’ dependent.

The first boss is a gimmick fight, and the gimmick is that no mere player can tank him. He has to be tanked by one of his adds, and this has to happen via players casting mind control which is a priest spell. He’s also notable for me personally in that I used to play an alliance priest back in the days of yore and I was one of the mind controllers on this fight and boy did I hate it. Every week I would say to my class leader afterwards, ‘I’m never doing this again.” And he’d say, “Same time next week then.” I think it was having 38 other people yelling at me on voicechat that did it, even when we were doing it relatively smoothly.

He’s a LOT easier now.

After a few wipes our priests got the hang of it and he hit the deck. I was on dps duties (fear my 1.4k protection dps, even despite having spent some badges to get a new dpsish trinket and necklace!) for this one, which at least gives everyone else some kind of benchmark. I look at it this way: someone has to be at the bottom of the damage meters. And I guess at least I have room to improve.

Then we moved on to Gothik the Harvester (otherwise known as ‘that git with the beard’), which is a fight I think I’m going to really enjoy once we’ve done it a few more times. The raid splits into two and moves into two different rooms, live side which is a boring room and dead side which is a boring room with piles of bones in it. When the encounter starts you get a few minutes of increasing numbers of adds pouring into the live side where we (attempt to) tank and kill them … and once dead they appear at the dead side where the other guys have to do the same.

It gets increasingly frenetic until you get to phase two where the boss appears and teleports around a bit and then finally the raid gets to join together again and he dies shortly afterwards. I was tanking the live side and the two paladin tanks on the dead side. We had another couple of wipes here and eventually stuck a feral on backup duty with me, and then we got him! I think next time I’ll ignore the little adds and just focus on the tougher ones, and try to get the rest of the guys to stand further back. Anyhow, I think I can do it better but hey, he died. I thought it was a pretty fun fight.

We then moved on to The Four Horsemen which was a fiendishly complicated and technical encounter back in the day. I know it’s supposed tobe a lot easier now. In essence there are 4 bosses which need to be tanked in 4 different corners, and there’s some dancing around and tanks have to swap bosses and so on. We wiped a few times trying to get the pull right — it’s not supposed to be that hard but the guys on the back bosses weren’t seeming to pick them up properly — and then hit end of raid time and called it.

Two new bosses and a bit of learning time on a third, not too bad. I also distinguished myself with an inane number of accidental trash pulls. I think the best was when I had lined a mob up to shoot and instead I hit the charge button (ie. so instead of shooting it, I charged into the pack). The fact that none of these mad pulls wiped the group shows that a) people are reasonably on their toes and b) Naxx trash is NOT what it used to be.

Another time, same as the first

Last night I was out and the guys went back in and … cleared all the bosses we’d killed last week. So that’s spider wing, plague wing, and first two bosses of the construct wing. There was one plate-wearing tank there so naturally loads of tanking gear dropped and he got almost totally outfitted without having to bid more than minimum DKP on any item.

I’m dead proud of them all, but I have to steel myself to log in now because he is that guy who will spend all of this week boasting about his stats and copy/pasting his new purples to guild chat. I wouldn’t mind but he also got geared up in a single Karazhan run in the last expansion!

There must be a downside to being ultra-lucky with drops and lack of competition but I can’t see what it is. And naturally if we’d scheduled the runs in the opposite order, I would be bitching about missing the first kills instead 😉

In which I lead a raid

Over last weekend, we also took out Sartharion. Because he’s a fairly easy fight, the RLs decided to use this as an opportunity to rotate a few people into the raid who aren’t really geared for Naxxramas yet but are keen to raid. We one shotted the dragon, but it was a drawn out messy kill and I personally cannot wait until paladins get a regular taunt next patch (hopefully next week) because one of ours kept taunting the boss off me, which is annoying.

After this, I organised a 10 man raid to the same boss. It is definitely weird having the encounters available on both 10 and 25 man mode, but was quite fun to go in with a few guildies and trash him with feeling for being such a pain earlier. Had compliments on my raid leading which amuses me because I thought I was being laconic to the point of comatoseness, plus its hard to really give useful instructions with a dragon in your face.

This week’s bitching in raid forums

The main discussion this week was about DKP. I can’t stand DKP, its only redeeming factor in my eyes is that it makes life easier for the raid leaders than the alternative. So this week we were discussing some new tweak someone thought up to our scheme where when you bid you have to also say if it’s a major or minor upgrade for you.

I personally think this is dumb. Clearly if it’s a major upgrade you’ll just bid more because it will be worth more to you? Unless you are that guy who lucks out and gets everything for min bid but I’m not bitter.

Saddle up, it’s postmortem time

It’s been a good week online.

1. I picked up a copy of Mount and Blade (will write more about that later but basically you can download a full trial version for free, and you only pay if you want to get past level 7). If you like your medievalish RPGs sans magic, go try it. I just like any game that lets me play a badass female warrior in heavy armour.

2. Our Warcraft raids went well. In fact, they went really well. I don’t entirely know what we’d been expecting when our 25 rent-an-adventurer group hooked itself up onto voice chat and sailed into the inexplicably floating pyramid that is Naxxramas … but I don’t think we were expecting to kill 9 bosses in 2 evenings. (If anyone knows the place, we cleared the Spider and Plague wing and the first three bosses of the Construct wing. Only had time for one try on Thaddeus but we’ll get him next week for sure.)

Today our alliance (with a small a, since we play Horde like all right-thinking people!) boards are a-flurry with excited posts. Lots of people thanking the raid leaders and saying how much they enjoyed it. A few people posted combat log parses — which results in raid leaders saying sternly that these are useful tools for analysing how to do better but that there will be no witch hunts for poor performance. Some posts suggesting slight changes to tactics to try next week.

Basically this is the post-mortem phase of the raid week. How did we do? How can we do better?

But what I mostly take from it is the sheer enthusiasm of the raiders. I’m happy too (also relieved). I enjoy raiding and it’s always fun when things go well. Some of the guys who were with us on Wednesday or last night had never raided before, and it’s infectious to watch them light up with enthusiasm.

On those grounds, I would say that Naxxramas is well tuned for raids like ours. I can see now why people say that it’s an easy raid instance. If you’re used to an environment where it takes several weeks to kill a boss, having a relaxed raid like ours be able to trot in and down nine in two nights is a fair sign that things are not what they were.

But you can’t argue with people having fun and looking forwards excitedly to coming back next week for another go. If I was a designer, that would be exactly the response I would hope for from a group like mine which has a fair mixture of experienced and new raiders. It really is the entry level raid we were so desperately hoping for.

The main thing that makes it such a pleasant learning curve for new raiders is that a lot of the fights are quite fault tolerant, and the amount of raid damage is generally low. So there are several fights where it won’t stop you successfully killing the boss if a few people do things wrong or run the wrong way or die inexplicably on the other side of the room from everyone else (NB. I did this on at least one occasion). Also the fights themselves are simpler than some of the complex 5 phase craziness that was the TBC boss fight. Each boss has one or two tricks that people need to learn. That’s a much more friendly staged way to teach new raiders what it’s all about than throwing them straight into Karazhan the way it was at the beginning of TBC.

And the other newbie friendly thing about the raid is that the gear requirements are now much easier to meet for new raiders, plus there are more experienced guys around to help and advise. Between reputation gear, crafted gear, quest gear, badge gear, and drops, you don’t need to spend weeks farming heroics in order to raid. Note: I just reread that last sentence and realised how complex a process it sounds.

It’s all about the Trez

Mrs Spinks has a bad shield day

Mrs Spinks has a bad shield day

And our raid collected 20 drops over the two nights, which for a 25 person raid means that most people got a shiny purple souvenir too. Blizzard, I think, realised very well that one important thing about raid drops is that they need to be recognisable enough that you can lounge around cities and make sure other people know that you actually have 24 friends. Unfortunately this means that some of them are unfeasibly large and glowy, and ugly as sin (I mean the epics, not the friends).

I think of it as the Azeroth equivalent of a T-Shirt saying, “I tanked Patchwerk and all I got was this fugly shield.”

But it is epic and I am happy 🙂

The road to raiding

My guild alliance ran its first 25 man raid in Wrath last night. This is a milestone for any raid group, like when your startup gets its first real customer or your band gets its first gig and someone who isn’t actually a relative or partner turns up to see it (bonus points if you didn’t bribe them with free beer).

The reason it is such a big deal is that it’s  a delicate process to get raids running in a new expansion. Players are deciding which raid group they want to associate with, and everything is up in the air until the point where you can strongarm or cajole enough people along and bosses start dying. I know a few people in our group had already been to pick up raids (ie. someone on one of the public channels asks for more random people to join them) or been triallists in other raid groups before deciding that they wanted to stick with us instead.

The startup is a pretty good comparison. Imagine that you are starting up a new business and it’s in an employees market so most of your potential staff have their choice of places to work. Even if people agree verbally to contracts with you, you’ve no guarantee they won’t suddenly change their mind when they get a better offer. Once you actually have real customers and can show your candidates some track record, your chances of attracting them are higher.

Of course raiding isn’t the same. You’re only paying people in terms of providing entertainment (that’s what running raids is about really), although there are social benefits too. But when people commit to a raid schedule, they want to know that they will be getting something worthwhile in return — to whit, a working and viable raid to be part of.

So the first successful raid is like a callout to all the guys who hung in there even before the raid had proven itself. It shows they made a good call. This is also why it’s great that the initial Wrath raids are fairly easy; if you can get 25 people together you WILL be able to go kill something.

Anyway, my guild alliance is a fairly casual setup. They’re being a bit more organised in Wrath than they had been in the last expansion and trying to keep a quota on class/roles so that we don’t end up with a gazillion tanks (again). This is a bit of a culture shock but going reasonably well so far, mostly because people from the old raid got grandfathered in and they only recruited for roles they were lacking.

The raid yesterday was notable for some other reasons:

  1. I was main tank (my main is a protection warrior). I spent a lot of the afternoon chewing my nails nervously and reading raiding websites; it helps that a) I was at home with a cold and b) I don’t work wednesdays anyway. Oh, I was nervous alright. 24 other people relying on me to not mess up their evening.  In practice, it’s nowhere near that bad. If one tank dies, someone else can often pick up. But you do feel a sense of responsibility. I also feel lucky to have the chance to raid as a protection warrior because it’s traditionally been an oversubscribed role.
  2. We were late starting raiding. Although other raid groups have cleared all the content, and actually quite a few of the people there had seen much of it in pick up groups, we knew that as a more casual group we wanted to wait until January when more people would be ready. One of the odd side effects of that is that some of the guys we recruited were knocked back from more hardcore groups due to lack of room — so we were not their first choice but they wanted to play in 25 man raids and … well, there you have it. But it’s nice for everyone involved to see that even if you start late, you can still get things rolling.

We did clear a couple of wings in Naxxramas for anyone who wants the gory details, and we were happy with that for our first 3-hour 25 man raid.