Bad News, Good News, Cute Cat

Not too unhappy!

Last week I discovered my Dragon Age save files  have become somewhat corrupted, so I now can’t be bothered to finish my second playthrough, and I was relatively near the end (at the Arl Howe stuff).

I’m bummed, I preferred my second character, and got so far with it, but now I’ve shelved the game until Dragon Age 2 is out. I hope for less issues and I will be starting a new character anyway. Means I didn’t get to play quite a bit of the DLC (which I found not really to be worth the money) nor the expansion. I’ll live. One day I’ll go back to it. Perhaps.

It put me off gaming last week, since I sat down all ready to lose a day to finishing the game. Bad News.

On sunday, I dragged myself to the LotRO kin raid to Barad Guldur where we actually made progress in our fight against the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. It’s been a while since I honestly thought we’d made any good progress, and more importantly I didn’t wipe the group once, so I have a little more faith in my ability to pay attention, even when I hate a fight. So that was my Good Luck in gaming. I know it sounds self-deprecating, but the fight is so annoying on a micro-management level, and includes (for me), healing, running around to try and hit a fell beast but moving out of range of its tail and mouth, watching for fear on others, watching for yellow and/or purple eyes on me and reacting accordingly – and all later in the evening than I would like, concentration-wise. So while I’m glad the group, as a whole, made progress, I’m more happy that I managed to hold my attention the entire however-many-attempts we had. I think, now, that we will be able to down him. But I still have no love lost to Barad Guldur and will be glad when we can go to Helegrod again!

(and in secondary good news, I get to play Deathspank for the PC roday after pre-ordering my first ever game on Steam!)

Thought of the Day: On welfare epics, workers, and the industrial MMO economy

Once upon a time, in the pre-industrial age, life was simpler and easier to understand in the MMO world. People quietly got on with their own game and formed into like minded guilds, mostly for social reasons or to work on shared tasks. Some took a hardcore raiding approach and were somewhat respected as the server elite (by some people at least). But there was very little pressure on players to stress over their gear and play if they weren’t in one of those guilds. Raiding society put a lot of emphasis on which guild you joined, but outside this circle it was mostly unimportant.

As raiding became more accessible, there was a lot more pressure on regular players to buy in to the system. A system which defined players by the progression of their current guild and forced those who were deeply concerned with their status to put in more and more time, and keep jumping to more and more progressed guilds.

You could imagine raid guilds as being like production lines. The pressure on players to conform and gear and play to an approved style (with the use of external metrics like gearscore and damage meters to enforce) was like the work ethic that was imposed on pre-industrial workers in the real world. Lists of meaningless achievements replaced meaningless production goals set down by management, which in turn replaced meaningful individual goals from the pre-industrial MMO which people defined for themselves.

And the welfare epics? Well named, perhaps, because just as in the real world, welfare picked up some of the slack in that there were more workers than there were jobs; more players who wanted to be part of the endgame than there were guild spots.

So if that’s the industrial cycle, what happens now? Are we drifting into a post-industrial MMO age where raiding might become optional again, or at least less of a defining factor in how a player sees themselves?

When a man is tired of raiding, he’s tired of … MMOs?

I don’t know about any of you but I’m just not as into raiding these days as I used to be. I still enjoy the social side because I like the people in my regular raids a lot, but I know that I used to … care more.

When I first started raiding properly in WoW I’d happily plonk my character outside BWL for hours at a time, just in case my raid needed a substitute. Sure, I was reading or browsing the web while I waited but I was still excited just to be there and to be part of a big 40 man raid guild. I look back now as if it was a different person – how mad do you have to be to log into a game with all your raid preparables, and just wait for 4 hours??

Is it pre-Wrath burnout? Could be. I’d like a break but I don’t want to let my raid group down, especially as at least one of the other tanks can’t be there right now. And since it only takes one night a week it seems churlish to make an issue of it, I still enjoy our raids.

Is it because ICC has been so dull for tanks? I’m sure this is part of it, ICC doesn’t have many cool tanking fights. This in turn doesn’t make me enthused to tank any future raids, unless I see Blizzard acknowledge it and say that they want to do better. If I sign up to tank in Cataclysm, will I hate it? Is this the shape of things to come?

Is it to do with the way 10 mans worked out this expansion? This is probably part of it. I don’t have a regular 10 man raid, and many others in my 25 man raid group do. Coupled with the fact I can’t make one of our regular two raid nights, I feel increasingly pressured when learning new fights because half our raid already has practised them several times and is bored when I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on.

Or is it just that raiding in MMOs has run its course for me? It’s been loads of fun and I have brilliant memories but … do I want to keep doing this?

All I know is that I am increasingly wondering how much I’ll want to raid in Cataclysm. More people in Wrath have gotten to raid than ever before in WoW, many of them in PUGs but plenty of regular organised raids have also found traction that couldn’t before. And I wonder how many of them now think ‘yup, that was fun, but I don’t want to do it again.’

Maybe it’s just that the structural side of progression raiding doesn’t suit my temperament or circumstance any more. Raid groups require you to sign up with one class/ spec and stick with it for the whole expansion (or until you swap guilds), and commit to a raid schedule for a similar amount of time. It’s a big commitment, even for one night a week. And if you are the sort of person who loves their alts or tends to get bored of a spec after you’ve played it for over a year, it will start to drag.

As MMOs become more accessible, perhaps fewer and fewer people will want to make that sort of regular commitment. Or in other words, maybe it isn’t (just) me. Perhaps Gevlon has the right of it, and it’s his style of PUG guild which is the best model for the future.

And I also know that part of the excitement for me in Wrath was being able to raid tank for the first time. There was a lot to learn, and  I am the poster child for Raph Koster’s theory of fun – I enjoy games the most when I’m learning new things and trying to master them. Next time, it won’t be so much of a thrill.

Ultimately I’m considering organising some casual 10 man raids for the guild in Cataclysm. If all works out, they’ll be more flexible in terms of who has to be there and what class/ role people play. I think that might suit me better.

Is anyone else wondering whether they want to keep raiding in Cataclysm?

Transferable skills: Raiding in LOTRO

bg_lin1 Note: I am going to be discussing raiding as it is now on EU servers. We don’t yet have the latest F2P patch with the associated rules changes, new content, and so on. We don’t yet have a date for it either.

I now have enough radiance on my gear to be able to set foot into Barad Guldur (BG), which is the big Mirkwood raid instance. It is a change of pace from Moria with more animated suits of armour and fewer mushrooms; but there are still plenty of orcs. The end boss is (dah dah DAH) a Nazgul, and I’m not sure what happens if you kill it but if we find out I’ll let you know.

Me being there at all is only possible because of an infinitely patient raid group which is also in need of warm bodies. I have in fact given up trying to understand how raiding works in my kinship. They are all very nice, but I feel as though the newbie raid group threw radiance gear at me and now  don’t seem concerned whether I raid with them (I have always assumed previously that good raid etiquette was to raid with the guys who geared you). So I’m thrown in with the big boys and girls, into proper LOTRO progression raiding! They have all been remarkably nice about having a noob on board.

So how does LOTRO raiding compare with WoW raiding

Raiding in LOTRO reminds me a lot of raiding in the later raids of vanilla WoW. Obviously we don’t have 40 people, these are 12 man raids, but there are several similarities:

  • Trash mobs need some strategy. The pulls are carefully planned, tanks allocated to mobs, kill order required and use of raid marks and assists widely used.
  • Endurance boss fights. The LOTRO designers like longish boss fights so typically, once you have figured out what to do, your raid has to continue to do it flawlessly for several minutes.
  • There is plenty of movement and interaction in the actual boss fights. This is why I’m reminded of the end of AQ40 or parts of Naxx40, rather than earlier instances. The end boss of BG in particular is an extremely demanding fight which gets significantly harder if even one person dies.
  • Lots of abbreviations. This is probably standard for any MMO, but the LOTRO raids have abbreviations for the different instances, different bosses, different class abilities and talents (I fled to the net when someone gave me advice on how to spec so that I could decode it) and people will expect you to know them if they are mentioned mid fight.
  • The designers aren’t concerned about making fights that favour either melee or ranged to a great extent. But melee seem to get the shaft more often. Maybe this is inevitable in boss fight design but it does my head in to be standing and just watching an entire phase of a boss fight without being able to do anything.

The picture in the screenshot above is a trash fight in Barad Guldur. In this one, the raid pulls a group of wights. Each wight will focus on one player for a set amount of time (20s or so) and follow them around before switching to someone else. So the goal is for everyone to run away from their wights whilst killing everyone elses’.

If this sounds like mad fun, it is. And as an extra spice, imagine a UI which doesn’t announce who is being followed. You just have to keep an eye open.

Here’s some ways in which LOTRO raiding really struck me as different from WoW:

  • It takes a long time to recover between wipes. Between death debuffs (which can be removed) and time to run back into the instance, it’s not unusual to have only 3-4 tries at a boss in a session. Admittedly, we don’t raid long stretches of time, but it’s still very different from a WoW setup. This does however give people much more time to chat.
  • Repair bills hurt. LOTRO allows tokens from daily quests to buy potions and consumables but those repair bills can be fairly pricey. I’m not entirely sure how people make loads of cash in the game but I think I’d be farming a lot if I was raiding more heavily.
  • No boss mods. This is the big one, you have to actually pay attention to spell effects and boss shouts to figure out what’s going on. People are great about calling effects on voice chat but what you will not have are big wodges of text in the middle of the screen telling you exactly what to do.
  • Limited information. This is probably not such an issue now because BG has been live for at least a year, so there are plenty of websites where you can find out about the fights. But it is still a game in which each raid group has to figure things out for themselves. I do feel for the more hardcore EU raiders, because that will all have been done in the new raids by the time we get the content patch.

So does being a raider in one game transfer to the next?

The answer to this is yes and no. The only reason I’ve been able to transition so smoothly to the LOTRO raids is that I have been able to apply playing skills from other games. Once you learn what the fire looks like in the new game, you already know how to get out of it.

And when I say smoothly, I don’t mean that I’m some kind of amazing all-star. I just mean that I can follow basic instructions without wiping the raid. It’s only the lack of damage meters which mean no one can really compare performance easily.

The skills which do transfer best are situational awareness and being able to figure out what is going on in a fight by watching it (or particularly, what went wrong in a failed attempt). Those that need to be relearned are UI dependent – like watching for debuffs or checking the chat for boss shouts.

But one thing to bear in mind is that I’m playing a melee/utility class in LOTRO. I don’t have to wrestle with the default raid UI for healing, or the clever Warden/ Runekeeper mechanics. For those classes, this really is like raiding in hard mode.

LotRO: the Endgame Experience

(One big difference between LOTRO raiding and WoW raiding is that although there now are some raiding guides and websites, those mostly didn’t exist when Arb’s guild did these raids. They had to work out these encounters for themselves, with a mostly casual player base. Even now, raid guilds are quite cagey about sharing their tactics for more recent raids …)

First of all, some disclaimers:

I’m in a fairly casual kinship in LotRO, but we’re big and we have a lot of players that enjoy raid content, myself included. We’re a mature bunch who’ve built up a certain level of skill playing together and we’ve always managed to clear endgame content just before a new addition to the game. Because we take it quite casually, we have a rotating raid group rather than a fixed one, where anyone who wants to (and who has the required radiance) can join the pool. This has worked in my favour and against it as we have had a fluctuating number of Captains, and somehow people still find Captains useful in raids ;p

I’ve been playing LotRO since just before the official launch in Europe. I don’t really like to alt, so I’ve stuck with my Captain throughout. That’s a melee secondary healer to you non-LotRO folks (and to many LotRO folks who don’t really pay attention to what Captains do much). We can heal, we can buff, we can use a get-out combination of skills which reduces damage across our entire group by 50% and takes it upon ourselves, coupled with a self-invulnerability which lasts a short time. It’s the latter thing we are seen as ‘essential’ for. We do a TON of other stuff, and contrary to popular belief we even do some dps!! But the heal/buff/last stand combo are the raid essentials.

I do also have a Minstrel (primary healer) which I levelled up purely to help with Rift raids in the early raiding days before the kin swelled a lot, but I never got the Minstrel any radiance or to level 65 – I’ve let it languish at level 64 out of pure stubbornness. So, I have a Captain.

Helegrod

thorog

Thorog

The first LotRO raid is Helegrod, soon to be scaleable, so everyone that skipped it can go back and do it in chunks at appropriate levels. The end boss is an undead dragon. It’s a throwback to the old days of LotRO, a raid designed for 24 with distinct ‘wings’ – the giants, the spiders, and the dragons, leading up to the big fight in the centre. Not a lot of casual kins did it because of the 24-man requirement and the end boss, Thorog, was a notoriously nasty fight that Turbine needed to tweak a lot, and which changed quite often. I’ve done it a couple of times and it holds a good whack of nostalgia for me, so I do look forward to returning to that one soon (with the Free-to-Play a lot of old content has been retooled and made scaleable and given radiance rewards, so you’ll be able to get your radiance gear from your choice of a variety of places).

The Rift

Then entered the Rift, so so controversial at the time for introducing Thaurlach to the world – a Balrog that /players/ could fight and kill. Well, with the help of a First Age elf to keep within the bounds of the Lore, but still. Wow, I remember at the time I didn’t like the idea one bit, and yet, for many of us the Rift represents the halcyon days before radiance gating made raiding in LotRO feel like a chore that only the select few who worked hard on their radiance to take part in.

The Rift is 12-man, and introduces the Eldgang (a slow and sonorous race, who’ve been a little conned by Evil), the fights are challenging, as any raid – and learning them certainly presented many months of week-in, week-out failures and little successes. Many of our amusing raid tales stem from the Rift; little slip-ups that became comical. And, through nostalgia, we forget the relentless depression of some of the wipes, the frustration over learning how to take on Thrang (second-to-last boss).

But, it was the taking down of the Balrog that gave me personally my first really excited/relieved/cheering moment in LotRO raiding. At the time we had a fairly fixed group with some revolving dps classes, and many of us went for every single raid. It was a big commitment, and it paid off. While we needed a big break from it at one point, I now really love going back there to show it to others, or just have a nostalgia kick with the benefit of some level 65s being along.

Moria, and Radiance Gear

With Moria, we gained a ton of new 6-man instances, all needed for radiance. Initially they had to be done a ton of times, now the process is streamlined, there’s also some 3-man radiance instances and as I said before, soon you’ll be able to get radiance from all sorts of places including the Annuminas instances which are a ton of fun – so I definitely recommend them, they were my favourite ones to work out the tactics for, and they’re not really done that much these days. Why back to instances from raids? Because with Moria we had radiance gating, something that separated those who COULD raid gearwise, and those who needed more gear to do so. We also got two one-boss raids; the turtle and the Watcher in the Water.

The turtle is a gateway drug raid. One boss, no radiance needed, but drops tokens and the occasional radiance piece. It’s a dps race, not THAT interesting or exciting, but it’s there and you can practise working as a 12-man group there. Once you get the tactic and you have a relatively decent mix of classes, you’re good to go. The last proper non-gated, ‘pick-uppable’ LotRO raid. The Watcher is a 3-stage raid, which is tough on positioning at first and then demands some element of focus and stamina and knowing how to play the raid. It’s short when you know it, but it’s caused more wipes because of its length than many!! Expect big repair bills. It also needs radiance, so you need to play other parts of the game to even get in there.

Dar Narbugud

Then the 12-man raid in Moria – Dar Narbugud. It’s dark and dank and takes place underground, working through corrupted orcs/goblins/many ugly pestilent thingies and it has some challenging and interesting encounters. It involves more radiance than the Watcher and has more bosses (6), leading to The Mistress of Pestilence (a giant slug thingie). I used to find it quite depressing and again, had to make almost every raid night as we were down on Captains at the time. But, when you get to the knotty bits of tricky fights, I enjoyed it again. Hell, now I’m almost nostalgic for the place, which just shows you how crazy our minds are.

Mirkwood and Dol Guldur

And Mirkwood, more radiance needed, more 3-mans and a 6-man to get you the higher radiance needed for the final LotRO raid of the moment; Barad Guldur in Dol Guldur, leading to a fight with a… Nazgul. Not as controversial as a Balrog, after all, there were more Nazgul in the books, right? And it needs the highest radiance, and is probably the least forgiving of any of the raids in terms of positioning, being on focus and lots of tricky tactics to take on board. Really, people should raid in the mornings not when starting to feel sleepy! Anyway, it only has 3 bosses, but you have to do them in both normal and challenge modes to really get all the gear/deeds from the raid. Which is actually kind of annoying, because the fights don’t change THAT much between the modes, they’re just harder/easier. For me, I think it’s meant it’s grown old faster than the old 6-boss content. We’ve done the first two bosses both ways, but inconsistently, and we just have the Nazgul left – it’s not a particularly enjoyable fight for me, but I have no doubt we’ll get it on ‘farm’ eventually.

High Points of LOTRO Raiding

Rather than focusing on the negative and my dislike for the radiance gating, I thought I’d end this piece with a list of my favourite raid encounters from LotRO so far:

  • the Barad Guldur non-stop fight gauntlet – I love the mania, and I feel I actually make a difference, but mainly I like the mania
  • the spider boss fight in Helegrod (I love being a poison bomb, honest!)
  • Thrang in the Rift (because I love the Eldgang dialogue during it, I adored working it out however frustrating, and it’s multi-stage flows really really well)
  • Istum in Dar Narbugud for.. the mania (work out a pattern here), well, it always feels like an accomplishment to kill him, however skilled and experienced we are – acid pools, exploding worms – what’s not to love?

It’s always great to get the end boss down, sure.. and I love the housing trophies they drop, but sometimes we forget the journeys.

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In memory of absent friends

Towards the end of the year, it’s normal for us to look back over the last 12 months and take stock. What has changed? What goals have we met? Have we made any new friends? Lost any old ones? Learned anything new? Had major life changes? Anything unexpected that we coped with well … or badly?

And looking over the raid roster, I’m struck by how many people I have raided with since the release of Wrath (call that about a year). Many of them I barely knew when that year began, if at all. We aren’t all best friends, we don’t all mix or chat socially outside raids, but I feel that I know all of them even if that just means names, personality traits, voices on voice chat and maybe a few shared jokes and experiences. We spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company — even my one raid per week is a regular 3 hour weekly slot. That’s more time than I spend with a lot of my real life friends, whose lives are so busy these days that we have to plan a few weeks ahead to meet up.

Some players  we were fond  of had to bow out during the year either for good reasons (new job! new baby! switched up to more hardcore raid guild!), less happy ones, or just plain burnout with the game. It’s very easy when you are bound up with a regular raiding schedule to feel that people in online games have short memories. If you take a couple of weeks out, you might be replaced – after all, the raids need to keep running either with or without you. And it’s easy to feel that you’d be quickly forgotten also.

But when I look over the old Naxx signups, I don’t think we’ve forgotten those names who no longer raid with us (I’m sure there are some which have a special place in raid leaders’ memories, for sure :) ). I think we’d be thrilled to see them if they ever hopped back into the game to say Hi. I don’t know whether there would be room in raids, that’s harder to organise, but I know they aren’t forgotten. Thinking even further back, I still chat to Arb about people we used to play DaoC with years ago. For most  I never knew their real names, but there was some level on which we knew them as friends with a shared hobby, who used to play games with us. Or else they were ‘those guys’ who were jerks in game and still are the subject of massive bitch fests when we can be bothered.

And it’s part of the normal cycle of gaming that people join and leave. Life happens, circumstances change, people get bored. There is a quote I read (and I don’t know the origin) that runs: We will all be the same in five years as we are now except for two things: the books we have read and the people we’ve met.

Here’s to all the people we met this year, and to the people we’ll meet in the year to come.

My love of multi-phase boss fights

I first got the notion of multi-phase boss fights from kids cartoons. In Battle of the Planets, when a fight got really bad the various team members would combine their powers and turn their ship into the awesome fiery phoenix … which would then kick serious arse.

Admittedly I didn’t think “Hm, a 2 phase boss fight. Note to self: make sure lazydin puts up fire resist aura in phase 2,” but that was because I didn’t have the wealth of raid leading experience then that I do now. Also they were the heroes so you weren’t really supposed to spend too much time thinking about how you’d fight them. (Am I the only person who spent serious amounts of time as a kid thinking of ways to confound Doctor Who in case I grew up to be a space baddie?)

This weekend we had some good attempts at the 10 man Trial of the Grand Crusader (ie. heroic edition), and it brought home to me how much I prefer leading progression raids through multi-phase encounters to single phase ones.  The reason is because it is much easier for everyone in the raid to get some feedback on how we are progressing. If you start the night with wipes at about 5s into phase 1 and end the night getting solidly into phase 3 on every attempt than everyone can feel as though it was a good solid night of learning. Even though you might not have actually killed the boss.

I think this is key to the idea of making learning fun in groups. After each failure, you get to tweak something about the raid or the tactics and try again, and get some instant feedback about whether that helped or not. The phases help by ringfencing different parts of the fight. It’s a more interesting way to judge how the learning is going than saying ‘We got him to 42% that time, that’s a 2% improvement in efficiency over the previous attempt.’

Also the WoW raid fights tend to have fairly spectacular phase change animations which at least keep everyone awake. Or give them a chance to adlib amusing commentary to the inevitable long speeches and keep everyone else awake.

On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the phases on farm raids where I have to actually explain them to the person who hasn’t been there before and didn’t read up on the tactics. The worst WoW culprit I can remember was the 5-phase horror of Zul’jin. Firstly it wasn’t that fun of a fight anyway but you also couldn’t really expect a newbie to remember 5 phases worth of instructions (cluster on this phase, spread out on this phase, run away from whirlwinds in this phase, etc etc) off the bat.

Our raid leader wrote a macro for that one in the end.

Ulduar Update

How’s patch 3.1 going for you?

I logged in after the patch and was immediately grabbed to go tank Emalon (new Wintergrasp Boss) in a PUG. We didn’t kill him, but we were improving on each attempt. And then Wintergrasp came up so we did that instead.

After that, I ran off to grab my dual specs. Dual spec joy!

In the evening, we took our first steps into Ulduar. The mood in the raid was electric as we zoned in. People were singing, chattering excitedly, discussing their dual specs, bringing out all the old jokes that probably should be retired by now. It was so very very different from the week before when we were dragging our tired carcasses around Naxxramas again.

We saw lots of other raiders on their way into Ulduar and everyone was waving to each other. Our server was being surprisingly obliging, for once. Things got a little ropier later but Blizzard EU ™ did a fantastic job with it, considering the load.

So we zoned in. Nope, no achievement for just zoning into Ulduar. There were some steps! We ran down them. No achievement for running down the steps?!! Man, we’ve been here 10s and no achievements yet, Blizzard is slacking.

This was forgotten as soon as people caught site of the cool vehicles parked in the courtyard ahead of us. Cue: “get to the chopper” jokes. We didn’t have much of a clue what we were doing so we piled into vehicles:

  • tanks got to drive tanks (YES!!)
  • ranged dps got to be tank gunners
  • healers got to ride choppers (Note: In the UK a Chopper is a kind of kid’s bicycle, which we all thought would have been funnier)
  • and I can’t remember what the other vehicle was but everyone else got those

So I jumped into my tank with a warlock as my rear gunner and together with everyone else, we set off.

The first obstacle is a long gauntlet of (destructible towers), other vehicles, helicopters which need to be shot down, and various bits and pieces for the Demolishers (hah! I did remember the name) to pick up to use as fuel or ammo. It was pure crazy fun. Not knowing what we were doing wasn’t a major hindrance and it didn’t take long to get the idea. I was really enjoying smacking down towers, and steering the tank so that my gunner could get a good angle on the flying enemies.

Then we came to some vehicle healing patches, from which we figured that the boss was close.

Flame Leviathan is an easy fight. Tanks kite him around (wtf is my armoured tank attempting to run away from things? That was weird), choppers weave in and out dropping patches of oil which demolishers can set on fire, non-kiting tanks interrupt his flame jets and … best of all … demolishers can catapault spare moonkins onto Leviathan’s back which is as good a place as any for them, I guess :)

In any case, we one shotted him/her/it although it was quite a close-run thing. Finally, an achievement!

I looked round at the end and there was only my tank and one of the choppers left standing. Everyone excitedly discussed whose vehicle was most fun as we ressed and sorted the loot (another achievement for the first badge of conquest, now we’re rolling), and planned to try next week with some towers up (ie. one of the hard modes).

Now the thing about Flame Leviathan as an encounter is that it’s easy, yes, but also very enjoyable. I defy even the most hardcore of hardcore guilds not to have had fun with their vehicles. This is what a vehicle based fight should be like. It was also a nice boost to more casual raiders coming in for the first time, even if they struggle with the other bosses, they get to see the fun vehicle fight and retrieve some loot.

The NPCs chattered to each other about setting up teleporters and we moved on. There isn’t any trash before you get to the next few bosses, just wide corridors and pretty scenery. And then we got to see what the teleporter was all about, it’s possible to port from the entrance to past Flame Leviathan without having to run all the way back. Nice work, NPCs! You can stay.

We took a brief look at Ignis and started to clear some of his trash mobs. But from discussion with other raid groups, we heard that he was bugged and raid leaders decided to take a crack at Razorscale instead. Incidentally, we kept getting updates which we were in Ulduar about how other raid groups were doing. Raiding on Argent Dawn is fairly tight knit, so many of our raiders have friends who raid with other guilds or groups. And it’s really handy when it comes to passing on information like this, about which encounters to avoid.

Razorscale is hard. There’s a first phase with lots of adds that need to be collected and killed, some which need to be tanked separately because of the badass whirlwind attack and others with a crazy chain lightning. In brief interludes, the captured drake descends and you pile on as much dps as you can before she takes off again. There is also fire. Because all Blizzard encounters have fire that you need to move out from. In a spark of originality, this fire is white.

We spent the rest of the night figuring out how best to handle phase 1. I think we had the tanking mostly sorted, it’s just a case of how best to get the dps onto Razorscale quickly when she lands.

Note: Razorscale and Ignis were both hotfixed on EU servers after the first night’s raiding.

Second Night

I wasn’t there for this one. More attempts at Razorscale, they had her to phase 2 a few times. Then they moved on for some learning wipes on XT-200 which apparently has awesome voice acting. I’ll look forwards to seeing it.

10 Mans

I’m not sure how much 10 man raiding I will be able to fit in now. The weather is brighter and my weekends are becoming more booked up so the regular Saturday run is off the cards, for me at least.

I’m sad, because I did really enjoy running them, but not sad enough to … you know … cancel my social life over it.

Another guildie took over the organising and they took down Leviathan and XT-200 this week. On Sunday I was in an impromptu 10 man which knocked off Emalon and then wandered off to kill Malygos too.

Looking Forwards

I am really looking forwards to getting back into Ulduar for another crack at the drake. But, I know that dps has always been the weak side for our raid group — yes we have some awesome players but we don’t have 16 consistently awesome dps. If Ulduar continues to be heavy dps checks, then I can see us struggling and it won’t matter how much effort I personally put in. We may need more runs through Naxx to gear up newer people also.

But, we’ll see how it goes.

More on Dual Specs

I had always said that I wouldn’t level my druid until I could dual spec her. Last week was that day. She’s now level 72, has healed three instances as a tree and topped the dps meters as moonkin in a fourth.

It’s been fun. Thumbs up for dual specs and for the new looking for group interface.

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.