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4.2 looks Hot!

16 May

Let’s talk Firelands!

My time lately has been divided between raid leadership on the live realms and playtime on the PTR.  While the personal progression goals of our raid team are first in my mind, new content after so long a patch of nothing huge being added is more than welcome.

The Molten Front

New daily quests rarely get my going in a serious way, but the molten front doesn’t feel as grind-y as leveling fishing a day at a time.  The druids of Hyjal call upon the player to collect Marks of the World Tree by completing quests to repair the land and fightback the forces from the Firelands.

Some misconceptions: doing these quests isn’t a requirement to raid the Firelands.  Also, although the area makes huge use of various types of phasing, the quests can largely still be completed in a group (and some of them are a lot easier this way).  Finally, you do have to complete all the quests in Hyjal up to banishing Ragnaros to start these new quests, so go do that now!

As one moves from Hyjal into the Molten Front new daily quests are unlocked.  No one is completing 25 dailies and wishing they had a higher cap every day, but every day a new random group of quests becomes available.  For those not drawn in by fun new content along, there are also item level 365+ epics purchasable from vendors in the Molten Front.

The Firelands Raid

At this point in the testing cycle I’ve only had an opportunity to play against Beth’tilac (giant fire spider) and Lord Rhyolith.  Both fights felt creative, fun, and relatively straightforward for the first few bosses of a new instance.

And if you hate the colour orange, now is a bad time to be playing the game.

The raid feels large, additionally so because of the time spent mounted moving between encounter areas.  Comparisons to Ulduar are apt, and with a dps caster legendary here I expect we will be farming the Firelands for some time to come.  I hope to see some challenging trash packs, although somewhere between the heavy trash of Bastion of Twilight and the virtual trash-less-ness of Blackwing Descent.

The State of the Game

Many players are paying a lot of attention to the numbers Blizzard released during the Q2 press call stating Warcraft subscription numbers had dropped to pre-Cata levels.  These numbers come from 4.0.6 right before the 4.1 re-introduction of the Zuls.  According to the same press conference, they also expained this decline as reflective of how quickly players consumed content.

This means that blizzard’s statement of “X% of players haven’t completed the hard modes yet” might not be the guiding philosophy anymore.  I expect either easier hardmodes where players complete them before getting burnt out on the content (unlikely), more challenging regular modes with fresh ideas (seems to be the case in Firelands so far).  Its possible that blizzard will also react to this by pushing the next content patch soon after Firelands (much like they did for Ulduar’s follower).  I really hope the reactionaries don’t get their way and do this.

Despite the burnout, World of Warcraft is making more money than ever.  That fact talks, so I expect content patches will continue at the quality level we’ve come to expect.  Don’t be surprised if Firelands has harder regular modes than either BoT or BWD.

I’ll get back to you on that after I finish these dailies.

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The “I” in Raid Team

27 Mar

Our guild has done well. Well, by the standards of The Underbog, amounts to 12/12 normal modes, a few arena teams over 2400, rated BGs that happen every week, and a player base free of homicidal tendencies (toward each other). It’s important to not forget what we do right.

But with a growing drive to seriously tackle Hardmodes (and the jump in challenge level) members—myself included—are looking at our raid team with a critical eye. What’s the answer when your team doesn’t make the dps check for a fight? Do you scroll down your World of Logs postings to see who’s at the bottom? The impulse to point a finger is a strong one.

There are a few important provisos.  Some classes do better on certain fights.  Players will have bad nights.  A specific encounter may required dramatically different play, higher AoE, even offhealing; forcing a player out of their role may lower dps.  Once you’re certain there is a consistent problem it is appropriate to talk to the player who isn’t pulling her weight.  But now that we’ve identified a problem player, what’s the right tactic?  It comes down to three choices: kick/bench the player, teach the player, or turn them into the kind of raider who teaches themselves.

Players like to suggest that kicking someone out is a simple choice.  In a pick-up-group or a random heroic it is simple.  A regular raid in a committed guild is a more complex environment.  Players need to feel a measure of security to play best for an extended period.  Teams familiar with each other’s play-style also do better.  Every time we trial a new player or change up our raid composition for a night I explain to my raid team that we can expect the pace to slow down as the new player adjusts to our team and style.  A healing team that plays well together knows when a druid HoT will take care of a low health player and when they’ll need to step in with a direct heal.  Kicking a member of an established raid core should always be a last recourse for a serious team.

Teaching the player to do better seems the logical first thing to try. If changing a few gems or using CDs in a different place would improve performance, why not make this suggestion?  Assuming the player is genuinely receptive and that one makes this approach diplomatically (a few major assumptions), this might be a great short-term solution.  The problem comes when advice becomes a handout.  If a player knows they have no danger of being kicked, they feel safe to explore their class and tactics fully.  Conversely, if a player knows they will never have to think about their class because someone will always hand the latest theorycrafting right to them, we have an issue.  A good raid team cannot thrive on the personal growth of one player alone, trickling down to the remaining 24.  The best members will bring a little something more.

I’ve posted before about what makes a good raider, but a raider who teaches themselves might require a little more clarification.  Learning to play well in World of Warcraft is a lot easier now than it has ever been.  Countless blogs, forums, sites, and programs are available to the motivated players.  Teaching yourself is a matter of setting aside the time.  I spoke with a player not long ago who said “all that learning and research stuff is good, but I just want to play the game.”  That’s not an uncommon philosophy.  Imagine, however, how much more enjoyable it is to play extremely well.  Is it not more thrilling to pull to the top of the dps charts?  This style of play, the interest in constantly growing better as a player, is a commitment.  It’s a few hours a week dedicated to becoming better at WoW.  At the advanced level, this is what folks at elitistjerks.com and shadowpriest.com are doing.  Programs like Simcraft and Rawr do help remove the RNG from Best in slot gear lists.   At even the most basic level, sites like AskMrRobot.com and WoWReforge.com can optimize reforging and gemming choices.

Now how do you convince a player to make active and regular use of these tools?  The first step is asking.  After that, you have to let them see the value.  I know a player who’s gone from “I don’t really like to read” to reading six blogs a day based only on how much it improved his personal performance.  Some players never get to this point.  Sadly, these players might not be a long term fit for your raid team if they continue to struggle.

A final note of caution:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

That’s Alexander Pope, and he brings up an excellent point.  Players who read a few blogs or forum posts can quickly become “experts.”  I have a priest healer friend who listened to every Circle of Healing podcast and promptly came back and told be priests should never cast Heal.  Obviously, this isn’t exactly what was said in the podcast.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Be receptive to new ideas, but don’t dismiss anything.  Finally, don’t be a jerk just because you know a thing or two.

Cataclysm Plans: The Hard Push

6 Dec

We’re all thinking the same thing here.  We’re all refreshing countdown timers and counting the minutes.  In a matter of moments we’ll be leveling again.  For a number of us, this is the first serious leveling we’ve done in almost two years.

Leveling!

My ambition is to take a group of 277 ilvl geared raiders and lead them through chained dungeons.  This might not be the fastest XP / hour method, but its a surefire way to replace epics with blues and see firsthand the layout of the new heroics we’ll be running to get raid ready.  I’d also trust my team over myself any day.  We’re stronger as a group.  Aside from this, there are a few other motivating factors for this method:

  • We’re on a PvP server, and questing can be tricky
  • Getting ahead of the main leveling teams using instanced content could let us quest the last level in an underpopulated Twilight Highlands
  • Completing all the quests at a leisurely pace once we hit 85 let’s us enjoy them more and provides a windfall of gold (quests at max level reward gold in place of XP)
  • We can all keep each other talking and awake.

I’ll let everyone know how it works once I have some post-Cata down time.  I hope to report successes.

PvP Heroes!

I’d like to hit arena on launch week (launch of arena, not Cata launch.  This will be the following Tuesday).  These means a decent mix of honor gear and purchasable crafted items.  Blasting a solid team through to high ratings by killing players in greens is the plan.  At the very least I’ll learn something about how everything has changed in the new “mana matters” style of play.  On the table right now are Shatterplay, RPS, and Afflic/rDruid/sPriest.  Part of this is going to depend on the players willing to push as hard as I am for this.

I will admit I need to develop skills.  I’m not perfect, but i’m a lot stronger than last year.  I’ve done my homework.  If it takes 10000 hours to become an expert, I’m starting to count them down.

Guild Achievements

We have a core of players interested in pushing server first achievements.  This is exciting, but for the rest of the guild I’ve set a more tentative goal of 25 player raid readiness by January 11th.  Our entire officer team is on board with this, which is impressive given that many have children/classes/families/jobs, etc.

We also plan to implement guild achievement bounties.  This will look like a group (or single) player being rewarded for completing a task that either awards an achievement for the guild or takes us closer to one.  We should be able to afford to give players and extra incentive, especially after we unlock Cash Flow (guild level four).  I still have no clear idea how fast a guild levels.

A big item on this list for me is the new fish feast.  Unlocking the recipe currently requires the guild to fish up 10000 pools (not fish, pools).  I’m not certain on the best way to motivate this, but broken into 20 players fishing up 500 pools each makes this feel a lot more manageable.

Time will tell.  How’s everyone else’s push?

How to Build a Drama-free Guild

6 Sep

I was discussing at our weekly officer meeting the other night how happy some of our new recruits are in the guild. One of the major factors for a lot of them is the lack of drama. Our officers concluded that the guild has been almost completely drama free for most of the summer, and almost all of the expansion. How do we manage that? Well, it isn’t magic. The guild has been raiding for almost four and a half years, so we’ve learnt the right way to handle a number of situations.

Use a Fair and Upfront System for Loot Distribution

We use a system called EP / GP with aggressive decay and a fairly low threshold. If you’re not familiar with the system, I’d recommend checking it out. Our new members are quickly given the option of obtaining loot, but usually end up getting major upgrades and do not deny longstanding players the few upgrades they still need. EP/GP rewards attendance, and when we had challenges working on the LK we increased the EP awarded every 15 minutes. Attendance increases followed naturally.

In a big guild with some slight fluctuation in regular roster, this system works perfectly for us. I does not work nearly as well for some guilds, so the solution is to chose a loot system that aids in furthering the goals of the guild. Our goals are progression, so giving the best items to the highest attending players is important, as is a reasonable distribution of these upgrades. Beyond this, moral is a big deal. With EP/GP a night of progression where you win no items feels like an accomplishment.

Being completely upfront about a loot system is critical to avoiding drama. Selecting the right one for your guild is perhaps even more important. Loot matters to a player, and it should. It is both a measure of accomplishment, and a tool toward maximizing your character’s potential. Do not overlook something so important to so many of your team members.

Clear Direction from Officers

Drama is created when folks assume the worst. That’s human nature, and its hard to fault people for their fears. If a guild member needs to be kicks, explain why. If you’re taking X raider over Y, give folks the reason (and ideally, a reason that can be worked upon by the at-fault member).

“Okay, we have 28 attending raiders, so we’re going to need a few players to be on standby tonight. We’re taking Bill over Ted, because he has a viable off-healing set for The Excellent Adventure fight.”

“Srubbalicious recently got hacked and asked the Officer Team to remove him from the guild until its all sorted out. Just an FYI—we still like him.” /gkick

The name of the game is transparency. A good officer team makes changes for the good of the guild. If you make this obvious by being clear in your actions, you’ll garner respect, if not always consensus.

Guild Culture and Age Restriction

This has been a hot topic over the history of our guild. I originally disagreed with it, and slowly came to agree with the policy. We do not accept raiders to core raid positions who are under the age of 18. Let me explain.

The I am involved in has a mix of adult and middle aged players. As a 24-year-old, I’m one of the younger players (although many are close to my age). We behave a certain way in vent, guild chat is relatively uncensored, and raid attendance is an expectation.

Historically, younger players do not have enough control over their own lives to meet a tight raid shift. There are players in this age grouping that can, but they’re not the rule. Be it a mother insisting homework be done, a videocard needing replaced that is unaffordable, or the countless social obligations of high-school, folk under 18 are in a different life situation to those of us with control over our own lives.

Queue objections. I’m aware that some adults don’t have a lot of control over their lives. I know some kids do amazing dps and have 200% raid attendance. I am not (despite what it seems) advocating that the solution to drama is pruning yourselves of the kiddies (although it sure helps). I am saying, take a read of your guild.

Know what your guild members are all about. What sort of absence is “completely understandable.” One of our priest recently had emergency surgery, and everyone in the guild encouraged and thought nothing of her taking a few days (although she raided that week, on pain meds. Fucking hardcore). On the other hand, suddenly not showing up for weeks ’cause you got your first girlfriend makes everyone /sigh.

I don’t promise or even begin to suggest I know everything about coordinating and keeping happy a large group of people. I do know what has worked well for us in the past, and I’m beginning to explore the “why” of that success. Join me later in the week for a discussing of cultivating forums use, and the pitfalls associated with such a medium.

Patch Day Ponderings

24 Aug

Image by SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations via Flickr

Raiding

… is a team sport.  And having a full team in our guild now, rocking steady with a fleshed out core, feel great.  When getting nostalgic about old content we tend to block out the bad and recall only the good.  Our roster for this stage of ICC work will be something I remember going into Cata.  I like our people, and they know what they’re doing.

Arena

At least one of the best players I’ve arena-ed with is having a baby soon.  While that’s fantastic (babies are cool and his relationship with his wife is likely to improve) I will miss being about to play regularly with him.  I haven’t met many of my significant personal arena goals, but I feel like I will–some day.  I’ve learned a ton!

Property Ownership

Isn’t always fun.  My roommate flooded our kitchen and it leaked into the drywall of the folks downstairs.  Only two pieces of insulation and some ceiling fell victim to this week’s biblical disaster, but fixing any damage costs money.  /sigh

That is all for today.  This week I hope to have time to meet my WoW goals, blog on a few interesting topics, and go see a concert in Vancouver (Vampire Weekend.  Yay!)

Patch Day Ponderings

17 Aug

Starcraft 2

I’ve been playing with some WoW friends and some real friends.  Our GM created a vent channel, and its seeing some action.  Custom maps are a blast, and I’m slowly developing the skills to be half decent at this game.

My friend over at Pugnacious Priest already talked about Nexus Wars, and I’ve been loving it.  I’ve also been playing Income Wars and Battlecraft, although the map for Battlecraft appears to have wandered away.

Arenas

The biggest challenge of 5v5s seems to be scheduling.  We can put together an amazing team and still get in only a few hours a week.  You can’t hit 2200 with a few hours a week.  That’s the bottom line.

Is it just me, or are serious PvPers more flaky than raiders?  The certainly tend to put more emphasis on individual skill over team efforts.

Raiding

Yes, we’re still doing it.  We threw a 10 player group together last night that got a few hard modes done with some people who had never seen them.  I forget that our guild is much farther progressed than most of the server.  We’re an establish and strong core of talented players, even if there are a few guilds who have more boss kills than us.  Its easy to evaluate a guild based exclusively on boss kill progression, but I feel like that leaves something out.

Those are my un-constructed thoughts for patch day.  I intent to (and have partially written) three new posts for later this week.  My work schedule will dictate the pace at which they get posted.

Why Priests /Win.

11 Aug

I borrowed this from a poster at shadowpriest.com because… well, frankly, its pretty impressive.

Right before 10% when the Lich King wipes the raid he gets a disc priest to throw Pain Suppression on him and pops Dispersion.  This plus a shield lets him live through the Lich King’s raid wipe.  Three soulstoned warlocks and an ankhing shaman joined him to DPS down the Lich King during the roleplay.  Who needs Tiron, right?