Spinks made a post the other day in which she mentioned winning the Black Heart in Trial of the Champion on her druid. She was healing at the time and outrolled a dps death knight for the trinket, who then proceeded to call her a ninja. A commenter asked if she would have rolled need against the tank as well, and she said yes, spawning a lot of confused or even somewhat annoyed responses from other commenters.
Today she posted a sort of follow-up in which she talks about loot lust in general and how the random number generator is fair, but she doesn't actually address the main question that was on my mind after reading her earlier post: Who should get to roll in the first place and why?
Basically, I found myself agreeing with the commenters from her previous blog entry who mostly expressed the opinion that rolling need on something for your off spec against someone else's main spec is wrong. I was even thinking about adding a comment of my own, but then I hesitated. Why do I think it's wrong? Why do I think the tank would be more deserving of a tanking trinket than her (at the time) resto druid? She's going to use it too, after all, and she made just as much of a contribution to the run.
After thinking about it some more, I came up with two reasons why we generally expect main specs to have priority: practical group benefit and fair distribution.
Practical group benefit is easy to explain. Back in Ye Days Of OldeTM, when instances were hard and wiping repeatedly was an accepted part of the experience, making sure that the loot was given to someone who was going to use it right then and there made sense. If the first boss dropped a blue shield that was an upgrade for your tank, it was a no-brainer that it should be given to your tank - to make him that little bit stronger and the run a little bit easier. Who cared if the dps warrior also wanted it for his tanking set to off-tank trash in raids? The here and now was what counted.
It's not hard to see why this way of thinking has lost significance, considering that most people who run heroics these days overgear them by a huge margin, so everyone's a bit blasé about a lot of the loot there. Ok, so that shield is an upgrade for the tank, but we're killing all the mobs so quickly that they barely have time to touch the tank anyway, so what does it matter who gets it?
That still leaves us with the question of fair distribution, however. Spinks notes correctly that handing out loot "fairly" is very difficult... however, in pugs people are generally happy to settle for "evenly". Even Spinks mentions that her raids had a "one item per person" rule, which strikes me as a bit inconsistent with her claim that the RNG is fair, but anyway... the idea is that since it's hard to figure out who's the most "deserving" of loot, it's alright to not get into that, but at the very least you should make sure that as many people as possible get something. I once ran a raid without any rules to ensure even distribution of loot, one paladin rolled on everything he could use and won three items or so while many others got nothing. Hey, the RNG is fair, right? You better believe that the other raiders didn't think so.
Now, in a five-man pug you'll pretty much never get even distribution of loot. Most modern instances don't even have five bosses, but even in the ones that do it's highly unlikely that the loot gods will smile upon you in such a way that you get a useful drop for every party member in the group. If every boss drops spell power leather and you only have one druid, there simply isn't anything anyone can do, and you can only congratulate the guy on being a lucky sod.
However, we can influence loot distribution by limiting who gets to roll on which items, and "everyone rolls on items for his current spec only" has served people reasonably well in the past, as it will limit competition for each drop considerably. Yes, the dps death knight and the fury warrior will still both want the two-handed weapon, but the warlock doesn't have to worry about the tanking druid nabbing his caster dagger, and the druid doesn't have to fear that the holy pally will roll for the tanking ring.
The problem with chucking this old rule of thumb and just letting everyone roll on everything they can use is that it gives a massive advantage to those who have a dual spec, and an even bigger advantage to hybrids in general. Suddenly the druid gets to roll on tanking loot, melee dps loot, and all caster loot, simply because he's a druid and he could theoretically use all of it for one of his alternate specs, while rogues, mages and other single-purpose classes are still bound by the same limitations as before because they only have one role. I can accept that loot distribution isn't always going to be even and fair, but I definitely don't want to encourage people to intentionally make it even more unfair by giving some individuals three times as many rolls just because they play a certain class. It's not so much about main spec vs. off spec as about one spec vs. multi-spec.
With that said, I don't think it's wrong if say, a druid goes to heal an instance and then rolls on tanking loot, as long as that's the only type of loot he needs. However, in all honesty I don't like it either, because it makes things unnecessarily complicated. He'd have to state beforehand that he's only there for the tanking loot since it's not obvious, and to avoid looking like a greedy bugger who just rolls on everything he can use for one of his quadruple-specs. Then the tank might decide that he doesn't want to take his chances with a group where he unexpectedly has competition for tanking loot and leaves the group (I've seen it happen), making everything grind to a halt. So I still think that it's preferable to just queue up as the role you want loot for if you're just going for a specific piece of gear.
Finally I just have to say that I hate the argument that people shouldn't get upset about losing loot rolls because "it'll drop again". That's like telling someone that they will win the lottery one day - it's only true if you assume that the person has an infinite amount of time and patience to keep trying, which most people won't have. I mean, I've raided the same content every week for months and still some much-coveted drops completely failed to appear in the boss's loot tables, ever. I'm not saying that people should always throw a fit when they don't get the item they wanted, but telling them that it might drop again if only they run the same instance another thirty times is hardly comforting or reassuring.