Aggressive and defensive healing

So I've been regularly running heroics on all four of my healers for a couple of weeks now, and it strikes me as interesting how different they feel to play at times. It's not so much about the healing spells they use, or even reactive vs. proactive healing (direct heals vs. HoTs and shields), but rather the difference between what I'd call aggressive and defensive healing.

Aggressive healing in this case means that the healer is generally as aware of the mobs as of his own party members, can easily join in to add some dps and may even actively decide to use offensive abilities to make healing easier.

Somewhat to my own surprise, I found the shaman to be the most aggressive healing class. Take bloodlust: While healers obviously also benefit from its haste boost, I find that, in all honesty, I don't give a crap whether it's up or not while I'm healing a five-man, not from a purely selfish, how-fast-are-my-heals point of view anyway. It's a dps ability really. And yet, even for a resto shaman it goes without saying that my group will expect me to use it at an appropiate moment. I actively had to train myself to not forget to use it at least on the last boss of each instance, and I still often struggle to gauge correctly at which point earlier in the run it's "safe" to use it so it will be available again by the time we get to the end. Also, at the end of the day it is useful to me as a healer even if don't care about buffing myself, because if the boss dies more quickly due to the boosted dps, I have less work to do.

Then there are the totems. I continue to be surprised by how many groups I end up with that don't have a single caster in them, rendering my well-meant flametongue totem completely useless. In such cases I often end up going with searing or magma totem, even if they only do piddly dps, simply because I can drop four totems with one click, and if one of them has no other use than to dps - even though I'm the healer - I guess then I'm doing some dps! Also, my fire elemental totem comes out at least once per dungeon regardless of other casters in the group, by the same logic as bloodlust: it's added dps at no cost to my healing, and the boss dies faster.

Then there are the interrupts. They are generally something that's supposed to be covered by the dps, but I've found that even in my better pugs, hardly anyone seems to interrupt anything, like, ever (unless they want to try for Less-Rabi). One boss where I've felt this particularly painfully and frequenty as of late is the Devourer of Souls in heroic Forge of Souls. He spams an ability called phantom blast which does huge damage even to a well-geared tank. It can be interrupted, and there's even an achievement for interrupting all of his casts, but does anyone ever actually do it? Nope.

And here I am with my shaman healer, and a ranged interrupt on a short cooldown. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's a lot more efficient to simply interrupt as many phantom blasts as possible on my own instead of constantly having to spam the tank back up to full health. It requires more general awareness and as I say, what I consider a more aggressive way of playing a healer, but it works.

The second most aggressive healer in my opinion is the paladin, largely because of their judgements. A good holy paladin will want to keep up the haste buff from judgements of the pure one hundred percent of the time, and for that he has to judge and thus attack a mob at least once per minute. I can't think of another healer who has to attack something as part of their healing rotation. Also, even while the haste buff is up, judging a mob with light can help a lot with healing in heavy AoE damage situations for example.

Also: hammer of justice. Stunning mobs is once again something that's generally considered the job of dps and tanks, but I find it a powerful defensive tool... which kind of goes against me saying that paladins are aggressive, but the point is that when another healer has to defend themselves, they can mostly just heal themselves and cry for help. A paladin can actually knock the mob out on their own (and then hope that someone will come to help within the next six seconds). It also works well to protect others, such as when you see a skirmisher go for a squishy clothie in heroic Azjol-Nerub. Again, this is something that requires you to look at what's going on with the mobs around you.

Priests are pretty defensive healers already. They can happily spend a whole instance just looking at their party frames and ignoring the mobs, because it's not like they can do a lot about incoming attacks. Fearing mobs away is an option but a risky one, not to mention that a lot of mobs in Northrend instances are undead and thus immune to fear anyway. Shackle works as crowd control against undead, but like similar effects it's hard to pull off effectively even if you want to, what with all the AoE flying around these days. About the most offensive thing a holy priest can do is spam holy nova in AoE situations, which does some damage as well as healing the party. It's also pretty easy to add a bit of dps as a holy priest with dots and smites, but by then you've already crossed the line from aggressively protecting your party to just dpsing.

Druids are the most defensive healers in my opinion (in PvE anyway), simply because of tree form, which prevents them from using any sort of aggressive move at all. Sure, you can choose to stay out of tree, so you can also cast hurricane, wrath and moonfire while nobody is taking damage, but you actually have to take a penalty to your healing to do so, so it's definitely not something that it's encouraged by the class design.

I still like all four healing classes, but I have to say that in five-mans, the added utility of the shaman's and paladin's more aggressive moves to prevent damage to the party makes things a lot more interesting. I often hear complaints that healing is boring (which I don't agree with, but that's beside the point) and that Blizzard should make it more interactive, for example by people getting healed from healers doing damage. This concept already exists and it's called a shadow priest's vampiric embrace, it's repeatedly been nerfed to the ground for a reason and is now nothing more than a small gimmick for what's still very much a dps role, so trying to turn every healer into a shadow priest doesn't stike me as a good idea. I do wonder however, if giving healers more aggressive, non-damage abilities that force them to interact with their environment more could be a way to go.


I rather like Icecrown Citadel and its difficulty

I realised the other day that considering how much time I spend raiding in WoW, I actually blog very little about it. The thing with raiding is, there are basically two kinds of articles you can write about it: how-to guides, which I personally don't care about, or stories about truly amazing boss kills or wipes, which I like well enough but in all honesty they don't happen that often. If you've been raiding with the same guild for years, and things mostly go well week after week, that's simply not very exciting to write about. You go in, wipe some, eventually the boss dies and some people get loot. The end.

However, I do think it's worth mentioning how things are going for us in Icecrown Citadel - they are going well - and that I like it. The boss fights are reasonably fun, they are varied enough that the difficulty isn't always decided by the healers' ability to spam their biggest heals, and well... the difficulty in general just feels right.

I don't know how other people feel about facing a new raid boss, and I reckon that opinions on this might vary a lot depending on how much and how "hardcore" you play, but me personally - I want a new raid boss to wipe the raid on the first attempt, and hard. I remember facing off against Jaraxxus in Trial of the Crusader for the first time, one-shotting him and being deeply disappointed. When a monster is so big and bad that it requires ten or even twenty-five people to kill, then it should also present me with a challenge that is worthwhile of assembling such a big group in the first place. I've said this before in regards to five-mans: I don't mind spending some time preparing things for a game-related task, but then said task should also take some time, otherwise I just spent more time assembling a group than actually playing with said group, and that stinks.

On the other end of the spectrum, things being too hard isn't fun either. I hated Trial of the Grand Crusader, especially on twenty-five-man because we spent so much time wiping in there without making any progress, it felt silly. People will probably disagree about how much is too much, but I'm sure everyone has their personal pain threshold which, if surpassed, will make them decide that "this just isn't fun anymore". Heroic Northrend Beasts and the Faction Champions certainly helped me find mine.

Now Icecrown Citadel on the other hand has felt pretty damn perfect in terms of difficulty so far, to me anyway. I think we wiped three times on Marrowgar the first time we tried him, which was more satisfying than one-shotting him, but still easy enough that he works well as an entrance boss. You don't expect the guy guarding the door to be that hard.

Deathbringer Saurfang took us a night or two until we found the right strategy to deal with the add spawns, and he challenged the healers nicely with tough but smart healing requirements (as opposed to mad spam fests). Basically a worthy boss for the end of a wing, but still not too terribly tough, considering that said wing is the first one of the instance.

The Plagueworks were a massive step up in diffculty in my eyes, and while we've downed both Festergut and Rotface, it wasn't without struggling considerably and we're still far from being able to replicate the experience reliably. Putricide seems hard enough that I don't think we'll be able to down him on twenty-five-man anytime soon, but this is where the beauty of the multi-wing design comes in.

Last night for example our raid leader decided that instead of going back to the Plagueworks and trying to down Rotface again (Festergut was already dead), we'd have a look at the Crimson Hall. Trying to down the Blood Prince Council was absolutely manic and I quickly lost track of how many times we wiped. As a raid healer I didn't have much of a clue what was going on a lot of the time to be honest, but I still tried my best and judging by how our attempts were getting better and better (in-between some total failures) we seemed to be making progress.

At the end of the night, already having gone past our usual raid end time, with everyone tired and mostly just wanting to get things done and over with, we finally downed the Princes on the nineteenth try (according to the log), and my priest is now an Orb Whisperer. It felt wonderfully satisfying.

So yeah, I'm rather liking Icecrown Citadel so far, and I'm looking forward to working some more on the later bosses as well as to actually having options. Good work, Blizz.


And here I thought I had seen the worst of selfish tanks

As it turns out, you haven't until you try to just get a normal Halls of Reflection run done to complete the Wrath of the Lich King quest. I was healing on my shaman, always without having any issues, nobody came even close to dying... but damn, those tanks were selfish twits.

Tank #1: confused death knight

On the third wave of mobs or so he asks if the event has been nerfed. Well, it has, but it's also considerably easier since it's only normal mode. We tell him this and he goes, "Oh, this is normal? I wanted heroic!" He graciously stays until Falric drops his epics, then he leaves the group. Since the event continues regardless, we end up wiping without a tank and the group falls apart.

I had a little bit of sympathy for this tank because I've selected the wrong difficulty on the dungeon finder before, but frankly, there's no reason he couldn't have stayed another five minutes to at least get us to a point where we wouldn't automatically wipe as soon as he left.

Tank #2: paladin loot whore

On my next run I got a paladin tank. Again everything went smoothly, until Marwyn dropped the Splintered Door of the Citadel and the tank needed on it. I barely had time to congratulate him on the upgrade when he already left the group, clearly thinking along the lines of: "I got my loot, screw you guys!" Me and two other dpsers spent about twenty minutes waiting for a new tank until I gave up and went off to do something else.

Tank #3: paladin loot whore #2, now with extra malice

On my third attempt to complete the instance, I once again ended up with a paladin tank. I looked at his shield and it was a blue. Would this one end up being as much of a jerk as the previous pally? The Splintered Door dropped again and once again I typed out a "grats" in chat. He thanked me and moved on towards the next trash mob. My heart swelled with hope as he pulled... and then he left the party, while an angry skeleton beat up the dpsers. Fuck you too, buddy.

Tank #4: paladin loot whore of a different kind

Me and a dps death knight hung around this time and waited for a new tank. This time we actually got one after ten minutes or so, so we went on and finished the dungeon. Bone Golem Scapula dropped from the captain's chest and my eyes lit up as it's an awesome weapon upgrade for my resto shammy. I hit need... but so did the tank. He won the roll and instantly quit the group afterwards.

I have no words anymore.


Some days you should have just stayed in Dalaran

Two epic fail pugs in four days? I must be on a roll. Unlike the Gundrak fail on Monday I saw today's pug through until the bitter end, but not without a lot of exclamations of "oh my god" and "you won't believe what just happened" directed at my boyfriend (who was luckily busy doing something else).

I had queued for my daily random heroic with my paladin, and immediately got a bad feeling when I saw the Old Kingdom loading screen. Now, personally I don't mind Old Kingdom, even if it's a bit on the long side, but it's one of those instances that seems to bring out the prima donna in many tanks. Or, to put it more bluntly, whenever I get ported into Old Kingdom I can immediately start a countdown and the tank will have dropped from the group before it reaches zero, guaranteed. Occasionally I'll be surprised to find that we still have a tank after ten seconds, but then I realise that it's only because said tank is me.

Now, since I didn't fancy tanking that evening I had queued up as a healer, so the tank wasn't me, and as expected he left the party just as I had finished buffing up.

Tank chickening out as soon as the randomiser gives him an instance he doesn't like? Fail.

We queued up for a new tank, but after a few minutes I got fed up, switched to my tank spec and gear and re-queued us to find a new healer instead. As was to be expected that worked wonders instantly, and with me wearing my heavy plate and what looked like a friendly tree covering my back, we went on our way.

We made it to the first boss without problems, but as we fought said boss the healer started to complain. "Omg," he typed out repeatedly, "stop slacking!" After the fight he posted the damage metres, which showed me on top and all the dpsers doing between 1200 and 1600 dps - not great, but sufficient. He then declared that we'd have to find a new healer because he wouldn't run with people who couldn't outdamage the tank, then quit.

Healer throwing a fit and quitting because the dps isn't leet enough for him? Fail.

We got a shaman healer replacement and continued to Prince Taldaram. On one of the platforms we had our first death as the rogue managed to focus on the mob on which I had the least threat, pulled aggro and died. At least he didn't complain about it though, so we resed him and moved on.

As we approached Taldaram, I saw that the hunter was still standing on the platform where we had killed the last group of trash mobs. She had mentioned having lag before, so I decided to wait a bit to give her a chance to catch up. At which point the shaman healer decided to take things into his own hands and pulled.

Healer deciding that the tank is too slow and pulling in her stead? Fail.

Now, I remembered reading before that Taldaram had the ability to teleport anywhere in the instance, so I was not surprised when his second blood draining session took him to the hunter in the far back. "This is why I wanted to wait," I explained not without a certain amount of exasperation, as we helplessly watched the hunter die too far away from us to save her.

I waited for Taldaram to clumsily sprint back (seeing how his magical teleportation powers only seem to work one way), and suddenly both of the remaining dpsers were dead. I checked the combat log afterwards and they had to died to nothing but flame sphere damage and not getting any heals. I'm not sure how much the healer was to blame though, since his weird teleport might have bugged things out a bit.

Anyway, at this point the healer and I were the only ones left. I popped my pally wings to do a bit more damage, at which point the boss decided that he'd like to suck my blood next, and I found myself pinned to the floor, unable to bubble out of it. And the healer... just stood there and watched. He didn't even try to help me.

Healer being overzealous to pull but unable to actually do anything useful? Fail.

Fortunately Taldaram's health drain turned out to be one of the few abilities of this type that are not based on health percentage, and as it happened my tanking health pool was large enough to survive the full duration anyway. I then finished him off, but not without feeling slightly peeved.

I gave the rogue a res and he instantly quit the group. The hunter had DCed completely in the meantime, so we removed her as well while we were at it and got two new dpsers.

We ran down the tunnel to the next section of the instance, and immediately the healer urged me to pull again. I wanted to wait for our new dpsers, but afraid of more healer-pulling disasters I eventually gave in. I also asked people if they wanted to do a full clear or just the last boss, saying that I preferred the full clear but wouldn't mind skipping things either if that was what everyone else wanted. Most simply didn't give a response at all, but at least one spoke up in favour of doing all the bosses, so we went down to Amanitar and killed him.

When we came back up again the healer asked if we could do the last boss first because he'd have a raid soon. "And then you'll leave?" the dps death knight asked. "No," the shaman claimed innocently. Oh, well, if you're going to stay with us for the whole run anyway, then it shouldn't matter which boss we do first, right?

Lying in a thinly veiled attempt to get your frost emblems as quickly as possible so you can then dump the group? Fail.

We continued up to Jedoga and I ran in to AoE down the little initiates in front of her. However, as soon as they were dead, something strange happened. I had read about this bug in a comment somewhere, but since I hadn't heard about it anywhere else I figured that it probably wasn't that big a deal... until I got to witness it myself today. What happened? Instead of summoning her little Twilight Volunteers as usual, Jedoga summoned a whole group of Twilight Worshippers on one side of the platform - and no, it wasn't just that someone aggroed an extra group, we had cleared everything and I saw the mobs' nameplates. We drowned in a sea of flamestrikes and confused "wtf"s.

Wiping to really cruel and unexpected bugs? Fail.

The healer and one of the dps instantly dropped from the group, and once again we had to get replacements. However, this time we decided not to go near Jedoga again, just in case. At least our new healer found our story very amusing. We then proceeded to kill Herald Volajz without any further problems and I was glad to finally be done, but that run certainly didn't do anything to increase anyone's love of Old Kingdom I'm afraid.

Oh, and since we wiped, nobody got to complete All Things in Good Time, which I always have in my quest log just in case this instance pops up.

Missing out on a nice chunk of extra gold due to a bug that wasn't anyone's fault? Fail.

Some days you really wish you hadn't bothered at all.


How WoW changed my life

Tam made a very beautiful post today about how WoW has affected his life... go read it! It also reminded me of the fact that I've been meaning to write about the impact WoW has had on my life so far, and this is as good an encouragement as any. Plus, this is going to be my 100th post on this blog, so I might as well make it something special.

My life has of course been influenced by WoW in many subtle ways like the ones Tam lists, but in my case the game has also had some much more drastic effects. For example I was a reasonably successful student when I started to play WoW three years ago. A year later I dropped out of university.

Erm... that probably sounds a lot worse than it is.

Did WoW play a role in my dropping out? Probably. I used it as an escape as I came to utterly loathe my study for a lot of different reasons, which I'm not even going to bother to list here. Let's just say that it wasn't just a case of being annoyed with having to write pointless essays (though that did factor into it). I don't know how things would have gone differently if I hadn't started to play WoW - for all I know I might have just looked for other ways of distracting myself until the mental breakdown came. I certainly didn't just start to neglect my study because I thought WoW was a more worthwhile pastime.

Either way, regardless of how much you want to blame WoW for being involved in me quitting university, you'd then have to give it an equal amount of credit for helping me get my life back in order again afterwards. Because it was at a WoW guild meetup one and a half years ago where I met the man that is now my boyfriend... and with whom I fell so deeply in love that it filled me with an urge to pull myself together again and become a better person, get a job and generally get my life back on track (which I did).

Said man also happened to live in another country, England to be precise, and about a month ago I moved to live with him. I'm very happy right now, but even so I still often find myself thinking how funny it is that I'd be living a completely different life now, probably back in my home country, if only I hadn't bought a certain computer game over three years ago. And I can only shake my head at people who use the age-old argument of "it's just a game" to try and deprive WoW of any importance - as if something being a game means that it can't have a profound impact on someone's life.


Book review: Rise of the Horde

I'm not a huge consumer of Warcraft merchandise, but a few years ago I stumbled upon a copy of The Warcraft Archive in a bookstore and decided to buy it on a whim. It contained four short novels, ranging in quality from pretty good (The Last Guardian) over reasonably entertaining (Lord of the Clans) to occasionally cringe-worthy (Of Blood and Honor) and humorously bad (Day of the Dragon). Since most of what I heard about other WoW novels seemed to firmly place them in the latter two categories, I shied away from buying any more... until I spotted Rise of the Horde in another bookstore the other day and decided that since I had liked Lord of the Clans well enough and this was by the same author and also about orcs, the chances of me enjoying it were pretty good.

I'm happy to say that my assessment was spot on. Rise of the Horde is no literary masterpiece, but if you're sufficiently interested in the plot and characters it will keep you entertained, maybe even hooked. I was actually a bit disappointed that it ended when it did, not because it didn't make sense, but because I know that other interesting stuff happened after the last events in the book and I would have liked to just read on.

I'm not sure how interesting the book would be to anyone who already knows the story of the Rise of the Horde in detail, but I didn't, so it was. As someone who didn't play any of the previous Warcraft games I really appreciated the opportunity to read about some of the related events in novel form. Of course there's always WoWWiki if you have lore questions, but to me reading WoWWiki is like reading a history textbook - okay for quick fact checking, but I'll be unlikely to retain anything but some scattered bits and pieces for longer than five minutes. (Or maybe it's just me who's like that with history textbooks...) I do much better when I can look at events as a story, with context and human (or orcish as it may be) relations laid out in a logical manner. Finally I won't have to be confused anymore when someone mentions Ner'zhul or Gul'dan!

Also, it may be a bit silly but I really enjoy reading about the same fantasy world that I play in every day. Good old Velen, I know he's just as ugly in the Exodar as the book says he is! Ata'mal crystal? Oh yeah, I remember taking that off some demon dude in Netherstorm. And so on and so forth... though there's sometimes also the negative side effect of the images of the game world conflicting with what I'm reading. Like me thinking that there's no Draenei city other than Shattrah in Terokkar, I've explored it all so I know! Or frowning at the description of K'ure being buried under a lake when he's just floating around in the back of Oshu'gun in the game.

Still, overall I can recommend the book as good, light entertainment for anyone who wants to know more about that particular bit of the lore and enjoys reading about the same virtual world they play in every day.


Epic Gundrak fail

For all the dungeoneering I've been doing in the past months it's been quite a while since I had an epic fail pug. Sometimes I'd get a tank who was unnecessarily rude, or a dps who was quiet but utterly clueless, but nothing to write home blog about. Until today, that is!

The scene: heroic Gundrak, apparently my priest's daily random dungeon.

I zone in, float down the ramp, and before I've even finished buffing, the elemental shaman has pulled. I manage to save him, then the mage gets aggro, the death knight tank tries to taunt something but apparently not the right something... but in the end the mobs die and we're alive. Not the smoothest start for a daily random, but nobody died and I wasn't even particularly stressed out. We continue to clear the rest of the snakes including Slad'ran the same way, with the tank, the shaman and the mage playing some kind of aggro pong.

While we do so the shaman expresses a desire to "zerg Less-Rabi", proudly informing us that he can even interrupt once. Wow, you go, shaman! I remember getting that achievement on my own shaman's very first Gundrak run, while she was healing and doing most of the interrupting to boot. I don't actually say that though, because it's one thing to have self-righteous thoughts on occasion and another thing to say them out loud (or type them out, as it might be). I find myself wondering whether the mention of the word "zerg" implies that he'll expect me to go dps, and how he'll react if I have to tell him that I'm dual-specced for healing and... more healing. While the shaman and the mage agree that they want to try, the tank wants to know what they are talking about, and I decide that my spec is probably going to be the least of our worries.

As soon as Slad'ran's body hits the floor everyone gets ready to enter the next room, except for the tank, who has jumped into the water and is swimming across the middle section of the instance, with half a dozen Drakkari Frenzies chewing on his legs. He tells us to follow him. For a moment the rest of the party just stands there, probably going through the same internal argument as me:

"1. I'm pretty certain that whatever he's going for isn't possible. After over a year of running this instance over and over and over again, I'm quite sure that I'd have heard about such an easy way to skip all the trash to the Drakkari Colossus. This can't end well.

2. He seems pretty confident and after all, he's the tank. You go where the tank goes, damn it!"

After a few seconds of hesitation everyone jumped down. While I'm getting disoriented for a moment and trying to survive the onslaught of unfriendly fish, the rest of the party gets ahead of me and up to the next boss. The tank asks if everyone's ready. One of the dpsers says yes; I say no, what with still treading water under the bridge. They pull anyway. What's the point of asking if you're just going to ignore the response anyway?

I hurry to catch up and save the day, only to be greeted by the unpleasant fact that trying to pull the boss from the "wrong" side in an attempt to skip all the trash results in getting the boss and all the trash in his room at once. I don't know, maybe a better party might have been able to come through, but as it was, trying to play aggro pong with four colossi and who knows how many elementals at once doesn't really work well. So we wiped.

I don't recall the tank's exact words afterwards, but I think it was something along the lines of "that didn't work so well lol". The dpsers were less than pleased.

Finding myself at the graveyard, I started to run back towards the little "your dead body is here" symbol on the minimap, entered, floated down the ramp again... and right into a pack of mobs. Damn you, Gundrak and your two instance entrances, and specifically the fact that the "wrong" one is actually closer to the graveyard! Somewhat embarrassed and not wanting to die again, I managed to leg it up the ramp and out of the instance in time to save myself. Momentarily I ended up a bit confused to find myself back in Dalaran instead of in the midst of the snows of Zul'Drak, but then I remembered how the dungeon finder works in such cases, teleported back in using the little minimap icon and found myself at the right entrance this time.

Except, the rest of my party was not there. They had all run for the "wrong" entrance and two of them were already dead again. I was briefly overcome by guilt and worry that my hasty escape had trained the mobs that saw me onto them instead, but as it turned out that was not the case. Instead the death knight had hit path of frost as soon as he had jumped down, and the dps who decided to jump straight after him at half health went splat. They were very outraged about this and threatened to kick the tank "if he messed up again", but I have to admit I was amused more than anything. Usually failpugs tend to make me feel bad as well, with that nagging voice at the back of my mind wondering whether I'm not contributing to the fail myself, but for once I felt blissfully zen, innocent, and above all the anger.

So there I was, standing alone where we had killed Slad'ran. "Priest?" someone asks eventually. I tell them that I'm at the entrance, and that they should and could easily join me by porting out of the instance and back in. "No, we're here now. And there's a boss here." So... what exactly did they expect me to do then? Unlike them, I didn't have the option to magically port to the other side. I usually hate it when people drop group without warning, but at that moment I was just drawing a blank. All I knew was that this party was certainly not worth the hassle, so I just left.

As usual, the right words came to me about a minute too late, when I found myself back in Dalaran after the fact. I thought about how the group should get a replacement healer pretty much instantly anyway, and wondered how they would do...

... when I suddenly realised that their new healer would also get ported in at the "right" instance entrance, and if they still insisted on staying where they were, they'd have to convince said new healer to either a) kill himself and then corpse-run to the other entrance, or b) leave the instance and manually fly all the way to Gundrak to enter the dungeon on the other side. Just to save the rest of them two teleports.

And then I grinned.


Blackfathom nostalgia

The other day I decided to log onto my level twenty-two troll warrior and queue up for a low-level random instance, as the scattered posts I read about other people's experiences with the dungeon finder at low level and even a whole blog dedicated to the experience had piqued my curiousity.

The meagre amount of talent points that my troll has at the moment are all located in the arms tree, but since tanking at low levels doesn't even necessarily require you to wear a shield or the highest armour type for your class, I ticked the "I can tank" box as well and got a group popup instantly.

The instance I got ported into was Blackfathom Depths Deeps, and immediately a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Blackfathom remains one of my favourite low-level instances and I'm not even sure why. It wasn't my first; the Deadmines hold that spot and I quite liked them as well... but Blackfathom appealed to my sense of adventure in a different way.

First off, it was pretty damn annoying to get to as Alliance. To this day I'm not sure whether it's faster to run down the beach from Auberdine or to fly to Astranaar and then walk from there. I always preferred going via Darkshore, but I can see the addition of low-level mounts make the Ashenvale path more appealing. Either way it was always quite a pain to assemble a whole party for the instance and then actually get everyone there.

Then there's of course the whole unadultered dungeon feel of the place: It's a dark, humid hole in the ground with winding tunnels to get lost in. I remember my levelling partner asking me for help with Researching the Corruption (back when the mobs outside the instance were elite as well), and I thought that it was scary as anything.

In all fairness though, while it was certainly a group building experience back in the day, I can't claim that I really missed the long walk towards the instance entrance and people inevitably getting lost in the tunnels before even reaching the swirly portal.

My little warrior's group consisted of a rogue in full heirlooms, a hunter, a warlock and a paladin healer. Apart from the rogue and me none of the others had any heirlooms, but I don't think any of them were genuine newbies either, judging by the way they played, never got lost and managed the bridge jump flawlessly.

Oh the bridge! As far as I know there's a spot where you can just climb up onto the other side straight from the water, but back in the day I didn't know that and we always spent ages getting everyone across the gaps in that bridge. I was particularly fail at it, only surpassed by a druid with whom I grouped repeatedly and who always complained about his old computer making well-timed jumps impossible. Let it be known that my little warrior leapt across flawlessly and with particular glee.

Despite of what I said about low-level tanking having very lax gear requirements, I did actually strap on a one-handed mace and a shield, simply because I have too many bad memories of having to heal completely clueless tanks with two-handers and it would have made me feel very noobish.

So far, so good - though I was quickly reminded of something that I had experienced before on previous warrior alts: tanking in a dps spec sucks because you never have any rage. I hit Bloodrage whenever it was off cooldown, but that wasn't nearly often enough. I tried to preserve rage by using Rend instead of Sunder (lol, I know) on single targets, but I swear in the end I still mostly just held aggro by auto-attacking. My heirlooms helped a lot with that though, as the equally geared rogue was the only one who kept ripping aggro off me, and considering that the mobs didn't hit very hard anyway it wasn't a big deal.

I thought it was interesting that nobody commented on my tanking either way but happily followed me wherever I went, even when I dove down into the underwater caverns to kill Lady Sarevess and to find that injured Argent Dawn dude. I guess they were all relatively experienced, decided that I was acting sufficiently like a tank was supposed to and left it at that.

Our healer also did well, even though his mana bar appeared to be empty all the time and he had no drinks. Most of the time he just managed to squeeze out enough healing anyway. Only once or twice did he ask for a mana break, which due to his lack of drinks simply meant that everyone was sitting around and waiting for his mana to regenerate. Talk about old school! During one such break he also announced that he "had to go to WC", which momentarily made me worry that he was about to drop the group to join a Wailing Caverns run, until my brain made a reality check and realised that he just wanted to go to the loo.

Overall it ended up being a very smooth run. About the closest we came to wiping was when we entered the cavern containing Gelihast (aka the murloc boss), I ran in to shield bash the first caster mob and forgot that the murlocs are arranged in a complex pattern which means that if you attack even a single mob where it stands, all the other mobs in the room will aggro in a domino effect, and the next thing I saw was the boss running past me with a fear icon over his head as he had aggroed on the warlock. Everyone played well though and we managed to survive even that.

On a related note, what is it with pulls in many low-level instances? You don't really appreciate how clearly visible it is in higher level dungeons which mobs belong together unless you go back to tank a place like Blackfathom. The mobs are literally scattered all over the place, and chances are that if you pull one, at least one other will come but you can never know for sure. And then you have places like said murloc room, where you can't seem to take one step without aggroing yet another mob and it's all too easy for everything to spiral out of control.

Anyway, after the madness surrounding Gelihast we made it through the rest of the instance without another hitch. I remember the platforms just before you get to Kelris' room being quite wipetastic back in the day, but this time I made sure to pull all the casters back using line of sight (which wasn't too hard with all the pillars) and no further chaos ensued. I'm also proud to say that nobody had the bright idea to light all the candles at the altar at once, because I remember all too well when some people did do that...

I'm looking forward to my next run like this, though I don't know when it will happen, considering that my obsession with getting lots of emblems for all my level eighty alts takes up most of my WoW time these days.


The Sons of Hodir revisited

As far as I understand, most people hate the Sons of Hodir. As for myself however, I established before that I'm actually rather fond of them, so it was a no-brainer that my shaman would work on getting exalted with them as well, even though she can get all the shoulder enchants she needs from my other four eighties, now that the things are bind-on-account.

Spinks nominated the Sons of Hodir quest line for the Pink Pigtail List of 2009, and with good reason I feel. Even if you disliked doing the daily quests, the quest chain that introduces you to the Sons in the first place is nothing but epic. What starts as a simple rescue mission for goblin miners ends up introducing you to a story of betrayal, forging of new trust and deceit. Plus you get to ride bears and drakes on the way, which is pretty damn cool.

My personal favourite part of the chain is one of the more quiet quests however, namely the slightly silly side quest called Battling the Elements. It's a vehicle quest in which you get to control the old giant Snorri and have to kill fire revenants, which doesn't sound all that special, but the way in which you "ride" Snorri alone is enough to crack me up:

"I'm Snorri and I play with a troll shaman. What's your game?"

Who's controlling whom there? Also, how many quests have got you helping the elderly? I actually felt like I was doing a good deed.

And then there's the implementation of course. You don't just kill the fire revenants, you pick up snowballs and put them out. That's just... genius! If you've ever been given a quest where you felt that the quest giver wasn't really asking you to solve his problem in the most sensible manner, this quest is the exact opposite. Why can't we always take out fire elementals like that? That would rule.

Now, as far as reputation goes, Tessy from Reflections from the Pond made a post not long ago in which she described going From Hated To Exalted In Less Than A Day. I took note of that, but I didn't really fully grasp the gravity of her words. I just noted that she said she got to exalted by handing in a whole bunch of Relics of Ulduar, which was already possible before, so that didn't strike me as too much of a buff to reputation gains.

So, imagine my wide-eyed surprise when I saw this - and I have to post a screenshot here because just describing it wouldn't have the same effect:

Note that these are two quests that I handed in right after each other, and they took me from not even being on the Sons' radar to halfway through honoured. In two hand-ins.

To give you some perspective, previously both of those quests took you to neutral or so I believe. By doing every other quest available in Dun Niffelem you could get to friendly, but then you would have to start doing dailies to get to honoured, which would then unlock a couple more quests and so on. This time around I started at honoured however. Okay.

This led to a bit of bizarre bending of the timeline as it was originally designed, and I did some quests in which the Sons praised me for my greatness at the same time as others in which they repeatedly declared that they were a bit suspicious of me and that I'd have to prove myself first. But who reads quest text anymore anyway, eh?

So I ran around Dun Niffelem, jumping back and forth in time to please the Sons in various ways, doing all the regular quests they had to offer me (which was a fair amount now, since they were originally supposed to be unlocked in chunks), did each daily once and handed in two Everfrost Chips. Funny thing about Everfrost, I could never find any whenever I was looking for it, but my shaman just kept tripping over it. In fact I found the first one while doing A Monument to the Fallen, and picked it up completely by accident because I thought it was a horn fragment.

And suddenly I got the message that I was already revered. After doing all the normal quests and one of each daily. The mind boggles.

I then did the revered daily as well and got three-hundred odd relics from my bank alt. I hadn't bought any, these were all relics that I had picked up while doing dailies with my other characters, and getting heroic Halls of Lightning/Halls of Stone as my random for the gazillionth time. I decided to hand them all in just to see how far I'd get, and what do you know, it was exactly enough to get me to exalted - with one relic left over. Who'd have thought that my shaman's very first exalted reputation would end up being the Sons of Hodir, and that after only one day of work? I almost felt a little bit disappointed, being left with no reason to come back and thrust hodir's spear again. Time to get my next alt to eighty I guess?


Recount and general ignorance

There's been a lot of talk in the WoW blogosphere as of late about performance expectations in heroic groups, about how much dps you can expect from people depending on the gear they have, and how judgemental you should be when people don't live up to your expectations. At first I found myself agreeing a lot with the people who claimed that there's no excuse to do less than X dps no matter what, but after thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that all of these posts completely brush over one very important point: that WoW itself doesn't teach you how to play your class, at all.

Yesterday I was in a heroic Halls of Stone run with an enhancement shaman who did fairly poor dps, and after inspecting him it turned out that his gear was all over the place: a cloak made for tanking, some spell power here, and so on and so forth. I considered giving him a few friendly words of advice, but since I was the tank I didn't really want to stop the run dead by pausing to have a chat with him.

It made me think however: It's so easy to take the knowledge about which stats are best for which class for granted, but if I'm being honest I never would have learned these things if other people and external websites hadn't told me about them first. Abilities and talents have tooltips, yes, but to be honest they are often pretty poor. Whenever these things get changed in a major patch, people almost always have to do some theorycrafting and testing first to find out what's the new optimal spec and rotation, and yet we expect everyone to figure these things out on their own when it comes down to it?

When I log onto my level twenty-six rogue alt for example, his character panel tells me that he has 48 strength, which increases his attack power by 38, and 110 agility, which increases his attack power by 100. Using layman's math, agility comes out as being only marginally better than strength here, while "common knowledge" tells me that a rogue gets twice as much attack power from agility than from strength. How is the average player supposed to know that when the game tells them something else?

Back when I was a wee newbie priest, I also liked gear with agility on it, because the tooltip at the time told me that agility increased my chance to dodge and my ranged attack power. Yay, dodging attacks is always good, right? Except that obviously, as a priest I shouldn't find myself in a position where I have to dodge attacks very often, and I would get much better use out of other stats. But how should I have known that? As for the ranged attack power, I thought that increased my wand damage, which I think was a perfectly logical conclusion to come to. Except that once again, that's not how it actually works, but again there was nothing in the game that actually told me so.

Also, one of the earliest purchases I made as a newbie priest was a Quarter Staff. It had more dps than my old one, right? For some reason I assumed that having a weapon with X damage per second equipped would automatically mean that my character would do X damage per second while fighting, not realising that this only applied if I actually whacked things over the head with it (i.e. played a melee class). Very wrong, but again not exactly something that was completely illogical!

Similarly, knowing how much dps we do is something that most of us have become very used to, but fact of the matter is that Recount is an addon, not part of the default interface, and I'm sure I'm the not the only one who played without any addons whatsoever for a long time. Without a tool like that, there is no way to tell how much dps you do, the only measurement you have is whether a mob that you attack dies quickly or slowly. As long as it dies quickly enough, you have no reason to worry, and considering the ease of soloing in WoW, you can get away with just auto-attacking most of the time anyway. People accuse players with low dps of not even trying, when they might in fact not even know that they are doing something wrong in the first place!

The point is, you can get very far in WoW by just taking the game at face value, not understanding which stats are best for you and not knowing how much damage you do. It will most likely just make you a rather poor player in a group. Yes, I boggle at death knights doing 500 dps in heroics too, but that still doesn't necessarily make them lazy or stupid, most likely just ignorant, and ignorance about a game is hardly a crime. I know I didn't use to be the type who researched stuff online, the only reason I ended up doing so after a while was because a friend linked me to an article about priest healing, and others kept making references to this thottbot website that I should check out. I wouldn't have become the player I am today if I hadn't received so much help from others. I just feel sorry for those really poor dpsers in heroics for clearly not having any good friends that are willing to share their knowledge. Vote-kicking and berating them will teach them a new lesson for sure, but I don't think it's the right one.


Instance patch notes that I'm afraid we'll see soon

Ahn'kahet: The Old Kingdom
- Elder Nadox will only summon one Ahn'kahar Guardian per fight, so you won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.
- Prince Taldaram won't vanish anymore, so you can keep dpsing him throughout the whole fight.
- Jedoga Shadowseeker will only try to make one initiate ascend per fight, so you won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.
- Herald Volazj will only cast insanity once, even on heroic, so you won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.
- Amanitar, that boss that everyone skips, has moved out of his cave and is now conveniently located in a corner of Volazj' room for easier emblem access.

- The number of mobs that spawn to attack Hadronox has been greatly reduced and he will move to the surface much more quickly to reduce wait times.
- Anub'arak will only burrow once per fight, so you won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.

Drak'tharon Keep
- Novos the Summoner will now call for all four of his Crystal Handlers at once so you can AoE them down quickly and won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.

Halls of Stone
- The Tribunal of Ages encounter has been sped up significantly to allow players to make better use of their AoE abilities and to make sure nobody has to spend too much time just standing around and listening to RP crap.

The Culling of Stratholme
- The Arthas event will be set in motion as soon as the first person enters the instance and the first wave of undead will spawn right away, so you can start clearing as soon as you reach Stratholme. Once Arthas has finished talking and you've killed Salramm the Fleshcrafter, Arthas will catch up with the party and put himself on /follow on the designated tank for the rest of the instance. Infinite dragonflight mobs will spawn much more quickly and without any dialogue, so you don't have to waste any time standing around and listening to RP crap.

The Nexus
- Anomalus will now only use his charge rift ability once per fight, so you don't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.

The Oculus
- The annoying trash at the entrance to the instance has been removed.
- Varos Cloudstrider has dropped his protective bubble and can now be engaged as soon as Drakos the Interrogator has been killed.
- Mage-Lord Urom awaits challengers in the centre ring right from the start.
- The cache of Eregos now also has a chance of dropping a pony.

The Violet Hold
- Ichoron will only pop his bubble once per fight, so you only have to use a crystal activator to one-shot all the adds once.

Trial of the Champion
- Instead of flying down on his skeletal gryphon and making a speech, the Black Knight will now just drop down from the ceiling, yell and immediately initiate combat, so you don't have to waste any time standing around and listening to RP crap.

Utgarde Keep
- Annhylde the Caller will now resurrect Ingvar the Plunderer instantly, so you don't have to waste any time standing around and listening to RP crap.

Utgarde Pinnacle
- Svala Sorrowgrave will await adventurers in her Val'kyr form right away, so people don't feel pressured into skipping her because waiting for her dialogue with the Lich King to finish wastes too much time.
- The device that unfreezes Gortok Palehoof and the other monsters in his room will now activate instantly after clicking. Also, all the mini-bosses will come alive at once so you can just AoE them down instead of tediously having to fight one after the other.
- Skadi the Ruthless can now be shot down with a single harpoon, so you won't have to waste as much time fighting things that aren't the boss.
- King Ymiron's screams of the dead won't stun anymore, but will instead apply a minor damage reduction debuff. We agree that being forced into a whole eight seconds of inactivity repeatedly is no fun at all!

I wish this post was pure satire, but apparently some of the changes mentioned here are already in the works, according to Wild Growth. Why is it so terrible for instances to engage people in other ways than quickly killing a bunch of bosses for their emblems?


The trouble with healing teams

This week I was reminded that even though I love healing, there's something about healing twenty-five-man raids that makes me seriously cranky, and I'm afraid that something is the other healers.

Healers are supposed to be a team, but I rarely feel much team spirit in anything larger than a ten-man. I think it's because two important factors for a team operating smoothly and successfully is that everyone can be relied on to take care of the tasks that they've been assigned and to pull their weight, and that everyone gets along reasonably well. It's not completely impossible to lead your team to victory with one half carrying the completely useless other half, and both halves hating each other's guts, but it's unlikely to be a pleasant experience. And isn't that what raids are supposed to be about? Having fun?

To address my second point first, the desire for everyone to get along, this is something that I never felt that strongly when I was raiding as dps. Sure, it's not nice when you've got someone in the raid whom you don't like, but as dps you're rarely forced to interact with them all that much anyway. There are a few fights that do require a high level of coordination among the dps, but most of the time you'll be fine as long as everyone just does their own thing correctly, which means shooting the right mob and not standing in bad stuff.

On the surface, healers operate fairly independently as well - X on tank, Y on healing the raid - but in truth it's a lot more complex than that. Some class abilities pretty much ask for cross-healing: of course the resto shaman's chain heal is great for raid healing, but he might as well keep an earth shield on the tank at all times. Also, in most encounters the amount of damage taken by all targets rarely stays the same throughout the whole fight, so when there's little to no raid damage going on it makes sense for the raid healers to help out on the tanks and vice versa.

Now, you could argue that optimising the teamwork in such situations doesn't really require you to like the other healers, but I've found that it helps a lot. With some I've even had such a good connection that I could predict pretty reliably whom they'd heal next at any given point and direct my own heals towards another target in the meantime. There was a question in Miss Medicina's healing questionnaire that asked which class you enjoyed having the most as your healing partner, and from what I read in some responses I wasn't the only one who ended up naming classes with whom I had played well in the past simply because I knew the other healer well and we got along.

The point is that healers are forced to work together very closely at all times, and having to do so with someone whom you consider a stupid tit is both detrimental to your performance as well as all around un-fun. Some of our recent recruits make me want to hit my head against my desk repeatedly sometimes, but what am I supposed to do? It's not like I can just ignore them, due to the nature of our forced cooperation.

As far as being reliable and carrying your weight goes, this is another thing that I've found a lot more painful to bear as a healer than as a dps when it goes wrong.

Let's say you have two dpsers, a warrior who does 8k dps and a hunter who does 5k. Assuming that the hunter isn't just standing there twiddling their thumbs but is genuinely trying and simply doesn't have an optimised rotation and the best gear... the warrior is still doing more "work" so to speak. However, as long as the boss dies it doesn't make that much of a difference. It will take longer than it would have if the hunter did 8k dps as well, but the longer fight time shouldn't put too terrible a strain on either of them as they can just keep going through their rotations.

If the boss has an enrage timer and you end up wiping due to a lack of dps, the warrior will have reason to be annoyed with the hunter, but he won't have to feel at fault himself. He might be able to squeeze out a little more dps with a consumable or a cooldown here or there, but most likely not the 3k extra that would be required to compensate for the hunter's lack of damage. Basically a good dps will always be doing as much damage as he can, and whether others do the same doesn't affect him much unless you hit an enrage timer. Even if he "compensates" for another dpser doing less, it doesn't actually make a difference for the way he plays, his rotation stays the same.

Now, healers also have a hard cap for how much healing they can do, assuming they use all their biggest heals non-stop until they are out of mana. On my priest this currently seems to lie somewhere between 6 and 7k hps. However, most encounters won't require your healers to spam all their biggest heals from finish to end, instead the damage tends to be concentrated on specific people (the tanks) and phases. That doesn't mean that healers are lazy for not giving their all at all times, but that they are simply limited by how much damage is actually being taken.

At any time during which I'm not spamming heals to the max already, there is still room for me to increase my output. However, this is generally not pleasant - unlike a dps who can perform at his best by following a rotation or priority order, pushing my maximum healing output means that I'm playing whack-a-mole on speed, constantly forced to make split-second decisions that can spell certain death for someone if I make the wrong choice. Having a certain ebb and flow in the healing required during any given fight is one of the things that helps to keep healers sane.

Now, let's assume you have two people on raid healing. One of them uses the wrong spells for the situation and gets a lot less healing done than he should, what happens? Well, the damage is still there and needs to be healed, so either people will die from it, or the other healer steps up to take over, increasing his healing output per second and the associated stress. Unlike a strong dpser, who can "compensate" for a weak one to certain extent without making any extra effort, one healer compensating for another's lack of healing directly results in more work for the one doing the compensating. Not pleasant, but sometimes that kind of thing happens - also when one healer dies during a fight for example.

However, when you have to put up with this kind of thing raid after raid because members of your healing team refuse to listen to advice and outright ignore certain instructions, it becomes incredibly off-putting. Every bit of compensating you have to do comes at the cost of your own fun.

I remember helping out in a TotC10 run once, where I was supposed to duo-heal the instance with someone's pally alt... but the guy had no clue how to heal as a paladin and did almost nothing but spam flash of light. By the end of the run he had done less than twenty-five percent of all healing done. One of my guildies looked at the healing metres, laughed and congratulated me on my imbaness, but I was not amused. What had been intended as a bit of assistance on a relaxed alt run had just ended up stressing me out immensely, as I had to heal the whole raid almost entirely on my own.

Similarly we recently recruited a healer who's an okay guy and certainly not a terrible player, but he just doesn't seem to entirely "get" healing as his class, keeps using the least optimal spells and comes out of every raid having done half as much healing as other people on the same assignment. Friendly advice seems to fall on deaf ears. Why did he pass his trial then? I don't know, but our healing leader simply tends to make odd decisions like that.

The point is, healing twenty-five-man raids bugs me because there are so many more healers there than in a five- or ten-man, which drastically increases the chances of having to deal with bad apples. And as a healer dealing with such bad apples means having to listen to everything they say (no matter how stupid you think it is), and sacrificing some of your fun to make up for their incompetence if you don't want the raid to wipe.

There's no "i" in team, but there's a "me" if you mix it up a little bit, and that me is really starting to miss being dps and not having to personally deal with other people's failures all the time.


Five reasons why your tank might not be pulling yet/more/faster

A few days ago I ended up taking my paladin and my druid back to their tanking specs. My boyfriend and I have been having a lot of fun teaming up for five-mans on various alts, and we found that it shortens queue times significantly if one of us is willing to play the role of tank (queuing a dps and a healer together only makes the queue longer for the healer, sadly).

I've had my go at the new generation of "jerk tanks" that the dungeon finder seems to have created, but it's also interesting to see things from the other side. As a general rule I haven't encountered as much rudeness and incosiderate behaviour towards me as the tank, but the one issue that keeps rearing its ugly head over and over again is the one of people being impatient and constantly urging me to go faster, or even making the pull themselves and then expecting me to rescue them. On the whole I haven't had any really bad cases of this yet, but nonetheless I'd like to list five reasons why I wish people would have a little more patience with their tanks:

1. Your tank is a paladin and you only just entered the instance.

For every other class, buffing is a matter of pressing one or two buttons and you're good to go. As a paladin, I have to look at who else is in the party and decide on a buff for everyone individually. Is there a warrior in the group? If so, there'll be no point in using blessing of might as it'll be overwritten by battle shout anyway. What about those hybrids, which blessings do they need? Is that dps druid feral or balance? The shaman enhancement or elemental? None of these questions take particularly long to answer, but it does mean that I'll need about a minute after zoning in to get all my buffs in order. It's amazing how people can already get twitchy during such a short period of time, even when they can see that I'm not AFK but busy handing out buffs.

2. Your tank might be distracted by something else.

I think it goes without saying that I'd hope that everyone who queues up for an instance doesn't expect to be called away for some other business during the next thirty minutes. Unannounced real life interruptions can still happen, but that's not even what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about simple things like replying to a whisper from a guildie or stopping to loot a mob. That a healer or a dps can do these things at any time goes pretty much without saying, as it won't hold the group up in any way. The tank can just continue to pull the next batch of mobs and should be able to survive a few seconds without healing or with reduced dps. However, as soon as the tank does anything other than tank, everything comes to a standstill. If he just wants to grab his loot off the nearest dead wolf it shouldn't really matter as it only takes a couple of seconds anyway, but again even that is already completely unacceptable in the eyes of some people. I'm this run's tankbot, who do I think I am to take three steps backwards to loot that dead mob whose sparkling state I overlooked earlier? How selfish of me to hold everyone up like that!

3. Your tank might not be that good/confident.

I don't want to claim that tanking is the Hardest Thing Ever, but it's definitely something that you can't get really good at just by reading about it. It requires a lot of situational awareness to position mobs with special abilities correctly, move casters to the right spot, immediately taunt a mob back if you lost aggro and so on, and that's something that you simply need to practice. People who tank seven days a week can pull off some quite amazing things, and I admire them for it. Me however, I'm a healer at heart and tanking is just something I do occasionally and for the sake of variety. I spent the last couple of weeks since the release of the dungeon finder not tanking anything at all. So now that I'm getting back into it I have to remind myself of how to use certain abilities in the best way, how to handle certain pulls when I'm the one making them, and so on. Then it really doesn't matter if I have the best healer in the world, I won't want to tank whole rooms at once or anything like that, because I don't think that I'd be able to round all the mobs up properly and reliably hold aggro on all of them (especially those pesky, spread-out casters). Is that really such an alien concept?

I don't even want to imagine what it must be like to be completely new to tanking and to constantly have this pressure on you that you must go faster, pull more and so on.

4. Your tank might want to consider everybody's safety and repair bills.

I don't have the exact numbers, but I dare say that I've suffered more wipes and deaths in five-mans as of late due to people purposely putting too much strain on the group than to anyone making an honest mistake. Good for you that you know how to sneak past every single patrol in the instance, but don't expect the four people bumbling along behind you to do so as well! Having to res someone who dared to take a single step in the wrong direction usually takes longer than just killing the patrol itself.

Or consider AoE damage. Some tanks seem to be very gung-ho about pulling as much as possible because they have great gear and they can take it, while ignoring the fact that the mobs in question also do AoE damage or single target attacks focused on a random group member, and that the other people in the party might not be able to "just take it". Halls of Lightning is one place where I see this particular approach a lot, but there are many more.

During a heroic Old Kingdom run the other day we ended up grouping with a dps shaman who immediately said that he had only just hit eighty, and my boyfriend said that he ended up being extra careful not to overpull to save that guy in particular any repair bills. It was definitely a sensible move, as a single flame strike from the trash packs leading up to Jedoga Shadowseeker was already almost enough to one-shot the little guy in his levelling gear, and more than one group at once would have spelled certain death for him.

Protecting the rest of the party is what tanks do, and yes, that can also involve slower and more careful pulls.

5. Your tank is not your personal entertainer.

I feel for the healer who is bored because I keep aggro on everything and only take minimal damage, what with outgearing the instance by several tiers and all that. I sympathise with dps who love to see lots of big numbers on their screen while AoEing ten mobs at once but don't get a chance to do so very often.

However, at the end of the day I'm not your personal entertainer. I'm your tank. I'm responsible for leading the party in the right direction, picking up all the mobs on the way and keeping them focused on me until they are dead. As long as I fulfill those duties, you really have no right to complain.

If you think that running heroics with vastly overgeared groups is boring... then don't do it. If you feel that you absolutely have to do your daily random to get those emblems of frost, read a book on the side while face-rolling, do some smite-dps to pass the time between renews or whatever. Just don't take your bad mood out on me by demanding that I, personally, make the run more interesting for you at the expense of my own enjoyment.


I like vendor trash

One of the funnier realisations I came to recently, thanks to all the five-man pugs I've been running, is that I like vendor trash and that I'm disappointed when there isn't enough of it. Sometimes I'll port out of an instance, go to the blacksmith in Dalaran to repair and sift through the loot, just to realise that there isn't actually any loot for me to sift through. It's one thing to not win any of the rolls for the good stuff, but not even any grey rubbish for vendoring? Sadface. Drak'tharon Keep is really kind to me in that regard, as I'm always guaranteed to walk out with at least an Icy Fang or two and a couple of Bent Raptor Talons.

I'm not sure where this love for useless stuff comes from. I'm pretty peculiar about my bags, always carrying around a lot of potions and miscellaneous gadgets just in case, and insisting that everything has its proper place in my backpack. (For example off-spec gear is always stored in the bag to the very left.) With that in mind, you'd think that picking up lots of rubbish would annoy me since it messes with my perfect world order, but somehow I get a kick out of sorting through all my virtual possessions, deciding what should be sold, what should be go to the bank alt for auctioning, what should go to another alt and so on.

In some of the old world instances, this love for sorting could sometimes get in the way of actual gameplay. If I go to wowhead and look up a random type of trash mob in the Deadmines for example, it's not hard to see why. A Defias Blackguard alone has the potential to drop several dozen different greys, ranging from all types of weapons and shields to armour for every slot and of every type. And that's not even counting the semi-useless drops like really naff scrolls or random bits of cheese. Add to that that people generally don't have the largest bags available to them at low levels, and you might not even have reached the second boss yet by the time when you have to either stop looting or start chucking things out - at which point your party members might start to ask if you're AFK, as you're just standing there, looking at your bags and wrecking your brain about whether to throw out the two Lesser Healing Potions or the Red Defias Mask first...

So as far as that goes, I was grateful that they toned this down a bit in Burning Crusade. About the worst that could happen was that you ended up with full bags in the Botanica, thanks to all the miscellaneous flower parts and Gnarled Claws from the fleshbeasts there.

However, in WOTLK I think that they've taken it a bit too far. I think the first time that really hit home for me was when we cleared the trash around Freya in Ulduar for the first time, and all the damn little flowers dropped nothing but cash. I mean, the amount of mobs that drop money requires some suspension of disbelief as it is, but I can live with that. Humanoids? Logical. Dragons? Eh, dragons like shiny things, though I don't want to know where they keep their small change. Mechanicals? Well, maybe the engineer recycled a piggy bank when building it. But flowers? Seriously? Walking flowers should drop Thorny Vines or some other flowery bits, not cash. Neither should jormungar worms! It just feels wrong.

I never thought I'd say it, but I almost miss places like Uldaman: where bats drop bat skulls, robots made out of rocks drop rocks (surprise!), and basilisks have squishy eyes that you can pop out for fun. I guess it's just one of those small things that make the world feel more alive to me, having to convert mob parts into cash myself, instead of everything inexplicably dropping coins for me right away, just to save me the hassle.


My take on the Oculus changes

So the Oculus has received some updates yet again, this time in the form of some extra loot drops from the last boss. A lot of people have already commented on this, but I wanted to think about it a little longer before making a post on the subject.

The first conclusion that I came to is that the fact that the blue drake now also drops in Oculus kind of sucks for people who already had one from Malygos and were priding themselves in having a truly rare mount. My boyfriend is one of them. I do feel a bit sorry for him, though we'll see how common the drop actually is. We might not yet see a wave of blue drakes flood the skies of Northrend after all.

Secondly... the whole thing just strikes me as pretty stupid; I'm sorry but I have to say it. I'm not an Oculus hater myself (not anymore anyway), but from what I can gather those who still do avoid it like the plague don't do so because it doesn't drop enough loot.

Basically, as far as I can tell, people expect to get fun out of any part of the game in two ways. The first is from basic gameplay, like running around, exploring and whacking stuff. The second is in the form of rewards that improve their character.

If a piece of content is lacking in the first department, say because it's very difficult and people end up spending much more time dead than alive (which isn't very fun), then you can make it more appealing by making it easier, so people can spend more time actually playing (i.e. running around and whacking stuff). That's what they did for Halls of Reflection in the last batch of changes for example and it makes sense. I can say that I personally enjoyed the challenge of that instance as it was, but I also had enough wipes on the ghost encounter to understand why a lot of people considered it very un-fun. In this case making it slightly easier should help to make the dungeon more appealing again.

If a piece of content is lacking in terms of rewards, like a raid whose gear drops have become obsolete, you can make it appealing again by adding new and better rewards. (Hello there, achievements for Molten Core and the like!) That's also what they've been doing with heroics throughout this expansion, by upgrading the emblems to a higher tier with every major content patch.

What Blizzard has done with the last amount of Oculus changes however, is trying to fix a category one problem with a category two solution. People might cite different reasons for hating the Oculus, but I'm sure that the really deep-seated dislike, the kind that makes people drop from the group as soon as they zone in, has never been inspired by a lack of rewards. It's having to play a stoopid dragon when you want to play a priest/paladin/whatever, it's navigating an instance in three dimensions, it's wasting endless amounts of time mounting up and dismounting again (which does take a good ten seconds each time, what with the silly vehicle interface) and so on. People won't suddenly increase their tolerance for that kind of crap just because you offer them two extra badges and a gem.

In my battlegroup I actually haven't had any massive problems with Oculus groups falling apart as soon as people zoned in; I always only read about that elsewhere. Yet when the luck of the draw threw my shaman in there today, on the first day of the new additional rewards, two dps instantly quit the group. I think that says it all really.

I don't blame Blizzard for wanting to lure people into doing content they spent a long time designing and putting together. They haven't failed completely for sure, just to use myself as an example: My first two runs of the Oculus were horrible and painful experiences and I never wanted to go back there again after I got my Champion of the Frozen Wastes title. A few months later I ended up braving the instance with an alt anyway, and found that the drakes scaling with better gear really helped a lot on the last fight, making me more open towards the experience again. (Eregos being too unforgiving when people didn't use their drakes' abilities correctly all the time was a playability problem that received an "increased playability" solution, as it should be.)

However, there's also a point where you have to admit that something just doesn't work, and then it's time to either leave it be or to scrap it altogether. A lot of people hate the drake riding mechanic, no amount of increasing the loot tables or nerfing overall mob health is going to change that. They could either accept that a large portion of their playerbase simply doesn't like the concept, or they could revamp the instance entirely, say by connecting all the platforms on the same level and adding a lift or teleporter to move between them. Leaving the drakes for the last fight only might be just about acceptable to a lot of people (just like they tolerate the jousting as part of the first encounter in Trial of the Champion).

Sound too drastic? As I said they could also just accept that not every part of the game is for everyone. So what? The World of Warcraft didn't end when people stopped collecting Silithyst either. And anyway, at the rate at which things are going, it might be easier to revitalise silithyst collection than to make the Oculus popular...


A Culling of Stratholme story

So... Culling of Stratholme. I mentioned before that my opinion of that instance has changed over time, but as it is now I dare say that it's one of my favourite WOTLK heroics. I don't even mind all the talking at the start, which a lot of people seem to hate. For me it's just a good opportunity to inspect the other group members' gear (out of curiosity, not that it changes how I treat them) and fetch a drink.

As a result I felt pleasantly surprised when my shaman's last random dungeon on normal mode before she hit eighty turned out to be Culling. Hurrah! We had a death knight tank, a rogue, a warlock and a druid for dps.

So, as usual I go off to set everything in motion all by myself. On a side note, what is it with that? I mean, I can kind of forgive it on normal mode because maybe people are new to the instance and genuinely don't know what to do, but why does nobody ever help with revealing the plagued grain crates on heroic either? Does everyone honestly think that Arthas will show up on his own if only they stand around picking their noses for long enough? Giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming ignorance instead of laziness, let me tell you: Arthas' appearance is not tied to a timer! You have to get an Arcane Disruptor from Chromie at the start of the instance, regardless of whether you've done the quest or not, reveal the five plagued grain crates, and then talk to Chromie again in front of Stratholme. Only after she (he?) says something along the lines of "here comes Uther now", the introductory event starts. Not that difficult, is it?

Anyway, that was just a tangent really... so I had this group, and we were all set up to go, just waiting for Arthas to do his thing, and about thirty seconds before the first wave spawns our tank suddenly says "brb". The dps mostly decide to ignore this of course, and the rogue and the warlock charge in and get splatted.

"Where is the healer?!" one of them demands to know.
"At the back, with the tank," I reply, "he said brb."
"Oh," they reply, get ressed/run back, and we wait.

We wait for a couple of minutes, then the warlock demonstrates an amazing lack of short-term memory by asking: "What are we waiting for?" I explain again that we're waiting for the tank, and he goes "oh".

Eventually the tank disconnects and a vote to kick him gets initiated and passes. The dps druid decides to leave as well at this point, but we get both a replacement tank and dps (a hunter) pretty quickly.

"Hello there," I greet them enthusiastically.
Tank has left the group.

Meanwhile, wave one of Mal'Ganis' Scourge minions must have completed their third round of the city, admiring the scenery and possible chewing on some flowers.

Several of us ported out to do a couple of dailies while we waited for the LFG tool to find us another tank, as it couldn't even give us an estimated wait time. After about fifteen minutes a warrior tank finally joined us, and we quickly ported back into the instance and hurried back to Stratholme. I eagerly kept an eye on the position of our tank on the map but he just stood at the entrance for several minutes, until eventually he asked someone to come back because he didn't know the way. I facepalmed.

Once we actually managed to get him towards the mobs he managed to do some tanking, but only sort of. He seemed to have never done the instance before as he kept running after random zombies all over the place, forcing the rest of us to gently coax him towards the next wave of elites every time, which would then proceed to beat people up left and right and make my job as a healer very un-fun.

Somehow we managed to make it through to Meathook, and it really made me realise how spoiled I've become by all the faceroll heroics. Every wave felt as if it took ages to die compared to the way people AoE them down in heroic mode, and uh, Meathook himself? He's that guy that dies in twenty seconds or so, right? Well, when he's level eighty-two and your tank isn't even eighty, things start to look slightly different. I tried to stay close to the boss to avoid his chains, but still got hit by them eventually and the tank died during the duration of the stun. Good times.

I got a chiding for this as expected, defended myself by saying that the tank died while I was stunned, and we moved on without further comment. I guess the tank didn't really care for my explanation but decided to graciously forgive me this once. On our next try I didn't get stunned by the chains once and we managed to down him, which then enabled us to stumble through a few more waves of trash (with tanking still being very sloppy).

"I hate zombies," the hunter commented after a while. "Yeah, they look like my mother-in-law," was the warlock's response. And no, I'm not making this up. I tried to screenshot it but for some reason I currently can't seem to take screenshots in WoW. Anyway, by this point I was laughing so hard that my boyfriend asked me what was going on.

Maybe the laughter made me lose my focus or what, I don't know, either way one of the next waves contained an abomination that hit the tank pretty hard (though in fairness not so hard that he should have died), other mobs were all over again and I frantically failed to target things correctly, so we wiped again. Under different circumstances I might have apologised, but considering the tank's overall performance so far, I didn't feel like doing any public self-flagellating over one mistake from my side. The tank left without another word anyway.

My boyfriend had been looking over my shoulder for a few minutes by this point, and offered to tank the rest of the instance for me on his paladin. Getting a bit tired of waiting for yet another failtank, I agreed. So we got an uber raid tank and sailed through the rest of the instance without a hitch (if a bit slowly still due to rather low dps).

Until we came to Market Row... and realised that we had lost Arthas somewhere on the way. He hadn't died or anything, it's just that nobody had talked to him after we reached the gauntlet and he was still standing where we left him, twiddling his thumbs.

So me and the hunter ran back, my boyfriend stayed where he was, I don't know what the other two dps did... all I know is that I ended up feeling very foolish soon afterwards, since a rogue from our guild who had once made a similar experience had actually warned me that this would happen - in short, we talked to Arthas to get him going and the entire gauntlet respawned at once, while our party was spread out over the whole area. Needless to say that we went splat very quickly and very painfully, as not even our overgeared paladin tank managed to survive the onslaught of the entire gauntlet at once without a healer.

We did finish the instance in the end, but I guess it was a good lesson in some ways: no matter how silly you think your fellow puggers are acting, that doesn't mean that you can't still top their foolishness.

Also, after that experience I ended up getting Culling about three times in a row as my random heroic. I still enjoy it, but now it also makes me twitch slightly.


Healing tips for the first half of heroic Halls of Reflection

Now, usually I don't really make useful posts in the form of guides and the like, but after healing heroic Halls of Reflection for the umpteenth time yesterday and apparently amazing our tank with my awesome skills (he was convinced that his gear wasn't good enough and that we'd all die horribly), I thought it might be worth sharing some of the revelations I've had about this instance.

First off, it's pretty damn hard at the current gear level, even if you've got twenty-five-man raid gear. Some people love the challenge this presents, others hate the risk of frequent wipes that comes with it, others might feel a bit of both. Tanks are probably hit the hardest by this as they have the most difficult job in this instance (though everyone has to be on the ball), so don't be too hard on them if they mess up in some way. Instead be grateful for having a tank who doesn't instantly drop from the group as soon as someone dies, regardless of whose fault it was.

The instance basically consists of two parts, the Frostmourne event which results in you fighting Falric and Marwyn (technically two bosses, but since they are linked you might as well count them as one) and the escape from the Lich King. There's a single trash mob between them, but I doubt that should pose a serious problem to anyone.

The trickiest part of the first half are without a doubt the eight waves of trash mobs that you have to deal with. Since they spawn in random places all over the room and can't be targetted beforehand, it's quite tricky for the tank to pick them all up before they go and kill anyone. Most tanks like everyone to hide in one of the alcoves off to the side so all the mobs will run towards the same spot as soon as they spawn and the tank can intercept them, but if your tank prefers a different setup, don't reject it right away. After all he is the one who has to know what works best for him.

Now, as a healer you'll be staring at health bars most of the time and likely not be paying too much attention to who kills what, but I found that it really helps to know what's going on around you here (and I found out the hard way that not knowing what's happening can actually cause a wipe on its own).

Basically there are five types of trash mobs that spawn, a Ghostly Priest, a Phantom Mage (who can summon a mirror image of himself called Phantom Hallucination), a Tortured Rifleman (basically a hunter), a Shadowy Mercenary (rogue) and a Spectral Footman (warrior). I'm not sure exactly how many of each you get during each wave, but overall the group size and composition become more difficult to handle the closer you get to the end - multiple rogues, ouch!

The priest should be a high priority kill target, mostly because of the single target fear he has. If the healer ends up being feared just as the tank suffers from a huge damage spike, that can easily lead to a wipe. He also has an annoying AoE that does shadow damage and knocks you back, which can also be disruptive of any non-instant heals. In addition he can heal other mobs and casts shadow word: pain on your party.

Your dpsers' next target should probably the rogue, as he does typically annoying rogue things, like shadowstepping behind clothies and killing them before you can blink. He'll also poison and stun the tank, which will make said tank's health plummet like a rock when he suddenly loses all his avoidance. Be ready to spam hard and fast if you see this happening! In addition he throws poisoned daggers at random people, which leave a dot that ticks for quite a lot. If you can remove poisons you should do so whenever you get a chance.

The mage is annoying for the tank because if he doesn't have a ranged silence at hand, the only way to get the mage into melee range is the use of line of sight. Depending on your tank's class that can be a bit annoying for them and in the meantime the mob might randomly shoot other people. Fear not! The mage's fireballs and frostbolts don't actually hit for that much and it's not a problem if someone else "tanks" her for a bit. About the most dangerous thing she'll do is cast flamestrike occasionally, which will cause a fair amount of party damage, especially if people proceed to stand in it for its full duration. Also be aware of dpsers running out of your line of sight to whack the mage while she's standing outside of the alcove for example. You've got to keep your helpful "off-tanks" alive too!

The hunter is probably the most annoying mob to tank since he can't be silenced and is thus even harder to get into melee range. Some tanks will tell their dps to kill him early on as a result, but from a healer's point of view I very much have to disagree. The hunter's damage is pretty negligible and he can easily be off-tanked by someone else for a while. About the most annoying thing he does is use an ice shot on people which does a bit more damage and freezes them briefly. You'd think that this would be on the same scale of annoyingness as the priest's fear, but it only lasts two seconds, which is half the length of the priest's fear. His other abilities include putting down a slowing trap and cursing people so they take fifty percent more magic damage - which is why it's actually preferable not to have both the hunter and the mage on the tank at the same time! Like with the mage, you have to watch for line of sight issues when people decide to run towards the mob to get into melee range.

Lastly we have the footmen, who don't have much in the way of janky abilities, but simply hit very hard. It's very important that the tank picks these up without fail, as they'll pretty much gank anyone else within the blink of an eye, and even the best healer won't be able to do much about it. The one thing you really have to watch out for as a healer is their shield bash, which can be directed at any random target in melee range. I've had more than one wipe where the whole party stacked on the tank for easier mob pickup and then stayed there... until the healer got shield-bashed (and thus silenced) and then had to watch helplessly as the whole group wiped without heals. So it's ok to stand on top of your tank at the start to ensure that the mobs will come the right way, but as soon as he's grabbed aggro, make sure to take a few steps off to the side to ensure uninterrupted heals.

As soon as a new wave spawns, try to help with ensuring your own survival as well as you can. On my priest I found that fading as soon as I saw "entering combat" pop up on my screen did wonders to help direct the mobs away from my squishy behind. Paladins don't produce massive healing aggro and can survive a hit or two with their plate, but if something comes your way after all, don't be afraid of defending yourself. The bubble should only be a last resort; a quick hammer of justice or holy wrath should be enough to buy the tank a couple of valuable seconds to actually hit the mob that wanted to chew on you. Druids can place a HoT on themselves preemptively (while you're at full health it won't generate healing aggro anyway) and hit barkskin if they get attacked.

Mana can be an issue considering that there's a lot of damage going around and no time to drink until the boss is dead. Druids can always innervate themselves when they've used up about half of their mana, but for other classes good mana regen can be a matter of correct timing. As a holy paladin I found that the best time to hit divine plea seems to be when there are only one or two mobs left of the current wave, as incoming damage is relatively low then and the reduction to healing done doesn't hurt as much. If you actually wait until the last mob dies, divine plea might still be ticking by the time the next wave comes in, and you really don't want your healing done to be lowered then. For a priest that's also the right time to use hymn of hope if it's needed, while the shadowfiend should come out while there are still enough mobs around to give it something to hit for its full duration.

Finally, I noticed that I always run into trouble around wave eight or nine, whenever the double rogues show up. People start taking damage left and right and how am I supposed to keep everyone alive argh! This is the time to blow cooldowns. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sucks at using healing cooldowns because there's always this fear of "wasting" them and not having them available when I need them later. However, wiping on the eight or ninth wave in heroic HoR is an excellent teacher in that regard, because it's much more enjoyable to blow your cooldowns than to "save" them, wipe and have to do it all over again. If you're a priest, blow Queen Susan's horn use guardian spirit when you see the tank getting stunned and battered, and don't be afraid of using lay on hands if you're a paladin. On my druid I found that a combination of barkskin and tranquility does wonders.

The bosses that follow the trash are comparatively easy, but still not entirely facerollable. The most important thing about Falric is that he'll fear the whole party every so often (and since it's a horror effect there isn't much you can do about it) while doing a considerable amount of damage, and as his health goes down, everyone's damage and healing gets reduced by up to seventy-five percent, so be aware that you'll have to spam like crazy to get any significant healing in towards the end.

Marwyn is the more dangerous one of the two in my opinion, mainly because of his corrupted flesh ability, which reduces the target's health by fifty percent for eight seconds. Watch out for him casting this on the tank - I'll never forget that heroic HoR where I thought that we had it all in the bag, then he sliced the tank's health in half and hit him for twenty k damage - whoops, and it's a wipe. So make sure to keep your meat shield topped off at all times!

If you got any more helpful healing hints for this encounter, feel free to share.