A Night to Remember

The Classic Crusade cometh... for sure now, on the 1st of June. The announcement about the release date, accompanied by the news that we'd only have two weeks of pre-patch, filled me with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Less than a month's notice meant that I pretty much had to say goodbye to my dreams of booking a whole week off to binge on Classic BC, but also, my guild still hadn't killed Kel'Thuzad, the last boss in Naxxramas.

We did actually kill Sapphiron a week ago, after some strategic readjustments. After several nights of wiping and making (what felt to me like) very little progress, I was chatting to one of the raid leaders one day and we both independently came up with the thought that being the hopeless casuals that we are, we clearly needed more micromanagement, as the problem was always that people started running around like headless chickens during air phase, with everyone trying to dodge out of everyone else's way at the same time. We had been given vague positions in the form of a dedicated "slice" of the room, the way many guilds do it on C'thun as well, but clearly that wasn't enough. We would need to be assigned spots within each slice as well.

Once that plan was hatched, we spent some time discussing it in the Four Horsemen's room the next Monday, and it ended up working like a charm. It still took us a few tries to iron out the last few kinks of course, but it immediately went much, much better. The "Chronobooner" (as our druid class leader likes to call it) was a huge help as well, as it allowed us to stow our world buffs away while we were learning, and then unleash them once we were reasonably confident in what we were doing for that extra bit of "oomph". The kill vid I recorded makes it all look surprisingly easy, not once betraying the huge amount of predetermined co-ordination involved. (And yeah, I was healing on my pally again on that one:)

We only had enough time left for one try on KT that night, but we were so excited to even be there that we agreed to put in an extra raid day on Tuesday in hopes of killing him before the reset. Sapphiron had felt so tough, more than one of us was probably worried whether we'd even be able to kill him a second time. That extra raid night on KT was interesting and did teach us a few things, but we didn't get him down.

The farm raid on Wednesday was a bit meh after that. The previous week we'd set a new personal record by clearing out twelve bosses in a single night, but that evening was a lot less good and we only ended up killing ten, meaning that we had Loatheb, Gothik and 4H left to do this Monday before we'd even get to attempt Sapph and KT again.

The Monday raid was off to a good enough start with Loatheb and Gothik going down quickly and smoothly, but the Horsemen were quite a mess. I was killed by an early meteor and then accidentally released spirit, so I didn't even see what was happening other than that more and more people were showing as dead in the raid frames and I was sure it was going to be a wipe, but somehow they managed to eke out a win with the last few people standing.

Then it was time for Sapphiron. More core healers had shown up that evening than on any previous night, so I was hopeful that maybe I'd get to dps the fight for a change, but I got conflicting responses from different officers. Eventually it was settled that I could stay on the hunter, but there was clearly still some confusion going on among the leadership as I found myself moved back and forth around the raid repeatedly, and there was vocal disagreement about who should be standing where and whether we should immediately use frost protection potions or not.

We'd stored our world buffs away in the chronos again, which was good as the first try was quite messy, with some people in the raid who hadn't been there on the kill night and were therefore not yet familiar with the tactics, and others maybe just not being properly focused yet.

In guild chat, our bard said that he'd managed to lose his mini map and asked what the keybind was to restore it. "Alt+F4," replied our mage class lead, which was immediately followed by a notification about our bard going offline. People howled with laughter, barely able to believe what had just happened. A minute later our bard came back online and was asked whether restoring his mini map had worked. "Yeah, but isn't there a less drastic way than restarting the game?"

Everything seemed to be going well enough except for some continued confusion about the exact group setups (while the hunter class leader had tried to prepare them in advance, our actual raid comp on the night deviated from the plan and that was causing chaos). Suddenly the raid leader said: "Sorry, I have to go" and started hearthing out. As I've come to consider him a good friend, I was instantly filled with concern. Had something bad happened to him IRL?

But then he continued, saying something about how he was the raid leader and people should accept his calls, but that the other officers continued to argue with him regardless. He logged off moments later, leaving us all in that befuddled and slightly concerned state you experience when that sort of drama occurs and you're not quite sure what just happened. I'd not seen a proper rage-quit like that in years!

The other members of the leadership team were clearly taken aback, but quickly recovered and tried to keep things going. We had one more "dry run" on Sapph, which went quite well despite of being two people down, and then took a brief break to fill those two empty slots. Fortunately there were people available, though after what felt like an eternity of waiting, they both arrived in Sapphiron's Lair realising that they'd forgotten their frost resist gear. "Whatever, let's get out those world buffs and go," was pretty much the reaction from leadership, so we pulled him with two people wearing zero FR gear but killed him just fine anyway.

Then it was on to KT once more. We re-bottled our world buffs and had one attempt without them that was kind of "eh", as we didn't even make it to phase three. Then again, we'd already established that KT is a much more forgiving fight than Sapph, one where you can still win even with half the raid dead. As we realised that we only had about fifteen minutes of raid time left, it was agreed to get the buffs out again and just go for it.

The result was an absolutely glorious mess, but we powered through somehow. I have yet to review the video footage but I think I got mind controlled twice and wasn't crowd controlled once (I ended up killing one of our priests too). Once the guardians spawned, they seemed to be all over the place. More and more people went down, including me, with just a sliver of health left on the boss... and then he died, with eleven people left standing (mostly paladins, unkillable bastards that they are).

The coveted crossbow dropped and went to the hunter class leader, but aside from that I didn't even pay much attention to the loot. We'd beaten Classic in time for the pre-patch, and that was all that mattered. I just wish our raid leader could have been there too; he certainly would have deserved to be part of it with how much work he put into herding these cats week after week.

All in all though, it was a night to remember with a little bit of everything that makes Classic Classic: guildies trolling each other, drama, near-wipes and an exciting first kill of the last boss of a raid (and in this case, also the whole of Classic).


Time Waits for No Man... Or Does It?

Even though we still don't have a release date, the Classic Crusade looms ever closer. Last week's patch added a big badge to the character selection screen to make sure players who don't follow outside news sources wouldn't be caught by surprise by what's coming.

It also was a big patch in another way though, in the sense that after one and a half years of (mostly) #nochanges it introduced what I consider the first big deviation from Vanilla to Classic by adding the Chronoboon Displacer to the game, an item intended to address the worst issues with the world buff meta.

It's a consumable that's available for purchase from Chromie in Andorhal at ten gold a pop (if you've done the quests for her), and what it does is bottle up any world buffs you have on you at the time of using it and safely preserves them in an item inside your bags. For PvP servers, this means no more griefing by dispelling or otherwise causing people to lose their lovingly gathered world buffs, and for us PvE carebears it simply means that we're freed of the pressure of having to plan so much of our play time around just when to pick up which buff and then making sure to stay logged out until raid start. Now we are able to pick them up early in the week even, bottle them up, and then go about our business grinding, running dungeons or what have you, without having to worry about losing buff duration. Once we're actually ready to pull the first boss, the buffs can be unleashed with the click of a button and we're good to go.

The thing is, I really don't know how I feel about it. I've written about my changing relationship with the world buff meta, and honestly from a practical point of view I absolutely love this change. Especially since I often used to gather buffs on both my hunter and paladin, just to watch one character's go to waste if that one wasn't actually needed (much) on the night. Now I can just pick up the buffs whenever it's convenient and then just not worry about them anymore until they are actually needed. I don't even need to get fidgety about wasted buff time anymore if the raid leaders get caught up in some sort of discussion at raid start. The ten gold price is worth it but simultaneously encourages you to think about when you want to use it, so you don't just mindlessly capture and release buffs all the time.

On the other hand though... this is a pretty big change. I've mostly been on board with the #nochanges movement, never mind things like tweaking the spawn rate of herbs to adjust for larger server populations. This item didn't exist in Vanilla and it introduces a whole new level of gameplay for raiders. Sure, it feels good now, but I've been playing these games for long enough to know that there are always long-term consequences that may result in the final experience not being quite as expected. For example I've started picking up the songflower buff now, when previously I usually didn't bother since it was the shortest, most fickle and most out of the way of all the world buffs. If I can pick it up at my convenience and then bottle it instantly until I'm actually at the boss though... there's no real excuse not to get it now, is there?

It also changes the way raids can approach certain bosses. People might argue about when they think it's best to use or preserve their buffs. A friend got quite cross when he died and lost his own buffs in Naxx after pulling aggro from the main tank, who'd quietly decided to bottle his own buffs after Patchwerk and was therefore suddenly generating a lot less threat. On the other hand, the very same friend was able to stow his buffs away before Vael in BWL, correctly predicting that he was going to die from the boss's unavoidable kill mechanic, and could then whip them out again for the later bosses.

Our last Naxx farm night we managed to hit a new personal record by clearing twelve bosses in one night, largely due to the Chronoboon Displacer allowing us to use a different kill order and strategy. Usually we'd start fully buffed at Patchwerk and then just keep going, with more and more people losing their buffs to deaths etc. as we continued, so that we had to save Loatheb for the next night or else we wouldn't be able to approach him sufficiently buffed. This time around we banked our buffs safely, started by doing Noth and Heigan without them (so we wouldn't randomly lose them to dancing fails) and then got them out for Loatheb and proceeded to Patchwerk right afterwards.

New buff release animation

It just feels a bit like the end of an era, as it's Blizzard more or less acknowledging that purity of vision and accurate preservation of how Vanilla used to work is less important to Classic now than keeping the game fun for the current player base, which simply isn't approaching WoW the same way as people did back in Vanilla. I'm not saying that's wrong, but it does make you wonder where they'll draw the line, and what other changes may end up being implemented later on. Retail-style connected servers seem almost inevitable already, considering that the game keeps trying to add the server name to character names whenever you whisper or mail people since the patch (e.g. "Shintar-HydraxianWaterlords" instead of just Shintar). I just don't want to watch history repeat itself.


Too Much To Do

One reason I was originally hesitant to join a guild in Classic was that I was worried that I might end up liking it too much, leading to me wanting to spend more time in game than I realistically have available for this particular endeavour. This pretty much happened. D'oh! I sort of already wrote about it back in October, though I focused on the pull of wanting to be social with my guildies back then. However, another dimension that I haven't really talked about is that - once you get into the group content - it feels like there's just so much to do in Classic at max level, especially right now.

I've often expressed my disdain for the way Blizzard changed retail WoW to basically always be just about the latest patch, with any and all content from previous patches being obsoleted almost instantly unless you're into farming cosmetics. I will admit though that I hadn't considered just how exhausting it could be to on the other hand have everything be relevant to your power progression almost forever.

Just looking at the raids, Classic WoW has six of them at this stage of the game, with all the original content released: Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Zul'Gurub, Ruins and Temple of Ahn'qiraj, and finally, Naxxramas. You'd think that if you're clearing most of Naxx, there wouldn't really be any reason to go back to any of the older raids unless you want to gear up an alt or something, right? Weeeell...

Molten Core is probably the closest to being truly "obsolete" at this point except for fresh sixties, however the legendary Thunderfury remains alluring, giving warriors in particular a reason to keep dragging everyone else through the place regardless.

Blackwing Lair drops some much better pieces of gear than MC, but still, most of them are superseded by Naxx gear, right? Again, weeeell... most of them, but there are some rare trinket drops that are Classic best in slot forever, giving people chasing their BiS incentive to keep coming back for a shot at those rare drops if nothing else.

Zul'Gurub was introduced as a smaller-sized catch-up raid for fresh sixties, so you'd think it would be in a similar position as Molten Core by now, but something that I didn't immediately realise was that it's also the source of the only real worthwhile enchants for the head, shoulder and leg slots. Head and legs require idols, of which you can only ever get two per run. Shoulders require exalted reputation as well as a lot of tokens farmed from trash drops. Basically, have fun farming this place forever until you've got your final BiS and got lucky with rolls often enough to enchant it all.

AQ20 is another easy raid in a similar vein as Zul'Gurub, but here the perpetual draw is that it drops max-rank spell books for three spells for all classes. At least these can be traded between players, so you don't necessarily have to go there yourself to get them all, but someone's got to keep running the place to supply the market. Those books don't appear out of thin air.

AQ40, being the last raid before Naxx, is another interesting one because while for some classes it's pretty pointless to go there if they can get Naxx gear instead, there are sets in there for certain classes and specs that don't really get superseded by anything else, meaning you'll have a particular niche of your raiders forever clamouring to re-visit this raid as well. I guess I've got to give those Vanilla game designers credit for succeeding at keeping players interested in all the raids.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not actually raiding all these places every week, and neither does my guild as a whole. We haven't been to MC since just before Naxx release for example. But everything else... people do go back to at least sometimes, and I in turn feel a certain pressure to come along if I can, both to work on still improving my pally's gear to help with our Naxx progression but also just to simply help make up the numbers.

So in addition to everything else I'm now actually also looking forward to Burning Crusade for the simple reason that we'll only have one tier to work on to begin with, leaving a lot more "free" time to spend on alts or dungeoneering. And any character copies that I keep on original Classic realms will simply have forever to achieve their goals there, with no more changes coming after that. I guess right now there's just a sort of unique pressure to "finish off" as much as we can, as anything achieved now will benefit both characters moving forward into Classic BC and those staying in the Vanilla world.


A Shadowlands Achievement

While discontent bubbles in the retail WoW-sphere due to the longest content drought following the launch of a new expansion in the game's history, I'm actually having a pretty good time with Shadowlands. I've long found retail WoW's "expected" content cadence unpleasant, not because getting new content is inherently bad (duh!) but due to it also always involving a relentless push to forcefully consign everything current to the dustbin of obsolescence at the same time.

The big project the husband and I have been working on for more than two months now are Torghast's twisting corridors. Initially I wasn't too thrilled by the idea, because while I liked normal Torghast well enough, our runs tended to last up to an hour as it was, and with the twisted corridors being three times as long, the thought of repeated play sessions requiring an uninterrupted three hours seemed a bit daunting. The game mode grew on me however, with the additional floors allowing for some truly ridiculous power combos by the end that set it apart from normal Torghast and made for a varied and entertaining experience.

I was wondering whether setting our eyes on the ultimate goal of completing layer eight was maybe a bit ambitious for our casual weekly adventures, considering that the recommended item level for the final layer is 225, while the husband and I are both capped at 200 or less due to the solo/duo-centric nature of our gameplay. As it turns out, it's perfectly doable with a lower item level though, and today we finally became the proud owners of our very own corridor creeper mounts. Since 9.1 appears to still be a couple of months away, we'll even get to enjoy the prestige of being able to ride in the Maw for a short while, before that patch turns that into business as usual for everyone.

I do suspect that going in as a duo meant that we had it relatively easy in terms of scaling, and I also haven't heard anything about either prot warriors or mistweaver monks having a hard time in Torghast in general. Not to mention that we'd also already maxed out our reputation with Ve'nari and bought all the possible power-ups for Torghast... still, it felt like an achievement, if nothing else for the sheer amount of time it took, and we did have to fail on the final layer twice before getting it down.

The first time we'd already lost several lives on the way to floor 17, at which point we got an awkward layout in Mort'regar where two elite deadsouls with particularly nasty abilities got the drop on us at the top of a staircase, causing us to die repeatedly and run out of lives, leading to our first and only encounter with the Tarragrue. The second time things seemed to be going smoothly until floor 12, where we ran into Patrician Cromwell, who absolutely destroyed us with one-shot abilities. I tried to look up some strategies and tips, but the comments on the Wowhead page I linked above mostly consist of people complaining about how overtuned that boss is and that they couldn't get him down either, so we eventually gave up before we'd even run out of lives as we just couldn't see a way of dealing with him.

Conversely, our run today was among the smoothest we've ever had, with only two deaths in total, both of which happened on the Coldheart mid-levels when I fell victim to ambushers from above. The final wing we had to contend with was Fracture Chambers and actually felt oddly chill in comparison, with the last floor before the boss consisting of more pottery than enemies. Such is the luck of the draw, but it still felt great to get it down. Now we'll actually have to start thinking of some new goals to pursue!


Four Horsemen and a Paladin

It's been two months since I last wrote about my guild's Naxx progression, which is really kind of surprising considering that I spend two nights a week in there right now. I guess I just don't have that much to say about the day-to-day of it, but after two months an update certainly feels in order.

Monday night was a good night not just for Redbeard, but also for the Forks as we got the Four Horsemen down for the first time. This brings us up to 13 out of 15 Naxx bosses killed, compared to the 8/15 we were at when I last posted at the end of January.

Gluth was really just about figuring out a kiting strategy. We eventually ended up going for a paladin spamming Blessing of Kings as the kiter, with mages and some warriors helping to slow the mobs. It still feels messy every time though, and the kiter is usually dead by the time the fight is over.

Thaddius took a few attempts for everyone to get comfortable with the polarity shift mechanic but wasn't as bad as I had feared.

In regards to Loatheb I mentioned last time how we wiped at five percent or something - well, eventually we got there. Ironically, we then had another two or three weeks of failing on him again due to healing screw-ups that needed sorting out, until we finally got him to something you can fairly call farm status.

Gothik, for me, was a lot of boring waiting around while people endlessly discussed what to CC and what to kill and when, none of which was anything I could help with. Eventually something was figured out that worked, or maybe it just took us that long to actually get it right.

But then, the Horsemen! The fight known to give guilds of all levels pause and put their skills to the test. As I told Red, this was actually one challenge I wasn't worried about, because we've spent so much time failing on easy stuff, failing on a harder fight for a while should be a piece of cake in comparison. And it was... fine.

We started off using an addon that's supposed to show everyone where to move during each part of the fight, but it conflicted with some things so eventually dropped it, though it was a good tool to get a grasp on the basic mechanics of the fight. By Classic standards, it's a relatively unforgiving one with quite a lot of personal responsibility, and losing a single tank or healer usually meant a wipe, which meant that as a dps I barely got to practice one or two rotations before the call to mop up went out on most attempts, but eventually we got there. I made a kill vid too!

Next it's onwards to Sapphiron. We had some attempts on him so far and the main takeaway from them was that we should probably get some more frost resist gear than we brought originally, as well as some more healers. Speaking of healers...

At the end of January I paid to attune my paladin to Naxx. It was with an eye on Sapphiron, where we knew we'd need some dps to go on healers at least during the learning phase, but as it happened we actually found ourselves short on healers quite a few nights before that. Theoretically we have enough of them on the roster, but sadly a number of them have pretty poor/irregular attendance, which threatened to throw many a night into disarray if some people hadn't changed to healer alts.

I'm one of about four people who've been doing this regularly and it's been... alright. It's no secret that I enjoy healing, though I have to say that healing in a forty-man raid is comparatively boring, as it rarely feels like you make a difference being one of three to five people spamming the tank. Also, if you think grabbing and retaining world buffs on one character is already a pain in the butt, let me say that doing it on two (when you're not sure which character you'll be needed on for which fight) is worse.

Ultimately though, I'm glad that I put in the work to gear up the pally to help out as I know that on quite a few nights, me and others having these healing alts has probably been what made the difference between being able to kill Patchwerk or Loatheb or not, even if you don't really feel your personal impact as the twelfth healer during the fight itself.

Two bosses to go, and while the beta for TBC Classic has started, we still don't have a release date, so I'm hopeful. We can kill ten bosses on our first night pretty consistently now, which then leaves the second night to clean up the remaining three and work on progression. While I didn't even plan to raid when I started playing Classic, after coming this far, I'd really quite like to see Naxx through to the end.


My Classic TBC Plans

It may seem a bit early to make detailed plans for Burning Crusade Classic when we don't even have a release date for it yet, but there's a lot of context to this already and I thought I might as well commit my thoughts to writing. If nothing else, they will be interesting to look back on in a few months' time to see how many of my plans actually panned out.

I've explained in the past why Burning Crusade was my favourite expansion, and even when work on Classic had only just started I was already dreaming of a Classic Crusade.

In the run-up to Classic's launch, there was a lot of sneering from many corners of the internet about how Classic fans were all just blinded by nostalgia, how the game was actually pretty bad and people just viewed it through rose-tinted glasses because they associated it with a time when they were younger and more carefree. I already knew that this definitely wasn't true for me, as my experience on private servers had reminded me that vanilla WoW was indeed simply a damn good game and an extremely enjoyable virtual world to spend time in.

However... I have to admit that I had some doubts about Burning Crusade Classic at certain points last year. Sure, WoW's first expansion objectively expanded the game world and improved class balance in major ways, but at the same time all the things I really loved about it back in 2007 were heavily tied up with meeting people, playing with friends and overcoming challenges as a group. Around the time when I felt at my lowest and loneliest in Classic, I was starting to doubt what a Classic Crusade could really offer me. Just questing through Outland on my own and maybe running a few dungeons with pugs was unlikely to be all that thrilling.

Of course, then I got recruited into a guild and that changed everything, including my outlook on Classic BC. Now that I will have a friendly group of people to run dungeons and raid with, I'm ecstatic. Sure, it won't be exactly the same as it was back in the day, but I do expect the content to still be as fun, and with some good company (even if it's different company) I'm likely to have an excellent time.

This shift in focus also means that I'll be approaching the expansion's launch in quite a different way compared to Classic. While I did binge a bit on Classic at launch and spent some time playing with my friends (even if they didn't hang around for long), my focus was largely on exploring the world and re-familiarising myself with its quests. Comparatively, Outland is more like a giant puzzle waiting to be unlocked with all its reputations and attunement quest chains. The land mass is much smaller and all relevant to endgame to some degree anyway, so there isn't as much of an incentive for me to slowly enjoy my journey through Zangarmarsh or whatever, because I'll continue to spend time there at max level anyway.

So I'll be going what you could call the min-maxer's route to puzzle-solving, by focusing on running dungeons with my guildies to maximise my early reputation gains and avoid the literal hell that is going to be Hellfire Peninsula on launch day. (Even with layering, Classic's many starting zones were packed at launch - now picture all of those people piled into a single zone instead...)

This wasn't my own idea, mind you... my guild's main bear tank just happens to be an absolute TBC junkie, and many months ago already it came up during a half-joking conversation that some of us should form a levelling group once Classic BC comes out. That half-joke eventually turned serious and I was like: Sure, why not? Let's do it. Though with no launch date we obviously haven't been able to hash out all the details in regards to time investment etc.

I'm planning to level my hunter first, who'll go from being a middle-of-the-pack class with underwhelming profession choices for Classic to a top dps with almost perfectly min-maxed skills. I expect to do a lot of hipster-style complaining about how I was a hunter/leatherworker before it was cool. I also expect that chasing various attunement and profession goals will keep me busy for a while, but should I need a break from all that grinding at some point, I'll probably be levelling my pally and my druid (who should hit 60 before the expansion's release) next - perhaps in a less min-maxed manner, but we'll see how I'll feel about that closer to the time.

Wish me luck! And if you're playing Classic yourself, have you given any thought yet to how you're going to spend your time come Burning Crusade?


Building My Legacy

From what I understand it was extremely uncommon back in Vanilla to have more than one max-level character, what with how long it took both to level and to get things done in max-level dungeons and raids.

This is another area in which Classic is very different - while you still get people who just don't like levelling much or simply prefer concentrating all their efforts into a single character to make that one the best it can be, I think it's far more common for players to have more than one character at the level cap after one and a half years of Classic than it ever was back in the day.

While I've been playing since launch as well and have been levelling characters at what I feel is a decent clip for a casual player, the fact that I started on Horde side and then switched to Alliance on a different server has made me feel somewhat behind compared to my guildies. I have to admit I'm rather in awe of the alt stables that some of them have.

Especially when it comes to professions, having multiple max-level characters is a significant boon in Classic, as characters will need the services of most professions at some point, and many professions rely on materials provided by other professions, so having all of that unified under your own roof so to speak allows for an impressive degree of independence. There are limitations of course: For example an enchanter can only enchant their own gear and that of other players; there is no way to transfer an enchant to an alt character. On the whole though, there are a lot of synergies.

This really hit me when I got into raiding properly and started to require a steady supply of certain consumables, mostly potions and crafted arrows. For the arrows, you need a close-to-max-level engineer with a rare-ish schematic or you'll have to buy them on the auction house every time. Fortunately the hunter class leader's rogue alt is an engineer and he offered me early on that I could just mail him the materials and he'd craft the ammo for me for free.

Potions and elixirs make for an even bigger expense and highlighted my dependencies even more as it seemed like absolutely everyone had at least a herbalism alt. Grousing about the prices of potions on the auction house would pretty much inevitably get me the reply that I should just gather my own herbs and send them to a friendly alchemist - as if everyone automatically has that option!

If I sound a bit envious that's because I am, but at the same time the goal of strengthening my own alt stable has become a major motivator for me, even more so with an eye on TBC. Having my paladin at max level has allowed me to do my own mining at least, netting me ore, stone and the occasional Arcane Crystal without having to buy it from the auction house. And part of why I've been so enthusiastic about getting my druid levelled up has been the fact that she's a herbalist and alchemist. She's level 47 now but already has both of her primary professions maxed out. I just need to get her a few more levels before she's able to visit zones where she can pick her own Dreamfoil and I'll be close to having gained independence of the auction house for my potions as well.

My mage who is a tailor and enchanter isn't too far behind at level 44, and while enchanting is a major pain to level she hasn't been doing too badly on that front either. I like the idea of being able to craft my own bags come TBC, and if I want to create my own enchanting materials she'll need to be levelled up too. In Classic you can disenchant gear of any level with an enchanting skill of 1, but in TBC they introduced skill requirements for disenchanting different levels of gear as well, so once again, that's going to come in handy.

I guess if you really dislike professions all of this could be seen as a lot of annoying busywork, but I really like the way this slow and steady investment of time and money really pays off after a while. There are still reasons to go to other players for certain rare or specialist recipes, but being able to cover a lot of ground via DIY is nonetheless extremely valuable.


Shadowlands Systems in a Nutshell

This isn't apropos of anything in specific, just something I first thought of after completing the Shadowlands levelling process, and for some reason it came back to me the other day.


Throughout the main Shadowlands story you learn that there are all these different afterlives for different people, depending on whether in life they were virtuous, naughty or something else, and each one has its own faction attached to it. You are introduced to all of them in an organic way, and at the end of your introductory tour, when a big threat to all is revealed, it's suggested that you should join one of the covenants to be able to benefit from their powers in the battles to come.

This process is super-streamlined, because when the time comes to make your choice, there's a representative from each covenant nearby to show and tell you about anything and everything that might even be remotely relevant to your choice: what sorts of mounts they ride, what kind of armour you'll earn there, you can even take the covenant abilities for another spin if you're unsure how you felt about those the first time around. Five star design, would choose a covenant again.


Throughout your questing you also learn that anima is the sort of universal fuel powering everything in the Shadowlands and that there's been a shortage of it for a while. Some of the exact mechanics of how this works are a bit fuzzy, because sometimes it sounds like everything's made of anima, while other times you need to seek out some pretty specific sources of it... but the gist of it is clear enough. Your covenant tasks you with helping them collect anima to restore their particular slice of the afterlife to its former glory after the drought.

And I've been okay with that! The scale of it can be a bit annoying sometimes (e.g. one world quest awarding you 35 anima when you need 5000 for your next covenant upgrade) but I suppose that's what you get when a resource is supposed to be scarce. Good system, makes sense.


One of the early Kyrian side quests has you deliver a flower from one Kyrian to another and the recipient's like "ooh, this means so-and-so wants to become my soulbind" and it honestly feels a bit like a marriage proposal or something. Then you get to the bit after choosing your covenant where they introduce you to the soulbind system and...

Basically, someone just flat out tells me that I'm going to soulbind with this guy whom I helped in one of the earliest Kyrian quests and not even all the Kyrians in the room agree whether he's the best choice, but all I can think of is that earlier side quest with the marriage vibes and I'm wondering with some distress why nobody's asking my opinion. Later two other people also become my soulbinds so maybe the marriage comparison was off from the beginning, but I can never quite shake the feeling that it's all wrong somehow...


After you get your first soulbind, there's this brief comment about how you'll become more powerful as your connection with your soulbind deepens, and then they show you some talent tree-like thing with empty spaces where you can slot items called conduits which drop out in the world and randomly enhance some of your spells and... what does any of this have to do with anything? No, thanks.

Let's just say I don't think it's a coincidence that I'm digging my covenant and am happy to gather anima but have never quite warmed up to the soulbind system and its conduits...


A Naxxramas New Year

I rarely make posts just to promote other people's work but I can't believe this video only has 25k views three days after being posted... it's the best WoW machinima I've seen in a long time and made me both laugh out loud and tear up. Particularly relevant to Naxx raiders but I'm sure most people with some knowledge of WoW can enjoy it. I'll never hurt Mr Bigglesworth again!


My Shadowlands Situation

I haven't really talked about it much, but I'm still casually playing retail with the husband. We dip in and out for short play sessions during the week, mostly to do our callings, and when we have a bit more time we also run the weekly dungeons (only on heroic level, and yes, I've given in and agreed to queue for pugs for these), do dailies in the Maw and run Torghast once or twice a week.

As a strange side effect of this, I've grown incredibly tired of WoW fan content, which is very odd. Even during the years when I was unsubscribed from retail, I generally still enjoyed reading blog posts and watching videos about it to some degree. You'd think that now that I'm getting some first-hand experience of what they're actually talking about I would enjoy them more, but for some reason the opposite is the case.

I don't know if it is because I can only stomach so much retail WoW each week and actually playing it myself means that reading or watching content about it would be too much, or because there's such a disconnect between the way I play and the audience that most WoW content seems to be targeted at. I mean, I see all this talk about class balance on my feed, about how people feel forced into certain covenant choices, about chasing gear upgrades or transmogs and crafting legendaries... and none of it has any relevance to the way I play whatsoever.

I chose my covenant based on what I thought would fit my monk's personality best, even though I don't like the Kyrian covenant abilities much and keep forgetting to use them. We upgraded our covenant gear as far as the game would let us and don't really have much left to work on in that regard unless we wanted to raid, PvP or run Mythic+ dungeons. We haven't crafted any legendaries because to a casual solo player some of the materials required are prohibitively expensive so we only run Torghast for fun. (I think we're up to layer seven of the normal mode and have cleared the first two layers of the twisting corridors.) We also enjoy slowly increasing our Renown week by week for some personal rewards, as well as chipping away at our sanctum upgrades at a snail's pace.

I suspect that without the gear grind we'd eventually run out of things to do, but I'm sure patch 9.1 will be around and offer some new activities before that has time to become a problem. It's just strange to me that even while I'm having some fun in retail again, I continue to feel alienated from much of the player base and the way most outspoken players seem to approach the game.


Classic Burning Crusade... Yay, I Guess?

It's been a week since BlizzConline came and went, and faithful readers may well be wondering why I haven't said anything about the Burning Crusade Classic announcement, considering how excited I've been about this prospect for almost a year.

Truth be told, I thought the actual announcement was somewhat anticlimactic (though I didn't help myself by only watching it on my second screen while tormenting my class leader's newest tanking alt in Strat Undead). We all knew it was coming; it was just a matter of getting the details, most importantly the actual launch date - and that we didn't get. On the one hand I'm a bit disappointed because I was really hoping to be able to book time off work soon (hah), but on the other hand Blizzard not wanting to commit to a date yet implies to me that the rumours about an early summer launch may well turn out to have been overly optimistic, and that wouldn't be an entirely bad thing for me as it would give my guild more time to clear (and re-clear) Naxx.

What we did get is confirmation of how expansion/character progression is going to work, and I have to hand it to Blizzard on that front as it seems like they managed to find a solution that should at least come close to satisfying the maximum number of players. By default the existing Classic servers will progress into Burning Crusade, but you'll get a prompt for each individual character whether you'll want to take them along for the ride or transfer them off to a perma-Classic version of your server instead. The character copy option I wanted will exist too though, if only as a paid service. And there'll even be level 58 character boosts!

You could be cynical and call those last two things greedy cash grabs, but to be honest I think the restrictions put on these services make sense. As much as I would have liked to be able to just copy everything to save myself from having to worry about making any wrong choices, if this was the default for everyone it would probably clog up the servers and databases with millions of effectively "dead" duplicate characters that people didn't plan to play anyway, and I can see why Blizzard wouldn't want to do that. By putting a price tag on the service it'll be limited to those who actually want to use those characters and I guess that makes sense. I'll definitely be copying my hunter main and possibly some alts as well, depending on the pricing (which we don't know yet either).

It's a similar thing with the character boosts. I'm not really a fan of that kind of thing in general - though probably not for the reasons people usually cite - but I can see the appeal in this particular instance. Does anyone who started playing Classic with existing friends not know someone whose interest fizzled out before they hit the level cap but who might be interested in coming back for Burning Crusade? There are sensible restrictions in place to cater to this particular audience without opening the doors for people to skip ahead or boost farm bots (only once per account, no draenei or blood elves, no professions trained etc.).

The other major reveal was that unlike current Classic with its #nochanges approach, Burning Crusade will have #somechanges. I would have been worried if this had been the direction for the current game from the start, but to be honest after one and a half years Blizzard have shown themselves to be respectful of what Classic means to people. They have in fact made some small changes to the current game as well, such as increasing the spawns of Black Lotus to align better with how much more populated Classic servers are compared to Vanilla, but these changes were always made with great care and have made a lot of sense.

From the sounds of it they'll take a similar approach to Classic BC, for example by giving the faction-specific paladin seals that turned out to be horribly unbalanced to both factions, or by not having Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep open on launch day. Draenei and blood elves are also supposed to be released with the pre-patch instead of the actual expansion launch to give people time to get their new shamans and paladins caught up in time for the opening of the Dark Portal. While that's definitely a departure from how things were "back in the day", it honestly sounds great and I'm perfectly happy with those tweaks.

So yeah, basically the reason I haven't had much to say about the official BC Classic announcement is that it all sounds very solid but what details we've had aren't very exciting to me personally. Without an actual release date my focus will remain on Naxx and simply getting more of my alts levelled up for now.


Riding the World Buff Train

I've mentioned Classic's "world buff meta" before, but for those not in the know, it basically works like this: With the general difficulty of outdoor content, Blizzard thought back in the day that temporary buffs were a good way to reward players, because you really do feel them making a major difference to your performance and survivability.

They were mostly designed in an organic and fun way, without any real concern for balancing. You slay the dragon and hang its head from the city gates, so everyone in the city is happy and excited and gains a buff called Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer for two hours. Makes sense, right?

The thing is that those buffs are incredibly overpowered. For example the Rallying Cry gives 140 attack power among other things - for reference, my hunter in a mix of tier two and three gear has about 1300 attack power unbuffed - so even for someone who's already pretty geared, that one buff alone still increases their power by ten percent. In a way the buffs are even more attractive for lowbies though (at least in cases where they don't scale with level), as a levelling warrior with 150 attack power hanging out in Stormwind for example can turn themselves into murder machine with twice their regular power level for their next round of questing!

The problem is that players realised that they could control the timing of these buffs and use them to their advantage by simply holding on to those smelly dragon heads for a bit. Sure, it may be a one-time quest, but with forty people in a raid group you can easily start your nightly raids by having someone hand in the quest and trigger the buff for weeks or even months in a row, and that's without taking into consideration that multiple guilds can cooperate to coordinate their timings.

The dragon head is the easy part though, because assembling in town before the raid is easy. But then you also want to go to Booty Bay for the heart of Hakkar drop, do a Dire Maul tribute run and get the buffs from there, find and cleanse a songflower in Felwood... considering the amount of travel time in Classic and the fact that all these buffs only have a limited duration, wanting to min-max your performance turns into a logistical challenge before the raid's even started, something to tackle potentially even days in advance, though you then have to make sure to stay logged out until raid start once you've acquired your buffs.

It's a very odd meta and I was very uncomfortable with it at the start, especially when the content was so easy that people in greens who weren't even max-level could clear Molten Core just fine. As some players described it at the time, it basically meant spending two hours gathering buffs to finish the raid fifteen minutes faster. Relevant to speed runners going for records for sure, but surely not for the wider population?

And that's without even getting into the fragility of these buffs, and I'm not even playing on a PvP server. As I noted the first time I went to AQ20 with my guild, I picked up the head and heart buffs because it was a low-effort thing to do, just to lose them five minutes into the raid when we wiped on a bad trash pull. Imagine how that feels if you spent hours setting up travel all over Azeroth to get those buffs!

My guild being truly casual, nobody's ever been required to pick up any world buffs, but getting the head and heart just before raid time has always been considered a good thing to do. The guild mistress and a few others also used to advocate for Dire Maul Tribute runs before AQ40 sometimes, but those seemed to be a lot less popular, what with the effort of getting down to Feralas (since you couldn't necessarily count on a warlock summon being available) and back to town (again, since you might not be able to catch a mage portal). I did them a few times and admittedly the first time it was pretty exciting to see my threat and damage shoot up (especially back when my gear wasn't great yet), but ultimately I still decided that it wasn't worth the effort of making it a regular occurrence. After all, few others ever seemed to bother, we'd often lose the buffs early due to wiping on something silly, and we could clear the instance just fine without them, so what was the point? The allure of just being higher up on the damage meters by the end of the night wasn't enough for me.

Naxx has been different though. None of us really bothered with buffs the first couple of weeks because we all knew that we were going to wipe early and a lot (and we did), but once we started to have at least the first few bosses on farm, speed did become a concern. My guild raids Naxx twice a week and the instance has fifteen bosses in it. Speed runners clearing the place in an hour notwithstanding, we knew it was always going to be a challenge for us to clear things fast enough to have consistent progression time on the newest bosses. (I'm amused every time I see some meme that lists "three hour AQ40 clears" as shorthand for a guild being unacceptably bad and slow. Whenever we cleared AQ40 in three hours we thought we did pretty well!) Plus some of the fights in Naxx are hard enough that going in with world buffs can actually make a big difference to whether we can get them down with ease or not at all.

So the drum beat to gather world buffs more often has become louder - not in a top-down way, but presented as a "we need to do everything we can to beat these bosses" team effort. Tribute runs have become more frequent, and warlock alts were placed to be able to offer summons. Last week the Darkmoon Faire was in town, and you can get one of a selection of buffs there as well by having your fortune told. The fact that it was making camp in Mulgore, a Horde starting zone, did not put the guild mistress off and she organised another bunch of alts to taxi people over there as well.

A lot of other guilds were doing the same, so there was a plethora of lowbie alts with names like "Summonbot" in attendance. I remember one particularly bizarre moment when a conversation ensued in /say about which of the available buffs to pick from the fortune teller. Someone from another guild commented that the resistance buff was best for Sapphiron, to which our guild mistress countered that we needed the damage buff for Loatheb - we were way too casual to worry about Sapphiron yet. At that point I felt the urge to chime in with: "Yeah, we are the casual Mulgore summoning squad!"  and then I had to laugh at myself because of how absurd it sounded. Surely there's nothing casual about parking alts in three different locations to ferry your guildies around Kalimdor for faster buff pick-up.

But then, this is how it always goes for me. I'll never be a top player and I despise the kind of min-max culture that looks down on anyone who doesn't follow the current meta even if whatever they're doing instead is perfectly fit for purpose. But when I care about the game and I find that what I've done so far isn't good enough anymore, then I step up. Even if that includes gathering temporary buffs in odd places, or farming awkward consumables from frost giants in Winterspring and giant scorpions in the Blasted Lands. Because I want us to win. And as bizarre as this whole buff meta is, there is something satisfying about approaching it as a team: from the warm fuzziness you feel when a guildie hands you a stack of consumables for free, to the relieved smile of another guildie who was late to log on but you held the cleared Tribute instance open for them anyway.

It almost makes me wonder whether I'll miss these odd rituals once Burning Crusade comes around...


It's Complicated

According to the guild's invitation log, I joined <Order of the Holy Fork> on the 18th of August last year, meaning that I will soon have been in my current WoW Classic guild for six months. Like many things during these strange times, it simultaneously feels like no time has passed at all and like I've been in the guild forever. Either way I wanted to do some musing on how things have been going.

When I joined the guild, the best way to describe how I felt after a few days is to say that I fell in love, as strange as it may seem to some to use that particular term for a whole group of people or even an institution. Everyone just seemed so great, making me laugh, helping me see and achieve new things in game; I wanted to be online to chat and play with them all the time.

Even so, there was a more cautious voice inside my head as well, warning me to not fall quite so hard and quite so fast: Sure, they may be fun to hang out with and make you laugh, but you don't know these people (yet). Don't expose yourself to potentially being hurt by assuming too much and trusting too much, too quickly.

And that wasn't entirely wrong, because the honeymoon phase during which everything and everyone seemed perfect couldn't last of course, not in a guild with this many people in it. That's not to say that anything turned out horribly wrong, but there've been conflicts and personality clashes, and sad times over people leaving (whether quietly or angrily), and at times it really got to me! I actually think that my online relationships have become more intense in general since this whole pandemic/lockdown thing started - I've always taken them no less seriously than IRL friendships, but let's just say it's easier to shrug off an argument over Discord when you spend more time being out and about than when you spend all day cooped up at home, as that makes it much easier to end up brooding over what so-and-so might have really meant when they said XYZ... if you know what I mean.

In case the previous paragraph may sound a bit disillusioned, make no mistake: While a couple of relationships with guildies may have turned a little sour over the past few months, others became (even) better. Most notably there were a number of people who mostly ignored me at first - not out of any malice I think, but probably because they'd seen too many new raiders wash out after a couple of weeks to get invested in anyone's company too quickly. As it became apparent that I was planning to be a more or less permanent fixture though, they started to warm up to me and that's been nice to see. Also, I learned that friendship can blossom in the strangest of circumstances... such as spending most of an afternoon arguing with someone about how to pull trash in Naxx.

The situation as a whole has given rise to some rather philosophical thoughts for me. You know how there's all this talk nowadays of social media trapping people in echo chambers? Well, being in a 40-man guild feels a lot like the opposite. Sure, there are some common threads running through the lives of Classic raiders (many are parents trying to catch a break from their spouse and kids for example), but there are just as many differences and you often can't really know what sort of person is hiding behind the avatar beyond "someone who wants to raid". But even if someone suddenly reveals something about themselves that strikes you as negative, well... you can't very well leave over something like that if you want to keep raiding, right? So you stick it out, and then maybe one day that same guy who made you really mad the other week suddenly helps you out with a quest and you go "hmm".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people should be forced to spend time in the company of others they don't get along with, but it's been interesting to me how gritting your teeth on occasion to tolerate behaviours you're not fond of can also give you a chance to maybe see another side to that person after a while and reconsider your stance on them.

Twenty years ago when I was an awkward teenager who didn't know anyone in real life who shared any of her dorky interests, finding people that were more like me online was a godsend, and I still think that easily being able to find like-minded people on the internet is a good thing. But I've also come to think that it's not bad to occasionally butt heads in a shared space and maybe find some sort of respect for each other after a while.

And once again I wonder what'll happen when the raid sizes go down in Burning Crusade and there'll be less need to put up with certain individuals to fill out the raid, and you'll ideally want your Kara team to just consist of your closest friends if you have a choice...


Naxx Update

I haven't written about my guild's Naxx progression since the post about the raid's release in early December, when I expressed some concern about us having gotten only three bosses down during the first week - a week when the news were all about how more hardcore players had once again cleared the raid within hours of release, and our own initial forays felt slow and clumsy even by our more casual standards.

To the Forks' credit though, we have persevered... and in fact appear to have slid into a unique niche on our server as the one Alliance guild that's consistently progressing at more old-school speeds. Everyone else seems to either be (nearly) done or have given up. This has actually led to us picking up more recruits and our roster is the strongest it's been since I joined, to the point that we even have to bench people occasionally.

I missed out on our Maexxna and Razuvious first kills, but was there for Heigan, Patchwerk and Grobbulus.

Getting back into the groove for the Heigan dance was easier than expected (after having learned it during Wrath of the Lich King) and both times we've killed him so far I was one of the few still alive by the end, with half the raid dead (though I have yet to successfully make it out of the gauntlet he teleports you into, something that wasn't present in this form in the Wrath version of the fight).

Patchwerk required a lot of wipes (though they were no skin off a hunter's back as I could always just run into a corner and feign death) while tanks and healers figured out what to do, but then things just suddenly clicked and we went from a 48% wipe to a kill on the next try.

Grobbulus is the biggest loot pinata in the instance, to the point that even we could one-shot him! Figures that a boss like that was hidden behind Patchwerk...

Gothik the Harvester has eluded us so far for reasons I'm not entirely sure of. I remember this fight being so easy in Wrath, and the Classic version isn't really any more complicated mechanically, but somehow we always end up getting overwhelmed by adds on one side or the other just before it's time for him to come down. I'm sure the raid leaders will figure out what's going wrong eventually.

One fight that's very different from how I remember it in Wrath is Loatheb - in Wrath he has this necrotic aura that prevents healing for most of the fight, so healers had to time big heals to go off at just the right time during the brief windows when the aura dropped off for a few seconds. In Classic, there is no such aura, and healing can be done at any time - but casting any healing spell as any class will put all your healing abilities on cooldown for a full minute, meaning that the healers have to set up a strict rotation to keep the main tank topped off and not a single heal can be spared for the dps, meaning that we have to follow our own strict rotation of using consumables to stay alive for five minutes.

We gave it some "dry runs" without consumables just to practice the positioning of the spores and things seemed to go well enough, but when we tried "for real" our dps felt way off. I suggested that we might have to try him as the first boss of the evening with as many world buffs as we could muster (casualness be damned), and when we did that we wiped at 3%. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to get him down this reset.

So things are going... decently! We've come a long way from that first night of constant stumbling, followed by other nights of wiping five times in a row on the exact same spider trash pack, to being in a position where we at least have the first few bosses on farm and can progress a little bit more every week. Which is all I could ask for really! Huge kudos to the leadership team for keeping it all together in what honestly seems like pretty challenging circumstances to me (and no, I'm not writing this just to suck up to them in case one of them reads this).

I don't actually know whether we'll even be able to clear the instance before Classic TBC comes out if the rumours about how soon it's supposed to be released are true, but I'm happy to be along for the ride either way.


(Don't) Boost Me

I've been thinking about boosting lately. As far back as Vanilla, I remember scowling at one of my friends when he offered to boost an alt through the Deadmines on a higher-level character. After all, I wanted to do the dungeon for the experience of doing a dungeon, including all the at-level group play that entails. Having someone too high-level for the content just AoE everything down with ease for faster XP and loot kind of seemed to be missing the point.

There's a certain type of MMO player whose every response to someone not liking a thing is to say something like: "Well, don't do it then. You can let other people have their fun. It doesn't even affect you!" But in a social space I've always felt that misses the point. When you're looking for group mates, anything that diminishes the pool of players available to you can be a problem - and people opting to be boosted instead of playing the dungeons the "intended" way with other players of their level is definitely one of those things. I liked how this meme from reddit illustrates the issue:

Fortunately for me, this isn't much of a problem on Hydraxian Waterlords. Boosting happens, sure - but from what I can tell it's rarely transactional. Or at least the occasional person trying to buy or sell boosts in LFG seems to either get ignored or gently scoffed at. Hydraxians tend to see boosts as something you do among friends, to make friends, or just because you're bored and/or feeling charitable towards other players. I often see people advertise that they are about to carry someone through the Deadmines or Stockades and have room for more lowbies to tag along. After all, it would be a bit of a waste if a good melee weapon dropped and you only had a little mage in your group, right?

The first time a guildie offered to boost one of my alts, I felt kind of conflicted. It was definitely going against my usual modus operandi, but at the same time it would've felt rude to refuse, and I wasn't that strongly opposed to the idea of some extra XP and loot on that particular character. And then... I kind of ended up enjoying it for what it was, not a real dungeon run but rather a relaxed way to hang out and keep busy while exchanging banter.

Also, as I think I mentioned before, my alt levelling feels very different now that I've refreshed my memories of the whole process on both Horde and Alliance side. It's not as engaging, and there are definitely times when I get stuck in a bit of a funk, for example because I have some elite or dungeon quests in my log that I want to get done but am struggling to find a group for. A helping hand can be a great way to get you "over the hump" there so to speak.

I've even accepted boosts from strangers a couple of times. These can be hit or miss. One time I joined one for the Deadmines where the booster had advertised open slots for randoms but in practice didn't give a damn about anyone but the friend for whom he had originally set up the run, so that us latecomers - who were obviously under-levelled for the whole thing, which was part of why we were there - struggled to even make it into the instance unassisted.

Another time on the other hand I joined a Scarlet Monastery boost group helmed by a bored level sixty warrior and with three of us little ones having healing spells, we ended up forming a little entourage encouraging him to make bigger and bigger pulls while we all spammed our low-level heals on him. That was good fun and didn't feel that different from a regular dungeon run in look and feel, even if the warrior being vastly over-levelled obviously made it easy mode.

I still prefer normal runs and it's quite disappointing when you join what you think is a normal pug but after struggling to fill the last slot someone brings in a vastly over-levelled friend that just turns the whole thing into a boost instead. But my opinion on the practice has certainly become a lot more nuanced than it used to be.


Diffusal Blade

I just feel the urge to write about the most awesome AQ20 run I had yesterday, because I want to remember it forever. It was one of my guild's community runs - in Classic, a community run is a publicly posted raid hosted by one guild that organises the whole thing and usually brings the majority of the raiders as well, but others are welcome to sign up - usually because it's older content and not enough people in the guild are interested in running it anymore to sustain pure guild runs.

Anyway, this particular run was memorable to me because so many things went wrong in the most absurd of ways; I just couldn't stop laughing.

We were off to a late start because our main tank for the run - one of the officers who is usually impeccable in his attendance - had been delayed by real life. However, he still ended up making it inside the raid before our bard, who'd decided to join on his druid alt and was dismayed to find that we couldn't offer him a summon because we didn't have any warlocks in the raid. This is when we learned that he didn't even own a basic ground mount, "because it's only twenty percent faster than travel form anyway", so we were all standing there like numpties waiting for him to walk to AQ... on foot.

When we finally got started, we wiped after only a few trash pulls as we got three groups of wasps at once... though since we were still close to the entrance, a few people managed to run out I think.

On Rajaxx, someone did that thing everyone always says not to do and stood on the rocks. I'd never seen the effect myself but basically it can cause the fight to randomly reset... I didn't even fully realise what was happening until one of my co-healers (an alt belonging to one of our raid's main tanks, and one who is always very reliable) was suddenly running past me saying something like "nope, nope, nope". I followed him out of reflex more than anything else, and only noticed afterwards how all the waves we'd already killed had decided to respawn and had all aggroed on us at once.

This ended up killing all the friendly NPCs, and I didn't even know that they don't respawn when that happens. Without Lieutenant General Andorov's AoE healing aura we were running on fumes by the last wave on our next attempt. Oh yeah, did I mention that I was healing on my pally? I eventually blew my Lay on Hands on saving the main tank's life and fortunately the boss died and we didn't. It was exciting for sure!

On Ossirian we had a wipe because on the pull, while the main tank was trying to body-pull the boss away to a better position, the off-tank auto-attacked as the big bird ran past, which resulted in the boss comically turning around at the last second and smacking the OT dead. With one tank dead, aggro was an issue and our mages weren't helping themselves either:

I made this meme afterwards, based on a comment from one of our fire mages.

In general there was a lot of silly dying. There was the dps gnome warrior who kept faceplanting every other pull but declined my offer to replace his Blessing of Might with Salvation instead to reduce his threat. Another gnome, a mage, also kept dying but was strangely into it. We joked about how gnome sacrifices were a necessary part of a successful run and he seemed utterly delighted and even asked if he could come be our sacrifice again next time.

However, my favourite moment of all was when we got to Moam and realised that we had no warlocks or priests to drain his mana, and while we had several hunters, Viper Sting doesn't stack for some reason. Somehow this prompted our bard to ask whether rogues had a way to drain mana. (We did have one rogue in the raid, who had stated at the start that it was his first time in AQ20. I don't know how new he was to Classic in general.)

This seemed like a pretty absurd question for an experienced raider to ask, considering he's done these bosses dozens and dozens of times and should know better. However, one of our mages immediately responded in chat with "diffusal blade" and a couple of people on voice instantly agreed: "Oh yeah, diffusal blade!"

This made me pause in confusion because while I've never played a rogue to a high level, I was pretty sure that no such ability existed. However, it sounded like the sort of name a WoW ability could have, and also like it fit the theme of mana draining. Having several people bring it up was even more confusing. I found myself wondering whether it was maybe a proc from a rare weapon or something - after all there are a plethora of such oddities in Classic and I'm sure I barely know half of them.

So I opened Google on my second monitor, did a search for "diffusal blade" and got the result that it's an item from Dota 2 - and it does indeed burn mana in that game! Ahh, so it was a joke that had gone over my head... and the people who'd agreed had done so jokingly because they did get it. Pretty clever!

I wasn't the only one who hadn't got the joke though - and our bard wasn't applying his critical thinking either, but instead took it for granted that if a guildie told him that rogues had a mana burn ability called diffusal blade then that was clearly the case, so he started lecturing the newbie rogue about how this was the right boss to use it on. Meanwhile, the poor rogue must have been thinking: Dafuq?

I'm not entirely sure for how long that continued as I was laughing so hard at that point that I actually lost track of the conversation for a bit. I think in the end someone told him not to worry about it though.

For what it's worth we tried Moam with no mana burns except for that single viper sting, which resulted in him blowing up within 32 seconds and wiping us. We decided to just skip him after that.

The main tank and I were still talking about that run the next day. He commented that it was funny that messes like that make for much better stories than smooth runs and I couldn't help but agree.


The Shadowlands Are Interesting

The husband went ahead and gifted me Shadowlands for Christmas, though he acknowledged that this was more a gift for himself than anything else, since me having the expansion gave him an excuse to keep me playing retail with him for longer. As a result we've slowly been chipping away at the levelling story of the newest expansion once or twice a week.

And it's been enjoyable enough. I'm not sure it would keep me engaged on my own, but as something to play together it's been nice. Blizzard has gotten a lot better at getting rid of the sorts of little nuisances I remember encountering when playing as a duo in the past, though they aren't completely gone.

I've also mellowed a lot in my attitude towards retail. I remember feeling a certain bitterness towards it in the first few years after quitting - not because I hated it or anything like that, but there was a sense of: Why did this new game which is not as fun to me have to replace the game I liked much better? Now that Classic is a thing though, I find it much easier to just accept retail as its own thing, since it exists beside my preferred version of the game instead of having completely replaced it.

Shadowlands' setting also helps because it's literally a whole other plane of existence, so there's none of that nagging "this isn't the Azeroth I remember" feeling that I occasionally get in other content when playing retail. In other words: I can buy the idea of the Shadowlands existing as Azeroth's afterlife even in Classic times, if that makes sense.

I also just like what they've done with the afterlife theme, with each zone being an interesting amalgamation of ideas borrowed both from Azeroth and real life religions.

The home of the Kyrian is probably the closest to what we think of as "heaven", what with all the clouds and angelic beings, but the whole idea of transcending your mortal life by letting go of it is an interesting twist (if this was also inspired by a real religious idea I don't know what it is, but I'd love to know). I've seen a lot of people say that this put them off the Kyrian a bit, that it makes them appear somewhat cult-like and like they want to turn everyone into drones etc. but that's not been my impression at all. It's mentioned during the questing that memories aren't completely erased but rather stowed away in a sort of archive, and the whole idea of basically being able to empty your mind makes me think of the process as a kind of supercharged state of meditation.

Really, the Kyrian's main downside is the usual problem you get when you have a bunch of lawful good characters in one place: Things get a bit dull. From that point of view I can't even blame the rebels for wanting to shake things up, hah! Still, the Kyrian are very much your classic good guys, though I didn't actually fully appreciate this until I got to Maldraxxus - there's a quest there where you rescue a Kyrian prisoner of war and in this different setting his purity and kindness really stood out. Speaking of Maldraxxus...

I didn't expect to like the Necrolords, because despite of Draka's cinematic being quite intriguing, it's basically a zone full of Scourge lookalikes. They did grow on me somewhat though. In many ways they are the complete opposite of the Kyrians and their striving towards transcendence - they stick to their memories and decaying bodies until the very end. I thought it was interesting that a lot of Maldraxxian enemy NPCs shout something about wanting to be remembered as you kill them. As a result I liked a lot of the friendly NPCs here as even the relatively minor characters had a lot of personality, even if the zone as a whole remained visually unappealing to me.

Ardenweald was another interesting one - the first few quests have you encounter a weird mish-mash of faun-like creatures, squeaky-voiced fairies and walking trees that look like they escaped from some anime. At first it feels a bit as if you just entered the land of twee, but the more serious themes of the drought and sacrifice come up quickly and despite of being seemingly at odds with the silly nature of many of the NPCs it all just... works.

The theme of the Night Fae zone is a cycle of rebirth, and I found that in a way, that ultimately made them the most relatable covenant to me. If life and afterlife are all part of the same cycle, they are equally important, and this is evident in the way the Night Fae deal with a constant fear of loss and struggle to preserve (their after)life against encroaching threats just like living people do. I actually found the main story arc here really touching, and I didn't even play Legion (which it strongly ties into).

Revendreth was probably the zone that I felt the most "meh" about - which is a shame in a way, as I did like the concept of purgatory but with gothic vampires. Unlike in Ardenweald, the tone always felt a little off to me though, as - at least for me - the serious theme of redemption didn't really mesh with the way the Venthyr are portrayed as snotty aristocrats and mostly rather unlikeable. Or maybe that was just a side effect of the plot forcing you to help the very obviously evil guy for half the zone.

I ended up choosing Kyrian as my monk's covenant because it seemed the most appropriate for her class, even though on a personal level I liked the Night Fae a bit more. I could see it being fun to have an alt in every covenant though, just to experience the different stories there.


Look at My Horse, My Horse Is Amazing

No, this is not another post about me simply being happy/proud to finally be able to afford a mount on another character! It's about a special mount, one with a story.

If you think about it, mounts in WoW and its offshoots work in a funny way. You just summon them and they appear out of thin air, and the moment you don't need them anymore they disappear just as neatly. There is no in-game explanation for this, no magic that temporarily transports your trusty steed to another dimension or anything like that. A horse is still supposed to be just a horse, but out of sight is out of mind, and even in Classic with all its more "realistic" conveniences, we're happy to accept this particular behaviour for the sake of simplicity.

Not so with paladin mounts though! I've repeatedly mentioned how nice it is that paladins get their level 40 mount for free, but something I don't think I've ever brought up is that the game treats "Summon Warhorse" as a spell. I don't know if this summoned horse is supposed to still be a real flesh-and-blood steed, but there's definitely some magic involved. I always thought that it's odd that this is something that the trainer just gives to you without much ado (there is some quest text but it doesn't really say anything meaningful) - you'd think that getting to magically summon a horse out of thin air would be a slightly bigger deal. (For the same reason it always felt weird to me that druids just learn cat form from their trainer instead of via a quest like the other forms.)

At level 60 though, you can pick up the infamous paladin mount quest to acquire the epic upgrade for your magical mount. It gives a lot more detail than the level 40 quest and charges you with liberating and bonding with a horse spirit. In fact, the quest text feels like the quest writer had some even bigger, overarching lore in mind that got left on the cutting room floor somewhere, as the quest giver talks about a paladin earning their charger like it's a rite of passage - which it is in practice - but at the same time the quest makes it all sound very unique and specific. Why is there a benevolent horse spirit in Dire Maul that only comes out if you kill a giant tree? Just what did people do to that poor woman with the horse feed that keeps yelling at you in caps? (That part was funny though.)

It's actually not a terribly long or difficult quest chain, but there are definitely points at which it can trip you up. I remember starting it on my paladin on the private server Kronos, seeing the long shopping list of materials you're given as one of the first steps, and giving up right there. In Classic though, I'm much more established and - while not rich - had an idea how to go about collecting everything, so I chipped away at it slowly over time.

After you've jumped through the various gold-spending hoops, there are two dungeon steps to complete. First you need to kill the first boss in Dire Maul West and get the blessing of a horse spirit there (as for why... refer to my earlier comment). Then you need to do a little event in the ossuary in Scholomance which cumulates in fighting a death knight and redeeming the spirit of his charger, which then becomes your own mount.

I only had very vague memories of this, though in retrospect I must have done it at one point during Burning Crusade, when a friend levelled a Draenei paladin. Being able to over-level everything probably made it somewhat easier and less memorable at the time.

I wasn't sure how I was going to go about getting those dungeon quests done, but as it happened I managed to rope some guildies into helping me out last night and it was glorious. In Dire Maul we also got a pug hunter as dps whose bow broke halfway through the dungeon, so our hunter class leader ended up trading him a grey bow so that he could continue to do damage from range. We also recruited him to the guild afterwards!

And well, Scholo is Scholo... kind of long and tedious, but we made it. I quickly looked at a guide to the event on my second monitor before going in and it made it sound quite tough, but with our well-geared and experienced group it was easy enough (despite still taking about fifteen minutes in total).

Let me tell you, being able to summon my new epic mount outside felt glorious afterwards. It's not just a way to ride faster - it has a story attached to it and my guildies helped me get there. When I returned to Ironforge later and saw another paladin on their epic mount it actually gave me pause when I realised that every paladin's charger has a story like that, as they will have needed help with the quest at some point.

I really like these Classic quests that encourage you to have an adventure (also see Verigan's Fist). I know that if I ever see another paladin ask for help with that quest I'll want to assist them for sure. It only seems fair to pay it forward.