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.


Pug Tales

I just wanted to share some notes about three pugs I had recently.

Blackfathom Deeps

This was on my mage. A warrior tank was the last one to join and in the same guild as the priest healer. This guy must have been a genuine newbie because he had virtually no idea what tanking means other than that he should be the first to hit things and wear a shield. I didn't see him use sunder or taunt even once, just rend and more rend. Unsurprisingly, this meant that aggro was all over the place as he couldn't hold threat at all, but nobody ever said anything. After all, his healer buddy didn't seem to mind!

Fortunately, everybody else was also really on the ball and we survived both pulling most of the murloc room at once and another really bad pull at the entrance to the water area. This prompted the warrior to say how awesome we were, at which point the ret pally whispered me that this was the worst tank she'd ever seen... though with a smiley, so she was clearly also more bemused by the whole thing than anything else.

In Kelris' room the warrior suddenly piped up to say that people in WoW Classic were all so kind and that he'd added us all to his friends list. Big "d'aww" moment. Then, as soon as Kelris was dead, someone - not the newbie, mind you - lit three of the braziers at once. I could feel the panic in the priest's voice as she quickly asked for the warlock to soulstone her, but we actually managed to pull through as everyone was very much on the ball again.

Just goes to show how much carrying you can do if you know what you're doing. Still, I would totally group with that warrior tank again. Though next time I might politely suggest using taunt at least.


On New Year's Eve I spent a good chunk of the evening being the pug in someone else's guild group. There was a call for a healer for a full Strat run (both sides) in LFG so I responded on my pally and it turned out to be a group of four guildies who were just looking for a fifth. They ended up inviting me to their Discord and we had lots of laughs - it was a fantastic run all around, and not just because we got lots of good drops too. My pally got the teal dress from Baron (which is BiS in terms of +heal for all healing classes until some pretty high-end raid drops), everybody got a Righteous Orb, and the mage book and flask recipe dropped for the happy guildies.

It was a bit of a bittersweet experience as it made me realise that it's been a little while since I had such a run with my own guildies. Since I've cut back on my playtime just a little bit in order to preserve my sanity I always seem to miss the five-mans - either because my role just isn't needed by the time they ask for more or due to timing. I've had multiple chats with people about wanting to run this or that dungeon, but then they are busy while I have time and vice versa and then they end up going without me. I miss that.


I ended up joining a Deadmines run on my dwarf priest that was... colourful. At least two of the other players were extremely weird stereotypes. The warrior tank, whom I got quite fond of, seemed to be an over-excited kid - he was friendly and competent enough, but loved talking in all caps for some reason and was always speaking his mind. The other priest was kind of the opposite and rubbed me the wrong way almost immediately - and not just because he joined as dps and then kind of usurped my healer spot. I didn't really mind dpsing that much, but he was just... weird. The best way to describe it is that he sounded like someone who had read an extremely detailed guide about Classic and therefore considered himself highly knowledgeable about the game but never actually played it before.

First he made everyone wait for ages because he wanted to finish levelling one more time because he thought it was of the utmost importance that he upgraded his spells before going to the dungeon. Then he handed out potions of mixed usefulness to everyone. He also tried to lecture us about kill order at one point. On the other hand though, he didn't even know that priest shields don't stack, and when we killed Mister Smite he thought that the environmental chest deco next to him was lootable. Just... weird.

Sadly, with all the delays to actually getting started (coughtheotherpriestcough), the whole thing took way too long. One guy then DCed by the first boss so that we ended up four-manning the rest of the instance, which made things even slower. With the lack of dps we wiped on Van Cleef and then another guy had to go so I didn't even end up getting the boss's head. Not a big deal I suppose as I meant to run the place more than once anyway, but one of my stranger pug experiences for sure.