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...


  1. It's a design problem, isn't it? Things like this become meta because developers don't step in early enough to prevent it happening. And it often seems pretty random which metas devs consider acceptable and which they tag as exploits. Players always groupthink ways to make "winning" faster or easier. You can't expect developers to predict every nuance of how content will be used before it's added. I think we might expect them to be more consistent and especially more pro-active about reacting to what they see in front of them, though.

  2. The main tank in our Naxx raids has other accounts to have summoners all over the damn place, which he even advertises as a service in Trade Chat, but the effect is that people who want Trib buffs can quickly get there.

    Yeah, he's a wee bit sweaty....

  3. Wow, thank you for explaining this to me! Even though I've played WoW for as long as I have, endgame Classic is not something I've delved into with any depth. I see the questions and announcements about world buffs in different chats as I go around doing my quests and was quite baffled about what an industry there seems to be around it. This post could not have come better timed as I was starting to become really confused! There was a lengthy discussion in the LFG channel on my realm just today that I understood nothing about, but it makes a lot more sense to me now. Great post :)

    1. It can be very opaque and intimidating when you don't know what everyone's talking about; I definitely used to feel that way! Now that I know how it works it's just a bit awkward. ^^'