There’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man

Interesting articles of the week:

And completely /offtopic, a beautifully designed site that captures Movie title screens.

Learning to Tank

I ran my second Oculus ever the other day (it’s truly not as bad as everyone says – as long as at least someone in the party knows what they’re doing) with a 79 Prot Paladin rolling tank. After buffs and a few quick hellos (I decided to always open random dungeons with a hello, and it seems to help set a friendly tone) we started on the first trash mobs.

And almost wiped.

The Pally barely managed to maintain agro on a single mob, let alone the group. And this was on normal mode. He quickly /p’d the group to explain he’d forgotten to put on his tanking gear. Next pull – same thing. This time he chimed in with a “rofl I didn’t have RA up” (Retribution Aura causes holy damage when you’re hit). A few others dropped group, someone new joined, rinse, repeat.

It was clearly a hopeless case, I felt bad for the guy as he was clearly trying to learn, and mentioned he thought this was good practice for when he was MTing for his Guild. I shudder to think how that would go!

So after the group had disbanded to just the two of us, I took the opportunity to give a bit of tank coaching. I don’t know thing one about Pally tanking, but the 101 of tanking is the same no matter what class:

  • Your job is to focus the attention of all the bad guys on you;
  • Your job isn’t to do damage, except as a by-product of keeping that attention;
  • Don’t just target a single mob and stay on it until it dies – you need to tab or click through the mobs to make sure you have their focus, and get it back if not;
  • Get the casters first, especially if they heal;
  • If you’re new to tanking, don’t use random LFD. Pick a dungeon you know, and run that. Learn how to tank with something you’re familiar with so you don’t get surprised;
  • And try to do it with friends first, so you can take your time and not get discouraged.

It may be a bit rich to be dishing out tanking advice when I was playing on my DPS toon due to fear of PUG tanking, but he seemed to appreciate it and the problem here wasn’t bad tanking, it was learning the fundamentals. He was clearly discouraged by everyone dropping, and there was no chance he was going to get any better without some constructive criticism. Hopefully he can find a Paladin mentor, or a really good Pally blog.

You need a safe and encouraging environment to learn, and Warcraft doesn’t really provide that unless you’re grouped with some friends. Or you’re very good at metagaming.

The other side

I’ve unretired my 80 Rogue Stroeb, freed her from Black Tabby stalking to have a crack at random LFD. I’ve never been a pugger, I think mainly because I find the idea of pugging and tanking terrifying and stressful – not exactly what you’re looking for in a game!

Stroeb was my first toon, and played a lot of level 70 endgame content but I haven’t played her at all at 80. I did a quick refresher of the current vogue for Rogues, promptly ignored the max-dps route of Mutliate builds to stick with the familiar Combat Swords, applied poisons and queued up in my quest greens and crafted blues for a normal mode random dungeon.

And quickly realised LFD is indeed great.

The very first random to come up was Trial of the Crusader. I immediately had a sinking feeling – I haven’t ever been here on any toon, have no idea what to do, panic! But then I realised I just needed to /assist the tank, pop Tricks of Trade on them, and away we go. Luckily I had done some jousting with Bane so knew the start of the fight, and the rest followed. Or, I followed the tank.

It was very refreshing to not be leading, to not have to know what comes next, and to not have to worry about picking up straying mobs. On the other hand it was a whole new challenge to remember that it was my job to maximise my DPS whilst managing threat generation, how to dump agro when I mismanaged it, getting my rotation right, managing my own health bars rather than relying on a healer, and realising that I really can’t afford to get hit even once (or, ahem, stand in the purple pools of ultimate damage).

And most interestingly, it made me realise that seeing it from the other side is a great way to learn the new dungeons so that when I was tanking it, I’d know what to expect. I’ve run the (fantastic) new Icecrown 5 mans on normal mode now a few times, and am starting to see what the tank tactics are and feel confident that I could run them with the Guild. Good stuff, and an unexpected bonus result of getting Stroeb back in the swing of things.

Oh and the epic drops don’t hurt either.

Pen & Paper Healers

Our DnD group is rolling up a new party for a fresh campaign, using the Pathfinder rules – euphemistically referred to as Dungeons & Dragons 3.75, as it was created by the disenchanted/disenfranchised writers of the of the official game, which went all MMO with its 4th Ed.

Given the WoW situation, it’s been funny to see that instead of a healer shortage, we’ve had a glut. After a call for a healer to be in the party, three of the five players are duelling over who will be the Cleric, another is a Pally, and yet another is rolling Bard – think Shaman in WoW terms. In other words, all can heal to some degree.

Why? Probably because in a pen & paper RPG you really get to play. Clerics get their power from gods. The gods are part of the world, the Gamemaster lets you interact with them, and you can be as creative as you like about how the powers manifest.

My Dwarf Cleric, for example, draws his powers from the very earth around him. Kneeling down with one fist planted to the earth, he pulls the healing power directly from the ground beneath his feet, and channels the might of the deep bedrock to unleash a devastating shockwave through his undead foes. The ley lines in the earth glow as the godlike power delivered by Torag surges through his chosen follower – me!

Epic stuff, and all from the imagination of the player and GM, not coded into the rules (other than the actual impact of the spell). Plus playing a Healer in DnD can still be largely about hitting stuff, squeezing in some healing and turning undead when the moment comes.

In Warcraft you can roleplay the same kind of thing, but you don’t really get the chance to flesh out a healer with other roles mid fight. Dual spec allows some flexibility, but realistically during a fight you Heal and that’s it. Druids probably come closest to giving the flexibility to make a difference, popping in and out of form to take different roles.

WoW can’t have the same freedom as RL roleplaying, and as a consequence healing isn’t as popular as it could be. If, as Tobold put it, “The most important addons for a healer in heroics are becoming Peggle and Bejeweled”, then something needs to be done to give the Healer role more flexibility during the fighting.

Salty #3

Another week, another valiant attempt. I had a chance to try the Stranglethorn Extravaganza today, managed to hook 31 Speckled Tastyfish before the (Alliance!) winner had their 40. Which is not too bad I guess, given an appalling start where I had bag rage, a pestering croc, and a dancing lure.

I also managed to hook a rare Keefer’s Angelfish, which rewards a very fashionable Lucky Fishing Hat – the new fishing outfit must be helping!

What more can you ask for? Other than 9 more Tastyfish...

The Tank o’ Terror

Spinks is right – tanking is scary. Well, it’s scary in a PuG. So much so that I can count the number of tanking PuGs I’ve done on one…finger.

I love tanking with my guild, they know me, I them, and there’s none of the “gogogogogo” everyone is writing about. But whilst I’ve tanked most of the Northrend 5-mans, and one wing of Naxx, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen many of them due to our Guild reboot. So whilst the idea of jumping into LFD is fun, and I’m geared enough for all but the newest Heroics, I doubt the other players would appreciate a tank using LFD as a tool to remind himself of how it all works.

Posts like Veneretio’s on how to tank fast only reinforce the hesitation. One of the commentators on that post asks exactly the right question: “Has the new LFG tool made it harder for new tanks?”

The answer must be yes – it’s too intimidating when what you want to do is take it slowly, markup, spend the time to learn how to tank better.

The random LFD basically excludes or at the least discourages new tanks. Maybe what it needs is another flag – “learner“. I would check that box in an instant in order to know that the rest of the group was willing to not speed run, and willing to learn. The expectation is to crash and burn through as quickly as possible, but not everyone is a supertank, yet.

Even if you research the encounters, learn the bosses, run them on normal mode or with guildies, there’s still no scope for saying you want to take it easy before you’re in the instance. Some means of flagging that to other players when you’re signing up might make all the difference, and encourage the less geared or new players to get in on the LFD action.

I also thought I’d post a great report from a guildie on his encounter with a true tank o’ terror  in HUK. When I first read it I was amazed, thinking it was a one-off, but it sounds like this is now how people expect PuG Heroics to run. Which is kind of depressing for a new tank, or for those that think speed isn’t everything.

He started the run saying “Hi Guys – Has everyone done this before?” and everyone answered yes. “ If everyone’s ready lets go :-)”

And so off we started… he ran up the stairs and picked up everything in the corridor… I thought he had made a mistake but in moments they were all dead. Then the pace picked up. He pulled everyone in the next room… Few seconds and we got them down too…

Then he pulled the entire Dragon room in one pass around the room – Both sides! I mean he ran back and forth in a zig-zag pattern across the room all the way along it. When he first did it I thought OMG we are all going to die. Next thing I know there is a massive pile of dragon bodies and riders around him. It was incredible to watch. And kind of sad because we were all noobs compared to this guy.

He just kept running forward. He was like a magnet. Once in a while he would stop and we would try to help kill all the trailing mobs (and I do mean multiple mobs) but then he would just start running forward again. It kind of felt like he was picking magnetic lint off himself. There was not even time to loot the bodies. The other three players and I just had to keep up. Each boss got smashed and any hapless mobs with them. The poor resto-druid and I were just running in his slip-stream. Half-way through the healer whispered me saying “I have not had to heal the tank yet :-)” .

He ran into the prince’s room and pulled everything including the Prince and the skeletons and ran out the other door without us.  The only reason we did not get the Ice Block achievement was because the healer got trapped in passing and the rest of us stopped to help him. If we had probably waited a few seconds the boss would have been dead and we would have had it but no one thought about it. I think we were starting to realise this  guy was REALLY good. Then  I noticed the title (which I had to look up) Conqueror of Naxxramas  – Participated in the realm first defeat of Kel’Thuzad in Naxxramas in 25-player mode. 11-24-2008 – Realm First!

The final Boss was dead so fast that the rest of us just had time to realize we had already entered the second phase by the time we had run onto the platform. Thankfully there is a brief speech before the second phase. I didn’t even bother moving away from the smash because there was no time for the boss to do one. Then he said “Thanks for the run guys” and then was gone… The whole run had taken about 10 minutes

So weird… A seriously amazing player…”

eLearning

Spinks asks how WoW (and others MMOs) could be improved to help new players learn the ropes – especially level 80’s who are expected to know ~48 bosses in 16 dungeons the moment they ding max level.

So what are some of the ways the game could assist?

  • Introduce some kind of instant replay on boss fights, so you can analyse what went wrong (or right) as a group. This would be a great addition, and would reduce the need to meta-research everything before you do it. It would be useful even once you do know the fights, to really polish your technique. I know our guild would love to go in blind if we knew there was some kind of in-game analysis tool.
  • Don’t use Random LFD if you don’t know the instance – research them one at a time, queue for the specific encounter, learn it. Once you start feeling familiar with the majority of instance, then jump on Random and earn your badges. I know as a tank I’m very uncomfortable doing an instance unless I know it, and know the mechanics. As Blessing of Kings comments, there is often a default expectation that tanks will lead.
  • An easy one is to run the available instances as you’re levelling. That way once you hit 80, the majority are familiar for Heroic mode, and it certainly reduces the number you have to learn.
  • Optional ingame Boss-mods should definitely be added. They don’t have to be as sophisticated as the many Boss-mod Add-Ons, but more visual feedback on what is happening, or about to happen, would help.
  • Mentoring (see post below!). At max level, mentoring could work where you reward players for leading others through instances. The LFD tool tried to implement a “leader” option, but Blizzard removed it as they “didn’t want to encourage players who had no business leading groups to do so.” Reintroducing it with some kind of method for the rest of the party to vote or feedback on how the leader went might be worth trying – and if people earn enough pats on the back, they’re rewarded appropriately.
  • An in-game mechanism to point you toward the best next instances to run based on your current gear would be great too. There’s a lot of meta gaming to do to work out where the next upgrade is coming from, which works for some, but would be far more effective & consistent if it were in-game. Going to consult an Oracle in Dalaran for direction would be better than flipping out of game to lookup Wowhead. In fact it’s a little surprising there’s not already “best dungeon to do next” add-on for planning your gear upgrades.

Certainly there is room for improvement, being thrown in the deep end can be very daunting. As wow.com comments, “Clicking a role in the random window is not the same thing as filling out a guild application. A lot of these players are learning the game by playing it: it’s not fair to assume they’re reading theorycrafting sites and working their gear always with an eye towards maximum performance.”.

Mentoring

Mentoring is an idea my MMO friends have tossed around for a while now. It’s not something you see much of in Warcraft, but mentoring junior players could add a level of class depth to the game, especially for those willing to RP the process.

There are plenty of excellent ex-game teachers, and most people are willing to help a newbie if for no other reason than to show their skills, so why not try and build it into the in-game mechanic. Introduce semi-enforced in-game mentoring.

Imagine that when a Hunter reaches level 10, instead of using an NPC they needed to be taught the art of taming their pet by another player. Or in STO, a Jedi Master must initiate young Padawan into the mysterious ways of the force.

The main problem would be finding someone willing to help – but that could be resolved if you also made it a condition of reaching level 20 that you go help a lowbie. Part of advancing your character to the next phase is helping to build the Hunter community by training up junior members. Or embarking on an quest chain, similar to Rhok’delar, where the end goal is to present a lower level player with an epic reward – their first purple.

To make it more than a one off task for the higher level toons, class specific rep or achievement status could be a reward for each time you do it. Eventually you would have Legendary Hunter’s running about who have earned the respect of their class through being recognised as great mentors or trainers.

The same principle could apply to any class of course – Warriors teaching the art of Charge, Druids learning how to be a Cat, Paladins training young disciples how to press “1” before going /afk.

Enforced mentoring wouldn’t work, and the game would need to cater for situations when people can’t or won’t assist, but it would certainly add to the immersion and sense of class community if it was at least an optional way of progressing.

Salty #2

No luck this morning. Obviously my Salty strategy needs work. I’ve got the right rod, hat, and know most of the top spots thanks to El’s. And I make sure that either Chuck, Mr Pinchy’s Magical Crawdad, or my Sewer Rat are by my side whenever I drop a line. These things matter.

And yet clearly it’s not enough.

Of course the rare fish are scared off when they see a great lumbering Tauren kitted out in Crusader’s Square Pauldrons and Tempered Titansteel Treads hovering over their pool.

Scaring the fish away

Time for some more appropriate fashion:

There will be no-one to stop us this time

That should do the trick. They’ll take one look and a Blacktip Shark and 15 Pound Mud Snapper will be mine!