Normality

Last night a group of Guildies attempted the SFK VD Bosses (with many a double entendre in trade chat trying to find a VD healer…). We failed pretty decisively, not quite having the HP nor healing gear to get through the perfumed chaos. Having both the green & purple debuffs on seemed a killer – I’d pugged it the night before with an offtank which meant you could keep the one Neutralizer up depending on who was targetting you. An OT for a 5 man! Not something our guild has quite yet, so no Love Rocket for us.

Refusing to learn our lesson, we thought we’d make our Forge of Souls debut – on normal mode. I was properly tanking for the first time in a long time on Banehammer, and my muscle memory was all for my Druid tank. So I was pretty rusty on the key mappings and priority rotation (where’s Heroic Throw gone? Where’s taunt!?). Luckily I’d mapped  abilities pretty consistently across toons, so I unrusted relatively quickly.

We wiped on the second trash pull, mainly due to me not grabbing agro on all five quickly enough, and not being able to resist the AoE power of our much better geared ‘lock ‘n’ Mage combo. But there was an inkling of success there – our Rogue suggested we changed strategy to a mark-up/burn-down single target approach, which worked a treat and we proceeded to march all the way to the first boss, James Brown (the trash even dropped a 1% chance waist upgrade for me).

I hadn’t tanked this before, and our off spec Shaman Healer hadn’t healed it. But after quick debrief from the experts, we managed to one shot the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz, and I picked up a stonking big mace (and a New Bag).

The Devourer of Souls awaited, and having experienced this from a Rogue melee DPS vantage point, I didn’t like my chances of moving him around correctly, and living through the various don’t-argues this guy delivers.

We wiped on our first attempt, but weren’t discouraged. I found that the tanking vantage point was actually a bit easier than DPS – at least I knew when the guy was facing me, something I found confusing when slice ‘n’ dicing him due his multi-faceted face.

Our second attempt went much better, and we managed to down him (but barely!). I’d blown every single cooldown, and our Shaman was down to 4% mana when our foe dropped. The hoots could be heard all the way to the Halls of Relection, two instances hence.

It’s fair to say that this was thrilling stuff. It felt great to be working as a Guild team, on the edge of our ability/gear.

What was really interesting to me was that this was all in normal 5-man mode. There’s obviously recognition and challenge for world firsts (both alleged and legit) and 25 man hard modes, but for the  ‘hard core casuals’ (otherwise known as the majority), I’d suggest that taking on the normal mode progression is just as rewarding. You still see all the content, still get epic upgrades, still have a huge challenge and still have to work hard on your tactics and awareness. Plus if you clear all the normal modes, there’s no doubt you’ll be ready for 10 man’s next.

There’s a tendancy to think that if you’re not running at least Heroics, you’re not really playing. Which is just plain wrong – if normal mode is hard for your group, normal mode is the right level to be playing at and more importantly, enjoying. Throw yourself into the deep end of normal mode ICC. It may not be Ensidia depth, but it’s still pretty deep!

Indestructible

Playing Bane (my Warrior) today made me appreciate how easy farming is with a plate class, particularly one with some kind of self heal.

Love is in the Air requires you to collect Lovely Charms this year, from mobs that would earn you XP. So I set out to find a good farming spot, and found a great location at The Lost Lands in Sholazar where Bonescythe Ravagers spawn every 10 seconds or so in an infinite procession.

I plonked Bane down in mid pond and proceeded to destroy everything that spawned, with Miks scrolling an endless stream of ‘misses’ for the mobs. I kept this up, non stop, for about 45mins, popping Enraged Regeneration when required. This netted the 120 Charms required for the Achievement and sundry other goods in the process. I could barely loot fast enough to keep up.

On my leather wearing Rogue this would have required pulling one or two out of the way, dropping them, eating, repeat. Slow work.

Since then I’ve read of some better spots to farm – BBB seems to have found the pick so far – but it was a good reminder of the virtual unstoppability of a plate clad Tauren.

Be careful out there

Time for another round of weekly reading goodness:

Offtopic post of the week: the Sports Guys on supporting officially tortured teams. Anyone in Sydney will empathise when I say the North Sydney Bears are my team, and they more than qualify. Sigh.

Every game needs Tauren

A friend recently decided to (re)start a Dungeon & Dragons group (using the Pathfinder ruleset). Having had a fairly lengthy break from roleplaying, it’s refreshing and inspiring to read through the core rulebook and dream up characters and classes. Should I play a straight-up Fighter? Or mix it up with a little Barbarian action? Or maybe stretch out and introduce the religious power of the Paladin or Cleric. Can the basic Fighter class really be balanced when compared to all the extra goodies the other melee roles bring?

Good stuff. But there was one problem: you can’t play a Tauren.

Humans, pah. Half-orcs, elves, halflings, gnomes, zzzz. A dwarven warrior, hmm, maybe. But what I really wanted was a Tauren. Blizzard absolutely nailed it when they designed the mighty hooved ones, creating an iconic and emotionally involving new race. And one that doesn’t have it roots in the brilliant but saturated Tolkein racial templates.

Their homeland of Mulgore is beautiful, and perfectly fits the spiritual and ethical nature of the Tauren philosophy. Rolling plains filled with roaming wildlife and epic sunsets over towering cliffs.  And Thunder Bluff, standing tall in the midst of the plains of Mulgore, is a unique and special place, certainly the most racially ‘right’ city (with the possible exception of Ironforge).

RPing a Tauren is a dream, as it is so easy to bond with the race, with the history, the leaders, and the aesthetic. Creating a toon that has only a Kodo to ride, a prairie dog non-combat pet, and (if you’re a Hunter) Mazzranache as a pet instantly makes you part of the rich Tauren history.

In fact the only thing Blizzard did wrong was remove the fabled Plainsrunning racial from the Tauren, which sounds like it would have been the icing on an already delicious cake.

The Panzercow clearly thinks the same – he’s trying to work out how to make a Tauren Trekkie. Alas for Pathfinder, I guess a Dwarf will have to do. Unless I can convince the GM to let me roll up a Minotaur…

‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said, `To come and spoil the fun!’

Question of the day: do you watch the LK cinematic or not?

On the yea side of the argument, our Guild is so far from actually doing this encounter ingame that it may as well be a different game. By the time we do get there, there’s not going to be anything to spoil, because it will all have been out in the open for months. So why not watch it now, while the buzz is alive.

On the nay side, seeing the Wrathgate cinematic while levelling was epic and great. I didn’t get to it until way after most, but managed to quarantine any advance info or spoilers. The problem is that the Fall of the LK is a much bigger deal, and I can’t imagine it not being common knowledge no matter how hard you try. Kind of like trying to not find out the winner of the Superbowl until you’ve watched it a day later.

Luckily, for now anyway, Blizzard have pulled the video on copyright grounds, so I can ponder a little longer (before giving in!).

For the Hoard

I’ve been running chain instances on my Rogue, starting with normal modes and just now graduating to Heroics. The Icecrown 5 mans drop so much epic stuff in regular mode that Heroics are almost not required. But there is still some gear that is best farmed from Heroics.

And of course the flood of emblems is irresistible. Because Stroeb is just fooling around, I’m not driven or fussed by getting BiS, she’s just looking for enough to hold her own in 5 mans. Which is nice as it means guilt free Heirloom purchases, rather than feeling like it must be spent on Tier gear. I can feel a nice Lava Dredger incoming for my Druid.

One problem I encountered was my woeful DPS. Despite upping my gear, I was still only putting out 1200-1500 deeps. Luckily I was running non-heroics, and all the random groups were encouraging rather than dismissive.

So I went in search of the reason, and found a great post on Slice and Dice on just this topic – how to ramp up your Heroic trash DPS. My main problem was saving all the cooldowns for bosses, and using the EJ boss rotation religiously, rather than being looser on trash, using cooldowns, and adapting the rotation based on what was happening. Good lessons all.

I followed Sam’s advice, and bingo! 2000+ DPS instantly, with the same gear.

In think that the reluctance to use cooldowns, trinkets, and consumables actually goes back to pen and paper role playing. In DnD, you tend to save the good stuff for when you really need it, when you need the GM to give you a break or reward for using a special item. You’re lucky to have a potion in your bag, or a spell to save everyone, so you use it judiciously.

This is as opposed to WoW where there are more or less bottomless pits of food, buffs, and 30 second cooldowns. My bags tend to be full of consumables and my action bars full of cooled down specials, all of which I’m saving for that urgent moment. And it’s not just Warcraft – I have the same hoarding mentality in all single player games.

No more! From now on, it’s use it or lose it. For the HoardHorde!

Kings of Dire Maul

Last weeks’ level 60 Guild run saw us challenge the Ogres of Dire Maul, a 3 wing zone in mid Feralas.

We’ve all turned off our XP, so we’re running vaguely on level and as designed, albeit with all the player buffs and instance nerfs in play. It was fun having to be a little cautious on our pulls, as the big Ogre guards hit like trucks. Not that we never looked like wiping, even on an accidental fear pull, but still.

Dire Maul has one brilliant design feature – the Tribute Run.

The idea is to work your way through the North zone without killing any of the named mobs – completely contrary to instinct. Once you defeat the final boss, hence becoming the King of Dire Maul, each mob you left standing pays loot tribute to their new King – i.e. you!

This means all sorts of neat tricks as you move through the instance. There is a trap you set to freeze one boss in a block of ice, you can craft an Ogre suit mid instance to fool another, we used Seaforium Charges to blow up doors rather than killing bosses for the keys, and stealth to loot keys from chests under the bosses nose. We had to vamoosh out of the instance several times after accidentally agroing a named mob or two (Guard Fengus was particularly tricky to avoid) to keep the Tribute alive.

It’s a great little twist from Blizzard, and definitely worth running if you have a level 60 group available.

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.