Can Your Raid do More With Less?

Can Your Raid do More With Less?

Its a dark and stormy Monday night. Rain drops are slowly streaming down my face as I wearily walk through the door. I kick off my shoes and my feet are practically screaming in glee after escaping the cold, damp prisons of my New Balance sneakers. I hustle straight to my computer and flip the switch on. As the machine slowly spins to life, I change into something drier and comfortable.

“Gentlemen.” I spoke after joining our guild voice server, “How are we looking tonight?”

I received a chorus of acknowledgements ranging from “Good, what are we doing?” to “Your mom”. Just another day in Matt’s guild.

Once I logged into a game, I noticed of activity in officer chat. During the minutes that lead up to the first pull, we’re constantly assessing our roster and determining what bosses to aim for. One of the initial steps is to see what our attendance is like. There are times where there are some last minute player signouts or late notices. I got my raid invite and took a mental stock of our roster.

23 raiders with no other players in sight. It was about time for first pull. Some were starting to wonder if we would go since we didn’t have a full raid. The only boss remaining was Lich King. We wanted more weapons.

“We have the tanks to do this.” My tanking officer reported.

“More than enough stuns and slows for valks. Good to go.” Confirmed the raid leader. “Matt, healing?”

I quickly assessed my healers. There were five of us. We normally took six. I felt we could operate with less but I’ve always preferred the extra safety net when we were short bodies. It was time to get out of the comfort zone and see what the healing unit was capable of.

“It might be choppy. Being down two isn’t going to help. I think we can pull it off.” I responded with confidence.

Pushing the limit

I’ve always wondered what the minimum number of players for taking down Lich King would be. Could he be taken down with 24? With 22? How about at 80% capacity with 20? There was only one way to find out. You’re not going to know what your raid capacity is going to be unless you actually try it. Its good to stress test the raiders in shorthanded situations because you never know when it’ll happen during future raids. Someone might disconnect early on an attempt or die halfway through it.

Can your raid adjust to that sort of temporary setback?

Raid potential

raid-potential

While it is somewhat simple to quantify exactly how much DPS or healing is needed to successfully get through an encounter, there are other factors which you can’t really put a number on. Things like raid intelligence, awareness, and skills are all variables that determine whether your raid has the that mentality to gut through an encounter.

I’ve been surprised before in the past. When I think the raid group is lacking in certain roles or DPS and we go out and take down a boss, a little part of me inside cheers. The inverse also holds true. On moments where we wipe when I felt certain that we had the kill in the bag, I experience that sinking feeling in my stomach wondering what went wrong.

You’re never going to know what your raid can do unless you go out and try it. Obviously if raid potential is far below whatever the raid requirements might be, then the unpopular decision of calling it an early night might be the better course of action. When raiding short handed, the performance of everyone else needs to go up in order to compensate for the lack of players.

Unfortunately, we found out after a while what our limit was. Turns out if a player is lagging out, they’ll always get targeted with a Defile. On a side note, it seems that healers seem to respond to the instinctive need to keep healing. What else is a healer supposed to do with player who has lagged out in the middle of a Defile?

(Hint: The answer isn’t to keep healing him)

Alas, with multiple disconnected players the executive decision was made to call it an early night. Better luck next week.

Have you ever been in a raid where you were astonished at what the group could do because of class composition or lack of numbers? Was there any creative strategy used to get around the problems?

Dear Ruby Sanctum: How Not To Be A Raid Encounter

Dear Ruby Sanctum: How Not To Be A Raid Encounter

Failraid

Last week I talked about what I thought the Ruby Sanctum had to live up to. I reminisced about the encounters that made Wrath’s raiding scene fun for me. Thanks for chipping in with your thoughts too folks – feel free to keep them coming and do the same this week. I’ll never forget my own favourites and if the Ruby Sanctum manages to come close to them then it’s on fire.

… Sorry about that one.

Anyway. This week I’m intrepidly heading back down memory lane to the dark alleys where the worst encounters lurk. The ones that caused me to daydream about throwing the computer out of the window whilst we recovered from yet another wipe. Or the ones that encouraged me to try taping my cat’s paw to the keyboard while I put the kettle on, because we just had to get through the encounter to get to the Fun Stuff ™. Worst of all, the encounters that should be truly inspiring but one design flaw let it – and me – down.

Beware, Ruby Sanctum. Here there be monsters. Quite literally. If you find yourself amongst them you’ve Done It Wrong.

 

5. Faction Champions – Let me make one thing clear: if I want to PvP I’ll go to a battleground or do some arenas. It’s great that they took the Priestess Delrissa fight from TBC a step further. That was chaotic fun. The ‘fun’ part translated badly into a situation involving 10-25 people, many of whom (including myself) are not ardent PvPers with a desire to hone PvP tactics. I’ve found that trying to organise (or be organised for) PvP-style opponent management when the 9-24 people you’re working with are either loyal PvEr’s or PUGers is just a headache. Don’t do it again, Blizz.

4. Lich King – I know I know. It’s the last fight of the expansion, of course it’s special, right? Special isn’t always good. First oversight: the quality of the dialogue between Arthas and Tirion before the fight. It’s frankly shoddy. If I’m being crude, most of it also has homoerotic undertones that I’m sure Blizzard didn’t intend. Go and read it if you don’t believe me. A ‘skip intro’ button as with Deathbringer Saurfang would have been really useful here. And if I’m being picky – might as well be – Arthas’s girth makes me think he’s only really a threat to pies.

But my main problem with this encounter was its mechanics. If you ask for tactics in any Wrath encounter at least one person will say “Don’t stand in the fire”. It is a joke but people say it through pursed lips. They’re tired of it being the basic tactic for most fights. The Lich King encounter is just that: you’ll be fine if you don’t stand in the fire black goo and move at the right times. Sadly, this really makes it the fight designed to finish Wrath off.

3. Sindragosa – I included Sapphiron in my top five last week because when the fight mechanics were fresh when we first edged into his lair. That didn’t mean I wanted a near-identical fight later in the game. Not only are the mechanics a rip-off but the boss looks the same (though has undergone a gender change since we saw him in Naxx). Sindragosa’s fight mechanics do have a different twist to Sapphiron’s. I just resent peddling the wheel like a good guinea pig to get through phases 1 and 2 in order to reach that fun part of the fight which would probably kill my group so I could do it all again. I can’t understand why having players repeat two long phases full of easy mechanics because the fun, difficult and adrenaline-inducing stuff is squeezed into a mad 30 seconds at the end got past – or to – the PTR.

2. Malygos – This encounter has a lot going for it. I quite enjoyed the large blue dragon flying around the room taunting during wipe recovery. I mean, for an arrogant dragon, it sounded believable. The fight mechanics were interesting up to a point – working with sparks provided an extra layer of challenge and the whole of phase 2 was particularly fun given the first character I took to Malygos was a melee DPS.

What? I’ve just praised it to the heavens? But wait, this encounter does deserve to be high on this list. Why? Phase 3. Partly because whilst being dropped on to a dragon looks cool, I don’t appreciate a game effectively saying “right! Quick time event. You need to already know and/or mind-read which dragon abilities to use while moving in 3d space – and we mean moving, ‘cos there are fires to not stand in!” But even that isn’t the real problem. That’d be the lights. There are too many in phase 3. They flash. They move. The pretty colours aren’t pretty so much as neon. I know people who get headaches from them and I’ve been in raids which have wiped shortly after the healer said “arghargh the lights.”

1. Razuvious“Bring the player not the class” was Blizzard’s tagline regarding raiding in WotLK. A raid with any composition of classes can defeat any encounter? Great idea. So why did I often spend hours fishing whilst waiting for my Naxx25 groups to try to find two shadow priests for Insdtructor Razuvious? And then why did many of those groups collapse like a pie on Arthas’ plate after we wiped once on Razuvious? Because the hidden clause was that not just that we need two priests – and until it was hotfixed you need two with +hit gear – but to narrow it down further any group needed two who know how to mindcontrol-juggle-tank. Razuvious was an interesting fight mechanic spoiled by a deviation from Wrath’s goals, which would have just been more fun for everyone if any class could have stepped up to the orb in 10 and 25 man.

So providing the Ruby Sanctum doesn’t force us to PvP under a disco ball as a raid composed of 10 paladins – after a dodgy scene we’ll cringe at fifty times – it should be fine. Bring on the fire.

What do you think – what are your very worst memories of any WoW encounters, and why?

This is an article by Mimetir, an owl (and resto shaman) of a raid leader on The Venture Co. (EU) You can find my twitter feed here.

Herding Kingslayers

Herding Kingslayers

HerdingKingslayers

I regret to announce that my planned post for today has to be put back to a later date.

Why?

Herding Cats and friends downed Lich King 10 last night. OK, the post title was a bit of a giveaway.

Excuse me a second.

w0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000t!

 

I’m really happy. And really proud of my group. And really excited that we got it. And really, that’s a lot of reallys. Why? Well, any guild leader or raid leader is proud when their group achieves what they set out to do. But I’m particularly fond of my group and I hope you don’t mind me rambling like a proud parent today but it’s true: we’re not your Usual Suspects, and it goes to prove that you can achieve it no matter your setup.

For one thing we’re a casual guild. We only raid one to two nights a week – Sunday and every other Wednesday.

We’re also not a full ‘guild’ – Herding Cats started off raiding as a real life 5 man of friends filling the spots with PUGs. We went hunting for friendly and mature instead of imbah skilled players. We ended up with a network of people to work with – and a core 10 which melded together as a single unit. Herding Cats became Herding Cats and Friends.

We’ve never all been on voice comms. Some of us play in the same room, adding one or two over skype. The rset of the communication has been achieved through everyone working towards clear text communication.

And, like any raiding group, we’ve had our share of drama. We all found it stressful at points, there were clashes and strains. Heck, it was just two weeks ago while we were learning the Lich King fight that one of our Herd Friends suddenly dropped news that he was going to another guild.

Through all that – we achieved – and I’m proud of us. The line up:

Ulram (bear tank) – managed to overcome finding tanking really stressful to do a perfect job with crazy amounts going on – including finding the time to do extra hybrid crazystuff. Also came up with some cunning tactics including the last piece of the puzzle which got us through Vile Spirits to victory. Can put more varied inflections into the word “arse” than anyone else we know.

Ekatrina (paladin tank) – and dedicated co-raid leader. Took to tanking like a foodie to the Fat Duck. Never made the same mistake twice; often didn’t make the same mistake once. Always knew where the fack to stand and tough enough to calmly eat Soul Reapers for breakfast in strict 10 man gear. Came up with the very practical (and immensely satisfying) idea of making us practice the Defile Dance with Tirion Fordring playing the role of Arthas.

Pitil (discy priest) –  started out a tad unconfident months ago: ended up as the healer performing the most complex and versatile role in LK fight – and professionally so. Also, our raid’s provisioner of cupcakes/vital provisions.

Gorgakh (resto shaman) – rock solid. Always totally reliable and consummately calm, which in healers are nigh-godlike qualities. Even when he had a kitten attacking his foot.

Thrakha (Fury warrior) – example of what someone *can* do if they really work to be the best. And inspired that in others too, keeping the tanks sharp ;) Currently to the best of my knowledge raiding with three different guilds at once, with corresponding numbers of fish feasts.

Urkra (Unholy DK) – went from being very unconfident as a wow player to topping our DPS meters and rarely making mistakes and keeping an open mind on play improvement and new tactics. Achieved all that on a non-official Hardmode: completing half of the bosses unable to talk on skype due to playing in the same room as his wife watching X-Factor.

Nergalian (enhancement shaman) – Sharpest reactions of everyone despite a slightly different style of playing – and despite the kitten Conan, slayer of raids. Her bouncy multi-cultural pop music and fish feasts also kept us all going up on the Throne.

Karkass (destro lock)always cheerful and positive, which is a raid-saver at times. Also, always willing to be flexible on filling different roles, which in turn helped keep us all sane. Karkass’ brainwave of teleporting back from the Valkyr was also something of a lifesaver. Overall: Karkass the Lifesaver.

Simbaria (survival hunter) – having missed most of ICC, he joined us at the last minute and picked the LK tactics up immediately and flawlessly. Impressive.

(Ahem, I’ve been instructed to put this in by Kat):
Mimetir, aka Apeorsa, figured out every fight mechanic first time, bent the needle on the healing meter, pushed through raidleading challenges from a vanishing raid member to general stress levels, and NEVER STOOD IN DEFILE. Seriously, not once.

So what now? A break from raid leading – just a couple of weeks to chill. Then in a couple of weeks we’re all meeting up for a Herd Moot/guild meet, and we’ll look to our next goal then, probably with the help of copious amounts of ale.

This is an article by Mimetir, an owl (and resto shaman) of a raid leader on The Venture Co. (EU) You can find my twitter feed here.

What is missing from the Arthas fight?

What is missing from the Arthas fight?

First before I begin I would like to say congrats to Matticus on his 10 man Arthas kill!

Now onto the matter at hand. My guild is plugging away at the Lich King 25 man encounter, our 10 man team is just about to take him down as well. There is a certain sense of accomplishment when you get to the end of not only the content, but let’s be honest in this case the entire point of the expansion! This entire expansion has geared us up for this fight. Egging us on, pushing us to greater heights and taunting us at every turn. The Lich King has been found in so many quests, instances and cinematic events it is impossible to not want to kill him.

When Trial of the Crusader was released, I’ll be honest I was not impressed. In fact I down right hated ToC. I’m an old school raider, I like instances with trash and having to work at getting TO the boss. I mean in every book I’ve read the hero and the villain don’t just run into each other randomly and just go to town. The hero normally goes through various trials and or henchman before they get to the big bad. In James Bond movies, he has to go through the henchman before making his way to the final bad guy for the show down. To me that is what trash is in an instance, it is a warm up but it’s also story fodder. These are the creatures the various bosses thought good enough to guard them from US. So when I walked into ICC for the first time you can bet I was over-joyed at the amount of trash that lay before us. One of my fondest memories as of late was when we were first heading into the Plagueworks, I was flying solo leading the raid that night and we were coming up on Stinky and Precious. I didn’t warn the raid about them at all, instead as we pulled I laughed maniacally at the frantic screams of “HOLY SHIT WHAT THE HELL IS GLUTH DOING HERE?” as the raid wiped. Everyone laughed about it afterward  and I felt happy that there was trash that was actually DANGEROUS if you weren’t prepared.

My guild has fought our way through all the bosses up to Arthas and there is a sense of accomplishment there. The fight itself is amazing fun, if for no other reason than because there is so much going on. So, why then am I feeling slightly ripped off with this fight?

Arthas is one of those lore characters that has shaped this game. Warcraft 3 was a game I played to death and out of it what I got was the setup for World of Warcraft. It was heart-wrenching when Arthas slew his father and you saw the darkness in complete control, it was epic when Illidan and Arthas fought. The story, even though it was an RTS, was colorful and rewarding.

So last night Unpossible was working on Arthas and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with the fight, that something was missing. After the raid I thought back to burning crusade and Black Temple. The Illidan fight felt epic. The scene opened up with Akama going to face Illidan and speak his peace, followed by him running off to hold off reinforcements and give the group time to deal with Illidan. Partway through the fight, a fed up Warden Maiev Shadowsong bursts in to help try and take down the demon prince. He had wronged her so much that she had to have her revenge. In short the fight felt epic. It felt like great payoff to all the work of getting there. I attribute this to a well designed encounter, but a lot of that had to do with NPC interaction.

When you reach Arthas there is a small back and forth between the fallen prince of Lordaeron and Tirion Fordring. To be honest the back and forth is a little weak, and Tirion is one of those characters I could do without. I mean, of all the people Arthas has pissed-off and messed with over the years they picked Tirion to be the one to confront him. I mean I guess I expected him to be there from the beginning, after all he is the bearer of Ashbringer, but I expected someone faction specific to be there along side him as well. I know Jaina and Sylvanas made an appearance in the 5 mans, but this is the big show, the big payoff. Personally I expected them to be there, or rather someone who Arthas has wronged on a deep personal level to be there.

Before you say anything yes I know the history of what happened between Arthas and Tirion and the subsequent exile. My point though is as fun as the fight is (it IS an amazingly designed encounter), it just doesn’t feel as epic as I think it should.

We have airships right? After we’ve taken down the Frost wing, why not have the ship fly up to assault Arthas only to have him blow it out of the sky? How about King Varian Wrynn or Thrall gets to deliver the epic speech debasing Arthas and spurring us to victory. Instead we get Tirion running forward, and getting hunter trapped.

I still love the encounter don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that there are a thousand things you have to watch for and so many ways you can die. I like having fights that have consequence and Defile is the greatest thing EVER created (no sarcasm on that). I guess in the end I just wish there was a little more NPC interaction at the end to help lend the cinematic / literary climactic feel that the encounter truly deserves.

What do you think about the encounter?

So with that I bid you all a good day, hopefully next week I’ll be writing you as King Slayer Lodur. Until next time, Happy healing and may all your heals be swift and your mana plentiful!

Of Heroes and Villains Part 3

Of Heroes and Villains Part 3

daredevil109

In Part 1 we took a look at hero classes and made some speculation as to the next expansion. In Part 2 we took a look at how the Death Knight hero class was introduced into the game. In part 3 here I’d like to talk a little bit about the hardest part of the hero class, balance.

When designing classes for any game, balance is always an issue. Even years after classes have been established sometimes things need to be tweaked. The goal is to make sure no one class is so powerful that it becomes the only one anyone plays. Essentially trying to keep the class from becoming a “Mary Sue” of the game. We’ve seen this over the years with balancing and re-balancing of all the classes, as well as in burning crusade giving the faction specific classes to both factions (Shaman and Paladins playing for both teams). When you add a hero class to a game it’s really hard not to make it into the favored child. At the same time a hero class should add a new mechanic or do something in such a way that people stop and go “oh, that’s just cool” . With Death Knights this was the addition of Runes and Runic Power.

When Wrath of the Lich King beta went out, I could not get my grubby hands on a key fast enough, I was dying to try out the new Death Knight class. I rolled my toon and found myself climbing the levels. Each build of the beta Death Knights got what some of us refer to as “Flavor of the Month” builds. In these builds one tree was emphasized over the others to test that tree out. The idea is if you make the first two sub-par, everyone will play the third. This is an old technique in beta testing to gather data. For example, in one of the Wrath builds Scourge Strike was hitting for close to 6k damage at level 65. This happened several times and each time players dutifully left their feedback and devs took it all in.

When wrath went live, Death Knights were good. Scary good. They had superior mitigation, better cooldowns and better DPS it was hard not to love them. As a healer I loved healing them, it took a lot less effort then the other three tanking classes. But therein lay the problem. When listening to all the feedback and launching it’s first hero class, Blizzard arguably made them too good. Look at all the patch notes from Wrath’s launch to now. Death Knights have been revised several times in an effort to bring them closer to the other classes, including recently where the cooldown on Icebound Fortitude is being increased to match other tanks.

It’s hard to find that sweet-spot. You want the class to feel epic and new and shinny, but you don’t want people to stop using the ones you’ve already made. It’s a very fine line to walk and it’s very difficult to do it right. With Death Knights even after they’ve been normalized I still love playing them. I love the way the Runes and Runic power system works. It’s incredibly intricate and allows for a free flowing rotation that let’s you be reactive rather then just spam a key sequence or a one button macro. It’s fun so I’ll always like to play it.

If Blizzard introduces another hero class, they are going to have to be careful to make sure it’s properly balanced. Let’s say they introduce a new healing class, it would have to be balanced so that it did not over power the other four healing classes. At the same time the mechanics of it would have to be something innovative or new to keep it fresh and exciting. Same goes for another ranged physics DPS class. If one was added it would have to be balanced as to not overshadow hunters, and at the same time provide a new way to deal that damage that is fun. (for the record I really like the idea of another ranged physical DPS class!)

It’s a tough to add new classes without overlapping or overshadowing the ones you’ve created before, but I have faith Blizzard will be able to do it again and will do it better then they did Death Knights. Death Knights just had the bad luck of being first out the gate =D

So what do you think? Do you think they can balance another class in? What would you like to see as a new mechanic?

That’s it for today, Until next time,

Sig

Image courtesy of Marvel.com

Of Heroes and Villains Part 2

Of Heroes and Villains Part 2

killingjoke

Last time we talked about the hero classes of Warcraft 3 and the build up to wrath where we got our first hero class, and I would like to thank everyone that chimed in. Today I’ll talk a little bit about implementation of the hero class.

Let’s face it, Death Knights set the bar pretty high. When you first start a Death Knight a few things happen. First of all you are in your own little corner of the old Eastern Kingdoms map, and in this corner you’re given a multi-phase instance to learn about your class. This in and of itself is pretty amazing. Think back to when you first started your character as a level 1 freshly born into the world. Your area was open to the world, at level one you could in theory run your brand new human all the way to Iron Forge if you felt so inclined.

With wrath, the Death Knights were born into servitude of the Lich King himself, already having established themselves as heroes of the horde / alliance but falling only to be returned in undeath. Being under the Lich King’s thumb you are forced to do things rather then given options, you can’t choose to skip the entry quests and just run to Iron Forge, instead you’re given a story to play out. You’re forced to do tasks for NPC’s that you’ve tried to kill in the halls of Naxxramas.

This feels like a rail shooter to some people and I have heard a fair share of complaints about it, but I personally love it. It forces you to immerse yourself into the character. You’re given beautifully crafted quests to give you gear and talents and a mount and most importantly, a foundation of skills for your character. The quests also give you the foundation of a story and they have a weight of lore about them.

To me that might be the most important thing about these quests, the lore. I’m a lore junkie. I love quests that just drip with story or dialogue with an NPC from the previous Warcraft games. When the Caverns of Time instances and Karazhan were released I was quite giddy (still waiting on the bottom half of kara there blizz! *shakes fist*) and they still remain among my favorite instances. Here we get the story of one of the branches of the Death Knights. We get to interact with Darion Morgraine a character who is at the center of an amazing selection of lore. Go ahead and give it a read http://www.wowwiki.com/Darion I’ll wait, it’s worth it.

When you’re done with all the quests you are treated to an amazing battle between the forces of Ebon Hold and those of Light’s Hope Chapel. When the dust settles you are welcomed to the site of Darion’s redemption and the cleansing of the Ashbringer. He breaks the bonds of the Lich King and swears to bring him down. The Death Knights are then required to purge the Ebon Hold of the forces loyal to the Lich King and then are sent to seek forgiveness with the leader of their faction before the game begins as normal.

What This Means

Even when Burning Crusade was released, both new races were given staring areas that you could skip if you wanted to. You didn’t have to learn anything about them really except that the Blood Elves were emo and the Dranaei were high and mighty hoof people.

Here you were forced to interact with and further along the lore of the game.  The entire starting package for the Death Knights set the bar very very high. Your introduced into a multi phase instanced area were layers are placed and removed to create a seamless environment.  You further along the plot of the entire game, you get to interact with Boss mobs in a way that is new and entertaining (Listening to Noth complain was hilarious) and you get to watch the story of the world change in a way it hasn’t in several years. I mean toppling the plot of Kil’jaden and besting Illidan was fun, but it doesn’t have quite the feel of watching the Lich King lose one of his greatest commanders or the Ashbringer placed in the hands of Tirion Fordring and cleansed or an entire new faction be born on the spot knowing that you’re going to be coming for Arthas in his place of power. Those just feel epic.

Any new hero class introduced into the game from now on will have large shoes to fill. Their introduction into the world will have to be something special and captivating as well as potentially innovative. This is arguably the most important point for a player with the class as often times it will be the deciding factor as to whether or not they keep playing the class. Personally I think the next best bet would be Keepers of the Grove and the Emerald Dream, because I can’t really think of anything else at the moment that would seem quite so epic or immersive.

I give Blizzard big kudos for doing the starting zone of Death Knights incredibly well.
What do you guys think? Did you enjoy the starting zone? Do you think any other hero class could make a comparable introduction?

Until next time,

Sig

Image courtesy of DC Comics