Monday, 24 May 2010

Ironic achievement

On my eighth kill of the non-heroic Black Knight he finally drops the Black Heart, so of course I roll Need. As of course do the dps DK and druid. A good time to roll 100 :)

Most of the group are happy for me, but not the death knight. I'm not sure it's me who's Needy...

I'm assuming the cross-realm bribery attempt is ignorant, rather than cynical. You can never be sure though!

How to enjoy PUG tanking

This isn't actually a general guide, as it only really works for someone in my position -
  • I'm fairly decently geared already
  • I'm not raiding, so Frost emblems aren't really of much interest to me*
Only sign up for specific dungeons
I need six items from the ICC dungeons and one from heroic Black Knight. So I don't run the original level 80 heroics, with their "gogogo" mentality", only the harder instances where people expect things to be a bit slower and more careful. So the difficulty comes from the mobs, not your group members.

Be humble
When I stuff up I admit it, and hopefully learn from it. And I'll at least listen to advise, even when it's not well presented. Not using Spell Reflect on Devourer of Souls? Doh! But I'm learning, and one day I'll be perfect...

Outgear at least one of your DPS
This certainly helps. It feels a bit wierd the first time you're the best geared in the group, but in a good way.

Confidence in your abilities
Partly it's reassuring to know that, once you have comparable gear to the DPS, you can comfortably hold threat. So all those times you were told you were a noob, it probably wasn't (always) true. It's also nice to know, when the healer randomly dies, you can probably string together some cooldowns and probably complete the fight.

All the stress and grief it's taken to get to this point really has been worth it, and tanking is fun again. I do still need to make more effort on reading up on tactics though, rather than find out the tricks afterwards.

* I have one item from Frost emblems, the chances are I'll never have enough emblems for a second item, so why endure the pain?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Sights I never saw at 70

The Grand Ballroom in Karazhan, with all the guests still dancing.

A great thing about being the tank is you're leading the way and making decisions about pulls (whether or not your group follow them is another matter...).

As a healer you're probably right at the back, and you often only see areas - especially in a raid - when they're partially cleared.

As an encore to Molten Core I thought I'd take a look at Karazhan, with the minor goal of getting the Mongoose enchant for Grulgok. Moroes was surprisingly easy, but I need to go there again with my priest and a tank (as the priest is 180 rep short of exhalted with the Violet Eye - another nagging lose end). I'm not sure which name to refer to my priest with at the moment, as I'm not sure whether to keep him as a dwarf, or faction change him to a Foresaken or a female blood elf.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

"Soloing" Molten Core

Not sure it quite counts - I dual-boxed the place with Grulnak and Grulgok - but I was still pretty pleased to get the achievement.

I'd been as far as wiping to Majordomo in classic WoW, so I'd never seen Ragnaros and this felt like a nagging loose end. WHU's Extreme Soloing guides had given me inspiration (and tactics for most of the fights) so I was pretty sure this should be doable with two fairly well geared 80s, although I had my doubts a few times.

Grulnak was spec'd 40/0/31 - restoration as far as Cleanse Spirit for decursing, then as much elemental dps as possible. Grulgok kept his normal tank spec, which probably wasn't optimal, but since I'm too poor at the moment to get him duel spec it was more convenient for general play.

My main worry was nature and fire immunity (since my only AoE is Thunder Clap, Fire Nova and Magma Totem), but it was a lot better than I expected, with only the fire elementals being flame immune and no nature immunity that I could see. Hence the core hound packs where killable, although some managed to respawn two or three times on me.

The only bosses to cause me problems were those where I needed to move the two characters simultaneously - so one wipe on Gehennas (where running out of AoE and decursing at the same time proved slightly hard), several on Baron Geddon and one on Majordomo Executus.

I was worried for a while that Geddon might not be doable for me, at least not without fire resist gear, as I was just taking too much damage. In the end I switched Grulnak to full resto spec, shielded up Grulgok then ran out of range before running back in to reshield and heal to full when necessary. Meanwhile with Grulgok I just needed to run out of the AoE, pay attention to which direction my healer was in after the disorientation of being blown up, and very slowly "dps" Geddon down.

With Majordomo the major factor was to pay enough attention to Grulnak to notice when he's been teleported into the lava pit, and when he has aggro from Majordomo. I failed on lava awareness the first time around but otherwise he was straight forward.

So I finally got to see Ragnaros in person. A very cool experience, even to my jaded eye.

Again I was worried that here was a boss I couldn't beat. With no real fire resistance Grulgok was punted far and wide, at best taking massive falling damage at worst landing in the lava ring and dying there. Eventually I managed to position Grulgok such that he would land on top of the ridge that Grulnak was using to prevent knockbacks on him, and hence take less damage but most importantly not end up swimming in lava.

Apparently the punt can be addressed by spamming Intercept, and hence never having to worry about where you land.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Need more rage^H^H^H^H attitude

This post was going to be titled "No more tanking for PUGs", but then I calmed down, and then got irritable.

I've had enough of PUGers like that overgeared ret paladin (who drops consecrate on the portals in VH before the mobs have even appeared) or worse that warlock (who's hurling abuse while waiting for the second boss in Occulus to be pulled, not realising or caring that the shadowpriest is still mounted having got tangled up with a patrol and I've gone back to help out).

I'm geared enough now that the dungeon finder thinks I'm ready to tank Forge of Souls heroic (it went nicely, thanks), so I no longer need to enter heroics in a slightly apologetic fashion on account of my gear.

It's time to make sure that I'm always on top of my own game, and then (ab)use the power given by the fact that few people want to tank PUGs (for some odd reason), and call out those manifestations of Gabe's theory.

If you want to run a heroic in a competent fashion, that's great. If you want to faceroll the Emblem piƱata with no consideration for the fact that those other pixels in your group are actually other people, then welcome to the vote kick.

As an aside, I'm not sure whether FoS went well because people know that the ICC heroics are hard and hence pay attention, or I just got lucky, but it was a welcome end to an otherwise not fun evening.

For those not geeky enough to get the title, that's computer literate humour apparently...

Monday, 19 April 2010

What role to fill in farm content?

Number one daughter woke me at 6am this morning, and being awake I had a couple of choices. I could make an early start on my day's heavy workload, or tank a quick dungeon in the hope of upgrading one of my shockingly poor tanking trinklets.

So I find myself in Azjol-Nerub. Boss one goes down like clockwork. As we get set for Hadronox I notice that the feral druid's dps is fairly low, especially given his Gearscore (4.8k). I wonder if he's phoning it in, or perhaps if the mage (2.3k Gearscore) has somehow managed to AoE his way to the top of the meter. Switch Vigilance to the mage, proceed to down Hadronox, only minorly irritated by the paladin healer pulling the add groups before I'm ready. Essence of Gossamer drops, which more than makes up any worries I have.

Then, on Anub'arak the adds get a bit out of control on the third burrow phase, I fail to tank an elite which eats the healer, we wipe.

Proceed to PUG wipe post-mortem. Do not pass Go, do not collect Emblems of Frost.

First thing first, I apologise for letting the healer die. The tone of the rest of the debate was actually fairly pleasant for a PUG - one of the dps blames the healer, the druid blames the dps (and me by implication) for letting the little adds get out of control, and not killing the elites fast enough (and mentions in passing that he's in PvP gear, hence the low damage for his Gearscore). I'm guessing we were too tired, and too close the end, for any real rancour. Either way no one quit, and we killed the boss fine on the second attempt.

I came away from this wondering, not for the first time recently, if I should give up on tanking altogether. In a more reflective mode, I'm wondering what role do I want to be in on farm content.

I've tried dps. While it has had it's fun moments for me, more often it's routine at best, and I find myself slipping into bad habits with one eye on the Recount numbers. And when a tank or healer drops, or isn't very good, I find myself wishing that I was in one of those key roles.

I enjoy healing, especially in non-farm raids. But on farm content it's very dull and it becomes tempting to be distinctly lax.

I enjoy tanking, when I'm not feeling pressured for speed or by trigger-happy dps. On the plus side, although it does become somewhat routine there's always the need to pay attention - whether because the dps outgear you hence you're struggling for threat, or through bad play or bad luck. Hence it's never as dull as the other roles can be.

My problem with tanking will always be the amount of preparation involved - both being geared and knowing the fights - especially given my relatively limited gaming time. And I'll never enjoy farm content - I'd far rather be switching to a new alt where smaller investments of time can make much greater difference in capability. But if I can keep this in perspective I'll probably keep tanking.

Monday, 12 April 2010

An Ode to Blackrock Depths

Or what vanilla WoW got right but WotLK gets wrong.

In my youth Blackrock Depths and Upper and Lower Blackrock Spire were pretty much the end game for casual players. I'm not sure whether that's the reason for the scope of BRD, or if in the days of 40 person raids Blizzard just had a bigger vision that's now been toned down into bite-sized chunks of content.

Whatever the reason, Blackrock is still the epitome to me of what fantasy RPGs should be about. It's a big, multi-layered instance, that actually feels like real architecture rather than just a complicated corridor. When was the last time you got lost in a TBC or WotLK instance (apart from Occulus that is)? When was the last time you actually had a choice of routes?

It was possibly too big, but groups would happily spend several hours in there - probably at least one person was aiming for their Molten Core attunement but others perhaps wanted to raid the Black Vault, or you'd be with a blacksmith that needed to use the anvil. On your first visit there you couldn't even get to the end - your first priority was to get your Shadowforge key. Did you need to start a fight in the bar to get to the latter parts of the instance, or did the succubus there owe you a favour and hence would arrange an exit for you?

It was an exploring, questing journey, not a race to the end boss to get your emblems then zone out.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Lowbie PUGs - fun and profit (sometimes)

Frequenty PUGing of level 80 heroics has made me a bit weary of the responsility of tanking or healing, so I've been dabbling with my lowbie dps-with-utility alts, namely Crennick (level 34 mage) and Adanadel (level 66) hunter.

The first thing you notice about lower level groups is that they're more friendly and helpful than the end game groups. Perhaps they're playing for fun (after all, if they were power levelling they'd probably not be there) rather than running the instance mainly for badges.

The other thing you notice is how different instances are at different levels. In Scarlet Monastry you only see two or three mobs per pull, so as long as you pull and don't charge in, and watch for patrols, you can't really go wrong. This is probably a good thing - the tank we had there was clearly DPSing with a two-hander and not really tanking at all. Since he'd handle perhaps two mobs at a time this let me play utility - sheeping the extra mob, nuking them off the healer or counterspelling a caster - so was more fun than pure dps, although you've got to feel sorry in general for groups that "tanks" like him end up in. Perhaps just he's queuing as a tank for a shorter queue, perhaps still learning - the only drawback to the latter is that nobody seemed to be pointing out his mistakes, so how's he going to learn? Perhaps the Dungeon Finder has taught us to be too deferential to tanks?

After Lich King and classic instances, Burning Crusade instances come as a bit of a shock. You forget how big some of the pulls are in those places, and how groups used to expect at least one - preferably two - of the DPS to have crowd control. The problem is these days everyone forgets in instances that they have CC abilities, so the tank gathers all the mobs up, DPS AoE them down - and quite often the tank dies.

As a result Adanadel's Mana-Tombs group got through three tanks (a druid, a DK and a warrior) and three healers (a druid, a shaman, then another druid) before eventually clearing the place. In a group with a mage and a hunter this really should never have been a problem, but it's rarely any good using crowd control once the tank is already dead! Lesson learned (or more correctly re-learned) but it just shows how lazy we've all become compared to the "bad old days" of BC's sometimes brutal instances.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Heroics no longer fun

Disclaimer - yes, I've installed Gearscore. But only for these reasons -
  • When I'm tanking, I'll have a quick idea of how badly the DPS outgear me
  • I'm curious to know what my own gearscores are (for Grulnak and Grulgok), so that I have some reference point for the numbers that are bandied about in chat.
I've never voted to kick anyone because their gear wasn't up to scratch, only ever based on their attitude.

Anyway, onto the real point of this post.

The other day I signed up to tank a random heroic, and as is often the case all of the other players significantly outgeared me. I'm not badly geared, having unbuffed 556 defense, 22.9k armour, 26.9k health and a combined dodge and parry of 37.8%. Along with 23 expertise and 156 hit rating I'd once have been considered pretty well geared for a heroic tank.

Because (I assume) of my gear level, the random was an "old" heroic - Utgarde Pinnacle - which we proceeded to faceroll through. There was a slight moment of tension when only myself and one other wanted to kill the first boss - the remainder wanted to get on and get their Frost emblems - but presumably because I was the tank they hung around for an extra few seconds and killed her too.

The sad thing is, this wasn't challenging, or even particularly fun. The run was messy and displayed all sorts of bad habits - but it didn't matter because of the gear levels involved. I wondered at times if a tank was even needed - perhaps just a plate geared DPS on the boss fights, perhaps not even that.

I usually enjoy - and occasionally get wiped - when healing the ICC heroics, but the "old" Wrath heroics are just pointless for overgeared players. I'm almost pining for the original WoW days, when raiders simply didn't run heroics.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Treading water

My wife and I have a new baby (now 3½ weeks old) so my raiding has come to a sudden halt, and WoW is very much on the back burner.

When I have had the chance to play it's been the occasional daily heroic to gather up those non-raid healing upgrades available to Grulnak, some heroic tanking and my ongoing alt angst.

In the last couple of days I've got the Arcane Loops of Anger and the Drape of the Violet Tower. A couple more emblems will net me the Band of the Invoker, which is my last clear Emblem of Triumph upgrade, and then time will tell whether I continue to gather Emblems of Frost for further upgrades, or when / if I can get back into raiding.

Having satisfied myself that Grulgok can competantly tank heroics (although definitely with room for improvement) my question is how much I want to tank heroics for PUGs, and how much effort I want to spend gearing up a second character to ICC 5-man levels.

And then of course there's the eternal alt question, which really boils down to whether I want / need a character who's more human / "generic fantasy" in motivation and appearance.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Why chose a shaman?

Alterac Volley did a piece giving a thumbnail description of the classes. I'm not quite sure who the audience were for this - experienced players probably have a pretty good idea of what the classes are about, and new players will get more value out of the Blizzard descriptions (whatever their well-publicised shortcomings) and are more likely to find them. Two things did strike me though about these descriptions:
  • they are applicable to levelling and PvP (where good players exploit the full abilities of their class) but not really to end-game raiding where players are far more pigeon-holed. In fact, very little prepares a new WoW player for what the end game has in store.
  • the shaman description is way off. Are shamans really this little understood?

So, with a view to my audience (primarily me, and my constant alt indecision, with a view to who my main should be for Cataclysm), here's my view of what makes a shaman.

We're a damage / healing hybrid, with the emphasis on the damage. Sort of a reverse priest.

We have a strong healing spec, especially in small groups - we're better group healers than a paladin, better tank / burst healers than a druid.

We have good damage specs, and no aggro dump... so we probably cause tanks more problems than any class other than dps warriors! Elemental is a bit boring, and doesn't scale that well at high gear levels, enhancement is melee and therefore Blizzard (and raid leaders to a lesser extent) hate them. Still, we can do good damage, in distinctive and flavourful ways.

But what keeps me coming back to my shaman?

Reincarnation - with credit to Babasyzygy the "method school of acting feign death". The single thing that I miss most when not on my shaman.

Wolves - Ghost Wolf, especially instant GW, is my second favourite shaman ability. It's odd that I don't really have much interest in druid and their forms, but Ghost Wolf always cheers me up. Spirit Wolves are also deeply cool.

Water Walking - especially now that we can ride on water too. I have fond memories of walking across Darrowmere Lake as a shortcut to Scholomance, and since then it's never got old.

Totems - I wouldn't say that I "like a class that uses totems to support your attack", and their lack of mobility is a bit of a pain, but I'm rather fond of my cleansing and tremour totems. It's just nice to be able to drop these and forget about poisons, disease and fear (to some extent). If dispelling becomes less spammy in Cataclysm their advantages may become less clear cut, but they're invaluable at the moment.

To me those are the highlights, and the first two especially means I'll struggle to ever demote Grulnak from being my main.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Heroic tank

Grulgok tanked his first heroic last night, in the company of a guild healer and ret paladin, and two hunters from the Dungeon Finder. Thankfully the dps were fairly well disciplined and so the run went fairly smoothly, but it will be a while before I'm ready to throw myself into random heroics with confidence.

I'm hoping that the Dungeon Finder will soon let us add cross-realm friends, as a counterpoint to the existing ignore functionality, as I'm starting to appreciate the level to which it's the dps who make a run good or bad - as long as the tank is up to a certain minimum standard of compentance and gear. And as a corollary feeling slightly guilty of some of the instances I've run as an elemental shaman with more of an eye on my dps output than on my threat.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Level 80 (in plate)

I dinged 80 on Grulgok just after midnight last night, and have spent the day trying to get to 535 defence to be uncrittable in heroics. Despite having items such as Hellscream's Handguards of Conquest which were just not available to those who first hit 80, it's no easy feet.

A big part of my trouble is that, not having tanked at 70, the trinklet scene is looking very sparse. I am cheating a bit of course, relying almost exclusively on Polar's Easy Pre-Naxx Tank Gear List and some AH and crafted items, so I am trying to shortcut a lot of the grinding of the level 80 normal instances.

Overall I'm rather enjoying the tanking experience, although I'm not sure Grulgok will ever become my raiding main as my low attendance would be too problematic. It's good to be out ahead of the group, planning the pulls and so on, rather than just following behind and throwing heals. And bizarrely the frenetic nature of warrior tanking (compared to what I understand to be the more measured, rhythmic pace of paladins or death knights), which in turn leads to a feeling of better control (or at least lots of options) is a big plus of the class contrary to my initial expectations.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Loving tanking

I've pretty much settled on levelling to 80 with Grulgok, my orc prot warrior, and retiring Shank to the warmth of Booty Bay.

Thanks to the Dungeon Finder and the daily random (I still can't quite believe that I can collect Emblems of Triumph without even being 80 yet) I've been spending a lot of time tanking. In fact I'm barely questing enough to line up my next dungeon quests and do the non-dungeon quests that give good tanking blues.

Currently I'm glad to be an orc, and a warrior rather than a death knight at that. The prot tanking style is very (perhaps too) active in style, compared to that for DKs. While I'm constantly struggling against the global cooldown I do find that it is more proactive, more controlled and more fun.

And being able to charge while in combat - or even charge at all - is as great as ever.

At the moment I'm finding I have nice AoE threat, and most runs go fairly smoothly, although there are still the occasional bad pulls or over-eager DPSers. I'm not sure how much of it is due to my increased confidence, and hence less feeling of stress and inclination to blame myself when things go badly, but that certainly can't hurt.

I need to enjoy it while it lasts though - once I get to 80 I'm expecting that life will suddenly get much harder as the average DPS gear level will step up considerably compared to my own.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A question of roleplaying

I'm still struggling to decide between my various alts, currently my plan is to concentrate on just two characters, a tank and a healer. I've narrowed the choice down to: shaman and warrior (orc), shaman and warrior (dwarf, once Cataclysm arrives) or priest and warrior (Forsaken).

Dwarves are probably my favourite race in the game, followed closely by orcs. Having recently written the Alliance off as bland I probably won't go down that route, otherwise it'd be very tempting. The main appeal with the undead is that they're human-like, and hence seem to be better catered for by Blizzard. I'm often struggling to work out what my motivation is for some quests as an orc, whereas for a human / dwarf / undead it's more obvious. The drawbacks of this plan are several: I don't like the posture of Shank, my undead warrior; with a priest instead of a shaman I'd really miss reincarnation, water walking, ghost wolf and other flavour spells; and I'm not fond of the embittered outlook of the Forsaken.

So, I'm currently tending towards an orcy future, but I need to get more into the right roleplaying frame of mind. Because even though I'm on a PvE server, I don't want to play a MMOG without the RP.