20 April 2007

AH: The Price is Right

Geez, I love the Auction House. I think I was already hooked on the game by the time I first visited Stormwind, but still the auction system was maybe the most surprising and intriguing thing about the game in my early play.

And it's been kind to me lately. Alamein has been successful of late, and has been able to build up her bank account to the dizzying heights above 10 gold. Ten gold! Of course that's pocket change for most everyone, but for her it's a major accomplishment and really makes a big difference. She's even maintained that with advancing her skinning to Artisan (4g 50s) in the last week.

What's driven her income to a new tax bracket? A couple of things. She has had some nice drops, including three or four nice swords. The first two auctioned handsomely -- at least by her standards -- bringing about 4g in total.

The third was a bit tougher. It looked like it should auction for about 1g 50s, but didn't sell in two auctions, even with the second listed at just over 1g. The AH deposit was 27s so it was painful to auction it repeatedly, and eventually she decided to cut her losses and send it to Gazala to disenchant. The fourth is still up at auction as we speak. We'll see what comes of it!

Alamein has also been auctioning a lot of materials. Most of her fighting in Darkshore and Ashenvale came against humanoids, so she's found herself with stacks of linen, wool, and silk. Of course that auctions rather nicely. And as she approaches 150 skill in Leatherworking, her medium leather is less important and she's auctioned some of that off too. There's not a lot of leather for auction on Shandris at the moment, so she can get pretty good prices for it. In fact, she can often do better by auctioning what she skins, and then buying undervalued leather that shows up at auction.

That highlights an interesting difference of opinion between Eric and I. I'm rather careful with my prices at the AH, considering not just the historical prices but also what the current supply looks like. If there's a glut of some item -- last night it was Hillman's Shoulders -- I won't auction my own until the supply decreases. And if I see something that's seriously underpriced that would hurt my own auction, I'll either wait, or buy the cheap goods myself to re-auction later. In short, I work to maximize my price.

Eric's not even close to interested in all that. He's much more likely to price his item so that it's stone-cold guaranteed to sell. Of course this can cut into his income quite a bit. But it's not that cut and dried. Consider the nice sword I couldn't auction. I had it priced at 1g 50s, then 1g 10s or something. Eric would have probably priced it at 90s -- and sold it. Meanwhile, I spent more than 50s on two unsuccessful auctions.

In the long run, I think I'll come out ahead financially. But how important is that? It is still a game, after all. If Eric isn't interested in thinking about his auction prices, then doing so feels more like work. Why bother? His reduced income just means he might have to spend more time mining or killing mobs -- the stuff he enjoys anyway.

But I don't mind that stuff, and I'm enjoying my comfortable income. And level 40 isn't that far away!

18 April 2007

Hard, Then Easy

A busy weekend of leveling for me. Eric and DK were gone for the weekend. So, while Cargarios and Wyrmm were quietly resting in the inn, Alamein and Firegrin set out to do some catching up.

We've had a bit of a level gap for a while. Last Thursday, Wyrmm stood at level 28, with Cargarios at 27, Alamein at 24, and Firegrin at 21. In some ways that's fine, but I know I felt some pressure to catch up. To be sure -- that was my own pressure. Nobody is pushing to get us to level quicker, and neither Eric nor DK were concerned. But I didn't want to feel like I was being 'run' through the levels by more powerful characters. With a 3- or 4-level gap, we weren't quite there... but I was a bit nervous. So with the higher-level characters quiet for a few days, it was a great chance to progress.

Firegrin and Alamein did most of their leveling separately, as we just didn't seem to be online at the same times. Alamein started by running a lot of the quests in Duskwood. She wasn't able to finish most of the quest lines -- they really do require groups -- but she was able to move most of them to the penultimate step, and that probably moved her through 3 levels or so. She then spent Sunday doing quests in Ashenvale to kick her up another level.

I believe Firegrin spent his time on Kalimdor, running quests in Darkshore, Ashenvale, and Stonetalon Peak. On Sunday night, they were both in Ashenvale, and finally joined up so Firegrin could help Alamein finish the Raene's Cleansing quest series. Alamein had been able to solo it up until facing Ran Bloodtooth. He wasn't all that tough, but fighting him (with his ranged attack) and his one Furbolg buddy was just a bit too much for Alamein on her own. So Firegrin came to help out, and together they made short work of the pair.

By Sunday night, Alamein had dinged 28, while Firegrin finished at 25. With both of us able to add four levels in a few days, that puts us all on (more) even footing, and closes the bulk of the gap. Which feels pretty good. With Cargarios and Wyrmm back in action on Monday, we were all able to spend some time running things together in various combinations, and it felt great to have everyone at roughly the same level. What was most interesting for me though was the immense difference between playing solo and with even a small group at the same level. The tactics are almost completely different, and the encounters have a completely different feel.

Alamein did quite well soloing, but that involved a lot of careful play. She's specced somewhere between Restoration and Balance, so her strengths are tied to her casting abilities. So a typical encounter would be: Wrath, Moonfire, Roots; Faerie Fire, Moonfire, then Cat Form and build Energy while waiting for the mob. When he's freed, he should be at about 50 to 60% health; it's pretty easy to take him down from there with the kitty form. If it's a caster or shooter, I might take him out exclusively with Cat Form. I can use these methods up to +1 level above my head. If it's a tougher mob, then I would recast Roots and whittle him down a bit with Wrath, Starfire, and/or Moonfire. Two mobs would be a bit tougher, but I can usually crowd control one with roots, or Hibernate if it's a beast. Failing that, I might resort to Bear form to tank better and maybe Swipe to create a bit of area-effect damage.

That strategy works pretty well for grinding mobs. I can usually make it through 3 or 4 before I have to heal and/or drink. I'll use bandages to avoid small heals, and Regrowth for bigger heals. But I have to be careful about pulls, and watch for wandering mobs who can spoil the fun. It's a very efficient method, but takes some planning and caution. I work hard to avoid fighting unnecessary mobs, since they'll make me spend more recovery time, so I make liberal use of Soothe Animal or Hibernate to avoid fights. It's a careful, steady style of play.

But as soon as I group up, it's a different story. First of all, the mobs are hugely easier with 2- or 3-on-1. Also, we can use specialized roles, combining my Roots with Firegrin's bow, for instance. And so play becomes much different. We typically don't have to take much care in the basic areas, and if we pull 4 or 5 same-level mobs, it's usually not a crisis. Plus I'm using maybe 50% less mana and losing 50% less health, so I don't have to drink or heal nearly as often. We'll pull random mobs to fight, knowing that it won't cost us much time. If I need to eat and drink, I can do it while my partners continue killing -- so I will even gain experience and maybe quest objectives. It's easy, and casual, and makes for a much more relaxed experience.

Both styles are fun; I wouldn't want to do either one exclusively. I enjoy the tactical challenges of soloing orange quests; killing the worgen in Darkshire did wonders for my Skinning skill, too. But sometimes you just want to treat it as a casual game, and not have to think so much.

11 April 2007

Deadmines, Take Two

That went a lot better.

There were two major differences. The biggest was that we had all leveled up. I don't think there were any major shifts -- any new skills that really saved our bacon -- but just having more health really can make for success. Plus, the extra levels meant that the trash mobs -- the Defias Strip Miners and the like -- were much less likely to aggro. So we were able to even skip some early parts of the run. Nothing significant, but still it helped us get to the difficult parts while we were still sharp.

Rhahk'Zor was completely anticlimactic, going down almost as easily as the 'normal' Defias elites scattered throughout. We were lucky in that Miner Johnston paid us a visit, and we cleared him out fairly quickly. We were somewhat more careful with Sneed and his shredder, making sure to clear out the random goblins in the room first, but in the end he went down easily also.

We were careful again in clearing out the goblins in the smelter, but here too we were helped by their reduced aggro radius. Gilnid himself went down quickly, and our confidence continued to build as we approached the ship. Mr. Smite was again an amusing fight. We had Cargarios tank him while the others focused on the assassins. This time, we had not quite taken out the second assassin when Smite did his warstomp, and that meant that Firegrin had to tank some damage while stunned. But ultimately it was nothing he couldn't handle, and Mr. Smite was taken down like the rest.

That left us ready to board the ship.

Again, no major challenges here. We were able to pull out Cookie and nuke him by himself. We worked our way up the ship, and then faced the top deck, where we had wiped before. This time, we had realized a much better pull strategy. We waited on the lower deck while Wyrmm stealthed up to the last few casters remaining. He struck and then ran back down to us -- forcing them to follow. This worked flawlessly, allowing us to clear them out without dealing with Captain Greenskin. We had some anxious moments pulling Greenskin, as we didn't want to deal with VanCleefe yet, but in the end it wasn't a problem. As with Mr. Smite, we had Cargarios tank Greenskin while Firegrin and Wyrmm first took down the caster and then the pirate.

That left VanCleefe. I've seen many different strategies for dealing with him. Ultimately we decided to all focus on VanCleefe and get him done first, then to deal with the other adds last. And it worked absolutely flawlessly. Cargarios was able to grab 100% of the aggro, and so Alamein had only him to heal while the others kept dealing damage. I threw several big heals onto him -- probably seven -- but he'd given me the Blessing of Salvation, so I never grabbed aggro. Through the whole fight with VanCleefe, I don't think I saw a single point of damage on either Firegrin or Wyrmm; in short, it was perfection. After he (finally) went down, we cleaned up the adds and then took stock. We were done!

The loot drops were OK. Rakh'zor dropped his worthless hammer. Sneed, Miner Johnson, Gilnid, and Mr. Smite all dropped mildly amusing greens. Greenskin dropped the [Emberstone Staff], which the team generously gave to Alamein. And VanCleefe dropped the [Cape of the Brotherhood], which Cargarios won on a roll.

So -- in short -- a good time, fairly easy, and a real cause for celebration. It's pretty satisfying to get our first instance closed out so emphatically.

What's next?

05 April 2007

Deadmines, Take One

We almost made it.

We were pumped and ready for our first venture into an instance. And for the most part it went very well. We had one manageable bad fight, and one unmanageable one... and that's what wiped us. At that point, we'd had respawns behind us, and it was late, so we called it a night and bailed out.

One of the key decisions we made was to rely on the Deadmines instance guide at WoWWiki. Many times I prefer to work 'blind' so that I can be surprised by things... but as we were completely new to instances I was eager for any help we could get. And it was incredibly valuable for some details.

We took a quick trip through the non-instance portion. We had one glitch when fighting down to Marissa du'Paige. Somehow Firegrin's piggie got distracted and ran around a ramp, aggroing a whole slew of mobs. So things were fairly frantic for a bit, but we just focused on our jobs and kept our cool, and the storm blew over.

We worked out a good rhythm at the beginning of the instance. I suppose we were slow, but we were careful in all our pulls and brought in just a few at a time. Wyrmm did a lot of excellent scouting, and he was able to coach us on who was where and when to make our pulls. The first boss, Rhahk'Zor, was relatively easy. We were good at pulling in everyone around him, so we fought him completely by himself. We continued on (didn't see Miner Johnson) and visited with Sneed. He was if anything easier, but of course took longer as we had to fight both his shredder and himself.

Gilnid was a little tougher, mostly because of the room shape. We were worried about our pulls, particularly of the goblins on the platform in the middle of the room. A couple times we had a lot to handle, particularly with the mechanical pets the goblins have. But we did well at it, and when the room was clear it was fairly easy to take down Gilnid.

Then things got interesting. Wyrmm was able to pick the lock on the doors, which kept things quiet, and we did fine with the pulls down most of the boardwalk. Mr. Smite was pretty funny, and made for a good fight. It helped (a lot!) to know about his new weapons and what was coming next, and we definitely used the strategy of killing off his minions first. He dropped Smite's Mighty Hammer, which we gave to Cargarios, as it was far superior to the hammer he had been using.

(And yes, I know the tank "should" be using a shield. Like I said, we're more interested in having fun than being as efficient as possible. Eric likes the big hammer? Eric uses the big hammer.)

So now, on to the ship. The tight quarters made things nerve-wracking. Our pulls went fine. We got lucky with Cookie; he was quick to flee but ran away from the rest of the mobs. We caught it fairly quickly anyway, but there was little worry about him bringing back friends.

We kept working our way up the ramps on the ship. From the guide, we knew to be wary of Captain Greenskin. We flagged him with the skull and were careful with all our pulls; I don't think we ever came close to aggro'ing him from the lower levels. We were very paranoid about the mobs on the last ramp, but we carefully pulled them when Greenskin was far away, and had them run down to us.

That went well, but then we knew we had a problem. There were two Squallshaper mages at the top of the ramp, right next to Greenskin's patrol path. There was no way to reach the top without aggro'ing them... and we didn't know how to pull the mages down -- they would just cast on us.

We decided to try to take them as quickly as possible. We timed it perfectly and had made a good effort, but then we saw Greenskin running in (with his minions) and knew we were in trouble. I was trying to keep up with the healing... when I suddenly found myself very dead.


After that, the wipe was on. Without a healer, Cargarios got tanked into oblivion quickly, and Wyrmm followed soon after. Firegrin hung on longest, but death was inevitable and he soon joined us in spirit form. The biggest problem with our party design is that we have no ability to wipe recover. We have two rezzers which is nice, but no shaman to self-rez and no warlock to soulstone someone. And one of our rezzers is also our tank -- so no ability to disengage and flee. in other words, dead is dead.

We ran to the instance and popped in together, to see the other bit of bad news. Since we had been slow and methodical in moving through the instance, all the trash mobs had respawned. It was going to take another hour (at least) to work our way back to the ship. It was already 11:00PM and some of us needed to get up early to go to work. So we hearthed out and called it a night.

It's frustrating to be so close and to miss our goal. But we did well, and I think we have a strategy to deal with those pesky mages next time. We did get some nice items from the drops, and about a level's worth of experience. And you know what? Getting wiped just shows us that these things are challenging... which is sort of the point. I know that there are players out there who know much more than us, who could take even our characters and clean out the Deadmines in an hour or two. But efficiency really isn't the point, at least for us. We had to use a lot of creativity to plan for and complete our fights, and had a lot of fun along the way. Nobody lost their cool or got angry with the whole thing. And that tells me we're doing something right.

04 April 2007

Bring me the head of Edwin VanCleef!

Danny had joined us a bit late, so we had already completed much of the Defias Brotherhood quest line. So we spent some time Friday night to get him up to the same point as the rest of us. It was kind of fun to run amok killing Defias trappers, smugglers, pillagers, looters, pathfinders, highwaymen, and knuckledusters. With three of us over level 20, it was trivial to take them one at a time, at least until Moonbrook, so we set Loot to Free-for-all and spread out a bit, engaging in a bit of Defias genocide. We were a bit more careful in Moonbrook but it was still easy enough; it was rather nice to go into the inn and take everyone down without any deaths, and we were rather lucky in finding the messenger without waiting too long.

Still, the whole process took a few hours, and Eric was ready to log out when we finished. DK and I helped Danny get to Redridge to complete that (annoying) errand, and then we logged out.

So by Sunday we were all caught up, and ready to escort the traitor to Moonbrook. With four of us it was never going to be a problem, but we got lucky in that several players were farming the Defias, so the escort was trivially easy.

And then we were in front of the Deadmines entrance. Since we were there -- and had time -- we decided to jump in and check it out.

This was new territory for us. I had taken a level-24 warlock in once before, but even soloing the entrance (non-instance) area is tough, so I hadn't gone in very deep. We ended up wandering around the entrance for quite a while. Killing the Defias and their miners was pretty easy, but we had a tough time with the undead miners and wiped the party at one point. It is difficult to manage the large pull that we get at the back of the room, and we didn't handle it with four of us.

A warrior showed up, so we added him to the party and went back; that made life much easier. Frankly, we're not very good at managing difficult group work, and in particular handling aggro is a challenge. Part of that is due to our paladin serving as our tank, but the rest of us also don't know much about controlling aggro in a fight. DK's rogue is pretty good at managing on his own, but Danny's hunter struggles to keep mobs away, and I have a tendency to pull in mobs with my druid's heals.

So, in other words, having a warrior made life easier, but also was probably a bit weird for him. We also have a tendency to just roll Need on all the loot that pops up, since we're all friends and good at passing around good items to whoever can use it. I hope he was OK with it. We had to break up the party anyway, but at least we were able to wipe out the undead miners first.

So we left off there. We've spent the last two nights on our own, mopping up other quests, getting new gear, leveling up professions, and generally cleaning ourselves up. But tonight we're planning our first run into the instance itself. I'm really curious to see how we do. As I said, we're not terribly skilled at group dynamics. Our party makeup (rogue, paladin, druid, hunter) is a bit tricky, though theoretically well-balanced. And we'll be going in with a four-man group. But we're also a bit higher in level than usual for Deadmines (23, 21, 21, and 19), and we've developed a good group dynamic.

And the best part about that group dynamic? We'll have fun no matter what. We've been able to laugh at ourselves for doing stupid stuff or just getting overwhelmed; I fully expect that a) it will happen tonight and b) we'll be able to see the humor.

Hope I'm right!

02 April 2007

Westfall Invasion

So there we were...

The four of us* spent Friday evening wandering up and down Longshore and the Gold Coast in Westfall, completing quests in the area and generally beating up on various poor murlocs. It was relatively amusing though not to challenging; we used the time to get used to group dynamics and on dealing with various mob situations (with a caster; with several casters; with several pets, and so forth).

As we came towards the end of the evening, we started to see several messages come across chat:

[3. Local Defense]: Westfall is under attack!
[3. Local Defense]: Sentinel Hill is under attack!
It's not unusual to find a Hordie or two going after Westfall, so we weren't too shocked. Still, there were quite a few of the messages, so we were curious to see what was going on.

Well, it was more than the usual three or five hunters making a nuisance. This was a full-on assault. Somewhere between 25 and 40 Horde had taken over Sentinel Hill. The crowd was composed of all races and classes; it was a milling mob. We couldn't see what levels anyone was, but they were obviously up there. All the killable NPCs were killed as soon as they spawned -- and that included Thor, the gryphon-master. It was impressive to see the massed Horde mob taking on Thor and his twin Enraged Gryphons.

This is actually pretty annoying, since that removes any way for players to easily exist the zone, save for a longish run to Stormwind. But I think Blizzard has taken a good approach with this. If the Alliance is going to just let the Horde run rampant in Alliance territory, they should pay a price. The gryphon masters and the enraged gryphons aren't pushovers, and it takes a lot to kill them. But it can be done, and it happened multiple times on the night.

I can only imagine what this is like on a PvP server. As it was, Eric's Draenei paladin, Cargarios, was the only one of us who had the guts to flag PvP and charge in. He knew what the result would be, but thought it would be a hoot. There weren't that many PvP characters around, so when he flagged, he got a lot of attention. What he didn't realize was the 5-min timeout on unflagging PvP; the repeated deaths started to get a bit annoying for him.

He had another key misconception: that the inns were safe zones. He finally was able to run into the inn without dying, only to get hit by a last shot from a hunter's gun. I must say, Draenei die very impressively.

Stormwind was either unable or unwilling to mount an effective response. We watched for a while, in the hopes that a huge melee would erupt, but nothing was forthcoming. So, we left -- I forget whether we ran back or waited for Thor to live for long enough to fly us home.

It was fun, in a way. But I'll keep this in mind as my characters level up. There will come a time when I'll repay the favor...

*We've added a fourth player to our team -- Danny. He's currently playing a night-elf hunter named Firegrin. He started a bit behind us, so he's slowly leveling up to catch us.