30 May 2007

Earn Big $$ Now!

With a long weekend, I spent plenty of time in Azeroth. There was plenty to do and a lot of interesting events. For instance, I left my guild, not for any single reason, but just because it wasn't quite clicking for me. They seem like good guys, and I wish them well in their future activities.

I did accomplish some nice goals. Alamein was able to level from 40 to 43 over the weekend, in great part to grinding turtles for their scales, in order to complete the Wild Leather quests. She was able to finish those too, which got her skinning and leatherworking up quite a bit.

But I'd have to say that the focus was to make money. And -- no surprise -- that was driven by reaching level 40. Now, Alamein didn't really have a burning need for a mount. As a druid, she has the Cheetah Form (Travel Form, really). That gives her a 40% speed increase, while a standard mount jacks it up to 60%. So a mount is nice, for sure, but hardly mandatory. But still I really wanted to get Alamein past that hurdle. I knew I'd be better off financially if I could just get the mount out of the way and then figure out what comes next economically.

Starting on Thursday night, Alamein had about 35 or 40 gold in her pocket. Amazingly enough, by Sunday night she was up to 135 gold. It was astounding to me that she could make so much so quickly, as she'd never broken 45 gold before. And this included reaching level 42, with perhaps 10 gold in training costs.

So how did she make 100 gold in such a short time? I was shocked myself, but when I look back, it was a combination of good planning and luck. In fact, it was right about 50% planned and 50% luck. Working from memory, here's an approximate breakdown:

Crafted Items: 25 Gold
Based on what I've read, I wasn't expecting to make a lot of money from leatherworking. So I've been surprised to actually make a good bit of cash from it. The key for me has been to watch for cheap materials at auction. For example, [Shadowskin Gloves] require two black pearls, which have been going for about a gold each on Shandris. But, by watching the auctions closely, I've been able to find several black pearls for an average somewhere near 40 or 50 silver. I've always got a list of the materials I'm looking for -- usually quite a while before I'm actually making the item. This means I can make a pretty good profit on what I make.

Over the weekend, I sold the gloves, the [Gem-Studded Leather Belt], the [Wolfshead Helm], and a few other items. In all, I think that added up to about 25 gold, which contributes to the "planned" category.

Dropped Items: 40 gold
The first bit of luck came on Thursday night. Alamein was wandering through Stranglethorn Vale, working to close out the Skullsplitter Tusks quest. Towards the end of the night, she killed a troll and found a [Speedsteel Rapier] waiting for her. That's a pretty good sword in itself, and it has the blue-item cachet and a glowing enchant. Moreover, there's just not a lot of good weapons in the 35 to 45 level range. All that translates into a good auction value. (It also means I was glad I couldn't wield it; the temptation would have been great.) As it happened, I was able to auction it for about 30 gold. So, 30 gold to luck.

During the weekend, I had a few other decent drops. Not too much that I remember, other than a [Headstriker Sword of Power]. That sold for about 5 gold, and the other drops for about 5 more. About what I should expect for the fighting I did, I think, so I'll add that 10 gold to the planning column.

Reselling Items: 35 gold
There's one source for this income: Bottomscanner. I hadn't used it before this weekend. But I knew I'd need an aggressive strategy to make money, and this seemed like a good approach.

On the whole, it worked as expected. I found some good deals on random things, mostly materials like Essence of Fire or Core of Earth, or consumables like armor kits. I was able to turn those around and auction them, generally for about a 50% profit. A few things took a while to auction but eventually I think everything sold except for one pair of green leather pants, which I eventually sent to my alt Gazala for disenchanting. (Moral: crafting materials and consumables are generally less risky.)

I did have one huge success though. Early on, Bottomscanner spotted an auction for [Schematic: Sniper Scope]. I don't have a high-level engineer, so I didn't know anything about that schematic. But I did know one thing: Auctioneer had seen it a few times at auction for around 20 gold, and it was being offered for a buyout of 75 silver. Needless to say, I bought it immediately.

My 'general' reselling netted me about 15 gold, which I put against the planned income; it was about what I expected. The schematic auctioned for around 20 gold, which I mark down to luck.

There you have it: in the end, it was half luck and half planned. I'm sure there are better ways to make a quick 100 gold, but this worked out well for me. And it's worth noting that the 'luck' was seeded by some solid plans. I knew that I could get some good drops in Stranglethorn, and I knew that Bottomscanner might find some good deals for me.

And in the end? Alamein traveled to Darnassus and introduced herself to a charming black Nightsaber, so she's now traveling around in style. And — of course — she'll continue to look for good auction deals.

21 May 2007

End of the Great Hold

Lots of different things going on this weekend. We knew this would probably be the last weekend of holding at 39, with some hope that Firegrin would level up 40 with the rest of us. So that meant either battleground, crafting, or alts for the rest of us. For Alamein, I was most interested to get her the [Highlander's Lizardhide Boots] as a battleground reward.

Friday night then was a battleground night for us. I think I did about five battles, at some times with our whole crowd. And, for the first time, I was on a winning team in the BG. It was quite close — I believe the Horde had about 1850 points when we crested 2000 — but fairly solid for that. The first half of the match was pretty balanced, with both sides holding 2 nodes and fighting over a third here or there. The second half saw the Alliance grab that third node, and mount assaults on others. So we spent a lot of time at either 3-1 or 3-2. So that gave us a solid lead that we nicely held on to.

I had a rather good game there, as did quite a few people. I think I spent most of the time near the lumber mill, with one or two others. (I did write down one name, I'll look it up later in the day. But I do remember his "For FRODO!" yells.) Some of the early attacks got up near the mill itself, but most of the second half was fought near the crossroads below. The sight lines from the lumber mill are great, and allow you to see what's going on at the blacksmith and the farm. It's nice when you're able to control the approaches rather than fighting desperate battles at the node itself.

That battle also marked the end of the Great Hold. I had flown to Refuge Point to buy rations, and joined the group there. Wyrmm happened to notice that he'd received a quest there, which he could complete, and those few points pushed him over 40. I've never heard someone so disappointed to ding a level. Seeing Wyrmm jump up pushed Eric over the edge, so he brought Cargarios to 40 on Saturday. Then last night, I took Alamein up to 40. Wyrmm's already at 41. Firegrin is still at 37, so he didn't make it all the way. But at least it's better than the 5-level gap we had before.

Last night I played two more Arathi Basin battles to get my my 20 honor marks for the boots. And these were the complete opposite spectrum; I've never played in such lopsided battles. The Alliance side were normal pick-up groups; I'm not sure if the Horde were a premade team or not but they were definitely much more aware of what they needed to do. It was sad how quickly they were able to bottle the Alliance up at the stables, and before long they were fighting us right in the graveyard of Trollbane Hall. When one team has all five nodes, well, the game finishes very quickly. The second game went even quicker, mostly because I joined in halfway through. I suspect that many of the Alliance had bailed out. It was 3-2 when I joined but complete chaos for the Alliance, and once again we were fighting out of our graveyard. A rather disheartening experience.

Still, I got my last two marks and flew to Refuge Point to buy the boots. Sweet!

The other thing I did on Sunday was pick up the Wild Leatherworking quests. The quests themselves are easy enough, but the hard part is getting materials. I think it comes to 64 thick leather, which is a lot of grinding, not to mention the 22 turtle scales needed. I took Alamein to Dustwallow Marsh last night to hunt for the turtles; it was while grinding them that she dinged 40. She's still short on both scales and leather, so it's going to take a little while.

A fun weekend though, with promises of more to come. I believe a trip to Razorfen Downs is in order...

17 May 2007

A tale of two alts

The Great Hold continues. Wyrmm, Cargarios, and Alamein are now standing on level 39. Firegrin is at 36, and only a few bars from 37 if I remember correctly. So the rest of us will continue to hold at 39 for now -- probably through the weekend I would imagine.

Part of the plan was to play a good amount of battleground games. I'd love to get another 10 games for Alamein, so that she can get a nice pair of boots. But last night I was mellow enough that I didn't want to get fired up in PvP. So instead, I played an alt for the evening.

I love rolling other characters, so I have a ton of alts. I have 8 on Shandris alone, and only one of those is Horde. Now, some of those have become redundant in various ways. I had rolled a Draenei shaman, but since Eric's rolled one of those too, I'll probably let her languish. Another is a human paladin who wasn't going anywhere; I've converted her into an auction house alt for now.

Right now there are two alts who I'm spending some time with. Both are female gnomes. The oldest -- actually my first character on Shandris -- is Sali. She's a mage, currently at level 19. I'll admit that I'm not terribly skilled at playing a mage right now. The options are quite a bit different, and I'm not deeply familiar with advantages and disadvantages of all her spells. But still she's a lot of fun. She's an engineer, which makes for a very different crafting experience, with some fun and amusing gear. She is specced for Fire, which is a little less common, but I like the idea of taking a different approach from most. Somehow I've built a whole personality and backstory around her, which leads me to mix in a bit of roleplaying. Nobody else probably sees it or cares, since Shandris isn't an RP realm, but it's still fun for me. She hasn't been questing in quite a while, but I've taken her into Warsong Gulch several times and she's been amusing to play there.

The other alt who I've spent time with is Gazala, my gnomish rogue, currently at level 13. She's an enchanter, which is very different from the usual professions I've engaged in. She has a whole collection of dusts and essences and shards, as several characters have sent her things to disenchant. She's also an herbalist, as a way to make money (and oh yeah, to find Swiftthistle too). I've also built up a backstory for her, so again I have the roleplaying aspect to enjoy.

I spent some time with Gazala last night. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to play a rogue. The ability to stealth around is both useful and fun, and her damage-dealing makes for a real advantage against higher-level mobs. Last night, she soloed Hogger at level 12 without too much trouble. Her first attempt was a failure, mostly because a wandering bear joined in the fight. But the second time she did quite well; it did take a healing potion but with that it wasn't even close. I'm unsure whether she'll stay near Stormwind or quest near Ironforge instead, but either way I think I will put some time into leveling her up.

15 May 2007

The Leather Scene

Last night was quiet for me. I only completed one quest, "The Green Hills of Stanglethorn". It's different, which is nice; this is the quest where you have to collect the missing pages of the book from random mob drops around the zone. I wonder if the designers anticipated how this really works: people sell the pages at the AH. I believe I bought all but one page at AH, probably spending about 1 gold in the process. If I were so inclined, I could auction the thick leather armor kits and still make a profit -- even aside from the experience. At any rate, it was nice to finish that off and free up bag space!

The rest of my time I worked on leatherworking. As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to make a set of armor for grinding in cat form. Alamein is still specced for Restoration (yes, that mess is a topic for future discussion) and doesn't plan to switch to Feral. The caster/healer hybrid is pretty handy; I typically act as caster/healer for small questing groups and then as a pure healer for instances.

But that leaves soloing. As long as she's outside, Alamein can grind some difficult mobs, thanks to Entangling Roots and self-healing. But that's not ideal for everything. If she's indoors, she doesn't have Roots to lock down the mob. Perhaps more importantly, grinding as a caster is a bit slow this way. Druids don't have huge nuke spells, so a mob may require a few cycles of Moonfire-Roots-Starfire-Wrath-repeat. That takes time; it also burns mana, so she has to drink after every fight or two. It's a successful but slow approach.

There is a shortcut: cat form. When fighting mobs just a bit lower in level, she can grind very efficiently that way. The key is whether she can fight two or three mobs before needing to heal; if she can do that, then she kills maybe twice as fast as she could with spells. And that's wearing caster gear. With some additional armor, and some +agility/+stamina gear, she could be even more efficient.

Plus, cat form is fun!

So that gave me a desire to make some of that fun rogue-style armor. Fortunately I was able to find some cheap thick leather on auction to make it possible. Here's what she made:

Not a bad set of fighting gear, though there are a few pieces missing. She doesn't have any good boot or glove patterns. So she kept her [Infiltrator Gloves of the Eagle] and bought [Huntsman's Boots] of some sort at auction. (EDIT: actually they were [Insignia Boots].) For pants, she already has the [Triprunner Dungarees] which are perfect.

That completes that set. None of these items are terribly expensive in materials other than the leather -- she only had to buy bolts of silk at auction. So she made a few extras of each to sell. And that got her skill up to 215 -- so she could also make her coveted [Big Voodoo Robe]. That will help her caster gear as well, easily replacing the Guardian Armor she's been using for some time. So, not a bad night's work of leathercrafting.

I'm curious how much the melee gear will improve Alamein's melee capability, so I'll probably try that tonight. With some Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch time coming up, I'll have to decide how I want to fight in PvP. I suspect she'll use some combination of gear to give her flexibility, and might fight more in cat form than she has before. Should be fun!

14 May 2007

Weekend Update

I don't have any major insights to offer today. I didn't play as much this weekend, as real life was quite busy instead. So I'll just feature a few odds and ends.

39 and Holding
Last week, we decided on a leveling plan. Our hunter friend Firegrin has been a consistent 5 or so levels behind the rest of us. He just got started later, and it's hard to catch up when you're questing with the players you're trying to catch. Not to mention that he's the only one of us with a child!

So, DK proposed that we advance to level 39 and then hold. That's mostly to get Firegrin up to equal level with the rest of us; it also allows us to spend some time in the battlegrounds without sacrificing levels. So far, it's working. Wyrmm and Cargarios are holding at 39, while Alamein is at 38, just a couple bars from 39. Firegrin has progressed rapidly to 35, so it's not like we'll be waiting long.

Alamein has progressed mostly through running quests in Desolace; now she's starting on Stranglethorn Vale as well. These have proven to be solid places to move up quickly; the only challenge is to stop at 39.

Guild Movement
As I've mentioned, three of us (all save Wyrmm) were in the same guild. I've been conflicted about it for a while, but amusingly it was Cargarios who decided to /gquit first. He's now currently unguilded, while Firegrin and Alamein are still members. I'm not in a rush to quit but I'll be interested to see how things move. At this point, I'm not getting a lot of value out of the experience, so we'll see what happens.

I'd had one semi-annoying experience with a guildie. He'd pinged me, wanting help transfering items between characters. I agreed, and spent a half-out shuttling back and forth between Stormwind and Ironforge. He didn't tip or anything, which I really didn't expect from a guild mate. But I was still annoyed. When we completed the last trade, he just ran away. I sent a /t back of "are you finished?" and got a response of "yep". I'm not a terribly sensitive guy, but at least a "thank you" would be a bare minimum for using up a half-hour of my gaming time.

So I was amused to see him in the Auction House a couple days later... as a member of a different guild. He said hello so we chatted for a bit. He claimed he'd been "trying out" his friend's guild. While I was watching, he /gquit and asked to be re-added to my guild. Oddly, I couldn't do it. I could select the option but he never saw anything. Not sure what the story was there... but frankly I'm not too disappointed.

I've grown a bit frustrated with my leatherworking. Alamein's skill is up to 208 and she's hit a wall. There are some key patterns that she can't buy or find, like the Swift Boots. But more importantly, she can't find enough thick leather. With mobs up to 40 or so -- about what she can comfortably farm -- thick leather still seems to be a rare drop. So I can't collect enough leather to make a significant number of items. And there's just not enough profit in farming heavy leather to convert it -- I'd be better off auctioning it and buying thick leather.

Which is all fine, except that I'd prefer to do the work myself. And that just won't happen. Now that I'm at 38, I'd love to wear the Big Voodoo Robe, but I stubbornly refuse to buy it at auction. I want to have it say on the label... and that's going to take a bit of time.

I do think though that I'm going to make a set of +agility/+stamina armor for Alamein. I don't want to respec; she'll stay a caster/healer druid. But for grinding mobs -- especially shooters and casters who aren't really rootable -- she can do much better in cat form. Now if I can just figure out how to get the bag space to hold the extra armor...

08 May 2007

Guilded Cage

Alamein joined a guild. I'd been looking for one for a while, and the opportunity presented itself. It's tough to know how to choose one. How do you know how the guild works? It's probably different if you're rapidly approaching the upper levels, or if you're hoping to join one of the premiere raiding guilds on your Realm. But for a casual, mid-level player, what's the right choice?

Of course, it starts with knowing what you're looking for. I'm never going to be a hardcore anything in WoW, so that rules the biggest, most aggressive guilds out. I'd really like a guild where I can enjoy spending time with the members. Helping one another out is crucial. But foremost, I'd like an enjoyable, mature, relaxed, humorous group of people. Finding that can be difficult, and I'm convinced the only way to learn for sure is to try a guild for a while and see what happens.

I'll admit to one bias: I can't join a guild if I don't like the name. Some are just silly; there's one big, interesting guild named "WoW The Musical." They're probably a fine guild but I'm just enough of a roleplayer that I can't abide by that. I also don't like the pseudo-clever names ("Unreal Reality"). And there are plenty of smaller guilds that have much worse names; I can remember one I've seen named "guild name here" or something like that. Sigh. Shallow of me, I know, but if that name will be beneath my own name, I want it to be respectable.

There were a few guilds I was casually checking out, like "Carpe Caseum" (silly, but latin, so it's cool) and "Neutralist Order". But then an invite came from "THE REPUBLIC UNION". The names not bad (if you can forgive the SHOUTING) but more importantly, Cargarios had joined the guild some time back. I know things had been mostly good for him, so I signed up. I believe that was about a week ago.

Since then? It's been OK. I have yet to ask for or receive any help. A couple times, I've gone over to help out with another group members' work, in both cases a group led by an officer. The first time was interesting. I'm not sure of the area, but it involves hunting naga underwater near a shipwreck. He sent a note asking for help, and for us to pick up water breathing pots at the AH. Cargarios and I responded, got the pots, and came to lend a hand. It wasn't too bad, and the officer gave me a golden dragonhawk pet as a thank you (as well as paying for the pots). Nice, and I felt like my time was appreciated anyway.

The second time was this weekend, for a group that wanted to run Stromgarde Keep. That was... interesting. The same officer asked for help (via a tell, not guild chat) as he was looking for a healer. I was in Kalimdor at the time, but he said "no problem, I'll hire a warlock to summon you." Okaaaay. So I joined up. We had a 5-man, with four guildies (me, a newly-joined warrior, and two hunters) as well as the warlock, who decided to stick around. But then he ran into a few others (both our guild and others) who wanted to run it, so the officer jumped out and started another group. (Fortunately with a priest -- so I'm not trying to heal 7 on my own.) So now we have two four-mans trying to run our way through the keep.

The chaos was inevitable. No way to coordinate pulls or to get organized at all. Sheer numbers helped in most places, but at one point we somehow aggro'd a building's worth of ogres -- maybe six or seven. That was a wipe. And then we kept going.

The worst part though was that the officer's group was doing all the pulling. We'd finish a battle and they would instantly (and sometimes rashly) pull again. That meant that are party was getting zero loot or exp. Not cool. The kicker was when they grabbed two chests before we had a chance. The first one was maybe OK, but by the second one it feels like we're getting ninja'd.

So our smaller team decided to split off. The new-member warrior seemed to know her stuff well, and we went with her lead. That was a lot more effective, and at least we were getting exp and loot. I didn't have many quests in the area (we had completed everything that was shareable) so I was just trying to help out. That was OK. But then our guild officer reconnected with us, and wanted to do a quest that took us up a tower. No fault of his, but that just sucked; twice we had a crowd of ogres show up and take us out. (The two hunters could feign death and escape.) It was really late so on the second death, I said that I had to go to sleep, and rezzed at the spirit healer.

So how do I feel? The guild officer (who I'm intentionally not naming) seems like a decent enough guy. But he does have a tendency to give orders rather than ask questions, which can rub the wrong way. And this marks the second time in a week when he's requested me to help him with quests that I don't have. In this case, I gave up an evening of leveling (which would have got me halfway to 38, maybe) in order to get perhaps 2000xp and 90 silver's worth of loot. A bit disappointing.

The guild has potential, though right now it's dominated by a few strong personalities. It needs to become more of a group thing, or it won't quite work. We'll see how it goes.

07 May 2007

Gnomer, Again

Well we finished up Gnomeregan Thursday night. It was an interesting combination -- still fairly difficult, but also somewhat anticlimactic.

We'd been far enough in before that we had the backdoor key. So that saved us some time. I don't remember anything of note in the first several battles. Most of the early to mid fights are against gangs of gnomes.

Our aggro management and crowd control isn't great. That's mostly a problem for the hunter Firegrin and for Alamein as healer. With a crowd, we'll usually have Wyrmm sap one and then Firegrin pull the next. Depending on the mobs, we'll either focus on one and take it down quickly, or maybe split them up, with Alamein focusing on healing.

That's the plan. In reality, we usually have some challenges with bigger groups. The first is getting Firegrin to shed aggro to Cargarios. So often we'll have mobs jumping out to get a run at the hunter, which puts him into melee and removes his more-useful bow attacks. Meanwhile, I'm having to heal -- at least Cargarios, and often Firegrin too. (Wyrmm is either fighting the same target as Cargarios, or else doing a good job stunlocking his opponent; either way he usually avoids taking much damage.) So as I drop these heals onto the others, I will usually pull aggro and end up with the annoying adds ganging up on me.

But for most of Gnomeregan, it's not a problem. The wrench-throwing gnomes are a pain but I was able to complete my heals without taking too much damage myself, so I could be patient and wait for the help to come. (Having points in Nature's Focus helps too.) So there were a few eventful moments, but nothing too troubling for much of the instance.

Then we got to the last hallway, the one with the X-21 Arcane Nullifiers. This was where we had wiped before, and we knew it was a challenge. This time we knew about the nullifiers, about the two levels of the hall, and about the dark iron dwarves' land mines. So at least we knew what was up. We did well for the most part. Taking down two mobs wasn't too tough. We had to be careful -- didn't want to aggro the mobs on the lower level -- but in the event we were able to work our way downward.

The challenge came when we were about 3/4 down the hall, and saw a group of 6 or so dark iron dwarves. This we knew would be tough. They hit hard, last long, and have the annoying mines. Six of them were going to be tough. And so they were. We started as best we could. Wyrmm sapped one and then we started, with Wyrmm and Firegrin taking one and Cargarios soloing another. I watched for heals and mines, trying to take out the mines before they armed. It was the best plan we could identify.

Unfortunately it still left three dwarves unaccounted for. We were OK until the damage started to add up and I started to heal. Cargarios felt the brunt of it, as expected. I did my best to stealth him with smaller heals but eventually it built up and a couple came after me. That sucked because I couldn't just wait these guys out. They did a lot of damage and quickly I had to choose between healing myself and healing Carg. At one point, I lost him, but I was able to get off a battlefield rez with Rebirth and get him on his feet again... but by that time I was low myself, almost out of mana, with potions on cooldown... in short I had no cards left to play. I think I went out first with Cargarios close behind. Wyrmm didn't last long either, though Firegrin was able to Feign Death and escape. But without a means for him to rez us, we were effectively wiped.

But we were determined to finish this one off, so back to the instance we came. The real kicker was that we couldn't come in the back door as ghosts. Pity, that. So we had to go the long way 'round and fight ourselves back to where Firegrin was hanging out. It worked well enough, though it took about a half-hour, methodically taking out mob clusters down the halls. Eventually we got back together, fortunately before we had any respawns. So this time we only had three dwarves to deal with, which wasn't too bad.

By contrast, the final boss was a cakewalk. Mekgineer Thermaplugg is pretty amusing, but not too tough for us to beat. We put Firegrin on bomb duty while Cargarios and Wyrmm took down the big guy. I helped out by Moonfiring bombs and of course healing. He went down without too much fuss. I think maybe Firegrin died -- too many bombs or something -- but that was right at the end and not much of a problem. Cargarios rezzed him and then we grabbed the loot and hearthed home.

So despite the setbacks, not too bad in the end. Gnomeregan was the first tough instance we'd had since Deadmines. But it just wasn't as engaging. The ambiance tries too hard to be both funny and menacing. It should be one or the other; the hybrid just doesn't come off. Some of the mobs are suitably challenging and interesting... but you have to kill hordes of boring gnomes and troggs to get to them. And the layout is confusing and annoying without being attractive. So in the end, not as much fun as we might have hoped.

We'll probably go back in at some point to run some of the early quests we skipped, and to clean up our final few grime-encrusted objects. But for now, I guess we'll have to look ahead to our next instance run.

03 May 2007

A Trip to Arathi Basin

Run to the gate. Watch the other Allies come in. Buff up everyone with Mark of the Wild. Start to drink. Notice that I forgot to buff myself. Also put on Omen of Clarity. Stand, buff, and drink again.

30 seconds.

Watch /bg channel for a plan. See no plan. "/bg strategy?" Wait. Finally see a message: "G1 to mine, G2 stable, G3 LM, HOLD YOUR POSITION, STAY WITH YOUR GROUP and we can win this thing!!!" (Yeah, that'll happen.) Type "g1 mine, check".

Horn sounds and gate opens. Pop into cheetah form and run for mine. Take wrong turn and start heading for blacksmith. Cut across and rejoin group, which is amazingly five at this point. Watch three people trying to take flag, decide to scout up the road a bit. Get to top of hill and see several Horde massing. Try to type "inc mine from farm" at the same time as switching to normal form. Struggle through it at the same time as a hunter's pet shows up. Select hunter and hit Moonfire, then try for Wrath. Watch my cast bar jiggle back and forth as I take shots from two hunters.

Realize that scouting was a bad idea. Die.

Rez at mine graveyard. See fighting around mine and jump in with a couple quick buffs. See a Tauren warrior running amok. Hit with Entangling Roots and smile as he gets double-teamed and killed. Try to find next Horde. Get backstabbed by rogue and stunlocked. Fortunately teammate tackles rogue and I break free. Hit him with Moonfire and then Roots. Realize I'm getting fire from hunter again, duck around building. Select other hunter and start Starfire cast. Finish the cast unmolested and watch a nice crit on the spell. Now taking fire again, try to run but see hunter die just before me.

See two allies leave battleground.

Rez again at mine. Battle seems to be over with two allies left at mine. Heal both up quickly. Quick glance at map, see fighting at both stables and lumber mill. (Thanks, Cartographer!) Mill is contested, farm and blacksmith are Horde, mine and stable are Alliance. Switch off map to see Horde waiting at top of hill again. Remember to cast Nature's Grasp. Wait in line with two other Allies. Select warrior in distance. Watch him get close, drop Moonfire and then try for Roots again. Warrior charges and stuns me. I'm dead, no wait, Nature's Grasp fires and I back away, heal myself, run across to attack hunter. Pet attacks but gets sleeped by my Green Whelp Armor. Heh, love that! Send Wrath on hunter but see an ally go down and free up the warrior, coming my way. Desperately spam Moonfire, burning as much mana as possible before my inevitable death.

Rez at stables. Realize mine is now contested. Check map and don't see any allies at mine. Fighting at lumber mill and stables. Decide to help at stables until more of the mine group rez. See battle, select an ally paladin and drop a heal on him. Select another druid and prepare a heal, but get hit with a warlock's Fear and run around aimlessly. Pop out of that when I'm hit with arrows again, get stunlocked by a warrior, and die once more.

Get message in BG channel: "stay with your groups! FFS!" Thanks for the advice...

Rez at stables again. Now the map shows that Horde controls mine, blacksmith, and farm, with Stables contested and lumber mill Alliance. Also see group of allies heading for mine. Pop into cheetah and skirt left to avoid stables battle, and try to join with group attacking mine. Get close in time to see three allies fighting two Horde; pop into elf form and hit one with Moonfire in time to see them die, then attack the other with Wrath. He goes down too. Mine moves back to contested.

See another ally leave battleground. See score is now about 1000 Horde to 450 Alliance. Heal up the group at the mines, just in time to see a rez-wave of Horde coming back in. Root the lead warrior and then get hit with Moonfire, locate the druid and tap him back (just saying hi, you know). Circle around and reselect the warrior, who's now battling with a hunter, and hit him with a Moonfire and a Wrath. Satisfied to see him go down but now taking fire again from the druid. Mana is starting to run low -- uh-oh. Drop a Moonfire and then change into Cat, and try to take the druid along with a paladin in the area. Druid is pretty healthy and takes me out quickly.

Rez at stables again. Check the map: now the Horde have three nodes, and are contesting both lumber mill and stables. Score stands at 1500 Horde to 600 Alliance.

Two more allies leave the battleground.

I'm sure that the Horde nodes are lightly defended, but they're able to camp the stables graveyard and it's a struggle to get out. We need to mount an attack somewhere, anywhere to take back nodes but it's impossible to get organized enough to make that happen. The horn sounds, and the match is over.

Return to Stormwind. Speak to battlemaster. Join queue. Repeat.

02 May 2007

Leatherworking for Fun and Profit

About a month ago, I made a conscious decision that I was going to do my best to have Alamein use armor that she'd made for herself. A deceptively simple goal, and one that seems exactly where I would think Blizzard would want the professions to go.

Results have been mixed to this point. You can take a look at Alamein's profile and see what gear she's wearing. It includes just two items that she made: the Green Whelp Armor and Guardian Pants. She also made Guardian Armor that she'll wear when melee is unlikely -- as when healing in a group. Each piece has an interesting story.

The Guardian Pants were the first of these she made, and they've been useful for a long time though new gear is starting to look good. These were actually the easiest to get -- the recipe comes from the trainer, and the materials are common (though it's a bit tough to find bolts of silk cloth at auction on Shandris).

The Green Whelp Armor was another interesting story. She saw the recipe at auction for a good price a long time ago, and bought it to hold. As her leatherworking approached 175, these started to look attractive, and like a good money-maker. So I asked Cargarios to help me in the Swamp of Sorrows, and we farmed the green whelps until I got the four scales I needed. We were slightly over our head, and had to be very careful not to aggro more than one or two at a time. But with a bit of hard work, it came out, and the armor is fantastically useful for soloing (and PvP too I think, though I'm not completely sure yet). And she has since sold two or three of these at auction as well.

The Guardian Armor is a recent acquisition. I wanted to make that for a long time -- the +intelligence and +spirit is useful for a caster druid. The problem is the materials, and in particular the Shadow Oil. There's just not a lot of it at auction since an alchemist/herbalist can sell the materials for more than the oil. The Trade channel didn't bring any help, and I was starting to scan the auction house for materials when the oil finally popped up. I bought one and made the armor, but there's no way to sell this for profit, as the oil goes for about 1.5 gold. I haven't used it much yet, but we'll see how it does.

So those are the success stories for how leatherworking should work. You get some good recipes that you can make, and that come at a time when it's useful for you. Some of the better recipes require a lot of work on materials, but that's OK too.

But what about the disappointments? One is the Guardian Bracers that Alamein wears. That's actually a leatherworking recipe, but it requires a skill of 195. The bracers are great, but she still can't make them yet -- and she's had them for a while. So that's disappointing. For a non-twinked character, it's just a lot easier to buy those at auction than to spend the time and money to level the profession so fast that she can use them at level 34.

And those items (chest armor, pants, and bracers) cover it all. The rest are things that Alamein either found or bought on the auction house. I think she found the belt, which is roughly equivalent to the Guardian Belt she could make... if she had the recipe. There are no good leather glove recipes for a caster druid up through 225 skill, other than the Gloves of the Greatfather, and that's a difficult recipe to get. Similarly, there are no good caster shoulders either, no good boots until the Swift Boots, and no good caster head until the Big Voodoo Mask. And she's looking for bolts of silk cloth to make the decent Guardian Cloak, since she just found the recipe at auction yesterday.

So from 9 armor slots, that's 2 that she has made, another 2 (the belt and the cloak) that she could have made... and five where she had no choice. I suppose the situation would be a lot better if she were a rogue or a feral druid; there's good gear for agility and strength. But those attributes have little use for a balance/resto druid.

But what about profit? Leatherworking has been decent for making some cash for Alamein. I mentioned selling the Green Whelp Armor. I set an early goal to track down the recipe for Barbaric Bracers, and those have sold relatively well. Then she went to even greater lengths to get and make the Gem-Studded Leather Belt. (Which is a very cool belt... but not so much for a healing Druid.) The armor goes for about 1.5 gold, the bracers for between 1.5 and 3 gold, and the belt for around 3.5 or 4 gold.

The key is to find the key materials at good prices at auction. Right now I'm scanning for the gems for the belt, and it's a tough job. The gems typically sell on Shandris for somewhere between 50 and 80 silver. So with five gems required for the belt, at that price I'd have 3.75 gold invested, even before adding the other materials. So to be profitable I have to look for auction bargains. It's possible, but citrine and jade are in so much demand for other professions that it just doesn't happen often. When I can comfortably solo the green whelps, I'll farm them and make a few more Green Whelp Armor too. All in all, making those three items has probably made me a net profit of about 10 or 15 gold. Not a ton... but not bad when my current bank is about 30 gold.

So it's a major struggle just to keep leatherworking relevant. I know that making a profit was always going to be difficult. (If I really wanted to make money, I'd farm and sell leather.) But it's disappointing that I have so few chances to make my own equipment.

Hopefully that will get a bit better as I progress. I've got my eye on some Big Voodoo gear...

01 May 2007

Battleground Noob

I made my first venture into the battlegrounds last night.

I got online after dinner and got an instant /whisper from Cargarios: "You have to come here and try this!" We'd talked about doing it before, but that was right when we leveled to 30 and we decided to wait until we were higher in our zone. Last night, Wyrmm and Cargarios decided to give it a try. They loved it and so I jumped in too.

We started in Arathi Basin. DK was eating dinner, so Cargarios and Alamein jumped in. Compared to PvE, it was simple chaos. The Horde were attacking from all over, and it was all I could do to find a reasonable fight and try to get off some damage before death. The first couple fights quickly devolved into a desperate battle to keep the Horde off the stables, and in each case we more or less quickly lost.

Fundamentally, the Horde were much more organized and capable than the Alliance. Some of it was a better level of PvP tactics; they knew how to fight well. It's taken me time to develop my PvE skills -- the druid is flexible enough to be complicated -- and I'm going to have to learn things all over again for PvP. But a lot of it was much better team tactics. They had a plan and a mission and knew what they were trying to do; we had maybe one or two chat messages ("take lumber mill??") followed by lots of improvisation. In the end, we were just overwhelmed; we went in a second time and lost even faster.

We tried that a few times, and then switched to Warsong Gulch to see what that was like. The good news was that it was a bit simpler to figure out, and the Alliance was able to do better, but still the Horde just had better strategy and tactics. So we lost there too, but at least I started to get a better sense for how I needed to fight. I started to show up near the top of the rankings at the end of the match -- below many Horde players, of course, but at least looking respectable from an Alliance perspective.

It's amazing to me how fast these games evolve. I've played a very small amount of online FPS games against human opposition, and frankly I suck at it. I'm probably too old to have the twitch reflexes to match my opponents' speed; I don't play enough to have the tactics; and my hardware is slow enough that I can run into lag problems too. In PvE, I can find a place to stand and work from there, maybe backing up to kite a mob, but no more. In PvP it's imperative to stay constantly moving, and that in itself is a big challenge for me.

Key realizations:

  • I figured out I was going to die so fast that mana efficiency just didn't matter. So: spam Moonfire. Towards the end of the night I was living long enough where this became a small issue, but frankly I didn't have a better strategy to switch to.
  • Rogues suck. Many of my deaths came while I was stunlocked by a Rogue. Hence it became very important to keep Nature's Grasp up as often as possible. That's my best defense against stunlock.
  • Warriors were a problem too; they would Charge me and establish stunlock from there. But if I could Root them then I had a very good chance to deal with them.
  • I don't have a good strategy for hunters. Hibernate can be useful against the pets, but only if I have enough time to cast it without interrupution, AND if the pet is unlikely to get attacked by someone else. On the other hand I can reach out to them with Moonfire and Wrath, so at least I can fight back.
  • The casters present unique challenges, particularly because of their DoTs and curses rather than their nukes.
  • As much as I've played WoW at this point, my biggest enemy is situational awareness. Figuring out what's going on is challenge #1, and sometime that starts with "what direction am I facing?" and "where are they coming from?"
We played for a while in Warsong Gulch, and then switched back to Arathi for a last go. And this fight went rather better than the others. I was able to do some real damage, and take down a few Horde. The pinnacle was when I came up on a single level 37 Tauren warrior coming up the road.

We saw each other and knew the battle was on; nobody had surprise. I didn't have Nature's Grasp up (still on cooldown) so it was going to be a challenge, but I got off my first Roots before he could lock me up, and from there I was able to kite him and heal myself. It worked beautifully, and I saw him crumple... a split second before my screen went black. My worst time yet for a system crash. By the time I got rebooted and logged in, the match was over. So I didn't even have a chance to check my stats. Frustrating; but I know that I did better and that we came much closer to actually winning the match.

Of course, I was exhausted and sweating by the time I finished. It was... intense. But also a lot of fun. I'll be trying that again soon.


So, a little while since last post. It's been busy and I haven't had a chance to put any commentary online. Much has been happening in the game however.

Most notably, Alamein, Cargarios, and Wyrmm all dinged level 35 in the past few days. There's nothing particularly important about that milestone -- no new spells or cool items. But it's important nonetheless: it means I'm halfway to 70, halfway to the max level.

It'll be interesting to see if the second half takes less or more time than the first half. On the one hand, I know a lot more about what I'm doing and how to be successful at it. On the other, my impression is that there's a lot more content built for levels 60-70. So we'll just have to see what happens.

Most of that leveling has come from running quests, mostly around Darkshire, Wetlands, and Hillsbrad. But we've also tackled a few more instances. We started into Blackfathom Deeps, but we had already outleveled it and it was frankly boring us, with no real sense of challenge or danger. So we hearthed out of the middle of it, and returned to Stormwind to do Stockades instead.

Stockades was interesting enough, and we were close enough to the right level that the mobs were reasonably tough. Its biggest failing though is that there isn't much variety to it. Partly that's because it's fairly small, and the mobs are all about the same. But mostly it's because the layout is essentially identical throughout. That fits with the backstory -- you're invading a prison -- but it makes for repetitive gameplay. Once you've figured out how to handle a battle in a room, you're pretty much set. Anyway, it worked fine and we cleared it in about an hour. No seriously good loot dropped but we still got some useful experience out of it.

Gnomeregan is pretty much the opposite of Stockades. It's long, and complex, and has a wide variety of mobs. It's also got an unusual ambiance and several amusing details. For this instance (and Stockades too), we didn't consult a guide or walkthru before starting -- a change from our Deadmines efforts. We did fairly well through most of it. Handling the standard elites was fairly straightforward, but we did have to watch for troublesome pulls or alarmbots. The bosses didn't present too much trouble, and we had things pretty well figured. The washing machines and grime-encrusted objects were an amusing surprise -- especially because I got four gems out of my first five objects. For the most part, we did well.

We did wipe in the end, though. It was the Arcane Nullifier X-21 that did us in -- and specifically, the fact that we hadn't checked any walkthru guides. We went up against our first one, and it was surprisingly tough... because we didn't know about its spell-reflecting ability. So we were happily burning mana to nuke ourselves. We could have probably survived that... but we went too close to the edge of the ramp, aggroing another X-21... which ran around the ramps to get to us, bringing another three X-21s with it. Five at once was just laughable, and we wiped in short order.

So we'll give it another go, and now that we know about the X-21s, we'll be OK. Plus we have the backdoor key so that will keep it shorter. It was enjoyable enough, much more so than Stockades. But while the technology theme was amusing, it just doesn't appeal to me. So I have to say that Deadmines is still the champ for atmosphere.