29 September 2008

Current WotLK Questions

I've read a lot about Wrath of the Lich King. I'm pretty sure I've seen most of the info that's available, but I still have questions. Here's what I'm wondering about, in no particular order:

  • Where should I start? I like the concept of two starting areas in Northrend. I'll probably switch back and forth a bit, and eventually level in both areas. But I'd like to focus on one or the other initially, and I'm not sure which to choose. That will depend partially on which one is aesthetically more pleasing, but I'm also concerned that there will be quest chains that give must-have items.

  • How will Inscription play out? I've talked about this more in an earlier post. My main questions at this point are around the specific mats needed (will they change?) and how we will learn recipes. I might want to level Inscription, but I'd like to know more first.

  • How will Resto work out for Druids? The Balance tree looks well set, but Resto is still a bit dodgy. Phaelia at Resto4Life is (as always!) your best source here. My main concerns are around the utility of our two new heals, Nourish and Wild Growth. Right now they look a bit useless. I'm also concerned about the Replenish talent. Right now it looks vastly underpowered. I have hopes that these will still be tweaked, but as it stands these all look like they'll go unused.

  • How will Lake Wintergrasp work out? In concept it looks extremely cool and fun. I'm a big fan of the epic nature of AV and this looks like it could go to the next level. On the other hand, it could be a mess. The resets and timing will be a major concern. I have hopes and fears in equal measure for this zone.

  • How much will the new honor items cost? Honor and marks are being reset for WotLK. I totally understand why that is necessary — the players who complain "but I farmed 75k honor!" are exactly the problem that's being addressed. But I'd like to know how much the new items will cost. I play battlegrounds because I enjoy them, so if my honor and marks are lost, I won't mind. But I'd like to put them towards something of value if possible.

  • Will fur linings be useful? I know about the fur linings for bracers. They sound OK, but I can't imagine using them instead of a 'real' bracer enchant based on what's available now. They are all resist gear, which might be kind-of handy but won't compare with +spellpower or whatever. So I want to know if there will be really useful fur linings that would be a real advantage for leatherworkers.

  • Will leatherworking specialization matter? So far, there's no patterns that are specific to Tribal or other leatherworking specializations. That's a shame, considering that my Windhawk set lasted me through my whole level 70 career. Some of the normal items look pretty good so I know there will be useful stuff. But I'm not sure yet if it will match Windhawk.

  • Will my machine handle it? Blizzard is amazing at its ability to do wonderful games with relatively minimal hardware requirements. But I look at the new detailed models and I'm concerned that my Macbook Pro will be at its limit. It does fine now, but will that continue?

  • When will 3.0 hit? We know the WotLK date: 13 November. But I'd like to know when the interim patch will hit. That will obviously have a huge impact, but I'm most concerned about auction house prices and honor points. I guess my preference/expectation would be in a couple weeks, around 7 October. We'll see if I'm right.

  • Can I get the Collector's Edition? I really want it!

  • Will they get some good features in quickly after WotLK? There are a couple things that won't make it in that I'd like to see. One was the option to have different skins for druid forms. The other is the ability to switch between two specs without paying a big respec fee each time. Everything I've read indicates that those are in the works, but won't be here for the launch. I'm very hopeful that they'll get there soon.

That's a pretty decent list for now. I'll update if/when we learn more!

27 September 2008

Been Busy

Sorry for not posting for a couple days; I've been AFK for a little bit, at least to post. But I've been in game along the way. Just a few pretty pictures:

Visiting Coren

We've been making a nightly run to take on Coren Direbrew. We now have all the trinkets we could possibly want, but still no mounts...

Underbog Run

We ran Heroic UB last night, using our "A Team" makeup -- Cargarios tanking and Alamein healing. It went quite well, and I dinged Exalted with Cenarion Expedition at the end of the night. Sweet! I'm also up to 95 BoJ, so one more run and I should be at my goal. Very happy about that.

I've been healing in a Restokin spec for the past few days, which has been fun and interesting. I'll comment on that next week. Until then, have a good weekend!

23 September 2008

When will I replace my gear?

With Wrath of the Lich King on the horizon, one of the biggest questions we're dealing with is "When will I replace my current equipment?"

The history dates back to the Burning Crusade launch. Experienced raiders found that their epics were quickly surpassed by simple green quest rewards in the early starting zones. The more-powerful gear was cool, of course, yet it was still depressing to replace purple pieces that represented hundreds of hours of raiding.

(Plus, the new greens didn't look as good as the epics.)

So we're all wondering: will the same thing happen in WotLK? The message I've heard from beta testers is that it won't be the same in WotLK. Raiders will hang on to their gear much longer, and even more casual players will see a more gradual transition.

I wanted to track down some quantitative info behind that. Is it really true? That involved getting down and dirty with the numbers. It all begins with this article on Item Values from WoWWiki.

There are a few key concepts in play. The main one is ilvl. This is an overall metric of item quality; Wowhead and many other information sources will show it to you. It's basically a metric that determines how strong the item can be -- how much +agility or +attack power or whatever.

The complication is that ilvl is tied to item quality as well. An ilvl of 115 means different things if the item is green or blue or purple. The relationship isn't a straight modifier — the formulas have scalar and linear components. (There's also a slot value, which doesn't matter right now since we're wondering about replacing helms with helms and so forth.) I dug into this and built some spreadsheets that break it out; I won't share my work because it's pretty boring and I did a good bit of handwaving too. (The formulas have weird results at low ilvls, such that purple items appear to have less Item Value than a blue item of the same level. I fudged a bit to get past that.)

I also went through and compiled information on key items from original, vanilla WoW, Burning Crusade, and what we know of WotLK so far. I looked at ilvls for various types of gear, and normalized those out depending on whether they were greens or blues or purples. To make a long story short (too late!) I came up with this graph.

The bars show the relative power (Item Values) of various types of gear. I broke down quest rewards into early/middle/late, where early gear would be quest rewards from Hellfire Peninsula, for instance, while late stuff would come from Netherstorm/Shadowmoon or from the later group quests. I also broke down the drops into normal/heroic.

So what's in the graph? First, let's look at the launch of Burning Crusade. You can see that the early quest rewards, from Hellfire and Zangarmarsh, beat even Tier 1 and Tier 2 gear. So unless you were raiding Naxxrimas before BC, your gear was getting dropped within the first couple zones. Even the Tier 3 gear was out the door by the time you dinged 70.

But if you look back, it's clear why Blizzard did this. Look at the quest gear from vanilla WoW. It ends right about where the BC quest gear starts. In other words, they designed things so that non-raiders could make a nice steady progression into BC content. If they hadn't, casual players would have hit a huge wall in Hellfire — or would have received huge upgrades right away.

Now, look at the WotLK gear. But a caveat: it's still beta, and this could all change. Tweaking ilvls isn't that hard I believe; they may well do some more before launch.

Having said that, it looks like a smoother transition now. T4 gear doesn't start to get replaced until fairly late in the first zones, and will be relatively decent even into your mid-70s. T5 will last to your late 70s, and T6 won't be replaced until you get into heroics or the new Naxxrimas.

Casuals in quest rewards or instance drops will begin replacing those pretty quickly. But the mitigation this time is BoJ gear. The lesser BoJ stuff — the 20 or 25-badge items — gets replaced early. But the later, 100- or 150-badge items will last you to 80 now. I didn't include PvP gear, but for the most part that will be true as well, depending on how much of a gap there is between your PvP and PvE needs.

This is a bit of a generalization. You'll choose upgrades based on specific stats and specific rewards. My PvP healer pants might be quickly replaced by a quest reward tailored to Boomkin, for instance, even though there might be a big ilvl gap. But overall, you should be able to hold onto gear for a lot longer this time around.

22 September 2008

How to find gear upgrades on Wowhead

I had a conversation with DK and Danny yesterday about finding gear improvements. I was a bit surprised that they weren't using Wowhead, which I've found to be the best approach, other than a specific list compiled on a wiki or blog.

There are other tools too. Most notable is of course the Armory, which will tell you improvements for your gear. I don't like their presentation, though. It's too tough to sort through different possibilities, and you never know how they're evaluating what would be an 'improvement'.

Wowhead gives you a lot more control, and it's easier to see why a given item is ranked ahead of another. Let's work through an example. In my tanking gear, I have a green belt, Manimal's Cinch. It's decent, but is there anything better I can find? Let's see what kind of better tanking belts I might track down.

  1. Open Wowhead.
  2. Using the dropdowns, select Database > Items > Armor > Leather > Waist. Wowhead shows you a list of all leather belts.
  3. Now comes the fun part. Click on Create a Weight Scale. For this question, we'll choose Druid, Feral (Tank), and Rare gems.

  4. Now look at the results. First, note that we're down to 297 results. Wowhead has screened out anything that a) druids can't use, and b) has no value to a druid tank. But that's still a lot of items. Let's rule out low-level stuff. In the first Required Level box, put 68. Now click the Apply Filter button. That limits us to items for level 68 players and up, and we end up with 57 belts. Much better.

    (Actually there's a better way to do this, using the Level box. This is tied to an item's iLvl -- an internal stat that tracks how powerful something is. I should write more on that sometime... but we'll keep it simple today.)
So let's look at the list! You'll now see a sorted list, with the best druid tank belts at the top. Manimal's Cinch is about two-thirds down the page — respectable for a green quest reward, but with dozens of improvements above it.

This isn't that different from the Armory list, but there are some very nice features. First, you can scan down the item names and get a good sense for where they come from, whether it's a drop (and from who, what instance, and whether it's Heroic), or PvP, or Arena, or crafting. The Armory tries to do this too, but the names are truncated and there's not as much detail.

Now look at the right-hand column. It shows a numerical score. This is a rating of the item, specific for a feral tank. That gives you a quick metric for judging how much of an improvement it is. Manimal's Cinch lists at 22.02. As an example, the [Bladeangel's Money Belt], which drops in Zul'Aman, is a 24.03 — so you know it's only a slight improvement. (Much better for Cat druids of course, but that's a different rating scale.)

What stands out on this list?
  • The best tanking belt in the game is [Belt of Natural Power], with a 36.82 ranking. It's a leatherworker-crafted item... and it's BoE, so you could buy it at auction or have someone make it for you.
  • The next best belt is the [Guardian's Leather Belt], a PvP reward that requires 17,850 honor and 40 AB marks. That's a good chunk of honor, but it's very grindable in battlegrounds.
  • The #3 belt is [Waistguard of the Great Beast]. You can buy it from G'eras for 60 BoJ. That's grindable too... but look again at the Belt of Natural Power. The hardest materials are two Nether Vortex, which you can buy from G'eras for 30 BoJ. So if you can find a leatherworker with the pattern, that's really a cheaper use of the badges.
Of course, these rankings are a simplistic way to evaluate gear. It's very much worth looking at specific stats and judging based on that. If you're lacking in agility, for instance, the Guardian's Leather Belt is great with +37 agi. But if you need more armor, you'd probably rather take the [Guardian's Dragonhide Belt] which is much more armorful. So take this ranking with a grain of salt.

(As it happens, you can customize the rating scale to reflect your specific needs. But that will be a post for another day!)

There's plenty to explore from here. You can play with the Filter settings in Wowhead, to (for instance) only show PvP rewards, or to rule out anything with +agi less than 20. Or you could switch from belts to bracers, by switching to the Wrist slot. This is where Wowhead really starts to shine over the Armory, because you can slice and dice the results in so many ways.

The biggest limits in this approach are trinkets and idols. The stats, procs, and Use functions on these are a lot more difficult to compare. So you'll need to use other approaches here. Overall though, this is a great way to evaluate gear, and can be a lot of fun to spend time with.

18 September 2008

Battleground Strategies

Last night I ran a few battlegrounds, in an effort to get Alamein a new helm for tanking. Shandris is in the Emberstorm battlegroup, which has a very consistent breakdown: Alliance win Alterac Valley about 75-80%, win Eye of the Storm maybe 40-50%, and win Arathi Basin about 10% of the time. (I know nothing about Warsong Gulch; I've never enjoyed running that.)

I'm collecting some data about what that means for me in terms of honor per minute. As I try for new gear I want to be as efficient as possible. But aside from that I'd rather play the battlegrounds that I enjoy, and that's usually AV and AB. I did a good chunk of both last night and I have a few thoughts on strategy.

The tough thing about losing a battleground consistently is that it never gets any better. Oh, on a battleground holiday weekend you'll get some quality premades and win something closer to 50%. But from what I've seen, the battleground results are very consistent.

The biggest reason for this is that battleground strategies are very organic and depend on everyone independently deciding to do the same thing. It's hard enough to get a PUG to even start with a very simple strategy; once some chaos is in the mix it's almost impossible to get them to regroup and adjust. This leads to reinforcing whatever strategies are norms for the battlegroup — whether they work or not.

Losing breeds chaos. Dying leads to rezzing, possibly at a graveyard far from where you were fighting. More deaths mean more scattered players who are still trying to figure out where they are, let alone what the group should try to do. Players lose cohesion and start running around as individuals instead of groups. As the game gets farther and farther from success, players either give up, or decide to bag the game itself and go for honor killings regardless of strategy.

That said, there is some evolution over time. Players see something that works a bit better and start trying to do it more. Players aren't stupid! They're just struggling to figure out what to do, in the absence of any coordination or instruction. I've seen a couple adjustments that could be made for more success.

Arathi Basin

Alliance on Emberstorm lose AB. Almost all the time. The biggest problem is that Alliance can't adjust after the initial rush. We can pretty consistently take three nodes at the start of a game, but no matter how we defend, one will be lost, and then we can never get ahead again. A good match will be 2-2 or 3-2 for most of the match, with a final score around 2000-1650. A bad match will stay between 3-1 and 4-1 until it's over at around 2000-1100. (At least these are quicker.)

The toughest part is getting squads of people formed up and attacking in groups. It's a lot easier to defend than to attack, and players need to attack in numbers. But instead everyone goes their own way, and attacks are in twos and threes.

There's no easy way to change this behavior; it involves clear leadership and good useful communication. Both are in short supply. But there's a key strategic habit that puts the Alliance at a disadvantage. Usually at the start, Alliance will send one group to the Mine and one to Lumber Mill, conceding the Blacksmith node. The Horde always send numbers to BS; it's much easier to take the other nodes.

But that's setting up for a loss. Blacksmith is unbelievably key: it holds the middle of the map. If you have a group there, you can send reinforcements to a node under attack, or send a raiding party to assail a vulnerable node. When players die and rez at BS, they can get back into the fight a lot faster too.

So: when you're setting initial strategy, try to get one party to go for BS. Send another to either Mine or LM, and keep 3 back at the Stables. Ideal would be 7 to BS, 5 to Mine or LM (change it up), and 3 at Stables. It won't win every round... but it's a much better start.

Alterac Valley

AV has been a different story for Alliance. We used to win somewhere north of 80%, but lately strategies have adjusted and the Horde are winning a lot more. Now it's still an Alliance advantage, but the last couple weeks it's probably down to about 65 or 70% at best.

Two correlated developments are causing this. First, the Alliance has built a consensus to zerg past FWGY and hit RH. Second, the Horde has decided to play defense.

The zerg to RH is a result of how difficult it can be to take RH if the Horde dies early and often. The RH graveyard is very close to the flag (same for Aid Station and Alliance, I believe) so it's really difficult to take if it's defended in strength. It's much easier if you get there quickly, so why not do it first?

The problem is that by skipping FWGY, you're leaving a pocket of Horde strength in your rear. This does two things. First, it makes it tougher to hold IBT and TP until they burn. Second, it ensures a steady stream of Horde going into Frostwolf. In a really bad game, they'll retake RH. More commonly, we'll end up with 3-5 Horde in Drek's keep. When they're smart, these include quite a few priests and warlocks, who fear the living daylights out of the whole raid. It's really tough to take down Drek under those conditions. If the Horde holds IBT and TP too — with their warmasters alive in the keep — that makes it nearly impossible.

The Horde is still not great at taking down Van. That means that the games usually result in a war of attrition, with a race to see who can kill more of the other side. If the Alliance fights in the keep too much, then Drek slaughters us, and reduces our reinforcements quickly. Often, the Horde on offense will do the same thing, and we're more likely than them to win. Still, it becomes more of a crapshoot.

So the key is to take FWGY. The ideal approach is to split into two groups as the offense gets south. One can attack FWGY while the other rushes to RH. Hit both at the same time and you can take them easily. Then it's just a matter of setting up the offense, defending the towers, and getting a good win.

If that doesn't happen, you'll have to regroup which is harder. Usually this means there's a crowd waiting outside Drek's keep. Try to organize a strong party of 5-7 players to go after FWGY. It will be defended and you'll have to deal with rezzers coming back from the graveyard. But a good effort will see the graveyard fall, which can really get the Horde off your back. If you need to, keep the party going north to take TP and IBT; it makes Drek easier and it gets you more honor.

17 September 2008

Inscription: What will it take?

I'm debating whether I'll take Inscription as a profession in WotLK, so I've been researching it. I've heard a lot about the products: glyphs that change your spells, regular scrolls, other scrolls that allow enchanters to package and sell enchants at auction, and a few other special things. The WotlkWiki section on Inscription is a great resource, as is Wowhead. I think the Glyphs will sell quite well, and the extra Glyph slot for Inscribers will be nice. It's easy to understand the benefits.

The tough part has been understanding how to level Inscription. I'd like to bank the herbs I would need to level (except for the Northrend herbs, of course). But... how many do I need? I spent some time looking that the recipes known today, and the processes required. I have some very tentative conclusions.

Disclaimer: I'm not in the beta, so I'm going completely from what's available on Wowhead and WotlkWiki right now. The data is still pretty rough, and I'm sure this will all change. So the specifics here should be taken with a major grain of salt, particularly the required mats.

The basic approach, however, is pretty clear and should be set. There are a few variations, but the key cycle is:

Herbs -> Milling -> Pigment -> Ink -> Glyph

Everything begins with the herbs — the same ones used for alchemy. They're processed using milling which is analogous to prospecting for jewelcrafters. Each milling operation consumes a small stack of herbs and creates pigments, sometimes along with useful byproducts. The pigment is then used to make ink, which is a universal key ingredient for every glyph.

So to walk it back: you'll generally create glyphs to level up. You'll need ink to do that, and you'll need pigments to make your ink. For pigments, you'll need to mill stacks of herbs.

Today, you mill a stack of 5 herbs and get 2-3 pigments in return. The herbs are sorted into what I'll call "tiers". Basically, if you mill herbs from the same tier, you'll get the same pigment. The tiers are about what you expect — you'll pretty much find herbs of the same tier in the same zones. Here's how it breaks down:

Tiers of Herbs
Azeroth 1: Sliverleaf, Peacebloom, Earthroot, Mageroyal, Bloodthistle
Azeroth 2: Briarthorn, Swiftthistle, Bruiseweed, Stranglekelp
Azeroth 3: Wild Steelbloom, Grave Moss, Kingsblood, Liferoot
Azeroth 4: Fadeleaf, Goldthorn, Khadgar's Whisker, Wintersbite
Azeroth 5: Firebloom, Purple Lotus, Arthas' Tears, Sungrass, Blindweed, Ghost Mushroom, Gromsblood
Azeroth 6: Golden Sansam, Dreamfoil, Mountain Silversage, Plaguebloom, Icecap
Outlands: Herbs harvested in Outlands
Northrend: Herbs harvested in Northrend

Rare herbs can't be milled. These include: Black Lotus, Deadnettle, Fel Blossom, Fel Lotus, Fire Leaf, Fire Seed, Glowcap, Netherdust Pollen, Nightmare Seed, Unidentified Plant Parts, and Wildvine. Usually they're the herbs with names in green text.

So you gather a stack of herbs from some tier and mill it. Each 5 herbs milled gives 2-3 pigments, which you then use to make ink. (Just to make it more complicated, sometimes you'll get a rare pigment instead of the regular pigment. These aren't used to make glyphs; I'll skip them for now but maybe talk about them in another post.) The inks change at different levels of the profession. Here's a table, with the general skill level that each ink corresponds to.

Basic Inks
Skill lvl   Basic ink:     Pigment:   Milled from:
0 - 30 Ivory, Silver Made directly from Silverleaf or Peacebloom
30 - 75 Moonglow Ink Alabaster Azeroth 1
75 - 100 Midnight Ink Dusky Azeroth 2
100 - 150 Lion's Ink Golden Azeroth 3
150 - 200 Jadefire Ink Emerald Azeroth 4
200 - 250 Celestial Ink Violet Azeroth 5
250 - 300 Shimmering Ink Silvery Azeroth 6
300 - 350 Ethereal Ink Nether Outlands
350 - 425 Ink of the Sea Azure Northrend
So, for example, you'll be using Midnight Ink to make the glyphs that take you from level 75 to 100. (All very rough and subject to change.)

So, how many herbs will you need to level? This is where the uncertainties of Beta come in. The biggest one I'm worried about is that most glyph recipes today look like this:
  • One ink of some kind
  • One Magebloom
  • Four Parchment (one of each kind); these can be purchased from vendors
These are going to change for sure, but I don't know to what. My best guess is that there will be multiple inks required for most glyphs, instead of that single Magebloom. The other alternative is that they will require unprocessed herbs — but of course these won't all be Magebloom. We just don't know yet so that makes any specifics difficult. Also, I'm not sure that we really will get 2-3 pigments for every 5 herbs we mill; that might be adjusted either for everything, or for specific herbs or tiers of herbs.

So things are still a bit unsettled and I don't see any value in being too clinical about it. But I'm willing to do some handwaving based on the skill point gaps. If you need Midnight Ink to get from 75 to 100, let's assume that you'll need 25 vials of Midnight Ink along the way. Given that, it looks like you would need about 5 full stacks — 100 herbs — of each tier to level up. The exceptions are the Northrend herbs, where you'll need 8 stacks. You'll also need a couple extra stacks of Silverleaf or Peacebloom to get from 0-30. That's ignoring the 5 or so skill points you'll get from making each type of ink. But I fully expect the ink requirements to go up too, so think of this as a floor for getting started.

I'll keep watching for more data, and post updates when I know more.

16 September 2008

The end is near

The Wrath of the Lich King release date has been announced! 13 November will see the opening of Northrend and the unleashing of death knights across the Plaguelands. This really narrows down some other dates too, as the 3.0.2 patch will launch sometime between now and then, with a best guess of early to mid October.

This is exciting of course and I'm really looking forward to it. Of course there's lots of new cool features to anticipate. But more than anything I'm just excited to see the new zones of Northrend.

The Outland zones of Burning Crusade were a mixed bag for me. I wasn't a huge fan of the milieu — the fragmenting planet, crashed spaceships, and crystalline aliens that fill Outlands. I never enjoyed the aesthetics of Hellfire Peninsula, Shadowmoon Valley, Blades Edge, or Netherstorm. They are too... much. Too much sparking, too much shattered bare rock, too much ambient sound of pulsating energies.

And yet it's astounding how much better the gameplay experience was in Burning Crusade. Individual quests were better designed, and the quests string together so much more nicely. It's telling that a leveling guide like Jame's is so crucial in old Azeroth, but almost redundant in Outlands. And other design qualities are miles ahead too. Even though I don't like the aesthetics, the art is beautiful and extremely well executed. Storylines are nicely worked into the questing, and it's easier to feel a part of the world than it ever was in Azeroth.

With another two years of experience and technical advances — and revenue — Blizzard will do an even better job at these details in WotLK. I'm really excited to see how it looks and feels, how it works. But they've also returned to a setting that really appeals to me. Any environment with a better 'real-world' feel would be great, but a snowy, mountainous Nordic scene is just great for me. I really expect to have a very entertaining time in Northrend.

With all that excitement coming, it feels like the current gameplay is a bit of a waiting game. It's a time for looking forward rather than focusing on the events at hand, and my play has been a bit unfocused as a result. I spent some time last week thinking about my goals for the remaining time of Burning Crusade. Now that the date has been announced, I know how much time I'll have for accomplishing them.

I accomplished a big goal last night by getting Sali her epic flyer. I've also reached some rep goals by getting Alamein to Exalted with the Sha'tar and Revered with the Consortium. What's left on the plate?


  • Exalted with Cenarion Expedition
  • Revered with Keepers of Time
  • Get 100 BoJ (currently at 87) and get my [Crystalwind Leggings]
  • Get enough Honor points to get a PvP helm (and maybe shoulders) for Feral/tanking

  • Exalted with Shattered Sun Offensive
  • Revered with the Consortium

  • Get to at least level 60
  • Level Enchanting to 375

  • Sell off most of stock of unneeded materials
  • Clean up bag and bank space
  • Delete one or two unneeded toons
  • Get an action bar addon configured

Beyond that, I don't know. I might spend some time on leveling my new hunter, some PvP with Sali, and maybe some other stuff too. I'm still having fun, so why not enjoy the end times... of Burning Crusade?

15 September 2008

Pulling multiple mobs

Tanking heroic Botanica on Friday night was the highlight of the weekend. It was not a smooth run; we had probably four or five wipes and multiple other deaths. Dralkios and Mattoo are perhaps a bit undergeared for the instance, and while Alamein's gear is good, I'm still not experienced enough at tanking. Still, we got all the way through and took down all the bosses, so we were ultimately successful. In a way, it's more satisfying to overcome adversity than it is to destroy an instance on cruise control.

(Beyond that, I mostly ran dailies with the intent of getting Sali an epic flyer; I also did a few battlegrounds and spent some time leveling a new hunter as a bit of a break.)

One of the tanking techniques I'm still working on is the pull. I spent a lot of my healing time watching Cargarios use Avenger's Shield to tag three mobs with a good chunk of threat. As a Bear, I don't have such a luxury. The prototypical pull is using Feral Faerie Fire, which is OK but only tags one mob. Firegrin will of course use Misdirect, but that's usually a one-target tool. So for a few tricky pulls we've tried a few other techniques.

Misdirection + Volley, Misdirection + Multishot: We've used this technique to get a solid aggro start on larger packs. It's a bit tricky; it seems that there's a bit of uncertainty about how many charges of Misdirection either attack will use. Still, when combined with a Feign Death, this has been a good way to pull.

Multishot does more damage, so it's best for three mobs. It will burn the remaining charges on Misdirection so use it as your third shot. Volley appears to be bugged and use zero charges, which is great. It does less single-target damage but hits everything in the area of effect so it's great for large packs.

The main challenge with Misdirection is that it makes chain-trapping a lot trickier for the hunter. (Well, and it has a cooldown too.) So in some situations we opted to use other approaches.

Barkskin + Hurricane: This can be a great way to build a ton of threat, especially on large packs of non-elites, like the plant packs found in a couple of Botanica pulls. It's not recommended if you're dealing with anything that hits very hard; Barkskin only eliminates 20% of damage, so you're not close to your Bear-form armor.

The hard part is getting all the mobs grouped and stationary for long enough that Hurricane can hit them a couple times. One way to do this is to run up to the edge of the pack (in caster form) and body-pull while starting the Hurricane. You can also position the AoE circle for Hurricane right at the edge of the pack, so that all the mobs have to run through it to get to you.

Hibernate pull: This is a specialized technique when you have one or more beasts in the pack. Select one, get to max range, and cast Hibernate. Slip into Bear form and use Feral Faerie Fire to tag the next mob. It doesn't generate exceptional threat, but it has the major advantage of Hibernating the mob well away from your fighting space.

Barkskin + Tranquility: This is purely theoretical; I've not done it. It should work wonderfully but it's tough to set up. Basically you need a situation where the party is either taking damage or starts with a health deficit.

Tranquility is a huge threat generator. It puts out 1518 healing (before any added healing) every 2 seconds over 8 seconds... for everyone in the party. That's theoretically 38,000 points of healing, or 19,000 points of threat, on every mob in the pull. If all that healing actually ticks, you'll have a huge threat lead.

The hard part is figuring out how to actually do any healing with it. You could have the party run directly in to the mob pack and melee. Dangerous -- but the good news is that with that much healing you'll be taking care of a good chunk of incoming damage to the party. It might be better used late in a fight, for instance if most of the original pull is dead but if adds have shown up and are running wild.

Those are four unconventional techniques I'm aware of. I'll try out the Tranquility approach the next time I need it, and report back any other techniques that I learn.

11 September 2008

One time, I saw a khorium vein

Wow - is this stuff hard to farm, or what?

I was running Shattered Sun dailies with Sali, killing the demons at the portal on Dawning Square, when I saw that a khorium vein had spawned at the back of the portal. Of course, that became my first priority. I was about 50% on health and mana, and there was one Irespeaker walking near that vein. But knowing time was limited I took her on at short range. I killed her with about 10% health and mana left but immediately went to mine the vein. I was just finishing the second hit on the vein when two other miners showed up. In other words, I got there just in time.

It felt like I had won the lottery.

Alamein is a skinner, so that's been my main experience with gathering skills. There are rare leathers that you need too, but the experience is different. Take for example the [Cobra Scales]. They're skinned from a few specific snakes in Outland, found either in northern Shadowmoon or in a specific corner of Nagrand. The snakes are slightly rare and are in tough areas to farm (good number of level 70+ mobs wandering around), and the scales are only a 10% chance to drop when you skin. So you have to do a good bit of work to find them, hence they're rather rare.

Compare that to khorium. Basically, the veins can spawn anywhere in Outland, in place of a normal adamantite or fel iron vein (a 2.5% chance). If you need khorium, all you can do is travel all over and hope to get lucky. For some reason, khorium is unusually expensive on Shandris; a single ore goes for 10 to 12g. So any khorium vein that spawns will be mined almost immediately. Miners will drop whatever they're doing to get it, and will spend a lot of effort if needed.

The rarity is exacerbated because you need khorium for everything. Almost every useful high-end engineering recipe needs khorium, and I believe blacksmithing and jewelcrafting are similar. Sali needs 8 [Khorium Power Cores] for her epic flyer; that translates into 48 khorium ore. If I spend an hour mining (cruising on my slow flyer), I might find a single khorium vein.

Those Cobra Scales, for comparison, are used only for a few specific recipes. Those include Cobrahide and Nethercobra leg armors, which sell well. So the scales are useful — but there are other rare drops that are used for other recipes. For other items you might need Wind Scales or Nether Dragonscales or Fel Scales and so forth. Each drops from a few specific mobs and is used for a limited set of recipes.

The skinning flavor works quite well: specific leathers for specific recipes, farmed from a few specific mobs. This wouldn't feel as good for mining -- there shouldn't be so many variations of ores. However mining khorium shouldn't be such a crapshoot. I would add specific veins that only spawn khorium, but make them hard to reach and challenging (but possible) to farm. For instance they could spawn in deep mines in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon. If you want to clear a mine of tough mobs and wait for veins to spawn, your hard work would pay off. But at least you could do something to get khorium, rather than wait to get lucky or to pay for someone else's luck.

10 September 2008

Mashing vs. Clicking

Didn't do so much last night. I took Sali into regular Underbog with Wyrmm, Firegrin, Mattoo, and Dralkios. We took a couple runs at Hungarfen to hopefully get Dralkios the [Totem of the Thunderhead]. We tried twice and had no luck, but it was a quick and easy run so rather relaxing and fun.

When I was close to Mattoo's tanking, I heard the sounds that were imprinted on my brain from the previous night: the sounds of a bear tank. The normal rotation is Mangle followed by 3xLacerate, and in particular Lacerate makes a distinctive "pshonk" sound.

My fingers began to hurt, in memory. I spent so much time the night before mashing those two buttons that I was sore by the end of the night. I have Mangle on the 2 key and Lacerate on 1. That's great for convenience but it means I was using the smaller fingers of my right hand to pound that sequence out again and again. I might redesign my button layout to use my index finger a lot more, saving the 1 and 2 for slightly less common stuff.

It's a switch because when healing I use very few key presses - it's all clicks on unit frames. This begins with putting my unit frames front and center of the screen. This shot is almost a year old but the visual parts of my UI haven't changed much since then:

I'm using Pitbull to put the unit frames where I can watch them closely. That's great for 5-man stuff but for raids I use Grid because it's more flexible and is already set to be very compact. The Grid box just replaces the Pitbull frames.

The other key healing component is Clique. Pitbull or Grid are important, but without Clique or something similar, I would really have a hard time healing. Basically, it allows me to bind actions to specific click combos. So I just click on a unit frame to heal it. My current setup - which I know by heart - is the following:

          Ctrl-left click    Lifebloom
Alt-left click Rejuvenation
Shift-left click Regrowth
Ctrl-Alt-left click Swiftmend
Ctrl-Shift-left click Healing Touch
Ctrl-Shift-Alt-left click Rebirth
Ctrl-right click Abolish Poison
Alt-right click Remove Curse
Clique is very smart. These keybindings are set up as "helpful" actions — they're only used on friendly unit frames, and I can apply a whole different set of actions to enemy units. This is great for stuff like Insect Swarm or Faerie Fire. Also, I can set up a different set of out-of-combat actions. I'm currently using that for buffs (Thorns and Mark of the Wild) but it's slightly annoying for those times when I'd rather remove poison or curses after a fight.

How does it work? Awesome! I will usually start a fight with the tank targeted, and I'll stack Lifebloom and then add a Rejuvenation via clicks, just by moving from Alt to Ctrl. That's an incredibly instinctive movement for anyone who uses a keyboard. As the fight goes on I can cast other heals or decurse/remove poison when needed through the same motions. If one of the other toons gets hit, I can just click on the frame to throw a heal over there. In fact, Pitbull will highlight anyone who draws aggro; I can often start a heal before the toon takes any damage. There's no need to find the player and target them, which saves a ton of time. Pitbull will even fade the frame if the toon is out of range — though unfortunately it can't track line of sight.

I would hate to heal any other way. My only concern is that WotLK will add two new healing spells (Nourish and Flourish) to my arsenal, and I'm not sure how I'll map those to clicks.

I'm not nearly so comfortable with my tanking setup. I could use Clique but there's not much point. Unit frames can deal with just two enemies — your target and your focus — so for most mobs you're worried about targeting them anyway. So it's all about getting my key mapping set up right so that I can be most efficient. I don't have a solid system for that yet. My basic plan is that left-hand numbers are the most common attacks, while the Num Pad holds reactive stuff — taunts, long-cooldown abilities, trinkets, potions, and so forth.

I would like to set up an action bar addon to manage all this better. In particular I'd love to have a mapping that shows the Num Pad and shifts with modifier keys. I've played a bit with both Bongos and Bartender, and I might use one or the other of those. But that's a whole new level of setup and it'll take some time to figure out. Until then, I'll just have to tweak my mappings a bit... and take some Advil.

09 September 2008

Spellpower: Choosing pants for WotLK

I mentioned in the last post that I was thinking about taking the [Grovewalker's Leggings] when I get 100 Badges of Justice. I might still take tanking leggings instead, but the more interesting question I considered is whether I should take the [Crystalwind Leggings] instead.

First, some background: I plan to level as either Balance or Balance/Resto (Restokin) in WotLK. Along the way -- and at 80 -- I will probably respec to full Resto more than once to heal through instance runs. From what I've seen, these pants (either way) will probably last me until the high 70s at least and might well last into level 80 heroics. So the choice is fairly significant, not just for now, but also for Wrath.

Today, it's a basic question. Are you a healer or a DPS caster? The answer is more foggy in Wrath of the Lich King with the advent of Spellpower. The distinction between healing and casting items -- between +Spell Damage and +Healing -- fades away and is replaced with utilitarian Spellpower. Both items will have an identical +61 Spellpower. Neither will have more or less raw healing or casting power.

We'll end up with the following (including socket bonuses):

               Grovewalker   Crystalwind     Difference
Stamina +36 +36 0
Intellect +42 +40 +2
Spirit +47 +32 +15
Sockets B, R B, Y
Spell Power +61 +65 -4
Crit 0 +28 -28
So, the 'healer' Grovewalker pants will have greater spirit but reduced healing power and crit. That's an interesting tradeoff in itself, but then I look at the way talents are evolving in the beta. It's pretty clear that the Tree of Life aura will no longer work on Spirit; instead it will be a straight 3% increase to healing received. That already makes the Grovewalker pants less interesting.

But then I start to look at spell rotations. I can't say for sure -- I'm not in the beta -- but it really seems like Blizzard is working hard to deemphasize Lifebloom and instead encourage us to use more Regrowth and Healing Touch in particular. And that suddenly makes Crit a valuable tool for some kinds of healing. Moreover, the Nautre's Grace talent is now more accessible as the 11-point Balance talent, so I might well be able to take it in a resto build. That means that spell crits will now reduce casting time -- making Crit even more important.

The only motivation towards spirit is pretty vague at this point. There have been some forum posts that hint Blizzard is going to emphasize mana regen a bit more, and specifically out-of-combat regen requiring Spirit. I'm not sure that I see how this will work yet though; if I'm in combat then spirit is 70% (Dreamstate) less important; if I'm out of combat then I'll just drink anyway. I believe they're going to try to do what they say, but there's a good chance it will either not work out or that the mechanics may change.

All this leads me to believe that the choice is pretty tough, but that the Crystalwind pants may be the way to go. The Crit will be seriously helpful for a moonkin, and pretty useful for a tree too; on the other hand, the spirit will be probably unimportant for the moonkin and maybe unimportant for the healer.

I won't hit 100 BoJ for a few days at best, so I'll be wathching beta news closely until then. I'm sure things will change. Hopefully we'll know more soon!

Tanking Heroic Underbog

Alamein's education as a tank continues. We ran heroic Underbog last night. I think UB is my favorite Coilfang instance. I like the brighter lighting and the pleasant nature-driven ambiance. There's also a good variety of mobs to fight.

Our participants were just about the same as with our Slave Pens run, except that healing services were provided by our Discipline priest Sedem.

The run went pretty well. We had one or two wipes and quite a few other deaths. However we never got to a point where we were beating our heads on a wall and we were able to finish it. It did take a few hours -- probably 3 I guess. My reaction speed and focus went down later on, and we had a few really messy pulls towards the end. But with another feral Druid, and three other groupmates wearing a good chunk of PvP gear, we were able to get through it. It was surprising how often we were able to finish fights with 1 or 2 players down -- even the tank or the healer on a few occasions.

I don't think I learned any major new tanking techniques, though I did hone my existing skills quite a bit. I got better at establishing threat on multi-mob pulls, especially with tab-targeting. However I was frustrated a few times with tab-cycles that didn't get me the mobs I wanted. I also learned (once again) that when in doubt, slow down and wait to pull. It's easy to try to hurry up -- both to conserve rage and to start a pull at a convenient time (because of patrols). But if I hurry, bad things often happen.

I was much better at timing taunts this time through. In particular I was happy to make good use of Challenging Roar a few times. Those long-cooldown abilities are tough to learn since you can't really practice them. But it really helped for some of the worst pulls -- even if it killed me once or twice. Similarly, I had good use of Frenzied Regeneration a couple times -- though once I also popped it too late. I also got much better at using Demo Roar and Feral Faerie Fire on a regular basis. Still to do, though, is to work on my use of Feral Charge and Bash. I don't rotate those in when needed well enough.

I was really happy with my tanking on Hungarfen. I was able to tank him around in a big circle to avoid the worst of the mushrooms. By contrast, Gahz'an was a bit of a dog's breakfast and it took two wipes for me to get it right. The tough part there was the positioning. Consensus was to fight on the bridge, and I didn't do a good job at keeping his tail out of the way. I think next time I'll use the platform instead.

Musel'ek was a tough fight, and I died fairly early while the group was burning down Claw. But we were able to finish the fight anyway. We did have a painful bug on the fight though, when Claw's knockback knocked Mattoo behind some mushrooms near the wall. He just couldn't get out -- even after the fight was over. And finally the Black Stalker was no problem.

So overall a good run, and solid for my education. I'm now at 79 badges, getting close to my 100-badge goal. The only question is how I should spend them. I've been planning to buy the [Grovewalker's Leggings], but now that I'm tanking, I'm tempted to buy a tanking item instead, perhaps the [Tameless Breeches]. In the end though I think I'll choose the healing pants... because they'll also be very good Balance pants in WotLK, and that's how I plan to level up.

08 September 2008

Druid items - from Healing to Tanking

Due to various issues we didn't get to run anything major over the weekend. Bummed about that! But I did get a boatload of dailies in, building to my "buy Sali a fast mount" fund. My only question is whether I'll buy a gryphon first or get the mats to build the epic roflcopter.

We did kill the Blades' Edge dragons on Saturday night. It's become a quick way for us to make a good bit of gold and to maybe get some nice drops. And we got very lucky this time around, because a [Depleted Badge] dropped. This can be infused into the [Badge of Tenacity], which is one of the best Druid tank trinkets in the game.

I had moral qualms though for two reasons. First I was playing on Sali so I wasn't tanking at all. And second it's a BoE drop that sells for about 1000-1500g at auction. So I didn't feel right just rolling Need on it. Mattoo quickly said I should Need but I'd already rolled, which I felt good about anyway. He was tanking but he already has a Badge of Tenacity so it was a sell item for him.

Fortunately I won the five-way Greed roll. So I was pretty happy about that!

Gearing up Alamein to tank has been an interesting exercise. For most pieces it's been surprisingly easy, but some parts have been challenging. I began with the WoWWIki druid tanking equipment page, as well as Big Bear Butt Blogger's tank starter gear post. They are great at listing what gear you should look for, but I wanted to talk about some specific challenges. I'll cover four sources of items: drops, reputation, auction house (plus crafting), PvP, and quests.


When I first decided to switch, I assumed I'd have to run regular instances for a lot of drops. This turns out not to be true. Most of the tank gear available in normal instances is just not an improvement over the other pieces you can get. The one thing I did look for -- and got on my first try -- was the [Iron Band of the Unbreakable] from regular Old Hillsbrad. Other than that, the only drop I'd be tempted to farm is [Adamantine Figurine] from Shadow Labyrinth. We had one run in there and it didn't drop. But after running a dozen or so people through their Kara attunement -- back when it mattered -- I don't want to spend more time in Slabs than I have to!

Edit: I forgot about one great drop that I had saved: [Thoriumweave Cloak] from Mech. I'd taken that while on a Mech badge run as healer; we didn't have an enchanter in the group or we probably would have sharded it. That would be worth farming too, since it drops on either normal or heroic.


Every guide will tell you that [Earthwarden] is the best tanking weapon you'll get until T5 at least. (I'm not Exalted with Cenarion Expedition yet so no luck there.) But one source of rep gear that both guides miss is Shattered Sun Offensive. The [Shattered Sun Pendant of Resolve] is a pretty good tank amulet, and if you've been running SSO dailies regularly you're probably exalted with them. The Dragonhide Battlegear also provides a great way to pick up some pieces that can round out your set.

Auction House/Crafting

The Strength of the Clefthoof set is really where you want to start. As a skinner/leatherworker, I had the patterns and most of the materials, so this was a no-brainer. But even if you're not, you can probably get all three pieces for under 500g. That's crazy-cheap for three good pieces of tanking gear. The other key piece (if you can't get Earthwarden yet) is [Braxxis' Staff of Slumber] which usually sells around 50g. The [Stylin' Purple Hat] is pretty good too if you don't have a good helm. Which leads to my next point...

PvP Items

This was a surprising situation. In short - the healing PvP gear turns out to be better than just about anything I could get through other sources. For example, I thought I'd buy the Stylin' Purple Hat, but it's not as good as the [Gladiator's Kodohide Helm] I already had. The same was true for my shoulders. Obviously the Gladiator's Dragonhide gear would be much better, but even the Kodohide gear has a good chunk of stamina, armor, and resilience that makes it work for tanking.

The problem is that I got these pieces for healing -- so they have healing enchants and gems. Mostly it's not a huge deal, but I have the [Bracing Earthstorm Diamond] in the hat - which gives -2% threat! Not good! Fortunately the mass of blue +stamina gems I used has deactivated the meta gem requirements. So I'm still using it for now. But replacing these pieces is my current PvP priority.

There's one item I haven't seen listed in any guide but I think it's worth considering. It's really a Reputation item but it comes from Alterac Valley rep so I'll list it under PvP. That's the [Stormpike Insignia] or the Horde equivalent. It's not really great, but it does grant dodge and if you've run any AV at all you should be able to pick up one rank or another of this. (You can get the first trinket at Friendly and upgrade it with each reputation level along the way.) Consider it as a stopgap measure if you don't have any other helpful trinkets.

Quest Rewards

If you're leveling as feral, this is super-easy. The hard part is when you've leveled as another spec. Basically -- either you have the gear or you don't! I was mostly lucky but lost out in one spot. So the moral is: watch for good offspec gear in quest rewards -- and save it!

For druid tanking, there are three quest reward pieces that you should watch for. The one that I'm kicking myself on is the [Idol of the Wild]. This one really annoys me because there's no good way to replace it. It comes from an early Hellfire Peninsula quest and there's just nothing else to replace it with. I'm using my [Idol of the Raven Goddess] but it's a poor substitute. There are so few idols that it really pays to grab every one that crosses your path.

The second reward is another fairly easy quest item: [Manimal's Cinch]. This belt is also difficult to replace. It's easy to underestimate (and throw away) because it's green, but there's not much to replace it with. This comes from a soloable quest line in Shadowmoon Valley; it's possible that many druids haven't done this yet so check it out. And the third key quest reward is [Umberhowl's Collar]. Again, it's difficult to find better bracers. This quest line requires some group work so it's probably skipped fairly often.

With these easy-to-find items and a quick respec, you'll have the gear and talents to pretty much start tanking heroics. Of course that says nothing about having the skill! That's the part I'm working on now...

05 September 2008

Tanking Heroic Slave Pens

We ran heroic Underbog last night. With our normal group setup it would have been easy, but we did it with group roles that we're not as familiar with or as geared for. The group was:

Firegrin and Wyrmm are experienced and well-geared but the rest of us are a bit new to our roles. Matt has a well-geared Shaman, but his druid Mattoo just dinged 70 last week and isn't geared up yet. Eric is just started in gearing up Dralkios as a healer. And I'm still new to the tanking business with Alamein.

The good news about Druid tanking is that it's pretty easy to get geared up, especially as a skinner/leatherworker. The Heavy Clefthoof set (boots, leggings, and vest) is really good gear. It's the nucleus of a set that gets you ready for heroics or Kara. Add to that some PvP pieces and I'm pretty much ready to go.

There are great resources out there to learn about tanking. My go-to article is Bear with me, I want to tank on TankSpot.

The hardest part has been learning the mechanics, starting with the pull. I'm still working out details like when Enrage is a good or a bad idea. With Firegrin and Wyrmm in particular, I'm working pretty hard to establish aggro. I'm also still working out the attack rotation. The base rotation of Mangle, 3xLacerate is pretty easy. But I still have to work out when to throw Demoralizing Roar or Feral Faerie Fire -- sometimes I forget, while other times I'm probably refreshing them too soon. And I struggle with using Bash or Maul appropriately.

Multi-mob stuff is still my weakest point, in two ways. I have a hard time getting enough aggro lead on all mobs to stay ahead of my healer -- especially if we have casters involved. And I'm not very good at taunting when it's needed either. My DPS last night was really good at knowing when to slow down, but the healer doesn't have that luxury. I need to be better at pulling mobs off him.

With those kinds of weaknesses, it wasn't going to be an easy run. We had quite a few wipes, usually due to losing Dralkios to loose mobs. But we got a lot better at it along the way. We one-shotted both Mennu and Rokmar, which was fun. Eventually we got stuck at a bad four-lobster pull on the way to Quagmirran, where the long climbing hallway opens into a larger room. We wiped there four or five times before getting it figured out, but at that point it was too late for us all and we called the run.

Even though it was a challenging run I really enjoyed it. It's a big help that I had four extremely skilled players along for the run.

Eric on Dralkios is still learning healing and he's maybe still a bit lightly geared for heroics. But he got amazingly good at it along the way. Eric is great at balancing the tactical choices involved in each fight - knowing which totems to drop, for example. I never saw him get his healing priorities wrong either -- something that I know took me a long time to learn on Alamein.

Danny on Firegrin is the exact example of what WowInsider just called The Hunter Who Doesn't Suck. To start with he was chain-trapping a mob in every pull. He's so rock-solid at it that I'd put a blue rectangle on a mob and know that I wouldn't need to touch it until everything else was dead. At the same time he'd usually be Misdirecting onto me to help me with threat issues. And with all that he was still doing more than his share of the overall damage for the group.

DK on Wyrmm is just as skilled as a rogue. He's exactly the melee partner you want in a group. He can scout ahead and use Distract and Sap to set up the pull. In a fight his stuns and kicks are perfectly timed, and he will Evasion-tank a mob to prevent disaster. He's also really heads-up in every fight, calling out problems or warnings and reminding us of the next kill. And his damage was insane; he really rocked the meter last night, without becoming an aggro menace.

Finally Matt on Mattoo is great to play with as well. His druid is still undergeared and he wasn't able to DPS to the same level. But it's a testimony to his skill that we still got as far as we did. His knowledge is encyclopedic and he knew exactly what to expect with each pull. And he did the great druid multitasking role really well -- switching to bear to pick up a loose mob or to healer to help out Dralkios any time it was needed.

And the whole group was great to work with overall. People were relaxed and laid-back even when chain-wiping. Each frustration was met with good suggestions for what to try next. But even with a laid-back joking atmosphere the whole group stayed focused and was always ready for the next pull.

That's the kind of stuff that really gets me hooked into the game: the people I get to play with. I love that stuff!

04 September 2008

A Tale of Two Professions

I've now leveled two crafting professions to 375. They provide an interesting comparison.

Alamein is a leatherworker. There wasn't a lot of thought in the choice -- not much more than "she wears leather armor, so she should be a leatherworker." It's worked out fairly well. The drums are quite nice, though we have to be careful since both Wyrmm and Firegrin are also leatherworker/percussionists. We just have to time our drumming so that it doesn't overlap. But the biggest benefit has been the Windhawk Set. Alamein is unlikely to get rid of that until fairly far into WotLK. It's not only a strong set, but its bonuses work very well for switching back and forth between Resto and Balance.

Sali is an Engineer. I really chose it just because it sounded fun, and it has been. The [Destruction Holo-gogs] are top notch. The trinkets are great for early levels, and the mote extractor is great for making money. However, mages get less use out of engineering than most classes. All the bombs are pretty much useless, since mages can do that kind of thing better anyway. That also rules out Goblin engineering as a specialty. Goblin engineering isn't bad but the [Gnomish Poultryizer] is rather pointless too due to Polymorph. And the crazy +stamina on trinkets isn't all that helpful either. And there's not much you can sell as an engineer that will make you much money. So while I'm still enjoying it, it's not a huge advantage to me either.

I expected the benefits to be different, but I was surprised at how different the leveling experience was. The first factor is that Sali, as a gnome, gets the +15 skill bonus. When it comes to leveling those final points to 375, that's huge. She got the last 5 points all from making parts -- felsteel stabilizer and so forth. With Alamein it was a real struggle to reach 375 -- even more so before the 2.3.0 patch that reduced rep requirements to get drum patterns.

The second part is that 375 skill was huge for leatherworking but anticlimactic for engineering. With leatherworking, 375 meant that Alamein could make the Windhawk set -- the whole reason Alamein took the profession. For engineering, Sali could make her epic goggles at 350 skill. While the new epic goggles are fantastic, they rendered all the old goggles obsolete. So the gnomish schematics learned at 375 are pointless. I am interested in making the [Gyro-balanced Khorium Destroyer] for Firegrin, so 375 still has some value. But for Sali, there's nothing worthwhile at 375.

If I had to theorycraft, there's no comparison: leatherworking is both harder and more beneficial. I got three quality armor pieces and a whole array of drums to use. Engineering gets me a great helm and not a whole lot more. But beyond the straight stats, it's just a lot of fun. And that's worth a lot! I'm not sure what WotLK will bring. I haven't seen anything special yet for either profession; I'm sure that the high-end itemization isn't around yet. I'm curious whether they'll advance the specializations; in particular I'm looking forward to seeing whether leatherworking continues to give me good gear. We'll see how it goes!

03 September 2008

Catch Up

I feel like I might blog some more. So as a placeholder - and with no discussion - I'll give an update about what's happenened in the past year.

In short, I've kept playing. A lot! The highlights:

  • I leveled Alamein to 70. She's done a lot. While leveling she was Restokin spec (moonkin/healer hybrid). On reaching 70 she's mostly alternated between full Resto and various full Balance specs. Recently (within the last month) I've also experimented with a feral tank spec. But if you asked me what Alamein is, I'd say "healer" without question.

  • We started a guild, Talon Guard. We grew rapidly, built to raiding Karazhan a bit, and then ran into too much tension between aggressive hardcore raiders and more casual players. We couldn't raid enough to please most and lost most of our members in one week. On the other hand we've kept some of our most mature and fun members and have formed some close friendships.

  • I leveled a second toon to 70: Sali, my gnome mage. She just dinged 70 last week, and I'm having a lot of fun with her. She's been Fire spec the whole way, and I'm still enjoying that. She's now venturing into the world of daily quests with the goal of getting her epic flyer. Just last night, she completed the quests to run Sha'tari Skyguard and Ogri'la dailies.

  • I've PvP'd a little. Alamein has done a good bit of battlegrounds, especially Alterac Valley -- she's Exalted with the Stormpike Guard. On the other hand she's only run a handful of arena matches, and has yet to spend her first arena points.

So that's what I've been up to. I'll post more later about what I'm doing on a daily basis. But suffice to say, it's now about getting ready for Wrath of the Lich King. I'm excited about the expansion and am hoping to do a lot of things when it arrives. Should be fun!