19 November 2008

WotLK gear replacement, revisited

This is a post-launch followup to my earlier look at gear replacement. My best guess at that time (late September):

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.
WoW Insider had a post on upgrading to greens, where the poster points out that it's not happening, flirts with complaining about it, but then counsels patience.

So what's the scoop? Blizzard did this on purpose. Flash back to the release of Burning Crusade. There, the design was that pretty much everyone would replace their gear with early quest rewards. Only Naxx raiders held on to their gear beyond even Hellfire, and even that T3 gear was replaced from midlevel quest rewards. For everyone else, their hard-won raid gear was gone by the time they dinged 62 or so.

New gear is cool. But this quick replacement had a few consequences:
  • It devalued the hard-won raid gear, leading to a "what was the point?" reaction.
  • The nicely matched tier gear was replaced with mismatched greens, resulting in the dreaded "clown suit" look.
  • By amping up the equipment values so quickly, it created an inflation effect where each subsequent level — later quest rewards, dungeon drops, and BC tier gear — had to be more and more overpowered.
The experience wasn't good for players and created headaches for the developers. So they changed it.

Here's my graphic from the last post, showing the relative item values from various types of gear:

There's two big changes. First, the early BC purples are more comparable in value to the midlevel WotLK greens, so you'll hold on to those much longer. And second, the easy access to Badge gear means that even non-raiders will have some good gear that should last for a long time.

You will replace your gear eventually; how quickly depends on what kind of gear you had. Here's a quick summary:
Gear sourceReplaced with:
BC quest rewardsearly WotLK quest rewards
BC instance dropsearly-mid WotLK quest rewards
BC Tier 4 gearmid-level WotLK quest rewards
BC Tier 5 gearlate WotLK quest rewards, WotLK dungeon drops
BC Tier 6 gearWotLK Heroic drops or Naxx gear

So what's been my experience? My starting point was a combination of T4-level and BoJ gear. I replaced a ring fairly quickly with a quest reward, but otherwise I wasn't very tempted by any Howling Fjord gear. Last night, I replaced my first decent purple. The [Life Binder Talisman] replaced my [Voodoo Shaker]. That was a bit sad; the Voodoo Shaker was a recent pickup, my last BoJ spent. But it is nice to have some new gear for a change. The two items aren't far apart, and that's probably true for a lot of the rewards I'm starting to see. But something like my [Grovewalker's Leggings], a 100-BoJ pair of pants, will probably last until I start running Heroics.

Have no fear; you'll get upgrades. Just be thankful that the transition is a lot smoother this time around.

18 November 2008

Leatherworking: time to give it up?

First, the good news. Leveling Skinning is about the easiest thing you can do, at the launch of a new expansion. There's tons of dead animals all over the place, just ready to be skinned. I'm already at 450 skill for that, with probably about 150 Borean Leather in the bank so far. It's nice.

But I haven't made a single new leather item yet, and I'm starting to think that it's time to quit Leatherworking. That's really a shame, because I like it. The irony is that Blizzard has said that the profession changes were designed to route you to something you enjoy rather than something you felt you 'had' to take. I enjoy Leatherworking, but the available items are so bland and boring that I'm not seeing any use from the profession.

Leatherworking has always suffered (along with Tailoring and Blacksmithing) in that many of its products aren't consumable. Yes, you can make armor patches and leg armor. But the bread and butter of the profession — the leather or mail armor — is unlikely to sell for much. People just get better rewards from dungeons, rep, and badges. There are a few high-end items that you can sell, but those are pretty rare. Most things aren't worth the material cost. And the patches, while not bad, compete with enchants and aren't a huge money-maker.

The Bind-on-Pickup leather items used to be great, at least for me. I worked hard to craft my Windhawk set. It was a bit better than T4 and lasted me through all of Burning Crusade. (I didn't get out much.) Raiders got some good BoP patterns too. But it appears that Blizzard won't do anything this good any more, which really kills the attraction and value of Leatherworking for me. Even if there was comparable gear, I took pride in wearing something that I'd made myself; it marked me out as a leatherworker (though the models were crappy) and made me feel that the profession gave me something unique. Without that, my motivation is much less.

Drums were a Burning Crusade addition designed to make Leatherworking more attractive. And they did! The effects they added to battle were great and were a big advantage. Too big. Advanced raiding guilds had many of their players convert to Leatherworking so that they could chain-drum their way through challenging encounters. That is specifically what Blizzard wanted to combat (and rightfully so). So, they changed drums so that all drummers in a party or raid are subject to the same cooldown. Not a bad change, but as my normal party has three leatherworkers, we're really overstocked with drummers now.

So, Wrath has another answer: fur linings. These are crafter-bound wrist enchants, like the ring enchants that enchanters get. They're not bad. Compare Fur Lining - Spellpower to Enchant Bracers - Superior Spellpower. The fur lining gets you almost 125% more spellpower than the enchant. The attack power advantage is about the same, while the Stamina bonus is huge. There are also fur linings for resistances. It's all pretty nice.

But that's what Leatherworking reduces to: +37 spellpower for me. That's it. Beyond that, I've lost my unique (and pretty good) armor; any value from my Tribal Leatherworking specialization, and much of the utility of my drums. It's depressing.

I haven't looked at it, but I suspect that Blacksmithing is in much the same boat. Enchanting is probably about where they were before, as are the consumeable professions of Alchemy and Jewelcrafting. Tailoring at least gets their flying carpets, and Engineering gets their choppers and a host of other unique and cool items.

So will I switch? I'm reluctant, since Alamein has been crafting leather her entire career. I'm still hopeful that I'll see some useful changes with future patches. Besides, I don't have time to level another profession while I'm leveling up. So I'll probably hang on to Leatherworking for now, at least until I reach level 80 and/or the 3.1 patch comes out (and we see more recipes). But if things stay as they are, Alamein may have to become an Alchemist or Inscriptionist.

17 November 2008

Druid leveling in Wrath: Resto and Restokin

I did want to add a note about my leveling experience so far, with two specs.

I started out with a 5/0/56 full Resto build. The story in short: Yes, you can level as full Resto. It's not horrible, but it is fairly slow. After a while, I became annoyed with how long it took to kill things. I watched Recount for a while, and I was doing about 350 DPS, which is pretty much crap.

So yesterday, I respecced to the 31/0/30 Restokin build I talked about last Friday. No surprise, it's a lot faster to kill things as a Moonkin than a basic Night Elf. I collected a variety of stats, and as a Moonkin, I'm doing something closer to 610 DPS. It's not double, but it's not far from it, either. Moonkin can take a beating too, which helps. It's just a lot faster and easier, and I don't regret it.

The only remaining question is whether a Restokin can heal an instance run. My biggest problem is that I'll miss Wild Growth. Mana efficiency may be an issue too. I'm hoping to get a run into the Nexus soon, and I'll report back on that.

Howling Fjord is Tapped

Last night, I more or less finished the quests in Howling Fjord. Sometimes, I am a completist to the point of OCD, and leveling in a new zone (one that I think is beautiful and fun) is the kind of thing that gives me the itch to get everything.

So even after I completed the Explore Howling Fjord and I've Toured the Fjord achievements, I kept working to complete the last few quest chains in the area. I finally completed just about everything last night, with the help of Firegrin and Wyrmm, when I finished March of the Giants and then Demolishing Megalith. On to Dragonblight!

I was stymied by a couple of bugged quests. The worst is I've Got a Flying Machine. It's a vehicle-based quest, where you take over a plane to haul bags of artifacts out of the Steel Gate excavation. Problem is, the bags appear to bug out over time. After a server reset, things are great, but over time fewer and fewer bags can be hooked. By the time I tried it, everything was borked.

There appears to be a similar problem with Seeds of the Blacksouled Keepers, though I was able to complete it anyway. The quest asks you to kill spores, then freeze the remains. The spores appear to progressively bug out, evading so that nobody can kill them. When I did it, yesterday around 2PM, about 70% of the spores I saw were evading. Firegrin and Wyrmm went after them around 10PM and only two spores were accessible; they had to camp those two and kill them repeatedly.

The only other quest I had trouble with was In Service to the Light. The issue here isn't bugs, it's spawn rate on the Deathless Watchers. The only spawn points I found were on the edges of two upper platforms; there's about 6 spawn points. But you need to kill 10 watchers, so everyone was running back and forth, tapping watchers instantly when they spawned. It took me about 20 minutes to get enough of the watchers to complete the quest.

Such is life in a new expansion. It's painful to run into quests like these, but on the balance it's a necessary part of trying new things. I would rather have Blizzard try new mechanics and add more quests. That added complexity comes at a cost; it's less likely that all bugs and issues will be fixed before launch. But I'd rather deal with that instead of killing a couple dozen more shoveltusks or whatever.

So, Howling Fjord is checked off. What are my conclusions? Here are my top awards for the zone:

Best quest: This one's tough, but I'll go with The Slumbering King. I also liked Sleeping Giants in the same area, which made it a lot of fun.

Best questline: The Iron Rune Constructs. It starts with The Human League, and runs several quests through Wyrmskull Village and Utgarde Catacombs. Then it heads to the Explorers' League Outpost with the Tools to Get the Job Done quest. It ultimately finishes by having you drive your own rune construct into Baelgun's excavation site. There's a lot going on here, both in lore, new quest designs, and new equipment.

Best new quest mechanic: The harpoon guns in It Goes to 11.... Though I'll give a special runner-up award to Send Them Packing. Threatening mobs with emotes, I love it!

Funniest quest: Absholutely... Thish Will Work! Note to self: don't trust a drunk alchemist.

Worst quest: Aside from bugged quests and poor spawn rates, I would vote for March of the Giants. It's fine if you're grouped up (as indicated), because the giants aren't bad to kill then. But I tried to solo it, and the frustrating thing is that I could solo it, if everything went right. I killed the first giant, no problem. But whenever I tried again, a giant would eventually break my roots, or a rune construct would get involved... I was about 1 for 5 before I gave up and sought help.

WTF? quest: The Way to His Heart.... You have to help... sea lions mate? I suppose it could be worse!

Most beautiful subzone: Ember Clutch. There's a lot of beautiful stuff in Howling Fjord, but the burning trees (using the new flame effects) are simply stunning.

Best-looking mob: The Vrykul are really amazing. As Wyrmm pointed out, it would be wonderful if player character models looked this good. It's tough to pick a favorite, but I'll go with Halfdan the Ice-Hearted, the Thane of Skorn.

Favorite NPC: Zeh'gehn, the incomprehensible troll at Scalawag Post. "Ye'll ku fer yerself with yer own deadlights, yahso." Of course!

Most amusing vignette: The "Thish will Work" quest above was pretty funny. But I was constantly giggling at the extra transport option you receive from Grezzix Spindlesnap with the Street "Cred" quest. Talk to Lou the Cabin Boy, and he'll give you a canoe ride to Scalawag Post. A tauren... in a canoe... as a taxi service? Too funny!

Now: on to Dragonblight!

14 November 2008

Quests to catch in Howling Fjord

Yesterday, I got up and collected Eric at about 6:30 to head to Fry's. I wanted to get the Collector's Edition of Wrath, so I wanted to line up early. It turned out that there were about 25 or 30 people there, but almost 100 copies of the Collector's Edition, so we were safe. Still, it was fun to participate.

I had to work, but after I got home I quickly logged in and got cranking. Alamein had logged out in Menethil, so I headed to Howling Fjord and got busy.

I'll give a more detailed look at my thoughts eventually. But for now, it sums up as wow. My jaw hit the floor again and again as I came across new elements. I want to talk about the art and design in some detail eventually, because it absolutely kicked me in the teeth. It far surpasses my hopes.

The quest design too is amazingly cool, though there are a few rough spots and ho-hum "collect 4 pieces of meat" quests. (The latter are actually important in order to make the special quests stand out, but still: boring quests are boring.) But I'll highlight a few of the don't-miss quest lines that I came across so far.

Harpoon operation

This chain begins in Valgarde with The Path to Payback. The first parts look pretty standard, but at the end you get to take control of a couple harpoon guns and rain destruction on both buildings and attacking drake-riders. At one level this is simple training in operating siege machinery... and that's important. (Hint: look for the folded arrow icon on the right when you want to 'exit' the harpoon.) But it's also fun and cool. And there's an amusing coda at the end; as Eric described it, it's a real Dr. Strangelove moment.

The spirit world

This one begins in Valgarde with Into the World of Spirits. The first quest has you go diving for a bag found on a sunken ship, and I know that those quests can be annoying and skippable. Don't. The next two steps have some very cool stuff involved.

In the second step, The Echo of Ymiron, you enter the spirit world and observe a conversation. This is cool for a couple reasons. It gives you background on what's happening with the Vrykul, but it also just looks incredibly cool. But, there's more! I don't want to give spoilers, but while in the spirit world, you should wander around until you find an... important figure. It starts a cool scripted event that's well worth the price of admission.

The third and final step is similarly cool and informative. Well worth the time.

Falcon quests

This starts in the Explorers' League Outpost with the Trust is Earned quest. The first couple steps are pretty easy and harmless. The third step, Falcon Versus Hawk, is pretty annoying, because there aren't enough hawks around, so it takes forever. I almost skipped it, but the last phase is a lot of fun, and teaches you more about the new vehicle/minion control mechanism.

Iron Rune Constructs

This is a long chain, starting all the way back in Valgarde with The Human League. After a lot of work in Wyrmskull Village, you end up heading to the Explorers' League Outpost, where you'll eventually get Tools to Get the Job Done from Walt.

Walt will send you all over the place to get materials. (This includes the amusingly named We Can Rebuild It and We Have the Technology.) After that though, Walt will build you a small siege vehicle to finish the quests with. It takes a little work to learn how to control it, and it's pretty slow. But the quest is otherwise easy, and gives you a very cool experience at learning more of the new vehicle interface. Have some fun with this one.

So those are just a few questlines to look for. But I haven't found anything yet that I'd say you should skip anyway, so just do it all!

12 November 2008

Restokin for leveling in Wrath

I'm struggling a bit with how I want to level in Wrath. I'm very hopeful to heal a good number of instance runs, so I want to keep my Resto build if possible. But I'm concerned that Resto will still be a bit too squishy for easy leveling. And respecs are still expensive, so I don't want to go back and forth too much, particularly when I need to save for Cold Weather Flying.

My current plan is to keep my Resto spec and see how that works for leveling. Maybe I'll try the slowest AoE grind possible:

  1. Buff with Thorns.
  2. Aggro a good group of mobs, maybe with Hurricane.
  3. Pop Barkskin and drop another Hurricane.
  4. Shift into Tree of Life form, and keep healing yourself while the remaining mobs kill themselves on your Thorns.
OK, that's a bit of a joke. Right? Ha ha? I've actually tried it a bit, and it does work... though it's incredibly slow.

If that plan fails me and I decide to move to Boomkin, I'll probably go with a Restokin build. That should give me the survivability and DPS I need to level, but leave enough healing power to heal instance runs. That's the theory anyway, and I'm hopeful that it will work.

I had previously guessed at a Restokin build. I think that's mostly right, but I came up with a new build that I think makes some key changes.

Here's the new build: Level 70 Restokin build: 31/0/30

Key changes from before are as follows.

I decided to take Genesis in Tier 1 of Balance. That helps a lot with healing, even more than DPS. But it comes with a cost, because you can't really afford to skip Starlight Wrath either. To do this, I sacrificed points in Brambles, Nature's Reach, and (most painfully) Dreamstate. I also put an extra point into Moonfury, since that now gets me to a full 3/3 in the talent.

On the Restoration side, the changes were less severe. I decided to move the build from Healing Touch to more of a Regrowth build. That meant that I stole points from Naturalist and Empowered Touch and gave the points to Gift of Nature, Improved Regrowth, and Tranquil Spirit (to make the rare HT more palatable). Regrowth is a more versatile spell than Healing Touch, and it has better synergy with Nature's Grace. It's less mana efficient, which makes Dreamstate that much more necessary. On the other hand, level 71 would likely see me pick up Swiftmend to add to my healing arsenal.

So that's my best-estimate Restokin build for leveling, starting at 70. I think my level 80 Restokin target would be 40/0/31 build, but that would depend heavily on what problems come up in both soloing and healing as I level.

Wrath: Where to start?

Here we are — one day away from Wrath of the Lich King. I'm eager to start exploring new zones, attempting new quests, and running new instances. But that all starts with traveling to the starting zones and invading Northrend.

With Burning Crusade, it was pretty simple. You jumped through the Dark Portal and hit Hellfire Peninsula. A quick quest would fly you to the starting city (either Honor Hold or Thrallmar) and you'd start picking up quests.

But Wrath will offer you a choice, because there are two starting zones this time around. Both Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra will start you off with level 70 quests, so you'll have to pick which one to head to first. Of course, it's not a major commitment (like Aldor vs. Scryer); you can switch back and forth between zones. Yet one way or another you'll have to pick a starting place.

I did a bit of research into it, to decide where to go. As far as I can tell, they're balanced quite well; it won't matter which zone you start with. I looked up quest rewards in both zones, and they shouldn't matter a huge amount. Most are green items at iLvl 138, which will probably not replace anything better than BC dungeon blues. Borean Tundra has quests that will give you one druid idol and a selection of blue weapons that might be more useful, but overall things look pretty comparable for druids.

So, it comes down to aesthetics I think. Here's a quick look at both zones, to help you choose.

Borean Tundra

Borean Tundra is on the west end of the Northrend croissant. Alliance can get there from the Stormwind harbor, while Horde will take the zeppelin from Ogrimmar. The Horde has a stronger presence here, but both factions have towns and quest hubs.

Borean Tundra is a grassy, barren environment. (It's... tundra, actually.) You'll see caribou, wolves, and mammoths wandering the plains. It's populated by Tuskarr, Taunka, Naga, and dragonkin. Oh, and you'll be working with the Murlocs too. D.H.E.T.A., the anti-Nesingwary group, has a strong presence here as well.

Howling Fjord

The Howling Fjord is on the other side of Northrend from Borean Tundra, on the easternmost peninsula of the continent. Alliance travel there from Menethil Harbor, while Horde will catch a zeppelin from the Undercity.

Howling Fjord is rocky and mountainous. Wildlife is dominated by herds of shoveltusk, and odd, stocky combination of bull and caribou. The NPC population is focused around the Vrykul, a viking-esque half-giant race. There's also a strong Scourge presence, leading the Forsaken to attack here in strength.

I really don't think there is a strong advantage to either starting zone. It all comes down to aesthetics and experience. I expect that I'll end up spending a good bit of time in both places, but Howling Fjord looks like the most appealing area to me. (I'm also a bit concerned about the effect of D.H.E.T.A. on the skinning profession in Borean Tundra!) My best advice is to pick whichever zone looks like the most fun, and don't worry about it too much.

I'll be logging out in Menethil tonight. See you there!

06 November 2008

Useful addons from Tekkub

I use a lot of addons. I made a list before the 3.0.2 patch dropped, and I had more than 60 installed. Now some are multiple addons from a single package, like the 10 or so components of Deadly Boss Mods, but still that's a lot.

I've talked about healing and UI addons before. Addons like Pitbull and Grid and Clique can totally change your playing experience, and I would hate to live without them. But today I wanted to focus on a few addons that are less essential, but just make life a lot nicer.

Specifically, I want to focus on a few of the cool addons I'm using from Tekkub. He has a minimalist philosophy for his addons; they're generally small and focused on a single task. This also means they're typically easy to install and operate, with minimal to no configuration needed. His stuff is mostly very clean; I've had a couple small problems when his pieces have conflicted with other addons, but for the most part they just work.

His page has a list of 45, and I've probably tried about a third of those. But I'll just talk about four of my favorites today.


If you just try one of these, try Buffet. Basically, it gives you two buttons for your action bars — one for health and one for mana. But these are smart buttons.

Consider the health button. Normally it will show you food. But what food? It will pick the best food you have available in your bag. As you use up one kind of food, it will swap in whatever else you might have available. Oh, did the mage just give you [Conjured Mana Biscuit]? Buffet is smart enough to show that first (or any equivalent conjured food) instead of the stuff you bought. However, it doesn't show you buff food; it's only going to use the plain health-regenerating stuff. Buffet does the same thing for the mana button, showing you the best drink you have available, and showing conjured water in preference to purchased.

That's cool enough. But when you go into combat, it switches to show you potions instead. Just like with the food, it's smart about that, showing you the most powerful potions first, then scaling back if you run out of your best stuff. And it's smart about conjured items here too, showing you healthstones or mana gems first, switching to potions when the stones are gone (or on cooldown).

For a final trick, the health button will switch to show you bandages instead if you hold down the Shift key. All in all, it's a slick way to consolidate a lot of stuff. On my mage, I used to have separate buttons set up for food, water, bandages, and mana gems; I had to swap between conjured food/water when I was soloing and conjured biscuits when I was grouped. Now, it's all automatic.

There are a few limits. The biggest one is not Tekkub's fault: you have to be careful about those times when you think you're out of combat but aren't, or you'll drink a potion when you meant to eat food. But that's easy enough to do. I've found some food that Buffet doesn't know about, like Stewed Trout. (It does know about the new Northrend foods however.) It's also unaware of Charged Crystal Focus, the poor man's healthstone if your friendly neighborhood warlock isn't around*. These are all trifling complaints; there's no good reason not to use Buffet.

Buffet does take just a bit of setup. Once it's installed, you get to the config screen with /buffet. From there, click on the Generate Macro button, and drop the resulting button into your action bars.

Download Buffet here.


FriendsWithBenefits is a lot simpler to explain and operate than Buffet. In a nutshell, it gives you the same friends list across all your toons in a given realm. It works completely in the background and doesn't require any configuration. After you install it, it will keep track of your friends lists on various toons. When you load another toon, it will add those friends to the master list, and add all your other known friends to the toon's list. I haven't tested it extensively, but it seems to be smart about removing friends too; if you remove a friend on one toon, it then propogates that correctly to your other toons.

Download FriendsWithBenefits here. [Note: no actual 'benefits' are received from your friends via this addon. Don't expect any auto-cybering...]


The basic premise of SYC is simple: it's a shopping list. Whenever you visit a vendor that sells stuff you need, SYC will automatically stock up. Use it for all sorts of things: Reagents. Food. Water. Arrows/bullets. You tell it how many of each item you want to keep in your bags. Then when you visit the vendor, SYC will automatically buy enough items to top you off.

It's pretty simple to configure. Type /syc to bring up the config window. Then drag an item you want to stock from your bags to the config window. You can use the up/down arrows to say how many of this item you want to keep; set it to 0 if you want to stop stocking the item. There are a few other config options, but nothing that's too complex.

I used to have a problem with SYC where it was reporting a huge memory footprint. It was likely a conflict with another addon, and may not have been Tekkub's fault. But it appears to be fixed now.

Download StealYourCarbon here.


This is another no-config, dirt-simple addon. Whenever you visit a vendor, it sells all your gray items. Nothing earth-shaking, but if you've ever found some [Basilisk Liver] wasting space in your bag, you'll appreciate this addon.

The one thing to watch for is any gray items that you want to save. My bank toon has a small collection of the starting gear for various classes, like the [Novice's Robe] for druids. She doesn't visit vendors often, but for a while she was selling that gear whenever I would visit a vendor, and I had to remember to buy it back. I solved this problem by putting that extra gear in the bank. (tJS only sells gear in your bags — nothing that you're wearing.)

Download tekJunkSeller here.

OK — I've now written more text about these four addons than the code that makes them up! That's the beauty of these addons — they're small and simple; they don't require a lot of maintenance, and they don't tend to break or do weird things. They won't solve world hunger, or help you down Illidan... but they can make your life a little bit nicer. And that's good too!

*The Charged Crystal Focus is on his issues list. I guess he's concerned because you might be saving these for another use. But it's still an open question.

05 November 2008

Raiding Zul'Aman

Not much playing time last night, there was some other stuff going on. But I still haven't talked about my ZA run on Sunday night.

Let me take a step back first. Before October, I had not raided much at all. I had been in a handful of Karazhan runs and a single attempt at Zul'Aman. Because I wasn't raiding, I did a helluva lot of research on what kinds of gear improvements I could obtain. Over time I was able to build up a good set, roughly on par with T4 or so for PvE. Anyone in TK or SSC would be ahead of me, but otherwise I was doing pretty good.

With the 3.0.2 patch and boss nerfs, people are a lot more willing to PUG raids, so I've been asked along on a lot of things. So in a month I've now had runs into Karazhan, Gruul's Lair, Magtheridon's Lair, Mt. Hyjal, and now Zul'Aman. Along the way I've performed about the way I would expect given my gear: excellent in Kara, good in the middle stuff, and a bit behind the curve in Hyjal.

So how did Zul'Aman go? It was work. We did the eagle boss first (Akil'zon), and struggled for a while. It's the kind of fight where one person messing up will wipe the raid. There was one poor noobie, a warlock I believe, who couldn't get the encounter right. I don't know if he was inexperienced or what. After the second wipe he got pretty much harshed on and kicked from the raid. He really was pretty clueless but I still felt bad for him, it's not easy learning this stuff. We also lost a hunter and a priest at that point. The priest was our second healer, but we needed to add to that the healing split was 70/30 which is waaaay too much. So we got replacements and kept going. The paladin healer that came in was good, I ended up #2 to him, with more like a 53/47 split. (So he was better but I was still pulling my weight.)

It wasn't easy but we made progress. I think we wiped once more on that boss but then we got him. We also downed the Bear, Dragonhawk, and Lynx bosses. I think those four bosses overall resulted in 5-6 wipes. We fought up to Hex Lord Malacrass, and wiped two more times on him. By the second wipe it was midnight and I had to get to bed, so I bailed out. I haven't heard whether they got past him or not.

So as a healer, it was a good experience but a lot of work. I tested all my healing skill to keep up with the incoming damage. Rolling Lifeblooms and Rejuv on the tanks. Wild Growth on incoming raid damage. Swiftmend and/or Regrowth to save gravely wounded toons. Nature's Swiftness + Healing Touch for times when the grim reaper was nigh. I cast everything I could, kept pressing myself to do better, and very rarely felt like I could coast.

For the first time in a long time, mana management was a serious issue too. I was low on a few fights, particularly Lynx, and I went essentially OOM on the Hex Lord fight, both times. I'm sure this is because I've never had to learn to be mana efficient. (For example, my fondness for Regrowth can burn a lot of mana.) Also, the druid+paladin healer combo can lead to a lot of overhealing, especially with a PUG where we're not used to working together. So I used Innervate on almost every boss fight, and drank more mana pots in one night than I've used all month.

That kind of struggle is great! It's really interesting to feel like I have to work to learn my class better. Frankly, this kind of experience is why I'm still playing so much WoW: I am still having a lot of new experiences. But it's also kind of daunting, and hints at the whole reason why I didn't raid between March and October. In short: the hill was too steep. Not for me, but for our guild.

The first part of the hill was getting attuned for Karazhan. It wasn't a huge barrier, but it was time-consuming. Since this was all before the 2.3 patch, we had to run every toon through three instances. Different people were ready at different times, so this mean dozens of instance runs. Many players who were already keyed had to spend their time running Shadow Labyrinth and Steamvault in particular. By the time we had a plurality ready for Karazhan, people were just burned out. That was the biggest factor.

The second part though was Zul'Aman. After a few Karazhan trips, we took one step into ZA and it was obvious we were totally outgunned. The gap between the two raids, both in required gear and in tactics, was immense.

That left guild members with a big sense of despair. We were built around 10-man raids. We were making steady progress in Kara, but eventually that would top out and we'd be running the same content over and over. The logical next step would be ZA, but it was clear we couldn't step right out of Kara and be successful in ZA.

Also, these are big, long, complicated instances. Kara has 11 or 12 bosses and a helluva lot of trash pulls. ZA has six bosses. Unless you're highly overgeared, you'll spend hours getting through them. Compare that to Mags and Gruul's, with 1 and 2 boss encounters respectively, and few trash pulls. You can easily get through these in an hour, if you know the encounter. Moreover, the 25-man raids are inherently more forgiving. If you have 1 or 2 slackers, you're probably still OK. Even 2 people AFK only loses you 8% of your raid. One person missing (or undergeared, or clueless) in Kara is already 10% of your capability. And the 10-man raids seem to have more of the encounters where nobody can make a mistake — Shade of Aran or Akil'zon require everyone to do the right thing.

The result was strange and unfortunate. It was easy to be a big casual guild and run the 25-man stuff. But a small guild had to be pretty intense to get through Kara and ZA. You had to schedule 3 or 4 raids a week if you wanted to progress. For us, we just didn't have enough people. If more than one person took the night off, the raid was probably called, and that made for a lot of frustration on everyone's part. There was a lot of tension there and most of the players ended up leaving for bigger guilds.

I have high hopes for Wrath of the Lich King. For one thing, every raid can be run with 10-man or 25-man participation. That already gives 10-man groups a lot more instances to run; at launch there will be 3 (4 if you count the PvP-connected Vault of Archavon) with two more slated. That also allows for an easier progression path too.

It does come at a cost. If you eventually switch to 25-man raiding, you'll be looking at the same instances. They do drop better loot, so they're still worthwhile. But it will be more of the same in encounters and storyline. I'm a bit concerned that this will make the 25-man stuff seem less elite. Even if I don't plan to run it, I would like to know that there's some seriously hardcore stuff out there, even if I never see it.

My hope is to tackle 10-man progression in a semi-casual fashion. I don't want to raid four nights a week or feel like I'm obligated to show up every time. I do want to be able to progress, and do more than just 5-man instances. My hope is that this is easier to start and has room for everyone to grow. And I'm a lot more hopeful of that in Wrath.

04 November 2008


Luck is a funny thing. I'd been desperate to get my [Sinister Squashling] for the Hallow's End Sinister Calling achievement. Despite many runs on the Headless Horseman (and winning the roll on his mount), I didn't get the drop. I trick-or-treated as often as possible, including interrupting myself every hour when I was at home to drop in on the innkeeper. So no dice.

Saturday night, I had already been offline for a few hours when I decided to have one last trick-or-treat before going to bed. And so it was that with my last gasp, at 1:00AM, I was able to get my squashling. Now that's luck!

The other pet I want is Magical Crawdad Box. Last week I got only my second Mr. Pinchy ever. I think that's a bit unlucky, given how many Furious Crawdads I've fished up. My first two wishes got me the blessing and the gift box. So yesterday — after fishing in Deadwind Pass for some Lightning Eels and Skullfish, I popped the third wish.

Boy, was he mad.

He de-aggroed after a few minutes, so I left him there, hopefully as a confusing moment for a few Kara visitors. So that's 2 Mr. Pinchys — 6 wishes — without the pet. Back to fishing for the crawdads, I guess.

Last night got me into a Zul'Aman raid. It was interesting, and I'll post on it later.