Monday, March 30, 2009

How To Run Your Own Awesome Naxx 25 PuG: Part 2: All the Rest

Since top ten lists = most popular thing on the internet, and me = liking the number 10, here are 9 more thingies I think you should do if you want to lead a Naxx 25 pug that is going to mow down the place, clear everything, and give you and your buddies best in slot gear (and inevitably gear up that one guy who keeps getting lucky drops).

This is the completion of my previous article on leading highly-successful 25-man Naxx PuGs.
If you are wondering why you should care what I think, go look at the previous article's intro to hear how I've been running pugs for months that clear Naxx 25 in 4 hours, blabbity-blah-blah-blah.


2. Tag-team leading. It really helps to have two leaders working together (without stepping on each others' toes). Ideally, you have one really "social" person to handle invites, organization, and announcements, and one "mathy" person to handle strategies and the Spreadsheet (more on that later). When doing loot, one person calls for rolls and handles master looting, while the other alt-tabs out to the spreadsheet to track loot.

It helps if these people are reasonably likeable. Having Obnoxious Know-It-All Uptight Nerdy Guy isn't going to work. No one ever thinks of themselves as unlikeable, so you'll have to either guess at your own likeability based on inferences from people around you, or you'll have to find someone who will tell you the truth about your likeability. Or you could build a time machine, and go back and observe yourself to see if you are annoying. But that seems like a lot of effort just to get a Valorous helmet.

3. Have your own vent server. Or teamspeak, whatever. I don't really need to explain why this is good. You want someone who will be present at most raids to have admin privileges in case you need to boot or mute someone.

4. Keep vent "clear" during bosses. This is where you draw the line between success and failure. If you view raiding as a chance to get together and joke on vent and not pay attention or put in any effort to the game at all, that's fine, but this guide isn't for you. We have a ton of fun joking around on vent and mainly in raid and guild chat without disrupting our ability to succeed. Joking around is our second priority, after success. You can have fun and kick ass at the same time! Don't settle for less!

Let people chat during trash, and encourage people to joke around in raid chat. But during boss explanations, everyone needs to shut up, and during the boss, everyone needs to shut up unless what they have to say is vitally important AND is not already being handled by a raid leader. If you take it upon yourself to call polarity shifts on Thaddius while the raid leader is doing it at the same time, you help no one and just cause confusion and annoyance. However, if you notice that someone is, say, standing in a void zone, please shout something out so they can save themselves!

Here's a handy flowchart on whether or not you should speak in vent during a boss, courtesy of I heart bubbles.

At some point in your pugging career, you will encounter aggressive people who will try to assert themselves on vent during bosses, and this will annoy you and other raiders. Do not be afraid to ask in a firm voice for them to "please keep vent clear" if they are being distracting or disruptive.

5. Be fair. The quickest way to drive away good raiders is to screw them over. Under NO circumstances should you screw over a pugger to give loot to a guildie in voilation of whatever loot rules you set up. Announce some rules, and then follow them. If you want to reserve something, such as certain pieces of loot or the Maly key, announce it at the beginning of the raid and offer raiders the opportunity to leave if they disagree.

6. Be open but authoritative. Be open to suggestions on how to do boss fights or other aspects of the raid. But when you tell people what to do, don't be wishy-washy about it. Pretend to yourself that you are in charge and have authority, and you will appear to others to be in charge. It's OK to ask for input, but remember, you and your co-leader are "the Deciders". If you act too consistently ambivalent, someone more assertive will step up and push you out, or things will devolve into chaos and no one will listen to you. Be sure you want to lead before you try leading. And remember, the more successful your raids are, the more people will want to listen to you, and the less effort you'll have to put into looking like you are in charge.

7. Know the strats ahead of time, and have someone who can explain them succinctly. This is key to appearing in charge, keeping the raid quick and successful, and actually killing bosses. Memorize the strats, explain them quickly, make sure you give assignements for tanks and healers and a kill order for dps. Don't be repetitive, don't take forever to explain, and don't make people wait to long between reaching the boss and the pull, or they will disengage, stop paying attention, and care less about the raid.

For instance, when I explain Sapphiron, I go: "This is Sapph, a big dragon. He alternates between two phases. When he's on the ground, melee stand on his side between his front and rear leg, since he can tail swipe and has an aoe cone he shoots in front of him. Everyone will need to watch out for Blizzards/Chill. They do a LOT of damage, so you need to get out of them ASAP when they randomly spawn on you or move toward you. Stay generally spread out during this phase. Odd numbered groups should go to the left side of the room, even numbered groups to the right. When Sapph flies into the air, you need to spread out and run to the wall [there is currently a bug that makes you immune to the frost nova if you are standing on the grates at the side of the room] and stand on the grate, but it's VERY IMPORTANT that you stay spread out while you are moving. He will hit 3 random people with ice blocks, and anyone too close to them will probably die. If you get a healer killed this way, you bring shame upon your ancestors. Also, healers, be aware that everyone in the raid will take 1200 damage from the aura every 3 seconds. Everyone else, if your health gets low, do the healers a favor and healthstone/pot. They may not have time to heal you."

8. Start with a group you know. Your main tank should be a guildie, and some of the healers should be your guildies too. This helps immensely because you know you can trust the main tank and can talk to him/her easily throughout the instance. The MT and healers make up the backbone of the raid. Tanks also have a tendency to be drama queens, and the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. It also helps if you have a few guildie dps who can impress anyone looking at the meters. :) The stronger your base group is, the more effective the raid is, and the more you attract more good raiders.

9. Don't be afraid to deal with morons and slackers, aka M&S (shout out to Gevlon) It's a popular misconception that you have to be "nice" to everyone. You don't! Though I tend to be nice to most people, I have no qualms about dealing with Morons and Slackers.

If someone is being stupid and loud on vent, they might be told to keep vent clear and not be invited back to future raids. I have told one particularly obnoxious child to "shut up" in vent before (after whispered complaints about the person from over half the raid), and it improved the raid experience overall for everyone. If someone is being outright disruptive, they can be kicked from the raid. If someone is not performing well, don't invite them back. Let the entire raid know that you expect decent performance. You are the steward of the raid, and it's your job to make the experience as good as you can for everyone. Which means you have to bite the bullet and do the dirty job of sometimes not being "nice". Don't leave it off in hopes that someone else will do it.

Don't let people get away with constant AFKs. If people need repairs, drop a bot instead of waiting for them to hearth then get summoned back. And, under no circumstances should you ever allow someone to run back to Dalaran to hand in a tier token they got during your raid. The statistical benefit is never worth the morale and interest loss to the raid overall from having to wait for this person. And even worse, if you let even one person do, it everyone will demand to do it, and you end up having to wait 1/2 hour after every wing for people to go hand in tokens. Then "just take a second" to gem and enchant them, etc.

Dealing with M&S decisively has, like, a bajillion benefits. Such as:

-Good raiders stay around, because they feel like everyone else is up to their standards and they aren't being annoyed by a moron or having to carry a slacker.

-Your raid performs better

-Your raiders see that you don't accept M&S, so they don't slack off or try to take advantage of you.

-Everyone has more fun!

10. Keep track of performance and invite back good players

This is where the excel spreadsheet (or openoffice, or whatever) comes in.


...Hey, come back!

Yeah, I know, spreadsheet, yawn. Get over it, spreadsheets are your friend, especially considering how pathetic the community building and social tracking options are in the game itself. Set up 3 tabs in your spreadsheet to start.

The first tab is your "friends contact list". Here, put the names of every pugger who performs well and has a good attitude that you want to invite back. Make notes whenever you can to help you keep track of them. Just put their names in one column, and notes in the next column, stretched out wider. This list will be a godsend when you are trying to set up future raids...

...but not as much of a godsend as a "no fly list" on the second tab. This is the list of puggers who will NOT be invited back. Make sure you note why they aren't invited back.

You'll very quickly build a nice database that makes creating the foundations of your pug a breeze. Every week, your group will get better and better. And the best part is, you've dramatically expanded your list of good players who like grouping with you. It makes trying to do heroics or future pug raids much easier.

This is also very useful because if your pugs are successful, puggers will start asking about joining your guild. Keeping track of these things will help you know what to tell them.

In the third tab of the spreadsheet, track loot. Label this one by date. I just put 3 columns: name, item slot, boss. For example: Supermage/cape/Razuvious. It's not worth it to try to record the item name, instead just say "cape", "belt", "sword", etc. You can always look up what drops from the boss to figure it out later. This way you can, at any time, refer back to the list and tell exactly where and when someone got a drop, in case they try to say they didn't get anything or there are other disputes.

Add another loot tab for every new raid. After I get a few tabs, I tend to "save as copy" to archive the previous weeks, then delete them so the spreadsheet doesn't get too cluttered or take up a lot of memory.


Whew! So that's it for my neat top 10 list of the habits of highly successful naxx 25 pugs. I hope they work as well for you as they have for me. May your Slots always be Best In!

BONUS 11th tip: bring feasts! This both makes the raid perform a bit better, encourages buffing, and helps create a positive, friendly, giving attitude for the raid as a whole. Plus, they are relatively cheap.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Un-Laziness: Punisher's WoW Journal Edition

With a futuristic helicopter in one hand and an icicle made of thunder in the other, my rogue is more than ready for Ulduar. From our Naxx 25 pugs, he's in best-in-slot gear except for two minor upgrades I could still grab. With this spec and a 4s/5r rotation, glyphs of SS, blade flurry, and rupture, and gemming for agility, I can pull 4k dps average on bosses, with more like 4500 on Patchwerk with decent raid buffs (still never had a feral druid for the bleed debuff, where are all of them?) I see reports all over EJ about other classes, particularly DKs and hunters, blasting off 5-6k dps with gear that can't possibly be any better than mine, though. At first, it made me wonder what I might be doing wrong. I know I wasn't getting Hysteria, and had no other rogue to trade Tricks with. Maybe I was missing a few more buffs, and maybe I could time my cooldowns better with my buff procs. Then I saw the list of rogue buffs and DK/hunter nerfs in the 3.1 patch notes and realized my mistake had been made at the character select screen, not in a raid. I cannot wait to see what I can do when the patch hits!

But having written that, I wonder: why should I have bothered talking about it? I always enjoyed Tobold's (and others') "WoW Journal" posts where they write about what they've been doing in-game. There's some voyeuristic enjoyment there in seeing what the neighbors are doing, and comparing it to your own experience a bit. But would anybody get enjoyment out of what I just posted? Unlike Tobold's posts, my experience is hardly representative of the average gamer's experience. Judging by sites like wow-heroes, only a tiny fraction of wow players have achieved my level of dps or gear. So will others get interest and enjoyment out of me talking about my life, or will they just not care (or worse, be turned against me by jealousy or whatever)? I know from experience that mentioning my dps or gear publicly is an easy way to turn people against me. In one recent comments section on another blog, I got attacked based on a series of untrue assumptions that went well beyond what I had revealed. Because I did high dps and dared think that was more valuable than poor dps, I became a strawman scapegoat, being attacked and blamed for grievances the other commenters had against either people from their past, or elitists (who are somehow, at the same time, ignorant of all the wisdom the poor player is privy to) they imagined. There are some I've met who have a deep-seated, ingrained hate for anyone that performs well, as though we are ruining it for everyone else and deserve to get cut down to size. I've never really understood it. Maybe I'm coming off as elitist and egotistical right now and will turn some people off. Sadly, I can't tell, and am just going to write what I want to rather than worrying about it.

...end tangent.


So my rogue is anxiously awaiting Ulduar, with a Webbed Death and a new spec waiting in the wings for when dual-weapon spec dies its silent death. We are so getting the rusted proto-drake! I like downing easy bosses as much as the next guy, but man, the fact that Algalon the Raid Destroyer doesn't even have a normal mode (only hard!) gives me a brain-boner.

My guild has been quietly debating how to deal with the new dungeon, along the same lines as Ixo's and Tobold's posts on the subject. Do we go in cold and figure out the strats on our own? Do we research the strats ahead of time so we can clear the place as fast as possible (what can I say, we like prestige)? Or something in between?

We've pretty much landed on wanting to mostly learn the fights ourselves, though we may stumble upon a spoiler here and there while reading MMO-Champion or something. But there's one wrinkle: we have a Human Spoiler. Most of my guildies are mature, and this guy is technically an adult, but he has this need to prove his knowledge to everyone else. He's that guy who will jump in and try to answer every question first just to show that he knows it. His main hobby is debate team, forchrissakes. He seriously does live with his mom. You know the type: one of those argumentative nerds who is a nice guy, and quite booksmart, but has no social skills whatsoever. He views everything in terms of whether or not it makes him look knowledgeable and "right". He's a good guy, and an excellent player, but his personality can grate sometimes. And he's been known to act as a sort of WoWInsider/MMO-Champion dictophone, like some sort of demonic automatic text-to-voice malware that got hacked into our vent server. You probably have one of those in your guild too:

"Hey guys, a new patch just came out on the PTR! Let me read every change to you, even though you can read it yourself and probably already have and most of the changes don't interest you!"


"Well this is interesting"
[Waits for response, no on responds because it's an obvious fish for attention. If it's interesting, tell us what it is instead of trying to bait us and get us to ask you what it is that's so interesting.]
[proceeds to read you something from WoWInsider that you already read, that for the record wasn't even that interesting the first time you read it.]

This is also the same guy who will jump on you every time you slack off because he needs to prove he knows more about your class than you do.

"Hey, why didn't you use [obscure move only EJ readers know] here?" [You usually do, but didn't bother this time.]

"Hey, I know we are in the middle of an intense attempt on Sarth plus 2 drakes, but I noticed that our resto druid wasn't using the lulls in healing to melee Sarth to get mana back from my judgment of wisdom! I better clutter vent by telling the druid to do that in a voice that implies I think the druid is stupid (since I don't have any other tone of voice). At least people will notice that I'm doing something they didn't think of!"

Anyway, this Human Spoiler WILL know the fights ahead of time, and will be desperate to show us all how well he can read Stratfu summaries and parrot them back. Honestly, the only counter I as raid leader have against him is to know the strategies myself, which I don't really want to do. So I'm stuck trying to figure out if I'll participate in this spoiler arms race, or figure out some other way of dealing with this . . . challenging quality of an otherwise good guy.

OK, somehow I got on another tangent there.


On the flip side, I've been going back to my DK alt a bit. She's been 80 for a few months now, and over that time I've gathered a pretty good pair of kits, one for dps and one for tanking, from a mix of heroics, guild alt runs of naxx, and pug voa/os runs. Just to highlight the class differences a bit more, my DK is at least a tier below my rogue in gear, and yet I can do about 3500 dps on average with 25 man buffs (with this spec). I know I'm playing both classes reasonably well and getting similar buffs, so I'm definitely seeing some justification to buffs to rogue raid dps. But that's just from my perspective.

I've been very excited about my tanking set ever since I offtanked our 8-man near-Undying (one death to ice block on KT in the entire run). I got a very nice axe off KT (note to Blizz: that's how you itemize a DK weapon!), and wanted to make sure all of my gear was maxed out in case I was needed for more achievement runs, and because min/maxing my character is part of the game's fun for me. Since my rogue is sitting on 75 emblems of valor with nothing to spend them on, I picked up the epic tanking boe bracers (to replace my crafted blue), and ran a voa 25 on the DK to get the last two valor emblems I needed to pick up the tanking cape, replacing the crappy armor cape off maexxna 10.

DK's were given two big boons in the most recent live patch to help them reach the necessary uncrittability defense number of 540 defense skill: a rune and a sigil (note this sigil has a 100% chance of a 30 second buff, effectively granting a passive 53 defense rating). But the math seems to show that the other tanking runeforge enchant, which gives 4% parry, offers much better overall tanking value, particularly because it's not subject to diminishing returns like parry and dodge ratings are. Since I'm hitting a ridiculous 54% combined dodge/parry during combat in just my naxx 10 level gear (that will go down by 10 in 3.1), diminishing returns are becoming a real concern. So I decided to pick up the +defense enchant to cape and replace all my blue stam gems with green def/stam gems, and all my green gems with yellow +def gems. I ended up also having to sacrifice one of my expertise gems for a def/exp gem, but I just barely managed to stay at defense cap while switching runes on my weapon. The net effect is that I traded a small amount of health for a nice big chunk of parry (which also acts as a threat stat!). This is made even better by the fact that I tank as unholy (here's my current spec), meaning I focus on avoidance to keep Bone Shield up as long as possible.

My threat was a little low in our naxx10 run compared to the paladin main tank (yeah, he was better geared, and I know pally threat is a bit high right now, but whatever, I'm a perfectionist), so I also focused my build a bit around threat and aimed to pile on some +hit and +expertise (it's a big problem for my cycle when plague strike is dodged, let me tell you). I'm not anywhere near the cap, but wherever I didn't need +defense, I stacked expertise, and I chose gear with +hit on it. I managed to only be about .07% below the melee hit cap and reach 18 expertise (25ish is the cap). Not bad, but that's one area where better gear would make a major difference. Right now I'm struggling just to stay at defense cap without having to change my runeforge back.


Finally, there's my leveling projects.

Also, being a huge Penny Arcade whorefanboy, I have an ongoing habit of trying to play on the Alliance side of the Dark Iron server (where there's a set of allied guilds all started by the group who played there with Gabe and Tycho back in the day). I also love Draenei. So seeing an opportunity, I forsook the old level 30 shaman I had on that server from my TBC attempt to join the PA Alliance, and Hatchthulu the Draenei Blood Death Knight was born!

Meanwhile, my old druid alt is slowly climbing through Northrend (74 right now). He was pure resto at 70, and had been leveled as a Moonkin. Though I played a feral druid as my main all the way to AQ40 in vanilla wow, I just didn't have the heart to set up all the buttons and macros that would be needed to manage bear and cat forms with my control setup. Last week, I had a hankering to try kitty levelling, and now that I've spent an hour getting every button on my keyboard doing three different things depending on what form I'm in, I haven't looked back. The leveling feels much faster than Moonkin, but maybe that's just me.

Besides, I get enough caster gameplay out of my Mage, who finally hit 68 and ventured into Northrend 2 nights ago. He's rocking 3 heirloom items and just blasting up the levels while seemingly invincible with a deep, deep Frost build. I never played a clothie before, and never thought I would enjoy a mage, but shatter combos are pretty fun, and I'm still psyched about the idea of playing Arcane when I hit 80. The complexity of the rotation and the ability to tailor your damage to your desired mana consumption is intriguing, as are the PvP possibilities of instant invisibility and a major instant-cast Arcane Barrage. I anticipate that much like my dual-Unholy DK, I'll be dual-speccing my mage into two different Arcane specs.

Unfortunately, there's no time to play all of these characters and also have a life, so it will be months if not years before I've gotten them all to 80 and gotten to experience the really fun part of doing 5-mans and raiding with new characters that freshen the game experience for me. And that's not even touching the hunter, warlock, paladin, or warrior that I leveled with Recruit a Friend!

WTB hired help that will level my alts for me, PST.

Wow, one could write an entire blog post just about the implications of that statement. But I think it's time for me to actually start the Laziness part of my Friday. White Horse, here I come!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sirlin on 10-man raiding and me on 2-player dungeons

I've been following David Sirlin, game designer and competitive fighting gamer, for a few years now, and been a fan of his ideas on playing to win and Yomi layers (read or buy his book). He disappeared for a while doing game balancing for SF2 HD Remix, but he came back and revamped his blog with more content. I was catching up with him recently, and ran across a post from nearly a year ago where he talks about the reward structure for the different levels of WoW raiding. He's on the same wavelength as I've been here on this blog, to the point that it's kind of creepy. You can read his post here, and I highly recommend you check out the rest of his blog and his book too, scrubs.

I'd also love to do some 2-person dungeon challenges with my girlfriend. Listen please, Blizz!

I think there is a massive market out there for just such a product. Tons of people play with their significant others, and would love dungeons that allowed them to take the challenges on together. Some of my best memories from WoW are from levelling together with my girlfriend and using clever strategy and teamwork to 2-man quests that were meant for 5. You can't really 2-man level-appropriate 5-man dungeons, because they are tuned to tightly and are too relentless.

So creating 2-person dungeons would use a lot of time and resources, but they would be justified by the demand. Imagine the new income stream you could open up if WoW became even more of a game known for giving couples (or close platonic friends!) a way to play together and share the gaming hobby in a way that interests them both? And allows for casual, bite-sized play in a way that raids don't?

The other objection I've heard is that these would be very difficult to balance. I think that's true, and I think it would be a giant mistake to balance the classes around 2-person situations. But it would be easy and simple to work around by designing the 2-person dungeon system around this limitation.


First, we reduce the importance of razor-sharp balance by making the rewards have no statistical consequence to the rest of the game. That means no phat epix. But let's face it: without rewards on offer, players will select alternate activities that do provide rewards. So the rewards need to be desirable, but not impart a combat advantage.

I think the best system would be to have the bosses in these instances drop tokens, which can be redeemed at vendors in the same vein as the current emblems. You can also make the bosses more exciting by having them drop items that offer monetary rewards. Have the rewards escalate as you progress through the dungeon: the first boss drops 1 token, a green item, and a few green gems, while the 3rd boss drops 3 tokens, 2 green items with a chance at a random blue, a blue gem, and a lockbox. This makes the whole thing more fun, while only giving a small monetary reward to those who find ways to exploit it or blast through it. It keeps class balance from coming under a microscope, especially if the rate the average pair clears the place doesn't offer as much money as simple daily quest grinding.

But these guy should NOT drop emblems of heroism. Instead, they drop a separate token, let's call it an Emblem of the Dyad. ED's (heh heh) can be redeemed for either vanity items or goods with monetary value. They cannot be exchanged for gear of any kind. Instead, you can choose from a selection of vanity pets, fun RP clothing, tabards, items that go in the shirt slot that imbue a visual effect (either a clickable use with a cooldown for a cool visual flair, or a constant visual effect such as sparks, snowflakes, or stars around the character model) and even an expensive mount (that allows one passenger, natch!). Maybe even a title ([name] of the Dou? Dynamic [name]?)! Sure, some might not be interested in these things. But lots of players are! I'm confident these would be enough to make a lot of the playerbase who would enjoy this type of gameplay to feel like they aren't wasting their time by duoing these dungeons. And for those who have no vanity, they can use ED's to buy gems or "surprise gift boxes" which contain random BoE greens with a good chance at a blue or a small chance at an epic.

Now we've reduced the need for perfect balance, and provided motivating rewards. Now we just have to design the dungeons so they are fun while not being too easy to exploit.

To limit the advantages of exploiting, limit each separate 2-person dungeon to one visit a day, just as heroics are. And limit total daily 2-person dungeon visits to 3. That way even if someone discovers an exploit, they won't be able to take much advantage of it, especially if that exploit is limited to only one of the dungeons.

Next, deal with the fact that some classes are healing, some dps, some tanks, and some hybrids. We'll have to design the instances so they can be completed by virtually any pair: 2 tanks or healers could clear them (albeit very slowly), as would a tank/healer pair. Most groups will be either a tank/dps or healer/dps, which would probably have the most conventional strategies. And then you have dps/dps pairs.

All classes have personal defenses, whether these be CC, self-healing, or clickable defensive cooldowns. A pair of 2 dpsers would have to trade aggro on the mobs. Burn your defensive cooldowns, then use cower/feint/feign death/invisibility/soulshatter/wind shock/fade/DP to give aggro to your partner, who then uses her own defensive abilities while you finish off the target together. All classes that don't have aggro drops have taunts, so just have your partner go first, then you taunt off of her when needed.

Then just balance the damage and health of the mobs around that gameplay style. All other styles will just be slower but safer versions of that.

Also, take a page from the Wrath design book and have one section or boss of each instance rely on a vehicle or some other mechanic that makes that section essentially a skill-based minigame rather than based on gear or ability to play your classes or what class makeup you had to bring. This would open the door for a lot of really creative boss and enemy designs if you are no longer constrained to the assumption of there being a tank, dps, and a healer present.

Finally, have the loading screen for 2-player dungeons and any quests that lead up to them provide a bit of a tutorial for people new to the concept and how different it is from traditional grouping. Some text about how any pair can clear these dungeons with good use of CC and by using aggro-dropping or taunt moves to spread the damage out, then eating/drinking in between fights would be a good start.

I think 2-player dungeons would be really fun challenges, and aren't all that hard to implement if you keep the rewards limited to vanity/cash and tailor the instances to the classes rather than the other way around.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Finale

BSG SPOILER ALERT if you haven't watched the series finale.


Well, it's all over. The story of mankind's ragtag survivors and the ship that bore them to their destiny has reached it's conclusion. Farewell, Old Girl.

Happily, we didn't get Soprano'd. Everything that needed to be addressed was addressed in a way that felt final (though some may not be satisfied with the answers, or snarl at their ambiguity). My predictions turned out to be in the right ballpark, but a bit off on Daniel and the Colony. I maintain that though Adama and Tyrol are technically still alive at the end, both have chosen to eject themselves from society and humanity. As I predicted, Adama doesn't really exist without his Old Girls, and Tyrol was taken out of the game as a result of finding out what Tory did to Callie.

The deaths, in particular, were handled very well. Boomer's, Tory's, and Cavill's were absolutely perfect. Sam and Laura were also given good treatments, though their send-offs were soiled by a few mis-steps on the part of the writers. Kara's exit was satisfying as well.

Surprisingly, the high points of the drama mostly belonged to Baltar. His speech in the CIC was the climax of the show, and his final scene ("I know about farming") is the most emotionally resonant note in the episode.

I would call the finale a mixed success. Overall, I enjoyed it, though a few major problems threaten to ruin the whole episode. The finale brought out both the best and worst of the show, but its real failure was suddenly breaking from the qualities that had made the show such a gem up to this point.


Drama: human character drama has always been the real strength of the show. The backstory, setting, special effects, and prose are all servicable, but what takes the show from good to great is that they manage to make you feel for these people. You laugh at their jokes and cry at their tragedies and triuimphs alike. I challenge anyone to watch the series from beginning to end and not admit that they were genuinely moved when the fleet found earth (before they realized it was a cinder), or when Laura thanked Cottle, or when Starbuck admitted to Adama that she was responsible for the death of his son. The finale had this in spades. Besides Laura/Cottle, there was Starbuck's final scene and Apollo's associated flashbacks, Tyrol/Tory, Athena and her family, and everything Baltar did in the finale. Just for a start.

Action: O. M. G. The entire first hour of the finale was just mind-shatteringly sweet. The assault plan was surprising and exciting. The budget was completely broken on a new level of special effects, with fearsomely-animated Centurions battling it out with humans and old-school toasters alike. I'll always remember the moment when I realized the Raptors had just jumped out of the Battlestar (shattering one of the bays) instead of deploying almost as well as I'll remember Starbuck's "I can do this all day" scene during the recent mutiny arc and the series's action high point: the time Adama dropped Galactica into New Caprica's atmosphere and then jumped away just before hitting the ground.

Meaning: when I say meaning, I'm referring to the show's tendency to imbue its stories with meaning outside of soap-opera drama. This is the stuff the mainstream media tends to applaud the show for: facing hotbutton issues and what it means to be human headlong and unapologetically, tending to avoid ideology and easy answers. Would you risk everything on such a desperate rescue mission? What do we do about things we can't understand? What are our human limitations and roots? Are we doomed to always make the same mistakes?

Artistic Ambiguity: This is my term for not answering the meaningful questions. The show throughout has asked you to think about torture and terrorism and race and humanity from many perspectives without (usually) getting preachy and telling you which answer is right. Many of the show's "villains" are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for noble reasons. There are always shades of grey in life. I liked that the finale stayed true to this notion (though it did get a bit preachy). Though it "answered" the questions about the head characters and Starbuck and the song and the opera house, it left the interpretation up to the viewer. Just as it never gave us the "right" answer to most of it's moral questions. Unfortunately, breaking from this tendency is the greatest source of the finale's failure in it's second half as it was its greatest source of triumph in the first half.


Sci Fi crap: Though I love the setting and the sci-fi trappings, Battlestar's greatest weakness has always been that it takes place in a fantastical spaceship and involves alien robots. It makes it difficult to take it seriously, and turns off people who aren't fans of the genre (who are missing out on a show they would probably enjoy). Thanks to the efforts by the creators to counteract this with real emotions, documentary-style camerawork and a "real", earthy feel that mimics an aircraft carrier more than an Enterprise, very rarely is this a problem. But it crops up big time in the finale. The finale hits a few sci-fi tropes a bit too hard (ZOMG machines could turn on us! I totally didn't learn that in the Matrix or the Terminator!) and twists the meaningful drama and believability in service of some of the sci-fi coolness. No where is this more apparent than in the colonization of Earth 2. The writers were trying so hard to shoehorn everything that came before into this idea that "OMG it's OUR Earth!" that it twisted all of the endings for the characters in ways that didn't fit or feel right. It was all in service of cramming them onto our Earth, and the writers had already written themselves into a corner and couldn't really pull it off.


Telling rather than showing:
This is the first rule of writing. Trust your audience to "get it". Adherence to this rule has been one of the wonderful hallmarks of the series. Instead of having two characters sit at a table debating whether terrorism is a good or bad thing, you show characters in situations where terrorism comes into play, show how they act, and then let the viewer decide for themselves. If you want the story's moral to be "don't talk to strangers", you don't flat-out say "don't talk to strangers". You show the character getting screwed over by a natural consequence of talking to a stranger. Much like a joke, you ruin the entire thing when you have to explain it.

The first half of the finale did this beautifully. Yes, even Baltar's monolgue to Cavill about the angels. It was enough about "what that character would actually say to that other character" to feel "right" without quite crossing the border to talking to the audience.

Then the show absolutely obliterated that line in the second hour. Apollo bears the brunt of this, with lines like "We need a clean slate" and "we need to give up all this baggage, all the gear and technology" and just live off the land and all that crap. The angels also get into the act pretty badly, especially at the end with the "bwahah I'm Head Giaus and I needed to explain in words the obvious point that Hera is the mitochondrial Eve" and "Let's have a debate over fate because the audience is too stupid to think about this stuff themselves". These scenes bleed off into the next major problematic break from BSG tradition:

Sanctimonious moralizing:
Also known as "preachiness", and the scourge of liberals everywhere. Avoiding this was precisely the strength of the show. You were never told by the writers whether the Cylons are right or wrong, whether the human terrorists or torturers or presidents or juries or soldiers are right or wrong. Then you get to the end, and you suddenly have characters talking unnaturally (because they are talking to the audience, not each other) and preachily about how we need to drop all this technology and science and become hippies, and how we need to stop making robots because they are wrong, and how we need to believe in god or some higher power now. That was the most disappointing thing of all: though it will likely be lauded for leaving the identity of the show's supernatural influencor up in the air, I think the script doesn't leave enough room for interpretation of its identity. Why does it have to be supernatural? Why can't it be scientific, but beyond our (and the character's) understanding (just as Cylon ressurection and FTL technology are to us)? It's Disappointing that it can only be some form of "god". The entire question would have been much better if left only to Gaius's speech to Cavill in the CIC.

Tone-deafness: I know that we were supposed to find it moving when Adama put his wedding ring (from his previous marriage!) on Laura's finger (after she died!!). I imagine the writers thought they were very clever.

They were wrong. It was gross. I felt violated for Laura. Don't be putting shit on her after she died that she wasn't willing to wear while alive, you sick frak.

To get by, I pretend that it never happened.

I also need to pretend that the arrival on Earth 2 doesn't evoke incredibly racist and offensive references to the enslavement of the "savage" races of Africa by the "enlightened" Anglo-European whites in our own history. How could the writers not have realized just how messed up this idea is? "Hey look, here's a fledgling hunter-gatherer society! Let's go impose our values and ideas on them!"

Oh, and also: "Sam is mentally disabled, and that's inconvenient for us right now (all this pesky technology he has to be hooked up to, you know), so let's force him to commit suicide." Ick.

Loss of logic (in general and in actions of the characters): I've already gone into this a little bit, and it's the worst offense of inconsistency in the finale. This series was set apart from other sci-fi fare because the plot and lore were in service to the characters, and not the other way around. The characters were, for the most part, fully realized and tended to act in believable ways to the circumstances. This was brave and incredibly rare for TV. In the second half of the finale, things flew completely off the rails because the writers felt the need to force the characters to conform to the desired ending in a way that fit. Everyone became completely subservient to the plot and the lore. Characters' decisions flew out of the realm of the believable and into Fairy Land.

They would not give up their technology, and most importantly, no way in hell would they give up their knowledge. They may not have the equipment or supplies, but they frakking KNOW how to cure and treat illnesses, build spaceships with artificial gravity and life support, FTL travel - hell, they know how to make booze! - and no way are they going to give all that knowledge up just for a "clean slate". Do the writers understand what the infant mortality rate would be without medical knowledge? How many women die in childbirth without modern medical treatment? Did they even give women a vote in this whole "starting over with the clothes on our backs" thing (were there any female writers on the show?)? Do they have any concept of how many new diseases you can catch from just traveling to a new country, let alone a new planet? There is no way they survived without medicine. And isn't it spitting in the face of centuries of hard work and research discovering these ideas only to have them thrown away? They wouldn't give this stuff up, and they certainly wouldn't fly their frakking fleet into the frakking sun!!

The ONLY reason they abandoned technology and scientific knowledge was because we didn't have those things 150,000 years ago, and thus the BSG crew can't be our real ancestors unless they gave up technology. Archaologists haven't found the remains of any giant spaceship labeled "Colonial One", and NASA hasn't noticed Galactica's rickety skeleton floating in our orbit, so they had to get rid of those ships off-planet somehow. Frak that.

They also wouldn't spread out across the planet. That's like asking to be eaten by the first pack of wolves that finds you.

The ONLY reason they spread out is to make them "fit" as our real ancestors. Which actually makes no sense because Hera is the ONLY ONE who has surviving descendents in our present day. Frak that.

And they would not give the Centurions the only remaining spaceship, armed to the teeth with awesome weaponry, and throw away all their own weapons. That's like asking them to come back and nuke you to smithereens.

The ONLY reason they gave the Centurions the Basestar is because the writers couldn't figure out what to do with them, and we've never found cylon remains on our planet, so they had to be gotten rid of off-planet just like the fleet. The Basestar also presents an inconvenient narrative problem because it's a viable long-term alternative living arrangement to Earth 2. So it had to be gotten rid of to serve the desired result. Frak that.

The entire "abandoning technology and giving away the ships voluntarily" thing was poorly thought-out and entirely broke the illusion of believeability to shoehorn in a plot point shoddily.

Contrived. Contrived. Contrived.

How to fix the finale:

  1. Keep the first part, up until they jump to our Earth, exactly as it was. The only minor change I'd make the that part is un-cut the visuals that showed that all of Cavill's cylons and the Colony were sucked into the singularity and obliterated.
  2. Explain how Kara's corpse ended up on Earth 1 when Apollo saw her ship explode. To do so, have a brief scene on Earth 2 in which Kara's father comes to her when she's alone, she asks him about it, and he says (with accompanying pictures shown to us) that her ship's explosion, much like the Raider she chased into the wormhole, was an illusion. The wormhole teleported her to Earth 1 where she crashlanded, freeing her consciousness to be used to lead the fleet back to earth. The rest of her ending and disappearance were right on the money, so keep them like that. I'd just like an explanation for why her corpse had to be on Earth 1.
  3. Fix the offensiveness of Earth 2. Either have there not be any natives, or have the natives be advanced enough for integration as equals to become possible.
  4. Provide a plausible explanation for what happened to the ships, technology, and Centurions. Perhaps the centurions and smaller ships land on earth, but somehow don't survive intact enough to be discovered in modern times (end up in the ocean? Pieces scattered to much when they wore down? Buried in volcano or avalanche?). The ships that are too big could just be stripped a bit and autopiloted into the sun? The fleet arrives too severely damaged, and they have no choice but to abandon them? Perhaps the other ships are destroyed in a counter-attack by Cavill, but his last basestar is also destroyed in the process? So we lose some of the fleet, the basestar is destroyed (poor Hoshi!), and the few remaining fleet ships are all that join the Galactica at Earth 2, making abandonment much more beliveable? See how easy it was to make it not seem quite so obviously forced and contrived?
  5. Cut almost all of Lee's lines between finding earth and his father's leaving scene.
  6. Have Anders volunteer to die, so it doesn't seem like he's being thrown away because he's inconveniently disabled.
  7. KEEP THE FRAKKING RING ADAMA. Make some other, less gross sentimental gesture!
  8. Cut almost all of the dialog out of the final scene (the "regression to the mean" stuff was the only value to that scene), and make the modern-day robot montage less ham-handed or cut it.

Originally, I had on this list "give us an actual reason why Hera is important. Is there something about the combined human/cylon bloodline that makes it necessary for life on Earth 2 to evolve to our present point?" But the more I think about it, the more it seems that her function was just to give both races a way to continue and pass themselves on to the new Earth 2 people after the reset button had been hit by "god". I mean, the humans that were already on Earth could have become us without the BSG crew, right? But by blending the human and cylon DNA with these Earth 2 humans, all of the races get to go on together rather than any of them being destroyed. She allows them all the have a legacy, and "live forever" in the only way humans really can: through their progeny.

Otherwise, I was quite happy with the finale.


In the end, I've invested more time into this story than I have to probably any other complete story in my lifetime. I've never read a book for 80 hours, even the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Movies are just 2 hours. And I've never watched a television show with such a complete, single arc. Most shows, at the very most, tell a single story over the course of one season, then trot the old characters and settings out to tell a new story the next season. Not so with Battlestar. It really was, all the way through, one complete story. And I don't regret a single moment of it. Not even that terrible "Apollo goes to the black market" episode or the hamfisted aspects of the finale (though they come clost to regret).

And that's the greatest measure of the finale's success, and that of the show: I really did treasure and enjoy the journey, and a few (major) misteps at the very end don't ruin the whole for me. And though far from perfect, it was, and will likely remain, (in the words of Jacob of TwoP) "the finest television show I've ever personally seen."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Laziness: Outer Space Edition

Let's not lie to each other here: there's no way I'm going to be able to think about much today besides tonight's Battlestar Galactica series finale. I. Cannot. Wait.

At least there is a development at least tangentially related to a story about a gritty, ragtag group of humans fighting an intergalactic war.

The new is slowly being introduced to the internet's bloodstream. Step by step, Actiblizzard will leverage the WoW audience to ensure the success of their overarchingl online anti-piracy/content distribution platform (think Steam). originated as the awesomely free service that helped launch Starcraft into the legendary competitive online game it is (and allowed Diablo 2 to take those first tentative steps toward MMO). Now it's being expanded and improved upon, with more to come. Do not be surprised if, 2-3 years from now, you're paying for a subscription that gives you access to WoW and SC2 online and Diablo 3 online, etc, and connects all of those games through chat and social networking. There are a lot of great opportunities here, and I hope Blizzard siezes on them.

But best of all, the introduction of the accounts means that we'll likely be seeing SC2 this year. I. Cannot. Wait. Maybe we'll get a release date announced at Blizzcon in August? I was kind of puzzling over why there was even going to be a Blizzcon this year.

This thought inspired me fire up Brood War again, only to find it nearly unplayable on my 24-inch monitor. The game is hard-coded to run at a tiny resolution (640x480?) in full screen mode, and playing it on a widescreen just stretches it out sideways and warps the whole thing. So I found this thread:

Get scloader2b wmode, and at least you can play the game in a window. Be warned it may be quite tiny. It worked pretty well for me, though I wish I could resize it to my liking.

So until next time, Bowie's in Space!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on tier set bonuses: are they a testing ground?

Going over the newly-released tier 8 class set bonuses, it occurred to me: maybe these set bonuses a testing ground for new class mechanics?

A number of set bonuses cause certain dots to crit. They seem at first glance to be ludicrously overpowered. Are they simply using the bonus to test the effects without them going class-wide? This way fewer people will complain about nerfs if the changes have to be rolled back. Maybe in 3.2 the set bonuses will be changed and the critting ability rolled into the base abilities of the class, or talents.

Also, Protection warriors get a set bonus where Shield Block also grants you 20% reduction to magical damage taken.

Um...guys? It seems like that set bonus is going to be required for warriors for any fight like Sarth 3d that dishes out big bursts of nigh-untankable magic damage. I'm already hearing reports on the PTR of bosses that require a DK tank with clickable anti-magic cooldowns. Compared to DKs, warriors and paladins heavily lack on-demand defenses against magical damage. Hopefully this set bonus will be rolled into the base ability, and paladins will also be given some similar anti-magic clicky to make hard modes a bit more fair to small guilds like mine who don't happen to have a DK or Feral druid to tank those encounters.

Otherwise, you're going to see that same crappy phenomenon I was bemoaning in my last post: Warriors holding on to 4-piece tier 8 in their bags to allow them a fighting chance to tank a firebreathing boss in tier 10, since otherwise they'd just have to sit out for a DK.

And for the record, I think shield block should have also worked on magic damage from the moment Wrath was released. The fact that the devs haven't added it in yet is a travesty.

Seriously, get your act together, Blizz. It really shakes my faith when some guy who spends an hour a day reading about warcraft can see these things coming a mile away (as does the entire WoW community), and yet the people whose job it is to design the classes just don't seem aware of this stuff.

So I prefer to think it's an intentional testing ground, and many of these changes will be rolled into the classes themselves or talents once the devs see how they pan out in practice.

Fingers crossed.

Rogue Tier 8 Set Bonuses

Wow. So I should do an intro, where I talk about how MMO-Champion is now posting the 2- and 4-piece set bonuses for all of the class tier 8 armor sets from Ulduar. Then I might talk about the set bonuses in order or something.

But I can't do that, because I can't think of anything on the subject beyond:
Rogue T8 4P Bonus -- The damage dealt by your Rupture can now be critical strikes.
Um. Even at my current gear level, I often approach 50% crit in raids. Rupture is already our highest damage per energy finisher before the set bonus. It accounts for a large percentage of my damage: around 8%. So unless I'm missing something, this set bonus will increase my Rupture damage by 40-50% in raids.

Compare this to the tier 7 2-piece bonus:
Increases the damage dealt by your Rupture by 10%.
I repeat: Um. There is no way that's going live as-is. If Rupture is 8% of my damage, then this set bonus alone will account for 4% of my overall damage. To put that in perspective: a full tier upgrade to a piece of gear usually only gives a fractions of a percentage point of damage. It's entirely possible that replacing those 4 tier pieces with 4 pieces from the next tier up will actually lower my dps.

Now imagine if I tailor my spec and rotation to favor Rupture: take all of the talents that improve it and modify my cycle to reach 100% uptime on Rupture if I haven't already. A bonus like this has the capacity to completely transform a playstyle. And if it goes live like this, you'll see rogues in tier 9-10 content still wearing 4-piece tier 8.

Whew. Glad that's off my chest.

The other set bonus:
Rogue T8 2P Bonus -- Your Deadly Poison causes you to gain 1 energy each time it deals damage.
I like it. It's interesting because it seeks to influence playstyle in a way most set bonuses don't. There are constantly new strategies being attempted to raise rogue dps, and some of these have not included Deadly Poison. DP is buffed on the PTR, which helps cement its place on pretty much every rogue's offhand, but this set bonus will push that further. Unlike other abilities, in the case of poisons the rogue has to make a mutually exclusive choice for the duration of the fight. If I use Wound/Wound, I can't use Deadly at all. Though other classes have set bonuses that buff particular abilities, those abilities are not so mutually exclusive from other abilities, so the set bonus doesn't have the same effect of influencing playstyle. For instance, if a priest set bonus buffs Flash Heal a bit, that won't make the priest stop casting PoM or Greater Heal or bubble. They might cast Flash Heal a bit more often, but that's it. They can still choose to use other moves throughout the fight. But a strong set bonus to a certain poison says "we expect you to use this poison", meaning that you can't use a different one on that hand without a penalty.

The Rupture set bonus seems to have a similar aim. The designers are trying to push rogues to use Rupture and DP more, as opposed than many recent strategies that go IP/IP or Wound/Wound, or forgo Rupture in favor of more Eviscerates or Envenoms. That type of thing is generally fine with me; the only time I object to this type of push is when it attempts to "force" actions that players aren't sufficiently motivated to do. For instance, these set bonuses are terrible if they warp our play style and gear choices around Rupture (which I fear the 4-piece bonus will) or if they buff a move the player wouldn't use even with the bonus buff (i.e. if DP was still inferior with the 2-piece bonus).

I'm interested to see where this goes.

As for the other classes, their set bonuses are all over the place. You may have noticed, as I did, that the new rogue set bonuses are not of much benefit in PvP. They buff poisons and abilities that are not used as frequently, and also buff the two DoTs available to rogues, rather than their burst damage abilities. My assumption was that this would be a trend across all of the classes. It seems pretty true for hunters, but completely untrue across other classes. Almost all of the dps sets have at least one bonus that increases crit chance on a burst ability. Many, such as mages and priests, get trinket-like bursty bonuses (both mage bonuses seem insanely good for pvp!). Druid set bonuses are the worst offenders, with Balance offering instant Starfires (helloooo mobile burst!) and the completely broken Restoration 4-piece bonus that gives Rejuvenation, their slowest and most efficient HoT, an instant-heal component. As though druids didn't dominate healing enough all ready, now they get Holy Shock essentially for free. For more on this, see Sydera's post at World of Matticus.

Glad this is the PTR, where they are still making changes, and not the live patch notes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

10 Easy Tips for Setting Up Your Own Awesome Naxx 25 PuG: Part 1

Every weekend for the past month, my tight 10-man raiding guild (we literally have 12 members, by choice) has been hosting Naxx 25 pugs on our server on Saturdays and Sundays. We start with whoever we can get from our own guild (usually around 6-8 people), add in some from a friendly 10-man guild that shot off from the same big guild we came from, then pug the rest through friends lists, trade chat, and the LFG system.

We've been wildly successful. On our first night, we cleared 3 wings. On the 2nd and 3rd weeks we cleared the entire instance over 2 nights. On the 4th and 5th week we cleared the entire place in one night, without even wiping on Thaddius. We got Malygos down to about 15% in only 3 tries last week, and we downed him this weekend after 4 more tries (all Wrath bosses cleared!). All with at least half the people starting out as totally blind pugs.

After every pug, we hear on vent, in raid chat, and in whispers that this is the best raiding experience many of the puggers have ever had. At least 3 new people ask me if they can join our guild after every run (we are closed at the moment, but many join our allied guild).

I'm not saying this to brag, but to let you know how well things can go for you if you follow my 10 easy (well some aren't that easy) steps. I ended up with a lot of meat here, so I only managed to get to the first one today. But it's very important:

1. Loot: sadly, this is one of the first items you need to focus on. People care about loot. All of them do. That doesn't make them "loot whores". If you screw loot up, you could end up souring the whole thing. Let me give you a real-life example:

Back in the early weeks of Wrath raiding, when killing Sapph was still exciting and few had been able to down KT 25, my small guild joined a pug Naxx25 run by another, larger guild. They gave out their loot based on a random roll. But once you got an item, you could no longer win anything over someone who hadn't gotten anything yet.

They had the right idea: spread the loot out by giving priority to those who have not yet won. If you don't put in such a restriction, you will lose good players when they see the same person get lucky on rolls and win multiple items in a row over people who haven't gotten anything. But they made one simple, but key, mistake: when a new person was added to the raid (because someone left), that person automatically won an item over the people who had been there the entire run. In my case, I cleared 3 wings, winning boots in one of the early wings. Then we kill 4 horsemen, and a DK that was added just for that fight gets the tier chest token over me (even though I outrolled him) because he hadn't won anything yet. The loot system became a joke. Every time someone left, all of us groaned because we knew our chance at loot was going right out the window. And since this run was largely pugs, we tended to lose a few people every other fight that needed to be replaced with new loot sponges. The fun was sucked right out of the raid because everyone felt like they were getting screwed.

So I'd recommend modifying that system: have new people who join later in the raid roll against those who have won one thing already. That way, if you were there the entire run and didn't get anything, you automatically win even if someone else just joined the raid on this boss. If everyone who has put in the time already got something, then they all get to roll against the new person. So the new person still has a good chance of getting loot, but doesn't automatically win over people who put in the effort to clear previous bosses.

Offspecs: Once all main specs pass on an item, let anyone who couldn't use it for main spec roll on it for offspec. Give it to them for "free": i.e. it doesn't count as one of their epics on the loot list. Don't let anyone abuse this to get main spec upgrades, or you're done. I actually caught a DK doing it this weekend, because there was no competition on the item. So he claimed it was "offspec" and equipped it, then I went " is a dps neck 'offspec' for a dps DK?" He was replacing a blue. Don't let people in your raid confuse "competition" with "their one mainspec item". Just because you are the only healing paladin and get auto-looted plate spell power gear doesn't mean those pieces don't count toward your "main spec" total!

You can also minimize drama by announcing some things ahead of time:

Armor class priority: cloth gets first dibs on cloth, leather on leather, etc. For instance, Paladins and Shaman can only roll on healing leather after all the druids have passed.

Role priority: dps casters get priority on dps caster gear, tanks on tank gear, etc, based on your announced main spec. DPS gets first dibs on a caster item with +hit on it. Healers get first dibs on KT's healing mace while dps gets first dibs on the dps caster sword off KT. [Don't say this to your puggers this way but: mage/warlock, I don't care if that healer piece is an upgrade for you because you're still wearing a level 72 quest green and this has more spellpower. It's going to a healer.]. Don't go overboard with this, though: no need to categorize every single item. Just know what some of the more contentious items will be, such as KT's weapons. In fact, the only time this decisions is difficult is with weapons and trinkets. So do some research and know which naxx 25 weapons and trinkets are best-in-slot of each class and role. In fact, that would make a good follow-up post for me to do on this blog...

Another mistake I've seen is overdoing it with matching gear to roles. This weekend I brought my alt to a pug where the raid leader insisted that every single cloth piece without hit rating on it was a healer-only piece. Look at the loot list for Naxx 25: almost every caster item has some spirit or mp5 on it. I think there are only 11 possible drops in there total with hit rating on them. So caster dps were only allowed to roll on a tiny fraction of the drops, while great caster dps upgrades that happened to have mp5 on them were given only to healers. This got really egregious when one druid in the raid got 6 items with mp5 (mp5 sucks for resto druids!) while casters who had not won anything were not allowed to roll on these dps upgrades because they happened to have mp5 on them.

Under this rule, generally "main spec" is what role the player is performing in your raid. It's OK to make occasional exceptions for someone who respecced to help you with healing, but wants to roll on dps loot as main spec instead. But if you make it a habit, trust me: it will cause resentment amongst the poeple he/she is rolling against. Make it an exception, not the rule.

Announce loot rules at the beginning of the raid. It's best to set up a few easy macros that announce the entire thing as a raid warning (/rw). Announce in vent that "loot rules are going up". Give people a chance to object before you start, so they don't get saved to a run they don't want to stay on. Here's a sample of our macros:

Macro 1:

/rw Loot Rules: /roll if interested. One MAIN SPEC epic (including set tokens) per person, but you can win more pieces if no one wants it who hasn't won anything yet.

Macro 2:

/rw: Armor class gets priority, ie cloth goes to cloth first, etc. If no one wants for main spec, we'll roll for Off Spec, which does NOT count toward your total.

To simplify things, wait to announce the "new joiners are counted as having already won one thing" rule until you are about to replace someone. Also, we tend to wait to talk about the Maly key until after we kill Sapph. We say "we'd like to give the key to someone in our guild since we organized and led the run. If anybody has any strong objections to that, please say so, because we want to remain as fair as possible." Most people enthusiastically respond that they want us to have it, and think it's fair.

Track all of this in a spreadsheet. I make a simple Excel spreadsheet with 3 columns: character name, item slot, boss it dropped from. For instance, an entry might be: Hatch|belt|anub or Xxsefrothhxx|mace|Sapph. That way I can easily reference and sort it by name to make subsequent loot decisions. Make sure you are diligent and accurate about filling this out. I find it easier to have someone else master loot while I handle just recording it on the spreadsheet and referencing the spreadsheet for loot decisions.

I also find the spreadsheet very helpful for organizing future raids by tracking who we want to invite back and who we *don't*, and why. Trust me, it's well worth the extra work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Laziness: I shouldn't have eaten all those Thin Mints edition

I'm supposedly a grown-up. But today I ate candy until I felt ill. It was awesome.

Until about 45 mins later when my brain almost completely shut down from the sugar crash.

It really cut into my ability to post.

....zzzzzSNORT what? Oh, hey, fell asleep there for a moment.

Anyway, here's a link to the best new website I've found since failblog:

Trust me you'll enjoy your weekend much more if you click that link.

Happy Lazy Friday!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Legendaries: 10-manz can haz dem?

The lolcats have spoken, and they demand Legendaries for 10-man raids!

If you don't find kittens sufficiently authoritative (you fascist!), then you're just going to have to settle for me.

I love it when healers are rewarded. I think they should get first dibs on all the gear they want, free enchants, gems and consumables, free repair bills, and sexual favors from the guild leader on a regular basis. So imagine my joy when I found out that healers would finally be getting their very own Legendary (the word must be capitalized!) mace (sorry rogues, we had our day with the Warglaives): Val'anyr, the Gavel of Ancient Kings. Much like Medivh's staff Atiesh, raiders need to gather fragments of the Legendary titan weapon from raid bosses. Once they have enough pieces, they must literally hurl them into the brain of a god, then kill that god. I don't see how hurling fragments into a god's brain would result in them being reassembled into a working weapon, but whatever. Stranger things have happened in this game. I mean, I've seen a post 3.0 ret paladin lose a one-on-one pvp fight. Just kidding! That is way too crazy to consider.

My first reaction was: "Cool! A fun questline full of lore that leads to healers getting a best-in-slot item for this tier after a lot of hard work and successful kills of the bosses."

Then my second reaction was "Crap. My guild's healers will never get to experience it."

The cynical side of me assumes that the questline and the reward will be reserved only for 25 man raids.

Now don't get me wrong: unlike with Naxx, I think that Ulduar 25 guilds should get better rewards than Ulduar 10 guilds (totally separate progression tracks, Ulduar 25 assumes better gear, etc). I'm saying that if the devs view 10-man raiding as a viable alternative path, and not some ghetto reserved for "scrub casuals", then it would be smarter for them to include some version of the Val'anyr questline. The questline is just too cool, and the idea of offering an alternative path to a nice weapon via a long questline is also very cool. Plus it's great for morale and keeping people subscribing to your game. If a ten-man raider thinks he can get some version of Val'anyr, he/she will keep playing and thus paying Blizzard money longer than they would otherwise.

No, they don't need it. But 25-man raiders don't deserve or need it any more than 10-man raiders. Sorry. [note: actually I'm not]. Frankly, getting gear that is higher tier and prettier is enough extra reward for 25-man raiding over 10-man raiding, in my opinion. Should they also get other perks piled on? That's a matter of opinion, and in my opinion it's not necessary. Also, keep in mind that though this Legendary will be best-in-slot now, it's going to become obsolete as soon as the next tier of raiding is unleashed. So if you "let" a 10-man raider have the weapon, it's not like it's permanent.


So here are a few ways of implementing the Val'anyr questline for 10-mans. The drop rate of the shards is not yet known, but let's assume for the sake of simplicity that every 25-man boss has a 50% chance to drop one shard of Val'anyr on regular mode, and is guaranteed to drop a shard on the hardest mode for that boss. I don't think my arguments change materially if this turns out to not be the case, it just gives us a relative framework to look at other numbers.

  1. Simplest solution: allow 10-man raiders to complete the same quest for the exact same item, it just takes them a lot longer (I'm talking months) to get it done. In 10-man, have the shards drop only from hard-mode bosses, and even then at a 50% drop rate. The idea is that a 25-man guild will have 2-3 members with Val'anyr before the first 10-man Val'anyr wielder appears on the server, and only the best 10-man guilds have even one. This also gives an incentive for 25-man guilds to run 10-man Ulduar hard modes on off-nights. Meanwhile, a super-casual scrub 10-man guild that can only clear Ulduar on regular never sees a single shard.
  2. If you really can't stomach 10-man raiders having even a single item that's equal to 25-man raiders, then simply give the 10-man raiders a separate quest and drop the stats on that version of the weapon a tier. You can either keep the item Legendary, or call it "the imperfect Gavel of Ancient Kings" or whatever and make it simply epic. Pretend Yogg-Saron's brain screwed up a little when putting the thing back together for you. This way you retain the fun and lore of the questline. The 10-man version of the mace wouldn't have the cool effects of the 25-man version.
  3. Mix-and-match the two. Have a separate 10-man version, and only have the shards drop in 10-man hard modes, or any other permutation of the above.
In the end, it's all a matter of degree. You can land anywhere between denying 10-man raiders this questline completely, all the way to giving them the same item at a slightly lower droprate.

I think the BEST solution is to give 10-man raiders a separate but similar questline for the lore, and give them a Legendary item at the end. Lower the stats a tier from the 25-man version, and only allow the pieces to be gathered from 10-man hard-mode bosses. At the same time, allow the 25-man pieces a chance to drop from normal-mode 25-man bosses. This way, a decent 25-man guild can get a few of these Legendaries in a reasonable amount of time, while it takes a 10-man group much longer to earn a Legendary (a statistically and visually inferior one), and they can only do it if they are 1337 enough to clear a lot of hard-modes.

I'm not gonna make a big deal and QQ and throw a fit if 10-man raiders don't get a shot at this. But I do think it's smarter and more fair to do it this way, so why pass up the chance, Blizz?

Monday, March 9, 2009

A HAT for a day: Honor Among Thieves

I wasted a good ten minutes trying to come up with a good "hat" pun. No dice.

I normally raid as Combat on my rogue, but this weekend I spent an evening trying out a "HAT" build: a Subtlety raiding build centered around spamming Eviscerate with the combo points generated by the talent Honor Among Thieves.

Having run out of 10-man content to fill even a 3-day raid week (1 night in Naxx, 1 night of dragons), my 12-person guild started hosting our own pug Naxx 25 runs. Despite some sputters starting up, they've been shockingly successful. In fact, maybe I'll write a guide about how to run a successful Naxx 25 pug. The first week we cleared 3 wings in one night. The second, cleared all of Naxx in 2 nights with nary a wipe. We just completed week 4, where we one-shotted Thaddius and cleared all but KT in one night. So yesterday we came back, killed KT, and went on to learn Malygos (first time for most puggers) and got him down to 15% on our third attempt before calling it.

Since a HAT build is so dependent on group makeup - notice that the combo points are generated by crits by *party* members, not *raid* members - I never seriously considered using it in my 10-man runs. A big 25-man seemed like the perfect time to take it out for a spin. Word on the street is that rogue damage is a little low, with Combat being the weakest, but supposedly HAT builds do enough damage to actually compete with other dpsers in the right group. I also just so happened to have the right weapons for it. So I thought I'd check it out, see if I could raise my dps.

Group Makeup: the key to HAT

I had to tailor my group carefully, which is quite easy to do when you are the one forming the raid and arranging the groups. The real trick is that you get combo points from pets separately from their masters: i.e. though the tooltip says "this effect cannot occur more than once every second", you could get 2 separate combo points from a pet ability crit and a hunter ability crit. If you were in a group with 4 hunters, it's entirely possible to get 8 combo points in 1 second! (though obviously at least 3 of those would go to waste)

So clearly hunters are the best choice because they and their pets both crit often. Unholy Death Knights are the next best choice, because they have a ghoul pet permanently up who just spams one attack that can crit. After that, enhancement shaman and other DKs. Warlocks and feral druids depend a bit too much on dots to be top-tier, though felguard warlocks are pretty good choices. Fire mages and other rogues are OK, but really you should be able to fill your group with hunters, DKs, and perhaps an enhancement shaman. It also helps greatly if you have a feral druid or fury warrior in the raid for the 5% melee crit buff. I ended up with 2 hunters and 2 DKs (one unholy, one frost). Not ideal, but the best I could do with what we had.

The spec:

I did a lot of research, primarily relying on the Elitist Jerks HAT thread, among other sources. Here's what I settled on:


This is not the only way to set up a HAT spec. There is a debate over the effectiveness of Rupture for this spec, as well as a disagreement over whether the optimal main hand weapon is Webbed Death or Calamity's Grasp. Since I have one of each, (both enchanted with berserking) and no second WD for the mainhand, I went with a CG mainhand WD offhand setup. I lose a bit of potential poison damage, but gain some white dps and stronger Hemos when I need one. Note: this will change when 3.1 hits, as poisons will go to a PPM model and a slow mainhand will be clearly more favorable.

There are a few viable variations on the HAT build, but I went with the one that focused every point on buffing Eviscerate and your ability to generate more combo points for more Eviscerates. Other builds could pick up blood spatter to add Rupture to the rotation, or shift some points to pick up Blade Flurry in combat or Shadowstep in Subtlety. Since I was so focused on Evis, I elected against the pure white damage boost of BF, and though I love having Shadowstep, it isn't as much of a dps increase as other places I could put my points, so I went without it.


All HAT builds should:

-Use Wound Poison on both weapons
-Max out Expertise to 6.5% (even one dodged Evis can be devastating)
-Otherwise, gem for Agility


Glyph of Eviscerate
Glyph of Slice and Dice

Third glyph isn't that important. I went with Garrote, but Hemo is an OK choice too.

I chose to go with the Evis-heavy variation. Builds with Rupture boosts or Blade Flurry will glyph differently, but all builds should take the Glyph of Eviscerate. I like the SnD Glyph and talent because the less often you have to refresh it, the more often you can use those combo points on an Evis.


As I opted to focus on Eviscerate and neglect Rupture, my build quite literally just spams Eviscerate every time I have 3 or more combo points, refreshing SnD with 5 CPs whenever it is about to expire. Seriously, that's it. Enjoy hitting that button. If you built your group right, and everyone is alive and decently geared, you should be able to hit Evis almost every global cooldown.

If a global goes by and you only have 1 combo point and high energy, use a Hemo to get a few points, then Evis. Keep in mind that you gain combo points through HAT from your own crits, not just those of your group-mates. This includes Eviscerate crits. That's right, it's possible for your own Evis, if it crits, to give you back up to 2 combo points immediately (1 for the crit, and 1 for Ruthlessness). Hemo also has the potential to give you two. This is why gemming for agility is best for this spec (you end up getting more value from agility than crit rating, trust me).

Don't overuse Hemo. Believe it or not: a 2 point Eviscerate does more damage than a Hemo! You should ONLY be using Hemo if a global goes by with only 1 combo point! If that third point doesn't seem to be coming, just pop a 2-point Evis.

One cool thing about this spec is that you should never run out of energy. Thanks to Relentless Strikes, Slice and Dice is *free* and each 5-point Evis only costs 10 energy. You regen 15 every global cooldown, leaving you room to Evis at fewer combo points, or even throw a Hemo (rarely!) without running dry. Remember, running out of energy means you will be letting combo points go to waste!

That's also why you Evis at 3 or more combo points (or 2 if you hit an RNG drought): if you wait until 5, there is potential that more points will go to waste. If you have 3, it's entirely possible for 3 or more combo points to be generated by your party in the next second, so Evis before that happens! You want to avoid letting any of them going to waste.

Opener: Open each fight from stealth. Cast Tricks of the Trade on your tank before the fight starts (so you can regen the 15 energy out of combat), then open with Premed (2 combo points) and Garrote (1 or 2 combo points). The reason I went with Garrote instead of Ambush is that I was committed to using a fist mainhand. Garrote also has the advantage of costing less energy. If you have a dagger mainhand, feel free to substitute Ambush for a chance at a 4th or 5th combo point, but keep in mind that point may go to waste depending on how fast your group is to start critting. Immediately Evis and then Evis again as soon as you get 3 more combo points (Hemo if this takes more than a second). Once you garrote, you have a 6 second window where your damage is boosted by Master of Subtlety. You want to get off as many Eviscerates as you can during that window. As soon as it wears off, use SnD then continue as normal.

If you want to get fancy, you can use Vanish during the fight to take advantage of the 6-second boost again. This is another area where HAT users disagree. Some think it is not worth the loss of a few swings of white damage as you vanish, some think good use of this move is what separates good HAT players from great ones. I heard from a few sources that Vanish does not reset your swing timer, meaning if you use a macro to immediately cancel it, you don't lose any white swings. I chose to try it out.

Here's the macro:

#showtooltip Vanish
/cast Vanish

Just jam that macro a few times to make sure it takes.

If you use it, you have to do it right. Make sure you have enough energy to get an Evis off immediately, and that you already have a few combo points but not 5, as you don't want any to go to waste during the second between when you vanish and when you Evis. And try to time it in tandem with your trinket/enchant procs and short-term raid dps buffs (like Bloodlust) for maximum effect.


Well, I came, I spammed Eviscerate, I said "meh". My dps was roughly the same as it had been as Combat, maybe a little bit higher on bosses when I got things right.

Keep in mind that I usually play Combat nearly-flawlessly (years of practice) while I screwed up my HAT rotation a lot due to inexperience. I also didn't have the optimal group. In the end, I found HAT fun to play and effective. If raiding as deep subtlety gets you excited, then by all means go for it. I've already switched back to combat. Though practice would likely net me more dps in 25-mans as HAT, overall I think Combat is a better choice, especially given the heavy buff it has incoming in 3.1. Here's why:

HAT Cons:
-I lost the raid-wide physical damage buff Combat gives. Mut builds also give a raid-wide buff, but HAT does not
-HAT causes headaches with group makeup that combat does not
- The spec sucks if your group members die. This makes it a raid farming spec not suitable for learning content, in my opinion.
-No cooldowns for on-demand burst: when I've got a double-spark on Maly or KT just summoned adds, I want to be able to push my dps up a notch. Combat has lots of cooldowns to do just that, while HAT has pretty much nothing.

HAT Pros:
-Easy rotation, and little need to watch cooldown timers compared to other specs
-High damage potential with RNG luck
-Many Subtlety talents for more survivability and some PvP toys
-A bit less dependent on your weapons than other specs


I'm very happy that all 3 trees have fully viable raid dps specs. It sucks that HAT gives up pretty much all of the fun parts of the Subtlety tree for sustained dps, but at least the option is there. A good spec for a raid leader, as you can set up groups to your liking and make sure they don't get split up (like on Thaddius or Gothik) and the cycle is so simple that you can concentrate a bit more on raid leading. I wouldn't recommend it until you and your raid are quite well geared, though, and I definitely wouldn't bother in a 10-man. The spec *requires* full raid buffs and a large pool of raid members to draw from to be effective.

A super-neat macro I found while researching this post, courtesty of Erishkagal of the Hydraxis server:

left click button to apply poision to main hand, right click for offhand hold down shift for wound poison ctrl for deadly alt for crip and nothing for instant
/use [mod:shift] Wound Poison V; [mod:ctrl] Deadly Poison VI; [mod:alt] Crippling Poison II; Instant Poison VII
/use [btn:2] 17; 16