Tunnels of Doom

Navigating the twisty maze of games

KublaCon 2013

May 30th, 2013 by ironsoap

Maybe if I weren't so worried about taking Instagram pictures, I would have played betterSo I attended KublaCon over Memorial Day weekend. For a one-day visit I thought it was among my most successful cons in recent years. I got to play a role-playing game (Dungeon Crawl Classics), a long-and-involved con game (Arkham Horror), a round of my current favorite game (Netrunner), and a new game I’d never tried before (Seasons).

Briefly, here’s how the board games went down:

  • Arkham Horror – We played with a couple (Josh and Shannon) we met in passing who had played more recently than we had so they saved us a lot of Rules Lookup Phases and really just sort of greased the wheels so we could bang out a full game. One observation I had was that I’m coming to believe that AH is really a game that is a lot easier the more players you have. I know the mechanics are set up to accommodate varying player counts, but the thing is, as you play you find your characters begin to settle into various roles: monster control, gate closers, magical support, etc. With fewer players, any time one person who fills one of those roles starts to struggle whether from a curse or through a tough fight that leaves them needing stamina and sanity refreshes, the others suddenly have to try to fill the gaps and it can lead to a downward spiral. With more players (like the five we had), even if one or two people are sort of stuck or unable to contribute much for a few rounds, it’s not the beginning of the end. Which may just be a long way of saying, we ended up winning quite handily.
  • Netrunner – I played corp against Aaron and randomly selected a Jinteki identity from one of the expansions. I think it would have been a pretty close game except I made a severe tactical error about midway through when I tapped out all my credits. I don’t know what I was thinking, but let’s just say Aaron noticed the mistake and took full advantage of me not being able to rez any of my ice. I was struggling for credits quite a bit the whole game (sort of unusual for corp), but it was an unnecessary move and I paid for it. Still loving this game, and wishing I had a more regular opponent so I could dive into deckbuilding a bit more.
  • Seasons – Aaron and I played this with Geoff and Lisa. It’s a drafted deck building game with a pretty clever timing mechanism. I think the game box (and Geoff) drastically, woefully underestimated how long it would take to play, but I really enjoyed it quite a bit. I’d love to have a chance to play it again, but I agreed with Geoff that there needs to be an alternate scoring sheet/mechanism than the tiny cube-track the game provides. It’s pretty miserable.

I race through those in an effort to get to the part where I talk about Dungeon Crawl Classics. I only know about this system through Thom, who is super into it right now and I can really see why.

Before I get too down into it, let me just say that I actually love the heavily themed and richly personal experience many, if not most, modern role-playing games provide. Or, at least, facilitate. At least, I love them in theory because frankly I almost never get to play them. The time investment required to develop not just the campaign or individual adventures but the character and party is, and has been for years now, too much for me. As such I’ve grudgingly accepted the occasional one-shot, pregen’d con adventure, and even tried a PBEM campaign which—also it turns out—required too much time to keep up with.

The missing part, the in-between, is the casual role-playing experience with a focus on the role-playing mechanic without the overhead of the storytelling function. And maybe this is weird because I’m someone who loves stories—loves them. Story is part of the reason I play games, it informs the kinds of games I most enjoy. What I think playing DCC at KublaCon this year revealed to me is that there is an implication behind the desire to tell stories with role-playing games that often overshadows the bare fact itself which is that we (or maybe just I) tend to want to tell epic stories through role-playing. We tend to look for the full arc of the hero’s journey and in doing so we can miss the small story told by a short one-off. In the former sense, we need to finely tune and craft every element of our character, create in them a sense of personhood so that we can inhabit them the way a method actor might. We plan their progression, we build in them their history through the shared experiences of the encounter, the adventure, the episode, the campaign.

As I said, this is good. This is fun. This is, however, a lot of work.

The way Thom ran DCC, we each rolled up three characters. DCC characters can be made, down to the race and class and starting equipment, with die rolls on a series of tables. Random character generation is, in my opinion, even better than pregen. It’s fun in and of itself. Let me say this right here and now: DCC is awesome because it remembers that simply rolling polyhedral dice in and of itself is a blast. And DCC uses some crazy, off-counter dice. D24s, D3s, D30s, D17s. Why? Who cares? Why not? Awesome dice are awesome, that’s why. Do you remember the first time you rolled a D20? How cool it was that it had so many more sides than your typical box dice? That’s the reason for using funky dice.

The characters you generate this way are sketchy. It’s okay. They’re supposed to be. They have alignments and hit points and starting cash and a few saving throw modifiers, everything you need to execute during an adventure, but they don’t have much personality. It’s okay. Random zero levels are like cannon fodder. You run three of them because it lets you have a half a chance against low level monsters you may run up against. Two of mine died in the first fight our party of 12 got into. One died before the adventure even started because Aaron forgot and rolled up four. They give the game a computer RPG sensibility, and one that is exceptionally welcome in a cobbled-together environment like a convention game. Or a Saturday one-off.

The thing is, if your character lives, she goes to level one and then you can, if you want, form bonds with character, other PCs, NPCs and so on. If not, you’ve had a chance to play a collaborative, story-focused game that interacts with your imagination more than bits or chits, providing that unique experience only a tabletop RPG can provide.

Among The Living Edition

April 9th, 2013 by ironsoap

I’ve had a bit of a gaming resurgence of late. Actually, I should back up, because I sort of abandoned this site nearly two years ago when I began to loosen the hold that World Of Warcraft had on me. In fact, cutting myself off from Tunnels of Doom’s weekly navel-gaze-fest was part of my efforts to ease away from Azeroth. Maybe I’ll talk about my complicated relationship with WoW some other time, but suffice to say that final foray into MMOs was one of a long string of video game obsessions, many chronicled in this site’s archives. I decided I needed a break from it, needed some time to get perspective on my hobbies. I cut the cord on WoW, and I stepped away from video games and hobby games as well.

It may be easily inferred that I prefer deep, thematic games. Maybe not. But I’m telling you now, that is the case. I love any kind of game, but I never really feel like I get “into” a game unless it’s got a heavy theme and has a lot of depth: things like Arkham Asylum, Talisman, Blood Bowl, Thunderstone, etc. The problem is, often, my tabletop preferences lean toward heavy games with long set-up and/or play times. There is a specific game, perhaps a class of game although my experience with them in a larger capacity is limited, which meets all my criteria while still being fairly quick and easy to play. The game is Magic: The Gathering.

But here’s the reason Magic hasn’t worked for me as a protracted diversion: money. Occasionally I’ve found sealed deck or limited pool formats fun for periods of time, but the problem with Magic is that its core mechanic is somewhat flawed in that resource cards are dedicated, necessary, and yet have diminishing returns during gameplay. That is to say success is always, in part, based on hitting the sweet spot with opening draws of sufficient resources that don’t overwhelm your play cards. Victory is often a matter of achieving that ideal randomized initial pull and then pacing the resources appropriately through the deck. This limitation is often overlooked because the game has appeal in its cyclic nature as new cards are introduced which permit novel means (in theory) to overcome this inherent quasi-flaw and to achieve other interesting in-game effects. But, fundamentally, without the infusion of new cards (which directly correlates to more money funneled into it), it gets old. And, in a community of players, my experience has taught me that someone will always be pouring cash into the game.

Collectible card games (CCGs) all suffer from this pay-to-win (or, perhaps more accurately, pay-to-stay-novel) factor. “Suffer” may be editorializing, but it is ingrained in the format and for me personally, there is an upper bound to what I’m happy and comfortable paying for a game. Yet I love the persistent novelty and the deep-but-simple mechanics of CCGs (particularly Magic), I just can’t or won’t stay abreast of the game, much less others like it with fewer potential opponents. The other thing about Magic is that it typically requires other people to be putting in at least similar levels of resources simultaneously to be readily playable.

Which is why I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the Living Card Game concept. In a nutshell, these are CCGs with the collectible element excised. When you buy the base game you get all the cards in the core set. It’s enough for the base number of players to play, usually with “starter decks” pre-defined, probably with enough replay value for a dozen plays. Then you can customize the play decks in the core set and wind up with (depending on how into deckbuilding you are) anywhere from another dozen plays worth of novelty to hundreds of additional replays. And then each of these games are expandable with additional cards sold in standardized, complete sets for between $10-15 each. These expansions are totally optional (depending on your mode of play I suppose; tournament players probably will need or want access to as many additional cards as possible) and are released at regular intervals to freshen the game. What you’re left with is a CCG in spirit but without the stacks of unused duplicate cards and excessive cost native to games where the cards are randomized. It’s brilliant and it’s right up my alley. I’ve played a few now, and here are my thoughts on each.

Call of Cthulhu

This is a two player synchronous game with seven distinct factions (similar to Magic’s colors). Starting decks involve choosing two faction decks and one of two pre-selected sets of neutral cards. Game play involves vying for Story cards via a series of ordered struggles that fit with the theme. Each struggle has a distinct effect (losing a Terror struggle causes one of your characters—like creatures in Magic—to go insane and lose a turn; winning an Investigation struggle grants you a free progress token on the Story card, etc) and their order of resolution and the various card effects makes for an awful lot of strategic play. The core set comes with a lot of nice-to-have but ultimately unnecessary bits: the game board, the cardboard tokens and the resource drain markers (cool lil’ Cthulhu statuettes) can be easily replaced or omitted.

Favorite Element: The strategic depth; the cards in your deck become your resources as well so the focus is shifted away from resource ratio management and onto strategic decision-making. There are no one-turn wins here, and though I’ve only played a handful of times I can already see that there is a lot of opportunity for strategy in deck-building. [Edit and Aside: I did have one game that was won in two or three rounds, but it was more a matter of a spectacular bummer in the combination of opening draws, where the loser had a decent if fairly slow-moving hand and the winner had a access to unprecedented speed and a quickly established, debilitating combination.]

Biggest Complaint: The rulebook. Fantasy Flight makes really good games; beautiful in fact. But their rulebooks have historically been rough. This one has no index (for shame!), an advertisement on the back cover instead of the timing chart, and a couple of points where specific rules are either poorly explained (Steadfast, in particular, but also card states like Exhaustion and Insanity could be much clearer).

Other Thoughts: The heavy strategy that I love is also CoC’s weakness; with each choice, down to which cards to sacrifice into resources, gameplay grinds down. The Story phase, in particular, can invoke analysis paralysis like few other games: “If I commit this guy, and that guy, but move him over there, then you’ll block with that, unless you have an action…” The box says 30-60 minutes, but I think that’s stretching it, even once the rules lookup phases were no longer needed. I also wish the core set came with multiple copies of the cards (instead of the fairly useless extra bits) for better deckbuilding out of the box.

My nitpicky gripe with this game, too, is the way the Domains are handled. Three cards not in play for each side? Blech. For a game that includes a lot of fussy components that are largely unnecessary, you would think they could include six extra cards to represent the domains. Sheesh. Fortunately, the kind folks at BGG have a number of downloadable domain covers you can print off and sleeve with a standard CCG or print onto heavier stock that work great.

Lord of the Rings

One thing that is really impressing me about the LCG format is that FFG isn’t doing a bunch of re-skins but seems to be hitting various nerves with each game. The one title I played a couple of years ago, Game Of Thrones, was very competitive multiplayer-focused. CoC is two player adversarial (though there are a couple of multiplayer variants floating around), and as I’ll mention in a minute, Netrunner is asynchronous. Lord of the Rings is cool because it’s multiplayer cooperative, which I like. In LotR each player works in tandem against the quest deck with a clever threat mechanism that raises to indicate which player will get the focus of the monsters’ attention. I’m not sure on the balance and deckbuilding for a cooperative game seems a little redundant, but it does fill an interesting and much needed niche in the format.

Favorite Element: Cooperative play, all the way. Having a cooperative game makes teaching easy because the fiddly mechanics can be overcome by kibbitzing the new players and can ease them in, opening doors for questions to be asked as situations arise. A very teachable game, which is good because it’s pretty complex.

Biggest Complaint: Deckbuilding doesn’t really seem to have much purpose, except perhaps to pare older cards away in favor of new hotness from the expansions. I guess in that sense deckbuilding is more a means to keep the game fresh as opposed to dramatically change the strategies, but the expansions seem to have new challenges/quests which I would think keep it fresh just as well.

Other Thoughts: One thing I really appreciated was the immersive element to the game. It gives one a pretty strong sense of joining a Fellowship (if, perhaps, not The Fellowship) and existing within Tolkein’s world. I’ve played this one the fewest number of times so I’d really have to give it a few more attempts to make a strong evaluation of its complexity, but I can say that I like to think of myself as someone who picks up on core game mechanics fairly quickly and I found myself relying on my more seasoned friends an awful lot. Some of that could be because I was able to let them manage the quest components, but even some other factors that were directly under my control remained a bit mysterious until the end of the game.

Android: Netrunner

Admittedly, this is the game that kicked off my new LCG fascination. I really, really love this game. I think there are two main draws for me: One is the setting, because this kind of cyberpunk is super-cool to me and I think often done very poorly in mediums other than novels. Here, it’s just awesome. The other is the fact that this game is asynchronous which means each of the two players are working on completely different mechanics. One player acts as the Corp player, building servers (stacks of face-down cards in front of him on the playing surface) and trying to advance Agendas (the scoring cards). The other player is the Runner, breaking into those servers and trying to steal the Agendas. What’s nice is that the Runner player does most of their work “aboveground” (there’s sort of an irony in there) in that their cards and abilities (excepting their hand) are face-up. As such, it’s a good teaching role because the more experienced player can be the Corp, where a lot of their play area is hidden, and guide the Runner player along a little.

But both sides are super-fun to play, each in their own distinct way. There is a bit more strategy on the Corp side, due to a lot of bluffing and executional decision-making, but Runner players have fun too in that they really drive much of the action in the game.

Favorite Element: The theme, by far. It’s not just that the game has a cool concept, it’s that everything about the game is steeped in thematic elements. The gameplay feels very much like a cyberpunk game ought to feel, the terminology is consistently in-theme, the artwork works phenomenally to set the tone. Sometimes even the most thematic games struggle to capture that role-playing feel of immersing you into the game’s conceit (even some role-playing games fall short at this point). Am I really battling hordes of monsters or am I just rolling dice against a target number? A good example of this is Race To The Galaxy, a game I like quite a bit. But the theme is super-cool and yet it is so mechanical I never feel like I’m building galactic empires, I just feel like I’m placing cards where they are best suited to try and win. This is decidedly not the case with Netrunner, where I in fact keep thinking, “I’d love to run a cyberpunk role-playing game where we use Netrunner to resolve hacking attempts…”

Biggest Complaint: There isn’t as much player interaction in this game as in other LCGs I’ve tried. The Corp can’t do much to the Runner player directly unless the Runner ends up tagged, which means many turns can pass with no direct interactions (especially if the Runner is busy setting up their rig).

Other Thoughts: It’s hard to tell how the balance works in this game because of the asynchronous nature. The Runners seem to be at something of a disadvantage because they can lose by running out of cards in their hand whereas Corp players only alternate loss condition is getting decked. Mechanically, Corp players can overcome this by adding more cards, but Runner hand limits are much more difficult to boost (and never possible pre-game). Likewise, Runner decks seem to be constantly low on credits (the game’s primary resource) while most Corp decks wind up flush with cash. Again, this is thematically appropriate, but from a balance standpoint it seems to tip toward Corp wins more often. You could argue that Runners are much more likely to execute a turn-one win with a bit of luck, but that would require fairly spectacular bad luck on the part of the Corp (or spectacular ineptitude), at least with the cards in the Core Set.

I do appreciate that the game comes with multiples of many cards which makes deckbuilding easier and more enjoyable, and for once the instruction book isn’t objectively terrible (it even has a limited index!). I’m not sure why I can’t decide if I should be annoyed or delighted by the plethora of thematic tokens. Unlike CoC these don’t seem to be purely decorative (well, maybe the Brain Damage tokens), but they do complicate an already complex play area a bit. On the other hand, I can easily imagine trying to replicate all of them with glass beads for example and quickly getting confused, “Did we say the red ones were credits and the blue ones were virus counters?”

“No, the blue ones are advancement tokens and the white ones were virus counters.”

“I’ve been using the white ones as tags.”

“So you have four tags and not four virus counters? I thought tags were yellow.”

“First base!”

Non-LCGs

The other tabletop game I played recently was Cosmic Encounter. This is a strategic, space-themed game with light diplomacy elements in which you work to wrest control of various planets away from other players. This is done by allocating ships to a conquest attempt which match up one-to-one with the opposing ships stationed on the planet. You may then request aid from the other players to join the assault while your opponent may request aid in defending. Since planetary acquisitions represent victory points and can be shared (simultaneous winners are certainly possible) there is an incentive to participate with attacks. However, allied defenders receive compensation in the form of cards from assaulting players hands; since there is no natural draw phase and fresh cards must be acquired via mechanics, this is the opposing incentive. The strategic element comes in that once alliances are formed on either side, the attacking and defending player each play a card which modifies the ship strength.

There are plenty of other elements, of course. Each player is assigned an alien race with associated power: something that may influence the way ships are handled after a defeat, perhaps, or an ability that amounts to a secondary win condition (typically players win by earning five points, which usually means successfully winning five encounters). There are also cards that perform various functions like blocking abilities, canceling other cards, etc. There is also the option for encounters to be resolved via negotiation as opposed to assault. In that case allies are sent home and the attacking and defending players may arrange to swap planets or cards or combinations of the two.

I liked the game because, unlike other games with a diplomatic aspect, I didn’t feel it was leaving key elements outside of the rules. Granted, because it’s possible for a multi-player win, it might be that a couple of players could declare a strategic alliance and back each other no matter the circumstance. I don’t think even that would guarantee a win; part of the game’s balancing mechanism is that the target of each encounter is selected randomly from a deck and the diplomacy rules state that each player may pick and choose who to invite as allies. Two players obviously in cahoots would quickly find themselves dealing only with each other.

I’d say, “plus you wouldn’t want to play with people like that anyway,” but in my experience diplomacy games can sometimes bring out the worst in even sporting gamers. Still, I think Cosmic Encounter does a good job managing a dicey game element.

I don’t particularly care for some of the card design, I have to say. The cutout elements are fine, but the cards are just ugly and none of them seem like they’re from the same game (the encounter cards and flare cards, for example). The phase markers are also somewhat inconsistently applied. But, I had fun with it and would certainly play it again.

The State Of ToD

I realize this is the first update in a very long while. I’m not sure this means I’ll be blogging regularly here again. I’m trying to focus mainly on my fiction writing and blogging actively distracts me from that. I may make a small effort to provide shorter updates here on occasion, but no promises. If you still have this RSS in your feed reader of choice, thanks for sticking with me. If I’m talking solely to the ether, then, “Hi, ether! You don’t care. I happen to be just fine with that. Okay, bye!”

You Call This a Raid Edition

May 25th, 2011 by ironsoap

I keep forgetting that, technically, I’ve already attempted a raid during the aborted effort our guild made on Baradin Hold a back in February. Of course, that was with my Warrior who—like many of the others from that sad attempt—was not raid-ready from a gear standpoint. Last weekend’s run on Bastion of Twilight with the Mage had arguably a higher chance at success at least as far as I was concerned. I still haven’t solved the issue of the last couple of gear slots that need to be updated (that wand is going to be the bane of my existence) but then again I haven’t worked all that hard at it since the self-imposed dungeon embargo. Still, I can pull 10K DPS consistently and by most accounts that’s what you need to stand a chance at any of the current tier of raids.

And sure enough, when we got into the raid I did respectable damage, managed my crowd control and felt pretty comfortable that I belonged there. The problem was many of the others in the team were not at that level and thus we stood no chance against the bosses. So our sometimes maddening guild/raid leader declared that if we lacked a team DPS output of 10K we would make the raid a “trash run,” which is WoW code for “waste time playing the RNG.” I suppose in theory there are decent epics that drop off the trash but there’s a reason no one does 5-man heroic trash runs: Since you roll on any drops to begin with, you always have a one-in-however-many-party-members chance of scoring any given piece of loot. If some item drops at even a generous 50% rate, dungeon party members have a 20% chance to collecting that item on top of the 50%. So in most cases your best case (and unrealistic) scenario is a 10% chance that a given mob will net you a good item. There are some mathematical variables such as usability of the items to begin with, Need rolls and the actual probability for any trash drop (which is more like 5% or less, like on Maimgor as an example) but the point is, it’s not a viable strategy for gear accumulation when the collect rate for any drops is 20%, and it certainly isn’t mathematically sound when your base rate is 10% or 4% depending on the size of your raid.

With all this probability, it was predictable that nothing of value dropped and once one member declared they had to bail after the first run up to the initial boss, it started a critical mass that disbanded the group. Instead I joined a team doing a run on Zul’Aman which was fun but after another hour and a half or so I was falling asleep at the wheel and had to bow out myself.

Between this experience, the earlier Baradin Hold tryst and some of my complaints last week it’s becoming increasingly clear that this guild is not designed for raiding. I was checking through the Looking For Guild tool on my Death Knight and I noticed that my guild is the largest one that has open enrollment, with no barrier to entry at all. On one hand, that’s great for a casual, helpful leveling guild. On the other hand, it seems that being inclusive is not the best way to build a successful raid team, which is why you hear people recruiting in incredibly specific manners: “We need a Protection Warrior tank with 250K HP and an Affliction Warlock capable of 11K DPS; no Death Knights need apply.” I believe what you’re hearing when that’s said is “we lost a guy just like that and he really benefited our group” or “there’s a specific ability or dynamic these roles bring that we’re looking for to help us over a particular hump.” It’s sort of the social equivalent to theorycrafting, but as with that discipline, the more specific you can be the more value you bring. The other end of the spectrum is bringing anyone along who is online and meets the basic game requirements, having some time to kill and you end up where we are in the guild: Unable to bring down a single boss in a raid.

I mentioned before that I’m kind of conflicted about what to do. So far the guild’s strategy has been to announce the raids for times when lots of people are online and then take whoever shows up along. I feel that approach won’t work because there are good and great players in the guild and I think there are the makings of a solid progression raid team there. I don’t even know yet if I qualify (though my DPS seems high enough, I’m still a bit of a spaz on CC and I know my DPS suffers heavily when I have to deal with complex fight mechanics). Either way, raiding is something I want to do but I want to actually do it and so far there has been a lot of halfhearted efforts resulting in a vague “we need better gear” diagnosis which sends everyone back to the drawing board of “run more heroics.” Thing is, I can keep running heroics but there are a diminishing number of item upgrades out there for me which means mostly I’m doing the slow Valor Point grind which will take months and by then this tier of raid content will be old hat.

I actually did a little bit of digging to see what it might take to get into some raiding and it looks like the top raiding guild on my current server has some need for Resto Shamans and Blood DKs which means in theory once those toons are leveled up I could try applying with them to get onto a raid team. My other options would be to make a healer on a different realm (or work on an existing healer) since they seem to always be in demand and look for a raiding guild there. But a bit of the issue is that I have investment in the characters I’m using now. Specifically my Mage, whom I feel is representative of the play experience I most want to get out of the game. The scenario I imagine is one in which I can take that toon and step it lightly to one side such that my focus when logged in as that character is raid and raid preparation without the vigors of server transfers and loss of Herbalist/Alchemist access for my other alts. The level of realism this daydream contains is highly subjective.

Sha-ma-la-ma-shaman

Over the weekend I pushed my Shaman to level 50 which was necessary because I also got both Tailoring and Enchanting to 300 so there was nowhere to go without the next professional level, requiring a level 50 character. I’m finding that I actually enjoy PvP more so at this stage in the progressions than running instances, probably because the dungeons at this level are pretty epic in length and I’m surprised to find queues as a Healer—even in the late vanilla level range—to be a bit longer than I care for. Not that the PvP queues have been much better in my Battlegroup, especially the Random Battleground queue. For a bit I found queuing for specific BGs to help, but by the end of the weekend even that wasn’t really doing the trick.

One problem I’ve had in the PvP Battlegrounds is in getting my raid frames set up right. I don’t care for the default UI raid frames but the Pitbull efforts I came up with have a tendency to break down when I get dropped into, say, Alterac Valley where the raid sizes are drastically different than in Warsong Gulch. The simpler the frame is, the better, but I tend to think “Oh, I’ll definitely want this piece of information” as I’m configuring the frames only to find as useful as it may be, it’s overload. Plus Pitbull seems a little wonky at on-the-fly re-arranging of the frame columns which is where most of my hassle comes from since if the raid group gets too large I can no longer see the screen through all the unit frames. But I live and die as a healer by the frames I’m using since that’s how I target select friendly units so while it never really mattered to my DPS classes, getting this right for the Shaman is big.

I’ve also gotten now to the point where I have enough Totems that it matters which ones I’m using (before there were pretty clear cut choices, but with the addition of Mana Tide Totem I now have to at least choose between Mana Stream—for slow, steady mana, and Mana Tide—for burst regen). The grouping skills like Call of the Ancestors are great, but they do require some pre-planning. I have all three now (Call of the Spirits and Call of the Elements being the other two) and I try to think of them as “PvP Call,” “Standard Call” and “Emergency Call.” PvP call is basically my flag defense set where I give as much boosting to nearby faction-mates, debuff the opponents and try to keep myself alive knowing that the standard PvP strategy is “Kill the Healer First.” My standard set is basically a balanced set of long lasting mana assistance, heal helpers and group buffs while the emergency set is for getting back mana and health as quickly as possible in a pinch. It will be a while before I master this aspect of the class since I’m still getting used to the mechanics of keeping someone alive just using my basic spells, but I see where it is going to eventually make the difference between being a successful Resto Shaman and one who gets kicked from heroics for letting everyone die.

So, no pressure.

Shouldn’t We Be Called “Dead Knights”?

Since I was (apparently) on a round number kick I also pushed the Death Knight up to level 60 via some heavily Rested XP-assisted Hellfire Peninsula questing and a run through Hellfire Ramparts. As a tank. At level 59.

So let’s talk about that tanking experience. First of all, it solidified something I was starting to suspect which is that it isn’t just Prot Warrior tanking I don’t like: It’s just tanking. Something about the dynamic of having to be responsible for keeping track of what is going on in so many places at once really stresses me out and it feels an awful lot like the process of playing another kind of game I don’t enjoy as much as I kind of wish I did: Real-Time Strategy. I don’t like fighting to quickly target and react to the exact right thing in a split second when the hard-hitting melee mob peels off from me due to a big crit from the caster and I need to re-establish threat before it turns that party member into a greasy smear. I don’t like having to keep so much of my rotation in my mind that I’m reacting not only to what the AI-controlled enemies are doing as second nature but I’m doing the same in response to what my own party members are doing. I have pretty quick reflexes overall, but my analytical process is more deliberate than the margin for error as a tank permits. The result is I’m a very flail-y, undisciplined tank and I hate being that way.

In the run through HFR it didn’t help that I was the lowest leveled player, still wearing basic DK starting blues. To their credit the group was gracious and patient even though we wiped once on what is typically an easy dungeon. The healer griped quite a bit about how fast he was going out of mana because I was definitely struggling to keep aggro on the larger groups, especially when pats started getting pulled but fortunately the Mage, who was yanking threat like crazy as a result of being a super-rich alt decked in BoAs and BoE epics (bought for ridiculous sums that were probably still nothing to him), defended me and noted that in spite of being under-geared and under-leveled, I was doing as good a job as some heavily geared failtanks can do. It was a sort of backhanded compliment, but I found it somewhat encouraging. The biggest issue I think was that Death and Decay, a key group threat generation ability, isn’t available until level 60 so I was working without sufficient tools to begin with. In retrospect I should have specifically queued for green dungeons only since at 59 HFR shows as red (difficult for your level) in the Looking For Dungeon tool.

The way we eventually made it through was by having the other DK who was Frost specced I believe play an off-tank style so between the two of us we kept the threat off the healer and the ranged DPS and it worked out pretty well from then on. And in fact I found that, as with the Prot Warrior, I did great when I was single-target tanking. Obviously tanking is about managing threat on groups so it’s dumb to say that I like tanking as long as I only have to worry about holding aggro on one mob, but I reserve the right to this particular dumbness. If there were a role in the game that was all about locking down the aggro on one target only, I think I’d have a lot of fun with that. Anyway, all that aside we made it through and I got to level 60 which permitted me to continue my primary project of the week: Inscriptioning.

I wish I could tell you why I’ve loved this profession grind so much, but I seriously could not stop hunting down the necessary herbs, milling them up and making glyphs and cards all weekend. It’s odd because Jewelcrafting has a very similar progression mechanic to Inscription, but while Prospecting gets you the gems from stacks of ore, most of the crafted items also require annoying-to-come-by secondary mats like metal bars which aren’t sold by the profession supplier (unlike Tailoring’s thread or Inscription’s parchment). The result feels like you need to farm double mats since metal bars also come from ore: It would be as if you needed to create quills from herbs as well as milling them for pigments. Anyway, something about Inscriptioning captured me and I’ve been jamming on it, getting well up past the 300 mark in just a few days. Granted, I’ve blown through four or so farming runs with my Herbalist Mage and another 1,000 to 1,500 gold on top of that buying herbs off the Auction House but the way I figure it, once I no longer have to visit the AH for any core crafted items (other than Engineered ones) on this realm, I can start to make as much money as I can carry by working on those hard-to-craft high level items which sell for small fortunes apiece.

The only drawback now is that, like with the Shaman, I’m reaching the point where my actual character level is impeding my profession progress so at some point I’ll have to set this grind aside and do three things: Level the Shaman, level the Death Knight and do some serious ore mining with the Warrior. Guess what next week’s Edition is probably going to be about?

Actually, you’re wrong. This coming weekend is KublaCon so next week will probably be very little WoW and lots of tabletop games.

Novel!

On a Break Edition

May 18th, 2011 by ironsoap

This week was punctuated by intense frustration in my dungeon experiences. It seems that the release of Patch 4.1 the best players abandoned the heroic dungeon queues in favor of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman leaving behind a handful of people who don’t have time for raid-length instances or people hoping for “easier” Valor grinds and a metric crapton of undergeared scrubs who can’t be bothered to crack a single website to learn the fights. The result is instances that were starting to become cakewalks suddenly dropping back into the incalculably frustrating realm. I spent so much time wiping on bosses that aren’t even that challenging like Dragha Shadowburner in Grim Batol and Vanessa VanCleef in Deadmines. Granted, Corla, Herald of Twilight in Blackrock Caverns is a tough fight and always has been, but there’s no reason I should have to burn through (no exaggeration) 14 other players ragequitting in frustration with each other in order to get her down. And of course I wasn’t going to give up because she drops one of the precious few wand upgrades that I’m still waiting for… which naturally didn’t even come up.

By the end of the week I had to take a self-imposed break on queuing heroics as the Mage in favor of working on other projects (mostly alts) or I was going to start being That Guy in the randoms who berates everyone else (conveniently overlooking his own faults) and generally gets kicked because people can’t stand him. And yeah, I wasn’t perfect through all these fights but when my meager gear is pulling 12K DPS and that’s four to eight thousand better than the second guy on the list and I catch myself being the only guy trying to fight the adds in the Erudax fight it’s hard not to get snippy. So yeah, I took a break.

The Alts

One thing I did last week was start PvPing with my Shaman. I know I sounded like I was finding healing boring last week but the truth is healing itself is terrific fun, kind of like a meta-game. But running dungeons with tons of players sporting BoA Heirloom gear or Twink alts who have a 50,000 gold bank alt feeding them the very best everything means healing isn’t exactly a taxing profession in the 30s and 40s. And hey, I’m no different with my full set of Heirlooms and generous guild bank. The result is dungeons as a healer entail casting Earth Shield on the tank and then spot healing for the occasional AoE attack or when some zealous Warlock pulls a few crits in a row and yanks aggro for a couple of seconds until a boss comes up. For instances like Dire Maul with loads of trash, it’s kind of a snoozer.

PvP is the flip side of that coin. All you have to do is find someone on your side and follow them for about thirty seconds and you’ll have some serious healing to do. And it’s all great, exciting fun. The plus side is you earn honor while you play and it’s much more exciting. The downside is the XP/hour rate is riskier since you don’t get much XP unless you win and XP only comes from achieving objectives so long matches also drop your leveling rate. Now, if you win, you get a slew of XP but unlike dungeons where the XP rate is somewhat predictable it’s not quite as sure of a thing.

I did try a new healing AddOn, Healium, to see if it helped with some of the slowness I was perceiving or if perhaps it made me a better healer. Basically it replaces the party/raid unit frames with its own unit frames that include a set of assignable hotkeys next to each unit. The idea is you put your spells in the key boxes and click the spell next to the player to auto-target and cast at once. It prevents the target shuffle from being a problem (especially the issue I have where my target defaults back to none if I loot anything and my next spell ends up being cast on myself) and allows you to react more quickly to incoming damage on DPS (as opposed to the tank which is where my primary focus usually lies).

The good thing about Healium is that it does what it advertises which is make you a more efficient healer, less prone to common healing mistakes. The bad parts, though, outnumber that benefit.

  • Primarily the issue is it pulls your focus and your mouse away from the main play field which means you’re less likely to notice and/or react if you end up standing in the fire. Not a huge concern in the instances I’m running these days, but I don’t want to have Healium teach me bad habits I’ll have to unlearn later when fights become more difficult.
  • Unlike my beloved Pitbull unit frames, Healium’s frames aren’t terribly customizable which means certain graphical issues like not being able to clearly see the first 15-25% of the damage bar behind the role icon aren’t easily fixable without sacrificing other functionality.
  • Doesn’t really make healing any more exciting, in fact kind of the opposite.

So I don’t think I’ll continue using it, although it did convince me to modify my raid unit frames for PvP which was a pretty fun little project. One wish list for Pitbull would be some sort of sample frame option that let you see what party frames would look like without having to actually join a party since most groups I get into aren’t really that crazy about waiting around while I make minor tweaks to my UI.

Also on the Shaman, who is now level 46, I reached 300 Tailoring and 275 Enchanting. I need to hit level 50 before I can bump my skill to Master level and go beyond 300 on Tailoring which is a bummer because I’ve been relying on Tailoring to feed me disenchantable items to level Enchanting. I don’t want to waste precious mats making Tailored items that won’t net me skill advances so I’ve been spending too much money on the auction house to get Enchanting mats while I try to push toward level 50.

Meanwhile I pulled the Death Knight out of the starting zone (my overall impression of it was favorable but I felt the transition from Lich King lackey to free-will Horde member was kind of forced in that I would have rather had a slow burn of regret and remorse shift the position similar to what was hinted at in the quest where you have to kill the prisoner of your race; as it was the disloyalty to the LK felt pretty self-serving). I started jamming on Jewelcrafting and I made an executive decision to transition Inscriptioning over to him as well, orphaning my Paladin. I just don’t have the patience right now to do another alt from the very beginning and the Paladin doesn’t hold my interest so she’s going to get abandoned for now, though I think I’ll keep the toon for a while in case I ever want to try playing a Pally again later I don’t have to start from scratch.

The DK mechanics are intriguing but strike me as a bit overwrought. I get that they wanted the Hero Class to feel advanced, like it was something you needed WoW experience to be able to really do well, and I think it succeeds on that level but I can’t help feeling like it get very game-y in the process. I mean, explain to me in non-game-mechanics terms what the purpose of Death Runes and Runic Power is and what their difference could possibly be. I do like that the abilities are very combo-heavy (“if this is true, the ability does that; which allows other ability to do some other thing“) though in practice it ends up feeling like a strict rotation because you don’t ever want to use (say) Blood Strike until you’ve at least hit with Icy Touch and Plague Strike. And so on.

The good news is he’s a complete animal at waxing mobs in questing zones: The fel Orcs around Thrallmar in Hellfire Peninsula typically gave me some troubles when I was around level 60 on both the Warrior and the Mage. As the DK I churned through them without ever once stopping to heal, and that’s using the standard gear supplied by the quests in the DK starting zone. Very nice. Anyway, I can’t say I adore the DK the way I love the Mage and am growing to love the Shaman, but he’s a perfectly fun class to play and I’m just happy to be able to level alternate professions without having to grind all the way up. I intend to do some questing with this toon (as opposed to my queue-only policy on the Shaman), but also once I hit 60 I’ll drop into some BC dungeons and try my hand at tanking again. Maybe it will be better with a different class, I dunno.

Dungeon Raid Tips

May 18th, 2011 by ironsoap

I’ve been playing a new-to-me iPhone game called Dungeon Raid a lot the last few days and I’m finding it to be extraordinarily great. It’s got a an ancestry in Roguelikes (Nethack, etc) in that it’s a randomly generated dungeon crawl with perma-death but its mechanics are similar to Puzzle Quest (or, more specifically, Bejeweled). I’m pretty new to the game but I wanted to keep a sort of log of the things I’ve learned about how to succeed at the game and I figured here was a good place because I haven’t been able to find much in the way of strategy guides online. The most useful I’ve seen is Jose Reyes‘, though as with all Rougelike games, there is some room for divergent opinions about what priority to put things and which strategy works best. That said, following the basic principles Reyes outlines will up your game demonstrably. The tips below are largely based off experience with Reyes’ approach and note that this will be a work in progress so nothing here is unequivocal, just notes from firsthand experience.

Early Game

Early on Reyes is right: It’s all about XP. Kill as many monsters as you can, focus on XP boosting abilities and build up your stable of spells. A technique that has worked well for me is to prioritize monster killing every other turn so that you clear your highest total non-monster match on opposing turns. This allows your (hopefully) big matches to play off each other: Big monster match followed by big potion/coin/shield match, repeat. The reason for this is to get the most bonus matches possible per turn, understanding that especially early on you can easily absorb even several turns of monster attacks even without worrying about potions or shields since the monsters start off doing very little damage. The exception to this rotation is when a special monster appears at which point you almost always want to focus on clearing that monster because they give big coin and XP boosts and can do enough damage to give you trouble.

Upgrades early game should be focused on XP and damage boosting as top priority. Monsters always progress in strength as turns advance so you need to stay on pace with them in the damage department or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by monsters you can’t clear every other turn. More often than not you should be able to match three skulls without a sword and kill two of them. If that’s not the case, you’re not devoting enough upgrades to dealing damage. Obviously XP boosting is important to maximize these early, easy kills into lots of skill ups. Obviously Strength upgrades are then the best since they grant both of these things together, and raw XP boost being second best. Reyes downplays the utility of base damage upgrades but I tend to think of it as a decent choice if there is no other XP or damage boosting option available on a level upgrade. Item upgrades granted from collecting shields should indeed never be taken for base damage (there’s always something better to put onto an item since you only get one) but given the choice between two cooldown upgrades and a cooldown plus a base damage upgrade, I’ll take the latter. If you can maintain a damage pace sufficient to kill three skulls unaided by a sword, you’ll rarely struggle to deal with regular monsters.

Your second tier of upgrades are the necessary defensive upgrades. I like to maximize the stats first since they offer two benefits each and the secondary benefits max out eventually and getting to that max fast is important for the later game stages. That means I prefer Dexterity, Vitality and Luck over the other choices, though as Reyes points out, don’t overlook Durability entirely. Given a lack of great upgrade options (which will happen from time to time) I would take Durability first, HP second, and base damage third. I disagree with Reyes about Life Leech since I think it’s always useful to do two things at the same time, it’s especially important if you choose not to select Heal as one of your spells since you’ll waste lots of whole turns collecting potions without this and if you’re focusing on keeping your damage output high it starts to pay off pretty quickly. Regeneration is secondary to Life Leech to me, but also useful if you decide against Heal and can be good in tandem with Life Leech. Never select either of these upgrades over Vitality or direct HP boost, however. Even at 15-20% Leech on a high damage output you’re likely to be getting less benefit in terms of survivability than pushing your max HP.

Some stuff to avoid, especially in early game: As near as I can tell the generic Cooldown upgrade doesn’t actually improve the cooldown on your spells, rather it bumps the current cooldowns globally by one turn. This is only directly useful in the edge case of having a spell that will prolong your life one turn away from cooldown and you can’t survive the current turn. Otherwise, skip it (though this is dependent on my estimation being correct that it doesn’t actually permanently lower the cooldown of all spells; if that is the case suddenly this spell is a top priority because it can reduce cooldowns beyond the max spell levels). Blunting is of limited usefulness in early game and Reyes seems to think it doesn’t scale well in the later game stages which is a good enough reason for me to avoid it, although as you start getting into later game it becomes much more useful to smooth out incoming damage especially from stubborn enemies who get stuck in less accessible corners, so probably around the time you pick your fourth spell you should start putting some Blunting upgrades higher in your priority list. Spikes is a tough call because I find its benefit to be minimal if you’re focusing on clearing out monsters to gain XP—by the time Spikes does enough damage to clear a monster you probably could have done it yourself several turns earlier. As Reyes points out it can be useful in helping with difficult special monsters but as I’ll point out below, if you have the capacity to wait out a monster and let Spikes kill it, you’ve either gone with Spikes as a core strategy or you hit kind of a stasis mode; in my opinion there are better ways to deal with annoying specials.

Spell Selection

Read Reyes’ breakdown for convincing arguments in favor of Dazzle and Teleport. Dazzle I think is good, but since it doesn’t directly clear board areas it isn’t great as a first or second skill. Better are the skills that directly pull groups from the board. Reyes recommends Repair and I agree with him on that front but he also suggests Skill Elixir and I’m not sure I’m with him there. The problem is that these skills have to be applicable beyond the early game and while tons of XP is great early on, it gets less beneficial later when survival becomes more of an issue as the monsters increase in power. I actually prefer Heal, which does the same thing but gives you the actual HP instead of XP. The principal problem with Skill Elixir is that it re-purposes health potions which means you not only don’t get health from them but you then have to wait for them to collect back on the board in order to replenish your health. It’s risky to assume you’ll have enough time to do that without wishing you had some of those potions back. I’ve played games where I actually got both, but with two “clear-out” spells devoted to the same resource you end up getting less of each for every cast since the tendency is to try and stagger their cooldowns. So I recommend Repair as a first skill and Heal as another collection skill but I would avoid taking it until the third or fourth slot since it isn’t as critical early in the game.

Your second skill should instead be some sort of panic switch: Your go-to spell to get you out of a tight spot. There are several, most of them focused on mitigating special monsters: Banish, Exorcise and Teleport are the foolproof ones, but also Counterattack and Freeze can be reasonable panic switches though only if you just need a single turn of breathing room. Less reliable panic switch spells might be Explosive Armor and Explosive Potion could work if you like to live on the edge (or Fireball and Slash if you really like taking risks) and a few that aren’t recommended but can serve the purpose if you don’t mind the decent chance that your tight spot isn’t aided by your fallback spell like Boost Damage, Disarm and Shatter. If you don’t mind sitting on Dazzle without popping it every time it’s off cooldown, it can be a middling panic switch as well. My favorite panic switch is probably Teleport because it can aid in multiple-special situations plus it guarantees you won’t go out of the oven and into the frying pan if a new special replaces a dealt with one. Exorcise would be my second pick only because you still can get some XP from the evaded monster where Banish is just a problem solver and nothing more.

The big question facing you is probably going to be Dazzle vs. Enchant for your third slot. Enchant is pretty fantastic in that it’s just a free upgrade, every time it’s off cooldown (and there’s no reason not to use it every cooldown). Yet, it has a very long cooldown that is even long when fully upgraded. My recommendation after fiddling with both is to take Enchant if it comes up relatively early in the game and then don’t bother upgrading it unless there is absolutely nothing else worth choosing. The few extra turns between availability aren’t really worth the wasted upgrade. However, if you see Dazzle first, take it instead (the side benefit to that being that if you don’t see Teleport for a while, you can still hold back on being aggressive with Dazzle and use it as a pseudo-panic spell).

Some spell combos to avoid: Skill Elixir/Heal/Explosive Potion/Mana Potion; Dazzle/Treasure; Dazzle/Golden Touch. Also avoid the Boost spells (Boost Armor/Boost Damage/Boost Gold/Boost Health) as they are nice but not as useful as their free-clear counterparts (Repair/Disarm/Treasure/Heal, respectively) and any of the more random spells which you can’t control: Earthquake, Fireball, Magic Sword, Slash and Trap.

It’s certainly a viable strategy to skip the second free-clear spell (Heal or Repair) and go for either Treasure Chamber or some kind of killer combo. If you’re already taking Repair and Dazzle, it might be worth considering swapping out Heal for Scavenge: Dazzle-Scavenge-Repair could be a poor-man’s Enchant. If you do select Enchant, you may consider taking Mana Potion instead of Heal to run through those a bit faster.

The key thing is to make minor adjustments to your upgrade priorities depending on what you decide to do spell-wise: If you aren’t going to take Heal, make sure you put extra effort into upgrading Vitality and Luck early in the game when you aren’t at risk of death from a few regular monsters; if you decide to use a secondary panic spell like Freeze, beef up your defense and focus especially on damage so you can maximize the extra turn.

Upgrading Equipment

Equipment upgrades should follow the same basic strategy you’re using for level upgrades: XP, damage, HP, defense and then everything else. However, be cautious not to upgrade to a piece that isn’t compatible with your previous enchantments lest you lose a hard-earned bonus. Likewise, if a new item has an upgrade and a secondary benefit that provides a free boost in another area (say a shield that adds +1 to damage but also happens to add +5% Life Leech), always take the double-upgrade even if they’re both fairly low priority improvements. Occasionally I’ve seen an item that grants upgrades in three slots, though I don’t remember seeing one like that which didn’t also come with a downgrade on something as well. In that case I still take the upgrades, since netting two is still better than just taking one, but note that a two-up item with a downgrade elsewhere is a net gain of one upgrade and only worthwhile if you deem the downgrade to be inferior to both ups.

Your second choice beyond a double upgrade would be any item that casts a spell on upgrade: I’ve seen items come with Enchant and you can’t beat having an upgrade give you another upgrade (the side benefit of which is you get to see two sets).

Just The Start

These are notes from my experiences early on in my career as a Dungeon Raider. My strategies are likely to refine as I try various things and compare notes with other players. I said up top but it bears repeating that this is stuff that has worked to a certain degree for me so far, but I’m interested in improving. If you have any tips or strategies, I’d love to hear them, either in the comments section or at ironsoap@tunnelsofdoom.org. I’ll try to update this and add more discussion as I continue playing.

One thing I’m most interested in hearing is what people’s strategies are in regards to waiting on the spells you want: Is it better to hold out longer to get the right combo or should you work with what you get? I also kind of glossed over spell upgrades which reduce cooldowns: Some games I try to max out the spells to churn through them faster, other times I focus on more immediately beneficial upgrades to stats. Thus far I haven’t been able to determine which is more likely to result in a successful game.

I’m also curious as to which class people are playing. I’ve stuck with the Ranger for the most part to this point as I have him up to level 5, but the arrows are infrequent enough without Volley (which I can’t see being a viable spell choice) to only be occasionally useful. I do have the Mage unlocked who looks like an intriguing alternative with his free (that is, non-spell-based) mana potions.

Waffling Edition

May 11th, 2011 by ironsoap

There was a moment last week, around Friday, that I was kind of bummed out because I was sure that this—”this” being Children’s Week—was going to be the event that finally unraveled my hopes at getting the Violet Proto-Drake in a year. The reason for the discouragement was that I didn’t even log on to the game for several days following the posting of the last Edition due to an illness that plagued the females in my household leaving my wife unfit to care for our daughter and her, in turn, needing extra care and attention due to a raging fever and a very sad shift in her personality wherein she seemed to be frightened at the external forces acting upon her body. The good news for us is she doesn’t get sick much thus far. Needless to say, I essentially forgot about the game for two or three days and took care of my family.

When I did log back in I realized that I still needed School of Hard Knocks, the PvP achievement that has apparently derailed more than one person’s attempts at the year-in-the-making mount. Given my setback in number of attempts, it looked pretty bleak.

Somehow or other, though, I buckled down on Saturday morning, at times ruefully because the attempts numbered in the dozens and toward the end I really just wanted to log in as a different character and do something fun for a change. And at last I completed the requirement for Warsong Gulch and nabbed the achievement that completed the event requirements. I won’t say it was a hollow victory because I was very pumped when I finally was able to return that silly flag, but it did have the semi-unfortunate effect of making me a bit sick of PvP for a little while, especially Alterac Valley (which I wasn’t crazy about to begin with) and Warsong Gulch (which somewhat sadly I really liked for a time). The good news is that I had neglected the other toons all week in an effort to get the dumb achievement so I had plenty of reason to catch up with them after the event ended and give myself a break from all that PvPing.

What the whole encounter did prompt me to do was read ahead a bit on the rest of the World Event achievement lists to see what else was likely to interrupt my quest for the mount and it looks like, unless Blizzard changes something, the two most likely to trip me up are Sinister Calling and Fa-la-la-la-Ogri’la. The latter was one I missed last Christmas because of the reputation requirements for getting the Ogri’la dailies so in theory it should be doable as long as I spend some time between now and the end of this year rep grinding with that faction, plus the comments thread on Wowhead indicates that there may be a shortcut built in that doesn’t require the reputation grind as previously thought but I’m not positive about that. The Sinister Calling achievement looks like a RNG battle with a limited number of attempts possible. That’s a big bummer but at least it doesn’t look like anything that everyone else playing WoW is exempt from; it’s a source of frustration all around. The other ones I was worried about that are PvP-based actually look easy enough now that I’m more PvP-oriented with the Warrior; they seem to require simply getting X honorable kills while dressed in some event garb or another. There are a couple more of the “Do something to a select subset of the game population” such as Turkey Lurkey, which could be difficult as well though none of them seem to have the same number of requirements as Shake Your Bunny-Maker which had the odd distinction of needing a race/gender combo and a minimum level requirement. I suppose with something like Turkey Lurkey there’s nothing stopping an Alliance player from rolling an Orc Rogue and parking it outside Stormwind, for example.

I am worried about that Sinister Calling thing though.

Just One Drop/The Waffle

I’ve reached a fairly frustrating plateau with my Mage recently where I need to move on to the next level of content in order to facilitate my gear improvement but my current gear and situation is just sub-par enough to make that transition difficult. I’ve talked about how I couldn’t queue into the new dungeons last week because my item level was just below the requirement and getting in there actually matters because the loot in those dungeons is much better than the other heroics from patch 4.0.x. Well, at the tail end of last week I finally got a minor upgrade to a 333 item that boosted me the last point over the edge and I had the chance to try the new Zul’Gurub.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that just squeaking in over the requirement limit meant I was way undergeared for the content and I died a ridiculous amount on three bosses. In fact I ran out of time and never did see if they got the final boss down. On the plus side I got a Spiritcaller Cloak (which was an upgrade but is hideous to the point that I hit the “Hide Cloak” option in the preferences once I put it on) as a random mob drop but I can’t say I was really tearing it up in there. Part of the problem is that I’m just not pulling down 10,000 DPS on a consistent basis against heroic level mobs and other than continuing to grind Valor to try and speed my transition from heroic-level blues to epic gear pieces, I’m not sure how to cross that threshold reliably.

Part of me thinks that I’m spending too much time on heroic dungeons and not enough time working to get into a raiding situation. After all, the work involved in Valor purchasing individual epic pieces is something like four and a half weeks (for key slot items that cost 2,200 VP) which presumes hitting the normal heroic dungeon Valor cap each and every week, something I’m not likely to do. If we’re just talking about the core gear slots (that is, ignoring cloaks and rings and trinkets and such) that’s eight slots that need to be filled which would take three full years to do. On the other hand, most raid bosses seem to have between 15-20% chance to drop something I could use each time they’re downed suggesting that if I could get into a raid group that downed even two bosses a week I’d halve the time it took to gear out.

And herein is my struggle because I very much like my guild but they are not really pushing the raiding envelope with much gusto at all. Sure there’s idle chatter about getting raids going but by and large the focus in the guild is on achievements and leveling alts. I’m not saying I have intentions of becoming a hard core raider but I’m starting to get to the point where I see my priorities diverging from those of the guild. It’s really little things, like the fact that there isn’t much going on guild-wise outside the game: There are no active forums, the website is a ghost town and ventrilo is only ever populated by the same dozen or so players. Part of the blame does fall on myself, I realize. I originally leveled the Mage to be a better DPS in what was becoming, at the time, a fairly regular 5-8 man group, one which could easily have been fleshed out into a raid team. But as circumstances changed my play schedule became more erratic and I no longer log in reliably at the same basic time each evening. Some of that is chicken/egg: If I had a regular weekly raid appointment I could probably work out that schedule. Lacking that, I play when I have time here and there and I don’t think people in the guild think of me as a steady presence and even though I’ve expressed interest in raiding they don’t seem to think of me as a number to be counted on when they’re deciding if they have enough for raiding.

I can think of two options: I can try to wedge my way into the guild a bit more and volunteer some of the precious little time I have for various guild-improvement activities such as fixing up the website, working on getting the forums more active, volunteering to organize a raid team, basically trying to make my current guild match more closely what I want out of it. The other choice is to shop the Mage around and see if there are other guilds that I could switch into that are already doing the kinds of things I like to do.

There are pros and cons to each. A big con of working on my current guild is that it would be a non-game time sink. Typically if I have time to be doing World of Warcraft-y things, I like to be playing the game. The only reason this blog gets updated is because I have to do something on Tuesday mornings while the maintenance window is ongoing. Other than that I’m playing or doing other things, so fiddling with a website and trying to be active on forums (something I’ve never been great at) sounds kind of blah. Not to mention that I’m new enough to the game and the guild that I don’t want to be seen as someone trying to horn in on anyone’s authority: I know the guild leaders work pretty hard to try and do the best they can with the guild and even if I sometimes think I could do better, I’d never presume to know what it takes to do what they do. The downside of shopping around is that I’d lose the DPS toon I specifically rolled and maxed out to be my damage-dealer in this guild, plus there’s the very real possibility that such an endeavor would result in a paid realm transfer: A $25 fee that would not only mean ponying up more dough for a frivolous virtual service than I could ever feel comfortable with, but my current server of choice would lose it’s resident 85 Herbalist/Alchemist and I’ve been spending an awful lot of time trying to get the profession bases covered in my stable of alts to cut out a couple of 525 professions just like that.

So I don’t know what, if anything, I ought to do. One alternate thought I had was to try out a couple of other guilds on some of my non-affiliated alts (like the Death Knight) and see if I can do a try-before-I-buy kind of deal, possibly focusing on other guilds within the same server. Once I’m out of the DK starting zone I do plan to try out the Looking For Guild tool and see how well it works, so there’s something that could come from that.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Healing

I made it up about five more levels on my Shaman over the weekend mostly by running various wings of Scarlet Monastery which is a good suite of instances to run. I personally find them to be pretty enjoyable and they have a lot of drops that are good for Tailoring like Silk Cloth. It actually got me thinking about what makes an enjoyable instance versus a drudge and I came up with the following. Note that these apply to the low-level Vanilla instances for the most part, because newer dungeons (basically Wrath onward) kind of operate on a different set of game paradigms.

  1. Good dungeons have an epic feel in a reasonably sized experience. A good example of this is Deadmines (Reg) and Scholomance, both of which have cool internal lore and seem a lot more sprawling and complex than they really are. Bad examples are Wailing Caverns and Gnomergeran which both just feel overly long.
  2. Good dungeons don’t punish players who have never run the instance before. Mauradon, with its confusing multi-level access to the various bosses is poor at this, while Scarlet Monastery is much better since it splits itself into separate wings with a progressive difficulty and a semi-linear progression that makes the distinct parts manageable while the sum is so much more without any of it being brutal for first-timers.
  3. Good dungeons have a nice boss-to-trash ratio. The magic number isn’t really quantifiable but I think more than a dozen trash mobs between bosses starts to get really dull, especially if there isn’t much variance to the mobs (ahem, Razorfen Kraul).
  4. Good dungeons always make working through them a joy rather than a pain. Sometimes this means having teleporters to get you deeper into the instance if you wipe and have to corpse run back in, sometimes it just means not getting overly cute with the progression mechanics so they get confusing (Dire Maul is bad at this, Scholomance is better). Typically any dungeon with internal quests is on the right track (Blackfathom Deeps, in spite of its reputation, for example), those without are not so much (Gnomergeran, I am disappoint). Honestly just that small carrot of the dungeon quest makes going through it matter and mean something as opposed to just being content designed to be 5-manned.

I think most of the old world dungeons, especially after the little changes in Cataclysm, are pretty good. And it doesn’t seem like Blizzard are resting on their laurels either, apparently they’re removing the maze from Wailing Caverns. It may seem controversial, but it really isn’t. Non-linear dungeons are good at making their progression fun rather than dull (see #4, also Blackrock Caverns) but awkward layouts aren’t non-linear, they’re just confusing and frustrating. Blizzard isn’t 100% on this (the revamped Sunken Temple for example was excitingly non-linear before and is now fundamentally Stormwind Stockades: Swamp Edition) but if they want to cut out the backtracking and group frustration inherent in places like Wailing Caverns and a couple of the Coilfang Reservoir wings, they won’t have an argument from me.

This really matters to me on my Shaman because I’m running instances as my means of leveling up and if I get dropped into a dungeon that should take 30 minutes and I’m in there for two hours, that kills my XP rate and so far, even with the full suite of heirloom gear and guild XP bonuses, leveling rate is the thing that is holding me back the most. My professions have consistently outpaced my actual level and I end up waiting to ding a few times so I can train the next profession level so not fiddling around with a group for three or four times as long as should be necessary when I’m just trying to heal people, collect my experience and go is a major win for me.

Speaking of healing, part of the impetus behind this dungeon-crawler experiment was that since the Shaman is intended to be strictly a healer (my off-spec is being saved for a different Restoration build, not an Enhancement or Elemental DPS alternative), I needed as much practice leading up into high-level healing as I could possibly get and I wasn’t going to get that working on solo questing. But it turns out that for most people leveling alts, they don’t really need a lot of healing most of the time. I drop Earth Shield on the tank, stand around and maybe triage a careless DPS with Healing Wave every once in a while. I tend to throw out a few heals at the tank, too, just to give myself something to do between boss fights because mostly the trash is manageable as long as everyone is doing their jobs.

There has been one or two cases where I actually had to work and use a bunch of my tools to keep folks alive and when that happens it’s very exciting. But while I’m still surprised to find myself enjoying healing I feel like so far I haven’t really been tested much at it which means it gets a bit dull at times and when it’s early or late I catch myself dozing more so than I ever usually do playing the game. I guess I could say that means it’s more of a soothing play experience but that’s not really accurate either because when Serious Healing does need to be done it’s as stressful and exciting as anything in WoW, it’s just that the lulls between the action are longer especially at this level range. Hopefully things start getting hairier as I push through the level progression but it seems more like it’s just a matter of getting the fundamentals down so when I hit Cataclysm range I’m good enough at healing to be able to keep up.

Pee Vee Pee Edition

May 3rd, 2011 by ironsoap

I’ve finally discovered the purpose for my Warrior. It turns out he’s a blast to play in PvP. I kind of knew already that some light PvP wasn’t wholly outside my comfort realm because I’ve done Tol Barad several times with the Warrior but it was always kind of a side project; something to do whenever I wasn’t looking for excuses not to do dungeons as a tank. But the thing about PvP is that it allows me to use my Fury spec which I’m comfortable with in a non-PvE manner so I don’t feel like when I’m doing it that I’m so obviously failing as a tank.

The whole thing came about this week as I wrapped up Noblegarden by camping the Tol Barad Alliance base of operations for literally hours on Saturday morning. I should clarify up front that my daughter was off visiting her grandparents alone this weekend while my wife was out doing various personal errands and activities, enjoying her toddler-free reprieve. Meanwhile I was stuck at home at my desk because I pulled oncall duty at work so I had nothing to do but keep an eye on my work stuff and the rest of the time it was just Warcraft ahoy. Anyway, my only goal was to get that stupid achievement because I had the one day to finish it or it would have to be done next year. So I camped. And I camped. And I camped some more.

It gets really boring just sitting there clicking Alliance players to see if they happen to be a female Gnome, so I started queuing for Tol Barad when it came up. I figured it wasn’t going to hurt anything if I was away for a bit while the battle was taking place since most players on the Alliance side would be in the battle as well at that point, too. But Tol Barad only goes once every couple of hours so in the meantime it was getting dull. On a whim I decided to try queuing for random PvP Battlegrounds. Worst case scenario I figured was that I’d hate it and never do it again.

Instead I started having a lot of fun. It also helped that I realized how quickly Honor Points accumulate compared to Justice Points or Valor Points. Granted, Conquest Points are even harder to come by than Valor but it doesn’t matter since I’m undergeared for serious PvP anyway and most of the Honor gear is significantly better than my PvE stuff on that character. It soon became a huge project for me to get decked out as a contender in Honor PvP gear so I queued for Battlegrounds over and over and over again. At last I saw a female Gnome in the base camp and without really thinking I charged the camp, thinking, “AT LAST! THE GNOME!”

I didn’t make it.

The guards took me down before I could cast the bunny ears and I ended up at the graveyard on a 24-second resurrection timer. I couldn’t wait so I took off on a ghost run, saying aloud over and over: “Please still be there please still be there please still be there please…” until I was standing over my corpse with the resurrection dialog box and, lo! In the corner, I could see my Gnome. I rezzed and fully expected to be accosted again by the guards, this time at half health, so I hastily cast the stupid bunny spell and watched in what I presumed would be short-lived triumph as the achievement boxes popped up. And then…

…I didn’t die.

It was weird because I was out of the guards’ aggro radius and also not flagged for PvP so, technically, no one could do anything to me, but I was kind of stuck behind enemy lines. I briefly considered using my Hearthstone to go back to Dalaran (I switched my home city on the Warrior after patch 4.1 because they added the portal to Orgrimmar back and while it’s frequently a two-load-screen proposition to get to Org, it’s worth it because getting to Dalaran has been such a pain since Cataclysm) but I actually wanted to stay in Tol Barad and work on some daily quests so I tried to casually saunter out of the camp as if I had an invitation to be there the whole time. The guards saw through it all instantly and turned me into Cream of Orc Soup but it was totally worth it.

I presume that the back-to-back World Events with Noblegarden ending Saturday and Children’s Week beginning Sunday had to do with CW being the first week of May while NG coincides with the calendar-wandering Easter holiday, otherwise it’s kind of intense to have two of these things in a row. But I wanted to get a head start on Children’s Week since I cut it so close the previous event so Sunday—still oncall, still no daughter—I started working on those achievements. It’s a good thing I suppose that I got on the new PvP kick when I did because the difficult CW achieve is one in which you need to perform several PvP feats while your orphan companion is with you. So I spent more time queuing for Battlegrounds, earning Honor and trying to Assault a stupid flag in Arathi Basin. I finally got that one but it wasn’t easy. Even more challenging so far has been the Alterac Valley requirement. I actually got into a match where the Allies and Horde were trading off achievements but I didn’t realize they were doing it until it was very late in the match and I ran out of time. Hopefully I’ll have a few more chances but I still need to do Warsong Gulch as well. I keep thinking every one of these tough achievements is going to be the one that undoes my bid for the Proto-Drake. Knowing my luck it will instead be an easy one that I just overlook on accident or something.

By the end of the week my Warrior was rocking a nearly full set of Bloodthirsty Gladiator PvP armor and have close to 2,000 resilience now. I did a bit of reading and I think I need to reset my spec and adjust some hotbars and rotations so I can make the most of the tools at my disposal but I’m getting better at it and at least it’s breathed some fresh life into a character I had kind of gotten sick of.

Just Give It A Try

I have to make an aside here to talk about the phenomenon that happens to me in this game in particular but other online games as well which amounts to being shy about trying new things only to find they are not just tolerable but utterly enjoyable once I finally get over the mental roadblock of not wanting to have some twelve year-old flame me for twenty minutes because I n00b’d it up doing something unfamiliar. This has applied to doing random dungeons, random heroics, joining guilds, offering paid services like Mage portals or professional work and now PvP. Each time, broadening the scope of the game I play has made the game better, not worse which is what I always fear.

The lesson here is apparent: Just try it. If you’re newish to a sprawling game like this, especially one with a social element to it—even if that element is chatter on XBL—it’s worth just giving it a shot. It’s odd that the same anonimity mechanism which allows jerks to really embrace their inner douche doesn’t seem to permit those who would find their play experience fouled by those imbeciles to ignore their hateful pratter. In my case after a weekend of heavy PvP’ing I only encountered one instance of directly targeted angst which came because I was basically holding down the Goldmine in Arathi Basin by myself for close to ten minutes, valiantly fending off three or four small waves of assaulting Allies. At last another player (a Hunter I believe) from my faction showed up to help after the flag had been hit by a stealthing Rogue while I dealt with his Warlock and Paladin buddies. Between the two of us we wiped out the remaining Allies and I re-capped the flag which I felt was perfectly within my rights because I had owned this stupid cap point for so long and this Johnny-come-lately Hunter was free to try to cap it as well if he wanted but I felt no reservation in playing the Battleground as intended.

The issue was that he was achievement hunting for School of Hard Knocks (whereas I had already gotten the requirement for AB) and he took umbrage to the fact that I didn’t even have an orphan out which meant I wasn’t interested in the achievement. The possibility that I actually did need the achievement and had simply overlooked the orphan requirement didn’t seem to interest him and he called me several names. My sympathy was limited though. Like I said, if it wasn’t for me the opportunity to re-cap that flag would never have existed and he was free to try to cap the flag same as I. I know for a fact no one gifted me the achievement requirement when I got it, and more to the point he never indicated in any way that he was more interested in getting the achieve requirement than winning the Battleground ahead of time. I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure I have permission from everyone in the vicinity before I attempt to execute the game objectives just like I don’t feel like I need to ask permission to roll Need on an item that drops. I know that I try my hardest to play the game with integrity and a certain degree of polite deference to my fellow players. If their perceptions of my actions are skewed in some way, that’s not really my problem.

But these are the kinds of scenarios that, prior to their actual realization, fill me with dread and trepidation over trying something different. I wish I could somehow keep in my head the idea that so far I’ve regretted trying new things far less often than I have regretted not trying something. And interestingly that applies well beyond the bounds of the game.

Ze Patch, Mon

So 4.1 dropped which means new Heroics, interface changes and an alteration on how daily dungeon bonuses are handled. I’d love to tell you about the new Rise of the Zandalari dungeons, but I can’t because I’m one freaking ilevel point away from being able to queue into them on my Mage. I know that one of my trinkets and my cursed wand are what’s holding me back, but I can’t seem to get those slots filled. By far my favorite thing they did in this patch was change the daily dungeon rewards so it’s a weekly cap that can be rolled at your leisure. For someone who doesn’t play every single day and, even if it were possible, doesn’t always have the time to sit through a queue and then run a whole Heroic, this is huge. I tend to play in big chunks on weekend nights and smaller batches early weekday mornings before work. Where before I’d often try to squeeze in a Heroic in the morning so I could get my Valor, now I don’t have to and I can focus on other activities in those smaller blocks of time and get the weekly Valor in a more relaxed manner as time permits.

I ran a bunch of said Heroics on Sunday to try to get my ilevel up, but you need 346 (average) to queue in the new dungeons and I ended at 345 following a splurge of Valor point spending on a ring. My motivation was this: You can actually earn extra Valor per week if you queue into the new dungeons versus just grinding the 4.0 Heroics which caps out at a lower threshold so I figured if I sprung for a less significant item upgrade and it boosted my average over the queue requirement, I could at least try to make up the extra Valor with the new instances. Also, those instances drop epic level loot so it could end up being a benefit on that front, too. Anyway, the gambit failed and of course the one time I queued into Grim Batol (where Forgemaster Throngus drops an improvement for my sorry green wand) it was a kick/drop replacement and they were already on the third boss so I didn’t even get a chance at it.

Most of the other interface changes have been fairly uninteresting for me: I don’t really benefit from the extra rewards for under-represented roles since my level capped instance runner is a DPS and I’m already in a good guild on my three primary toons so the Looking For Guild feature will only help me on my lower priority alts. The interface changes did impact me though since I had some issues with a few of my AddOns following the patch. I don’t remember if I really dealt with a major content patch when I was playing after Wrath came out but if I did I don’t recall it being much of an issue. This time I had a lot of really glitchy behaviors popping up and slow updates from the AddOn maintainers didn’t help. I can’t complain too much since they are all provided free of charge but considering my rare opportunity to play for hours on end, it was a bit frustrating to have so many problems during that window.

Alt Nation

I ran my Shaman healer up to level 30 doing chain instances, which was kind of cool. Level 30 seems almost like a bigger deal for this toon than level 20 was since you get Astral Recall, which acts as a second Hearthstone, Reincarnation which lets you rez yourself, and some new Totem abilities including Call of the Elements (my favorite) which drops selected Totems from all four groups at once. I guess level 20 was big for me as a Resto Shaman, but since Ghost Wolf hit a couple levels earlier—and the fact that I don’t go anywhere since I’m still leveling exclusively through dungeons—getting a mount was sort of anticlimactic.

Unfortunately I had to do a lot of Gnomergeran to get to level 30. One big downside to doing instance-leveling is that occasionally you get to a spot where there are only a couple of available dungeons to queue into. If one of them is kind of a stinker (I get the hate for Gnomergeran now), it really feels like the grind you’re trying to avoid by skipping out on questing comes creeping back in. The reason GNO is so agitating is that it’s long, especially if you don’t take the shortcut, and that first skippable boss is really tedious in that it involves an NPC fiddling around on timers while you battle spawning trash mobs of the most boring sort and then the boss finally shows up and he has the worst loot table. Granted, I’m realizing that caster Leather is really, really difficult to come by so I don’t really expect lots of sweet drops all that often but when every single player from a nice class cross-section rolls Disenchant on the boss blues—twice—there’s a loot issue for that boss.

What makes it worse is that there is no teleportation option into deeper dungeon levels and the trash respawns alarmingly quick. Which means if you, like me, happen to have the dumb and you fall off the platform after the second-to-last boss—as the only resurrection-capable healer—you get to attempt to run back to the party through scores of respawned elite mobs. It’s brilliant, really. The result of that particular run (I initially typed that as “ruin,” which is pretty fitting) was abandonment of the instance by all party members. They briefly considered attempting the boss without heals but nixed the idea since I think the party makeup was Warrior tank, Mage, Warlock and Hunter none of which have any kind of healing off-spec or anything that could be used in lieu of an actual healer. Considering we were at the last boss, it was pretty disappointing. The other option would have been to have the party run back through, trying not to die on respawned trash themselves, and escort me back to the spot we left off. I didn’t blame anyone for not wanting to do that.

I’m fairly shocked at how much fun I’m having playing a healer. I wonder in some cases if I like being a Shaman or if I just like healing in general. If the former then great! I’m already doing that. If the latter I wonder sometimes if I might not be better served by using a class that was more directly suited to the role (Priest, for instance). Most of what I read about Shamans indicate that they are capable healers but not exactly the most sought after class for that role. I suppose the analogy would be like Fury Warriors: They can DPS just fine, but if you really want to DPS you ought to look into a more pure DPS class. This is the consideration that led me to create a Mage and the result of that was overwhelmingly positive. But then again I wonder if playing a Priest might feel too much like playing a Mage: The gear is very similar, the play style looks very close; the only real differences seem to be the increased interest in the Spirit stat and the targets of your spells are different. For now I’m happy with my Shaman, I just hope I don’t hit a point where overcoming the class limitations for the chosen role becomes a matter of possessing a high degree of skill (this feels a bit like the case with Warrior DPS) where a less skillful player could mask their sub-optimal ability level with a strong class choice.

Meanwhile, I put a bit of time into my Death Knight for no other reason than that I’m frustrated with the Paladin and I’m hoping that the DK will catch my limited attention enough to feel good about making him my new Inscriptionist/Jewelcrafter. Leveling my Shaman through the instances has been fun, but I don’t seem to have the motivation to get the Paladin up to level 15 so I can start doing that with her. I wish I knew what it was about Paladins that makes me so prone to making this sound: “Glear-ACHKpth!” Then again maybe it’s that she’s also a Blood Elf? I dunno. There’s something very uninteresting to me about that toon and I keep logging in with her hoping it will pass and I’ll finally see the light that seems to blind everyone else into believing that Belfs and Pallys are “so freakin’ beast, man!” But then I realize that I don’t want to talk like that and I’m not sure why it matters to me whether or not I’m able to see things from the majority viewpoint so, hence, I hit the starting zone with the DK.

This actually marks my third attempt to finish the DK starting area which admittedly is awesome but for whatever reason I get to a point where I just stop and character abandonment ensues. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that 55 feels like a weird place to start because the thrill of the rapid level advancement that aids in lowbie grinding isn’t there or maybe it’s because no matter what kind of DK I roll the starting zone is always the same. I do want to get at least to level 60 with this guy so I can start trying to tank as a Blood DK (going back to my Just Try It mantra, I want to find some toon that I can find enjoyment in that role with) in Burning Crusade dungeons but I also keep forgetting that a lot of my time is going to be poured into the Warrior until the end of the next week because of the silly World Event. As much as I actually enjoy all these holiday things, they kind of put a damper on my schedules.

Cute Edition

April 27th, 2011 by ironsoap

It was a weird week in World of Warcraft for me, and one of the least weird things was running around all over the place on Sunday shapeshifted into a purple bunny.

LOL Healz

I did a lot of queuing with my Shaman and managed to get him up to level 26 by the end of the week though sadly the RNG managed to dump me into Stormwind Stockades something like five times, four of them in a row. It’s fairly impressive how different each run can be depending on the makeup of the party. For example we had one Warrior tank who was actually overpowered for the instance (level 30 I believe) and must have specific-queued for it so he could get some achievement or another, but at level 30 he was not quite soloing it which made the whole run a cakewalk for me since I basically kept Earth Shield up on him and /autofollow’d the rest of the way. It didn’t even matter what the DPS were doing since they were behind our level 30 tank in every category anyway.

But a couple of runs of the same dungeon later we had a Paladin tank who wasn’t familiar with it and pulled too much, lost aggro to the Hunter, kited the bosses around corners and out of my line of sight and generally wiped the party in spite of my best efforts to keep people alive. And by “best efforts,” I mean me casting four instances of Healing Surge, realizing it was hopeless and then spamming the party chat with my “Hope you like ghost running, chumps!” macro. As a matter of fact, the worst part about the Stockades (for Horde players) is that the stupid graveyard is way out in the middle of Elwynn Forest and since no one on Horde side spends much time in Stormwind it’s difficult to find your way back to the instance entrance to retrieve your corpse. It really only matters for the healers (of course) since once we’re in we can resurrect the rest of the party and naturally I was one of the n00bs who couldn’t figure out how to get back into the dungeon which meant about a twenty minute delay in getting back to the fighting, during which I endured a endless barrage of insults which were all less-than-clever variants of “You suck.” I didn’t feel it was necessary to point out more than once that if there hadn’t been some serious mistakes made in the first place, the run would not have been required.

The best run of the week was through Blackfathom Deeps, which is an instance I’m usually not crazy about but in this case it happened to land in that sweet spot for the whole party where it was challenging but not so much so that we were wiping more than a ragboy at a carwash. As long as everyone did their jobs we were fine—and you can interpret that to mean “as long as I kept the heals coming the bosses and trash would go down eventually.” Normally epically long dungeons irritate me (unless they’re awesome, like Stratholme) but in this case it was so much fun I didn’t mind and it was even in that terrific stage of level progression where, with the help of plentiful XP boosters, level ups come fast and furious. I dinged twice in the course of the run and I think if we’d cleared every last trash mob out I would have gotten a third level.

For a while there I was able to queue so quickly that I didn’t even have time to visit the trainer in between dungeons and went through a couple of instances without some spells I should have had. But, that was early in the week. By the time I hit level 25 the progression slowed and oddly so did the queues. I tend to log onto the Shaman after I’ve at least gotten my daily Heroic run done with the Mage which means often it’s toward the end of my play time and for various reasons it seemed that once I made it to level 25 I kept having to drop out of queues because something would come up and pull me away from the game, often because the 4-8 minutes I had gotten accustomed to waiting was stretching into 15-20 minutes. It’s interesting what a difference that makes in low-level dungeons: If you queue for under ten minutes and then drop into a relatively short instance like RFC or the Stockades, in ten more minutes you can be halfway done with the entire run and the whole process from entering the queue to collecting the final loot and teleporting out takes less than half an hour. On the other hand, a fifteen minute queue followed by even a medium-length instance (say, Shadowfang Keep) which takes 30-45 minutes since there are no skippable bosses easily doubles the time commitment to an hour. The main takeaway from this is that you can’t really be sure when you hit the “Enter Queue” button what you’re getting yourself into which is not really the case with the endgame dungeons (however, as I’ll discuss in a minute, those have their own variance potentials).

The main source of weirdness with the Shaman at this point is that I’ve been so focused on profession leveling that I keep outpacing my current game level. For instance, I’m running dungeons like Deadmines and Wailing Caverns which, when they drop cloth, has mobs dropping Linen Cloth while I’m needing Silk Cloth at least and can actually make use of Mageweave Cloth already. Most of my profession speed leveling has been done via farming with my 85 toons and copious use of the Guild Bank but now I’m wondering if my haste isn’t doing me a disservice because the whole point of choosing the dungeon-farmable professions was so I could do my own farming via the instances I was going to use for leveling. I keep hoping eventually I’ll catch up with myself, but now I’m wondering if that won’t really start happening until BC territory.

Oh, You Again

Since I’m trying to do What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been with my Warrior, I tend to switch over to him whenever it’s a World Event week. Last week was Noblegarden, WoW’s Easter equivalent, and I spent the majority of the early week running around early zones collecting a zillion eggs. The fear I always have with these events is that there will end up being that one achievement I can’t get that prevents me from scoring the Violet Proto-Drake. Since it’s annual for each event, the only option would be to wait a year to try again.

Getting back on the Warrior was kind of weird at first because I keep running around in semi-decked out tanking gear most of which is middling quality at best for a guy who has been level 85 for most of five months. I say I’m a tank but I only tank on low-level instances with guildies and the challenge there is minimal plus it does nothing to help my gear. So I’m running around getting these eggs, feeling like it’s maybe pointless because who cares about a weenie non-tank even if he has a really sweet dragon to ride on. Then I start getting hit up by not just one but several random guild members who all want something from me because I’m a Blacksmith.

Now the first guy was very annoying in that he wanted me to drop everything I was doing and get him this blacksmithing stuff, not the least of which is the Elementium Earthguard, a shield it took me weeks to make for myself. I tell him I may be willing to do it for him but I’d have to run some heroics to get the Chaos Orbs because I don’t have any on hand. He keeps wanting to buy them off the AH for me and I can’t seem to make people understand that they’re BoP, visible to professionals who can use them only. No one else can even roll on them. No one seems to accept this. Anyway, he asks when I can run a heroic. I tell him I was thinking about trying one that weekend but he’ll have to wait at least until that evening because I don’t have time to run one just then. He keeps badgering me about it asking for times and schedules and everything until I finally make him some PvP plate just to shut him up (using my own mats of course) and log off out of frustration.

Later I find out that he was kicked out of the guild for driving everyone nuts with his begging for loot from all the professionals. Naturally I felt pretty good about having wasted mats on a loser like that. Then just as I’m licking my wounds I get two other people in the guild asking me for the same exact types of items. I tell them the same thing: I’ll try a heroic soonish but I need to make sure I get Noblegarden done. They’re not convinced and try to talk me into changing my plans, or, (sigh) buying Chaos Orbs themselves. I even get the guilt trip from one of them because he bought some mats sight unseen that I offered to use from my own reserves and he comes back with “Well great. Now I just spent all that gold on these for nothing.” Gee. Sorry for trying to be helpful buddy. I assure him if it means that much I’ll take the mats off his hands if—and only if—I get the orb and can make him what he wants.

So at last I decide to bite the bullet and run a heroic. Oh. My. Word. It was such an ordeal. It was one of those runs where nothing goes smoothly, the tank ragequits several times, we wipe on easy bosses because people don’t know the fight, the healer disconnects in the middle of a trash pull and we all have to pop every cooldown in the book to barely squeak out alive and on and on. It took forever. It was barely any fun. But I got the Chaos Orb.

Naturally, the very last thing in the world I wanted to do with it was just give it to some random guild dweeb. So I kept it. Mercifully it took me so long to get the thing that the people had mostly stopped asking about it by that point but I did have one of them ask about some swords I made for him so I hope he got the other gear he wanted in a different way but, man. I remember why I don’t like heroics with the Warrior. Melee DPS is blah and in heroics doubly so.

In between all this I was still collecting egg after egg and getting really sick of it until finally I had all the achievements for Noblegarden except this one: Shake Your Bunny-Maker. Now, most of them weren’t too tough but by the end of the week I had spent a couple of hours each at the Alliance camp in Tol Barad (which is where I got the other achievements earlier where you had to find specific classes or races), in Dalaran and doing flyovers of low-level Alliance zones (risking PvP death, by the way) and I still couldn’t find a stupid female Gnome. I know a lot of other Horde players on my server had trouble with the female Dwarf, too, but I lucked into that one since some kind soul parked a level 85 female Dwarf Hunter on top of the fountain in Razor Hill just so people could put bunny ears on her and get their achievements that way. A welcome gesture by a Hordie with an Ally alt, for sure, but not as helpful to me since I actually saw several Dwarves during my scavenger hunt but no stupid Gnomes. I’m sure if it had been a Gnome in RH the Dwarves would have been scarce because that’s the way it goes. But these are the kinds of achievements I forsee being my downfall in my quest for that stupid Proto-Drake.

I just hope I’ll find the time to keep trying later in the week.

The Excitement Never Ends Edition

April 19th, 2011 by ironsoap

All told, it was an eventful week. It started off by me queuing into heroic Stonecore with the Mage for the first time and at first it looked like it was going to be One Of Those Runs because we wiped on Corborus due to the fact that I didn’t know I was supposed to AoE the little crystals he spits. We did take him down on the second try only to have the party wipe again just inside Corborus’ tunnel on the Crystalspawn Giants because… well, I’m not really sure because I was still back on Corborus’ corpse trying to decide if there was any way I could work around the Bind on Pickup aspect of Phosphorescent Ring so I could mail it to my Warrior, who I believe is wearing a couple of twigs of Peacebloom twisted together in his ring slot. By the time I got to the scene of the crime, Marg Helgenberger was already there, making darkly ironic quips through artificially inflated, oh-so-shiny lips and all I could do was pop Invisibility and wait for Roger Daltrey.

I fully expected the tank and everyone to ragequit after that but surprisingly we carried on and headed down to fight Slabhide who is notorious in regular Stonecore for being a) a really boring fight and b) having middling loot. On heroic Slabhide isn’t that much more exciting but when we brought him down suddenly Reins of the Vitreous Stone Drake popped up and my breath caught. This thing has a ludicrously low drop rate (~0.9%) and, well, I know I haven’t been playing for that long compared to people who have been in since launch (or before) but the truth is it was really starting to weigh heavily on my conscious that I didn’t have a cooler mount than the janky Swift Purple Wind Rider that any Tom, Dick or Garrosh can pick up for a few gold at Wind Riderz R’ Us. It didn’t seem possible that a gift like this would land in my lap so I hit “Need” without thinking about it.

This was immediately followed by a sharp stab of guilt as I wondered if it etiquette dictated that these kinds of drops were “Greed” only or something. Fortunately my panic was short-lived as I saw everyone else in the party select “Need” as well, at which point my heart sank. Nuffle has never been kind to me and the odds of even seeing this drop were incredibly low, to think that I might actually have a chance to…

I actually didn’t even get to finish my lamentation before I saw the magical words: “You have received Reins of the Vitreous Stone Drake.” I was so stunned I didn’t even think to check to see what my roll had been (it wasn’t 100 because I would have gotten the achievement). I do know that the tank rolled a 1, because he was so bitter about it. He had us in stitches complaining that there ought to be a new achievement that popped up whenever you rolled a 1 on a “Need” roll for an epic loot item. He even had a great name for it: Epic Fail. I thought it was winning, but it was easy to be amused because I got the drake.

And oh how sweet she is.

It Has How Many Buttons?

The other exciting event was that my Razer Naga MMO mouse finally arrived (sort 0f) via UPS. Actually, for the second time in as many years I managed to deliver something ordered online to the wrong address: In both cases to addresses that I lived at previously. At least I don’t move very far so since our old apartment is only about ten minutes up the road I was able to drive over and knock on the door and implore a kind but bewildered old stranger to give me back my package.

My original intent behind the purchase was to have the 12 grid buttons act as Yet Another Hotbar. In reality the grid actually mimics either the number row on the keyboard or the number pad on the right side of an extended keyboard which is not exactly what I thought it would be but the mouse is phenomenal for other reasons.

For one thing the feel of the mouse is spectacular, and Razer’s worksmanship is top notch. There is an intentional slope from the right side to the left on the top surface which both permits the button grid enough room for the buttons to be a comfortable size (I was a little afraid they might be too small for my clumsy thumb) as well as forcing that thumb to over in a relaxed position over the pad. The scroll wheel has a great soft click to it and the left and right mouse buttons are snappy and responsive. There are two rocker-type buttons along the top ridge of the left click button which I like because they work better when mapped to zoom-in, zoom-out than the mouse wheel and that frees the wheel to hold a primary nuke spam macro (which I am totally going to use as soon as I have enough time in-game to fiddle with the macro editor instead of, you know, playing the game).

The 5600dpi laser is comically overpowered as the mouse is so responsive at the highest setting it takes the sort of slow precision usually reserved for disarming unstable explosive devices to click on anything smaller than 600×600 pixels, but at about 60% the mouse is manageable but wildly responsive (so much so that I get kind of sad when I have to use my laptop’s built in mouse or a standard USB cheapo) which makes mouselooking as natural as glancing over your shoulder.

Now, as for that button grid, the other down side is that the included Naga WoW Add-on is not compatible with my hotbar manager of choice, Bartender 4. My only option was to disable Bartender and I was reluctant to do that which meant the custom mapping wasn’t going to work very well. So what I ended up doing was adding a previously neglected vertical hotbar and assigning what had previously been awkward two-modifier hotkeys to it to do things that wear out my fingers otherwise but are now as easy as my primary spells mapped to 1, 2, 3, etc. Basically I have Alt-Shift-NumpadN mapped to my mounts, fishing skill, archaeology’s Survey and other non-combat-critical spells, menus and abilities that make life in Azeroth easier and quicker without having to re-learn how to play all over (again).

So far I’m very happy with the purchase and my next step is that on my Paladin alt (where I haven’t set up a Bartender profile) I plan to actually try disabling the Bartender and using the Razer AddOn to see how it works.

For I Will Fear No Heals

The other round of excitement was that I finally hit level 15 on the Shaman and grew sufficient stones to try my hand at an instance in the healer role. It was a bit of a rocky start as we entered Ragefire Chasm and I fumbled with the base mechanics of selecting friendly units as opposed to enemies and let the tank die during an early pull. There was some talk that I may have fallen asleep but I assure you it was false and I was awake and alert the whole time, just woefully inept. I did explain that it was my first healing run and they calmly re-adjusted their expectations and things went much smoother after that. It helps a lot that the low-level instances are really quite easy to do and often there is not much healing to be done anyway (especially for certain tanks with self-healing abilities).

As usual with alts a lot of my early problems seem to revolve around a tendency I have to skim ability descriptions and miss key facets of them which causes confusion when things don’t behave like I expect them to. Exhibit A in the case of the Shaman is Earth Shield which my brief glace over indicated was some kind of pushback mitigation effect: Nice but sort of situationally useful. Turns out at low levels it’s a core healing ability since, when cast on the tank, it does a lot of the healing for you which leaves you free to pick up the loot off the dead bodies since the party will never, ever, ever wait for you to loot corpses before executing the next pull but will totally blame you for any kind of wipe or death incurred as a result of you filling your pockets instead of facilitating the Rogue’s utter insistence to stand in the frakking fire for the whole fight.

By the way, did I mention I now understand why all those healers I’ve grouped with over the last several months were so touchy and defensive?

For something that I thought was going to be utterly boring I’m surprised to find myself really enjoying playing a healer. My strategy to level exclusively through instances is working pretty well so far (it really helps that I have a 35% XP boost from my heirloom set and my guild has the Fast Track perk which means I’m earning 45% extra XP all the time) especially since it means I rarely have to wander far from the profession vendors and trainers. Occasionally it has been tempting to go farm mats, especially for Tailoring but I figured I have level 85s who can use their swift flying mounts to do that even better and faster so at one point I sent my Mage over into the Redridge mountains to blow up gnolls and pick up green items to disenchant plus cloth to send over to assist with the Tailoring grind. I almost felt bad for the gnolls though since they kept respawning and it took barely a flick of my wrist to light them on fire; it was taking more time to loot their corpses than to create the corpses to begin with. The respawn rate made it seem like they just kept sending more and more soldiers after me in utter futility and I felt like I needed to track down their leader and have a friendly chat with him:

Mage: Hey, you know, I can do this all day. It’s not even denting my mana pool.
Gnoll Tribe Leader: Grah! We will never surrender!
Mage: Hey, is that garment you’re wearing made of… wool?

For a bit there I was questioning whether it was really such a great idea for me to be doing Tailoring on the Shaman since it almost seemed like Leatherworking would have been a better choice owing to the fact that I actually wear leather armor. I knew it was weird when I started actually wearing some of the cloth armor I was making because stat-wise cloth tends to be heavier on the healer-friendly Intellect and Spirit than leather which I presume is often laden with Agility because that stat benefits Hunters, Rogues and DPS Shaman who all wear leather. But as I’ve gone on I’ve realized that Tailoring was the right way to go because it ties nicely into Enchanting, giving me a steady supply of level-appropriate greens to disenchant for dust and shards. I have been a bit annoyed to discover that later Tailoring recipes call for specific mats that are outside the purview of collecting cloth off dead dungeon denizens (like leather which is required for a lot of useful Tailored items in the Expert level) which has made me consider adding another alt to my growing rotation (my Skinning/Leatherworking Hunter). However, it’s starting to feel like I’m a player (playa?—I’m not certain of the parlance) whose gotten himself in over his head trying to juggle too many booty calls at once and is now afraid they’re all going to find out about each other at once and form some kind of lynch mob. Only in my case it’s not a matter of anyone finding anything out but of my brain exploding from trying to remember the mechanics of five or six classes at once and it’s not a lynch mob but an angry wife who will call Blizzard and tell them to put me on the account blacklist because I’m getting twitchy if I don’t log in for longer than 24 hours and attend to my menagerie of alts.

Um. What was I talking about?

Right. Professions.

Professions

The other minor accomplishment on the professions front was that I finally worked my Paladin over to Silvermoon City and found the trainer for Inscription so I could mill some of the herbs I’d been sending in bulk from my World Explorer farming runs. Incidentally, I did finish up that achievement early in the week since I only had a handful of zones left to go. It was kind of nice to at last get a title on the Mage but it seemed very overshadowed in significance to the drake acquisition. Anyway, i suppose I should have realized that low-level Inscriptioning was more about creating meh scrolls than awesome glyphs but I don’t have any toons at the moment who are really dying for glyphs so it’s not much of a problem yet. The bigger issue is going to be finding the motivation to level the Paladin sufficiently to get to that stage since thus far (ahem—I guess it is only level 5) she’s kind of a snoozefest. Incidentally, when my yet-unnamed band puts out it’s first album, it will be titled “She’s Kind of a Snoozefest.” Part of me wonders if I wouldn’t be more inclined to get further with the professions I’ve marked out for her if I did them on a Death Knight which at least could avoid a lot of the early grinding to the dungeon queue stage and just profession level to a pretty advanced stage without having to do any level grinding at all. It’s worth considering especially since I’m already sick of watching that grinchy little elf do her stupid spin jump. What is that? There is no practical reason to ever spin on your vertical axis when you jump in the air unless you’re engaged in an Olympic competition of some sort. And even then, it’s only worth—what?—half a point?

I do need to make a decision though because what typically stops me from making progress and/or doing things in the right way is my disdain for re-doing work that I’ve already done (like farming the same number of Peaceblooms for ink milling). Granted I need to go farm more low-level herbs anyway since I didn’t have as many as I thought but still. The point being that before I go ahead and add Jewelcrafting to the Paladin I need to decide once and for all if she’s going to be a legitimate alt or someone I abandon because it turns out I didn’t really want to be tied down to a family after all and my wanderlust has gotten the better of me, resulting in several decades of tragic, drug-fueled consequences and material for a half dozen heartbroken country and/or rebellious riot grrl albums.

What? Oh, no. Never mind that. I was thinking of a different interaction. In this case I’d just mail all her bank slots to a different toon and delete her. But I would write a heartbroken riot grrl album about it, because that sounds pretty awesome to me.

I’m The New Magellan Edition

April 13th, 2011 by ironsoap

I can summarize last week with the following three phrases: World Explorer effort; Dungeon queues; Alt mania.

World Explorer Effort

Since I’ve decided that the Mage is my main, I figured that I wanted at least a few of the achievements I had been pretty happy about getting on the Warrior, most notably among them the World Explorer achievement for uncovering all of the world map. I did it organically with the Warrior, uncovering lots of the zones on foot as I quested through them and then later after I was past level 60 I did the entirety of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor the hard way: On land mount. It was pre-Cataclysm so it was the only option. But it took forever.

Getting this achievement with a flying mount is decidedly less satisfying although so much less annoying that I wouldn’t ever want to do it the old way again. Even now it’s aggravating to traverse the whole zone and realize as you get to the last uncharted segment that there is actually this one little spot way back on the other side of the zone that you missed and have to spend all of two minutes flying back over there to get it. When I did this on foot, those two minutes were something like 15-20.

But don’t let me fool you into thinking it’s going 10 times quicker this time around. If it had simply been a matter of getting the achievement(s), I probably would have procrastinated on the whole scene for a while longer. However, I had a couple of projects I wanted to work on that happened to fall in line with flying around the game world for days on end. One was that I wanted to collect a stack (20 each) of every gatherable herb in the game. There is no achievement for this, which is probably part of why I wanted to do it, and no real practical reason to do it either since the effort put into such an endeavor would mean I’d be so reluctant to actually use those herbs for anything that if the need arose for any of them, I’d end up going out and re-farming the mats. Still, it’s the kind of insane self-set goal that predates official achievements and the kind of thing that I used to do all the time in video games so I liked the randomness of it so much that it simply had to be done.

In a related self-assignment I did some research and decided I wanted to try and collect all the Alchemy recipes in the game. Now many of them are random world drops which means in some cases heavy farming of particular mobs and that’s not really intriguing to me right now. But there are a bunch that are sold by vendors scattered around Azeroth and Outland which I figured would be easy enough to work on while I did the Explorer thing. It actually turns out that this isn’t as simple as it sounds because there are only a rare few vendors who always offer unique recipes for sale. Some of them (like this one jerk in Feralas) do sell the recipes but do so on a mysterious internal cooldown so basically you have to just keep checking back with them to see if they have the one copy at that particular moment. It seems like many of the non-trainer recipes have been culled from the game at this point but of those that remain a remarkable number of them—especially from Burning Crusade and beyond—are faction recipes which mean you have to rep grind with the faction to get to some specific level before the vendor will sell you the item. Now eventually I’d like to work on reputation with all the older factions but right now it’s more pertinent to focus on Cataclysm factions which offer me more than just novelty low-level recipes and vanity items.

The other reason for exploring the world was so I could get started with Archaeology because I’m foolish enough to tempt the RNG deity to try to get the Recipe: Vial of the Sands. It’s such a ridiculous thing: You have to build Archaeology up until you can create Canopic Jars, which are randomly generated  from creating Tol’Vir artifacts (along with six other possible common items and six rares… I can’t find any numbers for this but if you figure the seven commons make up 94% of the creates and the rares are 1% each that gives you about a 13% chance of getting the Jar). Then the jar itself drops the recipe only 3% of the time at which point you still have to collect the mats to make the Vial itself: No mere trifle since it involves 12 of the one-per-day Truegold plus eight vendor-sold Sands of Time which run (base amount) 3,000g each and a Pyrium-Laced Crystalline Vial going for 5,000g. That’s not even counting the easy part, which is 16 material-intensive Flasks and eight Deepstone Oil.

But, oh, what that foolishness can bring.

So the plan was, fly around, uncover the map, gather herbs, pick up recipes where possible and hit all the Archaeology dig sites. Oh, and stay in the queue as much as possible. By the end of the week I’d finished Northrend, Outland and Kalimdor and had a load of herbs and about 100 skill points in Archaeology. I also picked up a few of the missing Alchemy recipes but not as many as I’d hoped. Still, pretty good I felt for a week’s work.

Dungeon Queues

I’ve been focusing on Heroic dungeons now that I’m building my confidence in them. At the end of the week I only had The Stonecore, The Vortex Pinacle and The Deadmines left to run through which has awarded me some good reputation and Valor points (arguably the whole point of Heroics) but I’ve been disappointed in the drops so far. I did get Blinders of the Follower on my first trip through Shadowfang Keep which was a minor upgrade to my Helm of the Typhonic Beast which I had picked up in Halls of Origination on regular. It even has the same model so it was literally just a small stats boost (and a bit of a money sink since I had to re-buy the faction enchant from Hyjal and pick up new gems for the sockets).

I actually don’t mind so much that the drops have been weak because I like I said, it’s all VP for core upgrades now but I do wish that Throne of the Tides would come up more often because it’s the only place to get a non-raid drop ranged slot item (a wand in the case of a Mage) that isn’t total pants. Even the alternate dungeon drop from Grim Batol (which at least has a non-Heroic 85 variant) isn’t really good for Mages since it’s heavy on Spirit and Mastery, neither of which are that great for me. There is one in Deadmines I could use, but that hasn’t even come up yet. I could live with no drops for two weeks as long as when I do queue into The Deadmines or TotT I get a chance to roll on an upgrade. I’m sick of my wand being my last ucommon holdout. Bleh.

A quick trek through the new Heroics:

  • Shadowfang Keep: I like the non-heroic version okay but I realized this time through that SFK is too cramped for my liking. All the narrow corridors keep me from zooming out to a comfortable level and as a result I struggle with the camera which affects my DPS. Heroic felt very similar to the regular with more health on everyone and a few mandatory interrupts thrown in. Mostly I felt it was memorable for the loot drop I received.
  • Grim Batol: Still one of my favorite dungeons even after I’ve run it dozens of times on two different toons. Heroic bosses in GB are much more exciting than on regular: Forgemaster Throngus’ sheild weapon select is brutal as opposed to merely annoying and the tension trying to get both Faceless Guardians down after Erudax casts Shadow Gale is great fun. Too bad this is the only Heroic at the moment that has zero best 5-man drops for my class.
  • Lost City of Tol’Vir: The more I run this instance the less I really enjoy it. To me it just doesn’t have the same dynamic flavor of Grim Batol or even Halls of Origination. It’s not terrible, it’s just “meh” which I think I could find it easier to forgive if parts of it didn’t feel so arbitrarily extended. For example, the Lockmaw and Augh fight seems very out of place in the context of the rest of the run so it’s like they just tossed a random crocolisk boss in for no real reason. The High Prohpet Barim fight likewise seems faked with the shadow realm intermission and then there’s Siamat who you can’t even really fight until you’ve hacked through a few trash adds before the battle even really commences. Plus the trash packs are all yawn-inducing and there’s not enough interesting lore to even make it worthwhile from a role-playing standpoint. All in all, I kind of curl my lip when it comes up in the queue.

Alt Mania

I remembered this week as I began work on a small cross section of alts what had really prompted me to begin in earnest with the Mage. I mean, I could easily have just bucked the expectations and focused on being a really good Fury Warrior but in addition to wanting something new and a ranged DPS I also wanted the two new profession slots. Because there is nothing as great as being your own stable of professionals, and I mean that sincerely.

Currently I’m working on my Troll Restoration Shaman who I intend to be my healer alt, a Blood Elf Paladin and my oft-neglected Tauren Hunter. The Shaman is an Enchanter/Tailor which I figured would work because I intend to level him from 15 on almost exclusively through the Dungeon Finder because I have very little interest in loping around and questing through Kalimdor on both the Hunter and the Shaman at the same time. The Hunter has long been a Skinner/Leatherworker and I do want to do a questing run through Kalimdor with him because I did almost exclusively Eastern Kingdoms as I was going 1-60 on the Mage. That kind of leaves the Paladin out in the cold, although I do know that her professional destiny is Inscription and Jewelcrafting, mostly because it gives me something to do with all those herbs I picked and I have a 525 miner that can feed mats for JC, something that will save me a lot of gold in the long run. I may decide to make her a healer/tank just so I can do the queue thing quickly with her as well because ideally I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time at once on any of these characters. I did also roll a Death Knight because there is some appeal to starting at level 55 and just doing expansion content but I’m giving the Pally a shot. If she gets on my nerves (and so far she shows signs that she may) I’d consider switching.

By the end of the week I was up to level 14 with the Shaman but paused in leveling to get my rested XP built back up and because I found a system for leveling Enchanting and Tailoring fairly quickly. Sadly I do need to build my actual level at some point or the trainer stops letting me advance but I hope that I’ll be able to handle the heals well enough to not get booted out of any instances and I can ride that train to quick queue times up the ladder. So far I’m liking the Shaman pretty well, I do wish though that I’d rolled him as an Orc instead. The Trolls are just so silly looking to me. It would probably take a lot for me to seriously consider doing a race change on the toon but if it turned out I really liked healing and ended up getting him pretty high up level wise, it wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question. In fact, if I hadn’t chosen such a Troll-y sounding name to begin with I might be more inclined to do it; as it is I’d probably want to also do a name change and the grand total for paid services that amount to not just vanity but digital vanity is $35. That’s an awful lot of real money to spend on something fake.


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