Jun 082010

Quite appropriately considering the imminent arrival of patch 3.5.5 (which will bring the Gnomish retaking of their beloved city of Gnomerigan) and the fact that Gnomerigan is on the list of instances scheduled for a Heroic version in Cataclysm, this weekend and last night it was what kept my cute nelf-butt hard at work.

I haven’t run Gnomerigan since I was levelling Ravenjet and even then I only did it once. The instance is long – taking roughly 90 minutes on a perfect run, and that I’ve never yet seen happen. It’s remarkably tough at times and it has one of the most annoying parts to it you can imagine. Alone of all the instances I know, the trashmobs respawn on a wipe, so if you wipe 50 meters away from endboss Thermaplug… well you gotta rerun the entire thing including rekilling all the trash to get back there… not cool (I’m not sure about this but I think you can get around this by having one party member at least NOT releasing, and res’ing him instead. When this is possible, worth a try).

In the end sucessfully tanking my way through Gnomerigan took all of five runs (technically I was only in there twice, but on the first run we wiped three times within sight of Thermaplugs chamber, and on the second once more before finally getting there). During this process I ding’ed not just once but twice and at level 28 I learned Challenging Roar which helped a great deal. Most of the dungeon is fairly easy, tiring you out over it’s long length is a bigger problem than the actual game. It takes effort to keep up tanking concentration for four to five hours at a time but the majority of the mobs come in groups of 3 to 5 which is not too hard to pull.

It helps a great deal to have a warlock or hunter in your group – if you do have them tank the ranged caster mobs with their pets so you can focus on the melee mobs at least initially – this makes the whole thing easier on you as a tank (less running) and on your DPS guys (less chance of being attacked by said ranged caster) and of course on your healer (less damage to the main tank). At the Gnomerigan levels – a hunter would need either a tough spider or bear as pet to really tank it, a warlock should be using his voidy.

The part where it mostly all goes wrong is the final tunnel downward into Thermaplug’s chamber. This tunnel is filled with a small army of mobs, and they have habit of all getting pulled at once causing an instant overrun wipe. The tunnel has three levels, two higher ones along the edges and a lower middle road. Don’t even try the middle road, it leads directly into an army of mobs.

On the upper levels, you sadly still have a real risk of pulling those mobs. The only way to avoid this is to hug the wall as closely as possible. There is a ledge on the edge of it which you can get up at the beggining of the tunnel. Have you healer and ranged DPS run along top of the ledge and fight from it as far as possible as this reduces their risk of pulling the mobs from the middle. As tank, huge the wall – when you pull, try to pull toward you and never go any further from the wall than you have to. This does reduce you mobility a lot – which in turn means you have limited ability to chase after any mob you lose aggro on, and also means you can’t really avoid the landmines, sorry nothing to it- your healer just has to heal you through the mines and you have to do whatever it takes to get back any lost aggro without running them down. This was where challenging roar saved us more than once. Unlike demoralizing roar – it’s not just a threat boost, it forces all nearby mobs to attack you for 5 seconds – enough to further boost your threat a great deal with a demo roar and a few swipes (or whatever equivalents your particular tanking class uses).

Once you make it past the tunnels you’ll enter Thermaplugs chamber. This boss can be incredibly tough if you don’t know the secret, but really there is just one tactic you have to know to pretty much nail it. Before you start the fight, have one of your DPS’ers volunteer for "Bomb Duty". Thermaplug’s major difficulty is the bomb-adds he spawns quite rapidly, left alone they will quickly overrun the group – so have on DPS entirely dedicated to taking them out as fast as they spawn. The other two DPS’ers can then focus on the boss while you tank him, and the healer now has a much easier task as he doesn’t have to deal with a load of add-damage as well, in fact he can focus almost solely on you as the tank.

Get that bit right… and Thermaplugg is a ridiculously easy boss. After the long and tough run to get to him it’s almost a dissapointment how easilly he goes down – I have absolutely no reservations about saying that the tunnel to get to him is a much harder fight than the boss-fight itself.

May 312010

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Omgpwnies’s diary.
This could be a long one again, seeing as it’s meant to cover the entire (rather busy) weekend during which I levelled all the way to 22. Level 20 was a big thing, I finally got a mount – and it rather left me wondering what the actual purpose of travel-form is ? It’s a nice speed bonus between 16 and 20, but once you get to 20, it’s really not worth much because it’s so much slower.
Perhaps it could be said to have some use for farming if you’re in an area with nodes close together as you don’t need to dismount to collect but other than that I just don’t get it. Frankly Blizzard wanting to reduce the forms for druids in Cata would have done better to drop cheetah than tree. Every druid healer I know uses tree, but cheetah is apparently a complete waste after level 20.

Another thing is that Night-elves were clearly designed by sex-deprived Blizzard code-geeks. Seriously. Until very recently, the best pants I could find were a loincloth which really made me look half naked, when I finally found a decent upgrade in Wailing Caverns… it turned out to be snakeskin pants. Throw in the fact that when a Night Elf dances the only thing missing is a pole… well you get the picture. I swear I don’t get the current fad for walking around towns in underwear in WoW, seriously – a Nelf with full T10 gear STILL looks like a stripper.
Not that I’m comlaining mind you, just observing.

My progress as a tank has been interesting. Saturday at level 20 I got my first run at Deadmines. I can only describe it using the phrase “Epic Fail”. While I had been an okay tank up to that point, I completely blew it in there. I did okay until we entered the goblin room where I managed to get myself tied down on a target I pulled and not notice a bunch of adds had assaulted my group until they were to close to wiping to be saved. Group immediately left with a series of swears at the noob. I didn’t let it get to me much though, seeing as it’s partly true. I’m not a WoW noob but I am a tanking noob, I did think it’s an unfair thing to say though. This was level 20. Nobody becomes a pro-80 tank overnight, you learn by playing – it’s a bit harsh to blame a new tank for trying and failing.
Still I made a point to learn, read up more tanking guides – expanded my add-on set with grid so I can keep a proper eye on my party’s status, levelled a bit, got my first heirloom piece and qeued up for another dungeon. I got Shadowfang Keep – and did okay – we finished the dungeon despite one wipe on the last boss (which was not caused by a tank problem but by the healer disconnecting – that’s just bad luck, next try we rocked it).
I also tanked Wailing Caverns (which took many hours) and did much better. One thing is clear, the classic dungeons were way longer than the new stuff. On RavenJet I can finish the average heroic dungeon in about 15 minutes. In the 20’s there are several dungeons which can take two to three hours to finish – a timeframe that, these days, I would only associate with a raid. The average heroic has 3 bosses. Wailing Caverns for example have 9 – and you can’t skip any because the final boss is only reachable after doing all of them.

I am happy with my proress though. At these early levels I do still get the occasional bad PUG, guys who are complete noobs and pull by themselves – and mostly I’m kind enough to save their asses, the occasional rude guy and a lot of people who demand “go go faster pull moar”… but blame the tank if they wipe.
So message to all of you: the tank takes responsibility for your lives in there, when I pull, I am making the judgement call about how many mobs you can kill at once, how much healing the healers mana pool can do – and how many mobs I can keep aggro’d. Don’t second guess me if you’re DPS. If I mess up, feel free to critisize me afterward, but when I pull a single mob only – it’s because I’ve made a tactical decision to do so. Usually because there is a few together that I can’t split- so I want to clear out the singles nearby because otherwise the fight will be far too big to handle. If I tell you to stand back so I can corner-pull, it’s because that’s just about the only move a bear has for tanking a caster.

I can and have handled a group of 25+ mobs, but it was incredibly hard – I only have so much rage to go round – and we damn nearly wiped on it. A dungeon is not a race, enjoy the experience you’re in.

But above all – accept that there is a reason tanks lead the group: we’re the ones who have to keep the mobs busy while you kill them, keep them off your skinny clothie asses – and that means we get to judge how many, and which ones, when. A good tank works hard to get the skills to make those calls, to learn what to do when we lose one and how to pull him back without losing the others – to learn how to turn a boss so his back is to the raid even if we get stunned and have to power-shift to break it.
Just like you work hard to know your rotations, get your DPS up or ensure your healing is ideal – so we work hard at our job, and the choice of tactics and pulls is that job.
WoW.com had a funny joke in a post on Friday. There are, according to Allison Robert, two types of tank: wonderful human beings – and absolute assholes. The difference is two months on the job. I must say, I can see her point.

And what do you know… it’s not that long after-all.

May 282010

“Hold on just a second there Omy” I hear you say in shock, “did you not just yesterday complain that druids are squishy and that a lack of survivability makes them hard to play in the early levels ?”
Well yes, I did. The thing is, I was level 12 then, and it’s amazing what happens in 3 levels. With the addition of Enrage to the bears abilities you gain access to your rage based skills with greater ease – and you also gain the wonderful new ability of Bash. Your bear grows armor levels that matter – and he becomes really viable.
The other thing is, I started to get the hang of things I previously wasn’t any good at. Firstly melee combat. Remember my main is a ranged caster, I’ve never learned how melee really works – and the bits I did leveling so far somehow I hadn’t previously connected with how the bear is used. In fact, when you get the hang of it, the bear becomes a powerhouse of survival. While he doesn’t come close to the cat for damage, it’s mana-less. Then comes the real trick – learning what a druid is all about – shapeshifting, to access various abilities from various forms and mix them up (even when you only have two).
My preferred solo’ing approach changed now to Entangle, Moonfire, Bear Form – fight – and suddenly I was surviving tough fights, handling 3 mobs at once and going really quickly through level 14.

Then I hit 15. Level 15 is something of a magic number in WoW these days. If you read any of the leveling guides for druids you’ll see they all recommend that you level as Feral DPS until 80, and then switch to whatever you actually wanted out of your character. In truth, that’s just not true anymore. It is true that Feral DPS is by far the fastest way to do quests because it does high levels of mana-less damage. It’s just that questing is not the best way to level anymore. You do need to quest still – but it should be the least part of your XP per level, maybe 30%, 40 if you are doing a particularly noteworthy chain.
The rest comes from the Dungeon Finder. From level 15 you have the option to qeue up for random dungeoons. Dungeon XP blows quest XP clean out of the water, I got 80% of the XP from 15 to 16 out of doing just one single dungeon (in later times, you’ll need 4 or more to level, but it still beats the hell out of hundred or more quests). Some may complain that this makes it too easy to level, and reduces the value of it, but that is not entirely true. If you do only this you’ll be worthless at level 80 anyway and take ages to gear – so you want to do at least the important quest stuff anyway because you will need the reputation later.
More importantly, it changes one fundamental thing. It removes the “drudgingly doing what I didn’t want for 80 levels so I can get to what I want to be” aspect. In dungeons – you can play the spec you want to play, and expect to do well as the dungeons are geared to your level.
I did my first dungeon yesterday, which was also the first time I tanked and it went really rather well. We didn’t wipe – and we finished it okay. Some guys complained my pulls were too small but hell, let me get used to tanking before I try to tank 20 mobs at once eh ? One annoyance which has not changed at all since I leveled RavenJet (back when dungeon groups were harder to put together) is the prevalence of players who simply don’t follow the tactics. Who run away from healers and DPS’ers who pull.
I had a hard time keeping aggro as a result, and in fact multiple times had to steal aggro because an overeager DPSer had run on in and pulled on his own. I had a temptation to let him die for his stupidity but that slows everyone down and punishes the whole group. So me and the one other non-noob in the group tried to gently explain that “just because you’re a hunter who can kite, you should not be pulling in a dungeon.”
That other person happened to be the healer who complained quite heartily about non-tanks pulling. The noob DPSers apparently just didn’t listen as he tried to explain that the only reason they weren’t dead was because he was working his ass off spamming heals at the entire group – instead of his job, which is to heal the tank and come round to them for damage that cannot be avoided only.
The risk there of course is that you’re sapping the healer’s mana – if he runs out, the group wipes. They got away with it because Ragefire Chasm is an introductory dungeon and is forgiving of bad tactics, but only barely. A less proficient healer would have failed. One who wasn’t the alt of an existing 80 would never have been able to handle this useless stress.
But enough QQing after all, when you play a level 15 dungeon with a random group, some of the players will be casuals who don’t understand the mechanics and tactics yet – would be nice if they showed some desire to learn though. All in all, I was fairly proud of my first tanking job, and I suddenly came to understand a fundamental I had heard but never lived before. The close-knit cooperation of a tank and her healer. The standard tank-and-spank tactic creates a symbiosis between three disparate skills. DPSers can’t take damage but can dish it out, so they rely on the tank to be their shield. Like a nerd who taunts a jock and then hides behind his big brother. The tank in turn relies on them to do the high levels of damage he can’t do (but can take). The DPS’ers rely on the healer mostly to res them if they get dead, and to help them recover from such damage as they simply cannot avoid (a BAD DPSer chooses to stand in a debuff zone to finish his cast so he does more damage – everybody’s DPS drops to zero when you’re dead and it’s not the healers’ job to try and battle avoidable damage on you while ignoring the tank – I speak as somebody who does ICC raids using a pure DPS class). But the healer who does no damage, and can’t take any… is completely dependent on the tank to keep the enemies of him, and she in turn is utterly dependent on him to heal the damage she is taking.
In raiding guilds, tanks and healers develop a close and compassionate symbiosis – which may explain why several of the best Tank/Healer pairs I know are real life couples (I broke the mould apparently with my female tank, females seem to be healers or DPSers rather than tanks usually, a job they leave to their other halfs – some kind of social/evolutionary idea about who fights the battle and who mends the wounds maybe ?).
Female tank characters are very rare, and I believe female tank players are even rarer, which is odd because DPS is just as much a fighting role and that has a neat 50/50 split in characters (and I believe players too). I wonder what we can learn about human society today from the relationships between WoW roles and genders… but I digress.

Either way… even on my very first tank – there was an immediate camaraderie with my healer (I had a male one) a sense of “we are a team – we rely on each other” and he offered me useful and helpful advice after the fight which I took to heart. Since hitting 16 I trained my travel form and water form and then did the defunct water-form questline more for fun than anything else. Druids really score when it comes to movement, Pallys and Lock’s also get free mounts – but Druids get bonusses earlier on. Nobody gets a mount before level 20 but travel form at level 16 is a 40% boost which while not the 100% of your first mount is still a major help in getting around. We swim faster, and we fly earlier and can do things in flight form that other classes have to dismount to do. In short, druid shape-shifting sure pays off outside of combat as much as in.

In the meantime, this weekend I’m going to slow my time on Omg down a bit, because I want to do a bunch of heroics and raids as RavenJet – he needs gear, he needs to farm because twinking Omg has all but wiped out my cashflow, and he needs to earn stonekeeper shards so Omg can get her heirloom items. After all, for having an 80 already, heirlooms on my alt is a deserved reward in my book.

This has been my longest diary entry yet, I doubt most will be this long but I had a lot to write about- it was a busy night :D

May 272010

The levelling guides and various pieces of documentation I’ve read on the class for my new alt did warn me so it’s not exactly surprising but I have to admit, early level druids are not exactly formidable fighters. In fact, pull two mobs – I’m in trouble, pull a third – I’m dead. Well not always the Nelf Shadowmeld ability has saved my life a lot of times – but it’s a cooldown so if it’s not available… oops. Entangling roots as a crowd control is tough because it’s a slow cast and easilly interrupted. With multiple mobs you need to target switch a lot, and generally the first mob is free before you’ve entangled the third so “entangle all and then run like hell” doesn’t really work as an oh-shit strategy.

Essentially as I’ve learned an early level druid is played like a ranged caster, not that different from my old Lock then – except of course that the lock had massive health and a pet that could act as a personal tank to keep him alive. Omgpwnies has to survive by healing herself and hopefully keeping the enemies out of striking range with Entangling Roots. Three healing spells available so far, two of them casted and interrubtle, one a weak HoT (but at least it’s instant) – generally when you really need it, your self heal is not going to save you at this stage of the game. The only animal form as yet available is the basic bear, who frankly fares no better. She may have more armor than her human form does but she still has Omgpwnies’ current less than wonderful health level.

Worst bit is that druid casts are heavy on mana, and this early on you don’t have much (according to the guides, it used to be far less… my deepest bow to anybody who levelled a druid before that buff !).

Still I’m having fun and with what I know more than back then – levelling far faster than I did with RavenJet and that’s always a good thing. The style is entirely different though as evidenced by the fact that I got the 50 quests achievement at level 13 already (RavenJet didn’t get it before around 19). I’d estimate 90% of my XP so far came from quest hand-in’s as I’m actively avoiding any combat I don’t have to engage in – simply because the druid isn’t great at it and the XP from fights is quite low compared to the same fight as part of a quest.

PS. In order to make my continous WoW blogging (which is becoming a major theme on this blog) nicer, I’ve added some tweaks to the blog. The wowhead links should automatically show tooltips for example – but you won’t see that if you’re reading it on facebook so to see it at it’s best, be sure to come back to the parent site at silentcoder.co.za.

May 252010

When I started playing world of warcraft just over a year ago, I chose a race, character and set of professions that I felt I could enjoy playing. There was a lot I didn’t know. Not least of which was that my chosen class, warlocks, had just received four major nerfs and were at the time considdered the worst class to play. More-over the spec I came to love, affliction, was the least usefull of them all. Over the year this slowly got readjusted, and today my afflock can quite hold his own in most raids, even though destro’s still tend to top him out a bit the gap is sufficiently small that the other utilities I bring (like a thermonuclear seed-of-corruption AoE and DoTs that keep doing damage even when the boss is untouchable) more than make up for it.

I slogged to level. Back then – doing an instance meant begging until you found a group of willing assistants, that could take a week or two to arrange. I actually skipped several instances simply because before I could get a group together (my guild was small) I’d be levelled beyond the point where it mattered. So I levelled by questing and grinding. By working myself half to death, all the while studying up to get better at what I was doing.

It took me, in the end, about 6 months to hit level 80 (as calculated by considering breaks taken in between). Six very hard months where, at times, it felt like I was working so hard and just not getting that next level-up. All the while, my friends were levelling two or three alts at once – I felt it was too much effort to be worth it, I focussed on RavenJet. Of course – as it stands, of the four people who started with me – I’m the only one with an 80 character. The past few months have been much more fun, gearing, raiding and getting better at it.

Finally though, I decided I could afford to have another character. There are unpreventable wait-times in the game- pehaps there just isn’t the right people on tonight to get a raid going and I hate PUGging raids if I can avoid it (besides, I’m not quite at the “put a raid together myself” point yet). So I reckoned, I could use that in between time level another character. Even if that character isn’t at 80 by the time Cata comes out – who cares, it won’t be my main after all. But it will give me two extra professions, and a chance to do some things better (I still haven’t finished levelling my fishing on RavenJet and my cooking is stuck at level 12 or so – I didn’t level it as I went, and now I regret it. Same with first aid). What can I say – I studied the class, but there was a lot of information to absorb, I didn’t always make the smartest choices.

Nowadays levelling is a lot easier anyway. The dungeon finder means that doing instances are now a click-and-wait process. That’s a good way to get a lot of experience each time and level faster (after level 20 anyway). I have an 80 that can craft stuff for my new character (cheaply too), make sure my new character has all the money it will need for quite some time (100g is too little to buy anything nice for RavenJet but it pays every cost a pre-20 character will ever reasonably need), I can buy and share relics … you get the picture.

Still I was nervous, remembering that slow painful slog to 80 that I had. I was determined that if I even thought of it I would choose an easier class to play, and one with more versatility. I’m a really good affliction specialist now and I know it really well. I’ve studied and theorycrafted and worked at it. A character that can do more versatile things though – would be a good way to learn more about the rest of what makes WoW and raids actually tick.

The other thing was – I had to be sure it would be fun. There was a definite attraction to Hunters. I like their “tame pet” concept, and loved how, even now, they get so much out of engineering (the profession I loved but dropped because for a clothie raider, it’s just a huge money-sink with little return) because they can craft their own weapons and ammo.
But hunters are another specialist class. Of course even if you play a versatile class, post-80 you cannot do everything, you need different gear for different jobs – but it at least gives the option to change by just regearing not relevelling.
And that brings me to my second choice, and the one that ultimately won. Druid. But I specifically wanted to play a druid-tank. Firstly because they are quite rare these days – most druids are either feral DPS or healers (there seems to be a clear gender divide there – female druids are almost always healers and males usually DPS). Tanks are short in the game, and in our guild – so an extra one would be usefull and never wait long for a dungeon – and it would be a chance to try a playstyle and technique I only know the theory off – radically different to how I play my damage specialist warlock.

Finaly, last night I rolled my first genuined alt (Melenor doesn’t count – he’s just a bank). I decided to make this character as diametrically opposed to RavenJet as I could. Not an extension but an exploration of different dynamics in all senses. Druids pretty much require you to use a Night Elf so that’s race, but I made it a female one. After all – who says you have to play your own gender always ? Nobody ever suggested guys couldn’t play Zelda or Jill of the Jungle did they ? Yes I know I just showed my age there.

So she got started up, and I played her through to level 11 in one night -while druids are supposed to be among the hardest in early levels I found she levelled through them very rapidly. Her supply of spells and powers growing slowly but surely. My original plan was to choose Jewelcrafting and Enchanting as her professions, but since JC can only be learned in distant lands, I ended up choosing to do herbalism instead (where druids have a major edge once we learn flight form as we’re the only people who can gather in flight, though only for herbs). The nice thing is, RavenJet’s tailoring is a good source of mats for her enchanting in the earlier game (and mind you, for giving her an armor edge early on, though cloth can’t beat leather).
There was still a lot of learning to do – getting used to how things worked, the way spells change when I take bearform (the first shapeshift a druid learns at level 10). The pleasure of shadowmelt and self-healing, and the occasional overpull and realising that I’m not on a lock, I don’t have a pet and I’m in deep trouble. Luckilly this could be largely mitigated by the bear form once I had it… largely.

The first choice I made before could even log her in of course, was the one I left for last in this write-up. Her name. I wanted something funny, cute ad somewhat ironic, that would make fun of the fact that she’s not a real woman while being cute. What I came up with was inspired by a thinkgeek T-shirt. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to Introduce Omgpwnies the Night-Elf druid and soon-to-be bear-tank.

I also want to do one other thing I never thought to do with RavenJet to my regret: I want to to keep a regular diary of her progress, lessons learned etc. – here on the blog. That would give a good overview of how long things really took, and be nice for looking back at nostalgically later on when she’s an established raider in the guild. Thank you guildies for letting me join her up at level 6 already, so I can at least stay abreast of guild-chatter while I’m levelling her.