Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The legalities of add-ons

Gaming site ZAM has a great interview with Connie Mableson here. Among her other interesting points she argues that Blizzard may well be forcing add-ons to not charge and make their code public because they intend to develop add-ons in-house and charge for them.

She links the ability to charge with the ability to keep the code secret and I'm sure she's right about that. After all not many people would pay $14.99 a year for code they could cut and paste off the internet.

What I don't agree with though is that Blizzard want to develop add-ons in-house.

The add-on community currently does most of Blizzard's UI code-writing and has done for years. There's barely been anything beyond the most simple of toggles that has changed in Blizzard's UI since 2004 without the add-on community testing it first. The notable exception is voice comms which they had the chance to see in LOTR before they copied the idea.

These are the advantages to Blizzard with the current set-up:
- the programming is written free
- extensive QA is done by the modding community and the players who download the add-on. Many of these have had several versions refining them to perfection
- there's no risk to Blizzard if an add-on sucks or if people don't like it

If Blizzard produce their own add-ons it's expensive, it may not be successful, it may discourage people who feel they now need to pay surcharges to be competitive in a form of RMT and of course there will be loads of free competition from existing free add-ons unless they ban those.

What they want is the code.

By stopping Carbonite keeping its code secret they can continue their rather exploitative practice of cherry-picking the highlights of the add-ons after players have put it through extensive QA.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

3.1 tanking part 2: talent analysis

First let me explain my assumptions

1) Content is challenging. As a tank your job is primarily not dying.
2) Threat is sufficient with just about any spec. To be fair you probably need 3/3 Morbidity for AOE threat for this to be true but since some of the survival options will be able to generate aoe threat in other ways (eg tab targetting with Heart Strike or using Unholy Blight) we'll disregard this for now

A general note about self-heals and life leech attacks. The important thing to remember with these abilities is that they are balanced around the game as a whole and generally don't scale well for raiding. Consider an ability that heals 60 health per second. This will give 60 whether you're being nibbled by a grey mob for 10 dps, if you're fighting an open world elite doing 200 dps, if you're taking 500 dps in a 5 man or if you're being hit by a raid boss for 20K. While these abilities are very strong in solo or small group content they don't generally scale up well. They're not negligable, they may be worth about half an extra healer in raid situations. They are better in 10 man raids than in 25 man raids because of this scaling factor. They are better when you are offtanking with one healer on you than when you are main tanking with 5 healers on you. Damage reduction however does scale with content.

Now let's consider the structure of the talent trees.

The defining talent

Each tree has a defining tanking-oriented talent and they are deliberately designed to be mutually exclusive. This is because with 71 talent points you can go 36/35 but you can't pick up two 36 point talents.

The defining talents are Vampiric Blood (Blood), Unbreakable Armour (Frost) and Bone Shield (Unholy).

Which defining talent you will get is a major consideration in choosing your main tree because all they are very strong.

Vampiric Blood is more of a panic button than the other two. If you are simply popping a cooldown to make yourself more survivable but are not low on health then Icebound Fortitude is a better option. If you are low on health Vampiric Blood is a superb skill for surviving the spike and allowing the healers to bring you back up to full quickly. It doesn't scale with gear, that is you may become better with gear but your Vampiric Blood talent won't.

Unbreakable Armour is solid damage reduction that works in any situation. It has a slight bias towards physical mitigation because it boosts parry as well as giving flat damage reduction. Parry of course may reduce damage from direct spells if you have Spell Deflection. It scales with armour but even an entry level tank will have a decent amount of armour in a raid situation, especially if Inspiration from certain types of healers is on you.

Bone Shield has certain advantages over the other two talents as well as a fundamental disadvantage. The advantages are 1) it can be pre-cast 2 minutes before the boss is pulled and thus be both active and available so you can have it twice right at the start of a fight and 2) it has a very good glyph. The disadvantage is that bosses hit pretty often and even glyphed with great gear it may well not last as long as the other two cooldowns. You lose a bone when an attack hits so the bosses base auto-attack, his special abilities and his parry-hasted attacks will all cause this shield to wear off. Unless you have very high avoidance and expertise you probably won't be keeping Bone Shield up for the 20 seconds you get with the rival talents. Unlike the talents its usefulness will vary a great deal from boss to boss with a boss like Patchwerk who hits fast stripping it off you quick, a boss with adds like Maexxna will see it wear off very quick if you aggro some of the adds.

Note however on very short fights Bone Armour may have more uptime than the other talents. In a three minute fight you can use Bone Armour three times but one of the other defining talents only twice. If a fight is both short and very forgiving with regard to bone attrition then it may win out. It's hard to see a progession fight meeting both of those criteria, however.

The basic talents

Death Knight tanks are designed around the idea that you will spend 5 points in maxxing a first Tier talent from each tree. These talents are Blade Barrier (Blood), Toughness (Frost) and Anticipation (Unholy). These talents are really good so it will be very unusual to design a tank without taking them. So 5/5/5 is the standard starting point for any DK tank.

In addition you may wish to reduce Death and Decay cooldown by taking 3/3 in Morbidity (Unholy). This is the only threat talent I will discuss here. The reason this is good is because unless you pick up some other AOE threat from your later talent choices your AOE tanking will really suffer if you're limited to 30 secs cooldown D&D, Pestilence and Blood Boil. In 3.1 Pestilence will be ineffective without pre-loaded diseases and Blood Boil will be reduced in effectiveness without pre-loaded diseases. So you kinda need Death and Decay to not be on a long cooldown if you don't have Howling Blast or Unholy Blight. Possibly Heart Strike with adept tab targetting will suffice for threat. So for many builds Morbidity will be part of your basic starting selection.

Double dipping

So if we now know we will be starting with 5/5/5 and heading into one tree as far as the 36 point talent which defines us as a tank of X spec the next thing to consider is how much mitigation we can get from outside our 36+5+5 by taking high tier talents from other trees. Let's now look at the 1-35 talent point options in each tree.


In addition to small strength buffs and self-heals (which are somewhat marginalised against raid bosses) the talent that really stands out is Veteran of the Third War. If we double-dip into our core build is now 23/36/5 or 23/5/36. I honestly can't see any point dipping into Blood and not getting this talent if you are trying for survival.


Frost offers Lichborne and Frigid Dreadplate. Lichborne is now situational but Frigid Dreadplate is an outstandingly good option. This means that dipping into Frost gives you a core build of 36/23/5 or 5/23/36.

There is also the option to dip deep for Improved Frost Presence. However you would have to give up everything deeper than 36 in your main tree and 2 points of the Tier 1 talent. So getting 2% damage reduction in exchange for 2% dodge. It's not practical to do this.


The notable talents here are Magic Suppression which requires you to dip to 28 and Anti-Magic Zone which requires you to dip to 31. If you're frost dipping Blood for Veteran of the Third War and Spell Deflection is just plain better and cheaper even if you are going into a magic-heavy fight. If you are Blood it may be worth dipping for a magic-heavy fight. You can get 3/3 Magic Suppression and 3/3 Will of the Necropolis in a 43/0/28 build. It's a gimmick build that gives up 15% armour from Toughness and gives up Heart Strike, the main Blood tree attack. But with dual spec available this may be useful against a boss that does entirely magic damage, particularly if Spell Deflection also works against him. So you could have this anti-magic spec just to tank one fight while you have your usual tanking spec as something more conventional


I recommend 23/36/5 or 36/23/5 as the basis for Death Knight survival-oriented tanking in 3.1. I don't recommend Unholy because it has much fewer survival talents than other builds. Possibly it has value in a gimmick magic heavy fight or if there is some situation where uptime on Bone Armour is going to be better than uptime on one of the other defining talents. If you want a high aoe tank for farming easy heroics then by all means go Unholy. But if you are tanking hard bosses that your guild will wipe on then Unholy probably won't cut it.

The unassigned points are for going deeper into your main tree. So a final spec something like 23/40/8 or 43/23/5 would be about as strong as you can get for sheer survival.

It may look odd to see Frost spec without Howling Blast or Blood spec without Heart Strike but bear in mind the new Dual Spec system. You can tank to the boss in your dps/high threat spec then switch to your mitigation spec to tank the boss.

Raiding, hard modes and achievements

A lot has been said recently about hard modes and how unsatisfying some raiders find them. Axiom talks about them as a victory for casuals. Vads is frustrated that progression means more gameplay in the same damned instance.

I won't rehearse the pros of hard modes, just let's say it's a model that very much suits Blizzard and it's unlikely they will relent.

To enjoy the game you need to move on I think from boss kill-centred raiding to hard mode focussed raiding. If you're in a very strong raid guild then boss kills will be interesting only for about 3 weeks after each patch, you will then have them on farm.

Hard modes are interesting because they add complexity. Sarth 3D is every bit as absorbing and taxing as Vashj was. In fact in some ways it's more demanding because you have to multi-task a lot of different things all the way through as opposed to Vashj where for each person your job was simple at each phase (eg phase 5: heal tank, don't stand in green crap).

In terms of the actual gameplay there is nothing worse about hardmodes. Here is my to do list on our Sarth 3d kill as a Holy Paladin:
- heal drake tank. My healing is a blend of Flash of Light and Holy Light, while keeping Sacred Shield up all the time and using Divine Plea whenever it feels safe to do so.
- don't stand in front of drake and get breathed on
- beacon adds tank
- off-heal second drake tank
- dodge lava walls
- move out of void zones
- get beat up by adds a little
- keep Sarth in a focus window and track his flame breath casts so I can identify the third cast after Vesperon lands.
- HoSac the main tank in time for that 3rd breath

That's a very very complex raid encounter. By contrast Vashj, which is cited by Vads as a complex fight had 5 distinct phases which almost all broke down to
- stand in the right place (ie by the post during the volleyball phase, not in the green shit during the dont die in green shit phase)
- heal

There were raid encounters as constantly demanding as Sarth 3D before Lich King of course, Kil Jaeden is a good example. But most weren't.

What I'm saying, and this is part of the reason why this particular Pandora's Box will never get closed again is that you can't point to gameplay reasons why doing a hardmode is a worse playing experience than doing a harder instance. You can say you don't like being in the same instance which is a cosmetic objection, you can complain that everyone else has purples which is a status reason but I don't think you can say your gameplay is worse simply because of hard modes.

I'm looking forward to Ulduar hard modes. I think this concept is still a work in progress and will get a lot better quite quickly. The hard modes of 3.3 will be a lot more interesting and sophisticated than Sarth 3 D no doubt.

Achievements however I'm less sold on.

Most raid achievements involve doing a raid fight in some kind of sub-optimal way. Undermanning, not bothering with your Frost Resist gear, missing out key tricks that are supposed to be part of the fight (eg dispelling enrages at Faerlina). The raid leader in me says "argggh, I spent 4 years teaching people to raid and now they get encouraged to screw up fights on purpose????? arggggh!"

The only raid achievements I like are the Do The Fight Better achievements like You Don't Have an Eternity which requires you to kill Malygos in under 6 minutes. Being rewarded for doing the fight better is great. But there are far too many reward people for Doing the Fight Badly or perhaps worse of all the Bench Some of Your Friends for the Night, Sorry! achievements which are extremely badly thought out.

Friday, 27 March 2009

3.1 tanking part 1: survival talents

I'm going to have a look at tanking talents in the new patch over a series of blog posts. This one is a look at which DK talents reduce the amount of damage a tank will take from a raid boss or offer self-heals or increase stamina or simply make you live longer in some other way.

I've included expertise although this is only a mitigation talent if you would not be at the parry cap without it. However to quote the DK thread at Elitist Jerks: Bosses have a lot of parry if they can parry at all, so it’s just not worth gimping everything else to avoid it. But just for reference, boss parry is around 15%.


Blade Barrier 5/5 Whenever your Blood runes are on cooldown, you gain the Blade Barrier effect, which decreases damage taken by 5% for the next 10 seconds.
Still a core tanking talent

Improved Rune Tap 1/1 + 3/3 Converts one Blood Rune into 20% of your maximum health. 30 sec cooldown.
About 6K on a raid buffed and geared tank at our progression level. Our healers are outputting about 1800 hps on boss fights so this is equivalent to just over 3 secs of healer time and of course will usually be timed for a critical moment.

Spell Deflection 3/3 You have a chance equal to your Parry chance of taking 45% less damage from a direct damage spell.
Quite situational. Many boss attacks are not spells or if they are spells are not direct damage but are area effect. This wouldn't cover Sartharion's Flame Breath for instance. However where it does work it's a solid ability. My raid buffed parry is just under 20% so this averages out to a 9% reduction. Very useful if the boss has a dd spell.

Veteran of the Third War 3/3 Increases your Strength and Stamina by 6% and your Expertise by 6.
Strength gives additional Parry chance, Stamina is just plain priceless and Expertise in addition to being a great threat stat is one of the strongest mitigation stats because it reduces the chance of parry hasted attacks from the boss. (Sped up attacks caused by the boss getting a parry on one of your attacks). This is an exceptionally good talent.

Mark of Blood 1/1 Place a mark of blood on an enemy. Whenever a marked enemy deals damage to a target, that target is healed for 4% of its maximum health. Lasts for 20 secs or 20 hits.
4% of a tank's life is about 1,200 health at our stage. It's basically a mix of hot and cooldown in raid tanking situations. Typical boss attack speed is 2.5 so this can be viewed as 480 hps which is about a quarter of a healer. It gets better if boss attacks are faster, including parry haste. I don't know whether it works with damage reflection and that would be interesting to test. A solid investment for the survival-minded tank.

Abomination's Might 2/2 Raid AP buff that also increases Strength by 2%.
More strength is more parry.

Improved Blood Presence 2/2 While in Frost Presence you retain 4% healing from Blood Presence.
Another HoT effect. Tank dps is about 1500 for us so this is 60 hps.

Bloodworms 3/3 Your weapon hits have a 9% chance to cause the target to spawn 2-4 bloodworms. Bloodworms attack your enemies, healing you as they do damage for 20 secs or until killed.
A small HoT effect but in addition these things occasionally get targetted. If a worm soaks a 10K boss hit that would otherwise have been aimed at me that's extremely useful. A very random but powerful tank survival talent.

Improved Death Strike 2/2 Death Strike damage +30% and crit +6%.
For survival fights Death Strike is a good choice of attack over Obliterate and the other options. Sure those other attacks do more threat but are you going to beat the boss because the tank lives or because the tank achieves a high threat cap? It will vary from boss to boss. With my current Frost spec it heals for about 1700. Healing is based on the damage done and the diseases on the target. Bigger Death Strikes mean bigger heals in situations where you are going for the maximum self-healing.

Vampiric Blood 1/1 Temporarily grants the Death Knight 15% of maximum health and increases the amount of health generated through spells and effects by 35% for 20 secs. 2 min cooldown.
Combination of last stand, a buff to self heals and I think, will have to test to be sure, that it increases other people's heals on you too. All told pretty strong.

Will of the Necropolis 3/3 Damage that would take you below 35% health is reduced by 15%. Cannot occur more than once every 15 secs.
Very strong

Might of Mograine 3/3 Increases the critical strike damage bonus of Death Strike (and others) by 45%
Bigger Death Strikes mean bigger self-heals.

Dancing Rune Weapon 1/1 A minion that does the same attacks you do.
What I don't know is if the Death Strikes it does heal you for a double whammy. Needs testing.


Toughness 5/5 +15% armour.
Standard on all DK tanks.

Runic Power Mastery 2/2 +30 max Runic Power.
Lets you do 3 Death Coil self heals when you activate Lichborne. With 130 Runic Power and the minor glyph of Death's Embrace you can do 5 Death Coil self heals. Testing unbuffed in tank gear my Death Coil self heals do 1492.

Improved Icy Touch 3/3 your Frost Fever reduces melee and ranged attack speed by an additional 6%
The other tanks can do similar debuffs, notably Thunderclap. With the 14% from the base skill this is a 20% slow.

Lichborne 1/1 Undead for 15 seconds. Immune to sleep, charm and fear and can self-heal with Death Coils. 3 min cooldown.
Nerfed but still very useful for a tank. If they ever introduce a raid boss that can use Exorcism or Turn Evil you'll have to take care though!

Frigid Dreadplate 3/3 Reduces the chance that melee attacks will hit you by 3%.
I believe that what this actually does is add 3% miss at the top of the attack table. Let's say a boss has 10% chance to miss, 20% to be parried, 20% to be dodged and 50% to hit you. This talent would make that 13/20/20/47 in other words his chance to hit would go from 50% to 47% meaning you get hit 6% less. I need to double check that theorycraft.

Improved Frost Presence 2/2 2% damage reduction.

Unbreakable Armour 1/1 Reinforces your armour with a thick coat of ice, reducing damage from all attacks by 0.05 and increasing your Strength by 25% for 20 secs. The amount of damage reduced increases as your armour increases. 2 min cooldown.
This has always been a very strong cooldown and the changes in 3.1 extend it to magic damage and make it scale with armour.

Acclimation 3/3 When you are hit by a spell, you have a 30% chance to boost your resistance to that type of magic for 18 secs. Stacks up to 3 times.
The boost is +50 so total of +150 when stacked.

Guile of Gorefiend 3/3 Increases damage and also increases Icebound Fortitude duration by 6 secs.
In the 3.1 environment when we have less cooldowns uptime this talent will be correspondingly more useful. Still good but not as exceptional as it is now.

Tundra stalker 5/5 +5 expertise.


Anticipation 5/5 +5% dodge.
Core talent.

Ravenous Dead 3/3 +3% Strength
More Parry.

Night of the Dead 2/2 Reduces cooldown on ghoul
More Death Pact self-heals.

Magic Supression 3/3 6% less magic damage, in addition your anti-magic shell absorbs 25% more damage.

Anti-magic zone 1/1 Places a large, stationary Anti-Magic Zone that reduces spell damage done to party or raid members inside it by 75%. The Anti-Magic Zone lasts for 10 secs or until it absorbs [200% of AP + 10 000] spell damage. 2 min cooldown.

Improved Unholy Presence 2/2 +15% movement in Frost Presence
The importance of mobility can't be underestimated as many boss fights require re-positioning.

Bone Shield 1/1 20% less damage while the bones last. 4 bones. Each damaging attack consumes one bone. 2 min cooldown.
This can be pre-cast, scales with avoidance and the glyph adds 2 extra bones. On the other hand a fast-attacking boss like Patchwerk can strip this off very quickly.

Rage of Rivendare 5/5 +5 expertise.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ding 80!

I levelled to 80 today. 5 days 7 hours /played. I am 659 gold away from epic flier. 4541 gold on me, basic flying, wyvern mount and cold weather flying purchased.

I'm going to discuss 2 aspects: which zones I choose and how I made money.

At 68 my first zone was Howling Fjord. I was tempted to continue in Outlands and possibly level in Netherstorm or Shadowmoon Valley. The advantage of doing that would have been more long-term gold because by getting my levels from quests that would be grey at 80 I would have more non-grey quests to do at 80 which are highly lucrative.

I choose to go to Northrend though because as a miner/skinner I felt I would make more fast cash collecting those resources and selling them than I would collecting the comparitively redundant Outlands resources.

I knew I would be looking for instance groups as my highest priority for any instances where I had quests available to do. There are several reasons I value instancing while questing even though it is usually a minor hit to your exp/hour. First it teaches you how to play your character in the way you will need to at end game. I got a lot of tanking practice as well as several opportunities to dps while levelling. Next it gives you blue items, especially from quest rewards that are better than the solo quest rewards. Experience point rewards are solid too. And perhaps most importantly it allows you to meet other players so you can build a network of people who you want to play with and who want to play with you.

I did enough quests in the first Horde Howling Fjord town to unlock A Score to Settle which meant I could to Utgarde Keep and complete all the quests there.

I did a few more eventually reaching the walrus people town of Kamagua where a rather lethergic turtle took me over to Borean Tundra. I went to Amber Lodge, did a few quests to activate the flight point there, flew over to Coldarra and did most of the solo quests there. This allowed me to progress to the point where I had all 4 dungeon quests for The Nexus. Then it was back to the Fjord for my soloing. In the hours I spent there I picked up dungeon groups and completed both WotLK starter dungeons with competent groups for a nice hit of experience points and gear.

My next zone was Borean Tundra. I am very familiar with it and I expected the group quests to be more possible to beat solo than in a higher level zone. I didn't queue for any instances until I hit 72 at which point quests in Azjol-Nerub became available. These are simply picked up right outside the instance without requiring any chain. The group I cleared that instance with wanted to carry on and do Old Kingdom so we cleared both instances and had a very enjoyable time.

My next zone would be a choice between Dragonblight, Zul Drak or Grizzly Hills. I choose Grizzly Hills for 3 reasons. 1) it has an arena which is unlocked after a chain of quests there. Arena quest chains are by far the best way to level in WoW when they are available. 2) to do the instance quests in Drak'Tharon Keep you have to complete a long chain in Grizzly Hills first, Cleansing Drak'Tharon. No chain in Dragonblight unlocks any instance quests. (Although for those who have never seen it The Battle for the Undercity is an amazing solo quest experience, highly recommended). 3) I expected to be able to cope with the group quests. In the event I did them with a Warrior I met and what's more he even decided to join our guild and is now our main tank. I was very happy with our performance in the group quests including 3 manning the arena without a healer and beating Arugal as Warrior and DK. The extreme survivability of a tank specced Death Knight buys enough time for dps to beat these fights and our cooldowns are great for these fights because you can chain all of them.

I finished Grizzly Hills, Drak Tharon Keep and went back to Old Kingdom, this time at a level high enough to do the quest there (you have to be 73).

Next zone I choose Zul'Drak. I wasn't quite high enough to unlock Sholazar basin (you have to be 76). I wanted to mine Saronite as my blacksmith guild leader was promising to make me items if I sent him some. There is also a dungeon quest you unlock in Gundrak after a very long quest chain in Zul'Drak. A final factor was the availability of Argent Crusade and Ebon Hand reputation from quests in Zul'Drak.

I didn't get very far before instance runs to Gundrak and Violet Hold saw me pass 76. I immediately switched zones to do Sholazar Basin because it is by far the best zone for Saronite Ore at this stage. Starting Frenzyheart reputation was also a factor because I want the Frenzyheart Insignia of Fury.

I did Sholazar Basin until I unlocked the Frenzyheart dailies (including soloing the group quest which was great fun even if at one stage I died and had to run back while my new Frenzyheart friend tanked the boss for me!)

With an increasingly messy quest log I decided to head for the Storm Peaks next. I now was part-way through both Sholazar Basin and Zul'Drak but I wanted to include unlocking Sons of Hodir rep with my exp and gold revenue. This rep allows you a shoulder enchant, particularly important on this character as he lacks any Burning Crusade shoulder enchant. The chain also unlocks 2 dungeon quests in the Halls of Lightning.

With the help of instance runs in Halls of Lightning (2 quests), Caverns of Time:Stratholme (1 quest) I hit 80 and several hours after managed to get my epic flying mount.

I got money by being a miner/skinner and by logging on my alt every couple of days to sell everything. I bought very little from the auction house - glyphs were my main expenditure. My auction house strategy was simple. I undercut by a copper, listed for 48 hours and if it failed to sell unless it was a staple like ore or leather I just vendored the item that didn't sell. Vendoring unsuccessful auctions is a strong strategy for a low pop server that has just launched. There are so few players around who might buy a level 75 boe blue that it's not worth the time and AH fees to keep re-listing them.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

How to build a raid, post 3.1

Here are some thoughts on how to build a raid, including some personal preferences. These are listed in priority order.

1) Raid leader. This is not necessarily just one person. For example, my current guild master has an amazing raid background but doesn't know WotLK bosses very well. It makes sense for us to have two leaders, him for his great raiding experience and me or some other officers who knows the WotLK bosses. Also make sure you have a reliable person to collect loot. You can't lead a raid very well if you're hunting through vast piles of dead bodies for junk greens and occasional BOE epics.

2) Main tank. Some people doubt that there is a main tank but Veneratio explains the concept of the main tank in the modern raid setting wonderfully well in his recent podcast
The gist is twofold: in a tank "adequate" or even "fine" is an unacceptably low standard to aspire to and the main tank is the tank everyone else wants to see up the front tanking the big boss. This will change almost certainly as your guild grows and changes and it's the job of a good raid builder to have his or her finger on the guild's pulse in terms of who everyone wants to see up front tanking. If this person has dual spec they may well be double tank specs.

3) Additional tanks. Depending whether it's a 25 or a 10 man raid and depending which bosses you expect to try you will probably need more tanks who won't tank all the time. These tanks should be capable of doing good dps either because they have a dual spec of tank and dps specs or because they are tank classes that can hit hard even when tank specced (death knight and feral druid). You may be able to get away with dps specced death knights or ferals in these spots if you lack players who want to tank.

4) Full-time healers. For a 10 man you need 1-2 full-time healers and for a 25 man you need about 3 full-time healers. This is low and the reason it's low is because of dual spec. You really don't need to cart 8 bored healers through trash when they have little to do. For the most effective raiding don't have people healing when there's not enough for them to heal. It's boring and you are wasting slots that could be used for dps.

5) Dual spec healer/dps. For a 10 man you're looking to bring your total number of potential healers to 3. For a 25 man you're looking to bring your total number of healers to about 8, possibly 9 for some Ulduar bosses, I honestly don't know. The modern raid game is pretty unforgiving of the tactic of healer stacking. It won't help you kill Sartharion 3 drakes, it won't help you kill Malygos because you give up too many dps spots.

6) Stack buffs. The next stage is to stack raid-wide buffs. It's important to remember that your team so far includes some dual speccers so only count their buffs if they bring their buff in each of their spec. (You don't want the raid to lose Windfury when your dual spec shaman has to heal). Use this tool to calculate:
Also you may want more than one source of Replenishment. This buff is so important that uptime needs to be close to 100%.

7) Fill the raid. Your guild will have its own policies on how to fill a raid. For progress-minded guilds any remaining spots should always go to your-hardest hitting dpsers. Even on farm content these players should get first refusal on raid spots because improving them helps your raid more than improving a guy who'll be benched for tough content. You want a combination of great dps meter placement and great survival skills from these players.

8) Finally, note any recruitment issues. If you were short of players at any of these stages evaluate whether this is a temporary aberration or an ongoing problem. Perhaps none of your usual high attending tanks showed up for a night. Perhaps you forgot it was Valentine's Night and have now discovered the hard way that all your Druids are smooth-talking slickers who have opted to forego raiding in pursuit of more stimulating games. If however you are regularly short of some role or buff you need then recruit.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Are hybrids cheating dps out of raid spots?

Some pure dps players feel cheated by the general trend towards buffing hybrids. This is an issue that has surfaced in the recent spate of complaints about dual spec which actually are masking a deeper dissatisfaction.

The problem really stems back to fundamental game design issues that were not fully anticipated by Blizzard.

The specialists were promised excellence in a role and the hybrids were promised flexibility and this initally worked well in 2005 in 5 mans and 10-15 man groups. The tank would die so the shaman would take over. The healer would die so the balance druid would start healing. All fine and fun in Scarlet Monastery and UBRS.

It didn't really work in Molten Core. Firstly just about every person with a healing spell was required to heal. We were no longer hybrids we were healbots. Secondly if the tank died a Resto Druid couldn't just go Bear and take over, the demands on gear and talents were too great.

Because the hybrids were "cheated" out of their hybridicity at that stage the game has seen a steady drift towards making hybrids more viable in all their roles, gradually attaining specialist levels of competence. (They weren't really intentionally cheated of course, it was simply the way the game developed).

Now there are two directions for the game designers to go in:
1) specialists are better. This will cause people to lose interest in playing hybrids for fear of being forced to heal. At level 70 the least popular 4 classes were paladin, shaman, priest and druid - the four classes that are capable of healing. This system is unfair on hybrids because they are increasingly forced to heal when they rolled their character to be hybrids.

2) hybrids are comparable. This means that dps spots are shared between 10 classes that can dps with the other 40% or so of raid spots being reserved for hybrids. So hybrids get their own special spots plus some of the dpsers's spots. This is unfair on dpsers because there are less raid spots per person playing the class

So what's the solution? There isn't a simple one. There isn't a fair one.

The picture is further muddled by other factors. Feral Druids are a great pick for a dps spot because they bring combat ress and innervate and, as one of the game's already existing dual specs, on the fly tanking. Boomkins, Enhancement Shamans and Ret Pallies still bring way more raid-affecting buffs that any dps class despite doing excellent individual dps. You'd be crazy to bench your only boomkin for a second mage if the boomkin will lift your whole raid's damage with unique buffs. In fact you could have 2 druid tanks 2 druid healers and still be in the position where a boomkin is a better dps pick than a second mage because of those unique buffs.

At the end of the day someone has to lose out. Giving healers a better deal than dps makes sense because healer numbers are the choke point in terms of how many raid groups a server can support. A server will usually have plenty of surplus level 80 dps and not enough healers to allow them to raid. If you make dps a better option relative to healing or hybriding more people play their dps characters and the problem becomes more acute. When people at 80 spend too long with no raid, no chance of getting a raid, no chance of competing in arena because it's too hard they will leave.

I think that is Blizzard's main motivator here: it is better for the business (and arguably for the game too) to allow more people to raid by giving healers a good package deal than boost dps and see half the server bored with nothing to do (like all the surplus Rogues and Hunters back in the 60 days).

Monday, 2 March 2009

Dual specs

There's an interesting controversy on the blogsphere regarding dual specs.

are both strong rants opposing dual specs.

In general WoW plays a balancing act where any act of making something better for one class makes things worse for others. If one class is given harder hitting dps that impacts rival classes who compete for raid spots. That's a given in a MMO.

Sometimes though it's hard to see where opposition can be justified. For instance, Rogues' poisons were made vendor bought rather than crafted. Since prior to the change Rogues bought ingredients from a vendor clicked Create all then went afk or alt tabbed the only real impact of this change is to cut out some drudgery involved in playing the class.

Changes like this I find hard to argue with. Nobody thinks it's fun to be dismounted when you ride across a stream. It's not challenging or difficult to deal with, it's simply tedious.

Dual spec is very much a change of this type.

The introduction of dual spec makes it easier to

1) Find something interesting to do when not raiding if you’re a healer
2) Get Raids started rather than cancelled
3) Get Heroic groups
4) and if sub-80 dual speccing comes in, easier to get instances while levelling

What exactly is wrong with any of that?

The game IS indeed too easy now but not because of hybrids - it’s simply that the content is entry level. With Ulduar the game will get harder because there is moderately hard raid content to play while getting easier because of dual speccing (and because of buffs to Rogue dps too but I don’t see you objecting to them).

WoW has always been short of healers. It was short of them at 60 when every raiding Priest Druid Paladin or Shammy was a healer (just about). It was short of them in TBC when the numbers in those classes remained low while the percentage who healed shrunk. It’s low now while those classes have become amongst the most populated.

Healing is a crummy job that people do because either a) they love it and don’t see it as a crummy job (maybe 1% of WoW players) b) they want a raid spot or c) they are high achievers who see healing as a key part of group success and want it done perfectly.

If Blizzard decide to cancel dual spec based on the feedback of players such as yourself many many people, especially pure dps are going to struggle to find raid and 5 man groups. Because if you think there’s a healer shortage now then wait till the healers get promised dual spec then have it snatched away from them.

I’m an ex-healer. I’m not playing a tank-specced DK and I already have dual spec to all intents and purposes. When not tanking I click a button and I’m dps. It’s as simple as moving from Frost Presence to Blood Presence. Dual spec is already in the game. Feral Druids go from tank to kitty with equal ease.

Both bloggers claim that dictatorial raid leaders will be ordering people into roles they don’t want to do. If someone is in this situation they should just change guilds. And in any event isn’t that what healbotting is for many people? Matticus described how his guild will handle it, (http://www.worldofmatticus.com/2009/02/16/your-guilds-dual-spec-policy-what-will-it-be/) people will have a main spec, same as before. No question of dragooning people into roles they don’t want to play. And if you don’t want a role just don’t collect gear for it, simple. A tiny amount of players will genuinely be upset that they have to role-switch. In a typical situation a raid leader might ask for one volunteer to go healer for a fight. If it’s a fight you just wiped on many tanks or dps would be happy to help out rather than wipe again or see the raid cancelled.

The next point people make against dual speccing is that it dumbs down the game. Consider Sarth + 3. That’s a very hard fight and it makes little difference which class you play. You need to do your class functions AND dodge lava walls AND move out of void zones AND not wander in front of a drake. Screw up on any one of those and you probably cause a wipe. It’s the same for every class, every spec. The difficulty of content has very little to do with the flexibility of hybrids. The flexibility of hybrids make it easier to kill raid bosses but only in the sense it would be easier to kill raid bosses if you have a pool of 20 tanks 50 healers and 100 dpsers to pick 25 from. You won’t cancel raids because one of your tanks didn’t log on. It makes it organisationally easier, it means that some offtanks will be able to heal or nuke on fights where they would otherwise be useless but it doesn’t affect hard wipefest content. In a Naxx farm run you can have surplus tanks go dps for a boss like Sartharion but on a boss you expect to wipe on all night the raid will always be tuned to have the right amount of tanks, healers and dps. because it’s a wipe fight and your raid is all about beating that one boss to the exclusion of everything else. Dual spec doesn’t affect the way such a fight plays in the slightest. It just means that you don’t have to cancel the raids if you’re short of certain roles but once you engage the fight you will be wiping over and over with the same set-up until people manage the multi-tasking and the little fight gimmicks (eg lava walls). Dual spec doesn’t make hard raid content easier to play, it just makes it easier to organise a raid for.

A more positive view is found here: