Monday, August 31, 2009

People Don't Understand Economic Realities

Again this weekend the events of real life and the events in Azeroth coincided in an interesting way. As you know, we are preparing to move to a new house IRL. So we were having our moving/garage sale this weekend. So things are going well, probably have $100 worth of stuff sold in the first couple hours but not much of the bigger furniture-type stuff. Then up comes this absolute beater of a car, a Toyota Corolla that looks like it's on its last legs. Well anyways, out comes Ruru, this relatively flamboyant lady. Having been to my fair share of garage sales and Rink's, I've seen this kind of wheeler and dealer before. So she starts gathering up or pointing out a ton of things she wants to purchase. This includes a pile of dishes, clothes, and knickknacks, as well as both desktop computer sets (one was my mother-in-law's), a portable keyboard, a couple of TV stands, and our tube-TV. Well I gather everything up into one spot and price it all out, and it comes to $245. So I tell her this and I offer her the lot for $175 since she's buying so much.

But you see, she's a wheeler and dealer. As she went from item to item, she's calling out prices she wants to pay, never what is listed. I never told her anything other than we'll put it in the pile and make you a deal at the end. So she wants to go through item by item instead. I just want her to either buy or leave, but I go through it item by item. Well some things drop out as I'm not willing to budge on the prices on the TV or the mother-in-law's computer set. She has to get a "deal" apparently even though we priced things so well that we got very few items that sold below what was marked. After doing it her way and battling on an item by item basis, the grand total sums to $151. So I show her the list, say it's $150 for this pile here (having removed the TV and the second computer), and she accepts. Then we play the Lego-land game of get everything to fit in this Corolla. Meanwhile she's being flaboyant and annoying to other customers, etc. Anyways, got her out of there and was happy to make a good sale. She got a lot, we got rid of stuff we did not want anymore and got some money for the new house stuff, done deal. Not so fast...

At least 45 minutes, maybe an hour later, here comes the Corolla again and sadly in my driveway because the other two sets of customers at this time had parked on the street. Out comes Ruru in a rage, demanding her money back because we "overcharged" her. I let her come up to the garage where I was sitting and she pushes this list in my face of the items she bought and the "supposed prices." Not shockingly, these prices were her offers to me on each item, not the haggled or agreed-upon price. Furthermore, there were a couple of items missing off the list. Her car is empty at this point. I tell her, hey you left with the carload of stuff at the agreed-upon price, it's done and over. She insists on going through the list and her argument, which I let her do before telling her that she's wrong. She starts accosting the mother-in-law (who is holding Paige) and Kelley at this point. So I tell them to get inside, tell Ruru she is dealing with me and me alone and she needs to stop talking to everyone else immediately. I explain that she is not welcome on our property anymore and she needs to leave my driveway immediately.

Well she wouldn't, so we each called the police. All this time Ruru is sitting on the hood of her car making comments about how shameful I should be for stealing money, etc. So we wait for 20 minutes for the cop (meanwhile all the poor customers who were there at the time have retreated thanks to psycho's tirade), and she's loudly muttering how she knows the law and she's welcome to be at a garage sale and that the law protects her too...I'm pissed but stifling laughter because she has no idea just how much law I actually know and how much she thinks she knows more than me.

The cop gets there and of course she's all over him with her story first. I don't care as I've filed police reports before and I know eventually he'll come on over to me. I tell the cop the facts, he tells her that it's a finished contract when she left with the goods, and that she needs to leave. He also explains that she could take me to small claims court, but he's not making any decisions on the matter. He actually has to shout her out of our driveway as she keeps on rattling off at the mouth, she pulls out and talks to him for probably 3 minutes from car-to-car. When the officer pulled past the driveway he told us to call him if she comes back, as she would be arrested on sight for entering our property again. So the scammer/tresspasser removed, we finished up the last couple hours of our garage sale. Drama at a garage's fantastic.

Now I tell that story not only because it's a good story, but because it got me thinking about how people just don't understand reality, whether it be about law or economics. I tell you to get off my property, and you stay, you are by definition a trespasser and can be removed. You come to a garage sale, you understand that it's buyer beware and whatever you leave with is then yours, no warranties, no refunds. I know this lady was likely just a scam-artist, but the sheer fact is that she acted like she did not understand the economic realities of the finished contract and of garage saling in general.

Later on that night, I'm on my bankalt for a couple of minutes when I get that first official whisper: "can you stop undercutting on the netherweave bags?" Seems like watching the weekly moron entries of Gevlon, this happens eventualy to most all of us engaged in the AH market regularly. Whether they want to make a cartel of price-fixing or just want to complain, these people do not understand the economic realities. I undercut your listings because every time I put bags up, you are asking for 10 or 11 gold and quite frankly, I make a ton of money selling at 9 gold 65 silver. So every time I put up bags, it's "undercutting" someone trying to make more profit. If I did not do it, someone else would even if on a smaller scale. And you are always welcome to undercut me back, as I typically still sell my inventory every time even when I've been undercut. There's no reason to try and change the reality. Or in the words of one of my favorite radio hosts...

It is what it is.

So next time you go dinking around the auction house or a garage sale, just remember the common sense economics your parents hopefully instilled in you at some point. There's no reason to make everyone's life miserable by making a fuss over something that cannot change. We can all direct our focus at Blizzard developers and bang on the door until the bring spellpower back, for example. That is something you might be able to change.

Friday, August 28, 2009

We've Got Spirit Yes We Do!

Among the high number of changes coming with Cataclysm, the one change that might really affect us on a day-to-day basis is the complete overhaul of character attributes and gear stats. Blizzard has deemed it time to continue the simplification of character attributes, which really began at the end of The Burning Crusade. Before I leveled Ekateirnae enough to care, there was +healing and +spell damage on gear, which split so-called healer gear from DPS gear. This just added complication to the gearing process because the number of statistics you had to balance was basically on par with all the different attributes a character sheet would have in Dungeons and Dragons or similar RPG's.

As Blizzard looks to invite new players into the World of Warcraft, they have realized that they make a lot more money off the casual gamer who maybe never got into Dungeons and Dragons because it was too complicated. I myself find this mindset coming on whenever I demo new RPG's at Origins Game Fair, as too many stats on a character sheet can be distracting from the gameplay. However, you also don't want the game to become so simple that all you do is push 1 big red button and wear gear with one stat number on it, as that takes the depth of character gear choice away completely. So the problem is making both the theorycrafters happy as well as the new player who doesn't want confusion.

Enter the Cataclysm changes. So many stat categories are going the way of the dodo. For healers, the important stats disappearing include the updated spellpower (which applied to healing as well as damage) and "mp5" for mana regenerated per five seconds. In other realms the defense and armor penetration statistics are going away. Now spells will scale with Intellect and mana regenration will be completely dictated by the Spirit statistic. Haste remains unchanged for healers because it works exactly how it should for casters, but the stat will be updated for those with Rage/Energy/Runic bars to increase their generation of those resources now. So as a healer, here's the overall changes from the early part of WoW to Cataclysm in stats we need to worry about:

WoW @ Burning Crusade
Intellect - determins mana pool and critical strike rate
Spirit - determines mana regeneration
mp5 - determines mana regeneration without 5 second rule of spirit
Crit - determines critical strike rate
Haste - determines spell casting speed
+Healing - determines bonus healing per spell
+Spelldamage - detemrines bonus damage per spell/ability (like +hit, not so important for healers but it may end up on your gear)

WoW @ Cataclysm
Intellect - determines size of mana pool and additional bonus healing and critical strikes
Spirit - determines mana regeneration rate
Haste - determines casting speed
Crit - determines likelihood of critical strikes

So in WOTLK we combined healing and spellpower, which led to some battles over healer gear versus DPS gear (unless +hit was on the gear, which is clearly not healer gear). On the flip side, every time spirit came up, it was passed to the Holy Priest or healer. Gear with mp5 led to interesting battles or choices, as you balanced how much you would gain or lose in each stat. In Cataclysm the secondary mana regeneration statistic is gone, and spellpower disappears completely. I think one of these changes was great, the other is stupid. More specifically, I see no reason to remove spellpower from the game after it was fixed.

Basically from a healer standpoint, we will have come full circle from Burning Crusade being like the full detailed D&D character sheet to Cataclysm, which is like the core 6 attributes in D&D and nothing more (for D&D players, I'm referring to the baseline stats of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Charisma, and Wisdom). This makes perfect sense looking at Bliazzard's big picture of bringing more people into the game and therefore more people who don't have time to worry about the fine lines between mp5 and spirit. However, it also takes a layer of fun character fine-tuning out of the game forever.

I'll agree that having two stats determine mana regeneration is kind of silly, so the loss of mp5 is not a huge deal. But I really liked that I could see how much extra bonus healing/damage I will be doing in this set of gear, and planning accordingly. There are only five things you care about as a healer, (1) mana pool depth, (2) mana regeneration, (3) spell casting speed, and (4) critical heal chances, and (5) power of spells or extra healing per spell. I think each should have its own single stat, as Intellect controlling 2.5 of the five things we care about seems like it's pushing towards "big red button" mode of Warcraft.

On the other hand, I do see where some of our character customization choices will be replaced by the new glyphs slots and mastery abilities coming in Cataclysm. So perhaps you can use the mastery to make yourself different from every other healer having the same tier of gear as you now, since it appears you will not have much choice but to be wearing the exact same gear. For raids of 25 people, sometimes it is nice to have healers specialize in one or two of the five areas listed above, so a healer with a lot of crit can cast more group heals because one of the targets is almost certain to receive critical healing while a healer with more haste can more easily get spells off to save the tank in time. I pray that the depth of this game at endgame somehow stays for those of us who enjoy such pursuits.

So while I mourn the loss of the easy to understand spellpower, I'll take the glass half full approach on a Friday and cheer for the removal of mp5 instead.

Or TL;DR version for healers - We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do, We've Got Spirit, How Bout You? Woo!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Interconnected Paradise of Gaming

One of the things that stood out in Blizzcon 2009 was the announcement about 2.0. As World of Warcraft players well know, has been around as long as Blizzard has put out games, launching with Diablo in 1997. Although is a huge community of PC gamers, the console gaming industry jumped back ahead of the community-building game with the advent of widespread online console gaming on the Xbox, Playstation 2, and their successors. Xbox Live is the second-largest online community of gamers behind The best part of Xbox Live is that you can register your friends online and then whenever you turn on your xbox, you can see all of your friends on their xboxes and what they are currently playing. This allows you to join them if you wish or invite them to play another game you both enjoy, thereby making the online connection of friends completely hassle-free.

These sorts of features are currently lacking in, which is why a ton of World of Warcraft players have not synched their WoW accounts with There was simply no real benefit to joining at all for a WoW player as far as I'm concerned. You could tell Blizzard wanted to fix this, as evidenced this summer by the push to get people to merge their WoW accounts into a account during the Mountain Dew Game Fuel promotions. If you took the early plunge into, they gave you a snazzy little in-game Battle Bot pet and allowed you to go back daily for red or blue fuel. If you have red fuel in your battle bot and a blue-fuelled battle bot comes strolling by, an amazing little battle would break out. Totally vanity, but all non-combat pets are and these were cooler than most.

At some point Blizzard will inevitably force all World of Warcraft players to merge their accounts into, but it remains clear that they needed to sweeten the pot even more than vanity pets to keep the playerbase happy. Enter Blizzcon 2009, where 2.0 was on full display for players to see. takes all the wonderful innovative ideas from the Xbox Live console friends list and adapts them for their own players. Now your friends list in any Blizzard game will be updated to show your friends that are online playing any Blizzard game, and what they are doing in that game. So if you have a friend who's always on Diablo II and another friend who's always on Starcraft, while you prefer World of Warcraft, you will be able to see that they are in those games and you can message them. As attention spans of your WoW friends drifts away to check out Starcraft II and Diablo III in the future, now you don't risk losing touch with them for weeks or months at a time! It's an interconnected paradise of gaming, as far as PC games go.

Here's a screenshot of someone in Starcraft II chatting with another playing in Starcraft as well as one in World of Warcraft at the same time.

Likewise, here's a screenshot of someone in World of Warcraft looking at their friends list to see, oh my friend is in Starcraft trying to find a multiplayer battle match!

This may not seem important to you, but for me, this is a huge upgrade on Blizzard's part. You see, when I came into the World of Warcraft, I did so with a close group of 4 real life friends who had been playing WoW before me. One of these was the best man at my wedding and vice versa, and I was looking forward to keeping contact with him and the others through WoW since real life was dictating that I must move to another city for career reasons. Well a couple months into the WoW experience and my best buddy drops out of WoW, citing various reasons including looking forward to Starcraft II. So he plays a ton of Starcraft right now while the rest of us have been in WoW for the past few months. Yet I've lost one of the primary reasons I joined WoW, which was to keep contact with all of this group of friends. The new will fix this problem because my buddy will be playing Starcraft II.

So when Starcraft II finally hits store shelves in early 2010, 2.0 will also launch. This may not seem like a big deal to you now, but I guarantee you will have guildies and/or friends spending a lot more time in Starcraft II (and much later, Diablo III) than in WoW. They might even let their subscriptions lapse to WoW! At this point you will be thankful that 2.0 is there to keep you connected and to allow you to network and chat with your friends in different games. Kudos to Blizzard for finally addressing this "problem" in the PC gaming market.

I know there will be some who still say "big deal, I chat with my Diablo/Warcraft/Starcraft buddies on vent anyways." However, when raiding in WoW or multiplayer zerging in Starcraft, you typically have to use vent for those purposes alone. Instead of requiring you to run a secondary chat program which is annoying, now it's all going to be within the game interface itself. That's why this will be such a great change.

UPDATE: I also realize after put up their own review of 2.0 that this opens up cross-faction and cross-server chat as well. Considering I play on both sides of the Alliance-Horde ledger and another one of the core group of 4 friends in the game plays on 2-3 different servers, it will be nice to be able to keep in touch with them whenever they are online anywhere. If we can share PUG's across servers, there's absolutely no reason we cannot have friend chat across servers. So that's another side of this I did not bring out initially.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Building A Successful Guild Part 2: The Framing

Welcome back to our investigation of how to build a successful guild from the ground up. As you will recall from Part 1, the foundation for a successful guild has been set with proper guild leadership and officers. Today we discuss the next step of guild building, which is having a proper framework for the various activities of your guild. As always, you can appreciate that building a framework for a guild is much like building a framework for our house, so liberal showing off of construction pictures continues!

After placing guild leadership and officers in power, your next step is deciding just what your guild needs to cater to. For smaller guilds, there may be one or two aspects of the World of Warcraft game that you group to focus on. One example is a hardcore raiding guild, which typically runs 30-40 members in order to have enough front liners and substitutes to consistently run 2-4 raids per week. Those small guilds are perfectly OK having a house framed for one to two rooms overall because that's all the members are interested in. However, as a guild increases in size, more thought has to be put into how the different focuses of your members will be accomodated. I liken this to the process of planning the number and size of rooms in a house. My wife and I only have 1 child to date, but we are building a house that will last us a decade or longer. Thus, we must plan rooms for future children and build enough rooms to accomodate our future needs.

Is this my room? Wow!

So if you are planning a raiding guild, then there's not a lot of thought that needs to go into the framework. However, most people reading this will be members of much larger guilds. Off the top of my own head, a large casual guild will have members who may be interested in each of the following things: PvP battlegrounds, PvP arenas, PvP twinking, endgame raiding, casual raiding, achievement hunting, leveling and questing with multiple characters, roleplaying, and perhaps even other aspects of the game I have missed! Even if you start out by just catering to casual raiding and leveling characters, eventually your membership will grow and have these other interests. Rather than having them skip off to another guild or in my analogy, buy another house, wouldn't it be better to plan ahead and build the proper framework at the beginning to be able to support these varied interests? I believe so.

Each room in my future house has been planned with as much care as possible, meaning each room has a purpose and is sized and designed to serve those purposes. Thus, we have a large great room or family area because this is where we will spend most of our time together as a large unit. For most guilds, this "great room" will be endgame raiding, whether casual or hardcore. You need to ensure that there's enough framework for the raid group or raid groups to be organized and run. This means electing officers or members to become raid leaders and assistants. These raid leaders will be tasked with all the minutae that the guild leader and officers may not be able to handle for each separate group of members in the guild, such as scheduling raids, notifying members, deciding rosters based on signups, and actually running the group on raid night. There's a lot to worry about, so you'll need trusted people to be the framework or the walls of your guild.

In addition to the great room of the house, you need to make sure you have a framework for all the remaining interests. If PvP content is not that important to your guild, then perhaps you only have one officer who organizes guild-sponsored PvP events for those players. In other words, make sure you have the room for PvP, but don't waste time making it the second biggest room in the house if that's not where you see your membership leaning. The same goes for achievement hunting, roleplaying, and all the other niches I listed above. The key is to have someone always in charge of those areas. For smaller interest groups these can be handled by existing officers from the foundation of the guild, but for larger interest groups you simply have to elect members to lead these fronts. Otherwise the guild leadership will eventually forget one part of the playerbase and will not be able to accomodate their needs, thereby leading to part of your guild moving out of the house. This brings me to another point. You know what's missing in the above picture? Insulation.

Putting this insulation in ensures that everyone who is only interested in certain activities in Azeroth can focus on those without being dragged into other activities or groups. If you have a messageboard or forums on your website, organize it so that the roleplaying folks have a place to roleplay, the PvP content folks have a place to organize arena teams or battleground grinding, and the PvE content folks have a place to organize raids or achievement hunts. Nobody wants to fish through 20 raid announcements to read one roleplaying entry, and vice versa. You also need to ensure that different people are accountable for the different interests of your guild, thereby insulating the problems if they do occur. Obviously you have doorways between these insulated rooms in order for people with shifting focus to move around the guild as they see fit. So with all of these metaphors in place for the framing of a guild, let's take a quick look at my own guilds and how they accomplish this aspect of the successful guild business.

In the Illuminati, we have a messageboard on our website that does split the various interest groups into rough categories so that they may communicate more effectively. There's different rooms for planning group questing, 5-man dungeons, and 10/25-man raids. There's a separate section for roleplaying as well as another for encounter strategies. While our guild does a little bit of PvP content, we don't focus on it so we don't include much of a framework for discussion and organizing events in that realm currently. As for placing people in charge of those areas, we have Cantique who writes regular roleplaying entires for our website and also encourages RP activities. We have a small handful of raid leaders who are in charge of scheduling and running weekly or monthly events for engame raiding, as well as one event leader who runs more fun events or achievement hunts. These leaders are completely separate and insulate the different interest groups in the guild. Although The Illuminati is definitely slanted towards PvE and roleplaying, there's the proper framework of people and communication alleys to meet these objectives.

In Alea Iacta Est, we obviously need a framework on a much bigger scale. If The Illuminati is building a $100,000 house, AIE is building a $5 million mansion. even though there's a lot more framework required, AIE provides just that on their website and with their leadership. The AIE online forums have six clear categories: general communication, PvP/Battlegrounds, Raiding, Roleplaying, Class Forum (caters to class-specific strategy), and Professions (like our own bartering or auction house within the guild). As far as running raids, the website lists 33 different raiding groups which cater to different times and days of the week. Each of these raiding groups has an independent webpage on the AIE site and independent leadership you can contact to get involved with that raid group. Everybody is insulated where they want to be, and there's leadership in position to organize those achievement hunts or raid teams or battleground pre-mades. There needs to be independence to run these events and members are given that independence by allowing them to organize groups in the forums or start their own raid group website on the AIE site. So the AIE guild successfully chugs along thanks to the proper amount of framework to hold such a large group of people with every interest you can imagine in the game.

Again, the framework is a bit more exciting than setting a foundation, but it sure does not seem sexy or fun yet. Nevertheless, to keep your future house ready for your family's needs, you need to plan your rooms and frame/insulate accordingly. In a guild this means putting the proper members in place to organize the interest groups and providing proper communication channels for the varied interest groups to express themselves in. In life and in Azeroth, it's better to plan ahead than accomodate/fix later.

Now that I have a finalized plan for this series, I can confidently say that we will be covering outside appearances and membership recruitment next time. The final two parts will follow, covering securing your guild and putting those finishing touches on a successful guild. See you next time!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ding Dong: Status Update

Life can get quite crazy at times, and it really vcame as no surprise that real life grabbed more urgent attention than normal this past week. So while I hope to update this blog around 3-5 times a week depending on what I'm thinking, sometimes it just will not happen. So apologies to those few readers I have on being sporadic like so many other bloggers out there. My grandfather is in a much worse state than we had hoped, but will be able to go home in a few days from the hospital to hopefully enjoy what time he has left. The house is coming along and we've been painting some stuff to continue the small oddjobs we have up until closing in just over 3 weeks. Sportswriting has slowed back down to normal after two weeks of hell thanks to preview season and the other writer on staff bailing on this part of the season. SCS Trek (to the right) links all my articles if you are interested in that front.

So between the family drama, house preparations, sportswriting, and busyness at work, there have been some minor play sessions outside the anniversary event I detailed last weekend for you. And some cool things have happened for the AE Team as well as in the general WOW universe. I discussed my initial take on the leaked Cataclysm changes last Wednesday, but I'm happy to report that things look a lot better after Blizzcon. If you have not had a chance to review the coverage of the event, it is very well done on and all the other news sites. We've probably got over a year to talk about those upcoming changes, so I'm being patient about digging into the more thorough details we got for now. One note I have to make is welcome to the oft-overlooked Gnome nation, who will be joining up the priesthood and earning some glowy hands next year. We welcome you to the circle and hope you find healing as fulfilling as we do.

I have logged a bit of time on Biancae Horde-side and am trying to build some relationships with AIE members, but it's been a bit of a slow haul as I want to maintain my connection with Illuminati guild members and it's easier to log in Alliance and chat in game as well as in vent. I got an email from the guild leader asking where I was because I have been kind of scarce until this weekend, and I hope the raiding crew doesn't miss me too much. I know I miss them but the real life trumps! In any event, definitely staying active on Horde-side as much as possible and expect an update on our lovely Paladin in the near future.

Oddly enough, I got in the zone on the druid Arielae this weekend and even leveled her beyond rested time for a bit! She had finished up the running all over the world quests in the Elwynn-Westfall-Duskwood-Redridge areas and was settling into Lakeshire for a few days when we last left our bear. Travel form definitely helped on those quests, but I looked forward to getting into a zone again and tearing it up. I don't tihnk I've fully done Redridge since my main went through there, so it's been a blast seeing it all again but with way more experience and knowledge under my belt. Back in those days I didn't have questhelper, and while the exploration part of the game is fun, right now I value efficiency.

I think the primary reason I never got into the druid before this weekend was that it's painfully slow up until level 20. You move slowly, you DPS terribly slowly in night elf caster form, it's only slightly better DPS in bear form, etc. However, the second you hit 20 and get cat form, oh my does the world change. Now you have an energy-using form as well as the rage-using bear form and the mana bar, and the cat puts out significant DPS. So I began by nuking some Gnolls and whelps/condors with bear form, but by the end of the weekend's play time I was blowing through Blackrock Orcs in cat form. Druids get a little dicey when double or triple teamed, but they can take down a +5 level mob when soloed and that's pretty neat. All told, I've torn through over half of the Redridge quests and have already reached level 21. The heirloom chestpiece probably also helps quite a bit and they look pretty sharp with the shoulders and all. Here's a screenshot of Arielae at level 20.

This put the shaman Clarissae as lagging behind a bit, so I went back over to her. I love how in starting zones and especially Bloodmyst Isle, it always seems like there are people around to help with group quests there. I came within 3% of taking down the dragon spirit mob on my own at the summit, but his fear ability just got me to fall off the summit at an inopportune time and I did not get it done. Thankfully there were 2 others who arrived in the meantime and waited for me to get the group kill done. In a very short period of time she cleared about a third of her 20 quests remaining in the zone and dinged twice to level 20. She also received the caster mail heirloom chest (I had trouble deciding which mail chest to get as I have both the melee shoulders and caster shoulders, but I went all caster for now). So here's what she looks like and thank God the hideous wrench-shoulders are smaller profiled on her and at least somewhat match the chestpiece to make a reasonable looking set. These shoulders bugged me on my hunter though.

I do hope the shaman leveling gets better like the druid leveling did. I hear that it does once you get water shield and especially after dual wield at 40, but right now I feel like I drink every other pull and it bogs me down a bit. The gameplay is definitely OK, just a lot like leveling a holy priest without a bubble or any really good heals at this point. Thank god (or naaru) for the draenei overpowered racial spell that is a free heal every 3 minutes. Here's a screenie of Clarissae at 20.

So what now? Ekaterinae continues her hunt for Frenzyheart rep every once in a while and gets some playtime when I want endgame or group play. I think Arielae is set on the Redridge-Duskwood path as she has all the beginner quests from Darkshire in her log and ready when she needs to switch zones. I'm a bit more lost on where to go next with Clarissae. I could target the Wetlands, but the one seemed like too much running when I did it with Van. Perhaps now that I have a mount on Clarissae the zone will not be so bad. I need to check websites to see if there's an alternative that I have not experienced yet. After all, it sounds like this may be my last time though the content in old Azeroth as it was in the beginning. Definitely pumped about the changes but playing catch-up to see what was there before the world drastically changes! So that's where the Alliance-side alts are right now on the AE Team, and it feels like a minor accomplishment getting each of them past the level 20 hump. Let's hope the next 10 levels are even more enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Party Like It's 2005

While everyone waits with bated breath for Blizzcon 2009 to start up this Friday over in California, there have been plenty of leaks and information coming out about the probable announcements for World of Warcraft. The biggest news is that a new expansion called Cataclysm will be released sometime in the future, probably during calendar year 2010. This is not unexpected, but the more important features of the expansion are what everyone wants to know. All of this information is speculative until after the weekend, but MMO-Champion is a trustworthy news source and most of this sounds plausible. So let's jump into it!

1. Level Cap raised to 85 - not much to see here, as they can set the xp requirements as high or as low as they need and the level cap is just a number. If this signifies half as much leveling as in previous expansions, then this may be a signal that Blizzard is thinking of the new players and how much time is required to get one toon to endgame, let alone multiples. I'll miss the full leveling time if this is the case, but it's better for new players and my alts.

2. New Class/Race Combinations Allowed - these include human hunter, troll druid, dwarf shaman, tauren paladin, tauren priest, gnome priest. While I think allowing more class/race combinations flies in the face of some of the great lore for classes (for example the Moonglade setup for Druids explains why it's just Tauren and Night Elves), this opens up a bit more choice which is nice. I like my draenei shaman and my night elf druid, but I did not have a choice alliance side for any of the other races. Plus, as a healer I've never had access to a Gnome healer, so it will be nice to see some lil' healers in the future. This is an OK change.

3. New Races Worgen and Goblin - Apparently the story is that the Cataclysm breaks open the Greymane Wall and opens up the sealed kingdom of Worgen, who have overcome their curse partially to function like humans and will join the Alliance as the obvious link to humans makes sense. The Goblins stray from neutrality after their homes are devastated and they save Thrall from being an Alliance prisoner. While werewolves and Goblins are nifty additions to the playable classes, I don't know that goblins becoming un-neutral is a good idea. This may just kill STV for Alliance and would radically change how the leveling process goes for us on that side. What happens to the fishing contest? I also do not know that either race entices me to reroll for one of them without a new healer class to tinker with. Although you better believe my Horde-side banker will be rerolled to be a Goblin because there's no other way!

4. Old Azeroth Revamps include Flight in Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor - Now of course this is necessary if we are to be spending most of our time in the old world again, but it seems like there will be a lot of prgramming dollars thrown at a problem that Blizzard said was not worht fixing before. I do not know if this is really better than having the developers spend more money and time on better new continents and instances.

5. Revamped Zones such as Barrens split into two zones, Orgrimmar being destroyed, Gnomeregan coming into play again, flooding zones like Thousand Needles, etc. - If we are to spend a good amount of time fighting underwater, then flooding current zones is a nice way to update the world and make the idea manageable. They say these changes will speed or revamp the leveling process, and I hope this is correct. I wonder if returning to places like Gnomeregan and Blackrock Mountain is a mistake though. We've done that content, so unless you build entire new instances for us...this is becoming the rehash expansion where nothing happens.

So between these revelations and the quick release of Patch 3.2.2 on the Public Test Realms (it includes an updated Onyxia raid), I'm beginning to wonder if Blizzard is lost on where to go next after using up their ace in the hole, the Arthas storyline. I like the idea of a changing Azeroth because that's more realistic, but I don't want them to be lazy about bringing out truly new content at the same time. Destroying Orgrimmar and building a new orc city is awesome, flooding Thousand Needles so we can fight fish and a breath bar instead of wolves and cougars is not so awesome. I was really hoping for another hero class for healers this time, but alas, it appears like we're back to new races this time around. I'm sure there will be more in the coming days and months, but right now count me among the cautiously pessimistic about WOW: Cataclysm.

I am looking forward to seeing Onyxia for the anniversary event though, as I have not made it to her lair to clear that achievement. Probably better get to it sooner rather than later if I want the achievement before it becomes a Feat of Strength. We will be partying like it's 2005 in Patch 3.2.2 and Cataclysm by the looks of it.

Also, not much gameplay from me due to week 2 of sportswriting previews taking up all my free time and my grandfather being in the hospital. But there appears to be plenty to talk about whether or not I log in!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy 1st Anniversary to The Illuminati

This past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of my first guild, The Illuminati. I did not know it at the time, but the guild was only founded about 3 weeks before I started playing with the guys in Azeroth, and I joined up about 1.5 months into the guild's existence. However, the core group of initial guildies were high quality and acted as if they had been together for far longer. The chemistry was nice and even though I've had my gripes at times, overall this has been a steal of a guild to jump into as my first guild. So to celebrate the anniversary, our Saturday night raid was replaced by an Amazing Race competition.

As I zoned into Shattrath, lots of preparations were going on for the race. We had 20 participants, so 5 teams of 4 players were formed. I was made a team captain, which I consider a neat honor, but then again, Mikola was running the event and I almost was a member of the team running the event anyways. But I decided to just try out my luck participating in the race, which is good since I was the only one of our group of friends that could make it as a participant. I was not given a choice of team color and was "randomly assigned" Team Pink by my best buddy Mikola...little did he know I had my pink dress from Lunar Festival to match the team shirt!

Here I am getting my team shirts from the well-dressed Mikola, and then I got my teammates. They were Danyella, Drdemise, and Brucefoot. All people I really had not played with very much at all, so I was even more excited to build relationship with 3 other people through vent and the fun competition. The first hint was given and the teams were off. The first hint was finding a stranded Dwarf near the writhing mounds.

Well after flying about that area in Terrorkar for a good long while, we finally tracked down the missing dwarf. Her name was Laqueefa, and it turns out she was very hungry and thirsty. Your two quest options were to go get four types of food in outland or four types of drink in outland.

We chose the drink, did a little research to find them, and split up. Brucefoot found a jug in Shattrath, Drdemise made some Rumsey Lager with his cooking ability, and Danyella and I nabbed the other two. After a long flight back from Netherstorm (we had to use regular flying mounts, but thank god they are 150% now), it was back to the top of Auchindoun and the lovely dwarf. Note that there was definitely a lot of RP from the NPC's for added fun, and our guild leader did a nice job in this role.

The next hint was to find a moving underground poker game, this week taking place at a location serving the biggest omelettes you've ever seen. This turned out to be the demise of the pink team, as we followed a first lead to Tanaris and Gadgetzan, thinking that the underground auction house would be correct. We finally figured out the eggs that make monster omelettes mostly come from Winterspring, so I followed the lead and found Gamblerette yelling about her skills the second I flew over Everlook.

Gamblerette's quests were lost or found. Lost was asking what lucky numbers were on the hatch in Shaolizar Basin, and Found was getting a Mood Ring from a vendor in the Exodar. I immediately picked Lost and answered the numbers from the actual hatch in the TV show Lost which is 4-8-15-16-23-42, but that was wrong because the hatch in wow adds one to each number. Before I read wowwiki to find my mistake, we'd sent the doctor off to the Exodar to get the mood ring and had to wait for him to come back with it. So that cost us more precious time, which was my mistake. Still, the team seemed very happy with how quickly I knew what the riddles and quests were looking for. A little bit of online research goes a long way. The next NPC to find was a gnome needing medical attention in a land of bugs, AKA Silithus. It's a long flight from Everlook down to Silithus, but we could see each other in the long flight as shown below.

Once we got to Cenarion Hold, we searched and found the poor itchy gnome. I forgot to get a screenshot of Esiwlil, but I do have one of the character at the end of race celebration you can see the lovely actor. Our choices were to find some pick to scratch him with via a rogue, or to hire an outside alchemist to come make a purification potion. We did not understand what he wanted from the rogue half, so we found a guildie alchemist who happened to be in ungoro crater. I don't know if he was a plant, but he asked us to pay double a "bribe" from a previous team...which I think was just part of the act. We got Choowie there and made the potion, then were told to find a night elf mourning her love in a swamp.

We found Alerrah the night elf right away in Swamp of Sorrows, and she needed some ink and parchment or a rose from Stormwind to send to her lover. I went myself to Stormwind and had a bit of trouble finding the vendor, but then I found him and got the ink and parchment for her. Again, some fun roleplay with our guild's second-in-command when we brought back the lucky love items. She provided the final clue to the finish line, which was on the top of a pair of twins in a dense forest, which was clearly twin colossals in Feralas. So off we went.

We had to grab an item on the way, so I did that in Duskwood and found that we were in third place at the point. So we hustled over together and found our way to portal up to the top of one of the colossals, finishing the race in third place. As you can see, there were already two other teams drinking in game and out of game, celebrating and having a good time. At this point the other two teams were invited to join us as were non-participating guildies for the celebration and party on top of the world so to speak.

While we waited for everyone to be summoned with more summoning demon closets than one might care to count, we did lots of fun levitating, jumping off the colossal on mounts, and other fun fireworks. Everybody put a campfire on the water which made a nice romantic effect on the lake up there. It really is a cool place to be if you've never seen it. Finally we got everyone summoned and the big event and announcements began.

The prizes were plentiful because a ton of guildies donated everything from gold to epic gems to delicious chocolate cake! Awards went out for the top three teams, best NPC, best teamwork, etc. We won third place and best teamwork award, so I think my group worked together well and everyone in the group loved the experience. The doctor was hugely complimentary of me at the end of the race, but it was nothing really...I love helping lead. We made out with some gems, some random armor, elixirs, and cake.

The guild then all put on their tabards and either went naked or not very well clothed underneath the tabard. I mean, what more do you need? I got to run through a lot of outfits during the celebration, and I loved my out-of-season christmas ho ho ho outfit. Here's our proud guildies standing on the edge of the cliff. A big party to be sure!

Then there was a special announcement to be made that they had been teasing us with for over an hour. As it turned out, it was time to honor some members with promotion to Knight. As a reminder, The Illuminati has one Magus, then Regents are guild officers and raid leaders, Knights are top members who represent the guild well and have been around a long time, most regular members are Minervals, and then there are recruit Novices. Well Mikola has been an officer for a long time, and Aurys and Eitrin became Knights in the first class of nine Knights who were named a few months ago. Five more joined the fraternity of knights, and it is clear that this is a big honor considering how much fanfare and celebration went on.

And yes, I joined my friends as a Knight, which I am very proud of. It's not a full on officer or anything, but considering my limited playtime, I appreciate the high honor bestowed upon me. As it turns out, I was getting a phone call from my mother IRL at the same time finding out my grandfather went into the hospital and it looks like he has real bad cancer. So it turned out to be an emotional and very bittersweet moment, as I gained and lost at the same time. But anyways, I don't want to dwell on that IRL stuff in this entry because this was a time to celebrate a very successful first year as a guild. I think with the leadership we have, we will continue to be one of the top Alliance guilds on the realm. Congratulations to my fellow new knights as well.

So that was one year...and what will the second year bring? We can only wait and see, but it is exciting times to be in The Illuminati. Special congratulations to Vowain and Mikola for putting together and running such a smooth and unique event. And thanks to Larisa's guild for some of the idea to go this direction with our celebration. It is indeed one of the most memorable blocks of time I will ever spend in Azeroth.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So Easy A Tailor Could Do It

If you really think about it, there's absolutely no reason to be short on gold in the World of Warcraft. Whether it's questing in areas you have not been to pick up gold from mobs and questgivers, doing a small set of daily quests like the Argent Tournament, grinding elementals and mobs for raw materials, or playing like Gevlon in the auction house, there's always some way out there to up the Azeroth bank account. Like Gevlon, I have a distaste for repeating content over and over, so dailies without a reputation gain attached is not very appealing. I also have Loremaster of Northrend, so killing mobs for quests or to grind is not very efficient either. So that leaves me with professions and the auction house.

Of course every economy on each server is different, and sometimes economies are wildly different between the two factions on your server, in which case the neutral auction house may come into play too. As much money as Gevlon makes and teaches using Inscription as his primary force, I do not have a scribe and I don't want to give up Tailoring and Enchanting on my priest Ekat. So I set out to see what she could do in the big universe of playing the market, to find what is profitable and become a little like Gevlon on my own server.

I knew right away that enchanting was kind of a bust for profitability. Although you can now sell enchants on armor vellums made by scribes, you still don't make much of a profit over your high materials cost except for twink enchants. It is absurdly hard to find the enchanting materials for those enchants though without overpaying, and I have not had a chance to get into the twink universe enough to know what enchants would sell. I'm sure there are a couple, but it's just not worth the investment compared to the business I do take part in. Plus, enchanting for Ekat is just a way to make more money off the dungeon runs and mobs as every green/blue/purple item that drops goes up in value significantly during the first 90% of an expansion's life cycle. So occassionally I will drop a couple stacks of enchanting mats on the auction house, and they always sell to up the bank coffers a bit.

As far as Tailoring goes, there are quite a few options for making money, but the most value or longevity in the mark always comes from providing a service that people always need. Spellthread is one option, but the much more profitable item is bags. Every character needs bags, and most will upgrade their bags as much as they can afford to carry more things because that saves them more money and time while questing or doing their own business. However, with the advent of WOTLK the question has become, Frostweave Bags (20 slot) or Netherweave Bag (16 slot). Well here's a snapshot of the current auction house prices for all the required materials and the bags on a random day on my server for comparison (Netherweave on the top, Frostweave on the bottom).

Let's do the math together. A Netherweave Bag requires one stack of 20 Netherweave Cloth (which costs $6.90) and one Rune Thread ($0.40) for a total materials cost of $7.30. The Netherweave Bags sell for $13.50 apiece, which means a current profit per bag of $6.20 not counting the auction house cut (appx. $0.90).

On the contrary, a Frostweave Bag requires three stacks of 20 Frostweave Cloth (total cost $24.00) and 12 Infinite Dust (total cost $63.60) and 2 Eternium thread ($4.80) for a total materials cost of $92.40. The Frostweave Bags sell for $106.00 apiece, which means a current profit per bag of $13.60 not counting the auction house cut (appx. $6.00)

So you can play either market for about a net gain of 5 gold per Netherweave Bag or 6-8 gold per Frostweave Bag. In addition to how close these profits are, it takes a ton more crafting time to make a Frostweave Bag, and the mats are in higher overall demand because Frostweave Cloth and Infinite Dust are used for other tailoring, first aid, and enchanting. So if you want to make a market of the bag business, you are going to need steady materials supply at a reasonable price. As Netherweave Cloth is not used for anything else these days, there always seems to be a ton of it available. Furthermore, the bag prices actually follow the cloth prices very closely in my market watching of the past 4 months, so the profit margins do not change much. banker sees this!

There's something else at play here. The Netherweave Bags sell so much better because at 10-13 gold per 16-slot bag, that's a much better deal per slot of carrying space than 100 gold for 20 slots. Frostweave Bags are only bought occasionally, typically by main characters. Everybody who rolls a new toon seems to buy 4 Netherweave Bag immediately or soon thereafter because carrying around 4-6 slot bags is inefficient and annoying. The market continues indefinitely because there's alwayspeople rolling new toons.

Furthermore, this Patch 3.2 was like christmas for me. I stocked up bags for a couple weeks and could not keep them in stock when everybody went back to their alts or rolled new ones with the mount changes. The prices of cloth and bags were 4-5 gold and 8-9 gold, respectively, before the patch. Now the sustained cloth and bag prices are what you see above, 6-7 gold and 12-15 gold, respectively. But the profit keeps rolling in.

So that's the main reason I've recently hit 10,000 gold and now 11,000 gold. Certainly there is some questing involved once in a while and some specialty cloth being sold as well on my cooldowns, but nothing is more profitable for my main character than the bag business. One might say, it's my bag, baby. (I know, terrible)
Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Spirit of Kindness: Pay It Forward

Although Ekaterinae and Biancae have received much of the attention around these parts recently, Arielae the druid has not been forgotten! Unlike Clarissae and Biancae, who each have full Burning Crusade starting zones to get them beyond level 20, Arielae had to resort to vanilla WOW zones after finishing up all the odd tasks in Teldrassil because I did not want all three to start in the same zones. The Darkshore area has never really intrigued me, so I decided to relive a bit of my first days in the game by traveling to Westfall at level 10. It was a long trip, but standing on the boat to Stormwind at the crossroads, I felt like I was headed home...even as a Night Elf.

Upon arriving in Westfall, there was a lot of work to be done clearing out the Defias Brotherhood and other enemies scattering across the farmlands. One particular enemy excited me and those would be harvest golems. There's just something so scary and lovable about the noise those harvesters make as they run towards you. From the moment Ekaterinae stepped into Westfall, those mobs stood out as distinctive of Westfall. When she encountered similar harvesters in the Borean Tundra, she got homesick for the days in Westfall, even though those harvesters took her down more times than she could remember. Turns out, Arielae is also relatively overmatched by the Harvesters, even with the added experience of a few months in the game. The battle against my true nemesis has continued...just on a druid!

One of the first quests in the zone around old Blanchy involves finding a family heirloom in a farmhouse. Well as it turns out, the area is swarming with Harvesters and Defias, but Arielae trained her newly found bear instincts and cleared much of the area surrounding the house of the filth. Looking in the door of the farmhouse, she could only see one level 14 mob (Arielae was level 12 at the time). Typically there are two mobs, but she was undeterred with her new bear strength. Unfortunately what she could not see was that there was also a third mob guarding the family heirloom...a level 16 mob. The three Defias agents made quick work of poor Arielae, and as she embarked on a lengthy rez run, she wondered how she could even chip away at this group of three.

Just as she arrived on the scene a second time, a level 14 warrior went into the house presumably for the same heirloom. The warrior immediately took a beating from the mobs and was not going to make it, but Arielae remembered her true calling and starting casting restoration spells to keep the warrior alive. At the end of a long battle, the warrior turned around to see who was his savior and saluted Arielae for saving his life. We grabbed the family heirloom and helped each other back out of the Defias forces. Even though we were not grouped and I would get no xp or copper, I did not feel any hesitation to help this warrior because without knowing it, he was helping me. The Spirit of Kindess was in the air in Westfall.

Shortly thereafter I made my way back to Moonglade for more druid training, and on the way through Darnassus I stopped over at the Bank to deposit some herbs I had found along the fields in Westfall. While standing at the bank, a trade window opens randomly...and a shiny pair of boots is offered. I ask why and the fellow elf responds that they saw me without shoes and knew that I needed them to protect my feet from the blistering road ahead. I gladly took the unsolicited offering and put on the boots, and to my surprise they fit wonderfully. It did not matter that I ended up replacing the boots a few quests later upon my return to Westfall because The Spirit of Kindness was in the air in Darnassus.

It never seems like buffs get randomly thrown about in the big cities of Dalaran, or so Ekaterinae tells me. This is sad, because upon returning to Sentinel Hill I was greeted with two different buffs from random different players. I was happy to provide what little buff I could as a druid and wished them well. It seems like this random buffing happens all the time while working around these "starter" zones, as Clarissae, Biancae, and Arielae have all experienced. The Spirit of Kindness is alive in Sentinel Hill, Blood Watch, and Tranquillien.

Using the power of these newfound buffs, Arielae was able to finally start taking down some Harvesters to grab some much needed Okra and Bolts for farmer projects. Thanks to the Spirit of Kindness providing me with boots to protect my feet and buffs to enhance my power, the nemesis was taken down! The experience continued to roll in and Arielae made Westfall a better place, including a run through the Deadmines with fellow Illuminati agents to take out the infamous Van Cleef. However, nothing could match the triumph over my favorite enemy, and for that, I thank the Spirit of Kindness in Azeroth.

So Arielae has finished up in Westfall and is on her way to Lakeshire, as she has heard there may be some problems with gnolls and blackrock orcs in the area. She can only hope that she continues to pay forward the Spirit of Kindness to keep Azeroth a much better place. Whether that's a random buff to the people you see or a critically-timed heal on a stranger having trouble with multiple mobs, there's lots of little things you can do to keep the spirit alive. While the Spirit wanes in places of heavy commerce and high levels like Dalaran, it lives on strong wherever new characters need the most help. This is an aspect of the WOW game which keeps the alure alive for new players and hooks them into long subscriptions and happy adventures in Azeroth.

Even for those of you high level characters out there just passing through Stormwind on your way to the Auction House, take an extra moment to pass a buff or answer a question of a poor lost beginner. Remember we were all hopelessly lost with questions in the past. I guarantee they will never forget the kind atmosphere that arrived in their life when you did this, and if they are a new player...they will likely continue to be the helpful people that ensure the Spirit of Kindness will never disappear. And that, my friends, makes the world a much better place.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Building A Successful Guild Part 1: The Foundation

Today I begin an investigation of how to build a successful guild, with some pictures thrown in to show off the exciting process of house building I'm experiencing IRL. Now I will say that I've only spent significant time in one guild, but over the course of 11 months in the game I have acquired stories and knowledge from other folks as to what makes guilds work. I'm also positioned as a member of the largest Alliance guild on my server: The Illuminati, as well as the largest Horde guild on my server: Alea Iacta Est. Both guilds appear to be stable and managing their big size well because of a few key factors in each guild.

Note that AIE has 1600 active members (and 4800 overall) according to Wow Census and The Illuminati has 187 active members (347 overall), so each presents a whole different scale of size. The Illuminati would only be the 6th biggest Horde guild on the server, but the fact remains that these two guilds top the population charts and that presents some unique challenges, especially considering both guilds are obviously geared towards all kinds of players. Each guild has hardcore raiders, complete casuals, PvP gurus, etc. So that's the background on the two guilds I will use to illustrate examples of my point.
Building a successful guild is like building a house. Each process has many things to take care of, else the guild/house crumbles beneath you. Each process take a lot of time, and a lot of work to do correctly. Yet if everything falls into place, the benefits are fantastic.

The first step of building a home is setting a proper foundation. Without the proper building blocks in place, there's no way anything of substance can be supported over a long period of time. In the World of Warcraft, a foundation of a guild is the guild leadership. This encompasses a good guild leader as well as the officers/assistants making up the core leadership group with the guild leader.

A good foundation of a house handles the weight of the house with strength of materials and great care in the placement of supporting beams and columns. A good guild leader handles a successful guild by having strong fellow leadership around him and great care to understand where support of more officers is needed for his guild and putting good leaders in those positions. Without this strength and great care, a certain section of the guild could collapse for lack or organization and leadership, leading to a possible exodus of players that could cripple a guild.

While the foundation of a house is not something people generally show off or praise, when the foundation begins to break, it becomes a huge problem for all the details people do care about (the rest of the house). Guild leaders are a special breed because they not only have all the qualities I just listed, but they also don't mind having all their hard work be ignored while people enjoy everything built above them. That's not to say guild leaders get no credit at all or love from their guild members, but they certainly don't get as much credit as they deserve generally.

When the guild leader bolts from the guild or crumbles by not taking care of his responsibility, everything else falls apart because the foundation is no longer there. Sure, it may take a bit of time for the house walls to break or sink into the soft earth, just like it may take a bit of time for the guild to spiral out of control and break apart...but losing a good guild leader without a replacement foundation will eventually lead to guild disbanding.

In The Illuminati, the primary guild leader is Vowain. Vowain embodies all of those foundation-like features one could hope for in a guild leader, and it shows in the growth and stability of the guild only 1 year into its existence. Vowain deals with guild issues head on, and he is not afraid to be strong and make the hard decisions when necessary. Vowain has surrounded himself with some officers, including a "second-in-command" Magus as well as a handful of Regents or guild officers. This core leadership group is properly sized for the guild and takes on additional important roles we will cover in later installments of this guild-building experience.

In Alea Iacta Est, the primary guild leader is Maui. Maui also embodies all of the foundation-like qualities of strength and care that you wish for in a top officer. AIE operates on a whole different scale, but Maui has placed a proper amount of officers around him to manage the load of the nearly 5000 members. There are Imperators, or a set of 4 other guild founding members, as well as 4 Praetorians, which are the core leaders who manage guild resources and policy issues since Maui cannot be expected to handle all of them in such a large guild. The day-to-day operational leadship is handled by a group of 32 Centurions. More Centurions are added as the guild grows in active membership so that someone is around to handle conflicts and other guild necessities. Maui and this leadership group keeps the behemoth guild running smoothly.

So while putting together the foundation or group of officers may not be the sexiest thing to start off with when building a guild, not taking the proper steps at the early stages of guild development will produce cracks or weaknesses in this foundation that may eventually lead to the whole guild crumbling into nothingness. Next time, we'll discuss guild membership and outside appearances.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dealing with the Bench

A very eventful weekend both in game and IRL this past weekend, but today's topic stems from the lead-up to this weekend as it happened on Thursday and Friday. As you can see in last Thursday's post, I was more than confident that I would make our guild's 10-man Ulduar run for Saturday night. Now comes Friday morning and I'm not on that roster, but a couple of people I did not expect were on the three-man heal team. I was devastated considering I'd already got family clearance to run the raid and I had signed up early enough to think I'd locked up a spot.
A bit of background information before we move on. Here's The Illuminati's official raid signup and group selection policy, which has not changed substantially in a while:

Here is the rank of priorities used when putting raid groups together.
1. Group success
2. Guild members get priority
3. Class diversity (preferably no more than 2 of any class)
4. Order of signups
5. Guild members bring their character of choice
6. Guests

So while the raid leader has discretion to make the team as needed for group success, I know for a fact our guild leader pushes for early guild member signups and proper class diversity more than anything. If uber-elite DPS signs up 7th or 8th, they will not come unless it's absolutely vital for group success. Since this was a non-progression night, I figured that they would run perhaps a bit less stringent than on a progression night for "group success" and besides, I'd been invited to 2-3 progression nights over the course of Patch 3.1.

So the signups come in the following order: Lhuna (not a guild member for DPS or heals), Ronei (shaman, not top geared), Fiasko/Vowain (raid leader has a priest and a pally tank), Ruach (co-guild leader, absurdly well geared shaman for DPS or heals), Ekaterinae (heals preferred), Miraelle (well-geared druid), and then a couple others after that. The first five of us signed up on the same day the event was posted, and Mira came over 2 days later. Considering Lhuna gets dropped as a non-guild member, that left three names in front of me on the list. We were short tank signups, so the guild leader was main tanking on Vowain. That meant Ronei-Ruach-Ekaterinae, or at least that was my thought all week long assuming the guild leader was tanking. Well the heal team posted is Ruach-Ronei-Miraelle, Ekat on the bench. Hmmm.

Now keep in mind while Mira is a more regular raider than myself, the playskill is not much better than myself in my opinion (so no offence to any guildies). There's only a couple healers in the guild that really go above and beyond the group of us that I'd call "solid players" and they are Fiasko and Ruach. Then comes Clapp, Mira, myself, and a couple others. I personally would not include Ronei in this second group of good or solid healers, but that's just me. So it looks like I got jumped despite being the only potential priest in the raid and a good team member despite my inexperience on these bosses. However, I always watch tankspot videos and go in with pretty solid knowledge up front, as proved by my first foray into Naxx.

So all that being said, how would you handle being on the bench? Would you just take it like a good guildie, would you throw a fit, or would you question the decision? I agonized over this for a while on Friday before emailing our guild leader for an explanation. I set out my case that I'm appropriately geared since Ulduar-10 is next in line for upgrades in most slots, I'm a good and reliable player when I do sign up, I signed up before others who made the heal team, and I don't see how group success is improved. I absolutely hated to do it, but I just had to know why.

My guild leader wrote me back a thoughtful response later on Friday explaining that he may have made a mistake in putting the team together and it happens. Plus, he does apparently believe Mira is at least marginally better than me because he felt somewhat uncomfortable with a heal team of Ruach-Ronei-Ekaterinae. However, he saw my points and without my urging decided to redo the team, moving Ronei to DPS, myself on the heal team, and a late-signing DPS off the team. He also asked for some DPS stats which I gave him later on when I tested them again, just in case I do need placed on the DPS patrol every once in a while. Now I sort of felt worse because my bitching booted someone else off the raid. So I really wonder, is this the best way to approach the benching?

I still don't know the answer after the fact. It probably did not help that Matticus wrote about not second-guessing himself in guild leader decisions and benching was one of his topics on Friday:
One of the best ways to truly take stock of a person’s character is to ask them to sit out and see how they react. What they say on their application is one thing. How they handle it is another matter entirely. If they handle it extremely poorly, then they’re not a player you want in your organization anyway allowing you to go headhunting again.

So maybe I dealt with it all poorly, especially considering I'd had an in-game mail waiting for me Thursday night when the team was posted because our guild leader knew I'd probably question the decision (so missing that by not logging in made my questions through email seem even more bitchy). I hope that I have not alienated my guild leader in this process, but I'm more confident now than ever that i can go to him with concerns and hear his thoughts. I don't envy the position of deciding who gets to go every raid, as that's just tough. I certainly do not want to make that job any more demanding than it already is, but perhaps I crossed the line. One can only hope that next time the bench calls, I will find a way to handle it better.

As for the run itself, I'm happy to report that I've now seen every boss in Ulduar up to the Descent and seen 9/13 drop (Ignis was not dropping for us late in the raid Saturday). But Flame Leviathan, XT-002, Razorscale, Kologarn, Iron Council, and Hodir all dropped for the first time in my presence as well as bosses I'd previously beaten in Auriaya and Thorim. I only snagged one upgrade from a boss, but our hunter handed me a BoP set of epic gloves he had extra when I lost the roll for those gloves in the raid, so 2 upgrades overall. Including a valor emblem purchase of shoes and a chespiece upgrade in the Trial 5-man heroic, that's 4 upgrades in a weekend. Again, Ekaterinae feels on top of her game with some shiny new gear. Oh and the upgrade was a wand, so I finally cleared out my last crummy blue 187 item (I'd been trying to replace that wand for 6 months or more).

Until next time, handle the bench like success on the playing field...act like you've been there before.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The State of the Union - Priests

In the middle of a development cycle for an ongoing game like World of Warcraft, it becomes a great time to step back, get some feedback, and figure out where things can be improved before the next major expansion. So it is no surprise that right before Call of the Crusade went live, the developers sents Ghostcrawler out to opine on each of the current classes in Azeroth. The Q&A series is an absolute must read for the classes you follow, as it can show what the developers are addressing and what to expect in the long term direction for your favorite character. The great thing about an MMORPG over a RTS game is that attributes (spells and talents) can be constantly revised to change the gameplay experience or make it better. So let's review the Priest Q&A for our priest followers.

First, a brief look into the overall background and direction of the class was given. Ghostcrawler confirms the "jack of all trades" idea behind the healing setup for priests, and notes that the class is definitely the most versatile of the 4 healing classes. Note that versatile does not equal most powerful, which means the priest will be outshined in every role by a class who does it a little bit better. However, the utility of having a priest in a raid is that some fights need more AoE heals, some need more tank heals, and having a class that can adapt to any situation is valuable. Ghostcrawler also noted that Shadow was a crappy leveling spec until the end of Burning Crusade, and they've spent a lot of time fleshing out the DPS aspect of a priest to make it more enjoyable. None of this is surprising, but it sounds like the class is more versatile than if you like doing something better than anyone else, stay away.

The Q&A covered some Shadow issues, but those are not so important for this blog. Ghostcrawler admitted that a priest takes a while to get the rotation of DoT spells going to make effective damage. In other words, shadow priest is a diesel engine while many other DPS classes are currently bottle rockets that can switch 100% focus and damage instantly. In a boss fight or longer fight, the shadow priest will shine...and that's apparently designed as intended. So don't hope for a fundamental change, as it appears the shadow priest is supposed to be poor in quick fights much like Warlocks. One good news is that for shorter fights and PvP, Ghostcrawler believes there is a problem with talents in the shadow tree only working while DoT's tick. So perhaps some redesigned talents will help a shadow priest stay more effective in these arenas.

Ghostcrawler believes Vampiric Touch and Vampiric Embrace as well as Mind blast are well tuned and will not be changing significantly soon. Plus they really like how the top tier Dispersion talent turned out for the class, and I have to agree. Dispersion looks bad on paper but is very nice to have for mana regen when needed (rarely) and good to save yourself (kind of like a temporary pally bubble for a clothie). One bit that was news to me is that most shadow priests have dropped Shadow Word Death from their rotations, but GC appears to believe this is not a problem because "we think shadow priests have enough spells to manage as part of their rotation." The good news is priest DPS will not get any more complicated, but the bad news is it sounds like one of the old mainstays SWD will not be changing anytime soon. Overall, there was not much surprising about the shadow side of things.

One question asked was whether they were considering increasing Shadowfiends duration. GC responded by saying "priests don't seem to have much of a mana problem on long boss fights." What? If he's only talking shadow than I completely agree, as I've never seen such mana longevity as they have with Vampiric touch helping all the time as well as Shadowfiend and Dispersion and a potion to rely upon. However, if he's referring to healing priests I completely disagree. It's true we have Shadowfiend which is kind of like a good potion and then one potion in a boss fight, but on the higher level content right now I think we suffer very badly if we need to chain cast heals. I wouldn't mind seeing a buff to Shadowfiend for Icecrown only or maybe a glyph that drops the cooldown more.

As for healers, GC started by answering a question about holy vs. disc viability in raids and PvP. GC stated that holy is getting more PvP focus, but that Disc is so well suited to the role because of the talent buffs to dispels. For a Holy priest they would really like to improve mana efficiency and burst healing. So perhaps the alarm bells in my head on the shadowfiend question were unfounded.

A couple questions followed about Greater Heal and Flash Heal being not well designed, G-Heal because it is too slow and F-Heal because it does not heal for enough. However, GC defends both spells as they currently are. Greater Heal is not criticized for being too expensive on the mana-per-healing standpoint, but it usually overheals and when they removed downranking casts then they limited G-Heal to the big nuke role. GC does believe G-Heal is what holy priests should be casting as their main heal, which is interesting considering almost nobody effective in raids seems to cast it more than 5% of the time. Flash Heal is also supposedly working as designed, as the price you pay for the quicker heal is inefficiency. It appears that they want to force priests to only use Circle of Healing (for holy) and Prayer of Healing (for disc and holy) for group heals rather than spamming Flash Heal around. With the major nerf to Prayer of Healing, group heals become much more daunting for a disc priest if Flash Heal is not going to be changing.

GC also mentions that they've thought about making Lesser Heal a 50% version mana and healing at top rank of G-Heal, and I hope they try this out. They say they are struggling getting people to cast both G-Heal and Flash Heal right now so there's no immediate attempts coming on this until they figure that out (so everybody Holy, take the Serendipity talent and USE IT). They are also not lowering the cooldown on our mega-save-the-group heal Divine Hymn, but they may make it reset on a wipe which would be nice for places like the 5-man Trial instance where multiple attempts happen in the CD window.

And then the LOL-well hammer drops as always. Probably the biggest complaint of Holy Priests over a long period of time is the uselessness of Lightwell. GC undestands and says the developers are not happy that DPS players are willing to use warlock healthstones but not go to the trouble of clicking Lightwell despite the fact that Lightwell is really powerful healing. GC also thinks this is a function of the fast paced boss encounters so prevalent right now, and perhaps there's room for imporvement if the boss fights change in style. They are as frustrated as us, so it's not worth bothering with it IMO until that changes.

The final notable question (after the confirmation that addons should be able to track absorbed damage better now, which will make healing meters perhaps useful for the first time in history) was about combining Dispel Magic with the Cure/Abolish Disease spells. However, GC says that this would make dispelling too EZ-Mode, so we'll be stuck with the two spells (three if you count both disease cleansers) as they are. No real surprise, as every class would then need changed into one big red dispell button for whatever the developers allow them to dispel, be it magic, curses, posion, or disease. Also since healers don't get hit capped, dispels will continue to miss on raid bosses and that's just too bad according to GC. Boo...hiss.

So there you have it. Nothing earth-shattering, but it appears they have the priest class in a good place and they are just tweaking things to hopefully make us even more versatile. Again, this is not the class to go to if you want to be the best DPS or the best tank healer or even the best group healer in min/max play. But people want your flexibility and they definitely aren't going to cut out your three important group buffs (stamina, spirit, and shadow prot). I'm pretty happy with my Alliance main, and I have high hopes that things like a Lesser Heal at exactly 50% of a Greater Heal and a Power Word Barrier eventually go into effect so that we can continue to be the most entertaining and flexible heal class to play.