Over the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned that the tables have been turned.
Cassie and I have alts we are playing through Outlands and now Northrend, and Alex has been providing runs through instances for us both.
To Alex, this means that even though he is an Unholy Death Knight with a permanent pet, he is “the tank” for our groups.
He takes this very seriously.
I don’t have a lot of experience with other children, but I really try and be open to his mood and his interests, and help him pursue what he wants to do and encourage him rather than redirect him to what I *think* he should be doing.
I’m aware that oftentimes what he wants to do is whatever activity Cassie and I are doing. But not always, he has plenty of other toys and shows and outdoor activities with us as well, it’s not all WoW, all the time.
One thing that really is universal though, is he wants to be the leader. He wants to be the one actively charging ahead, taking the initiative, guiding us, showing US how to do things, not the other way around.
So, he loves being able to pop dragon form and have me ride his back all the way to somewhere… seeing what he wants to show me along the way.
In point of fact, he found in his explorations the mountain of Uldis in the Storm Peaks, where there is a side ari lock that leads into the massive mecahnized guts of the mountain.
He loves that place, and his delight in taking me there and flying inside, showing me around was extreme. A hollow, mechanized mountain full of gears! And bad guys! Look, dad!
He likes to be the one to invite others to group, and to set dungeon difficulties, loot rules, etc.
He wants to be the one to tank us through runs.
I like him to feel that level of control, and see where it takes him.
For all of Outlands and most of Northrend, Alex really enjoyed running us both through instances. He wasn’t really tanking, as such, because the mechanics of the instances all left the fights at ‘overpower = instagib’.
He led us, and he made it happen, but he wasn’t really a tank with the pressures a tank feels.
I’ve seen many wonderful things that I love from him during this time.
He is very observant. I know the attitude many adults have is to discount the awareness of children, as though youth automatically means someone who is shallow or oblivious.
Alex, and I’m sure he is far from the only youngster who is this sharp, notices things and pays attention to detail. He has a very sharp eye.
One of the first signs is how he sees the armor other NPCs and players wear, and recognizes either where he has seen it before, or what it is. He makes connections from the armor one of the players in our Sunday ICC raid wears to the armor on an NPC to that same armor on a Mega Bloks character (the Worgen DK) all matching.
He asks me, in the middle of a fight, if I noticed how such-and-so’s armor is so cool, look at those shoulders, those are the same ones that NPC X was wearing in Underbog.
Me, I’m sitting in lala land, “Armor? Who? What? Oh, um, yeah.” Then I check on Wowhead later, no shit, he was right.
Similarly, in Violet Hold, he has already caught on that each portal spawn location will only ever be a group or a single summoner, it’s not random. If you have a portal in front of the puppy dog, it will ALWAYS be a single summoner. So we run to a portal and he’s saying along the way to me, “This will be a group, Death and Decay!”
He notices the small things… just because he doesn’t TALK about what he sees all the time, or tells you he’s making a connection doesn’t mean he hasn’t.
Well, as I said he was ‘tanking’ us through Northrend instances, doing his best, and we came to Halls of Stone.
Halls of Stone we’ve done a few times as a group of three level 85s, in order to work on the Glory of the Hero achievement. He understands the fight and the escort of Brann Bronzebeard, but up to this point he had me Bearcatting, and I’m here to tell you there is in my opinion no more powerful low level content tank than a Bearcat. Swipe alone in cat form with fast run speed makes for ridiculous on-the-fly aggro retension over low level characters.
So I had been Bearcatting it up in Halls of Stone heroic, and Alex had seen the waves but hadn’t really dealt with it as a tank before.
Suddenly doing the Brann Bronzebeard escort quest, fighting off waves of incoming adds all trying to run past to get to Brann, with two level 76 squishies while in Unholy was not good. Death and Decay has a very long cooldown, and stuff in single target mode dies too fast to spread stuff around.
Cassie and I both died during the run.
It was inevitable, even if Alex was an uber-tank it wouldn’t have mattered, we were both getting shot by beams of light the entire time, and none of us are healers. I didn’t even have pots or bandages, I haven’t needed them before. Cassie bandaged me twice before we went down, but down we went, leaving Alex to finish it up on his own and then Mass Ress us.
Today, as we were running around doing chores, I saw that he was kind of down about something.
I asked him what was wrong, and he told me he was really sorry he let us both die while running Halls of Stone. He was really sad that we’d both died while he was the tank.
He followed that up by asking me if we could work on getting him tanking gear, so he would have gear designed to be a better tank.
He was really sad that he, as the tank, had tried really, really hard, but couldn’t keep some of the people in his group from dying.
Does that sound familiar to any of you fine tanks out there?
I explained to him that to me, that meant he had what it takes to be one the best tanks there is.
To me, the heart of a tank isn’t someone that wants to be the boss or run fast leading the way.
To me, the true heart of the tank is someone that cares that everyone in the group succeeds, and lives to make it to the end of the run.
A true tank takes it hard if someone else dies along the way, even if there was nothing the tank could do about it.
All the best tanks I’ve ever known have been more concerned about keeping the party together and making it through as a team.
The saying goes, if the tank dies, blame the healer, if the healer dies, blame the tank.
The good tank, in his heart, blames himself if ANYONE dies, including him or her self. Even when this is silly.
Maybe it’s a feeling of personal responsibility, and maybe it’s something else.
I get to talk to quite a few people who tank, and a common feeling is that even when someone dies by standing in the fire, the frustration of the tank comes at least in part from wishing there was some way the tank could Leap of Faith or Thunderclap the bastard out of that fire and save them despite themselves.
I spent quite some time explaining to Alex how proud of him I was. You can pretend a lot, but it’s hard to pretend you care. You either do or you don’t.
How to tank can be learned, gear can be grabbed, specs can be changed, skills can be moved.
You can’t just spec into ‘give a shit about others’.
On a side note, explaining how it wasn’t the gear, it was the spec that helps provide threat causing and damage reducing powers was interesting. Now I think he understands that he can buy dual spec, build a blood talent spec, and be able to use AoE abilities and have more damage reduction to make tanking easier, regardless of what gear he’s wearing.
Now that I’ve had that conversation, I wonder if in the future he’ll go the other way, and assume that it doesn’t matter what gear he’s wearing to tank as long as he’s in the right spec?
Ah, every new day brings new adventures.
Like right now. He’s decided he’d like to get the Cataclysmic Gladiator’s Desecration set, so I explained about Conquest points. Now he is, right this second, in a random battleground. Isle of Conquest.
This probably won’t end well.
Update: He won! Miracles do happen.