Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

A new post up this morning at WoW Insider struck me as being damn timely.

The article, written by Josh Meyers and titled “Has the early Cataclysm gearing model failed?”, takes a look at the intent of early Cataclysm leveling, of gating content by iLevel, and then touches on whether it has held up or not this late in the expansion.

It’s a good article, one I found especially timely since I am actively working right now (well, when I’m not at work-work) to do everything I can to subvert that very gearing model he describes.

You play the game and get a character to level 85, and what do you want to do?

You want to go do the fun stuff.

For those that want to PvP, there are fairly new craftable PvP blue items, full armor sets as well as jewelcrafting rings and necklaces to get you started.

Clearly, the powers-that-be realized that the PvP arms race would make it painful to get stuck right in. So they added new gear as a stepping stone.

Why?

Because in PvP, there is no ‘working your way up the difficulty ladder’, no ‘easing into it’. When you zone into a BG, it’s gametime, baby and you’d better bring your ‘A’ game or find out what it looks like in first person to be teabagged by a Moonkin’s big feathery butt. Everyone else is in their best earned gear, and whether god or grunt, it’s everybody for themselves. No artificial gating of content, it’s just you, your computer, and the cold, harsh reality of survival of the fittest.

Been this way several expansions now for PvP, clearly they like how it’s working for them. Well, Burning Crusade brought PvP blues bought at the rep vendors, so it’s only been two expansions now with the crafteds. My bad. But they saw how the BC model worked, and changed it up the next time.

On the PvE side… by this late in the game, I don’t care how cool the starter heroic instances started out, everyone is sick of them as a gearing necessity.

Is it great to be able to level by running instances? Yes. Is it great to be able to do instance quests? Yes. Is it awesome that as you level and have fun in even the normal instances, you get Justice Points towards end game gear? Hells yes, sweet incentive.

Is it cool to do them and see the story and learn to play an unfamiliar class or role in the end game group content?

Absolutely.

But I challenge anyone to say that they find it FUN to have to run the expansion starter instances in heroic mode at level 85 on every new character to grind the gear upgrades and Justice Points needed to unlock higher iLevel content.

And I won’t even go into how much sheer joy is to be had in considering having to grind rep to get epic shoulder enchants or gear on your fifth character, even with Tabards.

So, we try and subvert it, to a greater or lesser degree. Are we to be blamed for trying to bypass the system as intended?

Or, and I’m just throwing this out idea there, is subverting the original gearing process exactly what Blizzard expects us to do, and is precisely WHY we have things like the new high-level BoE epics from the new heroic instances dropping like snowflakes in winter?

Crafted epic items, auction house BoEs, new heroic instance quest rewards, the Thrall and Aggra Elemental Bonds questline that gives a nice cloak, etc.

Is being subversive simply the game working as intended?

I think so.

Look at the facts.

I’ve played the game the way it was meant to be played on three characters now, my druid, warrior and hunter. Leveled, geared, got crafting skills, reputation grinds, all that stuff.

I am damn glad to have done it, too. For example, I am proud to have a character maxed in every rep, plus exalted with my guild.

When I have new characters come up now, I don’t have to worry about head enchants because I’ve got one character with max reputation on all factions, and that character can buy the enchant and mail it over.

For weapons, I can gather ore, transmute Truegold, gather or buy Orbs, and use my epic Blacksmithing patterns from rep to make some iLevel 365 weapons… or buy cheap Beermug maces, BoE epic drops from the new instances, etc.

I can craft rings, necklaces and armor that, while intended for PvP, is good enough to get into new content and get the job done, but just crappy enough for PvE that I’m going to want to get rid of it as soon as bloody possible.

I even have BoE gear of incredible power that I can earn on my max level characters through Valor Points, to feed down to my new alts.

But what if I don’t have max level characters to feed my new alts, characters all decked out and done with the content?

Working as intended. If you don’t already have all the content done and maxed on anyone… Blizzard wants you to get out there and do it all, at least once.

In my opinion, the only truly glaring weakness right now is that the epic level shoulder enchants purchasable from rep with Therazane is not bound to account, and the ease of getting that rep has not been reduced the way the Sons of Hodir were towards the end of the expansion.

Yet.

I’ve been preparing my Rogue for max level, because I truly do not want to do a single original heroic, not a one. I want to ding 85, equip gear, and step into a 4.3 Dragon Soul heroic.

To that end, I’ve been seeing how far I can game the system on my Combat Rogue, and how cheaply.

Slow main hand weapon, fast offhand are the Combat preferences.

A Tremendous Tankard O’ Terror goes for about 800 gold on my server, so I bought one. Oops, Cassie had 8 in her bags, and I actually had one I forgot about in my Hunter’s bank. Stupid of me not to check, but point made.

For an offhand, my blacksmith crafted the Brainsplinter, using all personally farmed/transmuted mats. Done.

For a thrown weapon, maybe due to lack of demand the Thorns of the Dying Day are going for a mere 300 gold. Done again.

Sure I’m going to want to upgrade as soon as I can… but these aren’t pure crap, either. These are all weapons that, in terms of stats, would have been great before 4.3 shipped.

For armor… well, there is the obvious.

My max level characters have taken a week off from upgrading their own gear with Valor Points to donate the Bracers of Manifold Pockets and the Rooftop Griptoes. If I was wealthy, I could have easily bought them instead, they get advertised in Trade Chat as Valor boots or bracers, your choice, 5000g or 6000g golod all the time, YMMV on your server.

Still, I wanted to go as cheap as I could as far as I could.

As I said before, once I reach level 85, I’ll be able to do the Thrall and Aggra quest chain, Elemental Bonds, to get the iLevel 365 cloak, Mantle of Doubt. I could simply craft the new iLevel 377 PvP leatherworking cloak Vicious Fur Cloak, but I’d vastly prefer lower iLevel but more PvE oriented gear.

There are 17 item slots to fill, and already 6 are at 365 or better at level 85, plus one quest chain I like to do anyway. 🙂

I then did dip into my own pockets, and bought one item I’ve been repeatedly tempted by at the auction house. I got the Nightblind Cinch belt for 7000 gold. Maybe they saw me coming, but an upgrade THAT huge means future Valor Points don’t go to a belt, they go to things like necklaces, rings and trinkets. I’m willing to pay it, and be glad.

The rest of the slots ALL have iLevel 377 PvP items that can be crafted with leatherworking and jewelcrafting if I wanted to, but let’s go one step further.

What about the Molten Front?

Yes, yes, I know. Craft some PvP stuff and go have fun, get upgrades in one day that outstrips what you’ll earn after 45 days of Molten Front dailies.

There are still two things to keep in mind.

First, after only three days you can unlock the Molten Front area, and purchase Matoclaw’s Band from Zen’Vorka.

Second… my Rogue is a skinner, and the spider area is a skinner’s paradise. I’m going to want that anyway, so why not at least look at what I get after those three days, right?

Where I’m going with all this, is really that it’s too damn easy to craft or otherwise acquire high level items to bypass the starter heroics for it to have somehow slipped past Blizzard’s attention that we can do it.

No, I think it’s working as intended, and I like the fact that I don’t have to just equip PvP gear to beat the iLevel restrictions, I can go for lower level gear but with better overall stats if I so choose. And I DO so choose.

As I said before, I just think there are a couple areas that could be finished up, like the Therazane rep shoulder enchants being made Bind on Account.

What do you think? Is this all some cunningly designed master plan to give us lots of options and choices, or is it a failure of the Blizzard gearing model?

Bacon Bits

It’s the little things that really bring a smile to my face.

To follow up from my post on Friday, to me it doesn’t matter how long a game has been out, or how much has been written about it in the past.

What matters to me is playing a game my own way, of finding my own path, without worry that I’m ‘doing it wrong’ or something. I want to have enough options that I can make the game experience my own. I want to step back from the screen for a second, look upon what I have wrought, and think, “Yeah, that’s pretty f’ed up. Sweet!”

Take my new Paladin alt, for example.

I’ve been playing on Azuremyst-US, and I really like it there. The climate on the server is just friendlier than I’m used to seeing elsewhere.

It’s got a kinder, gentler Trade Chat troll. Why, I can’t hardly recall ever seeing [anal] jokes at all! Instead, they go off on [pet type] memes. Hardly any filth at all!

Frankly, it’s a little unnerving. Trade chat on Alliance side without constant foul BS feels like you’re playing on a server of pod people.

I’ve been playing a lot on Azuremyst, the Band of Misfits is just a great group of people, lots of humor, very active, and a bunch of characters. Characters as in kooks, clowns, cavorting karoake carousers, college kids and couples. They are pretty active, too, doing old raids for the Achievements and such. I just took part in downing heroic mode Yogg-Saron last week, and had a blast. We’ve got heroic 25 Lich King tonight, and I’m really looking forward to it.

No matter how great things may be in the guild, though, they don’t have a horde side experience. I’ve wanted to play through all the new Cataclysm zone quests and changes on the horde side ever since they came out, but every time I made a horde alt, they leveled too fast to see everything.

Enter the Paladin.

A Tauren, because they’re awesome. Protection specced, since I want to see how Pally tanking really stacks up against the worst the PUG lifestyle has to offer.

And fully decked out in all the plate tanking and associated Heirlooms, because I’ve done the leveling thing the hard way, and I have no problem being ridiculously OP. Especially as the tank.

I almost made a critical error in playing the Paladin.

I leveled to 13 in Mulgore, did the whole zone for the second time, and it was quite fun. Things flow very well, and Paladins get lots of good tools for smacking things upside the head.

From Mulgore, I went directly to Silverpine Forest. I have heard a lot from Cassie about how awesome the questlines are in Silverpine, how cool it is to see the Banshee Queen in the aftermath of the fall of Arthas.

She was right, of course. With the Banshee Queen free of Arthas and the breaching of Greymane’s Wall giving access to Gilneas, Silverpine is transformed and has a great story to it.

Early on questing, everything was great. Then I dinged 15, and queued for randoms as a tank.

Stupid, stupid bear.

The random PUGs were fine, I dominated with Spear, er I mean Shield and Magic Helllllllllmut, but after just a handful of runs, I went back to Silverpine disgruntled to find I’d leveled past the damn zone already.

All the mobs were gray to me, and I could walk past everything without aggroing. That is SO irritating when you want to feel immersed. Whack, dead. Whack, dead. What, can’t you see me slaughtering your entire Gilnean Resistance Front? Whack, dead. C’mon, notice me, damn your eyes! I’m a skinner! I’m skinning wolves, and I’m /emoting skinning YOU! Did I just skin your cousin? I bet I did! After all, I got your whole village piled up back there in the cart, I bet he’s there somewhere!

Sigh.

So I had to swear off pugs and focus on questing through the gray zone. I dinged 25 last night, but at least I made it to the end of Silverpine without outleveling it TOO bad… and I logged out with a certain quest in my log.

A quest that promises to make me a quest giver, if only for a little while. Sitting on a horse, golden exclamation point overhead, the whole bit.

I’ve heard a lot about that quest, I intend to savor it slowly. 🙂

It’s the little things about the game, making it your own. Like having a huge, looming badass Tauren Paladin, rocking the spiky shoulders and helm. A Tauren whose very name proclaims his passion for the most valuable treasure in existance, a treasure that entire generations have gone to war for.

Baconburgler the Paladin. No bacon is safe.

(Yes, I know burglar is spelled with an ‘a’. I spelled it in the name with an ‘e’. It’s a riff on both bacon thieves and bacon burgers, get it? Yeah, I know. What can I say, I’m me.)

Having a name that makes you giggle when you see it is a solid part of making a character feel like it’s all mine. But there’s more.

Heirloom gear looks the way it looks, but there is one thing you can truly control. Your mount.

I’ve worked hard with humans before to get the Night Elf faction maxed JUST so I could have a kitty mount. Having strange mount/race combinations as early as you can get them, and fun/unusually distinctive mounts at max level are tried and true ways of being yourself.

I’m sure that every single person out there has spent at least SOME effort deciding which of the hundreds of mount/color combinations was the perfect mount for their favorite character.

I think many of us try to have that special mount for every main character, because it really is something that is up to us. Whatever mount you choose for a character says something, even if it’s “Hi, I still have the default mount I bought when I trained because I’m cheap and I don’t give a shit and I have no romance in my soul whatsoever, lols.”

The new Tauren Paladin mounts are pretty cool. The coloring style used resembles earthy clay pigments, and goes very well with the Sunwalker motif.

But that didn’t really give me the badass vibe I was looking for. It didn’t say, “Hi, I’m Baconburgler, and I’ll be taking your order. No, I’m not giving you any food, I’m taking your order. Give it up. Mmm, now that’s a tasty burger! You mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down?”

So, let’s do something to give BB a little spiky Jules vibe. Let’s pimp his ride.

(I’d like to add that I wish Blizzards April Fools Gag of Pimp my Mount from 2009 was live. Yes, yes I WOULD like to pimp my mount, thank you very much.) 

Band of Misfits (the coolest raiding guild evar, they raid the most from coast to coast with mobs on toast like Emily Post) is level 25. Beartrap the Hunter be exalted yo, so I can buy the Reins of the Golden King, a pretty cool looking lion mount.

How does that help my Paladin? Well, as most of you know, the character that buys the mount from the Guild Vendor has to be exalted with the guild… but the mount itself is Bind to Account. You don’t have to be in the guild to use it, any of your characters can.

Why, just look what happens when that faction-specific item gets mailed cross-faction? It turns into the applicable item of the other faction, of course. 🙂

Introducing my level 20 unguilded Tauren Paladin, riding around on a massively badass Kron’kar Annihilator!

As I said, it’s the little things. Sure, most people can do the exact same thing I did, but the point isn’t what other people may or may not choose to do, or whether you think blowing 1400 gold on a mount for a level 20 alt is stupid, what matters to me is what *I* do, and doing something crazy that looks that cool puts a big ol’ smile on my face. 

The other thing that has been putting a smile on my face lately has been having the Vial of the Sands on my Druid. Not just because I like having Dragonform, but because I can carry a rider.

Cassie is having a good time leveling yet another Shaman, her favorite class. She’s in Outlands, getting all the quests done in a zone, collecting all the group stuff, and then she whistles for her pet Dragon to come and carry her around from place to place, killing stuff.

You have to be careful how you treat your pets, though. 

Last night, I carried her way to the top of the atmosphere in Nagrand before transforming into Swift Flight Form. As Cassie began falling to her death on the hard rocks below, I swooped down to get below and take screenshots.

To my dismay, she lofted a parachute and floated all the way down nice and safe with a full canopy overhead.

The parachute had no time limit, so she floated safely all the way down.

Damnit.

Now, this may seem harsh to you, but in my own defense, I think there was sufficient provocation.

After all, I didn’t fly out over the edge of the abysss before I shifted. I gave her a fair chance at splatting on solid ground. And she’s a Shaman. She could rez. I could even bring her back myself!

Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you the provocation, didn’t I?

Well, I’m tooling along the skies of Nagrand under her guidance as she turns in quests.

As we leave the Ring of Blood, headed for Nesingwarys camp, she says to me, “If I’m going to keep you around, I’m going to have to break out my Carrot on a Stick.”

O.o

“Or in your case, I’d better make a Bacon on a Stick.”

(”)-.-(”)

It wouldn’t have hurt so bad if it wasn’t so damn true. I finally understand those poor turtles swimming endlessly around Northrend. Put some Bacon on a Stick and hold it in front of me, and I’ll be sure to follow.

Of course, unlike those turtles… eventually, I’ll simply go get some of my own. Eventually. You know, just as soon as that delicious aroma is mine!

Just. Have. To. Fly. A. Little. Faster.

One inch deep but a million miles wide

Yesterday, I touched on some of the things I was doing in World of Warcraft that has me feeling like there is too little time for me to do everything I’d like to do.

It wasn’t meant as any kind of statement that there is too much content in WoW for anyone to feel bored, but that seemed to be how at least one person took it, and they wrote a great comment that brought me up short.

Syl of Raging Monkeys said, paraphrasing here, that from the point of view of someone that has one main character they love as their avatar in the game, there is very little to do other than raids and instances. Any new content feels gone the day after it comes out. Being able to do the same 5 quests on 10 alts does not equate to 50 quests worth of content anyway.

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Syl. I’m not saying there is tons of content to do, I’m saying there are tons of things I’m keeping busy doing.

Watch this next bit… I’m going to start rambling about the good old days. And yet, were they really all that good?

There was a time when my Druid was not just my main character, but my only character, just like Syl.

I know for people new to the game it may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when I played my first and only character for three months in Azeroth… just to get to level 60. No alts, no distractions, no other games.

I tackled everything at level, trying to take stuff on at Yellow or Orange difficulty for boosted XP rewards, and I scoured the land looking for more quests. What I didn’t do was try to rush to level, and I didn’t grind mobs. But I quested pretty consistently, and yep, three months.

When I look back on those days, and all the things that have changed since then, I do feel the changes were for the better. But the side effect of all those changes has removed the one thing that helped me love my Druid so much; I loved spending so much time in one zone doing quests that it began to feel as familiar as home. 

When you really think about it, the original pace of the game forced us to take time to advance. And when you spend a lot of time somewhere, you come to know it well.

Maybe you come to love it, maybe you come to loathe it, but damn it you know it!

Aside from the pace of earning XP from quests, and needing more XP then to advance to the next level, there were other reasons we were feet wet in zones for a long time.

We didn’t get mounts until much later, then. We spent 1 through 40 walking everywhere. We carefully planned our hearth settings, gathered and consolidated quests to need fewer trips, we did what we could, but we were slow moving mammals.

One aspect of that easy to forget is that when you’re on foot, it’s a LOT harder to just blast on through to where your quest objectives send you. When you’re on foot, you sneak in or you fight it all, and trying to run just got you dazed/slowed and eaten. You spent more time fighting your way to places.

Another aspect was fast mount speed cost a shitload of gold by old school prices. I knew a lot of people before Burning Crusade that raided, that simply couldn’t afford a thousand gold for an upgraded mount. They had repairs and enchants and crafting Flasks to spend money on instead. So even if you WERE 60, you could be running around and aggro bad guys, and they would be fast enough to catch your ass and knock you off your mount. Phase three… fight!

I still remember the moment I bought my Druid fast mount speed. I was still questing in Silithis, and I had a fast mount, and I was riding past mobs… and they couldn’t catch up to me in time to knock me off my riding cat! I swear to you, that moment I felt a surge of disdain blast right through me.. “Hah! Try to catch ME, mother-)&*(^er! My ass is OUTTA HERE! Nyah, nyah! Woot!”

Another reason I spent a lot of time in zones, time enough to get to know them very well, was that we were comparatively much weaker back then. Gear and talents were aimed at incremental upgrades. It was all additive. You’d get a +3 strength boost on an epic as compared to your best blue. It didn’t seem like much, but when all your gear had those little boosts, it all added up and made you far more effective.

With content balanced with that in mind, tackling 3 or 4 mobs at appropriate level was a hell of a challenge, and just traveling through mobs to get to a quest objective could take a while and some careful planning.

By the time I was done with a zone, I might have been frustrated at how long it all took, but I really knew the area well. I had spent enough time there to develop unique experiences that stayed with me as special events. And gaining a level or two felt like a big deal.

Even now, I can cast my mind back and call forth doing escort quests, orc stronghold invasions, and performing genocidal slaughter of centaurs in Desolace as if it happened to me, and not something that flitted past my eye on screen for a second and was gone.

I remember with fondness the turning point in my feral Druid life, when I took on groups of mobs in Un’goro Crater because they were packed so tight, and developed a feral spec that drew deeply enough on Restoration that I could take Nature’s Swiftness. If it weren’t for how challenging the fights were then, there would have been no call for me to develop a fighting style where I could pull four raptors, burn one down in Cat while accepting the increased damage, switch to Bear and stun one to reduce incoming damage I’ll take in caster to two mobs worth, shift to caster, fire off a Nature’s Swiftness instant cast max level Healing Touch, shift back to Bear to grind them down to one left and then back to Cat to finish it off.

Three mobs, even four, and to still be alive at the end! That was some intense and satisfying fighting, and a true sense of accomplishment that lingers to this day. That was when I began to get a handle on how fun Feral could be if you lived it.

There, just like an old fool I rambled on about the good old days. Those days are long gone, and we have the game to deal with as it is now.

I drift off into into these things, and I think one reason is because I am having a very hard time convincing myself that everything today is rosy red.

I make alts, and they’re fun so long as the rush of possibility is still there. New alt, new name, maybe a new spec to play with, a new race combination, a new combination of professions.

The excitement only lasts while I can keep it different. The new content in Cataclysm is great, and I haven’t seen everything yet, but the closer I get any character to Outlands, the greater the dread grows.

What I try and avoid thinking about is how we have backed ourselves into a corner when it comes to new content.

The playerbase got Burning Crusade, and played it through and loved it. Once we got into end game raiding in Burning Crusade, where there were tons and tons of raids that had all these keys and attunements and quest chains and things to do before we were allowed to enter, we begged to have the leveling process accelerated so we could bring up a second character to help our groups out. DPS wanted to be able to have a Healer alt for when Gene can’t make it. Tanks wanted a DPS for when they felt burnt out.

There was so much to do at end game, we wanted to have extra characters to try and do it all. 

Well, now we’ve got it. The genie is long out of the bottle, the leveling experience is accelerated to ludicrous speed, and we can get alts up in weeks, not months.

But the acceleration applies to all PvE content outside of raids. And those of us with armies of alts long ago leveled them all most or all of the way there.

We’ve done Burning Crusade 8 times, Northrend 8 times, even Cataclysm 8 times.

Cataclysm feels more brutal to me than the others, and I think it’s because they gave us so much new in Azeroth. There is a limit to how much new content anyone can provide in an expansion, and the scope of what we got in Cataclysm was wonderful. It was more than I ever expected.

But it wasn’t quite enough in the end game to satisfy the need for new questing and adventuring.  

Blizzard has done a great job with Azeroth’s revamp, and the races/class combos, and the guild leveling, and the PvP, and even the raiding pace. They are fulfilling their promise of continuous new raiding and instancing content.

But Syl nails it on the head, that for those of us that want to take our main characters on an exciting new adventure, there just isn’t enough. Everything I’m doing is to distract me from that truth.

It is the adventuring that I love, and that calls to mind my favorite moments in the game over the years.

It is going new places with my Druid and seeing new things. In a perfect world, I’d be able to keep doing that with new questing content that came out as regularly as raids and instances. In a perfect world, there would be frequent mini-pack expansions of expanded worlds full of solo or two-person adventuring delight.

There would be $15 expansions of ‘pirate adventures’, and ’empire toppling’, and ‘lost civilization discovery’, the same as the D&D modules we used to buy from TSR. Things to keep you going for another couple of months of lateral adventuring at the same level and with new green level (or blue) quest rewards, leaving the epics to PvP and PvE raiders.

What keeps me from getting cranky about it, or seriously talking about it, is the simple fact that content for adventuring pleases one person at a time, and is only repeatable in that you can do it again with your alts. Content aimed at challenging a group of people can satisfy a whole lot of folks at once, and has a weekly reset timer.

It makes more economic sense to focus design team work on creating content that is inherently repeatable for a group.

The other thing I keep in mind is, Blizzard does have another design team hard at work on a new MMO. They are trying to make something insanely awesome, something that will both blow us away, and at the same time not compete directly with those of us that love the myth and feel of WoW. So I don’t expect the same level of investment in WoW as I would if it was all they had on their plates. WoW revenues help to support new product development. How could it be any other way?

I guess all I’m coming around to say is, I can’t always get what I want, but if I try sometimes, I justmight find, I get what I need…. until something shiny comes along, or the new MMO comes out, or getting to know a good group of folks to play with changes the game experience itself in new ways.

Thank you very much for the thought provoking comment, Syl.

And have a great weekend!

I’m a bad player and proud of it

Bearwall!

I am a bad player, and I *am* proud of it.

Tobold revisited the ageless topic of players that don’t use the ‘optimal’ spec or rotation in group play this week. 

It’s certainly been talked about before over the years, but damn, what a great subject to chew on! That’s one that really gets the juices flowing, know whut I mean?

No matter what you do in game, if you play in group settings, you’ve got an opinion on this one.

I’m going to present mine, because that’s the only one I know that comes from the heart. BUT! I can easily see there being several different, equally valid viewpoints available, because there is no one set goal in World of Warcraft. Not everyone is in it for the same reason; as in, not everyone is focused on clearing the end game content firstest and fastest, or focused on completing every 5 man in heroic mode, or in completing a boss fight with zero deaths, or always using the pretty green fire, or beating content on hard modes, or playing with complete stoic professionalism get in get done get gone, or to romp through the game with a relaxed, friendly joking atmosphere, or beating the snot out of bosses with all of one particular class. Or ‘whatever floats your boat, honey’, to quote Flashback.

For each player, the goal of the game is personal to them, and with a game so vast in content, of course it’s going to vary from person to person. Therein lies the fun of the discussion, for when you get two people who disagree on a topic, if they don’t go into a discussion with open minds, they’re liable to assume that ONE of them just HAS to be wrong instead of thinking about it from the other person’s point of view.

I guess what I’m saying with that preamble is, I anticipate much anger and chest beating about this subject, and I honestly won’t mind.  

What’s the core issue up for discussion?

“Is it okay to play below your potential when grouped?”

That’s the core issue. Right? We talk about this subject, and around this, endlessly.

But is that really the core issue here?

There is another underlying issue at work here too, because this wouldn’t be as big a topic as it is if some folks didn’t feel they had a right to answer this question FOR OTHER PEOPLE.

The real topic is, “Is it okay for other people to play below their potential when grouped?”

People don’t treat this as a personal decision to make up their own mind about. Instead, people take a stand on this, make up their minds about what standard of behavior everyone else should follow, and then act as though everyone else should agree about it and be held accountable to that standard.

That’s where I’m going first with this post. That’s the meat of what I’m going to talk about, and I’m going straight to the part of this that causes drama. Taking other people’s inventory.

Every time we talk about a bad pug, we’re doing this. “Oh, this one player, he was so bad, he did blah blah blah”… “Oh, I joined this one group, and the tank had prioritized blank stat over blank…” Oh, how horribad.

We group up, and we take other people’s inventory. We check them out and hold them up to what our own personal standard is, and if they don’t measure up, we ain’t happy.

I’m going to come right out and say it, I do this all the time, I judge the performance of other people, I judge how people act towards others, how they behave, how they spend their time (as in, is the dude actually going to HEAL at some point, or just bitch about the crappy DPS?), I’m sitting right there and you betcha red ryder, I’m watching you. 🙂

Most of the time, and this may surprise you, what I’m watching and noticing are the things people do that are good. I don’t like dwelling on the negaitve, I am always looking for things that are praiseworthy, that would make for a good ‘This person kicked ass” mention.

Still and all, if there are problems or wipes or terrible behavior towards others, absolutely damn straight, I’m noticing and probably getting irritated.

What I’m not going to do is act the assclown to you based on your class, spec or gear. Nor will I ever mention your rotation to you. Ever. Behavior issues WILL get me all riled up, but even then, it takes a lot for me to say something to you. 

Let’s put behavior aside, though. Let’s just talk about specs, gear, classes and rotations. There is a big difference in thinking “This healer isn’t really geared up enough for this”, and saying in party chat or whisper or any other way, “Hey, I don’t think you’re ready to heal this content yet.”

I don’t pull that crap, for two reasons. First and foremost, it is not my place to tell someone else how to play their character. It is not my place, I do not have the right, moral or otherwise, to tell anyone else what to do, unless it is my specific job as agreed upon by the group.

If I’m the raid leader for a group, and it’s part of my responsibility to ensure that everyone in the raid group is properly prepared, then sure, I’m going to be making observations and asking questions if, in my opinion, I think things could be improved. Notice I’m not saying I’d dictate changes that needed to be made. I’m saying that if I saw things that looked like they could be improved, I’d ask the player for their opinion on the subject, and work it out. Maybe they’re going with some new spec or focus of stat and rotation they researched that might show improvement on a boss fight.

If five strangers meet in an LFD pug to do an instance, ain’t nobody got the right to tell someone else how to play. Here’s why;

The phrase ‘taking their inventory” originally came from Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step program. Step 4 of the process is to Take a Moral Inventory of Ourself.

From Step12.com;

Step Four is a fact-finding and fact-facing process. We are searching for “causes and conditions.”

We want to uncover the truth about ourselves. We want to discover the attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, fears, actions, behaviors, and the behavior patterns – that have been blocking us, causing us problems and causing our failure.

We want to learn the exact nature of our “character defects” and what causes us to do the unacceptable things we do – so that once they are removed – we can acquire and live with new attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, actions and behaviors for our highest good, and for the highest good of those with whom we come in contact.

From this concept of taking a moral inventory of ourselves to identify our own hidden defects and try to find ways to improve came the language of taking someone else’s inventory FOR them; of judging someone else, making assumptions about that person, identifying what we think of as their defects in character and behavior, and then deciding what we thing they should do to fix it.

One of the things that experience has taught people in AA is that you can’t make those decisions for someone else. No matter how much smarter you think you are, unless three conditions are met, any suggestions (or judging) you make for them will serve little useful purpose.

Those three conditions are; they have to need your advice, they have to want your advice, AND they have to ask for your advice. If one of those is missing, you’re not going to be helping them, you’re just fulfilling some need of your own to make yourself feel better by speaking or acting out towards someone else. You’re dumping your unwanted and unasked for opinion on someone else. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one, and yours stinks.

The very first condition is, they have to need your advice. You’re already making one walloping hell of an assumption by thinking they need YOUR advice to fix their problems. If you can’t see that, then hey, you probably never read this far.

So… before you blurt out in party chat exactly what you think of someone else, hows about you look at yourself first, and ask yourself, “what do I really need to say to them, and what purpose will really be served here by saying it?”

Let’s change it up and flip it over the other way.

Taking other people’s inventory. It’s a great phrase for our game, isn’t it?

What else do you call it when some stranger you just met in a group begins to tell you how your spec needs to be changed, what gear you need to replace, what stats you’ve prioritized wrong and what part of your rotation is messed up? That your healing is crap, you can’t tank, you need more health, you’re not moving right, stop acting like a noob, etc etc.

How does that make you feel? Even if it isn’t directed at you, how do you feel when one person begins telling someone else how they should play their character or perform their role in the group?

If someone starts talking to you like that, does your mind open up, willing and eager to learn from the pearls of wisdom that this idiot is sharing with you?

I know I don’t. I tend to think he’s acting like a self-important little asshat instead of focusing on playing his own character the best he (or she) can. And I put him on ignore or just tune the idiot out, and focus on carrying him since he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his own actions. Judging my actions (or someone else’s) is more important to him than playing.

Is it true? No way to tell, because even if the person really DOES think there is a problem they could help with, their approach was confrontational and only served to piss people off.

Again, sure, we judge other people in game and in life, that’s part of who we are. I’m not suggesting we all be perfect little saints and stop making decisions based on our opinions of the people we meet in game, or to stop following our gut feelings. 

What I *am* suggesting is that the actions we make be directed NOT at yelling at other people, but instead be directed at changing ourselves to take us OUT of a bad situation we don’t want to be in. Don’t waste your time and energy directing your anger or annoyance at someone else to try and make *them* change.

Okay, so what if you’re a naturally helpful person? A mentor, a coach.

Then ask yourself what you’re really trying to do. If you really are trying to provide guidance and support, to mentor someone through what seems to be difficult at the moment, then the first thing is to not be confrontational. If the other person really is trying their hardest to do the best they can, then chances are good they know they’re not playing as well as they could be. Your yelling at them for it will just put them on the defensive and close them down.

Instead, try and be open and helpful. Compassionate and friendly. Warm and genuinely trying to help as a guide, not as a dictator.

You can ask, gently and with great courtesy, in a whisper, if the other person is familiar with the next fight, boss, battle or instance. You can ask if someone has been playing their class for a long time, or has done much research on their current spec or gear. IF the person seems receptive to suggestions, then and only then, after mentioning, again in non-bragging, non-epeen waving  fashion, that you have some experience with the content/spec/gear in question and would be willing to help, you could offer to share some pointers.

All of this conversation, by the way should be by whisper ONLY. There is no need to make this a “everybody else just chime in to tell him what to do” situation. By approaching it privately, and making sure the person understands you are offering some suggestions if and only if they are welcome, then you can feel your way towards seeing if the person IS needing advice, looking for advice, and if offered, will ask for it.

They may need advice, and want advice, but just not from you. People can be very proud, and what good does it serve to get somebody all riled up if they don’t want to be told what to do? If you have them thinking in the direction of support or advice, they might not want it from you as a complete stranger, but they might be open to being directed to where a few awesome resources are for their class, such as Tree Bark Jacket for Restoration Druids, or Warcraft Hunter’s Union for Hunters. You can point them in the direction of brilliant tips and guidance and feel good about having helped. When in doubt, directing someone to Elitist Jerks is always in style.

The important thing is, if you really want to be a helpful person in groups and help out those that might seem inexperienced or new to a class/spec/role, take away the suggestion or insinuation that they are a bad player, and turn it into a discussion about suggestions for dealing with this one unfamiliar situation

How many people, good friends, do you know that are like unto a living god at their normal ‘main’, but have taken to trying new classes or specs lately? How would you feel if you saw them playing their new and unfamiliar character in a group, and got ripped a new one and called a ‘worthless noob wrath baby’ because they didn’t do something someone else expected as they try and master their strange group situation?

It’d probably piss you off a little, wouldn’t it? Here’s the best damn Warlock you’ve ever known, and this monkey-muncher just went off on him for no good reason. So what if it’s taking him 3 extra seconds to get his Rogue turned around and facing the right way behind the mob the tank is attacking… dude’s not used to running into the damn fight from the back is all, it takes a bit to get that down. You don’t exactly get to practise running around behind a mob much when you’re soloing.

If you are at your most gentle and circumspect, and you try and whisper the offer of a little help and the person gets defensive or hostile, that’s the point where you drop it. You drop it and you be courteous when you do so.

If someone else is not open to your suggestions or ideas, then it’s on you to take action for yourself if you feel you have to, and not to try and force change on them.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the behavior of other players on this blog over the years. I talk about crap I’ve seen, things that have annoyed me, and people I’ve just wanted to smack the crap out of. In a lot of cases, it’s my firm belief that beating all the crap out of them would be an all day job, and I’d have to make sure to both pack a lunch AND dinner to get it all beat out.

The big thing here is, it is incredibly rare for me to take out my annoyance in game on other people. Eve if the person is just having the most offensive behavior, how do I know what that person is going through? How do I know if maybe they had a rip roaring big breakup fight with their significant other, got canned at work, or are half drunk and really starting to build up a rage on.

It’s not right that they take that crap out on me… but I don’t need to be the one to take them down. I can just put them on ignore, and move on with my life.

My point is, trying to be helpful to others is great if you’re doing it to be a mentor or be compassionate because you remember what it’s like to be new. It’s something else entirely to tee off on someone else for gearing, speccing or playing in a way you don’t like.

If you are in a group that has players having trouble, then you need to take a look at yourself. If you can deal with whatever it is with a song in your heart and a smile on your lips, then go get ‘er done. Have fun. It may not be the greatest run in the world, but heck, they’re not all going to be the greatest run ever. Some of them will be merely good. And yes, some of them will downright suck.

But if you are getting way stressed out about the situation, don’t assume you have to try and change the other person… do something about the one thing you DO have power over – yourself. Leave the group. Leave, or try to vote kick the person if it’s their behavior you just can’t tolerate. Vote kicking someone else because you don’t like their spec or gear is bullshit. If someone else is being a tool, though, sure, vote kick the sorry bastard. If enough other people agree with you, then cool. If they don’t… again, move yourself out of the situation. Beat feet. Boogie on out of there.

I’m sure this whole post has been preachy as hell, but it’s something that I wanted to make sure I say, nice and loud and clear. This is truly how I feel about calling strangers out and chastising them for what you perceive are their problems in performance.

Now, about the real core point, from way back in the beginning…

“Is it okay to play below your potential when grouped?”

My answer to that question is, “Hell yes!”

With the goals I have in game, of course it is.

I don’t play World of Warcraft with the goal of playing as the most optimized possible character in the game.

I do not read Elitist Jerks to lock in what spec I should use, what rotation I should use, what stats to prioritize or what gear to hunt.

I *DO* read Elitist Jerks and other bloggers to gain guidance, suggestions and insight into what works, what doesn’t work, and to find out what research and experience have to say about whichever class or spec I’m interested in.

I reserve the right to deviate from the ‘optimum’ spec, rotation, stat or gear based on my one priority; is it fun to play?

That’s my goal in the game. To have fun playing

On my Hunter, I do not study the recommendations and research to make my choice on spec based on highest potential DPS. Instead, I start with the baseline; I want to play as a Beastmaster, because I like my Exotic pets.

After I have made that decision, THEN I check out specifics on how to gear for the best advantage, what stats to reforge into or out of, what abilities within Beastmaster do whatsit, and to find suggestions for doing my best in groups or solo, all that jazz.

I start with what I feel will be the most fun style to play, and work from there.

Maybe that’s not what you think that question is about, but I’m telling you, yes it is.

The underlying principle behind that question is, with a way to measure performance, be it as DPS, Heals or Tank, those classes that can perform those roles have potentials they can reach. If it is that important for you to be at your highest possible potential, then the differences between playing a specific rotation, a specific spec or a specific class based on potential performance are different from each other only by degrees.

“Oh”, you say, “But I only mean you should have to play your most optimized rotation, not that you have to play a specific spec within a class”, and I say to you, at it’s heart, it’s all the same thing.

“Oh”, you say, “I’d never tell someone what class they have to play based on which one does the most DPS”, and to that I say, it’s all the same thing. 

Now, that’s the direction I’m coming from. My goal is fun in playstyle first, and then within that, to play the best I can.

For other folks, just as an example, the goal may be the fast, certain destruction of content with the greatest ease possible for the group as a whole.

With that goal in mind, you could approach the discussion by saying, “If everyone isn’t playing at their very best, then someone is having to carry someone else.”

I’ve written blog posts about this before. I agree with that sentiment, to a certain extent. I feel that players that are grouping together have a personal responsibility to do the best they can to be ready on time to run with the group, to be prepared with whatever consumables they may need (or to have made arrangements with friends to bring them), to be ready to play their best and to kick ass. To pay attention, and to be focused on the success of the group.

I strongly feel that if you agree to play as part of a group, to do any less than this is to show a lack of repsect for the other people in your group.

But my personal goal is to have fun, and within that goal, I reserve the right to choose my own class, to choose my own preferred spec, to perform my own research, and to deviate from what is considered ‘optimal’ if I think it’ll be fun and not hurt anyone else.

Other people who are organizing said raids can reserve the right to tell me, “We don’t need or want you in our group unless you bring the blue sparks”, and I’ll have no hard feelings.

From the raiding success point of view, I completely agree that if someone isn’t doing the best they can, then the group as a whole will have to work a little harder to compensate in order to reach the same point.

However… from that same point of view, taken to the logical extreme, if Frost Mages do the most potential damage, then all raiders should be Frost Mages. Or Moonkin Druids, or Fury Warriors, or whatever is considered, through research and experience, to be the one class and spec that has the greatest potential damage of all of them.

If a group is not willing to go to that length, then there is already a tacit understanding that raiding success and individual fun are meeting somewhere in the middle. So maybe both sides could agree to chill out and find that common ground?

Heck, some groups may even be so devoted to the speedy, efficient destruction of content, the completion of world firsts and Hard Mode obliteration, that specifying what class to bring on top of spec and rotation and gear are considered perfectly normal.

I’ve got no problem with that… at that level, everybody knows what they’re getting into. But do those same players remember when they get into a five man random that not everybody else is quite that… well, extremely gung ho? I hope so. I surely do.

If I queue in a Heroic 5 man LFD, I certainly don’t expect to get ripped because I’m a Beastmaster Hunter, or a Kitty Druid, or a Frost Mage, or any other combination of class and spec. But yes, it’s happened.

If I happen to LIKE being a Warlock and finally having me some green fire? Yeah, I reserve the right to bring that green fire. To bring it, and to use it to light bosses up right on the ass. In five man content, and as a solo player.

I choose to play what I find to be the most fun. I will do all the research I can to be the best I can be within that framework, but the fun WILL come first.

It may not be optimal, it may not be the greatest potential way to play my class effectively and efficiently.

But it will be FUN!

Yep… I’m a bad player, and I’m proud of it!

The (Un)Holy Trinity

Bearwall!

Thanks go to the MMO Melting Pot for clueing me in on a kerfluffle in progress around the blogosphere. I tend to miss these things, as I’m an old, out of the loop kind of Bear. 

From what Rebecca said, Tobold wrote a post recently that has inspired other people to write their own posts, either in support or condemnation.

There’s always some kind of drama in the blogosphere, so I’m not too sure what this particular kerfluffle is really all about. (I do love that word, I think kerfluffle shall be my word of the day. Not to be confused with the word ‘fluffer’, which, as we all know, is someone who heaps praise on the writers of WoW Insider in the hopes of being linked to. Right? That *is* what a fluffer is, right? Hold on, let me just check the urban dictionary… whoops! Oh, really? Wow, okay, moving on…. ya know, on second thought, that really is a fairly apt, oh never mind…) 

Umm, right, the kerfluffle. As far as I understand it from the Noisy Rogue’s post, the big to-do is something about Tobold saying that DPS only get to have their selfish fun because other responsible people step up and do the nasty, undesirable jobs of tanking and healing. Furthermore, if DPS want to be socially responsible, then they have a duty to step up there and take a turn as the tank or healer their own selves, whether they like it or not.

Yeah, I paraphrased mightily, tongue firmly in cheek. What I did was take a perfectly innocent quote, and read into it with the utmost of paranoia and suspicion, looking between the lines, above and below the lines, behind the lines, and coming up with my own damn lines as well. My version sounds kinda BS, doesn’t it? But that’s what some people seem to have read into it before they teed off.

Right up front, I want you to know that I don’t really care what all the drama is about, or what Tobold was really trying to say, or whatever. He knows what he was trying to say, and I’ve been on the blogging front long enough to know that while I always know what I meant to say in a post, that doesn’t always translate into the words on the screen. Did he mean whatever it was in the way it’s been taken? Only he knows, and only he knows whether he’s satisfied that he got his point across or not. Plus, you know, maybe he’s right.

I like to tank. I love to tank. That is the part of the game I have always loved the most. And, that is the part of the game of World of Warcraft I do not currently do at all, because I will only tank for people I know, and enjoy playing with. If I were playing on Horde side, there are folks there I like playing with and I would tank for them if they so desired. I’ve been focused on Alliance side since the expansion released, though, so I haven’t. I will not tank for strangers, not because it’s hard, but because every time I’ve tried there is a person that is a rude little obnoxious asshat… and I refer you to my comment above about being an old kind of Bear. Life is simply too short and too precious to me to waste my time dealing with punks, so I don’t.

That being said… Tobold has a valid point that since the current system has fewer tanks and healers looking for groups than there are DPS, it provides a good source of conversation on why… or, better yet in my opinion, a constructive discussion on what could be done differently, if anything at all?

I’m planning on taking a crack on speculating on ways it could be changed. Not for WoW, but for another MMO design looking to try a different approach to what is ‘known and accepted’.

As I like to say, even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually have an idea worth something. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Whatever else you care to say about it, Tobold clearly wrote a successful post, because here I am writing a post inspired by it. Sorta.

I’m really more inspired by the central idea behind it all; the relationships between tank, DPS and healer, and what can be done about it. 

For any of my readers that have played MMOs in the past, the dynamic is a familiar one; challenges are designed to be too difficult for any one player to complete on their own. A group is needed for victory. The challenge typically has villains that do too much damage for someone who is not a healer to live through, does too powerful a single attack for anyone not a tank to survive even with a healer, and has too high a health for anyone not a DPS provider to burn down before the juice that keeps those heals going runs out.

So, roles are decreed; a tank to survive the big hits and keep the big bad’s attention; a healer to keep the tank alive through all the damage, and a DPS (or more) to do enough damage to defeat the big bad before the healer’s mojo runs out.

Thus, the unholy trinity upon which so much of our MMO group gaming is based.

Where we often see a disconnect, is that our MMO play experience is not IN a constant group. It is a combination of solo play with just occasional group situations.

When playing solo, most encounters are designed favoring a playstyle that delivers high damage output in a very short period of time, burning down individual bad guys quickly to move on to the next one. Thus, the most common and friendliest playstyle for solo players, by design, is the DPS role.

This means that, also by design, in order for a tank or healer to rise in the game, someone has to step outside of what they already know and are familiar with, the DPS playstyle, and take on a brand new role they know nothing about and have no previous experience in.

What is even more intimidating, often they have to do this in front of a live studio audience, who may have varying degrees of experience on how to play themselves… along with varying levels of civility, patience and compassion. 

And the final catch – while you can stack on more DPS players, as many as you’d like to increase the groups’ damage output, the overall success or failure of the entire group often rests on the shoulders of the tank and the healer. If the tank fails to hold the attention of the big bads or the healer fails to heal the people who need it as fast as they need it, then the DPS players or healer, who BY DESIGN are far squishier, will fall. Generally, once players start dying, the group will fail. Nobody likes to lose, and strangers can be downright vicious and cast blame far and wide when it happens.

Is it any wonder that, no matter how fun you try to make the healing or tanking roles, there shall always be people who refuse to try it? For fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of letting other people down, fear of ridicule, fear of something unknown, fear of the expressed rage of others at a loss, fear of the consequences of not being prepared enough or ‘good’ enough.

Is there a problem with this system, or is it fine as is? Does it maybe just need some tweaks?

I think one fundamental issue that could stand to be addressed is how tanking and healing are roles that do not come into play in an MMO until it’s time for a group. Until that first group, there is never a time when tanking or healing are a valid, fun, successful playstyle.

If, through some combination of changing classes or encounters, the healing or tanking playstyles became both fun AND equally as effective as DPS to play solo, then I think you would see more people getting skilled in using them, and thus have a lot more confidence in those roles going into a group.

Tanking as a viable solo playstyle has already been done before, and people loved it. People who play World of Warcraft are already familiar with the concept of the person who levels as a tank, usually as a Paladin.

Why? Because Paladins, once upon a time, had both good survivability AND self-healing abilities, and although their damage output was lower than standard DPS classes, they could damage multiple bad guys at the same time. A leveling Paladin tank would just gather up lots of bad guys, and by damaging them all at the same time, burn them down slowly but as a big group. Yes it took them a long time for the fight to finally end, but overall, they killed enough extra enemies that it all kinda evened out. 

Even at the time, it wasn’t a very consistent way to level. The biggest reason being, you need areas your level that have lots of enemies close enough together that you can gather up a group. With single target fights being the norm for soloing DPS players, you didn’t see that kind of arrangement at every level of the game.

How could you make leveling as a tank a more attractive solo option? By placing more bad guys in an area that can be gathered up, and have those opportunities at every level of progression. Also, you could encourage it by increasing the ratio of physical bad guy to stationary spell casting bad guys. This would let you gather up lots of bad guys that will dutifully chase you around, but leave you one or two spellcasters that will let you practise silencing/line of sight pull techniques on them.

So, sure, you could modify your game world a little bit to accomodate the player wanting to level as a tank. Keep the enemies spread out enough for single target DPS style players to move through without being swarmed all the time, but have enough of them just close enough to each other that a leveling tank could gather a bunch up without too much trouble, in every zone they adventure in.

That is a game adjustment that would help encourage more leveling tanks, and in the process remove some of the fear from new tanks joining a group for the first time.

But what about healing?

How do you set things up so that healing is a valid playstyle?

I think one way to address that issue is to eliminate healing as a seperate role. Incorporate it into the management all players have to handle for themselves.

I’ll get back to that point in a minute, and let you build up your anger in the meantime over the very suggestion, by getting back to tanking. 🙂

I think another change that I’d love to see done is that tanking should be an option every class should have.

Let’s look at World of Warcraft for some examples of what I’m talking about.

During the Burning Crusade expansion, a lot of players took pride in finding ways to perform as a tank with classes that were traditionally DPS only.

The most famous of these was the Rogue class, which has the option to activate abilities that increase their chance to Dodge incoming attacks very successfully, for a short duration of time.

The challenge for these Rogue players was in arranging encounters so that they could get all the killing done before the duration of the especially high Dodge wore off. The tanking also usually required gear chosen for it’s very high Dodge boosting stats.

There have been many players who, of their own initiative, tried to force a DPS class into tanking, and succeeded. How much more successful would it be if the designer of the game gave them intentional tools to do that tanking properly?

What’s the biggest role of the tank? Is it to survive incoming damage? No, because a Mage with Ice Block can do that as well for a brief period of time, and so can a Hunter with Feign Death.

The main duty of the tank is to keep the attention of all of the big bads on him, and off of the rest of the group. Only after that is health important.

If a player can keep all of the big bads on him alone, AND survive the fight, that player has accompished the role of a tank.

So, two aspects of the tank to duplicate amongst the classes; a way to hold the attention of bad guys, and a way to survive that attention.

Anyone who has played World of Warcraft for any length of time around a Paladin tank knows that, even when fully specced as a tank, sometimes a Paladin would just be utterly unable to hold the attention of the bad guys. As soon as people started shooting, the bad guys would go running wild.

Why? The Paladin has a special ability that they can choose to turn on or off called Righteous Fury. The sole function of Righteous Fury is to make everything a Paladin does cause increased Threat. Heals, damage, anything that any character could do that would normally cause Threat (the effect that gets the attention of a bad guy) would have the value of that Threat significantly enhanced. Enhanced high enough to normally overshadow anyone else in the group.

It’s a “I’m the tank now, dog” button, and Paladins that forgot to activate it would find themselves quickly ignored as the DPS players, with their higher damage output, attacked the bad guys.

My suggestion is, why not offer all players an “I’m the tank now, dog” ability? Something they can activate that intentionally boosts the Threat value of everything they do.

But go beyond that. That same ability could incorporate a multiplier to the player’s health, providing the boosted life that tanks often need. It could also turn on a ranged Taunt ability, something that only a player with the “I’m the tank now, dog” ability active could use. (You know, to prevent those accidental taunt tag teaming). And of course, with ITTND on, there would have to be a downside, or people would run with it on all the time. So, as soon as it goes on, your Threat output may go up by 400%, but your damage output would be reduced by 400%. You are holding attention and surviving, not being a one man death machine. Boom, instant higher threat, higher survivability, and a reason not to use it when you want to do lots of damage. Sure, you could level using it… you’d just need to grab up 4 or more enemies to kill at one time to make up for your reduced damage output.

But there is more to being a tank than threat and health. There is also having a unique way to feel like you’re tough to bring down.

World of Warcraft has shown us that it is possible to have tanks designed around something other than shields and plate armor. Rogues have long effectively survived some nasty stuff using their long cooldown abilities. Remove or reduce some of those long cooldowns, and give them a threat increaser, and they’re a ready made tank.

Druids had their high armor value to reduce all incoming (physical) damage. Warriors and Paladins had their Defensive Stances, Shields and Swords to Block and Parry.

Hunters have a pet they can send in, in their stead. That never has worked very well for consistent group situations, mainly because there are limits to how powerful the pets are designed to become for fear of PvP balance issues. Having a toggle for a tanking mode that dramatically reduces damage output while increasing threat output and health/armor would go a long way to changing that, especially if the Hunter could use their Misdirect to their pet as a Taunt. How fun would that be? A long distance tank, seeing when their pet lost aggro and taunting the mobs back to the pet? It can already be done with Intimidation, and traps help control enemies very well. Hunters are just so close to being tanks, they can taste it. 

With these examples, it’s easy to see that if this was the direction a design team wanted to go, it could happen. 

There are so very many things that could be tweaked a little bit to every existing class in WoW to accomplish the goal of giving an option to perform the tanking role; hold the attention of all the bad guys, and survive incoming damage.

As long as damage output was drastically reduced while tanking, and the focus was put on generating high threat instead, it wouldn’t even be a destabilizing influence on most PvP situations, especially if you could only change into that tanking mode while out of combat.

But what about the healing role? I hope you held onto your anger and are ready to unleash it on me now 🙂

Why not remove dedicated healers entirely and put the responsibility of self-healing squarely on the shoulders of each player?

Again going back to an existing example, currently the Rogue class in WoW has a very interesting experiment going on. Recently a new spell was added, giving Rogues a heal over time capability. Recuperate is a new Rogue finishing move, giving the player the option to choose to use combo points on a self-healing “Heal over Time” spell instead of on increased damage or on speed boosts.

Similarly, Paladins with their new Holy Power combo point system can use those points on an instant cast heal spell called Word of Glory.

With some modifications, such a system of self-healing choices, sacrificing damage output in exchange for self-healing at various rates, could be used to replace the traditional healing class entirely. After all, how much damage is taken, who takes it, and at what rate is directly controlled by the game design team.

But the only way it could work would be if the dedicated healing classes were no longer an option, and every class had valid ways to choose to either heal themselves OR do damage/generate threat.

If you give just a few classes the ability to self-heal, and keep the dedicated healing classes, you’ll quickly run into what Rogues are seeing now; changes to the effectiveness of Recuperate as the designers try to find a ‘sweet spot’ that let’s it be helpful while the Rogue is alone, but isn’t too powerful when there is a healer nearby during a raid.

Many challenges in MMOs like World of Warcraft right now are balanced around trying to find ways of keeping dedicated healing classes busy/occupied during a raid. Because the design is built around the trinity of tank/DPS/healer, then a healer has to be there. But, if there isn’t enough for the healer to do, the healer will be bored and not have fun. So encounters are intentionally designed with more kinds of damage, more things that need to be removed like Curses or Poisons, bigger spikes of sudden damage that may kill the tank instantly to keep you on your toes, a limited resource like Mana to manage so you have to stay aware of what’s going on at all times, all sorts of complexity just because there has to be a healer role, and that player has to be kept busy.

If you remove the dedicated healer role from the design equation, you remove the need to design encounters to intentionally tax healers to the edge all the time. You can cut back on the massive damage spikes, and force each player to be responsible for his or her own cleansing of curses, or of moving out of goo that causes damage, or of sacrificing damage output temporarily to regain some health when needed… or of choosing to push harder on damage, trusting in the defeat of the boss before they die.

You bring the responsibility back squarely on the shoulders of the players… and you also force them to use their judgment, with nobody but themselves to blame if they die, unless they pulled threat from the tank.

I know that World of Warcraft is far too developed and fine tuned to ever go in that kind of radical direction.

What I do hope is that someday we will see a game designer take a hard look at the unholy trinity, and decide to see what would happen if healing were the responsibility of each individual player, instead of just one or two in the group.

I also think it would be a lot of fun to see a game where leveling as a tank was an option for every class, and thus the question in any group would never be “who here can tank?”, but instead “which of us wants to tank this one?”

To misquote one of my favorite songs; “Glory be to God that there are no more of us, for one of us could tank it all alone…”

How do you like it now?

A post about perspective.

Or, to quote one of my favorite movies, “Spaced Invaders”, “Maybe you’d better step back and look at the big picture here.”

I’ve been playing for a while, and I believe most of you have been also. “A while” is subjective, but I’m using the term to mean “You’ve played long enough to get comfortable with how the game works, how your characters(s) are controlled, and you’ve got at least one character to the end game and have been sitting at end game since before patch 4.0.1.”

That’s a whole lot of meaning to dump on one poor, innocent little word, isn’t it?

Patch 4.0.1 came along and shook a lot of things up, but it’s starting to settle down a bit. We’ve all had a chance to play what we consider our “mains”, get Glyphed and specced and regemmed and move our stats around a bit if we’re into that sort of stuff.

I’ve seen some comments out there since the Patch came out, and it seems that responses are a bit mixed. As one example, Dechion, a long time devotee of the Hunter class, is so unhappy with the overall changes that he just can’t bring himself to play his Hunters anymore. He’s moved on to other classes.

The post I’m writing now is inspired by two things; Dechion’s post and his reasons for not liking the changes to Hunters, and my own personal experiences since Patch 4.0.1 went live.

You see, contrary to Dechion, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences in actually playing since 4.0.1 went great gonzo on the servers.

I’m obviously not talking about bugs or crashes or instability or the world server crashing because OOB got the Kael’thas Realm First 25 man Heroic ICC Lich King kill last night (grats, guys!).

I’m talking about having fun playing a class.

There is a reason for that, and it has to do with my forward planning. When Blizzard announced the intent of their changes in Cataclysm, and the scope of what they were going to do in revamping Talent Trees and abilities, I stopped making new alts… of classes I do not already know.

It’s been hard. I get tired of end game, and love making new alts. I love the travel, the exploring, the following of new paths, the road not taken the last time, choice ‘C’ in the Make Your Own Adventure book story, the trying on new pets or new specs, doing stuff that’s unfamiliar.

But I did it. I put my Warrior on a shelf, I didn’t make another Warlock, I canceled other alts, and really the only altage I was doing was a Death Knight on another server, and that was mostly so I had a gold maker should Cassie and I start playing somewhere with more character slots… she’s plumb run out.

With 4.0.1, I’ve played my maxed characters a bit, Druid, Hunter, Shaman, Paladin and Rogue. Playing those characters gave me one perspective on the changes. Settling in, getting used to how they feel, trying to work out the changes and develop a new flow.

Then I respecced my leveling Mage, dusted off my 43 Warrior, I started playing my level 73 Shadow Priest again for the first time in, literally, over a year (haven’t played her since hitting 73 a month after Wrath was released, just made her my Jewelcrafter bot), And even made a Warlock for just 4 levels, to kinda feel the class out. I played my leveling Death Knight a teeny tiny bit, since I was loving Blood before and Blood for DPS feels dead as a doornail.

Playing the characters I’m more unfamiliar with gave me a much different perspective.

You see, the characters I was really familiar with obviously feel like strangers now. Enough of the core rules have changed, but enough of the intent has stayed the same, that it’s not just that there was change. It’s that some things look like how they used to, spell names and Talents, and it leads me to expect them to work a certain way from past experience, but things are changed enough that once I get into a flow using abilities can feel jarring, unnatural.

But the characters I don’t have any pre-conceptions about come off as feeling fresh, smooth, and extremely well-designed. It’s the well-designed and well thought out aspects that make me look more closely at the classes I know.

I respecced my Warrior as Fury for now, after playing the new changes as Prot for a bit, because I wanted to see if it was just me. Leveling as a Protection Warrior with the new changes felt like being an evil little killing machine… so how much more powerful could an actual DPS spec feel?

Well, pretty crazy, actually. The new Fury is just nutso. I had two Heirloom swords, so I went dual-spec Fury, and it’s just zero down time. Stuff dies so fast I wish there was a Glyph that refreshed the cooldown of Charge when you kill a mob that grants honor or XP, like Death Grip does. ‘Cause I’m ALWAYS waiting on the Charge cooldown.

What about the changes to Frost Mages?

Well, I never use the Water Elemental because I’ve got my own pet tank (sorry, Cassie), but I love that you DO get it as a base ability of the class/spec at level 10, and while I miss a lot of the focus of the original Frost Talent Tree in being able to concentrate on pinning down monsters and raining a Blizzard on their heads, the new method of play with Fingers of Frost and Brain Freeze, and the instant Ice Lance and all of our other goodies is just hilariously awesome. As my crit increases I feel like I’m riding a wave of juggling procs that’s actually fun to manage based on the situations. It’s never really about following a set chain of triggers, it’s about knowing what to use at the moment out of what you’ve got available. Decisions and judgment, gotta love ’em.

The Death Knight I switched to Frost and had a lot of fun on for a couple nights, picking out one-handers and dual wielding and messing about before the lure of the Mage called to me.

The Priest… ah, the Priest. I tried, I really did. It was fun, and I did blow through another level, but here’s the funny thing; the playstyle of Shadow actually doesn’t feel like it’s changed much at all, and so I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others. The whole “Pop some DoTs and Mind Flay to slow” thing was still in effect. Oh sure, stuff died so damn fast that it felt like I was casting too many DoTs and I pared it down… but it still felt too automatic. Not enough room to mess about with other things. Probably just me, but the class certainly wasn’t lacking in any power, just variety. But back when I was originally Shadow in BC, I loved the playstyle… so again, it’s not that the class is lacking, it’s probably my own perception of what I like now compared to then, and Shadow is still very good… so good they didn’t have to change it that much.

I did make a Paladin alt just to see about the differenec when you hit 10 as Ret, and I’ve watched Cassie as her Druid changed and got Mangle as one of her given moves while leveling. Both clearly rock the casbah.

It really does seem to me that the class changes, all of the class changes from level 10 on, have been extremely successful. They were all well thought out, from a “starting fresh with a new perspective” point of view.

Every new class that I play, or every new spec of a class that I play feels tight, smooth, fun and exciting.

The only real dissapointments I have are when I play classes or specs that I already knew very, very well, right?

So, I gotta ask, is it the design on a few of them, or is it just me? Because it sure seems as though it’s probably just me.

If I’d never played a Feral Druid before, would I be rocking the changes better than ever? I’m still loving it now, I soloed an instance just the other night to manage multi-mob threat, and it was lots and lots of fun.

With the AoE cooldown timers, it’s the return of multi-mob threat distribution, but I preferred that style over Swipe spam by a light year anyway. Only reason I and so many others started spamming Swipe was because DPS stopped giving us a second to grab all the mobs. These days I follow the apparent intent of Blizzard; mark some targets, dish your threat, use Swipe to stay above Healer threat, and if a DPS grabs from me on an unmarked mob before the marked ones are all dead, let his dumb ass die as a learning experience.

Oh, and my Druid is back on the Alliance side. I’m a Night Elf again. It’s only temporary, though, until Worgen get opened up for race changes. Just an FYI. Now I have a max level tanking character on both factions, which was my original intent.

It’s just funny. I don’t dislike any of my max level characters, I actually LIKE my Hunter’s changes quite a bit, the trap launcher and multiple trap types up at once and expanded stables and new pets… much like Mania, I can see Hunters have a BLAST in Cataclysm. I dislike feeling like Arcane Shot spam for Beastmasters is a viable technique, but I’m sure that’ll get nerfed.

But while I don’t dislike my max level characters, the changes to the characters I’m unfamiliar with, now that I’ve learned those abilities and integrated them into a playstyle just as if they were brand new characters all feel fresh, vital, and above all exciting.

The whole thing REALLY makes me look forward to making a brand new Troll Feral Druid when the expansion comes. Leveling from level 1 as a tank from the very beginning seems incredibly exciting. Having that chance to flush all of my preconceived ideas and experiences, to start over with a clean slate and work out what to do and how to do it, wow. I’m excited.

Plus, I get to be a Gummibear. How cool is that? Yes, yes, I know, I’m in the minority on the colors, it’s okay. I’m freaking wierd, it’s understandable that I’m a rare bird when it comes to liking rainbow bears.

But that’s going to be the big challenge for me in Cataclysm. To look at the old and familiar with new eyes.

I fully intend to level as a Troll Bear Tank for Cassie. I intend to make a second Hunter and level as BM, collecting new and exciting pets along the way. I intend to finally make that Warlock that never was, as a new Goblin. And I’d like to try a new Tauren Paladin from the ground up.

Mostly classes that I’ve played before, classes that I KNEW very well indeed. I know it’s going to be a challenge. Can I really set aside the years of “this is how it works” and see the classes for the way they really are now, and LIKE them on their own terms?

I think so. I think I can do it now at max level, but how much easier will it be when the characters are new and the world is changed and alive?

How about you? How have your experiences been going in the new Patch? Have you experienced any of this kind of dichotomy between the new and the familiar? Are you looking forward to the new expansion like I seem to be?

Or have the changes to your familiar characters clicked with you even better than the old way did, and far fro feeling wierd, they now feel ‘just right’?

Oh, and as far as my Warrior goes… he’s a Blacksmith. I managed to achieve one of my goals, and maxed out Blacksmithing as high as i can get, and am running around wearing personally crafted ‘Imperial Plate Armor.” Is it just me, or wouldn’t it be cool if we could choose what color to make the accents of the armors and weapons we made? ot the bse steel greys or blacks, but the accent colors. I find it cool that my badass Orc is tooling around desecrating the Imperial Plate armor, but I sure wish I could have made the accents and helmet plume colors Horde Red instead of Alliance Blue.

Just saying!

Have a great weekend folks.

Announcing changes to the Big Bear Butt blog

I have a few announcements for you, my friends.

First, I want to thank all of you who have read my writing here on the blog, whether it be just once or for months and even years. I may not have been the most consistent writer in terms of topic or mood, but I have always tried to be honest with myself and with you. Even in the most grumpy of my posts, I’ve always tried to be entertaining. Failing that, I’ve gone for distracting. Failing even that much, I’ll settle for irritating.

I’d especially like to thank everyone who has ever commented on the blog, or who has taken the time to email me with questions, or just to say hi. You may not understand how it feels unless you’re a blogger, but when someone takes the time to go out of their way to say “hi !”to you, it really does lift up your spirits and help you feel connected to the people on the other side of your writing. Talking into a vacuum becomes akin to talking to yourself… and I’m crazy enough already, thank you very much.

Verily, if your commenting here has helped me maintain what passes for stability, you’ve performed a valuable public service. Thank you.

Second, I want to let you know that the Big Bear Butt blog, written by me, the BBB, will continue. It’ll be right here. I ain’t going anywhere. I like you folks, and I love writing. I’ll keep writing posts, and they’ll go up here. Sometimes, if I pester her enough, Cassie will hopefully post as well. I don’t foresee there being many changes in the tempo, OR the length of my bearwalls. Just so you know.

Third… what KIND of posts I will write ARE changing. This is my big announcement.

If you come here to read the randomness that goes up, well and good, nothing will be really changing for you.

Storytime, trucking stuff, WoW stuff and life in general, RPG stuff, my Converging Forces story, whatever happens to be my enthusiasm that particular day, basically exactly what I’ve been doing here for the last year. That’s going to continue.

Here’s the deal. If you only have me in your feedreader because every once in a blue moon I put up something about World of Warcraft Druid Bear Tanking, if that is all you are interested in, if you’ve been getting tired of all these “offtopic” posts… now is the perfect time to take me off your feedreader.

Keeping me on your feedreader is just like trying to teach a bear to rappel down a mountain without tempting him with bacon first. All it does is irritate you, and if you get angry and demonstrative, piss off the bear. Nobody wins.

So if that’s what you’re here for, theorycrafting posts and the latest news about WoW Feral Druid Tanks, it’s been a wonderful run, but it’s time we said our farewells, and our courses began to diverge.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog, and I hope that you have, at least once or twice in the past, found my site useful for preparing to tank in general and as a Bear Druid in particular.

God bless.

Why the sudden change. It’s pretty much a change that’s been coming for a long time.

I originally started writing guides and tips on Feral Druids in the beginning, years ago, because there was nothing whatsoever out there for Bears. I loved my Bear, everyone said you COULDN’T be an effective Bear, and I knew that was hooey. I loved it, and I felt that with some encouragement and a few tips, others would discover it was super fun awesome time too.

Sure, it was presumptive of me to assume that the advice I felt I had to offer would be either helpful or welcome, but what the heck. I didn’t really expect any audience except for my small circle of friends. So, no worries. I figured maybe 7 to 10 folks would see what i was writing, and we could chew the fat over this or that.

The biggest thing really was I wanted to have fun writing and I really did feel that I could fill that need, and help folks wanting to get started if someone somewhere had actually Googled “How the heck do I bear tank?”

It’s been a long time since those days.

Heck, it’s been a VERY long time since I was the lone Feral Druid voice in the blogosphere. A VERY long time. It’s been so long, that entire new MMOs have gone through beta, went live, and then hit the bug zapper since anything I wrote was fresh or relevant.

Nowadays, if you’d like some theorycrafting tips or advice on playing a Feral Druid, there are many people out there not only writing useful blogs, but who really want to be the person you can rely on for your Feral Druid knowledge. Sure, some of them are craving attention, desperate to be noticed and admired for their big brains, but others are genuinely nice people that are coming into their own voice and have new, fresh ideas and experiences to share. There are a lot of really valuable, wonderful writers out there that would love to help you.

All of them are out there, both the arrogant asshats and the super-considerate helpful writers, and more are beginning their blogging journies every day. I am now far from alone, and you no longer need my ancient experiences to guide you. As if you ever did.

You need a fresh perspective and a new vision. 

If I’m going to be totally honest, I was never really cut out to be the “mentor” website person in the first place. I tried my best, but in time I did discover that a lot of people that read theorycrafting sites, and write theorycrafting sites, and comment on theorycrafting sites are driven by a desperate need. A need for what, I genuinely don’t know, but there is a lot of competitiveness in the theorycrafting arena, a lot of arguing for the sake of trying to score points, or be “right”, or whatever. A lot of ego on naked display.

It’s out there among bloggers, too. I’ve seen bloggers that never say anything unless it’s to comment about how someone else is wrong and start arguments and link back to themselves, and I’ve seen bloggers that comment in other’s blogs that if you want to read a “real” theorycrafting blog, go back and see them instead of this crap you’re looking at. No lie.

I’ve seen enough in dedicated theorycrafting sites to know I’ve seen too much. I have nothing personally to prove to anyone, no desire to be the big bear on campus, just a delight in writing and having fun.

Back when I saw the ever increasing rise of nastyness in the comments here and in the blogospere in general, I decided to let the theorycrafters and elitists go jerk themselves off and stopped writing those kinds of posts. I’ve never regretted it, not one single day. Many of the most offensive I simply blacklisted. The tone around here improved overnight. If you feel you have the right to piss in other people’s pools, don’t be surprised when they don’t invite you back for the next party.

I’ve never really thought of myself as being smarter or more knowledgeable than anyone else. I never considered myself a “theorycrafter”. I’ve always figured, if I could do it, anyone could, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone was there to offer some help and suggestions so they didn’t make the same stupid mistakes I did?

With that in mind, I always tried to write guides and tips and suggestions and lists aimed to help encourage people to be confident, to learn the fundamentals, to be brave enough to get out there and find their own path, and to understand how everything works together well enough on their own to make informed decisions, relying on no one, and certainly not on any website to tell them what to do.

I’ve never wanted to be the guy that does a guide that says “You must do what I say, follow this checklist, and come back here so I can tell you what to do next.” I’ve wanted to be the guy that says, “Here, these are the tools that will help you get started. Go, learn how to use them, and become a greater Bear Tank than I ever was. Discover your true potential, and be the best you can be. Now go forth, and rock the joint. And if you think of me… bounce.”

I’m looking around the blogosphere now, I’m reading Elitist Jerks, I check out the Druid column on WoW Insider (love you, Allison Robert!), I see the new posts going up daily on the Inconspicuous Bear and The Bear Flank and others too numerous to mention, and I can see that the function I was once covering is taken care of very well these days. I am an archaic heirloom of times gone past, and there are now plenty of non-asshat Feral Druid bloggers that write for normal people, not just to impress other elitists with how mathy and special they can be.

For me, the final decision to stop writing guides and Feral Druid rules posts came when I knew that I will not be raiding or even running instances come Cataclysm.

I do think that a person that is going to be assuming the mantle of authority for writing tips and strategies about performing your role in group events should actually be performing that role in a group in the latest content. The writer should speak from personal experience about what works, and what doesn’t work.

That ain’t me right now. And it won’t be me.

And so, to the wonderful people that have come here for Feral Druid guidance in the past, to you I truly do breathe a sigh of farewell. It’s been a wonderful journey together, but you have many more miles to go yet ahead of you, and many more adventures to share. Here by the fire is where my bones wish to lie, sleeping warm and snug while the cold of winter rages on outside, but you hear the wind howl, and feel not the cold, but a delicious excitement at the prospect of a new dawn, and a clear horizon.

Go you on your journeys, discover the adventures that yet lie in wait, and know that I begrudge you nothing, and I wish for you only the best in all that life and WoW has to offer. There is nothing more that I will have to give you, no guidance, no teachings, no wisdom. All that I have to offer you now are my well wishes and prayers that your journey will be a prosperous one, and as you do head out into the Cataclysm of tomorrow, know in your heart the truth that your journeys are yours and yours alone.

Thank you all, so VERY much for allowing me to feel that I have been of help to you in the past. My own journey with you has been fun, but there is bacon on the fire, and I’m so very tired…

When you find yourself in the front of the pack, charing into the enemy, if you happen to think of me, I only ask…

Do it on the Bounce!

Bear tanking in 4.0.1

The new patch is supposed to drop Tuesday, the long awaited live release of 4.0.1.

With this patch comes the revamped Talent Trees. The modifications to existing abilities. Mastery at level 80 and beyond.

You know, all that jazz.

What doesn’t come out is new leveling, group or raid content.

Or new races.

What does this all mean for the excited Bear tank?

Talent Tree research for Bears

When you look at the new Talent Tree and try to figure out your spec, the very first thing to keep in mind is the Blizzard philosophy; nothing really matters until you reach the top level.

That was level 80. You used to be great. You coulda been a contenda. Not any more. Even though you can’t actually get to 85 yet… as far as the mechanics are concerned, that’s the new max level.

Right now, all you’re really concerned with is how to respec your Talent Tree so you can right back to tanking your group runs. Or soloing Karazhan. Or Onyxia, for that matter.

But the new Talent Tree is intended to be filled out with a moderately balanced spec after you reach 85. By the same token, you’re not expected to Bear tank group runs effectively without all your key abilities… and Thrash (the new AoE attack that adds a Bleed effect to your foes) isn’t even available until level 81. So, after December 7th. See you then?

Please, don’t get frustrated when there are Talents you’d really like that you just can’t reach. Yes, get frustrated that you can’t get Thrash until the expansion, but you still want to run ICC now. That’s just annoying. But it too will come in due time.

The point here is, you can’t get all the goodies in the Talent Tree… but with a new expansion THAT close, just over the next horizon, nobody is really going to care all that much. They’re going to be dreaming of end game raiding with new loots and challenges to overcome. As long as you’ve got the essentials, you’re going to be okay in current content. And with level 80, you CAN get the essentials.

One last word on Talent Tree concepts.

Even if you were at level 85, you still couldn’t get everything you’d really like for Bear tanking.

Thanks to Blizzard’s desire to give us tradeoffs and too many choices so there can’t be one single “cookie cutter” spec, what we’ve got is a Feral tree where, even if you’re passing on all the Kitty focused Talents, you’re still gonna have stuff you’d  love but can’t afford. Deal with it as best you can.

With so many “sidegrades” in the Tree, your judgment is going to be even more important when it comes to choosing what to take.

So, it’s not about the math… it’s about knowing what you should be looking for. 

This is the time to get back to basics. What do Bear tanks really want?

  • Survivability – the ability to take multiple damaging blows over time.  
  • Avoidance – the ability to completely avoid being hit.
  • Damage Mitigation – the ability to reduce the actual damage taken per hit by a little bit.
  • Increased Threat – grabbing the attention of enemies so they don’t eat your friends. Even when your friends look really tasty.
  • Rage Generation – the ability to build the resources needed to cast anything except Growl, Feral Faerie Fire and auto-attack.

It’s just that simple.

How did we get to the current “AoE it all down, and forget about skill” situation?

Gear has currently gotten to the point that, in 5 person runs that still give valuable Frost Emblems, Stamina, Agility, Armor value, Attack Power, Critical Strike and Hit Rating all went waaaaay beyond the Heroic balance point.

With a Tank in reasonably available gear levels, you can ignore Survivability, Avoidance, Damage Mitigation and (with Swipe and grabbing big groups of mobs) Rage Generation.

All that leaves you with is holding Threat… and boy, with all that AP and Hit and Crit, if we Swipe spam we could just about stay ahead of the DPS, who are all AoEing as well.

So, Tanks got used to charging in as fast as possible, grabbing big groups, spamming their AoEs and waiting for the DPS to burn everything down… and you walk away virtually unscathed.

Hold on tight buttercup, the road to Cataclysm is going to be a bumpy ride.

In Cataclysm, all those things you ignored in 5 mans become important again.

Raiders, especially raiders of hard mode challenges, will rejoice that skill will return to pre-eminent importance.

But… not just yet.

Not until the new content, new leveling, new raids.

For now… we will still be facing the same content, BUT… there will no longer be Defense Rating on Plate tanky gear.

We still have our own Talent that makes us uncrittable, it’s just changed it’s name from Survival of the Fittest to being rolled into Thick Hide. Thick Hide is now the first “big” core Bear tank Talent.

All the other tank classes now have their own version of that… and no longer need Defense Rating. In fact, all that Defense Rating will vanish, to be replaced with other stats.

But we’ll stay the same.

Think about that. We will effectively have the same gear as before, stat allocations should continue mostly unchanged for us. But all the other tank classes will suddenly have a Talent taking care of that Defense Rating… and their gear will have either more Stamina or more DPS grade stats which will add more Threat to their output.

Plus, we get a high rage cost Swipe with a 6 second cooldown, and no Thrash.

I am NOT saying it’s all doom and gloom. We’re still going to be OP and uber compared to current content.

What I’m doing is reinforcing my earlier point… we are no longer at the max level. We no longer will have our balanced end game abilities and talents. We MUST adapt and overcome.

When you look at your skills and Talents, try and flush your preconceived ideas of running in 5 mans or being OP as a tank. When the new content DOES come, you will be hit like a freight train wants your lunch money. You will not have insanely ridiculous AoE Threat generation on everything.

You must get back to the basics. Survivability, Avoidance, Damage Mitigation, Threat and Rage.

So. That is far and away enough preamble. The Talent Tree.

When we choose the Feral Tree, we gain Mangle at level 10 instantly rather than having to pay for it. So we get a nice instant cast attack that does reasonable single target threat, and also applies a debuff to the target that makes Bleeds do more damage… a debuff that now lasts 60 seconds.

Any player leveling a Bear tank under level 51 should be very happy with this development.

Plus, you can get a free, no Rage-cost Mangle sometimes when you Lacerate a target that has your Mangle’s Bleed debuff on it. Just saying, that’s kinda cool, right? Oh wait, Omen of Clarity go bye-bye for us. Well, so we keep the effect, sorta, while losing the Talent. Fine. We can work with it. 🙂

Second, at level 10 we will get Vengeance. Vengeance is the new Tank ability that gives you increased Attack Popwer based on the damage you take. Each whack you take gives you an individual AP buff that lasts 10 seconds… they do stack cumulatively, but after 10 seconds, the first whack a mole buff you got drops off. So, you get hit – hit – hit… you get buff – double buff – triple buff… and then first one drops after ten seconds and you go back down to double buff… and then the second one drops and you go down to just the third buff all by itself.

Get it? I knew you did. And it should be quite nice… for the first ten seconds of a fight, we’ll build up our AP bonus… then we’ll stay level until the fight is over, new damage adding buffs to replace the ones that drop off. Then it’ll all be gone 10 seconds after the fight’s over. Seems pretty reasonable to me… knowing, as I do, that in the new content it’s gonna take longer to complete each pull, so 10 second duration should be pretty well balanced.

Finally, you SHOULD have the ability to learn Mastery from the trainer at level 80, and get a 32% increase to the amount of damage absorbed by Savage Defense. We won’t have gear with Mastery (unless it comes with the stat overhaul), but it’s still very useful at it’s baseline. And it’s also another reason we will continue to love Critical Strikes.

Remember that list up above. Critical Strikes trigger Savage Defense (our one hit bubble shield), and the more Crits, the more bubbles. More bubbles means more mitigation, so go go Crit Bear!

Now, Savage Defense is seeing some big changes, too. It’s not a guaranteed 100% bubble on a crit. It’s down to 50% chance on a crit. But it DOES absorb more damage. A lot more. Lots and lots more!

The model for Cataclysm, in terms of tanking in general, is to have high health, lower than customary avoidance, and focus on Mitigation. Dealing with a steady stream of damage, rather than spiky hits. Healers will be dealing less with twitch reflexes on instant saves against two big spikes in a row, and more on managing mana over longer duration fights against steady streams of damage.

Mastery with Savage Defender isn’t just another ability, it’s a clue as to the overall change in the tanking paradigm; steady, not spiky.

Yes, we still want Agility, for both Dodge and Crits. The balance has definitely swung towards heavier weighting for Stamina Stacking, though.

Okay, so my recommendations and review of the Feral Talent Tree (for Bears).

The first Tier gives you three choices;

  • Feral Swiftness (0/2)
  • Furor (0/3)
  • Predatory Strikes (0/2)

If you’re leveling, I’d personally suggest starting in Feral Swiftness for your first levels, go 2/2 and then fill out Furor. Predatory Strikes is a solid Kitty Talent, and of no use for us big ol’ Bears. Dodge and moving faster as a kitty are always in demand. 🙂

That brings us to level 17 already, and on to the second Tier.

Tier two has four Talents to choose from, and a hard decision.

  • Infected Wounds (0/2)
  • Fury Swipes (0/3)
  • Primal Fury (0/2)
  • Feral Aggression (0/2)

Now, Fury Swipes is awesome as a Kitty, and it’s also a reasonable Threat boost as a Bear as your Critical Strike values rise. Now, how is that possible when Maul replaces a normal auto-attack?

I’ll tell you how… because Maul no longer replaces an auto-attack! It’s now an instant cast attack costing 30 Rage with a 3 second cooldown! And it’s off the GCD too, but with a cost of 30 Rage, PLEASE don’t macro it… talk about Rage starved!

This isn’t my saying Fury Swipes is great, it’s just my way of saying that your abilities no longer replace auto-attacks, so this is a steady percentage of boosted auto-attacks unaffected by Maul in Bear form.

Primal Fury is a key Bear talent, providing Rage generation as you Crit. Definitely a must-have as you level.

Infected Wounds is a delicious ability for tanks to have, seeing as it’s core function is to keep fleeing enemies in your range longer, and to slow down the rate of their attacks that do damage to you. With two of your bread and butter attacks, Mangle and Maul both applying the debuff, and with Maul still getting Glyph of Maul (even if the second target does only take half damage now) it’s a very nice Talent to consider.

Feral Aggression is the real tease, though.

You see, Feral Faerie Fire is no longer a single cast spell. It’s still free, but it can now stack up to 3 times on a target… you get Feral Faerie Fire at level 24, and it does damage based on your attack power (remember that Vengeance thingie?) and also increased Threat in Bear form. It also has a 6 second cooldown.

Feral Aggression, damn them, when fully Talented applies all three stacks to the enemey target at once… leaving you free to use it on a second target on your very next cooldown, instead of wasting it on getting a second stack on the same target.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of this for low level Bear tanks needing more single target Threat generating attacks on multiple mobs. This with three stacks on one cast, plus Mangle and Maul will be very nice.

For leveling, I’m going to suggest you start with 1 point in Fury Swipes, switch to 2 points to fill out Primal Fury, and then have a very hard decision that you can only answer from personal experience; which is closer to being true – you feel like you’re taking too much damage, or you feel like you’re not generating enough Threat?

If you feel particularly squishy, take Infected Wounds 2/2, and if you feel like you need more single target Threat all up front, especially on your pulls, go with Feral Aggression 2/2. But only one or the other.

Me? I took Feral Aggression. But please, go with your gut on this one. Infected Wounds also rocks!

You’re now level 27, and the third Tier is open to you.

Tier 3 consists of;

  • King of the Jungle (0/3)
  • Feral Charge (0/1)
  • Stampede (0/2)
  • Thick Hide (0/3)

Now, at this point I have to say, if you’re Bear tanking, you fill in Thick Hide. It’s a core defining tank Talent, rolling increased armor multiplier benefit and uncrittable by targets three levels higher than you all into one.

King of the Jungle may seem confusing… is it good? Is the follow up good?

Allow me to help you make your decision, by telling you that the mechanic of Enrage has changed.

Enrage used to decrease your armor by 10%. It was a slight reduction in physical damage mitigation.

Not anymore. Now, when you activate Enrage, you take a 10% increase to all damage suffered for the duration of the effect. That’s 10% more damage suffered, to the tank. You. Not just physical, all damage. And you’re a long, long way away from spell damage mitigation, my friend.

With the changes to Enrage, it’s my recommendation that you only use it while in combat if fighting scrubs. Don’t use it on tough fights. And that means don’t ever use it on tough fights at end game in Cataclysm.

It’s best use is as a pre-planned, pre-fight manuever to stand there and build up Rage, and only Feral Charging or pulling with FFF after the Enrage 10% damage debuff wears mostly off.

And if you’re not popping Enrage in combat a lot… who cares if you’ve got a damage bonus while Enraged?

Your mileage may vary… 10% is NOT a big deal while leveling, unless you love grabbing lots of mobs at once. And with the Swipe cooldown changes, that’s gonna be iffy anyway.

My personal recommendation is for Bears to skip King of the Jungle (and the follow up, Primal Madness) entirely, and take 1/1 in Feral Charge, and then 1/2 in Stampede. Stampede 1/2 increases your Melee Haste by 15% for 8 seconds after you Feral Charge. I personally use Feral Charge all the time.

Why take Feral Charge if you’re going to be getting improved Skull Bash later, with Talents to reduce it’s cooldown to 10 seconds?

First, Skull Bash costs 15 Rage. Feral Charge (Bear) is free. Second, a 15% Melee Haste at the start of your fight is a good thing to bring faster Threat generation. Marginally. 🙂 

Third, you do get Skull Bash at level 22, and Feral Charge is first possible at 35, but until level 43 you’re not going to be able to have that 10 second cooldown on SB. For hopping from mob to mob quick across the room to intercept wayward mobs, I do so love my Feral Charge.

If you would like to skip Feral Charge and Stampede in favor of going back and filling out either Fury Swipes or Infected Wounds… please, by all means. I will say that taking the Stampede melee haste, and going back later to fill in Fury Swipes for more auto-attacks in those initial 8 seconds might be a valid Threat boost.

But still. Tier 4.

  • Leader of the Pack (0/1)
  • Brutal Impact (0/2)
  • Nurturing Instinct (0/2)

Please, dear lord, don’t take Nurturing Instinct. Just, don’t.

I feel that Leader of the Pack is just a must have for kitty OR Bear, and with the advent of Skull Bash and it’s charging across the room spell interrupt/school lockout, I am all in favor of 2/2 in Brutal Impact.

As an aside… Feral Charge no longer interrupts… it roots. Your spell caster interrupt/school lockout is Skull Bash. Period.

That leaves us with 2 more points to spend somewhere else to advance.

You could go 2 in Infected Wounds, 2 in Fury Swipes, 1 and 1 in Feral Charge and Stampede (depending on where you went earlier), or even 1 to fill out Stampede and 1 to boost Fury Swipes, making it more effective after a Feral Charge. It’s kinda up to you.

Me, I’m going to go with 1 in Stampede to fill it out, followed by 1 in Fury Swipes at this point. I’m anticipating more of a desire at earlier levels for greater Threat and damage generation than reduced damage, at least at these levels.

This unlocks Tier 5 for us, and we’ve got a real solid selection of Bear Talents.

Tier 5 includes;

  • Primal Madness (0/2)
  • Survival Instincts (0/1)
  • Endless Carnage (0/2)
  • Natural Reaction (0/2)

Natural Reaction, available at level 49, is another Bear defining Talent. Damage Reduction, Dodge increase AND Rage generation, all in one. It’s a must have, early and often. This brings you to level 52 once it’s filled out.

We didn’t take King of the Jungle, so Primal Madness is locked out. That leaves Survival Instincts and Endless Carnage.

Survival Instincts, at this level, should definitely get your next point. SI used to be your “oh shit” button to be used with Frenzied Regeneration. SI would increase your max health by 30%, and then Frenzied Regeneration would heal you for a percentage based off of that higher health pool.

Surprise! Frenzied Regeneration has been buffed to have the 30% health pool increase built right in! It’s a new all-in-one!

Sadly, the new version of Glyph of Frenzied Regeneration takes away the self-heal aspects of it, boosting healing done TO you by 30%. Of course, you can swap Glyphs in and out once you learn them, so you can change it for solo to group play.

Getting back to Survival instincts, if it ain’t a flat 30% health pool increase, what is it?

Why, it’s a 60% damage reduction spell with a 12 second duration. 60%! Wahoo!!!!

Oh, but it’s got a 5 minute cooldown. Awwwww….. 😦

Now, about Endless Carnage.

Do you want it?

Yes.

Do you want it right now if you’re leveling?

No.

Endless Carnage is mostly a kitty Talent, except for it’s affect on the new Bear ability Pulverize in Tier 6, and now is a good time to talk about Tier 6, because Endless Carnage is a big part of it.

You can’t get Pulverize until level 65. It’s a very nice attack, plus when you use it after stacking Lacerate on your target, you get increased Crit chance for 10 seconds… 18 seconds if you took your two points in Endless Carnage.

Remember what we said about Crit? More Crit equals more Rage, plus more bubbles for damage reduction. Yay! Plus, you know… more Threat, too.

If you’re leveling, though, it doesn’t do you any good to take Endless Carnage now. In fact, I’d rather recommend you fill out Fury Swipes and Infected Wounds (if you haven’t already) and then Rend and Tear as you level, and respec out of those points just enough to take… 1 more in either Fury Swipes ( to finish it) or 1/2 in Infected Wounds before going 2/2 in Endless Carnage, 3/3 in Rend and Tear, and 1 in Pulverize once you finally DO reach 65.

Blood in the Water is, of course, all kitty, all the time. Pass!

This leaves us at our final point in the Feral tree… Berserk at level 69.

So… are we done here? ARE we?

I’m afraid we are, and there’s a good reason for it when the max level is 85.

In the Restoration tree is a 2nd Tier Talent we’re really going to want for end game Bear tanking… Perseverance (3/3). When fully specced it reduces all magic damage by 6%. That’s a whole lot of spell damage reduction to always be on. Barkskin is great for the 12 seconds it’s up, but 6% is 6%.

And that means, in order to get it, we need to go 3/3 in Heart of the Wild (which is awesome), and then spend two points somewhere. Like, Natural Shapeshifter. Boo.

Then you can put 3/3 in Perseverence, and decide what to do with your last ever Talent point. Do you go with 4% increased physical Bear damage from Master Shapeshifter, or do you go back to fill out that one more point you’re dying for in Feral?

It’s up to you. There are a lot of areas that are must haves, but there are also “but that would be good too” Talents.

EDIT: I’m sorry, I’m up late, I forgot to post my “But wait, the level cap is 80 right now” modification.

Since the current level cap is 80, Perseverance is not attainable. Instead of putting those last two points in Natural Shapeshifter, I suggest you spend them in filling out Infected Wounds and Stampede instead. So, my current recommendation for a level 80 Bear tank before Cataclysm raises the level limit to 85 is;

Link to Wowhead’s Talent Calculator showing a level 80 Bear tank spec

My apologies for the original omission. Your Blog Feed must have been confusing.

This, concludes my “Where should I start when they change my Tree” review for patch 4.0.1.

I hope you see it through in style!

For more information on exactly what has changed and how tanking works for Bears in Cataclysm, I’d like to direct your attention to Dustcart’s post in the tanking forum of the WoW forums, which is far more complete and succinct than I would be. It’s a great job, and should answer all of the rest of your questions. I haven’t seen anyone else say it better, so please give it the love it deserves.

To post or not to post

It’s been a funny weekend, all things considered. A weekend worth a rambling, stupid, tired Bearwall.

It started out with a rather unexpected bonus, and then kinda drifted from there.

I’ve been playing on lower level characters for weeks now, having fun on the Warrior here, the Paladin there, just messing about. It’s been fun.

Along the way, the Rogue that I was leveling hit 80, and the “hey, I’m 80, I should get gear” impulse kicked in, starting a frenzy of Heroics.

That started a cascade effect.

Running on the Rogue just reminded me of the good times on my Hunter, who had never quite finished getting geared from Heroics.

Running Heroics on my Hunter just reminded me of the good times on my Paladin, who REALLY had crap gear on his Ret spec. Most of his early emblems went to tanky stuff. Blech.

Once on my Paladin, I was reminded that, hey, I like my Druid too.

That began a weekend long process of flipping back and forth between the two in Heroics.

That brings us to this last Friday.

I hopped on my Druid to tank a quick one, and what should I get but Heroic Pit of Saron, immediately followed by the Battered Hilt dropping, and my winning the roll.

Hurm, as Rorshach might monotone.

What to do, what to do.

The Battered Hilt sells for around 7500g on my server at the moment, so it’s 7500g sitting there… but, I don’t care about gold. If I need it, I sell some of the tons of mats my various crafters collect. Never really had a problem with gold yet. Sure, I can’t just buy a Tundra Mammoth out of pocket, and I don’t have a motorcycle, but that’s okay. If I really wanted either THAT bad, I’d have gotten it already.

I was going to get a motorcycle for my Engineering Hunter, but she won the roll on a VOA Mammoth a long, long time ago, a nice three seater model, and after that, it kinda seemed like a moot point.

Back to the Battered Hilt… if I use it, who to use it on? And what spec?

This was an actual crunch time for me, because it caused me to really think about what I enjoy doing in the game, how I felt about playing the game, and who I wanted to invest in with a big ticket item for the long term.

I thought of my Druid first, of course, but I have the Orca Hunter’s Harpoon on him, and I really like the way it looks. From a pure graphics standpoint, it’s the awesmome. I don’t like what the weapons Feral Druids get from the Battered Hilt look like, despite how awesome all that Expertise is.

But, but… the weapon would have been better! Yeah, but this was the first realisation to come out of my thinking… I really, no I mean really, don’t care about stats beyond Heroics at this point. Faced with the guaranteed big time tasty weapon for someone, I decided against stats…

And went with looks.

My Ret Paladin has the big honking axe from Heroic Pit of Saron. It’s a good axe. Thing is… I don’t like the looks of the axe.

The Tyrannical Beheader is one bitchin’ looking weapon… but meh. My Paladin is SO over axes this season.

But do I really like my Paladin enough to replace a perfectly good, powerful two handed glowey axe with a two handed sword valued at 7500 gold, no matter how smokin’ hawt?

I thought about it a long time, and realized… yes, I guess I do. It’s only money, and screw stats.

Plus, hey, I’ve heard thats a real fun quest chain. That’s a bigger draw than whatever weapon I eventually get.

The second thing I internalized is, I like my Druid for Tanking and Healing. I like my Hunter for ranged DPS. And I like my Paladin for in-your-face melee DPS.

Any other character I play is, inevitably, going to end up being a good time leveling, before being dumped on the trash heap of MMO history.

Oh yeah, and being a Profession bot.

I did the entire Battered Hilt quest chain, and when I finished I had a massive two-handed Quel’Delar with Berserking enchanted on it courtesy of a rather melancholy player. 🙂

I was, initially, quite pleased.

I was so pleased, so heady with that ‘new gear’ smell, that I dropped the 8 Primordial Saronite I’d been stockpiling to someday craft my Druid a pair of pants to cover my big bear butt, and instead had a pair of stainless steel britches forged instead.

They chafe in places that I shall not mention.

It was quite nice to sit and enjoy the feeling of having significant gear upgrades on a character I used to like to play.

Alas, like any other toy, there’s only so much fun to be had looking at it sitting on the shelf.

I decided to take that new gear out on the road for a spin, see what it could do. Open it up, feel the wind through my fur… um, hair, and glory in ridiculously oversized male compensation, er, I mean brandish my big honking sword, a mighty weapon that requires two hands to lift, no, no, that’s not much better, perhaps I shall leave that line of descriptive narrative, hmmm?

It was at that moment in time when the weekend kinda went downhill. At least it started on a high note.

Now, I’m not going to let this just degenerate into pissing and moaning.

I did some runs using LFD, queuing mostly as melee DPS, and gee whiz, it took a while to get groups.

I’m sure you never expected that.

When I did get groups, there was a pretty even mix of groups that failed due to people way undergeared and not playing well, or people way overgeared and not playing well, and the asshattishness such things see as a result.

When there were no problems, when the runs would go smoothly, which I’d say realistically were about 40% of the time, the accompanying silence and curtness would remind me of playing Unreal Tournament Onslaught in bot mode. Fun group play, but you feel like you’re the only actual person in a field of automatons.

There were about a solid 10% of runs that had friendly people, people who met adversity in some way, rose above it, and became groups that were fun to be a part of, if for no other reason than it was nice to know that for once I was playing with people that seemed friendly and mature.

But the worst of the runs… they do stand out, don’t they? They stand out for what they tell us about ourselves, and what we choose to do.

I’ll grab one example out of the grab bag, because as a proponent of Feral Druid Tanks, this guy just pissed me off.

I happened to pop on my Druid to heal one, since I’ve mostly forgotten what healing is like.

I got a random Heroic Gundrak with a Feral Druid tank. The Feral Druid had over 6k GS, and by the time we were done with the snake boss and hitting the Elemental Boss trash, I had begun to realize that this tank, by my standards, just sucked. Bad.

Why? Because either from lack of skill or lack of give a shit, he wasn’t bothering to actually play as a tank.

First example? I spent most of the first boss with 4+ snakes on me because he went after the boss rather than clear the trash first.

Apparently, holding aggro is for lesser geared tanks that actually give a shit. I spent the entire short time healing myself and everyone else while the other DPS shot things off of me, bless them. The tank, of course, was busy being a 6k GS rockstar out front.

All the snake adds that came in after the boss aggroed? On me as well. 

Really? Just, really?

So yeah, I’m thinking to myself, self, what are the chances that this guy just happened to get so many prime pieces of feral tanking loot in high end raids that he’s an (actually 6.1k GS) rockstar, but he doesn’t know how to tank his raid groups? What are the odds he’s really normally kitty DPS and just stupid at tanking?

Maybe 50/50, I guess.

Either way, he sucks, and it’s irritating.

But here is realization #3; the runs I have with people possessing a gearscore of over 4800 are far worse than those with people in 4000 to 4400. They are more painful, there are more deaths, there is a lot more bitchiness and general pissyness, and people display a complete and utter lack of skill at the most amazing times.

Cassie, having long ago decided the same thing, tells me that I need to start queueing with my weapons and shoulders unequipped, cutting down on my apparent gearscore, so I’ll have a better chance at running with lower ranked players.

Why is that? Because she thinks, and I’m starting to agree, that one of the biggest irritants we see is that people with high raiding gearscores are arrogant, think they are ‘the shit’, feel like they are too good for Heroics with ‘the scum’, and yet do it to get their two Frost emblems each day anyway.

So, they’re slumming, resentful of it, and phone it in, playing with their heads up their ass, and frankly sucking at it. Gear does not equal skill, and I have seen countless 4400 GS tanks do a mind-blowingly superior job tanking compared to the 5.5k GS idiots I see more often.

I agree with her… I’d rather play with people that are still cautious and trying to play with skill because they think their gear sucks and are trying their best so as to, ugh, not offend the high gearscores that are deigning to carry them.

You think I’m kidding?

Let me finish talking about that one Gundrak example.

We are just hitting the trash in the room outside boss numero two, the purple goo elemental that inhabits the stone statue, when our masterful Feral Druid tank decides, after a run of dead silence, that he has wisdom he’d like to share with the class.

Specifically, he starts talking shit about the Warlock in the group. Just, out of nowhere.

First, he announces, “Mr Warlock. Stop using Rain of Fire. It sucks. Only Seed of Corruption.”

Now, before anyone has a chance to respond to these words of Heroic Gundrak wisdom, while still sucking as a tank and I’m healing everyone frantically while the Death Knight is pulling one of the mobs the tank ignored off of me, he continues, with the flat announcement “crap DPS pisses me off.”

What, crap DPS pisses him off? Well, eating mobs in my branches pisses me off, bad tanking pisses me off, bad FERAL DRUID tanking freaking enrages me, and I’m not pissing and moaning about it in group, now am I?

And then, right on the heels of that stunning bit of personal sharing, he announces that “I’m sick of playing with crap DPS.”

Now, I’m pretty confused. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong with  the run so far except really crappy tanking, to be honest. Stuff is dying mighty fast, ain’t that what DPS is supposed to do? They’re even grabbing the mobs off me that the tank is ignoring, I’d rate them as a bunch of fine chaps, they’re all right in my book.

I glance at the DPS Meter, maybe there is someone that ain’t pulling their weight.

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one, since I had JUST been in a Heroic Halls of Reflection where a Warrior gleefully announced he was still leveling his weapon skill… he was at 320 at the time. During most of that HHoR run, the warrior averaged 352 DPS, so yeah… I could understand a little aggravation if we had another one of those types of situations.

Oh, that HHoR run? Nervous Tank with 4400 GS, Healer with about the same, my Paladin, a Mage and the aforementioned Warrior… it was one of the smoothest HHoR runs I’ve ever been on, thank you very much. Not a single 5k+ GS to be seen (except me), and yet us poor little peons managed to do JUST fine… unlike the runs in HHoR I had later in the weekend with the 5500 GS tank and healer combo that couldn’t make it past the first boss.

That’s not evidence of anything, by the way, unless you want to think of it as my experiences in reinforcing why I increasingly don’t want to play with strangers in Heroics with really high gear.

now, after that build up, where do you think that Warlock came out on the DPS meters?

He was indeed at the bottom, with a measly 3000 DPS.

You know and I know that 3000 DPS isn’t exactly rocking the ICC hard mode charts, right?

But this isn’t ICC. This is Heroic Gundrak. Heroic GUNDRAK.

It’s not even ToC, FoS, PoS or HoR. The four instances where gear over iLevel 200 drop.

It’s Heroic Gundrak.

I don’t care how you measure it, 3k DPS as the lowest on the chart doesn’t suck.

A couple of the other players, not even the Warlock, talk for the first time in the run, one saying that he wouldn’t exactly call 3000 DPS “crap”, and the other saying “asking a Warlock not to use Rain of Fire is like asking a Hunter not to use Volley, lol” which I thought was pretty damn funny. 

I was initially busy, because you know… getting eaten and having to heal frantically and all.

But I find the manual dexterity to chime in with, “The only problem I’ve seen so far is you aren’t bothering to tank, unless I’m supposed to be tanking all these mobs as part of your master plan.”

The tank, without a further word, runs forward, pulls the boss, hits it once and drops group.

Well, that’s show us, won’t it! That certainly put us in our place.

Without a break in stride, the Death Knight went all out while the Warlock sicced his pet on the boss, we easily killed the thing, and there were no deaths, thank you very much.

Then we requeue for a tank, and laugh at his idiot fail butt. He couldn’t even handle a proper seeing to!

We wait for about 30 seconds before I say “I can switch to my tank spec”, at the same time as the Death Knight says HE can switch to tank… and we get a new tank anyway.

30 whole seconds.

We get a measly 5500 GS tank, who lols at us for wiping, and when we explain the tank abandoned us in mid pull, he kinda metaphorically shrugged his shoulders, hitched his suspenders and away we went.

The rest of the run went smooth as silk, and hey, nobody said anything the rest of the run. We even ran the extra boss, which is nearly unheard of.

That’s just one example of the kind of thing that’s been eating away at the back of my brain, making me nibble around the edges of realization #4.

It’s not yet a full blown realization, it’s still a burning question. 

Why?

No, really, why do I continue to play this game?

I don’t like other people’s snotty little kids. I just don’t.

I don’t put up with that kind of bullshit in person, so why should I put up with it on the internet? Serious business? Oh, please. Cry more? Yeah, keep talking that brave internet talk.

I keep telling myself that the number of really nice, mature people that play the game are the silent majority, and the asshats just seem more prevalent because they make SURE they make their presence felt.

It’s always a comforting thought to hold dear. Sure, this guy may be an assclown, but most folks in the game are nice, pleasant, mature folks it’d be a pleasure to quaff Guinness with.

But, is that true?

Are most people in the game nice? Or pleasant? Or mature?

Over the weekend, I ran into two players in a run, both from a guild called something similar to “Sofa king reh todd edd”. That one stands out in my mind as almost demanding a bitchslap, but it’s certainly not an isolated incident.

Others I know told me of similar naming delights they experienced in their pugs, but fortunately my memory has blocked it out.

There is something I’ve long held to be true, and I’m starting to wonder how it applies in an MMO.

“You can’t depend on anyone else to make you happy. In a relationship, in life, in a game, whatever, only you can make you happy. Other people can try and bring you up or down, but whether or not you’re happy all comes down to you.”

I get cranky at times, and take a shot at an asshat or two, or wonder at the idiocy I see around me, but when it comes to having fun in the game, I’ve never had a problem finding the fun. If I’m not having fun at the moment… I move my butt until I’m back in the fun. I don’t expect the game to do it for me, to present me with a covered platter, under which there shall be found ‘teh fun’. Nope, if I ain’t having fun, I go looking for it.

I don’t expect other people in the game to make me happy, or be my good time. I expect to have to seek out things that I find fun, and my good mood has to come from my own point of view.

Realization #4 is that I really have to re-examine what I want out of the game, and how I spend my time… because more and more, max level activities with strangers, any strangers, are just NOT it. 

And from that realization comes some corollaries.

For example, if I ain’t gonna play at max level anymore, why bother getting upgrades for level 80 play in the first place?

I have been riding that edge already, spending every Emblem on my toons to get Heirloom gear to make leveling new alts a smooth experience.

But aside from a kick ass weapon… do I really need Heirlooms? What’s the rush to get to 80? All I’ll be doing is putting another character on the shelf and starting another one.

I still really enjoy leveling new character classes, building new adventures around a new persona. That’s still a lot of fun, and nobody talks about how they raped someone else in PvP when you’re soloing in Barrens with all the chat channels turned off.

What I’m thinking, is maybe I should restart on another server entirely, much like Elystia did.

Just pull up stakes, start somewhere new, and if I want to help a poor low level alt out, I can make a Death Knight to go do some quests in Outlands, pull in a few gold.

Make a new character, go out without Heirlooms, and see the World of a different server.

And before I take that first step… shut off every global chat channel in the game. Make it the equivalent of the biggest single player game filled with random bots ever seen.

I’m getting burnt out. Burnt out on playing a game where the misfits are starting to outnumber the people I’d like to hoist a few with.

It’s too bad that Quel’Delar can’t be Bind on Account, and scale in power like an Heirloom.

In fact, it’s too bad all the Legendaries don’t do that. That would make them oh so glorious to have, a true joy to play with rqather than an epeen bragging right on your trophy room wall? If your Legendary scaled and was Bind on Account? That would be just too cool to see on a level 1 in the Exodar.

Itty bitty comic geeky!

A word or two about Spider-Man, if you’ll indulge me.

Okay, I’m kidding. It’s a bearwall.

This one is so offtopic it’s off the map. Or is that off the chain? I get those two confused, I’m old.

A recent Gutters comic (god I love that webcomic) captured how I felt about the entire Joe Quesada “Brand New Day” Spider-Man retcon… well, perfectly.

Look, I think Joe Quesada has done a lot of positive things for the Marvel line-up. I really do.

I love the entire Ultimates concept that he supported, for example. 

And if we take a look at what actually happened to the mainstream Spider-Man comics, it wasn’t all bad ideas.

For one thing, there were just too damn many Spider-Man monthlies with similar titles, different numbering schemes, and crossover storylines that you had to hop from series to series to try and piece together.

Blech. It’s stupid. If you’re gonna tell a serialized story, put all the pieces of the story under one title, OR do it rarely and then clearly label those seperate issues that are part of the crossover.

I’m gonna have a very limited amount of patience with trying to decide if an issue is a tie in from another series in the middle of a story arc if you’re not gonna clue me in on the cover. And no, I’m not just going to buy everything you ever publish in the hopes that THAT way I’ll get the whole story. Umm, /facepalm.

Now, if you’re in the comics industry, and all you do is think about and follow the comics industry, then I bet you’ve got no trouble whatsoever keeping it all straight. After all, it’s what you do. You read everything done by everybody, and follow it all, and read the authors blogs, and developer diaries, and whatsis.

If the people who do that are your intended demographic… well, okay, then I should shut up ’cause I ain’t who you’re marketing for.

But if, by some chance, you do hope to catch the marketshare of the ‘people who like to read comics along with other stuff’, well, I gots better stuff to be doing with my time than keep track of your entire publication lineup. No, I don’t follow the trades catalog to see if you’ve got a special one shot coming up that will have a critical part of the story from your normal series that I’ll miss otherwise.

NO, I will not pick up a comic purchase story arc card from the comic shop so I can plan wwhich issues come out which month so i don’t miss them (are you f’ing kidding me with this? I’m looking at you, World War Hulk).

Just saying.

No, wait, I can’t let that go. Seriously, LOOK AT THE CHECKLIST THEY GAVE OUT!!!!

That’s just asinine. Joe, I want to bitchslap you so hard your ancestors will be put off sex, that’s what I want to do.

Anyway, Spider-Man and multiple series simultaneously.

Joe Quesada, perhaps bowing to sales figure reality, collapsed all the various Spidey titles under one umbrella… and then made it a triple a month release.

Hey, that should’ve been done years ago. One series to follow, and you bring it out more often per month to catch the sales interest in that character. Good job. Even *I* can follow one series. At least, until you do one story arc across a bazillion other titles.

No, I’m not going to even try to pretend that Joe Quesada is some kind of evil, smelly demon-man. Nah. He’s done a lot I can agree with.

I’ll bring up that Ultimates thing again. Umm, Joe, thanks for helping bring about the single greatest pleasure I have had in comics as an adult… seeing a brilliant re-invention of my favorite comics lines, from the ground up, done by adults.

I know the Ultimates brands are referred to as marketed to the teen audience, but I beg to differ. I prefer to think they were targeted, in terms of story, towards people that like tight stories.

Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man run is my favorite, by far, but a real close second is the Fantastic Four relaunch. I really loved the entire Cosmic Cube storyline, from seeds planted early to eventual conclusion.

Yes, I know that a ton of pop culture is embedded in them… hey, that’s one of the things I like about them. I can identify and relate. Spider-Man interrupting a film being shot in New York about him? His fight action getting recorded and included in the film… and since he can’t reveal his identity, his not making a dime on it? Oh, that was hilarious.

I won’t pretend to like or enjoy the Ultimatum Wave ending, it felt pretty half-assed compared to other aspects of the overall Ultimates storylines, but hey… At least Ultimate Spider-Man is still continuing on.

But let me get back to that Gutters comic, and Joe Quesada’s continuity retcon.

I really liked J. Michael Straczinski’s run on Spider-Man. I did. He brought a ton of great concepts and built them very well.

And then, and pardon me if I still choke a little, Joe Quesada kicked all us fans right in the nutsack.

Peter Parker, after decades of us growing up right alongside the smartassed, wisecracking little nerd trying his best to fight the good fight, the kid with all heart and no quit, married the woman of his dreams. A real marriage, hard times, problems, stress, and working through it. He decided to try and do more with his life than swing around looking for muggings to interrupt; he got a job teaching a class in a school. Just a regular class, trying to make a difference, a difference we could relate to, a damn hard task for anyone, making a difference in the lives of some real kids who need a mentor and understanding teacher more than they do a guy in spandex.

I for one grew up reading Spider-Man comics.

I wasn’t some idiot who tried to be Spider-Man when he grew up, but I could definitely relate to the underdog aspect, the trying your damndest and never giving up aspect of it.

Okay, so i also loved that he was a smartass. To EVERYONE.

Who else do you know that will be a smartass to Galactus? Yeah, ahuh.

People talk about inspirations and examples for our formative years. The importance of having something to look up to, someone to admire.

And then, for the most part, we’re told to look at politicians and sports athletes and rock stars and movie stars to seek that inspiration.

Umm, no. Athletes pretty much equals a desire to take any perfomance enhancing drug if they think they can get away with it, drunken wild orgies on boats on lakes in Minnesota, driving over policewomen in downtown Minneapolis, and flying personal jets to training camp after the actual ‘training’ part is over, blowing off practice because you’re apparently too good to need any of that teamwork building crap, and making me applaud one brave announcer who proclaimed “The Ego Has Landed” when Farve touched down.

Wait, what was I saying?

And politicians? If you use a politician as your role model, well, jeez. Anyone aspiring to be a politician when they grow up might as well just be a bank robber – it’s a less dishonest way of making a living. At least you’re stealing it all at once without pretension to a higher calling of public service.

Rock Stars? Umm… okay, I’m not gonna go there. And movie stars? Man, give me a target that takes at least SOME effort.

But you open up a comic book, and what do you have?

You have an attempt to depict, for the most part, people trying to do the right thing… and exploring what that means. Whether they be aliens from another planet, or normal people overcoming great personal tragedy, or anything in between, one of the most prevalent recurring themes in comics is struggling to do the right thing… even struggling to understand what the right thing even is.

It goes way beyond “with great power comes great responsibility”. Many modern storylines take serious looks at what it might be like if someone with godlike power but flawed concepts of morality or ethics tried to impose their will on various cultures.

One of my favorites was the recent Black Summer by Warren Ellis, who writes some damn fine pieces of speculative fiction hiding behind pretty pictures.

Getting back to Joe Quasada’s gutting of Spider-Man.

The Spider-Man had it. His life was hard, it wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t even fun most days. It was frequently bleak, long hours of dedicated back breaking work, trying to do the right thing.

But he had the most wonderful, vibrant marriage to the woman he loved above all else in his life. That, and knowing in his heart that he was doing his best to actually make a difference, in costume and in normal life. that, and the struggle, was enough.

And Joe Quesada not only broke up Pete’s marriage and dumped Peter back into the Daily Planet, but he also decided in his massive retcon that all of that grown up crap NEVER EVEN HAPPENED ANYMORE.

It didn’t exist. No marriage. He didn’t even get along on speaking terms with MJ. Just, slam! Didn’t like that, did ya Joe? It’s more fun to have a single, angsty, dating problems Spider-Man with crap tossed in his direction by old tired super-villains, and teaching? What, teaching kids in school? SPIDER-MAN? Hell, who can relate to THAT? Nah, make good old Peter a struggling kid out to make a buck taking photos, and hiding his secret from Aunty May.

That… that was a galactic level kick in the nuts.

Why?

Because, there are SO DAMN FEW GOOD EXAMPLES OF A NORMAL LIFE in the media!

I actually, mentally just did a Jesse Ventura “meee deee ahhh” there in my head. I knew I should have stopped for beer on the way home tonight.

Take a good, long look at comics, or television, or really any other form of media.

Just how many examples of a strong relationship that weathers any storm do you SEE out there?

Look, emotional turmoil makes for spicy drama, so I know, I KNOW that for a quick and cheap dramatic turn by a lazy writer, you build up a quicky relationship JUST so you have something to tear down later. 

But it’s everywhere. That kind of writing, that relationship foundation is the norm out there. That is the most prevalent example you’ll ever see… nobody, but nobody has a stable relationship for long. They all fall apart eventually.

How many incidents of true love, true enduring ‘can’t touch this’ love can you name in comics or television media?

Relationships that lasted, and grew, and no matter what bullshit went on around them, just stayed strong because no matter what else, the two people loved each other and trusted each other, and no lazy writer came along and decided to shatter that trust by writing in a bullshit cheating or lying or deceiving moment?

Now… of those loves… how many were ended by the death of one or the other to provide some good old fashioned grief or revenge?

Don’t you think that such a relationship, depicted in fiction, and left alone to just keep going is a rare enough thing that it makes for an interesting story concept on it’s own?

Ahh, but it’s almost never done… so, for lazy writers, you’ve got to actually WORK to keep it interesting, don’t you? Nothing much to copy out there, is there?

But there was one. call it what you will, Peter and MJ finally had a strong, enduring relationship and marriage together.

And along came Joe Quesada, who saw nothing worth saving, nothing of value, in the enduring love of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Just tear it down, that stuff doesn’t make for gripping drama.

Hey Joe? Yeah, for that, and that alone, kiss my ass.

You know what I thought when I read that issue? The One More Day/Brand New Day arc?

I thought of the death of one other enduring, unbreakable love that really pissed me off.

I would be talking about the Willow Rosenberg/Tara Maclay relationship from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now, episode after episode, once it got going, that was true, unshakeable love. It was hard at times, there were issues, there was some shaky writing in there, and there were moments of real high drama. But the drama was in our expectations… the episode where Tara’s got a group of, umm, ‘people’ who come to try and bring her back to their, umm, ‘home’ with them, in particular, was one of the most intensely worrying ones, because it really looked like there was an intentional storyarc building to show that Tara’s love and trust was a deception after all. The drama from that one came from the way you just can’t trust a storywriter to NOT write in a bullshit twist to cause a TV relationship to fall apart.

But no, that was a romance and a relationship that made me cheer what I hoped was a new age in TV writing. Writers daring to show a strong, trusting relationship that didn’t get betrayed by one damn thing or another, or by some stupid misunderstanding that could have been worked through if there was actual trust between the two. Damnit, I would have loved to have seen those two get married on top of a sealed Hellmouth as the series ending.

I’m not going to belabor the way that relationship ended. Aside from noting that, and I am not exaggerating, that moment, that exact moment when the relationship died in the backyard of their house stands out as one of the few moments in my life where I was truly pissed off and livid at a television show.

I mean, ‘choke the living shit out of the writer if he was in front of me’ livid.

But, that’s where they took it, and I guess a lot of people agreed it was a good direction to take the story, so whatever.

I’ve got a big middle finger for how they did it because i wanted it to keep going… but then again, if they started by wanting to get to ‘Dark Willow”, and were trying to find a way to do it, I’d rather they did what they did than that they cause some form of deception or failure of trust or messy bullshit breakup be the reason.

IF they really wanted to get to Dark Willow and were looking for a way while still treating their relationship with repsect, that is. And that’s what I think happened there. They wanted to get to a Dark Willow story arc, and wanted to find a way to do it while treating Willow’s relationship with Tara with respect.

Joe Quesada, from what I saw while reading those comics, simply wanted to destroy the marriage. He didn’t treat it with any respect, he treated it as something to shitcan for expedience in the name of a series reboot and as an attempt to boost sales.

Seriously, I honestly think that if I want to see a long lasting, enduring romantic relationship that withstands the test of time, two people that never lose faith in each other come what may, I’m going to have to write it myself.

Ahem… one shot movies like the Princess Bride, and Romeo and Juliet, don’t count. And R & J [spoiler] both die at the end, which cuts down on the recurring episode market for that one.

You know, even the most powerful on-screen recurring relationship I can think of, Beauty and the Beast, couldn’t maintain it without destroying it eventually in the name of ratings.

You’d think they could, considering the structure of the show… and if you stop watching after season two, and DO NOT WATCH season three, you can retain your blissful ignorance of any eventual tragedy, and prefer to believe, like I do, that Catherine and Vincent remain forever in love, sharing their lives in the Tunnels Below with their family.

Ahh, I miss that show, damnit.

Anyway, in the name of shining examples of actual, enduring love and trust and mutual respect, Joe Quesada, this middle finger’s for you!