Thursday, July 30, 2020

Keep that Hamster Wheel Going

It was inevitable that I'd get on the gear treadmill that MMOs hitch their endgame to these days.

And part of it is, admittedly, the desire to not bring up the rear when it comes to DPS.

Yes, I do have a story about that.

About 3 weeks ago, somebody I knew from running pugs whispered me and asked if I was interested in joining their guild's weekly Zul'Gurub run. "Sure," I replied, "which toon to you want me to bring? Mage or Rogue?"

"Bring your Rogue, as we already have several Mages."

Which was fine with me, as at the time I'd several runs of Zul'Gurub under Az, so I knew what was expected of me. My enjoyment in doing the little things tended to pay off with certain bosses in Z'G. So I grabbed a few potions, rebuilt my poison supply, and accepted the summons to Z'G.

I joined the guild's discord channel, but I decided to stay quiet and listen. This wasn't a pug per se, and I counted about 3-4 people who weren't guild members, so I wasn't going to butt in unless there was something relevant.

The first thing I noticed was how smooth the run progressed. "Like a hot knife through butter," is how I described it in my guild's chat. While I did notice I was running around 11-12 in DPS, I knew that I wasn't as well geared as the guild team I was in, but somewhere in the bottom third was okay for me.

Then I noticed just how many people were in the raid.

There weren't 20 people, but 15.

So, I was barely above the healers, and sometimes not even then.

That made me wonder just what on Azeroth was going on, so I started inspecting people in between pulls.

They were all BWL geared, and poor old Az had a mix of T0 and Z'G gear.


Now, the guild was very nice and didn't mention my lack of DPS, although naturally during Jin'do I got mind controlled and critted on a healer, taking her out. As I said in my guild chat later, it would figure that my best crit of the night came when I was mind controlled.


So after that experience, I decided I was going to have to work harder at getting raid worthy gear. If I was going to be invited to a raid like this, I wanted to pull my own weight.

That meant two things: I was going to have to complete the T0 sets for both Cardwyn and Azshandra, and I was going to have to be more diligent in raiding on both toons.

Saying I was going to do it was one thing, but doing both? Well, that's a different matter. And, I'll confess, it also involves more than a little bit of luck, both good and bad.

One piece of luck dropped my way soon after the previously mentioned Z'G run: an acquaintance in Classic whom I'd run instances with invited me to their guild's weekly MC pug run. The timing wasn't purely ideal for me --I tend to prefer WoW activity later in the evening after dinner-- but I conferred with my wife and we agreed that we could work in dinner prior to the raid, so I wouldn't have to miss sitting down with the family.

The people in the raid were nice --and several of them were older than me, which made me feel good-- but I'd not done Molten Core as a melee DPS before, and it showed.

As in "I was a splat on the ground multiple times" showed.

My acquaintance felt bad for me about that, but I assured her that I was expecting to die a lot. Melee DPS is a completely different mindset from ranged, and Az was (arguably) geared more poorly than Cardwyn. So when you combine poor gear with "up close and personal with the fights", yeah, you can die pretty damn fast.*

Still, it was an enjoyable experience, so I was happy that my acquaintance and I worked out a regular night for Az to raid MC.

That left Cardwyn, and she has her "regular" MC run, as it were, but her issue wasn't so much as that as that her T0 set (theoretically the Magister's set) had a lot of other T0 pieces filling in gaps. Such as the Devout Crown, because nobody wanted it when it dropped and Card's headgear at the time was a green she'd picked up from trash in Maraudon. The same thing goes with other pieces, such as the Warlock T0 legs, that despite the number of times she's run Stratholme Undead she's never been able to replace.

So Card became more aggressive in running instances that would allow her to fill out her T0 set properly.**


For a guy who prefers to play casually --and play by his own rules-- this has been a bit of a shock to the system.

Focusing on raiding has a bit of a team sports mentality to it, no matter how laid back or casual the raiding group seems to be. Having played team sports for over a decade in my youth***, I'm not exactly sure how I'll react in the long run to being part of regular raiding groups. I've had good and terrible experiences playing sports, and I've got a very low tolerance for asshats. So far, so good, but I think I'll have to table any real raiding opinions until I've got a couple of months under my belt. By then, I'll likely have graduated to BWL at the very least, and maybe even ventured into AQ20 once or twice.

But we'll see.

Oh, and this past Tuesday's run had a glitch. Az was jumping across the lava during the Ragnaros fight when I "fell through" into this:

You don't need to pay for Shadowlands,
everyone. I just found the WoW afterlife!!

I couldn't even be rezzed, as the raid team couldn't reach me, so I had to release and run back. But my reward for being glitched into oblivion were the Rogue T2 legs that dropped.

*My first death was also my oddest, as I critted so hard on my first swipe that I pulled aggro and died almost instantly on one of those Ancient Core Hounds. I still have no idea how I did that, because I took some time to let the tank get aggro by positioning myself perfectly behind the puppy, but I still managed that massive crit in just the wrong time. Oh well.

**As of this moment, that Devout Crown was finally replaced, but she still needs about 3-4 more pieces to have a complete T0 Magister's set.

***Started with baseball, then spent the Spring playing baseball and the Winter playing basketball, and finally three years of Track and Field in high school. You'd never guess that I played sports now if you saw me, but yes, I was an athlete.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Something Something Something Motorcycle Maintenance

What now seems a long time ago, I fell in love with playing Tetris.

The game had recently been released in the states. and I remember playing the game on a (then new) 286 PC clone that my parents had bought.* I was in college, and when I was visiting home --and I wasn't up to my ears in homework that came along for the ride-- I'd play Tetris as stress relief.

This is the Tetris that I knew.

After a while, I got pretty good at the game, to the point where the game "slowed down" for me. That's typically a sports slang where a player gets good enough at the level of the sport that they're playing in that they can process everything happening around them and make decisions at a faster rate than before. It's an "a-ha!" moment when someone moving up to, say, one of the top flight European leagues in futbol or the NFL in (American) football suddenly is no longer a step behind because they're still trying to figure things out. They simply just do it, with no direct thought process at all.

For me, once I reached that point in playing Tetris, I was able to detach myself from actually playing the game and simply react to whatever shape was being thrown at me. It was a weird feeling, akin to me watching another person playing the game, and I was merely along for the ride. I described it once as entering a Zen state, where people who perform different actions (Tea Ceremonies, for example) slip into a meditative state during those performances.**

I've slipped into that state in other games over the years, most notably Sid Meier's Civ series, but it's been a long time since I could say that I slipped into that sort of state when playing an MMO. Given that MMOs have two competing interests --story and activity-- that frequently demand your direct attention, slipping into a quasi-meditative state doesn't really happen much. However, I found myself looking on as a spectator when I was in a couple of 5-man instances this past weekend.

Both of these instances were in Stratholme, one on the Live side and one on the Undead side, and I've run them enough times that I knew what to do on both co-mains.*** And in both occasions, once we got the first couple of pulls out of the way, all of us in the group had gotten the feel of each other and slipped into our roles without any issues.

Nothing says "Riverdare's Place"
quite like seeing this on the floor.

In each instance, you get into a roll: trash pull, clear, kill any adds, move on. After some pulls, you hit a boss or an event, and you finish and continue on. Same old, same old, the instance pattern from time immemorial. But shortly after the first boss/event in each instance, my consciousness found myself just along for the ride while I moved each toon around, attacked, performed CC actions, and did other things without even thinking about them. It wasn't until later in each instance, when something unexpected happened (an accidental --and temporary-- disconnect, for instance) that I snapped back into awareness and took care of things as usual.

I haven't had that happen since my Wrath days, running instances such as The Nexus or Utgarde Keep, or even the pre-expansion days of SWTOR, where I'd get into that sort of state in Athiss or Cademimu.

Afterward, I wondered about exactly why this happened. Was I simply so used to my roles that I could handle this, or had my toons had gotten powerful enough to allow me the opportunity to distractedly daydream? After all, I'd noticed how easier things got when I went from a fresh L60 to acquiring mostly T0 gear, and I now notice even more the differences between T0 and T0+MC / T0+ZG gear. My DPS might not have gone up as much as I'd have liked, but in the case of Card my mana certainly had gone up, which allowed me to a) drink less, and b) be able to react when things go bad.

While the ability to understand a role and raw power likely are contributing factors, I suspect that my recent encounters with Zen also have to do with simply just letting go of control and reacting by instinct. I am by nature a bit of a control freak; I prepare for meetings**** by trying to think of all potential questions and having answers ready beforehand, and I was not about to embarrass myself (or my friends) in my first Zul'Gurub and Molten Core runs by not knowing what to do, so I spent the 1/2 - 1 hour prior to each by scrambling to read up on each raid. I've been known to do that on instances as well, especially when I'm specifically invited to join them by a friend. I quest in a conservative fashion, because I realize my physical abilities (particularly my fingers and reaction time) are on a slow and steady downward slide as I progress through middle age.

Giving up control like that is hard for me, not because I can't control the narrative, but because I want to prove myself worthy and not create major embarrassing moments that I'll regret later.

But when I do give up control, consciously or not, something magical can happen.

I just need to accept it.

*Don't ask how much it cost --I can't remember-- but I do remember it running MS-DOS 3.3 in a pre-Windows world. And that it had a then roomy 40 MB hard drive, of which several MB were on another partition because 3.3 couldn't handle sizes greater than 33 MB.

**Yes, I actually remained awake during my Eastern Philosophy class, who was taught by a Zen Buddhist. We did cover other Eastern religions, but it was readily apparent that Zen Buddhism section was his favorite.

***There, I said it. They're both equal right now in terms of time played.

****Particularly those which involve presentations. With management in attendance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Not-So-Glamorous Farmer's Life

Back in Wrath and I was a part of the (in)famous Horde guild, I used to spend my spare time at max level cruising around the Icecrown Glacier portion of Northrend, farming for mats to be used by the guild. It was a way for me to support the guild without having the time (at the correct time of day) to raid. It also gave me something to do between instance runs while chatting in guild chat.

Ah, the good old days.

Since I began raiding, I've discovered the need to actually focus on little things I'd previously not given much credence to. Such as storing Greater Shadow Protection and Greater Fire Protection potions for Molten Core, or collecting Swiftthistle to brew Thistle Tea. Sure, those little things would also have an impact on running instances (or in the case of Thistle Team, running battlegrounds), but given the risk/reward on an individual BG or 5-man instance is (compared to raids) pretty low, I was fine not worrying about whether I had enough Thistle Tea versus Flash Powder for Vanish.

But raids are an entirely different animal.

My first real raid --the Zul'Gurub run that I got talked into going*-- I ran while being completely oblivious of the preparation people put into raiding. But by the time I was invited to run Molten Core, I had a better idea of what to expect. Still, I spent the hour before the first raid invites went out frantically reading up about all the fights, which highlighted the need for various potions to mitigate damage enough to get the pressure off of the healers.

Thus began my love/hate relationship with using the auction house for my raid prep.

It takes my gold and gives me potions, at alarmingly high markup rates. But the people who put items up for sale know they've got a racket going, because we need their potions if we want to optimize our utility to the group. (Peer pressure can suck at times.)

Now, with a regular raid schedule and increasingly frequent whispers to join raids down a player, I can't simply throw my gold at the auction house on a regular basis and expect my bottom line to survive. Therefore, I've taken up farming again, but this time for items to sell on the AH and for Az to create potions for.

Sorry about that, Az. Not exactly the glamorous Rogue life.

But such is the life of a raider, I suppose.

As is the need to constantly make sure your buffs are all ready to go.


I'd always wondered about the constant stream of Dire Maul-North Tribute Run requests in the LookingForGroup channel; after all, my own first experience in DM North wing left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth (and a lot of broken equipment afterward).

But after having been part of a DM North Tribute Run, I now understand the appeal to the raider.

For the uninitiated, a DM North Tribute Run involves a group entering into Dire Maul's North Wing --the Ogre wing-- and avoiding all of the bosses until you get to the last boss. Once there, you kill only the Ogre King, and then better loot than normal runs drop. However, to the raider there's something more important: buffs. You run around to the bosses you didn't kill, and since you became the Ogre King (or Queen, in Card's case) they grant you buffs if you talk to them. Yes, even the drunk Ogre gives you some buffs in the form of booze to drink.

So that's a pretty clever way to get a player to run DM-North long after the gear dropped is obsolete, just like people who run the Stratholme Live area for the Righteous Orbs.


I wish I had some funny stories about my foibles raiding, but far too many of them are spur of the moment quips that lose their amusement value when you step away from the raid. But I can guarantee you that there are plenty of funny moments out there. After all, if I weren't having fun, I'd likely not be raiding.

And I guess that's enough.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some farming to do.

*The (now) guildies who talked me into running Z'G should have gone into sales. They were that good at being persuasive.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Cardwyn, you have the bomb!

When I used to read guild advertisements in chat --no matter whether it was SWTOR or WoW-- and they'd mention raid* clears of specific times, I would kind of shrug and say "Okay, that's nice." I presumed they were decent enough numbers, but given that I had no real reference to compare as I wasn't a raider I had no clue how good these guilds were.

Well, as I've dipped my toe into raiding I now know how long it takes to raid Molten Core or Zul'Gurub as a pugger.**

With that context, I now raise my eyebrows at the entries that I see in guild advertisements.


None of the Molten Core raids I've been in have been wipes. And, for the most part, Cardwyn has been somewhere in the 20s in terms of damage. That's due to several things:

  • She's a Frost Mage, dealing less damage than a comparatively geared Fire Mage. I'm fine with that, as I prefer mana efficiency and general utility over pure DPS. Besides, a Fire Mage draws a lot more threat than a Frost Mage does, which might not a big deal in a raid but is a larger deal in smaller groups.
  • She had close to a full Tier 0 (pre-raid) set, and only in the last two Molten Core runs has she finally started to get some Tier 1 gear. Judging by the inspections I've performed, she's one of the least geared toons in the Molten Core runs.***
  • I still lay off the DPS at first because I prefer to let the tanks get good aggro, whereas most of the other players just go balls to the wall with the DPS, trusting the tanks will hold aggro no matter what.
  • I've become the "Mage Mom" the past couple of Molten Core runs, constantly checking the raid group to see if they've all got Intelligence buffs and correcting as needed, making and distributing extra water during the raid when people run out, and other small things to keep everything going. That keeps me in a constant state of having to drink to keep my mana up, which means I'm always one of the last to start attacking during a mob pull.
So I'm doing okay in terms of damage. Plenty of people are doing more DPS than me, so we're not a bunch of noobs out here trying to complete Molten Core.

Still, we're averaging about 1:50 - 2:00 hours for a Molten Core clear.

Contrast that with guilds who are advertising 1:00 hour Molten Core clears.

By my way of thinking they have to be basically cutting as many corners as possible, avoiding tons of trash, and still sprinting their way as much as possible through the raid itself.**** At the same time, they have to be at least a full set of Molten Core gear, with some Blackwing Lair gear mixed in.*****


I have personal experience on the difference having Blackwing Lair gear (versus a mix of T0, T1, and T2) in a raid, so I can attest to the vast difference that makes.

At the beginning of this week, I got a whisper from someone I'd run Upper Blackrock Spire with earlier in the day asking if I wanted to join their guild's regular Zul'Gurub run. They were fine with me bringing Az --and to be fair they actually preferred I'd bring Az-- so I got the invite and away I went.

We began clearing trash and steamrolled so quickly through the first couple of bosses that I failed to noticed two things: We were running Zul'Gurub with only 15 people, and I was 11th on the damage meters. I realize that Az isn't the most geared Rogue out there (aforementioned chestpiece in the commentary below), but I'm used to her being somewhere in the middle of the pack.

So I started inspecting the other people in the raid and discovered almost immediately that people who had primarily Molten Core level gear were in the minority: almost everybody else was Blackwing Lair geared.

And until we ran into Jin'do, we were carving up Zul'Gurub like a turkey on Thanksgiving.

At Jin'do, the lack of a full 20 people in the raid hit us hard, and we wiped 3 times. For the 4th try, however, they enlisted an extra Warlock who helped put us over the top.

We had two wipes on the Hakkar trash, but Hakkar himself went down so fast that we only needed two (2!) Sons of Hakkar to DPS it down.

I was very grateful that nobody called me out on my lack of DPS, but I did my thing in providing the interrupts as needed.

So yeah, I can fully believe that Blackwing Lair gear would provide a huge advantage in Molten Core itself.


Still, I do have an issue when guilds put in their advertisements at how quickly they clear a raid and then proceed to say "we're a laid back social guild!" My response to that is simple: if you are laid back and social, the clear times on specific raids wouldn't matter, right? Or at least you wouldn't brag about your clear times, because posting them is a signal that you're hardcore enough that your clear times matter.

Don't get me wrong: you can be a progression oriented guild and be social, but frequently one is more important than the other, and your guild will reflect that.

I've seen people leave guilds because they want a more hardcore WoW experience, and I've also seen progression oriented guilds poach players from other guilds for their raid teams. I've seen guilds break up over their approach to handling different aspects of the game, and I've seen people just up and vanish without a trace.******


Okay, rant over.

The fact that I'm still raiding speaks to the enjoyment I'm getting out of it. I'm not on the progression grindstone, and the raids I've been in have been really good at keeping things calm and low key. Okay, not so much "low key" as keeping the situational humor going, but it all works even when things don't go well.

Nothing at all like this old chestnut:

*Or the equivalent, which in SWTOR are called "operations". I rarely see guild advertisements of this sort in, say, Elder Scrolls Online. There, I typically see guild advertisements that focus on making gold for some reason.

**I'm not quite sure where to place Upper Blackrock Spire. Yes, it's technically a 10 person raid, but compared to 40 person raids such as Molten Core or the 20 person raids of Zul'Gurub they seem almost miniscule by comparison. That point brings into sharp focus the reduction of raids to 25 person and then 10 person in subsequent WoW expacs. And that's long after I used to think 16 person operations in SWTOR for world boss takedowns were huge.

***I think Cardwyn is actually better geared than Azshandra is at the moment, because while Az has more Zul'Gurub gear, she is still running with an L55 Green chestpiece and has a Blue PvP-oriented dagger (Frightalon) as her main weapon. Az has absolutely terrible luck at getting those chestpiece drops.

****Another item that cuts raid time is the distribution of loot; in some raids the distribution is done along the way, and in others it's done after the raid is over. For obvious reasons, the latter allows a raid to keep going with minimal downtime.

*****Zul'Gurub's drops end up somewhere between the T0 pre-raid sets and T1 Molten Core gear. That means that eventually I'll need to bring Az into Molten Core to gear her up further, but I don't raid that much. And in the Molten Core raid I attend, there are already about 6 Rogues signed up, with anywhere between 3-5 Mages (including Card) on a regular basis.

******In a post Covid-19 world, those are the most worrisome. It's one thing to unsubscribe due to a variety of issues, but with Covid out in the wild there's always the concern in the back of your head that maybe that person you hung with and just vanished actually contracted the coronavirus and is in the hospital.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Open Trade for Water*

I have further proof that the Alliance can win in Alterac Valley:

The numbers don't tell the whole story.

We had a lot of healers in AV --probably about 10-12 Priests/Pallys/Druids combined-- and that made a huge difference in the match.

But for me, this was my biggest takeaway:

Yes, you read that right.

I wasn't BG Leader until about halfway through, and the original Leader didn't drop, so I guess he passed it off to me without me noticing.

I even blurted out in Chat "Holy shit, why am I leading?" but nobody seemed to care.

It's not like I was on the front lines, either, as I stayed back on defense at Stonehearth Graveyard. There were four of us back --2 Mages (including Card), a Holy Priest, and a Rogue-- and we were able to keep the Horde from flanking as well as keep SHGY out of Horde hands while the main team did the dirty work. It did feel weird when the Holy Priest and I were pushing against three Rogues in advance of the rest of the Defense team, and the Priest was shouting "Nobody touches my Mage!"

Our defense team moved forward to protect Iceblood Graveyard when that was captured, and once more when Frostwolf Graveyard was captured. By then, my job was to make sure we had a tank and off tank identified while we waited on the Relief Hut to be captured.

I did rush forward once we got the Relief Hut and got in some blasts on Drek before he died, but really I was a small cog in the match. The healers did the hardest part of the work, keeping the team upright and out in the field, while the rest of us were disciplined enough to want to push for a win rather than rep farming.

It's not like I'll get this gig very often, so I'll savor it while I can. And I can say that my record as BG Leader is 1-0.

*The title references the fact that Mages are in charge of distributing Water and/or Food before any group event. After I started Raiding, I took my job in BGs as "Water Girl" a lot more seriously.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

This is Gonna Leave a Mark

So, this happened yesterday:

I didn't do nuthin'! I swear!

I was walking across a parking lot, going to get something for lunch, when I felt a pop in the back of my left knee, and then I hit the ground.

I found myself unable to put any pressure on the left leg, and so I hopped my way back to the car and drove back home. Later that day when my wife got off of work, we took a little trip over to an urgent care facility to have the knee checked out.

An x-ray revealed no broken bones, and the doc said "there wasn't anything crazy in there", so they gave me the brace and told me to rest, elevate, and compress for a week to see what happens.

Normally you'd think that this means more game time, but given that I game from a regular desktop PC, sitting at a desk, I'm not so sure about that. But we'll see how it works out.

So... um... yay?