Friday, October 30, 2020

Direct from K-TEL*

Coming soon to record stores near you!!!


Yes, music lovers and WoW fans, your wildest desires have come true! All of your in game favorite songs are now available on a special 2 Record Set!

Featuring such hits as:

Loot the Dog

Hey Now! (Keep to the Left and Around the Bend)

Heal Me, Maybe

The Ballad of Alterac Valley

Holding Out For a Healer

Semi-Chanted Gear

Bear Necessities

(Watch out for the) Voodoo


Hit Me Tanky One More Time

I'm on Fire

(I'm Your) Ashkandi Man

Long Cool Healer in a Blue Dress

(A Pair of) Square Hammers

If you act now, you'll get our special bonus record:


For those SWTOR fans, you get even more of the best that Operations have to offer, featuring:

The (Not So) Mighty Quinn

Here's a Revan There's a Revan

The Rakghoul Mash

Thank You, Next Queue

Cademimu Funk

All this now for the LOW LOW price of $29.95 + Shipping and Handling!

Operators are standing by!! (Not really)

*Most people significantly younger than me will say "WTF is K-TEL?" Before the "Now!" series of compilation albums, K-TEL was in the business of selling compilation albums. They were (in)famous for their commercials and infomercials, which included the "Act now and you'll get XXX bonus materials!!" style of sales pitch, including "Operators are standing by!" To my surprise, K-TEL is actually still around, although without the influence they once had.

And before you ask, yes, this post was inspired by certain individuals --who shall remain nameless-- singing in our MC run last night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

End of a Slimeball

 We finished Viscidus last night:

Kind of hard to get a screenshot of
a smudge on the ground, so we decided to lie
down instead. A couple of us took turns teabagging
that old slimeball.

So our raiding group (95+% Valhalla Myzrael-US*) is 9/9 AQ40.

And somewhere along the line I managed to become Exalted with the Brood of Nozdormu and Revered with the Cenarion Circle. Without doing a single quest in Silithus.

I looked at that and thought, "Oh, that's cool." 

Then I realized that I might want to do a few of those quests after all. I wasn't thinking of doing much in Silithus until, say, November or December because by then I figured I'd be geared enough to consider it. Of course, that thinking went out the window in September.


What I've got now are people occasionally asking when I'll switch guilds.


I understand where they're coming from, but while I raid with them they're not the only people I hang with in Classic. (See: My 11th Anniversary post.) I also hang with people from 9-10 different guilds, and I've even gotten invited into a guild run of Strat UD with the top Alliance guild on the server. (Four of them, one of me. I actually held my own and didn't behave like a jerk, so yay me.)

It's understandable that people would think that I'd eventually join another guild, especially since so few people in my own guild ever sign on. When I joined, there were about 20 active members, but as time has gone on people have left the game, split for other guilds, or simply vanished. Right now, we have 2-3 people --including me-- who login with regularity. I suppose that those people who thought that the guild was my own personal guild can be forgiven for that misconception, since I'm the only one they see around Azeroth.

And to be perfectly honest, I have trust issues concerning guilds in MMOs. It's not like I've never talked about them here, so I'm not gonna rehash them too much. And to be perfectly fair, the guild I run with has been nothing but welcoming to me and the few others who aren't guildies, so it's nothing they've done to make me feel that way. Instead, it's all about me. 

The TL;DR of my MMO guild history has been about series of guilds blowing up, guilds reforming, blowing up again, and guilds fading away as time has gone on. The situation I find myself in with Retail Orphans is a mirror of what I experienced in Mists, where the guild I'd joined in Cataclysm slowly faded away until I was the only person who regularly logged in. 

And while I see active guilds around that would love to have me join, I keep having the doubts in the back of my head. "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me 4 or 5 times, what kind of sucker am I?"

So right now, where I'm at is where I'm likely to stay for a while. My WoW activity is (relatively) stable, and stability is nice.



*The rest are a few people like me who are part of different guilds.

Friday, October 23, 2020

I've Seen This Before

It goes without saying that Shadowlands is the talk of the blogosphere these days. Even blogs that rarely dabble in WoW at all have cast their eyes upon the upcoming WoW expac and have created posts on the level squish, the experience getting to L50, and discussions about the late (somewhat unlamented) expac, Battle for Azeroth.

This is not one of those posts.

If anything else, the hype feels like a huge case of deja vu*. 

Like, oh, Cataclysm.

Or for those of us who are pencil-and-paper RPGers, the Pathfinder/D&D 4e split.

All of these events promised us major changes in the game played, and yes, that was a completely accurate promise. But I also wonder whether the changes became a case in "be careful what you wish for, because you might get it".

Cataclysm revamped the original two continents of Azeroth, but at the cost of making the storyline disconnected from the Burning Crusade and Wrath zones. The revamped story in Azeroth made sense to older players, but left new ones scratching their heads in plenty of spots, wondering just what on earth they missed. In effect, Blizzard cut off their supply of new players by the Cataclysm revamp. 

Wizards of the Coast looked at the D&D 3.0/3.5 landscape, saw it was getting inundated with splatbooks and overloaded with feats and skills and whatnot, and decided to blow it all up with D&D 4e. 4e promised a total revamping of the system, and WotC delivered. Unfortunately, for many the "video game" nature of abilities in 4e drove long standing RPGers nuts, leading to the rise of Pathfinder**.

Pathfinder promised a similar, yet more streamlined system from D&D 3.5, and they delivered. But they also kept up the splatbook treadmill, which ended up with them back in the exact same problem that D&D 3.5 found itself in all those years ago.

So I look at Shadowlands as --effectively-- Cataclysm 2.0. It is Blizzard trying to forget their greatest advantage over every other MMO --the gigantic world of Azeroth itself, complete with questing and story and all sorts of other quirky things each zone has-- in favor of focusing on the newest expac. 


I know exactly what at least someone will say in response: all of that stuff is still there, and anybody can access it after having gone through the new intro zone and BfA. 

To which my response is: really? Do you really think that a new player is going to go back and examine all of the other areas after they get done with BfA and they get railroaded toward Shadowlands? Especially after you're so overleveled that your toon makes a mockery of the in-zone experience from previous expacs. Trying to make sense of the overall story in the Old World alone, so many expacs later, will cause an enormous amount of head scratching. Trying to figure out Burning Crusade vs Warlords of Draenor alone would be a huge problem.***

No, I don't think that is going to happen, and neither does Blizzard. They point you at Shadowlands because that's where they want you. Oh sure, they'll happily take your money**** for a subscription --they do that from me already, courtesy of Classic-- but they want you at Endgame. They want you doing all the things in Shadowlands, because they know that in WoW the game begins at Endgame. And every little subgame or whatnot that Blizzard introduces into WoW via Shadowlands becomes just one more thing that you have to do to get better at Endgame.

And if you're not happy with Shadowlands, there's Classic ready just for you: fewer races, fewer classes, no Cataclysm 1.0, no phasing, no proliferation of mini-games, etc.

*Or in this case, "deja vu all over again," as the late baseball player Yogi Berra once said.

**Known colloquially among pencil-and-paper RPGers as D&D 3.75.

***Then again, Marvel and DC have made their living on 'alternate Earths' for so long, maybe nobody will notice.

****The longer I've worked in Corporate America, the more obvious it's become that anything to increase profits is on the table when it comes to product development. My enjoyment of Classic aside, if I thought that Blizzard was doing this out of the goodness of their heart, I'd be next in line to buy a bridge in New York City. Blizzard likely views Classic as a hedge against the inevitable dropoff that comes when people get to max level in Shadowlands and the Trade Channels start becoming inundated with cries of "I'm bored!!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Why Can't I Just Enjoy the Ride, Part Whatever

Work has been kicking my butt the past few weeks, and between that and the stress relief of raiding I've not had much time for writing.

Hopefully this post will get me back on track a bit.

I've been enjoying my time in Classic, and as (I believe) Shintar put it that it's more enjoyable when you're with a group of people --a guild or a cross-guild group-- that you enjoy hanging with. And in true WoW fashion, while the focus is on downing the last boss in AQ40 (Viscidus), raid chat has been filled with what's coming up. Not Naxxramas, mind you, but a bit farther down the road than that: Burning Crusade.

To say that people are excited for BC to drop is probably an understatement. Draenei, Alliance Shamans, Outland, Draenei, flying, Karazhan, and Draenei are just some of the things that people are excited about.

And did I mention Draenei?

Of course, all this excitement for the Burning Crusade left me with an uneasy feeling. Oh, not that I'd be not interested in playing through Outland when it was relevant, or any sort of other petty reasons. In fact, I'd love to see some of my long time blogger friends (Hi, Vidyala and Voss!!*) come back and get a chance to play Burning Crusade again. 

Then what's the problem?

In a word: guilds.

Yeah, I'm just a ray of effing sunshine.

What will happen when BC drops and people start raiding? The requirements will plummet from 20 and 40 man raids to 10 and 25 man raids, and dropping the number of people in a raiding team by 50% and 63% (respectively) is going to result in some tension. Remember, we're coming at BC from an entirely different place than Vanilla: from what I've been told by people who were there, raiding was something that few guilds were able to do in Vanilla, so dropping the raid requirements to 10 and 25 people were a godsend. But in Classic, the situation is reversed: a LOT of guilds raid in Classic, so when you take a raiding team and chop it down like that, there's going to be some tension. The larger guilds with multiple raiding teams can probably absorb this adjustment, but the smaller guilds that field only one? That's another kettle of fish. 

For example, I'm one of six Mages in our AQ40 team. I'm also quite aware that due to a combination of (lack of) experience, skill, and gear, I'm probably 5/6 or 6/6. So, when the time comes to make up raids for BC, I'm likely to be left off the main team. I'm okay with that, since you want the best people in your raid, but I'm also not a member of the guild either. Being demoted as a guildie, however, is going to have a completely different impact.

Guild leaderships throughout Classic are going to have to navigate this minefield, and I'm not sure a lot of guilds will survive. People will want to get a chance to raid and see the content they never got a chance to see, and to be put on the bench will hurt. Hell, look at sports: just how many sports figures take being pulled from the starting group well? You spend your life competing, you're a proud member of the starting lineup, and then the coach pulls you over and says "Look, we've got this kid here, and while we still value your contribution, we've gotta look to the future. It's a business, you understand."

Sure, some people handle a demotion with grace and think of the overall team as the important part. But there are others, lots of others, who still want to prove that they've still got it. They're upset and angry, and they've got instant motivation to prove their coach/manager wrong. They split for another team that gives them the chance they wanted.

And this is what worries me: the necessary demotion of people from a raid will cause drama, more drama than was experienced in the original BC. 


I suspect that the drama will be closer to what happened to guilds in Wrath, when the requirement to raid was only 10, and suddenly less than half of a guild was needed to put together a raid team. It could get ugly really fast, with a lot of guilds blowing up into chunks, effectively balkanizing the guild environment on Classic servers.

And seeing some of these guilds that I've run with breaking apart is not something I want to have happen.

There are a lot of great people I've gotten to know through raids, instances, BGs, and just goofing in general around Azeroth, and I would really prefer that my nightmare scenario never happen. I play to have fun and socialize, and dealing with drama is not what I signed up for. Sure, I realize that some drama is inevitable --we're talking people here, after all-- but the less drama the better.


Perhaps my concerns are overblown. Perhaps things will work out and there won't be an excessive amount of drama in Classic.

But if nothing else, the year 2020 has taught me to not be optimistic.

*I'm on Myzrael-US, in case you're wondering. It's West Coast time, so more in line with your own time zone. Just leaving it out there....

Sunday, October 11, 2020

This is Why I Don't Stream, Part Whatever

Oh sure, I've got a sense of humor about my limitations playing games, but this video illustrates perfectly why I don't do livestreams:

I really feel for the guy who was showing how to do a Slow Fall to get right to the Black Lotus location. I've done that exact thing and discovered too late that I don't have any feathers left.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Know When to Hold 'Em

One of the major reasons why I like to play a Rogue* is the thrill of outsmarting the enemy. Not tactically, mind you, but being so clever that you can sneak around and bypass enemies to get where you need to go. It's that rush you get when you sneak through Timbermaw Hold and none of the Firbolg find you, or when you're sneaking around Orr in Guild Wars 2, trying to avoid having to fight your way through every five feet (or so it seems).

Being able to get all the way to Frostwolf Hold in Alterac Valley and drive the Horde nuts by moving back and forth and assaulting the two Frostwolf Towers --all without being seen-- is a huge rush.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered just how much of a gambler you have to be when you play a Fire Mage. 

You knew this was coming, didn't you?

One of the major reasons why I specced Frost all those years with Neve was because Frost is not only a great PvP spec but that it is the best spec for questing out in the field. All of the damage mitigation and defensive skills that Frost has means that a Frost Mage will typically not suffer much damage at all, or if she does she can quickly escape without much issue. And while speccing Frost is highly sought after for raiding in Molten Core and Blackwing Lair, for the rest of WoW Classic it is not seen as a "raider's spec" per se.

That's Fire's domain.

When you see a max level Fire Mage out and about in Azeroth, odds are good that Mage is raiding AQ20 or AQ40. A lone Fire Mage out in Blackwing Lair or Molten Core is at a disadvantage, because the reason why Fire Mages are so powerful is that their buffs stack based on the number of Fire Mages in a raid. Put that same lonely Fire Mage in AQ40 with 4-5 other Fire Mages, they can wreak havoc on enemies. 

Scratch one Anubisath.

A lone Fire Mage in a 5-man instance? Not a problem; only Blackrock Depths has bosses that resist fire spells. 

A lone Fire Mage questing in the field? Well... That's a completely different kettle of fish.

The reason why I say a Fire Mage is a Gambler's Spec is because a Fire Mage has no damage mitigation outside of the Fire Ward, Frost Ward, and Mana Shield spells. And let's be honest: the Mana Shield isn't used much because it sucks your Mage's mana dry to shield them, so it's typically looked on as a spell of last resort.

Add to that, a Fire Mage doesn't get the slowdown or freezes that a Frost Mage gets when utilizing Frost Spells, so dumping Blizzard or a Frostbolt on an enemy doesn't give you the slow debuff that a Frost Mage gets, which is a huge advantage when you want to escape from (or DPS down) an enemy.

No, the Fire Mage says "I bet I can throw more damage at you before you kill me" every single pull. 

I believe a Fire Mage's mantra is "Go Big or Go Home".

Bring it, you blowhard!

Am I comfortable with Card rolling the dice like this? After a month of speccing Fire, I'm still not really comfortable yet. Oh, I understand the rotation, and I don't die if I space out my pulls in the wild, but Card's survivability pulling a pack of 3 or more at level enemies has taken a bit of a hit. 

I guess I have to embrace my inner gambler a bit more.

*Or a class similar to one, such as a Shadowblade in Elder Scrolls Online. Guild Wars 2 has a Thief profession, and if you guessed I play that class in GW2 you'd be right. In Star Wars: The Old Republic my favorite class --and class story-- is the Smuggler; I've played both the Scoundrel (Healer) and Gunslinger (DPS) subclasses, and I've found both of them to be a blast. (Literally, at times.) Hmm... I've never played a Burglar in LOTRO, because I can't get into playing a Hobbit, but maybe I should try one out.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Getting Rid of the Blur

The past 3-4 weeks have been a bit of a blur.

Learning to play a Fire Mage, running raids I've never (or almost never) seen before, and trying to get geared enough to be useful have been akin to my head spinning around on a turntable like a Dee-lite video.

Groove is in the Heart,
featuring homeboy Bootsy Collins.

However, the longer my raiding has gone on, the more I've wondered just how much of my output is decided by gear and how much by skill. 

Okay, let's be real for a second: you have to know what the hell you're doing if you want to be useful in any group format in WoW. I don't mean that you have to know the entire rotation like the back of your hand, but you have to realize that --for instance-- if you're attacking a mob that has fairly low health, spamming Fireball isn't your best option. For one, it takes forever (3.5 seconds) to cast, and 3.5 seconds is a looong time for a cast on a trash mob. At that point, you're much better off spamming Scorch (1.5 second cast) to at least get some damage on a mob before they're cut down. So, that's the sort of basic understanding about your class that I'm aiming for here: once you get these basics down, you're 75% of the way there to maximizing your DPS output from skill. 

Yes, you can practice and improve your output from there, but I think at this point you get more bang for the buck by improving your gear. 

And using Cardwyn as an example, boy did my gear need improvement.


In order to understand the impact on gear, let me show you where Card stood when she was convinced to join the AQ40 raid:

I can thank the Mage Lead for showing me the site.

Um, yeah. I wasn't kidding when I said I wasn't ready for Blackwing Lair, much less AQ40.

The nice thing about Sixty Upgrades is that with a click you can see the impact of an upgrade on your gear. For example, clicking on the Star of Mystara (which I held onto because of the plus to hit) gives you this:

Yikes. The Star of Mystara doesn't
even the Top 6.

The table is easy to understand. The left column is the name of the piece, the middle is the impact the gear on the Fire Spec, and the right column is where the gear can be found. If you hover over the middle column, it gives you the details in the bonuses (Spell Power, Int, Hit, etc.) 

What I did was target gear that were (relatively) quick upgrades that had a big impact. Like that silly looking turban from Upper Blackrock Spire, that you'll never ever ever see Card wearing with "Show Helm" active. Or that Robe of the Archmage that I had in my bank, which (ironically enough) has better spell power than even the T2 Netherwind Robe. Or the Fire Wand I had (also in my bank) that gives a better boost than the wand I'd been using. 

Combine all this with a few lucky rolls and drops in MC and BWL and my gear looked a bit more, well, raid worthy.

The net result was that my output went up by a decent amount over the next few weeks, something like 18-20% per week.

That was just gear, mind you, because I don't think I've gotten that much better at handling "Fiery Cardwyn" over the past few weeks than my first week or so running with the spec.


I suppose you could say that both gear and skill have their upper limitations; gear has a hard upper limit while skill doesn't. But skill produces diminishing returns the higher up in skill you go. The effort it takes to go from 0 - 75% is less time than to go from 75% to 90%, because you have to work longer and harder to raise your skill to that sort of level. 

Gear is just a time grind without any performance pressure: you put in the time and the drops will come. Skill is a time grind as well, but one with no set ending: you're kind of limited by your physical skillset, and the older you get the greater the limitations.

But for me, gear had the biggest impact on my performance in raids. I'm still bringing up the rear in the Mage Crew, but the gap has lessened considerably. I can now focus on skill without worrying about being such a liability compared to before, and because I've gotten a bunch of easy upgrades I can now focus on specific ones that I can target in Molten Core that have a big bang-for-the-buck to them. 

Overall, things are much less chaotic and overwhelming. For which I'm eternally grateful.