Monday, August 6, 2007

Hanging up the Hammer

Well, class is starting up again for me soon. I've seen people successfully mix WoW, class, and having a normal life. I've seen people be very unsuccessful at the mix as well. I've never wanted to risk it; I've got too many other layers of distraction going on, and I don't want to fritter away my senior year of college alone playing WoW. My account runs out this weekend, and I'm not renewing. I had a lot of fun posting my thoughts here in these few months, and I might even be back during the next break from class. I still follow WoW loosely when I'm not playing, but I doubt I'll have much to say from here on out. Here's hoping good things are in store for all of us, healing, tanking, and whatever they decide ret is supposed to be doing.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Surprised this hasn't been linked all over.

Tons of insights (and humor) from a guy in the MMO industry. Courtesy of SomethingAwful of all places.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bad Items, Worse Items, and the -Right- Way to Farm

Playing through Azeroth again, I've been doing a lot of quests that I didn't do the first time, which means a lot of Kalimdor, which means a lot of Night Elves. I've noticed (though maybe it's just me) that Night Elf quest rewards in Azeroth seem to suck an awful lot. It's like they really like spirit or something.

Speaking of bad items, I'd argue that this little number might be the worst weapon or armor in the game. It's probably substantially worse than wearing nothing. There is other gear that lowers stats in exchange for marginally higher stats, but the exchange rate is apparently pretty bad; the armor only has 3 or 4 more spirit than a same-item-level green 'of the spirit' cloth chest piece.

Finally, there's something I hear a lot about farming that I think should be addressed. Here's something like what I hear a lot:
"I'm think I'm going to get some Bracers of the Green Fortress made. Better start farming Primal Life."

No! Well, maybe, but probably no!

One of the beautiful things about the auction house is that for a small fee, any item can be turned into an equivalent value of almost any other item over time. If you have 1000g worth of Adamantite Ore, you can turn it into around 950g worth of any other item. (Because of AH fees.)

For every character, that character has some fastest way of making -cash-. It might be farming primal fire, it might be farming primal air, it might be mining or herbing or something else, but there's some fastest way they have of making money. Any time they want -anything-, farmable or not, it's better for them to make money in the most efficient way they can, and then to buy what they want off the AH, assuming that their goal is the spend as little time as possible farming. The only exception is if there's only a very slight difference in the farm time of the thing they want and the farm time of the thing they are most able to farm for, because then auction house fees cover the gap. (Not to mention the bother of having to wait for a good time to sell the things they farmed and buy the things they want.)

I'm sure that many people already realize this all, but I thought I'd give a slightly humorous example of contrary thinking:

I was in Badlands doing a quest where you have to kill little or elite dragons to get them to drop a Black Drake's Heart. Both the whelps and the elites have a chance to drop it, so I was sticking to the whelps. I noticed that a level 70 hunter was repeatedly killing the elites and the small ones as well. Figuring that he was farming for Small Flame Sacs, I offered him the few that I had picked up. (I got to skin all his dead dragons, so I was glad to help him out.) He responded that he wasn't farming for Small Flame Sacs, but for Bow of Searing Arrows - an epic world drop!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


In a normal 5-man dungeon run, what's the most important ability for stopping incoming damage? Power Word: Shield? Not even close. Shield Block? Nope. Devotion Aura and Resistance Auras? Nuh-uh. None of those even come close to stopping the incoming damage that Freezing Trap, Polymorph, and Sap do.

I heal. I don't do anything else. I would not feel comfortable tanking even a level 60 instance, and if I tried to DPS I'd probably do less damage than the actual tank. Thus I'm very sensitive to incoming damage (as well as debuffs, which are also prevented by CC), because it's what I'm working to undo. In general, classes that can heal or tank don't have very general CC (druid and priest CC is fine when it works, but in most situations it doesn't.) This means that the three DPS slots are also CC slots. In general theory, you don't want to sacrifice too much DPS for CC because you'll have trouble on bosses, but in WoW you don't have to do that because the best CC classes are the best DPS classes.

For better or for worse, this has made me somewhat cynical about 'off-spec' dps - cats, moonkin, DPS warriors, elemental/enhancement shamans, and retadins. Even if they're keeping up on DPS, even if they're not pulling aggro, there's something that doesn't show up on any chart, which is all the damage and havoc that the mob that's frozen or sheeped or sapped -didn't- cause because it was crowd controlled. Aside from the fact that the mob wasn't hurling debuffs and doing damage at the time that healing was most intense - the early middle of a fight, when all of the free mobs are alive and kicking - it was another target that the tank didn't have to try to build up aggro against, allowing him or her to focus more on the primary kill, which allows the DPS classes to responsibly do more DPS. Crowd Control is such an absurd boon to the party, and I really don't think it gets the love it deserves.

That said, I've had plenty of good experiences with cat druids and enhancement shamans. (Ret pallies and DPS warriors are usually edged out of parties I'm in by the fact that me and (often) the tank would be competing for plate drops, I've never grouped with a PvE elemental shaman (are you guys out there?), and all my experiences with moonkin have been mediocre at best.)

What good kitties and enhancement shamans (who I really wish there was a shorter name for) lose by not having CC they make up by being arguably -better- on many bosses (ones that don't require CC, which is most) because they can off-heal, and I am excited when they do. (I also appreciate having a DI target.) As long as there's -some- CC, in most places there doesn't need to be three people that can do it well. (Which is good, because otherwise Warlocks - who I love - would be left out in the lurch in any instance that doesn't have lots of elementals, though I have grouped with one warlock who was very, very good with seduce, which I now consider to be a heavily underutilized ability.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Warsong Gulch Prisoners

Suppose that you play alliance in the Rampage battlegroup. Suppose that you want to try out some WSG. What you'd quickly find is that in the higher level brackets, alliance pickup groups are uniformly flattened in WSG. 0-3 almost every match. Now, suppose that all fun is equal, but you would like to maximize your gain of tokens and honor.

You basically have two options, assuming that you're willing to devote your attention to the game rather than AFKing. You can help your team win, which consists of defending the base and running the flag or being part of the flag-running crew, or you can kill horde at random. (Or stand near horde getting killed at random and healing your guys so that they actually down the horde, earning honor.)

The first option is more or less what you're 'supposed' to do, but it's essentially worse in every way. If the flag does make it back to your base, you wind up with a time-wasting turtle, and guarding your flag only delays the inevitable. Furthermore, if you're not where the action is because you're guarding the flag, you're not getting any honor. On the other hand, killing horde at random is a bad WSG winning strategy, but you get more honor and you get your token faster because you lose faster. The 'selfish' option, kill horde at random, is better in every way.

I think that a lot of the population has consciously or unconsciously picked up on this, and gravitates towards the selfish strategy enough that the few trying to 'do it right' can't compensate nearly enough. If we view 'help win/kill at random' as a binary decision, then by switching from 'kill at random' to 'help win', a player only hurts himself, since he earns less honor and delays his token. The only way he gets more out of trying to help the team win is if his switch is the one that pushes it over the edge, and actually allows the alliance to win. Since being a 'helper' hurts you if not enough people are doing it, someone who is one of an insufficient number of 'helpers' only benefits by becoming a 'killer at random'. (On the flip side, a 'killer at random' on a team that always wins might benefit by becoming a 'helper' if the loss of honor he gets by killing as many targets as possible is offset by the fact that by helping his team win faster he gets his three tokens and bonus honor more quickly.)

Half-baked, or could this idea explain why in the battlegrounds one side is always extremely heavily favored?

Monday, July 16, 2007

How much difference should a spec make?

Like everything I write, this veers way off in a different direction halfway through. I start to talk about ret.

In Diablo II, your spec was your character. Each playable class had three trees to choose from, and all of your skills and passives were in those trees. If you were a necromancer and didn't put any points in the curses tree, you had no curses. (Though to be fair, Diablo II had a different attitude; every class was a pure DPS class, and all three trees for every class were DPS trees. There was one healing skill in the game, I think, and it sucked.) Other games have no talent trees at all; at best you can customize your guy a little with gear. WoW is kind of middle-of-the-road.

Some of it is class ignorance, but there are some classes where it's not obvious to me what the spec of a player is. No matter what, a rogue is behind the bad guys stabbing them. (If he's in the front, he's probably a combat rogue, but a really bad one.) On the other hand, a druid's spec is easy to see (although if they're in your party, you know what they are by the role they asked to play.)

Having really focusing trees is kind of cool because it allows for greater character customization, but it's also limiting for hybrids. (If you -really- need to be heavy feral to tank, it's like you're not really a hybrid at all.)

I would be in favor of making the trees for the DPS classes more focusing; because they can't really change their role by changing their spec or gear, increased character customization through trees is probably a benefit.

For my money, the best designed trees in the game belong to the druid. The druid trees are -heavily- specializing, but each contains some interesting tools that give the druid abilities in other roles. For example, a balance druid can never heal as well as a resto druid, but they -do- have Dreamstate, which is helpful for healing and inaccessible to a heavy resto druid. Unfortunately, this kind of cross-tree pollination tends to lead to talents that just get ignored, like Nurturing Instinct, and talents that are considered essential for a different spec, like Naturalist.

This is -maybe- what the ret tree could use; a few skills that are deep enough that they'd be mostly inaccessible to the other two trees but which would give ret a little special edge as an off-healer or off-tank. Of course, as Nurturing Instinct is mostly ignored, it'd have to be something that didn't clash with how Ret Paladins want to play. (I think they want to DPS and support by DPSing, not grudgingly stop to heal a lot. Others just want to do a heck-ton of damage, but the former idea is more interesting.)

To get by on 'support' as your class ability, you need to provide an absolute ton of support. Consider that on most 4-pulls, a mage can easily prevent 1/4 of the potential incoming damage and debuffs while making the tank's threat-holding job much easier just by sheeping one of the mobs. How much 'support' do you have to provide to match that? A hell of a lot, especially if you're at vulnerable melee range and it's generally acknowledged that you're not going to do Mage DPS.

If a ret pally wants to max his DPS, he has to judge Crusader, and by judging Crusader he's not judging Light or Wisdom. (This is mostly a 5-man concern, and possibly a 10-man concern.) I've never been in a situation where a ret pally asked to join our group (ex-roommate's a warrior, so we tend to start our own groups), and if one did we probably wouldn't take him unless he out-geared the instance for loot reasons. (There's not -too- much gear for ret pallies that either I or the warrior don't want.) I don't even know what Ret is even for. I mean, it's for DPS, but I don't know why I would bring it over any other DPS class, and on Alleria-US freelance DPS is everywhere. I want ret to be cool, and I don't buy into the DPSer's "Pallies can heal and more-or-less tank, so they shouldn't be able to DPS" (since we can't really do all at once). Some class has to be the worst at DPS, and right now it's us. But Ret, which supposedly justifies itself with support, doesn't.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Druid PvP

I'm really enjoying WSG PvP with my druid. It was hard to make the jump to 40, because now I can't really PvP without being totally ineffective.

Despite the fact that I've been playing for a long time, my paladin has never had an epic. The pally epic mount is a spell, not an epic item, and I've never had any other epic item, not even a Nexus Cyrstal or a Hammer of Expertise. My druid is no longer in the same boat, as I cashed in some of my honor and tokens for some Forest Stalker's Bracers, an amazing item for level 40. (The bracers give me 1.69% dodge on their own, plus a lot of other great ups.)

In contrast, when I tried out level 7o WSG with my paladin, it was no fun at all. When I wasn't bubbled I was either feared or dead almost all of the time, and despite the gear-matching system my modestly geared paladin (up-to-Blades's-Edge quest rewards and the fruits of a few instance runs) was surrounded by players in partial arena gear or tier sets. I didn't feel like I was contributing anything, and our poor sentinel defender squad was crushed 0-3 in under ten minutes. (I'm not sure of the exact timing, but I was only able to bubble twice during the duration.) I can't imagine enduring WSG enough times to get the tokens to get any gear, although if we always lose so incredibly quickly, it may actually be faster than getting tokens with the level 39 druid; in the 30-39 bracket games take between 30 minutes to an hour, whether we win or lose (we probably won between a third of the time and half of the time.)

I've been invited to maybe do 3v3 with a warrior guildmate in similar quality gear to my own and a Kara-geared rogue ex-guildmate (people who want to raid are welcome to leave our little guild of real-life friends, and we've graduated a few, though all of them are friends of other friends in the guild; none are guys I know in real life.) Maybe I'll enjoy arena? (Although a lot of what I liked about WSG is that you get the teamwork fun of running an instance with very little pressure or role restriction, something that might be less true in arena.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Patch 2.2 - Yay!

  • Pets are now affected by Paladin greater blessings.
More of a raid thing than a thing for me, but I have grouped with two demo locks before, and with two hunters.


  • Blessing of Freedom cooldown increased to 25 seconds.
I'm assuming this a PvP balance thing.
  • Blessing of Protection: This spell can no longer be cast on others when stunned. It can only be cast on self (to break the stun) under those circumstances.
Another PvP balance thing. Looks like we're being brought in line a bit.
  • Blessing of Kings, Light, Might, Salvation, Sanctuary and Wisdom increased to 10 minutes.
This is so nice.
  • Blessing of Sacrifice now has a 1-minute cooldown.
I don't know what it's cooldown was before. A PvP change, or is this a Kara thing?
  • Consecration will now properly hit large creatures.
I didn't notice a problem with this before, but it's nice that it's gone.
  • Greater Blessing of Kings, Light, Might, Salvation, Sanctuary and Wisdom increased to 30 minutes.
Amazing. I hate refreshing blessings, plus this saves a bit of reagent cash.
  • Guardian's Favor now increases duration of Blessing of Freedom by 2/4 seconds.
I don't have this talent, but it seems like a straight buff, right?
  • Eye for an Eye: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
There are a large number of 'this now works while sitting' fixes in this patch.
  • Hammer of Wrath cast time reduced to .5 seconds, global cooldown reduced to .5 seconds.
Eeeeee! This is so awesome! (Currently, if you're far from the mob and a bit slow on the trigger, they can run out of range while you're casting.
  • Illumination: Paladins will now correctly gain mana from this ability if they sit down to drink right after a healing crit, and receiving mana from this ability will no longer cause a Paladin who is sitting to stand up.
Another problem I've never encountered.
  • Judgement: The Judgement spells will no longer cause triggered effects to go off twice.
Never noticed this.
  • Redoubt: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
  • Reckoning: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
  • Righteous Defense: In some cases this ability would fail to work properly when the Paladin casting it had just been crowd controlled by a creature. That is now fixed.
Never encountered this, and I do use the skill.
  • Seal of Righteousness: The tooltip for this ability has been improved. It now displays a different number for one-handed weapons and two-handed weapons, and adjusts to the speed of your current weapon. It displays a single number, rather than a range of numbers for different handedness and speeds.
Nice cleanup for my seal of choice.
  • Seal of Vengeance: The damage from this ability will now stack properly when two different characters are applying Seal of Vengeance effects to a target.
That's cool, though I don't know how it worked before.
  • Seal of Vengeance duration increased to 15 seconds. In addition, when Seal of Vengeance strikes a target that already has 5 applications you will cause instant Holy damage.
Is Seal of Righteousness still my seal of choice?

Other stuff.

  • Adamantite Bound Chest: This chest found in the outdoor world now contain level-appropriate loot.
I was wondering why these contained a bunch of level 45 food and water.

  • Mr. Pinchy: Items received from Mr. Pinchy when your inventory is full will now be mailed to you.
Probably the most hilarious note in the patch.
  • Firewing Warlocks are less likely to want to engage in melee combat.
Aw, I liked it when they did that.
  • The following old-world factions have had their acquisition rate significantly increased: Cenarion Circle, Argent Dawn, Timbermaw Hold.
I know one guildmate happy about this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Druids, Azeroth, and some other Things

I've been leveling an alt. I'm level 38. A druid. A feral druid. (I was a balance druid for a while, but even specced full balance with balance gear on I was -far- more effective in cat -or- bear form than as a caster, so now I'm a feral druid. Probably just my style, although I don't know how much going out of mana after every single fight is a style thing.)

Anyway, the last time I did most of Azeroth was two years ago, so it's not like I'm sick of the place, and I don't have the 'ugh, I just did this' feeling. However, I -did- just do Outland, and Azeroth is a hole compared to Outland.

Wander into a new zone. Grab the flight path and reset your hearth to the new inn. Get six quests that all take place in that zone, as well as two others that send you to the other quest hubs in the zone. Receive mucho experience and intelligently itemized quest rewards. Most quests will have a reward you can use, and you will want to use many of them. For every quest reward, it is very easy to imagine who would want to use that reward.

Wander into a new zone. Maybe there's a flight path. Maybe there's an inn. Get two quests, one of which is green to you and one of which is red. Wander around the zone until you find a dwarf sitting on the base of a cliff. He gives you a group quest that you can't really do because you're the only alliance player in the zone. You finish the green quest, which has no reward, and it either chains into a zone on the other continent that you just finished off or it chains into Uldaman. You also get Darnassus reputation, which has no function since you've been honored with them for ten levels. When you do eventually get a reward, it will either be your choice of two weapons your class cannot use, or some items that look like someone was deliberately trying to make an item that nobody would want. There is +Spirit on everything.

It's clear that with Burning Crusade, Blizzard deliberately cut out many of the things that were a hassle. Quest rewards that nobody would ever want are gone. Quests that chain helter-skelter into other zones, while noble in their intent (getting players to explore the world and showing players to other level-appropriate zones) are gone, as they do nothing but create un-fun travel times for players who already know the world. There are multiple flight paths in every zone to save travel time.

The most obnoxious part of leveling through Azeroth, in my eyes, is all the travel. Travel is completely and totally non-interactive, but unless you just grind or only run a fraction of the quests, you end up doing a lot of it, whether it's running across zones or making flights. Grinding doesn't excite me and it feels like circumventing the game rather than playing it, plus it's rumored to be somewhat slower. At the same time, it's a heck of a lot more like playing the game than flying from Ashenvale to Theramore is. (As an aside, I find it strange that a feature that would seem terrible and absurd in virtually every other game genre - one to ten minute periods of just waiting - is an accepted part of the game.) There are a ton of 30-45 zones, but most have a frightfully small number of 'native' quests that start and end in that zone. (Though some are much worse than others, with Dustwallow Marsh being the most egregious offender I've come across.) Unsuprisingly, the recently-implemented Forest Song is by far the most elegant quest hub.

In a grand-picture sense, Azeroth is more complex and less linear with lots of options for the player (Wetlands, where I spent a huge amount of time on my pally, was totally skipped by my druid), which are noble traits, but in practice having globe-spanning quests just results in a lot of traveling, which is almost by default the least fun part of the game. If a zone has only four native quests and they're spread across eight levels, you end up with a bunch of unsatisfying visits to that zone.

On my way to level 38, here's my favorite zones so far. Bear in mind that I'm on a PvE server.

Ashenvale - This is entirely on the merits of Forest Song. Astranaar - and the rest of the zone - is a textbook example of how not to do it, with only a few quests scattered across a wide level range.
STV - STV takes a lot of flak, but it has a bunch of doable quests with usable rewards, plus it's crowded enough that you can group with people.
1K Needles - This is practically like an Outland zone, with lots of doable quests all in one place and all in the same level range (at least until they start sending you all over the world.)

And my least favorites:

Dustwallow Marsh - Ick. I didn't do this zone on my Pally, and I'm really glad. If this zone has any redeeming qualities, I'd like to know what they are. Theramore could be a major cool quest hub, but it's not. Only the chef has any use for you.
Darkshore - I did not realize how heinous this zone was compared to Loch Modan and Westfall, each of which I've done at least twice. (I have a variety of level 20-ish characters.) It's like they used all of their clean, cool ideas on Loch and Westfall and Darkshore got what was left. This zone is the reason my druid stayed abandoned at level 17 for two years.

Level 70: Where do I go from here?

My paladin has been level 70 for a few days, and we're plowing through Netherstorm, pretty much the same as before I was 70. (Having a flying mount makes a lot of things much easier.) Finished the part of the Kara chain that's outside Kara itself, so I need to go to Shadow Labs next. A friend put the key chain off for a while, and ended up having to re-run some unpleasant instances, so might as well get 'er done early.

I have no intention of ever raiding. I flat-out don't play when class is in session, because I just have too many other things going on, and class starts mid-September. While I could probably get geared and keyed by then without a great deal of trouble (depending on my luck with drops and how much I play), I'm not going to join a guild for just a month and then ditch on them. I'm getting the Kara key because it's something to do and if the bizarre happens and I do end up in Kara one night, I'll have the opportunity. Realistically, the next time I come back will be December at the earliest, and I'm once again not going to join a guild for just a month. If I play next summer, being Kara keyed will likely be about as important as being attuned to the Core is now.

What are my goals, then? Well, I've made a list of gear I want for soloing and gear I want for healing, although it's a kind of haphazard list given the number of side-grades available, especially in the rings department. The bracers section has "some 'of the something' green" written down in both columns, because there are about two pally bracers in outland pre-heroics pre-kara. (I should look into mail bracers - the Primal Surge Bracers look pretty nice, and I'm coming to see armor as "just another stat" that can be swapped away for more important stats, especially when it comes to healing.) Getting the gear on my list is probably my foremost goal, and it comes with my secondary goal, experiencing the early end-game content. I was level 54 when BC hit, so I never ran Dire Maul, Scholo, Strat, BRD, UBRS, LBRS and any other random puggable 55-60 content in the old world properly, and it'd be nice to see the instances before they're replaced by the next expansion. (Though after my epic mount quest, I can safely say that I'm not sorry that I missed Dire Maul. That zone is a pit.)

I'll probably never see anything Kara or post-Kara (I don't consider not seeing heroics to be a huge loss, since they're basically the same instance), and I'm pretty okay with that. Assuming the next expansion follows the BC model (and I don't see any other way of doing it that doesn't make the new content trivial for well-geared players) the gear I'm collecting will probably be obsolete when it hits, but I'm okay with that. I'm collecting gear primarily to have a goal in a game I love to play than for any specific end.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Dinged 70

Dinged 70 just in time to leave town for the weekend. I somehow feel like I have the right to have an opinion now, even though I just went from being someone who was rather well-informed for a level 69 character to being someone who was kind of clueless for a level 70 character. (I know that that the 'characters not at the level cap don't get to have an opinion' thing is an old and not necessarily fair prejudice, but it's somehow managed to stick with me. That's not to say that I don't like hearing what mid-level players have to say, I've always just subconsciously counted it for less. I know it's terrible.)

Blade's Edge is practically done, and I believe we're moving on to Netherstorm.

I -really- need to update the thing on the side that says what blogs I read.

Nice MMOs Finish First

WoW is obviously the most successful MMO of all time, and even if half the player base left tomorrow, it'd still be far and away the most popular. WoW is to MMORPGs what Halo was to shooting games, only much more so - many, many people who do not play MMOs or even videogames in general play World of Warcraft. WoW clearly did and is doing a ton of things very right.

One major thing that WoW does that I think makes it a winner is that there are very few points of frustration. While some aspects of the game are challenging, everyone can level at a fairly steady pace; there's no such thing as being 'just not good enough' to make it past level 46 or whatever. There's no getting stuck (until maybe your guild is raiding, and players who are that far in are usually very entrenched).

I've played games (not modern MMOs, but text-based MUDs) where dying hugely crippled your character. You could lose all your money and gear and several hours worth of experience, if not more. I can tell you that I've burned through a huge number of MUDs, and have never stuck with one even though I always enjoy them to start. Obviously there is no MUD in existence that's a fraction as good as WoW is, but the primary reason I leave is because of how unfriendly the systems are. WoW wisely took a painless deaths approach, where you only earn a small repair bill and a corpse run when you kick the bucket. I can tell you that dying in a game where death is a big deal is a -huge- disincentive to continuing to play at all.

WoW, for the most part, doesn't let you REALLY screw up. Decisions you make as an inexperienced low-level character don't doom or even slightly gimp you later on, as is the case in many games where players manually allocate points to stats. A character's race is primarily a cosmetic thing, as stat differences and racial abilities for the most part have relatively little influence. Sure, every human priest wishes he was a dwarf instead (or now, a Draenei), but it's not like you ruined your character by making a wrong race selection.

Blizzard's official reason for disallowing PvE to PvP character transfers is that there's an uneven leveling environment, which is true. I suspect that there's a stealth reason also behind the rule, stemming from a desire for regret control. I suspect that in many cases Joe Stabbystab, who originally rolled on a PvE server, and who now wishes to transfer to a PvP server so he can gleefully gank him some horde isn't the PvP badass he thinks he is, and would regret the transfer. Player regret is bad for the game's health.

Now, I'm not saying that a game will be more successful if you remove all opportunities for regret and its cousin, frustration, because I believe that players like it if their decisions matter - for every bad feeling that comes with having made a bad choice, there's a potential good feeling for having made a good one. There are many cases where they already do, such as profession choices, spec and gear choices, and the entire realm of money management. WoW's winning plan is to make very few choices totally permanent.

In addition to producing fewer that's-it-I'm-quitting moments, limiting frustration, regret, and massive sudden disappointment (You're dead! There goes all your gear!) also lets players just play the dang game. I like being able to explore or try crazy things knowing that even if something goes horribly, horribly wrong, the absolute worst thing that can happen to me is that I have to spirit rez. You know what's not a good feeling? Desperately racing back to your corpse, hoping that it hasn't been totally looted.

WoW wins because WoW is friendly. No matter how h4rdcor3 you are, experiencing routine setbacks and periodic disappointment and frustration can be grating and erodes a desire to play. WoW manages to be very friendly without being kiddy or unchallenging, and has ridden the formula to unprecedented success.

Through the Eyes of a Healer

Warning: Meandering, Ignorance follow

As a long-time healer, I have a very healer-centric view of how group fights go. Every fight is basically a race, a race between my mana bar (and ability to refill it) and the enemy creature's life bar. If my mana bar goes empty first, we will lose shortly afterwards. If the enemy creature's life bar goes empty first, we won. In a sense, except in cases where the monster is putting out damage faster than it's possible for me to heal it, which doesn't normally happen, the monster is really attacking my mana bar. Everything circles back around to my mana bar. (Although you could probably apply similar logic to say that everything circles back around to any other role.) My mana bar is like the entire party's health bar, and as long as we're in a fight, my mana bar has a dot on it as I spam heals to keep the party up. If the tank has low mitigation or if I have to heal DPS classes, the dot gets bigger. When the other party members heal themselves with pots or bandages or drain life or LotP proc or whatever, the dot gets smaller. The longer the fight lasts, the more time the dot has to tick away.

This relates to my belief that all DPS classes all need to be able to do roughly comparable effective damage (that is, the total damage they contribute to the party including the extra damage others do as a result of their buffs); -every- fight is on a timer, and the timer is the healer's mana bar (though some fights are on stricter timers, such as enrage timers). If a class can't do as much damage as a 'pure' DPS class and they want to DPS, they need to compensate for it in some way that keeps the healer's mana bar up. A simple way is off-healing; any damage the ret paladin, enhancement shaman or DPS druid heals is damage that I don't have to heal. "I don't heal at all" might not be the best way to be effective in an instance. (Though, perhaps hypocritically, I scoff at the idea of contributing to DPS.)

Of course, the game is, in reality, much more complicated than that. Most wipes I've been a part of were not the result of everything going smoothly until - due to a combination of my mana pool being too small, DPS not doing enough damage and the warrior not having enough mitigation - I happen to run out of mana and we quietly wipe. They're all the result of all hell breaking loose because of adds or because of aggro mismanagement. There is no class in any role that can do their job as well when chaos breaks loose. Adds and bad aggro don't always result in chaos; it's possible to recover gracefully from either. Chaos seldom occurs -without- them, though. That's where skill, I think, comes in. In a purely gear-centric world, fights would be won or lost based entirely on whether the monster went down before the healer's mana bar did. Chaos exists, though, and the biggest factor in preventing and recovering from it is, in my mind, player skill (including player coordination). (Although gear certainly provides a buffer. Also, I'm not claiming to be master chaos-recovery dude; as noted above, chaos often wipes us.)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Talkin' bout my spec

In the back of my mind, I think I always intended to respec at level 70. Well, now I'm 1/3 of a level away, and I'm torn.

My current spec is not an unmitigated disaster or anything, but it's not a paragon of efficiency. When I was level 54, I decided what spec I wanted at 60, and started aiming for it. Then BC came out, and so my spec is basically an interrupted level 60 build with 9 points more or less thrown wherever. It's good for the way I solo and for the way I do instances, and there's nothing in there that I hugely regret, though there are things I would certainly change if given a free respec.

What I'm not looking to do -
I'm not looking for a maximized raid healing spec. I don't raid at all, and I still have two zones worth of soloing and small-grouping to do, plus a lot of time in small-group instances.
I'm not going ret. I know people like this spec, but it's just not for me.
I'm -probably- not going prot. I heard lots of good things about the viability of this spec as a soloing spec and it might be interesting to tank for a change, but among my guildmates and friends, I'm the -only- high level healer, and there are other tanks. I'd be messing up the synergy with a high-level guild warrior that I've been leveling with since 54 or so, since we don't need two tanks in an instance.

What I've found, however, is that every time I try and build a spec, I wind up with something very similar to what I have now. Here's my process; maybe one of you can help.

5 points in Divine Intellect. A no-brainer.
5 points in Spiritual Focus, another no-brainer.
3 points in Healing Light. Looking good so far.
Now we're looking a little thin. We need 2 more points somewhere, so
2 points in Improved SoR. I use a mix of SoR and SoV.
5 points in Illumination. Nerf or not, this is still a winner in my mind.
1 point in Divine Favor.
3 points in Sanctified Light. Yay for crits.
Need another point somewhere. Improved SoW looks attractive, but we'll put -
1 more point in Improved SoR.
5 easy points in Holy Power
1 point in Holy Shock. It's like DPS!
3 points in Light's Grace. I underestimated how amazing this talent was originally.
1 more point in Improved SoR. Is this the talent I should be using for backfill?
5 points in Holy Guidance.
1 point in Divine Illumination.

With everything I consider important, I have 20 points left to spend. Stuff that I would consider using it on -

Holy Tree-
Blessed Life - This is kind of like 5% resistance to all damage. I can't say no to that.
Purifying Power - Both of the effects on this are things that matter to me.
Last point in Improved SoR - Little extra damage doesn't hurt.
Improved BoW - 8 Mp5 is kinda nice, plus I can share the love.

Prot Tree -
This tree is where my extra points are now, and it's full of things that I -almost- want. I have points in redoubt now that I don't really want, but improved Devo Aura is of limited value. I mean, I have it up most of the time, so it's where points would probably go, but I don't know how good it is.
Precision and Toughness are both reasonable passive utility things, but there's no way I'd take Toughness over Blessed Life.
Guardian's Favor is a bit of a wild card, because it improves two spells that I don't use as much as I should. I don't know if either effect is something I would get any real benefit out of.
BoK is the primary reason I'd go into this tree. I don't know if it's worth 11 talent points, though.
Improved Righteous Fury is another wild card. Obviously I almost never use Righteous Fury as it is, because I don't want to generate more threat. If I took this talent, I couldn't use it in instances, because I don't want my heals to generate way more threat. (It does affect heals, right?)

Anticipation would probably be where my points on this level would go if I went this deep.
There's nothing on tier 4 that would make we want to go that deep into prot.

Retribution Tree -
Benediction would probably get the nod over Improved BoM. I don't use BoM on myself, and I don't know if the extra 44 attack power, while impressive, is worth 5 points.
Tier two is all kind of iffy. I mean, they're all nice things to have, though I don't use SoCr as much as I should. I don't even judge ever 15 seconds most of the times, so I don't know if the ability to judge every 13 is really an improvement. The additional parry chance is nice, but not something I'd go into the tree just to get.

Looking through the rest of the tree, with only 20 points available, I can't dig deep enough to get anything I'm really pining for. If I'm willing to lose Divine Illumination, I can get Sanctity Aura, and two points from Holy Guidance gets me the improved version. Right now, two points in holy guidance is 47 damage and healing, unbuffed, in my sololing gear, and probably around that in my healing set. Getting Sanctity Aura is actually looking pretty attractive; it means that I lose Divine Illumination, which hurts, and it means that I lose a lot of random holy tree talents that I kind of want in exchange for some ret talents that I kind of want, and it means that my build is the nonsensical sounding 38/0/23, but there are some nice perks and I don't give up the core of my healing abilities. What do you all think. 38/0/23? Or something more like 50/11/0?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Three Addons I Love

Fiddling around with the look. This probably isn't final. I wanted to work blue into it somehow, but I'm not sure I'm entirely happy. (I'm not an artist; I have a hard time making things look good.)

I love a lot of addons. Now, I don't have so many installed that my interface looks like something totally alien, but there are some darn good ones. These three are ones that stick out because their effects are so visible.

tBag - What this basically does is turn all of your bags into one giant bag, and then divides everything up by category. To someone as immensely disorganized as I am, this is a huge boon. All of the vendor trash is in one spot. All of the herbs are in one spot, and all of the motes. My gear is all in one spot. (Tiny nitpick - if there's a way to get it to distinguish between my healing set and "random quest reward I picked because it would sell for the most", I haven't found it.) Since I got this mod, it feels like I have so much bag space, because it's easy to keep track of everything I have.

Rating Buster - Look, I don't have a clear picture of how much 13 spell crit rating is. Rating Buster has a very good idea of how much it is. As a character that needs to balance a lot of stats (Int, Sta, Str, Spell Damage, Healing, Spell Crit, Mp5, Haste and Spell Haste, and probably some other stuff), this mod, which converts the enigmatic 'ratings' into actual numbers, is a huge boon. I like the math of the game enough to have a pretty good idea about some of the numbers, but that doesn't mean that I want to be dividing by 14 or 12 in the middle of an instance trying to decide if the ring I just got is only better for soloing, or also better for healing.

Item Rack - This is a big one. Now, I don't know about you DPS classes that just waltz into instances wearing your solo gear, and maybe have a few different pieces for PvP, but I have two almost entirely distinct sets, one for healing and one for soloing/questing. This mod lets you change between sets all at once at any time, something I've found immensely useful. It also helped my organization quite a bit, since I now have a clear idea of what's in my healing set, what's in my soloing set, and what's in neither. (Before I picked up this mod, I carried six rings around with me. I clearly wasn't using all of them, but I couldn't articulate exactly which ones were for what.) Leveling a druid, I'm once again getting a lot out of this mod. (Even if my 'Kitty' and 'Bear' sets are almost the same at this point. Strength and Stamina.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Been actually, y'know, playing.

Druid alt us up to 35. Pally main is up to 68. I need to level up a -something- (probably DPS) so that I can go on a guild VC run in a week or two. (Our guild only has about seven actual humans in it, so running VC all together is kind of a tradition. As one of the senior members, I'd really like to go.) I feel as if I should -not- do the shadow priest thing if I can help it; out guild has a jillion low-to-40's shadow priests. I have a level 12 hunter serving as a bank character; might just roll with that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ret Getting Another Look

So it looks like the Ret Tree is getting some lookin' at. Combined with news that Prot itemization's being examined, it may be an exciting time for our class in the next couple of months. (Holy's not slated to get squat, but the impression I get from most is that we really don't need it.) I suspect that the Prot gear changes, if they come, will primarily affect the late end game, but changes to the ret tree or paladin DPS/Utility abilities in general could be more sweeping. (I hope I get a free respec out of it.)

I'm a believer in the idea that you don't have to do much to make significant power-level changes. While ret may be hurting now (and has been hurting as an end-game spec basically forever), a massive overhaul of the spec is probably unnecessary, and player-produced 'talent tree revisions' that just make every single talent slightly or substantially better are a very out-of-control way to approach improvements. A few strategic improvements that clarify and reinforce the role of a ret paladin could be much more effective (and less potentially unbalancing) than ham-fisted attempts to improve the tree by simply making everything in it better. Increasing synergy within the tree might also be nice; there's a sort of vague focus on crits, but there's no clear emergent style or synergy like there are in our other two trees. (Holy says 'crit your heals', prot says 'get wailed on'. And those are hardly the two best-designed trees in the game, although they're pretty good.)

As a no-time ret paladin, and one who has never hardly worked with them (my tendency to wind up with warrior tanks and my status as a holy pally tends to edge them out of groups), it's hard for me to say exactly what ret needs; it'd all be theory, and not very informed theory at that, since all my experience with the end game is secondhand and incomplete. It sounds like many the more informed ret paladins don't want a straight DPS increase as much as they want things like threat reduction and raid utility.

When the prot tree got some nice things in 2.1, I didn't leave holy for it - partially because I have a reliable tank around and I don't have a reliable healer around, but also because I genuinely enjoy healing, at least for now. The idea of a more widely-accepted ret tree appeals to me not because I have any interest in speccing into it now (unless they make it -very- interesting), but because I like the idea of having options should I ever tire of healing. (I love doing groups, and I don't want to have a spec that makes people resent me in groups.)

What do you ret pallies and aspiring ret pallies think? What's your spec need to get a bit of respect?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hitting Things in Durnholde Keep

Went to Durnholde Keep. First, a few words about the instance itself – the setting is really cool, but the actual rescuing Thrall part is kinda frustrating and not a ton of fun. I like that they tried something different for an instance, instead of just killing trash, killing a boss, and so on until you’re done, but I didn’t really enjoy escorting Thrall. This is the first outland instance that I enjoyed substantially less than some of the Azeroth ones; up to now, I’ve considered all of the Outland instances superior to all but the best of the Azeroth instances. (VC and Scarlet Monastery.) The group was on the whole decent, with a good hunter and warlock and a very poor mage as the DPS. I main healed of course, and the guildmate I’ve run every instance so far in Outland with tanked.

Anyway, a little while back, I wrote a post on my instancing style, which up until now has consisted of doing nothing but healing, cleansing, and stunning things that were beating on squishies. I received some suggestions to the effect that I’d be a more effective group member if I healed from melee range, and indeed there are some advantages to that. Durnholde Keep was my first test of healing from melee range.

Now, I’m going to spoil the ending – it worked horribly for me and by the end of the instance I was back to healing my normal way. The biggest culprits in my mind are that I’m just not used to healing from melee range, and thus am very bad at it, and that Durnholde Keep might be an especially bad instance for it. Some of the mobs in the first half have cleaves, which I ate my share of, giving me another target to take care of (myself), and even worse, some of the mobs in the second half have intimidating shout. Getting feared is very bad for me; I can bubble out of it only every six minutes, and it’s still slightly disorienting, and probably not the best use of my bubble. If I don’t get feared, not only am I still in action, I can immediately cleanse it from someone else - the intimidating shout used by the mobs in Durnholde counts as a Magic effect - plus any squishies that picked up aggro as a result of the tank and pets running around can be saved with a timely Hammer of Justice.

There were also some hidden drawbacks to being at melee range. I really can’t see what’s going on as well, so my ‘save the squishies’ functionality went down the tubes. I kept healing the lock when he was just life tapping because I couldn’t see him, and once or twice didn’t heal him when he was genuinely getting hit for the same reason. (Sometimes I can catch life taps because it makes their mana go up, but if I just notice that their health is suddenly down a bit, I need visible confirmation.) What’s more, with all the added confusion and damage I was taking as a result of being at melee range, I barely even had time to ever hit the mobs, which is the reason I was in melee range to begin with. Now, I did do more damage than I normally do in instances, since I normally just hit mobs to recover mana with seal of wisdom (my favorite!), but I didn’t do anything close to how much even the tank did. (I’m talking a factor of twenty or something here; I lost by a lot to the felguard and even to the marksmanship hunter’s cat, which wasn’t even out half of the time – he know about the cleaves.)

I’m by no means giving up entirely on melee healing, and I’m sure my poor experience with it isn’t indicative of what can be made of it, but I felt like my performance as a healer and as support was demolished by my attempt. It could just have been Durnholde, which is already a stressful instance, with an additional friendly to keep track of (Thrall is a pain to heal because he has a jillion hp, but I don’t think he has much mitigation) and some mob abilities that punish those that stand too close. Things went much more smoothly (for example, we stopped wiping) when I switched back to standing out a ways, though that could have been a coincidence.

So what say? I want to do the paladin class proud by healing while also being a front-line hero, but it’s flatly making my performance worse, and I have a responsibility to groups I’m in to perform reasonably effectively (plus I like succeeding.) Any other melee healing tips people can throw me? What am I doing wrong?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nothing Much Today

Nothing big this weekend. Did manage, at the fine old level of 67, to finally get my stubby Dwarven fingers on a Charger. Took down the event boss with very little trouble using the highly technical 'bring some seventies' strat. Dang, I move fast now. Also got me a Mogor's Anointing Club, which is basically the exact same thing as this guy, but I haven't made my way to the caverns of time yet, and no guarantees that it'll ever drop. And they both look pretty cool, too. The Anointing Club is faster, which might help me keep judgments up. (I'm honestly making a more concerted effort to multi-task in groups.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Shut Up and Heal

Preface - This post isn't intended as a slam against people who appreciate paladin heals and constantly find themselves in groups with no clear healer, or LFM for a healer for two hours before they can go to an instance and find themselves wishing that just a few more Cats/Boomkin/Ret Pallies/Enhancement Shamans were specced to heal or at least kept a set of healing gear. It's an indictment of the attitude that the other players are there primarily to increase one's own pleasure.

I really despise the 'shut up and heal' attitude that many players (I'm assuming mostly non-healers) have towards hybrid classes. Now, in instance groups I actually do just heal, and for better or for worse I also tend to shut up because I'm still leveling my first character and tend to be slightly less familiar with instances than most of the group, so I tend to have less to contribute. (Though I always do my homework on WoWWiki, and I try to be friendly toward the group.)

I dislike the 'shut up and heal' attitude (SUAH from here on) because what it sounds like to me is, 'I consider you to be more or less a tool, a necessary evil so that I can have fun.' Since SUAH is normally directed at my Ret and Prot brothers and sisters, who are presumably specced and geared how they are because that's the role they like, SUAH is basically saying, 'The way you have chosen to play to increase your enjoyment of the game is crimping my enjoyment of the game.' Everyone has a right to play the game how they like, provided that they're not doing something egregious like intentionally wiping the group or spamming the chat channels, where their enjoyment is coming primarily from the fact that they are annoying others. (Of course, people also have to deal with the natural (not player-imposed) consequences of their choices; I didn't get to go to Scholo last night because we didn't have a tank, a consequence of my choosing not to spec prot.)

I don't know where SUAHers got their sense of entitlement from; I understand that a guild leader has to make choices about raid composition in order to maximize a raid's success, and if the guild has tons of DPS and not much healing, a hybrid that can spec for either has a better chance of being included if they opt to heal, even if they're every bit as good at DPSing as a pure DPS class. That doesn't mean that your sorry DPS butt is magically entitled to treat every hybrid like the world's biggest Healing Stream Totem.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

One trick pally

I’m a paladin healer. I heal, heal, heal, and don’t really do anything else in instances. I’ve main healed five instances since moving to Outland, and they’ve all been totally successful. I’ve never done something that wasn’t main healing; I’m not even sure what I’d be capable of. (I suppose I could throw up Rightous Fury and gamely attempt to off-tank – I do have points in redoubt – but I’d be uncomfortable and probably unsuccessful.) What surprises me the most is that without doing anything special – just healing and cleansing, popping trinkets and short cooldown abilities when I remember to, I routinely get complimented on my healing. I don’t consider myself to be a great healer – I’m a good player only in the sense that I’m good at following directions; I’m not good at analyzing situations or reacting quickly and appropriately.

Now, there are two possible reasons why I’m drawing praise for my meager performance. The first possibility is that people are really polite to anyone who heals at least passably, because healers can be hard to find. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for flattery, and I’d rather do further instances with people who think I’m doing alright than with people who are going to jump on me every time they pull aggro with their pyroblast crits.

The second possibility, and the one that makes for slightly more interesting discussion, is that most healers are doing it a little wrong. Before we start, everything here is the result of very little experience, just normal five mans up to Mana Tombs.

Healing is a balancing act. I don’t just mean balancing between saving mana and topping people off, or cleansing before or after the big heal. I mean it’s a balance between healing and doing stuff that isn’t healing. I have a lot of buttons on my action bar. One gets rid of debuffs. Two are normal, efficient heals. Two are situational heals. Four make my heals better or cheaper for a few seconds. All of the others don’t have as much to do with healing. Healing is a balancing act between pushing the buttons that make heals happen and pushing the thirty other buttons.

Now, it’s not fair to say that the only thing I do in an instance during combat is to use Flash of Light and Holy Light. Sometimes I use Hammer of Justice. I used to use Judgement of Justice, but have found it unnecessary since about Uldaman. One thing I very seldom do is melee. Why should I? My 41 DPS totem-hammer-thing probably isn’t going to save the mage a single fireball, and if I’m chain casting Flash of Light, I’m never going to swing it anyway. I could melee, but I’d be putting myself at risk for very little benefit to the party. If I eat cleaves or AoE damage spells, that’s more lost health I need to heal back, and even worse things can happen, like AoE knockdown or fear while I’m trying to heal.

The real primary benefit of meleeing is that I’d be able to keep Judgement of Light or Wisdom up. Realistically, however, in five-mans the amount of healing that Light would do is hardly worth the cost of running in there and judging it, especially since I’d need to connect with my mace once every ten seconds, something that’s not always possible when I’m healing. I’ve also tried using Seal of Wisdom to keep my mana up, but in practice, when mana’s tight is usually when I need to be doing things besides wailing on the hydra’s thigh.

Not meleeing has perks; I can see everything that’s happening; knowing that there’s a shadowbolt flying at the hunter a second before it actually hits him can help, and knowing where all the ranged classes are standing helps me keep them in range. (Cleanse has a 30 yard range, which means that I usually stand about 20 yards out from the tank, but if the mage decides to go all the way on the other side, they're out of my range.) I’m also unlikely to be the victim of any AoE abilities.

In the five instance runs I’ve done, I know for sure that I killed two targets. One was a shadow priest, and one was a warlock. I was mind controlled both times.

So what do you all think? Am I wasting potential by just using two spells, or am I right to avoid unnecessary risks and distractions by focusing on doing what I was brought to do well?

EDIT: Whoa, Sylvina was right. That really was a pain to read formatted like that.

I blame mages. And warlocks. And maybe priests.

For my healing weapon, I use the Preserver's Cudgel. Before too long, it should be replaced by Mogor's Anointing Club.

For my soloing two-hander, I'm hauling around a Hammer of the Sporelings, but have an Oathkeeper waiting for me.

Sometimes I like something that's kind of in the middle. Right now, that's Sedai's Blade. There are two direct upgrades to Sedai's blade in the entire game if you want to keep comparable melee DPS. Etherium Phase Blade, a vendor item of all things, which I could use at my level and which is a large DPS upgrade and which I am considering buying since I learned of its existence ten minutes ago, and Bloodmaw Magus-Blade, which is actually a DPS down-grade (though everything else goes up), which comes from Gruul, which I am a loooooong way off of.

Obviously, the reason that most offensive caster one-handers have the minimum DPS is because most casters don't want to blow their itemization budget on weapon damage. I'm never sure what different Shaman builds care about, and Moonkin probably aren't looking for DPS in their one-handers either, so it's probably just a paladin thing, and I'm not even sure most paladins even want a weapon like this.

Now, one theory is that this is just an overlooked itemization niche; after all, only soloing prot paladins -really- want a weapon like this, and frankly I don't know how much they care about the weapon's actual DPS; ten DPS might not be worth sacrificing bigger consecrates for.

The other theory is that I'm actually just crazy for wanting a weapon like this; I have a difficult time actually describing situations where I'm not healing in an instance where I want to one-hand and shield instead of just bashing away with the spore hammer. The sensible thing to do if I want to solo with a one-hander for some reason is to grab a one-hander that's for a normal melee class and just make up the int and spell damage on my other gear.

A light in dark places

Why am I so excited about this quest, which I may or may not even do? One of the flames is in Scholomance. Right after Rattlegore's room. I'll finally be able to get a group for the last part of my danged epic mount quest. Thank you, Blizzard!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On the wings of a farmer

I don’t buy gold. I’ve never even considered it, and I doubt I ever will. I believe that the game would be better off if the option to purchase gold with real-world currency wasn’t there. First, addressing a fairly common sentiment regarding purchasing gold that seems to come up every time the issue arises –

“Grinding for money is the least fun part of the game. I can go to work for two hours and make twenty dollars and use it to buy 1000 gold. If I were to try to grind that money in game, it would take twenty hours and be very boring. Therefore, I buy gold. It's my hobby, and I enjoy it more this way.”

I don’t think anyone would argue that buying gold makes sense from a purely economic standpoint for many people. Not everything that is economically sensible, however, is ethical/fair/good for the game/in line with the EULA, though with the exception of the last one there’s room for debate.

Now, one other argument that comes up every time the issue of gold selling arises is the idea that the availability of purchased gold is bad for the WoW economy. While this would be a powerful argument if it was true, there’s a lot of complicated factors. Both the way in which the gold companies make gold to begin with and the extra free gold on the market could affect the economy dramatically.

First: Where do gold sellers get the gold in the first place? I honestly have no idea, and if anyone can enlighten me, that’d be a big help. (I don’t want “All the Khorium in Terrokar always seems to be gone. That must be ‘cause of the farmers.” There’s lots of speculation, but surely someone knows how sellers actually make the gold to begin with.) Here are my best guesses –
Killing mobs in the field, getting the money they drop and selling the things they drop to vendors. This is the closest thing I can think of to generating money from nowhere. Assuming that they farm in out-of-the-way places, as it would be advantageous to do anyway, this method of generating gold doesn’t affect the economy. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from NPCs.

Collecting gathered items and selling them on the AH. This would drive the price of gathered items down due to the increased supply, which would be bad for folks like me, who rely on the sale of gathered items to make money. It would be good for people power-leveling professions and for people who make more crafted items than they have the time or inclination to farm for, such as an end-game raiding alchemist. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from the players.

Running instances and selling the BoE drops on the AH. This would lower the price of BoE things due to increased supply. This is good for people looking for new gear and maybe a little bad for people trying to sell BoE things. Unless the gold seller’s volume is huge, I don’t think this would affect the economy much. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from the players.

Second: What is the effect of purchased gold on the economy? This depends entirely, I think, on what people who purchase gold use the gold to buy. (Note that what this actually means is “what do people who purchase gold spend most of their money on?" If someone regularly buys herbs on the AH, and as a result needs to purchase gold to afford an epic mount, it’s the same thing as if he had bought a bunch of gold to buy herbs with and then used his ‘own’ money on the epic mount.)

If people use their gold to buy consumables or the raw materials to make them (herbs and cloth, mostly), then the price of those things would be driven up, which is good for people like me who make their money selling herbs. It’s bad for people who want to buy herbs. Based on WoW Insider comments I’ve read, I’m inclined to believe that this is what most people who regularly buy gold spend the money on.

If people use their gold to buy teh phat epix (or an epic mount), it drives the price of those items up. For epic items, that’s good for people who regularly sell those items (which there probably aren’t many of, since BoE rares and epics are hard to come by and there’s no reliable way of getting them) and very slightly bad for people who want a purchased epic of their own. I believe that this is what people who buy gold once or very infrequently are most likely to spend it on.

Anyway, based on that analysis, gold selling is probably actually –good- for me as a player. If people are willing to pay 25 gold for a stack of Terocone, I’m happy to oblige; if they’d get stingier without an outside source of gold, that’d hurt me. Since I never (or very rarely) buy consumables and mats on the AH, I’m not hurt by it at all. Still, in the interest of fairness, I’d like to see gold selling eliminated, even if my herb business takes a hit. What about you? Are you riding on the tails of gold sellers without even meaning to? If you’re better at economics than I am, please correct me.

Little glimpse of who you are

I figured that I'd share a bit of my WoW story so you know where I'm coming from. My main character, Joyd the paladin of Alleria, is level 66. I started playing WoW in the summer of 2005. I'm a slow leveler, but the primary reason that I'm where I am is because I have only played for a few of the months since then; most of the time during the year I have other commitments keeping me busy. (Yes, that means I'm leaving the game again in a few months.) I've never quit out of boredom or anger, just the realization that I can only do so much at a time. This means that while I'm not level 70, I remember a lot of 'how it used to be', at least for lower level characters. For example, the original paladin talent trees really were very poor; there were a handful of skills worth getting, spread across all three trees. It blew my mind when I saw the mage trees, full of skills that actually did something concrete and cool.

I have always been holy. One nice thing about playing only very sporadically is that it seems like you get free talent refunds a lot, so my exact build has shifted quite a bit, but I've always had at least up to Divine Favor. I started out leveling holy with a splash of ret for Seal of Command, and am now primarily holy with a splash of ret. My talent build as of current is borderline comical, points placed more or less wherever they struck my fancy as I leveled up. (Putting the points into Purifying Power was -definitely- worth it for the Plaguelands - Hellfire stretch of the game.)

I genuinely like to heal. When I created my character, I really had no idea what the role of a paladin was; I certainly never dreamed that I'd be in a class considered one of the best healers in the game, and the class most able to solo while specced to heal well. (Or rather, the class that lost the least soloing ability by speccing to heal; priests and druids really eat it in the soloing department if they spec into their healing trees.)

I'm not an expert; any opinion I post here is the opinion of someone who does not have, all in all, much play time under his belt. If you think something I say is wrong, odds are you're right, and I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thoughts on Nihilium Interview at Insider

So anyway, here at WoW Insider, they scored an interview with Awake, a player from Nihilum, the guild that got world firsts on all of the content released in the past year or something like that.

First: How crazy is that? You're so successful at a videogame that people want to interview you, and then tons of other people care enough to read it. That's a fascinating kind of impressive.
Second: I have spent the last few months (the period during which I was aware the guild's existence) thinking that their name was "Nihilim". Oops.

Third: This guy comes off as very cool, laid back, and professional, like someone who enjoys the challenge of the game but isn't entirely wrapped up in it. Not at all like the typical forum postin' raider's response to, say, SSC and TK attunements being lifted. I was really impressed by him. He doesn't curse out the less hardcore players for ruining his game or anything. But onto the main stuff.

I hope I'm not wrong in counting this guy's opinion higher than some random schmo's, but I feel like anything he says about what's a good strategy and what's effective is much more likely to be correct than Joe Forum Poster's opinion. While the entire thing is a good read, I want to focus on one part.
"We aim for efficiency. So no, we do not use any Moonkins, Protection Paladins, Retribution Paladins or anything that is way below the standard classes that can do a much better job at said task."

Now, a lot has been said about the effectiveness of those specs. Just a few days ago, I suggested that some of the stigma against those specs, in terms of their actual in-game potency, may be undeserved. However, if a guy with an important position in what's indisputably one of the most successful guilds in terms of making progress says they reject the use of them, I'm inclined to believe that those specs are just not suitable for raids. These people aren't stupid. They do what has to be done to clear the content. If there's a strategy that's effective, chances are that these guys are doing it.

Let's hit the other side now. This doesn't mean that Ret and Prot specs are no good for anything, or that you should always take a prot warrior over a prot pally as your tank. It just means that, the way that the very highest-end instances are set up now, they aren't friendly to those specs. It'd be easy to read way too much into Awake's comments and conclude that ret paladins and prot paladins don't have a place, or should never be brought into a raid of any kind.

To some extent, that might be fair. It's alarming that Blizzard has done a good enough job at adjusting content so that each of nine distinct classes has some role in an end-game raid; Awake sings the praises of the Shaman's Chain Heal, even suggesting that it might be nerf-worthy. Attempting to balance things that that every spec had a role in end game raids might approach impossible; that's like trying to balance twenty or so different classes, and more depending on how distinct two builds have to be to be called different specs.

I have a natural inclination towards fairness, and would like a world where people can spec how they want (provided they spec in a somewhat coherent manner) and be reasonably successful. That's almost what we have now; any spec is probably good enough to contribute to the completion of a non-heroic five-man instance or even Kara if they're well-geared, which may be as good as it's possible to get.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I am Snail

So, according to this writeup at, us paladins level up slower than any of the others, at least according to one person who has played 'em all. This isn't hard data or anything, and the results don't shock me, but it made me a little proud to have made it to level 66. Not suprisingly, the speed to level is essentially the same as the class's ability to grind for cash, since both consist of just killing stuff.

WoW did a very good thing. WoW made it so that any class could solo easily. All of the caster classes can protect themselves in some way or just flat-out bump things off before they take a hit. WoW is not one of the games where playing a priest is onerous because all priests can do is bop people with a staff, heal, buff, and cast one or two inefficient 'smite' spells. Since any class can solo, soloing ability is really not about the ability to take out mobs, but the ability to do it quickly over and over again, which is a function of kill speed and down time. (To some extent, some kill speed can be achieved at the cost of down time by using abilities more aggressively or fighting several guys at once.)

At the heart of it, the vast majority of the solo quests in WoW fall into one category - kill things. Whether it's kill ten things, kill things until they drop ten things, or kill the boss thing who happens to be standing behind ten things, they're about killing things. (FedEx quests can be done comparably easily by just about any class.) The other way to get exp aside from quests, of course, is to kill things. This means that leveling speed is a direct function of soloing speed and not much else. A mage's ability to port or aspect of the cheetah might save you a couple hours on the way up, but it's negligible compared to kill speed.

Let's assume that one of our goals is to make soloing speed comparable for all of the classes. One way to do this is to give everyone comparable DPS, and specialize them in other ways, such as abilty to AoE, CC, Tank, and Heal. To some extent, WoW already does this, since even the classes with the worst DPS can still do it well enough to solo. Increasing the ability of the non-DPSers to DPS (while further specializing and increasing the utility of 'pure DPS' classes) might work a little, but it kind of flattens the game and confuses roles. Let's move on.

Another way to help the lower-DPS classes is to reduce thier downtime or increase the downtime of the higher DPS classes. I don't know much about Shaman, but I suspect that they could get quite a bit out of minor changes that would reduce their down time. Maybe something with Totemic Call. Another thing that could be done is to increase the down time of the classes that currently have very little. (I wouldn't recommend actually doing this, because it would make too many people too angry.) The easiest way to do this would be to either make the skills most effective in grinding cost more of their mana, which has the undesirable side effect of reducing their effectiveness in instances, or reducing their survivability, which isn't fun because dying sucks.

What do you think? Should 'speed to level' be evened out somewhat, as it's really a very meta-ability, or should it be one of those things like DPS or healing that just varies across classes?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Goodbye, Vanguard Pauldrons

One of the things that I really like about Burning Crusade – and there are a lot of things I really like about Burning Crusade – is the itemization. As I struggle to level up a Night Elf druid, I’m reminded of how painful the old-game itemization is in many ways. I really love that all the new item suffixes are clearly targeted at particular roles, whereas many old-game green items were a little suspect. (I’m looking at you, “of the Wolf” gear.) As I painfully traipse through the Kalimdor zones I didn’t do while my main was leveling up, I frequently find that I’ll do a long quest chain and end up rewarded with my choice between +Spirit/+Agility mail and a gun or some other improbable combination of rewards.

Burning Crusade is a 180 degree turn from that. Pretty much every single quest reward item is something that I can see someone actually using, and I’ve already sang the praises of the new suffixes. I just recently replaced my last piece of old-world gear, the Lightforge Bracers (terrible for healing) with a green a guildmate found on the Auction House for a steal. If there are any useless rewards in BC, it’s only because some earlier quest gave out better stuff. (A guildmate attempting to gear up for Kara is, as of time of writing, still making good use of a Hellfire Peninsula blue item.) I feel like both my healing set and my soloing set receive regular upgrades, even if my luck with dungeon drops is only average. I’m very frequently stuck trying to choose between two pieces of comparable gear, and it’s only worse with trinkets and rings.

On the other hand, it almost feels too easy. As a long-time holy paladin that never did old-world end-game stuff, I’m not used to having gear actually aimed right at me; it was always a mix of warrior plate, caster jewelry, and coveted “of the Eagle” gear. When I got to Hellfire and saw the rewards that were clearly for a paladin and nobody else, there was almost cognitive dissonance. The magic of getting your hands on a truly great piece of gear is gone somewhat, because it’s all truly great pieces of gear. What do you think? Should gear upgrades be a struggle while leveling, great triumphs when they come, or is that one hassle we just don’t need? Myself, I’m willing to sacrifice quite a bit of new-gear-wonder for some nice +Int plate.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Balancing on Perceptions

Hiya! I'm Joyd, and my main character is a level 65 Paladin, which should serve as a disclaimer itself - I'm not an end-game raider, a hardcore PvPer, a guild leader or anything like that. I've never seen Molten Core, and my highest level alt is a level 23 Druid. I already know that my talents look like they were chosen at random, and I plan on cleaning them up when I reach level 70. I am interested in design theory, however, and I'd like to chat about it. In the tradition of some others, I've named the blog in the style of some other blogs I admire.


Should a class or spec be balanced based on its actual power, or based on its perceived power? In other words, if a spec actually does a good job of helping complete successful runs when played correctly, but the common perception is that the spec is underpowered and thus members of the spec have a hard time getting group invites, should the spec be upped in power? Assume for the sake of this post that the people in charge of balance issues have access to relevant information and know more about design fundamentals than Joe WoW Player. This is not a “Ret is Fine, QQ more” post. It’s an examination of how balancing should be done, and all of the examples are merely hypotheticals. (In fact, I actively believe many of them to be false.)

Consider the following examples. I’ll be using the paladin retribution spec, often seen as a spec with no end-game role in PvP or group PvE, as an example. All of the following are hypotheticals; I do not necessarily believe that any of them is the case. You could replace ‘ret paladin’ with any other stigmatized spec. I just chose them because I’m more familiar with paladin abilities than with, say, enhancement shaman abilities.

Suppose that ret spec is fine, but that the spec tends to attract players who are less skilled at the game, and thus ret paladins appear to be less effective. In the hands of the comparatively rare skilled ret paladin player, a ret pally actually is an effective group member, but that those players are rare. Should ret tree be buffed?

Suppose that it’s possible to contribute a lot to a group as a ret pally, but most ret paladins are doing it wrong. Maybe most ret paladins are busy trying to top the DPS charts, when the most effective way to contribute is to DPS while also cleansing and making judicious use of blessings of freedom and protection and righteous defense. As a result, ret paladins seem ineffective. Should the ret tree be buffed?

Suppose that a ret paladin’s DPS is supposed to be spread out over the entire group sort of by proxy; most of his DPS comes from him hitting, but some of it comes from the additional damage others do thanks to his buffs. However, this doesn’t show up in damage meters as the ret pally doing tons of damage, so ret pallies seem ineffective. Should ret be buffed?

Suppose that ret paladins contribute a fair amount, but are still avoided due to old stigmas about the class. Old habits die hard. Should the retribution tree be made better?

Suppose that ret works reasonably well in arenas, but holy works just a bit better, so anyone really serious about arena PvP as a pally specs holy for it. As a result, ret isn’t represented in the top arena teams. Should ret’s PvP viability go up?

In all these hypothetical cases, the retribution tree is actually a viable tree, but for reasons unrelated to its actual power, it’s considered a bad spec. This is a problem for players who want to play a retribution paladin, as they will have a hard time getting into groups and may feel pressured by their guild to re-spec. The natural thing to do is to call for fixes to the tree. However, the tree isn’t broken; that’s just the public perception. Still, it’s causing players who want to play the spec problems right here, right now.

Now, I don’t know if this is what’s actually happening with any tree. However, the fact that many trees perceived as underpowered or role-less stay that way for so long suggests that this may actually be the case. Of course, I don’t have anything like the data or knowledge to pinpoint any tree that might actually be victimized in this way. What do you think? If everyone thinks a spec is poor, should it be buffed, even if it’s viable for an end-game role? Is the idea that most everyone is wrong about a spec just crazy talk?

I'm torn, myself; on one hand, it'd be cool if all (normal) specs were seen as somewhat viable end-game, but the idea of introducing actual imbalance to combat perceived imbalance is rather distasteful.