Thursday, March 26, 2015

4.32. The Almighty

"Judgement"
Artwork by Erika Nordmeyer

Pulling Teeth

"I don't understand why it's necessary to name someone."

It’s necessary because I fucking said so.

"The point of naming a Tactician is so that there is a way for us to mediate problems. If Herp Derp decides to pull some kind of crazy shit, someone's accountable for it. They manage the group, enforces guild rules. Y'know? The common sense stuff that if I didn't actually write it down as a actual rule...that someone would find a way to throw it back in my teeth?"

Silence.

"Look, this goes both ways. This isn't just a me-me-me thing. When you pick someone, it gives the group a sense that they're official, that they matter, that hey maybe one day in a former life they felt like a contributor to the guild via the 25, but now they can't...but they can! We'll cheer their accomplishments as if they were the 25s, get their kill-shots up on the website, get the guild joining in congratulating them on their work in the raid content -- the 'family' thing that is so often bitched about as something we're kicking to the wayside. And you get the same perks as the other 10s, remember? The BoEs, the guild repairs, etc…"

"...but not as much as the 25."

Why do you have to bust my balls on this, Drecca?

"Just pick someone. It doesn't have to be you…"

...but you and I both know it should be.

"...just make sure it's someone that's responsible and can act on behalf of the team."

"In that case, I pick Riskers."

I sighed. "Fine. I’ll update the rank and let him know what he needs to do. See? That wasn't hard, was it?"

"It wasn't hard, but it also wasn't necessary."

Well, Drecca, when you have a guild of your own, you can decide what’s necessary.

---

Herp Derp's rapid progress through 10-Man content was inversely proportional to their involvement with the guild. Drecca and co. plowed through content...sorry...Riskers and co. plowed through content at a rate unmatched by the 25-Man progression team, knocking Nefarian out a full three weeks earlier, and I made certain to join in the guild cheer and congratulations. A unified front is important. As the guild leader, it was the right thing to do. It just wasn't easy.

Outside of their raid schedule, members of Herp Derp were a little less easy to pin down. They kept to themselves, rarely spoke up in guild chat. Drecca did most of the talking, often issuing blanket statements that any player worth their salt would question. All topics became controversial, with Drecca leaning uncomfortably away from fact, his answers laced with prophetic subjectivity. These rage-inducing platitudes seemed crafted specifically to crawl under my skin.

Any opinion he voiced in the past was buried in triviality. I focused on the more important piece of the argument -- the factual part -- like when he joined me in agreeing that any rush to judgement about Real ID (before it was even solidified) would be self-defeating. Only when pressed further did Drecca clarify his personal feelings about Real ID, had Blizzard pursued their initial design:

"Publishing my real name next to my gaming account information is a complete violation of my right to privacy, and was not a part of the Terms I agreed to when I created the account. If the day arrives that I have to attach my identifying information to a 'technical support' forum post, I'll be cancelling my account."

For the early part of his career in DoD, Drecca's personal opinion rarely treaded over his own practicality. Eventually, it was the norm.


DoD's kill of Chimaeron causes Mature to
earn his 50th exalted reputation,
Blackwing Descent

10 vs. 25 - SOLVED

At first, the behavior was barely noticeable, and not nearly worth the energy to raise an eyebrow:

[Guild] [Drecca]: [Signet of the Elder Council] is the best-in-slot tanking ring before you see any Tier 11 drops.

Really, Drecca? Agility? That just came from your mouth?

This gave way to an underlying pretentiousness, slowly forming at the edges.

[Guild] [Drecca]: Any tank purposefully not hit capped is an embarrassment to the role.

EJ confirms there's no longer a need to cap your hit. Blizzard is purposefully changing interrupt mechanics to accommodate. Why do you insist on clinging to superstition?

Eventually, every statement was a full-scale attack. Marred by personal bias, his opinion stained guild chat, lingering in disrepair.

[Guild] [Drecca]: There is no such thing as ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ players. Only good players and bad players.

Nuance had long since taken its leave. And with every additional "fact" thrown into the mix, it became less easy to back him, even if there were still a smattering of accuracy tucked away under a barge of refuse.

When Drecca stepped into Blackwing Descent with the 25-Man progression team the day that Nef died, there was no denying he played a significant role. Many factors did, but that Drecca was present was the only significant difference that separated a night of kills from weeks of stonewalling. I thought for certain he...like any competent player...could see what we saw, could attest to the indisputable adjustments necessary to facilitate Nefarian's death: moving from two tanks to three, a nightmarish separation of interrupt groups into separate vent channels. Surely, he sees this, I reasoned with myself. These were the kinds of allowances that a 10-Man wouldn't ever have to make.

Wouldn't make? Or...couldn't make. See what I did there?

Drecca saw a very different picture, even after having been present (and responsible) for the kill that day. In perhaps his most prophetic statement to the guild, Drecca didn't care to see the array of complexities that the 25-Man had to deal with, because he was too busy focusing on what the 10s weren't able to deal with:

[Guild] [Drecca]: 10-Man is the most difficult content in the game right now. With only 10 people, we don't nearly have the options that the 25 has.

In his mind, the 10-Man was more difficult because they simply couldn't make the changes we were able to put into place. They couldn't put a third tank in, even if they wanted to -- there was no room to sacrifice DPS or HPS. They couldn't separate themselves into different vent channels; a smaller group inherits more individual responsibility, so pulling them apart was a self-defeating endeavor.

No gray area. No thorough examination of the mechanics from boss to boss. No contemplation of the of the subtleties of room size-to-party ratios. World first guilds would go on to state that Cataclysm's 25-Man raid content was some of the most difficult content ever seen in World of Warcraft. But Drecca made it all so perfectly clear, putting to bed that long argued debate that raged on even now within the threads of Battle.net's forums, our own Great Conflict, with neither side gaining sway for very long. All they needed to do was read from the word of Drecca, and rays of light would bathe the vast armies in clarity, putting an end to the war.

It was a simple lack of options that made the 10-Man encounters the most difficult content in Cataclysm. So sayeth Drecca.

Mature and the guild assemble near the entrance to
Throne of the Four Winds to begin work on Al'akir,
Uldum

The Last Moment of the Dark

It was late into the evening on March 4th, the first raid night following our clear of both Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight. Blain's goal for us this Friday was a full clear of BWD in a single evening, and while the bosses leading up to Nef were no longer a concern, Nef was still far from a guarantee. Yes, we'd killed him once...but one kill does not a farm make. We were sans Paladin tank once again, but we kept faith. After all, what was it Ghostcrawler said?

Bring the player, not the class.

You got it, Greg. You're the hero of this story!

In the final thirty minutes of the evening, our attempt was going measurably well. Phase one was clean, and it was dry phase two -- an unusually rare occurrence in which no player had a problem hopping out of the lava. Phase two demanded unrelenting concentration, but was muddied by excessive communication between the individual teams synchronizing their interrupts. As usual, we solved by dividing those teams into their own vent channels.

As we waited for our turn to interrupt, the main channel suddenly exploded with distortion.

"IMMA GET ME SOME MUDDAFUCKIN PROSSITUTES UP HERE IN DEEZ NUTS."

Ben.

"Not the time, Ben."

After a brief pause, the hundred-decibel rant continued, our headphones filled with sexual obscenities and unfulfilled carnal desires. He was a wandering drunk falling over himself, in desperate need of an escort.

"...HEH. WHY YOU GOTTA ALL BE LIKE DAT? HEH. JUS' LOOKIN TO GET MAH DICK SUCKED, LADIES"

"Ben, SHUT...UP. Please!"

"QUIET. Ignore him. Mature is next."

The Chromatic Prototype wound up his Blast Nova.

I shut it down with Mind Freeze.

I alt-tabbed out of WoW.

I right-clicked Ben's name in Vent.

User Admin >> Kick/Ban

"Ben has been removed from the server."

I alt-tabbed back into WoW.

Silence. At last.

"...Jesus Christ."

Ben's impulsive effects lingered long after ejection, our fragile nerves already twitching in preparation to deal with split-second mechanics of Nefarian.

We never recovered. Nef avoided crucifixion that evening. As did Ben.

---

Two days later, I had yet to hear from Ben. I expected him to ping me upon sobering up -- offer up an apology for his abhorrent behavior. And we'd do the dance, as we had so many times before.

You realize this is inappropriate behavior. He'd concur. I want the 25-Man team to be treated with respect. Keep the vulgarity in Anni's channel. He'd agree, apologizing again. I'd release the ban, he'd return to Vent, and I'd reset the clock: Days Without a Ben Incident: 0.

With Ben, it was always a waiting game, and the odds were never in his favor to beat a previous record. His longest streaks of good behavior still stemmed from Wrath. But having since stepped out of the 25-Man, out from under a guild leader's watchful eye to keep him on the straight and narrow, Ben very quickly devolved back into his former neanderthal glory. And it was disappointing.

I only wish I could use 'disappointing' to describe what happened next.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

4.31. Darkly Dreaming Drecca

While Mature cleans his mailbox, Herp Derp completes
the first guild clear of Blackwing Descent,
Orgrimmar

The Code of Hanzo

"I've been out of the loop for awhile." Dalans' voice was familiar, albeit strange, over the phone. Real life circumstances had a knack for making situations like this a bit surreal. For the better part of three years, we'd only ever communicated via Ventrilo, an artificial radio click audibly punctuating the end of every WoW-laced thought. The phone, by contrast, was positively ordinary. Dalans had half my attention while I scanned the aisles of the store, searching for a new pair of headphones for work.

"Who is this Drecca and why does he think his shit doesn't stink?"

A single laugh erupted, startling several customers near me. I gave my former first officer the Cliffs Notes version. Drecca's addition to the team during ICC was a godsend, slipping into the roster at precisely the same time that Omaric began to lose interest in tanking. The paladin assumed the role without so much as a hiccup, making a name for himself in DoD as no-nonsense player with a level head and a practical mind for problem solving. Many guildies leaned on him when it was time to knock out a serious piece of content, cementing that reputation.

With that reputation came like-minded followers, off-hours groupies with a similar "get-shit-done" mindset -- another clique appended to the long line spanning DoD's history. His surprise announcement (along with cohort Bheer) to step down from the 25-Man left a bad taste in my mouth, but thanks to my v4.0 guild strategy, I had no choice but to openly support the decision. The irony was not lost on me.

Dalans responded. "Yeah, but I'm not even talking about the raiding. The recent 'I'll act like a jerk-off to other members because my post will probably get deleted anyways' about the Samurai questions thing throws red flags everywhere."

He's right. You said so yourself. Yet rather than stop it, you agreed with him.

I stared for a moment at a wall of wide-screen televisions with the phone still pressed against my head. An image synchronized across all the displays. Leonardo DiCaprio raced across a beach as enormous skyscrapers of sand collapsed around him.

The hardest part wasn't facing facts -- it was coming to terms with the knowledge that somewhere along the way, we diverted. Being unable to pinpoint exactly when our paths split apart was unsettling. We think the same way, we share the same goals, we're always backing each other up...so we must be aligned, right?

Whatever helps you avoid doing what needs to be done, chief.

"You're right,” I told Dalans, “It's a problem. He's a problem. It never started this way, but it's sure ending up like that. His recent behavior's been more abrasive than usual, but let's face it...so was yours, back in the day."

"Yeah, but I gave Ekasra shit because he asked for it. He shot his mouth off. This stuff on the forums right now? A little different, in my opinion. The only one doing the shooting is this d-bag."

And not the first time, either.

A snapshot of the current Jewelcrafting
economics on Deathwing-US,
(source: theunderminejournal.com)

Superb People Skills

Dalans referred to Drecca's recent outburst on the Raid Management forum, a meta discussion of how to properly vet Samurai applicants. Drecca's topic was simply a request: that we retired "softball" questions in favor of more challenging ones, and I immediately agreed with him. My intent was that the questions be constructed in such a way as to challenge a player into answering intelligently, thoughtfully...perhaps even controversially. It was a quick-and-dirty way to prove someone was invested, and not dictating verbatim from the WoWWiki.

When Fred, a freshly promoted Samurai himself, joined the conversation, the topic began to go off the rails. He wrote, "It was my understanding that the reviewing of Samurai wasn't supposed to be an all guild thing." Confusing language was the culprit here: Fred assumed we were speaking on the topic of Samurai commenting on the state of a fellow Samurai, whereas Drecca's question was focused purely on the process surrounding applicants. Drecca suffered no fools, and went right to work chopping Fred off at the knees.

"I think some reading comprehension classes are in order. Samurai applicants. In the future. As in...not the current Samurai. This forum isn't a peer review of players currently holding the rank, which you seem to think it is. It's to vet potential candidacy, neither of which is the topic at hand. This entire thread is about calling into question the people doing the vetting, and how their approach is insufficient. I'm sorry if I shattered your reality that this is a private cigar club where only you get to discuss things."

Sensing the derail, Fred attempted to take the discussion offline. "Drecca, I'm not interested in getting into a shit-slinging contest with you, here. If you want to fill my inbox with that stuff, go ahead."

"Or, y'know, you could stop being wrong," replied Drecca, "Being held accountable isn't the same as being in a shit-slinging contest. Hopefully, you'll learn to stop mixing up the two, before this thread gets deleted."

Was Drecca wrong? No. But his heavy-handed approached wasn't winning any favors. Disgust with amateurs makes it easy to cross the line from firm to cruel. It's so easy to be right on the internet -- the efficacy of your argument is measured by how fast you can copy and paste a URL. Empathy, on the other hand, is a little more challenging to prove; establishing its presence requires a historic examination of behavior in matters of distress. 

...which is probably why so many gamers don't bother. 

The endless and infinite cycle of death and re-birth, of wiping and running back to the boss for another attempt has a way of permeating the psyche. We're convinced that each new interaction is a clean slate. Why linger contemplating former misjudgments if the boss is dead and loot is being distributed? Whatever mistakes were made are no longer relevant, and contemplating the past only wastes time before the next pull.

---

On February 11th, the topic of undercutting came up. Initiated by Bovie, it was a casual reminder to the members of the guild that auctioning items for less than your fellow guildy shouldn't be considered a personal attack.

Many of the members that played the AH used mods to calculate their posting prices during the bulk posting of goods. Undercutting manifested algorithmically: victims were simply based on the lowest current buyout price. AH add-ons examined these current buyout costs, computed newer, lower costs, and automatically plugged them in during post. The add-ons were mindless and obedient; they harbored as much ill-will toward any individual player as a vending machine holds against the human charged with restocking its selection of junk food.

But if you don't use an auction house add-on, have never used an auction add-on, have absolutely no concept of how auction house add-on works...it is easy to see how one might be singled out by a fellow guildy in an undercutting. Not everyone knows of the existence of The Undermine Journal.

Various guildies reinforced Bovie's stance, hoping to bring clarity around the issue, as well as diminish its perceived importance as a slight against an individual. Even Falnerashe, who normally shied away from the forum, threw her 2c into the ring: "It's the AH. Who cares?"

The most significant post on the topic came from Goldenrod, who used his own experiences gaming the AH to paint a picture. The mage wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiments shared by Bovie, Fal, Guns, and the like, but took it a step further to explain his positioning. He never once claimed to be an expert in economics, but spoke of seeing opportunities to corner certain markets, working with other players, brokering deals that dictated both price and volume for maximum profitability. To Goldy, as it was with a great number of players in WoW, the AH was just another raid boss to defeat.

Unfortunately, someone did not agree with his approach.

Fred (via Daliaah) joins Mature and others
on Deathwing-US to defeat Mobus,
Vashj'ir

Not Safe For Work

"I see censorship is alive and well in this forum," Drecca wrote, "I'm sorry for calling out a fellow guildy whose ethics bend as they need to. I now know that exploiting Tol Barad is an unforgivable offense, but forming an oligopoly is perfectly acceptable. To hell with the moral compass. Yes, I took and aced economics, too. It is reprehensible that you charge guildies for cuts because they bought the pattern on the AH, and you have the audacity to patronize us with comments like, 'When I'm done making money, I'll let you in on my secrets.' Nevermind the fact that you police the guild vault militantly, disallowing anyone that isn't on the 25-Man from pulling gems. The spirit of guild cooperation is indeed alive and well in DoD."

Goldenrod responded.

"Tol Barad was an exploit of game mechanics. The Terms of Services of WoW clearly state that you aren't to utilize known bugs/issues that gain you unfair advantages -- there is no such statement regarding the AH. Everything I, or any gold maker does, is allowed, so long as it falls within the realm of the existing game's rules. I also never charge guildies for the cut: the only time I've asked for payment is if they have no source gem, and I provide one from my own resources...and even then, it's far below cost."

"I also never meant to treat you as a second-class citizen, and if you feel I have, I apologize -- I simply can't provide gems for all of the 10s as well as the 25. If the members of the 10s would like help with gems, I'd be happy to accommodate if they reach out. As for the sharing of my strategy, I'd be happy to share it one-on-one with interested parties -- I'm just not ready to post it publicly on the forums."

Goldenrod's clarification and apology went unanswered; none was needed. Drecca aired his dirty laundry for all to see, and it was clear that he considered himself (and his groupies) as dejected and marginalized. Eventually, he aimed the barrel directly at the guild leader.

Drecca soon began calling me out on my leadership tactics, informing me of my inappropriateness. Simple, thoughtful advice (such as making negative Karma hidden from view) eventually gave way to shameless pandering on behalf of Herp Derp's constituents.

On one occasion, Ben posted a joke link to the off-topic forum which (unsurprisingly) took visitors to a site not fit for viewing in the workplace -- something many of us did during breaks at the office. Goldenrod politely provided some direction to Ben's increasing thoughtlessness, stating simply, "You may want to note links like these as NSFW, as a courtesy to those who might get in trouble for following the link at work."

Ben's response to Goldy? "lol i dunno what that means." Stereotype: perpetuated.

I felt compelled to remind Ben of his growing irresponsibility and demonstrated lack of respect for fellow guildies, writing:

"Perhaps one day when you get a job, you'll learn."

That evening, I was treated to a scathing letter from Drecca in my private messages, admonishing my choice to publicly shame Ben. How dare I? What gave me the right to embarrass Ben in front of the guild, pointing out that he couldn't obtain employment?

To that, I simply replied: Couldn't?.....or wouldn't?

Understanding the difference required context: Ben's history, what he was like, what he was capable of, what he had done -- and what he was starting to do again. But if considering the context of the bigger picture isn't high up on your priority list, then why wouldn't you jump to conclusions?

After all, every time we're undercut on the auction house, it's a personal attack on us...

...isn't it?

There was a day that Drecca and I agreed on nearly everything. That day was now a distant memory.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

4.30. Two Birds One Stone

"Cho'gall"
Artwork by Oliver Krings

World of ExcelCraft

Team OverKill

Raid Times:
- Fridays: 9:00pm (tentative)
- Saturdays: 6:00pm - 1:00am

Tactician: Zedman

Zed's filled 25 since coming on board, late Wrath. Can't commit to a full-time schedule, the wife/kid thing is standing in the way of that. Perma-filler has value, but not if he's leading a team the same night as progression.

25-Man Risks:

Eternaal: Has been showing regularly, but get the vibe that he comes and goes as he pleases. Most likely going to stick to his pal Dexi. He's also pushing Zedman to add a third night on the roster, which means he wants hardcore 10 progression -- safest bet will be not to count on him for many more 25s. High risk.
Makiazo: It was my understanding that Mak wanted to be a part of progression. Not sure what's up here. Going to have to meet with him.

---

Juicebox Bandits
Raid Times:
- Tuesday: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
- Thursday: 7:00pm - 10:00pm

Tactician: Cheeseus

Fine with him back in the guild, he's apologized profusely for any damage caused via Eh Team. What's done is done. As long as he stays the fuck away from the 25-Man, there'll be no issues. Those in JBB do not appear to possess they same drive to manipulate loot as Crasian did. Told Cheeseus to push JBB for achievements, but to respectfully keep them behind 25 as much as possible. No poaching.

25-Man Risks:
Gunsmokeco: I think he's struggling to make up for the Eh Team shit, follows the same logic as why he chose to step down as healing lead in Cata. I don't believe he's going to shaft me, but will keep an eye on it.
Teras: He's helping with the 25 here and there on Horateus, but his loyalty is always going to be to Falnerashe, so wherever she goes, he'll follow.

Larada: He goes where progression goes. Hasn't given me any indication that’s changing, not in several years, at least. EDIT: My god, Larada, how many teams do you plan to join???
Bulwinkul: Not particularly keen on him hanging with his old Eh Team buds, but without Crasian fueling the loot fire, should be ok. If he goes off on another drunken tirade and targets Falnerashe like he did Lexxii, if Teras is privvy, I can count on both of them leaving the guild. As such, noting as high risk.
---

Team H.A.M.

Raid Times:
- Tuesday: 7:30pm - 11:00pm
- Thursday: 7:30pm - 11:00pm
Tactician: Raziei

A la Zedman, Razzy's always been a perma-filler. "Hard As a Motherfucker"? Really, Raz? Really?
25-Man Risks:
Tastyslug: Larada's alt. Pretty sure he is on every 10-Man team now.
Palmabomb: Hellspectral's alt. Hasn't passed out mid-raid for many months. Doesn't mean it won’t happen, but he's been proving to be a changed (read: sober) dude. Low risk.
Jlo: Neps's alt. Hasn't missed a raid since 40-Man Naxx. I expect it would take an act of God to keep him from 25-Man. Low risk.

Gunsmokeco: Isn't he in JBB? Need to chat with him about this.


---

No Rush No Flyers
Leader: Bovie

I have faith that Bovie will not sink the ship. Very clearly defined team rules, raid times, and brings old-school knowledge from TBC.
Raid Times:
- Tuesdays: 8:00pm - 10:00pm
- Wednesdays: 8:00pm - 10:00pm
25-Man Risks:
Borken: Love him. He’s adorable. Wish his Shaman could fill the 25 more. Otherwise, no risk.

Larada: If NRNF accidentally runs the wrong instance, he's hosed for progression (but can't the same be said for any of these teams that run early week?) Also indicates he's on multiple teams. Need to straighten this out with him, marking as high risk until then.
Klocka: alt of Sir Klocker. Like Neps, will take an act of God for him to sabotage the 25-Man. Low risk.
Tantaria: alt of McFlurrie. Sadly, McFlurrie's stepped out of progression, but does not risk the 25.
---

Recovering Raidaholics
Tactician: Joredin

Joredin's old-school DoD. Is one of the reasons Tactician exists. He'll not jeopardize the 25-Man, nor will the likes of anyone on this team (Rebornbendar, Goreden, Breginna, etc...all good people).

Raid Times:
- Tuesdays: 8:00pm - 11:00pm
- Thursdays: 8:00pm - 11:00pm
25-Man Risks:
(none)

---

I clicked into the spreadsheet cell just below Recovering Raidaholics, and typed a new team name.

Herp Derp

Without filling out any additional info, I selected the entire row of cells and painted them all red.

Giving one final glance to the empty leader column of the freshly created blood-red row, I sighed, then closed the spreadsheet to get it out of my sight. The clock on the desktop reminded me of how much time I'd spent editing the document: nearly an hour.

You’re not going to be unemployed forever. How do you expect to keep this up?

Technically, I was playing World of Warcraft...

...but I wouldn't exactly call this "playing".

The 25-Man Progression Team defeats Nefarian,
Blackwing Descent

Corruption From Within

February 27th's prospects brightened. Blain had lobbied for a third tank for some time. In a surprise move, we were offered up a helping hand by none other than Drecca; he'd recently completed the leveling (and moderate gearing) of a second paladin, aptly named Dreccax. This alt was free from the shackles of the 10/25 shared raid locks in Cataclysm. Blain put Soot and I back on tanking Nefarian and Onyxia, while a class with a different kit could field Nef’s adds. I took absolutely no offense to it. I'd strip Mature to the nude and die in the first three seconds if it meant a guaranteed a kill.

Hopefully it wouldn't come to that.

---

Back into phase three, once more. Instead of struggling with constructs off by myself at the far side of the arena, I was toe-to-talon with Nef, barely able to make out what was happening. Animations and spell effects filled every exposed inch of the screen. Drecca had the adds well under control, his timing swift, his moves surgical. When the raid's health dropped dangerously low in the last few minutes of the fight, Drecca's Divine Guardian softened the blow just enough to squeeze out those last remaining bits of damage we so desperately needed. The great dragon roared and slumped to the ground by our hand...for the 2nd time.

Excited cheers of relief filled Vent. Finally. What a rush it was to be able to put the dragon to bed. Three weekends of work on a single boss was going to take some getting used to -- we had Wrath to thank for that. And this was only normal mode! 

I whispered to Blain, inquiring what possible nightmares the heroic version of this encounter might contain. His research told the tale of Geddon-inspired living bombs, mind controlled players that shouldn't interrupt their hypnosis, and players purposefully leaping off of the pillars, back into the lava, lest they wipe the raid. We were going to have to build this team up further if we expected a fighting chance.

The adrenaline finally subsided, and we snapped our screenshots. Blain snapped us back to reality, the blood elf rogue vanishing through Goldenrod's freshly spawned portal.

"Hurry up, people. Get over to BoT."

---

Cho'gall proudly wore the mutations of an old god's redesign: dozens of independently blinking eyes protruded from the hideously deformed ogre's body. Before his transformation, a mere grotesque ogre might only invoke disgust. Gazing at Cho'gall now could unhinge the mind.

The two-headed ogre harnessed both fire and shadow in his assault. Flame's Orders infused the massive Twilight's Hammer with fiery strikes, complemented by pools of lava throughout the throne room. Shadow's Orders blanketed us with AoE shadow damage, cascading across the team. Tank swapping was non-negotiable: Cho'gall's Fury debilitated the current tank, suffering a 20% increase in damage, forcing them out of the line of fire.

Conversion hit multiple raiders at once, enslaving them and boosting the damage they turned back on us. I'd interrupt a group with Arcane Torrent, Mangetsu handled the next group with Shadowfury, Bulwinkul used Warstomp, and so on. Blain positioned melee tightly in a moon shape along Cho'gall's backside, with ranged not too far away, so that any players targeted for conversion could be handled with a single AoE interrupt or stun, while out-of-range stragglers were dispatched swiftly.

Cho'gall made it clear he would not be insignificant. We also had to deal with a corrupting adherent -- a sort of mini-Vezax from Ulduar. Adherents lobbed shadowy missiles at the group while blasting us with Depravity, more shadow AoE damage. The tank afflicted with Cho'gall's Fury pulled the adherent away from his master, and Jungard took a team to break off and bring it down fast -- tank switching complicated this part of the fight far more than was necessary.

The 25-Man Progression Team defeats Cho'gall,
Bastion of Twilight

Naked Lunch

Adherents were a problem either dead or alive; Cho'gall's Fester Blood saw to that. A living adherent with festering blood violently sprayed shadow damage and spewed corruption until our own blood turned. The festering blood of a dead adherent, however, manifested as black globules of sludge bursting from the body, slowly creeping towards Cho'gall, laying down a thick, gelatinous trail of corruption in their wake.

Jungard once again led the task force against this Blood of the Old God, joined by Hellspectral and Bulwinkul. Hellspectral unleashed a freezing barrage of Howling Blasts on the black blood, while Jungard danced and wove between the globules, cleaving them apart while avoiding the corruption. From afar, Bulwinkul summoned the power of night and day, raining stars down and igniting the blood with the fury of the sun. For precious extra seconds, Mangetsu tossed Shadowfury their way. The creeping blood stopped dead in its tracks while Hellspectral's Death and Decay ate through the blood like acid.

Throughout this ordeal, every player in the raid had an additional responsibility: each managed their own corruption bar, which grew with every mistake made and every bit of damage soaked. The bleakness of the situation grew with the corruption, compounding upon itself. Our strengths soon turned to liabilities; spraying one another amid bouts of projectile vomiting, causing our targets to gain corruption, inevitably leading to the expulsion of more stomach contents. Players quickly learned to spin, and face away from one another, if they felt another wave of nausea coming in.

When Cho'gall reached 25% health, the final test began. Purple smoke filled the room and tentacles burst forth from the violet mist, a solitary eyeball atop each one, quickly focusing its hypnotic glare onto a member of the raid. Tentacles required immediate attention; the most effective killing strategy for them was one Blain had employed countless times before. One player was designated the MA or "Main Assist", and all damage was focused on to that person's target.

Cho'gall's Fury continued during this final burn, as did shadow damage and pools of flame. Increasing rates of corruption caused even the sharpest of players to become violently ill. Some were quick to face away, sending chunks of half-digested food out towards the emptiness of the purple mist. Others remained overwhelmed, struggling to cognitively process so many moving parts of the encounter simulatenously -- and they doused us with their lunch. We learned very quickly that even after getting a solid handle on phase one, the transition, and eventual digestion of phase two, the encounter could spiral out of control well before Cho'gall was in danger of dying.

With a half-dozen significant attempts on our belt, the clock ticked towards 7:00pm, signifying the final minutes of the raid. There was an overwhelming vibe of gusto and tenacity not felt in weeks. Blain and I agreed, one more attempt for the night...the famous last pull.

It all came together on that last attempt of the night. The great two-headed ogre fell to the ground, dead. His dozens of eyes gazed no more.

February 27th was a glorious day for Descendants of Draenor, with not one, but two entire instances cleared. The heroic road ahead would test us like we had not seen since our earliest days. The 25-Man progression team stepped up and demonstrated exceptional focus and skill that Sunday. I was proud of their dedication to the guild they called home, despite the incredibly steep shift in raid difficulty -- something we could all agree on.

All...but one.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

4.29. Chasing Cho'gall

"Valiona and Theralion"
Artist Unknown

Double Dragon

Valiona and Theralion berated each other as we entered the room, petty children squabbling over which of them was the favored child.

"Oh, hey. Look at that. Two dragons. Been awhile since we've killed any of those." Sarge's wisecrack reeked with sarcasm.

There was no shortage of internet dragons to slay in Cataclysm: Slabhide in the Stonecore, Altairus in the Vortex Pinnacle, Nef, Ony, and Atramedes in Blackwing Descent, and now these two incorrigible brats. By the expansion's end, four more dragons would make themselves known; two would escape our wrath. Of those two, one lay hidden beneath us, far away from prying eyes, yet close enough to maintain a watchful eye over her babies. Mommy Dearest.

Theralion took flight while Valiona remained on the ground in the initial moments of the encounter, the first mechanic kicking in almost immediately. Hellspectral was hit with Blackout.

"Group on tail," Blain called out.

The only way to mitigate its impact was to have additional players soak the explosion. Healers with lightning-fast reflexes were no good to us if they had itchy trigger fingers; dispelling Blackout before allowing a moment to collapse at Valiona's tail guaranteed the death of the afflicted.

Physica snuffed Blackout from Hellspectral, a diluted blast barely registered amongst melee. Blain ordered everyone to spread back out. From above, Theralion pummeled the raid with Twilight Blast. A violet shower rained down near Goldenrod and Ignismortis. Keeping in close proximity only worsened things for the healers.

Valiona inhaled, and a frontal blast of shadow flame poured out of the drake's lungs for a solid five seconds. Blain directed the raid to seek cover, well out of the way of Devouring Flame. I watched as the goblins of the roster rocket-jumped to safety towards her tail.

After bouncing between Blackout and Devouring Flame twice, swirling spirals began to appear on the floor. Players began to spread out, dodging the impending Dazzling Destruction. Traipsing across a vortex would shift them into an alternate plane -- a blurred dimension filled with hypnotic lights...unstable bombs, ready to explode at a touch. Shifted players dashed for portal exits around the perimeter of the room, prepping for the dragons to exchange places.

With Valiona aloft, mechanics changed. She debuffed players at random with Twilight Meteorite, a six-second explosion which split its damage between players, akin to her brother's Blackout. Meanwhile, a freshly grounded Theralion turned to players at random, painting the ground with a violet disc of Fabulous Flames. Mangetsu was struck with Engulfing Magic, exponentially increasing the potency of his Unstable Affliction, but at a cost. Each tick on the dragons mirrored its effect as an explosion of AoE bursting out of the warlock, forcing Mang to exit raid cluster via his demonic gateway, lest he kill us with his own power.

As we re-approached the transition between dragons, a length-wise third of the room was covered in Valiona's flickering purple flame: Deep Breath. And, just like her brother's Dazzling Destruction, anyone touching this strip of fire would shift into the "twilight zone", immediately seeking an exit while avoiding the pulsing glow of shadow bombs. Blain called out the shift, and players haphazardly learned their compass positions.

The 25-Man progression team was in a constant state of movement. Collapsing, expanding, getting into the group, moving away from the group. Avoiding spirals of fire, dodging strips of fire. I never budged from my chair, yet was somehow exhausted by the time both dragons collapsed. The Vial of Stolen Memories dropped -- another step up I could have gained in dealing with Nefarian's unforgiving constructs. Instead, I passed. Our newest tank, Soot, won the bid. Better to spread the love, I reasoned, than to pour all the guild's hopes and dreams into a spazz.

Willy sneaks in a quick nap between pulls,
Bastion of Twlight

Ascension

The raid trekked deeper into the Bastion of Twilight, down staircases and through long corridors, navigating dense packs of trash until eventually arriving at a large chamber lined with steps in its four corners. Upon these steps stood four individuals, barely exhibiting any semblance of mortal humanity they once clung to. They were all draped in the same, crudely patched robes. Each wore a belt adorned with the symbol of the Twilight Hammer cult: Cho'gall's unmistakable mace from which the cult took its name.  Their helmets resembled the squid-like merciless ones, flayed open, webbing between each tentacle spread wide, forming a protective shell.

The only difference between these four creatures appeared in what "skin" remained exposed: their arms and legs told the story of complete and total elemental assimilation. Feludius glowed eerily blue, water pouring out and downward, while cracks in Ignacious' skin burned red hot. A silver wind wrapped itself around Arion's mid-section, forever encircling his upper torso. Terrastra was muted by comparison. Hard-edged cracks of stone lined his appendages, speaking for an otherwise lack of flamboyancy shared by the others. They evolved beyond mere shamanistic control of the elements. They had become the very elements themselves.

This was the Ascendant Council. We spent the remainder of the raid locked in that sanctum, and wasted no time getting started.

Ignacious and Feludius attacked first, marking the beginning of phase one. We engaged as Arion and Terrastra watched in silence. Ignacious was tanked on the steps near his starting point. Jemb and Littlebear kept their distance from Feludius, issuing Kill Commands from afar, taking care to avoid Glaciate, a blast of AoE frost damage that diminished in intensity at range. Meanwhile, Ignacious bore the weight of DoD's melee -- Blain, Jungard, Bonechatters, Sarge, Hellspectral. They unleashed Hell, watching for the impending Aegis of Flame. Once Ignacious' shield went up, ranged switched, cooldowns popped, and the 25-Man team burned through it to interrupt Rising Flame -- pulsating flame bursting forth, scorching the room and all members therein.

It wasn't long before we grasped the gimmick: Ignacious and Feludius debuffed two players, one with Burning Blood, the other with Heart of Ice, respectively. To the afflicted, these debuffs were barely even noticeable, but when turned against the bosses themselves, the debuffs were the key to victory. The player with Burning Blood moved to the ranged group, enhancing the casters with fire damage. Feludius wasn't pleased. Likewise, the player with Heart of Ice rushed to join melee, applying frozen attacks en masse with every swing they took.

Ignacious leapt at the healers and smashing into the ground, then resumed his position following the impact, a long trail of flames left in his wake. In a rare moment for World of Warcraft, we actually chose to stand in the fire: they negated Feludius' waterlogged debuff, the result of a water bomb that could decrease a player's movement (at best), or leave them stranded in a block of ice if struck with Glaciate.

Phase two. Ignacious and Feludius took a back seat while Arion and Terrastra tagged in. Arion's constant teleportation rendered melee useless, so the casters turned their attention to him, leaving melee to focus on Terrastra. Throughout this phase, Gravity Wells and Call Winds would appear randomly in the room: zones of energy that granted buffs to anyone crossing them. Again, we used these two council members' abilities against one another: Call Winds levitated players, allowing us to avoid the full brunt of Terrastra's Quake. Conversely, the Gravity Well's "Grounded" buff granted us similar protection against Arion's Thundershock.

Arion also liked to choose three players at random, converting them into Lightning Rods. Rods were indicated by a tell-tale yellow arrow, as if to say "Pay attention, folks: this person is about to kill everyone in the raid". The Rods had to bolt from the group, moving as far away as possible, pressing up against a wall if necessary, to avoid Arion's Chain Lightning. It was a far more dangerous version of what a shaman hurled: Arion's chain lightning bounced to as many nearby players as it needed to. One poorly positioned Lightning Rod could instantly wipe the entire raid. Playing with blinders wasn't an option. Every member of the 25-Man raid had to be actively engaged, observing surroundings, noting constant changes in positioning, never ignoring their own buffs and debuffs.

Mature poses beside the 25-Man healing officer, Lexxii,
Bastion of Twilight

Elementium, My Dear

The ascendant council required self-discipline and communication. We couldn't just burn the bosses down independently. If either Ignacious or Feludius hit 25% health, phase two was immediately triggered, locking their health bars at whatever they happened to be. The same applied to Arion and Terrastra in phase two. The final, third phase of the encounter was where our skill (or lack thereof) would either benefit or handicap us.

At the start of phase three, the entire raid was locked into position, frozen for a moment. The twenty-five of us watched as the four council members slowly walked towards one another, dissipating into their corporeal elements, then reforming into a single Elementium Monstrosity. This final creature, an aggregate of all four ascendants, inherited their remaining health pools. Four council members, all at 25% health, would have been ideal. But mistakes could lead two council members to end their phase with more than 25%, compounding your problems in phase three -- it was simply more health to burn through, dragging the fight out longer, increasing the opportunity to wipe.

Chaos ensued. We spent the last two hours that Sunday, chiseling away at the multitude of raid mechanics. The first phase was textbook and out of our way in a matter of only a few pulls -- phase two was the nightmare. With the madness of Arion's teleportation and Terrastra's constant Eruption spiking players out of the ground, there was little time left to contemplate subtle visual differences between Gravity Well and Call Winds. The two spell effects were nearly identical at a glance, and as a result, players were caught Grounded just prior to Quake. Likewise, some accidentally levitated prior to Thundershock, and the mixed groans of surprise and disappointment in Vent were a constant reminder of the cost of such oversight.

What set of attempts would be complete without the occasional raid wipe, thanks to a Lightning Rod that happened to be moving through life in a permanent haze? Friendly fire ended more than one attempt due to some players being spaced out, but lingering adrenaline from Halfus and Twin Dragons was the fuel that kept the raid running back with unending enthusiasm. It wasn't Nef...but it was something.

The famous last pull of the evening brought all the moving parts together. Ignacious and Feludius converted at a solid 25% each. Few deaths were logged when Arion and Terrastra took the stage. The Elementium Monstrosity converged before us. Bloodlust filled our characters with rage, and the 25-Man team opened up with a barrage. Soot and I traded off, measuring a kite path, moving only as needed. Too fast would handicap melee, the shining star of the 25-Man progression team, but too slow would force Pools of Ice to grow unchecked beneath our feet. Seeds of Lava exploded out of the boss, showering the raid with fireworks. Players at random were encased in a bubble, levitating high above the sanctum, only to be crushed as the Monstrosity telekinetically slammed them to the ground. I breathed, watching for cooldowns, trying not to let the spazz break free.

Bolts of lightning chained across the group, striking more with each flare. The raid team began to collapse under the weight of the boss and the combined elemental forces that were raking across our backs. Casters collapsed. Healers crumbled. Melee began to fall like flies being swatted. We stuck to the plan, Soot and I burning through whatever survivability remained. With our last bits of dark energy, we pulled two armies of mindless, salivating ghouls from the ground, claws outstretched. They leapt toward the boss, gnashing at anything they considered flesh. And as the raid came down to its last remaining living players, the Elementium Monstrosity cried out in the impossibility of our power. His helmet fell to the ground; no other trace of the council remained.

---

The decision to shift to Bastion of Twilight on the weekend of Feb 13 proved to be the right one. We knocked out three new bosses, putting DoD at 8/12 for Tier 11 across all three raids. Thanks to Blizzard breaking out the starting raids into three separate instances, DoD gained flexibility in how it was able to overcome obstacles without stagnating in progression. I was grateful for that flexibility...until I came to loathe it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

4.28. To Breach a Bastion

DoD wipes during an attempt
on the Nefarian encounter,
Blackwing Descent

100 Meter Lavastroke

"Our pillar needs help, down an interrupter."

"Which pillar?"

"Jungard's going. Blain's next."

"Just the next person's name, please. Cut the chatter."

"Insayno has this."

"WHICH PILLAR?"

"EAST!"

"East pillar."

"Raina's next."

"Raina's DEAD, already requested help!"

"I can get over there. Zedman can get over there."

"Calm down. Just everybody relax."

"Boney, you’re up, by the way."

"You'll be dead before you reach it."

"Too late, he's already in the lava."

"Heh, we got ourselves a fucking Michael Phelps here."

"Get a shield on him or something, Christ."

"Wow."

"Chatter down, please. Waiting for Electrocute."

"I think he’s going to make it."

"Can you get this next one?"

"I got it, I got it."

"He's almost here."

"Slow down. SLOW. DOWN. Let’s get everybody up before 70%, please."

"DPS off."

"...aaand, he's up."

"I don't believe it. Zedman is now at east pillar."

"Welcome. And you’re next."

"Are we clear?"

"Jungard, next."

"Hit mine, you're up Mature."

"Top everyone off, we're pushing Electrocute now."

Nefarian rattled, hovering far above us. Forks of electricity pierced the room, striking every living member of the raid. Healers bathed each pillar in light once Electrocute had passed. Panic turned to relief, and doubt reformed as confidence. We burned the Chromatic Prototypes, now able to stay ahead of the three minute timer, and watched as the lava began to drain from the room.

You’re up, Mature.

I beelined to the north pillar, targeting a gigantic pile of bones. Moments later, Nefarian exhaled, and a bright Shadowblaze Spark smashed into the floor next to me. Bones re-animated into constructs, tearing and clawing as they came to life. Upgrades were sparse since starting Tier 11 -- I rested hope on Throngus' Finger and Symbiotic Worm, the best two trinkets I'd been able to procure. With Death and Decay encircling the feet of the bone constructs, I pulled them away from the north pillar, out of the flame, and prepared to do my dance.

The path took me along the outside ring of Nefarian's arena, moving clockwise from noon to five: this delayed the amount of time the room was filled with flame. I kept them moving long enough to begin to collapse, their life energy draining as the blue flame snuffed out. But within moments of the constructs coming apart, another Shadowblaze Spark began the cycle anew.

I continued along the ring until I approached the south-eastern pillar, calling out for extra heals in the moments I'd be out of line-of-sight. This is where things consistently fell apart. Go behind the pillar, risk death, but give the raid extra time to DPS Nefarian? Or cut my path short, and cross the center of the arena? This was a safer bet for my own survivability, but accelerated the spread of blue flame -- an encroaching threat that reduced mobility, strained healers, and allowed for the occasional construct to take a pot shot at a raider.

I spiked wildly, healers struggled to keep me topped off, but I couldn't reach for a cooldown. All cooldowns had to be ready for Electrocutes, now striking us at a rate of one every 10% of Nefarian's health devoured. The spikes were too much for me to bear. I had to cut across. The blue flame was not burning out of the construct's eyes. Too many mistakes. Too much back-pedaling, not enough side-strafing (a faster way for a tank to kite). I zig-zagged through the middle, attempting to avoid the burning blue areas now painted in giant patches across the room. Constructs were getting away from me. Healers were dying. DPS was dying. I was dying.

I was dead.

Zedman's clutch lava bath had been in vain. We exited Blackwing Descent that night, our second full night of attempts on Nefarian, empty handed.

DoD kills Nefarian to earn a legacy
raid achievement and guild xp,
Blackwing Lair

An Undetectable Breaking Point


After two weekends of unsuccessful attempts on Nefarian, I worried about morale. In the days of Blackwing Lair, it wasn't unheard of to sink nearly all the raid weekends into one boss, pull after relentless pull. I was reminded of this fact frequently: every wipe in Blackwing Descent forced us back to the summoning stone perched atop Nefarian's old balcony, an outlook across the entirety of the Burning Steppes. It was hard to believe how fast six years had gotten away from me.

Running back, attempt after attempt, Kerulak resumed his position, while Annihilation and Ater prepared the warriors for their shout rotation, tiny bits of aggro that collected the Chromatic Drakonids. Dalans, Kadrok, Haribo, Klocker and I stood with the other healers and DPS in a tight clump, measuring our heals carefully, keeping people topped off, while casters like Turtleman and melee like Blain ripped minions to shreds. And oh, the screams that filled Teamspeak in those days, when bosses took months, not days, to complete.

I remember Ater's early concern with morale when we'd stagnated on a boss for six weeks. Six weeks! Raiders were made of sturdier stuff back then...they had no choice. The only way to shed the weak was by slaying internet dragons. You persevered because you were a bat-shit, crazy, out-of-your-mind kind of gamer, the only type of person who would be online this late in the evening on a Friday night, glued to pixels instead of a social life.

...except that this was social. Just an unconventional kind of sociality. There were thirty-nine other living breathing humans making this god damn raid work. Strategizing, coordinating, working out the kinks. Internet dragons weren't being slain in a vacuum.

As the memory of my shaman's ghost melted away, replaced by my death knight, few of those original faces remained: Blain, Sir Klocker, Turtleman, to name a few. Old-school raiders that knew what it meant to face a challenge and not give up just because they weren't seeing fancy loot. But so many of these faces were new, and how many of them were from Wrath era? How many had never experienced the suffering of weeks and weeks of work on a boss like Kael'thas, and felt the adrenaline rush through the veins of forty people screaming at the top of their lungs when a boss finally crashed to the ground? Screaming amid the knowledge that they were of a very select few on the server that were able to pull off such a feat?

Vets like Dalans and Annihilation and Haribo and Ater were being replaced with fresh faces like Dewgyd and Aetherknight and Rainaterror and Hygia. A raid comprised of leaders had morphed into one of followers. Boosts in morale wouldn't grow out of thin air. They had to want it. In Wrath, the shinies were perpetually dangling in front of their faces. Cataclysm, by contrast, was more like the days of yore: brutal, terrifying, and asking raiders to sacrifice of themselves in much greater quantities...but without the accompanying rewards.

DoD tore through raids in Wrath of the Lich King at such an alarming rate, that whenever progress stagnated like this, even just for a couple of weekends, I grew somber as I contemplated the current lineup:

How many more wipes before they start to consider a 10-Man?


DoD continues to refine Halfus Wyrmbreaker,
Bastion of Twilight

Wrangling The Wyrmbreaker

I didn't have to pitch a raid shift to Blain for the third week of attempts -- the line-up dictated it. Horateus, a paladin tank that Teras offered to us for a few weeks, was unavailable. The death knights acquiesced; Insayno, Soot and I all knew the limitations of our toolkit as they pertained to the off-tank portion of Nefarian's third phase. Rather than waste everyone's time on an encounter we were ill-equipped to refine, Blain directed us to Bastion of Twilight, with the hopes of making some...any...kind of progress there.

Halfus Wyrmbreaker was first up on our tour through the starfish-shaped citadel, floating high above the Twilight Highlands. We reached the Bastion via a portal nestled amongst dark violet spirals of architecture that twisted skyward like a pit of sacrificial daggers. Inside, deep purples and cobalt blues painted a glowing path down corridors which lead to the awaiting encounters.

The giant ettin stood on an exposed platform, a two headed bi-pedal monstrosity wielding a glowing mace. Narrow red slits in eyeholes darted around the room, casing for any unexpected sound or movement in the rookery. Near the edge of the exposed room flew a horrifically enlarged and mutated version of a proto-drake: Wyrmbreaker's pet proto-behemoth. Three drakes stood at attention around the perimeter of Halfus' platform. Two more lay chained, health bars indicating that they were in no shape to fight.

The encounter required us to have a tank pull the ettin while three members of raid all spoke to a drake, causing them to join the encounter. Each drake provided both a buff and a debuff to Wyrmbreaker (or his Proto-Behemoth) and with each drake we slew, Halfus would buckle, taking additional damage.

The trick with Halfus was to walk that ever increasing fine line of what your raid could dish out vs. what you could withstand. Either we released more drakes, increasing the risk levied on the raid, but ultimately earning a payoff in the form of increased damage. Or, leave drakes alone, potentially improving raid survivability, but handicapping our ability to finish him off before Wyrmbreaker the returned the favor.

Never mind the fact that the drakes changed from week to week, randomizing the encounter further.

We coughed and sputtered on an initial few attempts, but before long, found our groove. Drakes were pulled, separated, and burned. The ettin roared, knocking the melee back in a disorienting attempt to prevent us from interrupting his Shadow Nova. Goldenrod kept a close eye on the impending cast, counterspelling it before it blasted the entire raid with damage. Before we knew it, the two headed creature crashed to the ground in a heap.

Progress had resumed. And the raid evening was still young.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

4.27. The Race

"Tauren Warrior"
Artwork by TamplierPainter

Horders

I hope you get cancer and die.

The worst part of being a pack rat is the conscious awareness of your irrational emotional attachment to garbage. Whether facing a full bank in game or an inordinate collection of very important things in your computer room, sensibility wracks you with guilt. All signs point to the dumpster, yet you find ways to justify why cutting your refuse loose would be a bad idea. Textbook excuses are your crutch: a lack of time needed to organize, no guarantee you'll ever come across the item again, a hypothetical future need. Justifications only bury the core issue: an inability to admit defeat. It is the notion that you, at one point of sound mind and body, held a noble, rational argument for its value, seeing in it what others could not. And with a bit of effort, you could extract that diamond from a pile of filthy coal. You just needed to care enough.

Being unable to admit defeat convinces you that a diamond exists somewhere in your coal mine, so you continue to dig and dig, unaware that there is no mine at all...just a hole in the earth you dig for yourself.

---

Check your fucking facts, you piece of shit.

One of my newest members, inspired by the camaraderie he experienced as a member of Descendants of Draenor, brought an idea to me one afternoon.

"Well, I was thinking. I'd like to set something up, a race of sorts. Maybe something like from Thunder Bluff to Orgrimmar. Get everybody together that's interested and have them roll a brand new tauren and see who can make it to Orgrimmar first. Winner could get some gold, enchants, gems, things like that. Do you think that would be a fun event?"

"Absolutely. I'm sure a bunch of people would be interested in participating. In fact, let me sweeten the deal: I'll match the award. Whatever you are able to throw in for the winner, we'll double up by pulling from the guild vault."

"Wow, that would really be great! Thanks, I'm gonna go make a post about it now."

Following the forum post detailing out the date, time, and the rules for participating, an update to the guild Message of the Day caused word to spread rapidly. Some guild members even offered to add to the award pool without even being asked to. I watched the outpouring of generosity from our auction house players, and was proud of the melting pot of players who called DoD their home.

You don't have a clue what you're doing, do you? DoD is a joke, lol.

The day of the race arrived; a herd of naked cows perched at the top of Thunder Bluff's southwestern elevator. I watched the countdown in guild chat, and when the virtual gunshot fired, they were off: a blur of bovines stampeding through the green plains of Mulgore. The racers maintained a pack formation, following the path that slowly veered in a southeasterly direction, with their sights set on breaching The Great Gate, a defensive wall constructed by the tauren in response to Camp Taurajo's decimation. Beyond the gate, the relative safety of the freshly rolled characters could not longer be guaranteed.
"Shaman Draenei"
Artwork by Nadou

High Steaks

Though it is contested territory, the wide-open plains of the Barrens has long been considered Horde owned. From Vanilla through Wrath, Horde outposts stood diligently at select points along the outskirts of the arid savanna. Nearly all of the action ever faced in the zone took place at the Crossroads, a northern trade town connecting four distinct roads that lead northward to Ashenvale, westward to the Stonetalon Peaks, southward to the Thousand Needles via Razorfen territory, and eastward, for those bound for the Horde capital. Pockets of Alliance insurgents would make their random attacks, sneaking onto ships bound for Ratchet, or driving a southern charge via Dustwallow Marsh -- their geographic liaison to Theramore. These pushes would never last, and the Horde would rightfully put them in their place.

When the Cataclysm hit the Barrens, the dominance of the Horde receded. A gaping fiery tear in the land stretched entirely from western to eastern edges of the Barrens, cutting the Horde off and preventing them from effectively defending the southern, less protected areas. The Alliance moved quickly to take control of those southern points, setting up defenses at Fort Triumph and Forward Command. And ensuring that they remained the honorable, righteous faction they claimed to be, the Alliance slaughtered the undefended Camp Taurajo, to demonstrate how truly powerful and noble they were. This tear came to be known as The Great Divide, and is the reason the Horde lost its foothold over the zone.

Ask anybody and they’ll back me up. I had nothing to do with it.

DoD's freshly rolled cows passed through the remnants of Camp Taurajo, and within moments, the herd of cattle had dispersed. Now in hotly contested territory, imminent danger forced them to rethink. Running blinding through the Southern Barrens not only risked inadvertently aggroing high level mobs, any Alliance present for questing would most certainly jump at the chance to kill a naked tauren. Each racer had their own idea about the most effective route, and sticking together was no longer a winning strategy.

Mobs and leveling Alliance were the least of their worries.

After spending a few minutes trying to decide how to get through the Overgrowth, an area of rich vegetation now lining the borders of the The Great Divide, the naked cows made their way northward. Most had avoided death by this point; the race was still anyone's game. Within moments of passing through Vendetta Point, a new threat stood in their path. A level 85 draenei shaman, draped entirely in PvP gear, hopped off her flying mount, drew both weapons, and proceeded to brutalize the racers, wasting them in a frenzy of windfury. The tauren never had a chance.

Warnings spammed guild chat; the racers responded and adjusted as best they could. The draenei was out for blood, mounted quickly after each subsequent killing, scouting quickly in the direction of the nearest graveyard, waiting for the players' imminent release so the harassment could continue unabated.

At first, it was an interesting challenge to overcome. Perhaps the racers would find a way to stagger their re-spawns, or temporarily form allegiances to work together in mutual distraction. If they could at least make it to the Overgrowth, it could potentially provide some cover from a distance. It's the kind of optimism and hope you only see from the truly dedicated, those who make a habit of getting blood from a stone. 

These tactics were futile. 

It became obvious very quickly that a max level character with a flying mount had all the necessary tools to keep lvl 1 characters from moving only a few steps before turning them into ghosts. The "interesting challenge" quickly devolved into full-on harassment. It went on for an hour, yet the worst was yet to come.

OMG you are the worst guild leader on Deathwing. How's that feel?

A Real Team Player

Zedman was the first to whisper me about the lesser known details behind the draenei shaman.

"Did you know that there's a shaman out there that's killing and camping the racers?"

"Sadly, yes."

"You know who it is, right?"

"No, who?"

"It's Sentra's brother."

I rested my elbows on the desk and massaged my temples.

"You're kidding me."

"Wish I was. That shaman is Sentra's brother over on the Alliance side, well known gankers. They show up in Deathwing forum threads a lot. Sentra's feeding him positioning."

I popped open the guild roster. Sentra was online. I noted his position in the world: Southern Barrens. Un-fucking-believable.

[To: Sentra] Are you telling your brother to attack the racers?

[From: Sentra] Nope.

I took a deep breath.

[To: Sentra] Think it through. Are you absolutely certain this is the answer you want to give me?

[From: Sentra] Whatever.


I scrolled to Sentra's name in the roster, highlighted it, and clicked the Remove from Guild button. Miscellaneous cheers filled guild chat shortly after, with a few random whispers arriving to the tune of "Thank God" and "About Damn Time". 

All the effort I put into trying to see the good side of an otherwise d-bag player -- the long, late night arena matches, the wasted discussions on giving your word and sticking to it in an attempt to pave a path for him into the progression raid, the energy spent on giving him some credit long after others had written him off -- was gone instantly in the press of a button.

Sentra was furious. He demanded that I speak to him about it in Vent. I obliged, but his volatile, scathing rants brought nothing new to the table, nothing I didn't already know. Accusations littered with profanity and abuse told the tale of how I had no evidence and how there was no specific rule banning this kind of behavior anyway. I made it clear to him that all the evidence I needed was the knowledge of his presence in the Southern Barrens conveniently lining up with his brother's rampage. And as for the absence of a rule explicitly stating that a "guild member should not harass other guild members with malice"...I told him to go fuck himself.

You better hope I never come to Denver, because if I do, I'll be paying you and your family a visit.

Shortly after the kick/ban from Vent, he took to phone texting; we had exchanged numbers early on in our Arena history. Every few minutes another SMS message arrived, expressing curiosity as to acquisition of various diseases, telling me how incompetent I was, how hated I was on Deathwing-US, how I had no facts in the case, didn't know what I was doing, and how my guild was a joke. He even tossed in a classy threat of violence as icing on the cake. I wouldn't put it past him; if he could knock out a stranger's front teeth, I'm sure he'd pull no punches in giving me some free dental work.

The harassment from Sentra's brother extended past the end of the race, long after the awards were handed out, and we got on with our lives. Sentra, meanwhile, couldn't get on with his. Message after message caused my phone to continue to buzz, saying the same thing over and over, just in slightly different ways -- pathetic, empty threats from a troll with no ability to separate game from reality. Eventually, I stopped looking at it.

---

Late that evening, long after the kids were tucked in and Jul was resting comfortably in bed, I wrapped up a few more job submissions, /waved goodnight to the guild and headed upstairs. It was only a few moments after my head hit the pillow that a final SMS message arrived, vibrating my phone out of slumber. I rolled over, squinting in the dark to read the message glowing out of the screen.

Please let me back in the guild. This is all I have.

"Who is it?" Jul asked, stirring from her sleep.

I put the phone down on the nightstand, and rolled back to my pillow.

"Nobody important."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

4.26. All Good Things


What a Ride

It wasn't entirely clear what went wrong. Some things couldn't be said on-the-record, piles of signed confidentiality documents attested to that fact. Legalese buried who was at fault or why; I'd certainly never be cleared to know it. Gossip and speculation were the only options, words muttered behind closed doors and under bated breath. While the details of how things spiraled out of control so quickly would remain left to guesses, one thing was perfectly clear by the end of it...

I was unemployed.

Dust collected up into random piles on Jerry's desk in an otherwise empty office. Jerry ran the show, took a gamble on me three years earlier, instantly ending my career rut, my six years of hell. He was my boss's boss, the one who had final say, and who also happened to share an interest in a certain MMO. I'd catch the occasional glimpse of him, winding his undead rogue through Azeroth between conference calls, and think, that's a pretty sweet gig. Calling the shots at the office, setting up a team, and getting them to make some magic happen. All with enough time left over to check on your auctions before punching out. Jerry was king of the castle and a gamer to boot. They do exist!

I remember a few weeks after getting the job, firing up our then-recent kill video of Archimonde, taken from the point of view of a shaky shadow-priest. Jerry gave a nod of acknowledgement. He saw the raid flung up into air, a few of my guild coming close to cratering -- he knew the stakes. The other folks at the office paid no attention, but Jerry leaned in and watched closely. For a brief moment, the guy that could hire and fire all day long and a simple ColdFusion developer, were on the same level. "Got some computer games goin' on over there?" came a gibe from across the cubes, "Don't look work related to me!" Jerry and I looked at each other. They'll never understand.

One year in, Jerry was gone. His work was done, the team was self-sufficient, and he was off to solve bigger problems elsewhere. I resumed my role of "the only WoW addict in the office", but was lucky enough to build a kinship with my immediate superior, "the boss" Dave. Not a gamer, but definitely a down-to-earth manager that held his team in high regard, fighting to protect us from high drama and distraction whenever it surfaced. Dave mentored and guided me those next two years, helped me take pride in what I did, told me when my work was good enough, and gave me a place to vent when I didn't see the quality I wanted from others.

The respect and trust I'd earned in him made this process all the more difficult to digest.

Negotiations between the buying company and ours had broken down. Rather than give it another go, the company chose to call it a day with some shred of dignity intact, and leave those who helped build it with a bit of severance. The team I'd grown close to over the past three years, who'd come to learn of my WoW addiction, forever branding me as the guy with the Time-Lost Proto Drake, were now divvying up the office supplies and random hardware. The trunk of the civic was crammed with so many reams of printer paper that I am still, to this day, using up the last of it. Once clear of any valuables, Dave flicked the switch on the lights for the last time, locked the office, and shook my hand.

"Well, this is it," his eyes got wide as he shifted from professional to comedian, "Relatively sucks!"

I laughed, "Yeah. Sucks a lot." I reminded him to let me know if he found anything I'd be good at. "Keep me privy, would ya?"

He waved his hand in a motion of comfort, "Aaaah, it'll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiine."

I about lost it on the drive home.

They'll never understand, Jerry

The Worst Job in the World

You'd better be damn thankful for any job you ever get. There is a lineup of people outside the door just waiting to take it from you. Mom's programming was a double-edged sword in adult life. While employed, I gave it my all, did everything I could to impress (perhaps a bit too much), and was constantly striving for recognition and approval. The downside? When unemployed, I was a mess. Distraught, unable to think straight, I barely processed the day-to-day responsibilities. "Unemployment" was a swear word growing up -- another example of Mom's tendency to bucket things with such polarity. When Jul asked if I submitted my unemployment paperwork, I lied and said I had, desperately avoiding it, pouring that energy into finding work instead.

The uncertainty of it all is what makes looking for work the worst job in the world. The knowledge of coming home to a wife and two kids that rely solely on you as the breadwinner. What if finances dry up? What if I never work again? Are we going to lose the house? Be out on the street? Fear was not an alien concept as a motivator. Fear kept me at a job for six years, trapped by self-doubt. Fear kept decent, well-played gamers returning to raid leaders that shredded their confidence and self-esteem, turning them into a joke for all to point and laugh at, living on in infamy on sites like You're The Man Now, Dog-dot-com.

Fear works, but it's no way to live.

The weeks to follow were spent with WoW on one screen and Monster.com on the other. I cared for a recovering wife, toiled over kids, and tried to focus on the biggest problems facing the guild, while images of unemployment lines danced through my mind. Resumes went out the door while I refreshed my email, waiting for applicants to respond to my questions about their ability to tank, their experience in previous guilds, and whether or not they were selfish human beings.

More than once, I wavered -- the mouse cursor dangling above the "Delete Email" button, but never actually killing the idiotic applicant. I caught myself letting some slip through, the poorly written and the badly sold -- the kind of guild applicant I'd end on sight. With my own resumes out the door and being judged somewhere else, it became increasingly difficult to axe a potential guildy for a typo or some other trivial infraction. By the evenings, I was a zombified mess, exhausted from the constant second-guessing of the very rules I swore to uphold. Where once sat a full plate fit for a king, there now lay a crusted dish of rotten food overflowing to the floor.

For weeks it bore down on my shoulders, yet I still had time to show up to raids. Every Friday, every Sunday. Like clockwork, I was online and overseeing invites, ensuring spots were filled on time and by-the-book. I kept it together, because the 25 was the life blood of the guild, and no amount of inconveniences IRL were going to put a stop to that. I kept it together because it mattered.

But I wasn't coming out unscathed.

The 25-Man team waits patiently for the
lava to drain from Nefarian's arena,
Blackwing Descent

Shuttered

Two full nights of work had gone into Nefarian, ending in depressing wipes and no perceptible progress. The hunger to clear Blackwing Descent intensified. The last encounter of the instance, in which we did battle with both Nefarian and his dead sister Onyxia simultaneously, was rough. Each of the three phases floated DoD's baggage back to the surface, mechanics long dormant were now plaguing us, long after we'd emerged from WoTLK as champions. Aggro between the two dragons in phase one, while swimming through lava to pillars of safety in phase two presented their own challenges. The structure of the encounter had an unfortunate tendency to isolate the mouth breathers, and make it very easy to point the finger at the biggest offenders.

Perhaps too easy.

Ultimately, the Nefarian encounter hinged on a player that wasn't entirely representative of the type of player I wished the roster would emulate. It hinged on a player lacking the intended proficiency, a known offender guilty of making poor judgement calls under duress, a person very good at spamming buttons, rather than staying calm under pressure. In short, a spaz.

Nefarian hinged on me. And I was blowing it.

Things went south during the transition from phase two to three. In a nod to the original Nefarian 40-man encounter, the great dragon would raise an army of dead minions that required an off-tank to collect up and kite. A meticulous orchestration was necessary. Various players did what they could to create as tight a pile of death as possible. The goal: have the minions collapse into a single spot in Nefarian's circular arena, dying in a clump, which was vital for the OT -- it meant an easy pick-up, once rezzed by Nefarian's blue flame.

Controlling them was so textbook, so understanding the mechanic was a non-issue. Nefarian's blue flame, if under their feet, would bring them to life -- and in order to ease the pain of phase three, an OT was to drag them away from said flame, keep them moving, forcing their life essence to expire. Without the blue flame, they would eventually collapse as lifeless bones, giving the healers some breathing room for a few moments. Then, the blue flame would alight once more, and the process would repeat. Textbook...especially for a tank that, at one point, was the envy of all other tanks in the game, thanks to an outrageous toolkit that excelled in AoE situations.

The minions were incorrigible. Random ones would flake off, wack healers, and kill DPS. When they weren't getting away from me, I was tripping over my own feet, not moving far enough to avoid blankets of blue flame. Every misstep, every accidental drag through fire reconstituted their undeath, and our healers were granted no reprieve.

Insayno was right. The warrior's AoE stun, Shockwave, trivialized phase three, and kiting the undead minions was cake for them. Shockwave was godly, and every raid in their right mind with a warrior tank on staff leveraged them for this particular role.

We had no warrior tank. We had me.

So, I struggled like the spaz I was, switching between Death and Decay, Blood Boil, and Heart Strike, keeping as many on me as I could, backpedaling like a cripple in my attempts to stay alive and keep them out of blue flame. My play was lackluster and rife with mistakes. Ending so many attempts in defeat gave me flashbacks to those first TBC raids I thrust Zanjina into. Dying. Failing. Contributing nothing to the damage meters. If my strategy was to lead by example, I was undoubtedly creating a raid rich with sadness and despair.