Thursday, April 16, 2015

4.34. The Difference Between a Guild and a Business

Syrophenikan assists Cheeseus's 10-Man, Juicebox Bandits,
in killing 12 aberrations within 10 seconds,
Blackwing Descent

The Wrong Man for the Job

The first order of business was to contact Riskers. As Herp Derp's Tactician, it was up to him to maintain order, ensure that group was playing well together, and communicate any team deficiencies to me for recruitment purposes. Most of all, the Tactician was there to keep a close eye on the behavior of the group, corralling any ill intent. The common sense rule had been violated far too often.

Maybe I should have been more up front with Cheeseus and the members of Eh Team, back in Wrath. "This thing that you are doing is actually in direct violation of the guild rules and you are not to do that anymore." Seems silly and pointless; it is neither. Tacticians had clearly defined marching orders: Ensure your team stays within the boundaries outlined by this guild. You are responsible for your team's behavior. If they misbehave, it falls to you to resolve.

That's a lot for a team lead to shoulder, but was necessary in order for me to stay directly connected to DoD's extremities, especially when said 10-Man teams tended to keep to themselves. Those with more obstinate, cynical personalities required the closest scrutiny: they ran the risk of devolving into a burgeoning echo chamber, amplifying each other's resentment.

Things got off to a bad start.

Guildies privy to Ben's shenanigans unleashed a shaming campaign on the boards, shutting down his troll-like antics, dismissing anything Ben had to say. Beyond the internet acronyms and badly constructed thoughts, Ben had little to contribute to the conversation. But Ben had a few friends left in DoD and they rallied behind him...

...namely, Riskers.

Riskers was one of the former 25-Man progression players who chose to step down in favor of the 10s at the advent of Cataclysm. But, he didn't contribute an alt to the 25 in his off-hours (as some 10s did). The side-effect was a lack of awareness around Ben's events unfolding the night I hellbanned him from Vent.

Lacking this context, Riskers made a move not entirely unsurprising, immediately going to bat for Ben, his friend and teammate. Forum Karma spiked up and down as guild members sided with either Herp Derp or "the authority" before I even had a chance to get online and corner him.

"Wait, something happened with Ben?"

"I would definitely consider it 'something', Riskers."

I revealed the drama-soaked story to Herp Derp's Tactician, and waited to see how he'd respond. Riskers' tune completely changed. No longer defensive, he expressed genuine concern for the livelihood of the guild. As he learned of Ben's transgressions and Drecca's lackluster problem-solving skills, I could tell that an uncomfortable realization was setting in: he had been a fool on the boards.

As Hanzo examines his alt, Syrophenikan,
Gunsmokeco discovers Dadsdeath's guild,
Orgrimmar

Damage Control

"God, I'm really, really sorry about this. I had no idea."

"It's over and done. Let's move forward and solve this."

"Should I delete the posts?"

Part of me wanted him to reply to the thread, stating he was now aware of the larger narrative that needed addressing. By doing so, he'd have an opportunity to apologize to the guild for being so defensive. But, it would also mean leaving the initial thread (and attacks) as a permanent public record of Riskers' inability to handle "his" team with any degree of leadership. There was the possibility of excising the individual posts themselves -- a tactic Dalans frequently employed…

Quit doddling and make a decision.

"Nix the posts."

He did as instructed, then sought direction for next steps.

"Should I try to get them to come back?"

I chuckled. Like that will ever happen.

"Y'know, Riskers, I'm not opposed to hearing them out. If you feel like you can get a conversation going between us, I’m willing to give them an ear. I actually don't think this is beyond repair, but that first step is going to be tough. Both Drecca and Ben need to take responsibility for their poor decision making, and I have a feeling that's going to be a tough sell. But DoD is not their doormat."

Riskers agreed, and assured me he would do what he could to convince them to see the error of their ways. Before he left Ventrilo, I gave him a parting thought.

"If you can't convince them otherwise, you may need to start considering the alternative: dropping them entirely from the team, and putting a new tank and ranged in their place. It would suck to have to do that; it's never fun to boot people from a team that jells. But if they continue to remain defiant in the belief that they're right and I'm wrong, there's potential for them to do some serious damage to the morale of that team. It could even result in a mass exodus. I'd hate for that to happen, as there are still good people in that team – present company included."

Riskers thanked me for the advice, heading off to an alien vent server, to see what he could repair.

He's "really sorry about this"? What kind of a team lead is he? Why wasn't his very first decision to come to us immediately to figure out why Ben was being attacked, instead of creating more of a mess for us to clean up?

Because he was the wrong man for the job. Riskers didn't earn Tactician, nor want it. He was appointed...to get the guild leader out of someone's face, so that more important things could be tended to.

Syrophenikan assists members of DoD in tricking
Lady Naz'jar to kill one of her own minions,
Throne of the Tides

Keeping the Pieces

With clears of Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight still freshly under our belt, Blain was not yet ready to push the team into Heroic 25s. Many of the normals had proven to be complex, demanding nearly heroic-like skills to execute with any consistency. An early push could certainly end in disappointment. I trusted Blain, now in his seventh year with the guild, who had long proven his innate ability to read the roster and determine if the gear, skill and mindset was competent to stand a raid trial. Blain had accrued a few days vacation, back in the real world, and said we would discuss heroics further when he returned.

In the meantime, Jungard fronted raid leadership for the 25 in Blain's absence, while I stuck to my raid roster micromanagement. It was a day-to-day effort, checking with each 10-Man's Tactician, working out who was locked and who wasn't -- dealing with last minute emergencies, and finding any filler possible that could play the role needed. And even though class shouldn't have mattered, it did. Just as the Paladin (or Warrior) vs. Death Knight tanking kit demonstrated superiority in encounters like Nefarian, other classes brought (or left) significant favor when joining the 25-Man. We did what we could, and farmed the content dry, bleeding bosses for any semblance of upgrade to anyone and everyone that participated.

I took care to step over the cracks in the sidewalk, but put on a good face to keep the negative vibes at bay, opting instead to vent my frustrations to folks like Cheeseus over IM. I ranted to my Wrath-era raid leader about how difficult Blizzard had made things this time around, how their "good intentions" had left me with a lot of extra paperwork, and how more difficult raids with no better reward only caused guildies to see the 'exit' sign that much clearer.

Every week there was a new guildy issue on hand. Soot was proving less available than originally intended, keeping me shackled to a tanking role more frequently than I would have liked. One of the shining stars, Ignismortis the warlock, withdrew his Samurai app, citing personal circumstances that unfortunately stood in the way of the the responsibilities expected of the role. It felt grim, and the only way to keep that feeling at bay was to recruit -- keep that steady flow of raider material coming through the front door, in the hopes that we'd land some significant contributors that were in this for the long haul.

In the back of my mind, the Drecca / Ben fiasco lingered. I wanted desperately to put it out of my mind. You lose people. It happens. You put measures in place to plan for situations like this. Forget it and move forward. But I couldn't.

The Sentras of the world bitched about how I ran DoD like a business; an observation that is grossly oversimplified (to him, it simply meant following rules). But there is one way running a guild will never be like a business, and is too easy for a guild leader to lose sight of. You don't choose who you work with, but you do choose who you game with: you work with colleagues, but you game with friends.

When people leave your company, it's time to move on to bigger, better things; a grand new opportunity. When people leave your guild, it's inherently personal. Feeling betrayed is natural, if you consider it a friendship someone walks away from. That's the part that makes guild leadership the most difficult, or any kind of leadership, for that matter. Which is probably why Riskers wasn't up for the task, or wasn't thinking on those terms. Only crazy people volunteer for this kind of work.

I pondered the next possible 'betrayal'. Would it be someone unaware of the events unfolding in DoD, or someone intimately aware of what was going on? Would he be someone that would side with Drecca and Ben out of stubbornness and immaturity, or would he be someone more likely to choose the path more convenient and secure? Would he be someone I trusted, someone with legitimate concerns I wasn't addressing...or would he be more likely to lie to my face when I put him on the spot? Would he even tell me the truth, even after this all came crashing down?

To respond to all these questions, I say to you, loyal reader:

What makes you think it was a ‘he’?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

4.33. Derpy Moves

"My Little Deathwing"
Artwork by Teemu Husso

Kant Justify the Behavior

Dragged through the filth, word eventually got back to me. Word always got back to me. I wasn't about to let a 10-Man team conduct their business in isolation...not after the events of the past. I leaned on trusted loyalties -- both the leaders and the inconspicuous, to feed me information from the other side. Keeping my finger on the pulse was imperative...especially if sprouts of psychological damage were taking root.

Their closed door discussions repeatedly trash talked the way the 25-Man handled itself. It was Eh Team all over again, but with added panache. The concern was no longer entitled elitism clamoring on about how the "carries" were getting a free ride, undeserving of loot they helped procure. Instead, voices inside Herp Derp chose to assault the fundamental precepts that the guild was built on. Loyalty. Dignity. Respect toward one another. Hell, even making an effort to be respectful toward so much of the pit that was dredged up out of Deathwing-US. They cared little about wiping away the spit and blood. Oh, they cared about getting shit done...on their terms. Time was far too valuable to waste on the likes of the 25.

I was constantly reminded of how little the guild meant to them. Every block of achievement spam that scrolled up through guild chat, weeks ahead of the 25, married to the hypocritical insistence that their road was the true challenge, the real effort, the actual goal...told the tale. They weren't on board.

I'm not about to defend Eh Team's behavior, but obvious differences emerged. They may have conspired behind protective walls, but when the bitching and loot collusion was over and they set foot in the 25, they meant business. The team mentality took over and the best and brightest led the charge, driving progression into something DoD could be proud of. Even if they did it for their own selfish purposes, they valued DoD enough to make their own successes a part of the guild's.

Herp Derp, by comparison, turned their back on core. They weren't stupid -- exceptionally skilled players rarely are. But they made a conscious decision to step out of the 25, fully aware of the jeopardy they thrust the guild into. Or maybe they didn't...and just didn't care.

So, they kept to themselves, crickets that chirped in the darkness, waiting for you to approach -- then, silence. And in that silence, an unspoken agreement that this was ok, right, and just. Nobody once thought to take a stand for the guild that they called home. All on account of…

...what was that reason Bheer gave me? The day he confessed all of Eh Team's sins?

"...because we had a good thing going."

DoD wasn't their home. It was a means to an end.

---

Monday arrived. Herp Derp was scheduled to resume their own Heroic 10-Man work. I prepped Jungard the night before; he was completely up-to-speed on the Ben incident. Jungard was in the eastern time zone, and so enjoyed the luxury of being online a few hours before the guild leader. I assigned him a mission. Keep tabs on Herp Derp as they prepare for the evening's raid. Ben had been dark for three days now, and Drecca -- like me -- had always been a stickler for Ventrilo. With Ben's kick/ban still intact, the curiosity was bewitching. What was Herp Derp's next move going to be?

The clock ticked up to 5:00pm on my contract gig, another web agency in the Denver Tech Center. I packed up my laptop to head home. Still no word from Jungard. No text messages from Ben. No private messages on the forums, no phone calls. As I stepped outside, proceeding to the Civic, the phone buzzed. Finally. I pulled it out and glanced at the number. Job Interview. A healthcare company I'd been back and forth with for several weeks wanted to schedule another tech screen. Dammit. I felt the frustration rising.

Stop.

I took a deep breath, then exhaled.

Focus. Don’t be pissed off at a possible new job opportunity. Leave the Herp Derp rage at the door.

I flipped the switch into "professional courtesy" mode, and took the call, scheduling the next interview with a gal by the name of Allison. It sounded like a great opportunity. I felt good about my chances, and remained optimistic. The call was quick -- done and out of there in no more than three minutes, tops. It wasn't until I hung up that I caught a glimpse of the tiny SMS icon:

Message From Jungard: Drecca spun up his own Vent server.

Death Knight vs. Paladin

"I see that your best interests are at heart (as always) but I would like to take this opportunity to point out that are you providing Ben with a means to circumvent the very carefully crafted guild rules I've put into place. Although it may seem like I'm picking on Ben, this rule applies to any guildy. He needs to be held accountable for his actions. He cannot be allowed to mistreat his fellow guildies, then get off, scot-free. It's what we call a double-standard, and I don't allow that behavior in DoD."

"I also realize that I ought to be taking this up with your ‘Tactician’, Riskers, so allow me to clarify why I'm filling up your inbox with my rant. You were the one that consciously made the decision to set up a new Vent server and put the team, Ben included, on it. I admit that a part of me held out the hope that you would demonstrate some leadership that I've sensed is buried deep inside you somewhere, and half-expected you to turn him directly back to me, so that we could resolve this outstanding guild issue. Alas, no such luck."

---

"Well, then we have a severe difference of opinion. The team is not circumventing anything by using a different Ventrilo server to raid in. If you want to impede the team's progress by keeping someone banned (it's well within your right to do so), then I will do what's best for the team in order to move forward with content and not concern myself with guild politics."

"Nowhere in the rules does it state we're not allowed to use a different Ventrilo server. So, if you'd like to go ahead and interpret your own rules on the fly, then we'll be disagreeing quite a bit on things."

---

"Drecca, the guild was founded on common-sense rules, and over the course of six years, I've had to write those rules down, because there is always someone who thinks the rules don't apply to them, or that it 'wasn't written down anywhere'.

Let's break down the facts of this particular situation:

1. Ben violated guild policy by being a douchebag in Vent, which he's been warned about, multiple times.

2. Ben was banned from Vent as a result of this continued behavior.

3. Rather than come to me and take responsibility for this behavior, he chose to remove his alts from the guild.

4. Then, he came to you and said (most likely), ‘I can no longer connect to Vent.’

5. Your solution to this problem was not to inquire why (which would have given you the means to direct him back to me), but instead, to move forward with your very own solution, blissfully unaware of the damage you were causing by doing so.

So, in summary, the entire mantra of DoD going into Cataclysm of "people being held accountable for their actions" was circumvented, not by the team, but by you. I can only assume your thought process went a little something like this:
Well...Ben was apparently banned from vent for some reason Hanzo deems important, but our priority is Herp Derp first, Hanzo's rules second, so I will go ahead and find a way for Ben to avoid taking responsibility for his actions so that we can kill bosses and get some fat loot and ring up achievements.
Read that last statement very carefully before you rebut me. Look at what is happening. This has transpired as a result of your actions, and this is the direction you have chosen. If, after this explanation, you truly do not see the error in your judgement, and declare me a 'dictator that is free to interpret his own rules as he goes', you may pack up your things, and take your leave of DoD now."

---

"Great countries have fallen under less tyrannical rule than what you impose upon this guild."

---

A day later, Drecca made his decision, exiting the guild.

The Third...Wait For It...

When Jundar (no relation to Jungard) left the guild back in '05, taking the handful of guildies that would eventually become Horderlies, it was DoD's first exodus. And it was my first mistake. I take full responsibility for it. Shortsightedness an inexperience as a guild leader prevented me from communicating a unified vision to my guild. This is what we're here to do. This is why we exist. The result was I lost good people like Hend and Chariot that weren't interested in 40-Man raiding, or didn't have the means to dedicate themselves to that sort of lifestyle.To be honest, when I reflect upon my own all-encompassing devotion to the guild in those early years, I can't say I had the means myself!

For me to criticize the casual preference of play while ignoring my family and responsibilities should, to some extent, convey to you how completely ill-equipped I was to make those kinds of judgments.

Some two years later, Dreadlocker, and those loyal to him, left the guild under a different pretense. Though I chalked it up at the time to petty self-conscious criticisms, the truth wasn't established until much later. I directed my disgust at Dreadlocker's insubordination, a player I put in the role of officership to defend the guild, and deal with miscreants in short order. So, when the second exodus unfolded before my eyes, my disgust was a convenient mask, shielding me from the root cause.

Many of those that followed Dreadlocker into the guild Illusion were a part of B-Team, aka "the bench", while A-Team enjoyed all the glory and progression of Blackwing Lair, Ahn'Qiraj, and Naxxramas. He was tired of it. Tired of sitting back and watching his friends increasingly forced onto the perma-bench, as the 40 transitioned to the 25, come TBC. And when you care about your friends, and see them disrespected after so long, an authority role in the guild making those decisions means very little. In fact, you probably wouldn't want to have anything to do with a guild like that. I own that second exodus as well, and am truly sorry for my decisions in handling B-Team. They didn't deserve that. Dreadlocker didn't deserve that.

I went through a long period of introspection after that. I'd learned a lot between the day Dreadlocker left the guild and the day I fought with Drecca over a series of forum PMs. Many epiphanies fundamentally changed how I approached the management of my guild. And although it may not have been perfect, by the arrival of the seventh year, I felt more in control of the little details than ever before. I was more respectful toward players preferring a different style of play (even if it was one I didn't agree with). And I was extraordinarily careful to clearly define my expectations of the guild, and ensure that they knew what our direction was, what our goals were, what we needed to succeed, and what would ultimately be our ruin.

The third exodus would not explode in a blast of g-quits as the first two had. And this is the key, loyal reader. Because I can't help but wonder which is worse. Watching as the band-aid is ripped off, a mass of dedicated followers now all siding with a leader whose vision is vastly superior to your own? Or watching a group of players make no decision either way. To not be concerned with the trivial details of a member's guild tag, now suddenly changed, or a Vent server suddenly different. To not take one moment to internalize these little details, and contemplate a larger narrative.

Or perhaps that they did consider, and didn't care...because they had a good thing going.

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 should be accountable for it. They manage the group, enforce 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 to congratulate their wins -- 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, knocking Nefarian out a full three weeks earlier than progression, 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 and 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.

It was no coincidence that Nefarian fell to the 25-Man the very same night Drecca happened to be a part of the killing squad. Hours of practice ending in wipes, did an immediate about-face, the boss being beaten in one pull...the first pull, no less. A blood death knight's kit was no match for that of a prot paladin's -- a testament to the tuning of the boss. The prospect that a competently geared/played 25-man team was unable to execute the encounter with their own choice of tanks not only contradicted Blizzard's mantra, it was just more evidence we could heap onto the 10 vs 25 argument.

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, ensuring a paladin tank was present, the nightmarish logistics of separating interrupt groups into their own vent channels. Surely, he sees this, I reasoned to 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.