Artwork by Nooblar
A Clever Use of Game Mechanics"Klocker, where are you?"
"I'm coming over to you!"
"No, stay there, I'm coming to you!"
"Ben, wait, stop...stop moving!!"
"Shit shit shit shit, stop running away from me!"
"I'm coming to you!"
"Beams, shit! Don't move, I'm going this way!"
"USE COMPASS DIRECTIONS!"
"Fuck. Can't reach him.....aaaand I'm mind controlled."
This was the living nightmare of Blood Queen Lana'thel.
Nearly every encounter in the collective set of raids making up Wrath's PvE content posed no trouble in their "normal" difficulty. Naxxramas was cleared in a weekend, Ulduar, several months before beginning the heroic modes, and the Tournament of Champions was quickly trivialized by Descendants of Draenor.
This San'layn was a veritable pain in the ass, by comparison.
Several weeks of work had produced no change; theories were varied as to where to lay the blame. A widely adopted strategy circulated on the forums advocating the intentional killing of a player near the start, "tricking" the encounter into behaving as though 26 players were present. Wiping near the 5% and 4% mark before succumbing to the Queen was all-too-common, so extending the life of the raid by one player was a likely solution. That strategy didn't sit well with me. Something wasn't quite right when part of the strategy called for a kill/soulstone near the start; a strategy more likely to be adopted near the end of the fight, as it was with Leotheras the Blind years before. We weren't being clever by using that approach, more likely, we were pushing the boundaries of what was exploitative. The fine line had yet to be drawn by the all-seeing eye, but by the end of January, Blizzard caught wind of the strategy and nerfed the encounter. She still wasn't dying, so the validity of the strat was moot -- it fell to the cutting room floor.
We stuck to the delayed bite strategy: the first person Lana'thel sunk her teeth into would wait until the absolute last possible moment before biting another victim. Jungard became the prime candidate to employ this strategy. Though nothing was confirmed, suspicion surrounded the Queen's bite selection mechanics -- of which many roads lead back to players with the highest threat at the start. Sometimes a few rogues liked to test their luck and push to beat Jungard, and even Ben showed the warrior up from time to time. But for the most part, Jungard cleaved a path of indiscriminate justice as he shot to the top of Recount and stayed there. This tendency automatically volunteered him for setting us off with our initial delay, and the gap to the Queen's defeat narrowed.
As wipes continued to obstruct the raid artery, our attention shifted to the biters and their imminent victims. All too often, chaos ensued when people needed to find a target to bite. Eacavissi was the first to propose the change:
"After the raid tonight I thought a bit about how I'd make this mindless fight even more mindless. What I propose is to shift the burden of finding biting targets from the biters to the bitees. That is, each DPS would know beforehand when and by whom they are being bitten, and then run to said person like a twilight-fan-girl for their biting convenience. The point of this is to maximize vampire DPS time, limit the amount of shit that has to go over Vent, and to protect against bad luck. Using this stratagem would also allow us to arrange positions to minimize running."
Immediately, Blain pounced on this idea. He tasked me with writing an add-on that would let him view a list of members in the raid, micromanaging biters and bitees with greater efficiency. Half-way through putting it together, an official add-on emerged which claimed to do the same thing. Validation. At least we were on the right track. At Jungard's behest, Blain took charge of employing the add-on and processed those priority lists. Bite targets gained clarity. The gap narrowed still.
Positioning around the ring was next, as Omaric and Bretthew took turns, painstakingly assigning each ranged player around the circumference of a pattern in the center of the room. This ensured that players linked with Pact of the Darkfallen had a safe point to collapse into. Her defeat drew closer...
...but the Queen would not acquiesce. And we were out of attempts for the week. But not by schedule...by design.
We continued to come in just under the damage requirements. Was it the difference of one strong damage dealer? I eyed Ikey, Omaric's druid, as the likely candidate. He already wanted to drop to DPS, but of all the skill that existed in the roster, no one single professionally-geared, expertly-played tank existed to replace him.
|DoD earns a rare server 1st with their completion|
of "Flu Shot Shortage (25 Player)",
Shining Protector"Gimme a sec to pull up your app, here" I spoke into the mic, alt-tabbing from Ventrilo to Gmail.
"No problem," came the digital reply. I detected a hint of an accent, possibly French, but couldn't be sure. I made a mental note to zero in on it as the conversation continued.
"So, it says here you are a Prot Pally. Preferred class to tank with?"
"Absolutely. Pretty much has the widest set of tools available. Death Knights...ehh...may be a bit more powerful overall, but it's cheap. Cheap way to play. With paladins, you think about what you have to do, rather than pressing buttons at random to win."
He spoke in quick bursts, punctuated by momentary pauses of contemplation.
"Some people think Ardent Defender was an implicit I-win button, until the nerf. You're not concerned?"
"Not at all; that's a perfect example, actually. Reduced damage below 35% was too much of a margin. I find it hard to believe any paladins were dying with that amount of a buffer. Granted, if they're consistently below 30% health, the problem is the healers, not the paladin. But no, I'm not concerned with the change. It's not as potent as Will of the Necropolis, but I suppose they justify the change with the fact that DKs are exploding in heroics."
I continued on with the line of questioning.
"How'd you find out about us anyway?"
"Been pugging with some of the people in DoD, they encouraged me to apply. Honestly, the top-down structure of a guild isn't something that interests me. I prefer playing with people, not a system. But they were pretty obstinate about how 'things are different in DoD', so after a bit of reading on you guys, perhaps it's time for a change. Not a huge fan of your raid schedule, but it's less ridiculous than some of these other raiding guilds on the server."
I flipped over to his character sheet on the armory and looked through all the various pieces of gear. Each slot bore a piece of armor immaculate and polished. Every tanking enchant was dead on, every gem was correct, at least from my limited exposure to the areas of protection paladins. I pulled up Bretthew's armory to compare -- everything about the guy's setup was in alignment. I started reading off what I saw into the microphone.
"Hit capped, expertise soft capped..."
"I've never really had a problem with threat generation. Paladins are already way overboard in that department, anyway. The bottom line is players don't pull bosses of me. If a tank lets that happen, they're pretty much a lost cause by that point."
The image of Eacavissi flashed into my mind, pulling such extraordinary numbers that even Ater struggled occasionally to control bosses. That was also a different era, don't forget that part.
"You think you can handle heroically geared warlocks that like to mismange their threat? We've got a couple of folks that like to push the envelope."
There wasn't even a hint of skepticism, "There won't be any issue."
I shifted the conversation to something a little more topical, "What's your take on the Blood Queen fight?"
"Easy fight. Even easier than Putricide, really. Get your positioning straight at the start, delay the first bite...shouldn't be any issues after that. Hopefully players pay attention to shroud and pact. Then yeah, it's not difficult. Your typical hard enrage fight."
The more he spoke, the more the accent began to geolocate him.
"You're Canadian, aren't you?"
He remained silent.
"It's OK, you're in good hands. Guild leader was born and raised there. Just doing my part to keep the Yankees in check."
"Someone needs to."
I laughed. "Yeah. It certainly seems that way sometimes..."
I couldn't believe my luck. How often does an applicant come along that is well spoken, understands the finer mechanics of the current content, has in-depth knowledge of their own class, as well as others that share the role, and carries with them of air of unwavering confidence? All this, and a fellow Canadian. It was as if I had asked the Gods themselves for the perfect applicant.
"How soon can you start? Are you locked to ICC this week or can we put you in for Friday?"
"I can start this Friday."
"Perfect! Alright, well...I think we're done here. This could be the start of some really great stuff, and I think you'll like it here in DoD."
"Thanks, can I grab that invite now?"
I alt-tabbed over to World of Warcraft, typed out the commands to invite, and hit the Enter key with the satisfaction of knowing another issue had finally been resolved. On my screen, the guild message flashed up for all to see:
Drecca has joined the guild.
|The 25-Man progression team defeats Blood Queen|
Lana'thel, earning them "The Crimson Hall (25 Player)",
Happy Valentine's DayA few days before our third week attempting Blood Queen Lana'thel, Blizzard nerfed Icecrown Citadel again. Notable bosses like Professor Putricide, Blood Queen Lana'thel, Sindragosa, and even The Lich King himself had all been limited attempt bosses in normal mode. This Algalon-style of limited attempts hearkened back much further than the Celestial Planetarium. Vaelastrasz the Corrupt, second boss of Blackwing Lair, once bore a limited attempt restriction when he first set foot in Azeroth. It was the sort of despised mechanic leading players to seek inventive ways of solving raid boss problems, that "clever usage of game mechanics." Back then, it was sending the 40-Man raid deep into UBRS to extract a fire resistance buff off an obscure mind-controlled NPC. Clever, yes. Practical...hardly. No sane person would put up with that. Limited attempts, therefore, were to be deployed judiciously.
...such as in the case of these certain normal mode bosses, artificially dragging out the life (and interest) of Icecrown Citadel.
It wasn't a secret to those who had an eye for it. Cataclysm was still a ways off, and interest needed to be stretched out as long as it could while Blizzard wrapped up work on the next expansion. As a result, the gating unlocks and the raid-wide buffs went hand-in-hand with the limited attempts on certain bosses. I understood it, but normal modes felt a bit severe. Eventually, Blizzard came around and agreed, and the limited attempt restriction was lifted on normal modes, to return again come heroic time. Once again, my suspicions on Blizzard's new raid design were confirmed. Normal mode was meant for one-and-all, and should not bar accessibility...
...which raised the all-important question: what was our excuse for staring at an undefeated Blood Queen for the third week in a row?
"Keep your eye on the new tank tonight," I whispered over to Blain, "gonna want to hear your opinion of him at the end."
Most new recruits needed to be vetted before setting foot in our raids; watching how they behaved in a heroic 5-Man was often the litmus test. This was unnecessary with Drecca. Upon entry to his first DoD 25-Man raid, he was flasked, buffed, and with gear polished, was pulling without delay. One of the first whispers came from Omaric, now free to shapeshift into kitty form and join the DPS.
"Where'd you get this guy? His gear is top notch."
"Just pulled him out of the pile of apps! He's the one that set you free, chief."
The healers were next, quietly making observations in the super not-so-secret /dodhealers chat channel:
[4. dodhealers] Klockerr says: A new tank that knows how to use cooldowns? What is this trickery?
[4. dodhealers] Neps says: I think we should leave Bretthew behind from now on.
[4. dodhealers] Gunsmokeco says: Easy to keep him topped off. Nice to have a master player for a change.
[4. dodhealers] Drecca says: Thanks. :)
I glanced down at the chat and smiled. Our healers hadn't even realized Drecca joined their channel to listen in, making certain he knew exactly what and how they were coordinating. He took the ball and ran with it; he didn't need to be told what to do. Drecca knew and lead accordingly. When it came time to go through the motions on the Blood Queen, Drecca contributed to strategy adjustments and coordinated raid-wide cooldowns with Bretthew. Each attempt brought even more polish to our existing work.
As the clock neared 5:00pm, it appeared that our current attempt looked to be the best one yet. The raid poured every last inch of damage into Lana'thel that they could wring out, and all 25 players were alive as her health wound down into the final percentages. Eight of the top ten damage dealers were pushing 10k DPS; Jungard himself was about to break 15k. But the enrage time encroached, and as hit points remained in her pool, the Queen fell into a berserker rage.
"Don't have Divine Shield yet...Ardent Defender's out."
"I got it, I got it, I got it..."
Fred the holy paladin stepped in and took one for the team, popping Divine Sacrifice following a Divine Shield, granting the raid a few precious seconds to continue to pour their remaining damage into Lana'thel. The 30% raid-wide reduced damage gave our strongest healers a small enough buffer to pour every last ounce of healing into the tanks as they withstood devastating strikes from an enraged boss. As Fred's Divine Shield expired, he crumpled to the floor, just as Blood Queen Lana'thel breathed her final breath.
At 4:45pm on Valentine's Day of 2010, DoD completed its first clear of The Crimson Hall, putting us at 3/4ths of the way through Icecrown Citadel. Two obstacles were behind us. I now had Drecca, a solid, professionally-played pally tank to alleviate Omaric's duties, and the Blood Queen no longer held dominance over us.
"What do you think of this new tank?" I whispered over to Blain.
"I like him. He's good."
The recruitment was a win. I looked forward to see what impact Drecca would have on the guild in the months to come.