Thursday, May 3, 2012

1.8. Razorgore the Unmaimed

Rogue damage is all over the board, as Kerulak
and the 40-Man raiders hover over Garr,
Molten Core


At the macro level, we were making broad adjustments to our raid execution and seeing excellent increases in speed and skill. We were chain-pulling, tearing monsters apart, healers were buddying-up and managing their mana with much greater efficiency, and we had out-of-combat battle rezzers acting as a backup mechanism to ensure we kept a healthy amount of players alive through emergencies. Ragnaros was dead, and Onyxia's head was doomed to end up on the end of a pike in Orgrimmar, so swore our 40-Man raiders. It was time to raise the bar. Our sights were focused on the next tier of content, Blackwing Lair. However, the step up in difficulty was significant, and although no trash awaited us at the start of the instance, the first boss proved more than enough of an obstacle. After a few weeks of struggling on Razorgore the Untamed with no progress to speak of, we were desperate for answers.

I turned to my Ater for guidance, in the hopes of validating my own hunches as to where things were going south. A lot of those early months of raiding (and guild leading) in Descendants of Draenor were very much “learn-as-you-go”, and it wasn't uncommon for me to take a backseat and watch leaders emerge, taking note of how they addressed situations and resolved conflict. I had come to trust Ater's instincts more and more, as did the rest of the guild. People looked up to him, and when he spoke, they listened and followed. He exuded natural leadership, and employed all the basics (praise in public, scold in private, etc.) It was rare (if ever) that he had anything negative to say about anyone. So, it was that much more difficult to get him to speak negatively about anyone; it simply wasn't his style. It was this style which contributed to my mishandling of the Khaevil / Xorena situation, leading my Number Two officer, Graulm, to part ways with the guild. In my attempts to learn leadership by observing, I missed Blackrock-sized mountains of information.

I'd misread Ater's passivity as approval. Whether outright or innately, Ater understood the illusion of asymmetric insight, and didn't let it cloud his judgement of other people and the behavior we observed. We think we know people by watching how they behave and act, but we miss mountains of information needed to make accurate, impartial assessments. He picked his battles. He was less concerned with ego and players living out the persona of their in-game toons, and more focused on tightening up raid execution. Therefore, Ater would pour his energy into bringing clarity to raid strategy, rather than waste time telling someone they sucked. But even in the face of Ater's direction, bad players remained bad, and it didn't appear like he was able to get through to them. One group in particular took this terribad play to new heights, making them the biggest offenders of the bunch: the Rogues.

The rogues sucked.

Not having played a rogue, I couldn't be certain what they were doing wrong. Rogues in WoW were traditionally played by individuals who had a thirst for PvP (Player vs. Player) combat, and often specced into a role that would grant them survivability and burst DPS for that very reason (subtlety). However, these traits translated poorly into a raid environment, where high sustained DPS was a much greater priority. I discussed the Rogue situation at length with Ater, and while going over a few options one evening, he offered to reach out to a friend. They had played together in a previous game, Lineage II. He trusted this person, and stated to me that he would “whip the rogues into shape” and get us where we needed to be. Ater explained that, from his experience, this Rogue had an amazing attention to detail and could micromanage people's abilities on a entirely new level, providing insight into the tiniest of details, that even he wouldn't be able to keep track of while tanking/raid leading. It all sounded like a great idea...

...and then, Ater added, “there’s a possibility that this Rogue may rub some people the wrong way...”

The way I saw it, we didn't have a lot of options. Part of the reason we weren't making progress on bosses like Razorgore was that we were coming in way below the DPS requirement. If we could bring someone in who could tweak those numbers, I was willing to eat a few complaints from people who got their feelings hurt. I told Ater to seek out his Rogue friend, and determine if he could join Descendants of Draenor. In the meantime, I turned my attention to our other roadblock.

Kerulak and the 40-Man team prepare for an Onyxia kill,
Brackenwell Village, Dustwallow Marsh

Kiting Like a Scrub

The first boss of Blackwing Lair was a dragonkin named Razorgore the Untamed, and he would be the first of many bosses bring an entirely new level of complexity to our raids. It involved two phases, the first of which dealt with an steady influx of heavily armored Dragonkin, along with Blackwing Legionnaires that cleaved targets (hitting multiple players at once), and Blackwing Mages doing high DPS from afar. They trickled in slowly at first, but increased their frequently to such a pace that a raid couldn't simply overpower them all; they had to be controlled and killed in a focused, prioritized fashion. On top of that, a single player would have to mind-control the boss through the entire phase, weaving him back and forth across the instance, destroying all of the eggs in the chamber. Once the eggs were destroyed, phase two began, and Razorgore had to be taken to a corner and killed, switching back and forth between tanks, as one would periodically be doused with flames, causing them to become hysterical and run around in a panic.

Razorgore required a nearly surgical level of control, and communication was the most important priority. Many competing guilds stopped dead at this first boss of Blackwing Lair, never to progress further. In extreme cases, raiding guilds arrived at Razorgore, failed, pointed fingers at each other, and ultimately disbanded; a very real concern and possibility for us.

The longer the guild went without killing Razorgore, the greater the chance of completely falling apart.

At the time, we were employing a “totem-kite” strategy, made popular by raiding guilds on the Horde side (as the Alliance didn't have Shamans in Vanilla). The strategy involved the Shamans dropping Earthbind Totems (which had a slowing effect on enemies) and running around the room, casting their infamous Frost Shock on every cooldown, which caused monsters to chase the Shamans. Once the Shamans had aggro on all the Blackwing Legionaires and Dragonkin, players would run laps around the egg-chamber, re-dropping their totems, ensuring the the monsters remained slowed. This monster-chasing-you act is referred to as "kiting". With the Legionaires and Dragonkin in tow, the remainder of the raid would spread around the outer perimeter of the egg-chamber and methodically kill what remained: the Blackwing Mages. The theory to the strategy was that if the Shamans could maintain a healthy amount of aggro and kite these slowed minions or "mobs" through their Earthbind Totems, the raid would no longer be stretched thin, and would be free to focus on killing mages. The strat had merit, because when the first phase ended, all of the kited monsters would turn and exit the room in a scripted event, leaving us to focus on Razorgore himself.

From a practical standpoint, the strategy was anything but. It was difficult. It put the wrong players in the wrong roles. It felt "gimmicky", like we didn't know what we were doing, cramming a bunch of things together at the last minute like a bunch of amateurs. I felt like an idiot running around in circles. I hated it. It took me out of a role where I felt I could contribute (as a healer) to being completely powerless to help (running around like a moron with minions chasing me, one wrong move meaning instant death).

The only other option was a fabled "kill-all" strategy, employed by only the true hardcore raiding guilds in World of Warcraft. The rumor was that these top played, top geared guilds would separate themselves into four sub-groups, each communicating to one another in their own designated Ventrilo channel, and they would simply kill everything. Technically, they would ignore Dragonkin (due to their high armor), but Legionnaires and Mages together were fair game. The DPS requirements to keep up with the kill-all strategy was completely out of our league, not to mention the extreme level of coordination and focus that was required.

It was a level of discipline we simply hadn't reached.

So, we put this pipe-dream out of our minds, and continued on with the totem-kite strat. Several more weekends of attempts went by without a Razorgore kill and things became more frustrating and stressful. But on March 15th, 2006, the Shamans and I managed to kite our way into Phase Two, and Razorgore was dragged to a corner, tanked, and killed. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and set our sights on moving forward, confident that Razorgore was behind us.

He wasn’t.

Patch 1.10 added weather effects to WoW,
along with the undocumented side-effect of
Shamans' Totems generating threat.

1.10: Totem Aggro

Less than a week and a half went by, and we were treated to a new patch, v1.10, which added Weather effects to the game. While casuals frolicked through the rainstorms and snow out on the surface, the Descendants of Draenor had bigger issues to deal with. Upon returning to Razorgore’s egg-chamber, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, our strategy of dropping totems and kiting mobs around the room completely failed. Unbeknownst to us, a undocumented "stealth" change snuck its way into the v1.10 patch:

Shaman totems would now generate their own aggro.

As soon as the Shamans and I began our kiting, the Legionaires and Dragonkin would turn to the totems, destroy them with a single punch, free themselves from being slowed, then catch up to us and beat us to death. We were nearly ready to break ground on the next boss, Vaelastrasz the Corrupt, and now had to deal with a huge setback; we couldn't even kill a boss we were supposed to be farming. We picked ourselves up after many failed attempts in the egg chamber, crawled back home empty handed, and I thought to myself, “now what?”

Before I logged off for the evening, Ater took me aside and said his Rogue friend had decided to join us, and would be present for our next raid in Molten Core.

A glimmer of hope, perhaps?


Anonymous said...

Great read Hanzo, brought back some good memories. It was awesome to tank Nef for the guild's first kill. Especially since both Ater and Anni were not only geared better but were also much better players.

Zyr said...

I'm laughing how I still instantly know the character's name of each voice instantly after all these years

Shawn Holmes said...

We regularly talk about your infamous cricket sound effects.

Zyr said...

They come in handy during some meetings at work too

JHart said...

This is a fun read, my first bleeding edge raiding guild (Beyond on Gilneas) was already progressing through BWL when I joined from a less successful guild running MC and dealing with volatile leadership. The craziest thing about Beyond was that they did not use teamspeak/vent. We discussed strats before and after encounters, then were expected to perform. My audition with them was healing BWL and I loved it all. Server firsts in AQ40 and Naxx were shining moments that we battled for with the other high-end guild on the server, and strutting around in Full T2, or showing off my four pieces of T3 gear made me feel good. I ended up joining another raiding guild with an alt, so at the height of my raiding I was helping direct a group through MC and into BWL on my mage, while also raiding 3-5 nights/week on my priest. It's an odd sensation to look back on that epic time-sink with both pride and disgust, but here I am. Thanks for the trip down an alternative memory lane.
- Preistilan/Flindar of Gilneas (Never intended to main a priest, else I would have spent more time picking his name.... c'est la vie.)

Unknown said...

alright I got to know and apparently if I missed it somewhere - what server were you all on? I know we were on Crushridge, but I also know I have played with Gutrippa, Hanzo and Ater - hmmmm

Shawn Holmes said...



Unknown said...

thanks Shawn - I actually figured it out - we cross pollinated with players when they started the cross realm dungeons and raids!! By stepson remember Ater and Anni......loving this blog - currently I am up to entry 2.8 - plan to read the whole thing - just fascinating

Unknown said...

I've noticed you use names a lot, have any of your co-workers like Ater seen this blog and caught up with you?