Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2.25. The Zanjina Monologues

"Undead Priest",
Artwork by UnidColor

The Feeling of Power

The first weekend of raiding on my shadow priest left me feeling like a bullshit leader. In the face of some of the greatest progression we had seen after months of stagnation, the guild leader was the lame duck. I saved face as best I could, congratulating the guild for their terrific wins in SSC, while quietly sickened by my own performance. Feelings of regret floated to the surface regarding my decision to bench Kerulak. Damage-producing machines like Turtleman, Blain, and Eacavissi dominated the meters, while Zanjina sat at a dismal 10th overall. It was the predictable result of a freshly minted 70 shoehorned in to the middle of TBC progression. My only consolation was the knowledge that we now had a dedicated replenishment buff that Blain could freely utilize in whichever group would gain the most from it. I knew mana regeneration was valuable. I was well-aware of the impact my small role played in the grand scheme of our progression. Those nights where boss kills easily could have been 1% wipes we'd now have the edge over. But I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was a burden more than a boon. And as I thanked each player for coming to the raid that night, reminding them that we were once again focused on getting to Illidan, nobody thanked me in return for sacrificing Kerulak in place of few extra mana points.

It was my job to motivate and encourage others without any expectation of warm-fuzzies in return. Self-sacrifice: all part of the job description.

Every day we returned to SSC to plug away at bosses, the damage meters stared back at me, a stark reminder of what my "contribution" looked like. Up went Shadow Word: Pain, then a Vampiric Touch, followed with a series of Mind Flays, my damage production capabilities continued to languish as the rest of the crew bubbled to the surface. As a leader attempting to set an example for others, this was an embarrassment, at best. It bugged me. I felt like I had no control to determine the raid's success. With Kerulak the rules were much simpler; the power of controlling players' lives through healing was much more palpable. My tauren shaman flung totems to the ground and dazzled raids with leaping beams of healing energy, saving tanks from imminent death and keeping facerollers in the fire from meeting their makers. Kerulak kept the raid progression alive. In his hands rested the fate of the players he healed. That was control. I would even go so far as to claim that a healer held more control of the raid than a tank, whose sole purpose was to bash a boss's brains in and not let the boss return the favor to others. The rejuvenating power of healing was intoxicating, which made it difficult for me to see the rational side of my current mediocrity.

I held the fate of our raid in Kerulak's hooves, and that felt like real power. I felt no such power in Zanjina. All I felt -- after looking at my 10th place on the damage meters -- was shame.

Shadow Word: Fail

Avatar Regalia:
Great to look at, set bonuses that
were nothing to write home about.
(Cosplay by St├ęphane You)
The weeks that followed ate away at me as we neared the next hump in progression. One boss remained before Lady Vashj, Leotheras the Blind, and he would be the most unforgiving encounter yet. Every waking moment I spent in-game was to polish Zanny. I practiced in 5-man Heroics The Steamvault and The Shattered Halls. I struggled to keep myself alive in Eye of the Storm. I did anything I could to diminish my perception as a bottom-feeder. And to be quite clear, there wasn't much to adjust. In the days of The Burning Crusade, mastering a shadow priest was about as difficult as tying your shoe. Vampiric Touch, Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Blast, Mind Flay, rinse and repeat. As your target approaches death, add in a few casts of Shadow Word: Death for good measure. That's it. No complicated priorities. No "change your rotation when this one special ability procs" or "use this sequence while moving". The only flavor to the mix was an occasional Inner Focus, granting a free Mind Blast with a 100% critical chance.

Only a person who tied their shoelaces into knots could mess up a shadow priest's rotation.

My numbers remained low, and I continually enjoyed the luxury of random nagas leaping out and striking me down, my limited health pool and elegant Frozen Shadoweave ensuring a quick and embarrassing death. I gave new relevance to the phrase "standing in the fire"; a phrase no longer reserved simply to persuade others into getting their shit straight. If I was to lead by example, I was doing a piss-poor job of it, dying (it seemed) just by being looked at. Hyper focused on my pathetic damage and simplistic spell rotation, I became the textbook example of how to fail at raiding. And each time I was killed in the game, it killed me in real life.

I wasn't even able to take solace in loot. Yes, we were back on track, killing bosses and doing weekly imports of DKP strings boasting fabulous loot assignments. The raid's power grew stronger. But there was no loot for me. Not only had my DKP pool reset by switching to a new character (which was only fair to the rest of my players) but no items in tier 5 held significance to a shadow priest. We weren't going back to Tier 4, and as for the Avatar Regalia, its set bonuses left a lot to be desired. Under the oppressive iron fist of TBC raids, a steady boost of self-healing via Frozen Shadoweave's set bonus far outweighed random breaks in mana.

Mana cost was never an issue for a shadow priest. Replenishment...remember?

So, the steam train pressed on to Leo, clearing bosses and looting gear while gaining both power and strength. And I brought up the rear end, endlessly tripping over my knotted shoelaces.


September 2nd, 2007. Seven months into The Burning Crusade. Kael'thas Sunstrider's five blood elves, previously sent to Illidan to train as demon hunters, had produced only one viable candidate. Of the four failed students, three had perished in training. The remaining demon hunter apprentice had gone mad, exiled to the depths of Serpentshrine Cavern. We drank our flasks and ate our food, eyeing the three Broken that kept him leashed to the floor in draenic magic. The tell-tale blindfold wrapped tightly across his eyes marked him as a demon hunter. As it was with Illidan himself, blinded by Sargeras and granted new, truer sight to find and slay demons wherever they lurked. The only demons Leotheras saw were his inner ones, and it was up to us to bring his madness to an end.

Leo shifted between two forms for the duration of the encounter. In blood elf form, he would wail on the tanks, stopping on occasion to perform a whirlwind that bounced him around his cave like a pinball. This was when he was at his most treacherous; the blow from a whirlwind not only struck for a massive amount of damage, it left a bleed ticking away at the health pool of the afflicted player -- especially damning to a shadow priest already suffering in the hit-point department.

In his demon form, Leotheras focused fiery attacks on his highest threat target, and with each successive ignite, caused his target to take increased fire damage. Without a viable solution, whomever he chose would eventually burn to death, no matter how many healers were assigned. But this wasn't all that demon form had in store for us. His transformation caused five random players to face their own inner demons -- splitting out a copy of oneself that only the afflicted player could target and kill. Only Ater could kill Ater's inner demon; only Zanjina could kill Zanjina's inner demon, and so on. Failing to do so before Leotheras shifted back to blood elf form would cause the player to lose her own grip on sanity. And under the influence of this madness, fellow raid members would turn and cut one another down in cold blood.

The final 15% of Leotheras was the deal breaker. He proceeded to split into both forms at the same time, forcing the raid to deal with multiple sets of mechanics at once. With a solid 15% of health in his pool, this could not be handled as a final hail mary of damage, sacrificing tactics for bloodlust. Without keeping a cool head and staying focused on the strategy, 15% would most certainly eat away at us like parasites.

It only took a few attempts to truly understand how handicapped my undergeared priest was. Leo's whirlwind killed me more times than I could count. Fully raid buffed, I barely scraped past 8k in my hit-point pool...but in less than 4 seconds, the bleed did me in. But, Leotheras wasn't about surviving the bleed.

It was about not bleeding.


gnomey said...

This is an interesting take on the feeling of self-worth from someone switching from healing to DPS. The feeling of not being in control, of not contributing is exactly what I felt... when I moved from DPS to HEALING.

Casting green numbers wasn't making the boss die any faster, what use was I?

It's funny how experience makes you recognize your role, but being in a foreign space makes you feel like you're just spinning your wheels. My experience made me decide to try all different roles in raids, to get the full wow raiding experience, and I can now appreciate the value all the roles bring.

I still like topping the DPS charts the most, though.

Shawn Holmes said...


That's really cool that you felt a similar shift but from the opposite direction. I'd bet it was a pretty common feeling for many -- not something previously assumed was so exclusive to healers.

Ranking on the meters is hella fun, no question, and is an excellent ground-level way to drive competition.

Just don't let Recount & Skada govern your guild. :)

PS: I'm a firm believer that Tanks need their own ranking mechanic, separate from dps and hps. I have a post coming up that touches on this in greater detail.

Russell said...

I agree completely on feeling in control of the raid as a healer, but that may also be due to it being the first role that I played in a raid.

It's interesting that you call the mana return from a shadow priest "replenishment" because the actual Replenishment buff wouldn't exist until Wrath (or the patch preceding its release). Once upon a time, the more damage you dealt as a shadow priest, the more mana you returned. That coupled with the original Illumination talent for holy paladins, which restored 100% of the cost of a spell that crit with 5 points into it, meant that I barely ever had to worry about mana until Blizzard nerfed it toward the start or middle of BC when they realized that they'd put a tad too much crit on gear.