Thursday, February 21, 2013

2.37. Sacrificial Lambs

Artwork by Phroilan Gardner

Alcoholic Muppets

The eighth wave of the undead scourge had arrived, fueled by the power of the burning legion. Our raid broke apart into groups, swiftly executing their appropriate assignments, slicing into abominations, unleashing barrages of arcane and nature and fire into banshees and crypt fiends and fel stalkers. Behind us, Thrall stood diligently at the base of an orcish town hall. Next to him, the body of an enormous yellow doomguard still lay face down in the dirt. Ater called out to prepare everyone for positioning as the pit lord made his appearance. The previous bosses had been trivial by comparison, but Azgalor would not be so easy. His strategy would require discipline, timing and coordination. If we could pull it off, the guild would see their first tier 6 tokens in the form of gloves. In order to make that happen, some of us were going to have to die.

Azgalor waddled in to the area with all the grace of a drunken Snuffleupagus. Immediately, Ater took hold of the demon and swung him to face Thrall, pulling him back to the orc town hall as fast as possible. We stayed our hand as threat was touchy during the pickup, especially with Ater less focused on threat, and more on pulling Azgalor into a raid-ready position. Random attacks and side-steps, backpedals and hopping turns; all the gimmicks an embattled warrior tank pulled from their repertoire just to keep Azgalor facing him long enough to settle in for the fight. The tiny tauren warrior raced to position him next to the warchief of the horde; his arrival was our signal to ramp up our damage. Azgalor's frontal cleave was unforgiving, so melee held back, waiting for that signal. Any players chomping at the bit to unleash hell into Azgalor's side would meet a cruel and tragic fate before the encounter even started.

The fight was no less forgiving than the pull. Combining the atrocity of Howl of Azgalor and Rain of Fire produced a painful symphony of terror and death. The Howl was a silence the pit lord spammed against players in close proximity. Players unable to stay out to the maximum range for their spells would be caught in the silence and shut down -- particularly troublesome if you were main tank healing. Meanwhile, Rain of Fire would shower down onto unsuspecting players, not only doing fire damage to those who stood dumbfounded in the burning precipitation, but continuing to tick off health as the result of an applied DoT. Players unable to mitigate the fire damage would eat, at the very least, about 6000 HP of damage, so it was vital to stay dry and reduce the stress on the healers whom were already stretched thin by constant movement and impending Howls.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Azgalor,
Hyjal Summit

Taking One for the Team

The gimmick came in how Azgalor's soft enrage was invoked. Throughout the fight, he would curse people with Doom. After about twenty seconds, they would die and spawn a doomguard, a miniature Kaz'rogal that would need to be picked up by an off-tank and killed. The process of this slow attrition would ultimately do the raid in if it were unable to kill the pit lord in time. In order to mitigate the loss of these players, the warlocks were assigned soul stone duty. Those marked for death would be given a second chance at life through Eacavissi's fel energies, so Blain would keep close tabs on which players were the most valuable, ensuring no soul stone would go to waste. It cut to the bone when your time ran out on Doom, and Blain remained silent when the warlocks called out, "Should I soulstone him?" It wasn't personal. Going into each attempt, all players needed to accept their place and prepare to sacrifice themselves for the good of the raid. But there were clearly some players contributing more than others and a pecking order inevitably shone through when the warlocks called out your name for impending soulstone, only to be greeted with silence.

Rejection can be a painful thing.

On the evening of March 16th, 2008, Azgalor finally met his match. Four weeks in Hyjal produced four boss deaths, the raid continuing to march to the rhythm of Blain's drum. But his self-fulfilled prophecy now stared us in the face: the path was clear to Archimonde yet the raid was ill-prepared to handle Doomfire, a great majority of the players lacking their pvp trinkets.

Blain spoke into Vent, "Head to Black Temple."


The raid coalesced at a gap in the wall, draenei masonry ripped apart haphazardly, stones and wood strewn in a pile. Someone clearly wanted inside the temple and, with the enormous front gates guarded by a legion of nathrezim, decided to make their own entrance. The raiders squeezed in through the makeshift door, re-buffed, and began to pull the trash: a mix of Vashj's left-over naga elite guard, enforced by corrupted water elementals varying in size and scope. The waterlogged basement of the draenei temple provided a convenient entry way into the illidari training grounds, a wide-open area full of fel orcs and doomguards that patrolled the area. We gained entrance to these grounds via breached sewage pipes, but before that happened, we'd have to get past our first obstacle: High Warlord Naj'entus.

The beast was a naga anomaly, one mutated far beyond anything we had witnessed before. Although he bore the same general half-humanoid, half-serpentine form that was a familiar trademark of all naga, his face was something else entirely. Gone was the traditional humanoid facial features -- the familiar eyes, nose and mouth that was the naga's last tie to their former night elf lives. In their place was a chitinous bone shell crowned by an evil maw of dagger-like teeth drawn below. In his right arm he wielded a large conk shell shaped like a spike, ready to impale any player who dared breach the temple's walls in search of Illidan.

Descendants of Draenor defeats High Warlord Naj'entus,
Black Temple

Wearing Multiple Hats

Blain set us up in pairs, encircling the boss. The buddy system would be the key to taking out this mutated naga. Throughout the fight, Naj'entus would thrust his spine into unsuspecting players, rendering the character immobile. It would be up to their "buddy" to quickly withdraw this spine, the act of which both freeing the target, and granting the savior a Naj'entus Spine to be used when the boss protected himself with a Tidal Shield. Those raiders with a spine would pop the bubble, interrupting the boss's regenerative aura -- a tactic Naj'entus used to draw the fight out further. The catch? Bursting the bubble had an explosive impact on the raid, reducing everyone to 5% of their health. The focus, therefore, was to keep the main tanks alive following the burst. With the healers hyper focused on keeping the main tank alive, followed by each other, the rest of us had to take survivability into our own hands. Like certain bosses before him, Naj'entus opened my eyes to the two types of players that lingered within our ranks: those who were willing to do whatever it took for the good of the guild, and those who loved to make excuses.

It was amusing to see the differences in mentality. There were those who had taken the initiative to max out their first aid, bandaging frantically once Naj'entus had his bubble popped. And then, there were others who clung to their age-old biases on the separation of role and responsibility...many of whom fell over dead shortly after the bubble burst. Many casters who poured all of their waking hours into doing damage still believed it was the healers' responsibility alone to keep them alive. But as the complexity of these encounters grew more sinister with each new set of mechanics, the wearing of multiple hats became more important. By this point in The Burning Crusade, it was clear that we were no longer living in a specialist world where one player only performed one job well. A review of our non-standard tank requirements was one of the first real indicators. The Twin Emperors, Razuvious, Maulgar, Leotheras the Blind -- a smattering of bosses that needed tanks draped in cloth or leather. And with bosses like Naj'entus demanding non-healers to heal themselves, how many more hints did we need?

In order for our raids to be effective enough to compete with hardcore raiding guilds that doubled our schedule, we were going to have to become generalists: players with a wide berth of knowledge of game mechanics. Casters that could tank, tanks that could heal, damage dealers that dispelled instead of just pouring mindless pyroblast after pyroblast into a boss.

I was beginning to see the guild differently.

Months earlier, when we were struggling on Gruul and Mag, I was angered and annoyed that Blizzard was asking us to play different roles, forcing players to do things they weren't good at, roles they weren't particularly accustomed to. But in a team environment, one may need to wear multiple hats, in order to ensure gaps could be filled, to test the team's strength and diversity; its ability to adapt under pressure. In order for the greater good, a little bit of sacrifice is in order. I knew this fact more than anyone, barely clinging to life as a result of Zanjina's pathetic health pool. I swallowed whatever pride I had playing Kerulak, and knew what needed to be done. And when that Tidal Shield burst, I clicked my Netherweave Bandage and got right back into the fight, until Naj'entus collapsed in a splash of sewage water...

...and then took note of those folks lying dead beside him, victims of having never bothered with first aid.


Dalans said...

The shaman wasn't the lisp DoD needed, it was the lisp we deserved.

Anonymous said...

I cant believe you were so mean to a kid with a lisp. Heres to hoping you become paralyzed from the waist down and I can make fun of you.

Russell said...

Convincing DPS that they need to do something other than DPS has always been a struggle. It's like... there is a button that you need to press to win. It doesn't matter what that button is; press the button that makes you win. It is not always your fireball button.

Anonymous said...

And with that^^ you become the pot calling the kettle black.