Thursday, May 9, 2013

3.3. Wrath of the Lich King

"Lich King"
Artwork by Justin Currie

Checks and Balances

On November 13th, 2008, nerds the world over were greeted to the sounds of Uilleann pipes as their zeppelins and ships brought them to the ice-touched continent of Northrend. Alliance and Horde rushed out of their respective transport crafts, weapons in-hand and guild-chat ablaze with new life, as they explored the frozen north. Howling Fjord, a forest playing home to the giant Vrykul, viking-themed humanoids that extended their occupation north into the Grizzly Hills. Borean Tundra, a barren and unexciting valley playing host to the Lich King's various minions, as well as the now-hostile blue dragonflight; many players would come to refer to this zone as boring tundra. Dragonblight, a glacier-thick icy boneyard that the dragonkind inhabit at the end of their lives. Zul'Drak, home to the drakkari ice trolls and which now bore the undead stench of the Lich King's grasp. Remnants of Night Elf history lay exposed in the sparse brush of Crystalsong Forest. Looking up from the forest revealed the floating city of Dalaran. The Storm Peaks, frigid mountains climbing higher than any peaks previous in WoW, were a mountain range hiding mysteries of the origins of life on Azeroth -- clues to the Titans influence on the creation of the world (further uncovered in the unusually temperate Sholazar Basin). The Storm Peaks were also home to a dark secret trapped deep below the dwarven city of Ulduar. And of course, Icecrown -- the final zone in which Arthas himself had amassed millions of undead scourge, now bent to his will, as he surveyed our arrival from atop Icecrown Citadel.

Northrend was nothing short of epic.

Descendants of Draenor once again became a flurry of activity. Day by day, we logged on, greeted each other, and continued to quest, explore, and level to 80. I was well behind most other players, since Death Knights began their life in WoW at 55; I was fine with playing catch-up. Besides, I wanted the extra time to learn my class, get comfortable with the new mechanics of runes and runic power, and hoped to eventually consider myself an expert in the class. Meanwhile, I harassed the officers on a daily basis. How are thing progressing? Are you pinging players to update the Raid Slot Template? Is there anything we need more or less of? The officers responded with equal enthusiasm. The Raid Slot Template continued to see activity as people decided what role was best for them. I kept tabs on what we needed, and tailored my recruitment accordingly. As per my new rules, all officers were directed to guide new recruitment to me. If people wanted to get a foot in the DoD door, I'd have them fill out an application. After receiving the application via email, if it passed an initial screen, I'd set up a time to meet in Ventrilo, to have a more personable interview. This process worked extremely well: 9 times out of 10, I was able to turn away people right at the app process from not paying attention to the application requirements; if they couldn't read a simple "how to apply" post, I reasoned, what chance would they have in paying attention during raids?

The new DoD public / private tags in effect
(phone numbers are blacked out),
Icecrown Citadel

The New Crew

The roster grew, both from old faces returning, and from new recruits passing the audit. Familiar names we welcomed back included Kragnl, one of my original earlocks from the 40-Man Vanilla days, who had taken time off during The Burning Crusade. He was back and ready to raid once again, this time on his druid, Beercow. The Shaman brothers Gunsmokeco and Deathonwing returned, ready to find their place in progression, as did Wematanye and Mcflurrie. Larada, one of our TBC progression Hunters, whom was now acting as hunter officer, was back for more, as well as the warriors Jungard and Abrinis. Even Ekasra returned, now as the warlock Nestonia, having taken my advice to switch out of healing. And, one of the longest running mages in the guild, the infamous Turtleman, also returned to our roster, his love of doing ridiculous amounts of damage was rivaled only by his love of pizza and tacos.

Joining these vets were new faces: Omaric, a warrior who snuck in at the tail end of TBC, yearning for a spot in progression, demonstrated spectacular expertise with his class, and had a knack for keeping the guild amused in Vent with his many vocal impressions. Also joining us near the end of TBC was Lix the resto druid, who came to us by way of my former officer Annihilation; they had PvP'd together extensively and Lix wished to contribute more to raiding. Lix's hubby, Vrykolakas the warlock, would join the guild three months later. I acquired Riskers the start of October, a friendly, well-played rogue who would soon earn the nickname "Seňor Riskers". Also new to the roster was Arterea the priest, who was welcomed into the DoD community and playfully referred to as "The Blind Healer", who managed to play exceptionally well, despite his tendency to run around in random directions. We also welcomed Robmelendez, a warlock who pushed out damage that rivaled even Eaca's, earning him the nickname "Aggromelendez". The list of new names grew and grew.

But it was the curious application from an ex-hardcore raider that got most of my attention. His experience surpassed our own: He'd had previous experience leading raids in other guilds, and was himself a part of a guild that had achieved the pièce de résistance of TBC raiding: Kil'jaeden the Deceiver, final boss of The Sunwell Plateau. Sunwell's extreme difficulty curve was comparable to that of Naxxramas 40; an instance we only carved a fraction out of. Anyone who had cleared that content had my instant respect. But I often wondered, why us? Wouldn't that be a step backwards? As it would turn out, he didn't care about our progression at all; it was the respectful professionalism demonstrated to him by a guildy during a random 5-man dungeon that impressed him enough to apply. We hit it off immediately in the interview process. He was Canadian, so was I. He had a passion for getting raid content cleared; I was of the same mindset. He bore the casualties and war stories from raids past, I had my own bruises and scars to brag about. It was clear in my mind I wanted him on-board. His only request was to bring along his RL friend; I obliged. Thusly, Descendants of Draenor became home to two additional players: Cheeseus the rogue and Sixfold the druid.

The raid signup sheet for Dec. 7, 2008.
DoD begins WotLK PvE

No More Excuses

With the roster exploding from both returning players and brand new faces, I worked to streamline the process of getting the guild to know one another. Our roots grew out of a family-based mindset, and I wanted that to continue. To encourage and facilitate communication between these old and new guildies, I instituted a simple change to the in-game guild listing. Previously, public and private tags maintained no consistency or held any function; officers would sometimes put random jokes in people's tags, and sometimes even make underhanded "inside" jokes for only the officers to see in the private tags. Effective at the start of WotLK, I wiped all the public and private tags clean, and filled them out using the following system:

Public Tag:
  • A player's main character would read "Main"
  • A player's alternate character or would read "Alt of XX", where XX had to map to an existing character in the guild list.
Private Tag:
  • If a player was invited as a social app, a friend of a friend, this would read "Social of XX", where XX was another Main in the guild listing. This tied responsibility back to the inviter; if the person you ended up bringing into DoD was a douchebag -- you would have to answer for it.
  • If a player was a Raider (or intending to be one), their phone number would be entered here. This allowed the officers to be able to contact a player in an emergency, thus preventing a raid from stalling. Additionally, it gave them direction on whom they should start with: players with verified working contact numbers in their private note had obviously given a shit about raiding in the past, and therefore, should be the most appropriate to go to when fires needed to be put out.
Once these updated guild notes were in place, I was able to point players to the roster in order to figure out the answers to questions like "Hey, is XX on?" Now, the guild was empowered to check on their own. Strike one thing off the administration list. When it came time to start raiding, what if we had a no-show? What if someone was stuck in traffic, or perhaps we lost connectivity with them mid-raid? Who would we call to replace them in a pinch? The officers had the tools they needed to pop open the roster, scan the list, find appropriate replacements, and phone or text them immediately. The admin load continued to lighten.

When the day finally arrived that we had a large enough roster to move forward with, I circled back with the officers, and started plugging a schedule into our signup sheet. Meanwhile, the officers assisted me in vetting these players. We would check their gear, run 5-Man heroics with them, get a feel for their eligibility into progression. Once comfortable, the Guildy was promoted to Raider, and directed to the signup sheet. I also began posting initial information regarding the new raids: Obsidian Sanctum, Eye of Eternity, and our old favorite, re-designed to favor a 25-Man sized raid. I kept the Raiders honest by invoking a new feature I plugged into our forums: raid strategy posts were flagged as required reading; the forums would physically prevent you from doing anything else until you read the topic. No longer would I have to listen to the excuse of "Oh, I didn't know I wasn't supposed to stand in the fire!" -- a Guildy wouldn't be able to sign up for raids unless their account had been promoted to Raider...and once they were a Raider, the forums would ensure they saw required reading posts.

In short, you wouldn't even be considered for a raid rotation unless you were a Raider, and by being a Raider, I knew definitively that you had seen our raid strategy posts. Excuses were no longer an option. It was time for the progression team to be accountable for themselves.

I surveyed the roster, full of excited (and vetted!) Raiders, and felt the adrenaline pumping. It was official: We had a start date etched in stone, had a verified, qualified team to field the raid, and the excitement of new PvE content awaiting us.

There was just one problem: we had no raid leader.


Anonymous said...


I love reading these. Is it bad that I check back multiple times a day looking for updates?

Anonymous said...

Not at all. I actually check multiple times per day myself.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous x 2,

Thankful for your dedicated obsession! Hope you are enjoying the stories, even if they are early sneak peeks. :)

Anonymous said...

Reading posts like these make me MISS 25 man raiding so much. I loved the organization required. Ten mans are much more... "In we go, DPS kill these, healers heal everyone, and tanks make sure none of them get aggro and die" No more heal assignments :(

Shawn Holmes said...


You are preaching to the choir, my friend. But, I see that the strategy of catering to more and more of a casual player base is working out:

Aubiece said...

Wow, your blog brings back memories
of 25m WOTLK raiding. I really miss
that kind of raiding. We had decent progression and were not
hard core. We got all normal bosses down except LK and got him
at 10% buff.
I still miss my friends
from my WOTLK raiding guild.
After 3 months of Cata raiding, our
RL quit, GM left for a more progressed guild and 3 officers went with him. I took over as recruiting officer and it was pretty tough to keep a 25m raid viable. We gave up after a month and went 10m raiding. Not nearly as
epic or fun.
I will be charitable
and say unintended consequence from Blizz. Their Cata raid style
blew 25m up.

Shawn Holmes said...


We (I speak on behalf of DoD here) feel your pain. We all truly felt the epicness of 25m raiding (and 40, before it) that simply doesn't exist today in 10s (and is moot in LFR, which poses no challenge whatsoever).

The more I read Blizzard's defiance responses, the more it saddens me to see how out of touch they are. I just caught this quote off a blue post (in response to being busy for weeks vs hours today):

"That's not depth. Content in vanilla required more preparation, but bosses were much, much easier than today's Heroic content"

Disagree. There is no way in HELL that heroic content of today can compete with things like C'thun, 4H (Naxx), Kael'thas or Vashj. They may have *seemed* like they were easier, but I think my blog can attest to this: We weren't showered with every crazy ability in the game that we have today.

In 40-Man Naxxramas, Maexxna's mechanics were nearly identical, but back then, you could have a dozen healers--but only ever be able to have ONE renew, ONE rejuv and ONE regrowth on the MT. That's it!

Ater had 9480 HP fully buffed. There were crushing blows he had to deal with that don't exist today, that absolutely WRECKED his health bar. He was spiking down to 3k with 15+ healers in the raid. When we were webbed, if he didn't have all of TWO cooldowns he had at the time (shield block, shield wall), he would drop below 2000, even took SPLIT-SECOND timing to nail a NS FULL HEAL to keep alive...

...and you had to repeat that like clockwork without missing a beat for 15 minutes straight.

You can't tell me there's a heroic fight today that has the same small amount of room for error. Compare this with Heroic 25m Alysrazor (still fresh in my mind nearly a year later). The tank is never that kind of danger! It's all about massive massive damage, coordinating the movement of your group from killing adds, and get non-retarded players flying through rings. You go through some of the motions, practice...and then it falls together like clockwork.

Maexxna was never clockwork. It demanded surgical execution EVERY time, and it meant precise timing. You could recover from a fail on heroic Alysrazor. There was no recovering from a failure on Maexxna. Or any vanilla boss, realistically.

The blue poster must have been thinking about Molten Core, which is/was a joke by comparison.

SaltedFish said...

I read this long saga and almost wish that I had played during Vanilla. I hopped on at the tail end of TBC, right before Sunwell came out, and didn't raid until Northrend.

From the people I've talked to who actually played vanilla, and reading here, it seems that one of the biggest culprits are websites like WoWHead, Thottbot, and others. Websites that give all the details necessary to understand how a fight works before you even zone in. No more endless hours of trial and error. Just a few attempts to get it down, and you're on to the next boss. No more "secrets" of rotations, boss strategies, gearing. It's all laid out for anyone with the ability to type it into Google. The impression I get of Vanilla was that a lot of this knowledge was either word-of-mouth, or the results of trial and error and a willingness to spend weeks trying one thing over and over and over - something that would probably cause 90% of subscribers to cancel their accounts if Blizzard tried it now.

Maybe that's the problem with WoW - it doesn't have secrets anymore. Care to weigh in?

Unknown said...


Actually I need to argue with you. Today's raids heroic versions actually require little to no error a mass majority of the time.

Heroic Windlord: 1 person hits a bomb, raid wipe. Heroic Ambershaper, construct doesn't interrupt the boss correctly, raid wipe.

Only 7, SEVEN, US Guilds have cleared 16/16 heroic 25 vs. Wrath where over triple had received their Black Protodrakes, and now 5.2 is already coming out when not even close to a % that was clearing T11, Kara, or even MC.

Blizz actually got their raiding speed wagon back on roll. I have to admit, they got their act together. MSV is nothing compared to HOF + Terrace in heroic modes.

Shawn Holmes said...


I may have been a bit zealous in accusing today's heroics as incomparable en masse (It's an emotional point), however, I do want to say one thing:

You state 7 guilds US guilds have completed it in heroic 25, but I ask you: How many are actually **trying** 25? This number is going to be significantly lower than it was pre-Cata, when 25 was still prestigious.

I define prestige in this context as "what the masses acknowledge as the most difficult content" -- and that includes non-raiders.

You go into general chat now and it's constantly filled with players who think 25m is "the easier of the two" and "is a joke"...

...which is a sad state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

I really need to stop checking back every 30 mins for the next installment...

Shawn Holmes said...


While you wait for the next one, consider sharing the blog with folks you think would enjoy it as well!

Anonymous said...

I've shared it with the other officers in my guild. I took over as RL at the start of MoP after missing all of wrath and most of Cata.

It started as a very casual raid team and I've gradually been pushing the standards and expectations higher. I've pointed them here to get a better idea of where I'm coming from. I raided in vanilla thru all content but Naxx and in BC thru it all but Sunwell.

Your most recent posts have been very helpful. I have too many raiders that just won't put in the work to be successful. Your blog has inspired me to try new ways to whip this team into shape.

Shawn Holmes said...


Fantastic to hear that you are still finding ways to inspire and encourage your raiders to do what they need to do.

I've offered some advice on other commenter's guilds; if you have a forum you'd like me to come by and visit with some thoughts, feel free to contact me with the info.

Ekasra said...

That Nestonia guy's damage was pretty good.

Unknown said...

Looking forward to more of Lich King. I play an Alliance Holy Paladin, from Vainilla, but I mainly quested and did Dungeons and raided UBRS and LBRS specced as a Holy but using the Relentless Scythe. I did Scholo and Strat until I knew them by heart, got the Charger right after they increased the Black Diamond drop. I think I stopped counting after 50 attempts of getting a Lightforge Helm and never getting it).
I was in a few Zul'Amans and I set foot on Molten Core, only to be ejected by an insanely slow internet connection.

I missed raiding in TBC because I knew I did mediocre DPS and my healing was pathetic. I all but shelved it until Lick King.

I got a better internet provider, I read a few strats on how to Holy Paladin effectively (thanks to the infamous Ferraro) and I joined Leftovers, where I raided to my heart's content for 13 months.

OH, the glories of progression!
The countless attempts to down bosses and be denied at 5%....2%...1%

My crowning achievement was being the last healer standing, keeping the tank alive while Arthas's last few hit-points were demolished.

After that, RL took over and I could not commit to a raiding schedule when I was asked, so I gave up my slot to an amazing healer.

I do not have the time I used to have for raiding. I miss 25-mans and the 10-mans and the comraderie of Vent, but I get by with LFR. I know I won't be earning Achievement anymore, but at least I can see the content.

Will keep reading. Thanks for the memories, albeit from another faction and another server.

Kyroson. Silver Hand.

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your story! I miss those raids and WotLK as well, but I can assure you there is a ton of WotLK story to tell.

Aztek said...

Earlocks? :P

Anonymous said...

Turtleman sounds like a guy right after my own heart. Ridiculous amounts of damage, pizza, AND tacos? That is what I'm all about.

Anonymous said...

I remember my raiding days in Wrath. At one point we tried to coordinate stuff via the guild website, but had at least one raider who, for whatever reason, would not even sign up to the forums, let alone actually read them. She was dead set against the website, as if it was full of spiders or something. I was never able to work out why.