Monday, May 6, 2013

3.2b. Master of One

Mature, near the end of The Burning Crusade,
before being sacrificed to The Lich King

Kerulak of All Trades

"Just wanted to let you know I really like all of the changes I've read so far."

I glanced down at the IM window on my desktop, then drew the window's focus to the front just long enough to fire back a response.

"Thanks! Burned a lot of hours on it."

I dragged the IM window to the side and returned to my code. I had a suspicion the conversation wasn't quite over yet. Sure enough, a status bar left hints that more digital letters were en route.

Ekasra is typing…

"And I really want to be a part of that core team again. Whatever DoD needs, I want to help. Which is why I'm asking if there is anything you think I should do differently this time around."

I stopped typing a moment and began to process his request. Instincts buried deep in the recesses of my brain screamed out as muscle memory reached for the keys. Remember your new rules. Don't start flushing them down the toilet now. You haven't even given them a chance yet. I listened. I wanted to fire off the first impulsive answer that came to mind, the same thing I had told a hundred other players when asking for a spot in the guild: we need healers. There were never enough healers. And as much as I knew Ekasra struggled with the role, I knew we'd need them. And falter without them.


It went against the new guild order. Buried among the layers of documentation that read like an employee handbook sat my new declaration on changes to the Application Process.

We will no longer tell people what we need; we will ask them what they enjoy playing.

This was one of the most important fundamental changes I put into place for Descendants of Draenor at the start of Wrath; a methodology that erupted from my own volcanic experiences as a raider.


There was a time, near the beginning of the game, where the shaman filled me with a deep sense of importance and belonging. Out from behind the administrative desk of a guild leader, I played the role of healer. Every waking moment in-game was spent learning and re-learning the mechanics. Keyboard layouts were changed. Gear was min/maxxed. Mana management was a constant challenge, and I learned about the 5 second rule, as well as the difference between proactive and reactive heals. The biggest challenges came from learning to move and heal, a feat nearly impossible to do well as a shaman in Vanilla. In the early days, my attention was undivided -- Kerulak, or GTFO. Because of this focused attention, I emerged with enough healing expertise to act as a mentor to others.

When a crisis struck the guild halfway through The Burning Crusade, it became apparent that I was the only viable person in the roster to rely on for a shadow priest. I did exactly that and it never felt right. The raid had replenishment, but I experienced neither enjoyment nor fulfillment. I liked the class well enough, but the loss of control was palpable. Meanwhile, there were various strikes against Zanjina. Her race/class combo wasn't optimal for raiding; undead shadow priests dominated the meters with their additional dot Devouring Plague...and Berzerking simply didn't make up for the lost damage. Itemization was exceedingly poor. Shadow priests often waited until tier 6 before opting to slough off their crafted gear while their fellow raiders enjoyed tier 4 and 5 upgrades along the way. More than anything, I felt I lacked expertise as the result of being pulled in both the direction of the shaman and the priest. I was spread too thinly. It was difficult to act as a leader when I gave off all the tell-tale signs of a novice at the wheel. The sacrifice I made for the guild may have helped us get over the hurdles of TBC, but I wasn't having fun.

Thinking about those struggles with Zanjina reminded me of all the players who fought tooth and nail to get into the roster as a specific role I told them to adopt because 'the guild needed it'. And then watched them flounder, flopping around like some useless Magikarp out of water. They wanted to experience the end game, and I felt obligated to jam square pegs into round holes to make it happen. That misguided compassion produced a very mediocre group of raiders; a handful of players unenthusiastic about their role in the team. Unenthusiastic...and unskilled.

That would come to an end in Wrath of the Lich King.
Snippet of the
Raid Slot Template

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Along with the rest of the guildies now madly racing to level 80, I directed Ekasra's attention over to one of my newest forum posts. Titled "Raid Slot Template", it was a forum post tailored for a very specific mission. Down the left-hand column of the post were familiar names of both old and new guildies. Three headers sectioned each group of names off: Tanks, Healers, and DPS. Next to each player's name, a cryptic set of letters and numbers marked each entry:

Bretthew (T:212) (M) (H:198)

Contrary to popular belief, these were not chapters and verses of the King James Bible. They were, however, very carefully coded updates which would inform both the officers and the guild itself about our progress in becoming raid ready. In the above example, Bretthew, a paladin, had currently acquired tanking gear pushing his average ilvl up to 212. Meanwhile, he built an alternate set of healing gear which sat at ilvl 198. Bretthew had absolutely no interest in melee DPS, and therefore, wasn't pursuing it, didn't have any items that could fulfill it...and most importantly, I would not consider him for a role in it. He would never ask, nor would I ever have to tell.

Thanks to the raid slot template, all players focused on joining the 25-Man progression team could post what gear they had acquired, which in turn, allowed me to see what role they desired. That desire was reflected not by a thinly veiled statement like "YOU NEED HEALERS? I CAN HEAL!!!", but rather, as quantifiable progress that player was making in the acquisition of gear. As posts filled this forum thread, the officers and I continued to update the original post, keeping the channels of communication flowing at all times. Day or night, anyone could check where our deficiencies lay or surpluses overflowed. The raid slot template empowered players to make judgement calls about either switching gears, or treading the beaten path toward their original vision of end game raiding.

The beauty of the raid slot template is that it drove the raid team's balance by itself; it effectively removed me from the decision-making process. Guilt no longer hovered over me as it had when I compelled players to take on roles they didn't know nor enjoy. Likewise, if players couldn't find a spot in progression, they had nobody to blame but themselves. There wasn't some dark conspiracy at work, no evil villains named Sir Klocker or Dalans lurked in the shadows, twirling waxy mustaches in diabolical laughter as handfuls of guildies "who weren't their friends" were excised from raids.

Everything a player in DoD needed to know to join the 25-Man progression team was right there in front of them. No more excuses. Just the plain truth. Here's where we are; here's where we need to be. Choose wisely.


Ekasra, like many others, used the Raid Slot Template to help guide their own decision making process in finding a spot they could call their own.

"Based on what I'm seeing, looks like we're still a little light in the warlock department. Maybe I should try that."

Remember your new rules.

"Do you enjoy warlocks? It would be quite the shift from a shaman."

"I do, actually. I think I could bring a bit of DPS."

"Sounds like you have a plan, then. Let's see what you can bring to the table."

A few hours later, the raid slot template received yet another update.

Nestonia (T) (H) (M) (R:211)

Not bad, Ekasra. Not bad at all.

Mature the death knight, leveling at the
start of Wrath of the Lich King,

Eating My Own Dogfood

If I was going to recruit players based off of what they loved playing, I felt an obligation to treat myself the same way. Kerulak had been in retirement for far too long, and the call of the healer just wasn't ripe for the picking. It didn't matter; the Raid Slot Template was doing its job, informing me of a wealth of shamans mass leveling toward various roles in progression. For a short time, I contemplated the viability of bringing my red-headed troll priest back to raids, but apathy toward the class lingered. The shadow tree looked mediocre: Dispersion screamed PvP, and while Mind Sear looked good on paper, its lackluster first-hand experience in the beta was overshadowed by some unbelievable coolness dripping from other classes. It was hard to justify sticking with Zanny when warriors were dual wielding 2-Handers and warlocks were transforming into enormous winged demons.

Another wild possibility entered my thoughts.

I had yet to experience melee DPS or tanking. The newest addition to WoW, the death knight, could do both. Their history was deeply entrenched in Warcraft lore; I was a card-carrying nerd, famous for spouting off trivia references that went over most of the guild's head.

Circa vanilla, much of the guild didn't even know what a "Draenor" even was.

Everything about the death knight reeked of awesome. They raised undead minions from the cold earth and sent them into battle. They could dual-wield weapons, something I've always felt gave certain classes an additional edge. They even spoke with a creepy, echoing effect -- their faces pale and icy, glowing eyes devoid of emotion and soul. Tanking without a shield? Check! (no offense, Druids). Resurrect a fallen player as a Ghoul to squeeze out some emergency damage? Check! No question about it, Blizzard poured every last drop of concentrated coolness into the death knight they could summon.

Even factors outside of raiding made me ponder the class further. The potential to dominate PvP was a major factor; they absolutely demolished other players. Villainy that lurked in the shadows for four years had grown accustomed to the secrets of the other classes, becoming experts in their various vulnerabilities. Unsuspecting gankers were ill-prepared for this new class "death-gripping" them across the map, shackling them in position with freezing Chains of Ice, dicing them into a meaty pulp with glowing runeforged blades. The more I considered the death knight, the more it made sense.

Any doubt that lingered about focusing on this new class was flushed away during the beta. After gaining the opportunity to beta test the expansion, I rolled a death knight to get a feel for how the class played. Upon entering the starting area for the death knight, a floating fortress known as Ebon Hold, I was greeted with a familiar musical track. Booming through my speakers came bone-chilling horns blanketed by the death rattle of a snare. I instantly recognized it as music from the death knight wing in Naxxramas, many years previous, and the hairs on my arms stood on end. As I listened to the track, Kerulak and Zanjina fell away into the fog of a distant memory, a previous life on which I would no longer dwell. Now, all waking moments, all research, experience, practice, all of my focus would be here.

The decision was made. In Wrath of the Lich King, my main became a death knight.


Dalans said...

RIP Manjina.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who read it as "Man-gina" every single time? was that intended since you were a guy playing a girl priest? lol

Shawn Holmes said...


You...and EVERY. BODY. ELSE.