Thursday, June 13, 2013

3.10. Divine Forgiveness

Graulm updates Kerulak on Dreadlocker's need to
hearth and retrieve a forgotten Onyxia Scale Cloak,
Blackwing Lair


Along with garnering interest from brand new players, tales of our exploits trickled back across the internet's sea of digital waves. Our cohorts were pulled back, alcoholics getting a whiff of that intoxicating aroma, falling completely off the wagon into Azeroth's mud. The question was: do we embrace them with open arms and welcome them into our perpetual AA meeting? After four years of running Descendants of Draenor, we had developed a colorful history of departures. Some were clean. Others were so filthy I still feel the dirt under my fingernails. Discreetly, they would approach me, striking up a conversion over in-game whispers. "Kerulak! How's it going? Long time, no chat!", as if I had forgotten the painful details surrounding their exit, and the many sleepless night they had caused me. Memories are short. Recruiting for your absence wasn't something I enjoyed. But, I responded politely, carrying the conversation as long as they wished. Secretly, I timed how long it would take for them to drop the big question.

Addressing the prospect of a player's return boiled down to a number of items. First, I had to consider their past and the context of their exit before I let the water rush under the bridge. In some cases, it wasn't appropriate to have them return, because I had completely lost trust in them when they were in a role of responsibility. This was the case with Dreadlocker, my second warlock officer who left us mid-TBC after being given too many direct orders from Annihilation on how to play his class. I remember how I felt when it happened: frantic. I had no answers and nothing made sense. It was a situation that, as a leader, made me feel like I had no control over anything. When he finally spoke, it was to draw attention to my mistreatment of the B-team players, increasingly left behind when we shifted gears to solve our stagnation problem. I saw things differently. By accepting the promotion to officership, Dreadlocker's responsibility was to the guild, not to the B-team. As a result, his alignment with players inhibiting progress, rather than contributing, ultimately led to the second exodus from DoD. Some time later, word got around about our accomplishments -- the Twilight Vanquisher titles spoke for themselves. And although Dreadlocker and I continued an amicable relationship, speaking infrequently via /tell about how things had transpired since the exodus, he dropped hints that it might be beneficial for us to return to our combined former glory.

Personally, I did not see the need.

Another type of exit I was loathe to forgive were ones that sent my moral compass spinning. We are human, we make mistakes; part of being a good leader means forgiving and moving forward. But ethical mistakes cannot and should not be forgiven; they paint a picture of a person with either ulterior motives or they are too easily manipulated to put faith into. The DoD raiding environment I set out to rebuild in Wrath was steeped in trust and communication. Violations of that meant chipping away at our raiding foundation until the tower collapsed, no matter how trivial the infraction seemed. In a virtual social environment where honesty and strength-of-character are often cast to the wayside, I did everything in my power to compel the guild to be honest and follow through with their commitments. This mutual trust formed the basis of my raid rotation policy and promotion structure in WotLK. There is no need to mention names here, but players in Vanilla and TBC I came to trust...who made me believe they were aligned with the goals of the guild, only to betray that trust later...weren't given a second chance. Furthermore, I instituted a rule that prevented alts from joining other guilds. Hanging out with us on your alt, only to flip to your main raiding toon in another guild and sap our resources for our competition's benefit was a prime use case I wanted to avoid. Alignment aside, it caused too many hard feelings. I was a big boy and could put it behind me, but I couldn't say the same for the rest of the raiders. Animosity between them only chipped away at that raiding foundation further.

Forgiveness is tricky, but it helps if the person genuinely knows where they went wrong, as was the case with Bretthew.

Kerulak keeps an eye on heals
while Taba tanks Buru the Gorger,
The Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj


Buried within the folklore of Descendants of Draenor exists the amusing tale of a certain paladin, an old-school DoDer, who sought passage back into the guild. In the days of Vanilla, he played a warrior named Taba. Taba's fellow 40-Man clansman will forever remember the events surrounding a Blackwing Lair clear one night, a night of infamy in which the coveted sword Ashkandi was pulled from Nefarian's carcass. In our zero-sum, fixed price loot system of Vanilla, Taba was the highest DKP holder next in line, and won the coveted blade of crimson and black. Upon receiving the loot, screams of joy burst through Vent as he stepped away from his keyboard, proceeding to dance in uninhibited delight, running frantically from room to room. He screamed the sword's name with all the excitement of a child tearing into that one present they had dreamed for all year.

I remember when loot had that effect on players.

With the release of TBC, Taba was retired and a new blood elf paladin named Bretthew took his place. As he had tanked in Vanilla, Bretthew continued this tradition and assisted in the defeat of Gruul and Magtheridon, preparing for the challenges of Serpentshrine Cavern. Since the Horde had only just gained paladins, we lacked expertise in this department. Some of our healing shamans had cut over to the plate-wearing, flash-of-light spamming fair skinned elves. Of what little facts we knew, paladins weren't viable tanks for the Alliance in Vanilla; pallies could spec that way, but simply weren't cut out to do it competitively. All of this changed in TBC, so Bretthew dove deep into those mechanics, learning the nuances of the class in a quest to become an expert Tankadin. He tanked for the 25-Man progression team alongside folks like Ater, Kurst and Dalans, and played a particularly key role in tanking the massive waves of murlocs that rushed in during Morogrim Tidewalker's attempts to drown us.

Then, drama.

Not long after Tidewalker's defeat, Bretthew's WoW account was hacked. He lost all his characters; we lost a fully geared and experienced paladin tank. The hacker had even gone so far as to rename Bretthew to "Pumpintitan". The guild flipped out, spammed this illegitimate account holder, threatening him, demanding he return the account to its rightful owner. It was no use. The hacker only responded with disemvoweled speech, insisting that the account was his, spreading lies about how he had legitimately purchased it. Apparently, we were all wrong and just needed to leave him alone.

The hacker stuck to his guns so fiercely, that eventually I began to question whether or not Bretthew had, in fact, been hacked at all. Surely, he had no reason to make up a story like that? I mean, he was an adequate tank, well liked among the guild; a funny, decent player with competency behind the wheel. And we were making progress! Blain was back in charge of the raid team, and we were on our way to completing SSC. All lights were green, and doubt surrounding our ability had all but completely dried up. What possible reason would he have to step out of progression, cold-turkey, right at the start of our second wind?

The only thing I could think of was: embarrassment.

Bretthew stands among the 25-Man progression team
after defeating Morogrim Tidewalker,
Serpentshrine Cavern

Repent of Your Sins

Bretthew laid the entire story out for me in Vent one night. "Shock" would not be a word I'd use to describe how I felt as it unfolded. Allegedly filled with rage during a late night PvP session, Bretthew became the victim of a temper tantrum. That tantrum caused him to make some bad judgments (pardon the pun). And in the heat of anger, he grabbed his keyboard and flung it against the wall. As tiny plastic letters of the alphabet rained down on his head, realization quickly set in. The keyboard left a gaping hole in the wall...the wall of a rental apartment. In an instant, he committed himself to a brand new loan, money he would need to repair the damage, money he didn't have. Money, he reasoned, that would have to come from selling the WoW account.

But not before covering his blood-laden tracks.

Once Bretthew secured a new owner, and the money exchanged hands, all that remained was delivering the awful news to the guild leader. He knew I would be furious, as we'd come to rely on him in progression. He wasn't ready to deal with the ramifications of coming clean. So, he concocted a story to get a free pass -- that he'd been hacked. What could I do? It wasn't his fault his account was gone! It sucked, but that's what happened and he was very sorry; conveniently, responsibility was out of his hands. My only option was to handle the situation on those terms: a hacking, something Bretthew wasn't responsible for, and certainly couldn't be blamed for. Just another hacked account in the long line of wedges driven into our progress throughout The Burning Crusade.

No, "shock" was definitely not what I felt after getting all the facts. Instead, it was mostly "disappointment".

With his full disclosure now presented, I had to reason, is it worth taking a risk on someone like Bretthew again? On the one hand, I clung to my age-old biases which had been tempered with one experience after another: people don't change. If he had the capacity to pull something like that on me once, I reasoned, there was nothing to stop him from doing it again. When presented with such a rationale, he agreed,

"You have absolutely every right to feel that way about me, Hanzo," he said over Vent. 

I flew across Northrend, searching for more achievements to complete, "I assume you've read all the rules that I've published for Wrath," I said, "things are different now. I intend on running a much tighter ship this time."

"I've read it all, I think it's great...what you've done."

"And you’re 100% clear on the tank situation? That it's going to be difficult for you to find a spot on a regular basis? Y'know? Because I just had this conversation with Beercow. He opted to switch roles entirely because of that."

"I'm completely clear and fine with it; I can help fill other runs if needed."

I paused a moment, then delivered the next sentence slowly, giving impact to every individual word, "You realize that there is a very slim chance you'll see the Elite rank under my new system...ever. Based on your previous exploits."

"No, I hear you. I get where I messed up and that's not something I'm interested in reliving. I just want to be able to contribute in some way."

I pondered the other side of the case a moment. He came clean, after all. He made the effort to give me the real story regarding his account. While his motives painted him with the maturity of a child, and his timing was more representative of a treasure-hungry goblin, I decided that it was important to give a player a second chance whom genuinely knew where they had fucked up, expressed remorse, and were dedicated to fixing it. If they could be man enough to acknowledge the error of their ways, I wagered, it was the first step toward growing into a better person. I appreciated players who were willing to take accountability for their actions, and wanted to reward that behavior with positive reinforcement. So, Bretthew returned to the lineup in late March. The 25-Man progression team grew stronger.

But there was still the case of a missing raid leader...


Littlebear said...

Even without knowing all this history, when I felt it was time to leave, I did so with as much respect, and politeness, as I possibly could. I knew I might want to come back one day.

I love the history and breakdown. Thanks very much!

cjsette said...

Thank you for sharing your tales of guild and raid leadership. I have enjoyed them immensely.

They bring back a lot of memories from when I was an officer of a more-than-casual raiding guild back in TBC and WotLK.

I play very casually now, but I would be tempted to faction/server transfer to apply to your guild as it sounds like what I had been looking for in terms of a more healthy environment.

Keep up the good work.

Shawn Holmes said...


We have since retired our 25m raiding team (OMG SPOILERS), but still have a number of 10m teams that run throughout the week, and are still quite alt-friendly for those who putter around.

Ping me in-game for more details!

Yuna said...

I'm a huge fan of your story. I'm so drawn into it that I feel like these are my experiences and subsequently, I am learning a lot from it. Thank you for your contribution.

The other guilds on Deathwing are privileged to have you and your guild members there.

Shawn Holmes said...


*bows*, I thank you for your kind words, and hope you continue to find it entertaining and enlightening.

Philip said...

Just for the record, between yesterday and today I have gone through all your blog posts from vanilla to this point in the story.

I began playing wow as a 15 year old in 2005 and can only imagine what a rash I must have been like in raids. It was interesting to have grown through that and to be on the other side of it now. Your posts only help to bring back some cringeworthy memories over bidding for banana-spaulders :)

Thanks for sharing your story - I am so engrossed.