Thursday, August 29, 2013

3.28. Playing The "Game"

DoD defeats Flame Leviathan with two of the four
towers up, earning "Heroic: Orbital Devastation",

The Opposite of Winning

"Just got off the phone with the mechanic", I typed to Cheeseus, "Apparently it is some sort of gear that got worn down. Honda’s replacing the part but the entire transmission has to be rebuilt."

"Ugh" appeared in my Pidgin chat window a few moments later.

"Hey. No harm, no foul. They pick up the tab, I’m just glad that we caught this sooner rather than later. I have a rental to get me around in the meantime."

"How was the vac?"

"Fucking phenomenal. It felt like a two-weeker. And it looks like you got some work accomplished while I was gone, eh? That’s great to see."

Cheeseus was less than enthusiastic, "Eh, not much imo. Eighteen-thousand Runed Orbs dropped. Yogg to 13%."

I focused in on the positive, "I understand we have two more Fragments."

"That too," he replied, "but we should have downed Yogg."

We had only been at it for several weeks, having trounced General Vezax on Mother's Day. After racing through Ulduar on cruise-control, it didn't surprise me to discover we'd hit a few speed-bumps near the end. Thinking back to the many weekends we poured into bosses like Kael'thas, Lady Vashj, Nefarian, was very clear in my mind that we were just getting our lumps as all raiding guilds did. Cheeseus of all people should have known where I was coming from, having doused himself in the Sunwell's waters. His disappointment was understandable. But was it warranted? We were moving through Ulduar at an excellent pace, far quicker than any raid in our history. That had to count for something, especially coming from a guild who prided itself on baby steps as quantifiable progress. But perhaps he, like some other players, were starting to see things differently -- the drastic shift in raid difficulty slowly permeating their rational thought, telling them to expect that bosses should just fall over dead after two or three attempts. I myself got bitten by these bugs in moments of haze, falsehoods eating deep into my subconscious like Yogg's own mad whisperings, telling us that we were failures by not killing a boss after only three weekends of work.

Or perhaps I just had a raid leader that was too much of a perfectionist.

"We'll get him soon enough. How's Eh Team coming along? You making any progress on hard modes yet?"

"Yeah, just Mimiron and Yogg left."


"You've cleared every hard mode in 10-Man except Mimi and Yogg?"

"Number one on Deathwing since the 9th of last month."

Cheeseus quoted from the bible of GuildOx, a website recently launched to track the progression of both the 10- and 25-man raiding guilds in WoW. I would've preferred to see us up at the top of the 25-man chart, but holding steady at the top of the 10-man chart was nothing to laugh at, either. I was pleasantly surprised to see us ahead of Enigma, but didn't think it would last too terribly long. As it turned out, The Eh Team allowed us to hold that spot throughout the majority of 3.1. I have to say, they were pretty proud of themselves. Perfectionist or not, Cheeseus knew what he wanted -- and he got it. If not in the 25-man, than by any other means necessary.

Mature and Sixfold (via Thirteenfold) shut down
their 100th match, earning "Mercilessly Dedicated",

Anger Management

In the evenings when we weren't working on Yogg-Saron, I decided to pour some more time into the Death Knight. In TBC and Vanilla, I felt stretched thin at times, not fully understanding the complexity of my main, not fully attuned to the class's nuances. With Kerulak the Shaman, I was ever striving to become a quality healer. In those days, there weren't too many guides to follow or Live Streams to learn from. By the time I had cut over to Zanjina the Shadow Priest in TBC, I had flushed one-and-a-half tiers of Shaman healing knowledge down the toilet, starting again from scratch with the troll's Shadow Word: Pain and the face-melting Mind Flay. Looking back, I felt I never really played the Shadow Priest to its greatest potential, spending many of my off-raid nights screwing around with alts. I told myself not to invest too heavily in a class I may have to bench to save my guild, so I became a jack-of-all-trades...and a master of none. Wrath gave me the opportunity to focus in on one class and grok it entirely, and so every waking moment in game was spent on Mature.

In order to exercise my Death Knight muscles, I dove into the undiscovered country of PvP. With the help of Sixfold, we spent many nights working away in arenas. I hadn't invested a lot of time in PvP (for reasons I hope are obvious by this point), but as part of the learning process, a little bit of tolerance and humility is called for. I admitted to Sixfold up front that I was shit behind the wheel, but his calm, laid-back manner put me at ease. This was just for fun, and we weren't here to prove anything to anyone. Outside of the scrutiny of a 25-Man raid which diligently analyzed combat logs and held people to their numbers, arenas offered up a chance to learn without punity. As long Sixfold and I didn't go up against any Paladins, nobody would be judging us.

Those arenas boiled my blood.

I walked away from those nights quaking in anger. On more than one occasion, I could hear Julie yell back at me from the other room to keep it down and watch the language. If the neighbors could hear me, they might fear for their lives at the obscenities that flowed from my computer room. It took every ounce of energy for me to stay calm, focused on my target, watching cast alerts coming in from Gladius, waiting to Mind Freeze, to Strangulate, to blow Empowered Rune Weapon and unleash everything I had before my target's healer regained control of herself. I'd smash my fist down on the desk, a child throwing a tantrum at the toy store. I hadn't been violent since my early Quake-playing days, but the keyboard graveyard welcomed me back like an old friend. Having left those days behind for World of Warcraft, the game had evolved me into a player of maturity and composure; the person who would lead the guild "by example" by doing what was right, making the hard decisions, biting his lip when appropriate and hoping...praying...that my good behavior rubbed off on the players who had been /ginvited.

All of that went out the door with arenas.

Through all the cursing and temper tantrums, Sixfold laughed and laughed. He took it all in stride, and never once was critical of my behavior, never once judged me for those wildly inappropriate bouts of fury and rage. Each time, he had new suggestions, new things for me to try, always encouraging, always educating. It didn't matter how frustrated or pissed-off I got, Sixfold was ready to jump into an arena and give it another go. I had to hand it to him. If I took nothing away from my terrible, horrible Death Knight play in those arenas, at least I got some solid reinforcement on how I needed to carry myself in the mentor department. Try to be tolerant. Don't take things so seriously. Patience is a virtue. You’ll get what you want with hard work and diligence. After preaching these edicts to the raiders for so long, it was important to get the sermon myself...

...just as it was important to get a break from being a Guild Leader...even if it was just for a few hours in Blade's Edge Arena.

Mature and Ben (via Fluffykitten)
rock out a perfect win against the Alliance,
Eye of the Storm

Winning Friends and Influencing People

When I wasn't in an arena with Sixfold or scouring Northrend for rares to complete Frostbitten, I forced myself into Battlegrounds. Other than the practice that Six and I got in The Ruins of Lordaeron or the Dalaran Sewers, the only other viable option for me to improve was to augment my PvP gear. PvPing by oneself was utter torture. I covered my hand with burning, melted plastic as a child...the result of a failed experiment to play with matches...and it hurt less than PvPing with a group of strangers who didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. So I sought to find people in the guild to group with to help take the edge off -- a salve to apply to the face after dragging a cheese-grater across it. Neps was very often one of those players, but when the opportunity arose, I would do my best to group with Ben.

Ben was a fantastic PvPer, and a hoot to group with. As much shit as I gave him for missing raid signups and unleashing drunken tirades in Vent, he was a rock star player killer. He held no particular loyalty for any one class, he'd bring whatever you wanted to the gunfight: Scruffiebear the Druid, Flufflykitten the Hunter...he had nearly every tool at his disposal. We spent many evenings in those BGs, tearing up Eye of the Storm, fighting off the Alliance rush at Lumber Mill. And it was in those many evenings of PvP that I got my opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Just as there were two sides to World of Warcraft; two worlds I was force-feeding myself to know and understand -- there were two sides to the guild leadership game. That most basic of sides that everyone is exposed to, the one where "Guild Leader" is proudly attached to your in-game character, where the longevity of a guild mate is only a single button-press away, and you wield otherworldly like power in dictating how much to tax the serfs. And then, there is the other side of the picture, the part that isn't so blatantly in-your-face, by title or by forum administration privileges.

The game where you convince players to do what you want.

Once I had picked my battle and decided which players were worth the effort to pour energy into, the strategy shifted to winning them over. Ben had been giving Cheeseus grief in raids, his impulsive and brash attitude providing an steady stream of complaints to my IM window. But he was also popular, well-played, and good friends with one of my trusted officers, Neps. Therefore, I reasoned logically, he was worth the effort. So when I wasn't helping him cut down a Night Elf flag runner in the Gulch, I'd carry on a casual conversation with him about the 25-Man. I reminded him of the ropes, of what my expectations were of him in regards to the roster. We may not say it all the time, but you're vitally important. All you need to do is text me if you're going to be late, it's absolutely no problem at all. You are an essential part of the 25-Man progression team. What can I do to make things easier for you? Would it help if I shot you a reminder in-game every time I post the raid schedule? It's really no trouble, if it means I get the best Shadow Priest in the guild, I’d be happy to help you with some reminders. My tactic was simple: get him on my side, remind him how important he is, make him feel like I'm bending over backwards to facilitate his schedule and his needs.

If Mr. Carnegie was right, when it came time for Ben to meet my needs, maybe...just maybe...he'd switch off of Hodir and on to the NPCs as directed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Mature blows a kiss to "Sara" during
an attempt on Yogg-Saron,
During the re-structure of my guild, I separated the ranks of my PvE focused players into two distinct ranks: Raiders and Elites. This model allowed both casuals and hardcore players to work together to make progression happen. Each level of commitment had to be handled and rewarded differently, but there were core concepts that applied to both. One of these concepts dealt with how a player would sign up for -- and then cancel out of -- a raid sign-up. It didn't matter if you raided once a month or every day of the week: Once we entered the 24 hour window before the raid weekend began, raid rotations were locked into position, and there was no getting out of it...unless there was an emergency. Up until the restructure, players took advantage of me by making up any excuse they felt like using in order to excuse themselves for the night.

The right way to do it is to define with extreme clarity what constitutes an emergency. This was yet another example of my broad strategy to lead Descendants of Draenor by setting expectations up front. By keeping the leash tight, unscrupulous players had less opportunity to take advantage of us.

Presented here for your perusal is that original forum post educating my guild on what I considered an emergency.

The dictionary defines an emergency as "a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action." These are things in life that, unfortunately, we cannot plan for...we can only hope and pray that they do not come up. When they do, I have no right to penalize you for them.

However, some people still need clarification as to what constitutes an emergency. I don't feel this is from a lack of common knowledge, but rather, a failure to acknowledge that, when raiding begins, you can no longer use the excuse of "It's just a game, it's not important in the grand scheme of things". The game itself may not be important, but what is important are the lives and schedules of the other individuals that you play this game with. They don't inconvenience you, so you have no right in return to inconvenience them.

What Constitutes an Emergency

If you have to bow out of a raid at the last minute, due to an emergency, that emergency should fall into one of the following categories:

  • Illness (yourself, or a family member you're responsible for)
  • Imminent birth of your child
  • Death of a family member or close friend
  • Extreme weather conditions (ie. Tornado Warning forces you to leave your home)
  • Stranded (flat tire out in the middle of nowhere, calling tow-truck, etc)
  • Major Internet catastrophe (ie. backbone your ISP is fed accidentally cut, massive network outages, huge amounts of customers without access)
  • Military Duty
  • Accident involving your person or your property (ie. was involved in a car wreck, roof caved in, basement flooded, etc.)
  • You've been kidnapped and are being held for ransom and/or are being killed
Alternately, the following categories do not constitute an emergency:
  • Jury Duty -- Jury duty doesn't "randomly happen" one day. You'll get plenty of notice and know how to schedule your life accordingly.
  • Friends/Family Members arriving from out-of-town that you haven't seen in years pop in unexpectedly -- Inconvenient, but not an emergency.
  • Helping your friend move -- Not an emergency, even if she's being evicted. Shitty luck, nonetheless.
  • Being Grounded -- Sorry kids, but unfortunately, your shitty behavior/choices (and their consequences) do not constitute an emergency.
  • Religious Holidays -- I'm not here to shit on anyone's religion, but YOU know when your days of rest are. Don't leave it to the last minute/forget, and then use it as an excuse to not show up with minutes remaining until raid invites begin. Plan Accordingly.
  • Can't Connect to the Internet -- Notice this is worded differently than the Internet catastrophe listed above. When an ISP cannot gain access to the Global Internet due to fibre being cut or hardware failing, there is nothing you can do about it. When you keep disconnecting because you've been playing WoW on a Wireless connection for the last 8 months and have had "no problems until just this minute!", you're only making yourself look silly. Don't play on a Wireless connection. If you're having Modem problems, contact your provider. Schedule a visit to have your lines checked and your modem/router replaced well in advance of the raid if need be. There are players in the guild that do it for a living; you have a wide-array of resources at your fingertips. Use them. Your connection to the internet is your responsibility.
  • Ran out of WoW Time/Can't Get a GameCard Until Monday -- Plan ahead. This is not an emergency.


If you are signed up for a raid, planning to be present, and an emergency situation happens which is inevitably going to cause you to miss the raid, contact an Officer, via Forum PM, or Phone/Text. If you don't have access to the forums, and you don't know your Officer's phone number, call me; my number is listed in-game in the guild-info tab. Program it into your phone now. Let us know what's happened, so that we can do our best to adjust if need be. Contact us as SOON as the emergency happens and it is reasonably safe/convenient to contact us. If you don't have free long distance, buy a calling card. It's not our responsibility to contact you, it's the other way around.

Optionally, if you have the contact number of an alternate raid member that can fill your spot, please make an effort to touch base with them and see if they can cover. It's not your responsibility, but it helps lighten the load.

If you follow this procedure, you will not be docked DKP, you will not lose your team status, and additionally, you will still earn DKP for the night, as if you had been present all along. In the real world, when emergencies strike, employees contact their employers and let them know what's up, so they still have a job the next day (and continue to get paid). It's a common courtesy. I expect the same courtesy from my raiding team.

If you do not follow this procedure, you will be docked DKP and categorized as a "No Show", you will most definitely affect your team status (possibly even losing it), and you will earn nothing.

Rule of Thumb - The Awards Ceremony

Perhaps your specific excuse/reason isn't listed above, and you're still having trouble deciding whether or not your specific reason is what we would consider an "emergency". If you are ever in doubt, use this handy-dandy analogy as a rule of thumb when trying to determine if the reason you're about to miss a raid is legit.

Pretend that the night of the raid is actually an awards ceremony to be held in your honor. Take the event you're about to ditch us for, and plug it into the following sentence:

"I have two choices, I can either do (event), or I can go to that award ceremony they're holding in my name, and toasting my great achievements and victories."

Which makes more sense to do now? Let's walk through a couple of examples:

Skipping the award ceremony to witness your baby being born - Sounds legit. I'm sure the ceremony could be rescheduled, but even if they couldn't, those who would honor your name and your great contributions to society would be happy to step up on stage and say that you weren't able to be here tonight on account of the birth of your child.

Skipping the award ceremony to go see a movie - So the Master of Ceremonies has just let everyone in the audience know that you've skipped your own award to go see a movie with some buds. Wow. You'd skip an award ceremony being held in your honor...for a movie? I'm sure that would impress everyone that planned to be a part of the ceremony, especially the people that had speeches prepared to speak about how honorable, trustworthy and dependable a person you were.

The analogy may sound silly, but it isn't: When you are a raid team member in DoD, you are important. Everything you do and contribute has value and worth. Becoming a part of the raid team requires commitment, and that will involve some personal sacrifice from time-to-time. However, if you plan accordingly (as I have for the last four years, while maintaining a full-time job and a wife + two kids), you should be able to become a competent, dependable member of the raid team, and still maintain a schedule/life outside of WoW, without using lame excuses and justifying them as "emergencies".

Besides, if you really want to go out for drinks or see a movie, just don't sign up that night (or schedule the appropriate time-off if you are an Elite). We'll see it in advance and make the appropriate changes to the lineup. Trying to do it at the last minute and making up an excuse that you think is an emergency is only going to make you look like a fool among the people whom you raid with on a regular basis. Once their mind is made up, we can't change it. Only you can -- by being responsible.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

3.27. Eating What You Order

Hanzo channels Jesse Pinkman as DoD wraps
up their first kill of General Vezax,

Abdominal Distention

May was a full plate, both in real life in and in WoW. On the tangible side of the screen, I had a handful of events to plan for. Both my wife and son would celebrate their birthday this month, sandwiched between the festivities of a Mother's Day and a High School reunion stretched over the Memorial Day long weekend. On top of these family related-events, a trip to Texas had been penciled in, as my company's team in the Dallas area was due for more training on our app. Two years ago it would have been far too much to digest. Late nights of doing too much in-game, ignoring my family back in the real world. In order to manage the guild and my time effectively, I had to be a picky eater. Not every situation or individual demanded hours of care and upkeep. The right tools allowed me to use my time efficiently, whether they were streamlining my raid signups, or keeping raiders honest in-game. The days of ordering everything on the menu were behind me.

Yogg-Saron was in the crosshairs, a complex nightmarish encounter that would have to be diced up into bite-sized chunks. Before him, however, we had to defeat General Vezax. The faceless one that guarded the entrance to Yogg was next on our list, and his ability to suppress mana regeneration was sure to give our healers some headaches. Again, Cheeseus called upon the (over) power of the Death Knight and put me to work tanking Vezax. Some raiding guilds had strategized around Surge of Darkness by kiting, but Cheeseus never once optioned the tactic. I stood and ate the entire Surge, thanks to Icebound Fortitude and a ridiculous amount of self-heals via Death Strike. Execution ultimately came down to mastering the Searing Flame interrupt, my Mind Freeze rotation quickly becoming muscle memory. It was on the Mother's Day weekend that we completed the Vezax encounter, and dove into his loot table for dessert.

The roster maintained a steady flow of Raiders and Elites throughout May. Week after week, they signed up, entered the queue, and I managed their rotations. Raiders would back out, their empty spots being filled by new folks waiting in the queue. This had been my intention from the start -- a new world order, free of stress and demanding only minutes of my attention a day. Thanks to our web-based signup sheet, phpRaider, I was able to prepare the rotations for the weekend in the same amount of time it took to get a cup of coffee. It was a proactive system, rather than a reactive one, enabling me to deal with players that had a tough time being consistent. So when Ben missed the Mother’s Day raid sign-up, it was inconvenient but manageable; it wasn't the end of the world. No more frantic last-minute fills, no more late nights in-game to the detriment of my family...because the tooling was right.

Unless, of course, the tools themselves were broken.

oRA2 returning a durability check


"She like the iPhone?"

"Oh yeah, fuckin' loved it." I typed back to Cheeseus, "Totally flipped out, had no idea she was getting one for her birthday."

"Nice. I assume we're going with oRA2 now that we're pushing for Yogg?"

I concurred. RDX had served us well, but it was time to retire the old beast. Over time it had grown cumbersome; the add-on had always been top-heavy, eating into the CPU cycles of our lesser equipped players in the computer hardware department. Cheeseus and I found oRA2 and were looking to use it as a replacement. We needed something to report back to us the status of players and their flasks, durability, etc. Sure, I could blindly trust players, but why give them an opportunity to lie, just to sate me? It was no longer appropriate to just take their word. Far better to just implement the right tool to deliver the truth, and deal with table scraps as they surfaced.

"Forget to finish the rotations?" Cheese asked.

"What? No! Who is missing?"

"Looks like Turtleman cancelled again."

Annoyed, I alt-tabbed over to phpRaider. But he was rotated in yesterday morning...I remember confirming after dinner. We had the roster accounted for by the time we were in our 24-hour lockout window. I hovered over the little note next to Turtleman's name, the place where players left their reason...their excuse...for cutting and running:

(Sorry, had a family dinner. Nothing I could do about it)

One of the changes I introduced in Wrath disallowed players from cancelling when there were less than 24 hours before a raid. It was a gentleman's handshake, an extension of good faith: I'll give you the flexibility of coming and going as you pleased, and in return, you needed to commit when the clock ticked down to the final day before the raid. Only emergencies would get you out at the 11th hour, and that required you to phone or text me (or an officer). If you could manage it, I wanted the name of the person who was replacing you. It wasn't the officers' jobs to play Mommy and Daddy to spoiled brats wanting to change their schedules on a whim. If you left us high-and-dry, it was your responsibility to find a replacement. Failure to do so would ensure reduced rotations.

Outside of the 24 hour window, you were free to queue and de-queue as you pleased. I agreed to eat that. I would perform rotations as late as possible (generally Thursday morning), and even let you sign up weeks in advance. As long as it was a day before the raid, you could still change your sign-up.

This Friday morning, hours before the raid, someone had found a loophole and exploited it.

"This wasn't an emergency," I typed back to Cheeseus.

"So what happened?"

"He cancelled inside the window. There's a bug in phpRaider. I'm going to have to fix it before more people think this is allowed."

So while Turtleman enjoyed his family dinner and evening off, I took care of business. I made the calls that day. I got his replacement. After going through the motions of working on Yogg-Saron, I stayed up late and fixed phpRaider. And long after my wife and kids where already asleep, I climbed upstairs, and went to bed.

And dreamed of standing in fire.

Mature earns "Heroic: In His House He Waits
Dreaming" during an attempt on Yogg-Saron,


"I'll let you answer his PM," said Cheeseus.

Divineseal had sent a message to myself, Cheeseus, and Dalans, asking how he could start bringing his Druid. I took it off of their hands. People management was starting to get a little easier for me, no doubt as a result of the practice I was getting. The early days of Ekasra and Wyse were warm-ups, and Kurst's harsh truths gave me the basic foundation to work with. Thanks to a more balanced schedule, I could make quicker assessments -- a huge win during this packed month. If it wasn't worth the effort, they'd get the short-and-sweet answer. You're not working out. Sorry. I no longer had the time to cater to everyone. And that was OK. Not everyone is savable.

"7th place overall, with only 66% of a DISC priest, and on Freya placing 9th, BARELY beating the PROT pali, while losing to the enhance and elemental shammy?"

I winced.

"Yeah...not the greatest coverage in the book."

Cheeseus was clearly not a fan of Divineseal. I thought it would be reasonable to give him a shot, even after the warning, the I specifically detailed to him the fact that he was quoted in the red flag forum post. He knew all eyes would be on him and that this would be his opportunity to improve. I suggested healing as a role only because I knew he had been healing in an arena team. That was the deal: don't tell people how to spec just to get them on the roster. I told myself this would fly because he was already a healer in another capacity.

When your roster is comprised of half casual, half hardcore raiders, catering to both, you'll come to discover that some players will be unable to play any role well. It's a sad fact. I looked at my newly fixed phpRaider, saw Divineseal signed up well into the months ahead, and sighed.

Paladins were going to be the death of me.

"I'll be watching Ben tonight to make sure he's doing what he needs to. He wasn't switching off of Hodir again last week."

Ah yes, Ben. Rarely a day went by that Cheeseus didn't bring up this distaste. Since as far back as The Burning Crusade, Ben had driven me to the brink of madness, a mini-Yogg stealing sanity stacks as his random drunken outbursts and failure to show up left a crater in our progression team. It would be so much easier to just pop the guild roster open, scroll to the priests, and boot the entry named "Aeden" from the guild. My finger hovered over the guild kick button. But I didn't press it. Empathy and ownership bled out. Maybe I could work with him, teach him how to be more respectful of the other players' time -- more amenable to raid direction. But why not simply kick him to the curb? This would be so much easier. Because he was a good player. He was popular.

I was still having a tough time making unpopular decisions.

The good of the guild is what rung in my ears when I reached for that "Remove Member" button. The biggest impact Ben had on us was that he was friends with Neps, my newest second-in-command -- the same one accumulating Fragments of Val'anyr. Neps brought too much to the table to risk sacrificing over an occasional drunken rant from Ben. I could manage this. Neps was one of the most valuable players and officers in the guild. Jeopardizing him would be like standing in Ominous Clouds while guardians tore us apart in madness. No, it wasn't worth it. Far better for me to take Ben on as a personal responsibility than to cut him and lose Neps in the process.

"If he keeps that shit up, can you talk to him or remove him from raids?"

"Yeah", I replied, "I'll look after Ben."


I came to a stop at a red light in Flagstaff, the long weekend coming to a close. Julie turned to me and stared a moment; she had that look a person gets when something isn't quite right. The kids in the back of the Civic poked and prodded each other, giggling. She cut them off as she tried to listen, turning the radio down.

"What?" I asked.

"...there's something wrong with your transmission."

I tried to pinpoint the sound she was referring to. The light turned green and I pressed on the gas. There. 

"You hear that?"

"Yeah...I did." For a brief moment, I caught the sound of a light vibration, as if two gears were grinding together.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

3.26. Pants Tres Bien!

The 25-Man Progession team defeats Hodir,
earning "Heroic: I Have the Coolest Friends",

Oh, Dear

By the third weekend of raiding Ulduar, we were face-to-face with Hodir. The second of the four keepers, Hodir hid within a refrigerated tomb. An audience of NPCs stood before him, frozen into position -- a reminder of the bitter elements he wielded. Our task was to break the NPCs out of their icy prisons so that they could offer assistance to us in the defeat of their captor. Freeing the NPCs granted us buffs which would accelerate our execution of the frozen giant. We slowly led him around the circumference of the room and I traded off tanking as his Frozen Blows pummeled us. Other mechanics existed and were no less important: runic discs that indicated incoming icicles, the need to constantly move to prevent Biting Cold from stacking -- but freeing the NPCs was a decisive way to turn the tables in our favor.

Providing, of course, that our raiders made the breakout a priority.

Sowing chaos in Ventrilo was easy to do, thanks to the Flash Freeze mechanic. Everyone felt the need to communicate to the team that now was the time to get into the runic discs that lit the floor. Moments earlier, the discs were a death sentence, the destination of an incoming shower of icicles. Now, they were sanctuary, providing the only protection against the entire room's encasement into ice. And no matter how many times we'd remind players there was no need to call it out...they felt the need to call it out.

When raiders don't follow the strategy, you are filled with an urge to backseat raid lead. Like a nervous tick that you repeat subconsciously -- an unchecked addiction. It takes every ounce of energy to keep yourself from picking at the scab, because you know it won't heal...yet you continue to push your nail under the surface, over and over until the wound is raw. When Blain was my raid leader, he was very good at reminding me to stop. He took control of the situation, no matter how much it might offend me, and reminded me to shut the hell up. This isn't your job. You're not making things better. I'd snap back into reality, and apologize. I'd stop picking. For the moment.

In the absence of his familiar calls in Vent, I was on the receiving end. Everyone felt like they had to take on the responsibility of notifying the raid exactly when and wear to move. And of course, I wasn't the raid leader, so deferred to Cheeseus to handle. The good news was that Cheeseus and his merry men from Eh Team were already schooled on Hodir; moving appropriately was nearly instinctual for them. The 25-Man progression team saw them in action and learned quickly, proving that they were highly tuned raiders. The raiders did this because of the expectations we had set ahead of time. They knew to listen and follow directions...if they wanted any chance to return to the roster the following week.

Well, except for Ben, that is.

In his uniquely adorable fashion, Ben liked to play by his own rules. And even though Cheeseus gave Ben very specific instructions on execution priorities (frozen NPCs / players first, Hodir second), Ben liked to focus all of his damage into the boss, walking away from the kill with a nice record of top DPS. And, as is typical of players whose priority is a spell-rotation rather than the subtle details of ambient incoming damage, Ben fell victim to some falling ice and was killed. So, not only did he not break people out of ice as instructed, his own critically important "top DPS" was quickly 0 DPS, thanks to pushing up daisies while the rest of us dealt with the frost giant. Cheeseus was good at holding his tongue in the raid, but I'd be sure to hear about it over IM the next day.


After the excitement of another boss kill died down and the achievement of "Heroic: I Have The Coolest Friends" faded off of our screen, Neps began to solicit bids on the linked loot. One of the items, "Leggings of the Stoneweaver", were a pair of Mail Intellect/Spirit pants, intended for a Restoration Shaman. A few moments after bids started, Neps shot me a whisper.

"Divine is bidding on these."

Ah, God. What the Hell would a Paladin want with Mail Pants?

"He says they're still an upgrade from what he has."

I scanned the roster. Four Shamans, two of them Restoration. One of them...the Healing Officer Kelden.

"They really ought to go to a Shaman off-spec before a Pally, but whatever. If he insists on bidding..."

There was a bit more silence as Neps completed his whispers back to Divineseal, and then spoke in Vent, "Ok, counting down bids...3...2...1, winner is Divineseal."

Comes the laughter. Divine quickly sprung to defend his bid, "Hey, they're an upgrade! And you can never tell when you might get an upgrade, right?"

I glanced down at officer chat.

[Officer][Dalans]: What an idiot.

The 25-Man Progression team poses after
defeating Freya in The Conservator of Life,

Attuned to Nature

We took our leave of that subzero prison, and made our way into a room that was everything Hodir's wasn't. Sunlight bled across a lush forest, pools of water and rich vegetation. The room bore a striking resemblance to Sholazar Basin and Un'goro Crater, known playing grounds of the Titans. It was in this chamber, dubbed The Conservatory of Life, that we'd face our third keeper, Freya. Like the others, Freya's good intentions had been corrupted by a evil presence deep in the crust of the earth. She planned to put a stop to our advances by leveraging her power over nature. We chose to chop down the three elders, deferring hard mode to another day.

Initially, Freya was untouchable, protected from damage by her "Attuned to Nature" stacks. As the fight progressed, she summoned Snaplashers, Storm Lashers, and Ancient Water Elementals, all of whom did not wish to be friends. As we worked through the kinks of her summoned soldiers, she lost stacks of her attunement buff -- eventually leaving her naked as a noob in the woods. That was the signal, and we burned her to the ground, keeping an eye out for any sprouting Blessings of Eonar; foilage that would heal her if left to grow unchecked. It only took a few attempts to get a feel for the craziness of the add tanking. Once we had that polished, Freya succumbed to the might of the 25-Man progression team. Three guardians down, one to go.

Neps began to take bids on Freya's loot, the first of which were tokens for the Tier 8 legs. One such token was the Legplates of the Wayward Conqueror: potential owners were Priests, Warlocks...and Paladins.

"Closing bids, 5...4...3...2...1," said Neps into Vent, "Winner: Divine".


[Officer][Dalans]: Really?
[Officer][Cheeseus]: lol

The ability to exchange loot with players that were present when the loot dropped (for up to 24 hours) was a wonderful feature that Blizzard added to the game, to help us mediate some of this loot drama. Unfortunately, that feature wouldn't be implemented for another three months. So I said nothing, but only shook my head in disappointment, a gesture which ended up being completely lost on a person who was hundreds of miles away.

For a Paladin, he wasn't exactly demonstrating the best judgement.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Mimiron, wrapping
"Heroic: The Keepers of Ulduar",

Mimiron, Assemble!

At last, the pièce de résistance. As our third weekend in Ulduar neared its end, the raid took a trip deep into the heart of Ulduar. Our destination was so vastly remote and buried below the surface that we had to board an underground train just to get there. This location, an underground machinist's shop, bore immense pistons and gear cogs with teeth larger than any of us. Electrical currents lept across doorways as we moved into the central lab. We were tiny specs crawling across a cog in the machinations of some far more extraordinary contraption. This was The Spark of Imagination, home to the final of the four keepers of Ulduar, a clockwork gnome named Mimiron.

Mimiron was an intense and complex encounter, split into four different phases. In phase one, Mimiron commandeered a literal tank, a smaller version of Flame Leviathan. Our own figurative tanks had to control it in the center of Mimiron's lab, blowing cooldowns to survive Plasma Blast while avoiding ejected mines. Defeating this tank took us to phase two. A gatling gun emerged from the floor, pivoting and blasting us with no uniform pattern to speak of.  While healers struggled to keep up with the chaotic damage, Mimiron launched missiles from this gatling gun, painting targets of instant death on the ground. Phase three had Mimiron piloting a miniature aircraft. Safely out of melee, he would require a ranged DPS as a tank -- a throwback to old encounters like High King Maulgar, Illidari Council and Leotheras the Blind. The secret to grounding him came in the from of gravity cores which we farmed off his bot defenses.

Once the raid became accustomed to the nuances of all three of these phases, they would be tested one final time in a fourth phase, in which all three units would re-assemble into a single gigantic robot, employing all of the above mechanics against us at once. All three machines had to be killed again...and all three of them had to be destroyed within seconds of each other. Failing to do so meant each component repairing one another, whittling us away in the process.

I remembered back to similarly complex fights like Lady Vashj and Kael'thas and wondered how many nights of work we would need to put into Mimiron in order to execute a kill. I had my answer within the hour. 45 minutes before the scheduled end time for the Sunday evening raid, a broken and badly beaten 25-Man Progression team limped through the third and final attempt on Mimiron. With only 15 of us alive, the last bit of damage was poured evenly into all three parts of Mimiron's gigantic Voltron-style mech, and in one final moment, he twitched, shook, buzzed, and teetered over as his robotic components lost power. "Heroic: The Keepers of Ulduar" was complete, and after three weeks, we were 3/4ths of the way through the instance, earning ourselves another early end to the raid.

Hard mode is gonna suck on this one, I thought. And I couldn't wait.


"Hold on a second," said Neps as the cheering died down, "I think Divine's pants are in here somewhere."

Vent lit up with a round of laughter. The ping of a whisper notification caught my eye and I glanced down to my chat window:

[W From][Cheeseus]: We need to talk about Divine after the raid.

I chuckled.

[W To][Cheeseus]: About his supreme lack of sensitivity surrounding loot?
[W From][Cheeseus]: About the fact that he's 7th in healing.

Well. This was a bigger issue than I thought.

We'd only brought six healers to the raid.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


The 25-Man Progression team defeats Ignis,
wrapping "Heroic, The Siege of Ulduar",

Unnecessary Nerfs

The strangest part of the Ulduar nerfs wasn't that they started coming in after the first week.

The concept of struggling on each boss in an instance was quickly fading into obscurity. As we drove our siege engines into battle, sowing fiery chaos and tearing Flame Leviathan apart in one pull, memories of brick-walling on Razorgore the Untamed seemed as though it were a bad dream. Those encounters that demanded our undivided attention for weeks on end were swept to the back of the room to collect dust while achievement spam flashed on our screens like fireworks. Even I had trouble remembering some of those events now. My attention would drift like a bored kid in school. Was Kael'thas four weekends of work? Or was it five? Vashj was three, so it must have been four...yeah, that's it. Then, I'd be jarred back into reality as the fireworks went off. "Heroic: Nerf Engineering". "Heroic: Disarmed". We pressed on, deeper in Ulduar, the walls of the ancient city telling stories of events that had also become the stuff of legend.

The strangest part of the Ulduar week-one nerfs was that they were to bosses we'd already defeated.

As Cheeseus set us up for our first attempts on Ignis the Furnace Master, I pondered the need for nerfs after only one week. By now, we'd gotten used to the typical ebb and flow of raid instance evolution. They'd hit the PTR, get tested by the hardcore guilds, providing Blizzard with valuable feedback on what was both over and undertuned. They'd adjust, considering the public commentary along with their own internal testing test results. Eventually, the instance would come out and, they peer into the Matrix, watching closely, monitoring how quickly raid teams cleared through, balancing against how frustrated players would be with a certain encounter. Blizzard's modus operandi had always been to err on the side of "too difficult", then relax the reins a bit when the time came. In those early days, nerfs were far and few between; C'thun alone went for months without an adjustment before both the players and Blizzard came to a "mutual understanding" that he was unbeatable in his original form.

Of course, C'thun was under Tigole's watch, not Ghostcrawler's.

The room shook as Ignis crashed to the ground, and my screen lit up with "Heroic: The Siege of Ulduar", indicating we were officially one quarter through the instance. There was no rest for the wicked. We plowed through XT-002's playpen, and crossed the bridge formed by Kologarn's fragemented body, at last coming to a wide circular room, exposing four exits along its compass points. The center of the room was hollowed out, providing a balcony-like view down into a pit that bore a single female figure of giant-like stature, perhaps Vrykul. Our attention wasn't toward the stranger in the pit, however. Instead, we eyed another woman that patrolled The Observation Ring, flanked by feline guards. When I caught my first glance, images flashed into my mind: The Maiden of GriefThe Maiden of VirtueIronaya.

Watchers for the Titans. This was Auriaya.

After only a few attempts, a blood curdling scream filled our headphones, and the cursed titan watcher fell over dead, the screen flashing with "Heroic: The Antechamber of Ulduar". At the end of the second week, we were half-way through Ulduar, and had yet to come across anything even remotely considered a roadblock. Yet the nerfs continued to roll in. By the start of the third week, every boss we'd defeated had been nerfed, save Flame Leviathan. Two of them, the Assembly and Kologarn, had been nerfed twice. For many of the raiders, it was a serious boost to their ego. All I could think was: we're good, but c'mon...were we really that good?

Or was it that the rest of the player-base was really that bad?

Auriaya falls, completing
"Heroic: The Antechamber of Ulduar",

Controlling Our Own Fate

May 1st, 2009 marked the start of our 3rd week in Ulduar, and for us, that meant the start of cranking up the difficulty. Cheeseus announced to the team that we would begin by leaving one tower up for Flame Leviathan. The "increased difficulty" had the impact of a mosquito bite. After one try, "Heroic: Orbital Bombardment" was added to our completion list. From there, we quickly moved to Ignis to try our hand at another achievement. In the standard execution of the Furnace Master, Iron Constructs come to life and are picked up by the off-tank, dragged through Ignis' fiery circle of molten flames that painted the floor. Once super-heated, they are then dragged to pools of water, instantly cooling them -- and making them as brittle as glass. This was the signal for one of our top ranged DPSers to blow them apart in a single blast of no less than 2000 damage. The achievement Cheeseus set us up to perform involved coordinating two Iron Constructs to be exploded within five seconds of each other. We accomplished this without much effort, earning us: "Heroic: Shattered".

Boss after boss met their fate at the hands of the 25-Man Progression team, without cause for fear or concern. "Farm" status may have lost the prestige it once held, but with that loss also went the threat of RNG jeopardizing our progression schedule. In Ulduar, I felt like we truly had the power to control our own fate. Staying dedicated and adhering to the basic expectations I levied on our raiders, we always made one step forward...and never two steps back. We could count on clearing every boss we had defeated, which allowed us to more accurately gauge how realistic each week's new goals were. It was empowering to be able to say "Our goal is to get through Thorim", free from the concern of not even reaching him because "XT-002 didn't want to play nice" or Kologarn's eye-beams were "completely random and unavoidable".

Just because you had a boss on farm status in Vanilla...didn't automatically make it a loot piñata.


Thorim required us to split our raid into two groups, one focused in the amphitheater, while the second raced down a gauntlet-style hallway. The amphitheater team dealt with waves of iron dwarves and vrykul, while the gauntlet team worked their way up the staircase that led to a rear entrance of the stage on which Thorim and Sif were perched. This was the easy part. Once the gauntlet team surprised Thorim, the encounter shifted into its second phase. Thorim lept down into the arena as our teams converged. Two tanks traded holding him in the center, switching when afflicted with Unbalancing Strike, a debuff that would kill us in a single hit. Meanwhile, Thorim's lightning crackled across the room among a series of rods along the outer rim. Avoiding the lightning was vital; striking any one of us would chain the electricity from person to person, slaying players in the process. And if by any chance that lightning happened to jump back to the two tanks, they would be destroyed in an instant, making a wipe imminent. Two tanks were absolutely necessary due to the debuff; only one tank meant eventual swift death.

So, me being face down in the dirt wasn't boding well for our attempt.

An expired Mature watches as Poprocks (Annihilation)
performs emergency tanking on Thorim,

Tools of a Death Knight

There was a fundamental difference between Death Knight tanks and tanks who'd come before us. Warriors and Paladins each had a specific spec to tank in, Protection, and with that spec came a multitude of tools to mitigate incoming damage. The Death Knight differed in that it could Tank and DPS from any spec, and while they still relied on gear to push crits off the table, the magic came from the simple switch into frost presence. And since a Death Knight had damage mitigation talents in all three specs (Vampiric Blood for Blood, Unbreakable Armor for Frost, and Bone Shield for Unholy), Death Knights were extraordinarily good at diminishing the impact of incoming damage. These tree-specific abilities, when coupled with the tools native to each spec -- be they Icebound Fortitude or Death Strike -- made a DPS Death Knight a near complete replacement for a tank in an emergency.

Of course, we'd have to be lucky enough to have a Death Knight on hand that was crazy enough to prioritize mitigation talents over raw DPS. Perhaps a player that prioritized survivability in PvP over mindless boss kills in raids.

A player like Annihilation.


Phase Two was chaotic as we struggled to spread out, a tactic we'd consistently performed poorly over the years. I continued to swap during Unbalancing Strike, waiting for the next Lightning Rod call. I urged the raid to move into "Gauntlet Mode" for fights like these, swiveling the camera so that it faced directly down onto the group, a top-down view like the classic video game from which it took its name. In this view, the direction of the lightning was clearly visible, so players could move before it lit them up. But positioning was still a challenge. The healers struggled to keep Dalans and I alive, our new positions continuing to plague the rest of the raid with health spikes as lightning jumped across players.

In the last attempt of the evening, it was my turn to eat dirt. Whether it was due to the healers becoming used to the fact that I took the least amount of damage, or due to a series of chain events leading to their death, I can't say for certain. All I remember is that as Thorim's health dropped below 10%, I was killed in an instant while Unbalancing Strike was still on the other tank. It was at that moment that Annihilation, my trusted ex-Warrior officer and steadfast PvPer -- who happened to be present on his Death Knight that evening --flipped his frost presence on burned Icebound Fortitude while the raid continued to pour every ounce of damage they could into Thorim. As Unbalancing Strike continued to tick off of Dalans, the healers kept Annihilation alive, as he churned through more cooldowns, his health spiking wildly...but never emptying out. Unbalancing Strike finally hit Anni, and he handed Thorim back to Dalans, while DPS continued the burn. At last, Thorim halted the fight, awakened from his hypnosis, indicating that we'd completed the encounter.

Saved by a Death Knight.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

3.24. Ulduar: Week One Concludes

DoD dances in Iron Dwarf fashion,
celebrating the defeat of The Assembly of Iron,

The Assembly and Kologarn

Returning Sunday afternoon, we caught our first glimpse of Ulduar's innards. The ancient titan architecture boasted enormous rooms, supported by pillars of crimson and gold. I was perpetually looking skyward, trying to see how high they stretched. Each new area we discovered was adorned with constellations and interstellar maps of Azeroth amid other unknown worlds. To our left awaited The Assembly of Iron, while the staircase ahead led us to an enormous construct acting as a both a bridge and a gatekeeper to more secrets. To our right...a secret passage to a room locked by four sigils not yet in our possession. A room we knew only as the "Celestial Planetarium". For now, we began with the Assembly.

Upon entering the room, we were greeted with three creatures of iron: one dwarf, one vrykul, and one giant. Brundir, Molgeim and Steelbreaker (respectively) posed a familiar challenge. Like the Bug Trio so many years before, we were given the option of killing them in whatever order we chose, but certain orders would prove more difficult than others. Cheeseus played it safe and had us execute the Assembly in easy mode to start. This meant Steelbreaker would be the first to die, followed by Molgeim, and ending with Brundir. There was no magic to our execution, I held Steelbreaker while Omaric picked up Brundir, leaving Dalans to take Molgeim. From my point of view, the Death Knight's wide array of mitigation abilities made for a mindless tank-and-spank. 30 minutes after we began the Sunday raid, the Assembly of Iron was down. The raid team received another dollop of achievement spam in the form of "Heroic: I Choose You, Stormcaller Brundir!", an obvious nod to Pokémon. I, in typical achievement whore fashion, was sure to chug my Iron Boot Flask moments before Brundir fell, granting me an additional achievement, "Heroic: But I'm on Your Side!"

The remainder of the afternoon was spent on Kologarn. The combination of green lasers shot from his eyes, coupled with the swarm of elemental fragments produced by his disintegrating arms made for a chaotic set of attempts. This chaos was further exacerbated by server stability issues and various players disconnecting, which continued to plague Deathwing-US, weeks after 3.1 launched. We defeated him, but it was messy. I asked Cheeseus what we planned to do about cleaning it up in preparation for knocking out meta-achievements.

"I’m not making any posts until I do my 10 man."

"Ah, you have a 10 man team, nice. Given it a name yet?"

"The Eh Team."

DoD uses the defeated Kologarn as a bridge,

When a Plan Comes Together

Cheeseus loved to raid, but even more than that, he loved to compete. He had a hunger to demonstrate expertise and prove it behind the wheel. Thanks to his promotion, he had control of leading the 25-Man progression team, but he wanted to push himself further. In his eyes, this meant lead a 10-Man team as well. Upon arriving in DoD alongside his friend Sixfold, he knew nobody, and so began to seek out the best and brightest players he could find. He quietly observed as we cleared content week after week in Naxxramas, watching which players rose to the top. And when we weren't raiding, he approached them about the possibility of forming a 10-Man team to tackle content. He made it clear that they would be pushing hard, so while achievement spam was definitely on the horizon, he wouldn't be putting up with a lot of excuses. He wanted a group of players that gave a shit about what they did and strove to make a name for themselves.

What emerged from this experiment was "The Eh Team", referring to both a popular 80's TV show, and a nod to his Canadian heritage; our affluence to subconsciously append the utterance to the end of every sentence. Starting with Sixfold, he also pulled Crasian, the Death Knight known for his addiction to achievements and good fortune with drops. Adding to the list was Bheer, the veteran of DoD who had been with us since Vanilla, but had taken time off during TBC. Bheer had been concerned about losing a spot in 25-Man progression by being a Druid (since tanking spots had been locked down), but I encouraged him to switch to another class he enjoyed, Enhancement Shaman. Cheese saw the niche Bheer filled, and added him to The Eh Team's roster. Cheese also pulled Larada the Hunter, a player not entirely cut out for officership but no less skilled behind the wheel, his ranged DPS traditionally topping our meters while his infamous cat "Lucy" ripped the flesh from any target Larada sicked her on to.

Filling out The Eh Team was Bulwinkul, another Canadian that pushed the damage meters through the roof via Boomkin affluence. He also called upon the expertise of Omaric, the young Warrior with a penchant for impressions, often giving the 25-Man raid commentary in the voice of the Movie Guy. Omaric was important not just for his vocal talents; he was an affluent tank, especially attuned to the mechanics of Warriors, and had helped grant me clarity surrounding the situation involving Kurst. To backup Sixfold’s heals, he called upon Gunsmokeco the Shaman. Guns had been a core member of 25-Man progression as far back as early TBC; his storied career cementing his position in Cheeseus' lineup. 

For the remaining tank position, Cheeseus turned to Crasian, who in turn, referred a player he knew was worth his weight, a person whom had played the role before, and had returned to DoD to turn over a new leaf. The player was none other than Crasian's own roommate Taba, aka Bretthew -- the Paladin who had stormed out in a fit of anger, late TBC, but had since realized the error of his ways, and looked to turn over a new leaf. He rounded off the team with Nestonia, the Warlock formerly known as Ekasra, my Shaman replacement throughout TBC who had also had a "rebirth" of sorts, delivering far more efficient damage than he ever had before in heals.

It was an impressive roster. Cheeseus had big plans for The Eh Team. It would be through their successes that the 25-Man progression raid would also find success.

Holyvirus (back-center), Lyticvirus' Paladin, stands
near the body of the defeated Mother Shahraz,
Black Temple

Paying to Fail

"I'd like him to see some progression if we could."

"Even if it means you stepping out?"

"Yeah, I'd be happy to give him my spot here and there."

Omaric caught me off guard. Elites were guaranteed a spot week-after-week, a perk I put into place at the start of Wrath -- one I felt would diminish the more hardcore players from looking elsewhere for a raiding guild. Now, he was suggesting to me that he was willing to give his spot up almost entirely.

"What's the motivation here?" I asked, pressing further.

"Well, between Dalans and you, there aren't a lot of other spots open for tanks. Y'know? It's like this would really be the only way to get him to see some progression. And we'd like to see him gear up a bit to help with the 10.”

"Cheeseus' 10."

"Yeah...he's gonna tank for Eh Team."

"Well, I don't see anything wrong with it, but know that if we rotate him in, it's almost assuredly going to mean you're rotated out."

"Yeah, I get it. Totally cool."

I thought of another option.

"...unless of course you pull a 'Lytic' and start bringing your Shaman Raradin to progression." I was referring to Lyticvirus, the raider who did double-duty for us at the tail-end of TBC, flipping between a Warlock and a Paladin as the raid needed. It was informal and clunky, but exceedingly beneficial in a roster that was constantly volatile. In that respect, Lytic's flexibility with having multiple characters was a godsend.

"Heh, yeah," Omaric chuckled, "Raradin's pretty fun. We'll see. Actually, I've been gearing up a Druid. They’re pretty bad-ass now!"

"So I’ve been told."

"Hey, what happened to Lytic anyway? I haven't seen his DK since Naxx."

I paused a moment.

"Lytic's gone. He didn't take our failure of The Immortal well."

On the record, that was about all Omaric needed to know. More transparently, Lytic stopped showing up to raids after he and I had a vocal disagreement about his failure to take responsibility for causing two separate Immortal washes. But by that point, I had been responsible for one myself, and still felt regret about my handling of situation; forcing people to donate 22-slot bags to the raid as a means of an apology -- which was the same as paying to fail, which I supposedly learned during High Astromancer Solarian. It wasn't my intent to let them pay to fail, but my judgement was clouded. I wanted players to start taking accountability for their actions, and making them donate 22-slot bags forced them to acknowledge their the hopes of repairing them before time ran out on 3.0.

Unfortunately, Lytic wasn't comfortable tucking his tail between his legs...many players aren't. After a confrontation, he stopped signing up -- stopped showing up. My Elite rules specified that after two consecutive no-shows, you would lose your rank. Upon receiving the demotion, he circled back to the forums for one final "I see how you treat your people" jab, but by this time, I had become emotionally detached from his plight. The experiences of Xorena and Khaevil, of Rocraw and Cattledrive, of Wyse...and of Kurst...had bled me of so much empathy, I was no longer looking to make everyone my friend.

I was looking for people to follow my rules.

"Ah, that sucks. I hated that fuckin' achievement! Lytic was a good guy. Hope he comes back some time."

"Me, too,, too."

I alt-tabbed over to phpRaider and examined the roster.

"Let Taba know that we'll get him in pretty quick. In the meantime, keep your Warrior and your Shaman at the ready. We'll figure out what we take on the day we go in."

"Thanks, Hanzo!"

I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd see Bretthew back in the lineup. The question was: would he pull any stunts like he had in TBC, or had he truly learned his lesson?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

3.23. First Night in Ulduar

Divineseal recommends talents to Laire
during The Burning Crusade,

Moving Out of the Fire

Lightning cracked across the dark violet sky of Netherstorm. I swung around one of the gigantic manaforges buried in the rock below, scanning for a particular mob. This area of Outland had suffered gravely when Draenor was destroyed. A gigantic ocean of nether filled the void where water once existed. Remnants of piers, boats shattered along the former coastlines were a testament to how much damage the destruction of the Dark Portal impacted the Orc homeworld. I paid little attention to the waste below me, as I continued to circle an area in the southwestern portion of the map, looking for a rare spawn that would let me strike another name off the list of the Bloody Rare achievement.

"I'd like back in, if I could," the Paladin whispered to me.

"I haven't seen you since The Burning Crusade" I replied, "Things are different now. You know this, right?"

"Yeah it looks like you've changed a lot around."

"I have." I continued my reconnaissance of Netherstorm and waited for the Paladin to make the next move.

"Well, what are you short at the moment?"

"We don't do that anymore, Divine. I don't ask people to switch to a particular spec to fill a missing role. I don't want players playing a role half-assed. I want them to give a shit about what they do. You've been away awhile, are you even up to speed on the changes to the Paladin?"

"Oh, definitely, I've been back PvPing with my brother, we've got an arena team going. The changes are pretty cool so far."

PvP. I rolled my eyes and headed north towards Manaforge Ara.

"Have you read the red flags post? You're quoted in there, you know."

"I can see your side of that, but the cost of an epic mount just seemed too extreme at the time, plus I wasn't raiding as much as I was PvPing and a lot of my costs were funneled into that."

"All I hear are a lot of excuses."


"Divine, you realize it took very little effort to save up the gold for an epic mount, right? Trivial in the grand scheme of things. Is it going to be that way about everything money related? What about when repair time hits your bank account? Flasks, food, gems, enchants, all of that. Are you going to bust my balls about the price of those things as well?"

"Not at all, I’m completely able to fund my raiding this time around."

I pondered, staring at the manaforge a moment. A gigantic funnel of energy twisted down into the opening at the top of the structure. The Blood Elves were wringing Netherstorm dry, pouring the siphoned energy into Sunstrider's ship, The Eye. Kael'thas had met his end at our hands nearly a year prior, after five solid weekends of work. Divineseal hadn't been there. He rarely contributed to any progression consistently during TBC; the majority of his raid time in DoD was spent in our weekly Karazhan races. By the time Wyse was Mage tanking Illidari Council, Divineseal had already quit the game from a lack of interest, mere weeks from our execution of Illidan. While players were clawing their way up the roster to get a shot at being present for Illidan's defeat, the fact that Divine had already cashed his check told me he couldn't care less about raiding. So, why the sudden interest? An impulse based on our recent successes? Was there some piece of gear in Ulduar that would somehow benefit his Arena Team? Or was it simply the fact that Ulduar looked to be one of the most amazing raids ever created by Blizzard?

I took a deep breath, but made sure to keep Vent open so he heard me sigh.

"Your best chance is to go Holy. If you do it, we'll see about finding you a rotation in Prog. Get your profile set up on phpRaider, get signed up for Friday and Sunday. Nothing's a guarantee, keep checking in with us and when a spot opens, I'll expect you to be there, ready with bells on.”

"Alright, thanks Hanzo, I won't disappoint!"

Divineseal was a risk. It continued to flash in my mind over and over -- a Deadly Boss Mod alert screaming at me to move out of the fire. He'd red flagged himself a number of times in the past. But, I didn't need him to become an Elite...nor would that have been an option. Raiders were just as important to the roster, as they allowed flexibility to exist, flexibility which was a selling point to players unwilling to commit to a hardcore schedule. The more options I could provide, the less I'd have to worry about losing players to the grass-is-greener syndrome. Just so long as Raiders did what was expected of them, there'd be no problems.

I hovered briefly, glanced one final time at the barren rock below, and flew back to Shattrath. Ever-Core the Punisher would have to wait another day.

DoD defeats Flame Leviathan without
slowing it, earning "Heroic: Shutout",

Flame Leviathan

The 25-Man progression team first set foot in Ulduar on Friday, April 17th, the same day that the verdict to The Pirate Bay trial came in. None of us had software piracy or BitTorrent on the brain that evening -- it was all business. When I zoned in, headed down those few steps and got my first look across the battlefield, I was awestruck at the scope. Raids like Ahn'Qiraj cover a lot of territory, but tunnels that twist downward into the earth don't convey the same magnitude as wide open war zones. The playing field was so immense that we only saw a portion of the outdoor area from our vantage point. Three more bosses would fall after Flame Leviathan before any of us would step indoors.

"Epic" had been redefined.

The raiders got situated, moving towards the Siege Engines, Demolishers, and Choppers, mentally reviewing all that had been intricately laid out in our raid forum thread on Ulduar. To keep things moving quickly and efficiently, Cheeseus designated vehicle assignments and posted them on the forums the night before the raid. So, only moments passed before we were buffed, in our assigned vehicles, and cutting a path through the iron dwarves on our way to Flame Leviathan. Vent lit up with excitement and laughter, as our individual duties had us blowing up Iron Giants, taking down flying contraptions, painting the ground with tar. It was a load of fun. For our first night in Ulduar, Cheeseus had us take out all four towers, just to get comfortable with a regular kill. Hard modes would come later.

Flame Leviathan burst through the gates, and began locking on to players. As a Siege Engine driver, my job was simple: keep a reasonably good distance from the boss, but be close enough to interrupt Flame Vents with an Electroshock, while my turret partner shielded us if Flame Leviathan got too close for comfort. It was an easy ride. I maneuvered the bulky tank around, sticking to my assignment, listening to Cheeseus coordinate attacks while the team barraged Flame Leviathan with mortar and barrels of pyrite. In one attempt, the titan tank fell apart in a pile of junk in the middle of his battlefield, and the “Heroic:Shutout” achievement spammed up on everyone's screen.

"Achievements already?" I asked Cheeseus.

"Yeah, it's simple. We just didn't slow him. Thought we'd get that done on normal, since it is a pain during hard modes."

"Let's keep doing that."

"Oh, I fully plan on it."

The team made their bids on loot, Neps received his first Fragment of Val'anyr, and we were on our mounts, heading toward the next boss.

DoD defeats Razorscale without allowing her
to return to the sky more than once, earning
"Heroic: A Quick Shave",

The Bird and the Bot

Proto-Dragons were a new creature to Azeroth by way of Northrend. They resembled traditional smaller dragons or "Drakes" in that they still bore the large, leathery wings of their namesake. The most noticeable difference in a Proto-Drake was its head: no longer did it bear resemblance to that of a lizard, slitted eyes more often seen in snakes. A Proto-Dragon's head was larger, more bulbous, with its jagged teeth clearly visible even when its jaw was clamped shut. Their eyes were nowhere to be seen, sunken so far below the protruding head that, at initial glance, one could easily mistake it for being blind. Proto-Dragons were a de-evolution of a Drake, early experiments at the flying creature that produced a barbaric, neanderthal-like version of a small dragon. Our first exposure to the Proto-Dragons were the ones littering the ice-capped mountains in The Storm Peaks, and a few lucky guild members who had completed Glory of the Raider (10-Man) boasted a Proto-Dragon mount. The design of a Proto-Dragon was unique and incredibly cool -- it was hard to fathom how it could be made any cooler.

Once I got a good look at Razorscale, Blizzard proved me wrong.

Originally, Razorscale was known as Veranus. She had been set free by her master, Thorim, to become the brood-mother for the Proto-Dragons that swarmed the aforementioned Storm Peaks. Alas, events transpired in The Storm Peaks which led to her capture, and subsequent forced armoring by Ignis (another boss we'd be seeing soon). As we arrived in her area, I glanced up and saw the enormous purple Proto-Dragon circling above us. Unlike Proto-Dragons we'd seen thus far, Razorscale was armored, plates of metal pounded into her wings and back by the Furnace Master. It was entirely new level of cool. Quite possibly, one of the best looking creatures ever to come out of the minds of the Blizzard art department.

"We wrap up Glory", Cheeseus whispered to me, "and we get her as a mount."


It was time to put the bird out of her misery. I resumed my role of tank, alongside Dalans and Omaric, and we collected up piles of Iron Dwarves, while Eacavissi spearheaded the team responsible for grappling Razorscale out of the sky. Once on the ground, the team opened up on her, the Proto-Dragon breathing fire on us in defiance. We repeated these dual phases several times, collecting Dwarves while she bombarded us from the sky, then grappling her back to the surface and letting the damage fly. Soon, she became unlatched from the grappling hooks which kept her grounded, and the tanks and I traded off kiting her around the play field. Her health dropped quickly, and a kill was imminent.

"Stop, stop, stop", Cheeseus called out. "Let's reset it".

"What?" I was a bit shocked by this. What were we failing on? "...are you sure?"

"We're behind by a few seconds. We can knock out 'A Quick Shave' easily."

"...yeah, but..."

"You said you wanted achievements done, right?", he moved from vent to direct whispers.

"Yes I did."

"So let's do them!"

We did as instructed, called for a wipe, and started the bird again. There was still a bit more cleanup to be performed, but Cheeseus felt confident this was doable, even with present gear. After a second manual wipe, the third try was the charm. Our DPS was where it needed to be, positioned were refined, and our strategy was enough to push out the necessary kill within the time limit. Razorscale fell over dead. And on our screen, achievement spam: "Heroic: A Quick Shave".

Cheeseus put Ignis on the back burner, instead leading the team towards a towering robot with the voice of a child. We found ourselves joining his "playthings", while his giant toy box of bombs began to close in on us. Ranged grouped up tight in the front, and Cheeseus directed them to move to the side of the group if they were debuffed with a Gravity Bomb. One by one, the casters took their Gravity Bombs out of the group, while the remainder of DPS burned the childlike construct. Dalans tanked XT-002 while Omaric and I ran around its playroom, collecting up bots of various shapes and sizes to be AOE'd down by casters. It took some getting used to, but after a couple of attempts, we found our groove, and the casters were actively aware of how quickly they needed to move out of the group for their Gravity Bomb. 

In typical DoD tradition, it was our famous last pull of the evening, mere seconds before the 4 hour limit was reached, that XT-002 powered down, frozen into position as defeated robots often do. And up on the screen flashed: "Heroic: Nerf Gravity Bombs", having successfully prevented anyone in our raid from dying to one.

Not bad for the first night in Ulduar.

DoD keeps everyone alive through Gravity Bombs,
earning "Heroic: Nerf Gravity Bombs" during XT-002,

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Red Flags

During the restructure of the guild near end of The Burning Crusade, one change I felt important to implement was the need to listen to my "gut" more. Even in the face of all logical explanation proving to me that a situation was transparent or a person was sincere, an awkward feeling lingered -- yet I rarely acted on these feelings. In order to increase visibility to my own intuition, my strategy involved documenting those actions, those behaviors, those very situations that made me uneasy. Things players should really think twice about before saying or doing.

What follows is the content of that original forum post, entitled "Red Flags".

As much as I wished for these red flags to be common sense, I learned as a guild leader, the things I perceived to be common sense...aren't always so to others. have to spell it out.


Kerulak mediates loot drama,
Molten Core
Eacavissi recently coined a term in the Officer Forum I would like to make an (un)official dictionary definition:

Cattledriver (kat-l-drayh-ver)
1. A reliable member of a raiding team whose presence is a dependency, who leaves the guild suddenly and offers no forewarning or resolution.
When I asked the guild several months ago what your biggest likes and dislikes were, many of the responses (both public and private) alluded to this single, solitary pain-in-the-ass. It upsets guild members, causes drama, and it stresses out the officer core to no end. It is, bar-none, the most difficult thing I have to deal with as a Guild Leader. My quest to reduce the amount of Cattledriving that takes place in DoD moving forward has led me to many of the changes you've seen thus far, with specific regard to the new "Elite" rank, and how people obtain (and maintain) said rank.

If you'll review the requirements for the Elite rank, you'll notice one requirement is slightly vague in definition:

- Must not, at any point in time, have demonstrated any red flags* to any officer, raid leader, or the guild leader.

So, what is a "Red Flag"?

A Red Flag is something you say or do that brings your reliability in DoD into question. These words and actions can vary from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle. A lot of the time, red flags manifest when people confuse opinion with fact. Sadly, the most common type of red flags are from a sheer lack of common sense. Whatever the case may be, once I get a red flag from someone, I'm loathe to start handing out promotions, for the fear that I am knowingly going to regret it at some point down the road.

In an effort to paint a picture of a guild leader who has heard a lot of crazy shit over the last four years, I present to you a list of some of my favorite and most memorable red flags I've ever received. I've left people's names out, but it shouldn't take a lot of effort to remember who they were. For your convenience, I've offered my own feedback on each red flag, so that you may gain a better understanding of why this would cause me to prevent you from gaining an Elite rank. You'll note that some of these may not have anything to do with raiding at all.

"Sorry I wasn't able to buy Mana Pots and respec before the raid, I'm flat broke."

-- With the advent of dailies, no single WoW player has any excuse to be out of gold now.

"Oh, I'm not going to bother saving up for an epic mount, it's a complete waste of money."

-- See the previous point, plus a comment like this denotes laziness, a trait we don't want to encourage in raids.

"Ehh, my PvP gear works fine in here, I'm a (healer|dpser|insert role here)."

-- See the previous point. Denotes laziness, as well as a lack of commitment to raiding.

"My wife and I won't be signing up for raids anymore. We got the gear we came for and we prefer PvP anyway; raiding is a colossal pain in the ass, and I don't need a bunch of kids telling me how to play."

-- We don't raid for gear; we raid to see progression and experience content. If your intentions are to gear out for PvP (which doesn't happen much post 1.0), do us a favor and let someone go to a raid in your place that gives a shit about the guild and not about their own personal agenda.

Zanjina reads a complaint from an ex-guildy, after
being rotated out of an Illidan kill,
Shattrath City
"If the raid doesn't even have 25 people signed up, how about this: Why not just cancel it?"

-- You don't get to create guild rules on-the-fly. We fill empty spots with who we have, as has always been the rule. If, after filling, the makeup/gear/people aren't right, it'll be canceled then. You do not get to cancel it because you're having a bad day.

"Who cares if I didn't decurse well? I was top dps, and never once ate a Doomfire, which is more than I say for the rest of the raid."

-- It's not OK to do you half your job, and justify it by comparing your performance to others. This denotes laziness, lack of sportsmanship/being a "team player", and that you are superior to everyone else, all of which gives me an indication that somewhere down the road, you are going to cause me great amounts of stress and grief.

"Oh, sorry about my behavior the other day, that must have been my brother playing during raid invites. I let him use my account yesterday."

-- Account sharing has been nothing but a source of grief for the guild through TBC, mostly due to communication problems (with the actual account holder) and security concerns, in which many accounts just end up getting hacked.

"Yeah, I wasn't able to raid last night because my friends came into town and I haven't seen them in awhile."

-- Contrary to popular belief, this is not an emergency. This is a personal event outside of WoW that can be scheduled around, much like an oil change, a haircut, or your 9-5 job. Furthermore, if you have a feeling you won't be able to raid, this problem is easily solved by simply not signing up for the raid. The very least you owe your team is to phone/text/forum PM someone and update them as to your whereabouts.

"Don't worry, Kerulak, I'm here 'til the end!"

-- That sound you hear is my teeth grinding together. Nobody is "here 'til the end". Every single person that has repeated this mantra to me is now gone, and these days, just makes me suspicious. If you really truly are going to be here "till the end", prove it with actions, don't say it with words.

"XYZ class is completely OP and has no counter whatsoever. They require no skill to play and should be removed from the game."

"Agility has the same value as +hit"

-- It simply demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the game, and I expect the Elite rank of player to have a deep understanding of the game mechanics.

I would like to point out that I, myself, have made many mistakes in the process of learning WoW. I'm certain you are all familiar with this famous quote:

"Stay away from my shackled target! Otherwise it's liable to kill you!"

I have since backpedaled from my silly statement, and I expect that many of you have also made similar mistakes (and have learned from them). The difference between this mistake and the ones listed above is the people that made the above statements...stood firm on their beliefs. They were stating opinion as fact, and that is incredibly dangerous. I want to encourage healthy discussion/debate on WoW mechanics, but when you bring an argument to the table, you had best come prepared with evidence to support your claim. Otherwise, you make yourself look like a fool in front of everyone, which discredits you, and the officers/guildies are going to be less inclined to take you along to raid where they need people performing at the top of the charts.

The above two examples can be rephrased very easily in a much more neutral manner:

"In my experience, XYZ class is currently dominating arenas by using the spell rotation of X, followed by Y, and finishing off with Z. I have yet to see a class consistently counter this, thoughts?"

"Although agility and +hit affect different attributes with XYZ class, they're both extremely valuable. I'd recommend trying to find gear that has (stat one) first, following that, (stat two)."

Kerulak fields a complaint about a guildy
from a random player on Deathwing-US,
Blade's Edge Mountains
"I don't care what you say, X boss is *hard*, not everybody can do it. I know X and Y and Z and they are all great players, and they all have problems with it, too."

-- An Elite raider doesn't make excuses for their performance. They find out what the problem is, what steps they need to take...and solve it. They know and understand the fundamental rule: It's OK to make mistakes...just don't repeat them. Furthermore, other "great" players may in fact not be so great if they also fail for the same repeated reasons and use similar justifications.

Causing a shit-storm/drama fest on the public WoW forums

- I don't have any examples to give as DoD has typically been pretty good in this dept. Our worst forum whore is an Officer (Fun Fact: It was one of the first things I had to talk to him about when I assimilated the guild he was in), but neither he, nor anyone else, has been blatantly disrespectful or offensive on the public forums. I'd like to keep it that way.

"You can't hear me in vent because I don't speak in vent."

-- Hypothetical situation:

You accidentally fuck up your kick rotation and are about to miss your Spirit Shock interrupt. You need to issue out a command to a fellow guild mate to pick up your missed interrupt in enough time that the person is able to respond and cover your ass (which, by the way, would require a typing speed of approximately 120 words per minute). For the sake of argument, let's say you have fast enough reflexes and a bizarre typing speed...even though your reflexes were apparently not good enough to hit an ability once every 10 seconds. So, after all that, and you manage to issue out a blazing fast command for someone to pick up the slack, what makes you think the person you issued the command to is looking at their chat log instead of their own boss-mod timers?

You are not better than everyone else. Elite raiders have to make decisions on-the-fly and in many cases, there is no time to type out a response. You can solve that problem by speaking. Everyone else does. Show us that you can be a team player. "I don't do XYZ because I just don't feel like it/don't have to" is a very pessimistic, single-minded attitude that offers no benefit to the raid team. Besides, I'm not paying $20/mo. for Vent so you can be silent while we wipe. Speak...and be heard.

"This is total bullshit, that is the best trinket in the game for X class, why the hell does Y class get priority over us?"

-- No class gets priority on loot over any other class, bids are made based on your DKP earnings and what your main spec/role is in DoD progression. A Rogue and a Ret Paladin have just as much right to each roll on a Dragonspine Trophy--they are both in a primary DPS role. A statement like this is also blatantly unsportsmanlike, and denotes that you are not a team player, therefore...not someone I would want as an Elite. If you want to raid more and haven't been rotated in, perhaps a little more soul searching is in order...maybe you are implementing more of the red flags in this list?

"Nobody told me I need a full set of Shadow Resistance gear"

-- Demonstrates a lack of preparedness, in the hope that guild officers will just "give you the knowledge and items you need on-the-fly". This is what's known as doing the absolute bare minimum to get by and is not a trait I'm encouraging.

"Don't look at me, I can't tank this section, my gear sucks/is in the bank"

-- See the previous point. Buy some larger bags.

"I know you have only been in the guild for a week now but some of us have been here since the game started and have earned our place."

-- You don't earn Elite status by being in the guild the longest, you earn it by demonstrating that you excel at both playing the game, dealing with other people and being a team player...the latter of which is completely disproven by a statement like this.

"Oh yeah, I don't use any mods when I raid. I find that I don't need to, this game is pretty easy, and the use of mods really violates the feel of the game as it was meant to be played."

-- Let me respond to that quote with a quote from Blizzard:

No, I think we assume that those who are working on the extreme endgame PvE content are going to be doing anything they can in order to help increase their chances for success. By both embracing the UI mod community and their addons, as well as assuming that players are going to be using them to great effect versus our encounters, we have to design encounters that assume their use or the encounter is trivialized by those on vent, those with a countdown, those with a threat meter, etc. Once a lot of the guess work is removed with mods we have to raise the complexity beyond what a mod can purely assist with. I think at this point we're forced to assume everyone is using mods to great effect versus our design complexity, which in turn forces everyone to use those mods. It's probably somewhat debatable what mods are required and where, but it's certain that we have to take them into account, lest the game be trivialized.

So to summarize: install mods and use them. When we require them to be installed, we expect you to have them. Beyond that, I encourage and support the use of any additional mods, and furthermore, would like to hear about them.

"I don't need to tell you my age because you are not the boss of me and my age is irrelevant"

-- If I am attempting to quell drama before it starts, your age is very relevant. Denotes hostility toward fellow guildies, lack of a team-player mindset, and an unwillingness to be treated as an equal by your peers. Additionally, behavior like this is almost always an indicator of guilt. If you have nothing to hide, why so defensive?

"PvE takes no skill in this game, PvP is where you are truly tested"

-- Both PvP and PvE require skill, some of which are common, and some unique to each type of play. Making a blatant statement like this only proves that you do not understand the game mechanics, or are just trying to cause a shit-storm, neither of which impress me.

"Yeah I don't think I'll be signing up for any more raids, I find raiding to be extremely boring"

-- See the previous statement. If you're not interested in raiding, don't waste my time by trying to feign interest for a few nights. I'd rather spend my time recruiting someone who cares, then invest in training/gearing someone who would rather not be there.

"Can I leave the raid early if we're not killing a boss tonight? I'm not really interested in doing trash..."

-- Explain to me how any part of this statement represents a team-player mentality. If the raid is canceled, you're free to leave. If everyone else stays, so do you. Leaving early because you have "no chance at phat lewts" demonstrates that you value loot over the guild and progression, and is a sure-fire indicator that you could give two shits about DoD. If you leave early, it will result in you being penalized as if you were a no-show.


In conclusion, let this forum thread act as a guide, both to guildies and to the officer core, about behavior that is going to cause us to raise an eyebrow and give us pause before we dole out a promotion.