Thursday, January 30, 2014

3.52. The Case of the Sinister Squashling

"The Headless Loser"
Artwork by Sum (After-Eleven)

The Righteous One

There were bodies everywhere.

The entrance to the Scarlet Monastery's graveyard was awash with bones. A massive assault between the Alliance and the Horde had taken place here, racing against one another toward the swirling glow of the instance door. Nestled deep in the northeastern hills of the gloomy Tirisfal Glades was a low-level dungeon WoW players had all grown familiar with, and one of the first memorable instances of Vanilla. In the days of yore, the Scarlet Monastery was split into four separate wings, and entrance to each was gained by its own respective doorway. As far back as I can remember, WoW players attacked these individual wings in the order of right to left. The eastern-most door exposed the Library, the end of which revealed a key that, in turn, granted access to the next door to its immediate left -- the Armory. Once through the Armory, players shifted left again to the Cathedral, ending with the death of High Inquisitor Whitemane. As the silver-haired zealot breathed her final breath, WoW players typically patted each other on the back and went their separate ways. Oft ignored, the fourth and western-most door led those few players who took note of it down into a torture chamber, eventually emerging at the entrance to a graveyard. There was little loot of importance in this area and no quest chain directed players to it, so the rows of headstones went largely neglected by the player base. Most players didn't even know it existed.

That is, until Blizzard added the Hallow's End world event to the game.

During our in-game version of Halloween, many a World of Warcraft player's speakers are filled with the blood curdling laugh of the Headless Horseman. For a week in October, a ghostly spectre gallops across the night sky on the back of his fiery warhorse, pitching pumpkin-head bombs down onto the rooftops of various towns throughout the land, leaving them ablaze in his wake. Players seek him out in his penultimate hiding spot: the Scarlet Monastery graveyard, in the hopes of acquiring his coveted Horseman's Reins, awarding the player the very same fiery warhorse the horseman rides. The Headless Horseman also happens to drop a number of other unique items that players use to augment their gear, and even has a chance to drop a unique pet -- a tiny plant-like creature boasting a jack-o-lantern as a head. Many completionists strove to collect pets like these, so the Sinister Squashling could, at times, be as important to a player as the mount.

Upon my arrival at Brill, the Horseman's echoing voice recited his infamous poem which preceded his cackle of delight.

Prepare yourselves, the bells have tolled! 
Shelter your weak, your young and your old! 
Each of you shall pay the final sum. 
Cry for mercy, the reckoning has come!

I watched as the Horseman gleefully fire-bombed the town, watching as low level noobs scrambled to figure out the water brigade mechanic; a terribly simple point-and-click targeting system allowing them to toss buckets of water on the fire. As was typical of the new players, it wasn't simple enough, and the town burned while they spun randomly in place, shouting obscenities in general chat in frustration. I was too busy to help them, currently en route to the Scarlet Monastery.

"Are you the guild leader of Descendants of Draenor?" an anonymous player asked as a whisper arrived

"I am. What can I help you with?"

"I want to report one of your players for being a ninja."

I couldn't tell if my screen went red because I had aggro'd some new monster...or because all the blood was rushing into my eyeballs with fury. It was not going to be a good day for a guildy.

All of the bosses in the original four-wing
version of Scarlet Monastery

In Contempt

I proceeded to field whispers from the anonymous alleged victim who claimed there was a ninja stowing away aboard my ship. Arriving at the entrance to the graveyard now peppered with the bones of slain players, his story continued to unfold.

"What was the item in question?" I asked the player.

"Squashling," was the lone word typed back to me. 

"And who is the supposed ninja in question?"


The virtual rolodex spun in my head; his name was only vaguely familiar. I knew he was a fresh recruit, finding his way into the 25-Man rotations a number of times. He did respectable damage as a death knight. Now, more than half way through Wrath of the Lich King, death knights were everywhere. Their uniquely powerful abilities coupled with their ease-of-play and expedited leveling (starting at 55 rather than 1) quickly made out death knights to be labeled the supreme douchebags of the game. It saddened me, because I felt class was more fun to play than any other. They were attractive because they were new, because they were overpowered. To both seasoned and amateur players, death knights appeared to require no skill whatsoever. This assumption simply added to the illusion. Regardless of what impassioned death knight players knew as fact, the court of public opinion had long since rested their case. Even the hardcore death knight players managed to crank up the asshole quotient on the Elitist Jerks forums, leading moderators like Kaubel to shorten the rope to such a degree that nearly every single post in the DK thread was deemed worthless. Even within the protective sphere of Descendants of Draenor, an expression was repeated jokingly that I had to take in stride:

Not all death knights are bad players, but all bad players play death knights.

This across-the-board punity towards death knights would be Hellspectral's only saving grace...if he were to get any at all. Loot problems were abound and the most recent events had left me fuming. He picked a shit-poor time to violate a fundamental rule in DoD and I would not stand for it. Ethical indiscretions were the most egregious. If the anonymous player spoke the truth, Hellspectral would soon be on the receiving end of a swift boot in the ass out of the guild. This was a non-negotiable, no second chances, no "just hear me out" type of rule. Break it...and you're dead to me.

"I'll have a word with him. Thanks for the report and I apologize in advance. If it turns out to be true, I expect he won't be in the guild much longer."

I popped open the roster, and saw him online.

"Hellspectral. Need a quick word with you."


"I just received a report that you ninja'd an item."


Wow...the balls! I admired his honesty; the cojones on some players were made of far thicker steel than I could imagine. My itchy trigger finger hovered above the "Remove Member" button in the guild roster. As I debated taking this a step further, I remembered the promise I made to myself early on in the reboot of the guild. You can't save everybody. Put the energy into only those you deem saveable. You have a life to lead outside of WoW and can't spend every waking minute trying to convert people to your way of life. If they aren't going to take that path on their own, it isn't your job to hold their hand.

"Thanks for being up front with me. Sadly, we don't behave like that in this guild. Best of luck to you."

I clicked the bright red button, and in an instant, Hellspectral was purged from the guild. As guild chat lit up with the typical curiosity surrounding a member's removal, I typed a message back to all of them:

"Hope the Squashling was worth it."

Unbeknownst to me, a freshly appointed melee officer was moving quickly behind the scenes. It was an attempt to repair the damage caused by a short-tempered guild leader fed up hearing about loot issues.
"Sinister Squashling I Choose You"
Artwork by Wendy Harmon

A Roll of the Dice

I stood at the doorway to the graveyard, bones scattered randomly at my feet. A night elf druid turned a corner and shifted into cat form, racing for the door as the familiar sprint sound effect kicked out of my speakers. Some Horde players collapsed onto the feline and tore it apart as it struggled to shift out the barrage of snares. I dropped a single Chains of Ice onto the druid while the remaining Horde finished him off, and the purple-skinned abomination fell lifeless inches from sanctuary. Whispers began to arrive in my chat window.

"Jungard says I should tell you the story anyway."

The damage is done, I thought. Why waste my time with this any further? But if what he said was true, I owed it to Jungard to hear this ex-guildy out. After spending as much time as I had debating who to put into a role of leadership, it seemed counter-intuitive to not consider Jungard's opinion if he felt the issue demanded it. I owed it to him.

"I'm listening."

"K, just a sec."

I took a deep breath and remembered the recent events surrounding loot, waiting for Hellspectral's full confession. Had I let these events cloud my judgement? Or was it the fact that he was just another douchebag death knight, the likes of which few in WoW were giving the time of day to. Before my conscience wracked me with guilt, the ex-guildy shot over his first response:

"What happened was we killed the horseman and the pet dropped and we all rolled need. The other guy and I both rolled a 77. Then the pet went to me."

A tie-breaker. In Blizzard's loot system, if multiple players tie on a roll of the dice, the game is programmed to re-roll quietly and automatically issue the item to those who tied the first roll. In other words, World of Warcraft itself breaks the tie, completely out of the hands of any player. In this case, Hellspectral pulled ahead as the lucky winner. So where did the 'ninja' part come into play? I kept my cards close to the chest to see what else he'd cough up on his own, the kind of strategy I commonly employed to extract info from unsuspecting players.

"Go on."


The temporary quietness around the graveyard’s entrance was a bit unnerving. Suddenly, Moonfire spam boomed out of my speakers from behind me. I spun Mature around to see another druid headed toward the door. My death knight reached out with an icy grip and snared the druid with another Chains of Ice cast. The druid shifted, its icy chains shattering and falling to the tiled floor, and its cheetah form bolted for the door. Instantly, the druid was stunned in place by a charging warrior who appeared near me, driving his blades into the druid's spotted fur. The night elf cried out, spun, and toppled quickly. I watched while the warrior stood atop the fallen druid and performed an MC Hammer-themed dance as a sign of victory. Another wall of text arrived in my chat window.

"So then the other guy says it was tie we need to roll again to be fair. And I said that ain't gonna happen. And he got all up in my face about it and said he was going to report me for being a ninja and I said make sure you spell my name right."

I laughed.

"That's it?"

"That's it."

I shook my head at the audacity of some players; you could cut the sheer entitlement with a butcher knife. It was as if the game was made for them, and them alone. Apparently the "massive" part of massively multi-online means nothing. Then...the realization set in. I had made a terrible mistake. Recent loot events had prevented me from giving this random death knight an opportunity to give me his side of the story. The World of Warcraft player base had collectively decided to label death knights as outcasts, and err on the side of not bothering to give them the time of day. Now I stood among them. The hypocrite.

Hellspectral has joined the guild.

I typed a response back to the unjustly crucified death knight.

"Please accept my sincere apologies, Hells. You behaved exactly as anyone would be expected to. We're respectful to other players but that doesn't mean we bend to their every demand, especially outrageous ones. Thank you for being honest. And for giving a shit about being a member here."

Hellspectral was gracious and humble, "no prob."

Whispers arrived shortly thereafter from Fred mirroring Jungard's position. Both were glad to hear it had worked out; they regarded Hells as a quality member regardless of tenure. Leadership is not a one-man show. If I had put a player less attuned to the needs of others in that role of responsibility, Hellspectral may never have set foot in Descendants of Draenor again. I took comfort in the knowledge that I was putting the right people in charge, and was appreciative that this mistake could be reversed.

I would soon learn the value of being called out on my decision. An emergency situation would cause me to turn to the nearly-ejected death knight to solve a problem that, once again, came completely out of left field. I needed a solution, and fast. The strongest arm of my 25-Man progression raid hung in the balance: the melee team.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3.51. Uncoiling the Snake

"Oh the sleepless nights",
A thread in the DoD officer forums that draws
attention to a flaw in the guild's loot system

If I Had No Loot

The officer forums erupted; it was Sir Klocker. "Oh the sleepless nights" bore the title of the thread. Once again, a misunderstanding had left people with hurt feelings, mixed messages, and ultimately they were confused about the acquisition of gear. Was I upset or not? Was he supposed to bid on Band of the Traitor King or not? Most importantly, why wasn't "use your best judgement" and "lead by example" enough of a guide? I took great pains to tie up any loose ends that could be misinterpreted by both the moral and the malicious, yet confusion lingered. Sir Klocker wasn't an isolated incident; more and more guildies found themselves confused by the seemingly straightforward system I laid out upon our arrival in Northrend. Ambiguity persisted because of a specific game mechanic I hadn't considered for.

It's hard to give deep consideration to what effect a particular game mechanic will have on a guild's loot system...

...when the mechanic doesn't exist yet.


Not so long ago, the problem was completely different. Raids were chock full of stingy Scrooge McDucks sitting on astronomical piles of DKP, preparing for an item that might never drop. The raid wasn't getting any stronger as a result. Valuable upgrades were being tossed to the side or dusted. These marginal upgrades (often called sidegrades) weren't as luscious as some of those big name pieces. Misguided arguments driven by personal lust and greed made those incredibly magnificent weapons and shields drive my raid's intent. Raiding for loot rather than progression itself caused the self-absorbed to rise to surface, and Blain wiped those off with a single stroke. Those who remained got a new lesson: better gear may augment your stats, but isn't the reason why you fail.

That's completely on you, buddy.

So the raiders learned the hard lesson about their failings, a slow, painful process of introspection and eventual epiphany. By exploring strategy, discussing mechanics, sharing new addons they'd discovered...they all gained new insight, and their reason to raid grew crystal clear. At last, they no longer blamed loot for their failures. If I noticed them falling back into their old ways, I repeated my rule of thumb: Plan to never see the item you want -- make the best use of the upgrades available to you. And to stymie the loot paradox from coiling back upon itself, Blain stopped it dead in its tracks by setting a definitive cutoff point. Once we'd killed Boss X a few times, we were moving on to more treacherous territory...whether players had Askhandi or not. Players didn't have time to bitch and whine about missing upgrades, because before they opened their mouths, we were already retiring MC for BWL, BWL for AQ40, and AQ40 for Naxxramas. Without a channel to complain about lacking gear, they remained focused on progression which produced (surprise, surprise): lots and lots of boss kills.

...along with a hefty amount of loot, besides.

That was a raiding era of a different day. Blain had long since retired from raid leadership. Several followed in his footsteps, ultimately leading us to Omaric and Bretthew. The druid and the paladin were no less passionate about progression and excitement of killing bosses in raids. They just felt we had more to do before we rushed into the biggest challenges. Why bash our heads against an insanely difficult heroic Anub'arak when tier 10 was a mere few weeks away? With an encroaching iLevel of 264 from the 25-Man version of Icecrown, they rationalized that our time was better spent continuing to plug holes in the gear gaps for many of our non-Elite folk.

But when those aforementioned lesser-geared folks didn't get an opportunity to loot, a gaping hole in my rules manifested. The snake was looking for its tail.

Main vs. Off

Dual Specialization became an everyday luxury that brought with it problems of its own. Though during the raiding era of TBC and earlier it was much more difficult to find a player with multiple able bodied characters that were raid-ready, handling the distribution of loot was as simple as adding a new character to the DKP pool. Hip deep in Wrath content, loot distribution became a tad more muddied, especially with my Elite 1st round bidding rules looped into the mix.

By now, most players in the roster held a deep seated motivation to loot anything and everything for upgrades along the path to victory. These motivations stemmed from the new order set forth by Blain many moons ago. The new variable in the mix was the off-spec. Now carrying a second talent set (which was often deployed mid-raid), players had a need to build an entirely new set of gear. Realizing this, but without giving the off-spec a great deal of attention, the officers and I defaulted to telling players "stick to the 5 DKP minimum bid" when scooping up items for the off-spec. It was important to keep the already complex loot rules from spiraling out of control. By encouraging players to bid on (or near) the minimum, off-spec looting should have kept their gearing strategy from standing in the way of someone's main spec.

That was the theory, at least.

The first of us to notice the flaw in practice were ones with small amounts of DKP; I fell into this bucket. Players who took my mantra to its extreme would shoot their entire load on items that didn't necessarily warrant such a high investment. Shrewd players (particularly tanks) were in a superb bidding spot: there was usually never more than one or two other players in the raid bidding against them. They hit the books and did the research ahead of the raid. They knew who they were going up against for specific items, they reviewed the DKP website which cataloged every player's earnings, and measured their bids thoughtfully and conservatively.

I was not one of these players.

Even with the knowledge I'd only be going up against one or two other tanks, I continued to bid high on items I most assuredly felt I would never see again, and my DKP pool emptied out quickly. It was at that point I began to see key pieces for my tanking set going to players that weren't tanks. This infuriated me, but what could I do? My DKP bidding pool was expunged, hovering slightly below the minimum 5 DKP bid. So when these items were issued out to players who weren't planning to use them, I directed my passive aggressive anger toward them, rather than acknowledge the flaw in the guild's rules.

...which is why Sir Klocker, and many others like him, remained confused about our system.

"Stormrage (he's a pony again)"
Artwork by 0Riane0

Brony! Broni! Broné!

With the advent of alts taking filler spots in the main 25-Man progression raid, the problem only worsened. Descendants of Draenor soon had a new generation of Lyticvirus-style players: folks nerdy enough to level up multiple alts and bring them to raids. I was fine with this. New alts, coupled with dual specializations, granted my raid rotations an unheralded level of flexibility. On nights of dire need, to be able to point to a player at random and tell them, "bench the caster and bring me your tank" was like a dream come true for a casual/hardcore raiding guild leader. I could, at last, bend and flow with the tides of the roster lineup changes -- it was a feature exponentially more valuable than any option to extend a raid lock Blizzard tossed my way. But with the alts filling spots in progression, the snake continued to search for its tail and my problems only compounded.

Any guildy that wished to provide alternate services quickly rose to prominence. One such player was my newest assignment to lead the Alt-25, Mangetsu. Fresh from his recent promotion to Avatar, Mangetsu's warlock weaved fel energies like a tapestry, ripping bosses in half with insane DPS. When it came time to flip over to the Alt-25, Mangetsu carried out his leadership duties via his death knight Amalgam. So when the night rolled around that Bretthew texted me that he had an emergency computer hardware problem, I looked to option Amalgam as a replacment. It would work -- we were bursting with new ranged DPS, many of whom wished for upgrades in Ulduar, and Mangetsu was already top-of-the-line in hybrid tier 8 & 9. It was the most logical choice, and Mang happily flipped to Amalgam, helping tank our way through the nightly clear in yet another stress-free evening of raid work.

That is, until we sliced open Ignis the Furnace Master's gut and Heart of Iron poured out.

Luck had not been on our side with this tanking trinket in the past. The first time it dropped, Omaric was able to pick it up...only to switch to Ikey months later, leaving it to collect dust on his former main. The only other time it graced our presence was that diabolical week in August '09, the one that left me stranded in Williston, North Dakota while Bretthew and Omaric attended BlizzCon. All three of us missed our shot, and it went to the paladin Shimerice, who almost exclusively played holy. In her hands, the Heart of Iron would most likely never see the light of day.

As Neps finished taking bids for it, many of us felt like we knew it would go to Omaric. He had been waiting patiently since June to reacquire the trinket for Ikey bear. The bids wrapped up and Neps announced the winner: Amalgam, Mangetsu's alt. Omaric had always bid far more conservatively than I, knowing he only needed to go up against Bretthew for such items. On this particular evening, the possibility of losing Heart of Iron to an alt hadn't even crossed his mind.

That gamble was to his detriment.

Mangetsu was humble and thankful for the win, none the wiser to Omaric's loss, much like Sir Klocker had been when "stealing away" a tanking ring from me. But these were the rules! My rules! They allowed for this behavior and even encouraged it! It was a perfectly acceptable bid, fully within the regulations of our flawed loot system. The snake had indeed been uncoiled and the result was a looting mentality which was now far too broad. The rule that applied to mains was shortsighted when applied to alts.

The trinket was sent over to Amalgam, and players quietly shared their disgust with me behind the curtains of whispered tells. Bheer summed it up succinctly in a crushing whisper; my heart sank as I read it, because it confirmed my failure to solve this issue in our new loot rules:

"If you had implemented main spec vs. off spec bidding, this never would've happened."


As the night tapered off, I caught a glimpse of Blain logging in; he had been back for several weeks now. His face appeared for the first time in many months during our completion of Firefighter culminating in a shower of Ironbound proto-drakes. It was good to have my old friend back in action as I expected his time away from the game had re-energized him. We could use that energy in Icecrown Citadel, now mere weeks away. I shot him a playful tell,

"I thought you were supposed to be getting a life? The outdoors are highly overrated."

There was no response. He either wasn't amused or something had his attention. I popped open the guild roster, scrolled to his name and examined his location in the world. He was in an arena...unsurprisingly. In WoW terminology, it was the same as having a giant "OCCUPIED - DO NOT DISTURB" hanging around the player's neck. I steered the Time Lost Proto-Drake across Icecrown in search of the last few rares left for Frostbitten, and after a few minutes, a response finally arrived. As was his nature, he did away with the small talk and got straight to the point:

"Why aren't we working on the heroic Tournament achievements?"

I sighed. He wasn't going to like my answer.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

3.50. The Loot Paradox

Engraving depicting a dragon eating its tail from
"De Lapide Philisophico"
Lucas Jennis (1625)

Blaming the Hammer

When I rebooted DoD's guild rules at the start of Wrath, I spent a considerable amount of time slaving over the fine details of our new loot distribution method. The goal? Abolish any opportunity for misinterpretation. Prevent random impulsive events from tarnishing the name of otherwise good players. Protect them from the disdain of their fellow raider, and the animosity that builds when scorecards give way to opinion. Pound into their skulls the message that your personal looting ideology should reflect one that furthers the overall strength of the raid team as a whole, caring for your fellow raider as passionately as you would yourself. The mistakes of the past would no longer be tolerated.

Before we knew just what the hell we were doing, our incentive was in the wrong place. Our perceptions of the things that mattered lay slightly askew from true north. All too often in Vanilla and TBC, players chose to sit on their pools of dragon kill points as if it were money, waiting to spend it on "that one big drop". As we climbed our way up the maze of rooms that is Blackwing Lair, the common sentiment was all-too familiar. Why waste my precious points on Herald of Woe when we will be looting Ashkandi any day now? In this era of ignorance, loot was the reward of our efforts; it was the fiery glow in our hands that we carried into Alterac Valley, striking the Alliance down with great vengeance. It's easy to make that mistake when every cue buried in the game nomenclature identifies loot as such. When the language is prevalent enough to ensure "loot" is synonymous with "reward", your brain then begins to form logic statements in reverse. Well, if loot is the reward, then my DKP must be money, right? Just like in real life? Only the truly hardcore raiders in the days of yore knew the truth. Loot isn't the reward; it isn't really the reason why we climbed Blackrock Mountain to defeat a giant black dragon blanketing us in dark flame. It took the arrival of Blain for us to unlearn those biased ways of thinking.

Why do we raid? For the fun of it, the thrill of the hunt. The excitement when the boss crashes dead and screams fill Ventrilo. For the competition, for the adrenaline accelerating our heart rate as we close in on the kill, knowing another raid is racing against the clock to beat us. Just as the carpenter crafts fine architecture to demonstrate his ability, raids kill bosses for guild pride and camaraderie, and for the lasting journey which remains a tumultuous series of hills and valleys traversed, as we reflect back on those days spent deep in dungeons. Too many fair-weather players forget this, or place upon those memories little value in the grand scheme to need on each and every item that pops up on their screen. At one time, World of Warcraft was, at its heart, a social experience first...and a machine that churns out loot second. Slowly, Blain helped us unlearn those backward ways of thinking. We raid despite loot, not because of it. Loot is merely a tool in the process, like the addon, or a little something called elbow grease -- good old fashioned hard work and practice. Thankfully, we got the lesson early.

So why did we continue to behave like children?

Loot ignorance once again floated to the surface. It was the scapegoat for every person's bad play. "We're not progressing because we lack the gear" was the most common excuse heard. So, if the handiwork of a master carpenter buckles and collapses in a cloud of sawdust, do you blame the hammer? Or the shoddy skills of the carpenter who pounded the nails in? Only a fool would dare blame an inanimate object when the living, breathing, thinking person wielding it is ultimately responsible, so why are players so quick to blame loot when they fail?

Long after a player understands the true meaning behind why they raid, they will continue to blame loot when they fail...because of The Loot Paradox.

The Vicious Cycle

The Loot Paradox,
a never-ending vicious cycle that plagues raid teams
masking the true intention of why they raid

The problem with changing players' perceptions of loot as a tool rather than a reward is that it is a never-ending vicious cycle, an ouroboros coiling until it eats itself, and has no finite beginning or end. It repeats in cycles ad infinitum, and occurs in four stages:

1. Raiders rush into new content, foaming at the mouth, and eventually start to fail on new obstacles for a variety of reasons: These can be (but are not limited to): new and unorthodox boss mechanics, strange bugs that linger in the game code, encounters tuned too tightly (overtuned), players lacking in skill, or a combination of any of these things. As frustration mounts, they struggle for answers, and their judgement is clouded. This starts to prevent them from remembering why they even raid in the first place.

2. As tempers flare, players look to place blame on something justifying their failure. Among the myriad of options, attentions can often be turned towards their lack of gear as a palpable, definitive excuse. This clouds their judgement as to why they set foot in a raid each week, shifting the focus to the acquisition of gear. It is at this point that players feel they raid because of loot. In their eyes, loot is a reward for their incessant suffering at the hands of repeated boss wipes.

3. As raiders weather this storm by continuing to practice, possibly even refining their UI and addons, eventually they reach an epiphany: that they are making progress without loot. With heightened motivation and optimism, these raiders dig their heels back, and their reasons to raid begins to shift away from loot and toward boss defeat.

4. Riding on a new high of knowledge and understanding (sometimes exacerbated by one or more boss kills), pride-filled raiders turn their attention toward improve the skill at which they approach the game. They may utilize any number of options to broaden their tools: increased schedule and practice on the boss, research (videos, strategy guides, etc.), addons, and most importantly, augmenting their character's stats through upgrades, to push out more DPS, more HPS, or more survivability. It is at this point that players know why they raid: to progress. In their eyes, loot is a tool to help them accomplish that goal.

While improving their skill, raiders enjoy great success for a time, until they reach the next stage of content that causes them to fail on new obstacles...and we loop back to #1.

As you can see, this cycle of failing, blaming, reaching an epiphany, and improving one's skill is a constant struggle. When players reach the epiphany that they progress as a result of their increased skill, they leap head first into improving their skill even further, in any way possible. It isn't long before players realize one of those tools is to bring more health, more heals, or more damage to the raid. The player will inevitably turn their attention to the most logical way to augment their stats: Gear. Gear, now as a means to the end, can conveniently act as a scapegoat when new obstacles arrive; it is that very tool that the player lacks in order to accomplish their goal. And in turn, devolves back into the "reason why we raid", allowing players to justify their failures and blame the most identifiable piece of the equation. The cycle begins anew.

As a guild leader, my best chance at success was to be intimately aware of the loot paradox and its constant effect on the guild. By encouraging players to loot, which in turn, grew the strength of the raid team, they could -- at any moment -- fall victim to placing the blame on their subsequent lack of loot. I needed to uncoil the snake, and I wasn't always successful at this. Particularly when Blizzard introduced a concept I hadn't planned for.

A warrior changes between specs using the
new Dual Talent Specialization feature of patch 3.1

A Spec For Any Occasion

It had been rumored and discussed during Wrath's development, but never saw the light of the day throughout beta. I assumed it had been swept under the rug for the time being. But, as with many things Blizzard, work had quietly continued on this particular feature, making its debut at the launch of patch 3.1. Dual talent specialization was something players had been clamoring for since as far back as Vanilla. For the first time in the game, players had the ability to carry with them a second talent specialization, able to activate at a moment's notice. Since so many more talent specs were viable in raids, this feature made practical sense, allowing players to flip-flop between particular roles if situation was warranted. With a simple click of a button, a holy paladin became a protection paladin, a discipline priest morphed into a shadow priest, and a feral druid was now a boomkin -- right before your eyes. With two specs at our command, raiding options blossomed. In the days of The Burning Crusade, having a player like Lyticvirus at our disposal was a rare luxury; a player with enough dedication to have two completely separate toons geared for entirely different roles. It granted us a level of flexibility not found in most players. Now...potentially anyone in the roster could provide this same flexibility. Provided, of course, that the player knew the role well enough, and had the gear to supplement that second spec.

Dual specialization was a godsend for my casual/hardcore raiding guild. It seemed that on nearly every raid weekend, there was an occasion to request a particular player flip to an alternate spec. This got to be so commonplace with certain players that I would often rotate them in as one role, yet be unsure until the first boss pull what final role they would ultimately play. More often than not, it wasn't what they were rotated in for. It was a loosey-goosey way to run our rotations, but it worked. Weekend after weekend, we ran without fail, on-time, and I never had an excuse to cancel a raid due to missing people. Besides, we were accomplishing the goals we set out to achieve at the start of Wrath. The Raiders knew no differently and were simply glad to get their foot in the door, get an occasional rotation, and see some high-end 25-Man content. And the Elites knew better than to question our methods; they were privy to why I had to adjust the roster the way I did and accepted it as a fact of life. This life of dual specialization became so pervasive that I failed to pick up on a missing component of my loot system -- an evil buried in the earth now bursting its dead claws up through the dirt to grab me by the ankles and pull me down.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

3.49. Married to a Pillow

The Fleshwerks,
Icecrown Citadel

The Experiment Ends

Mature hovered on the back of his Ironbound Proto-Drake, several dozen feet above The Fleshwerks, an army of undead minions growling and clawing at each other in bloodlust with the scent of the fresh meat in close proximity. As I continued to scout for rares, my chat window turned purple as it received a whisper.

"Hey Mature, can I borrow you for a sec?"

It was one of my newer members, looking to squeeze into a regular raiding schedule.

"Sure, what's up?" 

"Well, I tried to get into the Alt-25 tonight, just like you recommended, I mean. I have all my gear gemmed and enchanted and I know the fights. But I was told there wasn't any room." 

"Ah, that sucks. Did you get on a little late tonight? The invites usually start about 30 minutes prior."

"See, that's the thing, I was on 30 minutes earlier, like you said." 

"...and Bloody told you there was no room?"


I pressed 'J' on my keyboard to bring up the guild roster. Sorting by location in the world, I scanned down the list to see who was currently in the Tournament of Champions alongside Bloodynukels. There were twelve guildies total.

"Are there any 10-Man teams in ToGC at the moment?" I typed into officer chat. 

Sir Klocker fired back, "mm, not that I know of." 

Neps added his two cents, "Pretty sure Starflex runs on either Tuesday or Thursday." 

"Tuesdays," confirmed the newly promoted Jungard, now able to contribute to the officer-only chat. 

"...and Eh Team is retired, atm, right?" 

"Far as I know, yeah. I mean, half of 'em aren't even on atm." 

I looked back at the twelve guild members in ToGC. Why the hell such a bizarre number? And more importantly, why wasn't it twenty-five when people were contacting me about not getting in? Was there room...or not?


"I'm getting reports that guildies are being left behind during invites."

"We had no more room because a few people were late logging on."

"I was told that he was on 30 minutes prior to the first pull, which is standard practice around here. The question stands. Why are you leaving people in the guild behind during invites?"

"Well, once I have everyone from CAFN and DoD in the group, there isn't much…"

Whoa whoa whoa. Stop.

"Hold on a second. What do you mean 'everyone from CAFN' mean the guild?"

"Yeah, I have a bunch of friends there that still need loot off of the twins."

He spoke with the confidence of a leader fluent in the language of some other mystery guild far, far away from our own. Like this decision he made was OK with me. Like he had thought it through carefully. Like its ramifications had been considered. Rationalized it.

"So let me get this straight. When you do the invites for Alt-25, you start with CAFN, and then fill the remaining spots with us?"

"Well, not exactly, I is really just sort of who sends me the first tells, and then I invite like that."

"So what makes you think that it would be in our guild's best interests to run another guild's members through a raid before our own?"

There was no response.

"Effective immediately, I'm going to need you to invite from DoD first. Always. And forever."

"I can't really give my friends in CAFN the cold shoulder..."

"But you have our guild tag under your name."


"So, what part of 'this is an officially sanctioned DoD guild run' do you not understand?"

Again, he had no answer. His silence marked the official end to the "Bloodynukels experiment".

"Sounds like your heart is with another guild. I think we're done here. I'll have someone else pick up the Alt-25 next week. Thanks for taking it for these last two times."

"Does this mean I'll lose the title?"

You mean the temporary officer title I gave you as a convenience to access officer chat in the hopes you'd use it to coordinate invites with the guild, rather than inviting your friends from Discord first?

"It was done as a convenience to assist you with coordinating the Alt-25. You won't be needing it."

Bloodynukels sulked away into the background, the conversation never actually coming to a definitive close. This is the beauty of dealing with players over Ventrilo: it excuses them of the social norms a person typically exhibits in the real world. You wouldn't start a chat with someone at a water cooler, then walk away mid-conversation...a habit that was commonplace in WoW.

Especially when one of two people didn't particularly like the way the conversation was going.

Bloodynukels left the guild on his own shortly thereafter, and his infamous brother Divineseal followed suit. Several weeks following their return to CAFN, both players went missing-in-action, and their eventual whereabouts remain unknown to this day.


With the Alt-25 now leaderless, I needed someone to fill his shoes and erase the damage he had done. My initial fear was word would quickly spread about "how we were running a discriminatory elitist guild that made up rules as it went." If that rumor was flying, I needed to shoot it out of the sky before it got too far. But with who? Options, as always, were limited. The existing leadership pool was already stretched thin; it was important to not load them up with so much administrative shit that they began to loathe logging in. But consider the alternate: arbitrarily promote someone else? That worked magnificently with Bloodynukels, an experiment blowing up in my face. I couldn't risk that again…

Someone spamming guild chat caught my attention.

[Mangetsu]: Folks, you only need this macro to improve your dps
[Mangetsu]: O o
[Mangetsu]: /¯/___________________________ ________
[Mangetsu]: \_\¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ ¯ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

Chat lit up with a series of 'LOL's and smileys, something you didn't see a lot of in DoD. Most of the guildies conversed in Vent. I had to hand it to Mangetsu, he had a way with making everyone chuckle, and always had something funny to...


Typing a mile a minute, I rattled off a tell to him. We needed to speak in Vent. Immediately.

Mature and co. complete "Hadronox Denied",
while Mangetsu (via Amalgam) yells out in guild chat,


Mangetsu was up to his neck in geekdom. Pick any time of the day at random and you might find Mangetsu scrutinizing the work of Studio Ghibli like muggles analyze their fantasy football teams. He spoke of the dark recesses of 4chan, and held no reservation in discussing its shady subculture. He was a purveyor of internet memes and a conissouer of animated gifs. He started the "You Laugh, You Lose" topic on the DoD forums shortly after getting comfortable with his fellow guildies, and it took off like a rocket, growing to become the most visited and posted-to thread on the boards. And although it was still roughly a year away, Mangetsu would eventually begin referring to himself as a 'Brony', wearing the badge proudly like the rest of us did with our Ironbound Proto-Drakes.

Mangetsu's most controversial behavior was that of his profound expressed love of an anime-themed pillow case that he squeezed with childish glee when the lights were out. His "waifu", Mang proclaimed, would never judge him, never nag him nor make him feel bad about his decisions in life. And when the guild chuckled at this childish playfulness, which walked the fine line between raw geekdom and total embarrassment, I couldn't help but feel that some (myself included) were envious of this openness, this simplicity to observe and engage life. My own experiences with sharing my passion for gaming and geekdom had been met with mixed results throughout history. It would have been refreshing to be able to talk to anyone I wished about such gaming related addictions, without fear of judgement or discriminate bias. But, I carried with me that particular ability to sense vibes, stripping away what people said while remaining attuned to people's intent. Normally shielded by thir polite language, those mannerisms were the social norms we've come to understand, work into daily rituals so as not to offend one another. Mangetsu, in his delightfully positive attitude on life and the people in it, harbored no such skewed perceptions. He played no political game. He was wildly aware of the fact that not everyone would think his infatuation with a pillow-case would come across as 'normal'. And he didn't care. Which meant he had no problems being 100% honest with anyone and everyone.

In short: he was leadership material.


"I need your help, Mr. Mangetsu."

"Yes, sir! What can I do you for?"

"How much experience have you had running your own raids?"

"I have had to take a few PuGs into their weekly quests for points. That usually has mixed results, but for the most part, we get things accomplished without too much pain or suffering."

Mangetsu referred to Blizzard's recent addition of a weekly quest, based out of Dalaran. Much like the distant cousin of the daily quest, this new 'weekly' asked players to kill a raid boss somewhere in Northrend. Possibilities were usually things like Patchwerk in Naxxramas, Flame Leviathan in Ulduar, and Lord Jaraxxus in the Tournament of Champions -- all bosses fairly near to the entrance of their respective raids. Doing so awarded a newly introduced currency which we stockpiled to augment our raiding gear, a godsend that would've served us well back in The Burning Crusade. And Vanilla. The 25-Man progression raid knocked this weekly quest out as a part of our regularly scheduled work; we never gave it a second thought. Other non-raiding guilds had to suffer through the act of spamming general chat for a pickup-group to be put together in order to accomplish the same seemingly trivial act. I couldn't even fathom what chaos and insanity might lie behind those "pickup raids", especially ones without a dedicated leader to keep everyone focused and on task.

I mean, honestly. Who, in their right mind, could conceive of an entire raid of strangers all working together to kill a raid boss? Thinking about its success rate gave me chills like someone had walked over my own grave.

To even consider taking on such a task demonstrated balls of steel. Yet, Mangetsu pulled this off consistently. His candidacy grew.
Some example Anime pillows not unlike
the one Mangetsu was married to

The Secret Ingredient

I proceeded to give Mangetsu the situaton, "The Alt-25 is without a leader at the moment."

"Ahhhh, OK. Isn't Crasian running that? I thought I saw him in there."

"You're correct. He did run the show for a bit, after Anni handed it over. But Crasian is taking off for the holidays to ski."

"Got you."

"And, well...I've had an incident with another guildy, which I'm sure you weren't even aware of. Guy by the name of Bloodynukels. Divine's brother."

"Can't say that the name rings a bell. Sorry to hear there was a problem, though."

"It doesn't matter, he's already left with his tail tucked between his legs."

Mangetsu's voice changed to express concern, "Uh oh. Something not go as planned?"

I sighed. "For starters, Mang...the guy was inviting people from other guilds before our own people. And to top that off, he was exploiting mechanics on some of the bosses."

"That's no good. Was it the Val'kyr-doorway thing?"


"I read about that. Still no official word from Blizzard?"

"Not yet. But when they do...which I expect they will...I'd prefer that our hands remain clean."

"Totally understand. So, when would you like me to start?"

"This weekend, if possible. Keep it pro, just like you've come to expect in the 25-Man. Loot rules up front, vet the people you take, don't let anyone try to squeeze in with inappropriate gear. Nobody should get any special treatment. And for God's sake, I shouldn't have to say this, but you will always fill with DoD first."

"Question, sir. If I could make it work, and I really think I could...what would you say to me trying to bring people from other guilds? I mean on purpose. Each week. Because some of those bosses really don't need to be done with a full raid. So there really is no reason to bring strangers, unless..."

"Unless what?"

"Well, it would be a great opportunity to show them what we have going here, which could work to our benefit if you still recruit."

"I'm always, recruiting, Mangetsu. It never ends."

"The other kickback comes from GDKP, which has been successful for the PuG raids as of late. People pour their money in at the start, we rock out, and then if players stay to the end, they get a portion of it back. The up-front costs can be funneled in to the guilt vault. Repair money! And whatever else."

I shook my head, stunned.

"Mang, are you sure you haven't led a guild before?"

He laughed. The man who was married to a pillow was the new leader of the Alt-25.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

3.48. Here Comes the Airplane

DoD earns "Set Up Us The Bomb (25 Player)",
granting them a server first achievement,

What Fuels Progression

Concluding Glory of the Ulduar Raider catapulted our raid team into a series of successes that spanned the remainder of November 2009. Interest in raids was at an all-time high, and so it should have been! One look at the Ironbound Proto-Drake and people wanted in. Omaric and Bretthew obliged the guild and continued to push raiders through mounds of content, acquiring gear and assisting those players missing one or two of the metas for their own personal Glory, while I manned the rotations of the roster. Our high churn in the roster was evident by how many people still needed a Firefighter here or a One Light there. As was our modus operandi, I didn't force anyone to raid, so I was fully prepared to have a handful of stragglers missing various metas. Omaric and Bretthew made good use of this time, punching out additional Ulduar achievements in the process. Halfway through November, they had added six more achievements to Descendants of Draenor's 25-Man scoreboard: Nerf Scrapbots, Can't Do That While Stunned, Nine Lives, Getting Back to Nature, Deforestation (a server 2nd) and Set Up Us the Bomb -- one of our rare server 1sts. Throughout the process Fragments of Val'anyr continued to drop, and before long we had crafted our second Hammer of Ancient Kings, this one going to our healing officer Gunsmokeco. The core team now had two permanent legendary healers, and progression was nearly ready to tackle Algalon the Observer. But for all the successes our 25-Man progression team was enjoying, there was more to be proud of, outside the blinders of a hardcore raider -- a pet project that ex-officer Annihilation had taken on.

Fielding multiple raids was something my guild had coordinated as far back as Molten Core, but it wasn't until the middle of The Burning Crusade that we began to approach it with more focus and greater concern for its success. Prior to that, an unfortunate mentality had arisen surrounding the A and B teams, which devolved into the two groups being pitted against each other. A team had driven progression, and B team had been kicked to the curb, as we plucked who we wanted from it, and when. And when A team needed augmenting, B team suffered, compounding the issue. "The good of the guild" was simply not enough of an explanation to justify the sacrifices that B team endured to keep A team's fuel tank topped off, and the pent up animosity led to my guild's second exodus. Annihilation went back to the drawing board in TBC after hearing about the idea from competing hardcore guilds, calling the second raid the "Alt-25", and he made it perfectly clear what the purpose of that team was. Like a drill sergeant, he rattled off its intent: you're here because didn't get a rotation in progression this week. That changes nothing. You're expected to be geared, play professionally, get shit done. What you do here will give you the opportunity to get your foot in the door with the 25-Man progression team. And for those of you who are here on alts from the 25-Man, you simply have no excuse to perform poorly.

This "rebooted" second raid team produced wildly successful runs. Come Saturday evening, the Alt-25 filled up almost as quickly as the main progression raid, and they cleared content with the same energy and gusto as what was being pumped out of our Fri/Sun runs. Annihilation continued to field this Alt-25 on and off throughout TBC via his warlock Fatality, picking up the reins once again in Wrath on his death knight Poprocks. The Alt-25 served many purposes. One, it gave players rotated out of progression that week a second chance at gearing and getting experience, being shown the ropes by one of the original no-nonsense officers of the guild. Two, it allowed us to test out new recruits, to see what capabilities the fresh meat had to offer. Anni frequently reported in to me during our late night conversations with folks he thought were up-and-comers; likewise, he warned me of players who were exceptionally good at wasting space, and better suited to games like Hello Kitty Online. Ultimately, Alt-25 was successful this time around because there was a conscious decision not to beat around the bush with them, not to mince words or pull the wool over their eyes regarding its purpose. Being in the Alt-25 was a privilege, not a right. It was the guild's gesture of good faith to extend to new players, that second chance to prove their worth. They could show us they had what it took to step in the 25-Man progression team and keep Descendants of Draenor on the map, rather than give them a cold shoulder as so many other strict hardcore guilds did.

The Alt-25 was vitally important to the success of the guild. Failing to provide it to the guild could jeopardize the stability of progression. Which is why I grew concerned with the latest turn of events.

Mature earns "Lance a Lot", while Annihilation (via
 Poprocks) coordinates an Alt-25 run in officer chat,
Argent Tournament Grounds

Too Good to Be True

When it was time to take a leave of absence midway through WotLK, Anni looked for a replacement to man the Alt-25. He passed the reins to a player he felt shared a common interest in getting content completed, while helping fellow raiders in the process. That player was Crasian. Anni had picked up on Crasian's selfless acts of running folks through 5-Man heroics for their own achievement-focused agendas, and had personally vetted his efficacy of the death knight on a number of occasions. Anni felt the Alt-25 would be in good hands with Crasian, and indeed, Crasian took over for a good many weeks, continuing to help churn people through whenever something could be put together. But Crasian was leaving. Having announced his departure at the end of Glory of the Ulduar Raider, the Alt-25 was now without a leader, and its state was hurled into limbo as a result. Yet, before I even had a chance to sit down and fret about what to do, a solution practically fell into my lap...which is probably what I should have been suspicious of.

Divineseal's brother, a death knight who called himself Bloodynukels, waved his hand in the air to catch my attention. Bloody was still reasonably new to the guild, but during this period of accelerated growth due to DoD's rising popularity, new faces were popping up all around us. At times, I had offers from many different strangers to help with whatever they could; I appreciated the support. But my excitement should have given way to calm, thoughtful decisions -- even regarding things like the Alt-25. So I put in what due diligence I could on Bloody. Unfortunately there wasn't much of anything to say, neither good nor bad. He had no history, nobody had played extensively with him, and asking Divineseal himself an opinion of his brother was only going to produce a shower of of confetti and balloons. This lack of detective work, coupled with a surprising absence of offers from other guildies to take on the Alt-25 left me in the dark. 

The dark complicates things.

Lacking options, I decided to give him a shot, under the assumption that if I made myself painfully clear on what was expected, I could produce a reasonable amount of responsible leadership from the guy. The Alt-25 was important, but it also wasn't rocket science -- they wouldn't be expected to knock out heroics, just clear content and get gear. I pulled Bloodynukels into Ventrilo and went over standard operating procedure with him. 

The Alt-25 may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Officers are rarely present in those runs, so you not only have to take on the responsibilities of a raid leader, making sure that the basic fundamentals are covered (instruction, fixing mistakes, etc.) but you are also acting as a representative of the guild -- a salesman, so to speak. If you have to fill the Alt-25 with random people from trade, they're going to be watching how you treat them and how you treat others. They may even take that into consideration if they're contemplating a guild change...and we want that. Keep things prompt, on-time, don’t put up with a lot whining. 

"Can I get a promotion, then?" he asked. The request caught me off-guard. I didn't have a "sub" officer rank; previous folks in charge hadn't needed it. "It'll let me coordinate with the officers better." Thinking quickly, I bumped his position in the roster up to Avatar, the role designed for identifying star players in the guild who had gone above and beyond the call of duty to contribute to the guild. It was the only rank available that kept him separate from the officer core, yet granted him access to officer chat.

And it was a mistake.

Mature concludes Noblegarden while Bloodynukels
seeks priestly information from the guild,

Buckling Into The High Chair

After only one week at the helm, guildies began to report in that Bloodynukels had been instructing them to perform the Twin Val'kyr in a suspiciously exploitative way. Word on the street was a "trick" may have allowed a tightly crammed group of players into a crevice of the doorway to the Tournament of Champions, bypassing the many orbs of the death that the twins filled the room with during the encounter. These orbs traditionally had to be dodged by the player, and certain strategies called for various positions around the arena, minimizing collateral damage from the bouncing black-and-white balls.

When questioned on why he employed this tactic, Bloodynukels responded, "It's not an exploit."

"Why? Because Blizzard hasn't taken an official stance on it yet?"

No response.

"If they haven't said anything yet, it's probably because they're busy trying to get Icecrown out the door. Any raider that's worth his salt will take one look at that strategy and immediately see how it is sidestepping mechanics of the boss intentionally to make it easier. This isn't something that falls into the "clever use of mechanics" bucket. You are purposefully avoiding the primary damage dealing component of the twins by doing this. Not partially avoiding it...entirely avoiding it. Trivializing the encounter. Explain to me how that isn't an exploit."

"Ok, so I won't do it again."

That wasn't an explanation.

I felt like I was scolding a child. Did this stuff really have to be said? Wasn't it common knowledge that exploiting the game's mechanics were forbidden? Perhaps he saw it as one of those more malleable rules, easily fudged as a result of where your level of ethics sat that particular day of the week. Long term members of DoD should have known this stuff like the back of their hand. But that was the problem. Bloodynukels wasn't a long-termer. And what was the norm? To do exactly that; to find short-cuts, tricks, even order to accomplish something, as so many scrub guilds on Deathwing-US were attempting to. Where do you think the word on the street came from? It was literally the type of thing discussed in general chat while hanging out in Orgrimmar. I guess it was asking too much to consider he would think for himself, question the validity of such a shady strategy. So, like so many recruits before, I had to spoon feed common-sense to him like a child strapped into a high chair, making airplane sounds just to get him to open his mouth long enough to shove it down his throat.

I hoped that this would be the end of the spoon feeding, and had high hopes for his second week. But you know what they say about things that are too good to be true. He'd be back in his high chair before you could even smell the diaper.