Thursday, April 24, 2014

3.64. The Master

"Blood Queen"
Artwork by Nooblar

A Clever Use of Game Mechanics

"Klocker, where are you?"

"I'm coming over to you!"

"No, stay there, I'm coming to you!"

"Ben, wait, stop...stop moving!!"

"Shit shit shit shit, stop running away from me!"

"I'm coming to you!"

"Beams, shit! Don't move, I'm going this way!"

"Which, left?"


"Fuck. Can't reach him.....aaaand I'm mind controlled."

This was the living nightmare of Blood Queen Lana'thel.

Nearly every encounter in the collective set of raids making up Wrath's PvE content posed no trouble in their "normal" difficulty. Naxxramas was cleared in a weekend, Ulduar, several months before beginning the heroic modes, and the Tournament of Champions was quickly trivialized by Descendants of Draenor.

This San'layn was a veritable pain in the ass, by comparison.

Several weeks of work had produced no change; theories were varied as to where to lay the blame. A widely adopted strategy circulated on the forums advocating the intentional killing of a player near the start, "tricking" the encounter into behaving as though 26 players were present. Wiping near the 5% and 4% mark before succumbing to the Queen was all-too-common, so extending the life of the raid by one player was a likely solution. That strategy didn't sit well with me. Something wasn't quite right when part of the strategy called for a kill/soulstone near the start; a strategy more likely to be adopted near the end of the fight, as it was with Leotheras the Blind years before. We weren't being clever by using that approach, more likely, we were pushing the boundaries of what was exploitative. The fine line had yet to be drawn by the all-seeing eye, but by the end of January, Blizzard caught wind of the strategy and nerfed the encounter. She still wasn't dying, so the validity of the strat was moot -- it fell to the cutting room floor.

We stuck to the delayed bite strategy: the first person Lana'thel sunk her teeth into would wait until the absolute last possible moment before biting another victim. Jungard became the prime candidate to employ this strategy. Though nothing was confirmed, suspicion surrounded the Queen's bite selection mechanics -- of which many roads lead back to players with the highest threat at the start. Sometimes a few rogues liked to test their luck and push to beat Jungard, and even Ben showed the warrior up from time to time. But for the most part, Jungard cleaved a path of indiscriminate justice as he shot to the top of Recount and stayed there. This tendency automatically volunteered him for setting us off with our initial delay, and the gap to the Queen's defeat narrowed.

As wipes continued to obstruct the raid artery, our attention shifted to the biters and their imminent victims. All too often, chaos ensued when people needed to find a target to bite. Eacavissi was the first to propose the change:

"After the raid tonight I thought a bit about how I'd make this mindless fight even more mindless. What I propose is to shift the burden of finding biting targets from the biters to the bitees. That is, each DPS would know beforehand when and by whom they are being bitten, and then run to said person like a twilight-fan-girl for their biting convenience. The point of this is to maximize vampire DPS time, limit the amount of shit that has to go over Vent, and to protect against bad luck. Using this stratagem would also allow us to arrange positions to minimize running."

Immediately, Blain pounced on this idea. He tasked me with writing an add-on that would let him view a list of members in the raid, micromanaging biters and bitees with greater efficiency. Half-way through putting it together, an official add-on emerged which claimed to do the same thing. Validation. At least we were on the right track. At Jungard's behest, Blain took charge of employing the add-on and processed those priority lists. Bite targets gained clarity. The gap narrowed still.

Positioning around the ring was next, as Omaric and Bretthew took turns, painstakingly assigning each ranged player around the circumference of a pattern in the center of the room. This ensured that players linked with Pact of the Darkfallen had a safe point to collapse into. Her defeat drew closer...

...but the Queen would not acquiesce. And we were out of attempts for the week. But not by design.

We continued to come in just under the damage requirements. Was it the difference of one strong damage dealer? I eyed Ikey, Omaric's druid, as the likely candidate. He already wanted to drop to DPS, but of all the skill that existed in the roster, no one single professionally-geared, expertly-played tank existed to replace him.


DoD earns a rare server 1st with their completion
of "Flu Shot Shortage (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Shining Protector

"Gimme a sec to pull up your app, here" I spoke into the mic, alt-tabbing from Ventrilo to Gmail.

"No problem," came the digital reply. I detected a hint of an accent, possibly French, but couldn't be sure. I made a mental note to zero in on it as the conversation continued.

"So, it says here you are a Prot Pally. Preferred class to tank with?"

"Absolutely. Pretty much has the widest set of tools available. Death Knights...ehh...may be a bit more powerful overall, but it's cheap. Cheap way to play. With paladins, you think about what you have to do, rather than pressing buttons at random to win."

He spoke in quick bursts, punctuated by momentary pauses of contemplation.

"Some people think Ardent Defender was an implicit I-win button, until the nerf. You're not concerned?"

"Not at all; that's a perfect example, actually. Reduced damage below 35% was too much of a margin. I find it hard to believe any paladins were dying with that amount of a buffer. Granted, if they're consistently below 30% health, the problem is the healers, not the paladin. But no, I'm not concerned with the change. It's not as potent as Will of the Necropolis, but I suppose they justify the change with the fact that DKs are exploding in heroics."

I continued on with the line of questioning.

"How'd you find out about us anyway?"

"Been pugging with some of the people in DoD, they encouraged me to apply. Honestly, the top-down structure of a guild isn't something that interests me. I prefer playing with people, not a system. But they were pretty obstinate about how 'things are different in DoD', so after a bit of reading on you guys, perhaps it's time for a change. Not a huge fan of your raid schedule, but it's less ridiculous than some of these other raiding guilds on the server."

I flipped over to his character sheet on the armory and looked through all the various pieces of gear. Each slot bore a piece of armor immaculate and polished. Every tanking enchant was dead on, every gem was correct, at least from my limited exposure to the areas of protection paladins. I pulled up Bretthew's armory to compare -- everything about the guy's setup was in alignment. I started reading off what I saw into the microphone.

"Hit capped, expertise soft capped..."

"I've never really had a problem with threat generation. Paladins are already way overboard in that department, anyway. The bottom line is players don't pull bosses of me. If a tank lets that happen, they're pretty much a lost cause by that point."

The image of Eacavissi flashed into my mind, pulling such extraordinary numbers that even Ater struggled occasionally to control bosses. That was also a different era, don't forget that part.

"You think you can handle heroically geared warlocks that like to mismange their threat? We've got a couple of folks that like to push the envelope."

There wasn't even a hint of skepticism, "There won't be any issue."

I shifted the conversation to something a little more topical, "What's your take on the Blood Queen fight?"

"Easy fight. Even easier than Putricide, really. Get your positioning straight at the start, delay the first bite...shouldn't be any issues after that. Hopefully players pay attention to shroud and pact. Then yeah, it's not difficult. Your typical hard enrage fight."

The more he spoke, the more the accent began to geolocate him.

"You're Canadian, aren't you?"

He remained silent.

"It's OK, you're in good hands. Guild leader was born and raised there. Just doing my part to keep the Yankees in check."

"Someone needs to."

I laughed. "Yeah. It certainly seems that way sometimes..."

I couldn't believe my luck. How often does an applicant come along that is well spoken, understands the finer mechanics of the current content, has in-depth knowledge of their own class, as well as others that share the role, and carries with them of air of unwavering confidence? All this, and a fellow Canadian. It was as if I had asked the Gods themselves for the perfect applicant.

"How soon can you start? Are you locked to ICC this week or can we put you in for Friday?"

"I can start this Friday."

"Perfect! Alright, well...I think we're done here. This could be the start of some really great stuff, and I think you'll like it here in DoD."

"Thanks, can I grab that invite now?"


I alt-tabbed over to World of Warcraft, typed out the commands to invite, and hit the Enter key with the satisfaction of knowing another issue had finally been resolved. On my screen, the guild message flashed up for all to see:

Drecca has joined the guild.

The 25-Man progression team defeats Blood Queen
Lana'thel, earning them "The Crimson Hall (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Happy Valentine's Day

A few days before our third week attempting Blood Queen Lana'thel, Blizzard nerfed Icecrown Citadel again. Notable bosses like Professor Putricide, Blood Queen Lana'thel, Sindragosa, and even The Lich King himself had all been limited attempt bosses in normal mode. This Algalon-style of limited attempts hearkened back much further than the Celestial Planetarium. Vaelastrasz the Corrupt, second boss of Blackwing Lair, once bore a limited attempt restriction when he first set foot in Azeroth. It was the sort of despised mechanic leading players to seek inventive ways of solving raid boss problems, that "clever usage of game mechanics." Back then, it was sending the 40-Man raid deep into UBRS to extract a fire resistance buff off an obscure mind-controlled NPC. Clever, yes. Practical...hardly. No sane person would put up with that. Limited attempts, therefore, were to be deployed judiciously.

...such as in the case of these certain normal mode bosses, artificially dragging out the life (and interest) of Icecrown Citadel.

It wasn't a secret to those who had an eye for it. Cataclysm was still a ways off, and interest needed to be stretched out as long as it could while Blizzard wrapped up work on the next expansion. As a result, the gating unlocks and the raid-wide buffs went hand-in-hand with the limited attempts on certain bosses. I understood it, but normal modes felt a bit severe. Eventually, Blizzard came around and agreed, and the limited attempt restriction was lifted on normal modes, to return again come heroic time. Once again, my suspicions on Blizzard's new raid design were confirmed. Normal mode was meant for one-and-all, and should not bar accessibility...

...which raised the all-important question: what was our excuse for staring at an undefeated Blood Queen for the third week in a row?

"Keep your eye on the new tank tonight," I whispered over to Blain, "gonna want to hear your opinion of him at the end."

Most new recruits needed to be vetted before setting foot in our raids; watching how they behaved in a heroic 5-Man was often the litmus test. This was unnecessary with Drecca. Upon entry to his first DoD 25-Man raid, he was flasked, buffed, and with gear polished, was pulling without delay. One of the first whispers came from Omaric, now free to shapeshift into kitty form and join the DPS.

"Where'd you get this guy? His gear is top notch."

"Just pulled him out of the pile of apps! He's the one that set you free, chief."

The healers were next, quietly making observations in the super not-so-secret /dodhealers chat channel:

[4. dodhealers] Klockerr says: A new tank that knows how to use cooldowns? What is this trickery?

[4. dodhealers] Neps says: I think we should leave Bretthew behind from now on.

[4. dodhealers] Gunsmokeco says: Easy to keep him topped off. Nice to have a master player for a change.

[4. dodhealers] Drecca says: Thanks. :)

I glanced down at the chat and smiled. Our healers hadn't even realized Drecca joined their channel to listen in, making certain he knew exactly what and how they were coordinating. He took the ball and ran with it; he didn't need to be told what to do. Drecca knew and lead accordingly. When it came time to go through the motions on the Blood Queen, Drecca contributed to strategy adjustments and coordinated raid-wide cooldowns with Bretthew. Each attempt brought even more polish to our existing work.

As the clock neared 5:00pm, it appeared that our current attempt looked to be the best one yet. The raid poured every last inch of damage into Lana'thel that they could wring out, and all 25 players were alive as her health wound down into the final percentages. Eight of the top ten damage dealers were pushing 10k DPS; Jungard himself was about to break 15k. But the enrage time encroached, and as hit points remained in her pool, the Queen fell into a berserker rage.

"Don't have Divine Shield yet...Ardent Defender's out."

"Sac now!!"

"I got it, I got it, I got it..."

Fred the holy paladin stepped in and took one for the team, popping Divine Sacrifice following a Divine Shield, granting the raid a few precious seconds to continue to pour their remaining damage into Lana'thel. The 30% raid-wide reduced damage gave our strongest healers a small enough buffer to pour every last ounce of healing into the tanks as they withstood devastating strikes from an enraged boss. As Fred's Divine Shield expired, he crumpled to the floor, just as Blood Queen Lana'thel breathed her final breath.

At 4:45pm on Valentine's Day of 2010, DoD completed its first clear of The Crimson Hall, putting us at 3/4ths of the way through Icecrown Citadel. Two obstacles were behind us. I now had Drecca, a solid, professionally-played pally tank to alleviate Omaric's duties, and the Blood Queen no longer held dominance over us.

"What do you think of this new tank?" I whispered over to Blain.

"I like him. He's good."

The recruitment was a win. I looked forward to see what impact Drecca would have on the guild in the months to come.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

3.63. Algor Mortis

"Tauren Druid",
Artwork by Thiago Almeida

Applying Yourself

"Hanzo, I'm really starting to feel worn out with the tanking thing."

I listened quietly as Omaric spilled.

"It's not really holding my interest as much as it used to."

"I see," keeping as much emotion out of it as possible, "so, you'd like me to start looking for a replacement for that role?"

"I mean, if you's not a HUGE deal at the moment."

"You won't keel over dead tomorrow if I don't have a replacement by Friday?"

"Heh, no. I think I'll live past Friday."

"Well, that's a relief!" I gently joked, hoping to keep the conversation light. My strategy with humor has always been to weave it carefully through the tapestry of politics. It's my go-to tactic in winning over anonymous players in the heat of an argument, and has surprisingly good results, even if we truly don't see eye-to-eye on a particular topic of interest. The human mind is funny that way.

"But maybe just sort of look out for someone who may want to come in and fill that spot? That way I can start moving into more of a kitty DPS position."

"Alright, let me sift through our applications. We should have you doing kitty DPS in no time."

I wasn't looking forward to what came next.





I clicked through my email. App after app appeared on the screen, and I scanned the answers to my standard recruitment questions. What is your character name? How old are you? What role do you play? How did you hear about us? Tell us a story about your raiding experience. Why choose DoD over any other guilds? One by one, I read the applications that flooded in on a weekly basis, each one more useless than the next.

Some applications ignored the very first rule on the list: Do not apply if you're under 21.

Ah,'s an 18 year old.


Oh, nice, this guy's 16.


Next up were continuous applicants who demonstrated a complete and utter lack of attention to detail. I needed raiders that could truly comprehend my expectations -- many of our raid strategies came from complex guides that required exacting attention. So, I wove a trick into my application process to cull the herd: You don't need a forum account to apply -- the application is filled out and emailed to me. Yet, there before my eyes was the very thing I hoped to prevent: people unable to read carefully. It made for an easy email filter.

"Hey I can't figure out how to create an account to apply."


"Can you give me a hand creating a forum account? I'd like to fill out an application."


One by one, the apps hit my virtual trash bin, until none remained. Snake eyes, again. Everybody wanted to get their foot in the Descendants of Draenor door, but nobody was willing to put the time or effort in. I sat there with an empty inbox an overflowing trash bin, and felt nothing but disgust.

Hanzo's contribution to The CTF Expansion Project

Setting the Standard

I leaned back in my chair and stared at the pinhole sized dots scattered across the ceiling. Perhaps I was being too hasty, perhaps a good handful of these applicants weren't nearly as bad as I made them out to be. A conversation popped into my head from a year earlier, the weekend before I left on a trip to Dallas, Texas on business...the same trip in which I drafted an officer's termination letter.

"I think you should think carefully about being overly critical of players that can't write particularly well."

"Jul, he writes like a kid. I mean, how is that supposed to demonstrate any sort of leadership?"

My wife shrugged, "Well, some people can't. You can go to school and learn the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation...but good writing is inherent. Does he have other skills that would qualify him for the position, though?"

"I dunno. I feel like he comes across as an amateur. As he's not leading by example. I need him to!"

"Have you considered the possibility that maybe he can't? Maybe he is prioritizing things in real life more than the game. You said yourself that a game/life balance is something that's important to you. Maybe it's important to him as well."

"Ok, so that should stand in the way of fundamental sentence structure? Maybe he could give me just a little more effort?"

"Shawn...some people don't care as much about WoW as you do."


Memories began to swirl, fading in and out across a cloudy spectrum of images. I was transported back in time to a conversation I had with a friend, years before Blizzard would ever announce their intention of creating an MMO. It was 1998, and I was sitting at a desk in a room purposefully darkened by the IT staff. Our collective introversion confined us to the server room; I was a webmaster. On that day, however, I was distracted by a side-project I had assembled: The CTF Expansion Project. It was a collection of Capture-The-Flag maps for the popular Threewave CTF mod for Quake, built by my friend Zoid. I'd known Zoid since even before Quake, playing 2D Fighting games at his apartment in Vancouver...Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Samurai Shodown II. I'd met hardcore game addicts on Vancouver Island before, but Zoid was different. When he picked me up at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, I immediately recognized the music playing over his car stereo: the soundtrack to Darkstalkers.

I thought I was the only person in the world that listened to video game music. There are others like me.

To celebrate the success of Zoid's popular Threewave mod, I did my part by coordinating a handful of expert map makers to come together and assemble an expansion pack of capture-the-flag goodness. The CTF Expansion Project enjoyed moderate success, eventually finding its way into a larger production known as All-Star CTF. I felt it was a great collaborative effort, but the true test would come from Zoid's own critique of my map selections. When I pinged Zoid, famous for his short, to-the-point responses, I asked him what he thought of the pack. I remember his response well:

"It was OK. You need to set your standards higher!"

I'm certain Zoid meant it as encouragement, but it felt like a crushing defeat.

A Slight Reduction in Body Temperature

My focus on the office ceiling resumed. Were my standards too high? Or not high enough? I debated relaxing the rules, and giving a few more of these applicants a chance, players whose applications weren't spit polished to a military grade. Right on cue, my gut chimed in.

Do you want to create more drama for yourself? Did you like the way things ran during Vanilla and The Burning Crusade? Perhaps you'd like to go back to neglecting your job and family to spend every waking moment in game, dealing with their shit.

I shook my head and alt-tabbed back to work. I wasn't going to sacrifice our guild's integrity and current standing to let the dregs in. I'd fought to get rid of the stigma that we were a stepping stone guild, and it was apparent from the flood of applicant emails that DoD was no longer perceived as such. We would be their last guild. To that end, I owed it to the members to retain that which I held in high regard: the expectation that you come to this guild prepared to do whatever it took to keep us successful. I'd rather have the team suffer with 24 or 23 players in the roster, than force several people in "just to be warm bodies".

Dead bodies are warm for a short time too...but aren't very good at contributing.

I sat for a moment, lost in thought, contemplating the loss of Dalans and proclamation by Omaric revealing his increasing apathy towards tanking, and began to consider the possibility of solving the problem myself.

Oh, nice. So that whole bit about not forcing players into a role they didn't enjoy, that was all just a line you were feeding them? And yourself? Gonna go ahead and return to tanking, then? Tanking with a Shadowmourne? Bet that'll go over real well with the guild.

I needed a new tank. Someone to emerge with the expertise of a hardcore player, yet could assimilate into a guild insistent on mutual respect and treating others with a quiet dignity. Someone who was already fully geared, and who kept their armor polished, with their point-of-view squarely focused on raid progression through raw efficiency. And someone with a solid grasp on the game's mechanics, to mentor others, to take charge of duties, and to be someone I could count on week after week.

So, basically...I needed a miracle.

The ping of an arriving email rung through my earbuds and I glanced back down to the inbox. My eyes darted from left to right, reading the application...and grew wide in excitement. I flipped open the guild forums, pulled up the private messages, and quickly drafted up a response to Omaric:

"May have found a tank replacement for you. Stand by for further instruction."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

3.62. Diplomacy for Dummies

The 25-Man defeats Profession Putricide,
earning "The Plagueworks (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

The Politics of Raiding

The third wing of ICC was now open for service, and although the 25-Man progression team plowed through the The Blood Prince Council without batting an eye, we came to a dead stop at Blood Queen Lan'athel. Attempt after attempt went into the vampiric blood elf, her wings spread wide as she feasted on each player of the raid, injecting them with their own insatiable blood lust. A discussion on what needed to change was dominating the guild forums, but theories varied. Notably, Jungard had been in talks with Blain about the possibility of pushing out the first bite in order for the raid to gain precious seconds near the end. Additionally, Blain offered to assist Jungard (and in turn, Omaric and Bretthew) in handling bite assignments -- a degree of micromanagement Blain was famous for. On the surface, Omaric and Bretthew seemed to welcome the help; behind the scenes, I remained suspicious of their sincerity. The 25-Man was their show now, and to have the old raid leader resume old habits...even unofficially...must have rubbed them the wrong way. Omaric, in particular, was the one I was concerned about. Known for his habitual back-seat raid leading during Cheeseus' reign, Blain's reach must have felt a bit overextended. But, Blood Queen remained undefeated, and I'm certain this was part of the reason Omaric took Blain's help, rather than reject it.

Shadowfrost Shards continued to be sent to my bags, but little else; I kept mum while the majority of upgrades went to the Elite, and what table scraps remained began to show up on the character sheets of the Raiders. The lack of shinies contributed to my funk; the loss of one of my longest running guild members and officers, Dalans, hung heavy. It wasn't long before I expanded to fill the vacuum left in his absence. Without his ever present strong-arm tactics ensuring guildies played by the rules and kept their whining to a minimum, the need to perform those duties on my own took root. I grew less tolerant of mistakes, expected more from people, and was less inclined to meet the needs of the Raider over the Elite. Complaints that they weren't seeing as frequent of loot upgrades as expected were met with little sympathy from me. My inner voice took command, repeating to them the tenets of the guild's philosophy:

The "Raider" rank enjoys more flexibility than the "Elite"; that's why they get 1st round bidding rights. That's their perk. Your perk is that you get to come and go as you please. You don't get to have the cake and eat it, too. If you want more loot, give me greater commitment, just as the Elite have. End of story.

The Raiders weren't the only ones on the receiving end. I grew increasingly distasteful of Omaric and Bretthew's "loosey goosey" leadership style, one rife with chatting and jokes, making light of mistakes that were our downfall in an earlier expansion. Where once I approved of their fun-loving, playful atmosphere, I now sat and stared it down with stilted eyes. After calling them out several times on their lack of focus, they dug their heels in and expressed their dissatisfaction with my handling of their promotion, pointing out that I had yet to officially acknowledge them as DoD's new 25-Man raid leaders. Those who walked the hallowed halls before them, Cheeseus and Blain, had been paraded down the red carpet like kings returned from a holy war, now ready to lead our people to victory. Yet no forum post existed in Omaric or Bretthew's name. I told them it was an oversight. In reality, it went much deeper. They hadn't yet won me over. Yes, they were doing the job, achievements were being knocked out, progress was being made -- but they hadn't persuaded me of their leadership.

I wasn't yet in a position to make that fact known. While I certainly had control over the roster, options in the leadership department were still minimal at best. And a charge like that would be far too damning to players driven by their emotions. Between the former back seat raid leader and the paladin who concocted a story to hide the truth behind a temper tantrum, this situation clearly required finesse. I agreed with them on the finer points of their argument. You're absolutely right. I haven't acknowledged your efforts. It needs to be done. And I wrote the post marking them as the officially sanctioned raid leaders of DoD, supplying a bulleted list of all of the accomplishments they cleaned off our plate. The negotiation had silently begun. The next time we'd speak, it would be me with a list of demands.

That was the plan, at least.

The Blood Council fails to deliver 25k damage to any
player, earning DoD "The Orb Whisperer (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Hell Freezes Over

One evening, as we cleared our way toward Festergut and Rotface, Hellspectral had become noticeably louder in Vent. An hour earlier, I began to pick up on hints that something wasn't right. Normally quiet during the boss fight, Hellspectral was feeding off of Ben in Vent. The shadow priest's insane numbers went hand-in-hand with deafening screams that pissed off anyone wearing a half decent set of headphones. And in staying true to his PvP roots, this behavior was generally followed by any number of trash-talking insults toward guildies who managed to meet or exceed his "contributions" -- that playful way that PvPers expressed admiration in the same way the common man would express disgust. On this particular evening, Hellspectral took it upon himself to do just that, not only matching Ben's entry in Recount, but his volume in Ventrilo as well. Without Dalans' itchy trigger finger to mute him, Ben and Hells competed uninhibited in damage and in decibels.

Things went south when Saurfang fell over dead.

In those next moments of transitioning through Saurfang's doorway, down the hallways guarded by icy traps, Hellspectral continued on his tirade as if drunk from a night on the town. This behavior came to a head when we arrived at the entryway forking to Putricide and his two pet abominations, Stinky and Precious, guarding their respective masters.

"I've had enough of this! Imma take a nap," Hellspectral announced. An awkward silence fell over vent, as everyone knew exactly what my stance was regarding leaving a raid early: zero tolerance, followed by instant, permanent removal from the guild. They waited to see if the death knight would hearth and log out -- he did neither. Instead, his virtual self stood motionless, staring at one of the walls of the citadel's chambers. Reality set in. He wasn't behaving as if he were drunk...

..he was drunk.

"Are you fucking serious?" I, at last, broke the silence.

"Is he gone?"

"I think he's passed out."

Rage and fury began to paint my screen red, as I alt-tabbed to the desktop, dragged Hellspectral into a separate Vent channel, proceeding to scream at the top of my lungs in an attempt to "wake him up". There was no response. I was stunned. Never in the history of my guild had any of the core raid team ever passed out drunk in the middle of a run. Moments later, Blain joined the channel.

"I can't fucking believe he's doing this. What is going through his mind? I'm one step away from kicking him. This is totally unacceptable behavior."

And then, Blain did something that completely caught me off guard.

"I've got this. Let me handle it. Head on back to the raid channel. I'll take care of it."

Mature completes the Ashen Verdict reputation grind,
Icecrown Citadel

Mischief Managed

Blain? Mediating? Never in the history of the guild had Blain ever shown any interest in dealing with people issues. His leadership style had forever been "My Way or the Highway", a style I adopted in some form or another. If it had been any other day, or any other guildy...if a cord was about to be cut, Blain would've been the first to offer to hold the scissors. Why was he doing this thing that was so unconventional of him?

I didn't know how to respond, so in my stupor, I simply spoke back into the mic the first thing that came to mind...

"Thank you...for doing that."

I returned to the raid channel joining a conversation already in progress. Players were joking about placing bets about how fast Hellspectral would be unguilded. 

"Ok, everyone...settle down. The issue is being handled. Let's continue." The raid smartened up, and quickly resumed the process of pulling trash...albeit a bit quieter and more focused than before. Blain soon joined us in the channel as well. We made it through the rest of the raid that evening, sans Hellspectral, and at some point during that night, Blain typed a whisper over to me,

"You'll be hearing from him at some point in the near future."

I thanked him again for the intervention, but was still no less shocked that he performed it.


Right on schedule, Hellspectral contacted me a few days later, after sobering up and mustering the courage to face whatever wrath I had planned for him. He apologized profusely for his behavior, stating that he had let it get out of control, taking full responsibility -- he never once blamed anyone but himself. I admired his honesty and courage in finally stepping up; I was willing to work with players who accepted their shortcomings and made moves to solve them...since I had no shortage of similar faults. If I put the effort into improving, so could they, I thought it was a fair expectation to levy on my roster...

...but I couldn't help but wonder if I was going soft. Should I have given him the permanent boot? How many chances should a player get to prove themselves before the dreaded double-standard sets in?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

3.61. The Field Where He Grew Them

Kerulak, dressed in full Ten Storms, stands alongside
Dalans, dressed in full Stormrage Raiment,

OMG! Bare Durid is Storng!

In the beginning, I didn't know if Dalans was going to last.

"He's at it again," Graulm whispered to me. The warlock, my Number Two, struggled to guide me through the after effects of a recently completed guild assimilation. Incorporating The Final Cut into our ranks was the final shove that pushed us through the door into 40-Man raiding, but it came at a cost. A veritable melting pot of personalities were now among our ranks, and not all of them had yet adopted "the way of the guild leader". When I gazed out across the virtual world that populated Deathwing-US, my conclusion was that most players couldn't give a fuck. This was a game; it was populated by gamers, and most of them cared little (if anything at all) about one another. Casual attitudes were swallowed whole, and predatory trolling was met with more aggressive trolling. Natural selection appeared conservative by comparison, watching how the hardcore fed off of the casual. In this rawest form of survival, kill-or-be-killed translated literally into both the fields of PvP and PvE, extending further on to the forums where whining and taunting was commonplace. In my quest to create an environment unlike any other guild on the server, I steered my roster away from the forums as a means to avoid the disrespect and waste.

But, my newest players hadn't yet become privy to DoD's way of life, and after my second-in-command discreetly pointed out his behavior several times post-merge, it was clear I would have to address Dalans directly.

Dalans liked the forums. A lot. He swarmed them. With the razor sharp tongue of a seasoned gamer, he sliced into the forums like a Sushi Chef. As I reviewed his posts, there was a common theme. Amid the vitriolic personal attacks, Dalans remained surprisingly loyal to this brand new guild he called home. He espoused support for this new family, degrading all attackers who dared challenge our guild's credibility. I appreciated his fierce dedication, but it had to be controlled. Whatever name we had made for ourselves as a respectful, mature guild would quickly fly out the door if Dalans were left alone too long. My gut told me that there was great value buried deep in his character, and blanket threats to "change your attitude" would only fuel the rage further. In those early days of leadership, I made many judgement calls that felt right. I had consumed no leadership training materials, and it would be over a year before I'd meet Ater face-to-face, having our daily lunch rituals, schooling me on the fine art of directing human traffic.

So, my gut told me to appeal to the gamer in Dalans. Show him that we shared a mutual love of disliking idiot players, that we both had high expectations of one another, and that we were ultimately two faces of the same war -- the war on incompetence. After upgrading our guild's forums, I found a funny Currier and Ives painting a WoW player had painted over with cartoon dialogue balloons. In the painting, the characters spoke in the broken, horribly misspelled language of WoW players, commenting on the state of the druid class and its power. I sent it over to him, suggesting he use it for his forum signature. He laughed, promptly editing it down in size and affixing it to his profile. Building those gaming-related bonds helped ease into administrating Dalans, in an attempt to curtail his forum rants. He agreed to my demands. There was a bit of resistance, but I expected some; I would've been disappointed had he not put up any fight at all. It was that thick bear skin, after all, that was what appealed to me from a guild leader perspective. My roster needed a thick skin, especially considering what we were up against.

As we slowly etched away at raid content, after our late start midway through Vanilla, Dalans was always the first to report our boss progress on the Deathwing-US forums. This topic, maintained by players in the guild Inertia on the Alliance side, was rife with insult and mockery. Always ready to point the finger and laugh at how far behind we were, rarely acknowledging that we now sat among an elite few on the server that was making any progress in raids, Dalans kept his word to me. He promised to restrain himself, though it must have had been difficult. The trolls rarely let up. But Dalans stayed true to his word, continuing to post our boss kill progress even before I had our own forums announce said accomplishments. His undivided attention to our guild was impressive...

...or was that oppressive?

Dalans transforms into ROBO BEAR by
wearing Void Reaver's destroyed head,
Tempest Keep: The Eye

Is U Liek a Nise Hot Cup o Mangel?

When I first considered Dalans for a promotion to officer, I thought I had gone mad. I wasn't alone. Floating the idea around the officer pool was met with handfuls of really? I expected that most felt he wasn't nearly mature enough for the responsibility. I disagreed. Tact notwithstanding, I knew he was a gamer at heart, a person who would forever hunger for greatness, maintaining high expectations of both himself and his peers. It was a philosophy I shared, so a promotion was the logical decision to make. The officer pool in DoD ultimately needed to be an extension of my own ideals. Even though I sometimes felt like raiding with Dalans was like carrying around a live grenade in my backpack, he diligently served as druid officer, and matched our expectations to keep his players in a straightened military file. The druids we brought to raids complained little, kept their gear min/maxxed, and none complained of their role as healer during Vanilla. And they had no reason to: it was public knowledge within Descendants of Draenor that Dalans himself hated healing. But, like the guild leader, he led by example; instead of complaining, he embraced Restoration, consistently topping the meters among druid healer pool.

When The Burning Crusade launched, the druid class (as many others) finally came into their own, broadening in capacity to fill multiple roles. It was then that Dalans cut over to tank, a role he passionately looked forward to performing. By this point, his hot-headed handling of haters had been focused inward for so long, he commonly wielded his officer powers swiftly and with little remorse. Some argued it was abusive; for me, it wasn't always clear. Some complainers deserved instant silence for their annoying rants, others...I felt could have been shown a bit more compassion. Dalans didn't have time for compassion. Like the gamer attitude that brought him to my attention, it was the gamer attitude that kept him from seeing the other side of the situation. Was a player like Ekasra responding poorly to criticism because of a palpable lack of skill? Or was it a failing computer? Self-esteem issues? Problems on the home front? These things didn't matter to Dalans, so it was up to me to arbitrate, and bring both parties to the table.

Much of early Burning Crusade was spent in diplomatic negotiations with Dalans. He refused to budge on his hypercritical stance regarding players that failed. I agreed with him: excuses had no place in our raid team, but still I felt his tolerance of the inadequate could be increased, made to be more loose and fluid. The mathematics behind game mechanics are black and white, but people are a constantly shifting cloud of grays. Over time, the banhammer came down with less frequency, Dalans reserving his tyranny for only those who annoyed him in truly exceptional ways -- the height of which was reached during the final months of The Burning Crusade, as a mage named Wyse continued to press his buttons relentlessly. 

It was also during these last months of the first expansion that, for the first time, Dalans began revealing more of his personal life to me, the result of which most likely came from my promoting him to fill Ater's shoes. Dalans confided in me which helped take my mind off the loss of Ater, and in doing so, built up a much stronger relationship than we'd shared to that point. Extensive conversations revealed insight into the person behind the bear; we shared an interest in music like Front Line Assembly, and that he would most likely pursue IT professionally, just as I had years earlier. This reveal, however small, meant a lot to me. I knew how well guarded Dalans carried himself. For example, many players in the roster had revealed their real-life pic by this point, yet Dalans kept it well-guarded, in much the same way as our rogue raid leader did, preferring to keep a "church and state"-like separation of gaming and real life. 

I was amused, therefore, to discover both Dalans and Blain coincidentally shared the same first name in real life.

By the end of The Burning Crusade, I'd emerged from my depression bearing a tablature of re-written rules that the guild would adopt for Wrath of the Lich King, never once stopping to realize that Dalans was now my Number Two. He had taken on the role of that which had criticized him so many moons earlier, the role responsible for jeopardizing his very existence in DoD. The student had become the teacher.


As we transitioned into WotLK, Dalans continued with his formidable tanking. He and I stood side by side in many of those early fights: Malygos, Sartharion, the myriad of bosses intertwined inside Naxxramas. When I looked to shift from Class Officers to Role Officers, I felt strongly about the need for a second Number Two, someone to be the yin to Dalans' yang. For someone who lobbied heavily during Vanilla upon the platform of "too many cooks in the kitchen", Dalans surprised me yet again by not only supporting the idea, but being instrumental in the decision of choosing Neps. It was Dalans who put my fears to rest when contemplating the risk of elevating a PvPer to power.

He and Neps built a core team of leadership unmatched in DoD's history. Neps, like Dalans, had a critical eye for play, but his demeanor was more relaxed and subtle; the perfect balance that I needed to offset the druid's short temper. I was never terribly proud to hear that Dalans had "gone off" on one of my players, but I continued to smooth things over as needed, because secretly, I wished that I had the balls of steel to deliver such swift and brutal punishment to players unwilling to make the small sacrifices we asked of them. I wished for his ferocity at hammering into content until it was complete, whatever the cost. To Dalans', there was no such concept as game/life balance. It was all game, and you did it until it was done. When others blew it, Dalans brought home the gold.

Dalans shows off his Plagued Proto-Drake,

No Thanks LOL!

As we began the ascent of Icecrown Citadel, the core of the leadership team felt intact and unbreakable. Jungard led melee, Eacavissi headed the ranged DPS, and Gunsmokeco drove the healers. Omaric and Bretthew led the 25-Man progression team by the hand each and every week, while my original raid leader Blain quietly fed me observations on what they were doing right or wrong. Above them sat Neps and Dalans, polar opposites in demeanor but identical in expectation. Our pace was superb: Festergut and Rotface had already met their fate. Professor Putricide was our only obstacle from reaching the halfway point through this new instance. I was focused on the finely tuned raid machine, oblivious to the warning signs creeping up around me.

Role-specific needs of the raid team were changing with the needs of the encounters. Omaric and Bretthew were tanking every week, and since I had taken on more DPS-related duties, the only tank that remained was Dalans. For the Professor, control of the Abomination would usually go to Omaric, with Bretthew handling the slime-based excitement on the floor. More and more, Dalans was asked to flip into a role of DPS, which he obliged as openly as he had with healing years earlier. The struggles of the druid to fill multiple roles were now nearly forgotten, its flexibility being one of the primary attractions that drew Dalans to the class in the first place. But by shapeshifting from bear to cat, Dalans gave up his command as well as his bulk -- a blow that most certainly caused him to question his relevance in the team. I could see his side of things. I felt the exact opposite with tanking, performing my duties out of blind obligation to the guild, the lull to return to DPS loud in my mind and difficult to ignore. But perhaps other factors were coming into play.

Perhaps we shared more than an interest in industrial music and technology-based work. Deep down, I think Dalans was a sentimental fool like myself, though he would be loathe to admit it. Quietly, he pined for the days of Vanilla, when the 40-Man raid rewrote the definition of the word epic. Accomplishments did not come easy -- bosses required weeks and weeks of work, ear-piercing screams and cheers filling Vent as these bosses crashed dead to the floor. The raid game had changed so significantly, that perhaps Dalans felt more and more distanced from the game that it once was. After all, this landscape was entirely alien to a person who cut his teeth on games so difficult that those who failed in their pathetic attempts were in huge abundance...and ripe to receive his wrath. That wrath was now a distant whisper, eeked out of him by both a compassionate guild leader that relentlessly compelled the bear to treat all players with respect and dignity, regardless of their skill. Or perhaps it was wrung out of him by the game itself, now opening its doors wide to both elitist min/maxxers and failboats alike. Sure, I missed the days when bosses like Ragnaros and Nefarian crashed down under our boot, but the administrative logistics behind such epic encounters were painfully abhorrent -- there had to be a better way. This was it. Wrath had finally attained that fine balance which could serve both the casual and the hardcore, and in the process, easing administration to the point that we could all enjoy a healthy game/life balance.

...but, what if you're uninterested in game/life balance? 

What if that thing that drives you back to the game each and every night is that very same thing that makes you who you are? I don't understand why people climb mountains, jump out of airplanes or drive Indy cars around a track 500 times -- but these people do these things because it is in their blood. The passion to scale a mountain, hurtle toward the Earth or drive at speeds that put your life in jeopardy is a fire that exists in those people -- it is all the meaning they need to do it. It exists. The same is true of a gamer, who shuns the social norms of going out for drinks with friends, or hanging out at a club, in lieu of fixating on an internet dragon, coordinating button presses with the intent on a kill. That passion is no less strong, especially among gamers seeking competition and the thrill of accomplishment. At last, the mountain is scaled, the parachutist touches down and the Formula One race car crosses the finish line. Whether from the audience or inside the mind's eye, the cheers can be deafening.

So...what happens if that is the thing that is removed?

The 25-Man Progression team poses for a
victory shot at the defeat of Professor Putricide,
Icecrown Citadel
Those cheers had all but subsided. The thrill of victory, of the great accomplishment, had finally been snuffed out. Dalans finally came to terms with the fact that the game he once knew and loved no longer existed. What existed in its place he no longer shared the same passion for, because it wasn't what made him who he was. Even as I pounded the table throughout the years that there absolutely could be a way for World of Warcraft to strike a balance for both the casual and the hardcore, it was never a vision Dalans had for the game. To me, Blizzard had done it. They had achieved greatness, at long last.

To Dalans, greatness had faded from WoW long ago.

I wasn't surprised to hear what reasons he felt he needed to give me. Real life was taking over, he was in the process of securing a half-decent job, dominating his off-hours. I understood the predicament and felt no obligation to press it -- he didn't owe me anything. I thanked him for his dedication to the guild and his ferocity to defend our name to the bitter end. Professor Putricide was the final boss that Dalans was present for in the 25-Man progression team, and when he parted ways with the guild and game, a swarm of support filled the Leavers Lounge, acknowledging the many feats and contributions he delivered to my guild.

We tried many times over the years, but Dalans never again returned to World of Warcraft. Instead, he observed from afar, helping administer the guild via the forums. Now positioned behind an IT desk, Dalans delivers that same unbridled fury and rage toward idiot computer users that once shone brightly toward idiot players. We talk daily over IM, and as you can probably guess, he continues to demonstrate a fierce loyalty toward DoD by being the first person to review and edit every blog post that I write, still delivering on that high expectation of perfection and accuracy he promised me when I reached for that promote button years ago.

In the beginning, I didn't know if he would last. In the end, I'm thankful that Dalans lasted as long as he did.


QQ bounced off him, blow by blow.
His fierceness was, at last, the sign
To put to rest all of the whine
While staffing bitches, to and fro.

*Apologies to John McCrae