Thursday, September 24, 2015

4.47. The Sound and the Fury

DoD stands over a defeated Heroic: Chimaeron,
Blackwing Descent

Through the Fire and Flames

"Mature, again."


I clenched my teeth and steered Mature around the outer perimeter of Atramedes' gong room, the blind dragon taking flight for the second time. A narrow, laser-like beam of flame struck the floor behind me. The sparks followed my path, like a cutting torch, and closed in.

I much preferred Chimaeron, which had us nearly motionless until the end. One raid night earlier, DoD had defeated the hydra in Heroic mode in only two attempts. I’d like to think we were just that good. In reality, Chimaeron was horribly front-loaded with complexity. Mastering the normal mode was 90% of the fight. Atramedes was no different.

The raiders did ask for harder content!

True. But they didn't ask for some of the other allowances that went along with it.

From his vantage point high above the arena, the dragon could easily outpace me, swiveling faster than I could run. I was the loudest. The sloppiest. I ran past a priest, shaman and warlock, all lying face down.

Well, maybe not the sloppiest.

"Can somebody get those three people up?" Blain's voice rose only enough to command attention, keeping his disgust at bay.

Pulsating concentric circles burst out of the floor at random places, forcing me to dodge as I ran. The rest of the raid was no better off. The mix of sound rings and fire bursting from the floor kept this phase a few degrees south of a complete disaster, a digital obstacle course in which multitasking was a non-negotiable prerequisite. I felt like I was trying to outrun electricity.

The raid kept their chatting to a minimum. When select players spoke, they were calm and collected. It was the only way to maintain order amid chaos. Those who did well under pressure could update Blain. Those more prone to flipping out kept their finger off the 'push to talk' key. I was at the head of that list.

"Go ahead and head back now."

Atramedes flapped his great gray asphalt wings, then drew them inwards and he landed, specks of molten red maroon peering out between the cracks of scales across the creature’s body. I raced back to the tip of the key-shaped arena, resuming placement for phase one.

"Move quick, move quick."

Fractions of a second after arriving, the entire raid shifted to the right, a group of sound rings sailing towards our starting position.

"Got a lot of people with high sound right now," Jungard reported.


The dragon pivoted, spinning 180 degrees and targeting a boomkin, engulfing the player in a torrent of flames. Blackangus ran counterclockwise away from the group, only to collapse, moments later.

"So, there's no resses?" she asked.

I moved west with the group, ping-ponging back to our first position, a tactic that was necessary in mitigating sound increases while keeping the raid safe from Atramedes' burst of flames...the very flames which burnt Blackangus to a crisp, moments earlier. In my periphery, Raise Ally wasn't on cooldown.

"I have one, I can try it."

Before the words even left my lips, Blackangus was alive again, repositioning. Thinking on their feet, someone had already put her back into play. Only seconds passed before Vent lit up again with alerts. This time, it was a new mechanic to be wary of.

"Obnoxious Fiend is up."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic: Atramedes,
Blackwing Descent

Beep Beep!

This additional distraction, new to the Heroic mode, gave the raid one more thing to have to deal with. Melee turned, and cleaved the creature into oblivion, interrupting any chances it had to scream out its location to Atramedes, increasing our sound levels and our susceptibility to attack.

"Again, they are highly stunnable. And they will not raise your sound if stunned," stated Amatsu. His matter-of-fact delivery had the underpinnings of a vet. Black and he had only been in the roster for several months, but like all star players, immediately made us feel like they’d been in DoD for years.

I dodged and weaved through a set of sonic pulses and bursts of flame, relieved that Atramedes had not chosen me a third time. The honor went to Littlebear for this third go at phase two. At least he was equipped with the tools necessary to outrun flame.

"Watch out, comin' through," Blain raised his voice again, "Beep Beep!"

Several players got a chuckle out of this rare comedic moment. We rushed back to the tip of the key. Here we go again. Keep it together.

A giant strip of fire burned directly through our starting spot. Common sense dictated that we could not resume our original position. Common sense…

"Starting...starting on green," I called out, trying to keep the same levelheadedness as Blain and the others, "be prepared to move in case there's a late…"

...a late buff?

I shut up.

It was time. We had to move back to the red X, but our floating marker was still doused in flame, roping it off.

"k, move to blue, move to blue," Blain called out. Blue square, slightly south of our west/east markers, was the emergency spot.

"It's dissipating," added Jungard. I glanced over to see the flames expiring.

"Ok. Move to red."

The roster resumed its position...but there was no dragon.

Amatsu, thinking ahead, pulled the blind dragon forward, giving us a slightly wider berth while navigating the narrow tip-of-the-key, now heavily doused with fire. But the dragon was out of reach. Move forward? Stay in place? This is where encounters...especially heroic ones...fall apart.

"Sonic Breath, Klocker."

We moved in two groups, melee up front and ranged/heals in the back, struggling to maintain the left/right ping-pong tactic to deal with sonic pulses. The consequences of our spread became apparent immediately: bursts of flame began sprouting up amongst the group, forcing us to shift back, left, right...just enough to stay out of it...and keep us from damaging the blind dragon.

"Sonic pulse."

"Obnoxious Fiend."


"Rallying Cry."

"Move back some, Amatsu."

"Physica, Sonic Breath."

"Divine Hymn."

"Back to green."

Nobody moved.

"Back to green."

Still nothing.

Third times the charm!

I pressed the talk key, "We're on green NOW, GO GO, GREEN GREEN, GO GO!!"

Players started moving, just as the dragon waddled towards his take-off point.

Do or die. You're out of gongs. Kite until dead, or face the flames.

Atramedes took flight, with the roster spreading out around the circular arena. Ranged damage unleashed every last bit of shadowflame, frost, arcane and fire into the creature. Melee juked each Sonic Pulse and burst of fire they could. Each player targeted by the dragon’s cutting torch had to last as long as possible. Paladins could wring out a few extra seconds by waiting until the last possible moment, then bubbling. Damage continued to pour into the dragon as the fire and flames closed in on us.

Then, the blind dragon fell from the sky and collapsed in his own flame. Heroic: Atramedes was in the bank, upping our progress through Blackwing Descent to 3/6.

I recommend not hanging around here.

All For One

The true genius of a film like "The Ring" comes when you realize you're powerless. Ten minutes into a viewing of it, and seeing that awful image in the closet, my nerves were shot. Every synapse fired until the end of the film. In a completely unexpected random moment, The Ring catches you off guard, shocking you into a defcon 1 fight-or-flight alarm. The Ring gives you no hints. You get no rising music, there are no visual cues that horror is about to be thrust upon you. At a moment in the film where you can let your guard down, The Ring ends the facade of safety with a sledgehammer. You can't even fool yourself. You have no answers. You never will.

From that point on, you never know when it's coming for you next. Will it be this next scene? Or how about this next one? There's no pattern to identify, no raid strategy to study or debuffs to let you know the fire is coming your way next. You just sit and wait in abject terror, unable to psychologically prepare yourself for what's about to come.

The human mind struggles to make sense, find patterns, put pieces of the puzzle together, so it can feel safe. The Ring gives you none of these, which makes for a brilliant and frightening experience.

I wished I was back in the theater, watching The Ring, rather than riding this escalator down towards a company orientation.

"Everything was going to be OK," I lied to myself, knowing there'd be no escape from The Three Musketeers. My palm was greasy with sweat as I gripped the handrail, heading underground to the conference rooms below. Tables of catered breakfast were spread across the lobby leading to the auditorium. Above me, speakers blasted 90s dance music. I wasn't fooled. At some point, people dressed like Athos, Porthos and Aramis would cross my path, and no amount of party blowers or dancing red shirts were going to save me.

I wandered the floor, smiling and nodding to strangers, burying panic. Every step was measured and all senses were on full alert, as I sipped my coffee and scanned the crowd of people. I glanced down to my right, noticing a table covered with HELLO MY NAME IS… lanyards, then...what was that? Was that a feathered cap out of the corner of my eye? I looked back. I was certain I saw it. But, nothing. I wanted to focus in on the danger, isolate it...and prepare myself to move far, far away from it.

But, nothing.

When would the costumes come for me?

Thirty minutes later, I sat in a large auditorium, surrounded by nearly one hundred fellow, freshly hired employees. A casually dressed businessman wandered around a podium while discussing corporate history. At times, he would step to the side, making room for the audience to watch a short vignette on a movie screen draped behind him.

To keep calm, I distracted myself from the projector and flipped through a packet of seemingly important paperwork that was tucked into a folder under my chair. As I scanned through the printed material, one set of papers caught my eye. I pulled them out and read the title, printed in bold-face at the top of the first page:

"The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - Personality Test"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

4.46. When Being Wrong is Right

Hanzo announces guild promotions
on the DoD forums

Ignoring the Evidence

As guild leader, no responsibility caused me to second guess myself more than when changing leadership. I was more frequently successful than not, but damage left in the wake of a wrong decision was a tough mess to clean-up.

I was lucky. DoD's leadership spanned a historic list of gifted players: Graulm, Ater, Blain, Kadrok, Haribo, Klocker, Dalans, Breginna, Eacavissi, Neps, Jungard. I hoped that with each promotion, new leadership would follow in their footsteps. It wasn't always that way. Kurst. Dandrak. Cheeseus. And the most recent addition to the list, Lexxii. They weren't bad people, they just missed a piece of the puzzle necessary to keep DoD afloat. My software developer mind wished there was a way to algorithmically get to that missing piece, identify it, so I could look for it in others. What made some folks wildly successful at the head of a team? Is lacking it what caused the others to falter?

My recent change to leadership carried similar hesitancy. With limited resources, I felt strong-armed into promoting Fred, making allowances where I'd otherwise stand my ground. Jungard lobbied for his friend on more than one occasion, and while I trusted his judgement, Fred's actions behind the wheel measured only moderate success. True leaders had something to teach me. When given the opportunity, Fred stopped short.

By comparison, Goldenrod's promotion to ranged dps officer made sense: he'd demonstrated real change from within. You could see it in the meters, hear it in the calm confidence of his voice. A level of maturity emerged from Goldy that kept him calm under pressure while showing compassion for other players. His perspective had grown. He was no longer focused on the minutia of mages suffering in PvP. He saw the big picture.

A red flag flapped violently above Fred's name when I reached for the promotion button.

You're making a mistake. He doesn't have the tools to lead. He doesn't see the big picture.

Maybe not, but he valued the success of the guild. Fred demonstrated it consistently from week-to-week: raw, unbridled loyalty and a yearning to learn and grow.

Even barely noticeable forward growth is still a baby step in the right direction.


Raiders claimed Wrath of the Lich King's raids were too easy and that a return to World of Warcraft's earlier, more difficult raiding days would herald a new dawn for the game. We got what we asked for. Normal 25s were tuned to such a degree that a collective shudder rippled across the roster when contemplating Heroic counterparts. The team yearned for an opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency, feeding off the adrenaline of a kill in the last moments that could go either way.

Halfus was the wake-up call. The two-headed Ettin gating the dark recesses of Bastion of Twilight whet our appetite for those glory days, reminding us of the tenets that got us here. Steadfast resolve amid chaos and panic. Personal responsibility to survive a barrage of ambient collateral damage. And the expectation that every player min/max every last piece of equipment draped across their character. Spontaneity and impulsiveness had to take a back seat. From my raid team, I demanded strength and preparation. From the lowly Raider to my 2nd-in-command: nobody was above growth. We all had something to learn.
Blain's "Thoughts On
Progression" forum thread

Nearly Perpetual Motion

"That last 20% sucked."

"Your Mom sucked 100% last night, Klocker!"

I steered Mature toward twenty-four ghostly bodies bearing my guild's name as they ran back to Blackwing Descent. Six weeks had passed since our kill of Heroic: Halfus Wrymbreaker. Two days prior, Blain took to the DoD boards to get his own pulse from the guild:

As most of you know, I do not like to remain stagnate for long on any specific content, just to acquire gear for the sake of gear. There are some cases where this is unavoidable but there are also cases where we can plan to continue on past content in order to push ourselves. Changing our focus from normal modes to heroic modes is one of those delicate balancing acts. Eventually, we’ll have to say that normal modes are, for the most part, over with, so we can continue on with heroic content. Now I know some people will ask "Why can't we just do both and learn the heroic modes along the way?" To that specific question, I'll say that we will. Today's question is about the focus of both raid nights.

Blain was known for many things throughout his career in DoD, but seeking feedback from the roster was not one of them. This was Blain in rare form, and a perfect example of leadership going the extra mile in order to further DoD's cause. Even if that meant stepping out of a comfort zone.

Blain's new approach to tackling the dreaded Loot Paradox got the roster talking about what amount of time felt right, farming gear vs. pushing progression. And the roster responded well to it, soliciting responses from both the upper echelon of raiders, as well as from leadership itself. Seeing the guild actively engaged in raiding discourse gave me a feeling of quiet pride. The DoD machine was almost self-sustaining.

That same energy on the DoD forums translated to personal investment when it came time to slam our heads against the grueling difficulty of Heroic mode 25-Man raid bosses. Each member sunk their teeth in, knowing full well the harsh reality of repeated wipes -- something those of us from Vanilla knew intimately. We fostered the same emotions of personal investment in the newest players; if they felt they had a hand in deciding their own fate, they were even more likely to align their own goals with that of the guild's. No giving up. No whining. No bitching about missing an upgrade. 

Heroic boss death or bust.


Magmaw had more than enough to keep track of in a Normal kill. The enormous worm stood at the entrance to Blackwing Descent, and was to be tanked by two players -- when one tank was mangled, the other would take over. Magmaw Spit and Magmaw Spew were a constant threat to the lives of the team, keeping the healers fully occupied; Spit was frequent and targeted individuals, while Spew was less so, yet struck everyone in the raid. Pillar of Flame flung players into the air and spawned Lava Parasites that needed to be killed quickly. Ignoring the parasites meant death. The key to Magmaw's defeat was to tie him down during his thrashing with Constricting Chains, allowing players to straddle the worm, and tear into the shell protecting its head while it writhed and bucked.

For Heroic: Magmaw, the extreme became nightmarish, thanks to help from the big boss dragon in a neighboring room.

DoD pulls off a clutch kill, defeating Heroic: Magmaw,
Blackwing Descent

Heroic: Magmaw

Every 30 seconds, Nefarian would raise a blazing animated skeleton in Magmaw's room, spawning from a giant meteor that would stun anyone caught in its impact radius. Animated Skeletons hit hard, easily killing a non-plate wearer in a single hit, and needed to be off-tanked and killed. Killing them required concentrated burst because in their final 20%, the skeletons began an 8 second cast: Armageddon. Failing to commit the animated bones back to the earth resulted in an explosion potent enough to wipe the entire raid. Nefarian also accented the second phase of Magmaw, hurling bolts of Shadowflame Barrage at us, increasing our vulnerability to AoE damage. If we could make it to this point, animated skeletons would no longer plague us.

With all our attention on DPS directed toward Magmaw and Animated Blazing Skeletons, there was little time afforded for Lava Parasites. That meant in Heroic mode, they needed to be handled with a different tactic: kiting. For that assignment, Blain chose DoD's definitive frost death knight, Hellspectral. Utilizing Howling Blast spam, Hells caught each group of spawned parasites in his icy grasp, dragging them far to the outer reaches of the room to be dealt with.

Hells' timing had to be precise, as cross-over between Lava Parasites and Animated Skeletons could mean a rogue skeleton might come his way. To offset this, Littlebear and Jemb were assigned to alternate misdirecting skeletons to the melee group, so the offtank could hold it in place where it was cleaved to pieces. This, too, required timing, as the offtanks could no longer simply trade Magmaw back-and-forth each Mangle. Instead, Blain had one main tank hold Magmaw away from us, the off-tank only taunting prior to Mangle. This freed the off-tank to remain nearly perma-available, standing among melee and ready to pick-up and hold the incoming skeleton.

The last 20% of Heroic: Magmaw was truly the nightmare. Heroic: Magmaw demanded a consolidated final burn, withstanding a massive onslaught of fire and shadowflame. Every last cooldown was burnt, every last trinket was popped. Anything anyone could do to stay alive...they did. One attempt grew to be so frenetic that Sir Klocker side-stepped a Lava Burst, then dodged a Shadowflame...only to walk clear off the broken edges of the floor, plummeting into the lava below.

But as our health bars dipped to 20%, then 10%, then 5%, then 2%, Magmaw slowly picking us off one by one...the worm twitched and buckled in the spasms of death. I looked up from the red madness sloshing across the screen, burning into my eyes, instantly idling at the encounter's end. A few health bars remained. Dewgyd. Neps. Rainaterror. And my own. Four of us had lived. Barely.

After a progression drought of six weeks, Heroic: Magmaw fell on May 6th.


I'd just finished uploading one of the kill screenshots to the "Accomplishments" board, when a whisper came into chat. It was Blackangus.

[From: Blackangus] Just wanted to say thanks again for letting us be a part of DoD. Raiding is actually fun again!

I smiled.

[To: Blackangus] Glad to hear it. We're really lucky to have both you and Amatsu. You two showed up right when we needed you the most.

I glanced down at /trade chat, a nearly endless stream of guild advertisements, forever macro'd to the keyboards of the naive and the damned. I typed a response back to Black.

[To: Blackangus] You never did tell me how you came across DoD. How did you find us, exactly?

[From: Blackangus] Fred recruited us. We joined a Baradin Hold pug with him. He convinced us to check you out. Must have been at least an hour long chat.

Perhaps I'd been wrong about Fred. Perhaps he did have the big picture. For once as a guild leader, I was perfectly happy being wrong. Fred had something to teach me after all.