Thursday, November 26, 2015

4.53. Flames Talking to the Wind

A fine alternative to repetitive injuries at work,
Diablo II

Carpal Tunnel Is Not a Disease, It's a Lifestyle

My wrists ached. The last time they felt this way was the week I spent climbing the Diablo II ladder...for the second time. A week of unemployment in early 2003 left me with the same repeated muscle injury. Between job interviews, I clicked and clicked, loot dropping all around me while my barbarian spun through the Plains of Despair. Eventually, I had to start taking breaks, icing the injury, calming the burning sensation between loot runs. A small price to pay for a chance at showing up on the ladder. A chance at recognition. A tiny moment of geek glory.

Today's injury wasn't game related. Arch's app needed help. To ensure thoroughness, I documented every last inch of the software. What powered it, how it behaved. The data model and the types of users that relied on it. Schematics and user flows. Even a bit of fantasy vs. reality found its way into my Word doc: what Arch's app was supposed to do, and what it was actually doing (a common miscommunication in software development). I wasn’t claiming stakeholders were in the dark. I simply wanted everyone on the same page. How could we expect to fix things if we disagreed on what was broken?

The previous developer's idea of documentation was a commentary of insults and complaints, buried within the app's source code. I'd been there, I understood the frustration. But to leave it here for the next developer to find? Professionalism had seen better days. Why not channel the anger into some answers? I did exactly that, and my insatiable need for completeness culminated in a 952 page manual, just tipping over the edge of 74,000 words. Insults were replaced with facts, and instead of complaints, the reader now had solutions.

News spread quickly throughout the office about the Odyssey presented to the stakeholders. Heads would pop out of cubes as I walked by, "Heard about your essay. 1000 pages?", to which I simply replied with a shrug. "Hey. It had to be done." Sometimes hard work is necessary to do things the right way. And as far as I could tell, nobody else was going to do it.

My manager, Allison, seemed to agree.

"I've got another app that needs some love. But I don’t want to jeopardize the detail you're putting in with Arch. It sounds like you two have hit it off."

"Oh, he's great. Arch is fantastic. And I appreciate you recognizing this, I mean...I don't really think his app got the attention it deserved."

"Let me throw this out," she said, "how do you feel about overseeing a couple of contractors? You could interview from a pool we have available, pick the candidates you want, and divide up the work amongst all of you. Break it up however you want. And", she patted the hard copy of my document, "they'd build to your specs, just like what you've done with this little short story here."

Leading a team? I could do that.

"Let's do it."

A little hard work had paid off.

Shannox is the first to fall to the 25-Man Progression Team,

Burning Alive

We were a long, long way from Molten Core.

Beyond the breach lay a charred wasteland, boiling in flame. The terrain broke apart in places, and between these exposed cracks could be seen glimpses of flowing magma. The contrast shifted such that you could feel the embers burning through the computer monitor. And we were not alone in this inferno.

Any visitors foolish enough to challenge Ragnaros' minions in home territory would find themselves swallowing mouthfuls of lava. Salamanders -- humanoid creatures propped up by the coil of a long, snakelike tail -- slithered across blackened rocky flats. Enormous stone creatures trudged slowly across the chasm, while giant two-headed demonic canines roamed in search of interlopers. Further on, the bright red and yellow glow of Fire Elementals could be seen as they made their rounds, scouting, guarding their master’s keep.

In the distance, a great jagged spire shot up into the molten sky. The spire appeared fuelled by fire which coursed throughout a central column that extended to the very top of the tower. Sulfuron Spire’s extremities were dangerously sharp; horns burst right from Hell itself. Our path would eventually take us to this fortress, putting us face to face with an old friend.

After battling Al'Akir in the realm of Skywall and venturing deep to the bowels of the earthen underbelly Deepholm, only this elemental plane remained.


When Blizzard announced that the four elemental planes would be traversable locations, the inner geek in me nearly died. I’d read Shadows & Light cover to cover, one of the pen & paper WoW manuals that was our only source of extensive lore in the early days. I'd known of Al'Akir and of Therazane for years (though astute old-schoolers would’ve known of Therazane from hints dropped throughout Maraudon). And as equally excited as I was to finally battle Ragnaros once more, this time in his own domain, I’d also looked forward to what Nepulon’s Abyssal Maw had in store for us.

It was not meant to be.

Alas, the Abyssal Maw was one of many big promises cut from Cataclysm, joining Path of the Titans on the cutting room floor.

Hopefully, Firelands would make up for the absence of its watery brother.


Our main tanks for opening night were Amatsu and Blain (via Xane). We picked up the aforementioned minions wandering the plane of fire and dispatched them. They began as trash, and ended as ash.

The first boss was Shannox, an enormous Salamander accompanied by two guard dogs, Riplimb and Rageface. The Salamanders of yore -- Lucifron, Gehennas, Shazzrah, Sulfuron Harbinger...even Majordomo Executus -- all seemed like lightweights in comparison. Thick plates of deep charcoal-colored armor draped across his right shoulder. His belt, sash, and thick shoulder armor glowed brightly with lava-empowered runes. Shannox dragged a large pennant behind him, and a patch covered his right eye.

After cleaning the molten fields, Amatsu engaged Shannox, while Blain took Riplimb to the far edge of the group, just within healing range. Untankable, Rageface lept from player to player; at times, the fiery mutt would latch permanently onto a player, forcing us to separate the two with a single blast of 30k damage. We dealt with Rageface, kept Shannox busy, and chipped away at Riplimb. When Riplimb let out a final howl in death, we killed Rageface in kind, enraging Shannox. Lacking his guard dogs as a defense, we murdered the Salamander after three hours of work.

"Let's move, people!" Blain said, rushing us out of the kill screenshot, "Still have one hour of work to get in."

From Shannox's grave, we turned toward the southeastern part of the map, navigating through a bevy of fiery rivers which snaked through the safety of dry (read: not engulfed in flames) land. Eventually, we arrived at the Rhyolith Plateau. The creature that towered above us looked as if Ragnaros’ has transformed a volcano into a living thing. The monster was made entirely of sharpened stone, and his exposed chest bore a glowing, molten center (as did his right arm and hand). Atop the living volcano floated a jawless skull; its eye sockets glowed red from the warmth that appeared visibly from inside.

The raid stood near the creature's feet at 10:45pm, quickly buffing and preparing for a showdown with the side of a mountain. With only 15 minutes left in the raid, we had but one real shot at Lord Rhyolith before the night was done.

And one shot was all it took.

DoD stands in front of Lord Rhyolith's defeated molten body,

Snuffed Out

On night two, we veered far to the west, navigating through an s-shaped path that wove its way through fiery webwork. Long strands of burning hot webbing draped across and above the path, and lined the edges of our walkway. At the end of the twisting path hovered Beth'tilac, a nightmarish creature that would put any arachnophobe into the fetal position.

Beth'tilac forced the raid to split into two groups. Far above the floor, the first group dealt with her by climbing her webbing and stepping carefully, so as not to fall through. Meanwhile, a second part of the raid remained below, dealing with never-ending waves of spider creatures, bent on burning us alive.

After an hour and a half of practice, DoD prevailed, and Beth'tilac became boss #3 to fall to progression.

The last encounter on the docket was Baleroc, a creature resembling a doomguard, engulfed head to toe in flame. Baleroc demanded the very best from our healers. Our tanks would grow in both health and damage taken, forcing the healers to risk their own lives by standing next to crystals that bombarded them with shadow damage, as well as boosting their healing ability. Baleroc required clear and succinct communication in order to ensure healers were healing through greater and greater amounts of damage without putting themselves in jeopardy.

The minutes ticked toward the top of the hour, leaving with us with a final attempt. And in that famous last pull, the pieces of the healing puzzle fell neatly into place, and Baleroc toppled. The first week in Firelands was a roaring success, ending with 4/7.


As I began posting the screenshots of the hard work and dedication from progression, an in-game alert noted someone was whispering me. It was Neps, asking me to hop into the officer channel in Vent. I obliged.

"What's up?"

"Hey, um...I have a bit of a problem I need to talk to you about."

All at once, the red flag alarms fired in unison. I could feel my heart pounding, the fight or flight response winding up for a mad dash to safety. Immediately, I could tell that there was something wrong with Neps' voice. On any other day, Neps' mellow, laid-back voice could be described no other way than "pure chill". Nothing flustered Neps. Even at his most irritated, he remained calm, collected -- he was the mellow to my frantic.

Something was very different this time. It started in Neps' familiar, laid back voice, but quickly tapered off, lowering in volume, wavering in pitch. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess he was choking back tears. Before answering, I shifted my tone to match the severity I wagered was at stake, "Sure, sure, what's on your mind? everything ok?"

" Grandmother passed away."

I took a deep breath, then exhaled.

"Oh my god. Neps, I' sorry. Were you very close?"

His voice continued to crack, "Yeah, yeah we were. She basically took care of me when I was younger. And..." he started taking deep breaths between sentences, struggling to get through it, "...I have to take care of the...arrangements, y'know? So, I'm...not gonna be able to…"

I stopped him from making this any more difficult than it had to be.

"Neps, say no more. Listen. You take all the time you need, alright? Blain and I and the rest of the guys...we'll hold down the fort while you're gone...keep that spot nice and warm for when you're ready to c'mon back. ok? Don't give this another thought."

"Thanks, Hanzo."

"Well, thank you for keeping me in the loop...and...for everything you've done for this guild." I took another deep breath, then exhaled, leaving the mic open so he could hear it, "We’ve got you covered in the meantime, chief. Let me know if you need anything at all, just ping me."

My heart sunk. I'd just lost one of the best. He healed. He led. He stayed loyal. Most of all, he helped. In that moment, I should've been concerned for the hole he'd leave in the guild, the healing we'd never make up, the apprentices that with go without a mentor in his absence. I should've been caught up with all the problems this would cause.

But I couldn't think of the guild at all. 

The only thing I could think about was how awful it was for Neps to have to deal with the passing of his Grandmother. No "problem" of mine in-game would even come close to that. I only wished that I could do more. What little I could do was remind Neps of how important he was to DoD and how much value he'd brought to the guild; to remind him of how important he was to us, and that we would be here for him when he returned.

That weekend was our first in Firelands, and was Neps' last.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

4.52. Breathe

Blain rushes ahead of Atramedes to
resume his tanking position,
Blackwing Descent

Final Exam

Heroic: Omnotron Defense System wasn't playing out quite as we'd hoped.

May had finally bled into June, but the kill eluded us. The 25-Man, now boasting a new main tank helmed by Blain, struggled to stay the course. Our mission was to punch through as much heroic content as humanly possible in our ever dwindling time. Patch 4.2 was now in sight, and the raiders were distracted by the promise of new gear, new challenges -- and an increase in apathy towards the current rewards. But it was close. So very close.

Like the other bosses in tier 11, the complexity of the ODS encounter was as much a part of the normal mode as any other: top-heavy and brutally unforgiving. ODS demanded we handle a total of four adds, two of which were concurrently active at any given time. Mastering this encounter meant mastering the ability to safely transition through windows of misfortune in which one of the two adds was still powering down...just as a third powered up. Gracefully handling this transition wasn't rocket surgery -- it was the million-and-one things each Tron had in store for us that made this encounter feel like we were performing synchronized calculus homework. The raid was forced to constantly shift, collapsing and expanding. Logistically, it was nightmarish to choreograph.

Each tron had two offensive (one AoE, one single-target) abilities and one defense mechanism (in the form of a shield). If the shield went up and absorbed too much damage, it would explode for a massive amount of AoE damage, so this was a fight that demanded control and discipline from raiders.

Magmatron's AoE came in the form of Incineration Security Measure: blankets of fire that had to be healed through. If he targeted you for Flamethrower, you had to make a mad dash from the group; everyone caught in the beam would take exorbitant amounts of damage.

Arcanotron's Power Generator, buffing the damage of anyone standing in it, was a boon for the raid -- but bad news if the add was left to stand in it. Arcane Annihilator would send a stream of arcane energy into a specific target, so healers had to be quick on the draw.

Toxicon's Poison Protocol spewed slimes; our priority was to slow them, then kill them from a safe distance. AoE nature damage was promised to to any targets the slimes reached. Meanwhile, Toxi's Chemical Cloud was easy to see and avoid -- we moved quickly as soon as the green clouds erupted.

Lastly, Electron's Electrical Discharge had a tendency to jump from target to target, chaining bolts of lightning throughout the raid. And Lightning Conductor (like Flamethrower) marked a player in our raid that had to excuse themselves from the group...quickly: every second the player remained in the group distributed damage to nearby friends.

In summary, ODS flexed nearly every raid muscle that could be called upon:

  • Tank Positioning: Ensuring both tanks kept their current trons far away from one another.
  • Tank Awareness: Having tanks smart enough to know how to safely adjust across the room when picking up a tron that was in the process of activating.
  • Personal Responsibility: Each member of the raid knowing how to handle Acquiring Target->Flamethrower and Lightning Conductor (GET OUT).
  • Group Coordination: Collapsing to be healed through Incineration Security Measure, and expanding to avoid Chemical Cloud.
  • Controlled Damage: Not blindly trying to top the meters on a tron with its shield raised.
  • Combined AoE Damage: Diverting damage to slimes in order to rid the encounter of them.
  • Min/Maxxing: Exploiting Power Generator and Power Conversion to maximize the damage of those individuals capable of producing serious burst damage.

ODS was essentially a final exam for raiding. Everything needed by competent raiders was put to the test in this encounter, which is why we breezed through normal mode on opening night. DoD had the raiding chops. Besides, the community had already decided that 10-Man was the harder of the we had it easy, right?

The 25-Man Progression team avoids being hit by
 Static Shock, Arcane Annihilator, Poison Bomb,
and a multi-hit Flamethrower, earning "Achieve-o-Tron",
Blackwing Descent


Nefarian intervened in the heroic version, and purposefully trolled the raid, taking everything we knew about each mechanic and forcing us to think in nearly the opposite terminology.

Magmatron's Acquiring Target now locked a player into a position, preventing them from moving out of the group. So, where once a person ran away for Flamethrower, the entire raid now had to move from him/her.

Avoiding Toxitron's Chemical Cloud was a bit more infuriating, thanks to Nefarian mass death-gripping everyone in the raid into the center the poison. The tendency for Poison Protocol's slimes to explode on impact (coupled with the slimes very often being near or inside the cloud) made for an awful combination.

Arcanotron's Power Generator expanded to fill a much wider radius, and added a wonderful explosion to the boon. Here, stand in this for extra damage. BTW, you'll almost die in the process.

But the biggest troll of all came to how Nefarian messed with Electron's Lightning Conductor. Raid mechanics are easy to deal with when they come in the form of extremes. Move here. Don't move. Do damage to this thing. Stop doing damage. Leave the group. Stay in the group. The evolution of a junior group of raiders to that of a senior group is in mastering these simple concepts. But, just as it is with people management (not very black-and-white), raid mechanics become extraordinarily complex when they devolve from extremes to blurry, gray areas.

Move away from the group...but not too far.

As soon as a player was deemed the Lightning Conductor, they had to rush out of the group to prevent massive AoE damage done in the form of friendly fire. But only seconds after gaining this buff, Lightning Conductor converted into Shadow Infusion, doing massive amounts of shadow damage in the form of AoE...mitigated only by how many other players were sharing in the damage. So, a Lightning Conductor that stayed in the group would kill all the players around them...but a Lightning Conductor that moved too far away from everyone...would kill themselves.

Remember: ODS was a controlled fight which increased the raid's need to manage their DPS, to move when called upon, to switch targets at a moment's notice. This fight was not about burning through the adds and calling it a day. The result: a heroic encounter that was excessively long to execute, chipping away at the raid's endurance. The coordination had to be pristine, mistakes were nearly unrecoverable. One bad cloud/slime combo, one slow adjustment from the Flamethrower target, one player falling asleep at the wheel that just happened to be a Lightning Conductor...was all it took to convert an 8 minute, nearly perfect execution...into a sub 10% wipe.

And that is exactly how it played out. Over and over and over again. Near flawless execution, marred by simple, heart-wrenching mistakes that were unrecoverable.


I had a heart-to-heart with the officers that night. Guesstimates put the Firelands launch at three weeks away and we had yet to put any time in on Al'Akir, normal or otherwise.

"I don't us walking out of Tier 11 with an incomplete normal record," I told them, "Omnotron is busting our asses, but if we can't even get through this tier in normal mode, pre-nerf, it will be a huge step backwards."

"Ok, we switch to Throne of the Four Winds on Friday, I'm good with that," said Blain.

Jungard chimed in, "Same. Conclave is nothing. We'll knock that out with no effort. The 10s have it really easy on positioning."

"Good, because it looks like Al'Akir is going to be a colossal pain-in-the-ass."

"God," Klocker added, remembering his own 10-Man experience, "how is Blain even going to coordinate all twenty-five people in the last phase?"

"Easy, he's going to work miracles. Just like he always does."

"No," said Blain, "I'm not going to do it. They are."

They have to. Nobody else can.

"Alright, it's settled, then. Get all of your peeps prepped for it next Friday. Let's get this done, so we can bid this tier fuckin' adieu."

The 25-Man progression team
prepares to do battle with Al'Akir,
Throne of the Four Winds

Windy City

The Throne of the Four Winds was an instance that floated high above Uldum, south of the Tanaris desert. There, two encounters awaited: The Conclave of Wind, and the windlord himself, Al'Akir.

Four pillars formed a square around a central pedestal. Hovering in three of those four corners lay Anshal, Rohash and Nezir, three lieutenants now vying for power after their fourth council member, Siamet, remained imprisoned in the 5-Man dungeon known as the Lost City of the Tol'vir. As Jungard promised, the Conclave presented us no great challenge to overcome. The mechanics were easy to learn and easy to master. The only caveat was that we had to kill all three at once.

The council members didn't move from their platforms, so each required a tank at all times. Damaging the council caused energy to be produced, kicking off an ultimate ability that forced the raid to switch platforms via wind tunnels carrying them quickly from one corner of the instance to the other. Healing pools were cast and bosses were dragged out of them. Eye beams slowly rotated around the circular platforms and were dodged. Tornadoes threatened to knock players off the platforms...and were sidestepped. Patches of ice and freezing wind caused debuffs to stack on players and prevent them from moving...this was countered by having the DPS groups switch bosses.. After having dealt with the painful requirements needed for heroic: ODS, coordinating Conclave was a walk in the park; we cleared it after only a few attempts on the first night of work.

Our remaining effort was funneled into Al'Akir, now accessible via the central platform. He was the most massive elemental we'd ever laid eyes on. Draped in the purple garb denoting the royal line his elementals came to represent in Azeroth, Al'Akir towered over us. Looking up at the Elemental Lord of Wind, I was immediately struck with a feeling of raw insignificance -- not unlike our first attempts at the hands of Ragnaros the Firelord, so many years previous.

Al'Akir was broken into three phases, kicking off at milestones of health. In phase one, we stood at equidistant positions around the perimeter of the inner ring, just in melee range of the Windlord. Healers, therefore, had to be staggered intermittently amongst that ring of players, so that the entire raid maintained heal coverage. Wind bursts pushed badly positioned players off the edge. These players would not fall to their death; spiraling tornadoes would stop their fall, placing them back on platform (albeit slowly). This recovery time ate into DPS.

It was during this same phase that walls of tornadoes would spawn. Players were expected to find the gaps, and move between them, rather than be trapped temporarily...eating into more DPS time. Seeing the gaps in the tornado walls called for a full Gauntlet (zoomed out, top-down) camera view. Additionally, webs of lightning would leap across the raid; players had to adjust to avoid this.

By phase two, the lightning webs were gone, but in their place came acid raid, forcing even more movement. This, all the while the two tanks were trading off the role of tanking the Windlord. Adds called Stormlings were spawned, which debuffed Al'Akir when they were killed, causing him to take additional damage. Care had to be taken to not burn through the adds too quickly, however, as phase two was were Bloodlust was commonly invoked -- and stacking bloodlust's effects with the debuff meant chipping away at significant amounts of Al'Akir's health.

Toward the end of the fight, phase three promised the trickiest of the phases. The platform broke apart and fell away, forcing us into a hovering, true three-dimensional axis. From here, Blain instructed us to immediately float up to Al'Akir's head, in as tight a group as possible, continuing to pour damage into the boss. At this point, storm clouds would begin to form above certain individuals, knocking us out of the air if we didn't move. The plan, therefore, was to adjust down each time a new cloud formed...but to stay together as much as possible, so that the clouds spanned less of an area (and therefore, gave us more room to breathe).

Those final moments were all about breathing. Calm, deep breaths. It was easy to panic in this mode. Moving too far (or not far enough) simply compounded our problems, stripping us of our safety net while simultaneously increasing the damage done across the raid. Slowly, players were struck by bolts of lightning, causing them to fall from the sky, zapping us like ants under a magnifying glass. Al'Akir would win by attrition if we continued to panic.

So...we didn't panic.


Deep breaths.

Move for the cloud. Just a bit. That's good.

Keep on the DPS.

Pop a shield to mitigate those lightning bolts.

Have a healthstone? Now's a good time to use it.

There's another cloud. Move again. Everything's good. Keep at it.

Keep at it.

Keep at it.

On June 24th, 2011, in the second evening of attempts, Descendants of Draenor defeated Al'Akir in 25-Man, wrapping up the remainder of tier 11's normal modes.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

4.51. Contingencies That Don't Suck

With Zedman aboard, Mature takes
flight as a sandstone drake,

The New Way to Improve

Mature arrived in Orgrimmar. He was here on business.

Guild leadership had its perks. Unquestionable authority. A permanent non-negotiable spot in every raid. But the one I enjoyed leveraging the most was the "leader discount." The most expensive, highly sought rewards of each expansion would be certain to find their way to my inventory on sale. The auction house was filled with mounts, pets, and toys that inflated the server's economy -- and were the target of my affection. And if players felt like they were earning brownie points with the boss, I was completely OK with that.

Zedman ran up to Mature and initiated the trade. A crystal orange vial landed in Mature's inventory. I right-clicked it, causing Mature to become enveloped in a bright flash of yellow light that spiraled around the death knight's pale frame. The secrets contained within the Vial of the Sands were now Mature's for the taking.

"Much obliged," I spoke into Vent, "One less thing I have to worry about."

"From one achievement whore to another," he replied, "How's the 25-Man?"

"We're keeping up." Barely. "Old-school raiders are a dying breed."

I tried to ignore the alert in the chat window, indicating a familiar name had logged off. Normally, I'd only see alerts like these from guildies. But players I explicitly wished to keep tabs on were also being tracked. Other guild leaders. Other death knights. Other achievement whores.

I hoped Zed hadn't followed suit in that regard; alas, it was a foolish hope. Zedman didn't get to be one of the top achievement holders on Deathwing-US by being ignorant of the competition. He kept his friends close, and players with more achievement points closer.

"Wait, Delonius isn't in the guild anymore?" he asked me.

"He is not."

"That sucks. What happened?"

"He found himself a permanent spot in Herp Derp. A far safer proposition than taking his chances with me benching him."

"Why'd he get benched?"

Mature transformed into a giant drake. It's color was that of a dark sandstone, adorned with jagged orange extrusions that looked liked crystals.

"Hop on. I want to get some screenies."

Propelled by some magical force, the orc shaman floated through the air, slowly rotating, coming to rest aboard the back of the sandstone drake. I pressed the space bar. The two of them shot straight up, hovering far above Orgrimmar, leveling out near the Zeppelin posts. I spun the camera around and spammed the PRNT SCRN button.

"That is one sweet mount. Thanks again, Zed."

"Yeah. I've made a pretty penny off them."

"I don't doubt it."

I admired the creature's sedimentary look, then stared downwards toward the earthbound scrubs below.

"Few weeks ago we had a rarity: more than 25 people signed up for a raid. And," I took a deep breath, "just as I had all through Wrath, I gave someone else an opportunity to prove their worth. His heals were good...but not great. So, that was the one time he got the bench."

Holding people to a higher standard doesn't work when you can get your rewards for less effort somewhere else.

"You only benched Delonius once?"

It's a different game, now. Once is all it takes.

Hanzo clarifies the guild's policy
 on sharing its Vent server to others

The Open Vent Policy

After experiencing our first glut of signups, we were back down into the dregs once more. I found myself emailing people to remind them of our raid signup policy. 
"Heya. Not sure if you saw, but you were rotated in for this weekend's 25m progression raid. I hadn't seen you online in several days and watched to make certain you saw and had any questions answered that you may have in prep. for the weekend. Let me know."
Accountability was drying up, and our reserves were in a drought.

There was a time when I kept players on the straight-and-narrow; my safeguards caught the outliers, the bowling balls headed for the gutter. Now, my system was increasingly devolving back to the days of faux-leadership, faking it while players came and went through DoD like it was a revolving door.

Once, not long ago, I had very little control over my guild. Foolishness and a lack of backbone when it came to hard decisions nearly did us in, during the days of TBC -- the days I claim that most of my "leadership" amounted to walking in the shadow of folks like Ater.

But I had learned my lesson, built a system of accountability that fostered excellence, promoted competition, and pushed DoD to the edges of what was possible for our conservative raid schedule, a system that worked for both casuals and hardcores -- a system that was still in place. So, what was missing?

The infrastructure -- the scaffolding necessary  to keep my system afloat -- was coming apart from beneath us.

The "unspoken agreement" I'd had with Blizzard had been torn up. In its place was now an environment ripe for exploitation. A guild whose structure and raiding rules were so tightly ingrained within concepts like "effort = reward" fell apart when two different sizes of raid produced the same iLVL of weaponry and armor and the same achievements.

Mix laziness in with a bit of server culture and the results are explosive. Perhaps the PvE servers fared better, but on Deathwing-US, where the PvP dominant culture was troll or be trolled, we were being eaten from the inside out. It had taken me seven years to square away the hammer and the nails. Now, I had nothing to pound them into.


Emblazoned across the top of their homepage, my own words stared back at me.
"There is no other guild on Deathwing like Herp Derp. We are unique."
The guild name had been swapped out, Mad Lib style, to accommodate their own personal agenda. I couldn't help but be amused at the irony of the statement, how plagiarizing our recruitment pitch not only proved Herp Derp's banal malevolence, but simultaneously stripped it of any integrity or worth.

There is nothing quite like having your own words used against you. In this instance, my writing was quite literally selling someone else's guild. It wasn't enough that Herp Derp slashed our roster and ransacked our guild vault. They couldn't even write their own mission statement without using CTRL+C / CTRL+V. But they were far from done. For if there is an opportunity to exploit a guild's generosity, Herp Derp made it their mission to do so.

Herp Derp was actively recruiting people away from DoD, using our own Vent server to do it.

I spent a great deal of time writing a touchy-feely, guild-centric diatribe on what types of folks we approved of sharing our Vent with. And while it could be argued that much of what was stated falls under the rule of common sense, I hope that I've convinced you by this point in the story that common sense is a convenient scapegoat for those who like to play dirty.

There I was, having to remind DoD of the types of people we didn't want to have on our server:
1. Well known, publicly acknowledged "Ninja" guilds, who want our assistance with Tol Barad, legacy 25-Man achievement runs, or other assistance.
2. Guilds / Players whose individual moral compasses point in the opposite direction of DoD; who have a proven track record of dishonesty, disrespect, thievery, etc.
3. Players coming on to our vent to try to poach players away for their own guild.
4. Players coming on to sabotage Vent with recorded sound effects, disrupting conversations/raids/BGs, etc.
If you didn't pick up on the subtlety, reader, you're forgiven...neither did my guild, not even the officers. Here is the translation: Members of Herp Derp were not allowed into our Vent server. 

Poaching. Thievery. Stealing Raiders. Call it whatever you want. They had no problem doing it. And the proof was right on their homepage.

Blizzard's "more loot to the 25s" strategy in action,
Blackwing Descent

How's That "More Loot" Working Out For Ya?

"We have a problem."

"Oh yeah?" The limits of Vent compelled Blain to respond. He wasn't ignoring me. But if there was a way to speak less, he'd find it.

"Jungard's school starts in the fall, and his schedule can't be changed. It falls right across the Friday night raid."

"Ok...?" his voice trailed up, transforming his response into an implied question. This is a problem because why?

"Well, we are going to need a new melee officer, and we've already spoken about that. He feels the best person for the job is Boney. The kid's dedicated, a sharp player, he can take the reins."

"Sounds fine to me."

"Good. Glad you agree. But that isn't the problem. Jungard's always been the last resort if tanks go south. He's the contingency when other contingencies fall through. Amatsu...I feel pretty good about. He's well played, very consistent, he and Black have fallen right into place. But outside of Amatsu, there aren't really any main tanks. Not anyone I have faith will be consistent, at least. And that's a problem for a raid that needs two reliable tanks each week."

"So, I'll gear up Xane."

Just like that.

"You...don't have a problem with that? You've been a rogue since day one."

"Yeah, but what was I before DoD?"

Blain had been a staple in DoD for seven years. An pre-Blain era of DoD seemed a hazy cloud, not even real.

"A Warrior," I replied.

He said nothing. As always, that damn Ventrilo prevented me from seeing his smile of acknowledgement.


"Who's this joker?"

"Someone killed Blain and brought in an imposter."

"Good riddance! The tyrant has fallen."

Farming bosses for upgrades was a ritual with its feet planted firmly in two schools of thought. The Loot Paradox saw to that. Every week we weren't pushing progression, the battle raged on, internally. Are we falling behind in the name of gearing others up? Or are we successfully sating their hunger for rewards, pouring morale back into the raider economy, fueling their motivation for the next time we have to knuckle down?

Whenever that doubt crept back, I'd turn to Blain to confirm or deny my suspicions. This particular scenario...didn't necessarily account for that set up.

"Hurry up and get this worm killed. Blain needs upgrades."

For once, Blizzard's design might actually work in our favor. Now desperate to gear up Blain's alt in preparation for the day (should it come) that we would have to rely on him for tanking, we could, at last, bend one of Blizzard's design decisions to our whim.

After consolidating both the loot tables and the difficulty (though the jury was increasingly hung over the latter), very little existed in the form of a tangible incentive to run 25s, beyond our mere preference for that raid. Blizzard's response was to give us more loot to make up for the logistics. It wasn't adequate. But that didn't mean we wouldn’t take advantage of it.

Every opportunity we had to swap Blain out for Xane, we did so, in the event that some great upgrades would be had. And, with an increase in the volume of said loot, Xane was bound to find pieces, right?

As if some cruel irony was at play, even gearing up Blain's warrior was painful. Streakiness reined supreme. Losses at the roll of the dice seemed inversely proportional to our effort at solving the problem of the under-geared or under-recruiteds. It was not uncommon to slay a boss and have it slap us directly in the face with three of the same item. I never imagined the streakiness of our bad luck in loot could ever top the months of farming Chromaggus only to get nothing but Netherwind Mantle could be topped.

Narrower loot tables with boosts to their yield only ended up giving you more of what you didn't need. I think Dennis Miller said it best. Two of shit.