Monthly Archives: September 2010

Gaming Anxiety

Random Anecdote of the Day:

I was walking to class (I live about a block from the university) when a young man hailed me with “Hey pretty lady!”. Now, I’m a fairly modest person and I don’t often consider myself “pretty”, especially not enough to be noticed. But I smiled and said hi because I was the only one around unless he was talking to the old guy waving an ad behind me. He asked me where I was headed and what classes I was taking and what I liked to do on weekends…and then he asked me for my number. Up til then I assumed he was just friendly, but I guess my naivety finally popped at that point. I declined, politely. I have a boyfriend and no real reason to look beyond him…but it got me thinking. At what point does friendly merge into flirting? And was I completely wrong and he just saw an opportunity to be friends? I tend to regard all men with a small degree of distrust largely because I have been teased in my life by boys (elementary school is tough shit) but is that really fair? Probably not. But these are musings for another time and place. Let’s get down to business.

Gaming Anxiety

Let’s get a few definitions going here so that everyone is on the same page. First, we need to define anxiety. It’s a very convoluted idea that triggers connotations of “insanity” or “instability”. This is far from correct. Anxiety is our body’s natural, expected response to an uncomfortable or stressful situation. It is when we begin feeling anxiety beyond these expected boundaries that it becomes problematic. For this post, I am going to address the idea of anxiety as triggered in the virtual gaming environment. I would like to stress that I’m an expert and doctor on nothing, and this is meant in anecdotal terms. If you think you may be experiencing anxiety issues, I urge you to seek professional help, which you will not find on this blog or anywhere on the internet.

Moving on.

World of Warcraft, and the MMO sector as a whole, offers us a unique experience in that they bring a completely separate environment complete with social interactions, cliques, economies, and even the occasional romance. While these virtual worlds should not be confused with the real world and our real life, they offer many cross-overs that genuinely reflect what we experience in our real life. For many people, an online gaming environment is as real and as important to them as anything in the real world. Whether you condone or condemn this line of thinking, it is hard to deny that there are aspects of the social gaming platform that directly mimic real world scenarios. For this reason, experiencing anxiety in an online game is not only understandable, but sometimes expected.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at World of Warcraft. WoW has the player population of a small country. 12 million people is an impressive gathering of people, especially when you consider that all of these people come together in the same community to partake in the same hobby. If your annual knitters meeting turned up 12 million participants, you can imagine the chaos that would ensue. So take it was a bit of pride that not only does WoW accommodate 12 million people, it provides reasonable and often downright ingenious ways to house, sort, entertain and moderate such a massive and diverse group of people.

WoW, like any society, is not without it’s problems. To name a few, there are: botters, scammers, hackers, ninjas, trolls, cheaters, and other generally unscrupulous people that turn a fun past time into the bowels of Hell. This is true of any society on any continent in any time period. And like those societies, WoW evolved methods of dealing with bad people. The consequences for their existence, however, cannot simply be expunged from the affected societies.

Let’s play pretend. Pretend the world you live in today is a completely utopian paradise. Your home city (whether it is in Canada or China or Germany) is entirely free of crime. Nobody steals. Nobody rapes. Nobody carries semi-automatic machine guns onto college campuses and goes on a spree. You’d feel pretty safe, wouldn’t you? You’re leave your front door unlocked after dark. You may even store your keys inside your car. You wouldn’t be suspicious of a man walking towards you in the street wearing a hooded jacket, because the definition of a utopia implies that this man means you absolutely no harm at all. There is no reason to experience any form of social anxiety if society is perfect. Now let’s reverse that, and bring it back to the real world we all live in. Crime rates are astronomical. Prisons are overflowing and criminals lurk in every city, town and street corner. You lock your door after you get home. You lock your car and you sure as hell don’t walk the same dark street as some hooded stranger. It’s a nasty reality we cope with every day by a series of defense mechanisms. Fight or flight is strong in us because we have to be able to analyze a situation in a split second and know when to stick up for our life and when to run and save it. Anxiety plays a key role in this power-play for survival. That hooded man walking down the street towards you. Does he make you feel anxious? He should. That’s your body telling you it doesn’t like this situation. It’s saying, “Hey. You listening? That guy makes me uncomfortable. I can’t see his hands. He could have a gun. He could be thinking about mugging us. Cross the street and keep an eye on him, dude.” And your body is very right. That elevated heart-rate, those clammy hands, and that odd feeling in your gut are your body’s way of heightening your senses for survival. It’s possible that man was just another ordinary person like you walking down the street with nothing more sinister than a pack of gum in his pockets, but it is equally possible that he was carrying a hand gun and a length of rope. You never know, and your body doesn’t want you to find out. It’s a method of self-preservation that has worked for us since our inception as a species.

Now let’s drag that analogy over to WoW. WoW is far from a utopian society, though it has far less serious crimes than our real world. Your fellow players cannot kill you, but they can do a myriad of other things that make us rightfully suspicious of them. And just like in the real world, our bodies are ready with varying degrees of responses to cope with these distrustful situations.

You may never have had a piece of loot ninja’d from you in your life. Chances are, though, you heard about it happening to friends or guild mates and you’re suspicious of its occurrence nonetheless. Do you look at other members in your group and (even subconsciously) try to predict who might be unfair loot competition for you? I do. Thankfully the new loot system doesn’t allow people to roll on armor that is not of their proficiency or of the appropriate stats, but there are ways around that system and it still allows for the unfair taking of loot. I tend to label people as ninjas by the way they act or talk within the group. And I have been quite accurate. It’s the same thing as labeling a hooded man on the street as a potential threat. Your mind is zeroing in on something that might be harmful to you and letting you know. Granted, a lost loot item is not exactly “harmful”, but it is the same concept.

Just like in our real world societies, the people in WoW are largely a benign, gracious, fair lot of individuals who play according to some moral standard that, while it may differ from your own by a degree or two, is not on the whole offensive or wrong. Then there are those who, for whatever reason they use to justify their behavior, mean you harm. They will scream and swear at you, they will take loot that is not rightfully theirs, they will stalk and harass and upset you. This may only ever happen to you once, but your body remembers that incident and records it in your body’s response system. The next time you are in a similar situation, your body prepares its self for what happened last time. This is where anxiety manifests. For example, last time you PUGed a raid you won a roll on some item and immediately received vocal terrorizing from some player who disagreed with the loot assignment. It’s not a fun occasion. Next time you are in a raid, you may experience anxiety when loot drops and you want to roll, afraid that some other asshat in the raid will duplicate the experience you’re dreading.

The above happens to me all the time. Very early on in my WoW career, I was booted from a group for rolling need on a pair of pants. They were leather +agility pants and I was a feral druid. No one else wanted them. They threw a fit anyway and went on an on about how “cheap” needing was and how I didn’t really need the pants. I was not in the wrong. But the event stuck with me and now every damn time I contemplate rolling on loot in any situation, I get anxious. I triple and quadruple check the stats of the item compared to my current item and I make a mental note of who else may want it and a multitude of other factors. Sometimes I just flat don’t roll. I would rather not get an upgrade than be singled out and thrashed by someone for my choice. By not rolling at all, I relieve my anxiety.

Looting is not the only thing that causes me anxiety, either. Just joining a PUG raid (or any 25 man raid) causes some degree of anxiety. Even though I know my role as a healer exceptionally well, and am well-versed in most boss fights, I’m still terrified that I will put one toe out of place and be bludgeoned to death by some dolt and his ego. To that end, I typically never speak in raids unless specifically addressed, and I almost always go PUGing with a friend or guildy that I trust. Someone I know, at least in private whispers, has my back on an issue. Have I ever actually been singled out and shrieked at in a raid? Nope. But I have witnessed it happening to other people and it is neither pleasant nor appropriate under any circumstance. Simple mistakes are the easiest to make and the quickest to bring down a raid, which is why I dread making even the tiniest move under such conditions. Add that to the fact that my 25-man raids have almost always included some sort of jerk, I am understandably anxious when the raid invite pops up.

I’m even nervous when replying to a “LFM” message in Trade chat. I always feel like they will deem me unworthy and laugh at my attempts at finding a raid. It’s a completely illogical fear. My Gearscore is acceptably high, I have most of the achievements everyone wants to see, and yet I’m still afraid that for some picky reason I didn’t think of, this person will find me unworthy of his raid group.

I could go on for years about how this directly relates to how I was treated by my peers growing up and how my introverted, shy personality factors in, but I won’t. Regardless of my personality flaws (being painfully shy will get you nowhere in life) I have managed to maneuver around these situations in life and below is some advice I would give persons in my similar situation. If you’re feeling anxious in the game, take a deep breath. It’s not nearly as scary as you perceive it to be.

  • Know your role inside and out. There is a plethora of information available to you on the internet about your class or role, including spec advice and rotation advice and lists of great gear. Go find it! The better you understand what you are supposed to be doing, the less likely you are to be anxious about it.
  • Focus on your job and no one else’s. You can’t be worrying about what Mage#2 is doing or how Druid#4 is going to do his job. Focus on your rotation, your numbers, your abilities, and let the rest of it go.
  • Be prepared. This means different things in different settings. In a raid setting, make sure you have flasks for yourself and appropriate buff food. Have a basic understanding of the boss strategies before you get zoned in. This eliminates a lot of the anxiety than can accumulate beforehand when you sit and fret about not knowing what to do.
  • Play with good people. Seriously. You wouldn’t attempt to interact with criminals in the real world, so why allow it in WoW? If you know and trust that the people you play with will respect you and treat you fairly, it can lead to much better things than trusting your fate to four strangers in a PUG.
  • Safeguard yourself from jerks. If you’re really desperate to get a certain piece of loot, don’t leave it up to chance. If possible, put together a group of friends and let them know what specifically you’re after. Your chances of getting it will be much higher than if you trust those four random PUG people not to screw you over.
  • Get a decent minimum gear score before attempting anything wild. As sad as it is that we rely today on an aggregate score to determine player value, it is nevertheless the system you must learn to beat. Most players nowadays tend to gravitate towards this arbitrary number system, so be one step ahead of them. Know your gear score. Know what gear score range is appropriate for which raid. Don’t set yourself up for ridicule and failure by trying to pop into an ICC group with fresh level 80 blue gear.
  • If something does crop up, such as a nasty player slamming you for loot you won fairly, don’t engage. Take your concerns to the raid leader and state your position politely and concisely. If the problem persists, thank them for their time and leave.

Never forget that this is a game. While it may entail many attributes of a real life scenario, WoW is a game that should be played for fun and enjoyment. If you feel like this has been sucked from the experience, then turn off your computer and find something that you enjoy doing. Anxiety and stress are two things you dont need building up in your life, so don’t let a fun hobby turn into a catalyst for a nervous break down.

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Loremaster, You Say?

Loremaster is one of those achievements that is truly an achievement. You didn’t just molest a few critters or eat some food, you went all over the damn world and completed just about every quest Azeroth, Outland and Northrend could throw at you. You killed thousands of mobs and tracked down NPCs from Goldshire to Icecrown. You ventured into ancient, forgotten temples and waged war against factions you forgot existed. You probably even participated in quest chains that would have been impossible for you at the appropriate level. In effect, you scoured the entire planet (and others) to earn the right to call yourself a master of lore.

This achievement is rightfully not easy. Nor is it quick. You won’t sit down to accomplish this one afternoon and have the title before bedtime. To put it in perspective, you must complete a little less than 3,000 quests total to earn this title. 2,843 for the Alliance and 2,705 for the Horde. You will visit every continent, every island, every zone, every planet. It takes a long while to complete, but as we get closer to the advent of Cataclysm it is very much worth your time. You’re going to see old content that has been buried under dust each new expansion, quest lines that were once pivotal to the reclamation of Azeroth that no one now cares about. You’ll get a good feel for the lore present in the world before it’s overturned and trampled on and rewritten by Deathwing. So if you’re a lore nerd, a completionist, or an achievement-whore, Loremaster should be high on your list of things to do before Cataclysm. It’s an epic undertaking, so prepare yourself for some hard, often tedious, sometimes boring work. To that end, I have prepared some pointers for those brave (or bored) enough to attempt it.

First thing’s first. Max out your bag space. Buy bigger bags if you can afford it, but more importantly sell, bank, or toss everything. The only thing you should have left in your bags is your hearthstone. This achievement will take ten times longer if you have to keep running back to a village to vendor all the crap you’re likely to pick up.

Start questing as if you’re a brand new level 1 character, and pretend you’re leveling up that way. In other words, begin your questing adventure in the starting zones of your faction and quest your way through zones in order of level. This does two things for you. First, it helps you find quests easier if you go zone to zone in order than if you just plop down in a random zone. Second, it may actually up your quest count by giving you “go find this person in the next zone” bread crumb quests. These quests count towards your total, and may not be available if you ran ahead and talked to that person beforehand.

Don’t stick to the roads and don’t forget to explore. Many times there are hidden quests lurking off the beaten path, and the only way to ever find them is if you get your boots muddy and go looking. Cities and villages will have most of your quests, but a vast number of them can also be found out in the wilds where no one would ever look.

Keep low level quest tracking on always. Never turn it off.

Ignore repeatable quests, dailies, and PvP quests. Rule of thumb: if it has a blue exclamation point or question mark, it isn’t going to count. However, the initial quest that unlocks the repeatable quest does usually count.

Hit up dungeons along your way. Dungeons often times have quests hidden inside them, such as escort quests that groups may have passed over. Unless you were an avid and very thorough dungeon crawler back when you first leveled, you are likely to find many quests for dungeons in Azeroth. Gather all the quests for a particular dungeon before entering it.

Exhaust your resources. I owe my success to wowhead.com, the comments section of which is a lifesaver for people like me who dislike addons. Go to wowhead and search for the particular zone achievement you are working on, such as Nothing Boring About Borean. Then look in the comments. Helpful people have left locations of hard to find or easily missed quests for your convenience. This only works for zones with a specific achievement attached to them (those in Outland and Northrend). But if you search for Loremaster, then you can find the achievement linked to whichever Azerothian continent you’re currently trying to nuke down and see what people have to say. Also remember to peep at wowwiki and search the zone you’re in, as it usually has an entire article about quests in that area. Lastly, addons like QuestHelper can be invaluable if you want to go that route.

Head back to your low level class trainer. If you’re like me, you tend to ignore class quests with no benefit for you. Double back and make sure you didn’t do the same long ago.

Search capital cities. Stormwind and Orgrimmar may get overlooked as quest hubs while leveling, but they actually have a lot of quests available if you look. Same for all of the other racial capitals.

Don’t discount raid quests. They count towards your total, too. Save a bunch of them then pester your friends or guildmates to help you complete them.

Remember that some quests are only available via a drop from a mob in the zone. Once again, use Wowwiki or wowhead to search for items that begin a quest in a zone. Usually these items have a near 100% drop rate, so if you’re killing mobs like crazy and it isn’t dropping, chances are you did it already.

Pay attention to your reputation with certain factions. Quests become available at different reputation levels, so keep an eye out if you’re climbing the ranks somewhere. Wowwiki has tables for the different factions that will help here.

Never delete a quest. Even if you think it’s too hard or stupid or you’ll never finish it, keep it. Keep everything until you have your title in hand. Nothing is worse than thinking you can ditch a few quests and then find you’re a few quests short and have to go back and look for the ones you tossed.

It’s a long haul to the end, but well worth the effort you put into it. Loremaster is not going away come Cataclysm, but the majority of the quests currently in the game are. You may also want to consider trying for the Seeker title, as you will be completing nearly 3,000 quests anyway. Classic Dungeonmaster and Outland Dungeon Hero are others that you might earn in the process, as well.

Random Beta Observations

It is Wednesday and I hate Wednesday. Not dislike. Not “sigh and drag my feet” tolerate. Hate. It’s too long and not interesting enough to justify being so long and 5 hours of research psychology makes me insanely grumpy and tired.

Now that that confession is out of the way, I came home to find my Cataclysm beta client, which has been downloading an update most of today while I slogged through school, was done. Yippee!

I was reading the beta notes on the launcher and was startled to see that you are now required to purchase “Azerothian Navigation” to fly in Azeroth. WHAT IS THIS CRAP I bellowed to myself (inside my head of course. Boyfriend is sitting close by). I logged in in Dalaran and immediately popped through a portal into Stormwind to see if this was indeed true. I was able to mount up my Argent Dawn Hippo(gryph) and rejoiced! Obviously I could still fly! Hooray! But no. Your flying mounts now adjust their behavior according to your riding skill and what is permissable in a given area, it seems. Pressing the space bar did not yield flight. Instead, my hippo reared and tossed himself about regally or hopped, flapped his wings once, and then touched back down. Blast! I ran to the flight trainer (currently located near the flight master in Stormwind) and prepared to be sickened. I wasn’t. While I am thoroughly annoyed that you must pay to fly in Azeroth – because obviously the flight conditions in Outland and Northrend are so wildly different as to warrant more training! – the cost is a meager 200 gold. If you are any kind of competent, you can afford this. It’s stupid and annoying and all other forms of blah, but it isn’t insurmountable.

Now, I already have 310% flying on the live realms. I have the violet proto drake from the holiday achievements. It is my understanding, and every bit of Blizzard quotable evidence corroborates this, that if you already have 310% flying then you will retain that once Cataclysm launches. In addition, all of your flying mounts will then scale to this 310% benchmark without any effort required on your part. That is to say, you do not need to pay extra for a skill you already earned. However, upon poking the flight master to buy my Azerothian Navigation (grumble grumble) I noticed that “Master Riding” was listed, with a hefty cost of 4,000 gold (I am exalted with Stormwind which may or may not account for the cost). No doubt this is the upgrade to 310% flying that everyone was promised – but why am I seeing it? I already have 310% flying. What’s more, apparently purchasing this awards an achievement, “Breaking the Sound Barrier”, which I do not have. I cannot tell if my 280% mounts have scaled to 310% yet. It’s a hard thing to judge just by eyeballing. I’m a little confused. I am hoping this is clarified before launch, because if I still have to pay for a riding speed I already (painstakingly) earned there will be bitching.

Harrison Jones makes his comeback from Grizzly Hills to train students of Archaeology in Stormwind. He is seriously the most epic win of all WoW NPCs. I love Indiana Jones. I giggled aloud when I saw him. And of course I bought Archaeology training from him. I just wish I could sit in on one of his lectures and bat my eyes at him…

Anyway. I am getting the hang of Archaeology. Slowly. Supposedly there are only a few “dig sites” up on a continent at a time, and once you exhaust them new ones pop up. You set down a survey kit and it tells you which direction to go next and how far away the treasure is. It’s kinda neat, really, but I had a heck of a time figuring out what I was supposed to do to hunt down my fossils. You then dig up the fossil or whatever once you’re close enough and it is added into a little field journal thing which keeps track of your progress on yours finds. I can see this being very addicting.

On an ending note, I noticed my frame rate died in Cataclysm. I get 75 on the live realm running at close to max video settings. On the beta, I am lucky to get 25. It’s hovering around 20-ish right now. If this is just how it’s going to be once Cataclysm hits, I am going to be very upset. I just upgraded my system majorly and I cannot accept that Catacylsm is so graphically advanced that it is going to cut my FPS by almost half. However, I can’t seem to actually adjust my video settings on the beta. I attempt to, and then they reset themselves almost immediately. Still, it looks like I’d have to reduce them drastically to get a good frame rate. I’m already frustrated. Here’s hoping it’s just a beta thing, and will not persist after the live launch. Trading 75 FPS for 20 is unacceptable in my opinion.

Face-Tanking ICC10

I got to tank my first ICC10 today.

I had no idea what I was doing. Guilty admission: I zone out during boss explanations and only absorb information pertinent to my healing role. So if I have to switch roles, I’m kind of screwed. Thankfully, running ICC every week for many months without fail means I know the fight mechanics regardless of who they pertain to. I wasn’t as lost as I expected to be. I am also exceptionally spoiled in that we usually run with very skilled tanks, and watching them do their thing is a great way to learn.

Still, nothing compares to actually putting your face in some undead dude’s crotch and smacking him around personally. It was invigorating not to stare at health bars all the time – and at the same time terrifying because I couldn’t do anything even if I was watching the raid’s health. It also made me appreciate my fellow healers more. If they can keep my flabby bear ass alive, they can do anything.

I feel the need to repeat the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. And still I held threat (90% of the time) and bosses died relatively flawlessly and it wasn’t the clusterfuck I imagined it to be when I was first told to go bear. So it was a success! Especially considering both myself and the other tank hadn’t a clue what we were doing.

I have to be honest, the temptation to go bear in Cataclysm is getting stronger. I don’t want to be a treeless freak of nature and I don’t want to fuss with mana regeneration. 😦

Altoholism and the Gnomeregan/Echo Isles Events *Spoilers*

I created a new orc shaman yesterday. Just out of the blue. I suddenly wanted to play a shaman healer. My alts are more and more frequently being rolled as Horde. Perhaps this is some delayed-onset reaction to having to delete my old Horde mains years ago. More than likely, it is a symptom of my raging altoholism.

Seriously. This blog should have been called “The inane ramblings of an insane altoholic”. It’s has very little to do with trees, much to my distress. Fact is, I have little to do with my tree lately. I raid a few nights a week and then poke around my plethora of alts. It’s not a bad existence, to be honest, but I started the blog with the intent of blogging about restoration druids. It’s since digressed into a few tanking paladin posts and numerous ramblings and ranting about people in the LFG system.

I digress.

Yesterday I created an orc shaman with the sole intent of leveling up via the dungeon finder! Seeing a pattern? I can’t help it; it’s just what I enjoy. The Boyfriend labeled me insane. He’s likely correct. So alt number four-thousand-and-one is made. I was inspired by a shaman healer in a random Mana Tombs I ran on my boomkin druid alt (alt number three-thousand-and-seventy). He was not a stand-out healer. We got through just fine and I would never have noticed he existed had I not randomly had The Urge to create an alt. The Urge is not something I question anymore. I just obey.

Welcome Nthati. I realized about 8 levels in that I don’t really like orc women (or men) all that much. This is not a new concept. I have never liked orcs. I don’t know why I keep rolling them. But I’m far too lazy to reroll and replay the starting zone again as a troll (my preference). Instead, I wandered to Sen’jin where, lo and behold, the reclamation of the Echo Isles is being staged.

You have to be level 78 or something equally ridiculous to actually physically participate in the final battle for the Isles, so at level 8-ish my journey ended with the discovery of a troll druid and kicking her face in. It was, however, an extremely fun quest line that I highly recommend to anyone who, like me, adores trolls and Vol’jin and would love to see them kick ass. It’s also a fair bit of experience if you arent 80 yet.

You start off collecting frogs, which are then bewitched to be spies for the troll army. You fly around the isles on a bat and chuck the wee croakers at strategic areas (where presumably they land unharmed and begin their wee froggy spying). Then you gather recruits for Vol’jin’s army and ask the spirits of the troll ancestors to bless your war effort. That’s as far as you can get without practically being level capped, but you get a really unique flavor reward for your contributions. The Darkspear Pride is just a vanity item that transforms you into a Darkspear Warrior for 30 minutes on a 4 hour cooldown. The Darkspear Warrior has some truly bad-ass unique armor, reminiscent of Zul’Aman. I got a real kick from running around Durotar as a tricked-out troll woman, so it really was worth the time I spent even if I couldn’t participate in Zalazane’s death.The entire event is just plain fun. You get a feel for the soul of the Darkspear people, and a taste of how spiritual the trolls really are. Overall I felt it had a lot of depth and added a lot to my perception of trolls.

The event also explains some of what I saw while playing the Cataclysm beta. I rolled a troll druid just to peep at the starting zone and the new forms, and the druid trainer was named Zen’Tabra. She was just some random NPC to me until I played through the event on the live realms. Turns out, troll druids have been in hiding on the Echo Isles (and presumably elsewhere) for a long time, and show themselves at your insistence in order to help Vol’jin reclaim the isles. You are sent to investigate a very powerful tiger spirit on one of the islands, and when you get there you find that the “spirit” is actually Zen’Tabra in tiger form. She then agrees to bring her druid friends to aid your cause. So I have to ask…does this mean all those tigers we’ve been skinning for that quest were druids in tiger form? I might be sick.

I have also taken several characters through the reclamation of Gnomeregan. In comparison, it is lacking. It’s still fun, but if I had to set it side by side with the Echo Isles event, it would fall short. While I do like gnomes, I’ve never actually cared that they were forced out of their home city. Perhaps that is a bias that rose from hundreds of hours spent lost deep in the irradiated bowels of Gnomeregan trying fruitlessly to shepherd groups of people towards the final boss. Perhaps it’s just that, after so long, I’ve really just lost interest in what the gnomes do or don’t do. So while the reclaiming of Gnomeregan is certainly pivotal for the gnomes…I just don’t see why I should care. Unlike the trolls, the gnomes aren’t being forced out of their adoptive homes due to the egotistical war-mongering of some irritable orcish despot. They just seem to have…randomly…decided to retake their old city.

What’s more, the rewards aren’t nearly as cool. Turning into a little gnome in what looks like dive-gear isn’t nearly as awesome as turning into a voodoo-inspired troll warrior in murloc-esque Zul’Aman armor. And then there’s the end to the quest, which involved Gnomeregan exploding in what appears to be more radiation. It doesn’t really explain how the gnomes retake Gomeregan. For the trolls, you kill Zalazane and restore order among the spirits and Vol’jin talks about rebuilding the troll home on the islands. It’s clear how they got from point A (live realms) to point B (currently the beta version). For the gnomes, it’s not clear. At least to me.

And thus ends my comparison of the two events. Both very fun. I like the trolls better. In other news, I’m slowly working up the courage to heal an instance or two on my druid in the beta. I have not heard encouraging things about mana regen (which is going to rip me apart because my druid, on the live realm, has virtually limitless mana). I have heard the new dungeons are cruel and unforgiving and healing is too hard and everyone dies and Santa isn’t real and I just don’t have the courage yet to check it out. I’m getting there. Slowly.

Shapeshifting and What it Means to be a Druid

What originally attracted me to the druid class was the description on the character creation screen. It promised that druids could take on the forms of animals. It struck a cord with the animal lover in me, which is also a valid explanation as to why my first character was a hunter and why, until level 70, my druid was a kitty.

Shape-shifting is the foundation of the druid class. The basic elven or tauren (or soon to be troll and worgen) form is really just a go-between. It’s the “stand around Dalaran” form. But when you mean business, you take on the shape of something more meaningful and powerful.

Back in classic WoW days druids were pigeonholed into healing. In those days, healing didn’t have a form. There were no tree druids. There were bears and kitties and moonkin druids. Some might have been more rare than others, but my point is that the forms actually existed. It wasn’t until well after the Burning Crusade expansion launched that restoration spec’d druids got their very own form. Admittedly the Tree of Life form has been the butt of jokes left and right. It’s been called rotten broccoli form and touted as ungraceful and generally unimaginative. Those nitpicks aside, it’s a form. It’s our very own healing form. And regardless of how ugly it may or may not be, it’s part of being a druid.

Now, on the eve of Cataclysm, we come to find that Tree of Life is no longer a form. It’s a cooldown. A sort of “oh shit” button that lets us boost our healing for a few seconds. We are being pushed back to classic WoW standards. In effect, we have been devolved. They gave us tree form, now they are taking it away. Why?

I see no reason why having a healing form is detrimental. Maybe feeling like a piece of week-old legume isn’t exactly heartening, but I can see absolutely no reason why “restricting” a druid to a healing form is bad. All of the other specs are restricted. Kitties cannot cast heals. But you won’t see cat form on cooldown. It would be ridiculous to ask a feral druid to only DPS during a few seconds while a cooldown is active. What essentially is being done here is forcing restoration druids to be like every other healer. We’ve gone back to classic WoW, a time when healing druids really weren’t druids at all.

Because the fundamental element of the druid is the ability to shape-shift into forms to do their job. Sure, having the tree on cooldown doesn’t prevent the druid from healing. It does, however, pervert a druid’s class mechanics into something only vaguely resembling what druidism is supposed to be.

I think I have made my stance fairly clear. In case I failed, here’s this:

(Not so Low Level) Paladin Tanking: Mana Regen Part 2

According to records of who visits what on this blog, the most popular articles are those pertaining to my escapades as a paladin tank. Who knew? There are much better sources out there, I do admit, but perhaps the appeal is that the guides are written by someone who, unlike the authors of those guides, is not a hard-core progression tank hell-bent on min-maxing everything in sight. Or maybe I’m charming and witty. Or maybe my page view counter LIES.

Anyway.

My first installment of low level paladin tanking talked about mana usage at the early levels of tanking. The basics are these: you have a small amount of mana. Every spell you use depletes this mana. You cannot hold threat without mana. Therefore, you must do certain things to a) not spend an excess of mana and b) regenerate the mana you do spend.

This is accomplished in several ways. First, you withhold from casting spells that are superfluous. For example, consecrate when you have one mob to deal with. Second, you use Blessing of Sanctuary at all times. Third, you pop Holy Shield on almost (I’ll explain) every cooldown. The combination of points two and three will result in massive mana regeneration if you have large amounts of mobs smashing you. Lastly, you spend your talent points on Spiritual Attunement, which grants you mana when you are healed.

As a low level tank, mana is hard to come by and easy to spend. If you find yourself outgunned by a group of mobs, you can blow your entire pool on trying to keep threat. As you level up, you gain tools to regenerate the mana you use. You will also gain more abilities to hold threat, making the decision between ability X and ability Y a little more open to interpretation.

Once you have your “full” paladin tanking repertoire (for our purposes, I’m talking about Avenger’s Shield, Holy Shield, and Hammer of the Righteous) then you are well equipped to handle almost any situation. The paladin tank is bred for large pulls of many mobs. If you think you and your healer can handle it, go for it. Pull an entire room. Experiment. Learn your limitations and strengths. The paladin tank is also a supreme soloing god. Try pulling all of Sorrow Hill. I dare you. It’s fun.

With all this power, though, you have a great responsibility – to your mana pool. Never forget that Sanctuary is your best friend. Your mana regen will be almost non-existent without it. You will encounter situations in the higher level dungeons, however, where rotating through your entire arsenal will be a huge waste of your precious blue resources.

Scenario: A large group of caster mobs.
Why they suck: Casters cast. They don’t hit. You cannot block, dodge, or parry a spell.
How to handle it: Spec into Shield of the Templar. Don’t argue. The chance for your Avenger’s Shield to silence mobs is invaluable when pulling trash packs like these, and you will find a lot of them. Throw our your Shield of Awesomely Silencing Doom and gather up the worthless spell-less casters before the effect wears off. Consecrate. Hammer of the Righteous. Don’t bother with Holy Shield. You won’t block enough to justify its mana cost.

Scenario: Only two melee mobs, standing apart.
Why they suck: Only two? That’s not what a paladin was born to tank. But if you cannot reasonably drag them a few feet to gather more (or they really hurt and you’d be dumb to pile any more damage atop them) then you’re going to have to deal with it.
How to handle it: If they’re standing so far apart that Avenger’s Shield won’t jump between them, then don’t cast it. Save the mana. Pull one with taunt and run it over to the second, pulling that one with judgment. Hammer of the Righteous. Don’t bother with consecrate. Keep using Hammer on cooldown. If the mobs have fast melee swings, throw up Holy Shield. If they are slow, or use a mix of spells and melee (like the big uglies right before Anub in Azjol-Nerub) then forget about Holy Shield.

Scenario: Boss fights.
Why they suck: Only one mob to focus on, may or may not cast spells exclusively, etc.
How to handle it: This largely depends on the boss. You will need to be familiar with the encounter to understand how to handle it (and you are looking up boss fights before you tank them, right?). If the boss is a caster and only casts spells, Holy Shield is mostly useless. If the boss has no adds, consecrate may be a mana sink you want to avoid. I find that on most bosses, a rotation of Hammer and refreshing judgment is the most mana-conscious.

However, there is a different between being mana-conscious and contributing to DPS. If your mana will allow it, pop your cooldowns and pour everything you have into the boss. I have seen myself at the top of the DPS meters before (which I admit is more a reflection on the DPS in the group than on me). It’s not enough to simply hold threat. Contribute as much as you can, but keep in mind that if you burn out your mana, you may fail to pick up adds. No mana means no threat.

I find I have the most mana problems with a priest healing. I define mana problems as “having to hit divine plea every other pull”. Whether this is a result of their reliance on shields or some other mechanic I have yet to pull out of my combat logs, I do not know. I just know that when I have a shaman or druid or paladin healer, I never have to look at my mana. With a priest healer, I have to rely on Divine Plea to get myself from one mob to the next. It is never a bad idea to carry a stack of level-appropriate water around, even at level 80, to help these situations. Stopping to drink for 10 seconds is preferable to being out of mana at a crucial pull. Ignore pushy people who insist on the GO GO GO method of running instances. They can suck it.

The above can be summed up in a few simple rules. If it casts, don’t cast Holy Shield. If they stand far apart but pull as a pack, don’t start with Avenger’s Shield. Use consecrate once to establish threat. If there’s only one mob, pull with taunt or judgment. If you can effectively hold threat with a minimal amount of mana, do it. If you aren’t struggling for mana, contribute to DPS.

Ultimately mana conservation at higher levels comes down to knowing the pulls and the mobs well enough to plan ahead. If you level via the dungeon finder, you will become well versed in the instances at your level and knowing what to do where will not be as difficult. After a few runs I know which groups aren’t close enough for Avenger’s Shield, which ones consist of casters, which mobs don’t warrant Holy Shield, and so on and so forth. If you find yourself constantly low on mana, check yourself. Successfully holding threat often times does not require you to blow every cooldown and mash every button on your keyboard. Using the right abilities at the right times when they will be most effective is key.

A Learning Experience

It would be hard to tank something and not learn anything. I think tanking by definition is a learning curve steep enough to knock down those who cannot climb it. You don’t tackle Everest with a protein bar and a pair of tennis shoes. There is a lot of very strenuous work that goes in to a venture like that. And if you don’t succeed the first time, odds are you won’t try again. Everest kills people. Bad tanks do too.

So I have endeavored not to be a bad tank. I don’t care about being the best. I’m a tree, I heal, I strive to be the best healer I can possibly be. But tanking is sort of a hobby. I go to work as a tree, come home and change out of my clothes and lounge around as a bear. I started tanking at level 70 in the Burning Crusade. I didn’t enjoy it but it was kind of expected of a feral druid. No one wanted kitties piddling around; they wanted bears who could tank. Peer pressure (oddly enough what lead me to healing) made me a tank. It wasn’t for very long and I haven’t touched it since.

Until recently. I don’t know why. Call me a glutton for punishment. I like being “important”. I like the feeling of knowing that I am contributing. I’m sure most people do. Whether you’re a pure DPS person or a healer or a tank, reasonable people like to contribute to the best of their ability. I think part of what lead me to tanking again is that “ability” no longer has any bearing on my healing. I can suck all I want and my gear will get a haphazard group through any heroic. That’s all fine and dandy, but the challenge is gone and I enjoyed that challenge. Hear tell it’s going to be challenging again in Cataclysm, but my lazy ass hasn’t updated the beta in several weeks. Blame school.

Tanking, however, is my fairly neglected off-spec which means that it isn’t as easy. My gear is mediocre (a very strange mix of ilevels that range from Ulduar to ICC). I started collecting it at random out of boredom. My skill level is about as eclectic. I have tanked all over the place at all levels on all classes…but not seriously. I never raided as a tank. Healing was scary enough my first time! Having my little bear nose an inch from some bad guy’s crotch is a hair-raising experience that, to me, isn’t considered in the realm of “fun and relaxing”. But it’s challenging. I’m not a master at it. I can learn something. (Let it never be said I think I have learned all I can about healing. Bull. Shit.)

So I put on my tanking shorts (it’s a dress, really…) and ran a few guildies through their daily allotment of random heroics. Ow. I learned things. Things I would not have learned from my guild because, desite our banter in guild chat, we’re a group of reasonably fair and experienced individuals who don’t go out of our way to harass people. Your random pugged player, however…not so much.

And there are a plethora of very skilled, very nice players out there. I assume they are a minority, though, when the vast droves of people I encounter in the LFG system are jerks. I’m talking jerks who pull aggro, jerks who won’t watch threat, jerks who don’t wait for a tank to pull. Jerks who, unlike my pleasant and mild-mannered guildmates, are ruthless in their resolve to finish each random heroic as fast as possible in a balls-out sprint to the final boss. It’s an exceptionally frustrating atmosphere that leaves me feeling like a failure. Frazzled and annoyed and ready to condemn everyone who isn’t me.

I have learned, though.

Swipe is somehow a very effective threat tool. I discovered that I can hold a group of mobs more effectively just spamming swipe than I can trying to tab target and Lacerate and Maul and what have you. It is my understanding that bears are not really meant to be AoE threat tanks. This confuses me at times, as I am very used to playing my paladin tank right now. Where is my consecrate?! Why are mobs running lose? Where the hell is my shield!? Augh.

Snap aggro seems to be a mite weak as well. Swipe, sure, or pull with a taunt…but I feel like bears are missing an opening attack (something similar to Avenger’s Shield) that immediately ramps up threat and glues things to you like grotesque ornaments. It is very likely I simply haven’t figured bear out yet. Hell, I’ll be right up front about it: I have no freaking idea what I’m doing. I just hit buttons that seem appropriate in the order that makes the most sense and pray no one mega-crits right off the bat.

The most horrid thing is when the LFG system, in its infinite and unquestionable wisdom, decides I am geared and skilled enough to tank one of the ICC instances. Seriously. My gear may suggest that I am competent, but let me straighten this up right now: I’m not! I’m about a competent at tanking as Elmo would be if you set his little fuzzy hands on the keyboard and mashed buttons. I panic very easily. If something comes up behind my big bear butt, I freak out. If the healer takes one hit, I mash challenging roar. I forget about bash entirely. I’m a mess.

Simple, easy heroic instances are no problem. ICC heroics make me wish I had worn a diaper before queuing. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest to heal them. I think it can be agreed upon that even seriously over-geared healers need to pay attention in the ICC five-man heroics. They are not quite the faceroll that other heroics ended up being after obtaining tier 10 gear. I think the difference between healing and tanking them (for me) is that I know exactly what I’m doing as a healer. This happens, which means I have to do this, resulting in this. It’s a clear, quick thought process that results in a heal. Tanking, though, is seventy different thought processes all screaming DO THIS! in little Mickey Rooney* voices, all contradicting each other. I can’t sit there methodically going through each scenario to test it out while the group I’m supposed to be shielding is being beaten to a bloody mess. I have to react. And I do. And it’s the wrong reaction. And someone dies. And I learn.

So what I’m getting at is I’m a tank in training. I’m going to fail. I’m enjoying doing something that is not my forte. It is not easy. I’m not over-geared or overpowered. Some people recognize this and are courteous and watch their threat and mind their manners. Others don’t. PUGs are a cruel environment to learn in – which is partly why I am pushing my paladin tank through as many as possible – but they result in one very simple and highly under-valued thing: growth.

PUG people are so impatient and so quick to judge, you cannot succeed if you cannot learn. If the wipe was your fault, you’ll know about it from four other people. And you have one chance to learn and live, or you’re considered a failure and booted from the group. It’s harsh, it’s almost unfair, but if you can’t learn…what are you doing playing what is essentially a learning-based game?


*It should be noted that anyone who hears Mickey Rooney’s voice in their head is quite insane.