Posts tagged ‘Guild Leading’

Do you ever find yourself second-guessing your second guess?

We knew it would happen.

Summer crit our raids.  Between the usual attrition to Real Life™, pre-patch ennui and widespread disinterest in the watered-down endgame, attendance tanked.  Suddenly, instead of attempting the hardmodes and the meta-achievement we desperately wanted to complete before the release of the new tier, we found ourselves 22-manning Ulduar, PuGing from our Friends & Family ranks and flooding the market with BoE epics and abyss crystals.

In a last ditch effort to save the guild from stagnantion, I threw recruitment wide open.  I was determined not only to replace those fairweather raiders I just couldn’t count on, but also to seed a small bench to cover the inevitable weekly absences that are all part and parcel of running a Mostly Casual® guild.

Over the course of the last month, I’ve recruited two warlocks, three mages, a rogue, a Death Knight, a fury warrior, an arms warrior and an enhancement shaman.  It sounds like a lot, but — summer attendance being what it is — it still wasn’t enough to reliably fill raids.  And even when we could assemble 25 raiders in one place at one time, we didn’t have the cumulative DPS to tackle hard-modes because we were forced to invite undergeared players as an alternative to running two or three or ten raiders short. 

… then 3.2 hit, and our long-MIA members came crawling out of the woodwork. 

Last month, we had to PuG DPS — DPS! — from /trade to fill an Ulduar-25 raid. 

Last night, we had 36 would-be raiders scattered throughout the Tournament grounds — including some players we hadn’t seen consistently (or at all!) for weeks.

Literally overnight, raid slotting became a nightmare.

Do I invite the rogue who raided throughout The Burning Crusade and still tops the damage meters, in spite of being a full tier behind in gear … but who disappears for months at a time with no warning at all?  

Or do I invite the rogue who joined us halfway through Ulduar and suffered through the very worst of the summer slump with 100% attendance … but who can barely eke out more DPS than our feral druid (when he’s tanking)?

(For the record, I invited the consistent but subpar rogue to last night’s raid — our first real foray into T9 — but will make a point of talking to him about his performance before the weekend.  If he can’t put out respectable numbers for his gear, then he’ll need to step aside in favor of someone who can.  I also had a brief chat with the flakey rogue to get a handle on his intentions.  He says he wants to raid again, so I’ll try to start slotting him in where I can and assess his commitment from there.) 

I’ve been very open with my members about where we are as a guild, what my goals are for the new tier, and how I intend to prioritize raid spots (i.e.,  to those players who have been filling them — provided that they are also competent).  Nonetheless, there was a bit of drama last night when I wait-listed one of the mages I recruited to fill summer raids in favor of a new and much better-geared recruit.  In between add-on induced disconnects, I attempted to explain to the mage that his DPS was too low for Ulduar, let alone for a new tier of content.  We were committed to helping him gear up in Uld so he could contribute to progression raids in the future … but until then, he would have to sit out. 

… Of course, now that I’ve actually done the Beasts of Northrend, I realize it’s an easier and much more forgiving encounter than many of the fights in Ulduar.  In hindsight, I’m sure we could have overcome the mage’s subpar DPS.  But I had no way of knowing that going into the Colesium for the first time, and felt it was unfair to ask the rest of the raid to carry deadweight when there were better options.

I attempted to explain all of this — but the mage essentially accused us of using him, and then casting him aside in favor of “returning friends.”  He /gquit before I even finished slotting the raid.  (Ironically, one disconnect and a thoroughly hopeless Death Knight later, he could have subbed back in if he’d just stuck around.)

To be fair, we did “use” him: he was a warm body to fill our raids.  But he was also someone we genuinely liked and were committed to helping succeed.  He came to every Ulduar raid he signed up for and walked away with several pieces of T8.5.  We invested in him, and had every intention of continuing to do so — just not in progression content. 

And I absolutely did not cast him aside in favor of “returning friends.”  In fact, I wait-listed all of our “returning friends” in order to trial new Initiates.  It seemed like the right thing to do, since I recruited the Initiates to raid (not to ride the bench!) and the “returning friends” were the ones who made it necessary for me to open recruitment in the first place.

The idea was to invite the better-geared Initiates, and sub them out over the course of the raid for raiders on standby (such as the mage) if it turned out that their DPS wasn’t commensurate with their gear … but, obviously, that didn’t work out. 

I’m sure that things will sort themselves out in the next few weeks, as we are better able to assess our new Initiates’ skill and determine who to invite to the guild as a raider and who to let go.  The novelty of patch 3.2 will wear off, as will the newness of the Coliseum (which I can already see myself coming to loathe — given that one thoroughly uninviting and lackluster room tied to completely nonsensical lore is the setting for no less than six new instances). 

I don’t know.  Maybe we shouldn’t have benched the mage.  Maybe his loyalty throughout the summer slump should have been rewarded with an invitation to our first run at the Trial of the Crusader.  But I feel we made the best choices we could in the limited amount of time we had to make them in, especially considering all of the variables we had to take into account (raid composition, prior attendance, order of sign-ups, rank, gear, skill… etc.). 

I’ve tried very hard to create a supportive guild environment, with clear and transparent rules regarding raid invites and loot distribution.  For the most part, I think I’ve done a good job, but situations like this lead me to start second-guessing myself. 

And then I start second-guessing my second guess, and it’s all downhill from there.

*  *  *

There have been a couple of similar situations recently, now that I think about it. 

Two weeks ago, one of my casual hunters threw a very public temper tantrum when I wait-listed her from a Tuesday raid.  She lives in Australia and can only raid on Saturdays: not once in two years of raids has she showed up for a weeknight!  I’ve bent over backwards to accomodate her schedule, recruiting players who can “timeshare” her spot (i.e., who can raid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but not Saturdays) and occasionally even wait-listing members who can make all three days in order to ensure that she never has to sit out on the one evening each week that she can raid with the guild.

She isn’t a strong player, to be honest — she will forever be known as the hunter who noticed that her bow was broken after we pulled Sarth 3D — but she had been with us from the beginning and I felt a strong commitment to her as a result.  I consistently defended her, including to other officers and my own fiance, who were often tempted to bench her for her poor situational awareness and abyssmal reaction times … which, thanks to the Aussie bloggers I read, I know is due at least in part to latency.

The week before last, she decided to take some time off from work to see lower Ulduar — which, due to her schedule, she usually misses.  By some miracle of timing, the raid was actually full.  I couldn’t make room for her without sitting someone with better attendance, better raid performance and a stronger claim to the spot.  But because he’s a sweetheart, Keaton (our main tank and raid leader) volunteered to step out for the bosses she needed … which turned out to be all of them.  

We brought her in after Flame Leviathan, but she resented having been wait-listed from initial invites, and — after stewing quietly for several bosses — dropped /raid in the middle of a hardmode XT attempt.  We were forced to wipe to reset the encounter.  Keaton demanded an apology; she refused, and I kicked her and her host of alts from the guild.

Ironically, the new raider she lost her initial spot to was the same mage who /gquit last night. 

Sigh.

We also had a small loot dispute yesterday, in which a few items were mistakenly looted out of order. 

We make a point of looting tier pieces first, so winning a non-tier piece from a  particular boss won’t cause a player to lose out on the tier piece she really wanted.  However, in the excitement over new boss loot — not to mention some initial confusion as to how the new universal tier pieces work — our master looter accidentally awarded a pair of off-spec plate DPS bracers to our Death Knight tank before dealing with the tier token.  This cost the Death Knight just enough Priority that it appeared, on our EPGP lists, that I should receive the guild’s first piece of T9.  But there was no way I was going to let taking off-spec bracers cost our DK his hard-earned tier piece, so  I passed the token … which prompted our paladin tank to ask if he could have the off-spec bracers the DK had won, since taking the tier piece first would have dropped the Death Knight’s off-spec bid to second place.

(And we thought tradeable BoP items would make life easier…)

This is where our loot rules failed us.  “Legally,” the paladin was entitled to the bracers.   But it would have been silly for him to take them over the Death Knight, since he attends one or two raids out of three — and almost always as a tank — whereas our Death Knight is a DPS/tank hybrid with 100% attendance.   Personally, I have a hard time believing that our oh-so competitive tanks (who tend to be prickly about seniority), will let the Death Knight see much MT time.  For those raids the paladin is present for, the Death Knight will most likely end up an OT on trash and DPS on any bosses that don’t require four tanks.  For those raids the paladin misses, the Death Knight will be a full-fledged tank … but then, neither of them will be using DPS bracers then.  >.<

I’ve never felt the need to build a “loot council”-type override into our rules, but I was very tempted to last night.

The paladin eventually passed to the Death Knight, for which I was grateful.  (It’s a relief to know that my officers can make intelligent loot decisions for the good of the guild.)  Unfortunately, the long, drawn-out discussion about loot rules that took place in /officer chat delayed the raid and caused no small amount of frustration to those who couldn’t see the conversation … and even more to those of us who did (and found the entire situation rather asinine).

*   *  *

None of these relatively minor incidents is insurmountable; in truth, we’ve already recovered from them.  But, still … I find myself second-guessing the decisions I made, and secretly dreading next Saturday’s raid (when I get to make them all. over. again.)   Things were never this difficult in TBC, when raiding was hard and those “barriers to entry” that we’ve debated into the ground nonetheless served to create an determined and dedicated raid, with members who were excited about the content and invested in each other’s success. 

I hate the revolving door that endgame raiding has become, and occasionally find myself longing to step down — if not from raiding altogether (which I still enjoy, with all the passion of an addict), then at least from having to make the hard decisions and deal with their inevitable fallout.

August 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm 9 comments

What does 3.2 mean for us? A guild leader’s perspective.

Of all the roles I fulfill in the World of Warcraft — shaman, healer, raider, recruiter, even blogger — the one I consider most important is guild leader.   I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to those who wear my tag … not to mention the adorable, purple and blue themed Angry Totem Tabard© that recently replaced our traditional Maple Leaf.

(Contrary to popular belief, we are not changing our name to <Surreality, eh?>.  But we may take Canada Day off, since most of our American raiders are heading out of town for the weekend anyway…)

… Where was I going with this?

Oh, right.  Because I am, first and foremost, a guild leader, it should come as no real surprise that I view all of the upcoming game changes with one question in mind:

What does this mean for my guild?

Optional extension on raid lockouts

I’m not sure how to feel about this one.  As frustrating as it is to come within a few measly percent of defeating a new boss on the last attempt of the lockout, I like the sense of urgency that accompanies a looming reset.  Surreality downed Kael’thas and Mimiron on offnights, after the weeks’ raids were officially over.  If we’d had the option to extend the lockout, I’m sure we’d have taken it — but the same energy and determination that brought the guild together at the eleventh hour also contributed, massively, to our success.

I’m going to miss that.

I’m also not looking forward to the decision itself.  Do we extend the lockout for a week so we can progress through new hard-modes, even if it means losing a shot at loot from a boss we’ve already downed?  Flame Leviathan drops the best-in-slot DPS caster neck and boots, and I know there will some very disappointed mages, warlocks and shadow priests in my raid if we opt to extend.  And yet … if we’re going to make significant progress on other hard-modes or eventually unlock Algalon while raiding only 10 hours a week, we’re either going to have to pick and choose (doing some hard modes each week and forgoing others) or take advantage of the new option to extend.

My guildmembers are all adults, and very reasonable people.  No one is going to /gquit in a fit of pique or throw a temper tantrum if we end up skipping — or extending — a particular raid boss or hard-mode.  But, as a leader, I will struggle to reach an acceptable compromise and inevitably feel that I’ve let someone down.

Universal tier tokens

There will be no slot-specific tier tokens in the next raid instance, and all but the highest ilevel of T9 gear will be purchasable with Emblems of Triumph.

This is an interesting change, and one that I’m actually looking forward to since it will reduce the amount of loot that goes to off-specs or shards.  I imagine it will also minimize the impact of the RNG, marry the guild’s ilevel to its actual progression, and make farming the first few bosses of the instance  feel like less of a chore, because the loot they drop will still be useful.  (I’m assuming there’s some sort of linear progression to the Crusader’s Coliseum, but for all I know it will follows VoA’s “boss buffet” model.  There’s a spoiler-rich post on WoW.com that might shed some light on the subject, but — alas! — I can’t access it from work.)

I’m not sure yet how universal tier tokens will interact with my guild’s loot system.  We use EPGP, a ratio-based model of loot distribution that assigns a priority ranking (“PR”) to each raider that is equal to the amount of time they’ve put in (Effort Points, or “EP”) divided by the level and quality of the gear they’ve taken out (Gear Points, or “GP”).

It usually works out so that our more consistent raiders have a higher priority on new drops, simply by virtue their superior EP — but the fact that each token currently has limited usefulness means that our casual raiders are able to pick them up relatively quickly, in spite of a lower average PR.

The change from slot-specific to universal tier tokens may prevent some our more casual raiders from obtaining tier gear, or — coupled with the Emblem of Conquest change — it may have the opposite effect, as our core raiders farm the heroic dailies for Emblems of Triumph to purchase their tier tokens, maintaining PR for off-set drops like weapons, jewelery and trinkets.

BoP items tradeable for a small window of time (to others who were elligible to receive them)

I’m sure this will lead to item-selling in PuG raids.  A few of my guildmembers — brave souls who PuG’d into another guild’s Uld25 last night on alts — saw an early preview of this when a shaman in the hosting guild rolled on a ring with spellpower and spirit (!) and then nobly passed “to any guilded priest.”

We /scoffed at the move in guild chat.  What’s next? my boyfriend speculated.  Priests rolling on tanking shields and then passing to “any guilded paladin”?

It won’t be allowed in my guild.  All loot decisions will follow EPGP, and anyone caught selling or trading items will be /gremoved.  (Not that I expect this to happen, of course.  The closest thing we’ve had to loot drama since our crazy tankadin de-guilded — mid-SSC! — has been me complaining about losing Vulmir, the Northern Tempest three weeks in a row.  Granted, it’s off-spec for me … but I lost to another resto shaman, an ultra-casual enhancement shaman and a combat rogue who, together, raid less as melee than I do.  >.<

Of course, karma smiled on me the very next week when the Golden Saronite Dragon dropped from our first hardmode Flame Leviathan kill … and lo!, not an enhancement shaman or mace-rogue in sight!  Suffice it to say, I won’t be crying about Vulmir anymore.)

Paid faction changes

WTB Holy Paladin, PST!

No, really.  Our sole Healadin is in five-piece T8.5 and substantially all of our spellpower plate is going to a Death Knight’s holy set.  (Surely, Tirion will redeem him someday.  /cough)

Surely, I can lure just one of you humans or dwarves or spacegoats to the Dark Side!

We have cookies!

June 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm 18 comments

The problem with Ulduar is Naxxramas.

I love Ulduar.

I love the scenery.  I love the lore — what I understand of it, anyway (I’ve never paid too much attention to that aspect of the game, which is ironic for someone who considers herself a compulsive role-player).  I love the boss fights with their fun, occasionally gimmicky mechanics; the trash pulls that require creativity and thought; the unexpected humor (XT-002’s voice, AoE mobs named Trash and V0-L7R-0N spring readily to mind); and especially the newness of it all.

I love that healing is hard again; that I have to utilize my rotations rather than simply spam Chain Heal on the melee.

What I don’t love — and what actually caused me to end last night’s raid in tears (something I don’t dare confess to the guild-at-large) — was the Naxx-inspired cockiness that we took into Ulduar with us the first time we zoned in, and the inevitable crash that followed it.

I don’t think Ulduar is “too hard.”  On the contrary, compared to SSC and TK — The Burning Crusade‘s sophomore tier — Ulduar’s easy modes are… well, easy.  Laugh if you like, but we didn’t down Void Reaver the first time we attempted him.  It took two days for us to master that particular fight, and we raced the enrage timer every week for a month before we could consider the “Loot Reaver” on farm.

I stopped counting after the first few dozen deaths (and I was playing a warlock at the time, so they were plentiful!), but I rather suspect that A’lar’s trash wiped us more times than Razorscale, Deconstructor and Ignis combined.

So, no, the problem isn’t Ulduar itself.

The problem is that Naxxramas was so easy by comparison to the raids that preceded it that we actually forgot what it was like to progress through new content.  Once upon a tier, we congratulated ourselves when it “only” took a week or two of raiding to defeat a new boss.  Now, we feel like we’ve failed if it takes more than two or three attempts, let alone nights.

Tensions are running high in my 25-man raid.  We’re making decent progress — nine bosses fell (or were redeemed) in our second full week of raiding — but we’re certainly not one- or two- shotting encounters like we were in Naxxramas when it was new.

To be fair, most of us don’t want to.  We complained bitterly that Naxx was “too easy”; by the time Ulduar was released, we were desperate for a challenge.  (Granted, Sartharion 3D was a challenge — but it was also a hard-mode, so we tended to view it as an encore performance rather than a legitimate step in our progression.)

Still, there’s a difference between wanting to wipe in Ulduar and actually wiping in Ulduar.  In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that this is exactly what we’ve been crying for, and start to lose our patience and eventually our tempers.  This happened repeatedly in Saturday’s 25-man raid, as the same officers and veterans I count on to help me lead when Keaton isn’t around (and he wasn’t this weekend) tore into each other for perceived slights, mistakes, lapses in judgment and even disagreements over strategy.  As hard as I tried to run interference — reining in tempers, soothing ruffled feathers, mediating the inevitable disputes privately while remaining outwardly positive — I failed utterly to control the raid and ended the night thoroughly exhausted, demoralized and in tears.

Even Sunday’s Ulduar 10 was rough.  We cleared everything before General Vezax in just five hours, with a dozen wipes along the way — most of them on Mimiron.  Given that this was only our second week of raiding, I think this is outstanding; GuildOx agrees, and ranks us as #1 Horde-side and #6 on the server (which is pretty awesome, if you ask me).  Nonetheless, the bickering that was so prevalent in Saturday’s Ulduar 25 raid polluted our usually relaxed Ulduar 10, and far from enjoying the new content that I claim to love, I find myself dreading it.

Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy the people I play with.  I’ve said over and over again that they absolutely make the game for me, and it’s true.  It’s the short-temperedness and the peevishness among my core raid — two very recent developments — that are slowly spoiling the endgame for me.  It may be a bit of a cop-out to name Naxxramas as the culprit, rather than the players themselves (or the guild leader who is accustomed to leading by example, and floundering now that she needs to take a more hands-on approach…), but I sincerely believe that the precedent that it set six months ago is hurting us now.

*  *  *

As I was writing this (in between SQL queries at work >.>), Matticus posted a theory about Ulduar frustrations that has since been picked up by WoW Insider:

Many guilds have forgotten what it’s like to hit a progression wall.  Raiders who felt good about themselves and their abilities started having doubts about themselves.

This is what we’re experiencing.  Exactly.

For us, the problem lies in the fact that these doubts have manifested as fits of temper — and, in some cases, depression — that are quickly snowballing through the raid.  I’m going to have to give some serious thought to combating them, because I refuse to let Naxxramas of all things break my guild six months after we trounced it.

April 27, 2009 at 6:00 pm 81 comments

“Casual” is not a four-letter word

Blogger’s Note: I intended for this to be a relatively short post, inspired by the fact that one of my guild’s Casual Raiders recently asked me to change the name of her rank since the word “casual” has negative connotations in the WoW community.  It ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated, so I’m going to break it into parts.  I realize the theme has been done to death, but it’s become an issue again in my guild (there was a /gquit last night, and I’m expecting at least one more to come), so it’s very much on my mind.

*   *   *

My guild has two raiding ranks: Core Raider and — until recently — Casual Raider.

Core does not refer to “hardcore”; no one I play with is serious enough about raiding to want or deserve that particular distinction!  Even the members of the (thankfully defunct) Cool Kid’s Club are pretty casual in terms of actual playtime.  The ret paladin has season tickets and would rather miss a raid than a game.  The mage-turned-resto-druid-turned-mage-again is two hours ahead of the server and has a firm bedtime.  Even our single-highest attendance raider, who likes to boast that he’s the most “hardcore” among us, took three months off in the middle of our T5/T6 progression to concentrate on school.

Awww.

Yes.  Hardcore.  Likes a Maltipoo on a fox hunt. 

No, in this context, “core” means exactly that: the dozen or so raiders who form the core of my raiding team.  These are the players I know I can count on to attend more raids than they miss and always keep me in the loop when their plans and priorities change.  Most of them have my cell phone number; the few who don’t live in other countries*, but can still reach me via MSN or G-mail.

I use a two-tiered rank system to differentiate these Core Raiders from our much larger pool of Casual Raiders: players who can’t commit to a set raid schedule — often because of school, work or family commitments — but are welcome and encouraged to sign up for those raids they can attend.  I can’t promise them spots in every raid, because I won’t displace a Core Raider for a Casual Raider, but our roster is such that I need at least some of my Casual Raiders to show up for each raid in order to get it off the ground. 

As a whole, I depend on my Casual Raiders every bit as much as I depend on my Core Raiders.  I just can’t depend on them individually, but such is the nature of their membership in the guild.  They may or may not be available on any given raid night, and I may or may not have spots for them when they are. 

Flexibility for flexibility.

It’s a fair arrangement, but it comes with its share of frustrations — for both sides, but especially for me: the one person in the guild charged with the task of reconciling everyone’s individual needs with the raid’s overarching one.

The Casual Perspective

If I can only raid one day a week, then I want to raid – not ride the bench.  It isn’t my fault that I can’t raid as often as everyone else; I shouldn’t be penalized for having a life.  After all, I work just as hard on my gear as everyone else … sometimes even harder, because I can’t count on farming Naxx for all of my upgrades.  I’ve been a member of the guild forever, contribute to the community in immeasurable ways and am always, always willing to help other guildmembers outside of raids, even when it cuts into my limited playtime.

I understand this; believe me, I do!  If I had only a few hours a week to raid, then I imagine I would want to spend them raiding too, and could easily become resentful of those who are able to do more in-game simply by virtue of the fact that they have a seemingly unlimited amount of time in which to do it.

I also think there’s some merit to the thought that casual raiders (by my guild’s definition) have to put some extra effort into keeping their gear up-to-date.  For those of us who attend every raid, gearing up becomes a group effort; the guild even provides gems and enchanting materials for most main-spec upgrades.  In contrast, those who are only able to step in for a few bosses each week are often handicapped by our EPGP system (which rewards time as well as effort) and at the mercy of the RNG.  There is an abundance of gear available outside of 25-man raids — crafted epics, BoE’s, badge and reputation rewards and even Heroic and 10-man drops — but very little of it comes easily, or cheaply, to someone with a limited amount of time to invest in farming.

Because my guild is first and foremost a community, I value the contributions that my casual players make even, and especially, outside of raids.  Guild chat is seldom quiet, and is often LOL-funny … not the kind of “lol” you type at the end of a snarky sentence to take the sting out of it, but the kind that makes the dog bark because you find yourself suddenly choking on your Mountain Dew. 

The point that I’m trying to make (in my typical, long-winded, replete-with-irreverent-parenthetical-asides fashion) is that our casuals may not come to every progression raid, but they are as much a presence in the guild as our core raiders are.  Far from finding them a burden, I want to accommodate them as much as possible — in part I feel obligated to live up to my end of the bargain, but also because I genuinely enjoy raiding with them.  As I’ve said many times before, the people make the game for me.  

Perfect example: We have an ultra-casual rogue who works on an oil rig and can be out of commission for days and even weeks at a time.  He logs on from a laptop to keep in touch, but doesn’t have a stable enough connection to raid; I think he’s come to three or four runs since Wrath was released.  But on those rare occasions he is able to join us for a few bosses in Heroic Naxx, he comes armed with enough Comfortable Insoles for the entire raid.  Why?  Because they’re comfortable, of course!  (At one point, he had half of us convinced that they actually decreased durability damage.  Quite a few people dove off the cliffs in Mount Hyjal just to test it out.  Tyrande was furious.)

I can’t imagine a guild without Testybones or his Comfortable Insoles.  I’m sure they exist, and do quite well … but I wouldn’t want to be a part of one. 

Next: The Core Perspective 

March 19, 2009 at 12:52 pm 10 comments

Reflections of a Twilight Vanquisher

If you read Matticus through a feedreader, like I do, then you’re probably familiar with the quote in his security footer:

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.  — Wayne Gretzky

I like the quote, and I agree with it … but more in passing than upon reflection, if that makes any sense?  Until this weekend, I never gave it much more than a moment’s thought.  Now, though — now, it rings so poignantly true that it almost brought me to tears this morning, when I opened my beloved Google® Reader to learn more than I ever needed to know about Lifebloom and five (more) reasons that the PTR sucks.

Yes, I’m a girl.  I still cry every time Bambi’s mother dies, and whenever Sarah McLachlan asks for money for the SPCA. 

… But why would a hockey quote, of all things, make my nose start to sting and my eyes just a little moist?

Because this weekend’s Sartharion 3D kill, a first for my guild, came perilously close to not happening — not because we couldn’t master the fight, but because we almost didn’t try.

*   *   *

Scott Andrews of Wow Insider printed a letter in his column this morning that could have come from any one of my officers:

After clearing all available 25-man content and having it on farm for over a month, a line seems to have been drawn in the proverbial sand.  Half of our raiders consider multiple drake Obsidian Sanctum the next step in guild progression.  However, the other half seem to be content farming content that it “easy” for us and are happy not logging on when we schedule attempts.

Furthermore, when we do get enough people for a “progression” raid, we run into the same problem.  After a few attempts, we inevitably get one or two raiders planting the seed of doubt …

Don’t despair, anonymous WI reader!  You aren’t alone. 

This has been our experience exactly.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before: on the evening of our first scheduled Naxx-25, we had over 40 guildmembers online, leveled to 80 and ready to raid — including players I hadn’t seen in months and long-since demoted to “Friends & Family.”  (As an ostensibly casual guild leader, I’ve come to accept that members will come and go.  We have ridiculously low attrition, insofar that raiders very seldom leave us for other guilds, but we do tend to lose casuals to real life fairly often.)

The initial burst of energy and enthusiasm carried us through all of the content currently available.  Within three weeks, we had cleared not only Naxxramas, but Obsidian Sanctum and Eye of Eternity as well.

Then … we stalled.

You’ve heard all of the reasons and excuses before — certainly from the blogosphere, and perhaps within your own guild as well.  The absence of Heroic attunements and abundance of BoE epics make the gearing up process trivial.  Two versions of each raid instance lead players to burn out on them twice as quickly. 

The content itself is “too easy,” and there isn’t nearly enough of it: Malygos and Sartharion can be farmed in about 30 minutes each; Naxxramas takes longer, but lacks the replayability of Karazhan.  (Remember how utterly random the Prince Malchezaar fight was?  Even a T6-geared raid could catch an unlucky series of infernals and wipe!)

Taken together, these things conspired against us: by the time we returned to the Obsidian Sanctum on Saturday, it had been three weeks since we had cleared Naxxramas with more than 20 people in our raid.  Even more disheartening was the fact that we had been forced to either cancel or downgrade all but two of our previous Sartharion 3D attempts for lack of interest. 

Right up until invite time, Saturday’s raid looked to be more of the same.

Our single-highest DPS — a Death Knight — signed up as “not attending.”  So did our holy priest and both of our part-time resto druids.  One of our rogues was called into work at the last minute, and a mage claimed the same (but was probably just boycotting the raid, since he isn’t interested in any boss that doesn’t drop The Turning Tide).

Several of our casuals had recently leveled to 80, so we were able to fill the most glaring holes in our raid.  For the first time in almost a month, we had 25 people ready and even eager to go!   … The problem was, they weren’t the right people. 

We had five tanks (one more than we needed), six healers (one less than we wanted) and two brand-new DPS who had PuG’d OS a few times but never before attended drake attempts with the guild. 

And, because we opened the night with Malygos-25 and PuG’d liberally from /guild chat to do it, we ended up inviting everyone who was capable of clicking “accept” — from the newly 80 holy paladin who had all of his gear enchanted with stamina patches to the beastmaster hunter who can raid once in a rare Saturday (and only then if we’re desparate, since his transatlantic connection makes it almost impossible for him to dodge void zones and lava waves). 

Looking over the roster at the start of the Obsidian Sanctum portion of our raid, Sartharion 3D looked impossible.  Feeling more than a little trepidatious, Keaton started counting the number of  “save-the-bear” cooldowns we had available to us.  There were all of two: his, and a single Pain Suppression.

Was it even worth attempting Sarth 3D with this group? we asked ourselves on our private u2u channel.  Or should we take the quick kill and break into 10-man groups to gear our newer members and work on our Glory of the Raider achievements? 

We discussed our options briefly on open Vent, acknowledging that we didn’t have the “ideal group composition” for progression, but expressing our willingness to continue if the rest of the raid was.  Worst case scenario, I mused (while Keaton scurried off to Moonglade to respec bear), we could work on our positioning, practice the movement of the fight and perfect the healing and tanking assignments for next time.

We put it to a /readycheck vote: 22 for; 3 against.

Cleary, I raid with optimists.

*  *  *

On our very first attempt, we killed Tenebron before losing too many healers to uncontrolled adds and calling the wipe.  By our third or fourth attempt — and to everyone’s shock — we were starting to see actual progress, and what had started as a resigned, “might as well get a couple of learning wipes in” attitude became to transform into real excitement and real determination.

We started to take things seriously.  Our fifth tank respecced DPS.  Our undergeared paladin subbed out for a warlock (which elicited more than one raised eyebrow, because it took the total number of healers in the raid down to five).  And one of our two ret paladins switched over to his Death Knight, who he retired a few weeks ago but still sufficiently outgears his current main.

Things went wrong; we fixed them — talking through our strategies on Vent, experimenting with new roles, adjusting the timing of our Bloodlusts and how we dealt with portal phases.

DPS seemed a little low; we told our high-DPS rogue not to bother with anesthetic wound poison, and put our lowest-DPSing hunter on tranquilizing shot.

Twilight Whelps were chewing up our healers; we switched tanking assignments and had our protadin handle the drakes, while our warrior took over adds.  He was paired with a second prot paladin, and together they had both the snap aggro (thunderclap) and the AoE threat generation (consecrate) to keep the whelps and fire elementals under control.

A handful of players struggled with void zones; we had an elemental shaman with high-situational awareness call them out on Vent. 

And so on.

One obstacle at a time, we inched closer and closer to victory.  The one thing we couldn’t overcome were the breaths; with all three drakes up and only two cooldowns to rely on, Sartharion could easily one-shot our main tank. 

Our prot-turned-fury warrior had dinner plans, and reluctantly stepped out.  We brought a holy paladin in to replace him, which brought our total number of healers up to six, but didn’t help our cooldown count since he wasn’t specced for Divine Guardian.  “Should I respec?” he asked as he zoned in. 

“No, just run with it,” I /whispered in response.  “We’re doing really well and don’t want to break our momentum.  Respec after this wipe to minimize downtime.”

… except, we didn’t wipe.  And we didn’t need a single cooldown, because our DPS burst Tenebron down before Shadron even landed

It was one of those magical, once-in-a-raiding-tier nights when everything just clicked for us, and the fight flowed together. 

Tenebron fell.

Shadron fell.

Vesperon fell.

And suddenly there was just Sartharion to deal with, and our epic battle became one we’ve done a dozen times before.  Still, I don’t think I was the only one holding my breath with Sartharion finally bit the dust.

 And to think … it almost didn’t happen.  Because we almost didn’t try.

March 9, 2009 at 5:56 pm 12 comments

A Tale of Two Hunters

tango_maureenLarísa and Gevlon are dancing again — or, rather Larísa is dancing and Gevlon is standing in the corner, looking morose, misanthropic and slighty green (although that is certainly a nice suit he’s wearing; I’m sure it was appropriately expensive).

I’ve been following the debate, of course; I even drafted a couple of comments that I fussed over for far too long and eventually abandoned.  Others — including Larísa and Leah (a frequent commenter on both blogs; I’m not sure if she has a blog herself, but if she does I’d love to read it!) —have made all of the same points I would, and far more persuasively.

I’m not going to bother paraphrasing their arguments here, but I do want to respond, in a roundabout manner, to a comment Gevlon made on Larísa’s blog:

You can make friends with skilled people, but you cannot make skills out of friendly people.

I disagree.

Absolutely, 100% disagree.

Exhibit 1: Hunter A

When we first started out into the world (of Warcraft), it was as a social guild with no raiding pretensions whatsoever.  We invited our friends, and our friends invited their friends, and within a few weeks we had a small but lively community of players at various levels of skill, gear and experience.  Hunter A joined us at about this time, invited solely by virtue of his friendship with one of our officers. 

Hunter A wasn’t just “bad”; he was an unmitigated disaster.  He couldn’t trap; couldn’t kite; couldn’t shoot his way out of a Netherweave bag.  He frequently ran out of ammunition, seldom out DPS’d the tank, thought every item he could equip was made especially for him and had to be reminded at least ten times at the start of every run to put his pet on passive and turn Growl off.

But you know what?  It didn’t matter, because we weren’t interested in raiding and he was a genuinely nice guy: a little immature at 14, and a good deal younger than the rest of our players (even then, most of us were in our 20’s), but sweet and sincere and always the first to volunteer if someone needed help with a quest or a low-level alt run. 

Gevlon would dismiss him contemptuously as one of those dime-a-dozen “friendly helpful ppl” — but there’s a lot to be said for being friendly and helpful, and Hunter A was both.

When we were finally bit by the raiding bug and looking to start Karazhan, Hunter A wanted desperately to come too, and somehow managed to muddle his way through the key quests.  But Kara was actually hard then, and we couldn’t afford to take someone we all knew would be a hindrance rather than a help.  He was left out of both of our raiding teams, and while he was clearly disappointed, he didn’t sulk (like I would expect of someone his age), complain, cause drama or threaten to /gquit.

Instead, and unbeknownst to me, Hunter A turned to one of our tanks (a warrior who had played every class to level cap) for help … and slowly but surely started to work on improving his gear and learning — and then mastering — the basics. 

By the time we had two groups farming Karazhan, we started to talk about bringing Hunter A to raids as a fill-in … if only because we were confident we could 9-man it, so his sub-tank DPS wouldn’t hold us back.  As long as he could manage to stand still in the flame wreath, we figured, there wasn’t much he could do to wipe us.  

Because Hunter A was universally well-liked (he had actually become something of a guild pet at that point; everyone loved him, but no one quite trusted him off-leash), our members didn’t mind “boosting” him through Karazhan.  Many of them were actually looking forward to it, and there were cheers on Vent and in /guild chat the first time he zoned in.

He surprised the hell out of us.  Under the warrior’s mentorship, he had literally learned2play.  He wasn’t topping the charts by any stretch of the imagination — that came later, with weeks and months of practice — but he was competent

By the time we started SSC, Hunter A was a full-fledged member of our raiding team.  I will never forget the first time he “won Recount”: it was on Lurker trash, and I was so proud of him that I broke my own rule about linking meters and complimented him in /raid chat on his “nice damage.”  (I know, I know … trash meters don’t matter!  Still, it included Hydross and I was thrilled with his progress.)

Fourteen months later, Hunter A is still a member of my guild.  He started high school this year, and doesn’t have as much time to play, so he’s fallen a bit behind the gear curve, but is nonetheless a capable, competent member of my raiding team.  Not since Karazhan have I hesitated to invite him to a progression raid. 

Exhibit 2: Hunter B

We picked up Hunter B while we were still working our way through T5.  My boyfriend is a firm believer in recruiting-by-PuGing (I am, too; I just don’t have the patience for it that Keaton does), and Hunter B was one of his more promising acquisitions — on paper.

Hunter B played his class masterfully: he had excellent crowd control, amazing damage (I believe the technical term is MQoSRDPS?), and a obvious command of all the tools in his arsenal … with the possible exception of feign death, since I do remember him stealing aggro a time or two on Void Reaver.  /cough

Still, he was a very good hunter.

As well as a complete jerk — something you would never have known from grouping with him casually, since he didn’t like to type and often came across in-game as quiet.  On Vent, however, Hunter B became an entirely different animal: arrogant, obnoxious, occasionally even cruel.

To be fair, he wasn’t bad in the beginning.  He was often brash, and could be abrasive, but his sharp sense of humor and caustic wit enlivened our raids.  For a while, we truly enjoyed playing with him.

But as he become increasingly comfortable with the guild, and more firmly entrenched in his role, he became bolder … and meaner.  He raged at the rogue who won the roll for a DPS trinket he wanted, insulting the rogue’s DPS, his playstyle, his education and (of course) his mother.  He made my Mom cry in a just-for-fun Gruul’s Lair that we hosted for our non-raiding friends and family, when she accidentally auto-ran into High King Maulgar and wiped the raid.  He shrieked like a banshee anytime anyone (inadvertantly or otherwise) pulled a boss to him after he feigned death to escape a wipe.  And once he found out that it bothered me to hear the word “rape” used metaphorically, he made a point of spamming it at every opportunity — including in public chat channels, like General and Trade.  >.<

I tried several times to explain to him that good DPS didn’t excuse bad behavior, and that — as a guild — we expected our members to treat each other with respect and act honorably when out and about in the world.  He didn’t just disagree with our rules; he flaunted them at every opportunity, and I eventually removed him … to the relief of everyone in the raid, and no small amount of /cheering.

The Verdict

Given the choice between Hunter A and Hunter B — a friendly, unskilled player vs. an unfriendly, skilled one — Hunter A wins every. single. time. 

After all, you can grind gear, train skills, perfect your rotation and (simply put) l2play.  Every single one of us is proof positive of that, as none of us started the game for the first time with the knowledge we have now.  Personality, on the other hand, is inherent: you can’t make an unpleasant person pleasant, nor can you teach them social skills if they have none.

Perhaps a more hardcore guild would be willing to take Hunter B, use him for his DPS, throw some epics his way and /ignore him the moment the raid ended.

Perhaps Gevlon’s ill-fated PuG would be eager to do the same.

But for a guild that values its reputation on the server and considers its community at least as important as its raid progression, Hunter A is the type of player you invest in, and Hunter B is the type you avoid like the Undead plague.

March 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm 19 comments

My Mental Inventory

Ambrosyne of i like bubbles I Like Bubbles i like bubbles— …

Oh.  My.  Earthmother.

If you want to make an OCD, perfectionist blogger cry, write a thought-provoking article that almost demands a trackback — and then don’t capitalize the name of your blog.  Amber, if I didn’t find your always humorous, occasionally indignant and endlessly varied style so entertaining … I would seriously hate you right now.

Like, GNOMEMAGE! KILLIT!KILLIT!KILLIT! hate you.

/sigh

crazy_cat_lady1

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Ambrosyne, who likes bubbles (see what I did there?), used the phrase “mental inventory” today to make a point about why raid sign-ups can be so much more difficult to manage than the average raider — or even officer, in the case of her boyfriend and raid leader — might think.

He doesn’t keep the mental inventory of people that I do — he’s not thinking of X the new recruit, Y who’ll PuG ANYTHING he’s not sure we’re doing as a guild, and Z who needs to arrange things with his wife.

The phrase mental inventory struck me as astoundingly appropriate, and something any raid organizer worth her Deeprock Salt maintains simply as a matter of course.

Good leaders aren’t goblins.  Our players are people to us: not character sheets, not multi-colored bars on a DPS meter and certainly not the sum of their stats — but people, with identities outside of the game, real lives to plan around and a whole host of idiosyncrasies and personal preferences to take into account.

Mental inventory.  Exactly.

From memory, here’s an excerpt from mine:

  1. Feral Druid (MT #1): Prefers to tank.  Will DPS if he feels he has to (but mope about it for the duration of the raid).  Can’t make Thursdays or Fridays.
  2. Prot Warrior (MT #2): Won’t miss a raid.  Ever.  Somewhat jealous of his MT role and will feel slighted on tanking assignments if we try to rotate them around.  (Rotate them around anyway, but be gentle about it.)
  3. Prot Paladin (MT #3): Can only raid twice a week, and needs some advance notice to plan things with his wife.  Always prioritizes progression raids above farm content.
  4. Prot Paladin (understudy): Wants to feel useful even more than he wants to tank.  Don’t hesitate to ask him to respec to DPS or heal (but help him out with respec costs; he does it a lot.)  Works weekends and can’t make the Saturday raid.
  5. Prot Warrior (understudy): Great guy to pal around with, but totally unreliable.  Forgets to sign up for raids half the time, and occasionally no-shows when he does.  Encourage him to level his warlock since flakey DPS is less morale-crushing than a flakey tank.
  6. Death Knight (understudy): Has no concept whatsoever of tanking etiquette.  (Even I know it’s bad form to taunt off of another tank.  >.>)  Works graveyards and can only make weekend raids.  Hates respeccing to DPS, but is open to healing on his priest if he isn’t needed to tank.  Will PuG anything that isn’t scheduled on Group Calendar.
  7. Discipline Priest: Has been with us since day one.  Lives three hours ahead of server time and struggles to make weeknight raids, but will drive himself to exhaustion trying if he feels the guild is counting on him.  Don’t let anyone pressure him into staying online until 6 AM on a work night!
  8. Resto Shaman: Knows his stuff, but has the attention span of a goldfish.  Keep him busy (involve him in healing assignments, engage him in conversation during trash pulls, etc.) or he will start running off at the mouth and aggro half the raid.  Has the single-highest attendance in the guild, but is starting to burn out on healing.  Let him raid on a DPS alt once and a while if group composition can accomodate it.

… and so on.

As the person who maintains this inventory for my guild, I’m also the one who posts and organizes raids 99% of the time.  Even if another officer is slotted to raid lead, I will hold onto my little gold crown and micro-manage invites until the 25th player zones into the instance.  Then, and only then, will I pass lead and settle quietly into the background to focus on healing.

Still, it doesn’t stop there.  On the contrary, my mental inventory guides virtually every decision I make.

I suspect that my boyfriend and raid leader (who sounds a lot like Amber’s Josh, come to think of it) would be shocked to listen in on the stream-of-consciousness that even a simple question like

From [Keaton]: What do you think? Military or Plague Quarter next?

can inspire.

We-ell. Since you asked …

We have two priests in the raid at the moment, one holy and one shadow.  That means that Instructor Razuvious is definitely doable.  But our holy priest absolutely hates to Mind Control the understudies.  If we ask him to do it, he will, and he won’t complain about it or cause drama because that’s the kind of guy he is — but he will stress out about it for the rest of the Quarter, and won’t be playing his best because of it.  Also, our disc priest would really like a chance at a trinket that Gothik drops.  He can’t make tonight’s raid because of the time zone difference, but he will be here on Saturday.  We’ll also have an extra tank then, which will make Gothik’s adds and the Four Horsemen easier to control.

Meanwhile, our resident Aussie isn’t here with her through-the-roof latency, so I think we’d stand a real shot at the Safety Dance achievement.  It’s also getting kind of late, and our fury warrior has an early morning final and I’m pretty sure our resto druid is already tiptoeing around trying not to wake up his parents.  Plague Quarter is always faster for us than Military, so — yes — let’s do that.

To [Keaton]:  Plague, I think.

From [Keaton]:  Sounds good; that works with our comp because …

Keaton could probably write the complementary blogpost on raid composition and synergies; I’m sure he has a similar stream-of-conciousness for that.  I’m not trying to discount its importance.  I just don’t know how to paraphrase it, because it’s not how I think.  Since I lack his expertise with classes other than my own, my primary concern is for the people who play these classes rather than the classes themselves.

Needless to say, I’m loving Blizzard’s new “take the player, not the class” philosophy.  It makes my job a little easier — not a lot easier (the analogy is “herding cats” for a reason!), but I’ll take what I can get. 😉

February 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm 5 comments

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