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Archive for April, 2010

Didn’t see that coming…

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Good Situational awareness means never saying “what the hell just happened?” Really good situational awareness means never saying “Woah! I did not see that coming.”

It is being aware of what is going on around you. Not just being there. Not just seeing it. Not just doing some stuff while seeing things. Being AWARE.

The first step of being more aware is realizing that you need to be. If you think you already are, but you aren’t, then you will not get any better. At first trying to pay attention to more things will seem hard. Overwhelming and stressful are two words new tanks use a lot. It gets better as you get better at being aware (among other things).

Camera control is a key aspect of situational awareness. If you are not looking AT a potential trouble spot you can’t keep tabs on it.

Take this situation:

The giant is dead, the boss is way down there and we are all clear to finish this HoL run off. But wait! Pan that camera round and let’s become aware of the real situation.

Oops.

Last I checked I am not omnipotent. Neither is anyone else currently walking the earth in human flesh. Well except that one DK in your last run. I think he knows everything. But for the rest of us we don’t. The trick to knowing more and being more aware is focusing on things you need to know. As you get better at it you will be reflexively updating yourself.

There is a thing that pilots call the scan. As you are flying a plane you can’t see all your gauges at once. For a pilot it is deadly if you forget to check one of your gauges for a long time. So you scan them in a regular pattern, like a rotation. What is my airspeed? Ok, now how is my attitude? Now look out the windscreen. Ok, now check my engine status indicators. Good, now back to airspeed.

We do this when driving a car but cars are much more simple. Look at the lines look at the lines look at the lines ah $#@% where did that cop come from? @$#*! How did I get going that fast?

FAIL. A decent driver is watching the road, taking glances at his speedometer, and checking the cars around him all the time. A good driver is also keeping an eye on that car over there that looks like it might be about to change lanes without signaling while still keeping another eye on that intersection coming up, the one that people tend to roll through the stop sign. He might not be paying attention to what the passenger is saying because that is not important. This is what I mean by paying more attention to the things that matter. If you can’t drive and talk to the passenger at the same time you tell your friend to shut up. Likewise if you can’t tank and follow guild chat you might turn that off. Learning to be more aware of the things that matter and be less distracted by the things that don’t.

Let’s say you are a hawkeyed bodyguard for a VIP. You watchful gaze sees all, knows all. Well not really. You might be scanning the rooftops for a sniper and checking the shadows for a sneaky ninja, but you are not going to be getting distracted by the way that guy over there is wearing shoes that totally clash with his tie. You see that sort of thing and dismiss it instantly as not important. But, being a good bodyguard you do zero in on the important things. You don’t care what color the guy’s socks are but you are very aware of how the suit coat he is wearing hangs unevenly on his shoulders. Which means there is something heavy in his pocket. Something about the weight of a handgun. See what I am getting at? Some details matter and some don’t. The ones that matter really really matter and the ones that don’t are a distraction.

Trick is to pay attention to the things you need to when you need to.

At the start of a run you are checking:  your buffs party composition  and you might be checking a few things about the group, GS, server, whatever.

Then you are looking to the first pull. Part of setting your pull up is being aware of your target group. What is the make-up? Are there casters? Do some of them do some special tricks? How far apart are they? Which ones will be in my aoe range when I start the pull? Which are likely to pull off me? Now is not the time to notice that the hunter has a BM pet, it does not matter. But, if you notice him starting the ‘shoot something’ animation then that IS worth noticing.

What you are paying attention to can change depending on your group and how they play. Do they AOE a lot? Which ones get into fights quickly and which lag behind. Where does the hunter usually send his pet? Which one does the rogue prefer to go after when he ignores my kill order? Does the healer throw a big heal early in the fight? Is he far behind me?

Do I need to pop cooldowns to survive the first few seconds of the fight?

You are also need to be aware of things around the pack you are targeting. Not just other groups and pats but what the terrain is. Are there Line of Sight hazards? Is the group going to path somewhere strange when I pull them? Am I likely to fear out of range of the healer. Which nearby groups or pats are the most likely to get aggro on us.

This is all in the instant before a pull and in the first few seconds of a fight. It may seem like a lot but as you get experienced as a tank you can take in all that information and much more in the instant before a pull. Some of it is off of memory, knowing the dungeon, and some is just gut feel.

As the fight goes on some of the questions change and some of them stay the same but the answers might be different. Between fights you are checking some of this but also checking on the status and mana of your party members.

I phrases all those as questions, but being aware is not about questioning. It is about coming up with the answers quickly and then acting on them. You should be doing this proactively instead of just reacting as things happen.

Basically nothing should ever surprise you. If people in your party gets too close to a pack you were bypassing, you should have expected that. If a that mage over there is too close to where the patrol is, you should see the aggro coming from a mile away.

If you pull the pack an instant before they spot him, or even as they spot him, you will be a second or two ahead of the tank that just reacts to things as the happen. That second or two will save the life of the mage.

How can you keep up with all of this and not to nuts? Learning the instances helps, getting reflexively fast at your tanking skills keeps them from getting in the way of your ‘awareness’. but in the end it comes down to focus and lack of distracting emotional reactions.

Someone WILL pull off of you. The time to be bother by it is AFTER the fight (or never). The healer will let someone die. Don’t worry about it. It is critical to not get distracted and forget about something you need to pay attention to. One of the biggest things to cause this is people pulling things off you. It is easy to instantly focus on getting it back and to lose track of everything else. When you do that you are highly likely to drop aggro on something else. And then things completely brake down. So what do you do? Well there are a couple things. One is TANK TRIAGE. This is also known as ‘you yank it you tank it’.

At some point very early in your tanking career you will find yourself with several DPSers that are blowing your threat away. These jerks are going to be pulling off of you right and left. Part of situational awareness is knowing both who is most likely to pull off you and who can take a few hits. This is where knowing other classes comes into play. If a hunter and a mage pull off you at the same time who do you burn your taunt cooldown on? This is a trick question. The hunter has FD so she is on her own. And the mage is dead a half second after he pulls off you anyway. Heh. Mages have several ways to dump aggro but most mages are BAD at using them. So if they use one you can round aggro back up and if they don’t you have a nanosecond to taunt off them and then they drop.

Tank Triage is the art of knowing who to pull a mob off of and who to let die. Ideally this will never happen. In reality it happens all the time. The number one of course is the healer. You absolutely have to keep them off the healer no matter what. Pop quiz, when is the most risky time for the healer?

Adds. Adds always go for the healer first because the healer is usually throwing a heal when they show up. The second riskiest time for healers is when the pull first starts. A very good healer will time his or her first couple heals until a split second after you get aggro on the whole group. There are a lot of not very good healers so you can expect a nice big heal to pull something off you right at the start. It will usually be that caster mob over there in the corner. You know, the one that can two-shot your healer. This is where awareness and a form of triage comes into play. I often ignore that caster. At least everyone thinks I am because I rounded up everyone else except that one. But in reality I have my camera aimed right at that guy and I am waiting for the ‘changed target’ notification. When that happens I am going to taunt him. Then I will have the 30% margin before he pulls off me again. Alternately I might opt for charging and interrupting. I do this because I am a bear and bears have no tools for moving caster mobs around. Basically, no ranged silence. That is what a ranged silence is, a way to move a caster mob somewhere. The only other way to do it is with Line of Sight. Doing THAT during combat, while the healer already has aggro is a challenge. It requires a fast taunt and a quick movement while still maintaining aggro on everything else. But that is not the focus of this post.

Tunnel vision versus ‘in the groove’.

Those two things are similar but not the same. Tunnel vision is when you are forgetting something you should be paying attention too. ‘In the groove’ you are aware of all the things you need to be aware of. You are ready for the things you need to be ready for because even if they have not happened yet (adds, pets, people pulling off you, etc) they could happen at any time. The thing to learn is getting all the things you need to be aware of in your ‘groove’ and not forgetting any of them. Or, if you are sort of forgetting them, you are ready at anytime to start paying attention to them. But not with tunnel vision. You are ready, when something ‘unexpected’ happens, to add those new things you need to pay attention to into your awareness while not dropping any of the things you were staying aware of before.

Oh no adds! Target, turn, charge, aoe, turn back, back into threat rotation. All with no hesitation or loss of focus. Did I miss one? A quick taunt and then back to what I was doing. Once you develop the skills and tricks to rapidly pick up a group of adds it is not very difficult to simply be ready at any time to do those tricks. Being a tank is about having a bag of pre-set tricks, skills, and tactics. I have this bag ready at any time to grab up the one I need an apply it. The key to making it all work is not hesitating. Don’t get distracted by something happening, just rapidly apply a strategy to the changed situation. If that does not work do another. ANY strategy is better than no strategy. The perfect actions a few seconds late is not the perfect action. Some half-ass sloppy moves done quickly with no hesitation can save the situation.

In theory being able to react very quickly can take the place of being so ‘situationally aware’ that you see everything coming. But that is a poor tradeoff. Being more and more aware of what is going on, and what could happen, or is about to happen allows you to decide in advance. I don’t have to react to that hunter backing up too far and aggroing the giant because I saw it coming. I had the giant targeted and was pressing the charge button before it took its first swing because I knew that would happen. This lets me be one step ahead of the tank that only reacted when he saw the hunter run past him with a giant on his butt.

Note for DPS and Heals on tank awareness: Dealing with an unaware tank. I will do a post on this someday but the best and easiest thing to do is get near the tank but not too near. Be far enough away that it is obvious when something pulls off on you but close enough that you are not out of his camera view. If you are well behind him an unaware tank will not see that thing eating your face. Yes, that is totally his fault for being fail, but if you want to live move close to him. Don’t get too close though. If you are lost in the melee he will be just as oblivious that you are getting om-nom-nom-ed.

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L2P Nub

So there we were in POS, Analogue in tree form and Reversion’s second bear tank, the undergeared one. Soon as we saw the loading screen we knew we were in for fun. His second bear is lightly geared, has some holes, and was running with an experimental high-agility build. That’s why I bring Analogue along when we want to run instances with that tank; she’s usually able to keep things up just fine, but I know some of the POS pulls are fun..

We get a warlock, a dk, and a paladin. The warlock hasn’t been here before on this character; he asks people to “share quests” and we remind him to talk to Jaina at the portal in. This is halfway through the first pull. He says “Ok, can I brb?” and we give him permission, starting in on the next pull. Then I notice his health bar is going down… and down… he’s managed to aggro the caster mobs that everyone always skips these days. So Reversion and I go back and res him. Well now he’s got the quest, so we keep going.

First boss is fine. Then we wipe after that because I’m careless and not looking where the tank is and run into the ambushers. Oops. That was dumb. We get back, clear to Ick and Krick, kill them, and start up the hill. It takes all my button spamming but the first two groups go down and everyone is alive. The paladin seems to have a broken cleanse button so we have to wait around after the fight for the diseases to wear off, but it’s going ok.

The next set of mobs, Reversion tells the DK to run to one caster and death grip the other caster on top. Wonder of wonders he listens, we take out that group. We go to do the second group – and wipe; I have no idea why. Everyone runs back, except for the dk. He didn’t run back last time either and this time he’s under the mobs and I couldn’t rez him if I wanted to. We tell him to release, wait for him to do it or reply or… nothing. So he gets kicked and a mage joins the party. A mage with a gear score higher than mine and an ego to match.

The first pull wasn’t bad; Reversion kept aggro, we’d already killed one caster and the mage’s blizzard didn’t pull off. Now it was time for the tunnel. Reversion gave the standard rundown; get to the middle, don’t dps till then, don’t get ahead of the tank. We run to the plate, kill everything. One of the dps goes down; I have just enough time to rez before we’re in combat again. We start off up the tunnel but it’s taken long enough there are a lot on the bear. Since this alt only has 29k hit points in bear form, Reversion stops to kill a few adds. The mage and paladin, however, don’t stop. I sigh as their health bars go down, and then ours go down, and it’s a wipe.

“???” says the mage. “You don’t stop in the tunnel nub”.

“You do if the tank needs to kill the adds,” Reversion points out.

“You fail as a tank. L2P nub.” And he quits party, just like that.

Needless to say we finished the tunnel and the boss fight without any trouble at all.

I think the problem is that for a lot of people, unless you’ve played a role it’s hard to tell the difference between “bad” and “undergeared”. You can tell good geared players easily. You can tell bad ungeared players really easily. You can even tell bad geared players – they’re the ones with a 6k gearscore and 2k dps. But it’s hard sometimes to tell if a player is bad, or just lightly geared. If you wipe on hard fights, sometimes it’s just because you’re short on health. I’ll point out that Reversion’s second bear is better geared than his primary bear was the first few times we ran H POS; gear inflation is insane these days.  But the mage wasn’t willing to stick around to see which was the case. We’d deviated from his knowledge of “how you do the tunnel”; he couldn’t see that the reason why was a good one, so he left.

Still, who’s the bigger idiot, the tank who stops or the mage who keeps going?

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Saw that coming…

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As a healer, your game ui can be your greatest assistant or your worse enemy. Yes, even worse than that dk who seems to think fire gives him an attack bonus. Probably it ups his spellpower. As I’ve mentioned before it’s important not to get tunnel vision when you’re healing, and your ui can help  – or hurt – with that.

Analogue's UI at 65

Here’s a screenshot from when I was 65. A lot has changed since then (my name used to be Metaphor. When we server changed I was forced to change to Analogue). You can see that a lot of  what I’ve got here is straight out of the box WoW. I’ve got the extra bars turn on and a couple addons in place.

I actually did not use raid frames until after I was 80 – here’s the story. I was having fun at 80 healing 5 mans, even went into Naxx 10s sometimes. Did this for months. Then 3.2 dropped – Argent Tournament patch – and a member of my then-guild was complaining that he couldn’t heal any more because the patch had broken his raid frames.

My first reaction was “Hah, see, I knew there was a reason I didn’t use those. He can’t heal any more without crutches”. My second reaction was – “Wait a minute, if they do that much, what am I missing?” So I took a whole day and played with raid frames. I’m the sort to research things thoroughly, so I learned that everyone seemed to use Grid or Healbot, both of which I’d heard of. I tried Grid first. My main reaction was “how many addons do I have to download here?” It was about a dozen, I think. I tweaked for two hours and couldn’t get something I liked, so I tried Healbot. I pretty much hated Healbot right off – if Grid had too many options, Healbot didn’t have enough – so then I tried the addon with a weird name some people on plusheal.com were swearing by, Vuhdo, and like Goldilock’s taste of the little bear’s porridge, I thought it was ‘just right’.

This was the result. Vuhdo wasn’t the only ui tweak; I’d made a lot of changes, specifically and most importantly to use Vuhdo to show my healing targets. I had a really bad tendency to shove things to the edge of the screen – I knew I wanted lots of room to see stuff around me but this layout makes almost no sense to me any more. I had to remember where all my things were, there was no real logical layout. I have no idea why I had buffs and debuffs halfway down the screen like that

Now here’s my current UI, first in combat and then out. I personally think it’s a lot better than the previous ones. I’ve got my action bars grouped at the bottom, except one tiny sliver along the side. (The side bar has buffs and a downranked version of Rejuv that I use on stupid people occasionally, idiot hunters and such who pull aggro, won’t drop it, and whine about not getting heals). The bar with my profession skills disappears in combat, leaving me a solid view of the SexyCooldown bar (the big blue bar at the bottom). I’ve got my Vuhdo frames anchored just right of my character and my own and target frame just below me. This helps me keep an eye on what’s happening to me and around me as well as just the bars.

I’ve set Recount and Omen to use the same spot on my screen. Recount shows out of combat, Omen shows in combat. It’s a nice trick to save space. Along the bottom I have ChocolateBar with various plugins that I don’t really need much – gold totals, clock, mail icon. Bartender manages my button bars – I have one bar in the middle and on either side, another bar that I’ve arranged in 3×4 format. Personal preference there, nothing fascinating.

If you look at the in combat shot you’ll see I have buffs and debuffs on my target’s unit frame but not my own. They’re redundant since I have Elkano’s Buff Bars in the corner (I like the nice verbose version of my buffs; I play enough characters that it gets annoying to remember what symbol means what for who.)

As a druid, if I’m in a raid I’m supposed to be raid healing and that means being able to tell at a glance who has what HOTs and for how much longer. I’ve tweaked Vuhdo to show me exactly that. Each HOT has its assigned place on a health bar, and displays how many seconds it has left. Here’s a bigger version of a Vuhdo square so you can see it. Vuhdo has options to show other people’s hots too and I have it set to show me if another druid has something on a target that I can Swiftmend – the red dot icon in the corner of the unit frame says “Regrowth or Rejuv active on this target and Swiftmend is off cooldown”. The Lifebloom stack is really cool – when I have one stack up, it shows a red number of seconds remaining, when I have two stacks it’s yellow and when I have three stacks, it’s green.

You may have noticed in my “in combat” shot that some of the Vuhdo bars showed little red >> << marks. That means someone has aggro from somewhere (sometimes it’s laggy but it’s pretty solid) and also a third small bar along the top of each player’s health bar showing a visual representation of how much aggro they’ve got. This, Omen, and TidyPlates are all tools I use to try to keep track of who is likely to take damage soon.If I can see that the mage has threat and is getting more all the time, I can maybe save him.

Finally here’s a screen shot of what Vuhdo looks like in this setup in a 25 man raid. This is the “test” mode – those aren’t real people in a raid, I’m sitting in Ironforge by my lonesome.

I recommend you see what raid frames work best for you; Grid and Healbot are both popular for reasons. Here are a few links for setting up Vuhdo from people who do it better than I would:

Setting up Vuhdo

Lath’s setup

And Rolling Hots

Vuhdo manual – And this forum has the creator of Vuhdo, Iza, as a very active participant! He’ll answer your questions if you can’t find them elsewhere. Look for the Vuhdo subforum off of the Mods & UI forum there.

My takeaway for you would be, don’t settle for “ok” in your interface. Find what works for you. Keep tweaking until it shines. Try new things, get rid of what doesn’t work. Some people put their raid frames below their character, or to the left, or along the top. Figure out what helps you keep yourself and everyone else alive the most. Some people hide most of their abilities, others need everything on screen at once. Look at other peoples’ ui screenshots – that PlusHeal forum I mentioned before has a long, long thread for just that – and copy the elements you like, ignore the ones you hate. There’s no one perfect setup for healing in WoW.

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So you want shorter queue times eh? Or you just want to try out this tanking stuff. Reaspecing as a tank is not very hard but I have heard several times that people tried it but did not like it. Or it was too much stress. I have also seen people trying to get into it the wrong way. Here is a quick how to guide to respeccing as a tank. This assumes you are already 80 and know the basics of the game. This will be a MUCH lower stress way of getting into tanking.

You don’t have to have uber gear to start tanking. In fact, with this plan you don’t even need crit immunity.

The first thing to do is STOP, LOG-OFF, and READ!

Go read some blogs about tanking. Go read all of my tanking 101 posts (see link on the sidebar). There are a lot of other good things out there so feel free to read more. Most importantly read up on what a real tank spec for your class is.

Something to keep in mind when reading is that some material is targeted at raid tanks tweaking for that last little bit of threat or that extra tiny bit of stamina. That is probably not you.

Respec carefully

Find a good spec online and then find 2 more that match it. Don’t just take one person’s word for it.

Re-itemize carefully

Find out your class’s hit and crit immunity numbers (defense cap or talents) and be sure you get there. If you use a shield get a good one. If you don’t have money or mats to get one crafted, go look up the best quest you can do which drops one and get that one. If you have any really weak slots, check and see if there is a quest drop upgrade for those slots and go do that too.

Re gem and enchant as much as you can. If you are not sure you will be a full time tank, get some armor pieces that are spare or alternates and gem those for tanking instead.

Don’t neglect your glyphs

The glyphs matter. Read up on which are good for tanking, also read other advice. Keep in mind that the advice out there will be raid oriented. If you can only afford one set of glyphs then DON’T do it yet. Wait until you try a couple runs and learn which abilities you actually USE in a rotation. Glyph those. If you are a bear get a glyph of maul before you do anything else. If you are a warrior get a glyph of sunder armor (it works with devastate too).

Getting started

Rotation

First off you need to know your rotation. There is good information about doing pulls out there but those are useless if you don’t know what to do right after the pull. So know what abilities to put in your rotation or priority list and practice them on the dummies. Read your abilities carefully and know which ones do a lot of threat and which don’t do any.

Pulls

If you absolutely have no clue on starting pulls, and/or have stage fright, get a friend and go do some quests or dailies. They can be DPS or heals. Your job is to pretend to tank. Just focus on keeping several things attacking you while they heal you or dps them down. This will let you play with a few pull tricks, some rotations and even taunts. Use them all and experiment. Feel free to round up more than you can handle and get yourself killed. That is part of the point of doing this with a friend in low stress. If you don’t have a friend do it solo; it is still good practice.

Run something

Do NOT queue for a heroic. I don’t care how good you were at DPS or healing. I don’t care if the tank set you built is 6k GS. If you are not used to tanking do NOT NOT NOT queue for a heroic run.

Queue for the lowest level regular run that you can. Pick a couple of them. Don’t put Occulus, ToC, PoS, HoR, or FoS in the list. Just don’t. Trust me.

Why? ‘Trust me’ was not enough for you? It is simple really. If you queue heroic you will get people that are uber at DPS and have zero patience or tolerance for a learner. You will also get every moron in gear made of paper and cardboard that just dinged 80 and thinks it is heroic time. Not queueing for heroics is the single most critical piece of advice I can give.

Also, the smart players, the experienced ones gearing up an alt, are all in the non-heroic runs. Particularly the non-heroics of the TOC and ICC 5mans. The average player in those runs is going to be more adept and understanding. So there will be fewer way out gearing you and fewer you have to carry if you avoid heroics.

If at all possible bring a friend. Any DPS class or healer is fine, just someone that knows you are learning and get watch your back a little bit. That will take a lot of the stress off. If you can, get a friend that plays a tank to come and dps or heal for you. They can give you advice on some of the more interesting pulls.

Heck, if you play on Ghostlands US whisper or ingame mail me (Reversion). I will be happy to give pointers any time I can.

Queue!

Now run regulars, then run some more regulars. Then run more. Get to know each one well. Now go run ToC regular. At some point, when you have done a lot and are confident in your gear, rotation and ability to do some basic pulls, queue for the ICC 5 mans. One at a time, in order.

Expect to wipe

Expect to have morons gripe at you. Expect to have morons do stupid stuff. If you let the healer die apologize. Feel free to tell the group you are new to tanking. Many hardcore players will tone it down and adapt when you give fair warning. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. If you find yourself getting annoyed take a break. But don’t take a break for more than a day or two. You need to keep at it to get better. Also, if you are grinding runs remember, DPSers are very often willing to do several runs with a tank. Invite them to stay in the group. If you need to drop someone who is deadwood, invite the others to stay in whisper. Getting a couple people who are friendly, good, and know you are learning to queue with you will REALLY cut down on the stress.

If you have an IRL or guild friend giving helpful advice, remember to tell them to back off and let you play BEFORE you get the point of hacking them to death with a shovel. Accept the advice with a nod and then say ‘ok now let me try a few before you give me more pointers’.

Heroics

Above all, don’t set foot in heroics as a tank until you have run all of them on regular. Preferably until you have run them all until you know the pulls very well. And double preferably don’t run them until all your gear is purple 200 or better. Remember that the ICC 5 mans drop 219 on regular. Look up what drops for your class and makes sure you have it all before moving on (unless a badge piece is in reach).

So now you are in heroics and tanking. The only real advice I have left is to avoid heroic PoS and HoR for a while until you are really good with taunts and rounding up packs. Those are very nasty and can chew up and spit out a new tank.

Good luck!

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Always ready to help out

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