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Archive for March, 2011

Dealing With Baby Aggro

WoW bloggers having babies is a popular theme right now, with Fannon‘s Dwarfling and Angelya’s Sprout being the most recent. Angelya’s isn’t even here yet! Of course, the Murlocs have a Twig, there was a baby over at HotsAndDots last month (followed by the site mysteriously going dark… hmmm) and of course Phaelia at Resto4Life left blogging in part to concentrate on her baby.

And it’s not just bloggers, but people in guilds and around the servers that have kids too. In our regular raid, we have a couple that has two little ones. Other guildies have to take baby breaks too – almost as many baby breaks as puppy breaks (Hi Grom and Log).

Since  we’re coming up on two years’ worth of Playing While Parents, I guess we’ve learned a few tricks. I’m not claiming we’re experts on balancing WoW and babies but hey, it’s a topic I like so here you go.

First off: babies are actually really freaking easy at first. They scream, they eat, they poop, they sleep. That’s about it. They also like to be held a lot and sung to and coo’ed at but the sleeping bit happens a lot more than you might think. If you’re fortunate enough to have a baby with dependable schedules, schedule your playtime around her naps.

Second, there are some awesome devices you can get that help you snuggle or feed the baby while playing. I really really recommend the “Boppy” pillow or similar. It’s a giant horseshoe shaped pillow, probably my favorite little baby gear ever. When Nomster was nursing, I could have it on my lap, her on top of it, and manage feeding her with one hand while I healed with the other. As long as she didn’t need to switch or start fussing, we were good. If she did, well… I did have this song, “Baby wipes the raid”…

There’s also various slings that can let you cradle a baby hands-free. These are awesome for shopping (way more convenient than those carseats you’re supposed to lug in!) or chores, or playing WoW. Nomster really loved sleeping in a sack next to Mommy’s heartbeat and it left my hands free for raiding!

When they get bigger, they get more demanding but also more predictable. Bedtime starts being a thing you can really plan on. You can either plan your playtime for after the baby’s bedtime, or schedule a baby-break into your plans. We’ve had a graduated series of containers to keep Nomster in near our computers; a pack and play when she was little, a big play yard now. She hangs out and plays and visits with us for a little while between dinner and bedtime, we play WoW. Since we’re both right here, when she needs something, one of us can take the aggro while the other covers in-game.

Make sure you communicate with your party or raid if you’re doing some group activity. Saying “BRB baby aggro” has never yet gotten me any negative feedback.  Don’t abuse it; if the baby aggro is a little bruise or a new diaper, go for it. If the baby needs playtime or a bath, well, maybe you’d better let them find a new healer…

Solo activity works well naturally; I recommend doing your daily quests and such while you have active baby time, and save instances and raids for bedtime. If some of your WoW time is on a laptop in the playroom while Toddler shows you what he just picked out of his toes, solo stuff is probably your best call. At the very least be prepared to explain to your party that when you just said “wetgwrebvfastew” what you really meant was “Ooops, kiddo got the keyboard”.

Exposure to adult content  – you don’t want your toddler having nightmares. When I was playing Dragon Age I made sure only to play when Nomster was sleeping. I didn’t need her seeing that violence or even the sound was just too much. I don’t really want to wake up at 2 am to a heartbroken toddler sobbing incoherently. WoW is pretty darn mild. The blood is basically nonexistent, death is fairly tame, and the sounds aren’t very scary. Vent, however, can be another matter. Remember if you hang out with people who use language you don’t want your toddler picking up, that headphones might be a good call.

Before very long, your little one is going to want to play right alongside you! Now that’s a topic for a totally different day! I always get a kick out of reading about bloggers’ six year olds running around Goldshire killing sheep. But Nomster is only 2, too young even for a death knight with all the keys bound to Death and Decay.  If we’re still here blogging in four years you may get some posts about ways to incorporate WoW into educational stuff…

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Maybe next time

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Over the weekend I read Rhii’s post about saying what needs to be said – including the positive things! and how innocent comments can lead to drama. And then Bossy Pally’s followup, about taking and giving constructive criticism.

And because you can’t read things without seeing parallels to events happening to you, Saturday night’s raid gave me a chance to see two different situtations where there was a problem, and fixing it.

Friday’s raid was awesome. We had a new priest healer and a replacement ret paladin for our usual one who was out doing cool RL stuff. We one shot Halfus and two-shot V&T – our second kill, first kill for at least three people in the raid, and put them firmly on farm. We worked on Twilight Council until trash started respawning, then went and downed Council of Winds and Omnotron before quitting time.

Saturday night we formed up and went to take on Magmaw and didn’t have the easy time we were expecting. The new priest had killed him, but in a different raid. We had someone playing a hunter who usually heals, our substitute ret paladin usually tanks Magmaw and so hadn’t done chains before, etc. So we wiped a couple times.  I noticed I was having a harder than usual time healing the raid, and the tank was doing a lot more dying than usual.

So Reversion wanted to give Logarithm, who is our Magmaw tank, a few suggesti0ns. He had the three of us switch to a separate vent channel so that they could talk quickly and efficiently. Because we know Log – he is my brother – and he knows we respect his skills, we knew he’d listen to what Reversion was saying and see where he could improve.

At the same time I was whispering the new priest. He’s a friend of Repgrind’s and had been doing a great job for us, felt like a great addition to the raid, but I didn’t know him as well. Again, neither Log nor the priest had done badly. They weren’t being called on the carpet. We were just having trouble with a fight we should have on farm, and needed to change things up a bit.

So I asked him for a little more aoe-healing help. We’d already switched so Kerick was beaconing me (because I get healer vision sometimes and let myself die!) and keeping Log alive. But even so, when Magmaw was mangling him, sometimes I had to throw some hots his way. If the raid was pretty healthy, that worked great, but if I was trying to keep us alive then it wouldn’t work.

The priest saw my point at once, we reminded people that Lightwell is their friend, Log made whatever changes he was planning to make, and we downed the boss next attempt. Picture perfect.

When there are things the whole raid, or large parts of them, are doing wrong, for instance, not getting out of fire fast enough, then the whole raid needs to hear the correction. (I just used up my daily allotment of commas there). When it’s a small change for one person, a whisper works well. A larger changeup makes Vent a good tool for discussion – but when the change only involves a single person, keeping it private can help make sure the person understands he’s not being called out or picked on. If Log or the priest had thought they were being accused of failing, it would have been harder for them to hear the advice.  They weren’t failing, but when they made the changes the raid’s performance as a whole picked up.

I’m very pleased to have a raid full of people who can listen to each other and take suggestions. We are still at 6/12 but Twilight  Council is on notice – if we’d had 3 ranged and not 2 in our best attempt Saturday night they’d be down now, 7% and we just had too much melee for that phase – and then we’re going to talk to Cho’Gall.   (After we downed Magmaw, we one shot Maloriak. That was satisfying; it meant for the week, we had 3 one-shot bosses and 2 two-shots. Magmaw was our only farm boss to give us lip!)

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So this morning I read that Blizzard won’t be giving us any new raid content in 4.1, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  Not that I don’t want to have new raid content! It’s just that we’re hardly  ready to be done with this content. Our raid group is at 6/12 bosses killed right now, having put in attempts on one other boss. That’s five encounters we haven’t even seen yet – we need to focus on what we have, not what’s coming.

More advanced raiders may complain that they’re already bored. Less advanced raiders, the sort who never got past Saurfang in ICC, may want new content to drop so they have a new set of three bosses to farm. But middle of the road groups like ours? This is perfect. The 5 mans in 4.1 will give us a chance to gear alts or new raiders more easily, fill in those annoying missing slots (wands, please, Blizzard. Maybe some trinkets too).

Now, if 4.2 doesn’t drop til, say, November, we may have to bring this up again. But right now I’m looking at a good chance to not just kill everything in this content tier, but also to start working on heroic modes, and that sounds like good news to me.

Also: Efflorescence as a smart, three-lowest-person, heal? Yes please!

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Not a viable spec

Corporate Raider

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The Last Healer

The Forgotten Member of Team-Heals

In every raid there is a healer. This healer is not marked with a green plus. This healer is lost and forgotten. This poor healer only has a few spells. Very few. What is worse this healer’s spells can only be used one every few minutes. They are weak small spells. What makes it even more difficult is that this healers spells only work on themselves.

That is right, this healer is called ‘the tank’. I am talking about cooldowns and I am talking about attitude. I am talking about what it means to be a tank and what it means to be a team player. I have long thought there was something missing from many tanks. Something subtle I could not put my finger on. It was tied to poor use of cooldowns. Not non-use, but just not the best use. You see, many tanks are using their tanky cooldowns to keep themselves alive. It makes perfect sense right? I mean here you have this spell that only mitigates your own damage. What else can you use it for to stay alive? And what is the job of a tank but to not die? Right? I mean tanks have two jobs; hold agro, and not die…

Well not really… tanks have FOUR jobs. Hold agro, stay alive, control the fight in a way that helps all the DPS do their job, and assure the success of the group. The third one good tanks do anyway. They know it and they try to do it. Good tanks also do number 4. Bad tanks have lost sight of 3 and 4. They might throw up great numbers, they might be very hard to kill. They might even hold agro all the time no matter what, but they are not good tanks.

But they don’t know it. And other people don’t either. I had an argument just the other night with someone in run, he was DPSing and claimed they had pugged this wunderkind pally that was amazingly good at tanking… Except he refused to CC, pulled things too fast and did not wait for the healer to drink. I said those things made it impossible that he could be a ‘good tank’ but this DPS friend of mine insisted otherwise. However, the healer in the group was also a guildy and she told a very different story about this tanks ‘skills’.

The difference can be very subtle. All gogogo tanks are not created equal. I did a lot of gogogo in the last expansion and I got good at it. Sometimes it was bad but often it was very good. And I learned a lot from it. I learned something that a lot of people have not yet. The bad thing is not ‘go go go-ing’ That, by itself does not make things hard on the healer. And that IS the bad thing; being hard on the healer. If your run was fast, smooth and no one died, but the healer is a shaking, sweating pile of jelly that wants nothing more than to log off and drink heavily, then you are NOT as good a tank as you think you are. But WHY? I have had a hard time of articulating why I think that makes someone a bad tank. I am not some uber tank, there is a lot that separates me from the real uber tanks. My dps is bad, my gear is not optimized… How can I consider myself better than most tanks. What is that subtle different I complain about but can’t always explain?

And then it hit me. I have healed raids… I have also healed go-go-go tanks. Not only that but I spend all my wow time in the same room as my healer so I learn little tidbits that other tanks don’t. If I do something as a tank that is particularly abusive to my healer I catch an earful. But that is not all there is to it. It does not take all that to have the right attitude. I finally figured out what the attitude is.

I am a member of team heals. We, all tanks, are the junior forgotten members of team heals. The better we dovetail our actions to their needs the better the raid does.

One of the tricks I have picked up is timing cooldowns to not save MYSELF, but to save other people. I do this by popping them when I am low enough that the healer would be tempted to triage me while sacrificing a lower DPS. If I pop something then the healer gains more ‘healing bandwidth’ to hit other people. It is a very handy trick and one of the best uses of tanking cooldowns. It is a far better way to use them than staying alive when the healer dies and downing the last mob yourself. That is all impressive and stuff… Isn’t it better to pop it earlier and give the healer the cycles needed to get his/her health back up?

A good tank can do both as needed. In fact a really uber tank already operates for the good of everyone as if they were a part of ‘team heals’. The top raiders already know all this stuff because they absorbed it through thousands of hours of raiding. I picked it up a different way. I am not a uber top tier raider. Not even close. But fortunately I picked up some of the concepts by doing things a different way.

Actually a lot of it was from ‘gogogo’ tanking with my wife healing. This gave me an insight into when the healer was completely maxed out. If you read my posts on ‘visualizing tanking and healing’ you will get some of what was learned out of those experiences.

So what does being a member of ‘team heals’ mean for a tank?

First off, think about your cooldowns, stuns, interrupts, tool you have that lowers damage, think about them all as heals. Small, situational heals that you apply to yourself and sometimes others. Because that is what they are. Every bit of damage you don’t take is one less heal a healer has to cast.

Second, don’t fall into ruts with your cooldown use. They are not a part of your rotation. Rather they are something you use based on the situation. Don’t get into a habit of ‘when I hit X% health I pop Y cooldown’. That might work sometimes but not always. Many fights have specific times it is best to use them. With other fights it depends on your group, your healer, and your tactics. Never get habitual or complacent about it. Always look for a way to use them better.

Interrupt, stun, and move out of the stuff. You should always be asking yourself, how can I take less damage in this fight. After that you should ask yourself, what can I do to make the party take less damage.

Finally, every time you do something ask yourself, “Is this going to increase my damage taken?” If you turn to pick up adds does that turn your back on the boss? Are you running through something bad to do something else? Maybe you can’t avoid it and it is best that you take that damage… but you have to KNOW how your actions are affecting your incoming damage rates. The more aware and in control of that the better you will be as a tank.

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Switching Gears

How do you handle switching things up?

I’m not talking about major switches in your gaming, not the “now my main is a hunter” or “I just moved servers” thing. No, just the evenings where you look at the loading screen and say “I want to play this guy”. I know there’s some folks who only have a couple characters, or even a single main, but I’ve got 8 characters on Winterhoof. One bank alt, she doesn’t count. One main. One actively being levelled lowbie shaman, one “I logged into her a few weeks back” lowbie hunter. A paladin at 84 and two not-my-main 85s, my mage and my priest. Oh, and a worgen that hasn’t left the starting area.

In the last two weeks, I’ve spent several hours on my paladin, my shaman, my priest, and my mage. Invariant, the mage, had been getting plenty of fresh air anyway since she is my archeologist and I’m still looking for that flaming doll. The others, not so much. Every time I log in I have to reacquaint myself  with the way each operates.

One thing that helps is keep my UI fairly standard across characters. The action bars in the same places, Recount and Omen in one corner, Vuhdo frames in their proper spot, even on my non healer characters – Invariant has Remove Curse mapped in Vuhdo, no need for Decursive. For my healer characters, I assign similar spells to the same mouse click combos – right mouse click for a good HOT, shield, or fast cast, other combos for longer cast spells. That way I can let the muscle memory work for me.

Same with my action bars; I try to keep spells that do similar things in the same place across characters. Of course, this is subjective. Frost  Nova and Disengage do not do the same thing, at all, but they have the same spot on my action bars for their respective characters.  I tend to keep opener moves on 1 and 2, aoes toward 6  and 7, and emergency spells at the end.

ArcInventory is my bag addon of choice. I have it set up to use the “Rules” to sort things for me. So what I get when I hit my B key is a giant bag with everything I own, but visually seperated into containers by the rules I set. I can have all my crafting mats assigned to the two left hand columns, my spare armor set in the bottom right, and junk items at the very top, all by themselves. If I keep it the same across characters, any time I open my bags I know where things will be.

I have a quick routine when I get onto a  character that I’ve been resting up. Check my bags and gear to see if I need to sell and repair. Check my map and quest log, to see where I need to go. Check over my abilities and remind myself just what this character actually does. Takes about three minutes and then I’m ready to go. The first few pulls are uncomfortable as I search for the right abilities, remember critical things (“Oh, right, pet.” “Oh, right, totems”. “Oh, right, mage armor”).  After that I settle in.

That said right now my paladin is the hardest to get into. I’m leveling in ret by questing. I just am not comfortable with the spec at all. It doesn’t feel like me. I’m not really a melee player; I like standing at range and killing stuff. And things are always lighting up and I don’t know what to push. This goldenish swirly icon? That goldenish swirly icon? The one that looks like a shiny hand? Ack! I may just wait til she gets a whole level of rested and then heal dungeons the last bit of the way; I’m much better at that.

But I do think there’s value in switching characters. I’ve been working hard on learning all the raid fights as heals; when I switched and did a few fights on my mage, I was amazed at how much easier it was to pay attention to stuff on the ground I needed to move out of, target switching time, etc. Of course, I was focused on that somewhat at the expense of my dps but…. that wasn’t too shabby either.

I also find that switching around and not spending lots of time on any alt favors “simple” specs and rotation. Switching to Invariant and going arcane is easy. The fights where I’ve gone fire? Let’s not talk about that… fire is much much more complicated and while fun, would take time to master that I’m not spending.

Remember, the most important thing to do when you’re switching characters is always put your toys away – mom’s advice growing up works well now too. Even if you think you’re only logging into your main for a few minutes, stick your leveling alt in an inn, sell her junk, mail things you want to auction to your bank alt. There are far too many times I’ve gotten on a main to send something to an alt and found myself three hours later in a Stonecore run that just won’t die. Save yourself the headache and always leave in a way that makes it easy to come back.

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