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Let them die!

You yank it you tank it!

Ever thought those? If you have done any decent amount of tanking then yeah, you have. Even if you did not give in to the temptation you probably wanted to. Every time you got some jerkwad not watching his threat and pulling you probably wanted to let them die. I have let more than a couple such people die. But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the OTHER times you let people pull aggro and die.

Look, you can’t hold all the aggro all the time. I know, I know a good tank tries. Yes. I said as much in other posts. And a really good tank has a shot at pulling that noble goal off. But sometimes you just can’t. Most non-tanks might not agree, most non-tanks probably have never tried to hold aggro when you get an accidental extra pack, a patrol from the rear and some trigger happy DPSers critting their butts off.

Triage

The art of putting your efforts where it is most needed even if it means letting something else slip. This concept applies a lot to healers. Often they have to decide where that critical heal is going and who needs it most. However, when it comes to tanking we get in the same boat. It is very often we have to decide which of two or more targets to taunt and which to throw AOES at. Which to target for some extra hits and which to let run away from us.

Some of you are saying ‘I don’t do that! I just round them all up!’ Ah, but you do. You decide which to round up first and which to wait a GCD for. Or which to wait on your taunt cooldown. You might round them all up EVENTUALLY.  But there are always going to be a few moments where something is not on you. Often that something is going to have a chance to take a swing at one of your party.

With healing triage you heal the people that need it the most AND are most critical to the over all team. Keep the tank up, keep yourself up, keep that really solid caster over there alive. Let the noob DK get smacked around for a while. It does not mean you are letting them die, though sometimes that happens.

Tanking triage works the same, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Moment to moment, we the tanks, decide what threat moves to use and where. When things go to heck we are deciding on the fly what to taunt and what targets to use what moves on.

Like healing triage this is not something a new tank is likely to do. Like a new healer a new tank will simply throw around what aggro they can and play whack a mole with targets that pull off of them. As you get more experience you develop a system and a sense for what taunts and threats to use where.

Why we triage

The point of triage is that we don’t want to waste our efforts in places where they do no good. Taunting the add on that ret pally is less useful than taunting that add that is hitting the healer. Things like that. If we take the time to taunt off both, something else might pull off of us. Also if we taunt off the pally first the healer could die. A tank that is not actively deciding what triage to do might just simply taunt the first one he notices. In a really bad situation that could lead to a wipe.

Your Priorities

Healer

The top priority is always the healer. That person absolutely needs to not be getting hammered. You have to taunt off them as fast as you can… mostly. If more than one target is going after your healer it might be best use of your precious time to move the fight toward them and use some more AOE. Some of your more exotic ‘oh crap’ moves may need to be saved for the healer alone.

Soft DPS… sometimes

Many soft DPS are either fast with their ‘oh crap’ moves or they are dead. Mages are the big example here. They actually have a lot of moves for saving their own lives. Based on my experience they don’t remember they have half of them and they are usually to slow with the ones they DO remember.

Soft DPS are important to save… except they are probably dead by the time you need to save them. So if you can’t get them in time, cut your losses and let them go. No reason to waste a taunt cooldown taunting a critter that has already finished off your friend in the pointy hat.

Bosses

You have to keep the boss on you. Really.

Adds… sometimes

Most of the time adds have no real threat built up yet so you don’t need a whole taunt to get them to come to you. Still it is better to get some of them on you any way you can.

Adds are usually in a pack. And adds are usually going after someone that is not you (at first). Which means someone is about to bet blasted. So you need to soften that blow as fast as you can. Taunting one of the adds as they come at you is a good way to do it. So is getting closer and throwing AOE. Whatever you can do. This is more important than taunting off of people that just are doing too much threat.  Why? Threat pullers are usually pulling one target. And they usually do it often enough that the healer and the person doing it are ready for it. The healer may NOT be ready for the mage in the back to get omnomnomed by a whole pack of tiny velociraptors.

Adds happen. Dealing with them fast and effectively is the mark of a good tank. When adds happen is when a weak tank/group wipes. So the faster and more effetely you can deal with the changing situation the better. You want to round up those things so fast and tie up their threat so tight that most of the party does not even realize you got any adds.

When NOT to taunt off.

A big challenge in tanking is to not get tunnel vision. If you panic when you see a target pull off you then you stand a very good chance of losing threat on another target. Focusing on that first one caused you to miss a threat move or two and not keep building up your aggro on everyone else. So it is important to know when NOT to worry too much about a target ignoring you.

Taunt off of other dps…. Rarely.

I mean really, why bother? Melee DPS are mostly plate wearers and rogues. Plate can take a few hits and if a rogue can’t dump their own aggro they aren’t worth your taunt cooldown anyway.

And hey, the more threat that DPSer builds up before you taunt the more threat you will have after you taunt.

Hunters, just about never taunt off them. Seriously, feign death and misdirect? What the heck else can anyone need?

Don’t throw threat moves to save someone if there is a higher priority issue. Don’t taunt off that melee DPS if you have not sewed up that pack of adds with enough AOE yet. Early in a fight AOE is more important than taunting. Let me say that again…

EARLY IN A FIGHT AOE THREAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TAUNTING

If someone pulls off you early and you stop some AOE to get that target back you are highly likely to lose someone else. Don’t do that.

I will get back to that in a second…

What moves to use when

Moves like Intervene, deathgrip and that one that taunts three targets that pallies get. Maybe you save those for the healer and maybe you don’t. It depends on how often you need them and what the chances of getting adds is.

It depends on your play style as well and what your personal strengths are. You don’t want to save a move for saving the healer if you never can remember where you put that obscure hotkey. If you can’t hit it fast and easy then it is not the right move to pick when saving a high criticality target. A lesser move fast is better than an uber move too late. You need to get to know your more obscure options and try them out BEFORE you need them. If you are not use to using something then it will let you down when you need it.

Some ‘oh crap’ type moves need macros to use them most effectively. Even if you don’t use macros for much consider using them for a few critical things as needed. In another post someday I will cover ‘oh crap’ moves and when to use them. Your main categories are these.

-AOE threat

-Focused threat (might be more than one target still)

-Taunts

-‘Other’ oh crap moves.

Here are your top priorities as the fight changes…

1) Opening instant of the fight:

->Get some small amount of threat on EVERY target.

2) First few seconds of the fight

->Build up a lot of threat on the target or targets your party is focusing on.

->Build up some AOE threat on every target

3) Middle and late stages of the fight

->stabilize any situation that developed early on.

->round up targets that pull off you

->watch for adds

4) End of battle

->stop runners

->check on your healer

->plan your next move

Notice how your focus and priority changes. Also that phase three one ‘->stabilize any situation that developed early on’ is a big area. It might be that your health is going down to fast, or that someone is off in a corner soloing something. It could be a lot of things. But you can’t get distracted by those until you have done the ground work early in the fight. By the time targets are half dead you could almost stop tanking entirely and the fight will end favorably. It is those critical first few seconds your agro generation has to be a high priority. It still matters later. But later, if you drop threat on a target or two, it is unlikely to cause a wipe. If you do that early on it is quite likely to cause a wipe.

Order of business in the triage world.

Stabilize the patient

The party is your patient. If you have to amputate (let someone die) to keep the whole body alive, do it. The first thing to do is to stabilize the situation. What I said about getting to a pack of adds fast? That was stabilizing the situation. Taunting off someone is the same. It is that initial minimum thing you need to do for things to stop being ‘bad’. Even if for just a moment. This can take many forms. Lots of ‘oh crap’ moves are good for stabilizing different situations. AOE force attack moves are great for buying you a few seconds of stability. Antimagic shell is a bit of a stabilizing move, if the issue you have is magic related. Shockwave’s area effect stun is a nice little stabilizing move if timed right.

Assess the situation

This happens in a nano second. If you are having trouble with assessing the problem might be that you are having situational awareness issues. I can’t cover those here so go read other posts :P

Part of assessing is measuring the situation against what you are personally capable of. Can you handle a pack of adds that big? What would have to happen in order for you to survive? Can you keep agro on those casters over there and still keep the big melee all under control? If you can’t handle the situation as it is, what would have to change about it for you to be able to handle it?

Prioritize

See above. You have to decide what area needs your attention the most and focus on that. If there is something you have to do to get things under control, do it. If there are things that are getting in the way of you getting control, stop doing those. Now is the time to do what you KNOW will win the fight. Don’t play threat tug-a-war with an over geared DPSer if you think something else about the fight is at risk.

Cut your losses

Let people die that are going to do. The most important thing in the world is that at the end of the fight one of your party with a rez spell is still standing. Everything else is optional. Sometimes this means you the tank have to die to buy time for the rest of the party. So be it. Your survival is optional. Failure is not optional so be certain that whatever you do, SOMEONE that can rez is alive at the end.

Usually this means you need to preserve yourself, the healer, and one decent DPS. As long as those live you can usually finish things. Sometimes you might be the last one standing or you might only be able to save the healer. Triage is about making the tough choices fast so that the whole survives.

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ME109’s shot down -8
Hurricane’s – 0

 We win! Wait… no… Wrong RAF.

Refer a Friend is over. Well it is almost over for the account I had linked up. Analogue still has a month or so on hers. Actually I am not sure exactly how long. We had better check that. We don’t want a repeat of last night.

You see, earlier this week we realized my RAF was about to run out. I was SURE it was not going to be gone until a week from this coming Sunday. I was all set to have a weekend marathon of leveling up the last couple alts. Because it ended early I am left with a couple alts short of the finish line and some a long way away. Still, the results of this RAF stint are nothing to sneeze at.

–Note: I use the term ‘offside’ to mean a character you are playing in addition to your ‘main’. That character usually gets less attention and is used less efficiently compared to the ‘main’.

Despite not playing much in the last few weeks and my miscalculation of the end date I still have a lot to show for it. I now have the following alts.

Mage – 60

This was the first RAF we did. It was leveled as a pair with Analogue on a warlock. That went ok. You can kill things fairy fast. The mage can provide food for both and then lock can do a little pet tanking. But this pair does lack the ability to survive serious ‘oh crap’ situations. It does have a lot of AOE later on though. You just have to employ in carefully and not bite off too much.

Shaman – 61

This one was also leveled mostly as a pair. It was mostly with a paladin. That makes a very solid combo. We have used that pairing now about 3 times and it works well. It was leveled as a combination of Resto and Elemental. Despite the bad press it gets Elemental is actually fairly good for leveling. It is quite good if you are leveling in a pair or with a lot of LFD.

Rogue – 58

This one was level mostly using the ‘grant level’. Hence I have not played it much and don’t really know how it works. Oh well. I have done some Hellfire with it. It is geared for the outlands and ready to level.

Hunter – 55 (just a bit short of the goal)

At some point Analogue and I suddenly decided that leveling as a pair was silly and we should be doing quads. We talked a bit more about this in the posts we did earlier. This hunter was part of the first ‘quad’ set we did. My offside partner was a druid. My wife Analogue was running a Shaman and an ‘offside’ pally. This set worked well with the hunter doing as much damage (with heirlooms) as everyone else put together. This set showed us some things. For one we did not need that many healers in one party. Also hunters make very good choices for the ‘offside’. With a hunter you can get a large fraction of their damage output with just one button press. Just autoshot and petattack put out a lot of damage for almost no effort.

Priest – 50

This was my ‘main’ in our second ‘quad’ set. My offside was a hunter. Analogue was running a mage main and hunter offside. This quad was very solid. I spec-ed the priest disc and was able to toss out some instant cast heals and shields as needed. Stuff died fast. I mean stuff just sort of exploded when we looked at it. And with dual tanking pets (bears) we had all sorts of off tanking. That first ‘quad’ was durable but this was durable and also cranked out the damage. As you all know killing stuff fast is its own sort of ‘durable’. So the survivability was actually better with this pair. If things got bad we did not lose as much dps or healing. Actually things almost never got bad because stuff died so fast. This quad got to just over 30 before we realized we were out of time. I got the priest to 50 using level grants.

Warrior – 44

This one was mostly level grants. It was paired with an alt of Analogue before we turned RAF on.

Pally – 17

Warlock – 4

Both of these were where I tossed the last few grantable levels. I wanted to get them higher but the time miscalculation got in the way.

Conclusions

If you have two people that want the RAF rocket and lots of alts, do them both together as quads.

Quads work much easier If you can do one or more of the following:

-Have a second computer. Set up some macros to control a few key abilities and pick a class like a hunter that does not need a lot of attention to be helpful in a party.

-Get a program that does synchronization between game instances on one PC. Pick two of the same class and level them as a set.

-Or, use an offside character that you can mostly ignore. /follow and forget.

Other realizations include the following:

-Heirlooms are fine. Use them on if you want. Just be ready to skip a few quests on that one to keep it synced with the other account.

-You ‘main’ and your ‘offside’ do NOT have to match which one is the disposable RAF account and which is your real account. You can control the disposable character and have your heirloom geared alt on /follow. This actually helps when you want to just do the collect type quests on the non-heirloomed one.

-If you want to you can easily get 1 of every class leveled up with a single use of RAF. We did a lot of slacking and still leveled a ton of alts.

Next up we will be doing some experimenting with trios and pairs as we finish out Analogue’s RAF period. I think there is a few weeks left on it… pardon me while I go check.

Last night we cleaned out all the little alts in the disposable account and got it ready to sleep. Battle.net says I have until 8pm tonight… whenever that is. So I plan to try and get a few more levels on the priest. Since all the alts are gearless I will do it by running instances and then afterward standing next to a nekid RAF alt while I turn the quests in. That way my wonderful wife can keep killing Zerg while I put this thing to rest. I will let you know how it goes.

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If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If, Rudyard Kipling

First stanza of Kipling’s famous poem should probably be on a sticky note on every healer’s monitor. I’m not saying that the other roles in the game don’t require laser like focus and attention to detail, but I know I personally have to be totally in the groove every GCD to heal at the top of my game. On my mage? Hit Arcane Blast a billion times, pop cooldowns when they’re available, don’t stand in fire. On my druid? Watch for who needs a heal, who needs an emergency cooldown, who is about to take damage and should be Rejuv’d … and still stay out of the fire.

More than that, I don’t know if it’s a me thing or a healer thing but if I’m healing the raid and we wipe, I feel guilty. Really guilty. Like “that was all my fault if only I’d been a better healer that wouldn’t have happened.” I don’t feel nearly as bad tanking, and dps? Psssh, not my fault. I did my job. But when I’m healing, I feel like I ought to be doing everyone else’s, too.

And what about when people are saying it’s your fault? Do you just let them, or get defensive, or even say “yeah, it was me”? Like the poem says – you have to trust yourself, but if everyone is saying it’s your fault, you have to look at yourself and make sure that’s not true. Not trusting yourself will lead to wipes. So will not trusting your partners – the other healers, the tanks, the dps. A druid throwing Nourish on a tank when she should be trusting her Disco priest buddy can wipe the raid easily – or save the day if the priest got distracted. What do you do?

So: some specific strategies that I use. What do you use? I’m always looking for new tips.

Keep a Cool Head – learn to accept and react to a situation rather than panic. Important when you’re out of mana and the tank just aggroed two more pats. If you panic, you die. If you can quickly prioritize your problems and do things in the right order, you live. Slap a shield or an instant HOT on the tank, blow your “get mana back” cooldown, drop a big cooldown on the tank to get him back up, and play triage.

Zen and the Art of Raid Maintenance – watch the raid like a mama bird watches her stupid, half-blind, flightless chicks. They’re going to try to fall out of the nest, choke themselves on half-eaten worms, and go play with that friendly hawk perched at the top of the tree. Don’t let ‘em, but don’t get mad at them when they do. Heal through the stupid because you can.

Screw it, I don’t care if the mage dies – the opposite of the above. After the nth time that warlock life taps right before combat or the mage runs away from the tank in order to frost nova mobs right by you – they’re too stupid to live. Think of it as evolution in action. Let them die that others may live. Mentally pretend their health bar is already gone, stop wasting mana on them, and concentrate on the tank and the ones who aren’t being stupid.

Honestly, if you’d just read “Hogwarts, A History” – know the fights better than anyone else. This is important if you’re pugging but comes in handy if your raid leader is one of those odd ones who doesn’t know doesn’t care about healing stuff (like the first time I fought Saurfang, the Disc priest asked if there was a strategy for her and was told to ‘just shield the tanks'; we didn’t down him that night but if the raid leader had known to have her drop shields on the Marked victims too, we might have.) The theory here is that by knowing the fight, you can drop hints to others on your healing team and then, assuming they do as you say, you don’t have to worry about them. I’m guilty of not doing this as thoroughly as I should; to date I still haven’t actually, you know, watched an LK fight video. /embarassed

It’s easy enough to discuss strategies like this but implementing them is something else entirely. For that, I practice in 5 mans. Deliberately keep your mana low so you can learn to assess priorities and how to regain mana fast when you need to. Let a warlock die (it’s good for their souls anyway). Think two steps ahead of your party members and have them shielded or hotted before they take damage.

The most challenging situation I think a healer can be in, as far as state of mind goes, is the pug raid healing job, where you don’t know what you’re going to get. Often you won’t know anyone, or many, in the raid. The leader may or may not know anything about healing. Your healing team may not be optimal and probably hasn’t worked together. You can make one of two fatal mindset errors here: you can decide it’s all up to you, or you can decide it’s all up to them. In fact it’s neither. You are not responsible for the success of the raid as a whole, but you are responsible for doing your part.

One thing I’ve often found in pug raids is that the leader will give some vague directions like “druid heal ranged shammy heal melee pally on tanks”. Ok… but how do you easily tell ranged from melee? Nobody sorts groups these days… Well, I have Vuhdo set to show “class colors” as the health bar for each person in the raid. So mages are light blue, paladins are pink, etc. I can instantly tell class by looking at my Vuhdo setup. Makes following that sort of vague instruction easier.

I’ll whisper other people on the healing team and ask relevant questions. If I’m on my paladin and there’s another holy pally, I’ll ask “Who are you Beaconing?” and then Beacon the other tank. If there’s another druid, I’ll set up Rejuv priorities (“You do groups 2 and 3, I’ll do 4 and 5, both of us do tanks”).

Anyway, those are my strategies. Anyone have any they can share?

And if all else fails, and your concentration goes to hell and you lose it entirely – well, the run back from the graveyard is a perfect time to practice your deep breathing and work on your patience.

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If you missed it before go check: Situational Awareness and You Part 1

I said at the end of part 1 that I would talk more about the issue of high mouse speed. It is not the speed itself that is the issue.

Your brain

You brain uses a vast number of clues to piece together the world around you. If you turn your head your brain has many things to work with in order to fit the view your eyes see before and after the head turn into one picture of the world around you. Your brain has inputs from your neck: muscles tension, skin stretch, twisting of the vertebra. Your brain also gets the inputs from your inner ear sensing motion and acceleration. Your ears also hear the ambient sounds change as the sources of those sounds ‘move’ around you. Even the air movement on your cheeks and in your hair is fed into your brain. All these things and others help your mind understand what it sees and fit the images it sees together with the images it saw a moment before or minutes before.

In a game world you have FAR fewer inputs to work with. Everything I described above and more is gone. You have very few things to work with to help your brain process where you are looking and what you are seeing. If you look rapidly around at action happening all around you your brain needs to blend all that into an ever changing picture of what is going on.

Your brain on WOW

The things that don’t change between in game and real word processing in your head are the image recognition side of things. Well some of it. You lose the depth perception clues. But you do have the normal image processing your brain is capable of.

You DO add a new input. In place of the sensor input from your neck turning you have the input of your mouse hand moving. But is that enough? Can you close your eyes, and move the mouse with a right or left click and know instantly how far your character turned? Without opening your eyes? Can you spin exactly 180 degrees around and in one try without over shooting? Many players can. A very many players can’t. With your eyes closed you only have the input of your hand moving on the table. That is not a lot to go on.

What else do you have? Well the screen of course. But two things are working against you. Frame rate and mouse speed. Anywhere from 10 times per second to upwards of 60 times per second the image on your screen is updating. Imagine your character is turning. Each moment as you turn the screen updates. Each update looks different than the last. If you are turning very slow most of the screen is showing the same thing as before. If you are turning left on the left side of your screen new material keeps appearing each moment and everything moves right. If you are turning fast much more of the screen is updated with new material. If you turn extremely fast nothing or almost nothing is the same as before. If you turn your character completely around between on screen update and the next (easy to do with a mouse twitch) then there is NOTHING on your screen that looks the same as before (not counting your character itself).

When you are turning slower your brain has all the stuff that did not change to give you instant input as to which way you turned and how far. If that tree on the screen moved half way across it then you know something useful about how far you turned. If you turn so fast that the tree simply vanishes then you lose that input. In that case your brain has to start from stretch and figure out where you are looking. Fortunately the human brain is an amazing creation and can figure it out very fast. But why force it to do extra work? If a lot is going on around you then your brain needs all the clues you can get.

Slow that mouse down!

A good rule of thumb is that you want to be able to turn 180 degrees with one mouse move. So do this. Set your hand on the mouse. Using the right click turn move your mouse as far as you can to the left or right. Only move it as far as you can without shifting your grip. How far did you turn? If you turned completely around twice then things are probably set way to fast. Tweak your speed and try again. Keep doing it. Only you can decide how fast is fast enough or too fast. Here are some suggested guidelines.

You should be able to turn 180 and face the opposite direction in one smooth move without shifting your grip or lifting up your grip.

If you have to grip very tight and try several times when you are navigating a tight room (like a human inn) then your speed is too high.

If you have to lift up your mouse to steer a tight corner then it is far too slow.

Try slowing things down until they are way too slow and then slowly creep it up until things seem smooth and steady but still reasonably fast.

Do NOT just leave mouse speed alone. It matters to situational awareness so you should mess with it and give thought to it. Find what speed is right for you.

The goal is that you can move the screen rapidly and have a reasonably good idea of how far you moved, even if you can’t see the screen. The goal is to be able to see the screen pan as you turn

Get your frame rate up

For all the reasons I was just talking about for mouse speed you need a good frame rate. Get in to your video settings and turn things down. When it comes to getting your disoriented frame rate does as much as mouse speed or more. Turn some video settings down until your frame rate is high. You can set almost everything to minimum and still play with no problems. Just don’t set the particles to the bottom or you will not be able to see the fire you are standing in.

More mouse tricks:

Strafing with the arrow keys: You can use right click and used A or D or to do the exact same thing as the Q and E keys. Try it! Maybe it will fit your play style better than Q and E. Or maybe you will want to do like me and use it situationally.

More practice activities

Go play in the Argent Tournament. It might be hard and annoying at first but the rewards are good, cash is solid and the skill up if your movement is great.

Buzz things on your flying mount. Don’t fly over the trees. Use keys and mouse steering to weave between them. This is great practice and does not slow your travel time much. No trees? Just flow low and try to skim the ground without actually landing on it.

Drive vehicles in battle grounds. Those things work differently for movement so try them out.

Ride around like those bored people in Dalaran. Only don’t do it there you are laggy. But ridding around town and like a drunk moron is actually really good hand mouse coordination practice and steering practice. Zig-zag, jump, dodge around people.

Looking is not seeing and seeing is not knowing

The everything I wrote in part 1 and above is focused on helping you look all around you at any time and to be able to fit what you see into a coherent picture. That helps you see what is around but next you have to know and understand what you are seeing. Being actually AWARE takes more.

Stay one step ahead

Knowing what is going to happen next is a critical part of awareness. Mainly it helps you sift through what you are seeing and spot the things that are important. You can see 8 packs around you but what is important to look at? You can’t know everything about everything but you can be picking out what are the next two groups you are going to fight and already thinking about what comes next.

Whether you are playing solo, healing, tanking, or DPSing in 5 mans or raids, anytime, anywhere, you can be thinking about what comes next and getting ready for it. Is the tanking going to go left or right? Maybe you can’t be sure, but if you know he is going to do ONE of those you can position yourself so that you react to either. And you can be ready for either. Almost nothing a tank does should take you by surprise. No really. There aren’t that many things a tank CAN do so it is not that hard to be ready for almost anything. If you assume the tank is NOT going to do something then you are already setting yourself up for a chance of failure. Rather you should position yourself and be ready for all the likely options and have a backup plan for the unlikely ones.

How?

Predict what will happen with your best guess but don’t fixate on your theories. You should at any time have a vague idea of what comes next. But you should not have an iron clad prediction of it. If you get too invested in your expectations you are put off balance when they don’t come true. If you are absolutely sure the tank is going to pull that group on the left and you get set up for that and only that then you can caught unaware when he goes the other way. Don’t do that. Set yourself up to be able to react to several likely options. This is particularly key advice for a healer. Did you stop to far back and then get surprised when the tank ran around a corner? That was your mistake. There was not real reason to stop back there except that you assumed something about what the tank was going to do. Then you lost line of sight when he ran in the room. Oops. Should have been farther forward from the get-go.

React quickly

That statement ‘react quickly’ is a ‘what’ but not a ‘how’. The how is this: When things change throw out the old and change with them. Don’t stop and go ‘ohcropohcrapohcrap’. Instead simply forget everything you had planned and assumed and start over. Don’t try to resist that changing situation. Don’t try to force it to be what you wanted. Just toss the plan out the window and go. This applies to more than healers. This applies to everyone at all times. All the time I see DPS fail to react when the situation changes. Maybe some adds come and the tank shifts to engage those and there is that lone warrior over in the corner fighting that one guy. He tunnel-visioned right into that one target and will be aware of nothing until that one is dead. Or a tank that ignores the adds on the healer. Or the tank reacts to the adds but tries to fit them into the pull he had already made.

When the situation changes it is changed permanently. Don’t cling to the plan if what happened was not in the plan.

Expect the worst case

Or at the very least expect the most likely things. If you are fighting a group that fears EXPECT to get feared into one of the nearest packs. It is going to happen so you should already have an idea what you are going to do about it. After the fear goes off is not the time to hunt around for your Feign Death button or your Barkskin.

If you know there are other packs around EXPECT one to pat into you from behind. It is going to happen so have a plan for that. All the time when I am tanking I have my camera already turned around and I am looking right at that group behind us. So when the hunter back there fails to notice them and gets agro I am already ready for that. This goes for everything that is annoyingly inconvenient.

All those things that people do all the time that piss you off? EXPECT them, plan for them and react to them fluidly. Don’t spend time going ‘argue they did it again’. Just deal with it. This is a key part of being aware. And it is one of the easiest things to do. If you have a peeve about something then you know about it. And you also know that it is likely to happen. It would not be a peeve if it did not happen to you fairly often. So don’t act surprised when it happens again.

Tanks, see that 6.2k geared guy over there? Yeah, he is GOING to pull off you at some point. Probably all the freaking time. Don’t act shocked, roll with it. Expect it. Factor it into your plan. Use some taunt triage. You don’t have to fight the guy for agro if he can take a few hits. So work him pulling off you into your plan instead of fighting against it.

This goes for everyone. DPS, do you have a plan for when the adds jump you? For when the tank suddenly dies from a big hit? For if the healer DCs? You should and you should expect to need those plans at any time.

More to come

This is getting big so I will carve off some for part 3 and maybe even more. Next time I plan to talk about being more aware of what your party is doing and then maybe I will get into user interface issues and considerations.

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Getting to know your mouse

There are a lot of ways to interact with the world of Azeroth. Bliz in their wisdom put in multiple ways of controlling and interacting with your character. Having various ways allows people to have different play styles. I will not spend any time being critical of people that only use the mouse and only use the keys and all that jazz. I will cut to the chase.

In our gaming we sometimes find we are not as good at something as we want to be. Mouse camera control is one of those things that many are not good at. So I want to lay out this post to give you some tips on getting better. Don’t worry. It will be pretty painless.

The final goal of all this is that you will be able to rapidly look in any direction without losing a sense of where you are looking and where you were looking before. This is not an easy thing. Some people are wired very differently on this.

Personally I am one of the ones that is very visual-spatial. This means I tend to think in terms of shapes and three dimensional positions. Not everyone is wired this way. Many people tend to be more auditory thinking and understanding things better that they hear. Others are more symbolic and process oriented, understanding inter-relational concepts independent of a physical framework. Everyone has some capacity to think in every different way of thinking (there are others as well). So even if someone TENDS to think a different way that does not mean they cannot not think in a different way. Even if they might not get AS good as someone more spatially oriented they might still get nearly as good. In fact they might even get better. Human potential is pretty impressive. It could mean they have to work at it more or it could just mean they need to approach the concepts and activities differently.

As I mentioned before WOW as a game is designed with a wide variety of play styles in mind. This means even if you never learn to play a way that you don’t like to play…. So what! But you can get better at ways you are not as good at. Or learn to adapt some elements of other methods into your game play.

As I mentioned I am very ‘visual’ in my thinking style. Consequently I really can’t give any advice on how to think more in terms of physical position and location. I just do it so I can’t really explain it. However I can lay out some ways to approach the concept and also some activities that can be done that will build up the skills for it.

These exercises and activities will help find your own way. As you do them you can come up with your own way of thinking about things and make situational awareness work for you. Remember, the goal is to see more and be AWARE of more. To reach this goal we will learn to be able to move differently. This will give us the ability to move in directions while looking in other directions. With practice you will be able to do this naturally and without confusion or ‘over thinking’.

Your mouse

There are there are 4 things you can do with a mouse in WOW. First of all, as you know you can click on stuff. This is mainly used for targeting things. You can also right click to talk to NPC and to loot things. (you can also turn on the click to move option but I will ignore that here)

The second thing you can do is turn your camera. This is down by clicking and holding your left mouse button. With the button held down you can move the mouse and the camera will move. Try this.

The third thing you can do is aim your character. This is done just like moving the camera except you use the right button instead of the left. Click and hold down the right button and move the mouse around Now while you are also turning the camera you are moving your character with it. There is something else to notice here. Your character IS facing where the mouse is pointing as long as you have that button held down. Even if it does not look like they are. The character on the screen might just turn their head at first but for game mechanic purposes they have already turned to face where your mouse is pointed.

The last main thing you can do with a mouse is click and hold both buttons at the same time. This makes your character start moving forward ad at the same time allows you to steer. This is great if your other hand is busy and you need to move. For example you can have one hand hammering spell buttons while you are still moving some where.

Options

Now a player will usually prefer to move with the mouse and press spells with the keys, or to do the opposite, or to do just one or the other. But if you want to be better at WOW in general you will learn to do either, both or all of the above. No you don’t have to be GOOD at them but it is useful to know how. The more ways you are able to interact with the game the more options you will have to tweak your play style and improve.

STOP! Before you go any farther I want you to go into your mouse settings and slow them down. Slow them down until it is annoyingly slow and then bump it up just a SMALL amount. I will explain why later.

Practice 1: Smell the roses

First off you want to get good with the camera. This is easy. Do it by taking a look at stuff. The point is to look at things that your character is NOT pointed at. When you are flying on the gryphen, (bat, etc) take some time and use the ‘left click and hold’ to look around. Watch people on the ground. Pick something and control your camera to watch that object as it glides past you. Do this a lot. Do this all the time. Trust me this is useful.

Also take a look at stuff as you are riding. Hit your auto run (num-lock) aim your character at something far away and then use the mouse-look (left click and hold) to look around at the stuff you are passing. Look at your character from all angles. Try maneuvering a little with the keys while you have your camera at a funny angle. Yes this will be hard so don’t try it much. But do try it a little.

Practice 2: let your mind wander

Find something to fight. Make sure it is something that is unlikely to kill you. Attack it. While you are autoshotting or wanding, or melee swinging take a moment to pan your camera around. Look behind your character and see if there is something sneaking up on you. Pan the view around and find all the nearby critters. For a mental exercise determine if any of them are threats. Pick something to watch and aim your camera at that. You can let off the left mouse button and leave your camera aimed at that. Do this. Now finish the fight while keeping an eye on what you were pointed at.

Practice 3: How am I looking now?

Look at yourself with the camera from different angles. While fighting do this. Check out how cool you look from all angles while you are shooting/blasting/melting/freezing/stabbing/hacking and generally being mean to the inhabitants of Azeroth. Do this randomly for fun.

Practice 4: Getting jiggy with it

While fighting and moving your camera, move a little. Just a bit. A few steps forward or back.

Moving one way while looking another

To anyone that has not played a lot of first person shooters this might be a tough skill to work on. But fear not we can find ways to get better at it. Trust me! There are some easy ways to practice at get better.

Strafe!

Strafing is where a Messerschmitt swoops down and machine-guns… no wait…

It is the Q and E keys. As you probably know WASD is the standard movement keys. Many many many games use those for maneuvering. This key configuration goes way way way back. Probably ever since mice made AZ obsolete. So it is no surprise that WOW uses it. I know that many people use the arrow keys instead. Some use the arrows because they are left handed mousers. This does not prevent WASD. Move your keyboard 4 inches left and use WASD with your right hand.

There are two reasons the arrow keys are inferior to WASD. First they are far away from the number keys. It is very easy to reach the 1-5 keys and fire a few abilities/spells if your fingers are on WASD. The other reason is that the WASD keys are have Q and E. Q and E are the strafe keys. Strafe means your character moves right and left. No, they don’t TURN right and left. They just step to the side. It is very intuitive. Just a jump to the left or a step to the right (ack! Fishnet!)… where was I? Strafing right. Just like you can step to the side while still facing forward. The nice thing is your character does this at full speed just as if they were walking forward (not slow like walking backward). What does this all mean?

Strafing means you can move one way while facing another way without even touching the mouse. You stay constantly fixed at 90%looking to your left or right from your line of travel.

Like this.

But why do we care? So what? Right?

Not so what! This means you can move off the fire without stopping shooting (or getting closer or farther from the boss) You get to keep doing DPS and stop frying.

Don’t worry. We don’t have to find fire to stand in to practice this one.

Practice 5: slip down the hall

Use strafe indoors. Anywhere you would normally turn, take two steps and then turn back just use the side step. Try to go out of your way to use it. The more you use it the more it will become second nature. So find excuses to use it.

Practice 6: Dodge the fence!

Another great use for strafe is while travelling down a long road. All those small bends and annoying fences, light posts, and trees get in your way. Don’t keep steering by turning your whole body. Just side step by using the strafe key.

No, don’t give me reasons why that is extra work and your way works fine. The point of this is to get BETTER. Fence dodging is a great way to practice a new skill. The goal here is to turn it into a new reflex you probably already have the WASD reflexes (same as the arrow ones). I mean you don’t stop and think when you decide to move forward. Your finger is ‘wired’ in your brain to hit ‘W’ (or up-arrow) when you think about moving forward. The goal of practicing strafing is to wire in some extra reflexes. Don’t make excuses, just try it. And keep trying it. Try running from Stormwind to Redridge or all the way across the Barrens with only minimal ‘turning’. By turning I mean use A and D or the ‘right-click and hold’ mouse steering as little as you possibly can.

Practice 7: Walk this way

Now try other ways of travelling. If you normally use the mouse to steer try spending some time using nothing but WASD+QE to steer. If you normally use just the keys. Try forcing yourself to only drive with the mouse for a while. Doing this while travelling is GREAT practice. Roads are very forgiving so you don’t have to die a lot. Plus with auto-run you will get where you are going in the same amount of time.

Did you do all that? Did you notice anything interesting about using strafe to dodge fences? When you hit the side step key while moving forward, where did you move?

That is right. You moved forward to your left or right at a 45 degree angle. Interesting? No? Try this concept. You can move straight ahead, straight back, straight left, straight right and forward and backward at 45 degree angles all with only 4 keys (not including turning here). Even if you never run backward at a 45 (using S+Q or S+E)… does that even work? Whoever does that? Forget that part. Focus on the combinations of W + Q and W + E.

Who cares right? I mean so what if we can run at all these angles… This is great stuff and I will tell you why. If you learn how to use Q and E and QW and WE then you will run circles around your targets!

Practice 8: Circles

No really. I mean actual literal circles. How? Simple, you use the right mouse button to look at the target. Go find something. Now look at it. Now press W. Keep the target in sight. Keep aiming your camera at it.

This is the path you should run. To do this you will have to use the key combinations shown. You will have to alternate between Q and Q+W. That is for moving ‘clockwise’. If you want to go around counter clockwise then use E and E+W. All the while you are using those keys you will be holding down the right mouse button and aiming your mouse at your target. Just pick any old tree or object in the game and run around it.

Notice how using one key combination makes you move slightly farther away from the target while still keeping it in your sights and the other key combination moves you slightly closer. And both of them keep you aimed at the target.

If this is awkward keep doing it for a while. Try going both directions.

Why does all this matter? What am I getting at? It is about situational awareness. How you ask? I am glad you asked. Situational awareness is the art of being able to see what you want to see when you want to see it despite anything else going on. The goal of all these key moves and mouse controls are to allow you to move your character where it needs to move, aim it at what it needs to aim at, and still be able to see other things. Either around you, or in front of you. Being able to keep your target in sight while moving around it allows you to keep doing DPS on it and also to SEE it. Seeing is the start of awareness. If the boss does something strange while you are faced the wrong way (move out of the fire) then you are disoriented when you look back. If your view is constantly snapping back and forth as you move then you lose valuable moments and you find the boss again or get your character faced back in the right direction.

Here are two ways to try using this concept.

Practice 9: Running while turning, keys only

Run past something using nothing but your arrow keys but keep that object in your view. For example run down the road past a tree while keeping the tree in your view and while ALSO trying to stay on the road. Do this using nothing but the arrow keys. Try not to stop moving while doing this. Hint, this will require pressing 2 and 3 keys a lot.

Yeah, pretty hard isn’t it? Don’t spend much time on that. But doing it once or twice might teach you ways of moving that you did not know where possible… why does that sound wrong?

Practice 10: Facing a target while moving in a straight line. Mouse and keys.

This is it, the holy grail of movement. But let’s take it slow. Here is what I want you to do. Run past something while keeping your character facing it. You do this by holding down the right mouse button and keeping your camera looking at the target. That part is just like ‘practice 1’ above. The difference is you have to use combinations of movement keys to keep moving.

Is this getting really hard? Don’t fear. Even someone ‘really good’ at using the keys and mouse at the same time might have some issues and a lot of clumsiness doing this.

That is all the practice for now. Next time I will talk about actual game playing activities you can do that will help you with this. But before I go let me talk about why I suggested the mouse speed thing.

To be ‘situationally aware’ your brain needs to be able to fit what it sees into a framework. You brain is AMAZINGLY good at this. So good that programmers are nowhere near able to make a robot understand the world around them compared to what a baby can. Or even an animal. The ability of living things to see stuff and piece it all together into a composite picture of the world is astounding. But sometimes it needs help. Your eyes need to see enough clues to know how everything fits. If you give your eyes and brain too few clues you get disorientation. That is your brain telling you it is having trouble merging together and fully understanding what it is seeing.

But what does this have to do with the mouse speed?

Simple. The mouse can pan your camera very fast. I mean really fast. So fast that the image on the screen does not ‘pan’ it simply jumps to a different view. Now your eyes and brain are seeing something that is not connected to what it was seeing the instant before. Look at your computer screen. Now close your eyes, turn half way around and open them again. This is what your WOW screen is showing you when you use a very high mouse speed and pan your camera. You brain is left to piece the first image and the second image together into a ‘picture’ of the world around you. How far around did you turn? Just from the images your brain does not know. It has to figure it out from all the tiny clues around the room. Well in an unfamiliar place this can mean you are instantly and totally lost. Even in a familiar place the small instant it takes your brain to piece those flashing images together into your ‘world picture’ can cause you a feeling of disorientation. If you get lost and confused just walking through up alliance inn and trying to get upstairs then there is a GOOD chance your mouse rate is far too high. I will go into this concept more when I do part two.

Situational Awareness and You Part 2

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How to improve at WOW

WOW is a big game. Lots of people play. Some people can have their gear tweaked out to the fifth decimal place and some have Int on a rogue. It take all kinds… but how do you get to be  better at it? How can you, no matter what your personal skill or experience level, get better at playing your class?

There is a lot of good information out on the internet. The trick is figuring out how to use it. What do you search for, what do you do with what you find. How do you make sense of it all? That is what this post is all about.

You can

First off you can do it. Seriously. Chances are that if you even think you can get more out of your character, you can.

You don’t have to play more

You don’t have to be a ‘no lifer’ or a ‘min-maxer’ or any of that. Those are things people use as excuses for not getting better. You will (probably) not have to radically change how much you play. You will also not have to spend huge amounts of time doing it.

Admitting you have a problem

Admitting a problem is the first step. Let’s face it, we ALL can find a way to get a few more points of damage/threat/healing out of our character. The problem is many people get into a comfort zone and don’t want to break out. Or they imagine improving is some huge hard thing that will consume their life. When they think this they make excuses and stay at their current level. I know because I have been there.

It is an attitude

The thing to realize is that improvement is a never ending goal. It is not about some magical thing you do and then you are uber. It is about recognizing that you COULD be better and trying to get better. That ‘trying to get better’ does NOT have to consume your life or your play time. It can even be done as a onetime exercise in character improvement. But even if it is a onetime thing you need to approach it with the right attitude.

But I LIKE how I play the game

That is fine too… But even within your own personal ‘style’ there are probably small things you can change that would make a large difference. Just because you hear the best spec for your class is one you don’t like does NOT mean you should give up on ever being better. Just about every spec is capable of great things. Also what is ‘best’ changes all the time and even varies based on what level of gear you have. Don’t let the attitudes or suggestions of others affect your goal of getting better. You are doing this for YOU, not them.

Getting started

Identify the problem:

It might be that you suck at PVP. It might be that your DPS is just low all the time and people are starting to complain. Or maybe you stand in the fire too much. Or maybe your tanking is just not working out.

Try to focus in on the specific issue. Don’t be egotistical about it. Don’t be defensive with yourself. This is not the time to make yourself feel better. This is the time to rip off the bandaid of ego, stare at what you are doing wrong and say, ‘ok, I can make this better’.

The areas of improvement:

There are a lot. Here is my list: Gear level, Itemization, gems, enchants, Spec, Glyphs, ability rotation, tactics, strategies, Interface, control usage.

Wow, that is a big list isn’t it. Let’s run down them briefly.

Gear Level:

This one is a TRAP! It is an excuse and a red herring. Yes, getting higher level gear can improve your numbers, but it is the LAST thing to worry about. Gevlon’s Undergeared project proved that you can down the whole first wing of ICC and multiple bosses beyond that in BLUE gear. This is just one of many graphic examples of how your gear does not improve you. Yeah, if you give a high end race car to any driver they will go fast. But so what? That does not mean you can race. Give every NASCAR driver a YUGO and they could hold a pretty impressive race. Give the first few dozen people off the street a NASCAR and you will have a lot of death and destruction but not a race…. Ok maybe that is what people go to races for, but you see my point. People that do poorly point to gear level as an excuse. DON’T LET IT BE YOUR EXCUSE.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you will hit a limit of what you can do with your gear. But the vast majority of the time if you have a performance issue it is not your gear. Using gear as your excuse paralyzes you and blinds you do all the things you can change and improve that are FAR more easy to fix.

(Yes, I know many raids might not let you in without a certain GS. Ignore them, they suck anyway.)

Itemization:

This is a biggy. If you just throw on a bunch of gear you will not have a good set, maybe even if you pick pieces that seem to be right. Heck even if you pick the pieces you read in a gear guide somewhere. Itemization is not as simple as that. I will get back to this later. Just don’t assume your itemization is right. Don’t assume anything when it comes to improvement. DO know your rule of thumbs: if you’re a healer, spellpower is good, if you’re a rogue, don’t stack intellect! But it gets tricky beyond that and you need to know your class. A gifted priest healer who just rolled a holy pally for the first time might not know that spirit is useless to her.  A new bear might not know that the defense on tanky trinkets doesn’t do that much for him. Learn your rules of thumb so you don’t waste time on evaluating a piece of gear that just isn’t right.

Gems and enchants:

Same with Itemization. Don’t assume. Have you ever put an expensive enchant on only to find out later that it was totally wrong for your class and play style? Yeah I have. Most of us probably have, though maybe not all of us have realized it. Some people simply don’t care. If you want to improve don’t be that guy. Make sure the enchants work the way you think they do! Mongoose might look appealing to a hunter – but since it procs off of melee swings, a good hunter won’t get much use out of it.

Spec:

Your spec can probably be improved. Almost certainly there is a point in there somewhere that could be someplace else. It might be of little importance or it could very well be the thing that makes or breaks you. Even if you had your spec right when you respecced last chances are your play style has drifted and there are changes you could make.

Glyphs:

Research your glyphs, major and minor. If they seem confusing, look for a guide to what glyphs are best for your spec. There might just be three that stand out as “must haves”, or five that have situational uses. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get the best set for your playstyle.

Ability Rotation:

This one can be huge. And it can be subtle and tricky. It can be as simple as finding out your are missing some skill you should be using or as tiny as using them in a different order. It can make a very large difference in your damage/threat/healing. Very large. For most players there is improvement they can make here. For many players there is a LOT of improvement they can make here.

Tactics:

Tactics are the small choices you make during combat. This covers all the buttons you press that are not simply doing your ‘rotation’. Target selection is tactics. Pulling tricks? Tactics. Healer Triage? That is tactics too. This area is pretty broad and it can be a lot harder to pin down your mistakes. Unfortunately there is a good chance that your mistakes are here. Most people could use an upgrade in their tactics.

Strategies:

Strategies are the bigger picture things. Stuff that over-arches everything. It is more vague than tactics and touches on a wider variety of ways you approach your character. There is not much I can say about this area because it is so big. Just remember there are larger things that can be areas of improvement too.

A final note before we get started…

Many of these actually work together. If you make a change to your tactics you might start using a new ability in your rotation. That might cause you to want to change a glyph and that decision effects what your spec should be. Don’t focus on one area of improvement and ignore the others. Try to remember what else can be effected.

Disclaimer

I have had many times where I realized mistakes I was making, things I over looked or stuff I totally did not know. If you think I am writing this because I am elitist, you’re wrong. Unless seeking to get better at the game makes me an elitist…But heck, everyone can be that kind of elitist.

Starting

Before you wade out in the internet, keep in mind that much of the advice out there is aimed at a specific sector or area. For example almost all Talent builds are aimed at someone with max level. There is a good chance that you actually want some other build while leveling and want to respec several times on the way up to move points around. The same goes for stats on gear, glyphs, lots of things. How you play the game is not the same as how others play the game.

And, to make things worse, it is not always obvious. For example a guild to tanking might fail to mention it is totally focused on raid main tanking and that if you are tanking heroics only you might want things a lot different. A PVP guide won’t be much good for doing PVE, and vice versa.

I am going to start with gear, go through them categories of improvement. Keep in mind that if you change something later it might affect things in you already looked at. Never assume you are done tweaking things.

Gear

Leveling gear

The gear choices you make while leveling are different then what you look for near max level.

Don’t waste a lot of time on it.

The first thing to say about leveling gear is ‘don’t worry about it much’. While leveling almost anything will do. But, sometimes it is a trouble area so here is how you take a look.

Find your worst items and look for a replacement. This is pretty straightforward. It is just what is says. You go down your list and look for the slot that is lagging the most and find something new for that. Let’s say you are 23 and looking over your gear you see you still have grey or white boots. That is a pretty good candidate for an upgrade.

Avoid the auction house. But if you do hit the AH, don’t buy the bestest thing you can find. That is a waste of money. Like with most things in life you can usually find something 80% as good for 20% the cost. Buy the Toyota, not the Lexus. You are going to replace it in a few levels soon anyway so don’t waste much on it.

Quest drops

You can avoid the AH by looking for a quest drop. Use site like Thottbot or WOWhead to find a quest reward that replaces your item and go run that quest. Another way to upgrade gear is to grind instances for a while. Go check the information on what drops there though. Thottbot, Wowhead, even WOWwikki all have boss drop information. Don’t forget to get the quests for that instance. Those often reward gear.

If you are above level 60 your best bet is quest drops. Bliz did a much better job from 60 to 80 of providing a steady flow of gear upgrades for people leveling. This is extra true for someone who just hit Outlands level of Northrend level. Do your research on what quests rewards you need and go find them.

Craft your own.

Do you have an higher level crafter alt or a friend who can? Heck you can even spam trade for someone and get them to make you a cheap green replacement for any slot you have that is really lagging.

Max level gearing up

There are four stages to max level gearing up.

Gearing up Stage 1: 200-219

Stage one of gearing up a lvl 80 character is to replace your quest greens and instance blues with item level 200 or 219 blues and purples. This involves running NON-heroic versions of all the level 80 instances. All of them except TOC, FOS, POS, and HOR drop item level 200 blues from each boss and Item level 200 purple from the final boss. This is decent stuff. TOC drops 200 purples from each encounter including trinkets but not including any weapons. FOS, POS and HOR drop 219 purples from all bosses and some random packs including trinkets and weapons. I recommend making a list of all the 200 and 219 gear you want from those top 4 places and running them all until you have most of that list.

Gearing up Stage 2: 232-245+

Badge gear and heroic ICC 5 man drops are what you are going for next. Start by grinding random heroics until you have a few pieces of badge gear (232). Once you have a few of those you can add some focused runs of the top 3, FOS, POS, and HOR. As you are working on ‘stage 2’ you can start also working stage 3. As you run out of things that drop on instances or from triumph badges you will have moved fully into stage 3.

Gearing up Stage 3 is ‘Best in Slot’

This is the stage where you start paying attention to gear guides and finding that one piece of gear that will be best in that slot until and unless you get a raid drop or a zillion frost badges.

Find a guide. There are a lot of great gearing up guides out there. But make sure your guide is up to date. If you find one that looks good but is actually from patch 3.1.2 you will waste a lot of effort and not have the best gear. Many blogs and other sites have made gear guides specifically tailored for showing you the best non-raid gear you can get. Find one for your class and keep it handy. Check off each slot as you get it.

Gearing up Stage 4

This is all about raid gear and frost badges. There are actually various levels of gear from raid drops and badges so you have to do your own research as to which you want. Also which you are working on will depend on what sort of raids you are getting into. You might be 12/12 in 25 man hard modes or you might only get the occasional weekly runs. Or it could be anywhere in between. If you are regularly in 10 man pugs that get 5-6 bosses down then you can easily compile a list of gear you are likely to see drop off of those bosses. If you check this list against what you can get with frost badges you will be able to have a master wish list of what you are working toward.

Gems/Enchants

These depend on your spec. First off never leave anything ungemmed or enchanted. If you are not sure what is best min-max slap a cheap enchant or gem in there until you go find out what is best. Don’t waste Epic gems on less than phase 3 gear. Put those high gold cost ones on gear that you expect to wear a while. Also keep in mind what gemming and enchanting you want will vary based on other factors.

Step By Step Powering Up

Step 1: Rotation, Talents, Glyphs

The biggest areas of ‘problem’ you can have in your character revolve around your Ability Rotation, your Talent Build and your Glyphs. These three end up being a LOT to cover. But since they are tied tightly together it is hard to fully separate them. Chances are if you make a change to one you will want to change the others… but since it is impossible to talk about them in a lump lets break them down.

Rotation

What might you be doing wrong with your ability rotation? There are two big ways to screw this up. There are other ones but these to cover most of it.

Using the wrong abilities.

There are a lot of abilities out there. Even in one spec there are a lot to pick from. BUT they are NOT all appropriate for you to use. As you level up you end up with abilities that are intended to replace other abilities in your main rotation. Also as you apply talent points you increase some abilities and decrease others. In a given fight there is a limit to your mana/rage/energy and also to the number of global cooldowns and seconds you have to use abilities. You can’t use them all. You have to pick which to cast and which to not cast. If you pick one over another you might be picking wrong. No, don’t tell me that you prefer to play that way and don’t want to change. That is nonsense. Some abilities are flat wrong. For example if you are a Prot warrior you should not be using Sunder Armor. For Prot warriors the Devastate ability completely replaces Sunder Armor. If you did not notice this you might go on using the wrong one. This is just one example and there are a LOT of others. Another example is that for a Survival hunter Explosive Shot replaces Arcane shot. There is pretty much no reason for a survival hunter to ever use Arcane shot once he gets Explosive Shot. That is just how the game is made.

It is critical that you find out what abilities make sense for your spec and which do not. It is also important you understand which abilities are interchangeable depending on situation. For example a warrior can use Heroic Strike or Cleave. They both (pre Cata) go off on the next strike so you get one or the other in a given swing but not both. So you pick which you want depending on the situation. It is not just spamming buttons. One is good for certain situations and the other is good for others. If you are just randomly hitting whichever you feel like or if you just use one because it is your favorite then there is a VERY good chance you are often using one that is not the best choice.

The scope of this article is not to tell you which is best. There are FAR to many choices to cover all that. The point is to get you to go look.

DO – Find out what abilities people are recommending for your class and spec and find out WHY they are recommending them. Don’t just find one guide and do what it says. It could be wrong or it could be out of date. Read several, check for counter arguments and debate. Check the dates on what you are reading.

Using abilities at the wrong time or in the wrong order.

There are efficient rotations out there. People with a head for numbers and a lot of time on their hands have worked out what rotations of abilities make sense for particular specs. If you trigger abilities in the wrong order, or prioritize one ability over another you can see very large changes in your damage/threat/healing. Even if you are using all the ‘right’ moves but are not using them in the right proportions you may be wasting a lot of your potential. I had the experience of realizing I was not using Maul enough on my bear. I was using it. I thought I was using it a lot. But when I studied up I realized I needed to be using it EVERY SWING. So I went and made macros so it triggered every time I pressed any of my other hot keyed attacks. My DPS/TPS shot way up. I knew Maul was important, and I was using it a fair bit. But I did not realize just how important it was or just how often I needed to be using it. Had someone told me ‘maul more’ I might have scoffed and said “I do that”. It was only when realizing I had a serious PROBLEM with my DPS/TPS and that I needed to make a serious change that I finally did the reading I needed to really see what I needed to change. VERY often small tweaks like this can make a large difference in damage/healing output. Don’t assume you have to make big changes to see big differences.

DO – Read up on proposed rotations. Make sure you check if they are intended for bosses, or trash or what. Rotations vary based on the fight. Read more than one version and look up enough to understand WHY they suggest those rotations. Compare that to what you do. I mean REALLY compare. Find a target dummy and practice. What you think you do for a rotation and what you actually do may be different in subtle and important ways. If the rotations you read about have a ‘priority system’ make certain you understand what they prioritize when and why.

Analogue inserts – this is even more important for certain class/specs. For instance, the paladin tanking rotation is a very tight rotation of abilities we call the “969 rotation”: you use an ability with a 9 second cooldown, then one with a 6 second cooldown, then 9, then 6,  repeat til things are dead. If you do, you have insane amounts of aggro, control the fight, everything’s beautiful. If you don’t, you flail around, don’t have a good pattern, and your healer dies.  Not every class plays like this – for instance my healing druid might cast any spell at any time depending on what needs doing.

Talents

There are a lot of ways to screw your talents up. Some are small and some are large. Sometimes when you vary from the conventional ‘wisdom’ in your talent build it does not matter and sometimes a few misplaced or missing points can completely hamstring your build. Let’s look what what you can do wrong.

Mistaking PVP and PVE talents

Are you a PVE DPSer? Then you don’t want to be wasting many points on things that up your HP or give you more dodge. There are a LOT of talents that are aimed squarely at PVP. If you are a PVPer and you don’t have some of those you will find you are squishy and get owned a lot. If you are a PVEer and put points into many of those talents you will find your dps/heals/threat is seriously lagging.

Points you forgot about

Play styles change. You might find you are never using a certain spell but you put 3 points into making it crit more often. Oops. Don’t let your Talents sit around forgotten. Check up on them and compare what you see to how you currently play the game. If you are 80 and are still using your leveling spec to run heroics and raids then you probably have some really poorly spent points.

Key Missing Points

Many trees have some points that really make or break it. It is not always obvious what those are. For example as a bear there are 3 points you HAVE to take or you can’t be a serious tank. I was ‘bearing’ at max level for a couple weeks before I went back and did my homework and realized what I had missed.

Here is a key point: Sometimes those critical talents are not in your main tree. In fact every decent build I have ever heard of has points in other trees that are important. I have never heard of good build with 71 points in one tree. But you see this mistake a LOT. The only way for that to happen is if people do not read all the available talents and weigh what things will and will not matter for how they play. Don’t be that person! 71 points in one tree is a sure sign of a noob. Fix it before people start to point and laugh.

Listening to ‘conventional wisdom’ in place of thinking

This can really hurt you. Don’t listen and turn off your brain. I lost track of how many level 60ish DKs I ran into that had all their points in frost and were trying to tank. Why? Because you use frost presence to tank. Clearly that means you must need to put all your points there, right? Wrong. If you don’t know why (and you are a DK) you either have not read what your talents say on them or you have not read anything on the internet about DK tank builds. Probably both. There are plenty of examples of this. Like putting all your points in to BM on a hunter because someone said it was good for leveling. Well it is good for leveling but don’t put your points there just because someone said something. Read up for yourself and do your own thinking.

Leveling without respeccing

There are some great builds out there for when you are max level. You can look one up and use to assign each point as you go. But that is almost certainly a bad idea. Because what you need while leveling is not the same. It works better to assign them as you go based on what you are currently using, and everyone so often, respec completely to move some points around that you don’t need anymore.

Always be ready to respec. Any change to your play style can change what points make the best sense for you.

Using a cookie cutter build

This can work… or it can be suboptimal. If you don’t know WHY they chose those talents then you will not know if they are actually best for your play style.

Reading the text for yourself and deciding based on just that

Wait… what? That is right. If you just go off what the text of the talent (or ability) says then you can get really screwed up. Why? Because Blizzard is BAD at percentages and uses the English language ambiguously. I am an engineer who deals a lot in contracts and requirements. Those contain specific language that is intended to be completely unambiguous. If two people read one thing and come up with a different idea of what it means then that text is BAD. Blizzard, in their descriptions of what talents and abilities do, makes this mistake a lot. A WHOLE LOT. Some of the text can be very misleading. A good example of this is taunts. If you read the text of ‘mocking blow’, ‘growl’ (bear), ‘growl’ (hunter pet), and Distracting Shot and tried to explain how each was different, without doing some extra research, you would be almost certainly completely and totally wrong. And the ways you would be wrong could be life or death in a party.

I am not saying you are too dumb to figure it out. I am saying those ability tool tips can be VERY misleading. I had to explain to a warrior one time that Mocking Blow was not a taunt. But it says right there in the text that it taunts. Except it doesn’t. It is a forced attack and not an ‘attack’. This is a subtle but very critical distinction and can lead to all sorts of headaches while tanking if you are depending on that ability. When your own judgement contradicts what is out there on the internet do NOT assume you have it right. Don’t assume the internet has it right either. Keep researching until you are SURE. If you find yourself saying ‘this has to be wrong because the ability says…’ stop right there and go research more. (And if you are totally lost about those taunt descriptions then go read my posts on tanking)

I have run into this first hand. For a long time I read the text of aimed shot as applying a debuff that makes other shots hit harder. Does it say that? Well not really, but it could be argued that it does. When I figured out how wrong I was I felt pretty stupid. This leads me to another point…

Since this post has gotten too long I will make it my last point.

Don’t let ‘feeling stupid’ get in the way of getting powered up

We all hate to feel like a buffoon. There are a lot of things about powering up that can make us feel that way. If someone gives us some criticism we mentally reject it. That sort of thing make us feel bad. Don’t look at it that way. Find a way to see their point. This means EVEN if they were a total asshat about it there might STILL be a point in there. In fact even if they way they worded it was WRONG there still might be a point in there somewhere if you look at things from all angles. If you are serious about getting better you need to start treating all criticism as a chance to improve your game.

Changing your rotation? Makes you feel awkward and clumsy.

Changing spec? Makes you feel totally lost and confused.

Reading that some other ability (that you ignore) is important. Makes you feel defensive, and annoyed with yourself and others.

Finding some advice that counters your thinking on gems or enchants? Makes you want to defend your side of things, or to call ‘sour grapes’ on their thinking.

There are many ways that trying to power up can get us defensive, or feeling stupid. Do NOT let that get in the way. You are in control of your own mind and emotions. Don’t let them control you and do NOT let them send you pack to your old less effective way of playing. It is easy to convince yourself that you are good enough. This is a crutch we lean on when getting better seems to hard. Most of that ‘hardness’ is mental and not real. Don’t let your natural reactions get in the way.

They are natural reactions. I am not saying feeling stupid is stupid. We ALL feel dumb when we realize we have been making a mistake. That is normal and perfectly ok. It does not mean you are dumb. It is only dumb to let that feeling rule you. Harness that annoyance and make it motivate you to get better.

It is VERY easy to let this sort of thing get in the way. Many times I have seen an issue with something and resisted actually doing something about it. I would slog forward for a while until the problem blew up in my face or the slog got so annoying I had to fix what was wrong. Have you ever done that? Ever realized your spec was bad but did not bother to fix it for a while? I think we have all been there at one time or another. Just learn to recognize when you are trying to avoid fixing something. It is usually a good indicator when you find yourself thinking up an excuse for something.

 I had intended this post to give a case study of one character I did some ‘powering up’ to. But it has turned into such a huge wall of text I will save the practical examples for other posts. In the future I will try to document an actual ‘power up’ session and post what resources I use.

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The other half of dual boxing…

This post is the flip side of Analogue’s post.

As she said we have been doing RAF. We started things off a month or so back with her doing the ‘new’ and disposable account and power-leveling alts for me. The plan had been to pair that way and then when I had a few up near 58 or so we would swap roles and power level a bunch of alts for her with a different disposable RAF account. This worked well for a while but we finally thought hey, why not just multi-box and do it all at once.

Multi boxing

As many of you know people use this term for one player running several characters. Most people seem to do this with one computer and various mods and macros to synchronize their characters. I personally prefer using multiple computers. I have had a multi computer desk setup for a long time… er… probably 12 or 14 years. Some time in an old game called ShadowBane I started regularly running two accounts. In that game aggro was just a ‘whoever hit it first’ thing so it was super easy to have a meat shield and a healer/nuker. I just put the meat shield on a pack of mobs and then played the other computer until the fight was over. It was easy, effective, and fun.

Later I did a lot of multi accounting on EVE online. In that game, if you have things set right you can be pretty effective with a pair. There were no mods to help but there are various ways to have one ship follow another of fly in formation. Also if I was doing asteroid mining running two machines made a boring task into something slightly less boring and twice as profitable.

With my setups I always use dual keyboards and mice. I never tried a KVM and can’t see how it could possibly help. Nothing beats being able to have one hand on each set of hot keys. Having to flip a switch would suck.

The center piece of a multi computer setup is the desk. I have this sweet one I found at a used office furniture place many years back. It has two halves, front and back. Each is about 1 foot deep and each is independently height adjustable. The whole thing is about 5 feet long. So there is room for a row of monitors in the back and a row of key boards in the front. I added an extra keyboard try on the upper deck so I can pull it out when I am using a third keyboard. Right now my main machine is a mac laptop. I have that mounted on a movable sing arm clamped to the desk’s upper deck. It’s monitor is directly in front of me and the laptop on the arm is off to the right. My second machine is one of our older gaming rigs, mostly build out of a machine Analogue had before we were married. Its monitor is on the left. Its keyboard is on that side too and the main keyboard is in front of me.

I have both mice on the right side of the keyboards. The left computer’s mouse is ‘above’ the other (i.e. slightly farther toward the back of the desk) This means if I am switching my attention to the left side machine I simply turn my head left while moving my left hand left and my right hand ‘up’ and left. Now I am on the other mouse and keyboard. For this multi boxing I actually have a USB gaming keypad between the keyboards so it is a short move from WASD on the main keyboard to the pad just to the left of it. And it is a similarly short distance to hop between the mice. This makes switching back and forth far faster and more intuitive than having to flip some KVM would be. I don’t have to check what a switch is set for, I know based on where my hands are.

WOW dual boxing, my style

I have dual boxed wow a fair bit before. Mostly on lowby characters. It was not all that easy or fun. It was not BAD, but it just was not as fun as playing only one. For one thing your efficiency goes down. So you can either be playing one character and only using the other to loot quest stuff, or you are trying to use two and not being 100% effective with either. This can be annoying. Looting on an offside is triple annoying. So this sucked enough fun away to make me not do it often.

RAF provides the opportunity to fix some of that. For one thing old world leveling is so nerfed that you can be effective even if you are not 100% focused on one character. With RAF the triple makes things SO fast that it is worth it to have an efficiency decrease in your play. The blinding leveling speed adds a ‘sweet!’ element that offsets the annoyance of swapping back and forth. Also the leveling bonus means you can skip most gather quests and avoid a lot of the headache of looting on your offside account.

My goal when we started this most recent dual boxing experiment was to do everything I could to make it simple and fun. More simple and more fun than my previous WOW dual boxing. I use two ways to go about this. One was selecting characters I was very familiar with. This gives me the edge of not having to learn my class at the same time. It works because SAN is on a new server to us and I don’t have a max level hunter there. Plus I had not leveled a hunter in a while. Ages ago I did several of them and the leveling got stale. Now it is all fresh but still familiar.

Let me tell you, for dual boxing hunters are a GREAT choice. Between auto shot and a good dps pet they can do 50-70 percent of their max damage potential just by pressing one key. In retrospect this would have been great for an offside character. The next pair we make I will make an offside hunter. With this pair I had my hunter decked out in the full set of heirlooms, chest, shoulders, trinkets, 2h axe and bow, everything except the ring. This gave me insane damage. Through the whole session the hunter was consistently 65+ percent of our damage for the whole party of 4. I wanted an nice AOE debuff pet so the first thing we did when I hit 10 was have Analogue’s max lvl pally run me to Northrend for a nice hawk (vultures are ugly). (There are level 7 hawks hanging out near Utgarde Keep, the lowest level hawks in the game.)

That covers my main account/computer but what about the offside? Druid ended up being an ok but not super choice. With Analogue healing on both of hers the healing aspects of the druid were not used. However, the druid’s durability compared to other caster classes was nice. I tried two different ways of setting it up first I will cover the one I liked best.

Offside Character Control

First off I used a follow macro like Analogue explained in her post. Super handy, fast, one button and the character is on follow. No targeting and right clicking. The auto targeting is what made that macro great and made it better than our older dual boxing experience.

First way

Of course I did not stop there. Next up I made some nice attack macros. This are the ones I use more than anything else and I LOVED how effective they were. Here it is.

/cast [target=focustarget] wrath

That is it. “target=focustarget” means the spell will be fired at whatever my ‘focus’ has selected. So the first thing I do when logging in and partying up is to set my druid’s focus on my hunter. Now, with that macro, my hunter has full control over who my druid targets and I never have to select targets manually on the other computer. That saves a lot of clicking and means I almost never need to touch the ‘offside’ mouse. I made a macro like that for Starfire, Wrath and, Moonfire. I made them the 1, 2, and 3 keys respectively. So now all I had to do, was target something on my hunter and then pick the 1,2, or 3 depending on how long I wanted the cast time to be.

Setting up a pull was easy. I targeted with the hunter, pressed ‘1’ on the offside keypad to start a nice long Starfire cast and then went to the hunter and selected pet attack (macroed to my #1 using “/petattack”). Then I waited a heartbeat or two (Starfire is a looong cast) and then pressed arcane shot or multishot, depending on the situation. WHAM! That target took a ton of damage. If I wanted to hit it hard some more I just pressed any of the 1-3 on the druid while hitting arcane shot or multi shot again (Mostly alternating them. They both hit hard even on single targets). Doing attacks this way meant that by threat was spread out over two characters so often my bird was able to hold agro even though the target had just had most of its HP blown away. Also it meant even if the pet did not hold agro most targets were dead before they even reached me(us).

In heavier combat it was easy to tab target on my hunter and then start a new attack on the druid, just one button press on the offside. With the hunter in full control of the targeting I was able to get a lot out of the offside account with minimal button pressing. Because I was in command of 3/4 of our TOTAL party damage meant that no marks or anything were needed. Whoever the hunter was targeting was automatically the primary target and it died rather fast. This made fights easy and fast. Being short a player (party of 4) did not hurt us in part because of tightly focused damage dealing.

I also made some macros that auto targeted my focus target for some healing. One button press to hit the focus target for some rejuv or healing touch. I found once things got into heavy fighting I did not bother with that. I let Analogue handle healing while I kept up the focused damage. Sometimes I did use my offside druid’s Vudo setup. That was as easy as grabbing that mouse and right clicking a few frames to spread damage around.

The trickiest thing was positioning. The druid was on follow on the hunter. So if we got over run with mobs she was not always facing the target. One way we dealt with that was for Analogue’s pair to move to the front of the pack as the fight started and throw some tanking moves. This kept things in front of the druid. The other problem there was that the hunter could not back up to get into minimum arrow range. That would face the druid away from the fight. Fortunately with the 2 hand heirloom axe Raptor Strike does a pile of damage. Between that and the ability of the druid to keep nuking without the fuss of maneuvering two characters, I did a lot of melee huntering.

For boss fights and a few others I would move the druid off ‘follow’ and pre position it somewhere. I would pick a spot with her back to a wall and a good 180 degree view of the battle. This way the hunter could do all the running, jumping, weaving, and shooting she wanted to do and the druid still had sight of her target. Any time I hit the offside keys the druid would deliver its nature-y destruction on target. :D

Second way

I also made some macros just for targeting various targets, the only three needed were the focus (partner), the target of focus, and self (/cleartarget). I found that I actually did not use them for the druid. What I did use them for was a short session where I was controlling both of another RAF pair we have. Using those three target macros, bound to some handy keys (F10, F11, F12) I was able to use all the ability bars that character had already set up for single account play. Those three macros and the previously mentioned follow macro were all it took to make an offside computer account, previously set up for one player use into a decent ‘offside’ character. This assumes a properly setup hot button bar (1-10) and easy access to the other keyboard (or a USB pad with 1-10 and F10-F12).

So those were the two distinct ways I have been messing with to control my dual setup. When the druid gets more abilities I might change things around. I need to find a fast and effective way to target Hurricane and Volley at the same time. I also need to respec the druid to full balance. I also plan to mess with using the hunter as the ‘offside’. On our next pair I am sure to use a hunter offside but I am still trying to decide what the ‘main’ will be. Since the main is the ‘keeper’ character I have to decide what I want to have leveled as well as what will work well in this sort of pairing.

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