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Posts Tagged ‘think like a healer’

One of the best things about being a resto druid – other than tree form, awesome hots, and the general coolness of it all – is the rest of the blogosphere of resto druids. Seriously some of the best, most talented bloggers out there are resto druids.

For instance, are you wondering about gear for getting ready to raid in Cataclysm?  Lissana can help you out. So can Naora and Maedred and Angelya

Resto druiding in Cataclysm in general? Start with Lissana (Currently aimed at level 80s in 4.0.3a, she’ll update to 85 shortly) or her Cata Leveling Guide if you want to level in your offspec (because tree punches don’t always cut it). Keeva’s Guide will be around soon and will be well worth the wait, believe me. Bookmark it now if you haven’t.

What professions you should think about? Keeva’s got you covered.

Healing in general? Lissana’s always a good place to start. A very insightful post from Cannot Be Tamed compares heals across all 5 Healing specs – highly recommended reading, just to really understand your partners in heals, if nothing else. And, to toot my own horn, my old posts on Triage and staying calm are more relevant now than when I first wrote them. And Reversion post about understanding the “shape” of a fight’s damage, while designed for tanks, has a lot that healers should know, too.

So, yeah. All those links are written by people with resto druid main or off specs. What can I say? Clearly the true spec for bloggers must be Tree.

After all, we all communicate electronically, saving lots of paper, and hence, trees.

Save the Trees!

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My first main was a mage, through all of BC and a bit of Wrath. I love my little gnome mage – still do. Throwing fireballs at peoples’ heads is fun. At the end of BC Reversion and I leveled a pair of druids and I started healing as we went. Once we hit Outlands we basically leveled in dungeons with me healing and him tanking. Analogue the druid was my first healer character; I hadn’t played other games with the dps-healer-tank trio, I didn’t know that I’d like healing, so it was a surprise when one day I woke up and realized that not only was this druid my main, I was a Healer with a capital H.

I leveled  a paladin up as ret/prot, tanking my way to the top. Then I realized I needed her offset to be Holy. I still like tanking 5 mans on her – I don’t enjoy trying to heal parties as a paladin – but when I raid? I want to heal. Beacon, Shield, Holy Light spam is more fun than whacking things in the face and taunt-at-five-stacks.

I have a priest at 72, a shaman at 60, both dual specced, both with one really solid healing spec and one questing-dps spec. They are my most anticipated leveling projects. I want all four healing classes at max, and I’m not the only player I know with that desire. I read the druid news coming out of Cataclysm beta and I’m afraid I won’t like druid healing, so what is my reaction? Not “ok, maybe I’ll be balance” but “ok, maybe I’ll be a shaman.” My identity is not as a druid, but as a healer.

Why? I’m not really the most nurturing person ever. Actually I’m more of a bossy older sister who knows what’s good for you and will tell you so. I’m not an angel of mercy, swooping in and soothing your brow; I’m the “you screwed that up; here’s a bandage now get in there and do it right” battlefield medic.

I heal because I can fix everyone elses’ mistakes in ways that dps and tank roles don’t let you do; because I have to micromanage everything; because I can count on myself and never feel like I can count on every single other person in the raid. That’s why I like raid healing, too; when I see those dps health bars drop I want to swoop in and Swiftmend them.  It’s why I pug, even though I have to deal with morons. I heal through stupid, because I can and because honestly I expect it.

I heal because it’s binary; they live or they die. Eaking out 10 more dps doesn’t appeal to me. Striving to keep one more person alive, that does.

I heal because it’s more fun. It’s more complicated than switching to adds, or waiting for phase 2 to drop your cooldowns. Second to second, the situation changes and you don’t have time to breath or someone dies.

I heal because apparently I’m perfectly content to stare at a matrix of health bars instead of the lavishly-designed boss fights. Perhaps in another life I would have been a whack-a-mole champion.

I heal because I feel like part of a team, taking things down; when you aren’t actually smiting the evil, it’s harder to forget that the other people in your group matter.

I heal because it’s the most fun part of the most fun game I’ve ever played and until something can be as fun as this, I’m not likely to switch.

Yeah, some of those are contradictory, some of those don’t make sense – but gosh darn it,I love healing! And no matter what they do in Cataclysm I know one of my alts will find a niche to shine in. Maybe it’s the hour of the disc priest or the resto shammy?

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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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I started writing a post about multi pulls, the fine art of doing ‘gogogo’ tanking the right way. As I started the post I realized I should do a whole separate introductory one just covering this concept. I realized this concept was so critical to both tanking and healing that I decided to tag it to both our series.

Damage Profiles

What I am about to talk about any good healer knows by gut feel or by detailed mental charts and graphs. I figure adding more charts and graphs will help us all understand it better. Here is the concept: The rate of incoming damage is key to surviving a fight.

Let’s take a look at a couple fight ‘profiles’:

This first one is a standard fight. We round up 4 monsters and kill them one after another. The red line represents how much damage the tank is taking at each moment in time higher means more damage. Time is the bottom scale of the chart so the start of the fight is where the two black lines come together. Time processes to the right. Notice the damage ramps up fast as the fight starts. Notice that after each critter dies the level of incoming damage drops until the fight is over.

Next and AOE heavy fight:

Now to compare here is a fight were everyone using AOEs hard. The incoming damage stays high longer but then drops to nothing as all the critters die at the same moment. Because all the creatures are taking damage at the same time they all die at the same time. But until they all die the damage level the tank is receiving does not change.

Now I am going to add heals per second to the graph. As a healer knows the ‘heals per second’ are not constant and actually spike up and down depending on what you are casting. But, on average there is a maximum rate. All of us healers know that at some point there is simply more damage coming in than we can keep up with. Tanks know when this happens if they look at the health bar. If the bar is going down and does not go back up then they are not getting as much HpS and the incoming DpS.

Here are some heals. The green is the healer’s healing per second. Notice it ramps up and levels off at a maximum level. Up until the second creature dies we are actually not healing all the incoming damage.

Any healer has seen this happen. It is usually when we are under geared but it can also happen when adds show up. We are frantically spamming our stuff but the party is still going down, then suddenly one or two of the enemies die and the damage stabilizes. A moment or two later the damage levels drop more and our heals start bringing everyone back up to full health.

So what does this all mean. Well first off it means that a healer does NOT have to be able to heal the full incoming damage of a particular fight to healer it. As the DPS increases it actually means a healer can heal runs that he/she does not actually have the gear or healing ability to handle. The DPS and tank are carrying the healer. Usually no one but the healer knows. And not one actually cares because unlike a DPS or tank getting ‘carried’ the run is not actually slowed down. At least not from heal rate.

What comes into play after this is mana pool. At some point the healer runs out of mana. There are two ways for the fight to go badly due to not enough DPS. One is when the creatures to not die before tank health drops to zero. You can’t have the incoming damage be higher than the heals for very long. Every moment incoming damage is higher than the heals health bars are dropping. The second way is when the healer goes OOM. This is also a way to get a wipe due to a fight that is too long. But that first threshold is the critical one. An under-geared healer either needs a good tank and hard hitting DPS or the party goes down. This is the point where a smart party starts using extra tricks like CC to lessen the rate of incoming damage.

There are other ways to lessen the damage and extend what you can do with a given party. For example targeting one hard hitting mob first. This is why smart groups primary casters. The casters are usually softer targets that hit extra hard. So killing a caster is a great way to drop that incoming damage fast.

For kicks let’s put that on some graphs.

First off we see the party killing 3 melee enemies and one caster. They start with the melee. Each melee takes 8 seconds to kill and when they die they remove a small chunk of incoming DPS. Finally the caster only takes 4 seconds to kill and removes all a lot of dps, ending the fight.

Now look again when the kill the caster first.

Notice the green healing line? See how we get under that line much sooner? Also notice that the entire fight took the SAME length of time! Why does this matter? It matters because this is why many DPS will not understand WHY they need to go after soft high dps targets first. All they see is the fight taking the same time either way. If the healer can’t keep up that is the healers fault, right?

Now for a fun trick. Calculus! No no no come back! It is really easy. No I mean REALLY easy. You might be shocked how easy. It works like this. If you draw ‘rates’ on a graph the ‘area under the curve’ is the total. What does that mean? That means if you look at the total white space between the red line and then green line you will get how much damage the tank took. That is, you will get how much damage the tank took that did not get healed. See everything UNDER the green line got healed. And everything over adds up to be how far down his health bar went. Let’s do it…

See all that blue area? That is how many hit points the tanks’s HP bar went down. Everything below the green lie got healed back up again. Everything above it caused his bar to go down and stay down.

Now try the other way of doing the fight.

See how much less damage the tank takes? What if the tank’s total health is only 80% as big as that first chart. Everyone say ‘hi’ to the spirit healer when you see her. You have a party where your healer heals that much less than the maximum output of a pack and the tank’s health is smaller than that big area then you HAVE to do other tactics to survive. At this point jerk dps will say “yeah but it is totally the tank and heals fault we died.” Wrong, it is everyone’s fault. The tank for not having better gear, or popping cooldowns, the DPS for not stunning targets, trapping targets or otherwise lessening the incoming damage, the DPS for not following a smart kill order and finally the healer for just being inadequate at healing. Some while it is everyone at fault in various ways there are a lot of things that can be done to make this party work.

Sadly most of the time one or more of the party is too busy blaming someone else for the issue.

Of course there are lots of other factors that can make a group into a fail group. Kill order is just one of them. Hopefull this helped show how what order the DPS kill things in can cause the tank to live or die.

Before I go let’s look at one more.

 

Here a chart of two parties doing the same fight two different ways. One is the red line and one is the blue. The red group was the FAIL team and they decided to each target a different critter in pack of 4. Each critter was doing 2K dps to the tank. Because all the dps (and the tanks DPS) was evenly balanced everyone in the group dropped their target at the same time. It took them each 8 seconds.

Now observe the blue line. This group had the same damage output but instead the concentrated all on the same target. Because 4 people did 4 times as much damage as 1 person it only took them ¼ the time to kill each target. So each target dies in 2 seconds. Notice that this means the damage start dropping very early. If both groups had a healer that could only heal 5k per second which tank is in trouble? The blue tank took 3k unhealed damage for 2 seconds and 1 K unhealed damage for 2 seconds for a total of 8K unhealed damage. No problem! The red tank took 3K unhealed damage for 8 seconds. This is a total of 24k damage that did not get healed. Ouch! Let’s say we have a poorly geared tank that only had 20K HP. Who is at fault? The tank for being weak, the heals for being weak or the DPS for completely failing to pick targets that anyone else was on.

Now lets say that instead of soloing targets they all threw AOEs.

The dashed red line is the end of the fight using AOEs. This time the fight ended faster than the ‘good kill order’ blue group but the tank STILL took more damage.

I am not using real numbers because I am not a min-maxer or any sort of real theory crafter. The point of all this is to give a ‘feel’ for why various tactics work better. Hopefully the illustrations were useful. Before I go here are a couple more.

In this one the tank popped damage mitigation cooldowns at the start of the fight. See how they added a buffer of ‘virtual heals’ which helped the healer through the critical phase?

Here is that same fight with one critter getting sheeped. Notice how much it helps?

I hope to do more with these concepts in the future. They will be useful for understanding tactical use of cooldowns and also the best way to do ‘multi-pulls’. The point of this post was to get people thinking about and using the concepts of ‘rate of incoming damage’ and ‘heals per second’. You don’t have to be a min-maxer or math wiz to have a working knowledge of these concepts. They are useful for having a ‘gut feel’ about what went wrong in a fight or what needs to be different. They are pretty simple concepts but they have effects all over.

Finally I will throw a couple out there and not explain them. Here are two different healers using different mana conservation strategies. But that is a topic for some other day.

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

Analogue's UI at 65

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting up Vuhdo

Lath’s setup

And Rolling Hots

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

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

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My last post on personal situational awareness promised a follow on. Last time I was talking about you being aware of things that affected you in your role as healer; your spec and gear, your buffs and debuffs, the big purple ooze at your feet. This time we’ll broaden the outlook and pay attention to the things around you.

First off, as a healer, you care about damage that you and the party may take. Anything that will not cause damage or prevent damage from being repaired is inconsequential. In dungeons and raids that means you can ignore… um… the vanity pets that people have out. Usually. Pretty much everything else out there is a potential damage cause or complication. Let me define what I mean by those really quickly:

A damage cause is something that results in a player losing hit points. This includes mobs, cliffs you can fall from, exploding mushrooms, and puddles of goo on the floor.

A damage complication is anything that makes the task of repair or preventing damage more difficult. This would include pillars that block line of sight, curses that reduce healing effectiveness, and things that your party members do to themselves and their pets (for instance when a warlock’s imp is phase shifted and you can’t drop a heal on it).

These two factors work together to make your life interesting. Proper situational awareness will help you know what combination of these factors is in play at any time.

Most of the time in instances, the causes of damage are fairly predictable. Certainly by the time you’ve run Drak’Tharon Keep a hundred times you’ll know which groups you can be afk for and which you actually have to heal, when there’s going to be aoe damage and when you can just let your hots tick. Being aware of the causes of damage lets you heal proactively rather than just reactively, by throwing out hots or shields or timing a big heal to land just when the damage has hit.

Damage complications usually need to be handled as they appear. Again after a few dozen times through an encounter you’ll know that the orb stands on the platforms in OK can block LOS if the tank runs around behind them, or that such-and-such mobs cast silence, and plan for that, but in general it’s the complications that make our job hard because let’s face it, the biggest source of damage complications come from our fellow party members and not the encounter. When the hunter disengages right back into a patrol, or the shaman’s totem shoots a passing sentry, or the tank doesn’t do anything about the mobs that the mage has kindly frozen next to you, that’s when your life gets interesting. Proper situational awareness can help you before this sort of thing happens.

Try to note where your party members are at all times. That way when someone aggros another group, you can be prepared to heal, or be over next to the tank, or even run away and shadowmeld and let them all die, depending on what you feel like doing. This is really hard when you’re focused on health bars and nothing else. You’ve got to ditch healer tunnel vision and broaden your scope to see everything.

Pay attention to debuffs on the others in your party. I’m bad at this; Vuhdo tells me about poisons and curses, since I can do something about it, and special boss debuffs, but diseases? If I’m lucky I’ll notice they’re dying too fast and heal them up. I ought to have a special icon for “something you can’t dispel but might wanna check out” that I apply to their health bars; it would help me with awareness.

Omen or another threat meter – I have Omen and also set Vuhdo to give me an overview of people’s threat. When a dps is pulling a lot of threat, I’m preemptively ready to heal. A paladin or priest healer might be able to use a threat-reducing cooldown on this errant player. Either way it could help prevent a death. On the other hand, if this person is regularly and deliberately pulling aggro, you may choose to let him take some damage and try to send him a message. That can work too. Either way, Omen is a handy healer tool.

Most of my wipes that shouldn’t have happened resulted from me getting too far behind in damage, getting aggro from mobs, or healing the wrong person at the wrong moment. Yes, other people usually did something wrong but I care about what I can do better, not anyone else. It usually comes down to where the immediate cause of wipe was a triage failure – I misdiagnosed what tools to use on what people – but the more general cause was me failing at situational awareness.

Healer tunnel vision kills! I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out of tunnel vision. Do whatever you have to do. Tweak your ui; get mods; disable mods; run a few instances as dps. Try something new and learn to get out of the tunnel.

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Situational awareness, or  “looking at more than just health bars so you see the puddles of goo on the floor”, is insanely key to being a good healer. So key in fact that I would further break down the topic into personal situational awareness and global situational awareness, the later being “seeing the goo that everyone ELSE is standing in”. So I’m breaking this up into two posts and starting with personal.

Imagine you’re looking at your WOW UI. There at the center of the screen, what do you see? You. It might be a dwarf priest, a Tauren shaman, a Draeni paladin, or a Tree (by the way, save the trees!), but it’s you. Too often in healing we are so busy looking at everyone else (at least, everyone else’s health bars) that we forget to look at ourselves.

To learn to escape tunnel vision we must be more aware of ourselves and our surroundings.  It makes a great story when we can say “… and then I realized I was wearing my fishing pole!” or “Then I remembered I hadn’t switched out of my PVP healing spec!” but in truth, when you say that, you have failed. Personal awareness is your first goal when entering an instance or a raid.

Your pre-flight checklist:

Am I in healing mode?

Healing gear?

Healing spec?

Tree form?

Am I ready to go?

Buffs ok? (what do your party members bring?)

Mana bar up?

Phone off the hook, dog outside, baby changed?

Is my party ready?

Identify the tank

Classify each dps player

Mentally categorize their resource type (more on the last few when I do the global situational awareness topic)

Communicate

Tell the tank “I’m ready to go”. Let him know after pulls if there were too many mobs or if you need a second. Remind the mage not to stand in fire.

This is in ideal world. In the real world, the tank has pulled three patrols before you’re actually in the instance, the mage is already dead, and the paladin doesn’t speak English and has given you Blessing of Might. So while you’re running to catch up, do as many of these things as you can, while firing off whatever “Oh Crap” spells you have and wondering if those Frost badges are really worth it.

During the Run:

Your location may vary fight to fight. In general, you want to be close to but not in melee range. If you’re too far away, then when the mage pulls aggro, frost novas the mobs next to you, and blinks away, then you’re in trouble. If you’re closer in the tank will have an easier time. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll want to stay back. Do you know that a mob throws chain lightning or fears? You might stay farther off. For a rule of thumb, never get so far behind that if the tank charges he goes out of range.

If you know an encounter cold, you might think about where you should stand to best help the tank. For instance in Utgarde Keep on the Prince fight, stand so that the tank is between you and the door where the skeletons spawn. When they aggro on you, they will run over the tank who has an easier job of picking them up than if he had to run over to you.  If you have a good tank friend, ask him about fights and where particularly you can stand to help him out.

Stay out of the fire, obviously. If you’re having tunnel vision, make your own health bar nice and visible so when you start taking damage you notice – and then move! Most fights you probably know cold by now anyway. You’ll know when a boss is going to do a move that means you need to move. Watch where you stand when you’re fighting dragons (head and tail are bad, stand on one side). Just run down an encounter before it happens so that when you need to react, it takes you less time

Remember your own defensive cooldowns: chances are when the party takes an AOE, you’ll take damage too. Throw a defensive cooldown ahead of time if you can, like Barkskin, to give yourself breathing room. Or have a shield or a hot on yourself already.

Watch your aggro: Try not to heal the tank until he’s got aggro. If you do pull, bring the mobs to him. Don’t count on him seeing that one that’s hitting you, take proactive steps. Again, if you have problems with tunnel vision, make your own health bar really big and obvious and when it starts going down, figure out why.

Afterwards:

Assess the run. If you were going with a friend, talk about it with them. Were there avoidable deaths? Places things could have been smoother? Figure it out and file it away under “next time”. Mistakes are for learning, not recrimination.

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Maybe you’re like me; totally psyched for Cataclysm, starting to be a bit bored with current content, wanting one last run through Old Azeroth before it becomes New And Improved Azeroth (Now with 500% more Lava!). And you’ve rolled, or are thinking of rolling, a class that can heal. Let’s say you’ve never healed before. Does the prospect seem daunting?

It definitely can, especially at low levels when you don’t have as many healing abilities. Team that up with low level tanks not having all their mitigation abilities and low level dps being no better than top level ones at not getting face stomped and a pug of RFC or Stockades suddenly approaches the difficulty and pain of a Blood Princes encounter.

The first thing you have to do is start thinking like a healer, and I think the most important skill there is triage. It’s a term referring to what battlefield medics or ER staff do; assess the injury status of patients in such a way as to save as many lives as possible.

For triage in WoW to work, you need to know what your abilities are and what they do. Even at low levels most healing classes will have at least a long slow big heal and a short fast small heal. Some classes already have hots or shields or other ways of preventing or healing damage. Make a mental inventory of all these.

Next, assess your party makeup. I’ll assume a classic five man group; fewer than five man and the problem gets easier. Our imaginary party will be a young Warrior tank, a hunter and his pet turtle Bessy, a frost mage, a rogue, and you, a priest (translate this to whatever healing class is appropriate; the priest is a good one for this scenario).

Notice that I set up this party so that other than the hunter’s Mend Pet ability, nobody else has healing spells. We’ll assume the rogue can bandage and likes to do so. Everything else is up to you.

Now set up a priority queue in your mind. It goes like this:

You
Tank
Whatever DPS has done the least to make your life miserable or you are romantically involved with
The other dps
The pet
The DPSer you are romantically involved with if he forgot that your birthday was last week

This is the “keep them alive” priority and not the “heal them” priority. What’s the difference? The “keep them alive” priority stays static the whole time; it doesn’t change unless someone annoys you enough to move down the ladder, or brings you chocolate and wine and moves up the queue. The “Heal them” priority queue changes every second of the fight. Here’s how it work.

You engage a small patrol. The tank picks up aggro and starts taking damage. You throw him a Power Word: Shield and a Renew and he stops taking damage while the shield is up. When it wears off, he starts taking some damage again. The Renew is a Heal Over Time spell and mends some of that damage, but he’s down about a quarter of his hit points and the mobs are still hitting him, so you start casting a Heal. (Assume you don’t yet have Greater Heal). Now he’s got his health back. You refresh the Renew, the mobs die, and everyone’s happy.

That one was easy! Only the tank needed healing. You adjusted your heals based on what he needed to keep his health bar full, didn’t waste mana, and nothing got scary.

Now on to the next pull. This one has more mobs and some of them are ranged. As you throw a Renew and Shield on the tank, it causes you to get aggro from one of the casters, who starts throwing ice bolts at you. You immediately put a shield on yourself and since you don’t have much damage, a Renew. Then the mage gets attention from one of the mobs, who wanders over and starts hitting him. The mage panics and runs over to you and then frost novas and runs away, leaving the mob right next to you. The mob decides that you look tasty and starts biting you. Meanwhile the tank just got critted and is at 50% health and falling.

Summary: You and the tank are both being actively hit
The mage is not being actively hit
You are at 70% life. The tank is at 50% life. The mage is at 30% life.
What do you do?

Well, whatever you do, you’ve got to get the mob off you. Take a few steps toward the tank. While the frost nova holds the mob can’t bite you. When it wears off, it will have to come toward the tank to get you. At the same time, refresh the Renew that’s on yourself. Now pay attention to the tank! If you can shield him again, do that. If the Renew is gone, refresh it. Then cast your fast quick heal, Flash Heal. It doesn’t do as much, but your tank is hurting bad and you need to get some breathing room. Often a couple of quick fast heals will get you enough breathing room to have time to cast your long slow top-them-up heal.

Now the tank is at 70%, you’re at 85%, and the mage is still hurting. If you can spare time, drop a Renew on him and let him stew. If you eventually have the time and mana, Flash Heal him to about 80%. More than that is a waste of your global cool downs and mana. He should have learned his lesson and not pull the mobs again this fight. A few missing health points is a good lesson.

Oops, mobs still not dead. The tank has them all now, but the hunter, who has been afk, finally wakes up and sends in his pet, who growls at one mob and gets it to turn and fight him. Bossy the Turtle takes some damage. You can choose to heal it, or not; the hunter ought to Mend Pet on it and he was stupid to have its Growl on, but the pet is doing good dps and if you can spare the mana, give it some love.

And the rogue is taking a little aoe damage. He bandaged himself earlier when things were messy, so now you drop a shield and a Renew on him, and then turn your attention back to the tank who is in need of more Flash Heals.

Oh, dear – you guys just aggroed the boss who was wandering around, and he runs in and throws a big AOE that damages you all pretty badly. What do you do now?

Throw a shield on yourself and the tank (if you were a druid you’d be dropping more HOTs on you both here) and then cast your AOE heal. Sorry paladins, you don’t have an AOE heal, but the other three classes do and this is where to use them; you’ve got at least three people hurt and the tank is not taking so much damage that your heal can’t keep up.

Now you’re all at manageable health. Go back to the tank, keep him alive, and – oh dear. You’re out of mana. This will be fun.

Warn everyone “OOM!” and hope they get the message. No matter how much damage is flying around, do not spend mana on heals for anyone except you and the tank, and mostly the tank. If he drops you’re all dead, whereas if you keep him alive you might survive this.

Every time you have enough mana, cast your Flash Heal. It’s the fastest cast you have and so will get you back into mana regen mode as fast as possible (takes five seconds after the end of your last cast for your mana regen to start actually doing much).

Now let’s talk about what happens when things really go haywire; multiple groups of mobs, aggro everywhere, tank getting low, mage getting squishy, and your own special set of ravenous admirers.

First off, don’t panic. Easier said than done, but don’t panic. If you do, things will get worse. The worst outcome here is a wipe. Nothing can be worse than that. Your goal, once things start going turnip-shaped, is to keep yourself alive at the end. Everyone else is a means to that end. Remember, you have the magic res fingers!

If you are to stay alive, that means someone has to kill the mobs that want to eat you. Probably that means keep the tank and some dps alive. Sometimes it means all the dps die really fast and you and the tank slug it out slowly with the last few mobs.

start with keeping yourself alive. That might mean moving instead of healing; go over to the tank and hope he pulls the mobs off rather than trying to heal through the bites. You are not the tank. Don’t act like one. If you have damage mitigation cooldowns, use them. A druid should throw a hot on herself, throw Barkskin, and go to the tank. A priest should shield herself. A Paladin can use Hand of Salvation or Divine Protection (use HoS on yourself, Divine Protection on the tank, and gain some breathing room).

Next, if the tank is getting low, throw heals at him while you scan everyone else. Is there someone who is very low but not actively taking damage? Throw a hot or shield or Flash of Flight/Flash Heal at him to give him more breathing room. Someone who is low and actively taking damage, and not the tank, is probably going to die no matter what in a “ah crap” situation. Don’t waste mana and GCDs on a mage who has three mobs on him. He will die and his friends will come eat you next. It is his job to ice block at this point and avoid death, not your job to save him.

Heal the most likely to survive; this is why it’s triage. You decide who lives, who dies. Who is stable or could be stable with minimal intervention? Did the hunter just have his pet growl mobs off of you? Heal that pet, unless the hunter is about to die, in which cast that’s wasted mana.

Keep an eye out for environmental issues that affect you; fire on the ground, curses. Moving cuts down on your heals but so does being dead. Some curses can be ignored or healed through. If you have a curse that makes your casts take 50% longer and it can be removed, remove it! The one GCD and minimal mana you spend there pays for itself almost instantly. On the other hand, if it’s a curse that makes you have 100 less skill at Bows, like in SFK sometimes, ignore it.

Avoid tunnel vision at all costs. I think this is the number one cause of healer death; you’re too busy staring at the health bars to notice the gnolls eating your spleen. One of the best tools for preventing tunnel vision (and sometimes for causing it) is a good raid healing frame mod. Healbot and Grid + clique are both popular setups; my personal favorite is Vuhdo which I think combines the flexibility of Grid with the ease of setup of Healbot. Other sites have done far better rundowns of how to install and tweak these; if you’re stuck for ideas, I recommend visiting the http://www.PlusHeal.com forums and their UI and Mods subforum to see screenshots and suggestions of Healer UIs. Sometimes though healing frames can make tunnel vision worse, when all you focus on is the part of your screen with little boxes and icons. I suggest moving the frames somewhere near the middle of your screen and forcing yourself to see other areas.

Other than that it’s about practice, practice, practice. Going into battlegrounds can be good practice at getting a UI with raid frames set up to where you can concentrate on the frames but still watch your environment. Pug some dungeons – and please don’t wait til you’re 80 to start. It is harder to jump in at top level because your gear will be lagging compared to what people expect. But if you did just dual spec to Holy and you’re 80, go ahead and start! Don’t take stupid comments personally, just have fun.

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