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Archive for the ‘Playstyle’ Category

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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Big Bear Butt just posted an outstandingly good post on what the real meaning of being in a party is. It is important for all of us to have the attitude of ‘what can I do to make this party succeed’. The points BBB laid out are very solid and cover each of the three rolls in general. I will look at hunters specifically.

Why? Because I like hunters. I do a lot of druiding these days but I still feel like my hunter is my main. Plus hunters have a lot of tools for helping the party succeed.

Do Good DPS

Of course everyone knows that roll of a good DPSer is to DPS well. Right. But how? Hunters have three very different specs each of them use different abilities as part of their regular rotation. Just because on spec uses a skill a lot does not mean you have any business using it in another. The thing is that hunters are very easy to suck at. By that I mean you can get by and even do somewhat ok while not being any good at all as a hunter. Part of this is because they can do some ‘ok’ damage with just autoshot and a pet. And because their pet keeps them alive a hunter might not be challenged to kill things with any speed. Some classes find it harder to get to 80 while being completely bad at their class. Hunters can do that.

So don’t do that. Take the time to find out what rotation works well and use it. Being ‘good enough’ is not good enough. Doing just find a few shots and say ‘oh but I like how I play’. Just because your damage is high enough to not get your kicked does not mean you are really doing your part to help the group. Yes you can still play Beast Mastery even if that is not the bleeding edge highest DPS. Play any spec you like. But at least take the time to play that spec WELL. Find out how you can tweak your build to get more out of it. If you are mostly doing PVE content, know what talents and glyphs are not very useful for PVE and avoid them. There are a lot of skills that are intended to be mostly useful in PVP. For example talent points that make you and your pet more durable. Those are ok solo. But know that those are almost completely a waste if you are running a lot of instances.

Turn off your pet growl

Seriously, just do it. No, removing the icon from the pet bar is not how you do that. Right click until that glowing boarder goes away.

Get a DPS pet

In instances your bear or turtle are not as effective as a cat or raptor. Look up what pets do better damage and tame one. Don’t chose your pet based on the look of it. Chose based on its damage output. You can swap back to your favorite looking one when you get back to town.

Manage your threat

Hunters played well do gobs of threat. That is why Bliz gave us such great agro management tools. You should get a threat meter and use it.

Keep Feign Death on a handy hot button and be ready to hit it.

Macro your Misdirect

No, just using it sometimes at the start of fights is not enough. Make a macro for it. It is really easy.

First type /macro in the chat window to bring up the interface.

Next click the new button.

Name the macro.

Don’t bother picking an icon, leave it as the default question mark and it will select the right one for you when you are done.

Now, in the big area on the left type this:

/cast [target=focus] misdirect

You are done. Put that on your bar somewhere handy. Now at the start of each run, select the tank, right click them and ‘set focus’. Now any time you press your MD macro it will do it on the tank. There are other ways to set up a macro for it. If you know another one, use that. You can even set one up so it will hit your pet instead if there is no tank focused. Either way, do it.

Why? Simple. Because for a long fights, where you are doing good damage, one MD is not enough. And for rapid pull runs your MD might not be off cooldown at the start of a fight. With a macro you can quickly and easily use MD during a fight without almost zero impact on your DPS.

Just Fake it

Use Feign Death. Use it a lot. Watch your threat meter and use it BEFORE you pull threat. Make sure you stay dead long enough for your threat to drop. If you just hit the button and then start shooting right off it might not have taken effect yet.

Trap Stuff

Learn how to use your traps and be ready to use them. Keep in mind that a particular tank might not like having a target trapped. If they complain, don’t argue, just change what you are doing. No the tank is not to be worshiped or anything, but you are doing this to make their life easier. Anything that helps the tank stay focused and not get thrown off stride is good. If the tank says trapping stuff is messing up his pull then don’t trap stuff. Simple.

Watch that Tab!

Tab target is a handy feature. However, when combined with autoshot it is very dangerous for hunters. Be careful! And be ready with the FD.

Control your pet

The pet is an extension of the hunter. If it goes running off after something it is your fault. No, it is not blizzard’s fault for giving you a crazy pet. There are fast and simple ways to control your pet. Use them. In addition to the button bar three are easy macros and there are also key binds. By default pressing ctrl-2 will cause your pet to return to you. If it starts to run somewhere you don’t want it to, press ctrl-2. Yes, pets can be buggy. But if you had time to reign your pet in and failed to do so then it is not blizzards poor programming that is at fault. It is your fault.

Know how defensive, passive and aggressive settings work and use them as appropriate. Don’t just leave your pet on passive. The pet is a VERY large chunk of your damage output. Leaving it on passive to make things easier for you is lazy and a huge disservice to your fellow party members. Don’t do it. If you can’t control a pet, go roll a mage. You will find if you try that controlling your pet can become second nature. But you can’t get better if you don’t try.

For most situations, putting your pat on ‘defensive’, being fast with ctrl-2, and carful with tab targeting things will solve most pet control problems.

LET THE TANK PULL

Misdirect is great. Super great. But it lets us hunters get away with doing some amazingly rude and annoying things. It lets us start fights and not instantly die. Try to avoid the temptation to do that. You can push it a little by starting shooting just as the tank engages but try not to start shooting just BEFORE the tank engages. Doing that may throw the tank’s pull off. Most of the time it is no big deal but it can be annoying to the tank and that is simply not helpful. You are making harder the hardest job in the party. Don’t do that for a few extra points of on the meter. It is just not worth it.

Cut it close? Sure! Learn the tanks rhythm and pull style and adapt your play to it. You can be right on their tail with some nice hefty damage but reign it in just enough that you ARE following their lead and not setting your own pace.

Being an Asshat or being an Asset

With MD and FD plus wearing mail (to say nothing of traps) hunters can get away a very large amount of being an asshat without actually dying. Don’t do it. Just because you lived does not mean you are not on the rest of the parties ignore list now.

Those same tools can be very effective and helping a party succeed. You can save a healer with traps. You can really boost a poorly geared tank’s threat output and keep agro on them. You can MD whole packs of adds that the tank failed to notice and get them over to the tank. You can be a tanks best friend or their worst enemy. Instead of taking pride in only your recount score and in the tears of QQ why not take pride in saving the day?

There are a lot of hunters out there but only a few really good ones. And ‘really good’ huntering is not defined by recount.

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This post is about the art of pulling and tanking more than one pack at a time. This topic is not basic tanking. Infact it should not be in a ‘Tanking 101′ topic. In fact I would rather new tanks did not even think about doing this… But… It is useful information. It is useful to know even if you don’t regularly do this. It is useful for when you start feeling your oats and wanting to pull faster and it is useful for dealing with unintended adds.

The art of the multi pull is not simple. A very good tank can make it appear easy but it is not. The things you must consider are new, different and you must consider them on TOP of the things you are concerned with in a single pull.

But first, why? Why do it? Many people will complain long and hard about ‘go go go’ tanks that are over eager and don’t know their limitations. What they are complaining about is a tank that does multi-pulls WRONG. There are a lot of ways to do it wrong. However despite the complaints it can be done right. When it is done right there are rarely complaints. And you will know the difference. When you do things right you will have DPSers in awe and healers asking you to join their guild. Seriously, I get it a lot after a pull in which I never pulled any group by itself and did bosses with adds deliberately.

When you do it wrong people will drop group without a word or after a short rant. They will drop half out part way through very unhappy. But most of all you will know you did it wrong because you will be obliterated so fast the Spirit healer will offer you a pity discount. You will wipe so many times the floors of all of Northrend will be squeaky clean, washed with your innards and polished with your mangled body as a rag. Get the picture? You groups will implode so fast you will rarely see the first boss.

Now that you know what is at stake I urge you to try this stuff with caution. Practice with healers you know and love. And buy them flowers in advance. (Analogue inserts: Hey! Where are MY flowers??) Proceed with caution.

Multi pulls versus chain pulling

The first thing to note is that there are two kinds of multi pulls. One is the chain pull. Chain pulling means going for the next group before the first group is down. The term can also mean simply pulling groups one after another very fast, but here I am using it to mean something else. Chain pulling I refer to is the art of waiting until you have plenty of aggro on one group, to the point where the DPS could basically kill them even if you DCed. At that point you go for the next group, dragging a mostly dead pack behind you.

The other version of a multi pull is a pure multiple. This is where you aggro two groups at once, or charge through one and attack the other. The difference is that both (or all) groups are at full health when they all come together in an impressive orgy of destruction. If all goes right you will be in the middle of it.

This post is about true multi pulls and not chain pulls. I might cover chain some other time. What I will say that in chain pull the limiting factor for a healer is mana conservation. In multi pull it is upfront burst healing or sustained max healing rate, depending on how fast your DPS burn things down. More on that later.

Before we get into the ‘how to’ there are some very important concepts I want to go over. These become critical to multi pulling. Understanding them is how multi pulling will make you a better tank, even if you don’t regularly DO it. – I started to put these concepts in this post but instead I decided to introduce them in a separate post. If you have not read it, go back and read that one now. I will wait… It will be more important for the second half of this on how to actually survive multi pulls.

While you are at it read all the Tanking 101 posts as well. If reading those does not make you go ‘yeah I knew that’ then you are not ready for multi pull tanking.

Disclaimer

This stuff is nasty. It can get you very very wiped and it can cause your group to drop or kick or both. If you want to get started doing it I recommend a guild group. Or starting small with just one add. Or both. No I don’t mean it is hard to tank a pat that aggros. While not easy that is not the difficulty level I am talking about. Pulling in an extra pack from nearby is not all that likely to get you booted. Mounting and riding through the next 3 packs before taking 4 on at once is likely to make your healer go ’WTF-bye’.

If you wipe after pushing it too hard I highly recommend you immediately apologize to your group and promise to throttle it back. This will go a long way to smoothing things over and give you more valuable practice. Whatever you do don’t blame anyone but yourself. If you wipe while pulling more than one group it is ALWAYS the tank’s fault. One of the tank’s jobs is to gauge how well the run is going and how good everyone is and set a workable pace. If you set a pace that is too fast it is ALWAYS your fault.

But… It IS possible to do this. It IS possible to do it well. And it IS possible to do it in such a way that your heals and DPS are elated or even in awe at the end of the run and not putting you on ignore.

Now on with the show.

How to

In this section I will talk about the mechanics of the pull but not how to survive it. Don’t read only this section and go try anything. I will cover surviving it next.

First let’s ignore your actual HP and talk about the hazards in just getting all the packs to come to you and stay on you. However hard it is for you to round up and keep aggro on normal packs, multi pulls make this vastly harder.

Effectively the ‘pull phase’ of the fight is extended to be several times longer than usual. The ‘pull’ part of the fight is from the first time any creature spots you and when you have them all rounded up and attacking you. This is the phase were it is most risky for things to pull of you. This is because you have very little threat on the targets and because some or all of the targets are outside your melee range, limiting your options for getting more threat. Once past the ‘pull’ phase all the targets are on you and you have ample opportunity to generate threat. In a standard pull it is possible to complete the ‘pull phase’ and have them all around you nice and close before the DPS really opens fire or before the healer has hit you with anything big. In a multi pull the chance of being able to do that go way way down. It is almost certain you will have to use a taunt as damage control during your pull. This means you want to save that and not use it in the opening stage, unless very early on, when you are sure to get it off cooldown by the time someone aggroes off you.

Line of sight pulls can also be very effective for multi pulls. You might line of sight one or more of the packs. It can be done by running through all packs and finding a place to hide or running through one pack, shooting a ranged attack at the next pack and then hiding between then. It can even be pulling them all back to the start by hiding around a corner there.

Risks

There are two big risks of multi pulls, one is the increased damage of having lots of things hitting you and the other is the extra chance of dropping aggro from having to manage more targets.

The main way to manage the second risk is to increase the first risk. The way is to move fast! Moving to round up extra groups group before the DPS engages is a great way to ensure they don’t have time to pull off you. Unfortunately this gets you farther from your healer and also take the healer off guard. I will talk more about that soon but keep in mind that it is a fine line to be JUST far enough ahead that the DPS does not pull off and not so far ahead that you are a fine smear on the floor before the healer knows you are gone. For this reason this sort of pull requires good cooldown use. I will go into this more in the second half, surviving the multi pull.

Because of these risks the pace of your pulls becomes absolutely critical. The same pull done with different timing, or rhythm can succeed or fail badly.

Planning

The first step in any pull is setting up and planning the pull. There are many places in the game where you simply can’t do a multi pull. It is too hard. The groups are too far apart. There is some sort of barrier or portal. There are lots of reasons some pulls just don’t work. Or they are just very hard to do. These are the ones you are likely to wipe on so be ready to “/p sry, my bad” on the way back to the instance.

So which are do-able? First of all not everything do-able is possible. I will get back to that later. Packs near each other are easy to round up. Packs with a nearby patrol you can get at the same time are also easy for multi pulls. With timing you can grab both with no additional effort. Tightly packed groups often require ranged pulls or LOS pulls to separate when you are doing normal tanking. These places can be turned into a multi pull simply by charging in.

There are three questions to ask.

1: Can I round all these guys up?

- The question is can you move between the groups and aggro them reasonably fast

2: Can I keep all these guys on me?

- This is asking if you can finish the pull without any DPS pulling off you and also if you can maintain agro with the multiple groups.

3: Does this pull actually speed things up?

- Just hitting two packs at once is not always speeding things up. If the other one was an optional pack then it isn’t. If the fight with all the packs is long and nasty it was may have been faster to do them separately. Also if it took longer to round them all up and get the fight started than it takes to just kill the first group you are wasting time.

Starting

If you have two packs near each other the start can be simple. You simply move in on one while throwing a ranged move at the other. Very straight forward usually. Try to use the ranged move on the group that is farther away. Also try to set up the pull so your camera can see all packs at once. This can mean going around one group until you can see the other group past them and then moving in. Alternately as you move in on the first group you can be rotating your camera to follow a group off to one side. It helps to be facing the second group as they come at you.

Here the tank is flanking one and then attacking though it.

Here the tank moves right into one and then rotates and ranged aggros the other.

Running between the two groups and aggroing both from there also works well, but requires more camera movement after the pull starts. It is still a good way to do it because both groups have a short distance to go to get inside your melee and AOE ranges.

A good example of this type of pull is the second pack of UK. You have 7-9 guys all around two anvils on either side of the hall. Careful pulls can make this into 3 or more pulls, some with only one dude getting pulled. A multi pull can pull all of them at once from between the anvils or just in front of that point. Stopping slightly short of directly between them puts the packs closer to your camera view area and you don’t have to pan as far to see them all.

There are two ways to do it. You can move to one and ranged aggro the other…

or you can ranged aggro both.

Of course if they are close enough you can do the whole pull with just your mere presence and save the ranged attack for any stragglers.

Run Through

The pull is all about getting all targets into your melee. The longer it takes to do that the more risk there is of DPS or heals pulling them off you. This is why the second method of multi pulls is harder. This method is to run THOUGH or past a pack and continue on to the next pack.

The risk here is that you are leaving your DPS and heals close to the pack while you run farther on. Hopefully the DPS knows to keep following you until you stop before engaging. If they don’t you might tell them to do it at that the start of the run. If they are smart or experienced with ‘gogogo’ tankers then they might clue in on this on their own.

An example of the ‘run through’ pull would be all the ‘guy with a wolf’ packs that patrol up and down the stairs in UK and UP. You can run through one of those and then up to the top of a flight and pull the pack of 4 up there. The group you are running through is fairly weak so adding it to the group at the top of the stairs is a fairly straight forward multi pull if the patrol is near the top of the steps. If the patrol is on the landing or farther down then it is a long way to drag them up to the next group. If the patrol is near but bottom they can be done multi-style with the group at the bottom of the steps. This is using the technique of moving to first group (bottom of steps pack) and use a ranged attack on the second group (patrolling guy with wolf).

Another example of a run through pull would be doing the first two groups of DTK together. You run through the first two guys and then attack the next group (This is risky because the first two guys in the first group don’t spawn at the same time).

There are a lot of reasons why run through pulls can be nasty and painful. First of all you can get hit by the first pack. Also your DPS and heals will see a normal pull and have no clue what you are doing until you are well past the group. This makes it VERY easy for them to pull off you simply by starting the fight before you want them to. You could take the time to explain what you are doing to them… but by the time you are sure they understand you have blown all speed advantage from the multi pull. It can easily take longer to get the concepts across to everyone than it would take to kill both groups the old fashion way. So what to do?

There are actually several ways to do a run though and some of them help with the problem of getting too far ahead. One is to move just far enough past the group to aggro the next one and then turn back and round up any aggro you have dropped. This is a good way but only works on groups that are fairly close together. That is basically the choice you have with a run through pull. Do you run to the next group and fight where they are or do you bring them to meet the first group and fight there.

Here is a tank stopping short, using a ranged move and then turning back to the first group.

They say no plan survives contact with the enemy. It is almost certain the DPS and heals aggroing something will force you to shift and move. But, you have to start with a plan! Even a vague one is better than nothing. Just charging in is a great way to get killed. It can be as simple as “I am going to run into this pack, fire one thunderclap as I go by and then charge that group over there.” That is enough of a plan. At least provided you are wise enough to remember that the next step will be to AOE the second group and then look back to see if the first group is coming to you. That is the opening of a Multi pull, but the ‘pull phase’ is not really over until that second group gets to you and you have them all in melee.

Tank Differences

Different tank classes and different play styles will have a big effect on how you do a multi pull. Pallys and DK are likely to want to pull the second group to them. Bears and warriors may want to charge back and forth between groups. I will not go into all the stuff each class can do because if you are even considering tanking this way you had better already be an expert in all your class can do.

I will noted that each tanking class can handle different levels of AOE threat and has different taunt options. For example number of critters a bear can round up and multi tank will not be equal to a warrior. And of course gear makes a huge difference.

Dealing with the fallout

People WILL pull off you when multi pulling. But if you are not already fast and clean with your taunts you should not be trying this anyway. So you should be able to round things back up. When you have run through a group to get to a second group and then you lose aggro on some of the first group it works just like adds. From a tactical standpoint you are in almost the same situation as if a patrol had hit your ranged/healer squad while you were pulling something. The big difference is that you KNOW it is going to happen and can be ready for it. As with an adds situation it is un forgiving so you have to be fast and taunt cleanly on the target you mean to taunt. Also you have to practice good Tanking Triage.

Tanking Triage

Tanking Triage is the art of taunting what you can and being ready to give up on what you can’t get threat on so you can focus on what you can. Lets say you run through a pack and pick up another. You get aggro on the second group and then see two of the first group are headed to your DPS/heals. Just now your mage opens with a blizzard on your head. You don’t want to leave the pack you are fighting because if you do the mage is SURE to aggro them all. So now you have to make a split second decision. Assuming you are not a pally with a three target taunt you can only taunt one of the dropped ones. So you hit the one you think is going for the healer and stay where you are, spamming AOEs and spreading threat around you. Maybe someone else will pick up the other one and maybe the healer will have to heal though one hitting him. Either way 8 seconds of the healer getting hit is usually better than you dropping aggro on the other 4-7 critters. Waiting that 8 seconds for your taunt MIGHT wipe you, but dropping aggro on 7 critters while you run after that one is much more likely to kill you. When you can’t get aggro on everything your goal is to get the most aggro on the most things for the longest possible time. With multi pull tanking every global cooldown is precious so don’t waste any.

Extra Disclaimer/Warning

Everything is your fault. No really. If you are pulling more than one pack deliberately there is NOTHING anyone can do that will make a wipe that is not YOUR fault. Why? Because you had the choice to do things the easy and safe way and chose not to. You can’t jump into the street and blame the blind old lady in the Cadillac for not swerving around you. And you can’t throw an knife at someone and blame them if they are not a good enough ninja to catch it.

But the good news is that if your skills and gear are good enough you can multiple almost any pull in any dungeon regardless of your group.

But don’t try this yet! Stay tuned for the ‘How to Survive Multi Pulls’ post. Coming Soon. In the mean time I will take no responsibility for any wipes you may experience.

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Instances are a dance. They are a dance of destruction and death and hopefully a dance of life and success.

The tank leads. Leading is not about going at your own pace, it is about setting a pace your partners can keep up with. You don’t set the pace too slow or your partners get bored and either leaves or tries to lead. If your partners are more accomplished dancers you may have to push yourself hard to keep up with them while still leading. The tank may even have to lean on them a bit or ask one of them to lead for short periods of time.

Leading in a dance does not mean you are in control. It means you make the first move and you signal as much as you can to your partner so she can keep up. Ignoring your partner almost totally only works when you know they for certain can keep up. When you do know they know the tune and the steps then you can cut loose. But if not, you will quickly find yourself dancing alone. A good tank is a good dance partner no matter who his partner is. Fast, slow, waltzing or break dancing a good tank knows them all. Leading also means finding out how NOT to step on the toes of your partner. It also means being polite when your partner steps on yours… but not too polite unless you like sore toes.

The DPS and heals all follow. Following means reading your partner’s moves and matching, echoing or merely complimenting them. It also means pusing yourself when they are challenging you to keep up. If the lead partner is good they will set a pace you can handle even if it is a whirlwind. You might surprise yourself as you stretch to keep up. You might get burned if they prove to be a poor lead, but you will never know unless you step out and allow them to toss you in the air every now and then. It might be a frightening at first but better to embrace the challenge than to refuse to be led.

This analogy shows how BOTH sides have to adapt. You might have to read their intentions and follow. The lead has to communicate those intentions and be sure all partners can keep up.

The dance is never more smooth than when you partner with someone that really knows you and your style. My best partner is my wife. I have run with some great healers that were able to keep up, but when it comes to knowing my rhythm she is best. It certainly helps that she has crazy uber healing gear. However, even uber gear will not keep me alive when I pop cat form and dash two groups ahead and start AOEing the crud out of 4 packs at once.

In some ways though, a very good and very familiar partner will make us complacent. We stop trying to read every move and just fall on familiar patterns. An unfamiliar partner forces us to read and learn as we go.

Most of all we cannot refuse to dance. If our partner for a swing-dance drops and starts spinning around on their head we must be at lead willing to shrug and follow along as best we can. If you refuse to dance to all except one sort of music you will find yourself unhappy and short of partners. But when it comes to pugs don’t assume you will know the tune, the song, or even get a flat dance floor.

I wanted to toss this post out there as background before I get to my upcoming post about multi pulls and go-go-go tanking. It is important for a tank to keep in mind that even as he/she is setting a whirlwind pace their partners are still there and still being considered. How you consider them might be different but even the best geared tank can-not do things alone. (well maybe technically they can but that is a different topic)

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I feel a little epic these days now that I have enough current raid experience to actually have informed opinions on them. I’m not elite or hardcore but I’m making personal progress in ICC whenever we can get in there and I fully intend to take down Arthas. Never been in this position in a raid cycle before. I’ve even got a couple pieces that are BiS!

Anyway I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now but the Cataclysm raid change announcements made it timely.  Personally? I think I like it a lot. I’m going to have to strategize going into Cataclysm to make sure I’m positioned to actually see content as it comes out, but I think between the 10 and 25 man raids dropping the same gear, and the tweak to the gear buying system with points instead of badges, I’ll be able to stay geared enough without having to commit to a hardcore raid.

I hear some doom and gloom from 25 man raider and joy from 10 man raiders, and while I’m not 100% sure things will work out the way the consensus seems to be, put me on the happy 10 man side. I love 10 mans. When it comes to raids, I’m a healer. DPSing raids just doesn’t seem that fun to me. Give me Vuhdo and a bunch of health bars and I’m happy. But as a resto druid, I find 10 mans way more fun than 25 at least right now. In 25 mans it’s – “Analogue, you Rejuv groups 4 and 5, Othertree do 2 and 3″. And that’s it. That’s my job. If I cast anything else except maybe a Swiftmend or WG, I get yelled at. Don’t brez without orders, don’t innervate anyone else without orders, don’t look too closely at the tanks’ health bars because you can’t do anything about it…

But in  10 mans, the other healer(s) and I work together as a real team. I have to know what the heals on the tanks are going to look like so I know when to intervene. I need to watch my partner’s mana just in case he needs my Innervate more than I do. We cover each other’s back – in a lot of ways it’s like the synthesis between healer and tank in a 5 man.  In 10 mans I have to actually think beyond just “don’t stand in the fire, run to that side, avoid the deep breaths”. No I need to know things like “The second mark will be going out any second, I’m going to have to cover that one so the pally can keep up the tank and the first mark, so save the Swiftmend cd for him, oh, and that guy has Boiling Blood so make sure there’s no one around him who needs heals.” And that’s one of the more straightforward healing fights as far as I’m concerned.

So yeah, I’m excited, providing I can get into a fairly regular ten man in Catacylsm. Reversion and I are thinking about that sort of thing now – we’re hoping to establish a regular pseudo-pug for ICC right now. Our pug this weekend was really awesome and several of the members expressed interest in running again. We’d like to build up a raid from outside our guild, since we’re in the position of non-raiding members of a raiding guild that we don’t want to leave.

The 25 mans feel really epic and fun. But the 10 mans feel like I can do a lot more to actually affect the outcome of the raid. And I like that. The idea of having access to the best gear in the raid style I prefer? Pure win.

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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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Hitting the wall

Hitting the wall is when you run into something that you just can’t get past. It can be suddenly and in your face or it can be a dawning realization. With all the demands of tanking it might hit you several different ways. The cause of it be different. Heck you might never hit one. With the arrival of ICC the gear levels are so high any new tank between now and Cata might not even hit one. Or they might hit one while leveling.

Let me tell you about my wall. I started tanking somewhere during the leveling of my first druid (Reversion).

Actually that is not true, I tanked as a warrior a couple years ago.

Actually that is not true either. I started tanking with my pet starting at level 10 on my first hunter not long after WOW’s launch. A hunter pet is not a real tank of course but you get a lot of the ideas from it. You have abilities as a hunter+pet to generate threat, dump threat, and move threat around. You get many of the concepts of tanking as you play one. Having leveled several alts a little, and two a lot, I found my first warrior tank both familiar and eye opening. There were many things different about being a main party tank instead of just the pet tank controller for a leveling pair or trio. I mentally apologized to every tank I had ever had prior to that point for all the sins I had committed against them.

But that is another story. The point is that the concept of tanking was familiar to me and I picked it up fairly fast. I did a few dozen levels of tanking on my warrior. Then the warrior spent time in storage and eventually I leveled a bear tank. Going from warrior to bear was very intuitive and I was soon feeling very comfortable with the role of tank. I did my homework and got the talents and gear I needed. I was doing pretty good as a max level heroic tank. Then TOC came out. Remember back when most pug players only were wearing 200 purples? Times were very different. I was pulling around 860 dps as a bear tank which I thought (at the time) was not bad. Most dps were only doing 1200-2k back then and for most fights it got the job done.

On one Friday night I ran a TOC heroic pug and was completely unable to keep aggro on the three heroes fight. I am pretty sure it was the hunter mage and druid but I am not 100% sure. After a few wipes the group lost a few and then some Uldar geared tank came and finished the run. I was annoyed but did not think too much of it. I probably blamed the DPS for not following kill order. Anyway, the next morning I got up and while Analogue and the baby were sleeping in I tried another run of it. BAM! I was at the wall. The same thing happened again and I realized suddenly that this WAS a wall.

I knew at that moment that my gear, spec, rotation and skills just simply were not up to generating the threat I needed. It was a WOW epiphany I will never forget. What made it so critical was how I dealt with it. I went out and read stuff. And then read more stuff and then studied some more. From all these I made three very small, very subtle and extremely critical changes.

1: Maul. I had been using Maul. I used it a fair bit…. But I did NOT use it on EVERY melee swing. You see Maul is one of those things you trigger and then it goes off on the next regularly scheduled melee swing (like Heroic Strike). It does not blow the global cooldown. So unless you are hurting for rage you should be using it on EVERY swing. So the subtle change I did here was to move it from the 7 or 9 button (I forget which) on my hot bar and put it on 4. What this did was to put it right under my usual hand position and with my other spam able buttons.

2: I discovered the ‘glyph of maul’ that had somehow previously escaped my notice. This maul made my maul hit two targets instead of one!

Now these two changes ALONE boosted my DPS by around 50% and those I was putting out much more threat. What is more I was spreading that threat around better. My biggest damage dealing attack was hitting two. This meant that in a fight at least two of the enemies were glued to me pretty solidly.

3: The third change I made was even more subtle. I read some more about what ‘growl’ did. I had read the tip text before so I KNEW that it did nothing to targets that were already attacking you. I knew it, I mean it is right there in the tip so how could I miss it? But somehow it did not really sink in deep. You see, the hunter pet ability ‘growl’ does not work that way. It is something that just applies a set amount of threat to the target. So it makes sense for the pet to keep spamming growl on whatever it is fighting. What I read after I hit the wall was the math behind druid growl. The math is this. Whatever target is at the top of the threat list, you get that much aggro +1. For some reason reading the actual numbers like that had far more impact on me. The tool tip more or less says the same thing but not as clearly.

So what did this realization do? Not much. I was already using growl properly to taunt things back when someone else pulled them off. What I was not doing was saving growl for ONLY that. After I read that I made extra certain to never use growl except when it was actually needed. Well, really I do bump it a lot… and sometimes I fire it off before I get the right target selected. But basically I save it for what it is really meant for, for those times when someone pulls off you. What this meant for me was that the cooldown on growl was almost always ready when I needed it. It was a very subtle change to how I used it. And I had already been using it mostly right. But that extra assurance of having growl every time I needed it was huge!

So that was it; one hard and solid wall that I hit head on and three fairly small and subtle tweaks. The result was that I obliterated TOC the next time I ran it. That wall was totally blown away.

My conclusion is this: there are a lot of things to do with tanking. Doing any of them weakly might someday run you hard against a wall you just can’t beat. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and go seek out the information you need to overcome it.

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