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Archive for the ‘Tanking’ Category

Let them die!

You yank it you tank it!

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

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

Triage

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

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

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

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

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

Why we triage

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

Your Priorities

Healer

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

Soft DPS… sometimes

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

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

Bosses

You have to keep the boss on you. Really.

Adds… sometimes

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

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

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

When NOT to taunt off.

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

Taunt off of other dps…. Rarely.

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

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

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

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

EARLY IN A FIGHT AOE THREAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TAUNTING

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

I will get back to that in a second…

What moves to use when

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

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

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

-AOE threat

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

-Taunts

-‘Other’ oh crap moves.

Here are your top priorities as the fight changes…

1) Opening instant of the fight:

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

2) First few seconds of the fight

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

->Build up some AOE threat on every target

3) Middle and late stages of the fight

->stabilize any situation that developed early on.

->round up targets that pull off you

->watch for adds

4) End of battle

->stop runners

->check on your healer

->plan your next move

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

Order of business in the triage world.

Stabilize the patient

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

Assess the situation

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

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

Prioritize

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

Cut your losses

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

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

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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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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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I think of this trick as virtual tanking… it is really virtual crowd control. 
Let’s say you are murderizing some Defias in a small town somewhere. Suddenly a second one spots you. 
  
Oh NOES! You are not ready for a second one. And that fire ball looks like it will hurt. No problem! 
 
 Hah! Safe. But wait he is coming this way. How about we give him a target again? 
  
That is it. I hop back out and you stop right there and waste a couple seconds trying to cast a fireball. 
  
Denied! 
 
No, don’t come over here. Stand there and cast some more. I am not done with your friend. 
 
I love it when the fall for the same trick a second time… 
 
Almost done with your friend. 
 
Come on over. 
 
Your turn! 
 
LOS interupts are so much fun!

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I have decided to do a few posts on specific fun and interesting pulling tricks. This is a personal favorite of mine.

Name: Hit and run

Use: Pulling a caster pack or mixed pack when no LOS is available and you need to move the pack toward the party.

Difficulty: High. The actual complexity of the pull is medium but the chance of the party letting you do it right is low.

Classes: Any. Works well with charging tanks but can be done with any tank.

How to: Move to the maximum range of your longest range move targeting the closest member of the pack. Fire. Turn IMMEDIATELY and run like heck directly away from the pack. If possible keep an eye over your shoulder on the pack itself. Keep running until the pack is roughly where you want to tank them. Turn around and move to engage the pack. At this time you may use a charge. If the pack is spread out you might want to charge one of the targets in the back (farthest from you). Move in, round them up, tank as normal.

About: This technique is great because it allows you to move a pack with casters closer to you. It allows you to do that WITHOUT a ranged silence move. This is good if you don’t have such a move, or can’t hit all caster targets with such a move. That makes it great for lower level tanks who don’t have a ranged silence yet. It is also good for any class that is not a tank such as AOE grinding mages. It is even good as a single target pull against casters when soloing on any class, not just tanks.

The point of running away is to interrupt the cast of the ranged attackers and to get out of their max range. This forces them to follow you until you turn and re-engage.

Basically any time you need to pull a caster to you, don’t have a ranged silence, and have room to run behind you, then this is a good pull to use.

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One of the most critical things, for a tank is confidence. Many people giving advice on tanking will mention it and all agree it is important. By why? Here is why…

The loop

An acronym somewhat common in military circles is OODA. It is an acronym for the process by which people decide things. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. These are the steps use to make a decision. You see some situation; you orient yourself in relationship to it, decide on a course of actions, and then execute that action. In combat situations they describe this as a loop. You start at Observe, run through it, and as soon as you get to act you are back at observer. You see what changes have taken place in the situation, you orient yourself to those changes, decide what to do next and then do that. In combat this all takes place at blazing speed with no actual pausing or deliberating. But those steps still exist and you still go through them as a cycle.

Getting inside

Years ago fighter pilots discovered that when two people go head to head it was not the person that made the BEST decisions that won the fight. It was the one that made the FASTEST decisions. If both combatants are using the loop you can visualize how as soon as the first person decides and acts she has changed the situation. The other person might be making a technically better choice. But they made it a split second too late. When the first person acted the situation changed. As the fight goes on the ‘better’ decider is falling farther and farther behind in each ‘loop’ around the OODA circle. They call this getting ‘inside’ the other person’s decisions making loop.

It is like a boxer keeping the other person off balance. The other boxer might have a really great left hook that is sure to cause a knockout, but if he is always off balance he can’t throw the punch.

These concepts apply to tanking, though not in precisely the same way. You, as the tank, are making decisions in this OODA loop. The Observing step applies to situational awareness, something I have talked about in the past. The Orient step has to do with both awareness and positioning. Deciding and acting must be quick smooth and confident. We don’t have time to be second guessing or rehashing mistakes. We have to start the loop again and react to the changing battle.

We are not going up against another human in single combat so we are not pitting our loop against another loop. We are, however, pitting it against the programmed actions and reactions of the packs we are tanking. These actions are fast paced but not all instant so there is a time factor. We still have to pit our decision making against the pace of the instance. Or, against ourselves if we are setting a ‘gogogo’ pace. The harder we push the faster we have to be reacting and deciding.

Tank vs Party

But wait! There is more! We ARE pitting our decision loop in head to head combat with others… those others are our own party. How much this is a ‘versus’ depends on how good they are at following your lead and how good they are at being good party players in general.

The other day I was in a pug and a boomkin, well geared and a solid player, was mentioning how great they are at cycloning things before they get to the healer. I pointed out that doing that prevents the tank from taunting them back into the AOE threat zone. The response I got was something like ‘oh that is ok. I saved the healer.’ They missed my point that if the tank taunts an instant after you cyclone it is wasted. Or maybe they tried to death grip, judge fearie fire, or otherwise toss some threat at the wayward critter. The boomkin thinks they are being helpful and saving the day but in reality they quite well could be messing up the tank. Something similar happens if a mage frostnovas a pack off adds. Now you can’t’ get those into the threat zone quickly. These are not party wipers (usually) but they can throw a tank off stride, they force you to react to a changed situation. You reaction is yet another quick loop around the OODA cycle as you see what they did, and react to it. The slower your loops around the circle are the farther behind you get and the more you are at the mercy of your oh so helpful party. We have all been in one of those. Maybe it was a hunter that was on speed and tagging everything in sight. Or perhaps some DK gripping orcs around the Ramparts like crazy. And we have probably all seen the groups where our tank was just so slow to react they could not deal with anything.

Confidence

This is where ‘confidence’ comes in. What we mean when we say ‘confidence’ (with respect to tanking) is the ability to make a fast decision and act on it with no hesitation or pausing to rethink. Do we go left or right? Left! Go! Do we jump down? Weeeee. Do we pull the left ones or the right ones. *kapow*! Before the dps has time to ponder, second guess, get bored, or pull themselves the tank has already decided on a path and a plan and put that plan into effect.

Yes, in WOW it is possible for a tank to be extremely slow and deliberate. You can set up every pull with carful precision and deliberateness and try to make it so you never have to react quickly to anything. You can also mercilessly kick anyone that upsets the balance even a little. But that does not make you a better tank.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying carful pulls are a sign of a bad tank. I am also not saying that all good tanks set a high speed pace. NOT AT ALL.

A good tank decides quickly and acts confidently no matter what the paces is. There are always adds, or fears, or unexpected events to react to. A good tank should endeavor to learn fast and confident decision making to enhance their abilities. This does not always mean charging ahead. But if you are stopping for mana, you can say “mana!” or “30 second break” in chat and you can do it fast an confident without standing around for 20 seconds agonizing over if the healer has enough for another pull while the DPS wonders if you are DCed. Same thing with pulls. You don’t have to charge in fast, but you can’t just stand there for 1 minute while considering all the angles with the DPS thinking you are walking the dog. If you need a second, quickly and confidently say “give me a second”.

Aura of Confidence

Along with just deciding the fast you are projecting to your party the aura that you are confident and know what you are doing. Even when you don’t know, project it anyway. Even if you are asking for advice on a pull or asking to be reminded of what a boss does. Even asking for help can be done in a confident and timely manner. People can usually respect a brain fart and a quick ‘what does this guy do again?’ Those same people are unlikely to respect 2 minutes of ‘er, um’ and ‘let me check my notes’ before finally asking the same thing. The key is to make people think you know what you are doing. Not through lying but thorough an aura of confidence and competence. Even when you are admitting you have no clue you can do it in a way that shows them you are CONFIDENT you have no clue. Don’t lie about not knowing and blow their trust. Be honest but project confidence. As I said, even asking for advice can be done in a leadership fashion. Observe the following two methods.

A: “Ah, I have never tanked this one… does anyone know it? Anyone?” (someone else comments) “Er does that work? Are you sure? Anyone else have an idea?”

B: “Alright guys this boss is a new one to me. Does anyone have a good strat?” (insert comments) “Ok sounds good. We will do that. Lets go! Pulling in 10 seconds”

See the difference? How did each make you feel about the group and the likelihood of success?

Communication

Communicate clearly and unambiguously. Don’t make them go ‘what?’ If you handout advice, instructions, or strategies don’t make them have to figure out what you meant. They should not have to guess what bush you are beating around by the sound of the branches. Tell them what you mean. Tell them what you want them to do. Tell them clearly what YOU are going to do. You don’t have to be a jerk about things to be firm and clearly state what you mean.

 Tanking is a leadership role. Almost everything written about leadership applies to tanking in some way or another.

Final note on Pacing versus Decision Making

The pace you set and the speed you decide are not the same. Not the same but they are closely related. One of the reasons we are seeing so many overly fast tanks is that they can go fast. Not because they are any good, but because the over gearing and dumbing down of content has made it so that most tanks can just charge in, hammer their aoes and expect the fight to go well. They can set a fast pace because they have almost nothing to decide. The same goes for impatient DPS. They can act fast because they have nothing to think about of figure out beyond who to put an arrow in first or which one to beat on next. That takes no time or actual thinking so they can plow ahead at an unsustainable pace.

Each tank will have to find their own ways of slowing people down. I usually do it by setting pace that is either flat out insane, or simply setting one that is just fast enough to prevent boredom and the stupidity that follows. You may be finding people pushing you or making your tanking life miserable by doing dumb things. Keep in mind that if you push yourself a little harder things might actually get easier. Once you get your decision making loop ‘inside’ your dpsers, or set a pace just fast enough to not let them get bored, you will find the random stupidity starts to decrease and things get smoother and easier.

Finally, setting a slower more careful pace can be a crutch for slow deciding but that is not at all 1 to 1 correlation. Also that is not to be confused with running content with a sub optimal group just to add challenge. This slows things down by forcing more complicated and difficult decisions. It can be fun and rewarding.

Cataclysm…

It might be a nightmare at first. Forcing people to use CC (as they have said will happen more) means fights are going to be harder and more complicated. Tanks will have to do more than just AOE spam. Also healers are going to have to get better at triage instead of just ‘topping people off’. All this means instances runs may well be a rude awakening for many. Personally I am hoping for it. I am hoping it will blow away the current level of stagnation in randoms and get people think more and do more. I only hope that overgeared morons will not be able to steamroll their way to 85. I want to see them slam hard into the wall and learn to play again.

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The last couple weeks have been pretty active for us in game. Not that we are playing any more than usual. In fact with the nasty stomach bug we got last week and the house guest over the weekend we have been playing less. But we have gotten into several decent raids and our personal gears and progression has been good.

Friday I got into a mostly guild ICC 10 and we made good progress. Then Saturday we had another go of that lockout and I ended up 10/12. It was only the second time I had seen the blood council and the first for both the queen and frostwyrm.  That 20% buff is pretty killer and makes things a good bit more forgiving. We dropped Saurfang with NO marks up. It was a surprise to me. Nothing like running with (mostly) alts of the number one guild to keep fights nice and tight.. With the buff only going up I am betting from here on out having any marks at all will just prove your group has a lot of fail.

The Friday session of that raid was interesting. It was the first time Analogue and I have been the two tanks in a 10 man. Well it was only her second time raid tanking at all. She did not make it  to the continuation so sadly she is still 8/12. But now that I have seen the next couple there is better chance we can get there in a pug of our own creation. We are still alternating between pugs we built ourselves, mostly guild groups put together by someone else, and other people’s runs we find in /trade.

She still prefers healing but Analogue is not now a very solid tank. It was a ton of fun tanking with the OT being right there in the same room. It made for a very quiet Vent but very smooth tanking. Quite probably the best taunt trading I have experienced on Saurfang (hence no marks). We have done a lot of raids with one or both of us DPSing, tanking and healing in a pair and both of us healing but the dual tanks was a new one.

We got in a 25 man ICC pug monday night and were reminded yet again that gear<skill. They were being sooo carful to only get 5.5k GS people and checking achieves. We knew that was going to backfire pretty early on when we saw one of the tanks was a failtank from a run we were in a few weeks ago. 5.6+ gear and the intellect of a box of hammers. I am sure he had the achievements too. But if you can’t hold aggro on the Deathwhisper packs you fail. Big time. Sadly the rest of the pug was not much better. I was in on my hunter (5.4 GS) and pulling the #3 slot for overall damage. Not that my DPS was #3. But not being slow, and using macroed misdirect means I can get in a lot of extra hits. We gave them a couple wipes on Deathwhisper before we bailed. I can be as patient as any hardcore raider for progression wipes, but the handwriting was on the wall with this one. Oh well, the weekly was Marrowgar and we got all three sets of ‘mains’ in to drop him. Sometimes that is all you can ask for.

Not that anyone cares about any of this but I figured I would post SOMETHING in text before I tossed up another comic :D

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I already talked about multi-pulls. Chain pulls are different. Multi pulls involve pulling and downing multiple packs at the same time. Chain pulling, in a nutshell, is minimizing the time between pulls. This might be simply charging the next group as soon as one is down or it might mean actually leaving a pack mostly dead for the DPS to finish off while you head for the next group. So in chain pulls you are doing one pull at a time but doing them back to back. The challenges and issues of chain pulling are different from multi pulls.

You are only fighting one pack at a time so each fight involves less incoming damage for you the tank. This means they are in theory, easier to heal. But in fact the hardest thing about chain pulling is how hard it is on the healer, or more specifically, how hard it is on the healer’s mana pool. Because you are allowing no time for anyone to rest of drink the mana pool either has to be improbably huge, or the healer has to be extremely good at conserving it (possibly by being hugely geared), or you have to require almost no healing. The last way that a healer’s mana can survive a chain pulling run is by the DPS killing things very fast. Let’s look at each of those.

Healer mana pool

You, the tank, can’t actually effect how big the healers mana pool is, but you can monitor it and actually stop as needed. If you think you are good enough to run something at super speed then you can prove it by being good enough to pay attention to the healer’s mana. The level of mana at the end of a fight is the healers problem to deal with. The level of mana the healer has when the next fight starts is YOUR problem. Anyone that chain pulls and then complains when an OOM healer lets them die needs to respect from tanking and NEVER tank again. Seriously. Do us all a favor. Are they gone yet? Good. If you are still reading I am going to assume you are not a jerk or a moron and you want to actually be able to do fast chain pulling runs that don’t involve whining while running back from the graveyard. If this is the case you need to take a few steps.

I am talking about steps YOU the TANK have to take. Things the other roles have to do are different.

Own your healer’s mana pool

That is right. His/her mana is your problem. Treat it as such. If you panic the healer and they waste mana that is your mistake. If they forget to drink or are too scared to for fear you might run off, that is your problem.

Make it clear from the start it will be a fast run. Feel free to say it in /party. While you are at it tell the casters and healers that if they need mana to let you know. This will put them at ease about your frantic place and make them more likely to actually stop and drink when you pause and give them the chance. If you notice them getting low during the run, pause and suggest they drink. Monitor how much their mana goes down after each fight. This is useful information. If they have 1/3 of their total does that mean you can take on another group? It might.. after a few pulls you should KNOW because you should be paying attention. Their mana is your healing. Treat it with care.

Adjust your cooldown strategy

On the multi-pull runs I described you are using cooldowns first to survive big hits and only second as a way to save your healers mana. On a chain-pull run your cooldowns are there to save your healer’s mana. It is also good to keep one or two in reserve if you expect to chare out of your healers healing range. But, mostly your cooldowns should be used to make it so you don’t actually need to be healed at all. Even a poorly geared healer can keep you topped off is you are well equipped and using your cool downs effectively.

Also do all you can to reduce the AOE damage your party takes. Sure it is their fault if they stand in the fire, but you are hear for a fast run. A fast run requires they not die and the healer not go OOM keeping their fire standing butt alive. So shift bosses, stun casters, use your aoe debuffs and generally do all you can to reduce AOE damage. Also pop a cooldown of your own when AOE damage is happening. If the healer does not have to worry about you they can be more efficient with what they use to heal the DPSers.

Kill Fast

There is one thing that does the most to make fast runs fast as well as keep the mana of all involved from running out. That thing is mad crazy DPS. You need groups to die fast and hard. As a tank you can help. Round up groups nice and fast into tight packs and then hold them in place through all AOEs. Don’t drag the groups after you to get to the next group faster. This will only slow things down because your DPSers will not be able to AOE effectively.

There are tricks you can use if your group is doing such mad crazy DPS that you can’t actually hold agro. Learn those tricks and use them. One big one is to use your AOE forces attack with optimal timing. AOE stuns and slows are also effective. It does not matter if your DPS pulled agro if everything dies a half second later.

If anyone is doing something that is slowing things down, let them know. For example using typhoon and blowing things out of the AOE area. Let the boomkin know that that is actually slowing the run down. If you think they are too trigger happy to stop using it ask them to use it only at the tail end of a fight.

Multi pulling, chain pulling or a little of both

In many high speed runs these days you are likely to mix the back to back ‘chain pull’ with a true multi pull when you do more than one group at once. This works well but it is still important to understand the differences between them. Otherwise you will be moving at a brisk pace and then be surprised when you suddenly wipe due to an extra pack or two. The trick is to set a brisk pace but to still have it be a deliberate pace that you control. You have to know your limits. Push them but don’t ignore them.

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One of the tanks jobs is to control the battlespace. This means several things. It means you pick when and where the battle takes place. It also means you control or attempt to control where and how the battle moves and progresses.

The concept of controlling the battlespace comes from military parlance. The methods and reasons are completely different but the general concept is the same. By picking where and how the battle is fought you increase or decrease your chances of winning. Picking well can cause a battle to be ‘easy’ and picking poorly or not exerting control at all can cause the battle to be sloppy at best and a wipe at worst.

Picking and Positioning the Battlespace

The first part of controlling the battle space is deciding where the battle happens. If the battle will involve movement this is picking where it starts. The shape of the ‘pull’ is the major determiner of where the battle starts.

First I want to comment on aggro range. The aggro range of a pack is actually the area of all of the members.

Here is a pack.

Here are the members of the pack.

And here are all their agro ranges.

But that is too much so we just combined them and approximate it as a circle.

From now on I will just use it like this.

Picking the battle ground

Now we bring in the tank.

Let’s take the most basic sort of pull. Move toward the enemy until they see you and attack. You can easily predict where this fight will start. Take agro range of the pack and divide it in half. Follow your line of movement from the edge of their agro range. Half roughly half the distance to them is where you will first get hit.

This is obvious but important. Here the tank moves in to the group. The group spots him and comes to meet him. Whether the tank meant to or not he has moved the fight.

The distance the group moved to meet the tank relocated where the fight was going to happen. It is only a small distance but it is a change.

As tank you should be aware of such small changes and what effect they might have on the fight. Now what if instead the tank had used a charge (bear or warrior).

Notice that the targets only moved from where they were over to the one the tank charged. Everyone KNOWS this stuff, right? Yes but it is critically important that the tank realize they, by choosing how to start the fight have chose to hold the fight at a specific place. A tank that just charges because it is ‘the way warriors start a fight’ is completely failing to see that there are other options. Fighting the fight where your charge target is standing might not be the best plan. Then again it might work just fine but you need to know you are making a decision about the fights location.

Here is another one.

This tank used a ranged move, a taunt, an attack, even death grip. It does not matter which in this case. We are just looking at the fight location. An this time the location is moved much farther. By simply using his favorite pull move the tank has decided to move the fight a long way.

Even if they did not intend to make such a decision, they did. One of the main uses for doing different kinds of pulls is to actively decide to hold the fight in different places.

There are a lot of reasons to chose to fight the fight some place different than where the pack is standing. Perhaps they fear and are close to something else. Maybe your rogue is planning to get behind them and the next group is awfully close. Moving the fight, even slightly, can give the rogue room to do optimal damage.

It is very important to understand that the way you chose to pull sets up the location and the shape of the space you will be fighting in.

Moving a fight

The act of pulling can do a certain amount to relocate the fight. To do more drastic ‘relocating’ you need to move the fight after that initial moment contact. Moving the fight after it starts is harder but still something you can do. Mainly you just do it by moving yourself and having the pack follow. The reasons for doing this are much like the other ones. Maybe you realized you should have pulled them back more. Or maybe you just spotted a patrol.

There are risks involved with this. One is that you might break LOS with the healer. Another is you might move out from under some nice AOEs and waste the DPSers time and energy to retarget. However, biggest risk is that while you are moving you will stop doing part or all of your threat rotation. This can cause you to drop agro on something. There are other risk too like getting a whirlwinding mob too close to a clothie.

Moving a fight is to be avoided for those reasons but is often necessary. As the tank you need to be ready and willing to move the fight when needed.

But there is something else you also need to be aware. That is the times you move the fight as a reaction. Those are the times you did NOT mean to move it. When someone pulls agro off you and you go chasing to get that agro back you are moving the fight. All the risks of moving the fight listed above and the others I didn’t all apply when the fight moves. It does not matter if you meant to move it or not.

So be aware of your actions and choices. As you start paying attention to choices you did not know you were making you may start to see that there are other options.

Orienting a fight

Orienting a fight is one of the things you do after a fight starts to position the targets or your party (or both) in the way you want them or need them to be positioned. This is usually done as a reaction to something the target pack or party are doing or in anticipation of something they will be doing.

Turn the boss around

The most common reorient move is to face the target away from the party. Many critters do some sort of aoe attack in front of them. This can be anything from chain lightening to poison sprays. If you even suspect a target is going to do something like that you should face them away from the group.

The simple way to do this is to move past the target and spin around.

I move and then they move and then I move and they move again! Stop them already!

This is a well known bug. Every time you adjust your position the target moves somewhere you don’t want them and you have to adjust again. This is because they are reacting as if, when you move, you are going to KEEP moving. They, for an instant think you are taking off running. So before the your game client can tell the server you have stopped moving, the critter moves to follow you. Because of internet lag this makes it look as if they are moving after you have already stopped. They really aren’t but an instant of lag makes it look that way.

Yes there IS a way to break this vicious cycle. Move sideways! Use your strafe keys and right click mouse drag to sidle around the target like a crab.

The target might step sideways to match you but you have still turned them away from the party. Because you are rotating the target as you go they don’t just jump past you and turn back around.

Turning things in the direction you want is the most comment way you reorient things. Other times you turn things is when you are simply repositioning them but don’t want to move too far in a certain direction. For example if you are moving a fight off the patch of poison or bad mojo but don’t want to drag the fight into the next pack. At times like that you might move them in a circular pattern or run past to drag them in some other direction.

Remember, while it is the DPS’s job to stay out of the fire it is your job to move the target to where they can attack it without being in the fire. You have to give them space to do their job.

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This weekend I set out to do something new: heal as a paladin. I ended up doing two new things, one of which was my intended goal and the other…

Well, so there I was, logged in on Divergent the paladin. I changed her off spec to Holy a week or so back and I’d been collecting random drops for that set for a while now, so I went to the auction house and started looking to fill in holes. Found a bunch of random blues that would be “good enough” for me to get my feet wet. Couldn’t find a weapon or trinkets, so I started researching easily attained versions of both.

At the same time I’m keeping my eye on trade with the vague idea of tanking a weekly raid group – it was Obsidian Sanctum on our server this week, Analogue had single healed it with Reversion as the sole tank earlier in the week and it had stuck in my mind as a set of fights I knew well enough to feel comfortable tanking. Then I saw in chat a name I recognized as someone who had pugged ICC with Analogue a couple weeks back, an Australian shaman with an awesome accent and great skills. Looking for more for ICC10. Well Ana and Reversion had gone the night before, gotten past Saurfang and had people drop out for RL issues, so she couldn’t go. My mage wasn’t saved, and I’d been thinking of getting her into one, but he was saying that the dps so far all had 5.5k GS and Invariant’s is lower than that. I might convince him that was fine but…

So I whispered him and said “4.8k GS prot pally here. Interested?”

A few seconds later I get the invite. I mention to him that my main had pugged with him a few weeks back (after I got in vent he remembered me) and as the raid was forming, I got Reversion’s secondary druid Consolidate in as healer. Con’s GS is about the same as Divergent’s, and the other (also pally) tank was the same; the shaman agreed to go heals, we had a priest to heal the tanks, and all the dps were higher.

So we set off. The other tank hadn’t tank any of the fights either. Both healers were a bit less accustomed to their role (the shaman usually dpsed and Rev, of course, tanks)

We get the trash down fairly easily. The usual random people die, get rezzed, spring traps… but the other paladin and I knew to stack on each other for the giants, kept the casters turned away from the raid mostly, and it went well. This was Divergent’s first time in ICC and I was keeping a keen eye on her rep, just waiting to get friendly so I could get the ring.

We came up to Marrowgar, discussed strategy, and started. It went pretty well. The other tank and I had a little trouble moving together out of the flames, but the first two bonestorms came and went without a hitch. And then, over vent – “Guys, I dc’d!”

That was the other tank.

Bonestorm started again as he worked to log in. I followed the boss around, picked him up when he came out of bonestorm and dragged him over to where the other tank stood motionless. He had dc’d, but not disappeared from the instance and worked just fine to soak up the cleaves! We had to stay and get hit by flames, but the healers worked overtime and kept us up until he logged back in.

Marrowgar dropped and the whole raid congratulated each other.

Deathwhisper was really fun to tank. We each would grab one of the adds that appeared at the side and drag him to the middle add, then kill them all. The raid pounded away on the boss. I was impressed how fast they got her shield down, or was it just the change in perspective? Healing raid fights leaves me breathless, spamming keys, desperately fighting to stay alive. Tanking was… suprisingly easier. The boss’s shield came down, and we had to watch each other; my taunts didn’t always seem to hit and I had to be told to move her back up out of the raid. But we got the hang of it, swapped taunts, stayed alive – and another boss went down. Whew.

Upstairs, charge in and kill trash. As the first group dies, someone lets out a whop – “Quest!” The raid quest to kill the rotting giant appeared. Divergent needs all the frosts she can get!

We cleared toward the giant and then another whoop – a trash mob had dropped a BOE necklace. I hadn’t realized 10 man ICC trash would drop the BoEs, I had thought they only appeared in 25, but there they were. The hunter begged, and we agreed to give it to him; it was a serious upgrade and he equipped it right away. Then it was frost giant time. The other tank and I started tanking in the middle of the hallway, but after the healers complained about us getting knocked back out of range (I thought it was fun!) we stood with our backs to the wall. Not as fun, but effective; the giant died and we got badges. Wheee.

I got the easy job on gunship, just stood in the middle and picked up adds. One of these days I’ll actually jump over to the other ship. I’ll probably fall off. Or get stuck over there at the end. I’ve been to ICC dozens of times now and never once jumped.

Saurfang, the fight I’d been dreading. I pulled all my AOE abilities off my bar, triple-checked that I was using Seal of Vengeance and not Seal of Command, and got ready. I tanked first, then the other tank taunted; I stopped my dps for a minute and breathed a sigh of relief as Saurfang changed his attention. Blood beasts appeared, and went away, and died; I didn’t have to worry about it. My turn to tank again; I taunted, the other tank let me have aggro, and we were in the swing of things. I didn’t have to care about blood power or healing Marked victims or kiting blood beasts.

Why hadn’t anyone ever mentioned how, well, easy raid tanking is?

Saurfang died. He died. Destroyer of pugs, we one shotted him. Bane of newbie tanks, I took him on with a gear score most pug builders would laugh at. It felt incredible. And – just a little boring. Don’t tell anyone I said that.

Halfway through the trash to Festergut I got Friendly with the Ashen Verdict. I went downstairs for my ring and while I was gone, someone got too close to a dog and they wiped. I laughed, we went upstairs, rebuffed, and tried again. And another wipe. Ooops.

More carefully this time, we killed both dogs. Then went to Festergut, planned our strategy, agreed I would tank first. We ready checked, I pulled – and instantly lost aggro to a hunter, who died. We fought him down to 30% before Reversion’s tree got Vile Gas and puked in the melee, wiping us.

Second try. Exact same thing happened. But a lot of people were new to the fight, or to their role, so we went back, tried again – and I held aggro. Swapped with the other tank at the right times, dps burned him down and we made it with over 30 seconds to go on the enrage timer.

Wish I could say we steamrolled the rest of the place that easily, but we didn’t. We made two attempts on Rotface, but then people had to go just as I was getting the hang of slime tanking (hard!)

Later that afternoon I played (utterly useless) third tank in a TOC 25 man raid. And Sunday afternoon, tanked Obsidian Sanctum. In between I set up my healing set and did my first few dungeons as a holy pally! Which I intend to talk about in a seperate post, but I see this one is already too long.

But for all that, I like resto druid healing ICC a lot more than tanking it. It’s just more fun for me. But I’d tank it on my paladin anytime!

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