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Archive for September, 2010

Checking up

What follows, Dear Reader, is a cautionary tale about staying on top of your game, proof that, yes, even Kingslayers can come off looking like that doofball from your Halls of Stone random PUG last week.  I don’t tell it just to be funny, though it is (in retrospect).  I tell it to make a point, which I’ll get to further on.

So.  Last week was The Anvil’s first post-Kingslaying raid sequence.  Thursday night was a run back into ICC, in which we did our first heroic modes (just Lootship and Rotface, but, hey, you have to start somewhere, right?).  On Friday night, real life dickpunched us again and left us with only about 20 people.  So our officers did what we’ve done so often on Friday nights this summer…stalled by doing the weekly in the hopes that competent raiders would hear our pleas, magically drop from the sky, let us fill our slots, and head on to ICC.  (They didn’t.)

The weekly was Razorscale.  Ho hum, right?  Lawl T8 content and all that.  So we ended up with a lot of people switching over to alts, and a raid that was about half mains (including Linedan as one of the two tanks) in mostly ilevel 264 items, and half alts of various gear levels, still mostly part-Triumph-geared at worst.  Not a group that you would expect to have trouble on Razorscale, considering the last time we had her on the weekly, she dropped like the housing market.

So we cruised through Flame Lootviathan, formed up on Razorscale’s platform, started the encounter…

…and it all went horribly wrong.

There were iron dwarves running loose everywhere.  The big Sentinel was whirlwinding its way through the raid slaughtering alts.  Gorebash, our longtime warrior MT, was doing fine, but for some reason, I couldn’t hold agro on anything to save my, or anyone else’s, life.  I had no clue what was going on until just before I finally died…and that’s when I saw my bar was totally wrong.

I was in Berserker Stance.  So I hit F6 and swapped myself over to Defensive Stance…and my bar was still wrong.  And then I died.

And that’s when I figured out what had happened.  I’d run a random on Linedan earlier in the evening.

As DPS.

And I’d never changed back to Prot spec from his Fury spec.

I’d switched to his Prot gear.  But I hadn’t gone in and switched his spec.  So he was running around, in his full T10 kit, trying to tank things while generating no threat and no rage, in the wrong stance.

I’ve done some dumb shit in my time in WoW.  I mean, really dumb shit.  Dumber than you’ve probably done, or at least will admit to like this.  But that right there–getting a raid half-full of Kingslayers to wipe on Razorscale, for God’s sake?  That’s top 5 all-time, kids.

Well, I fessed up immediately.  And actually, everyone was so shocked, we all (well, almost all) had a good laugh about it.  And of course we went right back in there and killed us a dargon, with no more fatalities, so we could get our badges and 26 gold and pretend that the whole embarassment never happened.

The whole mess got me thinking, though.  Earlier, on Flame Leviathan, I’d been confused.  I had my Prot gear on, but Lin’s health wasn’t adding up.  He normally has, in the gear he has as I write this, 45,687 health.  But while we were waiting to start FL, I noticed he had only a bit over 42,000 health.  I checked his ItemRack, because it bugs out sometimes, but nope, he had his Prot gear on.  Before I could check any further, we started FL, and off we went.  The health difference, obviously, was because he wasn’t in Prot spec and didn’t have his Vitality talent.

This is where another one of my geeky hobbies enters the picture…aviation.

I’m not a real pilot, but I’ve always wanted to be one.  I love airplanes and aviation.  There’s a reason my Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X installs, combined, are pushing 100 GB…way too many add-ons, planes, terrain, etc.  I’ve used MSFS to learn just a little bit about how commercial aviation works.

Everything in a commercial airliner is done “by the book.”  Pilots, in addition to all the pilot training they go through, have to learn a lot of aircraft-specific (and airline-specific) procedures.  And most all of it is codified in those wonderful things called “checklists.”  The checklists are there so all the flight crew on the same type of airplane at the same airline do things the same way (since pilots and copilots aren’t assigned as a unit).  There are checklists in an airliner for damn near everything. There are checklists for first accepting the plane at the start of a day, before engine start, engine start, after engine start, taxi, takeoff, climb, descent, approach, landing, after landing…and that’s just the normal ones.  Then there’s an emergency checklist for almost any possible situation you can imagine.  Strange indication on one of the engine instruments?  Checklist.  Engine failure?  Checklist.  Flight instruments go wonky?  Checklist.  Fire in the bathroom?  Checklist.  Pressurization goes kablooey?  Checklist.  Flight crew eats the fish?  Checklist.  You get the idea…there are literally hundreds of the damn things, in big books stored in the cockpit.

When the time for a checklist comes around, or something hits the fan, the copilot grabs the Big Book of Checklists (or on the newest planes, pulls them up on screens), finds the right one, and starts reading it off.  Each item on a checklist is read, and the checklist says who is supposed to respond and what the result should be–and they don’t go on to the next one until the current one is done and checked.  So if the first item on the checklist says “disgronification switch – ON,” the copilot says “disgronification switch,” the pilot reaches up, turns it on, and says, “on.”  Then the copilot checks it.  Then they go to the next line.  And the next.  And so on.  There is no variation, and there is no exception.  By the book, step 1, step 2, through to step N.  Boring?  Well, maybe.  But if checklist items get skipped, and something important gets missed, people can and will die.  It’s serious business.

WoW, of course, is not that serious (for most people).  But thinking about it…what’s wrong with the idea of a little mental checklist before you start your raid or instance run or PvP?  No, you don’t need to put on a white shirt and tie and epaulettes and get your significant other to read the Pre-Raid Checklist to you after she does the safety briefing.  (“In the event of Serpentshrine Cavern, the Draenei female members of your raid can be used as a flotation device.”)  But what’s wrong with training yourself to make sure that everything’s squared away before first pull?

Let’s go back to Linedan and my unfortunate derp before Razorscale.  What might Lin’s little pre-pull checklist look like?  Here’s my quick stab at one:

  • Spec – verify that it’s correct for the role he’s assigned tonight (Prot for tank, Fury for DPS).  If not, change it.
  • Gear – verify that it’s correct for the same role.  If not, go into Itemrack and change it.
  • Stance – verify correct, Defensive for tank, Berserker for DPS.  Hit F6/F7 to change appropriately.
  • Flask – use as needed (before boss pulls).
  • Repair – 100% repair at the start of an instance.  At the least, nothing should be showing yellow.
  • Buffs – all necessary buffs on, including Feasts if we’ve got them.  If not, start bothering slacker paladins.
  • Encounter – understand what his role is in the encounter, strategy, what color poo not to stand in.

That whole sequence can be done in, what, maybe twenty to thirty seconds max?  Had I done that, I would’ve caught the problem in the very first second when I saw I was still in Fury spec, I would’ve swapped spec, we wouldn’t have wiped on Razorscale, and I wouldn’t have a blog post topic for today.

So basically, I do stupid shit for you, people.  All for you.


What a long, strange trip it’s been

Back before Wrath of the Lich King was released, the officers of The Anvil, the 25-man Horde raid on Feathermoon that I tank for, sat down and set one simple goal:  The Anvil 25-man would kill Arthas before the next expansion came out.  That was it.  Everything, all the other raid instances, all our activity as a raid, was pointed toward that goal.  Naxxramas, Ulduar, Trial of the Big Round Room…they were steppingstones toward Icecrown Citadel and our ultimate goal of doing something we’d never done before:  beating “the” boss of an expansion while that expansion was still current content, and making the Lich King our Bitch King.

Now this was a stretch for us.  Since the days of 40-man raiding, we’ve never been a cutting-edge progression raid…call us “hardcore casual” if you will.  In vanilla, we never cleared Blackwing Lair, much less Naxxramas 1.0; Nefarian only died after The Burning Crusade came out.  When we hit Outland, we stalled at the end of both Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep.  Vashj eventually went down after six or seven weeks, but we never really even got close to killing Kael’thas until patch 3.0 dropped, at which point the fight instantly turned from a near-impossible exercise to a stupidly easy no-death one-shot.  We managed to get 3/5 in Hyjal before 3.0 hit, but never visited Black Temple except for one visit post-patch, where we one-shotted the first seven bosses and couldn’t get past the Illidari Council.  Linedan’s still never seen or killed Illidan, Archimonde, or anything in Sunwell Plateau.

Four months ago we dropped Sindragosa for the first time and took the teleporter up to stand before our final goal.  That night, we began working on the fight.  And through the summer, we kept at it.  Again.  And again.  And again. I started likening progress on the Lich King fight to the Battle of the Somme…immense casualties for just a few yards, or in this case percent, gained.  We extended lockouts and threw ourselves at him for three straight hours some nights.  I counted fifteen wipes one night, that’s a 200 gold repair bill for me.  We tried several different strategies regarding Defiles and val’kyr handling, with varying degrees of success.  Time and again normal summer schedule issues ravaged our lists and left us frantically pulling in subs, or dropping back to clear lower ICC again, or even calling the raid entirely.

Last night, we faced down Arthas again.  We started off with two excellent attempts that moved efficiently through phase 2 and got into phase 3 with most of the raid still standing.  Our DPS was the highest I’d ever seen it, across the board.  Unfortunately, both times things fell apart fast and we died quickly in phase 3, not getting Arthas below about 35%.  Then we started backsliding into the pattern that’s dogged us the whole time…mistakes in phase 2, bad placement of Defiles, unlucky timing on the different cooldowns for valks vs. Defile, stuff like that.  After a few more of those, we took a break, came back, and went at it again.

It was the sixth, or seventh, or eighth attempt, I’d lost track at that point.  We started off same as the others–me on Arthas, our paladin tank Keltyr on the ghouls and horrors in phase 1.  Phase 1 was dispatched quickly and smoothly, likewise the 1-2 transition.  We hit phase 2, and the real fight began.

You know that feeling you get when you just know that everything is starting to fall into place?  We had that.  Defile placement wasn’t perfect, but it was workable.  Everyone adjusted, standing behind Arthas, all facing the same direction to keep the valks clustered together.  For once, the timers worked properly so that we weren’t all clustered up for valks and getting hit with Defile instead.  We shifted, we adjusted, we moved in and moved out, and we got to 45% with everybody still up.

Then at 43%, here came the valks.  And the shout went out from our Chief Cat Herder:  “Forget them, burn Arthas down!”  It was a crapshoot.  If we couldn’t get him to 40% while dodging the upcoming Defile, we’d lose two DPS and a healer.  Everybody ran for Defile, ran back in and laid into the Lich King while I drug him toward one edge…

..at the last possible second, he dropped to 40%, ran back to the center, and started the phase 2-3 transition.  The ledge reappeared, and all three of our raidmates landed on solid ice with just mere feet to spare.

The spirits came up and we laid into them like we never had before.  At the end of the transition, two were dead, one was at 30%, and the fourth was full up.  I had the weaker spirit on me, so I headed back in and said hi to Arthas again, and phase 3 began.

The next few minutes are still a blur in my sleep-deprived mind.  Phase 2 is barely-controlled chaos.  Phase 3 felt like it removed the “barely-controlled” part.  People were scattering everywhere to avoid Vile Spirits and Defile.  We were handling tanking differently in the 25 than we did when I got Arthas in my 10, and I had only the vaguest of ideas when to taunt Arthas and move him.  More than once I taunted Arthas and immediately got a Soul Reaper countdown, and only Keltyr’s fast action saved me.

Things were getting nuts.  We had a death or two.  The fight devolved into a screaming mass of taunting, moving, and keyspamming.  Calls of “I can’t reach the tanks!” followed by another healer saying “I’ve got ‘em.”  Vile Spirits exploding everywhere.  “Defile, move!”  “Spirits coming down!”  “Gore’s harvested!”  And all the while, I saw that big Threat Plate over Arthas’ head slowly count down numbers.  Twenty-three percent.  Twenty percent.  Eighteen percent.  Fifteen percent.  Holy shit, are we actually going to do this?

I taunted him back at about 13%.  I was getting ready to hit Vent and say “a million to go, guys, WE’VE GOT THIS”…and I died.  I got too damn far away from my healers trying to get Arthas clear of the Vile Spirits, and there I was, in the Sprawl of Shame, with the Lich King at 12% health.

“Shit, Lin’s down!”

“Want me to pick him up?”

About four of us (me included) said “No!” at the same time.  He was at 7.1 million health, under 12%, one tank up, don’t shift out to battle rez just burn his ass down.  One million more health to go, dear God please don’t let me dying fuck this up now go go GO GO GO DAMMIT GO…

His health on the plate ticked over to 9%.

I won’t spoil the fight for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, but let’s just say, if you get him to 10%, you’ve won, despite appearances.  There’s a pause for some in-game exposition that you get to watch.  When that started, there was a second of stunned silence, as if all 25 of us couldn’t believe we were seeing what we saw, and then Vent erupted with screams.  And just as quickly, was shushed…after all, many people there hadn’t had a chance to see the show before.

I didn’t say a word.  I was too busy sitting there, staring at the screen in slack-jawed shock, my hands shaking and tears forming in my eyes.  We had done it.  We killed the Lich King.

Two minutes later, the hoedown was over, and the fight entered the last 10%, aka Pinata Mode.  And then, it was truly over, cue the acheesement spam.  At 11:33 pm Eastern time, Thursday, September 16, 2010, Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, whatever you want to call him, lay dead at The Anvil’s feet, and we sat in silent shock and relief while Cutscene Happened.

We were Kingslayers.

We had won the game.

I spent the rest of the evening in an advanced state of shock.  It took my hands half an hour to stop shaking and I didn’t get to bed until well past 1:00.  The happy crew gradually dropped off Vent and out of WoW, off to bed.

While that happened, I sat and reflected, and got hit by an incredible wave of emotion that almost started me crying.  The realization of what we’d just done, and my small part in it, hit me.

A bit over four years ago, I first started running with The Anvil as a scrubstitute, a few months after the raid initially formed.  I had no business being in Molten Core given that my gear was mostly greens and I was a pretty shitty warrior, but in 40-mans, you could carry scrubs, and after weeks of not being selected to go, my wife Rashona and I finally wormed our way in.  Back then, our daughter Nublet was only an infant so Rashona and I basically had to alternate weeks to go on those Sunday afternoon MC runs…one of us raided while the other tended the baby.  We switched weeks, sometimes we even switched mid-run if the officers were OK with it.

I hung in there and kept getting invites despite the fact I really did suck.  My DPS was lousy, I couldn’t offtank rock elementals on Garr to save my ass (or anyone else’s), I wiped the raid running the wrong way on Geddon more than once.  Slowly, on the long grind through Molten Core to Ragnaros and then into Blackwing Lair, I got better.  Not good, but better.

The Burning Crusade came out.  By the time I made it to 70, I was behind most of the other Anvillains.  The Anvil had formed two 10-man Karazhan raids and didn’t have enough people for a third, leaving me and Rashonakitty screwed.  Fortunately a friend of ours was starting up her own Kara (called “Dissonant’s Softcore Raiders”) and the wife and I came on as the two tanks.  I went Prot, and never looked back.  We helped take that raid from wiping all night on Attumen all the way to one-night full clears and lots of Prince kills.  It was a fantastic experience.

When The Anvil went back to running 25-mans in Gruul’s Lair, I got in again despite the raid being overloaded on tanks.  And somehow, I guess through just sheer attrition and my own stubbornness, by the time our TBC raiding career ended, I was the permanent second offtank.

Wrath of the Lich King brought us death nuggets, and one of our warriors switched to DK (realm first 80 DK, in fact) and became astoundingly good at DK tanking–so good that he pushed me down to the #3 offtank, in an instance (Naxx 2.0) where few fights needed four tanks and dual specs hadn’t come in yet.  The raid officers kept me on, thank God, and we’ve carried four tanks all through Wrath (the original DK left and has been replaced by an even better DK), eventually going to a rotation system where we all take turns tanking and DPSing.

The Anvil took me in when I had no business raiding.  They let me back in after I took time to head to greener pastures in Karazhan.  They kept me on and rewarded my persistence with a permanent slot.  They kept me on again when better-geared, better-skilled tanks “took my jerb.”  They kicked my ass when I needed it and reassured me when I needed it.  They had faith in me when I had lost my own faith in my ability to play this game.  They gave me the room and opportunity to develop the confidence to turn, eventually, into a pretty decent warrior tank.  They are my friends, and I’ll do anything for them.

And last night, the scrubby hybrid-spec warrior in the mismatched level 55 greens…now transformed into the fully-sanctified-T10-wearing badass tank he never thought he could become…tanked the bloody Lich King. And won.

All of the problems that were spinning around me yesterday are still there this morning.  Our one working vehicle is still laid up at the mechanic and we don’t know how we’re going to pay to fix it.  One of our cats is still a bit sick in his tummy and stinking up the place.  We’re still broke.  The house is a mess.  I still have four projects at work in various stages of “oh shit.”  None of that has changed.

But for a few magical minutes last night, none of it existed.  There was nothing but a group of friends, accomplishing a task set in front of them, and culminating a journey that started four and a half years ago.  Winning the game.

For now, the world can bite my shiny metal ass.  I’m a Kingslayer, biatch.


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