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Loading Up the Kodo

I just wanted to toss out a quick note here, with a longer post to follow somewhere down the road…I have server transferred Linedan, the titular Panzercow of this blog and the smiling (?) face you see in the banner above, from his 7 1/2-year home of Feathermoon-US over to another roleplay server, Sentinels-US.  There he will be joining Portent Alliance to tank in whatever 10-man adventures they may face in the upcoming WoW expansion, My Little Panda:  Friendship is Overrated.

All the rest of my myriad characters will be staying on Feathermoon.  Beltar is still going to be killing things at a distance and getting into trouble along with the other “legitimate businessmen” of the Wildfire Riders, and my other three 85s have their own stories to tell and adventures to write.  But as for Lin, well, I had an opportunity to shake things up and raid with some folks that I know from Twitter and have met in meatspace a couple of times and hit it off with, and decided to go for it.

So come tomorrow when the Mists of Pandaria finally part, the Panzercow will have a new group of compatriots to beat things up with.  He leaves behind on Feathermoon 6+ years of awesome raid memories in Dissonant’s Softcore Raiders, The Anvil, and Doom and Blet, and hopefully will be creating new ones to add to that formidable stack.


Reports of His Demise… (Part I) (Beltar RP)

(This story came out of the convergence of two things.  One is the Feathermoon Peace Summit, a bit of RP that’s happening tonight, Friday 7 September, in Dalaran; a group of PCs from both factions will be meeting to attempt to broker at least a tenuous peace and time to heal in the wake of Deathwing’s destruction and the end of the Cataclysm.  It will, of course, all go spectacularly wrong in two weeks or so…but the characters don’t know that.

The second is trying to explain the fact that I haven’t played World of Warcraft for going on six months now, and hadn’t played my dwarf hunter Beltar for a few months before that.  He’s been absent for almost a year.  I offhandedly mentioned something about this on Twitter one day a few weeks back and Marty–the guy behind Bricu Bittertongue, driving force behind the Peace Summit, world’s most ascerbic paladin and Number Two of the Wildfire Riders–came up with this idea.  I took it and ran with it.  Combine the dwarf’s newfound love of archaeology and the heightened state of tension between the Horde and Alliance, and season it with my tendency to do horrible things to my own characters, and, well, here you are.

There are several other parts to the story, which will come in due time as I write them.  And yes, this means that I hope to get back to WoW blogging, and blogging about other games as well, on a more consistent basis.  I don’t know if I’m over my critical WoW burnout, and my head is still kind of fucked up in a lot of ways, but with a new job and living in a new town taking some of the pressure off things, I am somewhat optimistic–a rarity for me–that I can get my poop collected enough to get my blog groove back.

Oh, this story is rated “R” for language, thick dwarven accents, and exploding heads.)

Beltar Forgebreaker had never been very good with numbers.

Mathematics, advanced or otherwise, had never been a subject that the School of Hard Living had bothered to teach him.  He could do what he termed “simple cipherin’,” if he had quill and paper, or perhaps charcoal and rock, or even stick and dirt, to hand.  He tended to count on his fingers a lot, out loud.  Someone had once told him that if he’d apply himself to learning some sort of bizarre form of science he only remembered as “trigganawhatthfuckever,” it would make him a better shot.  But that was pigshit, he knew.  He didn’t think about being lethal behind the stock of a gun, he just was.  He sighted, he fired, things died, and he didn’t waste time or effort worrying about the whys and wherefores of it.  “Why mess it up with thinkin’?” was his reply.

Fact was, he simply didn’t need to be good with numbers.  He could count the coin in a purse given to him after killing a target or completing a job as a bodyguard, and when that was empty, he went on to the next one.  The nuances of finance, of computing compound interest or balancing a ledger, that was best left to others.  As long as he had enough to eat and drink and whore and buy what he needed, with a little stuffed away in a sock for emergencies, that was fine.

But there was one number, now, that Beltar never lost track of, and never forgot.  He carried it with him, every waking second, and he knew exactly how to cipher it and how he had arrived at the result.  That number was precisely three hundred and sixteen.

It was the number of days since the orcs had captured him.

(The Pig and Whistle, just shy of a year earlier.)

Taverns like the Pig don’t operate on the same schedule as the rest of Stormwind, or even the rest of Old Town.  The quietest time inside the Pig isn’t the darkest part of the night, just before dawn, but instead is the brightest part of mid-morning, when the good citizens of Old Town (there are a few, believe it or not) are at work, and everyone else is still sleeping off the previous night’s adventures.

This sunny, quiet morning inside the Pig’s main room, there were just two people up and about.  One was Reese Langston, doing what Reese had gone for gods alone knew how many years, even before the Wildfire Riders had come along and taken over…cleaning mugs, arranging taps, preparing the tavern for the day ahead.  The other was Beltar Forgebreaker, perched awkwardly in a chair too tall for his dwarven frame as always, gun propped against the table and bulging pack taking up another chair nearby.  He was enthusiastically polishing off the last of an egg-and-steak breakfast, letting fly with a huge belch as he put down his fork.

“You knock the mugs off my shelf burpin’ like that, Forgebreaker, they’re coming out of your beard,” Reese growled without even looking up.

“Bah,” Beltar replied.  “This little trip o’ mine works out, I’d get ya sommat fancy glass t’replace ‘em…y’know, fer ‘em tea-drinkin’ mage types.”  He wiggled his fingers at Reese.

The barkeep snorted.  “You ain’t said where you’re goin’ on this trip, anyhow.”

Beltar eased down off the chair and began arranging items in his pack.  “Kalimdor, ain’t as sure ‘zactly where yet.  Hirin’ on w’ Explorer’s League, doin’ some ruins diggin’ over ‘ere.  Turns out Deathwing, in addition t’damn near destroyin’ th’ world an’ all, cracked open a few ol’ night elf an’ dwarf ruins, an’ th’ League’s been lookin’ fer folks t’, ah, ‘freelance,’ shall we say.  Y’know, workin’ fer ‘em but not quite workin’ fer ‘em, case th’ locals git techy ’bout it.  ‘Plausible deniawhatsit,’ one ‘em perfesser types called it.”

“Never pictured you as the archaeologist type, Forgebreaker,” Reese said, putting down the mug he’d been polishing.  “I always thought you’d use artifacts for target practice.”

Now it was Beltar’s turn to snort.  “I ain’t no pointy-headed Harrison Jones-type what can’t tie ‘is boots, lad.  But…Nether, I dunno.  Gotta have somethin’ t’do what with peace breakin’ out like a rash, aye?  ‘At Jones ponce gave me a coupla books, I read ‘em, dig some diggin’, found out I kinda liked it and apparently I ain’t ‘arf bad at it.”  A shrug.  “Must be in our blood ‘r’ somethin’, dwarves diggin’ up ancient shit.”

“You told Tarquin or Annie?”

“Nah.  They don’t need t’know.”  Beltar went back to arranging his pack.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong.”  Beltar didn’t turn around but kept working on the pack.

“Horseshit.  Don’t lie to a bartender, Forgebreaker.  You oughta know by now that never works.”

“Ain’t nothin’ what needs t’be talked about, Reese,” Beltar replied shortly, still not making eye contact.

“Beltar.”

The dwarf stopped working on the pack, hung his head, and sighed before looking back up at Reese.  “Aright, lad.  Y’want yer answer?  The short of it is, it ain’t like they need me ’round here noway.”

“What are you on about?”

“Take a look ’round, Reese.  Deathwing’s done.  Shaw’s backed down.  Boss’s turned legit, as close as that boy’ll ever git.  Riders got ever’thin’ under control ’round here.  Sevens ain’t even fuckin’ wi’ us no more, on account’a th’ Riders bein’ dragonslayers ‘n’ shit.  I ain’t no dragonslayer.  They didn’t need me fer any ovvit.”  He turned back around and started yanking on straps and drawstrings on the bulging backpack.  “Ain’t but three things I ever been good at, Reese—used t’be four but I’m gettin’ on too old fer ‘at one.  Number one’s killin’, number two’s drinkin’, an’ turns out, number three’s diggin’.  Got ’nuff people ’round here t’handle number one, an’ it ain’t like y’can make a livin’ outta number two.  So I’mma go dig.  Might help git m’head right, might not, who knows?  But hangin’ ’round here w’ fuck all t’do surely ain’t.”

Beltar awkwardly hoisted the pack onto his back and began strapping it on.  “Figger they all might notice I ain’t been ’round in a few days, ‘r maybe not.  Reckon if they don’t, ain’t no loss on either side, aye?  ‘S all covered either way.  I ain’t left no notes ‘r’ nothin’, figger y’can tell anybody askin’.”

Reese stood there with his mouth half-open as the dwarf finished adjusting his backpack and started walking for the door.  “That sounds damned final, Forgebreaker.  You are comin’ back, right?”

Beltar shrugged as he picked up Black Death, his rifle.  “Prolly.  I ain’t plannin’ t’git m’self killed, if that’s what yer askin’.  Guess…I dunno.  Guess a change o’ scenery might do me some good, I reckon.  Feel like I’m actually part o’ somethin’ again, y’know, ‘stead o’ just th’ ol’ dwarf in th’ corner wi’ a pig an’ a ale.”

He stopped and turned back as he reached the threshold and stared out into the bright Stormwind morning.  “Take care o’ yerself, Reese.  I’mma miss yer cookin’.”  A forced grin.  “An’ mornin’s like ‘is.  Yer…yer a good man, lad.  See ya soon.”  He stepped forward and disappeared into the dusty sunlight of the street outside.

“You too, Forgebreaker,” Reese Langston said softly.

That afternoon, when Reese went back around to the stable, he saw a familiar black shape standing in a stall to greet him.  Squealer oinked once, seemingly pleased at Reese’s expression of stunned exasperation.  There was a note pinned to a string around the boar’s neck:

Reese.  Take care of the fat bastard for me, Jolly the drool factory too.  Dog’s downstairs, he knows to go out to pee and shit.  Not so sure about Squealer even after all these years.  He ain’t bacon so don’t even.  Beltar.

 

(Stonetalon Mountains.  Nine days later.)

The view, Beltar had to admit, was worth the trip it had taken to get here.

The cliff to the north dropped a hundred feet or more into a green valley, dotted with scrubby trees.  Beltar knew that the sea was off to the northwest, but a wall of rocky hills similar to the one that surrounded him blocked sight of it.  No one seemed to live down there, which was odd to him; he knew the soil in the Stonetalon Mountains was generally too poor for farming, but he also knew the Tauren were hunters, and he’d seen signs of game when they had explored down there a few days earlier.  Ain’t bad country fer Kalimdor, he thought.  Beats all outta Desolace fer damn sure, least until th’ Cenarions get done with ‘er.

He turned back around and looked at the ruins that had brought them out here to this northwestern corner of Stonetalon, a place that was so damned remote that the maps didn’t even bother to name it.  The Cataclysm had partially opened up the high valley in which he now stood and revealed what might have been some sort of pre-Sundering elven town or outpost—so the “perfessers” said.  To Beltar, the columns did resemble some ruins he’d seen while flying over Azshara years earlier, but that was about as far as his knowledge of architecture went.

He, two archaeologists, and two Explorer’s League guards had been here for three days, digging and cataloguing the old elven ruins.  They’d ridden in following the lead of a goblin that they’d paid a damned exorbitant sum to lead them through a tortuous pass in the mountains up from Desolace.  The journey had cost them one of the pack rams that had been shipped in special from Loch Modan, and that had just been the beginning.  Their erstwhile guide, the day after he’d gotten them to the valley, had up and disappeared.  Beltar had a good eye for terrain, and thought he could get them back out to Desolace when they broke camp tomorrow, but the goblin’s sudden vanishing act had him nervous.  These lands, he knew, were not only wild, but a war zone between the orcs and the Alliance.  And as near as he could figure, the Horde was winning.

The sounds of an animated discussion carried over to him.  Beltar looked over at the great white worg next to him and sighed.  “Fuckin’ eggheads, Furball,” he shook his head.  “Better see what’s what afore the perfessers stab each other w’quill ‘r’ sommat.”  He picked up his rifle and walked over to the other side of the ruins, Furball casually padding along behind.

The “perfessers”–Dolwin Longstride of the Explorer’s League, and a Kal’dorei from Darnassus who had just introduced himself as “Carnelius” and hardly said six words to Beltar since—were standing over a half-buried piece of statuary, having a heated argument.

“I’m telling you, Professor,” Carnelius said, drawing the title out in a way that made it quite clear what he thought of it.  “This is not what you think it is.  There is no possible way that this could have been used in elven worship.  It is a simple ornamental house statue from a period no further back than two hundred years before the Sundering, and has no real historical value whatsoever!”

“Far be it from me to correct ye, Professor, about yer own people’s history, but yer full o’ dung!”, Longstride roared back.  “I read every history yer own scholars wrote on late Azsharan religious practices, an’ I’d bet a week’s bar tab in Ironforge that this here is a temple offerin’ statue.  An’ see those jewelry carvings?  That went out of fashion five hundred years earlier than what you said.  This is a find, ye stuffy ponce!”

“Um…”, Beltar interrupted, straddling the statue to stand between the two academics.  “I don’t rightly know whether ‘is bit o’ furniture’s from a temple house ‘r a house house ‘r a fuckin’ shithouse.  What I do know izzat twilight’s comin’ on, and y’d best keep yer damned voices down!  Sound carries a ways off those rocks up there, and in case y’ hadn’t heard, there’s about a shitload o’ orcs two valleys over what ain’t gonna take kindly t’us furtherin’ yer academic study.  So pack yer shit up, an’ be ready t’ ride outta here at first light, ‘cuz we’re pushin’ our luck bein’ up here.  Unnerstand?”

In the tense, echoing silence that followed, the only sounds were the chirping of the birds and the suppressed snicker from one of the caravan guards.

“Now see here, dwarf,” Carnelius finally managed to grit out through clenched teeth.  “I do not take orders from…”

“Fine, lad,” Beltar cut him off.  “Y’ don’t take orders from th’ likes o’me?  Tell Garrosh Hellscream all ’bout yer ornamental house statue while th’ rest of us ‘r halfway back t’Theramore.  This ain’t a classroom, y’ poncy git!  This…”

Beltar stopped.  Furball was staring up into the rocks to the east, growling.  His fur began to bristle.

Fuck,” Beltar hissed, and that one word had a weight of meaning behind it.

“What’s…”  Beltar cut Longstride off.  “’That there worg can hear ‘n’ see better’n any of us, an’ th’ way he’s actin’, I’d say we got company.”  He glanced up and saw that the guards had already drawn their blunderbusses and moved near some defensive positions.  Good lads.  He reached down beside the statue, where he’d set Black Death down when he’d first come over.  “Find yerselves a place t’hide if y’ain’t innerested in gettin’ in a fight, lads.  I’d say this might be ’bout t’git ugly.”  Fuck, why am I not wearing my armor?  Because you can’t dig in armor, dumbass, that’s why…

There was a hissing sound near Beltar’s right ear, just over his head, from behind him.  Reflexively, he turned and brought Black Death to his shoulder.  The sight settled on a red-clad troll that had just stood up from behind a rock forty paces up the shoulder of the valley to the west, the other direction from where Furball had been looking.  The troll’s arm was extended forward.  Details burned into his mind—teal skin, green hair, yellow tusks—as Beltar stroked the rifle’s trigger once.  The crack of the gun boomed off the walls around them as the troll flung his arms wide and disappeared back behind his rock.

Beltar spun back around to see Carnelius still standing there looking down…not at Beltar, not at the statue, not at Longstride.  He was looking at the throwing axe protruding out of his breastbone.  He touched it, eyeing it with what could have almost been academic interest had it been buried in someone else‘s chest.  He looked to the rock where the troll had stood, coughed once, and collapsed in a heap.

“Move!”, Beltar screamed, and dove for the excavated area around the statue, trying to find some cover.  The others did the same, and even as they did, the hills around them—all around them—erupted in shouts and screams.  A throwing spear clanked off the statue as the old dwarf landed awkwardly and rolled behind it.  Booms from the guards’ guns mingled with battle cries as Beltar stuck his head up and tried to come to grips with what was going on.

Orcs, and the odd troll, were pouring down off the ledges overlooking the digsite.  A couple dozen, maybe more, Beltar guessed, all wearing identical spiked brown shoulderguards and matching breastplates.  Some were throwing spears, others were waving swords and axes.  All of them had bloodlust in their eyes and curses on their lips.

Beltar felt no fear…there wasn’t time.  Time slowed down and his actions became automatic, honed by decades of training and experience.

Find a target.  He peeked up from cover and picked out a particularly large orc near the front of a group of five clambering down the western slope toward him.

Aim.  Black Death’s unwieldy barrel and bayonet cleared the lip of the pit and the sight settled on the orc’s massive head.

Fire.  One gentle squeeze of the trigger, a flash and crack, and the top of the orc’s head exploded as he turned to urge on the ones behind him.  Bone and brains sprayed as the orc’s neck and shoulders snapped backward while his legs, improbably, carried forward another step.  The net result was an almost laughable cartwheel, the orc’s bare feet flailing in mid-air for a split-second before his lifeless body, pitched parallel to the ground, crashed straight down into the rock.  Beltar didn’t see it.  He was already behind the top of the pit again, jacking another round into the chamber.

A scream from his right…the orcs had reached the column one of the two guards had been using for cover.  He had thrown down his blunderbuss and drawn two hand axes to try and defend himself, but there were four of them and but one of him.  One orc rolled on the ground in front of him clutching his stomach, but another smashed an axe through the young dwarf’s helmet and on into his skull even as a troll speared him through the gut so hard the guard’s feet left the ground.

Beltar aimed and fired again.  The orc he’d picked out fell forward, dead before his face met rock, and the one behind him clutched his shoulder and spun backward—not dead but at least wounded.  But still they kept coming, apparently not slowed by any fear of death.

A yelp, from his left this time.  He saw Furball covered in blood—some his, some not, judging by the two motionless orcs in front of him.  He leapt onto a third, driving him to the ground with fangs sunk into the orc’s huge neck.  Then he disappeared under a wave of green skin, brown armor, and flashing blades.

No time to mourn.  The fourth orc went down to a shot in the gut, and then the fifth was upon him with no time to reload.  Beltar was no lover of close-quarters fighting, fair or unfair, but he wasn’t entirely unskilled at it.  He couldn’t match the orc strength for strength, even in his younger days, and he was far from those.  So he wasn’t even going to try.

The orc bellowed a war cry and brought his great two-handed axe down, trying for a single killing blow.  Beltar side-rolled to one knee as best he could, using Black Death to parry the downstroke.  Sparks flew and metal screeched as the parry pushed the axe aside just enough to send it sticking into the soft dirt at the edge of the pit.  The orc, still carrying some forward momentum from his charge down the hill, couldn’t stop and went ass-over-elbows down the slope, crashing into the base of the statue leaving the axe stuck in the ground.  Beltar staggered to his feet and bayoneted the orc in the throat before he had a chance to recover.

He dropped back to one knee and grabbed another round to reload.  He faintly heard the noise of movement behind him, and turned around as he brought the rifle up to firing position.

He saw a huge orc with brown skin.  He saw the flash of a hammer.  And then he saw nothing.


Gracefully letting go

You see me now, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
I’ve been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar
And I’m young enough to look at, and far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I’m not sure that there’s anything left of me

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
It’s time we had some leave
We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

Sometime in the early fall of 2005, a level 60 warrior walked into Molten Core for the first time.  He was wearing a mixture of low- and mid-50s green and blue gear, maybe one or two pieces of Tier 0 dungeon set stuff, a few “of the” bits here and there.  In his giant, three-fingered hands, he wielded a Fist of Omokk; in his backpack, a shield and some one-hand weapon infinitely worse than even the Fist.  He was spec’d 31/5/15, back in the days of vanilla WoW when warriors occasionally tried a hybrid spec to off-tank while still doing DPS.  He had been level 60 for less than two months, and existed in Azeroth overall for maybe six.

His player had taken him from Arms, to Fury, to Prot, and back to Arms, and now Arms/Prot hybrid.  His player had no clue what he was doing.  His player was scared and excited as he got on Ventrilo with 39 other people and headed toward his very first raid pull.

Last week, a level 85 warrior walked onto the top of Wyrmrest Temple for the fifth time and peered down at the fallen corpse of Ultraxion, Deathwing’s ultimate creation.  He was wearing three pieces of Tier 13 armor, with a token for a fourth just placed in his bags.  He carried a sword and shield torn from the depths of the Firelands.  His average ilevel of the gear on his body and in his bags was 388.  He was a dedicated, skilled Prot warrior, four years running, with a Fury offspec that he never used, because he was the raid’s tank on single-tank fights and shared duties with a longtime paladin friend on the tank-swap fights.

His player had played him for going on seven years.  His player had a blog now, and had written guides about How to Be a Prot Warrior (even if those guides were one expansion old).

His player was miserable and burned out.  And had been for months.

How did it come to this?

You ask me why I’m weary, why I can’t speak to you
You blame me for my silence, say it’s time I changed and grew
But the war’s still going on, dear, and there’s nowhen that I know
And I can’t stand forever
I can’t say if we’re ever gonna be free

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
It’s time we had some leave
We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

I took a long and convoluted path through raiding over my years in WoW.  In the beginning I had no intention of taking Linedan protection, I always wanted him to be a DPS warrior.  But the downsizing from 40- to 25-man raiding in The Burning Crusade, and having to hook up with a friend’s Karazhan 10-man as a tank because The Anvil, my current raid, had no room in the two Kara groups they’d formed, forced me to take Lin tanky…and the rest is history, I guess.  I grew to like it, then love it.  And I was able to work my way back into The Anvil and hang on to a spot as an offtank through TBC and into Wrath of the Lich King.

In Wrath, the raid went from three tanks to four in a rotation system.  There was tank drama as two different death knights came in at various times and moved into my raid role as #2 offtank.  Hence the rotation system, so they could keep four tanks on staff.  Despite that, I nearly lost my spot a couple of times and had to step my performance up.  But the rotation also meant that I got to actually main tank some fights for the first time.  And I was one of the two tanks the night The Anvil reached its crowning achievement, our lone Arthas 25-man kill.

Then the Cataclysm hit, in more ways then one.  The Anvil fell apart as people headed to guild 10-mans and the officers, after five hard years of cat herding, burned out.  Some of us formed two 10-man raids out of it, sharing some people but run separately one night a week, one on Wednesday and one on Friday.  After just a couple months, though, the two raids effectively merged into one two-night-a-week, three-hour-a-night raid.  With that raid, we moved through Tier 11 and 12 content.

It was partway through Bastion of Twilight/Blackrock Caverns that I began to notice that I wasn’t having as much fun in the 10s as I did in our old 25.  At first I chalked it up to less activity on Ventrilo and a slightly higher level of sobriety (but only slightly).  But as we slowly ground our way toward Cho’gall and Nefarian, the fun continued to lessen.  Then I thought that maybe I was just bored with the instances, and that it would pick back up when patch 4.2 dropped and we got to go to the Firelands.

It didn’t.  Firelands felt more like a slog than a fun way of overcoming challenges with friends.  I began to come to a horrifying realization.  After years of struggling and working to become a good tank, after finally achieving what I’d always wanted–a secure spot as a raid main tank–I was burned out.  Just when I’d hit my goal, I’d lost the fun of it.

So I went to our officers–my guildleader Ghaar and our Chief Cat Herder Dorritow–and asked for a sabbatical.  It would be the first true raid break I’d taken in over five years.  They approved, and so partway through Firelands I took a month off to recharge my batteries, the first time that I’d ever not attempted to raid when I was at home and the raid was going on.  And it helped.

But not enough.

When I came back, I fell back into my deepening spiral of burnout, made worse by the depression I’ve been flirting on-and-off with for years.  I only logged on during the week to raid, not even logging on alts to roleplay or Lin to accept calendar invites.  Instead of my old chatterbox self on Vent, I became more and more monosyllabic.  I found myself crossing my fingers that we wouldn’t find enough people so the raid would be cancelled.  When that tenth spot filled in, and the call went out to head to Firelands or Dragon Soul, I would sigh, shift in my chair, grumble a little bit, and head on inside.  Things that I never gave a damn about before–turns of phrase, certain fight mechanics, etc.–grated on my nerves like crunk in an old folks’ home.  My right hand was giving me low-grade chronic trouble on raid nights after a couple hours of hard tanking.  The second the raid was over, I would hearth back to Orgrimmar and immediately log out of WoW and Vent with nary a “good night.”  And I came to the dawning realization that this wasn’t salvageable.

I was done.  My raiding days, at least for quite a while, were over.

But obligation and pride are tough things to overcome.  Obligation, because I follow through on my commitments; me not wanting to be there didn’t matter, because the rest of my raid did, and therefore I was going to do what I always did–my best, whatever that was.  I worked hard to make sure that my performance never suffered no matter how badly I felt, and I think I pulled it off, if I’m honest.  Not to mention, these people are my friends, I’ve been raiding with most of them for years.  If I couldn’t raid for me, then I would suffer through the burnout and raid for them.

And pride, because I had finally “made it.”  I’d spent years falsely worrying that I was one step from being dropped from the raid every time I made a mistake.  I watched death knights move into my tanking spot and shatter my confidence because I thought the raid officers had brought them in to replace me instead of supplement us.  And through attrition and sheer dogged persistence more than anything else, I came out the other side as one of “the” two tanks in the surviving 10-man.  It is a very hard thing to let go of that after years of struggle.  I like being the main tank.  I like being on point.  I’m not the greatest tank in the world, never have been, never will be.  But I do the job that’s put in front of me to the best of my ability, and that’s gotten me to tanking a fairly successful (5/8 normal) T13 ten-man, so I guess I’m not that bad.

Well, matters came to a head this week.  There was no drama, no meltdown, no spectacular failure.  Dorri simply came to me and said that the officers had noticed the shape I was in–it wasn’t much of a secret, as I’m a very bad actor–and that if I needed to drop out, I could, they could find another tank.  And after we talked it out, I realized that she was right…that I was doing a disservice to myself and my friends in Doom and Blet if I kept digging myself into a hole and coming when I just wasn’t having any enjoyment with it.  It can have a subtle, corrosive effect on a raid over time when someone is so obviously down and depressed about being there.  I should know, I’ve seen it happen.  And now they were seeing it happen with me.

And so, I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in World of Warcraft.

The mighty Panzercow hung up his sword and shield.

You see me now, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
My energy is spent at last, and my armor is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons, and I’m helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I’m made of
Did I hear you say that this is victory?

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
Send me to the rear
Where the tides of madness swell
And men sliding into hell
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

So is this the end of WoW for me?  Not quite.  While I’m done with the raid effective immediately, I’m going to give it a month before I decide whether to suspend my account or not.  I haven’t had any desire to level alts so far in Cataclysm–my goblin is level 6, my worgen doesn’t exist, and my little dwarf tribute to the Tiny Angry Woman is only level 15–but maybe now I might.  I still should log Beltar on more to RP with the Wildfire Riders.  And it’s not like my game-playing schedule is empty outside of WoW.  Old Republic, iRacing, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 coming out on March 6…trust me, my leisure time can be as full as I want it to be right now.  I’ll see most of my WoW raiding friends in Old Republic, and continue to follow WoW news through my hundreds of Twitterati.

And even if I do cancel my account and leave the game, it’s not necessarily permanent.  Rumor has it there’s a mysterious island full of pandaren out there, and I’m fairly sure that when the Mists of Pandaria finally lift and there’s evil to be fought there, a certain very large cow in very heavy armor will be on the first boat heading that way.  I don’t think Linedan’s story in Azeroth is quite done yet.

But even if it is, it’s been one hell of a ride.  Seven years, 85 levels, and thousands of memories.

I figure the big guy deserves a little R&R well off the front lines.  And, in the end, so do I.


Looking For Durp

Recently I’ve had something of a yen to start playing my sorely neglected dwarf hunter Beltar.  Now Beltar has finished all the Cataclysm zone and quest content, pretty much, and is walking around with a typical mixture of quest rewards and a very few dungeon pieces, giving him an ilevel of 346.  That’s good enough to do normal heroics, but not good enough for patch 4.3 heroics or anything bigger than that.  So if I wanted to gear him up–and improve my somewhat marginal huntarding skills in the process–there was really only one place for the grizzled old gunbunny to go.

The Dungeon Finder.

So last night I decided that it would be Dungeon Finder night.  I would queue and queue and queue again in LFD.  Normally I avoid LFD like I’d avoid, say, a glass-shard lollipop drizzled in Ebola and tetanus.  But that’s as a tank on Linedan.  I figured, with gearing to the point where normal Cataclysm heroics are starting to approach faceroll status, a semi-competent knowledge of Basic Marks Huntering 101, and 340-level gear, I could hold my own, work on improving my rotations and DPS, pick up the Ramkahen rep I need to hit Exalted and get the +agi head enchant, and score at least one piece of loot.

I don’t know when I turned into such a raving optimist.  I really don’t.

So with his Harkoa-cat Longpaw by his side and his newly transmogged gun-that’s-actually-a-crossbow cocked and locked, I hit “I”, clicked “Enter Queue,” waited 10 minutes, and set off on my adventure…

First dungeon:  Blackrock Caverns.  It set the tone for how the rest of the evening would go that the poor DK tank couldn’t hold agro on anything, even with my Misdirects, from a geared and aggressive mage.  (He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, he was just putting out a lot of pain.)  We wiped on Rom’ogg Bonecrusher but got him on the second try after I stupidly ate a Skullcracker and died.  Then when we were heading down to Corla, we shortcut down the rough ground to the left instead of going down the ramp to the right.  Guess which way Longpaw went and brought some friends?  Yeah.  Stupid cat + stupid hunter = fail.  After the wipe, I dropped group to save them the trouble of votekicking me over it.

Second dungeon:  Deadmines.  I cringed when I saw this one.  I always hated tanking heroic DM.  Fortunately we had a monster of a tank, a death nugget with over 200,000 health that was simultaneously doing over 16,000 DPS.  (I’m fine.  Really.  That totally didn’t rekindle my deep-seated hatred of DK tanks who can top the DPS charts while tanking.  At all.)  We started off, of course, at “gogogogogo” pace, the tank not even waiting for the healer to be in line-of-sight to do pulls because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  Everything was going pretty well and I was starting to get into something resembling a groove–even though the healer dropped without a word in mid-trash-pull after we killed Helix.  The DK survived because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  Then we got to the Foe Reaper 5000.

We wiped on him the first time because nobody got into the Prototype Reaper to handle the Molten Slag adds.  The tank linked the Recount from the fight…because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  The healer dropped without a word, as did the tank.  We got another tank, a warrior, who promptly pulled FR5000 while the mage and myself were standing around the Prototype Reaver at the top of the room.  Again, nobody got into the Reaver and we died.  The warrior asks “wtf have any of you done this before?”  As it turns out?  The mage hadn’t seen the instance before.  Everybody else but me and him instantly drop.

Third dungeon:  Deadmines again, because the RNG is laughing at me.  This time, the tank was a feral druid, and he was even healthier (207k!) and better than the previous run’s death nugget.  And he pulled even faster.  Healer around the corner?  Didn’t matter, he was a BARE STORNG 4 FITE.  And truly, it didn’t.  We demolished our way up to Foe Reaper again.  And again, on the first attempt, nobody got in the damn Prototype and we wiped.

On the second attempt, this time, I got in the Prototype.  I had never done it before and had no clue what to do, but fortunately, Rashona the Aggrokitty was at her computer next to me and talked me through it.  I did a truly shitty job of Molten Slag control, but we got FR5000 down.  Somehow.

We moved on, and got to Ripsnarl.  We dropped him and he dropped his two-handed agility axe, Rockslicer.  Now Beltar is still using the blue ilevel 318 polearm quest reward from Deepholm, so that axe would’ve been a nice upgrade, the first I’d seen in the heroic runs.  So I rolled Need.

So did the fury warrior.

He won.

Oh, and on Vanessa?  I missed the rope on the first rope phase, fell off the boat, walked through fire, swam around, and got back up top just in time for her to die, greeted by a chorus of “lol” and “wtf” from my teammates.  But at least I finally finished a heroic and got my 150 Valor Points.

Fourth dungeon:  Once more into the durp, dear friends, and this time, it was Stonecore.  Cool, I thought, I never did finish off the quest to kill the end boss in there.  Unfortunately, I realized quickly that this wasn’t going to be a full instance run, because when I blipped in, I saw myself staring at Ozruk, along with two DPS.  We picked up another healer and a high-health feral tank, and pulled.

The tank promptly faced Ozruk toward us at point-blank range with us penned into a corner.  Ozruk then Ground Slammed before we could find a clear spot and killed both me and the healer, and the rest of the group wiped shortly after.  The tank yelled at us “wtf does nobody know how to play wow anymore” and dropped group.  (Obviously, that was a rhetorical question on his part.)  So did one of the DPS.

We got a replacement DPS and another tank, a paladin this time, and even though the pally had much less health than the bear, his tank job on Ozruk was absolutely perfect.  Ozruk and Azil fell easily and for the second time I got myself 150 sweet tasty Valor Points.  We did so well, in fact, that we requeued as a group save the healer.  Things were finally starting to look up!

Fifth dungeon:  Lost City of the Tol’vir.  Excellent, another dungeon that I had a leftover quest in (Oathsworn Captains).  The run started off completely uneventful.  We killed the first boss without issue.  Then we hit the trash pack after the boss.  The tank immediately keeled over.  We wiped.  The healer dropped without a word, as did the tank, and the group fell apart.

Sixth dungeon:  Grim Batol.  Fun times.  With our DK tank in the lead, we set off and proceed to have a fairly uneventful run…until after the second boss.  Then the healer, who had been catching a bit of flak from the tank, drops and we pick up another.  We keep going and then we get to the third boss, Dragha Shadowburner.

We ended up winning, but the fight didn’t go well.  Our fury warrior died, got battle-rezzed, and died again.  The fight seemed to take absolutely forever compared to the other times I’ve done it.  And then after the fight, the tank went nuts.  He linked the Recount for the fight, showing him doing 11k dps, me doing 10k, the fury warrior doing 8k, and the lock doing 6k.  He started berating the warrior, testing the limits of the profanity filter in a way that’d make R. Lee Ermey sit up and take notice.  He screamed at the fury warrior for dying twice (the warrior said he was hung over), then screamed at the warlock for only doing about 6k dps on the fight.  The lock dropped group.  Then the tank said “votekick plz.”

And I found myself standing in a field in Western Plaguelands where I’d been doing archeology when the queue popped.

I got votekicked.

For doing more DPS on a boss fight than the other two DPS.

At which point, I said “fuck it,” went back to Stormwind, hung out in the Pig and Whistle, RP’d with a few of the Wildfire Riders, and got Beltar shitfaced.  (See picture above.)

And thus ended my evening of dungeoning.  The final totals?

Six instances.  Two completed (one partial).  300 Valor Points.  Around 600 Justice Points.  About 7,000 Ramkahen rep.  120 gold in repair bills from all the wipes.  One piece of greed loot (an agi sword) that I can use as RP gear and nothing else.  And 25 points in Archeology in between queue pops.

So what did I learn from my three hours of sheer heroic hell?

1.  I have the worst luck in the universe.  This isn’t new, I’ve known this since my D&D days, where it was a complete certainty that if I needed a good dice roll–as player or DM, didn’t matter–I wouldn’t get it.  I was the Master of the Badly-Timed Fumble.  My dice logged a lot of frequent flyer miles after being thrown through the air in frustration.  Rashona, who runs LFD almost every day on one of her immense stable of alts, was boggled at the run of bad groups I had.  She has issues in LFD, who doesn’t?  But never that many, that fast.

2.  I’m not a very good hunter.  I need to get better.  People are telling me that the 10-11k DPS range I typically do is low for Beltar’s level of gearing.  I need to go do some spec and rotation theorycrafting for marks.

3.  LFD is even worse now than it was during Wrath.  I didn’t think that was possible, but it is.  It’s not so much the skill or gear level of the players, because that’s always going to be a mixed bag.  It’s the attitudes.  I really couldn’t imagine people being less patient than they were when we were running Halls of Whatever in our sleep, but they are.  If the slightest little thing goes wrong, people will drop.  There’s no thought toward just sticking it out with a group and succeeding.  It’s all me, me, me, me, me.

4.  Please, let me apologize on behalf of the good and kindly tanks out there, of which I think a few may still exist.  I refused to believe it, but yes, we tanks really have turned into a bunch of entitled prima donna douchebags.

5.  I’m going to keep trying.  Why not?  I won’t get any better on Beltar, or won’t get him any better geared, if I don’t run instances, and Looking for Dumbassery is still the quickest and easiest way to gear him up and work on my huntering, if also the most soul-crushing occasionally.

6.  Tanks who can simultaneously tank an instance in their sleep and blow away the DPS meters still piss me off.  It’s not you guys, it’s me.  I’m just jealous.

My wife has the best attitude toward PUGs, because she (bless her heart) tanks a lot of them on her various druids.  She just says, “I don’t see it as a dungeon group.  I see it as an escort quest.”


The Longest Night (Beltar RP)

A little over three years ago, in the build-up events to the release of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard inflicted upon World of Warcraft the ultimate zombie plague.  At the time, the Zombiepocalypse had a lot of bad things going on with it, as well as a lot of good–I covered that in a post on the one-year anniversary of the end of the event.  But to me, the best thing it provided was some awesome roleplaying opportunity, more so on my dwarf hunter Beltar than on my main Linedan.  Lin was a prot warrior, and, well, a melee class with no self-cleansing really didn’t do very well against things that could turn you into a ghoul in just a few hits.  But Beltar, now he and his pet boar Squealer, they were a zombie-killing machine.

Our Alliance guild, the Wildfire Riders, did a collaborative writing project we called The Longest Night, based on the final night of the zombie event in Stormwind.  This was my contribution to it.  The events here, including finding the zombie in the room inside the Rose, actually happened.  The zombie in question was a level 15 character who’d been turned, and who I one-shotted.  (He whispered me to bitch me out about it later.  My response is, dude, you were a freaking zombie.  What was I supposed to do, invite you over for tea and crumpets?)

I repost my part of it here because (a) I like it, and (b) it provides some context to another piece I’ll post later.  At the time, Beltar was running around with a Wolfslayer Sniper Rifle off the Big Bad Wolf in Karazhan.  It’s always been one of my favorite gun models in the entire game.  Well, now, with transmogrification in 4.3, his Wolfslayer–which he named “Black Death”–rides again.  But that’s a little later.  Here’s the story of Black Death’s busiest night.

 

Beltar Forgebreaker limped over to the edge of the plaza that overlooked Stormwind Harbor. It hadn’t been light for long, perhaps half an hour…it was hard to tell, with the unnatural overcast that covered the sky overhead. In the dimness, everything looked normal from this great height. The ships still rode at anchor, quietly creaking as gentle waves moved them in their berths. Gulls wheeled and screeched. Save for clouds that looked almost like a gathering summer thunderstorm, all looked as it should be.

Except no one moved.

Not a single shape moved except the seabirds. No porters moved packages, no crews readied or cleaned their ships, no merchants haggled deals, no prostitutes plied their trade. The docks were deserted of life, and of unlife.

He let his eyes travel to the hills above the harbor, outside the city walls. They were dotted with bright glows of fire. Five, six, seven…nope, there’s eight, Beltar counted to himself as the eighth one sprung into life. Each one of those, he knew, was a funeral pyre, and each one was burning dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, undead and otherwise.

He’d climbed on Mountain at dawn and ridden out alone, Squealer obediently following, and picked his way through the streets to the Harbor, thankful for the surefootedness of a Khaz Modan ram on cobbles slicked by blood and ichor. No zombies showed themselves, no clash of arms rent the heavy, chill air on his journey. The Scourge, for the moment, had been beaten from Stormwind.

But it damn sure hadn’t been easy…

The Trade District. Just after sundown.

“They got the healer! THEY GOT THE HEALER! RUN! RUUAAAAAAAHHLIIIIIIGHT…”

The screams out of the Gilded Rose snapped Beltar out of thought as he finished loading his rifle. He looked over at Tarquin, who was leaning against the wall of the arms shop nearby, catching his breath after finishing off another zombie. The lanky Northman sighed and raised his hood, and bellowed, “There’s a Dawnsman by th’gryphon master, y’ken? Need healin’, go there!” The hood came back down, and he faded into the shadows cast by the overhanging roof.

None too soon. A wave of zombies poured out of the Rose like rats, falling on guardsmen and those too slow to run from the screams. Shouts and clangs sounded, and the Stormwind Guard fought yet another doomed battle as Beltar snapped his weapon shut. He issued the barest of whistles from one side of his mouth, and smoothly brought the rifle to his shoulder.

His boar launched himself forward from a dead stop, streaking across the plaza in a black, squealing blur and slamming into the pile of zombies like some bizarre game of bowls. As Squealer began tearing at one in a fury of black fur and white tusks, Beltar’s rifle roared again and again. Three feet of black wood and gray steel, with an extra foot of bayonet poking under the barrel, it was the most masterful boomstick Beltar had ever seen, much less ever owned. He’d found it in Medivh’s ruined castle. He named it–with feeling, if not with originality–Black Death.

This night, Black Death would earn that name many times over.

The first zombie crumpled to the cobbles headless. Squealer plunged tusks into another one and Beltar kept up his steady drumbeat of fire, killing the second zombie before it figured out that the black form goring it wasn’t the only thing causing it pain. But the third zombie must have retained some tiny modicum of its previous intelligence. It ignored Squealer and saw Beltar forty paces away, and started lurching toward him.

The dwarf stood his ground. He fanned the hammer, and Black Death ripped off three shots into three zombies. He fired again, and again, but the zombie kept coming, and then leapt.

Sheer reflex saved him; he thrust the rifle upward as the zombie lunged, and it slammed directly into the bayonet. It impaled itself, flailing long clawed hands at Beltar as he fought to stay upright with ten stone of zombie trying to push him over.

“I AIN’T DYIN’ T’NIGHT, Y’BASTARD!”, Beltar roared, and pulled the trigger. The zombie flew backward, a hole through most of its chest, and crashed to the stones to finally lie still.

The sound died down. Paladins and shamans in the square had finished off the rest, and for the moment, no zombies moved. Squealer returned to Beltar’s side, fur matted with Shapers-only-knew-what. Beltar tried to calm his breathing and concentrate. Aright, y’fuckers, he thought to himself. Lessee…any more’a’ya ’bout? Concentrate…yes, one more, at least. Inside the Rose. He started walking past the fountain toward the inn.

“Are you crazy?”, a guardsman tried to block him. “You can’t go in there!”

“There’s one more of ‘em in there, lad,” Beltar snarled. “We don’t get it now, it comes out here when y’ain’t lookin’, infects other people, whole shitpile starts up ‘gin. Now, you wanna go kill it, ‘r y’stay out here an’ let me do it?”

The guard, wisely, backed up. Beltar just nodded at him once, and stumped forward into the Rose, Squealer trailing behind.

The common room was a charnel house. Bodies and parts of bodies–human, elf, and zombie–were everywhere. The floor, on the tables, even a zombie arm stuck in the overhead chandelier. The body of the Argent Healer lay in two pieces, torn apart at the waist, near the kitchen entrance. Nothing moved here. But he heard a faint scrabble from upstairs.

He crept up the stairs as quietly as he could, stopping at the top to listen. He heard it again…second door on the left. Black Death came out from over his shoulder and into his right hand as he walked toward the door. Taking a deep breath, he spun around the jamb into the doorway.

The door itself was gone, shattered inward into the room. It was a small room, one of the Rose’s cheaper ones, utterly demolished. Splintered furniture, pooled blood, and a zombie corpse on the floor made it obvious what had happened.

There was another zombie in the far corner, near the bed. It snapped its head up as it saw Beltar…but it didn’t attack. It looked at him, almost quizzically, as if saying, “Who are you and why are you in my room. And more importantly…who am I?”

For a few seconds, the two stood looking at each other. For a second, in the zombie’s face, Beltar swore he saw…fear? Sadness? Confusion, maybe?

Then Beltar sighed. “Sorry, lad.”

And Black Death roared yet again.

 

A single gunshot from back toward the Cathedral snapped Beltar out of his Harbor-side reverie. No more followed it. The only sounds were the creak of the ships and the scream of the gulls.

Beltar looked out over the ships, to the sea. Out there, somewhere, was the cause of all this. Arthas Menethil. The Lich King. Defender, and then damn-near destroyer, of the Alliance. And Beltar knew without seeing, sure as the sun had risen behind that thick blanket of cloud, that the Riders were going North, and he was going with them. Time to be heroes.

“Heroes,” he snorted. “Gods, I don’t feel like no hero.” He looked at the big black boar standing beside him, flecks of gray bristle appearing around its snout. “I feel old, boy. Leg’s botherin’ me worse’n’anytime since Anvilmar. I’m feelin’ ever’ one’a these hunnert’an’twenty-six years o’mine. Too old fer bein’ a hero, right now, anyways.”

Squealer just looked up at him with that calm, neutral look he always gave Beltar.

“An’ I’m standin’ in th’chill, in a city runnin’ wild w’zombies, talkin’ wi’a pig. Heroes do crazy shit like that, y’think?” He laughed without humor. “Aright, piss on it. Back t’Old Town w’us.”

Using Black Death’s stock as a makeshift walking stick, he began limping back toward the stairs, where Mountain waited at the top to take him back through the streets of a waking city of the dead, back to the Pig and Whistle, and life.


The Possible Return

So…uh, hi.  Miss me?

Yep, I abandoned the blog for a while.  There’s reasons behind it, good ones, but they’re too complicated to go into right now.

The short version is, I’ve been dealing with Stuff.  That Stuff includes health issues, a severe case of WoW burnout, and the realization that I am probably a lot more mentally fucked up than I thought I was.  I am, near as I can tell, fighting depression that has taken a heavy toll on my mentally-intensive recreational activities, and that includes blogging, especially blogging about WoW.  I actually took over a month off from tanking for my current 10-man raid, Doom and Blet, because of that burnout.  I’m back, and we’re now 6/7 normal Firelands and beating our heads against Ragnaros, but I pretty much only log in to raid these days.  The spark, the Warcrack addiction, the all-consuming gotta-have-it, is largely, if not completely, gone.  These days, I like talking about WoW more than playing it.  (Although, in a good sign for my WoW enjoyment, I did log in this weekend to do Firelands dailies, because Linedan is only about six or seven days’ worth away from getting the fiery hippogryph mount.  And the dailies are dead easy when I do them on him in Fury spec.)

So after dawdling and thinking on it for a while, here’s what’s going to happen going forward.  Achtung Panzercow is not going away.  But it will become a more general gaming blog and not be 100% WoW, all the time.  I have a wide variety of gaming interests besides logging in two nights a week to slap the denizens of the Firelands around and take their lunch money.  Currently I’m dabbling, to various degrees, in Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, EVE Online, and my newest addiction, the online racing sim iRacing.  And looming on the horizon like the Death Star is the Big Kahuna, the 800-pound Wookiee that’s going to turn me into a shut-in and has made me damn glad I’ve got the entire last week of the year off…Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I have been in the beta for several months now, and since the NDA is lifted I can say this much:  It’s a good game.  Very good.

In the meantime, in lieu of actual, y’know, content, I’m going to be revising the tags and categories on existing posts to allow for non-World of Warcraft posting.  And trying to think of good posting ideas.  That’s always the hard part, even harder than finding the time to write good content.  Hopefully, I can come up with enough to get this here blog thang back off the ground, because I do love writing when I feel like I’ve got something good to say.  Here’s hoping I can get back to doing that on a regular basis.


The First Ten Seconds: Introduction

The title of this series is “The First Ten Seconds.”  It’s not relationship advice for meeting that certain someone across a crowded room…unless you’re trying to beckon that certain someone over so you can kill her and loot 91 silver off her corpse.  No, it’s based on a maxim about tanking that I just made up a while back, and it goes like this:

As go the first ten seconds, so goes the entire fight.

It’s a little saying that I’d completely forgotten during the later part of Wrath of the Lich King, especially when doing heroics.  WotLK heroics had turned into a complete joke in high-end raid gear, of course, and all of us were just bull-rushing our way through them like our asses were on fire, in the pursuit of the Holy Badgers of Whatever.  Then Cataclysm hit, and suddenly, heroics became, well, heroic again.  They were, as those of us with brains figured they’d be, damned hard.  Crowd control, the fine art of hexing and sheeping and banishing and shackling, went from useless to mandatory in the span of a few weeks.  And with even more difficult heroics on the horizon–the new Zul’whatever heroics in 4.1 will require a minimum item level of 346 just to get past the bouncers at the door–crowd control won’t be neglected anytime soon.

And with the rediscovery of crowd control came the rediscovery of the art of pulling and control.  In late Wrath, control was easy:  charge into the center of a bunch of mobs and push every AoE button you’ve got, then watch as the DPS pulls them off you anyway, but that was OK because the mobs all died in four seconds.  Now in Cataclysm, if you, as the tank, lose the handle on a trash pull, you’re probably going to wipe.  We’ve all had to rediscover the timing and interplay between the tank and the crowd controllers and the healers and the rest of the DPS.

So that’s what this series is going to be about…the first ten seconds of a pull, mostly as it pertains to trash.  It’s going to be about that period of time from the moment the first button is pushed to start a fight, until the mob(s) are settled in on the tank and the fight really “starts.”  In most trash pulls, this (in my experience) takes about ten seconds.  If you, as a group, execute these ten seconds properly, you’ll probably have a boring and uneventful trash pull.  If you don’t, even if you don’t wipe, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of trouble, raw tempers, and frustration.  (And in my case, a tank screaming obscenities at the screen and a wife rolling her eyes listening to me.  “GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE FUCK GODDAMMIT I’VE GOT NO RAGE LET ME GET AGRO YOU STUPID BASTARDS STOP NUKING FFFFFFFF…”)

Preparation is Key

The next post in the series is going to concentrate on pulling.  Pulling in the latter stages of Wrath, as mentioned before, largely didn’t exist.  You, as the tank, just ran or charged in and spammed whatever you could knowing that it didn’t matter a bit–the DPS was going to go apeshit anyway and even the healer would just spam Smite or Moonfire or Chain Lightning or whatever.

But any tank who survived the sheer hell of heroics in The Burning Crusade knows how important pulling is.  Remember the gladiator hallway in Shattered Halls?  Groups of six mobs down the middle with wanderers in between and a few static singles as filler.  Move too far to one side and you’d pick up a group of five adds.  Don’t get them back far enough, and you’d get the wandering Houndmasters and their dogs, or the guys working out on the target dummies.  At least one, usually two of the group mobs were hunters, ranged and largely immobile.  Given all that, how do you pull it?

Cataclysm heroics aren’t quite that bad, but they’re a step back toward that level of difficulty from the overgeared facerolls of late Wrath.  You will, until we’re all running around in tier 13 or whatever, need crowd control and intelligent pulling to get through them.  Maybe some of you cutting-edge raiders are at the point where you can start to brute-force these things, but those of us down here with our average ilevel in the 330s or 340s (OK, Linedan’s is 351 right now) can’t.

So there you are, the tank, standing at the entrance of your favorite dungeon, ready for another exciting round of Will Anything Drop That I Can Actually Use.  You’ve got buffs, you’ve got food, you’ve got adult beverages (in RL), and you’re staring at the first trash pack.  And four pairs of virtual eyes are boring into your back, waiting for you to get the ball rolling.  The temptation is strong to just put the hammer down and gogogo.

Not so fast.

The first thing you should do, PUG or guild group or whatever, is decide who’s marking targets.  Somebody should always mark targets these days.  And when you decide who should mark targets, you also have to decide what each target means.  In a group that runs together a lot, that’s usually not an issue, everybody knows what each mark means.  But in a PuG especially, you can’t be sure.  A square may mean “mage sheeps it” to you, but to XxArthaslolxX from a PvP server, square may mean that he’s supposed to offtank it.  Never, ever, assume.  Get the definitions straight beforehand.  Somebody needs to, and if nobody steps up, you as the tank should be ready to do the marking and designation.  Put the symbols over the first trash group and say what they mean–“sheep square, trap moon, kill order is skull, X, moon, square.”  It’s not worth having a massive argument over, but it’s still something that should be laid out before the pull actually happens.

The other usual bone of contention in an unfamiliar group is–who actually pulls?  Normally, I always preferred to be the one to push the button to start the fight.  But the way things are working these days in Cataclysm, I now actually prefer to let the crowd controllers start the pull.  I’ll go into more detail in the pulling post, but my standard procedure, after we mark and decide who’s doing what, is to let the crowd controllers cast.  Their cast will aggro the group.  That exact moment is when I hit Heroic Throw on either the kill target, or an unallocated caster mob if we’re short on CC.  (That pulls that one particular mob to me, with a silence component to bring those inconvenient casters that much closer.)  It’s then on me as the tank to get the other uncontrolled mob or mobs on me before they eat the crowd controller.  It can be a tricky dance, but is more easily done with proper positioning.  All people doing ranged CC should stand pretty much together, and in a position where the tank can easily get to them.  (If they have to LOS pull, that needs to be taken into account.)

Again, I’ll talk about this more in the pulling post, but I’ll throw one other tidbit out there for my fellow warriors:  Charge is not necessarily your friend.  Charge Stun only hits one mob.  If there’s a second, it’ll keep on trucking for your squishies, and you’ll be playing catch-up.  And when I get to the post on initial control of the pull, we’ll see why playing catch-up is a recipe for disaster.  If you’re fast on your fingers, Heroic Leap can solve this problem.  I’m not, so often I tend to just run in.

The Gospel According to Marks

Before each pull, unless it’s obviously not needed, mark.  Use symbols consistently from group to group based on what you decided at the start of the run.  And your number one CC priority should be…(drumroll please)…hunter mobs. Casters can be silenced by ranged abilities from at least a few classes–Heroic Throw from me, Counterspell from a mage, Wind Shear from a shaman, etc.  When they’re silenced, they’ll run at their current agro target until they feel like casting again, which will usually get them in range of some sort of centered AoE or multi-target ability (Consecrate, Cleave, etc.).  But pure ranged hunter-class mobs are a stone bitch to position.  A death nugget can Death Grip them, which is hella handy if you’ve got a DK around or you’re a DK tank.  And of course you can LOS them if there’s a corner to run around.  But if you’re DK-less and in an open area with nothing to block sight, that hunter is just going to sit out there plinking somebody, and it’s probably not going to be the tank unless he goes and gets it.  And then we’re back to playing catch-up again.

So my priority list for CC is, in a nutshell:  hunter mobs, spellcaster mobs, and then everybody else.  There’s exceptions, of course, but in terms of keeping things simple, that’s how I like to see things marked.  Which priority you use inside those general categories (i.e., which spellcasting mobs get CC if you can’t get them all) is up to the particular group and instance.  There are even situations where you might want to pick a melee mob over a caster to CC–for example, if the caster is particularly squishy and you know you can (or need to due to mechanics) drop him fast.  This is where a knowledge of the instance is vitally important as a tank, so you can make intelligent choices about which mobs get a knock on the head or stuck into an ice cube, and which just get terminated with extreme prejudice immediately.

Next up:  The pull itself.  How do you get the mobs from points A, B, C, and D to point X?  We take a look at how to get a trash pack moving right where you want it…into the kill zone!


Coming Soon: The First Ten Seconds

So.  First off, let me apologize, yet again, for my slackness in updating this here fine upstanding blog.  There are a few reasons for this.

First–and I hate to admit it, but it’s true–I wrote most of my blog posts at work.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t be doing it, but come on, folks.  I know when you people read my blog, and here’s a hint–it’s between 9:00 and 5:00 in your appropriate time zone.  Otherwise my readership wouldn’t crash through the floor on Saturdays and Sundays.  Let he who is without slack cast the first Nerf dart and all that.  Well, a couple months ago, I was moved to a new cubicle that’s very much more out in the open than my old, isolated, rather private digs I had for almost three years.  Basically, I can’t keep the WordPress editor up all day and hammer posts into it by the thousands of words like I used to.  When I get home, I have a tendency to be pretty tired and more interested in playing games than writing about them.  So that has rather badly cramped my output.

Second, RL has been, as it has for the past few years, teabagging me like I’m a dead resto druid and it’s a rogue.  No need to go into the details (I’ve got a personal blog for stuff like that, and someday maybe I’ll update it again) but suffice to say that it’s taking a big chunk of my focus just to get through the days and weeks, without a lot left over to produce quality content.  And if I can’t at least attempt to produce quality content, I don’t produce content.  (Most of the time.)

And third, well, I just haven’t had that much to say about WoW.  Cataclysm is humming along.  4.0.6 has caused some of us to have to relearn some of our favorite classes (marks hunter wut wut).  Other people in the WoW blogosphere have been doing a fantastic job talking about things that I had formative ideas about.  It just feels like that for whatever reason, there hasn’t really been that much for me to say.  Like, say, “heroics are hard.”  Well, duh.  Of course they’re hard, they’re designed to be hard at this pre-raid level of gear a lot of us are rocking.  Give it six months and they won’t be (as) hard anymore.  The push to get Linedan to 85 and repped up with Dragonmaw and Therazane has, as I knew it would, caused me to back off a little bit and play less while I recharge to get my alts leveled, filling the slack with a bit of Star Trek Online, a bit of EVE Online, and a bit of various single-player games.

So, a quick update from Panzerville, and then I’ll get to why I’m actually posting this.  Linedan, the titular Panzercow, is back raiding again as one of the full-time tanks in a 10-man called “Doom and Blet,” expertly cat-herded by former Anvil Chief Cat Herder Dorritow and veteran Anvil raider and Seven Deadly Divas contributor Hammaryn.  So far, we’ve been poking at Blackwing Descent, and have dropped tne Omnomnomnomitron Defense System (I can haz tank lootz?) and Magmaw, the Giant Lava Penis, and have gotten Atremedes down to about 55%.  That, IMO, is not half bad after four weeks for a raid running only one night a week, 9:00-12:30 Eastern.

Beltar, my dwarf hunter, is my other character at 85 right now.  He hasn’t raided, in fact he hasn’t done any heroics yet (I hope to fix that soon).  This is largely because of my PUGaphobia, and the fact I’m still learning how to trap and CC.  Oh yeah, and re-learning his rotation because 4.0.6 took everything I’d learned about marks and stood it on its head.  (Aimed Shot useful again?  Seriously?  Getouttahere.)  All my other characters are at various places between level 82 and level, uh, 5.  I’ll get alts up someday, but I need to get over my burnout on the 80-85 Cata zones first.

Anyway.  The real reason I’m posting this is as self-motivation.  I’ve had an idea bouncing around my skullcage for a while, inspired by some heroics I’ve run on Lin, to do a small series on pulling and initial control of pulls.  It’s based on a very, very simple theory, to wit:  The first ten seconds of a fight is the most important part. If you can pull properly and control the fight for the first ten seconds, you are well on your way to victory and loot.  If you can’t, you’re well on your way to heartbreak, frustration, and getting kicked from PUGs.  And with the re-introduction of crowd control into instances with Cataclysm, pulling and grabbing initial control of pulls, especially trash packs, has gotten more complicated.  Who pulls, you or the CC?  Who decides kill order?  Who should you CC, who should you leave?  What do you use to pull?  Do you LOS?  Do you just charge in?  This is all stuff that, as a tank, you need to think about before pushing buttons.

So where’s the self-motivation?  I’ve told you about it now.  I have to write it.  Otherwise people on Twitter will hound me to no end about it.  Peer pressure is a wonderfully useful thing sometimes, isn’t it?

I can’t guarantee it’ll be done quickly, as I haven’t written any of it at all yet.  But watch this space, and hopefully in the next few days, I can get the first installment up.  In the meantime, peace out, kids.


The Hunt (Linedan RP)

This is a very old story.  In fact, it’s the first piece of fic that I wrote for Linedan, back in March of 2005 when he was still leveling through his 20s.  It has an interesting story behind it, too.  First off, I was, at the time I wrote this, doing the “gather 30 skulls for the Deathguard in Tarren Mill” Souvenirs of Death quest.  Also, the meeting that takes place in the middle of the story actually happened in-game, at the lake outside Bloodhoof Village.  This was a time when random walk-around roleplay was still prevalent on Feathermoon, but even so, the encounter–which took place exactly as I wrote it in this story–stands out.  I don’t remember the shaman’s name.  I surely wish I did.  And finally, yes, I did drop the quest.  (Although I admit to going back and doing it later when I was trying to get Loremaster.)

I like to think I’ve gotten a bit better at my writing and roleplay since I wrote this, but the themes in this story are the same ones that drive my roleplay on Linedan almost six years later.  The struggle between the berserker and the protector, the toll that war takes on the warrior, and how far one is willing to go for their faction…they’re still as relevant to me now as they were back then.

Enjoy.

The sky over Mulgore was its usual brilliant, deep blue, broken only by a few puffy white clouds drifting east toward the Barrens.  A gentle breeze pushed those clouds, and ruffled the grass along the shore of Stonebull Lake.

A lone Tauren sat on the edge of the lake, staring out over its shimmering water.  In one hand, he held a fishing pole, its line played out ten paces from shore where a small bobber bounced on the ripples.  In the other hand, he held a small white object.

A human skull.

The boomstick shot hit the peasant in the right shoulder and spun him around.  As he recovered, he saw me.  His face twisted into a snarl, he raised his pitchfork and bravely charged as I set the blunderbuss aside, grabbed my shield from my back, and drew Truecleaver…

The bobber abruptly dipped.  Linedan carefully set the skull down in the grass and reeled in a small brightfish, which joined several others on a stringer hooked to his belt.  He rebaited the hook and cast the bobber back out into the lake, farther this time, then sat back and closed his eyes.  He leaned back to face the bright sun, hoping that even though his closed eyelids, the light could fade the images from his view.  But sunlight cannot block images from the mind.

…Truecleaver thudded into the farmer’s side.  The human’s shirt began to stain red as he bellowed in pain and twisted away.  That gave me an opening, and I took advantage by slashing low, the sabre tearing into his right leg and hobbling him…

Even in the quiet and peace of the lake, Linedan could hear the sounds of battle in his mind.  It seemed that was all he ever heard, these days.  The clash of swords, the screams of pain, the bellows of anger.  It felt odd for his hand to be holding a fishing pole instead of the hilt of Truecleaver, his sabre.  His left arm didn’t feel right unencumbered by a shield.  He sat forward and closed his eyes again, his breathing coming a bit faster, the memories still raging.

…He hooked Truecleaver with the pitchfork.  A quick flick of both his forearms, and my sword was wrenched from my hands and landed on the ground two paces away.  He faced me, and smiled.  Actually smiled.  He was still smiling when I punched him full in the face, he never saw it coming.  I felt the flesh part, felt the bones splinter under my mailed fist…

Linedan was agitated now.  He stood up and dropped the fishing pole, paced three steps one way, turned, then three steps back the other.  He saw the skull, still sitting in the grass.  In one motion, he bent and snatched it into his massive hand.  The front of the skull was malformed, crushed.  The bone under one eyesocket was smashed in and partially missing, and the lower jaw was gone, just as it had been since he had first placed it in his backpack days earlier.

His head bowed, almost involuntarily, as if a ton of weight had landed hard on his shoulders.  His empty fist clenched.  He reared his arm back, as if to pitch the skull into the lake…and froze.  He couldn’t do it.  For long seconds, he stood there, locked in time, one arm back with the skull in his hand.  Then, slowly, he brought his arm forward and looked again at the skull in his hand.  At its smashed face, into its empty sockets.

And he remembered the eyes.

…He was hopping, then crawling away from me.  I tripped him, and he landed on his back, looking up to where I loomed over him.  And as I brought Truecleaver up to finish him, I saw his eyes.  Full of fear, full of rage, maybe a bit of resignation, even relief, knowing that his life was over in a few seconds.  Totally devoid of hope.  They were blue.

They were still open after I killed him.  They were still open after I cut his head off.  And they were still open as I began to deflesh the skull to add to the collection that Deathguard Samsa in Tarren Mill asked me to provide.

A motion off to Linedan’s left started him.  He dropped the skull behind him and whirled, his right hand falling to his sabre’s hilt.  A fellow Tauren stood there, dappled black-and-white, wearing ragged leathers, a staff slung over his back and a small ball of lightning orbiting his chest.  A shaman, and a young one at that.  The shaman showed no fear, didn’t flinch a bit when Linedan spun on him with Truecleaver half out of its sheath.  He just stood there, smiling.

Linedan let his hand fall back to his side.  “My apologies, friend,” he muttered.  “You startled me.”

The shaman spread his hands by way of apology, then raised a single finger as if to say, “Wait a moment.”  As Linedan watched, the young Tauren pointed up to the sky, to one of the white clouds drifting over.  Then he held out his left palm and used his right hand to mimic the motion of someone walking.  Then he pointed to the east.

Linedan was puzzled.  “What do you…can you speak, friend?”

The shaman shook his head, with no trace of embarassment or discomfort.  He made the same motions again–pointed to a cloud, then made walking motions with his hand, then shrugged.  He stood, looking at Linedan, still smiling faintly.

“I am confused, young one…you seek a windrider?  Or Thunder Bluff?  Walking in the sky, I don’t understand…”

Again, the young shaman held up a finger in the “wait” gesture.  He reached into a pouch at his belt and showed Linedan a parchment.  He couldn’t read most of it, but the heading was clear enough to him…”Venture Company.”

Of course!  “Ah!  You seek Morin Cloudstalker!”, Linedan exclaimed.  The shaman nodded vigorously.

“Well, then, you can find him on the road east of Bloodhoof, friend,” he answered.  “He wanders the path there on guard.  I’m sure he’ll be quite happy to see that.”

The shaman nodded again and made a slight bow toward Linedan.  Then he turned to leave, stopped, and turned back to face Linedan.  The two of them locked eyes.

Linedan noticed that the young Tauren had the kindest, gentlest eyes he’d ever seen.  There was no trace of fear in them, no anger, no rage.  Only kindness, and friendship.  And hope.  They were blue.

The shaman patted Linedan’s shoulder gently, then turned and walked slowly back toward the road.  Linedan watched him go, then called after him, “Earthmother protect you, brother.”  He turned, bowed to Linedan, and continued walking to the road, turning east toward the Barrens.

Linedan stared after him for a long minute, watching his back recede into the distance, still feeling the touch of that gentle hand on his shoulder, still seeing those eyes, yet untouched by war and darkness.  Eyes that must have somewhat resembled his own once, when he was much younger.  Before the killing began.

He turned and saw the skull still sitting in the grass where he dropped it.  Gently, he bent down, picked it up, and put it in his backpack.  He looked up at the sky, and nodded.  The sun was lowering in the west.  If he hurried, he could be in Hillsbrad by nightfall.

Hillsbrad village was all but silent that night.  The only movement was from two footmen who stayed together and looked nervously out into the darkness, hoping that yet more villagers would not disappear, would not be struck down by the Horde.

On the outskirts of the village, Linedan straightened up, panting.  Digging the hole had not been easy in the wet, heavy clay, especially with a dull half-broken shovel that he had “borrowed” from a shed in Tarren Mill.  Fortunately, he had not needed a large hole, but he knew he had to make it deep, to keep scavengers away from the contents.

He reached into a mageweave bag and pulled out first one skull, then another, then another.  All told, he carefully, reverently placed eight skulls into the small trench.  The last one was the skull with the smashed face.  He placed it beside the other seven.

He said a quick prayer to the Earthmother to guide their spirits to whatever god or gods they worshipped, to give them a safe journey through the spirit world, and to watch over their families and friends in the village.  Then he put shovel to dirtpile and began filling the hole back in.

In the village, the footmen heard the scraping.  They dared not go into the dark to investigate.

At dawn, a weary Linedan walked back into the Tarren Mill inn and gathered up the last of his possessions to leave.  As he walked out, he almost literally bumped into Deathguard Samsa.

“Ahhhh, Tauren,” he hissed.  “I have tasssked you with obtaining my trophieessss.  Thhhirty human sskullss.  How goesss your collection in Hillssssbrad, fleshhhling?”

Linedan never paused.  He just glanced over his shoulder at Samsa as he walked out of town.

“Get them yourself.”


Sic transit gloria mundi

The title of this post is a Latin phrase that means “thus passes the glory of the world.”  (Sadly, I had to use Wikipedia to get that instead of my five years of high school Latin.  Five years of memorization and translation and I can’t get past “Britannia est insula” anymore.  Durp.)  It’s generally used to mean “the things of this world are fleeting.”

It’s a phrase that immediately popped into my head, for whatever strange reason, when I read the announcement yesterday that The Anvil, the 25-man raid on Feathermoon that I’ve been a member of for the better part of five years, is shutting its doors permanently.  The end of The Anvil came out of left field as a real shock to all of us; we already knew that the raid was having issues getting spun up for Cataclysm raiding, and that we’d probably have to drop back to two 10-mans from a 25 at least for now, and that we really didn’t quite have the people even to do two 10s at least in the immediate future.  But to get the word that the officers had decided to pull the plug entirely was a stunner…and yet, looking in retrospect at the signs, it’s completely understandable.

The Anvil, you see, is something of an unusual raid.  It originally started as a cooperative effort between three smallish Feathermoon RP guilds–the Thundering Hammer Clan, Noxilite, and the Prophecy of Shadow–to form a Molten Core 40-man raid in late 2005/early 2006.  It was then, and always has been, a non-guild raid.  It’s never been a requirement to be in a particular guild to be a part of The Anvil.  The raid leadership team, originally under the baritone command of THC’s Malkavet, is a separate entity from the leadership of any of the guilds that may be involved (although most of the raid officers are also officers in their respective guilds).

From the start, The Anvil’s principles were pretty simple.  We knew we weren’t going to be a server-leading progression raid, but we were going to come prepared and do our best.  Raiding usually went two days a week, three to four hours a day.  Roleplay was not required, but was allowed and would be respected.  Real life came before raid life, since most of the raid’s members were young professionals, many with families.  Using those simple rules, The Anvil went into Molten Core again…and again…and again, and eventually downed Ragnaros many times.  (There are Anvillains that still won’t go to Molten Core even today because they’re so sick of it.)  Then there was Blackwing Lair, with Nefarian eventually falling.

In Burning Crusade, The Anvil broke into a couple of 10-mans for Karazhan, then reformed and plowed through much of the 25-man content.  Serpentshrine Cavern was eventually conquered, but not without Vashj holding us up for a month and a half.  Kael’thas, sadly, didn’t get punked until after patch 3.0 dropped and mega-nerfed the fight.  The raid also went 3/5 in Hyjal, and (after patch 3.0) 7/9 in one trip to the Black Temple.  Sunwell?  Nope.

But it was in Wrath of the Lich King where I think The Anvil really came into our own.  Yes, we needed the 30% buff to kill Arthas, and we didn’t do it until mid-September of last year.  Yes, it took us four months of hard work to get even that single LK kill.  But what was great, as a grunt in the raid, was to watch us, as a raid, improve as we moved through Wrath’s 25-man content, from Naxxramas to Ulduar to Trial of the Trashless to Icecrown Citadel.  As the fights got more difficult and technical through the years, we got better.  We became less of a brute-force group (The Anvil’s early Molten Core nickname was “The DPS Raid,” because of how much we brought in comparison to healers and tanks) and more of a “kill the boss despite a log parse that’d make other raids laugh” raid.

So how did we go from the high of an Arthas kill to disbanding the raid in less than four months?  A few reasons, I guess, plus some I’m sure I’m not privy to since I’m not an officer.  The changes in Cataclysm raiding greatly favor 10-man raids.  They’re simpler, easier to put together, much less strain on leaders, and now drop the same loot, just less of it.  We lost several people who wanted to stick with 10-mans instead of the more chaotic 25.  Another reason, one that has rankled me since it was announced, is guild achievements and perks.  The cross-guild raid is apparently quite rare in the wider world of WoW, but there’ve been many of them on Feathermoon for some reason–we don’t find them unusual.  However, with members scattered from several different guilds (or even no guild), our 25-man can’t provide any one guild the guild rep, guild XP, or guild acheesements that a straight one-guild raid can.  Combine that with the fact that several of the component guilds in the greater Anvil circle of friends are now, or soon will be, capable of putting together 8 people to form the core of a balanced guild-focused 10-man, and that’s another strike against a cross-guild 25-man.  Blizzard could have solved this with some sort of support for guild alliances, much as corporations in EVE Online can form alliances to gain benefits, but they said early on in the Cataclysm development cycle that guild alliance support was right out.

In the end, though, I guess the biggest reason is probably burnout.  Some of our officer group have been in place for three or four years.  That’s a long time to have to herd cats.  There’s always some drama with a raid, even a laid-back one like ours, and it wears after a while.  When you’ve been fighting through various 25-man dramas for a couple of years, and then you’re looking at a raid composition for Cataclysm that simply will not allow a 25-man, and then have to deal with shortages in various classes and splitting people into 10-mans and longtime raiders hanging it up due to burnout of their own and getting people geared up and ready…I don’t blame them for pulling the plug, honestly.  It took a near-superhuman effort by our officers to get us through WotLK and get us that Arthas kill.  They’re volunteers.  They just want to play the game again.  Who can begrudge them that?

Now, my personal views on the Anvil are well-documented on the post celebrating that Lich King-25 kill.  It’s not just “a raid” to me, it’s a large extended group of friends that have given me the opportunity to transform from the terrible warrior who stumbled into Molten Core in mid-2006 to the reasonably competent tank who was on point the night that Arthas Menethil finally fell.  Despite all the hard times, despite almost losing my raid spot a couple of times and having to improve to stay, despite all the wipes and struggles and late nights and mistakes, The Anvil has been a wonderful and awesome ride for me over four and a half years.  Every Thursday and Friday night for a couple of years now, I’ve known where I’d be and what I’d be doing…sitting on Ventrilo with 24 or so other people, several of them drunk, listening to a cavalcade of “your mom’s face” jokes, our Chief Cat Herder‘s shouts of “Defile, MOVE!”, arguments about whether Batman or Superman was the better superhero, and all the rest.  And now that’s gone.

It’s not all bad.  At least two 10-mans, maybe more, are going to be forming out of the dispersion of the main 25-man.  We still have our in-game chat channel and Vent, and we’re still friends and acquaintances who will heroic or raid with each other from time to time.  The people are still there.  But the big 25-man, the central focus of The Anvil, is gone, and that’s going to take some getting used to.  It felt like something permanent, something that would never go away.  But one thing that all of us need to remind ourselves about in a game like WoW…everything is transitory.  Change is the only constant.  And the things of this world (of Warcraft) are fleeting indeed.

The Anvil Raid.  January 6, 2006 – January 11, 2011.  Just write on its tombstone “never has a finer group of friends had so much fun kicking a moderate amount of ass.”


Try it, you might like it

Today’s question here on Achtung Panzercow comes from…well, me.  More exactly, it’s something I’ve wondered about for years now, and some things I’ve seen since restarting the leveling grind for my characters on Feathermoon have brought it back to the front of my mind.  The question is this:

Why would you roll on a roleplaying server if you have no intention at all of roleplaying?

I don’t mean for this question to be as accusatory or “get off my server” as it sounds at first listen.  It is a genuine, sincere question that I have yet to be able to figure out an answer to.  Let me give you a little background.

When I first rolled on Feathermoon back in March of 2005, roleplay was everywhere. It was the default mode of action, in fact.  Yes, Barrens chat was still Barrens chat sometimes, but there were also people who actually talked on /1 in character. Even in the Barrens!  If you ran across someone out and about, you had about a 50/50 chance of them actively being in character and being willing to RP with you.  The Feathermoon realm forum on the WoW website was slap full of in-character stories and interactions.  In response to the first people seen laughing at roleplayers, in fact, much of the Feathermoon RP community mobilized a large cross-faction “RP pride march” down across Stranglethorn Vale, with over 100 characters participating.  It was meant to be a show to the RP griefers…something that said “this is our server and our rules, you are not welcome here if you continue to disrupt us.”  It was an expectation that if you were playing on Feathermoon, you were a roleplayer, and if you weren’t, you respected those who did, were not disruptive, and would try it yourself at some point.  If you rolled a character with a stupid non-RP name like “Chuknorriz” or “Baconbitz” or “Hurrpdurrp,” you’d get reported.

Over the years, for whatever reason, Feathermoon–and almost every other RP server in World of Warcraft–has slowly evolved from a place where in-character is the default mode of interaction, to a place where roleplay exists in here-and-there pockets surrounded by a vast ocean of players who are, at best, indifferent to RP and at worst actively trying to thwart it.  Roleplay takes a back seat to raiding.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love to raid too.  But you can raid successfully and be a roleplayer, we prove that on Feathermoon all the time.)  The realm forums descend into raid advertisements and non-RP out-of-character drama threads.  Trade chat is no better than trade chat on any other PvE or PvP server.  Most likely, speaking to a random someone in /say in-character gets either a blank stare or “lol wut.”  And I’ve lost count of the number of times that in-character gatherings such as guild meetings or weddings or funerals or whatever have been griefed by idiots.  You know, the kind of people who run around and dance naked on tables, or spam things to cause noise or graphics disruption, or spam /say or /yell with nonsense, or just run around saying “lol u rp nurdz suk.”  And these aren’t usually level 1 “hey, my server’s down, I’ll go fuck with the RPers on Feathermoon” alts.  They’re high level characters, with good gear…clearly a significant time investment.

Why? Why would people come to a server and not participate in that server’s ruleset?  If I decided to level a character to 85 on a PvP server, I’d PvP.  I wouldn’t whine about it when I got ganked, I’d learn and I’d get better and I’d participate in what the server is “about,” which is PvP in addition to everything else.  So why would someone roll on, and spend significant time on, an RP server if they aren’t even curious about roleplay?

Please note that I’m not talking about the “RP-curious” or inexperienced roleplayer here.  If you’ve never done it before and want to just watch and learn more about it, that’s fine.  I don’t know any roleplayers on Feathermoon, for example, who have an issue with non-roleplayers being on the server…as long as they’re not disruptive to roleplay.  I would take it a half-step further…my opinion is that if you are on an RP server, even if you don’t roleplay actively, you should be willing to try it. Why not?  You created the toon on a server that clearly had “(RP)” behind the name.  That’s the only thing that sets RP servers apart from the dozens and dozens of other PvE servers.  Try it, you might like it!  There are many excellent resources for beginning roleplayers…the two standbys that I always recommend are my fellow Feathermoonies over at WTT:RP, and the lovely and talented Anna at Too Many Annas.

I’m not going to get into what I think the reasons are why our RP servers have slowly degenerated over the years (I have a few opinions, but I’m saving them for later).  I’m just looking for insight into why non-roleplayers–more precisely, people who have no interest in roleplaying and/or those that think RPers are “weird”–would come to a roleplay server and make a home there.  Please, edumacate me, Gentle Readers.  I are but a humble Panzercow who has taken one too many hits to the head.


Tis the season…to be jerks

Well, here it is.  Christmas.  The day where lots of us celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Or where we come together with our families for togetherness, football, and excessive alcohol consumption.  Or even where you don’t believe in either of the above, but appreciate a couple of days off from work.  It’s supposed to be a time of fellowship and good cheer, right?  Fa la la la and all that.

Unfortunately, Dear Readers, I bring you a tale that proves that assholishness is a 24/7/365.25 kind of thing.  It comes, not surprisingly, from the WoW random dungeon finder.  And it involves not me, your humble Panzercow, but my wife, your slightly less humble (with good reason) Aggro Kitty.

A bit of background on my wife.  She’s been playing WoW almost as long as I have, a bit over five years.  In that time, her main has always been Rashona the Tauren druid.  And Rashona has always been feral.  She was feral before feral was cool.  She was feral when being feral meant “lol, shut up and heal me.”  She has catted and beared her way through vanilla and three expansions now.  She knows her feralness.  (Ferality?  Feralosity?)  She raids with The Anvil 25-man, as feral kitteh DPS, and I daresay, she’s pretty damn good at it.  In a class with one of the two nastiest rotations for DPS in Wrath of the Lich King, she was a consistent performer in our raid.  She may not be a theorycrafter and number-cruncher at an Elitist Jerks level, but she’s a solid, competent, skilled feral cat durid, and is very, very storng 4 fite.  (She also has seven level 80s to my six, because she actually likes leveling.  Yeah, I don’t get it either.)

So like me, she’s been running normals here lately to get her gear up to the magic number of 329…which is the average item level, as calculated by the client, that lets you use the LFD tool to queue for heroics.  Yesterday, she hit it.  So last night, while I was flying around Twilight Highlands strip-mining it of its valuable natural resources, she entered the interminable DPS queue for her first heroic.  And 30 minutes later, she got it.  She landed in an in-progress heroic Blackrock Caverns with four others, all from the Mug’thol (US) server.  Their names were Butternuts (hunter), Soad (mage), Cartol (paladin tank), and…wait for it…Dudeihealu (holy paladin).

Now my wife, being the polite Georgia girl that she is, said hello, and then asked something like “btw, this is my first heroic…is there anything special you need me to do?”  This was the result:

Well.  Sort of defeats the purpose of the random dungeon finder being, uh, random, doesn’t it?  “Yeah, listen, we don’t know anything about you other than you can type in complete sentences with punctuation, which scares the hell out of us.  But you look too scrubby in our considered opinion, so could you please eat a deserter debuff after waiting 30 minutes in the queue to get in, so we could get some deeps that lives up to our arbitrary standards of l33t, plox?  Thanks ever so much.”  (Please note that she has done BRC on normal at least four times on two different characters, so she knows the basic layout and mechanics of the place.)

Now my wife is no wilting flower.  She’s a steel magnolia.  So she stood her ground.  That resulted in:

“Man up get over here and prove your feathers.”  Fair enough.  A little difficult when you’re feral, but, hey, “w/e i don’t c around it.”

At this point, I imagine she was torn between standing her ground to “prove her feathers,” and running screaming away from the stupid.  (Even though I was sitting just a few feet to her right, I heard nothing about this.  I was too busy drooling over elementium nodes.)

So they pulled Corla, Herald of Twilight, aka Netherspite with Boobs.  And for whatever reason, they wiped on her.  And that caused this one final example of Christmas good cheer:

At this point, even my wife had had enough and left our four heroes from Mug’thol to pick up the pieces.  Then she told me about what happened.  And as you can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, I was furious. My Southern chivalry kicked in, I guess, even though Rashona is perfectly capable of defending herself.  Stuff like this sits at the conjunction of three things that make me rage:  insults against my family or friends, unwarranted gear elitism, and general assholier-than-thou behavior.

So listen here, you Mug’tholian Four Horsemen of the Dumbassaclypse.  The LFD tool is random, you jackholes.  You don’t get to pick and choose “340+ ilevel, PST armory link and notarized letter.”  You take what you get and you work with it…a fact those of us with actual functioning brain cells are far too aware of when we end up stuck with droolers like you.  You couldn’t find one other magically l33t DPS on your server to avoid having to PUG a fifth?  Clearly you guys had already run off at least one DPS since Rashona fell into a BRC where you’d already killed the first boss.  Nope.  Y’all get a DPS out of the queue who is technically capable of entering the instance, with ilevel 329, and decide that’s not good enough.  I guess you guys didn’t think you were good enough to cover for her, huh?  Wanting to get carried, maybe?

Oh, and Cartol.  The tank.  The one who kept repeating “leave rashona” over and over again like some sort of yoga mantra for the socially deficient.  You get special attention, son.  If I were churlish, I could mention that you didn’t even qualify for your own group’s internal ilevel 340+ restriction because you’re just at ilevel 334.  Or I could mention that you don’t have a single gem or enchant anywhere on your gear as I write this, even on stuff that the activity feed says you’ve had for days.  Or I could mention that you’re showing six empty glyph slots.  Karma is a bitch, homeboy, and so is the Armory.  I would actually understand your pretensions to l33th00d if you’d actually take the time to fix your own shit up before jumping on somebody just six item level points under you, with more glyphs, more enchants, and more gems.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this tale of stupidity.  After taking a few minutes to calm down, Rashona got into a group of friends running heroic Lost City of Tol’vir (thank you, Destril, for making room for her–you did not need to do that and it was very sweet of you to do so <3 ) and had quite a good time.  As for what happened to the other four…who cares?

Then the Ghosts of Dickheads Future disappear in a rattle of chains and a wail of “6.6k gs wtf,” snow starts to fall, a gnome limps into the frame and shouts “God bless us, every one!”, and we all go have a happy Christmas holiday.

Rant completed.  I have to start wrapping presents, go to Christmas Eve service tonight, and get ready to make a 125-mile drive tomorrow morning for Christmas with the in-laws’ family.  So from here in the Dumpster of Love, deep in the maybe-snowy urban wilds of North Carolina…from the Panzercow family, Linedan, Rashona, and Nublet, may you all have a merry and blessed Christmas.  May your drops always be purple and your groups be durp-free.  Love ya, guys.


In space, no one can hear you sigh

You would think, given that Cataclysm has been out for almost two weeks now, that my first post-Cata blog post would be about it.  About how Linedan is level 85 and Cataclysm Loremaster after just nine days without really trying; about how good the new zones are (and they are very good indeed); about how good the new instances are (ditto); about his grinding out gear to get ready to do heroics, to get ready to raid by The Anvil’s self-imposed January 13, 2011 start date.

You would be wrong.  My first post since the Sundering, in fact, isn’t even about World of Warcraft at all.  It’s about a completely different game…a completely different universe, actually.  In more ways than one.

I’ve always loved games set in space.  One of the very first games I ever got for my first IBM-compatible PC was the immortal Bell and Braben classic Elite.  Like a lot of other people, I played through the entire Wing Commander series, all five games, from the days when Blair and Maniac were just VGA pixels until they turned into Luke Skywalker and Biff from Back to the Future. In fact, it was a space game that brought me to WoW originally.  In early 2005, I was playing an obscure space MMOG called Jumpgate when people in the squadron I flew with started playing this other game on the side…an RPG called World of Warcraft.  The rest is history.

So it should come, therefore, as no surprise that I play EVE Online.  I don’t play it to the same level that I play WoW; it’s a much more sporadic pastime, where I play for a while, then slack off, come back and play some more, burn out, lather, rinse, repeat.  It isn’t a joystick-based “flyer” like the old Wing Commander and Privateer games that I loved so much; navigation is automated and click-based, you don’t directly fly your ship except by selecting various celestial objects, or double-clicking in a direction in space to move that way.  But I still like it.

EVE is, really, the ultimate sandbox game.  The developers, CCP of Iceland, have a very hands-off approach to what goes on in the 23,000 star systems of New Eden.  Things that would get you banned for griefing in virtually any other game–stealing from other players, raiding their corporation (guild) hangars (banks), tricking newbies to shoot at you so you can gank them without repercussion, scamming on contracts–aren’t just allowed in EVE, they’re raised to an art form.  The legendary year-long corporate espionage and ultimate betrayal of Ubiqua Seraph by the Guiding Hand Social Club is the most famous (and reading about it is how I heard about, and first signed up for, EVE).  The economy is 95%+ player-driven, almost every item you’d ever use is not created out of thin air by server gnomes, but manufactured by players, from raw materials mined by players, and sold by players.

It’s a game where huge swaths of space–I think about three-quarters of it–are wide-open for PvP with no interference from New Eden’s NPC “cops”, called CONCORD.  In so-called “nullsec” space, with its security rating of 0.0 (on a scale to 1.0), alliances of corporations can lay claim to the space and its resources to build their empires and fill their coffers.  In claimed but lower-security space, pirates lurk to jump any poor sod that stumbles through their system.  Even in the most secure and patrolled systems, you can be attacked at any time if the attacker is willing to sacrifice their ship to CONCORD to do it.  EVE, in short, is a world where there’s not much safety.  Your fellow players are bigger threats than any NPC pirate.  The playerbase is sizeable (around 300,000 worldwide), generally very passionate, knowledgeable, maybe a bit arrogant, and not inclined to cut anyone any slack.  In New Eden, the milk of human kindness is laced with generous doses of Everclear and arsenic.

Into this wretched hive of scum, villainy, and warp drives, a certain roleplaying carebear Panzercow wandered about four years ago.  Like most EVE newbies, the thing I struggled with the most is the sheer scope and open-endedness of the game.  You can do almost anything if you’re willing to put the time into it.  Taking missions (think quests) for NPC corporation agents.  Exploring space wormholes.  Learning to play the market by trading.  Getting into PvP.  Piracy.  It’s all there, it’s all viable.  The only limiting factor is the time it takes to train skills…skills are what allow you to use different ships and objects in EVE, and they are trained in real-time, whether you’re logged on or not.  Simple skills take a few minutes to train.  Complex skills can take weeks or even months to max out.  And there are hundreds of different skills.

I decided that I would pursue a carebearish path of becoming a miner.  And so I created Jonathan Harmon, Gallente miner, and set out to make my fortune in New Eden.

I found out very quickly that EVE Online kind of sucks when you’re alone.  Oh, it’s perfectly capable of being soloed in many areas, but compared to being in a player corporation, your progression will be slow and limited.  I struggled along for months in an NPC corporation (the effective equivalent of being unguilded…in EVE, you’re always in some kind of corp) until I joined a corporation called Oberon Incorporated.  Oberon was full of good people, but they were vastly richer and more experienced than I was.  I was the level 14 guy struggling through the Barrens and the rest of them were raiding Icecrown.

Then the corp joined one of the big power alliances in EVE, Morsus Mihi, and moved to nullsec space.  Nullsec is a place where you can never let down your guard.  Even flying from one system to another in territory that your alliance allegedly controls is a dangerous act.  The NPC mobs are bigger and nastier, too.  It’s a place where being a carebear is a disadvantage…as I was told repeatedly when Morsus Mihi fleet commanders would rudely reject my attempts to join their huge war fleets in my humble tech-1 cruiser or battlecruiser.  I wanted to learn more about EVE PvP, but I wasn’t given the opportunity.  I couldn’t drag my mining ships out except under heavy escort and most of the rest of the corp were off doing things that I couldn’t participate in, so no escort.  Then I had to drop the account for a few months due to money pressures, and when I came back, I found I had been booted from the corp for inactivity…and was ganked by a MM alliance pilot when I tried to move from one station to another, because I wasn’t in the alliance any more.

So I quietly let the esteemed Mr. Harmon fade away, and eventually deleted the character.  I was determined to make another go of it, avoiding the mistakes I’d made before.  And so, Ellison French, Gallente miner part 2, was born, and set out to make his fortune in New Eden.

Flying solo wasn’t any more fun the second time than the first.  After a few months of grinding and running missions and boring solo mining, I joined another corp.  That one lasted a couple of months before another, more experienced in PvP, corporation declared war on us–meaning they could shoot us anywhere, anytime, without interference from CONCORD.  We ended up mostly hiding in stations.  When our enemies destroyed our corporation’s player-owned station, the corp fell apart.

A bit later, I joined up with a small mining and industrial corporation called Farsight Systems.  This seemed a better fit for me than the big, nullsec-oriented Oberon had been.  And for a while, I wandered on my casual way, logging on when I could to quietly mine or run missions, or sometimes just logging on to set my skill training up and then logging back off again.  A lot of the corp was on Australian/New Zealand time, completely opposite from me; those who were on US time tended to be scattered around doing different things.  I admit, I didn’t really avail myself of the opportunity of asking people to do things with me.  I’m pretty quiet in that regard, doesn’t matter what game we’re talking about.  Plus, I didn’t have a real coherent plan of what I wanted Ellison to be going forward, and trying to make the money to buy the mining barge I wanted for him was a long, tiring grind.  Economic numbers in EVE sound like something right out of Weimar Germany; billions of ISK (currency) are thrown around like they’re nothing.  And there I was, trying to save up 175 million to buy a ship and taking months to do it.  I never have figured out why I’m so bad at making money in that game.

The guys in Farsight were great, but eventually, I just got bored with it.  So I stepped away, again, for a while, and quietly deleted Ellison French.

Last month, in the run-up to Cataclysm, I decided to pick EVE back up again in the pre-expansion WoW lull.  This time, I vowed, I would break the mold.  I created another Jonathan Harmon, but this time, he was Caldari, not Gallente, and he would be more of a mission runner with an eye toward deep space exploration, not a miner.  I was excited.  I had new ships to learn, a new way of fighting to learn, and this time I had a corporation goal right off the bat…to get into EVE University.  EVE University (usually called “Uni”) is a corp that’s specifically designed as a place where newer pilots are trained to survive the rigors of life in New Eden.  Was I a “newer” pilot?  Eh, not really, since my account had been around since March 2007 and I had two previous characters.  But trust me, when it comes to EVE, I’m a noob.  Whole vast areas of the game–how to make money trading, how to PvP, how to do higher-end missions–are black holes to me.  This time, I vowed, I would learn, and I would do it right.

EVE University has an application process that is rather in-depth.  There are multi-page web questionnaires to fill out and steps to go through and a long, long wait for a personal interview by a recruiting officer.  I was honest about my previous characters and their history and deletion in my application, because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

It took me 19 days to finally get an interview.  And when I did…it wasn’t what I expected.  I figured it would be a casual “what do you want to get out of the Uni” type thing.  Instead, well, let’s just say I’ve had job interviews in real life that were less intense…and less awkward.  The recruiter seemed to fixate on the fact that I had joined Oberon three years prior with a fairly low number of skill points (a few million) in apparent contradiction of corp policies, I told him I didn’t remember there being a skill point limit and I had no trouble joining.  He asked me “who vouched for you when you joined Oberon?”  Honestly, it was three years ago, I didn’t remember, and told him as much.  There was a brief pause, and then he came back with “actually, Oberon has always had a skill point restriction, it used to be 40 million and they’ve always required someone to vouch for a pilot joining under that limit, would you care to revise your answer?”

“Would you care to revise your answer” is not something I expect to hear in an interview to join a game guild, really.

I was told that I would have to be referred to a senior recruiter, and when I met one later in the day, I got the news I’d kind of been expecting after that first interview.  My application to join EVE University was rejected, on the grounds that I was too experienced and that their slots need to be reserved for true newbies.  It’s a legitimate argument, given their charter, and I don’t hold any hard feelings toward them…they really are a bright spot in a game that notoriously sees new players as fodder instead of assets.  But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t rankle me a bit.  No, I had no way of proving what I said, and it did contradict what the recruiter apparently found out, and suspicion is as pervasive as oxygen in that game.  I can’t blame them.  But it still stings a bit to all but be accused of lying.

(And to the senior RO I spoke with, who said he’d actually read this blog at some point?  If you come back and read this, thanks, seriously.  Best rejection I’ve ever gotten.  I understand your point and I’m not upset.  There really are no hard feelings.  I’m over the butthurt.)

So there I am.  Jonathan Harmon Mk II sits in a station in the Libold system, his small collection of starships with him, unsure of his future.  At this point I’m giving thought to just cutting my losses, cancelling the account, and uninstalling the game, because I don’t think I want to slowly solo my way through a few months again, losing interest.  I have to focus my time on WoW anyway.  Or I may just park Jon for a bit, logging in to train some long-duration skills, while I think about what I want to do next.

Maybe New Eden really is no place for a roleplaying carebear.  Or maybe I’m just doing it wrong due to my lack of assertiveness.  I think more the latter than the former, but we’ll have to see.


Get this heavy cow off me

Well, I think that’s what it looks like the dragon is saying, anyway.

That is a Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquisher, and yes, that’s the Panzercow on the back of it.  The 10-man raid that I tank for made one last run into Icecrown Citadel on Saturday afternoon to clear the final obstacle we needed to get 10-player Glory of the Icecrown Raider…heroic Sindragosa.

I know there are those who are strict 10-man raiders who say that having 25-man gear, as most of our raid did, “trivializes” the 10-man content.  I can see that; we can pretty much roflstomp most of ICC on normal, even normal Arthas didn’t give us too much trouble.  And the more straightforward heroic-mode fights pushed us a little bit, but still, we were making solid progress toward our raidleader’s goal of getting drakes before Cataclysm dropped.  We even, amazingly, downed heroic Putricide after just five attempts.  Some of the acheesements gave us trouble (Been Waiting a Long Time For This was particularly annoying) but not too much…we even got Sindy’s acheesement, All You Can Eat, by just zerging her down from 35% instead of actually attempting to do the normal tank-switch method.

Heroic Sindy, however, was a different matter entirely.  It’s a brutally unforgiving fight, the already-intolerant mechanics turned up to 11 by frostbombs that can one-shot even the tanks, debuffs that cause casters to asplode, and frost breath that hits like a very icy truck once the Mystic Buffet is opened for dinner.  We threw ourselves at Sindy hard week before last, without success.  So if we were going to get her before Cataclysm released and everybody quit caring about “old” content, we had three hours on a Saturday to do it.

For two hours and fifty-six minutes, things didn’t look good for our heroes.  We wiped, and wiped, and wiped.  The best we’d done was get her to 18%.  Phase 2, at 35%, was just not working.  We couldn’t time the tank transitions right, or I’d forget a cooldown and get ganked by her frost breath, or a badly-timed Blistering Cold would slaughter half the raid, or she’d drop a bomb right on top of us during an air phase…it was always something.  None of the attempts had that smooth, well-oiled feel to them that you need to beat a fight like heroic Sindragosa.  I was frustrated and absolutely furious with myself.  I hadn’t played in several days leading up to the raid and it showed.  I made a lot of avoidable dumbass mistakes.  I don’t think I actually cost us a kill at that point, but it sure wasn’t helping.

So then, there we were.  4:57 pm Eastern with a stop time of 5:00.  The last attempt, on the last boss, on the last day, of the last raid before the expansion.  One shot.  All or nothing.  It looked like fourth-and-11 on our own 41 with one second on the clock…time to load up three receivers to the left and let fly a Hail Mary downfield.

And we did it.

That fight, that three hours of stress and wipes, was, in a way, this entire raiding expansion for me in miniature.  Starting off flailing and failing, making mistakes, then hanging in there and keeping on digging, grinding it out, persevering, and at the end, at the last possible moment, somehow it just all comes together.

I’ve always said that the two accomplishments I’m proudest of on Linedan in Wrath of the Lich King are his Loremaster title first and his one Arthas 25-man kill second.  That hasn’t changed.  This achievement, however–Glory of the Icecrown Raider–is a very, very close third.  It took us several months, but our little 10-man raid that ran for just three hours, just one afternoon a week, ended up the expansion as 11/12 heroic ICC.  That is an achievement to be very proud of indeed.  And this one comes with a big, bony, loud-flapping tangible reminder that I’ll see as I enter the brave new world of Cataclysm.

So to Ghaar, Grizz, Tahlian, Dorritow, Nikara, and all the rest–and to our regulars who never were able to get their drakes, Ghorr, Alanth, and Seijitsu–thank you.  It was a privilege to get hit in the face for you guys.  See you on the other side.


I feel for the poor guy, but…

With three weeks to go until Cataclysm drops, this is the time where people start looking back at the epic two-year ride that Blizzard’s given us with Wrath of the Lich King. And what a ride it was.  Blizzard, in my opinion, did an excellent job with Wrath. Sure, there were some clunkers (hello, Icecrown County Fair and Trial of the Big Round Room!), but in general, Wrath was great.  Even the quests were awesome.  Well, mostly…

The poor bastard in the picture above is Crusader Bridenbrad.  We first hear about Bridenbrad from Highlord Tirion Fordring of the Argent Crusade after we’ve helped the Crusade cleanse and secure Crusader’s Pinnacle in Icecrown.  Apparently, during the fierce battle on the Broken Front, Bridenbrad distinguished himself by dragging “more than a dozen” Argents to safety after their column was scattered.  Fordring wants you to go find Bridenbrad, up in the northeast of Icecrown, and bring him back so he can be honored for his bravery.

Thus begins one of the more interesting–and, for some of us, maddening–questlines in Wrath of the Lich King.  First you find Bridenbrad alone in a small cul-de-sac in northeast Icecrown (the subzone is called “Silent Vigil”).  Unfortunately, Bridenbrad was wounded by Scourge, and is dying of some sort of Scourge taint.  He sends you back to Tirion with his best Jewish-grandmother impersation, something like, “no, you just go, you kids go and have your fun, I’ll be fine.  Really.  I’ll be OK, just go.  I’ll stay here.  Alone.  In the snow.  Turning into a ghoul that you’ll never call or come visit.  But I’ll be fine, no, really, it’s OK, I’ll learn to like eating brains.”  Tirion, upon your return to Crusader’s Pinnacle, says “fuck that noise” (not in so many words) and sends you on a world-spanning fly-and-fetch questline to bring back something to save the noble Crusader.

Your first stop will be Moonglade, where Keeper Remulos will have you enter the Nightmare to gather some acorns.  He will then make the acorns into some sort of chicken soup that he thinks may be able to save Bridenbrad, although he doesn’t sound too optimistic.  You go back to Icecrown, Fordring sends you back out to Silent Vigil, and you give Bridenbrad the chicken soup.  It’s yummy, and it makes him feel a little better, but he’s still, unfortunately, on the express train to Ghoulville.

Fordring, upon your return to the Pinnacle, then decides to escalate the problem to higher management…that would be Alexstrasza, the Life-Binder, her own twelve-foot-tall bikini-clad self, who agrees to help you if you go to the Ruby Dragonshrine and pick up a Dahlia’s Tear for her.  She takes the Tear and creates the Breath of Alexstrasza (which, by the way, Blizz, would be a great name for seriously hot hot sauce–Mr. Morhaime, you can pay me for that idea later), sends you back to Fordring, and he sends you back to Bridenbrad.  He takes the hot sauce, which is so spicy that it actually melts the snow and makes flowers grow around him…but all the Scoville units in the world aren’t going to burn the Scourge taint out of him.  So far the score is Cooties 2, Major Lore Figures 0.

Tirion, however, won’t give up.  He pulls his trump card and sends you to speak to A’dal, the chief naaru in Shattrath.  The naaru, after all, are literally personifications of the Light…if anyone would know how to remove the plague of impending undeath from a man, it would be A’dal. So you head to Shattrath and speak with A’dal.  A’dal, being the somewhat annoying NPC that he is, says he knows why you’ve come (don’t they always?), and then says this:

I am pleased that you have come to me, Linedan. I know of Crusader Bridenbrad, and of your travels in hope of saving him. Bridenbrad’s valor has sparked remarkable selflessness in you, and this is a miracle unto itself.

The Light will take care of its own. I will extend my blessing to Bridenbrad and he shall not endure the corruption of undeath. I shall return you to Dalaran, and you shall return to him. Know that I remain with you.

This is great news.  Sounds like Fordring’s persistence has paid off, right?  You catch a portal back to Dalaran (empty-handed) and fly back out to Bridenbrad.  By that time, the poor Crusader is very close to death.  He thanks you for your Herculean efforts on his behalf, and then…

You have returned to me, warrior. I must admit… it is good to see you again… your face renews my hope that this land will be free of Arthas’s grasp one day soon. I’m proud to have met you…

Bridenbrad’s words trail off, a dim smile on his face. As life seems to slip from him, a gentle ringing fills your ears.

At that point, A’dal and his two sidekicks K’uri and M’ori appear floating over Bridenbrad’s dying body.  Instead of the Crusader being healed and standing up, Bridenbrad’s spirit floats out of his body and ascends in a pillar of light as A’dal speaks:

A’dal says: Fear not, young one, for this crusader shall not taste death.
A’dal says: In life, Bridenbrad was the bearer of great deeds. Now, in passing, he shall taste only paradise.
A’dal says: The light does not abandon its champions.

And that’s it.  The naaru wink out.  Bridenbrad’s dead body disappears.  You’re left standing in a snowy wasteland with a dying campfire and a box of possessions that you then take back to Tirion, and receive one of them as a reward.

The first time I did this quest, on Linedan, I just stood there blinking for a minute.  I was confused.  Apparently A’dal, the most powerful of the naaru, the slightly creepy Shattrath windchimes that basically are the material representation of the vaunted Light, couldn’t be arsed to de-Scourgify Bridenbrad?  Or perhaps the taint is so strong that not even A’dal could save him?  OK, that makes more sense then.  Can’t save the guy, A’dal figured, so why not just vacuum the spirit out of his body so he won’t have to experience being a mindless servant of Arthas?

That sound you heard was the top popping on a big ol’ fresh can of worms.

First of all, one of A’dal’s lines…“in passing, he shall taste only paradise.” I’ve been digging around all day when I could get time, and I can’t find anything on followers of the Light (be they mainline Church of the Holy Light or spin-offs like the Argents or Scarlets) holding a belief in an afterlife or paradise.  Shamans talk about the “spirit world,” where there are departed spirits of all kinds running around; troll priests have their Loas, and there are references here and there to ghosts and spirits and such, that’s all well-known.  But I can’t find a single thing talking about any sort of afterlife, especially a “paradise,” for Light-worshippers.  Maybe I missed it, I don’t know.  Maybe Bridenbrad is just so special that he gets into the VIP room in the back of Club Naaru, where the Dom Perignon flows like water and the playahs and ballahs chill with their groupies, while the garden-variety good people are waiting in line out front under the watchful eye of Aldor bouncers in black T-shirts.  Something about the whole thing just does not seem to fit into Light lore, at least in my fairly limited view of it.  I admit, my knowledge of Warcraftish lore is not all that great–I have access to the usual Internet sources, but don’t own any of the Warcraft d20 sourcebooks or anything like that.

But then, we get to the real kicker…when A’dal says, “The Light does not abandon its champions.”

Reeeealllly.

Then please explain to the court, Mr. A’dal, why there are a metric asston of former Argent paladins walking around Scourgeholme as skeletons, bouncing Hammers of Injustice off my dome willy-nilly.  Please explain what happened to the thousands of good, solid, Light-worshipping folk in Lordaeron and environs who did not get the Heavenly Elevator but instead got a few days’ rest in the clay of Tirisfal before rising back up as Arthas’ infantry.  Please explain why you can’t swing a dead gnome in north central Icecrown without hitting a Converted Hero, doomed to wander in anguish until somebody on a daily quest to get Valiants’ Seals comes along and puts them out of their misery.  Were they not “champions of the Light?”  No one’s doubting that Crusader Bridenbrad is an exceptional hero.  But haven’t a lot of heroes fallen before the Scourge and been doomed to serve it?  Why didn’t they get to “taste only paradise?”

And on top of the potential lore-bending, and the issues caused by the “why him and not them” question, there’s an even more ridiculous element to it.  When Bridenbrad was put into the game initially in Wrath, there was nothing up in his neck of the woods but Sindragosa’s Fall, meaning his nearest neighbors were vry’kul and creepy cultists.  But with the subsequent 3.1 and 3.2 patches, Blizzard gave us the Argent Tournament (or, as I like to call it, the Icecrown County Fair).  And they happened to put it right over the rise from Bridenbrad’s campfire.

So you can imagine…here’s this poor sod, dying out in the snow, leagues from nowhere…and now he sees this steady stream of gryphons and windriders flying north and south over him.  He hears on the wind the sounds of hammering, the shouts of workers, the clang of arms…and then the sounds of cheering from the Tournament proper.  Hey, maybe if there was an onshore northerly wind, he could even get a whiff of the concessions.  A three-minute stagger north of him, hundreds of Argents and adventurers are gathered in what became for a while the focal point of the assault on the Lich King.  And there was poor Bridenbrad, alone and forgotten (assuming you hadn’t already done the quests and phased him out).

Ridiculous?  Yeah, maybe I’m being ridiculous, or picky, or whatever.  But something about that questline has never completely sat right with me.  I’ve had trouble articulating it, which is why I haven’t ranted about it until now.  Maybe it weirds me out because of my own Christian beliefs, and I’m not comfortable with A’dal pretending to be God and Bridenbrad pretending to be Enoch.  The whole thing seemed to bend lore in directions that I didn’t think it should be bent.

But it wasn’t until this morning, when doing some research for this post, that the Wowpedia entry for Bridenbrad snapped this whole thing into focus for me:

Bridenbrad is named for Bradford C. Bridenbecker, the brother of Robert Bridenbecker, Blizzard’s Vice President of Online Technologies. He was the city manager of La Habra, California, not far from Blizzard’s offices in Irvine, from 2002 until his death from cancer in 2007. He was also an avid player of World of Warcraft. In the Wrath of the Lich King manual, he is listed under “Special Thanks” as “Bradford C. Bridenbecker R.I.P. 6.18.2007″.

Robert Bridenbecker revealed in the World of Warcraft 5th anniversary interviews that shortly after his brother’s death, he sent an e-mail to Blizzard to request a character be created in his honor. Chris Metzen, who had attended Brad Bridenbecker’s funeral, heard of this and offered one of two ways: To add him as part of the main storyline for World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, or to give him his own epic quest chain. Under the direction of Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi, the Bridenbrad quest chain was created in tribute to Brad Bridenbecker’s battle against his illness.

I never knew that.  Now it all makes sense.  This isn’t some silly thing that was casually thrown in…it’s a real tribute, to a real man, who fought a real battle against a real disease, and lost. Knowing that, all my worries about lore and continuity and such things seem rather petty.  I still have issues with the way the questline was put into the game, but honestly, they don’t really matter all that much now that I know the real story behind Crusader Bridenbrad.

I hope and pray that the real “Bridenbrad”–Bradford Bridenbecker–just like his fictional counterpart, was able, in the end, to “taste only paradise.”  After all, in my own beliefs, the Light doesn’t abandon its fallen champions, either.


Random Acts of Friday II

I swear I’ve got some good posts percolating.  Somewhere.  No, seriously.  Really.  But in the meantime, have another fun-size grab-bag of “oh shit I really should post something” desperation…

- Bad news, melee DPS and tanks:  Nerfs are on the horizon with the latest 4.0.3 PTR patch build 13245.  MMO Champion has the details…it looks like that passive self-healing took a hit across the board, but none were worse than the nerf to Blood Craze in the Fury tree.  Previously it would heal 2.5% of max health per talent point over 10 seconds (so 2.5/5/7.5%); with 2/2 Field Dressing, that netted out to 9.6% of maximum health restored over 10 seconds, on a 10% chance per hit taken.  Build 13245 slashes that healing to 1/2/3%.  I don’t know what the final number will be with maxed Field Dressing, but I think it’ll be somewhere just north of 4%.  Obviously that’s a significant cut, and it remains to be seen whether that will render Blood Craze a much less “mandatory” talent.  I’ve been of the opinion that it’s a no-brainer to take it just to lessen the strain on our healers, but so far, our healers haven’t been straining, even on ICC-level content.  That may change once we head into Cataclysm and see the instances there.  In the meantime, I’m giving serious thought to dropping Blood Craze at least temporarily and loading those points over into maxing Shield Specialization in the hope of solving some of the occasional rage issues Linedan and Latisha are both running into.

- The Anvil, our 25-man raid, folded up shop for the duration last night with a final run through the raid weekly (Malygos).  We’re now on hiatus and will be back in action for Cataclysm around January 13, 2011.  Our final scorecard:  Cleared Naxx, cleared Ulduar normal with a few hardmodes here and there, cleared Trial of the Wake Me Up When It’s Over, and never bothered with Trial of the Wake Me Up OH GOD MY FACE (the heroic version).  We completed normal 25-man ICC with our single hard-fought and emotional Arthas kill, and did get two heroic encounters in there done, Lootship and Rotface.  It’s not exactly a record that the Paragons or Ensidias of the world would find impressive, but it’s by far the best we’ve ever done for an expansion, and I wouldn’t trade the fun and hilarity we had for all the world-firsts in the, uh, world.  It was a hell of a ride, kids, and I’m glad I was along for it.

- That doesn’t mean I’m quite done with raiding, though.  I tank a 10-man that runs for three hours each Saturday afternoon, and with The Anvil shutting down temporarily, that means we’ll be going back into ICC for more heroic modes (we’re currently 7/12 HM) and a crack at those tasty proto-drakes.  Of course, that means heroic Putricide…and heroic Sindragosa…and what I know is going to be the bane of my existence, All You Can Eat.  Oh God.

- There was a minor kerfuffle in the WoWosphere over the past couple days when Frostheim, WoW Insider hunter columnist and main guy over at the Warcraft Hunter’s Union blog, posted a story about running heroic Old Kingdom and what happened therein.  (It’s too complicated to rehash here…go read Frostheim’s post and the rest of this will make sense.)  Most of his commenters backed him up on it, or at least thought it was funny (and honestly, I can see that).  Well, Amber at I Like Bubbles offers the counterpoint, in which she brings up the valid (and, IMO, accurate) point that when you’re a higher-visibility member of a community, you really shouldn’t go around acting like a penis.  Not that you ever should anyway, but you get the idea.

And, here’s a few random gems from the Interwebs:

Y’all have a good weekend, and remember, it’s all fun and games until Deathwing puts somebody’s eye out.


I’m ready for my close-up (I’m on the WoWPhiles Podcast!)

A couple of weeks ago, the guys at the WoWPhiles Podcast put the call out on Twitter asking for people to volunteer to be on their podcast talking about their favorite class and spec, providing advice for new players and stuff like that.  For reasons still as yet unknown to me, I volunteered.  Also for reasons still as yet unknown to me, they accepted.

So after a hurried install of Skype (which caused a few blown eardrums in my raid after it automagically jacked up my mic volume in Ventrilo, BTW) and some quick research, I hooked up with Jason from WoWPhiles and recorded a segment for Episode 47 of the show, which is now up for download or listening on their website.  The show also features Bliky from One Man Raid talking about survival hunters, and the lovely and talented Liala from Disciplinary Action talking about everybody’s favorite bubble vendors, disc priests.

I’m actually listening to my segment as I type this, and boy, you’d think I’d know this by now considering I’m 44 years old, but I didn’t quite realize my voice was that high-pitched.  My wife calls it a “tenor.”  To me, it sounds like Red Shirt Guy on helium.  More precisely, Red Shirt Guy on helium and meth, because I was so nervous, I was talking about a hundred miles an hour.  Oh, and Time Warner can lick my sweaty balls because our upload bandwidth is crappy enough that it cut me out a few times.  I have enough issues with sounding like a gnome IRL without also sounding like Max Headroom.

There’s some great information on the podcast.  It’s two hours and twenty-seven minutes of jam-packed WoW information, with a dash of Panzercow topping.  So go check it out!

 


Random acts of Friday

I don’t know if this is going to become a regular feature of Achtung Panzercow or not–is anything ever regular around here?–but hey, it’s Friday, and I’m feeling random.  So here’s a grab bag of stuff.

- I ran ICC 25N last night with Linedan in our “third tank” position.  Basically, it’s the utility infielder job, where sometimes I tank and sometimes I DPS.  I think I swapped specs six times in three hours, going Prot for Marrowgar, Deathwhisper + trash, Putricide, and Team Edward Sparkle Disco Party and Blood Wing trash, and Fury for everything else.  (We cleared everything but Sindragosa and Arthas.)  It’s kind of a crappy job, because being the third tank on fights like Marrowgar and Putricide is pretty boring.  You stand there, you do lousy DPS.  And the constant spec-switching makes it hard to get into a good rhythm.  But, since we rotate our four tanks around week to week, everybody gets to do it.

- Last night was my first raid trying out Fury in 4.0.  It’s…interesting.  My damage was up from 3.x, not as far up as the casters of course (warlock sustaining 18k for the first half of ICC…wtf?) but still up about 15%.  The rotation’s changed a bit, with Whirlwind’s damage nerf removing it from common use in favor of Raging Blow on single targets, I guess.  The numbers I saw flying across the screen were impressively big, with lots of five-digit crits bouncing around, but the overall damage wasn’t reflecting that.  I’m guessing that’s because I no longer have Deep Wounds ticking constantly, and the change to Bloodsurge (only firing off Bloodthirst hits and not Heroic Strike hits) means a lot fewer free Slams.  Still, I managed to crack 10k DPS on Saurfang and 12k on Festergut.  Frighteningly, 12k DPS was only good for tenth place on Festergut.

- Further on Fury…the damage feels “lumpy,” for lack of a better word.  It comes in bursts, like when Raging Blow and Heroic Strike come off cooldown at the same time, or when I get a lucky streak of Bloodsurge procs.  There aren’t a whole lot of dead spots, and in general it feels a bit more active than the 3.x “Bloodthirst, Whirlwind, oh look, let’s spam Heroic Strike/Cleave and pray I get a Bloodsurge proc before I fall asleep” setup.  However, I was surprised to find that my rotation wasn’t always cooldown-limited, but rage-limited.  I rarely had rage issues as Fury in 3.x.  There were a fair number of points last night where everything on my bar was either dark or on cooldown, and the waits to rebuild rage were agonizing.  Just like with Prot, overuse of Heroic Strike or Cleave for Fury left me in a bad spot quite a bit.  Finding the balance of when to HS and when not to HS is going to take me some time.

- One more thing on Fury…Execute spam is back with a vengeance.  The tooltip seemed to indicate that it would only do about 4000 damage.  I was dropping regular hits in the 13-17k range, with crits as high as 34,000.  On Blood Queen Lana’thel, when I got bitten late in the fight, I hit a lucky streak and was able to land six Execute crits in a row for between 55,000 and 65,000 damage each.   I AM A LARGE FURRY VAMPIRIC GOD.

- I am in the process of doing some adjustments on Linedan and I need help from the Prot community.  When in his normal tank gear, which is mostly ilevel 264ish, he runs about 50k health, 22% dodge and parry, 30% block (no mastery yet), 4.5% hit, and 12 expertise.  I’ve decided I need to boost his hit and expertise back up toward the caps in this brave new world of lower tank threat and higher DPS.  I actually reforged him out of about 1.2% of dodge this morning to get him to a bit over 6% hit and 15 expertise, and am seriously considering replacing the Mongoose enchant on his tank weapon with Accuracy (+25 hit, +25 crit).  Right now, he’s gemmed straight +30 stamina except for other stuff to get his meta activated.  If anyone wants to take a look at his Armory (link over to the right in the sidebar) and toss out an opinion on where I can close the gaps to 8% hit and 23 expertise, it’d be appreciated.

- Speaking of tanking, we got some fairly significant shield-related changes announced yesterday.  MMO Champion has the blue posts on Shield Block changes reposted here, and Zellviren over at The Dead Good Tanking Guide has an explanation of why the reduction of the Shield Block bonus block chance from +100% to +25% really isn’t that big a nerf.  (Zellviren’s excellent link courtesy of Rhidach at Righteous Defense.)  In addition, the latest beta build 13221 has significantly increased the base damage on Shield Slam–as in, a 125% increase, about 1100 points before attack power’s added in.  But, the catch is that Shield Slam damage now scales less with attack power.  So my guess is that our normal Shield Slams will hit harder, which is good, because they’ve been behind Revenge for a while in beta now.  But once we get our Vengeance on and are wandering around with five-digit attack power and Shield Block activated (with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions), we probably won’t see those massive wood-inducing crits anymore.  Good-bye, 46k Shield Slam crits.  I’ll always remember our crazy nights together.

- Have a few other great blog posts from this past week, around the WoWosphere:

  • Vosskah at Sword and Board talks about his first impressions of 4.0.1 tanking.
  • Kadomi at Tank Like a Girl is putting together a list of warrior blogs for all specs, not just Prot.  DPS warriors in particular seem very underserved in the WoWosphere, so if you know of a good warrior blog, send it her way.
  • Amber at I Like Bubbles has cat macros.  What else do you need?
  • The saga of Gerald continues at Righteous Orbs.
  • Finally, the community is losing two outstanding bloggers.  Laranya at Root and Branch has decided to pack it in after a short but spectacular run; thank you, Laranya, and keep hanging out on Twitter, we miss you!
  • And one of the best warrior tank resources, Tanking Tips, is closing its doors.  Veneretio has been bringing the theory for a long time now, and his departure is going to leave a big void.  Vene, as one of the tanks who have been immeasurably helped by your hard work, thank you, and we’ll really miss your insight.

- And, in closing, I can announce that yours truly, the Panzercow, has completed his first attempt at podcasting!  I will be doing a segment on Prot warriors on the WoWPhiles Podcast that should be out this weekend.  Keep an eye out for it, and you too can hear that, in fact, I sound absolutely nothing like a Tauren.  (Plus, Liala from Disciplinary Action is on there too!)


The Department of (no more) Defense

To me, one of the best tanking changes that’s come along with Cataclysm and patch 4.0.1 is the complete removal of the Defense stat from WoW.  At first, when I heard about it, I was a little annoyed, because I thought it was going to upset the whole apple cart in terms of how I geared.  Then when I heard about the trees, I was a little annoyed that I’d have to blow two of my precious first 31 points in the Prot tree in order to be uncrittable.

I was, as usual, completely wrong.

The removal of Defense from the game opens up a veritable world of possibilities for us as tanks.  Think about it.  By putting two talent points in Bastion of Defense, we’re accomplishing the same thing as stacking 689 (I think) Defense rating, or 140 Defense points, on our gear at level 80.  And honestly, you’d almost certainly take Bastion of Defense anyway because of the 10%/20% Enrage chance on a successful block, dodge, or parry.  So it’s all gain, no real loss.  We can equip anything and we’re still uncrittable.

In this strange interregnum before the world falls apart, where we’re dealing with classes balanced for level 85 stuck at level 80, where we overgear 95% of the content, this removal of Defense is having something of an odd effect on one of our common tanky pastimes…the random heroic.  Yeah, I know, running random PUGs is about as much fun as a prostate exam (or a pap smear for you ladies) these days, but there’s still reasons that we have to do it–snagging Justice Points for offset upgrades, or heirlooms for your alts, or gearing up guildies.

Now if you’ve tanked some heroics the past two weeks, you know that your AOE threat is down a bit, or maybe more than a bit depending on your class.  At the same time, the badge to Justice Point conversion has let some people drastically upgrade their gear, as their stockpile of Triumph badges let them buy some more Tier 10.  Add in the huge DPS increases that some classes got (yes, mages, you can stop cackling gleefully now), and the fact that people still cannot grasp the concept of “wait two seconds to let the tank get agro,” and I’ll bet you’ve been having a moderately frustrating time running your heroics.

Well, ol’ Uncle Panzercow is here to give you a tip:

Run them in your DPS gear.  Or your PvP gear.

You do have DPS gear, right?  I imagine that most tanks do have a DPS offspec.  Many of you have probably accumulated some PvP gear, maybe even the high-quality arena stuff.  Some, I know, do have dual prot or other tanking specs, or no offspec at all, and if you do, that’s OK, but you still might want to rummage around for some DPS gear here and there.  Here’s why.

If you are badge-geared in T9 or T10-level tank stuff, you overgear the hell out of every single heroic out there–yes, even Halls of Will You Idiots Line-of-Sight the Goddamn Phantom Mage, Please.  You’ve got so much avoidance stacked, you’re starved for rage because you aren’t getting hit.  Your crit%’s in the single digits and you’re rocking far north of 40,000 health, maybe more than 50,000.  Healers fall asleep because you never get in trouble.  Thing is, though, with the 4.0 threat changes, now you’re probably having a lot more trouble keeping agro on trash packs when the DPS decide to go “DUUUURP BIG NUKE” right at the start of the fight.  No rage, no threat, and here comes the spew in /party of “zomg wtf ur bad tnak.”

Now suppose you have a near-equivalent set of DPS gear–again, T9ish or higher.  Try an experiment.  Stay in Prot spec and Defensive Stance, but put the DPS gear on with your tank weapon and shield.  Now look at your stats.  You do still have some dodge and parry percentages, I’ll guess they’re in the high single digits.  Your block percentage hasn’t changed much, it’s 30% plus whatever mastery you’ve reforged onto either set of gear.  Your AP is probably up (remember, no Armored to the Teeth anymore), your crit% is way up, and your health isn’t down nearly as far as you thought.  Most DPS plate still stacks a big chunk of stamina on it, and you still get that +15% to your stamina from mastery.  If you have PvP gear?  Same thing, with even more stamina.

Voila.  You’re basically in tank gear a tier or two below your “real” tank gear…except your DPS is going to skyrocket.

I’ll use a real-world example with Linedan.  He’s fully geared in sanctified T10, ilevel 251 and 264 tank items.  In a random heroic, that gives him, eh, 23% dodge and parry each, 55,000 health buffed out, 27k armor, 2.6% base crit, 3600 attack power.  If I swap over to his Fury set, but stay in Prot spec/Defensive Stance, use his Scourgebourne Waraxe as a weapon, and keep his shield equipped?  9% dodge, 13% parry, about 22k armor.  But…try 35% crit, 4400 attack power, and still well over 40,000 health.

I have tanked a couple of heroics using the hybrid DPS gear/Prot spec setup and let me tell you, it’s been brilliantly effective.  The acid test was in Forge of Souls last night.  We had a death nugget, a boomkin, and a rogue for DPS.  The rogue liked to sneak forward and had an odd knack for picking the wrong target to attack.  And we all know that  boomkins can be serious threat monsters now.  Also, don’t forget that FoS is one of the trickier instances for pulling and gathering due to the wide spacing of the trash groups between the entrance and Bronjahm.

It turned out to be probably the smoothest and fastest FoS run that I’ve ever tanked…and I didn’t do anything differently from how I ran it in 3.3.  Except in my Fury gear, I was generating insane threat.  Enough to keep a slightly trigger-happy rogue, a critchicken, and a T10-geared DK alive with only a few taunts here and there.  Blood and Thunder was very effective, and I was getting enough rage from incoming hits that I could use Cleave and Thunder Clap reasonably often to hold threat over the healgro.  I ended up pumping out an astonishing 3600 dps for the run, just behind the DK’s 3800 and just ahead of the rogue and boomkin.  That’s not half bad for a warrior tank in an heroic.

Now, was I getting hit more?  Yep.  Did that make the healer (a priest) work harder?  Well, technically, yes, but when’s the last time you saw a healer have to work at all to keep a T10-geared tank up in a heroic?  The priest never went below 70% mana, and I rarely went below 70% health.  In fact, it was a good thing that I was getting hit more.  Remember Vengeance?  I take more damage, I get more attack power, I deliver more damage, which means more threat, which means the DPS can go harder?  It’s the great Circle of Pain, as Elton John might sing.

Now, DPS gear is viable for tanking any content that you outgear, certainly not for progression stuff.  I don’t think I’d try taking on Arthas in my T10 Fury gear, and I probably wouldn’t even use it in Trial of the Oh God It’s The Same Round Room Again Kill Me Now, but weekly raids in Naxx or Ulduar or Eye of Eternity?  Heroics?  Yep.  I’d do it in a heartbeat…after clearing it with the healer(s) and the raidleaders.  You will get hit more, and you’ll need to be careful of encounters that toss out a lot of damage–for example, I put the real tank gear back on for Devourer of Souls in FoS, simply because Phantom Blast hits very hard, and I wanted a little cushion in case I missed a Spell Reflect or interrupt and something went sideways with the healing.  But for trash?  DPS gear, kids.  It works.

In fact, come Cataclysm, I think it may work better for us to level as Prot in our DPS or PvP gear.  I didn’t try it much on the beta but I probably should’ve.  We would still get the benefit of Prot’s survivability, with higher DPS.  It’s definitely something to think about.


Now everybody is on the run…

…’cause Beltar’s got a gun.  (Sorry, Aerosmith fans.)

Beltar, my poor somewhat-neglected dwarf marksman hunter, like guns.  A lot.  No surprise there, right…after all, he is a dwarf, and he’s been single-spec marksman since day one.  But he’s also not so set in his ways that he’d turn down an upgrade.  So on one of his rare forays into Icecrown Citadel in a 10-man a few months ago, when a Njorndar Bone Bow dropped to replace his beloved rifle from the Big Round Room, The Diplomat, he took it–albeit reluctantly.

When 4.0 dropped, he had enough Justice Points saved up (thanks to a stack of over 240 Badges of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog) to immediately upgrade to four-piece T10 (one of them ilevel 264, the rest basic ilevel 251).  But obviously, there’s no guns available with badges.  The bow has done him well, but it just didn’t look right to see this old fart who’d been humping a gun of some sort around the Eastern Kingdoms forever throwing his shoulder out of joint to use a bow…not even a crossbow, a stinking elfy bow. As Beltar might say, “dammit, ain’t proper fer a dwarf t’be seen w’a stick an’ a string, ‘cept in emergencies, o’course.”

Well, I was chatting with Rilgon from Stabilized Effort Scope–a guy who lives, breathes, eats, pees, poops, and probably has carnal thoughts about marks huntering when he’s not having them about gnomes–on Twitter a couple days ago, and when I mentioned something about wanting to replace that bow with a gun but being very short on options due to Beltar not having access to any raids on Alliance-side Feathermoon, he suggested that I look at the Wrathful Gladiator’s Rifle.  This is the ilevel 264 version of the season 8 arena reward weapon.  During the arena season, it required an arena rating of 1800 to purchase.  I don’t do arenas, so I hadn’t paid PvP rewards any mind.  Rilgon said that the lower Wrathful items, the ilevel 264 versions, could now be bought with honor only, 2550 points to be precise…this despite the fact that when I checked, they still had a big red blurb on the tooltip that said “requires a personal or team arena rating of 1800.”

Thanks to a stupidly huge number of Stone Keeper’s Shards he’d built up, Beltar had something like 1700 honor saved up.  He needed 2550 for the gun.  And I said to myself five fateful words that I just know I should never say, but I always do it anyway…

“How hard can it be?”

The correct answer is “plenty,” when you’re on the Alliance side in the Cyclone battlegroup (where Horde tend to dominate most battlegrounds except Alterac Valley), and you’re an MM hunter with zero resilience in ilevel 245/251/264 PvE gear, and you have no damn idea how to PvP on a hunter because you’ve got maybe 400 lifetime HKs to start with, and you’ve never even been in Strand of the Ancients or Isle of Conquest.

There’s a word for people like me.  That word is “noob.”

I won my first-ever trip to Isle of Conquest by following my normal AV strategy–find the biggest group of friendlies I can, stay in the middle of them, and shoot stuff with a red tag.  Could be a healer, could be a warrior, could be a water elemental, could be a cat, could be a felguard–doesn’t matter.  Hit “tab” and open up like Rambo with an M60 (including the guttural yelling) on the first thing that I randomly target, that’s how I roll.  (Hey, I said I was bad at this.)  I then stand there and shoot until either it dies or its friends show up, I completely forget where Disengage and Deterrence and all my trap keys are, and I die.

It was, in a word, a painful two days.  With everybody stacking huge resilience, that bow might as well have been shooting Nerf arrows…while with my zero resilience, I was all but two-shotted by mages more than once.  (Seriously, frost mages, wtf.  15k and 11k simultaneous crits?  Daaaamn.)  I was in the first AV I’ve ever seen where the Horde actually out-zerged the Alliance.  Normally, if both sides bumrush to the opposite end of the map without stopping, the Alliance always wins.  Well, that doesn’t work when you get 15 people into Drek’s room, the tank pulls…and nobody heals him, either because there’s no healers there or the healers are all standing around looking at each other saying, “I thought you were going to do it.”  We spawn all the way back at the north end of the map, Horde kill Vandar, gee gee noob, here’s your consolation-prize 15 honor instead of 45 because you were afflicted with teh dumb.

And that chat.  Oh dear sweet zombie Arthas, battleground chat is so stupid it hurts. Especially in AV, when all the amateur Pattons and Rommels get into arguments first about strategy, then about parentage.  “ALL ON O RUSH RUSH RUSH” followed by “NO NEED D AT STONEHEARTH AND BALINDA” followed by “stfu noob, ur mom neds d lol”…do you guys on PvP servers have to put up with this level of dumbass constantly? If you do, my God, I feel for you and can’t believe you can stand it.

The only thing that saved me from giving up on the upgrade was a Feathermoon peculiarity–the Alliance own Lake Wintergrasp probably 95% of the time.  It’s really rather ridiculous.  There are a ton of very good Horde PvPers on Feathermoon, but they just don’t care much about Wintergrasp any more.  So as Alliance, it’s relatively easy to go into a WG, rip out a few quests, tear up the towers, sponge a bit of honor, retain the fort, sponge more honor, and come out with 100-125 quick and easy honor points for very little effort.

So after two days of frustration and idiocy, I finally cracked 2550 honor, and immediately ran to the vendor under Dalaran.  And lo and behold, tooltip be damned, Beltar could buy and equip his new Wrathful Gladiator’s Rifle.  The dwarf had a gun, and all was right with the world.

Now, all it needed was a name.  His old rifle from Karazhan had picked up the name “Black Death.”  So this charming little boomstick, with its huge stock and spikes sticking everywhere, needed a name too.  I thought for a few seconds, and then remembered how generally unpleasant getting it had been, how stupid the chat had been in all the battlegrounds, and how tactically moronic so many of the losing sides had been, and I had my answer.

Say hello…to the Durpinator.


With great Vengeance

“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers! And you will know my name is the Lord [pulls out his gun and aims it at Brett] when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”    –Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”

I’ve been a bit behind the curve on getting up to speed with the changes that hit us in patch 4.0.1–being out of town for five days just after the patch dropped will do that, since it meant I missed The Anvil’s first 25-man raid last Thursday.  But I was there for this week’s hoedown, and I was front and center in the main tank slot for Sindragosa and Arthas.  It was, in several ways, a very edumacashunal (as we said back in the sticks where I grew up) evening.

Really, tanking last night didn’t feel very different from when I tanked Sindy and Arthas in 3.3.  As a prot warrior, my priority system has changed very little; less Heroic Strike, one Rend at the start of a fight followed by a Thunder Clap to stick it on all mobs, and other than that, it’s the same old same old.  Sword and Board proc’d Shield Slams come first, then Shield Slam, then Revenge, with Devastate as the filler, Heroic Strike to bleed rage, and at least one Thunder Clap every 12-15 seconds to keep Rend and the slow up.  The biggest change to my years of muscle memory is that I now have to unlearn something that it took me two years to learn, which is Heroic Strike spam.  I never used to hit it enough.  Now I’m hitting it too much.  I actually found myself badly rage-starved early in the Lich King fight on two or three occasions, when I got an avoidance streak combined with overaggressive HS use.  Since Lin doesn’t have any points in Shield Specialization, he doesn’t get any rage back when he blocks.  If I’m careful with HS, no problem.  If I’m not, I can dig myself a momentary hole.

The biggest changes had to do with threat.  My main education last night was seeing how threat works in the 4.0 world, and what I need to do as the tank–and what the DPS needs to do–to make everything go smoothly.

Our first Arthas pull was a disaster.  One of our ret paladins ripped agro off me in less than ten seconds.  Then a warlock pulled off her, then a feral druid pulled off him…two people dead almost instantly.  And the DPS didn’t back off to let me get him back.  I admit I let out a growl that scared the cats and probably made my poor wife think I was turning into a worgen IRL.  I hate losing agro…I don’t generally get mad at the person who pulled unless they did some serious durp, I just generally chalk it up to me not being able to put out the threat.

After that, the raid leaders asked the DPS to wait before unloading, both to give me more solid threat time and to give the offtank more time to get more ghouls on him, for Necrotic Plague stacks.  I didn’t have any more significant threat issues after that, but I did notice something.  My snap agro at the beginning of a fight is definitely off from the world of 3.x.  My usual opening combo of Heroic Throw/Shield Slam just wasn’t sticking mobs to me like it used to.  Combine that with the huge DPS gains that certain classes (I’m looking at you, warlocks) have received in 4.0, and the old adage of “wait for the sunders” suddenly becomes more important than ever.  Opening with a big nuke is going to get your face eaten.

And the reason for this, I believe, is the Vengeance mechanic.  It’s a mastery that all tank class/spec combos–blood death nuggets, prot pallies, beardurids, and prot warriors–get in Cataclysm.  Put simply, whenever you take damage, 5% of that damage number is added to your attack power for 10 seconds, up to a total maximum of 10% of your maximum health.  So if Arthas smacks you upside the head for 20,000 damage, you get 1000 added to your attack power for 10 seconds.

When Vengeance first came out in the alpha, it looked pretty much like it does now.  And I was convinced at the time that it would never go live in that form, because the numbers shaped up to be ridiculous.  When tanking ICC, Linedan typically buffs out at over 72,000 health.  So merely by getting hit by Arthas a few times, he could pick up as much as 7200 attack power?  That would put him well over ten thousand AP.  No way that Blizzard would ever let a tank have that much AP, right?

Shows you how much I know.

My first indication of the effect that Vengeance was having was when I started seeing some big yellow numbers float up on my screen during Arthas phase 1.  I mean, big yellow numbers.  Five-digit big.  As a prot warrior, I rarely see five-digit yellow numbers on Lin, so out of curiosity, I opened up his character pane.

Attack power?  Wobbling between 12,000 and 12,500.  His base AP with buffs at pull time was roughly 4700.  Throw in a few other buffs in combat, and the difference would be around 7,000…indicating that he’d hit the ceiling on Vengeance.

You can imagine what a prot warrior with twelve thousand AP was doing.  18k Revenge crits.  15k normal Shield Slam hits without Shield Block up.  The night’s crowning glory was a Shield Blocked Shield Slam crit for precisely 41,564.  On one Arthas attempt where we never got out of phase 1 due to the OT dying, Lin did well over 8000 dps.  On the attempts where we got well into phase 2 before it all fell apart, he was still doing around 6000 dps.  That’s double what he was doing in 3.3.

And here’s the kicker…he needed it.  Because once the DPS got the clearance to put their foot to the floor, that six to eight thousand DPS was giving me the threat-per-second I needed to stay ahead.  Without it, there’s no way.  We had three warlocks each doing well north of 10,000 DPS consistently.  That’s a lot of threat to have to overcome.  At Lin’s normal 3000 DPS, I really don’t think he could have stayed ahead of them.  But at 6000, 7000, 8000 DPS?  He did.  If they gave me 10 to 15 seconds of light DPS at the beginning–not even no DPS, just taking it easy–then dropped the hammer, I could stay ahead of them easily.  If they went for it right from the start?  No chance I could hang on.

So it seems obvious to me after this experience that Blizzard is now balancing tank threat around the Vengeance mechanic.  On boss fights, they are expecting the tank to have a huge boost in attack power thanks to Vengeance, and be putting out damage that’s pretty insane compared to pre-4.0 levels.  DPS threat will be tuned around that.  If we take that as a given–and it’s not, it’s just my observation and opinion, but let’s just roll with it–it leads to a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, every tank class, even prot warriors, the previous “kings of snap agro,” now has a ramp-up time on their maximum threat.  Beforehand, if we had enough rage, we could just unload a couple of high-threat moves and get a solid hold on the target, or a DK could just inappropriately Icy Touch something and it would be stuck on him like glue.  No more.  If our threat in relation to the DPS’ is balanced around us having six or seven or eight thousand more attack power than we do at the start of a fight, where they don’t have the same restrictions, it means we will always need a period of time to take a few hits to the head and get good and pissed off before we’re putting out enough pain to let the DPS go nuts.  This is an important point for DPS to remember.  We massively overgear heroics now and can just durp our way through them (that’s my next rant, coming soon), but that stuff won’t even work in 80+ normals from what I’ve seen in the beta.

Second, tank-swap fights just got a little more interesting.  We saw this on Arthas last night when Haicu (my DK tank partner) and I would swap Arthas at Soul Reaver time.  It’s similar to the problems tanks deal with on Festergut and his damage-increasing Gastric Bloat.  The tank who has just taunted has not taken huge amounts of damage so he hasn’t had time to ramp up his Vengeance.  The tank who has just been taunted from, on the other hand, is probably maxed out on his attack power and hitting like a dump truck with no brakes, full of angry burning bears.  The “from” tank is going to have to watch himself for about 10 to 12 seconds after the swap and perhaps not go full-out, especially if he significantly outgears the other tank, or he may rip agro right back.

It’s very easy to dismiss Vengeance if all you do is normal questing or even random heroics.  Current non-raid content simply doesn’t hit hard enough for long enough to give you the most benefit from the mastery.  But when you get into a situation where you’re on a big boss, especially a raid boss, Vengeance comes into its own.

Now, does a 41k Shield Slam crit make up for not being at Blizzcon this weekend?  No.  But it does soothe the pain, just a little bit…


4.0.1: No, you are not going to die (much)

It’s D-Day, kids.  We’re getting patch 4.0.1 today (or tomorrow for you folks on EU servers), which means we’re getting most of the mechanical changes that come with Cataclysm.  This includes the new trees, new skills, new glyphs, reforging, the removal of armor penetration and Defense…in short, think of it as its own little Cataclysm of how we play the game.

Well, I’ve never been one to avoid rolling with the crowd on a momentous day like today.  I’m a good little lemming, so let’s throw some information and opinions out there on Prot warrioring in the new and (hopefully) wonderful world of 4.0.1…

First of all, let me give you two awesome resources as you start scrambling around.  First, as I linked previously, Naithin at Fun in Games has put together a fan-damn-tastic Prot warrior 4.0.1 guide that will give you everything you need to get started.  There’s really not all that much I can add except to give my own opinions on a few things, which is what I’ll be doing in this post.

Second, the lovely (and freshly Kingslayerish!) Kadomi over at Tank Like a Girl has a great list of 4.0.1 warrior (and other) resource links.  These will get you up to speed on setting up your spec, glyphs, and reforging.

Now with all that linked and at your fingertips, you probably don’t need me durping around giving my half-baked opinions on things.  But, I’m going to do it anyway, because (a) it’s my blog, and (b) I’m out of town for a week starting on Thursday and need a blog post up before I go.  Suck it.

What things you can expect to see when you first log in, other than an assload of LUA errors and “SERVER:  Restart in 5:00″?  Well, your health will go up a bit thanks to a flat +15% from Prot mastery, and your armor will go down a bit, especially if you’re rocking bonus armor pieces like Pillars of Might or the Cataclysmic Chestguard.  The changes are probably within about 10% in both cases.  Defense is gone, and unlamented if you ask me.  Defense gems will change into…uh…something else.  Defense rating on items will change into straight dodge and parry.  There is no more shield block value; successful blocks now block 30% of that hit’s damage, or 60% on a critical block.  Shield Slam damage now scales off attack power like everything else.  You will have a base 30% chance to block, given by your Prot mastery; the only way to raise it is by adding Mastery rating, which will require us to use Reforging to add it to our gear.  And your mastery will give you Vengeance, which takes 5% of damage that you suffer and adds it to your attack power for 10 seconds.  All tanks get this mastery; it’s designed to crank up our damage, and thus threat, while tanking.

The talent tree changes are, obviously, probably the biggest single change we face.  (Hey, at least they didn’t change us over from rage to focus.)  To do a quick recap:  Talent trees are now 31 points deep instead of 51.  At level 10 you must pick a tree, and you are locked into that tree and only that tree until you take the 31-point talent…at level 69.  Only then may you pick things from the other two trees.  Talent points now come one every two levels (one at 10, one at 11, and one every odd level thereafter).  This means that your level 80 warrior tank will have 36 talent points to spend, 31 of which have to go into the Prot tree.  The days of any sort of hybrid build are over.

Now looking at the two-month span between now and the release of Cataclysm, it’s obvious that you won’t be leveling if you’re already 80.  You probably won’t be doing much if any solo questing or grinding (again, if you’re 80), unless you’re doing something like going for Loremaster.  So by elimination, you need a build that’s focused on tanking.

This is my first shot at one.  It gives up some talents that would increase DPS–talents that I’d consider taking in a build where I was doing more simple running-around-and-killing-shit–and leans toward multiple-target threat, damage mitigation, and self-healing.  Looking through the Prot talents tier-by-tier:

Tier 1: Incite just doesn’t grab me real hard.  It looks like a bit of a damage (and threat) boost but I don’t know that we’re going to need it with Defensive Stance giving us +200% threat on everything we do.  Toughness, that’s a no-brainer, especially with “bonus armor” taking the nerf bat in a big way.  Blood and Thunder is actually a fairly effective AOE threat mechanic.  I still think the dear departed Damage Shield was better, but B&T has seemed, in the beta, to be reasonably effective at holding threat over top of healgro.  It won’t save the DPS if they focus the wrong target, but it’s not meant to.  The one disadvantage to B&T is, obviously, you can easily stick a Rend on a CC’d mob if your placement is poor.  So make sure you fight well away from sheeps and saps and such.

Tier 2: Lots and lots of points here.  3/3 Shield Mastery is a no-brainer, as is 2/2 Gag Order.  The jury is still very much out on Hold the Line; I’ve got it on Lin in the beta because his crit is basically non-existent, he’s stacked a bit of parry to help this proc, and the crit boost helps his damage while grinding.  I don’t know how much use it will be in dungeon and raid tanking, though.  As for Shield Specialization, it hasn’t proven to be a “must have” talent.  Rage has not been a huge issue for Linedan in the beta once I learned to back off constantly hitting Heroic Strike like I was tanking Arthas.  My opinion is this:  put 7 points in this tier.  Five of them go into Shield Mastery and Gag Order.  The other two can go either 0/3 Shield Spec and 2/2 Hold the Line for a bit of a damage boost, or 2/3 Shield Spec if you think you’re rage-starved.  For now, I’ll go with Hold the Line here until I get a better feel on rage.

Tier 3: Take it all.  Take ALL the talents.  Last Stand, duh.  Concussion Blow, duh.  Bastion of Defense, duh.  Warbringer, duh.  Fill this tier.

Tier 4: Again, I would take everything here.  2/2 Improved Revenge makes Revenge hit like a truck on fire driven by angry burning bears, plus lets it hit a second target–very important for multi-target tanking.  Devastate is a no-brainer, it’s our major spammable everything-else-is-on-cooldown attack.  Impending Victory doesn’t buy you much against non-elites, but it helps on bosses, and trust me, anything that will take a load off a healer right now is going to be appreciated.  Healers have a brutally tough job in 4.0.

Tier 5: I’m not completely sold on Thunderstruck.  It does synergize very nicely with Blood and Thunder, though, so I’d probably take both points in it if I took B&T.  Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, instead it gives you the refreshed taunt if the recipient gets hit and gives you a small bit of AP from the Vengeance mastery (you get 5% of 20% of the damage they took as attack power…hence, “small”).  The Taunt refresh is the main use of it now.  Heavy Repercussions doubles your Shield Slam damage whenever Shield Block is up.  I think it’s an inefficient use of points, but we’ve got to put them somewhere, and I think it’s just barely a better deal than Incite.  Granted, I have no numbers to back it up, just a gut feel and an inordinate love for giant Shield Slam crits.

Tier 6: Safeguard still doesn’t seem worth it to me.  Sword and Board is a no-brainer.

Tier 7: It’s OK.  I’ve got Shockwave.

That gives us precisely 31 points in Prot, with five points left to spend.  The last five points are spent on things that help take the load off our overworked healer brethren:  2/2 Field Dressing in Arms and 3/3 Blood Craze in Fury.

This 2/3/31 layout is probably going to be pretty cookie-cutter, but there is a tiny bit of flexibility there in the Prot tree.  If you don’t think you need as much AOE threat but need more raw damage output you can drop the points from Blood and Thunder and Thunderstruck to put them into Incite.  If you’re rage-starved, load up 3/3 Shield Specialization at the expense of Hold the Line.  The thing to remember is that you won’t be able to get any second-tier Arms or Fury talents until Cataclysm comes out, you won’t have the points…and even then, you’ll have to plan ahead.

Now, glyphing.  Glyphs come in three flavors now:  prime (things that increase your primary function, DPS, HPS, threat, etc.), major (useful and helpful things), and minor (“fun” or small semi-useful things).  Prime glyphing a Prot warrior is easy because there’s only three pertinent ones for you to pick:  Devastate, Revenge, and Shield Slam.  For major glyphs, you’ve got more choices…but one of your three must be the Glyph of Victory Rush.  It supercharges your heals from Victory Rush and Impending Victory, and again, in the 4.0 world, you’ve got to do everything you can to make your healer’s job easier.  There are several useful major glyphs to pick from, including Heroic Throw (puts a Sunder Armor stack on the target), Cleaving (Cleave hits 3 targets instead of 2), Resonating Power (-5 rage on Thunder Clap), Spell Reflection (-1 second cooldown on Spell Reflect), Shockwave (-3 second cooldown on Shockwave), or Sunder Armor (Sunder a second target).  You can make a case for any of them, so pick whatever you want.  (I’m so decisive, aren’t I?)  For your minor glyphs, a common suggestion seems to be to stack all three Shout glyphs (Battle, Commanding, and Demoralizing); but don’t ignore the Enduring Victory glyph, which increases the window for Victory Rush use from 20 to 25 seconds.

Your tanking rotation really doesn’t change very much.  You no longer frantically hammer Heroic Strike to get 100% uptime on it (mousewheels everywhere rejoice!); instead you hit it every three seconds if you’ve got rage. You will leave yourself massively rage-starved if you don’t back off that HS key and use it as the rage dump it’s intended to be instead of just mashing it every time it lights up.  I will also be curious to see what the damage relationship is between Revenge and Shield Slam.  In the beta, Revenge is consistently hitting harder than Shield Slam unless Shield Block is up with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions.  When tanking packs of trash, you’ll hit Rend once on one mob at the start of the fight, Thunder Clap to transfer it to everyone, and then make sure you Thunder Clap at least every fifteen seconds to keep Rend refreshed on all targets.


So You Want to Be(ta) a Prot Warrior: Bump and Grind

This week, Blizzard gave us a firm date for the Cataclysm to tear Azeroth asunder…December 7.  With all the new content coming at us in just two months–and with the mechanical changes to classes, talents, items, etc. possibly coming as early as next week–I’ve been putting a bit more time in on the beta servers lately.

As a result, Linedan on beta is now level 85.  (I’ve also been working a bit on Latisha…she’s 82, and I’ll chronicle her story in another update on The Latisha Experiment a bit later.)  Along the way there, I’ve picked up some information that will hopefully help anyone planning to level a Prot warrior from 80 to 85, as Prot, once Cataclysm drops for real.  (PLEASE NOTE:  I’m going to leave lore spoilers out of this post as much as I possibly can, but I will be talking about Cataclysm mechanics and zones in a general sense.  If you want to be totally surprised, stop now.)

First of all, remember that all of the changes to talent trees, class mechanics, and gear itemization will be coming with patch 4.0.1, which could happen as soon as October 12 (that’s next Tuesday as I write this).  I would highly recommend reading Naithin’s outstanding 4.0 Prot warrior guide over at Fun in Games to get a great summary of the changes that we’re going to face in the interregnum between Arthas falling and Deathwing rising.  It’s a good starting point for looking at the new zones and the level 80-85 grind.

Even Flow

The leveling flow through the new zones is pretty straightforward, and each zone is more linear than ever as to how quests are handled.  This is the basic flow you’ll see:

  • Mount Hyjal (80-82) or Vashj’ir (80-82)
  • Deepholm (82-83)
  • Uldum (83-84)
  • Twilight Highlands (84-85)

The reason that Mount Hyjal and Vashj’ir can cover two levels is not that they’re bigger than the other zones, although Vashj’ir is actually three separate maps and covers a lot of ground…uh, water.  No, it’s because of the experience required to level.  80 to 81 and 81 to 82 both require about 1.75 million xp, not too much more than the high 70s did in Northrend.  But when you hit level 82, that changes.  Each of the next three levels required somewhere around 6.5 million xp.  That’s not a typo.  Six point five million xp per level. That’s an intimidatingly large number, but it shouldn’t be.  There are a lot of quests in the 82-85 zones, and they give from 40,000 to 55,000 xp each on completion (except for simple stuff like breadcrumb or “go over here and talk to this person” quests, of course).  Mob-killing xp has been adjusted upward as well, to the point where Linedan was getting over 10,000 per kill (rested) against level 84s in Twilight Highlands.

Within each zone, the quests are organized in a pretty logical manner.  Breadcrumb quests into each of the new zones are easily available from “boards” all over Stormwind, or outside the new Grommash Hold (or, as I like to call it, “Garrosh’s Overcompensation For His Small Wee-wee”) in Orgrimmar.  Once you establish yourself in one of the new zones, portals will open up at Earthen Ring sites in Stormwind and Orgrimmar.  Also, all the zones except Deepholm can be flown into by your own flying mounts, and there are convenient flightmasters scattered around.

Spec Racer

As a Prot warrior, your abilities and rotation haven’t changed that much from Wrath of the Lich King. The changes are subtle, like Heroic Strike being an instant attack for 30 rage instead of an on-next-swing for 15; or the crit-boosting being removed from a lot of our talents (like Gag Order).  But the abilities, in general, do the same things and get used in the same order.  There really are two big changes:  the addition of Rend as a useful ability (paired with the Blood and Thunder talent), and Heroic Strike becoming less spammy and more situational.

This is the spec that Lin entered Hyjal with at level 80.  I went with 2/2 Blood and Thunder more out of curiosity than anything else.  2/2 Hold the Line’s in there because, in T10-level tank gear, his crit dropped at 80 to less than 2.5%, and with almost all of our crit-increasing talents changed, I figured he needed all the help he could get while questing.  His talent choices at each level were:

(I’m probably going to tweak the spec to ditch Incite completely and pick up 2/2 Thunderstruck.)

Grinding it Out

As Prot warriors, we had an extremely easy time of leveling in Northrend.  Yes, our single-target DPS was low.  Who cared?  We could charge into a camp and massacre it in seconds with a combination of Damage Shield, Cleave, Thunder Clap, and Shockwave, while shrugging off the feeble blows of our assailants.

Things aren’t quite as easy in Cataclysm.  The foremost reason for that isn’t the changes that were made to Prot spec.  It’s the mobs themselves.

A level 80 Northrend melee (non-casting) mob has precisely 12,600 health.  A level 80 Cataclysm melee mob has just over 30,000 health.  And it goes up radically from there.  Level 81, about 37,000.  Level 82, about 44,000.  Level 83, around 52,000.  Level 84, around 65,000.  The only level 85 mobs I’ve seen yet had 96,000 health each, but I’m not sure if those were special and if that’s normal for level 85 non-elites.

They’re not just tougher, they hit harder too.  By the time Linedan got to Uldum, the level 84 melee mobs there were hitting him for over 2000 base damage…and that’s with him having over 31,000 armor and a physical damage mitigation right at 60%.  Stuff in Cataclysm doesn’t tickle when it hits.

So when you combine all that health, high damage, and our traditional low DPS, it doesn’t bode well, right?  Well, it’s not so bad.  You’re still a spellcaster’s nightmare, you’ve got your stuns, and you’ve got two other powerful counters to keep you in the fight:  Blood Craze and Victory Rush.  Blood Craze, in my experience, is probably ticking about a third to a half of the time during any given fight.  That’s 1.5% of your max health at the time Blood Craze activated, every second, for five seconds.  Victory Rush, now usable in Defensive Stance, gives you a big heal–20% of your current max health–whether or not the attack actually lands.  And, both these abilities are boosted by Field Dressing from the Arms tree.  Plus, you can take points into Impending Victory to give yourself a “mini” Victory Rush (for 5% of your health) whenever a mob is below 20% health.  If you’re just out grinding, the talent’s usefulness is marginal, but keep an eye on it when you start raiding.  In a long fight, it could provide a useful amount of healing.

So our pull strategy really doesn’t change that much.  We need to pull (fairly) big and (fairly) fast.  Two or more mobs at a time is optimum for us.  By the time you beat down the first one, you’re probably wounded; hit Victory Rush, get 20% of your health back, and you’re good to go on the next one.  If you have to pull one at a time, you have to rush and find the next mob within 20 seconds before Victory Rush wears off.  And even if you can’t, don’t despair.  Out-of-combat health regen on the beta (as of build 13117) is insane.  Linedan is regaining well over 600 health per tick while standing up.  The new bandages also heal for useful amounts (around 20,000 to start with) so make sure you get your First Aid skill trained up pronto.

One thing you will have to watch for is rage starvation.  Our rage generation is generally good enough, due to the high incoming damage and the tuning they currently have in place.  If you take a few points into Shield Specialization, it gets better (especially if you can Spell Reflect something!).  But you must be careful about your Heroic Strike use.  HS is no longer spammable, and it costs 30 rage.  Chances are, you’re not going to be able to hit it every time it’s up, and keep up Devastate spam, Shield Slam/Revenge as available, and Rend/Thunder Clap if you’re using Blood and Thunder.  Be judicious in your use of Heroic Strike.  Cleave, you’ll probably have less trouble with; I never had much problem with rage when fighting 2+ mobs.

Top Gear

You’ll start replacing anything less than T10 gear almost immediately in Hyjal or Vashj’ir.  This new gear is the only way, other than Reforging, to get Mastery rating.  Our Mastery rating increases our block chance, and it is, in fact, the only way to increase our block chance, as there is no more separate block rating.  If you have T10 gear, it will probably hold you into Deepholm or even Uldum.  Currently at 85, Lin is still wearing his sanctified T10 helm and T10-level rings and trinkets, he’s replaced everything else in his Prot set.

One thing to think about…with Defense no longer being in the game, you can become uncrittable by placing 2 talent points in Bastion of Defense.  This frees you up to try Prot grinding with DPS armor.  I have yet to try this, but I should; in tank gear at level 85, Linedan’s crit rating is an appalling 0.75%, and he’s badly short on +hit and +expertise (both of which are still needed).  DPS armor still has a lot of stamina on it, and Mastery rating is Mastery rating regardless of what gear it comes on.  The upside of using DPS armor would be increased +hit/+crit/+expertise at the cost of a bit of health; the downside would be lower avoidance due to losing +dodge and +parry.  Does the increase in offensive stats balance the decrease in health and defensive stats?  It might be worth trying if your grinding feels too slow, but you don’t want to go to, or don’t have, a DPS offspec.  (FWIW, Linedan started at about 2000 DPS in Vashj’ir; he’s now doing about 2800 DPS in Twilight Highlands, and that number increases substantially fighting multiple mobs.)

Dungeoneering

Finally, I’ll briefly talk about instancing…briefly, because I’ve only done it once, on a normal Stonecore run along with my wife and three guys from the LFD tool.  After all, if you’re a dedicated tank, you’re going to want to instance a lot, right?

You may have heard a lot of doom and gloom about Prot warriors’ ability to tank in Cataclysm, and how it’s a fallback to the horrible days of The Burning Crusade, when paladins kicked our asses at tanking heroics.  Don’t panic.  It’s not quite that bad.  Yes, these are not Wrath of the Lich King dungeons.  They do require some amount of brains, strategy, and crowd control to succeed in.  But they aren’t quite as brutal as, say, heroic Shattered Halls.

Crowd control is back, and it’s necessary, but for normal instances, you don’t need a huge amount of it.  One competent trapping hunter or sheeping mage should be able to get the job done in most cases, provided the rest of your group doesn’t break it (this includes you).  On our Stonecore run, we were fortunate to have both a hunter and a warlock with glyphed Fear, which leaves mobs cowering in place instead of causing them to run.  Between that and his Banish, the ‘lock did a great job on CC.

Your tanking doesn’t change all that much.  The difference is largely in the incoming damage, which is a LOT higher (but so is your health).  Also, without Damage Shield to provide that little passive threat boost, this is where Blood and Thunder comes into its own.  It’s not much use just out questing, but in an instance, being able to place and keep a Rend on every mob you’re tanking helps your threat.  Just make sure you’re clear of any CC’d mob before doing this, otherwise the mages will hate you.

Your TAB key will get more of a workout on trash if your group can’t stick to a kill order.  (Kill order is VERY IMPORTANT now.  Seriously.  VERY VERY important.)  You will be shifting between mobs to drop Devastates and other damage.  Take Vigilance and use it–but remember, Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, it just reduces the damage on your chosen target and refreshes your Taunt.  Use your cooldowns like Shield Block or your emergency buttons (Last Stand/Shield Wall) to try and offload some work from your healer, because healers are really having to work much harder in 4.0.  Because of threat decay entering the equation, you can’t coast at all during a fight–you’ve got to keep pushing your threat as much as you can and stay on top of things.

On bosses, again, it is key to avoid as much avoidable stuff as possible.  Don’t stand in Bad(tm).  Use your cooldowns when something big and ugly is about to land.  Healers are stretched to their limits under these new mechanics, and anything that you can do to help keep yourself alive early in a fight may give them the mana to keep you alive at the end.

And it’s in instances, and presumably raids, where Vengeance really comes into its own.  Vengeance gives you 5% of your taken damage as attack power for 10 seconds, and it “rolls”–any number of damage that you take just stays as AP for 10 seconds and then it’s gone, so it wobbles up and down.  Once you see how much damage you’re taking in a Cataclysm instance, you’ll realize that you’re getting an absolutely insane amount of attack power from this mastery ability.  Linedan normally runs around 4500 AP now.  While tanking Stonecore, I opened his character sheet at one point and was shocked to see him–literally–OVER NINE THOOOOOUUUSAANNND attack power.  This directly translates to a big damage boost, and, therefore, a big threat boost. I didn’t think Vengeance was very useful when I first started leveling, but after doing just one instance, boy am I a believer now.


One More Dream (Linedan RP)

I talked in a post a while back about wanting to shake Linedan’s somewhat stony personality up a bit, and, honestly, what better time to do it than a world-shattering apocalypse, right?  This is the first part of some RP that I hope to develop over the next few weeks leading up to whatever happens with the Cataclysm.  It’s the story of a simple Tauren who’s been fighting on the front lines for five and a half long, hard, bloody years and has sacrificed everything to succeed there…his friends, his family, even his very heritage.  What happens when the battles are won and the burden becomes too much?

He had suffered the dreams for so long that he thought little of them anymore.

They didn’t always come every night.  Sometimes they would come for two, three, or four straight nights and then leave for just as many.  He had once gone over a week without one.  Most of the time there was only one a night, but not always; occasionally there were two.  There had never been three.  On the nights where a second one had caused him to wake up sweating, he either stayed awake until the dawn, or found a bottle of alcohol to send him into a dreamless “sleep.”

They followed the same pattern, all of them, but they were by no means identical.  Sometimes he was alone, sometimes with a few of his friends, sometimes with a small army.  Usually he was clad in his sturdiest armor with weapon and shield, geared for endurance and protection; but he had also had dreams where he was in his lighter armor, wielding two huge weapons, fighting in the berserk way that the troll spirit had taught him years ago.

The locations changed as well.  The steaming jungles of Zul’Gurub, the fiery pits of the Molten Core, the frozen halls of Icecrown Citadel, even the scrub-covered plains of the Barrens.  The antagonists changed, chosen seemingly at random from an endless list of those he’d faced in combat.  And the location and antagonist didn’t always match; once he remembered a dream of fighting the Soulflayer, Hakkar, in Winterspring of all places.  The dreams were totally accurate and vivid, drawn from memories that Linedan didn’t even know he retained.  The sounds of clashing metal and breaking bones, the stench of blood and the dying voiding their bowels, the sweat, the shadows, the glare, the screams…all of them were reproduced with perfect precision.

There were, really, only two constants in the dreams’ plots, and for years, they were rules that were never broken.  The first was that regardless of numbers or foes, Linedan and whoever he was allied with always lost.  They always ended up dead or dying on the battlefield; no mercy was ever given.  And the second was that, invariably, as the blow came down that would kill Linedan, he woke up, heart pounding, breath coming in gasps.

This night, Linedan found himself atop Icecrown Citadel, surrounded by his friends from The Anvil.  He was staring up at the Frozen Throne, the black figure of the Lich King seated upon it, but Tirion Fordring was nowhere to be found.

There was no warning, no talking.  Suddenly Arthas was right there in front of Linedan, and battle was joined.  It became a whirling blur of shouts and clanging metal, the howl of the frozen wind and the cries of descending val’kyr.  The Lich King was wounded again and again, but he fought on, and slowly, one by one, Linedan’s fellow adventurers began to collapse onto the icy stone.  The Lich King laughed, and raised Frostmourne for the downstroke that would finish the bleeding Linedan and end the dream…

…the sword slammed into Linedan’s shield and skittered down it with a tortured skree-ee-ee of metal on metal and a shower of sparks, before ringing against the stone.  Arthas stopped; it was quite possible to imagine him blinking in surprise behind the blue glow of his helmet.

Linedan swung his shield upward with all his might and slammed the edge into the Lich King’s side, then backhanded it up into Arthas’ chin.  With his other hand, he slashed forward with his great Scourge axe–how did that get there?  I normally use a mace–and felt the blade crunch through the thick saronite armor into the frozen, rotted flesh beneath.  He stepped aside as the Lich King fell to his knees in front of him, blood pouring from his chest through the rent in the armor.  Without a word, he raised the axe, and brought it down with a roar.  The Lich King’s head parted cleanly and rolled away as the body collapsed, coming to a stop a few paces away face-up.

Linedan blinked, staring dumbly at the severed head as the blue glow faded from the eyes.  I…I won?  That’s…never happened before…

He looked up.  No longer was he standing atop Icecrown.  Instead, he saw around him the rolling plains of Mulgore atop Red Cloud Mesa, the plains of his childhood.  But they weren’t as he remembered them.  They were scorched and blackened.  The grass was wilted, dying, even burning in a few spots.  Ravens croaked and vultures called.  Smoke hung in the air, and the scent of death hung thick.  In the distance, he saw the tent where he grew up.  Something compelled him to head for it.

All around him as he walked, there were bodies on the ground, hundreds of them.  He recognized them…the bodies of his friends.  Ghaar, his guildmaster.  Gorebash, Keltyr, and Haicu, his fellow fighters on the front lines.  Davien, Loremistress of Noxilite.  Mirandella, the priestess that had driven him to the edge of insanity.  Bricu, the human paladin whom he had nearly died trying to protect, along with Threnn, his lifemate.  Corspilla, the mage he had very nearly had to kill when she was possessed.  He recognized them all, and more…all those who he had ever fought beside, year after year.  They all lay dead around him.

As he reached the tent, the flap opened.  To his astonishment, his mother, Muatha, walked out of the tent and up to him.

“Mother,” Linedan gasped.  “I…”

“Linedan,” she interrupted him, solemnly.  “Last of the Granitehoof clan, until you forced me to make you of the Disowned.”

“I…forced?”, he sputtered, growing angry.  “Mother, I did not…”

She ignored him and began to pace.  “You have done well in the five turnings of seasons since you defied me, Linedan of the Disowned.  Many say you are a hero.  You have seen and done things that few ever have.  You have fought the greatest foes, and emerged victorious.”  She stopped in front of him and stared up, her eyes boring into his, her voice growing colder.  “But you are Disowned.  You are not Shu’halo.  You are as much a foreigner as those you associate with.”  She touched the armor he still wore.  “Was it worth it, you who was once my son?  Giving up your identity and your people, your birthright and your history?  Was the gold worth it?  Was the thrill of the fight, the killing, worth it?”

“What would you have had me do, Mother?”, he snapped.  “Ignore that my destiny lay out there?  Ignore my call to defend and protect the Horde, including the Tauren?  Ignore my duty to my friends?  If you would not have me, then this…”  He plucked at the black-and-silver symbol of the Noxilite Eye he wore on his tabard.  “…this is my clan.  These are my people.”

Mautha stood silently for a moment, then nodded her wizened head.  “I would expect nothing less from you, calf.  You always were too stubborn for your own good.”  She turned to face the corpse-littered field in front of her and raised her hands.  “Your people, you say.  Let us see what they think of your call and your duty.”  She threw her head back.  “Come to us, spirits!  Rise up, and give your thanks to he who is not my son!  RISE UP!!”

From the field in front of him, the corpses began to stir, to move, to stand.  They still bore the means of their death…bloody from wounds, or charred with fire, or disfigured by shadow.  They stood by their dozens, the lifeless, shambling bodies of those whom Linedan had known for years.  And as they came toward him, backing him against the tent, he heard his mother’s cackling laughter rising behind a crescendo of voices that spoke, over and over again, as one:

“Was it worth it?  Was it worth it?”

This time, Linedan did not wake up when the first blow fell.  He only woke up after feeling himself be torn apart while alive, unable to block out the chanting, and his mother’s laugh, with his own screams.


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