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.
(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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.”