Raiding is a good judge of a person, you and twenty four other people raid an instance together, moving through trash fights, and eventually to a boss designed around twenty five people, fully flasked and using consumables performing to their utmost to achieve the necessary DPS to down the boss before it enrages and make the Tank feel very squishy. These fights can often be approached in a small-group format and doing so often really emphasises how dependent and important the rest of the group is to you, its impossible to Tank a raid boss without a healer for example, the damage input is tuned to a level such that there is simply no way to survive outside of a team. Certain fights add in the aspect of personal responsibility, tht is where every member of the raid must take responsibility for their own survival, for gearing and using consumables and cooldowns to the maximum effect otherwise the penalty is applied to the whole raid in a more stringent way than simply the loss of that player. Magtheridon is really the first fight you will encounter with this aspect outside of the Tanks, that is to say that the cube clickers (20% of the raid, pre-nerf 40% of the raid)had to take control of and be responsible for controlling the blastwave, anyone that failed inflicted grevious damage on the raid. This level of personal responsibility though is easily shouldered by your most confident and capable raiders, the fight itself does not stress you beyond this aspect.
There are however fights later in the game that take this principle forwards, they make the 20% or so of the raid that needs to shoulder the responsibility random, or make the responsibility raid wide. This aspect lets you see who your raiding partners really are, who is capable, who is interested but failing in some way, and who is simply slacking. Lets look at the three major personal responsibility fights in tier 6 content, Gurtogg Bloodboil, Teron Gorefiend and Archimonde.
Gurtogg is a really easy fight in principle, three tanks trade aggro to stop a stacking debuff reducing their armour to 0 and the DoT stack killing them, three groups of five people move to be the furthest out to accept a DoT which again stacks (thus the three rotating groups), and every minute one person is randomly selected and must be spam healed to survive a mini-enrage (you get boosted armour and health). In short eighteen people in the raid have a raid role they must ensure they survive otherwise the initial plan falls apart, but its survivable. The enrage however is a random target, 100% of the raid has the responsibility of doing their best to not die (pots, shields, self heals, trinkets etc), the only people you really want enraged on are the Tanks because it simply isn't a risk to them, its designed to kill clothies and non-Tanks.
What this really shows is your raid reactions and your ability to react under pressure to a random event, if you aren't doing your utmost to survive and die, the enrage will pretty much kill anyone else he reaches except through a Warrior Shield Wall.
96% of the raid (24/25 people, the Tank is not a valid target) risks getting a debuff, after 45s you die and respawn as a ghost and must kill four constructs before they reach your raid, oh and the constructs can only be killed by people in ghost form, oh and the ghosts despawn, the constructs don't. Teron is a good fight, anyone bar the Tank (and if they aren't competent why are you letting them tank?) must be capable and know enough to kill their constructs, one or two at a time in the raid will tend to push your healers, three or more tends to wipe the raid. Again this is a really simple fight, DPS Teron, kill constructs, yet it causes great problems to many people and to many raids. I have been picked twice, the first time I ran to the corner and killed them easily, they didn't get near Teron or the raid, the second time with 30s left before I died I was killed by a construct in the raid, and immediately became a ghost spawning 4 more constructs in the raid. As I had shown the first time through though (and I never beat the simulator) it was simply a case of doing your job and hitting keys, pretty much 5,4,3 tab, 3 tab... repeat every 15s.
Archimonde the Defiler:
Giant boss stand in the middle, and Doomfires spawn, run away from the fires (since "Stay out of the fire" is the tag-line of TBC its a fair guess fire is bad), if you get thrown in the air use the really cool Tears of the Goddess just before you hit the ground and you survive, and if you can decurse anyone that is near you and on Decursive. Sounds simple right, its not a DPS race at all, raiders at this level can actually run away for half the fight or more (one of our top Warlocks could go afk for 6 minutes and still easily meet his DPS requirement, heck the Tank can make the DPS requirement!), however if you don't manage the not-dying part he gains Soul Charges. Each Soul Charge hits the raid for ~5,000 damage and knocks you down (remember the running away bit), in short anyone dying can start a chain reaction wiping the raid, yet not dying is pretty easy, there are of course cases you use your tears under the minimum safe distance but barring those its a "run away and survive" fight. Archimonde however offers guilds the chance of 20, 40, 80 or more wipes to get it right, in fact one of the best ways to down him is to go in with less than a full raid if people keep dying, yeah a T6 end-game boss doesn't need a full raid to kill.
... And the point is?
The point is simple, most fights in the game are positively marked, good things happen if you do your job and do it well, but if you mess up there is very little beyond the loss of you to the raid that is a penalty, the fights I noted above are negatively marked, doing your job gets you zero points, doing more gets you a kill in under the enrage, and screwing up penalises the raid.
This is something that the game needs more of, and to introduce it in a better manner, Blizzard assumes a level of knowledge in the game and a level of skill, dropping people into fights like these without the confidence and skill to take that personal responsibility simply results in heartache and wipes. These bosses are in the end game, they should not be easy, however the number of players who take for granted that they will not need to perform, or simply don't is large, and seems to grow, with Wrath of the Liche King Blizzard appears to have introduced limits on consumables and threat, this means that you will need to take more responsibility, no longer is a DPS class simply a DPS class, but a mana fountain, a threat reducer or something more, the raid will live or die based on the ability of its raiders to take their roles seriously and perform.
I noticed the other day that there are really two kinds of Tank (well actually three), the first is the tank you meet most times, generically confident and making pulls, marking up and running an instance or raid. The other type is your Main Tank type of tank, each pull they talk through it, assigning targets you should already know, warning you, watching the raid and giving position or tactical advice, and changing tactics on the fly. The third type is of course your generically bad tank that may or may not talk but generally doesn't have the confidence or experience to tank at the moment, they want others to mark the pulls and assign control.
The third type is a lot less interesting, we have all been there at a time when we had someone else help us learn an instance, unless we were at the cutting edge, which for most of us is the introduction of TBC or MgT. Thus we can dismiss them from this discussion, with experience they will become better Tanks, or just a generically bad Tank, either way they don't tend to play into raid tanking which is primarily where this difference crops up. Simply though, we can divide the other kind of Tanks into the "Main Tank", and the "Tank".
Firstly lets clarify what I mean by talking, this doesn't have to be ventrillo, team-speak or whatever other voice communication program your guild uses, it can be chat, raid warnings or emotes if needed (though thats likely confusing, did /hug mean Sheep or full out nukage). Simply its feedback to the group about what the Tank intends, their movement, the kill order and any changes to the plan. Its not to say they need to talk, a good enough group can run any instance in silence and pull it off with no mistakes, but a good Tank, and more importantly a good Raid Leader doesn't stop talking to the raid, they direct focus to the important aspects, warn you of movement etc. Its all stuff that people should do anyway but provides a central focus for the raid to work from and a central control. Of course for some fights like Archimonde its far more important for each group to talk to each other than the raid as a whole, but its a sub-set of the problem.
What difference does this make, why is talking to your raid or party important, or rather why do you have a difference, its simple, a Main Tank, or any class that is talking to the group is taking on a leadership role and making decisions, the group reacts to the Tank in advance and they are pre-warned, a non-Main-Tank simply expects the raid to react to them and do their job. This can be extrapolated to any role, and is seen in good Raid Leaders, they talk to you, you know that Magtheridon has fire patches and to move away from each other at Gruul's Shatter, but he still says it. Talking to the group focuses their attention and lets them know whats coming up in a drip feed, everyone will have read up on the fight, but hearing that a specific part is coming up makes for a better focus.
Taking this specifically to tanking, while chain pulling a suddenly moving tank can get out of range or line of sight to the healers, or as its known in the lingo, get dead. Its often said that the Tank dictates the fight and the healers move to you, but they aren't mind readers, telling them in advance lets them move in pairs or suchlike to cover you and ensure you survive. Its a level of control and experience that helps, taking Hyjal as an example, when I tank 6 abominations I am in the role of a Tank, I don't talk to the raid and expect them to heal my and overheal through knockdowns when I announce them, I expect them to do their jobs. In contrast the Main Tank in the raid (and demi-raid leader) tells the healers to overheal me, warns of high incoming damage and the type, warns the other tank to spell reflect and suchlike. I can take on the role of simply Tanking because he is providing cover for that part of the role for me, when he isn't there I take over that role and announce things, announce my plans and what is going to happen in the next while.
Its a benefit to the raid to know what is coming in from your perspective, a Tank doesn't know the DPS roles inside and out, what we know is the generics, nor can I tell you what the healing pattern on me is like, what I can tell you is the type of damage I will take, and how the fight will evolve, so I need someone to tell me if something is going badly on another part of the fight because while I might recognise it in a stress free environment, I have other concerns that are foremost in my mind.
Its something you only really notice when you look for it, normally a Raid Leader or suchlike will cover for a slacking Tank or DPS in this regard with information, but its not the same. When an Ice Nova pops, a cooldown thats important is blown or something happens, a talker will say it and perhaps what it means to keep the whole raid informed even if we were focused elsewhere. This is the difference between a good raider and a bad one, integrating with the raid, and letting people know what is going on, good or bad. We can cover for mistakes we know about, but if it slips then you need a keen eye to spot it, so tell people, whether its a macro or a yell on ventrillo, let someone know, it really does make a difference.
In Warcraft there are three types of people really, the casual, the player, and the raider, there are of course subdivisions with very casual players, players that raid, raiders that do it once a week or month or raiders that spend 12hrs a day raiding. Its been said more than once about truly hardcore guilds as to how can they waste so much time raiding, yet overall they clear the content in fewer hours than "casual" raiders, its just massively condensed rather than spread over many months. The question is thus what makes a raider raid.The answer to this is complex, and could probably be someone's thesis, and the most likely answer is, because we like raiding. This becomes very apparent over summer, guilds slow down, raids get cancelled and guilds fall apart. The truly hardcore guilds in many ways have it the worst, maintaining only a small population of spare raiders (otherwise the capability to get slots in a raid is too low with high attendance per head) means that a few people taking a break or holiday can stop a raid. This problem though is not limited to them, Guilds with larger populations, but less attendance per head have the same problem, if their core raiders stop or take a break or those people who can be counted on to come "If I have to to make it go" suddenly the pressure to raid drops, and with it the 24 people that didn't get to raid feel disappointed, and rather let down. Raiding isn't like a 5 man instance or grinding, its not something you can say "Lets go down Illidan tonight" and find the people to do it, all fully buffed and willing to spend the time and effort to kill him (ok thats a lie, once you have sufficient gear and a skilled core you can randomly do raids that are "farm" level to your core's gear, so for T5/T6 core Gruul and Magtheridon can be easily done this way).
So what is it that is attractive, it's a lot of work, its costly, takes a large amount of time (even just the trash clears normally take 30minutes to an hour), but you get a great feeling, a group of players working together, a huge challenge and a task which requires every member to achieve their goals in order to actually down the bosses. Its like any team sport, its co-ordination, working together and achieving as a group, its conquering the game* and knowing that you tried your hardest, got the best gear and with those team mates and the people sitting on the sidelines finally triumphed.
So why do guilds fall apart and why is it so divisive, I think I am an example, my previous guild hit the summer stage, people going away, not raiding, coupled with a couple of people basically leaving or giving up raiding. We were already pushed to make 25 man raids normally, with a raiding core of 10-15 people so we had 15-10 casual or players in the raid who were along because it seemed like fun or to help the guild. In short we had a small core that could likely down Illidan in a full raid, but we had others for whom killing a progression boss and seeing the loot drop wasn't a major deal. Suffice to say summer and holidays hit us hard, and essentially 2 months of cancelled or ineffectual raiding. At this stage people started to jump ship, mostly raiders going to bigger guilds, normally saying they "wanted to see the content", but privately most of them liked being in the guild they were in, they just wanted to raid even if we never saw Illidan. Eventually I jumped ship as well, I didn't have a heading I just wanted to raid, I spent a week or so unguilded (by choice, I got recruiting /w's as a tank from about the 8th-27th guilds on our server within an hour of leaving), and I was bored. Instances with PUGs can be fun, but it doesn't replace the friendship and experience of raiding with friends, doing the farmable raids (Gruul and Magtheridon, parts of SSC and TK) with people I know when they had time didn't really fill me with joy, sure they are fun but its similar to going back to normal instances, its not a challenge because you can only lose if people mess up.
That sounds silly of course, most raid bosses are killable if no one messes up, and most wipes are caused by someone messing up. So what difference does it make to do it on Illidan than Gruul, simply its a challenge, the degree of complexity doesn't really change, it was hard to kill Mr The Dragon Slayer (back before we were on first name terms) when we were in Karazhan and Heroic quality gear, yet now though his complexity remains the same it doesn't matter if the tank gets crushed or has a bad avoidance run because his health pool will cover it, and in truth is harder to not avoid the damage being taken than it is to avoid it, the fight stresses the tank in the other way, finding the way to build threat.
There isn't really an answer to this, once you have the gear level to out-perform content its challenge is reduced to your group, Heroics were once hard, Karazhan's Curator an uncrossable boundary to upper Karazhan and the concept of achieving four Zul'aman timers within 45 minutes a feat that seemed impossible. Yet these tasks are all now doable, the group hasn't really changed, the skills and techniques demonstrated don't change, the whole of the Burning Crusade can be summed up as "Stay out of the Fire", with fire replaced by an appropriate element. What changes is our gear level, and thus our expectations, as you gain the ability to down bosses that once seemed impossible, to move through attunements and become a raider it becomes harder to take a step back and look at other content as an achievement in the same way, its still fun but it doesn't get your blood pumping. Guilds tend to fall apart because of this, they get their players to the stage of seeing the next step of walking forwards and being on the path. When the path hits a stop or a fork, a small river runs across it and you need to ford it its often easier to go to a different path that hasn't had this problem yet. You lose the sense of friendship, and the bonds that drew you to these people, but since a lot of what you did together was raiding, and you aren't seeing them all anyway because you aren't raiding the sense of separation increases.
There is never a solution to this, no single guild can offer enough raiders slots to raid without having excessive rotations such that when a lean time hits it survives, guild alliances are often risky, if the other guild is better you might lose players to them or them to you, and what happens about dkp and such like, its a very complex situation to get into just to cover a lean winter. Perhaps the solution is a Raiding Alliance, essentially abstracting the raiding part of a guild to a third party group, where a huge number of players can be present with the alliance running 2,3,10 or 100 raids a night each targeted at the level of performance and gear that the players have, I believe there are some running upwards of 400 raiders with 90% getting to raid on the nights they want to, and doing it successfully. It takes the DKP and guild alliance problems away because the alliance handles that aspect, experienced raid leaders run groups within it and have backups to ensure that a raid isn't cancelled due to lacking a leader. Maybe its not a solution, but I think a lot of guilds, servers and people could really learn from this kind of system, something to let your raiders raid and maintain their social aspect within the guild, many raiders don't want to lose that, but they also don't want to stop raiding, and while you can talk to friends outside of your guild, you can't normally raid outwith it successfully.
* This depends on your perspective, in some ways downing Illidan finished 2.3, killing Kil'jaden finishes TBC as a whole, but many people never consider this a goal, so really the game ends when you feel truly satisfied with where you are, but from a raiding perspective we must consider the end bosses the final state.
PvP welfare epix, people earn them through performing in Arena or Battleground, even a loss is a step on the road to gear development, barring ranked items all gear is available given sufficient time. In contrast PvE there is no gradual development, there is no gradient but rather a stark line, to get gear you can either down a boss or you can't.
Fundamentally though it is clear that this situation doesn't work for helping progression, most guilds won't kill Illidan, and most people won't get their full Tier 6 gear. This drives a lot of competition and whining, why does a PvP player get their Season 3 gear when a PvE player can't get their Tier 6 for the same investment. Lets look at the sets (gratuitous images for the win!):
|Season 3||Tier 6|
Both look the same, both have similar ilvls, so the major difference is the stat allocation and the method of acquiring this gear. Lets say however that because PvP is a more fluid environment than PvE its gear level alters more dynamically with time to give a reason to seasons, and that we want to reward PvE players for their time input as well as simply being able to down bosses, same trick as PvP, you get "better" gear with a rating, but there is a progression path for those that can't get that rating.
So taking this theory Blizzard did an ok job, we had the badge gear, but what if it was rep / points / honour based as well, we have the Karazhan and Scale of the Sands rings which get better with reputation from that faction, why can't the Tiered gear sets scale as well? So our started T4 set maybe the 4 pieces rather than the 8 or so in a full arena season (we have to distinguish here, T5 > T4, T6 > T5, thats our rating mechanic, you need to down the bosses to get the starter piece). So we start with our basic gear, its a bit like other gear its level, but has the set bonus and normally a Meta slot at least in the helm. Now as we progress, each time we kill Prince we get "Slayer of the Eredar" rep, once we kill him often enough (and selected other mobs likely) we can up its quality, in the end we can have the Exalted T4 set as slightly better than the starter T5 set, this means you go into a new set of instances with gear to conquer it, or at least give it a good go. Those guilds that rush will still not have the "perfect starter gear" for that instance, but it means that farming those few bosses you can do now has a point, your gear can advance to give you a shot at the next level.
A system like this could of course be backed up by Badge of Justice loot, Tier token trade-ins (for those with more rep than they need, or a specialist type of that class) and of course the old favourite the Random Number Generator loot.
Of course there will still be complaints, both sides have their equivalent of "welfare" epics, its not to say its a bad thing, but rather that there needs to be gradual way to move people through content, suddenly slamming in badge upgrades works, it helps a lot especially for those of us with little gear optimised for us, however its a stop gap solution that doesn't fit well. Repping up your gear, or having your server progress and open up different levels of badge gear capped at the current highest guild's progression such that a server progressing well will continue to progress, while those that are capped don't have a huge gap in the middle of their ranks making it hard to keep guilds moving.
The PvP "welfare" system works, as it was once said people are "on the path", more concerned with the abrupt barrier in the path that is the Season 4 requirements than the aspect of "welfare", and this is what PvE lacks, every content level is a barrier, it would be equivalent to never getting any of the next season's gear until you hit a 1700+ rating (or whatever the PvP equivalent is for T4/T5/T6). The lack of a gradual access to the gear makes making that transition hard, like PvP its a lot harder to enter the higher brackets without the gear, and to get the gear you really need the higher rating.
Without the gradual trickle that is "losing 10 games a week" PvE is a start stop gear roller coaster making progression very difficult for a time, then suddenly becoming very easy as you acquire the gear from downing that boss a few times, or passing a mark such as the old Hyjal and Black Temple attunements that open up loot bosses. However these marks are equivalent to opening up 1/3rd or so of a season at a time and pretty much handing it to guilds, most guilds that reach past these marks down the "loot" bosses within a few attempts making it massively easier to return to those that were hard. Making the gear more of a trickle system with people achieving their expect level of base gear (the tier sets) before moving on means a lesser reliance on the RNG system, and far better progression for guilds that cannot simply zerg content because they maintain an even course (if somewhat slow) towards actually downing the final bosses without requiring nerfs to the content. Of course other issues may present, but no longer will you be barred from progressing because your tanks got really unluckly and never saw their drops, or be stuck for recruits because a mark presented a huge barrier on your server, there will always be people on the path.
With the new Beta information up the change, or rather lack thereof, that interests me most is that of fear. Druids got a new way to break fear, Warriors can stance dance their way out of it every 30s, this leaves the other main tanking class* as the only one with no way to avoid fears. I won't consider Death Knights since I don't know enough of them to really say whether they are Main Tanks or not, their lack of armour seems to suggest they might have a niche role in tanking that isn't specifically Main Tank (who by definition should be able to tank anything), however this needs a real look at instance / raid tanking to confirm.
Getting back to my point, Paladins, the Defenders of the Faith, Warriors of The Light, Faithful Champions, turn tail and run at any chance we get. In the Warcraft Games Arthas stood amongst his enemies (with Uther and many others), and fought, ressed and even mass resurrections his followers. In short, the background idea makes the idea of a Paladin running away from at least Undead and Demon fears unlikely, these are the enemies of the Paladin, why would we run. Giving us no way out of fears also means that our use as Main Tank needs to be considered closely, why give a Paladin a slot on Archimonde as tank when a Warrior won't eat up your Fear Wards (ok I can argue why, but after seeing the fight its really not a dps race, its a "don't stand in fire", "Press tears hot key before dying" fight). The answer is that you don't, you take pity on your Paladin tanks and let them leech or respec Holy for the night, and thats not a good situation for a tank to be in, the viability on any fight must be considered for there to be a reason to take you along, and for the game to really support 4 tanking classes.
What fights should be like is Reliquery of Souls, part 1 favours a Paladin in block gear, part 2 really doesn't favour a Paladin, and part 3 really favours a Paladin, its slightly unbalanced in favour of the Paladin here but the idea is sound, a fight which favours at least 2 classes of Tank and can be tanked by any of them. Archimonde on the other hand, his fears hitting the Main Tank doesn't add anything to the fight, for a Warrior its a button click, for a Paladin or Druid its a Fear Ward. Hitting everyone else means you need to worry about the Main Tank dying, but hitting the Main Tank simply means the boss might run around a bit and maybe crush the tank, its not a real issue, its a mechanic that pretty much penalises lag, the penalty is the same if the tank stands still and everyone else runs around, except that making the tank run reduces the truly viable tanks down to a Warrior.
Stupid mechanics are fine, some of them are fun and interesting, Kael'thas Sunstrider making it hard for melee to hit High Astromancer Capernian is fine, because the two warlocks that tank it can solo her while you go on with the fight. Making life harder on the tanks, and making sure that two out of the three classes that could tank a fight are sub-par is not a fun mechanic, you don't tend to see people ever saying "A Warrior can't tank that", what you see is "A Paladin / Druid would be better", and thats the situation that we want to get all the tanks to, preference yes, bench warming no.
* At current the Main Tanking classes are Warriors and Paladins due to the availability of crushing blows which can severely mess up a Druid's day. This isn't to say they can't main tank, since I know they can but its a potential liability on things like shear from Illidan that most guilds would rather not deal with. The fact that both Paladins and Warriors lack a real not-tanking role also means that Feral Druids tend to get shunted into the DPS / tank when needed role rather than being allowed to tank fully, I would like to see all of the classes get a fair shot at this really rather than forcing off-tank status onto at least one class.
There is a common theme at the moment, why I play World of Warcraft, and the answer I have is really that I don't know, in many ways I enjoy the game a lot, the atmosphere and the camaraderie, the banter on Ventrillo and yes the achievement of killing bosses. In short its really fun to simply play with other people and to have fun doing something that takes some effort and forces you to work together.
Last Wednesday we Pugged Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon's Lair, well when I say pugged I mean 18 or so from our guild, 5 or so from the 2nd best raiding guild on the server and 2 friends from similar guilds, we one shotted both bosses and it was too easy, but the fun was there, we pulled together, joked, laughed and had fun. Clearing the instances wasn't a challenge for the group we had, but some people got gear, others got some nice pvp tokens and it was a fun thing to do, after all Raiders like to Raid.
So since I do enjoy content we outgear for the fun, its odd that Zul'aman was more fun on my Warlock (we dinged 3 chests having 2 wipes on the Dragonhawk and a generally slow start), than I did on my Paladin (7th bear in 7 resets). Its not that the Bear runs aren't fun, we don't take them too seriously, we hit one with 6 minutes to spare and 2 wipes and 2 trash pulls we didn't need to do. With my Warlock however we were pushed, we could possibly have gotten the 4th timer if we really really pushed, but it didn't pull together, but it was fun. So what is it that makes it more fun, I suppose really its the challenge, the group my Paladin runs with hasn't been pushed by it, our lowest dps hits > 1k dps sustained, and our highest can hit 1.6k sustained, simply we reached the stage where the timers no longer offer a major challenge because of the raw DPS, its like Gruul and Magtheridon, we could 2 healer the fights if we needed to because of gear, so the risk and challenge is reduced. My Warlock's group by contrast, we had two dps over 1k (me sustaining roughly 1.16k dps, and a shaman at 1.2k dps, the rest hovered in the 0.7-1.1k dps range, with similar damage to myself and the shaman due to differences in activity).
I love the challenge of the game, and I think a lot of other people do, pulling 14 mobs in Heroic Shattered halls is the kind of thing thats fun because its still a challenge, getting it up past 15 is the next challenge, and I hope WoTLK brings that, a way to really challenge yourself in an instance like ZA irrespective of your gear level, because that would be interesting, something you can always run when you need a challenge, something to make you come together as a team.
Kael'thas Sunstrider, Lady Vashj, the final challenges in Tier 5 content, and ones that frustrated many guilds for weeks before the removal of attunements, fell, and they fell surprisingly easily. Lady Vashj my guild had been farming for a little while when I joined, yet approaching the fight it seemed far less complicated than so many people told me, and indeed it was meant to be. Typically we approach it more like 6 mini instances, 4 groups of 3 people working to slay the elementals that arise and handle the core tossing as needed, one group to kite the striders around and kill them (with assistance where available from the other groups, and assisting on the Naga) and the two tanks, a melee dps and a healer working on the Naga. Perhaps its our approach to the fight, but the issues with co-ordination and difficulty didn't appear to be there, in fact for many of us that night it was our first time there. Kael'thas was slightly harder, he took us three nights to clear, a total of nine attemts with his death on the tenth, again we split up and converged on the sections we needed to do, the fight simply being a case of each sub-group taking responsibility for its part, and acting without the Raid Leader needing to actively control and command each group.
The final Tier 5 challenge, the Zul'aman Amani War Bear, fell easily as well, our group taking it on the first night we ran it, having a lot of new people in the group that had never played with each other. Again though the roles were understood and we all played our parts. I suppose though that it was really disappointing, my previous group started Zul'aman, and we wondered how you could get a fourth chest, the first took us 19 minutes, the next 13, that was most of our time gone, yet steadily we refined the pulls, worked forwards and got the third chest, and not simply the third chest, we had 12 minutes left on the timer! We kept pushing, and within two resets we were three minutes from killing Halazzi and our first Amani War Bear, then the group dissolved, people lost interest and it all disappeared. Our gear level in the new group is a lot higher, that I can't deny, out average party dps rising from about 950dps to 1100dps, easily putting the bear within reach, what is surprising is that we came together as a group, and even though we approached the instance differently, and my style of running it differed from their previous attempts, primarily in the crowd control - or lack thereof, we did it. Ten people, two mini-tank / healer parties (tank + healer), and six dps split into their crowd control and aoe roles, again the division is clear, its not really a ten person group, its a group of dynamic groups.
So what does this really mean, why do these challenges seem so easy at the moment, and what is it about the way we approach them that seems to work. In my last guild we often tried to work as a group, twenty-five people co-ordinated by the Raid Leader, ok we had separate roles within the group, but the co-ordination and approach were centralised. This guild however tend to delegate, their is still a Raid Leader, but the majority of his task is marking up, and offering motivational speeches, because we expect, and people perform, their tasks correctly and independently. Most high end raiders have done a lot of five mans, heroics, and Karazhan runs, it kindof comes with the territory, yet these don't really prepare you for this in that most five and ten man instances use a fairly centrally co-ordinated style, the tank does something and people work around them, the closest you really got to split focus pre-Zul'aman and Tier 5 was the Moreos fight. So we were basically trained to work as a large group, co-ordinating on a single task in the majority of fights, so was Kael'thas Sunstrider or Lady Vashj really a challenge for a raid used to being split up and delegating responsibility, I have to say no, its like High King Maulgar, except a lot more complex with less reliance on the pull as the decider on victory or defeat.
Taking another example, why was Magtheridon harder in has pre-nerf incarnation, it was a tank and spank fight for the most part, with five groups of two people rotating the cube clicking, the start was compunded in difficulty by more infernals, though enough Warlocks made that very easy, or high enough DPS to down the channelers fast. The new Magtheridon is five groups of one cube clickers, and a few less infernals, in short, not a lot changed. What we see though is that instead of having a group of groups which could be closely split to:
- Tank Group
- DPS Group
- Click Groups
- Click Healers
- Click Pair 1
- Click Pair 2
- Click Pair 3
- Click Pair 4
- Click Pair 5
- Tank Group
- DPS Group
- Click Group
- Click Healers
- Left Side Group
- Tank Group
- DPS Group
- Right Side Group
- Tank Group
- DPS Group
- Channeler DPS Group
- Akama Tank Group
I won't say our approach is perfect, in fact is probably highly flawed as it makes people look only at their section of the fight, but it does promote a lot of independent thinking, your group might be your main concern and the scale of it less than the overall fight, but you need to ensure the success of that section or the whole plan falls through. Each sub-group must be capable of independent thought and making up for holes that appear within it, or finding suitable replacements from another group, requiring them to know if they have sufficient capability to cover that hole. I think its a good way to approach a lot of fights though, relying on a Raid Leader to co-ordinate twenty five people means that something might slip, relying on three, five or eighteen groups to be aware of their surroundings and fulfil their tasks is a lot more chaotic, but they chaos makes it more reliable when something goes wrong because the people that know their section best can tell you exactly whats needed to make it work.
When I recently moved guild I moved up a fair number of steps in the "boss kill" hierarchy, moving from 1/5 in Mount Hyjal, and 0/9 in Black Temple to regularly farming 4/5 and 4/9 respectively, with the kill on Gurtogg Bloodboil a week after I joined (and I participated as one of the three tanks), yet I didn't feel boosted through the content, I tanked a large proportion of it in that week and put out similar threat and avoidance to the other tanks, my shortcut sped up my progress through the game, but was at the gear and experience level I had. The question is though, if I had applied to a guild that had finished Black Temple, and was looking to gear up a tank for the Sunwell Plateau would I have felt boosted, and would this really be a bad thing.
In our guild we have a new recruit (well a week newer than I am), and he has no real 25 man raiding experience, but a lot of Karazhan experience. He worries that he won't perform and won't pull his weight in these instances, yet this never worried me for him, he knows his class, performs well and already has a high proportion of his potential damage at his gear level, in short the only thing he is lacking is having seen the bosses and played with 24 other people at once. Key to my not worrying though is that in a 25 man instance each person generally pulls less weight than in a 10 man instance, ok there are exceptions, Teron Gorefiend (1 person failing can wipe the raid with constructs), Archimonde (Dying causes massive damage to everyone else), Brutallus (29,000 raid dps please, not easy on progression), but in general you are focused on your part of the raid, your small section and your movement, the rest of the raid kindof just does its thing and provided each part does it it comes off. Taking the Shade of Akama as an example there are 2 tank groups whose sole job for the first part of the fight is to hold adds and ideally kill them while the other group takes down the channelers, in the second part the tanks and healers have to survive for 60s while the dps nuke the boss (threat free fight). I haven't really seen this fight, I stand to the side and try not to die as my adds pile up, the main body of the work doesn't concern me provided my 3-6 man group can keep me standing for the duration and I don't let anything through.
In contrast in 10 man instances everyone counts, you will often have fewer healers per tank, fewer dps, and a lot less synergy, you can't afford to slack and let people relax because there is no backup, any death can really push the group, a tuned pull such as in Zul'aman requires you to have your CC up, or be capable of dealing with massive burst damage. Your environment is closer and the challenges different, you work as one small group, or several micro-groups, in effect fulfilling one or two parts of what a 25 man raid is capable of, but doing so all the time, there isn't a "trash-slack" part where healer mana isn't an issue, nor is there a general tank-slack, I can't afford to simply expect one of the other tanks to pick up a broken enemy if I am AoEing, nor can I expect a feral kitty to pop tank and pull it back for us, the resources are a lot more finite and the awareness has to be higher. So our guy with no experience is doing the same, he is watching out for others, preparing to trap, watching dps and threat, in a 25 man I wouldn't really expect his to trap at all, in general zerging or Mages handles it, or there are spare tanks to deal with issues, he does more and has to be willing to do more in a 10 man instance than in a 25 man.
As a side note I was right, he came into Gruul and Magtheridon, ok with an experience and overpowered group, but that doesn't help him, got a few terse explanations and performed well, his knowledge and movement were fine, because he applied the experience he had from previous raiding levels, he kept his head and wasn't worried about the big picture, he did his job, and thats all you can ask and expect from a raider, because in any level of raiding we can cover some slack, but fundamentally its a 10 or 25 man instance for a reason.
So whats the point, really I don't know if jumping content is a good thing, but with a sufficiently aware player I don't think its a bad thing, you don't learn a lot more dodging Leotheras's whirlwind than you did on Hydross the Unstable, the aggro wipe mechanic is the same. You need to know a certain amount and have the skills to progress, but when you have them you only miss out on the learning portion of a boss, the sweet first kill, in fact there is probably no such thing in the end game as being "boosted", because everyone needs to actually fulfil their part. Your individual weight and contributions might be lower, and your death might not be a wipe, but it sure won't let your raid complete the kill easily, requiring on the fly group changes or massive overhealing and dps pushing the envelope to do it. In the end, hit the ground running, because the treadmill doesn't stop.
Currently trying to change the layout and format of the blog, but everytime I look at it it deletes my links and half the posts. Stay tuned for an update and hopefully a new look soon.
Wyn over at the World of Matticus, has posted an article on looting and the relative merits of a Loot Council over a DKP system. I suggest first that the DKP system is broken down, since despite many systems being called DKP there are actually many variants of it, a brief list would be:
- Baseline DKP
- The generic system, you kill a boss, you receive DKP.
- Time Reward DKP
- DKP is awarded for presence in addition to or instead of for Boss kills.
- Split Tier DKP
- DKP is split across multiple tiers, promotes running instances of a particular tier level to acquire gear their, raiders focusing on only a single tier have little chance at items on another tier. Useful in large / split focus raiding guilds where potential sources of DKP such as Zul'Aman are far more frequent than higher tiers, simplifies boss kills to a single value in that tier.
- Zero Sum DKP
- DKP purchases should tend towards zero, as such the average item cost should be in the range of (DKP per night*Nights between loot). This is typically seen as the Holy Grail of DKP systems, where items that are directly beneficial are spread evenly amongst players.
- Positive DKP
- DKP purchases leave players with a positive DKP score, rewards continued progression and presence, that is more "experienced" raiders get first pick on loot.
- Negative DKP
- DKP purchases leave players with a negative DKP score, rewards newer players and players with very long gaps between loot.
- Fixed Price
- This works from highest DKP score player to the lowest, each getting a chance at refusal for a fixed price, typically Tier items hold a higher cost than non-tier items, and class specific items may hold lower value. Offspec items may or may not hold modified values, however typically are a bid of last resort.
- Modified Roll
- Players use their DKP to modify a roll on the item, can be a roll+DKP, or a 1-DKP spent roll, adds randomness to loot distribution however still allows people with higher DKP more of a chance to win.
- Players tell an auctioneer their bid (potentially multiple rounds), and the highest bid wins. Players with the highest DKP can guarantee their win by bidding more than the other player is capable of bidding, however it is possible to bid in relation to the item's value to you. Typically has a minimum bid.
Since Wyn looked at the Loot Council vs DKP I should stick to the same topic really, and why I prefer DKP as a system.
Dragon Kill Points:
- Rewards players in a fair manner
- Allows players to determine value of items to their progression
- Allows players to determine if another player would benefit more
- Expenditure is at the player's discretion
- Limited time between acquiring "loot master" position for your loot group
- At a certain point where you have not acquired items DKP will reach a stage where all loot must pass through your "veto", that is at a certain point your effort will be rewarded if you stay.
- Gives the loot decisions to the people most likely to be aware of their progression path.
- Can be implemented with a priority system
- Reward the "best" player for that loot
- Maximises raid-wide equalisation of gear / focus on specific gearing to take place
- Should minimise the chance of "spite" looting, or "badly optimised" looting
- Potential to reward "effort" rather than merely effort.
Typically a raid should expect all players to have the best out of raid gear that can be acquired, and to come prepared with pots and flasks and any materials they need, it is unlikely, especially with the availability of high quality PvP gear, and the Badge of Justice acquirable PvE gear that there will be a significant different in a members level of gear, especially in late game raids, everything is a minor upgrade, but its the quality of the minor upgrade that may matter.
The reward (and associated congratualtions) in a DKP system typically come from the the success, its not merely the purple loot you acquired but a symbol of the kill, and a step forward on your progression path, a raid full of DKP based players is 25 people with 25 gearing paths working together, a Loot Council is 25 people working as a raid, the question though is which is better, the more Capitalistic system of DKP or the Communist Loot Council. In the end I suppose it comes down to how fair your Loot Council is, their understanding of your class and progression and how widely varied your raid is.
If your raid is widely spread in terms of gear, then a Loot Council allows you (or a priority DKP) to assign loot to those players to bring them up to the standard of the other players in a easily understandable way, however as I noted, with the availability of loot there should not be a high gear delta within the raid, and if there is (such as a T4 player getting into a T6 Sunwell Guild) then the raid is already likely quite saturated with loot and it will flow well either way towards the T4 player.
The you have to understand the classes, and I think I can speak from experience here, I am a Protection Paladin, in general pre-T6 there is no specific Paladin loot and my gear path was similar to Warriors. However in a T6 instance there appears a Paladin loot path, however the gear progression path for a Paladin is strange, typically I will have:
- Main Tank Sets:
- Off Tank Sets:
- Area of Effect Tanking Sets:
- Armour / Avoidance
- Resistance Sets:
- Fire with defense cap
Suddenly I start too seem a bit of a loot addict, yet I am at current the best geared / attending Paladin tank of this guild, and the Warrior tank I rolled against is the 3rd Warrior tank (going by gear / presence), having the option to gear myself (and strangely the requirement given some of the mental gymnastics required to work out a feasible set for each boss) for the fight makes it more viable for the raid to progress. At each stage however my DKP as I am on 2.2 gearing paths at the same time will be spread more thinly allowing someone with fewer gearing paths priority over me, in effect it comes down to how much we value the items, and whether I can rely on my "main" gearing path being acquired cheaply enough that I can afford to acquire the other items for my sets. Some how with a gearing path like I have, where the availability of gear (and Warrior items have roughly a 2x drop rate of the Paladin ones) makes a huge difference in the priority of items I can get, and what it allows me to wear from my bank, I can't see a loot council being able to fully assess the gear paths that I am on, and how each drop affects all of my previous and next best choices. Speaking with my raid leader and main tank he originally thought I would aim purely for the Paladin gearing path, yet once I explained my reasoning he let me take and make choices based on my own opinion of whether its main or offspec, and how much I should bid or force the issue.
As a final point, one of the key principles of a DKP system is that it is blind, like Justice. A raid leader or guild master can show favouritism through it using the invites and instances to make it more or less effective, however at its heart all players can accept DKP as being 100% impartial and simply rewarding the raid evenly while averaging loot over all players over a length of time. A Loot Council can be more easily abused and can seem (even if not) to be unfair or indeed biased towards classes with strange gearing requirements. I would take myself and my class to be the ultimate pressure on a loot council, a really hard to evaluate upgrade path, coupled with it being a similarly small upgrade to both myself and the Warrior tanks in the raid, in most cases I could see it being reduced to a turn about or roll system, where as even with DKP we are willing to pass for each other, or put in minimum bids such that we express an interest but do not force the other player to bid high to beat us.
DKP and Loot Councils on their own are both highly flawed systems, however with a touch of rationality or fairness both can be fit for purpose, however the impact of a non-arbitrary and blind system on classes with multiple gearing paths, and its affect on other classes is important. A Paladin healer cannot use a staff, making the Crystal Spire their ultimate goal in Black Temple, yet its effectiveness in the hands of an AoE healer may be better, however diminishing that players role, or potentially risking a tank surviving may mean it was better spent in the hands of that Paladin than in the hands of another.
From Misery, the PvP gear debate comes up again, its a fairly simple debate, PvE is a scripted environment, the boss does what you expect him / her to and you learn the encounter, if you can bypass the environmental hazards, survive the boss's special abilities and beat the DPS / Healing requirements you win, PvP is a fluid environment, however there are no environmental hazards, and there are no special abilities that can be used that cannot be acquired by your arena or battleground group, you just need to worry about an opponent that can react to your actions, and ignores your threat. In return PvE offers a static set of gear, you need to physically gear up and move through raid instances (or skip parts of them using the badge of justice gear, but that is something for later), to acquire Tier 6 gear you need to physically kill Tier 6 bosses, PvP on the other hand has gear rotations, seasons move through and the gear level goes up along with its rating requirements. Clearly the rotation is needed to really keep interest in PvP at this stage, arena rewards are designed to move and to allow you to compete the older gear becomes cheaper and more available.
This rotation of gear level is interesting, since it puts high end weapons and gear in the hands of people who would not otherwise achieve this level of gear, or rather it distorts the low end of DPS and Healing gearing because of the high stat level outweighing the losses associated with PvE gear (hit rating etc), why use the Blade of the Archmage, when you can grind for the Season 2 weapon in Battlegrounds, its simply a huge improvement. This distortion is somewhat carried through by the badge of justice equipment, though that is arguably more fair since it requires some form of achievement to acquire (clearing heroics... ok for a lot of people now that is actually like losing 10 arena matches a week, but not for all), and it doesn't really scale. The 2.4 upgrades for a Paladin are in general worse than the 2.3 upgrades, that is despite a similar I-level increase compared to the actual optimisation and quality isn't the same as the upgrade between seasons in arena. This imbalance is interesting since it would have been assumed that the badge of justice gear would have scaled similarly and indeed could have a "personal rating requirement" added to it in the form of the Tier X tokens, to get the T6 equivalent gear you need 1 metric ton of badges and a Tier token for each piece. Instead the badge of justice gear is unrated, that is anyone with sufficient time and skill to complete heroics, dailies or Karazhan can get the best gear in slot pre-T6 in many cases.
So, having successfully complained that arena is unfair because you can lose 10 games a week to get great gear, and then admitted that at least for me, heroics are pretty much the same thing, you have to wonder why I really worry. I suppose there are a few reasons, firstly the badge of justice gear isn't scaling and optimised, there isn't a new set every season as our "war" progresses, I can't upgrade my gear every few months through badges, and secondly is that there is no tanking gear in the arena gear (actually this is a lie, there is a shield and a weapon that are great simply because of the huge primary stats on them). In retrospect this might be obvious, why offer tanking gear through arena and battlegrounds when you cannot tank in these situations. Yup, thats the third complaint, Warcraft and most MMORPGs are based on the abstract concept of "threat", that is the heavily armoured low damage class is capable of acquiring and holding the interest of the target while high damage low armour classes deal damage and heal. This is in the majority of cases simply to make an MMORPG easier to maintain on the server side as the exact position of each avatar is pretty irrelevant provided its close as the only collision detection is between the environment and the player, which can be handled client side rather than between players (where the server would need to arbitrate). As a benefit removing true collision detection also helps stop people simply being annoying, they can't form a shield wall around a vendor, nor can they lock you in a corner, you always have freedom of movement.
In a collision detected environment it would be possible for threat to be replaced, with the monster targeting the highest threat target (as a reasonable player decision would) with Tanking classes being responsible for intervening and standing / blocking the enemy from advancing (note, this makes movement a lot more complex, suddenly a slight move from healer could cause the enemy to move past the tanks, in short, it would be a potential nightmare to implement). So PvP has no tanking, because it has no collision detection and no threat, that is to say that there is no way a tank can maintain "aggro" on an opponent without dealing the most damage or being a threat, however the majority of tanks are not high DPS since they trade this for TPS and survivability. This means that tanking is simply not currently viable in PvP, it doesn't matter what people say about techniques you can learn in PvP, your tanks already have to maintain situational awareness (every environmental hazard and player / npc is a potential puller, every enemy a potential target), they need to maintain their movement, and make good use of their abilities, in short, without some way to tank in PvP tanks don't get a lot from the experience other than feeling kind of lame.
Going back to what I said previously, PvP should offer something to all classes, and indeed to all specs as it is an interesting mechanism for playing, a fluid environment without the scripting to allow you to judge beyond knowing roughly the style and abilities of the other classes and how they interact. Realistically tanking in PvP is hard, as a tank I love meeting a rogue or warrior, limited melee classes I can actually deal with, I might not be the biggest threat to them and thus fail in tanking, but I stand a chance against them, against casters however I might as well start the graveyard run early, because there is no way I can survive. Other than the lack of a threat / blocking mechanic this is the major issue, for a Warrior or rogue their are solutons vs casters, for a Paladin tank there is a slow death.
I am not sure how you can really fix this, in many ways the solution to "tanks" in battlegrounds would appear to be adding a threat / blocking mechanic, or allowing armour to affect spell damage in the same way it does physical (a talent in the tanking trees to convert armour to DR for spells?), meaning there isn't just the caster = death mechanic, but rather that our low damage may actually wear them down before they do us. Of course this appears to be problematic, I hear complaints about locks, and about the rogues that stunlock the lock, or fury warriors that never let a caster get off a spell, the problem with PvP is those of us who don't have these mechanics, and don't have the raw dps to blow through an opponent. I don't play a tank because I want to do immense damage, nor do I believe we should be unkillable, but at the very least we should have some way to win without resorting to respeccing...
Since it was suggested as a shared topic from Blog Azeroth, I thought I should do a rough evaluation guide for the three tanking classes from the perspective of a tanking Paladin. To get the obvious class plug out the way, choose a paladin, doesn't matter if the boss silences fears or drains mana, choose us, we are shiny and have the light, and when the going gets rough, real tanks wear pink. On a more serious note though:
Warrior tanking is essentially the baseline tank for the game, there is no fight they cannot tank, nor is any fight particularly difficult for then, a Warrior provides a large amount of utility to the raid while tanking, using spell reflect, shouts and debuffs to maximum effect. Warrior tanks essentially rely on Sunder to provide a large proportion of their threat making a rogue's expose armour useless in a fight like this. Warriors have a fairly standard threat rotation with threat "spikes" every global cooldown leading to a fairly linear threat curve.
Warriors lack AoE tanking capabilities, but this is not to say they can't AoE tank, it simply means that they will hold from healing aggro on up to about 6 enemies if played correctly, Shattered Halls can be "AoE" tanked by a warrior. Do not expect to Seed of Corruption or Arcane Explosion your way through a run, however also do not expect them to fail with more than one target.
Warrior utility is to their tanking, they provide a 2minute +1000 health buff to their party, a 20% slowing of the enemies attack speed (this won't generally be noticeable to the healers, but does add up over a fight) and other miscellaneous buffs that can increase attack power and such like, however in general these are applied by a second warrior.
Progression tanking is normally performed by Warriors because of their active response capability, shield wall reducing damage by 75% (so a warrior with 60% reduction from armour has effectively 90% reduction in damage), and last stand granting them +25% health for a short period of time, these tools let them survive in situations that would have killed a Druid or a Paladin, both of whom do not have active response tools like this.
By manipulating their stances Warriors can become immune to fear every 30s, this means they rarely require fear wards, and are the tanks of choice for bosses that fear (Nightbane, Archimonde).
Finally warriors have spell interrupts, this allows them to be placed solo against caster enemies with spells that must be interrupted, the cooldown is similar to a rogue's.
In T4-5 content a Warrior will typically have the second highest health pool, the lowest threat generation and the slowest ramp up. In T5-6 content their threat generation will equalise or tend to become higher and their health drops to the lowest. Warriors tend to have the most avoidance gear in general, however suffer from a relatively hard avoidance cap at which point rage generation drops significantly, in content they over gear warriors have the 2nd easiest time maintaining threat with druids coming first.
Druids have a strange place in tanking content having the highest armour by far (reaching the armour cap of 75% damage reduction), and in T5-6 content the highest health, their tanking tree is also their dps tree however meaning that when present with a Paladin or a Warrior it is often better for the raid to let the Paladin or Warrior tank than the Druid as neither of the other types of tank provides the same DPS capability as the Druid.
Druids threat generation is generally the second highest or highest in the game, with a large proportion of it easily maintained while not tanking (making them the ideal off tank in most cases), as with Warriors the threat tends to come in steady spikes on the global cooldown making threat quite linear.
Druids excel in tanking melee enemies, however the lack of spell damage reduction and inability to avoid crushing blows makes them situational tanks in general, this is not a put down, in a raid typically tanks are / should be few Warriors and Paladins and many Druids due to their ability to fulfil many roles fluidly. Fights like Morogrim Tidewalker, Halazzi and Nalorakk (troll form) are the ideal fights for Druid tanks, high melee damage and large spikes that take effective use of their large health pool and armour.
In terms of utility Druids are a strange class, presenting a +5% melee crit bonus normally, and bringing Blessing of the Wild, a combat resurrection, and the capability to heal (lightly, but an AoE heal never hurts), DPS or Tank at short notice.
In short, if in doubt stack some Druids, their utility to the raid is very high even if their actual tanking can be situational due to the deficiencies of the other two tank classes when not tanking in tank gear (if they can change before the fight Warriors and Paladins can provide a role, but in tanking gear it is much reduced).
Paladins are a strange tanking class, they excel in AoE tanking situations, however in T4-5 content have the highest threat generation and potential in both AoE and single target situations, in T6 the relative gap drops significantly due to badly scaling abilities. Paladins are also mana based tanks, this means they can begin front-loading threat onto targets on the pull without waiting for rage to build up, however they need to take sufficient damage to maintain their threat cycle of roughly 1500 mana / 10s (15,000 damage over that period, or 1,500 dps), interestingly Paladins have the softest avoidance cap as they can be provided good mana regeneration using mana potions, Shadow Priests or Shamans, yet they tend to have lower avoidance in general than Warriors due to gear optimisations.
Paladin threat generation comes in cycles of roughly 8-10s bursts with a lower generation between, the speed of the attacker also comes into play as reactive threat provides 15-30% of overall threat (about 20% on your average boss fight). This means that DPS will often move close to a Paladin's threat then have him move ahead a fair amount, making it potentially harder to predict DPS timings (odd considering its a relatively fixed cycle of threat generation).
The lack of utility and responses is clear also in terms of their tanking, when all is going well Paladin tanks are great, however when enemies get away all Paladin abilities are on long cooldowns relatively (15s for taunt, 3-5minutes for Blessing of Protection). The ranged taunt is a blessing and a curse, it allows the Paladin to reacquire their target without moving, however in so doing DPS must leave it alone until they re-establish threat, hitting it while it is returning will result in the Paladin losing threat again partway through a taunt cooldown.
Paladins completely lack active responses to tank death situations, Lay On Hands is one of the best near-wipe recovery tools (and generates roughly 45% of the tanks health in threat), allowing the tank to heal to full health. Additionally there is typically a passive "shield wall" available below 1/3rd of their health, however this can be skipped by hard hitting bosses and cannot be relied upon to trigger.
On fights with threat resets or debuffs Paladins are often the tank of choice for burst threat and self-removal of the debuff, similarly for AoE tanking encounters such as Mount Hyjal. In general if it can be tanked by a warrior it can be tanked by a Paladin, fears and silences are generally their worst encounters (Azgalor, Mother Sharaz, Maiden), however in general these issues can be worked around relatively easily.
As a final note, Paladin threat generation is also the most flexible, with the addition of a Shaman, Shadow Priest and Retribution Paladin to the tanking group it is possible to increase the tanks threat per second by (threat+70)*1.1. That is often a near 200 threat per second increase if required, with the Shadow Priest and Shaman providing the Paladin with the ability to tank in even low damage situations (a shadow priest being equivalent to roughly 600dps on the paladin, a group of 3 shadow priests can thus theoretically keep up a full threat rotation with no damage taken, this situation rarely occurs but if required can allow for very high avoidance tanks maintaining high threat generation).
In terms of boss fights Prince, Illidan, Nalorakk (troll), Blood Boil are all excellent fights for Paladin tanks.
The three tanking classes are generally all useful to have in a raid, Warriors provide the baseline and "gimmick" tanking capabilities to the raid with Paladins providing the highest threat and AoE tanking capability. Additional tanking is generally best provided by stacking Druid tanks in the raid as this reduces the overhead of stacking protection classes who lack utility while in tank gear. On each boss fight its best to evaluate which tank will be best for that fight and to assign them to it, Warriors and Paladins will keep up their debuffs irrespective of the current tank, if given the chance a Warrior will make a reasonable DPS, or a Paladin a strong, but lacking stamina healer.
Blessing of Kings took a look at another game design recently, that of Magic the Gathering, and more specifically the posts by Mark Rosewater, a game designer and importantly a player. Firstly I suppose I should explain Magic, basically its a card game with a very strict set of rules, with layers of interaction between the mechanics, but everything is well known. On top of this rules foundation each expansion adds a few new abilities to the cards, such as flying (which lets you only be attacked by other flyers) or other abilities to counter this such as ones to let you block flyers. Again all of the mechanics are known to both players at the start of the game. There is a very active tournament scene, with different types of play environment, the very structured "Standard" where only the last few expansions are allowed to be played (to basically give newer players a chance, and also to stop certain very powerful card interactions / give a theme), extending back to open formats where first turn kills are very certainly possible.
Despite being completely open and literally in many cases being able to tell what is in your opponent's deck from the first card they play the game still falls heavily to chance (though there are mechanics to help mitigate this such as searching for cards in your deck), and knowledge of the rules interactions, yet on the simplest level its a fun game as well, you bring a deck, your opponent does and the best player should stand the best chance of winning. Blizzard got a lot of this in World of Warcraft, the game is fun from the point you start to play, you don't need to know about crushing blows and hit rating, or indeed what your stats mean to level and have fun, once you get to the end game its a lot more important to have a sound foundation of these concepts though, and those that understand them are likely to have a better chance to succeed and progress compared to those who just believe it to be random luck.
The issue then becomes the openness, Magic the Gathering is a closed game, its publishers make the decisions and they are applied, there is a ruling body that makes alterations to cards (and the have rules on what they can and cannot errata, so players can look and see if something is likely to get changed if they want to) and most importantly there is feedback. Its not like the Beta testing we get in WoW, Mark Rosewater keeps a series of articles about the game, its mechanics and the development and life-cycle of the game. This adds very little to the core of the game itself, after all if we don't like it we don't have to play, what it does add however is knowledge that the rules designers are looking at the game and trying to make it fair, to allow multiple archetypes of deck to be viable, and to allow the different formats of tournament a fair shot. Best of all, it means players at the top end of the game know exactly the rules of the world they play within and can use and abuse these in any way they can to win, in Magic there are basically no rules exploits, strange card interactions occasionally but overall if its possible its both legal and fair to do it, and the best bit is, there is often a counter to it.
This is where Blizzard misses out, firstly is the core mechanics of the game, ok they might not want to publish everything and make it quite as clear as Magic, however looking at Elitist Jerks or Maintankadin people theorycraft heavily, run experiments and create working (and mostly accurate) theories about the underlying game mechanics. Each change to the game that is made causes the theorycrafters to run out and start testing, to determine what changed and more importantly what effect this will have on the potential of their characters. In many way Blizzard added a whole other game to the game, trying to work it out.
By not letting us know the rules of the world we work within our chances to be truly effective within it become reduced, and while that doesn't worry your average gamer, those that take an interest, and especially the top end gamers for whom world firsts and server firsts are something that is fun do care do worry. Its not fun getting killed due to a strange mechanic you can't predict would exist, and its especially not fun to get randomly killed even when doing everything right. The suggested removal of crushing blows from WoTLK makes this clear, Blizzard is trying to make the game more tuneable and a more stable environment. Yet is this really productive, we still don't know the underlying mechanics fully and so we are still making best guess theories about things, players don't mind randomness and luck, what they do object to is setting up a winning hand, then failing when the rules get in the way of a logical progression. Making an example, if your tank is at full health on Teron, has his shield block up, and the constructs are far from the raid you don't suddenly expect him to turn round and kill your healers, the rules here are threat, crushing blows, avoidance, mitigation, healing potential... once you set up the blocks in the right places, barring someone doing something wrong they should fall as expected.
This leads into the second major issue with secrecy, every patch is seen as a nerf, every update leads to calls for buffs and nerfs to everyone's favourite classes, yet not knowing the true core mechanics and the overall role and position of classes leads us to react on gut instinct. Warlock fears are over powered, they make us run away and have diminishing returns, yet is it truly overpowered because a warlock lacks any form of avoidance, they can't ice block, or blink, they can't suppress pain, they could sacrifice their pet, or fear you, but that is it, that is their mechanic. Yet no developer for Warlocks ever sat down and told us their plan, where warlocks fit in the Damage / Avoidance / Resistance / Utility spectrum or what we can expect from them. Looking at Magic (barring a few sets where the mechanic was out of colour spells) there is a colour wheel, 5 colours, White, Black, Red, Green, Blue, Red for example is direct damage and hasted creatures, tending towards light and fast in comparison to Greens big and tough, Black allows you to reduce the effectiveness of other creatures, to convert your life to additional cards or resources, and blue is control. The spectrum is understood, and the players accept it because anything out with that wheel will likely get an article or two explaining the balance and reasoning behind it, its always open to the players, and they know what to understand.
I post as a Paladin with a Warlock alt, my Paladin is a tank, and often has to fight the concept of "Warrior = Tank, Paladin = Healer", my Warlock (Despite not being good in arena) gets me complaints of being overpowered and winning due to "lol-2 button class ftw", never mind the fact that the few arena wins I made with her were more due to my opponents mistakes than my greatness. People see a closed system, and they see it as being something against them, any active developer comments are jumped on and used for bad or good.
Kalgan, the lead developer for WoW plays a Warrior, and various comments he has made or stories about him lead to the idea that Kalgan dislikes Paladins and that Warriors need buffs, doesn't matter if he makes a joke about Paladins then improves us slightly the whole community will jump on him because of his reputation. If it was more open I think the community would benefit, developers will always have a focus, but with openness and testing I think the game would be a much better place, maybe still unbalanced due to the nature of a complex game, but at least unbalanced in cycles so everyone gets a chance. We don't need to know the exact mechanics of the game provided we have a good working theory towards it that lets us play to our best and not be artificially limited by the environment.
Paladins, since The Burning Crusade can tank, though many of us still occasionally have to fight against the only views that only Warriors are tanks, and the more prevalent "Warriors are the main tank" perceptions that put Druids and Paladins on the back burner. As its been noted before on other blogs many Druids tanks would trade away their ability to DPS in order to get more tank slots, the inviability of Warrior DPS in tank gear, or Paladin healing (or DPS I suppose, but most paladins seem to heal in offspec) means that Druids are often placed to the side as they have the most viable "off-spec" role in tanking gear.
So really, in competition for the main tank slot we have Warriors and Paladins, since both of us are uncrushable, and lack a truly viable role to fill in tanking gear while not tanking. Thus this post, to see really where I see the differences and flaws of the Paladin class in tanking, and its off-spec viability. I don't want to see Paladins as the premier tanking class, but rather the 3, and soon to be 4, tanking classes all treated equally and given viable roles. In this discussion I mainly look at Warriors as our closest equivalent tanking class, both being sword and board tanks, with uncrushable status, offering us the benefits of the Druid class while maintaining the similarity to Warriors would likely be game breaking so is not considered. So looking at tanking:
On damage taken:
Paladins have slightly more base damage taken than a similarly specced Warrior, roughly 4% physical, 10% magical damage, the increased parry haste drops this warrior advantage to roughly 2.2%, so in realistic terms, not a lot in it here in terms of raw damage. Warriors however have a large number of tanking debuffs in the form of thunderclap and things like demoralising and commanding shout to decrease enemy attack speed, damage, or increase your health pool. Paladins lack utility in this role, the increased damage we take without a warrior present is very important and in many ways game breaking. Adding utility to us either through decreased damage naturally (potentially a bad route to take as a DPS Warrior or Prot Off-tank can apply their debuffs for us giving us an unfair advantage) would greatly assist in this field in making both tanks more viable in the main and off tank slots as both offer viable, stacking debuffs. The key here is that both tanking classes must be viable and offer debuffs that stack to allow either to be a suitable main tank with or without the other.
On Damage dealt:
We are tanks, threat and damage are largely unrelated for us as concepts, provided threat is high and scales well then our damage is largely irrelevant while tanking, however in the off-tank role the tanking talents and abilities should allow us (or rather Warriors if our off-role is healing) to perform with reasonable DPS, thats not to say we should compete with a rogue with Glaives, but if we reperesented 2/3rds of a retibution Paladin (~ 1800 dps on Brutallus, so giving us 1200 dps) would, while not giving us a raid spot as a DPS, make us a reasonable off-spec role to take when we can't tank a boss, yet leave us present (and really only the tanking trees should have the debuff capability to ensure multiple tanks are taken in a similar way to blessings and heroisms).
In terms of raid damage we add little to anything, offering no debuffs or buffs unless we are in a threat spec (and a retribution paladin is likely to have that ability as well without the compromises we are forced to make to take it). Warriors in contrast offer an attack power buff and Sunder Armour (their main threat tool), however this is both a blessing and a flaw, a Rogue using Improved Expose Armour will offer up a raid-wide dps increase (above that lost by themselves to apply it) at around 2000 physical damage per second, however you won't always have a rogue offering this option, where as a Warrior can always apply Sunder Armour.
On Talent trees:
The protection talent tree for Paladins is very full, with 2 typical builds 0/45+/10+ and 0/40/21, the key difference in the choices in the protection tree being Ardent Defender. The tree is very bulky with talents many talents taken for Holy Shield (required to give us the capability to remain uncrushable through fast attacks), and to give us base-line tanking abilities and threat generation. Of key concern really beyond the obvious bulk of the tree (in comparison the early Retribution tree is very well optimised for us), are Redoubt, Blessing of Sanctuary and Ardent Defender.
-- Redoubt, a proc ability to increase block, and a pre-requisite to getting our increased block value talent. As the proc is unreliable all main tank paladins are uncrushable without this triggering in single target fights, and in multiple target fights its trigger is useful, but rarely required as the charges are blown through very quickly. To make this viable in an AoE situation increasing the charges or proc rate would be beneficial, allowing it to essentially be up permanently as Holy Shield will be eaten quickly (I would prefer more charges to keep it of minimal use in boss fights). Other suggestions have been to make this a static +block% increase, this assists in allowing early gearing Paladins to reach uncrushable and additionally does not scale inversely with our gear, at current as our gear level increases so too does our avoidance, meaning fewer hits that can proc the ability making it even less reliable.
-- Blessing of Sanctuary, the 2nd of our trainable blessings in the protection tree, Kings is often taken by most other Paladins and its use it seen as almost required. Blessing of Sanctuary however is another non-scaling talent (at higher armour / avoidance the reduction this offers does not change, while block value increases in value), with little to no scaling with gear level. The non-scaling occurs because the damage is reduced before armour, so moving from a 0% reduction (upto 80 damage prevented) to a 50% armour (upto 40 damage prevented) is the same % reduction in damage offered by this, however when compared to block value appears to scale inversely, in that it is static rather than becoming more valuable. The lack of scaling occurs as no additional damage is prevented with spell damage, nor does their appear to be an increase in the damage dealt for its trigger, both of these aspects could be utilised to offset the requirements on Paladin equipment for a large range of stats allowing for a better allocation between offensive and defensive ones, and making it a viable blessing. Making this a constant reduction to physical and or magic damage would be perhaps better, making it a supremely viable AoE type talent, with reduced effectiveness on large slow hitting fights.
-- Ardent Defender, the passive shield wall, well when its not skipped. This talent really shines in instances like Mount Hyjal, where we use AoE tanking and block gear (most Paladins stacking 500-900 block for this instance). This level of block gear reduces the incoming damage per hit to the 100-3oo range meaning a very steady and reliable loss of health and ardent defender kicking in very reliably at its trigger point, the occasional spike due to group crits or Abomination knock down are handled fairly well as well as the individual damage per attack is in the 2000-3000 range. The issue of this talent (which required 40 points in protection to consider, and is generally seen as an all or nothing talent, so 45 points in protection as the default base), is that it can be skipped. On the hardest hitting bosses and trash, where we lack a response such as shield wall the ability that is designed to save us will rarely trigger, with many bosses being capable of hits of more than 7K (which would be roughly the trigger point for a 21k health Paladin). Warriors have an active ability to stop these, allowing it to be triggered only when needed, Rogues get a passive version like ours however much more powerful as it cannot be leapfrogged. To make this talent truly worthwhile simply making it non-leapfroggable would be a major step forward, letting us have a response to bad situations, even if we cannot control it.
-- Retribution tree
This tree is very nicely set for us, 10 points in this are seen as very worthwhile with often 12 or 14 spent here to increase threat or spell avoidance, not much can be said against this part of the tree as it is far less bloated for us than our own protection tree.
On Threat and scaling:
In the early end game and through the middle Paladins are the undisputed threat tanks, however T6 content changes this as our reactive damage tends to play a far reduced role (as our avoidance increases the chance of reactive damage is reduced), and the scaling of both the reactive and active damage is minimal. Our major threat source is consecration, with a 108% coefficient roughly across all ticks, this scales well with our spell damage, by contrast Holy Shield has a coefficient of around 5% ( 2.15*Base threat + 12.8% spell damage threat overall), our famous reactive damage increases by around 10 damage (19 threat) per hit between Tier 4 and Tier 6, coupled with getting hit less. Reactive damage, a key element of AoE tanking and the idea of Paladins as block tanks, is thus reduced massively over time and content level.
The discussion on reactive threat is interesting since this divides the Paladin community, while it is viable in an AoE tanking situation where the individual hits taken are very low and consistent it is relatively non-viable in boss tanking situations. The capability to use up a larger number of charges on this ability is tied to becoming closer to crushable, and increases the damage taken by the Paladin (more blocking means less raw avoidance). Again this scales inversely with gear, we cannot afford to be hit multiple times in succession without straining the healers, yet we wish to be hit for threat and mana regeneration. The solution to reactive threat and Holy Shield is a difficult one, since it fulfils the dual role of uncrushability, mitigation and threat generation. Moving Paladins into a higher reactive threat role would likely require our mitigation to be increased significantly such that we could survive a comparative time to Warriors using avoidance, however as we can wear the same gear as them instead of reactive threat gear this is potentially unbalancing again. Reactive threat must therefore be balanced, viable yet remain a low enough expected percentage of overall threat such that Paladins can tank in avoidance gear that is denied to Druids in exchange for their potential to reach the armour cap.
-- Seals and Judgements
Our seals vary greatly, generally the "on-hit" ability of our seal has a sub-25% scaling with spell damage, and the judgement something akin to the instance ~43% scaling, on a normal caster these kinds of scalings are fine as they stack a large amount of spell damage (often 2-3x that of a protection paladin), and can afford to cast longer spells that benefit from much large coefficients. As we are tanking, our spells become reduced to instant casts, otherwise we lose all of our mitigation (dodge, parry, block) while casting, making us both crushable and taking extra damage. In general these scalings should be increased (ideally the on-hit to reduce the burst nature of Paladin threat with little in between cooldowns, however increasing that burst would also fit very well) to allow better scaling with the end-game content.
Seal of Vengence is an odd seal, its very effective at low spell damage, has a low co-efficient (so scales worse than other judgements and seals) and is Alliance only, oh and its a stacking debuff with a horrible tendency to fall off, especially in fights like Naj'entus where his shield will eat nearly all of the time on the stack making it falling off very likely. This seal should ideally be our main boss tanking seal (and should be given to the Horde side) with perhaps an increased timer (to 20s from 15 to make its reapplication and seal weaving more viable with a fast weapon), with an increased co-efficient or innate threat to allow it to remain more viable in the end game where the better co-efficient of our other seals makes the high base damage of this seal irrelevant.
-- Innate threat abilities
We have a single innate threat ability, Holy Shield, as such we are nearly 100% reliant on Holy damage as our threat source, this however means that we are very susceptible to silences, fears and other abilities that force a loss of control of our characters, during a silence only our seal strikes and reactive damage will have an effect if up, we can't cast consecration (though it may still be ticking) nor can we judge or reapply Holy Shield to remain uncrushable, in effect our threat capability drops to something closely approximating 0. Adding some baseline threat to either a Paladin or more specifically Protection Paladins would go a long way to making us more efficient on these kind of fights, which are surprisingly common, though to be honest I would prefer to have a solution to those issues than a cludged in work around.
On Baseline strikes and abilities:
We don't have any. The Protection tree basically gives us our tanking capabilities (increased threat multiplier on Righteous Fury, Holy Shield, Avenger's Shield, Blessings, increased damage and defence), as a baseline a Holy Paladin or Retribution Paladins don't tank. Moving some of this capability into the base line makes a hybrid spec more viable and gives rise to more capability to off-tank with a viable roll once we have done our tanking. The lack of baseline strikes reduces protection, like retribution to a simple rotation (made more difficult by overlapping timers, and very specific global cooldown windows), adding a few baseline strikes to diversify the rotation and add utility would add a nice aspect to the class.
On Rotations and reactions:
One of the most horribly interesting design factors of Paladins is that we work wonderfully when things go right, and lack abilities when it goes wrong. In some cases such as anti-tank-death abilities such as last stand this is a bad concept, Lay on Hands is a nice ability however cannot prevent our death, it can restore us before or after it, but if a bad set of hits comes in we are dead, Ardent Defender is also not reliable as a form of death-avoidance. The Paladin rotation is actually quite complex with the overlap of Holy Shield (uncrushable), Consecration (threat), Judgements (threat, utility), and boss specific tools (Exorcism, Holy Wrath, Avenger's shield, though the latter two both have cast times). In general I would like to see the rotation have more options in its 2-3 global cooldown slots however to retain its lack of utility when things go wrong to force Paladins to be good and react before things go wrong rather than relying on fast cooldown taunts and AoE taunts to make a bad situation better.
Paladins are a lot like Warriors, we want Dodge, Parry, Defence, Block Value, Expertise, Hit Rating, and Stamina but we also want Spell Damage, some Intellect, and some Spell Hit Rating.
Our set of stats we want is wider than those a warrior wants (ideally they would like Strength as well for additional threat, as white damage is a proportion of their threat unlike ours). This diversification of stats means Paladin gear is often badly optimised for us, or penalises us (high spell damage = fewer other stats), adding some synergy between our defensive stats and our threat stats would greatly aid this situation, key to this really is block value, for warriors this is defence and threat through shield block, for us its only defence. Through an improvement to Blessing of Sanctuary we could have an offensively scaling defensive ability that would reduce the number of stats required on Paladin gear to offer mitigation, synergy is really the key to making tanking easier on all classes.
On Silences, fears and losing control:
Paladins are an anti-undead and demon class, yet we are the most susceptible to fear and terror, Warriors have the capability to avoid fear once every 30s, and Druids maintain the majority of their damage reduction irrespective of their facing. Paladins however lose our active mitigation, meaning we become crushable (Teron Gorefiend will hit you for 15K crushing, crushes are bad for tanks, but also are a good mechanic, they force us to prioritise defence over offence). Realistically adding a baseline fear resistance won't help us, we will still eat fear wards as the primary way of dealing with these fears as a % chance is not reliable, ideally a seal, blessing or even a baseline immunity to fear and terror caused by undead / demons would be the solution, giving us the opportunity to live up to our reputation.
Silences are bad, all Paladin abilities are spells, with a silence up we can't generate threat, be uncrushable or react. Again it would be nice if there was some way out of this for us reliably (likely deep within Protection to ensure our DPS and Healing trees are affected as other classes are) or some kind of inclusion of Physical threat and survival tools allowing us to at least survive silences if not maintain our threat cycle.
On Gimmick fights:
Paladins have tanked all of the content in the game, and every phase of every boss, so its doable. The issue I have is the number of gimmick fights that exist that require spell reflect or have a much worse effect on mana-based tanks (silences, mana drain, etc) than on rage based tanks. While I am ok with gimmick fights in general as they force a diversified tank population within a guild, I think the gimmicks need to suit Druids and Paladins as well, giving us fights where rage based tanks find it incredibly difficult, where a Druid's abilities are very important (threat can only be built while he is immune to damage, so bleeds are needed?) or even a boss thats immune to physical damage, meaning you require a Paladin tank or a very good kite rotation to make it work (could simply be immune to physical threat to allow melee classes a role in the fight, however without a spell damage tank / kite he will simply kill the melee quickly). Gimmicks need to be present for all tanks or taken out, without that it simply leads to the idea of requiring the gimmick tank, and generally to letting them tank as the main tanks since you can guarantee they will be present.
On Our offspec role:
In most cases we are an off-spec healer, as our talents choices in Retribution do not tend to pick up the majority damage abilities such as Seal of Command, in holy-offspec we have similar healing potential to a Holy Paladin, however we lack stamina. In tank gear in contrast our heals are very weak and we add very little to an encounter. Assuming off-healing is the route we are to take adding to a solid tank-ability like Improved Righteous Fury (though moving it up within the protection tree) some kind of increased healing capability would allow us to be much more effective and beneficial to a raid when not tanking. Drawing in our protection tree would also allow us to effectively increase the number of talents in holy, however to be honest if I had more points they would go in retribution to increase my threat potential while I am tanking, any addition in this role really needs to be transparent to the holy tree otherwise the abilities will be skipped in the rush to effectively tank.