Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Leadership and Hobbies

Whenever I enter a new hobby that involves dealing with other people, I generally go in feeling like I just want to be a part of the group, not in charge of anything. I'm in charge of enough at work that for my free time activities, I'm happy to let someone lead the way. I will just be a little cog in the machine, I always tell myself... But if I'm associated with the hobby for some length of time, I inevitably end up in charge of something. I don't know how it happens, but it happens every time.

About ten years ago (wow *creaks bones*), during my aspiring novelist phase, I was part of several online writing communities. A friend and I got an idea for a new kind of community and collaborated to get it going, and we ended up working as co-moderators of this writing group for something like four years. It was surprisingly successful, and my energy for it was seemingly limitless. I thought about it any spare moment I had, planning things for the group, and sneaking in computer time at my job to work on it during the day. We got a write-up in a popular ISP's monthly publication for its users, and found ourselves inundated with hundreds of new writers within the first year. When the co-moderator and I finally decided to close the group down, we were more than 500 writers strong.

Part of the reason we decided to dissolve the group and retire was that all the administrative stuff left little time for us to do any writing ourselves. That was why we got into the hobby (and the group) in the first place: to write more. But, we didn't. We wrote less and less until we were writing nothing. The extent of our participation in the group was to run in, do what was required of us for that particular day, douse any flames, make sure everyone was happy, and then go someplace else to relax. Somewhere in there, it had ceased to be a relaxing hobby. It was more like a job.

Same thing happened with my most recent hobby (that shall remain nameless, since I'm still casually involved with it and WoW is sort of my dirty little secret, the reason I'm absent from it so much -- my escape!). I went into it thinking that I could just be part of it, but the longer I stayed, the more responsibilities I found myself with. At first it was great... there was enough to occupy me for hours and hours when I got home every night. It was a little like I was coming home to a second job that I didn't get paid for, but it was a job that I loved even more than my real job. I constantly fantasized about making this hobby my real job.

Now I'm totally burnt out on it. I'm relieved I didn't swerve off my path and make a big career change, because I'm ready to leave it all behind. It feels like a job in a stressful way now, and when I go visit the forums of the community, there's a noticible spike in my blood pressure. Definitely not a relaxing way to spend my precious free time. Running around Azeroth and hitting things with a stick is much better for my soul. So far, anyway...

I read a lot of blogs by folks who've hit level 70 or have taken on a lot of guild responsibilities, and I see them burning out on WoW the same way I burned out on my last hobby. I don't want this to happen for me, so I find myself actively avoiding in-game responsibilities. I would never want to run a guild, or even be an officer in one. That previous hobby still has so many tentacles on me, so many reasons I could never just quit if I wanted to, not without a lot of guilt, anyway. I want WoW to be a flexible hobby. If I am obsessed and feel like I have to log in and check my auctions once a day, that's one thing. Ultimately, I'm in control of that, and there will be no repurcussions if I don't do this. If I decide I want to quit tomorrow, I want to be able to quit tomorrow, and not feel like there are still a hundred things I need to take care of first or a hundred people depending on me to do things for them. I'm happy to help folks in my guild -- I'm thrilled to help them -- I just don't want to be the single point of failure for any particular responsibility.

I'm sure it's inevitable. It's a cycle. One day, one way or another, I will find myself done with WoW. I will do (and not do) what I can to postpone that, however, and enjoy the game as long as I can. Now that I'm conscious of this habit of mine, of accepting lots of responsibilities, maybe I can avoid this particular reason for ultimately quitting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

60 fps (Weekend Highlights)

It felt like it took forever to get everything for the game installed and downloaded on Friday. The computer arrived shortly after noon, and when I posted around 3pm, I was partway through the second patch download. I still had to download 2.3 (another biggun), install BC, and get all my addons in the right place. It was about 6pm before I was finally logged in and playing again. It was totally worth the wait though. Even standing in the auction house in Silvermoon with my bank character was completely stunning.... the detail! I cranked all the video options up to give me maximum detail for the environment, the spells, everything. Wow. I couldn't believe how sharp everything looked. Sort of reminded me how in the old days, the cinematic at the beginning of the game would be incredible quality, but then the actual game play had very blocky graphics. Over the years, the games have looked more and more like the cinematic. Now, I'm finally playing the cinematic.

I took my mage out for a spin in Dustwallow Marsh, and ... again, it's hard to describe how breathtaking it all was. The weeds all over the ground, the shimmers on the surface of the water, the bricks on the road... and then when I started casting spells! Amazing! I almost died in the first battle because I was so distracted by all the new animations surrounding me. I can't believe how much I've been missing.

So far, it's consistently giving me 60 fps, with nary a dip. I think I saw it go down to 50 once, but that's not something I notice unless I'm looking at the number. When I'm leaving or arriving at a flight path, I can see all the animation. When the zeppelin carries me from spot to spot, there isn't a full minute delay where I know I've arrived at the destination, but just can't see it yet. It's immediate. When I walk into an instance, I only see that loading screen for a few moments. I don't have to sit there wondering whether I've disconnected again, hoping my party doesn't replace me... Ahhhh! It's all so much more relaxing, more predictable. I love it.

[/new computer joy]

So, we played quite a bit on Friday evening, and then almost all day on Saturday and Sunday. I did meet all my goals for the weekend...

I played my hunter just a little bit. She wasn't fully rested, but had enough double experience saved up to get me to 52 just grinding greens on my way to some quests. I killed my way through the trolls in Jintha'Alor to make my own Mallet of Zul'Farrak. Easy peasy. I then decided to wander west and try to kill the giant spider Shadra. Turns out she was a bit out of my league, so I ended up abandoning my poor cat and making a hasty retreat toward the exit. Will have to try that one again later. (It was an orange group quest, but hey, my pet and I are like a group, right?) I had one more Hinterlands quest on my list... to get the ancient egg from the cave behind the area where I'd just made the mallet. Doh! I really need to read these quests more carefully after I receive them. SO, I revisited those trolls and swiped the egg. *Yoink!*

I also got my mage to 40. I mostly killed stuff around Dustwallow Marsh, but did travel a bit to get stuff for the mage-specific quests from Tabetha there. I got to the last quest in the chain, which involved killing the Demon of the Orb that she summons in the little garden by her house. I got his hit points pretty low on the first try, but he killed me before I could finish him off. I retrieved by body, ran back, and tried a second time. Again, so close. The Demon and I basically flopped to the ground at precisely the same moment. Damn! Again, ran back to Tabetha's cottage, and when I went inside, there was a pair of 38ish level human mages starting the same quest. So, I waited while Tabetha walked out and summoned the Demon for them. I watched them slay the demon (and even fired a helpful frost bolt in there as he began smushing one of them... I know, they're humans, but... he's a big demon!). They killed him, and as they were turning in the quest, I peeked in my quest log to see what the reward was, and noted at this point that it said "group." Heh... But I had come so close twice by myself! So, I decided to try it one more time. When the humans were done, I had Tabetha summon the Demon again. The humans followed me out in the garden to watch the fight...

I secured him in place with my frost nova and then hurled frostbolts and fire blasts at him until he was no longer frozen. I had to take hits from him until the nova cooldown was over, but then recast it as soon as I could, ran backwards and bandaged myself briefly. I then repeated with the fireblast, frostbolts, and cone of cold until he was on me again. I drank a healing potion, and then finished him off with everything I had. I was down to about 20% of my hit points as he finally crumpled to the ground. It was so awesome.

The human mages stuck around for the whole the battle (no complementary frost bolts for me, but I didn't care, since it was pretty exciting to down this Demon myself), and they both cheered for me and saluted me with respect after the kill. Too cool. That was one of the highlights of my WoWeekend. Somewhere along the way back to town I hit level 40, and then went to buy a mount. She now has a nifty blue hawkstrider.

We took our priest/warrior duo into Blackfathom Deeps so that my priest could kill Lorgus Jett, and my husband could complete a few lingering quests he had there. We wouldn't get much experience (if any), but we thought it might be a fun challenge with just the two of us, and we'd get a bit of loot for disenchants, rep, etc. We actually did quite well. We made it all the way to Kelris without a wipe, and dropped him like a bag of dirt. Yay! So, it was time to light the four trays on the altar. I'd mentioned to my husband that we should only light one at a time (as he hadn't done this instance before), but he lit one, and when it seemed like nothing happened right away, he ran over and lit a second one. Ooops.... so, we wiped. It had taken us so long to get there, and knowing how close some of our earlier scrapes were, we weren't certain we'd be able to do it, so we just decided to call it a night. My husband is very anxious to get a character to 40, so we may not pair again with these two until we've both leveled a bit. His warrior is at 37, my priest at 36.

Our paladin/shaman duo will continue to bulldoze the opposition, however. We did Ragefire Chasm together, just the two of us, since we were both significantly above the level range. It was so much fun that we decided to try running the whole of Wailing Caverns, just the two of us. I'd heard that folks can pretty much solo WC at level 30, so we thought there was a good chance we could do it as a pair of 24s, each with healing and resurrection capabilities. Turns out we were right -- we did very well. We approached each pull very carefully, and our deliberation paid off. We wiped only once, and it was when we weren't paying attention and got hit with a few patrols during a battle where we were taking on three at once already. We both decided to bail from the battle, hoping one of us could get away and resurrect the other, but my husband unfortunately took a wrong turn right into another patrolling slimy thing, and I, instead of jumping over the side into a clear area, took the ramp down instead and got killed. Doh!

Aside from that, we kicked butt. We killed all the bosses, collected all four of the gems for Leaders of the Fang, and then did the final event. I mentally prepared myself for the idea that we would not be successful in killing all the waves of monsters that emerged from the water around us, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Nooo problem.

While it was perhaps not the best use of our time (it took a very long time, and yielded very little experience, though we did both level to 25 upon turning in the quests), it was really very much fun. I loved the excitement of wondering whether we'd actually survive some of the fights -- some of it was easy, but some of it was quite challenging. This is what I love about running instances. I don't care so much about the loot or the lore. I enjoy working out the strategy for each pull, given the particular resources of the team, and trying to execute the plan.

Friday, November 23, 2007


The new computer arrived a day earlier than Fed Ex's initial prediction! Last night felt a little like Christmas eve, knowing that I'd have it in my hot little hands by the end of the day today. I played a bit this morning, keeping one eye on my mage as she did a brief SM-Library run with some folks from the guild and the other eye out the window, watching for the Fed Ex truck. I actually didn't notice he'd pulled up until I heard some banging on the neighbor's door. I ran down the stairs and poked my head out the door of the apartment building and got his attention. I suspect he was trying to deliver it to the wrong apartment, so I'm relieved that I caught him...

So, it's now set up, and I've got most of my basic everyday software installed (FireFox, WinAmp, etc), and all five discs for WoW are loaded. One big patch installation is complete, and I'm now 21% of the way through a second one, and I suspect there will be at least one more. After that, I'll pop in the BC discs, install any remaining patches, grab all my addons, and then awayyy we go...

I'm not sure what to say about the computer so far other than it's absolutely humongous. I think the tower is at least twice the physical volume of the one its replacing. I have one of those big wooden desks with a hutch on top and a compartment below that is designed to hold a tower. The compartment is tall and wide enough, but not deep enough, so the computer sticks out of the front of it about five inches. I guess this means the little door has to stay open, but... whatever. Like I'm going to be sitting here playing WoW and thinking, damn, I wish I could get that little door on my desk closed. Not likely.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Impending Weekend of WoW

We're not traveling for Thanksgiving this year, partly due to work stuff and partly due to poor planning, so I have an entire long weekend of WoW fun to look forward to. Thanksgiving Day will be a day of sloth and gluttony with close friends, with possibly a little bit of WoW, but after that... Friday through Sunday = WoWfest 2007.

Some goals....

For my hunter... Rest. I'd run through Zul'Farrak with a full group if the opportunity presented itself, but it would be nice to let that blue bar of double xp goodness get a little longer first. (She did go through it with some guild folk this past week, but it was a run through by some higher level folks in the guild. I normally don't like to do this, but the quests are done now, I guess.)

For my mage... I'd like to get her to 40, buy her mount, and take her on some mining runs. Her jewelcrafting is at a standstill, and riding will be way more efficient than running for collecting lots of ore.

For my priest... She's now one level behind her partner character, my husband's warrior, so I'll spend a little time leveling her at least that far. She's well rested so it shouldn't take long.

For my paladin... She still hasn't run Ragefire yet, so it would be nice to get that done, even though there's little experience to be had in it at her level. After that, Wailing Caverns, and possibly Shadowfang, although all this will depend on my husband a bit. He doesn't have the same endurance for instances or tolerance for pugs that I do, so we'll just have to see how it goes.

My new computer, according to FedEx, should arrive on Saturday, too! I can't waaaait....

(Work has been a bit busy lately, hence the lack of posting. Doesn't my boss understand that I have terrible pug experiences to recap and poor etiquette to complain about?)

Monday, November 19, 2007

State of the Main (and Alts!)

I managed to play quite a lot this weekend...

My hunter has hit 50! I finished off most of the available Hinterlands quests with a rogue friend from the guild. We each had a bunch of group quests we intended to pair up for, but then post-patch, many of them had the group label removed. We did them together anyway, and polished them off quite quickly. I've now wandered to Feralas where there are green quests galore, and I'm leveling up my leatherworking a bit. My friend and I will head into Zul'Farrak tonight.

I also played my mage a fair amount this weekend, and used up all the lovely double experience I'd accrued during her long rest. She completed Scarlet Monastery (with another frightening pug, but at this point, I think I'll spare you the tale), and most of Razorfen Downs. Still need to finish up the quests outside that instance.

My priest is 34ish, I think. Didn't play her much this weekend, but leveled up her tailoring such that she can now make stuff she can't wear yet. That's when I know it's time to slowly back away from the auction house... *cautiously steps back* No really, I had tons of silk on other characters, and together, they contributed toward the let's-move-on-to-mageweave-tailoring fund.

My paladin is at 20. Our paladin/shaman duo wreaked havoc on the harpies in the Barrens on Friday night. Steamrolled them! Bwahahaha, etc. We've yet to meet our match.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pug Species #19: Runinicus treadmillia

Yes, time for another pickup group story. (I know, I know, I should probably rename this blog if I'm just going to blather on about pugs the whole time.) I encountered a new species of pug last night.

I decided to take my mage out for some questing, and since my husband had decided to do something non-WoW for the evening, I looked to see if anyone was looking for a group for RFD. There was nobody, so I flipped through the other lists, Scarlet Monastery and some others, and didn't see anyone there looking for a group either. Oh well, I thought, and closed the LFG window. A few moments later, I got an invitation to a group. I declined, thinking it was a Level 1 Orc in Orgrimmar wanting to sell me some gold, but then clicked on their name, and they were a level 30-something rogue. Oops!

I sent them a note, and asked what instance they were doing, and they said Scarlet Monastery. I was the final addition to the group, and everyone else was already at the instance, so they were able to summon me. Sweet.

The rest of the group included two rogues, a paladin, and a priest. It was a just-run-in-and-fight kind of group, with no discussion before any pull. I assumed the paladin was tanking, but it was difficult to tell sometimes. There didn't seem to be an agreement about who was doing the pulling as we approached each battle either, so I just stood in the back, tabbed through the mobs to see who was taking the most damage, and targeted them for my spells. I improvised with the sheeping and polymorphed casters who were standing away from the centers of the battles. I also sheeped mobs that were after the priest when she drew aggro, if her fade was unsuccessful.

This all worked fine up until a point. We killed Loksey, but shortly after that, as the pulls got bigger and the monks hit harder, we found ourselves outmatched. As we entered a long hallway lined with monks, a combination of folks running too far ahead and being sneaked up on patrols resulted in our being attacked by about ten mobs. Wipe!

There were just a few respawns at the beginning of the instance, so we fought our way past them and finally hit the empty halls that we'd cleared earlier. We got to the same area where we'd wiped before, and wiped again instantly. "I think we need a new plan," I said, adding a smiley.

Again, body retrieval and running. As we were running through the halls, stuff was respawning behind us. We tried to move quickly, but found ourselves surrounded by angry monks at one point. We survived a rather large battle that drained all the mana users. The priest cast renews on everyone, and then she, the paladin, and I sat down to drink... while the rogues ran ahead into another battle. The paladin jumped up to join them as soon as he was finished drinking, and the priest and I sat there finishing our water. We hadn't even had a chance to rebuff everyone, I noticed. Nobody could hold still long enough! I asked everyone to please wait.

As we stood up, another respawn attacked the priest and I. =baa= "Hey guys, there's a really vicious sheep attacking us back here," I said. I saw the rogues' hit points getting lower and lower wherever they were fighting up ahead (with nobody to heal them). They managed to get back to us and help us safely kill the respawns that were cropping up again.

We continued along quickly as we could. I'm not sure what happened with the priest at this point, but she seemed to be lagging behind a bit. All through the instance, I tried to stick with her when she had to drink water, usually because I needed to drink, too, but also because when I'm the healer, I hate it when everyone runs off ahead. Anyway, as we got to the site where wipes #1 and 2 occurred, I noticed that the priest was way, way behind us. I asked if she was ok. "Respawns again," she said. "Wait up, guys," I said to the others, as they were about to go into the hallway with all the monks again.

I'm sure you know what happened next. They did not wait. They ran right into the same corner that they'd run into twice before, this time with no healer to back them up. They managed to just engage three mobs, and the four of us were able to finish them off. I said at this point that if we were not going back to help the healer, that I was done and leaving the group. (I didn't think there was any way we'd be completing the instance anyway, and it was pointless to continue without a priest given how much damage we were taking.) One of the rogues ran across the hall and engaged a group of mobs. "I guess we're done," I said, and started to run away to find a safe place to get out of combat so I could hearth out. "O sry" said the rogue (or should I say rouge). As I ran, I saw the rogues and the paladin die one by one, and then I saw the monks on my heels. I was clobbered within a few hits. I went back to retrieve my body in the instance, and again, respawns right in the front! Damn! So, we probably would have had to completely kill our way through the instance again if we wanted to keep going. I wished them the best of luck and left the party.

I swear, it was like running on a treadmill, we made so little progress in the instance, and moved so slowly that we were just barely ahead of the respawns. So, I pronounce this sad little species Runinicus treadmillia. I've encountered many a Runinicus before, but this was a whole new one for me.


I should note here that while the rogues were moderately annoying, the whole situation really didn't bother me that much, not compared to some of the other pugs I've run with. Maybe I'm mellowing out, getting used to the idea that dealing with clueless people is just part of pugging, that generally, people aren't paying attention to how their party members are doing in terms of mana/health or whether they're even in proximity of the group, ready to go, etc. Or maybe it was that I went into the instance very casually and I didn't have the specific goal of doing SM last night, so I wasn't disappointed about not finishing, in addition to all the rest. In any case, I got some nice experience from the run, so it wasn't a total loss.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Aggro in Ulda

I played my hunter all weekend, soaking up the last of the delicious double experience I'd saved up with her. I had a couple things to do in Uldaman still, since my last pug there was unable to complete it, so I put my name on the LFG list first thing on Saturday.

I got an invite after an hour or so, and joined a group consisting of a mage and another hunter. I recognized the other hunter -- we had quested together briefly in Stranglethorn a while back. I don't remember which quest specifically, but it was one where we had to kill a bunch of trolls, and we got our butts kicked. We'd send our cats in, and within moments, we'd be stormed by angry mobs that had been standing just around the corner where we couldn't see, I guessed. After a final suicide run to retrieve our bodies, we fled the scene, getting chased by a pack of gorillas as we tried to get to safer ground. I thought it was completely hilarious at the time.

So, recalling that fondly (unsuccessful though it was), I was looking forward to this Ulda run. When I joined, that made the group two hunters and a mage, so as far as I was concerned, as soon as we picked up a tank and healer, we'd be ready to go. Moments later, the hunter invited another mage. Hmm. I supposed my cat could tank, but I'd never be the first to suggest it. I just made my way toward the summoning stone and thought I'd wait to see what happened.

It seemed like it took a very long time to get a fifth. I think this is in part because we somehow were no longer on the LFG list for Ulda, and when I suggested that the hunter advertise in the LFG channel, he said he didn't know how. Instead, I think he just started looking for folks in the right level range and whispering to them. Must have been successful, because we finally got a fifth, a druid, who greeted us by saying, "Um, guys, I can tank or heal, but not both." Yeahh....

I seriously considered dropping from the group so they could find a fifth that would be more appropriate, but since it had taken us so long to get five together, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. At least if I stayed we'd all be playing instead of waiting, and if it was clear it wasn't going to work, we'd just call it quits. One of the mages pointed out that we should have pretty good DPS and crowd control capabilities, so as long as we communicated well, we should be fine. (I liked her!) I suggested that the leader (the other hunter) mark the pulls so we'd all know what was what. This ended up not happening.

Instead, it was decided that the other hunter and I would have our cats each tank a different mob to split up the aggro. So, at the beginning of each pull (some of these with six mobs ready to charge us), the plan was that we'd each mark a mob with our hunter's mark, signifying we were ready. Then, we'd release the cats and ideally, the DPS could focus on the two marked mobs first. In theory, this probably could have worked. The problem, however, was that the other hunter was specced Marksmanship, not Beast Mastery, so this meant that he was doing a lot more damage than his cat. He possibly could have compensated for this by delaying his fire and letting the cat build up some aggro, but he didn't make an attempt to do this at all. Each pull went like this:

1) He'd put up his hunter's mark, and then I'd put up mine. We'd both send our cats in.

2) I'd wait a few moments for my cat to growl before shooting. He would start shooting immediately, sometimes before his cat even got to the mob.

3) My cat would effectively tank its assigned mob. He would pull aggro on his mob and usually most of the others in the area, and they would come rushing over to our party.

4) My cat and I would kill the one mob I'd marked, and then I'd hurry my cat back to try to help sort out the chaos in the area where we were standing.

5) Lather, rinse, retrieve corpses, repeat.

The mages did try to sheep whenever they could, but mostly it was futile. At one point I asked the other hunter if he was using multi-shot, given that he was pulling so many mobs to the group on every single pull. He said he wasn't, so it just must have been due to poor decisions in timing/choosing his other shots. One of the mages finally asked to be leader so that she could mark a few mobs for sheeping. This helped quite a lot, but I swear, this other hunter pulled every single mob that my cat wasn't tanking on every single pull. It was unbelievable.

(Note, I did download AuldLangSyne, and while it isn't quite what I expected, it is kind of cool. Whenever you apply notes to another player, it includes them when you hover your pointer over them. So, in this case, hovering over the other hunter would make it say:

Level 43 Blood Elf Hunter

It made me smile every time.)

We wiped only once, but like I said, those poor mages had to collect their bodies many times during the instance. It was taking us long enough, too, that those retrieving their bodies had respawns to deal with, so the whole group had to go back to help at one point. The mage who was leading us showed us the back way in to speed up later body retrievals, but I was beginning to doubt our ability to handle the final boss, given the way things had gone up to that point.

We made it to the final room, and the mage now in charge suggested that the other hunter have his cat tank the boss while mine took care of all the adds. Seriously? I whispered her and said I thought my cat might be able to hold aggro better on the boss. I told her I was worried about the other hunter's cat doing any major tanking because the other hunter had pulled aggro to himself on every single pull. "Hold up," she said, and whispered a thanks for the suggestion. The way she said it, I thought she might be discounting the idea at first, but then she reversed her orders. My cat would tank the boss, and the other hunter would take care of the other stuff. Whew.

It was really a very close fight, but we brought down Archaedas in one attempt. It was awesome... my cat managed to hold his attention through lots of growling and some well timed intimidations. Both the druid and I kept her healed enough that she was still there at the end of the fight. She was down to 10% of her hit points as Archaedas fell, and I was down to less than half of mine thanks to some roaming adds I happened to engage during the fight. One person died (either a mage or the druid -- can't remember now), so ... not too bad. Way better than I was expecting.

Archaedas dropped the Stoneslayer, and again, in this group, everyone was rolling greed on bind-on-pickups whether they planned to use the items or not. I really prefer to pass on BoPs unless I plan to use them, but I finally said, "what the heck" and rolled greed and won it. I didn't feel too badly about it since it's doubtful that anyone other than the other hunter or I could use it, and the other hunter had just won Grimlok's Charge earlier (in a roll that I passed on).

Anyway, it makes total sense to me why that hunter and I had such problems in Stranglethorn Vale before. It's also becoming clearer to me why hunters have such a reputation for not knowing how to play their class. Seems like I've run into so many clueless ones recently.

(My hunter is now at 47! Whee!)

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Do-Not-Party List

Last night, while questing around Desolace with my priest, I got two unsolicited tells from a certain jerky paladin whose name is on my Do-Not-Party list. The first time he just said, "RFK?" The second time, just "SM library." Of course, I recognized the name immediately and turned him down. In each case, I thanked him for asking, as I always do, and wished him luck. I really was busy questing with my husband's warrior toon, but after my last experience with him, there is absolutely no way I would have joined his party even if I had the time to spare.

After his second tell, I was browsing my blacklist a bit. It's a short list (which may surprise you given all the whinging about pugs here so far), scrawled on a pad of paper next to my computer. It's arranged in the order I ran into each person, and next to each name, there are just a couple of words to describe why they're on the list. Ninja. Jerk. Yells at everyone. Runs ahead and wipes the party. Not too many details, but I hoped that in each case that it would be enough to make me remember why I wouldn't want to party with them again. It looks a little worse for the wear, given that the cat has overturned at least two glasses of water on it, but I can still make out most of the names.

With the jerky paladin, his name is weird/recognizable and my memories are fresh thanks to writing the blog entry, so the decision will always be clear on that one. For others, I found that the memories were hazier. What instance did I run with them, and what, more specifically, bothered me? I'm pretty sure I don't add a person if they are simply annoying. They need to be a special kind of annoying to make the list, a kind that says I could not stomach another instance with them. Some offenses are definitely worse than others though. For example, take "runs ahead and wipes the party." What if the leader was very good, and they were able to keep the person under control? Or, what if they'd learned some better grouping practices since our last meeting? It might be ok to party with someone like that again. On the other hand, I absolutely want to steer clear of the loot ninjas, because I know I'll just get mad if they do it again. So, it seems I need a better way to keep track of people, perhaps something better organized (and more cat-proof).

After reading Nibuca's thoughts on WoW player ratings, I casually looked into addons for keeping track of other players and storing notes on them in the game. One that intrigued me was DiggKarma, which also allows you also to share notes on players with others who have the addon. I wouldn't mind being able to warn others about the jerky paladin, but I'm not sure that I'd really want to share my friend/ignore lists. I'd have to see what kind of settings it has for privacy.

Really, I just want a way to keep notes for myself. NotesUNeed seems to be a rather popular download, but perhaps something simpler like Player Notes or NoteIt would be sufficient. Oooh, wait a second, I just found a WowAce one that's FuBar compatible: AuldLangSyne. I'll give that a try this weekend and report back.

Now, the other issue... It's easy enough to avoid these folks if they are the one asking me to join the party, but what if I join a party invited by someone else, and find that someone on my blacklist is in the group? This is not something I've been faced with yet... would I politely excuse myself? (Sorry guys, gotta log...) I don't think I'm confrontational enough to actually say why I'm leaving to the person (unless they -really- pissed me off), but would I whisper my reason to the leader? (Look out for the rogue -- he's a ninja...) I think I'd have to say something to someone. I always find it annoying, even if it's clear that the pug is terrible and going to be unsuccessful, when people leave the group without saying anything, especially if you're already inside the instance. I genuinely hope I won't be faced with this, but I'm curious to see how I'll react when I'm actually in the situation.

How do you keep track of players you'd like to avoid? And if you find yourself in a group with one of these folks, what's your next move?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Little Help from the Damage Meter

Last night, I played my level 33ish mage for the first time in ages. My hunter did the 30-40's in Stranglethorn Vale, my 34ish priest has just headed to Desolace to quest there, and so I took my mage to Tarren Mill with the intention of running to the Arathi Highlands to quest there. May as well mix things up a bit so I don't get bored leveling two toons in the same area.

Anyway, when I got to Tarren Mill, there were several Alterac quests available, so I picked them up and started wandering around. May as well take care of a few things here, too, I thought. To make a long story short, I wandered into a zone loaded mobs a few levels above me and completely got my butt kicked. It was kind of embarrassing. I was killing the green stuff just fine (and naturally, the grays), but an yellow mobs were totally destroying me. Not even elites -- just plain yellows! My priest certainly hasn't been having trouble with the yellows, so ... what the heck?

I got smushed several times before I realized I needed to take a step back and really look at what I was casting. This is where Violation, the damage meter I installed came in really handy. I found some green mobs and started playing with my spell rotation until my DPS was looking better. I also spent some time reviewing how much mana each of the spells required. I'd mentally assigned values to them (evidently based on my very poor memory) that were way off. Good to know.

So, with increased DPS and a better idea of how to conserve mana, I proceeded to the Arathi Highlands. (I might go back to Alterac some day, but I must give the mobs some time to forget, lest the coach call the outfielders in... easy out, easy out...) I found the cave with the Ogres I was supposed to kill, and made my way inside. I actually did quite well in killing them. I did have to stop and eat leftover Halloween candy a few times, and I died once after some ill-timed respawnings, but I successfully completed the quest and ran to Hammerfall, feeling very proud of myself. And boy, were the greens easy after that...


So, clearly, using damage meters as a diagnostic can quickly improve one's game play. There are stories stories all over the place, however, about folks using damage meters instead to try to outdo each other's DPS in a group, sometimes to the detriment of the party, pulling aggro from the tank and so forth. I do agree with BRK's sentiment that "Wow is NOT a DPS race," but I can see how people fall into this...

The game keeps you hooked by offering you goals, some big, some small. The game even tricks you into completing bigger tasks (like grinding for experience) by offering you seemingly small tasks: "Collect 10 naga eyeballs." 10, you say, rubbing your bleary eyes. I can do that and still be in bed at a reasonable time tonight. And then the drop rate isn't as high as you hoped, and you've killed 100 nagas (90% of which are blind, apparently), and you're up for an hour longer than intended... Anyway, my point is that having a damage meter there offers another small goal that you can probably achieve during the course of an instance if you're a DPS build.

I won't lie, either -- it's fun to be at the top of that DPS list. Before I go into an instance now, I reset Violation so I can check it periodically and see how I'm doing. My goal isn't to be at the top, however. I tweak my casting rotation in response to the threatmeter, not the damage meter.

I also don't make a big deal out of it should I find myself at the top of the list. I've been in instances where the players beg someone to post the damage meter stats, presumeably because they know they'll be at the top. When I ran Scarlet Monastery with my hunter a while ago, a paladin, who was the sole healer, even requested that the healing stats be shared, too. "Why? You're the healer, so of course you'll be at the top," someone pointed out. "I just want to see it," they said. Somehow it makes people feel like they're winning the game, I guess. Again, the wisdom of the man they call BRK: "...topping the damage-meter is not The Goal; defeating the instance is." Well said.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My world at 5 fps

This past weekend when I was loading some new interface mods, I added PerformanceFu, which monitors your frame rate, latency, and some other stats on how well the game is running. At first, having the frame rate immediately available was nice, because when I'd see the frames per second drop, I'd just calmly say, Ok, I'm lagging. I'd wait for the number to increase again, and then start moving. Whenever I saw oddities, like the fps shoot way high and then drop way low (usually while in the elevator in the Undercity), I'd calmly say, Ok, I guess I'll be disconnected in a second. Somehow, just seeing that fps number and knowing what the next few moments were going to be like made it a little less frustrating. At first.

Now, those regular dips in frame rate are just making me spend a lot of time at Dell.com, shopping for a new computer. My computer is about five years old, and although I haven't looked at the minimum specs for running WoW since I first installed the ten day free trial all those months ago, I'm pretty sure it's below what they have listed as required. (It's certainly far below what is recommended.)

When I first decided to play WoW, I did shop for video cards a bit, thinking that just upgrading that would be good enough. At the time that I got this computer, I was playing some games, but nothing so graphics intensive that I noticed a slowdown. The first game I noticed it choke on was Civ 4, so I usually played that on our laptop instead, which was newer and slightly beefier than my desktop. I couldn't imagine playing WoW on the laptop though. Civ 4 made the laptop run pretty hot, so I think WoW would probably cause a total meltdown. Anyway, WoW seemed to run well enough on my desktop, so I abandoned the idea of an upgrade pretty quickly.

I'm not sure what's happened since then. My lag problems seemed to get worse just after the last patch. I don't know if it's all the fancy effects they've added with the sunlight or what. I've changed some settings to reduce the video quality a bit, turned off the music, moved a bunch of extraneous non-WoW files to an external hard drive (because it was getting pretty full), and defragged the heck out of it. According to the PerformanceFu thing, my mods aren't adding that much of a strain, so I don't think that's it. With every patch, I guess the game gets a little bigger and more complicated, and it's just more than my little computer can take.

I found a mid range video card that I thought might be a good, sturdy upgrade, but then I noticed how cheap PCs are getting. For just twice the cost of the video card, I could get a whole new system. (I do have a nice monitor, so not replacing that already makes the whole venture cheaper.) But you know how things go. If you're going to spend $800, then what difference would a few more hundred bucks make? And then a few more, and ... well, this is a major source of entertainment for me, the last computer did last five years, so if I just beef it up a little more, this could last me another five, and ... yeah. I want a whole new computer, and not just a moderate upgrade. I want it to kick ass. I don't ever want to see Azeroth at 5 fps again.

So, I'm shopping seriously now. (And getting no work done.)

Edit: The new computer has been ordered! Est. shipping date is the 19th. Now, the agonizing wait...

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Inconsistent

= The Good =

After playing my priest all day Saturday (now at 33 -- woo!), I decided to take my hunter out for a spin on Sunday. To take full advantage of the huge amount of double experience I'd racked up, my cat and I wandered to the Alterac Ruins to kill elite ogres and finish the last quests in the chain The Crown of Will. My mission was to find and kill Mug'thol inside a building with tight corridors, teeming with ogres. The layout of the building made it a tad challenging, because often you didn't know how many you were pulling until you actually walked in the room and they leapt upon you, but was fun and I was doing fine, even taking on several mobs.

Then, I got a whisper... "You have all the heads?" Heads? What heads? Was I in the LFG for Uldaman, because I'd considered trying to get a pug together for that? No, I wasn't in the LFG channel and there was no Uldaman quest involving heads. Then, a Tauren hunter appeared from around the corner with his cat. Oh! That's right... the quest before this one involved collecting the heads of a few other baddies in the area. I whispered back and said I'd done that one, but that I'd be happy to help him with it, so we partied up and headed upstairs for Mug'thol.

We did pretty well together, killing our way up to the third floor where Mug'thol was. The Tauren drew aggro a few times and he died twice, but seemed to take it well. We cleared the two mobs in front of Mug'thol without drawing him, and then sicced our pets on the big guy. No problem.

The Tauren asked if any of his kills were in this building, and they weren't, but I remembered where the others were, so we marched north, stopping in buildings to collect the heads that he needed. I then agreed to help him go back in and kill Mug'thol so he could complete the quest, too. All in all, a good time, with good banter, and mostly clean pulls. I added him to my friend list, and will look for him again for group quests, I'm sure.

= The Bad =

Of course I had to run into at least one jerkface over the weekend. After turning in Mug'thol's head in Tarren Mill and then the Crown of Will in the Undercity, I added myself to the LFG list for Uldaman. While I was still clearing out my inventory from the last quests, I got an invite to a group. "u want 4 ulda?"

I think I'll spare you the play by play on grouping with this guy. The summary:

1) When we still needed one more for the group, he asked me specifically to advertise this in the trade channel since I was in a city. The trade channel?! I suggested he advertise in LookingForGroup instead. General is one thing, but the trade channel? That is so annoying.

2) He is one of those people that just cannot stay put. While everyone else is sitting, drinking, rebuffing, and waiting for the leader to mark the next pull, he is wandering off way up ahead. He was a rogue, so he was often sneaking around invisible right next to the next set of mobs. He did a few accidental pulls this way when nobody was ready. Again, very annoying.

3) In one part of the instance, rather than clear all the mobs in the area before summoning the boss (as the leader asked us to do), he just walked right up and summoned it. The leader of the group was like, "oh well, I guess we're done here... you just ruined the instance." I thought this was a bit dramatic (though never having done Ulda, I had no idea whether it was true), but the rogue said, "no just pull the boss." Turns out we'd cleared enough that we could just pull the boss, so it did turn out fine. After that, for the next 10 minutes we got to hear from the rogue, "so did i ruin it? huh?" over and over.

4) A strong iron lockbox fell at one point, and we all rolled greed except for the the rogue who rolled last: Need. "Mistake," he said. So, all this and a ninja, too. Brilliant. At about 5 o'clock this morning, when I was lying in bed wondering if I'd remembered to change the time on my alarm clock, I was thinking about this again, and I realized that if you are a loot ninja, particularly a rogue, this is the ideal drop to make your "accidental" need roll, because presumeably, you can just unlock it and whatever is inside will not be bound to you. I know he could unlock these, too, because earlier, when I won the roll on a lockbox, he said to me, "I unlock 4 u." I said no thanks, that I'd take care of it later. Sounds like I made the right decision.

5) At the end of the instance, he was complaining his head off about how much it was going to cost to repair his armor. (I whispered to the leader that maybe whatever was in the lockbox he ninja'd would cover it.)

Anyway, this guy is on Do-Not-Party List now. What an ass.

= The Inconsistent =

So, this would be our entire Ulda party, myself included. I mentioned before that I was nervous about my role as a hunter in instances, and someone putting me in charge of trapping something since I hadn't practiced it much yet. When the leader explained the marks he was going to use and the kill order, he said, "blue square = freeze trap." Hoo boy, I thought. Here we go. When he marked our first big pull and I saw that blue square, I felt a jolt of adrenaline, but I was pretty sure I knew what to do. I laid the trap and selected the mob, and waited for the tank to run in before shooting the square to lure him to me.

The leader wanted the moon sheeped, the star sapped, and the square trapped. The kill order was skull, x, star, square, and then moon. Charge! *insert Benny Hill music* I shot the square, but someone (I'll just assume it was our rogue friend) drew him away and he was diverted. The tank was getting a huge beatdown from the skull, the x, and the star. I sent my pet into assist the tank and resumed trying to draw the square. Then I saw the moon chasing the mage, and they ran right at me and into my trap. Wow... it was a complete and total mess. We managed to kill everything and stay alive, but this did not bode well...

The second pull, same general theme. We seemed to be completely failing at crowd control, as the sheep and square kept getting hit before or while they were trapped. I whispered an apology to the leader, and mentioned the problem of folks breaking the trap, and he reminded the whole group that they should be wary of what they were hitting, and to be careful not to break the cc traps and spells. The following pull went much better, but then the one after was as bad as the first. As we got deeper into the instance, we were terribly inconsistent and did not seem to improve from pull to pull. There was just no telling what was going to happen. We wiped at least three times before getting to the final rooms.

I did get some successful trapping done in there, but I admit a few bonehead maneuvers where I accidently broke my own trap. By the end, I was pretty comfortable with what I was supposed to do, but had to improvise many times when the trap got broken or resisted. In one terrible pull, both the trap and the polymorph spell were resisted, and everybody died except me and the rogue. (I thought for sure we were going to die, too, because the rogue kept messing around in stealth mode near our next set of mobs while the others were still running back from the graveyard. Argh.) As we approached the final boss, it was pretty clear we were not going to be able to complete the instance. Two wipes in a row in the room after the one where the stone statues come alive one by one, and we decided to call it a wash. Our crowd control skills weren't strong enough, our DPS wasn't high enough, our healer (a non-holy specced paladin) couldn't keep everybody healed because we were all taking too much damage, and our tank wasn't holding aggro. Alas. I did level in there though... that was nice. (45!)

It was fun to try a new instance, and one where the pulls were quite challenging. I'm frustrated that we didn't seem to improve over the course of the instance though, like as a group, we weren't learning anything about how to do these pulls better as we went along. In the cases where things did go better after a wipe, it was only because there were fewer mobs, since we managed to knock off a few in the previous battle. I look forward to trying Uldaman again if I can get a group together, hopefully with a more consistent performance from myself as a trapper and the group as a whole.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Addon... addoff...

I remember hearing about of lots of different mods during my Diablo II days. They were a violation of the terms of service, so Blizzard was threatening to remove accounts that ran even a single addon. "Even Maphack?" people would say. Yes, even Maphack, said Blizzard. I was never tempted to download any of these things (even Maphack) afraid that I would inadvertantly pick up a virus, or something that would cause my computer to go up in flames the next time I killed Baal.

So, I waited a long time before running any addons with WoW. I guess I assumed they would be a violation of the ToS for this game, too, but evidently they're not. I'm sure there are some that Blizzard frowns upon (and I've read about creators that have retired addons after such frowning, as with BottomFeeder), but there are tons of useful, legitimate addons out there. I know there are some that view using any addons as cheating, but if Blizzard thinks it's ok, then I'm okay with it, too.

I got a little crazy with the addons at first, and downloaded all kinds of stuff that I've long since abandoned. I used Koordinator to show my in-game coordinates, but scrapped it once I picked up Titan Panel. Also abandoned were Cartographer (maybe this is weird, but I like having the terrain slowly revealed to me as I explore), and DamageMeters. You know, I actually really want DamageMeters, but when I installed it, the little module thing appeared in the middle of my screen, so I clicked on it with the gloved pointer to move it. Then, I somehow could not let go of it. No amount of clicking (with shifting, alting, or anything else I could think of) would allow me to get it off my glove (get it off meh!), nor could I even use the pointer any more to exit the game. I had to alt-tab out and end the game through the Task Manager. That sucked. Any insight into this one is welcome.

Initially, I picked up KLHThreatmeter, because it seemed like the most popular threatmeter at wow.curse.com (one site my brother-in-law told me it should be perfectly safe to download stuff from). I liked it fine, but heard from several (usually with a bit of superiority in their tone) that Omen was better. Sometime after the most recent patch, KTM started behaving strangely, appearing in random spots on my screen when I logged in, often just off the edge of my screen, offering barely a sliver for me to grab it and move it to a better position. (Sometimes I'd never be able to grab it, so I'd just have to give up and keep it hidden for the session, since I didn't know how to reposition it.) So, I got rid of it and have Omen now, and yes, it is lovely.

I also run Auctioneer, though I still don't think I've scanned the auction house enough times to truly benefit from this mod. I don't use the automatic pricing features, but I do use it to give me a ballpark idea of what things are going for. I have certainly made more money since I picked up this addon, but I also spend more time in the AH these days anyway.

Another one of my favorites is Lightheaded, which is like having wowhead right in the game. This is very convenient for me, because if I alt-tab out for a quest hint and open my browser, my computer sometimes makes a funny grinding sound, and the game is sluggish when I return. No matter where I am, I'm doomed to lag like I'm in front of the bank in Orgrimmar until the next computer restart.

For consolidating my bags, I'm currently using Bagnon. It broke after the recent patch, but it was updated and seems to be fine now. The only thing I don't like is that I can never see what keys I have. When I click on the key icon, it just opens my inventory. I may switch to something else when seeing these keys becomes more important.

Two recent additions (courtesy of BRK's addon list) are Autoprofit and Bartender3, and both are quite handy. Autoprofit is a bit dangerous when you have low level characters that might be carrying around gray items that they actually intend to use. My poor little paladin accidently sold her shield without noticing it when I clicked autoprofit. When she decided to put away the 2H weapon and level up the sword, well... turned out to be too late to get it back in the buyback. Heh...

I'm sure I'll collect more addons as I advance in the game, particularly as I start running higher level instances. I imagine cooldown timers and things like that can really improve one's efficiency.

What's the addon you couldn't play without?