Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Freezing Arrow and Me

In December, two of my favorite bloggers wrote about their experience playing with Freezing Arrow. In short, neither Big Red Kitty nor Chain Trap like it much. I like it more than them, and I think I can explain why.

But first, I do have to agree with those who say that crowd control is in general not much wanted in the current endgame. There's a brutal simplicity to the heroic instances and the raids I've done so far (Archavon, Saltharion, and the first three wings of Naxxramas): tanks use a lot of AOE, and damage-dealers go for single-target or AOE as their specialties may be. There's more room for mages' polymorph and paladins' repentance to make a difference than any trapping hunters can bring to bear.

Nonetheless, there are some places where it's handy, and times—helping gear up guildmates who aren't yet powerful enough for AOE tanking to do it all, for instance, and when Tivara's out questing on her own.

Freezing Arrow can be used two different ways. If your hunter shoots it so that it lands near a target, it'll freeze the target immediately and rouse all the target's neighbors to hostile action, just as if they were pulled by anything else. But hunters can also put down a freezing trap a bit farther away. And this is what I do with it. I'm not pulling with the trap, I'm putting it down so as to catch someone at the back of a bunch, or off to one side of it.

Used this way, the freezing trap behaves like any other. The trap goes down, but nobody's yet pulled, and the regular countdown applies. I wait for at least 10 seconds, so that Tivara can put her next trap down before the first one wears off, and then pull. Voila, freezing fun at a distance.

A Quick Personal Note

So, I found out why I've been feeling uninterested in posting much in recent weeks. The full story is long and dull, but it boils down to "my perpetually disfunctional immune system has been busy clearing out old crud". Turns out I'm losing weight again. This is great, but it also means that my body has to fight through the junk that was floating around in my blood or wherever back when the fat that's now being burned was laid down. It's like when you want to do some gardening but have to deal with the remains of the bodies you buried out back years ago. Um, you do have that problem with gardening, right?

Anyway, in the midst of it all, this kind of detoxification leaves me often distracted and otherwise not well suited to writing. But the rush of finding that I'm actually losing weight I've been wanting to take off has me feeling like writing again. I'm going to see if I can manage something each day, to avoid more long silence.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some Catching Up: DEHTA

Connectivity failures keep me from playing tonight; I might as well work through some of the picture archive. You'll notice from Tivara's look and gear that this was some weeks back. This stuff really has been piling up.


Back in original WoW, characters at about level 30 could venture into the jungles of Stranglethorn Vale. They would encounter warring tribes of trolls (some with undead minions), pirates, and various other challenges, and also dwarvish big game hunter Hemet Nesingwary. He and his hunting party have the character kill 10 of this and 10 of that, working their way up to the named elite individuals who dominate various animal packs—the tiger Sin'dall, the raptor Tethis, and so on. Most folks I know did them most of the time because it was good experience, and handy rewards for some classes.

Come the Burning Crusade he turned up in Nagrand, leaving his son in charge of the camp back in Azeroth. Same setup, but this time 30 of this and 30 of that, and accompanying jokes among players about how this was going to rival Draenor's shattering for population catastrophe.

Yes, he's in Northrend now. But before travelers like Tivara have a chance to cross his path in the Sholazar Basin, they spend some time in the Borean Tundra, and they run into these folks:

Arch Druid Lathorius

Lathorius is here leading Druids for the Ethical and Humane Treatment of Animals. They have a statue of Nesingwary in the habitat nature intended for him, burning in the Twisted Nether.

Quests for DEHTA are fun and varied. You put down deranged assistant hunters, destroy their traps, and also rescue trapped baby mammoths:

Baby Mammoth Trapped

When freed, each one rears up and trumpets some appreciation, which feels remarkably good:

Baby Mammoth, Freed

Finally you get to hunt down and dispose of Nesingwary's crazy agents in the Borean Tundra, complete with mammoth riding to trample some of them. There's humor in this, of course, but not a lot of mockery—the victims of the hunt are shown as genuinely suffering, the druids trying to help them seriously focused on doing what good they can and keeping others from doing more harm.

When I first read about these quests, I dread yet another oh-so-clever fannish bashing of anyone so stupid as to actually care about the well-being of animals. I got something a lot better than that, and am happy.

More Loot Boasting

Sorry for the ongoing neglect; it's stomach trouble time here at Chez Mri. But I am getting in some play and I'm getting some goodies.

Tivara now has the Accursed Bow of the Elite, thanks to our first guild victory over Instructor Razuvious in Naxxramas. Yes. This bow's focal point is a demonic skull with glowing eyes and an impaling claw coming out the top of its head. Where did my old hard rock albums get to, anyway *rummage*...

Accursed Bow of the Elite

And she made the Nerubian Reinforced Quiver, thanks to getting honored with the Ebon Blade after a bunch of fun quests in Icerown. It's got 28 slots for arrows, which is absolutely wonderful when doing a run of heroic instances or raiding, and it nicely keeps up that "I am being possessed by an album cover of the late '70s" vibe:

Nerubian Reinforced Quiver

And yes, that's Sagarmatha in Naxxramas. He hit level 80 and gets to come join the fun. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

What Has Tivara Got? (Flying Dept.)

She's got a red drake from the appreciative Wyrmrest Accord, with whom she's now exalted:

Red Drake From Above

Red Drake From Behind

Red Drake From Below

I make absolutely no bones about the extent to which this is an occasion for pure glee for me. Flying around on a dragon is such an iconic sort of thing. I never stuck at one character long enough to do the long grind required for the cool mounts in Burning Crusade, and felt bugged by my failure that regard. This is yet another milestone in my march to do this time the things I did not last time.

And it's so cool.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Addon Happiness: Light-Weight, Focused Info

Like a lot of WoW players, I like having more information than the basic user interface provides on display for my immediate referral. But the added graphical detail and other rich goodness in Wrath of the Lich King taxes the resources of my computer, which is really right near the low end of acceptable capability to run the game at all. So I'd settled in to mostly doing with out, and mostly doing just fine with it—we're talking here much more about convenience than necessity.

On the other hand, what's wrong with convenience as a concern? It is, after all, a game. At this point, enter my friend Bryant Durrell with advice of the sort he's been dispensing as long as I've known him.

The Foundation. It turns out that there's now a library of programming goodies called LibDataBroker, that provides a very light-weight, focused, efficient way for addons to pass information around. Using them is a two-step deal: you get the addons that gather the info you're interested in, and a display addon that lets you see what you've got. If you ever used something like Titan Panel or FuBar, you know the drill; it's just that the Data Broker apps do it more compactly.

Where They Hang Out. Seems like WoW Interface has the big listing—nearly a hundred of them at the moment, between display and data addons.

What I've Got. Bryant suggested Fortress, and it's suiting me fine. There are others, and none of them shrieked "Beware!", but I like the way Fortress works.

The first thing I wanted was a simple DPS meter. I've been using Recount, but realized that it was probably contributing to my lag problems. (The non-technical version: WoW makes a huge amount of data available to players and their software. Actually gathering and using it, however, requires extra packets zinging around. And when your system's having trouble keeping up with the stock stuff—the images and sounds, and the data necessary for play at all—this can be a trouble-making burden. I wanted to see if I could shuck most of that load without losing info on my own characters' performance.) And sure enough there are several. As with display addons, I started with Bryant's recommendation, StatBlock DPS, and it's also serving me as well as any of the alternatives.

Here it is in action, as Tivara and Sagarmatha about their Sons of Hodir daily quests:

StatBlock DPS

That, friends and readers, is about as minimal as it gets. But y'know what? It's what I want. It's enough for me to judge the performance of the moment.

In addition, I'm using StatBlock Coords for coordinates:

StatBlock Coords

And also StatBlock Money and StatBlock Ammo to track just what you'd think with each:

StatBlock Money and StatBlock Ammo

Youll notice that while I have DPS and coordinates showing as simple white text with transparent background, money and ammo are in bordered and shaded little frames. Each of these frames is movable and adjustable. That's part of what the display addons like Fortress do—they offer control over the display in a variety of ways:

Fortress configuration

There are option in there I'm probably never going to use, but I like knowing that I could adjust them if I wanted to.

Data Broker and Other Addons. If you peer at the screenshot just above, you'll notice that Fortress has entries for Omen and oRA2. If I enable them in Fortress, I get more lil' individual buttons that give me pop-up access to configuration options, just like with Titan Panel or FuBar. LibDataBroker (LDB) support is something that's apparently easy for addon authors to include, a lot are, so that a Data Broker display addon can handle a whole lot of stuff.

Yes, But So What? A more responsive system, that's what! Dropping Recount, HavocCoords, and a few other odds and ends in favor of these has cut my load time for Dalaran in just about exactly half, and I've picked up 5-8 frames per second in boss fights in heroic instances and raids. I am noticeably better protected from timeouts caused by network lag.

This makes me both a happier player, and a better one. If you'd like to be fooling around with addons but don't have the capacity (or interest) to handle a high resource look, check out the Data Broker world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pet Reflections, 12 December 08

As you can tell from my posts and tags, I've been through a lot of pets with Tivara. Along the way I've learned some things about my own preferences, and confirmed some things I already knew.

Size and Position. I get easily annoyed when I have to turn my viewpoint or otherwise maneuver to get around a pet, to loot or reach a mailbox or what have you. I've long known that wide-wingspan flying pets just didn't work happily for me. I find that very large creatures like devilsaurs just really don't cut it either. I want my pets lower than me, and not very huge in any dimension.

Damage Dealing. Tivara is Archon's best-geared and most experienced-at-80 hunter. So weird to say that. But anyway, since I'm there, I'm trying to make the most of it, paying much more attention than usual to nuances of Tivara's spec and gear, and also thinking more about just what her pets bring to an outing. As nearly as I can make out, the top dps honors go to devilsaurs and cats right now, and since devilsaurs end up annoying me, Invictus is there to help Tivara bring down as much pain as possible. When he's up to 80, Ørlög will probably get some vacation time with Invictus as my primary all-around utility pet.

(The upcoming changes to hunter abilities and spells, including the large reduction in Volley damage, will undoubtedly affect how I go about endgame farming for leather, meat, and such. Will Sagarmatha at 80 feel like a big farming gain over single-target pets like Invictus? I don't know, and there's no point in guessing. I'll find out when the patch actually arrives.)

Tempering the Exotic. I find, somewhat to my surprise, that overly exotic creatures seem not to work as well for me in the long run. The pets I'm happiest watching in action are the ones that are exotic versions of real creatures, pretty much. No cat actually looks like Invictus, no gorilla like Sagarmatha, but they could, kinda sorta. There's something about the bond to reality that makes the fantasy work better for me.

Oh, and one other note:

Make Mine Bows. Guns often look neat and have good bonuses in WoW, but the firing noise just plain bugs me in short order. So does the silence that comes if I turn off local noises. So I'm happy to once again have a really good bow for Tivara.

This may sound grumpy, but the end result isn't. I'm tooling around with weaponry and pets that perform well and that I find fun to watch, reliably. So it adds up to cool-for-me play.

What I'm Playing, 12 December 08

Just because I can, a little gallery of what my characters look like at the login screen at the moment.

First of all, here's Tivara with her currently active pets. Sagarmatha the gorilla is getting some vacation time while I level up Invictus for use as another option in instances and raids. With Ørlög (and showing off the Crimson Steel fist weapon again):

December 12, Tivara and Orlog

And with Invictus:

12 Dec 08, Tivara and Invictus

And I've got two death knights going. Mortwight belongs to Archon just like Tivara; Bruic plays with the Southern Wardens:

12 Dec 08, Mortwight

12 Dec 08, Bruic

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sheer Unadulterated Loot Boasting

Tonight my guildmate Morrid and Tivara went with a group of folks in another guild I've gotten to know recently, taking on the black dragon Saltharion and his minions in the Obsidian Sanctum. We beat him. I have the Crimson Steel fist weapon to show for it, too:

Crimson Steel

Death Knight, Part 4

And here I am again, tidying up some loose ends of posting.

All right, to recapitulate: the novice death knight is now free of the Lich King's control and part of the new-found undead resistance effort calling itself the Ebon Blade. One last thing remains: to take a letter from Tirion Fordring, the paladin who forced Arthas to flee, introducing the bearer and the Ebon Blade to the leader of one's faction - Thrall for the Horde, Varian Wrynn for the Alliance. I'll get a picture of the Alliance-side version sometime. For now, here's what happens when a newly freed death knight enters Orgrimmar and makes his way to Thrall's throne room:

A Hostile Guard

The Rotten Apple Debuff


A Cowering Orc

A Cowering Orc

Thrall In Quest Text

Thrall Out Loud

For the Horde, Death Knight!

And now the death knight is at liberty. What comes next? Oh, I'll cover that in due season. :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Huntard Corner: Misdirection While Soloing

If you've got a hunter of level 60 or above, presumably you know about Misdirection. It's that great spell that routes the threat your hunter's next three attacks generate onto the target of the spell. Tanks like it because it helps them build the aggro that much faster; you like it because it lets you open with some nice damage-dealing instead of worrying about ramping up your damage (and therefore threat) gradually.

But don't forget its value when soloing! There are times when it's very easy to pull aggro from your pet—say, when you're leveling up a new pet. Misdirection is a very valuable addition to your arsenal of aggro-shiting techniques, along with Intimidation, Aspect of the Beast, and so on.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sorry for Quiet, More Posting Soon

I had a wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving visit with Mom this year. I've also been making some changes in my workflow that are giving me extra productive time and, er, well, I've been busy with stuff. And also playing WoW, of course. But I've scheduled some time to catch up on the blog on the weekend and next week—I know folks like reading it, and I like writing it and find the work involved in doing it very satisfying.

In the meantime, here's the orreries used by the iron giant Lokem in the Halls of Lightning:

Orreries in the Halls of Lightning

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Tivara Hits 80

Level 80 spoken here. :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spirit Beast Naming: Apologetic Correction

I did chat with, among others, Sean Riley about a name for my freshly-tamed spirit beast. But the name I used came not from Sean but from Ian Watson, long-time active fan and support of fans of White Wolf games. This isn't the first time I've gone to Ian for good name advice and I hope it won't be the last. :)

Thanks, Ian!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Loque'hanak? Yes We Can

Loque'hanak the Spirit Beast is not the rarest tamable beast in the game at the moment, but she is unique in her own way. She's the only member of the spirit beast family in play right now, tamable or otherwise. She's...well, you can see her looks, and she's got the family ability to cast Spirit Strikes. These hit for arcane damage right away, and then the same amount again 10 seconds later. (This is going to take some care, if I take her instancing, to avoid messing up crowd control.)

Special thanks to Sean Riley of Blogatelle for suggesting the name Ørlög, meaning "primal law", and the accompanying quote "To understand Ørlög is to understand the threads of wyrd." That's good for a spirit beast, I'm thinking.

Loque'hanak, 1

Loque'hanak, 2

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Death Knight, Part 3

Last time, I left off with Cleitus surveying the changed landscape of Havenshire. New commanders enter into the picture now (along with another look at that falling-to-the-Scourge taint in earth and sky)...

Noth the Plaguebringer

...including one familiar to many WoW players, Baron Rivendare, usually seen in his stronghold at the end of the undead wing of Stratholme:

Baron Rivendare

It turns out that I'm regrettably short on screenshots for many of the specific quests that follow. But then they're more interesting to play than might show in pictures, too: they take the death knight against various opponents in the same general context. There's the slaughter of any available defenders and citizens within New Avalon's walls, then the unraveling of some mysteries about what the Scarlet Crusaders are up to. It emerges piece by piece that the leaders and select followers are heading off on an unknown mission. The death knight has to torture information out of Scarlet troops, then get shipping records to clarify what's going on, and finally go in disguise to get documents from the general on the spot, so as to learn that the leaders are following a vision given to General Abbendis to the then-still-mysterious lands of Northrend.

Along the way, the death knight is also pushed to demonstrate their allegiance to the Lich king and the Scourge, including executing prisoners, one of whom has some significance for the death knight. This is the night elf version, which is more poignant than the blood elf one, though the overall thrust is the same:

Yazmina's Last Words

Yazmina Slain

This is Cleitus in disguise so as to go get the General's documents. It's a good thing that the Scarlets are so zelaous that they will just assume that the glowing eyes and bloody runeforged sword are, er, tokens of holiness or something. The Scarlet Crusade is better at the courage thing than the clue thing.

Cleitus the Scarlet

The Scarlet scheme revealed, Cleitus returns to the Ebon Hold once more to deliver the news and find out what's next. The third wave brings the end to New Avalon. The Light King is now down at ground level to direct the assault:

Lich King in Phase 3

The weapon of choice for this last wave is the undead wyrm. The death knight gets to rain down fire from above:

New Avalon Burns

In terms of mechanics, the dragon works much like the cannon (and therefore like other vehicles, including trucks ("It flies like a truck." "Fine. What is a truck?")), with the death knight tilting and panning the dragon to aim its fiery breath:

Dragon Targeting

The defenders aren't helpless. They have large ballistas, squads of riflemen, and mages all doing their best. It's quite a challenge.

But the outcome is never really in doubt. The defenders slain, Scourge troops move in for the slaughter, and the Lich King dispatches the death knights on hand to help with an assault on Light's Hope Chapel, a nearby stronghold for both the Scarlet Crusade and the Argent Dawn. It's an eclectic force, too, with some of the very largest things I've yet seen in the game:

Mustering Against Light's Hope

As Mograine gives the word to begin the assault, many, many, many ghouls pull themselves out of the ground, wave after wave of them:

Emerging Ghouls

The ensuing fight is a glorious rumble. At least, it is until the Scourge's forces find themselves unable to advance, thanks to one man:

Tirion in Death Knight Fight

Cleitus had no idea who this guy was, but I do. He's one of the two main characters in Chris Metzen's short novel Of Blood and Honor. In that story, set after the collapse of the Horde and the closing of the Dark Portal at the end of the Second War, paladin Tirion spares the life of elderly orc Eitrigg, who in turn saves him from the emerging Scarlet Crusade's kill-them-all zeal. Eitrigg is in WoW time the senior advisor to Horde leader Thrall and giver of good counsel at some key moments. Tirion, on the other hand, appears in WoW in a quiet exile in the middle of the Plaguelands, where he sets characters on a remarkable quest chain I'll write up another time. It ends with Tirion paying a large tragic price for having stood by a long time and vowing to re-make the collapsed Order of the Silver Hand.

Now he's here, having brought together members of the Argent Dawn and the Scarlet Crusade into a new organization, the Argent Crusade. And he's got access to the power of something hidden beneath the chapel, strong enough to confront Mograine with a vision of himself as he was as a boy, yearning to fight the undead along with his father. Mograine realizes that he doesn't matter to the Lich King any more than, say, the victims of New Avalon, and gets more than a little annoyed. At this point, enter the Lich King himself to deliver a smackdown on Tirion:

Tirion vs Lich King

To everyone's surprise, except perhaps Tirion's, it doesn't work. The death knights present now turn on the Lich King, since being disposable trash isn't really what they were after. The Lich King flees without admitting that that's what he's doing, and Tirion speaks once again, telling those who remain that even now there's a chance for them to do their world some good.

But first there'll be some cleanup to do, which I'll cover in the fourth and last part of this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Death Knight, Part 2

First, a quick supplement to the first post. The gryphon seen more clearly:

Undead Gryphon

Death knights get distinctive mounts. First Cleitus had to steal a horse from the Scarlet Crusade's corral...


...then cross into the shadowlands to defeat one of the dark lords who transform living horses into things that can withstand the undead, demons, and their environments...


...and finally, having impressed the master horseman, could summon his own deathcharger, as seen here against the Ebon Hold:


The first phase of the assault is straightforward. Death knights slaughter defenders of Havenshire, the farms outside New Avalon proper, and Havenshire citizens, and gather up the magical arrows shot by the skeletons seen previously. The interesting thing here is that it's straightforwardly bad deeds—the citizens try to flee, beg for mercy, the whole deal. There is no question but that at this point, Cleitus and his comrades are completely on the wrong side.

"Pulling" is MMO jargon for anything a player has their character do to make one or more enemies c'mon over here for a fight. It can be an arrow or gunshot, or a spell, or a shouted taunt, or any of a number of things. Death knights have a very literal pull in the spell Death Grip:

Death Grip

It yanks the victim through the air to land right in front of the death knight. There may be a day when I grow tired of it, but that day is for sure not this day.

Then comes gathering reinforcements, Scourge style. Cleitus got a poison gas dispenser and directions to a nearby mine. Sometimes the gas just kills a living subject and unleashes a vengeful ghost, but sometimes it makes obedient ghouls, and at the end of successful questing, every death knight has a coterie:

Temporary Legion of Minions

The ghoul master at the Scourge base breaks them down into parts for later use while the death knight gets on with other chores. Specifically, it's time for some mass destruction. This was my introduction to the wonderful world of large weapons in the Lich King era. Cleitus infiltrated a Scarlet Crusade dock...

Cleitus, Hidden

...seized control of an available cannon, and went to work:

Cannon, 1

Scarlet soldiers swarm up to make him stop, of course, but the cannon turns out to have an electrical-discharge defense to help repel boarders:
Cannon, 2

A hundred soldiers gunned down and it's time for Cleitus to leave, with the last blue sky Havenshire will ever see:

Last Blue Sky

These are the trainers waiting for him and his comrades back up in Ebon Hold. Each specializes in one of the three talent trees available to death knights. The lich Amal'thazad, master of cold:


The necromancer Lord Thorval, master of blood:

Lord Thorval

The blood knight Lady Alistra, mistress of the unholy:

Lady Alistra

When Cleitus returned to the ground, the old camp lay largely abandoned. Remaining soldiers pointed him to a new forward base, and he saw that Havenshire had been conquered, the front line now at New Avalon itself:

Phase 2

This is the phasing I've written about before. As I played, I shared the changed space with all the other players who'd started characters at about the same time—within a span of a few hours, I gather, and so long as we were doing the same set of quests. Those who finished them up went on to phase 3 just as we'd all left phase 1 and those working on it behind, when our characters carried reports of early victories back up to Ebon Hold.

It's a wonderful addition to the WoW arsenal, and I'm very grateful to the other MMOs who showed it could be done, and done well.

To be continued, of course.