Monday, April 13, 2009

Then again...

So here we are, on the eve of the first really big patch since Lich King (533 Mb big), and...I'm not up for it, I find. There are so many changes both deep and wide that seem likely to have such large consequences for my play, and I simply don't feel up to keeping track of them all. Some of the changes are good, some just mystify me, more than a few genuinely annoy me—I think Blizzard is making some parts of the game too blandly easy, while others seem to be getting unreasonably hard. How much of that is pure update overload, I couldn't say, really; I know that everyone's got a finite capacity to absorb major changes in existing tasks, and this is mine.

So I'm going on vacation.

For how long, I couldn't say. I've got some preexisting problems with WoW as it is, mostly stemming from having a machine that's way on the low end of their design range and neither being able to nor really wanting to replace it. (I like my MacBook. It is good for me. And I like being happy with my tools. Needless dissatisfaction and unhappiness are luxuries I choose not to indulge in right now.)

I don't want to say anything much yea or nay about planned posts I haven't gotten to yet. I'd like to. We'll see how it goes.

I should say that I am not stomping off in tears and huffs. WoW has been really really good for me through these four years. It's brought me friends and acquaintances, and given me a ton of wonderful adventure, drama, tragedy, comedy, the whole deal. I feel like someone stepping away from a great meal, just plain full up and not needing seconds or dessert right now. I'll see what comes next after this all digests some. :)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Meanwhile, a month later...

Well, there went March. It was a busy, happy month for me, just in ways that got in the way of blogging here. April should be a month of more activity here.

The biggest thing is improvement in my health. "Health" is a pretty tangled for me, with fixed and variable chronic health problems, acute crises driven by purely internal stuff (auto-immune reactions and like that), chronic and acute environmental complications, and on and on. Four years ago I fell into into a deep valley of not-so-hotness, kind of like a volcanic caldera. I am now climbing out the far end of it, with a virtuous cycle of reinforcements between exercise, diet, environmental hardships passing, and other stuff. I have more energy and physical ability to do (among others) housework backlogged for years, and getting that done opens up more opportunities to do new things I've been wanting to, and it just really is very satisfying.

(It's not all biscuits and gravy, of course. There are nasty down stretches and sundry complications. It's just that the overall trend is very clearly up.)

One of the best parts of the above is that I've been able to resume work on writing projects long stalled out. At the top of the list is a book on playing "outsider" heroes in the pulp '20s and 30s—women, people of color, political and other ideologues, etc. I had to shelve this two years back, and it hurt a lot, and I spent a lot of time wondering if I'd really ever be able to do it. Well, turns out I can. But to do that, I had a lot to do in March, building the infrastructure of schedules and review checkpoints, getting my suite of writing and data-keeping tools in order, assembling playtesters to evaluate advice and mechanics...well, a bunch.

The key point here is that I did get it done. :) Work's now underway within what's providing as sound a framework as I hoped for.

At the same time all of that was going on, several of my guildmates hit points of transition and reflection, and for several weeks there was a lot of uncertainty about who'd be doing what. It settled out happily for each of them, I think. Lots of them are now on what might be extended leave from WoW, with just a few of us remaining activity. I respect my friends' judgment a lot, and it seems to me like everyone's making good, sensible decisions likely to lead to their greater well-being, and that's a very happy thing to have reason to think about people you like. It just means that we won't, right now, being doing the "gang of us" team-ups for 5- and 10-person challenges the way we thought we would.

(Side note: I'm fascinated to see that there's a really big noticeable wave of leave-taking right now. Several big-name bloggers have gone on indefinite leave, and I hear from friends in more dedicated raiding guilds that they have a lot of players doing that too. The conventional wisdom blames it on the initial Lich King content being too easy for the relatively hard-core players, but I have the theory that most of it would be happening even if there were a bunch of harder challenges available right now. People can't assimilate changes indefinitely without it taking some toll. A recurring from those returning from hiatus is that they have a firmer sense of what's happening now in the game, what the possibilities before them now are, and what they want to try next. Sort of a mental palate clearing.)

I dithered around a while, and decided that, no, I don't want to take a WoW vacation myself. But neither was I getting very far as a semi-soloing tank—at the raiding level, which Spiderheart's at the lower edge of now, there don't need to be as many tanks as a fraction of a group's composition, and the folks I do pick-up and scheduled runs with already have a solid cohort of experienced tanks. So I've re-specced to give Spider a nice solid dps build, since dpsers (and healers) are more in demand to fill in raid gaps than tanks are.

Coming up in April, more regular posting, therefore, of my three usual kinds: reports on things accomplished (or at least bravely attempted), random tourism, and occasional essay pieces. I actually have added in WoW posting to my to-do app, because the nudging will do me good.

Looking forward to writing at you more this month!

Monday, March 16, 2009

About my posting absence

When health allows, I write tabletop roleplaying games. In recent years, health hasn't allowed much. But it is now, and so I'm really in the swing of firing up a project I had to shelve a couple of years ago. There's sooo much to do as I get underway. For the moment, it's eating up pretty much all of my available writing/blogging time. But I will be back with new tales to tell and pictures to show, in the next couple weeks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hunter Armor Sets

Eep. Two weeks since last post. Two busy happy weeks for me, which I'l write up soon, just ones that have distracted me from blogging.

To tide you over, check out this delightful guide to hunter armor sets from the beginning of WoW to the upcoming next patch.

Friday, February 27, 2009



Spiderheart hit level 80 this afternoon while doing quests for the Brunhildvar in Storm Peaks, an area and set of quests I continue to love.

Later in the day, I did my first heroic-level tanking, for acquaintance sin the Nexus. At first I stank. Then I stank some more. Gradually I didn't stink quite so much. We finished up downright okay.

I have a lot to master yet.

Watching the PTR Go By

Yeah, as most WoW players know by now, the public test realms are active and people are poking at the material lined up for patch 3.1. (We're currently at 3.0.8, for the rest of you; Blizzard's practice is that .0, .1, .2, and so on are the substantial ones, with new dungeons and stuff.) I'm letting them pass by, as part of my philosophy of focusing on what's most rewarding to me. Others can hassle the technical problems, the sheer volume of participants, and the ongoing changes; I'll pay attention, some, as we get close to a release date.

If you want to see PTR fun (and it can be a lot of fun), go check out Eleanor Holmes or someone. I'll be here chuggin' along.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Felcloth Farming Tip

I know there's not particularly a lot of call for felcloth anymore, but I wanted to make shard bags for a couple warlocks in Red Harvest, so went to rustle some up. Remembering a previous bit of advice I'd encountered, I went to the east wing of Dire Maul, going in through the back door at Lariss Pavilion and just hitting the satyr-infested part. I scored 24 pieces in two passes, and got to admire the scenery as I went.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Victory Through Firepower

The big priority of Red Harvest as a guild is to do fun stuff. Recently joined-up friends transferred over some existing characters, and we've been helping fill out their gear, quests, and so on. Today three of us (Spiderheart; 78 death knight; Jaldorn, 77 shaman; Akaa, 73 holy paladin) took Radovan (63 rogue) through Hellfire Ramparts and Blood Furnace.

Now, I write about Akaa from time to time. Her player has this feature: she is really at her best when she feels excited and challenged. It's tedium that drives her quality of play down. She's been reading Banana Shoulders (and incorporating advice in e-mail from Elle, for which much thanks), and poking at advice and accounts of play, and she really wanted to try pushing it a bit.

So we pushed it.


This is all the enemies in the room with the switch that unleashes Broggok, the big floating eye boss in Blood Furnace. Other roundups I didn't get good screenshots of included sets like "everyone in that big platform in Ramparts before the paths to the last two bosses". The only one we really had trouble with was "everyone in the curving hallway with fel orc transformation booths"; the stuns + the silences added up to significant trouble, and Jaldorn saved the day with timely self-rez and healing. Apart from that, more or less everything fell without a lot of fuss, but with enough workout for Akaa that she felt it was really worth the effort to come along.

That was so much fun. I was already looking forward to taking part in Jaldorn's long-held goal of working through all the Outland instances, but now I'm doing so even more.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The reputation grind continues

As you can see:

Spi - 10 exalted.jpg

I owe my non-WoW-playing readers a post about the achievement system, along with other stuff. The short form is that you get these points for accomplishing discrete tasks. Thus I got 15 points when Spider earned exalted status with the Kurenai, and simultaneously earned another 10 because it was the tenth group she'd gotten exalted with.

The Kurenai are one of the groups that sell mounts to those exalted with them. Check out Spider on her new cobalt war talbuk:

Spi - talbuk.jpg

I can't remember right now if this is actually the first time I completed the Kurenai grind, or the second. Still a novelty, in any event, and one I'm happy to have done.

Red Harvest

Let me tell you about my guild. I'm really happy with it.

We are a small group: we have, right now, seven folks who put in some significant play time each day and an eighth who plays as his work schedule allows. (I'm told that growing a small business from "just me" to "me plus a couple of employees" is a whole lot of work. I believe it.) We span a couple of decades in age and the mainland US's three time zones.

One of the great pleasures of my life is making connections between people I like who hadn't known each other. Red Harvest is becoming sort of a core sample of my years playing WoW, with people I've known anywhere from a few months to several years, plus at least one I knew for a long time before WoW came along. And people seem to be enjoying each others' company.

What we all share...well, one of the things we all share is an appreciation for the fragility of camaraderie. We know, for instance, not to invite in friends of friends without some prior screening. We know that it's very hard to make any decisions at all on a basis of equal footing with more than, oh, a dozen or so members. We know that we're fortunate in being able to foist the work of raid organization off onto the raid alliance, leaving us free to be social and thinking about 5- and 10-person challenges only.

The name is a Dashiell Hammett allusion because that's the way I roll. :)

We operate in a way that is, I think, distinctive to the mature part of a successful game's lifespan. All of us already have at least one level 80 character, and we've done most—not all—of the instances and raids available so far. We know how this stuff works. So now we all feel at leisure to take these characters and do exactly what we want with them at exactly the pace we want. Making progress at it, too.

Feels good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Learning to Fly

Death knights get their own special mounts. I'm really happy with Spiderheart's, as seen here over Shattrath City in the company of guildmate Jaldorn:

Spi and Jaldorn.jpg

Saturday, February 14, 2009

They Love Me In That Tunnel

So I wrote the other day that Spiderheart would soon be exalted with the furbolgs of Timbermaw Hold.


Spi - Timbermaw.jpg

Characters who reach exalted then get a quest to smoke out the demon tormenting High Chief Winterfall. That done, they're asked to carry a message of peaceful intentions to King Magni Bronzebeard of Ironforge. He is pleased:

Spi - Magni.jpg

I don't know as how I'll ever want to do it again, necessarily, but I am very happy indeed to have done it this time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Single-Character Play

Something unexpected has come up in my WoW play since I went on hiatus from <Archon>: I've become more of a single-character than I have ever been before. (There is one category of exception, which I'll write about in another post.) This intrigues me enough that I'm going to write a post about it.

There's an interesting conjunction of factors. I have a character class that I like as much as liked hunters before the current wave of tweakings: the combination of melee and magic, the horror-rich background, the way cool abilities, it's just great. Furthermore, it gave me the chance to bring back a favorite old character in a way that makes complete sense for the world and gives me plenty of roleplaying opportunities whenever I feel like it.

Socially, I have a best-of-both-worlds environment. I have a small guild—six members right now, and it seems unlikely that we'd ever get beyond eight or perhaps ten or so. But I also have a couple channels' worth of overlapping friends, some going back three years and more now in real time, and one of the current incarnations of Earthen Ring's amazingly strong and productive cross-guild not-necessarily-raiding kind-of-an-alliance. For instance: random pick-up groups will not in general be glad to take level 75 tanks to, say, the Halls of Stone. But groups who include people who know me, or just who've seen me around in chat and have a sense of my style, will. And do. (Tanking Halls of Stone at 75 is some tough but fun work, lemme tell ya.)

So there's a combo of factors at work:

Performance. Death knights can do a whole lot, and I like watching Spiderheart in action, and I'm with people willing to help me do my best playing her.

Comfort. I just plain feel safer and more relaxed where I am. I am at, as nearly as I know, no risk of insult or recrimination for advancing faster than anyone else. There's a large continent who are already at 80 and thoroughly entrenched in the existing raiding, so I don't threaten anyone's need to be at the top—I'm not going to be at the top anytime soon, so I don't court a repetition of the emotional trouble that made maxing out Tivara turn so bad. But then people I am advancing with don't feel threatened by my progress in that way, either. They aren't worrying if I get to 75 while their character's at 73, or whatever. They're happy that I'm happy, and when our paths cross, we collaborate.

The biggest single gain for me out of all this is, slightly to my surprise, reputation. Here comes the primer for my non-WoW-playing readers.

Reputation. Once your character makes contact with any member of a faction, they have a reputation with that group. The spectrum runs from Hated, to Hostile, to Unfriendly, to Neutral, to Friendly, to Honored, to Revered, to Exalted. You earn reputation points by performing quests for the faction, and for killing their enemies. The rewards for these range from a single point (for killing trivial enemies) up to thousands (for completing the final steps in long quest chains and killing major bosses). Going up, it takes 3,000 points to go from just barely neutral to friendly status, 6,000 to go from friendly to honored, 12,000 to go from honored to revered, and 21,000 to go from revered to exalted. Going down, it takes 3,000 points to get from neutral to unfriendly, another 3,000 to get from unfriendly to hostile, and 36,000 to max out hostility. (You won't often want to do that, but it can come up.)

Some reputations stand alone: the Argent Dawn doesn't care what others think of a character, and vice versa. Others come in pairs: the Steamwheedle Cartel cares very much what the Bloodsail Buccaneers think of your character, and vice versa, and your character loses as much (or more) rep with one as they gain with the other.

Why bother? Well, several reasons.

First of all, some factions (by no means all) have rewards at various levels. Every one of your faction's base groups gives a price break with rising rep rank. Arms and armor, recipes for different kinds of crafting, consumables like potions and foods with special restorative abilities, even pets (this one's going to be mine for Spiderheart in just a few days) are scattered all through the lists of rep-based rewards. Honored rep with various factions lets you buy keys to get into related dungeons' heroic mode.

Then there are other rewards for some. Notice that in the screenshots below, it's "Ambassador Spiderheart". That's because she has exalted status with all five of the Alliance's core groups: the humans of Stormwind, the dwarves of Ironforge, the elves of Darnassus, the gnomes of the Gnomeregan Exiles, and the draenei of the Exodar. When she's exalted with the furbolg of Timbermaw Hold, the Kalu'ak, and the Sporeggar, she'll have the option of displaying the title "Diplomat Spiderheart" instead.

(Note to my knowledgeable readers: these screenshots were taken early on the 9th, when I started writing this. Now, as I finish it up, it's the morning of the 12th, and I've made progress on several.)

Spi - Rep 1.jpg

Spi - Rep 2.jpg

Rep grinding is just what it sounds like: performing a set of tasks repeatedly. Sometimes it's a daily quest, like the one I wrote about where Spiderheart has to help a confused sea lion bull find his way to true love with an equally perplexed sea lion cow. Sometimes it's a task that can be performed as often as you can get it done; Spiderheart is in the midst of earning the trust of the Timbermaw Hold furbolg by bringing them ceremonial feathers taken from the bodies of enemy tribes' members, with 300 rep for each set of 5 feathers.

Some go fast—it can take just a few days' dedicated effort to get to exalted with a faction like Stormwind or Orgrimmar, because many, many quests give rep with them and a high-level character can recapitulate philogeny, I mean, start with the level 1-10 quests and go from there, and zoom. Some are, by design, slow—I may be at the Wintersaber Trainers one for weeks or months yet.

They all take time, though. And what I'm really liking most, I think, about the single-character play is making all this progress on goals I've always been interested in, but always distracted away from. I have, for instance, never had a character get to revered with Timbermaw Hold before. But Spider has, and exalted isn't that far away. This is fun.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Spiderheart Miscellany, With Tree Moods

Yeah, it's another grab bag.

I've mentioned the kalu'ak several times lately. Here, as a reminder, is what they look like:

Spi - Kaluak.jpg

Part of WoW's success is its wonderful attention to detail. Take, for instance, the kalu'ak method of lighting their roads:

Spi - Fish Light.jpg

What's this? This is all the abominations in Slaughter Square, just outside Baron Rivendare's place, killed in one fell swoop. Admittedly I didn't do it solo; Spider had help from guildmates Linsey (druid, 57), Jaldorn (shaman, 62), and Desix (paladin, 60). Even so, was giddy excessive fun.

Spi - Abominations.jpg

Druids in WoW get to change shape. They learn a growing variety of forms: bear for warrior-like combat, cat for stealth and rogue-like meleeing, a sea lion form for fast swimming, and so on. Restoration-specced druids, the ones who focus on healing talents, get a tree form, in which their healing power is boosted substantially. Here's Linsey as a tree:

Spi - Tree basic.jpg

Originally, tree form didn't offer much scope for animated action. But they've been adding to it. Check out a tree cheering, waving, crying, and sleeping:

Spi - Tree happy.jpg

Spi - tree waving.jpg

Spi - Tree sad.jpg

Spi - Tree sleepy.jpg

And that's all for this time!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunshine (OK, Torchlight) On My Shoulders

I really, really like the look of the Tundra Pauldrons:

Spi - Shoulders.jpg

This is right about dead center for my tastes in medieval-ish fantasy armoring. It's not realistic. (Of course, neither is night elf physiology, and I make no secret of the fact that I do like playing implausibly thin characters. My escapism, let me share my thoughts.) But it conveys—to me, at least—a dramatic appropriateness. Yes, this is the sort of thing that the peoples of cold, undead-haunted lands should make to defend themselves, and it takes a hero with strength and experience to make good use of what she's taken from her fallen enemies' persons and treasure chambers.

Innovative? Nope. Classic and entertaining? Yup.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Spiderheart Miscellany

I've got posts in progress, including some notes on my first experience with death knight tanking. (Short form: wow, went great; death knight tanking is more fun for me than warrior tanking.) Unfortunately I've also got the Martian death flu again. So for the moment, here's a grab bag of screenshots.

The war of chickens! Akaa has the pet chicken you can earn with some amusing effort in Westfall; Spider's got the mechanical chicken that's a token of thanks from the gnome whose wandering robots one rescues in Tanaris, Feralas, and the Hinterlands. Unfortunately, no showdown of nature versus art seems impending:

Spi - Chickens.jpg

I got some pictures of Tivara and the Kalu'aks' mighty turtle ferries a while back, but happened on this angle just the other day, as Spider was returning from a quest on the sea floor in the Dragonblight:

Spi - Great Turtle.jpg

Sean, I have not forgotten the World in WoW series, I've just been sick, busy, or sick and busy so much. But it is coming, because I'd like to write a bit about the overall situation as far as gods and titans goes so as to have a proper context for writing about Dragonblight questing. It involves the dragonflights a lot, and the more one knows of the lore, the more fun they are. In the meantime, here's a fun moment. Quests in Darkshore and the Wetlands have Alliance characters helping out at dwarf-run excavations and gathering up pieces of fossils and relics. Then one puts them together, and a manifestation of the titans shows up to tell everyone to knock it off and get the hell off the titans' lawn:

Spi - Makers in Menethil.jpg

The above moment came about because I thought it would be fun to build up Spider's reputation with lots of people. So does the one below. WoW players have pretty well all seen this, but for those of you who use me as your surrogate...

Uldaman is another dwarvish dig site, in the Badlands region in the center of the Eastern Kingdoms. As with several other such sites, the Ironforge dwarves exploring it ran into troggs from below and hostile Dark Iron dwarves from above, and the quests for Alliance characters involve a lot of "please help finish this bit of exploration" requests. There's a spot where the adventurers put together a broken staff and use it to open up a magically sealed chamber, and it is a good swipe:

Spi - Map Room.jpg

As noted previously, the death knights are undead, just now free-souled rather than bound to the Lich King. So they have a lot of cool abilities. A friend pointed out to me recently that I'm seldom so happy in WoW play than when I can transgress a normal limit on characters' interactions with the world. Take the Path of Frost, which lets characters and their party mates walk, run, and even ride across water. Here's Spider escorting a guildmate of level 20 or so from Menethil Harbor to Southshore, bypassing the higher level critters of the Arathi Highlands:

Spi - Path of Frost.jpg

This is the best shot I've yet gotten of the Acherus Deathcharger, death knights' standard mount. The skin peeling back to reveal glowing bones first appeared on warlocks' dreadsteeds, and I've not yet gotten tired of it:

Spi - Riding in Barrens.jpg

Dating services! Who knew that one would have to provide dating services? So here's the story. The kalu'ak (the walrus people seen in some previous posts) have an ongoing concern for the health of the ecosystem they live in. Sensible folks. There's a community of sea lions on islands off the Howling Fjord's west coast, with bulls on the south side of a strait and cows to the north, and the community's bull leader dead at the hands of rampaging buccaneers. Now the bulls are muddled and don't know how to get to the cows. There's a daily quest to gather up enough of their favorite fish to lure a bull across the strait. And when it works? Twue wuv!

Spi - Sea Lions.jpg

Kalu'ak elsewhere, in the Dragonblight, are engaged in a pitched struggle with the wolverine-like wolvar. It's an interesting situation. The kalu'ak leader frankly blames the Horde and Alliance for the mess, their expanding settlements pressing the wolvar into crowded conditions that make them more irritable and violence. And the kalu'ak elders think the wolvar are as fundamentally entitled to good lives on the land as themselves. So there's a daily quest to round up wolvar pups so that they won't get slaughtered in the battles—the elders of the kalu'ak realize the risks of going too far in battle and wish to have the wolvar's future in hand before any grand struggle.

Wolvar pups are really, really cute. You can see Spider's shoulder at right for a sense of scale:

Spi - Snowfall Glade Pup.jpg

And finally, some more heroism. There's an Alliance settlement at Wintergarde, on the eastern side of the Dragonblight. Recently the Scourge started hitting it with a very great deal of force, directed from the floating necropolis of Naxxramas. I'll have more to say and show about that pleasingly epic set of adventures later. This is just a great moment from one of them, using a griffon supplied by the soldiers of Wintergarde Keep to pull out trapped villagers from among the incoming hordes of undead:

Spi - Wintergarde Rescue.jpg

Hoping to do more substantial posting this week, as I de-stress on various fronts. Enjoy, in the meantime!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You know how you can tell you weren't just being a drama queen?

When one of the developers apologizes for having nerfed Beast Mastery too far, and promises adjustments between now and the release of the next raid content.

I may still be overreacting in some ways, but it's nice to have the vindication.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For now, not a hunter or a raiding blog

It's a very good thing that I have some characters I like to play and some people I like to play with, because the more I look at the informed folks' experiences with hunters after the 3.0.8 patch, the more it looks like what I was doing with Tivara simply isn't viable anymore.

First, links.

And it goes and goes like that. I'm not bothering with Elitist Jerks links, since I find their forum culture toxic. Out in that portion of the real world which includes people playing and writing in ways I find interesting, there's a genuine consensus: Beast Mastery will no longer allow a raiding hunter to do an impressive amount of damage. Raiding is very much a game of parts, in which each participant needs to do the handful of things they do particular well, and do them reliably, so that the whole is an assemblage of really good parts. For hunters, that's putting out a lot of damage in short order.

{Edit and Update: Pike, of Aspect of the Hare, says in comments: "At this point I have respec'd to Beast Mastery, for me the DPS gain from going to MM was very minimal. Though MM was fun because you had to press a bunch of buttons, but in the end it got too distracting." So that's one voice back in the BM direction. Thank you for commenting, Pike, much appreciated.}

Unfortunately, the options for hunters doing that now all look really unappealing to me.

Marksmanship (and, to a lesser degree, Survival) specs rely more on shot rotation macro. For those of you playing along at home, that's a macro assigned to a key or button that, when pressed or triggered repeatedly, fires off a sequence of shots arranged so that cooldown times and synergistic effects add up to the biggest bang for the buck. Abstracting it out, a shot rotation macro might fire in turn special shot A, special shot B, special shot C, A again now that it's cooled down and ready for use again, B, B again, C now that it's cooled down, and then start the sequence over with A again. Comics fans can think of this as playing Silver Age Green Arrow.

The thing is, I don't like that kind of macro use. There are macros I like and use, to combine two or maybe three actions into one, or to assign the target of a spell based on the circumstances of the fight. (Whenever I play a healer, all my character's healing spells get a stock treatment: cast this heal on the target if it's friendly, on the target's target if the target is hostile, and on my character if I don't actually have a target right now.) The more complex ones feel to me like I'm playing at being a programmer in the days of time sharing and batch jobs rather than playing at being a character in a fantasy world—the degree of detachment from play bugs me. I'm just not tuned in if I'm not getting to make some choices in play, even at the cost of some efficiency. When it takes that much automation to do the job well, the job isn't worth doing, for me.

Survival has a different problem, in that its distinctive combinations of talents call for a fair degree of mobility in the midst of fights. I don't do mobility well. I can't reliably manage a bunch of the mouse-movement-and-shooting combos at all. My reflexes got set in an earlier videogaming day and have only decayed since then, and after a very long futile struggle to assimilate this stuff, I admitted that I was getting nowhere and that I should find my fun playing what I can do in my keyboard-centric sort of way. It's why, for instance, the Combat tree for rogues was such a delight for me: I didn't have to keep trying to stay behind targets all the time. Subtlety is, to my taste, a much cooler rogue tree and full of sneaking nastiness I love, but Combat's what I could actually take to a fight. Well, Survival's trap-dancing high-maneuverability approach is another one of those things I can't make work. I like the idea, and I love to watch a good Survival hunter in play. I just can't do it.

So there I am.

It's always possible I could hassle out something that wouldn't be too uncomfortable for me and not too unproductive for raiding. But...I'm not motivated to play that kind of compromise-hunting game right now. So until I see some reliable signs that hunter approaches that I actively like will work again, Tivara will be in raid retirement.

At the moment, as recent posts have indicated, I'm putting most time into my night elf death knight, Spiderheart. I think I'm going to start up a new alt or two to take advantage of Lunar Festival goodies, and let that do it for now. In a separate post I will comment on features of death knights that are making them remarkably rewarding for me. Spider's coming up on level 72 and my gang's really, really not rushing to endgame since we are confident that opportunities will be there when we get there. Lots of side questing, working on reputations, and stuff like that. When will I next raid? Dunno, to be honest. Sometime in February, I'd guess, but I have no idea, nor any urge to hazard a guess, not when the present moment is working so well with this character.

This concludes the whining portion of today's programming.

Son of the Scarlet Monastery

I heard from several folks, here and in e-mail or IM, who didn't actually know you could pull off getting the whole Scarlet Cathedral with one pull. Well, yeah. This evening Spiderheart went back with Akaa and two friends of ours with new characters in the upper 20s, and did it repeatedly.

Spi - Cathedral take 2 overview.jpg

Spi - Cathedral take 2.jpg

Spiderheart is currently frost-specced, so she has lots of spells to reduce damage, the chance of her being stunned, and like that. I turn on these things while charging straight at Morgaine, then spread plagues in all directions, and just sort of go to town. Akaa, being a holy paladin, keeps Spiderheart healed up and flying right.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Taking it easy, not letting the sounds of my own wheels drive me crazy

I was chatting with a friend yesterday afternoon, and they pointed out that I usually do best with stressful stuff by just setting it all aside for a while, giving it time to settle down or clearly not settle down or do whatever it's going to regardless of my efforts. They're right. Anything that has me fretting as much as hunter and guild stuff have recently is, whatever else may be said of it, not working as a game.

While I was thinking over that, I read a typically smart post by my friend Adam, "Retro Raiding and the Calm Casual". The upshot of this particular post is that accepting his position well behind the cutting edge and not worrying about it has opened up a lot of fun for him. He's taken his druid Leafshine into Zul'Aman, which was still a very tough nut for his guild to crack pre-Lich King, and done some other retro-raiding sightseeing, and like that. Go see the details for yourself, if you wish; what matters here is that he feels at liberty now to move as he wishes, rather than according to any external timetable like that created by raiding needs.

That's resonating very deeply with me today.

I loved being among the first in Archon to 80, as I posted about at the time. Then guild bickering stole away a lot (though not all) of that pleasure, and chronic insomnia and health crud has kept me rattled and disoriented. One of the great pleasures, I've identified, in playing Spiderheart is that nobody I'm playing with cares in the slightest what pace of progress I set. My friends are happy when I'm happy, and enjoy teaming up when it's appropriate, and there just aren't egos or competition at stake. And I'm freed of the fun-sapping side of the impulse to advance because I can't be in the first wave with any of my alts—not without a time machine, at least, and I have none.

I've been playing this way this week already, but hadn't quite so consciously formulated it as an actual goal until today. So:

• Tivara is on the shelf for the moment, because I'm bothered by hunter stuff. I will let the theorycrafters sort out post-3.0.8 options and then see how I feel.

• Archon in on the shelf for now, because even where I feel I've genuinely mended fences, I can't stop the stuff rattling around unpleasantly in parts of my mind where memory does not care to pay attention to current judgments.

• Spiderheart goes front and center for now, because death knights have nearly everything I love about warriors, plus magic that doesn't require me to hassle mana, plus that great gothic ambience. Speaking of which:

Spi - Scarlet Monastery copy.jpg

That's Spiderheart in the middle, with a lich's cackling head over hers to show she's using the Lichborne talent to improve her defense and intimidate bystanders. The floor is angry red and the people are dark purple because Death & Decay is rotting the bodies and burning the souls out of everyone in the vicinity—that's what all those 155-hp ticks are from. Commander Mograine is face down on the floor facing her, just to her left; Whitemane's also on the floor back by the altar, hard to see in this picture.

It wasn't a single-pull clear of the Cathedral. I tried that and got close, but didn't quite make it. A level or few more, though, and it'll work.

• I'm thinking about a dual-gathering alt to support Spider financially; enchanting + tailoring is a very handy combo, but not cheap. I might do a night elf druid, which I've been vaguely talking about forever, or something else. We'll see. Something with stealth would be nice, and I'm not worried about leveling fast, given how lucrative mining is right from the outset.

I'm not committing myself in the long term to any general shift of priorities. This is what I'm doing right now to accommodate physical and mental stresses, mostly from illness and its side effects. This seems fun-maximizing right now, and there'll be time to consider what else might be fun right then when my situation changes, as inevitably well.

Now if you'll excuse me, Spiderheart has an appointment with mana-hogging members of the blue dragonflight. She doesn't touch the stuff herself, but allies do, and besides, it's just rude....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

As heard in Deep Rising

Spiderheart got her first ever look at Northrend this morning. She's seen city-sized demons in combat, peered over the edges of a shattered world, died, been a plaything of the Lich King, regained her freedom, rejoined the society of the living as a perpetual outsider, become an exalted ally of half the members of the Alliance, and gone forth in search of her former master. As Treat Williams put it so well in Deep Rising...



"Now what?"

In the wake of the patch, scattered thoughts

Persistent bugs and why I'm bugged. I know enough about large project management to know that there's no simple fungibility of effort and assets, no way to just say, "Bob, stop working on the next arena graphics and go fix the Cower problem." I also know that it's folly to commit to public dates when you're trying to fix something that could be making weird cascading problems, as when the cross-continent boats were making servers crash; I'm quite willing to believe that some bugs persist because they are genuinely hard to fix.

But I still wish there were some public discussion on Blizzard's part, at least acknowledging the existence of the persistent bugs and talking a little about what the fixes will involve. Blizzard needs someone to be the Speaker to Howling Mobs on matters like this, and really could afford to hire that someone.

In the wee hours this morning, I decided that I'm not being altogether irrational about this, for a simple reason: synergy. Abilities, talents, gear, and all the rest are supposed to interact—that's what drives tactical and strategic planning in World of Warcraft. So when one part is persistently out of whack, there's reason to worry about that throwing off anything interacting with it. Bad data's infectious, Dad used to say.

Yeah, I know I keep picking at this. I still don't feel entirely confident I've framed my deepest underlying concerns properly, either in my own mind or out here in text.

The fun of not losing things. I've touched on this one before, I know: I hate it when I no longer get to use things that have been handy, and the irrelevancy of trapping at the high end is an ongoing disappointment. So far, at least—up to level 68, where she is now—I haven't had to do that with Spiderheart and her death knight abilities. Something new comes into the mix every few levels, most recently the very handy Anti-Magic Shell, but nothing falls out of use. I don't mind retiring an old spell or ability in favor of a more comprehensive one, like paladins going from separate spells to cleanse disease and cure poison to one that does both. But it's a disappointment to just have something no longer matter.

Teamwork. A paladin and a death knight do not form an unstoppable combo. However, anyone wishing to stop them had better be prepared to work pretty hard at it.

Not just Huntard Corner: Wowhead and Reputation Grinding

This may be helpful to someone of any class, not hunters.

I've been doing the rep grind a lot this week with Spiderheart as I wait for Akaa to close the last few levels so that we can hit Northrend together, and because Akaa (as noted in a previous post) is way ahead of Spider there and gosh darn it I want funky mounts too. Now, I'd known in a vague sort of way that Wowhead will let you look at data collections, but never checked its rep listings.


Take the one for Exodar reputation, which I've been on most lately. It shows all the quests that give Exodar reputation, which I wanted. But it also shows all the quests that give overall Alliance reputation, since that's added to all the groups within the overall category. With these reminders in hand, I could and did spend a few hours in Alterac Valley battlegrounds and save myself 30-odd stacks of runecloth turned in to the cloth quartermaster in the Exodar.

Gotta like that. I'll certainly be making more use of this in the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To think that I saw it on Azuremyst

Each playable race in WoW has its own mount: elephant-like elekks for the draenei, tigers for night elves, horses for humans, mechanical ostrich-like things called mechanostriders for the gnomes; massive rhino-like kodo for the tauren, raptors for trolls, living running birds called hawkstriders for blood elves, worgs for orcs, skeletal undead mounts for the undead Forsaken. It's always been the case that some mounts are available to others but not all, with constraints based on size. Lots of races can use tigers and horses, but only dwarves can join gnomes on mechanostriders.

Until today, that is.

In patch 3.0.8, the racial limits on mounts were removed. Now, it's still not super-easy to get another race's mount, because your character has to have a very high reputation with them. Not everyone wants to take the time to do the quests and gathering this requires. My friend who plays Tivara's questing partner Nyo, on the other hand, likes that sort of thing a lot, and uses it to break up the routine of leveling up. Her draenei paladin Akaa is indeed exalted with all five Alliance races, giving her the Ambassador title, and letting her be the first non-gnome I saw on a mechanostrider:

Spi - Akaa on mechanostrider.jpg

Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions Of 'Em!

One of the things I most like about playing on Earthen Ring's Alliance side is that it has the best-developed network of cross-guild contacts for pickup events I've seen anywhere in WoW. Yesterday I took advantage of it to join in some spur-of-the-moment visits to old raid instances. Here are pictures from Ahn'Qiraj.

Knowing that I have non-WoW-playing readers, here's the scene...

Kalimdor is the western continent on Azeroth, and not nearly so extensively settled as the Eastern Kingdoms. There's more room for stuff to be lurking hither and yon. At the south end of the Barrens there's a couple hives of mysterious bug-like creatures identified as silithids. They're a good challenge for characters of level 18-20 or so. Bigger, more complicated hives turn up in more zones characters go to in the 20s through upper 40s or low 50s: in the Shimmering Flats desert part of Thousand Needles, deep in the tropical forests of Feralas, and in the titan-preserved ancient wilderness inside Un'Goro Crater. Clues come together.

Back in the ancient days, one of the elder gods, C'thun, had its lair in the southwest corner of Kalimdor, in what was then lush forest. One of the titans fought it to the mutual death, or so it seemed. Alas, it's hard to get rid of elder gods. C'thun made avatars of itself in the Qiraji, an other-dimensional race of semi-humanoid insect creatures, and used them to direct an army of silithids. The Barrens silithids are a few feet long and a couple feet high; the ones used in the invasion of what's now called Silithus were (and are) huge. A thousand years ago their armies built up a fortress at the south end of the zone where C'thun fell, and called it Ahn'Qiraj. From there they headed north, sweeping everything ahead of them until an alliance of all the sentient races on Kalimdor at the time turned them back. The gates were sealed up, a watch set, and a thousand years passed.

One of the big, big events in the tail end of "vanilla WoW", as we hip veterans call the time before release of the first expansion back, was the return of the silithids and Qiraji in force. A fascinating spread of cross-faction quests and challenges culminated in the re-opening of the gates of Ahn'Qiraj to let adventurers take on the newly reinvigorated challenges behind. The ruins of Ahn'Qiraj is a 20-person raid instance, the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj, with C'thun waiting in its depths, a raid for 40 people.

In roleplaying terms, this was a special bit of fun for me. Spiderheart had some of her best moments as tank and off-tank in AQ20 (the Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj, that is) but never got past the first boss in AQ40 (the Temple). Then she went off to Outland, and died, and came back undead, and is now carving a new place for herself. This was a chance to revisit old glories and help put a spoke in the wheels of the silithid effort to make a fresh comeback while everyone's busy with things through the Dark Portal and up in Northrend.

This is a good sample of Silithus scenery, with one of the several hives that dot the wasteland:

Spi - Silithus hive.jpg

The Gates of Ahn'Qiraj, seen on the approach:

Spi - Gates of Ahn'Qiraj.jpg

The courtyard behind them, looking back the way Spiderheart came in. showing the funky silithid mix of Egyptian-ish elements and gratuitous magic like floating spires:

Spi - AQ Courtyard.jpg

Inside the Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj, with some of the Alien-esque massive chitin and other extrusions on display:

Spi - Near Kurinaxx.jpg

Here we are putting the boot in on General Rajaxx, who led the big fight a thousand years back, and ripped apart the only son of night elf Archdruid Staghelm along the way:

Spi - Rajaxx.jpg

I mentioned earlier about the big bugs. Here's a typical pack of them, in the process of being squished by us. Overhead there's a druid's thunder cloud with lightning zorching down on the left. On the ground, at least two death knights' Death & Decay area-effect cursing and a paladin's Consecrate holy damage spell compete for pixels. Whole lotta squishin' goin' on:

Spi - silithids.jpg

AQ has another of my very favorite monsters, a race straight out of Babylonian carvings. This is their leader, Moam:

Spi - Moam.jpg

And then there are the Anubisaths. Here's one now, walking somewhat like an Egyptian:

Spi - Anubisaths.jpg

And here it is up close and personal:

Spi - Anubisath.jpg

Ossirian the Unscarred is the commander of all the forces in the ruins. Here he is in mid-fight...

Spi - Ossirian Up.jpg

...and at its conclusion:

Spi - Ossirian Down.jpg

And that's about enough pictures for one post, so I'll cover AQ40 and BWL later.

Some Raiding Dissatisfaction

I find that so far, I'm really enjoying the questing and instancing more than the raiding in Lich King. Specifically:

• Naxxramas is very obviously a place made to support a lot more mobs than it now has, and the huge emptiness is oddly disconcerting after a while. I'm not sure what I'd suggest filling up some of the empty space with, but something would be good.

• Onyxia's Lair was and is a one-boss event, with 3-4 "trash" mobs to deal with before her. I liked that and still do. But I don't like quite so many other one-boss raids showing up. I find that it takes me a little while to get fully warmed up and engaged in a raid, so that I'm seldom at my best when it comes to Archavon or Obsidian Sanctum.

• Yesterday I took Spiderheart with friends on achievement-driven runs to Ahn'Qiraj 20 (complete clear), AQ40 (partial), and Blackwing Lair (complete), and it really brought home how far tactics have been stripped out. I certainly don't miss all of the fiddly bits. But I do miss engaging off-tanking, tanking in which AOE attacks are not the obviously best choice pretty much all the time, and like that.

I've read that the developers are intending to add more complexity in the big fights in Ulduar. I hope it works out!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Best Strategy Guide Ever

This is Sartharian of the Obsidian Sanctum (picture swiped from Wowwiki):

Sartharion, from WoW Wiki

This is a fairly typical diagram from a raid strategy page (also from Wowwiki), showing how the main tank (green dot) is to position Sartharion (yellow ellipse) and where the meleers (purple dots) and ranged damage-dealers and healers (blue dots) should stand when lava waves (orange bars) come in from the left:

Sartharion raid strategy

With that in mind...

Go look at this guide to the Sartharion fight.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Caution: Slippery When Wet

I've already mentioned the fun I have with death knights' spell Path of Frost, which lets them run and ride across water at full speed as long as they're not taking damage. I got to the span from Rut'theran Village at the base of the new damaged world-tree Teldrassil to Darkshore on the Kalimdor mainland accessible via Path of Frost?

Yes. But it's close. Next time I'll use some kind of riding speed enhancement.

Riding to Darkshore

For my non-WoW-playing readers...if that yellow bar nearly depleted in the picture above had gotten all the way to zero, Spiderheart would have started taking drowning damage. That would have cancelled Path of Frost and slowed her progress even more. But as it is, a tick or two later, she crossed into the safely shallow waters around the spiky islands that dot the Darkshore coast, and from there on to the nearest harbor was safe travel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not a water sign, nor an earth sign, nor an air sign...

All death knights can summon ghouls. For those who lack the relevant talents in the Unholy tree, these are unnamed; they come in as "Risen Ghoul", last a couple minutes, and die. Unholy-specced death knights can make theirs last longer, or indeed permanently. (Well, until they get destroyed. Then it's time to summon a new one.) The names are chosen at random by matching A and B parts, and anyone traveling around death knights sees the patterns pretty quickly.

I do believe that there's a Firesign Theatre fan somewhere in Blizzard's staff, I must say:

Spiderheart and Mudhead

Friday, January 09, 2009

Random Thoughts, and Tools

I'm more annoyed than I'd quite realized by some of the persistent bugs in hunters. It's not that any of them is critical in itself, but the fact they drag on and on without redress adds cumulative wear and tear to my play experience. Sure, I have a macro to fix the growl and prowl bug and it's on a button and I mash it...but missing it even occasionally means that my pet does worse than it should, for an unobvious reason. I can afford my repair bills, but the extra cost from volleys damaging Tivara's bow more than they should does eat up some coin. I mostly resent the frittered-away attention.

In happier news, I'm finding my iPod Touch very handy on several fronts. My computer's at the low end of viability for playing Lich King, and it helps when I can turn apps off so as to free resources. I can use Mobile Safari to hit Wowwiki and Wowhead's mobile site, the Google app to look up other stuff, play music (either iTunes or Pandora as I wish, and Sirius when their mobile app is out), consult Twitter when others are afk, and like that. So Safari, Mail, iTunes, and other apps can all go quit on the WoW machine. I've been writing this during raid pauses, and the boost is significant: my frame rate is significantly higher in visually busy moments. More fun for me, better for the raid.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A General State-of-the-Mri Post

I'm not much looking forward to the hunter changes in 3.0.8. It's not that I think they'll be the end of the world or anything, but there's this about my psyche: I don't mind learning new things, but I have a hard time and don't enjoy unlearning existing thoughts and habits. So I'm sort of in a holding pattern right now, doing the stuff I do and I waiting for news that'll affect what I do with Tivara in the future.

In the meantime I've been playing deathknights more, and also some with my long-neglected Alliance shaman, and having fun. I think it's also helping limber me up for the hunter changes, as I switch from one set of tools to another and have a whole lot of fun with each one.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

GM's Island

There's a place within the game where GM characters hang out, that players can't or at least aren't supposed to be able to get to. The current one is in the northwest, in the vicinity of Teldrassil, and is apparently positioned in the midst of unmapped territory so that you can't get there without a terms-of-service-violating exploit. But before that one went in, there was a GM's island way in the south of Kalimdor, on an island south of the Tanaris desert zone. A couple years back, before Burning Crusade, it got freshened up for use as part of the long quest chain involved in getting the stuff to open the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj. Some of you no doubt saw it then, but I didn't.

This evening I was puttering around with Spiderheart, my night elf death knight, helping a friend leveling up her paladin. Suddenly she commented that I might very well be able to get to the old GM Island. I thought it over and decided she was probably right. Death knights get a spell called Path of Frost that lets them walk and ride across water at regular speed, and like all death knights, Spider's got a nice fast mount as default equipment. So I turned her mount's head south. She rode out of the safe shallows into the deep-sea area where fatigue starts accumulating. But she wasn't more than halfway to the threshold for drowning damage when she crossed into the shallows around what proved to be the northern half of a pair of islands:

Approaching GM's Island

The island is low and sandy, with flanking high ridges. In the interior are some buildings of gnomish design:

Gnomish Buildings, 1

Gnomish Buildings, 2

Gnomish Interior

The islands aren't quite empty, though. There are pirates:

Pirates, 1

Pirates, 2

Between the islands there's a derrick of goblin design:


The south island has some goblin-style buildings:

South Island, 1

Goblin Building

South Island Overview

And here's the view heading north, with the Tanaris mainland off in the distance:

Heading North