Archive for November, 2008


Item Levels

As I ran through the first couple of zones in Northrend, I did not get a single item that was an upgrade. Something bothered me through all of the drops and quest rewards. One of my add-ons shows the Item Level (iLvL) of every piece of gear. For almost every piece of gear, the Item Level of the drop was higher than what I was wearing, yet the stats were inferior.

iLvL (or Item Level) is the way that the strength of an item is gauged. The higher the iLvL, the higher the “budget” of points that is used to assign to attributes, damage, specials, etc… The formulas for iLvL are quite complicated, and are only known through reverse-engineering from in-game numbers, since Blizzard has not released their actual calculations.

But is it “working as intended?”

I offer these two items for comparison. One item is from the Burning Crusade, the other from Wrath of the Lich King. Neither has any special abilities, so it is easy to compare them.



Mysterious Shell – obtained at level 70, requires reputation with the Violet Eye. Item Level 120.



Frostbite Bullets, available for purchase in Northrend at level 75. Item Level 154.

As you can see these items are exactly the same with the exception of the required level, and the fact that one is of Epic quality while the other is not. Despite that, the item level of the WotLK bullets are significantly higher than the epic BC bullets.

What has happened here?

The answer: the Item Level equations have changed in each expansion.

If you look at the WoWWiki page on Item Level, you can see that there are different equations for pre-BC, BC, and WotLK. Why would that happen? Presumably the item level numbers did not scale well as each expansion upped the power range in a non-linear way. The jump from pre-BC to BC gear was notably sudden and steep, for example.

Pre-BC, the Tier 3 armor was the best in the game, and it had an Item Level in the 86-92 range. In BC, Sunwell gear went up to item level 164. Yet I think we would all agree that Sunwell gear was more than twice as powerful than Tier 3 gear. Thus, the equations needed tweaking. The same happened in te release of Wrath. That tweaking makes Item Level comparisons between expansions inaccurate.

Conclusion… it seems to be working as intended, but it makes it useless when comparing pre-WotLK gear to new gear in the expansion. If you have an add-on that shows iLvL, don’t bother using it to make gear decisions until you are comparing WotLK gear to other WotLK gear.



Big Bear Butt made a post about how he uses trinkets. I do something similar to that on my shadow priest to maximize their use.

On my tankadin and rogue, though, I find that trinkets are a little more situational. On the tank, you certainly want to have those defense trinkets available when a healer dies, or when you are tanking more than one mob.

On my rogue, I like to have my trinkets available when I need burst damage. Prince Malchezzar is a good example – if I used my trinkets in Phase 1 they might not be available when we want to burn him down in Phase 2.

So rather than using a whenever-they-are-up macro, I use a visual cue as a reminder, I have my two trinkets on their own toolbar very near the center of the screen.

The two trinket slots on your character sheet are slots #13 and 14. That’s important to know, because when you write your macros if you refer to them as 13 and 14 then the macros will use whatever trinket you have equipped in those slots. That was you don’t have to change your macro every time you switch trinkets.

First, I make two macros – Trinket1 and Trinket2. The Trinket1 macro says only this

#show 13
#showtooltip 13
/use 13

And the Trinket2 macros says

#show 14
#showtooltip 14
/use 14

I use Dominos for my bars. I create a bar that has only two spots. I move it so that it is just off the center of the screen. The two macros are moved into that bar. I hotkey them with Dominos to easily accessible keyboard buttons.


They show a picture of whatever trinket I have equipped in slots 13 and 14.

The add-on OmniCC puts a nice timer right on the button so that it is easy to see when they are available. They make a little “flash” when they become ready, so it’s eye-catching. By placing it near the middle of my field of view, I can easily tell when each trinket is available and use them as needed.


Thanksgiving Parade Rickrolled!

I know that most of the people reading WoW blogs today are probably playing the game rather than watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But I just about fell out of my chair when the parade got Rickrolled.

If you didn’t see it, in the middle of a performance by a float of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Rick Astley walked out of the float and started singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Not only was his appearance hilarious, but the way he appeared to interrupt the performance was perfect.

I’m sure someone will post videos on the web soon.

Edit: Thanks for pointing this out Elton


Should I feel Obligated to Level Faster?

Background… if you don’t know from previous posts, I am the GM of a casual raiding guild.  That title carries with it certain responsibilities as far as conduct and relations with the officers and members.  But does it carry any responsibility as far as play style?

I am taking my time leveling.  I am questing with my wife, so I can only make significant XP progress when we are both online.  That slows me down, but it keeps the game fun for us.  I will probably hit level 74 tonight.

At this rate, there will be at least 15 players in my guild who will hit 80 before me.  We already have three at the level cap, and there will be a bunch more by this weekend.  I have no doubt that they will want to go try 10-man Naxx once they have a balanced group.

I have been on almost every raid my guild has done since we started raiding.  I am usually the top dps, although dps is a dime-a-dozen these days.

Because of all of these factors, I am feeling pressure to level faster.  I get the feeling that I am “supposed” to be there for our first Wrath raid, both as the GM and as one of our core raiders.

On top of that, some of the people who are close to level 80 are not the best players in the guild.  They just happen to have more play time that the rest of us.  I worry that they will be included in the early Naxx runs just because they are at the level cap, but in later runs they will be excluded in favor of better players.  That can cause bitterness and hard feelings.  In a more hardcore guild you can just tell people to deal with it, but in casual guilds we tend to care more about such issues.

Aside… it might look like I am just selfishly trying to make sure I am getting in on our raids.  Its not just me.  Our Raid Leader is currently at level 75, and our Main Tank and backup Raid Leader is at level 72.  Our top Holy Priest is level 72 also.  So a significant part of our core is slow to level.

One solution would be to make a guild decision to hold off on raiding until most of our core have reached the level cap.  Since our two raid leaders are not in the fast leveling group, that’s easy to justify.  We can tell the 80s to run heroics, or join Naxx PuGs if they want.  However, that would probably displease the group that reaches 80 quickly, and its also a recipe to lose guild members.  I don’t think that is a good option, but we will consider it.

The other, less confrontational option is to let them do their runs if they want, assuming that one of them is willing to step up and lead the raid.  That will keep them happy in the short term, but might lead to conflict later if they are not included in our sanctioned guild raids once the core group reaches the level cap.

In the end, this is going to lead to us making a formal raid sign-up process.  We’ve never needed one before, but its clear that we will now.  I’ll save that question for a later post.


Leveling instances

utgardeI have been thinking about the release of Wrath, and trying to put my finger on why it seems so different to me than the release of BC. I think I’ve finally hit on one part of it.

I remember when BC was released. One of my friends was a powerleveler – moving from 60 toward 70 very quickly. At one point when he was around level 65 or 66 I asked him about his experience so far. He went on and on about the Coilfang Reservoir instances, the amazing beauty of Zangarmarsh and Nagrand and how much he was looking forward to running all of the Auchindoun instances.

At that time, he never mentioned Karazhan, or Serpentshrine Caverns, or Gruul’s Lair even as a goal or something to look forward to.

Of course, that is just one anecdote, but that’s the way I recall Burning Crusade’s release. I remember it as excitement about leveling, and looking forward to all of the new instances. At the time, the idea of “instance hubs” was new – three instances plus a raid zone at Coilfang, four instances at Auchindoun, three and a raid zone at Tempest Keep. (Blackrock Mountain was something like that in original WoW, but not exactly.) So, in my remembrance, the instances were the “stars” of the BC release.

In Wrath, no one talks much about the instances. Everyone is focused on the level cap and Naxx. In fact, I’ve heard so little about the leveling instances, I had to go look them up just to write this post. I couldn’t name more than four off the top of my head.

Burning Crusade had…

  • Hellfire Ramparts
  • Blood Furnace
  • Slave Pens
  • Underbog
  • Mana Tombs
  • Auchenai Crypts
  • Sethekk Halls

all before reaching level 70. Then once you got to level 70, you had

  • Shadow Labyrinth
  • Shattered Halls
  • Mechanar
  • Botanica
  • Arcatraz

before you started raiding. That’s twelve 5-man instances you could run before you ever did a heroic or a ten-man raid. In BC, your progress through the game was almost measured by the instances you had done.

In comparison, Wrath has

  • Utgarde Keep
  • the Nexus
  • Azjol-Nerub
  • Ahn’kahet: the Old Kingdom
  • Drak’tharon Keep
  • Violet Hold
  • Gundrak
  • Halls of Stone

then when you hit 80 you get

  • CoT: the Culling of Stratholme
  • Utgarde Pinnacle
  • The Oculus
  • Halls of Lightning

That’s eight leveling instances for 5-man groups, and then another four for level 80 groups before you start heroics and raiding. Its the same number of instances, but not the same amount of attention.

Instances are part of the story, not a challenge of themselves

I suspect its because of Blizzard’s new approach toward making raiding accessible. In BC a lot of guilds went in with the knowledge that raids were a possibility somewhere in the future. Instances were the immediate challenge – tuned to be a good test when done at the appropriate level. Most importantly – instances were an expected part of your preparation for raiding.

I remember wiping repeatedly on the last boss in Ramparts when we didn’t have resist gear on our tank. I recall the last boss of Mana-Tombs being really tough the first few times in. I know we spent at least five hours in Shadow Labyrinth our first attempt in there.

In Wrath the instances seem almost like extended quests. They are designed to be fast – no five hour SL runs this time around. They are not terribly challenging, from the accounts I have heard.

In BC, Instances were preparation for raiding

For those who raided in BC, imagine if someone asked to raid with you, and then admitted that he had never run a single instance in Outland. You’d have questioned him and told him to go run some heroics to get gear.

In Wrath, the qualification to raid seems like it will be to have a functioning keyboard and a pulse. That’s not the requirement to be a good raider, but the barriers to raiding have largely been torn down. They have been removed so effectively that toons are powerleveling to 80 still wearing their level 70 gear and jumping right into successful Naxx runs. That would never have happened in BC. This process has completely devalued the instances. You don’t need them for gear, you don’t need them to “learn” to raid. What purpose do they serve, other than XP and sightseeing?

The gear jump was not steep, so you instance gear is not needed

In BC the initial gear reset made almost all pre-BC gear obsolete by level 62. That meant that you were forced to get new sets of gear every few levels. You ran Hellfire instances to get BC gear for the Coilfang runs. You ran Coilfang instances to get gear that would be good for Auchindoun instances. There were must-do quest lines that gave great upgrades.

This also led to instance grinding. Some of the boss drops were so good that players would run the dungeons over and over to get their drop.

In Wrath, Blizzard made the gear jump much, much smaller. For those who had tier-level gear from BC, you aren’t going to get many upgrades until level 75-ish. That removes a lot of the incentive to run instances. With no boss drops to look forward to, you can run them once just to see them and then move on. No instance grinds, either. Just sightseeing.

Right now I think that the majority of the player base is still in the level 72-74 range, and still running Utgarde Keep, Nexus, and Azjol-Nerub. Those are the instances I mainly see people asking about in the chat channels. I am hoping that later instances will be interesting enough to cause some “buzz” so there is a desire to run them.



This weekend was spent in Dragonblight.  I have really enjoyed this zone for a number of reasons.

Lore!  If you have followed WoW lore, or have read the novels, then this is a great zone for you.  You get to see and interact with many of the characters that you know.  the presence of dragon Aspects makes this zone feel not only exciting, but important.  When I went to the top floor of Wyrmrest Temple and met… well I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but as a lore nerd I was excited.

The quest lines are enjoyable.  They have a good mix of types of quests.  Combat on dragonback is particularly notable here, once you get the hang of it.  There are multiple quest hubs each with a few quests, rather than one spot with many.  You get to travel around the zone quite a bit.  I like the new types of mobs… magnataurs are neat and do not resemble a reskinned or slightly adjusted creature from old WoW.  The Tuskarr are well-made as well.  Except that one guy in Moa’ki Harbor who makes all the noise while he is cutting up fish.  My kids laugh every time I walk by him.

There are a fair number of group quests in this zone.  People are always asking in General chat for partners for the quests.  That’s a good thing, I think.  The General chat channel in Dragonblight is much more focused on the game,  In Borean Tundra it was a lot like… well, Barrens chat.  So far, my wife (resto druid) and I (rogue) have been able to 2-man all of the group quests.  Evasion ftw!

I like the look of Fordragon Hold.  The place looks like a wartime encampment – very spartan and with few people wandering around.  And you can stand on a ledge to look down on the conflicts in front of the Wrath Gate.  Very cool.  Wintergarde Keep has a similar feel to it.  I think Blizzard did a good job making this zone feel like a real war-torn area with current conflict underway.

On the (slightly) negative side, dragons are being made a little “ho-hum” by all of this attention.  It used to be that large dragons were extremely rare.  If you ran into one in Swamp of Sorrows, for example, or in the Blasted Lands, you knew it was something unusual and you made sure to keep your distance.  Here, we get to interact with them in so many ways that they lose some of their mystique.  We’ll need to find another type of mob that makes us stop and stare.  Maybe a massive Titan walking around…

So far I am halfway through level 73, and I still have all of the Wintergarde Keep and Moa’ki Harbor quests to do.  I will hit 74 before finishing this zone, and then I’ll be able to go to Dalaran.


Combat vs Mutilate now, not later


In an earlier post I said that my mutilate spec was preferred over combat daggers, and I tested that on practice dummies. However, instance runs do not involve fighting practice dummies.

A lot of theorycrafters have crunched numbers to show that Mutilate is a great spec (and it is), and that both Mutilate and Combat Daggers are very nearly equal in PvE dps. Those same number-wizards can recommend the ideal attack rotation. In my Mutilate build, the various dps calculators and spreadsheets told me that a 4+r/4+n rotation would be best (that is a 4 or 5 combo point rupture, and a 4 or 5 combo point envenom, with SnD always up).

Well, those calculations are done under fairly ideal conditions, when you can just stand there and go through your rotation without interruption, without changing targets, etc… Basically, a tank-and-spank boss fight.

Right now, the game is not being played under those conditions. In the early 70’s, AoE tanking is the norm. Trash mobs die in under 10 seconds. Bosses in instances are dying in two minutes. In those circumstances, everything changes. Rupture is not useful because it won’t have time to get through all of its ticks. Deadly Poison doesn’t have a chance to stack, which makes Envenom a less effective finisher, and reduces the usefulness of the Deadly Poison.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to crunch numbers myself. So I did what a good scientist does – an experiment. I ran Utgarde Keep twice. The first time I went in with my Mutilate raid spec. The second time I went through with a Combat Dagger spec. Here’s what I saw.

Mutilate run through Utgarde

We went in with a fairly well-geared pally tank. Since we outgeared the place, he just gathered up groups of 3-5 mobs and we dpsed them down without any CC. I used Deadly and Wound poisons on a pair of 1.5 speed daggers. Mutilate was my main attack, and I tried to use Envenom as my main finisher.

My damage output was good, but I felt that it should have been better. The reason for that is because I rarely got a chance to use more than one finisher on a trash mob before it died. When I had enough combo points for a finisher, often DP was only at a 2 stack. I found myself using Eviscerate as often as Envenom (not ideal) due to a lack of poison stacks.

I always made sure HfB was at a 3-stack before combat began, but since the mobs were dying so fast I could rarely afford the energy to refresh it during combat. In fact, energy was a very limiting factor. I was generating combo points much faster than I was accumulating energy, and that slowed me down.

My damage on the boss fights was fine. In those I was able to get somewhat of a real attack rotation going.

In the end, the pally tank did more overall damage than I did. That’s a bit embarrassing.

Combat run through Utgarde Keep

This time we had a druid tank, although we used the same gather-and-kill technique with very little CC. I went in with Wound/Wound poisons on my pair of 1.5 speed daggers. My main attack was Backstab and used Eviscerate as my main finisher for lack of a better one.

My damage output was much higher. I would alternate between Blade Flurry and Killing Spree for burst damage on group pulls. First pull, Blade Flurry. Next pull, Killing Spree. Repeat. Wound Poison procs were flying everywhere.

The Combat build is much much slower to generate combo points. I didn’t get up to 5 combo points on any single trash mobs, and only on the last of the three bosses. My finishers were not my source of burst damage. Instead, I relied on BF and KS to get big numbers.

On boss fights the burst damage from BF, KS, and Adrenaline Rush is through the roof – but only for a short time. Over a long boss fight like the ones we had pre-WotLK, the Mutilate build would have been superior. But here, when the bosses are dying in two minutes, its all about the burst.


This is purely anecdotal, and a lot of the differences in dps could have been due to me rather than any inherent differences in the performance of the specs. Perhaps when I have some time next week I’ll do a more in-depth analysis including combat log parses.

In light of this, though, I think that I’ll stick with Combat Daggers until the game gets a little harder and mobs and bosses start lasting a little longer. I am going to tweak my spec to get Imp. Eviscerate in there if I’m going to use that as a finisher over Envenom.


Epic feel to quests

templecityI’ve done almost every quest in the Borean Tundra zone, which has taken me about 1/3 of the way through level 72. The quests have been entertaining and interesting. There are very few of the “kill 10 poachers” type of quests, and the ones that are there are not so bad because the respawn rate is high.

So far the best quest chain was the Temple City of En’Kilah line, culminating in the “Last Rites” quest at the top of the Temple. This line had an epic feel to it, and really made me look forward to reaching the end to see how it turned out.

What makes quest lines like this stand out?

  • It has a story… quests that have you go collect mammoth skins are just busy work. A quest giver who has a story that is unfinished is much more engrossing. It makes you feel like you are part of the lore instead of just an observer.
  • Each step gets progressively harder… the worst thing after turning in a “kill 10 scourge” quest would be to get a “kill 10 different scourge” quest, because its just more of the same. A quest line where each step gets more challenging than the last creates a sense of build-up before the culmination. In this quest chain, the later steps have you go farther into the Temple City and kill named mobs.
  • Its in an enclosed space… in WoW, I think that going in anyplace makes the encounters feel harder. In a cave or a building, you have limited room to avoid mobs, little to no space to kite them, and if you run you’ll just aggro more of them. I’m sure that we have all paused at an entrance to a building and thought, “should I go in there?” I think the fact that we had to go inside a scourge-ridden Temple City makes the quest line feel inherently harder. Its almost like a non-instanced instance, with a boss encounter at the end.
  • The final step is either entertaining or challenging or both… in the Last Rites quest line the last step is a group quest because it would be tough for a level 70-71 to solo En’kilah. That’s one way to make it tough. Other ways would be to have some kind of unique mechanics, or to use a special item that was obtained through earlier steps in the chain.

As a contrast, there was a long quest line in Amber Ledge that involves freeing sorcerers from prisons, and culminates in a “rescue” of Lady Evanor. The quests leading up to it kept you running up and down the same hill to the same place, killing the same mobs. At the end, when I saw that I would get to ride a huge red dragon as they mounted a rescue mission, I was very excited. However, that’s all it was – a dragon ride. The rescue was scripted.

I don’t consider the quality of the reward as part of the “feel” of a quest line. Yes, the Last Rites quest gives nice blue items, but that’s something to consider after the fact.


Another reason why I love my guild

As we were running all over Northrend, one of our guildies – a hunter and good player, was still stuck in Shattrath.  He whispered me a few days ago and explained his situation.

He lives in Indonesia, and his English is very limited.  He told me that he cannot get the game yet where he lives.  He said that he is unable to buy it over the internet, because he does not have a credit card, and the game would cost almost half of his month’s earnings anyway.

He told me that his plan was to pay someone 2000 gold in exchange for a game key.  Clearly, this is a violation of Blizzard’s ToS, so I advised him against that.

In Officer chat I mentioned to the other officers that our hunter had a problem and wasn’t going to be able to play with us for a while.

Immediately, the officers decided to take up a collection and buy him the game.  With most of the officers volunteering to help, it only came to a few dollars each.  By the next day, he had a game key, had downloaded the game, and was leveling in Northrend.  He offered to give me the 2000 gold but I refused.  Rather than keep his gold, he deposited it in our guild bank as a thanks to the guild.

There are nice people in WoW!  Warcraft brings people together in friendship from around the world!  Let’s talk about that rather than kids collapsing from playing 15 hours straight, or stories of video game addiction.


Speed leveling – guild impact

dingIn an unfortunate coincidence of bad timing, I had to go out of town for a wedding this weekend, and I missed the mad rush to level and quest and run Utgarde and Nexus. I did get my rogue up to level 71 before I left. I’m not in a rush, as I said in an earlier post. I am reading quest texts and trying to get a feel for the lore of Northrend.

When I returned from my weekend away, I found that most of the people in my (casual) guild are not far ahead of me. Many of them have families, and so do not spend the majority of their weekend at the computer. Others are switching back and forth between their alts, leveling them each at about the same rate. Still others are working on Death Knights, and their pre-WotLK mains are still languishing at level 70. All of that is OK. The majority of the regular players in the guild are between level 71-73 at this point.

There are a few, though, who are in a mad dash to level 80. One was at 75 when I logged off last night, and the other was about to hit 75. I imagine that they will both be 80 within the next week or so.

Hey, everyone plays their own way. What I find fun might seem boring to someone else, and vice versa. But I worry about these players as far as their impact on the guild.

I worry because they are going to hit level 80 way before the rest of us. What will they do once they get to 80? I’m sure they will want to run level 80 instances, but the rest of the guild won’t be ready. So they will either have to run PuGs or run with other guilds.

And we all know what happens then. They get tired of waiting for us to level, and go hop to another guild that is doing level 80 runs.

Ah, well. People come and go. I’d like to say that there is something I can do to prevent this, but that’s the nature of guilds. We are not a raiding-first guild, so I am not going to start to push people to level faster to keep up. We’ll just handle the losses and hope to pick up some replacements along the way. (the potential drama is in the fact that those fast-levelers have a lot of friends in the guild, and could drag a whole group with them if they leave… but we’ll try to watch for signs of that in advance)

Its just another way that expansions reshuffle guilds. I am guessing that raiding guilds will be able to skim the fast levelers from guilds like mine to fill out their raid teams.

The way I am going to counter this is by making sure that everyone knows the goals of the guild. I’m not going to wait until the level 80s are whispering each other, trying to decide whether to stay or go. I am going to tell everyone right now that our guild is planning to start running 10-man raids as soon as we have enough people at 80 but there is no rush. I am going to lay out the expectation that we won’t be running 10-man Naxx until late December (maybe) or early January (more likely).

By presenting the goals in advance, it will push those fast levelers to make a decision early and think about their role in the guild. Why are they in The Dragons? Is it for the friendships and camaraderie and casual atmosphere? If so, then they know well in advance that they are going to have to wait for us to catch up to them. Yes, there is a chance that it might make them leave the guild earlier, but that’s probably better than having them jump ship at 80. It might even make them slow down, or work on their alts.


Dinaer - 90 Assassination Rogue (US - Sen'Jin)
Derence - 90 Prot/Ret Paladin (US - Sen'Jin)
Metius - 90 Shadow Priest (US - Sen'Jin)
Liebnitz - 90 Arcane Mage (US - Sen'Jin)
Fastad - 90 Subtlety Rogue (US - Sen'Jin)
Darishin - 90 Resto/Balance Druid (US - Sen'Jin)
November 2008
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