Author Archives: shawnaldridge

Blackrock foundry, and the art of the insta-gib

“What do we want?” “More complex fights!”

“When do we want it?” “…Next year sometime?”

If you were to capture a hardcore raider and peel back their surface, what you would find, besides a screaming raider, would be a love of challenge and a strong competitive streak. Raiding is fun for many people specifically because of its difficulty. Hours or even days of frustration and inability to kill a boss culminate in the strat finally clicking, people not standing in the bad, and the team achieving the victory they have worked so hard for. Most of us find little joy in a pushover, loot piñata style boss. Thus, we reason, if a hard boss is more fun and more rewarding than an easy boss, then an even harder boss must be even *more* fun and rewarding. Simple analogy, no?

Be careful what you wish for. It turns out in Blackrock Foundry Blizzard decided to give us what we were asking for. There’s no question that these fights are significantly more difficult than Siege or Highmaul. I know even with the improvements we’ve made in the past months, our guild has found heroic to be quite a slog; while previously we progressed reasonably quickly through normal/heroic. But the purpose of this post is not necessarily to QQ regarding raid difficulty, but to talk about WHY they’re more difficult. What is it that makes these bosses both harder to kill and harder to consistently farm than previous instances?


Okay, that sounds pretty simple. But lets dive into it a bit more deeply. What makes a raid boss difficult to kill? At its heart raiding, especially now that deep threat mechanics are more or less nonexistent, is essentially 3 tasks, performed in concert by the raid team. The dps team needs to do damage to the boss sufficiently quickly to kill it before the boss kills the raid, either due to a soft or hard enrage mechanic or due to the healers running out of mana. The heal team needs to output sufficient healing numbers to keep enough raiders alive to kill the boss. And finally, the raiders must avoid making any errors that result in their own deaths or the deaths of their teammates.

I’m sure all of this sounds a little raiding 101ish so far, but there’s a point to my rambling. The first two tasks are strictly numerical; i.e. they are something that more gear will make easier. If you kill a boss week X with gear set Y with 10 seconds to go on the enrage timer, and you perform similarly in week X + 1 when you have gear set Y + 1, you will kill the boss with 10 + something seconds left on the enrage timer. This will almost universally be true. The more gear you have, the faster the boss will die, the more output your healers will do, and the overall less healing they will have to do due to faster kill times. Numeric components of a boss will get steadily easier and easier as you gear up throughout the tier.

This is not true for mechanics. The mechanical aspects of a boss will be just as mechanical in week 12 as they are in week 1. It’s possible that what was once a 1-shot mechanic no longer is due to increasing health pools. It’s possible that what was once not possible to heal through now is due to increasing mana pools. It’s possible that you can skip certain parts of a difficult phase by virtue of overwhelming dps numbers from increasing gear. But by and large you will still need to execute the same mechanics as the tier goes on as you did in the beginning. And this is where Blackrock Foundry stands out in difficulty. Not in the tuning, but in the sheer number of one-shot or raid-wiping mechanics. Let’s take a minute to talk about the gib…

Gib: 1(n) of 3D computer games, a fragment esp. a gobbet of flesh resulting from total obliteration of a target usually by means of an explosion; giblet.
2(v) to cause massive damage to a target, to the point of obliteration.

Blackrock has an enormous number of insta-gib mechanics, even in heroic difficulty, which stand out even more when compared with the previous raid tier in Siege of Orgrimmar. Let’s list them out:

Gruul: Overhead smash will easily one-shot, inferno slice can one-shot an entire group.
Oregorger: Acid torrent can one-shot groups if a tank misses a cd.
Darmac: lewt baws
Thogar: TRAINS!
Flamebender: Failing to kill the cinder wolves before Firestorm is almost a guaranteed wipe
Kromog: Slam can one-shot tanks, Thundering Blows will generally kill anyone failing to reach a grasping earth rune in time. Even a solid reverb hit can kill a squishier raider.
Hans & Franz: Crippling suplex can easily one-shot one or both tanks.
Iron Maidens: Penetrating shot, blood ritual, and bloodsoaked heartseeker are all capable of gibbing a player. And don’t even get me started on turrets…
Blast Furnace – Ironically no insta-gib mechanics, despite being one of the harder fights
Blackhand – Bombs can easily wipe your whole melee group. A misplaced impaling throw is often a death as well.

Wow that seems like a lot of insta-death waiting for us. Just for fun, let’s compare it to the final tier in MoP.

Siege of Orgrimmar:

Immerseus – Standing in the Corrosive blast could one-shot a raider on progression
Protectors – Nope
Norushen – Tank failing to gain threat on the big adds before they hit a raider.
Sha of Pride – Nope
Galakras – Nope
Iron Juggernaut – Mines if you chose to set them off?
Dark Shamans – Standing in a meteor maybe (seriously?)
Nazgrim – Nope
Malk – Both blood rage and cleaves can insta-gib
Spoils – Nope
Thok – Getting chomped during phase 2
Siegecrafter – Nope
Paragons – Possibly aim?
Garrosh – Cleave during transition phases

Basically if you were doing even the most basic of mechanics there were 3 insta-gibs in Siege’s 14 bosses, compared to 8 out of 10 Foundry bosses, not counting bosses with multiple gib mechanics. And this is just on heroic! (Disclaimer: I’ve only seen a few mythic fights) The mythic bosses I’ve seen are significantly harder.

Personally I’m of two minds about the current design/changes. On one hand, I really enjoy throwing myself against the hardest content I can find, and I find each boss kill that much more rewarding given the recently upped difficulty levels. On the other hand, as previously noted in this blog, we are currently working to transition from a team clearing normal/heroics each tier to a team clearing mythics pre-nerf. It has been a great frustration to our progression that the very tier that we decide to really step it up is the tier in which blizzard moves the goalposts on us, so to speak, making the majority of the fights significantly more difficult. All QQ aside, I’m really loving the encounter design, and it’s fun to feel threatened as a tank on a regular basis. Now if I could just get people not to stand in front of flying spears…

You can’t bring everyone – roster decision time!

It’s been a loooong time since I’ve updated this, so apologies to all 3 of you that are reading it. In the vein of using this as a platform to write about the issues and concerns that we run into as we try to make our transition to a viable mythic guild, I’d like to talk about a recent issue we’ve had.

I would call this a personal problem, but when you’re the raid leader, honestly, your problems tend to be the team’s problems, so this is somewhat a mea culpa on my part. You see, one of the values insisted upon in my house growing up was inclusiveness. I was taught that you have to play with all of the kids, yes even that guy. While I’ve learned to moderate this a bit, as most adults do, this is a value that has been both boon and bane as I’ve worked to grow our raid team.

I say boon because it has helped us pick up a number of players that either never would’ve bothered to apply to a stricter guild or whose applications would’ve languished due to a lack of solid heroic experience in previous xpacs or a solid log history. And I’m not talking about a couple of people that manage to show up and sometimes not die. I’m talking about some of the best raiders our roster has. I also personally feel that our openness to newer players and willingness to help our team members has really helped make our team both an effective unit and a pleasant place to play.

However I say bane  as well because it can be difficult figuring out where to draw the line, and in many cases my natural inclusiveness has kept some raiders on our roster long past the point where I should have sat them while they developed or simply cut them and let them find another team where they fit in better.

The difficulty so far seems to lie in where to draw the line for who raids and who doesn’t on a given night. We are a fairly rare type of raiding guild, i.e. a weekend guild with casual hours (8-week) that tries to push as much progression as possible, so suitable raiders can be a challenge to find. In addition we’re just working our way up to more serious progression, and nobody likes joining a team with less progression than they’ve currently got. This has most often put us in the position of accepting a longer learning period for new raiders than most teams would allow.

When our standards were lower it was simple to filter people out, as they tended to be the raiders constantly dying to the same mechanics night in and night out, or the raiders whose raw output, be it DPS or HPS, was a significant margin below that of the rest of the group. Decisions like these are the easy ones to make. But lately we’ve been running into a finer-grained decision. How often does that raider die to mechanics? How reliable are they attendance-wise? Where do they sit for raw output? Can they be counted on the stick it out and stay positive when we’re having a rough night? All of these questions, in many cases more qualitative than quantitative, sum up, leaving us with a vague, review-score-esque aggregation of a raider. My job at that point is to sort out the maybes from the obvious yeses and emphatic noes, and I’m finding more and more raiders these days falling into the maybe category.

I didn’t really think this was as much of an issue until recently. We’re currently working on Heroic Blackrock Foundry progression, and we were having some trouble clearing a boss we had downed the previous week. Nobody was massively screwing anything up, but our pulls felt sloppy, and inevitably our machine would begin wobbling a few minutes into the pull and shortly the host of small errors would add up, sending us careening into yet another wipe. So, frustrated, I sat our bottom three people. Not people who happened to be lowest that pull but who were consistently lowest on the chart. They weren’t an obvious cause of our issues, but I thought it was worth a try.

We not only killed the boss the very next pull, but the entire operation was worlds smoother. Mechanics were handled cleanly. Adds died at least 25% faster, and we certainly didn’t have 25% more DPS. At this point I was struck by a quote from Hamlet that resonated with me from his Raid Awareness Post:

Raiding at any level, it is a virtual certainty that the limiting factor on the speed at which you learn and defeat bosses is the rate of avoidable mistakes made by individual group members.

At the time I interpreted this as a simple equation, less player deaths = greater chances of defeating the boss. But reflecting on the difference in those pulls I realized that it went much deeper than that. A mistake, in a progression raiding environment, is no longer defined as an avoidable action which results in your character’s, or another character’s, death. A mistake is kiting an add on a sub-optimal path. A mistake is choosing a sub-optimal ability for your next GCD. A mistake is taking that next healer-mana-draining chunk of avoidable damage. I enjoy likening a raid team to a machine, an engine. And like an engine a piece of the raid doesn’t have to break completely in order to doom the entire operation, it need only wobble. That errant movement causes the next connected part to move too far, or not far enough, and the next, and the next, and before you know it you’re in a cartoon-esque explosion of gears, belts, and bolts.

So as usual, I’m not sure what the answer is. In the short term I’m working on being more willing to sit people when we’re having trouble downing a boss. Not as a punitive measure, but in the interest of keeping our progression smooth. I can say that I’ve had no complaints so far. But I chalk that up to the fact that while we’re always happy to help people learn on our team, we also strive to give our raiders an accurate picture of their performance. The people that need more development know who they are, and by and large appear happy to have found a pleasant place in which to learn, even if it means they have to sit out some boss fights until we’ve downed it once or twice.

In the long term…well I’m not sure. Hopefully I will, over time, develop a keener insight into individual raiders’ skills and deficiencies. It remains a journey.

Rough Nights

From time to time everyone gets those nights, those raids. The nights that really test your team, and tell you who you are, not necessarily when the chips are down, but when all of the chips have fallen off the table, or perhaps someone made off with your chips and left you some less desirable objects, like angry monkeys. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on clearing the previous tier’s nerfed content or pushing mythic progression from week two, these rough nights are inevitable. Being both a raid leader and a little bit compulsive, I always find myself with a burning need to know WHY. Why are we having this much trouble? Is this the normal, this boss is hard and it should be hard kind of trouble, or is this the we have a dysfunction in the team, be it mechanical or social kind of trouble. So when this happens to me, I tend to go through a little bit of a checklist, post-raid, to try and determine what’s going wrong, and I figured I’d share this checklist. Maybe it will help others identify the issues in their raids, or maybe it will just help a little to get it down on paper, so to speak.

1. Is it a numbers problem?
This is usually the first thing I ask, maybe because I’m a bit of a numbers guy.This tends to make me pull up the WarcraftLogs pages for our nearest competition. How do our numbers look? Are they similar to other guilds with similar skill? Are both our dps and healing within a reasonable range of other guilds that have recently cleared this boss? If our numbers are different are they using a specific comp or healer/dps ratio that works more effectively for this boss?

2. Is it a mechanics problem?
Always when I check mechanics, I check dispels and interrupts. Are people’s dispel/interrupt numbers both consistent and reasonably distributed? After this I tend to analyze the damage taken by spell, and once again compare this to similar guilds. Are we taking vastly more damage from a particular spell or ability than similar teams are? Am I seeing an add cast far more spells than they should be because they aren’t being interrupted?

After this things tend to get a bit more nebulous, but there are still important questions that need to be asked.

3. Is it a problem with the strategy?
Are we using the proper strat for this boss, both in comparison to other similar guilds and with respect to our own raid team? Maybe other people are relying on a specific ability or comp that lets them ignore certain mechanics, and we are trying to copy a strategy that won’t work for our team. Never be afraid to go with the strategy that works for your team, rather than the one you’ve seen on a guide video. What matters is that the boss dies. There is no right way to kill a raid boss other than reducing their health to 0. That said, also consider have people had time to learn the strategy? Even skilled players still need a handful of pulls to understand their roles within a specific fight, especially with the complex nature of many raid bosses these days.

4. Is it a problem with our raid composition?
Are we missing anyone key today? Did our 4 top healers all come down with a sudden case of itis? Are we pugging anyone in? (Because sometimes we’ve had to do that) And if so was the pug pulling their weight? You can’t get mad at a pug, because they’re not on your team, but you can certainly not bring them again.

5. Is it a social problem?
These can be the most difficult problems to fix, but almost every raid team seems to run into them eventually. Are some of our members arguing? Did someone unintentionally (I hope) piss someone else off earlier in the week and now they lack focus? Is someone sick or dealing with some RL issues and therefore performing vastly under their normal skill levels? I know I’ve personally had pretty much every one of these issues come up at one time or another, up to and including finding out two of my raiders were dating and have since stopped speaking to each other.

What can you do?

The numbers problems can generally be solved by helping your raiders to get better, or if they are unwilling to get better sometimes just cutting them loose and finding a different raider, a hopefully rare but occasionally necessary solution. The mechanics and strategy problems are yours. You’re the raid leader, it’s your job to detect these problems and identify them to the raid team so that they can be fixed. The other problems can be a bit trickier.

What is comes down to as a raid leader is you need to know your team. You need to understand what their capabilities are, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Some of your raiders may be excellent at putting out raw numbers, but crumble when tasked with important mechanics. Similarly I’ve had raiders that were wonderful at executing mechanics, but just couldn’t seem to really maximize their raw output. Some of your raiders will be sensitive to criticism, and some of them will be quick to harass someone when they show weakness or get whiny. Your job is not to necessarily tolerate all of this, but to know who it will come from and to deal with it accordingly. Because if you don’t you’re going to get a lot more of ‘those’ nights, and you’re not going to understand why they are happening, or what you can do to stop them. But in the end such nights are inevitable. You can’t prevent them. You can only adapt as they occur and recover from them as best as you can. Always keep in mind, it’s supposed to be difficult. If raiding were easy, we’d all be playing Starcraft by now. :P

Highmaul First Impressions

In order to keep putting out something here, and because I’m still nit-picking over my other developing posts, I’d like to give a quick first impressions for Highmaul. Not sure if this will be a regular thing, as I don’t know how much value there is in such posts. But for now it keeps me writing, which I view as nearly always a good thing.

So we took a short poke into normal modes the day Highmaul opened, and then went back and started on heroic Thursday night. So far it’s really hard to judge the quality of the tier, in the same way it’s hard to judge the quality of your bed after you’ve slept on a pile of rocks for a few weeks. Realistically at this point nearly anything would compare favorably to any further time in SoO.

That said, I’m enjoying myself massively so far, despite our struggles in heroic. We one-shot Kargath and 2-shot Butcher in normal, then called it a night 2 wipes into Tectus due to server issues pushing our raid much later than normal. Fresh off of that relative success, we leapt face-first into heroic mode on Thursday, and things did not go nearly as easily. Our average item level is 636 right now, which I figured would be sufficient for heroic bosses, and boy was I wrong. It took us 3 pulls to down Kargath, a mechanically trivial boss, and about a half dozen pulls to realize that we just flat don’t have the numbers for Butcher heroic yet.

I’m honestly a little surprised at the tuning of normal and heroic Highmaul so far. I’m sure it’s partially an artifact of this being the first tier of this expansion, but we had less trouble with early  SoO normal bosses, despite having what I would consider an overall less-skilled roster than we have at the moment. We’ve tuned up our healing roster considerably, but our heal team is clearly feeling the shock of trying to raid in blues for the most part. I can’t hardly recall the last time I died tanking when I was paying any attention whatsoever, and butcher managed to kill me 3 times out of 6 pulls on Thursday.

Despite those deaths, I can say I’m enjoying tanking immensely. While DPS get to have more fun as they get overgeared, pushing for rankings and generally watching their numbers continue to climb, tanking gets considerably more boring as you continue gearing up. For me at least tanking is lived at the margins, while content is still fresh enough to demand constant attention. So Highmaul has been a blast for me so far, having to watch my uptimes on everything roll my cooldowns appropriately. Paladins are also really well designed at the moment when it comes to talent choices, something I’m hoping to do a writeup on here shortly.

So struggles aside I like the bosses we’ve seen so far. Butcher seems to be an effective gear/number check, and our pulls on Tectus were a chaotic mess of fun. Tonight we’ll hopefully make enough progress in normal to give us the gear to continue pushing through heroics. In the meantime, I’m pretty sure it’s time to check my garrison again.

Firing people

The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”  ―Eddard Stark

It’s actually taken me a while to figure out why this is one of my least favorite parts of my position as raid lead. Not because I expected to enjoy firing people, that seems unreasonably cruel, but because I tend to be a highly pragmatic person. I certainly don’t have any trouble correcting someone when I feel they’re not performing up to snuff in raid. I don’t have any particular issues with social anxiety. If anything I’m a touch misanthropic. But having to actually remove someone from the raid team, not through a schedule misalignment or having them leave for another team, really does bother me. And after some extended reflection on the subject I’ve come to the following conclusion.

It should.

Giving somebody a spot on our raid team is a vote of confidence. Further than that it’s an extension of trust. I, and by extension the officers and team in general, am trusting you. I’m trusting you to show up on time. I’m trusting you to do your best to get along with your teammates. I’m trusting you to continue researching your class. I’m trusting you to love this game the way we do. And by the time we get to the firing stage that trust has in some way been violated.

There are a handful of ways to get to that point. Sometimes someone simply didn’t fit in socially and it caused waves or, god forbid, drama. Sometimes they’ve lost their passion for the game and aren’t keeping up on their class knowledge or maintenance activities. Sometimes I’ve simply been too generous with a raid spot, an occurrence that is guaranteed to happen in a guild as newbie-friendly as ours, and they completely lack sufficient skills or dedication to be on the team. And when we get to one of these states, I always feel a bit responsible. Which has led me to make and stand by a policy of mine.

If someone is going to be removed from the team, it’s the raid-leader’s responsibility to do it. I gave them the ultimate thumbs-up. Most raiders go through an approval process with the officers, especially now as we attempt to make that ever-difficult transition from friends-and-family raid team to a team capable of rapid mythic progression. But ultimately if someone is on the team it’s because I let them on the team and to have to remove them makes me feel like I’ve failed them in some way. I agreed to give them a raid spot. I agreed to lead them to the best of my ability. I also agreed to put sufficient resources at their disposal, be it knowledgeable class leads or accurate learning material, to allow them to raid at the level we expect, provided they put in the necessary work.

But somewhere along the line I made a misjudgment. I may have misjudged their ability. I may have misjudged their personality. I may have misjudged their passion for the game. An error was made somewhere, and for that fact alone I owe it to them to make their removal as personal and cordial as I can.

You remove people over voice chat. Think of it like breaking up with someone. No hiding behind in game mails or chat windows. They deserve to hear it from you, not via text or rumor-mill. For many raid leaders it’s possible that this isn’t an issue. But if it’s something you’re hesitant about or have trouble with, think of it as the price of your additional authority. You wanted to be the one in charge, (if you didn’t that’s a whole other problem) which means you get some of the dirty jobs along with the additional privileges.

Don’t make it any more personal than it has to be. The goal is not to make them feel like they’ve failed. The goal is to let them know where the discontinuity is. Somehow this raider and the team at large have fallen out of sync. Either they’re unwilling or unable to raid at the expected level or they’re unable to mesh socially with the team for one reason or another. Let them know what the problem is. If you’ve been doing your job as raid-leader properly then their dismissal shouldn’t come as a surprise. Almost everyone I’ve had to remove from our team so far has pretty much known what was coming when I first called them in vent.

Personally, assuming I’m not removing someone for being a truly horrible human being, I like to take some time to let them know what their strengths are. There’s no need for false flattery, but they’re already going to be a little emotionally vulnerable at this point, there’s no harm in softening the blow a bit. Once they know why you’re parting ways, feel free to throw in one of their strengths. They must have some, otherwise they wouldn’t be raiding with you. Call out their raid awareness, solid mechanics, or even positive attitude.

Finally, thank them. Every time you get to zone into a raid, it’s because the other 9 or 24 people on your raid team took the time to show up and join you. Raiding is by definition a group effort. So thank them for the time they’ve put in on your team, and wish them well in the future. Were the positions reversed, you would want them to do the same for you.


Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snowplough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of words.

― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

I tend to over-think things. A habit which, judging by the above passage, I would wager I share with Sir Pratchett. So this post has been started at least a half-dozen times, and I have spent sufficient time saying ‘I should blog’ to have pontificated myself breathless any number of times at this point. Nonetheless, here we are and I’m actually getting started. For quite some time now I’ve wanted to put proverbial pen to paper, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost I feel that blogging, assuming I can produce at least one or two posts that help someone somewhere, is a good way to give back to the community that has given me so much. I have benefited enormously from the work of others. As a new raider and raid-leader I have had to learn a lot this past expansion, and I couldn’t have done it without the large amount of help that I have received from the community, whether it took the form of podcasts, spreadsheets, advice posts, or pages and pages of theorycrafting.

In addition I’ve gotten to talk to many of the aforementioned community people whose work has helped me so much, be it on twitter or in person at Blizzcon. They have been, to the last, very kind and accepting, always happy to chat about the game that we all know and love. I have to admit that in the face of such cheerful work and kind representation on their part I feel somewhat compelled to pitch in where I can. If they can put in countless collective hours in order to help me get those progression kills then surely I can devote a few hours a week to possibly helping the next person out. I couldn’t possibly tell you how much time Theck (, Hamlet (, Dayani (, and of course the guys at Convert to Raid ( have collectively saved me but I can safely say it’s a LOT, and those are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (Am I allowed to use proverbial twice in my first post?)

Thirdly the blog I have in mind is something I very much would’ve liked to have had available when I first started this guild. In my searches across the wow-related interwebs I have come across precious few details on how people organize and operate heroic (now mythic) raiding guilds and teams. I found it some of the hardest material to locate. While I can’t call myself an expert on the subject these are issues and situations that I deal with daily, so hopefully by sharing some of the details, as well as what has worked for us so far and what hasn’t, I can help smooth out someone else’s journey as they seek to make the transition from What’s a raid cooldown? to Holy crap that boss was easy.

Finally I feel that this will be a useful exercise for me as well. Nothing shows you what you actually know like trying to teach it to someone else. This has been my experience across any of the fields I’ve ever tried to teach. So if I’m lucky maybe some of these rough ideas knocking around inside my head will take a little clearer shape after I try and explain them in a reasonably sane manner to the internet at large.

So now that I’ve justified this whole operation to myself. I’ll simply say that here will be some things that have crossed my mind in the course of my journeys across Azeroth. I hope that they will inform and possibly even entertain from time to time, and thanks for taking the time to read them.