Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rumbling along in Mists of Pandaria

I have been playing on and off, as I usually do.  I played very little in February and March, and started up again in April.  My hunter team is level 90, and my warlocks hit 90 this afternoon.  I have been questing in the world and nothing else.  My hope is to have at least three teams to 90 before the next expansion hits, and perhaps more than that.  The third team will be my mages, which are level 85.  Then perhaps my team of shaman, although their levels are scattered somewhat.  86, 86, 85, 78... and 7.  I had originally grouped a shaman with each of the other teams to provide healing, but for my purposes that's pretty much unnecessary, so I figured I'd start building a shaman team.

I do have some other teams that are low level and can run dungeons pretty effectively, and I may work on those as well.  One team has a paladin and four shaman, but I'm not sure I want to level an additional shaman on each account, so I may nuke it.  Another has a paladin and four priests, which seems like a good challenge because the priests are so unfamiliar to me.  The third team is a level 87 paladin and four level 62 death knights.  I may look to level a paladin to 62; otherwise I'll be spending too much time powerleveling the DKs, and that doesn't seem very enticing.

Blizzard continues to make it very easy to accumulate gold.  Getting a team from 85-90 through quests will earn them around 22,000 to 23,000 gold in quest rewards and junk sold to merchants.  Subtract the 12,500 required for Pandaria flying, and the team walks away with a net of around 10,000 gold.  This is before they start questing at 90, if they choose to do so.  With the additional gold from that, the sky's the limit.  The guild sits at 95,000 gold now, having hit 107,500 shortly before the warlocks hit 90 and bought their flying skill.  I would expect that when the mages are done, the bank will have more than 105,000.

I leveled the hunters mostly as Beast Master.  It's a pretty easy way to level, as the pets have good amounts of health and very good damage output.  I have been running Marksmanship since they hit 89, because it's nice to watch stuff blow up in one or two global cool-downs.  I don't think I tried Survival this time around.  I have no idea if it's good or not for five-boxing, but I'd assume that it is just fine.

I leveled the warlocks mostly as affliction, using a void lord and four shivarra.  The upsides are numerous, especially the fact that I have three damage spells that can be cast without having to face the enemy (Agony, Corruption, and Unstable Affliction).  Being able to drop fifteen DoTs on a mob within a few seconds without worrying about positioning is convenient!  The DPS rotation is clean and simple and is tailor-made for a /castsequence macro.  I used two macros most of the time.  One would have each warlock cast one of their debuffs (Curse of the Elements, Exhaustion, and Weakness) and send the pet to attack.  The other would use a cast sequence of Agony, Corruption, Unstable Affliction, Haunt (it does direct damage and also increases the damage from the other spells for eight seconds), Malefic Grasp (a channeled spell that does damage every second and increases the damage of the other spells for four seconds), and finally Drain Soul. Drain Soul, like Malefic Grasp, is a channeled spell that does damage.  If the target's health is under 20%, Drain Soul does double its normal damage and doubles the damage of your DoTs.

The main downside is that the shivarra can do a lot of damage to a mob at the start of a fight.  If the mob dies before your DoTs get a chance to do any damage, you don't get credit for the kill.  This stopped being an issue once the team was level 88 and moved on to tougher creatures with enough health that they didn't keel over from the opening pet salvo.  Affliction was a bit problematic when dealing with rare and elite world mobs, especially those that required the group to move a lot.

I switched to the Demonology spec around level 89 and found it much more effective, particularly against those rare/elite mobs.  There was one in the Dread Wastes who walks around with several "normal" mobs, and he wiped my team pretty easily as affliction, but died almost as quickly when I used demonology spec.  The "extra" pet you get from that spec is quite tough and has a very effective spinning AOE ability that is perfect for large groups.  They are also quite resilient.  There was another elite in that zone, a large worm that drops a quest item.  He wiped the affliction-spec team after a tough fight, but I clobbered him as demonology spec.  It is almost too effective; I almost never use the transformation ability that makes the warlocks much more formidable for short periods of time.

And so next up are the mages.  I am anxious to get them started, though I may wait and see how long it will be until patch 5.3 goes live.  Blizzard is planning to reduce the amount of experience required to get from 85 to 90 by a staggering 33%!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Annual Update

It's not that I planned to update only once a year, but so it goes...

I am still playing WoW sporadically, taking occasional breaks which can last a while.  Hugs is a level 19 guild, thanks to the recent changes which make guild experience accumulate faster.  Any character at level 85 or higher was leveled solo or as part of a team on a different server.

The guild has all of the professions covered (with most of them higher than 550) and the guild bank has around 80,000 gold.  Blizzard has worked to make gold almost irrelevant-- there aren't many things that you have to buy (riding training being the primary one) and gold accumulates quickly, especially past level 80.  In addition to the Cash Flow perk, each guild challenge you complete also puts extra gold into the guild bank.  Clearing a level-appropriate dungeon adds 125 gold to the bank each time, with a limit of seven such deposits a week.  As the teams get to level 90 I'll try scenarios as well, but it will be a while before that happens.

The highest team is comprised of hunters, who are 72.  I just replaced one with Tonuss, a shaman.  I want to get this team to 90 together and try dungeons and scenarios along the way, and it made sense to pair them up now.  My favorite team is a tank-spec monk and four shaman (three elemental, one restoration).  Four elemental shaman could do the job just fine at this level, but having the standard complement makes it easier to practice running the team through dungeons.  And recent changes mean that resto gets all of the fun healing tools.  Riptide is a very useful heal to have at any level (and with the new glyph, it's a spammable HoT), and she'll have Earth Shield very soon.

Elemental shaman continue to be a good class for those new to multiboxing, or who are struggling with other classes.  They have good armor and can cast heals if things get a bit out-of-hand.  They have good sustained DPS for PvE play, and some passive damage and utility.  Searing Totem provides targeted DPS (it will only attack a target the shaman is attacking, no more blindly firing at anything within range).  Healing Stream still stacks and can provide significant healing that way, but it is no longer a "drop and forget" totem.  It has a 15 second duration and a 30 second cooldown, making it a situational tool.

I have also discovered the fun of melee teams, and have created several (shaman, paladins, death knights) but there is a lot of work to do before I am proficient with them.  Mostly setting up key-binds and macros and a few tricks to make sure that they stay on target while fighting.  But that will have to wait, since the ranged teams are still fun and taking up a lot of play time.

I wouldn't think there was much else to enjoy after eight years, and the truth is that the game play is pretty much what it was back in 2004 (kill 8 creatures, collect 12 drops, pick 5 items up from the ground).  But the changes to class mechanics and my own exploration of play styles that I hadn't tried has kept things fresher than expected.  2013 may see a few more blog updates than the last two years have.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Annual "Catching Up" Post, part 2

I just realized that it's been a year since I posted anything.  I still play WOW and I still multi-box.  Right now it's what I spend most of my WOW time doing, although my schedule is pretty sporadic.  Lately I've played pretty often since I'm working on a new team.  Without my friends playing much these days (if at all) there's little incentive to do much else.

In any case, this is where things stand at the moment (which I just realized, is pretty easy to track by visiting the guild page): I leveled four characters (my shaman, rogue, hunter, and warlock) to 85 solo, since I enjoy leveling those classes solo.  I then leveled a shaman and four hunters from 80 to 85, and then I swapped in the original shaman and hunter.  That shaman and four hunters worked through the Tol Barad daily quests in order to upgrade their weapons, and then I decided to get back to one of my goals for this expansion: to get as many of my characters to 85 as I can.

The plan is to level up a few teams comprised of a shaman and four DPS, with the idea of having five 85s of several classes.  The hunter group is done.  Two shaman are 85.  My current team is a shaman and four mages, which recently hit level 70.  I have another shaman grouped with four warlocks and they are level 45; I'll get to them when the mages hit 85 (I have a level 76 mage that will then be power-leveled to 85).  I have one shaman that is level 17.  I am figuring on leveling her with a group of priests.  At some point I'll create three more priests (I have a level 75 priest loitering in Dalaran at the moment), get them to 17, then four-box them to 75, at which point the existing priest will join them.  Once that group is done, I'll have five of each of the following classes: shaman, hunter, mage, warlock, and priest.

At that point I figure I'll level up whoever is left (which would probably just be the 80 paladin, although maybe I'll also level the 70 rogue and the pair of 58-60 death knights).  I'm tempted to level up four druids with the paladin, so as to have at least four of those at 85 at some point.  The benefits of getting all of these characters to 85 are three-fold: one, I can mix-and-match groups in almost any combination.  Two, they'll all be ready for the next expansion.  And three, because questing from 80-85 generated anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 gold per character.  I'm not worried about gold, in that I don't have much to spend it on.  But it's nice to have it.  5,000 per character means that if I happen to need a few extra profession recipe components, I can purchase them via the Auction House without worrying about the cost.  Not that it will happen very often, as I have all of the professions covered (though I've been slow to level many of them).

Anyway, that's where things stand.  I don't know how often I'll update this site, but with so little of note going on there isn't much reason to do so.  Ta-ta for now!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catching up

Just a short update.  I'm playing WOW, and am now on Stormrage with some friends and a guild that they are in.  My shaman Tonnus is in that guild, and the rest of the team is in on the same server.  I am not multiboxing these days, though I do occasionally get the team together to help with group quests if no one else is available to help (or if I simply don't want to bother people).  When your primary talent spec is resto, it's nice to be able to grab a tank and three DPS to help you out.  It's even nicer when you can do that without having to ask anyone else!

I have also fixed the links on the sidebar to reflect the current characters and location.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ding 400!

Sunday the team hit level 80. If it seems that it took a very long time to get those last two levels, it did... sort of. Having gotten to level 78, my group had flying mounts, cold-weather flying, and decent gear upgrades (particularly for the hunters). So I took it easy at that point and played very little. Mostly I would check my auction toon, doing so at least once each day to make sure any expired items did not stay in the mailbox too long. But this past weekend I did a number of short 'quest runs,' mostly in Zul'Drak, and finished their leveling. There is still a lot of questing for them to do, and I haven't even done the Amphitheater quests.

After they hit 80 I spent a bit of time revamping their talents. I switched one of the Survival hunters to Marksman spec, giving me two MM and one SV hunter. I also upgraded some of the paladin's gear and enchants. He's currently at just over 23,500 health and 22,200 armor unbuffed, but his defense is a bit short of the crit-cap. However, there's time to deal with that later, as I still have a pretty full slate of normal instances to run before worrying about heroic dungeons. For the time being I still have quests to complete and reputations to raise and whatever other PvE-oriented goals or ideas come to mind.

I'm also considering leveling up two more shaman in order to have the option of a group consisting of four shaman and the paladin. I may also level one or two additional characters with that group, probably one or two mages/warlocks. I like the thought of having several options to try out later on. But as often happens when I get to the tough sledding, I'll probably play less and spend more time looking for other things to do. Or maybe I'll be more focused this time and actually get some dungeon running done for a change. Who knows?

Hunter DPS rotations

I was asked about the DPS rotations I use for my hunters. Those are still a work-in-progress, and will be for a while. What I do at the moment depends on what I'm dealing with. For every mob, I have a basic 'opening' macro. One of the hunters (who has the Hunter's Mark talent that reduces the mana cost to zero while increasing the effect by 50%) casts Hunter's Mark, any pet buffs (eg, Call of the Wild) and sends the pet to attack. The other two hunters will use the same macro without the Hunter's Mark command. After that...

Non-elites: for non-elite mobs, I have a second key mapped to their primary damage attack. For the Marksman hunters that is Chimera Shot. For the Survival hunter, it is Explosive Shot. Explosive shot is excellent damage, as it does three ticks a second apart. Each tick, as of level 78, was doing around 1,000-1,200 damage, or 2,200-2,500 when they crit. Since Chimera Shot's damage hits all at once, it does about twice the damage "up-front." As of level 78, it was doing 1,900-2,200 damage, and up to 5,400 damage or more when it crit. It's why I switched one of the SV hunters to MM-- I still have a lot of outdoors questing to do, and even level 80 mobs die very quickly when you're hitting them with upwards of 15,000 damage before they even realize that they've been targeted.

Elites/Bosses: for longer fights, I've tried two approaches. One places several attacks on different keys that I can press in a specific sequence. The other uses a castsequence macro. Either works just as well on dungeon trash as they do on bosses. It's just a case of what I find more comfortable to use (and I've got a ways to go before I decide that).

The key sequence starts with the Hunter's Mark/pet buff/send pet macro. Then the next keystroke buffs the hunter's damage (trinkets, abilities, etc). I have separate keys bound to a macro that casts Misdirection on the tank, so that I can rotate the ability if needed. Then it's on to the attacks, which depend on the talent spec. Survival would be something like Black Arrow, then Serpent Sting, Explosive Shot, Aimed Shot, and Steady Shot. Steady Shot gets spammed until the cooldowns refresh on the other abilities. The benefit of using this setup is that I can skip the longer cooldowns (Black Arrow, Serpent Sting) until they're ready to be used again. The Marks hunters would use a rotation along the lines of Serpent Sting, Arcane Shot, Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot, and Steady Shot. Against a boss mob I will also substitute Scorpid Sting for Serpent Sting on one of the hunters, for the reduction in chance-to-hit.

The macro also depends on the talent spec. For SV it might be:

/castsequence reset=30 Black Arrow, Serpent Sting, Explosive Shot, Aimed Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Explosive Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Explosive Shot, Aimed Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot
The idea is to set it so that Black Arrow is fired again as soon as it is available, and in the meantime the hunter should be firing Explosive Shot and Aimed Shot as they become available, with Steady Shot filling in. Even with the glyph for Serpent Sting, it won't be refreshed at all times, which is a loss of DPS. But this does mean that I'm tapping one key instead of a row of keys, and might be better DPS overall than the key sequence approach.

For Marks, the macro would look something like this:

/castsequence reset=21 Serpent Sting, Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot, Arcane Shot, Steady Shot, Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Steady Shot, Steady Shot
The idea is the same as above, except that because the glyphed Serpent Sting is the longest cooldown, I can have it up all the time. Which is good because Chimera Shot does additional damage when Serpent Sting is active. Other than that, the rotation attempts to use the other DPS abilities as soon as they become available, using Steady Shot to fill in the gaps. I have not done much testing with any of this, as most of my time has been spent doing outdoors quests, and even boss-level elites in the outdoors are pretty easy to defeat with sub-optimal DPS.

Survival has a nice ability that lets party members regenerate a small amount of mana under certain abilities. For my group, that usually happens when Explosive Shot gets a critical tick of damage, which is why I had two SV hunters in the group for a while. But I don't think that the extra mana regen (which doesn't stack from multiple hunters, aside from refreshing the duration) is as good as the tighter (and potentially far more efficient) DPS rotation when using a castsequence macro as an MM hunter. This is all specifically being applied to a multiboxing setup, of course.

Gold, gold, everywhere

The guild's money situation is as good as ever, as I've taken a much more practical approach to both making and spending gold. The guild bank is getting close to 27,000 gold now. Upon reaching level 80, the group of five had about 11,000 gold as well. This is gold that is left after purchasing their "slow" flying skill and mounts as well as the cold-weather flying skill and all of their spells and abilities for level 80, as well as a 15 gold charge for resetting their talents. This is also after I had spent 1,000 gold to get the shaman the dual-spec option. Not bad...

This actually doesn't seem like a lot of money now, since there are so many ways to accumulate gold in the game. I've had my auction alt mostly doing bottom feeding, grabbing up auctions that have been set way below the norm and reselling them*, and focusing on items (such as glyphs and enchanting materials) that have very low listing fees. I've also been auctioning a lot of items that my characters gather and create. I used to hoard gathered items so that I'd have them available later, as a "just in case" contingency. But for the most part, item values depreciate over time in an MMORPG. Sure, some items will increase in value at a later date (such as low level herbs when inscription was introduced). But in general you'll get more for an item now than you will later.

An example of this is Titansteel bars. I had built up a stockpile of them, about 24 bars worth, and then decided to auction them off. I don't know how much value they had lost in the meantime, but it may have been more than 100 gold per bar! All I know is that over the course of a few weeks, I sold them at an average of around 270-300 gold per bar. When I wanted to make some of the epic craftable items for my paladin, I was short eight Titansteel bars. So I went to the auction house and purchased them, paying 168 gold for each bar. In the past, I would have considered that the bars that I had saved in the bank were "free" because I didn't have to pay for them via the auction house. But instead, I not only had the bars I needed to make the items I wanted, I also wound up with more than a thousand gold in the bargain. That's not counting the other materials that go into making a Titansteel bar, which I also auctioned for extra gold.

After this spending spree, the hunters still have around 1,800-2,000 gold each, the shaman has around 1,600 gold, and the paladin has something like 300 gold left. And now that they're level 80, their expenses from now on are almost exclusively repairs. Gear will be obtained from quests, dungeons, and badge or emblem vendors. Quests and dailies will reward gold along with whatever other gains I get from them (rep, mostly). I guess that I'll still occasionally spend gold on reputation rewards, but those will be easily paid for from quest/daily gold. I have to wonder why anyone would turn to gold sellers these days (or if anyone still does). There are so many ways to make gold now, and not much to spend it on. Oh well...

* PS- I know that the notion of scraping up lowball auctions and reselling rankles many people, but there's no practical argument against the idea. There are appeals to emotion and "ethics," the latter usually devolving into an argument on relativism (ie, when someone complains that buy low/sell high auctioners are hurting others, he's really saying that you are hurting him.). Then there are the angry people who simply hurl invective. They tend to follow the "ethics" angle more stridently than other people. Since the argument nearly always devolves into one of moral relativism, there's little sense to attempting to discuss it. You are wrong because someone said you're wrong, and that's pretty much all there is to it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Northrend gives you wings!

At level 77, that is (unless you utilize the new option that allows your flight-capable character to purchase account-bound flying tomes for your alts). The group is level 78 now and using their 150% flying speed mounts now. The change in flight speed for the "slow" flying mount is a welcome one. The slower mount is tolerable for flying from one location to another, unlike the painfully slow 60% increase that you used to get. Most of my gathering characters have the 280% mounts, so I may not bother to get the faster speed training for the group.

It is possible that I will do so anyway, simply because there's little for the group to spend any gold on. Aside from updating spells and abilities, the costs for training flight skills were the last "need" item for them. The guild bank has close to 21,000 gold now, and a few minutes spent at the auction house each day adds between 100 and 750 gold each week. After training their level 77 skills, purchasing the cold weather flying ability, and training for level 78, the group members have between 1,500 and 1,800 gold each. The exception is the shaman, who has around 650 gold, having spent 1,000 to activate her dual-spec ability. Another exception was that I spent something like 200 or 300 gold on heavy borean leather, for reasons I'll explain below. It was probably an unnecessary expense, but it was small enough that I didn't worry about it.

I did this because I decided to run the quest line that begins when you loot a necklace near the Ebon Watch camp in Zul'Drak. Because of the nature of the quests (where you wear a disguise that will periodically drop) and the fact that they're pretty simple (and quick) to complete, I decided I would run it solo with each character. Since they are level 78, the quests are even easier and faster than they would normally be. At level 78 your aggro range is much smaller in that area, and being able to fly also saves you a lot of time. The final reward is a good upgrade for the hunters, and is not easily replaced via outdoors questing. I must admit that the quests are also a lot of fun, especially the ones where you mind-control an NPC and set it against an elite.

Anyway, the initial quest in the line requires killing some mobs the traditional way, and the resto shaman was doing so in customarily slow fashion (or at least, relatively slow compared to the hunters). Since I want to keep open the option of running a multi-shaman group in the future, getting the dual spec for her would have probably happened at some point anyway. And from now on if I want to solo her for any reason, she has an effective DPS spec for doing so, without even needing to swap out any gear.

Thus the group, with the exception of the paladin, has completed the quest line and received their rewards. I may complete the quest line with the paladin next, or wait for a later time, as his current necklace is pretty good for his tanking role. Also, running the quests on the others has brought them much closer to him in terms of experience gained, which means the group will hit their next two levels within a shorter amount of time. That probably shouldn't matter to me, but it bugs me nonetheless. However, I've been taking it a bit easier lately so I'm not sure what I'll do.

I don't think it's burnout, though I did play a lot recently as I made the push from level 75 to level 78. I used the paladin to create several pieces of crafted mail for the hunters. A number of the pieces have resilience on them, which is useless for my group. But they also contain a good amount of agility, intellect, and crit rating. This has allowed the hunters to get into the 3,000+ range in attack power and a bit more than 27% in critical strike rating. By replacing leather armor with mail armor that has intellect, they increased their mana from ~6,100 to just over 10,000. This has provided the group with a nice increase in both burst and sustained DPS. The paladin has also been using crafted tanking gear and is at ~22,000 health and just over 20,000 armor when buffed.

I even ventured to Utgarde Keep and finally completed the quest to down the first boss. This was trivial at the group's level and gear, and the boss died on the first attempt with the loss of one of the hunters, which served as a reminder to polish my healing macros. With my expenses taken care of and just two levels to go, I may start hitting the dungeons more often, mostly to clear up quests. If a usable upgrade also happens to drop, that's great too, but won't likely happen in the lower-level dungeons.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Update: Level 76, saved UC, etc etc

The team is level 76 now and still questing its way through Northrend. They completed the quest chain that leads to the quest The Battle For The Undercity. It's a very easy event to complete, since you are given massive boosts in health and damage, and as long as you stay close enough to Thrall and Sylvanas, you also get super-charged health and mana regen. As long as you do that and do not aggro any of the three bosses before Thrall engages them, you won't be at a risk of death. The bosses hit for ridiculously large amounts of damage and will flatten you in one shot. This is mostly a problem for AoE classes, which are the likeliest to inadvertently aggro a boss when it first appears on the scene.

In any event, it went off without a hitch and the group had a nice experience boost and some new boots (from one of the pre-quests) and pants.

Since then I've gone on to Grizzly Hills. I did the quests at Conquest Hold so that the group would have access to the series of ring events there, which ends when you help to kill the local commander. I have not completed the series, but I did get through the first four bosses without a wipe. The third boss had wiped my mixed group twice back when I had tried it, but he went down easy this time, as did the next one. I intend to finish those up very soon.

Grizzly Hills has a number of quest lines that end in mini-boss fights that reward you with rare-quality gear. The ring event at Conquest Hold is the first of at least three. I expect the group to level through to 78 in this zone, or very close to it. And then it's on to Zul'Drak or Sholazar Basin. I actually went to Zul'Drak to complete one quest, the one where you have to kill Ragemane, a large sea lion in a small body of water. The rewards included a selection of rare-quality tanking weapons, and my paladin walked away with a Crescent of Brooding Fury. It was a good upgrade to the common-quality axes and maces he had been using until now.

I've also been slowly raising the trade skills of the guild. This means hopping on to the earlier group's characters most of the time, but it's relatively quick. I have all of the gathering skills at maximum level. Engineering is max'ed on my blood elf hunter. My level 80 shaman has blacksmithing at 445 and enchanting at 430. Bonuss is at 425 in leatherworking. Xannee is at 421 in alchemy (and raising it by doing titanium transmutes). Cannee is at 410 in jewel crafting, and she will level the slowest because I typically only make gems as needed. But she can do the Dalaran daily and that will allow her to make some money in the meantime. Zannee is at 409 tailoring and 427 inscription. Tailoring is inevitable, as all cloth drops go to the guild bank so that she can use them. At 410 she can make Frostweave bags, which are 20-slot bags. Since most of the guild is using 16 or 18 slot bags, the Frostweave bags are a slight upgrade. So far, Zannee is the only tradeskiller who is a money drain, as both tailoring and inscription require vendor-sold materials in order to skill up. The sale of inscriptions can make that up and then some, but for the moment I only make what I need for skill ups and for the characters to use. I may take the time to do a bit of research so that she can profit from her otherwise costly tradeskill...

But other than Zannee's expenses, the guild is doing well. I rarely spend gold outside of things like repairs, spell upgrades, and riding skills. Because I have all of the tradeskills covered, I often have a diverse selection of spare materials to auction. I also have an auction alt in Orgrimmar who, armed with Auctioneer and 100 gold, has generated 4,500 gold over the last month or so. In part she's made it by auctioning items that I had been allowing to accumulate in the guild bank, and in part by buying up items listed at extremely low bids or buyouts and re-listing them at normal rates. Aside from the usual source of bargains (players who simply want to be rid of excess inventory with minimal fuss) there are a number of players who have taken to implementing an interesting strategy. They place an item (say, a stack of copper bars) up for auction with an extremely low starting bid and a buyout cost that is about 10% higher than the norm. My guess is that more often than not, these create a bidding war that ends with someone buying them out simply to spite the other bidders, unaware that he has spent more than he would have if he'd bought out one of the more "conventional" listings.

I generally bid on those once or twice, then forget about them. I am outbid on nearly all of them, of course, but enough of them filter through to make this a worthwhile way to make a small but steady profit. I know that some people's Moral Outrage Meter (MOM) will sound an alarm at the idea of re-listing items, but the opportunity is there for anyone to do it. I spend as little as 5-30 minutes a day running a quick scan, then bidding and buying and listing and re-listing. Most days the time spent is about 10 minutes. I could do this even more quickly, but I'd make less money because there are people who take advantage of careless users of Auctioneer by listing common vendor-sold items (like low level arrows, for example) at very high prices. They do not sell, of course, but an Auctioneer scan does not know this, and so the price range for these items becomes very skewed. Thus, when you do a scan to check for items that are bargains, these items show up as extremely good deals even though in reality they are grossly overpriced and will never sell. If you don't pay attention, you can get burned.

I'm making pretty good money from Titansteel bars and Frost Lotus. I had built up a small cache of them and was hoarding them as I tend to do with lots of tradeskill items. But reading the Greedy Goblin's blog reminded me that one way to "lose" money is to skip the opportunity to make more now than you would spend later. Titansteel bars are currently trading at around 130-150 gold per bar, which is way down from even a couple of months ago. By the time I would actually need a Titansteel bar, I could probably buy them from the AH for half of that. Or if I desperately needed them, I could simply create them myself again. This is even more true for the Frost Lotus, which is used in flasks that are best for raiding, which I doubt I'll be doing anytime soon. In the meantime, the bars that I have are generating a nice cash flow instead of just sitting in the bank and taking up space. I've started doing the same with other items, which is why I'm a few thousand richer with only a small additional time investment.

In any event, cash is not a problem. Each member of the current group has between 2,400 and 2,600 gold from outdoors questing. They have not bought any of their flying skills or mounts, as I continue to wait for the next patch, which will lower the costs. The guild bank recently passed the 18,000 gold mark. I can't see where I'll be spending any money aside from spell upgrades as they level and the occasional gear item from a rep vendor. I guess the lesson is that the best time to stockpile gold is when you have nothing to spend it on. Instead of scrambling to build up my funds in an emergency, I hardly even notice that it is accumulating. Each day the auction alt makes anywhere from 25-500 gold, and the group members make a few dozen from quest rewards. Or as the saying goes, a few gold here and a few gold there, and pretty soon you're talking real (fake) money.

Edit: I just checked, and the amount of money the auction alt has made is closer to 6,000 gold over a bit less than a month's time. Not a bad haul for the relatively small time investment.

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Aside- Macros and Talent Specs

Macros and key bindings are a big part of multiboxing. This is particularly true of mixed groups. Now, by "mixed groups" I'm referring to the various roles played in a group. A group of five balance druids can share the same key bindings and macros and do not require a lot of setup time. A group of five druids that consist of one feral, three balance, and one resto will require three sets of key bindings and macros. They don't do the same thing during a fight, and their timing doesn't always match up.

(Note: By "key bindings" I'm referring not only to the assignment of keystrokes to an action bar, but to the action bar setup as well. This is just to reduce the use of terms and make things less confusing.)

I also approach talent assignment differently as a multiboxer than I do when playing a single character. Many talents provide additional active abilities, which must be selected when you want to use them (an example would be the shaman resto talent Nature's Swiftness, which turns your next spell into an instant-cast). Other talents provide passive abilities, which do not have to be activated. They are either always on (for example, talents that increase your critical strike percentage) or they activate on their own when certain conditions are met (such as a talent that gives a percentage chance on a successful attack to increase your critical strike rating for a short time).

For a multiboxer, active talents are a mixed bag. They allow for the precise use of their particular benefit, as opposed to a random activation that will not always occur at the ideal time. But they require an additional line in a macro, an additional key bind, or perhaps both. I want to have a setup that is as streamlined as possible. Simpler macros and fewer key binds are the way to go for me, and anything that complicates the setup makes things more difficult.

Therefore, when I'm considering a talent, I am looking for one that is either passive or that can be folded into an existing macro. An example would be the talent Nature's Swiftness, which is instant cast and does not trigger a global cool down. Due to this, it can be inserted into a healing macro that I use for emergency moments, when I want a big heal and can't afford to wait for it to cast. This talent can be combined with the talent Tidal Force, which increases the critical strike chance of your next three spells. The first spell gets an additional 60% chance to crit, the second gets 40%, and the third gets 20%. Like NS, Tidal Force casts instantly and doesn't trigger a global cooldown. Since trinkets typically work the same way, my emergency heal macro will look like this:

/use 13
/cast Tidal Force
/cast Nature's Swiftness
/cast [target=Bonuss] Healing Wave

I can remove the "target" designation and it will heal Kurianne's target. I prefer to have it explicitly target the tank, because if he dies the group is probably in very big trouble and about to wipe. Losing a party member is bad, but it's also survivable in many circumstances.

The first line (/use 13) will activate the trinket in her first trinket slot. Currently, that is occupied by a trinket with a "use effect" that increases her spell power by 183 for 20 seconds. The next line casts Tidal Force, which will increase the critical strike effect of her heal by 60%. Kurianne's heals have a 28.28% critical chance from gear and talents, which means that the emergency heal will have an 88.28% chance to be a critical heal. The next line casts Nature's Swiftness, which means that Healing Wave (normally a 2.5 second cast) will cast instantly. The final line casts the heal spell, which has now been boosted with 183 spell power, has almost a 9-in-10 chance to crit, and will cast without delay.

When Engaging A Boss or Elite

I have a very basic set of key bindings for when the group is just killing normal mobs or "easy" elite mobs, as there is no need for fancy rotations or macros. For the more difficult elites I switch to a separate action bar with different key binds. Those contain some initial setup keystrokes and then a "rotation" macro for tanking, DPSing, and healing.


Since the paladin is my lead character, I can use the mouse to select actions. I normally use the mouse to select the target and use the abilities that aggro it, build some initial aggro, and buff his block percentage. Although I have all of his tanking abilities on a bar so that I can select them manually, I do have two key binds for him:

4- tank rotation macro
7- Hammer of Wrath


= (the equals key) /assist party1
1- Buffs pet and directs it to attack
2- Casts Misdirection on Bonuss
3- Buff self
4- DPS rotation macro
7- Kill Shot


= (the equals key) /assist party1
1- Water Shield
2- Strength of Earth Totem
3- Mana Spring Totem
5- Heal rotation macro
6- Emergency heal macro
G- Earth Shield on Bonuss

The shaman also has keys F1-F8 assigned to heal the other party members, and both the shaman and paladin have the H key assigned to their decurse abilities (which are cast on the paladin's target). The paladin's decurse can remove poison, disease, and magic debuffs, while the shaman has a talented ability that can remove poison, disease, and curses. That effectively covers all removeable debuffs.

What They Do

The rotation macros all use the /castsequence command to queue up a series of abilities. This is not the most efficient way to run a single character, but for a multiboxed team it makes group management easier. Most fights consist of mouse-clicking the paladin's abilities, and tapping the "4" key every second or so, pausing only if aggro becomes an issue. I tap the "5" key as needed based on the paladin's health, and the "G" key when Earth Shield gets used up. If I remember, I will tap the "2" key to cast misdirection. All of the hunter's have it set up to cast on Bonuss. Since only one misdirect can be active at a time, one gets selected and the other two are ignored. If I press it again within 30 seconds, the one on cooldown is ignored and the other two attempt to cast it. If the paladin needs a heal ASAP, I tap the "6" key. When the mob's health is low enough, I tap the "7" key.

I have a few other key binds (mana tide, healing stream, etc) but these are the ones I use primarily in any "tank and spank" encounter. Even in encounters that require a bit more involvement, I will spend most of my time tapping the "4" and "5" keys. It's not as efficient as it would be when I play a single character, but it's very efficient when multiboxing, at least for me.

Prior to the pull, the paladin is buffed with Blessing of Sanctuary (reduces damage taken, restores mana when he blocks or avoids an attack) and Righteous Fury (increases the threat generated by Holy spells). The paladin's tank macro has a castsequence that goes more or less as follows:

Hand of Reckoning - generates initial aggro and taunts the mob.
Holy Shield - increases chance to block and damages enemies when you block their attacks
Seal of Righteousness - does additional Holy damage per melee attack. When a judgement is applied, it does additional Holy damage. I use this only for the extra Holy damage (which generates extra threat) from using the next ability:
Judgement of Wisdom - attacks against target have the chance to restore 2% of base mana.
Seal of Wisdom - paladin's attacks have a chance to restore 4% of maximum mana. Between this and JoW, the tank should have no trouble keeping his mana bar full during a battle.
Exorcism - does Holy damage, and always crits versus undead.
Hammer of the Righteous - hits up to three targets for Holy damage equal to 4x your main hand weapon damage.
Shield of Righteousness - hits target for Holy damage equal to 130% of your block rating + 390.
Avenger's Shield - hits up to three targets for holy damage and dazes them.

Some of them are repeated in the sequence. Since many of them have cooldowns, I try to space them apart so that they don't run afoul of their cooldowns (at which point I believe the macro skips to the next ability in the sequence, but it may also not fire off the next ability until I press the key again, thus wasting a keystroke). Because I use the mouse to trigger most of his abilities, the macro really just winds up filling in after the initial sequence, which puts JoW on the mob and SoW on the paladin.

The hunter DPS macro is slightly different for one of them, since she is spec'ed for Marksmanship. The other two are spec'ed for Survival. By the time I'm ready to hit dungeons, they'll have the talent that provides a mana boost for the group wen certain attacks hit for critical damage. Otherwise the macros are somewhat similar, with the following sequence:

Black Arrow- (Survival) increases the hunter's DPS and applies a shadow-based DoT.
Serpent Sting- A nature-based DoT. One of the Survival hunters may substitute Scorpid Sting, which decreases the mob's chance to hit with melee attacks by 3%.
Chimera Shot- (Marks) this does 125% of normal weapon damage, as well as 40% of the total damage of Serpent Sting
Concussive Shot- dazes the target
Steady Shot- short casting (1.5 seconds) damage that does extra damage if Concussive Shot is active on the target. Boss mobs are often immune to Concussive Shot, but if they aren't it's extra damage.
Aimed Shot- extra damage and reduces healing on the target by 50%. The healing reduction comes in handy now and then, but mostly this is for the extra damage.
Arcane Shot- extra arcane damage.

I will have extra Steady Shot, Chimera Shot, and Black Arrow in the sequence in order to maintain as high a DPS rate as I can. If their threat is becoming a problem I just stop tapping the macro key. Since I am using the mouse for the paladin's abilities, not using his macro won't affect his threat generation. I can also use Feign Death if needed.

The shaman's heal macro is a sequence with a mixture of her healing spells. It's not nearly as efficient as it would be when playing her solo, but I find it more useful than trying to find three or four additional healing keys while I'm trying to maintain threat, DPS, and positioning. It is mostly made up of Healing Wave, with one or two Chain Heal and Riptide thrown in. The first heal is Riptide, which generates less immediate threat. Since the paladin has an Earth Shield on, Riptide can handle early mob DPS most of the time. Otherwise, I can press "5" immediately and cast a Healing Wave. Or if the early damage output is higher than expected, I can tap "6" and cast an emergency heal.

Depending on the fight, I can tweak the sequence a bit. I can use lesser heals at the start and work up toward bigger heals, or the reverse. Or insert more HoTs or Chain Heals. There is some flexibility in how I set it up, to make up for the loss of flexibility once the fight is under way.

A real tank

The group is about 60% through level 74, with one exception-- I replaced Karianne (the BM spec'ed hunter) with Bonuss, my paladin. He joined the group at Agmar's Hammer in Dragonblight. The previous group had done quests in other parts of Dragonblight, so the paladin still had not completed the quests at Agmar's Hammer. I completed those and that got the paladin to level 75, and he is now about 40% ahead of the group. That's fine, as he was able to upgrade three gear items with level 75 crafted tank gear. Once the group completes the quests that Bonuss already completed, they'll close the level gap, but in the larger scheme of things it's not a concern.

(And yes, I have slowed down some. Questing in Northrend can be a bit 'grindy', especially now that the level increases don't come as quickly. So I do not play as much in order to keep the game from becoming a chore. If a game becomes a chore, then why are you playing it?)

It took a short while to get used to the 'tank leader' group setup. With the shaman as leader and hunters in tow, it made for very quick attacking and killing. At first I was having the paladin aggro mobs for the kill, then decided that it was easier to simply let the hunter pets continue to tank normal outdoor mobs. At this point the kill rate picked up once again. The paladin tanked an undead dragon named Sarathstra for a group quest and that worked out well. In fact, he had tanked it down before with the previous group. It's a very basic test of tanking, healing, DPS, and aggro. The dragon hits relatively hard but not very fast, and has a fair amount of health (about 265,000). I was able to test my tanking, DPS, and heal macros, and this allowed for some modifications, particularly for the healing macro.

I also killed the elite owl Alystros for this quest. Alystros has around 118,000 health and hits pretty hard and fast, but as long as you control aggro it is a straightforward kill. He does have a knockback, and thus positioning and/or quick re-positioning are useful. He can also slow your attack and casting speed by 100%, but this is no real problem for the paladin. His aggro spells are all instant cast (and thus unaffected by slows) and his DPS is only a small part of his aggro generation.

Lastly, I completed the quest Do Unto Others, which requires you to kill yet another elite NPC. High General Abbendis has around 96,000 health and better DPS than Sarathstra. But now that I had my group macros in order, she was an easy kill, although I lost track of aggro and she flattened one of the hunters before I regained control (which was entirely due to my slow reaction). These are basic tank-and-spank battles, as the NPCs don't do anything aside from single-target attacks. Well, Abbendis does a point-blank AE (consecrate) that can tick quickly for moderate damage, but this wasn't a problem with a dedicated healer and three dedicated DPS.

The paladin/hunter/shaman group has a nice synergy to it. The paladin can buff the DPS with Blessing of Might (extra attack power) and the shaman with Blessing of Wisdom (extra mana regeneration). The hunters can use Misdirection (which transfers their DPS threat to the paladin for a short time) to help with aggro control. With three hunters, I can cycle through it during a fight to help the paladin build up an enormous lead in aggro. The shaman can keep Earth Shield active on the paladin, and has an array of heals for both the paladin and the group. Riptide provides an initial heal and a heal-over-time effect, and Chain Heal can be useful for healing both the paladin and the hunter pets (and with the Chain Heal glyph, I can heal all four each time). Even in relatively poor gear, she has a pretty good spell critical percentage, and has a talent that can boost her spell crit substantially for a short time.

One possible obstacle is the lack of spell DPS. The shaman is a healer, and the hunters do primarily physical damage. They can do small amounts of spell damage, as can the paladin, but it's not enough to deal with the health that dungeon bosses have. I doubt that it will be a problem, but won't know for sure until I run into a mob that requires spell damage to defeat. If I don't, well... then it isn't an obstacle. At the moment I am not running any dungeons, but I would like to do so eventually.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Questing, questing, questing...

The group is level 73 as of last night, and about 62% towards level 74. At that point they can get the quest that allows them to enter the city of Dalaran, at which point I'll make it their home city. I could do that now, since my mage is level 74 and I have a warlock in Dalaran as well. But I've simply been focused on leveling via quests and not too worried about where the group is bound (they're still bound in Warsong Hold, since it's a quick boat ride to Orgrimmar from there).

The group completed all of the outdoors quests in Borean Tundra. They also completed two of the dungeon quests for the Nexus. Neither required killing a boss mob, so I figured it would be a good way to test out the viability of the group while getting some nice quest rewards. After a bumpy start that included three wipes, I found a good groove and cleared the way to completing the quests Have They No Shame? and Quickening. I have completed all of the outdoor quests in Howling Fjord with the exception of Field Test, which appears to be bugged. Once it is fixed I'll finish those up as well. I also intend to complete the dungeon quests for Utgarde Keep.

Dungeon quests provide a bit of challenge, but the rewards are worth it. The group's experience per kill on normal outdoor mobs is around 500 rested. Their experience per kill on dungeon elites is between 4900 and 5300 rested, or better than ten times the normal rate! And the quest reward experience is twice the normal rate as well (40,000 versus 20,000). Dungeon elites are also a better test of my ability to keep up a steady DPS rate while providing the necessary heals to the tank and properly managing aggro. Dungeon bosses further require additional coordination and reaction speed, depending on what gimmicks they have.

I haven't tried a dungeon boss yet, as I wanted to have some practice with the pet tank. My current setup has the shaman as resto spec. She has Earth Shield and Riptide (which provides an instant heal and then additional healing over time). One hunter is Beast Master spec and using a bear for a pet. The bear has an ability (Swipe) that hits several nearby targets, and I gave it the talent Thunderstomp, which also aggros nearby mobs. That helps tremendously with keeping mobs attacking the bear instead of heading towards the group. And with four hunters, I always have a Misdirection to throw in as well. With talents, the pet receives something like 40% to 50% additional healing from healing spells. The hunter is geared for stamina, and the bear has almost 10,100 health at level 72. The other hunters are spec'ed and geared for DPS. One is Marksman spec (for Trueshot Aura mostly) and the other two are Survival spec. They all have wolf pets, which provide a nice DPS buff (+204 attack power).

So I have a pretty good setup provided that I can coordinate tank aggro and DPS with heals. I'm still working on it, but I've got it working well enough for three packs of elites. I make sure the bear has Earth Shield on, then the hunters cast Mend Pet just as they send the pets to attack, and one of the hunters casts Misdirection on the tank pet. There should be enough healing to keep the pet in good shape until it has sufficient aggro for additional heals. If I think aggro will be an issue anyway, I can drop four freezing traps (or two, if the survival hunters have used Black Arrow, which they usually do). It's really about settling into a rhythm when engaging mobs, in order to minimize the number of 'panic moments' that can screw up a rotation.

The trickiest part of all of this is positioning. With the shaman as the primary character, I don't really pull mobs, I just get within range and send the pets in. Precise positioning and re-positioning, which can make some mobs much easier to handle, are really not an option with the pet as a tank. For some mobs, which were near to roamers and which had to be pulled, I just used a low level Lightning Bolt and then sent the pets to attack as the mob moved into the desired position. This worked, but was not ideal. On two occasions the shaman was down to less than 30% health by the time the pet had established aggro.

The downside to dungeon-running is that it's costly. If your team dies, it's a lot of money lost to repairs. Even if they do not die, repair costs are balanced by the relative lack of money being made compared to outdoors quests. Outdoor questing is a "money keg" that doesn't run out, you keep pressing the tap and it keeps pouring out gold. The group has about 1600-1700 gold per member, as I wait for patch 3.2 or level 77 (whichever arrives first) before I purchase the flying skill and mounts for the group. Since they're in Northrend, they won't be doing any flying until level 77 anyway, and I'd much rather wait for the 150% flying mounts.

At the moment, my goal is to complete every last outdoor quest I possibly can, assuming it doesn't become boring. And then I can look into which dailies are the most efficient to run. Right now, there are two available from the Kalu'ak. One requires looting eight ground spawns per character (or 40 in total). The other requires collecting several fish and luring a seal towards another seal so they can mate. The second quest does not give group credit-- each character must complete it separately, which makes it a bad choice for a multiboxer. The collection quest is tolerable, since the baskets that you must collect are numerous, located nearby, and spawn quickly. The Kalu'ak do have some nice faction rewards, but I'm not entirely sure that they're worth it.

The other available daily is Drake Hunt, in Coldarra. You must 'spear' a drake, withstand its attacks for about 20 seconds (no trouble even without Earth Shield) and then deliver it to an NPC in the camp there. This quest does give group credit, which means that you can capture and deliver the drake with one character, and all five complete the quest, making it an ideal quest for a multiboxer. It takes very little time to complete and provides experience, gold, and improved faction with the Wyrmrest Accord. That faction provides some very nice rewards for the group, and thus I intend to do the daily quest regularly.

There could be more significant changes coming, though. The group is close to level 74, which is the level of my paladin. He did very nicely as protection spec in the instance runs that I did with my mixed group, and might be the ideal replacement for the BM hunter. This would require a big change in my setup, though. The paladin would be the main character instead of the shaman, which would mean creating a lot of healing keybinds. But it may be worth it. We'll see!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A quick detour...

The team is 69, now. They hit 68 and headed straight for Northrend, where they did the starter quests near Warsong Hold in Borean Tundra and got to level 69 pretty quickly. Most importantly, the hunters upgraded their 55 DPS bows to 76 DPS crossbows.

While I was doing the very first series of quests (which take part in the quarry surrounding Warsong Hold), there were a few moments when the spawn rate of the nerubians went through the roof. I don't know if it was because a number of players were questing there or for any other reason, but for a while it felt as if the group was being swarmed. It was getting difficult just to stop to loot mobs and quest items. But after a while it settled down and I completed my questing. I was even lucky enough to get the easy quest that starts when you loot a fragment from a mob that leads an attack on the hold.

But it occurred to me as I was killing nerubian after nerubian, that I was passing up the chance to skin them for a shot at Nerubian Chitin and Arctic Fur. There are two benefits to this. One, I try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and being able to skin these items myself is useful if I want to make gear for the group later. Second, if I have a surplus, I can auction them for extra gold. In fact, I've started up my auction alt again and in three days she's gone from having 100 gold to more than 400. And low/mid-level tradeskill items sell pretty well, which means that any efforts I make at raising my gathering skills will be profitable. The guild bank has just over 13,000 gold, a total that has hardly changed in months. I don't forsee needing to take any gold out for a while, but it would be nice to start building that total up.

I do not want to take any of the crafting tradeskills. I already have those covered with my other characters, and the redundancy would be expensive. Gathering skills cost nearly nothing (just training costs, since I still have some Gnomish Army Knives in the guild bank) and they can provide both gear and gold. I'd hate to get to Sholazar Basin, find a titanium vein, and not be able to mine it. By covering the three basic gathering skills (skinning, mining, herbalism), I'd be able to gather anything except the clouds that an engineer can extract motes from.

My plan is to have the shaman take skinning and herbalism, since she is the lead character. Mineral veins are much easier to spot with the naked eye than herbs are, so she will be able to track herbs and also skin mobs. One of the hunters will be a miner. I've spent the past two evenings slowly working herbalism and skinning on the shaman, and she is up to a skill of 129 in herbalism and 145 in skinning. I should be able to quickly level her up to 300 solo and then I can level one of the hunters up to 300 mining. At that point I can take the group to Outland and quickly level both skills to 375.

After that, I will get them to level 70, which won't take long at all, and then I want to sit back and see about optimizing the group again. I will probably re-do their talents and I plan to try a different pet setup, most likely with one tank pet and three DPS. That way I can focus heals on the tank pet (including Earth Shield) and see how it does on tougher mobs, perhaps even instanced mobs. I may also look into new keybinds and macros. But for now, it's all about gathering my way to 375.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Humming right along

The team is 65 now, and level 66 is not far off. Questing has been pretty easy, as would be expected. At level 60 I took the team to Winterspring and tamed a Frostsaber Pride Watcher for each of them. The shimmering, powder-blue animals look pretty amazing, and when they're running around as a group they're quite a sight!

Shortly after hitting 65, though, I realized that I would want to have a more robust pet for the Ring of Blood quests in Nagrand. So I dropped two of the cats and tamed two Scorpid Bonecrawlers. I also decided that it was time to mix things up a bit. The hunters that still have cats as a pet are now Marksman spec, and the ones that have a scorpid as a pet are Beastmaster spec. I made sure to have all of them spec into Aimed Shot. The end result is two pets that should tank very well, and two hunter/pet combinations that should provide good DPS. In fact, the attack power and other stats for all of the hunters went up a bit after all was said and done.

Under the prior setup, the pets were doing a very large portion of the work. They were doing anywhere from 69-73% of each hunter's total damage. This may not be typical for a solo BM hunter, but could be a result of running four hunters in tandem. I usually wait for the pets to engage a target before I start firing, and even with the relatively quick attack speed that the hunters had (around 1.80 before I redid their talents) the pets would finish a mob before the hunters got off a third shot. For my needs this has worked just fine. But we'll see how the new arrangement works. The previous one allowed me to complete the full complement of Nesingwary quests in Nagrand at level 64. This included killing three level 67 elites and one level 68 elite.

An aside- Blizzard has continued to shorten the leveling curve prior to level 71. A number of quests in Outland have had their requirements lowered. For example, the first two series of quests from the Nagrand Nesingwary camp used to require 30 kills of each type of beast, and then 30 more before you were given the quest to kill the elites. Now the totals are 12 in each series. Other quests have likewise had their requirements lowered, or their drop rates increased. This makes leveling a breeze. Find a quest hub, grab every quest that you can, complete as many as you are able to, discard any that do not seem worthwhile, and go back and collect your tons of experience.

And gold, as well! I had decided that I would putter around on the low-level ground mounts until such time as I was able to afford the faster ones, which would require approximately 600 gold from each character. By the time they were level 65 they had surpassed 630 gold, so they purchased the new riding skill and new mounts. Now, with about 30% of the level still to go, they've almost got 100 gold each. This is just from quest rewards and vendoring items. It should be noted that I'm not even selling the BoE green items that drop-- those go to the guild bank to be disenchanted.

On that note, one of the nice things about being relatively self-sufficient is that I can save money and upgrade the characters via the tradeskills and materials I have learned and gathered with my characters. For example, instead of buying four Adamantite Cleavers and paying someone to add the Greater Savagery enchant, I simply had my level 80 hunter create the bars I needed from the ore stored in the guild bank. Then my level 80 shaman created the axes and enchanted them, using the enchant materials available in the guild bank. I've also sent enough materials into the guild bank for my level 74 priest to produce five Imbued Netherweave Bags. And there is still some 12,800 gold in the bank, which might not shrink much at all in the coming future. Not only do I still have a level 73 rogue and level 74 paladin, warlock, priest, and mage who can continue to quest and build up gold-- my level 80 hunter can do daily quests for fast gold and the level 80 shaman still has an enormous amount of quests to complete as well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Outland at... 57???

Well, not exactly. When you reach level 58, you can visit the NPC outside of the Outland portal that is in the Blasted Lands. He gives you a quest to enter the portal and speak with an NPC on the other side, who sends you to the flight master, who sends you to Thrallmar to speak with yet another NPC. That NPC sends you to another NPC and then you can begin questing in earnest.

Anyway, the NPC that you speak to after you land at Thrallmar? His quest (smack dab in the middle of a chain of quests) is obtainable at 57. When the group was in the 40s, I used my level 74 mage to port them to Shattrath and my level 74 warlock to summon in the one character who shared the mage's account. So they were bound in Shattrath and I had decided to get the flight paths and some discovery experience while I was still 57. Upon reaching Thrallmar, I was surprised to see the yellow exclamation point over the NPC's head.

Long story short, you can complete that quest (for something like 4,250 exp) but when he attempts to give you the last quest in the chain, you get a message to the effect that you're not of the appropriate level. The rest of the quests in the chain can only be accepted at 58, except that when the flight master attempts to give you the quest you completed at 57, you get a message reminding you that you already completed it. Then when you arrive at Thrallmar, you simply skip that NPC and complete the quest chain.

The reason I was running around Outland at 57 was that questing in the old world had just about dried up*, and I still had most of that level to go. I had skipped the Carrion Grubbage quest in Eastern Plaguelands because I remembered that the drop rate wasn't very good. With few options, I decided to do it, and it turns out that the drop rate has been significantly improved. It was above 75% and possibly higher, and I didn't have problems finding grubs to kill. Maybe they increased the spawn rate or the number of grubs, or maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but the quest didn't take as long as I had feared. After that, I went to Winterspring and took the quest to kill Ursius (which I had abandoned previously, since I couldn't find him at the time). I completed that one and finished the chain by killing Sky-Rotam. On the way back to complete the quest, I saw that I was about 16,000 experience short, and remembered that I was getting more than 8,000 experience for desecrating the Alliance bonfires as part of the festival event. So I figured I'd do that twice more and finally get level 58. But to my pleasant surprise, the quest completion for the chain that started with Urius is just over 16,000 experience (one turn in for 11,900, then the NPC gives you a second quest to speak to him again, which granted something like 4,750).

*Bear in mind that during the level grind, I was skipping quests that required lots of grinding for quest drops. In the lower levels I did those quests with very rare exceptions, but over time I skipped them more frequently. Kill quests are perfect for a group, but collection quests can become a real grind, even though the ability to bind the "interact with object" function to a keypress has made collection quests much more tolerable.

So I was finally 58 and headed to Outland to start gearing up. I had geared the team up almost exclusively from quest drops, and that leaves you fairly lacking at level 58. The first few quests in Hellfire Peninsula provide a weapon upgrade, as well as armor upgrades for the head, chest, and leg slots. These provided a very nice boost to the team. One funny aside-- after completing that quest and upgrading the hunter's bows, I was dismayed to see how often they were missing with their shots. It couldn't be the level difference, I thought-- I'd killed mobs that were 10+ levels above me in the past. And then I happened to notice the text window on one of the hunter's screens:

Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 125
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 126
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 127
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 128
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 129

The icon for the hunter upgrade was that of a typical bow, not a crossbow. But the weapon is indeed a crossbow, and although my hunters had trained the skill, they'd never used one before. So the excessive missed shots were due to the fact that they were starting from a skill of 1. But with four of them firing away and the pets keeping the mobs busy, it was not a problem aside from taking a bit longer for stuff to die. Once their skill got into the 240s, they rarely missed anymore, and things started to move quickly again.

Anyway, once I was in Outland, the experience came much quicker, and they hit level 60 in short order. Along the way, they completed the quest to kill Blacktalon the Savage, a level 63 elite that is not a pushover for a modestly-geared team of level 58. I also completed the quest to kill Arazzius the Cruel, another 62/63 elite that is a bit tougher than Blacktalon. I completed the latter quest first, losing two pets only because I had moved my pet heal button and the pets weren't getting the periodic heals from the hunters while my shaman spammed heals on herself to deal with the spawned adds (which despawn after a certain amount of time, to my relief). The group also killed an elite 61 orc that roams around the edgeds of the road to the ramparts.

Having gotten to 60, they then completed the long series of quests that lead the player to encounter the Maghar faction. It's a ridiculously easy quest line, requiring only some running back and forth and simple interaction with quest NPCs. You do not have to kill anything to complete the quests. There are five or six steps, and each one rewards just over 10,000 experience, with the final quest also providing a piece of gear. You can then get a short series of similarly easy quests from an NPC in the Maghar grounds, which provided a new bow for the hunters and a new staff for the shaman. It's a lot of exp, a lot of gold, and two pieces of gear that you earn for mostly just running around.

Having ground out levels 50-60 with a lot of play time, I will start to scale back my time spent and work through Outland at a more leisurely pace. But I figure I'll be at level 68 and ready for Northrend before long, since the experience curve from 60-70 has been lowered by a fair amount and the experience granted from quest turn-ins has been boosted significantly. The upcoming patch (3.2) will lower the costs to increase your riding skill, as well as boosting the flying speed of the slower flying mount (from a 60% increase to a 150% increase!!!). So for now I'm still on my slow ground mounts. The patch may not arrive for some time, but that shouldn't be a problem. At 68 I will almost certainly head to Northrend, which means that flying won't be an issue until level 77, and by then the patch should be in place. Otherwise, by then the group should have enough money to upgrade to fast ground mounts and slow flying mounts from drops and quest rewards anyway...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Closer and closer

The group is humming right along, they are level 51 and about a third of the way to their next level. While it is my desire to get them to 58 as soon as I can, I admit I have not been leveling as efficiently as I can. I got wrapped up in the "Zelda tribute" quest line, which ends with a battle against a level 56 elite (who happens to hit very hard and has a knockback attack). The rewards are of very limited use to the group, but once I started the quest I decided I would finish it, which slowed my leveling pace because it requires you to run all over the place.

There are many other quests that I can still complete in Un'Goro Crater, but many of them are collection quests, and with more and more options for questing I am skipping collection quests when I can. And many of the ones in Un'Goro have poor drop rates, as well (or at least they used to, and I'm no longer interested in figuring out if that is the case or not).

I got about a level's worth of experience thanks to the special bonfire events going on in the game. You get just under 3% of a level for doing a very quick quest at the bonfire camps outside of most of your faction's quest hubs. You also get about 6% of a level if you "desecrate" the opposing faction's bonfire. This is a lot of experience for nothing more than clicking on an NPC or item and clicking "Complete." Desecrating an opposing faction's bonfire flags you for PvP if you are on a PvE server. But there seemed to be very little ganking on Eldre'Thalas. In any event, not wanting to do even more running around, I limited my 'desecrating' to the fires in Gadgetzan and Winterspring, since the Alliance bonfires were within a short distance from the Horde bonfires.

Aside from an easy way to stockpile experience, the only other effect was to leave the pets a bit farther behind than normal, since they only gain experience from kills. But it didn't take long to rectify that, and they're level 51 now as well. The scorpid was replaced by a gorilla. Now that I can use the talents that increase happiness during combat, it's a simple case of taming the pet and having him fight two or three battles, and it is at max (or near max) happiness. No need to worry about feeding them even a single time.

Anyway, while there are still plenty of quests in Un'Goro, I've already visited the Bulwark in Tirisfal Glades and grabbed the first few Plaguelands quests. There are a fair number of quests that do not require you to collect a lot of dropped items, and therefore some of the tedium from grinding can be avoided. Plus, it gets me back to doing quests that are a bit more challenging, as some of the Un'Goro quests were already green. And frankly, I have not done the Plaguelands quests all that often, and so they're actually a bit fresh.

But my goal is still to get through the next seven levels quickly and then head to Outland. The questing in Outland is more straightforward from a gear-collecting standpoint, particularly at the beginning (after which it gets somewhat muddled again, sigh). From there it's just a steady quest grind towards level 68 and Northrend, but that's a bridge for another day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I cheated again!

The team is 47 and very close to 48 and zooming right along. The title refers to the way I completed the quest line that begins when you click on a bottle of poison in a small troll camp in the Hinterlands. There is one step that requires you to click on a tablet in Zul'Farrak after killing the boss named Theka the Martyr. The final step involves summoning and defeating a level 55 elite spider in the Hinterlands.

The team was 43 at the time and I knew that the part in Zul'Farrak would probably be doable, but it would be difficult and time-consuming. And the 55 elite that you summon at the end is particularly tough even for a level 55 elite. So I decided to go with a tried-and-true formula... outrank the quest!

This would be a bit tricky, since Zul'Farrak is a 5-man zone, and my team is always full. I wanted to make sure that all five could interact with the tablet, but I also didn't want to make multiple trips if I could avoid it. Thus, some juggling was in order. First, I zoned in with the normal team. And just to be safe (although this step was probably not necessary) I killed the first three mobs in the zone with the group. Then I zoned out, dropped one of the party members, and invited my level 80 shaman. She zoned in by herself and quickly cleared a path to Theka, then killed him and ran back out. I re-invited the last group member and ran back in to loot the tablet.

Zul'Farrak has many patrols. Most are a single mob or a pair of mobs, but other groups have up to four (these groups can be a real problem, but there are none between the entrance and Theka's area). Some of the patrol paths are very long, and the patrols do respawn. The group had to deal with two patrols while running the path that the shaman had cleared just moments before. I don't know if they respawned that quickly or simply were on a very long patrol path. Both consisted of a single mob and were dispatched with ease, and I was able to continue the quest line. All that was left was to summon and defeat Shadra, the named spider.

That part was a bit simpler, as I kept the shaman near the group instead of switching her in. The group summoned the spider and initiated the attack, thus "claiming" the mob for loot purposes. The shaman took over (too slowly, as it turned out-- Shadra flattened one of the hunters in mere seconds!) and killed the mob. Then she rez'ed the dead hunter, everyone looted what they needed, and the group was on its way to fame and fortune.

Well, perhaps not fame, but fortune for sure! The quest finale has two steps to it. The first is turning in the last quest item to an NPC in Tarren Mill (who guides you through the quest line). The last step is to report to an NPC in the Undercity to inform him of your progress. Each of these steps rewards 12,250 experience (remember, this is a quest designed to be completed in the early/mid 50s) for a total of 24,500! And the hunters walked out with an updated quest reward, a very nice BP! The shaman also got a shield upgrade, though it's designed more around tanking than spell-casting. So far she rarely does anything besides stand around and soak up experience, so it's not a big deal.

Having moved past level 44, two of the hunters dropped their DPS pets and replaced them with a scorpid and a bear, both of which are tank pets. At level 44, the tank pets have access to a talent that causes their Growl ability to generate extra threat and also increase their happiness. The DPS pets have a talent that gives a chance on hit to increase their happiness and heal them. The upshot is that now the pets do not need to be fed as long as they are in combat periodically. Since I'm always questing and killing, I have not had to feed them since getting those talents.

Anyway, my recent leveling path took me through Feralas and the Hinterlands. If there is one collection quest that I will never multibox again, it is the one called Natural Materials. I tend to be selective about collection quests, since I have to collect five times as many items as a solo character. But depending on the drop rate and any associated quests, they can be manageable. For example, if you're doing most of the quests in Tarren Mill, you may as well pick up the one called Souvenirs of Death, which requires that you collect 30 skulls. For my group, this meant 150 skulls! but the skulls were a 100% drop rate and there were many other quests that required you to kill the humanoids that dropped them. I didn't require more than a handful of extra kills to get the 150 drops I needed.

But Natural Materials... ugh. The main problem was the Metallic Fragments, of which you have to loot 40-- per character. That's 200 drops total, of an item that doesn't have a 100% drop rate. But I figured that since I would be questing on the mobs that drop the quest items, it would work out.

Not quite.

The fragments drop off of hippogryphs in Feralas. And as I explained, the drop rate is less than 100%. In fact, it seemed to be somewhere in the 40%-60% range. Which means that I wound up killing something like 350-500 of the damned things. What's even dumber is that the drop rate on the other items was better, even though I required far fewer of them. Why did I put myself through that? For one thing, I had already collected the other items and felt that if I'd come that far, I would finish it (stubbornness is not always an admirable trait). But more importantly, the area where you find the hippogryphs is teeming with them. There is almost never anyone else around, and the 'gryphs respawn quickly. This means that I never had to wait on a respawn and could kill and kill and kill... and kill... and kill...

But I finally did get it done. =P

Anyway, here's to level 48, which I can get tonight. And then on towards 50, at which point I assume I'll head to the Western Plaguelands...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I cheated... >.<

...A little bit, anyway. After mowing through the Nesingwary quests in Stranglethorn Vale I finally got to the last one, which requires killing a level 43 elite tiger. My group was 34 at the time, so I was facing a nine-level deficit along with the elite status of the mob. Having dealt with a level 40 elite at level 32 without much difficulty, I decided to give it a shot. I didn't want to wait because the quest promised a good upgrade to the hunter's weapons. They would be replacing their 21.2DPS guns with 25.3DPS bows!

However, King Bangalash was not cooperating. On my first two attempts at him, I wound up getting a level 37 or 38 add right from the start. He has pretty good damage output, which meant that I had to cast heals early. This meant that the group was getting aggro early, which took away their ranged DPS. Another problem is that at 50%, two level 43 (non-elite) adds will spawn to help out. The level disparity and the confusion of having so many mobs on top of the group meant that frost traps were of limited effectiveness. The first two attempts ended in wipes. But I wanted those bows! So I brought my level 80 enhancement shaman, cleared out any wandering mobs and pounded King Bangalash and his adds into the ground, allowing the group to complete the quest and be on their merry way with a nice overall DPS boost.

Currently the group is level 36 and closing on 37. The pets consist of one cat and three hyenas, and I no longer have to worry about feeding them, since they have the pet talent that generates happiness (and health) when they are fighting. The first rank of the talent gives a 10% chance to generate 5% happiness, and it procs often enough to "keep them in the green," so to speak. They now have the second rank for good measure. Tank pets get a similar ability at level 44, and when the group gets that level I will swap out two of the hyenas for two tank pets and go back to the earlier setup.

The group still has red and orange quests to deal with, but with more and more quest areas opening up, I now have a good number of yellow (ie, level-equivalent) quests to complete. I cleared out most of the quests in Brackenwall Village in Dustwallow Marsh, and am ready to visit the relatively recently-added quest hub named Mudsprocket. There are also a number of quests waiting in the Grom'Gol Base Camp in Stranglethorn Vale that should be yellow or orange now. Those two quest hubs should be enough to get the group to level 40, at which point I can head to the Badlands/Swamp of Sorrows and start working on those quests.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bang! Bang, BANG!


PS- I'm going to add the link to my guild, in order to make it easier to inspect the characters.

The talent respec for the hunters made a noticeable difference. I've put all of their points towards strengthening the pets (for example, the first five points went to increasing the pet's stamina, instead of the talent that gives a chance to increase the hunter's attack speed). They have more health and armor, their damage and critical strike chance are increased, and their focus regeneration has been increased as well. I do have to make sure that I react quickly now, because if the hunters do not attack the mob within a few seconds of engagement, the pets will kill it before I get to do any damage to it. The group doesn't get credit for the kill if the pets do all of the damage.

An indication as to how effective the pets are, and how powerful a coordinated group of five is, at level 32 I easily completed the quest chain that ends when you kill a level 40 NPC and a level 40 Elite NPC. I will admit that the elite mob did not seem particularly tough, although it helped that he switched aggro from one pet to the other midway through the fight, and thus none of the pets ever got lower than 40% health. Still, taking out a +8 elite mob with 4,226 health (about four times the health of the mobs I typically deal with at this level) with such ease was a treat.

There is one annoying quirk that I've dealt with a few times now with escort-type quests. An example was the quest to escort two goblins and their small caravan through a short stretch of road in Desolace. All five characters interacted with the quest NPC, and all of them accepted the quest (ie, it was in their quest log and on the on-screen quest tracker). But at the end of the escort, only four of the five characters received credit for the completion! I haven't seen anything that indicates what causes it, and it seems to be random in terms of which character fails to get credit. I had to run it a second time (after a lengthy delay, since it doesn't reset quickly) in order to complete it for the last character.

The reason I decided to run it again, instead of just forgetting about it, is that the quest provided a nice upgrade to each hunter's ranged weapon. Since I run a group of five, I don't worry about gear (the group was using level 2 quest legs until their mid-20s, for example), with one exception. Since weapons provide a direct boost to DPS, I upgrade them just about any chance I get. Until now, they had all used bows, and they were using 15.9DPS bows, with the exception of one of them who was using a 19DPS bow that she'd gotten as a loot drop.

The guns are 21.2DPS, a nice upgrade all around. But since their gun skill was at 1/160, I would need to stagger their use while they all raised their skill. Initially I figured I would do it two at a time, but since I was just questing on outdoor mobs, and since the pets were now pumping out significant DPS, I went with another idea. The hunter with the 19DPS bow kept using it, while the other three used their new guns. Shortly thereafter they were at 130 skill, at which point I switched out the last hunter's bow. They're all in the 150-165 skill range now.

I can't say this definitively, but raising weapon skills seems quicker now. The hunters were getting steady skill increases (ie, an increase with each attack) until around 130-140 skill when their max was 160. And the skill increases did not slow down until they were within five points of their maximum. Maybe it always worked this way, or maybe it always worked this way at lower levels, I don't know. But it seemed a much smoother transition than I had anticipated. With Blizzard doing everything that they can to speed up the lower level grind, it wouldn't surprise me.

Speaking of which, the combination of less experience per level from 20-60, combined with the greatly increased experience that is rewarded upon quest completion, has made it so that my group has not had to grind for experience at any time. Although they've been doing mostly orange and red quests (due to skipping quests and lower exp-per-kill) they have not run out of quests that they can handle. And with more quest areas opening up in the low 30s, I'm now finding myself doing yellow (or level-appropriate) quests for the first time in a while. A level a night is pretty easy now. And I will be ready for the Dustwallow Marsh quests before I'm done with the quests in Arathi, Desolace, and Stranglethorn Vale. Not having to hunt around for quests will be a welcome change.

There are other game changes which are a big help as well. There is a new quest hub in Dustwallow Marsh, added a few patches ago. It fills a small gap in the level 35-40 range, but for my group the benefit is that there is already another quest hub in that zone. I should be able to move from one to the other and complete lots of quests (and a few levels) without a lot of travel. The addition of pet talents (also implemented some time ago) is already paying off, in that I have given the two DPS pets the talent that regenerates happiness during combat. I won't be able to provide a similar talent to the tank pets until level 44, and thus I'm thinking of finding two more DPS pets until that time. Not having to worry about feeding the pets is a minor convenience, but a convenience nonetheless. The ability to stack ammunition to 1000 instead of 200 is very convenient, as is the change to quivers/pouches. They no longer provide haste, which is instead "built into" the hunter. Previously, you needed a 10-slot quiver or pouch to hold 2000 ammo and give the hunter haste. Now all you need is two bag slots. It's awesome, especially if you find yourself switching weapon types, as will happen during the leveling process.

The group is about 3/5 of the way through level 33 and should hit level 34 shortly before I run out of quests in Desolace.