Monday, December 29, 2008

Back in business? Not quite yet...

I had all but stopped playing WoW during September/October/November as we waited for the expansion. A number of guildies tried Warhammer Online, and I played it for a few weeks. The game is very well designed (IMO), but it's definitely geared towards the PvP player. A few friends are still playing it instead of WoW. The guild has leveled to 80 and is starting raid progression. I didn't start playing again until about three weeks ago, and didn't look forward to leveling up on a PvP server or getting back into raiding. So I've moved most of my remaining characters to the PvE server that my multiboxed toons are on.

I have been leveling my hunter solo, as I had no intention of multiboxing when I started playing again. He is level 77 now (Blizzard has continued to make leveling trivial, to the point where it's too fast. Gone are the days of running an instance multiple times in hopes of a particular item drop-- after one run, you're probably ready to move on to the next instance!). My shaman is 71. I haven't leveled any of the others. Well, that's not entirely true. Upon logging in my warlock, I realized that she was exactly a single experience point short of level 62 (literally! Her experience was at 316999/317000). So I quickly spec'ed her talents and sent her out to kill a single mob and she dinged 62.

In any case, the group's status is as follows:

Hunter- level 77. I will solo him to 80.
Shaman- level 71. I will solo her to 80.
(I really do enjoy both of those classes, and for the time being will just level them up solo, though I am tempted to team them up for some of the group quests that I've skipped. A BM hunter and resto shaman duo would have a tank, DPS, and healer after all.)
Priest- level 61. This one could be tricky. See explanation below.
Warlock- level 62. Would level via multiboxing.
Mage- level 61. Would level via multiboxing.
Paladin- level 61. Would level via multiboxing.

All of this assumes I'll want to multibox again. But if I thought I wasn't going to, I probably would not be making this update. :)

Assuming that I do, I would probably use the hunter and shaman to quickly level the group through Outland instances until level 70, and then see about questing in Northrend and running instances with a more conventional setup (paladin as lead character and tank). The only potential quirk is that the shaman and priest are on the same account. If I use the shaman to help power through instance runs, the priest gets left out. On the other hand, I'd rather have the shaman run Northrend instances, so it may not matter. One reason that they're on the same account is that the shaman can replace the priest as a main healer if I decided to go that route. But I would like to toy with the priest in the group as well. Perhaps I'll just use the hunter to level them through to 70. I don't know, it's a bridge that I won't have to cross for a while.

Until then, I'm working my way to 80 the old-fashioned way. And I must say that I am impressed with Blizzard's work on this expansion. The sense of scale is amazing, moreso when you traverse the zones on a flying mount. The zones are huge! The early zones are a sort of mish-mash of terrain and locations, and could have easily been made into multiple smaller zones. But zones like Zul'Drak, Icecrown, and Storm Peaks are just amazing to behold. These are lands carved out by titans, and your character just feels so incredibly small at times. It's really very cool.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Side project, or restart?

So I rolled up a new team on a PvE realm. They're all Draenai, and are level 19 as of last night. Why am I doing it, and what does this do to the first team?

1- I'm not a PvPer by nature. Some players enjoy the thrill of knowing that the opposing faction may attack at any time, and this enhances the experience for them. This isn't the case for me. I like to focus on the game's objectives and on my own casual and laid back explorations, the latter being something that I willingly gave up in order to play with my friends. But multiboxing is my own project, and I realized that I was forcing myself to avoid content (outdoor quests, particularly) in order to minimize any PvP exposure for the group. I considered transferring the current group to a PvE server, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that. I was also considering running a group with three hunters and did not look forward to leveling up two more of them on this server. The best option was to start fresh.

Starting fresh with a complete group would also allow me to level them up "legit". The first team was leveled up by grouping them with my level 70 shaman, who would clear instanced zones. All the way through to 60, the most they ever did was fire off the occasional nuke or toss the occasional heal. Then I leveled a hunter to 60 solo. I didn't really run the group as a group until they were 60 and in Hellfire Ramparts. Now I can level the team up via quests, grinding off of mobs, running instances... with no hand holding. It'll give me a better feel for developing my keybindings and working on strategies.

2- I chose a low-population Eastern Time Zone realm. I live on the east coast, and my main characters are on "west coast" servers. Before one of the recent patches (2.3?) this was not a problem, but after that patch my latency regularly hovers in the 300-450 range, where previously it was usually in the 180-250 range. Lag spikes occur more frequently now, and really big ones (where everything stops for four or five seconds and then the lag bar reads in the 5000-8000 range for the next ten minutes) also occur more often. I was hoping to find a server that wasn't crawling with players and that would provide better latency. So far my latency has been in the 140-230 range and it has held steady.

Ironically, I did have some problems with lag between the two computers I use. Sometimes when I pressed my assist macro key, the alts would not properly assist. Sometimes none of them would until I pressed it a second time. At other times, the assists would be random (ie, two characters would assist, the other two would not until I pressed the key again). But when I was playing on Sunday evening, this problem did not show up at all. If it persists, it would be a minor annoyance most of the time.

The server I chose is not crowded, and I ran across few players in the Draenai starter zones. As I level up I will see more of them. But the ones I have encountered so far have been either indifferent or friendly. No one has so much as attempted to cause me any grief, and a number of them have simply buffed my group and moved on. I am always wary of people who want to be a pain in the neck, but to date this server has had a refreshing absence of that type of player.

3- I have done most race's low-level quests several times now. I have only done the Draenai low-level quests twice to level 12 and once to level 20, and that was months ago. The Draenai starting quests are still fresh to me and it wouldn't feel like a grind to work my way through them. They're also very well designed from a gear progression standpoint. I intend to keep twinking to a minimum, and the early quests have provided a decent set of gear for them as they worked their way through.

Perhaps it is the fact that I was not really paying any mind to gear as I leveled the first group, and that I was twinking my hunter when I leveled him. But I don't recall that the Blood Elf starter areas provided as smooth a gear progression through the initial levels. And that seems strange, given that they were introduced together as part of the Burning Crusade expansion. Either way, the team responsible for the Draenai starter zones and quests did a fantastic job.


After creating the team, I moved my only high-level alliance character (a level 61 Night Elf rogue on the Hyjal server, a very crowded west coast realm) to their server. She only had around 365 gold to her name, but she also had a lot of low-level tradeskill items. Several months ago I had decided to level her again, but stopped after she was partway through level 61. During that time I decided on leveling skinning and leatherworking, but after collecting a stockpile of light and medium leather I decided to switch to mining and herbalism. Thanks to that I wound up with a number of low-level herbs, ores, and bars. She brought the whole load with her. She handed each of the team 50 gold and has been providing low-level materials for their tradeskilling.

The 50 gold will provide for their level 30 mounts and allow some breathing room. Other than that, they are on their own. I am going to have them obtain gear only through their own efforts. In other words, they will gear up via quests, NPC drops, and whatever they happen to make. I have all of the tradeskills covered save for engineering. I had started engineering on one of them, but decided to drop it. It's difficult enough to provide enough mined materials for two tradeskills (blacksmithing and jewelcrafting). Also, dropping engineering leaves one profession slot open-- if this team makes it to 70, I can learn the new profession being added in the expansion. Other than engineering, I will be leveling all of the other available tradeskills (with the exception of First Aid), with one character also leveling up fishing and cooking.

Sooo... what about the first team?

I'm not really sure. I have Hellfire Ramparts all but on farm, only needing to figure out the final boss. And I do have five characters in the 61-62 level range, modestly geared (the hunter being the only one who is well geared). I cannot say that I plan to abandon the characters, but for now I will probably leave them in limbo as I work my way through content with the new group. Replacing a warlock and mage with two hunters has both its upsides and downsides, and I guess I'll get a better idea of what those are in due time. For now I'll be working with the new group and chronicling their adventures as I go.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Two down, one to go...

My little group has killed Watchkeeper Gargolmar about seven times now, and he has dropped the hunter leggings four times. Sigh. I did get the paladin breastplate though, and that was an item I was keen on getting my hands on. Getting the paladin properly geared will help a lot going forward. In the meantime, the clears have gotten easier and quicker as I got my keybindings in order and got used to working with a diverse group. The hunter still does the most overall damage, in large part because he is doing steady DPS with auto shot while the casters require a keypress for each of their abilities. However, I'm becoming more efficient and they are catching up.

However, with the hunter having reached level 62 he has pulled ahead again, but that's fine. He is an engineer, and is able to wear Surestrike Goggles v2.0 now. He is also able to make and use Adamantite Shell Machines. Each one creates 1000 bullets that provide an additional 43 DPS, up from 26 that his Fel Iron Shells provided. Engineering is a nice profession for a hunter!

Yesterday I reached Omor the Unscarred. Omor is leashed to one spot in his area and will not move around, and in that he is ideal for a multiboxer to deal with. Among his abilities are a debuff that causes the target to AE the area around him, and thus it is best for the group to stay far apart from each other. He also summons felhounds which will drain a character's health and transfer it to Omor. Omor has other abilities, including shadowbolts and an ability where he tosses you in the air and bounces you around a few times, but those did not seem to be a major concern.

There were two problems on my first attempt, which ended in a wipe. One, I did not spread the group far enough apart. Two, I tried to kill the felhounds as they spawned. For my second attempt, I carefully spread the group far apart from each other (Omor's aggro range is very short, and this is pretty easy to do). When he summoned his felhounds, I'd make sure that the paladin had Consecration active, which would aggro them to him and keep them in one spot. This allowed me to focus DPS on Omor and focus heals on the tank. His shadowbolts were not a problem, and he only used his air-toss on the paladin. The second try was the charm and he went down, dropping a two-handed mace that is useless for my group. Oh well, there will be more attempts.

Sadly, I did not get a screenshot. I remembered that I wanted one as I was heading out of his area, and quickly ran back, but as I was positioning the team, his corpse poofed.

Next up were the team of Vazruden and his dragon steed Nazan. This is a fight that is very challenging for a multiboxer. You have very limited options on pre-fight positioning, since you need to kill two guards in order to summon him from the sky to join the fight. The guards will respawn immediately if you pull them even a short distance away (apparently this change was incorporated in order to keep players from exploiting the fight mechanic). Thus you need to fight them almost right where they stand. Second, you need to keep the whole group moving constantly, and that is a problem for a multiboxer. While you are fighting Vazruden on the ground, Nazan circles above, dropping fireballs on the group. The fireballs do direct damage when they land and additional damage-over-time. And he drops them at a pretty fast pace.

When Vazruden's health drops to 20%, Nazan lands and attacks the party. He now produces a frontal AE fire attack that does a fair amount of damage. Your tank needs to grab Nazan quickly, and the group must DPS Vazruden down fast and then turn to Nazan. All this while remaining mobile in order to avoid the fireballs and the spots on the ground that continue to burn. I tried this fight about four or five times before deciding to stop. While it's a bit frustrating, it's also a much better challenge than the first two bosses, who I have killed about 8 times total with only one wipe. Dealing with Vazruden and Nazan will help me sharpen my skills at multiboxing and hey... if it was always easy, there wouldn't be much fun in it.

At the moment the group is partway through level 61, with the exception of the hunter, who is 62. I will spend this week running the quest The Assassin for the group members. The hunter and paladin completed it already, and the others will complete it next. Not only is it a ridiculously easy quest to complete (it requires only some running back-and-forth, nothing more), with the recent experience reward changes it provides a total of around 65,000 experience (66,000 if you have not discovered Mag'har Post yet) and an item that will probably be an upgrade for my characters. I did manage to kill and loot Vazruden on one of my attempts, and thus I have the quest that requires that they loot orc blood in the Blood Furnace. But I want to remain in Ramparts until I can kill both Vazruden and Nazan. I can farm the other two bosses in the meantime, and then I'll be on my merry way to BF.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Watchkeeper Gargolmar... DOWN!

The kids and their trophy.

This zone really helped me see just how much work I have ahead of me. The trash packs were a constant problem, mostly because I was still working out keybindings for the individual characters. I may further simplify them in the future, but for now I seem to finally have a working set of about 16 keys that trigger only the abilities I want, and do not have some sort of side effect (such as causing the healer to select the wrong target... argh).

I now have a set of keys that correspond to each member of the party. Pressing that member's key will cause the priest to cast a heal and the paladin and mage to attempt to decurse that party member. I will probably change the priest's macro to cast Renew instead. This allows me to quickly shift attention to an affected member momentarily then get back to the primary task on hand.

By the time I was ready to pull Gargolmar, I had everything working and had realized that the best use for the Focus command was to set up a CC target, which I did on my mage. Watchkeeper Gargolmar has two adds, level 59 NPCs that will heal him during the fight. Thus the strategy for taking him down is to DPS down the adds first, then concentrate on killing Gargolmar. I set one of the adds as the mage's focus target, and modified her Polymorph macro accordingly, then set about pulling the group. I targeted the other add so that the group could assist me, then the paladin targeted Gargolmar and stayed on him while the group burned down the add. When that one died, I targeted the other one, assisted the paladin, and switched him back to the boss while the group took down the other add. Then I turned their full attention to the boss and finished him off. It went pretty much perfectly.

He dropped the Pauldrons of Arcane Rage, which was mildly disappointing. I was hoping to get the plate BP for the paladin first. Gearing him up is critical for me, the better he gets at taking a sustained beating, the easier it will become to run instances with him. My healer will definitely be grateful for that!

Anyway, there is a lot of practice yet to come, and two more bosses to down in this zone. I'm sure I'll continue to learn and get better as I go, with plenty of deaths to mark my progress (as it were). But all in all I'm pretty happy with the results, and am looking forward to clearing my first instance with a level-appropriate multiboxed group!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's like riding a bicycle...

...for the first time. Without training wheels. On a steep incline. With a bed of gravel at the bottom.

Well okay, it wasn't that bad. I knew I would have it rough at the start because until now, my instance groups consisted of my level 70 Kara-geared enhancement shaman plowing his way through old-world elites with the support of two healers and two DPS. Most of the time the only participation from the group was having the paladin and priest drop a coordinated heal on the shaman. Aggro was a non-issue; mobs simply didn't live long enough once the shaman had them targeted, and his high DPS and health allowed him to generate more aggro than the group could.

My original plan was to have the paladin take the lead as the tank, and have the shaman relegated to a healing role. The shaman had excellent healing gear and his level would allow him to better deal with healing aggro. But now that I had a group of only moderately well geared 60s instead, it would be a completely new experience for me. DPS would be much lower now. My tank would be facing mobs at his level range. Aggro would be a concern, and my cloth characters would not have the health to handle a beating for long. But hey, this was exactly what I was signing up for those many months ago when I started leveling these guys!

In any event, I did some scribbling on a pad to get my keybindings in order and make sure that I knew which keys to press in order to get the group doing what I wanted. I made sure I had the necessary items (reagents for buffs, ammo, pet food, etc). I entered the Hellfire Ramparts, buffed up, positioned the group, took a deep breath, and pulled the first two mobs. Oh great, I got the roaming add as well. Terrific, no one is attacking and no one is casting heals! This would be a wipe right off the bat, just as I'd feared. But somehow, the paladin held on long enough for me to get things in order and kill the three mobs. Very nice!

The first half-dozen groups went down without much fuss. The paladin only lost aggro once or twice, and when he did the mob was at low health and died before it could cause any trouble. targeting was working fine, focus fire was... enough to kill the mobs before they killed anyone in the group. The warlock's felguard and the hunter's pet both died twice, which was not a good thing. I pulled out the warlock's imp instead. I moved further along and now I saw mobs in groups of four instead of three. Here is where I hit my first snag, mostly due to having DPS too low to kill the beastmaster before he could summon adds. The group wiped.

I ran the paladin back, rezzed the group, re-buffed, and continued on my way. The groups of four and five mobs proved to be difficult, and it seemed in large part because I simply didn't have my keybindings in order, and it seems as if some of my macros were not working right and thus the mage often stood in one spot, casting nothing at all. As she is a very good source of DPS, this would lead to long fights and the priest would eventually get aggro and die, after which the group followed. After four or five such wipes I hearthed the group out and decided to prepare a bit more carefully.

I created a chart to keep track of my keybindings and simplified my macros. I am using few macros now, and will rely on key sequences (ie, first I press F1 to get one action, then F2 for the next action, etc... as opposed to using a castsequence macro and pressing F1 over and over). This will all but eliminate the possibility that an improperly-written macro will short-circuit any of the characters during a battle. I also created a simple set of heal/decurse macros, one that targets each party member and tied to the same set of keys for each character that can heal or remove debuffs. Thus, when I need to, I can press a key corresponding to a target character, and the priest will cast a heal, the mage will cast Remove Lesser Curse, and the paladin will cast Cleanse. The priest also has a separate button tied to Dispel for the paladin when he is main tanking.

With everything in much better order, I plan to try again today or next weekend. While I quit before getting to the first boss of the zone (and I was just two or three trash packs from getting there) I was also encouraged at how quickly I got through the first few packs of mobs. I didn't have to be so precise in my keybinds and macros before now, and had a level 70 as a safety net. Mistakes and sloppy play will cost me now, as will slowness in execution. But I should have it down to a science pretty quickly, and will chart my progress here, so you'll know if I have succeeded or not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the saddle

Soon, anyway. Soon.

With the paladin at level 60 and spec'ed for protection, I figured that I would try a few instance runs to see how efficient he was at powerleveling alts as compared to the enhancement shaman. Having read about multiboxed hunter groups on the Dual Box forums, I figured I'd try a group of three hunters and a druid. Why the druid? Partly for the sake of just having a druid, partly because his thorns would add to the damage that the paladin could do to a crowd of mobs. The first instance that horde characters can run is Ragefire Chasm, which requires a minimum level of eight to enter. So off I went to level my new characters to eight.

The druid was mildly interesting to level and got to eight pretty quickly. How much I liked or disliked the class was not supposed to be an issue-- he would really just be a support class for me. But I started to think that a group of four hunters might be preferable. Ah well, I could cross that bridge once I got to it. Now on to the hunters...

Leveling the hunters was a bit more fun but just as uneventful. Having gotten the third one to level eight, I was struck by the desire to get him to level ten to see what it would be like to have a pet. So I ground out the next two levels, which felt awfully tedious and slightly frustrating. The hunter is a ranged class, and until I had a pet, my attack pattern was to try and dump as much damage onto a mob as I could before it got to within melee range, and pray that I didn't get any adds. Finally, my little hunter was level ten. I did the quests and ran out and tamed my first pet.


I don't know if there is as big a change in how much fun a class is, as there is with the hunter class after you get your first pet. Teach the pet the Growl skill, and you are now free to stand back and wreak havoc on mobs while they try to whittle down your pet's health. It's no wonder this is considered the easiest class to level. It was also a whole lot of fun, because it was such a difference from the rogue and shaman that I'd leveled to 70.

So I logged in the first hunter, slogged through the tedium of levels 9 and 10, got my pet, and went about leveling her to 12. Logged in the second hunter and did the same, trying a different pet. Came back to the third hunter and about three weeks later, he is level 60. The druid? Erm... I think I deleted him.


Now that the hunter is 60, I'm going to try to multibox him with the regular crew. The paladin will remain protection spec'ed, but the priest (whom I'd spec'ed to shadow in anticipation of having the shaman provide heals) will spec holy and be the group's healer. The hunter, mage, and warlock will provide DPS. No more powerleveling with the 70 shaman! And with my limited experience with all but the hunter, the early going in Hellfire Ramparts is certain to be a painful experience at the start, but I'm sure that before long I'll have that instance cleared and be getting ready for the Blood Furnace.

Unless I decide to level those other hunters...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Ding 60!

I went back to the old world to finish up the last level-and-a-half that the group needed in order to get level 60. In doing so, I may make yet another minor change in my approach, at least for another couple of play sessions, anyway.

Last weekend I went to Scholomance, and cleared a few rooms worth of trash in order to get them to level 59, then left them in Undercity to soak up some more rested experience. I figured another Scholomance run, or some combination of Scholo and Dire Maul would get them to 60, then I could leave the old world behind and move on to better things (ie, Outland). But I was itching to give Stratholme a try. I'd been lazy until now, because the trips to Scholomance and Dire Maul are relatively short and relatively safe (as regards mobs, anyway). I figured it was time to get the flight path at Light's Hope Chapel and pay Baron Rivendare a visit. As it happens, in spite of the fact that I ran Stratholme more times than I can remember, I had not completed the quest to bring Rivendare's head to the quest NPC at Light's Hope (well, not on my shaman, my rogue had completed it long ago).

Yesterday, I rode my warlock and mage over to Light's Hope Chapel, made sure to get the flight path, then logged them out there. This morning, I flew my shaman over there, formed up the group, summoned the paladin and priest, grabbed up five quests (including one for Scholomance) and rode on over to Stratholme. I had some concerns because the groups of mobs in Stratholme are often larger than the ones I'd been dealing with in Scholomance or DM, and some of them could hit quite hard. But as it turned out, the groups of undead (usually three elites and three to five non-elites) weren't very difficult at all and I was working my way through the zone at a consistent, if typically slow, pace.

I entered via the main entrance, mostly because that would make it easier to get the group set up. The side entrance has a gate very close to the first group of mobs, which makes for an awkward initial pull, and I figured for my first attempt at multiboxing there, I'd take the more predictable route. My shaman was still enhance spec, and my plan was the usual-- let him do the bulk of the work, with the paladin and priest tossing an occasional heal and the mage and warlock contributing DPS on boss mobs. This worked out nicely, and I cleared my way through the undead in the "live" side, including Fras Siabi in order to complete the quest for the alts. While I was clearing through this area, I also killed an NPC that dropped three keys, which would open various mailboxes throughout the zone.

Working my way through the live side wasn't bad, though I did have one party wipe when a mob got to low health and ran far enough to aggro another group. Every now and then, a wipe like that reminds me not to get sloppy and pull certain areas carefully. As in many other instances that I've run, the trash has posed more of a risk than the bosses did, although I did have to work a bit harder in some cases. For instance, Balnazzar can mind control a group member during the battle against him, and that can be disastrous if the shaman is the target. So I went with a tried and true formula, keeping the group out of combat range so that Balnazzar treated it as a solo attack. This worked, but the shaman had to stop and heal himself a few times. It almost went badly right at the end. Balnazzar feared the shaman, who ran right to the group. He was casting his mind control spell just as he died.

The final victim on the live side was Cannon Master Willey. There is a slight twist to this fight. During the battle, ranged attackers will begin to spawn at a distance from the boss and shoot at the party. The party members can grab nearby cannonballs and use the cannons to kill them. I wasn't going to be able to do that effectively (if at all) with the group, and I also knew I couldn't leave the group behind, or they'd be the first thing that the ranged attackers aggro. So I left them on auto-follow as I charged in on Willey and fired a frost shock as I got within range, to keep him from aggroing the group. I circled once within the cubbyhole that Willey is in, in the hopes of shielding the group as best I could, and then went to town on Willey. He went down without too much trouble, after which I quickly grabbed a cannonball and finished the job. Live side down!

One interesting note... while clearing the live side, I killed The Unforgiven. He is a typical loot-dropping boss in the zone. After my slow clear of the live side, as I was making my way towards the "undead" side, I passed through his spawn point and to my surprise, he had re-spawned! I'm not sure if this was intended or not, most loot-dropping bosses in instanced zones will not re-spawn the way trash does. But thanks for the extra shard!

With that out of the way, I reached the undead side of Stratholme. Since I had come through the live side entrance, I would be able to pull Magistrate Barthilas first (if you enter via the side gate, he races off before you can reach him). I aggro'ed him before the rest of the group was past the gate at the end of the short tunnel we were in, and they wound up left on the other side when it suddenly slammed shut, which meant that I was on my own against Barthilas. Not a problem, a couple of self heals and he was down, and my paladin had himself a Key to the City. From there I cleared the two groups of mobs and opened the mailbox there with one of the keys I'd gotten earlier. This was the last of the three, and by now I was used to seeing three mobs spawn whenever I opened a mailbox. I was surprised, however, to see that this time, they were accompanied by Postmaster Malown! Having battled him once in the past (our groups used to skip the NPC who dropped the mailbox keys) I knew he wasn't a pushover. So I summoned my earth elemental and went to town, taking out the adds first, while making sure the elemental didn't die too soon. Normally the earth elemental can hang in there with a group of mobs for quite a while, but some bosses can really lay into him-- Malown is one of them. But he stayed alive long enough for me to take down the adds and get some DPS in on Malown, and the fight went without a hitch.

From there it was a pretty slow grind as I worked my way through the zone, killing trash, killing mini-bosses at the pyramids, and opening every crate in order to complete the Houses of the Holy quest. As with Balnazzar, I kept the group out of combat range when I killed Baroness Anastari, because part of her fight includes having a group member get mind controlled. Since I had a searing totem down, she actually did mind control me, but as soon as the totem was destroyed, I regained control of my character. The best part was that the mind control phase healed my shaman back to full!

The courtyard in front of Rivendare's room turned out to be a bit of an adventure. The initial portion, where you kill the abominations as they slowly make their way towards your group, went pretty cleanly. Once they were done, I was getting ready to AoE the group of skeletons and zombies that try to swarm the group, but as it turns out, first you need to kill Ramstein the Gorger. No problem, I figured-- the group was at full health and mana, and I had time to get set up for him.

Well, one problem... I was unaware that Ramstein will occasionally stun the tank and make a bee-line for the rest of the group. Hey, it had been a LOOOONG time since I'd run Stratholme! And I still haven't had much practice with certain things, such as remembering my macro setup for healing party members that aren't the leader. Argh. Anyway, he chewed his way through the priest and mage before I finally dropped him. And here I was, with two dead party members, and a swarm of non-elites on the way. I had no choice but to drop my fire elemental and let him handle the AoE. He did just fine, but I had intended to save him for the fight against Baron Rivendare. Sigh...

In any event, the rest went quite smoothly. After the AoE pack is down, a group of five elite undead will emerge from Rivendare's room. My earth elemental kept them busy while I whittled them down one at a time, and then I marched the group (which were 60 by this time) into the Baron's quarters. The fight with the Baron was fairly anti-climactic, I used a Holy Water (that the shaman had looted after the alts had completed the quest) and then manually set the mage and warlock to use their AoE "rain" spells for the next group, and shortly after that he went down. Since I had cleared the live side, I had the Medallion of Faith, and I used it to get the quest "Aurius' Reckoning." With this quest, I was able to complete five quests for each of the alts. The benefits of this aren't minor-- these quests provide a reward of 14,300 experience now, which meant that each character got a nice bonus of 71,500 experience shortly after getting to level 60! Since the levels from 60-70 require a lot more experience than the levels prior, it was a nice start for them.

And now they have at least one quest for Scholomance and another quest or two that they can complete in Stratholme. With the experience rewards being so nice, and with the other benefits of running those zones, I may run them a few more times before I head to Outland for good. The runs through those zones are painless (though not quick, this run took me five hours!), the enchanting materials provide some nice extra gold, and I can continue to stockpile runecloth. I'm very close to exalted with the Darkspear Trolls, and I figure it'll be nice to get one of the non-PvP raptor mounts. It may finally be time to change the group's roles in order to make the paladin the lead character, which is what he will be when I start hitting Outland instances. Easing my way into it could make the initial runs through Hellfire Ramparts less painful by far.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ding 57, 58... hello Outland!

I did some testing and went back to a tried-and-true formula in order to finish up the Scholomance farming. The elemental shaman as a level 70 tank for the mid-50s group worked pretty well, though it slowed the pace even more than normal, which is already pretty slow. It was enough to get them to level 57, though, and that was fine. Then I changed the talents for the paladin to Protection and the priest to Shadow, in the hopes of trying out the conventional setup I plan to use in Outland instances. But that didn't work, because if I limited the shaman to healing, the overall DPS was slow enough that his heals would eventually generate too much aggro. Using him to provide DPS led to the same problem, he would take aggro from the paladin, this time very quickly.

So I decided to spec my shaman back to enhancement long enough to grind out to level 58. Thanks to recent changes, the shaman is dual-wielding two Wicked Edge of the Planes. With the group at full rested experience for the entire level, it took a full clear of Scholomance and another room or two of respawns to get them to level 58. From there, I got them over to the Swamp of Sorrows and headed to the Dark Portal. There I got the starter quest that takes them through the portal and into Hellfire Peninsula. Going through that series of quests generated around 13,000 experience for them. Thanks to the recent changes which lowered the experience requirements for levels 30-to-60, they only need around 165,000 experience to get to level 59. Getting nearly 10% of a level simply for clicking on a few NPCs is pretty nice.

Having made it to Thrallmar, I took the three quests that are available there. Monday morning is Memorial Day here, and I was off from work, so I took the opportunity to get up early and see about questing with the group. To be honest, while I am leery of having the group ganked while questing outside, I am generally more concerned with horde characters. I try to keep as low a profile as I can in order to reduce the amount of interaction with gawkers and idiots. Thankfully, my experiences on Bonechewer have been pretty positive overall. As I was questing, one person rode up and watched us for a moment before moving on. The only other horde I saw out there was apparently dual-boxing as well, and we stayed out of each others' way without a word.

I completed three quests, and the group has a couple of upgrades as well as being nearly halfway through level 58. The Bonechewer Blood quest will prove to be a bit of a grind, but the upgrades will be useful for the characters and it isn't a difficult quest. The mobs you need to kill are very close to Thrallmar and they respawn quickly. Collection quests are the bane of multiboxers, since the number of items to collect is multiplied by the number of accounts. In my case, I am not trying to collect 12 Bonechewer Blood-- I'm trying to collect 48. And the drop rate seems to be about 30-40%. Ugh. Some collection quests are not so bad, such as the quest to collect metal and wood from the ground. There are lots of the items on the ground and the mobs you must kill to get to them are the ones you are killing for the blood quest. Still, it was 64 items to collect...

Other quests, such as this one, are very easy to complete. As long as one character performs the action and the others are within range, they all get credit for it. It was easy to complete and came with some nice rewards for the group. It was on the 'alliance side' of the Path of Glory, but there was only one alliance character there and she appeared to be busy gathering herbs. And of course, quests that require you to kill a specific mob or number of mobs are very easy to complete for the same reason-- each member of the group gets credit for each kill, thus there are no multiples involved. And the faster you can work through a quest, the better. Even with the group bonus and rested exp, the experience from killing non-elite mobs is not very good. But the quest reward exp is very good, and the bonus experience from quests in Outland was increased recently.

However, questing outdoors really isn't the reason that I formed the group. Running instances is what I want to do. My approach to questing with the group will be to find quests that provide rewards that are worthwhile to the group, and skipping the rest. I will probably complete most of the quests in HFP and Zangarmarsh before getting to level 70, since those quests will not provide much of a gold bonus at that point. Otherwise, I will save most of their questing for level 70, so as to reimburse the costs of leveling them this way (primarily, the costs related to their mounts, which will be around 1700 gold each by the time they have their 225 riding skill).

Other than that, I will be running instances as often as possible. I still want to try and run Stratholme with the group in its more traditional setup. But it may simply be easier to whip through the zone behind the shaman instead. With the large bonuses to experience from the early quests in HFP, they will be level 60 very soon and have the gear they need to get started in Hellfire Ramparts, the first Outland instanced zone. At that point I will switch them over to their proper roles, with the priest as Shadow spec and the shaman as a healer, even if it means that progress will be very slow. That's where the fun really begins. :)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ding 56, and a new challenge...

The group is level 56 and they are halfway to 57. I did a full Scholomance clear and that got them about half of a level, part of that being rested exp. It may be time to head to Stratholme finally, or make another attempt at Dire Maul North, perhaps a tribute run this time. 57 is a bit of a highlight for the group, as they have quite a few level 57 drops from Scholomance. There will be some upgrading done! And it will be necessary, for a change.

My guildmates asked me to join one of their arena teams as an elemental spec. I agreed to join, though my elemental gear isn't very good and my PvP skills are even less so. But if we are able to reach or maintain a 1600-1700 rating or better I will be able to get most of the season 4 gear. Otherwise I can still upgrade with mostly season 3 gear and a few season 2 items. In any event, to avoid lots of respec'ing, I figured I will try running the alts as elemental spec. This means using the shaman as more of a 'pure' tank and less as a DPS machine.

That may very well work out. The shaman has almost 11,000 hit points and around 10,400 armor in his elemental PvP setup, along with 222 resilience. Against the level 55-60 elites, this should provide a significant amount of damage reduction, and the DPS from my shocks will still be enough to hold aggro. Meanwhile, I can continue to use the group to DPS down the mobs I am tanking. When the shaman is enhance spec I didn't really push the rest of the group's DPS, so the shaman was responsible for about 89-90% of total damage. This will be an opportunity to see just how much I can push the group's DPS. It'll also be a good test for later, since my plan at 60 is to move to Outland instances and have the paladin tank them. Becoming more efficient at pushing out DPS will be important.

I will probably get a chance to try this out this weekend, but I will be busy with arenas, battlegrounds, and possibly raids. The alt group will always come in second to those activities, but I still may get them to 57 this weekend, and then I guess it'll be time to try out Stratholme...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ding 53, 54, 55 and heading north!

Dire Maul North, that is.

A quick note here: It's been a month since the last update. I'm normally pretty lazy about updating as it is, and I didn't play much WoW at all for about three weeks. Partly burnout, partly finding other things to keep me busy, partly boredom, partly... whatever else. I very rarely grind my way through MMORPGs, so whenever I feel bored or that the game is becoming a chore, I just stop for a while. Anyway...

I got to 53 and 54 mostly in Scholomance, at which point I was able to take two quests for Dire Maul East. One required me to kill the imp that is near the entrance to DM East, the other required me to kill Lethtendris, one of the easiest level 55+ bosses to kill. Completing this left the alts within shouting distance of level 55, and at this point I decided I'd give DM North a try.

As expected, the going was a bit rough. DM North has groups of four elite mobs in some areas, and they hit hard enough to kill my alts very quickly. They also hit hard enough that they can drop my shaman's health dangerously low if I hold off on heals in order to avoid aggro. In places like Scholomance, I'm usually facing groups of up to three mobs, and their combined DPS is not enough to require a heal before I kill all but one. Once I'm on the last one, my own DPS guarantees that I'll hold aggro and the priest and paladin may heal me without concern. This was not going to work in DM North, and an early wipe was followed by the deaths of the priest and mage on separate occasions. A bit more work and adaptation was called for.

First up- Blessing of Salvation. I usually just buffed the group with Kings, but the buff didn't matter until now because the group didn't take much part in the fights, aside from an occasional heal. But with aggro becoming an issue, every bit would help. The shaman got Kings as per normal, and everyone else got a 30% aggro reduction. Next up, crowd control...

I reached the area that has many groups with warriors who do relatively high DPS, and warlocks with their pets (reddish winged demons). The pets are non-elites. The groups will have some combination of warriors and warlocks/pets. One warrior and one warlock, two warriors, two warlocks, etc. The warriors charge in and attack, the pets do as well, while the warlocks will cast from a distance (including a targeted AE fire spell). Upon reaching the first group (a warrior, warlock, and pet) I targeted the warlock and had the mage select it as her target. Then I targeted the warlock's pet and had my warlock select it as her target. I bound the mage's sheep and the warlock's banish spells to a single key, and started the pull.

This worked out pretty well. I was able to clear through the zone all the way up to Captain Kromcrush with little effort, even though the crowd control did not always stick, since the elites were usually level 57-to-59 and the pets were level 58-60 and my mage/warlock were level 55 by this time, having hit their new levels earlier in the run. But it worked often enough to make the groups quite manageable. Without the crowd control the trip would've been much more painful. As it was, judicious use of my shaman's earth and fire elementals saved the group on a couple of occasions.

Kromcrush himself was not too bad. I had only ever fought him once prior to this trip (we normally did the tribute run with the ogre suit) and all I remembered was that he could hit pretty hard. So when his health dropped to 75% and two ogre warriors came running out of nowhere, it was a bit of a shock, to say the least! My shaman died shortly after Kromcrush did, so I used an ankh and whittled the two reavers down while my paladin furiously cast heals. My priest was unable to do so, seeing as she had been flattened by the reavers shortly after I died. Annoyingly, the end result of this fight was a Mugger's Belt. Oh well, better luck next time.

After this it was just a relatively short clear and then I'd have to deal with King Gordoth and his lackey Cho'Rush the Observer. One mistake I made was having my timing wrong when attempting to AE a pack of dogs. Unlike the bugs and scorpions in other parts of the zone, these mobs require a lot more damage to kill (approximately 3,600 versus 1,000). They chewed their way through my mage, warlock, and paladin before I managed to finish them off. After that I was much more cautious and the path to the King was clear.

King Gordoth was not as tough as I'd feared. I couldn't use my old standby of keeping the group out of combat range, since I would want their DPS and need their heals. Using my earth elemental to keep Cho'Rush busy for a few seconds, I started beating on Gordoth. He did not do his knockback effect on me, or perhaps I resisted it. He did charge one of the group members, but I got his attention back on the shaman quickly. Once the earth elemental was down, Cho'Rush began casting fire spells at my healers, but I just healed them with the shaman to balance out aggro. Gordoth went down without much problem, and I was preparing to target and attack Cho'Rush, when he suddenly de-aggroed, ran off, and sat down.

I had forgotten that if you kill the King, Cho'Rush will proclaim you the new king of the ogres and become quite cooperative. At this point another ogre appears, and when you speak with him he gives you the buff that turns the rest of the zone friendly and summons the tribute chest. Since we had slaughtered our way through the zone, there were no extra goodies inside. I may try a tribute run in the future, but since the goal of these trips is mostly experience, it really doesn't matter. I do plan to hit DM North at least once more. And I may wait for level 57 or 58 before venturing into Stratholme, as it would be nice to have fewer resists and better survivability when I head there, with it's large groups of elites and non-elites.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ding 52 and... oh, my!

The team hit levels 51 and 52 this weekend. I ran two full Scholomance clears sandwiched around a clear of Dire Maul east. I managed to FRAPS the fight against Zevrim Thornhoof and will try to have a video available at some point**. The second attempt was actually funnier than the first one, because for some reason the searing totem was not destroyed this time, and continued blazing away at Zevrim from the sacrificial altar!

The highlight of the second Scholomance trip was easily the final boss kill. I had actually considered not bothering to clear the final room because the team had already hit level 52, was out of rested experience, and I wasn't particularly interested in killing the last eight bosses. But I figured it would be a shot at loot for the team, so I went ahead with it. By the way, you know those set pieces that drop only in Scholomance? There are five piece sets with set bonuses for most classes in there, and for their time they were a very nice alternative to the "tier zero" dungeon blues. Most of the mini-bosses in Gandling's area can drop a piece.

Today I finally got a piece to drop. My warlock was the winner of a Necropile Robe. With what appears to be a very low drop rate on the pieces, I'm not holding my breath for any more. The set bonuses for the Necropile gear are a bit odd, as well. +5 defense rating on a cloth set?* Oh well. But that wasn't the highlight. After dutifully clearing the mini-bosses, Gandling spawned. I ran out to him and killed him with little trouble. My mage was teleported into a room with two level 60 mobs in it, but they were stationed out of aggro range, so when Gandling died I simply had the warlock summon her out, and then turned to the corpse to check for loot.

Darkmaster Gandling dropped the Headmaster's Charge!

So my warlock walked out of Scholomance with a new chest piece AND a new epic staff. I honestly hadn't even considered the possibility of getting any of the rare epic drops, since they drop so infrequently, even after the changes that increased the drop rate. The truth is that I'll probably have replaced it by the time she is level 60 and I am ready to run instances in earnest, but it was a treat nonetheless.

My long term plans (which, as ever, are subject to change) are to get them to 58 via old world instances, then get them to Hellfire Peninsula and have them do the early quests for the gear upgrades. Then I will finish up their leveling to 60 in the old world, possibly trying out the setup that I plan to use in Outland, with the paladin as the primary character and the shaman providing healing and DPS support. Then again, the shaman will probably have his 103 DPS "store bought" weapons by that time, and it would probably be a lot faster to simply have him DPS stuff with the rest of the group in support. But I've got to learn the new setup at some point...

In any event, after they get some gear from the initial Outland quests, I will spend the rest of the time leveling them in Outland instances until they are level 70. At this point, I'll go back and complete outdoors quests with them so that they can start to accumulate the gold that they will need in order to purchase their epic land mounts and their normal flying mounts. While my rogue and shaman have generated enough gold to handle that, I'd rather let the group remain self-sufficient (actually, this setup has been quite profitable).

Eight levels to go, and then the fun really starts...

*footnote-- I should point out that the two-piece bonus is the same for all of the sets (as is the four-piece bonus, +15 to all resists), but that still doesn't make sense. If the three-piece and five-piece bonuses are tailored to the armor type, why not the two-piece bonus? +15 to all resists is somewhat universal, but +5 to defense is useless for any class that isn't tanking mobs most of the time. Ah well, it's mid-50s armor. *shrug*

**Additional footnote-- you can see the Zevrim kill video here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ding 50!

With the group so close to 49 I decided that it was time to leap that hurdle and get 50 as well. Earlier in the week I soloed the key to Dire Maul so that I could enter the zone through the side entrance that is very close to Camp Mojache in Feralas. I did a run through Dire Maul East, and it went well (no deaths!). One very funny thing occurred when I engaged Zevrim Thornhoof. One of the things he does when you battle him is to "sacrifice" a random member of your party. The person chosen is teleported onto a small altar in his area, and is rendered immobile while a DoT drains his/her health. In order to deal with this I used a tried-and-true tactic-- I kept the group out of combat range so that he treated me as the only target. This worked, with a twist... when the time came to select a target for his sacrifice, he chose my Searing Totem! The totem was actually teleported onto the altar and destroyed by the first tick of the DoT. The next time I kill him I'll remember to FRAPS it, it was a really funny moment.

The run through Dire Maul got them to 49 and several blocks towards 50. So I went back to Scholomance, where I still intend to do a good amount of experience grinding. There I got them enough experience to ding 50, and then decided to call it a day. I got them their new spells and abilities and left them in Undercity, where they can soak up more rested experience.

I re-did their talents as well, trying to keep in mind their roles in a multi-boxed group. For the time being, I have the paladin and priest spec'ed Holy, allowing them to provide excellent heals as needed. The mage and warlock are spec'ed mostly for damage and group support, or at least what I consider to be those roles. Because I am just leveling them and not actually playing them, there is still very little that I understand about how their classes work. But I've got a crash course coming once they are level 60.

In the meantime, I've learned that I can't dawdle when I am running Scholomance. On the one hand, I have to be careful when I am clearing rooms with large concentrations of mobs, as that can lead to one or more deaths. But I can't go through at my normal pace, which is very lazy and leisurely, as some areas respawn very quickly (Jandice's room, for one). Well, maybe they don't spawn all that quickly, but when I last ran it I was going very slowly and the room respawned shortly after the group hit 50, and I decided that it wasn't worth it to go through another tedious clearing. Ah well, I will clear the place a good half dozen times (at the least!) before I'm done with it...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nothing is as constant as change...

...particularly where the plans for my little group are concerned.

After reading about bringing low-level characters to zones such as Stratholme and Scholomance for power-leveling, I wondered if my group would benefit from this. The minimum level to enter these zones is 45, and my group was almost 47. I decided that I would give Scholomance a shot. But first I wanted to complete a couple of quests in the zones that I'd been leveling in. So off I went to Uldaman, where I made it to the room where you get the quest The Platinum Discs. Unfortunately, they were about 5,000 experience points short of the level required to start the quest, so I had to run them back to areas that we had skipped, in order to find mobs that would provide the experience they needed. With that out of the way, they completed the quest line and wound up about 15-20% into the level.

Then I returned to the Sunken Temple and cleared it, which provided the group with their next level (48). This allowed them to use their Essence of Eranikus to initiate and complete the quest bearing the same name. I got them their next set of abilities and logged them out in Undercity to soak up rested experience overnight.

Saturday morning I rode the group through the Western Plaguelands and into Scholomance. Having soloed a small portion of the zone before, I knew that I would be able to handle the trash, as well as Rattlegore. I didn't know how well I'd handle the rest of the zone, but I assumed that I could clear it, especially with the group there to provide heals if needed. During the early clear, I had both the paladin and priest's best heals on separate keys. Binding them to the same key provided me with synchronized heals in the 2200-2500 range, non-crit. Not only is this a significant amount of healing in this context, but splitting it between two characters allows me to keep aggro pretty low (although that is not as issue as yet). I may spec the paladin to holy until I start Outlands instances, though I will keep enough points in protection to keep Blessing of Kings available.

There was a near wipe as I cleared the first large room, when the warlock's pet was feared away by a mob. The pet aggro'ed two additional groups, which I managed to kill without any deaths in the group. Then a sloppy pull on my part brought the Blood Steward of Kirtonos along with two groups. I killed all of those without losing anyone, but I started being more cautious about pulls. With the level of my group and the propensity for some mobs to run at low health, I knew it would be a matter of time before a wipe. Until now, there was little danger of my group members dying from mob aggro, but that had changed.

With that settled, I cleared the early bosses with no incident. I used an old trick with Jandice Barov-- I kept the group far enough away to avoid aggro, but close enough to get credit for the kill. I ran into a couple of problems in the final room (where most of the bosses are) because I'd forgotten how the trash pulls worked. There is one room where you will get six or seven slow-moving mobs on a pull. These mobs constantly do a small AE as well as melee damage, and trying to stand in one spot and tank them all down was a bad idea-- this ended with a wipe. Lesson learned-- kite that group! I pulled the group again and ran back and forth along the hallway, jousting and nuking them as I ran through the group, then healing myself once I had gained sufficient distance. That worked fine.

After clearing the upper rooms, I started on the trash in the lower rooms. Assuming that the trash for those rooms was like most trash in the instance, I pulled three mobs from the room where The Ravenian is. Bad idea! Designed to be single-pulled, they hit moderately hard but very fast. I was forced to cast an emergency heal with my healers, which caused the mobs to kill them very quickly, after which they wiped the rest of the group. Casting a heal through the constant pushback was pretty much impossible. Lesson learned-- Pull those trash mobs carefully! I made sure to pull them one at a time after that, and things went smoothly again.

Both The Ravenian and Lady Illucia Barov went down without a hitch. As with Jandice, I kept the group far enough away so that they would not be a factor in the fight, but close enough to get credit. I decided I would take no chances with Lord Alexei Barov, and used my shaman's earth elemental pet to tank his group while I DPSed them down. The pet held aggro the whole time and required only one heal (and it's possible he would have survived even without it). I actually killed Illucia last, because she was in a large room. I could bring the group into the room without aggroing her. After she died, I had time to get my group coordinated before engaging the final boss of the zone, Darkmaster Gandling. He appears in the central room in that area after the three lower bosses are defeated.

Gandling presented a potential dilemma-- the group would probably not be far enough out of range to avoid entering combat, and Gandling has a habit of teleporting random party members into one of the surrounding rooms. When he does this, the door to the room closes, and a single level 60 non-elite mob is spawned. The player that is teleported into the room must quickly kill the mob in order to open the door and rejoin the fight. If any of my group beside the shaman were teleported into a room, they'd almost certainly die at the hands of a mob 12 levels higher. If my shaman was teleported, I'd lose one or more group members before I got out of the room. I figured that I'd probably get the kill pretty easily, but the group members would all die. Ah well, nothing I could do about that! So I buffed up and charged in...

Gandling went down as easily as I anticipated. It seems that most of his damage is spell-based, and I resisted nearly every spell. His melee is very weak, which is understandable considering the way the event is designed. If he hit like a "real" boss, he'd be nearly impossible for a standard level 60 group to take down. He only attempted to teleport a group member once, and for some reason it didn't work. I don't know if he tried to cast on me and had it resisted, or if he tried to cast on another party member and it failed somehow. He died shortly after the teleport would have been cast, but I don't know if that was it. The door to one of the rooms did close, and a level 60 mob was spawned inside, but no one was teleported in. Oh well, no complaints there! The group survived, the paladin and mage got some gear (that they cannot use for 6-8 more levels!), the paladin got his skinning to 320, and the priest had enough runecloth for almost 50 bolts of cloth. They also got to friendly with the Argent Dawn, for what it's worth.

So it looks like Scholomance will be a viable leveling area for them for some time. Good experience (they're at a ceiling now, 556 per mob, rested), good drops (lots of greater eternal essences and some large brilliant shards), and decent amounts of coin (especially on trips where I don't wipe the group!). I will also try Dire Maul before long, as a change of pace. Stratholme should also be an option, but getting a group of level 48/49 characters to the entrances might be more trouble than it's worth, due to mob aggro. But I'll be there before long anyway!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Slow going...

The team is level 46 at the moment, and three bubbles from level 47. The guild I am in has grown a bit and there is more to do with my main character with other people, and since that is what I prefer to do with my play time, it has left little time available to level the alts. This is not a bad situation, but it does mean that leveling will slow down quite a bit from here on out. I'm looking at a level per week or so, though two levels per weekend are possible under the right circumstances.

Playing them once a week means that they'll almost always be earning experience at the rested rate. After getting them to level 45 by running Uldaman a half-dozen times, I led the group to the Swamp of Sorrows and had them set their hearth at the inn there. Later, a guildmate provided them with a portal to Shattrath City and they set their hearth to the Scryer inn. My shaman is Aldor-aligned, but for now the factions don't matter, and the Scryer terrace is much closer to the ground than the Aldor terrace, which means fewer deaths if I happen to miss the elevator. This is a distinct possibility, because running four instances of WoW on one computer works just fine... until I am in Shattrath City. Then my characters lag pretty badly at times while moving through the city. But for normal zones, other cities, and instances, everything works just fine.


The Temple of Atal'Hakkar (aka The Sunken Temple, hereafter ST) sits in the center of the Swamp of Sorrows. It is a fairly large and somewhat complex dungeon, with what amounts to three separate wings within the same instanced area. There is one level where you can activate some statues in order to spawn a boss below. There is another area where you must defeat six mini-bosses, which allows access to another room below and the boss that is inside. Finally, there is an area crawling with dragonkin and their bigger brothers and sisters. Most mobs are level 48-50. One boss, the Avatar of Hakkar, can only be summoned after following a quest line. As much as I'd like to do that, it's not really an efficient use of my time, especially now.

Getting to level 46 did not take long, as the group was about 40% of the way there already. I cleared the two circular hallways, allowing me to summon the first boss and unlock access to the second. The group hit level 46 while I was clearing some of the early dragonkin packs, and at that point I called it a day, having killed only the first boss.

A week later I returned, ready to see if I could clear the zone. This is a matter of time, as my shaman can kill anything in there with little fuss. But I tend to take my time as I work my way through the zone, carefully looting and managing drops, etc. To make a long story short, I cleared the zone and got the group from around 2% of level 46 to 85%. It was all rested experience-- a full clear won't be worth a whole level to them. But it would've been easy enough to reset the instance and go again until they'd gotten level 47, or simply kill the trash that had respawned. Trash mobs in ST respawn pretty fast. I'll try to get levels 47 and 48 next weekend.

The first boss (Atal'alarion) is a pretty straightforward fight. The only thing to keep an eye out for is his ability to knock you very high into the air. I took about 50% of my health in damage when I finally landed. He still died pretty fast. Jammal'an the Prophet was a concern for me, because he can mind-control players in the group. If he managed to successfully mind-control my shaman, I'd wind up tearing the group to pieces. So I worked on keeping the group far enough away to avoid aggroing any mobs, but still close enough to soak up experience. This worked just fine, and the boss died just as he was about to try to mind-control me. His partner in crime was practically a footnote.

After that, I carved my way through the four lesser dragons that fly around in pairs once you have killed Jammal'an and his buddy. Those were pretty trivial, even though I clumsily pulled the first pair by having them aggro the group as I was running around. But no one died and finally I was faced with the final boss, the Shade of Eranikus.

The Shade was a concern because of his ability to sleep his current aggro target, effectively removing them from the fight for a short duration. Having him sleep my shaman and turn on the group could be a disaster. Again, I parked the group far enough so that the boss treated this as a solo attempt for aggro purposes, but close enough for them to get credit for the kill. I summoned my fire pet just in case, and went to town. I don't know if he attempted to sleep me or not, but after a few seconds he was dead.

My current short term plans are: Get the group to level 48. This will allow me to complete the quests in the final room in Uldaman (the ones with the discs, which requires level 47 to access) as well as the quest using the Essence of Eranikus. This should provide a considerable chunk of extra experience for the group. I will also look for any other quests that I can complete there. I do need to turn in a side quest in the Hinterlands as well, which may open up further quests for ST. I will then run ST and Zul'Farrak until at least level 50, and perhaps through to level 52 before I head on towards Blackrock Depths. I expect BRD to be their home until level 55 or 56, at which point I'll hit Stratholme and Scholomance and perhaps Dire Maul. Getting them to the mid-50s is the big short-term goal, since it opens up so much variety for me.

In the meantime I'd like to continue to level their tradeskills when I am able to. My shaman is a blacksmith and enchanter, and my other level 70 character (a rogue) is my gatherer-- he is max'ed in mining and herbalism. So the idea is to get the alts to cover for any tradeskills that I'd like to have. Engineering is out, since I plan to put any efforts at mining into jewelcrafting. My warlock is currently only at 101/150 in JC. The priest is at 260/300 in tailoring, and will continue to level it as I move on to mobs that drop runecloth. Bonuss, the paladin, is at 312/375 in skinning (this is the reason that I wanted the portal to Shattrath City for the group). He should get pretty far just from continuing to skin the endless supply of dragons and dragonkin in ST. I have a large amount of both low/mid-level leather and herbs, and just need to decide who will learn leatherworking and who will learn alchemy.

It's almost frustrating that things are getting so busy now, because I'm getting close to a really exciting and fun period for the group. But it's one of those problems that anyone would want to have, and it's nice to have as many options for grouping with friends as I do these days.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ding 40, time for some horsies!

And hawkstriders as well!

As ever, the plans I (loosely) made for the group underwent some changes. Once they got to level 37 I picked up the quest to kill the final boss in Razorfen Downs and completed that, and then got them to level 38 shortly thereafter. So I decided early one morning to get them a few flight paths that I had not gotten yet. An hour or so later, with only two gankings to slow them down, the group had flight paths for Tarren Mill in Hillsbrad Foothills, Hammerfall in Arathi Highlands, Gadgetzan in Tanaris, and most importantly for the moment... Kargath in the Badlands. I cleared Uldaman for them, then picked up some of the quests and completed them over this past weekend. Along with a few additional clears, this was enough to get them to level 40 and allow them to purchase their mounts.

The next part of the plan will go into effect sometime this week, with a trip to the Swamp of Sorrows to pick up the flight path at Stonard. In the meantime, I expect I will take a few trips through Zul'Farrak and see how far that gets the group. Zul'Farrak and the Temple of Atal'Hakkar should get the group through levels 40-50. I will also need to remember to do the handful of quests for the outside area in the Hinterlands, which provides a nice quest reward or two, including a cloak with spell damage and healing. I run the group at limited times now (early on weekends mostly) to avoid gankers slowing things down. There are additional benefits to the limited schedule- they usually have 50-75% rested experience (or more) now, and it doesn't feel like such a grind. Clearing instances repeatedly gets pretty boring, even though it's relatively quick. There's just no challenge at the moment.

Once they get to a level where I need to get them actively involved, it'll slow things down but the challenge will add to the fun. The next patch (version 2.4.0) will apparently increase the experience gained from all quests in Outland zones. When the time comes to level up in those zones, there will be bonus experience waiting for them. This is a very very good thing! My plan is to take the group to Outland at level 58, do the early quests for some nice gear upgrades, then head back to Scholomance/Stratholme/Dire Maul to level to 60. At 60 I'll run Outland instances exclusively, and between the experience gains from instances and the added experience from quest rewards, the road to level 70 should be relatively short. This also means that I'll have lots and lots of outdoors questing to do once they hit 70, which means more gold.

Which is a good thing, since the cost of land and flying mounts will be borne by my shaman until then. Ouch...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

35, and a peek down the road.

Yes, the group is level 35 now, which means they've earned 10 levels in approximately two weeks. If that pace seems slow, it is. I normally play them every few days, allowing them to accumulate 30-50% rested experience. Levels 33, 34, and 35 were gained over the weekend. Having come close to level 33 entering the weekend, I ran the group through Razorfen Downs. Once they had level 33 under their collective belts, I got the quest to kill the four bosses in the Scarlet Monastery, a quest which provided them with 7200 experience as a reward. Prior to the recent patch that increased quest reward experience while reducing leveling experience amounts, quests in this range typically gave 2500-4000 experience as a reward. Many quests at level 60 used to provide 5000-6500. I will need to keep instance quests in mind as I level the group.

A friend told the guild about his attempts at soloing Scholomance with his level 70 mage. He was able to kill all of the bosses he attempted (which was all of them save for Jandice Barov). This led me to thinking. From the start, I had assumed that I could solo through the pre-40 instances without any problem, and that I'd want to have the rest of the group participate once I reached zones such as Uldaman and Zul'Farrak. But I decided I'd give Scholomance a shot just for the sake of it. There were other considerations, as well. My shaman is an enchanter, and Large Brilliant Shards are a nice way to make (or spend!) gold. To make a long story short, my shaman had no problem clearing to Rattlegore, and the boss went down on a second attempt very easily.

Therefore, it's possible that I will not have to get the group involved at all until the level 58-60 dungeons (Stratholme, Scholomance, Dire Maul), and even then they will only be required to a limited degree. I would mostly need the heals from the paladin and priest, since my DPS is high enough to down the level 61+ bosses pretty quickly. Many of them have around 30,000 hit points and won't be able to do enough damage to me to make me concerned, what with two healers behind me to split the aggro.

In any event, they are level 35. My plan is to run the Scarlet Monastery (with the exception of the graveyard, which is lower level and populated primarily by non-elites) and Razorfen Downs until the group is level 40. At this point I will get them mounts, and run them to a number of flight paths, including the ones at Tanaris, the Badlands, and the Swamp of Sorrows. Being on a PvP server, getting to those flight paths can be a painful experience (well, the latter two anyway, Tanaris won't be bad). The faster I can get to them, the better.

Once there, I will have Uldaman, Zul'Farrak, and the Temple of Atal'Hakkar (ie, the Sunken Temple) within easy reach. I will look for any related quests, and start clearing a path through those zones. I am actually eager to head to Uldaman; my past experiences there as I was leveling up weren't all that pleasant (with server instability at the time being a major culprit) and so I was only able to reach the final boss two times, perhaps three. The Sunken Temple may present some interesting challenges. Having my level 70 shaman get mind-controlled could be very very bad for the rest of the group...

Monday, January 14, 2008


I had decided on my leveling path when I saw a forum post (on the WoW General Forum) about a paladin who had been power-leveled by a friend. As I had not really done any long range planning, it hadn't occurred to me to do anything aside from take their leveling path at face value. So I dutifully slogged my way through Razorfen Kraul from levels 20-24 and intended to get to 25 there before moving on to the Scarlet Monastery. Then I happened to do a quick check and realized that you can zone into SM at level 20! This changes things...

Mind you, RFK is not a bad instance to grind out with my small group, but the Scarlet Monastery provides a change of pace and a nice dash of variety. It has four separate wings, and each one is short and linear. And since the group can zone into all of the wings, the experience is excellent. The graveyard is the poorest in this regard since many of the mobs are non-elite. But it's also a very short and very quick clear. The relatively poor exp, small selection of useful loot drops and fast respawn on trash makes it likely that I will not spend much time in there. But there are three other wings.

A full clear of the four wings and a second run through the library got the team to level 25 and about 30% shy of level 26. I will run SM a few more times and then give Razorfen Downs a shot just to mix things up, and perhaps even run Blackfathom Deeps once or twice. BFD is in contested territory and the instance portal is inside a winding and confusing series of tunnels, so I am not sure it's worth the potential headaches just for a quick run or two. RFD may give me the opportunity to experiment with involving the whole group in the fights. But I get the feeling that I won't really have anything to worry about until the group is in the low 50s.

I will try to remember to get some screenshots of the team. I would also FRAPS a movie or two but I think I'll wait until I can get the entire team involved before doing that. Otherwise it's just a video of a level 70 enhance shaman plowing through instanced zones that are 30-40 levels lower than he is.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A new instance, the same old plan.

The crew is level 21 now. Once they got to level 20 I left SFK and WC behind and zoned into Razorfen Kraul, a large and relatively linear instance with small groups of mobs and a handful of bosses. My shaman can still tear through the zone quickly and safely, and I expect this to be the case for a while. The downside to this is that my characters do not get to increase their weapon or defense skills, but this is mostly a concern for the paladin. Once we get to the point where I will have him tanking, I'll probably need to spend some time getting his skills raised to a point where they're useful. But that is still a ways off.

One nice thing with a group this diverse is the various means of debuff removal and crowd-control available. The shaman, paladin, and priest can remove poison and disease. The priest can remove magic effects. The mage can remove curses. And between the priest, mage, and warlock, I can crowd control beasts, humanoids, demons, elementals, and undead.

Point-blank AE abilities will probably be of limited use, and targeted AEs even less so, since I have to go to each window individually with the mouse. I'm still working on macros and am a long way from having a finalized and effective set of them. The hope is to be able to bind each classes' macros to a specific set of keys that allow some synergy. The ideal setup will allow the group to focus DPS on each target in turn, while the paladin keeps the mobs occupied and the healers provide enough healing to keep aggro manageable.

Another area where I will have to learn as I go is talent points. Talent specs that work for a solo character, or for a character in a group/raid, may not be as useful for a class that is being run as part of a multi-box setup. And since they're not really doing anything but standing still and soaking up experience, the expenditure of talent points right now isn't guided by anything aside from what I think may be useful in the future. My paladin has his points in the Protection tree, since I intend for him to serve as the group's tank in the future. Plus for now, the Blessing of Kings buff is very useful for the shaman. The others have points invested primarily in trees that promote DPS, with a focus on any talents that allow their spells to stun a target (to make up for the limited mobility of the group and make it easier for the tank to reacquire mobs that switch targets due to aggro changes). I figure that once they get to 50 or 60 I'll have a better idea of how to spec them for my particular needs.

Getting to level 25 in RFK looks as if it will require six or seven runs...