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.