Monday, July 27, 2009

An Aside- Macros and Talent Specs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Engaging A Boss or Elite

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


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

4- tank rotation macro
7- Hammer of Wrath


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


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

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

What They Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A real tank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2009

Questing, questing, questing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A quick detour...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Humming right along

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

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

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

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

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

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