Transferably applicable knowledge

A long time ago, when I was just getting into raiding in LotRO, I remember excitedly telling a friend about all those exciting raid boss mechanics I was encountering and learning. My friend, who, not at all coincidentally, was the person who initially convinced me to try LotRO and MMORPGs in general, but never “seriously” got into the whole end-game thing himself, asked me a question. It was a hard question I had trouble answering at the time. Now I know how troublesome and central that question actually is in musings on all things MMORPG. What he asked me – and I am not quoting verbatim – was this:

When you raid, when you learn how to defeat a raid boss and get better at defeating that raid boss, do you actually acquire transferable knowledge? Do you learn how to play the game better? Or do you only learn how to raid better? Or do you only learn how to beat this particular encounter better?

I felt it was an important question, and I felt that yes, raiding experience makes me a better player overall, but it was very hard to empirically back up that feeling. Certainly, having to run away when Barz would yell “I’ll gnaw your bones!” as well as not to run away when he’d yell “No power is stronger than Barz!” instead, taught you to pay attention to events and to react to them appropriately. The lever rooms during the Balrog encounter would teach you how to kite, Mordirith would give you a very unforgiving lesson on positioning, phase 3 on Thrang would give you the ultimate “deal damage on the move” experience. Bunch up for mobs with random aggro, spread out for mobs with AoE attacks, don’t stand in cleave or swipe, focus fire by following a kill order or the main assist target, all that and many more.

The thing is that with LotRO’s end-game being rather small and isolated, while you had the feeling that you were learning somehow generic skills, practically many of them just did not find themselves applied to many other cases. Yes, you’d keep your back to the wall when fighting something with an affinity for kickbacks, but, frankly, that was something you’d learn from fighting simple cave trolls already (and you’d apply it mostly to cave trolls as well). When you’d be in a group you may have looked for opportunities to crowd control and focus fire, and that was it, for the most part. I would still say that raiding, even back then, made me a better player, improving my situational awareness, ability to recognise encounter patterns, understanding of group synergy, and simply teaching me to better use the right ability at the right time as well as remembering the less frequently used abilities. But it was hard to practically explain, and even harder to make a case that it would actually matter anywhere outside of raids, for it mostly didn’t.

If my friend has asked his question to Tobold, he most certainly would have gotten a negative answer regarding raiding in Wrath of the Lich King. I won’t link a particular entry, both because I’m lazy and because it’s kind of spread out across several things Tobold writes, but he’s of the firm opinion that WoW raiding as it is today is all about “learning the dance” (a reference to the godfather of gimmick-fights, Heigan) for every single encounter and then moving on to learn the next dance, taking only little with you. You learn the encounter, not your class, says Tobold.

There are two things that I’d like to remark on that. For one, WoW raiding is pretty old now, and the lessons in “playing your class” have been taught many times over since the times of Molten Core. Today’s encounters don’t teach us much about playing our class because we (in general) became so damned good at playing our class already. For another, while I’m certainly not one to tell people that they are “doin it rong”, I think Tobold’s perception is strongly affected by the way he experiences most current encounters. He’s fallen out of step with his guild regarding raiding for entirely understandable reasons, so when he raids these days it’s an off-night fun-run with tactics presented in a nutshell and bosses on farm. The thing is that on paper, or in explanation, or during the singular attempt, every encounter appears incredibly gimmicky. It’s only when you do it, and redo it, when you start recognising patterns and applying experience.

The other extreme are the venerable “ah, that’s just like in Black Temple” veterans, who will always be happy to let you know that this particular mechanic reminds them of just that other mechanic they experienced over their year-stretching WoW raiding career. Every single mechanic. Which is also not really surprising because, quite honestly, there’s only so much a raid boss can do to you in terms of variety. Yeah, a Bone Spike is essentially the same thing as a Snobold or an Iron Root; you need to kite Blood Beasts, Blistering Zombies and Swarm Scarabs; the Debuff of Tank Swapping really got somewhat overused this expansion; there’s always something on the floor and you should either stack together or spread out, and so on and so on.

So, we are left with “it’s all just gimmick fights” and “it’s all the same gimmicks” at the same time, which is, as it usually is with contradicting negative statements, probably not such a bad place to be in. And it leads us to experiences such as the one that provoked this post in the first place. Read on…!

As you may have read on the blogs of my wonderful guildies, we finally defeated Professor Putricide this last Tuesday! What can I say, it’s an amazing fight, very complex and thus very fun and (positively) taxing, with a high demand for conscious execution, especially on the phase transitions. I probably would rank it as the best encounter we fought in WoW so far, although I shall openly add that this is only because as a tank I had a more interesting job than on Yogg-Saron. That factor aside, Yogg would definitely win, but, hey, I am a tank after all, so that’s my perspective. And here we’re edging ever closer to the topic. Tanking Putricide proved to be an incredibly interesting, involving and diverse affair. Well, probably not for Vael, our trusty slime slurper Abomination tank, but for me, most certainly.

On our first attempts (a few weeks ago) someone jokingly pointed out how half the raid was struggling to beat the tank’s (mine, that is) DPS. The reason was obvious. While everyone was still figuring out what to hit, when to switch and where to run, I was the only one enjoying the unrestricted comfort of pumping my rotation into the perfectly debuffed boss all of the time. Over the course of our later attempts (still before this week) I slowly began wondering why that would be so and whether that’s such a good thing. Technically, I’d be standing there, with the boss, in a relatively abstract spot, watching everyone wrangle with an Unstable Experiment and .. well .. not contributing much. And then I’d have to get the boss to the other side, but would have little in terms of rhythm regarding when would be the best time for it; consequently the healers also found themselves in a somewhat abstract space, where the tank would spontaneously decide to run over to the other side of the room at the same time as they’d have to be healing a raid damage spike. It all felt rather disconnected (to me) and in particular I was feeling like I was sleeping on the job.

I began trying to assist on the Experiments a little bit, positioning myself such that when it’d pass I could Cleave or Shockwave it. Which for one wasn’t much and for another often ended with me taking additional damage (from the Experiment reaching its target) for little benefit. However, over time I was, of course, doing other things as well. Lots of other things. Like Gunship Battle, mostly as the “boarding tank”. What does the boarding tank do on Gunship Battle? Well, you jump to the other boat (wheeee!), aggro Saurfang (or Muradin if you’re Horde), debuff his damage output and then .. uhm .. then you stand there, hitting him for no real reason. Until, of course, you realise that that one Shield Slam already generated all the aggro you will ever need, that there are Axe Throwers who are being a pain for the healer who’s keeping you up from back on your boat and that as long as you keep Saurfang in front of you, you can just as well do damage to one of said Axe Throwers instead. Maybe you can kill him, but at the very least you’ll make sure he’s killed faster, while damage done to Saurfang, on the other hand, is completely wasted. And when your boarding buddies are on their way back, they’ll stop and help you finish the job happily – just make sure they don’t get cleaved!

Then, this happened. The plot thickens, as you see, parallels all over. So when the “good news!” arrived this week, I ultimately and definitely found myself thinking “you’re doing it on Gunship, you did it on Freya, why would you not be doing it here as well?” – and so I did! It came close to backfiring at first, but I kept learning and adjusting. So, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Really, really avoid turning your back on Putricide in the process. He’s no kitten. Whatever relative worth avoidance has, it’s better when it’s there. You can’t afford taking avoidable damage spikes at the same time as your healers most likely are being on the move, required to heal raid damage, rooted, chased and possibly out of range. Better lose some damage on the Experiment than take additional damage from the Professor.
  • Strafing is your friend. You’ll strafe a lot and yes, you will have to reach over your own fingers more often than usual. Not only was Xevozz a good task master, but the jousting dailies were an even better one. Talk about useless jousting!
  • Refresh Thunder Clap and Demoralizing Shout while the Experiment is forming, that way you don’t have to worry about them while chasing around.
  • Even though you yourself can be sure never to be targeted, don’t take off too early, as you’ll otherwise rip the boss out of the melee range of the DPS who are obediently waiting by the wall for the Experiment to choose. Or you’ll goad them into abandoning position too early. Don’t be a hero, be a help.
  • “But it’s so dangerous!” – actually, if you’re careful, it’s not. Yes, you may out-range your healers, but you will also out-range Putricide. He’s not the fastest one to catch up, and being out of his range is equivalent to 100% avoidance. Or 0% damage. Imagine you’d have a skill that says “Cannot be hit with melee attacks for 2-5 seconds. 30 seconds cooldown” – would you not want to use it on cooldown? Bet you would. Well, guess what, if you’re a Warrior tanking Putricide, you have something very similar. We have amazing tools and abilities, we need to use them!
  • Having the tank helping out on the Experiment and with Putricide tagging along, it means that when the Experiment goes down your DPS (especially melee) will be able to immediately switch onto the Professor for efficient damage output. Win! Especially true for the Clouds, as after the Ooze you may have been kicked back or need to immediately run over to the other side.

So, how did it play out? Well, I started out with the thought that, if nothing else, at least I can put up some Sunders. The log for our successful attempt shows that my contribution on Experiments accounted for 10% of our total damage on them. More to the Gas Clouds, less to the Oozes (the way Oozes move it’s harder to attack them without exposing your back to Putricide). So, Experiments going down on average 10% faster? I would say that is not bad at all, seeing as that’s pretty much the make-or-break mechanic of the encounter. And that’s not even taking into account possible benefits from said armour sundering, or the general feeling of being more “connected” and “fluid”. Oh, and my total DPS output (if you want to go there) did not suffer either – after all, I didn’t stop attacking, it was only about what I was attacking.

So, at long last, there we have it. Raid encounters that in the long run teach you to be a better player – a better raider at the very least. The combined experience of different encounters that appear to have very little in common (you’d never think of similarities when fleetingly looking at Freya, Gunship and Putricide) together with lots of subconsciously accumulated expertise (jousting? jousting!) teach you a pattern that you can adjust and apply to a new challenge and help your team achieve great success. I dare say it’s not all about learning the dance after all.

PS: On that successful attempt, which was our eleventh and announced final of the evening, everything came together perfectly. No deaths, perfect execution, perfect phase transition, smooth and controlled to the end. It was an amazing experience. Huge thanks to our guildies for making it possible. We rock!

7 thoughts on “Transferably applicable knowledge

  1. Scraddog

    Prof Put is indeed an interesting fight.

    my semi casual raid group (yes I got persuaded by someone to come back to WoW) is currently taking a break as a lot of them are students and doing exams right now.

    so hopefully in a week or two I’ll be back at the millstone working on sindy and the LK.

    I sort of packed in tanking seriously because I just burnt out whilst tanking evrything for the guild all the way through this expansion as it was released, raid leading and main tanking can be hard on the brain and I currently prefer just to do my bit in a raid rather than run it and poke and prod people about what the hell is going on.

    you certainly sound like you still are enjoying tanking and kudo’s to you :o)

    1. Rem Post author

      Thanks .. and I am! Don’t think I’d be particularly less involved in any other role either, to be honest. There are complex elements in tanking, but there are also very straightforward ones. Same for DPSing or healing. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing at the moment šŸ™‚

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