Sunday, November 13, 2011

Can You Go Double Disc?

A question that emerges with discipline priests, moreso than any other healing class-spec I would say, is whether you can viably accommodate two of them in a ten man raid healing team. The reason this question is especially prominent for the discipline flavor of priests is because they are seen as reliant on a very particular spell: Power Word: Shield.

There is no question that Power Word: Shield is an iconic spell of the specialization and, most would agree, the spell that the spec revolves around.

What makes this tricky when compared to the central spells of other healers is that Power Word: Shield doesn't play nicely with another priest's Power Word: Shield because you cannot put more than one Power Word: Shield on a single target. Two Wild Growths work fine together, ditto two Renews, two Divine Lights, two Chain Heals, etc. Other healing class-specs largely focus on healing spells and healing spells almost always stack (as they must, since multiple healers often heal the same target). Power Word: Shield is something of an unusual mechanic in that it's a healing spell that doesn't heal.

This means that, at least on a superficial level, more than one discipline priest in a single raid group will be competing for shield targets. If one discipline priest shields a target, another one cannot shield that target. Each discipline priest, therefore, cannot operate with a free hand.

Or So It Would Seem

This would have been the beginning and end of the analysis in the latter stages of Wrath. Discipline priests were bubble-bots first and foremost. Played properly, their first duty was to keep everyone shielded whenever possible (whenever that pesky Weakened Soul wasn't on a target) and only secondarily (in ten man raids) heal raid members.

In such an environment, each discipline priest in a ten man raiding environment would be handicapping any other, as both couldn't be casting Power Word: Shield on every target (this was not so much of an issue in twenty five man raiding groups, since there were so many targets, two discipline priests could viably split up targets to shield). That meant that one or both discipline priests would spend quite a lot more time casting direct healing spells. That wasn't disaster, but it wasn't what discipline priests did best, so it was at least a mild nerf to one or both priests.

Cataclysm, however, changed the picture considerably. It did that in a few ways, but the net effect can be boiled down to this: Blizzard made discipline priests much less reliant on Power Word: Shield to be solid contributors to a healing team.

Let us count the ways in which Cataclysm gave discipline priests alternative casting patterns (spoiler alert: the number of ways is two.)

The Subjugation Of Tank Healers By Holy Paladins Has Been Broken 

Time was, the tank healing community resembled an Old West saloon. You had your standard allotment of cow pokes, card sharps and...stable hands (I guess?) who got the job done, in a manner that was not flashy or spectacular. Quite workmanlike. Then a shadow fell across the room as a man in black (or white) swaggered in, a pistol on each hip. He looked around with a sneer and everyone who looked up to see who had walked through the swinging doors then quickly looked away, unwilling to meet his gaze. This fellow's superiority was palpable, it was unquestioned.

That gun-slinger was the holy paladin. The rest were discipline priests or restoration shamans. You could use another class to do your tank healing, but you only did so if you simply had no holy paladin available. It was sub-optimal...very sub-optimal.

That's changed. Holy paladins are still capable of healing tanks very well (and not quite so good on the raid), but all the other healing class-specs have become viable tank healers and discipline priests have really seen the biggest jump in this respect. It's no longer sub-optimal to put a discipline priest in charge of keeping your tank(s) alive. The interplay between talents like Renewed Hope, Divine Aegis and Inspiration, an interplay that was kicked up a notch by the patch 4.2 change that increased the output of critical heals, in addition to the interplay between direct heals like Greater Heal and Flash heal and the talent Strength of Soul made discipline priests extremely powerful in healing through major and continuous damage on specific targets.

Prayer Of Healing: Now With More Divine Aegis

Prayer of Healing used to be a spell that didn't have any special synergy with discipline talents. Discipline priests, when they weren't shielding, focused more on single-target spot healing. Prayer of Healing was more of a tool utilized by holy priests in their quest to AoE heal all the things.

Cataclysm has made Prayer of Healing a core discipline tool through a modification of the Divine Aegis talent. Divine Aegis, which has always (since it was introduced in Wrath) proc'd an absorption shield on the target of a critical heal, was now able to place automatic shields on every target healed by Prayer of Healing, critical heal or not. This was modified further to also proc extra shields on Prayer of Healing targets when the spell critically healed. Suddenly, Prayer of Healing had strong synergy with a core discipline talent...Prayer of Healing was now a vehicle to get non-trivial absorption shields out to lots of people, in a way that was spammable (as opposed to Power Word: Shield, which cannot be spammed on the same target due to Weakened Soul).

Combined with the actual healing that Prayer of Healing did, these absorption shields made Prayer of Healing a powerful raid healing tool for discipline priests, with a component of preventative medicine that has always been the discipline priest's stock-in-trade. Discipline priests could both use Prayer of Healing to heal the raid back up, or use it ahead of incoming raid damage to reduce the hit to health bars. It was most powerful when it could do both at the same time, with predictable waves of incoming raid damage.

tl;dr Version

Discipline priests can therefore settle into several roles. A Power Word: Shield-heavy role, a single target tank healing role or a Divine Aegis-powered raid healing role. By prioritizing different stats (mastery for heavy shielding, crit and haste for tank healing or Prayer of Healing raid healing) and minor changes to talents and glyphs, a discipline priest can play in a very different way from another discipline priest and still be equally powerful. No longer must multiple discipline priests step on one another's toes.

Indeed, discipline priest partnering with discipline priest is fine everywhere, not just in New York and Massachusetts.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Loot Is Healer Loot

Well, except for that spirit wand, right? Surely self-respecting mage or warlock would want it, with 60%* of a secondary stat completely useless. Only a priest would want it...only a heali... 


Well, there's the rub. A shadow priest would like it just fine, since spirit can be converted to hit for any ranged DPS spec that's part of a hybrid class.

So why does that matter? Isn't the spirit wand still healing priest loot, even if a shadow priest can use it, just as any spirit gear is healer loot even if other DPS specs can use it? And, for that matter, as healers become less beholden to their blue bars, isn't any intellect gear they can wear that contains no hit rating also perfectly viable healer loot?

Hello. I'm a healer. And in all of those cases, my answer is a categorical no. That's why I took a bold step.

In our raid group, we have a very, very simple loot system. It's round-robin. We maintain a loot list and when you get a piece for your main spec, you drop to the bottom of the list. The list adjudicates who gets a piece when multiple people want it. Highest person on the list receives the loot. It's meant to be fair, impartial and distribute loot relatively evenly across everyone.

And I want no part of it.

Thus we come to my bold step: I asked to be removed from the hallowed loot list.

The consequence of this is that it's never "my turn" for loot. Anyone else in the raid has a higher claim than me, by this decision of mine. I'll still receive upgrades, but only when no one else needs the piece.

Am I just that noble? Well, yes, I am. However, it's for a reason that I feel is perfectly rational. The subject of which shall be meat of this post. 

Defense Sells The Tickets, But Offense Wins The Game 

For those of you not steeped in the ceaseless avalanche of cliches that is sports commentary, there's a popular saying that "offense sells the tickets, but defense wins the game," suggesting that people enjoy watching scoring but ultimately preventing scoring by the other team (the "less glamorous" role) is what matters most.

I'm here to tell you, that it's reversed in World of Warcraft. If I were to craft a pithy maxim that makes sense within the context of the game, it would be "Healers* win normal modes, but DPS wins heroics."

*When I say "healers" here, I actually mean "tanks and healers." It's just not as pithy and catchy when you throw in "and tanks." 

The reason for this can be summed up in two words: enrage timers. Heroics, pre-nerf at least, tend to have hellaciously tight enrage timers. This is why many raid strategies for heroic modes advise raids to cut healers and tanks wherever possible, to pack in more DPS.

When doing normal modes, you're learning the basics of the fight for the first time. Tanks and healers are the most important for this step, because they extend the raid's lifespan. The longer you live, the more of the fight you see and the more practice you get. Go healers!* 

*And tanks 

Once you mosey on into the heroic modes, though, the focus changes. You mostly know the fights. The heroic modes have somewhat different mechanics, but most of the original mechanics are still there and the concept of the fight is usually very similar. You might want a few "Just survive as long as possible so we see the new mechanics" wipes, but you don't gear around the first few looks at the fight. The main thing is the DPS. It must be high...very high. Obviously, everyone is going to have to play well, but the fights really shift away from healers as a main focus. DPS must beat the enrage timer and everyone must avoid as much avoidable damage as possible. That's the design of heroic modes, it's how they're balanced.

Therefore, "getting over the hump" means getting DPS geared enough to beat the enrage timer. After that, gearing up healers certainly helps...the stronger the healers are, the more margin for error the raid team has. But no healing team is going to make up for the "didn't beat the enrage timer" error. 

Healers Cannot Reach For The Stars 

Remember when our mothers and fathers told us that we could rise as high as we wanted if we worked hard, that there was no limit? They didn't mean healers, they only meant DPS.

DPS has an infinite horizon. You can always do more DPS. More gear, more skill, more buffs will all equal more DPS. Further, you can do more DPS and that unholy death knight you hate can also do more the same time! It's not zero person doing more DPS doesn't lower the ability for someone else to do DPS.

The healing game is very different, for three key reasons.

One is that there isn't infinite capacity to heal. A healing team's healing output is strictly capped to the amount of damage done to the raid team by the boss (and his or her minions). You cannot heal damage that doesn't exist. If a raid boss does 21 million damage over the course of an encounter, the maximum healing the team can do is 21 million.

Number two is that as your raid team gets better at the fight, the damage taken is going to go down. Some damage is unavoidable but lots of it is not, a design choice aimed at making dance skill matter. The better you do the dance, the less damage you take. So as time goes by, that maximum amount of healing available to be done shrinks, leading to lower output from healers.

Finally, healing is a zero sum game. Since healing to be done is, as established, a capped resource, every healer in the raid is competing for a piece of it ("competing" in a literal sense, not necessarily from an attitude point of view). One healer pushing their healing up massively simply diminishes the possible output of any other healers in the raid. All the healers cannot simultaneously heal significantly more unless they were woefully over-matched from the start.

So when you have one group of players (DPS) who can turn gear into bigger and bigger output and another group (healers) who cannot, it makes a lot of sense to bias the gear distribution in favor of the group who can convert it into no-questions-asked larger output. 

Personal Reasons Are Personal 

While the idea that DPS can use gear upgrades more powerfully than healers is the large majority of why I made the decision to remove myself from the loot list, there was another reason that was simply a personal choice (which is why I'd never even suggest to my fellow healers that they do the same as me).

I want to de-emphasize loot for myself. There have been times when I've been frustrated over not getting the piece I need to drop, or losing it to someone else. I know, though, that loot is not why I play. At least, that's what I believe. WoW Insider had an article a month or two ago (I'm too lazy to find it and link it) about how everyone, at base, is motivated to raid by loot. The writer said (paraphrased), "If you don't believe that you are [motivated by loot], ask yourself how long you would raid if you never got a single piece of loot."

Not long, but I think that's a meaningless question. Never getting loot is the same as never raiding, because you'd soon no longer be geared enough to raid. Loot is necessary simply to be able to raid. The question is how much you're motivated by the Gollum-like desire for shinies.

But we wants it! We'll reforge the expertise to spirit!

So a better question is, "How long would you raid if you were always the lowest priority for loot?" That's what removing myself from the loot list accomplishes: placing me at the lowest priority.

I think I'll keep raiding for a long time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monk Healing 101

I'm just kidding. I don't really tend to do "how to" guides (because so many are available online) and monks aren't completely fleshed out, to say the least.

That said, enough has been revealed about monk healers that it's time to look at the basics and speculate wildly about the rest. Commence speculation, gogogogo!

Melee Healers

It appears that there will be two aspects to being a melee healer. One is that you must be within melee range of your healing targets for direct healing (or at least, nearby). The other is that apparently you'll have access to indirect healing through melee attacks on enemies.

Being a "melee healer" (that is, a healer who works at melee distance rather than from range) was one of the few areas that existed for Blizzard to expand into to create a new style or niche of healing. There was some very rudimentary (and ultimately non-existent) form of being a melee healer in the holy paladin role, as Seal of Insight refunded health and mana to the paladin if he or she stood in melee range of a mob and hacked away. It didn't prove to be worth it enough for paladin healers to actually melee mobs and bosses in instances, though, as paladin healers pretty universally stood at range like all other healers.

It wasn't clear, then, what mechanics would enable a healer to stand in melee. The mechanics would have to make standing in melee essential to being successful as a healer and, further, feel rewarding as a play style. Rogues stay in melee range because their DPS depends on it and because it feels fun to position themselves for blade attacks. It has to be both necessary and fun.

What little we've heard from Blizzard about monk healers (Mistweavers) starts to fill in the road map for how Blizzard believes these two goals can be accomplished for a healer. It seems to hinge on two key concepts, so let's look on them. (Don't worry, wild and baseless speculation is still ahead!)


Since Mistweavers will apparently need to be nearby allies that they are directly healing, mobility is a must. Melee classes like warriors and rogues have crucial mobility abilities, like Heroic Leap, Sprint, Intervene, etc. This makes sense since melee classes have much stricter positioning and range issues than casters and hunters.

Mistweavers will have much stricter positioning and range issues than other healers, so they're going to need the mobility help as well.

Meet Roll (for any linked monk abilities, I'm linking the page on monks, which has three sample abilities). The description is pretty bare bones, reading only "Roll a short distance." We can envision this, however, being a fundamental way to quickly get from one place to another, perhaps equivalent to a mage's Blink (minus the "poof" graphics). It has no stated cooldown, though it has a cost in chi. Blizzard has already stated, during Blizzcon, that Mistweavers will use mana instead of chi, so it remains to be seen what the cost is in mana.

Of course, the possibility also exists that Roll won't be available to Mistweavers, but that strikes me as implausible and silly, for the reasoning stated above that melee-based healers will need mobility. More likely, all abilities will cost chi as baseline, but will all have their costs transformed to mana when you spec Mistweaver.

I'd expect more movement-enhancing abilities, because you can't ask a healer to have extremely tiny ranges to their direct healing spells and then expect them to walk around, using their own legs like suckers. Without things like Roll, the message is "Roll a healing class that has sensible cast ranges."

That said, if there are a number of movement-enhancing abilities, we start to see an interesting play style emerge. A cross between a protection warrior (for whom getting around the battlefield quickly is a forté) and perhaps a restoration shaman (the healing spec that has the most demanding positioning requirements). Zip around the battlefield healing small knots of allies. The melee clump here, a ranged clump there, the dying-in-fire wait, never mind.


Healing props are nothing new. Restoration shamans have had a multitude of totems forever. They lose totems in the couch cushions and groan when totems muck up the washing machine because they left them the pockets of their jeans by accident.

Totems have generally provided either a passive buff (long-lasting totems that just buff everyone in range) or active effects (short-lived totems that do something like damage, mana restoration, taunting, etc).

Statues are something in between. They don't, in and of themselves, provide a buff or an active effect. What they (and by "they," I mean the one statue that has been revealed so far) appear to do is act as a proxy, allowing the monk to act through them from a distance.

Take a look at the Statue of the Jade Serpent. The tooltip reads:

Summon a statue at the target location. Anytime you deal damage, a nearby friendly target within 20 yards of the statue will be healed. You can have up to 3 Jade Dragon Statues active at a time.

A quick note before we go into consequences of this specific statue. Do we have a misprint or a hint of things to come in the "You can have up to 3 Jade Dragon Statues active at a time?" The name of the spell contains "Jade Serpent" not "Jade Dragon." That suggests that either they typed the wrong thing for that sample tooltip or else "Jade Dragon" is a class of statues, of which the Jade Serpent statue is just one. Interesting, though it doesn't tell us much except there may be a whole statue system rather than just one or two statue spells.

Looking at this specific spell, though, we see perhaps the other foundation for a melee healer...agents that can allow you to act "in melee range" in different locations. You're standing next to the boss, spin-kicking it happily. Your glass cannon mage is about to shatter from the stress of all the DPS he or she is putting out, at a far-away location. You either have a statue there or you quickly put one there*. Your next spin-kick gets turned into healing energy and flows to the statue at which point it's redirected into the mage, filling his or her health bar and the DPS continues uninterrupted.

*Note that the statue is summoned at a target location, suggesting that there is a range for dropping the statue rather than the statue dropping where you're standing like shaman totems

You didn't have to move away from the tank and melee clump you were healing with your direct healing spells. You just had to shift from acupuncturing your melee mates to delivering crane kicks to the boss' jaw in order to deliver heals to someone nowhere near you.

Crazy Speculation

If the "Jade Dragon" language really does imply classes of statues and therefore an entire statue system, what else might statues do for us? We want to avoid statues being totems by another name, so we want to keep our thoughts away from passive buffs (like added armor) or active effects (like summoning a temporary pet or shooting fireballs) and think more in terms of them being agents or instruments of the monk's will.

Here's an example: Statue of the Cloud Serpent

Summon a statue at the target location. Anytime you deal damage with a Death Monkey Super Kick, you will be teleported to the statue. You can only have 1 Statue of the Cloud Serpent active at a time.

(Death Monkey Super Kick is just a place-holder for a baseline monk attack. It may not be called that.)

This allows you to use one of your fancy monk attacks to instantly jump to another place (like a stack-up spot or a place across the raid encounter room where a second group is fighting another member of a "council" type of raid boss, etc), the better to get around the battlefield.

It's just an idea, the type of thing that I feel makes sense for a statue system that would differentiate it from the totem system. Agents in the field..."my statues r in ur raid, spying on u."

Also, monks can use fist weapons in addition to one-handed swords, maces and axes. Might we finally see the first sanctioned dual-wielding healing spec? Almost certainly not; Blizzard is very conservative in some ways and clearly has their own conceptions of what each role "looks like," and I don't think dual-wielding healers fit their mental models. For a short time, restoration shamans were going deeply enough into the enhancement tree to pick up dual wielding in order to dual wield spellpower weapons (back when dual wielding was a talent and you didn't have to invest 31 points into a specific tree). Blizzard shortly thereafter made all one-handed spellpower weapons "main hand," rendering it impossible to hold one in the off hand. They also made talent tree changes to crack down on inventive "hybrid specs" that produced results that Blizzard hadn't planned on.

So, my guess is that they don't like the idea of healers dual wielding and will not be producing any spellpower weapons that can be equipped in the off hand. They will probably also lock dual wielding to the DPS and/or tanking specializations, to avoid any experimentation with an agility off-hand to increase damage done (and, therefore, Jade Serpent healing done).

Even still, one can hope. Hope brought us Azerothian Pokémon transmogrification.

Melee Healing--Just Right Crazy Or Not Crazy Enough?

There's a strong chance this won't work. Remember, they had a "new concept" in mind with their last new class, death knights. That new concept was that you could tank or DPS in any spec, with the presence you used being the most important signifier to your role. That proved to be a bear to balance properly and they ultimately decided it was a failure and reconfigured death knight specializations more traditionally, with a dedicated tanking tree and two DPS trees with a different playstyle each.

So they may decide over the course of 5.0 that melee healing is a failed concept as well and eventually Mistweavers will join their other healing brethren at the perimeters of the fight, shying away from contact. They may even decide that if melee healing isn't on, then there's no point even having a monk healing class (because what would it bring that all the existing healing specs do not?).

So if you enjoy healing, spend some time playing a monk this next expansion. You'll get to see at least one vision of what melee healing might look like and the chance to play a monk healer may not last forever. There are some interesting concepts shaping up for Mistweavers, based around unique mobility, damage dealing and proxy healing. It may work, it may not, but you may want to have seen it for yourself before Blizzard makes their ultimate determination and either changes the spec or eliminates it for another DPS spec.

Just don't get too attached to the spec, as our rather Buddhist Pandaran friends would advise.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Terrible Secret Of Space

In case you don't get the (old) meme reference of my post title:

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's talk about "healing space." This is not an alternate zone that healers live in, perhaps like the Emerald Dream area in the Valthiria Dreamwalker encounter. This maps out where each healer excels, when able to do what their class abilities optimally allow for, to create maximum synergy between the healers in your team.

This is much more crucial in twenty five man encounters, when you have more healers and significantly more overlap. It does happen more often in ten man encounters that healers get isolated more on their own healing islands, in which case you cannot "specialize" as much. However, as you push into heroic modes, even ten man raids are well-advised to try to organize the encounters such that all the healers you're using can cover all the same targets (everyone). This is not always possible but, when it is, that's where heal space analysis is valuable.

The long and the short of it is that if two or three healers can cover the same targets, you maximize their effectiveness by A. making sure the two or more healers have complimentary powers and B. having each healer bias their spell usage toward specialization.

So what heal space does each class inhabit? Let's take a look.

Note: The next four sections are a quick look at what constitutes the core of each healing class (and spec, in the case of priests). If you would find a run-down of these class-specs dull, skip past the sections with class headings. None of those sections contain theory, just my views on what (essentially) makes each class-spec unique. That "healing world view" is important to the theory that comes later, of course, but I don't believe my healing world view is controversial.


For the last (large number here) tiers, druids have been the reigning overall healing throughput champions. With their "creeping heals" (my term for healing that's always creeping upwards, everywhere, all the time), they're almost like the inverse of a damage aura...they provide a healing aura (as it feels from the outside, this is in no way to suggest that it's passive on their end) as everyone's life bars are always moving upwards thanks to them. They can Rejuvenation blanket when everyone's taking AoE damage, Wild Growth on cooldown, Swiftmend to create a healing circle under a group of people and keep potent HoTs (the aforemention Rejuvenation and Lifebloom) rolling on the tank(s).

And then, of course, there's always the raid healing bomb of Tranquility lurking.

The reason druids have been such potent raid healers is because they're not provided any absorption or mitigation abilities (leaving aside the personal cooldown, Barkskin, which is of only niche value to a restoration druid). Their contribution is entirely wrapped up in moving life bars, so they move them a lot.

While they can use direct heals to keep someone, like a tank, alive through continuous damage, it's not where they excel and it's not the optimal use of their mana. "Optimal" is the crucial word for this analysis, since we're trying to maximize a healing team.


For the last four or so tiers, at least, paladins have been somewhere between very strong and broken-strong (ICC days) as tank healers. They've been given some new tools in Cataclysm (notably, Holy Radiance and Light of Dawn), but neither has changed the fact that the bulk of their work is done with strong single-target throughput. Their healing space will probably have to be re-evaluated once patch 4.3 arrives, due to the major changes to how Holy Radiance will work.

Holy Radiance (thus far) has been constrained by a cooldown, making it unspammable, and Light of Dawn is a holy power release, so it's also unspammable, since they need to build up holy power in between usages.

That leaves paladins the most beholden to the "Three True Heals" model that Blizzard has tried to build into every healing class (with varying levels of reliance across classes). Since their "quick, mid-level heal" Flash of Light is not generally considered a good use of mana, they end up heavily reliant on four spells with a heavy emphasis on the first two (being the ones without a cooldown or holy power requirement): Holy Light, Divine Light, Holy Shock and Word of Glory.

So direct heals are what paladins will be dealing in, largely.


Shamans have an interesting concept. The majority of their healing is direct, though they also use an area HoT (Healing Rain) and a more traditional HoT that procs from one of their main direct heals (Riptide).

What makes shamans interesting is their mastery, Deep Healing. The upshot of their mastery is that the lower health their healing targets, the more powerful their healing spells are.

So shamans are a mixture between direct healing and healing over time, with potency inversely related to the health of their target.


Priests come in two flavors, of course. There is the Discipline flavor and the non-Discipline flavor (I kid, I know that one of the healing trees is named Holy, even if Blizzard doesn't).

Discipline priests have always had a unique mechanic (which holy paladins have recently infringed upon with their mastery, but not very successfully except in niche cases) known as absorption. These are shields that absorb some of the incoming damage before it can affect the player. Shields are the centerpiece of the discipline spec. And while discipline priests (like all healers) have an assortment of direct heals, the other thing they have which is more or less unique to them is mitigation. This is similar to absorption, in that it prevents damage rather than healing it, but rather than absorbing it, it reduces the degree of the damage by a percentage basis. So instead of absorbing 45,000 damage, it will reduce the incoming damage by 10%. One of their signature mitigation spells is a tank cooldown, Pain Suppression.

Holy priests on the other hand do very little absorbing and mitigation. They are more similar to druids in that they use healing over time and direct heals to do lots of healing over the encounter time. While druids bias more toward HoTs, holy priests bias more toward direct heals. Unlike druids, holy priests do have a potent tank cooldown, Guardian Spirit. As you might notice, Guardian Spirit is kind of the reverse doppelgänger of Pain Suppression. While Pain Suppression mitigates damage by 40% on a target, Guardian Spirit allows for 40% more healing on the target. Guardian Spirit has the added benefit of preventing a death, which does make it a bit more powerful but also compensates for prevented damage being less risky than healing damage after the fact, a factor that makes damage mitigation more powerful than a healing boost.

Healing, Economics...Same Thing

If all of that was a fairly old hat recap of the healing class-specs, I apologize. In terms of structure, I felt it was important that we establish what each healer is doing at his/her core before we start parceling out territory in the healing universe.

The central concept of healing space is this: While every healer can do a variety of things and fill any role, especially direct healing of all the things, the highest efficiency is achieved by each healer focusing on the things they do best and avoiding the things they don't do as well as another, even if they can do it well. If you've studied economics, this should be a pretty familiar idea, because it's mirrored perfectly by the idea of Comparative Advantage. By specializing in what you do best (rather than doing everything you do decently), you increase the efficiency of your team. To make the parallel to the economic theory, if you analogize your healing team to a world economy, your healers are trading products (throughput) for currency (mana efficiency) with each other.

The economic theory of comparative advantage is wonderfully counter-intuitive to most people when they first encounter it. It generally isn't an immediately obvious idea that, even if you're good at a number of things, if you exist in a world with potential partners who do anything better or worse than you you're better off specializing rather than doing everything you're good at.

Blizzard made sure every healing class can fulfill any role competently with the advent of Cataclysm, because they didn't want raids to feel locked into specific class make-ups rather than just bringing the people who were either best or else they most enjoyed playing with. So the changes they made to achieve this made every class a jack-of-all-trades to a certain extent. However, they didn't give every class and spec every ability or equalize their power in every role. They just ensured that every class and spec reached at least a minimum baseline in every healing role. This leaves enough difference between the class-specs to leverage for the sake of efficiency (and when I say "efficiency," I mean optimizing throughput for a healing team).

So how do we leverage this? To put it very simply, we identify where each class-spec's best use of mana lies and create a healing scheme whereby each healer is biasing their spell choice heavily in favor of that best use of mana. That is optimizing healing space.

This may sound like what healers should always be doing, but it's only possible in group play in which there is more than one healer. In a five-man environment, for example, where there is only one healer, you cannot specialize. You must cast all the spells necessary to keep everyone alive. This means some amount of direct healing as a druid, for example, even if direct healing is not your forté, because HoTs alone aren't going to keep a tank up through heavy damage. The economic theory of comparative advantage is useless if you are alone on a desert island, and optimizing healing space is worthless when you are a healing island in a five-man group.

No, it gets interesting when you are in a ten man or, especially, a twenty five man raid. The larger the group, the more healers. The more healers, the more specialization each healer can engage in, because a lot of niches can add up to a coherent whole. A single niche is just a niche.

Establishing The Foundation Of Healing Space

I primarily raid in ten man groups, so I'll primarily use that as the example. However, I'll note how this really flourishes in twenty five man groups at the end.

My raid group generally employs a healing team of a restoration druid, a holy paladin and a discipline priest (hey, that's me!). This has actually often been called the "holy trinity" of ten man raid healing teams and for good reason as we'll see from a healing space analysis. How do we leverage these three classes optimally?

The simplest approach for a healing team is what I like to call "see damage, heal damage." If someone is below full health, cast the appropriate spell (factoring in time urgency, amount of healing needed and mana efficiency required). This isn't particularly organized but it can actually work, especially if the healing team is extremely familiar with one another. The primary drawback here is that the disorganization can lead to sub-optimal healing: multiple healers addressing the same damage (leading either to overhealing or else a healer canceling their spell mid-cast, wasting some amount of time) and certain targets not receiving heals quickly enough.

One step up is straight healing assignments. Healer A will heal the main tank. Healer B will heal the off-tank. Healer C will heal all the non-tanks. This is much more structured. Overhealing will be reduced because, at least notionally, healers are not cross-healing the same targets. Every target has their dedicated healer and thus knows exactly what healing that target is receiving because it all comes from himself/herself. The primary drawback here is that overly strict adherence to assignments can leave healing potential on the table (Healer A being idle when the main tank is at full health while Healer C struggles with a burst of raid damage) and deviance from assignments leads to a greater and greater descent into the previous "see damage, heal damage" paradigm, with its own attendant drawbacks.

While the second option (assignments) is generally better regarded, each paradigm actually has its strengths. "See damage, heal damage" ensures that all the healers are capable of remaining active at all times (at least, all times in which there is damage to heal) which prevents useable healer casting time and mana regeneration from being wasted (a healer sitting at full mana is wasting all their itemization and talents that provide mana regeneration), while assignments provide the structure to keep healing from being wasted.

The ideal situation would be to marry the strengths of each paradigm into one, without also importing the attendant weaknesses. A healing space paradigm does just that. Let's look at how this works.

Crafting Healing Space

A restoration druid, as we noted, is best at keeping continuous healing "growing" on lots of targets at once, whether that's through Rejuvenation on multiple targets, Wild Growth or Efflorescence parked below a stack of raiders.

A discipline priest excels at preventing incoming damage.

A holy paladin is most powerful at pumping out strong direct heals on single targets (the value of which is amplified by their "reflection" mechanics, Beacon of Light and Protector of the Innocent...much as a battery of mirrors serve to focus and intensify a laser beam).

So we craft a healing space in which:
  • The druid does keep her HoTs "growing" on as many targets as she can sustain and/or makes sense for the encounter but does not cast many single target heals.
  • The holy paladin does cast her powerful single target spells on targets who are either particularly under siege or else are particularly low but does not concern herself with damage prevention (gears away from mastery) or heals over time (Holy Radiance, which has a mana opportunity cost).
  • The discipline priest does cast her shields and mitigation spells often to slow the damage on targets likely to take damage in the near future, but does not spend much time or mana casting HoTs or direct healing spells.
A crucial point here is that there are no explicit target assignments. You are not assigning the holy paladin to one or both tanks and the discipline priest to one or both tanks. You are not assigning the restoration druid or the discipline priest to raid healing. Instead, if you'd like to think in terms of assignments, you are assigning each healer to a specialization.

A discipline priest is optimally using his mana when he casts a shield likely to be consumed by incoming damage. A restoration druid is optimally using his mana when he casts HoTs (whether single target or multi-target) that are likely not to go as overhealing. A holy paladin is optimally using his mana when he casts a powerful direct healing spell on a target at a low enough health that little of the direct heal goes as overhealing, and the target of the heal reflection also is low enough health that little of the reflected heal goes as overhealing.

The result is that, as long as there is damage to be healed, you have healers who can be active and engaged, yet there is implicit structure that minimizes the overhealing that chaos can cause. The druid is a champion of overall healing, but all that creeping healing is useless if targets die before they can tick back up to a safe level. That's where holy paladin direct heals come in, swiftly (relative to druid HoTs) pushing a dangerously low target back to a safer level where the slow healing over time can finish the job passively. But the paladin's big heal is useless if the target dies before the heal lands (or before the paladin can find time to cast on that particular target). That's where discipline shields come in, providing an instant buffer on targets in critical condition, keeping them afloat until the healing of the paladin and druid can save them.

At a more abstract level, the discipline priest provides a preventative umbrella over everyone, underneath which the druid's garden of HoTs provide a "healing aura" constantly moving everyone upward and the holy paladin combats spikes downward in health to anyone with spikes upward in health through spells.

In Conclusion, More Explanation

In this healing space, each healer has a clear-cut role, which allows them to fluidly move between the same targets, but in their own space. Think of it as a separate dimension...each healer is their own island, in their own dimension. You, as a healer, are responsible for everyone...but only within that dimension. As long as every healer optimizes the throughput of the spells that make up their dimension, the healing team is optimizing their overall throughput.

Except when necessary, you need to resist moving into a fellow healer's dimension. Each time you do so, you detract from the efficiency gains. Your healing team has only so many GCD's (global cooldowns) and mana to work with over a given encounter length. Using your GCD and mana to address a small bit of damage on a target, when a druid's HoTs can address it, may seem harmless enough, but it's a GCD and mana you could have used casting a Power Word: Shield. On a one-off basis, it doesn't matter much...but these little decisions add up over the course of the encounter and undermine the benefits of specializing within the crafted healing space.

For the sake of brevity (this post is barely more than a haiku in length and I like that succinctness), I won't go through a similar healing space crafting for every combination of healing classes. But you can see the format: identify what a healer does that is an optimal throughput use of their time and mana and give them that specialization across the entire raid and task them to use non-optimal spells as little as possible. A shaman, while not included in my example healing space, can easily be crafted a space based on their unique power on low health targets. All that's necessary to create these types of healing spaces is multiple healers. There can even be duplicate class-specs as long as each of the duplicates can, through talents, gearing or playstyle, provide a different specialization (two holy priests can each specialize differently based on different chakra states, two discipline priests can provide absorption and direct heals, etc).

The key is for each healer to decide, for an encounter, what they will be spending their mana on, working to make that efficient (through itemization and talents) and then sticking to it as much as possible. If you've geared and talented for making your direct heals as powerful as possible and then bias your spell choice heavily to direct heals, you can achieve a lot more than spreading your gearing and talents out and trying to do lots of different long as other healers are picking up the other forms of healing.

As I mentioned previously, this can be taken to an even greater extent in twenty five man raids, where instead of two or three healers, you're working with five or six healers. Since every healer is still responsible for everyone, you handle more healers by breaking healing space into even more granular roles. How about a holy paladin who specializes in stacking mastery for absorption and focuses on overhealing targets to build up larger and larger bubbles on targets she expects to take big damage soon? That's happened in some world-ranked raid groups. How about a discipline priest who stacks crit and haste in order to pump out Prayers of Healing to coat the raid in Divine Aegis bubbles (since Power Word: Shields can't have constant uptime due to Weakened Soul)? These are the types of niche roles that ten man raid healers simply can't afford to try because it's too small a niche for the roughly 33-50% of the total healing you're responsible for. The more healers, the more specialized you can afford to be and the more specialized your healers must be to fully leverage each healer.

I'm Done, Thanks For Reading

We are here to protect you from the terrible secret of (healing) space.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Excalibur...No, Wait, The Holy Grail...Wait...

This is a story about love lost, love discovered anew and then the death of hope.

No, I'm sorry...that's another story. This is actually a story about naked desire and then realizing that sometimes unfulfilled desire can be nice, too.

This will be a bit rambly, because it's not the type of tight, refined concept that I usually try to put forth, but rather some thoughts that came tumbling out. (And despite the next paragraph, this really isn't a post about transmogrification. Honest.)

Ever since Blizzard announced transmogrification, I've been scouring wowhead for items to use in every slot. Being somewhat obsessive-compulsive about these sorts of things, I amassed a huge amount of things for every slot, the better to mix-and-match to create specific outfit looks.

However, the weapon slot presented a problem. As a priest, at any given time, my weapon may be a staff, a mace or a dagger. I have some great options for staff and at least one brilliant option for a mace. However, dagger was vexing me. Daggers just don't have as many remarkable designs as swords do. There are a few quite nice ones (Perdition's Blade is my current favourite among the ones I have) but I just couldn't find that out-of-this-world spectacular one. Bear in mind that I'm extremely finicky about aesthetics...there are very, very specific types of weapons that I like. So while some daggers would be viewed as spectacular by others, it's been a struggle to find that superstar for my tastes.

And then ("then" being weeks ago) I found it. "Out-of-this-world" proved to be quite apropos, as it was Algalon the Observer's own dagger, containing within it a tiny constellation: the Starshard Edge. (While it is Algalon's dagger--in so far as he wields two of them--it also drops from Mimiron's hard mode encounter and an agility dagger with the same model drops from the Iron Council's hard mode).

The problem is that it drops from Ulduar 25 and, as I noted above, only from two hard mode encounters and a third boss in Algalon that is hard mode difficulty by default. Not only is this not something I can solo, it's not even something one can do by dragging along a few friends. You still need a pretty solid raid team (around 10 people) to accompany you, and the number of raid teams who are interested in farming Ulduar 25 isn't particularly high!

However, my guild generally uses Friday nights for "retro raiding." Some of the people in my guild really enjoy achievement collecting, which is what motivates them to organize these raids every Friday. Achievements have generally not been one of my interests, so I only went rarely. I've gone a few times recently, since the possibility of items for transmogging made older raids more fun to me again (and transmog-worthy gear is also of interest to the aforementioned achievement-hunters). What I've found is that just playing with others that I know is actually more fun than I thought, especially when the content is still challenging (due to under-manning it).

In any case, this Friday, with no clear objective yet in mind when the guild master got the group together, they were kind enough to go to Ulduar 25 because I requested it. Everyone, of course, had the prospect of potentially finding some gear they liked and there were 25-man achievements to be gained...but still, the impetus was my wanting something from there.

I think we all had a good time. We did some wiping early because the 7-8 people we had wasn't sufficient for 25-man Iron Council on hard mode. Later, though, we got a few more people and knocked out some bosses, including Mimiron on hard mode and Algalon.

The Starshard Edge didn't drop.

You might think I'd be extremely disappointed. Hell, I might think I'd be extremely disappointed. Getting a chance to do these hard mode encounters in 25 man format is not all that I had my shot(s) and neither panned out.

It it had dropped, I'd have been overjoyed. When it didn't drop, I found that there is a special magic in not getting what you want. Trite though it may sound, it's exciting to have something out there that you really want. I can't pretend that I'm equally happy either way...I'd prefer that it had dropped. However, it was fun going after it. I wasn't upset or annoyed that it didn't drop, because that means my object of desire is still out there to excite me over the idea of acquiring it.

I suppose the correct analogy is to the holy grail...a mythic, elusive object to pursue, like a will-o'-wisp. Of course, in my case, it's largely only mythic and magical to me! However, it's a weapon and as such, I prefer to compare it to Excalibur, despite how much that muddies this analogy space.

I'm happy that I still have something in the game that has the magic of being, at least temporarily, out of reach. Not as happy as if it were actually in my grasp, of course, but it's still a happiness. I had fun doing those fights with guild members, which suggests to me that I might have a new Friday activity that I'd actually enjoy.

The Starshard Edge, probably the item I want more than any other in the game, didn't drop last night. And that's cool.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Class Feedback - Priest

So a trend in World of Warcraft blogging is to take the feedback form post Blizzard provided in every class forum last week and fill it out as a blog post. As the last to join any trend, it's come time for me to jump off the bridge because everyone else is.

So here are my answers to the class feedback form, from the perspective of someone who mainly plays a discipline priest, but enjoys healing on a paladin, shaman and druid, has a passing interest and random experience with ranged and melee DPS and reads about tanking but doesn't do it.

What type of content do you focus on? [PvE/PvP/Both] 

PvE. All PvE, all the time. No PvP. Negative time spent on PvP. 

If PvE, what type of PvE? [Heroics/Raids/Other]

Heavy focus on raiding. I run dungeons only in the service of raiding (gearing up, capping valor points for the week, that sort of thing). Well, I also sometimes run dungeons in all-friend groups just for the fun of it. That isn't my focus in the game, though.

What are your biggest quality-of-life issues? For instance, no longer requiring ammo could be considered a quality-of-life improvement for hunters. 

Really, they're largely graphical issues. I very much enjoyed the "flinch" effect that Penance had on friendly targets and the Divine Aegis soap bubble was really attractive. Now they're gone. (So sad!) These types of things don't improve or reduce my effectiveness but they do affect my enjoyment of the game, so they're "quality of life" issues to me. 

What makes playing your class more fun?

  • The stylishness. I think discipline priests are the most visually spectacular of the healing classes, with Penance, Prayer of Mending, Power Word: Shield, Divine Aegis before the style-nerf, Holy Fire and Archangel for smite specs and Power Word: Barrier. Call us the "golden glow" healers.
  • The versatility. Whether or not you play discipline or holy, you can cover any assignment and fill virtually any healing role. Holy has Chakra to help switch modes, while discipline priests, with the aid of Divine Aegis, can quickly get a lot of healing+protection to a lot of targets or just focus on single targets to fantastic effect.
  • The large toolbox. Priests have a lot of spells that are useful in raiding environments. They have a lot of cooldowns available to them and a lot of regularly-used healing spells. It can take a little while to become instinctive with so many spells, but it's a lot of fun to have an arsenal of spells at your disposal.
  • Stat complexity. For discipline, the relative merits of spirit, haste, critical strike and mastery are hotly (and I do mean hotly) debated. It is impossible to find a consensus on even the single-best secondary stat, let alone an entire stat priority system. Because discipline brings healing, absorption and mitigation, a discipline priest can play in a huge variety of ways (and should play in a variety of ways, depending on raid format, composition and fight). That means correct stat priorities can vary from priest to priest. It gives us a lot to ponder and experiment with and I think that creates a richer experience than something like, "Stack haste to this plateau, then get critical strike to this soft cap, then stack spirit. Avoid mastery like the plague."

 What makes playing your class less fun?

Nothing. Honestly, there's nothing that ever makes me feel like playing a priest isn't much fun. I think that means that I feel priests are really well-designed at the moment!

How do you feel about your “rotation”? (Rotation is the accepted order in which abilities are used to maximum efficiency.)

AoE healing is largely one button: Prayer of Healing. Sure, you want to get Prayer of Mending out on cooldown, you can pop longer cooldown spells and you can weave in Power Word: Shields for the haste buff if your mana will allow it. But the thing that makes priest AoE healing so powerful (a spammable AoE heal) also dooms it to feeling a little spammy.

However, this isn't a contradiction of what I said above, about there being nothing that isn't fun. While AoE healing can get a little more repetitive than might be ideal, it's very satisfying to see the green numbers flood the screen and everyone sporting a Divine Aegis bubble. It feels powerful, like you're pumping out healing, and that's fun.

What’s on your wish list for your class?

  • Lightwell. I think putting a large part of holy's effectiveness in the hands of others is less than ideal. On the other hand making lightwell a purely passive healing mechanic would also be less than ideal. My modest proposal is that the priest can place it wherever she pleases and whenever she clicks it, it puts the HoT on the lowest-health person within range. The range can be rather small, so that positioning of the Lightwell and timing of clicks matters a lot. I think this strikes a good balance between keeping the healing within the hands of the priest while still not making it "free healing" (in terms of mental resources).
  • Renew. I'd like to see Renew strengthened for discipline priests, even if it means something else is reduced a bit in effectiveness. Maybe that's not a great suggestion from a min/max standpoint (generally, you do better if you have one or two god-level spells with everything else crap--since you can bias your casting patterns to favoring those great spells--than if you can do everything at a mild level) but I really would like to have a HoT that is useful more than once per five hours of raid time, just from a play-style enjoyment level. I find the very, very rare use for it here and there, but it's generally not even worth thinking about for discipline. I'd like to use it more.
  • Prayer of Mending. If it sits on someone for a certain length of time (like 10 seconds) without that person taking any damage, let it jump as normal but without doing any healing on the jump. There's something very frustrating about seeing a Prayer of Mending die on someone. You definitely should be trying to intelligently choose targets such that you maximize its chances of jumping, but that still doesn't always avoid the Prayer of Mending dead ends. By preventing it from healing when it "duration jumps," you still lose some of its effectiveness, keeping intact the incentive to choose targets wisely.

What spells do you use the least?

  • Holy Nova (just a novelty spell at present...I amuse myself by spamming it on Eyes of Occu'thar phases in Baradin Hold. It also totally won the Molten Core dailies, tagging mobs and healing up the quest mobs that you need to heal for one of the dailies. No true raid value, though.)
  • All the usual suspects--Mind Soothe, Mind Vision, Shackle Undead

Monday, September 19, 2011

Streamlined Grid

I was asked about Grid the other day, whether I had written anything about setting it up. "No," responded I, "As I'm not particularly fancy in my usage of it, I've never had anything particularly unique to say about it, that wouldn't be covered it the set-up guide."

Then I looked at the set-up guide.

It's perfectly competently written, and covers everything. It just seems a bit...dry and perhaps confusing to someone who's never used Grid before. It's the geek's direct approach for how to geek it up (and I don't mean that pejoratively...why, I've been accused of geek tendencies in my lifetime).

After seeing that, I thought, hey, maybe this can be my contribution. Writing a guide to simplify the process of using Grid badly...just like me!

So let's dig in. (By the way, I'm assuming you have installed Grid already. Make sure you type "/grid" on the in-game command prompt to bring up the Grid configuration panel.)

Make It Look Like You Want It To Look

There are three main things that will affect the majority of the look. Make sure you're on the Frame tab.

  • Frame Width/Frame Height: Play with the sliders until the box representing a single player's health is just right. You want it to be large enough that you can comfortably discern the health and see various symbols in the corners or on the sides, but not so large that ten or twenty five of these boxes will cover too much of your view space. After all, you need to get out of the poison, too.
  • Invert Bar Color: This determines whether a player of full health will have a fully colored bar (check off Invert Bar Color) or a fully black bar (leave it unchecked). Does losing health drain the bar of color or fill it up with color? For practical purposes, they're equivalent but different indicators...but one may be more intuitive to you than the other for knowing at a glance where everyone's health stands.
  • Frame Texture: This will determine, essentially, the glossiness and pattern of each person's health bar. Some people don't care about that, some do. Try out some at random to see if it even makes a difference to you. If it does, go through the options to determine which look is right for you.
Make sure to add a few people to your party so that you can see what it looks like with multiple people. Fiddle around with it until it's something you're comfortable with...don't worry about perfection right off the bat.

Drag the Grid frames to wherever you want them to live long-term, then click on the Layout tab in the Grid configuration pane and check off Frame Lock. Now it won't move, you won't accidentally drag it while playing.

Okay, you're now set up in terms of the visual look, at a minimal level. There are many more options that I won't go can explore them at your own discretion when you have time and inclination. The above steps should at least provide you with something that doesn't make your eyes bleed. Hopefully, at least!

First You Get The Status, Then You Get The Power...

Here's the way Grid works to relay you information: you define the pieces of information you'd like to know about a player (these pieces are called, in Grid terminology, statuses), then you indicate where and how each of those pieces of information (or statuses) should be displayed on the player's frame (the "where and how" is known as indicators). Define your statuses, tell Grid how to indicate them to you. Status, indicator.

Let's start with statuses.

Click on the Status tab in the Grid configuration pane. Grid comes pre-packaged with a lot of useful possible statuses to be displayed (and you can get more with plugins, but we'll come to that later) and you'll see them listed in the scrollable list on the left-hand side.

The thing about Grid is that it actually is quite usable straight out of the box. So some of the statuses that would be crucial to track already are set up. Let's look at a class-independent status, for the sake of example.

If you scroll down the list, you'll come to a Health category, which (if it's not already open) you can open by clicking the red button. The crucial one in this is Unit Health. Raid frames, especially for healers, are useless if you can't track the health of each person. Click on it.

On the right side, you'll see options specific to this status. For most statuses, there will be a Color option, which will allow you to choose the color that the indicator for this status will use. However, in this specific case, there's an alternate coloration option that will supercede the Color option, which is Use class color. If you have this checked off, each person's health bar will use the color associated with their class (i.e. red for death knights, white for priests, light blue for mages, etc). This is a common choice, because it allows you to get an extra piece of information (the class of that frame's player) with no extra space taken up, but it's far from a universal choice. Some people prefer a uniform color (traditionally, green). If you'd like a uniform color, uncheck that option and click on the color swatch box next to the word Color and select the color you want from the color picker.

The other option that will be common to any status is Priority. The number you select for this option determines the relative importance for this status. This matters only when you elect to have two or more statuses indicated in the same place on a frame. When both are eligible to be shown (the conditions have been met for each) the higher priority status will be displayed. A common use for this functionality is for priests to indicate Power Word: Shield and Weakened Soul in the same place, with Power Word: Shield as the higher priority. You know for a fact that if you have either a Power Word: Shield or a Weakened Soul debuff on a target, you either can't or won't want to re-shield them, so there's no real value to knowing that Weakened Soul is up if Power Word: Shield is. Therefore, you use this priority system to display Power Word: Shield until it's gone and then, if Weakened Soul is still up, that gets displayed until it, too, is gone. An elegant way to save space without losing any necessary information.

Beyond that, you'll have statuses for common class-specific spells you put on other people, like Rejuvenation for druids or Beacon of Light for paladins. Each status may have its own options that are relevant for that particular piece of information. Make sure to look at those options and mess around with them a bit to make sure it will display in the most useful fashion to you. There are also statuses for common (in combat) buffs and debuffs. Explore them and start configuring any that you feel are important for you to know about while healing an encounter.

Of course, to make a status actually display, we need the next part of the process.

All Indications Point To Standing In Fire

So let's put some of these statuses to use, via indicators. Click on the Indicators tab in the Grid configuration pane.

Indicators have two attributes. They're primarily identified by their location (Center Text, Top Right Corner, etc) but each indicator has only a limited number of ways it can display the information.

You'll see that there are a number of options, in the scrollable list on the left side, for where you can display information, and some already have statuses associated with them by default. The most common place to put indicators are in the corners of the frame. You can also use colored borders, the text in the center, the icon in the center, the four sides and the health bar itself to display information.

As for the ways in which these indicators can display the information, out of the box, you can display little boxes or numbers in the corners, numbers on the sides, text and/or an icon in the center, and colors on the health bar and border. You can also use the frame alpha (the frame's transparency, essentially) for statuses.

If you click on an indicator type, like Healing Bar, you'll see on the right side all the possible statuses you can display with that indicator with check boxes. Anything you check off, Grid will attempt to show on that indicator. Bear in mind that if you attempt to put a status that has a display type on an indicator that can't display that type, it just won't show up. Out of the box, you can't display icons in the corner, so if you attempt to put an icon-only display status in a corner, you won't see anything.

In the case of Healing Bar, Grid comes with Incoming Heals checked off. This will show a color overlay on the health bar, in whatever color you configured in the Incoming Heals status, whenever you or another healer is in the middle of casting a heal on that target, giving you a rough approximation of where that target's health will be once the heals land (helping you overheal less).

So this is the section where you put all those lovely statuses to work, arranging where you want them to be presented to you. Many of your class-specific spells will already be set up to show, so cast spells on yourself that put (short-term) buffs and debuffs on the target (like HoTs or shields or Beacon of Light) and see how Grid displays them. If you would prefer they get presented elsewhere, go into the Indicators section, uncheck them from the indicator they are currently on and check them off on the indicators you'd like them to be shown on.

Maybe you don't want Rejuvenation's duration shown in the upper-right corner, you'd like it shown in the lower-left corner. Maybe you don't want aggro shown for a target as a red border, but rather as a red box in the lower-right corner. These are the types of design decisions you can make.

Creating Your Own Statuses

So now you know what statuses are and what indicators are and their relationship to each other. Hopefully you now know these things, at least, assuming I wrote clearly. However, what if you want to display some information that isn't included with the default Grid?

As an example, Shannox, a Fireland boss, has two dog-like companions. One of them races around the raid, chewing the faces off of random people. Suppose you're a healer tasked with keeping these people's faces would be more than passingly useful to know whom the dog has targeted next for chewing.

You can do that. Rageface puts a debuff on his current target called Face Rage (not a very subtle dog). We'll set up Grid to make it obvious when one of your raidmates has this debuff, allowing you to quickly ascertain who's about to take a spike of damage.

Click on the Status tab. In the list column on the left side, click on the Auras category header. Once you do that, the right side should have two text input fields, one labeled Add new Buff and one labeled Add new Debuff. Click to put a text cursor in the Add new Debuff input field and type "Face Rage" (without the quotation marks). Then press the Okay button that should appear on the right side of the text input field.

Now, scroll down the list of Auras, until you see Debuff: Face Rage and click on it. The right side will now give you the options you can set for your new status. Make sure Enable is checked off (you should do this for any status you want to use). You can selectively enable or disable this debuff per class...if, for example, you didn't want to be notified when a druid acquired this debuff, you'd uncheck Druid. However, we want this debuff to show up for any class that gets it. So all classes should be checked off. Select a bright color that will be easy for you to see, since you want this to be obvious when it happens. You probably want to jack the priority up to's your number one priority to know about when it happens. The Show duration option is something that can be useful for a number of buffs and debuffs, so be aware of it...however, this debuff gets removed when one of your DPS crits Rageface, so it's not needed in this case.

You now have a perfectly functional Face Rage status. You just have to put in play. You'll do this in exactly the same way you use indicators for any of the other statuses. A user-created status is just as usable as one that comes with Grid. Your status can be displayed by a color or box indicator or, if you checked off the Show duration checkbox, by a number indicator.

If You'd Like To Do More

These are just the basics of Grid, getting you up to speed with how it works and the major tools. There are a great many plugins for Grid that will add new indicators (like being able to display icons in the corners) or statuses (perhaps you want to track the absorb effects on a target). Some statuses are so cleverly coded that they will even act as new functionality.

You can find a nice list of Grid plugins to peruse here.

I use some of these. They're quite easy to install them like any other add-on and they get listed in the left-hand column in either the Status or Indicators tab, and you just select them, set the options and proceed to use them just as we went through above.

I Have No Pithy Way To End This

So here's this. Enjoy (and hopefully have a long and productive career with Grid).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Transmog Tuesday: So You Want To Be A Necromancer

In my continuing desire to find ways to look one's best when running around inside raids, I've decided to present a new ensemble, somewhat darker than my last offering. This is for those of you who want to be a necromancer (or "dark wizard" archetype of your choosing) for Halloween your next post-4.3 raid.

I want to reiterate that I'm probably taking far too much glee in the upcoming transmog feature. For me, a game like World of Warcraft is just as much a venue for self-expression, if not moreso, as it is for exercising game play mechanics. I've sometimes thought that the two points of fun for me are character creation (when I can visualize a character concept while playing with the customization options and names) and raiding. Everything in between (questing, dungeons, professions, etc) is filler. That might be putting it in overly extreme terms but, suffice it to say, character customization means a lot to me.

So let's dive right in!

Head (Or "The Evil Is In The Eyes")

I knew that to be dark, my clothie had to be wearing a cowl or hood. It had to hide some of the face. You see the full face of your neighbor, your co-worker, your mother. Those who work in the shadows (assassins, necromancers) hide at least part of their faces.

There was a specific looking cowl I wanted, one I had seen on my rogue when leveling using heirlooms. The Stained Shadowcraft Cap has a really nice, secretive look to it. So I dialed it up on wowhead and clicked on their wonderful "Same model as" tab to find a cloth version.

There was precisely one. The Abjurer's Hood. It wasn't black as I would have desired, ideally, but the rich blue was something I could work with in a dark set. If it had been yellow or green, I'd have been quite out of luck!

It really can't be farmed out in the world, as the drop rates for it are abysmal. Rather, I had to count on the combined farming efforts of the entire server (it's the Ahn-Qiraj war effort all over again!) and camp the auction house patiently. It took a few weeks, but I successfully stalked my prey and put the trophy in my bank.

Shoulders (Or "The Dark Cloud Around You")

This one was fairly straightforward. I wanted black shoulders with either silver or white accents, and there was an extremely accessible set that looked very nice: the Black Mageweave Shoulders.

Now, the Black Mageweave set has a measure of infamy for the Playboy Bunny-style garters and bodice that are a part of the set, but not all of it is for tarting up your female character, as you can see above! Necromancers don't have sex (at least, unless you're into certain fetishes).

Chest (Or "Everything Goes With Black")

Clearly, I'm not trying to reinvent the necromancer, here. This is going to be a dark set. There are several "actual black" looks (there are some other robes that are "off-black" but don't have that same, satisfyingly inky look), and I narrowed it down to one look that can be created with either one relatively rare robe or two not-too-rare pieces of gear.

This is the look:

There are two routes to this silver-and-black look. One is the Black Velvet Robes. This is a reasonably rare drop blue item, so it may take a while to find it on the auction house. The other option is to combine the Silver-Thread Robe with the Stylish Black Shirt. The shirt, obviously, you'll have to actually wear since you can't use a white no-stats item for transmog...but shirts aren't stat-generating gear, so it's no hardship to actually wear it. The Silver-Thread Robe leaves one's arms bare, which is why the shirt is needed, to provide the sleeves. Bared arms can be a sexy look, but it looks passing strange on a srs bsns necromancer.

Waist (Or "Free Accent Piece!")

Hey, remember that blue cowl-mask-thing? Well, I think it looks pretty cool, but it's going to look more than a bit out of place if it's the only blue in the ensemble. Maybe there should be a little bit more blue in order to make blue a true accent color, rather than a jarringly out-of-place color choice on the head. Fortunately, blue makes a nice accent to black.

Focusing in on the waist, we have:

It's a black belt with a sapphire at the center, as the buckle, known as the Sorcerer Sash. It matches the hood rather nicely, setting it off strikingly!

Cloak (Or "If You Have No Shadow To Stand In, Bring Your Own")

A good cloak or cape is essential to a strong outfit. Sure, you can hide your cloak (and I've done that often, when I've had an ugly cloak) but there's no fun in that when you can select your cape!

It's actually extremely hard to find a pure back cloak, more's the pity. Most of the darkest are very dark purple or brown. The closest I could find was a dark gray one that's almost black. A guildie of mine mentioned it on the auction house. I had already looked at it (on wowhead) and dismissed it as "not black." But after re-evaluating, I realized it was my best option. It cost quite a bit (it's a hard-to-find drop from Doomwalker, a world raid boss that is rarely wandering around) but it was worth it to me. What's gold worth, really (at least until the real-money auction house tells us!). Since she didn't want it, I figured I'd pick it up.

So, this is the cloak that you've probably seen peeking around the robe in some of the above screenshots, the Black-Iron Battlecloak.

Boots And Gloves (Or "No Big Deal")

I won't say much here, or bother with screenshots. They're just black gloves and shoes. I chose the Heroes' Gloves of Faith and the Black Mageweave Boots (again, nothing salacious!), but there are a lot of ways you could go here.

Weapons (Or "How To Make A Necromancer Look Like She Wants Your Gizzard")

There are a couple of choices, here. I focused on a staff option and a dagger plus off-hand option. Maces just don't "feel" like necromancy. Not sharp enough to make dark sacrifices, I'm sure.

Let's start with the staff. There are a few nicely evil staves, but I think nothing quite encapsulates the life-stealing bad of a scythe. More specifically, Lord Ahune's Frost Scythe.

It's got blue highlights, fitting the accent color we set with the cowl and belt, and a scythe has a very grim reaper feel--which has a pretty clear connection with death. In addition, it has a wonderful icy glow. It just screams death, as far as I'm concerned.

The other option here is the dagger and offhand combination. I selected this sleek, understated dagger that looks perfect for disemboweling innocents in ritual sacrifice (not that I busy my mind thinking about such things...) with an eerie purple glow. I paired a book-model offhand with it, as a grimoire, conceptually.

The dagger is the Mindfang (Horde) or the Sageclaw (Alliance). The book I used was the Fire Runed Grimoire from Molten Core, but there are many off-hand options that look like books. Another option for that model of dagger is the Sorcerous Dagger, also from Molten Core. It looks the same but has a green glow. Ultimately, I felt the purple fit better.

Putting It All Together

So there we have it. Here's what the completed outfit looks like, front and back.

I'll also provide a wowhead export for the ensemble, with the three-dimensional modeling, so you can examine it yourself and play around with it, adding and subtracting to it as you please.

Model It!

So, why would anyone want to be a necromancer? Because dark and dangerous is sexy, regardless of your affiliation. I play a priest main, a healing priest no less...and I will greatly enjoy sporting this look at some point.

As always, I hope this spurs you into pondering how you can tailor a look for yourself, possibly one that goes beyond tier sets. There are a lot of lovely weapons and pieces of armor out there, many of them merely uncommon and rare. Play around with them, find something that suits you!