Friday, September 9, 2011

Elune, We Have A Problem

Sometimes when progressing through raid content, you encounter an unusual situation: you're failing. To be more specific, you're repeatedly falling victim to an avoidable damage mechanic. Hopefully, this situation doesn't arise often for you but when it does, it's vexing.

The other night, I found myself in this predicament. This is quite unusual for me. I'm not an infallible superstar by any means; I sometimes make mistakes with decision-making or will die to something I shouldn't have. However, I'm usually extremely good about not getting blown to bits by a straightforward, avoidable mechanic and I almost never make the same mistake repeatedly.

That being said, that is exactly what happened to me against Ragnaros. When he does his Sulfuras Smash (bringing down his hammer somewhere on the platform you engage him from) three waves of lava spawn from the impact point and rush away from the hammer: directly away from Ragnaros and in each direction perpendicular from the vector of the wave racing away from Ragnaros. (It's simpler in reality than to explain, basically it's right, left and forward).

This should be easy to avoid. Every guide says it is, it looks like it is to me and it's the type of thing I usually avoid with ease...without even thinking about it. Be that as it may, I was not avoiding it with ease. I wasn't getting hit by it every time (thankfully) but I was dying to it far more than I should have, which put a strain on my fellow healer and, thus, the raid.

So what do you do when this happens? It's frustrating, all the more so because it feels so out of character and you wonder if your raidmates are silently judging you. Maybe it's just a bad night, or perhaps it isn't. What's called for is a diagnostic process! We love processes here at Holy Word: Delicious. If all of life could be boiled down to a process, we here at Holy Word: Delicious would die happy (according to a proper death process).

Step One: What is the nature of the fail?

Obviously, you have to start with identifying what's going wrong. Nothing drives me to distraction more than someone responding to a "How did you die?" query with "I dunno."* If it wasn't apparent to you when you actually died, check logs and figure out what it was. Not knowing means it's going to happen again. And again. There are some useful tools to figure these things out, even during the raid. Make sure you always have some way to go back and check what happened, if it wasn't clearly apparent. You always have the in-game combat log, if it comes to that.

*You can get the craziest accounts from these types of people. "It was so weird, I was just standing there and then suddenly I was dead! Might be some kind of bug, because I was totally not standing in anything and didn't do anything wrong. What's that? There's a debuff the boss puts on you during that stage that makes you explode if you don't /point and then /dance? I didn't know that but I'm pretty sure that's not what happened. I don't think I had a debuff. I think it was a bug."

In my case, it was the above-mentioned Lava Waves that are produced from the Sulfuras Smash. Pretty cut and dry. I saw it hit me, I saw the DoT it placed on me and I saw my charred corpse immediately after. The arrow of causality isn't too hard to draw there.

The first step of the process, then, is knowing what the fail is.

Step Two: Why are you failing to that?

Would you like to be killed by this mechanic? (Y/N)
> nah
You do not fail.
> pew-pew
You critical strike the boss for ***48302*** damage!

This is not how World of Warcraft works ever since build 2938.12.21 in the original beta. Sadly. If we could simply choose not to fail, we never would. We are (generally) trying to never fail. So when we fail to something, there has to be a reason why. Why, despite presumably not wanting to fail, did we fail? (Believe me, even if you're not asking yourself that question, your raid leader likely will be eventually.)

So you have to have some sense of self-awareness. You have to be thinking about what's going on, or at least passively recording the events in your mind so that you can revisit them from memory after the fact and do a post-mortem. You need to know why that mechanic was a problem for you.

Here it was in my case: We were two healing Ragnaros (ten-man raid, obviously), which is quite do-able. I was primarily responsible for the tanks, but couldn't focus entirely on them. When two-healing the encounter, the raid can't afford one healer to be healing the tanks and no one else. There's too much damage to too many spread out people when things like magma traps are set off.

The tank damage was fairly spiky. The tanks swap due to the stacking Burning Wound debuff that Ragnaros applies to the tank he's currently pummeling (exacerbated by the Burning Blast ability that causes damage based on the Burning Wound stack). Ragnaros himself hits like a truck and the tank who isn't currently absorbing Ragnaros' abuse with his/her face is still taking enough damage from the aforementioned abilities (that take 20 seconds to drop off even when not tanking him) that that tank's health will still drop rapidly if ignored.

So. The tanks were leaking health rather rapidly and there were other raid members to heal. My best instant, Power Word: Shield, has limited value in the fight because someone who has just taken damage (other than the tanks) is not necessarily likely to take damage again within the duration of a Power Word: Shield (15 seconds). A shield that simply runs out of duration is nothing more than mana thrown into the fire (pun intended). So I don't have a ton of mobile healing. The feeling that someone would die kept me feeling anchored. This doesn't explain the failure (healers needing to move in addition to healing is nothing new), but the post-mortem isn't over.

The above issue naturally led me to trying to move the least distance possible to avoid the lava waves. Nothing wrong with that, that's what you should be trying to do. However, it led to a couple of issues.

  • If the hammer came down next to me, all I did was move to a diagonal vector from it, which is what you're supposed to do to be in the "safe zone" (since the waves move toward compass point directions relative to the hammer). However! If you're standing right next to the hammer, the waves are too close together for the diagonal to be'll still be clipped (annoyingly, the effect radius is larger than the visual radius, but that is nothing new in World of Warcraft).
  • If the hammer came down far, far away from me (like on the other side of the pretty enormous platform), I was making hasty guesses as to where the straight line vectors of the waves would take them by the time they reached my vicinity and moving quickly to where I figured the "cone of safety" would be. Sometimes I guessed right, sometimes I died.

These two situations were what were undoing me. This ties into the stationary feeling of having to heal without pause because, frankly, I was using flawed strategies to avoid waves in those two situations to minimize casting down time.

Now, let's be clear. This is an explanation for the purpose of personal diagnosis and improvement. It's not an excuse. I was not justified in dying to those waves, I wasn't the victim of unfairness. I'm laying it out, here, not to exonerate myself in your eyes (I mean, if I worried about your judgment, I wouldn't even have mentioned this, now would I? Right?) but to provide a concrete example of how, in my view, one should approach understanding the problem to solve it. You need to be able to explain it in your own mind. This really shouldn't be for public consumption (that is, for your raid) because it will sound like excuses. And you really shouldn't be intending to use it as an excuse. Explain it to yourself and understand it but do not confuse it with excusing yourself. You need to fix it.

So step two of the process is understanding why that identified mechanic is putting you in an early grave.

Step Three: So what are you going to do about it?

Breaking your keyboard is not the right answer.

Once you've identified the problem mechanic and discovered why it's a problem, the final step is to figure out the work-around. Every problem has a solution, unless you're pushing a world's-first on a boss that wasn't released on the PTR--then the problem may not have a solution until Blizzard hotfixes it while you're in the middle of your raid. But I digress.

You've broken down the ramifications of the mechanic and identified which aspect is making it what action will neutralize it? Sometimes it can be as simple as an add-on giving you a BIGGER WARNING on your screen (complete with Christmas lights and a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man). Sometimes it will require mapping out an actual movement or spell choice strategy ahead of time. In my specific case, it was the latter.

I had identified which situations were problems: hammer dropping next to me (not on me, I never got hit by the hammer itself!) or hammer dropping very far away from me. The hammer dropping at some midway distance was no problem...seeing the diagonal quickly and moving into it was easy.

The answers, once I knew the precise nature of the problem, turned out to be easy.

  • In the case of the hammer dropping right next to me, I had to move away from the hammer on the diagonal vector. Standing next to it, even on the diagonal, wasn't sufficient. If I saw that the hammer was going to be right next to me (and you do get an indication ahead of time), it was time to shield the tank, maybe put a Renew up, a Prayer of Mending and then get the heck out of Dodge. Get to the new spot and then spam fast heals to make up any deficit I had fallen behind on while moving.
  • In the case of the hammer dropping far away, I had to move forward into melee range, not backward looking for the diagonal. The hammer is always dropped far enough away from Ragnaros that a wave will never blast through his hit box. I can't stand in melee all the time to passively avoid waves because (designers being crafty like that) Ragnaros has a silencing knock-back...if you're standing in melee range and casting when he does it, you get locked out of the spell school you were casting in for something like 5 seconds (which is an eternity when the tanks are dying). But running into melee range and then back out immediately, after the wave has raced past, causes no ill effects.

Once I put these fixes into action, things got better immediately. It was immensely easier to avoid the waves and with minimum thought and movement (the better to use that thought and time for healing decision-making).

So the third step of the process is to create a plan that will work around the problems you've identified.

Step Four: I Forget What Four Was For

So, that's The Process. It's always nice to have a process to work through to solve problems. Admittedly, none of the steps I laid out are a revolution in logic, philosophy or spirituality, but it's good to formalize a thinking process rather than fall into the "Well, that sucked, I'll try to do better next time" trap. That's surprisingly easy to do and very know the mechanic, you messed up, you'll just try harder next time. However, if there's a specific problem that's causing you to miss the mechanic, you'll probably keep failing at it until you (implicitly or explicitly) go through the above process.

Ultimately, if you still keep struggling with the mechanic, it's probably a bug. Or latency. Or a lag spike. "It was the craziest thing..."


  1. "Nothing drives me to distraction more than someone responding to a "How did you die?" query with "I dunno.""

    This, a thousand times this! It really bugs me.

    I believe that everyone who claims to want to progress, especially those who think they have a right to be killing heroic-mode bosses, really ought to be able to tell me, or at least find out for me, why they died. At best not knowing is lazy (hoping someone else will do the work for you), at worst it's wilful ignorance and disregard for the rest of the raid's time.

    Almost as bad are the people who think they died to Corruption of the Old God, Volcano or some other mild raid damage. No, that might have got the killing blow, but you died because of the 50k-75k hit you just took from standing in the Corrupting Crash or the Lava Stream 1.7s earlier.

    If you're going to look at the death logs, at least scroll up and look at them properly...

  2. That's a great point. Looking to see what delivered the coup de grâce is insufficient and nearly as bad as a shrug.

    I don't think every player should have to be good at detailed analysis, but if you want to get into end-game progression, you need to put out at least a modicum of effort in figuring out what's going with yourself and the raid and how you can make the situation "better" (in whatever way it can be better).

  3. Precisely.

    There's the famous quotation, attributed to just about everyone, that says that "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." And if you don't know what you're doing wrong, how can you know what to change?

    On topic, I had the same trouble as you describe on Rag in our last raid, especially with Smashes on the far left or right. I tried running back to get to the diagonal but the widening waves got me too often, so I did what you did and changed to running in with the tank instead - a much more reliably safe spot. Once I got knocked back into a wave, so I might go further round away from the hammer, see if that helps.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post!

  4. I'm glad you liked it and thanks for your thoughts. Also, it's a comfort to know I wasn't the only one having that issue!