Proving Grounds as Study Group

After writing about my process for learning to heal on a new character, my methods were put to the test again. My raid group is about to start on heroic raid content, which I plan to heal on my monk, Loevea. I’ll keep going with our larger, normal difficulty raid, too, but I’m not so sure I want to do the same job on the same character in the same content (even if it is differing difficulties). I’d like to try something new, so I decided to heal our normal raid on my paladin, who wasn’t even in Draenor yet.

Once I hit 100, I was reminded of a great learning tool I’ve neglected in the past: the Proving Grounds! I set up my keybinds and popped in. With no real idea of what I was doing, I made it through just a couple of waves. I reconfigured my keybinds, and tried again. I wasn’t even worried about getting through the Bronze Trial, to be honest. I was much more worried about figuring out a keybind system that was going to work for me and understanding the rhythm of paladin healing. I did get through Bronze after a few tries; I got Silver the following day after grabbing a little more healing gear.

The great thing about Proving Grounds is that it’s exactly what a fresh healer needs: a five-person party taking damage but making no judgement whatsoever about your healing abilities. Oto and the gang will happily party with you again and again and again, for as long as it takes you to figure things out. It’s a truly low-stakes environment where no one but you will ever know what happened.


On Getting Good at Things (Part II)

Last time I wrote about this, I wound up talking mostly about how I created my guild and raid team. I’m not sure it seemed connected, but the thing is that you’ve got to have a safe space in which you can get good at a thing. This is especially true if you are trying to get good at tanking or healing, but I think it’s true for dps as well. (And of course, a whole lot of stuff in offline life.) So, I have a raid team and a guild that are casual and learner-friendly; now what? I have a sort of system for learning dps classes, but healing is very different. Healing inherently depends on other players, so how do I get good at that?

I don’t typically level in a healing spec, even if my primary interest is healing. It’s not as if I’ve never done it: I leveled Loevea as Mistweaver for quite a while, and it was perfectly sustainable and fairly fast. Of course, that was before 6.0.2, but I imagine that with Stance of the Spirited Crane, it would be still be a reasonable thing to do. I also leveled an “off-priest” (yes, a second priest) as Holy, and I was pretty surprised at how much damage I could do in Chastise chakra. Again, that was in Mists, so I don’t know how 6.0.2 has affected this.

That said, I’m usually practicing healing as a second spec or at a later level. So if I have a new character on whom I want to heal, here’s what I do:

First, I read Icy Veins. Actually, I do this repeatedly, but I first do this in my second monitor, with WoW open in my first monitor so that I can set up my buttons and my healing addon. (More about healing addons in a moment.) I set up keybindings or mouse clicks for my basic abilities. If there’s a lot going on and I think I might get overwhelmed, I set up a few at a time so I can practice with just those.

About healing addons: I use VuhDo. Others use Healbot or Grid + Clique. Some folks use the base UI, and while I’ve healed this way, I became a faster, more responsive healer by using the addons. Mouseover macros are another option that work with the base raid frames and/or players and their nameplates. All of these are perfectly cromulent options, and you should use what works for you. Most of my heals are bound to various mouse clicks, which I administer to players by clicking on the raid frames included with these addons.

Disc Priest Notebook

Spells and keybindings for Disc Priesting.

Then I write down my keybinds. Occasionally this has been on a post-it, but more often I use a steno pad to note my abilities. This way when I am in the middle of a dungeon or raid, and I’m thinking, “OHMYGODHELP WHERE DID I PUT MY BIG FAST HEAL?”, a glance at the notepad beside my keyboard tells me.

I’ve also learned to be consistent. Since I have a lot of alts, and many of those alts have at least dabbled in the healing arts, I keep my keybinds as consistent as possible over all my characters. So if I have an interrupt, it is on my 7 key, because that key is extremely easy to hit on my gaming mouse. My big expensive basic heal is usually a right mouse click; the small cheap heal is a left-click on my mouse. Dispel or detox is CTRL-ALT-L (left click), and if I have a bubble or shield, it’s CTRL-L.

Holy pally keybinds.

When I first make cheat sheets, I change them on the fly a lot, as better keybinds often make themselves obvious during play.

This way, even in the moments that I forget how this particular character works, I’m not completely surprised. After all, I’ve played a disc priest for a long time. Casting Power Word: Shield with CRTL-L is muscle memory at this point; if I hit that on my monk, I might be surprised that the bubble is bright green and I can only do one or two per fight, but the click still did essentially what I expected it to do.

If the character is max level, this is when I hop into LFR. No, I’m not kidding. LFR is a beautiful place to learn healing.

First, LFR presents an actual healing situation, which is the only way you can learn to heal. Second, there are five other healers there who have your back. Unless they are all learners, you’re going to be fine. You’re not going to wipe the raid. Third, LFR is often kind of a face roll, so the occasions on which someone will actually call you out for not knowing what you’re doing are few and far between. In general, people only do this if things are going very badly, or if there are overgeared healers interested in waving their e-peens around. Usually, you’ll get lots of practice picking spells, learning your keybinds, and figuring out what you need to change about your keybinds or priorities.

If I’m not max level, I’m unlikely to step into a random dungeon until I have some practice. But you do have to get that practice, so I recommend running dungeons with a few willing friends who understand you’re trying to learn. If you do venture into randoms, I strongly suggest telling the players in the group as soon as you zone in that you are new to healing. If they have a problem with taking it slow or being patient, it’s best to find that out right away and bail.

Any way you slice it though, you have to get practice. You have to find folks who will let you ply your fancy new healing trade on them. You have to see what works to pick someone up quickly, you have to learn what will suck your mana dry, you have to learn to what extent you can heal through damage. And you have to learn it in your muscle memory. Healing requires reflexes and quick decisions, and I find that most of that knowledge resides in my hands rather than my head.

On Getting Good at Things (Part I)

An acquaintance of mine recently posted on our social network about how he was playing WoW again, but was coping with a fear of the endgame: a fear, specifically, of playing poorly in groups doing high level content. I think to some degree, this is a fear many of us contend with. My spouse has also voiced this same fear, a fear echoed by numerous comments on the post in question, several citing this as the reason they play a strictly solo game in MMOs.

I myself was a solo player for my first several years playing WoW, but before I even had the sense to realize I might be playing poorly, I’d been allowed to tag along with a raid group and found out that I really liked raiding. Before long—and honestly, without much real raiding experience—I’d formed my own raid team in a large guild. My intent was mostly to find other people that wanted to play at the same times I could play. I started to think, though, about what I was really looking for in a raid team, and what I wanted my team to be like.

I’d left my previous guild because I couldn’t get a spot on the raid team. I was playing a combat rogue at the time, while a good friend of mine played an assassination spec. We were doing more or less equal dps at the time, which is to say not bad, but not spectacular by any means. We were both on standby: we could fill in if the regular raiders didn’t show up. Week after week, I faithfully showed up on time, fed, flasked, and ready, to see if there might be a spot for me. Sometimes I got to play, sometimes I didn’t.

Then one day, I learned that our raid leader had recruited a rogue he saw hanging around Dalaran. Basically, he saw the guy hanging around town, inspected his gear, chatted him up, and offered him a raid spot. My friend and I were waiting for regular raid spots, showing up each week just in case, but instead, our leader recruited another rogue to fill the empty spot. I quit the guild and ended up moving to a different server in search of the right guild and raid team.

So when it came to my own team, I wanted a team that gave people a chance to play. I didn’t need to be a top-tier raider; I just wanted to play the game with fun people. I value respect, loyalty, and shared leadership, and I wanted my raid team to reflect those values. I kicked people out of the raid not for low dps, but for publicly criticizing their teammates’ play, or for trying to lay claim to the best loot just because they did more damage than another player. New raid members who thought damage meters were the measure of the player soon found that they were in the wrong raid. Our first loot rule was “Keep it classy”: Pass on marginal upgrades and give them to players who need them. Don’t hog loot even if you win all the rolls. Be kind to one another.

I shared leadership of the raid with a couple of trusted team members, but the buck still stopped with me. Eventually, we broke away from our mega-guild and formed our own small guild. Today I lead our guild with the help of The Board, a few of those who raided with us way back in 2008 and 2009.

My goals for our raid team now are the same as they were in 2008: I want people to have a chance to play the game. I want to create a space in which learning is encouraged and failure is OK. Most of all, I want to play the game with people whose company I enjoy. Yes, a certain level of performance is needed for us to kill bosses. But raiding is not something you can learn without others. Raiding requires situational awareness, quick reactions to changing circumstances, and execution of a strategy, all in coordination with at least nine other people. You only learn so much of that through solo play. And you certainly cannot learn to tank or heal without other people. You learn to raid by raiding.

Sometimes people fail. Sometimes they play poorly. Sometimes their errors cause other people in the raid to die; sometimes they cause everyone in the raid to die. Big deal. It happens. Rez or run back for your body, repair your gear, and do it again. Be kind to one another. When it all comes together and the boss goes down, you all win, and it feels epic.

Shifting gears

When I first picked up the new expac, I wasn’t really sure which of my characters would be first to 100, or whether I might have a new main this time around. With class adjustments and new gear to pick up, a new expac is always a good time to pick up a new main.

I hopped onto my priest, Sindei, on launch night, but soon switched to Loevea, my mistweaver monk. I leveled in windwalker for efficiency, but I healed a few leveling dungeons along the way. With friends, of course; no reason to subject myself to LFD groups before I’m confident with the new monk healing! The leveling dungeons went fine, so I wasn’t too worried.

At level 100, though, things felt like they shifted. I was expecting that, of course, but I’ll admit the change made me wish I’d leveled Sindei first. I was struggling to keep my party up, struggling to catch my tank up after big hits, and struggling mightily with my mana.

But honestly, I don’t know that it would have been much better on Sindei. Certainly, I’m more familiar with disc healing, and the priest’s toolbox is considerably bigger than the monk’s. That said, I would still be running up against being a fresh 100, with most of my raid gear outstripped by the new greens and blues. I could level Sindei up and see if things were better, but that felt like it was going to put me behind on being raid-ready. I am leveling Sindei up, of course; I just didn’t want to have to rush the job or shift priorities two weeks before raiding begins.

I think part of the issue is being a fresh 100, along with a lack of familiarity with the monk toolset. I know what spells I have and how to use them; but my muscle memory and reaction time are still lacking. I sometimes experience a sort of decision paralysis I don’t get on my priest. On top of that, we have this new “fun” healing Blizzard promised us: our party won’t have full health and we’ll struggle with mana. So much fun! Wheee!

All that said, I seem to be adjusting to life as a healing monk. I’m working on managing my mana better, which includes balancing my mana tea procs and chi. And I’m feeling more comfortable all the time with the toolkit. I still catch myself wishing for some of Sindei’s quick saves—her Power Word: Shield or that first big hit of Penance that gets my target out of danger—but I’m getting the hang of the monk’s tools.

I’m feeling better about monk healing now, and not at all sorry that I leveled Loevea first. We’ll see how I feel once I start heroics later this weekend.


One Week in Draenor

One week after launch, I thought I’d jot down some of my first impressions of Warlords:

The music is amazing. Especially in the isolated, snowy areas of Frostfire Ridge, the music makes me want to stand still just to listen to it. To me, this seems like the best music Blizzard has ever done. I plan to pull the soundtrack out of my CE box this weekend, and I never open my CE soundtracks.

I love the zones. I was worried about this, to be honest. With the exception of Nagrand, I didn’t love the zones in Outland, and all the talk of “savagery” and the Iron Horde gave me visions of Hellfire Peninsula, for some reason. But the zones and the scenery are beautiful here. I am a little surprised at how much I like revisiting Draenor; I’m constantly pulling the old Outland map up on my second monitor to connect where I am to the damaged Outland we know.

I dig the story, and I’m really enjoying Thrall’s interactions with his parents, who are in the dark about him, of course. I admit, some of the conversations are a little heavy-handed, a big cheesy wink from the devs, but I like them anyway. Also, Draka kicks ass. Love her.

I like that my raid gear isn’t getting replaced until later in the leveling process. Upgrades are always welcome, of course, but it’s nice to hang onto, for only a little while, the gear I worked so hard to get.

I like the rares that pop up all over now, and I love the periodic upgrades on quest rewards. Annoyingly, none of my followers have gotten upgraded, but I’ve gotten quite a few gear upgrades.

Garrisons are like crack. I mean, I guess I don’t really know what crack is like, but people who like it sure seem to like it a lot. And I like it! My garrison, I mean. Garrisons are one of the first things I do in the morning and one of the last things I do at night. Gotta keep those followers working, you know! I like watching it grow, I like the NPCs that swing by, and I like all the mats I have available. Even though I did get suckered back into fishing dailies. It’s Sunsong Ranch writ large.

But Sunsong could be buggy at times, and that too is writ large with garrisons. We’ve seen days now of disconnects, character not found errors, and folks trapped in their garrisons. Blizzard seems to be working hard to get it sorted, but I never stopped having weird bugs in Sunsong, and I have to wonder if the garrisons will ever be really stable. I hope so, because when they’re working, they’re a lot of fun.