The elements of questing (combat), from a DPS trying to quest as a healer

troll-shaman-raptor-riding

I guess I’m a masochist, for I like making my own challenges within the game with custom limitations. I’ve leveled a Shockadin (Holy Paladin DPS build) and regularly played her as a Shockadin when questing. After one of my guild masters complained about questing as a Holy Priest, I leveled a Priest as Holy from 1-100 using nothing but questing. I get flight as late as I can because, well, I like the scenery from down below, and also as a person suffering from depression, there are psychological mountains in my way every day, so it’s relevant and important to me to be working my way around and conquering those rather than rendering them nonexistential. (That is, I don’t want to pretend to be a me without depression, but I want to pretend to be a me still with depression who is stronger than depression.) I also like soaring above at max level, but at max level only, when going anywhere is truly possible.

When it became apparent that in Legion healers were going to have mini DPS toolkits in order to be able to level by questing (but also to do world quests, presumably), I thought that was the perfect thing for me to test. Leveling via quests is my jam, even if it’s a little nonoptimal.

Of course, I’m a bit of a different perspective than a player of healers is. My background involves years of having been a pure DPS class that can often solo things well. I also think how I’m a multidotting spec/class is relevant, because I have a tendency to pull multiple mobs at a time and chain-pull around a quest area, because I can handle multiple mobs at a time. I get to have a bit of a flow when navigating a quest area, rather than having to pull one mob at a time to take forever to kill. Despite my ability to get through a quest area faster than a healer, because I’m focused less on trying to kill this one mob, I have more mental time as it were to look up and around, to focus on what’s in the environment, where I can go, what I can do, etc.

Questing as either a DPS or a healer quickly becomes about efficiency, about killing what you need as fast as possible, eliminating as much downtime as you can. Healers and DPS tend to do this differently depending on player, with some picking the most efficient path to gather all the mobs at once or in succession with packs, whereas others will pick off the loner mobs on the edges of the questing area. This is due to trying to avoid many different types of downtime going on — some types that DPS have advantage over healers for, some where we’re all in the same boat.

Time (and distance)

There’s what I call “straight time,” which is the forward progression of seconds, at least typically in our case of questing. Minimizing straight time usually occurs in the rotation itself or through a talent selection, so you can decrease a cooldown, proc an instant version of a normally cast-time spell, or generate double resources for a moment. But for the most part, straight time is rather fixed and not very malleable by the player.

Then there’s distance, which translates into time. Distance is far more controllable by the player. Players typically notice distance when it comes to moving between quest objectives, so they’ll cite movement speed boosts and mountability as solutions for distance. However, distance actually features best in the pulling and positioning of mobs when you’re killing them.

When killing mobs is involved as an objective (loot drops or simply number of kills), questing feels more efficient the more often you are actively engaging in combat. This is different from constantly being in combat such that you cannot voluntarily switch to a non-combat-only regeneration or type of movement (mounting), because that’s utterly frustrating to not be able to do what you want. Actively engaging in combat means you’re purposefully pulling and killing mobs as near constantly as you can without too much interruption via non-combat activities like casting a mount time or healing up. That is, you still have the option to do non-combat things, but because of mob density or how you pull and chain mobs together, you don’t need to use the non-combat methods of decreasing your time spent achieving the quest objective.

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Crowd control and interrupts

Distance is also the way you increase time, which is occasionally useful when you’re trying to be defensive. Knockbacks are a good example of using defensive distance to increase the time you have to cast a heal or let a cooldown come up without taking as much damage as normally. You don’t even have to have the knockback ability as a player, rather you can position yourself to face uphill, with the mob facing downhill, such that when the mob knocks you back, you have a greater distance between you and the mob due to the terrain and physics engine. Similarly, a Fear effect creates double time, for the mob first runs away and then must run back, not hitting you the entire time. Of course, if the mob is a ranged or caster mob, then Fearing it isn’t always the best choice, because now you have to run back into melee if melee is your thing.

Crowd control effects are also pseudo-interrupts. True interrupts are best because the cast actually counts when you interrupt, so the mob doesn’t immediately try to recast. When you use a crowd control effect like Fear, however, often the mob will attempt to recast the spell after the Fear effect ends. Thus, crowd control effects are defensive disengages because they just buy you time to get another response ready, whereas true interrupts decrease time because they actually parry the cast, so to speak. But any crowd control effect can double as a momentary interrupt, because whatever the mob is doing after you crowd control it, it’s at least not casting whatever it was casting. And finally, a mantra I learned early on as a DPS: “Death is the best interrupt,” — but we knew this, because mob death is the end goal anyway.

Spellsteal and offensive dispels (Purge, Dispel Magic, Devour Magic (RIP)) are also nice offensive or defensive crowd control tricks, depending on what ability and buff you are ridding the mob of. The idea is to void the mob of offensive and defensive advantages and, if possible, give them to yourself. This helps decrease the time it takes to kill the mob. Now, there are some buffs mobs get that are “Damage done increased by 20%” + “Damage taken increased by 20%,” and I typically leave these on the mob for the damage taken increase unless the mob is brutally hitting me with the damage done increase.

Time to kill, time to cast

Time to kill is very important as a DPS. In the basic sense, less time to kill the mob means more damage per second showing up on the damage meters, because the total health of the mob doesn’t vary between mobs of the same name. In a more complicated sense, time to kill when questing represents how well and quickly you can survive and kill multiple mobs at once. As I wrote above, DPS tend to pull quest mobs in packs of multiple mobs, typically 2-6 depending on class abilities, player skill, and mob health size. Killing mobs one at a time is not actually the typical DPS questing experience.

There are two ways DPS kill multiple things at once. There’s the AoE mechanic, which delivers damage to many nearby mobs (cleave) or to many mobs within a specific area (true area of effect). This means you are hitting multiple things with one cast, rather than having to take multiple casts to hit multiple things. The other way is through multidotting — which requires having at least one periodic damage ability — and while you might have to do multiple casts to hit every mob, the damage is being dealt even while you are not focused on that particular mob. Both ways save time — the AoE method saves you cast time and the multidot method saves focus time.

Focus time is how long you have to keep your attention on a mob either to kill it or to neutralize it to the point of ignoring it. The ignore point for a DPS, particularly for a multidotter, is where you don’t care about casting more damage spells on it because it’s doomed to die in a few seconds anyway. This could be because you have a full selection of periodic damage up that will kill it within a few ticks, or you know that the next direct damage proc or instant that comes off cooldown will one-shot what’s left of the health bar. The ignore point can also be a mob that doesn’t hit you very hard, and as such you don’t mind dragging it along to every other important mob, slowly killing it with incidental cleave and extra procs. If you have reached the point of ignorance with your pack of mobs, then you can do things like move on and pull another mob, or interact with the quest object, or whatever else, because you know the ones still hitting you are going to die before you need to refocus on killing things. If you decrease the time you have to spend caring about a mob (the focus time), then you can move on to other mobs more quickly, and you “flow” through the quest area more smoothly.

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Periodic damage has a strong advantage for decreasing focus time, because by definition you are still damaging the mob while you’re actually doing other things. AoE methods are also strong because you can clear an area of mobs and then go around and freely interact with objects. AoE methods that are also periodic are ridiculous because they combine both strengths. Snares and stuns are also powerful, because you can increase the distance-crossing time a mob needs to get to you again (snare) or outright deny the mob hitting you for a few seconds (stun) in order for you to move, heal, or interact with an object.

The longer it takes to kill a quest mob, the more time it has to hit you back, which obviously affects survivability on your part. Pushback affects all casters, but it’s perhaps more noticeable when you’re casting a heal versus a damage ability, because being hit during your heal cast is creating disadvantage for you — that is, you now have less health than when you started the heal cast.

Thus, direct heals with a cast time are rather annoying when questing. HoTs, instant direct heals, or fast cast direct heals are all preferable when questing efficiently. Fortunately, all the healer specs have options like a HoT, an instant cast direct heal, a fast cast direct heal, a proc that makes a long cast into shorter, etc. Pushback isn’t a super duper problem, but in the same way that periodic damage lets you do things while still damaging a mob, instant or periodic heals let you continue damaging mobs while you heal up.

There is one exception to periodic damage or healing, and that is channeling. For questing purposes, channeling requires you using your cast bar, so you can’t do anything else while channeling. In this case, although it acts and theorycrafts like a periodic spell, channels function more like a series of direct casts rather than like a DoT or HoT.

Hitting fun buttons

Healers spend a majority of questing not healing things. Questing for DPS, however, is a good advertisement for how your spec might work. You’re not going to get a full rotation in one mob (unless it’s a super-duper, end-of-quest-chain, named baddie), so questing provides a “combat lite” experience.

My general rule of thumb for a questing rotation that fulfills fun requirements is that I have to be able to use my big/fun/important ability at least once every 2-3 mobs, and I get to use 10-seconds-or-smaller cooldowns once per mob. Thus, killing one at-level mob should take somewhere between 10-15 seconds.

Right now on beta, the various healers are taking anywhere from 15-30 seconds to kill the average mob. On the one hand, you get to use the “fun” abilities (usually talents) more than once, but on the other hand, you’re not hitting nearly as hard as a DPS would. There is some variety as to whether the various healer specs are “fun” or not in their mini DPS toolkits, but I’m going to save that for the spec discussions.

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Frames of interest and @mouseover

Other than an increased healing capacity and a decreased DPS capacity, there’s only one other major difference between questing as a DPS and questing as a healer: your user interface.

DPS typically play two frames at the most basic: self and target, often sitting equidistant across the vertical center, just below or level with the character in the center. The frames are centered with the character or the character’s feet because standing in fire is bad. All sorts of Weak Auras, buff and debuff frames, cast bars go around here, too — if it’s important in combat, it’s here. You might also see other setups on a (PvE) DPS character like a focus frame or main tank & their target frames, which are useful when assisting others in a group. Finally, we DPS often use nameplates to see the mobs in the field, particularly for health percent (executes and time to kill information) and what debuffs are on the target presently (for multidotting).

But for questing, we keep it simple: self and target frames, plus nameplates.

Healers, however, are traditionally used to a grid of allies, often utilizing @mouseover macros or addon-supported click keybinds with modifiers to cast heals. For healers, switching targets is a regular thing, so sticking to target-cast-retarget-cast-retarget-cast-etc. is slow. Even DPS use @mouseover macros sometimes — Destruction Warlocks use it with the Havoc ability — or they use a /targetlasttarget macro to achieve the same effect. Because the healer themselves is usually on the ally grid, healers don’t really have a need for their own unit frame, but they might use the target frame for offensive reasons.

While some grid addons (Grid, Vuhdo, etc.) will let you show the grid even when you’re not in a group (e.g., just you), the default UI doesn’t do that. Grid addons also let you place the raid grid in any number of places, letting it grow and shrink as needed, often letting you assign which UI anchor it uses and even which way the grid grows. The default UI, however, makes sure it has enough room for the action bars below and also enough room for the full 8 groups — if you do a horizontal group, the first group is right in the center with your character — and if you go the biggest grid square possible, it’s easy to overlap your actual character in the center with a 15-man, even with vertical groups. So I’ve been stuck trying to get an optimal position around a 5-man vertical group, a target frame, and my self frame, so I can leave the frames where they are no matter if I’m questing or healing a 5-man group.

Doing @mouseover is tricky, because it requires you to know mostly where your mouse is at range, exactly where if you’re using it in close-quarters or melee, because @mouseover also works on world frames like nameplates and actual character avatars. Even though I use @mouseover for my healers on live realms as well, I still get many accidental heals where I meant to cast a damage spell and vice versa.

I set up my healers on beta with the following scheme: [@mouseover,help][] Heal; Damage. When I’m damaging a target, I’m used to selecting targets via nameplates when I need to switch. I have a few @mouseover or /stopcasting macros on damage or crowd control abilities (/stopcasting is particularly on any interrupt abilities), but for the most part, if you want a new damage target, you have to find a new damage target with the target frame. Healing is mouseover, which means I can actually use the target of target frame a lot since the mob is usually hitting me, but I keep the self unit frame around in case someone else is tanking the mob for me. I turn friendly nameplates on if I’m in the world or in a scenario (Broken Isles intro, e.g.) where I’m largely a healer first, damage dealer second.

While some healers can probably fit their damage spells on an action bar with their healing spells, mine share keybinds with just the @mouseover difference. I rationalize this as my fingers are already there and also because I group them with similar functions (the HoT ability is the same button as the DoT ability, direct with direct, AoE with AoE, etc.). So my keyboard muscle memory is for what function I need to be doing, and my mouse muscle memory is who I need to be doing it to, so I can swap roles easily as needed.

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Questing as a DPS playing a healer trying to DPS

I think it’s still relevant to understand that I main a DPS class, because even on a healer, I quest like a DPS. I pull things in packs, even if it’s one at a time, even looting & moving mid-combat as I kill things to get in range of more things. I pull and pull until I feel like I’m interrupting my damage too often with healing myself, and I define that as my limit to pull (vague, I know!). For most healers, this limit has been about 3-5 mobs at a time, though I’ve definitely had regular and comfortable operations like using Halo as Discipline to pull in 7-10 mobs and killing them one at a time throughout the course of several minutes, all while using various healing cooldowns to keep myself alive. (And doing this while using the less-than-Mythic-HFC gear you get with the premade 100s and early leveling! C’mon, Mythic healers — believe in me who believes in you!)

Why? Because…I wanted to see what a Really Badly Placed Halo pull would do to my survivability. It’s challenging if you don’t know what you’re doing, so I flubbed it the first few times, but it’s actually easily survivable (and admittedly kind of hella fun) if you know your toolkit. For those interested: when I do this as Discipline, I drop only as low as 40-50% health at points and usually end with 30-40% mana (using Power Infusion at least once). I haven’t yet done it as Holy, but I’ll let you know how I fare as Holy with a Really Badly Placed Halo in the specs post when I finish it.

Definitely, YMMV applies here.

Maximum time to kill per mob for me is around the 15-30 seconds area, depending on which healer it is (some are better than others!) and how nice your procs are. A main difference is that the secondary mobs are around 80-90% health when I get around to focusing on them, compared to being about 30-50% when I’m multidotting and focusing with my DPS main. So it takes a while to kill mobs, even though the pack size is about the same. 15 seconds is fine as an estimate for a healer to kill a mob, I think; it’s like a DPS killing a large mob. I do think the upper limit of time on a healer killing a mob needs to be tighter, around 25 or even 20 seconds if possible, because the simpler rotations get more obviously boring the longer you are in combat at one time. This can possibly be helped with having a bodyguard or Combat Ally to help the healer speed up combat. (I don’t use one if I can help it because I want to challenge myself to see if I can be almost as fast as a DPS spec when playing a healer alone, even if I have to adjust pulling tactics to do it.)

A lot of healers I read get upset or at least frustrated when it takes a long time to kill a mob as a healer. By contrast, I actually don’t mind taking longer to kill the same amount of mobs. Mana isn’t an issue if you don’t overpull yourself and usually survivability is also not an issue even if you overpull yourself, but tapping mobs is still a thing in WoW.

It’s more important to completing my objectives to tap a mob first and “own it,” even if it takes me forever to kill things, rather than to be stuck not able to tap things quickly despite killing speed. Not being able to tap well usually leads to wasting time waiting around for respawns when the quest area is densely populated with players. If you’re stuck with all the mobs “taken,” I’ve found over the years that it’s best to help kill the mobs so that they can be dead sooner and thus respawn sooner. That way, you’re helping people move on by helping them finish their quest first, leaving the respawns for you to take (and hopefully the people coming in behind you might help you out & the chain continues).

Now, the questing world is a lot better than it used to be regarding tapping, because a lot of questing in Legion appears to be faction-tap rather than personal-tap — even in those “get me 4 bear livers” looting quests! Thus, helping another same-faction player lets you loot that mob, too — which means assisting players outside of grouping is hella useful and not wasting your own time, which leads to more positive player cooperation and less negative-fueled sniping. I think this is a really cool improvement on questing, because now seeing another player in the world is a fun thing because of potential cooperation rather than a bad thing because of potential competition.

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Objectives

Questing right now is largely about killing things. Questing is not centered on a wholly preferential and chosen combination of killing and not killing, although world objectives are getting there. Healing NPCs for credit, interacting with objects, having quest followers/bodyguards/Combat Allies, and having objects that buff or help you in the world are all current things to help out healers (and others!) when it comes to completing objectives that are largely done by killing things. But there’s no way to mostly heal your way through a world objective, unless you happen to steal all of the interactive objects.

Dayani already brainstormed a bit on Twitter when I asked her what would help improve the leveling healer questing experience from the healer perspective.

Personally, I would love to see a heal-to-DPS method, but not quite in the Tsulong way, but what I call the Thunder Focus Tea way. Thunder Focus Tea is a Mistweaver Monk ability that boosts each of the main healing spells in one way or another — triggers no cooldown (Renewing Mist), increased healing (Effuse), instant cast (Enveloping Mist), castable while moving (Essence Font), no mana cost (Vivify). Outside the Enveloping Mist or Renewing Mist uses, I don’t need this ability when questing. The Mistweaver DPS rotation is also mind-numbingly boring in my opinion, so I wish I had a button to spice things up. I wish that instead of having the “flat” Windwalker spec abilities, I could use my own heals offensively, like a Discipline Priest might, perhaps through a talent or an ability on a cooldown that helped turn them into offensive spells. That way I’m still using my healing spells as it were and can avoid a lot of the keybinding mess that first starting up a questing healer involves.

However, having to remember every ability’s dual-role as a damage and healing ability, especially if they differ, is a little too complicated for leveling, so I don’t think that idea by itself would jive very well in leveling design. With the disappearance of buffs, I also miss a way to silently thank or help out other players. What if casting a heal on another player when not grouped gave you both a small buff, perhaps depending on role or spec? What if you buff your own abilities with effective healing done to yourself or others, maybe just one damage spell per spec?

A heal-to-kill mechanic I think might work kind of takes the Thunder Focus Tea idea and flips it a bit. What if, when you’re ungrouped, every cast of one healing spell you used built up a bubble/shield/stack of a buff on you that helped empower a major damage ability you had, and when you built up enough amount of healing, it procs on the next damage ability cast? An example, if a Resto Druid cast Effloresence enough, her next Moonfire/Solar Wrath is super-empowered with damage or perhaps cleaves like Sunfire for one cast. Of course, this simple idea needs a bit of work to weed out possible unintended uses, but the point is that it builds up all of your relevant non-overhealing healing over time that you’re already using and it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re solo or with friends.

A slightly related tangent — earlier I said:

[T]he simpler rotations get more obviously boring the longer you are in combat at one time.

I say “more obviously boring” because it’s one of those situations where time seems to pass differently because you’re doing a simple and repetitive thing instead of doing multiple different-purpose things in succession. Look about midway through Dayani’s post where she shows that despite Restoration DPS feeling like it takes longer, it actually took about the same or slightly longer amount of time as Elemental.

This is what I believe is the main problem behind most healers thinking UGH DPSING AS HEALS UGH because the toolkit is simple (or “flat” as Dayani put it, which is an excellent way to describe it & I’m stealing that term), not because it’s doing a super worse job than a DPS spec.

The easier solution is to make a DPS rotation for healers that has some distracting stuff in it, like a decision proc. I don’t need a flat buff proc, but a decision proc would be great, where the proc changes what you would have done normally. It feels great to have a Lava Burst charge immediately available, because you can use that right then. It doesn’t feel great to not be able to use Rising Sun Kick off a procced cooldown reset because you haven’t used Tiger Palm immediately before it to buff it with Teachings of the Monastery. The procs that are frustrating are the ones that happen to the not-first ability in a rigid one-way ability relation and the proc doesn’t involve “this ability acts as if it were buffed,” because now you need to do another thing just to use the proc and if the proc is short or the first ability is on a cooldown at the time, this gets doubly frustrating because it procced and you can do nothing about it. The procs that are fun are the ones that let you do a single thing for a single moment that you wouldn’t normally be able to do, but now you can do it in addition to what you had already planned on doing. Procs are best when they are “extra*(fun things)”, not “(extra fun)*things.” Leave the (extra fun)*things for major cooldowns.

But to wrap up the tangent — fixing the DPS rotation boringness would just fix the frustration when killing things. A far better solution to healer questing would probably be to adjust the quest objective to the healer via healing, rather than to adjust the healer to killing things. This has potential to be a whole post on its own and it’s one that I feel I can’t quite complete because I don’t quite have the proper perspective. I’m a DPS, so I’m going to think up solutions that help convert healer toolkits into killing things, because killing things is what I find fun. That’s probably not what Dayani and other healers want — they want to heal things, not kill them! — and so I think it would be better to hear from some healers on how they might inject more healing into questing mechanics.

As for the DPS perspective on how the various healers level — well, that’s another long post in itself, so you’ll have to see that later when I finish writing about all six healers.

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The elements of questing (combat), from a DPS trying to quest as a healer

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