Caster/Ranged comparisons

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Warlocks have never been a typically primary class when it comes to World of Warcraft, as they’re usually said to have derived from some other core Warcraft class. We’re either corrupted Shaman or corrupted Mages, for the most part, or we’re corrupted Hunters with our pets. We pull demons from the Void and deal Shadow magic, but we’re more of a chaotic fel kind of shadow, not Old Gods kind like Shadow Priests. On the gameplay mechanical side of things, we also have had a lot of spec-to-spec comparisons. Affliction is like Shadow Priests (shadow + DoTs + channels) or Moonkin (DoTs), Demonology is like Beast Mastery Hunters (special pets + pet damage focus), Destruction is like Fire Mage (fantasy) or Arcane Mage (buttons), Grimoire of Sacrifice is like Lone Wolf play, etc.

Although it’s impossible to avoid any comparison whatsoever, I think it’s interesting that all three Warlock specs can be directly compared to different class specs in similarity of gameplay mechanics. I also think that looking at how other specs do their damage is a positive aspect of learning theorycrafting, as you get to know other theorycrafters and guide writers and you get to learn about other complex mechanics in the game. All of this gives you a better footing and understanding when it comes to providing feedback and possible brainstormed solutions when testing new game features, especially when you talk about grouped endgame content which often involves cross-class thinking.

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So one of the things I’m doing is testing not only all three Warlock specs, but also all of the other caster specs, including the two ranged Hunter specs. I’m not testing these specs in-depth like a mainspec player or theorycrafter might be, but I’m approaching them from a broad and general perspective like a newbie or a long lost alt. It started as a project to learn about the Warlock-comparable specs — Shadow Priest, Beast Mastery Hunter, and Fire Mage — and then once I found that Shadow Priest is more like current/old Demonology than it is Affliction anymore, I opened it up to Arcane, Frost, Marksmanship, Balance, and Elemental to see if any of them remotely compare to Affliction’s new playstyle.

For the most part, these will be my own first impressions and thinking through of mechanics. When I reference mainspec player commentary and feedback, I’ll note it. Builds change things more quickly than I can level and swap toons, so some of my feedback may be quickly outdated. I’ve already mentioned that I’m not really an expert in these non-Warlock classes as I don’t play them regularly enough, even as alts (my main alt is a Guardian Druid!). I also am not as motivated by my personal opinion of how I want a spec to be as I am with Warlocks, so I feel that I can’t truly speak on “how well” Fire Mage (etc.) is doing, I can only just tell you the parts I find fun or not fun.

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Because of the how the alpha realms currently restrict play, I have to do some rerolling in order to play all of the specs I want to see. The max-level PvP realm includes spec switching with all specs’ full artifacts in bags, but it won’t let you go out into the Broken Isles for questing and it won’t let you queue for dungeons. Since my primary focus is PvE content, this is rather useless for me, unless I just want to hit a training dummy with a fully artifact’d out character. The leveling realm has templates only for level 100 characters that have yet to choose and acquire artifacts, so rerolling implies starting all over. There is currently as of writing no way to acquire another spec’s artifact in your class, so if you want another spec, you need another character. There are eleven character slots on the leveling realm right now, and six are given to Warlocks for me (one for each spec 100-110, and then one for each spec to look at 1-100 leveling). That leaves me with five spots for caster/ranged testing. I’ve arranged it like so:

  • Ponsanity (Shadow Priest)
  • Ponboom (Balance Druid)
  • Ponele (Elemental Shaman)
  • Ponter/Ponmarks (Beast Mastery/Marksmanship Hunters)
  • Ponblast/Poncinder/Poncicle (Arcane/Fire/Frost Mages)

I’ve tried to alternate races and factions for a few reasons: one, I don’t get bored of same factional storylines or casting animations; two, I have a diverse screenshot arsenal; three, I can tell them apart easily!

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I’ve always been curious and often on live realms I have at least one of every ranged class to max level just to try them, even if I don’t regularly play them. But I’ve always kept my opinions to myself and never really tried to write them down thoroughly.  So this is a bit of an experiment, but I really need to stop being so terrible on myself and try more things out.

As I just finished looking a little at Beast Mastery and Shadow for my latest Blood Pact column at Blizzard Watch, I’m going to set those aside for now (even though I have more thoughts on each that what’s in the column). I’m currently working my way through Balance, albeit with the camera shapeshifting bug, and I’ve rerolled the Fire Mage into a Frost Mage, which was recently released for testing. I’ll probably try writing those thoughts down first.

Caster/Ranged comparisons

How Poneria is looking at Legion

I haven’t been posting here. I can blame some of that on writing Warlock things at Blizzard Watch, but most of it is that I don’t like publishing unfinished posts, especially since Blizzard Watch has gotten me used to having to put images in to break up text, and I often don’t have amazing images lying around to use for random posts here. (I’m also writing on my tablet right now, and the tablet app for WordPress is …not well designed for actually writing & formatting start to finish. >:| *grump*)

I also feel bad about trying to get my feet wet with theorycrafting and then posting of my adventures with testing Legion alpha. I feel this pressure to post only polished theorycrafting, and it never happens largely because I start to research my stance and opposing stances and then halfway through it, I realize I actually know fuckall, and then I get super anxious and embarrassed that I’ve attempted to post anything at all (it must be stupid! I don’t know anything!), and …I end up not posting anything aside from rambling on Twitter.

But the lack of activity on the blog post front doesn’t mean I have a lack of stuff to do with Legion alpha testing.
Continue reading “How Poneria is looking at Legion”

How Poneria is looking at Legion

2016 Blogging Resolutions

I laughed at my “2015 in blogging” WordPress email. I published only five posts in 2015. WordPress thinks I wrote six posts, but one was just a bunch of picture references for Vidyala who did a badge picture for me (even though I wasn’t going to BlizzCon). So that one doesn’t count. The most-viewed day was back on January 6th, involving a post that was written back in August of 2014.

One post in 2015 was fluff, partially because I missed posting random stuff like that. One post was on how to read a raid parse for a particular spec, which was really more a thing of me going, look, I’m not perfect, but reading a raid parse isn’t hard, and this is perhaps how you can do it with some concrete examples.

The other three posts were my thoughts on how to write or otherwise learn & explain things without needing to require a degree or several hours in the subject. This doesn’t surprise me, because this is my thing that I do all the time. Thinking on how to organize, arrange, & present stuff such that stuff makes more sense than it did before.

Five posts in the entire stupid year. What the fuck was I even doing.

I was writing 55 things for Blizzard Watch, is what the fuck. I get paid for those things and not paid for anything over here. Over here, I have diddly-squat for visitors and over there I have more reach. So. That’s obvious. I don’t think I can share my exact stats from over at Blizzard Watch, but I wrote 21 Warlock columns, 29 things on D3 (mostly columns), and five WoW-related short posts.

A grand total of 60 posts isn’t anything to get excited about — I didn’t write novels or anything. But most of those columns take a week or two of research or other work to put together, so I have more than a year’s worth of work done in a year. I don’t feel so bad now about my writing that’s out there on the Internet medium.

It’s A new year, & we know what that means.

I think too much. I scribble a lot, by which I mean I don’t do the complete sentences thing, and I have a few too many grand ideas being rolled around in a Field Notes notebook than any grand ideas that I’ve actually executed (…zero?). I don’t like showing my failures to people, and although that’s a natural feeling, it’s constricting me. I feel like if I’m working on a thing for shits and giggles rather than a Grand Purpose like publishing for others to use, then it’s less important somehow and I should stop working on it. Following that rule led everything to feel like work and nothing like a game. Warlords as an expansion didn’t really help, and it feels like I’ve had to relearn again how to relax and how to tinker without judging myself for not tinkering perfectly the first time.

I’ve also turned a little corner, I think. Fel Concentration started as a Warlock blog, and I unfortunately feel like it has to remain a Warlock blog. But then I see Jasyla’s Cannot be Tamed, which started as a WoW blog, and I started reading her when she was a Resto Druid, but then her blog became a much-more-than-WoW blog. She may have ventured off into the video medium, and I might stick to my strengths in wordy posts, but she gave me a little more confidence in turning this blog into a Warlock-and-then-some blog.

I’ve never been good at tagging intelligently — look, I’m too impatient, and also there is no mass-tagging system in the freebie WordPress underhood that evolves well with different topics bending into other topics over time. I will try to tag things that aren’t about WoW or Warlocks or whatever if you don’t want to read that stuff (or, I guess, tags are also useful if you particularly want to read that stuff).

2016 likely topics

Warlocks. Duh. I’m in Legion alpha, and hope to continue walking into crash errors and testing various Warlock things. In the thought of being more open with my incomplete feedback and tinkerings, I’m keeping a sometimes spoilerific bugs/feedback log for when I test things in Legion alpha/beta. I also want to test things like Fishing, particularly since it’s not known if El’s Anglin will come back at all.

I’m interested in theorycrafting. I always was, but I’m more interested now in producing the meat of it, rather than just organizing blog guides on work that was already done on the EJ forums or whatever. Scary as it might be, I plan to reach out a little more to existing theorycrafters to ask them stupid questions like how increased critical strike damage influences an average of combined hits and crits given a critical strike chance. Even scarier of an idea is posting some of my progress on looking at how Warlock spells work, particularly looking at Legion, and trying to figure out the best way to document all this so others can follow and learn theorycrafting, too.

Some grand ideas involving Warlocks are raid parse reading guides and soloing tours/guides. What I want to accomplish with them involves a lot of work that is just for shits and giggles in the end, and I don’t know how exactly I will convince myself to stop whining & just do them. Another grand idea involved the Warlock heroes or role models in World of Warcraft, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof. But I am not the most confident in my grasp on lore, so that one is also just rolling around in notebook scribbles for now.

I’m interested in writing. Duh. The organization of information and formats and language and all sorts of sub-topics. The storytelling and characterisation in games and other media is also interesting, but I’m mostly interested in the nonfiction and often freelance side of things rather than the fiction story-writing side of things. In terms of gaming, this mostly comes in the form of how to write guides.

I’m interested in perhaps spreading my guides over both the Warlock column at Blizzard Watch and here. Maybe some of putting the grunt work over here and the summary over there or something. Perhaps a spread to put the details over here, where I have less restriction in tone and word limit, and the TL;DR over there, where I likely have more visitor reach that just wants the TL;DR not the full behind-the-scenes theorycrafting text wall. I don’t really know yet what I’ll do, but I’m always up for experimenting with my column writing (within editorial bounds, of course).

Actual goal-making

I don’t think that I can write a blog post every day. Sure, I write every day, but I sure as hell don’t publish every day. Who wants to read that shit?

I am not a fan of [verb] every [period] goals. They assume some sort of constant ability, I feel, and that is just not how my life works. Anxiety likes to creep up on me at the worst times, and while, yes, I can get myself through it, having a [verb] every [period] goal deadline hanging over me while I’m trying to destress is just not helpful at all. It also tends to become a thing I hate to do, when I’m forced into doing it just for the sake of doing it.

My goal is to lessen my fear that anything I’m doing that’s currently in-progress is not worthy to share or even continue. I often think best when I let myself roll with it, and when I’m writing, I do just that. So I want to write more here as an excuse to get more comfortable with myself again, as I’m coming out of one of the darker periods of my mental health.

I do like the goal framing of do [number] things this year. Read ten books this year. Cool. That’s a finite goal to work toward, but I can do it on my own time, navigating around bad days and good days. It’s a bit of the argument about the increased valor points for doing a random heroic dungeon every day versus the points for the first seven or so. In the every-day model, I have to do that EVERY DAY, which I get from the business standpoint of Blizzard, but personally, I think that’s a crap system. Eventually it just becomes another thing I “have” to do, and when I don’t want to do it or can’t do it, then I feel negative about myself. Look, I have depression, I am already really good at feeling negative about myself, so lets not add routines where I increase that negativity. Being able to do some things at my own pace is important to me.

I don’t really know what a reasonable number of blog posts for 2016 is. I don’t want to overchallenge myself. I don’t want to post random shit just to keep a counter happy. I almost feel like doing a Patreon-style or achievement-style goal-making where I start low but then get to reward myself if I make it to certain tiers.

So, let’s start at ten posts. I didn’t do that last year — in fact, that would double last year’s post-making count. Usually the first achievement is free, so maybe I’ll just let myself cheer really loudly when I hit this one. (I think a reward like getting myself a BattleNet store pet is too much for just ten posts.)

So uh…nine posts to go, right? Yes.

2016 Blogging Resolutions

Items that are special to me

Every since the wardrobe was announced as a transmogrification feature for Legion, I’ve thought of going through me void storage and banks to see what I would keep and what would eventually get vendored or disenchanted because I just wanted it for its looks.

Then @roxiqt was wondering about special gear items on Twitter, and I’d already answered two things, and wanted to answer more, so here we go. It’s more or less in WoW item history order.

Dreadsteed

It’s not a gear item, but I got my Warlock-mount Dreadsteed the old way, through the long questline with all the items. TSR helped me out with most of the items at the time, and even did the paladin Charger questline at the same time, so I got to see both questlines before they went away.

I’m a little sad that Gorzeeki Wildeyes isn’t a Warlock class hall NPC for this reason.

Onyxia Scale Cloak

Back on Eonar, I remember that my first guild, <The Scarlet Robes> took me to Ony and then made me an Onyxia Scale Cloak when I hit max level (at the time, 70), even though Onyxia wasn’t really current content anymore. Later, when Onyxia was updated to 10-/25-man in Wrath of the Lich King, we did our first new Ony raid with our original cloaks on.

Muramasa

I got it in an end-of-expansion-so-who-cares run of Sunwell with TSR. It’s a 1H Sword, thus equippable by Warlocks, so I can use it in transmog if I want to. This is mostly the reason I’m annoyed when I can’t get a sword with nice secondary stats in current content (so I can transmog it) and also why I’m mad that for whatever reason, Blizzard won’t let Warlocks transmog between daggers and 1H swords (and wands, but wands are class-specific, so maybe that’s why wands don’t work).

My Felguard’s second cosmetic weapon option is usually Apolyon, because it looks closest to Muramasa while being wieldable through the minor glyph by my Felguard.

Wispcloak

This cloak was the first “raid-ready” item I made for myself, and it’s also one of the cloaks I actually like wearing as a transmog because of its design.

Abyssal Bag

This soul shard bag was first thing that was not wearable that I saved up cooldowns to make for myself. I was rather upset when it got converted from 32 slots to 22 slots in Cataclysm when soul shards as items went away.

Mastercraft Kalu’ak Fishing Pole

I love to fish. I even wrote about it sometimes when my guild really hated to do it. I still fish with this specific fishing pole, because I worked to get the reputation to get this pole, and I’ve done most of my for-the-hell-of-it fishing with it.

“of the Nightfall” + the Twilight Drake

Again, not an actual gear item, but “of the Nightfall” was the first title I really ever chased, because as an Affliction Warlock I thought it fit perfectly. The drake was the first raid-drop mount I really wanted, simply because it was blue and more or less guaranteed. I would later go on to want really badly the Azure drake (from Malygos), which I eventually got expansions later.

Quel’delar, Lens of the Mind

I got Quel’delar with TSR by joining a guild group that was trying to farm the sword. I just joined to help, but they let me roll, and I surprisingly won the roll! As I’d joined WoW just as Sunwell came out, I never really got to see the Burning Crusade instances except in really fast-paced retro raid runs where I was easily lost. Getting to do Quel’delar meant I could go at my own pace and opened me up to more retro soloing options (other than dungeons, which I’d been doing to learn how to tank).

Gunship Captain’s Mittens

I got these from Gunship, obviously, but they’re special because of what happened after I got the item.

I’d just transferred to Elune after my Eonar guild split, I was in this new guild, I’d never really progression-raided before, my computer was shitty on the graphics, … I was basically a little newbie to serious raiding and had no friends on Elune outside Lissanna (of Restokin), who had recruited me there through blogging/Twitter. A shadow priest in the guild offered to enchant my gloves right there, and then challenged me to a DPS race on the next boss, Saurfang.

I didn’t beat him, of course, but the race was thrilling and it felt really good to see someone have confidence in me and push me to my better limits in a fun way when I was previously afraid or too unsure of them myself.

Incineratus

This was the dagger from Magmaw that evaded me for almost the entire tier. I swear I was the last one in my current guild (<Undying Resolution> on Elune) to get it at the time. It always dropped when I wasn’t there or when I didn’t have the loot system priority for it, and never when I would have guaranteed gotten it.

Nevertheless, I did pretty good damage without it, so it helped prove to myself that I’m good regardless of important gear or even crappy class balance.

Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest

I got to be my guild’s only Dragonwrath in Firelands. So I got to do a legendary when it was current and that was awesome. I wrote about the journey that lasted the entire tier, here.

I use Dragonwrath a lot in Timewalking, and I’ve carried it around in my bags ever since Firelands because who doesn’t want to occasionally mount up as a pretty blue dragon?

Gurthalak, Voice of the Deeps

So in Dragon Soul, UR had ridiculous luck in looting Gurthalak from Madness of Deathwing. By “ridiculous” I mean, we started as a joke handing one out to every Hunter we had (it’s “Hunter loot,” right?), but then we kept getting more, so we ended up just handing out Gurths to random raiders, including healers, just because. To top it all off, we couldn’t get a Warrior — the class that had Gurth as its BiS — to stick with us at all; every app fell through in some way or another. And, to make matters funnier, every time a Warrior was in raid with us when we killed Madness, Gurth refused to drop.

So I have Gurthalak, and you see it mostly when my Felguard is out.

Items that are special to me

On writing about Diablo 3

With BlizzCon at the end of this week, everyone’s been preparing for that explosion of information. There’s the one lonely Diablo 3 panel at BlizzCon, otherwise nothing going on in Diablo 3 news aside from community-created content. When I gently announced on Twitter that my Diablo 3 column was on pause for Blizzard Watch, some comments said “sorry that game has a lull.” That’s not quite correct. There’s still plenty of reason and want for me to log into Diablo 3. It’s more, every other Blizzard game is producing a lot of content for BlizzCon to spring off of.

  • World of Warcraft is looking out for Legion beta announcements as well as the annual BlizzCon PvP tournaments in the eSports arena of content.
  • Hearthstone has its tournaments for eSports and also the monthly cardbacks and Tavern Brawls to keep content going.
  • Heroes of the Storm is always adding new heroes and getting its eSports groove going strong at BlizzCon.
  • Overwatch closed beta just started, so everyone’s getting into those streams and eventual guide setups.
  • Even StarCraft 2 is ramping back up again with some renewed life due to the Legacy of the Void expansion coming up.

Meanwhile, Diablo 3 is in the middle of Season 4. It’s not dead, but it’s just not screaming, yelling, and jumping as enthusiastically as the other games are right now. Comparing Diablo 3 to the other Blizzard games at the moment feels a lot like looking back on Season 3 from the view of Season 4 — it’s not so much that there’s a lull in Diablo 3 right now, but it’s that every other game is so ridiculous that they overshadow any Diablo 3 non-newsy content.

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knowledge bases are important

It’s a bit of a problem for me that I’m not a longtime Diablo 3 guidewriter or even dedicated player. I don’t have an established knowledge base to fall back on when writing on Diablo 3. Writing the two columns, Warlock and D3, has highlighted this important detail to me.

I’m a longtime Warlock on the order of nearly a decade and have been playing current end-game PvE content for almost all of it. If I don’t have the time to research a topic, I can floof around in my rough draft with a general idea of what I want, write the article, and then double-check using the known chunk of sources, research, and other guides I’ve gathered over the years. I have fully written spec guides I can alter and tailor to patch notes, and I have prepared Wowhead links or spell IDs for every spell in all three specs’ rotations. Writing on Warlocks is a matter of taking the templates I’ve constructed over the years and filling in the blanks. I’ve been around long enough to see the trends of content, the nerf/buff cycle specific to Warlocks, so even when it comes to on-the-fly analysis, I’ve developed a knack of predicting (sometimes) what Blizzard will do in the future. I’ve even been here for the Mists of Pandaria Warlock class revamp, so when the Legion Demonology Warlock revamp happens, I’m prepared for the questions I want to ask in that beta and for the article topics I’ll be writing in preparation for a new expansion launch.

In Diablo 3, I picked up the game not because I was a previous fan of the game’s franchise but because it came as a bonus item to a WoW promotion, and I’ve causally played it since Diablo 3 released in 2012. I log on when I feel like it, and sometimes wouldn’t log in for months. I haven’t been thinking critically about the game for years, and I don’t have quite the organized link library for research and double-checking that I do for Warlocks in WoW.

When I started writing a Diablo 3 column at Blizzard Watch, I got more serious about the game, and started playing it almost daily, including recently moving into a more active clan. It’s also quite different from writing the Warlock column, because, well, I write a single-class column for WoW. Yes, covering Warlocks still feels like more content to cover than some of the other class writers who only cover one spec of their chosen class (so that they write one column per month where I write two). But that’s at least just 3 specs, since most WoW specs play “one” way with minor variations. Even if you give each Diablo 3 class five builds, that’s 30 different builds! If I wrote one build in-depth in a single column, it’d take me about 7-8 months just to hit everything once. Covering all the D3 builds perhaps doesn’t go as deep as covering all the possible WoW specs, since the D3 class remains the same for every 5-6 builds, but you’re still covering distinct sets of gear and each 1-3 piece variation on each build. Where WoW guide-writing might require a lot of depth knowledge in a particular class’s spec in a particular piece of end-game content, D3 guide-writing requires a lot of lateral/breadth knowledge of an entire class’s set of builds, available legendary gear, gear gathering methods, and what of each goes together with the others.

The column was also on a weekly (4/mo) basis, not like the Warlock column’s biweekly (2/mo), so that was half the research time for content I didn’t have the established research and knowledge for. It got to the point of doing the research a month in advance. Meanwhile, the Warlock column was sometimes written on deadline morning, because of the dearth of information in the WoW-sphere. I was working twice as hard or more on my Diablo 3 column, and yet I was pulling in half the results as my Warlock column. I’m not angry or even surprised I was asked to drop the D3 column; I’m more surprised I was allowed to go on as long as I did.

And perhaps it is not my writing at all. Maybe all of Diablo 3 just doesn’t fit in a weekly column. Maybe it fits better in the Reddit-style collection of one-time posts that last a whole Season or more at a time. Even then, I still want to improve my writing in Diablo 3 topics specifically, and I can only do that by trying new topic attacks and writing more.

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“What,” “So what,” and “Now what”

This past week, ESPN shut down the Grantland blogs. We had a few Blizzard Watch jokes, as we were also unceremoniously shut down by our parent company back when we were that other blog. Although we rose entirely from the ashes to start our site back up again, it looks like editors and mainstays at Grantland have moved on together to other projects.

Various links of opinions on Grantland were sailing through my Twitter feed, but here’s one that caught my thoughts for a while. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post reflected on Grantland’s impact on journalism. Although Cillizza gives credit to Erik Rydholm for the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” buckets of journalism writing, it’s the first time I’ve really heard of the concept. Cillizza explains that Grantland focused on the “so what” and “now what,” leaving the “what” to “the roughly billion other people and sites trying to break news one millisecond before everyone else.” If I could slam a favorite star on a sentence, there it is.

I’m not very much interested in having the latest gear guide or rotation guide out. I’m not very interested in the laundry list of best in slot legendaries you need for the top Greater Rift 55+ build of the most popular class this Season. I’m not even interested in leaderboards myself when playing Diablo 3, or in achieving world-first or US-first Mythic titles in WoW. Datamining and theorycrafters in Mythic-cleared guilds or streamers who professionally have all day to figure class builds out ahead of the patch while it’s on the PTR will beat me every time to most “what” things in both games.

I’ve learned that I need a long-ass time in a subject before I can reliably do the “now what” kind of prediction writing. I can do a “now what” in the sense of what’s the next step after a topic, but I’m still largely hit or miss on telling the future. Thus, I focus myself in the “so what” bucket. I also learn that way — things don’t stick in my brain as understanding until I learn how they interact with the other things and how they impact other things’ results. “So what” is very important to me.

However, “so what” requires critical thinking on a subject, and unfortunately I don’t have the practice (yet) built up in Diablo 3 to create truly insightful writing. I can get the “duh” impacts down, but I’m not quite to the level of originating thoughts on taking big nerfs to crowd control and applying those effects to overall class popularity in a Season.

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So now what

One of my own writing philosophies that’s evolved over the years is that I have the most fun writing the guides I’d want to read. This usually involves the topics that are most relevant to me in whatever gaming sphere I’m current playing, so duh, yes, I’d enjoy researching that. But I also like putting puzzles together, and writing on a thing I already don’t know about guarantees that I get to do a puzzle (and possibly get paid for it).

A thing I wanted to do was to have Diablo 3 class guide references. By reference, I mean not the actual guides themselves. I’ve already established that I don’t have the knowledge base to write a Diablo 3 guide myself. However, I’m a casual player looking to get better. I’m also a Witch Doctor main who is fine with rolling an alt of the Season to try new things out.

I wanted to build a class reference of the current class builds, highlighting how they fit into the current meta and how each fits into ease or difficulty of playing and building the final sets. I’ve found that theorycrafting is often a top-down look at things. There’s the BiS and you should strive to reach that because, well, it’s the best. There’s plenty of boss videos out there for WoW, but no one talks about the trash (unless it’s completely horrendous and complicated). Same with Diablo 3 — plenty of guides are out there for the leaderboard-high Greater Rift builds, but there’s not much prominent talk about how to get there.

I wanted to build a class reference that looks bottom-up, and perhaps one that looks at more casual reasons to play. For example, I don’t particularly play melee classes in Diablo 3, because often their past builds were very click-heavy, and my hand would cramp up after a short time playing a melee class. Meanwhile, my DoT-style Witch Doctor let me hit different buttons in rotating orders, allowing me to play for days at a time, if I wanted. Is there a guide out there for class builds that are easy on the hands? I haven’t found one yet. Is there a guide out there for adapting class builds to be easier on the hands than they currently are? I don’t know. I’d like to try to fill in some of those niche gaps for casual players.

I also am curious about being midway through learning or building a build. What pieces are essential to a build or skillset working? Which just make the build more fun? Can you play a top end build’s skillset with just a few pieces, or do you need almost the full set before you can dive into the playstyle? Which sets are more expensive in Blood Shards or Death’s Breath to gather? Which playstyles are easier to start from as a class beginner?

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Tagged with Diablo 3

I have a lot of questions for Diablo 3 play and I need some practice. Thus, I’ll be writing more Diablo 3 things over here, to practice. I might still write Warlock things — we’ll see what fits in Blood Pact over at Blizzard Watch and how much Warlock-specific Legion information we get at BlizzCon (as well as when beta starts up).

All my Diablo 3 posts here will be tagged as “diablo 3” in case you wish to mute them.

On writing about Diablo 3

On Theorycrafting

UPDATE: Haileaus tweeted on 30 November 2015 that they would prefer to use they/their/them pronouns instead of he/him. They also wrote an explanatory blog post. You’d edit a misnamed or mis-titled person in a news article, so I feel I should change all the pronouns in this article to reflect their wishes. Let me know if I missed any.

Haileaus is a rogue (with far too many vowels almost in a row in their name) and they “barely consider [themselves] a theorycrafter.” Well, that’s fine, Haileaus, because I also barely consider myself a theorycrafter. I’m much more a wordcrafter when it comes to theorycrafting, as in I can read theorycrafting (…mostly?) and convert it to plainer English with some of the unmentioned context for the wider playbase.

Haileaus wrote a post on theorycrafting’s role in World of Warcraft, challenging readers to “legitimately question the role theorycrafting plays in the game.” I don’t quite grok what they mean by legitimately question — I’m not sure if they’re arguing for theorycraft to disappear or whether they’re telling us to save this valuable resource that might fade away. But it doesn’t really matter, because I have thoughts on the subject anyway.

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Indalamar versus the masses

Hey, this scenario Haileaus describes about early warrior theorycrafting impacts sounds a lot like that Warlock problem in Cataclysm. Y’know, the one documented by Cynwise’s Decline and Fall. I’m not just saying this because I used to put Cynwise on a pedestal. It’s more, Cynwise was the first in a long time (not necessarily the first ever) to publicly point out a disparity between the doing-well higher end and the life-sucks lower end player worlds of the class.

That “everything that has happened will happen again” isn’t just a Battlestar Galactica or Gul’dan & Khadgar thing.

This is part of my love-hate with SimulationCraft stack charts that get published and cited by players. It’s not necessarily the SimulationCraft is wrong, but more that players are just citing without thinking about the context that goes into and comes out of the SimulationCraft numbers. Is it Mythic gear? Is it requiring the legendary? Is it just Patchwerk? Does the fight change when you add more targets? What about movement? What talents is it using? Is this module even correct?

Cynwise was reluctant to publish his Class Distribution graphs because graphs can mislead a great deal if you don’t label things correctly or don’t even know what the graph is displaying. But graphs, like stacked SimulationCraft charts, are easier for players to visually pick up what’s going on rather than reading an academic-paper-length blog post or a ginormous forum thread.

You’d think as a guidewriter I’d be advocating that putting together the visual-verbal picture of a topic is important. It is, but sorry, that part is mostly window dressing. Organizing the information so the reader can comprehend all the included details without being overwhelmed, confused, or bored is the hard part. When constructing a post or guide on something that hasn’t even been figured out yet? Asking the right questions is the hard first step, and the subsequent hard steps involve documenting all the circumstances of both question and answer. This usually involves forgetting relevant things or outright ignoring relevant things because you didn’t quite realize yet just how relevant they were, and you have to go back to knowledge you’ve already explored, armed with yet more questions to answer.

And there you go. That’s the definition of theorycrafting.

Perhaps it’s my generation of culture & education, or perhaps it’s this era of gaming, but we’re rather stuck in the whole mindset of filling out to-do lists. Whether it’s dailies, achievements, or balancing class performance, people are far more content to just do the required things or to just answer (correctly) the required questions, and that’s the end of thinking. We’re very much focused on just getting the objective over with so we can covet the reward, rather than finding the reward in the pursuit of the objective.

So what happens is I find myself in a playerbase that far prefers answering questions as quickly as possible (rather than as thoroughly and accurately as possible) and doesn’t like having to come up with all the questions. When the old theorycrafters decide it’s time for them to move on from the game, there’s few or no one there who wants to step up and ask the questions.

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Elitist Jerks

“Modern theorycrafting started in Wrath of the Lich King when raiding and the math that accompanied it were opened up to more casual audiences.” — Haileaus, “The Fall of the Giants: Theorycrafting’s Just Demise?

This is the line where I both agree and vehemently disagree with parts of the statement. As a forum, Elitist Jerks (EJ) by its nature opened up theorycrafting to discussion from around the playerbase, rather than keeping it to individual minds’ like Indalamar’s. And while anyone could sign up for an account and technically anyone could post, the social rules of EJ heavily promoted a garden walled with spikes. I myself lurked there for all my years, too afraid to post any questions I might have about theorycrafting. I was afraid that my inability to pick the correct search term to weed out what I wanted from the 100+ page forum thread would land me in the Banhammer forum section where EJ mods liked to mock those who received too many infractions for asking stupid questions.

My dad was a physics teacher. He always used to say “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.” As I’ve watched theorycrafting over the years and have recently dipped my toes in, I find this is more the case than EJ’s banhammer-happy world.

Another Cynwise piece keeps haunting me: On Snow Crash, Virtual Avatars, and Warcraft’s Social Network Appeal. Cross-realm has happened all over the place, both in instances like LFR and LFD and in the open world through CRZ. The ignore function has expanded and encompassed at least part of account-wide. Cross-server item mailing has happened for your alts, but you can also transcend servers in a way Cynwise didn’t mention — through account collections like the pet journal, mount collection, or heirlooms tab. Integration with other social media — Twitter! S.E.L.F.I.E.s! — happened.

I keep thinking of this Snow Crash post because of guilds — because of the guild BoE versus Personal Loot problem, because of the ever-growing drought of guild recruitment, because of guilds finally becoming cross-server (to the extent of guilds on merged servers) which was a proposal of Cynwise’s. (His other was being in multiple guilds, much like Guild Wars 2 already has.) Cynwise stated that guilds were the last obstacle for the WoW social network … and they’re slowly dying. (P.S., He wrote all this…3 years ago. Hold the phone.)

What does this have to do with theorycrafting?

The internet’s evolution and WoW’s social network evolution both involved heavy technological limits, namely how to connect servers to other servers without making any of the involved servers explode in computronic confusion. I said: EJ heavily promoted a garden walled with spikes. It wasn’t technologically hard to join the Elitist Jerks forum — all you had to do was sign up for the forum account, maybe verify your email, have a working internet connection and browser, and maybe have a good enough understanding of the English language.

But, as Haileaus mentioned, the expectation bar of the playerbase were growing higher, and theorycrafters were not immune to such hubris. While I guarantee most of those actually doing the number-crunching grunt work were probably some of the nicest and more encouraging people you’d ever meet, there was always that air of Banhammer lurking around anyone who dared to take their first wrong step inside the EJ forums. Many like myself who wanted to become theorycrafters didn’t because we had too much trepidation about being accepted socially within in the forum despite our lack of hard class knowledge.

Elitist Jerks opened up theorycrafting to the masses, but I wouldn’t say it was for casual audiences. It was clearly meant for the hardcore only. The only problem was that everyone wants to be accepted, and to be accepted meant you had to have the “hardcore” attitude — or, at least what we general players thought was supposed to be hardcore.

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Organizing information to be read

On the one hand, Elitist Jerks was very organized. One thread for one spec. Done.

On the other hand, who the fuck wants to dig through a 90+, 100+ forum thread to see if your question has already been answered?

Using the search bar doesn’t quite help — you have to already know how to search keywords decently, and it’s very easy to follow from there that if you’re good at coming up with search keywords, you’re probably also good at coming up with questions, and so you’re probably already doing the theorycrafting yourself anyhow. The keyword search bar is not a newbie-friendly tool.

And this is even before we get into how theorycrafters like to talk in acronyms rather than in spell names. So the thread might actually be talking about Drain Soul but you’d never know from searching “Drain Soul” because every mention of it is as “DrS.”

You’d think that I would have learned the no-acronyms lesson at WoW Insider as I wrote for Blood Pact, the warlock column. The rule there (as is at Blizzard Watch) was to spell everything out. You can include acronyms as a teaching thing, but you have to say the whole spell name first. It was Grimoire of Sacrifice (GoSac) first, not GoSac ad nauseum with no explanation. I thought, Mists of Pandaria is the Warlock revamp, surely we’d get all our acronyms straight by now. While yes, those of us playing from the beginning knew what GoSac meant, I forgot about the newer players, the untouched alts, those who don’t want to dig through a year’s worth of blog posts just to figure out what exactly the fuck GoSac stands for. To me, it was obvious — there’s really only one thing in the Warlock arsenal that can possibly be called GoSac.

But then, that’s the point — I know all about the entire Warlock arsenal, but new players don’t.

After two years of writing the Warlock column, I finally learned the lesson, as I was then writing episode summaries for Final Boss TV. I would take live transcription-like notes during the live show, and then later turn those notes around into something involving actual English sentences. It took me until the enhancement shaman episode to figure it out, because Bay, the host of Final Boss TV, plays an enhancement shaman.

See, Bay is actually good at interviewing — he draws up the questions beforehand, the questions have a logical order, he pointedly asks a specific guest a question and then rotates around so everyone gets a word in, and he knows how to explore a question on the fly or otherwise separate out the really arcane parts of the question so the guest actually answers something both intelligible and interesting to the audience. Final Boss at the time was interviewing top raiders of each class and spec, with the purpose of exploring things about that spec at the top levels of raiding, hoping that those lessons would trickle down. So it was naturally a slice of media that was top players with knowledge talking down to lesser players who didn’t have this knowledge.

(Gee, that sounds a lot like guidewriting to me.)

In previous episodes, if the guests used an acronym term, Bay would be like me, kind of going “what is that (again)?” So the guests would be almost forced to talk about spells by name so that Bay (& by proxy, the viewers) could understand what they were going on about. But in the enhancement episode, Bay knew what they were talking about, so he didn’t need to prod for what an acronym meant. I was suddenly having to keep up with a fast-talking spec that likes to make a lot of its acronyms out of 2-letter combinations of U, E, L, B, and S.

I quickly became so confused. I lost my place in quite a few areas. And that’s when it hit me that those unfamiliar with the class/spec glossary must be so goddamned confused whenever they try to read either a written spec guide or any theorycrafting lying around, simply because it’s so riddled with specific acronyms., Or you get to put the burden on the guidewriter who needs to keep a running glossary going so you can tab back and forth, post to post, to understand what the wordy post means.

C’mon, now, you’re making the reader work way too hard because you want to be a lazy guidewriter.

As a human being, though, I didn’t want to be caught causing harm to others even if it was the slightest wrong such as writing a rather unreadable guide. I had that excuse ready — it was for wordspace!

…No. It turns out that it can’t be for wordspace. It might start because the various spells are being used in math, so you use the acronym like a coding variable. It might start because you don’t have enough time to type out Grimoire of Sacrifice but GoSac lets you get back faster to killing things in-game. It might be because you can’t fit Grimoire of Sacrifice advice on Twitter but you can fit GoSac advice.

But it’s not a wordspace thing. I took a very spell-heavy Blood Pact column and performed a simple experiment. I counted the words in the column when all spell acronynms were used and when all spell names were used. The difference was about 100 words (in an already 1500-ish word article), which is pretty negligible in wordspace. Most short news items are at least 150-200 words, if not 250-300. I saved more room by learning to write more concisely and with more clarity than I did by converting a spell name into its acronym.

So word of advice to aspiring guidewriters: know what the acronyms are so you can read the relevant theorycrafting math, but don’t use them profusely in your guides. I mention them to teach others what the acronym is — let’s talk about Grimoire of Sacrifice (GoSac) today! — but I use the full or partial spell name. “Army of the Dead” or “Army” is fine, but “AotD” and I’m spending more time like “wha–oh yeah, that thing” instead of concentrating on where the sentence is actually leading me.

qiana-in-training

Theorycrafting is an apprenticeship

A thing Elitist Jerks tried to have was a theorycrafting concepts wiki it called the Think Tank. When I learned about it in Wrath of the Lich King it was already outdated as it had been written in sometime Burning Crusade and EJ killed it off from inactivity as Wrath came to a close.

That saddened me. Here was the potential for all this knowledge that I could absorb on my own without having to bother the gods on their high heavenly pedestals of theorycrafting know-how. And it was simply wiped out due to lack of upkeep. Add in the toxic cloud hanging over me that stupid questions were not accepted in the EJ forum space (even if I was trying to learn!). Learning to theorycraft came down to either being born knowing all the class knowledge or silently trying to reinvent the theorycrafting wheel myself because those who knew things can’t be bothered with my stupid questions.

I realize now that this is a lot of assuming that theorycrafters are hateful people who don’t want my unclean lesser player hands grabbing for knowledge, and that really, theorycrafters are just normal people with real 40-hour-week jobs like me who just do this for shits & giggles and why, yes, of course, if you want to see my spreadsheet of gear, here you go, have fun with it & tell me about what you do with it, please. But it took me a few years of guidewriting and later mingling online with theorycrafters who eventually became their own class guidewriters to realize the normalcy of people.

But when you have old theorycrafters hanging up the hat, there’s a problem with new theorycrafters coming in: there’s no theorycrafting textbook. I can’t go to the virtual library and find a consolidated source that tells me what the formula for a spell’s damage is. Instead, I’m left with Google searching, sometimes forum searching, and sometimes those websites aren’t around anymore because the domain expired or the site was taken down or Youtube won’t let me see that video because I live in the wrong country. Or, even worse, the information that I do find is outdated but I don’t realize it because I don’t know what patch it is or when it changed (or when it changed back! or when it changed back again!). Even when theorycrafting is written down, it ends up much like the Think Tank did — it stagnates out of uninterest in keeping it updated. There is no Introduction to Theorycrafting for Questing Alts, 8th Edition lying around for newbies like me to pick up and begin theorycrafting.

Theorycrafting is very much an apprenticeship where you have to have already joined the theorycrafting community in your class and spec and tagged along in its contributions. It’s like memorizing the periodic table — you could sit there and flat-out memorize each element and its properties, or you can go the easier and longer route of just using all of it over and over again until you’ve straight learned what the properties are. And while that’s fair to the people who are currently theorycrafting — I mean, how do you think they learned it? — it’s a big leap from passively reading class guides that lay out absolutely everything you need to know to play from gear to spells, to having to do the work of asking questions yourself and designing experiments to test your assumptions.

Now, one solution is to create a textbook and keep it updated. But that’s failed in the past, and since we’ve already explored the cycles of human behavior, I doubt it’s going to win out just this one time.

So the solution I’m thinking of is we must teach others how to learn theorycrafting on their own. I think this is the stronger solution, too; it teaches a man to fish, rather than just giving him one day after day. Now, I’m sure you can debate about the definition of “teaching,” whether that means refusing to do so because shouldn’t people already know how to do the Scientific Method since what grade 5???, or whether that means you simply tell them what to do and eventually they’ll get it, or whether that means simply providing them with the environment in which they can learn (yeah, that’s an Einstein quote).

I’m personally a bit for the last one, for a couple reasons.

For one, it doesn’t change the theorycrafting environment as it is now. You just join up, usually through an IRC of your desired class or coding project, and you …contribute. What does contribute mean? Well, people doing the coding or doing the guidework are probably asking questions — hey, it’s part of the job. You can help answer the questions, though, by simply going on the PTR, testing things out, and reporting back. If you don’t know how to test a thing, that’s a good question to ask! Haileaus links a rogue class mechanics thread for patch 6.2, which has been out for a couple weeks now but still has some things that aren’t marked off. Just ask “what can I do to help?” and I’m sure the current theorycrafters can find you something to do.

For two, going the providing a learning environment route helps counter what I feel was EJ’s biggest turnoff: the hostile starting atmosphere and the idea that players should know everything simply because a guide exists for it. Hey, Schroedinger: does an unread guide contain useful information? You don’t really know until you read it, and if you can’t read it because it’s too difficult to keep up with because of acronyms or jumps in logic or math that you missed before, then, well, it might be correct, but it’s not actually useful to the reader since they can’t take it and apply it to things they do.

But while a truly open theorycrafting community would be nice to learn in, with the breaking of walled gardens comes the broader pool of players, some of whom aren’t nice about mistakes, or really, they aren’t nice about anything at all. You get the crap you have to wade through in popular forums of people who want to get the credit of contributing without doing the work. There’s useless information; there’s conflicting information; there’s information with missing, mislead, or even made-up pieces.

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Environment of examples

Wanting to contribute to theorycrafting really got going for me when Theck posted his Theorycrafting 101 posts on the blog Sacred Duty. Although the post example was something simple like figuring out how much primary stat I’d have, the post itself illustrated the question, test, and answer cyclical process that theorycrafters go through in testing things. I found it really awesome how Theck walked us right into a wrong answer so he could show us how to check that answer and eventually reason out the right way to go about things.

Being able to look at myself and my mistakes and instead of getting mad, just realizing that not only mistakes happen, but you can work through them? That was a learning environment I could dig.

But this all rather comes down to the idea that theorycrafting is an apprenticeship — you have to do it to learn it. Theorycrafting communities could keep some semblance of a walled garden with specific users contributing specific things in a specific manner, if only there was some form of passive content that beginner users could consume to catch up on.

So my theory goes that we need to teach people how to ask questions again. How to figure out what’s important to ask, how to form goals with testing, how realize specific or general biases that could tip the results in a certain favor.

I see often that in order to dispute some theorycrafting conclusion, well, you need evidence. And yet, it’s really hard to find the theorycrafting evidence that started the conclusion, unless you already know where it exists. The theorycrafting community — to me, anyway — has a bit of a closed loop going, where I understand that they have better things to do than to answer questions that have already been answered elsewhere, but then don’t be so confused as to why new people won’t step up when old people leave. Y’know? Why can’t we just look at the information that is already available to the theorycrafters? Well, it’s that old search bar problem again — it’s a bit of a catch-22 in that getting at the information as a newer player requires the same critical thinking skills that got the information there in the first place.

As a guidewriter and blogger, I feel all I can do to help the situation is to maybe help contribute myself in some of the IRC chats, and to liveblog some of my theorycrafting attempts, which includes writing down all my mistakes and showing how I backtracked through to get to a conclusion. But I’m afraid to post these things because, as I said before, the playerbase is extremely toxic right now when it comes to information that is clearly in their eyes bloody wrong or missing the slightest detail. I suppose I should just muster some confidence in my writing skills and hope that journaling my steps into testing game concepts will help guide other players on their paths to learning theorycrafting.

Theorycrafting contributes massively to the World of Warcraft, and you should thank theorycrafters for their work and help contribute so they can continue doing it in the near future. But players — both theorycrafters and not — should also think about the far future where the current theorycrafters aren’t here anymore (because life happens). Should theorycrafting leave our game world with them? Or would you prefer the torch be passed on to the next generation, to burn just as brightly if not more?

On Theorycrafting

A demo warlock Warcraft Logs parse-reading

Get it? It’s a demonology warlock raid parse comparison but also an example warlock comparison using Warcraft Logs? It’s a demo warlock raid parse comparison!

Puns aside, I see Warcraft Logs introductions, and they usually show how to upload a log and then “hey, it makes pretty graphs and is a pretty powerful tool,” and then never goes any further. Perhaps it shows off the tools — look, you can make pins! and here are all the things you can do with pins! — but the guides I’ve seen that aren’t actual walkthroughs of a raid parse specifically meant to improve a specific person often just stop with the abilities of Warcraft Logs rather than what you should do with them.

Handing someone a full toolbox doesn’t automatically make them a skilled carpenter. The information sitting in the powerful & useful tool that is Warcraft Logs is still overwhelming to the casual raid parse reader, because they don’t know what to do with all of it.

However, I haven’t quite figured out how to generally write or make a guide that explains why to use a pin or a graph or a table or the replay to judge J Random General DPS Concept. Why? — It’s very specific per spec and per fight, even per attempt depending on what you’re doing, and even per question depending on what you want from it all. Trying to anticipate all the questions is just overwhelming by itself and hardly solves any of the overwhelming feeling.

The only part I’ve been able to figure out is that reading a parse is not so much about bringing a checklist of frequent problems to see if any apply to you. Reading a raid parse efficiently is more about bringing your knowledge about your spec, your class, and the specific encounter to the raid parse and critically applying that knowledge to the various results you have in the graph/table/chart/replay.

You have to already have questions or possible reasons why you didn’t do so great when you come to the parse, and the parse will help you answer those. The parse doesn’t magically conjure answers for you — you have to already be looking for them.

To start figuring out how to write a guide for reading a raid parse in order to better yourself, I recorded my own, where I compare myself as a demonology warlock to another demonology warlock who did better DPS on this one fight than I did.

First off — I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the resolution was that terrible until it was already uploaded & processed on Youtube. Which took multiple hours (because, well, it’s an hour-long video itself). And I didn’t feel like redoing it. Sorry. It’s probably actually because I recorded it at some low setting. It’s clearest to read in the smallest player, but I think it’s fine, since it’s mostly the graph shapes/animations that I’m focusing on, not the text.

My video is actually uncut as well as unscripted. I figure this is better so you can see me meander through all the different tabs, discovering new information and arriving at new conclusions organically rather than me telling you what to look for. I use myself as the worse warlock, so I’m only embarrassing myself in particular, not anyone else. And it’s also part of my after-raid homework to log-dive my own logs like this.

I was very, very tired when I recorded it — insomnia is never fun, and you’ll hear me yawn a couple times — so I actually make quite a few obvious knowledge mistakes. I usually catch myself, but there are others that are there that I now facepalm myself at. Sorry! When I’m writing articles, I am actually awake and actually remember things like Grimoire of Service is 2-minutes not 1-minute, and realize that the guy has higher DPS overall instead of just having a higher opener. The intent of the video is less to show off how bad I am at demonology and more that, hey, look, I’m imperfect at this spec and even I can get some ways I can improve out of a raid parse. (It’s also easier to show the differences between a not-great warlock and a good warlock than it is between a good warlock .and a slightly-worse warlock!)

This is not meant as a be-all end-all to Warcraft Logs guides. It doesn’t even cover everything there is to use — I don’t look at how tanks or healers could use the parse information, because, well, I’m not playing one right now. I’ve done a tank or healer parse comparison as part of being a veteran raider rank in my guild, in order to pinpoint why or how a guildmate needs to improve, but I don’t normally play a tank or healer, so I won’t pretend to know 100% how to read those parses. I can certainly open up a 101 guide to a guildmate’s class & spec & figure out the really obvious ways they are screwing up, but let me be clear, the only class I can possibly be an expert in is warlock, and even that I’m, well I’m good, but I’m not perfect.

This is meant as something to help get you started at reading a Warcraft Logs parse, especially if you play a warlock (or maybe even a DPS in general). So hopefully it helps you logdive on to figure out why you may or may not be doing things incorrectly and how you could do better.

A demo warlock Warcraft Logs parse-reading

Lessons from writing the warlock column

CFN-style (first draft) because why not.

So the long story short is Alternative Chat suggested Blizzard Watch do some “how to play your class/spec” class columns and I said “yeah ok but you’d do better to go to the Wowhead guides for that info than looking in a class column.”

I figured I was OK saying this as I’ve written several versions of a class guide. I’ve done it in a class column, I’ve done the Wowhead bullet-y style one, and I’ve done the official strategy guide one. I’ve learned since then that Wowhead/Icy Veins, or the longform bullet-y or entirely in-depth guide, is the way to go for most people.

Alt Chat’s argument for class columns was because they felt different. I’m assuming she speaks to the spirit of the class column, because the column writers typically play that class and their enthusiasm shows through their writing.

Yes…and no. Writing a class column is not so simple as stuffing information into 1500 correct words. And learning how to love your class of choice isn’t just about how to mechanically play it.

Class guides are massive

So back up the Twitter feed, I was talking with @Sveltekumquat about saving all your writing ideas and I linked a screenshot of my warlocks binder of Scrivener. Scrivener is the writing software I primarily use because I love it because it caters to my organizational needs without being a complete pain in the ass to maintain. So @Tikari joins in about how I have “inspiration from Arielle” in my trash, which has been there since I got to write the Wowhead boost 90 warlock guide (which became the 100 warlock guide when Warlords of Draenor launched).

So one of the rules guidelines about getting better at writing is to read everything. Read for pleasure, read for interest, read for being informed, but also read to see what both crap writing and brilliant writing look like.

So, I wanna write guides? I read guides. I read all the class guides, whether or not I have a toon capable of raiding or PvPing or whatever. When we came back to redo level 100 Wowhead guides, I had read all of the other class guides & their comments, because I wanted to see what information they included, how they organized the info, did they use full prose or did they stick to sentence fragments, did they use info for the average player or is this straight from BiS sims, what is this. I read Wowhead guides, I read non-Wowhead guides that were on Wowhead, I read Icy Veins, I read Icy Veins forum guides, I read blog guides. I read pet battle guides, I read SC2 guides, I read LoL guides, I read GW2 guides, I read textbooks, I read WikiHow guides, …

I won’t say I’ve read every guide there ever was, but I read guides so I can write guides. I am also the daughter of teachers (who are themselves the children of teachers) so I just have in my DNA I guess to explain things to people in such a way that said things are no longer intimidating and look actually possible if not enjoyable to do.

“Inspiration from Arielle” is a notes-y kind of text file where I have comments on Arielle’s TiB bear forum guide. Why? Because it’s one of my favorite guides when I look for elements of guide writing that I like. It’s neat, it’s clean, it’s compact as far as not rambling around like I tend to do, it’s informative, it’s in-depth, it’s…maaaaaaaaaan, I love this guide.

So from reading all this stuff, especially when I read different guides of the same stupid topic, I learn that there’s a lot of ways to organize things differently. One way isn’t correct all the time, and when it comes to online stuff at least, it generally depends on the format the guide comes in rather than what the guide is on.

When I first got to write the Wowhead warlock guide, it was the first time I’d write a whole class guide. I mean, I’d attempted to write parts of a guide on my own blog, but I never got around to finishing anything, so this was my first complete class guide.

I felt incredibly overwhelmed for a lot of the time I tried to write that guide. I felt like I wasn’t going to do a good job, that I was missing something, that I wasn’t going BiS enough, that I was going TOO BiS, that I wasn’t organizing it correctly, how can like Arielle & Theck & others do these things, the fuck, I’m so terrible. All those things down the rabbit hole. It wasn’t until I was doing the theorycrafting homework with Theck’s Theorycrafting 101 that I realized part of my feeling overwhelmed problem.

Most of the guides that I really admire for guide construction come from hybrid class writers. Which makes a little bit of a difference because they are usually covering a single spec whereas I was trying to cover three.

That’s one of the things that many hybrid mains miss about pure DPS classes, I feel. Pure DPS can’t really be competitive as just one spec. You have to learn all three, or at least two, and you need to be able to do both/all competently if not very well. There’s overlap because it’s the same class and therefore we get the united class feeling — though, less so for warlocks. The core abilities or cooldowns of a rogue may share across specs, but since warlocks have that weird thing of three completely separate resource systems, we actually have zero overlap except for Corruption (aff & demo) and pets.

But pure DPS are weird — we have different specs, but the same role. So you need to explain three different ways of executing the same role. Most people think this is “well, you press 222222222 and stuff dies and then you WIN how hard can it be?” Or the “well EVERYONE plays DPS, how hard can it be?”

OK, baseline DPS is not that hard. But good DPS, excellent DPS, DPS that inspires? That’s a little bit more ambiguous.

The three different ways is a lot easier to lay out & explain than the overarching concept of “here’s how to generally go about DPSing so you can figure out what spec works better when.” Tanks and healers get the hard-to-explain “meters are kinda crap for judging us” that’s pretty obvious, and generally pride themselves on having to know an encounter to get their job done rather than just pushing buttons in a specific order. DPS get the “I have to figure out which of my specs is better for this particular situation so I can figure out which of the three rotations I should be doing.”

So I’m trying to write a unified guide of three totally different specs, but put it in the space where one-spec guides go. Holy unrealistic expectations, Batman.

My Wowhead guide is about 3,000 words, give or take. Bullet/sentence fragment style, intended audience is fresh L100 alts.

My official Draenor Strategy Guide section was just under 10,000 words. Prose style with spell tables, intended audience is newbie players.

Arielle’s guide is about 6,000 words, prose/bullet style, I’m guessing intended for raiding bears, whether new or old.

Class columns are 1000 words minimum (to be justified by what you get paid for them) to 1500 words max.

Why 1500 words? Blizzard Watch Editor-in-Chief (& co-owner) Alex Ziebart actually explains this on the Blizzard Watch podcast Episode #1. Too long; didn’t listen? — It’s a general reading attention span thing. If you for some reason think this is a horseshit explanation for us to continue doing an old constraint, you can go look at what Medium’s been doing to analyze how posts get completely read & what makes a most viewed post.

YES the caveat is that this isn’t a direct correlation with the quality of the post, just how many views you get. But that’s not how business with ads works. You can’t take the writing out of the business of writing and judge it purely on the romanticized Great Writing vacuum. Paid writing is very much about the volume of people consuming your work as well as how good/useful your work actually is.

Which means this rant is probably going nowhere because it’s so goddamn long. Oh well.

Anyway.

The point I’m making is that BW class columns are hella limited spaces for full class guides, especially when read by players who are used to multipost forum guides or sites like Icy Veins. It took me 4 articles on WI (here’s one) to do a whole class guide — one post for each of the 3 specs & then 1 general “which spec do I play when” type. You’re asking a lot of the class columnist when you ask this and, let’s face it, you’re probably going to be disappointed anyway because it’s going to be short/brief/not the glorious in-depth solves-all-your-problems thing you were hoping it was going to be.

Series are dailies not weeklies

I like series of things. I like convoluted plot lines in TV shows and books so I can watch and read them over and over again to get new information each time. I like epic book series that have a million different things going on with a hundred different characters and have family trees and shit in the appendices in the back. I love complex media that take multiple times to absorb.

But I learned while writing Blood Pact that series only really work when they’re consumed in a timespace relative to the wordspace they take up.

For example, I expect A Song of Ice and Fire or the entire Lord of the Rings mythology of books to take several months to finish. It’s thousands of pages, it’s going to take a while, so I’m OK with that timespace because the wordspace is also relatively huge.

4 columns = 6000 words. That’s like, what?, come back here, Medium, ok here it is, average reading rate of an adult is 275 words per minute. So 6000 words is roughly 21 minutes of reading.

Except, it’s a weekly column, so it takes you about 43,200 minutes (30 days * 24 hours * 60 minutes) to finish those 21 minutes.

Don’t do that.

Because blogging posts end up being relatively short (to keep up with the short online attention span of reading articles), you have to have quicker posts in order to keep a series connected. Which is why you have news every hour or 1-2 class columns per day. It keeps you from going “hey, when’s the next part?” too much. We want a little bit of that so you’ll come when the next part releases, but too much and people get bored or angry or both.

I remember Alex emailing us once, because the class columnists were all doing one little series or another within their columns, and he was like “stop, it’s not really worth it.” And I remember, I was silently like “yeah but I’LL get it to work because MY EGO KNOWS BEST” and then …

It doesn’t work.

Don’t do a series within a weekly column, unless it’s a series of 2. A class how-to guide one per spec is about the only series that works and even that one means only 1/3 of the class is listening at any given time. (“Oh, this week is on destro, I don’t play destro, I don’t care *skip*.”)

You CAN, however, possibly do a once-in-a-bit series within a class column. There’s patch notes, for example, that occur every few months. Loot lists happen every few months. Which spec is currently performing best/worst. Of course, they coincide with content releases, so it’s not a planned series. But you can do these sort of occasional yet categorical column posts that everyone knows is coming and they won’t be mad when you deliver one of those that week.

So you can have a series of one-offs that you do every 4 columns or whatever. But you can’t do a part 1 of X posts series within a column.

Will I ever do warlock soloing guides for the old raids in Blood Pact? Yes, but not in a row. (I’m thinking maybe monthly, since it’ll take me 2-3 weeks to do each spec on my main or an alt — look, I have 2 warlocks, but one is geared and one is quest greens.)

Will I go over how to play a warlock in specific fights? Maybe, but not in a row, and really, I’d probably just do one column of here’s warlock tips on LFR for alts because by the time I figure out all the regular raiding tricks on my main, you probably have, too.

Will I do spec guides? Yeah, if it turns out we’re all doing [Spec] 101 articles across all the class columns and it’s a THING we’re doing. Definitely if it’s a special longer article that’s allowed, because, of course, no more AOL means more freedom. But that’s ultimately up to the editors. I’ll keep assuming 1500 is my max.

But that’s kind of what the column is for anyway — how to play? — so I’d rather go to my new model of taking a specific bite of a rotation or strategy and analyzing it further. I can build up over time what is essentially a wiki of how to warlock in general so my content both lasts & is useful.

The thing about the Wowhead guide is I have to update it every time we get a new raid tier or significant patch note change. While you can go back and edit blog posts, typically you don’t go back & change months-old posts. (They’re also rather useful left as is, because then you can see where the class went over time. Blog posts make their own historical record, it’s great.)

How to play a class is not the same as how to love a class

Alternative Chat spoke to the feeling of the columns. This is what everyone’s generally been saying since Blizzard Watch resurrected from the ashes of WoW Insider. That BW/WI was always different from MMO-C or Wowhead or Icy Veins or even from regular blogs, because it was a concentrated spot of soul even when delivering the hourly news.

That’s not wrong. In fact, I agree, and further, I want to continue that.

But that’s not the same conversation as choosing the right words to meet a wordcount.

Telling me to write a class guide in a column because the soul of the class columns is what brings people is like saying my skill at playing demonology in a raid scales with how awesome my transmogrification is. You can be awesome at playing demo and you can have an awesome transmog, but one does not necessitate the other.

Really, any monkey who can run Simulation Craft, or look at spell tooltips, or spend 15 minutes on a training dummy, or run things on the PTR, or …any monkey can tell you how to play a class.

Well, not every monkey can do the science/coding/math behind the class mechanics, just to be clear that I’m not dissing theorycrafting here. That stuff is complex when it comes to figuring out exactly which questions to ask & I /salute to those who do it.

But any monkey can go read the conclusions by theorycrafters and dress it up in a guide.

Not every monkey can inspire you or otherwise get you to love a class. That’s the part that comes from the heart, and that’s the part that has to happen over every article in a class column.

You can do it with one-offs — I did soul a lot of the time by doing my narratives. The Kanrethad one comes to mind. And I still catch flack for it; my narrative stuff always had one or two comments about how it felt like it was some personal diary or blog rather than something “worth” being in the column.

One of the things I experimented with was the narrative loot list. Sure, you can argue I’m not doing much — I’m basically finding all the Wowhead links for whatever’s in the Dungeon Journal loot list. I’m hardly even telling you which piece to pick up. Strictly content speaking, it’s a bit of a fluff piece that takes some tedious work to put together.

But the way I do it — that’s what people like about it. I crack puns with the loot, I diss mages with the loot models, I frame the specs against each other with whether a piece is crappy or not based on the stats. I sometimes use the loot in a brief mention of the boss’s strategy, like making the obvious joke on running away from something while linking some leg slot piece.

There’s a mini poem in my BRF one. Just you wait.

Why did I even try to do a prose-y loot list? Why not contribute some actual info about best-in-slot pieces? Because I got bored reading bulleted loot lists. I got bored writing them — it’s just copypasta central that puts me to sleep. I still have to copy loot links with my narratives, but it’s more fun to figure out which words I’m going to link instead of just the same, old, boring loot name.

I also wanted to experiment with writing in short bursts without losing much meaning. As you can probably tell by now, I am bad at writing briefly. Having to do an entire raid instance in one post means each boss only gets about maximum 75 words each to cover all of its loot.

14 bosses in Throne of Thunder + 2 world bosses: 1200 words. Actual post: 1243 words.

16 bosses in Siege of Orgrimmar: 1200 words. Actual post: 1110 words. (shorter?!!! Fuck yes!)

But the secret that everyone simultaneously knows and doesn’t know about writing is that when you have fun writing, the reader has fun reading. When it’s a chore, it shows, when it’s fun, it shows. I had the most fun when I was doing ludicrous things like “so, I need to write a boss strat for Kanrethad. But this fight is SO AWESOME how can I show this CAN I ROLEPLAY THIS why not.”

Do you like reading a pamphlet about a place or do you like going on a museum tour? I far prefer the museum tours with enthusiastic tour guides and I bet you do, too, so I’m not going to write about the most efficient way to solo Karazhan in the fastest time possible, I’m going to tell you to do silly non-technical things like look at the ceiling while clearing Opera trash in whichever spec you like playing.

(Seriously, look at the Opera house ceiling. It’s the best.)

I love my warlock when it’s the best class. I love my warlock when it’s the worst class. If you’re just here for the shinies and the numbers, that’s fine, whatever floats your boat, but my hope is that you continue reading Blood Pact for the fun and flavor and because I make a good read, not because I make some bookmarkable rotation lists once or twice an expansion.

 

Lessons from writing the warlock column

You found a warlock blog!

kara3

One that’s written by Megan O’Neill, aka Poneria. Grats?

You can’t kill me for loot, though — I’m friendly. Plus, the warlock columnist curse already tried and failed…twice.

I’ve got the usual About Me page, and you can read my resume of things I’ve written since I started blogging at Fel Concentration. Or you can skip straight to the blog below to read some more current(-ish?) writing. I might write Diablo 3 things.

If you’re looking for a general introductory warlock guide, Wowhead’s Warlock guides for patch 6.2 have been split into the three specs — Affliction, Demonology, Destruction — and the guide has been taken over by Ryndar of US-Sargeras’s Bear Retirement Home.

You found a warlock blog!

Draenor warlock guides from me

wodstratguide-credits

In March 2014, when the class columns ended at WoW Insider, I joked that it was my fault. I’d beaten the Warlock Columnist Curse twice over, and it was so mad it lost that it had to take all the class columns with it.

Dear Warlock Columnist Curse:

Look at all those WI alums. Long live class columns!

— Poneria

P.S. Magdalena & Chaithi are also awesome people anyway.

I had to double-check the email when it came in the summer from BradyGames — it couldn’t possibly be true that I’d be invited to contribute to a real, official, printed-on-paper book, right? But it was true — Anne had put my name into the pot and I got to work with her again! (Ken Schmidt is another other editor/writer on the project.)

It’s surreal for me to see my writing in the same context as the smell of a newly printed book, but there it is. That’s my writing there, all over the Warlock section. That’s mine. What? Wow, that still repeatedly blows my mind.

I’m keeping my copies for personal reasons, but a couple of the other section authors are holding giveaways for one of their copies:

  • US entries: Chase Hasbrouk aka Alaron @ The Fluid Druid
  • AUS/NZ entries: Matt Sampson aka Binkenstein @ TotemSpot
  • Sorry, EU! None that I know of

I think maybe Bink’s giveaway is over (it was limited to the end of BlizzCon), but Alaron’s is still going on for another day.

If you’re reading me here, you probably already know all of the information in the Warlock section. It’s a newbie’s guide — veteran players will know where to find more advanced DPS tricks online — but I’m still super proud of the work I did from July to the beginning of October.

Right after I sent in my final drafts, Wowhead approached me to update the warlock class DPS guide, so I did that, too. It’s got some typos in it as I still haven’t figured out how they copy my text into the tooltip generator, but I’m still working against burnout to clean some of it up.

Burnout? What burnout?

I’ve been guide-writing in some form or another since July, or 4 months straight. Moreover, other IRL aspects of my life have started demanding more. While I’d love to put out quality like WoW Insider or Wowhead can do, I simply don’t have as much time to spend on it as I once did. I got a promotion in my “day job,” so I basically did IRL work, came home, did guide work, slept, repeat. I didn’t have much recharge time for just me aside from mindless D3 slaughtering.

I’ve been quite burnt out on writing guides for the past couple of weeks, especially when it comes to a really broad audience — optimizing gear lists, for example. While I have organized a few gear list notes for myself, I haven’t gotten around to doing the typical column Ultimate Bookmarkable Gear List guide stuff because getting it all “correct” is super stressful for me. There is also a wide variety to gear in Draenor, at least to start with, and while that’s fun for the player playing through the game, it makes guide-writing that much more stressful, because it’s more to organize.

But that doesn’t mean I’m stopping guide-writing. I’m just taking a break, is all. I’ve earned one.

Knowing myself, I will probably have lists worked out as I level in Draenor — I’ve started my raid loot lists, already. I also figure that the people who would use a gear list right out of the starting gate have probably already found their roadmaps and therefore don’t need my guides anyway. So I’m not worried about it.

But if you’re going to take your time leveling and you like my writing, feel free to read what I have to list, whenever it is that I share it.

Draenor warlock guides from me