Monthly Archives: January 2010

Talent guides of the future: Is all choice good choice?

Okay, so it’s no secret that I spend a LOT of my time coming up with talent guides. I’ve done talent guides for leveling. Talent guides for end-game raiding. Analysis of what talents I think are good. Analysis for what talents I think are bad and should be changed. I also apologize in advance for just rambling theoretically about guide writing and talent choices. None of this reflects actual things we know are coming, but I want to talk about the implications & problems with a possible design philosophy that I don’t necessarily agree with.

While I originally passed over one of GC’s posts last week, there was something that caught my eye today that I wanted to nitpick a little bit. The original post you should have all read is here. Context matters, so you should go back and read the full blue post. I’m not going to repost the whole thing. Instead, the quote I’m interested in particular says:

Because you earn passive bonuses just for spending points in the tree, those fun, niche or utility talents won’t seem as expensive as they do today. We want to create a lot more choices where you are choosing utility vs. utility. We want to see far more “cookie cutter” build guides that say “Spend the last 5-10 points where you want.”

First, I like the idea of the passive bonuses. It takes away the need to spend the majority of our points just on things that essentially say “increases damage/healing by X”. That’s a great goal to work on.

On the surface, more choices seems like a good idea. The idea of more utility talents and more options seems like a neat goal.

However, where I have problems is his last sentence about writing guides that tell people to just spend 5 or 10 points wherever they want. When I do that in one of my guides, it usually means that none of the options are good anymore and you can just dump some points into basically “garbage” talents, or that the choices just aren’t meaningful so I’m basically giving up on trying to make a decision.

Talent choices should still be meaningful, and there SHOULD still be choices. However, there is a right and a wrong way to allow for choice. All the choices have to theoretically not just be throw-away talents that people think are bad, but put left-over points into anyway. I don’t have a problem with presenting 3 or 4 different talent specs, like I do for my healing guide right now. I don’t mind 5-man healing specs looking different than 25-man raiding specs looking different from PvP healing specs. I don’t even mind if the talent trees allow enough flexibility that people can disagree about the right spec to have, or can choose not to follow the cookie-cutter build if they want.

However, I do mind the possibility of either having talents being so desirable OR undesirable that we can’t present a good “cookie cutter” spec in our guides. The goal should be, instead, for people to not WANT to follow the cookie-cutter builds, and for people to find neat paths of their own through the talent trees in places where it better matches their particular play-style.

At the point where we say “spend the last 10 wherever you want”, I feel like I’m not doing my job as a guide writer. A “best” spec should always emerge out of guide writing, because that’s the entire point of what people like me do. In testing phases, I’ve been known to spend hours jumping off cliffs trying to reduce my health enough to test HOT healing in a controlled environment. Having HOT overheals show up in the combat log was a significant improvement to my personal testing quality of life, because I’d do practical testing rather than using spreadsheets and simulations, so having the #’s show up with less effort meant I could waste less time running back up hills.  Guide writers go to great lengths to be confident in the talents that they recommend to people, and being 10 points short isn’t going to be something that the guide writers will ever do. That’s just part of guide writing: fill up the talent tree & present it for other people to decide whether they follow you or not.

If we are investing in utility, it should be useful utility. Giving us bonuses that seem neat but have no real impact on our playstyle are just throw-away talents, and it’s usually at the point of throw away talents where we suggest just to dump points wherever. For moonkin/cat druids in a PvE raiding environment, our job is to be doing damage to the boss. We want to be investing points in talents that are going to help us do our job to the point where we aren’t just going to get laughed out of guilds like we were in the original days of the game. It doesn’t matter if we can daze things unless daze is an important part of the boss mechanic. In the days of redundant buffs, giving people more options to spec into redundant buff talents (that may be wasted in some circumstances) isn’t really an improvement to the trees.

The goal shouldn’t be to have guide writers suggest that people just dump points wherever. At that point, why bother writing the guides at all? The goal (instead) should be to get guide writers to have to write about decision points in the trees and how to decide between options based on their playstyle, which I do in my resto druid healing guide right now. I offer multiple decision points & help my readers be informed about their choice between options for different PvE healing build choices. For example, you may have to choose between having Celestial focus or not in a healing build (which is an interesting choice). Another interesting choice ends up being whether or not to pick up several other talents (empowered touch, living seed, revitalze), – depending entirely on whether or not they are good for your particular playstyle. I think it would be interesting for the talent choices to differ with slight differences in playstyle, for example – for there to be clear PvP talents versus clear PvE talents for DPS specs, OR multiple ways to come up with good DPS specs that alter how you do your DPS rotation (ie. mangle-focused versus shred-focused builds for cats, or something like that).

The good talent trees of the future are ones that allow for choices to be made based on playstyle, where there will still be clear guidelines for guide writers to follow about what are good choices for a certain playstyle. I like the idea of “choose your own adventure” talent trees, but there is always going to be one right path down talent trees for people who are trying to maximize their DPS, healing, or tanking potential – and if the talent points aren’t helping the player accomplish their goals, then people shouldn’t be investing points in those talents in the first place. I would rather feel like the talent trees are too full than feel like they are too empty, and the only time I’m going to throw my hands up and force my readers to choose totally on their own is when the trees are too empty and the choices aren’t meaningful.

More often than not, the talents we skip are ones that aren’t meaningful to our roles. So, improved barkskin is a really interesting PvP talent, but I would never pick it up for PvE. If the choice for me was between imp barkskin and imp tranquility, I wouldn’t care because both of them I consider to not be useful talents for my healing role. For my moonkin, if I had to decide between genesis & dreamstate, it wouldn’t be a meaningful choice, since neither of them would actually increase my DPS potential by enough to care.

So, the choices of the future need to be meaningful, without swinging the other way and feeling like the talent trees are so full of “bloat” that we can’t make a decent enough spec out of it. There has to be a clear pathway through the tree for a particular playstyle and role because that’s how we make sense and meaningfulness out of our choices (IE. I choose a tank healing build because I want to tank heal – OR, I choose a Panzerkin tanking moonkin/feral build because I’m a crazy tanking moonkin, OR I want to be a restokin that picks up both moonkin & tree form). We want the talent choices to meaningfully reflect a play-style, and for our investments to feel worthwhile based on the spell combination and role that we have chosen.

The choices should still be meaningful, and the guide writers should still be able to make enough sense out of it to come up with the carefully crafted “cookie cutter” builds. Even if we have to come up with multiple builds, and points where we ask people to make choices, these trees will still be complete. Figuring out the “best” specs to have for a given role & playstyle is part of the game that we play – and it’s something I enjoy doing.

The goal should be to have interesting choices, not to take away the role of cookie-cutter specs.

Posted in Cataclysm, Druid - General

Lore Matters: War of the Ancients book series

So, over Christmas break, I had long airplane flights. So, I took the Warcraft: War of the Ancients trilogy book series with me as reading material to keep me from getting bored on the plane.

For as much as some people dislike Richard Knaak’s work, I actually found this series to be important for me. It helped me with realizing who Deathwing is, and why his coming back in the next expansion is really a terrifying thing for Azeroth. In addition, I learned a lot about Malfurion and the early history of druids in the book series. I also realized that it would have been helpful for an introduction as to why Illidan was the big bad guy of the Burning Crusade expansion. I didn’t play any of the Warcraft games before WOW, so I tend to have frequently missed out on important lore things.

Lore is important for feeling connected to the storyline in the game. Lore is important for knowing WHY we’re fighting, and WHO we are fighting. It is easy to get distracted by game mechanics, and lose the story along the way.  The lore-based books help make the world feel bigger (and older) than it feels as you go through various quests and raid encounters. It makes the battles feel bigger and more hopeless in ways that gives you a reason to want to fight.

An example of being disconnected to the Lore: I complained one week when we were learning Ulduar about how I felt cheated because the keepers don’t actually die. I think it was just unfulfilling to keep defeating but not killing the bosses (I knew they helped us on Yogg, but I didn’t quite “get” what was going on). My boyfriend responded to this complaint by spouting off the reason why they don’t die (something about our objective being to free them, not to kill them). I don’t remember the specific details, but I got caught up in the fight mechanics and forgot to pay attention to WHY we were doing it.

I read the Arthas book at some point so I would feel more connected to the lore surrounding Northrend and the Lich King. I thought it was really helpful for me to do that, since I wanted to feel more connected to WHY we were in Northrend fighting.

Deathwing is one scary beast. I’m also starting early to study up on lore that I think is relevant to Cataclysm so that I don’t feel so disconnected from the WHY. Deathwing used to be a normal dragon, but the old gods corrupted him and made him go a little bonkers. He betrayed the rest of the dragons, and did a lot of bad things. When you know the story behind where Deathwing comes from, the idea of his getting free to wreak more havoc on the world is pretty scary, and is much more motivating to fight against it.

One of the other great pieces in the War of the Ancients book series is that there is a lot of information about Malfurion Stormrage, and what the early druid spell casting actually looked at. I never really quite understood the love triangle between Malfurion, Illidan (his brother), and Tyrande (NE priestess).

One of the things this book series has is detailed descriptions of how Malfurion’s druid spells worked (ie. seeds that burst into flames: “Malfurion threw the seeds into the bat’s maw. The monster convulsed immediately… A fiery glow erupted from within Varo’then’s mount. The captain tried to maintain control, but to no avail. The bat flailed around, shrieking. A moment later, it burst into flames. Malfurion had used the seeds’ inherent heat during earlier battles…” (Knack, 2005, The Sundering, Pg. 287). This is definitely a spell we don’t have anymore, but I think “flaming seeds” should be something that the we should start looking into learning how to use again (on second thought, maybe not with the name “flaming seeds”).

The small amount of Malfurion lore in this book series actually made me really excited at the prospect of the Malfurion book that is supposed to be released sometime relatively soon.

Posted in Cataclysm, Druid - General

Murmurs is Not the shadow labs boss

Okay, so yesterday was the day a lot of you were eagerly awaiting… No, it wasn’t the patch with moonkin buffs (which we aren’t getting today, either). It was the day that finally posted about who they hired to write some new columns on their site. Instead of finding someone who could fill the role of posting equally as well about resto & moonkin, they instead hired a full-time moonkin. However, I’m super excited about WHO they chose to be the full-time moonkin columnist: Murmurs of the druid forums (or, if you want to believe that his name isn’t murmurs IRL: Tyler Caraway)!

Now, my moonkin readers (if they have ever read the druid forums between Vanilla WoW and Today) should know who Murmurs is. However, I’m guessing that some of my resto followers don’t. Murmurs is a person who is actually better than me – because he is the person who does all the theorycrafting math that I rely on for my understanding moonkin mechanics. In the Beta for WotLK, I would search through the druid forums to find his posts, and then I would use that info to help shape the feedback that I wrote, as well. He is incredibly knowledgeable about moonkin, further progressed than I am, and he understands all the math. He does all the theorycrafting with actual math (something I’m not capable of doing – and something I periodically get criticized for). However, for as many times as I said “math” in this paragraph: He has also documented the ability to turn that math into something that other people can understand. I am very happy for Murmurs, and I’m really excited to see what his posts will look like. The idea of his working for turns me into a geeky little fan girl, jumping up and down around my house cheering. I have a lot of respect for his writing, and I hope that you enjoy his posts as much as I know I will. :)

For the resto druids who are bummed about not getting a new writer – I want to say that I have faith in Allison’s ability to keep writing resto columns. She does play her druid as resto and feral, so she knows her stuff. One of her latest pieces was on restoration healing in ICC.

They also got Stoneybaby of Big Hit Box to write the enhancement shaman column. This is pretty exciting news for the enhancement shaman community. They haven’t yet found a resto shaman to help teach my shaman how to not be fail, so if you are a good resto shaman, you should apply to for the resto shaman writer position!

I also want to say for the record that I did not apply to the position. I thought really long and hard about it.  I didn’t have enough time to maintain both this blog and a writing career. I would much rather have fun writing about druids on my own time, without the deadlines of having to post large articles on a set schedule. Also, being in grad school made the idea of writing for them a much more daunting task than I wanted to take on, especially as I start to write my dissertation proposal. So, I’m going to keep posting here at, my own little slice of the internet. For my blog right now, I’m aiming for an every-other-day schedule for the near future. The every day schedule I was originally maintaining got to be a little too much, so I’m working on forcing myself to cut back down to a reasonable posting amount. :)

Congrats to everyone who got hired by! I can’t wait to see all the new articles in the upcoming weeks!

Posted in Moonkin Balance DPS

Building a better resto shaman alt

Okay, so I have a shaman alt that I sometimes play. My alt has been 80 for long enough that I’m in mostly epic gear from heroics. I’ve tried raiding 10-mans once or twice, without great success. I tend to call Lissiel my “fail shaman”, because my alt just doesn’t live up to the expectation of excellence that my druid has been able to live up to.

I think my shaman is suffering from something that Shields UP describes in a guide to mastering shaman healing: “Many shamans new to shaman healing fail at choosing the appropriate spells for the right situations.” I believe this is true, even for my shaman. I have mastered how to choose the right druid heal for the right situation, but for my shaman, I feel a little like I don’t have enough tools, so I just tend to button-mash whatever feels right at the moment, which isn’t living up to my potential. The guide at shields up has a lot of really great advice about learning shaman healing, with links to additional resources in the post that can help you with choosing the right shaman heals.

Shaman healing used to just be all about spamming chain heal. However, mindless chain-heal spamming is just as ridiculous as only rolling lifebloom is for druids right now. Burning Crusade one-button-spamming healing strategies just doesn’t work anymore.

Another great resource for learning about shaman healing is the guide over at slash hug. This guide goes into the basics of talents, spells, addons, gear and stats for people who are new to playing a resto shaman. While written back in May, I think it’s still fairly up to date & relevant.

These two are good starter guides. What else do you use for learning shaman healing at level 80? If I dig up some other guides, I may re-edit this post to add some more.

Posted in Shaman


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