RoS Gear Basics — Addendum on Enchanting

My last post discussed the basics of picking gear in the Loot 2.0 system. It emphasized that a max level character can be geared up rapidly with good rares if you know what to look for and make use of the enchanting system. I want to add a few small points that can make a big difference in how effectively you can use enchanter, especially with limited resources.

A rare item has up to 4 primary affixes and 2 secondary, as discussed before. Each slot has a pool of primary affixes from which it can draw its 4. This is a helpful resource I linked before to see what they are. When you enchant a primary stat, the item can draw the new stat from the usual primary pool (you can click the “?” icon at the enchanter to see all the possibilities in advance). However, the full array of possible affixes is not always available, because certain affixes are mutually exclusive.

In particular, an item can’t have two +skill bonuses or two +element bonuses. So when enchanting a particular stat, if one of the other stats being left on the item is a +skill or +element affix, all of those will be removed from the enchanting pool. This can be used to your advantage when enchanting. Conversely, if an item does not have a +skill or +element affix (except possibly for the one being enchanted), and those are available in the slot, there will be a very long list of possible reforges. This works against you, even if it’s not the +skill or +element that you’re going for. In that situation you might reconsider enchanting the item unless you are willing to spend a large amount of gold and materials rolling the stat you want out of a large pool.

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Reaper of Souls Gear Basics

Edit: added a little bit more to this, in a separate post here

The “Loot 2.0″ system that is the centerpiece of Diablo 3 2.0 makes acquiring gear both more fun and more interesting. The addition of a few new stats, and the enchanting system in particular, means that a little bit of understanding of the system goes a long way in helping you gear up quite quickly once you hit max level. I’ll first give an overview of important stats, and then some practical tips on how to go about putting it all together. In particular, the “Damage” and “Toughness” scores, while they have their uses in making evaluations, can limit your gear progress if you rely on them too much without understanding the underlying stats.

Offensive Stats

Your character sheet’s “damage” score takes into account your weapon damage, primary stat (“Main”), crit chance (“CC”), crit damage (“CD”), and attack speed (“IAS”) bonuses. Since all damaging skills also scale with those stats (some exceptions for IAS, see below) it is a good starting proxy for how much damage you can output. However, there are some important reasons not to simply rely on the Damage score when looking for upgrades. Here are the most prominent ones:

  1. The “[Element] skills deal X% more damage” affix. This works exactly as advertised, and if your build does most of its damage with skills of a particular element, adds a lot of damage that’s not reflected on your character sheet. This gives a strong incentive in Reaper of Souls to try to choose builds that focus on one elemental damage type. If you do all your damage with one element, and you mouseover a pair of bracers with +15% to that element, then even if they show a -5% Damage loss in the comparison, you should think of them as a 10% damage upgrade.
  2. The “Increase [Skill] damage by X%” affix. Similarly, you can probably imagine how to use this. It’s sometimes hard to leverage if your damage is spread between a few different skills, but value it highly if you use a certain skill for most of your damage.
  3. IAS is factored directly into your damage score. But depending on your class and build, IAS may be more or less useful to you. If you are primarily resource-capped (if combat often consists of dumping a whole energy bar into an expensive spender such a Frozen Orb), IAS actually does very little for you, as it doesn’t change the number of casts you get before you run out. Similarly if you use a lot of cooldown-based skills. Conversely, if you generally spam a resource generator (Monks, often), IAS could be better than it appears. Don’t rely on the Damage score when evaluating IAS; think about whether attacking faster is useful in your build.
  4. A more subtle version of the IAS issue is weapon speed. A 1.2 speed weapon and a 1.5 speed weapon might do the same DPS, but one hits much harder per swing and the other attacks faster. The same logic from the IAS discussion applies; one or the other may be much better for you even if they have the same Damage score.
  5. Some stats are not reflected at all in Damage; notably, cooldown reduction and resource cost reduction. Many of the types of builds that don’t like IAS like these stats, because they let you use your attacks more often in practice. Don’t worry about the fact that favoring these stats and disfavoring IAS makes your Damage score look lower.
  6. The CC/CD engine. While these are reflected correctly in Damage, that can be deceptive at low gear levels. The value of each of these stats depends on the other one, so when both are low (when you’re just starting out), CC and CD affixes might show up as weak in your Damage score. Trust that once you accumulate enough of both of them, the synergy is very strong, and a key part of doing high damage. Even if CC/CD items look weak at first, consider saving them because the effects will snowball as you get more.

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Behavior of DoTs and Haste in Warlords of Draenor

Among the various bits of mechanical info that’s been revealed about Warlords is the fact DoTs and HoTs will no longer have “haste breakpoints” and will no longer “snapshot” your stats at cast time. Celestalon has mentioned this a few times on twitter and frequently responded to questions about it. Since a lot of people seem to have questions on how the math of this breakpoint-less system will work, I want to to explain some of the behavior that will result from this. First, a brief history of this whole problem.

Current System: Haste Breakpoints and Rounding

Before Cataclysm, haste generally did not affect the rate of DoT ticks. There were a few exceptions, such as the Glyph of Rapid Rejuvenation that caused the tick rate of Rejuvenation to be affected by haste. But this did so by shortening the total duration of the HoT and keeping the number of ticks constant, so it didn’t have to address the big question of DoTs and haste: what do to with the fractional ticks that appear when you do this?

When Cataclysm introduced a general mechanic whereby DoT ticks would be accelerated by haste, it handled this problem by changing the duration of the DoT, rounding it to the nearest integer number of ticks.

To work an example: say a DoT has a 12-second duration and a tick period of 3 seconds. Unhasted, when you cast the DoT, a 12-second debuff appears on the target, and the 4th tick will occur exactly as the debuff expires. If you add 25% haste, the tick period will decrease to 2.4 seconds (3/1.25). Since 5 ticks at 2.4 seconds is exactly 12, you will still get a 12-second debuff when you cast the DoT, and now it will be the 5th tick that occurs as the debuff expires. But what if you only had 20% haste? Now the tick period is 2.5 seconds (3/1.2). Since there is no system in place for handling partial ticks, the game can either give you:

  • A 4-tick DoT that lasts 10 seconds, or
  • A 5-tick DoT that lasts 12.5 seconds.

In fact, you get the latter. The game rounds to the closest whole number of ticks, and since in this example, the 5-tick option is closer to the default duration of 12, that’s what you get.

Finally, if you had 12.5% haste, the tick rate would be 2.667. So a 4-tick DoT would be 10.67 seconds, and a 5-tick DoT would be 13.33 seconds. These are equidistant from 12, and this is the oft-discussed “breakpoint.” At any higher amount of haste, you get 5 ticks, and at any lower amount, you get 4.

DoThaste1

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“The Proven Healer” — Advanced Guide for All Classes

This is a supplement to the guide I wrote for Wowhead, meant to include more detailed class-specific info for people trying to find every advantage they can to get their title, or to push beyond it. It’s generally assumed you know the basic info from the guide, but now that I’ve done wave 30 on Endless myself on all the classes, I can say a lot more about exactly what worked well on each.

General

  • Your frames should have an alert for the Chomp debuff, and for Oto’s Shield Wall.
  • Chomp is the trickiest ability to deal with in healer PG. More than ever, you have to stress anticipating and handling it promptly to succeed at Endless. Chomp, more than anything else, punishes you for being behind when it appears. When you’re having a problem with a Chomp wave, figure out what’s happening before the Chomp appears that’s causing people to not be topped off.
  • Macro your interrupt and stunning spells to “/targetexact Large Illusionary Hive-Singer” so you don’t have to worry about targeting.
  • If you’re looking to squeeze out every advantage you can, try using a separate gear set other than your raid set so you can gem differently. At this low ilvl you want to gem Int on every class, which you probably stopped doing in your raid gear.
  • In general, the best item in any slot is a socketed item with an Int socket bonus.
  • In any event, remember to use a hat with a Burning meta, not a legendary.
  • The best trinket after scaling is Relic of Chi-ji, as its stats are disproportionately high for its ilvl. Zen Alchemist Stone (JP upgraded) also has as unusually strong proc. Otherwise, just use passive Int and a good mana proc, like Dysmorphic or Horridon’s.
  • The best cloak is the legendary, even without the proc; it has a few extra stat points.
  • The best possible weapon is a socketed 1H from Throne of Thunder (such as this). This will have both a socket bonus and an Eye of the Black Prince.
  • Professions are mostly neutral since you want the 320 Int from all of them. Engineering is a bit more efficient since you can have it up at the hard beginning of each wave.

Wave Details

The biggest focus of this guide is class-specific cooldown planning. One general point throughout: since each wave is exactly 1 minute long, and most cooldowns are multiples of 1 minute, you have to use them very crisply at the start of the wave (or whatever the planned time is) so future uses aren’t delayed. Here’s an outline of the waves, with some more detailed comments:

  1. Easy. No cooldowns, goal is to save mana and build resources. Good time to practice multiple interrupts on a caster while Ki/Kavan interrupt also.
  2. Hard. Large Hive-Singer, as well as a Large Aqualyte doing heavy tank damage throughout. Ki is usually ready for the opening stun on this LHS. Add your interrupts where you can until it dies, but since it dies first, the tank is a bigger worry in this wave than the group. Being topped off going into wave 3 is important.
  3. Easy but takes care. Chomp is a mechanic that punishes you heavily if you don’t handle it immediately.  Have instants saved for the opening double Chomp. Stunning the first Tunneler before it dies can prevent it from Chomping a second time. If you’re behind during the wave, a possibility is to efficiently keep people alive until combat ends and the Chomps fall off automatically, but this is not as good as handling them quickly.
  4. Medium. Double dispels and heavy tank damage. An explosion due to bad debuff luck won’t kill the group–the main worry is the tank–but you have to top everyone off before wave 5. You specifically don’t want Oto to blow his Shield Wall here, so keep him stable, even using a tank cooldown if needed.
  5. Very Hard. If Large Hive-Singer casts unmolested, he gets people low to set them up for a bad Chomp, right as the Conqueror is Enraging on Oto. Ki won’t always be ready to open on the LHS, so you have to watch it (you can let him interrupt if you see him Shadowstep over). Preventing its first casts and/or using a big cooldown pre-emptively will make sure people aren’t at low HP from two Sonic Blasts at the moment the Tunneler arrives.
  6. Hard. Hectic wave, but the only thing that should wipe you is falling behind on Chomp. Oto takes a lot of damage, and if you let him get low, a Chomp can be really bad.
  7. Easy. Tank cooldown is a good idea, but otherwise you should try to get mana back after 4/5/6. Locking down the Small Hive-Singer saves you a little mana healing the group.
  8. Medium. As long as you have a way to mitigate damage in the opening seconds, this wave is generally manageable. Group CCs and mitigation cooldowns are good. After one Flamecaller is down, there’s little threat of a spike. If you interrupt the furthest Flamecallers so they run towards the AoE clump, the group’s DPS will be better.
  9. Very Hard. The Large Hive-Singer can live a long time, wearing down the group if his casts aren’t interrupted. You want to interrupt him early and often, but keeping him far from the group for a long time can cause them to kill him last. Mix throughput cooldowns and interrupts to deal with the constant damage for as long as he lives. The worst moment is the very start when the first cast happens at the same time as a Chomp–interrupting it and dealing with the Chomp immediately gets you off to a good start.
  10. Easy. All you need here is a tank cooldown. Think about topping off any class resources and saving other cooldowns to start the next cycle.

The general pattern is that the waves that need throughput cooldowns are 2/5/9 with a Large Hive-Singer. Secondary cooldowns are good on 4 and 6. Tank cooldowns at 2, 4 or 5, and 10, and 7 if you can fit it in. An important tank cooldown is Oto’s Shield Wall (2 minutes), which he will use anytime either a Conqueror Enrages or his HP is low. If the latter never occurs, he’ll use it at 2, 5, 7, and 10, which is what you want.

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Healing Theory, Part 6: The Mana Economy

Previous posts in this series can be found here

Much of the focus on this series so far has been on Spirit and mana. Choices surrounding mana are some of the least obvious and most interesting character setup choices in WoW. They allow gear decisions to impact gameplay in a way that is somewhat unique. And, from our current perspective at the end of raiding in Mists, the story of how healing gameplay changed since launch is largely a story about mana. This is particularly interesting because I think, for reasons I discuss below, that the designers tried to avoid allowing healers to reach this point of having such ample mana at the end of Mists, after seeing it happen in Wrath and Catalysm.

This post continues the thoughts of earlier posts in the series, which focused on the difference between cooldown and non-cooldown heals and why that difference is important to an understanding of mana. Here I explore some of the theoretical foundation for that distinction and how it helps us make gear and play decisions.

The Balance Sheet: Mana Assets

One obstacle to understanding mana is that information about your total mana income and expenditures is obscure; in typical play, your only information is how full your bar is at a given moment. But since you spend many bars’ worth of mana in even a short encounter, this look is actually not too informative. For a better understanding of where your mana comes from and where it goes, we want to instead look at an accounting that considers an encounter as a whole.

Let’s work through a example on paper and see how it looks. What we’re looking for here isn’t a set of detailed output numbers, which would be better served by a full-blown spreadsheet like my TreeCalcs, but the overall picture and what it can teach us about the way we think about mana.

The first question is how much total mana I have to spend over the course of an encounter. That depends on many variables, but I’ll illustrate a typical hypothetical example for a 6-minute fight. I might have (values in thousands of mana):

  • 300 (starting mana)
  • 432 (base regen (6000 Mp5) over 6m)
  • 487 (6 minutes of Spirit regen, at 12k Spirit (6768 MP5))
  • 285 (1.61 meta procs per minute, @ 3 Rejuvs (26.1k mana) per proc (with a 13% bonus for bad luck protection))
  • 129 (ilvl 561 Dysmorphic trinket, average value running for 6 minutes at 37.5% haste)
  • 120 (two Innervates at 12k Spirit)
  • 87 (two Mana Tides from a Shaman with 12k Spirit)
  • 18 (regen effect from one Hymn of Hope)
  • 30 (potion)
  • Total: 1888 (1.89 million mana).

Healer Pie

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Raid Awareness is a Learned and Practiced Skill

Italicized quotations throughout are from my old raid leader Sebudai, well-known for his efforts to teach his raiders to be better at playing WoW.

I’ve written many WoW guides over the past years, largely covering the details of min/maxing a particular class, but I always knew I was addressing a narrow slice of what makes a good raider. While there are reasons that players who know the nuances of perfectly optimizing their class’s output and ability use are prized, even they are no substitute for a raider who excels at the most important skill of all: not dying.

Volumes have been written on how to do good DPS, healing, or tanking. If you raid or want to raid at an intermediate or high level, I imagine you have long immersed yourself in that discourse already. There are many reasons why existing WoW guides, forums, and discussions are largely about optimizing those roles. They are the primary way players are measured by themselves and by raid groups. Large parts of them can often be solved with math, leading to simple and easily implemented results. But most important, I suspect, is a widespread impression that I hope to refute in this post: that your awareness and survivability in raids is a part of who you are as player and cannot be changed.

After outlining the basic premise that not making avoidable errors that kill you or other raid members is an area of play you should seek to improve, the bulk of this post is about specific things you can do or practice to accomplish that. Through the survey of techniques discussed—gearing your UI towards awareness, being more cognizant of your encounter routines, and constructive behavior post-wipe—what I most want to convey is a mindset. I couldn’t list out all the factors in the mental game of raiding even in much longer post than this. But if you adopt the ethos that every death is a puzzle to be solved, that somewhere in series of events leading to it is a decision you could have made better, you can train yourself to look for it.

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Dark Souls: Spoiler-Free Beginner Guide and FAQ

Dark Souls can be pretty intimidating for new players, and I’ve seen various lists of tips for people just starting out. I wanted to try writing one which was thorough, but with a balance of clarifying things that unnecessarily confusing while leaving it up to players to explore and play how they want. Now seemed like a good time, as I’ve seen friends say they were trying this game after all my recent raving about it, and also the recent Steam sales and people playing it in advance of the sequel.

The goal isn’t just “before you get started” tips, but also to have a place to get descriptions of mechanics/systems that people are likely to ask about before they know the game well. This post should tell people how some things work without telling the player which options to pick. Figuring out what to do the first time is one of the great parts of the game, but my opinion is that works a little better when people can understand what their options are and what their significance might be.

In short, it’s the guide I would have wanted to have handy when I started playing.

Technical

A controller is recommended. I could see learning the game with keyboard/mouse if you’re really nimble with a keyboard/mouse, but it probably adds more to the learning curve in a game where that’s not required at all. The biggest obstacle is that the in-game UI references only controller buttons so you’ll have to memorize the various mappings on your own.

DSFix is a crucial mod that fixes some basic issues like resolution and framerate caps. It also adds frequent auto-save backups, which can be handy in the event that any bugs or encounters with hackers in multiplayer cause problems with your save file.

If you can’t get the game to start when you first try it, it’s probably an issue with Games For Windows Live. There’s no one exact solution, but googling around for solutions that have worked for people (usually involving reinstalling GFWL Marketplace) should get you going without too much trouble.

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The Lack of Holiday Updates in Mists of Pandaria

The Feast of Winter Veil starts today and the addition of a seasonal gift, battle pet, and seasonal achievement makes it the most developed holiday this year–the only holiday to get a development besides Day of the Dead. A common thread whenever a holiday rolls around now is that there’s nothing new for players to do. Holidays haven’t always gotten major developments in the past, but changes in Mists of Pandaria let players burn through holiday content faster and discourages repeat play on alts. It’s interesting to note that the Darkmoon Faire has gotten a lot of updates during a period where holidays got nearly none–but holidays occupy a special place in players’ memories and shouldn’t be neglected in favor of the Faire.

To start off, let’s analyze major developments for each holiday over the past few years. A stand-out year for holiday content started with Children’s Week 2011, continuing with major Hallow’s End, Winter Veil, and Lunar Festival additions. In this year-long period, Brewfest, Love is in the Air, and Noblegarden received interesting new vanity items as well.

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What I Like About Dark Souls

I know I’m late to the party on this game, but I’d always wanted to play it so I grabbed it from a recent Steam sale. There are a lot of things about this game I like; in fact one of my main points here is that I’d probably have rushed to play it much more quickly if I’d known much about it beyond “it’s really hard.” If anything, the fact that Dark Souls‘s reputation centers so singly on its difficulty undersells everything else that’s so good about this game.

In case you know nothing about the game, it’s an action RPG. So real-time combat, with constant Zelda-like attacking, blocking, and dodging between you and the various enemies, but also a fairly extensive stats/items system that’s more reminiscent of something like Diablo. The setting is medieval horror, so lots of zombies and skeletons and the like, against a variety of fantasy backdrops. It has an understated story that you experience mostly through item descriptions and NPC dialogue to the extent that you take the time to do so.

Combat

Lest I fall into a dry exposition of Dark Souls‘s unique combat systems, I’ll pick out a few aspects that should illustrate what’s special about them.

As expected, there are is a wide variety of weapons, each with a list of stats that’s a bit intimidating to a newcomer. What I’ve come to realize about halfway through my first playthrough is that the weapons don’t exist in a hierarchy like in most games, where you periodically give up your sword for the next better sword. Instead, all are (by and large) viable at all parts of the game due to an upgrade system that you use to grow your favorite weapons alongside your actual character. The neat thing is that what primarily sets all the different (for example) swords apart from each other is their animations. And I don’t mean cosmetically–while I don’t know the technical details, the game has some pretty precise hit detection, because each different swing animation damages enemies in the appropriate spatial area around your character.

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No Time to Explore on the Timeless Isle

Much has been made of the experimental design of the Timeless Isle, with more zones in this style promised in Warlords of Draenor at BlizzCon. On the surface, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Players hate daily quests and the Timeless Isle has none. Players of all types love vanity loot and quirky rare spawns and the Timeless Isle has many. Players miss the magic of pre-flying Azeroth and the Timeless Isle bans flying and rewards players for exploration. But is it too much of a good thing? And why do people AFK so much in a zone designed to foster exploration?

Geography

The Timeless Isle keeps the illusion of looking full even when many players aren’t around because of the design. You can’t see much of the island at once between the mountains, bridges, and caves. By putting players into naturally small areas, the areas always look kind of full. And there’s so many scripted things going on that the island never looks dead or abandoned. This leads to some initial excitement when discovering the Timeless Isle, but it also prevents players that are goal-oriented or simply short on time from feeling accomplished.

The island’s geography makes it very difficult for players to reach other parts of the island quickly. While this initially forced players to encounter every area of the island and hopefully stumble across some hidden events, users who have gotten some of the easier achievements or objectives out of the way are blocked by the long travel-times required to get around the island. This encourages users idling by a rare NPC’s spawn location, instead of traveling around the island and participating in multiple content types available. If someone calls out that a rare spawn has just popped in General chat, a player will most likely not make it there in time since the NPC gets obliterated with a small health pool.

The geography on its own isn’t necessarily an issue–a complicated small zone requiring players to invest effort in exploration isn’t bad–but when paired with the rare spawn mechanics and low droprates on many cool vanity items, the geography begins to feel like a hindrance if players are encouraged to kill the same rares many times.The Pandaria rares, in contrast, didn’t have this same issue–while there were numerous rares introduced in Mists of Pandaria, flying mounts let players take a quick spin around a zone, higher droprates on vanity items meant players collected their coveted items faster, and no achievements tied to vanity items didn’t trigger OCD the same way Going to Need a Bigger Bag does.

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