Category Archives: Cynwise’s Field Notes

On Grabbing The Brass Ring

Cynli at the Stormwind Bank (edited)

“So what does it do, this … Battlemaster?” she asked.

I thought about that question for a moment. She was trying to understand. Things were still raw on that night; the topic of Warcraft itself was hard to broach. But I had done it, after the celebrations had died down and people got back to the business of farming Fatty Goatsteak. And she had responded.

“Does it give you special abilities? New powers? Make Cynwise … better, somehow?” she continued, trying to clarify her intent. Her familiar eyes met mine.

How do I explain it? The lines of questioning were obviously innocent; her knowledge of Warcraft was practically nonexistent. And it was a good question! What does this achievement, this title, do for you? It’s a diploma of sorts, a badge that you can flash and not say a word, cool and confident as you await the opening of the gates. But it’s not like gear, improving your character’s performance. It’s not like I suddenly had a 5% buff of awesomeness because I’d fulfilled a long list of criteria.

I was quiet too long. The social part of my brain set off alarms letting me know that; thanks, brain. I’m already flailing around with the deceptively insightful nature of this question: what does this achievement actually do for me? Getting it made me a better player, sure – through brute force repetition of actions I wouldn’t normally try. Never again will I take Snowfalls graveyard or race to be the first to recap a base in Arathi Basin. But I will hustle to do those things when they’re needed now, and not hang back, lamenting my role as a ranged damage dealer. So there’s that.

I’m better because of the journey, not because of the diploma.

Say something. Say anything. She’s just looking and you’re thinking about capping flags in Arathi Basin, doofus. 

“Mostly, it encourages opponents to pile on and try to beat the shit out of me.”

“Oh. Huh.”

She turned and went back to her work, and I went back to mine.

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On Golden Lotus Dailies

1) Holy shit, these dailies go on forever. 2) No wonder so many of you were in such a fucking grumpy mood over the past year. 3) This is SO not worth my left wrist going out too. 4) I have never been happier with my decision to lock at 85 for this expansion as I was doing Glotus for the first and only time. 5) Let the fucking thing burn.

Nope.

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On Disastrous Stargate Pulls

Cynwise - Ulduar - Yogg Saron's Prison - Accidental Stargate Pull

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Five of us were in Ulduar, helping our guildmate and friend Rezznul finish up his Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings. Val’anyr – dubbed the Science Mace, for reasons – is created by gathering up 30 fragments that drop from bosses in the instance. We usually get 2-3 fragments a week, so it’s about a 30-40 week grind.

So we run Ulduar a lot. That’s fine, it’s a chance to hang out and do stuff together, collect nerd points, get transmog gear, have fun. Ulduar is a beautiful raid, like Karazhan before it.

But it’s become kinda routine. Not boring – we change it up, bring different alts, try different specs out, I Demo tank a lot of the first bosses and trash packs, until we get to the ones where two tanks is redundant – but it’s routine. But last night’s pulls on Yogg-Saron were anything but routine, all because Cynwise has a new toy but hasn’t quite learned how to use it right.

After the BG scaling changes of 5.2 there wasn’t any advantage to staying at level 85 in the 85-89 bracket, so I’ve been slowly leveling Cynwise up to 89. This decision proved to be shortsighted, as it looks like the scaling changes are getting fixed in 5.3 – but I was already level 86 and lost 25% of my secondary stats. So I decided to stop at 87 so I could get some of the cool epic gear (engineering goggles, BoE pants, trinkets) and two new abilities, Demonic Gateway and Symbiosis: Rejuvenation. The Demonic Gateway creates Stargate-like portals with a wormhole in-between, allowing rapid transport across distances. It’s really neat, I’m looking forward to using it in PvP, and it’s a token prize for having given away about 33% of my secondary stats.

So we’re at the Prison of Yogg-Saron, final boss of the run. It’s been a usual run with small, unremarkable hijinks. A little slower because there are only 5 of us, but, whatever, we’ve gotten 3 shards for Rezz so it’s a pretty good night. I decide while the other folks are talking about who goes into the portals (I’m always on the portal team, so I wasn’t really paying attention) that I would set up my Stargates to allow us to do a really cool pull of Yoggy. Instead of running in, we’d teleport over to the boss. All of us at once, zip zip zip zip zip, incoming adventurers! It’ll be cool, right? I lay the gates as you see above – one just inside the door, one down by where Sara lurks to start the encounter.

Up the gates go! Charges start building. This is going to be SO COOL.

Two charges, three charges, four charges. Five. Okay, we’re ready to go. The other guys are still chatting about strats (this was the second pull, we’d wiped the first time because I went crazy, then Snacks went mad, then hilarity ensued) and I look over to raid chat. I shift myself, getting into a more comfortable position.

Oops.

See, I should mention that I’m playing on a laptop which is perched on my lap as I’m lying on a floor chair in my son’s room. It’s an old Macbook which has a wiiiide mouse bar below the trackpad at the bottom. Sometimes I click it accidentally while moving it around.

This happens to be one of those times. And my mouse was right over the Stargate.

So I shift to get more comfortable, and suddenly I’m flying straight at the boss. No warning to my friends or anything – just a completely random Warlock Fastball Special at the boss. What was supposed to be a cool thing has turned into a disaster.

There’s a little bit of role play at the start of the boss, so I have enough time to yell “RUN OUT” in /raid before hitting my rocket boots and Burning Rush to try to get out before the door closes. There’s a brief panic at the door (see: Warlock just ported herself at the boss) but everyone backs out as I come rocketing back to them. The doors are closing, closing, crap, I’m … going to make it. I shoot the gap of the closing doors into the antechamber and stop as they slam shut behind me. Inside the locked chamber, Sara continues her dialog as the Faceless Ones begin to spawn.

“I’m really sorry guys!” I type out. There’s some good natured ribbing amidst the chaos. Rezznul on his druid and Lech on his monk tank had gotten the farthest away, so they head back.

That’s when the first two Faceless Ones come through the locked door.

“You have GOT to be kidding me!” I yell, hitting Rain of Fire. Rezz and Lech turn and book, Hal on his hunter gets distance, Snack on his warlock joins me in setting fire to these adds. We start retreating as another wave comes through the door.

“Oh crap, I just got ported inside!” says Rezznul.

What? WHAT? Are you kidding me?

So now our healer is on the inside of Yogg-Saron’s chamber, the tank is trying to get distance to save us from the wipe, and two warlocks and a hunter are DPSing down waves of adds that they can’t stop.

My understanding is that Rezz did the natural druid thing at this point – he hotted himself up, went bear form, and proceeded to valiantly tank the waves of Faceless Ones. This worked for a time as Hal, Snack and I cleaned up the ones who had gotten through the door – but then Rezz died, and all those mobs came charging after us.

By this point we’re up to add 15 or so. Not satisfied with his druid snack, Yogg-Saron ports Lech into his prison. The DPS are hurting but had kept ourselves up with self-heals and Snack riding his Rejuvenation Symbiosis button, which has now vanished, but we handle the wave of about 10 or so. Lech tanks the adds which are spawning in the room.  Because I’ve got Rain of Fire and Immolate ticking on all these adds, I had plenty of Burning Embers. We don’t have a way to solve the problem of stopping the adds from spawning, but at least we’re not dead yet.

Suddenly, an unexpected achievement pops up – [They're Coming Out of the Walls (25 Player)] – and we all start laughing. I mean, I’ve been known to pull ungodly amounts of mobs, because OMFG I LOVE MOBS, but I’ve never gotten an achievement for my antics before. And they really WERE coming out of the walls! Most of us didn’t even know we should be trying for that achievement (it’s not part of the meta). Normally my raiding victories are pyrrhic, but last night they resulted in nerd points. YES.

Anyhow, Lech goes down somewhere around add 29 or 30, and a pack of 15 comes roaring through the door. (So hax, those doors.) Hal feigns death. I take most of the aggro while Snack wails on the pack, I die, they transfer their attention to Snack. Since I am more brave than smart, I have a Soulstone on me and use it to come back and try to … save Snack? I dunno. I rez, generate a bunch of embers, heal up, buy myself a few more Faceless One scalps, but let’s face it – there’s no victory to be had here. We’re all dead because I shifted my laptop and clicked a button at the wrong time.

So we’re lying on the ground, dead, laughing. What the hell just happened? Hal hops up, mass resurrects us, and I carefully put the Stargate down on each side of the door – JUST IN CASE. We down Yoggy on the next pull. No fragment but there’s always another week for that.

This might be a weird game, but it can be a heck of a lot of fun, too.

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The Few Versus The Many

Cynli - Eye of the Storm - Fel Reaver Ruins Hordeside - Black Leather

I really enjoy battleground healing on my Druid, Cynli.

She spent most of Cataclysm as a level 70 twink, and while she was effectively my main in 4.2, I haven’t played her much of late. That’s okay. We can go through cycles with our toons, hopefully they’ll forgive us.

The changes to BG scaling in 5.2 made me return my attention to my wayward druid, unlock her, and set out leveling her though PvP with a vague goal of either 80 for Herald or 85-89 for even more Mists-level PvP fun. Picking her up again has been a genuine pleasure. She’s the only toon, and I mean this very seriously, she’s the only toon which I feel completely comfortable displaying the Battlemaster title on in BGs aside from Cynwise. On everyone else I’m keenly aware of my limitations as a player playing below my potential; with these two, I feel like yes, I am as good as this title proclaims me to be.

Druid PvP healing is fun, hugely mobile, more than a little overpowered in the 70s, and gives me a different perspective on the game. I do things I wouldn’t ever dream of doing on a DPS character with Cynli – take the flag and go over to a Horde-controlled base, just to taunt the 4-6 DPS there with their inability to take down a single healer – but ultimately there’s still a sense of fun that comes from playing a character that I’m good at playing. Even though I know that I have a lot of room for improvement, the convergence of competence, confidence and cool toys makes for a character I love to play.

We’ve come a long way from the Druid which I deleted twice out of frustration.

I have an alt of every class. I didn’t use to – I used to delete alts whenever they bored me – but I’ve tried to stick with ones that I find boring, give them great outfits, learn the basics, and then put them in a corner where they don’t bother me too much. When I want to dabble with leveling they’re there, waiting. I might not be Great with them, but I can be Fair to Good, and that’s almost always more than enough for PvE leveling content. It irks me when I can’t perform up to the level I’m accustomed to in PvP, though. It really irks me. I know it’s a matter of getting fluent with a class, of having the muscle memory down for what buttons to press when you want something to happen, and that fluency takes time. When I’ve switched PvP specs on Cynwise, I usually need 2-3 weeks to get back up to speed so I don’t feel like I’m flailing and letting everyone in the battlegroup down.  Weeks! The first few days are terrible, I hate it, it’s one reason I stopped switching specs in PvP so often (and why I’ve never really gotten good a Demo PvP) – I hate feeling like my primary avatar is incompetent, because my skills are lacking. Dismissing that feeling of incompetence on an alt is far easier than on a main. You have to focus to be good, and you can’t focus on mastering 11 classes at the same time.

Well, I can’t. Maybe you can.

Cynwise - Binan Village Fishing

THE COMPETENCE TRAP

This story is from a while ago, so my apologies if you’ve heard it before.

I had someone roll an alt and whisper me a pretty standard question – what class should they play for PvP?

I answered their question with a question in return: what do you like to play?

“I like playing all of them.”

“Okay, what class do you feel you’re good at playing?”

“All of them. I’m equally good with all of them.”

Now, because I’m polite, I didn’t respond with what I really thought at that moment. But if you say that you’re equally good with all classes, you’re saying that you’re equally bad with all of them. (The personnel manager in me also says that you lack self-awareness and don’t know your strengths and flaws, and to expect overinflated evaluations of your own performance. But I digress.) There are 11 classes with 34 specs in World of Warcraft now, and you’re going to find that some are better suited to you than others. Classes appeal because of the playstyle, the mechanics, the function and power of the class. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the class which appeals, or the role, or the character. Maybe it’s the outfits.

But soon, competence appeals. As you learn to play it, becoming good at playing it is its own reward. You become good with the class and spec, and then great with it, and then you log over to another alt and … aren’t.

So now the other class is at a natural disadvantage because of your own competence with another class. There have to be reasons for flailing around on an undergeared alt, struggling through the initial learning curve, gearing up, making things click in your head, that makes the effort worth overcoming the skill gap. Sometimes it’s because of social pressures – your raid needs an X to fill a different role, too much competition on certain rolls, missing buffs. Sometimes it’s because you just don’t like the old class anymore because you or it changed. Sometimes it’s just to see how other classes play.

I have 1 main and 11 alts, one of each class, and I do not play them all equally well.

The ones I play well make me want to play them more, and playing them more makes me play them better, which widens the gap.

Cynwise - Setting the Shrine on Fire

THE LEVEL OF PLAY TO WHICH WE ARE ACCUSTOMED

I have friends who have lots of alts, and I have friends who have a few alts, and friends who have no alts, and it all seems to work out pretty well for them. Some folks can hop on a new class and be brilliant in no time flat. (Rades is particularly good at this, by the way. Little known fact about him.) Others stick with the tried and true and add alts very slowly, carefully, keeping their rosters pruned like a well-tended garden. Some are like me, and it bugs them when they can’t be good on an alt. Others aren’t fazed at all and just soldier right on through, leveling them up and getting the job done until they are good with them.

(I admire those folks. Wish I could take a page from their book.)

I personally can only be really good – really really good – with one spec at a time. I should probably amend that to one spec per role at a time, because I’m able to compartmentalize things like “this is how you tank” and “this is how you heal” and “this is how you ranged DPS” pretty well since they’re different activities. But even with that amendment, there’s a level of play within a given role that I’m accustomed to. There’s a class, a spec, where I feel like yep, this is as good as I play. Sometimes that changes – I used to feel really confident tanking on my Death Knight, but that was as a Frost tank back in Wrath – but as the years go on, I get settled in and never seem to achieve the fluency with a new spec as I do with an old one.

(I think it’s also probably still fair to say that even between roles, there’s only one spec that I’m best at at a single time. I am not nearly as good of a tank as I am a ranged pvp dps.)

That idea of the level of play to which I am accustomed really strikes me when I’m playing PvP. I don’t like being bad at a class in a BG. I really don’t. I can play all of my alts relatively competently in a PvE environment – in 5 years I’ve learned how to quest on pretty much anybody with an attack button, how to tank an instance or heal the tank through an instance. (My struggles with leveling in PvE are far more attention and interest-related than skill.) But I queue up for a BG and weaknesses come out. Sometimes I get through it, figure out ways to make it work. I know how to play the BGs and can (usually) contribute.

But on some alts, I just … flounder. Knowing how to heal a 5-man doesn’t always translate into knowing how to heal a BG. Being able to DPS through a pack of mobs doesn’t mean that I can win a 1:1 against anyone but a really weak opponent.

Those alts depress me.

Other alts surprise me. Folks told me to keep going with my Resto Shaman, switch to Enhance for a while but that Resto didn’t really get going until the mid-60s. You know what? They were right. Much happier with my performance as a Resto Shaman at 70 than at 50. I’m not great with her in PvP, but I’m not floundering anymore. There were definite toolkit problems there that got fixed later on. It’s tough sometimes as a novice to really identify those times when it’s you, and your lack of skill, versus the spec not working right. When you’re an expert, sure, those problems are apparent. But learning? Maybe it’s me.

My Shaman and my Mage are illustrative examples. I rolled a shaman because I sucked at them and wanted to not suck anymore. After about 2 years of dinking about on her, I’m no longer terrible and wondering when I can delete her. I’m slowly climbing that competency curve. My mage, on the other hand, started off strong – PvP on a low level twinked out mage is a lot of fun – but has gotten progressively weaker as I’ve leveled her. Is that me? Is it the class? I assume they’re fine, or reasonably fine, at the higher levels – so why does she suck to play so much in the 50s-60s? Is this just something to get through?

It’s tough to look at an alt and just say, you know, I could probably quest on you, and maybe do some dungeons, but the content I can do competently at  your level is just painful.

I’d rather log on to someone I could be a rock star with.

Cynxi - Pandaren Rogue - SW - II

ALTERNATE WAYS TO LEVEL

My Rogue is level 85 now. I don’t play a Rogue well at all, but she’s level 85 through a lot of pet battles. My Death Knight went from 80-85 solely through mining. My Paladin, Mage and Shaman have more than their share of levels solely from cooking dailies. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, alts that I don’t feel all that great about playing. There are other ways to level aside from questing, dungeons, and battlegrounds, and I’ve tried out a lot of them.

I have really mixed feelings about using alternate ways to level. Part of me likes it, because I can skip over those parts of the content where I have trouble retaining any interest at all. Oh boy, time to get lost in Blackrock Mountain. Oh boy, Hellfire Ramparts with a fresh DK tank, yay. Oh boy, Utgarde Keep. Again. Doing pet battles or archeology or gathering at least lets me feel like I’m getting something out of the deal, be it a stash of gold from gathered materials or a leveled profession in addition to a leveled character.

But I’m also reminded that I’m using those alternate means of leveling because I don’t like playing the character. If I choose to level with something that could be done on any character on that specific alt solely for the experience gain, I’ve fundamentally said that playing the other parts of WoW don’t appeal to me with that toon.

Oh, if I do them as part of the leveling process those alternate means of experience gain are great. Pet battle and gather while questing? Perfect XP boosts. Grinding out a bunch of mobs for professions? Hey, at least you’re in combat and learning how the class works. Leveling by mining and hunting rare mobs in Pandaria on my DK has been the opposite experience I had in Cataclysm because I have had to learn how to play her to do it. I don’t have to quest, I hunt Karasang rares for their BOE drops and sweet XP. The rares are all challenging encounters, but not impossible, so I’ve actually watched my DK fluency rise again while leveling. I even felt confident enough to take her into BGs last night! I felt the competency gap, I was squishy as all getout, but I didn’t feel like I was floundering and a failure.

But I don’t know any more about playing a Rogue than I did when she was 70 now, because she’s the product of pet battles. I leveled her for her crafting skills and that was really about it.

When I find myself leveling solely through alternate means, I should probably take a long look at that alt.

Cynwii - Gnome Monk Training

THE FEW VERSUS THE MANY

This post started out with me realizing how much I really enjoy playing my Druid. I might have a lot of alts, and a lot of healers even, but when push comes to shove I know who I want to be playing in a battleground.

There’s a dynamic tension within a computer game like Warcraft that just doesn’t exist in a traditional RPG between multiple characters. In a tabletop or live-action RPG you’re pretty much expected to play one character per session, and probably only 1-2 characters over the course of a campaign. I played V:MET for 12 years and only played 5 characters total. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not playing a Nosferatu or Malkavian. When I played AD&D, I didn’t ever feel like I should play a Barbarian just to experience everything. If I wanted a Barbarian, I switched to one – but there was no need to have a Barbarian rolled up so I could have a crafter or fill another role. If I played a Ranger, I played a Ranger and worked within the limits of that class.

MMOs have concepts of roles and factions. There are in-game abilities which are restricted to certain classes. There are limits on professions which require multiple characters to learn. Even your social circles are limited – you can only be on one server and one guild and one faction at a time. You might still only play one character at a given moment, but you’re able to have a whole roster of characters to work around game-imposed limits. You don’t have to have additional characters, but if you want to bypass those limits an alt is the way to do it. Hybrids have an advantage here in that they can change roles in a single character, but it’s not a fix to profession, server, guild or faction restrictions. You also don’t really know how another class plays until you play it.

I have 11 alts, one of each class, and it kinda stresses me out. I’m trying to embrace having what – to me – is a lot of alts, because it seems like a good way to experience the whole game of Warcraft. But those classes I struggle on sit there on my screen, reminding me that there’s work to be done, a project which is not finished, and it’s not a fun project. There are times I want fewer projects, to just have the ones left which I really love. Then there are times I try to convince myself maybe just 4 characters would be enough, one for each role. Then it’s 5, because I need someone to play on the other faction with. Then it’s 8, because why not have the 4 armor types represented on each faction? And then once you have 8 you might as well have 11. But I don’t love playing all 11 of those alts. I like them well enough, but I don’t love them. I have them to cover my bases.

Do what you love. It’s hard for me to log in to a toon I don’t love playing when there are options which I do love playing.

And yet I do.

This game is weird.

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On Never Saying Never Again

Well, I don’t think I expected Cataclysm to turn out this way.

It’s not really a secret that I have a Forsaken Warlock. I wrote about her in my CFN essay, On The Forsaken, and it was pretty clear that while I didn’t dislike playing a warlock per se, I wasn’t really very enthusiastic about the alt. I didn’t sit there and go, I’m so enraptured by the gameplay that I am not paying attention to the story. In another post, On Revelations, I had talked about how I hadn’t leveled a Warlock past level 10, and how I hadn’t picked up my main since the end of Season 9.

So here I am, questing through Silverpine on a Forsaken Warlock when it hit me.

this is actually a lot of fun.

I don’t know if it’s the zone (it might be), or if I’m doing everything deliberately as wrong as possible on my little baby warlock, experimenting to find out what really works while leveling, or if it’s just because I’ve let go of big Cynwise, I’ve grieved for her and gone through my dark night of the soul. I hoped I would come back to Silverpine and see it someday; I just didn’t know when.

But I honestly didn’t expect to have fun again on a warlock until Mists. I thought I would do the Silverpine/Hillsbarad quests and then delete this toon.

Nope. She’s not my primary character right now, but she’s in my top 3.

It’s hard to reinvent ourselves.

It’s hard to look at ourselves and say, this isn’t working, this isn’t the way I want things to be going, and then to do something about it. It’s hard to selectively let go of the past, to say, I know I said I would only do these things and never do these other things, but … maybe I was wrong.

Or, more likely, maybe I became wrong, over time. It might have been the right thing then, but now it’s time to change, and to let go of the past and embrace new things.

Never say never again, and all that.

You may have noticed that this website looks a little different today. It has a different title. It has a different look. If you’ve been following me on Posterous, you know that I’ve not been writing as much about warlocks and PvP, but I have been writing a lot about Warcraft. And I haven’t been entirely happy with the platform, but I’m happy with the writing, and the rules around the writing.

I think it’s safe to say, actually, that my best writing in the past 6 months has been over on my Field Notes blog – an experiment I started on a lark – than over here. And that that has led to a bit of fracturing, a feeling like I’m picking up blogs like detritus and that I’m losing my focus. That I can’t keep this one going and this one and this one and oh god Go Mog Yourself is picking up massive steam.

So I’m going to change things a bit. Jettison the old, consolidate, focus. Digital stuff is still stuff, and it still weighs on one’s mind.

  • Cynwise’s Field Manual Notes will be moving over here and merging with Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual to form Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual. I’m not stopping writing about PvP, or Warlocks. Those topics will still be here, but will be mixed in with other topics again.
  • I will be closing up Green Tinted Goggles and Cynwulf’s Auction House Manual. Having both a PvP blog and twink PvP blog made some sense when twinking was a more controversial topic, but now the division doesn’t really make any sense.
  • I will be moving the archives of CFN, CAHM, and GTG over to this site over the next few days. (My apologies in advance if this floods your feed readers!) This is to make searching easier on everyone. One site.
  • Go Mog Yourself will continue to be a collaborative fashion site and remain separate and fabulous. Punt This will also remain right where it is – neither of these have ever really been my blogs – I’m more like the Chief Kermit running around trying to stay on top of the wonderful chaos with them. :)

(Nobody reads Cynix’s blog, and I dont blame them, so I’m not worrying about it for now.)

This is kinda weird for me to talk about – I don’t do a lot of administrative posts – but sometimes we have to talk about reinventing ourselves, about how we are changing, so that people can follow along and know that while we might be ending some things, we’re continuing with new ones in their place.

I never thought CBM would become what it did. I never thought GTG would find an audience. I never thought CFN would become a place with my best writing. (I think a lot of my early commentary about it was, “I have no idea what I’m doing here.”)

But they did.

So here’s to jettisoning the nevers, and getting on with reinventing ourself.

Let’s go.

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On the Holy Trinity, Roles, and Role Playing

Cynwise_-_uldum_-_lighting_the_obelisk_of_the_moon

Like many of you, I played AD&D before I ever touched Warcraft. My introduction to the world of fantasy gaming wasn’t through computer games, but through traditional pen and paper RPGs, and that pretty fundamentally shaped how I approached the genre. You start with the character first, and then figure out how to express them in game terms, and the same idea could often be realized through different classes with different results.

Swashbucklers are an easy example to use; you could choose to make them more combat-orientted, and so choose a Fighter (or later a Warrior). Or you could make them more agile, more daring, and make them a Thief – or later even a Bard. I didn’t like Swashbucklers so much in a fantasy setting, though – I loved playing Scouts. Masters of concealment and ambush, highly sought after by military forces – oh yeah, that was my thief. Or a serious archer with woodsman skills? Ranger, maybe a Fighter, depends on if “archer” or “woodsman” was top in my mind for the character. The great thing is that I could do this and still have a fun game  – one campaign was me playing a stealthy ranger with 3 PC thieves, which meant that our adventures were high on espionage, intrigue, forgery, politics, diplomacy – and the occasional assassination via archery.

Computer fantasy games never had that kind of flexibility. I remember Bard’s Tale (in various editions) and Dungeon Master allowing me to make parties of characters of different classes, but they weren’t really characters – I think my Bard’s Tale part was named entirely after X-Men? – because their classes defined them. This was certainly better than earlier fantasy video games like Gauntlet, where it really didn’t matter which of the 4 characters you took on – all it determined, really, was the look of your avatar and what it shot. “Elf, don’t shoot food.”

I liked to play the Elf. “Elf is about to die.” “Elf needs food badly.”

One of the (many) things I liked about AD&D was that there wasn’t a sense of roles you needed to fill to make a group. There were some things it was nice to have – always great if someone wanted to play a healer! – but it wasn’t like someone would say, no, you can’t run this dungeon without a healer. Play smart, play creatively, and group comp didn’t matter. This was, in part, because the GM could tailor the adventure to a specific group, but it was also because the assumption was that you didn’t need a damage soaker and healer for encounters. Some classes might be better suited towards a specific environment or situation, and some might fare better or worse against specific enemies – ask me about my sorceror who had a bad run-in with some undead and considered becoming a paladin – but by and large, class choice wasn’t an obstacle.

I didn’t really play much 3rd edition AD&D – it was almost all 1st and 2nd – and I know that this changed later on. But from what I saw, in those 10 years or so where I really played the game, was that you could make just about any character concept work. Game balance might be a different matter entirely – but the idea of tanks, healers, and damage dealers never really came into my fantasy games.

And then came Warcraft.

Cynwulf_-_vortex_pinnacle_-_cloud_bridges

THE HOLY TRINITY

Even after three years of playing WoW, I still don’t really know what to think about threat annd the holy trinity of DPS-Tank-Healing. I mean, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you posit intelligent opponents. It’s the fundamental flaw of Warcraft PvP. But it’s the foundation of the game, this idea that for an encounter to be challenging, it requires players to form the triumvirate and work within it, suspending disbelief and requiring some mental gymnastics to believe that this superpowerful being your group is facing wouldn’t go right after the healers, or the mages and warlocks, and instead will doggedly beat on the few people in front of it who are most able to take the punishment.

This is not a new topic. I bring it up not because I’m making an original critique of WoW’s holy trinity, but rather to contrast it with the original AD&D skirmisher style, and to get that contrast in your head while talking about roles in WoW.

I read Matthew Rossi’s Ol’ Grumpy post today about roles and this contrast came immediately to mind. I thought about those days of being a Ranger and how, sometimes, that meant I wanted the bad guys to focus on me for a bit because I was the “warrior” of the group. I think at the time it was mostly because I had the most hit points, not because I could take it any better than the rogues! But then I also remember games where my Magic User was the one who took the brunt of a dragon’s attacks, precisely because he specialized in defensive magics!

These are two very different ways of designing encounters, and designing classes for these encounters.

Part of me wants to say that the roles themselves are the issue, that the AD&D skirmish model is “better,” but I don’t think that part of me is being fair. That kind of model requires a deft touch and human intelligence – or really good AI – to make it work. Epic boss fights are possible, I suppose, with enough mitigation and damage swapping, but it would look a lot different than what we have now. And it’s certainly not a model that is worth scrapping an entire game platform for – instead, this kind of change is something that will take place over iterations of games, not within a game itself.

So if I accept roles as being part and parcel of my computer gaming experience, then I’m left with how characters fit into those roles, which flips me right into Matt’s article and how roles conflict with those concepts, and how some classes are able to fill multiple roles, while others cannot.

ROLES AND ROLE PLAYING

Are my WoW toons more like AD&D characters or Gauntlet characters?

At first blush, that seems like a good distinction to make. Is Cynwise like a sorceror or a half-elven fighter/magic user (conjuration spec), or is she like the Wizard? Is she a unique concept with a class describing her, or is she just a Warlock?

Scratch at that a little more, and I think that it becomes a bad distinction, because the two poles of the spectrum are actually the same thing. Both AD&D characters and Gauntlet toons existed in a game where their roles didn’t really matter. The Elf was interchangable with the Valkyrie; I could play a D&D campaign with all Fighters, Rangers, and Barbarians, and still make it work. It didn’t matter if they were pen and paper characters or video game characters, despite their apparently huge difference in flexibility – when you got down to it, your character choice didn’t restrict you from playing part of the game.

This is where Warcraft gets weird. I mean, it’s just weird. You have all the trappings of a fantasy RPG – characterization, race selection, class selection, fantasy setting – but class choice matters more than any other choice you make about your character. It determines what roles you can play in the game and how you play them. As much as it irritates me to be called “tank” or “healer” in an instance, or warlock or warrior or priest or shaman by some PuG, it’s actually a pretty fair assessment of the situation. I’m not Cynwise, mercenary spellcaster from Northshire, responsible for the Morshan Ramparts disaster. I’m the ‘lock in the instance or raid. The distinctions and subtleties fall away in an MMORPG.

I’ve said this before, but I think it’s illuminating to look at what you can change in a pen and paper RPG versus WoW. In WoW you can change your race, your gender, your faction. You can change from a giant Tauren to a pint-sized Gnome, an alien spacegoat to a werewolf. But you can never change your class. You can change what you are, but not what you do. This is backwards from regular RPGs, where you can pick up additional classes (though it may be easier or harder depending on the system), but changes to your character mean that you’re making a new one. Character continuity is essential.

This ties directly into roles.

We choose our characters based upon a lot of reasons – the flavor of a class, the look of a race’s animations. Maybe we have a character concept we’re trying out, or we just want to do something that amorphously “looks fun.” Each class is different enough that perhaps something about it clicks with us, where we understand it and it’s effective and it makes us feel powerful in game. The flavor of a character is important, otherwise we’d all be playing pink cubes with player inputs and special abilities influencing other pink cubes. The world and setting is important.

But because of the Holy Trinity, the choices we make for flavor reasons have a real impact on gameplay. So, to experience other parts of the game, we have to either discard that character and make a new one, or hope that we chose a character class that allows us to do those other things.

(I’ve gone this long without mentioning the term ‘hybrid’. But that’s what this is about.)

This is the rub, I think, of the holy trinity, and I don’t think it’s a solvable one. As soon as you say, encounters are designed to have three specific roles, one of two design choices are necessary.

  • Inclusionary Design: all classes can fill all roles.
  • Exclusionary Design: some classes cannot fill all roles.

It doesn’t matter the extent or breadth of the exclusion – as soon as you make the choice, be it for flavor or game balance, that some classes are not going to be able to fill all the roles in the game, the game is exclusionary and conflict will result. The conflict will be simple, manifest in a similar pattern every time, and will be insoluble.

We’ve seen all this with WoW. Faction-specific classes, hybrid tax, class/role superiority in PvE or PvP. And as long as classes are exclusionary, we’ll keep seeing it.

The argument is simple.

Either:

  • Classes should be able to perform about equally well in the roles they are able to do. In this case, the advantage is the hybrid’s, since they can perform multiple roles, giving them flexibility.

Or:

  • Some classes will have a distinct advantage over another in a given role, due to increased DPS, healing, utility, CC, damage avoidance and mitigation. The advantage will be to that class, which is the only situation in which a pure DPS class could be advantagous to play to offset the lack of flexibility.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too with the Holy Trinity. You can’t have roles and roleplaying in the same game without them coming into conflict. If you want classes to have a specific look and feel, different playstyles, then players will naturally choose between them. This is good! If I wanted to play Gauntlet again, where it doesn’t matter which controller I grab, then I’ll play Gauntlet! I don’t, so I play Warcraft, where I’m a pretty good Warrior and Warlock, a passable Resto Druid, and should really put in some more time to learn how to be a better Priest (because 5 mans taught me jack and shit for how to really play the class.)

I enjoy all three roles of the Holy Trinity. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy healing and tanking, to be honest, and I’d like to do them all on one character.

Since I didn’t happen to choose a class that could do that when I started, I’ve had to roll several more so I could enjoy those parts of the game. That’s okay, I guess, though I think it’s sad that choices which were made for playstyle and flavor have such a dramatic impact.

I don’t think this is a solvable problem under the current system. Even adding more roles to different classes, of breaking the Pure DPS model and letting everyone be a hybrid – only moves the line between full hybrids and partial hybrids. If you give Warlocks, Rogues and Hunters tanking trees, and Mages a healing tree, you may make players happier – but all you have done is move the line from Pure/Hybrid to Two/Three Role Hybrids. DPS spec heavy hybrids, like Shaman, Warriors, DKs, and Priests now face off against Paladins and Monks.

Druids will remain the most flexible choice of all.

Whether your choice will be the best choice, of course, will depend on which way the pendulum swings, and which class is on top this month. Because no matter what, an exclusionary model will have a right choice, and a wrong one. There will be an optimal class to have rolled for what you’re trying to do, and hopefully, that’s whichever one you picked.

NO EXIT

I’m trying to make sure that I’m not complaining about my lot as a former Warlock player. Just like my AD&D experience, it shaped my views on the Holy Trinity, protecting me from the pressures of healing and tanking but also preventing me from experiencing it without another character.

The experience left me somewhat bitter and jaded about the whole idea of roles within the game, to be honest. Why should I be locked in to only DPS roles? Why should I have to roll another toon if I wanted to heal or tank? I didn’t know what those things were when I rolled my first class of toons, and now I have to go roll another one? Put aside my main to go do these things? Is this fair?

But in the process of rolling those alts, I came to see the other side, too. Why should I be penalized for rolling a class that can tank? Why should my DPS spec be worse just because I can heal, too? How is that fair?

Both positions have a point. How is it fair?

And the answer is, it’s not. No matter which way you look at it, it’s not.

Warcraft has an exclusionary class and role design philosophy. That’s okay, it adds interest and spice to the RPG part of the game.

But it also presents an insoluble problem for class balance. And we, as players, have to deal with the fallout from that problem – constantly shifting class abilities, utilities, and balance.

(Even Druids! They can’t escape it, either!)

This isn’t all about being on top of the charts, or having the most utility, or the best tank.

It’s about how our role playing choices set and limit our roles within the game.

As long as Warcraft requires tanks, healers, and DPS, and classes have to choose between them – this is one of those problems we’ll have to deal with.

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On Digital Detritus

Cynli_-_green_druid_-_isle_of_queldanas_-_tranquilty_cast

I was moving over files – iTunes library – from my laptop to the new desktop when something strange happened.

I suddenly felt TERRIBLE about what I was doing. I was filling up my new, pristine hard drive with hundreds of gigs of … stuff. Stuff that I didn’t even USE. I don’t listen to my music collection that often, and when I do, it’s not that I need that much variety.

I have a lot of junk in there. A lot of junk that I just can’t be bothered to throw away.

And here I was, loading up a clean hard drive with … crap. And I felt it.

Storage space shouldn’t be an issue in my current environment – I have several NASes humming along, I have about 4TB of networked data storage available in some form or another. I have 10 years of hard drives in my closet in various enclosures that I can use to back data up and move data around and make backups and backups of my backups and backups of my backups and yo dawg we herd you like backups so we put a NAS in your NAS so you can backup while you backup.

Seriously, I have a lot of backup drives. I’m not even counting my offsite storage in this little soul-baring audit!

And yet, there I was, going … why am I putting all this STUFF on the machine I want to work on?

It wasn’t just iTunes. It was 40k photographs, it was a hugely messy home directory with documents scattered all over the place. I’d been going with that home directory for about 6 years now since the last good cleanout, and it showed. Documents EVERYWHERE. It didn’t matter, I kept saying. All I do is use Spotlight or Quicksilver for search. Doesn’t matter where I put stuff.

But … it does.

Cynli_-_tree_form_-_isle

I purge my toons periodically in World of Warcraft. If you follow me on Twitter you know that sometimes I’ll just get into a mood and start slashing alts. I used to be more judicious about keeping alts around, but after a long friendship with Psyinster and Fynralyl I adopted a more live-and-let-die approach to my toons.

CYN’S THREE QUESTIONS OF TOON SURVIVAL:

  1. Are you still fun to play? If no, go to #2.
  2. Do you have something irreplaceable on you, or a profession which would be a total PITA to relevel? If no, go to #3.
  3. Do you have your own blog? If no, you’re gone.

The third rule is the Cynwulf Rule – I leveled him to 80 and promptly stopped having fun on him, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete him because he had his own, dusty blog. He is a character in the ongoing story and GOD DAMNIT I MIGHT NEED SCREENSHOTS.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t posted there in a year… and a half. He’s safe.

My Shaman is trying to exploit the Cynwulf Rule for her own benefit. Or maybe mine. She has a blog solely so that she doesn’t get the axe! I’m like, this is silly, I have to stop deleting toons and give them an honest shake.

Yeah. It’s the only thing that kept her around last month.

Characters weigh on my mind. Leveling characters, especially, but character in general. They take up mental space. They have … presence, even when they’re not doing things. I like having them around, I like having them available, I like trying out new things, but …

Digital things can take up space.

Physical stuff dragging you down, I understand. Paul Graham’s essay Stuff is a great short read on how our society has come to a point where we accumulate and accumulate because stuff is so fucking cheap now. I go into my garage and attic and am like… why do I have all these boxes? Why do I have all these old college papers? WHAT POSSIBLE USE IS THIS BOX TO A CAMERA THAT DOESN’T WORK? It’s all stuff.

Oh, hey, George Carlin on Stuff:

Physical stuff takes up physical space. It’s matter! Can’t change the laws of physics. But it takes up mental space too. You have to remember where your stuff is. Stuff has memories attached to it. I’m not anti-Stuff, by the way – I think it’s good to hold on to important memories. But I know I have too much Stuff, too.

Digitial stuff is weird. It has no real presence… I mean, sure, there’s a stack of hard drives, there are computers lying about, there are those old Zip drive disks and 3.5 floppies I’m NEVER going to bother getting a drive together to read again – but it’s the digital ghosts inside those things which haunts me. It’s the 35 backups of my iTunes and iPhoto library which, when I think about them at all, makes me want to curl up into a ball and pay someone to just sort it all out for me.

Seriously. I’ve considered outsourcing organizing my photo library before. WTB competent tagger, PST rates.

It’s tough trying to clean this stuff out. It’s all mental once you get past the ones and zeros, it’s all mental. Do I need this file? Do I need this photo? What about this movie? Should I digitize it to preserve it? Do I save this or that? Did I encrypt my tax returns? Did I remember to save that PGP key?

Warcraft really isn’t any different. You have to maintain toons (hello, endgame). You need to keep their UI tuned up through various patches. You need to keep their possessions organized.

You ever log into a toon after a few month hiatus, look in their bags, and wonder what the hell you were doing the last time you played? WHY DO I STILL HAVE THIS why are these bags so messy why do I have vendor trash ON MY MAIN oh god I fail at this game /logout /posterous.

Each one is effort.

Each one takes up space.

And sometimes, just like the toys you have to clean out periodically when you have kids, or are a kid, you have to free up some space.

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There are times I want to wipe it all out and start over.

I don’t think I’m alone in this desire. Zero it out, fresh clean slate… start over. No expectations, no baggage.

No resources.

No accumulated knowledge.

No history to search through and say, oh, that’s right, I did this, I needed this to do that.

There are tradeoffs to starting over.

I was going through some old websites of mine on Tumblr tonight, trying to reconcile what I used to do with what I do now. It’s so different. So, so different. But each one of them was out there, a record of a different time. Maybe it’s not worth deleting the past. Maybe it’s worth starting over, but leave a trail of digital detritus behind us, so that we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

Maybe we should leave those old toons where they are, in peace.

Or maybe we should type DELETE at the screen, and hope they don’t have any mail left.

Ashwalker_-_dwarven_district_-_ironforge_outfit

My time in WoW continues to shrink. My time spent in game dwindles as I find myself in the midst of a creative … explosion. I don’t know how else to describe what’s happening right now. Things are so hectic, so stressful, yet instead of logging in to veg out I want to MAKE THINGS and WRITE THINGS and CODE THINGS and DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS. When I do log in, I have been picking the strangest toons to play. My Forsaken Warlock? SURE. A random DK? OK.

I have two weeks left before I have to make the decision to go buy that game card or not, and I’ve thrown the bucket list out the window. I’m playing World of Fashioncraft more than world of Warcraft. I’m more worried about getting a decent outfit for my Druid than I am completing the grind for her BiS trinket.

I know before I talked about how constraints create focus, and they do. What I find interesting is that I’m focusing on things that don’t have a lot of digital baggage with them. Go, make someone look nice. Do they look nice now? Ok, go to the next one. Rinse, repeat.

WoW’s hold on me is very tenuous right now. I’m not compelled to go on, except to create something, or capture an image of something. Images and words, not accomplishments.

I don’t know what to say about that.

This is one of those posts where I write and write and hope that I come to a point, eventually. But I don’t know that I will, tonight. I mean, I’ve got stuff. Digital stuff. It weighs on my brain. We all have digital stuff, at least you good folks who are reading this do. What can we do about that stuff?

I’m deleting my iTunes folder off my new computer right now. It is stuff that I’m not prepared to deal with. It can stay on the old computer for a while longer.

The pictures might stay, but maybe I should get rid of them, too.

And my characters in WoW… are they passing the three questions of toon survival, or not?

Maybe that’s not even the right question.

What if the game itself is what needs to be going through that test right now? Is it a good tool, good entertainment, fun?

Or digital debris?

My sub runs out in mid-February, and then I’m on vacation for a week.

We’ll see what happens then.

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On Iterative Twinking

Magisters_terrace_at_night

Okay.

So I’m doing the Shattered Sun Offensive dailies on my level 70 druid twink, Cynli. I’m doing them for a very specific purpose – she’s an alchemist, and pretty much the best trinket she can get at level 70 is the Redeemer’s Achemist Stone, which requires SSO exalted rep. (One of the material components requires revered with the Shat’ar, which is the next grind.) So I’m running MgT and doing SSO dailies instead of PvPing on her, which is kinda boring but whatever. I can do it for +10 Intellect and +40% more effective Mana Pots.

And I’m thinking, you know, there’s a cheap and easy to get Alchemy trinket at 75. I even know how to make it already. But to get it I have to go to 75, which totally defeats the purpose of playing a level 70 twink. I’m killing all these demons and all these blood elves and all these naga (stupid naga) to get something that’s totally replaced in 5 levels.

I probably shouldn’t forget the really great engineering goggles, too. Though Cynli isn’t an engineer – it’s hard for me to remember that I have toons who aren’t.

So I’m thinking, you know, I wonder how many people did this back in the day. The BC day. You know, when this was endgame content and you had to sweat for it and getting this trinket was actually a BFD and having gear like I have was a BFD and not just the key to being one of those supremely irritating Resilience-stacking unkillable healers in battlegrounds, not like that’s a bad thing or anything, go ahead and Healers Have to Die me, I’m the one back here fending off your little tickly rogue daggers and you better bring Cataclysm tinkers because otherwise I’m leafing you in my dust.

Ahem.

Endgame content is it’s own game. It constitutes 1-2 years of playtime for players at max level during the expansion. That’s a significant amount of time spent making your character as good as they can be during that period of time. At the end, they’re fucking ROCK STARS.

But as soon as they level up, they start to suck. Little by little, hour by hour, level by level, they suck. Their combat ratings degrade. Their epic gear gets replaced by shitty quest greens that were formerly lining a birdcage. I seriously think I wore a gryphon’s feed bag for a while on Cynwise’s head, WHAT THE FUCK.

Then they get to the next endgame, and it begins all over again. New shoulder enchants. New helm enchants. New reputations to grind. New dungeons to run.

All the old accomplishments, wiped out. The time spent making that character a work of art – gone.

What good is your SSO reputation now, in Cataclysm? What value does it have to your character? At most, it might confer a tabard and a title. There’s no in-game benefit to it.

But for a level 70 twink, it probably does have value. It’s an endgame reputation with viable rewards.

So I’m on the Isle, firebombing a ship, getting ready to kill more blood elves with my LEET RESTO DAMAGE (do not fuck with me, I am a badass healer who will heal myself through everything you throw at me and then oh hi THORNS HURRICANE DOT DOT DOT), when a few things click.

  • Cross-realm retro raids are coming. People will want to do raids both with their mains (at 85) and with alts (leveling) or, possibly, with their at-level twinks (at the usual levels.)
  • With cross-realm raiding, PvE twinks become viable entertainment for raiders who would like a side project with some nostalgia thrown in. Kara is a faceroll at 85, but it requires some work at 70. (It’s not as hard as you remember, though.)
  • Players with expansion twinks at a variety of levels – 60, 70, 80, 85 – will be able to play with friends who like to level alts without having to level an alt to join them. You need someone to run through early Northrend? I have a 70 twink healer, let me come join you! Need a tank for Wrath Heroics? I’ve got a geared 80, let’s go!
  • Expansion twinks allow you to go through an expansion at the intended level at your own pace, If you didn’t finish all the Wrath quests? Go back and finish them on your 80 twink, get the reps all finished up! Want to do Silithus at 60? Go for it!

All of these ideas coalesced into the idea of iterative twinking.

You spend all this time making your character a badass, only to have that undone when the next expansion hits.

Don’t.

What if, instead of carrying your character forward each expansion and negating the work you put into them, you … don’t.

Lock their XP. Leave them be, play them in the endgame environment to which they have adapted. PvP with them, raid with them, do holidays with them, run dungeons with them. But leave them be. Leave your Wrath toon in T10. Leave your BC toon in Brutal/Sunwell gear.

(Maybe improve their skills and enchants, because, you know. twink.)

Say: this toon a testament to my efforts during this expansion. And reroll a new one for the next one. (Or promote an alt.)

Same class, same race? SURE. You have a good thing going. Try something new? OK!

Each expansion you create a new iteration of your main character. Here is what she was like in Vanilla. Here’s what she was like in BC. Here’s Wrath. Here’s Cataclsym. Maybe they’re all the same character, just with different outcomes. Maybe they’re radically different.

But each one allows you to retain the value you earned by playing at the endgame for that expansion. Iterative twinking keeps you from taking all that effort – all that time – and saying, it is for naught. 70, after all, is just a level you pass going fro 69 to 71. 80 is just a waystation to 85.

And soon, 85 will be a stopping point on the way to 90.

You can level a new toon to 85 in, what – about 2-3 weeks of casual, focused play these days? Let’s assume that holds true for getting to 90, too, if you have heirlooms and the assistance of a main.

You have an exceptionally well-geared level 85 character. You’ve spent months making him or her this good. Maybe you have a legendary (which you can’t transmog.) Maybe you have a really cool raiding title. And now, with cross-realm everything, you might, just might, have need to do some stuff at-level in Cataclysm again.

I’m not saying this is for everyone. Pet collectors are wringing their hands at me right now. Acheivement point collectors are going CYN YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR GOURD. Role players are going THIS SCREWS WITH MY STORY ARC but wait it has some possibities for alternative history DAMN YOU CYN. If you don’t have a lot of altoholic friends, or have no interest in revisiting old content, or you want to make sure you get to 90 as fast as possible for progression raiding? Ok. This might not be for you.

But for everyone else… I’ll just put this out there.

Think before you ding 86. :)

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On Blogging Heroes

Piggie_cfn

The response to my Snow Crash piece overwhelmed me a bit. To have a post which I thought was really not written very well – it’s way too long, too meandering, but it HAD to come out OMG get OUT of my head IDEAS it’s all related CAN’T YOU SEE IT’S ALL RELATED guilds are circles twitter is circles we just like doing things together can we just DO THINGS together METAVERSE is WOW OMG get OUT of my head ideas please get out – to have a post come spilling out just like THAT, that’s what it feels like sometimes, and have it strike a nerve with readers, to have people get the ideas, is pretty incredible and awesome and scary all at the same time.

Overwhelming. Much like that paragraph.

It can really be difficult as a writer to reconcile the ideas you’re trying to convey with the manner of their presentation. My opinion of the Snow Crash post is that the ideas were good, though I skipped over some interesting discussions, and that the presentation was okay but flawed, mostly due to length. I am seriously considering a followup piece just because I missed some key ideas the first time around – but this time it will go someplace other than CFN, just so I can edit it.

It’s somewhat overwhelming to punch a post like that out of your brain, hit the Publish button, and have people like it. It’s even more overwhelming when you realize people find your creation intimidating to their own creative spark. I’m going to pick on @DiscoPriest for a minute, not only because she’s a good sport, but also because she gets more pageviews each day than I do (NAKED BELFS > PVP), and quote her twitter response:

@wowcynwise I cannot BELIEVE you wrote that in one draft, you complete and utter bastard.

I laughed and gold starred that response (because it’s funny as all hell, and I enjoyed the ribbing) but then I saw that other people in my twitter stream were actually a bit … despondent? that they’d never be able to write like I’d just done. Write like me. That this flawed piece was somehow -

Holy fuck, I thought. That’s me. That’s me, right there. I have been there. I spent years there.

The last thing I want to do, ever, is squash someone’s spark. Be it in PvP or blogging, that’s the last thing I want.

Because I’ve been there. I’ve been there, looking at other bloggers, going – I will never be that good.

And it felt terrible.

BLOGGING HEROES

The header image above is a composite of two of the headers of blogs from my personal blogging heroes, Jamie Zawinski/jwz and John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Both of them had profound influence on me when I was much younger. I read them religiously, not just because they wrote about things I was interestd in, but because their style and verve was just … awesome. Cool. Cooler than I could hope to be. I was the awkward fanboy, aping the stars of the tech blogging world, imitating them in my own posts, but never with their panache.

I hoped they would notice me. Oh god, how I hoped they’d link me. That sounds dirty, but it wasn’t – it was hero worship on my part, and before Twitter was around you had to work through blogs. You had to have a blog, preferably hand-coded and stylish and XHTML/508 compliant. Or it had to deliberately say screw that, this looks best in Netscape 3.2 – the rules changed a lot and I didn’t navigate them very well. Daring Fireball is part of the commentless tech/design blog movement, which is daunting to break into the inner circles of, and while JWZ went to LJ for almost a decade, I never felt like I could casually comment on his site. My comments had to be INSIGHTFUL and WITTY and OMG OMG OMG BETTER BE TECHNICALLY ACURATE and possibly HIP.

And it all seemed so effortless to them. So, so effortless.

They looked like they had their shit together and all the little details fell into place for them.

I found, after a while, that I was jealous of how easy it all seemed for them. Not just Gruber and jwz, but all the popular folks I followed. Not because of anything they did – they were creative people being creative. No, it was me – unhappy with my own creative output, stymied by looking at really great examples and finding myself wanting.

You’re not good enough, Cyn.

You’ll never write like that. Never be that funny. Never be that insightful.

My tech blogs grew stale. I kept going through the motions, trying, trying. I got on Twitter, I made Favrd a few ties – does anyone even remember Favrd anymore? – and was sort of hanging around the outskirts of a cool tech community that I wasn’t really part of.

My online self was unhappy. I followed hundreds of blogs, trying to be informed and have well-formed opinions on the latest tech and work styles and life hacks and politics and cryptology and open source and photography.

I compared myself to other people whom I admired – good people, mostly all of them – and found myself wanting.

I didn’t like much of the things I talked about. Shit, how much can you talk about the latest device coming out of silicon valley or the latest web startup before they all start blurring together?

I came out of a brutal project at work, looked around, and said: none of this makes me happy. I think I love these blogs and I think I love these tools and I think I love all of this but it doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me thrive.

So I walked.

I walked away from an online presence I’d spent 10 years building.

I downloaded World of Warcraft, something I’d sworn I’d never do. (I didn’t play video games. That wasn’t me.)

And I let my heroes go.

Mftyy

FINDING MY OWN VOICE

I wanted to respond to each and every person earlier this week who said, your first drafts are better than my finished drafts, and say: please, don’t do that to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to me or any other author or artist. I know where that leads. I’ve been down that road.

And I never want to be the cause of someone else going: damn, I’ll never be that good.

That first year of playing WoW, I didn’t blog very much at all. I didn’t have any reason to. I was a clueless noob trying to figure stuff out. And the online persona I left behind? Well, he didn’t have much to say about Warcraft, so he didn’t say much at all.

I didn’t pick up a camera for a year, except to take pictures of my kid. (Only one at the time.)

I didn’t look at a tech news website. I trashed my feed reader.

And in WoW, I discovered a little voice. It was when I was searching for help trying to figure out PvP, and I found … nothing. So I figured it out on my own, but I remembered that. There wasn’t anyone really blogging about the thing I’d come to enjoy in this video game.

Hey. I can do this. I can help people. I can teach. I can show that there’s this part of the game and it’s REALLY COOL and yes a little intimidating but if I CAN LEARN SO CAN YOU and COME ON PEOPLE LET’S GO HIT SOME BGS.

That was the first thing I was missing before: an actual purpose in my blogging. Before, I wanted to be popular, to be cool, to be like my heroes.

But what I didn’t realize was that my heroes were just doing things that interested them and writing about it. That’s it.

The second thing was that, instead of a community that valued being hip, the Warcraft community valued the thing I actually wanted to write about: helping other people. Disseminating knowledge.

Druids often say that Druids should halp each other, but it’s not just Druids. The entire Warcraft blogging community is fantastic. People are open to new people. A new voice is something to be celebrated. Trying and failing is encouraged. Every blogger starts out a little rocky – I know I did. Give it time. Keep trying.

My first CBM Post: Wintergrasp Keep. It’s scintilating stuff, I tell you.

Warcraft helped me find my voice; not those of my blogger heroes, but mine. Through the mask of Cynwise, I can write. Warcraft gave me an outlet when I needed one, it gave me a supportive community to help me through the tough times. I feel totally blessed to have found people who want to read what I write and who find what I write helpful.

It’s that last bit, you see, that I’d missed before.

THE PIGGIES AND FINDING YOUR VOICE

Tonight, MMO Melting Pot announced the winners of the 2011 Piggies, those outrageous WoW blogging awards started over at the Pink Pigtail Inn. I remember last year how thrilled I was to be nominated last year – holy crap, people are noticing me? – but then to get nominated again this year?

And to win?

Holy fucking shit.

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Serious congratulations to all the other winners, honorable mentions, and nominees, and thank you to the crew at MMO Melting Pot for hosting and judging the Piggies this year. I’m overwhelmed again. Thank you.

Let me tell you a little bit about the post that won, On The Forsaken. I wrote it in a frenzy, over two nights after thinking about it for a week. I wrote it only after thinking about those quests and staring up at that statue in Brill for like 15 minutes. Seriously. Clink, clink, clink, things falling into place, I must write now.

It was also the first post on CFN that I looked at and said, I cannot publish this.

It is too much. It is too controversial. 

I walked away and thought about it.

What will other people think of me? That I’m biased against the Horde? That I hate Forsaken players? 

It was that phrase that did it. I remember that night very clearly. What will people think?

That’s how I used to think. That’s what led me down the path of not writing about things I cared about, but rather what I thought would be popular. Would be well-received.

Fuck that shit.

/Publish


If you had told me, at that moment, that that post would be the most memorable post of the year and help inspire several of the entries into the Blizzard story contest, I’d have told you you were out of your fucking gourd. That post is not good enough to do that. It’s too long. It’s too emotional.

But it did.

All because I got pissed off and hit Publish.

This isn’t really about me.

I think you’re smart enough to know that by now. Y’all are getting used to my tricks, where I talk about one thing and then realize I’ve been talking to you, about you, the entire time.

This is a great community. Seriously great. For all of its foibles and petty squabbles over things that don’t matter 2 inches outside of our little playground, this is a great community to be a part of. The Piggies are a nice way to celebrate each year.

But don’t let them stop you from writing.

I’m amazed at how many really good writers and artists I’ve met in this community.

But remember, this writer at least is just a regular guy, typing on a laptop, trying to finish up so he can get some sleep. We’re all just people here.

(I hear Matticus might be a superhero in disguise, though.)

The only thing that can stop you from writing – is you.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Read a lot, but write a lot, too.

Try things out. Different things. Don’t get caught in a rut.

Most importantly, write when you have that spark.

Don’t wait. Do it.

And then hit Publish.

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Five Rules for Cynwise’s Field Notes

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Here’s the thing. This weblog? This thing you’re reading? It’s not really a weblog. It’s an experiment designed to get me over my writing block on my main weblog. It’s basically a big fat I DARE YOU TO POST button in my face.

If you’re new here, you might get many of your questions answered in the first post, On Field NotesHowever, as time as gone on, I’ve codified several rules that force me to hit Publish – no matter what.

RULE THE FIRST: PUBLISH NO MATTER WHAT.

It doesn’t matter what I think about a post, when I’m done I hit Publish. The topic might be controversial, or I might take positions which I feel uneasy taking in public. I might think it’s piece of crap (this is usally the case) and not worth publishing. I might think it’s too long (also the case) and that the structure is terrible.

Screw that shit. Once I start writing a post on CFN, I have to publish it.

Fear of not being good enough is what stops so many writers from writing. Damn the torpedoes – publish it already. It’s good enough.

RULE THE SECOND: NO LOOKING BACK.

No editing. None. Each post on this site is a first draft, straight from the can. No futzing about with post structure. No rearranging to make it flow better. No fucking around with sections or post flow or sentence structure or even going back to fix my typos when it’s all done. I will edit a post to death if given the chance – how does it sound, how does it flow, does it make sense, did I get all the points I wanted to cover.

No.

I’m not writing this to win a prize. I’m writing this so that I can fucking write.

First draft is good enough for CFN.

RULE THE THIRD: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DEEP.

Holy shit, how many posts have I sunk because I thought, “this is dumb, no one is going to care?”

How many posts did I look at and go, this is like 200 words, max, that’s not even worth a post on CBM. I could tweet this!

How many posts did I go, this is not fully fleshed out, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I need to think about this some more.

Shut UP, inner editor! Take a hike! Just fucking write it out already!

RULE THE FOURTH: NO SUCH THING AS TOO LONG OR TOO SHORT.

One of the challenges I have to overcome is that I like to write a lot of words. I AM WORDY OKAY I know it. Jeeze. You have no idea how often I yell that at myself.

Related to that, one of my biggest problems on CBM was that I felt, very strongly, that each post needed to have substance and heft. That every post needed to be 2000 words minimum, that it needed to be a weighty topic, that it needed to be brilliant and funny and insightful and a good, solid, friendly guide to Warcraft.

What the fuck, self? Get over yourself already.

I like to write a lot. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” could be my motto.

And it’s okay.

I’m not allowed to judge if a post is too long or short on CFN. I write until I have no more to say, then I stop. Sometimes that will be a single graphic. Sometimes it will be 7500 words.

No looking back. No such thing as too long. No such thing as too short.

RULE THE FIFTH: TELL THE INNER EDITOR TO FUCK OFF.

This rule partly exists to cover all circumstances not covered by the preceeding four rules. If I find that my internal editor is trying to make a mess of things and stop me from hitting Publish, I get to tell it to go fuck off.

But also it’s to remind me that it’s okay to swear.

I don’t swear in meatspace, I have two kids and I actually feel it’s important to set a good example for them. I can’t swear in front of them and then ask them not to do so too, and I think there are good reasons to teach your kids to not swear before kindergarden.

But – let’s be honest – I swear a lot in my head. And I swear on the internet.

And it’s fucking okay to swear, god damnit!

Ok. Hit publish and move on.

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