Wednesday, January 18, 2017

One big problem

In the new Nighthold raid in WOW I am looking forward to one particular item.  It is called Convergence of Fates, which does this:

Convergence of Fates
Item Level 875+

Binds when picked up
+1,634 [Agility or Strength]
Equip: Your attacks have a chance to reduce the remaining cooldown on one of your powerful abilities by 5 sec.

This is a good trinket for many people, I presume, but it is completely ridiculous for me as a ret paladin.  My current trinkets are worth roughly 5-7% of my damage depending on luck and conditions, including both their passive stats and their unique bonuses.  Convergence of Fates is worth 14%.  That is absurd, and completely beyond the scope of what Blizzard intends for trinket power.

To give context, they recently nerfed a ret paladin Legendary item that increased my damage during Crusade, which is the powerful ability that Convergence of Fates modifies.  That belt's legendary power was worth about 10% additional damage, and they nerfed it to half of its original strength so that it is now worth 5% additional damage.

If they don't want a legendary item, of which I can only wear two, to do 10% additional damage, they absolutely cannot want a random trinket to raise my damage by 8% over comparable options!

The link here is Crusade.  Both items modify Crusade, and Crusade is so over the top powerful that anything that benefits it becomes outrageously strong.  My rough napkin math suggests that the Crusade talent is worth about 20% additional damage, and the other options you could choose instead aren't remotely close to that value.  This is of course before you factor in Convergence of Fates, which makes the Crusade talent even more dominant.

Crusade is a problem.  No talent point should be as automatic a choice as Crusade is, and the fact that Blizzard consistently underestimates how critical it is to a ret paladin's performance is an issue.  They are going to nerf Convergence of Fates for ret paladins when they realize how powerful it is, but they shouldn't... they should nerf Crusade itself.

Not that they should just nerf Crusade and walk away!  Ret paladins are so dependent on it that Blizzard should probably give a flat 10% damage bonus in exchange and then nerf Crusade to be something comparable to Holy Purpose, which is the other reasonable alternative, and rewrite the third choice completely so it isn't terrible and a problem at the same time.  Right now there isn't any choice but Crusade, and it is so good that it warps all kinds of things.  The only relics I want are Crusade relics.  The only trinkets I want are trinkets that work with Crusade.  It dominates everything, and that isn't good.

I want options.  Right now I don't have them, and Blizzard so underestimates the power of Crusade that I am on a whoopsoverpowered -> nerf train that isn't fun.

The belt isn't the problem.  The trinket isn't the problem.  Crusade is the problem.  It needs fixing.

Edit:  Blizzard has already noticed the problem that Convergence of Fates was presenting, and nerfed it by 70%!!!!!!!   It has been out for 1 whole day.  This means Convergence is now still a fine trinket, but not completely bonktastic.  Good, I guess?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fast or dangerous

This past week was a good one in terms of me getting phat lewt in WOW.  The first big change was the patch that changed my legendary belt's (Chain of Thrayn) ability from worthless to amazing - 10% increased damage and a buff to healing.  The ability was so amazing that just four days after they changed it Blizzard decided they had to nerf it to 5% bonus damage instead.  In any case 5% is a hell of a lot better than nothing, which is what I had before.

The second thing that happened is that I got a new legendary, the cloak called Whisper of the Nathrezim.  It also offers bonus damage, probably about 4% worth.  Between the belt and the cloak there is no choice - the belt is the best.  The question becomes which second legendary do I wear?  I can pick my new cloak for 4% more damage, or keep my other option, which is Aggramar's Stride, which gives me about 24% movement speed.

Now if you compare damage and movement speed at the same % you always take damage.  50% more movement is quite useful, 50% more damage makes you the best character in the game no matter what.  However, in my current case I have the option of 24% movement or 4% damage.  Six to one is starting to look pretty damn saucy.  Movement speed always translates to more damage to some degree, since in every fight you have time moving between places and being faster gets you on target more quickly.  However, for 24% movement speed to grant 4% more damage, you would have to be moving towards your target about 15% of the fight.  There are some fights where that is going to be true.  Even if it isn't though, 24% movement speed lets you get away from stuff much more easily.  It will help significantly in placing debuffs, avoiding ground damage, and otherwise getting mechanics done right.

There are some fights though where being mobile isn't particularly relevant, and the damage is going to be better.

Six times more movement really does fit in the zone of being unsure though.  I know for certain that I take movement speed at ten to one - especially the 30% movement speed over 3% damage done is a fantastic deal.  I know for sure I take damage at two to one, because 20% speed just isn't as powerful as 10% damage.  Six to one is well into the cloudy zone for me, where I can't tell which I take.

I guess I will set up two gearsets and two talent sets and swap between them as necessary for movement or output fights.  More finicky that way, but worth it.  I am impressed that Blizzard has given me such pause to think - the dps legendary items were always the best ones before, but now I am genuinely intrigued by comparing utility to dps and thinking about what I want.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Singular focus

When the latest patch was in testing I was quite pleased with the developments for retribution paladins.  I figured that in general we were going to get a small buff, and in particular I would get a monstrous buff because my garbage legendary belt was getting completely changed to be our new best in slot item.

It ended up being even better for me than I had thought.

The main thing that changed is my passive AOE.  My old Blade of Justice generator attack hit a single target for 210k physical damage about 9 times a minute.  It generated 18 holy power while doing so.  My new Divine Hammer attack hits everyone nearby me for 392k damage 6 times a minute and generates 12 holy power over that time.  The 6 extra holy power generated by the old generator can be spent casting Templar's Verdict for 495k damage per 3 holy power.  What this means is that over a minute my new generator hits for 6*392=2352k damage, and the old one does 210*9+495*2=2880k damage.  That means I lose out on 528k per minute.  However, the higher damage rotation uses 5 extra casts to get that 528k, and even if I can only fill 3 of those slots with other attacks I will definitely do extra damage.

The nutty thing is that I am so far *only* considering the single target damage.  The new attack does a massive amount of AOE damage, basically for free!  It could potentially be a damage loss on a single target, but even that is debatable because I don't have a good value for the extra casting time I have with the new rotation.  But what is certain is that if I happen to have one extra target around I deal 2352k extra damage with the new rotation, which means I still use 5 less casts but I generate 1824k additional damage.  That extra 2352k can hit an unlimited number of targets too, so if there are a bunch of enemies around the damage is absurdly high.

Another similar sort of choice was found in my first tier.  I could either choose a passive 20% bonus to Templar's Verdict, the holy power spender I referenced earlier, or take Consecration, a new spell.  Consecration is an AOE which does 242k damage that I can cast 6 times a minute, and I can take it instead of the buff to Templar's Verdict.  I normally get about 12 Templar's Verdicts a minute, and the 20% bonus is about 80k of that, so I lose out on 960k damage.  However, I can then cast Consecration 6 times to gain 1452k damage, a gain of 492k damage.

When I saw this I was greatly amused.  One change cost me 528k, the other gained me 492k.  One change gave me five extra casts per minute, the other consumed six casts per minute.  This is a net loss, to be certain, when only one target is considered.  Probably about a 1% loss.

But when there are multiple targets it is *nuts*.  A large proportion of my damage is suddenly hitting everything in a large area.  If there is a single extra target around I am doing 3804k damage to it per minute, which is a 20% overall dps boost.  The outrageous thing is that keeps on going for each additional enemy around.  I do more damage if there are 2 targets for just 5% of the fight, and when there are a lot of targets I become ridiculous.

However, when you do some napkin math and decide you are ridiculous, you really ought to test it properly and see if it comes out in actual trials.  I am swapping to a new guild and last night we did a full clear of Emerald Nightmare heroic and Trial of Valour heroic.  My numbers on bosses were good, ranging from 1st to 6th, mostly in the 2nd to 4th range.  But on trash I was preposterous, doing 1.02B while the second place person did 549M.  Not even close.  Only two other raiders made it above half of my damage over the course of the raid.  Part of that is people doing loot after bosses, mind you, but mostly it is just that when we were AOEing down trash mobs I was a juggernaut.

Trash, however, isn't that relevant.  It helps to clear it quicker, but it is not often the thing that matters.  Crushing the meters over the course of the night is great for my ego, but not necessarily what I should worry about.

I guess the question becomes, what should I do going forward?  Clearly taking both of these talents is an upgrade, but perhaps I should only be taking one of them.  I feel like my rotation is fairly full at the moment, so I can't imagine that swapping back to Blade of Justice is a good idea because I can't find another 5 empty slots to cast with, it will just be a waste.  However, not taking Consecration to give myself 6 more casts over a fight might be worth it.  I will end up doing more single target damage that way I am sure, but at a significant cost to my AOE potential.

I suppose the trick is that I should figure out how much AOE there is going to be in boss fights in the next tier of content and spec accordingly.  If a big part of my job is going to be killing swarms of dorks, or even cleaving onto two enemies at once, I should spec full AOE.

I don't think Blizzard intended this at all.  They clearly noticed that Consecration and Divine Hammer weren't being taken, but their solution was to double the damage of both of them in this latest patch.  They succeeded in convincing me to use them, and got them close to competitive single target, but I think they overlooked just how nuts they were in AOE situations.  I can't imagine that they actually intended for me to do damage like this, and it makes me think that their testing may have been mostly target dummy or simulation testing which often ignores AOE potential.

Players focus too much on pure single target damage when evaluating abilities, and I suspect the developers do too at times.

At any rate I am having a blast with this new setup.  I love the absurd splash damage I do, as it reminds me of playing during Wrath of the Lich King.  A time, I should note, when retribution paladins were ridiculously overpowered, largely due to their passive AOE.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A heroic battle

In the last Heroes By Trade game we started a new campaign.  So far it is highly entertaining as our characters started out as regular sorts of people and are being catapulted into adventure and intrigue.  My character is an accountant who dips his fingers into white collar crime here and there, and that isn't exactly rollicking adventure material.  However, a gang that wants us dead and four bodies that need to be hastily disposed of are a good reason to abandon my job and get on with the running, fighting, desperation, and dying that usually accompany roleplaying games.

However, we had one issue where the rules really didn't work well.  One of the characters convinced an enemy to drink a potion that was actually acid, and when the enemy burned his mouth he threw the acid at me and it hit me.  By the rules I have lots of Focus, so the damage should go there first, and I shouldn't take any actual Wound damage.  InTheHat ruled that I took some Wound damage because it would be ridiculous that I could not possibly be hurt by acid being thrown on me, and the rules be damned.

I think his ruling was right, even though it does not follow the rules of the game as written.

I thought some more about how the game is made and whether or not this is a problem.  The game is designed around tactical, heroic combat.  That is, you are supposed to be able to fight bears and dragons and people with swords and come out the other side.  Having a Focus pool that has to be depleted before you actually take real wounds is the way I make this work.  Enemies almost land blows, but you use your Focus to desperately avoid the attacks, until you finally run out of go juice and the blows start landing for real.

This works tactically, and creates a system where people get into fights, sometimes get hurt, but mostly can predict who will win.

It fails in many situations.  For example, if a dying character holding a crossbow with a single shot is waiting in a room and the characters burst in, it doesn't matter what happens with that crossbow bolt.  It won't do enough damage to get through anyone's Focus, so they will just take the damage and regenerate their Focus in the next few minutes, no problem.  That totally breaks the scene, because the characters *should* be worried about getting shot, shouldn't they?

But if they *are* worried about getting shot and dying, when they end up in a fight against four random dorks with crossbows, people are going to die!  You can't be worried about one dork with a crossbow and not get ripped to shreds by four of them.

You can try to solve this by having combat have some serious outliers in terms of results.  If damage occasionally rolls extremely high you can make characters worry about a single shot - no point in taking that 1 in 1,000 chance of dying if you don't have to.  That still has problems though, because if a single shot does that, a series of shots from a series of enemies, especially ones who are more competent, will end up randomly killing characters who have made no mistakes and had no chance to react.  I don't like that much.

It is a tradeoff.  You can't have heroic, tactical combat without some option to recover from damage.  Whether that option is the ridiculous healing model in DnD where people are openly bleeding and on death's door, but rest for an hour and then are completely healed, or the Focus regeneration of Heroes By Trade, heroic combat requires this sort of recovery mechanic.  That recovery mechanic totally stomps on the scene where a single vengeful enemy throws acid at the heroes, or a lone sniper with a single crossbow bolt threatens them.  I have chosen heroic, tactical combat and that means that sometimes the GM is going to have to break the rules to have characters take damage from things.

I am at peace with that.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Limitless power

The power increases characters get in WOW are weird.  For example, in the next patch I am going to see roughly a 17% increase in my personal damage output.  This isn't me finding new gear or doing something different, just patch changes making me drastically more powerful.  That kind of increase is so noticeable that it makes hunting for upgrades in the game itself feel kind of silly, since at best I can hope for 1% upgrade on a given item, and that is not something that comes often.  If I feel like I could actually get better by convincing the developers to change things in my favour I would be far better off going to the forums to whine rather than actually play the game.

That isn't actually how it works though.  The forums are already full of whiners and the developers mostly ignore what they read there anyway, which is good, because it is mostly contradictory and stupid.  There are good ideas I could share, but those ideas are probably already there.

But even if whining isn't actually the way to go it does feel silly that I will experience such a massive change without actually doing anything myself.

These changes are good ones though.  Ret paladins are getting a 12% base damage increase, and we are losing our Blessing of Might buff which grants 3% more damage to three different people.  That extra 3% damage is meant to make up for our legendary items being nerfed, but since I don't have any of those legendary items I am just getting a 9% net buff from this exchange, though admittedly I now can't give out 3% more damage to 2 other players.  However, a legendary item that I do have which is currently total rubbish is being buffed to give me something like 6% bonus damage.  Also there are a couple talent changes that should give me 2% or so more damage also.

I really like the removal of the 3% damage buffs.  It doesn't particularly feel fun, it makes damage meters and damage recording weird, and randomly adding more stuff you have to do before pulling is stupid and annoying.  The legendary rebalancing is good overall because the people who got super lucky at the outset are now going to be a lot more in line with everybody else.

I am not complaining about the changes - there aren't as many changes as I would like, but the ones that are being made seem on point.  But it does feel strange that the best way for me to advance is to simply sit around and wait for the game to define me as better rather than work hard to advance myself.

This is a good argument for the developers not stepping in and altering things constantly.  People want to feel in control of their own destiny, and although fixing major balance problems is good, stepping in to do that a lot has its own problems.

I want to feel like getting better is a thing I do on my own, but I recognize that there are changes to be made for the improvement of the game, and those have to be made.

The thing that is for sure is that no matter what changes are made the forums will be full of people trying to advance their characters via whining and complaining.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Hoot Owl Hoot is a kid's board game I played for the first time this holiday.  My three year old nephew can play, though his grasp of strategy is still questionable at best.  It is a good game for really young kids though, since strategy does play a serious role and it is a big step up from such trash as Candyland and Monopoly.

I have to give credit where credit is due.  The game is simple, cute, and actually has enough thinking that kids can grow into playing better.  The variable difficulty means they can go from trivial games to challenging ones.

The adults I played with were convinced the game was utterly trivial but I wasn't so sure.  Winning isn't hard, but finding the optimal move can be a challenge.  People didn't believe me, but then they mostly made terrible moves so it was clear there was a lot more to the game than they thought.  Sometimes people mistake complexity for challenge and I think this is one of those cases.

However, HOH has some problems.   The first one is that all cards are face up, leading to the alpha player problem.  One player (*cough* me *cough*) sees the correct move and tells other players what to do, which leaves them the unpalatable options of doing what I say or playing badly.  That is a poor situation.

The way the game is played is that each player has 3 cards in their hand, all of which are visible to all players.  This is fine for kids, but for adults who don't want the alpha player to make the game suck we need a better solution.  My idea was to have each player place one card face up, and after they play that card they can choose one other card to put in their face up slot.  This makes it impossible to alpha the table and means that players can try to figure out how to cooperate with one another.  Signalling seems tricky, but it should be possible to get better at it and have interesting choices.

The other problem is that each turn you play one card and draw one card.  If you draw a sun card, you must play the sun card on your next turn and you make no choices on your turn.  The sun card makes you progress towards losing, so it is just terrible.  It isn't fun to play a sun card and it sucks to draw one.  It is entirely possible to end up not being able to play for most of the game when you draw sun cards and that is a sad game indeed.  I would do things differently.  One option is just to play the sun card automatically when you draw it, rather than skipping your turn.  This does change play slightly though because you can plan many turns ahead, but for the kids version that doesn't matter.  It just means that everyone gets to play each turn and I like that a lot better.

For the  adult game where some cards are hidden this it is less of a big deal that you don't randomly skip turns sometimes.  However, if you really want randomness in turn order then you could simply have anyone who draws a sun play it immediately and then take yet another turn right after.  This throws off planning but doesn't cause specific people to end up not getting to play.

Somehow other people who play simple kids games just play them with the kids and then move on.  They don't analyze them and come up with alternate rulesets to extend them to other situations.  Other people are strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moving on

A few years ago I joined a WOW raiding guild run by strangers.  It had been a long time since I raided with people who aren't my RL friends so I was a little bit unsure but it ended up being a good time.  I got along with the people pretty well and the game was fun.  It let me play WOW again in a way that worked for me.

During the current expansion I have been raiding with those same people but I think the end of that has come.  The real problem is timing because the guild raids from 8:30 to 11:30.  I need a bit of wind down time after a raid and that means I just can't get a reasonable night's sleep before my alarm goes at 7:30.  I have been doing a lot of napping during the day and was tired a lot for the past four months and that just isn't sustainable long run.

It is hard pulling the plug and running out on people.  I am one of the people who does the most damage in the guild so it feels like I am letting them down.  Even if that weren't true, there is a strong sense of loyalty that comes from playing with people for a long time.  At some point though loyalty must give way to logistics, and now is the time.

Timing isn't the only reason though.  This expansion is different from previous ones in that there is a huge amount of progress that you can get from running things outside of raids.  World quests, dungeons, even PVP reward really useful stuff.  People like me that can play during the day a lot are a *lot* more powerful than those that just log on for raids.  In previous expansions you could sometimes just raid and do little else and have that work - today that isn't true.  I mean, you CAN just raid, but your gear and artifact powers will be so much lower that your performance will be seriously compromised in comparison.

The guild I am in is a friends and family guild.  There are some people that aren't part of a RL web, but most are all linked outside the game.  This means you have a mix of people who play a lot and people who hardly play at all and everyone gets to raid.  In this expansion that means that some people are drastically behind and you can't do much to help them out.  Funnelling gear to them will only help a bit.

Those things together mean that performance in the guild varies wildly.  We are trying content that requires roughly 300k dps from each person, and we have only a handful of people who can make that benchmark.  Some are below 150k.  That isn't something we can make up, because the top end people can't do 500k to make up for those who are lower.

Of course that doesn't mean people are doing it wrong.  Everyone should play the way they want and have the fun they want!  But when the differences in performance are that stark it takes away from the fun for me.  I want to raid content that really pushes me, but in the current situation I massively outgear anything I am raiding by the time we beat it and I barely even need the gear from the bosses we down.  It just doesn't feel right.  Looking at our progression kills and realizing that their drop list doesn't matter to me is disheartening.

If the timing of raids was perfect I would be fine with the disparity in performance.  But that struggle with feeling like I am on the wrong content adds to the difficulty I have with times and together it means it is time for me to move on to find a guild that raids a bit earlier and a bit more aggressively.  I have a good candidate so far, so here's hoping it works out.

Moving time.  No regrets about the past, but I need a new place to live.