Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Am I bad?

Today I was looking at warcraft logs rankings of retribution paladins to see if my spec is actually a good one.  The first ranking I was linked to shows ret paladins in 22nd place of 24 specs.  Ouch.  Then I realized that this was only showing Mythic difficulty, so I changed it to Heroic difficulty because that is what I actually raid.  Now I am showing up as 2nd place instead of 22nd.  There is some small correlation between the two data sets, but it is pretty random.  When I switch to Normal or Looking for Raid I similar giant swings.

What gives?

A lot of this is going to be due to people's perceptions of how specs are performing.  If the absolute best players all decide that one spec is a couple percent higher than another, then that best spec will end up overrepresented amongst the top players.  This will inflate its numbers, and even though all things being equal one spec might do 95% of the damage of another, once you account for the shift of top players towards the better spec it suddenly appears as though the number is 85%.

You also have problems with some players doctoring logs to make themselves better, some groups organizing raids just to give certain specs great parses, and specific sets and legendaries making perfectly optimized characters of specific specs amazing without actually affecting the average people playing those specs.  People represented in mythic raids are going to represent not the average but the extreme top end and that means that highly variable specs will be overepresented.

In other words, much as people really want to use warcraftlogs rankings to complain about the shape their own spec is in I don't think you can use it effectively that way.

I figure that I am consistently top two in my pickup group Heroic raids and guild raids.  I don't get cut from groups because of my spec.  Given that, I ought not to worry about it.  Far better to work on being better than to look at online statistics and fuss over my place in them.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Boss fight

Many times in the past I have had conversations with people trying to figure out which World of Warcraft raid boss would win in a fight.  The game becomes most interesting when you assume that all of them have their numbers scaled to similar degrees, otherwise of course the old bosses get 1 shot by the new ones and that isn't interesting.

There were always a lot of questions.  For example, Azgalor has a debuff that instantly kills the target after 1 minute, so pretty clearly either the fight can only last 2 minutes or bosses need to be made immune to instant death attacks.  I generally think that instant death attacks aren't allowed, as bosses are immune to most status conditions and I think it would be fair to put instant death on that list.

Which boss wins the Royal Rumble is not immediately clear to me, but it is pretty certain that modern bosses do much better than old ones.  Largely this is because of mechanics designed to force tank swaps.  Old bosses just sat there and bashed one tank for the entirety of a fight in many cases, or forced tank swaps just by dropping aggro.  Both of these are shockingly ineffective against another boss.  Modern bosses tend to have stacking debuffs that are extremely dangerous and if two bosses are just standing there beating each other those debuffs would become dominant, far exceeding the damage of mere autoattacks.

A big part of the challenge is figuring out how smart the bosses are.  Star Augur Etraeus, for example, summons a Thing That Should Not Be, and that Thing, if it is anywhere near Etraeus, grants both of them 99% damage reduction.  Players simply drag the Thing far away but if another boss is just standing there beating on them then this ability is absolutely brutal.

Some bosses also have healing abilities that are similarly impressive.  Unless you can kill the Twin Emperors in just a few seconds they will heal each other to full over and over again with little you can do about it.  Their other abilities aren't particularly scary though so I expect that other bosses would eventually stack up huge damage over time abilities that would overcome even that incredible healing power.

In both of those cases though the power of the abilities depends on the location of the critters in question.  If the Twin Emperors choose to stand next to each other they are a massive problem.  If the other boss is allowed to separate them they would be total pushovers.

I think the best way to tackle this is to simply assume that all bosses stand in a pile beating on whatever has the most threat.  If some bosses have outrageous positioning based powers, then let those powers do their thing.

Funnily enough this week in Hearthstone there was actually a Tavern Brawl that emulated this sort of question but for Hearthstone bosses instead.  There were lots of really neat matchups between wildly different strategies.  Chess let you play minions with immense health pools for their cost who attack without the enemy being able to counterattack.  The Grim Guzzler let you put a random minion into play for each player, and its deck was full of gigantic minions.

I didn't get enough of a chance to play the Tavern Brawl to be sure of what boss was the best, but I absolutely love the idea.  It is one thing to play against these outrageous things as a player, but doing so as a boss is a totally new and intriguing problem.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nerf me more

I have been ranting some here about the way retribution paladins work in WOW at the moment.  Blizzard agrees with my basic thesis, it turns out, and they are moving to change things.  The principle of my issue is that Crusade is too powerful.  I can see why it ended up where it is, because the basic version you see here is totally reasonable.


Instant2 min recharge

Increases your damage and haste by 3.5% for 20 sec.

Each Holy Power spent during Crusade increases damage and haste by an additional 3.5%.

Maximum 15 stacks.

This is a fine talent.  The problem is that at the end of Crusade you are doing a truckload of damage, and there are a bunch of ways in the game to extend the duration of Crusade, which means you extend the part of the buff where you are a brutal hitting machine but leave the setup time of the buff the same.  When Crusade is fulled stacked you are doing roughly 2.3 times normal damage, so trinkets and other buffs that give you temporary bonuses that coincide with Crusade become nuts.

It isn't good.  That is, ret paladins do lots of damage, but there is no realistic choice other than Crusade, and every relic you pick has to buff Crusade duration, and every trinket you pick has to synergize with Crusade.  Blizzard wanted us to have options, and right now we don't have that.

I won't take any credit for this, but Blizzard agreed with my posts and decided to nerf Crusade to 3% per stack instead of 3.5%.  This is fine and all, since ret paladins are one of the top dps specs right now, but it doesn't solve the problem.  Crusade, even with this nerf, is still absolutely the best and you still want to stack trinkets and relics to buff it.

There is hope on the horizon though.  People have datamined changes in the next big patch that have two more ranks in the trait that extends the duration of Crusade, potentially allowing you to get it up to 40 seconds in duration.  Clearly this cannot go live with the current version of Crusade.  There is also datamining that suggests that ret paladins will get a trait that allows you to cast Judgement more during Crusade (or Avening Wrath, if you don't have Crusade.)  At the moment this Judgement benefit is quite terrible because Judgement is bad.

But wait!

Many months ago I suggested that Crusade should be gutted and Judgement damage should be doubled.  This would be pretty much a wash in terms of overall damage dealt, but it would mean that ret paladins might actually care about the mastery stat on gear because it affects Judgement, and the new trait that affects Judgement would get a lot more attractive because Judgement would be a hard hitting attack.  Relics and trinkets that line up with Crusade would still be fine, and running a hardcore Crusade build would be viable.  However, it would also be viable to take other options on that talent row and use relics that buff other strategies.

For example, if you took the Greater Judgement talent, it would be great to stack Judgement relics.  The Final Verdict talent would make using Templar's Verdict relics good.  There would be lots of choices, and Blizzard wouldn't have to worry that if they forget to include relics or trinkets that buff Crusade in a particular tier of content that ret paladins will be trash, and they also wouldn't have to worry that if they put a few too many of those things in that ret paladins will be too dominant.

What I would do personally is change Crusade to have a flat 35% damage bonus, but have the stacking haste buff be at 2.5% per stack.  This means that fully stacked Crusade is a 85% damage increase, much less than now, but it is better at the start.  Crusade would still retain its flavour, and would be comparable to the other talent beside it, but would be lowered enough in overall power that relics and trinkets that buff it wouldn't be such a problem.  People that chose Crusade would obviously lean towards things that buff it, but other strategies would be perfectly fine.  Again this assumes a doubling of Judgement damage in order to make this work out.

So there you go.  Blizzard agrees with my goal... now to see if they implement it the way I suggest.

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.