Gearing down for Warlords

The new Mushan?

The new Mushan?

Yes, I wrote that correctly…

In the wake of the Warlords of Draenor announcement at Blizzcon 2013, I wrote a few posts about my desire to approach the leveling process differently. One of them described my desire to self-nerf: to gear down, as opposed to “gearing up” for the expansion.

There was some discussion about the subject here at the time, and then I put it on the back burner. My preparation for Warlords over the past year – gear-wise –  has basically consisted of keeping a reserve of Timeless Isle tokens on an alt so that, at the least, I could slap that gear on and be done with it.

At the time, Quelys suggested going in with T14 gear, but I got rid of those pieces as I replaced them, for the most part (basically, I kept Fang Kung, Tao’ren, and the DMC). I was thinking I would probably just go with Timeless Isle gear, as I didn’t see myself putting too much effort into it. However, with Patch 6.0 drawing near, over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself soloing MoP heroics, painstakingly assembling a dungeon set. Of course, being the behavior-driven nerd that I am, I found myself upgrading that gear once I discovered that I was Justice-capped. This, in turn, set up a nice cycle for me, where I drove myself to get both the gear that I wanted and the JP to upgrade it.

Mushan's end of MoP dungeon set

Mushan’s end of MoP dungeon set (almost)..

^^Possibly my last screenshot of the old Mushan?

As you can see, as of today, my mission is almost complete. I’m having no luck to-date with respect to pants and helm, but I do have some time before leveling begins. And if worse comes to worse, I’m going with the Golden Lotus JP pants and the 476 PvP crafted helm. The goal is to get down to an overall ilevel of 471 (463 plus upgrades, on average), and I think I can get there with that combination if I can’t come up with those last two pieces.

Some thoughts:

  1. In this set, I’m doing roughly 60k DPS single-target (casually, un-buffed) on a raid dummy. It’s interesting how many times-over the damage multiplies from the beginning heroic dungeons to the end of the expansion. Additionally, I’m sitting at about 55% of my SoO health level.
  2. I’m unclear about how my health level will translate with the stat squish, particularly with respect to mobs on Draenor. However, I’m still confident in my ability to handle them, even though…
  3. I’m planning on leveling as Survival. While part of me wants to try leveling as Marksmanship (and that was my plan previously, because I’d love to try “one-shotting” stuff), it seems to be the new (and only) hotness as far as hunter specs go (thanks Obama Blizz). On the positive side: as gutted as it is, leveling as SV could present me with some challenges, which is something I am definitely interested in. I’m looking for an epic experience, and playing hunter with no Kill Shot and no Multi-Strike… will most likely make killing mobs more challenging, if not epic.
  4. I’m planning on carrying my raid gear with me for dungeon purposes, particularly at the lower levels. I don’t necessarily know that I will run dungeons along the way, but the possibility is definitely there. And if I do run dungeons on occasion while I level, I will not be causing my group any extra anguish brought on by my self-nerfing activities.
  5. I’m still going to level like I have in the past in new expansions with respect to buffs, enchants, gems, etc. I’ll be appropriately specced out, have consumables with me, use drums, etc. I just won’t be starting out grossly overpowered like I used to.

* * *

I mean no offense by this, but I get a chuckle whenever I read about people specifically “gearing up for WoD”… and doing so by raiding. Needing that cloak, needing that heirloom, needing that 4-piece. I fully understand the players who are looking for those items because they’re great to have, but I’ve seen many, many people who are frantically chasing after those pieces for their alts… “for Warlords.” On Twitter. Blogs. WoW Insider.

More power to them, but to me it seems unnecessary.

Think about it this way: I am very, very far from being among the best players in the world… But when I level a new toon, I don’t stop at level 80, get a bunch of raid gear, and then proceed to 85, get some more raid gear, and then proceed to the next endgame; I simply go to the new zone and start tearing it apart. All of my level-90 alts that are between ilvl 510 and 550 are very prepared, gear-wise, to romp through the opening levels of WoD before they start to get some gear… and none of them have either heirloom weapons or legendary cloaks.

It just seems like when we do that, we’re actually “over-preparing to overpower”… like we’re trying to get the biggest hammer possible in order to smash a sandwich with it.

* * *

I’m looking to stretch myself a bit as a player – perhaps for the last time in this game.

I may have mentioned this on Twitter briefly a few weeks back, but I got another promotion in September – my second in the last five months – and, where my free time was limited over the summer, it’s downright precious now. I’ll be very surprised if I raid at all in Warlords, and once I get done playing through Draenor, I don’t know that I will keep going. However, that’s a decision to be made sometime down the road.

As such, I’m looking to have an experience on Draenor. Discovery, story, taking my time and enjoying the scenery. Testing my skills as a hunter. Talking with my friends about it all, here and on Twitter, as time and energy permit. I’m looking forward to it!

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Follow me on Twitter at @MushanEtc. Comments are welcome!

Low-level dungeon soloing: an Unconventional Leveling project

For over a year now, I’ve had the desire to level a toon unconventionally.

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some iteration of this, whether it be perma-death, Ironman, or something else along those lines. However, doing a perma-death toon has never seemed to keep my interest for long. I’m not sure why, but there was a lack of focus for some reason, and so my unconventional leveling itch has remained unscratched.

However, recently I got the itch again – call it pre-5.2 doldrums, or something – and one day at work, I was inspired to start another hunter. Yes, I know… but hey, another hunter: that’s good, right?

Bresmaster Hadlun: a transmogger's delight, am I right?

Brewmaster Hadlun: a transmogger’s delight, am I right?

From that moment of inspiration came the idea of low-level dungeon soloing.

I’ve got to be honest: the rules aren’t set in stone. However, I did come up with some standards that I’m following at the moment.

- No BoA/heirlooms used during solo dungeons. Any other gear is acceptable, including dungeon sets, BoEs, quest rewards, crafted gear, Auction House items, etc.

- No pre-buffing by other players.

- Professions are in full effect!

- As are consumables!

- Any other buffs are allowed, including scrolls/elixirs, potions, profession buffs, foods, enchants, bandages, buffs from pets, racials, etc.

- Addons are allowed. I’m mainly using NeedToKnow to keep Mend Pet rolling on my tank.

- As this isn’t perma-death, there is no death penalty other than that which is already in the game.

- – -

Leveling is insanely easy at lower levels of the game. I donned the heirloom shoulders, chest and cape early on this time, because I wanted to get to the level 15 dungeons ASAP, and the levels flew by. I was in Deadmines before I knew it, and I capped XP after that run, because I was already 17. I’ve run several dungeons since then; at 17, Deadmines, Ragefire Chasm, Shadowfang Keep, and Wailing Caverns – which the Dungeon Finder seems to love to put me in – are available, and I’ve been able to put together a nice set of mostly blue pieces. On Sunday, I uncapped XP until I hit 19, and that’s where I plan to stay for a short time. I’ve also done a little questing to supplement a piece here and there, and will likely continue to do so as I progress.

Hadlun (armory link) – click to enlarge:

Hadlun - Armory

Hadlun – Armory

This past Sunday, with a few lesser pieces equipped than what you see above – some of them unenchanted – I decided to tackle Deadmines by myself. I’m specced into Beast Mastery since I want the pet to have a DPS/threat ability.

It was scary, at first!

At level 19, hunters don’t have many key abilities and features that make extreme soloing so great for them. Here are some pertinent ones that are unavailable:

  • Pet: Thunderstomp
  • Glyphs, including Glyph(s) of Marked for Death, Mending, Mend Pet, Animal Bond, Revive Pet, etc.
  • Any talents other than Tier 1
  • Any real AoE
  • Misdirection
  • Deterrence
  • Feign Death
  • Any traps, other than Narrow Escape
  • Any DPS cooldowns
  • Any stuns or silences, other than Scatter Shot
  • Kill Shot, Tranq Shot, Distracting Shot, Master’s Call, Camo, Stampede

So, without all of that (and more), why even do this? Well, because it’s fun, and it’s a challenge.

As I said, I stepped into Deadmines on Sunday, at level 19, to see what I could do. I took my pet bear – the same one I had when I made the toon – as my tank.

The worst thing is definitely the trash. I made the decision early on, knowing that I didn’t have all of the power from gear that I wanted, that I would go until things just got too rough. And I did die a few times along the way, but I managed to make it to the pirate ship.

Glubtok, Helix, and Foe Reaper, the first few bosses, were actually pretty easy. Stay out of bad stuff, keep heals on the pet, shoot/KC until dead. The trash before Foe Reaper was pretty tough, as was the trash after. The trash before Admiral Ripsnarl wasn’t bad at all, because you can use the cannons to kill most of the pirates. However, Ripsnarl was where it all came apart.

I made three attempts. At my level and with my gear, I didn’t quite have the firepower… or the Stamina. Ripsnarl hits hard, meaning that it’s imperative that Mend Pet stays up. Additionally, the Vapors can become overwhelming. So I didn’t complete the dungeon, but I got quite a bit further than I thought I could.

- – -

The plan is coming together. I plan to gear up my character at certain levels and see what I can solo. It makes a nice change from what I’ve been soloing recently on Mushan, which, since I’m not that good of a player, has been Naxx-25, Onyxia-25, Sarth-10 3d, and the like.

I also have a small list of dungeons that I haven’t ever completed, like Dire Maul. I’m hoping that this will give me some incentive to finally run places like that.

I have to say, I’m pretty excited about this project. It’s a pure-fun challenge to take on, and I’ve always enjoyed the gear game, so the ‘no heirlooms’ rule gives me the opportunity to do that.

It’s difficult to look at the things that become available soon and not salivate. Intimidation and Go for the Throat at 20, along with Thunderstomp! The gear I can get out of Stockades and Blackfathom Deeps! Plus, I’ve rolled Engineering, so I can level that higher at 20 for better bombs and so on… but no, I’ll wait. This is why I’m doing this, after all. Starting a new toon certainly lends to an appreciation of certain abilities a bit more, particularly in a situation like this. But I’ll take my time doing it, since time is not of the essence.

I’ll check back in periodically to let you know how it’s going!

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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

Echoes of a Big Bear

Ana killing a Mushan >.>

This morning, I read Big Bear Butt’s post from yesterday, about his decision to stop trying to force himself to be a bear tank. I won’t quote it or copy it, so go read it if you haven’t already. Basically, he is letting go of his guardian druid, and his hunter will be his raiding main. Sound familiar?

Anyone who has followed BBB for a while – like I have – knows that he has long been both a passionate advocate of bears and one of the foremost progenitors of furry-bottomed face-tanking, in-game and in the blogosphere. With experience comes wisdom, and he has much of both. I found it very interesting that many of his thoughts echo mine with regard to my own druid.

Once Mists of Pandaria launched, I leveled my hunter in about 30 hours. A week later, my druid hit 90 as well. I’m currently working, off and on, on my warrior, who hit 88 yesterday. The hunter was the most fun. There were very few situations that I had problems with, and it was undoubtedly the toon that I am capable of leveling the fastest.*

*This includes choices that I’ve made; I could have leveled my druid as a feral druid, and I could level my warrior as arms, but there’s no way I could have done so with the apparent recklessness and efficiency with which I approached many of the Week 1 situations I found myself in – not with either toon.

Leveling the druid was brutally slow. She’s a guardian, which was what I had planned. For those who remember my post a while back about leveling her to 90 with my Cataclysm gear, here’s the update on how that went: at roughly level 88 1/2, in Townlong Steppes, I gave up the idea. Item level 387 was not cutting it. Level 88 mobs took a minute to kill sometimes. The damage was punishing. I was missing too much, and reforging put my survivability in even more jeopardy. So I gave up the ghost, went back to Stormwind, rotated in what green/blue gear I had collected, reforged and slapped on cheap enchants (yay profession leveling!), and went back for a much, much more reasonable experience for the final 30-ish bars.

Once I hit 90 with her, I ran Direbrew to get the trinkets, and am currently wearing the Brawler’s Trophy. Her gear has stagnated a bit, though, as I’ve been working on the hunter (of course) as well as leveling the warrior.

Droignon versus the Stag

Leveling the warrior has been interesting and fun. He’s protection, of course, and his gear experience began a little differently than the druid’s. When I was leveling Blacksmithing on my hunter, I procced no less than four very usable ilvl 415 plate blues that were immediately equippable. One or two of them had Crit or Haste on them, but the Strength and Stamina upgrades over my 378 gear were so nice that they were definite wins. When I got to Jade Forest, I was absolutely crushing stuff, which was fun. I’m still wearing a couple of the pieces, and things have evened out as I’ve leveled him, so the rate of kills has slowed down considerably, which isn’t surprising.

Druid tanking is a cousin of warrior tanking, although the warrior tends to have better movement as well as spell reflecting abilities, while the druid has more in-combat healing ability. When I’m on one, I tend to miss the advantages of the other from time to time.

However, one thing that has been on my mind lately is how different they can feel as classes. By feel, I don’t necessarily mean the differences in abilities, but rather the way that I connect with the characters when I’m playing.

As a druid, there was something inspiring about being there with Hamuul Runetotem and Malfurion Stormrage during the battle against Leyara. Hamuul, burned and broken, shapeshifts – in what must be a painful situation for him – and goes “all-for-the-cause” bear-apeshit on her until she’s dead. Come 5.0.4, we bears turned into guardians, like the Guardians of Hyjal. I felt, and feel, kinship with him to a point.

However, as a warrior, there is something so visceral about what is essentially the most physical class in WoW. It’s a humanoid with plate, shield, and sword/axe/mace, leaping into the fray and taking all comers. Listening to the sounds of combat on my warrior, it feels physical: the slamming of shields and swords, the boom of Dragon Roar, the crash of Thunder Clap. And the visuals are great too: the warrior balances on his toes, slices with his sword, slams his shield in his opponent’s face. It feels very personal.

As much as I try, I can’t make that personal connection with the druid.

As feral, I was a cat. I was a hunter pet with free will. As a moonkin, I was a fat chicken, which is a look I have never enjoyed. As a healer… well, that has never felt comfortable to me. And as a bear, things feel visceral to an extent, but not as much as on the warrior.

As a warrior, you have your gear and your colors. You look sharp and ready to go. When the battle begins, the warrior charges in and fights for his life and those of his friends. He proudly continues to display his colors and fights until victory is assured or until all is lost.

There’s something that feels definite and permanent about my warrior. Perhaps it’s because of the shape-shiftiness of the druid. It can be a bear, or a cat, or a chicken, or a stormcrow, or a stag, or an orca. It can heal or rip or call down nature’s elements for purposes either deadly or life-giving. At the end of the day, a druid can potentially be a lot of different things.

On the other hand, a warrior is a warrior. Mine has never fought or killed any enemy as any other spec but protection. He is a rock, covered in plate and flashing steel weapons. He is nothing more, nothing less.

Right now, all of that appeals to me. And the druid appeals to me much less.

I haven’t started a monk, in part, because I am so happy with my warrior.

And so this gets me to my point, which is that I, like BBB, am also thinking of letting go of the druid as a seriously played toon.

The plan for MoP was to raid on the hunter, maybe to tank on the druid if possible, and to enjoy my protection warrior in limited play. But lately I find myself thinking of making my warrior my main tanking character: gearing him, getting him set up with all of the factions, tanking dungeons, and bringing him along if we ever end up running an alt raid.

With warriors, there is no pussy-footing around. We smash. We survive. We do what we have to do. With my druid, I’ve been gearing as a guardian while also trying to heal BGs because I don’t want to PvP as a feral druid. Neither has been the most fun. The warrior has been enjoyable. And that’s what this is all about, after all.

- – -

In closing… I will write an update as things progress. Right now, we aren’t yet raiding. After I finish this post, I’m going to hit up Raid Finder on Mushan.

I’m a little behind where I want to be gear-wise, in part because I took four days off to go visit with family during the second half of last week. I haven’t completed three of the heroics yet, due to issues such as having Scholomance completely reset on us (and disband the group) after killing the second boss the only time I’ve been in there, as well as a lack of luck with the dungeon finder. Thus, I’m not using any of the pre-raid BiS trinkets, but I am otherwise 463-plus in every slot. I have the Sha of Anger boots, the Valor neck, the crafted gloves and chest, the belt from Raid Finder, and Direbrew’s trinket. So I’m in decent shape, but hopefully I’ll be in better shape after this week’s reset is over.

I’m not sure when we’ll start raiding. Right now, from what I can tell, we have one tank, one healer, and some DPS returning from our Dragon Soul team, so we have some definite needs. I’m chomping at the bit to get at it, but we’re nowhere close to being ready, and as my girlfriend pointed out, the expansion is still new and we have plenty of time to get in there and kill all 16 bosses in this tier. I have to confess that I’m a little jealous of the people who are downing Mogu’shan bosses already – my girlfriend’s guild already has two down as of last week’s lockout – but I’ll just have to use the time to prepare myself as much as possible, and to be patient in the meantime.

I’ll write more when I have more!

- – -

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

Upside down and forward thinking

Nobody else is probably interested in this, but I am.

Even before my latest post, it occurred to me that I could certainly level all the way to 90 with my ilvl 397 gear on my hunter, including the Tier 13 set bonuses.

However, I’m actually thinking of doing the opposite.

With the two-piece set bonus and the talents from the level 60 talent tier, I am swimming in focus. As SV, ever only using Cobra shot singly, mainly to keep Serpent Sting up and to occasionally get my 28 focus or whatever the shots give with the bonus, it is very easy to be focus-capped way too much.

It strikes me that, at level 90 in Mists of Pandaria, since that gear will be gone, replaced by more powerful gear – but at a character level that will once again dilute the power of combat ratings – focus will become much more of an issue. By that, I mean that it will actually be something we have to manage and strive for.

With our Cobra and Steady Shots back to giving 14 focus, hunters will be using them more often. And if I forget to use Dire Beast or one of the other abilities that replenishes focus as close to on-cooldown as is appropriate, it is going to cost me DPS because I won’t be getting the benefit of said focus.

With that in mind, I think that I will begin replacing my gear right away, as soon as I start picking up new gear during leveling. Not necessarily all of it, but certainly the tier slots.

Why? you say…

Well, I’m somewhat anal-retentive when it comes to thinking about quirky things like this, and I think that I could benefit from this. In 4.3, every class got sweet set-bonus buffs, and one of ours was focus related, and the other was haste related, and that played right along with the frenetic pace of fights like Madness of Deathwing and heroic Dragon Soul content. However, people won’t be using that tier gear in end-game MoP, because they’ll sacrifice (a lot of) power for focus, which is almost certainly a loss.

Now, post-5.0, we almost get the old two-piece bonus amount (18 focus) from one Cobra/Steady (14). And the set bonus still doubles it.

I’ve run some dungeons post-patch, and the hunter is fine. But I think that I will be better off eschewing the T-13 style of play as soon as I set foot into MoP dungeons as I level, and I’d like to get accustomed to “14 focus per Cobra Shot” sooner than later. I’d rather learn as I level, rather than hit the wall when I’m close to, or at, 90 and instinctively wonder why my hunter feels doubly slow.

I think it will help me work Dire Beast into my rotation, too. I’ve been horribly sloppy with it since the patch, both in dungeons and at the dummy, and part of that is because I am usually closer to full than to empty on the focus meter, so it’s easy to forget about it. And higher levels will mean lower combat ratings, proc rates, and so on, so I’ll be able to set myself into a more reasonable rotation.

Maybe you disagree, and think I’m talking out of my butt. That’s fine. But I think replacing gear as soon as I can will make me a better MoP hunter sooner, because I won’t be playing MoP dungeons with Cataclysm’s proc-tastic / focus-tastic gear.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

Unconventional leveling, post #2: Guardian druid plans for levels 85-90 in Mists of Pandaria

With Mists of Pandaria just a few weeks away, it’s time to stop holding out on you all, and write about one of the fun plans I have for the launch.

As I’ve written before, I plan to start the leveling fun with my hunter, Mushan. And I plan on having a blast doing so. However, it doesn’t end there. I have three toons that I am particularly excited about leveling, and one of them is my druid.

Throughout the course of Cataclysm, Anacrusa morphed – er, shapesifted, I suppose – from a cat DPS-er to a cat PvP-er to a moonkin DPS-er to a bear tank. By June, I had gotten very comfortable with tanking the Hour of Twilight heroics, and also enjoyed questing as a bear, although I did not have much reason to quest other than to farm – I’ve been exalted with every Cata reputation for a while.

At any rate, a plan that I had been cultivating for a while really started to come together around this time.


Here it is:

I plan to level my druid through Mists of Pandaria without substituting any gear until I reach max level.

Now, I know that this may not seem like a very hardcore plan. It’s not realm-first-ing it to 90, nor is it questing naked, or anything like that. It won’t be an Ironman, and it won’t even be a mini-Ironman. However, I expect that it will be much more challenging than leveling conventionally, as the gear typically tends to improve dramatically as we begin replacing it after a level or two (depending on end-of-expansion gear levels).

Anacrusa has an equipped ilevel of 387. It’s all PvE gear with the exception of the Cataclysmic gloves, which have the 66% cost reduction to Skull Bash. I have almost no Dragon Soul normal raid gear, as I stopped raiding on her – due to lack of interest on the parts of other guildies – before I picked up tanking again, so all of that raid gear is balance gear.

I did not participate in the beta, but based on how Cataclysm went, I would imagine that a questing toon would be between 412 and 425 at level 90, and with that would come significant stat upgrades: in my case, Agility, Stamina, Armor, Hit/Exp, Mastery and Crit. I will be foregoing those until I finish, if I can.


I see several benefits to giving this a try.

With the changes to how mitigation works in MoP – active mitigation, as opposed to relying almost solely on stats to reach immunities or at least to minimize damage passively – the DPS-minded bear tank can easily forget about, or neglect to learn, new abilities. I’m finding this out on my less-geared warrior, as I quest for guild rep. I can still take on seven or eight enemies at once on Tol Barad Peninsula without too much trouble, but I’m having to learn to apportion my rage resources properly in order to stay away from coming close to dying.

In a plan to level without gear upgrades, skill must become a factor. Now, my gear is none too shabby, and we will of course gain things like stamina and attack power as we level, but we also encounter the idea of stat devaluation. Each point of Hit Rating will provide much less Hit percentage per level gained, and each point of Agility will provide less Dodge, and so on. As the levels go up, with gear providing static and finite amounts of key stats, I’m going to be taking much more damage (and doing less damage, of course) against at-level mobs.

This is where the active mitigation becomes key, along with crowd control, interrupting, and so on. The tribulations that I expect to deal with as I level will force me to make use of my talents and abilities, and I should come out of the leveling process a much better Guardian druid than I am right now.

Aside from that – more skill needed to survive and progress during leveling – there is the concept of providing myself with a somewhat unique set of challenges by doing this.

Leveling is too easy from 1-60 now – at least that’s a common complaint now, and it’s one I share. I haven’t had much of a challenge leveling my druid for several years now (not that there’s been an awful lot of leveling going on, but…), and leveling of alts has become easier with the introduction of the guild-reward heirlooms that work through level 85.

By leveling this way, I hope that at least the latter part of the leveling process on my druid will present me with some truly epic gameplay situations that require me to draw from both my wits and my skill progression to get through the process without making too much of a bloody, furry mess of myself.

Since I reached the point where I became satisfied that my hunter is my main, my raider, I don’t feel the need to race to the finish on this toon. Keep in mind, I don’t plan on taking weeks to level her. However, I do expect that encounters with mobs (and groups of mobs) will begin to take a bit more time to complete, allowing me to use more of my abilities, test my skills, and be more considerate of strategy while questing. And that is something that I am desperate to experience, and I feel that the Guardian is the perfect druid spec for me to attempt this with.

Closing thoughts

The one thing I worry about is that this challenge could be a let-down, diffculty-wise. I’ve heard people in past betas say that they don’t start replacing gear from the final tier of a previous expansion until about two levels from max, and that gnaws at me, because if this is too easy, I won’t be satisfied with the challenge.* Then again, I’m ilvl 387, which is a significant difference from 397 when it all comes down to it. And the people I heard saying these things were in heroic gear. So I don’t know if I have anything to worry about. I guess that’s part of the fun: the whole “we’ll see!” aspect of it.

*Then again, if it turns out to be too easy, I can give it a second try with my Prot warrior, since his gear is not as good…

As MoP gets closer to being a reality in everyone’s lives, I’ll finish setting her up with everything she needs (UI, bag space, consumables, and so on – the staples of the somewhat-prepared leveler), and then once I’m well on my way with Mushan, I’ll give this thing a try.

Oh, and that’s the other great thing about this challenge: I’m going into it almost blind. Yes, I’ve seen pictures of the zones. They look stunning, and I’m excited to see them. But that’s just it: I haven’t been in the beta, so I haven’t done any of this before. I know nothing about the quests, the mobs, the general consensus on leveling difficulty, the lay of the land, and so on. Yes, I’ll do them once on my hunter – at a rapid pace, with incrementally better gear – but once through won’t prepare me for every challenge that I could face. And he’ll likely be doing some dungeons along the way, as well. I’ll just be questing on the druid.

As such, that’s why I said I would be a “somewhat-prepared leveler” in a previous paragraph. I’ll be ready, but I won’t be ready to be a star. I’ll be ready to survive, to come out scarred but victorious, and better for the experiences.

So the potential is there for this to be a true and epic adventure. I’ll let you know how it goes down the road, once I’m there (or when I’ve finished)!

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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

Unconventional Leveling, post #1: permadeath as a foundation for intense player experiences

Suurahl. He died. He was 14. R.I.P.

One of the topics I hope to write about a bit here is the concept of unconventional leveling.

The WoW Ironman Challenge

The idea was partially inspired by a post by Psynister last summer called WoW Ironman Challenge.  I didn’t actually read the post until sometime last October or November, but once I did, I branched out and found some more posts that discussed fun ways to level.  In particular, The Overlooked Heroes of WoW – Unconventional Ways To Level by Ironyca was an eye-opening collection of various ideas about how to spice up the leveling game.  And Tome of the Ancient brought her warlock, Ironsally, to 85 back in October following the Ironman Challenge rules, which was a heroic feat!

This winter, the idea caught fire, and a large-scale WoW Ironman was started by players world-wide, complete with a website,, and database to keep track of participants (the rules are at this link also).  This challenge had a slightly more strict set of rules than Psynister & Co.’s, and Kripparrian won this challenge back in February, bringing his troll hunter to 85 in an impressively short amount of time.

Permadeath in DDO

Before the Ironman, though, inspiration came from reading about the permadeath playstyle that was burgeoning in Dungeons & Dragons Online a few years ago.  The idea of permadeath, which is also a condition of the WoW Ironman, is generally that you play a character until it dies.  There are degrees of ‘hardcore’-ness associated with permadeath: often permadeath guilds in DDO have strict rules that state that a member plays until the character dies, and then he or she must delete that character and re-roll if they want to continue.  Other guilds and sets of rules have less ‘final’ or brutal standards, but the concept is basically the same.

I found the idea of permadeath to be very intriguing when I read about it.  Karthis at the now-defunct Of Teeth And Claws blog first brought it to my attention after he quit playing WoW and was looking into new MMO experiences.  His first article on the subject, Craving Death, literally had me craving a permadeath character!  However, he has stopped blogging entirely, and the blog has gone down, so that post and its followups are sadly no longer available.  He did post about permadeath on the Gamers With Jobs forum back in October 2009, and that post and responses are still viewable here.

One of the things that makes permadeath, as well as the Ironman, special is its contrast to the way of modern MMOs.  In WoW and similar games, there is generally a lot of character death.  There have been articles and blog posts all over the place over the past several years about two related subjects: how easy it is to level, and how small the penalty is for dying.  In essence, we become fairly immune to death – it is reversible, and is an essential ingredient of progress, particularly at endgame.  Permadeath, on the other hand, immediately intensifies the playing experience, because you can put a great deal of work into a character, only to have it be nullified in an instant.  I’ve read many stories over the years about epic experiences had by players, either solo or in groups, playing a permadeath character.  DDO permadeath guilds will often take groups of characters that have a great deal of time invested in them into an instance or encounter, knowing that, for them, this could be the last battle.  And whether they come out unscathed or end up dead to the last man, the end result is often an epic and unforgettable experience.

My meager experiences with permadeath

For all of my interest in permadeath, I have only attempted it five times in WoW.

A few years ago, after I first read about permadeath in DDO, I made a paladin that I took to level 10, and then decided that I didn’t want to level another paladin.  In 2010, I started a dwarf hunter that I took to 24, but eventually deleted him in order to make a worgen hunter (my current ‘other level 85 hunter’).  I made a tauren shaman, Suurahl (pictured above), on a different server last December, and he died at level 14 just south of Ratchet in a facepalm moment.  I then made an orc hunter who is currently 11, but hasn’t been played for four months now.  Finally, I made a dwarf hunter less than two weeks ago and took him to 15 in one evening – an evening which ended during a quest that I had never done before, where I was ambushed by a bunch of murlocs and mercilessly beaten to death.

What did I discover about permadeath with those characters?

While I only ever played at low levels, the experience was immediately much more meaningful because I knew that I had to be careful.  This adds an element to the game that can be missing, particularly for veteran players for whom leveling is basically a total piece of cake.  On my orc hunter, for instance, I was questing in a completely new area, and did find myself in some close shaves (where I was kiting with almost no kiting abilities), simply because I wasn’t questing on autopilot and didn’t necessarily know what was around the next corner.

On the two occasions where I died, I found myself to be markedly more upset than I normally would be by a character death.  On the shaman, where I was unfamiliar with the fatal quest, I went into an area where there was a quest target that was impossible to pull without also pulling the two closest mobs to it, and I was unable to handle the resulting carnage.  This left me upset with myself because I did not accept the situation for what it was, and so did not wait a couple of levels to be better able to handle all three at once.  The hunter death, on the other hand, took me completely by surprise, and left me mad at the quest for not indicating that I was likely to be attacked by a bunch of extra murlocs.  Had I gone to Wowhead and looked it up ahead of time, I would have had a slightly better idea of what I was up against, but part of what I liked about these experiences was playing new areas – it adds discovery and uncertainty to permadeath play.

Ultimately, there is something to the feeling of defeat when your character dies that is unique for veteran players at these lower levels.  I can only imagine that it intensifies at higher levels.  I found, in my limited experiences, that I was more immersed in the game, felt close to my character, and took it harder in various ways when it died.

I hope to someday level a character in an unconventional way that incorporates permadeath as a core condition.  If I do, I will share my experience with it here.

If you’ve had any interesting leveling experiences and would like to share them, feel free to comment!

More on Unconventional Leveling to come.

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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc.  Comments are welcome!


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