When the Music Stops

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I’m beginning to hate this bell.

After all the trash is cleared, the cut-scene has ended, and the lights are (in my mind) magically dimmed, we’re left staring at a wonderful contraption of sound production that spells our doom–week… after week… after week.

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To me, there’s three distinct phases of raiding. Phase 1 is the shiny new syndrome phase. The boss could be impossible to defeat or a real-pushover. We could have brought 6 warlocks for dps. Joey could be sporting a baboon for a pet, and we wouldn’t care. When new instances come out it’s just so nice to have new content that bears in dancing tutus as the raid boss would likely be acceptable.

At the other end of the spectrum is Phase 3, where bosses die with delightful ease. The only requirement at this stage are that you don’t forget the enchanter. As an added bonus, your guild will come up with new and interesting ways to spice up the routine with a favorite being a drinking game of some sort where every boss down results in another shot. Eventually the entire raid is so sloshed that you’re all uproariously delighted that one member of your raid team chooses to abstain and manages to be the last man standing for the night. Literally.

And in between you have progression. Progression is all that lovely time in between when you stick out your tongue at the monitor, mutter arcane phrases to a room by yourself, and generally act like a demented nutcase to anyone who has never raided (or just doesn’t like the concept) of pitting a group of 10 or more people against a boss and dying over and over and over again.

Generally when you’re working on progression your team will have some kind of normal average for the length of time (deaths) it takes you to conquer a new boss. Just for the sake of ease, we’ll say most of the time, you manage to down a new boss in 50 attempts. Sometimes you’ll get that out of the park kill in 10 and dance on to the next encounter. Sometimes, you’ll hit your magic number but the kill is a miracle (last priest standing anyone?) that it actually takes some more attempts before you’re killing the boss easily, or consistently, what’s commonly known as “farm status.”

And then there’s the boss that just won’t freakin’ die! You keep looking at this boss, looking at your strat, making an attempt, throwing your arms in the air and screaming in frustration. How in the world do you deal with the perpetual frustration of knowing that your team can do this and watching them fail?

First, you need to take an honest look at who’s been coming to the encounter. A lot of times when you hit a wall in your progression it’s not really because everyone knows the fight and keeps screwing up: it’s because you’ve had an unsteady roster and while the majority of your raid knows all the steps, you’ve got this one guy or gal going through the baby steps that you’ve already mastered. If you’ve had a weird scheduling nightmare, or just have a roster that encourages lots of players to get exposure to raiding, you’re going to have to take oddities in people’s theoretical understanding of the fight I can read and watch videos until my eyes bleed, but until I get that first fire under my feet, or really understand that all three healers have to take care of the tank in that precise moment I’m probably going to screw up the flow.

Another thing to check out is the stability of your strategy. It’s normal when stepping into an encounter for the first time for your strategy to fluctuate from what you thought you needed to take into account certain tics with your raid composition or team. That’s normal. Depending on how many attempts you get a night, you might even come back for a few different raid nights and say “I’d like to try something new tonight.” That’s cool, we get that you’ve slept on it and have had some new idea percolate or checked the logs and discovered a mechanic doesn’t work like you though it did. What is not cool is adjusting the strategy every single time you make a pull. At some point, you have to stop making adjustments and make your strategy work. Poring over the strategy ad nauseum and constant tweaks can leave raiders exhausted and fretting before you make the first pull.

In the end, there’s really only two real options when it comes to your team on a certain boss: you can keep banging your head against it, or you can take a break. Most guilds I’ve been in, and the kind that I prefer, are more the head-banging type. Nothing is more frustrating than deciding on a plan of action with the progression schedule than just shrugging and moving on to the next thing. I hate that.

But even the masochist that I am can concede that sometimes it takes a break to wash out the bitter taste of defeat. At some point the whole thing is just disheartening, and you’d rather have your computer in the shop than log in for another night of dragonslaying raiding. Fortunately for early Cataclysm raiders, there’s plenty of raid zones to choose from when deciding on the next boss to down. However, eventually you get to the point where you only have this one option. Even then a break is sometimes necessary. It does not defeat your entire reason for being a raiding guild if you cancel a raid.

The key to it being a positive experience is to schedule it — preferably a week in advance. It also helps if you schedule it after the raiding week is completed for your guild.┬áThis gives those who wish to do something constructive and raid-like in-game to have the option to do so. It gives other members to make a chance to make plans out of game with friends, family or co-workers. Either way, a planned one-night break can be a refreshing experience for your raid team, and really let them get back in the groove when they come back for the next week.

In the end, there’s never a boss that cannot be taken down with enough time, patience, and persistence. New challenges always await along the horizon: the beauty and fun of living in an evolving World.