Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 28, 2008
25-man raids and skill checks

Ontherocks wrote me and asked for my opinion on 25-man raids versus 10-man raids. He has a small guild, and he likes 10-man raids much more than the level 60 entry-level 40-man raids. I haven't done much 25-man raiding yet, but recently I was at Gruul and SSC with my guild. We killed Maulgar, who dropped the T4 shoulders for me, and Gruul. Funnily we wiped once on Maulgar, due to an unexpected pull, and didn't wipe at all at Gruul, although Gruul is supposedly much harder. We then went to SSC and wiped repeatedly on Hydross. I have problems comparing 10-man and 25-man raids in TBC, because the 25-man raids are harder. Going to SSC was certainly less relaxed than going to Karazhan, but that might well be because we have Karazhan "on farm" and are still struggling with SSC.

Some commenters were recently argueing whether raiding required skill or was just a gear check. I don't think the answer is simple, it depends very much on the specific encounter. Killing Hydross definitely requires a lot of coordination, thus is more of a skill check. Hydross has two different modes, water and poison, and due to a debuff you can only tank him in one mode for a limited time, and then need to drag him over a line to change his mode. Whenever he crosses the line he spawns 4 elementals and loses all aggro. Thus if somebody still damages him from his old side of the line, he goes right back to where he was, spawning another 4 elementals. So if the damage dealers, and especially dotters, don't watch very, very, very carefully what they are doing, Hydross crosses the line several times and deluges the raid with a large amount of elemental spawns, and it is game over.

Gruul on the other hand isn't all that complicated to kill. It is much more of a gear check. Gruul grows and grows, but if the raid group does enough dps, they'll kill him before he grows unmanageable. As our excursion showed, if your raid group is really well equipped, the Maulgar encounter can become more difficult than the Gruul encounter. But normally you can beat Maulgar with a bit of practice and not so much gear, while all the skill in the world isn't helping you much with Gruul if you aren't well equipped enough.

In general both skill and gear help most of the time. And in many cases you can to some extend replace one with the other. I remember doing a retro raid to Molten Core at level 70, and gear made some encounters very easy, which previously required a lot of skill. For example being turned into a bomb at Baron Geddon used to require you running to a safe spot, because otherwise the explosion would kill you and your neighbors at level 60. At level 70 we had a couple of people not knowing where to run, but due to much higher health they just shrugged off the explosion and nobobdy got killed by it.

It isn't necessarily the total number of people in the raid what counts. For skill checks it is more important whether the encounter is designed in a way that all of them need to do it right, or whether only X people need to do it right and the others don't have to play perfectly. If everyone needs to play perfectly, a higher number of raiders makes encounters *more* difficult. Imagine everyone has to do something relatively easy, for which he would have a 90% success chance. Take 10 raiders in an encounter where only one has to make a mistake for the raid to wipe, and the chance of success drops to 0.9^10 or 35%. If you need everyone in a 25-man raid to not make a mistake, the success chance is down to 0.9^25 or 7%.

Depending on how the encounter is designed, and what everybodies gear is, it might not be necessary that everyone in the raid is on the top of his game. The old 40-man raids certainly had some room for slackers. Then raids get easier, especially if for some roles (like dps) you can replace one guy with top gear by two guys with lesser gear. If you've been in WoW long enough, you might remember that it used to be possible to raid Scholomance and Stratholme with 10 people, UBRS with 15 people. Patch 1.10 changed those caps to 5 and 10. And although the mobs were made slightly easier, going to UBRS with 10 raiders was more difficult than with 15. The 5 extra people before weren't strictly necessary, but helpful.

When I first entered Karazhan in March last year with my previous guild's B team, we were all so badly geared that everyone of us would have had to play perfectly to succeed. And as we all had very little or no practice either, we only managed to kill Attumen, and just wiped over and over again on Moroes. When I went to Karazhan with my current guild (which is actually the guild I started the game with), I went with people with much better gear, and much more practice. And suddenly Moroes was easy. I was still wearing the same gear, and probably played with similar skill in the two raids. But probably my raid skills aren't perfect (I'm too slow for split second button mashing) and it is well possible that in the first raid I contributed to us failing, while in the second raid the degree of perfection needed from me was lower and I passed the skill check.

So instead of thinking in terms of gear check and skill check, I'd say that every raid encounter is a skill check, but the degree of difficulty of that skill check varies with the specific encounter, and can be modified by everybodies gear and the skill of the other players in the raid.

There's two parts to raiding: Execution and Strategy. Think of it like this. You have a jigsaw puzzle that's all jumbled. Strategy = figuring out which pieces go where. Execution = Getting it done within a set time limit. Winning the encounter = putting the puzzle together in under X minutes.

For fights like Maulgar it's more about strategy. Do you have the mage to tank the fire ogre add? Do you have the moonkin or Hunter to tank the polymorphing ogre add? Do you have the warlocks to enslave the felhunters from the other ogre add? Do you have the DPS to kill them all quickly? Do you have the healers to keep all of the tanks up? Then the execution is pretty simple. Kill the adds, then kill Maulgar.

Gruul is more of an execution fight than a strategy fight. Do you have the DPS to kill him before the healers can't handle the growths? Does everyone know where to move to when Gruul does the shatter? If they do, then you're set.

The strategy part works itself out, outside of the raid usually. The execution happens inside of the raid. None of this differs from Solo to 5-man to 10-man to 25-man. In fact, some of the most challenging content in the game right now is solo (Shartuul event).

The only thing that changes further is that the complexity ceiling increases as you add more people. It is harder to get 5 people hopping on one leg in sync than 1 person. It is harder to synchronize 25 people hopping on one leg than 10.

However, that doesn't mean that higher numbers of players inherently is more difficult or complex, or even fun. Which is more difficult, 5 people breakdancing or 25 people hopping on one leg? 40 people hopping on one leg? 100 people hopping on one leg?

There's more I could say on this subject, but I've digressed enough. The main point is that there's two aspects to 'skill', and they differ sufficiently that they should be recognized as different.

I don't know if you have ever encountered Magtheridon, but this is a very good example of execution on a knife's edge.

25 people over all.

You will need most likely 5 tanks, and at least 4 warlocks, IF you are just beginning and not outgearing the instance.

4 tanks is harder, as are only 3 warlocks.

3 tanks, and 2 warlocks would require significantly higher play quality and/or gear.

Once the initial 5 channelers are dead, the fight begins in earnest.

Magtheridon casts a "Blast Wave" type spell that hits everyone in the raid. Generally, if you do not interrupt this ability, you will wipe. He also has a "bounce" ability that causes people to take short hops in random directions. Everyone in the raid is also affected by this.

To interrupt the Blast Wave, you need 5 people to click a cube. However, the same people cannot click a cube twice in a row, due to a debuff placed on the clicker. Therefore, a minimum of 10 people are necessary to click the cubes. Given a standard Main Tank, and 3 Healers for the Main Tank, this leaves a total of 11 extra people.

This sounds simple enough in principle, however, stray random bounces leading to melee being cleaved, "cave-in" type mechanics that affect ranged players, healing requirements for ranged and melee players, all boils down to a very small margin for error. 2 people dying, especially at a bad time when they are needed to click, or heal, can wipe the raid. It comes down to, you must generally have 22-23 people alive near the end of the fight for the situation to remain doable.

Quick math arrives at an 84 to 92% perfection rate needed to defeat this boss. Mind you, this is only a T4 level boss. Something that should be in the line of progression directly after Gruuls Lair and Karazhan.

It's encounters such as these that are frustrating to casual players, because they're simply not used to such a high-end requirement. They expect to fail, resurrect with only a small durability penalty and try again.

Mistakes, lag, inexperience, inattentiveness, random chance are all enemies of the casual raider. Should Blizzard provide T6 gear at for the difficulty of T1? No, but it sure would be nice for ordinary people to at least SEE the fights. Perhaps an Easy setting for the dungeons, to allow no attunement, for little or no reward. Sure, I may not spend hours and hours in there, but at least I got to see it.

For example, watching a movie on television isn't really the same. There's commercials, editing for content or length, smaller screen, delayed release, etc. But at least you still have the opportunity to watch the movie without the major expense of theater. I think that something similar could be adapted in game.
Actually, if you played WoW long enough you would even have raided UBRS with close to 40, back when it took a separate run for every single person in the raid to attune for Onyxia... 1 blood per run.
It's skill, gear, raid composition for sure.

For example Moroes gets very hard if you lack CC, it may be undoable if you lack tanks.

Then again a T5 geared group can low-man Moroes. In fact folks from my raid group have 5-manned everything up to and including Romulo and Julianne.

It mostly goes to show how drastically gear changes encounters. While most would think of Moroes as an execution fight (healers keeping garotted people and the tanks alive, CCers doing their thing, assist train) early on it's really a healer/tank check. Mostly healer though.

With increased gear the check goes away and it turns into farmable execution.

Curator early on was a pure DPS check, simply because the strategy is trivial. Kill flares, then curator. If you don't have the DPS to keep up with flares you won't make it. Once you have the needed DPS it's a farm encounter with rather trivial strategy.

Some encounters keep some of the execution character. Take Aran, people still need to stop for wreaths even if they significantly outgear the encounter. It will still be easier, because Moroes dies faster and people have more healths so die less easily.

My main criticism with early Kara tuning was that the gear tipping point was set to rather harsh. I.e. it was in many encounters not possible to make up for the gear check via strategy. I.e. Curator didn't really offer a strategy/skill cover for lack of gear-based DPS. Or the original Romulo could peak-shot your typical pre-Kara tank independent of strategy/skill.

I.e. passing the gear check was what made these encounters and not execution. Once it turned into execution the encounters were farm. I don't mind gear check, but giving a smart strategy a hope to mediate gear deficiencies would make some encounters more palpable and more acccesible.

Wiping a night to Moroes because you lack a priest, or to Romulo because the tank just isn't safe to tank him yet is very disheartening, because the message is not that you don't have the skill, but that you failed to have a spare priest or that you need to max out your tank's gear first somehow (or mass pot, which in original Kara a lot of people did to try to mitigate the gear issues).

Natural raid progression should help you meet the gear checks and not stone-wall you at some points. In TBC this happened more than was necessary, especially before 2.1 and 2.2.

But say one tries Kara in normal 5-man dungeon gear, Kara is still very hard even if you know the strategy. Just bring an all-bold geared tank and see if what I claim is true. Sadly it is, felsteel isn't really optional for a kara-starting main tank.

As far as I am concerned that's a design flaw because it gets in the way of accessibility.
There are 3 things to consider with any instance/raid encounter.

1) Knowledge of how to do an encounter.
2) Experience of doing an encounter.
3) Good gear.

You can take 40 lv 70s to AQ40 or Naxxramas, and I can guarantee you are going to wipe unless you know the encounters. Your gear makes most trash encounters trivial, but the bosses are still going to wipe your raid.
If you know the encounter back to front, but don't have the gear, you are still going to lose.

james mentioned Magtheridon, but didn't mention the trash outside his lair. I bet any guild that has run Kara a few times (but not Gruul/SSC etc)will wipe on the adds, unless they know what is coming.

If every fight was a simple tank and spank, I think most guilds would long ago have downed Illidan.
Theoretically, one big problem with 25-man raiding (when you're not over-geared) is that the encounters are tuned pretty tough. It would seem that issue is that there is not necessarily any feedback that tells the individual or group what went wrong, so they can fix it. That is compounded by the human side of identifying and correcting problems; there can be drama.

Now it would be nice, in a way, to know how the encounter was tuned by planning and development. Taking Kara as a for-instance (again assuming the group is not over-geared), one notes that Moroes will probably require two tanks and priest / hunter CC. But then you reach Curator later on, and the extra tank for Moroes is dead weight. ISTM that by making boss fights that beg for different raid configurations, Blizz has pretty much built guild drama into Kara.

Not only that, but for a raid group that, for instance, fails the Curator DPS check, it's pretty much, "Now what?" They want to raid, but they're stopped cold, and are stuck with a choice between Heroics or farming what part of Kara they can handle until drops and badges get them where they need to be. Problem is, human nature being what it is, some people will probably jump to "a more serious raiding guild", others will just give up, still others will just not do the outside work gear work needed but show up expecting a raid slot anyway.

I see 25 man raids getting less and less as time goes on. I don't think they'll go away entirely, unless they go to 20.

Blizzard might not realize this on their own, since they are stubborn with a touch of arrogance. However other games will come out that will do things 'a better way' and Blizzard will quickly copy the behavior.

Going from 10-man to 25-man is STUPID. That means a guild needs basically 30 actively raiding characters in Kharazan in order to gear up enough to consistently get 25 people for the 25-man raids. Blizzard may figure this out at some point and go from 10 to 20.
...for a raid group that, for instance, fails the Curator DPS check, it's pretty much, "Now what?"...

Exactly this happened to us. Our way out was for the most experienced raiders (tanks and healers in our case) to help the least experienced raiders (mostly dps) to respec/re-enchant their items. Unless you do research out of the game, it can be hard to, for example, know the value of +hit/+spell hit. The lack of in-game feedback about what you're doing right/wrong, is probably a major problem for casual guilds. Suddenly what was ok for soloing and 5mans, isn't good enough and you have no idea why.
Time for a different perspective. Look at 5 man instances, heroics, and 10 man raids, and the strategies that you need to use to succeed. Then compare them to the 'boss strats' you use for 25 mans. There are a TON of similarities, with only minor changes, and more harsh consequences for failure.

For Example:
If you want to get your AOE DPS to learn to control their threat, mana usage, and let tanks get aggro in AOE situations, run Heroic SH with the people you expect to use for Hydross. Why not have one of your AOE tank healers go too to see what kind of spike damage/AOE nubage they will have to deal with.

Its just a suggestion, but one that has a MUCH lower cost than your whole raid wiping while people learn this stuff.
I believe most of these encounters are skill more than gear. When my old guild was learning Gruul, which is a DPS check, we were getting to ridiculously high growths before wiping -- way past the point where Gruul *should* have died. Our guild tanking and healing was great, but our DPS lacked quite a bit. As a benchmark our Guild leader logged his old main, a 70 warlock wearing a mix of T2, T3 and BC greens, and topped the damage meters by a significant margin for the next attempt. That tells you right there that skill > gear for at least most classes.

That statement should obviously be qualified. I'd have to say that tanks really do need great gear for 10 mans and 25 mans. There's the usual requirement to be uncrushable, but in addition some of the damage in these fights is massive -- and a well geared tank can give the guild the edge they need to get through.

I'd also have to say great gear is required for BT as well. Everyone in the raid has to top 11K health for the first boss fight or it's a no go. But if you're up to BT, you've got access to the gear you need.

On a side note, our DPS went away after that embarrassing green lock lashing, read a crap load of forums, created a tonne of stopcasting macros (back when they were required) and improved significantly. Gruul taught our guild a lot.
About Moroes: he's easy for a healer when the tanks are decked out, and everyone has high levels of health. I guess that's true of most boss encounters!
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