Monday, 27 January 2014

My Name is Newbie ... and Yes, I'm a Raid Virgin

So you’re a new player who’s just hit Level 73, 75 or above and you want to score some much better loot than the city or culture gear that’s currently selling for premium prices on the trader.  What’s an impecunious PVE newbie to do?  Well it’s time to think about doing a raid.

In this installment of TMAB, Murdy will offer some guidance for green players who’ve never tried a raid instance before.  The goal is to take some of the trepidation out of it; particularly if Age of Conan is your first MMO (or at least the first one you’ve stuck with long enough to consider moving to some ‘massive’ player-versus-environment challenges.)   Hopefully, you’ll come away from this entry with a better sense of how to get the most out of your initial few raids.

For the truly virginal players, it’s beneficial to know what a raid is and how it fits into the game's group play progression. 

Raid Dungeons are some of AoC's most impressive play-fields

As players level up, the game provides several additional kinds of areas (a.k.a. zones or instances) in which complex play is possible. These include:
  • Open-world play (as Normal and Epic) zones such as Field of the Dead and now with open-world bosses appearing in various places periodically.
  • 6-man dungeons  (as Normal, Hard Modes, and Unchained Modes) such as Scorpion Caves
  • Single player dungeons (Normal and Unchained etc.) The Villas in the Noble District, or The Forgotten City in Gateway to Khitai
  • PvP minigames
  • Massive PvP Sieges (admittedly AoC’s least successful modality)
  • A Cooperative/competitive dungeon, Threshold of Divinity, that can accommodate four 6-man groups at once.
and ...
  • 24-player “raid” dungeons (e.g. Yakhmar’s Cave, Kyllikki’s Crypt, Vistrix’s Lair, Black Ring Citadel ... etc.)

A somewhat up-to-date list can be viewed here … it doesn’t yet include the Secrets of Dragon’s Spine content yet.

1. The basic mechanics of world zones, instances and invites.

You have already figured some or all of this out from doing 6-man play, but if you haven't here goes ... 

The essential difference between an open-world zone and an instance is that the open-world zones generally are persistent play-fields that are not created for use on a player-by-player or group-by-group basis.  So all players can enter and leave zones at will but there’s always at least one available.  When a world zone hits a maximum population, the game creates a second copy of the zone and populates it with newly entering players.  This is done mostly to control the loads on the game’s server hardware.  

When the game creates any new play-field area, it’s called an instance.  So if the aforementioned open world zones have multiple copies, each copy can be described as an instance.  To see this in action, click the instance icon at the top of the game's user interface (UI) near the map.  A window will appear that allows you to go to another instance, if it’s been created. The alternative instances will have names in quotation marks.  Note that your character should be standing on a rez pad to actually move to the new instance. This is good to know for world-boss battles or sometimes for gathering crafting materials.

View instances icon and selection window.

Now when a player-character enters a solo, 6-man or raid dungeon, these play-fields are likewise created as instances but they’re assigned to players specifically; so different groups can actually be in their own discrete copy of a dungeon play-field.  For example, two, three, or more groups can be doing the same 6-man play-field, but they’ll never bump into another 6-man group because each group is in its own instance (except in the case of Threshold of Divinity which can hold up to four 6-man groups).  

In the case of a raid dungeon, the instance is ‘owned’ by the character who, first enters, leads and assembles the 24-player group by inviting players to join his/her raid.  The invitation will appear as a window that prompts a 'yes' or 'no' reply.  Not understanding this mechanism, can lead to classic super-noob mistake number 1.  

If you simply follow players into a dungeon, because you're hoping to have a peek, or you're a wall-flower looking nonchalantly for a dance; but you haven’t accepted any invitation:

a) Your character may end up in an instance of that dungeon by him or herself and will be automatically teleported out of that dungeon after a minute or so, if you haven’t started your own raid-group. 

b) Alternatively, you may briefly appear in the same instance as the players you followed;  but you will also be automatically booted out of the instance because it’s owned by (a.k.a. 'bound to') the group's Raid Leader (RL, for short).  The instance will only tolerate your presence for a few minutes --- enough time to be invited.  Players are booted-out automatically, if they’re not invited, because the game doesn’t want to allow mischievous ne'er-do-wells to interfere with another group's collaborative play.
Also note, that even having accepted an invitation, sometimes you may have to leave/re-join the raid to get into the same instance, depending a few snarly variables (e.g. differences between your instance and the Raid Leader's, when you accepted the invitation and yadda yadda yadda).   Finally, if and when you get invited, be sure to wait outside the entrance until the RL confirms you can enter.  If you’re not sure, simply send the RL a /tell in chat “Enter?” and he or she will let you know.

Vistrix defeated ... a satisfying prospect
Remember that once your group kills that first boss (namely a very tough and dangerous adversary) in the raid, your character will become 'bound' to that RL's raid-party.  This means you won't be able to start a fresh instance for that play-field until the instance resets.  Understand it's not on a set timer that's linked to the group's RL.  Your character, like all, in time will be 'unbound'.  This happens regularly once a week: the raids reset on Tuesday evenings (I believe at 04:00 GMT).  This essentially restricts access to raiding that play-field to roughly once every seven days per-character.  If your raid group, plans to re-try the instance at a later time, any bosses you've killed will stay dead (but trash-mobs---the minor incidental adversaries will re-spawn).  Being bound has a quasi-benefit in that you could opt to re-join a group formed by the RL the next night and keep trying in the instance as long as you don't run over the Tuesday reset time.  If you try to join a group started by another RL for the same instance, your character's bound status will prevent this.

2. Be prepared!

So if you plan to get invited to a raid, there are a few things to work on before you go looking and volunteering. 
a) Know your class and develop a good PvE raid build.  Know the names of your skills, weapons, abilities and your feat build: for example,  the RL may ask all Conqs: ‘Have you set your skills specification to “Brute” or “Carnage” or “Hybrid”?’ or for 'Sins, ‘Are you spec'd as “Lotus” or “Corruption” etc.?’ 

b) Consider how you'll communicate. It’s very common for raids to use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) apps often called “Voice Comms”.  These are little programs that run in the background and allow you to listen to the other players, in particular to the Raid Leader.  While not essential for the simpler starting raids (e.g. Yakhmar or Vistrix), they really do make things smoother when trying to coordinate 24 individuals (who can be in various countries or time zones; have various linguistic strengths or deficits; or may just be incorrigible boozers … man, I love my guildies!)  The three most common Voice Coms I’ve seen AoC players use are Team Speak 3 (TS3 set-up video), Ventrillo (Vent set-up video) or Mumble (Mumble set-up video)  You should download each and learn how get them working before you join a group.  Being in a guild really helps with this, as setting up some of these apps may seem finicky to a new player.  Your guild may have a server ID# and password for one of these.  Once you fidget around with them, you’ll get the gist of how they work.

The video above, recorded a few years ago on the then separate US servers, gives a fairly general impression of what a player might see and hear when using Voice Coms in an AoC raid (Note the player recording the video employed a custom user interface, so some on screen elements here are not typical.) (Are you an iOS user who can't see it? Click here!)

c) Buy plenty of potions and foods. Many players will be willing to share a few here and there but they shouldn’t be expected to carry you all the way.

d) Find and collect the associated quests in advance.  Some players will offer to share some raid quests when folks are waiting around, but once the groups are formed and instructed people may not have time to do that.  So for example, if you're planning on starting with Yakhmar's Cave ... visit Fenella just near the path to the hunting lodge and do her quests.  She won't give you the Yakhmar quest immediately, as it's the last in a chain.  Do this well before you look to do the raid, so you can start collecting the furs you'll need for the epic reward asap.

e) Set aside time. Very-skilled or experienced players can clear a T1 raid in a short time, but if you’re a newb in a raid (and chances are, there are other newbs there too) it may take a while.  Sometimes the longest part of the experience is just waiting for everyone to arrive.  It's a common annoyance  for things to become delayed because some players do reasonably have to go and newer ones have to be recruited.   If you don’t have an hour or two of dedicated time then you’re not going to get the most out of a basic raid. Longer raids can take even more time.   On the other hand, despite our on-line reputation as savage players, I’ve never been in a raid where anyone was kicked out for needing to check on kids, sick spouses or the elderly.  In the poignant lyrics of Spinal Tap: “ ... Folks lend a hand in a hell hole”.

f) Be primed to hang in there for multiple tries at raid objectives.  IMO there’s a reasonable amount of time or number of attempts on each objective that should be made: four or five is not unacceptable.  Players, no matter how skilled, who petulantly leave after the first or second attempt fails, regardless of the raid’s difficulty level (because the tactics or groups are not spot on), are being selfish.   There’s no guarantee that a raid should cruse along at a rate of 20 mins per objective.  Nonetheless it is admittedly very nice when things are efficient and go smoothly.

The entrance to Yakhmar's Cave near the Hunting Lodge in the Eigolophian Mountains.
Become familiar with various raid entrances' locations

g) Know where the raid's entrance is … and get there ASAP.  Most players will giggle and eye-roll when they see a newbie, in chat who’s plodding on his sloped-back nag slowly across three Hyborian open-world zones to get to the entrance.  Buy a fast travel potion in the in-game store (or, if you’re lucky enough to have Vet Points, get the appropriate travel buff from the quartermaster; they tend to teleport you to a rez pad somewhere near a raid’s entrance.  Try not to burn through them in the hour before you raid; so they’re not in cool-down).  In short, have a travel plan.

A guardian in front of the icy portal to Vistrix's Lair in Atzel's Approach

3. How to get an invite ...
If you're in a guild, your mates will show you how to sign-up and when and where to go etc. easy-peasy.  But even if you have to look outside a guild for T1 activity, this is relatively straightforward.  In the general , global or LFG chat channel-windows be vigilant for open calls for raid groups (often called PUGs - short for 'Pick-up Groups').  The calls will keep appearing repeatedly with a running tally of the required classes being posted every so often.  

A generic raid will often recruit two characters of each class:

[General][Murddock]: YAKH PUG needs 2DT, 2RANG, 1CONQ, 0SIN, 1GRD, 1DEMO, 1NEC, 0BARB, 2HOX, 0POM, 0TOS, 1BS.

Send a brief /tell to the player posting the call such as, ' 1BS for Yakh ' and if you don't get an invite within 20 seconds, don't get exasperated.  Give the organizer another 40-50 seconds and resend your /tell.  The RL might just be contending with several windows looking for interest from guildies, friends' list pals, and global.  Your /tell may simply have scrolled up out-of-sight and disappeared in a flurry of IRC text.  Similarly, if you don't get actually an invite on your first foray, don't be irked.  Just keep your eyes peeled another raid will materialize in time.  My rule of thumb is if I really want to join a PUG, I'd send my /tell ASAP.  But occasionally, I do hang back to determine whether the raid will actually fill.  It's a gamble, cz we conqs are a dime a dozen on global.

4. Have Realistic Expectations

One thing that held me back from raiding in my first year of the game was the belief that I had to be a hard-core ueber-powered player to do raids.  That's not at all the case ...

a) You’re not the ‘worst player ever'.  Don't assume it's skill or experience that are the key things in a raid.  The AoC raids are designed to scale with ability: so if you're in a raid with a lot of new players, you may have to work at it collectively.  But if you're there with a some seasoned folks, success can be smoother.  It there is a 'worst' player; it the one who ruins the fun, or rage quits, or ninjas loot (a player who rolls on loot inappropriately, wins, and then leaves).

b) Likewise, you’re not the star.  If you solo frequently, it's easy to slip into the solipsistic head-space, that the success or failure of reaching a raid objective is wholly dependent on you.  This is an even easier assumption, if you're the main tank or if your class has a key roll in a mechanic.  There's really no 'star' ... not even the RL. The team collaboration is the 'featured attraction'.    

c) You’re not there to get the best instant loot.  I think I had done 6 raids before I actually won a roll for something really tasty.  If you go to a raid expecting a tier weapon or armor, you're probably gonna be disappointed.  AoC's raids will nonetheless provide you with tokens that can be collected and eventually spent at the armory for epic loot.  So every outing, will be worth the effort.  Be sure to learn the raiding loot rules.  Some guilds employ 'DKP' which boils down to rewarding players on a hierarchical basis, rather than the more democratic Need/Greed/Pass system.  Murd's only seen DKP used when a guild's team is learning a new and elite instance.  There's a fair bit of time and fail-stress required for mastering an elite raid, so it's natural that they'd want to build a core team with the right gear.  Also, in some raids, special rare crafting materials drop.  These Shards of the Exiled God are used for crafting higher tier items.  They'll sell for a nice chunk at the trader.  It's common for the first shard to go to the RL.  That's not someone being greedy, it's pretty much customary.

d) You might meet a few jerks but there'll be more pals to enhance the experience.  In my first raid ever, a guildie (named Dantheman) encouraged me to join (even though I emphasized that I was a newbie greenhorn screw-up).  And yeah, I did all the newbie dork-nik things.  Yeah, I ran straight at Yakhmar just to get a better view ... and activated the encounter.  Folks were pissed but most were good about it and some chuckled, as we all died, rezzed and re-formed positions in the ensuing 7-10 minutes.  On the other hand, there was one f**kwad: no doubt, a greasy troglodyte with self-esteem issues, poor hygiene, and a bench-warrant for outstanding fines from his incessant traffic violations.  This coprophile  decided to send me an abundance of abusive /tells to let me know that he was the more experienced player: yes, a troll.  Now, I can take trash talk and I own up to my shortcomings, but this dude was in it for the sheer joy of being a dick.  He made that first raid memorable for the wrong reasons.  Anyhow good ol' Dantheman instructed me to /ignore him in chat and at least I wasn't distracted by his grief.  Even other players, told him to cut it out.  But ya know what?  That shit-sauce turd-muncher was the only full-on psycho-troll I've ever encountered when raiding.  99.99999% of the time often you'll meet great folks who are decent, fun-loving, and keep the whole MMO pastime in perspective.  But just so's ya know ... IMHO a self-respecting RL really should eject an aggressive troll, even if he/she's the most skilled player in the raid. Trolls don't make PUG raids go any smoother and folks may even leave at the out set, if they recognize the name of a school-yard bozo who's there just to act out and waste time.  

Before long you'll relish the ebb and flow of challenges and jokes that make raiding a hoot.

5. Learning Tactics helps

There are too many nuances to describe every encounter here.  Each raid instance has a series of objectives to be overcome.  They generally lead up to killing one boss or two bosses simultaneously. 

For newbies, here's a Coles Notes version of the AoC's simplest beginner raid, Yakhmar's Cave, in which the raiders are usually divided into two squads:
  1. The first squad (consisting of two groups) will be assigned go to the boss, Yakhmar a huge ice worm, where tanks will be expected aggro him and after a minute the others will ramp up their Damage Per Second (DPS) to wear him down. 
  2. The RL will remind everyone not to use any attacks or buffs that do fire based damage on the boss.  The HoXes all start griping.
  3. Meanwhile, the second squad (the 2 remaining groups) will assemble a short but specific distance away just out of the boss's range.
  4. Off-tanks in the second squad (cf. Conqs and DTs or possibly a Guardian) will form a line facing the boss, the rest stand even a little further back. 
  5. When everyone is in place, the RL will give the command to go and the first squad to move on Yakhmar, who will defend himself with various buff and abilities.  The main tank(s) will position Yakhmar for the best results. The second squad will wait ... until ...
  6. Periodically, five or so smaller ice worms will emerge near the boss to attack the first squad who are doing the DPS.
  7. The off-tanks run in and each irritates (to get aggro) one of these worms (such enemies are called 'adds' short for 'additionals') and then the off-tanks lead them away from the DPS squad back to the second squad, where all try to kill the small worms ASAP.
  8. If these smaller worms are not drawn away and killed quickly, they will head for the DPS squad and overwhelm them.
  9. This cycle DPS and drawing off adds will be repeated 3-4 times until the Yakhmar is dead.
  10. If you die, you may either lie there or opt to be resurrected (a.k.a. 'released') at the pad outside by the hunting lodge. Be sure to follow the RL's instructions.  (If you're rezzed or you self-rez too close to the boss, after he's re-set; you'll trigger the raid prematurely).
  11. At the end, all the dead are rezzed or re-admitted, only then is the loot box opened by the RL and the rewards distributed. (If you have the "The Great Ordeal" quest you may be told to get one of the "furs")
  12. Accept the automatic rewards you received, these will go to your  gear inventory (where you can click them to send them to the appropriate token inventory).  Then roll 'Need' 'Greed' or 'Pass' as instructed by the RL's loot rules.  Generally you should pass on gear that's not for your class ... some weapons can be used (to lesser effect) by classes for whom they weren't designed specifically.  So pay attention ... when in doubt 'Pass'.  
  13. Nobody likes a Ninja looter; so if by chance, you genuinely get an item you weren't supposed to roll on ... /tell the RL ASAP and apologize once or twice (but not excessively) and wait for them to get a GM to sort it out.  This is a royal pain in the anus and can take time ... but if you want to be an ethical newbie, you'll stick around and do the right thing.
  14. Before you leave the raid group, it's good form thank the RL or her/his guild.  

Some are simple burn-downs but most are a bit more complicated.  Suffice it to say, new players should try to learn each raid's tactics. 

a) Become familiar with the chat and raid interfaces.  When you accept a invitation to join a raid a window will appear that lists you and all the other player-characters who are going to participate and who've also accepted an invitation.  You can use you game options menu to set this window to display complex or simple info on each other players.  You'll note that if you click on another player's name in the menu, the name-tag over the character's head will become more obvious ... this is helpful, particularly if say you have to resurrect or heal a specific player.  (e.g. Murd, as a conq, will inevitably be called to use a in-battle rez; finding the team-mate quickly is crucial)  You can also use this interface to check what buffs other characters are adopting.  Additionally, you should navigate through the chat menu options and set your chat window to display as "raid" (Note: you'll only see "raid" as a menu choice if you're actually in a raid.)  Chat is used to confer with individual team mates to coordinate actions.  It's quite fine to ask another player of the same class, for pointers.

Typical Raid Specific UI elements: Note that players are clustered into 4 distinct groups

b) Identify key player-characters.  Sometimes you'll have to be aware of the other player's jobs.  Rezzing, healing, and swapping aggro often require this.  Become familiar with character names and note the role-symbol on the raid UI (note: these don't exactly show class as much as roles: Tank, Off-tank, Healer, Ranged, DPS, Pet users etc. ... yellow star-symbols indicate each group's local leader).  In some encounters, a specific class or role will be a lynch-pin job.  While often this is tanking, it can be just as likely to be some other class.  If you have a selection of characters, you may want to try them to see which roles you're comfortable with.  Personally, main tanking has never been Murd's thing, but it is a lot of fun to be off to the side doing something in a trusty supporting role.  If a role is new, try it and learn its quirks.  If it's not working for you, responsibly suggest another player do it. Observe them, if possible, and try it again next time.  Trial and error are a chief mechanism in learning, after all.

c) Listen and ask questions.  It's the RL's job to intuit how you'll best be able to contribute.  If he or she assumes you know too much, ask for clarity on Voice Coms or, if you prefer, quietly via through a /tell or two.  Some players have special mods that will allow them to post tactics or loot item-name lists for extra help.

A 'Sin takes a stance in Kyllikki's Crypt.

A final caveat.  Just as you're a novice raider; some RL's are learning their skill-set too.  If they're having trouble, be patient and supportive: you'll make more in-game friends like that.

Always bear in mind that AoC is a game! It should be fun and involve facing, understanding, and overcoming challenges.  So if solo or small casual grouping open-world play is getting a bit repetitive, take a couple of days and do some prep and make your first few T1 raids productive and engaging.

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