Just a shadow you’re seein’ that he’s chasing

Phase 1 of my cutting down on WoW started yesterday as STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl turned up in the post. I haven’t played an FPS for a long time, and fancied a bit of blasting away with assorted ordnance, so got that installed, then thought I’d just check the auction house in WoW before heading off to The Zone. While checking auctions, a couple of friends were around, so I thought I might as well see if they fancied a quick instance or something… and somehow found myself leading an adventure-hungry group.

My leadership style is perhaps best described as “bold indecision” (only not really so bold).
“Where shall we go?”
“I don’t mind”
“Me neither”
(repeat for a while)
Eventually I figured, seeing as I could do with the first part of the Karazhan key (even if I’m unlikely to actually go there, it’d be nice to have the key just in case), we should try the Shadow Labyrinth, and nobody shouted “NOOOOOO!” so off we headed, a Mage, Priest, 2 Druids (one feral, one oomkin) and me the Rogue, to confront… whatever it is that hangs around in the Shadow Labyrinth. Shadowy Geoff and his cohorts, probably.

Once inside came the other burden of leadership: painting targets (using the raid target symbols to indicate who to attack, sheep, sap etc.) It’s not always necessary, especially if you have a particularly experienced or tight-knit group, but I find it really helps, especially in groups that haven’t played together before. It took me a little while, but I think I got the hang of it; the main thing I found was to not spend an age agonising over who should do what to whom (as it were), just make sure everyone knows what you mean by the symbols (say “sap sun, sheep diamond, kill skull”, or whatever), and slap ’em on. The first couple of encounters I’d be trying to weigh up the pros and cons of sheeping an Acolyte and sapping a Cultist versus sapping the Priest and sheeping the Cultist versus a heavy pamphletting campaign against the Zealot combined with sonically disorienting the Warlock by playing Weather Report at him, but it’s no good having perfectly designated targets if your party dozed off in the meantime, and your Well Fed buff expires after two fights. Generally, you’ll want to be controlling high armour/hitpoint tank-types while eliminating low armour/hitpoint caster/healer types, but so long as people aren’t hitting sheep/sapped targets, that’s the main thing.

Speaking of sapped targets, these high level instances make me really glad I took the Improved Sap talent. I was always loathe to spend points in the Subtlety tree which could’ve otherwise gone on Poking People With Sharpened Implements talents, but with one sapped target and one polymorphed sheep wandering around going “baa”, groups of four were a breeze to deal with, and groups of five and six were manageable, rather than “AAAAAAAHHHH! I’M COVERED IN MOBS!” Not that everything went totally smoothly, of course, where’s the fun in that? The odd parried sap or eagle-eyed mob gave us a couple of good old “oops!” pulls, and some particularly annoying fear-inducing demons caused us to wipe at one point, but by and large we cleared the trash rather well.

The bosses were fun, and mostly offered slightly more interesting fights than standing in the same place for ten minutes spamming attacks (look away now if you don’t want to know anything about the place, though we’re hardly talking detailed walk-through…) The first, Ambassador Hellmaw, was pretty straightforward; keep away from the acid spray, and play the Benny Hill theme tune now and again when he Fears. The second, Blackheart the Inciter, you might have heard of for his particularly fun ability: mass mind control. Periodically, he’ll cast a spell causing the party to attack each other for 15 seconds. This is either a bit of a laugh, especially if on voice comms, or (according to the forums) an outrage that shouldn’t be allowed. When we got controlled, I’d end up in a fight with the tanking druid, which wasn’t too bad (our defences being reasonably matched to each others damage), and whatever the rest of the group ended up doing, it wasn’t serious enough to kill anyone (I’m not sure if that’s a damning indictment, that we couldn’t even manage to kill our own priest). For the third boss, Grandmaster Vorpil, voidwalkers periodically spawn around the room and head for Vorpil; if they reach him, they heal him, which is obviously a Bad Thing(tm). The spawn rate of the voidwalkers gets faster as the fight goes on, so it was a particularly inopportune time for my internet connection to start playing silly buggers, causing us to wipe. Ah well; once properly reconnected, we took him down without a problem. Finally, there’s Murmur (not Shadowy Geoff as I predicted, sadly). The most fun with Murmur was clearing the mobs around him; the tank was checking what to pull, and I initially suggested “Run into the middle of the room and shout ‘come on, I’ll take you all on!'”. The mage, who’d been there before, explained about the lines, mobs moving between lines, when to pull etc., and off we went… Nobody’s entirely sure what happened then, possibly a rogue Mage or Priest spell pulled a few more mobs than intended… and over the course of the chaotic fight, the Priest had to use fear a couple of times to stay alive, causing mobs to run back into the main room bringing yet more mobs out with them… somehow, though, we survived, and had indeed cleared all but one group of mobs, so I think my original strategy had some merit after all. Murmur himself was pretty nasty, causing another wipe when the Priest was hit with the Touch of Murmur at a particularly bad time and his Sonic Boom did for me (I’m *sure* I was outside the circle that it’s supposed to affect), but we got him down on the second attempt, I grabbed the first key fragment for Karazhan, and home for tea and biscuits.

So, all in all, a nice run, but (and you knew there was going to be a “but” coming, didn’t you)… the loot once again somewhat took the gloss off it. There were the usual few assorted greens, couple of blue gems in chests, but from the bosses… One druid got the Idol of the Emerald Queen then the Broach of Hightened Potential from the first two, so a good start. Then Grandmaster Vorpil… he can drop: the Blackout Truncheon (a lovely offhand weapon for me), the Jewel of Charismatic Mystique (a threat-reducing trinket, handy for DPS-types), the Wrathfire Hand-Cannon (a gun which would be slightly wasted on our group, but I could’ve used it at least) or the Hallowed Pauldrons, part of the priest’s Dungeon 3 set. Did he drop any of these? No. He dropped the Breastplate of Many Graces, a piece of plate armour totally useless to any of us, but absolutely perfect for the Paladin alt of the feral Druid. Then off to Murmur, and does *he* drop a nice Dungeon 3 piece one of us can use? Don’t be daft, it’s a Tidefury Kilt.

In some ways, rewards have come on in leaps and bounds in the Burning Crusade with many things available via token turn-in (to name a few: Halaa battle and research tokens for PvP/general killing in Nagrand; Spirit Shards from Auchindoun bosses (if your faction controls the zone); Badges of Justice from bosses in Heroic versions of instances; cross-class tokens for Tier 4 armour (with multiple sets available for some classes for different roles)). So why, *why* is the Dungeon 3 set still on the “11% drop from boss X” system that sends me into such paroxysms of furious rage? I was under the impression that the Dungeon sets of armour were aimed at the more casual player, in which case surely they should be prime candidates for one of the token systems? Are five-man dungeons not the absolute worst possible place for a boss to drop a piece of any of the nine sets, where (at best) there’s a 4 in 9 chance it won’t be any use to the party? At the very least, the Tier 4 token system would increase the chance that *someone* could take the token and make use of it (while increasing the chance of fights over who should get it, maybe, but such is life). Better still, non-heroic equivalents of the Badges of Justice in level 70 instances would, to my mind, be the perfect way of getting the Dungeon 3 set. I’m not saying I want a full Dungeon 3 set after a couple of hours strolling through one instance; say, have each boss drop one token, and have pieces of armour cost around five tokens, or (probably better to avoid first-boss-farming) just have the final boss drop a token, and have pieces of armour cost one or two tokens. That way everyone gets *something* for finishing an instance, and you can pick up a set of armour by running a load of different instances, rather than the same sodding one over and over and over and over and over again because that 11% drop just isn’t happening… Maybe that would be too easy for the current Dungeon 3 sets, but even if it’s a new “Dungeon 2.5” set, or a random selection of other items you could turn in the tokens for, or… just anything! Anything apart from getting to the end of another instance and seeing a piece of Dungeon 3 armour for a class not in the group drop.