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Helping Out

Posted by Malevica on August - 17 - 2010

Moonra, the Resto Dude, recently proposed as the BA Shared Topic the question of how to assist or protect your team mates, to the benefit of everyone. This is an excellent topic, and in answering the question I decided to follow the “What healers want the rest of the raid to know”/”What the rest of the raid wants healers to know” format as used on WowWiki.

What healers want the rest of the raid to know

  1. We can see your health – Yes, really. If I had a copper for every time someone asked for a heal, I’d be gold capped by now. Well, maybe not quite, but the point is that if you’re not getting a heal, it’s unlikely to be because we don’t know it’s needed; it’s much more likely to be because someone else is lower than you or taking more damage than you now, because we’re moving or debuffed, or just because we’re doing something else.
    What’s more, calling for a heal, especially on Vent, just adds to our processing load and will (albeit slightly) further delay your heal.
    While we’re at it, let me get it on record that I can also see when you’re dead (chances are I’m kicking myself about it) so if you proceed to ask me for a res, rest assured you’ll be the last person to get one.
  2. Replenishment is not optional – Theorycrafting and gear choices are all based on the assumption of 100% Replenishment uptime, and we all gem for Intellect because it’s our best mana regeneration stat. Blizzard have even stated that they balance encounters and gear around having replenishment in raids. So if there’s not at least 1 replenishment in a 10-man raid, or 2 in a 25-man raid, and you can provide it then please consider doing so, even if it’s a personal DPS loss (Shadow Priests who refuse to Mind Blast, I’m looking at you…). Let us know about your sacrifice and we’ll thank you for it.
  3. We won’t be able to heal through stupid forever – There’s an interesting argument that crops up now and again. The premise is that DPS is uncapped, that is to say that more DPS is always better. Therefore if a healer has a spare GCD, they should be using it to protect a DPS player, allowing them to ignore environmental effects which might otherwise require them to move, lowering their DPS.
    I don’t like people trotting out this argument very much because it assumes that healing resources are unlimited and that unused GCDs are ‘wasted’ time. This might be true at the moment in a lot of the raiding content, either because you have ‘too many’ healers or too much mana regeneration, but it isn’t on hard modes and shouldn’t be in Cataclysm, if Blizzard don’t disappoint me.
  4. The reason you died is usually not “I didn’t get a heal”, and the solution is usually not to add another healer – Of course, sometimes this is the reason you died, and sometimes you do need more healers, but usually the answer to both is “I took too much damage”.
    Encounters, particularly on normal mode, are not balanced around an assumption that your healing team changes by more than one, if at all, over the course of a raid. If six healers is sufficient for the rest of the encounters, then six should be able to handle this one just fine as well. Look around at the damage being taken and where you can reduce it, before changing the team around.
  5. Healers aren’t omniscient, tell us things!Aunna mentioned this in his response (points 2 and 7), and he got it spot on: if you need an Innervate, Salv, Mana Tide or Hymn of Hope then ask for it. If you’re blowing your tanking cooldowns, make a macro to tell us about it, and if you need a cooldown and haven’t got one available, ask for it. If you’re going to swap tanks, give us a 3, 2, 1 so we can get Grace, various Shields and other buffs on you in advance. We’re concentrating on a lot of things, and we can’t guarantee we’ll always remember everything.
  6. Buffing is everyone’s job – I don’t begrudge the cost of Devout Candles to buff the raid, I’m talking more about rebuffing in combat. During a fight, if someone Soulstones or gets Rebirthed, locating them and rebuffing them takes valuable global cooldowns. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this as a Priest with three buffs, but I really appreciate DPS taking the time to throw a Fort/Spirit on the newly-resurrected player so I can concentrate on healing them up instead.
  7. Cleansing is everyone’s job – Especially in 10-man raids, it’s entirely possible that one dispel type is being covered by one or no healers, so always make sure you’ve got raidframes up that can show dispellable debuffs, and if things aren’t being cleansed quickly enough, help out.
    Sometimes cleansing can be more powerful than healing (there are some DoTs in Cataclysm instances which tick for 4,000 per second, compared to an 8k Heal; in this case, a Dispel is by far the best choice).
  8. Meters aren’t everything – (Disclaimer: I know that DPS meters are far from the whole story for DPS as well, but they tend to be more relevant than healing meters for healers). Healers work by assignment, and work in very different ways.
    A healer with low healing might still have been playing an important role, might have been dispelling, maintaining a steady stream on the tank(s), or might have been saving their mana and cooldowns for a different phase. Professor Putricide and heroic Anub’Arak are classic examples of fights where some of the healers may have dismal eHPS for most of the fight because there’s simply very little to heal until the final Phase.
    And if you’re complaining about Disc Priests and not showing absorbs in your meters, go get Skada or RecountGuessedAbsorbs this instant!
  9. Your pet is your problem – Hunters, Death Knights and Warlocks are balanced around supporting their pets, should they take damage in combat, so healers shouldn’t need to heal them except in certain exceptional cases (a Warlock tanking Prince Keleseth comes to mind). We may choose to do so, if we have spare GCDs, in order to help your DPS, but you shouldn’t be relying on it. See point 3.
  10. If we have to run, so do you – Ah, the perennial favourite. If we wipe and I release and run back in, I fully expect you to do the same unless I say otherwise. Not much is more likely to make my blood boil than knowing that while I spent my time on the corpse run you were off getting a drink, feeding the cat, having a smoke, taking the rubbish out, or any other miscellaneous task.
    It’s just disrespectful to assume that my time is less valuable than yours. I’m afraid the passive-aggressive side of me comes out at those moments and you’ll find yourself staying dead until you at least show willing and release (at which point I’ll probably res you, just to speed things along).

What the rest of the raid wants healers to know

  1. Some damage is unavoidable – While usually there’s room to shrink down the amount of damage the raid’s taking, some raid damage is inevitable – that’s why we have raid healers, after all. Be realistic and always consider whether someone’s death was truly their fault for taking damage, or if they did in fact just slip through the cracks.
  2. DPS is not “faceroll” – Sure, no one’s arguing that healing’s not mentally demanding and often thankless, but DPS can have plenty to concentrate on as well: focusing on the right target, spotting new adds spawning, maintaining a sometimes complicated priority rotation, keeping DPS high while moving, and so on. Don’t assume that a DPS standing in the fire is being a “moron”, we might just have other things on their plate demanding their attention.
    While we’re on the subject, we agree that healing is a difficult job, but that still doesn’t qualify you to tell us how to do our job, even if you do sometimes spec Elemental, Enhancement, Shadow, Feral, Balance or Retribution at the weekends.
  3. If we can help you out, tell us how! – It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, as they say. There’s no sense sitting in the healer channel complaining about the DPS being all spread out if you’ve not taken the time to ask us to group up so your chain heal bounces properly. A lot of fights require >12 yard separation so spreading out is probably the safer default choice, and if we’re not dying, why would we change?
    Likewise, if there’s a tricky healing phase coming up, for example one of the healers is currently an ice block while another has Unchained Magic, mention this on Vent so your DPS and tanks know we’re on our own for a while.
  4. Power Infusion is delicious – This is a bit of a Priesty one, sorry! I’ll admit I’ve not theorycrafted this much, but my two favourite targets for PI are Fire Mages and Moonkins under Lunar Eclipse (hasted crit-boosted Starfires are made of pure win). I gave up on Arcane mages, despite how useful the mana cost reduction might have been, after the umpteenth error message because their own haste proc had gone off.
    Pro-tip: PI doesn’t stack with Bloodlust (the haste bit anyway, the mana cost reduction still works), so check when BL is due in this fight so you don’t waste it.
  5. CCing can be dangerous – CCing mobs, which is usually the job of ranged DPS, is not without its risks and difficulties, and healers can help us by being aware of those tasked with CC, healing us if we take damage (from the mobs directly or from having to move into more dangerous territory) and using other tricks to help out:
    • Priests can use PW:S on casters to help us get a cast off even if our target is making trouble, and this goes double if we happen to be using a Succubus for your CC (remember those days? They’re coming back!). Hunters kiting mobs over traps might find a Body and Soul useful too.
    • Shaman can use their Earth Shield to prevent spell pushback as well, or use an Earthbind Totem to hold mobs in place long enough for CC to be (re-)applied.
    • Paladins can use their Hammer of Justice on a loose mob before it can get to its CCer, or just taunt it for a moment – you’re likely to be tougher than a clothie.
    • Druids can use Entangling Roots to protect a CCer, or if you’re a Tauren you can use your War Stomp to stun them for a moment.

  6. If you get aggro, don’t run away – You know how annoying it is when you can’t heal someone because they’re out of range or line of sight? This is the tank’s equivalent. Healers have a 40 yard range, and like to stand as far away as possible, while a tank’s taunt only has a 30 yard range.
    As natural as it is to run away from the big angry dragon/skeleton/zombie/ooze/whatever that’s chasing you, if you do then the tank will be unable to reach you to get it back without moving, and a great many encounters punish tanks for moving by Flame Breathing the raid. It takes a lot of discipline and practice, but it is possible to train yourself out of this habit.


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Categories: Advice and Strategy

Working Together

Posted by Malevica on July - 16 - 2010

In my recent post about letting people die I talked about working with other healers as a part of the mental prioritisation process we go through.
In the comments, Everblue pointed out that having a healing team with mutual trust, knowledge of each other’s role, and enough awareness to cover for each other without overhealing is the “holy grail of raid leading”, and wondered how to create that understanding.

Well, I can’t claim to have all the answers by a long stretch, and I don’t even think I’m part of such a team at the moment, but I’ve felt something closer to it in the past. So, here’s some thoughts from me for raid leaders or guild leaders looking to build a more cohesive healing team.

I should say that, while I don’t think you can necessarily create situational awareness, you can engender an interest and cooperation between team-mates which will get you a long way towards the ideal as described by Everblue.

It would also be great to read what other people think on this subject.

Communicate

Back to basics, but if you want a strong team you need to create an atmosphere of communication and information flow. So if you don’t have one already create a healers-only channel and invite your healers into it, and if your guild is one which uses forums try and get some role-specific forums created as well.

The healing channel

The purpose of the channel is two-fold: firstly you can use it to set up and discuss assignments, so everyone knows what’s going on. If it’s in a separate channel people can pull it out into a separate chat frame to keep it prominent, or give it a different colour to help prevent it getting lost in the rest of raid chat.
The second purpose of the channel is to allow discussion of how that last attempt went, if someone is feeling overstretched on the one hand or even underworked on the other, then the assignments can be tweaked, for example.

Here’s the first big tip I’ll give: keep the channel for healers only and don’t allow intrusions. There’s nothing will get people’s backs up like being told what to do by a non-healer.
I know how tempting it is as a raid leader to try and eavesdrop on every role channel, and that’s not incompatible with this idea, but if you want a properly free and frank discussion you will have to take a back seat. Every time you make a comment, you remind people you’re there, and this might not be the best way to promote discussion.
Healers in particular can be quite sensitive types, and actually it can be quite a big step to admit you need help with something, so don’t be an overbearing raid leader.

If you’re the raid leader and a healer as well, you’ll definitely need to be in the channel, but try and keep your involvement to a minimum. Ideas from authority figures, even in a game context, are harder to argue with. On the whole though I think a healer raid leader actually has a head start, because you’ll understand what motivates the healers, which can help with trust.

However, the healing team will need to communicate with the rest of the raid from time to time, which is where suggestion number two comes in: consider nominating a “healing lead”. Now I know some guilds don’t like the idea of the extra layer of hierarchy that class or role leads provides, and I’m not talking about another guild rank, just a sort of spokesperson who can liaise with the raid leader or other role leaders to pass information around. This lets everyone’s voice be heard, without needing to stick their neck out personally if they don’t feel confident.

It might be a regular, well-liked healer, it might be the theorycrafting nut, it might be the chatty one, but someone will most likely fall into this role. Let the healers choose their “champion” rather than it automatically be the officer who happens to be a healer.
Perhaps the healing lead could set up the assignments too. It’s always better to be assigned by someone who knows you better as an individual.

Healing forums

Just as the in-game chat channels are great for discussing the immediate events during a raid, forums can be a place for more distilled reflections on assignments, roles and strategies.

As an officer or raid leader, you could perhaps try seeding discussions by posting template healing assignments for the fights you’re currently working on, and asking for suggestions. Or perhaps asking questions relevant to a healing alt, which can spark discussions. Some of the best class discussions I’ve seen have come from this sort of start, and the key here is to get people posting and building up their confidence.

You could go both ways on making the role forums private to the roles in question or open to the guild, but I’d probably suggest keeping them open, to allow the discussion to be a bit more open and to keep the discussions useful as a resource for everyone’s reference. Questions from non-healers on the forums are less likely to provoke negative or defensive reactions on forums compared to in the heat of a progression night.

Clearly, the success of this one will depend strongly on how active your members are on the forums, so exercise some judgement on this one.

Final point here: if you’re the raid leader or an officer, be sure to publicly notice and appreciate the discussions that take place. To take criticism is to expose a little vulnerability, so some positive feedback will be invaluable; just don’t go so far as to be patronising, people can spot insincerity a mile away.

Don’t blame

I touched on this one earlier when I advised keeping non-healers out of the healing channel, but I want to return to it because it’s so important: don’t refer to healing meters and don’t point fingers at individuals.

First and foremost, healing is a team effort. Someone has to be bottom of the meters, and who that is is likely to depend strongly on the fight and the team composition. Not to mention the fact that healers make many more valid contributions than just their healing output: dispels, buffs, defensive cooldowns, and more.

Linking meters fails to capture the full contribution of individual healers, and can risk characterising your healing team as a set of individuals instead of a single team. Friendly competition is one thing (I used to compete with a fellow priest to get the lowest overheal, back in SSC when it mattered) but generally healer competition is counter-productive, so any signs of it should be strongly discouraged.

But what if something actually went wrong? The tank died, for example. Surely it’s the tank healers’ fault? Maybe.

Maybe the fault is with the assignments and not enough people were assigned to tank healing. In which case the tank healers may have done their jobs perfectly well but not been able to keep up anyway.

Maybe someone just made a mistake. Nine times out of ten they know about it already. It happens from time to time, you pick the wrong person or the wrong spell, you’re on GCD just as the Impale is landing, whatever. For healers the feedback tends to be immediate and very visible, so pointing it out publicly serves no real purpose, and is quite likely to just knock the confidence of the healer in question.

Or maybe the tank should have used a cooldown, or called for one, and actually it’s their “fault”.

In any case, the point is that generally healers know when something didn’t go right, and pointing it out doesn’t really help. It’s far better to ask them collectively what went wrong and get a discussion going. If people feel safe in their environment, preferably that private channel, then they should (eventually) be able to admit they messed something up, or ask for extra help on a target, or even request a different assignment to make them feel more comfortable.
This will become a recurring theme, but early on people may be reluctant to answer these questions immediately, so take one for the team. Point out where you can see a way for you to improve (yes, there will be something, unless you’re in Paragon, and probably even then) and volunteer that. Model the behaviour and show that you’re comfortable trusting them, and in time that trust will be returned.

The other aspect of this “post mortem” is to focus less on what went wrong, and more on what will be done about it in order to win next time. Keep the discussion focused less on who failed and more on what’s needed. For example, if we’re analysing our tank death, move the discussion quickly on from “not enough healing” to thinking about assigning an extra healer or asking tanks for cooldowns.

Take an interest

You can set up the environment all you like, but if you want to get your healers working together, you need to generate some rapport as well. This might be something you do as a raid leader/officer, or you might leave it to the healing lead. I’d suggest a bit of both: if your raiders feel you care about them as individuals, they’re more likely to believe you’ll listen to them and actually value their contributions.

At this point I’ll link out to a post by Tamarind about the culture of “my door’s always open!” and why you need to go a bit further than that in reality. There’s some good nuggets in that post for anyone trying to foster a more open atmosphere.

The short version is that if you want to know something, just ask the question, don’t automatically expect people will volunteer it. And as I’ve mentioned above, if you’re asking people to lower their guard, be prepared to lower yours first.

In raids, ask how people found that assignment. Ask them what they prefer to do. Outside raids, ask them how they’re doing, and take an interest in them as a person. And again, share your own personality, preferences and your shortcomings. This is sound advice for a leader in any capacity, but if you’re actively trying to get people out of their shells and feeling comfortable, you need to make a special effort.

All in all, your healing team needs a level of mutual respect, which can only arise when the person behind the character feels valued and feels that they know something about their colleagues as well. It needs to be truly a two-way street.

Encourage criticism

This is probably best left for a later stage, because opening with this might put people on the defensive and could well be a backwards step. But once you’ve got your healers to a point where they’ve got a safe space and they’re talking to each other and communicating to the raid as a whole, and there’s no undue blame coming their way, you might be at the point where they can begin to criticise each other, constructively and gently, but always by consent.

I know everyone says on their guild apps that they appreciate constructive criticism, but not everyone is quite as ready for it as others. So perhaps put yourself on the line first. People will probably be hesitant to criticise you, and might become defensive if you criticise them, but nothing’s stopping you criticising yourself, laying yourself (metaphorically) bare and modelling how feedback can be constructive and positively-phrased.

Or you could try another approach and post links to blog posts, forum threads and or other information sources, noting how they’ve helped you to improve some aspect of your play. This also allows you to demonstrate that you’re not setting yourself up as knowing everything, that there’s always room for everyone to improve, and it also lets you provide convenient links that people might follow, rather than needing to start their own research from scratch (there’s a lot of WoW information out there, it can be daunting!).

The other thing you might consider, which may or may not be a step too far, is routinely posting links to WoL parses for raids, and allowing discussions on that basis. You’ll usually have a few analytical types in your guild who will find it interesting to go through logs and pull out interesting statistics or find some pattern that you might not have noticed.
You’ll need to be very clear that any references to “beating” others on meters, general epeening or anything else non-constructive will be moderated (and actually follow up on this). You’ll probably get a bit of that, but when it’s routine people will get bored quickly.

The thing is, by publicising things like blogs or WoL parses, you’re making it easier for people to access real examples of others in their role or class, which can make them think and question for themselves. You don’t need to point everything out to people, they’re are always more likely to value and believe what they’ve discovered for themselves.

Once you’ve got to this point, you should (hopefully) have healers who are able to refine their own healing assignments, understand each other to some degree, and with discussions of playstyles beginning to emerge you can see how healers can then begin to predict each other’s actions in a raid situation.

Maintenance

So, you’ve herded all your healers into their own channel (and evicted the mischievous warlock that tried to sneak in, there’s always one), you might have got yourself a healing spokesperson; you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t care about the meters and you’re being very careful to ask the healers if they think they could improve the raid’s situation or how the raid could help them, or what they feel about the assignments and their role; you might have them constructively criticising themselves and others; and you’re taking an interest in them as people, respecting their contributions and personalities and with general respect all round.

What else is there?

Well, it all takes work. Keep plugging away at it, keep encouraging, prompting, supporting the positive behaviours, and moderating discussions if they drift in undesirable directions. And help new joiners to understand how things work and make them feel welcome and comfortable and as unthreatened as possible.

TL;DR

The key points I wanted to raise are the following:

  • Get your healers some safe space – a custom channel at least – and keep it for healers only
  • Allow people to speak their minds. Value their opinions, but keep your own out!
  • Avoid pointing fingers; instead, try asking what went wrong, what would help things go better
  • Find out about your healers’ personalities and preferences and actually value them
  • Always be honest and sincere. The best leaders can always find something genuinely positive to say, so don’t be tempted to fake it, people will tell and there goes your mutual respect
  • If the atmosphere is conducive to it, begin to encourage constructive criticism
  • Always model the behaviours you want to encourage. If you want people to analyse their own performance, hold your own up to examination first. If you want people to ask for help with assignments, let people know when you’re having difficulties as well.
  • Your work is never done, so keep up the encouragement and support

Hopefully some of these tips will be useful. Remember that this is only one perspective, and guilds and raiders are all unique and have their own quirks and preferences, so as with any advice you should adapt it to suit your situation and constantly evaluate it to see if it’s still relevant.



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Assigning Healers

Posted by Malevica on March - 23 - 2010

Something that’s varied a lot over the course of my raiding career, across a number of guilds, is the way the healing team is organised and healing resources are allocated on a fight-by-fight basis. This post will be a potted history of my healing experiences through TBC and WotLK, and a look at the broad approaches I’ve encountered.

My Experience

The early days

When I began healing 25-man raids properly in mid- to late-TBC the raid team was mostly decided by looking at who was online at the time and allowing for decent balance if we had too many healers on the night. At this time we took two priests along where we could with typically the newest, or lowest-geared, speccing 23/38/0 specifically for the Improved Divine Spirit buff. Holy Paladins at the time were highly sought-after because of their ability to heal essentially forever, while Druids would be juggling triple-stacked Lifeblooms on up to three tanks.

The raid leader, who was also the healing leader for a while, would assign healers carefully based on the fight. Typical assignments would call for a healer per tank, usually a Priest or Paladin, a Druid would roll HoTs on the tanks, while the Shaman and spare CoH Priests would be assigned to “raid heal”, spamming those AoE heals on anyone with a deficit.
Looking back on those days, it felt that you first covered your tanks, then made sure you had a Druid (it really mattered to have one, but usually no more), and then the raid healers made up the numbers.

Possibly because of the slower pace of the fights, and the importance of mana conservation at the gear levels we were raiding with (T4 with a smattering of T5), healers often cross-healed in support of other people, and we all knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses and preferences.

Early WotLK

Raiding Naxxramas was a strong crossover point between the more organised style, which was necessary for learning the encounters while healers were relatively underpowered (in terms of mana regeneration and throughput) and a less formal style of assignment once content was being overpowered and encounters were more familiar.
Having become raid and healing lead by this time I made it my business to understand my healers for their individual differences again, especially since, compared to TBC, the class balance made less difference than the players themselves.

With the addition of Beacon of Light a Paladin became more-or-less mandatory: when every encounter uses more than one tank the Paladin effectively becomes two tank healers for the price of one. Druids were able to shift away from constantly maintaining Lifebloom stacks and were able to devote a lot more time to raid healing through Rejuvenation and Wild Growth. Typical assignments would have a Paladin on the tanks, a Druid on the raid, and the other healers assigned as needed to meet the demands of the fights.

Ulduar

At this time I moved to another guild for a short time. This guild took a very different approach to raid composition, switching raiders in and out for individual fights depending on the fight and the needs of the characters for drops from the boss.
Healers were assigned to tanks or to positions in the room, and those not explicitly assigned were assigned to heal the raid. Logs were kept for all fights, this was when WowWebStats was not yet defunct, and used to check who was healing whom.

Unfortunately this guild did not last very long, and I joined a new guild in time for the end of Ulduar and the release of ToC.

ToC and ICC

In a strong contrast to the previous guild, the raid team is set a day in advance, although it may change if short-notice factors prevent everyone from being online for the raid. Unless someone goes LD for an extended period the team is the same for every fight on a given night, and generally there is no particular focus placed on aiming for a specific composition. The guild has 8 healers, all of whom are regular attenders, so there is a relatively high degree of continuity.

The typical culture in this guild is not to assign healers explicitly unless it becomes necessary for some reason. Generally healers have ‘default’ roles which we fulfil: Paladins divide the tanks between themselves and their Beacons, the Shaman Chain Heal through the mêlée, our Druid defaults to Rejuv-blanketing, the Holy Priest takes on the raid healing on the ranged and I tend to either assist with the tanks or bubble/spot-heal the raid, depending on the number of Paladins that night and the damage coming in. These are only broad roles and there is a lot of fluidity.

Specific fights may be assigned specific healers, once it has become clear that healing is the weak link. Some examples recently have been Heroic Northrend Beasts, Heroic Faction Champions and Sindragosa Phase 3.

Assignment Schemes

In my relatively short time healing raids, a mere two and a half years, I’ve seen a number of systems for assigning healers. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and different reasons for their use. Here’s my take on the general concepts.

Specific (Strict)

Typically this means that every person will be assigned a target or set of targets (maybe groups or roles (i.e. mêlée or ranged)) which they will be expected to heal almost exclusively. Excessive cross-healing is frowned upon because in theory the assignments have been designed to be close to optimal, and too much straying from the assignments could undermine that optimisation.

Except for quite specific fights where this is the obvious approach to choose, such as Heroic Anub’Arak, because several people need focused healing and the limitation is GCDs, this approach depends on the assigner having good information about the fight and the healers, and skill at setting up effective assignments. It also depends on the healers having trust in the assignments and not straying, as well as good feedback from the healing team to help refine the assignments quickly.

The advantages are generally higher accountability and higher predictability. If everyone has an assignment, then that gives a raid leader or healing leader a starting point for analysis of a death, whether the cause is healer distraction, insufficient healing assigned, excessive damage taken or the dreaded ‘RNG’ that person should be in a good position to understand the causes and offer advice.

Specific (Loose)

I distinguish this from the strict approach in the degree to which the healing plan is tuned in advance, and to which cross-healing is tolerated or encouraged. While a strict system might assign raid healers to specific groups or camps, the loose system will simply assign three or four raid healers and allow them freedom to cross-heal and play to their strengths. Alternatively this scheme might include four assigned healers and one or two ‘floating’ who can heal as they see fit.

This approach tends to work better when the damage is changeable or spiky, as the inclusion of floating healers, particularly if they are different classes or specs, allows for healing to be redistributed on the fly to react to a changing situation. It also transfers some of the mental load from the healing assigner to the healers, and can be more empowering for the healers, they may perceive a strict system as respecting their instincts less than a looser system.

The downside of this, compared to a stricter scheme is that typically the ‘base load’, the healing required throughout the fight, such as standard boss swings and raid auras, is only just covered, so there is still the potential for problems if the floating healing is not distributed correctly. This relies on the floats anticipating or reacting to each other’s healing output.

No Assignment

This sort of scheme works on the basis that your healers have default roles which they fall into automatically, and that they can and will cross-heal freely to ensure that heals go where they are most needed.
Generally this is not the chaos that might be imagined. Despite healing specs having been brought much closer together in WotLK compared to TBC, each spec still retains an area in which it specialises. Paladins are best-used on tanks, Shaman are well-suited to healing closely-grouped raiders, and so on. With a non-pathological raid composition and intelligent cross-healing this can be quite efficient for many fights.
This also allows healers to play to their own strengths, gravitate to the role they most enjoy playing, and values the healing corps for their ability to work as a team and react appropriately.

Note that under this scheme specific people can be assigned to specific tasks as needed, this is just the exception rather than the rule.

The downsides to this are a higher degree of unpredictability during a fight, and lower accountability for deaths.

During a fight the damage may shift from one tank to another, or the raid may take a large damage pulse, standard events in any fight. With a stricter assignment scheme there are players specifically assigned to patch these holes, while in a much looser scheme it is quite possible that everyone or no one will switch to patch these holes. What’s more there is an amplification effect which can occur where too many healers, including the tank healers, switch to heal up a large raid damage pulse, which can leave tanks abnormally low; as a consequence tanks may needlessly use cooldowns, and it may be that raid healers throw emergency heals onto the tanks, leaving the raid without heals. And so on.

When someone does die, what often happens is that every healer can point to the productive healing that they were doing, just not on the person who needed it at that moment. The raid as a whole has adequate healing available, there was simply a breakdown in coordination; this is often chalked up to bad luck or a one-off, and the wipe gets written off and nothing is learned.

Conclusions

Having healed under all three of these schemes, I have to throw my weight behind a Specific assignment scheme with a relatively small degree of floating. None of these schemes are perfect, but the accountability of a scheme with more explicit assignments appeals more to the raid leader in me.

The number of healing failures I’ve experienced in recent months due to incorrect assumptions about who is supposed to be healing whom has thoroughly disillusioned me of this way of doing things. I’ve played with a very cohesive healing team in the past, and know how it feels to be able to predict their play and cross-heal seamlessly, but whether it’s because of playstyle differences, or because of the pace of encounters and healing these days this approach just seems to be ineffective at the moment.

The bottom line though is that every healing team needs to find a way that works for them. There should be no stigma associated with using assignments, in fact it shows that the raid leader or healing leader cares and wants to understand their team. Finally a healer should not be afraid to ask for assignments if they seem to be needed, or offer to set them up if there is no natural healing lead.



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What Makes Healing Hard?

Posted by Malevica on March - 9 - 2010

A hot topic lately is the level of challenge in the game. In this post I will look at the factors that add challenge to healing, and ask if healing is challenging enough, and where the future lies for stretching healers as Cataclysm information trickles out.

Game Mechanics

The designers of classes and encounters have several different aspects of healing to work with to set the difficulty. Those this post will deal with specifically are: spell availability, reaction time, the need for triage, mana management and coordination.

Spell Availability

Consider a “standard” 25-man healing team of 6 people. You might aim to include one or two paladins, a disc priest and then at least one each of the other specs, ideally no more than two of each. This allows you to have a baseline level of cover for sustained tank damage, increase the general raid survivability, and then have a full range of spells to use against the various extra types of damage thrown out in the encounter, from raid-wide auras to targeted flame patches and everything in between.

Depending on your guild you may or may not choose adapt the healing team to the encounter; it seems sensible if you’re interested in min/maxing, although these days for most raid groups this isn’t necessary as long as your composition isn’t too pathological. I have happy memories of 2-healing Ulduar as a Disc Priest alongside a Holy Paladin, and adapting just fine.

Blizzard’s stated design is for most encounters to be accessible for a most healing teams, and they succeed to a large extent, but in my experience this is one thing that can dramatically increase the relative difficulty of 10-man compared to 25-man raiding. In the previously-mentioned Disc + Holy Paladin example we lacked the tools to handle raid-wide damage fights effectively, Kologarn being a good example. We managed, but a Holy Priest or Resto Druid would have laughed that off.

In a 5-man this problem is even more acute since the only spells available are those you bring with you. The contrast between Forgemaster Garfrost as a Holy Paladin and as a Resto Druid is quite simply day and night. The contrast of course reverses once the group moves beyond Ick and suddenly the tank is taking insane damage and I wish I had my spammable Holy Light back.

Has this philosophy of allowing a broader range of compositions to succeed detracted from the difficulty? I’d argue that it probably has not. What has changed is that the more extreme damage profiles which strongly favoured stacking one class or another have gone away, and classes have been strategically nerfed to remove over-reliance on single spells (CoH being the prime example).

I would not like to see a total removal of unusual damage profiles, because drawing healers outside their comfort zones is a huge positive. However the playerbase tends to react to this by insisting that Blizzard has “forced” some sort of odd composition upon them. This can be avoided to an extent by varying the healing requirements throughout the fight, much as Festergut does well in Icecrown.

Reaction Time

Unlike the spells, which are largely fixed as a function of the healers you have available, reaction time is a property of the individual healer. Healers are often called upon to respond to things like spike damage debuffs (Frost Blast, Penetrating Cold), Tank killers requiring cooldowns (Plasma Blast, Flame Breath), or to cover for each other (healers being taken by a Val’kyr, or just about anything on Sindragosa). Reaction time demands can be adjusted by designers to increase the difficulty of an encounter.

The reaction time of a given healer depends on a number of factors. First there’s their client-server latency; then once their client has the information there’s another delay while their UI digests that information and presents it to them; next comes the human response time while they notice the event, decide on an action and execute it; finally there is a second client-server latency while the server notices the action the player chose to take.

Having played on the Oceanic servers I can understand the impact of latency. My guild at the time was working through Karazhan but simply could not defeat Maiden because both of our main healers were running with ~1k ping and could not react to the Holy Fire in time.

As a raid leader or healing lead it is crucial to understand the reaction times of your healers when assigning them roles. Tank healers can often get away with worse latency than raid healers since the rotation and reactions are less demanding, although the players at the top of your external cooldown rotation should be those with quicker reactions.

My view is that this can be a great way to stretch your healers, as long as it is used relatively sparingly. I enjoy being called on to pay attention and it is a good way to distinguish myself as someone with
higher awareness. However obviously the game designers need to allow for a wide range of connections and not unduly penalise those with fairly high latency.

Triage and Throughput

Triage is the art of prioritising limited resources according to greatest need. This becomes relevant when throughput is inadequate to cover everyone, and there is a need for quick decision-making, as opposed to just quickly executing a pre-defined action.

Triage is definitely more of an art than a science: in practice the best triage healers draw on their experience of the damage profile of the fight, the individuals taking damage, and the habits of their fellow healers when making their decisions, reacting almost instinctively.

In Wrath triage has fallen by the wayside in many cases, a fact which has been acknowledged recently by Ghostcrawler when commenting that generally people are not left at low health for extended periods of time. This is as a result of large hits and large heals becoming commonplace, creating a situation where allowing people to be left to be healed to full over the duration of a mana-efficient HoT is a dangerous business.

Generally Wrath felt like it scaled too far: healing output and tank avoidance/mitigation scaled overly high, so boss damage was scaled to compensate, to the point where everyone ended up in real danger of being 2-shotted. I expect lessons have been learned though.

I’m extremely excited by the proposed changes for Cataclysm which will alter the ratio of heals to health pools. When the throughput the healing team is capable of doesn’t overwhelm the incoming damage by so much, the question of where that scarce healing is spent becomes much more important. Currently a 25-man Decimate can be recovered from fully in a couple of seconds with AoE heals, rather than having to prioritise the lowest members until you can get around to the rest. Contrast this to Naj’entus in the Black Temple, where it was a huge challenge to keep as many people as possible above 50% before the next bubble needed to be burst.

I’m looking forward to more orange health bars in Cataclysm. This is a valuable tool to increase the challenge of healing which should get more use.

Mana

In conjunction with the throughput-mandated triage described above, there is also mana-mandated triage: can you afford to use that AoE heal or should you heal only those people under 50%? Can they survive long enough for a HoT to be used instead?

When working through the more difficult heroics in my quest blues back in November 2008 I had significant mana issues. I just couldn’t heal the way I had been healing in TBC, so I had to be very careful with who and how I healed. Sometime during the Tier 7 content, and certainly by the time I was raiding Ulduar, I had all but lost the ability to go OOM unless I really worked at it. Clearly it is still possible to burn through an entire mana pool, but under normal conditions there is no compelling reason not to always be casting and to select efficiency over throughput.

Throughput requirements are inextricably linked to mana management: if healers go through phases with lower damage then efficient but slower heals regain their value, while in high-damage scenarios the pressure to use the quick, expensive heals overrides other concerns.
And when throughput or mana are at a premium there is also pressure to reduce overhealing to a bare minimum, another test of healer skill and coordination.

The trouble is that mana management is a difficult balance for class and encounter designers. Spell costs remain fixed over time, while regeneration from gear can more than double as an expansion progresses. Retaining the ability to run out of mana in Icecrown while not making Naxx unmanageable would be all but impossible without also changing the character of healing as the expansion progresses as well, requiring the more mana-profligate style that the acquired gear allows.

The challenge for the designers of future raids and for the class designers come Cataclysm then is to rein in mana regeneration or increase spell costs, and to better differentiate the efficient heals from the inefficient so there is a real choice to be made.

A lot has been posted on forums and blogs about whether mana management is “fun” or not. Personally I would state categorically that yes, it is fun. A mechanic which presents you with a decision to make adds to the interest of playing a healer. These sorts of decisions test your ability to appraise the global situation and predict how that will change, as opposed to the reaction-based mechanics that dominate current raiding.
After all, if you prefer to cast a standard rotation or spell for 5-10 minutes without regard to your blue bar, you’re essentially just DPSing in the opposite direction, without the interactions, procs and target switches which make DPS interesting.

Coordination

Much has been written about the healer rotations in Vanilla, where one group of healers would heal until they ran low on mana, at which point a second group would take over while the former stood around regenerating mana. Few people would argue for a return to this situation, but designing encounters with more coordination in mind would be a good way of challenging healing teams.

How many times have you joined a PuG and been given little or no direction about healing assignments, only to see tanks fall over shortly afterwards? The trouble is, more often than not this actually tends to Just Work. Paladins will gravitate towards tanks, Resto Druids will tend to rejuv-blanket (if it’s appropriate), Resto Shaman will throw Chain Heals left, right and centre and so on.

A good example of a fight where coordination is more valuable is Sindragosa, especially in Phase 3. You will likely have 3 healers out of action at any one time, possibly more if the healers with Unchained Magic are also losing their stacks at the time. Awareness and coordination are vital for this to provide cover for the roles which are unavailable.
Another great example is Anub’Arak, where assigning healers to Penetrating Cold targets is vital, and cover needs to be assigned in case that assignment will not be covered due to death, lack of mana or any other reason.

Where coordination feels required in Wrath is where either a number of healers are removed from the equation, or where the damage profile is unusual enough that “standard” healing practices simply won’t cover it. I hope to see more of both types of encounters in the future, but there needs to be a way to reintroduce more coordination across the board.
Perhaps including larger spaces in which to fight could be another mechanism for coordinating healers, since it is much more difficult to cross-heal when sections of the raid are out of range. Recent painful experiences with Infest + Defile combinations on the Lich King have inspired this thought.

My suspicion is that restricting throughput availability alone, either through constrained mana or low output to damage ratios, will drive us further in the direction of reducing overhealing and getting healing efficiently to where it’s needed, which will in turn raise the level of coordination that feels natural in raids. But of course this remains to be seen.

Conclusions

On the whole I feel that healing in Wrath is still challenging, but isn’t as cerebral as it once was and could be again. Healing is less about decision-making, spell-selection and intelligent cross-healing and far more about maximising throughput on a general assignment. My admittedly rose-tinted memories of TBC have “spam-healing” as a rare exception rather than the rule. Triage has been marginalised in favour of “blanketing”.

For Cataclysm I would be happy to see a return to a slightly slower-paced approach to healing where using the right spell at the right time is the peak of performance, and strong teamwork trumps sniping and heal-stomping.

The lessons learned from Wrath should prevent the kind of massive surplus of throughput and regeneration we’re currently seeing in Icecrown from requiring such large amounts of boss damage, and the proposed change to health pools and mana costs should push healers back towards efficiency again.



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