April 26th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

Historically, new patches for World Of Warcraft have always come out on Tuesday morning, following the weekly system maintenance period. Today, Blizzard released the patch for version of the game client. In addition to a variety of bug fixes and balance tweaks, there are four big additions to the game with this version.

The Guild Finder Tool

There’s a new GUILD FINDER tool, designed to help match up people looking for a new guild with guilds looking for new people. It’s sort of like a little guild application where players can specify what they’re looking for in a guild and provide some idea of what they have to offer.

Once you specify a few attributes like your class role and availability, you can browse through a list of guilds that match your criteria. If you find one you like, you can submit a request to join. The guild leader will receive your request and act on it as they deem appropriate. They may want to interview you, or visit their own guild website to fill out an extended application, or they may just shoot you an invitation directly.

Dungeon Finder: Call To Arms

The Dungeon Finder tool was a great addition to the game, but it help demonstrate the fact that most players are playing DPS-oriented characters, and relatively fewer play healers or tanks.  A single DPS player who queues up for a random dungeon can easily wait for half an hour or more, because there aren’t enough tanks or healers in the queue to form complete groups.

The new Call To Arms feature is designed to lower those long queue times by offering rewards to players to join the queue and complete the assigned instance.  Strictly speaking, the rewards might be offered to any class, but as a practical matter it’s going to be healers and tanks in most cases.

Upon completing the instance, players who were so enticed will receive a goodie bag that contains some combination of gold, gems, potions, pets, and even mounts.

This sounds like a great idea, but I do note that it seems to depend on the idea that the required players are actually available, but just not queuing up for dungeons.  I’m sure that’s true to a certain degree, but it remains to be seen if it’s true enough that this new feature will really make a difference.  In fact, I’m thinking that some players may hold off on entering the queue until they are offered the reward, which would really negate the purpose of the feature to a large degree.

Guild Challenges

The next new feature is Guild Challenges.  This is basically a sort of random guild achievement for completing a particular dungeon, raid, or PvP battleground with a guild group.  Completing one of the current challenges will result in a gold reward to the guild vault.

Anything that puts gold into the coffers isn’t really a bad feature, but I can’t see most guilds getting too excited about this.

The Return Of Zul’Gurub & Zul’Aman

One of the big changes in the initial release of the Cataclysm expansion was that the Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman raid instances both went away.   With patch 4.1 they return as high-end, heroic only, 5-player dungeons.  Both require a minimum average item level of 346 and they contain a wide variety of new epic gear, mounts, pets and other goodies.

Things start off with a new series of level 85 solo quests in Stranglethorn Vale that give you a preview of the various Zul’Gurub bosses.  Once you complete the solo quests, you’ll be ready to hit the instances.  The new version of Zul’Gurub has 5 bosses that you’ll encounter every time, plus one more from a choice of 4 additional bosses that you’ll see only if your group includes someone whose Archaeology skill is high enough.

In the far-away Ghostlands, the Zul’Aman instance makes its return as well.  Compared to the major overhaul of Zul’Gurub, there are fewer changes here from the original, but the mechanics of the fights have been updated to make sense for a 5-player group instead of a 10-player raid.

Both of these new and improved instances require a minimum average item level of 346 and offer rewards that are item level 353.  So they fit right in between the original Cataclysm heroic instances and the original Cataclysm raids.  There are also a variety of mounts available.

Happy Hunting!

Here’s the official Blizzard video for the new patch:


April 13th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

I haven’t yet done a lot of raiding on Romy at level 85. She’s geared well enough for it but my play hours just haven’t lined up with my guild’s raid times that often. Today, however, I did not one but two raids with the guild.

First up was Baradin Hold. Shortly after I had logged in on my paladin Alfred, the GM whispered me to say that “BH is up, switch to Romy“. So I did.

Baradin Hold is a relatively simple raid instance that currently has just one boss, Argaloth. One might think of it as the level 85 version of the Burning Crusade raid Magtheridon’s Lair, or the original version of Onyxia’s Lair. Unlike those older raids, BH has room built-in for future expansion.

I had done a few BH runs before but hadn’t gotten any gear as yet. Tonight was no different. We got Argaloth down, finally after a few tries including two where he was down to like 0.0001%, but I got no love on the loot side of things. I didn’t really mind though, because along the way I had figured out something very important regarding my primary talent tree.

Like most toons these days, Romy has dual talent specifications. One for Arcane and the other for Frost. The Arcane spec was nominally intended for raiding while frost was for instances and soloing. However, I’d never really been able to figure out how to maximize my DPS with the Arcane spec, so I was using frost for everything MOST of the time.  I was occasionally trying out the Arcane spec, but like I said I hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Until tonight.

The Mastery aspect to the Arcane spec is known as Mana Mastery, and it provides a mana boost to the mage’s damage output that is proportional to the amount of remaining mana. The more mana you have, the more damage is done.  However, Romy was not really benefitting from this much because in a big boss fight, I seemed to always be running low on mana.  I would use mana gems and Evocation to try to stay topped-off, but that didn’t quite do the trick and it took time away from doing damage.

It turned out the trick was to use Mage Armor instead of Molten Armor, as I had been doing before. I hadn’t really used Mage Armor for quite awhile but I was looking over the tooltips and noticed that Mage Armor includes really nice mana regeneration.  That’s something that Blizzard has added at some point since the last time I had used Mage Armor, and I hadn’t ever noticed it before. 

By switching from Molten Armor, you give up 3% crit chance, but the mana regeneration keeps your mana nearly full throughout an entire raid boss fight, thus maximizing your Mana Mastery damage bonus, and that more than makes up for the loss in crit chance.

I know it will seem obvious to many, but the choice of Mage Armor was never mentioned any of the times I discussed the arcane tree with other mages. And if it was ever mentioned on any of the various websites I’ve looked at, they must not have explained WHY they were using Mage Armor. After I figured this out, I noticed a noticeable boost in my DPS. I still have a ways to go, but I think I can now manage to be at least in the upper portion of the damage meter most of the time.

Later that evening I was back on Alfred again when the GM whispered me again, this time about killing trash mobs in a Bastion of Twilight raid.

As with Baradin Hold, I had done Bastion of Twilight a few times but had won no upgrades. However, this time around my luck was better and one of the first mobs dropped a lovely pair of bracers that found their way onto Romy’s wrists.

April 12th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

The first character I created in WoW was my warrior, Sunny. Normally when playing fantasy role playing games before WoW came around, I tended towards magic users of various types, but I decided to try something different. I enjoyed Sunny just fine, but after investing several hours and getting her up to level 10 or so, I decided it was time to revert to my old habits and so I created my second toon Romy, a mage.

I’m not sure if it was because I was back in familiar territory with a magic user or if it was because I was hitting the point where I more or less understood the basics of the game, but Romy quickly became my “main” character. It was weeks before I switched back to pay Sunny again.

When the Christmas after launch rolled around, I was sufficiently into the game that I had installed it on my laptop so I could play while visiting at my mom & sister’s house. I also wanted to show the game to my sister, as she had always enjoyed computer games. In fact, that year’s gift from me to her was a copy of Doom 3, which had recently hit stores.

After she ripped through Doom 3 in record time, she needed something new to play and so she picked up WoW. Romy was already almost level 40 and Sunny was around level 20, so I created a new paladin, Alfred, to use when playing together with my sister’s new toon. My sister and I played the game together often enough that before long, Alfred was my secondary toon and Sunny got stuck in third place.

Things stayed that way until all three toons had hit level 60. After that, I wasn’t sure which direction to go with Alfred. At that time, the Paladin class was much different than today. Paladin DPS was horrible, they were the least effective healing class, and they could only tank if the damage classes were VERY careful about their aggro. They were somewhat in demand but in most cases, their raiding role was to be a utility healer, group buffer, and maybe occasional off-tank. The real problem for Alfred was that there were usually plenty of main-character paladins waiting to take a raid slot.

Tanks, on the other hand, were always in demand and in those days a damage-oriented Warrior was the exception. I discovered that Sunny was often in demand to tank guild instance runs, and when other sufficient DPS classes were available, to serve as backup tank on raids. Before long she had jumped back into being my second place toon. Ok, maybe tied for second.

At least through the Burning Crusade content, I was reasonably diligent about keeping Sunny and Alfred reasonably close to Romy’s level. Romy always reached the level cap first and started raiding, but Alfred and Sunny would hit the same point reasonably soon afterwards and then would do instance runs and do whatever raid content was open to them.

When the Wrath Of The Lich King expansion came out, things were different. My long-time guild Cry Havoc had more or less started to implode, and many of the more hardcore players had left, and many others had either stopped playing altogether or had moved to the Horde side or even to other servers. When the expansion hit, there was no concerted guild-wide effort to level up and start working on the new raid content together as there had been for the Burning Crusade expansion. Those of us still playing mostly did it solo.

Romy was level 75 and I was still playing through the new content when other things going on in my life demanded my attention and I cut back on how much I was playing. For roughly 6 months or so, I played the game much, much less than I had been. I played for perhaps just a hour or two every 2 or 3 weeks instead of a few hours almost every day. Also, when I did play, I often worked at leveling some of my lower-level toons instead of working on getting Romy up to level 80.

When I started playing more regularly again, months later, Romy was still at level 75 and my main focus was hitting level 80. At that point, Sunny and Alfred were both still at level 70 and hadn’t been played for more than a few minutes since WOTLK had come out.

Almost immediately after getting Romy to level 80, I was asked to join a new guild called Overcome, by the GM, a former member of Cry Havoc. At that point, I was in catch-up mode since most players had hit 80 months earlier. As a result, it was quite awhile before I worried about any other toon besides Romy.

Eventually, I did work on Sunny and Alfred a bit, getting them to level 72 and 73, respectively, but then I more or less just concentrated on Romy and didn’t play the other toons at all.

Until a few weeks ago, that is. Romy had been at level 85 for a few months and was reasonably geared, so I decided to get Sunny and Alfred up to speed as well.

First to get some attention was Sunny, then at level 72. After getting her up to level 81 and started on Cataclysm content, I realized Sunny was a bit undergeared. She had only done a few instances since level 72 and had never done any raiding at level 80 so she was still in a mix of green and blue items, along with a few level 70 epics that still hadn’t been replaced. The obvious solution would normally be to do some dungeon grinding for better gear, but Sunny’s gear wasn’t even good enough to allow her to queue for random dungeons!

A trip to the auction house helped upgrade a few slots, but as I was contemplating how much I would have to spend to make further upgrades, I decided that I would work on Alfred for awhile. Alfred is a blacksmith and the thought was that he could make some gear that Sunny could use until she started getting some dungeon upgrades. But first i had to level him up enough to get some useful blacksmithing patterns. Like Sunny, I had not really played Alfred since the first month or two of the WOTLK era and at level 73 his blacksmithing had a ways to go.

Currently the plan is to take Alfred up to 80 or 81 and then go back to Sunny. From that point I’ll alternate between them every level or so in order to take best advantage of their “Rested” status. After that, who knows? I may work on my hunter, Starchaser, or maybe on my baby Worgen warlock Ailsandre.

April 7th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

Recently i’ve been working on leveling my paladin, Alfred. As I was reaching the end of the various quests in Borean Tundra, I got a few for the Nexus instance. Alfred was now level 74 and close to leveling again. This would be my first instance run as a healer in quite awhile, and I was going to do it as a solo queue.

Getting into the dungeon, the first thing I noticed was that everybody else was level 71, the minimum allowed to queue for the Nexus, and that they all had less health than I did. We had a Druid tank, my paladin as healer, a rogue, a hunter, and a mage for DPS.

As is often the case with a random pug, this group had some issues. The first thing I noticed was that the druid tank was a bit impatient and was getting out of range and chain pulling while I was OOM and just sitting down to drink. He also went around corners a few times giving me line-of-sight problems.

Another problem was that our two ranged DPS players, a mage and a hunter, both had problems with stealing aggro from the tank, mainly because they weren’t on the right kill target. To some degree this was caused by the tank failing to mark targets, but it meant they were both taking a lot of unnecessary damage, sucking my mana down trying to heal them and distracting me from keeping the tank alive. Not to mention that it meant the tank had to chase mobs all over the place.

Stealing aggro wasn’t a huge deal for the hunter since he could Feign Death when it happened. But on the other hand he was standing WAY too close and usually got whacked once or twice before the mob turned back to the tank.

The mage kept a more reasonable range so the tank was often able to chase down whichever mob went after him, but when he did get hit he went down faster.

As you might not be surprised to hear, we had a variety of deaths. The first boss fight went ok but then we had a few complete wipes on trash mobs. I was mostly quiet to that point but then the mage started mouthing off to the tank about not holding aggro, and about how it was the healer’s fault if the tank dies, etc. Then the tank went off on the mage… it was like watching Simon and Paula go at each other on American Idol in the good old days.

I was surprised nobody had left the group yet at that point because I was considering it myself. I figured the mage was a lost cause but the tank seemed like he’d be ok if he just slowed down a bit. You don’t see too many Druid tanks these days so I wanted to encourage him to improve rather than just bitch and make him think twice about tanking. I told him what was needed and he actually listened! He started waiting for me when I needed mana, and started marking kill-order targets in each group.

Once the tank started marking targets, The hunter more or less settled down and stopped regularly stealing aggro.

Even though he twice stole aggro on the X-marked mob while the skull-marked mob was still alive, the mage kept insisting that he was on the right target. He was sure because he “had a macro to assist the tank”. He didn’t seem to understand that the tank may sometimes hop from target to target when trying to hold several mobs. Doing an assist might work most of the time when there’s only one or two mobs, but when there are four or even five, you can’t be sure that the tank really got a strong aggro hold on his target when you do the assist. You may be attacking a mob which the tank has only hit once.

About halfway to the second boss, we had another full wipe when the hunter got out in front of everybody as one fight was over and then let a patrol walk right up and slap him silly. The hunter didn’t seem to grasp that it had been his fault and he left the group at that point as everybody was running back in.

After getting a replacement for the hunter, another few groups of trash later, we somehow managed to pull an extra group and had another wipe. The main reason this happened was that everybody ran up to the mobs instead of letting the tank pull them back to a place safely away from the neighboring groups. Someone got too close to another group and pulled them into the fight.

After that happened, the mage starts mouthing off again about everything except what actually caused the problem. Just as I was about to initiate a kick vote, he left the group on his own. Then the guy who had just replaced the original hunter quits too, and I don’t even remember what class he was because he wasn’t there long enough.

I told the tank at that point that I would give things one more try, but at that point enough was enough. He agreed and we get two new replacements, a warrior and a new hunter, both level 72.

From that point everything was as smooth as you could possibly want. No more deaths or bad pulls, or DPS stealing aggro. Most of the remaining fights barely skimmed the surface of my mana pool.

Next time I take Alfred in to heal an instance run, I’m going to try hard to make it a guild run.

March 30th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

World of Warcraft is not, overall, one of the more hardcore games out there when it comes to system hardware requirements.  After all, the game originally came out in 2004 and had to be playable on the hardware available at the time.  While there have been three expansion packs over the years, the basic system requirements for the game really haven’t changed much. 

The performance of most games tends to rely mostly on the video card’s GPU and your motherboard’s CPU, but WoW’s performance is also strongly tied to the amount of memory in your system and the speed of your hard drive.  This means we have more options for improving performance.

Obviously the best way to improve performance is to get a new computer with state-of-the-art everything in it, but that option is out of range for many people.  I have a few tips and tricks for improving game performance that should be within most budgets.  Some of these will work on either Windows or Mac systems while others are only Windows.

New Video Card

This one is pretty obvious. If your current video card is more than 2 years old or so, chances are pretty good you would experience a significant boost in performance by upgrading.  And you don’t have to spend $500 or $600 on the latest and greatest monster cards in order to see a big performance boost in WoW.

At around $150, I would personally recommend something like the GeForce 550 Ti.  Most of the models at this price point include 1gb of on-board memory, which is probably at least 2-4 times as much as your old card, and full DirectX 11 compatibility.  If that price is still a bit high, you might find GTS 450 models hovering around the $100 mark, also with 1gb onboard RAM.

The extra memory on the video card will allow WoW to download more texture data to the card, which means the game will not be accessing the hard drive quite as often, and also that main menory will be available for other data.

A disclaimer: I’ve used NVIDIA-based video cards almost exclusively for over a decade so I am not really all that familiar with ATI’s offerings.  Also, I have done a variety of contract jobs for NVIDIA including working in-house on the GEFORCE.COM website.  So, yah, I am definitely biased towards their products.  However, there is no paid endorsement involved with respect to this article.

Bump Up Your RAM

This applies to all systems.  If your computer has anything less than 4gb of RAM, the first thing you should do to improve performance is upgrade your memory.  While WoW will work with 1gb or 2gb, there are significant performance improvements when you jump up to 4gb.  WoW is constantly loading information from its data files on your hard drive.   As you move around the world and see new terrain, new mobs, and new people, the information for things you haven’t seen lately is dropped to make room for the new information.  Which, of course, means it has to reload it when you see those things again.  The more memory you have, the more it’s able to keep that information loaded all the time instead.

If you’re running a 64-bit operating system, I would recommend you take your machine up to 6gb or 8gb if your budget will support it.  This will give WoW all the memory it wants right now and leave some room for future expansion.  It will also give you enough memory to keep a few other programs open in the background, like a web browser so you can jump out of the game to look up things on websites like WoW Head or WowWiki.

If you’re not running a 64-bit operating system, you really should consider an upgrade if your system can handle it.  Most systems made in the last few years will have no problems running 64-bit.  There’s really only one reason to stick with a 32-bit OS if your system supports 64-bit, and that would be the very rare situation where you have some piece of hardware for which there is no 64-bit driver available, and you can’t upgrade that hardware.

If you’re still running on an old 32-bit Windows XP system, it’s probably way past the point where you’d like to get a new system and most likely your budget just doesn’t allow it.  While it’s hard to recommend making much of an investment in an old system like this, you may still find some improvement in performance by maxing out your memory at 4gb.

Throw Out Your Hard Drive!

Well, don’t REALLY throw it out.  However, we’re going to show you a trick where you can improve performance on a desktop machine using a new Solid-State Drive (SSD) but without doing a complete hard drive swap. 

As we mentioned earlier, as you move around in WoW, the game is constantly loading information from your hard drive.  Actually you don’t need to move around… even if you’re just standing around doing nothing, in some areas you’ll still have a steady stream of new players coming into close proximity.  Every time something or someone new comes into range, the game has to go out to the hard drive and load up the 3D model data and texture information required to show them on screen, not to mention other information like gear attributes and so forth.  This means that WoW’s performance is at least somewhat dependent on how quickly that information can be retrieved from your storage device.

These days, the fastest hard drives are the new solid-state models which use flash memory instead of a spinning magnetic platter.  These are usually called “SSD” instead of “HD”.  Because there are no moving parts, an SSD is rugged and as fast as the electronics can be.  They are also immune to issues like fragmentation that can cause slowdowns on old-style drives.

The big downside is that SSDs are quite expensive compared to traditional hard drives.  While you can easily find a 2-terabyte HD for as little as $80, that same cash will only buy a 32 or 40 gigabyte SSD. Getting up to a 256gb SSD drive will cost you $450-$500.

These days, most modern desktop computers have a primary hard drive that is at least 320gb and many are larger.  That means for most people, replacing their primary hard drive with an SSD would be fairly expensive.  No doubt the price of SSD drives will come down eventually, but in the meantime doing a complete replacement is probably not an option for most people.

Fortunately, there’s another option.  Two, actually.  Either one starts with installing a new SSD into your system as an additional drive.  I would recommend a 40gb SSD. My WoW folder currently is about 24.5 gb, so a smaller size might work, but a 40gb drive will give you room for future expansion.

If you don’t know how to install an additional drive in your system, find a more technically inclined friend to help you out.

Using Your New SSD For WoW: Option 1

Once you’ve got the new SSD installed, boot into Windows.  You may see a message telling you that a new drive has been detected and asking if you want to initialize it.  Here’s where you have a choice of two options.

First, you can initialize the drive and assign a drive letter, after which you can copy over your World Of Warcraft folder.  You’ll have to reset any shortcuts on your desktop or in your start menu to point at the new location, but otherwise you should be good to go.

The potential downside to doing it this way is that the SSD will be very easily accessible for other purposes.  This may not be a problem, but there is the possibility that you will use up the extra space on the drive, run out of room, and then have problems with WoW as a result.

Using Your New SSD For WoW: Option 2

The second option is more complicated to do, but it essentially assigns the SSD to the exclusive purpose of speeding up WoW.  Note that this will only work if your primary drive uses the NTFS file system.  This is probably the case if you’re on Windows Vista or Windows 7, but if you’re on Windows XP there is a greater possibility that you are using FAT32.

Make sure you read through these directions a couple of times before you actually start doing anything.

Say “no” when the system asks to initialize the new drive. 

Once your system is finished booting, open up Windows Explorer (Not INTERNET Explorer) and browse to your program files directory.  (Most likely this will be “C:\Program Files“.  You may also have “C:\Program Files (x86)” but that’s for 64-bit programs and WoW is a 32-bit program.)  Verify that this contains the existing World Of Warcraft program folder.  

Create a new folder in the Program Files directory named WoW.  Move over all the files inside the World Of Warcraft folder to the new WoW folder. Make sure this includes any hidden files.  When you’re done, the original World Of Warcraft folder should be empty.

Locate the “My Computer” icon on your desktop, or the “Computer” item in your start-menu.  Right-click and choose “Manage” from the popup menu.  This will bring up the Computer Management console.  Along the left side, locate the “Storage” item and expand it if needed to reveal the “Disk Management” option.  Click that.

Note:  Be VERY careful with what you click on in this window.  This is one of those very, very rare situations where clicking the wrong thing quite literally COULD erase your hard drive.  However, you’d have to click several wrong things in a row, so don’t worry too much.  Once again, if you’re not comfortable doing this, find a technically inclined friend.  We do have to say, however, that you should proceed at your own risk… the author is not responsible for any problems you may incur.

After clicking “Disk Management” the main part of the window will change to a split display that looks much like this:

Look for the drive that contains your “C:” partition and verify that it says “NTFS”.  If it says “FAT32″ then you cannot proceed with this option.

Your system will probably show only two drives, your original primary drive and the new SSD. In the bottom section, look for the drive that is marked  “uninitialized.  It will probably be “Disk 1″ but not necessarily so also verify that the size shown matches the size of your SSD. 

Right click and choose the “Initialize” option.  Once it’s done initializing, the display should change to say “Unallocated”.  Right-click this area and select “New Simple Volume” as shown below.

You should now see the “New Simple Volume Wizard” on screen.  Click “Next” and you’ll be given the option to specify the volume size.  We want to use the entire drive for the volume so leave the default alone and click “Next” again.  The next step allows you to “Assign Drive Letter Or Path“.  You need to select the option for Mount in the following empty NTFS folder: as shown below.

Click “Browse” and then locate the same program files directory as before and select the World Of Warcraft folder.  Click “OK” to return to the wizard, then click “Next”.

If the OK button is disabled after you’ve selected the folder, it’s because the folder isn’t really empty… you must have missed something earlier.  Go back and make sure you’ve moved everything over to the WoW folder.

The next step of the wizard will ask you to format the partition.  Select the options shown below:

Click “Next” and then “Finish” on the next step.  The system will take a moment or two to do everything, and then you should see the drive description change to something like this:

Now if you open up the Program Files directory in Windows Explorer, you should see a new World Of Warcraft folder. This is actually a link to the new partition on the SSD that we just created. Anything that tries to access C:\Program Files\World Of Warcraft will actually be redirected to the SSD.

There’s one last step before you’re ready to play.  Move over the contents of the WoW folder (but not the folder itself) into the new World Of Warcraft folder.  This will move everything for the game onto the SSD drive.  Since you’re actually accessing two different drives this will take a few minutes.  Once everything has finished copying over, you can delete the WoW folder.

Now you should be ready to play!

How Much Of A Performance Boost?

The SSD upgrade we’ve discussed may make a big difference in performance, or it may be more subtle.  It all depends on how fast your regular hard drive was in the first place.  It will definitely speed up your load times, but it’s hard to say how big a difference you’ll see while playing.  If you were used to seeing lag spikes caused by the game loading new data from the hard drive, those should pretty much go away, or at least be greatly diminished.


Because you probably have less extra free space on the SSD than you did when the game was on the regular hard drive, there are a couple of things you may want to do occasionally.

  • Move the contents of your Screenshots folder somewhere else.  This folder contains all the images saved when you hit the PRINT SCREEN button while in the game.  If you take a lot of screenshots this could quickly use a lot of space.  You should create a folder elsewhere and occasionally move things over.
  • Delete old patch files.  These can sometimes take a few gigabytes and once your system has been patched they serve no purpose.

For Mac Users

Sorry, but most Mac users are going to be left out in the cold here.  The biggest problem is that most Mac models do not allow the addition of a second internal hard drive and there is no eSATA port for connecting an external hard drive.

Yes, you can connect external drives via USB or Firewire, but neither interface is capable of the transfer rates necessary to really take advantage of an SSD’s speed.  There are add-ons for connecting with eSATA drives through USB, but they won’t provide the speed of a native eSATA connection.

The new Thunderbolt interface available on the latest Mac computers will theoretically allow you to connect an SSD and use it at full-speed, but as of the time I’m writing this, we’re still waiting for peripherals using this interface.  You’ll need either a complete pre-built external SSD, or a drive enclosure which allows you to drop in your own SSD.   If you have a new Mac that includes this technology, your options will probably open up soon.

Mac-based WoW players with a Mac Pro can easily install additional drives including an SSD.  This is pretty simple, so I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on a step-by-step description.  Just open the case, mount the drive, and connect the cables.  If you really do need it, here’s a link to an excellent step-by-step on the process.  If you still don’t feel comfortable doing it, check with your  local Apple store or Mac dealer and I’m sure they can help.

I would recommend at least a 40gb SSD.  My current WoW game folder comes in at about 24.5 gb, but I would hate to run out of room the next time another expansion pack or patch comes along.  A 40gb drive will give you a bit of breathing room for future expansion.

Once you have installed an SSD on your Mac, all you really have to do to take advantage of it is move over the World Of Warcraft game folder.  You  may have to update the Dock with the new location but otherwise you should be good to go.

Not Just For WoW

The SSD upgrade idea is more specifically aimed at improving WoW performance, but the other options will improve your system performance across the board.  Obviously a new video card will make a difference in all games you play, not just WoW, and more RAM is pretty much always a good thing. 

Happy Gaming!

March 23rd, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

Recently there was a post in the Blizzard Battle.NET Website forums where somebody, let’s change the names and call him “Bob“, was lamenting the fact that his guild reputation was reset after he had been kicked out of the guild he had been in. Aside from the original post, many of the other messages in the thread raised a variety of questions, complaints, and suggestions about the way guild reputation works. It became a popular message thread featured at the top page of the Battle.NET website. It quickly hit the post limit and was locked so no more responses could be posted.

Basically, Bob got into an argument with the guild leader and took it to the point that the guild leader finally got tired of the whole mess and kicked him out of the guild.

Bob said he was given the choice of either shutting up or having his guild reputation reset (being kicked out).  It’s not clear if the guild leader actually presented those options or if that was simply Bob’s description of the situation.  Bob had just hit Revered status, so obviously he didn’t want his reputation to be reset, but for whatever reason he continued to argue and eventually the guild leader kicked him.

His main complaint is that one guy should have the power to “erase all the time and work that I put into this game“.  

Guilds Are Absolute Dictatorships

In the World of Warcraft, guilds are not democracies, they are dictatorships, pure and simple.  Fortunately, most of them are fairly benign.  There is often some degree of democratic process involved in dealing with day to day matters and usually at least some powers are delegated to the officers.  However, at the end of the day there’s ONE guy at the top who really has all the power, and it’s a good idea that you not forget this.

In this situation, Bob was ultimately given the option of shutting his mouth or being kicked out. To me it sounds like the usual set of choices for the situation.  Maybe what Bob really wanted is the option to argue with the guild leader as much as he wants without fear of repercussion.

Not gonna happen.

I wish I could generate some sympathy for Bob, but I really am not feeling it.  We don’t know what the argument was all about or what the guild leader’s side of things might be, but the bottom line is that unless you’re brand new to the game, which Bob is not, you ought to know that getting into a big argument with your guild leader can result in getting kicked out.  However, while I may not have any sympathy for Bob, I think his post does raise some interesting questions.

Alternate Forms Of Government

While he didn’t actually say it in so many words, I believe Bob’s point was that something like kicking a player out of a guild is something that should be put to a vote of some kind, rather than it being the perogative of a single player.  This sounds fairly simple at first, but such a mechanism would be fundamentally different from the way things are currently done and adding it would require some big changes to the game.

For the moment, let’s forget about how much development time would be required and concentrate on the actual mechanics of doing things a different way.  Suppose the game offered a second choice for guild organization where instead of an all-powerful guild leader at the top, there was a council of officers instead.

The first question is, how many council members should there be?  Should it vary depending on guild size?  Having 3 council members might work fine for a small guild of 20 members, but how many do you want if the guild has 300 members? 

For now, let’s say that we have a council of 3 officers and that a simple majority is required to make decisions. How would that work with managing the tasks usually done by a guild leader?  Do the council members have to vote on EVERYTHING? Or might we give them all some of the powers a single guild leader currently enjoys?  Oh, and just so we’re clear, here are the powers of a guild leader in the current system:

  • Inviting players
  • Kick players
  • Control the guild bank
  • Setup guild ranks
  • Control access to certain powers for each guild rank
  • Design the guild tabard

In order to deal with a voting system, the game would have to have some mechanism of queueing up actions so that things can get done without requiring all council members (or even a majority) to be online at the same time.   Let’s say that they add a new Guild Government window to the game for this purpose.

I debated the idea of going into Photoshop and creating a dummy graphic for this idea, or maybe creating a little dummy addon, but that would have taken way too much time.

Suppose Councilman-A decided to initiate a vote to invite a new player.  Councilman-B and Councilman-C would get a notification, either immediately if they were online, or the next time they came online, telling them that there were new items in the Guild Government window awaiting their attention.  Opening the Guild Government window would then allow them to register their votes on the matter.

Likewise a vote to kick someone out of the guild would do much the same.  However, the situation with Bob notwithstanding, keep in mind that there’s often an immediate and important reason for kicking someone out of a guild.  In order to ensure that no malicious actions are taken by the targetted player, you’d probably want them placed into a sort of “limbo” where they cannot interact with the guild bank or guild chat until the kick-vote has been resolved.

But are we going to extend that same degree of democracy to everything?  Will the council members have to vote for things like changing the guild tabard?  Or for changing the name of a guild rank?  Or changing which guild ranks can access which bank tabs?

Maybe it would work.  More likely it would take forever for things to get done.  What if you wanted to invite some new player, but he ends up going to another guild because it took 3 days for enough council members to register their votes?

What happens when council members become inactive?   If the council is only 3 guys and one guy goes away, it will seriously affect the balance of the decision making.  If two guys go away for awhile then nothing at all gets done.  Increasing the number of council members doesn’t really change the problem, either, unless you move away from requiring a majority vote.

How do people become council members in the first place?  Does this require a majority vote of those already on the council?  Right now if a guild leader becomes inactive, you can petition Blizzard to give the role to someone else.  Would we need to do the same thing for council members who become inactive?  How do you get rid of a BAD council member?  Does the guild at large get to vote on anything, like maybe new council members? And how would you prevent a single player from taking more than one slot on the council?  Many people have multiple accounts, so you can’t absolutely prevent it.  Do you WANT to prevent it?

Obviously, with any change of this nature, there are a lot of How and What If questions to be considered.  Like the current system, this new idea would probably work well for some groups of people, and not so much for others.  And this is just ONE idea for an alternative form of government.  There are many other possibilities.  Like what about mirroring the US government, where there is a guild leader that has executive power over most things, but there’s also a parlimentary body of some kind that can overrule him if needed?  Frankly I’m not sure how you would apply that idea to the sort of powers a guild leader currently has, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be done.

My guess is that if Blizzard considered anything of this nature when the game was first created, or at any time since, they probably dismissed it as too complicated. The dictatorship method of government is ultimately much easier to manage, and unlike the real world, anybody who decides their guild leader is an asshat can easily leave. And in most cases, this is something that should be obvious long before you have acquired enough guild reputation for it to be a painful decision.

March 17th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

I bought World Of Warcraft on launch day back in November 2004. By accident. That is, I bought it on purpose, but I didn’t realize it had just come out that same day. I was at Fry’s Electronics checking out new DVD releases when I saw it on the shelf. I had read about the game in various magazines, and I was looking forward to trying it out, so it went right into my shopping cart.

Like many players in those very early days of the game, I didn’t have any clue at first what to do regarding professions. The basic concepts were easy enough to understand, but I wasn’t really sure about what factors were most important to consider when selecting which professions a character should have. It’s embarassing to admit now, but at first I was not quite clear on the fact that Cooking & Fishing were considered “secondary” professions that you could learn in addition to your two “primary” professions.

The first toon I creatd in the game was my Warrior, Sunny. When I first took her out of Northshire Abbey into Elwynn Forest, I discovered trainers for Leatherworking and Skinning, followed by Blacksmithing in Goldshire. I later discovered that there were other trainers that were a bit harder to find. For some professions you had to walk up the road into Stormwind City.

My first profession was skinning, which I selected mainly because the trainer was right there in Goldshire and it seemed like half of what I was doing was killing beasts anyway. I figured I might as well get extra loot from them in the process.

I considered mining as a second profession, but there were so many low-level characters running around Elwynn Forest back then, the competition for metal nodes was very steep. As it turned out, I created my second character, Romy, and started playing her before figuring out what to do with Sunny. It wasn’t long before Romy was my main toon.

Once Romy hit Elwynn Forest, I selected Skinning for her profession as I had with Sunny, and pretty much for the same reason. Tailoring seemed like a good option for a cloth-wearing mage, but the information I was seeing made it look like it would take a lot of training before I’d be able to make anything that was even as good as what I was already wearing. Not to mention that it was going to take cloth I hadn’t even seen yet.

The Problem With Crafting Gear

There is a problem with the way gear-crafting professions (Tailoring, Blacksmithing, Leatherworking) work that was there at launch and which remains in the game to this day. The first aspect of this problem is simple and I’m sure we’ve all seen it: All of these professions start out with you making items that are essentially useless to you. For example, in tailoring you have to earn 30 points before you can make anything that a level 10 character might even consider using for anything but decorative purposes.

In general, the problem is that the materials needed to make a useful item are out of reach until your character has leveled well past the point where the item is useful. Let’s look at a specific example: the Lesser Wizard’s Robe can be made by a tailor who has at least 135 skill points. The robe requires a level 21 character and takes a total of six pieces of Silk Cloth, among other things, to create.

The problem is, Silk cloth only drops from mobs that are level 32 or higher. Reasonably, that means the earliest point at which you could gather the cloth would be about level 29 or 30. And by that point, you don’t want the Lesser Wizard’s Robe anymore, and in fact it hasn’t been especially desirable for several levels.

What about buying the silk cloth on the auction house? That’s a possibility, but there are two considerations. First, I’ve always thought Blizzard’s master plan was that you would normally gather the materials for crafting yourself wherever possible. At the very least, it should be possible to do so, shouldn’t it? Second, the cost of buying materials on the AH is often impractical for low-level toons unless there is some higher-level toon feeding them cash as needed.

I can’t imagine that Blizzard only intended this to work for players with higher-level toons who can trickle down cash to their alts.

This problem exists in all of the gear-making professions and pretty much at most skill levels. For the most part, the only time these professions become genuinely useful to yourself is at the highest character/skill levels.

One option is to stick to making items for which gathering the materials is within your reach, and then selling them instead of using them yourself. But that brings up another few problems. First of all, nothing sells at a vendor for more than a fraction of the materials cost of making the item. You might consider this when your primary goal is simply to earn skill points in the profession, but otherwise it’s a losing proposition. Also, most crafted gear simply doesn’t sell that well on the AH. Either people can make the items themselves or they have better gear from quest rewards or dungeon drops. Usually the only crafted gear items that sell reliably for decent prices are the higher-end items which require extreme material gathering.

A big part of the problem here is that when you’re leveling up your profession, you rarely make just one item at a time. It’s more likely you’ll make 10-15 Lesser Wizard’s Robes all at once, until the item becomes green and no longer offers a reliable skill point advance. When you make that many items, you can’t expect to get good prices for them because you’re going to saturate the market all by yourself. And just imagine if another tailor is leveling up on the same item at the same time…

If you look at the list of items craftable by these professions, you’ll see plateaus corresponding to the previous level caps (60/300, 70/375, 80/450). For example, there are a lot of tailoring items you could make at level 60 which would be useful for that character. However, the items on these plateaus all tend to require a variety of exotic materials. Gathering those materials made sense back when you couldn’t advance past level 60 in the process, but now that the level cap is higher, it’s likely you’ll gain a level or two before you can get together all the materials required. Or worse, you might spend an entire level or two gathering the materials, and then after the item is crafted you get a quest reward a level later than replaces it.

Hope For The Future

It’s hard to imagine that Blizzard is unaware of such a fundamental flaw in the way these crafting professions work, and yet here we are nearly six and a half years after launch and it’s one of the few things about the game that hasn’t changed since then. The one saving grace is that this is mostly a problem for leveling up with a brand new toon. Anybody who has higher-level character will almost certainly be helping their low-level alts along the way.

Still… doesn’t it seem like Blizzard should fix it?

March 10th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

Blizzard added a variety of new guild-oriented features to the recent Cataclysm expansion for World Of Warcraft. One of these was guild leveling, whereby each player’s activity contributes to the level of the guild as a whole. Each new guild level earned unlocks new perquisites such as a 5% bonus to all reputation earned, or longer flask duration in raids.

Another change was the addition of Guild Reputation. This takes the basic concept of a character’s reputation with a particular faction and applies it to the guild that character belongs to. As your reputation with your guild improves, you have access to a wider range of rewards.

What is Reputation?

The game has always had the concept of “reputation” with various factions within the game world. You would increase in reputation for a particular faction by doing certain quests or by killing certain mobs who were enemies of that faction. In some cases, factions might oppose each other, such that gaining reputation with one also causes you to lose status with the other.

Reputation is tracked by a point system, and there are several levels of both positive and negative status.

  • Hated — This is the ultimate level of NEGATIVE status with a faction, indicating a reputation value in the range of -3000 to -39000. NPCs who belong to a HATED faction will usually attack when you come into aggro range, although there are exceptions. Killing a mob who is Hated usually results in a further loss of reputation with that faction. Their names are shown in RED, like any other hostile mob.
  • Unfriendly — This is somewhat better than Hated, indicating a reputation value in the range of 0 to -3000. These NPCs will not attack you unless you attack them first. Killing a mob who is Unfriendly usually results in a further loss of reputation with that faction. These mobs’ names are shown in ORANGE.
  • Neutral — This is where you start with most factions, although there are exceptions. This level ranges from 0 to 3000 reputation points. Names are shown in YELLOW and they will not attack unless you attack them first. Killing a mob who is neutral usually results in a loss of reputation with that faction, and in some cases will actually take you all the way down to either Unfriendly or Hated status. Note that in some cases it’s not possible to attack these NPCs at all.
  • Friendly — This level ranges from 3000 to 9000 reputation points. Character names are shown in GREEN. At this level of reputation and above, you can no longer attack the NPCs of that faction. (There are certain quest-based exceptions where specific individuals may become hostile.) Some factions may offer certain goods through faction Quartermaster vendors
  • Honored — This is the next better level from Friendly. Character names are shown in GREEN. Those factions which offer goods through Quartermaster vendors will have additional items available to players of this level. This level ranges from 9000 to 21000 reputation points.
  • Revered — This level ranges from 21000 to 42000 reputation points. Character names are shown in GREEN. Those factions which offer goods through Quartermaster vendors will have additional items available to players of this level.
  • Exalted — The ultimate level of reputation. Character names are shown in GREEN. Factions which offer goods through their Quartermaster vendors will often have superior or epic-level items available to players of this level. This level ranges from 42000 to 43000 reputation points.

Note that the game normally shows your reputation points as a value relative to your current level. For example, if you have a reputation score of 30000 with a particular faction, the game will actually show it as 9000 points into revered. (3000 points for the Neutral level, plus 6000 for the Friendly level, plus 12000 for Honored.)

The collections of rewards offered by each faction generally fall into two categories, a range of useful items for many but not necessarily all classes, or jack squat. The quartermaster’s offering may include patterns for creating items with crafting professions, or enchantments for item slots which cannot usually be enhanced by the Enchanting profession, or cooking recipes. You find an epic weapon or armor piece among the offerings. There’s not always an item upgrade for everybody, but more often than not you will find something.

Guild Reputation

Guild reputation works in a fashion generally similar to how reputation works with any other faction. You earn points for completing quests and for killing dungeon and raid bosses. You do NOT earn points for killing regular mobs.

One thing that is different from how you earn reputation with other factions is that the amount of guild reputation you earn for any particular action is dependant on your character’s level. That is, for doing the daily cooking quest in Stormwind City, your level 85 character might earn 46 points of guild reputation, while your level 75 character would only earn 35 points.

Another thing that’s different is that there is a limit on how much guild reputation you can earn in a given week. You can earn a maximum of 3500 points per week, meaning it will take you at least 12 weeks to get to exalted status. Note that you do have to be reasonably active every week to hit that maximum.

One thing that the guild reputation system does is make things more painful for those who jump around from one guild to another. When you leave a guild and join another, your guild reputation is reset to zero and you have to start all over again. (If you leave a guild but then rejoin it without having been in another guild in between, you keep your existing reputation with that guild.)

Guild Reputation Rewards

There are a variety of rewards available once your character hits Friendly status with the guild. Some of these are practical, such as a selection of cloaks that include the ability to teleport your character to your home city (Stormwind or Ogrimmar), or the Guild Page, which allows you to summon a vendor for buying guild reputation rewards or (more importantly) for selling loot you may have in your bags.

Other practical items include a variety of cooking recipes which can be used to create special food for raids & groups. These items create a “table” which any player in the group can click to eat and receive the buff given by the food.

Some guild rewards are strictly fun, like the Armadillo companion. There’s also a Dark Phoenix flying mount.

Reward Requirements

All guild rewards require a particular degree of guild reputation before they become available. Additionally, many of them also require that the guild has earned a particular guild achivement. This might be something simple and relatively trivial such as reaching a particular guild level, or it might be a raid achivement for conquering certain raid content. Some are based on purely “fun” achivements like Critter Kill Squad.

In Conclusion…

I think that the new guild features are very welcome and long overdue. They encourage guilds to work together towards a common goal that goes beyond gearing up for the next big raid. And the reputation system makes changing guilds something that must be seriously considered… those who hopped from guild to guild in the past will find themselves on the short end of the rewards stick if they don’t change their ways.

March 6th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

You may have noticed that Blizzard recently changed their website over to a new format that is more blog-oriented than the old one.   This happened about the same time that the new Cataclysm expansion set came out.  It wasn’t a mere facelift with new graphics, either… they changed the way the whole website was organized and how it works at a fundamental level  Along with all of the other changes, they switched over to a brand new message forum system.  The new system seems to be a bit more streamlined and is integrated into their new blogging setup, so I can see why they wanted to change over.  However, they made some big-time goofs in the process.

First, they did not make any attempt to move messages posted in the old message forum to the new system.  I can understand why, as this would be a major undertaking.  However, the problem they also removed the original system, breaking thousands of links across the internet which pointed into specific message threads. 

The reasoning for this is really hard to understand… why not keep a version of the old system in place for read-only access?  Certainly it couldn’t have been that much trouble to make the old system point to the new one where needed?  Sure, there’s undoubtedly some cost involved in operating the servers, but Blizzard brings in about eleven trillion dollars from WoW players every year so it doesn’t seem that much to ask.

The new system isn’t without some problems either.  One of the problems with the old setup was that it only allowed so many messages per thread.  Or at least that was the official company line… it always seemed like the number of messages where the thread got closed was pretty darn variable for something that was caused by a technical limitation.

The new system also has a similar limit, and once again it doesn’t really seem to be consistent.  Frankly, in both the new and old systems, I think the forum moderators just close a thread whenever they feel it has run its course.

The think that really annoys me with the new system, however, isn’t that there’s a limit.  It’s that it doesn’t TELL YOU the thread is closed up front. It even allows you to hit “reply” and start creating a new message.  It doesn’t tell you the thread is closed until AFTER you’ve spent how much ever amount of time editing your message and hit “Submit”.  Then and only then are you told that the thread is closed:

This happened to me earlier today, which should come as no surprise to anybody at this point.  In fact, while I’ve been thinking about doing it for awhile, this occasion is what prompted me to finally get around to creating this new Warcraft-themed blog site.

March 5th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

I keep wanting to blow steam for a paragraph or two about something in World Of Warcraft so I figured it would be a good idea to give myself a place to release that pressure.

Welcome to the pressure release valve.

Currently we’re using a kind of generic WordPress theme that I downloaded, but I’ll be working on my own WoW-based theme and switching over soon.

Update: Never really used the free WoW oriented template I downloaded after all… Just drilled down and made my own right off… May still make some changes but I hope you like it!

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stdClass Object
[stats] =>
[inventory] => stdClass Object

[progressionraw] => {}
[progression] =>
[raidlistraw] => {}
[raidlist] =>
[archivements] =>