Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them, brought to you by David Bowers and Dan O'Halloran.
No one likes to be told how to play their class. We've each learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't. Yes, there is room for improvement, but, I swear, if one more person screams "HEAL PLZ" then I'm gonna make a macro that spams "TAUNT PLZ", "DPS PLZ" and "CONTROL YOUR AGGRO PLZ". And I shall refrain from uttering "Does your daddy know you're on his account?" No, really. I will. Ok, after tonight. I promise.
My point is, when you group with a warrior, you know what to expect. Same with a rogue, mage or priest. They all have clearly defined roles. But druids, oh my, you never know what you're going to get. Will you get the guy who refuses to shift out of cat form to spot heal when the priest is OOM and the tank is going down for the count? Will you get the overcaffeinated shifter who can't decide if he is dps'ing, off-tanking, patch healing or nuking? Or what about the b00mk!n that insists he can tank Illidan because he has high armor rating even though he lacks significant dodge, resilience or snap aggro?
I'm not saying these play styles are wrong or bad. There are many situations where these tactics are valid. I'm saying that groups need to know what kind of druid they are grouping with so they can all have an enjoyable and profitable pick up group. And to help you do that, I'm going to cover the major play styles of different kinds of druids and what you should and should not expect them to do for you. I'm going to start with the feral spec.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A BEAR DRUID: There are the tanky things: ability to taunt effectively, know how to pull, handle multiple pulls, know which mob to kill first in a multiple pull, etc. Druid tanks can do all this with the right combination of gear, spec and talent. With the Burning Crusade expansion, bear druids not only got some great talents, they also got the itemization to back it up that they desperately needed.
If your druid tank is not doing doing his job, you can inquire what the druid thinks is going wrong. Key word: inquire. Do not accuse, insult or demand the druid play a certain way. That is a fast ticket to losing your tank for the night. Not every druid tank is at the top of their game and many are happy to hear suggestions on getting better at what they do, as long as those suggestions are communicated constructively. If they still don't listen, cut your losses and leave the group. Druids have their share of clueless idiots not willing to learn their class, too.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT FROM A BEAR DRUID: Like any other tank, don't expect them to be able to get back aggro if someone in your group repeatedly overnukes/dps's/heals. Druids only have two abilites for snap aggro and one of those is on a 10 minute timer. Like any other tank class, they will get annoyed if you open with your biggest nuke or your fattest heal. Aggro management is a team effort.
DRUID TANK PLAY STYLES: Don't be alarmed if your druid tank starts every fight in humanoid form. There are a few aggro gaining tools druids can use this way. They can cast a heal over time on themselves before shifting into bear form and charging. This does three important things: it gives the group healer more time before they start gaining aggro from healing, it gives the druid extra aggro when in combat from healing himself and shifting from humanoid to feral form gives properly talented druids instant rage generation which can be used to charge the mob.
Other druids like to stay in bear form to retain their rage and chain pull constantly. Both these techniques are valid.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A CAT DRUID: Not once in my time as a druid have I been asked to join a group as a cat druid. This leads me to believe that most players don't know the advantages that cat druids bring to the party: versatility unparalleled by any other class in the game. In this role, the druid can fulfill any role needed in any fight. He can open in cat form for massive upfront damage, shift to bear form to pull a mob off the clothie, shift to druid form to spread the patch heal love, sleep an animal add, combaz rez the mage, heal himself plus innervate the healer and then back to cat form to revel in the glory that is sustained, manaless dps.
To me, this is what playing a druid is all about: fulfilling whatever role is necessary at any given time. A well played druid can shore up the weaknesses in the rest of your group and fill in at a critical moment in a fight. You get an off-tank, a secondary healer, a high output melee dps machine and a ranged nuker at any given time. As a 5th member of a group they are unrivaled.
Expect their role to change as you progress through an instance. In the beginning, he will probably stay in cat form to quickly eliminate the trash mobs. In the middle, he will bounce between cat dps, off tanking in bear form and some patch healing in druid form. Towards the end of the instance, he will likely either be patch healing or off tanking.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT FROM A CAT DRUID: This is one of the hardest roles for a druid to play. The level of skill required from the player is very high. Not only do they have to know how to play every role, but they have to know when is the right time to shift. They have to keep an eye on the entire fight, everyone's relative aggro as well as their own and often have to do this while facing away from the group fighting a mob, watching health bars and keeping a third eye on the chat screen. So if they are in bear form off tanking next to the mage when the priest gets killed, don't start ranting. Just restate the priorities and move on.
Some cat druids never want to heal. They want to be rogues in feline form. If you get one of these in your group, kindly explain what your expectations are: you need patch healing when things go bad and maybe some off tanking. If the cat druid refuses, find one that is willing to be a team player.
CAT DRUID PLAY STYLES: These come in all flavors from permacats to players who shift form every three seconds. The goal of the cat druid should be to fill the role necessary in the group. Let them do their thing and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Above all, they are not a class to be micromanaged.
David Bowers takes the reigns next week. When I return in two weeks, I'll cover Restoration (yes, they do exist outside of raid groups) and Balance (all hail the Panzerkin!) specs.
Crazy good druid illustration by MarieC at DeviantArt.
[EDIT: Clarified healing for aggro statement. -DanO]