It's probably my years working in operations, but I'm very, very against the idea of single points of failure. Any time I build a raid, I build it from the ground up chock full of redundancy, fail-safes, and contingency plans. Tanks, heals, replenishment, and DPS are all carefully doubled-up, so that if someone doesn't show at the last minute, they can be replaced. Hell, I even make sure we have a back-up instance available, because who the hell knows what might happen in the final minutes. I've even gone so far as to read from a book to my raid members one night during bad lag. My point here is: have a back-up plan.
But despite my best efforts, I still had someone that I absolutely could not risk having go AWOL. (That's "absent without leave," in case you're not caught up with hip internet language.) Maybe it's a tank with sufficient hit points, or a vital spec of healer who'll make a progression fight relatively trivial. Hell, maybe that person's usual backup is on vacation, so that if the main raider misses, there's no available replacement.
If you find yourself in this position, there's a few things you can do to hedge your bets. Here's how to do your best to make sure those vital raid members show up.
Secure commitment beforehand
This might sound like a no-brainer to half of the readers, but it's incredibly important to check with your vital members before the raid and make sure they're going to show up. Life is busy. There's wedding, babies, puppies, jobs, and vacations. All of these things can pop up, and even the most well intentioned raider can forget to mention them. And then raid nights comes around, and you're out your main tank.
If you find out someone is absolutely irreplaceable for a raid, talk to that member. Tell him, "We need you there, or the raid can't run. Are you comfortable accepting that responsibility?" If he tells you that he can't handle that level of accountability, then you have a problem. If you know about an issue before it wrecks your raid, you stand a much better chance of handling it.
Make sure they know they're vital
Again, this might come across as a no-brainer. But we've all been sitting at our computer, cradling our head in our hands as the mother of all hangovers pounds away. And then you think to yourself, "I'm melee DPS. I'm not even the best geared. They can get by without me." And then you go hover over the porcelain throne while you wait for your regrets to come exploding forth.
Okay, maybe it's just me that does that. But I know there's plenty of cases that can make a raider decide to spend their time otherwise. It's natural. Raiding is usually fun, but it can be onerous or painful during wipe nights. Sometimes, raiders just need that little extra shove to make sure they log in to the game instead of taking it easy.
That's why you talk to the raider before the raid, and make sure he knows how vital he is. Like I said before, you tell him, "We need you there. We have to have you." Make sure he has the information to make the decision and stand up for his team mates. If the raid member doesn't understand how important he is, you can't be surprised if he makes the decision you don't want.
Trade some contact information
Fel hound poop happens. And when it does, your vital raider can be left out on his own, desperately trying to tell the raid that he's running late. Hard to do that without a phone number, though. Take the time to swap contact information with your vital raider. This will allow you to double-check with the raider, maybe drop them a phone call if they're running late.
Drop the raid member an email earlier in the day, making sure they remember about the raid that night. Sure, it's fairly unlikely that a vital tank or healer has spontaneously forgotten about 9 or 24 other people who are relying on him. But what the "early reminder" technique really does is open the lines of communication early, giving the raider a chance to tell you something's wrong. The whole point here is to get that information early as possible, so that you can try and adjust.
Let a little peer pressure happen
In a tight knit group in which players innately rely on one another, and place a great deal of trust in one another, there's going to be peer pressure. This is simply team mates looking across the gulf at one another and saying, "I'm here, where are you." And if someone's attendance is slacking, chances are that these team members will apply a little good nature ribbing to the slacker.
It's tempting to stop that pressure in the name of team morale. Don't. Fight that urge. Only step in if the ribbing or joshing is getting out of line, or if you're actually certain that the dynamic will cause you other problems down the road. Peer pressure has been proven to have all kinds of negative effects; this kind of peer pressure is one of the few cases where it can have a very good effect on your raid.
The conclusion is communication
At the end of the day, what I'm really saying is that you need to communicate. Make sure the raider knows he's vital, and make sure he is committing to showing up to the raid. Swap contact information and take the time earlier in the day to remind the vital member. And if there is a problem, let a little peer pressure help make sure it doesn't happen again.
I know a lot of this is a pain in the butt, and doesn't seem like something every raid leader will want to do. But what you have to ask yourself is exactly how badly you need that raider to show up. If they're vital enough, you just need to do the work until you can replace them.
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