So if you're trying to get started and you're a little lost as to what all of these numbers mean, how they affect your game, and the kind of gear you should equip to play your best, this guide is for you. Read on and we'll walk you through the numbers in plain English.
Health, mana, and other resources
Whatever your game role, you have a limited pool of resources to draw on in order to accomplish it. The only resource all classes have in common is the eponymous health pool, which determines how much damage you can take. The other resources -- which you'll use in order to cast spells and abilities -- will depend on your class. Here's what you can expect from WoW's different resource systems:
Health: The red bar next to your character portrait in the upper left-hand corner of the game window indicates your current health. Health is a measure of how much damage you can take in the game. When attacks hit you, you'll lose health points -- and when you run out, your character will die. You gain health as you level, but you can also can get more health by equipping gear with stamina or, for some classes, using abilities that will temporarily boost your health.
Mana: Mana, used for casting spells, is represented by the blue bar under your health bar. Though not all classes use mana as a resource, it's used by spellcasters and healers of all sorts, including paladins. The amount of mana you have is determined by your level and, to a small extent, gear and talents. When you run out of mana, these classes can no longer cast spells or use abilities -- but mana does regenerate during combat for some classes, depending on talents.
Energy / focus: Energy is the resource used by rogues, cat form druids, and brewmaster and windwalker monks. Focus is the resource used by hunters and their pets. Both resources are capped at 100 points and consumed in order for these classes to use their abilities. However, they regenerate at a set rate, so even when using your abilities in combat you'll find your energy or focus bar refilling so you can use more abilities.
Rage / runic power: Rage is the primary resource used by warriors and bear form druids, while runic power is the primary resource used by death knights. Like energy and focus, these are capped at 100 -- but unlike other resources, rage and runic power start at zero when you enter combat and are generated by actions in combat. When out of combat, you'll lose rage and runic power quickly, which makes the playstyle of these brawlers markedly different than other classes.
Combo points / holy power / chi / runes: Though most classes have a single resource needed in order to use their abilities, some classes also have a secondary resource system needed instead of or in addition to their primary resource for certain skills. Combo points are used by rogues and cat form druids, holy power is used by paladins, chi is used by monks, and runes are used by death knights. You start combat with no combo points, holy power, and chi and generate them by using actions in combat, while you start combat with all runes and they regenerate at a fixed pace once used. (For future death knights in the audience: runes are rather more complicated than that, but this covers the basics. If you want to know all there is to know about runes right now, check out the Icy Veins' guide.)
Though all characters have some base attributes that they get just by leveling, all of them can be improved by equipping gear that boosts those attributes -- which you should definitely be doing. Knowing which attributes are key for your class -- and equipping your character appropriately as you advance through the levels -- will make leveling up a lot easier. Here are the game's primary stats and the classes that should care about them:
Agility: Physical damage classes that rely on speed rather than brute force want agility to improve their attack power and critical strike chance. This means agility is the primary stat for cat form druids, hunters, rogues, enhancement shamans, and brewmaster and windwalker monks.
Intellect: A measure of a character's smarts, intellect improves both spell damage and spell critical strike chance. This makes it the stat of choice for all caster classes, whether they're focused on dealing damage or healing it. The classes should focus on intellect include: mages, mistweaver monks, holy paladins, priests, warlocks, balance and restoration druids, and elemental and restoration shamans.
Spirit: Primarily important for healers -- that's holy paladins, holy and discipline priests, restoration druids, restoration shamans, and mistweaver monks -- spirit makes mana regenerate faster in and out of combat. In the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion, spirit will no longer be considered one of the game's primary statistics... but we don't yet know all of the details on how spirit will change.
Stamina: More stamina means more health, and as such it's a useful stat for all classes -- especially while you're leveling up. However, it's typically more useful to tank classes, whose job is to soak up damage. That means blood death knights, guardian druids, protection paladins, and protection warriors should be on the lookout for gear with high stamina.
Strength: If you're a class who deals physical damage with focus on brute force, strength is what you want. Frost and unholy death knights, arms and fury warriors, and retribution paladins will want to stock up on strength to make their attacks hit harder.
What about hit, haste, and other stats?
You've probably noticed other attributes on gear than the ones we've mentioned -- and it's true, the game has a quite a few things to consider beyond the primary five attributes listed above. However, if you're just getting started, those primary five are the most important ones to know and focus on as you're advancing.
This isn't to say that the game's secondary stats aren't important, but they become more important when you hit max level and you're fine-tuning your gear to get the most out of your character. (But don't fret -- we'll have a guide explaining secondary stats soon.) Until then, you'll probably be well-served by gearing up with the right primary stats: make sure your gear has the right primary stats, and you'll be well on your way to success!
Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you can't bring your A-game to World of Warcraft! Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from the seven things every newbie ought to know to how to get started as a healer or as a tank.