I'm not going to get into the topic of elaborate DKP systems, or "suicide kings," or any of the statistical methods that officers use to determine priority for a particular epic drop. Most guilds that raid use these systems, and for the most part they work well. I recommend them. Even though they might create some extra work, it's worth it in the long run to have an objective system to take the difficult loot decisions out of your hands. Because when you are the one who has to decide who gets the drop, you open yourself up for a lot of potential bickering and unpleasantness.
Sometimes, however, I find myself in this precarious position. Mostly this happens in Karazhan, because we don't use any kind of point system there. Why not? Well, since there's only 10 people in the raid, there's usually only one person (if anyone) who actually wants any given item that drops. We try to have one of each class represented, so that means there's at most two of any class, and those two same classes might have entirely different specs with different loot needs. Plus, if no one else wants an item, we'd rather have people take loot that isn't suited to their spec in case they wind up changing specs down the road (rather than sharding the drop). If we had to charge points for offspec loot, we'd do a lot more sharding than we already do now! Besides, it helps the guild when that bear druid can heal a 5-player dungeon or that DPS warrior can tank one in a pinch.
Maybe I'm way off, but I think a lot of guilds forego a point system in Kara for the same reasons. And if you do, you know there will be times when multiple people in a raid do want the same drop. When Zul'Aman launches in the next patch, we're going to find some drops that are much-desired and hotly contested. Every guild has those players who tend toward -- for lack of a better term -- loot whoring. Some are obvious about it. They'll roll on anything given the chance. Some are more subtle. They try to make convincing, logical arguments about why an item is better for them than someone else (when in reality it's just the opposite). If you're not paying attention, it's easy to fall into a pattern where you support and enable this behavior.
You can duck this responsibility by just letting anyone /random for loot, but that system has its own disadvantages -- mainly as a result of its sheer disregard for circumstance. For instance, do alts get to roll against mains? Do DPS-spec'ed players get to roll against healing-spec'ed players for healing gear?
In my guild, we try to make loot decisions based on two main factors: progression and fairness.
Back in the days of encounters like Onyxia, making decisions based on progression was simple. You geared up the main tanks first, then the healers, and then the DPS. Onyxia never enraged, so as long as you could keep the tank alive, the fight could go on as long as it had to in order to kill her. Now every boss enrages. And there are encounters like Gruul, where your success is based just as much on how fast you can kill him as your ability to keep the tank (and the rest of the raid) alive. So don't fall into the same pattern of tank above healer above DPS'er. That philosophy doesn't hold water anymore, so don't let your tanks and healers bully you into favoring them.
You still probably want the majority of your tank upgrades to go to a single tank when you're first starting to get a new tier of equipment, but don't neglect the other roles.
Progression-based loot decisions depend on every person in the raid choosing a dedicated role, whether it's healing, tanking, or DPS'ing. To ease progression, priority must be based on that role above all else. For example, Resto shamans should get healing gear upgrades over Shadow priests, even if it's cloth. Don't let that Shadow priest convince you to let him or her roll on every cloth drop just because he or she can equip them. If the priest is DPS'ing, those healing shoulders aren't benefitting the raid sitting in a backpack or bank slot. Yes, the shaman will probably replace the cloth with mail eventually. But for now, the raw healing stats are more important to the raid.
Progression also means making some sacrifices. If a drop is a small upgrade for one player and a huge upgrade for another player, it's in the best interest of the raid for the latter to receive the item (provided they show up more than once a month). I'm lucky in that most of my guild's members understand this idea and will pass when they compare the gear being replaced. My officers and I don't like to force people to pass in this particular circumstance. We'll ask the players what they're using in that slot so the raid can see the situation. We might even whisper the player who's getting the comparatively smaller upgrade just to make sure they are aware of the circumstances. But in this case, we don't force a pass. You can tell a lot about a player based on their decisions in these cases. It's knowledge that can come in handy down the road.
Hand in hand with progression comes fairness. You may be of the opinion that a Balance druid isn't as good as a warlock, or that a Fury warrior isn't as good as a rogue. But you can't base your loot decisions on that opinion and penalize players for not playing the right class. Everyone in the same role with the same loot needs must have equal priority to /random for a substantial upgrade. If you let the "pure" classes have all the best loot, say goodbye to those blessings and totems as all your hybrids search for fairer pastures.
Fairness also means balanced distribution. If two players want a drop, but one player has already received a big upgrade that night, the gear should pass to the player who hasn't gotten a drop yet. Be careful with this situation, however. If someone takes an item that they don't really care about just because no one else wanted it, then is told he or she must pass on something they really want because they already got a drop, they're going to be very unhappy with you! So try to keep in mind who got the big upgrades and who got the "meh" drops -- but don't judge it by the player's reaction alone.
Weapons, necklaces, rings, cloaks, and trinkets are usually the big drama items and the most likely to be whored after. So you might want to look at loot tables before you zone in and determine which roles and classes are going to get priority. Involve your class leaders in these decisions. Some items are just suboptimal for certain classes/specs for reasons that aren't always obvious if you haven't played that class/spec yourself. Take for example two highly coveted drops from Prince Malchezaar: Malchazeen and Light's Justice. Malchazeen is just too fast to be optimal for an Enhancement shaman, so a dagger rogue should get priority. Also, despite its paladin-themed name, Light's Justice isn't really an ideal weapon for Holy paladins, even with the extra +healing on it over Maiden's Shard of the Virtuous. Paladins just don't get much mileage out of spirit, unlike druids and priests.
As with any situation that can potentially lead to drama, consistency and communication are the keys. Once you've established certain standards and philosophies for distributing loot, stick with your system. Make sure everyone understands the system. And when loot is given to someone, explain why.
It's impossible to avoid any and all conflict over loot. But with a transparent system and reasonable officers making the decisions, you can keep the number of ugly conflicts to a minimum.
For all those guilds out there running Karazhan and (soon) Zul'Aman without points systems, how do you go about making these decisions? Which Zul'Aman drop is going to cause the most drama? My gold is on the Tiny Voodoo Mask. That trinket is pimp!
Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!