Raid Rx: Are tier token drops fair?

Raid Rx is designed to encapsulate and cure the shock and horror that is 25-man raid healing. Ok, so it's mostly horror... Anyways, if you're a big fan of X-TREME Whack-A-Mole (or are being forced into it against your will) this is the column for you. People sure can be pushy when it comes to drops. Hands off, ladies. That Netherweave is mine!

Today I share with you one of my deepest secrets. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't lay awake at night, seething about the unfairness of raiding drops. Oh, sure, there's always that elusive piece that has a 0.0002% drop rate that every healer wants. Those are pie in the sky dreams of healing uberness. No, that's not what I mean.

I'm talking about the regular gear that's supposed to be dropping at semi-predictable intervals every week. Most bosses have a fairly limited loot table, and in the raiding world, most of that centers around the tier token system. You are supposed to have a 1 in 3 chance of seeing your token on any given kill. But what if that goes horribly wrong? And worse, what if it starts hurting progression?

Join me after the jump for a tale of woe and angst, plus what Blizzard has been doing to unintentionally fix the situation (sorta).

Ok, grab your blanky and settle in for some background story time. A long time ago in a raid instance far, far away, 40 people would argue over roughly 4 loots that dropped off a boss. Not only were the loots completely random, they only supported itemization for specific raiding classes and specs. If you wanted to be a Feral Druid, you were out of luck. You were going to spend DKP on resto gear and you were going to like it.

As you can imagine, it took many clears and many arguments to get a raid geared up under this system. Most, like my guild, had to institute a loot priority where tanks and healers got first shot at upgrades. Otherwise a guild would remain in the cesspool that is MC for eternity.

With the release of the Burning Crusade, an entirely new raid loot system was introduced. dun Dun DUN: Tokens! One goal of this system was to maintain a normal sized boss loot table while providing more "off-spec" gear support. This helps keep the loot random while still having a high enough chance what you wanted would drop in this century. The second goal was to reduce the amount of undesirable gear by making a drop viable for 3 classes and potentially 9 class/spec combinations. The more people that can use drops, the happier raiders are.

The first raiding token system out of the gate was Tier 5. It was here that the 9 classes were divided up into hate groups. You had Warriors, Priests, and Druids duking it out for some of the most important progression gear in the game. Paladins laughed gleefully since the Rogues and Shamans weren't much competition. That left the Mages and Warlocks spitting and clawing over the remaining drops while Hunters picked at the scraps.

Those with better memories then mine can pipe up with the reasoning behind these groups. I think it had to do with gear type (cloth/leather/mail/plate), but that doesn't match mages and locks being in the same group. Either way, the system wasn't ideal. You had your tanks and half of your healers both trying to get geared up off the same token. Coming out of the old game, you also had a crap ton of Priests and tanks, and little paladins/shaman depending on which faction you called home. This meant I had a full set while the Priests were begging for their 2nd piece bonus.

Because of this population vs token imbalance, Blizzard switched the groupings around for T6. So at this range there's Warrior/Hunter/Shaman (Protector), Paladin/Priest/Warlock (Conqueror), and Rogue/Mage/Druid (Vanquisher). For perspective, we run with a total of 9 people for the first group, 15 people in the middle group, and 12 people in the last group, including standby folks.

With 4 healer classes and 3 tokens, there will always be 2 healers sharing a drop. If you're in the T5 range, it's Priests and Druids. T6 puts Priests and Paladins together, as if there wasn't already some loathing due to Priest-caused Pally nerfs. So from a healing standpoint, you'll always have some gear lag with those paired classes because it will take longer to get everyone their tokens.

But what if the token drops aren't random enough? For my guild, the issue has been completing the 4 piece set for Priests and Paladins. We downed Mother Sharhraz 12 times for a total of 24 shoulder token drops. Out of those, only 5 tokens have been the Priest/Paladin/Warlock. One of them ended up with a healer. For 3 weeks in a row, we had double Protector. We were at the point where Protector was being DE'd because everyone had both their off-set items, too. Pre-Patch 2.4, we had a 67% chance of Protector, 20% chance for Conqueror, and a dismal 13% for Vanquisher.

On Illidari Council, it's the complete opposite. We've had at over 10 of the 24 drops be Conqueror. This is not a best-in-slot drop for some classes, so at this point I own all 3 pants types plus we've been DE'ing them. The Protector group has only had 7 drop.

Pre-Patch 2.4, the only way to get your T6 4-piece bonus was to either get the shoulders or the chest, assuming you had the rest from farm content. Illidan, owner of the chests, gave us more Conqueror bad luck. We had a 45% chance for Vanquisher, a 30% chance for Protector, and a 25% chance (or 5/20 drops) for Conqueror.

Obviously, if we were getting the gear to drop at all, we weren't exactly suffering. We had BT on farm, so it couldn't be all bad, right? Enter the Sunwell Plateau. I don't think anyone would argue that you need to have most of your gear from BT/MH before embarking on this heal-a-thon of a raid zone. The 6 out of 11 of our healers were still sporting the T5 2-piece look. Add onto that the 3 total Illidan healing mace drops and 0 Illidan healing trinkets and we were in sad shape.

The slightly mentioned change that came along with Patch 2.4 is the addition of a 3rd token drop on all bosses. This isn't just moar lewts. It has actually given us a better chance at our healers being ready to pwn in SWP. Since this change, a holy Priest and Paladin have already gotten their 4 piece set bonuses. That's 2 drops in 2 weeks that took us 10 weeks to accomplish before.

From a probability standpoint, you might not think the addition of another token should result in a greater chance of seeing Conqueror. Assuming you have a 33% chance to get a particular token, when you multiply the number of chances by 3, it's still 3/9 or 33%.

The difference in this situation is getting a Conqueror and Vanquisher is the same as getting a Vanquisher and Conqueror. Thus, under the 2 token system, there were 6 9 possibilities for what dropped. So out of all outcomes, there was 56% chance of getting a particular token. Let's say you wanted Token 1 out of 3 total tokens. Well, your only combinations with a Token 1 were 1,1; 1,2; and 1,3. So you have 3 chances divided by 6 total combinations, or a 50% chance of seeing at least a Token 1.

With a 3 token system, there are 9 unique 27 outcomes for tokens resulting in a 70% chance one of the results will have the token you want. For that same Token 1 you now have 1,1,1; 1,1,2; 1,1,3; 1,2,2; 1,3,3; and 1,2,3. If you take 6 divided by 9 you get a 67% chance you'll see at least a Token 1. That might not seem like much, 14% more, but when you've been facing what we've been facing, that more than doubles the drop rate of Vanquisher shoulders.

Now if I could only get the boots from Naj'entus. I'm patient. It's only been 6 weeks since the last one dropped and we've been downing the sewer clam every week since the end of October. No, of course it doesn't bother me that the raid I sat out for they dropped and went to our ret pally. /seethe

[Edited due to weird math. Sorry!]

Marcie Knox has been healing lead for over a year, including old school AQ40/BWL/Naxx. She has suffered through holy priest and now basks in the glory that is healadin. Her pally is currently scanning the LFG forums trying to find a couple of healers. Darn you real life commitments!