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Ready Check: Looking into roll-based loot systems

Tyler Caraway

Ready Check helps you prepare yourself and your raid for the bosses that simply require killing. Check back with Ready Check each week for the latest pointers on killing adds, not standing in fire, and hoping for loot that won't drop.

Greetings once again, raiders. While the rest of the writers are off in their lofty towers of 4.3 land, I am stuck here in the trenches of reality. Fret not, we'll soon be climbing out of this foxhole that we've found ourself in, but the time is not quite right. I promise you though, when next we hit 4.3 content with our feet running, it is going to be an epic adventure that you won't want to miss. In the meantime, it's back to the discussion on loot systems. Gear, after all, doesn't distribute itself.

Last week, we talked about various DKP systems and the advantages or disadvantages that they hold. While DKP is a fairly common system that you'll probably see in most guilds, it isn't the only popular choice. This week, we'll be taking a look into roll-based loot systems and how they too can be an effective method for distributing purples.

Following tradition

Traditionally, roll-based loot systems have something of a stigma against them. Since these systems or the most part relying upon luck over any other factors, players tend to shy away from using flat rolls as a means of distributing their hard-earned rewards. Overall, this is perhaps for the best. As had been mentioned in a previous article, loot systems are judged by how evenly players receive items and how fairly they reward investment. Using the most basic roll system, which is just a pure /100 in WoW, fails in both of these aspects.

Loot is handed out at total random, so there is no method of enforcing an even spread of gear among raiders; further, the same random nature offers no chance at rewarding any one player over another. Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about a roll-based system is that it is entirely impartial to everyone, having no imbalance whatsoever, and for that reason isn't prohibitive to new recruits. On the same level, though, it also offers nothing to those players who have stuck around for the long haul.

Normally, few people run with a straight roll system, although in alt runs or PUGs, it isn't uncommon to see at all. You will generally see some stipulations attached to every roll. Variations exist for one main spec win per raid, with a similar or no limitation on off-spec items as well. Some groups will also differentiate between tier and non-tier items as well, allowing for one main spec win per raid and one tier item win per raid. While such a system was more common when all tier items came as a raid drop, with Firelands only holding two tier pieces, this rule set isn't seen as frequently any more.

Overall, there's nothing inherently wrong with a straight roll-based loot system, but it is really more so a system better left to PUG or alt runs instead of being the mainstay system used by any serious raiding team. Instead, it is often best to use a modified roll-based system. There are several of these out there, all of which have their own ups and downs; here, we'll look at one purely roll-based system while also taking a peek at a DKP-roll hybrid.

Letting fate be your guide

Ni-karma is perhaps my favorite loot system that I have ever heard of, yet it's probably one that you haven't yet come across. Despite how awesome it is, the persecution against roll-based loot systems has really prevented it from ever taking a strong root in the WoW community. Perhaps things will change, though I doubt it, and it may wind up different in Titan, but for now Ni-karma remains the glorious little loot system that hides in the back burner.

Ni-karma is exactly as the name implies, a roll based system that is influenced by fate -- or in this case, the raid leader. Every raider earns karma, points that essentially play out as though they were DKP. Players can then use this karma to influence their rolls, allowing them a better chance at getting whatever item it is that they wish. Each item is handled slightly differently, but overall, the system is fairly simplistic.

When you first go to distribute loot, the item is linked out and rolls are called for. Anyone who wants the item sends in whether they wish to roll with or without their karma. Rolling with your karma provides a much higher chance of winning the item; however, winning comes with a price of half your accumulated karma. Rolling without using your karma comes at no cost, but you have a much lower chance of getting the item, particularly if others choose to use their karma. Karma, in this sense, is nothing more than additional numbers added into your roll, so if you rolled a 50 and had 50 karma, you would have a total roll of 100. Simple enough!

There are two other factors part of this system as well. First, anyone who chooses to use his karma and has 50 more karma than all other players choosing to roll automatically wins the item. Should there be a player within that range, then only he would get a chance to roll. For example, if Druid A has 100 karma, Rogue A has 80 karma, and Death Knight A has 40 karma, then only Rogue A can roll if Druid A choose to use his karma, and only if the rogue uses his, as well.

The second little hiccup is that tier items always have a fixed price, applied whether you choose to use your karma or not (although whether or not you choose to use this rule is entirely up to you). The fixed price on tier loot primarily exists as an anti-inflation device to prevent players from attempting to hoard their karma in an effort to bypass loot. We often see this in medium progression guilds that farm normal difficulty encounters for a month or so before hitting heroic encounters; some players will tend to pass on all non-heroic loot in an effort to save up only for heroic items. Losing half of your karma per item, however, is often enough to prevent any hoarding or overinflation.

Overall, Ni-karma really hits upon the best of both worlds. It allows for a measure of luck to equalize loot distribution while similarly being rewarding to long-term players. Perhaps the biggest bonus that Ni-karma has over other loot systems is that it doesn't have the same off-spec penalties that traditional DKP systems have; the player merely rolls without their karma bonus if no one needs it for main spec.

Rolling as a deterrent

Shroud Loot System, or SLS, is probably another one that you haven't heard of before, yet it's very well crafted. Although it follows more of a strict DKP style, there is just as much of a roll-based element to it as well. While originally, DKP based systems awarded points exclusively for kills, most of current systems probably work off of attendance instead, and for that we have SLS to thank. SLS was one of the first popularized DKP systems that worked exclusively off attendance-based points instead of rewarding players for kills, a theory that has carried over into much of today's common loot systems.

In SLS, players earn their points for every raid that they attended. As with any normal DKP systems, they can then spend those points in order to obtain items. Unlike most other DKP systems, however, there is no bidding involved. Upon looting, players are given two basic options: Either you spend half of your current DKP to get the item, or you choose to pay a very low, fixed amount of DKP for the item. In cases of the former, whoever has the highest total wins the item, and that's the end of it.

Where's the roll base, you ask? Rolling comes into play when multiple players shoot for paying out the low, fixed DKP amount instead of going halfway in.

Any time you have multiple players who wish to bid the lowest amount possible, all players seeking the item then roll to see who wins, with the winner spending his DKP. While seemingly not very roll-based, you may find yourself rolling more times than you'd think. Gearing follows many trends with certain items being excessively desirable and others only needed by a few select classes or specs or just not that great overall.

In most traditional DKP systems, undesirable items are often left to rot, even though they might be a minor upgrade for some players. My current guild is a prime example of this. We run using a standardized DKP system where everything is left open to bidding yet there's a minimum bid that is a tenth of your current total rounded up. Our DKP values are fairly low, keeping most minimum bids around 1 to 2, but that same factor also makes it highly prohibitive in getting minor or off-spec items. When you only gain 2 DKP a night, it's hard to justify spending all of that or more on an item that's not for your primary raiding role.

In SLS, that is often avoided because the fixed DKP price isn't overtly prohibitive toward picking up any spare gear. Plus, any main-spec item that you win is going to cut your current total in half, which is a huge deterrent against hoarding. Given how many itemized roles there are, it's fairly common for multiple hybrids to shoot for off-spec items. The low DKP cost of certain pieces also helps players in picking up minor upgrades for their main spec.

As another personal example, I have the heroic necklace from twin dragons; therefore, the necklace that drops off of Majordomo Staghelm is of limited value to me. While others in the raid group are willing to spend high amounts of DKP for that item, I am not because it isn't a huge upgrade for me. To this day, I still haven't picked it up because it has never been worth the DKP cost to get, despite being a minor upgrade for my primary raiding role. Again, this is something that SLS avoids. Although players do still have to spend DKP for these items, the cost is much lower than what they would spend for a normal upgrade, making it far more likely that multiple players would want it.

What's to prevent everyone from merely going for the low minimum? Chance, of course. Players often hate luck of the draw, which is why roll systems are frowned upon. Thus, if everyone starts bidding the least that they can, they are tossing themselves at the mercy of the RNG gods to fall in their favor; few are often willing to risk such a thing.

Tune in next week!

There are still a few other widely used loot systems out there that we haven't touched upon yet. At this point, I plan on wrapping up this series with next week's column, but one never knows what time may bring. Hope this has been of use. Stay classy, WoWers.

Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.

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