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The Guild Counsel: Some finer points of raid leadership

Karen Bryan

Whether you're leading a raid or running an in-game event, it's a real challenge to pull it off smoothly. Leading a large group of players in game is a combination of teacher and coach, minus the ability to be face to face. In effect, you're flying blind, but you still need to communicate, coordinate, and motivate in order to be successful.

We've gone over some basics of leading groups of players before, but in this week's Guild Counsel, I'd like to offer up some finer points that often get overlooked but can make a big difference in making your raid successful (and also fun). While most of these are about raid leadership, they could be used for PvP or player-run events as well.

Work things through in stages

One of the most common mistakes that raid leaders make is thinking they need to give every detail about an encounter before engaging. They've done their homework, devised a strategy, and have thorough knowledge about what to expect. The problem is that even the most focused raider is going to have trouble remembering everything on the first try. And in many cases, by the time you've gotten to what the boss does at 60 percent, most of your raiders are off making popcorn, tabbing out to catch up on the latest meme, or channel surfing to see what's on TV.

The first time you try a boss, give a tl;dr version of the main things to watch out for and elaborate on what to expect for the first 10 or 20 percent of the fight. As in the rooftop scene in the Matrix, no one gets it the first try, so aim for getting the first parts of the fight and work through the whole encounter in chunks. Explain to the raid that the first few pulls are focused on getting the boss down to 80 percent, and once you've done that, focus on the next 20 percent, and so on. Not only is it easier for the raid to digest things a little at a time, but it's easier for raiders to see the progress they're making on the encounter. Mini-goals keep morale up even when you feel like you're struggling with one mechanic of the fight.

Also, while you shouldn't overload members with information before a pull; instead, direct the raid and give warnings and reminders during the course of the battle. Raid leading is a lot like leading an orchestra, and you need to make sure that each section does its job in sync with the others. Initially, as you work on an encounter, it might feel as if you're thinking for the entire raid, but as tough as that can be, it can also be satisfying when you see each raider learn the fight and eventually be able to complete it with little direction from you.

The Guild Counsel  Some finer points of raid leadership
Show it in different ways

The easiest way to explain a raid encounter is by voice chat, but the more ways you can instruct, the less time it will take for everyone to get a handle on what he needs to do. Instead of saying, "go to the corner," try to walk the raid to the spot you're talking about (if it's safe to). Instead of saying "run from the AE," consider picking a designated spot where people can run to so everyone's close enough for heals and buffs. If some of your raid is having trouble knowing where to go, you could mark knowledgeable players and designate them as the ones for the raid to shadow. Or you could have a buddy system in which one player is assigned to stick with another player. My favorite in EverQuest was dragging around a dead gnome corpse as we worked through NToV. We used him to mark the pull spot, and it helped the raid keep those pesky drakes centered. The more visual cues you can give, the easier it will be to get everyone on the same page.

Use a pre-game chalkboard

Instead of giving out all the raid instructions during the raid itself, post it up on your guild forums or send it out via guild mail (if you have it). Not everyone will necessarily read it and digest it, but the more players you can brief ahead of time, the fewer players you'll need to hand-hold and coach when you're in the heat of battle. And diagrams are worth their weight in gold, so if you have maps or sketches that show pull spots and where players need to stand or move to, add those in as well. The 50 dkp minus video was good for a laugh, but ironically, it's probably one of the best instructional videos for the Onyxia fight.

One of my favorite memories of EverQuest was consulting with an officer about endgame bosses and working together on plotting out little Xs and stick figures to show where the tank would be, where the healers would hide, and where the raid would set up. Because line of sight was helpful in surviving the AoEs of certain mobs, we'd use the mapped out architecture of the room to find the best spots to set up. Raiding today tends to have a lot more movement than it used to, so diagrams are even more helpful in showing where to run, where to dodge, etc. And raiding is a lot like dancing in that everyone has certain steps to learn, and they need to be executed correctly in order to succeed. Only with raiding, you might have multiple sets of steps, with certain raiders moving one way and others moving another. While it can get complicated, it's fun when it all comes together.

Don't rely on walkthroughs

Raid forces are like snowflakes, so what works for one guild might not work as well for another. Reading posts and guides on raid encounters is helpful in learning what to expect, but don't take every tip as the only way to do it. There are many factors that come into play when raiding, like gear, class makeup, and the overall performance of each player. As a raid leader, you know the strengths and weaknesses of your players, so your job is really to take your knowledge of the fight and match it up with what you know your raid can do.

I still remember doing fights in EverQuest II where walkthroughs would completely fail to mention certain debuffs that, when cured, made it much easier to survive. It's possible that the guild that wrote it didn't notice them because they were better geared or had more healers than our force. But while they won it through sheer brute force, we had a much tougher time without staying on top of those cures. Similarly, we sometimes chose different spots to set up the raid and fight because the spots we chose were easier for the raiders to learn and made it easier to move to at the necessary point in time. Walkthroughs and videos help at times, but if you don't take into consideration your own raid force in planning your strategy, you might actually be making things harder on the raid.

To be an effective raid leader, you need to don several hats at the same time: teacher, coach, and even orchestra conductor. It requires advance prep on your part, a good plan that plays into the raid's strengths, and an ability to help everyone on the raid learn the strat. It can be extremely tough at times, but when it all comes together, it's not only satisfying but also a whole lot of fun.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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