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15 Minutes of Fame: PvE twinks turn lowbie instances devilishly difficult

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

PvP twinking is a fairly well-known, widespread phenomenon in World of Warcraft. The idea is that players stop leveling at the very top of a particular PvP level range bracket, dig in with all the mix-maxed gear and enchants they can muster, and proceed to mop up the battleground kills. Anyone who's run a few battlegrounds on the way up through the levels has encountered that shockingly strong player who tears him a new one. We've even profiled a prolific, multi-level twinker (twinkie?) right here on 15 Minutes of Fame.

What you might not be as familiar with -- we weren't! -- is the idea of PvE twinking. Allow us to introduce a hardy band of adventurers on Blackwater Raiders (US-H) that's running each and every instance at the bare minimum level that players are eligible to enter. Ragefire Chasm at level 8? You got it. Deadmines at level 10? Aggro Magnet Central -- but yeah, you got that, too.

"It's surprisingly fun playing these classic instances that we've all done hundreds of times at such a low level compared to the mobs," gushes party leader Gilgalad. "It can take hours to clear an instance that typically takes 20 to 30 minutes for an appropriately leveled party. Some of the boss mechanics that are typically a trifle to a normal party become incredibly difficult to deal with when you are 10 levels below the boss. Arugal in Shadowfang Keep was particularly tough and required quite a few attempts before we came up with a strategy that worked."

Main Character Fellowyowler
Guild <What in Tardation>
Realm Blackwater Raiders (US-H)

15 Minutes of Fame: PvE twinking at the bare minimum of dungeon level requirements – whew! What was the seed of the PvE twinking concept? How did this whole ball get rolling?

Fellowyowler: I was playing on a level 10 paladin I had recently started and thought to myself, "I wonder just how great I can get a level 10 to be ..." My original plan was to put him into battlegrounds (where the general populace hates low levels) and put up some stunning numbers as a level 10. But then I sort of realized that I would need some dungeon drops in order to complete my gear set.

I thought I'd step into RFC by myself and see how I could do, considering I had fairly decent gear minus a few items. I was able to smash a couple of mobs, but I thought to myself, "If I just had a healer ..." and then it struck me! Why not run a full party? Why not cap them at level 8 and see how tough RFC can be? I presented the idea on the Blackwater Raiders realm forum and got a pretty nice response from everyone. Shortly after, the guild was born.

How long have you been doing these runs?

It seems the original forum post has been lost to the sands of time, but looking at Fellowyowler's achievements, I earned the pet achievement in April (usually one of the first things I get on a toon), and we defeated Ragefire Chasm (our first guild dungeon) on May 1. That's as good of a start time as I can muster, I suppose.

Obviously, you're going up against bosses with the benefit of new class mechanics, bosses that've been nerfed over time, expansion gear, heirlooms ... This doesn't pretend to be an "authentic," at-level experience. How is the balance working out, doing legacy-era content with current-era characters?

Pre-4.0, things were definitely unbalanced toward the mobs, in my experience. We had great difficulty with some of the game mechanics that typically aren't a big deal for other toons. For example, how much hit rating do you need to consistently hit a mob 10+ levels above you? I'll tell you -- it's quite a bit more than you can possibly stack at level 10.

Post-4.0, things seems to have balanced out a bit. As the designated tank for the group, I can say it has been far easier to hang onto threat lately. Granted, our last run was with the benefit of the full range of Hallow's End candies, but I think the new talent structure probably helped a bit.

Do you plan to do each and every instance at the minimum level, or do you group instances in a level range "bracket"?

Each instance in the game has a minimum required level, and they seem to be grouped every five levels with usually three to four instances per bracket. We typically knock out each instance in a minimum-level bracket, and then the guild sort of levels as one up to the next bracket.

Some instances seem to have their own bracket. RFC was the only minimum level 8 dungeon, and the only minimum level 20 dungeons are the four wings of Scarlet Monastery (which sort of counts as four instances, I guess). Generally, we all know what's coming up and discuss which ones to tackle first in any given bracket.

About how long have you been spending at each "bracket"? Do you plan a leveling/gearing period before you attack the dungeons?

Each bracket has been taking quite a while to get past, so far. We all have our own schedules, and sometimes it can be difficult to coordinate a run for the whole group. Each instance takes two to three hours to complete, so the members need to have ample free time all at once. After we complete each bracket, we usually go off on our own and level to the next bracket however we like to do it.

When it comes to gearing, though, we are all very supportive of each other. It would be nearly impossible otherwise. Most of the best gear resides at the bottom of dungeons we can't easily get through, or at the end of long quest chains that were never intended for such low levels to complete. With the support of our high-level mains, we all make sure that we get the best of the best gear possible. I personally enjoy this part of the project as much as the dungeons, both gearing up my warrior and helping the others to gear up as well.

What's been the most challenging aspect of the project?

Something we've dubbed "Arthas' Corner." There is a spot in The Deadmines as you are approaching the final boss, Edwin Van Cleef. The approach is a series of wooden platforms that sort of go back and forth along the front of the ship. If you approach this area incorrectly at level 10, your aggro radius will pull the entire ship down on your head and instead of tackling three to four mobs in controlled pulls, you are looking at more like 12 to 15 mobs, including a boss. Not good odds when they are 10+ levels up on you.

It took us about six or seven tries to get that pull just right. The real problem being that it takes so long to get to this point in the instance that if you fail and wipe the party, all of the mobs have respawned throughout the dungeon -- so then you can spend the next couple of hours getting back to where you were, or call it and try again next week.

What aspect have you personally found most enjoyable?

I enjoy all of it, I'd say, but most of all I think just knowing that we are playing the game in a way that no one ever really has. We get to experience an old dungeon in a whole new way. I never would have expected how difficult it has proven to be, nor how long it takes for each dungeon.

I've always loved gearing low-level toons, but this project has added a whole new aspect to it. There is tons of information out there for how to gear a rogue at level 19 to crush people in Warsong Gulch, but try to find information on best-in-slot weapons at level 20 and you'll come up with zilch. Not that it's incredibly difficult to figure out, but it's nice to really have to figure this stuff out on our own. I guess I also enjoy being incredibly powerful for a level 15, haha!

Tell us a little bit about your experience with Arugal. What made him so difficult, and how did you handle it?

Arugal was definitely the hardest boss we've encountered so far. He's got some very nasty tricks up his sleave. He casts a spell called Arugal's Curse that enslaves a member of the party and turns them into a worgen. He always targets the (player with the) highest threat (namely, me as the tank). The mind control lasts for 10 seconds, and believe me, that is more than enough for my geared-out toon to wreak havoc among the remaining party members. At level 10, my character was just strong enough to hold the attention of the level 20+ mobs in Shadowfang, but to another level 10 character? I'm a monster.

Adding into the equation that when he casts the curse, Arugal immediately resets the aggro table and starts attacking someone at random with 200-250 damage Void Bolts, which is a huge hit at level 10. Oh, right! Don't forget the strange Thundershock ability that Arugal uses to AoE stun everyone nearby. It was fairly brutal the first few times we attempted Arugal. I even tried aquiring a PvP trinket in order to dispel the polymorph, but it doesn't seem to work on this spell, so that was another wasted attempt.

When we finally beat him, our party consisted of two hunters, a paladin, a druid and my warrior tanking. The paladin, who is typically DPS-specced, changed to be a second healer with the druid. The entire party except myself as the tank stayed on the top of the stairwell leading into Arugal's room. I pulled him in melee range and tanked him in place until he cast his curse on me. As soon as he cast the curse, the rest of the party jumped out of the room to LoS him and me at the same time. This made it so no one was taking damage from either of us, and by the time I had run all the way around the stairs to get at them, the curse was nearly finished and I changed back into my tauren self. After reacquiring aggro on Arugal, I tried my best to pull him back to where he started, but by the time he started going anywhere, he had cast the curse again. This time, the paladin cast Hammer of Justice on me to take me out of the equation. It was enough time for the hunters to pummel Arugal to death, and we were overjoyed to finally have beaten him.

How much emphasis are your guild members giving this project, in comparison to the rest of their WoW experience? Do you still raid endgame content?

We try to get a run in every couple of weeks or so, and I'd say we all treat this is an "important" aspect of our gaming as much as any other part. I'm not personally into raiding so much, but some of our members are. I don't think anyone has really had to halt their "normal" WoW activities to participate in this project.

When you get to raid levels, will you be raiding the early raid content in this same, minimum-level spirit?

Sort of undecided at this point, I believe. I'm sure we will try some classic raids when we get to the appropriate level, but they may prove to be far too much for us. Molten Core used to be run by 40 level 60 raiders; if we try it at 55 (the minimum required level), we will probably have considerable difficulty overcoming even the easiest mobs in there. I think we might just continue on with 5-person dungeons in The Burning Crusade content instead, which will be very difficult but doable without increasing our guild size considerably.

How is Cataclysm going to affect things?

As far as instances go, we know Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines are going to be converted into high-level dungeons, so we'll likely be giving them a visit again. We have no idea if they plan to modify the minimum levels of any more of the existing dungeons, but we'll see.

The biggest thing that we know will change is the availability of gear from quests. None of us can anticipate what quests will be removed or added, what rewards will be gone or become available to us. It's exciting to think about, really. We are going to try and get through as many dungeons as possible before the expansion hits, but we don't anticipate getting too far at this point. If things don't change much, we'll probably just continue on as we have; if they change drastically, I suppose we'll burn that bridge when we come to it. Considering that the characters we use are dedicated to this project exclusively, I personally would have no issues with restarting at level 1 if it seems necessary or beneficial.

Are you recruiting? How can people get involved?

I have some macros set up for guild recruitment, but we don't get much interest. Most responses I get are, "Are you serious?", "Are you nuts?" or something similar. I've had a few people express interest outside of my circle of friends, but I think they fail to realize how much work is involved.

I'd say it would be pretty difficult to participate without a high-level for support. If someone is new to WoW in general, I wouldn't recommend this project. Having the experience of leveling many toons and having done these classic dungeons hundreds of times is invaluable to the group.

If someone typically plays on another server and just wanted to roll with us, I'm sure it's something we'd be willing to consider. Most of us build our own gear lists and just use each other to obtain them. So really if someone knows how to gear a toon, then we'll be willing to let them in. If you are willing to put in the research to get the best stuff, then I would be willing to help you get it.

The only real stumbling block for this option would be Bind on Account items. In almost every case, BoA stuff is the best in slot for any level, so if you aren't able to obtain those, you'll be at a disadvantage compared to the rest of us. Its not unheard of, though. Our primary healer doesn't use any BoA and she does just great.

Best of luck in SM, guys! Sound like fun? Contact <What in Tardation> to find out if you've got what it takes to be a true lowbie.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wow.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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