Once upon a very, very long time ago, layteknight and I were new to the World of Warcraft. We stumbled about our chosen maps, feeling our way blindly. We made embarrassing newbie mistakes – we tried to talk to the general in the say, and it was one of those weird conversations where we actually thought they were answering. We joined a guild in our first five minutes because we didn’t know what it was and ran like a startled rabbit when our screen flooded with green text. We taste-tested most of the races up to around level five or six before we each settled on a character (her, a troll rogue. Me, a human paladin) and somehow managed to blunder our way to level 15.

My first PuG was Deadmines. We had a level 14 druid named some variation of Drizzt who said he would heal. By heal he apparently meant turn into a bear and run around screaming about how there was a miner on him. So, in fact, I healed. Our tank was another pally, level 20-something, who was an unmitigated asshole and who rolled on caster gear. His buddy, a hunter, was one of our other DPS, and, well, birds of a feather and all that. At one point my mace broke because I didn’t understand repairs or how they worked (been playing the game – my first MMO, no less – for maybe a week at this point), and I asked the party if anyone had a grey mace they were sitting on and didn’t mind trading me until the instance was over. The warlock – the only nice member of the party – apologized and said he didn’t. No one else said anything. So I went Kung-Fu on the Defias and “DPSed” with my fists of fury.

There is a happy ending to this story. The experience was terrible overall and made me more than a little afraid of other players, a condition that persists today, but the warlock, it turns out, was actually on an alt, and his main was a level 60 paladin with a guild. He called in a guildie to help us finish the instance when one of the members ditched, invited me into his guild, and to this day I credit he and his guildie friend for teaching me how to play this game, and cannot thank them enough for the help they gave me.

That whole last paragraph is beside the point, however. The point is – and I wouldn’t blame you if you’d missed it – I have terrible luck with PuGs. Terrible. That first one was one of the better ones in my illustrious career of failpugs, and most of them didn’t end quite so well for me. I’ve come a long way from those days; I’m all grown up now, with a guild of my own, and a raid group, and content in my mastery of the various chat channels available to me. But I still can’t find a decent PuG to save my life (literally).

Even when I run with mostly guildies, as I frequently do, I manage to find douchebags. The new LFG tool is positively delightful in terms of the improvement it represents in finding a group and running instances with minimal disruption to my playtime. A big kiss to Blizzard for making it faster and easier to find a group of idiots to drive me to suicide, and I mean that without sarcasm. Bad PuGs aren’t Blizzard’s fault. At least now I don’t have to actually talk to these people until we’re in the instance, and if they’re particularly terrible, I can either vote-kick them, or just leave myself. Instantly. And pop right back into the queue to try again. Seriously, mwah.

I just wish the PuGs could be improved as easily as the PuGging process. So far, on various characters, I have managed to play with:

  • A verbally abusive priest (“die with a dick in ur motuh” was about the politest thing he had to say to me) who, not content with spewing obscenities at me, tried repeatedly to vote-kick me until he was shouted down by the tank (I believe because I’d had the gall to roll need with him on a book of glyph mastery, being an inscriber, and win). The priest was vote-kicked shortly thereafter, but the tank ditched and the three DPS were left sitting in the Culling of Stratholme, halfway through, with no tank and no healer and long queue ahead of us. Still haven’t completed the quest.
  • A 4K DPS Arms Warrior who rolled need on a BoE epic dagger that dropped on the first trash pull. As it was the first trash pull I failed to do my usual loot nazi routine and didn’t think too much on it. Assumed the name belonged to a rogue, and the DPS metres didn’t show anything unusual, as they’re always wonky on the first couple of fights. Wasn’t ‘till the end that I realized, hey. He’s a warrior, so he doesn’t need daggers. Hey, he’s got four thousand DPS in a heroic, he’s got to be wearing better than an iLevel 200 dagger. Hey! He fucking Ninjaed!
  • A tank who blamed me for being in front of Anub when the pound went off. Nevermind that when I took that position, Anub wasn’t facing me. Nevermind that the tank, for reasons I have yet to understand, randomly decided it was really important to spin Anub in a big circle.
  • A rogue who honestly thought I needed his help and advice to be able to tank. It’s okay, though. He’s actually a raid lead. -_- So am I and I don’t make a habit of bossing around strangers, or providing them redundant instructions on how to play their class. “dont trn the a bombs to face teh grp1” “pop cds” “pik up ads”. Yes, thank you. Where I’m from, we call that tanking. It’s what I do. You don’t need to tell me.
  • A shaman who giggled when I asked her to please follow the kill order, and informed me that the mobs I had marked were immune to fire and could not be convinced that it really didn’t matter what they were immune to, they still had to die, and it would make my life and everyone else’s life that much easier if she could please just follow the kill order. Also, aren’t you a shaman? Don’t you have like…a bajillion different types of nature damage?
  • Etc.

And these are just some of the examples of some of the people I have had the incredible pleasure of wanting to kill.

One thing I have realized, is that outside of verbal abuse, ninjaing, or misplaced blame (all common enough in themselves), PuGging is easier as a DPS, which might actually be why layteknight has had such better luck than I have. When you’re DPS, what the fuck do you care if one of the other DPS isn’t following the kill order? Even if it means the tank loses the target you’re on and you pull aggro, just feign death or vanish or sit there and wait for him to get it back. It’s not your job, it’s not your concern. There’s a certain freedom and nonchalance in knowing that you are in no way responsible for anyone else’s life, including your own. That’s someone else’s job. You just have to DPS. This is why that role attracts so many idiots, I think (not that all DPS are idiots, not by a long shot, but you know what I mean).

Tanking in a PuG, though? Holy fuck. Rage central, and I don’t mean that in the positive, game mechanics way. It’s literally like herding cats. I am constantly begging the group, don’t stand there, kill this one, don’t kill that one, get behind me, come closer, don’t run away from me if you have aggro, don’t stand in front of the boss, wait until I drop thunderclap before you AoE, don’t pull for me, it has a big fucking skull on it what is complicated about this?!, stick to my target, stand at maximum range, get out of the fucking fire, and so on and so forth ad nauseum.

It’s like, the fact that they have no idea who I am and never have to see me again means they don’t give a flying fuck if they’re making my life impossible (though, I say this, and some of the DPS in our raid do the same kind of shit to me. The difference is they try to justify it afterward). They pull with AoE, they run in before I’m anywhere near, they stand in front of the bosses and the mobs (I’ve had rogues do this. Rogues! I mean, there’s a song about how you people do it from behind), they don’t follow kill orders no matter what the consequences might be for the rest of the party if they force me to split my attention. It’s insane. It’s justifiable grounds for homicide.

My job as a tank is to keep everyone alive, and to control the where and when of the mobs. Things that may seem inconsequential to DPS – things like kill orders and standing behind the mobs and letting me pull – are, in fact, essential to the success of my primary role in a group. If they aren’t done, or only half done, it makes my life very difficult.

Let me put it another way. Can I main-tank two targets so two different DPS can stack their numbers, while at the same time AoEing the shit out of everything in a four mile radius so the mage’s blizzard won’t pull aggro from the side, and taunt extra shit off the healer when she pulls because she’s standing somewhere strange?

Yes. Yes I can.

But it is not fun. It is not fun at all. I do not enjoy it.

I’ve chosen to play a stressful, thankless job, and only 3% of the player base actually understands what I do. Despite this, I enjoy this role. It is my preferred one. But as far as I’m concerned, the above situation is not a part of the role. If things go wrong because they go wrong, fair enough. I will do all of the above and do it happily.

But if they go wrong because I’m in an idiot PuG with people more concerned about how high they can artificially inflate the numbers on Recount, as opposed to caring about whether anyone else in the group is actually enjoying themselves?

Tanking is a strange job in that it is possible for other people to make you suck. If they’re on the wrong targets, if they pull before I’m ready, if they run away from me when they pull aggro…these things technically mean I fail at tanking. I failed to save them from their own idiocy. I failed to account for their ineptitude. I failed to compensate for their inattention and lack of care, and someone – you, me, the healer – died for it. Because I failed to tank the untankable. They made my job impossible, but at the end they can point at Recount and say, I did my job. Why didn’t you do yours?

DIAF, all of you. I will not be there to save you.*

*SaveTheFails probably will, though. As his name implies, that’s what he does. For the record, he probably doesn’t enjoy it much either.