The Parable of the Bad Pottery Teacher

I may have mentioned a while back that I’ve been dabbling with pottery lessons.

They started out great, staying that way throughout the six weeks of beginner handbuilding.

The teacher was appropriately attentive, both in demonstrating what to do with practiced hands and in taking a step back to allow the student to get the feel of the clay, while observing mistakes and offering tips and fixes to solve issues that came up.

Some time through the intermediate lessons, the teacher’s attitude inexplicably changed.

Perhaps it was me – maybe I unknowingly offered grievous insult to his honor with a humble jest that I -thought- demonstrated student modesty.

It was an offhand smiling remark to another student and him about how all the great bits of my piece were the mark of a master’s hand, after he had helped, and all the lopsided bits were mine.

Or perhaps it was him. Over the weeks of the lessons, he seemed perceptibly disinterested in teaching – complaining bitterly to older hands and partner potters that he had to rush to prepare for suddenly booked corporate events; that student works were piling up needing to either be kiln-fired or collected by beginner students who never returned after the first six weeks; bitching within earshot of existing students that the various newbies showed up with no or last minute notification or didn’t bother to attend lessons as they felt like it – and generally evincing distinct signs of burnout.

My last couple of intermediate lessons felt like an exercise in deliberate inattention.

He’d walk by to offer the odd word of advice to the one or two beginner students, then walk out the door and put himself incommunicado, leaving us to flounder on doing our own things.

Now and then, again in earshot of all the struggling students, he’d express his belief in his supremely hands-off teaching style to another obviously experienced artist potter who was just sharing the same venue.

“Give us time and space to make our own mistakes and screwups, and then figure out how to fix it for ourselves” seemed to be the general gist.

Inside, I was fuming with frustration.

No, really, I get the hands-off method.

I think it makes sense, judiciously applied, but:

a) the student has to feel that the teacher -cares- (the vibe I got was mostly laziness, judgmentalism and burnout)

and b) the student has to have some basic grounding in HOW to even begin looking for answers to fix the problems they’re having

With both missing, chances are fairly good that a sizeable subset of students will drown, for every one student who flounders on to reach shore, having figured it out for themselves.

Tossing people into the deep end of the pool after demonstrating a swim stroke once and waiting to see who comes out is -not- good teaching.

In my book, anyway. I expect a good teacher to be able to break things down for a student, encourage step-by-step practice and gradual progress, observe errors and offer guided advice on how to fix the problem and in general, scaffold the student’s learning.

After the end of my intermediate lessons, I took a short break and really questioned if I wanted to go on to the advanced lessons of wheel throwing with said less-than-good teacher, especially since he seemed to be doing everything in his power to dissuade me from even paying him for the next set of lessons.

Mostly, it was the sunk cost fallacy that did me in. The beginner and intermediate lessons were a prerequisite for the advanced ones. If I walked now, and sourced for another teacher, the effort, time and money sunk into the previous months would likely have to be written off, as I’d end up fulfilling said teacher’s cynical prophecies of a student that would never come back.

Also, it didn’t seem polite to end abruptly. Leaving after a beginning, middle, end sequence was another thing altogether. One could then seek out another teacher and say truthfully that one had completed a pottery course, but was now looking for further improvement and new perspectives from a brand new teacher.

So I went ahead and signed myself up for another six weeks of instructorial neglect.

Halfway through now, and it went about as much as expected. One demonstration and then left to one’s own floundering devices.

Maybe I frustrate him as much as he frustrates me. Maybe he just doesn’t know -how- to teach me.

I remember things slowly, especially when it comes to visual bodily demonstrations. Perhaps my mirror neurons are somewhat dysfunctional, I do not really learn viscerally. Dance, exercise, pottery, you name it, I cannot see once and automatically ape.

It has to be repeated multiple times. I have to preferably read it, in step-by-step fashion. I have to see pictures and photographs and rehearse placing my hands in the demonstrated positions. Theory must come before practice.

Instead, full of frustration, I’m often left googling up “pottery concept X” after the lesson that introduces the name of concept X and not much else beyond the realization that I’m making a right muckup of concept X because I don’t even know what I’m actually supposed to ideally do in the first place.

I learn more by eavesdropping. Imagine that.

Said teacher is having a extended cheerful conversation with another experienced potter, just chilling and hanging out and steadily ignoring me, and he pulls out his phone and shows her some Youtube video of an advanced technique from a potter of a different country. He does -not- show the video to me.

I make such a right muckup of concept X (centering, if anyone knows pottery) for hours and look so distressed and woebegone, that after the “bad” teacher has rushed out of the workshop to grab his lunch before his next batch of ungrateful students, that the other experienced potter comes over and offers me a completely free demonstration of the way she does it – and by the way, more emotional support in those five minutes than the last five weeks.

She then promptly screws it up with a perfectly overheard conversation to the teacher who just came back, expressing her own helplessness at trying to explain concept X to me, while he offers her a commiserating knowing smile and shrug.

I stifle an internal scream.

It isn’t until the lesson is over and I’m furiously googling again when I chance upon THE article that sings to me – The Clay Will Tell You How You Are.

Here is a woman who makes me feel better because she’s had an even worse time of it than me.

At least my piece of clay didn’t turn into a flying projectile, but just sat there as an insistently lopsided soppy wet yet hard and sandy lump that evoked the ever unproductive ritual question and answer from student to master:

“Is this centered?”

“Not centered.”

“Now?”

“Not centered.”

“How about now?”

“Not centered.”

I bite back on the words, “What the FUCK is centered then? How does it even look? What the FUCK am I aiming for here?” because I know I’ll get no words, just the guy’s hands coming down on my piece of clay doing magic stuff with me none the wiser.

I did learn one thing though.

When you have a bad teacher, the Internet is your best teacher.

After seeing the Youtube video being shown to the other potter, angels descended and sang Hallelujah in my head because my eyes were suddenly opened to the source of a DOZEN good teachers.

Ten Youtube video clips of “pottery centering” later, I had the foundation concepts and the scaffolding that I had not been privy to before this.

No one had told me that I was supposed to brace my hand against my leg, or that the wheel had to be at a decent speed, or that the idea was to push in one direction while easing up in the desired direction so that the clay had some place to go.

They knew how to do it, but they didn’t know how to teach it.

Those on Youtube did.

The following week, I magically produce a 98% acceptable centered piece of clay after a couple of false starts and self-experiments.

(No doubt I also just confirm in my teacher’s head that his style of teaching is perfect.)

Things go well until I run aground in the next progression step of “lifting the clay to make a tall cylinder.”

We engage in a failure cycle of call and response again until the end of the lesson.

This time though, I know what to do in order to progress my own learning next week.

cylindervid

So why I have spent 1400 words telling you guys about my pottery lessons on a -game- blog?

It strikes me that learning is learning, regardless of the subject.

It could be pottery, it could be Civilization 6, it could be Path of Exile, MMO raids, PvP or whatever.

We all want the ideal of the understanding good teacher that cares and knows how to break it down just right so that we can learn what we don’t even know, let alone don’t understand.

(Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe you have some other ideal of the perfect teacher that is just right for you. Goldilocks style, not too soft, not too hard.)

Chances are bloody good that we’re not going to get one.

We would be immensely lucky if we strike gold on the first attempt at sourcing a great teacher.

Chances are far more likely that we’re going to hit judgmental people; people too self-absorbed in their own lives to bother much about your learning; people far too ready to go for the expedient assumption of “unteachable, boot him/her out of here” much more often than a good teacher with a heart of gold. (The latter burn out real fast, I hear.)

They’re going to do shit things to your emotions.

But there’s always one person that -is- committed to your learning, and that knows -exactly- how you like to learn.

Yep. You.

Perhaps that’s the teacher to really have a heart-to-heart conversation with.

 

GW2: Things I’ve Been Learning, Even As I Steadily Go Broke

Time for some positive reflections, since I’ve been busy grumpy hermit grumbling since raids hit GW2:

One of the things I’ve noticed is that some people find the concept of raids aspirational.

Even though they may never set foot in one or successfully down a raid boss, the fact that they exist gives them something to strive for, some heroes (raiders in famous guilds) to look up to and cheer on, and motivation to continually improve and get better.

(I don’t know that I’ll personally go that far, you’d have to be a -very- glass half full kind of person to be that sunnily optimistic. I’m naturally a bit more glass half-empty skewed, and tend to worry about those who meet an unclimbable wall and meet frustration and learned helplessness instead.

I like the idea of scaffolding learning – this Reddit suggestion to have bronze, silver and gold rewards for each boss rather than a binary you-got-it-or-you-didn’t enrage timer appeals a lot to me.)

Even if “aspiration” is something that doesn’t work for me personally (maybe it’s more of a social motivation), what I’ve been finding enjoyable is increased opportunity / motivation to learn and apply all sorts of game things that I didn’t know before, to continue to build up a database of knowledge about how the game world works.

I guess this is a very Bartle Explorer thing.

After my fun little rant about pigeonholing, I sat around brooding like an angry pigeon for the space of one night, thinking, thinking, thinking, plotting almost, about my next steps forward.

I was very stressed out over two things:

1) My condi guardian would probably not be accepted in the more closeminded raid groups, and possibly for good reason.

I was quite well aware that I had a habit of dropping like a rock when the vault guardian sneezed or looked at me funny. You know closeminded groups, it’s probably not going to bode well if you look like the weakest link over and over. I was still completely puzzled as to the -source- of the bloody damage that was eating like acid into my super-low health reservoir and how I could avoid it.

And I definitely haven’t mastered the skill rotation to keep burning uptime consistent yet. I’ve seen burning stacks as high as 9-14k a tick, depending if things go well and I catch a lot of might stacks, I tended to run around the 4-5k mark, and dropped to as low as 2-3k burning a tick when things went badly and I end up having to focus on not-dying rather than attacking. You know closeminded groups again, right? If they see that they’re killing slower with a condi guardian as opposed to say… a condi engi? It’ll be kthxbai, LF condi engi for raid!

2) My warrior was essentially 95% PS warrior, but in my usual perfectionistic way, I was afraid to advertise as a PS warrior because the common player perception of a PS warrior is something that can generate 25 might stacks on their own. Somehow, try as I might, I was usually only consistently reaching 15 stacks in PUG fractals.

What was going on exactly?

I took on question 2 first, as the solution to some players wanting cookie-cutter, is, of course, to give them a cookie-cutter option that they would be happy with.

I have been resisting switching the Superior Runes of the Pack on my armor for a very long time, because I knew I would dearly miss the essentially perma-swiftness that comes from just honking the warhorn once. (13 seconds of swiftness with Pack runes, warhorn cooldown with Quick Breathing trait is 12 seconds, only lag or animation delay will make it not quite perma, so just use Balanced Stance or a Banner 3 for more swiftness and voila. Quick, happy feet. An unswiftnessed charr is a very slow-seeming charr.)

Were Strength runes really going to make THAT much of a damn difference? (They are so freaking expensive…)

Some time earlier I had just done a very informal test in the Heart of the Mists beating on some golems with both Pack and Strength, and had to admit that, yes, the increased might boon duration made for might stacks that stuck around longer and so maybe it might be the crucial factor for 25 might stacks output by solo PS warrior.

So I bit the bullet, yanked 70 gold out of an even more dwindling bank, and bought 6 Strength runes, wincing as I overwrote the Pack runes (nevermind, I consoled myself, they don’t cost that much, you can get another set of armor to put them on or maybe some day Anet will solve The Rune-Switching Problem), but hey, go me, no one can accuse me of not being cookie-cutter now that I can ping gear with Strength runes and look all meta-compliant, right?

Then I decided the best place to test my awesome meta-ness out would be a quick fractals, now that it’s so bite-sized convenient, and lookie, someone advertising for 2! Bloomhunger! Super-quick and a really big target to build might on!

The PUG team did the wisps in a single go, swam down the tunnel and charged straight at Bloomhunger! I flung down my banners and proudly launched myself at the silly old Oakheart determined to might stack like the Energizer Bunny!

Words cannot describe the utter chagrin I felt when I looked at my buff bar and saw only oh… 15-18 stacks of might max.

…?

…?!

BUT I PAID GOOD MONEY FOR THESE RUNES.

Regardless of my fail might-stacking, Bloomhunger died, I grabbed the fractal chest, then slunk away beaten with my tail between my legs to reconsider the problem.

After reading and reading the Metabattle page over and over, comparing and contrasting the by now fairly minute differences in build: Same gear, same runes, nearly the same traits (I just take warhorn because I cannot trust PUGs to condi clear for me, I don’t have sexy dungeon group mates to rely on, and look, it’s even stated as a permissible variant in the Metabattle Bible, okay? It can blast might and everything.)

I don’t have Night Sigils because I’m not that crazy a night time dungeon runner, I tend to use Air, Fire or Bloodlust instead…

Yes, I’m not using expensive food in most casual PUGs, I’ll save it for raids and really important occasions…

What exactly was generating might besides swinging my greatsword over and over? Oh, and this Fried Golden Dumpling food that gives might on crit, for slacker PUGs (ie. 85% of the ones I get into) that don’t pre-stack might, but surely the PS warrior sans dumplings isn’t just a might boon maintainer for a might-stacking ele….

…and oh. Oh. OH. What is this tooltip I see? On the mace that I usually don’t use…

supsigilstrength

Well, fuck. THERE’s your problem.

The bloody thing runs a mere two gold and can be crafted to boot.

The good news was that I wasn’t going to have to overwite an expensive sigil to incorporate this.

The bad news was that I was going to have to chop a lot of soft wood, and then spend a fortune in hoarded crafting supplies to make my warrior an Ascended weapon that I’d forgotten he didn’t have yet, a Zojja’s Axe.

So I did that, crafted that, tested it, and what do you know, 25 stacks of might. Obviously, it’s better and faster when you can hit multiple enemies at once, and if your group mates deign to give you some might, as I observed while testing in the Urban Battlegrounds fractals, so that locked in another piece of the puzzle.

Some day I’m going to have to test out a Sigil of Strength with mere Pack runes in the Heart of the Mists and possibly cry myself to sleep that night.

But now, I can safely say that I have a total fully absolutely meta-compliant cookie-cutter PS warrior for those picky picky raids, inspect away if you wish, and more importantly, I actually -understand- how the whole damn build links together and synergizes.

The other thing I was brooding about that night was just how far down the rabbit hole I was willing to go for raids.

You know me, I have this crazy cognitive dissonance thing going on.

I want to be effective. I want to be optimal (or at least, viable.) I want to achieve actual successful kills in a reasonable period of time, not be banging my head against the first boss a year from now with a group that keeps screwing up. I want the -rewards- at the end. I want the shiny prestige.

In return, I’m open to getting brutal direct feedback and told what I’m screwing up and what I should do more of instead. To spend all the monies and switch build and traits to what works. To dress all cookie-cutter and do my best to perform for a drill sergeant if need be.

On the other hand, I have to admit that a lot of this is work. As in, not intrinsically enjoyable to my nature. As in, I have a tendency to obsess and stress out over stuff that probably no one else notices but I think that they do and that they are judging me harshly and coldly and will probably boot my ass. Oh, the awful rejection! (And worse if it’s going to be based on erroneous player perception, rather than objective evidence.)

If I am honest, the most fun times that I have while raiding is when it is explicitly a raid designated for training and learning, when I know that no one has the expectation that everyone must be performing to 110% of their ability 100% of the time.

I can relax my obsessional tendencies a lot more when I know I am not the weakest link in that raid group, and focus on my personal learning – what else can I be doing better, what can I practice and get better, what can I tweak and get better – while someone else is making the raid-wiping mistakes and working on learning those things.

Furthermore, I can be experimental and test little theories knowing that the raid outcome isn’t going to be affected one way or another, because the group as a whole still has some ways to go before they master the mechanics.

Better yet if it is a raid group made up of guilded, friendly faces because I’m more assured that they won’t judge, and then I can get in my quota of social hanging out with people that way too.

Except one itty bitty lil problem. I kinda want to win and get my shinies. Not next year. More like sometime this month.

Except I don’t want to do crazy stupid hardcore things like try to raid at all odd hours of the day and for 8-17 hours a stretch. (Alas, college days over.)

*wry grin*

I haven’t quite come to one satisfactory solution, but I think I will be exploring a number of options and keeping them open in the days ahead.

I want to get into at least one weekly scheduled raid group with relatively consistent people so that I have kind of a long term insurance plan for raids.

Timezone matching is going to be an issue, I don’t have the luxury of a vast spread of NA guilds to choose from, and they have to be the kind of people that won’t make me want to report them all for verbal harassment after an hour in their company, aka preferably the more mature or mellow type, which can be somewhat short in supply on this side of the world.

Furthermore, a consistent group may very well mean consistent failure. Not that I would actually mind in the moment, especially if the company’s good and everyone’s learning (and I usually can always find -something- to learn) but my skritt brain still wants its shinies.

So the other thing that I have been thinking is to look for opportunities to basically mercenary myself out to fill in gaps in other peoples’ raids. They’re maybe short one healer, or one tank, or need some condi or dps or might-stackers or whatever.

The super-duper long term plan would be to get comfortable with alts that can fill any of those on demand, but for now, I can either offer a cookie-cutter PS warrior or still somewhat new to people’s expectations condi guardian to let ’em pick and choose.

This ties back into the idea of training raids and learning from those because I’m not going to be a very popular mercenary if I’m not any -good- at raiding.

Fourth raid attempt was essentially a sort of friends-and-family style guild affair. I had expectations set somewhat accordingly, and was in fact, pleasantly surprised by a number of things.

One, the bulk of the group was a lot more serious than I would have guessed. Some (well, ok, one) had spent more gold than I’ve personally ever seen in one place on an Ascended set. There was less teleporting around than I’ve seen in other raids because practically everyone could dodge the aoe relatively consistently. (Either that or they’re NA people and the other raids I’ve been with are OCE folks!)

The overall group experience level was lower, and as expected, only brought down the boss to 66% health and into the split guardians a few times, mostly because folks were still getting the hang of the mechanics, I feel. (But hey, give ’em a couple weeks or month more and who knows?)

Two, I got the chance to test out both my alts on the Vale Guardian and work out more of the kinks.

The PS warrior, as expected, was pretty darned good. I’m definitely going to start offering this one up more while mercenary-ing. The higher health pool means less catastrophic failures from a slipup, and I even survived the Distributed Magic group wipe mechanic a couple of times when the circle team missed standing in a circle – albeit at 1000 hp left, and liable to wipe in the next blast cos everyone else is already downed or dead. Everybody likes 25 stacks of might and banners, it does seriously respectable dps (I suspect I contributed quite heavily to shoving it into the next phase, because I was busy practising the “find the back of the boss and stick to it like glue” tactic while others had to contend with the circle mechanics.)

The group however found themselves somewhat light on condi once they were in phase 2 and the split guardians, so I grabbed the chance to volunteer the still-rather-unexpected option of condi guardian.

A little selfishly, I suppose, since my ulterior motive was to get better at playing it, but eh, the whole group was definitely still in the learning phase and not exactly likely to reach even 50% of the boss’ health yet.

The rotation for condi guardian is definitely a little more complex than a PS warrior (duh) and I’m quite certain I was mangling it a good half of the time. So dps output likely lower than PS warrior, especially since we were now sans 25 might stacks, but on the bright side, I can actually do things to the red guardian instead of stand around looking stupid and be a might buffbot.

The issue I kept running into, while the others were still mastering the circle mechanic and getting into trouble with the Seekers, was that the condi guardian’s health is still alarmingly low, plus, now that I had time to study the combat log and think while trying to execute my rotation, the damn guardian periodically pulses a damaging Magic Aura for 1000 hp or so.

High hp monstrosities that come with a healing signet tend not to notice this and shrug it right off. Maybe I’m not a great guardian but this rapidly diminishing health bar tends to distract me from actually executing dps rotations.

Worse if a Seeker got into my personal space (I was doing a semi-decent job of avoiding them… except an occasional wild knockback out of the green circle had a tendency to soccer ball the Seeker right into me, leading to an insta-down before I even knew what hit me.)

This did not bode well for viability of condi guardian if they had no -survivability-, it’s not as if demanding a healer to babysit my health would make it terribly popular…

…and then it hit me. Duh. If the healer can’t come to me, exactly why can’t dps go to the healer?

(I hear all the holy trinity MMO players slapping their foreheads right now. Mea culpa, look, I’ve only been playing a no-healer personal-heals-only MMO for 3 years now, you get set into certain patterns.)

Granted, I haven’t even looked at what skills druids have, but I’m almost sure they can pulse heals to 5 people near them somehow.

So I started paying a little more attention to positioning myself near the druid when I needed to catch some heals, which worked out about 75% of the time, but still would not solve the overall dps problem of needing to be in melee or close range to do more damage, rather than plinking away from afar while moving to hug the healer.

In between one raid wipe and another, I started looking at my self-heal skills and wondering if one would work better than the others.

I’d tried Shelter, which is optimal for applying more burning while blocking, and you’d think it’ll be great because apparently the blue aoe teleports can be blocked… and then you can go right on dps’ing in melee… but I risked that once and I think my ping was such that by the time I saw the aoe and hit Shelter, I got zapped by the teleport before the block could set in. (Either that or I was a little late on the block, but I didn’t feel like risking it again when I could just dodge the AoE.)

Anyway, I didn’t seem to be healing up sufficiently with Shelter, so I’d gone with my usual fallback of Signet of Resolve, which is an awfully strong heal that can pretty much push me back to full health from near dying. Except that I now had to deal with a 40 second cooldown because a condi guard can’t take the Perfect Inscriptions trait to reduce the recharge time when you want Amplified Wrath for the 15% more burning damage.

40 seconds is a long long time when you only have 11.5k hp.

Especially when there are sources of damage flying in from everywhere. It’s as if they took that suggestion of pulsing small amounts of damage to stress zerker builds out and encourage at least one healer or more…. except they also slap on an enrage timer, so… I dunno. Catch-22, much?

Then my eye fell on Litany of Wrath.

I’d pretty much never used it. Exactly how much healing was it capable of? No idea. The only way to find out was to try it.

The next time my health bar fell to 5k hp, I hit that, and in under 3 seconds, I was at full health again. (Granted, I was busy smiting and orb of wrathing the hell out of the Vale Guardian, while burning it with condition damage at the same time.) 

It has a 30 second cooldown.

It is, in fact, -just- enough to keep my health relatively stable (ping-ponging between 5k and 11k) as long as silly things don’t happen (like a taking a frontal cleave 5k punch from the guardian, basking in a Seeker’s aura that can crit for 4-5k, getting zapped by Distributed Magic for 9k) , in which case, seek out your neighborhood healer or just wait for the rez from downed.

It’s not exactly sleepwalk easy, but it was quite an interesting challenge to both keep an eye on one’s health like that, evade Seekers, and still keep up as much dps as possible on the Vale Guardian.

And hallelujah, you no longer need to be babysat by a healer and can more or less take care of yourself, barring emergencies. Add one more notch toward potential viability.

Some time later, it also occurred to me that the popularity of the condi engineer might also be because the meta build comes with healing turret as a matter of course. Folks doing the distributed magic circle tend to need group healing once the lightning strike is over, and some ability to knockback Seekers never goes awry.

The /ranger/ has a healing spring that can heal allies, and they should have the ability to knockback Seekers too, don’t they?

The /guardian/ has a shield that can knockback Seekers, if they deigned to use it, and hrm… what’s this other healing skill that I almost never look at? It used to be called Healing Breeze, but apparently it got updated with very few people noticing (me neither) as “Receive the Light!”

“…”

Hmm.

Looks like I have something new up my sleeve to try if I ever get assigned as a condi guard to circle duty.

So despite overall group progress of fourth raid attempt being not as forward as some others, there was a considerable amount of personal learning progress and some potential revelations to boot.

Would it have happened without raids?

Not terribly likely, barring a Liadri-style challenge.

So -that’s- something positive I can say about raids.

GW2: Fractals of Silence and Skill (Or Lack Thereof)

FoOoooO, quaggan is gift-wrapped!

I’m hoping to mark the end of my fractal journey for the time being by this week or the next.

At the start of September, I was fractal level 25ish with 26 AR (after goodness knows how many years) and not terribly motivated to go any further.

Eh, some gold, some fractal relics, lots of blues and greens, the odd yellow or orange, pretty much everything to be salvaged since most of the stats that turn up in fractals – Magi, Cavalier, Soldier – are odd, to say the least. Plus Ascended rings that take up slot space (I am constitutionally incapable of throwing -anything- away in an MMO) and the rare rare chance that something pretty might drop.

Oh, and the same content ad nauseam, alongside questionable PUGs – since I lack that mythical beast known as a stable, organized group within my timezone who can deal with my schedule (or lack of it.)

For the hell of it, in a similar vein to my self-imposed “collect all the Scientific skins” challenge, I decided to try to get to fractals 50 before the expansion hit, with its vaunted fractals revamp that would both make the leveling curve easier and slope it upward ever higher to 100.

After all, it is both satisfying to be able to say “been there, done that” as well as be among that rare opposite breed of player who can play the so-called ‘most difficult’ content in GW2 and yet not be an eager raid fanatic.

We’re a few days away from the end of September now, and I’m officially at fractal level 45 tonight.

It’s a little bit trickier to rise further in levels via LFG PUG, given the number of highly aggravating mistlock instabilities that make it daunting to open an instance at one’s current level.

Essentially, I’m sitting around waiting on the largesse of someone else who has already reached fractal level 50 to start their group and jump in… assuming they haven’t already hit their quota of PS warriors and are busily demanding eles and guardians, or conversely, in a more haphazardly not-at-all meta compliant group, hoping that the party won’t give up and fragment from one or two players just up and quitting the group one fractal in, because they didn’t like the chaos/inexperience on display or took umbrage at the ranger or necro in the party or something.

In any case, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

If there’s two things I’ve learned from my fractal journey, it’s these:

  1. Other people are not super-skillful gods of competency. There’s no need to be deathly afraid of them, or conversely, looking like a right idiot in front of them.
  2. I am not a super-skillful god of competency. There is always more I can be learning and improving on incrementally, as long as I keep an open mind, stay observant as to what’s still lacking, and am patient with myself.

Where 1) is concerned, I’ve feel like I’ve seen it all at this point.

I’ve seen people fall off the Uncategorized fractal simply from mistimed jumps, not a harpy knockback; fail miserably at running wisps in the Swamp (guilty); get smashed by Jade Maw tentacles or fall over consistently from failing to pick up crystals; completely fail at either kiting Mai Trin or managing the cannon phase without panicking like a headless chicken; mess up on really idealistic plans to output sufficient dps to take down Molten Berserker, Grawl Shaman or Subject Six in one go; splatter all over the Thaumanova fractal trying to manage the heat room or shield room; totally screw up the dredge fractal buttons or kiting the last boss from lack of communication, unsoweiter.

What might rather surprise those who haven’t been there is the capacity of practically all of these groups to pick themselves up (even if they have to peel themselves off the floor multiple times after a total party wipe or log out to repair and return) and -eventually- complete the fractal.

The only kind of fractal group I’ve seen fail is the kind where one person gives up and leaves in silence, followed by one or two more… at which point I’m left staring at one or two more people left in my party and think “fuck it, I don’t want to organize this” and leave wordlessly as well.

That’s generally a failure to communicate, pretty much.

It seems to be the oddly damning sin of most PUGs – silence.

Everybody barely says anything and just kinda hopes that everyone knows what they’re doing. If carnage results, then a slightly better group will start to produce one sentence communication, and a bad group just ups and disappears right there.

On this front, the higher level fractal produces better odds that more people generally know what they’re doing, more or less, though there are a few difficult encounters that can start to reveal flaws in that assumption – most memorably in the Snowblind fractal, where certain groups end up throwing one’s bodies over and over at the elemental source while total party wiping the instant someone accidentally aggros one too many ice elementals while 40-60% of the group either doesn’t know what to do about them or decides they will keep pewpewing the elemental source instead.

Granted, the way that encounter is set up, it becomes almost quite impossible to have a lengthy discussion because you’re either getting chill debuffed, chased by really nasty Svanir, constantly knocked down by the elemental source once you run out of stability, struggling to light the fire before the debuff kills everybody, desperately trying to roll out of one-hit KO ice elemental shards, and so on.

(Yes, there are a few safe zones where one can stand in the fire’s warmth and not aggro anything and swap skills, but really, if your team lacks teamwork and communication to begin with, d’ya really think they can manage that?)

Compare and contrast this with the fractal level 10 I attempted one day, mostly in the hopes of getting a quick daily speedily done, where it became rather obvious that the somewhat cute and somewhat pathetic guardian in our party, who only had 740+ AP, was an inexperienced newbie with no AR worth speaking of.

Not merely because he kept falling off every last Cliffside obstacle – entirely likely that he’d never seen the wind blowing statues or the little exploding knockback thingmajigs before – but also due to his tendency to instantly melt in 4-5 ticks when an agony pulse hit while the other four people remained upright and untouched.

He said nothing about being new, or indeed, anything at all, possibly due to the fear of being kicked for his inexperience or noobness.

It did, however, leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain how best to help.

The group kind of just “selfishly” ran to each stage of the fractal and sat there waiting for the straggler(s) to catch up, though the two who seemed to have the most clue (ie. me and another person, probably the one who started the party) took care/charge of the hammer and we did, more or less, wait for the guy to finally catch up before progressing on to the next stage.

Everything in silence.

Granted, it is hard to know just -how- to help. It’s not like I could portal him past anything, he has to press keys in the proper sequence and timing in order to get past the obstacle, the only thing I could do is either give him swiftness or cure his conditions (not useful in this situation) and/or advise him to take his time getting the timing down and/or suggest swapping in a skill with stability.

As for the AR problem, well, it’s blatantly an artificial stat barrier meant to produce vertical progression grind (one reason why I never bothered much with fractals before this either.)

With something as ‘meta’ as this, it’s really hard to know just what to say or do. It ultimately boils down on each player to have done their research beforehand, figured out just exactly how much AR they need before stepping into the ‘correct’ level fractal, which is, objectively a -weird- expectation that a player would have scrutinized the wiki and/or stepped into the fractal portal to have this all explained to them via NPC beforehand… especially when you think the first way a player is likely to encounter the fractals is via a LFG party, especially when a daily tells them to do a level 1-10 fractal. (Granted, the guy was optimistic jumping straight away into level 10.)

Anyhow, the discomfort was mostly mitigated by the fact that fractals 10 is really quite easy, so we just brute forced our way through most of it and ‘carried’ the slightly more clueless individuals through. Only way they’ll learn in the end, via experiencing it, right?

Which segues me to point 2), in that as the fractal levels rise, the failure of others to ‘carry’ me, or cover for my own lack of mastery, has essentially forced me into getting better.

(Mostly through encountering a really disastrous situation, and post-fractal, asking myself what I could have done to not contribute to that.)

After sneaking by many many fractals without really learning the jumps in the Swamp by either not running the wisp. or helping only with the closest ones and brute-forcing most of them, somewhere in the 30s, I decided it was time to solo roll a Swamp fractal and practice some of the wisp runs under the tutelage of ample referencing of gw2dungeons.net.

I’m happy to report that I can actually take on the spider one now without triggering a million baby spiders (by virtue of *duh* jumping on the rocks without eggs nearby) and can deal with all the near ones with full confidence, having memorized a reliable jump path that will work even if the nearest gates are closed.

(Previously, one just used to run and pray that one got lucky.)

The far ones are still tricky, mostly due to my continual inability to distinguish traps from ground (bulky charr is bulky and clumsy) and tendency to run right into the mossman or fail the jumps, but well, there’s always room for more practice later.

I’ve at least memorized the far northwestern one, whose path seems somewhat easy and clear cut, even if my practical implementation leaves something to be desired in between trying to dodge one-hit-kill skelk, traps and getting tangled in-combat and failing jumps as a result.

The one real take-home from actually attempting some of these runs is that I’ve realized it behooves me – if not actually running – to amble on by to support the person running far with swiftness and condition clears and so on, rather than sit like a lump of lard at the logs and hope for others to magically reach the stumps with the wisps without my help.

Ditto the heat room in the Thaumanova fractal. Most of the time, someone much better practiced at it volunteers to take it on and I see neither sight nor sound of the encounter.

In one particularly memorable fractal group, it turned out that -none- of us knew how to do the heat room very well at all. Since it was an over-40s group, doing it was compulsory.

Rather fortunately, I had previously scanned through that fractal on gw2dungeons.net to learn a few tips for just how it might be possible for my class to manage it (not to mention, what the hell it was all about and how the mechanisms worked) and suggested to the group that we may as well collect and use all the cooling rods first, before attempting it as the final thing.

This was done, and all of us had ample time and opportunity to actually -practice- the room (for once) since the whole group decided to throw themselves at it in the hopes that -somebody- would make it.

After my share of failed theory and implementation, I eventually hit on a personal working combination of stacking swiftness through warhorn and banner, Bull’s Rush (thank you, gw2dungeons.net), Rampage’s number 3 rush, falling over and hitting 4 to regain a bit of health while waiting for vengeance 3, hitting that and powering through the rest of the way, amidst double dodging, spamming 1 and generally cursing Asian latency when it comes to needing to physically spam a button.

While I’m still not going to be the first to volunteer to solo that darned room, I no longer feel completely helpless regarding it. If no one else can do it better, I can at least give it a shot and probably get by.

If anything, I think my fractals journey has suggested that it’s unrealistic to get uptight about ‘the perfect run.’

Is it nice if it happens? Yes. I’ve had super-smooth runs where everyone knows how to use ice bows and strips defiance for near absolutely frozen statues, the dps is phenomenal, and the whole fractals sequence is over in 40 minutes or thereabouts. Countable on one hand though.

I’ve had just as many runs or more where mistakes happen, people screw up somewhere, and no one says anything, just picks people up or peels themselves off the floor, and the team completes regardless.

And I’ve had the odd completely baffling run when there are 3 elementalists and myself in the party and we can only reach about 15 might stacks maximum because not a single elementalist even lays out a fire field for me to blast or use a banner in, let alone appears to know how to stack blasts for might… or conjures an ice bow, and I’m *cough* guiltily not strictly 100% meta compliant either because *cough* have you SEEN the price of those runes of Strength, and was using the then-cheap Pack runes as a not-great substitute… except now they’re not exactly cheap either, leaving me at an impasse where runes are concerned. To leave in or replace? (WHEN OH WHEN CAN WE SWAP RUNES LIKE IN PVP, SHEESH.)

Still completed, despite me being disturbed to the point of re-scrutinizing my runes to figure out what was going on, and having a serious rethink re: whether I really should put in Strength runes some day and/or reviewing my food choices to see if something else can make up for that. The thought of using up food worth 40-100+ silver per PUG run is somewhat cringe-worthy though. (I think, where I’m concerned, there are practical limits beyond the holy grail of theoretical optimisation some folks say we should be seeking.)

I think I’ve learned that the unpredictability of a fractals run can be fairly interesting and enjoyable, if looked upon with an open mindset, and preferably more staggered out to every few days or once a week after this mad rush to 50 ends.

I’ve come to the realization that many many people running fractals are absolutely where I am – still in the process of learning to get better – and so there is very little reason to feel inferior or afraid – what’s the worst that can happen, really? The party disintegrates or you get kicked by some strangers whom you’ll never see again. A bit of time wasted. Group up with the next band of strangers that comes along and have a fresh start. Try not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Eventually, progress gets made.

I don’t know, I find it quite hard to wrap my mind around this associated concept of “prestige” and “showing off one’s skill in an arrogant manner” that some people relate to ‘difficult content.’

My interpretation of most skillful performances tends to be that heaps of patience and lots of practice went on behind the scenes, and what we see on display is persistence finally paying off.

If anything, I should think going through the difficult learning and mastery process would make one more humble.

Imo, the loudest braggarts, quick to find fault with others, are often not the most skilled.