Not on my watch

This is a slightly late Blog Azeroth shared topic suggested by Ecclesiastical Discipline (I knew I couldn’t type that correctly on the first try…) and it’s a doozy:

When should a healer let someone die?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and hope that my history bears me out. That means “please don’t dig through my blog looking for an instance of when I let someone die deliberately,” but in general, my answer is “I won’t.” Wait, it’s coming back to me, that’s not entirely true. There have been certain special circumstances where I did so, but in general my answer stands.

Tossing out heals for pugs since level 17.

I see the role of a healer as a facilitator. It’s part of what makes it so much fun, at least for me. You are a support for the group. When life gets the group down, you are the one to be there cheering them on, and bandaging their wounds. I take that role seriously, and it’s not lightly that I abandon it.

The damage dealers: “Whoops, I did it again.”

That means that when an over-eager DPS pulls aggro, I view it as a personal challenge to keep them alive. I know some healers would challenge me on this, and even some tanks. (You yank it, you tank it!) There are exceptions to this. When I was leveling Vid, my mana was pretty precious. I didn’t have forty-thousand mana to throw around, nor did I have the ability to simultaneously heal more than one person. I have a responsibility to the tank to heal them, and a further responsibility to keep myself alive so that I can fulfill the first. The other three group members take a back-seat to that. So when a DPS needs heavy healing because they pulled, I might do it – but only if it doesn’t put the tank or myself in jeopardy. This comes into play more in heroics at eighty. My restoration druid has so much mana, she hasn’t drunk a thing in weeks. Needing to heal a DPS probably means I’ll stop casting wrath to direct heal someone.

Again, it’s very situational. In a raiding situation, if someone pulls aggro they are likely to be dead. I’ve told you about the fury warrior-turned-warlock in our guild. His nickname is Dirtface, and it’s Dirtface for a reason. In his words, “I play because the ground in ICC is tasty and delicious.” His death is routine. I still try to keep him alive when I’m a healer. During one heavy pull in our last alt raid, our off-tank had to take a phone call. I’m not sure if he was actually AFK or just distracted, but we had a Fury warrior off-tank for awhile. And heck yeah I put Beacon on him. I wasn’t aware that the tank was AFK, I just knew he didn’t have aggro, wasn’t taking  damage, and didn’t need it. Dirtface lived.

The flip side of this (because I am DPSing at least as often as I am a healer) is a very resounding “mea culpa.” As a healer I try to keep the DPS alive. As a DPS – I don’t expect to be kept alive if I pull aggro. Whether the tank is “bad” or not isn’t relevant, it’s my job to manage my aggro. Sometimes I impose on my healers to heal me when I have gone overboard DPSing, and I’m very grateful for their benevolence, but I don’t expect it. Generally if I die, I have no one to blame but myself!

The wall of bricks: “We can handle all of this, right?”

If a tank dies, I get an immediate wash of intense guilt and regret. It always feels like a personal failure, and in many cases it is. The only exception to this is if a tank really was trying to do too much. I don’t mind a tank pulling aggressively, but I’m not apt to “punish” him for it either. I will do my damnedest to keep a tank up through hell and heavy pulling, but if I fail in that case I wouldn’t take all the responsibility on myself. It comes back to the tank and healer relationship. I was fortunate to have considerate tanks when I first started getting my hooves wet healing as a paladin at eighty, and I usually made a point of saying, “Hey, I’m still pretty new,” just as a heads-up. It’s part of the tank’s responsibility to know their healer’s limits.

I know I’ve pugged in with a great tank when they make their first few pulls a bit cautiously, or even ask me what I’m comfortable with. I know what they are doing; they’re feeling out to see how far they can reach with me backing them up. Only after they get a feel for my healing do they start to pull more aggressively, and I love that. In a short amount of time you’ve established a rapport and trust, even just for the 20 minutes you’re in the instance together, and those are always smooth runs. I like being able to trust the tanks I’m with, which is probably why I tend to prefer tanks I know.

A tank won’t die if I can possibly prevent it, unless he is an incredible jerk. I ran into such a tank wayyy back in my Deadmines days, and I checked: even then I didn’t kill him. Because if he dies, it means that other people are likely to die, and that’s not my decision to make.

It’s my off-spec that is Retribution

Occasionally I do run into a situation when someone will expressly ask or expect me to not heal someone. I know I’ve said I won’t let someone die, but there are a few exceptions, and here they are.

  • Avoidable environmental damage, a.k.a. “Why is the ground burning me?” For this I follow a general rule of “Once, shame on you, twice shame on me.” If someone is standing in something that’s killing them and I can heal them through it, I probably will – the first time. This will be followed by a general reminder, “Please watch out for such-and-such” on the ground. A repeat offense might be healed, but definitely not a third. This is a lesson situation. If there’s no consequence for standing in fire, people won’t ever learn not to stand in it.
  • The tank is having a hard time with someone continually pulling aggro and they ask me to “Please not heal so-and-so” or “Just let them die.” I still have a really hard time with this. It’s happened when a DPS thought they could pull groups instead of the tank, which is not the same as pulling aggro. This is a situation in which I feel the healer has to back up the tank, but it’s always a judgment call. Does it really justify withholding heals? In some cases it does. But I don’t like doing it. The biggest reason is because death of any kind in most instances punishes the whole group and not just the recipient. If I let them die, we have to then resurrect them, have them get their mana back, and probably rebuff them which costs me and other party members a reagent in any case.

In short, I don’t like punitive healing. If I’m there healing, I’m going to keep everyone alive to the best of my abilities. Sometimes DPS pulls aggro, mistakes happen, things get messy. I revert to my priorities: self, tank, DPS dead last. Sometimes that means they do wind up dead, and if they don’t I feel I’ve done a good job.

Most importantly, when I’m on the damage dealing side and I pull a bonehead maneuver and the healer has to heal me through something smacking me in the face… I make sure and thank them! Usually in the form of, “Thank you for saving me from my own stupidity, I know it was above and beyond the call of duty.” Because it is; the healer isn’t obligated to heal you through extraordinary damage if you bring it upon yourself. Treasure them and be grateful when they do, and remember it if you’re ever on the flip-side! If more people showed a little love for their healers, there’d never be a healer shortage. It can be an incredibly rewarding role when you’re grouped with great people.

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13 responses to “Not on my watch

  1. In short, I don’t like punitive healing. If I’m there healing, I’m going to keep everyone alive to the best of my abilities.

    I could not agree with you more, Vid. No matter how frustrating or incompetent or bad someone may be, I’m not going to stop doing my job out of punishment or retribution. In the end, it’s the success of the group that matters, not the personal victory or gratification of any one individual. If we want to set a good example to people who aren’t pulling their weight, or who are disrupting the group effort, I feel we should do our jobs better, not worse. Maybe they won’t learn from our example, but at least we’re not validating their bad behaviour.

    When the tank in a 5-player dungeon tells me not to heal someone, I feel as you seem to—conflicted, rebellious, and discontent. I don’t like not healing people, even if they are jerks who use foul language and cause problems. Sometimes I’ll respect a request like that, but usually I won’t. If your bar’s empty, I’m going to try to fill it. I’m a healer, that’s just what I do. I will prioritize if my mana is low, but that’s just the tactical reality of being a healer. Choosing not to heal someone as punishment is a strategic matter, and I have to respect you before I’ll take your orders on matters of strategy. :)

    I feel very differently in a raid setting, though. If the raid leader tells me to let someone fall, I’m going to do it. When our leader calls a wipe, tells us to stop healing and die, I put my fronds down, stand in fire, and burn. It hurts, and I don’t like it, but raids aren’t democracies. Sure, we could maybe argue that the tank is a de facto sort of raid leader in a 5-player group, but I don’t really see it that way, especially not when it’s a group that was thrown together at “random” by the looking-for-group tool. A raid group is a different animal—I agreed to respect his or her decisions by entering the raid, and if I’m not willing to follow through, I shouldn’t be in the raid.

    Oh, some raid leaders are incompetent, indecisive, belligerent, and intractable, it’s true. And I’m happy to take initiative within the bounds of fair interpretation. But when our leader says, “Lara, pick up the hunter,” you can bet your booty that even if I think it’s a bad idea, I’m going to pick up the hunter if I can. And if he says, “Don’t heal the ’lock,” I’m not going to heal the ’lock. If I disagree vehemently enough, I might complain to him later, but in the moment, we should do our jobs and not argue.

    That aside, though, I completely share your views on the roles and attitudes of a healer. First: Do no harm. Even if they brought it on themselves.

  2. I just can’t stand to ‘let people die’ even when they probably do deserve it. For instance, there’s a hunter in my guild who cannot avoid getting aggro. I pretty much Salv him every time I remember in raids. And believe you me, I’m tempted to let him die sometimes, but I can’t. I just can’t do it.

    Well, ok…maybe sometimes. While leveling Endyme 2.0, I’ve come to loathe warlocks who lifetap and then just stand there, doing nothing, expecting me to heal them, and then the pull starts and they’re already at half health. I will sometimes avoid healing them until they’re almost dead, to make a point (or so I hope). And people who pull while I’m at under half health and clearly drinking, well, they’re on their own until I get there. But a quick Holy Shock and FoL and it’s usually okie-dokie.

    • As a paladin, you have a wonderful tool for saving those wayward melée dps who pull: Hand of Protection. I prefer it to Hand of Salvation, because it prevents them attacking while it’s up.

      A few canny warriors I know get this done to them often enough that they’ve made /cancelaura macros for it; but most puggies will just be confused for several seconds while they’re immune and the tank reasserts threat on the mobs. This is a great way to deal with errant Bladestorm, Windfury, or Killing Spree threat without actually letting someone die. Sure, it cuts their dps numbers a bit, but that’s often the only way to get their attention anyway. :)

  3. I have a tough time letting someone die on purpose. I mean, there’s triage when there’s only so many people you can heal and if it’s between the dps and the tank, well, it’s the tank. But just flat out not healing someone is rough.

    I can think of one occasion though where I did do that, because it wouldn’t hurt the party much.

    We got to the first boss of Heroic UP and the tank planted himself under Svala Sorrowgrave, making it clear that he intended to do this boss rather than skip her. Almost everyone else stood around with the tank, to get ready for the boss, except the enhance shaman who decided to go pull the abomination down the steps to the next area.

    The shaman kited the shaman back to the group, past the tank, who turned to watch the enhance shaman and the abom run. The shaman kept running, the abom kept chasing, and the tank kept watching. No one else dps-ed the abom. The shaman was the one and only person on the abom’s threat list, and began taking heavy damage. He died before the boss had fully activated and I didn’t cast a single heal on him.

    He said “WTF tank?!” and the tank politely told him that if he wanted to do the achievement he should have said something and the tank would’ve been happy to oblige. Of course that’s not really what the shaman wanted (he was just in a hurry), but it made me crack a smile. If anyone else had started dps-ing the abom I would have healed them, but because they held back I didn’t heal. And because I didn’t heal, the abom’s threat stayed on the shaman. If I had healed, then the tank would’ve been required to step in to save me, and I just wasn’t going to reward the shaman’s bad behavior with that.

  4. I will always heal someone except for two special occasions: A) I know they’re doomed anyways and healing them will just put me second on the threat list in a second, leading to my death; or B) I hate then. I’m speaking of heroics of course, because in raids you basically need everyone. And honestly with today’s gear levels you can keep pretty much anyone alive if they’ve got a stray mob beating on them. Hell, it actually gives me something to do outside of putting myself on follow and casting Rejuv and Wild Growth every 6 seconds.

    The ironic part of playing a druid healer is that even if someone HAS invoked my wrath, by pulling for the tank or because they’re being a jerk, it’s HARD to let them die. This has happened a few times, and I firmly tell himself “okay, no more heals for Uppity Rogue over there!” only to realize moments later that he has Wild Growth nicely ticking away and keeping him at full health. ><

    And speaking of healing non-tanks, one of the bright spots of healing randoms has been when an overzealous/careless DPS pulls aggro and you keep them alive, and they make a point of thanking you after the pull, acknowledging their mistake and that you completely saved them. I'm always shocked when this occurs, but it happens with surprising frequency.

  5. Well… I do agree with you on nearly all points. I enjoy a challenge healing and the satisfaction I get when everyone lives through hard encounters. I AM there to support my group – however… I suppose you’re just nicer than I am, but I am a big believer in learning and as you pointed out, if I always heal them when they’re standing in The Bad, they’ll never learn not to stand in it.

    If they insist on ignoring aggro warnings and stealing aggro from the tank (even though they were asked to do whatever it is they need to do to not get threat) then I will let them die.

    I always back up my tank if they request that someone not get heals. I’ve never had a situation where the request was baseless.

    … I’ve gotten grouchy in my old age.

  6. As I levelled my tank to 80, I had a good time in the LFG. A lot of jerks but on the whole a fun experience. Now that I have hit 80 and trying to gear the numbers of jerks have increased to the point where I now have a mindset of “You yank it, you tank it”. In fact I may create a chat macro for zoning into an instance. Something along the lines of: “Hi guys. Be patient and let me build aggro, WATCH YOUR DPS, and we should all be fine. If you yank it off me, you tank it.”

    Maybe that will pre-warn the jerks that I am not going to run around like a blue-arsed fly trying to get aggro back.

    For me the cardinal sin of DPS is, ok, maybe you pull a mob by accident. But pretty please do NOT continue hurting it, switch targets so that I actually have a hope in hell of pulling it back. And thats the simple reason I now stick with YYIYTI. Running after errant mobs that a DPS pulled off you trying to get aggro back while they continue to try and DPS it is impossible. And then I lose aggro on all the other mobs as well and things become chaos.

  7. Well, I must confess, in a recent 5-man I did use the threat of no-heals to calm down a ruckus between a couple of youngsters. It actually worked a treat, but I didn’t find it particularly pleasant. I’ve also tried the actual “not healing as a punishment” thing once (rather than just the threat), and big wimp that I am, just couldn’t follow through. Braincells simply scream foul if healthbars are left below full for any length of time.

    And as with other people here, even if people are standing in stupid, standing in the _way_ of stupid, or for that matter _pulling_ stupid, I consider it my personal crusade to save their lives even if their learning is somewhat lessened by the action.

    My raid-healing doesn’t differ dramatically to my 5-mans though I definitely leave threats at the door, and have yet to be asked not to heal someone (unless it’s for specific fight mechanics). The only thing I _would_ do differently to some others here, and it probably depends on relationships with the raid group, is to question a bad wipe-call. In fact I did this just the other night whilst 2-man healing 10-man Rotface. Our ooze off-tank went down midway through the fight, the oozes were picked up by our experienced ‘lock and kited. The leader called a wipe, but I swiftly called a continuation.

    Gutsy or stupid? The fact was the raid leader was a mage, and I surmised my healer’s ability to see the overall health of the team and the ‘lock, the rate they were all taking damage, and the speed Rotface was going down, gave me (I thought at the time) a better grasp of whether or not we really were facing a wipe, or whether we could hammer things through regardless.

    Us healers are in a great position to make such tight calls in an emergency (assuming a good relationship with the team/leaders), and if we use our powers sparingly and with consideration, we can do good things with our mouths as well as our hands.

  8. The offtank was AFK? I had no idea… I thought I was just doing my normal thing o_O

    From a DPS’s perspective, I will never bitch at the healers because I died from pulling aggro. At the same time, if you heal me, I don’t feel bad for pulling. I figure if y’all don’t want to keep me up, you won’t (or you’ll say something).

    I will, however, bitch at the tanks. You know… if they’re not in defensive stance or something ;)

  9. I have yet to intentionally let someone die when I was healing. I have refused to heal someone after they pulled for the tank though. They were at half health after that fight and asked rudely for a heal and I said,”I don’t heal tank wannabes.” to which the tank responded, “I love you.”. the DPS behaved perfectly after that.

  10. I have a priest that I’ve been playing up with my fiancee – her paladin and my priest have paired up through 68 levels of WoW time, before school obligations has caused her to shelf her pally.

    But, she’d play without me and level without me and – this is exactly what I wanted, because it means she likes the game…

    …and selfishly, it means, I get to play a healer to catch up.

    It feels like the hypocratic (sp?) oath, almost – “First, do no harm.” What is harming my group? Purposefully with holding the precious heals that keep this five man band chugging. This isn’t to say I’ve had dps die on me because they were standing in AOE explosives or because I was caught unaware… but, at the same time, I feel like I’m learning MORE about how to heal from these bad runs where I’m doing everything I can to keep this train on track to the Lewtville station.

    When THOSE runs are successful, that’s when I feel like I’ve gained something as a healer. And then I think, “Maybe I should try that again…”

  11. I don’t mind being the bad guy. I will purposely let someone die. Normally I give them fair warning. ‘Listen scrub, stop standing in the fire/pulling before the tank/some other stupid thing.’ They get the warning twice, then they die. On purpose. I whisper the tank and other dps to give them fair warning.

    This harsh killing of players in my group has gotten me equal cheering and equal vote to kick my ass out of there. What can I say, when healing pugs it’s my sanity break.

  12. Had a fun time once not healing the tank. He’d run way off round several corners while I was still buffing, so I figured “eh, he doesn’t need heals.”

    I did still give him a few, but it was more reactive healing once he got to 50%. I was still buffing during the third pull (new to pally buffing, and 80, and heroics) and he asks “why no heals?” I lold in party and said it looked like he was doing fine without them ;)

    I buff a lot faster now though :D

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