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Facing the Voodoo in Zul’Aman March 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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We have had a bit of a gap since our last full instance group run.  Birthdays, marathons, and some other outside activities have intruded.  We have done some things together.  Operations in search of mounts, bags, and rep are always an option.  But it hasn’t been the full group for almost a month.

And I wasn’t sure we were going to have a full group up until nearly the last minute on Saturday.  I was in a game of Age of Kings with that group, where we were working on build strategies influenced by our obliteration at the hands of MoronHunter and friends, when suddenly everybody in the instance group was online.  Time to go!  I quickly built a wonder, thanks to my booming economy, and let that match run out in the background with my apologies while I got World of Warcraft up and running.

We were on for the night, and our group was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 86 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

No boost in levels for anybody since last time.  I think I mentioned this before, but an interesting side effect of the huge inflation in numbers when it comes to Mists of Pandaria is that, at level 85 and beyond, experience gained from doing Cataclysm content is almost negligible.  You have to get into Pandaria to move that experience bar beyond a rate measured in single digit pixels per hour.  The situation is almost EverQuestian in that regard.

Anyway, despite everybody getting logged on at the appointed hour, we ended up mucking about for drinks and bathroom breaks and at least one computer reboot to clear up a sound issue.  I was able to watch the end of the Age of Kings match and close that out as we got ourselves settled.  Earl and I got on the bird to get out to the summoning stone at our target for the night, which was Zul’Aman.

Zul’Aman is rated level 85++, where 85+ is a standard heroic mode dungeon.  Given that, even with out item level 372 gear upgrade from Pandaria, we still ran into problems in the heroic Deadmines, I was a bit concerned that an instance considered to be a challenge relative to that might be an issue.  But we were going to give it a shot.

Earl and I summoned the rest of the party out to the stone and off we went.  Well, we bounced of the entrance for a minute because the group leader (me) had not set the instance mode to “heroic.”  It seems odd that a heroic-only dungeon should care about that setting, but whatever.  At least the error message was informative, so I switched modes and we were able to enter.   We picked up the quests in the foyer of the instance and then the gate was opened and we were set loose.

Opening to Zul'Aman proper

Opening to Zul’Aman proper

Our efforts in detail after the cut.

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Return to the Heroic Deadmines February 20, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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Last time out for the instance group we finished up the last of the normal mode instances, Grim Batol, and then decided to try our hand at Cataclysm heroics.

The Deadmines, ever the favored dungeon in Azeroth, was our target and the fact that we couldn’t use the Dungeon Finder because the item level of our gear was too low did not deter us in the slightest.  An item level of 329 seemed too much to ask.

In hindsight, we might have paid a bit more attention to that last bit.  While we managed to get in the door and through the first couple of bosses, we were clearly in over our head and called it a night after too many wipes in the foundry.

The Machination in the background

Where we left off last time…

Thus stopped mid-instance, we decided to remedy the gear item level situation in Pandaria.  Four of us went to visit Silkweaver Rul in Pearlfin Village.

The Gearing Up Vendor

The Gearing Up Vendor

While we had all picked up at least a few items in our first foray into Pandaria, where we stopped at Pearlfin Village, we clearly did not pick up enough.  The four of us each ended up buying 8 or 9 items from the vendor.

The gear is kind of interesting.  There is something there for everybody and it is all item level 372.  It is also all bind on pick up and you cannot disenchant them.  This is clearly the “catch up” vendor for those entering the expansion.

Earl, on the other hand, decided to press on into Pandaria to gear himself up.  He didn’t get to read the discussion in last week’s comment thread about the balance between health and main stats versus secondary stats as you level up in Pandaria, which was probably a good thing as it was more than I really wanted to consider, and just leveled up to 86.  He also came up with an item level 450, account bound (which means you can mail it to your alts), sword to wield.

So the group was all at item level 372 or above and ready to go.

  • Earlthecat – Level 86 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

The question was, where should we head with our new gear?  Ula was AFK when that discussion started, and when she returned she flatly stated that we were going to go back to the Deadmines and that was pretty much that.  The decision was made.  Having walked there last time, we felt entitled to use the Dungeon Finder to get us there.

DMHqueued

Did all that gear make a difference?  More after the cut.

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Grim Batol and Beyond in Cataclysm February 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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Back to the more comfortable (for me anyway) world of five person instances.

We all got together again on Saturday night wondering what we should do.  We had all reached the magic level of 85.

  • Earlthecat – Level 85 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

We had all at least poked our noses into Pandaria for a few gear upgrades.  So the question was where to head next?  The only normal mode instance left undone by us in Cataclysm was Grim Batol.  Kicking off the quest line into Twilight Highlands and doing that was the default plan for the night.  We could also attempt Grim Batol in heroic mode, try one of the heroic only instances, or really roll the dice and try one of the two converted raids which were ranked as 85++.

We decided to go with the default.  That would complete our minimum plan for Cataclysm content and then we could mess around with whatever else afterwards.  That meant picking up the opening quest for Twilight Highlands and heading over to Stormwind Keep to chat with the king.

Hanging around in Stormwind Keep

Hanging around in Stormwind Keep

You can sort-of see the enchant on Alioto’s staff, which Skronk made for me with one of his alts.  It is the agility enchant, but it is green and has an animation of leaves dropping from it, making it about the most perfect druid weapon enchant ever.

As we hung out waiting for everybody to get ready, we watched what seemed to be a continuous stream of people show up and speak to Major Samuelson over in the corner, at which he would transform into some sort of Ganesh-esque monster which had to be slain.  Clearly a popular quest line on a Saturday night.  We weren’t sure what lead to that, but we had our own tasks to work on.  Once we were all together, we spoke to the king, got our one version of the destined to be troublesome Prince Anduin (nicely, everybody’s copy of the prince was only visible to themselves) and off we went to unlock the way to the Twilight Highlands.

Headed out of the keep

Headed out of the keep

More after the cut because of the usual group nice verbosity.

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Making the Jump into Pandaria February 6, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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After the previous weeks run through three instances, the group had all ascended to level 85.   That left us with some choices as to how to proceed.

The minimal completionist path was to at least take on the Twilight Highlands long enough to get to Grim Batol, the last normal mode instance in Cataclysm, before heading off to Pandaria.  The argument for this would be that we could at least say we had “done” Cataclysm by some very basic measure.

The “onward and upward” path would take us directly into Mists of Pandaria, bypassing the remains of CataclysmCata becomes a “fly over” expansion, and we are in and out in the minimum time.  And why not?  Pandaria has more than enough group content to keep us going at least out to the inevitable group summer hiatus, and probably enough to last us until Warlords of Draenor finally makes its way to us.

And then there was what I will call “the middle path” in our discussions.  This was the idea that we should take our time at level 85 and knock out some or all of the heroic-only five person instances that were included in Cataclysm.  I was all excited about the idea of Heroic Deadmines back in August 2009, it might be reasonable to follow up on that and see what came of it.  Pandaria isn’t going anywhere, and Draenor isn’t close.  Why not hang around in Cataclysm for a while?

In the end, the argument for the middle path hinged on a bag.  Specifically, the Tattered Hexcloth Bag.

TatteredHexclothBag

We are, as always in World of Warcraft, suffering for lack of bag and bank space.  And the promise of 24 slot bag as a quest reward from Zul’Aman, one of the level 70 raids converted into a five person heroic instance for Cataclysm, was like the lure of shoes to Lee’s army before Gettysburg.   We will go a fair bit out of our way for that.

Plus there is the allure of this instance, and its companion Zul’Gurub, as large, sprawling affairs that could eat up a whole evenings adventuring.  We would view that as a good thing. (And I know some people are unhappy about the conversion of these raids to five person instances, but it looks awesome from where I sit as somebody who only does the five person group content.)

The only hitch is that the two converted raids are flagged as “Level 85++” and, frankly, we just aren’t that good.

So the amended plan for the middle path included a brief foray into Pandaria to get that first round of gear when the time was right.  We didn’t think we would need it for Grim Batol, but it would help with Heroic Deadmines and would likely be a necessity for the converted raids.  We would hold off on the Pandaria thing as long as possible.

And then Earl was away this past weekend and we couldn’t think of anything else to do, so we went into Pandaria early.  Go us.

Our roster for the evening was:

  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

And we all had the lead-in quest for Pandaria, so we headed off to meet up with Sky Admiral Rogers.

Meeting the Skymarshal

Meeting the Sky Admiral

Musings on the intro to Pandaria after the cut.  If you have been there, you are pretty much excused for reading further.

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A Busy Night at the South End of Kalimdor January 31, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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Last weekend we launched ourselves into Uldum and got through The Vortex Pinnacle, the instance in the sky.  That still left us two instance to do in Uldum, the Lost City of Tol’vir and The Halls of Origination.  Uldum is the instance hot-spot in Cataclysm I guess.  Fortunately, we were all online again on Saturday night.  Our group was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 84 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 84 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 84 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 84 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 84 Gnome Mage DPS

We had all managed to hit level 84, either during last week’s run or on Sunday as a catch-up.  As we got ourselves situated outside of the Lost City of Tol’vir, Skronk was telling us about a new priest skill he got.

Out by the Tol'vir summoning stone

Out by the Tol’vir summoning stone

Called Leap of Faith, it apparently allowed him to target a member of the group and pull that person to him.

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

We were not quite sure when that might come in handy.  We speculated on about the healer pulling people not paying attention out of the fire or whatever gunk they were standing in, or maybe grabbing the tank and hauling him back to save the healer.  We were not sure when such an ability would come in handy, so it was filed away for later as we went into the instance.

More after the cut.

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Uldum and The Vortex Pinnacle January 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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Saturday night and we were back at it in Azeroth after a week off for illness.  Last time we wrapped up a quick jaunt into Deepholm, running the initial quest line and then jumping into the Stonecore to just to scout, but ending up finishing the instance.  That left the group all around level 83 and ready to look into Uldum next.  The state of the group was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 83 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 83 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 83 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 83 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 84 Gnome Mage DPS

Uldum meant getting down to Tanaris, the nearest flight point available to me.  Unfortunately, after nearly 9 years at this game, I still don’t know an expedient way to get there from any of the major cities.  Being a druid, I used my free pass to Moonglade skill and took the bird all the way down, which took a while. (Didn’t there used to be an addon that showed the flight time between points?  Anyway, it took long enough to make me wish for the faster travel guild perk.)  Anyway, the distance shown on an out-of-date map.

The Horde - More Centrally located

The Horde – More Centrally located

At least we are long past the days where you could only go between two flight points before having to select your next point on your way to your destination.  And this problem pretty much goes away once you are into Uldum, as you get a direct portal from Stormwind thereafter.  But we had to do it the old fashioned way once.

Some of us did, in any case.  Skronk had pre-positioned himself at the summoning stone for the Caverns of Time and I joined him there once I arrive, so we were able to summon in the rest of the group without them having to make the trek.

From there we moved to pick up the flight point at the southwestern part of the zone, as it is the one that links Uldum to the rest of the world.  I am sure many an adventurer has figure that one out the hard way.  Then it was time for the entry event into Uldum.  You get on the cart and ride.

Headed in

Headed in

More after the cut.

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An Evening in Deepholm January 9, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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The full group has not met up for a couple of weeks, though we have somehow managed to form a secondary “alts” group from an unlikely set of characters.  We have two DPS spec’d warriors, a rogue, and a restoration druid in the level 71-75 range, and the four of them together managed to do some instances.  We had trouble with Burning Crusade heroics, but normal mode dungeons in WotLK seemed to be possible.

Hi! We're the "B" team!

Hi! We’re the “B” team!

So now I have two night elf druids in play in guild groups, one DPS and one healer.

As a four person group we have to actually fly/walk to the dungeons we want to run, but that is part of the charm.  It is all manual mode, so to speak.

Anyway, that was what we were up to in the off weeks after Blackrock Caverns.

Last weekend though we managed to get the whole group together again and pointed in the same direction.  Our lineup was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 83 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 83 Gnome Mage DPS

And our destination was Deepholm.

More after the cut.

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Do You Know the Way to Blackrock Caverns? December 19, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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We had something of a double session of instance group fun last Saturday night.  As noted in the first post on the topic this week, we got on early and went to the Throne of Tides.

What you first see through the whirlpool

Previously on “The Instance Group”

By the time we finished that up and were back in Stormwind, we were just past the time when we would normally start playing, 9pm.  So we decided to scout out the next destination, which according to the instances by level guide, was Blackrock Caverns.

In hindsight, I supposed if you had asked me where Blackrock Caverns was, without any preamble or other data, I would have placed it in Blackrock Mountain, that well known location between Searing Gorge and the Burning Steppes.  Easy answer.  We’ve been there before many times to visit Blackrock Depths, Blackrock Spire (upper and lower), and to assault Coren Direbrew during Brewfest any number of times.

However, it appears if you mix in a zone in a new(-ish) expansion that is nowhere near that location, add in a quest in that zone that some of the group isn’t sure they have, add in our usual disdain for any pre-run research of any sort, then the obvious can become the obscure.

And so it was that, on arriving back in Stormwind after the Throne of Tides, we headed off to the portal to the Mount Hyjal zone on Kalimdor to search for the next instance.

More after the cut.

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Seated on the Throne of Tides December 17, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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It was Saturday night and we were all online and in-game extra early.  The usual start time is 9pm.  A couple weeks back we all showed up at a little after 8pm.  This time we seemed to have a group nearly ready to go at about a quarter after 7pm.

It isn’t unusual to find Earl or I or Skronk on that far in advance, but when Bung showed up we knew we were off to an early start.  Ula was rousted out of whatever she was up to and got into the game, giving us the whole team.

  • Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS

From there we figured we ought to head straight into our first Cataclysm instance, the Throne of Tides in Vashj’ir.

In order to avoid anybody feeling the ill effects of motion sickness from the sometimes disorienting zone of Vashj’ir, Skronk and I swam out to the great whirlpool at the bottom of the abyssal something or other and went on through to the other side.

The whirlpool beckons

The whirlpool beckons

There we were able to use the summoning stone to get everybody together.

Summoning Stone

Summoning Stone

Then it was just a matter of getting everybody pointed in the right direction and through the portal and into the instance.

More after the cut because… well… the same stuff I say every time.

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Diversion to Mount Hyjal December 11, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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It looked like we might get a third straight week of the whole group on together, but Ula was not feeling well and had to bow out.

That left four of us looking for something to do.  The group, as it stood on Saturday night:

  • Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS (Out, not feeling well)

All of us had managed to make it to level 82, which was our max level target.  So the first thing we did was head off to find the NPC who turns off experience so that we would not inadvertently rise too far in levels before we finished off the Cataclysm instances.  Skronk had scouted this out previously so we all met up in Stormwind keep where the XP guy resides.  I actually couldn’t find him at first, and needed to go stand by Skronk before I saw him.  You see, the NPC is a rogue who is in stealth mode… so you cannot really see him until you are close to him.

So, you're hiding from who now?

So, you’re hiding from who now?

I am not sure what message Blizzard is trying to send with that NPC.  Are they saying they put this feature in but are not really happy about it?  Or that you just need to work/suffer a bit if you want to turn off their highly tuned vertical character advancement system?

Anyway, we found him and all paid the 10g fee to turn off experience and saw our XP bars vanish.  Now the question was, how important is such advancement when playing as a group?  We decided to test that out by taking a trip to the other early Cataclysm zone, Mount Hyjal.

We chose Mount Hyjal for two reasons.  The obvious first one was that we were all in sync in Vashj’ir after last week, so we didn’t really want to mess that up.  The second reason was that there was not a lot of enthusiasm to head back to Vashj’ir.  There were some complaints of disorientation and a touch of motion sickness after last week.  The idea of going back under the sea was one of the reasons Ula decided to sit out, as she felt that another run at the zone would just make her feel worse.

Fortunately, the Throne of Tides instance appears to be dry land under the sea as opposed to a 3D swim-a-thon, so I think we’ll be okay doing that.  But we might otherwise be done with Vashj’ir.  A couple of us can, if need be, swim out there and bring the rest out using the summoning stone.  Dry land for us.

First we had to get ourselves lined up and out to Mount Hyjal.  As it turned out, each of us was at a different stage in relation to the zone.  Bung hadn’t started the quest chain to get there yet. Earl had started it but then moved on after arriving in Moonglade.  I had brought Alioto out there to harvest herbs and had done the first couple of quests.  And Skronk had started on the Mount Hyjal quest line a while back and was a ways down the line.

So Bung and Earl started off getting to the zone, which didn’t take long, while Skronk and I took the portal out.  Then the group started doing quests, with people joining in as it hit where they stood.  All in all, it went pretty well.  The quests seemed to work when run as a group, with almost no cases of updates not being shared when it might have been appropriate to do so. (I can only think of one point when that happened.)

There were even some nice touches, such as an escort quest that three of us were working on, along with a couple of other players players, where each of us could only see the NPC that was specific to our version of the quest.  Games have often enforced this in the past by simply allowing only a single version of the NPC to exist in the game.  The Pengail quest in the Lone Lands springs to mind.  While you could get the quest as a group, if somebody else was shepherding him through (or directly into) the goblins, you had to wait your turn.

Pengail Attacks!

Pengail HATES Goblins

So that went really well, with a pile of people able to do the quest in parallel without the obvious hitch of multiple versions of the NPC in question wandering about. (Though there is always that awkward moment where “your” version of the NPC spawns while the original is still visible, so for a short bit there are two of them.)

That was also the only point during our evening when phasing split the group.  Everybody on the escort quest was phased into a different version of the underground area until the NPC was delivered.  Skonk, who had done the quest, remained in the original version of the area.  However, once the quest was completed, we were moved back into the same version of the zone as Skronk.  It seems like they went for a lighter touch with phasing, at least with what I have seen so far.  Nobody has been stuck on the wrong side of a phase wall so far.

I had also forgotten how much being able to fly in Mount Hyjal affects the zone.  Since it, along with Twilight Highlands and Uldum, are just adjuncts to the current world, as opposed to being new continents, if you can fly in old Azeroth you can fly there.  So it is easy to just skirt danger and set down close to where you need to be.  We just fly off here and there, dropping in only where we had to.

That is the flip side of flying, as it really cuts back the bite any zone has unless the zone is designed well.  It is always a double edged sword.  Flying is wonderful and really sets you free while at the same time trivializing and ground obstacles.  I was happy enough when I couldn’t fly in Pandaria until 90 and I hope we won’t be able to fly until level 100 when Warlords of Draenor comes out.

I was also a bit surprised at how crowded the zone was.  Sure, it was a Saturday night and there has been the whole soft server merge thing going on.  But still, this is one of the starter zones for Cataclysm, which is now three years old and hasn’t been the new thing since Mists of Pandaria rolled out a year back.  But I have seen some of the same thing in The Burning Crusade; overland content isn’t that well populated, but you can get into a Dungeon Finder group… even as DPS… pretty quickly even on a weeknight.  So Blizz seems to be doing okay on making the world seem alive, at least in the server group where our server,  Eldre’Thalas, resides.

And, as it turned out, we were fine moving along through the zone with experience turned off.  Gold was made from quests, equipment upgrades showed up now and again, and there was some resource harvesting on the side.  Plus, there was still advancement of some sort.  While our experience was turned off, we still were generating experience for the guild.  The guild had just hit level 10 earlier in the day… up from level 3 when we rolled back into the game about a month ago… and our evening worth of work put it about half way to 11.

I find the guild experience mechanism mildly interesting as a design choice.  Essentially, the prime way the average guild member earns experience for the guild is by completing quests.  But quest completion gives a flat rate return of 60K guild experience.  So if I do a level 90 quest in Pandaria, the guild gets 60K.  If I roll a new character, getting him in the guild, and do the first “Hi, hello!” quest, it also earns the guild 60K.  So if you are not doing other things as a guild… raids, challenges, scenarios, or whatever… everybody can contribute at the same rate via quests.  It is very egalitarian, and certainly makes it more likely that we will have a level 25 guild some day.  Was it always this way, or was that a change that came in after we left for greener pastures?

Anyway, we ran through maybe a third of the zone living… or reliving… the content.  Eventually we hit a boss-like mob on one quest chain that seemed like a good end point.

He is an elite... and looks like a boss

He is an elite… and looks like a boss

After that we did our semi-traditional group shot just to commemorate the evening.

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

So that was our Saturday night run.  Hopefully everybody will be in good health and ready to tackle our first instance next time around.