Raid Leading 101

Let me preface this one with a few things.

I don’t claim to be the best raid leader that ever lived or breathed. As with my raiding posts, this is for people who have never herded cats led a raid before and are just some general ideas on how to deal with it all and some idea of what “it all’ even is.

Getting started

So you think you want to lead a raid. The first thing you have to know is that raid leading is not glamorous, much like being an officer/GM is not glamorous. It’s work, and the difficulty of it will be directly affected by your organizational/leadership skills and the ability of your raiders to pay attention for more than two seconds at a time.

The very first thing I would suggest doing to see whether raid leading is something you really want to do is to lead a raid for either the For the Horde or For the Alliance achievements. You won’t need to pay special attention to having a certain number of tanks or healers (although you will want to have both) or achieving a good mix of melee and ranged dps and you’ll have an entire herd of cats to lead – many of them won’t be in your guild either, so you’ll get to experience all the joys of trying to direct people who have no motive to listen to you other than that you could kick them out of the raid if you were so inclined.

Having led a raid for this achievement two or three times, let me tell you up front that it is hellish from the leader’s perspective. You’ll have the people who want to charge ahead because “gogogo nownownow” is how they play. You’ll have the warlocks who will bitch about being asked to summon missing members in. You’ll have the Guy Who Knows Everything constantly trying to change your game plan, whether my arguing against everything you say or flat out countermanding you. The sheep people who will follow any command given will invariably do whatever the Guy Who Knows Everything says. Getting everyone into Vent, let alone the same zone to assault the same capitol, requires a mix of abusing raid warnings, yelling at people, having some faithful assistants to help you yell at people, and a liberal use of marking the few sensible people along for the trip with raid target icons and drilling it over and over into everyone’s heads to “FOLLOW THE GODDAMN STAR.”

You may also want to self-medicate with whatever drink it is that keeps you happy. I like wine.

Once you actually down a faction leader, you then have to deal with getting a mage to put up the appropriate portal to the next location and collecting the dead and starting everything all over. Only now the other faction knows you’re headed somewhere and will be able to come out in force to stop you.

Sounds fun, right?

Assembling the team

Hopefully, if you’re running a guild raid, you know your fellow guild mates well enough to know what they do, whether they have an off spec and how well they perform. If you don’t, then you need to step back and do some more research. Run heroics; see how they do. I never tell someone in my guild when I’ve maneuvered them into a heroic with me so I can watch them. It would put them on edge and leave me wondering whether this was how they always performed.

I’m going to assume that you’re using the in-game calendar to invite people to this raid. When you’re looking at who has signed up and getting ready to confirm those who are going, break it up into pieces. No matter what role you’re looking at, you’ll want to try to get a good mix of classes. For example, you don’t want your entire healing team to be all paladins. I always start with tanks, because you need the least of those. Then I move onto healers. Any extras I have of either are likely to end up on standby, unless I know they have a good off spec. Lastly, I look at DPS.

When assembling a raid team, it is handy to know what boss encounters you’re looking at attempting for the night. Will you be facing Lady Deathwhisper? You’re going to want a good mix of physical and magic damage for those adds. Will  you be on the Lich King? You’re going to want a disc priest for bubbling goodness. Facing Rotface? Get a tank who can kite.

And most of all, take the team that is most likely to guarantee you success. If your best friend or your significant other plays, but is a new 80 or has never raided before or just plain sucks at raiding, don’t play favorites and take them. Being a good raid leader requires the ability to be objective.

Setting expectations

Once you have your team assembled, you’ll want to be sure to set expectations for the raid. This can include any mix of the following and probably more things I am not thinking of:

  • Overall raid goals
    • We’re here to have a good time and if we get loot, great
    • We’re here to kill the heck out of some bosses and progression is all that matters
  • Appropriate use of Vent
    • No one should say anything in Vent unless I ask a direct question
    • Feel free to tell stories of your cute kid if we’re killing trash, but keep it focused for bosses
    • Please, regale us with the same tired “I got boned by a dude!” jokes on Marrowgar
  • How long this will go
    • We’ll get down however many bosses we get done. And quit whenever we quit
    • We’re getting through eight bosses even if it kills us!
    • We’ll be here for three hours
  • Loots
    • Open roll, who cares about main or off spec
    • You can win one/more than one piece of gear
    • We’re using [insert loot system here]
  • Other people to listen to
    • I will give all the assignments
    • We will have a lead for each role
    • So-and-so is my second in command

Dealing with specific types of people

We’ve identified a few of the types of people you’ll inevitably have to deal with in a raid situation. Assuming that first exercise didn’t break your spirit, how do you take that mass of 9 or 24 other people and forge them into a team that works together? A lot of it will come from clearly setting your expectations. The rest will come from enforcing those expectations. The worst thing to do is to have rules/guidelines/expectations/whatever and then sit by as they are violated.

I like to start out politely. Send a tell to the Guy Who Knows Everything and ask him to please not talk over you/argue with you/countermand you. Explain that you are in charge of the raid and he is confusing other people. Warn him if he doesn’t stop trying to take over, you will either mute him globally over vent or replace him. If he gets belligerent about it, just remove him. He’s not worth it.

The “gogogo” fellow is best dealt with through similar methods. You might need to explain pauses every now and again (“We’re just waiting for the healers to get their mana back up and then we’ll go). If they’re less verbal and more action-based, let them “gogogo.” When he dies because you don’t lift a hand to save him, you can calmly explain that he needs to wait for everyone to be ready.

As to the sheep, these can be a liability or an asset. One the plus side, they will only listen to you if you can have firm enough control of the rest of the raid to keep anyone else from giving orders you haven’t asked them to give. On the negative side, this type will often not do anything unless specifically ordered to – and I have seen that include not getting out of the bad or not switching targets. Honestly, your best bet is to not ever include the type who need to be told what to do every step of the way. You can’t have eyes on yourself and another person all the time and a good raider requires more awareness than that anyway.

Overall Tone

As I have mentioned before, I once had the opportunity to spend a few months raiding with the top raiding guild on my server. It was an experience. The raid leader pretty much started out yelling and swearing over everything and didn’t quit until the last piece of loot had been distributed. The raiders from his guild did their jobs fine, but he abused them anyway. The raiders from my guild were new to the fights and didn’t perform as well. The yelling and swearing unnerved them, angered them, and even hurt them. It didn’t do anything for most of them, although there were a few who were able to roll with it. For myself, I grew up in an environment where yelling and swearing happened on a regular basis, so to me, that was normal – or at least familiar. It didn’t bother me much, even when I was taking the brunt of it for a bad pull on HKM.

When I run a raid, I like to start with politeness first. In this, I might be too forgiving of some of the more egregious mistakes that happen. However, when I do decide to call someone to task or make a broader statement about needing to focus, I tend to see my raiders shape up in a hurry. Just last week, wiping on the Lich King to some truly stupid mistakes, I casually mentioned that if I didn’t see improvements in focus I was going to start replacing people.

Good communication and staying on task magically increased from there.

From all I have observed, the raid leader who starts off as a jerk or who is constantly making sharp and rude statements tends to get ignored. I know I don’t respect that style of leadership myself. And most people won’t. I’ve run into a few who believe that one has to be tough or a prick to be in a raid that will progress. “Care bears,” I was told, “won’t ever get anywhere.”

I disagree. It’s true that less skilled players tend to gravitate to a place where they won’t get yelled at for being unskilled, but there are plenty of skilled people out there who don’t want to play in a hostile environment either.

I don’t know if you can teach this

To me, a major part of being a good raid leader is being able to keep track of everything going on. Hopefully it’s obvious that you’ll need to know the mechanics to every boss fight you encounter and be able to explain them well enough to anyone who has questions about them. It’s okay if you’re not 100% on this, too. I often defer questions from a new tank to be answered by the veteran tank. Since Zel came on board, I defer all healing assignments and aspects to her. I don’t bother much with memorizing the name of everything that happens, but just give a general idea of what to watch for – “You’ll have green crap on your feet and you’ll need to run to the edge of the room and keep running until it falls off.” People will remember “green crap” better than they will “Fel whatsitfire” that could be confused by “Fel this” or “Fel that” since boss abilities can often have similar names.

A boss mod is a great asset to a raid leader, as well. Make sure you’re practiced at being able to quickly assimilate the information you’re getting and translate that into action, whether it’s for yourself or for the rest of the raid. It’s true that any good raider will be able to do this for themselves, but sometimes you just end up with someone who is a Sheep (or semi-Sheep) and can barely keep track of their own two feet, let alone the fact that said two feet are needing to move now! In that direction! In such cases, it’s better to get someone else moving in the right direction than it is to risk a wipe to prove a point. If you’re looking to be hardcore for progression, again, just remove and then don’t reinvite that person because they are slow to change, if not downright resistant to it.

Ask me how I know. We’re pretty casual overall, so I tend to put up with a lot of this shit.

And to recap

  • Bottom line – if you can’t keep track of yourself, let alone other people, you shouldn’t be a raid leader.
  • If you can’t communicate effectively under pressure, you shouldn’t be a raid leader.
  • If you can’t organize your way out of a wet paper sack with a flamethrower and a hand grenade, you shouldn’t be a raid leader.
  • If you’re not willing to be forceful at times – and if you can’t tell when it’s appropriate or not – you shouldn’t be a raid leader.
  • If you can’t remember and convey the details of a fight you’ve done several times, you shouldn’t be a raid leader.
  • If you think being a raid leader is all about you and people listening to you because you are a special star, oh God, you should be shot.


Raid Leading 101 — 13 Comments

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  2. We’ve been having something of a debate in my guild lately about leading styles, since our very vocal long-time 25s raid leader has moved on and our much quieter and more laissez-faire 10-man leader has taken over the 25s. It’s interesting to see how it’s shown a real division within the guild.
    Some people seem to percieve a quieter leader as being ineffective because their voice isn’t constantly in your ear. Me, I prefer a quieter Vent with only things that need to be called being called.

    Also, on the subject of yelling and screaming, I remember from my teaching days that you should always give yourself room to escalate. If you start of yelling and screaming before the first pull, where do you go when someone really does mess up, or when you get truly frustrated.
    I was always a pretty quiet raid leader, until I got sick of asking people to stand in a particular place on Maexxna, I think, and sharpened my tone a bit. The effect was dramatic, to say the least!

    Finally, your point that carebears can still progress is true, but it’s a tricky line for a guild to walk because if you’re a decent guild but not a server-first type you’ll see both kinds of people applying and the trick is working out which are which. Let in too many of the type who aren’t looking to be challenged and you’ll suffer when it comes to pushing the harder end of progression.

    • Hehe – yes, having room to escalate is a good thing. I do wonder how people would react if I ever went on a screaming and ranting fit when just sharpening my tone or making quiet threats is so effective. At the same time, I hope I never have to find out.

      And yes, you make an excellent point about walking the line between “so casual we don’t care” and “hardcore” types. I think we have a decent composition now (although I have a few who I would like to see pushing themselves harder), but we certainly had our share of huge, dramatic splits when we want too far one way or the other. I like to think we’ve learned to better identify the people who will fit well.

  3. Good post, really strirred up my raiding memories. My special area of raid leading was uniquely tailored to pugging. I have something like 6 80s and pugging was a common thing I’d do. Generally it was always 25mans. I’d boil it down to a couple things:

    Be tough, you don’t have time for the failings of a couple people. The longer you wipe in a pug the more the morale goes down. If you “let” it happen you will begin to lose people and get into that horrible – having to replace people constantly situation. Sometimes you’ll have to be brutal just to show the puggers that you mean business. Generally there’ll be some guild alts in with me so we’ll have VT and that will be very friendly – which I think makes it better for when you have to be nasty as it’s slightly more shocking. Like being bitten by a big friendly labrador.

    Be fair, if someone does well – tell them and if someone does badly – specify. A favourite technique of mine is asking them if they think it’s fair for them to do x when it impacts the other 24 people.

    Be crystal clear with loot. If there’s a special 1in a million drop – plan for it and state it all at the beginning. I have a couple general /rw macros for this purpose alone. I have a loot system I use that specifically punishes people who make stupid mistakes on bosses or otherwise shit up the raid. I’ve punished myself before – its one of those things you have to do.

    You mention know the fights – cant stress this enough. I’ve got lists in my head that I run through every time we’re in a raid instance. Assignments which change depending on how good the players involved are. I’ll generally listen to the know it alls because occasionally they’ll make sense but remember you should be able to justify your decisions anyway. Only resort to silencing them if they’re being downright retarded.

    Whilst felt more in 10mans the thing I’d say that will make or break a raid is raid Comp. Blizzard have made this less of a problem with the whole “bring the player not the class” credo however the amount of raids you join where the raid leader has either skewed it to give themselves a better change at an item or through ignorance or laziness stacked heavily on certain classes is just retarded. Make sure you have the key raid buffs – 10%AP, 3% spell hit, blessings, totems, auras, sp, Motw, Fort, int, spi, replenishment, 3% dmg, 3%crit, 5% spell critetc etc and know where you can get them from.

    • All excellent points!

      Raid leading really can be quite complex. I laugh at people who think they can just pick it up and grab some people and go. I mean, if you’re running Naxx, sure. But otherwise, there is a lot to memorize and a lot to pay attention to. I wish more people would realize that.

  4. Our raid leader tends to shout a little bit much for my taste, and he knows it. Maybe it works for some people, but for me (and I know some of the guildies) we get distracted by his anger rather than focused.

    When I raid lead I might be too nice sometimes, but I also like to get things done. I don’t like leading PUGs though. I’ll do it if I have to, but I don’t like to do it on vent. I have no problems being vocal with people I know, but there’s some deep seated fear in me when it comes to talking to new people. It’s my failing though, and something I guess I have to work on.

    Very nice guide in general, I always love reading your posts :)

    • I don’t lead pugs if I can help it either. But that’s mostly because I end up wanting to punch things in the face after dealing with “cats” whose failings and fallings are unfamiliar challenges for me to work around. When my guild mates fail, I at least had a good idea it was going to happen because I know where they are most weak.

  5. I was all ready to take a hand in this epic event and help with Tuesdays…after reading this, I really think I’ll pass. If you want me to learn, I will, but… I guess I don’t think I have what it takes to measure up to what you want/need.

    • If you are willing to learn, I am willing to train. I don’t think many people get there overnight so I wouldn’t worry about not having a handle on everything I mentioned.