Are You A Good Grouper?

by Penthesileia

Good grouping is essential in most MMOs in order to advance in the game.
As I presented in my previous article, grouping is a form of the game's
community—there are two aspects to any game that determine the difficulty
a player runs into when looking for a group. One is the game mechanics
of the game in question: does the game aid a player in finding other like-minded
players? The other is the player base itself: does the player base encourage
the sort of behavior that leads to good group building?

Last week I delved into a brief
look at community
. This week, I'll be focusing on a subsection of that—grouping.
I was asked to offer my tips on good grouping, so here it is: Penthesileia's
Good Grouping Guidelines. Some of the bits of advice I will offer here
were given to me by experienced players when I first started playing MMOGs,
and I have long since discovered why they are such a good idea. I will attempt
to not only offer what I think makes a good groupmate, but why I feel each
bit is important.

I have noticed there are several different kinds of groups that happen
in an MMOG: a group that forms between players who know each other—whether
it be guildmates, people who have grouped before, or friends who have
sat down to play a game together—a group that spawns when several
players have been hunting in the same area for a while and decide to band
together, and a pure, blind "pick-up group," or PUG, that forms
due to the game's group finding tools, or have answered each other's calls
on whatever channels the MMOG in question provides. I will primarily be
focusing on the latter type of group.

simplest thing a game can do is to add in a "who list," and
a looking for group, or LFG, tag. All I do is pop on the tag, and presto!
Perhaps someone else who is LFG will make contact. The "who list"
helps as well--all I have to do is use that command, with filters for
my level, and perhaps the class I am looking for. Easy—most if not
all MMOGs have them. Simple, perhaps, but not the most help that might
be provided. There are any number of things someone might be looking to
do, particularly in a game like Vanguard with its sphere system. I might
be looking for a group to hunt, whether it be in a specific location or
not, I might be trying to complete a particular quest. I might be looking
for a crafting group, a diplomacy group, or I might be a non-combatant
looking for a band of bold adventurers to guard me while I attempt a dangerous
task or journey.

A means to differentiate between the options will be key in avoiding
a lot of the frustrations that can stem from looking for a group, whether
it's looking for a group to do something in particular and not being able
to find one, or being plagued by a million people wanting to know if you're
interested in doing what they want to do. In the traditional method of
group finding, identification is simply class and level. If I open up
a standard LFG window, what I'll see is a list of players, organized by
class and level, and sometimes location. Outside of that, the game's OOC
channels will be filled with players broadcasting their needs. Sample
comments might be "group seeking healer 20-24" or "group
seeking tank, 10-13." Players, hungry to join other adventurers,
will advertise their own identification, which boils down to the same
thing. However, a game with as many options as Vanguard promises will
require a more robust system to aid players in finding groups.

From everything I have learned about Vanguard, it will have a variety
of different types of groups. As I mentioned above, if I am a crafter,
I might be looking for more crafters to work with to create a group item,
I might be looking for a diplomat to help me calm down a cranky customer,
or I might be looking for a band of adventurers to protect me while I
search out the legendary forge that is buried deep within a series of
dangerous mines. Taking the latter example, if the LFG system simply listed
class and level, how do I mark myself? Do I put down crafter, because
I am a crafter, or do I put down adventurer, because I am looking for
adventurers? Neither of these options seems adequate, as both are easily
misinterpreted by other players.

think something more sophisticated is needed, and I am also intrigued
by the possibility that was displayed in the lore Tonic.
In Tonic, Nelon the alchemist is robbed, and when the city guard won't
help, he posts a note in one of Qalia's "fine establishments"—likely
a tavern of some kind, although the exact location is unimportant to my
pondering. Assuming that this sort of posting will be available in Vanguard
and isn't merely a bit of fictional color, and it isn't limited to reading
quests that have been put up by NPCs, it would be fascinating to be able
to go to a tavern in some heavily frequented stomping ground, and tack
up a message listing what I need for other players to read. To avoid clutter,
some method of organizing the notes would be required, as well as a timer.
Perhaps the bulletin board might have different sections: hourly, daily,
and weekly. This would allow players to provide notice of where they are
currently, as well as to gather players for larger undertakings that require
significant planning.

Of course, any mechanics that a game might provide to make grouping easier
is only as effective as the player base makes it. If there is a way to
identify whether someone is looking for questing buddies, or simply hunting
buddies, any way to identify the difference requires that the players
in question actually take the time to mark themselves correctly. And then,
it is only effective if the people looking actually pay attention to what
is written.

Take City of Heroes/Villains, for example. The LFG function has a section
where you can write in a comment about your grouping preferences. I'm
always careful to write in what I'm doing, whether I am looking for a
group or not, if I am doing story arcs, or just goofing around. I tend
to play MMOGs with my boyfriend, so sometimes when the two of us just
want to spend some duo time, I'll write in: already teamed, not looking
for a group. But it doesn't matter, I get just as many tells from players
as I do when I write in that I am looking for a group. I'll get tells
from players wondering if my LFG comment is accurate, because many players
don't keep theirs updated. Not to mention the tells I get from people
who just couldn't be bothered to actually read what I'd written.

So lesson number one is: make use of the tools provided. If there is
a place to put down information, keep it updated, and take the time to
read what other people have to say. I've seen it argued that this takes
too much time - but I say in the end it saves time. It's considerably
less of a hassle for me to periodically update my information as my group
needs change, or to read the information provided by other players on
their group needs, than it is to have to spend a few moments talking to
every person who wants a group to be sure we're on the same page.

This leads to lesson number two: once you are in a group, communicate.
Take a few minutes after the group is formed to discuss the group's goals
and a few preliminary tactics. Decide the roles of each group member;
know who is healing whom, who is defending whom, who nukes, who is in
charge of crowd control, who debuffs, who buffs. If there are secondaries
at any role, know that as well. It may seem to be a lot of care for little
gain—however when something goes wrong (and eventually it will) and
a party wipe seems imminent, having a clearly defined role will more than
likely turn a large disaster into a small one, or it might even turn the
tide completely and shift what might have been a defeat into a success.

More often than not, it's running or panicking that brings about full
disasters. When all group members know clearly what their assigned tasks
are, then everyone has something to focus on. It's all about efficiency,
using the party's resources to the best gain. I've seen it often enough:
a pull has gone bad, and the group never bothered to discuss roles or
tactics. The casters start to run one way, some warriors run another,
some warriors stay behind to try and protect the healer, the rogues stealth,
and the healers are left trying to decide whether to flee, to follow someone
to heal them, or remain behind and try to keep the warriors alive.

do tend to play healers, so that's the mindset I'm familiar with—and
it can be overwhelming in times like this. But if everyone knows his or
her role, if everyone is on the same page and knows the planned tactics,
then group panics and routs becomes less likely. Many tactics require
clear communication, particularly when crowd control is a part of them.
Perhaps someone had an area of effect sleep that could have saved the
day - if the warrior or nuker hadn't broken it by throwing out wild attacks.
Perhaps the healer could have thrown out an area of effect heal that would
have helped immensely—if everyone hadn't scattered. I've played mainly
crowd controllers and healers, and in both cases it is exceedingly frustrating
to be prevented from performing my job because the players in my group
are neither listening nor telling me what they're doing.

I can't decide which I think is more important to a group, rule two,
or rule number three: Adventurers, Know Thy selves! Know your abilities
inside and out. If they cost mana, then know how much. Know how long the
animation time is, and if the effect is applied before or after it finishes.
Know the effect—is it a small heal or large? A small amount of damage
or a lot? Instant damage or damage over time? Sleep? Stun? Does it break
if someone else hits it? How about stacking, does it stack well with other
effects? Is it easily resisted or can you count on it taking effect? What
about the type of monster that is being fought - will it shake off the
effect or will it have extra impact? All of these things are vitally important
to know, for sometimes the only way to survive an encounter is precise
knowledge of what to use and when. Invisibility can be a great spell,
but attempting to use it against mobs that can see through invisibility
will more than likely create disaster. If you're playing a healer, sometimes
it's best to use lots of small heals instead of one large one, so you
can play with aggro management.

That's another thing I forgot to add to my list - always remain aware
of how much aggro your abilities attract. Healers who spam their most
powerful heals, or nukers who spam nuke will more than likely both end
up with the same fate - dead. No matter how skillful a tank is, it isn't
always possible for him to pull the monster's attention before the overzealous
player dies if they've not paid attention to the amount of aggro they
are creating for themselves. The most powerful abilities in the game will
mean very little, if they aren't utilized properly.

There are many more things I could say about grouping, but these three
things are the most important. At their heart, everything I've said here
can be put into one phrase: pay attention. Pay attention to those around
you, pay attention to the mobs around you, pay attention to you. Tactics
will vary, personalities will vary, skills will vary, the game itself
will vary, but if everyone is paying attention, then groups, particularly
pick up groups, will be much more pleasant experiences for all involved.


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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.