When I first started playing D&D with the people that would later become my Stupid Ranger cohorts back in ’03, I was at a loss as to what kind of character to make. All I really knew was that we needed a healer and that I wasn’t really feeling it. Nobody in the groups I’d played with previously really wanted the role. The term “healing bitch” was frequently utilized in reference to said player. I almost resigned myself to playing the standard mace-and-shield Generic Cleric™ when I started paying a little more attention to the spell domains in the 3.5e Player’s Handbook. Of special interest to me were “War” and “Strength”. Those did not sound particularly healing-bitchy to me. As a matter of fact, they sounded awesome. At that moment, an image popped into my head of a berserker warrior using the power of his god to spread goblin ketchup about the Forgotten Realms in his name. It hadn’t occured to me before that point that clerics could care more about kicking ass than healing ass. Thus was Lumbar, son of Uthgar the Battle-Father born, and holy crap was he fun to play.
Of course, such things were not without cost. Me doing more fighting and less healing meant, well, more people (myself including) running a little low on the HP. Also, this was the first time I ever tried roleplaying a bad stat roll, so poor Lumbar had a CON score of 8. We referred to it as his “delicate constitution”, and a frequent side effect of combat was that Lumbar would wake up afterward and ask if we had won. This worked for awhile, at least until about 10th level or so. I’m not sure if our DM was doing it on purpose or whether the monsters just started to get more bitey and kill-y, but Lumbar’s leanings toward rushing into battle without much strategy (or using all the tools Uthgar gave him) were starting to become a liability.
For me, changing Lumbar’s tactics turned into a really exciting opportunity to draw on his backstory and build his character. He started out as a warrior, exiled from his tribe until he passed a combat rite of manhood. Once he needed to change, I took this as him learning his place in the world and how to live up to his full potential. So it was he started being a better person. Less, alcohol and rage, more cuddling of puppies and taking care of wounded party members. My wife’s character in particular almost died of poisoning from a Drow arrow, and this was a turning point for Lumbar. By the end of the campaign, Lumbar still liked to smash things with his dire flail and roast some undead with Searing Light, but buffing the party and keeping everybody standing became a priority. I daresay we all started fighting as a team, and wound up saving the world.
Fast forward to 2008, when I started my World of Warcraft account. I didn’t really know what class to choose, but after reading up on them, I liked the Shaman’s versatility. And by that, I mean I liked the Shaman class’s ability to heal himself if he does something stupid (a trait I desired based on three decades of gaming experiences of doing stupid things and wanting not to die). I was told the best spec to level a shaman with was Enhancement, which involved a lot of close quarters combat and beating the hell out of things. This reminded me a lot of Lumbar. All of it. So I made an orc shaman named Lumbertha, after my beloved battle-cleric. Wrath of the Lich King had just come out, so I leveled her all the way up to 80.
Then, a funny thing happened. I started running dungeon instances with some of my friends. And I was almost always at the bottom of the damage charts. Or dead. Actually, I was dead a lot. Part of it was that I wasn’t playing as much as my friends, and didn’t have as good of gear as they did. But a large part of it was that I was simply having difficulty seeing what the hell I was doing in the middle of a gigantic battle with lots of spell effects going off and character models all mashed up on each other. My eyesight isn’t great but it’s far from terrible. I think I just lack the ability to process that much visual information at once. Consequently, I would frequently stand there and think I was swinging madly at a boss, but really I was too far away. And I wouldn’t do enough damage, and I wouldn’t know where I was or where to run, and occasionally I might pull a few adds and get everybody killed. My friends were a lot nicer than most pickup groups and did not immediately boot me from the party, but the end result was that I got really damned frustrated. That, and the spectre of having to run the Sons of Hodir quests for rep until I was old and grey just for the right to buy a shoulder enchantment eventually got me to quit the game.
As some of you may have noticed, many of your friends have disappeared due to the Cataclysm expansion coming out. As I had some fond memories of Azeroth and heard that some big giant dragon was going to go muss it up as if it were the emo-haircut of the world. So began my retreat from the outside world as well, several weeks before the expansion was released, and I reactivated my account. I immediately wanted to quit, to be honest. It was just as frustrating as I remembered, and now my gear was REALLY outdated so I couldn’t even do any instances. Fortunately, this problem was significantly alleviated by the worst items in the new zones being better than most of the very best items that Wrath of the Lich King had to offer. (Wow, glad I didn’t work real hard for those, huh?)
Then I decided to try something new. Since Enhancement wasn’t doing it for me, and it was now cheap to dual-spec your character, I decided to ditch it entirely and go with Elemental and Restoration. For those not familiar, Elemental is frying the crap out of enemies at range with lightning and fire, and Restoration is more support and healing-based. I leveled up to 85 as Elemental, and now I don’t have to see exactly how close I am to hit something. I press a button, and lightning shocks it in a delicate place. I am also much better armored. I enjoy this, as it keeps me from being dead.
Then, another funny thing happened. Some of my friends wanted to run an instance, and we didn’t have a healer. So I got talked into it. And I really liked it.
In all the time I’d played Lumbertha, I’d never even so much as turned on that spec for longer than it took to haphazardly dump a talent point into it. (Fortunately, by level 85, you just sort of fill it all in with only a point or two missing at the end.) And now here I was in instances I’d already run, focusing madly on keeping these little green bars from shrinking into nothingness. My heart was racing. My adrenaline was spiking. I hadn’t had this much excitement in a dungeon, well, ever. And once again, I am reminded of Lumbar’s journey into a better man (and combat-effective PC). Except this time, maybe the journey is into an experience playing WoW that doesn’t end in me ragequitting the game for a year. Given that a whole group of people is going to be depending on me to keep them from dying and the drama that usually results from such undertakings, I find this unlikely. But it’s fun for right now, and so I shall give it a try Until It Stops Being Fun.
Of course, the part of me that likes to roleplay can’t help but think Lumbertha’s character has come of age as well. Is healing the niche she was meant to fill? Or is she resigned to eternally farm Savage Leather until the next expansion? In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because I’ll be pretending to play her in the WoW TCG regardless of whether my account is active or not. And she’ll play happily with her Spirit Wolves until the cows come home or the enemy’s entrails make a happy face. Whichever comes first.