Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Fail at Melee: BRD, Variety, and Burnout

No seriously. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool support job person. I started playing bard for two reasons: they were still very rare when I began leveling the job (my LS needed one), and I'd gotten tired of mainhealing on RDM.

RDM is also an extraordinarily expensive job to max (full HQ staves, anyone?) and the competition for gear is fierce. Bard is cheap, and because it has such a high burnout rate no one else really wants the gear. It's possible to be great at the job with minimal investment in gear -- and for about, oh, 1/10th-1/100th of the investment you'd make in a melee job (depending on whether or not you're the type who invests in a relic) you can make an incredible bard.

The title of this post was somewhat inspired by a conversation I'd read on BG about 2BRD merit parties -- and about how at some point the second bard is a waste of space, and they'd be better off DD'ing than /WHM and curing. So I took a minute to think about BRD DD ... and laughed. Don't write me off yet! I have a good friend with all the right gear and melee experience to be a good DD BRD, and I've had the pleasure of watching him have fun in a 2BRD party. I like pulling, sue me.

But. But. But!

Would I ever try BRD DD myself? Eh. Probably not. At this point I've just gotten to know the support game so well that I'd be uncomfortable being asked to serve in a DD role. I know when to Erase before I'm asked, what -na spells I have and don't have, and I have a special set of mp gear that allows me to function as a second party healer without sacrificing my buffing or debuffing strengths.

This is kinda my way of apologizing if I don't know certain aspects of Bard as well as others. I come from a hugely biased support/endgame perspective. I have ideas -- based on experience -- that might seem crazy or illogical to people without that experience, or to people who are in shells that have different needs.

I've spent most of my endgame career teaching my linkshell how to best use their bards and teaching other bards how to perform better in my shell's endgame environment.

Warning: The rest of this post is really for oldtimers and people who are getting burned out on the job, or looking for a reason to give it a chance again. New bards will get something out of it and maybe get a glimpse of what is both so satisfying and also so frustrating about playing bard in endgame. This is not about formulas or easy rules. This is about mindset and about finding a healthy way to enjoy an oft-maligned job.

Why This is Important

This will be a combination of discussion and bullet-pointed list. Being in the game this long has taught me a great deal about working with a variety of people and in a variety of groups. This is about developing a support mentality that will be useful to you at any event, and in any shell -- and why I laugh when people tell me they're "bored" playing bard.

The examples below are just a sample of what you might be thinking or noticing as a dedicated support party bard.

The support mentality is really about first observing where a shell has problems or where it's likely to need support, and then filling that role as best you can while playing within the limitations of your job/subjob. Event experience will gradually inform your sense of what you need to be doing in different places at different times. You can decrease your event learning curve both by asking for advice, but also by being more observant.

Learning new events and improving my ability during the old ones I know best is part of what I enjoy about playing the job. And to do that you need ---

Knowledge of Bard Roles

This includes knowing what subjob to use, what gear to bring, and what you should be doing without needing to be told. Some of this is intuitive, and some of this is learned. Below are some examples of "intuitive" event knowledge. Bear with me if you already know this stuff! I promise it's for the sake of demonstration.

This is what I knew going into events and what most bards with minimal experience might also know:

Einherjar: Dark-resistant mobs are common, which means that bards will often be primary crowd control as well as primary melee support.

Dynamis: This event is long and tiring. Settle in, sleep links at need, and try to balance keeping songs up with curing and renewing your Reraise.

Salvage: Lotting and passing cells quickly makes the run safer for everyone. Bring some form of nonmagic ranged pull gear. Brd gets a magic cell second.

Ouryu: Keep stoneskin up at all times. Be ready to erase or -na tanks, and keep songs up. Be ready to cure tanks.

Khimaira/Cerberus: Marches on paladins. Go /BLM.

And now for some things I really had to learn from experience:

Einherjar: A continuous 3BRD swap among three melee zerg-style parties (no two hours, for the duration of the event) is an incredible weapon. Save 2HR JAs for the boss. Every swap bard needs both Night/Troub JAs unlocked. Keep your most experienced and lullaby-merited bards out of swaps to control links. The most experienced bards should be crowd control, not swappers. Swappers need to be patient and dependable. Use a Nursemaid's Harp to sleep if you don't own a cradle horn. Those extra few seconds are precious.

Dynamis: Spot-cure your whole alliance at need, wear mp gear, and don't be afraid to let songs drop if you need to rest. Melee/Tank songs generally have priority over mage songs. Try to save your mp on big pulls, so that you and your main healer aren't out of mp at the same time.

Salvage: Melee songs take priority. Use minuet until you get your instrument unlocked. Remind your group that you need an Opacus cell if they want SV at any point in the run (you would not believe how many times I've heard 'okay Ezz, SV' ... and they never bothered to give me the cell).

Ouryu: Keep Stoneskin and Regen up at all times. Erase and -na tanks if healers are being slow or neglecting to do it. Once songs are up, use your mp until you're out. Put songs up again before you rest. Rest. Repeat.

Khimaira/Cerberus: Time when you run in to when the mob uses a TP move. Wear HP or march tier gear. Full-time a Terra's Staff at Khimaira. Don't run in unless you have full HP while the wings are still up. An unresisted Tourbillion is devastating to mages. If you're having lag issues, stay out and use Pianissimo to put songs up on tanks from a safe distance.

And things I've learned from experience, that I wish I hadn't (time to laugh):

Einherjar: Dark-based mobs are annoying. Keep your Reraise up, you'll need it! If you're lucky, your tanks will be curing sleepers for hate. BRDs who are aggressively sleeping will be killed often.

Dynamis: Sleep avatars. Sleep avatars. Sleep avatars. SLEEP AVATARS. Laugh if you see carbuncle, and remind your RDMs/BLMs that you can't sleep that one. Avatars inevitably wake up when no one is watching them. Flying eyes in northlands are immune to lullaby and sleep, as are fomors. Sleep BLM, NIN, and RNG demons first in Xarcabard. BLMs like to sleepga. The last two like to use hecatomb wave with an annoying rate of frequency. In Dreamlands, just work on surviving and keeping as many people up as possible.

Salvage: Do your research. Ask questions. Don't assume anything. Requiem is surprisingly easy to land on chariots, archaic gears, and frogs. Almost anyone can kite frogs and charmed party members as long as they have a terra's staff and don't stop running. Running is the most important part.

Ouryu: Can usually win even under disastrous circumstances as long as a tank in some form stays up to keep the dragon occupied. Even a gimp WAR will work. Keeping people alive takes priority.

Khimaira/Cerberus: March the stun party when Fulm/GoH become active. If GoH gets off and you're /BLM, switch immediately to double-paeon to slow the burn damage on your party so that your healer has more time to erase.

What This Means

The depth and scope of an individual's event knowledge augments their ability to play a job. This is probably one of the most important things to developing an active playstyle. An active player looks for problems and looks for ways to solve them. For melee, this can be knowing when to hold TP or run out vs. WS'ing and drawing hate at an inappropriate time. For mages this can be making a snap decision between Haste on one tank and Stona on another, or for switching from higher to lower tier nukes.

Bard is generally played with the less flexible mentality of "all I do is sing and this job is boring."

No, really?

If all a bard is doing is putting up four songs and standing back to watch, then yeah, the job's awfully boring and I'd have burned out on it a long time ago. Bard is, in the ideal situation, a much more active job that can provide an additional safety net for a group. FFXI's nature as a co-operative game demands that individuals know their roles in a group and know how to support a group and work toward group goals. A cynic might say "you can complicate any job, even the most mundane." That's true.

But in this case I think more time has been spent "simplifying" bard than setting out to enjoy it. The only reason I still play the job and still enjoy it as a fulltime endgame job is that it has a great number of neglected possibilities. Playing creatively and finding new ways to use my old gear, or new ways to meet personal goals (i.e. a "protective" march tier set) can bring new life to an old or maligned job.

Bard is a desirable job at most events and being a dependable, dedicated, main-job bard means that people will be trying to wheedle you into doing a lot of things! If you like being begged to go everywhere, and if you like never being bored (irony or paradox?) ... then Bard is really a great job for you.

The people who say they can't tell the difference between bards usually haven't met a good/great one. The wonderful thing about bard is that you don't even have to have all the gear to be great -- just the mentality, and just the playstyle.

Even though Bard is often cited as the job with the highest burnout rate, it's important to remember that burnout is also related to personal preference/tolerance for events and to the larger picture of in-game relationships and real-world relationships/responsibilities/available time.


Can I play this job longterm and not want to give myself a lobotomy with a spoon? Yes. Yes, it's possible.

Having an active mentality and achievable goals is part of that, as is a healthy balance between game time and real time.

BRD excels in event-based endgame linkshells, and endgame linkshells are notorious for the rate at which they consume people. Aheh -- I think you see where I'm going with this. It's not entirely fair to the job to blame it for the alleged burnout rate. It's more likely that intra-group pressures at which BRD is the heart of the matter (ex. pressure to play BRD over another job) contribute significantly to burnout and to eventual separation between the person or the group, or the person and the game.

For BRDs, specifically, it's helpful to be in a group that views you as a person with preferences rather than as 'that merited bard.' Be aware of your own tolerance levels for events and your own ability to commit to certain times. Set boundaries with your shell, and be active -- firm, but still polite -- in maintaining them. Setting personal limits is an important step in avoiding burnout in general.

Crafting, farming, and doing quests or missions with others can also be a way to enjoy the game without feeling pressured by bard as a main job. I find I'm more satisfied playing XI and in life in general by being fully present as a bard at events, fully present as a crafter when I'm crafting, and fully present as a friend when I'm goofing off with other people.

It's finding the balance that allows me to be fully present for everything that's tough!


Walmart Guide: Endgame Barding Guide by Ghlin

Hehe. "Long conversation" is right! After much revision and much banter, I now feel comfortable recommending this as a basic introduction to bard. He has a few perspectives I don't agree with, but he also takes the time to lay groundwork that I don't, or that I gloss over. As much as we differ, his heart's in the right place and it's good reading for anyone who wants basic endgame info -- if still a little disorganized. Not that I can criticize that too much...


My experience (in case you were wondering who this person is who feels qualified to give advice): I've played since '04. Barded since '05. Been in endgame since '06-'07 (I leveled the job before I was active in endgame). I have been playing bard almost exclusively since '06, with breaks for life and school in between. I'm an officer in a shell that I've been blessed to be with since the early sky days, and even if we're not major players in the HNM camping scene outside of a few choice targets (and when the opportunity presents itself), I've found it a generally good group. I've had such a good time with them, despite the ups and downs of growing a shell, that I wouldn't trade it for the world. My friends are the only reason I haven't burned out on this job. Yet.

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