Principles vs Pragmatism

Another article inspired by a comment on the last article, this time from Veliaf of der Hexenmeister.

Veliaf asked how to deal with the situation where your policies require you to treat everyone fairly, yet some people are more important to the success of the raid.  I think it was implied was that the people who are more important to the raid try to take advantage of that situation.  Let’s invent a hypothetical situation that you might face as guild leader to give the discussion some focus:

Foo and Bar are your progression tanks.  They’ve both very well geared and know their classes well.  They’ve been tanking since vanilla WoW, and when you throw them at content, you know things are going to go smoothly.  But as a new patch approaches, they’ve slipped into maintenance mode, where they just show up right before invites, do the raid, then log off.  There is nothing left for them to reasonably work towards until the next tier of content is released.

Quux is your third tank.  He used to be DPS, but changed his main spec to tanking a few months ago.  His gear is a little worse than Foo and Bar, but he’s very active in the guild – helping others, farming materials, researching class mechanics, and generally doing everything he can to improve himself.

Foo begins to miss raids from time, which doesn’t hurt your regular raids too much.  Bar steps up and Quux fills in the second tank role.  Sometimes things don’t go quite as smoothly, but you manage.  After a few weeks, Foo disappears entirely.  Quux keeps tanking, and gets his gear up to a level which while not on par with Foo and Bar is easily enough to tank the next tier of content.

The patch drops, and magically Foo appears online for the first scheduled raid of the new content, with no explanation for the absence.  He expects to be the designated MT for the first night of the new raid.  Now you’re faced with a dilemma.  Foo still has slightly better gear than Quux, and has a better innate feel for fights.  But Foo abandoned the guild when it no longer offered him upgrades.  While you don’t have a specific policy that covers this situation, you have established an expectation in your members that dedication to the guild and performance are rewarded.

Who’s The Tank?

Who do you put in the MT spot?  The person who will make things go more smoothly for the first night of a new raid, or the person who stepped to the plate when the guild needed him, and is ready to continue doing so?  Would your decision be influenced if you knew that Foo was likely to throw a temper tantrum and possibly gquit if you didn’t put them in the MT role?

The principled decision is easy: you reward the person who has helped the guild and shows promise to continue doing so.  If you lose Foo as a member, so be it.  Bar and Quux stay as your main tanks and you recruit a new third tank.  But this leaves you without a geared third tank, and since some fights in the new content require three tanks, you may stonewall progression.  You also have no wiggle room should Foo or Quux be unable to attend a raid.

The pragmatic approach is to give the MT spot back to Foo and demote Quux to third tank again.  While they’ll get to tank on the fights that require three, they’ll be relegated to DPS for most of the other content.  Their only hope for advancement in the guild tanking corps is for Foo to take another unannounced vacation.  Will the new raid go more smoothly?  Probably.  But you’ll have broken the implicit contract between you and your members: performance and dedication no longer guarantee reward, and selfish behaviour is tolerated if you’re a critical member of the raid.

To extend our hypothetical situation:

A month down the road, a similar situation arises with a DPS player.  You easily fill the empty spot with a new recruit who is equally geared and who puts out equal DPS.  When the original member returns, they cite the example of Foo as reason that they should get their spot back.  Do you give it to them, compounding the problem you created earlier?  Or do you return to principles, denying the returning playing a first-line spot on the raid team and cementing the double standard?

As Veliaf suggested, the situation could be even more extreme: Quux might not exist – you might have had to PUG an under-geared replacement tank during Foo’s absence, and not giving Foo the MT role back might mean that you can’t raid at all.

I’ve been purposefully hyperbolic in this example.  Rarely are the positions so clear cut, nor your decisions so polar.  The underlying problem is quite real however – your policies represent what you’d like things to be like in an ideal world, but the real world rarely plays by these rules.  Every day you may find yourself having to bend or break your own policies for the greater good of the guild.  But if you’re doing that regularly, why have policies at all?

To Punish, Penalize or Let Slide

So how do you deal with situations like this?  First, figure out what you’re trying to do.  Do you feel a need to punish Foo?  If so, what will that achieve?  Instead of punishment, are you instead looking to make them realize that they aren’t a linch pin of the guild?  Perhaps a more aggressive tanking rotation, where Quux would be placed in the MT position regularly might achieve this without being a formal punishment.

If challenged, you can justify such an action by saying that you need to ensure the guild always has two first-line capable tanks.  This might create some friction between you and Foo, but probably not enough to force a quit – they can’t exactly deny that they left the guild hanging, can they?  If they do get childish and threaten to quit, then they’ve tipped their hand – they are more interested in their own importance within the guild than with the guild’s ability to take on content.

A more aggressive rotation benefits you in two ways: Foo’s importance is reduced while Quux’s is increased.  You’re sending a message to the tanks (and your members) that the contract still stands, and so long as you’re fulfilling your side of the bargain, you’ll have a place as a tank on a regular basis.  This will help if the biggest issue for you was to not insult Quux by relegating them back to a DPS role.

Penalties and Bonuses in your loot system can also help here, though it helps if you’ve put them in place ahead of time.  Perhaps you have a penalty for leaving the guild hanging – a forced pass on the next mainspec drop they are present for.  Or you might have a reward for people who step up into a critical role when the guild needs them.

If punishment is your goal, consider whether you have the support of the guild.  This has greater weight if you’re contemplating punishment that isn’t explicitly laid out in your policies.  Any time you invoke your “I’m the guild leader and I say so” power, you need to know that the majority of the guild is behind you.  If not, you may have to bite your tongue this time and consider a policy change that would allow you to apply the punishment as a matter of course next time.

Plan Ahead

If you haven’t yet run into a situation like this, now might be the time to alter your policies to reflect the chance.  If you don’t already have an attendance requirement, consider adding one.  If someone misses three-quarters of the raids in a month, they need to have perfect attendance for the month following their return before they get first pick for raids.  If you don’t want to apply an attendance requirement across the board, you could put one in that only deals with extremes: if your actions prevent the guild from raiding, you’ll have to warm the bench for two weeks when you return.

These types of policies are tricky, because they tend to affect tanks and healers more than DPS.  Though the policy applies to everyone equally, the chances of running afoul of it are higher the more important you are to the raid.  If your reward system already favors tanks and healers, such as a loot council system where they get gear first, then you have an easier time implementing this policy.  The guild rewards you more, so the expectations of you are higher too.

Another idea is to have a hybrid penalty system that benches people where appropriate, but applies loot penalties where it is not.  I think of this like getting a parking or speeding ticket: you can choose to go to court and fight (taking up your time) or pay a fine to settle the matter immediately.  For the purposes of discussion, ignore that in many jurisdictions you can request a trial and never get one due to court backlog.

Applying a policy like that to our hypothetical situation might result in Foo being given the choice upon his return: either let Bar and Quux tank, with you on standby or in the 3rd tank position for fights that need it, or pay a loot penalty (a loss of a percentage of your points, a forced pass, etc.).  This forces the member to assume responsibility for whatever led to the punishment.

Would You Sacrifice Progression for Stability?

Ideally, you prevent people from becoming linch pins in the first place by aggressively rotating members through roles so that no one person is head and shoulders above the rest.  This will slow your progression, but provide a buffer against someone being absent.  If you’re an average raiding guild and you have the extra people to support it, this may be the safest route to take.  For anyone in a competitive progression guild gunning for server firsts, it’s just not an option.  Getting to the top first and staying there requires more dedication from your members, end of discussion.

Managing such a guild also requires that you look beyond gear and even beyond skill and catch a glimpse of how loyal someone will be to the guild under pressure?  Will they be there when the guild needs them and take responsibility for their actions if they’re not?  If the answer is no, you may need to address that gap or replace them before you wind up in a situation where you need to punish them for leaving the guild hanging.

I’d really like to hear from people who have gone through situations like this.  Are my suggestions too principled?  Can you just let absences like this slide, and nobody in the guild cares because they get to continue raiding?  Have you not punished someone and been criticised by members who feel that punishment was called for?

Until Next Time

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