Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is caroling on Christmas Eve. Every year for the past several years my family has gathered with Xenophon’s in our living room, and Dad has brought in his keyboard and we’ve sung Christmas carols for an hour or two. My favorites are the religious carols, and not just because I think they tend to be superior musically. I am as much a fan of love and charity and being close to friends and family—in short, the whole Christmas spirit thing—as the next guy. That’s basically what Dickens is all about, and I love Dickens. But Christmas is not about those things. And thank goodness, for Christmas spirit falls flat more often than it soars, and friends and family are rarely all they’re cracked up to be (especially family). A holiday that was founded on love and charity and family togetherness like that would quickly become a tiresome exercise in tradition—as I suppose Christmas is for many people.

No, I love Christmas spirit. But Christmas is about Jesus, and in my opinion all attempts to get around that fact end up tawdry in the end. Which is why I like the religious carols, and especially like caroling them in my living room on Christmas Eve. Oh, we joke around and laugh a lot. We aren’t a bunch of Puritans intoning religious songs because That’s What You Do on a religious holiday. But there is still something powerful about singing those songs with people who really believe the words that they’re singing, and really believe in the person and events they’re singing about.

A lot of carols picture Jesus as king—a metaphor with a pretty good pedigree, as Christians have been talking about him as king pretty much since the beginning, and the entire Messiah complex itself featured heavily the idea of kingship. But what does that mean? “Jesus as king” is a fairly rich theological concept, and while I appreciate the intellectual subtleties, I also want to be able to connect with it on a visceral level. Otherwise it’s like appreciating the richness of a metaphor in a poem without even knowing what the poet’s basic image is.

When I want to think about king in a visceral sense, sometimes I think of the medieval or Renaissance concept of a king—lawgiver, knight, and lover. But while many carols were penned with that image as their background, the first of our people to name Jesus as king obviously were thinking of a different intellectual tradition. I imagine they were mostly thinking (consciously or unconsciously) of the Hellenistic kings that had ruled the Mediterranean for centuries by the time of Jesus. After all, there was as yet no real ideology of the Roman emperor, and the Jews had not had a king for over four centuries. The only kings anybody really knew were the so-called Diadochoi, the Successors—descendants of the generals of Alexander the Great, who divided his empire upon his death.

So what was a Hellenistic king supposed to be? First and foremost, a warlord. Prof. Manning always liked to compare them to mob bosses, and they fought endless wars with each other. Second, and relatedly, a savior. The word “savior” has become a theological term of art, but its meaning as applied to a king was very straightforward and intuitive. A king was supposed to protect his people from wars, from oppressive taxes, from oppressive government—in short, he was to ensure their freedom to live full and peaceful lives. When a king went about with the title “savior” appended to his name, that is what people thought of. Some other Hellenistic kingly (and queenly) titles that I find surprising and instructive when I think of what Scripture probably has in mind when it uses kingly language:

Loves his father
Loves his mother
Loves his siblings

In reality, many kings of that era were little more than glorified thugs. But the idea of a king, that is something worth holding on to. A king is a great warrior. A king liberates his people. A king loves his parents and his brethren. A king builds great things for his people’s benefit and enjoyment. A king is always before his people.

Even the greatest of the Successors fell short of that ideal. Most didn't come close. But at the very end of the period of the Successors, a king was born who would be all those things, and still is.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Personal resolution: dangerous is a moral quality. Any fool with the right tools can put a life in mortal peril, but it takes a real man or woman to be dangerous.

Brave words from someone who hasn't faced a fight since middle school, I know. Possibly naive and arrogant, I know. But I think I am probably in the mental company of most of our species' best and most experienced fighters.

More importantly, I think this is one of those things that has to be true, and if it isn't true then it has to be made true. "Dangerous" is an interesting word to a Christian. In the Kingdom of God, "dangerous" gets redefined. We are challenged, on the one hand, to let people strike us (a challenge I admit I find difficult - my gut instinct is more along the lines of "someone tries to kill you, you try and kill them right back;" points for the reference. But this is not the time to discuss the nuances of physical force in Christian hands). But on the other, we are told that

"From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and men of force seize it."

There is, I think, an interesting word play going on here. The Kingdom is pictured as under attack - and it is the men of force, the violent, the dangerous if I may, who attain it. I was watching Return of the King today, and I am reminded of Gondor under siege and the hard sons of Rohan who rode to its rescue: it takes a dangerous man to reach the City of the King.

How is a man dangerous who will let himself be struck by another? How is such a man to be described as a man of force? It sounds like a conundrum but I don't think it is. The ability to kill or injure, the ability to destroy - that is not what makes a man dangerous. Any coward who is willing to strike from behind or who can operate a weapon (even if that weapon is his fist) can destroy. The truly dangerous man or woman is he who can face such a one who wields destruction and overcome it by the force of who he is. The dangerous man is the one who can face an identically armed opponent and already have the advantage. The one who refuses to let hardship, however hard; or injury, however debilitating, dictate what he can and cannot do. Dangerous is a girl who can face the blow of a blustering coward without flinching. Dangerous is a Man who can walk through the midst of a murderous crowd untouched. We've all heard of such people, most of us have seen it at least once, and a few of us have been it, at least for a moment.

That is the sort of man, the sort of woman, who is morally dangerous. The sort of person who deserves to be called a man of force. The sort of person who seizes the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Warrior Tanking, part II (Why to Spec Prot)

So here I am, once again at home, with a new kind of jury-rigged wireless keypad for my laptop and an extra 512MB of memory for WoW away from my desktop (whose name is Monica, for those of you who are curious, although I rarely refer to her by name or even as a person). The last couple weeks have been crazy. Or felt crazy, anyway. Some highlights:

* Had a friend come up from Santa Barbara and we had a good time, and then we went down to his place in SB and had a good time. We can now add Irish coffee to the list of coffee-based beverages that I actually enjoy (the list previously being limited to Cuban espresso. Perhaps I have a thing for ethnic coffee with lots of additives).

* Saw The Nativity Story with Thayet and said friend. Thayet and I both liked it a lot. We both could have wished that the magi were a little more obviously foreign, but that’s all right. The real strength of the movie is that it plays things completely straight (granted there’s more than a little bit of a Christian slant to things, but that’s kind of inevitable if the magi actually show up and Jesus is actually born). Mary is just Mary, and Joseph is just Joseph, and their characters and relationship (progressing from “why do I have to marry him?” to being partners in a story they know they don’t fully understand) carry the film. Well worth seeing.

* Went to Dickens for the first and only time this season, which was disappointing but had some good parts. Saw some old Fair friends, including Enika and Kalaraen, and got to meet (briefly) some of Thayet’s friends too. Much sighing to be done about Dickens, but that’s for private.

At this point I could recap finals, or Thayet’s and my date to Santa Cruz complete with steam train, but instead I’d like to talk about something that I know you’re all dying to know about, and that’s why a warrior in WoW should and should not put his talent points into the protection tree (“spec protection” for those of you who don’t play).

A brief bit of context for those of you who don’t play but are interested in reading this far anyway. Every character class in WoW has three “talent trees,” which enhance certain class abilities or even grant new ones to allow you to tweak your character according to your playing style. You earn points to invest in these trees (“spec”) by advancing in level. Each tree has an easily identifiable theme: the three warrior trees are Arms, Fury, and Protection. Conventional wisdom says that Arms is the tree for warriors who like big, slow, two-handed weapons (I know that a two-handed sword is faster than a one-handed sword, but WoW is about fantasy conventions and not medieval martial arts), Fury is for warriors who like to wield two weapons at the same time (“dual-wield”), and Protection is for warriors who use shields. Another way to look at the trees is that Arms is for player vs. player combat (“pvp”), because it lets you deal a large amount of damage quickly; Fury is for player vs. environment combat (“pve”) because it maximizes your damage per second (“dps”) over time; and Protection is for tanking (see previous post of 11/3/06).

I am not going to argue with the above characterizations of pve/dps/tanking. What I’d like to talk about is why Protection is good for tanking. If you spend any amount of time talking to warriors in WoW you will find a great many of them under the misapprehension that Protection is good for tanks because it keeps you alive longer. This is a serious mistake. True, there are Protection talents that increase your armor, your defense skill, and make you better at blocking with a shield (yes, I know that you should never block with a shield in the kite, heater, and buckler contexts we’re talking about. See previous comment about verisimillitude). The truth is that all of that will keep you alive for a few extra seconds in any actually life-threatening scenario. What keeps a tank alive is the fact that he has a healer to heal him, and dps classes to kill the target. Protection adds a noticeable amount of durability to a character, but not enough to make a difference of more than a few seconds without support.

And in any case, as we all know by now, tanking is not about staying alive. Victory in combat is about staying alive; tanking is about generating threat. So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how does Protection increase a warrior’s ability to generate threat?

The first and easy answer is that once you have invested 31 talent points in the Protection tree you can gain an ability called Shield Slam. Recall that wielding a shield is actually a concession for a warrior—normally, your left hand should be wielding a weapon, since it is weapons that allow you to generate threat. All a shield does is make you more durable, which has very little to do with how effective a tank you are.* Shield Slam changes all of that, by giving you a shield-based attack that generates a ridiculous amount of threat (although we won’t go into the math of that here). Protection also makes you better at blocking with a shield, as mentioned above, and warriors have an attack called Revenge which also generates a large amount of threat and is only usable after dodging, parrying, or blocking an incoming attack. The more you can block, the more you can use the Revenge attack. The moral of the story is this: Protection lets you use a shield as a source of threat, rather than simply a source of durability.

That is the simple answer. Here’s a more interesting one. First, ask yourself this: how much rage is too much (see footnote for explanation of rage)? No such thing, you say? Not so! Follow me through a little bit of math:

A warrior’s abilities are subject to a 1.5 second “global cooldown” (“global CD”) which prevents any special ability (with certain exceptions we are not concerned with here) from being used for 1.5 seconds after any other ability has been used. This lets us calculate how often a warrior can use his special abilities. These abilities fall into two types: “instant” and “next melee,” and each class has its own independent global CD timer. An instant ability is one that is used as soon as you hit the button. Thanks to the global CD, a warrior can use those with a maximum frequency of once every 1.5 seconds. A “next melee” ability is one that is used the next time the warrior swings his weapon. The fastest weapons in the game swing every 1.3 seconds. Of course, if you were to hit the button for a next melee ability and you were using one of those 1.3 second weapons, the global CD would still be ticking down after you had swung your weapon. So a warrior can use one instant and one next melee ability every 1.5 seconds.

This lets us calculate a warrior’s maximum usable rage per second, which is an interesting number. Let’s take three warrior tanks, for each of the three trees:

Our Arms warrior will be using the following abilities: Mortal Strike (only available to Arms warriors), which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 5 seconds that costs 30 rage; Sunder Armor, which is an instant ability with no separate cooldown that costs 15 rage; and Heroic Strike, which is a next melee ability that costs an Arms warrior 12 rage. What is his maximum usable rage per second? Let’s assume he has a fast enough weapon that he will be using Heroic Strike every 1.5 seconds. That’s 8 rps for his next melee abilities. Every 5 seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Mortal Strike, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; wait 0.5 seconds, repeat. That will cost a total of 60 rage for those 5 seconds, or 12 rps. Total usable rps: 20. Total usable rps without Cleave**: 12.

Our Fury warrior does not have access to the Mortal Strike ability but does have access to Bloodthirst, which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 6 seconds that costs 30 rage. His Heroic Strike costs 15 rage, and Sunder Armor still costs 15. His next melee rps is 10. Every six seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Bloodthirst, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; repeat. That will cost a total of 75 rage for those 6 seconds, or 12.5 rps. Total usable rps: 22.5. Total usable rps without Cleave: 12.5

Our Protection warrior has a number of talents that reduce his rage costs, which is where I’ve been going this whole time. He’ll be using Shield Slam, which is an instant ability with a cooldown of 6 seconds that costs 17 rage; Sunder Armor, which only costs him 9 rage; and Heroic Strike, which costs him 12 rage. His Heroic Strike rps is 8. Every six seconds he’ll use the following sequence: Shield Slam, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; Sunder Armor, wait 1.5 seconds; repeat. Those 6 seconds cost him 7.3 rps. Total usable rps: 15.3. Total usable rps without Cleave: 7.3.

Arms: 20/12
Fury: 22.5/12.5
Protection: 15.3/7.3

Any rage beyond that (well, perhaps a little to have in reserve just in case) is basically useless from a tanking perspective; any rage less than that is sub-optimal threat generation. Here’s the catch: it’s really hard to get to the optimal Arms and Fury rps values. Presently, for a level 60 character to generate 1 rage from being hit, he has to take 45.6 damage. To generate 1 rage from attacking, he has to deal 17.075 damage (I think – the formula gives is nonsensical). Thus, for truly optimal threat generation, our three warriors must take the following damage:

Arms: 912 dps
Fury: 1026 dps
Protection: 697.68 dps

Keep in mind that an average tank will have perhaps 6000 hit points. Our Arms warrior, in the optimal scenario, will stay alive for 6.6 seconds; our Fury warrior, for 5.8; our Protection warrior, for 8.6. That is how long the healers have to cast a heal before their tank dies, followed shortly thereafter by everybody else. But the real trick is that the lower the optimal dps value, the more often you can reach it.

If our tanks decide not to use Heroic Strike every 1.5 seconds**, they could achieve mostly optimal threat generation by dealing the following damage themselves:

Arms: 204.9
Fury: 213.4
Protection: 124.6

Or those could be exchanged at the rate of 45.6 dps taken for every 17.075 dps inflicted. Once again, Protection’s optimal value is much easier to reach.

So the real trick here is that Protection lowers the optimal rps values to actually achievable levels. That is the second, and more interesting, answer to why Protection is the tree of choice for warrior tanks.

* “Rage” in this context is a term of art that refers to the “substance” that warriors expend to perform their special abilities. All warriors have a “rage bar” which goes from 0 to 100 and starts empty. It fills up as the warrior inflicts damage and takes damage, and once a warrior has accumulated enough rage he can spend it to perform some special ability.

** The reason a warrior might not want to use Heroic Strike is because next melee abilities don’t generate rage, even if they inflict damage (if they did, they would either net out to very little rage expended or else require an impractical activation cost). Thus, a warrior who is never swinging his weapon for a normal attack has to generate all of his rage through taking damage, and it is rather hard to generate usable amounts of rage that way without dying rather immediately.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lots of stressful stuff has been happening lately, but lots of good stuff too. It's against this blog's charter to talk too much about really personal stuff, but for those of you who have been hiding under a rock somewhere (oh wait ... it was just me that's been under the rock), I am now dating Thayet. Officially and stuff. Most of the good stuff has to do with that, in one way or another. Especially since finals this semester (I almost wrote quarter ... oh for the good old days) are rather tough. There's all manner of stuff to do besides finals (all good, necessary things, mind you - none of that "say yes to it because I can't say no" stuff), and that makes life hard. "Is it always going to be this hard?" asks my twelve-year old self of Mom. Yes, little Natalie, yes it is.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's really a good thing: if life was easy, it wouldn't be an adventure, and I'll trade an adventure that's hard for Easy Street any day. Well, at the end of any day. It is like the good hross says: "I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes."

Ah, love being sweet. I will now concede from experience as well as theory that there is something different about romantic love. If the Cardinal reads this, there you are. I will also confess that the hard adventurous road is a lot easier to bear with a warrior princess on your right, walking in the shadow of her shield. But as much as I love Thayet, and as much as she supports me (and, I hope, as much as I support her), I actually want to talk about something that a girlfriend (or really, any non-spouse significant other) is not.

What I want to emphasize is that a girlfriend (or NSSO) is not a measure of success. Sure, it's great to be able to look Thayet in the eye and say, "I love you." Great in that kind of winged, lifty, dizzy sort of way. Fantastic. There is, perhaps inevitably, a measure of relief - and a temptation to say internally, "Made it, at last." Well, we haven't made it - except to another milestone on the road. A significant milestone, to be sure, but there is not (and thank God there is not) a plateau to be reached here. There never will be. A relationship must always be growing, and the sense of contented peacefulness with a partner that we all dream of (or at least I dream of) must come from the inside, or not at all. It is a fine and noble thing to be at peace and at home with a Godly partner at your side. It is a base and terrible thing for the two of you to ever stop growing, to say to yourselves, "Here we are. From here on out, we needn't strive quite so hard."

But it is not just that having a girlfriend is not the sort of thing that you can reach on the scale of success and go, "Behold, I have made it to a Success Marker." Having a girlfriend isn't even on the scale of success. If there is such a thing. Which there probably isn't, because I'm pretty darn sure that the only real measure of success is whether a person is wholly submitted to God. Except that we can't wholly submit ourselves to God without God's help, and God gives his help because he feels like it (what I mean to say is, not because we have obligated him to do so), so it's probably more than a little silly to be talking about "success" at all. But to whatever extent "success" is non-silly, it certainly has nothing to do with a girlfriend.

I say this because it's something good for me to remember (and hopefully edifying for those who read this). So what is a girlfriend? Not a support. Of course Thayet does support me, and I'm very grateful for that, and I hope I support her back - but not in the sense of a spouse, where one of the reasons you become one flesh is for support. We are not boyfriend and girlfriend in order to support one another. That would be twisting the relationship into something it's not - and if I got a girlfriend for the purpose of getting support, I would be using her (credit should go to Thayet for that observation, I think). Of course there's nothing wrong with getting support from an NSSO. I daresay that if you don't get support you should seriously reconsider the relationship. But that's not what an NSSO is.

I think what an NSSO is (I mean the same way a ship is freedom; points for the reference) is a co-adventurer in romantic obedience. It is someone along to walk with you the hard adventurous road of finding out who your spouse is going to be, and all that entails - and it seems to entail quite a lot of growing and learning. There are marriage-like elements to this; spouses are co-adventurers in life, which obviously entails romantic obedience. But it is not marriage. An NSSO can leave - sometimes, helping you down that road means she has to leave. Leaving in those cases is a good thing in a way that leaving in a marriage never is. Esther Selene comes to mind as a good example. There are some stretches of this road that must be walked without a girl at your side, and some that must be walked with a companion. Of course, it may well be easier with someone at your side - and it is almost always harder when someone has just left. And there is always the temptation to walk a little longer than you know you should, just because leaving will make things hard. But that is really a betrayal of your partner, and a deception of yourself.

What the future holds for Thayet and me I cannot say. I hope, of course, that one day we will wear one another's rings on our fingers and accept the call to walk all of our roads side by side, come hell, high water, or even (what is really a much harder adventure to face than hell or high water) the spark going out of our love. But of course I can't know that, not yet. For now, we will walk the road we have been given as best we may.