Monday, May 14, 2012

Runes and Runic Power- The Feedback Loop

Death Knights have the most complicated resource system in World of Warcraft.

This is not a debate. This is a statement of easily verifiable fact. Death Knights have Blood Runes, Frost Runes, Unholy Runes, Death Runes, and Runic Power. All of these  resources are linked together in a complex relationship that is very counter-intuitive. 
First- your runes. Most abilities at a Death Knight's disposal consume runes. We have 2 slots for Blood Runes, 2 slots for Frost Runes, and 2 Slots for Unholy Runes. The only exception to this rule are Frost Death Knights who have their 2 Blood Runes replaced by 2 permanent Death Runes. 

[Picture from TenTonHammer]

Now, spending each of these runes instantly begins a regeneration of the now empty slot. However, each of the runes of a pair cannot regenerate simultaneously- they must regenerate one at a time. So regenerating two Frost runes works like this: Frost rune #1 regenerates over a specific period of time (call it 7 seconds). Once that rune has fully regenerated, the second rune begins to regenerate. 
In the same vein, spending one Blood, one Frost, and one Unholy rune all at the same time will regenerate just as quickly as spending only one of those.

To fill in the spaces between Rune-based attacks, Death Knights have a secondary resource called Runic Power. Runic Power is a much more familiar/comfortable resource similar to a Warrior's rage. Like Warrior's, Death Knights start with their Runic Power at zero, and gain Runic Power by attacking. 

How they are Related

Spending one Rune of any variety gives your Death Knight 10 Runic Power, with a maximum of 100-130 Runic Power depending on the talents the Death Knight takes. So, to fill their Runic Power bar a Death Knight must consume 10-13 runes. Due to the duality of the Rune system, this will take (at an average haste level) somewhere between 8-14 seconds assuming you are playing perfectly and depending on the rune based abilities you use. That doesn't sound too bad. However, saving up runic power means a lot of wasted time for your Death Knight. To maximize DPS (and to some extent survivability), a Death Knight is filling every Global Cooldown with some attack- which means interleaving your Rune based attacks with Runic Power based ones.

To help us further this goal, Blizzard gave us two useful mechanics. One is Death Runes, and the other is Runic Empowerment/Runic Corruption. 

Death Runes themselves are fairly straight forward- they are simply a wildcard rune, able to be spent as any other rune. 
To get Death Runes as Unholy, you simply use a Festering Strike or Pestilence, and the spent runes will come back as Death Runes. 
To get Death Runes as Blood, you use Death Strike or Obliterate and the runes you spend will come back as Death Runes. 
Additionally, you can use Blood Tap in any spec to force a Blood Rune (no matter it's state) to instantly become an available Death Rune for 20 seconds.

Runic Empowerment/Runic Corruption This is the final link in the relationship between runes and Runic Power. 
Runic Empowerment is a Frost and Blood Death Knight ability which gives the Death Knight a 45% chance to activate a random, fully depleted Rune following the use of Frost Strike, Rune Strike or Death Coil.
Runic Corruption is the Unholy Death Knight replacement for Runic Empowerment, which instead of instantly refunding a single depleted rune will increase the regeneration rate of all runes by 100% for 3 seconds. 

The Feedback Loop

And herein lies the real problem. Spending Runes gives a Death Knight their Runic Power. Spending Runic Power has a chance to give a Death Knight more runes (and for Unholy, will give your Ghoul an amazing DPS boost).

So, to maximize DPS/Survivability Death Knights must spend runes as fast as they get them, and then in turn spend the earned Runic Power as fast as they can to (hopefully, depending on World of Warcraft's faithless Random Number Generator) get runes back faster.

If the above mentioned Random Number Generator decides that Runic Empowerment/Runic Corruption isn't going to proc during this particular Runic Power dump, Death Knights are left high and dry without any resources while waiting for their runes to regenerate.

The result is a constant cycle that requires lots of experience, patience, forward-thinking, and luck to not break. This is not easy. The Death Knight resource system can be very frustrating and difficult no matter how much experience you have with it. Hopefully, with Mists of Pandaria, we will see some changes to take a bit of the "random chance" out of our feedback loop.


Sorry for the long-winded post! Huge thank you to Tsukiyuri, Magdalena, Heartless, and all the other awesome Death Knights at #Acherus for the real work behind this post!

Some further depth-