One of the big questions rogues were asking about Blizzcon (full thoughts on all the annoucements this weekend) last weekend was, when will the big rogue revamp happen? Listening to the panels I think a big revamp is unlikely however Blizzard did suggest the direction they want to go. The level 91 through 100 passives offer a place to add additional game play mechanics without adding too much to button bloat. This somewhat changes a lot of the wishlisting people have been doing about what WoD rogues will look like. We probably aren’t getting new resource systems or a ton of new abilities rather we will probably get a number of passives, some fun, some boring. In this post I propose an idea for an assassination passive that would add some, although not enough, much needed complexity to the spec.
The big myth of assassination dps is envenom matters. People like to talk about how assassination is all about maximizing the envenom buff when in reality it is minimal at best. Consider 3 players, one player who never clips the envenom buff, one who wastes on average 25% of the envenom buff and one player who wastes about 50% of the envenom buff. It should be noted that wasting 50% of the envenom buff is a huge amount and probably not something that a player could do if they wanted most of the time, 25% is a bit more reasonable but still somewhat unlikely. The difference between 100% and 75% of maximum envenom utilization is about 1.2% dps and between 100% and 50% is about 2.3%. That is more than zero but it’s effectively a rounding error. At realistic levels of envenom utilization (~85%) the difference in dps is less than 0.7%. Note these are not uptimes but rather uptime utilization, if a player can achieve 80% envenom uptime playing optimally then 50% utilization corresponds to 40% envenom uptime.
That said envenom is at least in theory an interesting mechanic, the idea of having the filler finisher not be spammable is a nice take on a combo point class and probably will be the basis for whatever changes Blizzard makes to assassination. The simple solution to adding complexity to assassination is to make the envenom buff more meaningful, make it buff poison damage as well as increasing application rate or add an additional effect to the envenom buff to make it more important. These changes are immediately appealing partially for their simplicity, I championed them for some time but considering them further they aren’t really enough. The problem is envenom buff utilization doesn’t really scale with skill, once you know how to not clip the envenom buff you are done. More broadly simply not clipping the buff seems like a basic prerequisite to playing the class much like keeping up SnD for combat or subtlety rather than a reflection of skill.
So then the question becomes if maximizing envenom buff uptime is too simple how do you properly reward skill for an assassination rogue. The answer I believe has two parts, timing restrictions and superlinear scaling. The problem with a simple uptime based scheme is it doesn’t tax your resources, if you don’t have enough energy to get another envenom out immediately then no big deal, buff uptime is still buff uptime. There are minor effects due to envenom pooling but as with raw uptime the impact of those is negligible. A more challenging system that would better reward players for good resource utilization should tax the player’s resource pool more. This is where timing requirements come in, by providing small windows where the player needs to use resources this encourages resource pooling and spending. For an envenom uptime based scheme a possible solution is to use buff continuity rather than raw uptime, that is how long can you keep the envenom buff up without letting it drop?
This is where the second requirement comes in, superlinear scaling. Keeping the envenom buff up for 12 seconds and letting it fall off then putting it up for 12 seconds again doesn’t require as much skill (yes and RNG) as keeping it up for 24 seconds straight despite being the same in raw uptime. The reward structure, that is damage amount, should scale proportional to difficulty.
This leads to injection, a simple passive that achieves both of these with some caveats/weaknesses discussed later.
Injection-Every second the envenom buff is active the player deals N damage to the target for every stack of injection and gains a stack of injection, max 30 stacks. The injection buff lasts 2 seconds.
The scaling on this may not be immediately obvious but the number of 1 stack injection events follows the triangular numbers and is shown in the graph below. The important thing to note is that the damage scales strongly superlinearly. For comparison consider three players with different levels of continuity with the same total envenom uptime, 30 seconds, assume each injection proc does 1 damage. Player 1 lets the envenom buff drop after every envenom and over 30 seconds of uptime does 75 damage. Player 2 has an uptime of 12 seconds and 18 seconds, this player does 219 damage. Player 3 has a single 30 second uptime and does 435 damage. This scales very fast with duration, to reduce the scaling additional stacks could be gained every 2 ticks or injection could occur every 2 seconds rather than 1. Additionally the impact of this scaling will depend heavily on the percentage of total damage injection does and this scaling pattern clearly won’t account for the majority of assassination damage.
Some people reading are probably up in arms about the RNG impact of this mechanic, to them I say, RNG is not inherently a bad thing. Reacting appropriately to RNG is an indication of skill, a skilled player will turn bad RNG into acceptable performance and good RNG into exceptional performance. I do not believe this system will add significantly more RNG into assassination dps than already exists through mechanics such as blindside and general encounter to encounter variance in crit rates and the like.
There are a couple of issues with this mechanic. First it increases the dependence on anticipation. This is not a unique issue, one of the powerful components of anticipation is that it allows to players to smooth out combo point RNG. This is going to be hugely valuable in any scheme relating to the envenom buff and a number of other schemes that modify combo point usage. The second issue is gear which again will be an issue with most envenom based systems. At low gear levels when envenom uptimes are in the 40-50% range there is a fair degree of additional buff continuity to be gained by careful play however at higher gear levels when envenom uptimes can increase to upwards of 80% like they are today envenom buff continuity is basically trivial. This will be an issue with most envenom buff based schemes, we will basically scale out of the difficulty and that does seem problematic. A possible solution is to nerf the duration of the envenom buff by 25% to 50%. This would make it very unlikely that we could achieve envenom buff uptimes of over 70% and 50% respectively without external factors.
I’m not saying this is a perfect idea, or that it would in practice even be a fun idea but I believe that a time limited and thus resource limited system with superlinear scaling like this injection mechanic is something Blizzard should pursue. Even if this idea ends up being a bust I hope this idea sparks some conversation about what kinds of passive abilities could liven up and increase the skill cap of the assassination spec.