Dao Jones’ Guide to Building a Successful Pick-up Group in City of Heroes
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v1.0, September 2006


I.   Introduction

II.  The Archetypes

III. The Psychology of Teammate Selection

IV.  Putting It All Together

V.   Closing Comments/Disclaimer/About the Author/Other Related Mumbo-Jumbo


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I. Introduction
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You hear it all the time, right? “Man, the other day I was with this pug and we
got teamwiped in the first fight.” Or “I was playing with these noobs
yesterday: the Tank didn’t go in first, the Blaster pulled with Fireball, and
the Defender left his area heal on auto and went afk”. All the time, across all
games and all genres, there is no in-game element more frustrating to good
players than the pick-up group. No one likes them, and bad pugs are probably
one of the top five causes people list when they give up on playing a game.

But unless you play with a large, well-coordinated super group or have a
sizeable collection of in-game or real-life friends that all play at the same
time, sooner or later you’re going to have to type those three little letters
that can potentially ruin your entire gaming day: “lft”.

However – you needn’t fear any longer. While the strategy of building
successful pugs is a combination of patience, psychology and luck, it is not a
science beyond the grasp of the casual gamer. Herein I will lay out my
methodology for successful teambuilding.

What this guide assumes:

1. You are familiar with the game. I am not writing this for the new player.
Frankly, as a new player you’ve still got a whole lot of screwing up to do.
It’s okay – we’ve all been there. So get out there and do everything wrong
while we’ll still forgive you for it. I will cover some basic game information
in the guide, but I otherwise expect that you have an understanding of the
basic mechanics, ATs, phraseology and dynamics of City of Heroes.

2. You are not playing with your super-group, a group of friends, or friendly
players with whom you have a history. In those circumstances, many of the
deficiencies inherent to PuGs go away. With well-coordinated teams, a Scrapper
can be a Tank, a Defender can be a Blaster, and a Controller can be a god.
This guide assumes it’s 3am, you’re bored, and you can’t find anyone on your
/friend list to do a mission with.

3. You take everything I say with a grain of salt. I’m not here to tell you
the “only” way to run a pick-up group. I’m not telling you you’ll fail
miserably if you don’t see things my way. But I will offer this: I am
considered successful by almost everyone I’ve gamed with at putting together
not just functional, but great pick-up groups that play like well-oiled
machines. And this is how I succeed at doing that. So while my methods aren’t
the only way, they are definitely one way.

4. You are not an idiot. It bears stating that, if you are one of those people
with a Claws/Regen Wolverine-clone Scrapper named “xWeppin X LoGaNx” or an ‘as
naked as costume options allow’ female avatar with the “chest” option pushed as
far to the right as your sweaty one-handed mouse fumbling can get it, then this
is not the guide for you. Please click the “back” button on your browser, and
choose another topic. But only click “back” once! Click it too many times and
you’ll end up on the Furry/Hentai/Plushie/Google-search-for-“Naruto+fanfic
+homoerotic” page you were on before coming here.


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II. The Archetypes
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Before I get into the “how to choose the teammate that’s right for you” portion
of this little guide, I’d like to first discuss (and possibly dismiss) some
common misperceptions about the various ATs. Many people will disagree with my
conclusions. Many will call me an idiot, or a noob, or a nub, or possibly
nubsauce, nubtard, nubtacular, or claim I need a “nubendectomy”. I suggest to
the disagreeing reader that A) they write their own guide, and B) the word
“nubsauce” makes me laugh, so that one’s okay.

As a simple introduction, understand that every AT in CoH breaks down into one
of two basic roles: Damage, and Damage Mitigation. Sure, there’s plenty of
crossover, but at the heart of the AT they have this role designed into their
powersets. When I discuss characters I will define their basic role. Understand
that these descriptions are not absolutes. I’ve seen Defenders built with only
a few powers from their primary, and Scrappers (like Dark Melee/Dark Armor)
that bring a lot of control and debuffing to their role as damage-dealers. But
as a rule of thumb, a player picking a mix from their primary and secondary in
a given AT will fall into this generic capacity on a team.

I will also rate the importance of the ATs to a team in order from 1-5, with
one being “don’t leave home without one”, and 5 being “helpful, but not
necessary”. Understand that these ratings do not reflect their usefulness
overall, but merely their value to teams as *I* build my teams, so your
mileage may vary. Again, I’m sure I’ll garner massive disagreement from a
select few elitists, but as repeatedly stated: this is my guide, so hah!


Blasters (5/5):

The role of the Blaster is pretty uncomplicated in a group. They inflict
damage, and are therefore “Damage” teammates. They inflict lots of it. But
beyond that, Blasters enjoy the widest range of AoE attacks available in the
game. They may not be the only AoE damage-dealers you can choose from, but
given their powersets it’s more common to find high-octane AoE damage in a
Blaster than anywhere else. When I look for a Blaster to add to my parties,
this is specifically what I’m shopping for. Single-target damage is nice, but
AoE damage is more crucial. I rank them last in effectiveness because, for the
most part, they only offer one element to a team (damage), are more fragile
than the other damage teammate (Scrappers), and have few “party-friendly” tools
to aid others with. But I generally reserve three spots on a team for “damage”,
and one or two of those are usually Blasters.

Controllers (1/5):

I generally consider the Controller to be the most crucial addition to any PuG
I assemble. They are the first I recruit, and in my ideal team build I prefer
to have at least three in a party of eight. Why do I favor them so much?
Simple: they offer a huge range of value for any size team. Their basic role
is “Damage Mitigation”, because most Controllers have a strong mix of
single-target and AoE Holds, Immobilizes, and other useful tools that keep
enemies from hurting you as well as they want to. Remember: an enemy sleeping/
held/feared/confused is not an enemy pounding on you. Also, Controller
secondaries are Defender primaries, with a bit less juice. Granted, a Defender
can heal/buff/debuff better than a Controller can, but a Defender cannot also
lockdown enemies and deal out respectable damage while doing so. And how do
Controllers deal “respectable” damage? Simple: Containment. Their inherent
allows them to deal double damage against any target immobilized, slept, or
held, *even when this condition is done by someone else*. So any time, for any
reason you have an enemy with one of those conditions, the Controller is
dealing double damage. And when you have FOUR Controllers synergizing off each
other… let’s just say the results are pretty freakin’ sweet. They hurt, they
heal, they debuff, and they lockdown foes. Controllers are a team’s best friend.

Defenders (2/5):

Defenders, as Damage Mitigation, are always an asset. I rate them highly
because their presence in a party is always felt. From an Empathy Defender’s
heals, to a Radiation Defender’s massive enemy debuffs, you’ll never go wrong
adding a Defender to your team. But note that I said “a” Defender, not “many
Defenders”. Truthfully, in a PuG one Defender is more than sufficient if you
follow my team-building philosophy. The team’s Defender supplements the
Controller’s weaknesses by being a full-time supporter. Controllers can heal,
debuff and buff, but they also have other things to do, and pre-level 38 they
will not have the full toolbox at their disposal. This is where Defenders
step up. They can Resurrect others as early as level 6, their Leadership pool
powers are more potent than anyone else’s, and since their primary powersets
are, well, primary, they will generally make it their focus. However, their
secondary set is less useful, simply because it does not really inflict enough
damage compared to your other teammate choices to allow them to stand as
damage dealers effectively. People will tell you that the most dangerous team
out there is a team of 8 Defenders; I’ll say that you try doing that in a
pick-up group and you’ll get four Emps, three Kins and one Dark/Dark all
laying face down blaming each other for “bad heals”.

One consideration about Defenders, and *please* get this through your head: not
all Defenders are healers! Furthermore, healing is not even the most useful
thing a Defender does. Consider a Radiation Debuffer versus an Empathy Healer:
while the Emp can repair damage as it happens, the Rad (with Radiation
Infection, Enervating Field, Lingering Radiation, etc.) can reduce or even
prevent that damage from ever occurring. Sure, healing is always nice, but I’ll
say the same thing here that I said in my Guild Wars guide on Monks: a good
team does not need a healer. When I drive, I’d rather have a solid car, good
seatbelts and fast airbags that keep me from getting hurt than speedy access to
a paramedic who may be able to sew me back together when I launch through the
window of my beat-up 1980s jalopy.

Scrappers (4/5):

Scrappers are the other “Damage” set, and despite their low priority they are
always useful to have in a group. They generally have the highest single-target
damage output in the game, and unlike Blasters they are fairly tough and
require less maintenance than other ATs might. My one area of concern with
Scrappers is that, as the premiere soloist AT, too many Scrappers approach the
group game the same way they do the solo game; obviously, this approach tends
to get parties killed. When recruiting, this is the AT I tend to scrutinize
the most, and I’m *very* cautious about which Scrappers I’ll invite into my
parties. Other than that there isn’t much to say about Scrappers. They do one
thing, and they do it well. Frankly, I like to have no more than one or two
Scrappers in an eight-player team, but I always like to have at least one.

Tankers (3/5):

If you’ve spent any time reading on the official Tanker forums, you’ve likely
come away with a perception that Tankers are useless, dead ATs with no value
to add to a group. They are weak, valueless XP-drains that should be
universally shunned from parties ever since they were nerfed past usability.

If you believe this, I’m sorry. If you know better but still claim this,
you’re a moron.

Tanks, first off, are not Damage ATs – they are Damage Mitigation. And while
it is true that a well-honed team can probably survive without one, having a
Tank along for the ride makes life infinitely easier. If you’ve read this far,
you’ll note that my team at this point will probably have 2-3 Controllers and
1 Defender. Now, while this team has all the necessary tools for protection and
damage, they are faced with one initial problem: who takes the first hit? Well,
that’s one of the reasons you have a Tanker. Controller fans will argue that
they can lockdown mobs and prevent that first alpha from taking place, but
frankly, that’s not a guarantee. I’ve seen even 3-4 Controllers toss out their
AoE holds and immobilizes and catch only half a spawn. And those area holds
don’t last forever. And holds don’t gather spawns into a nice, tightly-packed
little ball in the first place. And when things go wrong (and they *will* go
wrong in a PuG), a Tank can hold the line and take the stress off other
teammates and maybe buy enough time to course-correct. All those “ands” make
my point. Tanks serve an excellent role in a pug: they are the AT of second
chances and mistake compensation. And in a group with eight strangers of
differing levels of expertise, that’s too much value to pass up. In an eight
player group, I always try to have one Tank. (And since my main is a Tank,
it’s usually me).

Kheldians (special):

Peacebringers/Warshades occupy a somewhat special role in PuGs. Because they
are relatively uncommon compared to the other character types I don’t rate
them. They are definitely “Damage” ATs, but they bring special caveats with
their recruitment. First and foremost, let me dispel a myth: just because a
player has a Kheldian, *do not* assume they are “good players”. I’ve played
with some terrible, terrible Khelds, who either have no idea what they’re
doing, or assume that because they have a Kheldian they automatically know more
about the game than anyone else. Both of these types of players should get the
boot. A second caveat is that, with a Kheld on a team you will *always* get a
Nictus/Dark-Energy attacker somewhere in the mission. While this is not
normally a problem to a well-prepared team, I’ve seen whole groups fold when
they aggroed a spawn with a DE attacker they were unprepared for, or got
swarmed by a Cyst. Also note that since these special enemies are more
dangerous to a Kheld than to anyone else you need to be careful to protect the
Kheldian from this enemy’s attacks. Lastly, understand that a Kheldian gets
differing power boosts depending on the composition of your group. I don’t
know hard numbers offhand, but they get passive offensive buffs from classes
like Scrappers, and defensive buffs from classes like Defenders.


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III. The Psychology of Teammate Selection
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This is probably going to be the most vague section of the guide, because most
often what I rely on for recruiting heroes is gut instinct. However, I have a
few rules I almost always adhere to, and following them will definitely give
you the edge when building your team. Now, I'll say this again because it
bears repeating: these rules are not absolute. There are always exceptions to
everything I say here. Heck, I occasionally take blind invites, myself. But
when in doubt, these rules serve as a good "rule of thumb" for the beginner.

1. NO BLIND INVITES! I can't stress how important this is to building a good
team. It is the rare good player that accepts blind invites, and by inviting
someone without chatting first you essentially take a gamble on who you're
getting. *Always* send them a tell first, and in that tell offer them some
sort of explanation as to what you're recruiting for, i.e.: "/t SomeGuy, Hey -
I'm putting together a level 12-14 Frostfire mish. Want in?"

2. Judge a book by its cover. Yep. You read that right. In a world where you
can be and look like whatever you want, the choices people make about their
names and avatars says alot obout them. The first thing I look at is the name.
People with clever, humorous, or eye-catching names almost always get an
invite. People with names that are ripped off from movies, comic books or
popular culture always get passed over. Frankly, if you weren't creative
enough to think up your own name, then I doubt you're smart enough to play at
the level I want you to play. NEVER invite *anyone* into your group if they
take their inspiration from Dragonball, Lord of the Rings, or any Final
Fantasy game. (Unless it's FF9, because that was probably the least popular
of the series, so anyone using a name from there gets points for uniqueness.)

3. Patience is a virtue. It may take several minutes to build the team you'll
want to play with. If other teammates get antsy, let them leave. If they don't
have the patience to wait three minutes for you to recruit a solid team, then
they probably don't have the patience to let the team rest when needed. You're
better off without them.

4. Talk. Yep - talk. If you're a socially maladjusted introvert you may not
have what it takes to be a good team leader. An excellent way to gauge a
player's ability is to frankly read how they type. Generally, more "mature"
players type with proper English, have a decent sense of humor, or at least
exhibit some social grace. And these are the people you want on your team. In
my experience here and in countless other online games, time and time again
I find that I can draw an almost direct correlation between how well a player
types, and how well they play.

Well, that was pretty short and sweet. Sheesh.


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IV. Putting It All Together
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Okay! You’ve got your team, you’ve got your mission, and you’re ready to get
cracking. With a well-balanced team you have an excellent chance at success no
matter what you do, but here are a few easy tips that will place your success
out of the “a little luck will get us through” category and into the realm of
“just call us Task Force Eight-Cans-of-Beatdown”.

- Consider the build. When I put together a team of eight, my ideal players
are 3 Controllers, 1 Defender, 1 Tank, and 3 Blasters/Scrappers. This is not
based on some random allotment, but strategic team needs. You have, with this
build, the following:

3 Dedicated damage dealers (Blasters/Scrappers)
2-5 tougher players (Tanker and Scrappers)
4 Healers, debuffers and/or buffers (Defender/Controllers)
3-5 Sources of Containment (for the Controllers to synergize off)
4 Sources of direct party damage mitigation (Tanker/Controllers)

Every role in the team is duplicated, and you have redundant defense, which is
critical in the event that someone falls in combat. I've seen far too many
teams fail because their only source of protection/healing died early in the
fight, or their sole strong damage source ran off to pursue a single kill.
With the team diversified like this, you could lose any four of them and have
a reasonable expectation of recovering to victory.

- Pick a team leader. This is usually the person (i.e. “you”) that assembled
the team, but sometimes you’ll find a very knowledgeable player or someone more
familiar with a given mission than you. A good team rallies behind one leader,
and that leader makes sure his/her team is taken care of. Once the team leader
is chosen, respect the choice, and let them lead. If someone else wants to lead
when your current leader is doing fine, let them go make their own team.

- Chose a designated “puller” before the mission start! I’ve seen this
confusion wipe countless teams. Pick ONE person who will handle all of the
long-range pulling, and make sure they’re comfortable with the choice.
(Pullers, remember: targeting Bosses or Lieutenants will often pull the whole
spawn down on you, and passive/debuffing pulls like Twilight Grasp have a lower
risk of aggroing the whole spawn than a damaging attack.

- DO NOT BE AFRAID TO KICK PEOPLE! I know *way* too many team leaders who seem
to be deathly afraid of using the “kick” button. Are you *that* afraid of
people not liking you? Some people might say that kicking someone can be bad for
team morale. I say to you: what’s worse for team morale? Kicking an idiot
who keeps getting everyone killed, or letting one player’s constant idiocy/bad
playing ruin the experience for everyone else? Sometimes you’ll misjudge
someone. When that time comes, for the good of everyone else you *need* to be
able to clean house. Aggroing multiple spawns? Boot. Went afk for five minutes
without telling anyone? Boot. Keeps running off solo, splitting the party and
getting people killed? Boot! Constantly disrupts the team by arguing,
badmouthing someone else or shows an almost painful ignorance as to how to use
their powers? BOOT! Believe me, although your teammates may not say anything,
they’re secretly thanking you.

- It’s not a race, it’s a journey. Let your party rest as needed between
fights. Before aggroing a spawn, ask if everyone is ready. Let the Tank go in
first if you’re not pulling at range. Keep an eye on your fellow players’
health bars, and help them out if you see their green go red.

- If you have players who run targeted toggles, make sure people are aware of
that up front. Nothing irritates a debuffer more than constantly having to
recast an anchored debuff because everyone sees that green bubbling aura around
an enemy as a giant “kick me” sign.

- Trust your teammates. I know this is hard to do in a pug, but if you built it
right then you should feel relatively safe playing with them. If you see your
health start to drop take protective measures, but don’t hightail it out of the
fight – that can cause a chain-reaction of party splitting and people dying.
Besides, in a good team debt goes away pretty fast.  =)

- For Blasters: watch your AoE attacks. If you’re not careful, you’ll bring
extra spawns into the fight. Try to stay by the Defenders/Controllers: their
area heals are their quickest method of healing, and not having to chase you
down saves them a lot of time. Also, watch your knockback attacks.

- For Controllers: you are not a damage dealer. Your first responsibility is
keeping mobs off your teammates. If you see an enemy running for a squishy,
toss something on it. Also, don’t neglect your secondaries in combat. In a good
team, players are taking more dispersed damage than spike damage (i.e.:
everyone is taking small amounts of damage rather than one or two players
taking a lot of damage quickly). This sort of damage is excellently mitigated
with your smaller heals (if you have them). Likewise, your buffs/debuffs are a
valuable part of your team contribution.

- For Defenders: HEALS PLZ! Nah, just kidding. But don't neglect your primary.
If you wanted to make a Blaster, you should have rolled a Blaster. If you're
one of those people that says "I can play whatever character I want", then I
agree wholeheartedly with you - but if I need a debuffer/healer/buffer on my
team and you have nothing but one weak heal and a bunch of weaker secondary
attacks, don't be surprised when you get the boot. Also, if you have a slightly
non-standard build (i.e. Trick Arrow, no heals Rad/Kin, etc) you should
mention this up front. I usually check the skills of whomever I'm recruiting,
but not everyone is that thorough, and it may lead people to expect something
out of you that you can't give them.

- For Scrappers: you are not playing solo. Just because you can refill your
health and endurance bars in ten seconds doesn't mean anyone else can. And
just because you can thrive while surrounded by enemies doesn't mean the guy
next to you can. Follow the lead of the group; don't lead the attack (unless
you are filling in for a Tank), and *don't* run off alone to get in that last
kill! You may aggro another mob, and there are probably closer enemies you
could arrest that would help out your weaker allies.

- For Tankers: even if you are not the team leader, you are the team backbone.
Act like it. When the battle is joined, your place is not dancing around the
edges. Get your ass knee-deep in the fight. And, like the Controller, you are
not there to arrest enemies and deal damage. Your first purpose is to keep
everything's attention on yourself and *off* the squishy types. This means
you need to pay attention in the fight *and* on your allies' health bars. If
you see someone start to drop you should scan around and see if they need your
help. And when everything goes wrong and the team needs to run, you should be
the last one out. Accept this: playing a Tanker in a group means playing more
responsibly. Your teammates are assuming you are there for them if they need
you. If you just want to run around and kill stuff, go make a Scrapper.

And that's it! Hopefully, if you followed some of my suggestions, and you have
a good head on your shoulders, you should be out there arresting villains and
having a good time doing it. With a little patience, thoughtfulness, and just
a bit of lucky recruiting, playing with the dreaded pick-up groups can be as
much fun as teaming with your friends or super group.


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V. Closing Comments, etc.
-------------------------

Ultimately, the best tool you have at your disposal to avoid bad groups is your
own common sense. Pay attention as you play to what sort of players you enjoy
working with, and which kind you don't. I've essentially built an entire guide
based around my own experiences in this game and others, but it unfortunately
suffers in that it is not colored by your own personal influences. You may find
that you enjoy an entirely different playstyle than I do, and if that's the
case then the sort of people I'd want on my teams are not those you'd want on
yours. But, hopefully, something I've written will offer you at least some
direction from which to work from.

As to who I am, my internet handle is Dao Jones. That's also my in-game name on
City of Heroes, and in every online game I've played (except where I needed an
underscore, as in 'Dao_Jones'). I've been playing online games since the days
of turn-based BBS ASCII/text games. I'm in my 30s, and yes, I do have a normal
life outside of computer gaming, thank you very much. I've written a few other
guides, including a character creation guide for Morrowind, and a Monk FAQ for
Guild Wars (I think it was actually the first one on the web, although I now
see that there are a bucketload of Monk guides floating around). Unlike many
other FAQ/guide writers I'm pretty receptive to reader email; however, I always
establish ground rules for people who want to email me with a comment:

1. Use proper grammar/spelling. If I have to decipher what you're trying to
tell me, I'll probably resort to using my special decoder ring, which I
activate by pressing the "delete" key in my mail browser.

2. Ask me a comment related to the guide I wrote. Is this a "build the best
Spines/Regen Scrapper" guide? No? Then don't ask me how to build a Spines/Regen
Scrapper, okay?

3. DO NOT add me to your email lists or chain letters. I will have you hunted
down and brutally murdered. I'm Italian - I can get that sort of thing done.

4. I'm adding a special rule to this guide: I will only respond to emails with
the word "lugnut" as the title header. This proves to me that you actually
read this section.

5. No, I will not join your super group. No, I do not want to be added to your
friends list. No, I will not add you to mine. Yes, I might want to team with
you, but unless you conform to the restrictions I've outlined above, don't
count on it.

Having said all that, my email address is dao_jones(at)hotmail.com. If you want
to argue with me about anything I've written here, or flame me for being an
idiot, you can expect that I'll ignore you. Or sell your email address to
spammers. Probably both. Otherwise, I'd be happy to hear from you.

Lastly, the disclaimer. Nothing written here is a challenge or intended
infringement upon any property, intellectual or otherwise, owned by anyone who
owns anything having to do with this game, other games, or life in general. If
you for some reason want to repost or reuse all or part of my FAQ I'd
appreciate an email ahead of time to ask permission. I'd also like to be
attributed as the original author.

Alright - that's a wrap. Not get out there, get teamed up, and go do some good!


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