It’s All in the Add-ons

If you’ve played World of Warcraft for any considerable amount of time, chances are you’ve heard about add-ons (sometimes also called mods). Add-ons are sort of like programs that enhance your gaming experience. (In actuality, add-ons are not executable files, but rather macros or more commonly scripts that behave like programs, but the technicalities aren’t important.) Playing the game just isn’t the same without these little beauties tweaking your experience. If there’s some feature that you wish WoW had, chances are there’s an add-on that let’s you do it (and no, cheating/hacking doesn’t count).

Seeing as how I haven’t really been raiding much lately (sadly I’ve only had one raiding weekend in June – I keep getting called in to work) I thought I might talk a little bit about add-ons to fill in the gap. Some people may be curious which ones I use, or perhaps are wanting to know a good place to start if they’re looking to get some add-ons themselves. I’ve linked to the add-ons I use on the Curse.com website (which is where I go to get them, anyway). Brace yourselves, I use a lot of add-ons. Here are the ones you probably won’t want to live without.

Altoholic: A must-have for anybody with multiple toons. Altoholic has a variety of useful features that help you manage your army of alts. It tracks trade skills (including recipes, cooldowns, and current skill level), achievements, inventory, and more across multiple toons. Want to know how many of a particular item you have? You can search for it. Or simply mouse over it, and it will tell you how many you have and where they are (broken down both by character and location: bags, mail, or bank, even guild banks. Want to know which toons have completed which achievements? Altoholic will tell you. Want to see which toon is wearing what gear? Altoholic does that too. If you have multiple toons (even if one is just a bank toon) get this add-on: you won’t know how you ever lived without it.

Bagnon: A nicely-done bag replacement add-on. Has built-in search feature, hover-over tallying, and all-bags-in-one-panel feature, plus a bunch of other standard and not-so-standard features, like the ability to remotely view your bank and/or the bags and bank of your other toons. I highly recommend having a bag replacement add-on. There are other nice ones out there, both Baudbag and Onebag were nice when I tried them, but I’ve been quite happy with Bagnon since I first tried it so that’s the one I’ve stuck with.

Bazooka: This is what I’m currently using instead of the now-defunct FuBar. This Broker Data Library viewer is another case of “get one, it doesn’t matter much which one.” There are literally dozens of variations on this add-on: Fortress, Titan Panel, Ninja Panel, Docking Station, Chocolate Bar, etc. (and that’s just the ones I know off the top of my head). What this does is allow you to place a small black bar at the top (or bottom, or side, or any/all of the above) of your screen that displays shortcuts or mouseover displays for some of your most-used add-ons. In effect, this replaces all of the little circular buttons surrounding your mini-map and collects them into a more convenient/accessible/viewable place. If you use a lot of add-ons, this will keep your mini-map from becoming cluttered. Some popular plug-ins to use with your broker display bar:

  • Broker_Cashflow: A semi-clone and excellent replacement for MoneyFu. This displays your current money total on each character on the realm, and posts a tally at the bottom. It also allows you to track how much money you have earned and spent (and the net result thereof) over the last day and week.
  • Fubar2Broker: Allows you to display most FuBar Plug-ins on your DataBroker bar. If you have an old FuBar Plug-in you just don’t want to replace, try this. It doesn’t always work (I couldn’t get MoneyFu to work) but most of my FuBar plug-ins worked fine with this.
  • Do a search for Broker Plug-ins: There are hundreds of them for just about everything imaginable: selling vendor trash with a click, display shortcuts for damage and threat meters, durability tracking and gear repair, movement speed tracking, computer resource/framerate tracking, rested bonus and experience tracking, recommended questing zones, and much more. Only you know what you want/need, but chances are it’s out there.

Deadly Boss Mods: Also commonly referred to as DBM, this is a boss-encounter tool. Much like the bag add-ons, I don’t care to get into a brand war. There are other good boss encounter mods out there, such as Deus Vox Encounters (DXE) and BigWigs. I’ve never personally used either of them, but from what I hear they work equally well (if not better) compared to DBM. Your choice of boss encounter add-on doesn’t matter half so much as the fact that you actually have one.

What an add-on like this does is to help you complete boss encounters correctly by giving you timers and warnings for particular events and boss abilities that you need to know about. If, for example, the only thing you have to worry about during a boss encounter is avoiding the big spinning boss and not standing in fire (Marrowgar in ICC) the add-on tracks how long it will be until the next big spinny phase and tells you with a timer bar when the next one will be. Additionally, if you should happen to be standing in fire, it emits a loud warning noise, plays a sound file (“run away, little girl!”), and displays a big flashing red warning that says something to the effect of “stop standing in fire, you moron” (but more politely).

Oh, and don’t buy into the machismo about not using one. Using these add-ons is not “cheating” and doesn’t take anything away from the gaming experience. If using these add-ons isn’t too good for bleeding-edge guilds and recognized experts (ever seen Tankspot videos? They use them) then it isn’t too good for you. Everyone I’ve seen bragging about not using them or disparaging people who do use them either “secretly” use them (note to posers: get headphones or refrain from talking over Vent during warnings, as we can hear your computer beeping warnings at you), or just plain suck and could probably use the help anyway (OMG, I did almost 4k dps in my ICC25 gear and only took slightly more damage than both tanks combined – was I not supposed to park my hypocritical behind in the big flashing circle of death?).

Healbot: This is another of those add-ons that have gotten a bad name that it has just never lived down. Originally, Healbot literally turned healing into a one-click spamfest: it selected the spell and rank to use automatically whenever you clicked. Blizzard naturally had a pretty big problem with this (noting that “bot” was a pretty accurate description) and broke it. Ever since, neither Healbot nor any other healing add-on has been allowed to do the thinking for you. Yet somehow, several years later, people still think of Healbot as a cheap tool for fail healers and only [insert rival add-on here] is a real healing tool. Guess what? Yeah, once again brand doesn’t matter. Grid (plus plug-ins) and VuhDo work just as well and they all do basically the same thing. That being said, I do recommend getting one. Some people claim that they heal just fine without an add-on, or that using an add-on to heal is a crutch. All I can say is that an add-on is a tool, and that however reliable and efficient your hammer may be, it will never match the performance of a nail gun in the hands of somebody who knows how to use it. Sure, you can be all macho and talk about how real men drive their own nails. Or you can build a whole house in less time than the other guy can build a single room. It’s up to you.

Obviously, with a name like Healbot, this sort of add-on is aimed at healers, and it does an outstanding job in that regard. What this does is give you an alternate set of raid frames to supplement or replace the default Blizzard frames. The difference between the new frames and the old ones is what makes them so good for healers. So why is it so great?

  • It’s customizable: you can make them the size, shape, and color you want so that you can more easily see who is in the biggest need of a heal (it also helps you track threat, mana, rage, and other resources).
  • It tracks buffs and debuffs on everyone in the party/raid, letting you know who currently has your prayer of mending or renew on them, or who needs to be cleansed of his nasty “takes +300% damage” debuff.
  • It lets you see incoming heals (by displaying a light-green bar to denote the approximate size of the heal that is being cast at that target).
  • It lets you click-to-heal. This means that instead of targeting someone and then pressing a keybind or clicking an action bar button to cast a spell, you “keybind” spells to various mouseclicks. For example, left click would be a healing spell, right click would be a different spell, middle click another, etc., using shift, alt, ctl, etc. to make enough combinations for all your heals. Then you simply click on the player’s bar in the frame and it casts that heal on that target, without ever changing your actual target (say you want to keep an eye on the boss). This is sort of like having a mouseover macro for every spell in your book (except that you never had to write anything more complicated than the name of the spell, even if you change from default).

So what do these add-ons do that the default UI doesn’t? In a way, nothing. All of the information you can gather from a healing UI is already in the game. On the other hand, a healing UI puts all of that information into one place, and in a format that makes it easy to see and intuitive to understand. In short, this gives you all the information you need faster (sort of like Cliff’s Notes). And in the game of healing (where half a second can be the difference between a kill and a wipe) that my, friends, is everything.

Despite spending so much time on its uses for healing, this sort of add-on does have uses even for people who are not dedicated healers. For hybrids, the ability to monitor the health and mana bars of the party lets you know when a quick spot heal or cleanse would be needed. A well-placed Lay on Hands or Innervate can save the day. But setting aside healing altogether, it can also help you to use your cooldowns and abilities more effectively. Healbot can bind any spell/ability (or even macros) to a click, not just heals. For example, hunters can misdirect to the tank or another dps with a simple click of the player’s frame: no target switching required. A paladin’s many Hand of [whatever] spells can be set to different clicks, making it easier to see and react when a player needs to be protected or needs to lower his threat (about to pull aggro). Tanks may find a use for it with abilities like Intervene or Righteous Defense, or with “target of target” taunt macros (that is I click on the mage’s frame and I automatically cast taunt on his target). Finally, the buff/debuff monitoring can be a lifesaver on fights like the Devourer of Souls. When Mirror Soul (this reflects damage onto the debuffed party member) is cast, the afflicted party members frame turns purple. “Don’t attack when somebody is purple” is a simple, easy rule that makes sure you’ll maximize damage to the appropriate targets and spare your teammates an “oops” moment.

Rankwatch: Ok, first things first: if you’re still leveling, turn off your whispers or be prepared to be bombarded with dozens of angry whispers from everyone you ever group with. This add-on monitors the combat log to see when a downranked (i.e. not-max-rank)  spell/ability is cast and displays a warning on your screen and (unless you disabled whispers) whispers the caster that they are not using the maximum rank of whatever spell/ability it is. Obviously, this will happen frequently while leveling up, and with the tendency to level up while in dungeons (where obviously you’re not going to skip off to the trainer the second you ding) people tend to get upset that some uppity add-on is telling them about their downranked spells because they know perfectly well that they aren’t using the level 20 version of Butt-kicking because they just hit level 20 exactly 0.6 seconds ago, thank you very much.

With that caveat observed, however, this add-on becomes pretty amazing. In addition to notifying you when you cast a downranked spell, it also informs you what new spells/abilities/ranks become available for training whenever you ding. So you can look at your list of newly available stuff and decide either “oh, I must have that now!” or “bah, I never use that ability anyway, I can wait another two levels.”

Where this add-on really takes off, however, is at the level cap (because obviously you know you aren’t getting any more ranks of anything so everything should be max rank). Are you aware of the bug in the Blizzard dual-spec system, in which only your active spec’s action bars are updated when you train? Yeah, well, most people aren’t. Even if you are, it can be easy to miss a rank of a spell here and there when you are actively trying to keep your bars up-to-date. I was aware of the bug and tried to keep my bars current, but I still averaged 2-3 inadvertently-downranked spells per character. I’ve saved over a dozen people from mysteriously-low dps simply by informing them that their main nuke is level 8 (instead of 12, like it should be). Heck, the only reason my own bars got corrected is that I got a whisper from someone else who was running this add-on (coincidentally, I said thank you instead of complaining, and I am now pretty good friends with that person) and decided to run it for myself so I could make sure that all of my character’s had max rank in all of their abilities. I had a substantial increase in damage output on all of my characters (healbot automatically scales to max level or I’d have been totally screwed on healing, too).

If you’re into professions, you may want to check out:

Ackis Recipe List: A nice add-on for people who (like me) are adamant collectors or completists. This scans your trade skills windows and lets you know which recipes you have not yet learned and gives a bit of info on how to get them. A very handy tool for anyone who likes to try to keep their profession recipe list as complete as possible.

Panda: An interesting little add-on. Panda creates a new catch-all frame for your profession needs. Very handy for Inscription, Enchanting, and Jewelcrafting, in particular, since it allows you to Mill, Disenchant, and Prospect items within the custom frame. It tells you what items you can make, and what items a particular resource might turn into (i.e. a green armor item might disenchant into dust, an essence, or a shard, and panda tells you which types of these are possibilities for the item in question). While this is more of a “quality of life” add-on than a “must-have” I felt it was worth mentioning.

These aren’t for everyone, but are very handy (i.e. must-have) for the applicable class(es):

Mage Nuggets: A must-have add-on for mages, and despite the name, can come in very handy for other caster classes, too. This helps you to organize all of your teleport and portal spells  to get them all off of your action bars. It has a built-in tracker/monitor for all of your mage spells: spellsteal (displays when somebody has a stealable buff), polymorph (who is polymorphed and how long is left), slowfall, living bomb, scorch, etc. It tracks procs (missile barrage, fingers of frost, brain freeze, hot streak, etc.). Informs you upon casting the damage that will be absorbed by your mana shield and Ice Barrier, and the mana returned by a full channel of your Evocation.

It also displays a monitor panel that tells you about all of your current caster stats: i.e. hit percentage, spellpower, critical strike percentage, and haste rating. This is why it becomes handy for other dps casters, too. While the monitor doesn’t play well with non-mage hit talents, it does track all other sources of hit (like Heroic Presence from a Draenei, any consumable buffs, and gear). Despite this limitation, the hit calculator is still nice, since, for example, I can just figure that my priest gets 6% hit from talents, so I become capped when the monitor shows 11% (instead of “capped”). The on-the-fly tracking of spellpower, haste, and crit is very helpful for classes with DoTs, as they gain substantial dps when they can refresh/cast DoTs during procs of abilities/trinkets that increase these stats, so I use it even on my shadow priest and warlock.

Pally Power: I used to be all “meh” about this add-on, and I just didn’t get why anybody got excited over it. Then I started raiding and the more I used it, the more I appreciated it, until now I consider it a must-have for paladins. I’m still trying to get the other paladin I raid with  at times to install it, because if he used it, it would make my life easier (yeah, it’s that good). What it does is allows you to cast and track your paladin buffs on the party/raid. So what’s so special about that? If you’ve ever seen a paladin casting off a different, appropriate buff on each of the 10 different classes in the raid before you even figured out which class you had put Kings on, this is how. With only a few moments set up, you program pally power to cast a specific buff on each class. Then, until those settings are changed, all the paladin has to do is click the class buttons and it casts that buff on that class. No need to target anybody to buff them, no more hunting for a member of each class to cast the buff on, and best of all, no more looking like a noob because you overlooked buffing the rogue until the rogue gets all snippy in Vent that you forgot him. Again.

But wait, there’s more! If other paladins in your group have it installed, it even allows you to set up the spells for those people to cast (or allows them to set it up for you). Nothing is better than turning a 5 minute debate/explanation on which paladin should cast which buff on which classes into a simple declaration of “Pally Power is set” and then everyone clicks their buttons. Seriously, there’s a reason that Pally Power users always get excited to find other users in their random dungeon/ PUG raid, and that so many other buffing add-ons have incorporated the ability to cooperate with pally power into their add-ons. It takes all the guesswork and legwork out of pally buffing. It’s like this thing was programmed by Ronco: set it and forget it for the rest of the raid.

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