"Pop quiz, hot shot. There are dozens of players attacking a mob, it's at one percent, your tanks drop, and you wipe. What do you do?"
If you've ever been Keanu Reaves on that out of control bus, read on for a few helpful tips on what to do when everything hits the fan.
Don't panic. When I used to teach, the golden rule was that, no matter what, you should never let a student see you cry, because you risk losing respect and credibility with your class. Raid leading is similar in that the raid will be less inclined to give it another try with you if you can't keep your composure after a wipe. Post-wipe, everyone usually feels the same frustration as you, but your job isn't to commiserate -- it's to work the problem. Sharing feelings can come later, usually over a few drinks at a guild meet-and-greet.
Make sure your target matches your guild. This is important, and it does require a bit of research and even some feedback from other guild leaders. You should have a few targets that are fairly safe for your guild to do (farm targets), a few that are doable but still not slam dunks, and then one or two that are true reach targets. What's key is to know what will best match your guild. Last week's slam dunk might be this week's borefest, and the guild might actually be happy to wipe a few times on a really challenging fight. I've had many nights when I've announced that we're going to a new zone to work on a mob, that we'll most likely walk out with broken gear, and that if anyone's uncomfortable with that he's free to drop from the raid. No one ever drops, and the ensuing wipes almost always end up being more enjoyable than the previous night of farming safe targets.
Tweak but don't overthink. Sometimes you do everything right and wipe. In EverQuest II, we often use a combat parser to learn information about a raid boss, such as what type of damage it uses, how often it AoEs the raid, etc. After a wipe, that's the first thing I look at as everyone is rezzing back in. But I try to be careful not to make everyone wait too long before we revise our strat and try again. Sometimes troubleshooting is as simple as telling everyone to buff up for a certain resist or to move away before a certain AoE lands. But if it's something that requires a lot more time spent scouring logs, I usually call it a night, even if it's a bit early. Even if the raid hangs on while I dive into the parser, every minute the raid members stand there idle results in their being a little less sharp on the next attempt.
Find your guild's breaking point, and push it +1. One of my favorite things about leading a raid is announcing a target, getting a bunch of skeptical tells, and then taking down the target to everyone's surprise. That usually requires a bit of homework and some careful pre-planning, but if you know your raiders well, you can push the envelope a bit and nudge them out of their comfort zone.
Be prepared for naysayers. You can lead a raid that ends with everyone decked out in purple and DPS that blows up the combat parser and still get a tell from someone who feels it was the worst raid ever. Not only should you prepare for it, but you should expect it. Take that negative feedback with a grain of salt, but don't dismiss it too quickly. Sometimes the criticism is warranted, and you can always learn from what members say. But make sure to keep things in proper perspective. One negative tell in a sea of silence can often seem amplified, and it's important to remember that quiet members are usually happy members. You usually won't get many tells of "Great raid! Nice job!," but you will always hear from someone who's not satisfied.
Level out peaks and valleys. Just to springboard from the above statement: If I do get a tell from someone gushing about a raid or how great the guild is or how great a leader I am, I'm quick to downplay it, because the same person who rides the high of a good raid will tend to also be the person playing Henny Penny the next week when the raid goes bad. Keeping everyone well-grounded makes the endurance run that much smoother, and it makes the raid wipes sting a lot less too.
Bring out the Gipper Speech, but for the love of God, don't overuse it! Motivation ultimately has to come from the raiders themselves. Ranting, yelling, and giving dramatic speeches might work the first few times, but raiders will quickly tune it out and might eventually resent it. You might use humor to lighten the mood and bring everyone's spirit up. Or you might resort to using fear to wake people up and get them focused. Whatever your leadership style, make sure to stay genuine and not treat every raid like it's game seven of the World Series.
Raid wipes can be one of the most challenging moments for a leader, but you can avoid some of them and hopefully make the others a bit less painful. Oddly enough, without wipes, we wouldn't enjoy our victories nearly as much, and some raid wipes are actually baby steps toward progress. As one of my teachers used to say, "Every learning experience is a learning experience." Every guild that raids will wipe at some point, but what you learn from that will help you in the long run.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.