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Getting ahead of the pack • lessons learned from vanilla speedrunning
by Teebling, Jpy and the speedrun boys • 12th April 2019
A few months ago Jpy started a speedrunning competition on the forum for a laugh whilst we waited for Classic. Since then the leaderboards have grown significantly with a total of 33 submissions at the time of writing. As well as taking the time to enjoy the game slowly, there is clearly an interest in hyper optimised levelling routes too.

This guide summarises what we have learned and observed from the runs that have been made so far. This isn't a comprehensive guide to speedrunning - rather, it is a very brief overview of the most salient points (with examples) that can help you speed up your levelling technique and improve your chances of breaking ahead of other players at launch.

Snap of the leaderboard for level 10 times over at the speedrunning thread

People will have a multitude of different reasons for wanting to max level quickly, whether that is PvE/PvP progression, ganking levellers, boosting friends, guild purposes, balancing RL time et cetera ad infinitum. Whether you think rushing is a good way to experience the game or not is irrelevant and beyond the scope of this article which is primarily focused on helpful techniques and information.

The most commonly cited motivation here on the forums is to 'get ahead' and avoid being ganked relentlessly in contested zones. Shifting into a group of faster players can put you amongst people who are likely to be less bloody-minded and more focused on progressing. A sparser zone population means less competition for resources and therefore less room for confrontation too.

Whatever motivates you to want more speed, we hope that some elements of this guide will help you. The emphasis from people here has been mainly on the early stages (1-20) which is considered the most important for 'getting ahead' if planned and executed well - a bit of luck goes a long way too :smile:.

If you have ever played on a high pop blizzlike vanilla server, or recall this from 1.12, you'll understand the frustration that results from trying to complete slow escort quests, collection quests with low drop rates, and kill quests in which the target respawns at long intervals. Of which by the way, there are plenty, even in starter zones.

Getting hung up on trying to complete these quests will hurt your speed - their issues are only exacerbated by the amount of other players in the area. The solution is just to re-route and skip 'taxing' quests like these completely. Rather than provide an exhaustive list of 'avoidable' quests, here are some examples that have come up in the thread before so that you get a feeling for what could be troublesome for you down the line and learn to identify them.
Kill quests and single-interaction item quests

Kill quests such as https://classic.wowhead.com/npc=3183/yarrog-baneshadow and https://classic.wowhead.com/quest=790/sarkoth, and single-interaction item quests such as https://classic.wowhead.com/item=4883/a ... res-orders are on long respawn timers and once tagged by someone else they won't count towards your quest completion. Low-drop rate collection quests like https://classic.wowhead.com/quest=22 can really mess you up if you get bad luck on the drops.

You should gauge the risk/reward of attempting these quests by what you see around you. In general, these respawn times are between 3-5 minutes so it’s not so much the respawn time that hurts you. For example, waiting 5 minutes to tag a mob to complete a quest that chains into 2-3 more quests is not a bad choice - that wait is worth it ultimately, but only if you’re fairly sure you can actually get the tag.

More of an issue is the potential to bottleneck with a bunch of people all waiting: think about the screenshot of the literal line of people waiting on Elysium’s recent fresh launch for the chest respawn on top of Tiragarde Keep for “The Admiral’s Orders” Quest. It’s 3 minutes respawn on the chest, the 10th person in line is waiting at least 30 minutes.

How many people are around you while waiting? How realistic is it that you can tag this mob or loot this object before someone else when it comes up? How can you manage your route to prioritize getting to these quests as soon as realistically possible to give you the best chance at completing them with as little competition as possible?
Timberfist wrote:
11 months ago
Re: What type of or specific quests do you often skip on your routes?
Escorts. Quests that require interaction with slow respawning objects. Fedex quests unless they're on route.
Escort quests

For escorts, it’s a bit more tricky. Escorts generally give good rewards but can be a bit more difficult to complete because the NPCs you’re escorting are generally squishy and you can’t stop them from progressing through their route once you’ve started. This leaves you with little time to grind after each aggro without risking getting the NPC killed.

There’s also a really lengthy wait time if someone else starts the escort before you (you have to wait for the escort to finish and then you have to wait more (unsure on time exactly, if I had to guess I’d say at least an additional 5 minutes after) for the NPC to return to its starting spot. This could take longer depending on the person running it of course!

Luckily, there are not many escort quests early on (Joanna’s Horde route only has 2 before 20 IIRC, https://classic.wowhead.com/quest=6523 in Stonetalon at ~14-15 and https://classic.wowhead.com/quest=863 in N Barrens at ~17-18). By the time you’re hitting 20 you should be well ahead of the majority of people if you’ve practiced and emphasised leveling quickly so the escort quests going forward are more realistic to complete because of less competition.
Starting other areas too soon

Whole questing areas like the Echo Isles can be problematic if attempted early on due to the high relative level of the troll NPCs there by the time you are offered the first quest. Attempting these quests will have you grouping up and consequently suffering from reduced XP per number of party members.

See bottom right sector for Echo Isles NPC levelsShow

Thanks to Treasure33333 for the zones by NPC level pack - the entire album can be accessed here

Visiting a new zone entirely will also be a common setback - if you're far ahead enough of the pack then you will be able to rush these zones at the level you are supposed to enter them (STV ding 30). If however you have a lot of competition, you might want to grind elsewhere until you're a few levels higher than the minimum in order to reduce the chances of losing time over a gank that could have been avoided by level difference.
Sharding considerations

The extent of sharding in starter zones (in what we presume will be only starter zones mind) will also directly affect your strategy with concerns to skips. Seeing as we have no official responses on the intensity and extent of sharding at this time we can only really discuss some rough hypotheses.
 Blizzard Entertainment
...However, realm sharding is one of the best tools we have to keep realms stable when hundreds of players are swarming the same initial few zones and killing the same few mobs (like they will be at the launch of Classic). To that end, we do believe that some form of sharding may be helpful, especially in those early days.

Full post here
For example were sharding to exist in full strength for launch in zones under level 20, you could perhaps incorporate some of the less 'taxing' quests into your route due to the competition being despawned. On the other hand, a backpedal in sharding completely would mean busier areas and you'd have to consider taxing quests throughout your entire route and possibly avoid them entirely.

Grinding is an excellent alternative to questing and shines in efficiency when quests such as those mentioned above need to be skipped. If skipping a quest chain is part of your route you should identify areas where grinding out mobs will replace the lost XP and not delay your travel time to the next town or questgiver. Most of the runs submitted here involve grinding sections in lieu of questing at some stage or another.
Judgement wrote:
11 months ago
I would say grinding is most important in your high 30s to get some extra gold for mount and mid 40s because of lack of quests.
Vemp wrote:
11 months ago
Blizzard has announced that the Classic release will be at content patch 1.2, and if that means ALL content will be at patch 1.2, then there will be a lot of grinding from levels 48-52. At those stages, grinding is more efficient than questing by far. Also, grinding can be considered more efficient than questing if you can reliably AoE grind.
The following XP per mob chart and zones by NPC level charts can be very handy for you when you decide on your route. Use them to make a quick assessment of whether or not you should grind here or travel elsewhere for different quests:

Web resources for grindingShow

Whilst travelling

Whilst travelling from A to B between quests it's important to kill mobs as you go along. Time spent travelling is inefficient unless you can generate some XP along the way. Don't however, go out of your way/direction to tag more mobs. A good way to explain it would be to make a beeline for your objective and if anything is within reasonable range and in front of you, you can consider it worthwhile to kill.

Also keep an eye on mobs' relative level to yours. You'll want to shy away from hitting mobs at the same level or lower level than you due to the increasing penalties that come with that:

Scaling experience returns for each level 1-60Show

Aim for 1 level higher than yourself depending on how strong your class is at the time. 2 levels higher and you'll really struggle with hitting them. If you're returning through an area and all the mobs are green then it's best to avoid them completely rather than grind them as you go.
Choose targets with lower stats

When you plan areas for grinding out mobs, try to prioritise ones with low armor/health - this makes a pretty big difference for melee classes and hunters as your auto attacks (and hunter pet auto attacks) deal the biggest bulk of your damage by far. Any mitigation from NPC armor will slow you down. A good resource to use for this is classicdb.ch which lists rough armor/health values on the right.

As seen on classicdb.ch

Every class that uses a weapon to do the bulk of its damage (non-casters) should be constantly looking to upgrade their weapons at the vendor whenever possible. The invested funds are 100% worth the kill speed increase especially considering how valuable grinding en route to quests is. It’s even worth it to sell lower armor gear pieces or bandages if it means getting a weapon upgrade faster. Examples of early on weapon-dependent classes include Warriors, Hunters, Paladins and to an extent Enhancement Shamans.
Etchel wrote:
11 months ago
White vendor weapons are great early on when greens are rare and your class relies on white hits for a majority of their damage.
Example vendor upgrade list

Here's a list of white vendor bows and quest reward bows available to Horde Hunters in the early stages for example. Identifying white vendor weapons you think are worth buying and whether or not you'll be able to afford them at different town-visit breakpoints should form part of your route planning and lists like this will help you maintain great damage output as your progress:

For some classes and starting areas it may just not be worth it:
Judgement wrote:
11 months ago
Re: Are white vendor weapons worth it? In which situations?
Most of the time I would say no, if you have a good level route there are most likely weapon upgrades along the way that will be enough. One example I can think of is the white 2h mace https://classic.wowhead.com/item=1197, this is a good 2h weapon for lvl 10. It's usually not required since I always do https://classic.wowhead.com/quest=314 in Dun Morogh which rewards a better one, but that's an elite quest and you usually can't solo it, so if you can't find any help for it you kinda need to buy the white one.
Bear in mind that around level 30 you should stop considering white vendor weapons worth the while - quest rewards at this point will far supersede them due to added stats and their availability. By this time you're also saving up for that level 40 mount so every piece of copper counts.

This is a topic that will differ greatly from class to class. In general you want to loot as little as possible in the early stages to save time spent running towards corpses and making bag space. Melee characters will almost always have mobs dying at their feet, whilst mages and Warlocks will have a lot of mobs dying at range because of pet aggro or slowing abilities. So it depends really.
Hunter-Pet looting example

Hunters for example will loot more 1-10 because having no pet means mobs dying at your feet more often, and consequently less often looting after 10 because of pet holding aggro and killing from range. After gaining a pet consider also that you'll want to loot food to keep it happy (for the 25% extra damage on the biggest damage-dealing element in your arsenal) and loyal too (a pet than runs away does 0 DPS).

You should try to think about how to maximize the amount of mobs you’re looting while deterring your progress to objectives as little as possible (example sending pet in first on Hunter while you move forward toward your objective past the mob, then start shooting - or shoot from the side as you move forward, weaving shots in between steps while your bow is drawing) and have your pet run back to you to have the mob die at your feet while you still progressed forward.)
Humanoids are an exception

For all classes, humanoids are almost always excellent to loot due to dropping currency and cloth for First Aid - both important resources. Silver and copper may not be an issue for less gear-dependent classes but for melee (weapon dependent) classes try to have as much as you can to be able to afford white vendor upgrades (more on this later). You'll also want to manage your gold well to buy important skill rank breakpoints etc.
Lastly, you can use auto-looting to save an extra click or two if you are confident that you can destroy unwanted trash items whilst auto-running or other sections of downtime in your route. It can be enabled in the Interface options.

This section is for all the miscellaneous tips and tricks that are worth mentioning which don't fall into any broad categories. Some are class specific, others are caster specific, and some are overall good practise for quick levelling. In addition to what has been covered so far, you should be taking into account the following when planning your route.
Practise makes perfect

You could search the web for days on end for information on how to improve your speed but nothing will prepare you for actually running your own route and just.. playing the game in general. Pulling multiple mobs and using your mana and health efficiently (never have them full!) takes practise to get right.
Etchel wrote:
11 months ago
Leveling Speed Formula = (combat + quest time) - (travel + downtime). It's important to understand that leveling speed takes into consideration the speed of combat and questing just as much as minimizing downtime and travel time.
Escalotes wrote:
11 months ago
Playing the game and learning to feel aggro radiuses is a huge benefit. It just comes down to experience.
Etchel wrote:
11 months ago
Practice running is immensely helpful, as you get first hand experience on quest details and niche knowledge. Knowing exactly how far you need to go to completely explore a cave, or where the best mob density is for a given quest, is great preparation.

For Hunters, remember to pick up arrows or bullets when you do make a visit to town - this seems kind of obvious but it has messed up a some runs before. Keep an eye on your quiver and try to gauge when you'll next need a refill. Adapt your route to turn in quests sooner and pick up ammunition if required, rather than take the risk of dropping to 0 ranged DPS. Don't overdo it either - you'll want space in your bags for items to vendor (to make silver for spell ranks and new abilities if white vendor items don't concern you).
Skill breakpoints

Don't forget important skill ups at each breakpoint (usually every two levels) and take them into consideration for your route. Forgetting an important spell like https://classic.wowhead.com/spell=5116/concussive-shot for example will be a huge setback in /played time and may be an unforgiving mistake to have made if your next visit to town is another two levels away. Find out what critical abilities you absolutely must train for your class and fit them into your route at the soonest opportunity.
Death warps
Vemp wrote:
11 months ago
It's a free hearth before level 11!
Good use of your https://classic.wowhead.com/item=6948 is the fastest way to travel, but before level 11 you should make use of death warps as well. You won't suffer from resurrection sickness before level 11 - by using /sit and pulling mobs (or just drowning) you can die in a strategic position so that you resurrect at a spirit healer closer to your next objective.
5 second rule for casters

Mana regen is big for a lot of classes and maximizing your regen can contribute a good bit to reducing your run time. Rotations for every class using mana as a resource should be dynamic and considerate of how much mana you have available at the time. Spend as little time as possible drinking by taking into account 5 second breaks in your rotation, especially in the early levels where your regen is naturally quite high.

Don't bother with them early on. The only exception is possibly https://classic.wowhead.com/spell=3273, providing that you don't spend time creating bandages/getting skillups inefficiently. Use mandatory downtime like boat/zeppelin trips for this. Healing classes should't bother with FA at all if mana is being consumed correctly.

The time spent skilling up crafting professions for weapons upgrades is not worth the actual bonuses you'll get - your crafted gear won't last long before it's replaced by better quest rewards. Gathering professions likewise - they will only slow you down. Later on if you have had a successful run so far and break into very low pop zones you might consider it but otherwise any time spent gathering or crafting is a waste if it's speed you're after.

Now that you are aware of all of the basic elements and considerations that form a well-planned speedrun, you can begin routeing. As well as mapping out where you are going to actually go, lets summarise the previous sections and ask ourselves what we should be thinking about when planning:

Which quests am I going to skip along the way?
Are there alternative quests nearby or should I grind?
When is the most efficient time to use my death warp or hearth?
What's my plan B if this part of the route isn't working out?
How frequently am I going to loot? Do I need cash for skill breakpoints?
Where and when (and which) mobs should I grind for XP?
Should I grind a bit more before entering the next zone due to PvP activity?
Which vendor upgrades should I buy and will I have enough cash for them?
What skills will I skip and which are the most important, can I afford them?
(Hunter-specific) How much ammo will I need for each segment?
What if this area is too busy? Where should I go instead?
What kind of splits am I expecting for level 10 and 20?
Some runners prefer to build on, and even improve upon, Joana's amazing routes which already have maps, notes and other tidbits of information. As Goetia puts it:
Goetia wrote:
11 months ago
I mostly use Joana's guide for questing, with some customizations based on preference, a few things I found were more efficient, and my class-specific tie-ins. Joana has spent thousands of hours polishing his route and I am in no position to reinvent the wheel.
Others prefer to start completely from scratch themselves and keep their precious route a secret. Either way, you'll want to have your plan written down in some form or fashion in order to be able to make reference to it as you play.

Here's a clipped screengrab of Jpy's hunter levelling notes for example - note how he mentions vendor weapons, silver required, mobs to grind en route, profession skill ups and every facet of the run is colour coded:

And a snap of Joana's web browser routes with maps and checkboxes where you can tick things off the list as you progress (I love this):

Finally, a glance at Vemp's notes on X, which outline X and Y:

Code: Select all

Just waiting on vemp's notes screenshot now
A notepad file or a Google doc is all you need. Even the most elementary notes or shorthand that you will understand can suffice in making your run more reliable and linear.

If you want map files to draw on top of, you can grab a world maps pack here. I'd also highly recommend Wyri Maps also - which is a stitched and navigable Google-map type web tool that allows you to zoom in, pan etc. and is far more accurate than the world map graphics as it consists entirely of minimap file exports.

Having a backup plan(s) for different sections of your route will be integral to the success of your run if you plan to start on launch day. If you've got to the late stage of planning and actually practising your route - well done - but remember that if it isn't flexible you'll quickly find yourself falling behind as you are forced to improvise and waste time.
Vemp wrote:
11 months ago
I have 3 contingency plans for the initial opening rush, depending on the severity of the congestion. By the time I'm at level 20 though, I'm ahead of the pack enough that I can fall into my normal route comfortably.

There isn't a definitive 'fastest' race and class combination since we haven't thoroughly explored every possible alternative, but trends have definitely been noticed by runners actively posting in the thread so far:

Night Elf and Tauren Hunters seem to be the kings of level 20 times due to the questing layouts and geography of Teldrassil and Mulgore. These zones are simply more conducive to faster levelling.

Dun Morogh is also worth a mention and seems to be one of the fastest overall starting areas regardless of class. Dwarf Hunters and Paladins have produced great times recently. Gnome Warlocks / Mages are also pretty high up at the moment.

All other Hunter races are also pretty quick off the mark due to the huge damage and utility boost offered by pets when Hunters ding 10. Hunter pets continue to scale with every level up to 60, giving beastmasters heirloom-quality damage with every ding thereafter. Worth considering that Troll hunters may be faster to-60 candidates due to their excellent passives such as Beast Slaying and Bow Specialisation.
Warlocks, Rogues, and Enhancement Shaman seem to be middle of the pack on the leaderboards at the time of writing.
Whilst not many runs have been made to support this, it's assumed that Warriors are one of the slowest classes early on (to 20) due to low survivability and remaining in melee range. Priests also seem lackluster due to wand dependence and low spell damage without expensive rank-ups.

Half of the runs conducted have been on a high population PvP server, and the other half on closed repack servers with no other players. Therefore it must be taken into account that the actual 'times' of the runs are misrepresentative of what you will be actually be able to achieve come Classic. There are different categories of leaderboard for each server type.

Furthermore - one must not forget the way in which mechanics like dynamic respawning and rested XP are handled from server to server. Differing mob stats also confuse things significantly (for example the Echo Isles on Light's Hope is a pretty tough zone in comparison with other servers).

Regardless, the techniques and overall strategy used to complete speedruns as described here are still directly relevant to your speed in Classic and cannot be discounted entirely. Practising for launch, getting used to making speedrunning considerations, and having a written plan will improve your chances of getting ahead significantly.
Vemp wrote:
11 months ago
Re: Do you think running will help on Classic launch?
Definitely! Even if there are noticeable differences between current private server emulations and Classic WoW, the mere experience of running through the game can really help improve your times.

The barrens.chat vanilla speedrunning thread and leaderboards
Speedrunners Q+A on the forums
Of course, Joana's World

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