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Death Knights have a truly unique resource system. We feel that this resource system is often improperly understood, and, as such, deserves a dedicated guide.
Death Knights use a dual resource, comprised of runes and runic power. Some abilities cost one or more runes to use, other abilities abilities cost runic power, while some have no cost at all.
Runes regenerate slowly over time. Runic power is generated by using runes, as well as through a variety of talents and abilities.
Death Knights have 3 types of runes: Blood runes, Frost runes and Unholy runes. While these rune types are named after the three Death Knight talent specialisations, they are not related to these in any meaningful way. Each Death Knight has 6 runes: 2 Blood runes, 2 Frost runes and 2 Unholy runes.
1.1. Rune Costs
A large number of Death Knight abilities have runes as their resource cost. Current rune costs can be broken down as follows:
1.2. Rune States
At any given time, a rune is in one of three states: available, depleted, or regenerating. Each of these states is detailed in the following sections.
Available is the default state of the runes. When combat starts, all runes should be available (unless you have recently finished dealing with a pack of mobs).
Available runes are consumed by abilities that cost runes. For example, Blood Boil costs 1 Blood rune, therefore, using this ability causes 1 available Blood rune to be consumed.
To use an ability that costs runes, the required runes must be available. For instance, it is not possible to use an ability that costs 1 Blood rune and 1 Frost rune, if there is not at least 1 Blood rune available and at least 1 Frost rune available.
A rune becomes depleted after being consumed by an ability.
When a rune becomes depleted, it immediately starts regenerating, unless there is one rune of the same type already regenerating, in which case the rune remains depleted and will only start regenerating right after the other rune has finished regenerating.
For example, if a first Frost rune is regenerating and a second Frost rune is consumed by an ability, then the second Frost rune will remain depleted until the first one finishes regenerating.
Note that you gain 10 runic power every time a rune becomes depleted.
By default, it takes exactly 10 seconds for a rune to regenerate. Haste influences this value, in a similar way as it influences spell cast times.
As soon as a rune finishes regenerating, it becomes, once again, available for abilities to consume it.
Rune generation is the same in combat and out of combat.
1.3. Runic Empowerment
Thanks to the Runic Empowerment passive ability (available to all Death Knights by default), you have a 45% chance, when casting Rune Strike, Frost Strike, or Death Coil to instantly regenerate a depleted rune.
The important thing to note here is that this passive ability can only regenerate a rune that is in the depleted state (i.e., a rune the regeneration of which is still suspended due to the regeneration of another rune of the same type), and not one that is already in the process of regenerating.
2. Death Runes↑top
Death runes are not exactly a fourth type of rune, but rather an alternate available state that runes can sometimes or always enter after regenerating, thanks to Blood Tap or specialisation proficiencies. In this alternate available state, a rune can be used as a Blood rune, a Frost rune, or an Unholy rune, regardless of its actual type. It indeed becomes a wildcard. In the remainder of this section, we will refer to this alternate available state by death rune state. We use the term Death rune to designate a rune in (or set to enter) a death rune state.
2.1. Death Runes Regeneration
Death rune regeneration can be misleading as regenerating runes that are going to enter a death rune state are already marked with the Death rune icon, even though they regenerate as they normally would. For example, a depleted Frost rune set to enter a death rune state cannot regenerate if another Frost rune is already regenerating. For the same reasons, a Frost rune and a Blood rune set to enter a death rune state can regenerate at the same time, if no other Frost rune and Blood rune are already regenerating.
2.2. Turning Normal Runes Into Death Runes
Runes can be turned into Death runes in the following ways:
2.3. Regular Runes Priority Over Death Runes
Regular Blood, Frost, or Unholy runes have priority over other runes marked as Death runes. For example, using an ability that costs 1 Frost rune will consume:
2.4. Empower Rune Weapon
Empower Rune Weapon instantly makes all runes available and gives some runic power. This ability does not reset Death runes, it simply makes them available (as Death runes), like any other rune.
3. Rune Screenshots↑top
Default runes display with the standard User Interface:
Unholy rune regenerating:
1 Blood rune and 1 Frost rune as Death runes:
1 Death rune regenerating:
3 Death runes, including 2 regenerating:
4 Death runes, including 2 regenerating:
4. Runic Power↑top
The runic power bar has a maximum capacity of 100 and it is empty by default. 10 runic power is generated each time you spend one of your runes, as well as through a variety of talents and abilities. Death Knights have many abilities which cost varying amounts of runic power (between 20 and 60) to cast.
While in combat, runic power does not decay. Outside of combat, however, runic power decays quite rapidly.
5. Improving Rune and Runic Power Generation↑top
Various talents and abilities can increase rune or runic power generation.
5.1. Rune Improvements
In this section, we list the talents and abilities that speed up rune regeneration.
5.2. Runic Power Improvements
In this section, we list the talents and abilities that increase runic power generation.
6. Magic Runes Addon↑top
A useful addon for keeping better track of your runes (as they are not very obvious or easy to follow in Blizzard's standard interface) is Magic Runes. The addon provides a set of customisable bars that allow you to see the cooldown and the state of your runes.