Characters typically experience their first instance between the levels of 10 and 30. This guide is written specifically to help newer players of any level prepare for their first instance experience, and to make it as enjoyable and trouble-free as possible.
If you are a more experienced player wanting to learn how groups work together, make sure you check out the Instance grouping guide.
An "instance" is a dungeon that the game creates just for you and your party, so that you are not intruded upon by anyone else in your realm. This personal instance starts when you enter a blue† instance portal, which is often already located inside a cave or dungeon. Almost all of the mobs in an instance are elite, and the drops, loot, and quest rewards are better than those obtained through solo play, though they are somewhat more difficult and require teamwork to achieve.
For some players, World of Warcraft is all about instances, whereas some players only do them when the mood strikes them, or when they have dungeon quests. Since doing an instance is not a requirement for leveling a character, some players go all the way to 70 without setting foot inside one. Still, if you want to try one out, it is suggested to try the low-level ones first, as that is when all party members are learning how to play their class (in group settings, at least) so you may feel more comfortable.
Just for your party. Instances are large, multi-room areas (sometimes with scripted events) that the game has generated only for the use of your party. You will never find another party already in the instance ahead of you, because walking through the portal creates a special run just for the party.
Death is also handled differently. When you die in an instance and release as a ghost, you release to a graveyard out in the zone the instance is located in. You then run back to the instance portal as a ghost. You are brought back to life the moment you step back into that portal—not to where your body was lying. It is for this reason that you should not release until you are sure no one will resurrect you. Because of this, you should pay attention to the way to the instance portal as you go with the group, so if you do have to run back from the graveyard as a ghost you don't get lost.
A note about running away: Your natural instinct when you cannot shake a mob is to run away; however the mobs in an instance are designed differently than their outside counterparts: They never give up the chase until you are either dead, or have zoned out of the instance altogether. Counterintuitive as it may seem, your single best tactic is to run towards the tank. (There's more on Tanks in the next section.) This lets the tank pick up the loose mob, and off of you. Once you get to the tank, stay in one place to make it easier for the tank to target the mobs attacking you.
A balanced party typically consists of:
- Tank – Typically a warrior, a Bear form druid, or a paladin, the tank's job it is to keep the attention of the mobs on themselves.
- Healer – Typically a priest, paladin, druid or shaman, a healer stands out of harm's way in the back and heals the group (primarily the tank).
- Damage dealers – Any damage-focused class such as hunters, mages, rogues, or warlocks, as well as hybrid, tank, or healer classes who choose to spec for damage (such as Cat form druids, Enhancement shamans, Retribution paladins, Shadow priests, Fury-specced warriors) whose job it is to deal out damage. This is everyone else not healing or tanking. The trick is to deal a large amount of damage per second but not so much as to get the mob more interested in themselves than the tank.
- More knowledgeable groups can also assign crowd control tasks for multi-mob fights. These tasks usually fall to one of the DPS members like a mage to polymorph (also known as "sheep"), a hunter to trap, or a rogue for sap. The plus of doing this is if you are attacking a group of four mobs, and the mage polymorphs one into a sheep, you only have to worry about attacking three mobs for 20–30 seconds. Damage breaks most of these crowd control methods though, so don't use abilities that attack multiple opponents while using crowd control.
Note: The skills used to tank and heal are counterintuitive to solo play. It's an entirely different experience to try to keep things attacking you (and it's not as easy as it would seem), and it might seem dull or unimportant to stand in the back of the party to keep people alive. However, tanking and healing are the two most important tasks for a successful instance; if either is missing, the group cannot succeed.
Because the party limit is five players (low instances will accept raids of ten, but in those cases you cannot complete quests), there is usually one tank, one healer and three DPS. However if any of the other three have the ability to switch roles, they should be prepared to tank or heal in a pinch should the need arise.
If you are asked to tank, heal, or DPS
If you are asked to be the healer, stay back, far behind the tank—but close enough you can reach the tank with your healing spells. Use skills that heal over time to keep people topped off and save big heals for when health bars go very far down. The healer, more than anyone, realizes how important it is for the tank to attract attention—it means only having to worry about healing one person most of the time. Tell those in your party to try to keep in range and in sight so they can get your heals. Learn to use your defensive (like Bear form for druids or Power Word: Shield for priests) or threat-reducing abilities (like Fade for priests) for when a mob turns its attention from the tank toward you, since healing can generate a large amount of threat from mobs that are unhappy at seeing the health of their target (the tank) continue to stay up.
If you are asked to be the tank use any skills you have that increase your armor and cause a high amount of "threat" (usually listed in the tooltip; also known as aggro or hate). You may have never used these abilities before because in solo play you don't have to worry about keeping mobs on yourself. Make sure to keep in range and sight of the healer.
If you are asked to provide DPS try to wait a few seconds for the tank to build up threat. Learn any good defensive (evasion, roots, shields, or snares) or threat-reducing skills (Cower in druid Cat form, Disengage for hunters, or Feint for rogues) you might have for when a mob turns its attention from the tank toward you. If you use mostly ranged attacks, try to keep as far-ranged as possibly. Rogues should use Feint to reduce threat or Vanish (if they have it) if their cooldown is up.
- Buy or cook food – one stack of 20 should do. This will speed up the down time for you between pulls. If there is a mage in the party and they give you conjured food, eat that over the food you bought, since theirs are conjured and disappear after you log out of your character for 15 minutes. Best of all are some of the foods you can make from the cooking profession. Many of these types of foods provide temporary buffs that can give you that little extra boost in health or something else.
- Buy drink – two stacks of 20, more if you wish. Again, if there is a mage in the party and they give you conjured water, use that before the drink you bought. (Note: Warriors and Rogues do not use mana, so this is not required for them.)
- Repair – when durability gets to zero (red armor), armor loses all armor value and stat bonuses, and you are no longer contributing to the party. Starting a new instance at 100% will often avoid this issue.
- Buy ammo – use shot or arrows? Make sure you have at least a stack; more if you're a hunter (preferably a full stack in every slot of your quiver or ammo pouch).
- Empty your bags – there's plenty of loot in the early instances, so make sure you have space for it. Sell all of your gray level items before you start. If you haven't checked it out yet, ask a guard in a capital city where the bank is. You can store things there for free then pick them up when needed. Making sure you're using all of your bag slots is a good idea. You can visit a bag vendor in any capital city, but those bags are very expensive when compared to the price of tailor-made Linen Bags in the Auction House.
- Buy reagents – For every spell or skill you have that requires a reagent, try to make sure you have a few just in case.
- Visit your class trainer, if money allows – If money is short, pick up any "new" (rank 1) abilities first. If you cannot afford all the new abilities at your class trainer, then make sure you let your group know you aren't quite trained up.
- Get quests – look here on WoWWiki and see what quests an instance has, and pick them up ahead of time.
Real Life issues
Before you go about finding an instance group, try to make sure to set aside about two hours of undisturbed time, which is typical for a normal party (it may take shorter or longer depending on your particular situation). Few things frustrate other players more than someone agreeing to run an instance and then getting called offline for something they knew they had to do. If you do start an instance with a limited amount of time, tell the group right away. Also keep in mind that it can take a varying amount of time to gather a complete group in the first place, then get everyone to the instance portal.
Most party members are understanding if you have to step away from the computer from time to time for real-life issues. If you do need to briefly step away to get a drink, use the restroom, change the baby, and so on, make sure you let the group know by typing "AFK" or "BRB", so they don't go back into combat a person short. If you find yourself repeatedly getting called away during an instance to the detriment of the party's progress, offer to leave so the group can find a replacement.
Finding a group
To find an instance group, you can:
- Use the Looking for Group tool.
- Ask in the general or trade channels in a larger city.
- Ask your guild, if you belong to one.
You may find that busy times of day are better for finding groups. For example, finding a group on a Saturday afternoon is fairly easy, but finding one at 5:30am on any given day might be very hard (but not unheard of).
Most of these are laid out in the Instance grouping guide, but here's a quick version:
- Never use fear effects in an instance unless decided on beforehand for a well-understood situation.
- Don't use any clickable "cog" or "gear" icon (File:Pointer gear on 32x32.png) objects without asking first, as this may trigger a battle when people aren't ready. This also applies to containers or treasure chests, which should usually be rolled on first.
- On death, do not release to the graveyard unless agreed upon by the party and never rez at the angel unless you've cleared it with the group or you're planning on leaving the group.
- Warrior – try to get a one-handed weapon and a shield. Your job is usually to tank in an instance, and having a shield allows you to take a lot more damage. Don't worry much about dishing out huge amounts of damage, your primary task is to simply grab and keep the mobs' attention so they are not distracted by the other members of your party. As the tank, stay in defensive stance and use taunt and Sunder Armor. Keep applying Sunder Armor—it stacks to five (keep using it even if the mob already has 5 Sunder debuffs on it; the threat from each Sunder Armor will help you keep aggro even if you don't put another stack on the mob)! Know who the main healer will be, as it is your job to taunt that mob off of your healer. If you are not asked to tank, stay in Battle Stance and use a two-handed weapon, if you have one. Try not to use Thunderclap or Cleave if you are fighting near a crowd-controlled mob, as it may remove that crowd control.
- Warlock – try to have at least 10 soul shards in your bags when you get there. Offer everyone in the party a healthstone. Never put your soulstone on yourself; it should go on a Shaman, Druid Paladin, or Priest so that they may then resurrect the rest of the party members should everyone die in a wipe. Let the person you put the soulstone on know that if they die they ought to wait until all combat is over and then use the soulstone—and that if they release to the graveyard they'll have to walk back anyway, as the soulstone does not stay through death. For your Pet, use your imp so everyone gets the Blood Pact Buff, meaning more health for the whole party. It is usually preferred that your imp be set to passive mode (the right-most settings on your pet's action bar) and not casting any fireballs. If you are at least level 12, turn on his Phase Shift ability so he takes no damage. Don't forget to create some replacement soul shards as you go - so many mobs will be dying you'll have plenty of opportunity.
- Mage – before the instance, you should conjure plenty of extra water, and even food sometimes, so that you can give it to your teammates. Let them know to use the food and drink you give them first, as they disappears when they log out of the game for over 15 minutes.
- Rogue – have your poisons ready, and keep your lockpicking skill up to snuff—instances usually have locked doors or chests inside.
- Paladin – be sure to cast your blessings on your teammates at the start of the instance, and reapply them whenever they wear off. Do not assume the other classes know what blessings you can cast, and be aware that different classes and roles have different needs.
- Druid – be sure to cast Mark of the Wild on all of your teammates at the start of the instance, and reapply them whenever they wear off. Apply Thorns on the tank and anyone who might have to pick up tanking duty in case the tank dies (don't cast it on anyone else; the damage from Thorns will make it harder for the tank to pull a mob off of that person).
- Hunter – never enter an instance without an ample supply of Ammo (your gun or bow is useless without it) and pet food (your pet might die often). Set your pet to either defensive or passive, the right-most settings on your pet's action bar. Never put your pet on aggressive, and always turn off Growl so that your group's tank doesn't have to compete with your pet for attention.
- Shaman – put down your totems near where the tank is intending on battling.
- Priest – be sure to cast Power Word: Fortitude on all your teammates at the start of the instance, and reapply it when it wears off. If you are level 30 with Divine Spirit, cast that on any teammate with a mana bar.
Ask about loot rules ahead of time. Every party is different, and it's up to the party leader to decide.
Most loot from bosses is Bind on Pickup, though, and this tends to be the best loot. Do not roll on items from bosses you have no way to use for yourself. You cannot mail these items to your other characters, and you cannot equip them, so leave them for someone else who can use them. Rolling on equipment that you cannot use and have not been told to roll for is called being a ninja looter and it is a quick way to make a bad reputation for yourself and your guild.