Key skills


A colleague, who also plays WoW, asked me a while ago how I manage to adjust constantly from one character to the next, seeing as I have no definite ‘main’ character. In particular, how I manage to keep my hotkeys straight.

I’m just about to switch again, so this is the chance to share my thoughts on that matter.

Switching characters

Yes, I have a lot of alts. But I don’t switch between them constantly. I play them a few days, maybe a week at a time, or until they hit the level I set myself before switching again. That means I do have some time to adjust to a specific character.

Hardware setup

More specifically, my mouse. A Logitech MX Performance, which allows me to map ALT, CTRL and SHIFT (as well as ESC) to mouse buttons. So instead of twisting my fingers on the left hand, trying to hit CTRL-SHIFT-F11, I just press F11, while having my right thumb on the two mouse buttons. A lifesaver, really.


Bartender. More action bars, automatic paging, for example when stealthed, or when shapeshifted. I currently have 4 ‘normal bars’ – set up as bars running straight from 1-´, plus modifiers, and 4 ‘action squares’, which are grouped F1-F4, F5-F8… for each row. You can see this setup on the screenshot to the right.

Skill selection

Soloing WoW has an advantage here. I can safely ignore all skills that are only useful in groups. Resurrection? Not making the list. One less skill to memorise and place on a bar.


Or rather, ordering of skills on the bars. I use the same system for every character. Again, you can see part of it on the screenshot, although I have made some changes since then. Generally, the right-most actionsquare is for trivial stuff – hearthstone, fishing, etc. the next is for macros – I’m currently thinking of moving macros into the right-most square as well so I have one more free keyset.

The two actionbars on the right are my health and preparation bars. Potions go to the top bar, always in the same sorting (least to most effective), drink and food to the lower. Scrolls, flasks, elixirs go into those two as well – they aren’t time critical, I just like to have them ready on the main interface so I don’t forget about them.

The left-most action squares are special abilities and panic keys. Healing, Stoneform, Lifeblood… anything I can hit more or less blindly and know it’ll help me survive. Again, the fact that I have the modifier keys on my mouse help immensely, on my rogue F1 is Evasion, SHIFT-F1 is Stoneform. Whether I hit the thumb-button on my mouse in time doesn’t really matter, I usually want to blow both cooldowns anyway. On my shaman, totems go here, sorted vertically by element, so I can simply hit the row F1-F4 in sequence and know that the most helpful totem of each element will be up.F5-F8 would be the next, and when I get to F9-F12 I know those are speciality totems that I normally have to place in preparation.

The left actionbars are a bit more tricky. The top bar auto-pages through bartender. Those are my most used skills, what I call ‘active’ skills. Heroic Strike. Sinister Strike. Arcane Shot. Sorted by frequency of use, usually. Interrupts go here as well.

The lower bar is for DoTs, CC or AoE effects. Basically anything that I use fairly often, but which need a little bit of thinking before applying the effect. Again, sorted by importance and utility. A few skills are far off to the right, for example the meelee skills of my hunter. I don’t really need them, but if I do, they are right there.

The pet bar is a separate bar, thanks to bartender, and doesn’t factor into this. Although again, it’s sorted by frequency and importance.


And that’s it. Really. Maybe if you are struggling to adjust between main and alts, look at your bars, look at the skills. Categorise the skills. Active, situational, panic button, preparation. Set up your bars exactly the same for all characters. Sure, the skills themselves will differ, but if you know that you can hit ALT-(1 to 4) any time and there will most likely be a healing potion of varying quality there, it’s one less thing to think about. And thinking about which key you hit is what gets you killed.

I’m under the impression that I’m doing fairly well for a casual, switching between characters on a more or less weekly basis. Then again, even when I’m complaining that I didn’t get any WoW-time any given day – that usually means I only had two or three hours.

Caveat: Mapping ALT-1 to ALT-´is fine. Mapping ALT-F1 to ALT-F12 usually leads to some hilarity when you reach ALT-F4. True story.


  1. I do it similarly for my characters – since I have quite a few as well. All my tanks have taunt on the same key. All my healers have their quick heal on the same key and their big, longer heal on the same. HoT on the same. Etc. To the extent possible of course. It just makes it easier.

    Just like PvP trinket is always on the same key. When panicked you always hit a certain key that you’re used to. So when I tried to use a different one on a character it didn’t work out too well 😛

    But then of course you end up with the odd ones where it doesn’t match. Like my Life Tap key for the warlock.. or Blink for the mage. At one point I used the same keybind. It didn’t work out too well cause I’d automatically try to life tap on the mage and blink myself into a group of mobs 😛 So I had to change that hehe

    • Yeah, but it’s quite important in my case… 8 characters, 8 different classes. Waiting for Death Knight and a Worgen.

      The problem with Blink is I sometimes blink the moment the spell triggers in my macro (no pun intended) and then keep wondering “where has the mob gone so suddenly?”.

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