Thanks go to the MMO Melting Pot for clueing me in on a kerfluffle in progress around the blogosphere. I tend to miss these things, as I’m an old, out of the loop kind of Bear.
From what Rebecca said, Tobold wrote a post recently that has inspired other people to write their own posts, either in support or condemnation.
There’s always some kind of drama in the blogosphere, so I’m not too sure what this particular kerfluffle is really all about. (I do love that word, I think kerfluffle shall be my word of the day. Not to be confused with the word ‘fluffer’, which, as we all know, is someone who heaps praise on the writers of WoW Insider in the hopes of being linked to. Right? That *is* what a fluffer is, right? Hold on, let me just check the urban dictionary… whoops! Oh, really? Wow, okay, moving on…. ya know, on second thought, that really is a fairly apt, oh never mind…)
Umm, right, the kerfluffle. As far as I understand it from the Noisy Rogue’s post, the big to-do is something about Tobold saying that DPS only get to have their selfish fun because other responsible people step up and do the nasty, undesirable jobs of tanking and healing. Furthermore, if DPS want to be socially responsible, then they have a duty to step up there and take a turn as the tank or healer their own selves, whether they like it or not.
Yeah, I paraphrased mightily, tongue firmly in cheek. What I did was take a perfectly innocent quote, and read into it with the utmost of paranoia and suspicion, looking between the lines, above and below the lines, behind the lines, and coming up with my own damn lines as well. My version sounds kinda BS, doesn’t it? But that’s what some people seem to have read into it before they teed off.
Right up front, I want you to know that I don’t really care what all the drama is about, or what Tobold was really trying to say, or whatever. He knows what he was trying to say, and I’ve been on the blogging front long enough to know that while I always know what I meant to say in a post, that doesn’t always translate into the words on the screen. Did he mean whatever it was in the way it’s been taken? Only he knows, and only he knows whether he’s satisfied that he got his point across or not. Plus, you know, maybe he’s right.
I like to tank. I love to tank. That is the part of the game I have always loved the most. And, that is the part of the game of World of Warcraft I do not currently do at all, because I will only tank for people I know, and enjoy playing with. If I were playing on Horde side, there are folks there I like playing with and I would tank for them if they so desired. I’ve been focused on Alliance side since the expansion released, though, so I haven’t. I will not tank for strangers, not because it’s hard, but because every time I’ve tried there is a person that is a rude little obnoxious asshat… and I refer you to my comment above about being an old kind of Bear. Life is simply too short and too precious to me to waste my time dealing with punks, so I don’t.
That being said… Tobold has a valid point that since the current system has fewer tanks and healers looking for groups than there are DPS, it provides a good source of conversation on why… or, better yet in my opinion, a constructive discussion on what could be done differently, if anything at all?
I’m planning on taking a crack on speculating on ways it could be changed. Not for WoW, but for another MMO design looking to try a different approach to what is ‘known and accepted’.
As I like to say, even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually have an idea worth something. Don’t hold your breath, though.
Whatever else you care to say about it, Tobold clearly wrote a successful post, because here I am writing a post inspired by it. Sorta.
I’m really more inspired by the central idea behind it all; the relationships between tank, DPS and healer, and what can be done about it.
For any of my readers that have played MMOs in the past, the dynamic is a familiar one; challenges are designed to be too difficult for any one player to complete on their own. A group is needed for victory. The challenge typically has villains that do too much damage for someone who is not a healer to live through, does too powerful a single attack for anyone not a tank to survive even with a healer, and has too high a health for anyone not a DPS provider to burn down before the juice that keeps those heals going runs out.
So, roles are decreed; a tank to survive the big hits and keep the big bad’s attention; a healer to keep the tank alive through all the damage, and a DPS (or more) to do enough damage to defeat the big bad before the healer’s mojo runs out.
Thus, the unholy trinity upon which so much of our MMO group gaming is based.
Where we often see a disconnect, is that our MMO play experience is not IN a constant group. It is a combination of solo play with just occasional group situations.
When playing solo, most encounters are designed favoring a playstyle that delivers high damage output in a very short period of time, burning down individual bad guys quickly to move on to the next one. Thus, the most common and friendliest playstyle for solo players, by design, is the DPS role.
This means that, also by design, in order for a tank or healer to rise in the game, someone has to step outside of what they already know and are familiar with, the DPS playstyle, and take on a brand new role they know nothing about and have no previous experience in.
What is even more intimidating, often they have to do this in front of a live studio audience, who may have varying degrees of experience on how to play themselves… along with varying levels of civility, patience and compassion.
And the final catch – while you can stack on more DPS players, as many as you’d like to increase the groups’ damage output, the overall success or failure of the entire group often rests on the shoulders of the tank and the healer. If the tank fails to hold the attention of the big bads or the healer fails to heal the people who need it as fast as they need it, then the DPS players or healer, who BY DESIGN are far squishier, will fall. Generally, once players start dying, the group will fail. Nobody likes to lose, and strangers can be downright vicious and cast blame far and wide when it happens.
Is it any wonder that, no matter how fun you try to make the healing or tanking roles, there shall always be people who refuse to try it? For fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of letting other people down, fear of ridicule, fear of something unknown, fear of the expressed rage of others at a loss, fear of the consequences of not being prepared enough or ‘good’ enough.
Is there a problem with this system, or is it fine as is? Does it maybe just need some tweaks?
I think one fundamental issue that could stand to be addressed is how tanking and healing are roles that do not come into play in an MMO until it’s time for a group. Until that first group, there is never a time when tanking or healing are a valid, fun, successful playstyle.
If, through some combination of changing classes or encounters, the healing or tanking playstyles became both fun AND equally as effective as DPS to play solo, then I think you would see more people getting skilled in using them, and thus have a lot more confidence in those roles going into a group.
Tanking as a viable solo playstyle has already been done before, and people loved it. People who play World of Warcraft are already familiar with the concept of the person who levels as a tank, usually as a Paladin.
Why? Because Paladins, once upon a time, had both good survivability AND self-healing abilities, and although their damage output was lower than standard DPS classes, they could damage multiple bad guys at the same time. A leveling Paladin tank would just gather up lots of bad guys, and by damaging them all at the same time, burn them down slowly but as a big group. Yes it took them a long time for the fight to finally end, but overall, they killed enough extra enemies that it all kinda evened out.
Even at the time, it wasn’t a very consistent way to level. The biggest reason being, you need areas your level that have lots of enemies close enough together that you can gather up a group. With single target fights being the norm for soloing DPS players, you didn’t see that kind of arrangement at every level of the game.
How could you make leveling as a tank a more attractive solo option? By placing more bad guys in an area that can be gathered up, and have those opportunities at every level of progression. Also, you could encourage it by increasing the ratio of physical bad guy to stationary spell casting bad guys. This would let you gather up lots of bad guys that will dutifully chase you around, but leave you one or two spellcasters that will let you practise silencing/line of sight pull techniques on them.
So, sure, you could modify your game world a little bit to accomodate the player wanting to level as a tank. Keep the enemies spread out enough for single target DPS style players to move through without being swarmed all the time, but have enough of them just close enough to each other that a leveling tank could gather a bunch up without too much trouble, in every zone they adventure in.
That is a game adjustment that would help encourage more leveling tanks, and in the process remove some of the fear from new tanks joining a group for the first time.
But what about healing?
How do you set things up so that healing is a valid playstyle?
I think one way to address that issue is to eliminate healing as a seperate role. Incorporate it into the management all players have to handle for themselves.
I’ll get back to that point in a minute, and let you build up your anger in the meantime over the very suggestion, by getting back to tanking. :)
I think another change that I’d love to see done is that tanking should be an option every class should have.
Let’s look at World of Warcraft for some examples of what I’m talking about.
During the Burning Crusade expansion, a lot of players took pride in finding ways to perform as a tank with classes that were traditionally DPS only.
The most famous of these was the Rogue class, which has the option to activate abilities that increase their chance to Dodge incoming attacks very successfully, for a short duration of time.
The challenge for these Rogue players was in arranging encounters so that they could get all the killing done before the duration of the especially high Dodge wore off. The tanking also usually required gear chosen for it’s very high Dodge boosting stats.
There have been many players who, of their own initiative, tried to force a DPS class into tanking, and succeeded. How much more successful would it be if the designer of the game gave them intentional tools to do that tanking properly?
What’s the biggest role of the tank? Is it to survive incoming damage? No, because a Mage with Ice Block can do that as well for a brief period of time, and so can a Hunter with Feign Death.
The main duty of the tank is to keep the attention of all of the big bads on him, and off of the rest of the group. Only after that is health important.
If a player can keep all of the big bads on him alone, AND survive the fight, that player has accompished the role of a tank.
So, two aspects of the tank to duplicate amongst the classes; a way to hold the attention of bad guys, and a way to survive that attention.
Anyone who has played World of Warcraft for any length of time around a Paladin tank knows that, even when fully specced as a tank, sometimes a Paladin would just be utterly unable to hold the attention of the bad guys. As soon as people started shooting, the bad guys would go running wild.
Why? The Paladin has a special ability that they can choose to turn on or off called Righteous Fury. The sole function of Righteous Fury is to make everything a Paladin does cause increased Threat. Heals, damage, anything that any character could do that would normally cause Threat (the effect that gets the attention of a bad guy) would have the value of that Threat significantly enhanced. Enhanced high enough to normally overshadow anyone else in the group.
It’s a “I’m the tank now, dog” button, and Paladins that forgot to activate it would find themselves quickly ignored as the DPS players, with their higher damage output, attacked the bad guys.
My suggestion is, why not offer all players an “I’m the tank now, dog” ability? Something they can activate that intentionally boosts the Threat value of everything they do.
But go beyond that. That same ability could incorporate a multiplier to the player’s health, providing the boosted life that tanks often need. It could also turn on a ranged Taunt ability, something that only a player with the “I’m the tank now, dog” ability active could use. (You know, to prevent those accidental taunt tag teaming). And of course, with ITTND on, there would have to be a downside, or people would run with it on all the time. So, as soon as it goes on, your Threat output may go up by 400%, but your damage output would be reduced by 400%. You are holding attention and surviving, not being a one man death machine. Boom, instant higher threat, higher survivability, and a reason not to use it when you want to do lots of damage. Sure, you could level using it… you’d just need to grab up 4 or more enemies to kill at one time to make up for your reduced damage output.
But there is more to being a tank than threat and health. There is also having a unique way to feel like you’re tough to bring down.
World of Warcraft has shown us that it is possible to have tanks designed around something other than shields and plate armor. Rogues have long effectively survived some nasty stuff using their long cooldown abilities. Remove or reduce some of those long cooldowns, and give them a threat increaser, and they’re a ready made tank.
Druids had their high armor value to reduce all incoming (physical) damage. Warriors and Paladins had their Defensive Stances, Shields and Swords to Block and Parry.
Hunters have a pet they can send in, in their stead. That never has worked very well for consistent group situations, mainly because there are limits to how powerful the pets are designed to become for fear of PvP balance issues. Having a toggle for a tanking mode that dramatically reduces damage output while increasing threat output and health/armor would go a long way to changing that, especially if the Hunter could use their Misdirect to their pet as a Taunt. How fun would that be? A long distance tank, seeing when their pet lost aggro and taunting the mobs back to the pet? It can already be done with Intimidation, and traps help control enemies very well. Hunters are just so close to being tanks, they can taste it.
With these examples, it’s easy to see that if this was the direction a design team wanted to go, it could happen.
There are so very many things that could be tweaked a little bit to every existing class in WoW to accomplish the goal of giving an option to perform the tanking role; hold the attention of all the bad guys, and survive incoming damage.
As long as damage output was drastically reduced while tanking, and the focus was put on generating high threat instead, it wouldn’t even be a destabilizing influence on most PvP situations, especially if you could only change into that tanking mode while out of combat.
But what about the healing role? I hope you held onto your anger and are ready to unleash it on me now :)
Why not remove dedicated healers entirely and put the responsibility of self-healing squarely on the shoulders of each player?
Again going back to an existing example, currently the Rogue class in WoW has a very interesting experiment going on. Recently a new spell was added, giving Rogues a heal over time capability. Recuperate is a new Rogue finishing move, giving the player the option to choose to use combo points on a self-healing “Heal over Time” spell instead of on increased damage or on speed boosts.
Similarly, Paladins with their new Holy Power combo point system can use those points on an instant cast heal spell called Word of Glory.
With some modifications, such a system of self-healing choices, sacrificing damage output in exchange for self-healing at various rates, could be used to replace the traditional healing class entirely. After all, how much damage is taken, who takes it, and at what rate is directly controlled by the game design team.
But the only way it could work would be if the dedicated healing classes were no longer an option, and every class had valid ways to choose to either heal themselves OR do damage/generate threat.
If you give just a few classes the ability to self-heal, and keep the dedicated healing classes, you’ll quickly run into what Rogues are seeing now; changes to the effectiveness of Recuperate as the designers try to find a ‘sweet spot’ that let’s it be helpful while the Rogue is alone, but isn’t too powerful when there is a healer nearby during a raid.
Many challenges in MMOs like World of Warcraft right now are balanced around trying to find ways of keeping dedicated healing classes busy/occupied during a raid. Because the design is built around the trinity of tank/DPS/healer, then a healer has to be there. But, if there isn’t enough for the healer to do, the healer will be bored and not have fun. So encounters are intentionally designed with more kinds of damage, more things that need to be removed like Curses or Poisons, bigger spikes of sudden damage that may kill the tank instantly to keep you on your toes, a limited resource like Mana to manage so you have to stay aware of what’s going on at all times, all sorts of complexity just because there has to be a healer role, and that player has to be kept busy.
If you remove the dedicated healer role from the design equation, you remove the need to design encounters to intentionally tax healers to the edge all the time. You can cut back on the massive damage spikes, and force each player to be responsible for his or her own cleansing of curses, or of moving out of goo that causes damage, or of sacrificing damage output temporarily to regain some health when needed… or of choosing to push harder on damage, trusting in the defeat of the boss before they die.
You bring the responsibility back squarely on the shoulders of the players… and you also force them to use their judgment, with nobody but themselves to blame if they die, unless they pulled threat from the tank.
I know that World of Warcraft is far too developed and fine tuned to ever go in that kind of radical direction.
What I do hope is that someday we will see a game designer take a hard look at the unholy trinity, and decide to see what would happen if healing were the responsibility of each individual player, instead of just one or two in the group.
I also think it would be a lot of fun to see a game where leveling as a tank was an option for every class, and thus the question in any group would never be “who here can tank?”, but instead “which of us wants to tank this one?”
To misquote one of my favorite songs; “Glory be to God that there are no more of us, for one of us could tank it all alone…”