I'm not the tank, you're the tank!

| Thursday, October 21, 2010
What's the point of a tank? A tank is a method of achieving a goal, that goal being to reduce damage taken by the party. The standard method is to redirect as much damage as possible to a player or players with the highest mitigation against that damage. There's also the side issue of incoming damage possibly being so high that other players would lack the health to survive it, regardless of their mitigation.

Are tanks necessary? At first it would seem that yes, they are necessary. Perhaps even inevitable, since a party which seeks to maximize its survivability will eventually figure out the best way to reduce incoming damage and inevitably that will way will seem to be the use of a tank.

But what if the tank wasn't the one causing the mitigation and aggro control?

This new model of tanking won't be happening in WoW, but all the tools are there, albeit in weaker forms. Misdirect, tricks of the trade, and hand of salvation all regulate aggro beyond oneself. Auras and totems can extend armor and resistances to an entire raid. Fortitude and blessing of kings grant health buffs. Divine guardian acts as a raid-wide mitigation cooldown. Intervene helps regulate aggro as well as redirecting damage. An entire priest tree is devoted to preventive bubbles. Mages can slow enemy attacks and casting. The tools are there to make other players into the mitigation distraction.

This sort of indirect tanking seems best suited to either a 'trickster' or a 'commander'. The trickster would deal with reducing enemy damage and causing them to attack in ineffective ways. For example, convincing them to attack players with high health or who are far away (though not too far, the goal isn't to replace tanking with trivial kiting). Or causing them to lose all control entirely and even attack the players' enemies. In contrast the commander would focus on strengthening allies to survive the attacks, but could also help to direct enemy attacks through manipulation of the aggro generated by players. Used in coordination these two could create disoriented, weakened enemies who are less of a threat and strengthened allies able to tackle the still-dangerous dangers.

Would you want to play an indirect tank? I think I'd enjoy it. But maybe more importantly, would DPS mind suddenly being the one getting hit in the face and could they trust the person keeping them alive? That's certainly not a new relationship, after all, a tank must trust the healers, but DPS may not be used to having that sort of interaction, often preferring the more aggressive "heal ffs" management style.


Martin said...

It isn't a video game, but this is largely how 4th Edition D&D plays out. The basic party dynamic is the defender with high defenses encourages enemies to attack him or suffer various penalties, as well as buffing allies' defenses. Leaders, the healing archetype, focus equally on buffs and debuffs (both offensive and defensive in function) as well as healing throughput. Even the Strikers (DPS) have some battlefield control available, usually in the form of positioning or persistent AoE effects.

Nikodhemus said...

I played 3.5 ALOT, and this is sort of how it went down as well. There really was no way to guarentee everyone attacked the tank, because a properly run game has intelligent enemies that recognize threats and neutralize them the same as the players do. Ok, a charging band of Trolls will just hit who is in front, but a squad of Drow Elves will assess the situation and adjust tactics acordingly.

Ultimately, I guess the threat system in WoW is about as good as you'll get, and it works pretty good with the Tank/DPS/Healer model. But, I always make my toons with contingencies in mind, rather than full out maxing DPS. My warlock has finished many encounters by switching out the Imp for the Void and Howl of Terror to buy us time to regroup. If i've got guildmates on, we will run dungeons with just 3 or 4 of us; Fury Warrior, Enhance Shammy and Rest Shammy, its a LOT more exciting that way

Dominus said...

Guild Wars....no taunts.. no dedicated tanking... mostly ;-)

Anonymous said...

Adam had thoughts along these lines back in June:

TheGrumpyElf said...

Who needs tanks if you have the right make up and smart people playing?

I was in a random on my mage the other day, sethekk halls to be exact, and the tank needed to afk.

We said, why not keep going. So we did. Me and another mage with a hunter and our healer went at each pack. 2 polymorphs and a trap and basically we were able to burn any pack of 5 no problem.

Sheep 1, pig 1, trap 1, slow 1 and burn the last. Then kill the slowed. Then kill the sheep. Then kill the pig. Then kill the freshly untrapped 5th.

We did nearly 1/2 the instance before the tank came back with no problems what so ever.

Who needs a tank when you have people that know how to CC?

We would have waited for the tank for the last boss however. Works nicer to just have one person being beat on for that situation.

I've heal kited blood beasts before on my priest when we were short a ranged. So I am used to being a target when need be.

I also Hunter tanked MC a while back and I do not mean pet tank, I mean hunter tank. I had over 60% dodge and was the only one wearing mail and no plate wearer around. With a good healer it was no problem what so ever.

Would be fun to try raiding without a tank however. I do not think that would be possible even.

Tesh said...

I'd probably play a Leader/Strategist role and enjoy it. Then again, I've also asked for dodge tanking for Rogues and bubble tanking for healers. I think *every* class should be able to fill every role (including CC options as panic buttons for *everyone* no matter what role), just in different ways.

"Indirect tanking" sounds like a good way to make things a bit more interesting than the brain-dead aggro AI we see with standard tank n' spank gibberish.

Klepsacovic said...

@Zarat: I played a little bit, I seem to remember some sort of mark I could put on enemies which would damage them if they didn't attack me. That could be pretty interesting for PvP.

@Tesh: In regard to every class in every role, I think it could too easily become boring or unbalanced, trying to make 10 tank trees that don't play exactly the same but also aren't wildly different in mitigation, effective health, or aggro.

SlikRX said...

To me, the only viable reason for the current tank/DPS/healer trio is poor AI. As someone above mentioned, no intelligent foe would sit there beating on the most heavily armored/protected player. He would )probably) go after the squishiest, or at least the most damaging/problematic.

I never played 3.5 or 4.0 D&D. I still have my 2nd edition books, and the depth of trouble the players got into was limited only by the DM's imagination and the level and intelligence of the monsters.

I enjoy the current triad setup for WoW, but only because it's a game. I personally would prefer more realistic and intelligent mechanics that force ALL players to be able cover all roles, but as mentioned, it aint gonna happen in WoW. :)

MomentEye said...

It seems to me that part of the purpose of Tanking is to simplify healing. Gather the damage as much as possible in one place.

If you had a well co-ordinated plan to pass the aggro around it could work just as well.

Klepsacovic said...

@SlikRX: Aggro is at least partially magically-based, a weak form of mind control. Which of course leads more into my idea of a caster controlling the tanking role.

MomentEye: With all the AoE and random raid damage that bosses throw around, I very much doubt Blizzard was using tanks to simplify healing.

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