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Spurred by a recent “Pick Up Group” experience in Allods Online and a couple of articles (OK, and doing the WoW Druid Bear art for BBB), I wanted to write a bit again about tanking and the Holy Trinity of MMO combat.  Here are a few great articles to prime the pump as well:

Overcoming the Fear of Tanking (Spinksville)

On Being a Tank (Tank Hard)

Rethinking the Trinity of MMO Design (Psychochild)

I’ve written about this sort of thing before.  Long story short, I’m highly in favor of breaking the trinity affording greater player customization and flexibility, hopefully making for more interesting combat.

Mostly, it’s because I want to be flexible when I’m playing a game.  I don’t want to have to depend on other people… though I’m happy to help other people.  That’s my particular brand of soloist play; I want to do my thing and have fun without needing other players… but if I want to help others out (and I often do), I want it to be fun and easy enough to get to do.  (Note, not necessarily “easy to do”; I like challenge in my games, after all.  I just don’t like fighting the UI or having insufficient tools to deal with idiot players.  I don’t like fighting other players, either; I’m all for cooperative PvE ventures.)

Perhaps a story will help illuminate.

I’ve been playing League side in the Allods Online beta as a Gibberling Psionicist.  I have characters of most races and classes for experimentation, but I picked the Psionicists as my “main” for the beta so I could push through to some non-newbie content before the beta ends.  The Psionicist is a DPS/Support class, designed somewhat along the lines of the Guild Wars Mesmer, where I find ways to control foes and the pace of combat, while burning them down with psionic blasts.  So far, it’s been good fun, if a bit repetitive.  (Finding my optimal “rotation” took all of three or four fights.  Certainly not several levels’ worth of fighting.  That’s another rant, though, and such design is certainly on par with other modern MMOs, so it’s not a glaring flaw unique to Allods.)

There is a “boss” fight on the League newbie island.  It’s a super powerful Wisp that requires at least three players to tackle; a tank, a damage dealer and a healer.  It’s the same old dance of “deal damage/mitigate damage/heal damage”.  As long as MMO combat is based on hit points and damage, we’re pretty stuck with these core roles in some form.  There is nothing crazy about this particular fight, then, it’s just a fight that requires a group (GASP!  I PUGged!) or an extremely overleveled soloist.

The first time I fought the boss, I just shot at it to see what it would do.  It chased me and pretty much ate me for lunch.  Gibberling nuggets, extra crispy.

A level later, still saddled with the quest to kill the boss, I answered the call of a tank who needed help to take it down.  A healer met us at the boss rock (it’s an open world boss that just putters around a rock in a circuit until a fight), and we proceeded to beat it into protoplasm… slowly.  The tank took the brunt of the attacks, I did my best damage from short range (so I could work in a dagger stab or three while skills were on cooldown), and the healer kept us all alive.  The healer’s mana actually died out close to the end, so he just moved in and started stabbing as well, but we were close enough to victory that it wasn’t a terrible breach of etiquette, and nobody fell but the baddie.

Yay, quest finished, experience earned, congratulations and thanks all around, group dissolved, chalk one up for the good guys.  (At least, until the respawn.)

A few days later, I’m one level older, slightly more powerful (though with no new abilities), and about to leave the newbie Allod.  Someone is spamming LFG in the zone chat, trying to get a party together for the same boss.  I figure, sure, I have a little time and would like to help.  I get there only to find three other DPS characters (two Hunters and a Druid).  OK, sure, just burn the boss down fast and hope it works, right?  Nope.  Nobody wants to try, and it turns out, for good reason.

A tank finally shows up after ten minutes of zone spam, and we go to town on the boss.  It turns out the tank didn’t actually tank, but just spazzed out in flaky DPS tango mode.  I get “aggro” because I’m doing solid DPS with my now-rote rotation, and the Big Bad Wisp proceeds to fry me again.  I’m soon followed by a Hunter who was also doing solid damage.  The tank disappears, the healer says the tank was incompetent, and we sit around for a while waiting for another tank.  Eventually, I give up, and move on.  (I still wonder about throttling my DPS, but the healer was pretty adamant that the tank wasn’t doing her job.)

So much for helping other players.  It’s a good thing I didn’t still need that quest; I’d have been more annoyed.  As it was, it was grist for the blog mill, so I was happy enough.  I won’t do that again, though.

The fight failed for lack of a tank who actually tanked.  I blame the game design just as much, though.

If any of us were able to step up into the tank role, regardless of class, we could have shuffled around and tried with someone else at point.  This is why I love the Druid class in World of Warcraft (or the Paladin or even Shaman, maybe even a Warrior).  Played well, a Feral Druid can either take point and tank in Bear form or shift a bit and start scratching backs in Cat form.  No respecs (though Dual Spec is nice to extend the flexibility), no gear swapping, just role swapping.

I would have happily stepped up as a tank if my Psionicist were able to do so.  Sure, it would probably mean some sort of “dodge tank” or “mesmerizing tank” rather than the traditional “hit me, I can take it” tanking, but that would be fine with me.  That wasn’t an option, though, so I wound up frustrated.  Sure, I had a stun (on a long cooldown, and the boss is apparently immune), a magic shield (on another long cooldown) and an “AAAH!!” button (a clone that takes aggro and then dies), but those aren’t really tanking tools when I’m puttering around in cloth armor holding a little dagger.  All in all, it just wasn’t working.  One guy in the group even wandered off to quest for a bit while we waited for a new tank.

Again, I don’t like depending on others.  I would have gladly put my head on the chopping block to help other people, even if it would have been more difficult to do, but waiting for someone else was something I didn’t do for long.  I’m not sure what it’s like to need a DPS, but I’ve also had occasion where needing a competent healer made for frustrating gaming, too.

When I have the ability to shift into different roles as occasion demands, I’m a LOT more likely to enjoy playing in a group.  I can plug holes and adapt to tactical situations.  I do that in Puzzle Pirates when I’m out sailing my ship with other people.  I let them pick their favorite stations, then play whatever still needs to be done.  I get and sympathize with the tanking philosophy, and the utilitarian moral of doing what the group needs.  I don’t like it when the game arbitrarily makes that depend more on the class (or even the build) than the player.

Short story long:

Tesh goes on 2 PUGs, one good, one bad.  Still tired of the Holy Trinity and inflexible game design.  Recommends the ability to change roles at the drop of a hat, even in combat.

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Bye Bye Book

Arthas is moving to California.

Many thanks to all who entered my contest for the Arthas novel a couple of weeks ago.  There were fun entries and serious ones, but the one that I settled on was this one from Ixobelle***:

k?

k?

Notably, this is the only one that suggested a tank, but I think it captures the essence of tanking in one delightfully silly LOLWoW screenshot.  Oddly enough, it’s also the strongest argument I’ve seen for me to try out a tank, since I have a keen appreciation of the absurd sometimes.  I’m not totally sold on the female aspect, but hey, if I’m min-maxing a tank, I hear the Undead racial perks are pretty good, and the whole “I’m a walking skeleton, fear my sturdiness” aspect is another touch of the absurd that I can applaud.

I did see a few other trends in the suggestions.  There were some clear commonly suggested options:  Wrogen Worgen, Druids and Hunters.  (Several Worgen Druids and Worgen Hunters, as well as Undead Hunters.)  I suppose that makes sense since Worgen are the new shinies and BBB plays Druids and Hunters (so I’d expect his readers to share some similar tastes).  Still, as I’ve noted before, and as Mama Druid and Wiqd aptly noted, Druids are multitalented critters, and I appreciate that quite a bit.  That’s a great way to get value out of the game.  Also, Hunters offer a lot of game play options, especially to an explorer like me.

I suppose in retrospect, the entry trends aren’t a big surprise.  maybe if I’d have posted to the Blizzard WoW forums, I’d have seen more variety.  (I didn’t, though; that place scares me.)

So, the book is on its way to California.  Keep an eye on Ixo’s blog*** to see if he finds a use for it.

Thanks for the entries, all!  As I noted before, I may have to do some art for the fun of it, so I’ll probably be sketching up some Worgen Druidic art.  Once I get everything else done, anyway.  Oh, and once the Cataclysm comes around, I’ll fire up a ten day trial as an Undead Warrior and see just how much damage I can do as a low level tank, milling around with everyone.  I should be able to pick up some groups with the tourists.

(OK, trial accounts don’t technically have a lot of grouping options, but I should be able to tank critters even in informal groups.  I’ve seen it done; a player just gets up front and personal with a baddie and uses tankish abilities to keep its attention, while other players DPS the baddie.  It’s not the same as a raid, but some of those low level dungeon bosses can still use tanking mechanics.  I don’t have the money or stamina to get to the point where I’m raiding with a tank.)

I’ve played a Druid in a trial account before, but if I’m going to pick up a Worgen Druid, that means buying at least the Cataclysm box, from all reports.  We’ll see what sort of sales and promotions come up before I go that route, but yes, it sounds like fun.

In the end, Ixobelle’s entry just tickled my judging funnybone while making a good case for tanking, so it narrowly edged out the others.  Wiqd and Mama Druid have me pegged pretty well, and if I were to play the game long-term, I would indeed play a Druid, largely for the reasons they suggest.  (With a Hunter “main alt”, though I’m not sure if I’d go the Undead route there, funny as it might be, as Psychochild notes.)

*** Ixobelle runs a blog over thisaway, and he’s (yes, Ixobelle’s pilot is a he… it makes pronoun tenses difficult sometimes) made it no secret that he’s a fan of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.  He gave up a job in Japan to move to California to chase his dream of working on the game, which takes guts and a touch of insanity.  Of course, none of that really relates to the judging of the contest, but that’s why I can safely say that Arthas is moving to CA (it’s a matter of public record).

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