Tuesday, November 17, 2009


A discussion I had with some friends last night got me thinking about the concept behind tanking and "threat." In WoW, we have tanks who taunt the pve boss and, in spite of doing far less damage than the DPS and taking far less damage than the squishy healers, are able to keep the boss' attentions for the duration of combat, until the group is standing victorious over the boss' corpse. This has become a pretty common concept to MMOs, when it comes to PvE content.... but is it at all realistic?

PvE Threat

Just how does the tank seem like a better target than the squishy mage or priest? Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • Someone makes some snide remark about the boss' mother, and the computer-driven AI goes into a rage-blinded, stubborn frenzy against that person until they're dead, or someone else makes insult.
  • Most impressive and threatening-looking armor: the guy attacking you with a scythe sticking out of his helmet seems like more of a threat than the little gnome standing in the corner in an evening gown. Among healers, apparently walking trees are just too scary compared to people, though the armor of the shaman and all their shiny totems also seems to increase their threatening appearance. As for the armor of paladins... well, I guess the bosses figure if the paladin who looks like the tank has put his shield and sword away in favor of making sparkly, sunny, holy lights, he must not be a problem compared to all the people with sharp objects.
  • Alternatively, divine magic must be far less threatening than natural magic for some reason: shaman and druid threat vs priest and pally. Some of those we fight are "gods," themselves, but nature's wildness and its competition with most construction (compare emerald dream to current azeroth?) maybe make it seem more threatening? Maybe? (fear the bunnies!)
  • Tunnel-vision.
  • Boss rules? Do they sign a contract stating they'll install and use Omen or KLH or an internal threat-meter, and attack whoever passes threshold? Perhaps to offset the otherwise game-unbalancing power they've been handed.
As farfetched as the last one is, realistically speaking, it's actually the truth. It makes me feel bad for the bosses... almost :)

PvP Threat

PvP content is different: if you want to taunt your enemy, you have to make them mad at you, personally. I've seen it done in PvP, though it's far less possible in the current game: the notorious lowbie-gankers, or the ones who like to corpse-camp while doing crude emotes, or even the leaders of strong guilds on the server during realm-wide opening events such as the AQ40 chain when they decide to wait to turn in the quest for whatever reason while the rest of the server is screaming at them to finish so everyone can begin raiding the dungeon. At that point, the player's name becomes a kill target to many enemies they may meet in PvP combat, which can effectively make them a tank. Since the introduction of cross-realm BGs, however, this is far less possible, as the swarm of people and servers brings with it anonymity.

As players in PvP can make their own decisions about what is most threatening, often these things are considerations:
  • Armor: the mage is squishier than the shield-bearing warrior. The mage wearing what looks like greens is squishier than the one with the graphic art of the most cutting-edge content or resilience kit. Some gear is also a dead give-away on the player's role as a healer: the old vanilla-wow Benediction staff was refered to in pvp as the "Kill Stick" for this very reason, as it was a big glowy "hey I'mma healer, come kill me!" symbol.
  • Proximity: the guy next to you is a far easier and more threatening target than some guy across the map.
  • Aggro: the guy stabbing you is more threatening than the guy that's stabbing someone else... unless that someone else is your healer. Aggro on your buddies can even carry you across a map as you rush to defend a node or flag.
  • Injuries: if you can take out a guy quick (and maybe earn a killing blow) while weakening their forces by one for a short time as they wait to res, they're a more worthy target than some other guy at full health.
  • Specialists: healers will make it far more difficult to bring down anyone else; someone who is spell-locking or interrupting your buddies may also be a higher priority than those who are not. Also, the flag-carrier must die, or the guy trying to cap your node.

Faction Champs

These guys have some of the most realistic AI threat in the game, which is why so many PvE guilds stumble over them: they are different from PvE threat, but still have rules compared to PvP. The guide on their threat at maintankadin has been linked around a lot recently, but for posterity, I will link it again.

The Faction Champions decide their threat on the following factors (among possible other things):
  • Proximity: someone closer is more noticeable and a more immediate threat, thus their actions will seem more threatening. Afterall, someone far away may not even be in range to cast at them, so they are not as threatening.
  • Armor: someone who looks squishier generally is squishier. You can cut down a mage far faster than a walking Mecha in full plate. Even pugs use this rule when considering kill orders in instances against enemies. To quote BBB, "When in doubt, we shall kill the casters first, for they are squishy and taste good with ketchup."
  • Injuries: someone bleeding is a lot closer to being taken out, usually, than someone without a scratch, especially when considered by relative percentage of injuries. In a game where someone who is barely standing can still hit you with a 15k ball of fire, you may as well take them out before you begin working on the guy who's pristine, especially when there is a risk that they will be healed up shortly.
To me, these threat considerations are far more realistic, and much closer to how a player considers threat. The threat mechanics involved models intelligent and more realistic behavior. It's a pretty revolutionary thing for WoW, and I'm somewhat torn as to whether or not I'd like to see more of it: it can be a very difficult thing for a guild to overcome when they are so used to the more traditional "Bosses are dumb" tanking threat, at least if they don't overgear the fight, but at the same time, you can learn and adapt to it.


Cassandri said...

I've actually had the same thoughts (disturbing) and I think it's mostly:

Someone makes some snide remark about the boss' mother (TAUNT is a taunt after all) and then continues to get up in their face smashing them with a shield (ouch!).

So tanking is about keeping someone/thing distracted.

However I also think of most bosses as something like Frankenstein. Perhaps not as intelligent as the rest of us.

Imabirdjk said...

Is a great one I recently read bout the champions :D Although yours was far more entertaining.

Mark said...

That's the same guide she linked in the original post (just copied to the WoW forums from TankSpot).

Mark said...

Or Maintankadin... I think Brekkie just posted it everywhere, heh.

Rahl said...

Ahhhhhh the Holy Trinity..
An ex wow now turned general blogg (Of teeth and claws) http://teethandclaws.blogspot.com/

has had quite a few great discusions aboutthe holy trinity and possible ways to fix it. But with DPS and heals so squishy as they stand its vert hard to have anything but a tank tank..

Kae said...

Well, not everyone has the stamina (irl) to be able to take lots of hits, either. Some people are just more durable than others... (suddenly I'm reminded of the movie "Unbreakable!"). So I don't see anything wrong with having some who are tanks and some who are just plain squishy!

It just wouldn't be appropriate in a choose-your-character MMO to have someone be both VERY durable and VERY powerful in damage-output, since such a class would be chosen by everyone as being the "best." There has to be some kind of balance.

But I'm rambling now :)

Mark said...

That depends on the trade-off. Everything I've seen regarding The Old Republic suggests that Jedi/Sith are the tanks and also do very good damage, but they're pretty much entirely limited to melee and the weaknesses inherent with that role. The other classes are all based on range.

Granted, this is Star Wars, which relies heavily on ranged weapons to begin with, but it does still seem like it's *possible* to have a tank without having to give up too much in the way of damage.