Why Role Balancing Isn’t Your Average Tentacled Monster

Why Role Balancing Isn’t Your Average Tentacled Monster

tentacle unicorn

Tobold’s post today is a refreshing look at how the holy trinity of tanks, healers and DPSers might be re-balanced. His basic concept is that it should be made more rewarding – more useful – to players to play a tank or a healer, for their own interest. Rather than developers assuming that the laws of odds and sods means that some players will play them because – well, someone has to.

Tobold’s correct in that tanks and healers could benefit from their ability to mitigate being more useful in solo combat. I’m not sure that in order to achieve this it would be necessary to make DPS classes “feel more like the proverbial glass cannon”. Combat could be customizable so that DPSers can still enjoy doing what they do best but tanks and healers can make their mitigation work for them.

Without giving it too serious thought early on a Monday I can think of some brief examples; there could be a mechanic whereby tanks reflect an increasing or scalable amount of monsters’ damage back at them (RPS – reflect per second?). The irritation here is that those monsters who are less damage oriented themselves would take longer to kill. Or there could be an improved “thorns” like mechanic – the idea behind thorns at present being that it does damage when thorns’ beneficiary is hit. The improved version (and the mechanic could be given to any class) could mean that effective use of a tank’s abilities gives him a stacking buff which then accordingly deals damage to the monster – which would stack all the more (and slightly insanely) in aoe/quest situations, probably making it great fun for tanks to quest by gathering all of the monsters on the continent at once. I exaggerate. Slightly.

But what are us healers going to do with our mitigation abilities? Ours is not so much mitigation as reparation. So what, we’d heal ourselves at monsters? Now we get to a deeper layer of difficulty for balancing the roles.

This is where the aforementioned concept of “their own interest” comes under scrutiny. In my mind a fighter’s – therefore a tank’s – interest in surviving battle is entirely different to a healer’s. The fighter charegs into battle wanting to smash those monsters in. Those fighters who are tanks also happen not to mind being smashed back by the monsters. A healer’s interest on the other hand is to hoppity-skip around the battlefield amidst volleys of arrows and magic from both sides in order to patch up their teammates.

The point at which their interest intersects is in doing what they are good at; and, trickily, those skillsets shine most in group situations when there are other people around to benefit from them. Not everyone can get hit over the head with as much class as a tank; and fighters going into battle alone traditionally aim to kill the betentacled unicorn quicksmart rather than let it try to tear their guts out for longer than is comfortable. As to healers – how many rogues do you see prancing around with happy light beams streaming from their fingertips? Healers like stapling peoples’ guts back in, and not just their own.

The difficulty here is reconciling two different experience types. First, redressing the game mechanic practicalities of playing a tank or healer to make it intrinsically self-rewarding for players choosing to play a tank or healer. And secondly, not amputating the traditional ideology behind the role types. The ideology which makes roles what they are; antecedents of cultural mythology celebrated through oral story telling, written classics, and role playing.

One way to approach this may be to remember that it’s not all about the roles. You can take the mechanic to the water but to make it drink from it – make the water more interesting. Perhaps the quest system could be overhauled – it’s overdue anyway.

Instead of quest givers parroting the a-typical “kill fish because I want their feathers to make a pair of sandals”, they could have a wider, more imaginative range of ways we can help them. Something like, “get from here to there in <insert arbitrary time limit> because, er, I dunno, how do you feel about couriering misunderstood baby murlocs? And do it the way that best suits you. You look healery, maybe hoppity-skip along and do your nature thing. You don’t have to slowly attack/tickle everything to death.”

Tell you what though. I remember several RPGs where us healers were the big guns when our band of heroes were wading through undead. Back in my day, undead monsters really didn’t like being healed at.

What do you think? How do you think class/role mechanics should be rebalanced on the ‘experience type’ graph, and why?

This is an article by Mimetir, an owl (and resto shaman) of a raid leader on The Venture Co. (EU) You can find my twitter feed here.

Article images originally on flickr, by Don Solo and merwing little dear.

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  1. I dispute the assumption that there are too many DPS, and not enough healers and tanks. At least in my guild, we are constantly sitting healers, and asking Tanks to switch to DPS or sit as well.

    Tank/Healer shortages are more true in casual content – you only need to look at Blizzard’s dungeon finder to see this is empirically true: DPS 15-20 min queue, healer 3-4 min, and Tanks have an instant queue. In 5 mans, the performance of tanks and healers is definitely more important that that of the DPS in most situations. You are far more likely to wipe because of poor healing or tanking than poor DPS.

    However, this changes in raids. There are a lot more slots for DPS than there are for tanks and even healers. In pickup raids, finding players for these “support” roles can be difficult. However, in raiding guilds, healer and tanking positions are often already filled by solid players, and there is often not a spot open unless the guild experiences turnover.

    What we find ourselves short in, at least in the DPS department, is GOOD DPS. People who know the fights, min max their gear and play, and minimize deaths. We are constantly recruiting new DPS, but they don’t always measure up to that standard, even if their gear says they should.

    With enrage timers, finding enough good DPS can be more of a challenge than finding adequate healers and tanks.

    For 5 mans: Tanks/Healers are in demand because DPS are a dime a dozen and could go AFK for the entire time without causing a wipe.

    For pickup raids: Tanks and healers are often in demand, although finding raids as a tank that are only looking for healers and vice versa is more common than you’d expect. This is probably where DPS have to work hardest to find a group.

    For guild raids: Good DPS are just as rare as good tanks and good healers, so show up and know your stuff and you will always find a raid spot.

  2. I’m not sure it’s all that broken, my bear tank can solo things that my DPS wouldn’t dare pull and my priest healer can take as long as her mana will last vs. any pack of non-elites. It would be nice if healers got a +50% bonus when healing self though just to allow a bit more smite time and a little less self-heal. I think taking a little longer to DPS than a DPS class is a fair trade for a short dungeon queue, more raid invites and more flexibility.

  3. To be totally honest, I think Tanks and Healers are *already* enjoying much attention and love under the sun. Where those roles are relevant -raids- they are the beacons of hope and love. They serve good but are paid back even better.

    Better rewarding at what, really? Tanks and healers enjoy less queue time on LFD, can always find good guilds with ease, gear up a ton faster than DPSers. The reason we have tank and to a lesser degree healer problems in pugs and LFD is not because these roles aren’t rewarding enough and thus not interesting enough -the direct opposite. These roles are so much rewarding, that they reap the benefits far, far faster than a DPSer and thus need a lot less harbor work.

    The simplest example is a Heroic: A tank is the only person who would roll on tank items, while it could very well be the case that all other four people will roll on similar gear.

    One could argue these two roles’ works are harder, but while in my opinion it’s not even remotely true, there’s also that even if it was the case, they still reap the rewards faster and thus the system balances itself out.

    And as for solo content… By definition, Tank archetype and Healer archetype should always deal less damage than a DPSer, otherwise, there’s no point to DPSer. If a person is concerned with their damage output, that’s what the DPS specs for. Otherwise, I’ve seen a lot of people leveling up as prot/resto even before LFD and marginalization of finding dungeons, just to have zero downtime and much increased survivability. Tank/Healer to DPS is a scale, to get one, you have to sacrifice from the other, otherwise, there’s no point to the whole system.

    And for the final remark that whether the system works at all -It does, it does punish DPSers, and if someone has to whine it’s the DPSers, but Tanks and Healers are just more than fine, from WoW standpoint.
    .-= DKS´s last blog ..Obligatory Cataclysm Post =-.

  4. I’m enjoying the responses so far and stepping back to let them continue for now but for one point of clarification.

    Where I say “rewarding” I’m referring to Tobold’s concept (borrowed from Adam Smith) that more players would be drawn to the tanking and healing roles if doing so were in regard of their own interests, and thereby (personally/individally) rewarding – not simply on an achieving epix level.

  5. I’ve read Tobold’s post and it’s heavily disillusioned with the idea that rewarding = fun solo play. His quote:

    “A MMORPG consists not only of group combat, but usually also has a lot of solo combat. And the way solo combat is currently designed, the ability to deal damage is more important than the ability to mitigate damage.”

    For WoW; first of all, protection leveling is by far easier and arguably faster, thanks to dungeons, item rewards, and ability to pull out 10 mobs at a time and nuke them down. After leveling, all a person ever needs to kill solo is for *maybe* farming some mobs, and given the low health of these mobs, they can again be taken down in a large pack and dealt with.

    That aside, for WoW, solo content outside of leveling is nonexistant. Well there’s dailies, but as long as you can toggle auto attack, it doesn’t matter if you’re a tank or a warlock.

    The scheme of mitigating damage with dps trade-off might bot be interesting to Tobold -it certainly isn’t for all- but there’s a lot who enjoy this tradeoff, for the buff-feeling, for the movements of being a tank, or for anything.

    But if the concept of “reward” is “killing solo content faster” then it’s a very weak excuse, for a problem I do not agree that exists to begin with.
    .-= DKS´s last blog ..Obligatory Cataclysm Post =-.

  6. @DKS – I’d say that whilst solo play is one of the elements involved here, it is *one* element of potentially fun play. Also, I don’t believe that all discussion about improving solo content for tanks and healers isn’t just about making it faster but, yes, more fun 😉

    In any case – it’s more than fair if you don’t find solo play a particularly fun element but if you want to debate Tobold’s original argument you might prefer to do that with Tobold 🙂 Do you have any comments on the angle I took with my own thoughts?

  7. I did feel bad about being unable to give a response to particularly your responses, because I didn’t see a problem with the trinity system being broken (for the favour of tanks or healers at least, I think it puts dpsers to a very bad place) so I could only respond to your examples with “But why would you do that?”

    I would however agree with balancing the quests so they’re not actually just based on killing X amounts of Y. I remember as a rogue, I would often do quests and still wouldn’t have near the same amount of xp as any other class that did the same quests -because to complete the quests faster, I’d fly, stealth, kill the big bad boss, sprint, vanish, head back to town. All in the amount of time that it would take someone just barely make his way through a jungle of mobs to the target. WoW quests are, truely, some of the most hiseous and awful quests I’ve ever had displeasure of completing.

    To be honest. I really liked the Diablo’s way of handling this issue -since the game was a single player game in its core, in parties, it was every man for himself. And from the mechanics of run to boss – swing – run back heal yourself – run back. In Diablo, “Tanks” did still exist, but since there’s no aggro to speak of, bosses would just stick to the closest melee target, so other melees could run away from the boss and heal themselves up without fearing the boss coming after them. Dunno.
    .-= DKS´s last blog ..Obligatory Cataclysm Post =-.

  8. @Felade – Fair point. So am I right in thinking that in your eyes the role balancing also need to be addressed from the casual/hardcore POV? I mean, if good DPS are hard to come by perhaps non-end game content needs to look at ‘training’ players of any role to be more able to perform optimally. Any idea how this might be worked on given there’s traditionally friction between casuals/hardcores for what goals they have in the game – and what both sides (hugely generalised) consider ‘fun’?

  9. I actually think that the changes to the Priest talent trees are an excellent first step in allowing priests to be able to level in a “healing” spec but still do respectable damage.
    I know many priests who are concerned that the presence of these talents means they’ll have to cast Smite in a raid situation, but that’s simply not true. It’s another example of respecing at max level once you start to raid. While you’re going through solo, and even 5-man content, the healing requirements are not that steep. Once you get to raids, the difficulty goes much higher and healers will take all healing talents.
    Digression aside, if Blizzard continues to open talent trees to a healing/dps hybrid, then it will become much easier for healers to do a decent job of both while leveling. With WoW’s current “kill things for drops and quotas” quest system, healers are going to have to do some sort of damage… that or just LFD their way to 85 (which is fairly viable, actually).
    .-= Cassieo´s last blog ..Mastering Masochism: Top Ten Tips for New Tanks =-.

  10. If we’re speaking of tank/healing needing to be more “fun” to draw people to those roles, I think it’s pretty damn fun already.

    I was showing a friend of mine WotLK just after release; he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue playing WoW. I flew up to one of the huge corpse giants on the citadel walls in Icecrown and proceeded to solo it.

    …he was dumbfounded. He also bought Wrath the next day and started to put together a tank set.

    Once people realize that being stabbed in the face by 20 guys all at the same time is fun, they’ll play it! I personally love tanking! My main is a paladin, and I’ve got the other 3 classes all tank spec’d and trying to level them to 80 so I have a chance at end-game tanking before Cataclysm ships.

    I think if more people actually tried tanking, they’d really enjoy it. Same goes for healing too, but I’d choose something like a priest or druid for a first time healer (as there are so many options).
    .-= Cassieo´s last blog ..Mastering Masochism: Top Ten Tips for New Tanks =-.

  11. I think Tobold’s post misses the real point when it comes to the relative lack of casual tanks/healers.

    My main is a hunter. I’m quite happy to take him into random dungeons – his gear is fairly decent and if I’m a little off my game, it isn’t likely to cause a wipe (instead my DPS would just be down from where it could have been). Plus there are two other DPS in the group (plus the tank) that may be able to make up for the shortfall.

    My other level 80, on the other hand, is a feral/resto dual spec druid. Her tanking and healing sets aren’t terrible, but fall well short of the hunter’s gear (3.5k or so GS vs 5k GS). More importantly, if I’m off my game as a tank or healer, I’m far more likely to cause a wipe and waste the group’s time than I am as a DPS. (I’m also far less practiced at these roles than I am at playing my hunter, so they require a great deal more concentration).

    In a guild run, we can make sure we have a solid healer (or tank) to counter my relative weaknesses and still have a pretty quick run, Or, if that doesn’t happen, at least everyone goes in knowing what to expect. But subjecting myself to the ire of random folks that were hoping to get carried through an instance by a 5k GS tank and/or healer? I’ll pass, thanks, that doesn’t sound like my idea of fun.

    Another aspect to look at is random dungeon groups that can manage relatively quick runs. A good tank/healer combination can carry terrible DPS. An exceptional tank can carry a bad healer and an exceptional healer can carry a bad tank (especially if backed up by good DPS). But if both your tank and healer are bad, you’re probably going to fail regardless of how good your DPS are (short of one of the DPS becoming the de facto tank).

    I suspect these two elements then tie back into what Mimetir said: in a PuG dungeon or raid, filling tank and healer slots is difficult (a lot of responsibility with a likely lack of appreciation for carrying it), while in a progression guild, finding good DPS is more likely to be the problem (far more responsibility than a DPS typically has to bear in other aspects of the game).

    The latter is also likely one of the reasons good PvP’ers often make good raid DPS – the every-man-for-himself nature of PvP means that the DPS don’t get to cruise the way they often can in easier PvE content.

  12. SOLO: >And do it the way that best suits you.

    I really like that idea, it kind of fits my mindset from my first character, a rogue. If you look through the forums on places like thottbot you can see people saying “I soloed this on my rogue, slip past the guy blah blah blah” and someone else saying “shutup rogue!”. But there are also solutions for others, telling the mage where to go invis, and where to stand for the cooldown – they just aren’t as appealing as the rogue solutions.
    When you read a good fantasy book isn’t the main character a super bad ass who does things he own way? Don’t you want to be that on your solo play? But I just don’t know what that “super bad assery” is for a plate tank, as compared to the plate dps (kill people).

    PARTY: Maybe a quick fix for WoW is to increase party size to 6 – still one tank and one healer.

  13. Galaedria says

    In group play, tanks and healers are placed under critical pressure because if they make mistakes, the group dies, and they will often get abused for it. DPS on the other hand are under competitive pressure – who can do the most damage, but if they make mistakes, the group can often compensate. How do you make playing a tank or healer in a group more fun? Reduce the learning curve so that they are less likely to make mistakes and somehow reduce the abuse.

    Reducing the learning curve could involve making tanking skills available from the beginning (everyone gets skills to dps from level 1 and healers get at least 1 healing spell straight off: tanking skills should be available at level 1 too). Introducing some boss fight mechanics at earlier levels might also help people learn to deal with things like getting out of the fire a lot sooner. Perhaps when learning a new skill from the trainers, you actually had to try out the skill before it would be permanently added to your skillset/spellbook – no more excuse for not knowing how a skill works. Helping people understand their role better would go a long way to making them better at their role, and when you’re good at something, it’s usually more enjoyable, for you and your group mates.

    In solo play, I think the difference between dps and tanking is smaller – both have got plenty of tools for killing mobs, which is what most quests are about. Healers soloing do have a harder time. I’d like to see more quests where players have to heal a npc during a battle or heal x number of wounded soldiers or rescue an npc from a settlement without harming any enemies (for political reasons presumably). DPS and tanks might have to resort to bandages or potions to do these quests, but that might not be such a bad thing because it might provide an incentive to learn first aid. Quests to suit more playstyles would make soloing more fun for every role. Hopefully we might see some of that in the revamped Cataclysm quests.

  14. Ekatrina says

    @Galaedria – Yes. Currently, in any kind of group situation, tanks and healers are at a premium because they’re the roles most likely to get abuse when they’re doing their job as well as they can, and also are the roles on which the group rests. This may also factor into the LFD tank/healer shortage at 80 another way – if you’re a very well-geared tank, well enough that you don’t vitally need your two frost emblems, are you likely to go tank an LFD dungeon for fun? I know some do, but I suspect many don’t, and for good reason.

    A lot of people including Tobold list soloing as a reason why many people don’t tank or heal, but I think the group dynamic is a much bigger issue.

  15. One of the big problems is that in appropriate gear (that means you are in 187 blues and some quest greens in a heroic dungeon, 245s for ICC) it is not particularly easier to tank or healer a heroic than it is to heal a raid. It is fantastically easier to dps, however. As noted above, in raids dpsing is by no means easier than tanking or healing, and raiding guilds succeed or fail on their ability to recruit quality dps. But for heroics mediocre dps is fine while good tanking/healing is required. Even in lower gear tanks are so much tougher than dps that in order to do threatening damage to tanks bosses have to be able to one or two shot dps. The tank has to hold aggro or everything goes wrong. The same goes for healers, in bad gear a heroic boss will be able to kill your tank from full in just a few seconds with the right combination of abilities (or at least stun you long enough to kill them).

    This means that for casual content it is hard to find tanks and healers because people think those are the “hard” jobs, then for serious content it is hard to find dps because most people playing dps don’t play extremely well because they’ve never had to. I think the best thing they can do to make this work is to reduce the gap in toughness between tanks and dpsers. This will calm things down for the healers in casual content and make it so a tank losing aggro and responding slowly isn’t that bad a thing. As far as I know, they are planning to do this in cataclysm.

    The idea that tanks and healers need personal rewards, however, don’t sound right to me. Maybe have the trainer give you gold when you respec holy or prot? Most people I know who heal like healing and people who tank like tanking. Right now the only specs I find really insufferable to solo with are resto druid and resto shaman, so hopefully they can up their offensive capabilities a bit in Cataclysm, but having levelled my first character to 60 when moonfire-autoattack was the best a druid could do, everything seems pretty quick to me.

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