Redesigning the Tank

MMO players are simply amazing. No matter what “it” is, if it’s possible in an MMO, players will not only find a way to do it, they will find the best way to do it. The best example of this is the trinity of MMO combat. The idea of healer/tank/DPS wasn’t created by a game designer. It was created by players!

So speaks Hue Henry, Lead Data Designer working on Alganon, one of the new MMO titles currently in development.  And I keep coming back to it.  Is that really true?

Did players in Everquest and Ultima Online invent the taunt mechanic?  Or develop the idea of aggro by sending in the warrior first?  Hue suggests this was a change from PnP RPG’s where the idea of character is king.  This leads me to believe though that he’s never played PnP, given the existence of terms like “powergamer” and “munchkin” – terms which define almost exclusively the player base of MMO’s.

That one stung didn’t it?  Tell me its not true…

Anyway, Hue goes on to say that Alganon will not mess with the holy trinity of classes – tank/dps/healer. And in fact, he bows to their inevitability:

Many MMO designers think they can outsmart their players and make a game where this trinity doesn’t exist. I’m not that arrogant.

I am.  I think there is a different holy trinity of classses waiting to be discovered for the game gutsy enough to do, one that will tweak the way parties are created/grouped/run and give some originality to a new game.  And games need that!  Look at Vanguard – original classes that created new mechanics, like the Bard that allowed players to create their own abilities, or the disciple with his martial arts healing.  All except the tanks.  The same trinity there too – good guy sword/board tank, nuetral dual-wielding tank, bad guy two handed tank.  Bleh.

And for my inspiration, I do return to the PnP RPG scene.  Hue is right about that.  Until DnD 4th came along and tried to put MMO’s on paper, it didn’t quite work that way.  You did have roles for the characters, but they were slightly different:  offense, control, support.

Warriors and Wizards were there to hammer things into submission.  Thieves and Bards were their to make sure that there were no surprises, and that the battlefield would favor the heroes.  And Clerics and Druids were there to make sure that your people did work better in a group than alone, and that they had less chance of dying in that group as well.

And enemies weren’t programmed to go after the person hitting them the hardest and the fastest.  They were controlled intelligently.  To go after the party where it was weakest.  To use its own control and support in groups.

So what if we get rid of aggro, get rid of taunts?  What if characters abilities are arrayed in those three categories, rated primary/secondary/tertiary.  And what if we get rid of the white hat/black hat paradigm in tanking?  What if there was no tank?

What if the guy at the front of your party was wearing robes and a pointy hat, surrounded by a forcefield, paired side by side with a gal in chain, wielding a spear or a short sword?  What would your new “tank” look like?

the new tank...

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