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I have warily watched the Dove True Beauty campaign as it is related to both my professional life, and my personal interests.
The campaign released this video recently: http://youtu.be/XpaOjMXyJGk
This merited a range of responses. Being that it came from a marketing-driven company, it is not surprising that it hit many marks dead on for moving results. Inevitably there are also detractors. I don’t think anyone is “wrong,” perhaps that will become more clear in context. I was trying to clarify the words to represent my thoughts, so I thought I would put it out on paper so I could share it with those interested/invested.
First, I want to put this out there as it is something missing from most commentaries you will read on, well, anything. Here is my bias, my philosophy, my current world view (always growing):
I am interested in the Truth. The capital ‘T’ is deliberate. I am interested in building awareness of what is, which for those of us who live in the world of the Mind (read: everyone in our modern culture) it means negotiating a lot of perception, belief, desire, and other mechanisms that offer to supplant reality with a derivative and illusory image. Within that line of thinking, here is where “self-esteem” falls for me: I would merit healthy behavior as being able to disrupt the thoughts that take us away from reality. Or put another way, the ability to use meta-awareness to recognize that the mind’s creations are not the things they were based upon. You will think your way away from reality. As I said, our culture is built on the Mind, and that is its tendency. Our “beauty” culture is a complex one, but the part most conscientious people are focused on these days is the impact of social interaction and the trumped up version of this that is the media we immerse ourselves in.
Media and people tell us that we are not responsible for our actions, and we are not the ultimate sources of our values. I agree with the typical social movement that says, “your self worth is not determined by the approval of others.” But I also differ when you look at the specifics. That social movement is usually followed with the subtextual statement that you determine your own self-worth, and that you should invest in self-valuation. I’ll say that, it is my assertion that no value is intrinsic, nothing has inherent value, it simply is what it is. Value is something that we impose on things, often related to what we see as the implications of a thing. Valuation is the action of creating an attractive or aversive relationship to a thing, in some degree. The “value” is a short-hand for all this, at best, and at worst it is a shortcut where we skip the consideration of the thing for what it is and skip to judgment (which we inherited from someone else). What we value highly is “good,” what we value poorly (or in inverse value) is “bad.”
In pursuit of Truth, I contend that:
1.) We are responsible for our own choices, and no one else. The choice may seem easy or hard, appealing or unappealing, and we are most inclined to say “I have no choice” when we find the least attractive choice the most appealing. But we are still the one to make the choice. That may not mean that every choice is available to you in every instance, with the results you want, but you will still be the one to make the choice.
2.) No thing, person, idea, situation, or discrete concept (illusory abstractions from what is) has inherent value. It is our choice to consider things for what they are and to inevitably impose value on them, detaching from the current unbiased reality in favor of judgment. I say ‘inevitably’ because as I said, it is the nature and habit of the mind.
So, let’s get to the campaign’s message, the video, and the responses to it.
Understand first, that Unilever is in the business of Beauty. Beauty is a value concept. Creating Beauty is creating Ugly. It is a relative collection of values and we socially determine what is “beautiful” and what is “ugly” (though we may not recognize that we are describing the inverse when we describe the one we are focusing on). Our culture has standards of Beauty, and many of them have been anthro’d onto “scientific truths” that some knowledgeable people really believe in. For example, we find men and women beautiful when they typify our cultural concept of masculinity and femininity, which in turn are clearly based on our selection of a mate (all of which explodes in a fiery wreck as soon as you consider non-cis gender)! Men with muscles are clearly good providers. Women with ample breasts and broad hips must be physiologically well-equipped to bear and nurture children. Whether or not there is truth in that is not my concern for our immediate interests. Rather, we have an elaborate concept of beauty that is only enforced by our pseudo-scientific study of our cultural development of the concept. It is because people believe it, and people believe it because it is.
One of the driving forces in the cultural advancement of the Beauty value and concept is the media representation. We are suffused with the sharing of information, and the media is the business of filling those channels with the “information people want.” They make money by doing that. Similarly, companies contribute to the media in the interest of doing their business. Unilever contributes to creating the cultural concept of Beauty and they also have to live up to the cultural concept of Beauty (or else their business suffers). In truth, this falls somewhere between the altruistic view and the very pejorative view that “they just want to sell us crap to make money.” I can speak from personal experience that, while it is inevitably a business that needs to make money to function, the root of the process is trying to make product that people value, usually not about trying to trick or convince people they need something that they don’t. (We don’t need anything, and it is our choice to buy it or not. Consider why you buy things.)
So to say that a company is in the business of Beauty, at least in Unilever’s sense, is to say that they are in the business of supplying the market with the concepts and tools that they believe are in the interest of “beauty.” The pejorative exists for a reason, of course. There are actions in media that encourage body image conflicts. Photoshopping models is a great example. We take the idolized “perfect form,” as if there was such a thing as one-size-fits-all, and use that as the template on which we attach all sorts of products. The subtextual message becoming, “see how beautiful she is? You want this product to work towards looking like her.”
I think the real danger that runs through all this is not the message, but the reception of the message and its subtext. The solution to facing media, of course, is to be able to digest what you see and make your own, informed choices. To endeavor to see the Truth through what is presented to you. As I said, in my view the message has no inherent positive or negative, it is only how you choose to respond to it. And for the sake of social activism, we are not concerned with people reaching a state of Zen/Tao perspective (neutral, unbiased), we are interested in the abstraction they live in. We are interested in unmaking the process that will lead to people living in conflict with themselves; hating their body, or feeling bad or unacceptable. We value social connections deeply (most people rely on them for even our most fundamental survival in our modern culture), and so we value our social acceptability. So social activism approaches two fronts: get the viewers to analyze and break down what they are told so they don’t take anything they’re exposed to blindly and get the people creating the media to evolve their representation to be less of a challenge for the viewers to do just that.
Amidst all of this, is the True Beauty campaign. Their slogan is “Beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety.” The campaign had its roots in market study, which is to say, Dove went and talked to a lot of women and discovered that we had/have become obsessed with an unattainable standard (see: photoshopping models, the people who are supposed to be the most presentable among us who can’t even live up to these standards). In other words, their focus is on the second part of the activism: to use their words, “to widen the definition of beauty.” Each year they have had a different discrete activity to try and do just that. First they tried to tackle some of the big targets of a perceived loss of beauty, things like wrinkles or weight (while not discriminating between being “over”-weight and having a heavier frame than the icon). Then they ran a series focused on showing how beautiful “real” women are, so called.
None of this is secret, it is spelled out here: http://www.dove.us/Social-Mission/campaign-for-real-beauty.aspx
The effort, on paper and in spirit, is a genuine attempt to take responsibility for the message delivered by Dove’s media. Of course, there are criticisms that follow that are well deserved. Dove was accused of photoshopping themselves (not familiar with the case), and who can miss that the same company is responsible for Axe and their standard “model” glorification in ads. I won’t make excuses for any of it. It does no service to the Dove campaign to try to tear down a good message because it is distantly and non-obviously related to a questionable one.
Let’s look at the video.
We have a sketch artist. A man who makes his living creating representations of people by verbal description. We have women coming in to describe themselves to the artist (who cannot see them, of course). We highlight the aspects that these women pick out about themselves. You can add the subtextual statement before each description they give, “when I look at my face, I see…” The participants had also been invited to get to know a stranger before the sketch. This stranger is then brought in to describe the person to the sketch artist. The women are then shown the two sketches side by side.
Notice: Through the entire first segment (women relating themselves) there are no judgment words. No one describes the features as good, bad, pretty, ugly, etc. It is purely descriptive; relatively descriptive, but descriptive. “My chin protrudes a bit,” “I have a fatter, rounder face,” “my mother told me I have a large jaw.” Also notice how on hearing this, and perhaps on reading their facial expressions, you may associate judgment. You may hear “fat” and think pejorative, or expect a pejorative implication. But none is offered for you by the video.
In the second segment we start to see judgment words arise. “Nice thin chin,” “nice eyes that lit up when she spoke,” “nice blue eyes,” as related by other women and men.
The final segment. The hook. The women are shown the two pictures side by side. We are shown the participants’ reactions first, without commentary. You can only read their expressions. We’re given select messages to suit the purpose of the ad. The tagline is, “You are more beautiful than you think.” The message: you are your own worst critic. Note that nowhere in the movie is anyone applying judgment in comparison. Nowhere is someone saying, “I think I’m ugly” and someone else says, “No, I think you are pretty, change your mind.” The tagline is not, “Other people think you are more beautiful than you do.” Ostensibly, these women were shown that they were judging themselves more harshly than others. It does not presume that either party is right, only that there is a difference in opinion.
Through these differing opinions, Dove wants to encourage you to question your own assessment. This is the message I got, and for that I appreciate the video.
That said, there are some critical responses. I think they come from reasonable and appropriate concerns. This is one particular seems to cover a lot of the elements I would expect in a level-headed and articulate fashion: http://jazzylittledrops.tumblr.com/post/48118645174/why-doves-real-beauty-sketches-video-makes-me
Let’s consider, remembering our own biases: “[in the first segment] they each briefly talked about their appearance, and how they wished they looked different.” But, unless Jazz saw a different video (which is entirely possible, though I can’t find another version) this did not happen. Nowhere in their descriptions did anyone assert that they wished for something different, not that we were shown.
Jazz’s first critique, an important one, is of Dove’s central philosophy for the campaign and that “widening” definition of beauty. Jazz contends that the construction of the ad is implying positives and negatives. Presumably, I think she means to say that when people are describing themselves, the descriptions they pick should be seen as implied as negatives, and descriptions of others should be perceived as being implied as positives. This may not be unfair, though I’m inclined to say it is more bias than the editing suggests. But let’s take her line and run with it.
Jazz’s interpretation: “When the participants described themselves, these were some of the things that were implied as negatives: fat, rounder face, freckles, fatter, 40— starting to get crows feet, moles, scars…”
Compared to the video: Younger-looking fair-skinned blonde woman, “my chin protrudes a bit, especially when I smile” (we’re shown a close-up of her eye). Blonde-highlighted fair-skinned middle-aged woman, “my mom told me I had a big jaw” (we’re shown a pursed lip, sideways look at a distance). 20-30 something darker-skinned woman (perhaps African descent?), “I have a fatter, rounder face” (shown her smiling as she says it, then rubbing her eye, head down). Younger darker-skinned woman, “The older I’ve gotten the more freckles I’ve gotten” (related with a more neutral one-sided facial expression, suggesting ambivalence). Younger-looking middle-aged fair-skinned sandy blonde woman, “I have a big forehead” (neutral expression, looking down, showing her forehead, perhaps? Or implying discomfort with what she shared?).
So let’s compare! This is a game of perception. What Jazz sees and what I describe as I pick through the video frame by frame are not the same. Who is right? No one. Different perspectives of the same thing. You, dear reader, can make up your own mind about whether or not you think the video is trying to sell any of these things as negatives or positives. For my part, I don’t see judgment. None of them use non-descriptive qualifiers (like “nice, good, pretty”), we’re shown, at most, ambivalence, reluctance, and less-fond memory-association (of a Mom). We’re even shown a smile when “fat and round” comes up. The framing (I think) is trying to belay that she doesn’t like it, but she’s ok pointing it out with humor. There is no mention of scars, wrinkles, moles, or age. If these things are apparent, they are such for the focus of the viewer, I think.
Jazz’s interpretation, second segment: “Whereas some of the implied positive descriptors used by others were: thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite), short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes.”
Again, from the video: 30 something, not fair-skinned, brown haired woman (describing second lady from above), “she was thin so you could see her cheekbones” (neutral expression and tone), “and her chin was a nice thin chin” (pursed lip smile with a nod to emphasize the period). Man #1 (honest question: are we concerned with the hair/eye/skin diversity of the men?) describing one of the women not in the first segment (at least the video editing suggests this, this is another brown-haired woman), “She had nice eyes, they lit up when she spoke” (neutral expression). Half-second clip of another woman describing someone, “Cute nose.” Man #2 describing someone, “Blue eyes, very nice blue eyes” (small natural smile).
Here, as I mentioned, we can see more implication of “positive” from the participants. They have added non-descriptive qualifiers (mostly “nice”). These qualifiers tell us not about the person but the perception of the person, which is to say the perceiver. So, when they say nice, we can infer that they are appreciating the thing they labeled “nice.” Again we can see some cracks, some words that were added in Jazz’s perception of the clip. She added “short” to “cute nose,” she added an extra thin face. These aren’t bad, or detractors from Jazz’s perspective. What they do show us is that we each view the same material within our bias.
We have a tendency to see what we look for, even if it isn’t what we expected going in. We can develop a specific line of thinking as we watch and digest the rest of the video from that.
Jazz’s takeaway, then, “So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes. If you’re fat or old… uh, maybe other people don’t think you look as fat and old as you do yourself?”
But are they? In adding scrutiny to the video, do you see any negative qualifiers thrown at any of the descriptions? We only see people noticing these attributes in themselves more readily than others do. We infer that they take them with some degree of negativity because that is what we understand from our own expectations which are partly informed by the media. (And beyond this, the video portrays several women who show signs of age without bias for the signs of age. While not the first featured, there are more non-blonde/blue/fair women than there are blonde/blue/fair. And let’s face it, what proportion of respondents do you expect to get in Southern Cali that are blonde-haired?)
Let’s look at the third segment where sketches are put side by side. Mostly we are given only the video of their reaction, moved in a way that we are inclined to believe is genuine, without commentary. The only person who actually is recorded analyzing describes the sketch generated with her help as “closed off, fatter, and sadder,” while the sketch made with the 3rd party’s help is “more friendly, open, and happy.” Participant reaction. Again, this tells us about her perception, her judgment, and not absent of her self-view. Her words suggest that she disapproves of “fatter.” The thing I would love to have seen is a mirror between the two pictures allowing the participant to compare their actual face to both. I would like to see how they felt each sketch differed from the real face. That would gauge not just that one bias is different from the other, but to see how both differ from the real (and of course, constrained through explanation to a third party). The purpose of the video, again and of course, is not to suggest that either has the correct or important view, it is only to point out that they are different. The participants and we viewers all take our own logical step, because we all come from the same culture. We know that we are harsh critics of ourselves (men and women). If we are harsh and others don’t agree, then maybe we are too harsh, because after all, we are harsh in the interest of representing ourselves to others as best we can. So, this is not necessarily moving the emphasis to external approval, but instead using external reference to temper our own perspective. The power in the gesture is that the perceptions of others is the root of our standard for our own appearance, even if it isn’t the photoshopped models, and if we are harsher than our target audience, maybe we go too far.
Very much worth highlighting, and a point I cannot argue with, is one of the central issues of social activism for women. As Jazz puts it, “the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty. Brave, strong, smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful. And “beautiful” means something very specific, and very physical.”
Women in the grand cultural view are emphasized first on beauty. This is something that could do with a tremendous amount of leveling off. Why do I say “leveling off” and not removal? We’re back to my bias. Measuring anyone, man or woman, on their strength (men’s first emphasis), standard of appearance, intelligence, creativity, and on and on, is arbitrary. We are each unique. Truly. Not all blonde women are the same. Not all [insert descriptor] [insert demographic] are the same. Being smart is not an absolute measure of quality any more than beauty or age or strength or anything else. We each have our own elements. Some of them are more or less fixed (shy of surgery or prosthesis, you will not change your eye color), some of them are organic and can be grown, like intelligence, creativity, and some aspects of our concept of beauty. My point is that they are all arbitrary measurements.
You can pick on the Dove campaign because it has chosen only one aspect of social activism instead of trying to tackle them all at once (I’d like to see anyone manage that, frankly). But really you are only pointing out that Dove has a specific interest, area of expertise, and only sought to tackle one thing that they thought they might be able to. That they focus on beauty does not imply that the other issues are not important. That we, as a culture, have filled our media with woman+beauty messages is the thing that needs tackling and balancing. Focusing on one positive, albeit very focused, message for shifting cultural mindset is still focusing on shifting that mindset for the healthier. Rather than faulting them for making that shift, I think it is more valuable to say, “and then…” to support the rest (or just another) aspect of the bigger picture.
This is not about video games, at least no more than anything else is.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
- Arthur C. Clarke, “Clarke’s Third Law”
Thoughts have been percolating, and the page, she hugs me! Some people live their lives in a world of magic. Wonder lies around every corner, and things we don’t understand are miraculous, unopened doors could hide some deep secret of life. Others are far more pragmatic; all that matters is what is solid, concrete, provable, and dependable.
Of course, most of us live somewhere in the middle, but I think there are both great values and tricky pitfalls that come with this most pervasive element: Magic.
To distinguish between the two sides of this concept, I will call them by two different names: Magic and Mysticism.
Mysticism is the application of magical thinking to the unknown in such a way as to suggest, “what is not known is not known for a reason and *cannot* be known, [at least not reasonably, if at all].”
Why does the Sun rise in the East and set in the West? There was a time when the movement of the Sun was attributed to a god driving a chariot to pull such a mighty and powerful celestial body across the sky. At the same time it was common knowledge that the world was flat.
The former is not something that could remotely be proven or disproven, it wasn’t remotely attainable for someone to travel to the Sun and find this god. However, that didn’t stop entire cultures from worshiping this god with the unshakable faith that he was there and doing his job. After all, the Sun did make its journey every day, very reliably!
The latter, however, was absolutely provable, and it was eventually disproven when someone took the task of sailing to the end of it, and was actually able to return and explain that there were more things. Eventually someone even got far enough to double-back! The paradigm was shattered. No great lip over which you would fall into the void. No monstrous sea serpents that would devour your entire boat (well, not that common an occurrence anyway). The question is, however, would the common person ever imagine that it is worthwhile to travel to the edge of the world? What’s the point? We all know the world is flat, you would only find your death!
Mysticism is applied by a great many people around the world as a way of cutting off mental advancement. It is willingly employed by some, but casually employed by most people. It is the moment at which you say or consider that anything is discontinuous, unreachable, or incomprehensible to we mere humans. It is simultaneously recognizing that you do not, but affixing something with a name that lets you feel like study has concluded. Go on about your business.
Mysticism is a tool used to create the moment at which we throttle our desire to learn and grow.
Many people are diminutively referred to as employing “magical thinking” when they describe things that they don’t directly understand. Instead of showing us the proof, they describe a behavior and say, “I don’t get how it happens, but isn’t that cool?!”
The world, in fact, is full of things which we do not truly understand. Science is the act of creating an ordered system of our “best guess, so far” understanding. Confusing the “laws and rules” of science for the Truth of the world are giving them more weight than any scientific philosopher would. There are a lot of things that we do not even have a functioning theory for. Some of these things are amazing and hard to comprehend, and they are like that mysterious door: holding a realm of possibilities.
Magical thinking is the recognition that anything could be possible, we simply haven’t figured out *how* yet. It is an acceptance of the state of realizing that there are doors you haven’t even found yet, and many doors you have found but have not opened.
I was trying to explain to a (not-blood) little sister of mine why I love Science Fiction, as it was an interest we shared and neither of us could say exactly what was so appealing about it. The thing I realized was this: anything you can imagine you can write into a Science Fiction story. This far-reaching imagination is not frivolity, but a sort of long-range search. We are looking for the things that could be, and inspiring people to look for the doors to reach those places. We are building the sense of magic in the world.
Here is the power of Magical Thinking vs Mysticism:
Unknowable, impossible, unattainable. These are barriers to intentional discovery. By setting this as an impassible wall, you set a limit to your thinking. You will not approach that wall at break-neck speed if you believe it is unbreakable. Here you will terminally suffer Zeno’s Paradox. This thinking will actively or subversively limit what you can and will accomplish (on purpose, science still advances with the great “Oopses”).
Anything is possible. Thinking this will not *make* anything happen, nor will it miraculously materialize things that you do not understand. However, it leaves the mind open to possibility. There are no true boundaries that you respect, consciously or subconsciously. Embracing this mentality opens you to finding and opening any door, flush with the wonder of a child that *anything* could be on the other side.
“I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about…”
- Patricia Pelesco, An Enchanted Life: An Adept’s Guide to Masterful Magick
I do not have OCD (stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). I think it is generally an over-used term, but I am as guilty of that as anyone in describing things I do. There is a crucial difference between what I do and what Obsessive-Compulsives feel compelled to do. I perform ritualistic checks to check myself to be sure I don’t slip into that territory. What I do, I do by choice, by preference, and by desire, and I feel no serious anxiety if I do not do them.
<<Step into my stream of consciousness. You might want to wear your waders. You’ve been warned.>>
Let’s start at the big picture. If this starts too big, just smile and nod, but it is important to know where I’m coming from to understand the more acute manifestations
Everything that *is* is continuous, connected, and related. Any change is a ripple across the pond. Nothing is unaffected by anything else, it is only a matter of perspective and discernment that dictates how we measure the relative impact for personal significance.
Everything is in a continual flux, an ebb and flow, and a constant exchange. In short, the only thing that is static is change.
As everything moves in concert, patterns are created and rearranged continuously. Consider the sand on a beach. The oceans shift on massive scale under the effect of the movement of the moon. As the waves (relatively small pattern in the massive movement) move the sand on the beach, it is organized and reorganized into rippling patterns. These are consistent but ever changing and always unique. The pattern is always formed, though. Always.
We are a part of this movement. Within our physical body is our physical mind, which borders on the ethereal. The mind is still very much in the physical world, though, and still flows with the patterns of the rest of physical existence.
The things we surround ourselves with are not products of nature directly, but creations of our mind. They are products, by-products, and constructs that we use to allow our mind to process the day-to-day, to create consistency. These things range from something as simple and immediate as our kitchen table, to as far-reaching and cooperative as culture and society.
Consider the things you count as your own. I will assume you believe in possession, it’s easier that way, and perhaps a safe bet with many. So consider the things you own. Take your place of shelter, your house, apartment, condo, estate, car, or cardboard box. Within that space you keep your “stuff” (if you don’t hear George Carlin saying that word, I highly recommend you YouTube “George Carlin Stuff” now).
So, recall. The moon moves the oceans which creates tides and waves, which in turn leave patterns in the sand, which we then observe with our eyes, and the pattern propagates through our mind and into our body and our life. A snippet of a long-reaching flow.
Your space is organized by your mind, as it is manipulated by your physical body. The manner in which you keep your *stuff* is a product of the ebb and flow of your mind.
I look for the patterns. I recognize patterns, in the world, and in people. Patterns of the mind are a hobby of mine. Not the least of my subjects is, naturally, myself.
The thing I have come to appreciate is that the flow is never in one direction. The patterns you create are products of your mind *BUT* the patterns you create and surround yourself with have a resulting wash on your mind, and everything connected to your mind. Yes. Backtrack, your mind is connected to EVERYTHING. Of course, for personal import, it is sufficient to stop at your mind for initial consideration.
The manner in which you keep your space sets a pattern in your mind and in your very being.
I see patterns. I create patterns. I organize the things I keep around me to match the patterns of my mind. Creating conscious order feeds a harmony to my consciousness. Ordering the things I deal with into these patterns (or close to them) sings, tones, harmonies.
I do not put the glasses in an ordered matrix in the cupboard because I need to have it that way or I feel bad. I put them that way because it feels harmonious. I trace patterns in the sand that dance with the waves, and I become in tune with the moon.
What do you feed your mind with the spaces you inhabit?
Here are your options:
1.) Get a $20
2.) Have a finger severed without anesthesia.
3.) Get $5
Make your choice. What will it be? If you aren’t a severe sadist or suffer from a dysmorphic condition, you peak an eyebrow and pick #1 without much thought. Why? It is not a hard choice, it is not a complicated choice, and it has an obvious answer.
Choice is the characteristic element most fundamental to the Role-playing game archetype. Consider, going to the most traditional and universal definitions, each game type has its characteristics. In a racing-type game you get behind the wheel/bars of a car, truck, or motorcycle and race around a course, perhaps to beat computer opponents, or your own time. In a shooter-type game you pick up your gun/laser/blaster and proceed to shoot things, repel the aliens, etc. In a sport game, well, you play the relevant sport.
Role-playing games (RPG) are all about choice. You create your character, the role you will play, choosing appearance, skills, and style. The gameplay revolves (ideally) around the choices you make where you will shape the course of the story. Your character develops over time and you choose how they grow.
Over time, the choice element has become increasingly popular among game designers of all genres as they recognize that players *like* being able to make these personal touches. In modern games you find a blending of this traditional RPG element with the other styles. When you play a First-person shooter (FPS), you choose the appearance of your character, the gear they carry, and even choose special skills and perks. When you play a racing game you choose not just the color of your car but modifications to the working systems to change how the car drives. In sports games you can choose an existing team or player, or create your own character with unique skills and style.
We eat up the opportunity to make choices and affect the way the game plays out. But choice itself is not enough. As the developers grow smarter, so do the consumers.
So what is “meaningful” choice? Well, consider the options above. You are given three paths to take, one of which involves serious bodily harm and pain. Most people will want to avoid that. The alternatives are not painful and actually involve a cash reward, which many people *do* want. So, #2 is not an appealing choice, not one that most people will even consider against the other options. So, you still have #1 and #3 though, right? Well, if you value money and you believe that more is better, why would you take the $5 bill over the $20? It is a choice, but it isn’t a comparable option. So despite having three apparent options, you really only have one thing that the majority of your players will choose. This is not a choice to consider, it is the illusion of choice. Remember the immortal words of Eddie Izzard, “Cake or Death!” Well, I’ll have cake please. Not much of a choice!
Sometimes the choice may not be as simple as a numbers game. Sometimes the choice is an opportunity to play your role, to express your character. Perhaps the choice is instead to take the $20 for yourself, or refuse to accept the reward from the poor family. These are character defining moments, rather than routes of advancement (though we add moral systems to monetize our “good” choices). These are also characteristic of the RPG genre, and can be very important to some players.
The second dynamic of a “meaningful” choice is a choice that has an impact, that changes the game, the world, or has some significance to the player. Let’s say you are a Noble Knight in a Mythical Kingdom. You come across a damsel-in-distress who has been cornered by a dragon! You charge boldly forward and free the damsel from the dragon’s clutches. Now you are faced with a dilemma: Do you go to face and slay the dragon, or do you take your damsel and flee for safety? What are the ramifications? Well, as a brave knight we want the choice to matter, yes? If you flee for your safety, perhaps the dragon flies off and burns down the nearby town! If you stay and fight, perhaps your victory will earn you treasure! Imagine, though, if neither of these is the case. If you fight and kill the dragon you receive nothing, and no one notices. If you flee and leave the dragon he simply sits in his cave, twiddles his thumbs, and you never hear from him again. What fun is that? The choice has no significance.
No One Likes An Inconsequential Dragon
So, to have a “meaningful” choice, we want two elements:
1.) Choices that actually take consideration or give us an opportunity to define our character.
2.) A choice that has a meaningful impact on the world, game, or story.
If you take these elements away, you are left with no more guidance than whim and no more reward than you imagine in your own mind. Racing, sports, and shooter games can reward the player with nothing more than satisfaction at skillful execution of objectives. I beat my fastest time, I scored higher than the other team, I killed them more than they killed me. To really satisfy on a higher level, especially in an RPG, the player is engaged and satisfied by the choices they make. If the choices aren’t meaningful, they don’t register as choices at all, just hoops we are made to jump through without an opportunity to express ourselves.
Why yes, I do have examples!
Take a modern-becoming-classic role-playing mechanic for character development: Talents! Also called skills, perks, specializations, etc, this is the place where you can spend points gained while leveling to enhance your abilities and make your Knight unique and shiny from other Knights. Perhaps you are more skilled at using a mace than a sword, perhaps you are very well practiced at blocking. Perhaps you ride the fastest horse.
The traditional incarnation of this system is a tree. It is built on a simple philosophy: investing in developing similar skills will grant you access to more powerful skills of that type. This is meant to give a time/practice-invested concept in a game that doesn’t want to measure sword swings. If you want to be better at swords, you would take points in a simple benefit to swords, representing practice with the weapon, and when you’ve spent enough points you will game access to higher portions of the tree that give more/different/better sword benefits.
Let’s use World of Warcraft as an example. The original model that was advanced into the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was a 5 points per tier, 51 point deep trees, 3 trees per class, and 71 points to spend. The 51st point spent would gain you a special, iconic ability for that tree incentivizing you to invest to the very top/bottom of that tree, which would necessarily be at the expense of putting more points into one of the other two trees. Choosing one talent over another would shape the way your character plays, the abilities you use, and grant you new abilities to use. Great, right? Sounds like meaty choices, and so many!
The critical failings were fairly straight forward. The abilities in a tier needed to be balanced against each other. If one was significantly more powerful, you would choose that instead of the other. If you needed to take more points to reach a higher tier, you would take the most appealing talents, and skip any you didn’t need/want. This is not a choice, this is the appearance of a choice, this is a $20 bill or a $5 bill. If you have to take a $20 and two $5′s, so be it, you’ll take the $20 first, grab the $5′s and ultimately feel like you gained nothing other than walking a path set by the game.
Another problem is that of passive elements that have no impact on how the player plays the game. Getting a passive buff to all sword damage or a passive increase to sword swinging speed is a lukewarm difference. If there are no cooperating elements, it is like the inconsequential dragon, kill him or don’t, no one will care or notice, potentially even the player.
The WoW developers noted this issue and committed themselves to improving. The third expansion of the game, Cataclysm, brought a new shift. While the structure remained the same with 5 points per tier, the trees shrunk to 31 points deep, and many of the passive, obvious choices were pared out and given as default elements or were re-balanced out of requirement. They admitted that this was just an intermediate step in the direction they wanted to go, an easy temporary fix that didn’t segue too abruptly from the previous system. Part of the down-side of the new system is that you only got one point to spend every other level, instead of every level, cutting your opportunities to make choices in half. Now, the intelligent observer noted that the at least half of the previous choices were non-choices anyway, but if you are only looking at the number of opportunities to choose, you feel robbed. As intended, this was a step in a good direction. Many no frills, no significance, and no-duh choices were removed, but a central problem remained: the choices were still not much by way of choices.
Issues remain. To keep talent trees comprehensible to the gamer you can only have so many options on any given tier of talents. To keep the style distinct and balanced, these choices were fairly focused. Generally, the choices were still not really choices. You would take everything you could, and only a select few points out of your 41 opportunities would actually change from player to player. If you get to pick between a new $5 bill and an old $5 bill, you feel like you *can* make either choice, but does anyone really care which you take? Do you, beyond excitement at the opportunity to make a choice that isn’t obvious? Some of these “swing” choices would impact gameplay, many would not.
To Blizzard’s credit, they made a real step forward in their designs for the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. They removed all the obvious choices and embedded them in an early choice of what flavor of your class you wish to be. Picking your style gives you all the necessary tools and perks. With all that pared away, all that was left was 6 tiers of meaningful choices. Every 15 levels you get to pick one of three options. No option is always obviously superior to the other two, but the choice has an impact on how you play and the value you can bring as a character. This is a solid embodiment of meaningful choice.
The problem here is not in meeting meaningful choice, but in how bare we are stripped. For those who were not aware of these distinctions before, consider the process. In the first form of the game, you had 51 opportunities for choice, one each level from level 10 to 60. The the second form of the game? 10 more choices! Third form? Another 10, bringing the grand total to 71 choices! That’s a whole lot of choice, right? Well, when we apply the above-developed critical eye, we start to question that.
Take surveys from the Armory representing every player in North America playing WoW at the time. Pick any class and you will see a single spec/style for each tree representing 92-95% of the population playing that class and spec. This may represent some degree of sheep-esque following, but it demonstrates how little actual choice there is. The talents left a single, intelligent route to take, and most deviations from that were either a small loss of effectiveness in the most general of measurements (damage per second, say), or at worst a more significant loss in functionality. This is not choice. This is 71 opportunities to take a $20 instead of a $5, don’t screw it up! The step into Cataclysm changed things, but not entirely. Still you will find that 31-41 points of each class and spec will be still consistent for the majority of players. That said, you might find that the last 10 points will vary across players and that there isn’t a set, obvious answer. This is something, it is hardly the ideal, but something.
Now with the Mists of Pandaria design, we are given 6 choices. The choice is never written in stone, it is personal and will change the way you use your abilities and interact with your group in the game. This is the ideal. The intellectual mind finds something not so thrilling here, though. “We’ve come from 71 choices, no matter how little *choice* there was, and are left with 6?! We’ve lost so much!” Well, we know we haven’t lost much; at best, and this is a stretch, we’ve lost 4 choices (from those 10 swing points). Realistically speaking though, those 10 points where never as meaningful in sum as any one of these choices is by itself.
The one problem I see with this new system? The reality has been laid bare. In Wrath of the Lich King we had 71 non-choices. If there were 6 real choices in there, most people wouldn’t notice the difference. They actually put a point in their tree every level. With Mists of Pandaria, there are no more illusions: 6 choices (7 counting your spec) is all you get, and you only do it once in a long interval. Really, it is not the change, but the confrontation of reality. We want more choices. If we’re now being honest that we didn’t have many choices before, we want *more* choices now!
WoW is not the only act out there. Let’s peak at the recent past and the near future in other games, with an eye for the same shared character mechanic.
Rift stirred some measure of popularity, and there was plenty of movement from people who didn’t want something new, they wanted a shiny skin on the thing they’d known for years. That is what they got. The classic problems persisted. The game gives you talent trees 31 points deep, 5 points per tier. For added flare you get to pick 3 trees out of 8 possible for your class. Mathletes say, “Oh, the permutations!” Sadly, reality slims down those permutations for practical consideration. Ultimately, harvested statistics show 2 or 3 builds (combining 3 trees) per class, of which there are only 4 parent classes. And again, like the classical WoW talents, there really isn’t much choice in the trees, there are obligatory spending options from bottom to top. You will choose which talent to start with, sometimes, but that significance will vanish in a couple levels, just like WoW and like every game before it.
Star Wars: The Old Republic, a very exciting new contribution to the field, is sadly *not* an exemplar in this respect. The talent trees again are 41 points spent on 3-sets of trees, 31 points deep. As much as ever, there are no real choices to make, you are simply going through the motions of filling out the tree corresponding to the role you want.
SW: TOR, however, deserves an honorable mention when we’re discussing choice. Where they *do* embody the ideal is in the story-telling and character gameplay. A first in the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) incarnation of the RPG genre, you are able to express your character in the game world in a meaningful way. Instead of simply accepting and declining activities, you speak in the game world and pick between dialogue options. The result is a remarkable sense that who your character is matters; and the reason it feels that way? You choose what to say. Time will likely make it plain that the dialogue options are limited and really it is a black and white choice, but white or black is a meaningful choice, and for the time being, it is a new and ever-present choice that we get to revel in!
Guild Wars 2 offers new promise. While we haven’t seen the character development options, the game designers have been patently clear about their plans for the world. They have an express understanding of the ideal of “meaningful” regardless of how well it comes out in the end. Their goal? Your actions matter to the world. Kill the dragon and save the village, but perhaps that also creates a power vacuum for something else to become a threat. Don’t kill the dragon and the village is burned, and you may get the opportunity to help them rebuild. Practically we understand there is a limit to how far they can take this. The more the world can swing the programming required scales exponentially. It must be able to swing in both directions, or you run out of change. The repetition of swinging back and forth might then cheapen the feeling of consequences. But I think it is still exciting to see developers *trying* reach that ideal.
TL;DR Edition of Meaningful Choice Math
The following attempts to sum up meaningful choices in character gameplay and development. This is a lot easier than trying to sum non-character-centric choices when playing the game. Though SW:TOR will win that tally, hands-down.
Vanilla WoW = 53 choices (race, class, talent points) = 4 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, tree/role)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 4 races (per faction), 8 classes (1 exclusive to each faction, limited to 2-5 per race)
Burning Crusade WoW = 63 choices (race, class, talent points) = 4 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, tree/role)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 5 races (5 per faction), 9 classes (none exclusive, 2-5 per race)
Wrath of the Lich King WoW = 74 choices (race, class, talent points, role) = 4-5 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, role, tree)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 5 races (per faction), 10 classes (none exclusive, 3-6 per race), dual specs allows for multiple roles to be played at any given time* (*late in the expansion)
Cataclysm WoW = 45 choices (race, class, spec, talents, role) = 4-8 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, role, tree, swing talents)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 6 races (per faction), 10 classes (none exclusive, 4-8 per race), spec choice locks you to a tree and gives you style-specific moves/perks, final ~10 talent points can go between 4-8 different options, multiple specs allow you to change your role to suit your need
Mists of Pandaria WoW = 11 choices (faction, race, class, spec, talents, role) = 11 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, spec, talents, role)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 7 races (per faction), 11 classes (none exclusive, 5-9 per race), spec determines your abilities and perks/style, each talent has an impact on what you can do and how you play, dual specs still allow you to choose your role and change that choice over time
Rift = 73-76 choices (faction, race, class, trees, talent points, role) = 6-8 meaningful choices (faction, race, class, role, build)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 4 races (per faction), 4 classes, 8 trees (3 at a time) but will usually be grouped predictably into 3-5 practical combinations, 2-3 with equitable performance, multiple builds allow for any role to be filled that the class is capable of
Star Wars: Old Republic = 46 choices (faction, class, race, advanced class, role, talents) = 6 meaningful choices (faction, class, race, advanced class, role, tree)
Meaningful Choice Options: 2 factions, 4 classes (per faction), 5 races (per class), 2 advance classes (per class), 3 trees per class, each capable of one role
In order to start this off properly, I want to explain my personal lingo to make sure we are all on the same page. I will generally refer to 3 sorts of skills:
With the advent of Cataclysm and the increased depth and team play required to successfully complete instances, it has become a powerful force for highlighting skill at playing the game. Even groups with people who appear to play their character’s/class’ abilities well suddenly struggle with an instance because they are not playing the *game* well.
For my first pass I want to break these meta skills down by role, in the 4 major roles: Tank, Healer, Melee Damage, and Ranged Damage (Hunters and Casters). I’ll include some references to cross-over issues as well like Leadership (it often defers to tanks, but it can be done by anyone), Social Interaction, and Pet Management (most Pet classes are ranged, but Unholy Death Knights will still find this interesting).
Also, to help with common game lingo in case you aren’t familiar, here are some common terms that I use, or that you will hear in the game:
Spec = Specialization, the talent tree you selected for your primary talent points.
Mob = developer short-hand for “movable obstruction” but more commonly used as a short-hand for monsters and computer controlled enemies (non-monstrous types may also be referred to as “NPCs”).
Tank = a special role within the group dynamic that focuses on capturing the enemies attention and taking their attacks while the group kills them. Usually, the tank will focus on survival and “threat” over damage. The tanking specs currently are Protection Warriors and Paladins, Blood Death Knights, and Feral Druids who have taken the survivability and Bear Form-buffing talents. Other specs may be capable of tanking in a limited fashion, but this will be rare at higher levels.
Heals/Healer = a special role that focuses on keeping the party alive. They will sacrifice the ability to do as much damage in favor of being able to more efficiently heal their party, and principally keep the tank alive. The current healing specs are Holy and Discipline Priests, Restoration Druids and Shamans, and Holy Paladins. These classes and others will retain abilities to allow them to heal themselves and others without a healing spec, but these will be less effective without talents, and so at higher levels these healing abilities will often be considered secondary skills.
Damage Dealers/DPS = a special role focused on doing damage. DPS is short-hand for damage per second, but is used to denote both the rate of your damage *and* the special role or people filling it. This will make up the largest proportion of most of your group activities, with roughly 1 tank and healer per 3 dps, up to 1 tank per 2-3 healers and per 6-7 damage dealers at the largest group size.
Proc = short for “process,” this is usually used to name a passive ability that can trigger from other actions you take. For example, if you had a chance when you used the Arcane Shot ability for the enemy to take increased damage, you would say that Arcane Shot “proc’d” the debuff on the target. Or, if you have a trinket that has a chance to give you a buff when you cast a spell, you would say the trinket proc’d when it triggered.
Threat = this is a system built into the game. Enemies will receive threat from each player’s character when the character does damage to that opponent or heals one of their friends who are in combat with the enemy. Enemy creatures will use this threat to determine who they should be attacking.
Aggro = short for aggression or aggressive attention. This is usually used to refer to having or attaining the attention of an enemy. It may also be said as “pulling threat” on the target.
Pull = often used as either a verb or noun. As a verb it is used to describe the action of picking up a new target. As a noun, it is used to describe a group of opponents who will all engage together if you attack any one of them.
CC or Crowd Control = these are abilities that affect your enemies. They may include incapacitation, movement impairing effects, or other sorts of status effects, but the key concept is that the enemy is removed or reduced in effectiveness so your group does not have to worry about them for a time.
Adds = short for “additional enemies.” This is used to refer to any opponents who join the fight later on, either from an accidental or additional group, or as spawned by one of your enemies.
Pat = short for “patrol.” Used to describe enemies who walk around a pre-determined route.
Cooldown = some spells and abilities have a blackout period after use where they cannot be used again. This is called a “cooldown” period. Some abilities are actually referred to as “cooldowns” if they have a short active window and a long blackout period afterwards.
Trash = a common short-hand for the non-boss enemies you find between boss encounters in instances. These fights are usually less strenuous than boss fights, and are considered by some to just be filler.
Leadership Meta Skills
This section will always be pertinent to your group, though it will be a variable as to who serves as the leader. Typically, if there isn’t someone assertive (and sometimes even if there is), this job will be expected of the tank. That said, it does not *have* to be the tank, but the tank is often the easy choice for the nature of their job. The tank is the first person into a fight and will care most in what order things are attacked. There is no reason this job cannot be done by anyone else, but it is ideal that someone does take the leadership reins to make sure that the group is coordinated and acting as a whole, instead of a collection of individuals doing what they please.
Target Assessment – Kill/Manage Priority – Marking
Every time you face a new pull, encounter, or group of opponents, you will need to size them up and handle them carefully. If you simply race into the pull blindly, often enough, when things explode and fall apart you may not have a clear idea of how you can improve or what you can do differently. Worse are the pulls where you don’t fail outright, but pull it out by the skin of your teeth. If you do not learn from your encounters you will simply always struggle through and instances will be a far more stressful ordeal than they need to be.
Fights have sufficient risk in the current climate, and take long enough, that it is well worth your while to take a moment or two to plan/prepare and coordinate. This is exceptionally the case if you or any member of the group has not fought this enemy before. Do not assume that just because you *have* done it that your group will know what to do without asking.
“That’s all well and good,” you say, “but how do *I* know what to do when I’m leading the group; Especially if I have not done the pull before?!” I’m glad you asked!
1.) Identify your tools!
Every class and spec comes with its own set of tools that they can offer to the group, in 3 major forms: Active Class skills (the buttons you press to fill your role), Passive Buffs (Applied, Auras, and Short-term maintained buffs and debuffs to improve your group and weaken your enemies), and Secondary/Control abilities (spells that incapacitate, immobilize, slow, confuse, stun, and interrupt your enemies to reduce or limit their effectiveness).
Primary class skills will be the province of each member. You do not *need* to know them beyond any secondary significance such as Control/Debuffs that may be offered through the course of them just doing their normal routine.
Buffs and Debuffs will usually be applied ahead of time. There is a fairly short list of group buffs, and many listings of who can provide those abilities. Debuffs are frequently applied through abilities, but sometimes involve using non-central abilities. If you take a minute at the beginning of an instance you can potentially improve your group’s effectiveness, which can actually save appreciable amounts of time later on. At very least, you can more than gain back the few moments spent making sure everyone knows what buffs they are responsible for providing. There are convenient addons that can track what buffs and debuffs your group can offer, personally I use “Raid Comp.”
Every class and spec has Secondary and Control abilities of varying use and value. I won’t list them all completely as there are a great many, but I will highlight the categories for reference later:
Full Control Abilities = these abilities will completely take the target out of the action for a longer duration (20-50 sec), these include a Mage’s Sheep (Polymorph), Shaman’s Hex (Froggy), Shaman’s Bind Elemental, Priest’s Shackle Undead, etc. These abilities vary in sensitivity; Some will break to any damage, others can take a little hurt without breaking free completely.
Quick Control Abilities = these abilities will take the target(s) out of action for a short duration, but can be more robust for their short duration. These abilities include a Druid’s Cyclone, Warlock’s Fear, Paladin’s Hammer of Justice, Frost Death Knight’s Hungering Cold, Warrior’s Intimidating Shout, and Priest’s Psychic Scream. Some of these abilities can be chained, but their shorter durations can make that less ideal for long-term control.
Movement Impairing Abilities = these abilities will root (stop movement) or snare (slow movement) opponents without otherwise incapacitating them. These abilities are important for settling chaotic situations so people can set up longer-term solutions, or for handling more complex scenarios like “kiting” opponents (luring the opponent around while staying out of reach). Roots tend to be very sensitive to damage and/or very short in duration, while snares are usually very robust. These abilities include Mage’s Frost Nova (root) and Chill effect (snare), Hunter’s Frost Trap (snare zone) and Concussive Shot (targeted snare), and Shaman’s Earthbind Totem (snare, Elemental can talent for a short root as well).
Interrupts = these abilities will stop the cast of an opponent’s harmful spell/ability. Typically only spell-type abilities can be interrupted, while physical abilities that have a “cast” preparation time cannot, though there are exceptions. If a spell can be interrupted it is often well worth your while to do so. Many class-specs will be able to interrupt without interrupting their own actions to do so, particularly melee classes. Almost every class-spec has a form of traditional interrupt with a cooldown period between 6 and 40 seconds. The exceptions are: Discipline Priests, Restoration Druids, Beast Mastery and Survival Hunters (though certain pets are capable of interrupting), Holy Paladins, and Warlocks not using the Felhunter pet. These class-specs may have an ability that can effectively interrupt, provided the target is not immune to the true nature of the ability (for example, Holy Paladins can use Hammer of Justice to stun the target, but if the target is immune to stun it will not stop the ability from casting).
Identify the abilities your group has, and keep them in memory when it comes time to deciding how you want to manage each pull. It can be better to err on the side of coverage and have multiple people trying to do the job, than put all your eggs in one basket.
2.) Identify your opponents!
Even if you have never done a fight before, you can often tell by the names, appearances, and presentation of your opponents what sort of part they will play. For ease of comprehension, until you start become familiar, let’s create some archetypes to identify. Blizzard uses classic concepts as well as class-based concepts. Most mobs in the game will follow fairly predictable roles, though they will sometimes mix and match.
Type 1 = The Grunt
Grunts are the rank-and-file, simple, no-frills fighters. They are largely filler, something to give you multiple targets to pay attention to without having too much concern about what they do. They will not be a major concern, and often enough may be low priority for controlling or killing.
Type 2 = The Bruiser
The Bruiser will stand out because you will not encounter more than one or two at a time or in a group, and they will usually be noticeably bigger, meaner looking, or possibly be shackled/controlled/”buffed” by the staging of the group. Bruisers are often resistant to control abilities, which means they are usually higher priority targets for killing for their increased threat to the tank. In other circumstances, when you have higher priority targets, the healer will simply have to be ready to heal the tank more heavily.
Type 3 = The Healer
There are a variety of healer types, and often they will carry obvious names, sometimes as obvious as “<blank> Healer.” These mobs will have the direct ability to restore health to your enemies. Usually, if there is such an enemy present, their heal will be significant enough that you will want to be sure to avoid that healing; where that healing will be far greater than the damage you would cause in the time it takes to stop and interrupt or otherwise avert their healing. Usually, “avoiding” the healing will simply be a matter of interrupting a cast, but sometimes it will involve dispelling a buff (HoT or self-regen buff) and possibly mitigating a heal with healing reduction abilities like Mortal Strike. If there is a single healer and no other particularly dangerous opponents, it can be easy to simply focus and kill the healer first. If there are any other dangerous opponents (particularly ones that are immune to control), it may be equally worthwhile to control the healer and focus on the other risks first.
Type 4 = The Mage
I use the term “mage” in the general sense, more than the class-specific sense. They may shoot fire, frost, shadow, holy, or nature bolts (or something else altogether), but they are offensive spell casters, and they will often hurt. Tanks have heavy tools to handle physical attacks, but limited abilities to counter spells. This means these targets will usually be focused for control and/or interruption to reduce the threat to the group. Note: there are a distinct sub-set of the mage type that will ignore traditional threat and will pick enemy targets at random, these are usually the heaviest wear on the healers and will be high priority for control. Mage-types will also present a positioning challenge for tanks (see below) so interrupts will be key even if they are only to make sure the enemy moves to where you want them to be. Learning Line-of-sight (LoS, see tank section) tactics will also be valuable against these opponents.
Type 5 = The Controller
Controllers are mobs who specialize in trying to control and restrict the players. The mob itself is rarely as big a concern as their spells. Some will attempt to control your group members (Hex/Sheep/Fear/Mind Control) and some will apply damaging or performance reducing debuffs. These will be easy targets to prioritize for long control while you kill the rest of their groups, and are rarely high priority for killing unless they are immune to control.
Type 6 = The Swarm
Swarmers are always present in high numbers. Any individual in the pack will not be very dangerous, but when there is a large number of them, the damage adds up and can become a threat for survival and a challenge for the tank to gather their attention. These are rarely controlled because taking one or two out of the swarm will have little effect, but some abilities can be very useful for handling them should you choose to try. Mage’s Ring of Frost, Frost Death Knight’s Hungering Cold, and Warrior/Priest AoE Fears can be important for occupying those targets while you focus on another part of the pull (like a pack master who directs the swarm). Be wary of the “pack master” scenario, staged as a single humanoid who has a collection of pets, as they have a tendency to direct the swarm with no traditional threat behavior.
Type 7 = The Boss
This may literally be a dungeon or raid boss, or it may be a mini-boss of sorts. The boss-type is a larger version of one of the first 5 types, is always immune to control abilities, and is very dangerous. These targets, when not encountered solo (most boss fights are solo, and/or with “adds,” additional mobs who will join the fight and are usually taken from the above categories) will be a decision whether they are managed/tanked while you kill off the supporting mobs, or if you control all the supporting mobs and focus on the boss first.
There are many interesting variations and many twists that the developers will place on this, but these should create a baseline for identifying potential elements in the composition of a group before you pull them. Once you do engage you and the group can coordinate and observe what each mob does so you can refine your strategy in the future.
3.) Identify Priorities and Assign Marks!
Now you need to decide on how you will try to kill them. The two major factors for this will be their risk to the group, and the ease with which they can be killed or controlled. If a target can be controlled or sufficiently stifled (by kiting or interrupting) that can reduce the priority with which they need to be killed. No matter how large a risk, if something can be killed markedly easier than the others, it may be best to take that enemy out of the equation to simplify the field. The biggest priorities will always be the best combination you can make of risk and ease of killing. If one mob can wipe out your group, but can be kept completely covered with your group’s control, you may want to leave it controlled, or you may want to kill it first and try to keep it locked down until it is dead. There is no universal right answer.
Marking is a key skill, and one usually left to tanks, but it should fall to the group’s leader to use it to direct the group. Set marks, and explain to your group what significance the marks will play for your group. Note: everyone has their own short-hands, and while there are common elements like Skull being the first target to kill, Square being a Hunter trap, and Moon being a Mage Sheep, it is still well important to spell it out for the group so that everyone is on the same page, especially if you have a group of strangers.
Marks and/or priorities can and should change mid-fight as needed. If you have a high risk enemy, like a healer, who is unsuccessfully controlled, or the control is made impossible (or you discover it to be impossible) you need to be ready to set aside your pre-planned order and kill the new risk immediately, or find another way to keep it shut down temporarily. Communication is always key. The tank needs to be ready to pick up the new target and the interrupters need to be ready to stop the heals.
If you are on live communication (VoIP or in-person) it is easy to leave marks the same and simply inform people to “kill the star” instead. If you have no voice communication, it may be easier to simply change the skull to direct people’s attention. If necessary in a raid, the Raid Warning (/rw) chat ability can make a loud announcement to shift this priority.
I highly recommend keybinding marks. I set them to the same numbers on my keypad for every character. Keybinding the marks will let you assign them as quickly as if you were typing or using your other abilities, and speed may be imperative if you are setting or changing marks mid-fight.
Always be ready to change and reassess based on what you learn as you progress with the fight. If you see something you did not expect, it may change your priority and risk assessment. Perhaps what you thought was a Mage turns out to be a Healer, or what you thought was a Bruiser was really no more threatening than a Grunt. Perhaps that one mob actually summons a swarm if left untouched, so you want to control or kill them first.
If you are inflexible you will find you have to start more pulls from scratch, while those who can adapt mid-stream can salvage a pull the first time and remember the lessons to start it better the next time.
Let’s construct an example pull, and break it down to see how these can be applied to strategy. Let’s say your group consists of a Protection Warrior, Elemental Shaman, Marksmanship Hunter, Subtlety Rogue, and Discipline Priest. You face a group of 5 opponents, all humanoid-type, named the following: Ironwall Reaver (x1), Ironwall Pledge (x2), Ironwall Acolyte (x1), and Ironwall Commander. They are staged surrounding the Commander who appears more heavily armored. The Acolyte is wearing robes. We can guess that the Pledges are grunt-types. They will likely be less concerning. The Acolyte is most likely a caster of some sort, so it may be a healer, mage, controller, or all of the above. The Commander and the Reaver are question marks, but we can expect something more than grunt behavior, and the Commander may be a likely candidate for Boss or Bruiser behavior. The group wants to be careful so they decide to take the Acolyte out of the situation with the Shaman’s Hex. They also decide to limit their exposure by trying to sap the Reaver, who is immune (fortunately they tried to sap which they could do without entering combat, Hex/Hunter’s trap would’ve required them to readjust mid-pull). This means the Reaver may be a bruiser-type and they’ll have to handle him carefully. The Commander is sap-able, so they Sap the Commander, and the Hunter drops a trap for one of the grunts to catch. The tank gives the Reaver a Skull to be the first target killed. The tank initiates combat and pulls back giving the time to Hex and Trap, and so only the Reaver and one of the Pledges come to the tank. The Shaman notes that the Acolyte was casting Holy Smite before he was Hexed. Mobs rarely use cross-element abilities, and they tend to be fairly class-oriented, so Holy Smite suggests a healer-type with some offensive spells. That likely means the Acolyte *can* heal, but will also resemble a light Mage between heals.
As fighting starts, sure enough, the Reaver comes out with two weapons and starts hammering the tank (Bruiser). The tank marks the Pledge that doesn’t get caught with an X to kill second. The group kills the Skull-Reaver as quickly as they can, and starts working on the X-Pledge. An accidental mis-fire by the Shaman breaks his own Hex and the Acolyte comes loose and starts healing the X-Pledge. On the fly, the tank puts the Skull on the Acolyte and the Rogue helpfully Shadow Steps and Kicks (interrupt) the Acolyte. The Warrior tank charges the Acolyte and proceeds to keep the Acolyte interrupted and stunned while the group kills it. The X-Pledge is mostly ignored until the Acolyte is dead (possibly with the occasional Multi-Shot from the Hunter or Chain Lightning from the Shaman (which are carefully applied since the tank pulled the enemies away from the Hunter trap and Sap). The Sap runs out and the Commander charges the nearest party member (the Shaman who had been closer to Hex). The tank immediately taunts him and begins tanking him. The Hunter trap breaks and though the Hunter was ready to kite the Pledge into another trap, the tank picks it up and lets the group kill it along with and after the Commander. The tank also notes positioning concerns (see Tank meta-skills!) from the Commander in the form of a Shockwave (forward cone stun and damage) along with a Demoralizing Shout that reduces the groups damage. The latter is deemed ignorable, but the tank makes a note to the group about the Shockwave.
So, in retrospect you have learned:
1.) The Commander is a Controller type that needs to be faced away from the group, but can be controlled and taken out of the action.
2.) The Acolyte is a Healer and represents a high risk.
3.) The Reaver is a Bruiser and cannot be controlled, but appears to only single-target. This means the smart response will usually be to control the Acolyte and kill the Reaver first, but if there is no control available, or your healer is confident, you can simply let the tank get beaten on, and kill the Acolyte first.
4.) Pledges really are nuisances, and their only real threat is stacking their damage on top of the Reaver should they all be active at the same time. They may be controlled if you are trying to protect the tank, but probably won’t need to be.
In the future, you know all this before the fight and can plan and direct the group accordingly. Learning all the groups you come across can allow you to move through instances at a good pace while being safe and tactical in how you manage your enemies.
Universal Meta Skills
There are a couple key meta skills that are universal to everyone playing the game. These skills will influence and inform all of your other skills and training, supporting, and honing them can improve every other aspect of your game, including your primary role.
I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t know what is going on around you, you will invariably suffer inefficiency, reduce your helpfulness, stress your teammates, and be an anchor to their performance. Don’t misconstrue success for you doing well, or as well as you could. Just because you killed your enemy, does *not* mean you did it well, or as effectively as you could have. The goal is simple: know what is going on! That is easy to say, but in the eternal truth: “you don’t know what you do not know.” You need to be looking for things, not waiting for them to bite you or be fed to you. So what areas can we focus on in-game and out-of-game awareness?
1.) Game World Vision
We have an advantage when we play WoW. While we take on a humanoid avatar in the game world we do not share our real world limited range of vision. We take a third-person view point looking down on our avatar. This allows for many advantages, but those can be severely mitigated by our user interface (UI). Here are a few things you can do to improve the potential in-game visibility:
2.) Enemy Locations
This is most central to tanks, but it is a key piece of information for every member of the group. It is in your best interest to know where each enemy is, and what that means for you. As a general rule of thumb, only a tank should be standing in front of *any* enemy for safety. Sometimes it can be okay for ranged damage dealers and healers to stand in front of certain mobs as demanded by the encounter, but it is your job to know when this is acceptable (i.e. there are no breath or cleave attacks). When in doubt, assume that you should not be standing in front of any enemy. In the event you find yourself in a random group with a tank who does not position smartly (see below), or in a situation where the tank has to position in a specific fashion, you should know where the enemy is, which direction they are pointing, and position yourself in what seems like a safe spot. For the sake of clarity, assume that “in front of” means in a forward 90 degree arc (if you were standing in the middle of a square room, and the enemy was facing a wall, the 90 degree arc would go from corner to corner of the wall they are facing). For extended safety, you could extend that to the front half (180 degrees) of the enemy. Melee damage dealers should never be in front of their enemy unless the specific situation absolutely demands it.
3.) Skill State
No matter what role you play, the first step to using your skills well is knowing when they are available and/or when is the appropriate time to use them. This varies greatly by class and spec, but there are a couple simple guidelines and methods you can use to improve this awareness:
Learning the particulars for your class and specialization is highly varied and I will not discuss it here. It is well worth your while to find resources on how to use your abilities, should you not choose to figure it out for yourself, not know how, or not be clear on everything you need to know to do so.
Moving through the game world is a seemingly simple action, but it is central to everything you do. Take some time to consider how you do that, and the best way to do so for your own computer equipment and comfort. One of the main elements here is the turn/strafe divide. There are two general categories of methods for this sort of movement:
Strafing = this means to run sideways while continually facing forwards. You can bind keys so that you can do this at the press of a single button, and rely on your mouse to look around and change the direction you face.
Look Strafing = the slightly less popular (though equally effective in the hands of an experienced player) method is to keep your movement keys as turn keys. This means that they will turn your direction when pressed, but if you hold down the right mouse button (to fix your look direction) they will become strafe buttons. This is much more difficult if you rely on your mouse to click any abilities while moving.
Strafing has a couple key values:
1.) While strafing away from a target you can move at full speed (moving backwards is always done at walk speed), but still face and hit your target, and likewise not open your back to your target (more on this for tanks).
2.) Strafing can allow you to move at full speed while still keeping your view on something important you need to see, such as the big enemy boss, dangerous zones, or other visual cues that will affect your behavior.
Figure out what method works best for you, and practice using it. Always try to be light on your toes in the game world. You never know when a patch of fire might light up at your feet, or that big dragon will turn and start spraying fire in your direction.
You can assign hotkeys on your keyboard (and mouse if you have a fancy multi-button mouse) to use abilities on your action bars. This is called keybinding. This is invariably one of the best things you can do to increase your effectiveness at playing your character. Here are a couple key points of why:
1.) Mouse-clicking abilities will always add cognitive steps to working your character. In order to click a spell you have to A.) realize you need to press the button, B.) recognize the location of the mouse pointer on the screen, C.) move the mouse to the proper location (may be more or less efficient depending on how well you use your mouse), and D.) click the ability. This simultaneously consumes your attention as you watch the mouse move and makes your mouse unavailable for movement and changing your view point (see above). Keybindings cut out the middle steps and allow you to create virtual muscle memory. What that means is, rather than having to pay attention to the movement of your mouse, you instead A.) realize you need to use the spell and then B.) press the key on your keyboard. This lack of cognitive distance (objectifying the mouse) allows it to become an unconscious action. Rather than thinking that you need to use a spell => move the mouse => press the button, you simply think you need to use the spell and that can be done with the flick of a finger. Eventually you don’t even think about moving the finger. Using the mouse to accomplish this has substantial barriers to that sort of muscular learning, and will, in the best of cases, simply slow down your reaction speed.
2.) If you are able to place most or all of your abilities/actions on keybindings, that will free your mouse exclusively to use for changing your view and picking your targets. This encourages attention to the action your avatar is in, and draws your attention away from the action bars and the user interface. Combining this with the Skill State section above, the intelligent use of addon indicators for ability cooldowns can allow you to play almost exclusively in the action, in the game world, and maneuvering becomes as nimble as your body in the real world. Mouse clicking inhibits that.
You have a direct-able friend (to distinguish from “guardian” types who pop out and do their own thing)! It is up to you to make the most of that pet, and take good care of them. How can you really make the most of that?
1.) Keybinding, Pet Edition = I highly recommend keybinding the movement commands, if nothing else. Being able to send your pet on attack and pull them back can make a world of difference, even if you do nothing else in directing them. If they have a spell that cannot be put on auto-cast (with flashing sparks around the border) or perhaps should not be (like a dispel or interrupt that you want to cast selectively), this would also be good to keybind. As with your character’s skills, if you have to go hunting for the button, you sacrifice a lot of time to go press it. Identify what you need on your bar, that is, what you will want to activate and/or see the status of. Abilities on the pet bar can be assigned keybinds, other abilities cannot without special macros or addons.
2.) Use Stances Smartly =
Figure out what the appropriate time to use each stance will be, but the value of the stance will be inversely proportionate to the amount that you micro-manage you pet. That is, if you frequently direct your pet in every action, stance will become unimportant. Make sure that you set your pet to the baseline behavior you want, so that your commands are only to direct the finer points of behavior, and not at odds with what the pet will be trying to do without your input.
3.) Know when to attack, and when to follow! If you are soloing and relying on your pet to take attention for you (common for Hunters who want to stay at range), it is handy to be able to send your pet in ahead of your attack. Alternatively, if you are attacking something that will do a close range attack that will hurt your pet if they stay in, you can call your pet to follow and remove them from harm’s way. Note: If your pet is on Aggressive or Defensive, you can order it to follow but as soon as you shoot something it will run to attack that target. If you need your pet to come to your feet while you continue to attack, you will need to set your pet on Passive. Look for the appropriate times to send your pet, or call it back, and look for times when you can reassign its target to make sure it is attacking what you want.
4.) Learn your pets special skills, and make sure they are being used. Some of the short duration pets have little or no abilities, they are simply attackers, possible with some passive bonuses. For any permanent or semi-permanent pets, they will have abilities beyond the basic attacks. Read the tooltips, learn how they work, and determine if they are to be used always (on auto-cast), if you want to trigger them manually, or if they are not appropriate for your pet’s current actions. For example, each pet will have a basic attack spell, this you will usually want to have on auto-cast; your pet may have a special knockback, stun, snare, interrupt, or dispel, and this you may want to trigger manually; Hunter pets will always have Growl which does high threat but no damage (though it may have secondary effects), and this will *not* be appropriate when you have a group of players with someone serving as a tank.
5.) Right Pet, Right Situation = Hunters and Warlocks have a variety of pets that they can employ. Some will pick one based on what they like best, or what goes with their own specialization best, but remember to keep a mind for your group. What buffs can you provide with your pets? What does your group have and what could it use? Direct buffing and debuffing abilities may be useful or cover gaps in your group’s composition, but sometimes the non-buffing secondary abilities can be a big help, like having a snare to lock down things that try to run away or charge the group. Be creative, try to avoid just leaving your pet as an auto-attacking source of damage, *look* for the utility.
Tanking Meta Skills
The tank in a pivotal position in any group. In any 5-man, and often enough in 10 and 25-player instances, this pivotal role falls to one person (though in raids it may be one person at a time, or 2 people). Tanking, perhaps more than any other role, has the most essential and influential meta skills that will influence everyone else in the party. A skilled tank can make anything feel easier, while a sloppy tank can make everyone else’s job more difficult.
One of the most important meta skills in the game is the positioning of mobs, and your position relative to them. It is the tank’s job to do this, quickly and intelligently, but there are no tooltips and no obvious markers for this beyond common sense. Let’s look at the conditions and appropriate responses:
1.) When in doubt, always point your tanking assignment away from the group. Often enough the enemies will have forward cone attacks, cleaves, or other directional hazards. If they do you are saving the group from death or pain, and if they do not you’ve lost nothing. It is always better for this to be your default mode of action unless you have reason to direct them otherwise. Do *not* expect the group to move to accommodate you unless there is a reason you must position them in a specific way. It is always easier for you to make a small movement and completely change the target’s angle than for the entire group to run around the room trying to get to the safe side of the enemy.
2.) Pull away from sensitive/controlled targets. Regardless of how or when your control actually gets applied (even if the Mage is a late sheeper), always pull your active opponents away to a safe distance. Some abilities have cleaves that cannot easily be helped, some key abilities for debuffs have AoE ranges, and accidents happen. It is always safer to make sure the active targets are at least 10-15 yards away. Situations where this is not possible are EXTREMELY rare.
3.) Respect the line-of-sight (LoS) of your healer, above all, and your ranged damage dealers as well. If you are pulling on stairs, a ramp, around corners, or around obstructions in the hallway or room, recognize what will interrupt the ability of your healer to heal you and your damage dealers to attack your target. If you are pulling in such a situation, give your group the heads-up about where you want to settle in to tank the targets ahead of time so they can be ready to move where they need to ahead of time. The worst thing that can happen is that you surprise your healer on when you start the pull, then go out of range and around a corner forcing the healer to have to run for crucial seconds just to be able to *start* casting a heal on you. As a healer (see below) this will be an important thing to take responsibility for, but it is a 2-way street. If you like being alive, do what you can to favor/help your healer. Ramps and stairs are frequent offenders for this issue. Standing half-way up the stairs will frequently block the entire platform at the top from line-of-sight (LoS).
4.) Collect your enemies in front of you. You cannot avoid or block an attack that comes from behind you. What constitutes your “front” can be a little iffy, but you want to avoid having enemies behind you as best you can. This will call on the awareness comments above, heavily. There is a tricky element of the game’s scripting. Mobs will attempt to path (think the “path” connecting you and them) on the prediction of where you *will* be, rather than where you appear to be on your screen. That means that the mobs may sometimes over-steer and go farther than you want. If you are not ready for this it can be an obstacle. If you are ready for it, you can *use* it to position things where you want. The easiest way to think about it, is like a whip lash. When pulling enemies to a point where you want them to face towards the place you were coming from, run a little past where you want to stop, then dart back quickly at the end. Doing this will have them chase you that extra half step, then stop and turn in place as you snap back. If you want to pull them to a location and have them pointing in the direction you were headed, stop slightly before where you want to end up, then step forward a half-step, or back into position. They *do* predict based on speed, so moving slowly (i.e. backwards) will not result in them over-stepping usually.
4a.) Kiting/movement! While kiting a target, or moving them, using strafe is a key value. If you simply turn and run to the location you want to move them to go to, the whole way there they will be at your back and you will suffer significantly more damage (currently about 15-30% more damage is reasonably predictable). However, if you strafe there you can move to reposition at high speed while still being able to generate threat (when they bounce in range) and not take hits as if you were being attacked from behind. Strafing is a very important tool for tank movement.
As the tank it is your job to know where every enemy is, what their status is, and what risks/considerations they carry. You need to know which mob will be controlled, and be ready if it should break prematurely (and if it does, be ready to pick it up or let it run for a moment while the control is re-placed). You need to know where you are positioned relative to other enemies that are not yet engaged. These come in two forms: patrols (“pats” for short) and other groups.
As a tank, if anything pulls, it should be you who pulled it. Sometimes that means you need to be more aware and more prepared than your damage dealers, though ideally they should be keeping a lookout as well. If you find yourself in a fight and see a patrol coming, you can pull the group back and drag the damage dealers with it to avoid pulling the next group. If the next pull is unavoidable, or someone is lazy/sloppy, you should not be caught by surprise, you should be ready with the necessary tools to grab the new coming enemies.
To help with this, you can apply tactful variations on the previous sections’ guidance:
1.) Camera Angles can be your friends. If you are working your way through tunnels or through a zone that is reasonably “linear” (meaning there should be nothing coming from behind), it should be very easy to set your camera angles so you can see to the next pulls or down the hallway you are about to travel. This way you can see patrols coming, or see the next groups that you will pull.
2.) When in doubt, create more safety margins between you and the next pulls. Note: a creature in a control spell will not draw the attention (aggro) of a new enemy who walks by them, however, if the control breaks or the enemy becomes active and/or attacks you, they will take anyone nearby into the fight as well. It will be important to keep control spells active (overwriting the control spell will not create that aggro scenario), but should they come free, you’ll know you need to pick up the new targets.
3.) Respect the “body pull.” Once targets are engaged they will determine their targets based on threat. If you do not hit them, the healer’s healing will create threat. However, until they do start noticing threat, enemies will follow a simple rule: the first thing they see is the first thing they’ll want to attack. Remember this when there is a chance of something getting added to your fight. If you wait until the damage dealer, or whoever is closest to the patrol, to get their attention, you will have to pick each of the new targets up individually, or with multi-target attacks. If you are the first thing to get their attention (say, if you throw something at one of them) they will first try to run to you, buying you time to hit them all.
Because you are doing all this as the tank, it is an easy task for you to be responsible for marking, and in 5-player groups you can always take the initiative on the fly. Being able to pick out targets smartly, throwing out fast marks, and directing the group to control or kill the new targets can make the group’s actions much smoother, and can make your primary job of keeping enemies’ attention easier on you.
Use the priorities, apply threat intelligently!
Whether or not you are deciding the priorities for the group and setting marks, respect the marks and encourage the group to do the same (should they need encouragement). Having everyone following the same playbook is a very high value to making things predictable and simpler for everyone involved.
When managing threat, you simply need to understand the *nature* of threat. Threat is a matter of minimum needed. There is no reward other than self-assurance for generating twice as much threat as the highest damage dealer, and if that happens at the expense of threat on another and that other comes loose, you are not doing your job well. As such, managing threat on multiple targets can be like plate spinning. You don’t *need* to hit everything, all at once, all the time. You only need to make sure that each target is sufficiently ahead of the need (the damage dealers’ or healer’s threat). Marks and a kill order are essential in making this job far easier and less daunting.
When placing threat, there are two central assumptions you can use to get threat where it is needed before it is needed:
1.) The first kill target will need the most proactive, pre-emptive threat. It takes relatively little threat on secondary targets to keep them from healer attention, and only slightly more to secure them through damage dealing class-specs that have splash damage.
2.) You can tell who needs the most threat by whose health goes down fastest. The lower the health the target has the more damage they’ve taken (and probably *are* taking if they are getting hurt faster than the others). The more damage the target takes, the more threat it is getting from damage dealers, and the more threat you need to put on it to stay ahead. Overhead health bars are tremendously useful for this purpose, they allow you to be focused on your physical environment as well as see a sort of indirect representation of your threat requirement. Some addons will even let you attach a threat indicator to those overhead health bars.
If you feel confident with your lead on your first target, you can switch to the additional targets and focus on them preemptively. For example, if you are at double the threat on the first-kill target, and it only has 20% health left, you probably don’t need to even touch it any more to keep it locked to you. That is an ideal time to get a heavy head start on the second-kill and/or secondary targets. Managing this economy can tip the threat game in your favor.
Damage dealers should be responsible for their own attention to what they’re attacking and their threat. Random groups will not always benefit from this set of ideals however. To manage this uncertainty (and probably get compliments on your tanking) use the above rules to watch for who is *actually* being attacked/focused. You have two choices that will vary depending on your healer and the atmosphere you want to maintain in the group. If a damage dealer is willfully neglecting to follow the planned kill order, *and* your healer agrees, you can let them pull the target that they are attacking out of order, let it kill them (being careful to taunt it should the healer pull threat), and teach them a lesson while saving your healer and your own threat management some grief. Alternately, if you just want everything to go smoothly, you can make sure that you prioritize that target in your attention (again, you can tell which they are targeting because its health will drop faster than the others). After pulls where people were irresponsible, it is the appropriate time to request/re-emphasize the kill order and its importance. Remember, it is better to assume that people were confused or not paying closest attention, and be polite your requests. You get more flies with honey, as the saying goes. More on this in the section below on Communication.
It is *not* unreasonable to place marks and ask that people follow the order you set. It *is* unreasonable to not place marks and then yell at the group when they take aggro on something.
Your survival starts with you!
Learn the fights, learn your enemies. In any instance, in any raid, take notes (mental are fine, but physical if that is better for you) on every enemy you cross blades with. Know what they do, know what moves you can ignore, and know what moves really hurt you or the group.
It is *good* to identify the opponents abilities and decide which ones can be ignored.
It is *bad* to assume that any ability can be ignored if you don’t feel highly confident you know how it works.
Just because a group you are a part of appears to manage a particular opponent or group of opponents well once does *not* mean they will the next time. Knowing what they do allows you to adjust without having to go back and re-figure out how to handle them.
There will be two key phases that should influence your behavior on how to use your survival abilities and meta skills:
1.) Learning the pull
While learning a particular group or combination of enemies, use your survival abilities aggressively and preemptively. It is better to possibly lose some overall values to not be caught by surprise by a new move. During this period you will not be penalized for taking too little damage by using survival abilities when they aren’t needed.
2.) Mastering the pull
Once you’ve seen their tricks, combine that with your expected pace of movement from group to group and figure out ways to smooth over the fights for your healer. You may not *need* to use your damage reduction cooldowns on random trash groups, but there is no reason *not* to if you know it will be off cooldown by the time you get to a place where you know it will be needed.
As the tank, it falls to you to determine the pace at which your group moves through the dungeon. As the tank, you should be the first person into each pull, so it falls to you to do so in a responsible manner. Many people can be impatient, but no one wants to hang around in a dungeon, waiting unnecessarily. Remember, you will have to wait longer if you pull to fast and people die than if you wait a moment for people to catch up, catch their breath, or get a drink. There are two elements to find the appropriate balance in:
1.) How fast *can* you go
Are you stopping, chatting with friends, or being distracted from the game causing everyone to wait for you on something that doesn’t need to be happening at that time? How much can the healer take before they need a break to refill their mana (note: this is a decision that the healer is far more qualified to describe than you are, respect their wishes)? Does the damage section need any sort of break to re-collect themselves (rebuff, resurrect pets, etc)? There are more limitations to pace than simply how fast you can pinball from group to group. Recognize your group’s needs even when they are not obvious. Remember: there are people behind those avatars who may need a moment for something.
2.) How fast *should* you go
It is all well and good to try to keep the pace up so that your group can clear at a reasonable pace and not take more time than is necessary. Just because you want to go fast is *not* license to pull indiscriminately, and it is not you who will decide the pace that the instance *can* be cleared by your group. The damage dealers will determine how fast things die, and your healer’s efficiency will determine how long and how much they can keep you alive through. Know when to encourage your group, and know when to hold off and let them catch their breath.
Faster is not always better.
Non-Obvious Survival Tricks
We always think about things in terms of our stats, tools, and game mechanics. That said there are some tools that can allow you to take less damage that don’t directly involve these things. They usually involve movement and awareness.
1.) If they can’t reach you, they can’t hurt you
Dodge stats let you have a chance to avoid an attacker’s attempted hurt. If you are standing outside of melee range, they can’t even try to hit you. Sometimes, if a target can be snared or slows themselves, you can simply run out of reach and stop taking damage (threat willing). Be warned, mobs will behave differently when rooted. If the enemy cannot move, they will take the highest threat target they can *reach*. So if you are not in melee range they will hit anyone else who is, regardless of how high your threat is. At the start of a fight, or when the target’s attention is redirected in the middle of a fight, you can buy time without damage by letting them run around a bit. Whether or not you *need* to take less damage, it is your job as a tank to try to do so. Look for these windows where you can escape swings.
A similar technique can be used against casters. This is a common tool used in PvP, but it is infrequently employed in PvE. Pillars can be used to interrupt casters’ spells, but computer scripted enemies (NPC/mobs) will not realize this until they cannot finish their cast if you are exposed long enough for them to start. There are two ways you can use this with individual implications. If you stand in the open, at range, and let the enemy mage start casting their spell, you can duck out of line-of-sight and they will wait until the end of their cast to try to reposition so they can start again. If you use sharp timing, you can step back out into range just as they cancel their cast and they will not move at all, or very little allowing you to repeat this as long as you have their attention. Alternately, you can simply and continually use new obstructions. In PvP this is called “pillaring” for running a circle around a pillar to continually force the target to move to keep line-of-sight. Employing a simpler form of this, you can use the obstruction to force the caster to run to you and stand next to you to gain line of sight. This is an efficient way to get casters to stack on you and the melee-type opponents.
Healer Meta Skills
While the tank will play a heavy role in the leading edge of your group, the healer is the lifeblood and the support structure. Your choices will determine who lives and who dies. To that end, you can encourage a healthy party in more ways than simply refilling their health bar.
Triage is the act of assessing the health state of the group and acting in the place that is most crucial first. Triage *should* be the fraction of a second that precedes every action you take, which is to say, triage does not happen once, it happens before every action as the situation is always changing. There are many tools you will have as a healer, and they will vary by class and spec, but there are a few common elements that all healers share in the form of the following tools:
This is the first tool I am listing for an important reason. There will very frequently be debuffs applied to your group. As a healer it is important to know what they do as they will affect your healing in very specific ways. Once you know what they do, you can decide on the fly whether to remove them or not. For example, if the debuff is a simple damage-over-time (DoT) effect, and does 10,000 damage every 2 sec for 20 sec, dispelling it immediately can make it so you do not have to heal through all that damage, whereas you could spend the entire duration of the debuff trying to keep that one target alive through the damage. Alternately, if the debuff only does damage when the target moves, you know when that target will take damage if they do at all (it is probably safe to leave this up on the Mage who is just standing still casting, *not* okay to leave on the tank who has to move around constantly). Some debuffs will also not require dispelling as they are applied to a target who they will not affect. For example, a cast speed slowing debuff will have no effect one a Rogue whatsoever so it does not need to be dispelled; That same buff would wreak havoc on a Balance Druid, but reducing that Balance Druid’s damage may not be more important to remedy than say, healing another target who is close to death. Learn to discern when dispelling will be more important than healing through or ignoring the debuff. Remember, enabling your group to kill the enemies faster also reduces the amount of healing you have to do by reducing the duration of the fight.
2.) Dead is Dead!
Normally, there is no difference in performance for a character who is at 90% health or one who is at 10% health, in terms of game mechanics. No one’s damage is proportional to their health (though some players may be distracted if their health drops too low, this can be mitigated by their trust in their healer). The first goal of healing is to not let your group die. Sometimes death is unavoidable, and when that happens it is important that you keep the group structure afloat as best you can. The tank is the number one priority in most situations, provided the tank is alive and holding the enemies’ attention the group can continue on stably for a while, even if you die yourself. That said, the healer (you!) is also a high priority. Some fights can be completed with heavy healing on damage dealers while they finish off your opponents. Damage dealers are almost always the last priority, as there are multiple damage dealers and losing one out of three is less crippling. Even if the group is whittled down to just the tank and healer it may be possible to kill your enemies eventually; Though obviously this is not an ideal scenario, it may be stable and sustainable in some situations. In deciding who is most crucial among the damage dealers, pay attention to their relative damage output, what they are responsible for controlling (the Mage may do less damage but he may be protecting your group by keeping still more enemies at bay), and to their other key secondary values like interrupts.
Ideally, you should never *let* someone die. The decision, the focus should always been on keeping people alive, but sometimes triage may dictate that you heal someone when it is possible or probable that someone else will die. Accept that it may happen and work your hardest to see that it doesn’t have to.
3.) Scalpel or Sledgehammer? Every tool has its use!
Every healing class and spec has its own unique design and set of tools that will offer different strategic values. Every class, however, has some staple/baseline abilities that translate pretty well from spec to spec. In *general* this is how they can and should be used. Note: this may change with the particular abilities and talents of your class and spec, read and learn how these guidelines can change for you, or read your tooltips and talents carefully to make best use of your spells.
Being a smart healer means using your tools smartly. Look at the abilities you have that are not listed above and consider how they compare to those abilities on cost and scale to determine the best places to use them. The only way to truly waste a tool is to never use it.
4.) Awareness dictates priority
The previously discussed meta skill of in-game awareness is a very important element for healers. While you will still need to avoid hazards like the rest of the group, the extent of your awareness can also show you a few key elements that can inform how and who you heal. Pay attention to the following elements to determine which of your healing tools is the appropriate one for the job, and remember: Situational Awareness can be applied to more than just your own avatar.
Pay attention to where people in your group stand, how they move, when they move, and what blindspots they have. If you can learn to read their virtual body language, you can learn to predict a lot of the damage they take. For example, on this encounter you know that the boss places pools of lava at people’s feet; You have also watched and determined that the Mage frequently prefers to finish their casts before they move out of the damage. Because of this you can predict that when a pool appears under the Mage they will need an extra bit of healing (or perhaps a quick chat request to not finish casts and move out of the damage more quickly to ensure they live through the fight).
In addition to reading situational damage, you can pay attention not just to the amount of health that has been lost, but the *pace* of that health loss. Is the ally continually losing health? Is it coming in large jumps or a small bleed? Is it draining rapidly or slowly? How does the rate of health loss compare to the rate of restoration from your Workhorse Heal or your Big Bomb Heal? Was the damage an isolated incidence, or a recurring theme? These will help you decide when and where to heal. For example, if one party member takes damage, but it is one hard hit and they take no more damage, nor do you have reason to expect more damage, their heal can wait if you have a more urgent need like the tank who is taking constant damage. Recognizing pace in addition to scale can help you inform your triage more tactfully.
For your own sake, always remember that you can take the initiative on avoiding line-of-sight conflicts with your group. The tank should be responsible for staying in your eye line, but you can still be proactive in making sure it doesn’t happen by accident. If you are caught by surprise when it does, it is because *you* are not paying attention to your surroundings.
5.) Sometimes the best way to do your job is to prevent the healing from being required
Being a healer can allow for a lot of perspective. If you employ the awareness outlined above you can get a strong handle on the key elements and hazards of a fight. Communicate this to your group. If you know how to avoid taking damage, and you can explain that coherently to your group, you can potentially make your own job more reasonable or very easy, without spending a drop of mana. Warning people about hazards, creating strategies to avoid them, and encouraging your group to be health conscious are all indirect ways of being an effective healer.
In many situations you can also employ secondary class skills to help simplify the healing required. For example, if you have an interrupt (Resto Shamans and Holy Priests), a stun or incapacitate (Holy Paladins, Holy Priests), a fear (Holy and Discipline Priests, Holy Paladins for select situations), or other control abilities (Resto Druids and Shamans) you can use these abilities to interrupt or pause damage. If used well you can actually prevent more damage than you would’ve restored with your healing in the space of the same cast/global cooldown.
Sometimes it is even worth your while to attack! Every healing spec now has tools to make it not inefficient to use their damage abilities. This is *not* the same as being supportive of good damage dealing, but it may allow for you to contribute damage when healing is not required without compromising your ability to heal later. This is highly class-specific in value, but Resto Shamans can actually receive gains to their healing and mana regen by using these offensive abilities when there is reduced need for healing. This is not always true for everyone, and when push comes to shove it will always be more important to deliver the healing. Keep an eye open, however, for when you have time and mana to spare, and you can make your job and your group’s jobs easier and shorter by helping your enemies die faster.
Damage Dealing Meta Skills
While the Tank and Healer are very specialized and central roles to the group dynamic it is the bulk of the group, the damage dealers (DPS in colloquial usage) that will set the pace and requirements of the Tank and Healing dynamic. Damage dealers do the work. While damage dealers may not carry as obvious a make-or-break value as the Tank or Healer, there can be a very big difference between just doing damage and being a high-functioning member of the group.
Just because you were brought to kill things, does not mean that is all you can or should do!
Yes, you are here to blow stuff away. You will get your chance to do so, but in the mean time you need to remember that you are a part of a group. As a group you have to work together to succeed in the instance. Victory does not care if you did the most damage but left the Healer to struggle and carry your sloppy performance, but the Healer will definitely care. As a member of a team you are offering the best value by making the activities as easy on the group as you can. Here are some key secondary skills that you can and should offer to ease the performance of the group:
1.) Tanks are taking your beating, love them in equal measure!
The tanks job is to make herself more juicy a target than you (threat) while simultaneously taking a righteous beating on your behalf. You would wilt and die under the damage they take, that is why they are in the group. Respect that job and help them do it. This can be divided into two parts, matching the two chief goals of being a tank: Threat and Survival.
Threat: It is a 2-way street!
Threat is a simple, linear scale. Each person adds threat to their total proportional to the damage or healing they do, and tanks get an advantage by making their damage more threatening (by way of a multiplier). Every group member starts at zero threat and builds from there, the tank included. This has a simple, practical implication: the hardest moment for a tank to hold threat is *always* the first few moments of the fight. How can you help? Wait. Take a moment positioning, take a breath, count to 3, wait to see the tank’s diseases, 2-stack of Sunder Armor/Faerie Fire, 2-stack of Seal of Truth, etc. before you start attacking. There is no award for trying to jump the gun and getting yourself killed other than a resentful tank and healer, and group if you cause a wipe (everyone dead). If you have an ability that transfers threat (Rogue or Hunter), the best time you can use it is at the beginning of the fight, but it won’t hurt anything to use it more down the road.
Tanks get threat from damage. Whatever you can do to increase your tank’s damage will increase her threat as well, and that will make it easier for you to dole out your hurt without risking the attention of your enemies.
No matter how great your tank may be, never lose sight of your threat state. Fully pulling attention off the tank is a doubled pain. Tanks will be less effective at generating threat when they aren’t being attacked, and will be significantly handicapped if they are not in swinging range of their target. If you are running the risk of pulling threat on a target, change targets or stop attacking altogether. Losing a little damage is far better in most situations than causing chaos, stressing your tank, stressing your healer, and/or getting yourself killed.
Remember, it is the tank’s job to protect you, but it is your job to help them do it.
Survival: A dead tank cannot protect you!
Survival is the bread and butter of a tank, but there are many obvious tools that can help, and non-obvious tricks that can play as profound an effect. First and foremost use your debuffs! If you can apply a damage reduction or attack/cast speed reduction debuff, you can familiarize yourself with the equivalent abilities applied by the tank and make sure that they are always covered. Even the best tanks can forget or get distracted and let the debuff fall off. If you cover them you increase the group’s survivability and your chances at success.
One tricky but powerful thing you can do to help is know what you can actually purposefully pull the attention of. Hunters, Plate-wearing damage dealers, and Druids have tools that can allow them to actually taunt enemies. In general, this is not a tool to be used often as you are still not a tank and will take noticeably more damage, *but* if used at the right time you can buy the tank time to pick the target up, keep damage off of your healer or other squishy members, or possibly keep them from attacking for a while by kiting the enemy away from the squishies and towards the tank. If you do this, it is best to communicate to your tank what you are doing, and whenever possible do your best to not be taking damage from the target. Taunts all have a long enough range that you never should need to do this while in melee range. This can be used by most anyone to pull casters into the tank as well. If you take threat on a stubborn caster who is standing apart from the group, then run out of line-of-sight, you can pull the caster over to the tank without the tank having to reposition. Always be ready to use what tools you can to drop threat back off onto the tank, however.
2.) One of the greatest gifts you can give your healer is being responsible for your own damage!
The healer’s job is to keep the group alive, but that does not mean that you should add to their workload or make it harder than it has to be. The game is designed to offer plenty of hurt for them to heal from unavoidable sources, if you can avoid taking damage, you are helping your group succeed.
Unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, prioritize *not* taking damage
The most common elements for a damage dealer to take damage from are as follows, including easy ways to avoid that damage:
These things are always your responsibility. Do not assume that the tank can or will turn the enemy away from you (ideally they should, but “should” will not save your life). Do not assume that the healer can or will just heal you through anything, even if they can that does not mean that they should have to.
Special Case: Dragons!
We fight internet dragons! Dragons have certain special and predictable rules to follow and respect. First, stay away from the pointy front end, there will invariably be breaths and cleaves that will be mean. With dragons, though, the tail is also a hazard. If you need to be close to it, stand between the front and rear leg on its side (favor the rear leg if you favor either). Use the “hit box,” meaning stand as far as you can from it while still being able to hit it. Why? Most dragons will also have a “Bellowing Roar” that will fear you in a random direction. Giving as much space as you can ensures that you do not get feared into the cleave/breath or the tail swipe.
Just because healing is the Healer’s primary job does not mean you should avoid healing yourself
There is plenty of damage to go around. Every bit that you prevent and every bit that you *heal* is that much less that the healer has to do. There are an assortment of tools that you can use to help with this, learning when to use these tools is very case-specific, but always remember that you have them and encourage yourself to *choose* to use them. Being ready to use them can be the biggest value whether or not you actually need to.
Dead is dead. If you have the ability to save your life, or prolong it an extra couple of moments, that could make the difference between living and dying. A dead character deals no damage. Take responsibility for giving the healers the best chance you can, and prioritize the longevity of your damage dealing, rather than trying to squeeze off shots even if it means you die shortly afterward.
At the end of the day, applying your central job *does* help the group directly and indirectly
They brought you along to kill things, and kill things you shall! While you’re doing it, there are little tricks to increase your effectiveness. Some of them will improve your damage dealt, while others will increase you helpfulness to the group in a less obvious way.
8 tricks to increasing your damage done
1.) Use over-head health bars
In the keybind menu you can set a key to display health bars for each enemy over their head. Turn this on and get used to reading and recognizing these bars (I recommend turning *off* bar stacking that will cause them to overlap). This has a two-fold effect: You can always see the health state of everything you are fighting, and it encourages you to be looking at the physical setting of your fight and your character, rather than staring at your action bars or unit frames (health bars in the UI).
Tidy Plates has become a very popular addon, and the Threat Plates plugin for it offers spectacular value. This will not just present health bars with customizable dimensions (the default UI has a bit more frills than are necessary which can interfere with your vision more than necessary), but also can color, fade, and highlight bars to indicate what the enemy is marked with and your personal threat state (safe, close, and aggro with both tank and dps modes).
Overhead health bars, default or modified, can also be configured to show when an enemy is casting to enable quick interrupts.
2.) Time target switching strategically
If you find yourself surprised when your target dies, you will lose potential damage while you try to flip to your next target. This is most pronounced for casters who can complete an entire cast on a dead target. There are 2 principle styles here based on your class and damage dealing type:
Melee/Hunters = You can attack an opponent to the last moment without losing anything, but with two particular concerns. First, always be ready to switch targets the moment your target dies, auto-attacks will account for a pretty heavy fraction of your damage and if you do not have a target (and face them) you cannot auto-attack. Second, If you have a super-heavy hitting ability with a longer cooldown (more than 3-4 sec) you should pay attention to how much health the target has left and how much of that hit would be wasted. You can potentially get a better margin if you finish the enemy off with your softer abilities and get the full hit on the new target who has more health. Note: Execute-style moves are the opposite of this rationale, you can only use them on targets with low health and they can be used to do substantially more damage on nearly dead targets.
Casters = Learn to read the pace at which a thing is dying, particularly get used to fellow damage dealers who have Execute-style moves that will lead to things dying faster when they are low on health. Do not start a cast on a target unless you feel confident that it will live long enough *and* with enough health for your spell to hit at full strength. Instant cast spells are a key value here. They may not do better damage overall compared to your longer cast spells, but being instant cast you can deliver the damage at the front end of your global cooldown rather than at the end of a cast time. This can be used to squeeze damage in, stacking incidences. For example, if during your 2.0 second Lightning Bolt cast you see the target is getting very close to death, you can hit a quick Earth or Frost Shock and have the damage happen almost simultaneously with the Lightning Bolt hit and ideally stack in before the target dies. This can be a very handy way to bookend the fight. Alternately and additionally, if there are more enemies to kill after your current target you can swap targets when the current target is almost dead and immediately start in on the next target with your normal long cast times, and ensure that you do not waste time. Do not worry about reapplying damage-over-time effects on targets that are going to die in the next couple seconds as they will be substantially wasted.
You will always lose time if you wait until your target dies and is de-targeted to pick the next target.
3.) Pre-Seed your next target
Every class and spec has certain tools that improve their damage dealt to targets based on short-term personal buffs and applied debuffs that do damage or increase the damage of your abilities. If you wait until your current target is dead to start thinking about the next target, you may have to ramp up your buffs and debuffs again. Use the dying moments of your current target to refresh your self-buffs and when convenient you can pre-seed your damage increasing debuffs on the next target. For example, if you are a Hunter it can be very easy to drop a Serpent Sting on your next target without losing pace on your current target. Likewise an Elemental Shaman can apply Flame Shock to the next target to not waste any time with Lava Burst availability.
4.) Learn what abilities can scale well by being spread around
It is easy and obvious for Death Knights to spread diseases beyond their primary target, but it can be less obvious for a Rogue to maintain Deadly Poison on a second target, for a Retribution Paladin to stack Seal of Truth on additional targets, or for a Elemental Shaman to have Flame Shock ticking on multiple targets at once. All of these things (and many more) can be done without too much of a damage loss on your main target, and they can increase your overall damage/impact when focused damage isn’t the highest priority. These DoTs may increase your threat slightly on secondary targets, but provided you do not need heavy duty focus on your main target, which *is* sometimes the case, you can accelerate your contributions. This is not universally true, as some abilities cannot be readily maintained on more than one enemy, so read your tooltips and consider the ramifications and requirements of trying to do so.
5.) Use your cooldowns more than you think you *need* to
Most damage dealing specs will have a self-buff (cooldown, colloquially) or several that will increase your damage dealt directly or indirectly. These abilities will have a cooldown ranging from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. A typical Boss fight will take between 5 and 8 minutes. That means that any ability with a cooldown longer than 6 minutes will only reasonably used once per boss fight, but an ability with a cooldown of 4-5 minutes could be used twice if you use it early and then again when it comes off cooldown. An ability with a 2-3 minute cooldown can follow a similar thought process and can be used several times if you use it early and at the earliest convenience. The only exception to this “on-cooldown” pacing is if a fight has periods where you want to push quickly through with higher damage dealt; Fights like this will dictate when you will want to save your cooldowns for, but make sure to look for places where you can use the ability early and have it off-cooldown and ready when you need it.
It is easy to forget that you have these abilities when you are facing trash and the in-between fights. Your cooldowns can be wasted by never being used during these periods, whereas if you use them you can improve the group’s pace in earlier portions and improve your contribution to the group’s damage. A typical trash fight will take between 45 seconds and 2-3 minutes, and you could spend as much as 30-60 seconds between pulls even at an aggressive pace. That means that you could use abilities with a 2-3 minute cooldown on most every trash fight, whereas you could use abilities with 5+ min cooldowns every other fight. Note: just because you cannot use it on every fight does *not* mean that you shouldn’t use it, just be sure that you give it time to come off cooldown before the fights (such as boss fights) where you want to have the buff. If you have a 1.5 minute cooldown or shorter, you should be using the ability aggressively and often.
Always make sure to read your tooltips on these abilities and pre-plan micro-strategies and tactics to maximize the value of the ability when you move it. As a starting template for that consideration, look at the duration. Most abilities will last either for a specified number of abilities or casts *or* for a duration of 10-20 seconds. If the ability lasts for a limited number of abilities, make sure that you use it on the specific abilities that will benefit from it most, *and* that you can use these abilities in the window provided by the buff if it has a window; If it does not have a window, it will usually not start its cooldown until you consume the charges it gives, in which case you’ll want to find the quickest way to use the charges to maximum effect. If the ability has a time-based window only, identify how many abilities you can use in the window given. If you are using instant abilities (melee/shots or instant cast spells) they will take 1.5 seconds from the global cooldown, whereas if you are a caster you can divide the duration by the cast time of your spells. Always include a factor for latency. Depending on your internet connection and skill at using abilities you may add 0.05 to 0.3 seconds to each ability’s time footprint. The game has a built-in system that allows you to preemptively queue abilities to minimize the drag of latency, but that requires you to press the button before you need it. Use this ability count to inform what spells you use and when. Note that most cooldown-type abilities will apply to a spell so long as you start the cast before the effect ends even if the spell actually fires and does damage after the effect ends; If the cooldown is presented as a debuff on your opponent it will only improve your effectiveness while the debuff is active. As described in #2, you can treat this window the same way as if the target is about to die, use instant casts to stack damage into the window, and save heavier hitting abilities with longer cooldowns up before you use your self-buff so that you can amplify them and get the most bang for your buck.
Creating small self-scripted routines can be useful for maximizing these buffs, and often times you can stack buffs to increase their effectiveness by multiplying them together. Figure out routines that will make the most of your particular set of tools.
6.) Always Always Always buff your group!
You may want to go quickly, and maybe you got it into your head that it wasn’t worth taking the time to put buffs on your group when you can just GO GO GO, right? Wrong! The second it takes to give out buffs (and the seconds to recast them later) are pocket change next to the speed increases offered by the survival, damage increasing, and mana regen buffing values of the various class buffs you offer the group. Make it a part of your routine, and buff the whole group smartly. The time you gain will well outweigh the pause to setup.
7.) Learn how to Minimize your downtime
Almost every fight will require movement, whether it is smart positioning at the beginning of the fight, moving enemies that will require you to move to stay in range, or the typical locational hazards that you will have to avoid. Most non-melee classes have to stay still to carry out their standard moves, and melee classes need to be close to their target to keep hitting. That said, there are obvious moves that have been built in, as well as less obvious tools that will enable you to still do a good amount of damage while moving.
Once you are comfortable with moving to avoid the hazards of a given encounter, or moving to keep up with your targets, start figuring out ways to use your skills to do damage while you are moving so as to minimize the downtime. There are a few handy things to look for:
8.) Learn the Art of Self-Sacrifice
You are a killer, a ruthless monster at your keyboard and you will tear anything apart when the time comes. But this is a team sport, and you are part of a group. Sometimes the opportunity will present itself to give *other* people the ability to do more damage. Look for those moments and use them to their fullest. It will not be recorded in an obvious way on a damage meter like Recount or Skada, but it will increase the group’s damage performance and it will be because of you. Exactly how to do this is tricky and highly case-specific, but I will illustrate some examples here:
Executions = Fury Warriors (Arms as well to a slightly lesser degree), Hunters, Shadow Priests, Retribution Paladins, and Affliction Warlocks have severely hard-hitting abilities with positive reinforcements for using them that can only be used when a target is below 20-25% health. Giving these classes the opportunity to use these abilities can have very positive feedback for the group. For example, Fury Warriors receive a stacking haste buff for using multiple Executes. If there are more targets to kill, leaving the last dregs of the opponents health to the Fury Warrior (situation permitting) can allow the Fury Warrior to start in on the next target with a significant benefit.
Extra Debuffs = you may not have abilities to spread around as described in #4, but perhaps you have a debuff that could enhance those damages. Recognize where you can plant debuffs ahead of time to augment other player’s spreadable damage sources. It might not gain you anything, but it could increase the group’s effectiveness.
Debuff Coverage = it is easy now to account for where debuffs *could* come from, and simply act with self-righteous indignation when the person does not apply their buffs and debuffs. Indignation does not help the group though. Sometimes providing spot coverage of buffs and debuffs can help maximize your group’s performance even though it may not be ideal for your own methods. For example, you have a Bear Druid tank who is maintaining Faerie Fire (for armor reduction like Sunder Armor), but the tank is focusing heavily on survival and lets Faerie Fire fall off. As a Rogue you don’t usually drop Expose Armor as it is hard to fit into your combo point cycles, but if you can apply it quickly on the fly, even with a partial stack, you can support the group until the tank picks it up again.
The Power of Movement Speed = some fights require opponents to bounce around or be kited around, and sometimes they still need to be attacked. Melee damage dealers need to be within 8 yards of their target to use their attacks, even to auto-attack; Similarly casters and Hunters may need to adjust to make sure they are in range. Situation permitting, if you can slow the movement speed of the target or increase the movement speed of your teammates, you can increase their activity time by allowing them to stay on point. In addition, *any* fight where players need to reposition to avoid damage, if you can increase their run speed that lets them move to the new location faster and minimize time spent where they couldn’t ply their full abilities. A small act from you like using a single global cooldown to use that ability can represent far more in gains from your teammates, and may still benefit you for similar reasons.
Do Not Run Away from your Tank and Healer!
Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes you pull threat or the tank is incapacitated, slowed, or is just not so spry at picking up your opponents. Should this happen and you have angry beasts bearing down on you, do *not* run away from your tank or your healer. If you out-range your healer they have no chance at keeping you alive for damage you take. If you run away from your tank you limit their ability to retrieve the errant enemies. When at all possible, run *towards* your tank. This will do one step better than just staying still as it will cut the distance between the tank and the mobs in half and shorten the dangerous window in which you could need healing. The healer will always be positioned in range of the tank so this path should never take you out of healing range.
Group, Team, and Social Meta Skills
When it comes down to it, the highest levels of WoW are a social game. You cannot succeed without relying on the strengths and weaknesses of other players. No one solos an at-level raid, and even the MVP from a raid did not actually do it alone, they were enabled to their successes by all the other members in the group, even the ones that may not have appeared to contribute as much. Consider employing the following skills in every social setting whether it is in a common space such as General or Trade chat in a city, a random dungeon group, or a well-established guild raid.
It is Just a Game, but…
You may hear this a lot. You may think this a lot, but there are some important things to remember:
1.) It is a game. If you win or lose at the game, there will not be any real or lasting consequences. You may not get that piece of loot you wanted *today*, but there is always tomorrow, there is always another opportunity.
2.) You are playing with real people. You may just be playing a game, but that does not make the people on the other side of those avatars any less real. They are people like you with feelings, desires, plans, and passions. You wouldn’t (I hope) reach over the table and slap your mother when you don’t like the card she plays in Uno, don’t do the same in digital equivalent to the people you run with in a random dungeon group.
3.) It is not a single-player game. In a single player game the whole world literally or figuratively revolves around you. WoW is a multiplayer game. WoW does not revolve around you any more than the real world does. Be respectful of other players, do not steal or take advantage of them. Respect the same etiquette you would in the real world. If you wouldn’t cut in line at Starbucks, don’t do the digital equivalent in WoW (like, say, taking an ore node when there is someone fighting something right next to it. Ask or wait to see if they will take it, swooping in is rude).
4.) Real people have real feelings. Mocking someone’s avatar, as much as it may seem silly, is almost the exact same thing as mocking someone’s clothing. Some players may have a healthier remove from their character the way some people wouldn’t take an insult to their clothing personally, but that doesn’t mean you should mock them for either.
5.) Be polite and respectful. Ask, don’t command, and say please and thank you. If you are in a random group and want a buff, ask for it, don’t instruct the appropriate party to give it to you, that is rude. They may be avatars, but they are the in-game representation of a real person. Do not address people by class or role, those are labeled, address people by their character name. You wouldn’t go up to a person on the street and call them by their appearance, would you? In fact, in many situations that could get you in serious trouble.
6.) Be considerate. If there is something like a piece of loot or a resource node, or what have you, consider before you take it if it might suit someone else better. If you’re in a random dungeon and you want to pick up a piece of gear for your occasional or even frequent off-set (that you aren’t using), *ask* before you need the item against someone who needs it for their primary gear set and role. Even if an item may be of value to you in a slight way, consider passing it to someone who will get a much larger value out of it.
7.) Say “Hello.” You don’t have to carry on conversations, you don’t have to get to know them, you don’t have to see them ever again, but acknowledge that there are other human beings present and that you are about to cooperate to mutual benefit.
Communication is King
In any activity with more than one person, the only way to truly coordinate your actions is through communication. In the real world we have the benefit of body language and other less tangible forms of communication. In the game world this is rather more difficult. The nature of avatars and their natural limitations for conveying non-verbal language make it so you can only deliver the most simple of messages, and they’re rarely conducive to the complexity demanded by an instance or raid. Suffice to say, you have to interact with your group members!
If you do not *tell* your group what you are doing, they have no way to anticipate or react immediately in a sympathetic fashion. Ideally, the group will form a leadership of sorts. This often defaults to the tank but does not have to, as discussed in the leadership section above. Ideally, the acting leader will set the group’s action and the group will help inform that decision, and follow the plan the group settled on. That all sounds great, but we can be more specific, let’s create a flexible guideline of what *should* happen in any group action that requires coordination:
1.) As above, identify your opponents, decide on the appropriate control measures and assign them, set a kill order, and make sure everyone has seen and can handle their assignment.
2.) When the group has finished the planning phase, the tank should ensure the group is ready prior to making the pull. This *might* be clear if the group is all standing by the tank, moving into position to start the pull, and has all the obvious preset conditions like buffs, active pets, etc. If there is any doubt that they are ready, ask. It is better safe than sorry.
3.) Once the pull is initiated, the only information that *needs* to be shared with the group is whether or not anything is going off the plan and needs to be handled. This could include a controlled target being unable to be controlled (meaning either someone else will have to take control, or the tank will have to pick it up), if the healer or tank dies (though it may be obvious in a 5-man, it may be less so in a raid) the group needs to know. If a damage dealer dies it is *not* necessary to inform the group unless that player was responsible for controlling something. It is *not* necessary to announce your health status to the healers (including if you are dead after the pull). It is their job, they know what your health state is. If you are not receiving healing it is because you are lower on the priority list for their heals than someone else, or they are unable to heal at the moment. If you are not getting resurrected yet, it is because the healer doesn’t have mana, or is handling something else before doing so. Ideally, mid-combat, communication should be kept as minimalistic as possible to ensure that messages are clear and unambiguous. Mid-combat is *not* the time to start discussions, point out less pivotal details, or announce every minor event that happens.
4.) After combat has ended is the appropriate time to discuss anything you may have learned, highlight how well certain strategies worked, and to discuss how you would handle that fight differently in the future, even if you actually successfully completed it, there is always room for improvement. Discussing how things went and how you will handle them in the future helps reinforce the memory in your mind and helps your brain digest the information it took on so that you are more likely to recall it accurately in the future.
5.) Between fights the group should pay attention to the needs of the group, particularly the tank (who will usually set the pace) should pay attention to the needs of the group. The healer will most likely be the person to pay attention to and wait on to ensure they are prepared for the next fight, but damage dealers may need to rebuff, refill mana, or resurrect pets and the like. There is no sense in trying to rush ahead without your group unless you can actually solo the instance, and even then it is poor teamwork.
Common mistakes that can be made in this process usually involve the tank racing ahead while the group is recovering, or a damage dealer or healer being impatient and trying to pull the next group for the tank. If you want to go at a faster pace *talk* to your group about it, guerrilla tactics will only compromise the atmosphere of the group and make people hostile or stressed out, but will encourage mistrust and make people reluctant to trust in the group as well.
When in doubt, ask. There is no shame in not knowing what to do, everyone starts somewhere and every group will handle things differently as every group is different and has different tools. If you have read the rest of the above you can also recognize that just because two people play the same class does *not* mean they bring the same skills or tools to the table, let alone the same aptitudes.
Patience is a virtue
Patience is the trait of recognizing that not everything has to happen immediately. Timing is more important than speed. Patience is *not* waiting and tapping your fingers. Patience is being willing to wait without agenda or frustration. Nothing is improved by being hasty. If you want to increase your pace through an instance it needs to be a cooperative effort, not a forced march.
If you find yourself getting frustrated by waiting on someone, ask them why they have to pause as long as they are. If they are too slow for your group, or are terminally absent you can ask them to find another group. If you try to treat people with humanity, you can find people are far more willing to be considerate of *your* feelings. If you only plant seeds of distrust, impersonality, and impatience, you have no reason to expect any different from anyone else. Be the sort of person that you want to play with.
There is a lot of foundation that goes into this discussion. I will not rehash all of it here as that is many books’ worth on its own, but I will try to create a bread crumb trail.
Precept #1: Rules are artificial, created by humans in an attempt to control our world
Simply put, there are no hard and fast rules. We have ideals, morals, and self-fueled compunctions. For example, we don’t want to die, so we don’t want people to kill us. As a result, we create a rule that says, “Don’t kill people or <insert punishment>.” These are the necessary components of a true rule: a directive and a consequence of you do not follow that directive. We have reasons, rationales, justifications, and what have you for the rules we create; we call these reasons Religion, Morality, Law, Philosophy, etc. These things do not make rules any more true or immutable.
Precept #2: People have inclinations that exist with or without rules, sometimes rules will create inclinations, for or against those rules.
Rules are man-made and not unbreakable (otherwise they’d just be facts, not guidelines). The presence of rules *does* impact those they are placed on, but not always in the way that is desired. People will act in their own interests, regardless of their motivations. Sometimes they will want to act against the rules, sometimes they will want to follow them, but in both cases they may choose to follow the rules rather than risk the consequences.
The rules will only ever, then, force compliance of action, not of intent. Here is where virtue lies. It is virtuous to act in a fashion that is considerate of the whole. Ideally, the rules are aimed at such action, though often times virtue has little to do with the rules.
So here is the meat:
Remove the rules and see the true person show through
Whether you want to support a given rule, or you are only forced into compliance, rules create a tension. When you remove that rule, or more often the enforcement of the consequences for not following the rule, you release the tension like a spring. This may leave people feeling free to act that way, or it may result in them acting the way they really wanted to.
Here is where we see the true inclination of the person.
Let’s use a more specific example. Society has its own rules, we call them etiquette. For example, we respect the rule of the queue. If there is a limited speed at which a service can be accessed, we create a line. First-come, first-served. It is polite (i.e. social rule) to join at the end of the line, while breaking into the middle of the line, or stepping to the front is impolite, and people will call you out on it. This sort of social justice is the consequences. Often (though not always) this is sufficient reason compared to the gains to not cut in line. Now consider traffic. Within your car you are isolated from direct contact with other people. Now consider a highway off-ramp that, for whatever reason, is slowed. Social etiquette gives the simple answer: join at the end of the line and wait like everyone else. However, because you are isolated from the social justice (you cannot hear people yelling at you from other cars), there are little or no apparent consequences. What do we see then? Inevitably there are some people who see the line and say, “I’ll just go up and then wedge my way into the line farther up so I don’t have to wait as long.” It is a clear violation of the social code, but without the usual consequences, the people who are inclined to be rude and self-important have no reason not to be.
Why is he talking about traffic? World of Warcraft creates a virtual world where you will interact with thousands of real people through the interface. The virtual world is policed by social justice, but like traveling in a car many people have found ample distance from the reality that there are real people present, or they feel like the virtual world is sufficiently distanced from the real world such that they do not feel the same rules apply even if people will try to apply the same social justice. In WoW, many of the harshest consequences are removed. Let’s have some more examples:
1.) You land to pick a flower/mine ore and a creature attacks you; someone else flies up while you are fighting and takes the resources.
2.) You are questing and reach that big objective creature. You start casting your trusty spell when someone else rushes up and tags the creature, forcing you to wait for the respawn.
3.) You are forming a raid group to go to your current raid instance. One of your group’s scheduled members decides they’d rather go get a drink with friends and does not tell anyone on the raid team.
These are easy and obvious breaches of social etiquette, but there are many more. Some are as simple, subtle, and jarring as simply being rude or confrontational to other members of a random dungeon group.
Without the consequences, people will show their true colors.
Following the Rules does not imply virtue
I’ve used the term virtue several times. In simplest terms, my concept of virtue is acting of your own will and compunction in a manner that is considerate of the whole, of yourself, other people, and the world in which you are acting. All of these things will feel the impact of your actions.
Behaving in accordance with the rules is not, in and of itself, virtuous. Following the rules because you “have” to is simply compliance. The apparent results (i.e. not breaking the rules) may appear desirable, but WoW is a perfect illustration of what happens when you rely on rules alone to set the standard of what acceptable behavior is.
The triangle is an important structural shape in geometry and construction. The nature of the shape is such that force exerted on any point or side is distributed over the rest of the structure. This lends it great strength and a simple sort of fortitude. So too is the simplest design of the Team Dynamic in WoW.
The three components of the group, the tank, healer, and damage dealer, form an interactive network. The performance of each portion of the triangle will in turn determine the relative strain on the rest of the structure. The simplest interaction of the structure is as follows:
1.) The Tank protects the group from the enemy. They have to match their threat to the demands of the damage dealers and vice versa. Similarly the tank has to survive the enemy’s onslaught, where the tanks survivability will determine how hard the healer has to work to keep him alive.
2.) The Healer protects the survival of the team from damage. The damage dealers need to be preserved to ensure the enemy is defeated rapidly enough, and the tank needs to be preserved to take the attention of the enemy as he will also take the least actual damage.
3.) The Damage dealers determine the length of the fight. The longer the fight goes on the more the healers can reach their limits of endurance, but if the damage is too severe the damage dealers can test or surpass the tank’s threat and cause death or undue damage to the group.
There is a balance point to be found that is determined by 4 factors. The three components of the group as described above, and the final external influence. Every encounter is designed to test each of the parts of the group differently. Perfectly executed, the group will be able to counter the demands of the specific encounter and find a balance point where the group can succeed the most easily.
I’ve made a handy graphic to help illustrate this.
I will use the letters as reference for the different sorts of challenges, but first we need to understand Point S. Point S is the balancing point created by the 3 components within the group. The closer point S moves towards each of the 6 internal components the more stress will be placed on the affected part or parts. Here are the 6 directions (moving counter-clockwise):
Tank = when the dps and healers are weak and/or distracted (such as fights where the raid has to dodge a lot of dangers), the tank will carry more of the weight. Here the tank will have to take a higher investment in his own survival.
Tank/Healer = moving towards the border between the tank and healer is a fight where the dps are weak or busy and have to kill the opponent slowly. This puts the pressure on survival first and foremost, and is to the tank and healer to share that burden.
Healer = moving the stress towards the healer is a fight where the whole group is taking heavy damage. Either the group is minimally able to avoid the damage, or they are not being careful enough. In this situation the healer will carry the burden of the challenge.
Healer/Damage = moving towards the border between the healer and the damage dealers is a fight where there are tight time tables, and heavy damage. These fights typically require the damage dealers to avoid obstacles as effectively as they can while still pushing the damage as best they can, but will often rely on the healers to cover them when they need to take more hurt to meet the time demands.
Damage = moving the challenge towards the damage dealers is the prototypical “tank and spank” fight with a tight enrage timer. Here the damage dealers will have to do everything they can to kill the opponent in time.
Damage/Tank = moving the challenge towards the border between the tank and the damage dealers is a fight in which the target needs to die rapidly, but the tank carries a portion of that stress. This may be a fight where the tank has a threat reduction, or a fight where the dps receive special damage buffs.
Note that each of these directions can happen both externally or internally. In other words the design of the encounter will stress your group in a particular fashion, but your group can ease or complicate that challenge further. If you have damage dealers who do weak damage and/or are slow to avoid damage, you may more regularly stress the tanks and healers on survival. If you have a squishy tank, or a tank weak on threat you can heighten the challenge for the damage dealers or healers. If you have weak healers, the tank will have to take a more active role in his survival, and the damage dealers will need to finish the fight more quickly to not run the healers out of capacity.
Let’s consider the same stresses but from external sources:
Type A = this sort of encounter pushes the stress away from the tank and towards the healers/damage dealers. As described above, this is a fight where there are serious raid hazards and strict time requirements. For example, if the fight requires the group to frequently move out of hazard zones that are spawning randomly, this would be a Type A challenge. The tank only needs to hold the target while the healers and damage dealers have to frequently relocate while trying to kill the enemy. WoW examples would include: Koralon the Flamewatcher, Professor Putricide, the Twin Valkyr, and Loatheb.
Type B = this sort of encounter pushes the stress away from the healers and towards the tank and damage dealers. This sort of fight is one where the target has to die quickly and the tanks have to be sharp on picking up their targets and holding threat. For example, a fight with waves of adds, or a fight where the group has to use special encounter buffs to meet the enrage times would fall into this classification. WoW examples would include: Thaddius, Thorim, and Lady Deathwhisper.
Type C = this sort of encounter pushes the stress away from the damage dealers onto the tank and the healers. This sort of fight could be one with heavy tank damage, or it may have heavy damage for the group that could be mitigated by the tank some of the time. For example, this could be a fight where the tanks need to swap to manage a debuff that increases their damage taken, or a fight where the tanks need to pick up and hold multiple targets or targets that will hurt the tanks a lot (typically without the ability to kill these opponents, or where the dps can’t spare the time to kill these extra damage sources). WoW examples would include: Patchwerk, General Vezax, Lord Jaraxxus, and Valithria Dreamwalker.
Type D = this sort of encounter pushes the stress onto the damage dealers. This could be an encounter where there is a very tight enrage timer. WoW examples would include: Malygos, XT-002 Deconstructor, and Deathbringer Saurfang.
Type E = this sort of encounter pushes the stress onto the healers. This could be an encounter where there is a lot of raid hazards that are unavoidable, or fights with high tank damage, or fights that are a combination of the two. WoW examples would include: Kel’thuzzad, Toravon the Icewatcher, Rotface, and the Beasts of Northrend.
Type F = this sort of encounter pushes the stress on to the tank. This may involve complicated movements or special handling of the opponents, or it may require sharp cooperation between tanks. WoW examples would include: Phase 1 and 3 of Mimiron, Anub’arak, the Iron Council, and Ignis.
Likewise as encounters can test a group in specific ways, groups can shift the labor on to or off of parts of the group, and smart strategies will involve finding ways to do this to share the burden across the structure as best they can. This could mean the damage dealers worrying less about the damage they deal and being more wary of the hazards, the could use special tools or not-strictly-required tank switching to ease the healing required, or healers could contribute some damage towards killing opponents faster. The solutions are as numerous as the stimuli.
How to use this to your advantage:
Identify the factors, both internal and external, that shift the stress of your group dynamic. Identify what factors can be changed or removed, identify what tools you have to counter balance the factors that cannot be changed or removed, and make sure that the strongest part of your group is bearing the burden of the remainder.
The team design in WoW stands on three legs. The tank is the frontman/woman who takes the attention and punishment of the enemy and protects the rest of the group. The healer helps counteract the threat of the enemy that is not or cannot be avoided, and preserves the team’s lives. The third leg is that of the work horses, the damage dealers. Just because your tank can take the beating well enough for the healer to prevent his death, does not mean you will be able to sustain that forever, nor do you want to.
The requirement of the damage dealers? Take down your opponent! In order to do so there are a few essential things you need to accomplish:
1.) Survive! A dead character deals no damage. It is in your best interest to avoid what hurts you to spare the healer’s efforts on you, and allow him to focus on the tank more. Every player is responsible for their own survival before anyone else is, it is not healthy to rely on someone else to keep you alive without condition. Sometimes it is not a reasonable request.
2.) Threat management. The tank is prepared to take the beating for you, and they invested heavily in being able to do so. Respect the tank’s central role in protecting you: threat. While defeating your opponent it is essential to keep your threat behind that of the tank, otherwise you run the risk of taking the attention of the opponent, which in turn usually leads to responsibility #1. Damage Dealers have limited ability to survive direct attention, and you should never take that attention provided you pay attention to your threat.
3.) Destruction! At the end of the day you are *the* backbone of the group in determining how long the fight lasts and how easy it is on your counterparts. Tanks are prepared to survive as long as they can manage, and healers are prepared to keep people alive for the same, but you will determine how long that will be. It is your responsibility to fell your foes.
How do you kill a dragon?
Every class is designed to use a semi-unique combination of elements to ply their trade, and for damage dealers there is a fair degree of variation, much more so than tanks or healers. All tanks have in common that they are predominantly up-close fighters with heavy defenses. All healers are casters who mend their allies at a distance with spells. Damage dealers come in many shapes and sizes, and even within each class different specs will vary in how they apply their skills from subtle variations to vast differences. Let’s first look at the classifications by which we can sort damage dealers:
Physical Damage vs Magical Damage
Every damage dealing class/spec will fall somewhere on the scale between 100% physical damage and 100% magical damage. Most class/specs will deal a mixture of the two. In the most interesting of encounter designs this becomes important to identify as some things will be more vulnerable to one form or the other. In the past this has been used very little, but as the game grows and changes, this door could be opened wider still. This element will always be very meaningful in illustrating the nature of your character, though.
Melee vs Ranged
Each play style is characterized by whether they beat on their target at close range with their hands and weapons (melee), or attack their enemy from a distance with physical or magical projectiles. Often times the distinction is not that ranged attackers must be at long range, only that they can be, but the Hunter class has often played the typical element of the ranged combatant who is unable to function well at close range, or is at a significant disadvantage.
Burst vs Burn
A less common distinction to be discussed in such terms is the distinction of damage delivery style. Some class/specs specialize in strong smashes, while others rely on a barrage of smaller elements. Some build up to stronger single hits, while others build up to a mantle of painful gradual damage elements (Damage over time, or DoT effects). The distinction is not always obviously important, but it can be very significant depending on the challenge you face.
Each class/spec will fall somewhere on each of these scales. I won’t discuss each and everyone here, but it is worth remembering this for future articles.
The Art of Destruction
The artistic touches of a skilled damage dealer are subtle and tricky, more so than you might think. Many will tell you that dealing damage in WoW is a science, that if you can perfect your rotation, remove your human hindrances you can match that perfect model of damage that the computer says you are capable of, if you do it all right. I disagree. The system is full of nuances, delays, and there are key elements that will never allow you to be perfect in form to that “perfect rotation.” While understanding that “perfect” pattern may be useful, it is only a guiding light in the real and malleable mush. What is more, while it is important to defeat your opponent, and it is rare that faster does not have its advantages, sometimes it is better to be slow and well-executed, than fast and sloppy. In finding the most effective way to do your job, you need to be aware of the bounds within which you are working, and know where you can test them, and where you can slip through.
The bounds? Threat, survival, attention, time, and the nuances of each class/spec’s style and spells. If you could hit with a massive hit in the first moment of the fight, but you would tear threat off the tank and die and possibly cause chaos for everyone else, it is not worth it when you could instead do gradual damage over time for a much longer period. Similarly, if you could do a massive hit, but would have to stand in a fire and hope the healer(s) can keep you alive, that may not often be the right choice. “Better to run away,” says the adage. There are elements that will require your attention to accomplish both the threat dance and the act of survival, and these things will distract from the more complicated elements that are involved in the execution of your skills. You cannot plan hoping that they will not, instead you need to be ready for them to and develop reflexes and trained responses to allow you to function well while you respond to unpredictable circumstances. Finally, most encounters are designed with their own external elements that will create time frameworks. These will be your windows to ply your trade. This may be an overall timer like an “enrage” point where your opponent will decide he’s had enough of you and will just start destroying you, or it may be more phase-oriented actions, like a period of time where you cannot attack without dying or taking overly dangerous amounts of damage.
The best damage dealers know how to use these requirements to create a rhythm, a dance in which they can knock their enemies down in. Boxers will refer to this as the “stick and move.” Know when to bob, know when to weave, and know when to land that haymaker, over the top, hard right fist to the jaw.
There is plenty of room for artistry beyond the simple act of hurting your opponents though, and often that is found in utility and support. For example:
This is not the exclusive domain of the damage dealers, but it is often easiest for the damage dealers to provide this service. Crowd Control (CC) is the act of taking an opponent out of the action for a period of time, or rendering them ineffectual. Many class/specs can provide functions like this in various ways, but it is of great aid to the healers, and sometimes to the tanks to do this. Disabling some of your opponents may open up weaknesses for the others, or it may just simplify the challenge your team faces making it easier to accomplish. Knowing when it is appropriate to do so is important, and being able to communicate that you are to the rest of your team, quickly and concisely, is important to functioning as a team.
Protection, Buffing, Debuffing
The damage dealers will make up the bulk of the head count on your team, and they will bring as many, if not more abilities to the table that will improve the performance of your whole team. This is accomplished through buffs and debuffs. Many of these buffs are of great personal significance, and so are easy to bring without a second thought. The best damage dealers appreciate the values that they can offer in the bigger picture of how they help the whole team. Some may offer a way to make the tank take less damage, some may offer a boost to the healers healing power, or offer a way to reduce damage the group takes. Some will offer buffs/debuffs that improve their own damage but also increases damage dealt by others, and some (albeit a less common trait) will offer buffs that will not improve their own damage, only others. Understanding and offering the best value to the team you can is an important aspect of playing the game well. Maybe using an ability will cost you something of your own performance, but if it can improve your team mates’ performances by a greater sum than what you lost, it is usually worth it.
This is a complex task that great damage dealers do, often without thinking about it. I’ve never had a good concise way to relate this action, but I have given it a name: “Threading.” Threading is the act of slipping elements into the cracks created by your regular rhythms and those of the external stimuli. For example, if you had your way you may normally fire Spell A 3 times, then Spell B for a big burst. Perhaps the given encounter however doesn’t give you time to repeat the whole sequence twice, so what do you do in the second space? If you were to just cast A twice maybe you wouldn’t do as well as if you were to cast A once then B. Maybe a different spell or combination of spells fits that window better. If you are looking to be most effective you want to know the value of every element in your toolbox and how to fit them into windows. It is hard to describe this without using class/spec specifics, but watch for this term in the future as I will use it to describe such tactics.
Fast Switch Role Versatility
Some class/specs are capable of covering for their teammates in case of an emergency. For example, one class/spec may be able to grab their shield, swap their stance, and take a beating like a tank for a short period. Perhaps another class/spec can provide some weaker healing in moments where the healers are taxed or obstructed. Generally, people will want to preserve the pure focus of a single role in their spec and gear design, but it can be a very powerful thing to be able to address the needs of the team in the moment it is needed most. Flexibility never hurts you, so long as you are careful not to exercise it when there is no need, or more accurately when there is no counter-need. In plain English, if you decide to start healing when, if you don’t add your damage to killing your opponent immediately you will all die, then you are not actually helping. This is an amorphous need as much as any other, being able to identify it, and then communicate clearly to your team what is happening, is what is most important to the strongest function of a team.
The damage dealers will make up the largest portion of the team, and in that there is the most flexibility. The strongest group plays and plans together. The strongest group knows where to support the group, and knows where they can be supported by the group.
Next: the final chapter, “The Grand Triangle.”
What is required of a healer is actually somewhat distorted in the minds of many. The requirements of a healer dance on the pivotal eternal turning point: death.
It is not the healer’s job to keep everyone at full health, nor is it their job to ensure everyone lives. It is the healer’s job to make sure that the team survives where and how it needs to in order to succeed at their challenge.
Normally this will take the form of death prevention. When a character dies there is very little opportunity for them to come back, and as such it is usually in the team’s interest to keep everyone from dying. That said, the choices healers have to make on the fly are not so dissimilar to those made by doctors in real world hospitals, and the method of choosing the appropriate action has a real world analogy: triage. Triage is the act of identifying who can be helped, who is in the greatest need of help, and who cannot be saved within reason. Healers must choose who gets their heals and when, and their job is to do so in cooperation with any other healers to maximize the effectiveness of the team. Sometimes that may mean letting one damage dealer die so that the tanks do not (which could in turn kill the whole team). Similarly it could involve letting someone who is low on health stay low on health to give aid where it will be more required, in other words where said low-health individual will not take damage for some reason.
The healer(s) is not the only one responsible for whether the group lives or dies. Everyone is responsible for their own survival. Tanks will gear and prepare expecting to be beaten severely. Their job is to make themselves as painless to keep alive as is reasonable. Damage dealers are given many lesser tools to keep themselves alive, but usually the single largest factor for them is situational awareness, or as many have deemed it, “DON’T STAND IN THE FIRE!!” It is often the case, however, where the best efforts of anyone cannot reasonably lead to them surviving without special intervention, and it is healers who are responsible for that intervention in the form of health protection and restoration.
So, what is required of healers? Choose where to help people survive to ensure your team can perform its function. Sometimes that means letting someone die, sometimes that means sacrificing yourself, and usually that means truly cooperating with the others who are filling the same role to make sure that your team operates in harmony. You are the lifeline that keeps the tank afloat, and you are the hand that helps up your comrades up when they trip.
Balance of Need
Healing is truly a unique endeavor. In most games you can think of things in terms of a linear, open-ended, ceiling-less world. Bigger is better, it is never “too much.” Healing is not such a thing, ever, but it can sometimes seem like it when balance is off kilter (as it has been for much of this expansion). The task of healing is dictated by need. There is no need to heal a character who has full health (unless there is an interesting condition like Incinerate Flesh that needs to be healed off, props to Blizzard on that design element). Likewise, healing as part of a team is a dynamic and cooperative affair. Killing something is an act where the damage contributions are only significant in sum totals and the need is enormous (each damage dealer going full tilt to contribute in roughly equal measures). Healing, however, is many micro adjustments, and one healer’s actions can remove the need of the other healers, but similarly if they do not organize well multiple people can spend effort on the same target and another may die from neglect. To that end, it is always in the healers’ best interest to find ways to organize between them who is responsible to meet which demands that the team may have.
Every healer has to balance two elements in terms of design: healing power versus healing endurance. If you need to patch up a damage dealer (who has less health that a tank would) for some small burn they took, you can often get by with a single small heal. Alternately, if you are healing a tank through a stream of incoming damage, or healing a group of people through an unavoidable (or unavoided) surge of damage, you need to deliver higher healing output. Bigger is not always better, if you only need to restore 2000 health, a heal that restores 20,000 is no better than one that restores 3,000, and in a well-balanced system there is a penalty for the excess of wasting 18,000 unneeded healing. This is the element of healing power and in WoW that is dictated by spellpower (how big the heals are), haste (how fast the heals fire off), and crit chance (possible spikes in healing).
On the other side of the coin is endurance, and this is where, again in a well-balanced system, the excessive “over-healing” has its toll. You need to be able to keep people alive. That starts with scale, you need to be able to out-heal the incoming unavoidable damage. Beyond that, you need to be able to heal it for as long as the damage will be taken. It is not good enough if the only way that you can deliver enough healing in the first half of an encounter is to use up all your resources leaving you unable to heal for the second half of the encounter. This is healing endurance.
Just as tanks have to balance threat and survival, so too do healers need to balance power and endurance. However, where tanks need to reach their goals on both fronts individually, and can then fill in for their own balance, the design of spells for healers is such that often the two elements are closely knit. Healers are generally equipped with very high-power heals that are also very hard to sustain for prolonged periods, but they are also equipped with lower power heals that they can use when there is smaller demand for output. Selecting the right spell for the right situation will in turn determine whether or not they meet their requirements of both power and endurance. The game is also generally balanced expecting that people won’t make the perfect choice every time, and as such it is possible for a smarter healer to perform more than well enough in lesser gear than a better geared healer who makes poor choices.
Beyond proper choices healers also manage their endurance through the handling of Mana. Mana is the fuel for their spells, and it comes and goes in various capacities depending on class. All healers have a mana pool of varying size as dictated by Intellect. All healers have mana regeneration as dictated by their Intellect, Spirit, Mana per 5 (mp5), class mechanics, and special restoration tools (such as Shadowfiend, Divine Plea, Innervate, and Manatide Totem). Depending on the class and spec, the balance will vary, but a healer will often go through more than one pool’s worth of mana in a given fight, which can be accomplished thanks to both the passive and special regenerative abilities, and special abilities that reduce costs of healing spells.
It is enough to say for tanks that “enough” threat is having more threat than the highest damage dealer’s threat. However, it is harder to describe a specific value of how much healing output is required. The only gauge, ultimately, is whether or not you manage to succeed at what your group faces, but usually it is preferable if you can do so without anyone dying. If no one dies, then you are surely able to put out enough healing. In a hyper-critical balance where you could only reach just enough of either element, you would have just enough endurance if you ran out of your last point of mana the moment the fight ended with no tools left to restore it. As with all elements of the game, however, the balance is not so hyper-critical and you will find that you can surpass both minimums relatively easy. It is up to each healer to find the balancing point that suits them best, and the ways to tell are in a simple assessment on each element:
1.) How hard to I have to work to put out the healing required? Would it be any easier if my heals were bigger? If yes, then you want to shift your balance towards healing power (SP/Haste/Crit). If no, then you do not need more of those elements for the sake of healing power, though you still may want them for class mechanics.
2.) How often do I feel strained for mana, or how often do I feel I need to take time away from healing to regenerate so I can heal well again? If you find you frequently have to use abilities to regain mana, or do things that take you away from healing, or worse, if you find you just plain run out of mana and have no means to get it back for a time, you need to focus more on healing endurance and improving your mana availability. If you can get through any fight without taking such time away from healing that it compromises your role, then you are surely above your requirement on endurance. Most healers will prefer to spend less time, than the most they possibly could, regenerating mana through active means.
Not all encounters are created equal for their challenge to healers. Some will demand bigger healing for short periods, and some will require more “patch” healing or random healing required for longer periods of time. Some encounters will require the healers to be pushing heals hard and fast, and others will not be so demanding. A savvy healer knows how to adjust their tactics to suit the situation, and the best healers even bring extra equipment to tailor their passive support to suit those needs.
Anticipation vs Reaction
There is a fundamental distinction in healing that comes from the nuances of perception and the need-based art of healing.
Reaction healing is the act of waiting for health to drop, then healing the hurt characters back to full. This is what most healers start doing, and poor healers rely on exclusively. This is a dangerous form of healing for two simple facets: 1.) you will rarely provide the best response if you are only reacting to what just happened as it takes time to deliver health, and 2.) sometimes a health drop will quickly be followed by life threatening conditions and your fastest responses are usually not as powerful as your prepared responses, for healing output. For example, if a target were about to step in a puddle of yuck that will do 30% of their health every second, and it will take them 5 seconds to get out, without healing they will die (5 x 30% is 150% of their total health, dead, one and a half times over). If you were just waiting to see their health drop you would be very late to the party as their health would drop 30% before you did anything to respond, and you would be looking at only 2 sec before they die. If you were prepared for that, you could have enough time to have a heal on its way before the damage was taken, and you would be well situated to continue heals, which you know would now be required.
Anticipatory healing is accomplished in several fashions. Most experienced healers will develop an instinctual form of this that we will call rhythmic anticipation. Their first response will be reactionary, but as time goes on they will get used to the rhythm of damage that their allies are taking and respond accordingly. They will be able to react to the pulses by keeping the beat in their mind. It is rare that people are actually aware when they do this, but it is very interesting to observe (and easily stressed when the beat is changed or syncopation is incorporated). The second and more important form of anticipatory healing is one that requires spacial awareness. A savvy healer can be aware of their own space and where the members of the group position themselves. If you are aware of what can hurt you and are, as such, avoiding it, you can also potentially predict who is about to step in that puddle themselves and be prepared to heal them. The same anticipation is used in encounters with phase changes or condition changes. For example, a fight may have a period in time where the room floods with gas and the group will all take a steady flow of damage. The savvy healer is ready for this and has their tools in place to counter it, or at very least will not be surprised when the group’s health bars go down.
Every healer has to balance both elements as you never get away from either. Reactionary reflexes are key when facing the frequently random elements the game and other players will throw at you, but used as the sole method of response to healing it will be easily disrupted and leave the healer in a trying to catch up position. Anticipation is important and can make an OK healer a superior healer, but nothing is 100% predictable so reflexes are key.
Finesse: the bread and butter of Healing
Healing is frequently a thankless job. Why? Because when everything is going well, people aren’t worried about their health or well-being. When they don’t worry about it, they don’t pay much attention to the reason why they aren’t dead: the Healer! Every now and then someone will see themselves come close to death, sometimes for their own misstep, sometimes for something that just can’t be avoided. When they are pulled back from the obvious brink of death they *know* that it is the healer they have to thank. But usually, when a healer is doing their job well, the other group members will never see that edge. Because of that, they can easily overlook the part of the healer.
To that end, I contend that the best healer *should* go unnoticed when it matters most. They should wield the health bars of their teammates like eggs juggled in a careful routine. The finesse healer heals a group like a plate spinner. Once the plates are in the air, it is a simple act of a soft touch here, a quick brush there, and all the plates take care of themselves. If a healer is poor at anticipating and/or slow to react to the healing needs, they have to take drastic measures to catch up, and once you are behind that can become a very stressful endeavor. The finesse healer is poised, balanced, and always ready to apply only what is needed in the moment it is.
Beware the healer who is always bragging about how they are the highest on healing meters. This is not a healer interested in cooperating, this is a healer interested in domineering. It is rarely conducive to team healing to compete for who will heal the most. In the best situations the person who does the most healing is just the person who A.) was assigned to the highest healing requirement, B.) has class mechanics that match the encounter’s demands most closely, and C.) is the fastest to deliver heals in situations where multiple people are responsible for the same assignment. The healer who cares too much about their total healing done can easily also be supplanting the assignment system and racing others to their healing assignments to beat them to the punch. It looks good for their total healing done, but it cramps the team effort and compromises efficiency.
The Artistry in Healing
There are many ways in which the best healer will go completely unnoticed. Many of these are also what make them superior healers:
It is not strictly the domain of anyone to dispel. Multiple tank, dps, and healing class specs are equipped with the tools to remove magic, poison, disease, or curse effects. However, every healer spec is capable of dispelling at least two, sometimes three, and the healer is usually the one player who has the most opportunity to do so in their usual operation. In most situations both friends and enemies alike will have buffs or debuffs that will improve or obstruct their ability to do their job. As a healer, being able to remove the obstructions from your group will be a great help to the group. Similarly many of the debuffs your group receives will be little more than damage over time (DoT) effects, and removing them will actually save you work in the long run as a single dispel will be easier, faster, and cheaper than healing them through the damage. A healer that can deliver hostile dispels (removing enemies’ buffs as only 2 of the healers can) is a very useful benefit, if used. You will find offensive dispels are wildly under-used compared to what they could be.
Right Move – Right Time
Choosing the right move is not complicated, but it is hard to do when the pressure is on if you don’t know what is in your toolbox very well. The smartest healers use every tool they have to meet the needs of their group. Timing is harder still. Anticipation is important but a heal delivered too early or too late will be waste for both the victim and for the healer’s resources. Delivering the right response at the right time can actually be like an elaborate game of Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, where as the less skillful version for reactionary healing is a game of Whack’a'mole. The sharp healer knows the need is coming and hits their note at just the right time, where as the weak healer is just frantically watching the board waiting for their heal to be needed and hoping they get their fast enough that it won’t be fatal. Healers who have mastered the timing element are actually more rare than you might expect, in an already small community.
Utility and Damage
Where healing is not required there is usually more that your character can offer. It may be in the form of damaging your enemies, or hindering them in some fashion, or improving the performance of your friends. Learning where and how you can do this is not an art that most players focus on, and indeed it is a hard task to accomplish for the pure reactionary healer who is fixated on health bars waiting for a naughty mole to pop up.
For dealing more damage you can think of it this way: You need to keep people alive for the length of the fight. The shorter the fight the less opportunity your friends have to get hurt and require healing, so if you do not need to heal right now or a moment from now, offering damage, even in a small part, can shorten the fight and reduce your need to heal down the road. Beware, of course, as this will still put a drain on your efficiency if you are low on that end of the balance, as most healing setups are not designed to be efficient at damage delivery. The damage may also be small in scale, but that is X more damage that would not have been there otherwise.
In terms of utility you only need look at the tools you have provided to you. Take Discipline Priests as an example. You may normally focus on just 3 functions: Flash Heal (your little catch-all heal), Power Word: Shield (your work horse reducing the healing you need to do), and Penance (your power heal that you can only use once every short increment). You could get by just using these tools and never have to worry. The stronger healer understands when it could be worth while to use a Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing, and how to do so effectively. Similarly, a smart Disc Priest may know the value of Renew and Prayer of Mending and how to apply them effectively to provide indirect healing. But the best Disc Priest has a plan for when they will use their Spell Infusion to boost a healer’s output in a time of burst need, or a damage dealing caster when the Priest knows that it won’ t be needed for healing. That Disc Priest may also know that they can use Holy Nova to support AoE damage dealing while helping keep combatants in the fray alive, or use Mind Sear to contribute more damage at a distance. They may know that they can apply Holy Fire and/or DoTs to targets between heals without using too much mana or taking too much time to interfere with their healing endurance and focus. Maybe they are savvy enough to know that the enemy will buff each other with a special ability and dispelling that will protect the group. It is the best players who know and use their entire toolbox.
Coming soon, Part 3: The Damage Dealers
When a character operates alone, you have the simple imperative to live. You have many tools to do so while defeating your opponents but the game is simple and there is little more nuance than the design of a single class to dictate your challenge.
When you put together a group of characters, however, those class details take on a special nuance. Each of the characters can combine their abilities to accomplish things that one alone may not have been able to. This is further nuanced by adding specialized combat roles. In WoW there are 3 primary combat roles with 3 utility tasks provided by the group, regardless of group size. These traditional roles are Tank, Healer, Damage Dealer (DPS for short, usually only distinguished from there by strength as “ranged or melee”). The utility tasks provided are Crowd Control (CC for short), Dispels (the ability to purge debuffs from friendly or enemy combatants), and Buff/Debuffing (applying beneficial or detrimental effects to friends and/or enemies to improve the groups effectiveness). These concepts were not created in or for WoW, and in fact, because they were invented previously it has allowed WoW to be designed to support these concepts.
Before we get into specifics, we should consider what the game expects of us. The first and most simple imperative is survival. Ideally at least one member of the group should survive to the end of a battle, though it is a desirable conclusion that the whole team survives (and it may be rare, but occasionally battles are won with everyone dying in the process). In combat, the typical measure of success is that your team survives in some part, and your opponent does not.
To move the range of success from barely (few team members survive) to complete (no one is lost), the Combat Roles are valuable, and the Utilities make that easier.
Tank = specializes in taking the punishment
The Tank or Tanker role is a character who is prepared to be beaten up. Typically the class/spec and gear preparation are designed around reducing damage taken. The Tank will be the front line, the foremost edge of your team, and their goal is in two parts: Hold the attention of the enemy, and make the healer’s job easier and/or more predictable.
In WoW these job goals take on a simple balance in the form of Threat versus Survival. The tank will be taking most of the damage the group will face in most situations, and to that end will need sufficient Survival tools to make that damage non-lethal within a reasonable time-frame. At the same time, WoW uses a system based on Threat to determine who the enemy targets will attack, and if the tank is not the target of the enemy his survival attributes are wasted.
Threat is a static, linearly building value based on threatening actions. In general there are 2 major forms of threat and one minor: Damage Threat, Healing Threat, and Attention Threat. Simply put, if you hurt something it will feel threatened. If you help (heal) someone that your enemy is trying to kill, it will be threatening to the enemy. And simply drawing attention to yourself will draw initial threat, but in the face of a lack of healing or damage you can draw attention to yourself by doing anything even without damage or healing (such as buffing). The game also has a modifier system to improve on the group dynamic. Tanks are given multipliers that make their contributions more threatening, while damage dealers are given baked in or acquirable modifiers that reduce the scale their threatening actions. Healing has a built in reduction that puts it on a proportionally different scale from damage.
When I say Threat is static and linear, here is what I mean. Any action that causes damage or healing will cause an amount of threat per point of damage or healing. As stated there are other modifiers to affect this. This threat value will build additively and indefinitely so long as combat continues. The base values for this are 1 damage = 1 threat and 1 health restored = 0.5 threat (*Paladins only receive 0.25 threat per 1 point of health restored). Note: only “effective” healing will cause threat, “over-healing” or the portion of healing that goes over the target’s maximum health will cause no threat. Tanks are given a standard modifier built into their “tanking stance/mode/form” on all damage and healing that approximately doubles the value, so when a tank deals 1 damage it is worth 2 threat (2.0735 to be precise). One other aspect of healing threat is that it is normally split across all enemy combatants you are fighting. In other words, if you restored 2000 health to a friend while fighting 2 opponents, that would first become 1000 threat, and then be split so each enemy only sees 500 threat from you. To illustrate how threat will grow throughout a fight, let’s take a simple 3 person group, one of each role, tank, healer, and damage dealer. The numbers I use here are arbitrary in absolute scale but should roughly mirror possible game values.
At the start of the fight, the tank will run in and smash the target for 4000 damage. With the modifier this is 8000 threat (T: 8000, H: 0, D: 0). The target in turn hits the tank for 8000 damage, which the healer promptly heals in full. After modifiers 8000 health restored will be 4000 threat (T: 8000, H: 4000, D: 0). At the same time the damage dealer will start hitting the enemy while it is distracted by the tank, dealing 6000 damage (T: 8000, H: 4000, D: 6000). Because the tank has caused the most threat in total so far in the fight the enemy will continue to attack the tank as the most threatening individual, even though the damage dealer did hit for more damage, and the healer restored more health. Each successive hit will be added to each character’s total, and the enemy will choose to attack whoever has the highest total (with a special small margin built in to keep threat from waffling too quickly should two character’s threat become too close).
The game also provides utilities for certain classes to help deal with threat that can sometimes allow you to either reduce or remove your threat temporarily or permanently. There are also tools for tanks that allow them to “taunt” the opponent effectively forcing the target to focus on them and letting them instantly match the highest threat in the group.
A tank that does not hold the attention of the enemy cannot fulfill their role.
As the tank is planning to take a beating, he will need tools to survive that beating. These tools come in two forms: passive survival attributes gained from gear and talents, and active survival skills often referred to as “tanking cooldowns” or “cooldowns” for short. The design of a tanks gear and spec are very important and require the character to be prepared before they enter combat. The passive survival attributes come in two general categories: Mitigation and Avoidance. Mitigation can be defined as any scaling factor that reduces the scale of a hit taken. Mitigation is usually found in the form of Armor, which provides a percentage reduction to physical damage taken, Resistance, which provides a similar reduction to magic damage taken (and can be specialized per school of magic), Tanking Stance/Mode/Form, which provides a smaller but constant percentage reduction to all damage taken, and Absorb and Block mechanics, which remove a static amount from the damage after considering the percentage reductions from stance and armor/resistance.
Mitigation effects act in an inversely multiplicative fashion. In other words if your armor reduces damage taken by 70% and your stance reduces your damage taken by 30%, you will not take 0% damage, but rather (100%-70%) x (100%-30%) = 30% x 70% = 21% taken.
So as an example, let’s say the tank’s armor reduces the damage they take by 65%, their tanking stance reduces damage they take by 15%, and they have a shield that will block 2000 damage. When a monster hits them for 50,000 damage armor will remove 32,500 damage leaving only 17,500. The defensive stance will reduce that remaining amount by 2,625 leaving only 14,875 damage, and the shield will cut 2,000 damage off that, so the tank will only get hit for 12,875 rather than the “unmitigated” 50,000 damage hit.
Avoidance, as a passive survival attribute, is a chance to not take a damaging hit at all, to avoid it. This avoidance comes in the form of the chance to dodge, parry, or be missed. Normally, as opposed to Resistance and Stance modifiers, and certain sorts of Absorb mechanics, Avoidance is usually only applied to physical attacks (and usually only melee attacks, but there are exceptions).
These two attributes make up the bulk of the tank’s passive arsenal for doing their job of taking less damage: damage reduction and damage avoidance.
Tanking cooldowns and other special active skills fill in the rest and make survival an active affair in varying degrees for some tanks. These cooldowns may provide an additional source of passive, short-term mitigation as a percent damage reduction, or an increase in armor, or they may increase the tank’s avoidance or health for a period of time. This active portion of survival is important as the game is designed specifically to create a varying profile of damage taken with periods of increased damage on certain fights. It is a special tank skill to be able to use these abilities at the most appropriate times. Used too little, the tank will not offer the best he can to the group, while if used too rashly the ability may not be available when it is needed most and the tank may die, or the healer may have to work harder to pull the group through the battle.
Balances and Minimums
Finding the ideal balance between these two key aspects is first a matter of meeting the minimums. Strictly defined, the minimum amounts of threat and survival are easy to describe, though they are not fixed but instead are relative to the other two roles in the group. The minimum amount of survival required would be described as the amount of survival that enables the healer to keep you alive. It is hard to label an exact crossover point as there will be a sufficient range within which the healer will have to work harder and harder to heal the tank, and some situations will require more of the healer’s attention than only the tank. To set an arbitrary minimum, we will describe it as a point at which the healer does not have to work *too* hard to keep the tank alive in most reasonable situations.
The minimum amount of threat required is dictated by the second highest non-tank threat generated by the group. This is easy to describe, but can be highly variable with situation. The use of threat “dumping” (dropping your value to zero or by an amount) may allow the damage dealing section to reduce their threat and lower the minimum threshold for the tank to meet, but in the process it will also come at the cost of damage output. This is an element in the Grand Triangle to be discussed in the final installment of this series. An ideal level of threat should allow the tank to outpace the damage dealers’ best output when it is needed most, but should not far exceed that comfortable margin if it comes at the expense of survival.
The healthy amount of gray area and variability in this balance allows most tanks to play around a fair amount. Each tank will find their ideal balance and work to maintain it as they improve their gear.
Advanced Tactics and the Art in Tanking
As in all things there is a place beyond pure requirement in which a great tank can surpass average tanks with an artful touch. The particular places where this can be seen are in the following topics:
Group Action Pacing:
The tank is the first wave of the group. He will normally be the first one into the fight and as such will determine the rate and the pace at which the group can move through a dungeon. It is often in the interest of the players that they not take more time than they have to in a given engagement, but it is in that very same interest of time that efficiency and safety are important. Pulling at a faster speed than the healer can keep up leaves the group open to danger of losing the tank or damage dealers, which would in turn slow the group down. Similarly, pulling too fast for the damage dealers is simply wasted speed as the damage dealers will be responsible for the bulk of the damage and as such the length of fights. Pulling recklessly without regards to the principal values of Threat and Survival can strain the group by either exposing the tank to more damage than the healer can comfortably handle, or by exposing the damage dealers to undue damage for loss of attention by the mobs. Finally, at the end of the day, we all want to have fun. Often times it is a small price to pay to set a slightly slower pace if it means that no one will feel harassed or frantic to fill their duty.
The ideal tank can keep a pace consistent with the skills and interests of their party members. No one is left waiting without good cause, and no one is left stressed out because they’re being pushed unwillingly beyond their comfort zone.
Enemy mobs are placed strategically throughout instances, usually in small sub-groups. A skillful tank can pull and position groups of enemies with four main concerns in mind:
1.) Tank mechanics have certain special exceptions. A tank cannot dodge, parry, or block attacks made from behind. As these can be significant factors in survival for the tank, all mobs should be in front of the tank unless there are very special extenuating circumstances.
2.) Environmental concerns may change the situation as you fight. Normally, this means you simply want to be aware of roving enemies that could be accidentally added to your fight if you aren’t positioned out of the way. There may also be concerns about dangerous environments that the group will need to avoid.
3.) The group’s interests are important as well. A tank needs to be within “line of sight” with his healer to receive healing, if he breaks that even for a moment or in such a way that requires the healer to move to regain it, the tank could risk death in some situations, and in a less dire situation will simply stress the healers or cause them to work harder to do their job. Similarly, damage dealers will often be concerned with the positioning and location of the enemies. Melee will want to be behind their targets, and ranged will require line of sight the same as healers. Furthermore, to facilitate area of effect damage dealing (AoE for short), enemies will need to be grouped up fairly tightly, and in a static location for some.
4.) Enemy abilities will add a context to how some need to be positioned. It is not uncommon for enemies to have abilities that attack in a forward cone (like a breath weapon) or are capable of hitting multiple targets in front of them in melee range (like a cleave/lash). Some enemies may simple deal damage in close range, or have some special ability that will impact the group in a different way. It is up to the tank to determine where the enemies stand and in which direction they point.
The savvy tank moves through an instance deliberately, positioning each group to maximize his own effectiveness, and to make the group’s job as easy as can be.
Every instance, every collection of opponents will not be the same, and as such you will always have to decide who will be killed first. There are multiple criteria that need to be considered. This job can be done by anyone, but as a tank it is often best done by you, as you will be the one responsible for grabbing the targets and holding the most important ones.
So how do you set priority? There are four criteria that should be considered:
1.) Can anything in the group heal? If any of your enemies can heal it will mean that they either need to be killed immediately or be shut down sufficiently so that another target can actually be killed. A healer left unmolested can mean that other targets take significantly longer to kill or are unkillable with the constant stream of life.
2.) What will hurt you or the group the most? The highest risk targets will be your top priority next as they will tax or compromise the group the most. If a particular target will really hurt the tank, fire shots at random group members who are not as hearty as the tank, or will provide debuffs or other problems that will make the group struggle to do their job, these are the targets you want to make sure die early in the fight.
3.) What will die most easily? Sometimes it may be tempting to kill the one hulking brute who hammers on your tank, but that may not always be the best choice. If the hulking brute has 200k health, but his 8 friends who all hit much softer only have 20k health, it is possible you can just crush all the little guys first, then tackle the brute alone. This is tricky balance, and is not often a consideration as many groups will be fairly uniform or close enough, but it is always worth keeping in mind.
4.) What can be rendered ineffectual? If there is anything you can do to shut down, lock out, or otherwise control your enemies, it may often be worth doing. For example, if there is a healer, but you can turn it into a harmless, inert sheep for 45 seconds, it may be more worthwhile to do so and kill the other targets. Alternately, maybe that big brute can be stunned taking him out of commission for long enough that you can kill other targets without worrying about the tank.
As with most things there is not a single correct answer to every problem, and this is where the artistry comes in. A skilled tank can identify target priorities on the fly and direct the group to attack the targets of greatest interest. In an ideal world the damage dealers can make the same threat assessment without direction, but it is important that the group always act as one entity when possible.
The game provides a valuable tool for this function in the forms of target marking. It is very much in your interest as a tank to be able to mark targets quickly, and when you use marks to ensure that your group understands what they mean. In current game social contract, the Skull invariably means your #1 target to kill, while an X represents the second kill target. Many groups will establish marks for crowd control as well, with classic marks being Squares for Hunter traps, Moons for Rogue Saps or Mage Sheeps, and Diamonds for Banishes, but you will frequently find these change with a given group of players. The most important thing is that your group establishes its own internal meaning for symbols.
Identification and Mitigation of Abilities and Conditions
The tank is the first line of defense for the group and to that end they are the first person who needs to identify the risks an enemy presents and quickly find ways to minimize or remove those risks where possible. This may involve recognizing special abilities or debuffs the enemy has, or it may involve spotting dangers for the group. Everyone should be responsible for their own well-being, but as the tank it is already your responsibility to protect your teammates, it is a small extension to help them protect themselves.
Coming soon, Part 2: The Healer.