A Tank Is

When I typed out yesterdays post in my extremely groggy early morning state, I had no idea it would blow up as much as it did.  It is probably one of the most interactive topics I have ever posted about on this blog.  There are huge threads of comments on G+ and twitter as a result, and even here on my blog there were 10 comments.  During all the exchanges yesterday, I had a suggestion from Brian “Psychochild” Green, that I expand on the topic of what exactly a tank is to me.  I thought this was a pretty good idea, so here goes nothing.

A Tank Is

One of the things that came out from the last two days of discussions relating to the EQ Next class panel and the concept of removing tanking as a requirement from dungeons…  is that we all have slightly different visions of what a tank is in our minds.  As evidenced by so much of the discussion, for certain players a tank is just that character that has the taunt button.  For me the definition goes so much further beyond the “taunt monkey”.  Tank in my mind is made up of a bunch of different roles and personalities all wrapped together into a bigger package, and this is my attempt to explain each of these sub roles.

Tank As Juggernaut

Shadow-of-the-Colossus

A tank is in my mind a “meat shield”, an immovable wall that soaks up damage for the party.  My vision of a tank is a massive heavily armored bulk that is an imposing force on the battlefield.  My personal choice has always been to have as much stamina as humanly possible and as a result have a phenomenally large hit point pool and simply capable of laughing off most blows.  But it is honestly completely up to the individual tank how they choose to full this role of being able to soak up a goodly amount of damage for the party saving the other members from certain death.

In various games I have seen various schemes for making this work, and I feel like going forward we should expand this role quite a bit.  Traditionally you have mitigation or avoidance as the tools in this toolkit, but I am open to other methods such as a mage for example that is adept at shielding techniques or an agility based melee who is capable of moving so fast that they reduce the chance to hit.  My personal preference will always be the big guy in the big armor that lumbers across the battle field like a moving rampart.  However the game and to some extend player chooses to do it, this sub role is about being able to take abuse for the party.

Tank As Defender

Marvel's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER - Teaser Poster

Like I have said, Tanking for me feeds into my protective nature.  I want to protect my friends and family and keep them safe.  Another facet of tanking is the protector.  Traditionally this has been to juggle targets to make sure that the big bad things stay off your healer and your dps, but I feel that the role is so much more than that.  Ultimately the goal of the defender is to interrupt the flow of combat and impose itself in the middle of the process.  This role has long been defined as the person with taunt, or the person with massive aggro generation… but quite honestly taunt is not the only tool or even the best tool in most situations.

Any ability that can reset the flow of an attack, can interrupt the flow of battle buying your healer or dps time to get out of harms way.  In various games I have seen multiple ways of doing this, including slows, stuns, grip attacks, charge attacks, knockbacks, throws, and roots.  All of them play a part in resetting an attack to cause the mob to change direction and focus even momentarily on the tank allowing the other party members to avoid taking the big damage.  League of Legends is a prime example of a game that does not have taunt or aggro in the traditional sense.  However they most definitely have tank characters.  Each of them has some way of screwing up a players attack just long enough for someone else to either escape or swoop in for the kill.

Tank as General

patton

Of all of the facets of tanking, this to me is by far the most important.  A tank controls the battlefield, they make order out of chaos.  The tank is the battlefield leader, controlling every aspect of combat from the pull, to the target priority order and even down to accessing the situation at hand and determining if it is time to recover after every confrontation.  In the best dungeon and raid environments, the tank directs the flow of combat using the above abilities to keep other players out of harms way, and interrupt the attacks of the monsters in a pattern of their choosing.

So much of this role also is the ability to assess the risk at hand, device a strategy and execute it letting your team know what they should be doing in the situation.  This encompasses not only knowing your own skills, but knowing the skills of all of the other players in the party and how best to leverage those for the ultimate win.  This can always happen from “behind the lines”, but I have always felt that the flow of a grouping encounter works best when it is the “puller” directing traffic and preparing the party for what is coming.  This facet of tanking really has little to do with the mechanics and more to do with the leadership of the player in the tank seat.

Tank as Mentor

TPM-CGYoda

Many times during combat things go horribly wrong, and since the tank is there in the heat of  battle they can often times diagnose what is going wrong.  In many ways the tank also acts as a battle mentor, and it is how they go about this that often times means the difference between success and failure.  A tank that is willing to help the other team members with issues on the ground in a polite and not ego infused way, can rally together a defeated team into victory.  A tank that passes the blame onto others always, will end up fostering a bitter environment that often ends in catastrophe for the party… or at least their repair bills.

A humble tank that shows a willingness to work with the other players to solve problems can do a good amount to set the morale of the group as a whole.  Again this is a juggling act between being the forceful always right leader, and letting someone NOT directing the flow of combat become a backseat driver.  A tank that is ready to assess what is going wrong, and provide constructive criticism in the form of “helpful tips” will go a lot further than one that sends down proclamations from on high.  In many ways the tank is the cruise director for every outing, and unfortunately it ends up our responsibility to make sure the entire mission is flowing smoothly and that everyone is happy.

A Tank is…  Complicated

Hopefully thought all of this you are beginning to see a picture that for me a Tank goes beyond simple threat and taunt mechanics.  Quite honestly it is an extremely complicated role, and one that I do not take lightly.  Ultimately all of this, and my protective leanings are why I do not really like tanking for pick up groups.  I just don’t feel that protective towards people I do not know, and after years of bad experiences with the WoW Dungeon Finder… I simply cannot bring myself to queue as a tank for anyone but my friends and my guild.

Quite honestly I used to tank for pick up groups on a regular basis in the days before the dungeon finder.  When you had to talk to players face to face in order for form a team, you were far less likely to be a complete dick to them over the course of a dungeon.  Sure I encountered more than my share of haughty elitism, but that is something you can brush off much easier than outright disruptive and damaging behavior.  I miss the days when in order to be successful you needed the personal skills to be able to assemble a team for your purpose.  I met so many friends doing this, as contrasted with the “silent dungeons epidemic” where no one actually talks anymore.

I realize I am lamenting a bygone era… and the modern “push a button, get a group” is here to stay.  However I will still build a team by hand if given the choice, and even now I prefer to draw on guild, social channels, and even random strangers in general chat over queuing up for a random dungeon.  Or sadly… more often than not I just do not run a dungeon at all and resign myself to doing over world content.  The dungeon finder system seems to have failed tanks like me, and the community or lack thereof that has sprung up around it.  Or quite honestly… as Rowan alludes to..  the community might have just been something I had imagined all along.

Wrapping Up

Well it is the time I need to wrap this post up and get it advertised.  I hope after reading it you get a much clearer picture of what exactly I mean when I say “Tank”.  Last night I was completely out of sorts and didn’t really do much gameplay of any significance.  I blame sleeping horribly the night before.  Here is hoping that tonight I will be up to doing some funtime shenanigans again… and maybe even pull together a dungeon.  I hope you all have a great day, and that everything goes smoothly.

9 thoughts on “A Tank Is

  1. A bit OT: Do you think a LFG tool that worked in the “push a button”-way but only selected candidates from your server would be an adequate compromise?
    I personally prefer the LFG tool from Vanilla WoW and mid TBC (basically a roster of people). But I do think if people still felt that they had a chance of gaining something (friendship, reputation etc.) from talking to people then communication would ensue and through communication a community could be built (even a small sub community like a guild or a frequent dungeon group).

    • Server only LFG tends to be better off for the server community, however that never really appeases the crowd that wants instant access to content. Mostly I just lament and mourn the loss of the time of social channels and folks crafting groups by hand.

  2. Nice perspective and summary. While not absolutely essential, I admit that in most groups I tend to look to the tank as general – controlling the flow of combat, the pace of pulls, and the run of the group through content. In fact, when I’m tanking (which I actaully do on a somewhat regular basis – I’m just a closet tank, even moreso than a closet healer), I assume that this is part of the role that I play as a tank. That being said, when I’m tanking, I’m pretty much the most experienced person in the group, which means that I’m both general and mentor. I’ve also played those roles as a dps and a healer, but more often than not it defaults to the tank (particularly in random groups). Sometimes I even wind up being a defender as a dps (see comments in the previous post), just less juggernaut-y and often much squishier. Doesn’t always work out, but it makes life interesting. 🙂

  3. I’m glad you distinguish between leadership and tanking in your comment. There are plenty of times when I as the Healer–that is, while healing–served as the party leader and directed from behind the lines. I’ve seen DPS perform similarly. That is a player role, not necessarily a character role. I’ll elaborate on my own blog later.
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  4. Caveat: I’m not speaking about EQNext here, but rather about the concept of the roles in general.

    How important is each part to your concept of a “tank”? The idea of controlling the flow of combat is a later addition; in EQ1 the tank was mostly just a meat shield, with dedicated CC (crowd control) classes (generally an Enchanter) being the one that controlled the flow of combat.

    It’s also interesting to see how the role of tank has taken on the mantle of “general” in the eyes of a lot of people. When I was in a raiding guild in LotRO, the leader was actually mostly a DPS class, with an alt who did CC. He had a very gregarious personality, though. In WoW, the guild leader was originally a Mage, but when he left it was taken over by a Paladin.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, Bel. I think it’s useful to dig into the concept of “tank” to understand what people really want from a role in a game where the trinity no longer applies.

    • I feel that mentor and general are roles I play personally when tanking… but are more social and not 100% essential to what is a tank for me. Namely a tank needs to be able to take a lot of abuse, and be able to organize chaos by disrupting the flow of combat for opposing targets. The general role lends itself naturally to helping “organize chaos”, but that is largely a social role of controlling the battlefield.

  5. Good stuff, Bel!

    I can definitely see tank as juggernaut – plate armor, can take a ton of hits. I can also see tank as general – in my experience typically it works best when the tank is calling the shots during combat.

    As for for tank as defender – I think you’re on the right track. I was thinking about this again last night (in my flu-meds induced stupor) and I wonder if defense just might look different in the future. Instead of taunts, maybe the tank has forms of CC that they use to defend – think of the Death Grip ability that WoW Death Knights have to pull a mob back to them temporarily, or a paladin-like ability to throw a defensive shield over another player. Shield knockbacks are another good one. None of these mean that the mob will have it’s attention on the tank 100% of the time, but the tank should be the one causing some chaos for the mob. Instead of yelling insults to get the bad guy’s attention, he’s being a pain in his rear end.

    I’m trying to keep in mind how tanks function within PvP – if the new AI is as smart as they are saying, I think PvE tanking is going to be more like PvP tanking in the future.

    • I am sure that every player weaves a similarly heroic picture of their chosen role. If you read the comments from yesterday, Del tells a compelling tale of why DPS is more than just raw damage output. I am sure healers can similarly tell a tale about how they are the glue that holds a group together. This is just my personal take on the traits I try and portray when I am in the tank seat.

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