The Trinity’s Crutch

Last night I ran a dungeon in Neverwinter as a Cleric.  Throne of Idris.  We had 1 Wizard, 2 Great Weapon Fighters and 1 Rogue.  That’s right, no tank.  I died a fair bit and the last boss was a 10 minute+ fight (well, on the 3rd attempt) of running around after the Wizard left and the GWF died, leaving us with 3 to kill a 5 man boss.  I danced and jived and sucked back healing potions and screamed when the boss finally dropped dead.  It was a ton of fun.  It was also a level 40 dungeon that took over 90 minutes.

I’ve been gaming for quite a long time and 99% of it deals with combat.  Sometimes this is a war of words but often with someone taking a blunt instrument to the head.  In both cases, combat is a combination of taking an attack, recovering from the attack and giving your own attack.  Hence the Holy Trinity concept of Tank, Healer and DPS.  Other than Guild Wars 2, I can’t think of any class-based game that didn’t explicitly focus on this trinity.  Sandboxes (EvE, UO, DF, etc…) are not included since most players will build a character with all 3 facets.

In older versions of D&D (pre v4), you had the concept of trinity but a lack of good tools.  You needed a great GM and a decent ruleset to make it work.  Or really good players.  A bad GM would send everyone after the Cleric or Wizard, then slowly choke down the rest of the group.  MMOs brought the concept of Threat as a mechanic to the table, where players were ranked, based on actions, and the monsters attacked the player at the top of the list.  At lower skill levels, this works rather well since DPS and Tanks and Healers are somewhat even in terms of output, since the scale is small.  At higher levels, as is evident in WoW, DPS will outpace a tank’s threat by exponential factors.  Inversely, as tanks get better, healers have less threat since they have less to heal.  Until that point, Healers are wearing “kick me” signs.

Developers try to address these issues with 3 tools.  The first is a threat modifier, where you do more/less threat per action based on your skills or class.  Tanks typically want more, healers a whole lot less and DPS can be used as the middle ground.  Using WoW again as an example, Vengeance provides a DPS boost to a tank based on the damage they take.  This gives tanks the ability to hold threat against tons of enemies while DPS is going wild.

The second is with a taunt.  A taunt does one of two things.  Either it gives you a massive boost of threat or it puts you at the top of the threat list.  The former only seems like the latter when you’re close to the top.  I’m still trying to figure out if Neverwinter uses the 2nd type or not.

The third method is called a threat wipe, and it’s usually seen as dirty pool by players.  This is where a boss is going smooth and all of a sudden he forgets everything that’s happened and you need to restart the whole threat dance.

I play a Cleric and a Tank in Nevewinter.  Again, Open Beta disclaimer.  Threat in the game is currently broken and it’s enough to reduce my enjoyment of the multiplayer aspect of the game.  As a Cleric, one bug fix is that I need to remove all my gear then re-equip it to have a chance to survive any group encounter.  The way the Cleric works is through mostly Heal over Time spells.  Given that there are continual spawns on a boss, any boss encounter I’m going to get swamped with enemies, so I tend to gather them up and run to the middle pile, hoping the tank can get them.  Which isn’t often.  As a Tank, I have a 15 second taunt that seems to make the enemies turn to me, then turn away after 1 hit.  My threat building skills work in a small cone in front of me and for them to really work, I need to block all attacks (due to the mechanics of the Mark skill).  Since blocking means not moving, I can’t really pick up the adds and keep the boss on me.  I’ve worked a few things out so far but jeebus is it ever hard to keep threat active.

As much as I enjoyed the dungeon run last night, there were 3 or 4 times where I just wanted to quit the run from sheer frustration.  The thing that kept me going were the other players and the attitude of “damn this game, we’re going to beat it”.  I ended the run with no drops, next to no experience gain, 90 minutes out of pocket but 3 new names added to the friends list.  Something to cheer about after all.

Also, I need to get FRAPS re-installed…