Theorycrafting – Character Building

So you want to be a hero? You like taking a beating?  Want to stop sucking?

MMOs are all based on math.  In order to get better you need to understand the math, both at a high level and at a detailed level.  Then you need to apply that math.  Everyone could have an optimal spreadsheet of moves and gear but actual gameplay takes practice and experience in order to deliver.

There are a few starter posts to help with this.  Power Control, and Path to Power.

This page will talk about the 3 core roles – DPS, Healing and Tanking.

When you’re dead, you’re not helping

This usually applies to DPS as they are likely the least able to keep themselves alive, due to lack of absorption and healing options.  If your face is on the floor, you’re not doing your job.  Avoid the red stuff, stand in the blue, use a mod to warn you of incoming attacks, let your tank build aggro, don’t pull ahead of the group.  If you’re not sure, then don’t click it.

People who tend to die often blame either the tank or the healer.  Now, in my 15 years of MMO experience, the wide majority of the time it’s actually the own player’s fault that they died.  Take responsibility for your actions because no one else will.

Items and abilities that increase movement speed are often times more valuable than pure damage.  Especially for melee players who need to be continually moving.

Understand the effect of stats

Very few games use a linear model for statistical increases today – they instead use a system of diminishing returns.  So stacking 1000 points in damage is less effective that putting 500 in damage and 500 in critical chance.  Further to this, there are soft caps, where the progress is linear up until that cap, then the results are significantly diminished.  Other games have hard caps, where you get no benefit past that point.  I’m thinking of chance to hit as a good example – once you pass 100%, then there’s no extra benefit.

So as a list, do the following in order:

  • Find out what the stats do and their interactions with your class and skills (attack power, crit chance, healing power, etc…)
  • Find out what kind of progression the stats have (linear to soft cap, logarithmic curve, hard caps)
  • Figure out which stats are important to you.  DPS want attack power, critical chance, critical damage, haste, and chance to hit.  Healers was healing power, critical chance, critical hit, haste, and mana recovery.  Tanks was effective health points (described later), attack power, critical chance, critical damage, haste, and chance to hit.

Finally, figure out the order in which stats are important to you.  This is really important and unfortunately, is a trial and error type of thing.  General rule however, is

Chance to hit (until 100%) > Attack/Healing Power > Critical Chance = Critical Damage >  Haste

That general rule of thumb will get you to the top 10% of most players.  If you’re aiming for top 1%, then you need to use spreadsheets and calculators.  I’ve written a few but a quick Google or a forum search gives you the data you need.

Effective Hit Points

This really only applies to tanks but everyone should have a basic understanding.  The math for a tank is relatively simple.  Have more than 0 HP, keep the enemy attacking you, avoid the red stuff.  That first part can be done in a couple ways.

You can increase your actual hit points.  Typically hit points are linear and always a good bet.  You can increase your armor, which reduces the damage you take.  Armor is nearly always on a logarithmic curve or suffers from a drastic soft cap.  You can get to X but past that it takes double or triple the amount to progress.  Given tanks have heavy armor (mostly) there’s no real need to look for this stat.  You can also increase avoidance either through dodge or parry or blocking.  Some reduce all damage by an amount, some reduce all damage of some attacks, some provide attack opportunities for you.  Again, soft caps are present here and there’s a fair amount of randomness too.  In general terms, effective hit points is as follows.

Armor (soft cap) > Block (soft cap) > Dodge/Parry (soft cap) > hit points

The last option is timely skill use.  Most tanks have an “ah crap” button that provides a LARGE defensive buff for a short period of time. Learn to use it.

Temporary buffs and enhancements

Using the decision tree above, it’s always a good move to use temporary buffs and enhancements to give you a leg up.  I know it sounds stupid to go through a lot of trouble for a 1% gain but that 1% might mean the difference between beating that boss. Ok, 1% is stretching it as really only top tier guilds care about that.  In seriousness though, enhancements (runes, gems, enchantments, augments, etc…) usually come out to a 15-20% increase in output. Temporary buffs (potions, buffs, food, skills, etc…) usually work out to a 5% increase, over an average battle.

Now, you have different levels of these things at different price points.  No point putting a 1000g gem on a sword you’re going to replace tomorrow.  No point in spending 2 weeks farming a rep for a buff that gives 1% increase to damage either.  Think of it this way, most buff levels have 3 tiers – cheap, ok, and godly.  Cheap should be used for when you start dungeons.  Ok should be used when you start raiding.  Godly should be used when you don’t have a foreseeable upgrade.

Skill Priority

There are two approaches here; a basic one and a complex one.

The basic model uses the stat priority listed earlier as the baseline.  You then look at your current stat level and turn on “lengthy” explanations for your skills.  By this I mean the skill should tell you what it does and the damage range. (e.g. 2 second cast for 500-600 damage).  You then break down the damage per second (DPS) of each ability, as listed.  The previous example would be 275DPS [(500+600/2)/2].  You then sort out your abilities based on the DPS numbers and build yourself a priority list.

It sounds simple but each skill likely has a dependency on another variable.  Some skills are builders, some skills do more damage the longer you wait, some do damage over time, some have very long cast times and so on.  Still, even a basic list of what to press when is a solid start.  This part is really class specific and game specific.

The complex model takes that simple stuff and puts it in a spreadsheet (or program) and runs it through simulations.  It takes into consideration enemy armor, debuffs, your buffs, skill synergy (e.g. one skill improving another) and outputs a list of activities for the player to perform, usually with no margin for error.  To actually pull the model off in-game, requires a fair amount of physical dexterity and situational awareness.

Often times, the priority is so complex that it is much more effective for a player to only use the simple approach.  I’m thinking about Warlocks in WoW, Clerics in Rift, Bonuty Hunters in SWTOR.  They’ve changed over time but my experiences with them all has been, let’s just say, enlightening.

Healing Guidelines

While what was written above really focuses on all players, there is still a gap when it comes to Healing.  Healing, at least in a semi-complex game, uses the concept of triage.  Heal the important people first.  Skills also have a cost and an effect.  Typically the longer it takes to use something, the more powerful it is.  So you end up with a quick heal for low damage, or a quick heal for high damage and a very high cost.  In order of keeping people alive, this is where it gets tricky as you’re likely also responsible for cleansing party players of debuffs.  If you have people at 100%, then you’re either not in combat, an amazing player or you’re dead and imagining things.

Tank over 50% > You over 50% > DPS over 25%> cleanse tank >  cleanse you > DPS over 50% > Tank over 75%

Tanking Guidelines

The most thankless of all the roles, tanking is a rather complex system of taking damage and not dying, while hoping other people pull their weight.  You are constantly juggling priorities and shifting around the field.  There are 2 main phases to tanking – the pull and the play.

The pull is how you start a battle.  As a general rule, you want to get all the enemies bunched together to make battle a bit easier, assuming you don’t have another player who can stun an enemy for a while.  You should always target healers first, then ranged attackers, then the enemy DPS and finally the enemy tank.  Use line of sight to your advantage as enemies can’t see through walls and will run to you.  Use movement abilities to close the gap too.  You want them all attacking you within melee range, as much as possible.

The play is how the battle plays out.  You’ll have a main target to attack but your attacks should also be keeping the other ones busy, if possible.  Some games are more zerg fests where the tank only can take on 1 target and the rest of the people fend for themselves.  Ugh.  Anyhow, for your main target you want to do what you can to disable them and lower their defenses.  You also want to interrupt their attacks as much as possible, certainly the ones with long cast times.

Sometimes in the middle of a play you’ll have to do a pull, especially on the longer fights.  Or your target is just stupid and won’t stay on you.  You need to concentrate on keeping the healer alive above all else.  DPS can come after as they have more than enough abilities to stay alive a few seconds.  The healer is what’s keeping you alive, so they are important.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Nearly every game has practice dummies of some sort where you can try out your patterns.  A battle log parser is also very useful as most output DPS or HPS numbers to figure out if you’re making progress.  Even without that, nearly every game has an actual cadence to it, a flow, or a rhythm that you need to follow.  Button mashers exist but they are tiring (GW2 comes to mind).  A well thought out game has an optimal strategy that you can get better at by practicing.  Doing so without the need to avoid a bunch of stuff or have the screen change colors is a perfectly fine step before the real world.


I hope you’ve found this helpful!

2 thoughts on “Theorycrafting – Character Building

  1. Pingback: Theorycrafting – Guides | Leo's Life

  2. Pingback: Anthem – Power Scaling | Leo's Life

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