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The Holy Trinity of mmorpg's (tank, dps, heal) seems to have come under a ton of fire in recent years and every day these forums are filled with arguments for or against, which is great. I personally think that coming up with a workable and strategic mechanic to rival (not replace) the trinity would be great for gaming. I haven't played a lot of games without the trinity, but I definitely prefer those that I've played with it because it provides a strategic framework and it gives players a larger sense of importance to their team than they would experience in a game which had no defined roles. But that is not the point of my post.
Specifically, I want to address an argument that I have seen presented many times and it never seems to be questioned. This is the notion that the trinity is based on “fake” threat mechanics and would never actually work in a real situation. Having pondered the issue and looked at it from a story-telling standpoint (if not a real-world standpoint) the trinity is a completely plausible, “real” combat strategy.
Take a look at how threat powers actually work in game. You have your basic threat power: Taunt. I remember in CoH seeing a tank who had a ton of random insults macroed for every time he used Taunt. This was unbelievably entertaining and also made the Taunt power make a lot of sense. Why is it that so many gamers will say that Taunt is silly or dumb when most of us have seen it work on playgrounds while growing up. Hopefully not many of us have been in a lot of brawls to know if it still works, but it sure works in the movies. A simple, “Hey, [Name]! Pick on someone your own size!” works every single time on film. We don't question this in our movies but give mmorpgers a taunt power and it's suddenly “fake.” Other threat generating powers might include giant aoe swings of the sword or stomping of the ground to make everyone fall (which I would think would make the average Joe take notice and feel threatened – call me crazy.) Or there might be a power that forces a target or targets to to attack the caster. In a fantasy setting looking at this logically, one would have to assume this is a form of magic. So let me get this straight: we believe that a warrior could stomp the ground and shock everyone with electricity, but we say that a warrior shouting and causing everyone to attack him is way too outrageous for us to accept? On the flip-side of these are powers or abilities that allow casters to lose threat. Again, this is a form of magic and I don't find it unreasonable that someone that has the power of the sun shooting from their fingertips couldn't possibly have the power to make themselves less noticeable. If this is still difficult to swallow, just think of your healer or mage as being Obi Wan Kenobi. That should clear it up for you.
It's also way too easy for the stone-throwers to say, “This mechanic doesn't work when you are playing real people so it shouldn't work against bosses.” My response is: of course it doesn't work against people. We've seen it 10 million times. But it's unfair for us to say the bosses we fight should have an intimate understanding of the tactics we've done 10 million times. In the story arch, the boss has never been killed before. Your go at him this time is the first time he's ever been defeated. So to complain that he should know better would be as if to say that Frodo should know by now that Gollem would take him to Shelob because I've read the book 3 times.
The reality is, most bad guys will go after Batman even if Robin is carrying the bigger gun because Batman is the bigger prize. Most bad guys will also look for the guy who seems to be the leader of the group because most of the time if you kill the leader, you kill the group. And, usually in the trinity, you kill the tank and you do, in fact, kill the group. Finally, if I'm fighting a group in an mmorpg and I see a guy who has “Priest” next to his name I go after him. It should not be assumed that an npc boss can see what class anyone is by looking at their name-tag. A smart boss would also not look at armor type (as I've seen stated - “take out the guy in cloth”) because in most mmorpg's not all healers wear cloth and due to player quality not all cloth wearers are actually a threat. Therefore, a boss would actually look for the guy who is most threatening. Most of the time it will be the guy in the front who is ballsy enough to attack first, is wearing the shiny armor, carries a big stick, has a horribly fearsome shout, and can stomp the ground and cause lightning to shoot out of it. The nice thing about threat mechanics is that they allow for the boss to at times realize that this person is not as threatening as the one doing all the healing or maybe the one who has flames shooting from his elbows. If the guy with the big stick is not particularly daunting but the guy with the flaming elbows is causing a lot of pain, the boss will change targets. How is this not realistic?
As for tanking not working in pvp, I've always thought this was a weakness in pvp game design, not pve design. If a caster can confuse a player and make him attack his own team while his screen shows him attacking an enemy target, why can't the game force him to attack a tank if threat is high enough. Granted, the amount of threat needed by the tank and the amount mitigated off of a caster in order to accomplish this without it becoming a frustrating mess would need to be adjusted greatly from where it is in pve but I've always thought threat should be a factor in pvp fights – as it would be if we entered into a real combat without knowledge of our enemies' tactics beforehand and without those enemies wearing name-tags that basically screamed, “Kill me first!”
I was pleasantly surprised when I went from Apprentice to full 5 star Elite in under 2 months. I was pleasantly surprised again when I went from Elite to just barely Hardcore in 2 weeks. Apprentice, here I come!