Thoughts on the trinity of roles

After six years of playing mostly dps, in this expansion I’ve done some fair amount of raid tanking (paladin) and raid healing (priest and druid).  I’ve watched as Blizzard has tried time after time (unsuccessfully) to balance the number of tanks and healers with the number of dps.  Its really made me think about those roles and how they play.  To me, playing a tank vs a healer vs a dps are like playing three completely different games.  There is very little in common.  Thus, its not surprising when people who play only dps aren’t considerate of their tanks or healers, healers don’t heal the way tanks and dps want, and tanks don’t always maneuver the way that dps likes.

Here are the three different games that are being played:

As a Tank: You vs the Game Designers

There was once a time when tanks had to be proficient at generating threat and holding aggro, or quickly picking up multiple mobs.  In today’s climate of infinite threat and AoE tanking abilities, those skills are gone.  Instead, tanks have to learn to dance and taunt-swap.  I consider this, “playing against the game designers”.  A tank has to go through a prescribed set of maneuvers and movements as set forth by the designers to accomplish the task.  The tank can largely ignore what other players are doing, except in fights with adds who have to be taunted off of the healers.

As a DPS: You vs Yourself

DPS has the reputation of being the easiest role.  That’s because very few fights have strict damage output requirements.  Most of them can be completed if you are down a dps, or if one is underperforming.  I’ve done 99% of my raiding as dps.  When a dps plays, he can mostly ignore what the tanks are doing and completely ignore what the healers are doing.  While there are some dance moves to learn, the majority of a dps’ job is to use his abilities in a way as to maximize output.  I call this, “playing against yourself” because you know you’ve done well if your output is greater than the last time you did the fight.  You’re always competing against your own past performance.  In most cases, other than some buffs/debuffs, the other players have very little to do with your performance.  Its not a “team” role.

As a Healer: You vs the Other Players

Healing is completely unique.  Not only do you have to do the dances that the designers have put in, but you also have to do it while watching what everyone else is doing.  Healing is the only role that can be made significantly harder based on the actions of the rest of the raid (you could argue that tanking has some of that as well, but not to the extent that healing does).  If players stand in bad stuff, if they fail to use survival cooldowns, if they ignore important mechanics – all of that puts the onus on the healer to “fix it”.  I refer to healing as “you vs the other players” because they can make your job easier or harder by their actions.

Its no wonder that the number of people who play tanks and healers is so low.  DPS is almost a solo game, and puts the least responsibility on the player.  Healing is the one most impacted by “bad” players.

How can this be fixed?  Other than wholesale changes to the game, I don’t think it can.  If healers had a passive healing model – like the more damage they dealt the more healing they did (much like Atonement), then that might be a progressive change to break out of the current roles.  Or if more classes could take a beating, even for a short time (like Rogue evasion) then tanking might not be so stressful.  Other games have tried, but I haven’t heard anyone raving about how a game has truly broken out of the trinity of roles.

So as we move forward into MoP, we’ll have more of the same.  I do think that every DPS should try leveling a healer and a tank, for a better perspective on those roles.


1 Response to “Thoughts on the trinity of roles”

  1. 1 Backer
    June 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    The Trinity… worst game model except for all those others that have been tried.

    If the team-based gaming paradigm is to change, I doubt it’ll be by reinventing the trinity, but rather evoling from a single avatar system into a party based system. Think of a tactics based game like Ogre Battle. Each player manages a party (you decide the comp of healers, tanks, damage, CC) within a larger army accomplishing some goal. Guilds/raids could be organized around a player’s role: scout, superiority, etc.

    Combat need not even been typical RPG fare. BattleHeart is a great example of a fun, real-time party management system.

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