Home > Player Blogs, Tadpol's Blog > RPGenius: Tanking Skuul’s Lair

RPGenius: Tanking Skuul’s Lair


Back to school to prove to dad I

Time to cue in some old skuul Tupac, most specifically his song “Changes.”   World of Warcraft fans are getting inundated with a plethora of game modifications to come on the way to, and possibly before and after, patch 4.3 is dropped.  Darkmoon Island, three new story heroics, a final expansion raid against Deathwing himself, new tier loot art releases, a major overhaul to the role of tanking, and, most importantly, PANDAS!  Seriously, pretty sure Blizzard is just trolling us with panda teasers, but it is fun nonetheless.

In light of the upcoming changes to Blizzard’s threat mechanics, I thought I’d need to look at one of the areas in real life that works much like the current Blizzard methodology of maintaining mob attention.  To begin with some background information, the developers at Blizzard have made the decision that threat, as it currently works, is not valid.  Most times, the tank in the beginning of the fight is overwhelmed with responsibility.  They have to mark the mobs, calls for crowd control, rush in to main target, do damage so that the DPS don’t pull with a few early crits, and grab the other mobs and build threat on them in case someone is not targeting “skull”.  All of this is in addition to “normal” tasks of maintaining damage output and keeping up buffs and debuffs.  Tanks also have to keep watching the other players in the group in case a mob needs taunted of them.

Oh…and that whole “trying to stay alive” thing is pretty important I suppose.

Much of this work is very front-end heavy.  However, since a good tank is able to build up a hefty threat lead on the mobs after a couple rotations, after a short amount of time on a fight, threat is a non-issue.  In my opinion, that isn’t ideal.  I’m not proposing that the way they are handling it is the best solution, but threat management is definitely something that, from personal playing and talking with experienced tanks, isn’t something that matters after a few seconds into the fight.  It seems odd the way this mechanic works.

In the same way that tanking threat is a “sprint then relax” operation, so too is the process of being a student.  Many times in my own education I found myself busting my butt in the first couple units to build a giant “threat lead” with my grade, then coasting my way to the end of a course, doing just enough to make sure I have an A (or a C in Biochemistry 493 o_O) at the end of the course.  I didn’t do much to go above and beyond, nor did I feel as invested in the information in later units.  I was not motivated, since I’d already done everything I needed up front to ensure my success.  This is exactly how many tanks feel during a normal pull.  They perfect an introductory rotation, pop a damage cooldown, use their AOE abilities, and very soon, have a threat lead that is relatively insurmountable, assuming gear level and random DPS stupidity don’t come into play.

This leads to the other side of the argument: The undergeared tank.  No matter how hard they try, their best is just not good enough to out-threat the AOE’ing mage in Tier 12 heroic gear who decided to queue for a random Grim Batol.  For them, threat is something holding them back, and the constant barrage of “fail tank” spewing from others can cause immense frurstration and cause this new tank to “drop out” before even realizing their full potential as a meat shield.  This is very similar to the other things I would see in school when I was teaching . You’d get students (tanks) coming into high school who are so under-prepared (undergeared) from their junior high and elementary education, that they have no chance of completing the more rigorous curriculum at the high school level.  Even trying their best, it is all but impossible to get a high grade (build up a threat lead) when you are reading at a fifth grade level in a HS class.  Many of these students find ways to get remediation and lower level developmental studies (going to old content to gear up so you can perform better), but just as many simply get frustrated and drop out.  This argument into how to fix the urban drop out epidemic is beyond the scope of this post, but hopefully seeing through Warcraft terms can help you understand the problems of some of these students.


Many whelps, handle it.

Back to the less depressing area of this writing: Blizzard wants to move away from this antiquated model of threat, and toward a more compelling, fluid model of tanking.  They feel that by removing issues with threat, and more importantly, shifting the role of the tank away from the threat race and more to situational awareness and active mitigation, that tanking will be a more dynamic.  This got me to thinking about ways to get grade models to be more interactive and user-driven as well.  We need a way to make achievement levels in classes, especially at the college level, to move away from the current paradigm.  Currently, we reward a student who does well on the first two tests with essentially a “free ride” to an A grade in the class (DISCLAIMER:  yes, I know that many upper level/graduate classes are insane, and it is difficult from start to finish; I’m making a generalization based on lower levels of education and the introductory courses at most colleges) , and condemn a student who doesn’t do well at the start to have to “wipe” in the class and start over, much like a tank who makes a small mistake and fails to gather initial threat leads on all the mobs and subsequently has his group die.  Grading in schools should move to something very similar to what tanking will be.  Students should first grasp the concept (aggro), then use that aggro to do other, more compelling things.  These tasks, such as application of the material to real world situations and authentic group work, can be equated to what Blizzard hopes to do by allowing tanks to grab initial aggro, then focus on the other aspects of tanking.

The problem with removing threat worries for tanks, as is the same for proposed changes to grading, is that you run the risk of lessening the rigor and difficulty level of the role, whether it be student or tank.  Threat is a mechanic that many tanks love, and they consider it to be just a small part of the many things they must maintain simultaneously, and they love that multi-tasking portion of tanking.  Taking away any one portion of this lessens the role and the game experience for these players.  Since testing and traditional grades can be a powerful tool for gauging success, in the same way, it is a fine line in teaching to be more compelling without becoming a lesser learning experience, or a gimmicky procedure with no real consequences if you mess up.

In school, just like in Warcraft, the building of “grade threat” is not a compelling mechanic in the opinion of many people, and can contribute to a lot of student apathy from high performers (or mid-fight snack runs for high performing tanks).  It also can be a huge source of frustration for students who don’t grab the “initial aggro” and fall behind off the start in the class, then give up (just as for starting tanks who haven’t mastered the art yet).  Sadly, just like Blizzard, I don’t know the perfect solution, but something has to change.

  1. secondmile
    September 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Love how you take current things going on and find very applicable and intriguing analogies in real life. Fantastic insight, man.

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