Monday, June 14, 2010
Balancing the holy trinity
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.A great many MMORPG, especially those with a fantasy setting, have group combat which works with some variation of the holy trinity of roles: Tanks, healers, and damage dealers (often abbreviated as "dps" for damage per second). That is a system which only exists in computer RPGs, because it is based on the artificial stupidity of monsters, which by means of taunt abilities can be persuaded to hit the target where their attacks are the least efficient on. Then you just need a healer to keep that tank alive, and the rest of the group can get down to the real business of dealing enough damage to kill the monster.
In nearly every of the games using such a system, there are too many players choosing a dps class, and too few people choosing a tank or healer class / build to play. Thus getting a group or raid together quite often ends up with too many candidates for the dps spots, and too few candidate for the tank and healer spots, in spite of there being more dps spots. Players and bloggers, as the armchair developers that we are, have often proposed various ideas to break up that holy trinity, for example by adding a buffer role, or by creating a new set of roles. But I think the solution could be much simpler. We just need to apply the Adam Smith quote above, and modify it a bit.
It is not from the benevolence of the tank, the healer, or the damage dealer that we expect our group, but from their regard to their own interest.The quote easily explains WHY there is a lack of tank and healers: In the current system it is *against* the self-interest of a player to play a tank or a healer. A MMORPG consists not only of group combat, but usually also has a lot of solo combat. And the way solo combat is currently designed, the ability to deal damage is more important than the ability to mitigate damage.
So, curiously enough, one way to balance the holy trinity is to make the tanks and healers the best damage dealers in the game. World of Warcraft is going down that road, by making every tank or healing class a hybrid with a dps role, and making the damage output of the tank/dps, heal/dps, and tank/heal/dps classes at least as good if not better than that of the pure dps classes. Of course that design has other flaws: It makes pure dps classes rather unattractive. For example warlocks and rogues have become rare in WoW, but everybody plays a paladin. And that still doesn't solve the healer / tank shortage problem, I've been in groups with 5 hybrids in which everybody claimed to not have the gear / spec to be able to tank or heal. And the raids in my guild often start with an uncomfortable squirming session in which there is much discussion about who is switching to his healer alt/spec this week. The announced Cataclysm changes in which defense is removed as a stat are presumably addressing just this issue, enabling tank hybrids to switch to a tank role without having spent hundreds of hours collecting specialized gear which is useless for other roles.
So I would propose a different solution to balance the holy trinity: Make damage mitigation more important in solo combat. Instead of giving tanks and healers a second dps role to switch to, combat should be balanced in a way that the ability to absorb or heal damage is as advantageous as the ability to dish out damage. Thus no needs for dual spec or hybrids, a character playing a class able to tank or heal should in his tanking or healing role be able to kill monsters solo as efficiently and fast as somebody who is in a damage dealing role. Which means making the dps classes feel more like the proverbial glass cannon, and forcing them to spend part of each combat with evasive maneuvers, which then effectively dial down their damage output. The rest is basic economics: If it is in the self-interest of players to be a tank or healer, people will automatically choose those roles too, and the numbers will balance themselves out towards what is needed, just like the number of butchers, brewers, and bakers balances itself out according to demand.