Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 28, 2004
The Universal Strategy Guide

It may seem that a lot has changed in the last five years of MMORPG history. But a closer look reveals that at least combat, especially combat in a group, hasn't changed that much at all. The same strategies that worked in Everquest in 1999 will still work in World of Warcraft in 2004, as well as in most character class based games in between. But these universal strategies aren't written down anywhere, certainly not in the game manuals. No game tutorial explains them, and most veterans simply assume that everybody already knows them. This makes it hard for new players to join these games, because learning these strategies in game involves a lot of being shouted at and being called a n00b. This Universal Strategy Guide is meant to help new players to know the most basic combat strategies. And we invite veterans to add to it by way of our forum.

Group combat in MMORPGs is all about controlling which group member gets attacked. A monster facing a group of several players has to decide whom to attack, and does that based on a hidden number called “agro” (short for aggravation), or “hate”. The aim of nearly all group strategies is to manipulate hate so that the monster makes a poor choice of whom to attack.

This worst possible choice for the monster to attack, from the point of view of the monster, is the group’s tank. A tank is some sort of heavily armored warrior whose armor will absorb the monster’s attacks, reducing their damage. The very first thing any group has to agree on is who the tank is. Besides heavy armor, the tank also needs some way to increase the hate on him. Most games give their tank classes a skill named taunt. The job of the tank is to taunt as much as he possibly can, all of the time, so the monster only hits him, and not the much lighter armored other characters.

Obviously the tank wouldn't survive this long without a healer. The healer's job is simply to heal the tank. Ideally, the healer should never have to heal anyone else, as the tank is supposed to keep all the hate and thus be the focus of all attacks. If the monster hits somebody else, the correct response of the group is for the tank to taunt the monster off the other player, and for the healer to keep healing the tank, unless the other player has to be saved from death. It is more important to keep the tank alive than to keep the whole group at maximum health. Healing itself generates hate, so the healer has to experiment how to achieve maximum healing while producing the minimum of hate directed at himself. Spells that heal over time, regeneration, are often very effective in this.

A group can have more than one tank and more than one healer. In this case, they should agree before combat starts who are the main tank and the main healer.

Most of the other players in the group will be damage dealers. Their job is it to deal the maximum amount of damage to the monster, while avoiding drawing too much hate onto themselves. This is especially difficult for spellcasters with many offensive spells. They often have to make deliberate pauses, because if they just cast all their spells one after another, they would produce too much hate, and the monster would go after them instead of the tank. But they can unleash their most powerful spell when the monster is nearly dead, as dead enemies don't hate any more.

It often comes to some surprise to new players that tanks are not very good at dealing damage. Many games have other melee fighters that are considerably lighter armored, but deal more damage than the tank. This is done due to game balance, because if the same character class had both the best offence and the best defense, not many people would play anything else. Before choosing a melee character class, one should find out whether this class is more a tank, or more a damage dealer, and then behave accordingly.

If the group is fighting more than one monster at a time, things get more complicated. This often requires one group member with "crowd control" skills. These are spells that temporarily confuse one or several monsters, making them not attack anybody unless they are attacked themselves. Ideally all but one monster are thus controlled ("mezzed"), and the group concentrates on the one monster that is still attacking. Needless to say, nobody should start an attack that affects the whole area and thus wakes up all the mezzed monsters.

Without crowd control, combat is more difficult, but not impossible, as long as the group has more than one tank. The tanks keep all the hate on them, the healers heal them, and the damage dealers concentrate all on the same monster, the one on the main tank. It is much better to kill the monsters one by one than to distribute the damage over all of them.

One final job for the group is to designate a puller. The group should ideally stay at a safe place, away from all monsters. The puller’s job is to "pull" monsters towards the group, so they can be killed. The puller could either be the main tank, as pulling already produces hate. Or it could be somebody with some form of ranged combat, who pulls the monsters from a distance, and then the tank taunts the monster of him. It is very important that there be only one designated puller in a group, and that nobody else pulls a monster out of boredom. Two or more people pulling monsters from different directions at the same time is a sure way to get the whole group wiped out.

With these universal strategies, one is well armed for most MMORPGs out there. In the harsher games, like Everquest, such tactics are the only way to survive. But even in easier games this strategies are very useful, as they will allow the group to kill more and harder monsters than they could do without them.

This article has also been published on
Randomly clicked a month and looked at your posts :P

Found this. Good info for all.

Ahhhhh memories of MMO's gone by -_o
There was a bunch of talking about roles a couple of months ago on the internet and what the Holy Trinity represents is one of the most powerful ideas out there: specialization.

To rail against the Holy Trinity of MMOGs is to rail against specialization--and fruitless.

Without agro you have PVP style fights--where no one tanks and you still have specialist healers.
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