Monday, November 21, 2005

The Main Tank

OK, I admit it, I play more characters than Agirra, the whimpy shaman orc girl. She's my research character, so she will be the public front. The others will remain nameless here. But one of them is a warrior.

The warrior was created as a companion to a friend who plays a cloth-wearer. For those of you not in the know, that is priest, mage or warlock. A cloth-wearer needs a warrior playing the role of tank to function well: the tank holds the aggression and endures the beating of the NPCs or even PCs for long enough that the magical type people can get their spells organised and do some serious damage. In a team with healers and damage dealers the tank's role is to keep the attention and the aggression focused on her while the rest works, particularly the healer. If the tank dies, frequently the rest of the group will be wiped. The same is true the other way around though: if the healer dies the tank is doomed in 19 cases out of 20.

This leads to a very intense and close interplay between the tank and healer. A good tank needs to be able to not only attack and slash indiscriminately, but also to understand how the aggressive characters will move, where and when. If one or more move to the healer, the tank needs to be there immediately to draw the attention away. If the healer is attacked the healer can't heal, and so the tank dies. The rule is: die before your healer. Die because the mana to keep you alive runs out, not because you ignored your healer. As the guild warriors say it, when I in shaman role have tried to be both healer and hero: "Leave the dieing to the professionals." The warrior is supposed to take the damage, and die if needed. This of course means you have to trust the healer to be there for you, while you are recklessly slashing away.

Similar relationships exist between the tank and the damage dealers: killing a mob quickly with hard-hitting spells is another way to keep the tank alive, and so the group is interdependent. Still, it feels good to be the tank. The tanking warrior is the hero, the front character, the one who saves the day. Turning around even before the healer has time to type "on me" to taunt the mobs attacking and draw them away, distracting as wide a field as possible and living to tell about it: I am starting to understand why the warriors are loud, bossy, yelling players. Last night I was loud and bossy and self-centered, and when I tried to be a democratic leader and asked the others what to do about a certain attack, the reply was "You're the main tank. You decide." It felt good.

At the same time I found myself hopelessly annoyed with the shamans. I have always thought of the shaman as a type of character that only functions well when it serves a group. Totems give abilities to all within range: healing, protection, extra attacks - but you need a group to take advantage if it is to work properly. And so you need to study how the group functions. As a shaman I normally put up a mana totem for the other magical folks at the back, an earth-bind or stoneskin totem to help the tanks, yet another totem to give more or stronger attacks: I play on the strengths of the group and enhance them rather than try to be everything from tank to healer at the same time. But since shamans can be good solo characters, they tend to play selfishly, defining themselves as tanks, healers or mages but with themselves as back up for themselves. This means that as tank, a shaman will mainly focus on doing massive damage, not on saving the healer - because the shaman can heal and even resurrect alone. As a healer the shaman will not worry so much about the tank, as she can be her own tank if needed. The shaman can attack at a distance and distract upcoming aggression through totems, why should a shaman even care about the group?

Playing the warrior has made me a much better shaman, because from this position I see the group interdependence more clearly. It makes it easier for me to take up the healing role without complaints: shamans can be good healers because they are less vulnerable than both priests and druids, and a somewhat inexperienced tank has more time before the shaman is dead than with a priest. It also makes it easier to see how I can use the shaman to tank, it forces me to consider the nature of the spells and weapons in a different context: what will pull aggression, how can I hold it, how can I distract casters, how can I turn the flow of the battle?

But all that intellectual chit-chat aside, I find that I like playing a warrior. I love the way my character throws her head back and yells, and all the enemies turn around and come running. I enjoy pulling them all to me, and physically feel the tension of the quick play needed to control the aggression - the aggro - as well as the relief of a cloth-wearer who finally has time to cast a spell.

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