Trinity: Evolution vs Annihilation

08 Aug

I don’t play all of the new MMO’s that hit the scene, but I do try out a fair variety rather than sticking to one game forever. I do tend to only play a single game at a time, because while I can split my focus between a dozen different alts, I don’t like to do the same between a dozen different games. One of the big topics out there right now for different games is whether or not the Trinity (Tank, Heals, and DPS) should exist or if it should be done away with all together.

Now, since I haven’t played all of the games out there I can only write this post based upon my own experiences. I have played many games where the trinity does exist (such as WoW, SWTOR, Rift, etc) but I have only played one MMO where it did not, which was Guild Wars 2. After reading several of the posts from other authors over the last few days in response to EverQuest Next announcing that there would be no Trinity, I started to do some thinking of my own.

This article is purely my thoughts and opinions on the matter. You’re free to agree or disagree, and I’m happy to entertain discusson on the matter, pros and cons of different options, and your own ideas here as well. I’m no expert here, I’m just a guy with an idea who feels like sharing.

The Views of My Peers
Since I probably wouldn’t have written this post without seeing what other people had posted recently, I figured I should probably start the meat of this post off by linking you to some of the articles that stood out more to me.

Belghast wrote an article called No Love for Tanks which is what initially drew my eye to this topic. In that post he talked about why tanking is enjoyable to him, and he also has links to the videos from EQ Next where they talk about it if you haven’t seen those yet.

Rowan wrote one called Thanks, But No Tanks where he talked about it a bit as well. He also brought up one of the main points that I share myself, which is that an in-game “tank” is nothing like an actual tank in the real world and how yelling insults to taunt someone isn’t really believable. That will lead into my main focus of this post here in a moment.

Annihilation: The Choice That Fails
I have heard of other games that took away the trinity as well, and I want to say the most recent of those that I haven’t played is Tera (I’ve been corrected that Tera does have the trinity, so I got my non-played games mixed up). I don’t know how things worked there, but from what I hear it went about as well as Guild Wars 2 which is to say that it didn’t really work well at all in the grand scheme of things. Not to say the game itself is a failure, because that game can still be incredibly fun to play. Overall though, the combat system was a failure. PvP is the game’s main draw, and PvP doesn’t really have roles to begin with beyond healers and everybody else.

There are a few different problems with this type of system, where there is no trinity and nothing to replace the trinity. The first is that those people who enjoy playing tanks and healers no longer get to play the thing that they want to play the most. They might be able to play a class that has better survivability than another, or one who has some healing abilities, but they can’t fill either of those roles because the abilities won’t allow them to do so.

The next problem you run into is that some players just don’t have the coordination you need to play a game that makes you entirely responsible for your own safety. Reaction times are slow or vision is a bit impaired, so they don’t do well with dodging. You combine that with the only means of healing being long cooldowns and even then only if you have access to them for your class and so on. How much of the gaming community falls into this category? I can’t tell you, honestly, but I can tell you that I know more than one person who struggles with this. If your players can’t get very far into the world because content becomes too challenging for them, then they’re going to leave.

One of the reasons they gave for dropping the trinity in EQ Next is that they don’t want the situation to come up where your guild’s main tank/heals suddenly decides to leave the game and then the guild falls apart because they can no longer raid. I can definitely understand the frustration in a situation like that. We didn’t have that in particular happen to us, but I’ve had more than one guild fall apart on me for various other reasons. Is that really a problem of the trinity’s existence though, or is that more of a problem with how you have your guild set up and whether or not you have backup people ready to fill those important positions? I’m not trying to downplay the importance or severity of that particular problem, I’m just saying that the root cause of that issue might not actually have as much to do with the trinity as they seem to think.

Let’s take a look at each of the roles and why some developers feel that the trinity needs to die.

The Tank
Leaving out the more modern variations of tanks like rogues who tank by avoiding damage, when you think of an MMO tank you’re going to picture an imposing figure that’s covered in plate armor and carrying a weapon and shield.

Taking a quote from Rowan’s post that I mentioned earlier, “A real tank on the battlefield is a prime target precisely because of its destructive power, not because the tank crew is busy shouting taunts at the enemy.”

This is where I think most people feel that the in-game concept of tanking as a whole doesn’t really make much sense if you look at it from the real world stand point. If I see a guy flinging fireballs at me and another guy who’s telling me my mom wears combat boots, I’m going to ignore the guy that’s taunting me and kill the fireball flinging dude that’s trying to kill me. I don’t care if the taunter is wearing plate armor or no armor at all, I’m going to kill the biggest threat that I see. That’s why tanks traditionally don’t do very well in PvP unless there’s some sort of capture the flag mechanic where it’s important to keep a specific person alive. Players know that tanks aren’t known for their damage, so they prioritize healers and strong DPS instead.

If you play a game where the NPC’s actually have sufficient AI to recognize that the DPS are really the ones killing them, then you end up with the same situation. I’m looking forward to a game where the NPC’s inside it are actually intelligent enough to do something. However, I don’t think that the answer is to just do away with tanks, I think the answer is to change up our definition of a tank and look at the game from another point of view.

Usually when I see people who don’t like to play tanks it’s because they don’t like having the responsibility of controlling threat, they don’t care for the play style in general, they don’t like melee combat, or they don’t like that a lot of their play time in group situations is spent staring a boss’s crotch instead of being able to see the whole scene. Other people thrive on those very same principles. Maybe not the boss crotch part so much, but in general.

The Healer
The main reason why I see people saying they don’t like to play healers is because it’s boring. They don’t like sitting there staring at health bars for the whole encounter playing whack-a-mole with whoever’s health happens to be dropping right now. This again isn’t a problem that’s caused by the fact that the trinity exists, but rather because some people feel like in order to participate with their guild that they have to fill whatever role is needed and they got stuck healing. People who enjoy healing aren’t bothered by health bar whack-a-mole. I personally love to heal, and while there are times that it gets a little boring that isn’t normally the case for me.

I don’t think that boredom of a portion of your playerbase is a good reason to abandon the healing role. There are still people who do enjoy playing it; so why would you ever do away with it? I could see that as a reasonable cause for adding more survival to the other classes in general, or giving them access to things like Guild Wars 2’s dodge mechanic where they can avoid damage at times if they pay attention. Then by adding that survivability to everyone else you allow the healers to get more involved in other things too, such as damage. But doing away with it all together doesn’t solve any problems. It might solve the problem of your guild not being able to raid because you don’t have enough healers on that night; but again I have to ask whether that’s really a problem of the trinity or if it’s more a problem of your guild not having enough healers or not having the patience to train and/or gear additional healers.

The Damage Dealers (DPS)
DPS is the only thing that every really gets kept around because they’re the core concept of combat in general. From the simplest of schoolyard fights to the fiercest of wars, the majority of the people involved would be classified as DPS. You’ve a handful of people calling the shots over here (tanks), you’ve got a few groups of medics trying to keep people alive over there (healers), and then you’ve got scores of soldiers out there trying to kill each other without getting themselves killed in the process (DPS).

Developers like to look at DPS as the people who get to have fun and do whatever they want to. Their view on that isn’t based on the existence of the trinity, it’s based on their own personal preferences of enjoying DPS more than healing or tanking. If you don’t like tanking, then you don’t like tanking. If you don’t like healing, then you don’t like healing. Big deal! Play what you want to play, and don’t play what you don’t like to play. It’s a simple concept, folks. Sure, I have a lot of fun on my DPS classes. But, I often find that I have even more fun on my tanks. I’m not talking just in dungeons or raids, I love running around solo out in the world as a tank. The same is true for me with healers. I obviously have more fun in groups where healing is done on more than just myself, but even solo I often enjoy playing a healer so long as the healer is given at least some tools for DPS.

Evolution: Bringing Reality to the Trinity
So with all of that being said, what could we do to evolve the trinity into something new rather than doing away with it completely? My suggestion is going to flip everything on its head here, so get ready for me to muddy up your terminology. I’m going to try to change the terminology so that you can keep everything straight, but this might get a bit confusing.

To try to help keep things straight, I’m going to refer to the trinity with some new terms. Tanks will now be referred to as Defenders. Healers will now be known as…Healers. DPS will now be known as Threats.

Evolving Tanks into Defenders
I’m going to mention tanks first because I think the role of the tank is the one that honestly needs to change the most. The concept of tanks in current MMO’s just isn’t realistic at all because the tank is almost never the actual threat in combat. I’m also going to take the different aspects of being a tank that Belghast mentioned and show you ways that they can be addressed in an evolved system.

The first thing that’s going to change in the evolution of tanks is that “tanks” don’t actually tank anymore. The current version of Tanks aren’t threats, and an intelligent opponent isn’t going to bother with the tank when they can kill the real threats instead. Remember the cave troll from Lord of the Rings? If not, take another look at the image at the top. He “tanked” for a whole group of goblins just because he was the biggest threat out there. He wasn’t the tank because he was covered in armor (which he wasn’t) or had tons of health (which he did); he was the tank because one solid hit from him and you were dead! In the new evolution, I’m not going to refer to this group as Tanks, they’re now Defenders.

Let’s take a quick look at the Belghast’s list of what makes a tank:

  1. The Juggernaut – Absorbing all the hits with your massive health pool.
  2. The Defender – Keeping everyone safe by interrupting the flow of combat.
  3. The General – Controlling the flow of combat, establish and execute the strategy and kill order.
  4. The Mentor – Helping the group recover and improve after failure.

With this evolution, you need to completely change your preconceptions of what a tank is and instead focus on what a tank does. You’re not a “Tank” anymore, now you’re a “Defender”.

The Juggernaut isn’t going to function the same way any more, because your Threats (DPS Tanks) are the ones who will be up on the front lines taking most of the hits. You’re still there to protect them and keep them safe, you just aren’t going to necessarily do it from the front lines getting stabbed and beaten any more. In order to accomplish these same roles, the Defenders are going to evolve into something of a healer/support hybrid. Instead of being on the front lines taking damage yourself, you’re going to buff with your Threats (DPS Tanks) to transfer a portion of their damage to yourself, or to prevent the damage from being dealt in the first place. Shields, or “bubbles”, won’t be a thing restricted to healers, Defenders will be the primary source of absorption shields.

Instead of taunting enemies to keep them away from your friends, you’re going to keep them safe through the use of debuffs. Your debuffs will be able to reduce the effectiveness of enemy units. You’ll establish the kill order through the use of single-target debuffs that increase damage taken or reduce the target’s defenses.

You’ll have access to spells that help you control the battlefield itself through the use of knockbacks and snares, or through walls that you place which prevent enemies from reaching your group. You’ll work alongside your healers to pacify potential threats while the “Threats” destroy your party’s immediate threats. When your defenses have been broken, that’s when your healers step in to repair the damage.

I’m leaving out the Mentor from Belghast’s list because I don’t think it actually has anything to do with tanking, I think that’s something that all guild leaders and guild members should do regardless of what character they’re playing. While tanks do have some unique perspective at times, so do your healers and DPS. Group efforts are called “group” efforts for a reason.

Evolving Healers into…uh, Healers
Healers don’t need to change all that much, but there certainly needs to be some more variety in the mix. The main thing that needs to happen, in my eyes, is that you need to get out of the mindset that healers exist solely to heal. When I say that, I’m not talking about restricting your healers by giving all of their heals cooldowns like you see in GW2, I’m saying it’s time to let healers do more than just heal. Don’t force them out of healing, just stop restricting them to nothing but healing. Healing is only boring when there’s not enough damage being done resulting in you just sitting there waiting for something to happen. How do you combat that? By giving healers better access more spells.

Right now healers come in only a few different flavors. You’ve got the literal healers that restore health to you after you’ve taken damage, the damage preventers who give you protective shields that absorb damage before you ever take it, and then you’ve got the heal-over-timer healers who load you up with spells that heal small amounts constantly for a period of time so that you almost immediately heal back whatever damage you take. There is some variation out there in how they go about doing those things, but they still boil down to those three.

So you need to keep the purpose of the healer and simply expand on the idea. If your job is to keep people alive, you can do that with more than just healing spells. How? Crowd control, debuffs, and damage. You protect your party members by removing, restricting, or eliminating the threat. Healers still heal, but you expand the tool belt so that you aren’t just casting healing spells all day. Threats are partially responsible for keeping themselves alive because they’re not built for survival above all else like tanks were, they aren’t designed to be self sufficient. Healers still fill the necessity of keeping everyone alive, but they can do it with more than just whack-a-mole healing and they’ll do it now in conjunction with Defenders.

Not all of the healers are going to want to play a class that’s constantly doing things other than healing, so you need multiple healing classes where some focus more on the debuffs, others focus more on the healing, some focus on healing but do so by dealing damage, and so on. What you don’t want to end up with is eight different versions of the exact same healing class doing exactly the same thing with different spell names. You can call vanilla “chocolate”, but if you don’t actually add any chocolate to it, it’s still just vanilla.

I know PvP balance can become a big issue with this change in particular, so yeah there would be some challenges on the balance front. I think those challenges can be met as long as the developers are willing to see that there’s a distinct difference between PvE and PvP and because of that, spells should have some variation between those two types of content as well.

Evolving DPS into Threats
If your Defenders don’t actually “tank” anymore, then who does?

Your DPS, the most significant threat out there.

Intelligent enemies don’t care if you want to be the one they shoot at, they’re going to attack their biggest threat.

The people that should be getting the most focus fire from the enemies are their biggest threat. In most cases, that’s going to be your strongest damage dealers. Forget about “tanks”, because it’s now about “Threats”.

Get out of the mindset that tanks need to have tons of survival, because “tanks” are no more. Threats do need some survival, but that should become something that’s active to some degree but requires help from others as well. Their survival should come in the form of cooldowns, and there shouldn’t be all that many of them. Defenders and Healers will provide you with the majority of your survival while your job is to go on a killing spree. Some Threats will have the ability to reduce the damage they take, others will be able to avoid damage all together, and others will convert the damage they take into a stacking buff that makes them deal even more damage as they embrace the concept of “the best defense is a strong(er) offense.”

You’ll play Threats in much the same way that you play DPS today, except that you’re not going to run away from mobs when you’re in a dungeon. Things are going to try to kill you because you’re trying to kill them, so get used to it. While you’re doing solo questing and whatnot, sure you might need to use some of those old tactics like kiting to help keep yourself alive if your cooldowns aren’t available.

Discussion Time
I’m not saying this is the best way to keep things moving forward in regards to the trinity, it’s merely an option. I understand that there’s still the possibility that there will be guilds that fall apart because they don’t have enough tanks or healers to fill the necessary roles so long as any form of the trinity still exists. You can combat that though through creativity in class design. Every different class should be able to choose a spec that can fill any given role. You don’t have to make healers always be a mana-using class that requires gear with certain stats on it. There’s nothing wrong with having a healer whose primary stat is Strength, or a tank that uses Intelligence.

Anyway, my little rambling rant is over now. Time for discussion!


Posted by on August 8, 2013 in Play Styles


Tags: , , , , ,

10 responses to “Trinity: Evolution vs Annihilation

  1. lostforever

    August 8, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    “The concept of tanks in current MMO’s just isn’t realistic at all because the tank is almost never the actual threat in combat.”

    As you say the concept of tank and agro isn’t realistic sure but lot of things in MMO aren’t realistic either and most people are fine with that but complain about tank and agro! I think people think of tanking holding agro as tank shouting insults to the mobs. I don’t see it that way at all. I see a tank holding agro as *mechanics* by where developers are representing the concept of some one or something defending their team mates.

    Say for example the game has collision detection. In such a game a tank is someone who stands between the mob and the DPS. The mob has to kill the tank to get to the DPS who is the main threat since dps is doing damage. Yet the mob has to ignore the dps and need to kill the tank.

    So agro and collision detection are the same thing. They are mechanics to represent the idea of someone protecting their team members. These days we have powerful computers so we can get rid of the idea of agro and replace it with collision detection. To me personally it doesn’t matter how I protect my team members as tank as long as I am allowed to do so!

    Also TEAR has tanks. The Lancer is a dedicated tank class. It also has dedicated healers too.

    • lostforever

      August 8, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      Sorry TEAR supposed to be Tera !

    • Psynister

      August 8, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      Mechanics isn’t really the concept here, though. It isn’t so much about whether or not the mobs have to go through the tank to get to the threat, it’s whether a tank should exist at all or not. When I mention that tanking isn’t realistic, I’m not saying it isn’t close enough to reality, I’m saying if you’re going to have AI that’s actually intelligent, then the current concept of a tank no longer works because he isn’t a threat. It’s not a matter of reality versus fantasy, it’s about trying to keep the concept of tanks and healers alive in a world with artificial intelligence.

      Games are trying to evolve beyond just simple mechanics. Moving forward with this concept, the only way that you’re going to be able to protect your team by taking all the hits, is if you are the largest threat on the field. Their goal is to make the NPC’s as intelligent as opposing players in PvP. In PvP if I know you don’t do much damage, and that you are designed and geared specifically to absorb as much damage as possible, then I’m not going to waste my time trying to kill you when I could instead kill your healers and DPS and then clean you up afterwards. Since I have intelligence, you can’t force me to attack you instead of them. That’s what mobs are going to do if games continue to evolve in the way that developers are wanting them to.

      Mobs won’t have to stop and kill the tank before they get to the DPS, because they won’t be stupid anymore. They won’t be restricted by a simple mechanic like collision or agro. That’s not a vision that I came up with just to post about it, that’s a vision that developers right now have and are planning to implement. In so doing, they want to take away tanking all together because no intelligent mob is going to waste time attacking a nearly indestructible tank while everyone else kills them, when they could just walk around the tank and attack the real threat.

      They want to say you can’t protect other people anymore, and I’m trying to give an alternative to that which still fits within their concept of an intelligent game.

  2. rowan

    August 8, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    This comment is mostly so I can subscribe and stop missing your posts. But I must say you’ve got some great concepts here. I hope to see them implemented and done well, and soon. Currently my favorite build in TSW is a Support build that involves debuffing the mob and keeping two powerful buffs on my team up as much as possible, while DPSing. I love feeling more useful than simply shooting the boss down as fast as possible, which is why in the past I’ve leaned toward Healer.

    • Psynister

      August 9, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      I have no idea why your comment got flagged as spam, but /fixed.

  3. João Carlos

    August 8, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    I not sure if the holly trinity appear in fantasy stories. The Fellowship of Ring had tank/healers/dps or everyone was dps? I remember they had a huge problem trying taunt that troll off Frodo… the mage tanked a balrog, that was stupid, so he died… or wait, he returned later. All that halflings were thieves, but everyone know all halflings are thieves. Aragorn is ranger, and Legolas too. The dwarf and Boromir were wariors, but not the big armor kind of warrrior and they never tanked. Boromir tryed meat shield, but that killed him…

    Maybe the Hobbit have the holly trinity…. not, only dwarves, one thief and one mage. Not sure if that other mage, Radagast, is really a mage or crazy… or both.

    Harry Potter… they were mages and that house elf died because no one was healer… the hero fight the lich at the end…

    I fear that fantasy stories have a serious lack of tanks and healers.

  4. Imakulata

    August 16, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    I believe the most important question regarding trinity is what is wrong with it. I do not think it is necessary to fix what is broken – I do think HT needs fixing, I wouldn’t think it had to be fixed if it was good though. But the important question is what is it about HT that needs fixing.

    And the answer becomes the base of the solution. If your answer is “nothing but DPS is fun”, well, you’ll get a system lot of people is going to be unhappy with…

    • Psynister

      August 16, 2013 at 8:28 AM

      I don’t think that it needs to be fixed. It isn’t broken, it just isn’t realistic enough for games that want to have a legitimate AI. That’s what breaks the traditional trinity that you see in most MMO’s today. If you allow mobs to actually think for themselves then the trinity doesn’t work because it’s based on mechanics that are used for a dummy AI that’s programmed to do a very specific thing.

      In general, the trinity isn’t broken, it’s working just fine. But if you’re going to evolve the NPC’s then you have to either evolve the trinity or get rid of it. That’s what will need to be fixed, if a game does have legitimate AI.

      • Imakulata

        August 16, 2013 at 5:36 PM

        I don’t agree trinity is “working just fine”. It’s good for group PvE, but doesn’t for PvP and solo PvE (and, as you said, may stop working when mobs become smarter). A point can be made it’s valid to have a separate set of skills for each mode, however I think being able to use similar skills is such an advantage it is worth to reinvent the model.


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