Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO ColumnClass Roles - Tank or Rodeo ClownJonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column - RSS 2.0
I am the ruler of a vast realm. I came from nothing, the youngest son of insignificant parentage, yet I rose above my peers and wrested away the leadership of my clan through my prowess in battle. I made use of my strengths while exploiting the weaknesses of others. Through conquest, diplomacy, and treachery I conquered the other clans and tribes, forging them into a mighty nation.
Now I sit upon my throne, brooding deep within the fortress I have raised. A gaggle of five adventurers have invaded my domain. A temporary alliance of convenience, none had met another prior to a few minutes ago, but now they slaughter the warriors that I have trained through grueling wars spanning a decade. One by one my finest lieutenants fall until this group of marauders enter my presence.
The first is garbed from head to toe in plate armor, the visor of his helm pulled down so I can barely even see the slits of his eyes. There is hardly a gap in the many plates for a ready blade to penetrate to skin. He hides behind a shield almost as large as himself. Beside him stand two other fighters in lighter armor. One wears chain mail and clutches an enormous two-handed battle axe forged by a master weaponsmith. The other is garbed in boiled leather and has a fiery arrow nocked in her great bow crafted from the horn and sinew of some fell beast. Behind them stand the final two invaders wearing only cloth garments. The first is a wizard with a great staff in her hands, ready to call down fire and blast me with lightning. The second holds only an orb and a book, yet I know in him is the greatest danger. Whatever damage I deal to his compatriots, this one will heal as if the wounds had never been.
I rise from my throne, ready to attack with all of the wisdom and prowess of a lifetime on the battlefield. A cunning warlord, I know that until the healer falls, any damage I inflict will be meaningless. Perhaps in the heat of battle, my anger will misdirect me and I will lash out at those who cause me pain: the mage, the archer, or the fighter with the massive battle axe. But no... as the battle begins, I ignore all of my intuition, experience, and training. I attack the one person I cannot hurt. The one who wears armor so thick that few attacks can break through his defenses and those that do are quickly healed. Why, you may ask? Because he made a rude gesture and called me an unpleasant name...
The archetypal concept of the tank assumes that PvE opponents have the mental capacity of cattle. Instead of a monster intelligently attacking what would make his enemy most vulnerable (the Healer) or what is the greatest actual threat (the DPS), it attacks the one opponent that is, in actuality, often the smallest real threat and the hardest to kill: the Rodeo Clown... er Tank.
This isn't meant to poke fun at Tanks. Holding aggro is a much more challenging task than simply dishing out damage. It requires a higher level of situational awareness and situational control, especially if members of the group don't know how to moderate their own aggro. I don't know much about the rodeo, but I suspect that rodeo clowns are at least as competent as the riders they are protecting too. The purpose of this analogy is instead to point a finger at a flaw in the system which is centered on a combination of monster AI behavior patterns and the means by which the archetypal tank conducts his business.
Tanks generally maintain aggro through various "taunts" or specific attacks that have a higher threat even if they do not necessarily do more damage. This is counter-intuitive. It ascribes to the opponent an absurd level of stupidity. One might expect such methods to work against certain beasts, and perhaps some low-IQ humanoids, but not against opponents of average intelligence let alone Boss monsters who presumably have reached their position through prowess and ingenuity.
As I was contemplating this article, I tried to find examples of MMO tanks in history and at first I came up empty. On a basic level, there is nothing comparable. No standard arm of battle has existed who's primary purpose is to get opponents to attack it. I did realize, however, that there are plenty of examples where an individual, unit, or some type of stratagem temporarily took on this purpose. At the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal lured the Romans to attack his main Celtic line (the Tank) while he maneuvered his Africans and around the flanks and assaulted with his cavalry at the rear (the DPS). The Napoleonic era is replete with examples where a cavalry charge forced enemy infantry to form a square which was crushed by an infantry charge or where an infantry attack forced the enemy to form a line which was then flanked by cavalry. At the Battle of Gazala, Rommel fixed the British front by an attack with his Italian Divisions (the Tank) while he drove his heavier Afrika Korps around the southern flank (the DPS). At Chancellorsville, Lee used Longstreet to affix the Union Army while Jackson marched around to attack them from behind. Any time you hear terms like "hammer and anvil" or "fixing force," odds are someone is playing the Tank.