It’s about class, in more ways than one

Lately there have been a ton of posts about the differences between the three major roles (tanking, healing, and Dps).

It all started with a guest post over at World of Matticus. As that slowly simmered in peoples heads I suddenly started to see my feed reader positively explode with posts on the subject.

Over the course of a few days it has spawned posts from Blessing of Kings, Spinksville, forbearance, The Pink Pigtail Inn, Azure Shadows, and the  Big Bear Butt to name a few. Actually I suppose I could include myself in that, but you are already here.


Now, I am not going to get deeply into whether I think tanks and healers deserve a greater reward than Dps for running the same content. I will simply say no.

Same content, same reward.

The party is a 5 player team, and should be rewarded as such.

Now that I got that out of the way, moving on…


The defining point of this topic seems to be the fact that there is nearly always a lack of healers and/or tanks. That is what I am going to look at.

No, I am not arguing whether there is a shortage or not. There is, and I think I know a bit of why.


  • Fear

Simply put, both of these roles are single point of failure roles. Generally if one of them goes down it’s a wipe.

Fear of failure keeps many from ever trying.

Peer pressure can be a bitch. Just look at how Kaylynn started off planning to learn tanking as she leveled, and after getting treated like crap by her peers gave up on it.

Yes there will occasionally be a second character in a Dps role that can take over if needed. I have seen a cat Druid go bear when the tank went down. I have seen an elemental Shaman pick up heals when the Priest pops angel form. I have seen Rogues evasion tank that last few percent, and Hunters that pet tanked.

I have seen a lot. However I would say at least 90% of the time that either the tank or the healer goes down we will be running back.

There is a good amount of stress involved in knowing that if you screw up the whole group dies. Lots of people I know play the game as a way to burn off the stress of their daily lives. They don’t want stress where they have their fun.

Barring a complete redesign of the games mechanics I don’t really see a solution for this one. It simply is what it is.


  • Gear

In my opinion gearing up as a Dps is simply easier. The vast majority of quest rewards are geared towards exactly that.

Dps gear.

Now that makes a good deal of sense on the part of the designers. At the point you are leveling up the vast majority of players do so in a Dps spec. It simply makes sense to do it that way, as the questing is generally more easily managed and faster as Dps.

I know I have always always gone that route, at least until yesterday. (I am going to attempt to level a Pally as Prot. She is all of level 10 right now. More on that in later posts.)

Gearing as Dps is also generally simpler. Lets assume my Hunter just made 80. A little bit of reading shows me that I need to gear for the hit cap of 8%. Once that is done I simply stack agility, int, and perhaps a bit of  stamina and I will be fine.

Not perfect maybe, but fine.

There is also a decent amount of  crafted blue quality gear that will make decent Dps gear. Hell, that same hunter could put on most of the Swiftarrow PvP set with a few other crafted odds and ends and be geared enough to do his job in heroics about 3 seconds after hitting level 80.

From my experience at least there is simply a lot more number juggling that goes on with gearing a tank or a healer.

Take as an example my Priest. As a healer he needs Spellpower, Int, Spirit, crit, haste, MP-5, and Stamina, not necessarily in that order. He needs to balance throughput with mana regen in addition to everything else. Stacking one thing will simply shortchange him somewhere else, it needs to be a balance.

Trying to use my DK tank as an example is pretty shaky for me since I have yet to actually tank with her. I do recall spending quite a bit of time working on which gear to get from what source to achieve all the numbers that were on the notepad I had to write them all down on.

Off the top of my head I can think of Defense rating, Stamina, Strength, hit rating, Dodge, Parry, and Expertise. I am sure there is more that I am forgetting, my notebook with all the math in it is at home. Actually my head hurts just thinking about it.

Simply put, when gearing my character turns from “oh, cool this is an improvement!” to “Hell, I don’t know. Lets do some calculus to figure out if it’s an upgrade.” that is no longer fun for me.

Fortunately most of the solutions that I could think of for this are already being worked on, and are planned for Cataclysm. They have already announced a streamlining of stats to make them a bit simpler when figuring out what to wear.

An example would be all tanking classes getting their defense capped through talents, similar to the talent Survival of the Fittest which Druids already have. At least that will be one fewer number to juggle.

Not only do I think that will help with designing the entry level crafted gear, but should lessen the need for dual-specced characters to carry multiple sets of gear. A player that can simply re-talent and use most of the same gear is more likely to try out a role than one that has to drop a sizable chunk of change on an “offspec” set of gear.


  • Skill

There is much to be said for being skilled at what you do.

Running as Dps, Heals, and Tanking require very different skill sets than each other. Yes, that is pretty obvious, but it bears repeating.

Every character that comes into the game starts as Dps. Depending on which race you picked you might be killing anything from wolves to pigs, possibly even walking flowers or glowing worms. The simple fact is you will be killing something, at least for a while.

Could you level up purely through LFG? Sure thing.

Actually I am planning to try it with the Pally I mentioned earlier. My failures should be blogworthy at very least.  

For now though, she is a Dps prot Pally questing her way towards level 15 or so before I start pugging.

With Dps I can (and have) simply solo leveled my way to the cap, learning as I went how to do it. There used to still be a difference in skill however. If you made the level cap as a Dps there was still more to learn. Crowd control, threat management, and  mana management were things that soloing did not teach.

It still doesn’t, but we no longer really use them. The second half of WotLK has been Aoe the trash, blow cooldowns on the boss, balls to the wall and don’t worry about mana or aggro for the most part. If something goes wrong its the tank/healers fault.

Both tanking and healing require a completely different set of skills, skills that will only be learned by practicing them. Unfortunately there is no place to practice them other than in a group. A group generally composed of extremely judgmental strangers. No one likes to be called out as a failure.

Here is a secret. We all start out failing.

Some learn faster than others, some never do. The fact remains that no one simply installs the game one day and magically knows how to do everything.

Another quick example.

I made a party chat macro that goes something like this:

Hiyas folks. Just a heads up, I am new to tanking. I may move a bit slower than you are used to as I am learning the pulls. Please give me a few seconds to get everything really pissed off at me before starting Dps, it will make our lives a lot easier. I will mark the kill target with a skull, please concentrate Dps on that one.

I have so far used that macro three times.

Both times I used it on my lowbie Druid I got a wall of “kk, ok, can do, or thanks for the heads up”, and my favorite “my main is a bear tank, mind if I offer a few tips”? I ran Wailing Caverns twice on that character and had a blast both times.

When I tried that on my level 80 DK it did not go nearly as well.

I decided to forgo the two Emblems of Triumph in favor of going to an instance that I know fairly well. I qued up as a tank for the first time, choosing normal Nexus to cut my teeth on. I que up, zone in, and as we are buffing up hit my macro.

One by one the other four dropped group.

The only one who so much as whispered me was the healer, and all he had to say was “Sorry mate, I just want a quick badge run.”

Four people would rather take a 15 minute debuff than give me that 15 minutes to show that I had a clue which button to push. Three out of the four likely lost a solid half hour between the debuff and the re-que time. 

I wonder if any of them bitched about there being so few tanks while they waited.


Thats just a single example of how learning the needed skills can be a bit harder for the tanking and healing roles. 

How do we solve this?

I think the new LFG tool will actually go a long way towards helping to even things out given enough time. Other than that I can’t really see a way to get practice in for group roles without a group to heal/tank for.


  • Design

Just a quick note on design. Since every class has to be able to level solo, and that was set up as a Dps task. Every class has to have at least one spec that can Dps.

Look at that for a second.


Ten classes, all of which can Dps.

Four can only Dps.

Four can tank.

Four can heal.

Two can do all three.


There are thirty talent trees.

Six are tanking trees.

Five are healing trees.

Twenty-three are Dps trees.


The game is designed to favor the creation of Dps characters. Without completely re-inventing how characters work that is not going to change. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Do I have some ideas for how it could be done differently? Oh, I most certainly do, but now is not their time. They will be coming up in another post on what I think Blizzards next generation MMO might be like.

This wall is long enough without me opening that can of worms.




15 Responses

  1. That newbie macro idea is brilliant. My problem when I’m on my druid alt is that some tanks start running before I’m able to ask them to have forbearence with me and give me time to drink between pulls since I’m new and tend to get low on mana. They just run off. With a macro like that there’s a chance that I’ll be able to at least give them a heads-up.

    Looking forward to see the next wall!

  2. Well said, man. Well said.

    That macro is also great. I know if I ever saw that while on my mage, I’d adjust my play style accordingly and probably offer any tanking tips that I learned from my druid.

    It’s a shame how awful some people’s attitudes are.

  3. Looking forward to your posts about your Prot Pally. I myself am levelling a Prot Warrior, and while I’m not doing it /entirely/ through dungeons, I plan on hitting every dungeon at least once at the appropriate level.

    There does seem to be a pervasive idea that once you hit 80, you should know perfectly whatever role you’re playing, so if you’re wanting to switch from dps to heals or tanking, you’re either going to take a lot of abuse OR you’re going to have to rely on friends and guildies to see you through the learning curve. And it seems to be much worse for tanks than healers, in my experience. I had no problems, as a formerly-feral druid, with being a newbie tree at level 80, even doing heroics. But the first time I tried tanking a heroic? Fuhgeddaboutit. I had the gear but not the skill and got nothing but passive-aggressive insults and abuse from the dps and healer. 😛

  4. Dechion, my little pallie leveling guide project is going to go prot. I’ve done some thoughts and to be honest, for a new to wow person, the prot tree might allow for more survivability. Until you get to the true dps talents in ret, you are just flailing away at the mobs anyway. heh.

  5. To be uncomfortably snarky, I’m having trouble with the math at the end…6+5+23 is 34 trees, not 30. I’m sure some are being double counted, like the druid feral tree, and my ignorance about DK trees is messing up my own accounting (I also don’t know that trees like the priest Discipline tree are easily classified).

    But to my point, with a typical five man group of 1 tank, 1 healer, 3 dps, the proper ratio for tank/healer/dps with 30 trees would be 6/6/18, which really ain’t too far off 6/5/23 or whatever the numbers really are. The game does indeed favor the creation of DPS characters, but it also requires the existence of more DPS characters.

    While a different game design could make tanks and healers less obvious points of failure, and thus less scary, I think it’s this social mechanism you’ve mentioned that drives the shortage, and not the design. In other words, I believe game design can be a solution but it’s not the real problem.

    • As to the math at the end, the Druid’s Feral tree and all three Death Knight trees can be used for both tanking and Dps depending on talent choices.

      I think that the two major things driving the lack are the social aspect of it, and the fact that while (roughly) 60% of character could be specced into a healer or tanking role people tend to do what is familliar.

      They will generally stick with what they already know how to do, what the entire game up till that point has taught them…

      To Dps.

  6. Awesome post. I especially enjoyed the part about doing calculus to figure out ideal tanking gear. That was exactly my experience when I attempted it after dual-speccing my main human warrior. I didn’t bother for long. Blizz certainly makes it easy to choose dps spec, as it’s nearly impossible to play casually as either a healer or tank. It takes a certain zest for the role that many players lack (not to mention patience for when learning). I must admit that since the new lfg implementation, I’ve been tempted to play a healing class just to cut down my queue time and for a change of pace. I’m sure I’m not the only one getting a little motivation from the new system.

  7. In my opinion tanks are far easier to gear than any other archetype in the game.
    Are you defcapped? Yes? Stack stamina. No? Get more def rating.
    Avoidance automatically increases with gear and unless you went really wrong somewhere threat generation isn’t much of a problem either these days.
    There are certain encounters where a specialized set of gear comes in handy, but those are usually hardmodes that I don’t worry about on my twink (even though I have successfully tanked all raid instances in the game and my paladin is currently sitting just shy of 5400 gs).
    On my rogue however, gearing is a nightmare. What stats do I look for?
    Sounds complicated? Well, it gets worse…
    Expertise pretty much trumps everything until you hit the dodgecap (26 expertise).
    Hitrating is imperative up to the poison hit cap, which differs depending on: specc, group composition, available debuffs, race and weapon. If you wanted to really squeeze every last drop of dps you might need up to 5 different sets to hit the different hitcaps.
    Hitrating raises your soft crit cap, its great if you reached the cap, pretty bad if you didn’t.
    Agility/critrating are good until you hit the soft crit cap, but fall behind AP/haste above it.
    So every time I could get a new piece of gear I have to pull up my spreadsheet, see if equipping it would bump me over my soft crit cap, regem/reequip hitrating accordingly, figure out if the upgrade is still worth it at that point and so on.

    Sorry for the wall of text, but gearing a dps class is by no means “easier” than gearing a tank or healer.
    Gearing becomes difficult when you try to maximize your effectiveness, I want to do that on my rogue, so its hard, I don’t want to do that on my paladin, so it appears easier to me.
    Someone with a pally tank main and a rogue alt would probably react in the exact opposite way.

  8. Hey, I currently have 5 80s (2 Hunters, DK, Pally, Druid) and a bunch of characters in the 70-80s. I leveled my DK and Pally as tanks and I only got them dual spec so they could put out a little more damage in case a second/third tank was not needed. My druid was tank until Wotlk (up to BT, no Sunwell). I know how to tank – I love being a tank, yet I’m scared to put my lvl76 prot-warrior into LFG with all the dps-assholes these days (also I consider warrior-tanking to be the hardest in a PuG). Not gonna happen.

    Tanks/Heals should get no extra reward. They should only get the rewards first since they are cornersones and make or break a group/raid. Looking at the current situation, tanks and healers should get a 2h-debuff instead of just 15min. Just this morning, I was looking for a fast random dungeon on my druid (now resto) to test out his newest item (Cold Convergence, yummi 116 haste) and the tank left the group shortly after loading screen (pit of saron). Since one of the remaining players came from the same server he asked him why he left. The answer was “it would take to long”. So this excuse of a tank left 4 others stranded in a dungeon with a 15min-debuff each knowing that he will find a new dungeon exactly 5sec after the debuff but the DPS has to wait at least another 15-20min in the queue.

    Leveling a prot-palladin is probably the easiest (yet most boring) way these days. I have a lvl34-dwarf-pally and a lvl36-bloodelf-pally and they both soloed every dungeon up to their level. Unless you pull to much nothing in that level can kill you it just takes 3-4 hours to finish a dungeon ^^ – it is advised to always carry a few stacks of water (mana) with you.

  9. My main is a DIsc Priest, I’ve been healing for years on her and what causes the stress tends to be the group you are with. OK, sometimes things go wrong but when you should be really focussing on keeping the tank up the last thing you need is for the DPS to stand in front of bosses that cleave or pound, or to quite happily stand in void zones/acid/poison/fire. I tend to let their health dip while they do that so hopefully they notice they need to move, more often than not they don’t and I’m a healer so I feel compelled to keep them alive, as long as I do this they stay put and don’t move out of the area of immense pain…grrrrr. I also have a level 80 Elemental Shaman that for some insane reason I want to re-gear for Resto, I have a level 66 tanking Druid and have just started an Heirloomed Mage to take a break from my healing environment. I learnt my class through Dungeons and feel fairly competent. What really annoys me is that other people just assume I am there to heal them when they can do a lot to avoid needing the healing in the first place.

  10. Dunno about leveling Paladin Prot, But I’ve leveled my Warrior to 74 only in Prot spec and only questing and had no issues whatsoever, I even enjoyed it.

    I’m used to leveling slowly so I couldn’t comment on speed.

  11. […] matter. Big Bear Butt throws out some ideas on how to fix the problem of balance between the roles, Dechion, Azure Shadows and Forbearance put their comments out there too, and now, it’s my […]

  12. Since the start of WotLK, Blizzard has tried a number of things — a new tanking class! dual specs! new abilities! — to address the tank shortage. Judging by queue times, however, it doesn’t appear that this problem has been solved.

    I think both Blizzard and the player population have an interest in solving the tank shortage. It’s no good to have hundreds of dps sitting in the queue, unable to experience all the fun new content.

    I think any solution to the tank shortage will have to provide players with a reason to want to tank. The idealist in me thinks that making tanking more fun would be enough, but I’m not naive enough to think that the un-fun part of tanking is internal to the tank. Tanks don’t need more abilities for hitting the mobs; they need more abilities for hitting the idiot dps in the group that make tanking a chore.

    I’m really not a fan of bribing the tank with loot, but my understanding is that this is the technique used by Blizzard to increase participation in arenas. Basically, players will follow the loot.

    You get what you reward. What is being done to reward tanking? (Note: short queues don’t count when the average time to assemble a heroic group in 3.2 was about 3 minutes)

  13. Wow—its almost like you’re reading my blog :-p.

    Except I don’t think anyone is yet. Stop on by, I think we’re looking at very similar problems.

    That said tank gearing need expertise too–unless you want the boss mob running with parry haste on your MT.

  14. […] I was catching up on Dechion’s posts yesterday… this rings a bell! […]

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