Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Introductory Tanking Experience

My warrior finally hit level 80, so I've now got the levels I would need to tank.  With the gear I'm getting from random dungeons I run as DPS, I've got the stats I would need to tank.  With dual spec, I've got the tools I would need to tank without having to sacrifice solo and DPS options. 

The challenge, then, is getting the personal experience I would need to actually know how to tank.  This is one area where the game comes up pretty short at the moment.

Off-tanking some trash
Like many good PUG stories, the Gun'Drak run crisis began with a hunter's pet.  The hunter maintained that the healer was responsible for keeping his pet alive and the tank (who claimed to have a "top Shaman healer" as one of his other characters) took the hunter's side.   The mage and I just tried to get the the tank and the healer to tolerate each other for the ten minutes it would have taken to clear the dungeon, since, as DPS, we would have been staring at lengthy queues to find a new group.  Unfortunately, after squabbling our way through three of the four bosses, bickering over whether it's okay to need a blue item that no one wanted for off-set, and a failed vote kick attempt, the tank decided to pull a group of mobs and then drop group.

As the highest DPS party member, aggro fell directly on my Bladestorming shoulders, and the healer was apparently good enough to keep an Arms warrior in battle stance carrying a two-handed weapon alive, because we survived the pull.  The remaining group members suggested that I should try to tank the rest of the dungeon in case we couldn't get a replacement, so I switched over to my tanking spec and gear and made my first ever pull as the tank of an instance group.  As it happened, the group finder got us a replacement tank shortly thereafter, but my curious lack of failure in this brief role tempted me to see what exactly I could do.

Looking for easy mode
In all likelihood, there will never be another dungeon I know quite so well as Utgarde Keep; the first dungeon of the expansion, it was also the easiest heroic and therefore the most reliable source of emblems back before 5-mans became a playground for bored and overgeared raiders.  At level 79, with a gearscore around 2.5K in my tanking set, I was way above what should be needed to tank the level 70-72 normal mode of this dungeon, so it seemed like the safest possible way to give tanking a chance. 

I queued up and was shocked to get a group before I had even finished switching over to my tanking setup.  Off we went.  Realistically, I had set a very low bar for myself to see if I could physically find the buttons needed to tank stuff.  Apparently I passed that basic standard, as we burned through the dungeon with no deaths and minimal if any cases of loose mobs running after other players. 

Next up, I queued to try the Brewfest boss.  In terms of absolute difficulty, this should have been a relatively attainable goal, as that fight is not especially challenging.  Unfortunately, this otherwise easy content is a bit harder to tank in a PUG precisely BECAUSE it is too easy.  My first attempt at a group had started and nearly finished the event before I even finished zoning in.  The second time, I bungled badly because someone has to talk to the boss to get him to attack, and I somehow lost track of him in the commotion.  The third time I actually managed to pick up the boss, but all-our DPS from raid-geared players pulled him off.  Because the fight is so easy, none of these resulted in a wipe, and therefore no one had any reason to slow their attacks for a noob tank. 

Back up to the high end
My curiosity was mostly satisfied, so I went back to work on the last few bubbles of exp I needed for level 80 as a DPS.  Then disaster struck in the Halls of Lightning.

My queue number came up as a replacement for someone who dropped after a wipe.  The tank was clearly new and struggling.  Given my own inexperience, I would have been happy to be patient with him, but he had apparently had enough, and quit without a word after a wipe on the third boss.  I warned the group that I was inexperienced but offered to try tanking the rest of the dungeon, figuring that the worst that could happen would be a group disband (which they were considering before I offered to tank). 

HOL was the hardest of the 5-mans at Wrath's launch, and features lots of AOE splash damage.  At Wrath's launch, players were required to do a variety of things to avoid this damage (e.g. the person who is giving off damaging sparks should run away from the rest of the group), but it started to become standard practice to ignore these mechanics and try to heal through them as players got more geared.  The challenge is less about holding aggro and more about somehow staying alive and doing enough damage to kill the bosses before the healer runs out of mana.  In other words, definitely not an ideal training ground for new players. 

Anyway, we gave it a shot and ultimately cleared the instance with me tanking.  I am very unfamiliar with defensive stance in general, and found myself scrambling for cooldowns I barely even knew I had just to stay alive long enough for the healer to get back to me (while also keeping the DPS up).  On both of the boss fights I tanked, my self-heals from herbalism and alchemy were the difference between life and death.  We wiped once, on trash, because I was standing in the wrong place (having always done this dungeon as a ranged attacker) and got several groups of adds, but overall it was about as great of a success as anyone could have hoped for. 

Training day?
I don't really plan to continue on as a tank on this character.  I am glad that I tried it, though, because the challenges were not what I expected. 

As a DPS, I figured that holding aggro would be hard, because the thing that I notice is when I produce more threat than the tank and the mob comes to kill me.   As a tank, I found that I never really had trouble holding down a mob against comparably geared players. 

The thing that really challenged me was the reactives - where to stand, when to move, what buttons to press in what situations.  Part of this is due to WoW's health pool design, which is currently far too heavily weighted towards massive damage spikes - Cataclysm promises to revamp the system to make survival and healing more a matter of strategy, though time will tell how they succeed. 

The bigger design problem, though, is that there is no way to learn this system other than to try (and possibly/probably fail) to tank for real live groups of other players.  Cataclysm may worsen this aspect of learning to tank because the game will be shifting to a more rigid sub-class-like system where solo builds will not see even the basic tanking tools.  There really needs to be some way for me to learn what I need to know without screwing over four other players by showing up and claiming that I can serve as their tank when that could not be further from the truth. 


spinksville said...

One thing you will find if you get into the tanking mindset is that even when you run an instance in some other role, you'll be paying more attention to the pulls and thinking 'how would I do this if I was tanking?'

You actually can learn quite a lot from watching other tanks but you have to know what to watch. and as you say, the pulls and the positioning are key.

The traditional way you learn to tank instances is by going in as a tank with a group of friends, though.

Anonymous said...

I've never tried warrior tanking (my dinky little goblin in cataclysm is going to be one!) but I reckon a bear druid is close enough.

I have some useful tanking advice though, regardless of class - start at the earliest level you can, and certainly don't wait 'til BC/Wrath time.

At low levels you have about 3 abilities to chose from and rage is a precious commodity you never have enough of.

Which means you have plenty of time to worry about learning things like positioning, situational awareness and marking a kill order with symbols.

Something that really help with this is an addon called 'Threat Plates', which gives you a bar over each mob basically telling you when they are about to start hitting someone who isn't you!

Even more important is EXPLAINING what your system is to the people you are grouped with, and not taking any shit from the wannabe l33t DPS.

Being a tank is 50% leadership skills, and as long as you have the basic competence to back it up people will generally fall in line.

Oh, and rage potions. You are an alchemist, they are silly cheap - make loads, you never know when you need a quick hit of rage when some idiot pulls & you're not ready...

darkeye said...

I have in mind that I'll wait til level-cap to actually start tanking if at all on my warden in Lotro. But the thing about Lotro is that there is plenty of opportunities to practice before then,the 3-man instances where strict roles are not needed, doing solo skirmishes and practicising rotation, rounding up the mobs and keeping them away from the sage, even group skirmishes where the difficulty and class requirements are not so strict.

Xaxziminrax II said...

>The bigger design problem, though, is that there is no way to learn this system other than to try (and possibly/probably fail) to tank for real live groups of other players.

This is the problem with all raid encounters! Remember Shade of Aran, where one player twitching the wrong way would just wipe everyone? How was anyone supposed to master that without killing their raid repeatedly?

Ian said...

Good DPS makes good tanks, and as the tank you need to remember two things.

First, have your healer on side. The DPS is utterly and completely disposable.

Second, a bad plan is better than no plan.

Personally, I'd use this as a plan.

First, Immediately message the healer and say 'Hi, I'm usually an Arms warrior, but Im learning to tank. Do you have any advice ?'. This builds rapport with your healer, which is essential, as in any intra-party fight, main tank+main healer = win.

Second, tell the DPS in party chat "I'm a new tank, so we're taking this slow. If you want to zerg the instance, its probably better if you find another group"

Third, start every fight, even trash, outlining the plan. Tell the DPS who you want them to focus-fire on, and tell them where you want the fight to happen. Go through it. It doesnt have to be more complicated than 'Kill the casters first while I tank their axemen', but get the DPS used to fighting as part of a plan.

Hopefully, after some smooth pulls, you'll all get in a rhythm, and enjoy *fighting well together*.

Ideally, you'll all find it so much fun you'll want to instance again with each other :)

*cue 'back in the old days, we learned this crap in Deadmines' *cue off*

Yeebo said...

I never had the patience to tank on any class in WoW apart from a Paladin, and even there likely never made it past 40 or so. Played tanks in other MMOs a fair bit, but find it to be a bit too technical to tank for a party in WoW. It's as much about knowing specific instances as being good at pulling and party tactics, which seems to scew it more towards memorization than I prefer.

If someone has to have the instance memorized for us to beat the boss, I'd rather just be in the back slinging fireballs or, if I'm in plate, off tanking.

Frightnight said...

I've just levelled an undead warrior to 50+ through the old world instances and have started running non-heroics on my level 80 Alliance Pally. I'm just about to hit heroics having learnt the basics of

Having played DPS for 3 years I finally got bored, and switch first to healing then tanking and healed on my Pally for six months. But then I wanted something more challenging (while the thought of instant LFG groups also attracted me).

Groups are not very accommodating of unprepared healers. They are far less tolerant of unprepared tanks. Most groups expect the tank to now the dungeon, the bosses, trash and the quickest path to success. You have to be the dungeon guide and ring master of your small 5 man group.

My advise to new or wannabe tanks: level as a tank or research and PRACTICE before hitting the LFG group tool.

For the new levelling tank - early dungeons are easy tank and spank affairs. As you level, and hit higher level instances new mechanics are introduced. This is the perfect way to train as a tank, as the game "teaches" you how to tank. Levelling through old world with people in greens and blues (and some heirloom items) taught me the value of kill orders, CC and watching your healers mana bar. The current end game LFG tool teaches tanks some very bad habits - AOE things down while healers with unlimited mana pools lazily throw heals at you and the group. Go back to basics, remove the T9+ gear and it is a whole different game. WoW is a lot harder than people remember, as they have all this gear and an easy ride through the LFG. Seriously go back to Vanilla and it much, much different! Given Cata will force us to consider CC and strategic healing, it does not hurt to at least play around in the earlier dungeons. Thus, but the time I hit Scarlet Monetary and BRD I had a very good idea of how to manage aggro, use tactics and use kill orders.

For fresh 80s who have never tanked - Pull together a reasonable tanking set and go practice your rotations on groups of non-elite mobs in the game world. I did this with my 80 pally that I've just started tanking with. I headed up to Storm Peaks and hit large groups of Cult Members, practising my rotations and pulling techniques. I also ran the daily TFA quest as a tank in order to familiarise myself with working with others and threat issues. It was then that I used the LFG tool to specify non-heroic dungeons I knew would be good for a new tank to try: Utgarde Keep, VH, Gun'Drak etc. I told groups I was new, even though I was over geared for them.

If you've got a mid level pally/warrior/druid alt why not dust them off and tank the lower levels? Just a thought...

Cataclysm offers the opportunity to level as a tank. I've got all my heirloom gear and funds to bring up a Worgan Warrior.

Anonymous said...

Switching to tanking at level 80 is bad idea. To be comfortable, you should begin right at level 15 LFDing for Ragefire Chasm. This way, you learn your tools gradually. When the new skill arrives, you are already competent with all previous skills and ready to experiment with the new skill, combine new skill with older to see if they work together etc. You also gradually learn different fight mechanics, and on the max level there would be almost nothing that could surprise you, because you'v already seen that mechanics on boss X in dungeon Y.

Dàchéng said...

I am new to tanking, and the approach I've taken is to level a new character specifically as a tank. This is great because I get to learn my core tanking abilities one at a time, as they become available. Tanking in the Deadmines is great fun!

On the other hand, I'm also levelling a healer. That is plain dull at low levels. Heal, heal, heal, OOM, drink, drink, drink.

CSeraph said...

Congrats and welcome to tanking!

Tanking specs are actually the best way to level much of the time these days. For warriors in particular, prot after the revenge buff performs and plays far better than the dps specs through the old world at very least.

Tanking new content is one of the most interesting and challenging things you can do in the game, though tanking farm content... well, the less said about it the better.

Lujanera said...

Welcome to the joy and suffering of tanking!

I want to share one little tip that, I found, made a huge difference in my ability to successfully tank an instance: I added a 'mark skull' button to my action bar. I use skull to identify the current kill target. This helps to direct dps towards the target on which I have the most threat and gives me time to build threat on the others via AoE. Using skull is a little thing, but it does a lot to coordinate the group.

TheGrumpyElf said...

I think playing a tank was the best thing I ever did to become a better Hunter. My main is ranged and I only knew things from a ranged perspective. My first time through tanking was an adventure to say the least. So many boss mechanics I never even knew existed where now of major importance to me.

I would say you try and keep it up if you enjoy it but do like I do, never pug. Pugs can ruin your enjoyment of the game. I used to really like tanking until a string of randoms with most likely the stupidest people to ever play the game made it so I have never tanked again in a random.

Tanking taught me how to make pulls that others would have no clue about. Ever since my tanking experience when leveling a new character I can walk up to a pack of 5 mobs and pull them out one at a time with no problem. All thanks to what I learned tanking. Knowing how to tank helps you on every character you will ever play. I think everyone should play a tank at least once.

Anonymous said...

If you think tanking is difficult now, then just be glad that you started tanking in WotLK instead of during Vanilla or TBC.

I really hope that Cata doesn't bring back the old alt-shift tabbing hell.

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