An unfinished piece I was sortof chewing on for a while. I'll just dump it here so it's out of the way. It was written in early 2011.
Traditionally we think of a raid as having these roles to work with:
- Tank - slow their green bar from going down
- Ranged DPS - make red bars go down
- Melee DPS - make red bars go down
Healer - make green bars go up
In many ways we have already learned how these traditional rolls have been stressed or entirely changed by some Cataclysm encounters. However, I propose to describe an entirely new perspective.
In the past, there have been specific encounters which forced us to think in different terms. Perhaps a critical component or a phase transition or a specific mob worked in a way that required a specialized reaction.
- Ranged tank, or ranged taunts, or misdirects
Ranged physical DPS as opposed to ranged casters
Speaking of reactions, there are boss and add mechanics which require interrupts, stuns, spell steals and silences.
On top of that, It's now frequent to have add-mechanics which require some combination of "off-tanking", slowing, herding or gathering, and kiting. This kind of element brings up the distinction between AoE dps and targetted DPS.
We can pause and think of situations that give a specific role or reaction to what was traditionally "just" a DPS. Rogue, go kick that ability on that guy. You three rotate between interrupting that other guy.
We normally think of an encounter like this:
- Soft enrage timer: Healer mana is a slow drain until OOM.
- Soft enrage timer: Not enough DPS/interrupts vs boss self-healing.
Hard enrage timer. 5 mins = unresistable wipe.
So what we think of an encounter ends up being something like:
- Tank pulls, holds threat and mitigates personal damage.
- Tank healer keeps the tank up.
- Raid healers keep the tank healer, themselves and the DPS up.
DPS has priorities between any adds and the boss, trying to beat one of the above enrage timers.
Let's make a tank line, where we can see this:
Tank mitigation -> healing -> mana
An improperly geared tank, or mistimed taunts or interrupts will splat a tank.
We wee the healer in the middle. They face issues like "skill" (whatever that is) - or simple components like range/positioning, line-of-sight, timing or luck. Any flaw in those will break the chain in the middle.
At the tail end is mana. No matter how good the mitigation and skill are, the healing cannot keep up indefinitely. This used to be the case in the past but the game's and fight mechanics were re-engineered so it's no longer true. Or in cases where it can there is usually a hard enrage timer.
Now let's make a DPS line, where we can see this:
DPS -> hard enrage timer
For a long time it's been pretty much that in our minds. Simple. We see DPS as "racing against the clock".
This. Is. Wrong.
In an encounter, yes it's important to have elements like tank damage mitigation, good interrupts, good healing - good choices to save mana, good targets to avoid multiple healers all overhealing one target. Yes it's important to have strong DPS which is focusing on the correct targets at the correct time.
However, the DPS shouldn't be focusing on .. well they shouldn't be focusing on DPS!
Every DPS obsesses over numbers. That's the way it's always been. I propose that this is the very last item of importance for our progression. Here is how I think our progression should be going.
First, mitigate obvious incoming damage.
Tank the right things at the right times. Guard against the bulk of the incoming damage the best way possible. The bulk of that incoming damage is usually the boss' melee attack, and we use a tank for that. Get good interrupts, work on multi-tanking and trading taunts etc. Done and done.
Second, keep people alive.
Healing positions, roles, good spell choices, timing cooldowns and other healing considerations. We understand this quite well, even after the various Cataclysm changes.
Third, damage the boss.
Here is where I want to describe another perspective for DPS.
There are two ways to approach an encounter.
- Race against the clocks - the hard enrage timer and healer mana exhaustion.
Balance incoming damage mitigation with outgoing DPS.
That second choice is to last as long as possible, doing reasonable damage without running up against the "hard enrage timer/healer mana" wall.
We can think of a DPS as having a benefit and a cost.
- The benefit is fundamentally their outgoing damage but also interrupts and kiting.
The cost is their incoming damage.
The way people have been thinking of DPS is that they are "soft". We think there is a strong difference between a PvP and a Raiding build.
What would happen if we thought of - at least some - DPS as being "hard". Damage mitigation is obvious with "not standing in fire", "watch your threat" and other things.. but there are more subtle - and DPS-sacrificing - things which can be thought about.
The reason this came to my mind if that I've been working on a frost mage, and I have the barest inkling that what was initially an AoE-grinding and kiting build could be a exceptional raiding build.
A frost mage has three kinds of shields. Three. This represents a significant stress reduction on healers. "Wasting DPS" by regularly re-casting shields may not be such a waste after all. If many of the DPS worked on their mitigation enough, healers would have more mana to work with - and would be more willing to freely spend mana on expensive spells to react to odd situations.
Let's take our squishies on Magmaw as an example. Spending talent points on damage mitigation as opposed to DPS abilities reduces incoming damage. That helps healers out.
Ok, so mages have a couple of curious abilities that feel like PvP abilities but could be amazingly advantageous for add off-tanking.
Two mages and a priest stand out where magmaw summons adds. The encounter begins, and one of the mages and the priest run away.
The mage gets knocked up into the air. Before the mage lands, a blizzard has been raining down from the other mage. The shadow priest has been searing off of the knocked-up mage. The healers are guaranteed safe from aggro.
The flying mage is tossing arcane novas before he even lands, but he still doesn't have aggro because the other mage's blizzard and the sear has grabbed it long ago. Arcane nova 80% threat reduction rocks.
The arcane novas continue for a bit. Before the mob has crawled out of the cone of cold, the add-mage blows a frost nova and a cone of cold. He gets aggro and gets attacked.
- Oh, he's an arcane mage. When his shield pops, he's specced to blow everything back 8 yards. He blinks to safety.
Oh, he's a frost mage. He pops ice block - or it's cast automatically if he's specced for it. If that ice block pops everything gets frost nova'd (if it wasn't used earlier). The priest can grip him out to safety while ice blocked.
Thinking about dps beyond just being damage-dealers - thinking completely sideways - will open up a lot of possibilities.
This writing was never finished.