Posted by: Sean | August 19, 2008

Tanks, DPS and Healers in Role-play

It occurs to me that the standard line of MMORPGs (Tanks, DPS and Healers) is actually not a bad line to consider in role-playing scenes either. Having at least one of each is an excellent way to ensure the scene’s success – And the beauty is that everyone is a hybrid class who can spec for any of the three. (Although some characters will no doubt lean toward one or two of them.) Observe:

  • Tanks are the centre of attention in a scene, aggroing all of the other players who might walk into it by some method. These include the warrior method, (Twitchy agitation or excitement that applies a quick barrage to any new player entering the scene), the paladin method (Grand appeals that sweep up everyone around them in an Area of Effect) or the feral druid method (WITH THEIR FACE!). Really, the job of the tank is to create the scene, to get excited, upset or somehow emotional about something that provides the context of the scene so that everyone else knows what they’re playing. You can also have off-tanks who support the main tank, getting equally emotional.
  • DPS do all the damage, as usual, the difference here being that they are doing the damage to the tank. If the tank is swept up in love, the DPS is the person telling them that the girl is out of her league. If he’s convinced the world is doomed, she’s the one rationally trying to show that there’s still hope. If they’re convinced there’s still hope, she’s the one madly rambling that the world is doomed. (This, by the way, would be a very different roleplay in both cases. If the tank thinks the world is doomed, then the scene is going to be a real downer, the DPS having to battle hard to keep people afloat. If the DPS thinks the world is doomed, it’s an inspirational scene instead, with the tank elevating beyond while the DPS tries to bring the group down. Remember, the tank always sets the mood for the scene.) DPS can be up close and nasty like a rogue, snarky and sniping like a hunter, or intelligent and argumentative like a mage. The key point with DPS is that nearly every scene is better if the role is filled. If two people are in a scene, consider playing DPS rather than tanking.
  • Finally, Healers play the mediator in a scene, and are really in many ways a meta/OOC concern. Their job is to keep the scene balanced with a mix of heals over time (such as laying down ground rules to either the tank or the DPS during the debate,) or with big spike heals (such as leaping to the aid of one or either side after a big blow). When the healer does their job right, they keep the scene going and make sure no player in it is overwhelmed with damage, make sure that OOC ramifications afterwards are minimal,(Ideally no player should feel hard done by in the scene, although a character might,) and finally they bring the role-play to a close.

Let’s give an example. This scenario is based on a real role-play, featuring Georgia (a cheerfully bubbly gnomish soft-drink maker/alchemist), Trajark (a dour, ex-mercenary human warrior) and Wendal (night elven guild master to both of the other two). There are others in the scene, but these are the key three.

Georgia pulls the scene about how she’s all excited over her new flavor of drink, readily leaping into a tanking position. Her bubbly enthusiasm and humorous drinks quickly set a topic for the role-play. A few people in the group begin off-tanking, trading quips with Georgia and creating some more fun. Trajark, getting bored with the one-sided play, moves into DPS mode and demands to actually try one. Georgia quickly leaps over and uses the trade window to pass Trajark some spring water, miming that it’s the new soft-drink. Trajark takes one sip, /spits, and informs Georgia that it’s awful. Since most of these people are quite nice, they leap to Georgia’s defense, but one of them has the good sense to try and balance out the scene by leaping to DPS, and asks for a sip as well. They promptly mime a gag, and back up Trajark. It’s awful. At this point, the joke is set – Everyone is enthusing about the soft drink until they actually try it. Wendal sees that this could become nasty, Georgia began this scene looking for a triumphant little scene about her new drink, so he quickly /yells, “Wait.” This cuts the chatter, and lets him walk up to Georgia and ask to try it himself. While everyone waits, he drinks, /pats Georgia on the head, and notes, “Back to the drawing board, hm? You’ll get it right next time.” This brings the scene to a close, refocuses Georgia’s attention on the next scene, (Rather than focusing on being deflated here,) and keeps everyone happy. It’s a fun, successful scene.

Let’s try this again, but with a twist: The tanking role gets stolen.

Once again, Georgia leaps in and pulls the scene about how she’s all excited over her new flavor of drink. People leap in to off-tank. Trajark decides to go for broke, and instead breaks out the nice shiny epic weapon of DPS: Racism. Instead of asking for the drink, he quickly snarks about how worthless gnomes are, that they’re at war and here they are coming up with new drinks that don’t even get you drunk. The only thing they’re good for is using as throw-pillows.

Whoomp. That’s hefty stuff, and unsurprisingly, nobody leaps to his side. He’s actually, at this point, stolen the tanking position – Since there’s no way this role-play can be about soft-drink anymore. Everyone leaps into the off-tank position, backing Georgia up. Wendal knows this has bad written all over it; and tries to find a balanced healing position. He takes a tricky line, reprimanding Wendal for disrespecting another guildmate while not actually refuting his position. It’s a tough stance; if he’s too tough on Trajark, Trajark will have literally the entire guild opposed to him now and this may be hard for him to take well OOCly. But he can’t, of course, let blatant racism toward another guildmate go unpunished. Thinking on his feet, he declares, “And for that, I’m sentencing you to become chief taster of all of Georgia’s soft drinks for the next week. Georgia? I order you to be as experimental as you can be. Do something like that pickle and lychee flavor again. Yeesh. What were you thinking?” With an off-hand insult to Georgia, he evens the scene’s feel a bit more, balancing it out. “Go on, get away to your lab,” closes the scene.

That second example shows how dangerous topics can steal the tank. It’s a risky gambit and usually creates very heated role-play. As a general rule, it shouldn’t be done unless you think the scene desperately needs refocusing.

But don’t ever be afraid to dish out a little aggro. Scenes need that bit of aggro to keep tense and interesting. Look for the chance to heal; it’s a vital role. And when you see a chance to tank, take it. Nobody’s going to make your character the center of attention except for you, and everyone likes the chance to be the tank every now and again.



  1. A very nicely written piece that plays well on the holy trinity principle known by so many players.

    This could be used as a great way to lead traditionally non-RP’ers along the path of some great RP after an initial introduction. Putting it in terms they are familiar with is often the best way to draw interest.

    In the game, I’ve only ever been dps or healer. Can’t say I’ve ever tanked in the limited RP I’ve done either.

    Thought provoking – I like it.

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