Yes, this is the second long entry and only the second day of my new blog that I just started here at MMORPG.com. Consider it a treat in regards to the birth of this blog:
Is the Holy Trinity the end-all be-all of group combat design? For those unfamiliar with the Holy Trinity, it’s the term used to describe the group composition of tanks, healers and damage roles that each fulfill the basic components of combat. This model is found in traditionally designed fantasy MMORPG’s (like World of Warcraft) involving group PvE scenarios. In this entry, I would like to present my opinion of the Holy Trinity and ways to break this mold/further evolve this model.
My opinion concerning this model is that it’s too basic and overused. Basically, this model took the 3 basic building blocks of combat in an RPG -- taking damage, giving damage and making sure you live to tell about it -- and it split into individual roles in a way where the group moves and acts as 1 larger entity.
How long have we been using this model? For me, it started in Dark Age of Camelot, but the roles were more broken apart since groups were made up of 8 people from when I played. We had traditional tanks, healers and damage, but also more specialized roles that weren’t as required to function as a group. After that, MMO’s evolved into the trinity as we know it in World of Warcraft with their much smaller 5 man groups. This was an improvement at the time, but it’s been over 5 years since and we are still utilizing this same exact model in MMORPG’s.
My attempt in looking beyond the Holy Trinity consists of three parts here: ‘aggro’ systems, positioning & collision and restricting combat healing.
When I speak of ‘aggro’ systems, I’m speaking about the way hostile NPC’s choose which player to attack. The traditional model involves using a hidden “threat” value to determine who gets attacked. Again, this is a basic feature that is inherent within the Holy Trinity model primarily revolving around the tank role.
Personally, I would like to see a more natural and strategic approach to how NPC’s select who gets whacked. Maybe the NPC has a hatred for a specific race, so a particular set of NPC’s would specifically target their most hated race first i.e. Goblins hate Elves so any Elf players would get targeted first. With this form of target selection, the NPC’s would feel more natural rather than just blindly attacking the toughest target based on some hidden value, and there would be a greater sense of purpose behind the actions. NPC would feel more life-like and less robotic. As a result, there would be more things to consider on each encounter, which will go beyond the tank-heal-damage trio.
Outside of ‘aggro’ systems, the next point I would like to address is positioning and character collision. With collision, an armored knight can defend a scantily clad mage by literally being in the way. Merely being at the right place at the right time can be a huge strategic advantage albeit I can see it also causing other problems. For this entry, let’s pretend the sky is the limit and the company has the answers to all our problems. Positioning is a crucial aspect of many sports and war games alike. The same concepts can be applied within an RPG environment with greater emphasis to promote greater diversity and unique situations with encounters.
The final item on the list involves my most extreme idea: restricting healing during combat. Why restrict healing during combat? Healing isn’t a necessity when speaking in pure combat terms. You can go through a fight without having to heal. So, if we were to go beyond the trinity, why not restrict combat healing? A doctor/medic role could still be seen as important even if restricted to healing outside of combat only. There would be more possibilities for different ways for these “healers” to participate in PvE outside of staring at health bars. Potentially, this could provide unique and exciting ways to promote diversity with combat encounters and group role compositions.
In conclusion, is the Holy Trinity the only effective way to design group combat for PvE? Should designers explore different ways for group encounters? Is the Holy Trinity the best way to design group mechanics in regards to combat and can it it be improved?