[WoW] Fixing the Tank Role: eDPS

Posted on October 20, 2011


Blizzard has enacted various strategies to improve the attractiveness of the tanking role, from providing incentives to easing the gearing process to simplifying the mechanics.  None of these have fixed the tank shortage.  This is one of a series of installments pondering viable replacements and supplements for tanking in WoW.  Today’s suggestion is “Environmental DPS”, or eDPS for short.

The Dilemma
Between tanks, healers, and dps, the dps population far surpasses either of the other groups, even accounting for spec disparity.  This indicates any or all of the following:

1) That tanking is too difficult to learn/enter
2) That people prefer to blow things up
3) That they don’t like having no one to fall back on
4) That they don’t like being in a position to be criticized.

Blizzard’s attempted solutions have mostly addressed points 1: JP gear, Vengeance, and threat boost to name a few.  Point 2 would be difficult to ameliorate, since if tanks had a DPS’s damage output, the smart thing would be for every DPS to reroll tank, destroying encounter balance.  Point 3 is also tricky, because if encounters required 3 or 4 (5 or 6) tanks, that would cut heavily into overall DPS.  Arguably, this puts more (deserved?) pressure on DPS to perform well, but fewer DPS also means more gear per DPS, marginalizing content that much faster.  Point 4 is, of course, completely uncontrollable by Blizzard.  There is no way to mechanically determine which characters are played by ticking time bombs of raid ragers, and even if there were, it would be ethically questionable at best to segregate these players from the rest of the population.

Today’s sugestion, eDPS, is aimed especially at points 2 and 3.

What is eDPS?

“Environmental DPS” is an extension of the basic idea of Vengeance: as the boss deals damage, player damage increases.  It borrows a lot from the Discipline Priest and Holy Paladin models of mitigation and damage prevention, and is in many ways a self-buff-reliant class.   In terms of damage output, eDPS fall between current tanks and current DPS.

This rough list of example abilities is Warlock-themed.

Voidwalker’s Embrace: Grants the caster a potent shield reflecting 10% of incoming damage and absorbing an additional 20%, also reducing final damage dealt to the caster for each of the caster’s debuffs an enemy is currently afflicted by.  The shield breaks when X damage has been reflected or absorbed.

Fire Eater: The warlock places a demonic seal on the ground for a short time, absorbing some of the damage dealt by enemy area-of-effect abilities in the target location and granting the user a scaling buff increasing damage done and reducing damage taken.

Beckon: Taunts the target to attack you, or deals X shadow damage if the target is already attacking you.

Fel Link: 30% of the damage taken by the target ally is redirected to both you and the source of the damage.

Nether Blockade: Creates an impassable ring of fel energy that absorbs 100% of incoming damage until destroyed

Gift of the Nether: The Warlock takes 100% increased damage and 100% reduced healing, but if he dies while this ability is active, the enemy who dealt the killing blow takes X shadow damage and the Warlock is revived with the same amount of health and mana as when this ability was cast.

Guile of the Nathrezim: Enemy chance to deal critical strikes to the Warlock is reduced by 6%.  As the health of nearby allies decreases, the caster’s damage increases.

As the warlock takes damage, he does more damage.  A psychological risk-and-reward rush is integrated into this spec.  The toolkit also includes two traditionally “tank” functions: a taunt and a masochistic Hand of Sacrifice.  The Fire Eater ability acts as a variant of Power Word: Barrier, reducing the tick damage of AoE regardless of whether anyone is standing in it or not.  In general, though, there is no hard maximum of eDPS a group can bring, the way that bringing more than 2/3 tanks to most encounters is completely useless.  While it would be ill-advised to bring only eDPS and healers, a composition of, say, 6 eDPS, 14 DPS, and 5 healers should be able to clear encounters, as more and more of the boss’s own damage is reflected with each eDPS.  These ‘caps’ can be easily adjusted, since eDPS gear and DPS gear for the same class will be practically identical.

eDPS are also expected to synergize with each other.  Imagine four eDPS locks, three of whom place Fel Link on the fourth.  The “tank” lock now takes only 10% damage, while the boss takes 90% and each “support” lock taking 30%.  Depending on cooldowns, they can simply play keep-away with the boss by consecutively taunting it from max range, not even needing to use mitigation abilities.

Finally, gearing would be much simpler as all tank gear (except perhaps stamina and mitigation trinkets) could be removed.  Leaving in tank gems and enchants might lead to an interesting min/max decision for eDPS, emphasizing their damage or support role without eliminating the viability of the other.


Save for the crit immunity, I intentionally didn’t include a “Bear form” for the Warlock, again because these damage increasing effects have to come at the cost of survivability.  In other words, eDPS rely even more on active mitigation and teamwork than current tanks do, perhaps making healing more stressful.  This may cause the healing population to dry up, though the design intent is for eDPS to juggle the boss between them with enough skill to avoid inviting excessive risk.  Further consider the impact of eDPS on PvP: damage reflection is an incredibly potent ability and basing a spec off of it will likely require completely different functionality in PvP environments, which is a course of action Blizzard has done everything in their power to avoid.  And of course with any tank replacement theory, there will be outrage from both the current tanking population as well as the players of whatever specs are repurposed into eDPS specs.  Finally, while eDPS would work well in an organized raid setting, how would 5-man and 25 LFR composition be affected?  A minimum of one eDPS?  Two?  Could all DPS spots be filled by eDPS and still have viable enough damage output to be successful?


The eDPS idea would probably be well-received by the community, but incredibly difficult to balance properly.  It would also require a complete PvE/PvP split.  eDPS works well in an organized raid format where players know their groups and raid leaders can adjust their desired representation during recruiting, but difficulties would arise when randomly assembling groups through the RDF or LFR tools.  In short, it would probably lead to a successful alleviation of the tank shortage, but require massive amounts of constant monitoring and balancing.

Posted in: WoW