Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Revisiting the Trinity

Once again everyone is hyped up for another game which promises to do away with the Trinity of tank-healer-dps. This time the game is EQ Next. I am deeply skeptical of this claim. I'm not saying that the Trinity is necessarily the best system for PvE. But so far, no one has demonstrated a better system.

I've seen various people saying that EQ Next will feature complex AI, which will obsolete the idea of the Trinity. In my view, if the system does not work at the simple level, making it more complex is not going to improve things.

Let's take the very simplest PvE scenario. We have a knight with sword and shield and a barbarian wielding a two-handed greatsword. Both characters are fighting an ogre in melee combat.

Who does the ogre attack?

This is the simplest decision the AI has to make. The knight's shield improves her defense. The barbarian's greatsword improves her offense.

Logically, the optimum path is for the Ogre to attack the barbarian. Generally, the rule of thumb is that you first want to kill the highest offense or the weakest defense. The barbarian meets both those criteria. And indeed, this is what will happen in PvP.

But the archetypes of fantasy demand that the Ogre attack the knight, to take the sub-optimal path. That is the very point of the shield, to take the blows. The shield is a pointless choice if no one is attacking you.

So no matter what, to stay true to the soul of the fantasy archetypes, the ogre has to attack the knight. Trinity systems do it very simply by introducing the concept of threat, which is linked to--but not equal to--damage. You could also do it by having the knight "intercept" attacks made against other characters. Or perhaps by turning the knight into a source of debuffs strong enough that getting rid of the knight first becomes optimum.

Another path might be making the knight do the highest damage, making the choice harder. This probably won't go over too well with the barbarian, though. And it doesn't match the archetypes.

It is trivially easy to make a more competent AI than the Trinity system. The harder task is making one that leads to fun gameplay and yet stays true to the fantasy genre.

27 comments:

Kring said...

Or the knight could have low damage himself but he could e.g. sunder the armor of the ogre.

If that debuff would increase the damage taken by the ogre by 500% the knight would, even thought he has low damage, be the most threatening target.

Ephemeron said...

One possible answer can be found if we look back at historical roots. CRPGs (including MMORPGs) evolves from tabletop RPGs, which in turn evolved from tabletop wargames.

In a wargame, a miniature of an ogre with a knight in front of it and a barbarian to the side would represent an entire squad of ogres that was locked in melee with a shieldwalling block of knights when a gang of greatsword-wielding barbarian skirmishers charged their exposed flank. Obviously, it would be pretty much impossible for an entire squad ogre to reform the ranks and face the new threat, so those on the front line would keep attacking the knights.

Since we live in the golden digital age, why not do away with this old abstraction and make each player avatar a literal mini-army? Instead of playing as a lone hero, you'd be commanding a unit of twenty-something warriors, archers or battlemages. For the purposes of dialogues, quests and roleplaying, you'd act as the commander of said unit, but in regards to combat, the entire squad would be you. Then add some collision detection, facing-based attacks and non-instant maneuvering, and you've got yourself a functional non-trinity combat system.

In addition to offering new tactical possibilities, this approach would also allow for visually massive battles without causing undue server strain.

Chris K. said...

Or you can use the tank mechanic that SWTOR uses in PvP.

The tank taunts/provokes/debuffs the target and if you choose to attack anyone other than the tank, then you deal X % less damage.

Helistar said...

(note, talking only about PvE, PvP is another thing entirely)
Many games have tried to get rid of the trinity, but the result is always the same: DPS > anything, welcome zerg mode.

And it's obvious. I already posted this somewhere: the trinity is the direct consequence of representing life/death with an HP bar. As long as a single number is used, you automatically have specializations which come up:
- make your hp go down as little as possible (tank)
- regen HP (heal)
- make the enemy hp go down as much as possible (dps)
You can add as many support classes as you want, but if HP is a single number, there simply are NO OTHER specialized roles possible. The "more artificial" one is the tank, because it means that you need some mechanics to ensure that the character specialized at taking damage is the one taking the damage, but as soon as you remove it then DPS >>> anything, since more DPS means the enemies die faster.

Kring said...

Helistar, if you look at WoW you have the trinity and still DPS > everything.

And this is not going to change if the time to reduce the enemy to 0 is limited, aka enrage timer. In WoW you try to bring as few healer as possible to increase damage output. Nobody raids 10 man with 5 healer or 4 tanks.

And these days tanks should gear for maximum damage with enough survivability and not for maximum tankiness.

Damage output is king, regardless of trinity or not.

Lost Forever said...

@Kring

Sure damage output is king but you can't take 10 DPS to 10 man raid either.

The point is trinity still allows for other roles but if you got rid of the trinity then you only get one role. This one role leads to the feeling of zerg fest and boring combat. We are told that somehow “Advanced AI” will make combat more fun but I don’t see how since think you need different roles to make group combat meaningful and interesting.

rimecat said...

Or you could reach into the research done on historical arms and build your theory based on that. The idea that a shield is purely defensive and using a 2H sword leaves you defenseless is an artifact from more ignorant days. Look at the arms manuals from Europe (and I'd imagine everywhere else) and you will find a large number of offensive uses for a shield and a lot of defensive moves with a 2H sword or polearm.

I'd also say to model your combat system more realistically. Someone who is whacked in the head with a mace is not going to just keep attacking. When you are set on fire you are not going to blithely charge the Mage. Add an avoidance system, use active defense options, use fatigue, and make getting hit by something that breaches your armor deadly. Of course, implementing this sort of system would be financial suicide.

I can see some very good ways to get rid of the trinity but they also involve dropping the huge internet dragon. Once you have to find a way to rationalize that kind of fight you need to either go with some variant of the trinity or make the fight a zergfest.

Ettesiun said...

And what if the Enemy attack the Barbarian ? It could be really fun !
You want to be a DPS ? Ok but you will be focused by the enemy. You will have to be quick, fast, and play well to stay alive. This is Hard mode. You want to be the tank ? You will not attacked by the enemy, but it will take longer time to kill the enemy. This is easy mode.

Another role of old MMORPG was the CC : Crowd Control. In PvE, this is fun ! You stop enemy, slow them, push them back, etc... You play ping pong with them. The only problem with Control, is that it scales very badly. As soon as you has too many allied against one enemy, the enemy is always controlled, negating every challenge. Then you make Boss imune to control, and you only have DPS.

RJ said...

Star Trek Online has been the most successful game I've seen that abandoned/modified the trinity, because even if there are ships that are kinda-sorta focused on certain roles, you can basically do whatever you want no matter what your "class" or ship category is.

Theoretically, the Tactical, Science, and Engineering classes map to DPS, Heal, and Tank, and the Escort, Science, and Cruiser ships map to DPS, Heal, and Tank, but due to the way skills and bridge officer/console slots work, you can make a tank Escort or a DPS Science Vessel or a heal Cruiser and still be just as good.

And you don't need any combination of these to have a successful instanced run, partially because you can fill all your requirements for tanking and healing internal to your own ship, though allied ships can certainly make the process easier.

While there's a few class-specific skills, and some of them even focus on one of the trinity roles, as a whole the skill tree is the same for everyone, so anyone can build for whatever they want, and due to the way it works as a whole you're going to hybrid anyway.



To put it simply, really, to abandon the idea of the trinity, you basically need to let any class handle any of those roles, if not at least two of them. In your example, having the ogre attack the Barbarian could still work as a fun mechanic if the Barbarian had tanking mechanics in the sense that it's damage procced lifesteal effects, keeping it's health up. The Knight is left hanging, but the lack of a dedicated "tank" role means it's own DPS could be brought up to be equivalent, and using the shield as part of it's combat rotation. It's tanking mechanic would be it's armour and shield, which would be reducing damage instead of needing to rely on it's DPS mechanics to keep smaller heals incoming.

In a way, that's how LotRO handled the dichotomy between it's 2 tank classes, though they're still very much actual tanks in a trinity-based game. One of the classes is very much the traditional shield fighter, with heavy armour and large shields reducing the damage against it, while the other is a medium armour class that makes up for the lower natural damage reduction with higher avoidance stats and a lot of self-healing from it's attacks.

The lack of a defined trinity and "smarter" AI just means that every character needs to be prepared to do any of the tasks that might be expected in a party.

souldrinker said...

Every time I hear about "smart AI without threat mechanic", I remember the Faction Champions... They didn't inspire much enthusiasm, even in PvP lovers.

Lost Forever said...

@RJ

"The lack of a defined trinity and "smarter" AI just means that every character needs to be prepared to do any of the tasks that might be expected in a party."

This is the thing. Many people don’t want to do all the roles that are required in party. They want to specialise and that should be valid form of play and should be support, specially by a company who says “Play your way” (or something similar).

If you look at real life team sports like football, cricket, basket ball etc, people play roles. Sometime multiple people playing the same roles but there are always different roles. I don’t know many teams sports where there is just one role everyone plays. Many people just specialise in just one role and this is perfectly fine in those games.

As far as I can tell, the main reason why people want to get rid of the trinity is because they hate to wait for the tank/healer/cc to turn up. Apparently these people can hold your group or guild hostage. The same issue is present in games like football, cricket etc. If your striker, defender, batsman, spin blower etc don’t turn up you have issue yet I don’t know single foot ball player or cricketer who wants to get rid of any of those roles.

Helistar said...

Helistar, if you look at WoW you have the trinity and still DPS > everything.


Thanks for proving EXACTLY my point. Unless there are arbitrary mechanics forcing you to take other classes, the full DPS solution is the optimal one.
As soon as you add those mechanics, you have the three specialized roles I mentioned, and as soon as you remove them you have full DPS zerg. BTW tank dps is important in 10-man, in 25-man progression if you don't gear for survival you are squished.

Star Trek Online has been the most successful game I've seen that abandoned/modified the trinity,

....which, considering the number of people playing it, is definitely NOT good advertising for "no trinity"....
BTW STO instances in a group made of full-dps escorts are trivial (including the timed objectives), as you obliterate anything faster than it can shoot back. And the few things you can't, you burst/kite them.
With 5 cruisers, good luck in meeting the timers.....

jonreece said...

Rohan wrote:

But the archetypes of fantasy demand that the Ogre attack the knight, to take the sub-optimal path. That is the very point of the shield, to take the blows. The shield is a pointless choice if no one is attacking you.

I think this is a bit of the hub of the difficulty, and is where I have to disagree with you the most strenuously. What archetype of fantasy are you thinking of here, precisely? Robert E. Howard's Conan? No, clearly not. Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser? Nope, neither uses a shield, both rely on speed and power. Moorcock's Elric? Nope, just like Arthas, his two handed soul-stealing runeblade does just fine. LeGuin's Earthsea? Zelazny's Amber? Dumas' Musketeers? Harry Potter?

How about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings -- at least one of the Fellowship carries a shield (Boromir), but we certainly don't see him as the focus of enemy attacks because of it. In Moria, Frodo is targetted. When the orcs corner Boromir and attack him instead of Merry and Pippin, it isn't his shield that causes it, but rather his sword -- he is removed as the only credible threat, since Merry and Pippin can just be scooped up and carried off once he is gone.

Even in gaming, outside of DIKU and its successors, such as WoW and EQ2 I don't see it. Back in old editions of D&D you would traditionally put your archers and magic-users in the back *where the enemy couldn't get at them*. Hence the old obsessions with marching order -- who is up front, and who is watching the back? Normally you want to sandwich the squishies between folks in armor. Only in the most recent version of D&D, fourth edition, has any kind of "threat" mechanic been added, and that has been strongly backed off in the D&D Next playtests due to protests that it doesn't make any sense.

Which, of course, it doesn't.

To run back to your question -- who should the Ogre attack, the armored and shielded knight or the barbarian with the greatsword? I think the answer isn't "the knight with his heavy armor and big shield." But the answer might not be "the barbarian with his greatsword" either. The best answer is, of course, "that depends."

Which one is closer? Which one is in front of the Ogre? Is the Ogre free to move about, or is it hampered by terrain? Can it just "walk through" an enemy, or is body blocking possible? Can the barbarian leap in and out if his reach, while the knight must rely on his armor? How intelligent is the Ogre -- dumb as a post? What if instead of an Ogre it is a totally unintelligent Ooze? Or what if it is the villainous master swordsman, instead?

I am not convinced that the "threat table" model where rude gestures and thick shields painted with targets is either the most immersive or the most fun of all possible models. Honestly, I think it is rather simplistic.

Rohan said...

Which one is closer? Which one is in front of the Ogre? Is the Ogre free to move about, or is it hampered by terrain? Can it just "walk through" an enemy, or is body blocking possible? Can the barbarian leap in and out if his reach, while the knight must rely on his armor? How intelligent is the Ogre -- dumb as a post? What if instead of an Ogre it is a totally unintelligent Ooze? Or what if it is the villainous master swordsman, instead?

You're avoiding the question. You're trying to introduce unnecessary questions back into a situation which has deliberately stripped them out.

The thing about PnP games and books and movies is the GM has the freedom to spread out attacks for dramatic effect.

In a game however, dramatic effect is irrelevant and only effectiveness matters. Look at PvP. The tank gets ignored because attacking him is the wrong choice.

RJ said...

Helistar:

A game doesn't need to have millions of players to be successful. Games like STO and LotRO are good examples of that.

The legions of titles that crumble after a few months, let alone a year, because they extended themselves too far could take a few lessons from games like these.

jonreece said...

Rohan wrote:

You're avoiding the question. You're trying to introduce unnecessary questions back into a situation which has deliberately stripped them out.

Well, er, OK, I guess. I'm a bit worried that we might be talking past one another, and if so, I apologize. I wasn't trying to introduce unnecessary questions back -- I was, in fact, trying to deal with the exact same, simplistic situation. One NPC "foe" against two different PCs, one with high toughness, one with high DPS. What I was trying to do was introduce elements of context -- things other than just the stats of the PCs.

But it's a fair point. Your original question was "who does the ogre attack?" The answer is "whichever foe the code of the game in question instructs it to." In WoW, until either enemy uses an ability, I think that will be "whichever PC entered its aggro bubble first." Once abilities start up, it will be "whoever is on top of the threat table" which will almost certainly be the "knight".

In GW1, though, it will probably be the "barbarian". Many mobs in GW1 really prefer hitting soft targets. If our "knight" wants to prevent that, he'll need to position himself between the "ogre" and the "barbarian". Maybe use a snare -- threat in GW1 isn't a big, maintained table, but is strongly context-driven. If you really want a melee mobs attention, getting adjacent to it and snaring it so it can't get to another target is a solid way to do it.

You seem to prefer the WoW model of threat. Why? From your initial post, I gather that your reasoning is that the "archetypes of fantasy demand that the ogre attack the knight", but since I can't find any examples of this outside of the DIKU / EQ / EQ2 / WoW family of games, I find this unconvincing.

In EQNext, the answer might be "ogres hate guards, and guards tend to wear armor, so he attacks the knight." But perhaps other mobs, maybe even other ogres, might make different decisions. Isn't that more interesting than they all go after the high "threat-number" guy while ignoring the healers and letting the DPS guys just run a rotation?

healingthemasses said...

The tank often doesn't get ignored entirely in pvp either. Sometimes a tank type character might b a nuisance enough that you have to remove them first.

If you look at GW2 a defensively speed hammer warrior or even guardian can be enough of a nuisance either by cc or terrain control that they need to be removed first.

In War collision detection made it that you even had to get to the squishhes characters. Body blocking was a very important tactic and if we take on this hypothetical question with realism then that ogre would need to get past the tank character first.

less skilled or strategic players will also attack the tank, and I see this quite often. Not everyobe has the decision making skills under pressure to make that decision. Would an ogre... Probably not.

Then there is the fact we are already ignoring a sense of disbelief that in a 2v1, or any sort of outnumbered situation the intelligent creature would try to stay away from combat in order to not die.

This is an argument that is highly subjective, there is no right way, logical way, or "relistic" way.

Rorik said...

As someone who's played D&D long before I ever saw a MMO, the idea of an agro table and a tank made little sense when I first started WoW. I have no doubt that given a clever enough AI system, you could pull off a system without the holy trinity. Like Healingthemasses mentioned, at a minimum you need collision detection to make it work.

You really need to throw away everything you think MMO combat should be (the WoW model) and start from scratch, maybe even drawing from pen and paper games and tabletop army games. Why should there only be 1 tank in a dungeon? Why isn't there a high bonus to damage for attacking from behind? If that ogre went for the squishy, then the knight would turn around and slaughter the ogre. The game system should account for these things, otherwise, it's not a good game system.

Rohan said...

Why isn't there a high bonus to damage for attacking from behind? If that ogre went for the squishy, then the knight would turn around and slaughter the ogre.

In this case, wouldn't we better off replacing the knight with another barbarian? Ogre turns to attack the first barbarian, second barbarian does even more damage than the knight would have.

And because the ogre will turn and attack the barbarian, the barbarian must be tough enough to take a few hits.

Or alternatively, if the ogre is going to switch between the two, maybe two knights is the better option?

I just don't see a future where having both a knight and a barbarian is optimal.

RJ said...

@Rohan:

I think you're overlooking or ignoring the kind of obvious thing, here. In the theoretical "trinityless" game you're making a reference to, both the Knight and the Barbarian would be dealing relatively equivalent DPS; remember, without a trinity, there isn't a DPS role either. As a result, everyone who wants to do damage should be just as good at it.

With this in mind, the choice to have either one is based on what their other abilities are. At it's core, the Knight could have higher base damage reduction, but the Barbarian might have higher avoidance or passive lifesteal or something to compensate, and then it's just a choice of what other abilities they have that you want in your party. Maybe the Knight has AoE defense powers that reduces damage against your party. Maybe the Barbarian has Heroism, increasing your DPS for a time. Because both characters have about the same DPS and about the same tanking, it comes down to what you as the party leader want your group dynamics to be.

Having 2 Barbs could be unoptimal if their other abilities don't synergize, or if it causes you to lose out on certain buffs or abilities. Same with 2 Knights. Or heck, maybe your game is based around matchmaking queued content, so a full party of 5 Barbs being the optimal setup doesn't matter, since the majority of players will never see it anyway.

Since characters in a game are more then just their weapons and equipment, I don't think you can make the argument without considering their abilities or the game mechanics as well.

Rohan said...

I don't think a knight with sword and shield should do the same damage as a barbarian with a greatsword.

The shield should offer less damage for more protection. That is the point of a a shield.

Again, it comes down to obeying the conventions of fantasy. For a fantasy game, whatever system that is chosen should simulate or observe the conventions.

Balkoth said...

"I think you're overlooking or ignoring the kind of obvious thing, here. In the theoretical "trinityless" game you're making a reference to, both the Knight and the Barbarian would be dealing relatively equivalent DPS; remember, without a trinity, there isn't a DPS role either. As a result, everyone who wants to do damage should be just as good at it."

As Rohan pointed out, it's about the sword and shield versus greatsword.

If it makes you feel better, imagine it's one Barbarian with a sword and shield and another Barbarian with a greatsword. Which Barbarian will the monster attack?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a sword and shield versus a greatsword?

jonreece said...

@Rohan

Again, it comes down to obeying the conventions of fantasy. For a fantasy game, whatever system that is chosen should simulate or observe the conventions.

I guess I'm just not following you here. I don't really see any of these. Can you give an example from film or a story? I tossed out a list above of lots of examples of famous fantasy that doesn't match this, and I can't think of a single example that isn't a trinity based MMO or MUD.

RJ said...

I agree with johnreece. Actual historical or non-video game fantasy (and even some video game fantasy; see: many D&D based games, Dragon Age) has sword+board be just as effective a combat role as 2-handers.

In most fantasy, in fact, the guy with the sword and shield tends to be MORE effective then the guy with the zweihander, because the sword+board guy is more mobile, quicker to hit and return to cover, and it doesn't matter if you're hit with a shortsword or a greatsword: you're dead either way. Most fantasy books or movies tend to have the hero using the sword+board as a whirling dervish through the battlefield, mowing down foes as he advances, while the guy with the 2-hander is a lumbering oaf, often overwhelmed (if they're not a good guy, that is).


And all that is aside from the fact that we're starting from a principle of trinity-less. If the Knight did less damage but had more defense, and the Barbarian did more damage but had less defense, we are not looking at a lack of a trinity. That is, in fact, the starting definition of the trinity; the Knight is, by your definition, the tank and the Barbarian is the DPS. To look at it trinity-less, the Knight and the Barbarian would be doing equivalent DPS and have equivalent defense, though HOW these work out would be unique to them; again, a Knight's defenses would be primarily it's armour and shield, but it's DPS would be faster sword swings and shield bases. The Barbarian would have it's DPS be slower but more powerful swings, and it's defense would be more evasion or some fashion of self-healing.

So, to go on with that thought:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a sword and shield versus a greatsword?

The advantage of Sword+Board is that it's faster hits, which means more reliable damage over time, with the disadvantage being less damage per individual strike. The advantage of the greatsword is more damage per hit, but slower swings means greater losses if any one swing misses, and also leaves you more open in between each one.

If we expand game mechanics out some, the Barbarian using Sword+Board might benefit from greater defense to help out it's natural defensive mechanics, while the Barbarian using the greatsword might benefit from having AoE attacks. This expands out the class further, giving players more choice in how they want to play, even if at it's core, the Barbarian and the Knight are equivalent in damage and defense.

typhoonandrew said...

Is the trinity concept a problem... really?

I get that people wish to experience something else, but even after reading the thread I'm missing the core "problem". Trinity is just as unrealistic as anything else which is systematic.

My rule as a DM in DnD was to keep to the flavour of the setting which meant attack the heavies before the squishies.

In real life - if I were a "boss type" I'd kill the healers, then the higher dps/mages, then the warriors/tanks.

The degree which any commenter chooses to suspend their disbelief and lever in a system or new ruleset is a variation to the degree of acceptance in that illusion.

Imakulata said...

Maybe a bit late, but I'd like to add my voice to RJ's whom I agree with. As far as I know, tropes like steel wall and glass cannon are not fantasy tropes but game tropes - mostly video game tropes but not exclusively (there was squishy wizards in pen&paper). Most characters outside of games who are able to deal with opponents swiftly are well equipped as far as defense is concerned too. There was a mention of sports - however, it is similar in most sports; most players engage in both offense and defense. Just because a player is striker/forward, doesn't mean they are going to rest while other team is attacking. The holy trinity subverts this by having players who only specialize in defense (healers, tanks to certain extent) and offense (DPS); although the latter is not right in raid environments where everyone's partially responsible for their own health.

I think the attack/defense specialization is the problem of trinity and also a hint on how it should be solved. It's not the existence of roles, it's that the roles are not hybrids of offense and defense. O/D hybrid roles would allow everyone to be viable in solo game and share responsibilities in parties which I believe to be the causes of low healer/tank numbers.

RJ said...

To add something that I just realized, to those of you who want to play a "trinity-less" game where the guy with the Sword+Board is just as useful as the guy with the 2Hander, I suggest you go play Monster Hunter. Play between the two weapon types (and many others, since they have a bunch of 2Hander weapon styles) is basically exactly like I described.