Monday, January 16, 2017

Buff Spells and Abilities

A couple weeks ago, a Blizzard CM posted the following in response to a forum thread:
Why do you feel blessings and auras are fun? I can understand that it feels "nice" to help other players with buff spells, but, in general, they were just niche spells that actually didn't contribute much to meaningful game play (Seals are a different story, I guess). I never thought to myself on my Pally that turning on Retribution or Devotion Aura was going to result in an exciting change besides some passive armor or thorns-like-damage reflect.
Buff spells are fun, but articulating exactly why is a bit of a challenge. They're not difficult decisions, which leads to the claim of "not meaningful gameplay." But not everything needs to be a difficult decision. The mere presence of a buff spell means that before the group even starts playing, people in the group are better off. Buff spells enhance the idea that the characters are stronger together.

It's also part of the ritual before starting something. Food, flask, buff up and then pull. When all decisions and actions occur in combat, I think something is lost. These actions in preparing for combat are important too.

I think buff spells might be most important to healer players. They're a concrete manifestation of your support. You buff your allies, you buff random people. I liked joining a group with a druid and seeing Mark of the Wild go up. I liked having Blessings and Auras.

Now, buff spells do have a lot of problems. The presence of buff spells mean that you want specific classes, rather than letting people play what they want. If the class was balanced around the buff spell, then the best plan was to only take one person of that class, and not multiples.

(Though, it seems that without buff spells, play what you want basically becomes "take the top parsing specs", so I'm not sure that we've truly gained anything.)

Blizzard tried to get around that in previous expansions by handing buffs out to every class. But that kind of watered down the whole concept. So in Legion, they've pretty much removed buff spells, or made them "interesting". Of course, it turned out that the new Blessing of Might was too interesting for Retribution paladins to handle, and so it had to be removed.

A Design for Class Buffs

Here's what I would do to reintroduce buffs:
  • Three buff types - 5% damage increase, 5% damage reduction, 5% healing taken/output (numbers are subject to tuning)
  • One cast buffs the raid. 
  • Buffs of the same type don't stack.
  • Healing specs get the buffs
  • Holy/Disc Priest - Prayer of Fortitude (healing)
  • Resto Druid - Mark of the Wild (tanking)
  • Mistweaver Monk - White Tiger statue (damage)
  • Holy Paladin - Blessing of Might (damage), Wisdom (healing), Kings (tanking). Only one blessing at a time.
  • Resto Shaman - Totems: Windfury (damage), Strength of Earth (tanking), Mana Tide (healing). Only one totem at a time.
Basically, your healer brings a buff to the group, an iconic spell for most of the classes (I'm not entirely sure what monks had). Paladins and shamans, being the traditional buff classes, have versatility. A full raid heal team with several classes will bring all 3 buffs. The specs and classes who I think most enjoy buffing get them back, without overloading everyone with complexity, or needing a spreadsheet to fill out a raid.


  1. The merging and then removal of buffs speaks to, IMHO, the wrongheaded obsession with balance and homogenisation in Blizzard's design philosophy. Buffs are part of what made classes feel unique.

    The problem with needing certain classes because of their buffs can be (and indeed was) solved at one point by having crafted items that mimic those buffs (drums or whatever).

    We were only saying yesterday how we miss having buffs as part of the dungeon routine as you mentioned above. Also drive by buffing strangers was a nice little social aspect of the game. I'm not saying I want to go back to 10 minute Paladin buffs (shudder) but I do miss the unique class buffs (and not the generic mess they became before their removal).

    1. I am sympathetic to Blizzard's balance concerns. In a game centered around playing with others, a class/spec which is deemed "low-power" is often excluded from groups. And buffs make it hard to balance a class.

      Crafted items as replacements for buffs is a very interesting idea, though. It puts a cost on not having the class, but it's an acceptable cost.

  2. I love buffing people on my Vanilla WoW priest and getting buffed in return. It's a simple gesture of goodwill, and when levelling is tough and everyone's numbers are low, that bit of extra health or regeneration can really make a difference.

    Also, my happiest time in WoW was when I was raiding as a shadow priest in TBC, effectively being a "buff bot" that did low damage. It was indeed a niche role for people who'd rather feel wanted for boosting other's damage than boast about their own big numbers... but it was my niche.

    1. The problem is that it's fine having one "buff bot" shadow priest. But what if you have a second player who wants to play shadow? The marginal value of that second shadow priest is much lower, especially if you could bring another mage instead.

    2. That's actually a bad example since I remember most raiding guilds being happy to run with 2-3 shadow priests back then... ;) But I get what you're trying to say. However, I don't see how having a limited number of "buffer" slots is different from having a limited number of spots for tanks and healers?

  3. Your suggestion makes even more sense if you consider historical parallels.

    MMORPGs (and CRPGs) borrowed a lot from tabletop RPGs, which in turn owe their existence to tabletop wargames - and nowhere does it show as much as in raid combat. The roles of the players in group/raid setting can be mapped fairly accurately to the roles of different units: the tank represents heavy infantry that takes the brunt of the enemy's charge, melee DPSers are fast-moving flankers that assault the enemy's exposed formation, ranged DPSers provide fire support, AoE massed formations or focus fire high-value moving targets, while spellcasters counter or dispel the magical efforts of the opposing side.

    As for the healers, their role is to prevent their side from breaking and ensure that the line is held, which maps to Leadership/HQ units. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to give them buffing abilities.

    1. That's certainly an interesting way of looking at it. I'm not entirely sure that healers map to Leadership/HQ units, though. Maybe in a very abstract sense.

    2. In the (admittedly few) wargames that I've played, the main benefit of HQ units was to enable nearby units to keep on fighting in situations where they would otherwise be destroyed.

      Granted, the implementation was very different and involved giving bonuses and re-rolls to morale checks rather than making green bars full again, but the abstract function behind it is fairly similar.