As the mage is my second-most-played class in the game AND as they’re planning on up and revealing the new soul in two days, I guess I need to hurry up and finish this post next 😉
Like I mentioned in passing last time, I think the strongest lack in the mage soul gallery is a tanking option. There are a ton of ways to tank as a mage – and a lot of games do this (but not very many mmorpg’s).
There are three things that every tank needs:
- Threat generation
Okay, four. Every tank will have the first two. Every good tank will have all four of these.
Given the chance, a mage can pull and hold aggro if so desired, so that part of the equation is already solved. The trick with mage tanks is that they have to be careful not to pick up any threat reduction talents. This is easy to solve by simply paying attention, but is probably worth investing some talent tree space to correcting just in case.
The biggest problem that mage tanks have is surviving incoming damage. I mean, when you’re dressed in tissue paper and have approximately the same max hp as a 30-year-old sponge… you don’t last long when the boss turns to look at you. So we need to give mages a way to survive spikes in damage as well as sustained damage.
Mobility is another minor concern – a lot of ranged DPS abilities have casting times, and tanks can’t always stand still for very long – especially when taking damage messes with casting times. So every (or almost every) ability in this tree needs to be instant-cast… and some possible synergies might further reduce the casting times of abilities from other souls to make them usable while tanking.
Endurance is really important as well. With a rage/energy tank you don’t have to worry about that sort of thing because they always have points to use to run their abilities. The last thing you want when relying on a mana-based tank is for him to run out of juice with the boss at 10%. Justicars get around this with 2 or 3 good mana regeneration mechanics and generally low casting costs for their important abilities. Similarly, some self-healing is important but not crucial. Group tanks aren’t supposed to be able to heal themselves through boss fights – but being able to solo or heal through trash pulls is very very nice.
So… how to make it work? The most obvious answer is the same one used by children who don’t want to fall down when their friend zaps them with an imaginary laser pistol. Force fields. There are a lot of problems solved by bubbles. They’re a separate independent health pool projected by strong magic to withstand arbitrary damage. You can make bubbles that absorb X many hits or Y many points of damage. You can make bubbles that grant complete invulnerability for a time or whatever.
Unfortunately, unless they’re automated, bubbles pop. And if a bubble is your only source of defense, you’re going to take a hit between shields and die – ESPECIALLY if the game’s UI does not show you how much juice you have left on your bubble or you have to worry about cooldowns.
One popular method for mage tanking in computer RPG’s is the mana shield – redirecting incoming damage to the mana pool instead of the life pool. The problem with this in an MMO context is that healers can’t help you. You’ve got a big pool of mana that really just equates to one or two enormous hits absorbed. After which you’re out of juice and useless.
No, we need more control over things than just temporary bubbles or a mana shield.
My most durable mage spec in Rift is a necromancer. I use a tanky pet and the ridiculously overpowered life drain charge dump to keep both of us topped off (as threat tends to bounce back and forth between myself and my skellington). If my pet dies, I pop the cooldown and summon a new one – or I don’t bother and just charge dump until the fight is over. I’ve tanked rift bosses this way because everyone else in the group was even squishier.
Drain tanking has a lot of advantages. It generates damage AND healing, which makes it a high threat action right out of the box. But if we intentionally add threat mechanics to it, it’s a great way of holding something’s attention. Additionally, life drain animations tend to be fairly obvious – which could help public groups identify the tank’s target more quickly.
Drain tanking also tends to help reduce dependence on a healer for obvious reasons.
If you will forgive a side-trip to Azeroth, I’d like to discuss the WoW warlock for a moment. Warlocks are crazy durable, despite wearing dresses. A large reason for this is that their itemization is very stamina-heavy, because their normal damage rotation requires them to burn hp to keep casting spells. One of their core abilities is a fairly efficient spammable channeled life drain that can be used in combination with crowd control to keep oneself topped off without taking too many hits.
We don’t want someone who can solo drain an instance boss – but it’s nice to clear trash without having to drink up every pull. However, if you don’t have a large pool of health to begin with, it doesn’t matter how fast you drain if you’re still taking hits like a regular clothie. Similarly, a lot of drain tanking depends on there being a number of mobs present to siphon off of. In the absence of adds, you may only have one enemy to leech from… and that may not be enough.
WoW Warlocks come in three flavours. Destruction spec are just mages. Affliction spec do heavy damage over time and have improved life drain capabilities. Demonology spec have stronger pets… and can turn into giant purple monsters with tank stats and threat generation abilities. The big thing from stopping demon warlocks from tanking more than they do is the cooldown limitation on the ability.
One of the canon tabletop roleplaying defensive spells is Stoneskin. The mage turns his body into living rock and ignores a good bit of damage for the duration of the spell. Think Ben Grimm.
In Harry Potter, wizards can deflect spells if they see them coming or maintain a bubble under certain circumstances. But really, if you have to go toe-to-toe with a werewolf, you want to just turn yourself into a great hairy monster yourself and get on with it.
I think shapeshifting or transmutation of some sort or another solves a number of problems. The mage is constructing himself a magical body that is much more durable than his normal one, so it can be assumed to have platemail-level mitigation. Additionally, a new body should have more hp than the old one, and it is probably guaranteed to be more threatening looking than some pasty-skinned bookworm in a frock waving a stick.
Transmutation also solves the cast-time vs mobility/interrupt issue. It is entirely reasonable to make another effect of the tank form a buff that modifies casting times to make them more appropriate for a melee situation.
I think that this makes the most sense. Let’s allow the mage to transform himself into a giant arcane construct (as tall as a large Bahmi or a bit larger). In this form, I think we do the following:
- Increase casting speed but decrease damage output of non-transmuter abilities.
- Increase armor rating by whatever multiplier is required to go all the way from cloth to plate.
- Swap max hp and max mana.
- Some abilities are only usable while transformed (similar to stealth-only abilities for rogues)
By swapping the character’s max health and max mana, the player is able to continue dressing like a mage but gains a significant boost in durability when switching – and prevents DPS specs from burning things down too badly in tank mode.
The transmuter’s offensive abilities would be best if they were instant cast and melee range. So… let’s give them attacks that encourage them to hit things with a big two-handed weapon. No reason to render a shield on their construct – we have magic for that. Then, because I envisage the construct as a bunch of floating rocks/metal tethered together by lightning, let’s make the abilities do earth and air damage.
Given the hint in the announcement picture, it is safe to assume that the guy will wind up wielding large swords. I like the idea of giving transmuter spells to transmute his weapons – similar to a rogue’s poisons or a cleric’s weapon enchantments, but more awesome.
So a couple of his abilities might look something like this:
- Stone shield – Conjure a floating shield of stone to protect the caster. Blocks as a normal shield of comparable quality to the caster’s primary weapon. Costs nothing to maintain, but every blow blocked costs charge. If all charge is dissipated, the shield goes away as well.
- Air lash – short range instant cast air damage
- Earth lash – short range instant cast earth damage
- Arcane flux – passive mechanic. Every offensive ability cast generates one point of flux to a maximum of 4 points. Every single-target offensive ability cast while at 100 charge has a chance (5% per point stored) of consuming flux and 20 charge to proc a semi-random debuff on the target.
- Reinforce – Grant the caster a shield against damage for 30 seconds. 30 second cooldown.
- Soul lash – short range instant cast life or death damage (random), return 50% of damage dealt
- Air blade – Transform the caster’s primary weapon into a sword attuned to the plane of air. All melee attacks and single-target abilities inflict additional air damage and have a chance of proccing an air lash off to another nearby opponent.
- Flux capacity – Increase maximum arcane flux points by 1/2/4/8/16 points to a potential 20.
- Adaptive ward – Increase all spell resistances by 20. When attacked, increase resistance to that damage type by two points while decreasing resistance to two other random types by one point each. Resistances may change once every 4 seconds. If ward is lowered and renewed, resistance values are reset to 20.
- Spammable PBAoE nuke, random damage type.
- Arcane shape – Tank mode v1. Transform into a stone construct. Generally tanky as described above already.
- Rebuild – Consume all arcane flux to repair both mana and hp. Only usable while transformed.
- Flux lash – Consume one point of flux to strike a single opponent with non-elemental damage, generating heavy threat.
- Aggravate – Taunt. Knocks back and roots affected target. Only usable while transformed.
- Expel – AoE Taunt. Knocks back and snares all affected targets. Only usable while transformed.
- Reflective reinforcement – Reflect 2/4/6/8/10% of damage taken while under the effect of reinforcement.
- Earth hammer – Transform the caster’s primary weapon into a mace attuned to the plane of earth. All melee attacks and single target abilities inflict additional earth damage and have a chance of proccing earth lash.
- Translate – Teleport to an enemy, knock them back, and transfer 50% of aggro from their current target.
- Magnetic body – Transport one target into melee range. Snare all opponents within 20m, chance to root any opponents facing away from you (chance of debuffs increased against the spell’s primary target).
- Arcane body – Tank mode v2. Transform into a metal construct. As arcane shape but with increased movement speed and stun resistance.
- Flux blade – Transform the caster’s primary weapon into a shifting blade of arcane energy. All melee attacks and single target abilities generate additional threat and have a chance of proccing flux lash.
- Unshackled body – Tank mode v3. Transform into an energy construct. As arcane body but with increased avoidance and spell resistances.
- Flux cascade – Burn all flux to gain a significant shield and a cast speed buff, lasts for 2 seconds per point spent.