You came back. Okay then. Let’s talk about the real challenges of playing a tank class.
First thing: the challenge is not in the skills.
The actual mechanics of playing a tank aren’t any more difficult than any other class; you can easily grok the basics.
A successful tank, expressed in the most simple terms, holds the attention of all the mobs, and can get their attention back if they lose it. (Also, you try to be hard to kill, but that’s (almost) as much about gear as it is about using your skills.)
That’s the simple description. Let’s break that down a bit more.
You are the Wall.
This isn’t so much a skill as it is a calling. This is the default, from-the-factory setting: absent any other information about a fight, an enemy, or even which classes are in your group, you know that you must get between your friends and the bad guys, and get them hitting you and no one else.
Start from that. There are exceptions and yeah-buts and what-ifs, but this your baseline.
You are the bad guy’s dance partner.
In LotRO, facing matters; you only block and parry stuff that’s in front of you (and more importantly, the bad guys can only block and parry attacks that come from in front of them); if you have any ‘hit many targets’ melee attack, it usually only hits stuff in front of you (again, more importantly, the bad guys usually only hit multiple targets in front of them, so being behind them is safer).
So this is part of your job: when you engage the enemy, turn them away from your friends in such a way that (a) you keep your front to the enemy the whole time, (b) the enemy ends up with their back to your allies.
There are so many benefits to this it’s hardly worth listing them, but aside from the mechanical benefits of exposing the bad guy’s back to your damage dealers and keeping them from getting hit with his Great Cleave of Bloody Destruction, there’s the fact that this move leaves you looking back at the rest of your group, so you can easily see where everyone else is at and if anything bad is happening in your backfield.
You can practice this even when you’re not in a group. When you start a fight with a bad guy (assuming it’s safe(ish) to run in toward them instead of pulling), run in and turn them so that you’re facing back the way you came.
Do it every time. Build the muscle memory.
You are the puller, except when you aren’t.
Whenever you can, be the person who starts the fight; that’s what ‘puller’ means, however you accomplish it.
The main trick to pulling is knowing what is going happen with each of your enemies when the fight begins.
See, there’s basically just two types of mobs; melee and ranged guys — that’s it. If you want to get picky, you might break it down into melee, ranged, and ranged casters, but that difference is really only relevant at higher levels in specific instances, and in most cases the binary “range/melee” labels works just fine for predicting how a mob will behave when combat starts — if you taunt or shoot an arrow or whatever into the crowd, the ones that are melee will run to you, and the ranged guys will stand in place and shoot at you. It’s really that simple.
So what do you do about it?
Once you learn which mobs are melee and which ones are ranged, you’re going to be able to move confidently at the start of every pull. Knowing that the melee guys will move to you and the ranged guys won’t (regardless of what, specifically, they’re doing), the most basic manuever is to run into the group, target a ranged guy, and use some kind of Area Effect aggro/threat skill once the enemy melee guys run up to hit you — your goal is simply to get within melee range of as many mobs as possible, especially the ranged mobs. Build your threat on all the mobs, and burn them down.
(Casters get to die first, generally — especially if they do something annoying like rezzing their friends or summoning more bad guys.)
Congratulations, that’s how 90% of your pulls will work.
A word on your ranged pulling skills. Get really familiar with your ranged pull methods. I really suffered for awhile when leveling my guardian on LotRO because we don’t get a ranged attack until level 30, and we don’t get a ranged taunt until level 34 — that makes practicing ranged pulls REALLY difficult. See if you can find alternative options. In LotRO, for example, you can buy stacks of consumble throwing axe or throwing knives. The range isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing at all. Barring that, you’ll need to get really good at peeling aggro off of your friend who’s doing all your pulling for you.
As soon as you can pull using your own skills, however, do so.
A word on mezzing and “CC Pulls”.
As you start grouping, more options for pulls will open up to you, one of which is the Crowd Control or “CC” pull. Basically what this means is that one of your group members will start the fight by mezzing one or several of the bad guys. The bonus to this is that whoever gets mezzed is utterly and totally out of the fight until the mezz wears off, which may be a huge benefit if their abilities are really annoying.
The downside is that you aren’t generating any threat on that guy while he’s mezzed and forty yards away, so when he does break free you’ll have to make an effort to grab em before they eat someone. Find out how long the mez is going to last so you know what to expect and can keep some taunts ready; most of the time, a single-target mez can be kept up much longer — sometimes indefinitely (assuming some skill on the part of the mezzing player) — while group mezzes are really only going to delay a large group for a little bit.
I generally don’t like to pull with group mezzes, simply because they really just delay my ultimate goal, which is to get as many baddies into melee range with me as fast as possible, but single-target mezzes can be invaluable: use them like the excellent tool they are.
Now, if you can’t get all the casters into your melee range in one shot, then you’ve got more decisions to make from there…
You are the lure.
In any fight that involves ranged-attack enemies, your first option is to take the fight to them; do that, if you can. If you can’t get at all the ranged guys right away, or if charging into melee with them would be a bad move tactically (you’d end up pulling in other nearby groups), you can get them to come to you with a line of sight pull.
See, most any mob will move to get their target within line of sight to continue attacking. Their line of sight can be blocked by things like walls and corners and pillars. A LOS pull just means you aggro the mob or mobs, then duck around a corner. The bad guys come running in until they can get you within their optimal/preferred attack range, which usually means the ranged guys can be safely mugged by the rest of your group, without any fear of pulling any other baddies.
(Unfortunately, many groups get too antsy to let you do this without their screwing it up somehow. There’s a good chance someone will either shoot the approaching group as they’re running in (which means they’ll probably switch targets, because you only had a little aggro), or the healer will stand in line of sight of the mobs and, inexplicably, heal you, thus pulling aggro and getting smacked like Leonidas at the end of 300. You will have to train them not to do that.)
You are the anchor.
The basic rule of damage-dealing is this: we do a lot more damage if we don’t have to move much. This is especially true for melee guys, so once you have yourself situated (aggro is focused on you, with the maximum number of bad guys in front of and in melee range with you), try to sit still. Pan you camera around as much as you like — I recommend it — but the less the fight moves, the sooner the fight is going to be over.
You are the Choreographer.
Location, Location, Location.
You need to keep the bad guys hitting you, and perferably hitting you from your front arc, so that parries and blocks are… parrying and blocking. You need to keep the bad guys’ backs to your friends.
But you also need to make sure you’re in range and line of sight of the healers.
And you also have to move yourself (and the enemy) out of any Burning Stuff On The Floor, and do it in such a way that the melee guys still have some safe place to stand, and the ranged guys and healers can still reach you.
(Game developers love Burning Stuff On the Floor, because it keeps the group moving, and moving groups do less damage, and less damage means longer fights, and longer fights mean More Challenge.)
All of these movement necessities TOTALLY TRUMP the rule about standing still. Stand still if you can, but move whenever you need to, and do it quickly.
You are the Spotter.
One of the first things I mention is turning the bad guys around. The best non-mechanical thing this does is give you a wide view of the rest of the fight. Watch the enemy. Watch the melee guys to see if any of them are getting hit by AoEs they can avoid. Watch the ranged guys and tell them to get out of the Burning Stuff on the Floor. Watch the healers to make sure they don’t get mugged. Once you’ve got all that down, start panning the camera around and watch the area BEHIND you so that you don’t get surprised by Something Bad.
You are the Tar Baby.
Your job, first and formost, is to hold aggro (which requires smart use of skills) and survive (which requires smart use of skills and diligent acquisition of decent gear).
You want to be a tank that other people will want to run with again. A good tank is one that can hold threat on all appropriate targets, can regain threat when it’s lost as soon as possible, and who can take a hit. Period. You can rise to higher aspirations than these — more advanced tricks — but that’s the core: aggro is the primary measure of success.
Again, you can practice this without being in a full group.
Take a friend who has some patience and is fine with experimenting and drag them out somewhere with packs of reasonably challenging mobs — most importantly, a place where there’s a mix of melee, ranged, and caster-types.
Then you tell your friend “I need you to make with the killing — go as hard as you can — I’ll work on holding aggro or getting it back from you. Cool?”
Once they stop giggling madly, they should be good to go.
Alternately, level your tank character with a DPS-class friend — that’s many many levels of practice.
You are the Encyclopedia.
Learn the capabilities of the enemy.
Okay, you don’t need to know what every mob in the game does, certainly not the first time you run into a new instance. That said, the more you do know, the more likely people will be to listen to you, do what you ask, and make your job easier. It’s hard to lead a group somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.
If you can, try to run any completely unfamiliar instance as one of the DPS the first time. It’ll show you where things are and what to expect. Also, ask questions. If you can’t do that, go out to youtube and check out videos showing walkthroughs of the instance. Spoiler-warnings are not for tanks who want to know what’s coming. Reading about what the mobs in an instance can do in advance and what their attacks and abilities are is a huge help, also.
But maybe you can’t do any of that beforehand. That’s fine. In that situation, just break every fight down into the component parts — the melee, the ranged, the casters, placement — and apply your skills to those components. The Big Picture will either take care of itself, or the Special Features of the fight will become quickly and glaringly obvious.
You are (probably) going to be the leader.
In short, control the fight. This is the hardest thing you’ll learn to do.
Call targets. Mark one of the enemy with a skull over their head (if you don’t know how to do this, figure it out — make a hotkey for it) and tell the group to kill them first. Always.
People won’t always listen. Dunno why. Maybe they resent being told what to do. Maybe they’re dicks. Maybe they just don’t get it.
All you can do is try. If someone isn’t targeting the right guy, and they keep pulling aggro, and they get touchy when you tell them to focus fire… welllll…
First of all, suck it up and move on. Unless it’s causing wipes, leave it.
Second option: let em pull and let em die. Let their repair bill teach them some discipline.
You are Humble. (At least in public.)
It’s possible, standing there as The Wall Between the Enemy and Your Squishy Friends, knowledgably directing the flow of combat, to feel a little… pride.
Keep it to yourself.
I don’t care how good your armor is, or how high your block chance is tweaked; if the healer isn’t there, you’re going down, and it won’t be noble or pretty. Everyone is doing their bit, so either remove the pride entirely or at least lock it away — pride is not for us.
Remember the Tanking Rule: if we succeed, it’s because the DPS and healers were excellent; if someone dies, it was your fault.
Don’t point out the awesome stuff you did. The good players will notice without you saying anything, and count it far more highly than if you had.
You suffer in silence.
Final rule: never bitch about repair bills.
You picked this class, and you can always reroll a cloth-wearing DPS guy if it gets to be too much to bear.
The wall does not complain if the wind howls. It’s the wall.
Thanks for sticking with me on this mammoth post; I’ll wrap everything up tomorrow with a simple summary in the form of a Tank Pledge.