Changing the Holy Trinity

I read Scree’s A Snapshot of Pantheon, an excellent summary of the things that Brad McQuaid wants to do with Kickstarter MMO Pantheon: Something of Something. I’ll save most of my comments on Brad’s game vision for another post, or never, because I don’t think it will get funded. The part about changing the Holy Trinity model is what stood out to me today. Apologies for quoting so much of this:

"Holy Trinity Shattered (maybe); The Holy Trinity has always been a Tank, DPS, and Healing based player roles (dating back to somewhat inaccurately, Everquest). Pantheon is seemingly bringing back the Support role initially with the Enchanter class (possibly also Shaman as Support?). Support was always a powerful role to include in vanilla Everquest and hopefully its return in Pantheon signals the end of the dreaded trinity. For those of you unfamiliar with Support, its a role that sometimes includes minor capabilities in Healing or DPS, but primarily enhances the abilities of the other roles around him (making everyone else that much more powerful)."

This brought to mind a couple of things. First, I see a lot of people talk about The Holy Trinity like it’s some arbitrary draconian law imposed upon us by the gaming industry, like it’s a prison we need to break free of. (At least, it sounds like Brad McQuaid thinks that.)

I have a slightly different take on it. I think that The Holy Trinity was invented by players back in the day as the most efficient way to tackle group content. Back then, players rolled their own Holy Trinities by customizing character skills or equipment to specialize in tanking or healing. Over time, game makers saw what those players were doing, saw that it was good, and eventually built it in as a feature of the game. They then added the "taunt" feature to allow The Holy Trinity to work even better. (I feel like WoW was the first to do that, but I am probably wrong.) Naturally I don’t have any tangible evidence to support it, but that’s my personal theory on the origin of the Holy Trinity.

My point is that I think there is a reason why The Holy Trinity exists: It has a proven history of working within the mechanics of many different MMOs.

Over time, the three roles have definitely grown more and more specialized, there’s no doubt about that. But I feel like there’s nothing inherently wrong with the core concept. (Personally, I’d like to see more games allow you to shift roles in the middle of dungeons or even fights.)

Here’s my second point. I am mystified about why Brad thinks adding a Support role in any way changes the Holy Trinity. I did not play in vanilla Everquest so I have never seen a Summoner in action and don’t get that reference. But I know that Rift has a Support role and many class abilities that fall within the scope of "enhancing the abilities of others." It’s a great concept, but in actual practice people rarely need Support in groups, because the buffs aren’t good enough to compensate for the loss of a person’s DPS.

Now suppose the Support person can throw out massive buffs that justify his position in a group. He’s not really changing the core tank-heal-DPS model, he’s just making the tanking, healing, and DPS better.

(By the way I wholeheartedly support more games supporting Support roles. Ha-ha! I said support three times! But yeah, I like playing supporting roles.)

While we’re on this subject, how do you shatter the Holy Trinity model?

The short answer is I have no idea. But I think you’d have to start by removing or somehow changing the taunt mechanic, thereby trimming down or eliminating the tank role. Once you do that, I think parties would be more free to compose groups however they wanted to.

I think it would be instructive to look at what Guild Wars 2 did in their effort to destroy the Trinity. I feel like battles in GW2 are not so much a group effort as they are a chaotic free-for-all with every man for himself. They eliminated healers by basically making everyone a healer, but that resulted in the alienation of everyone who likes to play a healing role. Unfortunately I can’t comment too much on it though because I’ve never done a GW2 dungeon. It’s still on my todo list.

Without taunt, I suspect that crowd control would suddenly become a lot more important (by which I mean more important than the current level of zero). We would still need some way to keep monsters from running straight to the healers and glass cannons, and if we can’t taunt them away with a tank, then we’d have to slow them or trap them. Or possibly have a way to put down obstacles that they would have to go around, like barrels. (That could be cool – before pulling the boss, the party would have to build a big tower defense-like blockade of barrels and traps and machine-gun turrets in front of the healer.)

So to summarize this wall of text, I don’t think changing the Holy Trinity is going to be easy. I’d like to see it toned down a bit though, or at least not have characters locked into one role at a time. I personally would like to see fights be a littler easier to continue if the tank and/or healer dies.

2 thoughts on “Changing the Holy Trinity”

  1. The dungeons in Guild Wars 2 tend to emphasize avoidable or preventable damage: attacks that can be dodged, conditions that can be removed, and/or small minions that must be killed or kited. You can still do support, but it’s a part-time thing at best (Elementalist when in Water attunement, for example).

    City of Heroes removed the “healer” side of the trinity by replacing it with a support role : Defenders and Controllers had a buff/debuff powersets to assist other teammates. While some buff/debuff skills had weak heals attached to them, some character builds would lack heals entirely. Force Fields only prevented damage, but the bubbles were good enough that even bosses would rarely hit. This quickly goes out of control when too many Defenders or Controllers were in one team, though: a team full of Kinetics powerset Defenders could literally run right through enemies, and enough Storm Summoners would essentially turn a boss into a stunt double for all three of the Stooges (unless the boss was immune, in which case the Stormies would be dead).

    The Matrix Online had an interesting mechanic where any melee combat would actually lock a specific opponent in one-on-one combat, while people outside the fight could still shoot in. It was… not well-formed, but one can imagine a game design of Brawlers (who do best in melee combat), Shooters (who do best in ranged combat), and a Support class (who augmented the ability of other classes to close or maintain distance). Variants of this concepts are common in spaceship simulators : fighters beat capital ships that can’t easily track small targets, capital ships crush corvettes that can not evade heavy guns, and corvettes can easily burn down small fighters.

    Pen-and-paper games often completely ignore the classical D&D Trinity. WhiteWolf (and Onyx Path) games generally break down into the roles of Combat Monster, Social Fu, and Infrastructure (crafting or politics, depending on genre). Shadowrunners usually have a few variants of Combat Monster, a Hacker, and a Face. This doesn’t work well in an MMO, however (and often doesn’t work well in a pen-and-paper game, to be honest).

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