The Life of a Tank

It’s been awhile! Hope you all are enjoying Iron Waifu, I know I’ve had a few surprises myself, and several not so surprises, but it seems to be turning out very well. The voting numbers tell a bit of an interesting story compared to last year but perhaps it’d be better to get into that after all is said and done, needless to say we’re very happy to see the how things have been turning out this year!

Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve made a post so it’d be a good idea for me to talk about what I’ve been working on and while I probably could go into the new victory barks feature that we’ve got I’d rather talk about that after the upcoming release as there’s still a lot of odds and ends I’m ironing out there, instead let’s talk about tanks in RPGs in general.

See, I’m sure that we can easily identify a character that’s got a lot of HP, that has high defensive stats, maybe it’s a character who gets a lot of super armor, that’s not hard to find, but something that I’ve noticed in a lot of games that I’ve played throughout the years is that while you can find MANY tanks, there’s a lot fewer successful tanks, at least in the games that I play. What do I mean by that? Simple, a successful tank isn’t just about being able to take punishment but it needs to take punishment instead of the rest of the party, after all being basically unkillable rarely is the key to success (though there’s been a few fights when I found it easier to solo a boss with my unmovable rock character than waste items keeping party members alive), instead if you have a character who skipped out on other things to pursue (damage, speed, healing, buffing, debuffing, etc.) to focus on it’s own defensive abilities it needs to be able to supplement the other important roles by making sure the rest of the team can do those with very little issue, and it’s very important to keep this in mind because if a tank cannot prevent damage going to other allies in one way or another then you’re not apart of the team you exist next to the team. I’ve seen a number of people who try to play say tabletop games thinking that simply having high HP or defense is enough to make them a tank, when in actuality the party only lives thanks to the DM being generous and intentionally attacking the hard to kill character even when there is little or no penalty for attacking another character and a much bigger reward (like taking out the cleric or wizard), so keep that in mind if you plan to play the ‘tank’, if you don’t have a way to ensure that damage doesn’t go to your teammates then you might want to figure out a way to do that.

“But Conash,” you begin, “what does any of this have to do with what you’ve been working on?” Well to get to the point, I have not been happy with how tanks behave in HC for quite awhile now, on either end but for two different problems. Let’s start with the player side since you the player obviously will be playing from that end, in HC NoMoshing did a great job setting up equipment, skills, and classes to take advantage of the innate ‘Threat’ system in RPG Maker VX Ace, if you ever decide to join me and RomeoPapa in our pursuit of more difficult challenges in HC you’ll learn very quickly just how important threat management is to taking on quests above your weight class, I really like the threat system in HC, and have even made use of it for some hidden little details (Try checking out Yamamaya or Bronwyn’s status page during ‘Elf Half Empty’ sometime), but the threat system has a very big flaw in it that’s become more and more of an issue as the game progresses. See, threat impacts who an enemy targets when they choose someone on your team, but when they throw out an AoE attack, one which hits ‘everyone’? Well that ignores threat entirely, leaving characters like Yeon completely at the mercy of how often enemies spam this, as your tanks have no way to keep her safe. This issue has been a growing complaint for quite awhile, so with the help of ShadowCluster, I managed to put together a brand new feature into the game, player blocking! I’m sure that you’re all familiar with times that enemies will block your attacks no matter what (and I’ll get to all the problems there in a second) but never saw it happen on your end (because it was happening a step before where they flat out didn’t target the low threat characters to begin with), well in this upcoming update you’ll finally be able to see that! The game will now include a system where a character with a ‘Taunt’ status (like Martyrdom, Font of Life, Phalanx, Attract, or similar skills) will have a chance to ‘block’ the hit a character would receive from AoE attacks, the formula to determine this is based off of threat chance but the basics are that if the tank has high threat and the targeted character has low threat you’ll have a better chance of blocking the hit. This little effect requires a taunt skill since some characters can get threat ratings so low (Elaiya) that they’d never take an AoE hit otherwise, and while it’s important that a tank can do their job it’s also important that if they’re dieing that you don’t have to worry about them taking all 4 hits from an AoE every round while you try to heal them up. Though if you plan to bring multiple tanks keep in mind that it rolls the ‘block’ chance based for whoever is in the first party slot, followed by the second, third, etc. until someone successfully blocks, so if you plan to use Yamamaya to block the occasional attack and Therese to pick up the rest put Yamamaya in first otherwise she probably won’t even get a chance unless Therese misses (also if a character does have a taunt skill up, no one else can ‘block’ for them, this one’s hard-coded). The formula may need some tweaking if it turns out to be too eager to activate, but I am still very happy with the general outline of the system as it puts a high amount of the control of the mechanic in the player’s hands, allowing you all to adjust it to your liking! Also little pro-tip: If you’re having trouble with say Force Barrage, if you can try to get someone to activate a taunt skill then guard like crazy, since you can’t be knocked down while you’re guarding so this would help let you protect your lower threat party members from the occasional status effect.

Now, this all probably sounds great right? I certainly think so, but some of you might be wondering why I had to create my own formula (or ask ShadowCluster to make one more precisely), rules, and basically create a new mechanic like this when enemies are already able to do this sorta thing, that brings us to my issues with enemy tanks. See, threat doesn’t work on enemies because surprisingly having a 100% invisible parameter on the enemies that has no actual gameplay impact isn’t very effective at convincing players to not kill that very deadly mage instead of going after the tank in front of them who isn’t a big threat on their own, and because of this we have to rely on the substitute mechanic in RPG Maker for enemy tanks. I absolutely loathe the substitute mechanic, and while I’m usually very quick to blame Enterbrain for any and all issues I have with RPG Maker, this mechanic I’ve found as common practice even in Final Fantasy games so it’d be unfair to single out Enterbrain. See, substitute works in that a character who gets marked with the substitute flag will 100% of the time block any hits targeting characters with low enough HP (usually below 25% or 10% max HP), unless the person with the flag has some kind of status effect or something else that stops them. The problem with this is that it’s inherently useless for roughly 75%-90% of the battle, and then after that? Nothing gets through, making it so that players who have no hard-counters can’t do anything except work their way through the tank. On top of that because these flags are rarely, if ever, permanent you need to spend one of your very limited actions hoping that one of your characters will be at a low enough threshold for you to defend them, without dying before you go, and that your defense of them will matter (if they don’t get targeted it was a wasted action). No matter how you run the math, 9 times out of 10 you’re just better off healing the person instead of bothering to deal with this terrible mechanic to keep people from dying. This isn’t even getting into the issues of the 100% chance issue can easily put the tank in a position where they’re taking way too much damage to keep up as more and more characters fall into the threshold or how it offers players no customization of prioritizing certain characters over others… That said, as highly critical as I am of this mechanic (and I hope that you can see why I prefer my innate blocking chance system for players over this) we use it for enemy tanks in HC largely out of necessity, we have no other tools we can use to have enemies influence who you attack. I plan to down the road mess with the formula so that it scales, in a way so that as the enemy loses more HP the chance to substitute grows making substitution an all-present annoyance but never a hard road-block (if you have no counters), while still preserving the general intention behind it. Until then though, I think that I’ll experiment with a few other tank improvisations, for example since one of the two new bosses in this upcoming update fills a tank role, I figured that I’d take a page out of the ‘Warder’ book from Path of War, and give them the ability to give you a rather noticeable miss chance on all your abilities that don’t target them (for a limited time). I’ll probably have to tweak a lot of the numbers here but I think figuring out alternate tanking strategies is going to become integral for supplementing the substitution mechanic in creating tanks as a whole.

I’ve probably rambled on quite a lot about the importance for a tank to be able to control aggro, so instead of going into a big long rant about how to properly control aggro in the Tales of games, I’ll call it here. Please feel free to share any questions, comments, or concerns as you see fit!

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