The Saga of DK Normalization Does not Balance Make

Surazc – Death Knight Tank

The complete 8-part saga of normalizations and balances is right here for you to enjoy.

So… enjoy!


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Part 1 – A Basic Rundown of RPGs as Income
Yes, it is required.

A long time ago, in the pre-history of gaming, there was no such thing as graphics. You had imagination, paper, dice, and a lot of coca-cola. These were your tools to create a game world, and experience it as only your group could.

Literally, you could do anything. Create and ignore rules at your whims, alter universes because it just made more sense that way, invent new places because they should exist.

These changes were all “In house” because they were your version of the game. You could say the game I’m talking about is D&D, but I’m referring to any RPG that was played among a small group of players.

As time moved forward, players and their house rules were sent to the publishing company of these games. Some adaptations were made cannon and absorbed into the game world and the “core rules.” New games come out, and the process repeated itself. The end-goal of any RPG was to create a series of agreed-upon rules in which all players could participate in the generation of a universe. This is still true to this day.

The end goal of any business that prints and distributes RPG materials is to keep their players happy and playing. Happy players are players who buy your product, and those players are what keeps your business running.

A corollary to the above facts is that any game on the market must be fun to make money, and any service provider related to that game must keep their players happy or the game will stop making money.

For a game to be successful, the players of that game must be happy or they will not pay for the game. Ergo, game companies must keep their players happy to keep making money.

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Part 2 – Evolution of Rules in RPGs
What concepts got lost that make MMORPGs different?

Part of what makes RPGs so fun is that players not only get to shape the world around them, but they also get a say in how the world works. D&D is a perfect example, so I’m going to pick it up and use it.

WotC (Wizards of the Coast) print and publish an average of 20 “splat” books a year. These are books which contain variant rules that “plug-in” to the core rules to potentially enhance the gaming experience of a group. Splat books can be thought of as optional patches.

Every 4 or so years the D&D core rules get an update in version. Rules are added, removed, condensed, simplified, expounded on… the list of revision goes on and on. These revisions could be thought of as optional expansions. The game is the same, but the mechanics are not.

Then you get the dungeon books. You can think of these as optional content patches for DMs that are too lazy to create their own adventures.

All of these things happen and have happened because of one very simple concept: Developers listened to their players.

A very recent example from D&D is the splat book, The Tome of Battle which introduces variant rules and classes which are melee (read: physically) oriented. The book itself came about as complaints that the physical damage classes just have no way to keep up with the magic users in the D&D rule system.

The developers listened to their community, sat down, and tried to play through a session with no magic at all. They failed, and hence, the book arose.

Listening to the community of players who play your game is essential to maintaining a working game. Players are the ones paying for your game…

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Part 3 – Lost Steps, Forgotten Mechanics
Almost like the lost boys, but less playful.

In the world of MMORPGs, you would think that the rules updates would be simpler by a great margin. It makes sense, the only things you really have to work with are class skills and items. Vis-à-vis the “rules updates” should be easy.

Wrong.

Players are, and always will be, greedy. When it comes to the class they play, they only want improvement and not “fairness.” They want to have everything at no cost, and believe that their class is always in need of a boost in one way or another.

When the rules were looked at from the idea of pen and paper RPGs, they could be flexed ad infinitum because the DM had the final say. However when we approach the rules from the stance of an MMORPG, the “idea” becomes more of a disaster.

Changing the rules of an MMORPG (especially one as large as WoW) is akin to a changing a country’s government. No one wants things to change, and so you are met with global opposition.

D&D works because you don’t have a single GM managing 100,000 players. It works because the rules system allows you to do things which are beyond scripting. WoW could NEVER do something close to D&D because the complete rules are both too complex and too powerful to apply to a large player base.

The more players you have, the more restrictive your rules must be. Players are greedy and you can’t keep everyone happy.

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Part 4 – A Word on Classes and Roles
What is the difference between a Warrior and a Fighter?

In D&D there are two classes which to a WoW player would be exactly the same: the Warrior and the Fighter. Both wear heavy armor, can use every weapon in the game, and get nearly identical skills and talent points. The difference between the two of them lies in how they can spend those points.

The D&D Fighter class gets bonus feats unlike any other class in the game and it is this that allows the Fighter to get the 8-feat prerequisite powerful cleaving lightning whirlwind attack which hits for 54D6+8D10+STR damage.

The Warrior class on the other hand can spend his bonus feats on the Turtle Shield wall technique and become basically immune to all damage.

The classes in this case are the “same” but the roles are “different.” The fighter is the “DD” role and the warrior is the “DR” role. A WoW example would be that the Fighter is a Fury warrior whereas the Warrior is a Protection warrior.

The Warrior is NOT the Fighter because of HOW they put points in their class to determines what they do.

What is the difference between a Warrior and a Death Knight?
Ah, finally, direct talk about WoW, something people have probably been waiting for. What IS exactly the difference between a warrior and a Death Knight? Allow me to rephrase that question: What is the SINGULAR difference between the warrior and the Death Knight? The answer: Stylization.

Warrior tanks are all about steady mitigation over long periods of time. They have VERY FEW cooldowns that they can use in emergency situations and place priority on reducing damage rather than outright preventing it. A warrior should never tank like a Death Knight because it’s not how his class was designed to function in the role of a tank.

A juxtaposition of Warriors and Death Knights in the realm of DPS will yield the exact same results: Warriors are not meant to deal damage like a Death Knight because it is not how the Death Knight was designed.

Warriors are NOT Death Knights and should NEVER work like them as it is against the initial design concept of the Warrior.

That’s not how I Role
Both Warriors and Death Knights tank, which puts them both (potentially) in the role of the DR (Damage Receiver). The question then is: “How do I balance tanking from a Warrior’s perspective versus a Death Knight’s and vice-versa?”

This question has no simple answer. You can only balance it out by either adding things to a class or removing things from a class. When you choose to add, you must stay true to the idea of your original class mechanic; when you subtract, you have to add something to take the place of what you removed.

The difficulty here though is that not only Warriors and Death Knights tank, but also Druids and Paladins. How do you balance the 4 classes in the same role? Do you make all of them virtually the same, or only 2 of the four the same? Do you favor one over the other? Do you give one more health but less mitigation?

The sad truth is that NONE of those answers are right. Doing anything I mentioned above is balancing the role instead of balancing the class. “DK’s have more cooldowns,” cries the warrior. “Warriors have Shields!” Retorts the DK. It’s part of playing the class.

Warriors don’t have Icebound Fortitude. Tough. We don’t have shields or shield-block (which is NOT useless. Stop saying that.), get over it.

Balancing classes according to their role is BAD GAME DESIGN.

_____________
Part 5 – A Word on Classes and Roles
What is the difference between a Warrior and a Fighter?

In D&D there are two classes which to a WoW player would be exactly the same: the Warrior and the Fighter. Both wear heavy armor, can use every weapon in the game, and get nearly identical skills and talent points. The difference between the two of them lies in how they can spend those points.

The D&D Fighter class gets bonus feats unlike any other class in the game and it is this that allows the Fighter to get the 8-feat prerequisite powerful cleaving lightning whirlwind attack which hits for 54D6+8D10+STR damage.

The Warrior class on the other hand can spend his bonus feats on the Turtle Shield wall technique and become basically immune to all damage.

The classes in this case are the “same” but the roles are “different.” The fighter is the “DD” role and the warrior is the “DR” role. A WoW example would be that the Fighter is a Fury warrior whereas the Warrior is a Protection warrior.

The Warrior is NOT the Fighter because of HOW they put points in their class to determines what they do.

What is the difference between a Warrior and a Death Knight?
Ah, finally, direct talk about WoW, something people have probably been waiting for. What IS exactly the difference between a warrior and a Death Knight? Allow me to rephrase that question: What is the SINGULAR difference between the warrior and the Death Knight? The answer: Stylization.

Warrior tanks are all about steady mitigation over long periods of time. They have VERY FEW cooldowns that they can use in emergency situations and place priority on reducing damage rather than outright preventing it. A warrior should never tank like a Death Knight because it’s not how his class was designed to function in the role of a tank.

A juxtaposition of Warriors and Death Knights in the realm of DPS will yield the exact same results: Warriors are not meant to deal damage like a Death Knight because it is not how the Death Knight was designed.

Warriors are NOT Death Knights and should NEVER work like them as it is against the initial design concept of the Warrior.

That’s not how I Role
Both Warriors and Death Knights tank, which puts them both (potentially) in the role of the DR (Damage Receiver). The question then is: “How do I balance tanking from a Warrior’s perspective versus a Death Knight’s and vice-versa?”

This question has no simple answer. You can only balance it out by either adding things to a class or removing things from a class. When you choose to add, you must stay true to the idea of your original class mechanic; when you subtract, you have to add something to take the place of what you removed.

The difficulty here though is that not only Warriors and Death Knights tank, but also Druids and Paladins. How do you balance the 4 classes in the same role? Do you make all of them virtually the same, or only 2 of the four the same? Do you favor one over the other? Do you give one more health but less mitigation?

The sad truth is that NONE of those answers are right. Doing anything I mentioned above is balancing the role instead of balancing the class. “DK’s have more cooldowns,” cries the warrior. “Warriors have Shields!” Retorts the DK. It’s part of playing the class.

Warriors don’t have Icebound Fortitude. Tough. We don’t have shields or shield-block (which is NOT useless. Stop saying that.), get over it.

Balancing classes according to their role is BAD GAME DESIGN.

_____________
Part 6 – I’m a Warrior… No, Really, I am.
It just LOOKS like I’m a Death Knight. But see, I got a shield!

As of patch 3.1.0, I wonder why Death Knights will volunteer to tank at all.

Druids get more health; Warriors now have our #1 tanking cooldown as a direct copy of Icebound Fortitude; Paladins deal more damage…

So what do we do? Take less damage from magic? Have DoTs? What makes a DK tank unique from every other class?

One word: Cooldown.

Death Knights are, from their inception, edgy mofo’s. They’ve already been killed once, raised in service to Arthas, and then sent to die AGAIN. Then, after coming close to death two more times, they traded their life for killing countless thousands of their own kin and countrymen in the name of the Lich King. Death Knights are fearless.

Unlike those sissy warriors, we live on the edge. A Death Knight with the two best DK tanking trinkets in the game (Repelling Charge and Valor Medal of the Third War) has access to: Icebound Fortitude, a talent-based damage reduction mechanic, Bone Armor or Will of the Necropolis or Lichborne / Unbreakable Armor, ghetto Last Stand, and Super Dodge. That is anywhere from 3 to 5 cooldowns that can, and should be, cycled at all times.

Why then are warriors getting a 1 minute CD shield wall? They don’t live on the edge OR tank with a 2H sword — or, god forbid, Duel-Wield tank. Warriors tank with a shield, they have talents specifically designed around a shield. Warriors are the masters of shields.

In fact, IBF exists primarily to mitigate the effects of getting parry-gibed on bosses when you are DW tanking, not as an “Oh SHIT” button. Suck on that Trebeck.

The misuse of a skill given to Death Knights has led to warriors finding it desirable.

Blizzard has chosen to, in essence, give warriors a death knight ability.

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Part 7 – A Last Glance Behind: Star Wars Galaxies in Retrospect
Yes, it is important. Read it.

Unlike a lot of WoW players, I played SWG before the “Jump to Lightspeed” patch was even conceived. I was playing SWG on the Tarquinnis server before the first combat “upgrade,” and it was one of the most fun MMOs I’ve ever played.

For me it was the crafting system that made the game fun. However, others found more joy in the PvP aspect of the game — silly as it was. There was virtually no threat mechanic, and endgame PvE content just plain didn’t exist as we think of it today (think back to EQ1).

Still, for a long time, SWG was fun. Immersing oneself in the lore of Star Wars and choosing a side (Rebel v. Imperial) were some of the best game ideas to hit the MMO market. Unfortunately it also came with one of the worst ideas to hit the MMO market: Jedi.

Jedi were, at the release of the class, over-powered. They were designed to exist in very small numbers and required a complicated, lore-filled series of quests — HIDDEN QUESTS MIND YOU! — to become one. Jedi had abilities that blew other classes out of the water. They were what a hero class is supposed to be.

The justification for Jedi was that a world full of Star Wars lore would not be complete without them, and they should exist in some fashion. Fair enough.

The problems arose when some idiot actually figured out how to unlock Jedi and made a forum post detailing how to do it. Wonderful. Now you have a balance issue. This, of course, leads to what is referred to publicly as The Worst Game Decision Ever Made in the History of MMORPGs to date.

Yeah. It was that bad.

SoE decided that they were going to balance the entire combat system around ONE class: The Jedi. This yielded the “Combat Upgrade” content patch along with a new looking UI and an overhaul of the Jedi class all rolled up into one miserable ball. Within weeks, SWG lost 85% of its player subscriptions. The remaining 15% would slowly leave over the next 10 weeks.

SoE removed the individuality of the classes by balancing them to roles centered around ONE class.

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Part 8 – Recap: Normalization Doesn’t Create Balance
Because it was TL and you DR’d

I know that was a LOT of posts to read, and to anyone who actually plowed through that behemoth of a saga, I congratulate and thank you.

Allow me to list, in order, the summarizations of each section and what they mean when tied together:

  1. For a game to be successful, the players of that game must be happy or they will not pay for the game. Ergo, game companies must keep their players happy to keep making money.
  2. Listening to the community of players who play your game is essential to maintaining a working game. Players are the ones paying for your game.
  3. The more players you have, the more restrictive your rules must be. Players are greedy and you can’t keep everyone happy.

The main focus of these three points is simply that a game must make its players happy and make them want to keep playing if the game will generate revenue for the company that runs it. Games that do not accept community input are ignoring the will of the community and are more prone to failing than their counterparts. It also touches on the idea that players are greedy and you can’t keep everyone happy all the time.

  1. The D&D warrior is NOT the D&D fighter because of HOW they put points in their class to determine what they do.
  2. Warriors are NOT Death Knights and should NEVER work like them, as it is against the initial design concept of the Warrior.
  3. Balancing classes according to their role is BAD GAME DESIGN
  4. Blizzard has balanced the Warrior class tanking role by changing shield wall — a defining protection warrior skill/talent — into a Death Knight skill.
  5. The misuse of a skill given to Death Knights has led to warriors finding it desirable. Blizzard has chosen to, in essence, give warriors a death knight ability.
  6. SoE removed the individuality of the classes by balancing them to roles centered around ONE class. As a result, they lost 85% of their players. The remaining 15% would slowly leave over the next 10 weeks.

This saga has focused more on what Blizzard is doing with the warrior class as a result of uneducated trolling on the WoW forums, as compared to a game that did EXACTLY the same thing. Mind, SoE w/ SWG was a game-wide change and blizzard is — so far — only adjusting DKs and Warriors.

Expect more mind-numbing changes and individuality sapping alterations in the next couple of patches.

You made it to the end! Thanks for Reading!

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One Response to The Saga of DK Normalization Does not Balance Make

  1. BillyWallace says:

    Very well written! It got me itching to grab my sack…OF DICE!!! Really, where’s your mind at!?

    I admit that your description of warriors as “sissies” ruffled my feathers a bit. I promise you that I can “live on the edge”,in fact to the dismay of my healers, I often do just that! You all just feel cooler doing it because you’re so OP! 🙂

    Seriously though, I agree a lot with what you’re saying here. I love the distinct flavor of each class of tank. I’m bothered a bit by the homogenization of them. And I tire of people whining about other classes being “OP”.

    But even Ciderhelm, who I have always gotten the impression that he feels warriors have been able to tank just about everything in game as good as the other classes, has recently been vocal on the official forums about the large advantage DK’s have over all other tanking classes in fights like Sarth.

    I kind of feel like Blizzard painted themself into the corner with the “Take the player not the class” idea. Ideally it’s nice, but how does that work in reality?

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