Aggro, hate, threat, whatever term you prefer to use for the unpleasant attention of monsters, is a fundamental part of MMOs. Let’s assume for a minute we’re stuck with the class system (as in character classes, not the struggle of the proletariat and bourgeoisie). At a basic level, you probably have a tank, healer and damage dealer. The tank holds the aggro, the healer heals the tank, the damage dealer… anyone want to take a guess? Award yourself ten points if you said “deals damage”, five points for “flounces around for a bit then turns up after the hard work is done to shout ‘MY KILL'”, and if you said “pulls the aggro off the tank, uses up all the healer’s manna in a futile attempt to keep him alive, causes a wipe, then insults the rest of the group for not doing their job and quits in a huff” then award yourself a stiff drink and a bit of a lie-down.
(Disclaimer: I invariably *play* damage dealing classes, I’m allowed to say stuff like that.)
Obviously there’s a lot of variation: other roles such as crowd control and buffing/debuffing might be performed by dedicated classes or combined in others; damage dealing often comes in ranged and melee flavours; hybrid classes perform multiple roles with varying degrees of efficiency; some classes may have pets to perform other roles, etc. etc., but at the end of the day, some classes are designed to be better at surviving the attention of monsters, and part of the game is to make sure they’re the ones being attacked, rather than the squishy types standing behind them.
This is where things get a bit tricky. Due to class balance, the better a class is at soaking up damage (or avoiding it), the worse they have to be at other things (typically dealing damage). This makes the typical MMO tank a peculiar beast without many parallels; the tank from whence they got their name, the armoured fighting vehicle, is heavily armoured, true, but it also has a socking great gun for shooting stuff (momentary diversion for tank grognards: granted, you can find some better examples if you really try, like the early WWII British Matilda II, with very heavy armour and comparatively poor firepower, but never mind).
Lack of damage means tanks need another way of getting and keeping the attention of mobs, often some form of “taunt” or “provoke” ability to gain extra aggro. Other classes may have specific abilities to reduce aggro caused by their own attacks/healing, or may just need to consider their own actions slightly more carefully (like waiting until the tank has stormed into combat before drawing too much attention to yourself). This works as a game mechanic, especially for giving the damage dealer a bit more to think about than how many buttons he can press to inflict indiscriminate havoc and devastation upon the surrounding area, but it can seem very artificial; how does aggro reduction work, are you pointing behind the mob shouting “Look! Behind you! A badger, with a gun!”? Is the tank’s taunt something like “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” while tapping his helmet in a strange fashion? One of the best analogies I remember is someone from the City of Heroes boards, likening being a Tanker to sitting in an armoured dustbin getting beaten by mobs, occasionally popping your head up to shout “YO MAMA’S SO FAT!” at them to keep their attention. It’s even more of a problem trying to adapt this system to Player versus Player combat, where you can’t force players on one team to attack a certain player on the other without some fairly extreme intervention (like the tank’s taunt rendering the opposition unable to target anyone else).
As per usual, I’ve no real solution to the situation, though in writing this I have realised if any MMO includes a “French Taunting Knight” tank class who gets to shout “You don’t frighten us with your silly knees-bent running around advancing behavior!”, I’m playing it in a shot…
May I direct your attention to
That’s how taunts should be done =)
Warriors in World of Warcraft have more than just the taunt ability to gain a mob’s attention. Many of their abilities generate high amounts of threat, which is how they become ‘sticky’, i.e. other players can’t pull the mobs off them. Taunt is an ability that allows the tank to regain aggro for a small amount of time, which allows a couple of things to happen. One is that the mob’s attacks are now back on the tank, taking damage away from a different character, and the second, which is interconnected, is that because the mob is now attacking the tank he is getting more rage from being hit. The more rage a warrior gets, the more he can use his abilities, and the better he is at performing his role. Taunt is only temporary, though, and the tank needs to build up enough additional threat during the time the mob is taunted to keep the mob’s attention on the tank once the taunt wears off.
As for the actual mechanics of taunt, there are ways to interpret it. It’s possible that the warrior, on training, learns ways to intimidate or rile up different races and creatures, or ways that are almost guaranteed to grab their attention, remembering that taunt can be resisted. It could be that it is more than just an oral shout, and has the warrior physically molest the mob in some way as well, although this is not graphically shown in the game and nor do I remember if taunt can be used when silenced. If you want an all-encompassing, but slightly hand-waving, explanation, here it is: the world is inherently magical. It amuses me slightly when people wonder about the mechanics of one thing or another and yet seem to take for granted that physical bolts of frost can be conjured up and ‘thrown’ at people to damage and slow then down, or magical healing, or any of the other magical effects in the game. Maybe taunt is just another one of these effects, perhaps the only slightly magical effect the warrior can perform amongst all the physical.
I don’t see why taunt, and other PvE mechanics, were not built in to PvP. I don’t think it would be difficult, and probably not even overpowering. I have thought about this quite a bit, and have considered how the mechanics could be modified between PvE and PvP. Taunt, if not resisted, would make the taunted player target the taunting warrior, and this target cannot be changed or cancelled until the taunt ends. That’s not to say the player must -attack- the warrior, just that they cannot target anyone else. Taunt is, in fact, a debuff; it appears on mobs that are taunted. The same would happen on players of an opposing faction. The same can be done for a priest’s fade ability, but in reverse. If not resisted, the priest cannot be targeted until the fade ends. You can still get hit by AoEs, but no one can target you specifically. There is a similar mechanic implemented, with a rogue’s stealth.
So why has this not been done? It seems grossly unfair to me that some classes, like the protection warrior, have essential class ability mechanics removed from PvP, making them next to useless, when there seem to be clear ways to implement them. If they seem too powerful, have them subject to diminishing return, which fear abilities are all ready subject to.
Oh, as for abilities generating high amounts of threat, I would consider that mostly theatrics. Big, showy moves that are specifically performed to be intimidating or to grab attention.
Mr Stabby may be doing more damage, but the warrior can hit the mob as a direct counterattack, making the mob think twice about directing attention away from the warrior. If the mob does that, it will feel more vulnerable. A shield being smacked in to the mob’s face is a good attention grabber. Destroying the mob’s armour is pretty threatening. And maybe the warrior specifically hits open wounds caused by someone else, causing more pain than damage, and thus generating more threat.
I was talking in general terms; I know WoW warriors don’t just stand around pressing an “ATTACK MEH!” button, the variety of techniques for gaining, holding and losing aggro in Warcraft form a more “believable” system than many games. The rogue’s 0.71 threat multiplier vs the defensive warrior’s 1.3, for example, which fits with your example of a warrior’s flashy attacks that may not be as damaging as rogue’s precision strikes, but draw more attention.
Hex’s idea of a taunt as a debuff is interesting; Dungeons and Dragons Online took the Intimidate skill, which in the paper and pencil game debuffs the target if successful, and made it an MMO-style forced-target taunt. If they’d left it as a debuff, but not applied the penalty to attacks on the person using the skill, you might get the best of both worlds, especially for PvP.
Speaking of PvP, from the forums: “As far as a straight up Taunt that would potentially change targets of another player, the devs have often said they think it’s too clunky and intrusive. Generally, they don’t want players changing other players’ targets.”
PvP being about the biggest can of worms around, without wishing to open it and delve right into the wriggly goodness, I can see their point; intrusive abilities can make PvP incredibly frustrating, but it’s hard to see how a chance at forced targeting would be worse than stuns, fear, stacked movement impairment that can cripple a melee class and all the other joys of battlegrounds.
 Yes, it’s never a good idea to poke too far into “believability” in a MMO, but for whatever reason it’s more jarring to me that (in some games) an otherwise magic-less character can shout “Oy! You!”, and six feet away a monster goes “Who? Me?” and toddles on over, than the fact that Geoff the Mage is lofting fiery death around. Just don’t ask me how a rogue is “stealthy” in a totally featureless desert in the middle of the day…
Bleh. If someone is taunted, change their target and then turn them to face the person who successfully taunted them. Taunt can only be used within 5 yards, maybe 10, and has a long-enough cool-down for it not to be abused, so it’s hardly going to be any more intrusive than, as you stay, stunning or fearing a target.
Taunt appears as a debuff anyway, and the players will soon realise what is happening. Unlike, for example, an NPC’s shield bash. Having not played a warrior before levelling up my spell caster, I raised a ticket when I was being kicked or bashed by mobs and finding out that I couldn’t cast spells for x seconds. After all, there was no debuff and no indication of why I couldn’t. Having a ‘taunt’ debuff with proper tool-tip is all they would need to do.