Tanking and Aggro Management

Among all the reputation-gaining with the Netherwing faction that I did over the weekend, I also ended up joining a group to run through Setthek Halls. I'm pretty sure it was mostly, if not completely, the same group with whom I ran through Auchenai Crypts last week, so I may have made it on to someone's friends list, which is pretty good. Of course, he could have just seen me in Ironforge, as he was standing next to me when I got the invitational whisper. It also meant that the group was slightly better than a pick-up group in a way, which means a more coherent unit and less bickering overall.

The run through Setthek Halls was successful, with only a couple of wipes. The first was when I was a-feared in to a new bunch of mobs, and the second was on the final boss. The wipe on the boss wasn't terribly surprising, given his special abilities, but it was also not that surprising because of a different element, that of the damage meter. The mage in the group was running a damage meter and was keen to out-damage the rogue. That's fair enough, as a bit of competition can be healthy, but it was taken a little to the extreme, to the point where I, as the tank, was not allowed to gain good aggro on a mob before it was thoroughly attacked by the other members of the group.

This is where my theory of aggro management as the tank comes in. It is my duty to hold aggro wherever necessary, and I will do my utmost to perform this duty. I have several abilities that create large amounts of threat, and I use them wherever possible. I even have a 'taunt' ability that will force a mob to concentrate on me if it isn't doing so. All this lets me ensure that the mobs hit me, with my large damage reduction from armour and large pool of hit points, and not the squishy cloth wearers, particularly the healer. And that's an important point to note: I don't want the healer to get squished. If the healer dies, so do I and the rest of the group. Other members of the group, however, are more expendable. Thus my theory of aggro management.

I will do my best to get and hold a mob's aggro, and multiple mobs if required. I will make sure that if I lose a mob's aggro I will get it back before it does undue damage, taunting it if necessary. I will even try to get aggro back if it is stolen from me, but in this case I will rarely taunt the target. There are two reasons for this.

First, the taunt ability is on a cool-down timer. I have trained the talents required to reduce this cool-down period, but it is still long enough for me to need it available as much as possible for emergencies. I don't want to have to pull a mob off the mage only to see another mob pull loose and start hitting the healer. That's bad news.

Second, a mob's aggro generally only gets stolen from me, not lost, when a player is too eager or naive to let me gain aggro in the first place. When I am aiming a shot from my gun at a mob to gain initial aggro and I see the mage standing next to me already casting fireball there is only one result. My shot will do low three-digit damage, whereas a fireball with do four-digit damage. The mage will get the aggro.

I will do my best to pull the mob off the mage in this case, but I won't do everything possible. This may seem arrogant, but the fact is that I don't want my duty to be made harder than it needs to be. If given just a couple of seconds on a mob, I can hold aggro well enough until it dies, without having to worry about taunting it on every cool-down, or chasing it back to the mage or hunter occasionally. It also lets the damage dealers maximise their output, as long as I'm given that initial time to build up some threat.

There are ways to enlighten players about giving the tank time to gain aggro. One is to tell them through group chat that I would like a few seconds to get a couple of good hits before they start firing. Another is to let them see first-hand what happens when they nuke the mob before allowing me this time, and having the mob beat them almost to death, if not until they die. If they get killed I find it the ideal time to repeat my request for a few initial hits, in a friendly manner. They tend to get the point.

It also helps me relax a bit. I'll take responsibility gladly for holding aggro and losing it, but it's great to just relax and let stolen aggro take its course. The Setthek Hall run was perhaps not the smoothest, but it was good that the mage understood that his pursuit of being top of the damage meter had consequences, and he was happy to take them. I didn't get tense about it, everyone had fun, and we completed the instance. The mage and priest even got their class-trousers, which was good.

The only downside to my approach to aggro management is that unless the healer thinks the same way he will end up healing some squishy party members on occasion too. This healing will need to be more aggressive owing to the significantly lower armour, and this leads to the healer gaining more aggro. With the taunt ability kept in reserve for such emergencies as the healer taking damage I don't see this as too much of a problem. If the healer starts to gain aggro regularly I shall review my aggro management stance, but until then I am happy with the way I tank.

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