Group Roles in Games: the Trinity

I have been following a few pre-release forums for MMOs lately, and one thing they all have in common is the constant bickering between the pro-trinity and the anti-trinity camps.  The so-called “Trinity” is a group setup used to define group roles in a RPG, it is used in most fantasy MMOs out there. In general, the pro-trinity camp believes that it is impossible to make multiplayer encounters that don’t use the trinity so we might as well appreciate it. The anti-trinity camp finds the concept dated and, well, awfully boring and would prefer if encounters supported more group setups.

The Trinity is the concept that there are only three dedicated group roles when playing a multiplayer/party-based RPG: the meatshield, the “can of band-aids,” and the guy with a toothpick. The meatshield, called the tank, has one job: to attract the mobs using what is called “threat generation” abilities. They usually wear big armor and shout insults to all the enemies with their skills. The “can of band-aids” is the healer, who spend all his time scanning the party list to find a party member to spam an healing ability on. Healers usually stand in the back, spamming heals on tanks. The guy with a toothpick is the damage dealer, his job is to kill the mobs as fast as possible while avoiding gaining “aggro” (enemies’s attentions). The setup is really easy, all players should know what they are supposed to do. The Trinity is what I like to call “strategy for dummies,” it uses the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

There are only three advantages to the Trinity: developers have an easy time designing encounters, balancing class is easy, and it’s “easy” to know what you are supposed to do. As you can see, only one of the advantages are from a player’s perspective. In fact, players are why the Trinity is a failed concept: it works great on paper, but in practice it doesn’t work at all. The reason for the failure is simple: 2/3 of the trinity is boring to play, which means that really few people like to play the tanks and healers. That 2/3 also happen to be blamed when a group fails the content. Waiting hours in a online games to do a 45-minute dungeon doesn’t enter in the concept of fun for a lot of people. This problem could be easily resolved if game developers were more creative when designing the classes. Tanks and Healers aren’t popular because of the playstyles, not because of their roles. Making them more proactive and dynamic would improve their player base.

So why do people want games to support the Trinity, if it’s not fun? I have been reading for and against posts for almost two years now and here are my conclusions:

People who want to have the trinity Fall into three categories:

  1. They play healers.
  2. They want dumb content, while claiming to want a challenge.
  3. They think that changing something will only result in a failed concept.

Group 1 works on fear; fear that without the trinity they will be out of a job.
Group 2 works on the concept that people are stupid and that taking five minutes to kill something in a game is “challenging,” so they believe that not having the trinity will turn everything super easy because there won’t be any group role (which is not true, but whatever).
Group 3 are the typical conservators: people who just hate change because it’s change.

People who are against the Trinity also fall in categories:

  1. They don’t want to be forced in a role.
  2. They find the encounters using that strategy boring.
  3. They played games that didn’t use it and it worked.

Group 1 is totally right, nobody should force me to play a specific role if I’m not interested.
Group 2 is a matter of opinion, but the Trinity encounters rarely leave places for dynamic results.
Group 3 is self-explanatory; once you taste something and it’s good, you want to see more of it.

As you can see, it’s just like politics. Neither side will ever back down from their positions. Although, sometimes I wonder if pro-trinity really know what they are talking about, especially when they use games that didn’t really use the Trinity as example or if the anti-trinity really hates the concept, or if what they really hate is all the drama it creates. Personally, I don’t really care about the Trinity, I would prefer if I was able to make up my own strategy for group encounters (which I’m able to do 99% of the time anyway), but what I think is the most important is to have fun. So if the trinity gets in the way of my fun, I don’t like it, if the trinity doesn’t get in the way, I’m OK with it.

5 replies on “Group Roles in Games: the Trinity”

Personally, I don’t really care about the Trinity, I would prefer if I was able to make up my own strategy for group encounters (which I’m able to do 99% of the time anyway), but what I think is the most important is to have fun.

I’m with you on this front. Losing the HT is one of the things I’m interested in seeing with GW2 (want to see how it works in game play). If I’m reading what they’re doing correctly, you can still play HT-style if you really, really want to, but it isn’t a requirement (yay!).

Playing HT in GW2? I doubt it. There’s no aggro management and no single target healing abilities. Which mean that
a) the “tank” will die fast,
b) the enemies don’t have to bother with the tank and go straight to more annoying players.

Also, GW1 is already considered as a none-HT game (and it have a dedicated healing class).

Now, if ArenaNet can release the last 2 classes, so I can write a preview for GW2.

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