If you consider the general flow of World of Warcraft, it tends to boil down to "kill that mob." (Yes, I'm focused on PvE here.) And I am talking about, here, the very fundamental core of what we're doing when we play the game. You, the hero, the protagonist, the righteous defender!, are trying to kill that critter, villain, demon, or otherwise evil bastard.
Sure, there's a lot of bells and whistles. The Auction House is keen, and crafting sure takes up a bunch of time. Gold's worthwhile, and Elune knows I spend way too much time sweating my vanity mounts. But really, when it comes down to the brass tacks -- we're killin' that mob. But there's a key: we're trying to kill that mob, before it kills us.
The method we use, built into the very backbone of the game's design, involves the Holy Trinity of group composition: Tank, Healer, Damage. There's a second cousin to tanking called Crowd Control. Some tanks love their cousin, and prefer to have them involved in every outing. Other tanks aren't such a fan of their relative, and prefer to keep Crowd Control at the little kid's table.
The great Trinity of group composition works like this. Your Damage folks kill the mob, while the Tank holds it back from killing the Damage folks. The Healer keeps the Tank on his feet, and tops off the Damagers whenever they take some incidental damage. If the mob has friends that the Tank can't keep off the Damagers, cousin Crowd Control steps in and removes them from play until later.
But, why should the mob -- hereafter, the Bad Guy -- attack the Tank, instead of coming around to take huge, slavering bites out of the squishy Damagers? That, my friend is simple: aggro.
Aggro can be called a bunch of stuff: hate, threat, anger, for example. But it's all the same thing. Aggro is a "list" that compiles in the subconscious of the Bad Guy's thoughts, and (usually) he's going to attack whoever is at the top of that list.
The Tank's challenge, then, is to stay at the top of the aggro list. While the Damagers deal in damage-per-second, and may healers operate in heals-per-second, a Tank's output can be referred to as "threat-per-second." And, boy, do we love getting into discussions about what generate the most threat-per-second.
Just about everything generates some level of threat. Heals, damaging abilities, and taunts form the top of the list. I've seen even a mage's Evocate draw aggro -- and that doesn't hurt anyone! It doesn't take much of an accident to find yourself pulling aggro away from the tank, so it's pretty key that we're constantly monitoring it.
There are a handful of mods that you can use to keep an eye on your threat output. Omen and KTM are just two of the available Add Ons. In Wrath of the Lich King, there's going to be a built-in interface for threat control, but it still seems a long way from being completed.
So, if you're watching your threat meter, and you realize "Oh, noes! I have stolen aggro from the tank!," you have the option to hit your "aggro-dump." Most classes have one of those abilities. A few have no ability to lose aggro (Warrior, Shaman) except. . .die. And yeah -- when you die, you lose all of your aggro. Of course, keep in mind -- some classes dump aggro entirely (Hunter's Feign Death), while others kinda mask it for a bit (Priest's Fade). If all you're doing is masking your aggro, your full amount of threat will be right back when the ability wears off. Be sure you know which your aggro dump does before you get into the instances, if you can.
This, my friend, is "aggro." It is the amount of "hate" you've earned from a mob. And when you're at the top of the list, the mob will attack and perhaps kill you.
The fundamental principle of tanking is that we can take the hit, or at least take enough hits that the healer has time to keep us alive. Most Damagers don't, which is why you need us. So, mind your aggro, and all will be well.
This simple explanation is all for this week's Tank Talk. It's a pretty basic idea, so I tried to keep it short. We want to make sure it was quick to read. Get out there, and kill some stuff!