Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

I’ll Stab You in the Face — An MMO Guide

I don’t know what happened a few days ago, but my agent is super-pissed at me. Whatever you said to Mr. Duckley has put him in a pretty bad mood, and he mentioned something about needing extra time to answer all of your (in his words) “skull-achingly cretinous queries”.

So I thought I’d put this up to pass the time. It’s an edited version of an article I did a while back, based around the various complexities of being an MMO player. In this case, it’s about having to deal with Tanks.

Note: As with all future I’ll Stab You in the Face instalments, this will make no sense to people who don’t play MMOs. Feel free to go elsewhere for lore on your erudite and urbane hobbies, whatever they may be.

Without further ado:

– A Guide to Working with Tanks –

“Sonic Boom. Sonic Boom. Sonic Boom.” — Guile, famous DPSer.

Three PvE roles exist in World of WarCraft, yet only one is played by mature, reasonable, intelligent, witty, handsome, charming and well-adjusted human beings. That role is called DPS, or Damage per Second. Even the name expresses an air of danger. A thrill-ride, a racing heart barely contained behind a mere mortal’s ribcage – a soul devoted not just to the application of pain; not simply the unleashing of injury upon other souls; but actually calculating how much agony it can inflict every single second.

The other two roles are populated by people who’ve dedicated many years of their lives to convincing everyone that they’re the valuable ones – that they’re the ones who have it so damn hard. These people would have you believe that they hold it all together in their stalwart, godly hands, while the rest of creation burns.

These people are liars.

The lyingest, most dishonestest role of them all is called the Tank. You’ll notice there’s no acronym for them, and it’s fairly obvious why: if their name needed more than one word, they’d likely just get confused trying to abbreviate it. That’s the kind of mind we’re dealing with, here.

Sometimes, if a Tank is feeling particularly witty and up to the task of stringing more than five words together, they’ll take time from placing brightly-coloured icons above monsters’ heads to tell you how they’ve “graduated” from your role because “DPS just wasn’t interesting enough”.

That’s funny, right?

They’re funny guys.

When dealing with a Tank, you’ve got to be careful. They’re not like me and you.

A Tank, communicating with his guild.

So what is a Tank? Good question.

Because of game mechanics, one character in an adventuring party needs to be the one to take all the damage from the bad guys. That’s the Tank. The Tank is healed by the Healer, leaving the DPS to actually do all the damage to the enemies while the Tank keeps them busy. The Tank itself does next to no damage.

And this leads to an intriguing situation.

I ask again: So what is a Tank?

Put simply, a Tank is someone who is categorically, objectively unable to win any of the fights they start.

Tanks will charge headlong into battles of absolutely unwinnable odds, and they’ll genuinely think they’ve got it covered. After several seconds, the light of truth will start to shine in their eyes – which is about the same time their heads get cracked open and the lion’s share of their blood is on the wrong side of their skin.

It’s at that point you need to come save them again.

A tank against one of the many raid bosses in WoW.

I’m not even kidding. I do this basically 800 times per dungeon.

The most famous example of a tank’s skill in warfare is also the classic example of a pedantic child who gets in over his head and needs his friends to come and save him: Luke Skywalker. Although Luke eventually respecs DPS and kills his own dad for a laugh, he’s still a typical tank back in The Empire Strikes Back. It was his job to keep the bad guys busy while his friends ran around and got the real shit done.

Take the climactic scene of Empire, where Luke’s friends have either already escaped under their own power, or have been captured and shipped away to a space slug’s house before Luke can actually do anything about it. He runs in, lightsaber swinging, with hilarious results. He fails to save his friends, starts a fight he can’t win, then demands that his chums come back to save him after his excellent plan of falling of a bridge turns out to be pointless.


If Tanks were just overconfident and stupid, that would be enough for us to sigh in their presence, and wisely avoid them whenever we could. But it’s not even the worst thing. Not by miles.

Tanks are the worst kind of friend to have because they don’t even realise how needy they are. They think they’re righteously awesome. Seriously, they do. It’s the attitude that sucks, man.

Imagine you have a friend that borrows money from you all the time; who begs you to come to bars with him to play wingman, since here’s too shy to meet women without help; who comes to you with all his personal problems and demands that you solve them.

Now imagine that every single day (even as you help him), he gives you a line about how dependent you are on his wonderful company, and about how hopeless you are without him, even as he’s starting another fight he can’t win.

And if you stand there, if you try to let them learn their lesson by watching them actually take the bruises their own actions have earned, then Tanks believe that makes you the dick.

Not them. You.

We’re talking about the kind of friend who’ll start a fight in a bar, then run back to you with nine screaming guys armed with pool cues. Your buddy expects you to, y’know, “maybe just beat up seven or eight of them, okay?” while he’s “totally got this one guy, right here.”

Despite all of this, a Tank will still act like he’s the M to the Otherfucker.

Testicron of <Poonstabbers>, only moments before typing "/rw LAST STAND USED"

The most confusing thing about tanks is that they beg you to hit something for them, and then get mad when you hit it too hard.

The concept of Aggro (or Threat) is a tried and tested mechanic in MMO battles. Monsters deal with whichever character has accrued the most Threat in the group. In an ideal world, that would be the Tank. The problem is, a Tank will tell you to kill a monster as fast as possible, little realising that while he’s Tabbed out and checking Facebook for how fat the hot girls in college have become, all the time you’re stabbing the bad guy in the spine, you’re generating a lot of Threat.

This is known as the Pain Paradox.

A Tank’s cowardly laziness runs along specific needs. He wants to be the centre of attention at all times, taunting the bad guys like some kind of wankery-fuelled jester capering across the battlefield – and yet he wants you to kill every single bastard in the enemy army without even being seen. So… kill everyone… but don’t cause them enough pain to actually notice you’re killing them.

Amazing. That’s Tank logic, right there.

Han Solo: Cool, calm, collected, and getting shit done. The Patron Saint of DPS.

And it’s not always easy. I’m given to understand this is the kind of thing ninjas train their whole lives to achieve.

Worse still, this can lead to the most preeningly bum-facedly annoying comment in all of gaming: “You spank it, you tank it LOL”.

Tanks love saying that. Probably because it rhymes. Little things like that let them feel creative.

What they mean by this insipid phrase is that it’s cool for them to start nine million fights they can’t win, but if you ever do it, you’re on your own. Nope, don’t even think of asking for help. You started the fight. You dared to act without the Tank’s permission. You deal with it on your own. You spanked it, you tank it. LOL.

Most Tanks I know couldn’t even spell “inequality”, let alone grasp the fundamentals of why this concept is unfair. I tried to explain it to a Tank once, but he just got annoyed I was interrupting a song he was singing about himself over Skype while we were going through the undead citadel of Naxxramas.

Of course, none of this applies to the Tanks in my guild, because Heather and Sander are both lovely.

November 29, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,


  1. Dude, that is so unfair. My main is a tank, and we do great. I say WE because I full well know that if it were up to me doing all the killing, we’d be there a long…long time.

    Yes, I tank. I’m watching my healer and DPS buddies like a hawk and pulling aggro off them so they can do their job. That’s my job. I pull aggro. Killing isn’t really my job so much. I can do a little damage, but my forte is pulling aggro off the squishies so they can kill shit.

    Really, it doesn’t matter who pulled that critter, if my Mage is getting roughed up, I tbring that critter to me…pick on someone their own size!

    Ultimately, it all sorts out. I hold them by the note, my buddies do the snickity-snack and we all get XP and lewts.

    If my tank dies, everyone runs, rezzes me and likely helps me repair my shit, otherwise, I’m the giant punching bag. I’m cool with it. I know that rogue or mage does Pi to the 3rd magnitude more damage than I do. No ego there. They are the glass cannons, I take all the beatings. That’s how it works.

    We all have a job to do. It’s not a DPS world out there, or a Tank world, or healer or anything else. It’s a team-thing and as long as nobody is a primma donna (even you DPS-types) we all get our lewts.


    Kiss Kiss

    Comment by Jeff Preston | November 29, 2010 | Reply

    • *On a more serious note. I think Tanking like Healing is a difficult role. I don’t mean taking a tank class, any dipshit can do that (and they usually do), but actually fulfilling the role.

      Tank is almost a default newbie class. people want to try something out, want to solo, want to survive…they take tanks. This doesn’t make them any good at tanking though.

      To tank you need to keep a focus on your team mates and make sure they don’t get owned. Much like the healer. The healer often has the tank on primary and others, keeps an eye out, but that tank needs to stay on his feet. NP.

      DPS? Really? Shoot the big one. That’s pretty much it. Just kill shit.

      There’s a lot more to tanking/ healing etc than just taking the class. I think healers “get it” up front as they are almost by definition a party/ team player class. Tanks…good tanks are rare.

      I hate pugs more often than not. I like playing with people who know their role in the party. Rage quitters I think are the worst though.


      Comment by Jeff Preston | November 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Amen, brother tank! Those damn whinging DPSers. Think they’re so flashy and cool, just because they get all the killing blows…

      All talk, and they can’t take a hit. Watch them shatter like glass without us!

      Comment by Mossy | November 29, 2010 | Reply

      • Agreed. I myself am an aspiring Chaos Chosen tank/dps, my class counts as both, on Warhammer Online. Ill admit that DPS are important because without them fights would take forever, and I won’t plug myself as amazing because im not, I can handle myself fairly well but im far from being a great tank. But tanks are important, without them other classes wouldn’t last in fights and ive seen it happen.

        Though on WAR Online Destruction tanks, im not sure about Order since I don’t play them, can’t heal themselves so we have to focus on the enemy and let the healers handle keeping us from being dead. So its easier to focus on the enemy when there’s nothing else to focus on ingame.

        I tried World of Warcraft but it didn’t interest me, far too much emphasis on grinding. Waiting for The Old Republic to come around and kick its ass and take its throne as the MMO King.

        Comment by Lord of the Night | November 30, 2010

  2. While I have a feeling there’s going to be a similar dissertation regarding healers in the near future, I have to agree whole-heartedly as a person who leveled a Holy Priest (Facebonez!) completely through the random dungeon finder. What makes them frustratingly worse is that they can instantly queue and get into any dungeon like a rapper getting into a night club, and if they rage-quit the rest of the party is left playing with their Pandaren Brewmasters until some other meat-shield drops in.

    Not to mention the complete lack of consideration for mana-consuming characters. I don’t drink – you die!

    Comment by dethmunky | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  3. It’s a team thing. That said, I would rather have a bad tank than have a bad DPS ANY day of the week. But who am I to talk, I started playing as a paladin and i’ve only ever healed in raids. Easiest job ever. God i loved my paladin…

    Comment by Andreas F | November 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Then you haven’t had a bad tank. What you’ve had were “not-good” tanks.

      I’ve had a DK tank who only ever cast D&D at his feet. Tanks that couldn’t hold aggro off ANYONE. Tanks who had horrible gear and tried (deliberately) to pull an entire room and then ragequit when they wiped before the healer finished loading into the instance.

      And, of course, there’s the druid that tried to tank in cat form…

      Bad tanks are out there, and they’re worse than bad DPS. They’re just not as common — and even if they were, you get three times as many DPS: thrice the chance to get a bad one. (There are also bad heals, of course, like the priest who tried to heal a random heroic in shadow form.)

      Comment by Trevel | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  4. I don’t play MMOs, mostly because I balk at the concept of paying a server fee for a game I’ve already purchased on Internet I already pay for, but virtually everyone else I know does, so I grok the fullness of the rap you’re spilling. This same phenomenon can be applied to real life if one has eyes to see and wisdom to understand. In my experience, the world’s ultimate “Tank en masse” is the United States Marine Corps. Beyond any doubt, they are the ultimate shallow meatshields with an ever-expansive elastic sense of self-importance.

    I miss Diablo.

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  5. Sometimes I wonder what I’m missing, not playing MMOs as they, as well as all the rage, seem to breed a unity between guides and groups….plus I seem to know quite a few people that play them.

    Then I look at my teeny, tiny netbook, with no hard drive and my gaint, black box of Sony-based evil and then I’m glad I don’t play MMOs. After all, I barely have time to a Sleeper-agent for Playstation as it is, and I’d have even less if I was twating beasts online.

    Plus, I’m not built for online play…I get bored really easily because I feel you don’t really get anything for playing….other than things I already had when playing the storyline.

    That said….I’ll be trying to gain a level or two online tonight with Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.

    Comment by Xhalax | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  6. I am clearly the best tank and you should all worship me. Or something like that.

    But seriously. You have seen your self Aaron, the amount of retarded DPS we encounter is five, six times as high as the retarded tanks around. 3k dps is not acceptable in icc25 gear D: >.>

    Comment by Sander | November 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Screw off, Sander, you suck as tank! Leave the real hard parts to me, I shall show you how a real tank plays, rawr!


      Comment by Heather 'The Tank' | November 29, 2010 | Reply

      • You suck. The end.

        Comment by Sander | November 29, 2010

    • As a tank myself? Although to be fair, I tank random heroics mostly; I unfortunately don’t have the time and schedule to raid properly, these days: But I don’t mind 3K DPS in ICC25 gear. Or even 2K DPS in whatever gear they’re using. Or even that one guy that got out-DPSed by the healer.

      As long as they don’t pull.

      That’s all I ask.

      Comment by Trevel | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  7. Back when I played World of Warcraft (before it changed, for me, into World of Borecraft), I tried the tanking lark before discovering that it was mind numbingly dull!

    I was meant to be a mighty warrior who’d be hard pressed to take on a squirrel and win. A lame squirrel, who had no friends, who’d shaved his tail because he thought rats were cool!

    Comment by Phillip | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  8. What about a tank specced for DPS???

    Comment by Lord Tharand | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  9. MMOs are not about tanks, dps and healers. Incredible streamlined WOW just brought this to peoples attention. MMO games are meant to be socially playable games, not about strict mathematics and addons who has the best program which writes on screen, “now you have to move or die…”

    Best so far has been DAOC which is getting too old right now. Only nowaways people play mostly mainstream games and watch mostly mainstream movies. Old times were still best when MMO where much more social and not just alt#10 incoming.

    Comment by Mike | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  10. See now i’m guessing you play a Rogue… Because they always seem to be the little over-aggo monkeys. [Well and warlocks… NO, don’t immediately use that shadow nuke thing that pisses the mob all-the-way off when the tank has only had a chance to hit it once.]

    But yeah, my guess would be Horde side Rogue

    My original main was a tank back in vanilla and the harest part really is that you have to really KNOW the dungeon/raid to be at you most effective.

    Now i’m DPS coz I can just rock up and kill anything thats hitting the tank… good times.

    [And ocassionally use misdirect on a rogue for the lulz]

    Comment by Tom | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  11. I always found it odd that the dragon always went after the guy with loads of armor hiding behind the huge shield. If I were a dragon I’d go for the ones that are standing around in nice, flammable cloth dresses. Guess it’s just dragon logic to go after the one that insulted their mother instead of the ones ACTUALLY TRYING TO KILL HIM.

    What’s more threatening? The guy calling you names from behind a wall of steel or the guy burying his two-handed axe in your dragon ass?

    Oh well, as long as my tanks want to stand their like statues I guess I’ll keep with my axe-burying-in-dragon-ass ways. Though if I could role up to Onyxia and yell “HEY! 1v1, FAGGOT!” I would.

    Wait, I’m a paladin, I can!

    Comment by Chad | November 30, 2010 | Reply

    • Yes you can. Mmmmmadin.

      Comment by Andreas F | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  12. I always knew there was a reason I never got into MMOs

    Comment by VigRoco | December 1, 2010 | Reply

  13. Too bad this doesn’t apply to L4D.

    Comment by TheSGC | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  14. The correct phrase is: “You yank it, you tank it!”.

    But still, I enjoyed the article 😀

    Comment by turkeyspit | December 2, 2010 | Reply

    • I’ve heard that one, too. But way more common (at least in the circles I move) is Spank, not Yank, most likely because of the related phrase “Tank and spank”.

      Etymology is ace.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | December 2, 2010 | Reply

    • Never heard “yank” before but then again im 2 years behind on my WOW phrases.

      Comment by Andreas F | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  15. I used to spec out as a Chosen tank in WAR to do city raids per my alliance leader’s wishes, but other than that it was dps spec’d chosen all the way. I play games to blow stuff up and break things, not to keep the boss aggro’d through a cycle of taunts and debuffs.

    Which is why I now play EVE. Sending people back to WoW because I blowd up everything they own packed into a single transport ship gives me that unique satisfaction only tears from a twenty something unemployed momma’s boy can bring.

    Comment by Jimmy | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  16. That is an awesome article and so true. I thank the Titans that my tanks are actually smart enough to have a DPS on the side so they know the pain they cause.

    Comment by DrgnScorpion | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  17. I’m a Tank and I’m too busy reading The First Heretic instead of looking at my screen to worry about your petty dps tears 😛

    Comment by Flux | December 4, 2010 | Reply

  18. Weep your tears, squishy. If it wasn’t for us soaking all the punches, you wouldn’t last a second. DPS without a tank is just like a WW2 flying ace with his plane shot out from under him — a blurry, sinking mess of blood. And don’t even get me started on the “OMG! I cast a fireball! I need to stop and drink for ten minutes!”

    DPS. Ha. Even a turkey-peck would rip you in half, cloth-boy.

    Comment by Tim D | December 4, 2010 | Reply

  19. Talking about pilotes shot down? Royal Air Force fighter ace Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader. Read it and tip you’r hat to DPS.

    Comment by Andreas F | December 4, 2010 | Reply

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