Friday, December 18, 2009

Raiding 101: The Duty of a DPS


A starship captain's life is filled with solemn duty. I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species. But none of this compares to my solemn duty as... Best man."

But enough from Captain Picard. The duty of a DPS is quite unlike the duty of a starship captain. While Jean-Luc here was tasked with diplomatic exploration and peaceful contact with alien life forms... a DPS just has to beat the shit out of anything with a red health bar over their head.

That's right, I went there.

So the life of a DPS may seem simple, but I promise you that it's not. Take away all the baseline expectations of a DPS like: learning your spell rotation, optimizing your spec and gemming and enchanting properly; What you're left with are all the combat decisions that could mean life or death for you and possibly the raid group. While much of the time these decisions are based around survival that's not always the case.

Rule #1: Don't Die

This is really the only hard and fast rule of a DPS. There are times when damage taken is out of your control and beyond a certain point you need to be healed, but a vast majority of the time understanding the mechanics of an encounter and properly avoiding damage can mean a world of difference in your DPS output: You can't DPS if you're dead. Period.

There are plenty of types of attacks, many of which are detailed in my previous post, Don't Stand in the Fire. It is imperative that these types of attacks are avoided at all costs. There is a reasonable expectation of attention from the healers but in return DPS must avoid as much collateral damage as possible to minimize the stress on healing and allow them to focus on more important targets.

Keep in mind that running away isn't always the only way of getting away from dangerous enemy attacks. Many classes and professions have ways of traversing distances quickly to escape areas where damaging attacks are destroying anyone in the area so keep those abilities in mind. Some examples are the Mage Blink, Engineer's Rocket Boots and Hunter's Disengage. Additionally there are tricks to avoid damage altogether like Ice Block or Divine Shield.

The final measure of survival is the most important...

Threat Management

Do not pull threat from the tank.

It's easy to pass the buck and claim the tank is shitty, but that excuse won't prevent a DPS from being dead, especially one wearing cloth armor. There are tanks whose skill level are not quite at par, but in the vast majority of cases I feel like there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the tank and the DPS. That misunderstanding relates to the fact that all tanks... are melee.

There are few things more annoying to a tank than to tag a mob and watch as a flurry of spells pulls aggro from the lone shot fired and the tank now has to taunt the mob back or chase it down. All tanks have some method of tagging a creature from a distance, but that doesn't solid aggro make. Since all tanks are melee it isn't until they come toe to toe with something that solid threat can be established and it's imperative that DPS allows the two to connect in melee before engaging.

There are all manner of mods that help to monitor threat and a DPSer should have on installed and visible at all times. If you find it's hard to remember to check it than Omen would likely be the best choice, as you can configure it to play a customizable audio warning and/or shake and flash the screen to warn you of high threat. SimpleThreatMeter and TidyThreat are also great threat meters, but lack threat warnings so require a bit more attention. Where they excel is at saving screen space as they provide a single bar representing your threat relative to the tank instead of an expansive overview of the entire group.

Do not pull threat from the tank. They say the best method of embedding something in memory is to repeat it three times. Do not pull threat from the tank. =)

DPS Target Priority

Efficiency is the key word here. The best of the best DPS teams will work in a coordinated fashion to burn down targets as efficiently as possible. That usually means following a kill order. It's important that a DPS knows what kill order they should follow, and keep in mind that it may not always be the same, or even the same as another DPSer's kill order.

With the new raid instance open for business it's even more important to know, at the very least, which targets need to be killed first and work in tandem with your other DPSers to focus fire targets down. This is especially true when targets can regenerate health or get heals from other enemies. Focus Firing targets down will also lead to less strain from multiple damage sources on the healers and allow them more breathing room to perhaps throw DPS some more incidental healing.


Always remember that, especially in 25 man raids, it's not the individual that accomplishes the goal, it's the team. When other DPSers are encumbered be having to move out of fire or being crowd controlled by the enemy it lifts your spirits a bit to get that much more of an edge on the damage meters.

When these incidents lower one person's DPS it lowers the DPS of the group and stretches out the encounter closer to the enrage timer. There's not always anything that can be done to get that person back in the game, but on occasions where help can be rendered it's important to do so in order to get your team back at it's peak operating capacity.

The most obvious form of help would be from decursing effects that impede the ability to DPS like silence and slowing effects. One of the increasingly more common instances is when a raid member is disabled by a killable aspect of the encounter. During the Northrend Beasts encounter Gormok throws Snobold Vassal's at players that sit on their back and kick players, interrupting spell casting. Also, in the new Lord Marrowgar fight he periodically impales players on bone spikes, immobilizing them. It is important that DPS switch to these targets as soon as they can be DPSed and free trapped players. If immobilization is allowed to stack up at all the raid force will be less and less effective until the entire group is disabled, and slow breaking of these effects can drag out an encounter with DPS unable to contribute to the fight.

Most of these effects are important enough to get down immediately that it's advisable to use a macro for targeting them. You could either set up a separate macro that would need to be clicked independently or make a macro for one of your main rotation spells and you'll automatically target them, alerting you to their presence. Whichever way you choose you can enter these lines into a macro to automatically target the above mentioned mobs:

/target Snobold Vassal
/target Bone Spike

Enter as many of these lines for priority targets as you like. If any two or more targets could be available at the same time in the same encounter make sure you put the highest priority target as the last targeting line in the macro. The downside of this is that dead mobs will still be targeted, so if you are using this as a macro for one of your main rotation spells (which I recommend) you'll end up spamming your spell on a corpse. To prevent this add the following line to your macro after all the targeting lines, but before /cast spell name:

/targetlasttarget [dead]


The proper handling of encounter dynamics and damage enhancing buffs and debuffs can ramp up raid DPS by up to 30-40% of the bosses health if the proper optimization isn't already taken into account.

Some weeks ago my group had been working on the Northrend Beasts encounter in Trial of the Grand Crusader, and through one issue or another we slowly lost and replaced many members of the raid group throughout the night. As we did so we slowly became further and further behind on Gormok to the point where the worms were coming out the gates with Gormok still at 40%, following an early showing of clean transitions just an hour or two prior.

What was unfortunately neglected in the confusion of the night was that those key players who lost power, were called away on an emergency or otherwise hadn't been able to attend brought key buffs and debuffs that were, up till then, taken for granted. By restacking and reshuffling duties we pushed ourselves right back into a clean transition.

With that in mind, keep an eye on all the necessary debuffs that you, yourself can provide and consider using PowerAuras to monitor them. Be aware of when a key member leaves the raid an whether or not you need to fill in for the buffs or debuffs he was providing. Keep Curse of Elements up when an Unholy Death Knight is unavailable, or Expose Armor up when a Warrior is not in attendance, etc. If you're not sure who might cover the same buffs/debuffs as you, there is a handy raid composition tool at MMO-Champion. You can mouse over the effects you provide and it will class color abilities other classes provide with identical effect and highlight the particular spec, if applicable, on the other side of the page.

Where totems are concerned, try to lay them in a central location to those who need the buffs. Placing melee totems near the boss or melee target, and the caster totems near the healers and ranged for instance.

Crowd Control

I'm sure there are many DPS who have a special place in hell for being delegated to crowd control duty, but if it's important enough to be assigned then it needs to be a priority. Preventing a healer from topping off a burn target or a caster or other deadly enemy from demolishing the raid en masse are just as important as the damage meters. Allowing those mobs to kill players damages the effort of the raid as a whole and in some extremely nasty cases can result in a wipe.

Moreover, it's important to take initiative and use crowd control during encounters where players can become mind controlled. Having one of your own heal the enemy, slaughter another member of the raid or even pop Heroism or Bloodlust for the boss can seriously impact the performance of the raid as a whole. Make sure you get these people under control with sheep, traps, fear, stuns or whatever it takes. When another player is mind controled take them out of the fight if you have it within your power to do so.

Just don't kill them. That doesn't count!