A military engagement is a combat between two forces, neither larger than a division and not smaller than a company, in which each has an assigned or perceived mission. An engagement begins when the attacking force initiates combat in pursuit of its mission, and ends when the attacker has accomplished the mission, or ceases to try to accomplish the mission, or when one or both sides receive sufficient reinforcements, thus initiating a new engagement.
As a tactical mission the engagement is often a part of a battle. An engagement normally lasts one to two days; it may be as brief as a few hours, and is rarely longer than five days. It is at this scale of combat that tactical engagement ranges of weapons and support systems become important to the troops and their commanders."
(from wikipedia, emphasis is mine)
Whenever there is a debate about the holy trinity in MMO combat, I feel like we are talking about a totally unrealistic situation, although we have real life material to use, like the way police handles hostage situations. Not that I am the best person to judge; admittedly, my only experience with military/police matters comes from the team building exercise when we were taught about the methods of saving hostages. A sweet, short experience with unexpected surprises (I found out that I am a pretty good marksman), but there were two things to learn there:
- In the team, everyone has a well defined role
- Everyone is aware of every role, and capable to act in any one of them
There are two main differences between the roles: the equipment, and the responsibilities. Obviously, the guy with the grenades will not be the first to enter the room, and the guy standing closest to the doors will not look backwards even for a second.
I won't explain much more of this, just wanted to give an example about how this works in real life.
Anyway, my goal with this post is to muse about the roles a bit, and get an insight of this thing without trying to solve anything. The whole topic comes from a post I've read a few days ago. It is a pretty pessimistic take on ArenaNet's way to eliminate the holy trinity. There are a lot of valid points in it, but I have a somewhat different opinion about this.
The way I see it, the main issue here is that the roles are very specific, but somewhat lacking altogether. Also, the structure is hard and brittle, so it is not easy at all to replace someone if you have to. Because of this, some challenges are not actually challenging the players' ability to do their best, but rather their ability to put together a team where every role is filled in. In this sense, having more distinct roles are not good, because all it means is that you need even more different kind of people in your group.
Here are two ideas to tackle this:
1: Make the roles more lenient, with overlapping abilities. GW2 does that, with having different skillsets for every weapon for every class. This way, there would be different viable role combinations for the same challenge.
2: Adapt the battles to the groups: Whatever roles the group is composed of, give them a challenge with a chance to win, but only if they know what they do. They have a lot of healers? Let the boss have relatively low HP, but a lot of AOE and over time damage abilities. It is hellishly complex to balance such a system, I know, but it would worth the effort.
There is also one role I miss altogether: the Tactician. The player who puts together the information coming from several sources, and makes decisions. Usually, this is something that the raid leader does, but this is not treated as a role on their own right, rather just an extra task for the main tank. Because of this, the tools are also lacking - he should get a lot of extra information, should be able to define several, often overlapping, groups, and give (visual) orders to these as well. To give you an example to illustrate the possibilities here: Let's say the boss in question throws a fireball somewhere in the middle of a group of players. The tactician sees the red circle on his area map, marking the AOE damage, and can send a message to the healers to request one of them to cast an AOE heal at the same location. Two of them reacts, but the Tactician notifies the second healer that his efforts are not needed, so he goes back to fight. (this could actually be automated, but I'd rather allow the tactician make the decisions..)
This is obviously not so important for a single team, but it could be invaluable for a raid.