Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WALL OF TEXT CRUSHES READER (or: I design the Demon Hunter hero class)

When Blizzard announced the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft, the biggest news was the addition of a hero class: the Death Knight. As an avid Warcraft 3 fan, I’m happy to see another of the hero types from that game make the transition. However, I very rarely played a Death Knight in WC3. Instead, my hero of choice was by far the coolest fantasy archetype I had ever seen: The Demon Hunter.

But at best, I’ll have to wait another 3 years at minimum for Blizzard to implement my dream class. To alleviate some of the pain of waiting, I decided to design the class based on what I think is missing from the game, and what fits the flavor of the Demon Hunter.

Key points. Pay special attention to #5, as the entire concept simply falls apart without it:

1) WoW teams are always short on tanking and healing classes. Since healing doesn’t fit the Demon Hunter’s profile, we should go with a tank/dps hybrid. It’s important for the DH to:

  1. Have its own unique flavor.

  2. Be able to tank equally effectively in all specs. We will NOT be making another class that has to respec to jump between tanking and any other activity in the game. Role switching should require only a gear swap. Will have to be a slightly inferior tank overall to a purely specced tanking class, but still good enough to tank a raid in a pinch.
2) WoW lacks a true debuff-focused class. The DH will be that class. Similar to how a shaman has melee moves, caster moves, healing moves, and totems, a DH will have melee moves, caster moves, tanking moves, and debuffs. Its tanking ability will be predicated on high avoidance, magic resistance, and artificially-inflated armor in tank mode

3) Wears leather and Dual-wields swords or axes. Dual-weilding only bladed weapons fits the flavor. There’s no reason to give them daggers, it would only detract from the rogue’s flavor. Limited weapon selection will be an intentional weakness of the class.

4) Mana-using class.

5) Uses rogue stats, but those stats also buff spell casting at the same time. AP converts to spell damage, agility to mp5, and melee hit/crit to spell hit/crit. They will have tiny mana pools (little-to-no intellect on gear), but high regen. This will throttle their damage while increasing their sustained damage potential (basically extending the damage curve over time).

6) A special mechanic built around periodic transformation into demon form, a la Illidan. This will be the “expert” element that hero classes are supposed to possess.

7) Instance-friendly crowd control that breaks on damage, and some demon and undead control. We do not want them falling into the “I won’t bring a dps warrior to a heroic because they have no CC” trap, but we don’t want to give them a CC that is too strong in PvP.

Thematically, the class is built around its sixth-sense (all DH’s are physically blind, but have a magical sixth sense) and demon-fueled physical and magical strength. The hunter part of the theme is all about debuffs: using demonic power against the enemy, turning it toward one’s own ends. The demon transformation is another part of the flavor.

Races: Undead, Blood Elf, Orc, Troll, Night Elf, Gnome, Human. I will not compromise on the gnome, it MUST be an option. Think Yoda in Star Wars Episode 2. Suck it, gnome haters.

There is much, much more after the break.
Read More!

The demon-hunter’s flavor is that of an extremely agile melee fighter with high avoidance and magic resistance. The DH uses an even combination of melee and magic to deal damage. Through some action by the player, they will be able to periodically transform into a demon mode for a limited time, with higher hp and armor, that uses extra magic instead of melee. Part of the skill of playing the class as either tanking or dps will be knowing when to use the demon mode. Demon mode may even take some of the control away from the player temporarily. Perhaps the player will only have a general pet bar to control their character in demon mode.

So how do we make the DH able to tank without a respec, but keep them from being unkillable high-dps tankmages? By taking a new spin on the stance/form mechanic used by warriors and druids.

“Apparition form” gives the DH the appearance of a partly-ethereal demon. This form increases armor, dodge/parry, and magic resistance in a way that scales with gear (magic resist will uniquely scale with another stat, perhaps defense rating, for this class). Will use the same type of tanking gear as druids (leather with stamina, defense and avoidance) to limit gearing problems. The DH will focus more than other tanks on avoidance. This could make the damage they take too bursty, so abilities will have to be built in to compensate for this. Some options are:

  1. Compensate with inflated armor in apparition form, similar to bear druids. Keep this balanced by not inflating HP. So it would be like bear form, only with a dodge/parry boost instead of an HP boost.
  2. Add active abilities (in the vein of shield block) or passive abilities (in the vein of the rogue’s cheat death) to mitigate burst damage
  3. Use the demon form mechanic to aid in survivability while tanking. This could be as simple as using demon form as an “oh shit” button like shield wall, or much more complex and integrated into the entire tanking strategy.
In apparition form, the DH will generate the bulk of its aggro by dodging and parrying, which infuriates the enemy (lore-wise, the demon form they take can be particularly infuriating, perhaps Puck-like). This is to compensate for the fact that the DH’s damage is severely curtailed in apparition form, to balance the enhanced survivability. It (along with class and talent buffs to gearing for avoidance) also helps encourage a concentration on avoidance over stam and armor. In this form, the DH’s melee damage abilities become unavailable and physical damage is reduced. Meanwhile, magic damage is either reduced or all spells have a long cooldown in only this form to prevent spamming. In place of the physical moves, battle will be made active for the DH by adding a few defensive moves to the form, along with strategic cost/benefits to activating demon mode while in the form (as a survivability boost during hard parts of a boss fight, for example). Sel-immolate will also be a factor, as it will somewhat limit mana while also causing unreduced damage and aggro. It will even deal damage when the DH dodges or parries, to avoid penalties for high avoidance.

The other key to the class is debuffs. Tanking may perhaps be dependent on these debuffs (such as an apparition form ability that compensates for low armor and hp by severely reducing enemy damage, but it must be constantly reapplied, so you won’t have dps DH’s in a raid trying to keep in active while another class tanks). Debuffs will also be a reason to bring them to raids and groups, as their raw dps may be a bit inferior (like enhancement shaman), but the debuffs help the group enough to make them more valuable than another rogue (also like a shaman).

Some sample abilities:

Melee strikes:
-Blade Spin: An instant strike with both weapons that can hit up to 2 targets. 6-second cooldown. Has a small chance to daze the targets.
-Slash: Instant melee strike that deals 115% weapon damage and also leaves a 5-second bleed effect on the target. 5-second cooldown.

Offensive spells:

-Demon’s claw: Melee instant attack that deals weapon damage as shadow damage. 3 second-cooldown

-Self-Immolate: Once activated, generates an aura of demonic flames around the caster that deals a small amount of damage to anyone within 5 yards every 2 seconds, and also deals a moderate amount of damage when the DH is hit or dodges/parries/resists an attack. The aura ticks cannot break crowd control, and only apply to capacitated enemies (so CCed targets won’t even get hit). Costs a tiny amount of mana every 5 seconds it is active.

-Shadebolt: Like shadowbolt, only faster cast time for less damage. Primary ranged attack. DH’s use a new item class called Dark Artifacts in their relic slot, so no ranged weapons.

-Void vortex: Instant-cast mid-ranged dot that deals arcane damage

-Mana burn

Debuffs: Only one debuff per DH may be active at a time.

-Bleeding soul: Target’s soul begins to bleed. All healing on the target is reduced by 40%, and melee attacks against the target restore mana based on the attacker’s attack power and weapon speed. Lasts 10 seconds, 1-minute cooldown. DH’s will put this up when they need to regen mana during a fight to increase their own longevity.

-Demonic Possession: Melee-range debuff. Target battles with a demonic spirit for control of their body. Slows movement speed by 60%, but increases damage dealt by 5%. This is the DH’s snare to keep foes in melee range. It has a strong downside, however.

Apparition-only spells:

The apparition form will have its own move bar, just like bear form. However, most regular moves will be available in this form. The main exception is physical dps moves, which will become unavailable. They will be replaced by a small number of defensive moves. The player can use regular magic to supplement aggro.

-Brace yourself: prevents the next attack that hits you from being a critical strike or a crushing blow. Lasts 5 seconds, 20 second cooldown.

-Heightened Senses: Spammable ability that raises your dodge and parry. Similar to Shield block, in that you have to make the decision to concentrate your mana and global cooldowns on either attack or defense.

-Demon scales: “lights up” (similar to warrior’s revenge or overpower) when you take a critical hit or crushing blow. For a small mana cost, instantly increases your armor by 20% for 8 seconds.

-Debuff: Shrivel: Reduces the target’s damage with melee and spells by 4%. Lasts 10 seconds.

Demon-mode only spells:

In demon mode, a pet bar will replace the action bar, and moves will cost no mana. Demon mode will only have 4 moves:
-Wing Shield: attacks against you for the next 6 seconds have a 50% chance to be blocked. This adds block to the attack table, and will push crushings and crits off in tandem with your high parry and dodge. 15 second cooldown.
- Void ball: mid-ranged shadow magic damage with some splash aoe. 2 second casting time
-Terrify: 8-second single-target fear. Only works in melee range. 3 minute cooldown
-Infernus: Single-target ranged spell that deals fire damage and applies an 8-second “burning” dot effect. 10-second cooldown.

The DH will have three talent trees:

Blood Rites (Melee-focused)
Demon Rites (Magic- and Form-focused)
Void Rites (Debuff-focused)

All trees will in some way have stam and/or armor boosts built into the slightly less-desirable dps or gimmick talents, so that every tree can buff tanking without sacrificing too much damage, and will be tempted to do so. Powerful tanking talents will all be deep in the trees, to prevent tanking DH’s from getting pigeonholed into a tri-spec that takes the best tanking talents, but can’t dps.

Some samples:

Blood Rites: Empowering the flesh. Comparable damage to other 3 trees, but more focus on melee damage and physical survivability. Will favor physical moves, but magic moves will remain competitive enough to use during physical move cooldowns.
-Raw crit and AP increases (which, as already mentioned, automatically boost magic spelldamage and crit)
-Melee crit bonus damage increase
-An extra melee strike
-A clickable defensive cooldown
-A brief melee stun (and raid benefit tacked-on) at 51 pts
-Prime Conduit: reduces mana cost of all shadow and arcane spells by 20%.
-HP increases for tanking

Demon Rites: Tapping demonic power. Will have comparable damage to other 3 trees, but more focus on demon form. Magic moves will be preferred, but melee moves will remain competitive enough to use during magic cooldowns.
-Spell crit bonus damage increase
-Increased spell-damage coefficients
-New mid-ranged damage spell (Arcane Shock?)
-AoE spell. Most likely a player-based shadow explosion
-Buffs to demon mode
-A “dash” move that increases run speed and damage for 5 seconds on a 1 minute cooldown as 51-point talent
-Demonic sustainment: reduces mana cost of all physical moves by 20%.
-Armor increases for tanking

Void Rites: Harnessing the darkness and despair of the Void
-Buffs to immolate (self-buff)
-Gives your self-immolate a small chance to stun when it deals damage
-Upon dealing damage, your self-immolate will apply a debuff to the attacker that reduces damage dealt and increases damage taken by 1% for 10 seconds. Stacks up to 3 times.
-Strengthens debuffs.
-New debuff that increases damage against the target
-Summonable Void Shade as 51-point talent
-Extra mana regen
-Buffs both armor and health for tanking, but in smaller amounts

DPS Playstyles:

Melee dps: works with any spec. Flavors:

1. Blood: spam physical abilities, use instant-cast magic when physicals are on cooldown. Alternate raid-benefit debuff and mana-regen debuff. Slightly stronger against clothies, and with more anti-melee survivability for fights with adds or cleaves. Some stun and immobilize resists.

2. Demon: spam magic abilities, with some physicals thrown in. Make optimal use of demon mode to push damage higher and conserve mana. Same debuff rotation, but with slightly less gain back from mana-regen debuff. Slightly stronger against high armor targets, and more anti-magic survivability for aoe fights. Some fear and polymorph resists.

3. Void: Apply debuff that increases all damage received by the target, use all abilities, and let self-immolate (with debuff) and pet boost your damage. Personal dps lower, but group contribution higher, and some neat tricks for pvp.

Ranged magic dps: A variant that works with demon spec. Stands afar using dot and shadebolt, then uses 51-pt charge in combination with mana regen debuff to rush in, get the most mana back possible, then walk back to range to resume dps. This would NOT be a primary playstyle, but simply an option that allows the DH to dps in fights where it might be too risky to stay in melee.

Obviously, it will be very difficult to balance these abilities to prevent them from being overpowered, and doing so would be a top priority. However, I am confident that a hero class like this could be made balanced without sacrificing its core tenets. The main concerns would be making sure the damage stays in line with the survivability, and making sure that the DH can be an avoidance-based tank without being too susceptible to burst (to the point that no one wants them to tank), while at the same time not being clearly superior to other tanks (and in fact, very slightly inferior).

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