In Character Class Systems, there are many different roles, from petmasters to nukers to jacks of all trades. However, even outside class systems, three particular combat roles often come together, forming what in MMOs is dubbed "the holy trinity":
- Tank: The tank, in essence, focuses on soaking up damage on the frontlines, preventing the other party members from being hurt. To that end, they generally have a very high amount of health, high defensive ability, some methods to Draw Aggro (e.g. taunting) and keep the aggro on them and not the squishier members of the party, or sometimes just being able to outright dodge the opponents. A Stone Wall character is a very common type to do this.
- Healer: Healers, in essence, heal, preventing the rest of the team, particularly the tank, from being wiped out. They may also have other support effects to help them — such as being able to put shields around allies, remove negative status effects or otherwise buff them, and sometimes even debuff enemies for good measure.
- Damager: Otherwise known as DPS,note the damager focuses on, you guessed it, directly damaging and killing the foe. They may be quick and able to slide in many attacks as fast as possible or simply just hit really hard. Most modern RPGs further subdivide these into burst damage and damage over time. To compensate for their high damage output, the damager will usually be quite squishy, unable to stand up to too many enemies (or a single really powerful enemy) at once, requiring the tank to manage aggro and keep it off the damager.
The grouping allows each player to have a clear role and helps emphasise team-based combat. Typically, if there are any duplicated roles it will be the damage dealer.
Often reliant on a simple "aggro" system, wherein the tank must keep the highest amount of "threat" in order to keep enemies focused on him — earlier games simply had foes go after whoever did the highest damage, rarely allowing a tank a place in combat, and earlier still featured them attacking mostly at random or just whoever they noticed first. Without this threat and aggro system, it becomes highly illogical for the enemies to not just ignore the tank and attack the other two guys. Still, it is possible to work without it: the damagers/healers could be ranged, for instance, and the tank could just be blocking the path—indeed, this is how "tanking" works in more tactically-inclined games.
Sometimes, the different roles will also have bonus abilities tied in with them; the tank could be good at crowd control, the healer might be able to debuff enemies (thus becoming more of a general support role) or have special powers fighting the undead... The roles may also be toyed with, or merged slightly with hybrid classes — e.g. a tank with some support abilities (often a Paladin).
All roles are commonly found outside the dynamic in other party-based games. Has become a generally accepted standard in MMORPGs, to the point where some are deliberately defying it.
Sub-Trope of An Adventurer Is You, an overview of different classes not necessarily part of this dynamic. White Mage/The Medic and Stone Wall are general character and gameplay archetypes, and may or may not be part of the dynamic. Compare Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth and Fighter, Mage, Thief, other trio configurations. Contrast Utility Party Member, who is defined by their role outside of combat.
- One of the first to start using the trinity was EverQuest, though it also had crowd control classes. However the third in the series, EverQuest Next, plans on dropping it.
- When designing EverQuest II, the developers realized how much of a problem the Holy Trinity was in the original game. Of more than a dozen classes, 3 of them became absolutely essential for EVERYTHING, leaving all the rest to be almost unnecessary. Clerics were the only ones who could Complete Heal or resurrect fallen players. Warriors had the most HP and taunting ability by far (and Ogres in particular couldn't be physically stunned from the front, making them the best Warriors), and Enchanters were the only ones who could perform crowd control and mana regeneration to any effective degree. Everyone else, rogues, monks, wizards, bards, paladins, druids, etc, were all just extra utility and DPS. To work around this off balance, four archetypes of classes were created to ensure that all classes had a defined role that could generally equally be carried out.
- Fighters (Guardians, Berserkers, Monks, Bruisers, Paladins, Shadowknights) were tank classes who could all tank effectively in their own ways, though in most raid situations, Guardians and Berserkers proved to still be the best just at taking damage and keeping agro.
- Healers (Templars, Inquisitors, Wardens, Furies, Mystics, and Defilers) could all effectively heal, buff, and resurrect.
- Mages (Wizards, Warlocks, Necromancers, Conjurers, Illusionists, Coercers) were designed for crowd control, buffs, debuffs, and magic DPS.
- Scouts (Troubadors, Dirges, Swashbucklers, Brigands, Rangers, Assassins) were pure DPS classes, but also provided offensive buffs.
- World of Warcraft is in part likely responsible for the prominence of the dynamic in MMOs, given its trendsetter status and popularity. Healer, tank, and damage dealer are the primary roles, though each role has its own subroles, and some groups bring other "support" roles along in addition to the primary ones.
- Advanced classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic (unlocked at level 10 for each starter class) are divided into these categories, with each advanced one geared towards filling one particular role. Parties are limited at four, allowing for someone of each role, plus an extra. The Group Finder explicitly is divided into these, and groups may search for specific roles and, if they find a match, automatically transfer to their location.
- WildStar also features the trinity, though each class has two different roles it can easily fufill (either tank/healing or damage-dealing). For the most part each class plays their roles differently from each other; for example, an Engineer tank is a ranged pet class.
- Discussed in this blog post, featuring comments by players about whether it's outdated and if it works.
- Star Trek Online's class structure was originally somewhat organized around this, with tactical captains and escort and raider-class starships being the damage dealers, engineers and cruisers being the tanks, and science officers and science vessels being the healers and crowd controllers. However the lines are actually extremely blurry:
- There's no class restrictions on what ships you can fly and all the classes have a mix of offensive and defensive powers that you can pick and choose at will. Offensive engineers are actually considered the deadliest ground class by far.
- Fanbase consensus is that there's no actual need for tanks or healers outside of PVP teams because the PVE content doesn't have enemies that are tough or smart enough to require a prolonged engagement. The "shield facing" mechanic very much encourages Alpha Strikes to overcome one of the enemy's shields and fire through the opening. If your ship isn't built for killing things as quickly as possible, you're just slowing everyone down, which renders engineer-heavy ships like the Galaxy-class family Tier-Induced Scrappies.
- The Secret World follows this trope as well, despite not having the typical classes.
- Each weapon has two roles it can fill and you can equip two weapons. All do damage for the primary role. Blades, chaos magic, and hammers make up the tanking weapons, while assault rifles, blood magic, and fists make up the healing. The secondary role for elemental magic, pistols, and shotguns is support, most importantly damage buffs, however pistols and shotguns lean towards supporting healing and tanking respectively. Ultimately, standard dungeon groups consist of a tank, healer, and three DPS—the DPS choosing at least one weapon with support buffs are optimal to maximize damage, but few people run a dedicated support "buffbot".
- "Healtanks" combine chaos and blood magic so that a single player tanks the instance and keeps himself alive, to replace a dedicated healer with a 4th DPS.
- When queuing for PVP content, you pick a uniform that sets your role: high-powered weapons are damage, anima conduits are healer, reinforced armor is tank.
- Auxiliary weapons lean toward the holy trinity as well, via their passive skill. Out of five weapons currently in the game, three are specialized for damage, one for healing, and the last is tank-flavored support. Four more weapons are scheduled to be implemented in the future.
- The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't require using this composition, though not using it means trying some workarounds. Bethesda says the most successful groups tend to be running it. How tanking works is being played with a bit, it seems.
"In order to tank all you need to do is be able to defend. So basically the way tanking works is you encourage a guy to attack you either by using a one-handed sword and shield or a fighter skill taunting ability. You'll be fighting eight guys at a time in a dungeon, [the tank] can probably take three, so everyone else is going to have to deal with what you're not tanking."
- Deliberately averted in Guild Wars 2. It actually drew inspiration from the team shooter Team Fortress 2. Combat tries to force fast-paced changing circumstances — meaning standing around trying to tank is a good way to get yourself killed.
- There's debate on how well the game's approach works, however. The dungeon "meta" basically revolves around dealing as much damage as possible, through applying buffs/debuffs that increase damage output and wearing equipment with purely offensive stats. While there's certainly more to running dungeons, a decent players have complained about how one-dimensional efficient dungeon clearing is.
- With the introduction of raids and the Druid (a healing-focussed specialization for Rangers), the game now does feature a sort of holy trinity.
- Enforced in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Every class and job is specifically assigned one of three roles - Tank, Healer, DPS - and the "Duty Finder" auto-matching feature will slot players into either a "Light Party" consisting of one Tank, one Healer, and two DPS, or a "Full Party" of two Tanks, two Healers, and four DPS depending on the content (with a few exceptions such as PvP and some of the content for Alliances [3 full parties joining forces, where one Tank gives way for a fifth DPS per party]). It is possible to defy these setup rules in some cases with completely preformed parties, but that usually only makes things harder.
- Averted lightly in FFXIV's predecessor, Final Fantasy XI. While lots of jobs would fit into healer, tank, or damage dealer, many jobs could fulfill more than one role, depending on the gear they wore and the subjob they assigned. Truer aversions were the classes that fit more into "support/enfeeble" role. The big selling point for Dancers and Corsairs was there ability to support party members or weaken enemies without directly damaging them, though both were respectable damage dealers in their own right, Dancer could even make a passable tank if a player stacked enough Evasion. Red Mages were particularly good at enfeebling enemies, though they were also used as healers to great effect. The truest aversion is the Bard job, which is pretty much completely impotent beyond their ability to buff party members with all manner of positive abilities, and to put negative statuses on mobs, most notably the ability to put them to sleep with the Lullaby song, which for a long time was the only spell that could put Dark based targets to sleep, as it was the only Light based sleep spell until White Mage got Repose in an update.
- The original archtypes in City of Heroes were designed with this in mind. Tankers were Tanks, Defenders and Controllers were Healers while Scrappers and Blasters were DPS. In practice though the game did not have a strong requirement for any of the three. In particular the buff/debuff powers provided by Defenders and Controllers far outclassed their healing powers to the point that teams composed entirely of Defenders or Controllers were among the most powerful in the game.
- The Villainous archtypes however were intended as an aversion of this. Except for Stalkers which were a pure DPS class the archtypes were designed to do decent DPS while also providing some Tank (Brute) or Support (Corruptor and Dominator) powers. The Mastermind could actually do all three, using his pets to tank and DPS while using his secondary powers to buff, debuff and heal.
- DC Universe Online follows this while also adding a fourth role for crowd controllers.
- Warcraft III has most of its heroes follow this archetype, with some variation:
- The Alliance had tank and healer combined with the Paladin, the Mountain King / Archmage / Blood Mage as damage (the Mountain King makes a slightly less effective tank).
- The Horde has Tauren Chieftain as the tank, Shadow Hunter as healer, and Far Seer / Blademaster as damager.
- The Undead have the Crypt Lord as the tank, Death Knight as healer, and Lich / Dreadlord as damage.
- The Night Elves have the Demon Hunter and Warden as tanks (comparatively speaking, they're both fragile, but the Demon Hunter can evade some attacks and the Warden can teleport), Keeper of the Grove as healer and Priestess of the Moon as damage.
- Neutral heroes have the Pandaren Brewmaster, Beastmaster and Pit Lord as tanks, Alchemist as healer, and Dark Ranger / Sea Witch as damage.
- Golden Sun: Played with, since class and abilities change completely depending on what Djinn are set, and many classes learn healing abilities. And while you start with three characters, you end up with four or eight at endgame.
- Until you meet Mia (healer), the party consists of Isaac (healer), Garett (tank) and Ivan (damage against enemies with wind weakness).
- Similarly, The Lost Age starts with Felix (tank), Sheba (damage against enemies with wind weakness) and Jenna (healer).
- Dark Dawn has Matthew (damage), Tyrell (tank), and Karis (healer).
- In the Dragon Age series, the Warrior class is mainly about tanking, Rogues are pure damagers, and Mages are the only ones with healing powers. That said, both warriors and mages can be built as damagers instead, and Origins even includes a secret tank build for mages. The "holy trinity" became very prominent in Dragon Age II, which took many cues from MMORPGs in regards to its combat, but the trend was broken by Dragon Age: Inquisition, which removed magical healing (except for a select few Limit Break abilities) and thus the Healer role altogether.
- Xenoblade's party takes this configuration once the Combat Medic Sharla joins Shulk, a Glass Cannon damager, and Reyn, an aggro-drawing tank. Although other characters can be switched, most also fall under the damager.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2 quickly follows the same archetype, with the first three party members (and the only ones you'll have for a good third of the game) being offensive main character Rex, new Combat Medic Nia, and the shield-wielding, aggro-drawing Tora. At first, anyway, as the new Blade system means that while they'll always excel at these starting roles best, you can make them whatever you want (especially Tora).
- Traditionally, Final Fantasy gives Knight characters (or a given entry's equivalent) the "Cover" ability, allowing them to take hits for squishy and/or heavily-damaged party members and functioning as Tanks. White Mages are the healers and buffers, and Monks and Black Mages typically deal the most damage at the cost of requiring protection.
- Final Fantasy VII: Since the magic and summoning materia that allow for much of the most powerful damage-dealing also decrease hit points, divvying up roles in this way makes a lot of sense. A character with naturally high hit points such as Barrett or Cait Sith can be given the Cover (allowing them to randomly take hits for other party members 20-80% of the time) and HP Plus (boosting their defense even higher) materia, with the magic materia loaded onto a dedicated caster like Aeris or Red XIII. Since a single Restore materia doesn't lower HP so much as to cripple the wielder's defense, healing duties can safely be spread around the party, although a caster with their Magic stat boosted by many other magic materia will still be better at it.
- A solid strategy for most of the playthrough of Final Fantasy XII, where micromanaging is everything. Also recommended in the official guide for that game.
- Tank: Vaan or Balthier, armour to boost defence and evasion, buffs to boost defences, max HP and to draw enemy fire.
- Damage dealer: Basch, weaponry to maximise damage output or to be ranged (to keep them out of danger), buffs to boost speed, attack power and to give them berserk status (for both attack and speed).
- Healer: Penelo or Ashe, weaponry to be ranged (to keep them out of danger) or to boost magic stat, usually too busy healing to be buffed.
- Note: Fran has such horrible stats she doesn't really fit into any of the roles and is largely worthless. Typically, the game's magic lag and costliness of magic generally prevent magic from being used effectively as a damage-dealing tactic, though certain circumstances (crowd control of enemies with exploitable elemental weaknesses) may encourage this.
- Final Fantasy XIII gives you roles in battle that can be changed via Paradigm Shifts. Four roles fit under this:
- Sentinel: A role that does nothing but guarding (with the exception of countering and evading attacks).
- Medic: Heals allies.
- Commando: Deals high physical damage to the enemy.
- Ravager: Works along the opposite side of the Break Meter to the Commando to increase inflicted damage.
- Also a solid strategy in at least one Fire Emblem game. Park a unit with high defence against what's coming at you in a bottleneck (General for physical attacks, Pegasus for magical attacks), have a powerful ranged character behind (Any mage or character with a bow) and any mage with ranged healing in the nearby area.
- Overwatch heroes were originally classed as Attack, Defence, Tank and Support. Playstyle depends on what class you pick, with a combination of two, or sometimed all three, archetypes:
- Attacks focus on being Damagers, usually with some Healer abilities (Tracer's Rewind and Soldier 76's Biotic Field) to keep them alive, or having Tank tendencies (Reaper is invulnerable while in Wraith Form).
- Defences are Tank-centric, as they are needed to hold the line. To clear the area from hostiles, they also have Damager-grade firepower (Bastion can transform into a sentry gun, Junkrat likes Stuff Blowing Up). Torbjorn can also support his allies via armour packs.
- Tanks are Tanks. They can also unleash massive damage (Reinhardt's hammer and Zarya's particle cannon). Roadhog tops all with the highest resilience, obscene close-range power, and he can heal himself via his Take A Breather ability.
- Supports buff teammates and debuff opponents, so they're Healers. They can still kick butt (Mercy's handgun and Zenyatta's orbs), but not as powerful as everyone else. Symmetra can use her Hard Light gun to pierce the usually impregnable shields.
- Eventually, the roles were reclassified into just Damage, Tank, and Support, the former consisting of the Attack and Defense rolls, plus the one Support that couldn't heal. Though this nominally comforms closer to the trope, the above-mentioned mixes still apply.
- Heroes of the Storm splits heroes into Assassins, Warriors, Supports, and Specialists, with the former three being Damagers, Tanks, and Healers respectively. Specialists are classified as having a playstyle that diverges from the norm, but in practice they're almost all Damagers, with the exception of Medivh and Abathur who fall under Healer instead (though their actual healing pales compared to Supports, they focus mainly on supporting teammates). That being said, some heroes can fall under multiple categories: Ragnaros and Uther are examples of an Assassin and Support respectively that can also serve as Tanks, while Sonya and Kharazim (Warrior and Support respectively) can easily be built as Damagers. There's also Varian, whose entire gimmick is that he can be built as either as either Tank or Damage depending on his team's needs, and Cho'Gall, a two-player hero who combines Tank and Damager into one body.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, many character classes or options for them have been made to fit these roles in varying degrees over the game's many iterations. In third edition, for instance, the Knight base class was built specifically as a tank, with abilities that helped them keep enemies off of their friends. The fourth edition codified this tradition the most directly, by categorizing classes as belonging to one of four basic roles: Defender (tank), leader (healer, though with an emphasis on ally buffs sometimes), striker, and controller. The striker and the controller shared the damage dealing role somewhat. Striker classes usually specialized in high damage output to single targets, or sometimes small groups. Controllers were built more for dealing smaller amounts of damage to larger groups, in addition to using status and lingering area effects frequently. By fifth edition, however, these roles were discarded in favor of a combat system that puts much more emphasis on killing enemies before they can kill you, as healing magic, while capable of reviving characters from falling unconscious from hitting 0 HP and definitely having its uses in battle, isn't as potent as in previous editions, and you'll often find characters teetering constantly between 20 or so and 0 HP if you try to do nothing but heal. It's much more practical to use your spell slots to damage or hinder enemies, or buff your allies to protect them to prevent as much damage as possible from occurring in the first place and heal afterwards when combat is over, though there are plenty of spells and abilities that can misdirect enemy attention to someone (or something) else.
- In general, most versions of tanking in D&D, including 4th Edition, avoid forced threat aggro in favor of instituting consequences for attacking targets other than the tank. Most commonly, targets other than the tank will have a severe penalty to hit, which will tend to make the NP Cs focus on the tank as an easier target. Only rarely do effects include a "you must attack x target", notably the Knight/Cavalier classes from various editions. The reasons are generally because MMOs have a computer opponent that needs a firmer rule of enemy engagement than tabletop games using a human DM that can make better judgment calls, especially for what would be considered in character.
- Descent: Journeys in the Dark has this trope encoded in its hero archetypes: Warriors are Tanks with the best defenses and most hit points, Mages and Scouts are damagers (Mages specialize in Area of Effect attacks, while Scouts lay directed damage), and Healers are just that. That said, Warriors and Healers can also dish out some pain, they're just not geared exclusively towards it as the other two.
- Examined by Brian Green in this Gamasutra article.
- Nodwick: the party consists of Yeagar (tank), Artax (damage) and Piffany (healer).
- Discused in Penny Arcade strip "The Guildfather", mafia-style. A healer wants to try a new MMO, and the guildleader guilt trips them on how their tanks and DPS are doomed without him.
- In Noob, this was the dynamic of Arthéon (tank), Omega Zell (damage) and Sparadrap (healer). Gaea refers to these concepts by name in a season 1 episode where the players' characters are swapped.
- In Konosuba, Megumin, Aqua, and Darkness are a parody of this concept; in each case they're extremely powerful but suffer from Crippling Overspecialization. Megumin fills the role of a nuker with explosion magic, but since she invested all her points into making her explosion magic stronger and nothing in mana or any other ability, she can only fire off one spell before running out of energy. Aqua is the healer... because in spite of all the powerful magic she possesses she's not good for anything else. Darkness is the tank because she's a masochist with no actual combat skill. She's extremely durable and has high stamina, but is woefully inaccurate. Kazuma meanwhile is the Utility Party Member because he's the weakest, but his actual strengths lie in being the most intelligent... not that that's saying much.