Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Math of Sword and Spell: Tanking Multipliers

Every Thursday Araelus is bringing the science to FFXI. 

The Math of Sword and Spell is dedicated not only to the hardcore calculations and statistics of FFXI, but more importantly to helping you use that math without confusing you. You may not know why you are playing better, but rest assured you will be playing better.

This week's edition focuses on how Slow effects are a great boon to tanking, perhaps more than anything else. Also discussed are creative ways to increase Enmity, reduce damage taken, and even use some unusual jobs for tanking, such as Black Mage.

Last week, we discussed some of the ways White Mages and Scholars can benefit the whole party, as well as taking a critical look at Dancer and Summoner (especially in the comment thread). This week we take a break from support jobs and examine the difficult but crucial role of tank. Whether Paladin, Ninja, or something out of the ordinary, tanks are called upon to focus damage from the enemy to a well-defended target: themselves.

In order to preserve some kind of game balance, not everyone takes damage equally well. What should a designated tank focus on in available gear? What might they ask the party to do in assistance, and how can you help a tank stay alive, besides curing? What can those predisposed against tanking do to make up some of the difference when targeted? Should I try to avoid stepping on Izman’s toes in this article?

“Preventing Damage Outright” might as well be the slogan of Utsusemi, and clearly not taking damage is the best way for a tank to keep on going. But how about preventing the attack entirely?

If you remember back to the start of this column, three categories of effects were mentioned which could be described as benefiting everyone in the fight since they helped the tank: stopping enemy actions, slowing enemy actions, and weakening enemy actions.

Paralyze and Jubaku, if they take effect, are outstanding. The issue is that “if” part. A paralyzed enemy will have some percentage of regular melee attacks and spell casts interrupted. The same is true for activation of Killer Effects, particularly Undead Killer for Paladins. The Bash line of abilities has a high success rate, but long recast timers. Stun certainly lives up to its name, and its 45 second cooldown can be reduced, although the spell might be resisted depending on its target. Violent Flourish is yet another stun effect, but on a 20 second timer, reliant on Finishing Moves, with accuracy depending on monster level, the target’s magic resistance, and use of an Etoile Casaque.

When preventing enemy actions, we have to consider how often a spell or ability will function. Shield Bash is fine, once every five minutes. A continually applied Paralyze might stop one attack in ten or it might never process at all. Taken from this perspective, Elegy and other Slow effects are the most effective means of reducing damage dealt to a tank through status effects on the foe.

Reduction in attack speed can be considered a direct reduction in melee damage dealt to the tank, of course excepting TP move physical damage. But the benefits of slowing the opponent go beyond merely reducing incoming damage. More time between attack rounds means safer buffers on Utsusemi recasts, more time for the tank to cast any spell, and a generally lower level of stress all round. Best of all, Slow, or Slow II, or Jubaku: Ichi can be applied in addition to Elegy.

Just as consistently reducing the speed of an enemy’s attacks can be considered damage reduction for the tanks, so can consistently reducing the accuracy of an enemy’s attacks. Blind and Kurayami lower accuracy by a small amount over a long period of time, and Flash dramatically reduces accuracy for a very short time.

As for preventing magic damage, Silence is excellent. However, some foes should be left to cast rather than attack, especially if their pause to cast aids in kiting. Black Puddings on Mount Zhayolm are an excellent example of monsters that are not very dangerous when left to cast, but should not be locked into meleeing by Silence.

Bind should be mentioned, as it potentially prevents all damage to a tank, but that use is very specific based on monster location and fighting strategy. For that matter, Sleep or having the monster attacking someone else prevents all damage to a tank. More likely, Bind could stop an enemy from moving away from the tank during a sudden moment of Enmity imbalance. Since it is negated by damage dealt to the bound target, a better choice for this task might be Gravity. In that case, these spells are preventing damage from being dealt to someone other than the tank.

Damage Reduction is the next best thing after damage prevention. If you can no longer avoid getting hit, get hit for less damage. Combining damage reduction gear (to remove a percentage) and damage reduction spells (to subtract a flat amount) is very effective. Elemental resistance builds have a similar effect against special types of attacks, since a resist means a percentage reduction in damage.

Keep in mind if you can avoid getting hit to begin with, that is always better than taking damage and reducing the damage after the fact. Damage reduction gear should not take away from your use of the proper Haste+ gear, the correct JA enhancing gear, etc. So the issue here is primarily how much gil you can spare to spend on damage reduction gear. If you are taking absurd damage to begin with, to be sure, a percentage reduction can only go so far. But this should not be the case for tanks (if it is, talk to Izman – or someone – for help).

Along those lines, I’m not going to list out all the available damage down gear, or what jobs can use it, except to note that percentage damage reduction caps at 50% and RDM can get a surprising amount of physical damage reduction without a Defending Ring (44%) as can SAM (47%).

This is especially important if you suddenly realize:

Surprise! You’re the Tank!

Under ideal circumstances, Enmity is managed such that only the selected tanks are attacked by your enemy. Under ideal circumstances, AV can be defeated. One of these days I would like to play FFXI under ideal circumstances.

In the meantime, we have to deal with the reality that whoever has the most Enmity will be attacked. If that person is not a tank,
hilarity ensues. In some situations this is acceptable, say to keep a monster moving between two targets, or perhaps you need to give a PLD who keeps getting interrupted time to cast Cure IV, or there is no tank in particular and every melee has some form of damage mitigation.

In most serious situations, however, anyone other than the tanks being targeted is problematic. When hate gets reset and Long-Bowed Chariot starts taking out the backline, that’s not exactly “everything going according to plan”. Every player should have a protective just-in-case equipment macro, in addition to casters who idle in such gear to begin with. Idling Tarutaru Black Mages shouldn’t load up on Zenith Gear and pretend to be playing Ghosts ’n Goblins.

The first thing to ask is “can you afford to lose TP?” and for most mages this should not be a problem. (BLU is always damaging those mage generalizations.) For melees, though, the answer will depend on current TP values, your hits-to-100TP, and whether you are deciding between zero TP and zero HP.

So long as TP can be reset, your emergency macro should include an Earth Staff. HQ is fine if you already have one, but since Terra’s does not offer any more physical damage reduction,1 don’t buy the HQ just for this purpose. Unless the name of FFVI’s stalwart heroine makes you feel safer.

The other should-have item for mages (including BLU this time) is a Cheviot Cape, which offers physical damage -5% during the day and -10% at night. The more expensive Umbra Cape is -6% and -12% respectively. In an extreme emergency (which is probable if you are using this gear macro) WHM, BLM, and SMN have latent earrings for use at or under 25% HP which reduce all damage taken. BRD, DRK, and RNG have the same for physical damage only; RDM and SAM for magical damage only.

Don’t neglect a Jelly Ring for free and a Defending Ring for winning Mog Bonanza, although the former is detrimental if you are taking magic damage and will require some time spent in Bostaunieux Oubliette.


This week's...

Most Valuable: Elegy wins hands down, and stacks with the Slow effect. Elemental Seal ensures the song landing and Troubadour will increase duration. If you use Soul Voice this is absolutely brutal.

Ignored Ability: Two this week.

The Blue Magic Cocoon increases defense by 50%. A self-only spell, this can raise defense past the display limit of 999. Against swarms of low level or weak-hitting enemies, I’m sure you can find a use for this – if you leveled BLU at all.

The use of Waltzes to transform TP into HP is outrageous for a PLD/DNC, which basically gets HP from being hit, and the main job’s naturally high VIT and CHA boost the HP recovery even more. The Enmity gained from this constant self-curing may allow for its utilization in bizarre situations.

Hazard Symbol: When the tanks die. Don’t die, tanks.

Overworked and Underpaid Job: Popular opinion indicates PLD is the former and NIN is the latter. Taking into account available gear, damage mitigation techniques, and job abilities, both jobs are very powerful and useful, but they’re not necessarily equal. Whether this is a bad thing depends on who you ask.


We’ve taken a look at how enemy attacks can be halted entirely, tanks can control damage taken, and even how anyone who comes under fire (or Tiamat’s aerial attacks) can survive. Over the past four weeks we’ve discussed a number of ways for players to multiply their impact on the battlefield. In that time a wide variety of interesting concepts came into play, but not all were discussed in detail.

Why could Dancer benefit from slower attacks? Should you have an algorithm for playing Corsair? What’s the best way to Haste an entire party? How is a meaningful comparison to be made between different Phalanx casters? Do Summoners have a reliable way to increase damage per MP spent? Next week, we'll start to answer some reader concerns and address specific spells and abilities, before moving on to melee-centric topics.

Until then, keep your graphing calculators handy!


1. The HQ staff does have 25% more VIT than an Earth Staff, that is, it has VIT+5 instead of VIT+4. But both are "Physical damage taken -20%".

Questions? Concerns? Did I take a logarithm when I should have used the antiderivative? Do you have an idea for a future article? Please leave a comment.


Yoteo said...

Your cocoon comment is wrong. I checked the wiki, and it claimed what you said about it as well. That is a lie. Kaelis and I confirmed that it is incorrect. I fixed the wiki. Cocoon just gives you +50% defense. It does not lock that bonus depending on gear. The test we did to confirm it is outline on the Cocoon talk page.

Araelus said...

Thanks for the update, Yoteo.