Party Agro Management - The Art and Science of the Pull
Note: This is a guide; it is intended as an introduction to concepts, with a few practical items sprinkled in to get someone going quickly. It is not the end all, be all, etc. Read it, keep what you like, toss the rest.
*Warning: Very Long*
I've noticed that agro management at the party level is not well understood in DDO compared to other games I've played (City of Heroes/Villains, for instance).
There appears to be a significant pressure to rush rather than pull, and some fundamental misunderstandings of the art and science of pulling; this is meant to outline some basics as I currently understand them and generate discussion on the topic.
Note that the pressures and misunderstandings meantioned are largely inherent to this game; there is relatively little party level combat feedback (you can't see how many points that cleric just healed on your buddy; you can't see just how much of a buff that bardsong just put on you; you can't really tell a ghetto barkskin from one of my scrolls from a real ranger's barkskin unless you open up your character/inventory windows).
This note will talk briefly about what personal agro is, what pulling is (including addressing some common misconceptions), and how they go together to manage party agro.
Agro: "Agro is this complicated mathematical concept; loosely translated, the priest dies" - Anonymous WoW Player
-> Generally based on proximity. Monster sees character, monster decides to attack character.
-> Easily lost if some other character does damage to the monster or if the character gets out of the monsters line of sight for too long.
-> Generally based on damage dealt. More damage = more agro on the generating player....this is why it is so difficult to pull a monster off a top-notch caster; they've done so much damage compared to weapon dps, the monster stays on 'em until the caster stops damaging the monster and the other damage catches up.
Pulling: Anything one does to take monsters from the place they want to fight you, to the place you want to fight them, preferrably in smaller quantities than you'd get otherwise. In a word: Ambush. Instead of *them* ambushing *you*, *you* ambush *them*. This can be as simple as trying to string out a large group of monsters to give you more time to deal with them, to as involved as pulling all of the BAM final ramp down into a fire wall to roast 'em.
Common Misconception #1: "Pulling is slower than rushing." Slower than recovering from a party wipe? Slower than waiting for healers to recall for mana? True, pulling ones and twos against monsters you can take ten at a time is a waste. However, with the right rhythm and practice, a party can get into a perfect pulling situation in which the puller is bringing monsters to the main group as quickly as they dispatch them. This maximizes the efficiency of dps while minimizing the amount of healing mana required to sustain the action. This equates to less risk of a party wipe, and significantly increases the time a party can keep functioning without rest. Overall, the quest goes faster.
Common Misconception #2: "When you can see the pulled monster, it's time to charge." The point of pulling is to take monsters from where they are to where you want them to be; it is usually bad practice to meet them halfway. Many, many, *many* times I've observed folks engaging monsters literally one step away from the party's web/solid fog/cloud kill because they went to meet them instead of waiting that little extra bit of time required for the monster to get well and truly into the ambush.
Common Misconception #3: "The pull ends when the puller gets back to the main group." Those monsters are now agro'd on the puller; guess where they want to drop that acid fog/flame strike/ice storm? The best place for the puller to go is well behind the main body, so any unpleasantness is either diffused entirely (dps classes kill the monster, caster holds it, etc) or the effects are minimized (only one person, the puller, eats the flame strike, not the whole party).
Common Misconception #4: "I need to watch the pull." Sure, there's a comfort level in knowing where the monsters are. Unfortunately, as a rule of thumb (assuming you're not one of the stealth types), if you can see them, *they* can see *you*...and do all kinds of unpleasantness to you. In addition, one of the primary purposes of pulling is to control who gets the agro when; if there's a second person for the monsters to agro on, the ambush becomes a little more complicated. Use that corner, control the line of sight, and a good puller can deliver your monsters to you (sometimes pre-destructed and pre-cursed) for your crushing onslaught.
Common Misconception #5: "Pulling is what rogues and rangers do." True, the stealthy types usualy have a high enough spot/stealth so when they see a monster, the monster does not see them. This gives them time to tell the party what's there, and to decide what and how to pull. That said, the only requirement for being the puller is a willingness to take the initial agro of a monster or group of monsters. Stealthy classes tend to do it better, but there's nothing quite like having a paladin pulling a beholder into a doorway stacked with cloudkill and then ducking around the corner for a quick smoke with the caster while the beholder bakes.
Common Misconception #6: "The pull is over once melee has started." True and false. If the puller just tic'd off 6 monsters, and the rest of the party just engaged 1, that leaves 5 still on the puller. This can be useful if the puller can keep away from the remaining 5, since he's effectively tanking them 100% while the rest of the party engages and finishes them off one at a time. However, if the puller can't handle the agro of the extra monsters, something has to be done. (No fun being the puller and dying with each pull, neh?) Pulling through web/solid fog/around corners helps with this, as do tanks willing to position themselves so monsters can't get past (not a true shield wall, but nevertheless very effective). Note that if the puller joins the melee folks, there's still that agro he has to deal with....
General Rules of Pulling: These may seem complicated, but everyone familiar with the rhythm a good group naturally falls into will appreciate them. One can either wait for that rhythm to develop on its own or attempt to promote it, imho.
1) Declare the puller. Seems obvious, but should always be done. This person should have a willingness to acquire xp debt, good judgement, and preferrably sneak and spot skills. Having just one puller makes who has the initial monster agro obvious to the entire party.
2) Declare a trigger. This person initiates the ambush; a lead tank is a good choice, or a lead caster. Having this clear from the onset takes the guesswork out of when to attack. This person should have good judgement, and generally high AC/saves or some other way to avoid damage as they're typically the next person the monsters are going to agro on.
3) Define a pull point. "I'm going to pull to here." means the current location is where the puller is going to stop. It's a bad place for anyone who wants to avoid an AoE to stand.
4) Define the killing zone. This is where the cloudkills/solid fog/whathaveyou go. This is the furthest forward that melee should go, unless there are extreme circumstances (an enemy caster that has agro'd and has line of sight from outside the killing zone is an extreme circumstance.)
5) Communicate: The puller and the trigger need to clearly communicate with each other and the party. A puller who won't use his mike probably isn't the puller you want. Please give mike priority to the puller and the trigger; if they have to be pushy to communicate, something is wrong with comms discipline. Granted, pulling CR 12s into a lvl 12 party is going to require much less comms discipline than coordinating base pulls on a dragon run, but the general concept is the same.
5a) "I see dead people." Puller should tell the party what he can, and can't see. It is useful to know, for instance, that the puller sees a caster and five melee monsters, and that they are grouped up in an intersection the puller can't see around.
5b) "Named." Puller should tell the party if the pull may be getting a named, or is otherwise unusual.
5c) "CR XX <monster type>." This tells the group the approximate monster threat, and it's type....so, if fire mephits, the melee knows they should be pulling out their frost weapons and picking up fire resist/pro; if undead, their holy of pure good slashie/bashie things.
5d) "Scouting Ahead." This tells the group that the puller is going to be setting up the next pull, and they should not follow closely if at all.
5e) "Clear to my location." This gives the group clear information that it is safe to proceed, unstealthed, to the puller's current spot.
5f) "I'm about to do something stupid." Should be self explanatory: the puller is going to try something that may or may not work, and may involve him dying or dragging agro back to the party. As a rule of thumb, if a puller is going to do something stupid/risky, the party should *not* come to his rescue. Better to rez the puller after something doesn't work, than get the whole party wiped trying to save him.
6) Have A Plan B: Adapt to the circumstances, or have a fallback point in case the monsters get by the shieldwall, or whatever. Even a simple one saves grief in the long run, since everyone knows what to do if the trigger or puller says "Time to bail".
Types of Pulling:
1) Ranged pull. Pretty obvious, for the most part. There are certain subtlties, however:
1a) Use a low or non-damaging weapon. Less damage -> monster is less inclined to call for help -> smaller pulls
2b) Use a specialty weapon. Hitting a caster with a strength sapping bow is going to slow him up compared to his melee buddies, make him easier to trip when he gets to the pull point. Hitting an ice flenser a few times with a cursespewing bow makes him a little easier to digest once he's brought back to the killing zone.
3b) Use a spell. Holding that big brute in the back so his weaker buddies and casters come up by themselves into whirling melee o' death can be handy.
2) Body Pull. Go up, get seen, run back.
3) Stealth Body Pull. Go up, get seen by the often weaker, yet high spot monsters in the group, then sneak back. Great for pulling slimes out from among reavers in the Threnals, for instance, prior to engaging the reavers.
4) Bump pull. Sneak up, bump a monster, sneak back. This is the hardest type of pulling, in general, but can be very rewarding if properly executed under the right circumstances.
5) Other. There are many, many ways to pull. The monster AI responds differently to different things, so particular weapon/method combinations will give different results than others.
Putting It All Together
All of the above boil down into three basic items:
1) The ambush is the most efficient use of character resources in the game.
2) Pulling is designed to promote the effectiveness of an ambush by controlling who has monster agro, and where those monsters agro to.
3) Pulling is best accomplished by experienced characters with good judgement who have, due to their build and gear, an edge over the monsters in detecting them and avoiding detection.
4) Despite 3 above, anyone can pull. All it takes is a little prior planning and, sometimes, a deathwish.
The Wavekin Sisters online