Knockback Man, thank goodness you came!

Imagine the fun we had in the Halls of Lightning yesterday.

The group started with the familiar ‘gogogo’ call of the hopelessly incompetent dps (a shaman in this case), so I headed off to gather up the first couple of pulls at about the same speed as usual.

All goes well. We head down the slope to pick up a few more mobs. I see the first boss with his adds approaching – I consider whether we could take all of them plus the group at the bottom which I hadn’t yet pulled. I decide that this group probably isn’t high enough dps for it so draw back a bit to wait when ….


Suddenly ‘my’ mobs all fly backwards in random directions. Naturally one of them pulls the boss (in empowered mode, of course), plus the extra group. I think … something … and go pick up as many as I can. Some of the ranged guys run off, shoot a few arrows, and then run after the healer. He runs in the opposite direction whilst still managing to type ‘omg keep aggro’. I can barely see where the rest of the mobs are due to having a huge and arcing boss in my face but I suspect some of them may be out of AE taunt range. This proves to be the case.

A wipe ensues. And as per usual, while I’m yelling at the misbegotten shaman who dared use an unauthorised knockback on my mobs, everyone else is yelling at me. My husband is yelling at the shaman too but he isn’t actually in the group, he’s just watching over my shoulder.

Imagine for a moment that you are a game designer and you have been challenged to invent a new ability that will really really annoy every tank in the game.

How do you do it? Think about the tank’s job in PvE, then think about how other people can make it more difficult. If there is a random element, even better.

  • A misdirect that sends the monstie off to smack a random group member? (My burglar has that in LOTRO.)
  • A castable shield that removes all threat from the tank? (That’d be a paladin special.)
  • An amnesia spell that just resets the monster’s threat table? (My sorcerer had that in DaoC.)
  • The ability to teleport a monster away from the group in a random direction? (That’s City of Heroes.)
  • Or maybe an instant AE nuke which also flings all monsters away in random directions at the same time? (What is this I don’t even …)

Knockback is the epitome of anti-crowd control, allowing a hapless caster to create chaos where once there was order.

Thunderstorm in particular is a dreadful example of game design. It’s an instant AE nuke, also gives some mana back to the caster, AND knocks back the enemies in a random direction by 20’.  This means that it mixes together a few abilities that a caster would really want to use, and a side-effect that will make everyone hate you in instances. Tanks will hate it because they inevitably lose some control, plus there is a good chance that at least one of the mobs goes flying into another group. Also there is a special hidden aspect to Thunderstorm which forces shamans to use it JUST as you hit shockwave so your best AE threat ability is completely wasted and now on a cooldown while the monsters run wild … 20’ away in random directions.

But all is not lost, there is a glyph of thunderstorm that PvE-ifies the spell. So you get the same damage, more mana, and no knockback. It’s also a great example of how glyphs can be used to customise spells in interesting and useful ways. That should be a win, right? Well, it would be a win if the PvE version of the spell was the default, and people had the option to glyph for the PvP/solo friendly knockback.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Because otherwise that was a neat and player-controlled way of letting spells behave differently in PvE or PvP situations. But the non-PvE friendly version should never have been the baseline.

All that means is that clueless players wander into groups, toting spells that are guaranteed to piss off the rest of the group and with side-effects that have no good place in group content. A 20’ random AE knockback is very very rarely going to be useful in a group.

I could imagine games where this would be less of an issue. Where chaos in PvE is the order of the day. Where tanking and healing abilities are more spread and players are more self sufficient, so spraying a bunch of monsters around just makes it easier for people to pick separate targets and bag them. But WoW is not that game.

Spells with multiple effects

One of the hallmarks of more recent iterations of WoW abilities are new spells which do multiple things. Shockwave, for example, puts out some damage, a lot of threat, and also stuns mobs.

Warriors have a lot of fun with Shockwave. It can be used to hold a group in place briefly while you charge off and grab another set. It can be used purely for the threat, with the stun as a side-effect. It can be used in PvP purely for the stun, with the damage as a side-effect. Producing more than one effect makes the spell more flexible and more group friendly, not less.

Also there are very few occasions where the side effect is problematic.

Another example would be lifebloom which heals like a regular HoT with a burst heal at the end. So in TBC druids could choose to either stack the HoTs (rolling lifebloom) or let it bloom. Again, not an ability that would ever hinder a group but the extra effect makes it more flexible and fun to use.

And the knockback abilities can also be great in the hands of a skilled player. I’ve seen Blastwave used to knock mobs back towards the tank, for example.  But not every situation is knockback friendly. So really the caster needs to be able to choose when to use that side-effect, not have it tacked on to a spell that is part of their core dps rotation.

Knockbacks used right

Warhammer Online had some great notions for knockback. And in that game, tanks were given many of the CC spells.

The knockback was intended to let tanks throw an enemy away from a more vulnerable group member in PvP. And throw people into lava in Tor Anroc, an awesome PvP scenario featuring narrow paths r around pools of lava which was roundly hated by every class which didn’t have a knockback and loved by every class which did.

What the devs realised is that knockback is a PvP ability, where maintaining perfect control of a pull is less important than ‘get it off me right now!!!’

20 thoughts on “Knockback Man, thank goodness you came!

  1. Knockbacks in WAR were knockdowns for mobs – I’d thought it was to prevent exploits of knocking mobs over edges where they can’t path back, but reading this it’s probably also because it was hideously annoying in PvE 😉

  2. Oops, been too long since I played WAR, you’re right of course. I remember knockbacks never having been so irritating in PvE despite being quite common CC and that’s the reason.

  3. Knockbacks work great for all of 1 fight in WoW: Saurfang, and he’s in the very last raid dungeon they’ve made! Seriously, it’s a neat mechanic, but I really just think they put it in because “they could.”

    I like how they had to change spells like typhoon to not work on people on mounts because people bitched so much about getting knocked off on PVP servers while hovering around Naxx and falling to their death. You can’t win.

  4. You forgot death grip which can be used to pull a mob towards the tank AND is a taunt. It could be useful to pull a mob towards the tank, like counterspell. Counterspell doesn’t taunt the mob. 🙂

    An AE fear is the same as the knock back spells and somehow we were able to teach the DPS to not use AE fear in dungeons. I’ve never met a DPS who didn’t stop using these spells after I’ve asked him, nicely.

    But, when tanking on my paladin, my all time favorite is the worst spell in the game. The freaking warrior charge. I hate charge 10 times more then every knock back. DPS warriors tend to charge the mob to gain rage, but they also stun the mob and 99% are not skilled enough to stun the mob after he has already beaten on my holy shield. No, they stun the mob, ideally even outside of consecration. Very very very bad design. Charge should not stun and there should be a PvP glyph to add that functionality but remove the rage gain or whatever. 🙂

    The difference is that knock back is most of the time used when I have aggro. It’s annoying (even more to melee dps) but the mobs will come back. Charge, on the other side, is guaranteed to be used at the beginning of the pull.

    Also, bad used frost novas… *shudder

    • AE fear why it’s sometimes a good idea not to have one spell with multiple effects (esp when some involve crowd control). It was easy to ask people to remove it from their quickbars, it didn’t mess up anyone’s rotation and no one had to go off and buy new glyphs.

      I also think that you’d see this a bit differently from a paladin tank because you’d be more likely to have threat on a group of mobs before anyone had a chance to cast a knockback. On my warrior, I do need to gather them up first so I can get a thunderclap/shockwave off, so if people cast as soon as they’re gathered, there’s a good chance I don’t yet have solid threat.

  5. I love toying with tanks (atleast, ones I know well) just to see how they fare (it’s a bit of a sport in my guild sometimes) As a Moonkin, I do have typhoon, but you forgot to add the Daze effect, it slows mobs down. definitely complicates things. >:)
    Not only that, a sneaky shift into bear form for a taunt, a cocky cyclone (3 second immunity to all damage CC) and the coup de gracé, popping all my cooldowns on the initial pull and starting off with a 12k Starfire crit.

    My Guildmates however FORCED me to get the starfall glyph after I pulled the Audience in Kharazan’s Opera event using it (PBAoE, 30 yards, down to 10). They were waiting outside the door and all piled in when we downed the boss. Hi-larity ensued 😀

  6. o/ I have been that shammy (hangs head)

    I should clarify that I always glyph the thing to not knock back and up untill Saurfang its never been a problem. But of course I de-glyph it for that fight (Bears tend to de-glyph maul as well, praise the lords of the Auction House) and … especially when we were still learning the fight and had to suck up a few wipes I sometimes forgot to re-glyph it after. Despite having a 20 stack in my pack. I normally remembered on the trash before Valistraya (or however you spell the wounded dragon) and if I forget the subtle reminder of my raid leader and/or tanks screaming at me was always helpfull…..

    • I do wonder whether the knockback spells were designed that way to encourage people to go buy glyphs, since they came in at the same time as inscription I think?

      Not really sure how I feel about fights like Saurfang that require some people to reglyph inside raids — I don’t much care for the idea, but fortunately it doesn’t apply to me 😉

  7. Ah, City of Heroes as a melee character on a team with an Energy Blaster (many single target knockbacks, a cone knockback, and a massive PBAoE knockback nuke) and Storm Defender (knockbacks out of the proverbial wazoo). You could even slot powers with Knockback Enhancements to knock things even further back leading to fun games of mob tennis between two characters with a minimal damage/high knockback power fully slotted…

    • I want to say that it was bubble defenders in CoH who had a high magnitude/low damage single target knockback power. I often juggled the Boss against a corner while the rest of the team got the Lts and Minions. Fun fun.

      Let’s face it, it’s not like bubble defenders could heal! 🙂

      Spinks, it amazes me that the rest of your group did not yell at the Shaman for causing the wipe. It’s not like you aggro’d the boss or the next group. If I saw a mob go flying away, I would have voted to remove the Shaman right away.

  8. I met a druid once, a big cuddly spacechicken druid. and he didn’t know anything more fun in the whole wide world, than to take the casters and throw them away from me.
    Every single time it was off cooldown. Halfway through the run, I had to use my “Im the tank, good luck finding someone else tanking anytime soon. OR get rid of the moron chicken”. He then promised to be good.

    I am not proud of it, but it had to be done. If for no other reason than my sanity.

  9. Hehe, I’m usually pretty calm and forgiving when I’m tanking, eternally taunting back from overaggroing dpsers without complaining… but carelessly used knockbacks are something that can send me into a rage as well. They really seem to have been designed purely to annoy tanks.

  10. Good story. I’d just like to take issue with one minor point: your suggestion that the glyph of thunderstorm PvE-ifies the spell.

    I agree 100% that this glyph makes thunderstorm tank-friendly, and group-friendly. But PvE-ifies? No.

    You’re maybe forgetting that for 79 out of the 80 levels we travel, our PvE experience is mainly alone. Instances aren’t much of the PvE experience for most of the tuime you spend levelling. For that reason, the default behaviour of Thunderstorm is very useful for its caster, who is usually tank, DPS and healer all rolled into one. That’s how everybody experienced levelling. We had to rely on our own abililties only.

    I agree 100% that once you’re in a group, you should either equip yourself with the appropriate glyph or just not use the spell; but don’t knock the designers for making a phenomenally useful spell for shamans, that happens to make no sense to use on the few occasions where you as a tank would ever come across it. Remember, most of the time when this is cast, the shaman is in a PvE situation and is alone.

    So, agreed it isn’t a group-friendly or tank-friendly spell. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful spell for PvE.

    For the minority of occasions when the shaman wants to use this spell and is in a group, there’s a glyph. That’s the right way round. Mostly, the knockback is wanted, because mostly the shaman is not in a group.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a shaman, so I can’t use it (or any other knockback spell, such as druids’ typhoon).

  11. I ran into this twice in my first two Ramparts runs. The first time I had no clue what happened, other than the group of Mobs I’d just neatly rounded up and was Consecrating down were suddenly scattered all over the place. We avoided the Wipe but I foolishly never said anything. I think the first Shaman learned his lesson to restrict that spell to solo-PvE encounters though.

    The second Run when it happened again I asked what had happened and the Shaman, to his credit, admitted that it had been him & his Thunderstorm spell. “It does awesome damage!” he said, but at least he too was smart enough to realize that its application within an Instance was greatly limited.

    Spells like these really need to come with little italicized sub-text warnings, something along the lines of: “Frequent use in confined spaces can cause high Threat and may Aggro the Tank. Use with caution.”

  12. I’m with you on the knock-back. I hate em with a passion at all times in a dungeon, whether I’m tanking or dpsing on my warrior.

    Its the biggest pain in the arse when tanking, at best the mobs are scattered and you have to round them up again, and at worst they are scattered and decide to bring friends with them when they return. Neither is good for the tanks blood pressure.

    When I’m dps, its not as stressful, but it can still be frustrating when you’ve just popped bladestorm or sweeping strikes only to have all the nicely grouped mobs get tossed around so you can only get one of them and thus waste the spell. Makes me wish I could target the caster of the knock-back instead of the mobs.

  13. Knockbacks can be very usueful in WoW 5 persons when applied in correct situations. As a FFB fire Mage who is spec’d with Blastwave (a knockback spell in Wrath) can fire any loose mobs back to the tank if they get attack the healer, or a dps (including myself) who has pulled unintended agro. This is why I try to stand with the healer incase anything does wanders their way.

    Knockbacks are also hugely popular in City of Heroes where a few power sets are pretty heavy with it. (Bowling for Hellions as someone mentioned to me once.) In this aspect has a similar problem as with WoW when mob targets are bounced away from the tank. Again…this should be used sparingly when a mob is attacking you or another squishy. Also knocking back targets into the wall where they don’t go far is also reccomended.

  14. I’ve just started a lowbie warrior tank and have been slowly tanking my way through the low instances, learning the craft of tanking. Believe me, I definitely learned at exactly what level range Mages got Blast Wave. Sigh. Thanks for THAT little burst of instant panic, lowbie mages! /grumble

  15. Pingback: They’re all smarter than you out there « new traditionalists

  16. This happened to me the other day, and I thought of this post 🙂

    The shaman’s excuse? “I was OOM”. Oh yeah, cuz your mana is more important than my damn crowd control. Nice to know you appreciate your tank.

  17. I’m an Elemental Shaman, and I love un-glyphed Thunderstorm. Great for pvp. Great for kiting/dealing with boss fight adds on a number of bosses.

    And lastly, if the add is between me and the tank, it knocks it back to the tank. And yes, the tanks I run with are generally quick enough on the uptake to grab it back.

    If someone is knocking back, blame the player, not the tool

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