Class roles refer to the "job" of a player in a group setting. There are three primary roles: tank, healer, and damage dealer (DPS). These may be further divided into sub-roles, such as main tank and off-tank. Groups may also choose to assign support roles, such as being responsible for crowd control. Balance of class roles is critical to attaining an effective composition in dungeons, raids and battlegrounds.
Choice of the role is largely determined by specialization, with each specialization designed to perform a specific role. While it is possible for characters to perform roles other than those intended for their spec, the result is generally ineffective and/or inefficient, and often cannot be sustained for long.
There are three primary roles in almost every MMORPG, and World of Warcraft is no exception.
- Tank - Tanks protect their allies by drawing enemies' attacks toward themselves and absorbing damage.
- Healer - Healers keep their allies alive by healing their wounds and protecting them from harm.
- Damage Dealer (DPS) - Damage dealers focus on the critical task of dealing damage to the party's foes.
The role of a tank in the group is to take damage for the group, protecting the others from being attacked. Tanks usually have high health, high armor, and often high Avoidance. In PvE, a tank's job is to keep the monster's threat or attention on them, preventing them from attacking others in the group, who are often less armored and less well-suited to taking damage. Tanks are often the leaders of the group, the first ones into a fight and the last ones out. Good tanks can make a very hard dungeon seem easy. Small groups will have a single tank, while larger groups may have several, often switching targets mid-fight. Tanks are less common in PvP, but can be extremely effective as flag carriers and defenders. Despite the lack of use for their taunting abilities, tanking specs are often still effective in PvP, trading sheer healing and damage output for resilience and staying power.
The role of a healer in the group is to heal others when they are hurt or take damage, thus keeping party members alive in order to tank or kill the enemies. The role often requires quick reaction time and steady nerves. Healers must anticipate incoming damage and balance the protection of their allies with their finite supply of mana. Healers are often credited (rightly or wrongly) for the success or failure of a group. In PvE, healers are mostly focused on the tank(s), but must do their best to keep all members of the group alive. Healers are arguably the most critical and responsible members of a group, capable of compensating for others' errors and often expected to pull absent-minded allies out of the fire.
The role of DPS is to kill the monsters. This may sound simplistic, but it takes skill and know-how to dish out powerful damage without overwhelming the group's tank and causing the monsters to attack you. While the tanks and healers focus on keeping the party alive, it is the DPS that must attend to the vital task of actually defeating the group's enemies. The DPS must also deal damage quickly enough to defeat their target before the healers' mana expires, the group is overwhelmed by additional mobs, or the enemy enrages and wipes the party. The most populous role and also the least responsible, DPS are often given additional tasks such as interrupting and crowd control.
For a more detailed overview, see Choosing a class role.
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Sub-roles refer to the breakdown of each of the primary roles. For example, DPS is composed of melee, ranged physical, and ranged caster. The following is a breakdown of all the sub-roles within WoW and the corresponding classes which fill those roles.
- Single-Target Tank - tanks and holds threat on a single target in a group setting.
- Small-Group Tank - tanks and hold threat on 2-4 targets in a group setting.
- Large-Group Tank or AOE Tank - tanks and holds threat on 5 or more targets simultaneously.
- DPS Tank - deals high amounts of damage while tanking.
- Single-Target Healer or Tank Healer - heals a single target over an extended period of time. paladins and Discipline priests make excellent tank healers.
- Raid Healer - heals multiple players either simultaneously or over a very brief period of time. The shaman excels at healing melee groups, the Holy priest does very well in large, spread-out groups, and the druid does well in situations that involve large areas with lots of movement.
- PvP Healer - heals in PvP combat. This takes additional skill and know-how. Each class can fill this role, but they do so in different ways: druids are able to sneak and heal on the run; shamans can armor up with a shield and self buffs, making them difficult to take down even if they aren't moving; priests utilize magic shields and multiple healing techniques to survive; and paladins are able to survive extreme damage in many situations due to their shields and protective buffs.
- Support Healer - heals when needed, supporting other healers in the raid/party. Again, all healers can fulfill this role, but often the druid and shaman are considered best.
- Melee DPS - deals large amounts of damage at point-blank range. The rogue is the ultimate melee DPS class.
- Ranged Physical DPS - deals large amounts of physical damage from afar (the difference between physical and caster DPS is that physical damage can be blocked/reduced by armor, whereas magical damage can be resisted/reduced through resistances, not armor). The hunter is the only class in this category.
- Ranged Caster DPS - deals large amounts of magical damage from afar. The warlock and mage are both very good at fulfilling this role.
- AoE (Area of Effect) DPS - deals damage to multiple targets simultaneously. The mage is the perfect class for this, but many others can also do well in this role.
Supportive roles include all the other roles needed to create an effective party. These are not always required roles, but they do make groups faster, make fighting easier, and often more fun. There are many supportive roles but this list will cover some of the most important or common.
- Crowd Control or CC - CC refers to spells and abilities which limit an opponent's ability to fight. CC abilities are used to temporarily reduce the number of mobs that the group fights at once. Due to the fact that most groups cannot tank more than a certain number of elite mobs at a time, crowd control is often essential in preventing a group from being overwhelmed. For a guide on how to effectively use CC in instances, see the Instance grouping guide for a crowd controller. All classes have some form of CC, but certain forms are better in certain situations.
- Buffing - Buffing is the ability to add a temporary effect to friendly players or party members. Buffs can add abilities or enhance statistics, creating a more powerful character. These effects become more important as you level and enter higher, more difficult areas.
- Resurrection - is a priest spell, but generically resurrection refers to the spells which bring players back to life. The priest, shaman, paladin, druid, and, to a lesser extent, warlock and death knight are all able to resurrect, some better than others. The shaman and warlock (through buffs) are the only two able to resurrect themselves after dying, while the druid and death knight are the only ones able to resurrect during combat.
- Wipe recovery - Assisting the group to recover from a wipe without characters having to run back to their corpses from the graveyard. This is generally performed by either self-resurrecting following a wipe, or by evading death while the rest of the group is killed, and subsequently resurrecting the rest of the group, or a healer who can. Several classes can perform this role, as can any character with certain items such as . Shamans can perform solo-wipe recovery using .
- Consumables - The ability to create temporary consumables (which disappear after being logged out) for use in the group. For example, the mage is able to create water and food, and the warlock is able to create Healthstones.
- - This is an ability unique to the hunter, where the hunter is able to project their own Threat onto another party member for a brief period of time. The enemy targets act as if the attacks came from the 'misdirected' character. This ability is very helpful in fast-moving raids as well as difficult or dangerous situations.
Choice of role is limited by class; only certain classes can adequately perform certain roles. The table below indicates the class roles (and races) available to each class. Classes are on the left of the table, and class roles on the right.
- X : This class was available for this race since its introduction.
- X with a color : The class was added to the race in a later expansion.