Class roles refer to the "job" of a class in a group setting. At its most basic level, these include the roles of tank, healer, and damage dealer (DPS). But each of these roles include sub-roles and classes can also have support roles. This guide generally addresses PvE needs, but includes some info useful for PvP.
There are three primary roles in almost every MMORPG, and World of Warcraft is no exception.
- Tank - The role of a tank in the group is to take the damage for the group, protecting the others from being attacked. Tanks usually have high health, high armor, and often high Avoidance. Their job is to keep the monster's Threat or attention on them, preventing the monster from attacking others in the group, who are often less armored and less able to take the damage of being hit by the monsters (mobs). 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 Instance seem easy.
- Healer - 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, the healer is often credited (wrongly or correctly) with good groups and bad.
- Damage Dealing : DPS - 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.
Sub-roles refer to the breakdown of each of the primary roles. For example, DPS is composed of melee, ranged physical, and ranged elemental. The following is a breakdown of all the sub-roles within WoW and the corresponding classes which fill those roles.
- Single Target Tank - The ease or ability to hold Threat on a single target in a group setting. Most people would consider the warrior class to be the master of this area of tanking.
- Small Group Tank - The ease or ability to tank and hold Threat on 2-4 targets in a group setting. Most people would consider the druid class to be the best for tanking in this role.
- Large Group Tank or AOE Tanking - The ease or ability to and hold Threat on 5 or more targets simultaneously. Most people would consider the Paladin to be the king of tanking multiple targets.
- DPS Tanking - The ability to deal high amounts of damage while tanking. Currently (patch 3.0.9), the death knight is the best tank for this role.
- Single Target Healer or Tank Healer - The ease or ability to heal a single target over an extended period of time. Most players would agree the paladin is supreme single target healer.
- Raid Healer - The ability to heal multiple players either simultaneously or over a very brief period of time. The shaman excels at healing melee groups, the priest does very well in large spread out groups, and the druid does well in situations that require large areas with lots of movement.
- PVP Healer - The ability to heal in pvp 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, making then very effective at pvp healing; shaman can "armor up" wearing a shield and self buffs, providing a very difficult healer to take down, even if they aren't moving; priests utilize shields and multiple healing techniques to withstand the stress of PvP healing; and paladins are able to survive extreme damage in many situations due to their shields and protection buffs.
- Support Healer - The ability to heal 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 - The ability to deal large amounts of damage at point blank range. The rogue is the ultimate melee DPS class.
- Range Physical DPS - The hunter is the only class which falls into this category, dealing large amounts of physical damage from afar (the only major difference between physical and elemental would be physical can be blocked and reduced in damage by armor; where elemental can be resisted or reduced damage through resistances, not armor).
- Range Elemental DPS - The ability to deal large amounts of elemental damage from afar, the warlock and mage are both very good at fulfilling this role.
- AoE (Area of Effect) DPS - The ability to deal damage to multiple targets simultaneously. The mage is the perfect class for this role.
Hybrid Hybrids are classes which can fill multiple different roles depending on their gear/spec and playstyle.
- Druid - The druid is the ultimate hybrid, able to fill the roles of tank, healer, melee DPS, or ranged elemental DPS :: Only some roles can be fulfilled at a time, often shape shifting is required, as well as spec and gear changes at higher level.
- Shaman - The shaman is able to the roles of healer, melee DPS, or ranged elemental DPS. These roles can be used at anytime, but gear / spec will vastly improve the effectiveness of each.
- Warrior - The warrior can fulfill the role of a tank or melee DPS.
- Paladin - The paladin can fulfill the roles of tank, healer, or melee DPS.
- Death knight - The death knight can fulfill the role of tank or melee DPS.
- Priest - The priest can fulfill the role of healer or ranged elemental DPS.
Supportive roles include all the other roles needed to create an effective party. These are not always absolutely needed 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 reduce the number of mobs that the group fight 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 to prevent 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 affect to friendly players or party members. Buffs can add abilities or enhance statistics, creating a more powerful character. These affects become more important as you level and enter higher, more difficult areas.
- Resurrection - Resurrection itself is a priest ability, but I am referring to the group of spells which allow players to bring their dead friends back to life. The priest, shaman, paladin, druid, and to a lesser extent, warlock are all able to resurrect, some better then others. The shaman and warlock (through a buff) are the only two able to resurrect themselves after dying... while the druid is the only one able to resurrect during combat.
- 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 produce water and food and the Warlock is able to produce Healthstones.
- Misdirection - This is an ability unique to the hunter, whereas 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.