Hi there, I was wondering; in a fantasy setting, should "ranged fighters," AKA archers or mages (especially mages), wear any kind of armor? One of my friends (who is a little too glued to the idea of using gaming terms for his fight scenes) doesn't give his ranged fighters much protection because "they have tank who will aggro," despite me telling him that in IRL situations enemies won't always work like that, and ranged fighters are deadly and would easily become top priority during battle.
Which works right until the tank can’t maintain aggro, then the DPS scatter, because of course they do, and everyone wipes because, turns out, it’s nearly impossible to hit two idiots on opposite sides of the arena at the same time with the same AoE.
…or the tank never slotted a taunt, and the healer ends up running from and DPSing Bloodspawn, while the DPS stand in stupid trying to revive each other. No, I’m not thinking of a specific event, why do you ask?
Games are, by nature, an incredibly abstract approach to combat. Even inside of an MMO, the sharp difference between how PvE and PvP plays out should be a pretty solid indicator of how fragile the entire concept of aggro is.
An AI driven NPC needs to know who to attack. In most cases they’ll prioritize incoming damage, and target whatever’s dealing the most. The entire idea of a tank is to fake out that number, boost it further, or in some cases, completely override aggro generation, and take the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. Which is downright hilarious, when you step back and think about it. You’re talking about sending a party of adventurers up against an ancient demon who’s been sealed outside of the universe for millennia, but he will ignore the people actively trying to kill him, because that idiot who’s doing almost nothing to him said some mean things about his mother.
As I understand it, and I could be wrong here, Tanking is something that has come, almost exclusively, from metagaming. The idea that, “well, players are going to take damage, so let’s concentrate it on a single player to make the healer’s job easier,” doesn’t have a place in the real world. I’m not sure if the strategy dates back to tabletop, or came from the early MMOs like Ultima Online or Everquest. As I said, it doesn’t have any basis in reality.
The closest you can get is the role of infantry and skirmishers in mass combat. But, at that point, sticking infantry between your enemy and your archers wasn’t about protecting the archers, so much as, that the infantry were your primary combat force.
Step into PvP, and the value of a tank diminishes sharply. Most human players understand that, so long as the healer is up, nobody’s going anywhere, so they become public enemy number one. Hell, most of the times, when you give players an AI controlled encounter with a healer, your priority is clear. No, it’s not the big tanky guy/girl/sentient iguana with death rays mounted on its armor.
That said, I’ve seen a lot of games try to make the tank more valuable in PvP. Reducing enemy mobility, debuffing them, applying selective buff manipulation that makes a taunted target deal far less damage to other targets. All of it is a band aid on a system, trying to make the role function in an environment where the tank’s foes are smart enough to say, “nah, he’s not a problem, I’m going to wax the healer first.” Though, bonus points awarded to the games that just go, “screw it, the tank is the healer.”
Mages wearing robes is a setting or character decision. If armor somehow impairs a mage’s ability to cast magic, then that’s something they’ll want to avoid. If a mage isn’t, primarily, a combatant, and dislikes, or can’t afford, armor, they may avoid it for those reasons. That said, if armor doesn’t interfere with your mage’s ability to cast magic, they understand how to use it, and can afford it, not wearing armor is just being stupid (even if it is that character’s preference).
The whole concept of tiering armor based on the combat role is another gameplay abstraction, without a lot of basis in history. Armor was expensive. To the point that most rulers couldn’t afford to outfit large standing forces in heavy armor. You got the best armor you could afford. If you were supplied out of an armory, you wore what you were handed, which might just be a padded gambeson.
Thing is, I rather like armor tiering. At least from a gameplay perspective. It informs the player what the armor they’ve found is useful for, and is very useful for deciding if the gear you just found is going to be helpful for your playstyle. In MMOs it can help break up players, so that you have an easier time identifying their roles. But, it is an abstract, game system, with no relation to reality. Trying to take these things out, and evaluate them outside of their native environment can be tricky. This is how you end up with characters who can instantly cram three hundred cheese wedges down their gullet to fully recover from being set on fire and flung off a cliff into the sea, hundreds of feet below.