Author Topic: Tanking Analysis in D&D (or why we've been giving up on that party role)  (Read 12611 times)

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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After my last successful thread, it occurred to me when thinking about how much I enjoy tanking in LoD (DotA with multiclassing), and that the build goals are very similar to various D&D abilities. As a result I'm going to explain through matching DotA terms when tanking fails and when it succeeds.

First let's imagine a regular DotA match. You are up against normal, well-rounded enemies. You have a normal, well-rounded team that picks:
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So its up to you to pick the tank. Even the skillmonkey, if spotted, could go down in a round, the casters surely would, and the carry needs you to buy some time before they can down enough enemies that they can win a 1v1.
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You should feel like canon fodder because you are. What's the problem with the above?
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Let's look at a standard LoD tank build:
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This means we could soak up the following damage:
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So the question becomes, how do we build a D&D character that can tank over 1500 effective damage in less than a minute?

Let's start by copying the DotA abilites as closely as we can:
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It looked like a ardent 1 (magic mantle) / Erudite X / warblade or crusader 1 might be able to pull off most of this. You don't have to pull out all the stops to get tons of HP (draconic polymorph, might of the city, kiss of the vampire, etc) but it helps. Thoughts?

Bonus:
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Offline Solo

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Iron Heart Surge!
"I am the Black Mage! I cast the spells that makes the peoples fall down."

Offline ketaro

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Regeneration & Diehard :v

Offline linklord231

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I confess I may have missed your answer to this (I don't play DotA, so you lost me with some of the jargon), but I didn't see you address the issue of why your enemies should focus on you.  It doesn't matter that you are literally unkillable if the enemies can just ignore you and kill the rest of your team instead. 

You have to be able to deal "enough" damage that they can't simply ignore you, or provide some other annoyance factor that makes them want to target you.  Maybe you have some kind of Shield Other or healing ability to keep your allies alive, or an ability that makes your enemies less effective (debuff aura or status effect maybe), or maybe your a BFC Tripper and they simply can't get to your teammates. 

Like I said before, I don't play DotA.  But I do play a little Heroes of the Storm, so I'll talk about some of the abilities the tanks in that game have.

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Common themes:
Almost everyone has some kind of stun.  Those that don't, have something similar - a root or a blind.  Tyrael is the only one that doesn't have one of those 3 things. 
Almost everyone has some kind of emergency damage mitigation - either a self heal or an activated shield or a lifeleech ability.  Presumably this is to carry you through burst damage.
Almost everyone has a gap-closing ability.  Stitches, Johanna, and Sonya drag the target to themselves/vice versa, everyone else has a charge or teleport.  The only exception is Arthas, who has a long range root and a slowing aura to make up for it.
Lots of people have an AoE damage ability.
Lots of people have a slow.
Lots of people do at least moderate DPS. 
A few people give buffs to nearby allies.
I'm not arguing, I'm explaining why I'm right.

Offline Solo

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Tank must draw aggro. Tank must lock people down. Tank must take damage. Best tank is Sorcerer with Wings of Cover, Wings of Flurry, Ruin Delver's Fortune, and Greater Blink.
"I am the Black Mage! I cast the spells that makes the peoples fall down."

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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Iron Heart Surge!
You saw the bonus, huh?

Best tank is Sorcerer with Wings of Cover, Wings of Flurry, Ruin Delver's Fortune, and Greater Blink.
Uh, ghost-touch weapon + see invis + attack iterations?

Regeneration & Diehard :v
:) Yeah I'm trying to actually take the damage without shenanigans (delay death,etc), ie actually tank rather than abuse some invulnerability bug. Those do sometimes happen in LoD...

I confess I may have missed your answer to this
The tl;dr answer is, we simply suck at making tanks. We build "standard" dota heroes, not LoD heroes (thinking outside the box).

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(I don't play DotA, so you lost me with some of the jargon)
I tried to translate everything into D&D terms, so let me know if I missed a spot.

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I didn't see you address the issue of why your enemies should focus on you.  It doesn't matter that you are literally unkillable if the enemies can just ignore you and kill the rest of your team instead.
Well they shouldn't, but they will. Trust me. I have watched thousands of very intelligent players who know that you have a megatank focus the tank. Why? Because you are in their face, and they want to kill you.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've watched a whole team literally ignore a super-tank and solely consider his team. We're talking no attacks wasted, completely walking around, "go let him attack our base" kind of ignoring. Hell, I build super tanks all the time, and I still don't ignore them when they get in my face -- even if I don't have a DPS build. Now imagine your enemies have never seen a supertank before. I gaurantee they will focus you, if you play correctly -- agressively and seemingly vulnerable. This is why we have to actually take damage, rather than just avoid it all.

Put another way, it becomes "imagine your enemies will never fight you. Maybe, you're a supertank, or maybe they are dominated/throwing the game. Now imagine all the things you can get away with." By that point, you've almost won everything before you start. Its obvious, and your enemies do know that. So they won't ignore you.

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You have to be able to deal "enough" damage that they can't simply ignore you, or provide some other annoyance factor that makes them want to target you
This is surprisingly easy, imho. Again, see the "Do you know how to wreck havoc if you knew no one would try to stop you?" question above.

Offline Solo

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Uh, ghost-touch weapon + see invis + attack iterations

Probably want to add Pounce to that list for when you finally make it through Solid fog, grease, black tentacles, and webbing to reach the arcane death machine.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2015, 09:14:04 PM by Solo »
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Offline faeryn

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From a purely D&D viewpoint, tanks are highly impractical. Sure it may not be wise to ignore the unkillable guy and let him roam around your lair while you kill his friends. But at the same time, that might actually be the smartest thing you can do. He's bound to run headlong into a multitude of traps, attract more attention than he can handle and eventually just be completely overwhelmed by to many enemies that he simply can't do a ddignificant amount of damage to due to his defensive focus.

It becomes less "no one will stop you" and more "everyone else will stop you". In D&D there's just no reliable ways to force enemies to attack you. The only ways to force enemies to attack you are:

Deal so much damage that you are a clear and obvious threat that must die right now...
Be a general neusance making it impossible to simply ignore you, even if you can't do much damage...
A single spell (I forget what it's called) that forces 1 enemy to attack you for 1 round... not exactly the most effective option really... But atleast its not mind-affecting...
Mind-affecting spells such as Suggestion, implanting a compulsion to attack you or ignore your allies...
Block access to your allies... doesn't tend to work to well without being paired with being a neusance, since enemies can almost always find a way around you.


All of those methods are far to easily shut down too...

High damage? Ignoring the fact that if your built to take damage you most likely can't dish it out all that well... being disarmed or grappled typically shuts a heavy damage tank down pretty quick.
General Neusance? Countered by it's very own tactics... It can also simply be ignored depending on the type of neusance, since some of the tactics for being a neusance have immunities...
That one spell? Assuming you even bother to counter it since it only lasts 1 round and the caster is almost guaranteed to only be able to use it only a couple times to begin with... Antimagic Field... succeed on your will save... it's like a 1st level spell so making that save really shouldn't be a problem at all...
Mind-affecting spells? Do I even have to say anything on this one?
In the way? Tumble, fly, burrow, translocation, teleport, etherial jaunt, ranged weapon, reach weapon, being knocked prone... I really could keep going, but I think you get the picture...

The amount of effort it takes to actually tank in D&D is countered so easily without even building for it. Unless you've got a DM who will actually throw minions at your tank for the rest of your party to pick off, there's really no justifiable way to play a tank in D&D. Your best bet is to just stand in the way and be a neusance for as long as you can before you inevitably get locked down... But hey, if you are anticipating being locked down, then you might be able to put up a well timed barrier between the enemy and your allies and with any luck be back in the game before they get through.

Offline Solo

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Clearly, then, tanking should be left to Druids who cast Wall of Bears.
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Offline Unbeliever

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@Faeryn

If only there were a variety of optimized lockdown builds ...

That being said, there aren't really any good drawing aggro tactics extant in 3E D&D.  But, there are plenty of ways to make yourself a kind of shield wall a lot of the time. 

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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Clearly, then, tanking should be left to Druids who cast Wall of Bears.
Did someone allude to a Bear Build?
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Uh, ghost-touch weapon + see invis + attack iterations

Probably want to add Pounce to that list for when you finally make it through Solid fog, grease, black tentacles, and webbing to reach the arcane death machine.
That's funny I was thinking low OP, t4 glaivelock (amulet of natural attacks works, right? or is magic mantle/transdimensional power necessary), so no webs, plus flight and ddoor. Fight tentacles with tentacles?

From a purely D&D viewpoint, tanks are highly impractical. Sure it may not be wise to ignore the unkillable guy and let him roam around your lair while you kill his friends. But at the same time, that might actually be the smartest thing you can do. He's bound to run headlong into a multitude of traps, attract more attention than he can handle and eventually just be completely overwhelmed by to many enemies that he simply can't do a dignificant amount of damage to due to his defensive focus.
On a standard tank, the "overwhelm" part does apply. But supertanks are different. You won't have any base left by the time the party is dead and the anti-tank slog can begin. Again this is a "you've won before you started" situation, assuming your enemies know to do this (which they won't).
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In the way? Tumble, fly, burrow, translocation, teleport, etherial jaunt, ranged weapon, reach weapon, being knocked prone
everyone flies (can fliers be tripped?), but thicket of blades is great for stopping the standard rogue tactics to pierce the frontline. Casters are assumed to have anticipate teleport for their own safety, but yes snipers can focus your party, if they chose to. That's why you either get in their face or have the DPS focus them first.
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just stand in the way and be a neusance for as long as you can before you inevitably get locked down... But hey, if you are anticipating being locked down, then you might be able to put up a well timed barrier between the enemy and your allies and with any luck be back in the game before they get through.
Yes being a nuisance is fun. And then what you said after that is a big no no no. The point is to actually take the damage: to actually tank. Not to run and hide and force your enemies to refocus to your party members. You successfully hold agro because you stay there and are getting hurt.

there aren't really any good drawing aggro tactics extant in 3E D&D
Because they aren't necessary, assuming you can actually tank. Comon, this is the whole point of the thread.

Offline linklord231

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Just so we're on the same page here, your definition of a "Supertank" is someone who takes damage (not avoids it by being untargetable or forces enemies to otherwise waste their actions).  A "Supertank" should coerce enemies in to attacking him - he should be attacked because enemies are afraid of the consequences of not attacking him, rather then being mind controlled or otherwise "forced" to attack.  If you attack a "Supertank", you lose because that's what he wants you to do, so that his allies can kill you.  If you don't attack a "Supertank", you lose because then he'll kill you. 

Is that about right?
I'm not arguing, I'm explaining why I'm right.

Offline Unbeliever

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I have the same issue that Linklord has been mentioning, which is why I guess I'm missing "the entire point of the thread."  I don't play DotA or LoD or HotS (but not the first of Blizzard's HotS) or any other funny stream of acronyms. 

Honestly, I think using the DotA, et al. metaphor is more confusing than helpful.  In D&D enemies don't usually have a "base" or something that is essential for them to defend.  Further, part of the tactical role of a tank in D&D is to soak up hits for the squishier characters.  So, the OP keeps using the term, but in a way different from the way we all use it. 

From what I can understand, this seems to be the heart of the thread: 
The problem with is tanking isn't that enemies won't fight you, its that you'll die when you do (you're a bad tank). So what's a good tank? One that survives an entire wailing on them. Sure you'll not be able to fight back, so you better have some allies doing the DPS, but you won't die; you'll keep tanking for a long time. You'll do your job.
I think there's some problem that the enemies will just circumvent you in D&D b/c of the aforementioned issues.  The only counter to this in this thread is "well, they don't in the MOBA games."  Cool, but that doesn't really tell us anything about D&D, which is a turn-based PnP cooperative RPG and not a pseudo-RTS competitive computer game. 

But, if we're setting that aside and the question resolves into something like:  "how do I make a super durable front-line character."  That I can wrap my head around.

However, Charopp boards have never thought this was particularly difficult.  Whenever people say "tanking is dead," on these boards, which I'm on record saying is overblown, etc. etc., they always talk about the tactical circumvention type of stuff.  Not, that you're made of cardboard.  The old Trouserfang Dwarf can suck up as much straight damage as you can con your DM into, for example. 
« Last Edit: July 23, 2015, 09:52:06 AM by Unbeliever »

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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a "Supertank" is someone who takes damage (not avoids it by being untargetable or forces enemies to otherwise waste their actions).
Successfully, yes. Standard tanks don't actually do this: they die quickly when focus-fired.
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A "Supertank" should coerce enemies in to attacking him - he should be attacked because enemies are afraid of the consequences of not attacking him
Ideally, yes. I don't underestimate the "all up in their grill" approach  :D
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If you attack a "Supertank", you lose because that's what he wants you to do, so that his allies can kill you.  If you don't attack a "Supertank", you lose because then he'll kill you.
Or do any number of awful things to an opponent who isn't bothering to properly fight/defend. But yes, often out of coincidence, supertanks have well above average DPS / DPR.

Honestly, I think using the DotA, et al. metaphor is more confusing than helpful.
Sorry, but it was necessary for me to realize the difference between standard tanks and super-tanks. The first is the usual 30 Con Crusader Ruby Knight Windicator + necrotic empowerment + Improved toughness, etc while the second thinks "1000 damage? I'm not breaking a sweat. I'll walk it off in a minute."
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In D&D enemies don't usually have a "base" or something that is essential for them to defend.
They certainly do in a lot of printed adventures, and I'd venture normal, private campaigns too. Different enemies defend different things, of course.
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Further, part of the tactical role of a tank in D&D is to soak up hits for the squishier characters.
I agree. Usually enemies "focus" attacks on very few targets. By being the target, you protect the squishies.
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that doesn't really tell us anything about D&D, which is a turn-based PnP cooperative RPG and not a pseudo-RTS competitive computer game.
it has a) highly similar, although often simplified D&D abilities, b) complex rule interactions, c) highly motivated tactical actions. My point was even better. When people say "Then you're enemies will stop attacking you" I counter: 1) they don't know if you're going to die in another round or two, 2) They've never seen anyone take multiple swords to the face and live, 3) they are in a struggle for their life (supertanks can attack too) and not calmly analyzing the situation. But in LoD DotA, all of those things are not true and yet players still focus super tanks. Therefore I conclude that enemies will as well in D&D (outside of some highly assholish behavior from a metagaming DM).
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That I can wrap my head around
Good. I know how to build Supertanks in DotA. I'm less familiar with the boards trying (in non-TO manners) in D&D.
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Trouserfang Dwarf can suck up as much straight damage as you can con your DM into, for example
I didn't realize people took that build seriously. I still laugh when I see it. It has all the usual TO problems: 'how do you walk with snakes in your pants?' 'How do you force the snakes to bite?' 'How do you get them to recharge their poison after they bit you once?' etc etc

I'm hoping to stay away from TO, although I was mentioning that a lot of "normal"ish tanking abilities in DotA seem quite powerful by D&D standards and might require light rule-bending for faithful D&D replicas.

Offline nijineko

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Offline faeryn

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just stand in the way and be a neusance for as long as you can before you inevitably get locked down... But hey, if you are anticipating being locked down, then you might be able to put up a well timed barrier between the enemy and your allies and with any luck be back in the game before they get through.
Yes being a nuisance is fun. And then what you said after that is a big no no no. The point is to actually take the damage: to actually tank. Not to run and hide and force your enemies to refocus to your party members. You successfully hold agro because you stay there and are getting hurt.

I think you misread that... I didn't say anything about running and hiding and forcing your enemies to refocus to your party... I outlined a valid method to keep them AWAY from your party while you get back into the action and will likely result in them keeping focus on you simply because they can't touch anyone else. If you know or anticipate that you will get locked down this round, then if you have the means to create a barrier "BETWEEN THE ENEMY & YOUR ALLIES" meaning you should be the only target on the same side of the barrier as your enemy in optimal conditions. They can either A) try to bypass the barrier to get to your allies, or B) wail on you until it's down likely resulting in you getting back up again and becoming a nuisance to them again.

EDIT: You can use contingency spells for creating those barriers too... this route is far less likely to result in annoying the DM and flying books.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2015, 01:29:20 PM by faeryn »

Offline Unbeliever

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I was mentioning that a lot of "normal"ish tanking abilities in DotA seem quite powerful by D&D standards and might require light rule-bending for faithful D&D replicas.
This seems totally true to me.  In pretty much any computer game that I've seen the tanking/damage-soaking abilities seem to be, mechanically, far superior to what D&D tends to offer.  That being said, they also tend to be worthless at higher levels (e.g., Diablo 3), too, so there's that.  I think it might be due to damage scaling in the computer games. 

I've already told you that I think the benchmarking, etc. in this thread misses the point.  I don't want to belabor that, but it seems like you want to use a radically different game's set of systems to do something while missing the tools D&D gives you.  If the idea was to look into homebrew, i.e., something like "how do we make tanking fun like it is DotA?" then that'd make more sense.  But, that doesn't seem to be the project. 

Let me see if I can be less vague than that.  Off the top of my head, a dragonfire inspiration, song of the white raven Crusader or Warblade with reach and dual-wielding spinning swords seems to be a great tank, super or otherwise.  He'll crank out solid damage (twf with dragonfire inspiration), and he'll pretty much win at melee combat.  Depending on how you set it up, he can either stop enemies in their tracks (Stand Still feat) or just make them really regret moving around (AoOs, especially with Double Hit).  And, on top of that, he'll have a nearly full maneuver progression and probably access to UMD for some flexibility, especially out of combat. 

Obviously, he doesn't stop everything, but it's pretty damn effective at what he does.  The maneuvers help paper over any glaring weaknesses.  He can't, however, take 1500 damage over 10 rounds.  He totally avoids the DotA (I think?  Tell me if I'm wrong) approach that the OP takes in favor of what D&D gives you, which is usually some form of battlefield control. 

Perhaps more constructively, I've found the Vampire Torc to be a great in combat healing item on the right, burst damage character.

Offline FireInTheSky

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Offline faeryn

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A few things I feel are worth mentioning...


Tanks in PvP based video games such as DoTA... People will attack these tanks regardless of if they are a "supertank" or not for a reason unrelated to what you have previously posted. The reason is that the players typically have an understanding of how the abilities in the game work and know that there is a limited time frame in which the tank is at their best and if you can get them when their abilities are on cooldown you will stand a good chance at taking them down. However, how do you catch them with their abilities on cooldown? You attack them and force them to use them then hope that you survive long enough to deal some heavy damage when they are vulnerable. DoTA tanks are very killable, you just have to know when and how to strike. And most people who enjoy those games know precisely that. That's not to say you won't frequently encounter newbies who don't know what they are doing when they attack a tank...

Tanks in D&D don't follow the same sort of time-based mechanics. You use an ability it lasts a number of rounds and usually has no cooldown. You can usually just reactivate it on the turn it ends on and be fine, so you don't have periods of vulnerability in D&D... additionally tanking in D&D is more of a game of mitigation rather than soaking... It's significantly harder to get large health pools in D&D than it is in an online game with tank classes... But it's also significantly easier to ignore damage all together in D&D. Everything from immunities to absurdly high armor class, it's all easily accessible in D&D. If you can manage to get your AC approximately 35 points higher than your character level, then the vast majority of the time nothing will be able to hit you without a nat20. And I can tell you from experience that's really not hard to accomplish... If magic is abundant in your campaign then that number increases by another 5~10 points... pair your high AC with various resistances, immunities, and fasthealing/regeneration, and you've got yourself a tank. Walk into swarms of enemies and laugh as they barely scratch your armor, when someone does manage to hit you however, you reduce the damage to a minimal amount and just heal it up over the next few rounds as you continue to laugh.


Tanks work significantly different from one game to the next. It all relies on the mechanics of the game. Regrettably though, while it's possible to make a "tank" in D&D in the sense that they can survive massive armies unscathed, it's not really feasible to make one who can redirect the enemies attention to themselves and away from their squishier allies.

Lets look at this from some logical stand points... a group of adventurers walks into a cave full of kobolds, one of the adventurers steps out from the party and stands in front wearing a thick suit of armor, behind him is an archer wearing some thin leathers, a mage in a robe, a cleric with a flimsy chain mail shirt, and a rogue who's trying to sneak across the cave wall wearing leather as well... If you're a kobold you're probably looking at this and thinking, "squishy one in back... open squishy in can after" it's really the most simple of logics out there... so simple that it literally is a no-brainer... if you put an unopened clam in front of someone who's hungry and a bowl of fruit next to it, they will go for the fruit first without even a moment's thought. The same mentality applies to combat, if you have a walking fortress and a squishy mage, you're first thought is usually going to be on the mage.

So the dilemma becomes, how do you make the walking fortress look like an easy squishy target? Well... the best options in my opinion come from magic... you've got a tank who wants full plate? nope, get that notion out of your head, take the lightest armor you can for your armor enchantments, get the most of your dex bonus to AC and get a mage to provide you with Greater or Improved Mage Armor... or be psionic and use Inertial Armor... or a monk... AC from sources other than physical armor make you appear to be a squishy... so now you're not the "squishy in a can" but instead you are the "squishy"... the squishy that for some inexplicable reason isn't so squishy... as the enemy would see it. Pair your vulnerable appearance with general nuisances and you're well on your way to being a true D&D tank...

So... in short...

7 steps to D&D tanking
step 1: appear squishy
step 2: get your AC as high as you can
step 3: resistances, immunities, & healing
step 4: make yourself too annoying to ignore
step 5: contingency
step 6: laugh maniacally
step 7: .... you are a tank now

Offline Ice9

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If a "supertank" is supposed to have significantly scary offense (enough that leaving them alone would be deadly) and unbreachable defense, and no weak points that would allow an easy shutdown ... then doesn't this all boil down to "if you play a character that's way fucking stronger than the opposition, you'll be good at tanking (or whatever else you choose to do)"?

I mean, yes, the power of optimization.  But presumably the GM is optimizing the foes also, otherwise you wouldn't even need a tank because every fight would be a one-round faceroll.