Kurn's Dungeon Basics

I’m levelling a priest. (I know, shoot me.) I’m levelling with my brother, who’s levelling a paladin. I’m disc, he’s prot. We’re primarily doing it through the random dungeon finder.

As such, I feel compelled to write up a quick guide to some very basic concepts of running dungeons, particularly at low levels.

1) Understanding Threat.

Threat, also known as aggro, is a good thing to have if you’re the tank and a bad thing to have if you’re anyone else.

What IS threat? What IS aggro?

It’s the attention you get from enemy mobs that makes them want to rip your face off and then stomp on it for good measure. As such, it’s highly recommended that the person in a 5-man group that tries to gain threat from enemy mobs be the “tank”.

A “tank” is named such because they are supposed to be large, intimidating and heavily-armored. Like, you know, a tank. In the World of Warcraft, you have four classes who can perform this role. They are: warriors, druids, paladins and death knights. For the purposes of this guide, I won’t discuss the death knights. I assume (perhaps mistakenly!) that if people can get to level 55 in this game, they have a basic idea of the tank/healer/DPS/aggro dynamic.

Warriors typically drop their talent points into their protection tree if they’re planning to tank and will probably wear a shield. You’ll want to see a druid shift to bear form to tank. A paladin will also be putting points into their protection tree if they want to tank, also putting on a shield.

Your tank is basically a distraction. They’re the ones who are supposed to use their various abilities to make themselves appear to be the largest threat those mobs are facing at any given moment. They wear heavy armor and have abilities that are very dangerous-seeming, plus have special talents and abilities to prevent all that insane damage from splatting them into next Tuesday. In reality, it’s the DPS (damage dealers) who are the largest threat, because they’re the ones dealing all the damage. Meanwhile, the healer is healing the tank so the tank can continue to generate threat. In an ideal situation, only the tank is taking damage so that the healer can heal through the encounter with ease, while the DPS attack the mob or mobs and deal a lot of damage.

So, are we clear on this? Tank grabs mob’s attention -> DPS deals damage on mob while mob is focusing on tank -> Healer heals tank and DPS/themselves if needed.

The trouble with this situation is that, for the game to be a challenge, threat is EASY to produce through damage and a little more difficult to produce for a tank. The tanks need to smack the mobs around a little bit in order to generate enough aggro from them to ensure that the damage dealers can do their jobs and go to town.

Here’s the catch: If the tank runs around near the mobs but DOES NOT hit them, this is called a “facepull”. That means that the tank has gained the attention of the mobs by physically approaching them, but the tank has not used any abilities to generate threat.

If a facepull occurs, ANYTHING the party does to EITHER the tank OR the mobs will result in that individual “pulling aggro”, which means becoming the most hated person by those mobs.


Anything. So long as it’s to the tank or to one of the mobs. Or to each other, if you’re already in combat by virtue of being close enough to the action.

So if I’m the healer of the group and the tank runs up to a mob and just STANDS there, getting beat on, if I heal him, I start looking threatening and the mob will go “HOLY CRAP, look at THAT person!!!” and come charging at me, with the intention of ripping my face off and stomping on it.

Similarly, if I’m a DPS and I start hitting the mob before the tank has had adequate time to generate aggro on it, the mob will go “Who the hell just hit me in the face?!” and then, you guessed it, it will then come charging at me, with the intention of repaying the favour.

Thus, to prevent your face getting smashed in, wait for the tank to establish aggro. This should only take a few seconds, but may take longer if more than one mob has been pulled.

“So what do I do if I pull aggro, even though I’m sure I won’t because I’m reading this awesome guide by you, Kurn!”

Glad you asked! Rather than run away from the mob and trying to hide in a bush, somewhere, you should run TOWARDS the tank. Yes, even if it means running through the mob who is trying to give you a mouthful of Chiclets. This means that the tank will be in range of the mob to hit them and pull them OFF of you. (Hunters, feign death. Rogues, vanish. Night elves can also Shadowmeld temporarily and priests can Fade, but don’t expect miracles.)

Some tanks are better at holding aggro on groups of mobs than others. In particular, paladins dropping Consecrate are amazing at it, although druids can abuse Swipe and that’s also pretty good. Death Knights are moderately better than warriors, but are still unable to generate the same kind of constant area-of-effect (AOE) aggro that paladins and druids do very easily. Warriors, well, they have a few tricks up their sleeves and a good warrior won’t have a problem with holding aggro on several mobs, but do be sure to give them a few seconds before you start in on things.

Related to this concept is the gauntlet mechanic.

There aren’t too many gauntlets in the game and I think the first one we really encounter in dungeons is in Shattered Halls, a level 70 instance in Hellfire Peninsula, but there are a couple of spots in level 80 dungeons/heroics where this mechanic comes into play.

What is a gauntlet?

A gauntlet is a section of an instance where mobs never stop spawning, so the way to get through it is to have the tank barrel down the hall or whatever it is, run all the way to the end, hold aggro on all of them and then AOE everything down.

Notable gauntlets in WOTLK dungeons:

– the trash for Skadi in Utgarde Pinnacle
– the trash towards the Scourgelord in Pit of Saron (the tunnel)

I don’t think this is technically a gauntlet, but you can treat the trash between the first and second bosses in Halls of Lightning (Slags) as such.

The trouble with a gauntlet is that the tank is running through, so they are NOT building threat. That means that a healer should NOT cast a heal, DPS should NOT damage mobs and NO ONE should be ahead of the tank. (Pre-shielding a tank with Power Word: Shield or Sacred Shield or Earth Shield is fine, though. But no hots!)

Ideally, the tank will have either Retribution Aura (from any paladin in the group) or Thorns (from any druid in the group) on them to better build aggro as they’re being beaten on, but those aren’t always available, so, in general, you’re looking at a whole hallway of facepulling. When the tank gets into position, they’ll start generating aggro and then the healer can start healing and the DPS can start damage. It is IMPERATIVE that, unless the tank is literally about to die, a healer not heal the tank. Let them get low. Under 50% is when I begin to worry. The panic sets in at about 30%. But do your best to not cast before they get to that point, or else six mobs are going to peel off the tank and splat you into the wall.

I should also note that if you want to be conservative (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you can agree to stop about midway through the gauntlet, AOE things down there and then move to the end and AOE things down there as well. This is a particularly good plan if the healer is new to the role, the tank is new to the role, if they’re unsure about the instance or if either is undergeared for the content.

Cooldowns like Pain Suppression, Guardian Spirit, Hand of Sacrifice and Lay on Hands are things that healers can cast on the tank as well, right at the end, to help stabilize the tank before they start healing. Tanks can also use their own cooldowns, like Divine Protection, Shield Wall, Last Stand, Enraged Regeneration, Barkskin, Survival Instincts, Frenzied Regeneration, Icebound Fortitude, Anti-magic Shell, Anti-magic Zone and the like.

2) Casters and How to Move Them.

Ever been standing there, halfway down a hallway in Scarlet Monastery or something and had a caster just shooting at you the whole time? But if the group gets too close to that caster, they might pull another group or another patrol? Of course you have. Everyone has.

Ever wonder what to do about it? Wonder no longer.

Long story short: Line of Sight (LOS) around a nearby obstacle or pull as far back as you can so they come to you at least a little bit.

These are the basics that people in my recent low-level pugs have emphatically not mastered. I don’t think most of them are even aware of these concepts. Thus, a post.

(As an aside, I was on my priest and shielded a bear who insisted on collecting the entire room Interrogator Vishas is in and was chided by a rogue or a shaman for doing so because it would prevent rage generation. Hah, WoWWiki says that: “As of Patch 3.1, [Power Word: Shield] will still allow warriors and druids to generate rage from damage absorbed.” Yay me for not being fail! And yes, I will be careful not to shield my brother too much when he gets Spiritual Attunement.)

Whew. Okay, Holy How-To #4 coming this week, I swear. Stupid healing meters…

3 Replies to “Kurn's Dungeon Basics”

  1. You know, tanks can generally attack at least some of the mobs in a gauntlet. Consecration, Judgements, Swipe, Maul, the jumpy thunder thing Warriors do (my highest Warrior is 12, sorry) as well as a melee swing or two, along with taunts will be enough to get most if not all mobs to stay on you through a few heals.

  2. Lecan – Oh, they CAN. ;) But do they? haha. :) On my druid, I run around swiping and on my paladin (when I do tank), I judge, use my Avenger’s Shield, make sure Holy Shield is up with ret aura, use Hammer of the Righteous… I do not, however, generally drop Consecration until I get to my destination, both as a visual cue that it’s okay, I’m stopping here, and also to obviously snag aggro on the mobs.

    Thunderclap is, sadly, a weakish AOE, especially compared to Swipe and Consecration. Still, it’s spammable, so that’s better than nothing.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see lowbie tanks doing anything to hold aggro until the very end of their marathon runs around rooms and hallways. :/

  3. I agree, Thunderclap is really a mediocre skill at best. But it’s good for picking up basic aggro on the move so you can line them all up for a Shockwave.

    With regards to dropping aggro, mages can (and should) use Invisibility if they need to. Each tick will lower aggro permanently. Both Invisibility and Shockwave, however, come after level 55, so they don’t really belong in this guide, do they? :P

    I’m curious, do you consider the Tribunal of Ages (HoS) to be a gauntlet event? Or just a similar fight?

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