Perfect Ten: A primer on 10 very basic MMO fight mechanics


When the first two humans decided to get into a fight, they were just pushing one another and telling the other person to quit it, that hurts. Then one of them had an idea. “If I hit him with this rock,” she thought, “it’ll hurt more and he’ll give up!” Then she hit him with a rock, and he gave up on literally everything.

Not because he was dead but because there were tons of rocks all over the place and he could have thought of that too. His joie de vivre was just gone after that.

Anyhow, the same could be said of MMOs. At the most basic level, MMO fights involve your walking up to something you wish were no longer around and then both of you just swing at one another until one of you falls over and a little sound effect plays. But eventually even Ultima Online had to add in some mechanics to fights to make them more interesting once people got tired of ganking one another. So here’s a very basic primer of the mechanics many MMOs use to make fights more than just “watch bar go down and wait.”

Don't stand so.

1. Don’t stand here

The most basic of all mechanics in fights involves some form of telegraph saying that a thing is about to happen in a given area. What will it be? Fire breath? Ice breath? Lightning breath? Something that isn’t breath-related? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you want to not be standing there when it happens, and that will require you to move instead of just standing and spamming abilities.

2. Stand very specifically here

At the simplest level, this can be “don’t stand here” with a very specific zone not indicated as no standing room. But it can be more than that. For example, the boss is about to set you on fire. There is a puddle of water in the room. Water is well-known to not be conducive to fire! You should stand in the water and not get set on fire. No, I don’t know how that works when the water comes up to only your ankles.

Time to learn.

3. Everybody stand in different places

By years of practice and natural instinct, we have a certain routine for standing in a boss fight. The tank stands in one place, the physical DPS stands behind the boss to smack it, and the ranged DPS stands close to the healer because his hair smells so nice. Like fresh lilacs. But this mechanic is thrown in to make everyone suddenly not stand together by forcing you to spread out or hurt a lot.

If you’re thinking now that you can combine this with places you shouldn’t stand to create new and interesting challenges for players, congratulations! You have designed a more interesting boss fight than existed in the entirety of vanilla World of Warcraft. Take half a holiday.

4. Everybody stand in the same place

In an MMO fight, just a little south of the boss door,
We were fighting a giant plant monster that tossed out some pain spores.
Then it lifted its hands in the air
And a new attack it prepared –
And my instinct, it told me to run,
But our healer declared:

“Come a little bit closer, the damage is split
Between you and I –
Come a little bit closer, everyone here,
And then no one will die!”

Jump, jump.

5. A thing happened to you, go do a thing

Oh no! You’ve been marked as targeted by Very Definitely Lethal Lightning. What are you going to do? Well, there are a bunch of pieces of straight vertical metal marked “Lightning Rod” throughout the arena, and the boss said “So long as you stay away from the Lightning Rods, you’re done for!”

So obviously you should just stand there, and when you die you should say in chat that the attack is cheap. Enjoy your Final Fantasy XIV mentor crown!

6. Hide from the thing

Life hack: Physical objects often stop painful things from hitting you. If the boss dropped a whole bunch of things onto the field or is in a room where you can duck behind walls or whatever, maybe you can dodge the upcoming room-wide attack by putting a wall or a boulder or whatever between you and the boss. Often the structure in question won’t survive the attack, but that’s all right. If a bomb goes off on the other side of a wall and the wall collapses, you will be perfectly fine if you are rubbing your cheek against the wall beforehand. That’s how physics works!


7. Use your abilities to remove a thing

“Remove Poison? What a garbage ability. I’m not going to even train that ability. There will never be a scenario where I’ll need that. I would simply not drink any deadly poison.”

“Oh my goodness, deadly poison is coursing through my veins as part of this boss attack! This is tremendously painful! If only I had some form of ability that might provide a salve for this pain and imminent death! My hubris has sealed my fate!”

8. Kill these new little guys

Sometimes bosses are just straight-up cowards.

All right, I’m not just going to make video jokes for the rest of this article, even though I could. More often than not this “mechanic” is a little bit silly, but it can actually provide a very nice breather in a more intense fight. This is especially true if the boss summons adds but remains active at the same time, which means players have to quickly prioritize their targets and often take out the little adds to avoid the boss hitting harder or being invulnerable or whatever. But it can kind of feel like filler.

Ow! That's sharp!

9. Kill this thing fast

No one needs to be told to kill an enemy quickly. That’s how you take less damage and get to move on to the next enemy, after all. But sometimes “kill it fast” becomes an actual race of some kind. Maybe the enemy is putting on a stacking buff and eventually it’ll kill you, maybe it’s a stacking debuff, maybe after a short span of time this enemy will auto-kill you. The point is that you just need to hustle on this one even more than you were already planning to.

10. Stop fighting and play a minigame

All right, you’ve mastered all the basics, now we’re going to just straight-up make you play a completely different game in order to keep things fresh. Welcome to a jumping puzzle or a vehicle minigame or whatever. It’s not so much a new mechanic as it is completely changing the game at the eleventh hour, and it’s usually either trivial or rage-inducing.

Or it’s the part of Final Fantasy XIV where you have to do basic math and a quarter of the raid just fails over and over because math is so hard. Can’t imagine why people would want to bypass the extra several minutes of people asking how anyone can remember what’s a prime number. It is a mystery.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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