One of the biggest changes I've observed as an old time gamer (AD&D 1st ed, Shadowrun 1st ed etc) versus now exploring 4th ed D&D (and reading about 3.0/3.5 and d20 systems etc) is that now people talk in terms of "Strikers, Controllers, Leaders and Defenders" and categorize most characters into one of these roles (and the DMG itself suggests a party should have at least one of each role.

This is a very big change from how we played back "in the day".

I'm curious when and how this entered into the gaming lexicon? I thought I heard it comes from MMO's and computer RPG's - is that the case? (and if so does anyone know the full history)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It should be noted, that in dnd-4e, it is not just the DMG that references those labels, but also the classes themselves. Each class has a "Role" that is one of those types, and those types are described in the PHB, and probably other books as well. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2011 at 15:09

2 Answers 2


In their current usages, with the release of D&D 4.

Similar classification systems have been around for decades... longer even than MMO's.

Champions made mention of Bricks, Blasters, Mentalists, and several other Superheroic archetypes back in the mid 1980's...

But, generally, until D&D 4, pen & paper RPG's generally avoided these types outside of superhero genres.

A generally good mix in old-school AD&D was a Wizard, a Cleric, A Thief, and some combat-types (Fighters, Paladins, Monks, Barbarians, Cavaliers)... and most parties realized that if not playing adventures tailored for their non-standard mix.


It indeed does come from MMOPGs, but slightly twisted.

In WoW there are:

  • tank: the defender
  • healer: much worse than the leader, he just heals people, mostly the tank, but other people too when needed
  • DPS: striker and controller

Changing those names was the correct thing to do, because they actually work in a very different way, even if they are somehow similar. In D&D every character is supposed to be able to be hit a few times and survive; in WoW if a boss hits a non-tank just even once, he probably one-shots him. This means the tank has a much stronger "mark" mechanics then the defender, since he can't allow not to be the target not even once.

The healers just heal people instead of doing cool stuff like the leaders do. Some of the DPS fill both the role of striker and controller, while some others just do the striker.

Likely there are some games where things are somehow different - if I recall correctly FFXI had something akin to the leader.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, Wow also uses the term CC for things like rogue's sap and Mage sheep, which equates to a controller. This is distinct to DPS, but situational, as not all critters are vulnerable to CC. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Feb 3, 2011 at 9:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yogo: not exactly. Some classes can do CC, either DPS (usually) or healers (very rarely). CC is not a role, it is a "plus": if someone searches for a CC, he is searching for "a DPS who can do CC". Finally, the concept of "controllers" also includes AOE effects, which, again, are available to some DPS. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Feb 3, 2011 at 11:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ okay - clearly the terminology has changed more than I thought - AOE I assume means "area of effects" but what does "CC" mean in this context? and what does "DPS" stand for? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2011 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ There was an exception to the rule, however. The psionicist class in the F2P MMO Allods Online was an almost pure CC class. With a little creativity and an appropriate build you could keep three mobs locked down almost infinitely. Alas, the class got patched and now it is basically a mage that wears leather instead of cloth and deals astral instead of fire damage. :( Just as a reminder that the exact roles may also depend on the game and not every MMO uses the same "tank/heal/damage" classifications. \$\endgroup\$
    – user660
    Feb 3, 2011 at 23:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The origin ofthis is well before WOW or even Everquest. The original MUDS (Telnet based games) already had this concept before the Internet really took off. And even in the 80's we had the concept of tank/healer/utility for D&D \$\endgroup\$
    – user2015
    Aug 2, 2011 at 13:08

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