Updated Thu, Sep 16, 2010 by gunky
Group play is where Guardians can truly shine, but it can be more challenging for Guardians than for most other classes. The style of play is vastly different in a group than for soloing, and many players have difficulty with this transition when reaching areas of the game that require these new strategies.
Often, the Guardian is the core of the group's defence, the sturdy, unyielding tank who does all the mob pulls and struggles to maintain all the enemy aggro. In raids, he may share this task with a Warden or another Guardian, but in either case, his task is usually the same: start the fights, keep the aggro.
The Guardian needs a rather masochistic mindset, bordering on existential nihilism, when adventuring with a group. He must consider himself as the first man expendable, the one who should go down before anyone else. It is the Guardian's job to take the beatings for everyone else. If someone else in the group starts taking a beating, it is the Guardian's task to pull the attacker off of that other character and put himself in that place, while maintaining his threat status with all other attacking mobs in the fight. While the group healer watches the green bars, and the rest of the group watches the red ones, the Guardian largely ignores the bars altogether and tries to keep all enemy participants coralled into a manageable group, keeping their attention focused solely on him for as long as needed.
Aggro management is key for group-spec Guardians, and the more players there are in a group, the more challenging this becomes. There is less room for error in a 12-man raid than in a 6-man instance group. The larger group size means there are more characters generating threat, which it is the Guardian's task to contain and manage. This becomes increasingly complex when engaging very large groups of mobs: not only are there more characters generating threat, there are also more mobs responding to that threat, and these mobs may break away and chase down those high-threat characters before corrective measures can be taken. Group play requires a lot of quick thinking and situational awareness - knowing where specific members of the group are standing in relation to the mobs and one another, reacting to changing battle situations as they occur.
The Guardian and group healer have a special bond. When the Guardian is doing his job properly, the healer is healing only him (not including those occasions where there is area-wide damage, etc.). In return, the group's healer is often the main concern of the Guardian - keeping the Minstrels or Runekeepers free from distraction so that they may do their jobs effectively. While that bond is important, it should not be the Guardian's sole focus. The tank needs to take care of the entire group, not just the healer. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."
Guardians will need to switch targets often during big fights in order to spread the threat around evenly, keep the mobs focused on him, and occasionally pull loose mobs off the healers and Hunters. Because of this, they make poor target assistants for multi-target fights, as they often cannot afford to focus on any single target long enough for the group to coordinate its attacks. For boss fights and fights with very few enemies, they make good target assistants. In some instances, it helps for the group leader to target-mark the Guardian to better enable the other members of the group to target him for heals, buffs or other forms of assistance.
In many cases, Guardians will be solely responsible for initiating the fights - doing "pulls." There is an art to this, as lousy pulls can lead to group wipes. Typically, the Guardian will want to start fights with a much threat as possible to keep enemies focused on him the entire time. Sometimes, a ranged pull with a bow may be enough, but other times, conditions may necessitate direct contact and large, area-effect threat generation right from the start. There are different strategies for pulling melee mobs and ranged mobs. Melee mobs can typically be coralled in a tight group and contained with area-effect melee skills and shouts. Ranged mobs will prefer to stay back out of the range of area-effect melee attacks, and may require much more specific attention to keep them from aggroing on the healers of the group. Ranged mobs can be brought into melee range by employing line-of-sight tactics - running around a corner, for example, or moving far back out of firing range, forcing them to pursue until they meet the rest of the fellowship in a melee ambush.
One problem many Guardians will encounter in groups is the tendency for everyone in the group to attack as soon as aggro is established, regardless of how much threat the Guardian has had time to build up. Sometimes, this can throw the entire battle plan off kilter in a ruinous fashion. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to ask the group to give you a short period of time to build up threat - a five-count, say - before attacking or using skills. This will give the Guardian enough time to fire off a few big-threat area-effect skills and build up a good head of steam.
Gear-wise, "sword-and-board" is the generally-preferred group-spec Guardian setup. Having a shield equipped opens up a few more threat-generating possibilities, allows the Guardian to use Protection and Shield-Wall on vulnerable party members, and generally increases longevity during tanking. This is not to say that Overpower-spec Guardians cannot tank - even without a shield, they are still better at it than most other classes - but in general terms, equipping a shield and engaging Guardian's Threat stance is usually the preferred method. As with soloing, the Guardian will want to have lots of morale and power potions on hand, as well as the various debuff curatives. Food, scrolls and tokens are also invaluable, as well as shield spikes. Moreso than any other class, the Guardian will want to make sure his equipment is in good condition before entering an instance. They are given a skill - Summon Tinker, usable at any campsite - to help with this.
Threat generation is very important for the group-spec Guardian, and it is vital to understand how threat and aggro work.
Mobs will aggro on (i.e. target) whichever character has the highest threat rating. At the start of the fight, most characters will have a very low threat rating, and the mobs will aggro on whichever character initiates the fight. However, threat builds up for each character over the course of the fight, growing incrementally with each skill use, and unless the group's tank generates more threat than everyone else, or reduces the amount of threat each other character represents, the mobs will switch aggro away from the initiator. Each mob in the fight has its own "threat pool", to which each member of the group contributes over the course of the fight, so that any mob in the fight may perceive higher threat from different sources than any other.
A simplified example, with two mobs (Mob A & Mob B) and three characters (X, Y, Z):
Guardians have an advantage here, with a toggled stance that increases the amount of threat the enemy mobs perceive without using any skills. They also have skills that instantly generate large amounts of threat, skills that lower the perceived threat of everyone else around them, skills that force enemy mobs to attack them, and skills that increase threat over time. They can start fights with high-threat attacks, and keep building threat throughout the fight to keep enemy attention focused on them. These skills are the group-spec Guardian's bread and butter, and the judicious application of these skills is one of the things that separates good Guardian tanks from mediocre ones.
Also, as you can see from the example above, every member of the group generates threat, not just the tank and the healer. Healers and Hunters typically generate more threat than other classes (except other Guardians and Wardens), but all classes generate some threat during fights. The Guardian must pay attention to all sources of threat in his group, and try to minimize their impact on enemy aggro.