In RPGs, "tanking" is where one heavily armored character forces a monster to attack him or her, permitting the rest of the party to attack and kill the monster without fear of taking damage.

Is there a plausible way for this to happen without arbitrary video game mechanics? In other words, are there any real-life techniques to force an animal's attention on oneself?


Assume this is a low-magic, medieval setting -- your typical fantasy genre world.

The line between "arbitrary video game mechanic" and "magic spell" can be blurry, so for clarity's sake, I'll lay out an example scenario:


Suppose humans are low on the food chain, and therefore hunting extra-large animals has become a squad-based military endeavor.

I'm not talking dragons, but creatures about this size:

Great Jagras

Let's say some hunters want to kill a monster using an RPG-style tanking strategy: Team A reliably holds the monster's attention, keeping it from noticing Team B who circles around and severs its arteries, maybe mounts it and pierces its spine or brain.

Is there a way for Team A to reliably (not perfectly) hold the monster's attention? (In other words, is there some plausible way that RPG-style tanking could exist?)

  • Assume the monster is unable to run away -- chained to a bear trap or something.
  • Assume that magic can be used to, say, cast a fireball or construct a whip that magically deals painful shocks, but not to force the monster to attack someone (or otherwise cheat the mechanic).


The good news is that wolf packs basically do this in real life when they hunt large prey (or fight with bears): Surround and jab. This grounds the idea in reality.

The bad news is that I don't know how one wolf could hold the prey's attention the entire time. If another wolf started climbing on the prey, you can bet the prey would switch its attention to the climber, and not the aggressor in front of it.

I'm speculating that, if the "tanking" hunters use some flashy, shocking, painful weaponry -- maybe a small fire spell that's high in pyrotechnics, or a magic whip that delivers electric shocks -- then they can reliably hold the attention of this ferocious, desperate, giant animal (that probably wants to run for its life). That the shock and pain and noise of a bombastic frontal assault will keep the beast's attention off the speedier, stealthier hunters nipping its arteries or crawling on its back. Something like:

  • Monster attacks Team A. ("How dare you!")
  • Team B: someone dashes in, spears an artery, dashes out.
  • Monster whirls at whoever speared it. ("Who did that!?")
  • Monster returns to attacking Team A. ("You're the biggest threat! Die!")
  • (repeat until monster bleeds out)

But that's pure speculation, and I'd really like a concrete precedent, if one exists. Is there a plausible way to do this?

Thank you!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This reads much more of a question about the actions of an individual in a scenario, rather than a question about building a world. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 4 '20 at 3:36
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ but its about how individuals all over the world might act, its building a culture or hunting style of a world. seems like its fits to me $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Apr 4 '20 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ Generally those low in the food chain survive by grazing grass or feasting on debris, not hunting big animals. Side note: we have no PM functionalities here, if you mean Private Messages. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 5 '20 at 6:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how to explain possible motives for hunting large monsters without making this question too story-based. (I'd originally included a detailed tactical scenario, which got this question closed for that exact reason.) It's a pretty arbitrary situation now, I agree, but it's just a skeletal framework to illustrate the RPG-style tanking in question. $\endgroup$
    – Ishmael
    Apr 5 '20 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ Real life is not an RPG. Any animals, besides some specimens of homo sapiens, if given the choice between flee and fight, would pick flee. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 5 '20 at 9:16


The monster decides whether to turn, so any tactic that relies on it not turning implicitly gives the monster an unnecessary advantage.

Start by learning from the wolves. They do not distract it from the front to keep it from turning, they distract it from behind to make it turn instead of attacking wolves in front of it. This is much better approach.

You still get attacks from behind regardless of which way the monster turns and it is distracted from effectively dealing with people in front of it. This is more reliable since it does not directly depend on an monster cooperating with your tactics and safer since it distracts the monster from people it could effectively attack instead of trying to get it to focus on them.

So you want your tanks to surround the target and cooperate in stopping it from focusing its efforts effectively in any single direction. Just like the wolves do.

This would actually probably be sufficient. Blood loss from the spear stabs and arrows would eventually kill the beast. And just like wolves you can target the hind legs to hinder its ability to attack, defend or flee. You can kill it safely once its too weak to move. Going for a spectacular killing blow before its safe is not really hunting.

Since you are not actually wolves, you can supplement this with archers. You already mention using poison arrows to slow it down but using bows to attack it has value beyond that. You can use them to supplement the spears in the "attacks from behind". Basically the archers will draw and aim and shoot whenever the "tank" between them and the monster attacks.

This keeps them reasonably safe while contributing to the battle since the tank is between them getting aggro for the attack from behind. It makes the tank safer because he can focus on the timing and defense instead of trying to reach a critical target. Because the arrows have better reach and speed than a spear the archers can worry about accuracy and vulnerable spots. As long as the tanks do their job they have the time to think and aim.


So narrowing down the question to just what will make a large beast (predator?) attract to an individual and not the potentially more dangerous group:

  1. Blood - you said the predators are attracted to the smell of blood. If the individual had a cloak or something that looked and smelled like blood, it might focus on vulnerable prey to the exclusion of 'unwounded' prey trying to 'distract' it. You could sub any chemical attractant for blood (like female beast urine or choice food items)
  2. mimicry - the beast LOVES to eat purple people eaters, and is attracted to the color purple. Or maybe the people-eater is covered in feathers that the person is wearing. Or conversely the beast is preyed upon by purple people eater, and someone in purple or wearing the feathers is assumed to be the main threat.
  3. Blinding - A hunter with a mirror keeps shining light in the beast's sensitive eyes, frustrating it and focusing its anger on the mirror user.
  4. Pain - Your caltrop device resembles a boar spear. If you were inflicting the most pain on the beast it would fixate on the source. A boar spear is designed to stab an aggressive charging animal but stop it from impaling itself the full length of the spear in order to kill the boar's opponent. A really heavy spear with a cross-guard set to receive a charge could stop a beast long enough for the secondary hunters with pikes (for piercing) or Halberds (for chopping) to move in and inflict quick lethal attacks.
  5. Magic - In the game bioshock, there is a 'spell' that causes the affected person to focus all their aggression on the closest person until something else attacks the affected person.Just have a spell specifically designed for this task. interpose a bed of set stakes between the beast and the spell caster (it wouldn't take that long for a small number of stakes) and the beast could be dashing itself apart on spikes trying to get the caster and ignoring the guy with the halberd getting ready to chop off its head.

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