How do you approach tactics?


This thread has inspired me to roleplay a character who is slightly deaf. In the heat of the battle, with swords ringing off steel, enemies howling in pain, and heroes bellowing out warcries, and the warlord in our party shouts out a tactical-based power, my PC will have to say "What?" and the power won't work.

Because at the end of the day, sometimes someone could be reminded that the PCs don't have an omnipotent bird's eye view of the battlefield, and that it's OK not to be perfectly tactical 100% of the time.

Nobody's claiming that though. There's a world of difference between perfect tactical play 100% of the time and completely ignoring tactics.

There is a fairly healthy middle road here where a bit of tactical play helps everyone.

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First Post
This where we get into genre convention bending. Rushing headlong into action and expecting to come out on top by virtue of being the hero is a common convention of the supers genre.

One wouldn't approach combat that way in a horror game and presumably not in a fantasy sword & sorcery game either.

Conflicts arise from making assumptions about the true genre being represented by focusing too much on the trappings presented.

This is true, but "fantasy" does not necessarily imply "sword & sorcery." Truth be told, I think these days most people who are aware of sword & sorcery as a subgenre within fantasy are historians after a fashion. It's not something you're certain to learn about if you get into fantasy gaming via Wheel of Time books (or even Forgotten Realms fiction) or the Lord of the Rings movies. Narnia, Eragon, the new (and crappy) Clash of the Titans, and let's not forget how many fantasy-based video games are out there with Big Epic Cutscenes as a way of life...

These days I'd say that the GM who decides to run a sword & sorcery game should be careful about the assumption that the audience is familiar with the tropes of the subgenre. (Unless of course you've gamed with them for years and you know their literary preferences almost as well as your own, yada yada standard disclaimer.) An entire generation has grown up familiar with fantasy but not necessarily with Weird Tales. To them, "the hero takes big risks and comes out on top" is the way much of the fantasy genre works, and the GM who wants to do something different should be willing to shoulder some of the responsibility for getting the players onto what may be unfamiliar ground.

Aust Diamondew

First Post
Instead of complaining, consider yourself blessed!

Those are just the sort of players I want in my game - far more entertaining than players who spend half a session planning a simple battle and run their party like a well-oiled machine!

And I play the game - as player or DM - for entertainment first.

Lan-"I'm charging! Who's with me?"-efan

I'll agree that the a player who doesn't plan is more fun than a player who plans too much. But really both are just differently bad at tactics.

I think a tactically competent player is one who knows to flank in melee, not launch a fireball that'll hit an ally (unless it also will hit a most of your enemies also), doesn't shoot/cast in melee if it'll provoke multiple OAs, won't charge a house sized dragon at level 1, and will spend time preparing and planning for a big fight (but not for the other 90% of fights).

None of those things, except the last one perhaps, take tactical/strategic genius or require players to be safe and conservative.
Unfortunately, due to not paying attention or not caring, I've seen skilled players make those mistakes.


Mod Squad
Staff member
One wouldn't approach combat that way in a horror game and presumably not in a fantasy sword & sorcery game either.

I think S&S is a genre people do expect to simply throw themselves into the fight without a whole lot of thought.

Despite RC's analysis in a thread in OT - I think the common perception of Sword and Sorcery is Conan the Barbarian being none to discriminating about how he goes about a fight. Never mind how well that is supported by the text (because I suspect various action movies have greater impact upon expectations) - it's about dramatic background music and some guy wearing nearly no armor, glistening with sweat and whirling around with a sword and the other guys all falling down.

Never mind that in the game, all that might well be covered by the player's careful and thoughtful use of feats, powers, or skills. The representation the audience recalls isn't about the character's carefully timed plans, but about the action sequence. The visual representation they recall looks spontaneous and highly aggressive.

Note, there's a disjoint there: some long time gamers may get the idea that the character's wild and aggressive mental state and experiences are represented by cool and careful planning and tactics on the part of the player. But I suspect many players don't approach it that way - to them, if the character is attacking with wild abandon, that equates to little pre-calculation on the player's part.


This is precisely what pulp heroes do all the time. I'd go so far as to say that this is actually a staple of the genre.

The trouble is, while traditional old-school D&D might have been inspired on some level by the tales of Conan and the Gray Mouser, traditional old-school D&D gameplay, which we've been hearing so much about lately, the 'improved play' EW alluded with his quote, the kind of play heavy on caution, 10ft. prodding-poles, war dogs, and an abundance of both flammable oil and naive yeoman to be marched into the dungeon depths, bares precious little resemblance to classic swords and sorcery fiction.

If you're idea of 'good play' hews closer to the actual stories, then brash characters rushing in is fine, while logistics-heavy old-school play is 'bad'.

Not to pick on you, EW, but that particular meme is a pet peeve of mine. It's really disingenuous. What it really means is: the deaths will continue until you all agree to play like me. Adopt my play style or watch your characters die!

That particular meme does not have to be disingenuous. It really depends on what kind of game is being run and what the players agreed to.

'Improvement' has little to do with it. Players who like to swashbuckle or play rash, imprudent characters aren't playing badly, they're merely have different goals vis a vis the role-playing experience.

Personally, I wouldn't try to school my players in tactics, unless they asked me to. I'd take a cue from comics/superhero games and try to design combat challenges custom fit to each PC's fighting style. Isn't it funny how superheroes always seem to square off against well-matched rivals, and not foes that could squash them like bugs?

I'd look at it as a DM'ing challenge: how can I run an interesting fight which takes into account my players, umm, anti-tactical predilections?

Perfectly legitimate and, I might add, an example of how to run a supers game really well or a classic D&D game very poorly. Yes the players might have different goals. Those goals might revolve around playing a superhero in a fantasy world. If that is the expectation from the players and you deliver that, I see no problem.

The problem arises from everyone having different expectations about the real genre being emulated and not communicating about it.


On the specific example of Conan, I would add to Umbran's point of what is meant by Conan. Are we ONLY allowed to look at the REH short stories? There's twenty or thirty years of Savage Sword of Conan comics that are also pretty darn good. Never mind that most people's exposure to Conan in novels is through De Camp.

Conan is kinda like Batman. Really depends on who's writing him. Is Batman the Dark Knight or the campy TV version? Both are possible answers. I'm not sure if you can insist that there is only one true version.

Throwing swords and all. :)


First Post
Nobody's claiming that though. There's a world of difference between perfect tactical play 100% of the time and completely ignoring tactics.
You're right and I didn't intend to suggest to paint it in black-and-white. I only worded it that way because I was afraid that someone would accuse me of advocating the sabotage of tactics with an in-game/fluff excuse (it's not fun, it ruins the game for others, etc.) and I tried to counteract that.

There is a fairly healthy middle road here where a bit of tactical play helps everyone.
I agree, although I feel that 4E already leans too much in the metagame tactical direction, so I think the occasional non-tactical player actually balances the inherent gamist bias already built in 4E.

But otherwise, I agree that a bit of tactical play makes perfect sense, both out of game and in-game. After all, a PC who always acts recklessly all the time will eventually pay for it with his life. A clever tactical PC is morely likely to survive longer, all other things being equal.

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