Let's Talk Player Tactics

Asisreo

Patron Badass
While not all TTRPGs are combat-focused and not all have the exact same mechanics for combat or wars, there are usually tactics that are universal/system-agnostic which can be the difference between success or failure in a fight.

I would like to discuss such tactics. What are your favorite tactics? What do you think is an underrated tactical factor? What tactical decision saved your tail or nearly killed your character/unit? What do you consider bad tactics?

For me, my favorite types of tactics are disruption tactics, reducing the enemy's capabilities in some ways to make sure they're disorganized since I believe an organized force is far more deadly than a disorganized one.

I think an underrated tactic is ambush-type tactics. They're a bit hit-or-miss in TTRPGs, I imagine, because GMs would be able to metagame them from miles away and justify it with something most people wouldn't catch unless told to them by the players. However, I believe the ability to force an enemy to play on your party's turn from round 1 makes it so that the players can easily fight enemies of a higher weight class than the system may expect.

Bad tactics, to me, would be rushdown-type tactics. Not that overwhelming the enemy isn't a good thing, but not knowing your enemy's weaknesses or exploits means you could not only be ineffective, but you could also be walking into a place where the enemy has a tactical advantage, like being within a monster's counter-distance.
 

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John Dallman

Adventurer
While not all TTRPGs are combat-focused and not all have the exact same mechanics for combat or wars, there are usually tactics that are universal/system-agnostic which can be the difference between success or failure in a fight.

I would like to discuss such tactics. What are your favorite tactics? What do you think is an underrated tactical factor? What tactical decision saved your tail or nearly killed your character/unit? What do you consider bad tactics?
You're discussing tactical approaches, rather than the fine details of tactics here.

The latter are often emergent properties of combat systems. For example, I've played a lot of OD&D and AD&D1e with homebrew initiative systems that operated by counting through the segments of a round, rather like RQ Strike Ranks or Hero System segments. Under those, there is considerable value in casting very quick spells, which was how our L3 and L4 magicians in one fight defeated an enemy L5 magician in the first round of a fight against an opposing party of NPC adventurers. He'd decided to be flashy and Fireball us; two sets of Magic Missiles hit while he was still casting.

For me, my favorite types of tactics are disruption tactics, reducing the enemy's capabilities in some ways to make sure they're disorganized since I believe an organized force is far more deadly than a disorganized one.
That's perfectly true for military forces that need centralised command to be mutually supporting. How does it work for player characters who are all taking their own decisions?

Or do you actually mean "Using your ranged attacks effectively to remove the enemy's ranged attacks early on, so that your ranged attacks can then switch to supporting hand-to-hand fighting?"

I think an underrated tactic is ambush-type tactics. They're a bit hit-or-miss in TTRPGs, I imagine, because GMs would be able to metagame them from miles away and justify it with something most people wouldn't catch unless told to them by the players. However, I believe the ability to force an enemy to play on your party's turn from round 1 makes it so that the players can easily fight enemies of a higher weight class than the system may expect.
I've generally played with GMs who could manage to run ambushes fairly. The problems I've seen have been more with players who wanted to look heroic by taking on too much, or could not stick to an ambush plan.
Bad tactics, to me, would be rushdown-type tactics. Not that overwhelming the enemy isn't a good thing, but not knowing your enemy's weaknesses or exploits means you could not only be ineffective, but you could also be walking into a place where the enemy has a tactical advantage, like being within a monster's counter-distance.
Overwhelming the enemy is fine, but my experience is that PCs are often outnumbered, That makes moves that allow you to locally outnumber part of the opposition, even if only briefly, very effective.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
That's perfectly true for military forces that need centralised command to be mutually supporting. How does it work for player characters who are all taking their own decisions?

[...]

I've generally played with GMs who could manage to run ambushes fairly. The problems I've seen have been more with players who wanted to look heroic by taking on too much, or could not stick to an ambush plan.
If the players in my party form a plan for the characters all to go to Five Guys for burgers and fries, when they arrive at the parking lot at least two of them will completely break from the plan, inadvertently (but unapologetically) start a fight with some local Jain and Buddhists who were just passing through, and then end up burning the whole place down. They then will call their plan a success on the grounds they got away before the police arrived and the surveillance cameras all burned in the fire.

Wish I were making this up, but I'm just not.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
You're discussing tactical approaches, rather than the fine details of tactics here.
Yeah. The minutia is dependent on the system and therefore cannot be universally portrayed as good or bad. But we can bring up any instance of specific tactics in specific TTRPGs if we want.
That's perfectly true for military forces that need centralised command to be mutually supporting. How does it work for player characters who are all taking their own decisions?

Or do you actually mean "Using your ranged attacks effectively to remove the enemy's ranged attacks early on, so that your ranged attacks can then switch to supporting hand-to-hand fighting?"
Well, it depends. That is a simplistic version. Another would be a hacker disrupting a machine-type enemy from the backlines or a wizard casting a debuff on the enemy.

Really, it's less the specifics and more the intention and effectiveness. Every form of attack is technically a disruption, but some are more effective at that than others. Targeting the most important enemy also counts.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.

2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground.

3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, it is facile ground.

4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either side, is contentious ground.

5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground.

6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states, so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways.

7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground.

8. Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens--all country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground.

9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground.

10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.

11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not.

On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not.

12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way.

On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder.

In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.

14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.

On desperate ground, fight.
 

Generally the party splits into two two-man fireteams and the medic/healer trailing. Three teams when I'm running six PCs.

Standard one move, the other covers.
 

Identify the biggest threat and focus fire is usually a good go to tactic. Every one for themselves and just attacking whatever is nearest is usually bad.

This is absolutely true, and one of the things that can be a pain in genres where its not what you normally see happen, because its very hard to make it not the winning way.

The devil is in the question of what translates into "the biggest threat" though. As an example, people playing Fragged Empire have to usually learn that a group of Henchmen is actually more dangerous than a Nemesis, and also more brittle, so you really want to put them down first; this can be true with some other games with mook rules too.
 


Identify the biggest threat and focus fire is usually a good go to tactic. Every one for themselves and just attacking whatever is nearest is usually bad.
I agree, except when your target is too difficult to overcome (is difficult to hit or has too much health. ). In which case, it’s better to focus fire soft targets and take them out quickly so that they aren’t chipping away at the group. Once they are done, you use action economy and group tactics to take out the hardest target.
 

payn

Legend
This is absolutely true, and one of the things that can be a pain in genres where its not what you normally see happen, because its very hard to make it not the winning way.

The devil is in the question of what translates into "the biggest threat" though. As an example, people playing Fragged Empire have to usually learn that a group of Henchmen is actually more dangerous than a Nemesis, and also more brittle, so you really want to put them down first; this can be true with some other games with mook rules too.
Absolutely. Understanding the action economy is important too. In my example, folks will often attack the nearest enemy because they can do so. The idea of spending a round to get into place to attack another foe feels wasted to them. It is not until too late they find out that one enemy was much more effective against them than the other.
 

Absolutely. Understanding the action economy is important too. In my example, folks will often attack the nearest enemy because they can do so. The idea of spending a round to get into place to attack another foe feels wasted to them. It is not until too late they find out that one enemy was much more effective against them than the other.

Certainly true. And how much you lose by changing targets matters too. I've been playing PF2e lately, and the fact you have at least one action that's likely not super-useful for an attack, and the fact only a limited set of opponents has attacks of opportunity means you'll see tactics you'd never see in D&D3 or PF1e.
 

I swear, every time. I don't know if it's something about the initiative structure or what, but sometimes it feels like the party's plan always falls apart the moment one little thing isn't exactly right. If the plan is PC 1 - throw a flask of oil, PC 2 - cast fireball, if PC 3 goes before 2, they're inevitably going to just charge into melee.

Tactic: spend 3/4 of the session planning. Spend the first round of combat not following the plan.

For player tactics, I'd start with a simple phalanx. Rather everyone going wherever, wait for the enemies to come to you. I've seen so many instances where a PC has gone to making death saves because the cleric wasn't close enough to heal, or where the wizard was left open to melee because the tank took the battle to the enemies. Just use the ready action and stay in place. You might not get extra attack, but sometimes you have to sacrifice offense for defense.
 

I swear, every time. I don't know if it's something about the initiative structure or what, but sometimes it feels like the party's plan always falls apart the moment one little thing isn't exactly right. If the plan is PC 1 - throw a flask of oil, PC 2 - cast fireball, if PC 3 goes before 2, they're inevitably going to just charge into melee.



For player tactics, I'd start with a simple phalanx. Rather everyone going wherever, wait for the enemies to come to you. I've seen so many instances where a PC has gone to making death saves because the cleric wasn't close enough to heal, or where the wizard was left open to melee because the tank took the battle to the enemies. Just use the ready action and stay in place. You might not get extra attack, but sometimes you have to sacrifice offense for defense.
Yeah. I’ve seen the same thing with pursuing fleeing enemies. A character runs after two fleeing enemies, finds themselves alone with no allies and the two enemies suddenly decide they like these odds.
 


I presume everyone has their parties gang up on the last few opponents at the end of large fights?
Not in my experience. I’ve seen enemies flee and some of the party wants to let them go while others are ambivalent and a last one is filled with blood lust and runs out in to the woods to cut the enemy down…and never comes back.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Identify the biggest threat and focus fire is usually a good go to tactic. Every one for themselves and just attacking whatever is nearest is usually bad.
Focus fire damage is a great idea. A small variant on the targeting though - identify the most reward for your attacks.

The biggest threat may also be the hardest to take down, so going after lesser but easier threats might help more. Especially if the game still allows opponents full offensive capability even when wounded up until the point they are taken out. Then beign able to shut down some foes quickly is better than going after the biggest threat even if they have the same ratio of offense to defense.

Another aspect in targeting is making sure you can do that focus fire. If going aginst some ground forces and some flying forces, do you focus fire on the ground where everyone can hit or split ranged against the flying and melee vs. ground? There's no right answer. Perhaps splitting is the right idea if the flying force is more to take down and if you focus fire on ground then there will be more actions wasted by your side as your melee combatants have no effective action late in the combat. Or focus fire is the way to go to eliminate offense ASAP.
 

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