Recommendations for TTRPGs with a focus on strategic combat?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Let's say I was looking for an RPG that had a big focus on strategic combat. I imagine there would be a lot of options for players to consider, perhaps in character creation, but more so in combat itself. It would be a system that rewards tactical, creative approaches to combat over just charging in or repetitive turns.

What would you recommend?
 

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thullgrim

Adventurer
D&D 4e
Pathfinder
Pathfinder 2e
Savage Worlds to some extent
GURPS as tactical as you want to make it for every genre.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Fantasy - D&D 4e
Post-Apocalyptic - D&D Gamma World

I mean, honestly - I find the 4e engine to be the best implementation of a tactical battle game for fantasy roleplaying, so I haven't looked much further than that.

I've heard some good things about Strike! in this regard, but I haven't actually played or run it myself.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Assuming you mean tactical rather than strategic, D&D 4E is very strong in that department.
This.

Although it does rely on the DM to make dynamic battlefields with interesting terrain to some extent, just the nature of the various roles (for both PCs and monsters) means that any encounter with a mixed group of monsters (and a group of kobolds can easily be three different types) will inherently have more tactical depth and movement than is the default in any other edition.
 



Assuming the OP means tactical in that the PCs have many choices of action: Hero System. Hands down. Hero's ability to allow the player to use interesting tactics is one of my favourite parts of the game.

If you mean strategic in the sense of the PCs find themselves in a large battle, then Legend of the Five Rings (3rd ed at least) has a good system for determining what the PCs are up to in the battle. It isn't about the broader battle but includes options for PC actions to effect the results of the broader battle should you wish.
 

I listed a considerable number of games with tactical combat in the last thread like this, including LANCER, ICON and GUBAT BANWA...

 

D&D 4E is the clear first choice here. Having played a lot of other systems, nothing comes close for tactical choices, for strategies involving multiple characters, and for terrain affecting combat.

But it’s complex for players (relatively easier for GMs) so you may find it too much. It’s also very much focused on being a tactical combat game, so less realism and less narrative power than others.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
The Fantasy Trip, rereleased with a new edition a couple years ago, was written partially in response to the lack of strategic combat in D&D’s early editions. It’s basically the forerunner to the GURPS, done by the same game designer, so it has detailed combat, but not as crunchy of a system.

Magic in TFT also has a strategic element to it, as spells are powered by your Strength, which are also your hit points. Images, illusions and disbelief are an important element.

Plus, encounter maps use hexes. You know it’s good tactical combat if there’s hexes.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . It would be a system that rewards tactical, creative approaches to combat over just charging in or repetitive turns.

What would you recommend?
I can help you narrow your search. Look for games with low or no hit points. There's little reason to use tactics when you have lots of hit points.

Also, stay away from passive defenses. Decisions in combat require much more thought (or reflexes, ideally) when you can't defend yourself just by standing around.

In that vein...Zweihaender comes to mind. Dark Souls RPG should be tactical, given its namesake, but it's based on D&D 5. So that's a "maybe."
 

I can help you narrow your search. Look for games with low or no hit points. There's little reason to use tactics when you have lots of hit points.
Hmmm. I think you might need to explain this a little more. D&D 4E is an obvious high-tactical game, and yet often has "lots of hit points". I think you might mean to exclude games where you have lots of hit points, but few ways to change how you protect or destroy them.

Also, stay away from passive defenses. Decisions in combat require much more thought (or reflexes, ideally) when you can't defend yourself just by standing around.
Again, true if they are unchanging passive defenses. If you make tactical decisions to improve or reduce passive defenses, then I don't think that requiring two rolls makes any strong difference over one dice roll.

Rather than focus on mechanics that we associate with tactical games, maybe instead we could list a set of tactics that we'd expect to find actually useful in a game. For example:

I would expect that the following might be a tactic I could use in a game. Not all characters could do it, but they should be a feature of most combats:
  • The ability to trade between defensive ability and offensive ability
  • Ganging up makes a big difference
  • Ability to move opposition around the battlefield
  • Terrain effects are important
  • Ability to apply status effects such as ongoing damage, attack or defense penalties, action losses, movement restrictions
  • Status effects that one player applies that another player takes advantage of
Basically on one player's turn a tactical game should allow them to consider different courses of action, and the more that are reasonable, the more that system is tactical. For a truly great tactical system, I might have the following options on my turn:
  • Engage a couple of enemies and boost my defenses to lock them down and allow others to go all out on attack
  • Throw a hindrance on the ranged attackers, making it hard or impossible for them to use ranged attacks
  • Attempt to stun two enemies and deprive them of their next turns and maybe more
  • Delay until one of my comrades gives me a flank so I can attempt a big damage attack
  • Move several of the opposition closer to each other so our mage can make a burst attack on all of them
  • Get to the very far end of the room and activate a terrain feature (e.g drop a chandelier or bridge over the lava pit)
The weakest system I've played for this is probably AD&D. A fighter there really cannot do any of these. In D&D 4E I've played a paladin/rogue who might even have had all the above options for a single turn. Fate would also allow many of these, but requires a fair amount of GM adjudication.

But overall, the more a game turn requires you to consider options, and particularly options that require multi-character interactions, the more it feels tactical to me.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Hmmm. I think you might need to explain this a little more. D&D 4E is an obvious high-tactical game, and yet often has "lots of hit points". I think you might mean to exclude games where you have lots of hit points, but few ways to change how you protect or destroy them.
I'm saying low-HP games are more likely to feature or reward tactics than high-HP games.
Again, true if they are unchanging passive defenses. If you make tactical decisions to improve or reduce passive defenses, then I don't think that requiring two rolls makes any strong difference over one dice roll.
I mean, you can layer "tactics" onto any rule set. That doesn't make it fun. I would not enjoy a tactical game that required not just the ability to plan a successful attack or defense, but activities focused on the rate of progress of these successful attacks and defenses. That's like playing calculus at the table instead of algebra (which is significantly more interesting than arithmetic).
I would expect that the following might be a tactic I could use in a game. Not all characters could do it, but they should be a feature of most combats:
  • The ability to trade between defensive ability and offensive ability
  • Ganging up makes a big difference
  • Ability to move opposition around the battlefield
  • Terrain effects are important
  • Ability to apply status effects such as ongoing damage, attack or defense penalties, action losses, movement restrictions
  • Status effects that one player applies that another player takes advantage of
Now we need to know what OP considers to be "tactical." Because the first two points are great, but the rest are metagaming. As in: there's no terrain effect; there's just terrain. You don't move your opposition; you move yourself. There are no status effects; there are broken limbs, nausea, the onset of grayscale, concussions, blinding light . . .
 



My list of tactical things:
  • The ability to trade between defensive ability and offensive ability
  • Ganging up makes a big difference
  • Ability to move opposition around the battlefield
  • Terrain effects are important
  • Ability to apply status effects such as ongoing damage, attack or defense penalties, action losses, movement restrictions
  • Status effects that one player applies that another player takes advantage of
Now we need to know what OP considers to be "tactical." Because the first two points are great, but the rest are metagaming. As in: there's no terrain effect; there's just terrain. You don't move your opposition; you move yourself. There are no status effects; there are broken limbs, nausea, the onset of grayscale, concussions, blinding light . . .

Terrain effects are metagaming? So you think that a GM saying that if you fall in the water, you'll need to climb -- and taking advantage of that is metagaming? I'm just going to assume you mis-spoke and that was one of the points you thought were "great". If I'm wrong, please explain further.

"You don't move your opposition; you move yourself". I guess you have never actually fought. Let me assure you, as will anyone who has ever done any combat sport, that you really, really do move opposition. For example, I'm not good close up-- I liker head shots and multiple fakes, so I will typically punch people backwards, or use push kicks to physically move them. Combat is not a chess-like game where I only move my side, and then you move your side. It involves contact, and that contact very often is designed to move your opponent. Don't take my word for this -- ask anyone who has fought regularly.

"There are no status effects; there are broken limbs, nausea, the onset of grayscale, concussions, blinding light" -- you are just listing status effects in addition to the ones I did! "Nausea" is an example status effect that can be modeled as ongoing damage, penalties to attack and defense and so on. We could argue how many fine of a grain of status effect are best -- so we need separate rules for "nausea" and for "onset of grayscale", each with their own rules, or can we do with a few more general ones. If you like lost of specific effects, and I like few more general ones, great! That's a good discussion, but it's of degree, not of existence. Feel free to change my suggestion to "Ability to apply status effects such as broken limbs, nausea, the onset of grayscale, concussions, blinding light" if it helps you -- I don't care as much what the status effects are, as I do that they exist and facilitate team tactics.

Comment son the OP on what they think are typical "tactical" moves would help clarify a lot. I'm biased by a lot of experience in martial arts and the tactics used there. Maybe the OP has a different point of view?
 

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