Tuesday, August 21, 2012


“All that matters is that today,
few stood against many.”
Conan the Barbarian
(and John Milius)

 Roleplaying games grew out of wargaming, and to those of us who followed the same vector, the pull of wargaming is still strong. But you don’t need to be an old-timer to feel the tug from strategy and tactics.

Wargaming has important lessons to teach DMs and players about building drama in games. That might surprise folk who don’t play wargames. Pacing, tension, and, above all, balance are major concerns for the wargame scenario designer.

We talk a lot about not railroading players with a one-track adventure plot, but little is said about railroading in combat. I’m not talking about tactics here. In military terms, tactics are the actions taken during a fight—focusing attacks against the hill giant instead of the ogre, using the fireball at the start to soften up the enemy instead of holding it back for later, and other immediate decisions. There might be right and wrong courses of action during a fight, but players usually have complete freedom to choose.

(Read the rest at Kobold Quarterly ...)


  1. My players rarely consider strategy.

    Well, better to say that they don't think tactically.

    They're careful to think about choosing the "best" weapons, proficiencies, armor, etc. in order to create the most useful and lethal characters possible, but when it comes to actual combat, they simply enter the room and begin swinging.

    I've tried to "encourage" them by having the monsters they fight use advanced strategies (where applicable), but as their default tactic is attrition, they either triumph in a boring way, or I end up fudging things so that they don't get needlessly slaughtered.

    I think it's high time that the gloves came off.

    1. The question of how to really motivate strategic and tactical thinking beyond character optimization is another topic entirely, I suppose. Some people will never take to it because they're just not interested. But as DMs, we put all sorts of things into adventures to make individual players happy, so if one or two players do enjoy strategy, it's worth catering to them to some extent.

      The most direct way to encourage some strategic thinking would be to present the players with two easily-discovered approaches to the objective. They can only take one route. Somewhere along the way, they'll come to another point where they must choose between A and B. Eventually they might come to enjoy that type of decision making and look for opportunities themselves.

      It's important that they have information on which to base their decision. Without information they're just flipping a coin, and that's not strategy.

  2. Have you seen this article about different approaches to combat in RPGs? Combat as sport versus combat as war.


    It touches on a lot of issues regarding the difference between strategy and tactics, and how that informs ideas about balanced design in RPGs.

    1. I followed that thread when it first appeared but lost track of it well before it reached its current 450+ post count. The OP is right on target IMO.