So in my experience, a lot of gamers have some startling blind spots in their tool kits.
My single biggest peeve is their lack of understanding of fire. I will eventually make a post specifically about that, but for now let me just say that if you stick a rag into a bottle of wine, light the rag, and throw the bottle, you will get a damp and glass shardy stain where it hits and a singed rag. The same with a bottle of standard vodka. You need an overproof alcohol to make a flaming missile, and you are still better with kerosene or gasoline. I will admit that I have used this to my advantage before, but it wasn’t that I didn’t know that it wouldn’t work. I just knew that my GM didn’t know it wouldn’t work. (You can get both wine and standard proof (80 proof) vodka to burn, but you have to heat them before you can get them to ignite. Your little rag wick won’t do the job.)
But on to today’s actual topic.
How to kill stuff.
Now there are RPGs where there is capability attrition during combat. That means that when you damage an opponent, it gets less capable of damaging you back. I am not talking about those games today except to say that while the analysis is more complicated, the results are usually the same as they are for standard rpgs.
In most RPGs with a tactical combat system, when a character (PC or NPC) takes damage, they are a little closer to death or non-functionality, but until they actually die, they are just as effective as they are when they are whole. That means that if you have a choice between spreading the party’s damage among multiple enemies and focusing it on a single enemy, you should do the second.
Let’s say you have three opponents, each of which can do one damage a round and each of which take 4 damage before dying. Also, let’s say you have the ability to do 3 damage a round as a party.
If you spread your damage out evenly, it will take 4 rounds to kill your opponents and they will each die in the same round.
That is 4 * 3 = 12 damage before they die.
But let’s see what happens if you focus your damage:
Round 1: opponents do 3 damage, opponent a takes 3 damage.
Round 2: Opponents do 3 damage, opponent a takes 1 damage and dies, opponent b takes
3 damage 2 damage.
Round 3 Opponents do 2 damage, opponent b takes
1 damage and dies, opponent c takes 3 damage. 2 damage and dies, opponent c takes one damage.
Round 4 Opponents do 1 damage, opponent c takes
1 damage 3 damage and dies.
That means that even though the combat takes the same amount of time, your opponents end up doing 3/4ths as much damage (9 points) as they would have if you had spread out your damage. Of course, this is an extreme simplification, but in general, you want to engage a single opponent at a time and you want to take out the opponent with the highest ratio of damage output to hit points possible. Now you won’t always know what that ratio is, so killing the thing that does the most damage or that most effectively decreases your party’s damage output first is a good choice. Of course, anything with the capability of removing a party member from combat for whatever reason should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Sometimes it is hard to remember all of this in the heat of combat, so I have a favorite mnemonic: 3F.
That stands for:
Find is obvious. As a party, you find your target. Sometimes this is just pointing out a single opponent to take the brunt of the party’s attacks. Some times it means you literally have to figure out where your opponent is hiding before you can fix and fuck them.
Fixing is a little less inherently obvious. What I mean by fix is Fix your target in place. Sometimes this means surrounding them. Some times it means grappling them. Sometimes it just means using powers and features of the environment that make it harder for them to move away. Generally, a less mobile opponent is a less effective opponent. A fixed opponent can’t flee your wrath, nor can it unleas its wrath on your more squishy allies unless they move into its range.
Fuck is the fun part of the fight. It is where you and your friends get to fuck your opponent up. This is where the wizard drops a meteor swarm on your opponent or the rogue carefully arranges herself with a party member on the other side of the opponent so that she can deal her 10d6 extra sneak attack damage. Take out your opponent as quickly as possible while not totally depleting your stock of powerful abilities. Obviously, this is a judgement call and involves resource management, which I will talk about in a later tactica. You want to get everyone to hit your opponent as hard as possible consistent with the threat provided by that opponent. Usually large durable threats should be assigned more of the party’s expendable resources than small fragile threats, though if you can wipe out a lot of weaker opponents in one fell swoop, it may be worth expending a powerful ability.
The last thing for this post is team work. Just like you want to isolate and smash single opponents, you want to stop your opponents from doing the same to you. That means working together to provide mutual support. In D&D 3.5 that was stuff like flanking and aid another. 4th edition is built on the assumption of party synergies in combat to the point that you don’t need to build for them in order to get strongly synergistic bonuses. In 4th edition, a party that works together and supports each other will be easily twice as effective as they were as unvummunicative loaners who won’t rally around the defenders to save their own lives.