I’ve been going on a lot lately about this concept of tactical responsibility, tactical authority, essentially tactics in terms of what’s up to the players or potentially up to the GM and where those things come together. But I thought it might be illustrative potentially to give an example from a game that I played in that will least illustrate sort of where I’m coming from in terms of all this tactics stuff.
So we were this group that I was in I was playing a halfling thief.
We were exploring the ruins of some kind of ruined fort.
And we had started off basically infiltrating. I think we went, we went found some hidden doorway or maybe not so hidden kind of doorway in the keep we cleared out some orcs ended up delving down into the rooms under the keep and at one point we came into a chamber. And in that chamber was a hole or some kind of trapped or something leading down into another to another room.
We all, I think we were feeling it feel ourselves a little bit because we did a tactical mistake here which is we I think we pretty much just went down in the hole we might have even dropped down in the hole without having any rope or any really way to get back up but I think we decided to take the chance we all drop it in this room it was a small room. I think there was some kind of sarcophagus in the center of the room and then there was two or three ghouls were in this room.
Now at this point it’s actually looking pretty grim for the party it’s a small room. We don’t really have any place to maneuver around with the sarcophics in the middle. All of us sort of jockeying on the outside and they think there were ghouls on the outside. We didn’t have a lot of places to kind of get in the sort of fighting order that we want me as the thief. I didn’t want to be there going toe to toe and melee with a ghoul at all. And it we you know it suddenly seemed very very dire now I’m going to stop right here for a minute.
So in this room, this situation, there are a couple ways to look at it. Some folks might look at and say boy isn’t this unfair they drop you in the room and there’s ghouls in there there’s nowhere to move and nothing to go and where’s the how can we, how can we
realistically face this situation we feel like we’ve been dumped in the in the deep end with no recourse.
We made the decision to come in this chamber we could have examined it more we could have maybe I don’t know if we had torches or lanterns or something we definitely had some sort of light source. Some of us had the information or could see in the dark somewhat. We could have done a much better job of trying to see where we were going before we just hopped down in it. That’s our call. And then things looking dire we have we have no recourse our fighters over in one spot. I’m over another spot at the thief. There I think we had a cleric or magic user that was over there I think we had a monk.
We’re all sort of scared about and as I said it’s looking dire but this is all on us because there was a decision point actually probably multiple decision points above us. That was not too properly do as much as we could maybe to see what was down there we chose to instead of trying really hard to find a way down that we could climb back up we chose to take the leap of faith so to speak and drop down we could have left this alone gone down another passage and see what else is there because we don’t like the looks of that but we didn’t do that.
So we went down into the room until the room is what it is. And yeah there are ghouls and yeah it’s confined. And yeah there’s a sarcophics in the middle that makes it hard that even takes up some of the small space that we have. It’s a bad situation but that situation is on us we’re we as players were responsible for putting ourselves in this situation.
Behind me I believe it was behind me because there wasn’t much room to move around was a door. At this point I’m looking at the situation. Ghouls party I’m thinking oh this is looking bad looking really bad so I decide to take a gamble. Can I force that door open now I don’t know what’s on the other side of that door could be more ghouls could be a closet. Who knows I have no idea that could be an army of works on the other side of that door I don’t know but I do know. Is that this situation’s bad and whatever could be on the other side door probably isn’t going to make it much worse. Something on the other side of that door is going to kill us it was this stuff in here is going to kill us anyway. And if there’s something we can use the other side of that door. Well then that increases improves our situation.
So I’m able I make a role I’m able to bust open the door and down on the other side of this door is a long longish hallway and then some other room.
I bolt down this hallway and I tell everybody else let’s go.
Come down the hallway it turns out on the other side of the hallway is another one of these sarcophagus chambers but this one’s empty.
We’re able to maneuver down this hallway. We can find some cover behind that sarcophagus and essentially we’re able to force the the ghouls to come down the hallway.
We’re able to bring our missile weapons to bear we’re able to wheel them down and by the time they get they catch up to us in this room we’re able to burn them down with I think minimal damage to us.
So we survived we survived that encounter and the thing I want to recognize here right is we were responsible for putting ourselves in that room in the first place had there been no door there. It wouldn’t have been the GM’s fault it was our fault there was nothing that said we must come down into this room.
That’s it and even if there was even if that we saw that low on that sarcophagus is the golden key that we need. It’s up to us to figure out okay let’s see how we can we can maneuver ourselves get as much information as we can before we just hit jump and fall down into the hole. We did not we did not do that that that’s on us.
By the same token we saved ourselves by looking for how we could get the most tactics out of our situation our case that room was a bust. We didn’t take cover behind the sarcophagus because there’s no way to seal off people from going around it and there were too many ghouls.To party members there’s no way really to use that to our advantage and probably even if we had been able to seal them all they probably just would have jumped on their sarcophagus anyway.
That was a no go but we had that unknown that door behind us so we tried it. We got in that hallway and we were able to make that hallway work for us tactically. We were able to get the fighter in front block the door was supposed to be at least be ready to we’re able to finally get some distance we can get a couple turns of launching missile weapons at them we were able to find a tactical advantage which again.
In this case a props to us. We figured it out but that’s the puzzle of playing in my mind this is what you’re trying to do you’re trying to avoid as much as possible.
The thing that we did the first time which put ourselves in really bad spot and you’re trying to do what we ended up being able to salvage which is find the advantage you can try to push them as far as you can. To do what you can none of this stuff is on the GM. At least in my opinion this is not all the GM needs to make all this stuff available I mean sure there was a room there was a door there was a hallway.
There were things there the gym didn’t put those in place to give us opportunities I think they were running a module this is just a layout of the dungeon. It’s just there had those things not been there have we just been that little room and we would have TP K well that also would have been on us because nothing nobody was forcing us down there we took a chance we took a gamble we made a choice we made a decision and then we played it out and we realized too late.
Maybe this was a bad decision, but these are the kind of tactical puzzles that I really believe that the game is designed to to have us try to solve that and as players, at least for me a lot of the fun for me is figuring out how we can solve those puzzles
I think a lot of the stories those moments come from as you turn you turn your lemons into lemonade so to speak now I understand that there’s a large continues especially with the modern game it’s more into the story and I get all that and I think you can have both I think you can both have story and have these interesting moment to moment sort of tactical tactical puzzles, but for me at least the way I play as a GM I am responsible for laying out this world in a way that makes sense in a way that gives context that gives space to maneuver and then as the party we’re trying to make players the best decisions we can to maneuver through that space as efficiently as we can and get done whatever it is we want to get done whether it’s just exploring looting or it’s accomplishing narrative goals this example helps make any sense of anything or it’s illuminating anyway but I thought I would share.
What kind of stories do you have about these sort of tactical situations, if any? Let me know.
Game on! I’ll talk to you later.