Choosing a defensible camp site for your D&D party


General Sir William Heneker, whose writings contain practical advice for soldiers and gamers alike. Image courtesy Wikipedia.com.

What follows was initially part of the Athenaeum’s recent post on bringing wandering monsters into the fourth-edition (4e) Dungeons & Dragons game; the discussion of choosing, preparing and defending a campsite to defend against overnight random encounters quickly became large enough to warrant its own posting, published below.

Heroes in the D&D game spend a great deal of time traveling through dangerous regions, and battles during such journeys are common. Most published fourth edition (4e) products have such battles taking place in broad daylight, when the heroes are rested with full equipment; players naturally prefer (and most 4e designers seem to be willing to provide) such circumstances, as they maximize their characters’ offensive and defensive capacities. But would all enemies choose to engage a powerful band of heroes in this fashion?

Excepting villains who abide by a code of honor requiring them to avoid attacking from advantage, most villains would answer no to that question. Would it not be more effective, and far less risky, to follow a group of heroes until they stop traveling and camp for the night? At that time, the heroes are literally stripped of much of their protection, as it is impossible to have any rejuvenating rest while wearing armor; most of them will likely be asleep; and villainous forces can ambush the comparably vulnerable heroes from cover of darkness.

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Villains can learn a lot from Murphy’s Combat Laws


Most people are familiar with the humorous concept of Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will. And while this adage may not be mathematically possible, it holds true often enough for dozens of derivative “laws” particular to various industries or situations.

Of particular use to the dungeon master (DM) in this regard is this listing of Murphy’s Law of Combat Operations, containing more than 100 humorous observations about the not-so-humorous activity of actual warfare. Although most of the sayings presented there relate exclusively to modern warfare, several could be applied to how a Dungeons & Dragons villain might deploy his troops in combat encounters.

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Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part III


Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu was a leading proponent of today's maxim.

This posting is the third in a three-part series which explores how a Dungeon Master (DM) can apply accepted axioms of war to enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters in a Dungeons & Dragons game. These axioms, and the historical examples used to illustrate them, are drawn from the writings of military historian Bevin Alexander, such as those found in Rules of War.

If he or she hasn’t done so already, the Gentle Reader may consider reading Part I and Part II.

While not every monster in a D&D game will be familiar with all of the tactics described in this series, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

Thus far in this series, we’ve examined the tactics of striking at enemy weaknesses, defending, then attacking, and occupying the central position. This installment of the series will focus upon Operating on the Line of Least Expectation and Least Resistance. Continue reading

Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part II


This posting is the second in a three-part series which explores how a Dungeon Master (DM) can apply accepted axioms of war to enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters in a Dungeons & Dragons game. These axioms, and the historical examples used to illustrate them, are drawn from the writings of military historian Bevin Alexander, such as those found in Rules of War.

The first post in this series can be found here.

While not every monster in a D&D game will be familiar with all of the tactics described in this series, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

The first part of this series descibed the tactic of striking at enemy weaknesses; this part will discuss the maxims of defending, then attacking and occupying the central position.

Defend, Then Attack

Typically, attacking forces believe themselves to be stronger than defenders, and defenders generally consider themselves weaker than attackers (if the defenders perceived themselves to be strong enough, they would attack, or so goes conventional wisdom). This maxim surfaces when a commander chooses to defend, even though he is strong enough to attack.

The maxim is employed when a commander is aware that he has a better weapon or tactical system than his foe. The superior weapon or tactic would enable his troops to defend so well that the attack would certainly fail, thereby demoralizing and/or scattering the attacking force and enabling the defending commander to immediately counterattack while the enemy is disorganized. Continue reading

Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part I


Combat encounters hold extraordinary potential for generating excitement in a Dungeons and Dragons game. Unfortunately, many in-game combats degenerate into dice-rolling exercises, with little or no tactical planning on either side. Ultimately, one side or the other wins a war of hit point attrition, after which a victorious party proceeds to the next encounter or fallen heroes are replaced with new characters.

Practical application of accepted axioms of war can greatly enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters. When these maxims are applied to encounter design, the Dungeon Master (DM) can expect two results: unique combat challenges for the player characters, and encouragement for the players to begin thinking in tactical terms.

 The military axioms to be outlined in this three-part series are drawn from military historian Bevin Alexander’s Rules of War. While not every game monster will be familiar with all of the tactics described below, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

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Sharpen player combat tactics with a session debriefing


Combat is one of the most common – and most exciting – aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Although the fourth edition (4e) D&D combat system represents melee abstractly, a surprising number of real-world military principles can be effectively employed before, during and after a D&D combat encounter. A handful of these principles, such as force multiplication and the five paragraph order, have already been discussed in other posts at the RPG Athenaeum. This posting will discuss how the principle of event-oriented debriefing (EOD) can be applied by a group of D&D players to improve their party’s combat tactics and effectiveness.

According to the U.S. Army pamphlet, Event-Oriented Debriefing Following Military Operations: What Every Leader Should Know (USAMRU-E PAM 95-2), EOD is defined as “a factual review of events, and individual and unit reactions to those events.” It further states that reviewing events through an event-focused, historical lens accomplishes numerous goals related to refining tactics and helping troops psychologically adjust to traumatic events during a recent operation. Continue reading

Heroes having too easy a time?


By choosing to be dungeon masters, we accept the responsibility for making our games consistently fun. While the definition of “fun” varies widely between groups, and even between players in the same  group, one thing few players like is an adventure that doesn’t challenge the heroes.

This post does not suggest that every encounter should be a life-or-death challenge, or some sort of personalized challenge between the players’ heroes and the DM’s monsters. Indeed, sprinkling a few less challenging encounters in adventures helps players sense how powerful their characters are becoming, which is an important part of the game. Continue reading