Thursday, July 18, 2013

Melee Academy: Entering a Room in Dungeon Fantasy

Welcome to (Ranged) Melee Academy

Melee Academy is a monthly cross-blog article and link-fest among the GURPS blogs, with each article focusing on some aspect of melee tactics. There's supposed to be a theme each month, and this month's theme is ranged tactics.

I'd already intended to write the following article, which is loosely tied to ranged tactics. But it's not very appropriate for the theme, since the tie-in is rather loose.

If you want a better article for (Ranged) Melee Academy, please read my excellent post on Skirmish Archer Tactics that I wrote for May's Melee Academy, when the theme was closing the distance. I just can't get the timing right on these articles.

Tactics Example: Entering a Room in Dungeon Fantasy

Tactical principles are best demonstrated through a concrete example. In this case, I am illustrating the tactics of entering an enemy occupied room in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, using my sample delving band.

Tactical Principles for Entering a Room

  • Scout ahead
  • Prepare before opening the door
  • Proceed cautiously
  • Stay together for defense and to overwhelm the foes' defenses
  • Don't panic when things go wrong, but try to get back on track

These are all pretty basic. A closed door presents an unknown situation on the other side, so it makes sense to get as much information as is reasonably possible before proceeding. Listening at the door is easy and generally safe if performed by stealthy characters, but other actions such as sending rat familiars ahead or casting Earth Vision to see through walls are possible.

After the delving band has scouted ahead, they should prepare. People with multiple weapons should choose which ones they have ready depending on the available information. Archers should prepare their weapons, and spellcasters should consider casting and holding a Missile spell. Alternately, casting expensive buffs such as Great Haste before the fight starts is better than waiting for it to start. The delvers should also figure out who is going to open the door and line up to give themselves the best defense possible.

Upon opening the door and entering the room, the temptation to charge forward should be resisted. Moves and Attacks with melee weapons are low success, high risk maneuvers in GURPS. Charging an orc only to miss him and then get backstabbed by the hidden ninja is an embarrassing way to go in Dungeon Fantasy. It's generally better to the let the enemy come to you.

Moving slowly also makes it easier to stick together. A well designed DF delving band has several members with Sacrifical Parry, Shield Wall Training, and/or the Deflect Missile spell, all of which work best on a reasonably compact group. Staying together makes it harder for the enemy to get easy hits in from the flank or rear, and easier for several delvers to attack the same foe together to overwhelm his defenses.

Finally, when things go wrong, and they will, it's important to not panic. If the martial artist ran forward to get a flank shot on an ogre, the rest of the delving band should move up near him and try to form a defensive line (the martial artist should also be moving back post-haste). If the knight takes a critical hit and falls over, everyone should try to defend him while the cleric moves to cast Major Healing. GURPS can have a death spiral, but if the members of the group support each other, the spiral can be halted and reversed.

Specific Example

This example uses rooms 1 and 2 of the Hidden Fortress from Mirror of the Fire Demon. The first room contains 6 orc soldiers and 3 tough orc soldiers, along with a sprinkling of furniture. In the adjacent room, there are 3 orc sergeants, an orc shaman, and an ogre.

The door to the first room is closed, and the delvers can't see their foes. The orcs aren't paying attention either, so the delvers can prepare without alerting them. The first step is scouting: Simonne and Grumbly use Stealth to sneak up to the door while the other delvers stay way back. At the door, Simonne and Grumbly then make Hearing checks to listen, and the GM tells them they hear many orcs, arguing over something. Simonne and Grumbly sneak back to the others with this information and everyone makes plans.

Isawa knows that he casts a Missile spell now, he can prepare a larger spell without interruption than he'd be able to in combat. Since he suspects there are living foes, he's tempted to cast Concussion, but decides not to since the massive area of effect (10 yard radius stun effect) might hit his allies if the room beyond the door is too small. Instead, he elects to cast a 6d lightning bolt, and convinces the others to wait 10 minutes so he can recover some of the expended energy.

The entire delving band then draws weapons and sneaks up to the door. At the door, they arrange themselves as best they can in the narrow corridor: Sir Allen and Simonne are in front, with Simonne covered by Sir Allen's shield. Sister Jane, Grumbly, and Isawa are in the back, with Sister Jane covering Isawa with her shield. Isawa is a more of a threat to the band as long as he's carrying the lightning bolt, and Grumbly has better defenses anyway.

When everyone is in position, Simonne sheaths her sword and checks the lock on the door. Sir Allen and Grumbly take Wait maneuvers to attack anyone on the far side of the door - precaution in case one of the orcs open the door. The door isn't locked, so Simonne quietly warns everyone that she's about to open the door. As a Ready maneuver, she opens the door and immediately Fast-Draws her sword. There isn't an orc on the other side of the door, so Sir Allen's Wait is wasted, but Grumbly can see an Orc and converts his Wait maneuver into an Attack and shoots him. The orc, surprised, drops immediately with an arrow in his back. Isawa declined to take a Wait maneuver, since his Innate Attack is much lower than Grumbly's effective Bow skill, and he wants to have a clear shot before launching his most powerful attack.

The GM reports that the orcs are visibly stunned and many of them don't have their shields on or their weapons out. The group has an immediate decision to make: whether to charge into the room to slaughter the defenseless orcs, or to stay back and cautiously whittle them down with Grumbly's archery. Charging into the room exposes them to unseen traps or hidden enemies, and is really not a good idea. Unfortunately, Simonne is Impulsive and Overconfident and decides to charge into the room anyway. Since she has a high Basic Speed, she gets to act immediately after the GM notes that the orcs are surprised and stunned.

The other delvers move after her, figuring its better to spring a trap than to leave Simonne exposed and unsupported. It takes a few seconds for everyone to move through the hall and form a line of battle. Sister Jane takes position at the open corner so she can't be flanked and Sir Allen moves to cover Simonne with his shield. Grumbly moves to the other end of the line to get some open space to shoot from. He'd move past the orcs to shoot at their flanks, but the room is too small and cramped for that kind of tactic. Isawa moves up and holds onto his lightning bolt, evaluating the situation. He knows it's the biggest attack they have and he wants to hold on until a worthy target appears instead of wasting it on some random orc. In the meantime, his fire elemental can contribute to the fight by lobbing fireballs. He doesn't close up behind Simonne since she may need space to retreat once the orcs start attacking.

Unsurprisingly, several of the orcs die before they manage to recover from suprise and take the Ready actions to pick up their weapons. Grumbly focuses on shooting orcs at a distance, trusting the melee fighters to handle the ones who get close. The orcs, in turn, try to move torwards him, either with direct shield rushes or by trying to overwhelm Simonne. Grumbly is forced to retreat from a shield rush and the delvers are temporarily surrounded. At this point, the orc sergeants and the ogre come out from Room #2, having heard the shouting and fighting.

The delvers don't panic but instead begin re-establishing their line. Isawa moves back and begins aiming for the ogre while letting his fire elemental move up to melee the orcs. Grumbly steps back and shoots his bow at against the orc who charged him, and the melee fighters combine to open up some space around themselves. Meanwhile, the ogre and the senior orcs charge in, with the shaman preparing a spell.

Grumbly moves through the delver's line to get a clear shot on the shaman, knowing that Sir Allen has Sacrificial Parry on a Reach 2 weapon and should be able to defend him even at a distance. Simonne, Sister Joan, and Sir Allen move to follow and protect his flanks without exposing their own. Isawa and his fire elemental keep backing up while attacking, throwing their most powerful attacks (Isawa's held 6d lightning bolt) against the ogre.

The ogre can't do much offensively against Isawa and the fire elemental. Now that he is no longer holding a missile spell, Isawa can absorb an attack per round with his Iron Arm blocking spell, and the Fire Elemental is diffuse and mostly immune to the ogre's massive damage. Their combined attacks quickly bring the creature down. Even though the delvers' line has been breached and they've been forced to separate, the remaining opposition just isn't that credible.

More Melee Academy Links


  1. I do appreciate that it wasn't a surgical strike, and Overconfidence and Impulsiveness came through.

    1. Documentation that only describes how to do stuff when everything is working perfectly isn't useful when things go wrong. =) Examples that describe where things might go wrong and how to recover from them are useful, too.