In my discussion earlier this week of ways of helping inexperienced RPG combatants, I talked about helping them come up with a battle plan, something that is relatively easy to create a strategy for and goes well with their mechanics. Looking back over it, I’ve found that a lot of the times in which I’ve been comfortable with characters in combat, it’s been because there was a core Plan, not for the specific battle but for combats as a whole—and even now, the ones I don’t have a plan for drive me up the wall.
The first was Rowan, my first stab at defensive archery. This worked out pretty well; it was the effect she was built around, and she made it work. Defend, defend, defend, defend, then if she had any actions left introduce the most condescending member of the opposition (or the one who seemed least likely to have a defense) to the joys of blunt force trauma.
I went through a brief re-exposure to D&D, in which this surfaced again. Three characters, each with differing flavors and levels of efficacy. First one—didn’t work. Me playing a high-level spellcaster, with next to no experience up there, was a very bad idea. I mostly dealt with it by preparing and spamming one or two failsafes. The second wasn’t a spellcaster, and I did have a backup action, but it still didn’t work too well; I had next to no confidence in my memory of what numbers to apply where. My previous group had done a really odd edition-mix, so my 3.5 nuts and bolts? Not so much. Then there was Jillian—little bit of spellcaster, little bit of paladin, little bit of accidentally just the right combination of abilities to drive the Big Bad up the wall. (First time they met: he was a tank, her sole gimmick was sidestepping armor. Second time: he had a localized magic-damper, she had Improved Disarm. Eventual cause of death: Plot and honking big dragon, and we all knew it was coming. Her replacement was… odd.)
With most of my other characters, the plan I tend to fall back on tends to be “defend/mess up the other guy first, then strike.” Certainly, my current D&D project’s answer to everything is blind them and turn invisible—sometimes before she determines whether or not the new challenge has eyes, and Liang from Legends of the Wulin started out as a tank and then added “I get very very good at penalizing my opponent’s rolls”. Tuyet, on the other hand, tended to run toward a “best defense is a good offense” aesthetic, which is rather funny when you consider that she actually was as good on the defense as most of my other characters; she tended to disable or overwhelm with rapid-fire attacks first, then ask questions later.