The Magic Tree


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By Gary Gygax - 1987
Knowing the game system and its specific rules gives the master player insight into the strategy of the game. This knowledge also allows the player to devise a grand tactical plan for the success and advancement of his character. Strategy and grand tactics vary from game to game, of course. In fact, there is even greater variance in tactical play. As games differ and player/PC approaches differ, so, too, does each and every scenario played. If the same scenario, in text form, is presented to two identical groups of PCs, the fact remains that the players behind those PCs will be different and will have their own singular approaches to the problems and challenges posed by the scenario. One approach is not necessarily better or worse than the other; all that can be said is that they are different, and the methods that each group of players use might indeed both lead to success.
Not only do scenarios differ when they are played from group to group, but even the most popular of these published game aids has only limited acceptance. Perhaps twenty-five percent of the audience of a given RPG will serve as GM or player in a scenario of outstanding repute. The others pass by one published scenario in favor of another, or make up their own. How, then, can one attain tactical mastery?
Experience is the best teacher-a cliché, to be sure, but a cliché precisely - because it is true. There is also a truism that applies particularly with regard to becoming a master tactician of role-playing games: You know yourself and what you do better than I, or anyone else, ever could. So one can speak in general terms of tactical expertise. The game you play is specific - has its own rules, and is certainly unique. Each game campaign-each scenario within the campaign - is different and so, too, are the tactics that apply. Within each game’s rules are provided, implicitly or explicitly, varying approaches to play. For instance, whether PCs are defined by classes or by skills, this variation is a specific aspect that must be considered when trying to define proper tactics.
The multiplicity of games, possible campaigns, and possible scenarios is compounded by the fact that any RPG activity is engaged in by a group of players and PCs. Characters within a given PC group are unique. Variables such as the number of PCs in a group, each character’s attributes, and the class or skills attached to each PC make it a virtual impossibility to treat tactics on a specific level. Describing how to succeed at a role-playing game on the tactical level is much like trying to describe the “best” route to take when driving from Los -Angeles to New York without knowing what type of vehicle is being used, how much fuel the vehicle consumes, what time of year it is: or any other fundamental facts that bear critically upon the definition of “best” in any certain case.
If assumptions as to the game, number of PCs, classes/skills, and the scenario to be played are made, then a discussion of tactics applicable to that set of known quantities is possible. The problem is, unless many major game systems are dealt with in this fashion- and there are a wide number of hypothetical PC groups placed within a broad sampling of scenarios designed for each of the games treated- the lessons learned from the exercise will be of little use. Even given such an extensive treatment, most readers would find that at best, only a fraction of the material presented would be of any use to them. Simply put, role-playing games are too scenario-specific themselves to make even a treatise pertinent to a single game system of use to anyone except a novice.
Only the most general material, then: can apply to all players in all major game systems. Given this, can a vague treatment of tactics be considered useful? Yes. Consider this: A specific treatment of the tactical skills of play would have to be specific as to game, characters, and scenario, just as was described. Worse still, the scenario-specific advice would have to deal with information and data that would never be known to the players until after completion of the scenario, if even then. Instead of taking this approach: the advice here will generalize as to masterful tactics, but then we will narrow the focus somewhat and do something that will be more specific but still generally applicable.
There are tactical actions that any PC can follow in any game and scenario that will help assure success. These are described on the following pages. Once those have been covered, we will discuss how a scenario is constructed. This specific general knowledge will enable the serious player to become a master of the tactics of his chosen RPG system, providing he assiduously applies his knowledge in a thoughtful and reasoned way.


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