I hope that Melee Academy attracted lots of posts today, and so I’ll list them first.
Melee Academy: Dealing With Superior Foes (Dungeon Fantastic)
Melee Academy: Outgunned, Outmanned, and Outmaneuvered – Now What? (Ravens ‘N Pennies)
Next Academy: PCs against really bad odds. (Virtual Table Topping)
Melee Academy: Hero System Style (RPG Snob)
Today’s Melee Academy is about fighting superior forces, and how to pull it off.
It’s possible to sum this up quickly, I suppose. With truisms (no less true for being simple) like “run away!” or “Don’t fight them at all” or “gank ’em from behind” or “engage in asymmetric warfare, pitting your strengths against their weaknesses.”
Never engage in a “fair” fight if you can help it. Hit ’em all at once, and from behind if your game of choice has facing. Make sure they can’t hit you if you can.
Surprise! You suck!
Still, it bears breaking down a bit more than that, and taking a bit of a tour. One thing to consider is whether you knew you were outclassed from the get-go, or stumbled into it with a painful “snickt.”
If you knew ahead of time, then you’d best have planned ahead, studied your foe, and cataloged known and probably weaknesses, as well as strengths to avoid facing directly.
If you find yourself outclassed by surprise (“Who knew this foppish innkeeper was a Level 20 Warrior/Bard? He hit Gromlik really really hard. Did you see his head bounce off that stone wall?”), then you may be set up for some painful (and potentially fatal) object lessons. Learn quickly, and react even faster.
Consider your Inferiority in Detail
There are lots of ways to be inferior. Stepping back to my imperfectly remembered D&D days, or even better, yanking off the Pathfinder book from my shelf, what might happen if Pelagiyel, my old 6th Level Rogue, happened to really irk, say, a 15th level fighter?
Well, Ms Fighter (let’s call her Nonac, in honor of +Kenneth Hite‘s nairabrab warrior) might be sporting STR 18, DEX 16, CON 14 even without magic. That puts her in full plate with AC 22 and a two-handed weapon. Those with more experience than I have tell me that she can do three attacks at 1d12+24 each, plus more with cleave feats, or one big one at 3d12+27, and that with a +1 Greataxe. That’s 46 for the single hit, to about 90 damage for the triple. And with a Basic Attack Bonus of +15 for level, +4 for STR, +4 more for specializing in Greataxe, +1 for magic, that’s a minimum of +24 on the first shot, and +14 on the last. Minimum. I know I’m missing ancillary +1s, too, so I’m guessing that Pel has a 90-100% chance of taking enough damage in one attack by this guy to kill him deader than hell.
Pel might get one shot, at about a 25% hit probability, and if he’s lucky will do 7 HP of damage, or 21 if he crits. Even on a surprise attack to the back from point-blank range using Deadly Aim and Point Blank Shot with Rapid Shot, he probably can’t eke out more than 50% of his foe’s HP in one turn. Assuming he hits and crits twice.
Meanwhile, Nonac can Cuisinart poor Pel into the next dimension probably without resorting to using any feats, which of course he would do, if nothing else than to put this upstart wannabe Rogue in his proper place (which would be in hell, a point we covered nicely already). I’m reliably told that Feats are the real damage source for high level fighters.
This is a situation where your foes are, well and truly, just better than you. While there might be a way for Pel to score a victory, I strongly suspect it will be a moral one. Say, taunting the fighter from high atop a castle wall. Even so,
I’m sure if I get that wrong, helpful advice will follow shortly!
(And in fact, check out Valeros, the 12th level iconic fighter from the game. He’s even more impressive than I show above.) For a more experienced victim, look at Merisiel, the 7th level iconic Rogue.
What if you aren’t totally outclassed
Perhaps there can be more nuance to it. While I’m sure Pathfinder can have plenty of nuance, I’m not expert with it. I’ll stick to something I know better for this: GURPS.
There are many ways that you can be outclassed, so let’s cover some of them.
He has more skill than you (on the attack)
In GURPS, skill comes with a lot of benefits. Obviously, it means he can hit you easily. It also means that he can beat your defenses by virtue of deceptive attacks if he’s pretty good and you are adequate, or if you’re awesome and he’s godlike. As an example, my old Warrior Saint Cadmus had something like Axe/Mace-20. Not too shabby, and it gives him a base Parry-13. (Plus bonuses from Combat Reflexes and defensive bonuses from shields put him at Parry-17).
So he’s good. But what if his foe is better? Two-Handed Sword-30, for example, with a native Parry-18 as well. He can swing for the neck (-5) and do a deceptive attack at -10 (-5 to Cadmus’ defenses) and still net Sword-15 against Parry-12. Against someone with lower skill and worse armor (maybe Sword-16 and a +2 DB shield, plus CR to be nice) the native Parry-14 is all of a sudden Parry-9, which is going to hurt.
The way to beat this one is to try and see to it that either he can’t hit you (get him from range with a spear or bow), or it doesn’t matter if he does hit you, such as with enough DR to simply sit there and take it. Beware this strategy against real foes in high-end games like Dungeon Fantasy, though – Camus has DR 12 and has been tagged through it before!
He can splatter you like a water balloon
A foe swinging a big weapon, or one that if he hits you can kill you dead, needs to be dealt with from range, or non-physically. A parry might break your weapon. A failed Dodge is the end of you. Keep your distance, and bring friends to attack from behind.
You can’t punch through his armor
Victory isn’t always death. Can you grapple him or entangle him so that he can’t use his weapons or attacks? Are there chinks in his armor that you can punch through (there may not be). Are there attacks you can throw that take away this advantage, like Corrosive attacks?
What about that ‘take his advantages’ thing?
Absolutely. Disarming a foe is often rather useful; some are one-trick ponies. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have been rediscovering the folly of weapon fighters who don’t know how to grapple, and a weapon fighter, taken down and put in a joint lock, usually will break as fast as the next guy.
Bring friends. Lots of friends.
Even superior defenses can be swamped (in GURPS). Many attacks that can’t be ignored will eventually bring things down to the point where Dodge is your only option. With enough room to maneuver, getting behind your foe makes it impossible for a foe to defend, or even know an attack is coming.
Using Feints, Beats, or (even better) Setup Attacks (from Delayed Gratification, Pyramid #3/52) to open up your foe for a neighbor’s attack. A perk or power-up that transfers the full benefits of a Setup Attack to both you and your friend (say, Teamwork (Setup Attack)) would be a big help here.
Exhaustion is your Friend
If you’re using Action Points (The Last Gasp, Pyramid #3/44) you can follow a strategy of wearing your foe out (if you have higher HT and Action Points than he does) by swamping him with blows that he might be able to defend against, but has to expend resources to do so.
If you have Fatigue Point based attacks, so much the better! Many critters that can’t be hurt directly can still be laid low, or even killed, through making them so tired that they either pass out (at which point their ability to attack and defend is rather moot), or they actually take HP of damage and you exhaust them to death.
Deny them Perception
One way to equalize the odds, to an extent, is to remove their ability to see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense you. Darkness, fog, blinding lights, shrieking noise or explosions can disorient and stun.
Speaking of stun, a stunned foe is -4 to defend, and also can’t attack you. Canonically, I think they drop a grapple too.
Clearly, all of this comes back to the TL;DR part above. Hit them where they can’t defend. Don’t get hit yourself. Drop mountains on their head and don’t engage at all. Run away. Shoot ’em in the back if you can from range, or stab ’em there from surprise while distracting them from the front.
The key is to figure out what their weaknesses are, and attack them. Avoid their strengths. If you want real-world examples, well, we have a couple raging insurgencies right now. Look at any guerrilla war for examples, and look at how a team of six heroes, like Navy SEALS or SFOD-D soldiers, can wreak bloody havoc on a foe much larger (though of course, individually, far less skilled).
And finally, don’t fight a physical foe if you can challenge them mentally. Put ’em to sleep, mesmerize them, mind control them, distract them with the illusion and pheremones of a Monster of the Chosen Gender.
You can’t always run away. But you can try and not be an idiot and bring a knife to a gunfight.