Thorn's Tactics for Adventuring Parties

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Thorn's Tactics for Adventuring Parties: a Military Science Guide.
Advice on the uses of various fighter and mage types and combinations.
How to fight stuff your average small military unit would never Skirmish with, and just generally share what I Thorn have found works and what doesn't.

Something to help out those who have the skill on their sheet and really want to give it a go, but... don't quite have the experience as players some of us do. And maybe teach some of us old dogs a new trick or two.

The Adventurers' Military Scientist

Adventurers usually work in units of 5-8 and you need to have studied the field of skirmish to command them.
Unlike Regular Military Units of this size, Adventurers are usually asked to attack (or are being attacked by) much larger forces or well defended fortifications, without any backup or outside resources. Adventurers are often expected to work much the same way as small military units behind enemy lines, except that unlike Special Forces, whose goals are sabotage, disruption of supply lines, intelligence gathering and the organization of resistance in occupied territory, Guild Adventurers' Mission goals rarely allow the Party a choice of targets, or the luxury of choosing to attack at a later, possibly better, date.
Also, unlike such forces, you will be up against undead, elite troops or those not merely mortal on a regular basis. Thus, as the Military Scientist to an Adventuring Party, you will be asked to command them in battle against every imaginable creature, against seemingly impossible odds, and be expected to win, with possibly not just the lives of the Party but the fate of Civilizations in the balance.
If you don't handle pressure well, if you can't keep track of a dozen things at once in your head, if you have a cowardly bone, are indecisive, or have a defeatist attitude, Command of an Adventuring Party in combat is not for you.
The Adventurers' Military Scientist is commonly expected to do four things: organise the watch order, organise the travel or marching order, Command the party in combat, and Help the party formulate plans for military actions and see that the party's plan is followed. To do these things well you need a reasonable idea of what most of the party can do, the various talents of the Races and the Colleges, and any strengths or weaknesses of the party or the expected opposition; knowledge of the more common combat spells of the various colleges doesn't hurt either.
While many fine Warriors and Fighters are also Military Scientists, you can not keep track of the overall state & movements of all the combatants, judge the opposition's tactics, Raise morale, or Rally troops, and engage in Melee or close combat at the same time. Nor can you give orders if you're Stunned.
Thus it is often better if a Mage, or other ranged weapon specialist that avoids melee, commands the party in combat rather than a warrior type who will quickly become engaged.
If a warrior does initially lead the party into combat, it is important all involved are aware who will take over command once the warrior becomes engaged to avoid confusion

Commonly used Rules
  • To get an Unengaged Initiative bonus from Milsci requires that the party be led in combat by a Milsci (with the Skirmish Field) that is not stunned, incapacitated, or engaged in melee or close combat. The unengaged initiative of PC + D10 + (2xRank Milsci, min 1) can default to another Leader if the first leader becomes engaged etc.
  • Perceive tactics can be done by an unengaged Milsci who is in a position to see the majority of the combat and uses a pass action. The Milsci must have the relevant field for the combat (usually Skirmish).
  • Raise Morale increases each of the Milsci's subordinates' WP by Rank/2 (round down), requires a pass action every second pulse, and again the Milsci can't be stunned, engaged or incapacitated.
  • Time out is at the request of the Milsci Leading the group and Only the Milsci leading the group. They may request a break of 20 seconds (+10/rank) between each and every pulse in which to plan.
    • Note generally the "leader" is considered to be the character whose Perception is being used for Unengaged Initiative, although that player may in fact not be giving the orders in the timeout. Also to add to the confusion, some GMs allow a party to keep the time out of an engaged Milsci who is no longer 'Leading' in the regards to Initiative.
    • Time out does not require the Milsci to be unengaged etc. so you don't necessarily lose it if the whole party is engaged.

Setting a Watch

Every Party needs to sleep sometimes; in what order and for how long can be a matter of great concern to some.
Generally, a person (regardless of race) requires a minimum of 6 hours rest and/or sleep a day; less than this and they become fatigued. Giants and some tougher Adventurers can function perfectly well for weeks on this minimum and a few hot meals, but most Party members need a little more to be sure of fully recovering from the activities of the day before.
This sleep need not be all at one time, but getting less than 4 hours sleep in one go is generally considered Napping rather than Sleeping.
The most usual practice is to try to give every member of the party at least 8 hours sleep, even if for some it is broken into two shifts.

Things to consider when setting a Watch order
  • It is not set in stone, it can be changed. It mostly probably will need to be changed due to injury, or the requirements of Spell casting.
  • It is usually best to have at least two people on watch at once. There is more chance of someone noticing a danger with two; one can wake the others while the other defends the party; and it is harder to take out two guards at once.
  • Try to put those who can see in the dark on when it is going to be dark.
  • Try to put those who can see though invisibility on with those who can't.
  • Try to give those with the most casting to do an uninterrupted sleep.
  • Remember to use buff spells, witchsight, darkvision etc. on those on watch when possible.
  • You can rarely get a watch order to meet all the requirements or please everyone. Do the best you can to get one that pleases you, you're the Milsci.
Timing & Duration of Watches

Usually Parties choose to rest for 12 hrs; this allows them to run three 4 hour watches thus allowing members 8 hours sleep, although those on the midnight or middle watch wind up getting it in two bites.
With two people on watch you may either change both guards at once or run a split watch, in which one guard changes every few hours.
The advantages of this type of watch are that one person is always alert & awake, so they are not both sleepy or distracted by the change of guard, and that it adapts well to a 5 man party. The disadvantage of this system is that those on the watches either side of midnight must be of the tough type that can get by on minimum sleep or you must extend the total rest period to give those people that bit more sleep.

Marching Order

Whether travelling though the wilds, advancing down a tunnel, wandering down a road, or flying though the air, it is usually best to be doing so in some sort of Order so that when the Party is attacked - and it will be - the fighters can get to the fight, the mages can cast, and your blast mage's guts don't get spread all over the ground in the first ten seconds.
In open country or on the road an attack can come from any direction; you need to put someone with a sense of direction in or near the front, also someone that is likely to spot ambushes. Spread your fighters though the party. If you place the Tank or slowest fighter near the blast and/or buff mage in the middle, and form up on them, you avoid range issues and can then advance as a group in any direction.
In a tunnel or enclosed space the directions of attack are more limited, unless they come at you though the walls (floor, ceiling), in which case try to put someone who can spot false walls at or near the front. You also need someone up there who can spot other traps or wards.
Just be aware that there are things out there that can teleport or walk though solid walls; if you suspect this you may need to leave at least a defender in the middle of the party.

Things to consider when setting a Marching order
  • It is not set in stone, it can be changed. It mostly probably will need to be changed due to injury, or the requirements of Spell casting.
  • Combat ability: who's front line, who's second line, who can't really melee at all.
  • Think about the terrain - will you be travelling mostly single file or more as a bunch.
  • Relative movement rates - if the Blast mage has to spend 15 seconds moving before they can see the target, it is too long; Giants and Elves often cover ground fast making good rear guards.
  • Relative size - a Giant can see to cast over a Halfling but it doesn't work well the other way around.
  • How the various party members like to work; it's no good trapping an agility fighter in the middle of a file or putting the guy whose first action is to go invisible/unseen where others moving though will trip over them.
  • First Impressions - if you meet fellow travellers or local residents, it is likely they will take one look at the first members of the party to come in sight and base their reactions from this first impression. Is this the Impression the party wants to make?

The Grand Plan

So the party's done its research, it's found the thingy you need to recover, break, steal, protect, kill or whatever it is that needs doing.
You all get together and plan your next move or four; as the Party Milsci your job isn't so much to tell them how to achieve this goal as to keep them from making major military blunders.
Most Guild Adventurers have a reasonable idea of just what they themselves are capable of; if they say they can, they're probably right. However very occasionally you get one that's perfectly willing to attempt the seemingly impossible alone and with nothing more than guts and raw nerve. What's more, there are those adventurers out there who will succeed. The trick is to know which they are and which are just insane. You will usually find you have plenty of support vetoing these insane actions; no one wants to die because of a crazy man.
Once The Plan is complete, make sure everyone understands just what they are to do and any planned alternatives.
The job of the Party's Military Scientist during its implementation is to see that the plan is followed, that no steps are missed or actions mistimed, and to keep the whole plan on track when others get distracted. Also, to adapt and amend the plan on the fly when the unexpected happens or things go wrong, and to judge (when these things happen) whether it is still possible to achieve the goal and the plan is still working, or whether it and/or the attempt needs to be abandoned.
The thing to remember about Plans is no plan really survives contact with the enemy, and the more complicated a plan is the more things there are that can go wrong.


When all is said and done the major role of an Adventuring Party's Military Scientist is to Lead the Party in Combat.
Unlike a small military unit, Adventurers are not all similarly armed or armoured; you will get those in Heavy Plate mixed in with those in Light Leather, and there will be Giants with Glaives and Halflings with Battle Axes mixed up with the odd mage with nothing more than a dagger and a rock. Add to this mix that almost everyone is a mage but not every party has the same mix of colleges or every adept is skilled in the same spells, and your tactics for dealing with something as simple as a dozen or so Orc and Ogre raiders has to vary from party to party.


Magics complicate the task of Commanding an adventuring party in combat. Some spells will last for hours and others only minutes. Some affect only the target and others everyone or thing in range, making them dangerous to both sides.
There are 14 colleges taught at the Guild each with at least 20 spells, often many more; you can't be expected to know the effects of every one. An experienced Adept should know which one to use when, requiring only that you give them a target or targets. What you should have is an idea of what the more common combats spells do and how to use or defend against them.
In combat the party can usually be split into Fighters, Fighter mages and Mages. Most but not all Mages cast attack spells in combat, those that don't usually heal, use a ranged weapon or have some other useful support skill. Very few Adepts don't have some sort of attack spell but what separates a Mage from a Fighter mage is that when the enemy gets close enough to hit with a weapon they stop casting where as a Mage tries very hard not to let the opposition get that close.
Fighters are either non-mages or those Adepts who for what ever reason don't cast in combat.
As Adventurers gain experience, spells and equipment, Mages tend to be able to at least defend themselves, and the line between the Fighter mage and the Fighter with a college becomes more mutable; which can make the Adventuring Milsci's job both easier and more complicated.

So you sort the party out into those that fight or those that can fight, and those that only cast, shoot or heal; hopefully you have several of the former, however without at least one true blast mage, in some situations or against some opponents the party are at a serious disadvantage.

Protective magics and enhancement magics that affect the person like strength and vision usually last for longer than enhancement magics on weapons. It is possible for some parties to wander around all day under the effects of some protective and enhancement magic 'just in case' but for most Adventuring Parties they will need to go on just before a planned attack or at the first sign of danger.
While the order that spells go on individuals is not so important before a planned attack, it's always best if there is a set order so that the those who are going to be in Melee first, get their Buffs first.
In an emergency your front row fighters need their Buffs as quickly as possible, and if your list of protective spells also includes Counter spells against incoming magics, these should go on your blast mages as soon as practical.
Often it's the Fighter mages that cast all these Buffs; unless the Adept is needed for the frontline try to get them to cast on the frontline first then themselves and any other second row, before the mages. Otherwise when time is short start with themselves and then those they have time for.
Agility Fighters need to be high in the buff order too; they need to be able to move where they are needed without worrying about remaining in spell range.
The Adept casting counter spells needs to put themselves either first, or fairly high in the order as failing to resist a spell can put a big crimp in most mages' casting until they take a potion or two.

A Mage with little skill in an attack spell will do less damage than a fighter with a weapon; however, because armour doesn't protect you from most attack magics, even a weak spell can take down a heavily armoured enemy.
A Mage of some skill, or with spells that affect areas or multiple people, is even more dangerous. Thus the aim of anyone coming up against any Adept in combat must be to stop them casting.
This means that the enemy will either try to get a fighter in a position to engage your mage or use their own magic or missile weapons to disable them.
And unless your goal is simply to break though the opposition and keep going, the neutralisation of the enemy Mages and missile weapons should be a priority in any combat.


If you have an Adept that casts it, use it. Don't take any of that "Oh but I'll backfire it for sure" crap. Awry magics are potentially resistible, the worst possible result of the magic going awry for the party is a reverse effect, and the chances of that are minor.
As is the potential for the Adept to get a curse that will seriously affect their health and abilities. Remind the coward that the guy standing in the front line has more chance of taking a grievous injury than they do of going senile.
It is also my understanding (not having a college myself) that counterspells of the Adept's college on their person do not affect their ability to cast but can be beneficial in the resisting of Awry magics.
If you only have the expensive stored form of the spell, use it if:

  • The opposition has it.
  • The party is out numbered. Although experienced parties have been known to handle things when out numbered 3 or more to 1 without quickness, it depends very much on the party, its buffs and the quality of the foe.
  • Your Party is otherwise looking or feeling a little underpowered. Often being just that bit faster than some big bad makes all the difference; in such cases you'll find the bearer of the invested item is probably just waiting for you to give the word.
Fire magics

While the domain of fire mages and witches, the attack and weapon spells seem to be commonly encountered in a stored form, probably because the fire college has so many attack spells.
If fire (other than the weapon spell) is used against the party and you don't have a fire mage or stored fire protections, just like for any offensive magic the proper counterspells are your best defence.
The same goes for the use of stored area effect spells by the party; while a Dragon flames or Fireball is going to hurt the enemy it potentially could just as easily take out your front line too so think about protecting them from 'friendly fire' before you need to use these types of spells.
When the party has its own fire mage, you need to balance protecting the party, with leaving the mage with enough energy to cast attack spells. And don't forget to protect the healer too; having to risk immolation to administer healing is not fun.


Counterspells and Namers in general are probably the most under used magic in combat by Adventuring parties. The right counterspell can boost a party member's resistance to magic so that the effects of spells are nullified or reduced.
In general counterspells are left to the Namers and while these Adepts undoubtedly have the advantage in the speed they can cast counters, each and every Adept has the potential to both protect their friends from the worst of their own magics or that of the enemy of the same college, or prevent that Adept from casting unless they move.

While any Namer can give their side some protection, some can remove the protections from the opposition, block the passage of entities or magics or even affect the ability of magic to function in an area. But these effects are a double edged sword as they can affect your own side as much as the opposition, and are best used to curtail any serious magical advantage the enemy has over you.


The party on One

Usually occurs when a party encounters some sort of summoned or constructed Monster or meets some Entity that is used to being the 'most bad ass' thing around. Such things are often heavily armoured, may be resistant to attack by mundane weapons or some forms of magic, and often are able to both take and deal out large amounts of damage.
The most obvious way to deal with a single foe is to surround it and all pile in.
This usually works fine if the creature can not break free of Melee, can not trample, does not have the ability to strike to its flank or rear as well as front with the same or another weapon or limb, does not have an Immolation or other effect dangerous to all those who get close.
And is not air or waterborne when the party are not.

Creatures that can trample often break free to attack the mages or trample over several clumped up fighters. Such creatures must either be closed with and overpowered in close combat, trapped with magics or baited like a bull.
For this tactic, the party spreads out in a loose circle and uses magic, missile weapons, and the occasional melee attack to wear down the 'bull'. The formation should be loose enough that the creature can not attack more than one person at a time (who has plenty of room to attempt to evade), and yet close enough so that those to either side need only take a few steps to attack, if the creature stops.
If the entity you are fighting is water or airborne you should use the Bull baiting method until you can get it out of the air/water or all the party can join it there. Usually it's better if it comes to you.

If the creature has Immolation or other damaging effect or can strike both side and rear/flank area at the same time, thought should be given to holding back the fighter mages and having them use magic from a few steps away.

It can be advantageous to let a champion (or two) concentrate on their defence against some single foes and just have the rest of the party use ranged magic. Particularly when there may be those in the party that lack the ability to hurt it with weapons and /or take more than a hit or two in return.

Roughly even Numbers

They could be anything from a group of street toughs or bandits used to preying on merchants and ordinary citizens, to a mage and his minions or an elite personal guard. At first glance the strategy here too seems simple, everyone squares off against a member of the opposition and you each do battle.
But what if they are all Fighters and you have one or more Pure Mages?; what if they have a mage they want to protect?
Also depending on the experience and skill of the individuals in the party and the opposition, small groups like this can be a serious threat or so outclassed as to be just an inconvenience.
Where the party is experienced, a single member maybe able to hold off if not deal to several opposition; whereas in a less experience group you may need to work as a team to deal with just one. What then to do with the rest?
Terrain and the positioning of party members begin to play a part in battle at this point. Ideally the members of the party should work in pairs; side by side a pair of warriors can hold a front up to 25ft long. A fighter a step ahead can protect a mage from melee attack, leaving them free to cast without risk of disruption. Even agility fighters can be teamed up, with either a mage with the range to aid them in combat, or as a guard on the flanks of a warrior holding a key position.
Terrain can be used to prevent outflanking, to force the enemy to come at you in ones or twos or to take detours costing precious seconds. Lack of clear lines of fire or line of sight can prevent missiles or magic being used on party members.
Always remember that the opposition will be trying to gain the advantage too, by separating or isolating your party members so they can gang up or bring more firepower to bear; try not to let this happen.

Out Numbered

Since Adventurers rarely work in groups larger than 8 and most commonly parties only have 5 or 6 members it's not hard to be outnumbered. And yet parties return to the guild season after season having faced huge odds and still won though. How?
Firstly, these slayers of small armies are usually among the more experienced groups of adventurers, they have exceptional weapons and amour, powerful magics, and are commanded by Military Scientists that know every trick in the book and (hopefully) some that aren't.
And secondly we do our best to reduce the combat to a series of quick, smaller fights. Even then we are usually still outnumbered, but not so much as to be overwhelmed. But no matter whether the party is a group of veterans facing odds of 10 to 1 or they are still wet behind the ears and facing 2 to 1, the tactic of dividing the enemy into small bite-sized chunks works.

Being stronger, tougher, faster, hitting harder and more often, being harder to hit and taking less damage when you are, than the other guy are all key to winning a fight, and the use of magic to give you that edge is by far the most important key to the success of many guild parties.
Powering up is a must when you're outnumbered, the whole secret to success is to take less damage than the other side so that they fall down while you're still standing, time after time, after time.
This is when the protective and enhancing magics really come into their own and in case of an unexpected attack having a pre-planned order for who gets, or casts what first can save vital seconds and prevent people taking large amounts of damage.

That more experienced groups of adventurers tend to have stronger more powerful power-up magics is only part of their ability to handle greater odds, the other part is that they also tend to have stronger attack magics too.
When outnumbered the various forms of attack spells - multiple target, area effect spells or single target spells - all have their use. Area effect spells can be used to kill or injure many attackers before they can close with the party's fighters or against mages and others that tend to attack from range. Targeted spells are safer used against those engaged with the fighters, and single target spells can take out their Military Scientist, Mage or individuals in melee with a fighter. Area effect spells can be used in melee but you need to balance the number of enemy that will be affected against the potential damage to your own people.
Some mages have a tendency to favour spells that do some damage regardless of weather they are resisted or not. However when outnumbered, resistible spells with the potential to affect most of the oncoming hoard are a better initial choice than one guaranteed to hurt just one (or a few). Nor can you allow the mage to become fixed on a perceived threat - yes the near by thing is big and scary, but the fighter can handle it; it's the three sneaky little buggers over there casting who-knows-what that they should be worried about.
Spells which slow, channel or block the opposition are also of significant value when outnumbered; solid wall spells rarely cause harm, and insubstantial ones usually only stop some of the opposition. They are none the less invaluable in breaking them up into smaller manageable numbers, particularly when the terrain is unfavourable.

The use of terrain and the positioning of party are even more important when outnumbered; even a mighty warrior hero can be brought down by sheer numbers if isolated and surrounded.
Try to use terrain or manufactured defences to prevent outflanking, to force the enemy to come at you on a single front in small numbers rather than from all sides in large numbers, and to prevent clear lines of fire or lines of sight to limit the use of missiles or magic against party members by those not engaged in melee combat.
Position the party so they can support or protect one another; a lightly armoured person or one with poor melee skills can use defensive techniques like Evasion to hold a position on the flank of a defensive line while the more heavily protected fighters hold the more exposed middle.
Often it is not possible to contain the assault to a single front, or circumstances require that the party behave offensively rather than defensively. Here the buddy system becomes more important as two or sometimes three party members working together can protect each other's flanks and rear.

It's those whose fighting style involves lots of movement or surprise attacks from unexpected directions that are hardest to work into your combat strategy when outnumbered. These fighters often forgo the protection of heavy armour in a bid to maximise speed and stealth, trading on the hope that surprise and the ability to duck and weave freely will help them survive.
When outnumbered the fighting style of these individuals makes them even more vulnerable, as the opposition probably has the numbers to overwhelm them.
However the best ones do not do well trapped in defensive lines, nor teamed up with slower, noisy fighters or mages that restrict their manoeuvrability.
I have found that you just have to accept that fighters of this style will probably be in need of serious healing after the battle and try to use them to best advantage while they are still able.
Often the best use of such individuals is to somehow get them into the flanks or rear of the enemy, to have them attack the opposing mages or Milsci, preventing the enemy from properly directing his troops, using ranged attacks, or forcing them to hold back fighters to protect those individuals.
As the Milsci in such circumstances, your task is to direct the rest of the party in such a way as to present a sufficient threat and distraction to the bulk of the opposition such that they disregard or ignore the actions of such individuals until it is too late.

Final Comments

Lack of experience for an Adventurer's Military Scientist is usually only a short term problem; you will rapidly gain experience adventuring; an Adventurer sees more combat, and encounters a much wider variety of opponents than those serving in the regular military.
For a novice Military Scientist, the hardest party to command is one with a lot of novice adventurers, this is because inexperienced adventurers are usually still feeling their way into their own combat roles whereas most experienced Guild Adventurers have a reasonable idea of just what their role in combat is and have developed a certain amount of personal tactical sense with regard to it. Several experienced guild members have produced some informative guides for warriors which I recommend studying to gain insight into the way the various types of fighting styles operate.

In combat your role should be to keep track of the overall flow of the battle and adjust the tactics and roles of the party accordingly, as it can be hard for a fighter in the battle line to judge where they will be needed next or what weaknesses there are to be exploited that will turn the tide of combat in the party's favour.

And finally guild Warriors do not retreat, and it is extremely rare for a party to make an unplanned withdrawal from combat, however you need to recognise the signs that you may potentially have to give the order to do so. Most skirmishes do not last more than a minute; it can however take even experienced warriors as much as 15 seconds to defeat an opponent in single combat, generally if the tide of battle is going your way the first of the enemy (if not all) should have fallen by the end of the first half minute. If they haven't - and the party is still in relatively good shape - you're fine, if however at the end of this time you have lost or are in danger of losing one or more of the party from the battle line you should consider regrouping and adjusting your strategy or the possibility you may need to withdraw. If these injuries were inflicted early in the fight before the party was properly powered up and engaged in battle, and the party has since held its own and possibly got in a few good blows in return, it is probable that things have already turned in the party's favour and a withdrawal is not necessary.

If as a player you wish to actively Milsci a party, your role as a player is to help coordinate the actions of the PCs, advise players who are unsure what actions their characters should take and try (as your character should be doing) to keep an eye on the bigger picture, as the players begin to focus more on the things pertaining to their character.
The game mechanic of Time Out is extremely useful tool to players, it allows the party to coordinate its actions and gives players an opportunity to have a say in the way the combat is conducted. Even if as the Milsci you wish to actively manage the overall tactics of the party, the advice of experienced players (even if they are playing inexperienced characters) is still of value. And no one understands what a character is capable of as well as its player.
What a time out should not be used for is debate on tactics or rules. The only time rules should come up in a time out is if a clarification is needed from the GM before deciding an action. And if the reasoning behind an action or tactic takes more than 25 words to clearly explain it's taking too long.
If you are keeping to this, most of the time you should not need more than 40 seconds of time out and probably much less.