After an inexcusably long hiatus from the Art of Dungeoneering series, I've finally motivated myself to divulge yet another chapter of Sun Tzu's immortal wisdom. For those of you just tuning in, links to the previous chapters of the Art of Dungeoneering series can be found on the sidebar.
Chapter VI is pure gold and is chock full of useful advice; after a long lead-up we are finally getting into the meat and potatoes of how to beat your enemies. Saddle up.
1. Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene and rushes into the fight is weary.
2. And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.
3. One able to make the enemy come of his own accord does so by offering him some advantage. and one able to prevent him from coming does so by hurting him.
In terms of dungeoneering I interpret this as choosing your arena of battle then forcing your enemy to come to you by luring him into a tactically disadvantageous site. I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: this is where exploring and mapping as much of the dungeon as possible before engaging in big battles pays dividends. Scout the dungeon to become familiar with it, then fight in an area of your choosing.
Also think about rally points you can fall back to and defend if you need to retreat from a bad situation. Such areas should have limited access points that are easily defended. "When a cat is at the rat hole, ten thousand rats dare not come out; when a tiger guards the ford ten thousand deer cannot cross."
4. When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move.
These are tactics that any wily DM will also use against the players, and an excellent reason not to rest in the dungeon when you are low on hit points and out of spells. It is far too easy for dungeon denizens to keep you from your much-needed rest. Remember, there are more of them than there are of you and they have the numbers to keep the pressure on you indefinitely.
5. Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.
6. That you may march a thousand li without wearying yourself is because you travel where there is no enemy.
7. To be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect. To be certain hold what you defend is to defend a place the enemy does not attack.
8. Therefore, against those skilled in attack, an enemy does not know where to defend; against the experts in defence, the enemy does not know where to attack.
9. Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy's fate.
Speed is life. Move quickly, bypass the enemy's stronghold, and hit him where he least expects it. As any veteran player knows, you don't just walk in the front door of the goblin lair - look for back door. One way to ensure that you will hit the enemy where he least expects it to make him think that you are attacking somewhere else. At the risk of sounding callous, this is where hirelings can be gainfully employed to create a distraction. Have them move and act as though about to attack by a particular avenue while you are quickly moving to another.
10. He whose advance is irresistible plunges into his enemy's weak positions; he who in withdrawal cannot be pursued moves so swiftly that he cannot be overtaken.
11. When I wish to give battle, my enemy, even though protected by high walls and deep moats, cannot help but engage me, for I attack a position he must succor.
If you need to defeat a well-entrenched foe, try luring him out by attacking things he needs to defend. Desecrating his holy ground, befouling his water supply, etc. is sure to illicit a quick and ill-conceived response.
12. When I wish to avoid battle I may defend myself simply by drawing a line on the ground; the enemy will be unable to attack me because I divert him from going where he wishes.
Sometimes when your position is weak, allowing your opponent to see your weakness will create doubts in his mind. He may see your weakness as a ruse intended to lure him into an ambush, and refuse to attack. This is a strategy that can also be a lot of fun for the DM to employ. Players are a deeply suspicious lot and if you drop hints that the treasure they seek is only weakly guarded by few goblins they will worry themselves sick fretting over what nasty trap you have prepared, and might even bypass it altogether. Good times.
13. If I am able to determine the enemy's dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own then I can concentrate and he must divide. And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his. There I will be numerically superior. Then, if I am able to use many to strike few at the selected point, those I deal with will be in dire straits.
14. The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places. And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.
15. For if he prepares to the front his rear will be weak, and if to the rear, his front will be fragile. If he prepares to the left, his right will be vulnerable and if to the right, there will be few on his left. And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.
I see these points come into play every time I set up for a Warhammer 40K game, because one player must deploy his entire force before the other player begins to set up. When deploying first you don't know where your opponent will deploy so you often have to spread your force out to cover every possibility. The side that deploys last has no such disadvantage and can concentrate his forces wherever his opponent is weak. To balance things out the player who deploys first gets the first turn...unless the other player can steal initiative, which happened to me in a game not long ago. This should have given me a tremendous advantage, but my opponent - a canny and experienced player - set up his army in such a way that forced me to come to him, negating the advantage. So, when you don't know your enemy's dispositions, but he knows yours it is often best to adopt a defensive position and wait him out.
16. One who has few must prepare against the enemy; one who has many makes the enemy prepare against him.
This is applies directly to dungeon adventures, where the adventuring party is almost always vastly outnumbered by the denizens and, thus, the onus is upon the players to prepare against their adversaries.
17. If one knows where and when a battle will be fought his troops can march a thousand li and meet on the field. But if one knows neither the battleground nor the day of battle, the left will be unable to aid the right, or the right, the left; the van to support the rear or the rear, the van. How much more is this so when separated by several tens of li, or, indeed, by even a few!
Suffice it to say that it is best to fight your battles at a time and place of your choosing.
18. Although I estimate the troops of Yueh as many, of what benefit is this superiority in respect to the outcome?
19. Thus I say that victory can be created. For even if the enemy is numerous, I can prevent him from engaging.
By dictating the terms of the engagement you can ensure that you will know your enemy's dispositions, while he will not have the time to study yours and form a plan to counter them. In this way a smaller force can defeat a larger.
20. Therefore, determine the enemy's plans and you will know which strategy will be successful and which will not;
21. Agitate him and ascertain the pattern of his movement.
22. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle.
23. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.
24. The ultimate in disposing one's troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.
25. It is according to the shapes that I lay the plans for victory, but the multitude does not comprehend this. Although everyone can see the outward aspects, none understands the way in which I have created victory.
26. Therefore, when I have won a victory I do not repeat my tactics but respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.
It is when you become predictable and allow patterns in your behaviour to become obvious that your enemy can anticipate and preempt you.
27. Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.
28. And as water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy.
29. And as water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions.
30. Thus, one able to gain the victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine.
"Improvise, adapt, and overcome"
- Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway (Heartbreak Ridge)
And, finally, some flowery philosophizing:
31. Of the five elements, none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some short, and the moon waxes and wanes.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"