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?"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Art of Dungeoneering: Chapter V, Energy

This chapter has been a long time in coming partly because January has been a lazy blogging month for me, and also because the elements of this chapter were a bit difficult to piece together as a coherent whole.  As usual, Sun Tzu has given some fairly obtuse instructions and left it to the reader to find their meaning, and my understanding of this chapter's lessons were coloured by my experiences as a Warhammer player, which have taught me the importance of exposing your enemy's flank while guarding your own.

1. Generally, management of many is the same as management of few.  It is a matter of organization.

2. And to control many is the same as to control few.  This is a matter of formations and signals.

3. That the army is certain to sustain the enemy's attack without suffering defeat is due to operations of the extraordinary and the normal forces.

Sun Tzu considers normal forces to be those that confront the enemy head-on, while the extraordinary forces are those that attack the enemy's flanks.  These forces should act in concert to effect victory.  Consider keeping some of your party in reserve, and then deploying them once your main force has engaged the enemy and has their full attention.  In MMORPG parlance use your main force to 'aggro' the enemy and once they are stuck in hit the enemy in the flank with your reserves and watch them crumble.

4. Troops thrown against the enemy as a grindstone against eggs is an example of a solid acting upon a void.

This is a roundabout way of saying that you should attack the enemy's 'soft' forces with your 'hard' ones.

5. Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage; use the extraordinary to win.

This is a stratagem that I think most Warhammer players understand instinctively.  My Warriors of Chaos army, for example, is organized into two broad groups that I refer to as 'the hammer' and 'the anvil.'  The anvil consists of a large unit of shield-bearing Chaos Warriors of Slaanesh who are immune to fear and panic.  Compared to the rest of my army, these guys don't dish out a whole lot of damage, but they sure can take it.  The hammer is a much smaller unit of Chaos Warriors of Khorne who have given up their shields in favour of extra hand weapons and have frenzy, which combine to give them a terrifying number of attacks.  These guys break easily though, so I hold them back until the 'the anvil' has engaged a big enemy unit and has them locked in combat, then I maneuver 'the hammer' into position and charge the enemy unit's flank.  When I can pull it off, there is little that can stand before me.  Of course my worthy opponent is also trying to do the same thing to me so that's when you employ all your 'sneaky git' tactics to make sure that it's your flanking charge and not his that strikes home first.

This sort of thing can also be employed in the dungeon.  Thieves aren't terribly robust, and they don't do well in stand-up fights, but they are stealthy buggers and their backstab attacks can be downright terrifying.  So resist the temptation of getting the party thief into combat right away.  Instead, hang back and let the fighters get the enemy's attention, perhaps aided by a flashy spell or two from the magic user, then sneak around behind and hit 'em where it hurts!

6. Now the resources of those skilled in the use of extraordinary forces are as infinite as the heavens and earth; as inexhaustible as the flow of the great rivers.

7. For they end and recommence; cyclical, as are the movements of the sun and moon.  They die away and are reborn; recurrent, as are the passing seasons.

8. The musical notes are only five in number but their melodies are so numerous that one cannot hear them all.

9. The primary colours are only five in number but their combinations are so infinite that one cannot visualize them all.

10. The flavours are only five in number but their blends are so various that one cannot taste them all.

11. In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend them all.

12. For these two forces are mutually reproductive; their interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings.  Who can determine where one ends and the other begins?

Okay, after that barrage of metaphor I think we all get the point.  The following passages are where things start to get murky...

13. When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum.

14. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.

15. Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated.

16. His potential is that of a fully drawn crossbow; his timing, the release of the trigger.

These four points obviously refer to the timing of an attack, and timing is critical when employing a flanking attack, as I've learned the hard way through many ignominious defeats at the gaming table.  But how can we create good timing for our attacks?

17. In the tumult and uproar the battle seems chaotic, but there is no disorder; the troops appear to be milling about in circles but cannot be defeated.

18. Apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength.

The key to good timing is creating your own opportunities to attack by manipulating the enemy - to feign retreat or confusion in order to draw him out and deliver the finishing blow with perfect timing.  But doing so requires highly disciplined troops lest that feigned retreat becomes a route in truth.

This is yet another lesson I've learned well from playing Warhammer.  I often position a small unit of fast cavalry within range of a large enemy unit in hopes of enticing them to charge (and if the enemy unit is frenzied they have no choice), then fleeing in response to the charge.  The idea here is to draw the enemy unit out of position with a failed charge, assuming my cavalry can get away safely, which exposes their flank to a counter charge in my next turn.  The danger here is always that bait unit will fail their morale test to regroup and keep fleeing right off the board.  This is as much a danger in real life as in the game.

So, too, in the dungeon.  If you plan on using henchmen to draw out enemy forces be certain to use only those whose loyalty and discipline are the greatest, or else they may panic and flee at the wrong moment, handing you a defeat at your moment of victory.

19. Order or disorder depends on organization; courage or cowardice on circumstances; strength or weakness on dispositions.

20. Thus, those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit they await him in strength.

Understand your enemy's currency and use it to your advantage.  Consider keeping a sack of distraction treasure handy.  If you're being charged by a band of highwaymen, scattering gold coins in their midst will cause the charge to falter pretty quickly as they break ranks to scoop up the loot.  You can use this time to counter-charge or run away!  Monsters, too, have their own brand of currency - often food - that can be used to create a distraction.  For unscrupulous adventuring parties a sack of hobbits can be well worth the investment if it keeps a hungry troll off your back.

21.  Therefore a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.

22. He selects his men and they exploit the situation.

23. He who relies on the situation uses his men in fighting as one rolls logs or stones.  Now the nature of logs and stones is that on stable ground they are static; on unstable ground, they move.  If square, they stop; if round, they roll.

24. Thus, the potential of troops skilfully commanded in battle may be compared to that of round boulders which roll down from mountain heights.

In short, use the right tool for the job at hand.  When you use the right weapons or strategies for the prevailing conditions, executed at the proper time, your attack is sure to succeed.


Trey said...

Great series. What's true in war is true in wargaming, too, apparently.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks, Trey. I suspect I'm getting more out of writing it than anyone is getting out of reading it, though. It's forcing me to really study the Art of War more deeply than I ever have before.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

"If square, they stop; if round, they roll."

Therefore, you must always tie your henchmen in knots. :D

Seriously though, interesting post. What chapter does advice on breaking a stalemate come in?