Combat Tactics

When my gaming group started playing the MARVEL SUPER HEROES game back in high school, we were all still gaming rookies. As my game mastering and the players’ skills improved over the next several months, I wanted to introduce a sense of strategy and tactics into the group's battles. I tried to have my villains use intelligent tactics whenever appropriate in an effort to show the heroes the benefits that having a sound battle plan can produce. And, after their heroes got their heads handed to them once or twice, the players caught on.

This article will help you develop an understanding of some basic tactics that you can use to help your heroes win more of their battles against the forces of evil and villainy everywhere. Heroes are sorted into various categories with titles borrowed mostly from the military, with each having certain offensive and defensive strengths. Although I'll be using MARVEL SUPER HEROES characters and game terms as examples, the categories describe heroes in general, and the tactics should apply equally well to any superhero RPG.

Combat Categories

This category of heroes is made up of ground-based (no flying, gliding, etc.) heroes who have few or no true super powers and whose main tactic is to close with the enemy and engage in melee. In the MARVEL UNIVERSE, this category is represented by the likes of Captain America, Black Knight, Mockingbird, Black Panther, Wolverine, and Daredevil. Their styles and weapons are irrelevant, as all of these heroes do the majority of their fighting in close quarters with the enemy. Other powers or abilities that heroic infantry might possess are: martial arts, weapons, or acrobatic skills; injury-resistant or enhanced senses; or the ability to make multiple attacks per combat round.
Offensive Tactics:
Like its military namesake, heroic infantry is the best force around at taking and holding ground. When attacking foes, infantry's success or failure often determines the ultimate success or failure of the combat. To insure success, infantry needs support from other types of heroes and should develop some alternatives to the all-too-common frontal assault. Attacking your foes from their flanks or rear is a great way to confuse and distract them. Forcing your foes to react to two or more groups of heroes, coming from different directions, often causes those foes to split up their own forces in order to deal with the threats. Just be aware that dividing your forces for a flanking attempt will also weaken your group as a whole, especially if you are discovered before you are ready to attack. If you doubt that heroic infantry can do much damage in a flanking maneuver, consider what would happen if the Daredevil, Captain America, and Wolverineattacked your heroes from behind.
Defensive Tactics:
Since infantry seldom has true powers, it often cannot withstand an all-out attack by super-powered foes. It is often best, when under this kind of attack, for the infantry to find cover and wait for the other heroes to give it an opening to turn the tide. If no such help is available, the infantry should stay together and make the enemy come to it. Prepare an ambush or some confining trap. Play "cat and mouse" with the many times. The Dodging and Evading tactics from the MARVEL SUPER HEROES Advanced Set Player's Book can also be effective defensive tactics.
In super-hero games, this term refers to characters with super speed or other heightened ground movement powers. In the MARVEL UNIVERSE, some notable speedsters are Quicksilver, Makkari, Super Sabre, and the Whizzer. Any hero qualifies who possesses a power that allows him to cover larger than normal ground distances in a round (such as lightning speed or leaping) or allows him to make multiple attacks per round. Note that not all GMs allow speedster characters to make multiple attacks merely because they possess super speed; they must also possess an "extra attacks" power. Characters like this may also have a high agility, endurance, or an injury resistance power (body armor, etc.). The most common tactic used by these heroes is to simply close with the enemy and enter melee.
Offensive Tactics:
A hero of this type often does have multiple attacks, and this can be used to even the odds if the heroes are outnumbered. This is achieved by distributing the hero's multiple attacks among several targets within the hero's movement range. This gets more enemies involved in melee, preventing the other heroes from being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. A tactic for these heroes who do not possess multiple attacks, but who do possess a high endurance or some form of body armor, is the charge. High speed means a lot of momentum and a lot of damage to anyone who absorbs that momentum with his body. You can also use these characters to foil enemies' plans by getting behind their lines, committing sabotage, etc. How can the evil scientist fire his atomic mutagen splurge-gun at your heroes if your speedster hero can race to the wall and unplug it before the scientist can start the firing sequence? Or imagine Maximus trying to escape from Quicksilver by running through an open doorway, only to have Quicksilver run to the door, close it, and lock it just as Maximus barrels headlong into it.
Defensive Tactics:
Many of the previous tactics work well in a defensive situation, too. The ability to attack multiple foes can be very important, slowing or even stopping an enemy advance. This tactic can also be used to help cover any retreat the heroes need to make. These heroes' high movement rates also allow them to harass foes, making them the ultimate hit-and-run artists. The ability to move so quickly also makes these heroes excellent choices for running diversions or feints. Foes have to pay attention to heroes who can literally run circles around them.
This type of hero possesses some means of flight that also represents his primary super-power, outside of possible super-strength. The Sub-Mariner, Wonder Man, Namorita and Nova of the New Warriors, and both the original Angel and Ms. Marvel fall into this category. The most common combat tactic of these heroes is to fly to the enemy and engage foe, and use teamwork to pick off enemies one at a time. These them in melee. Airborne heroes might have all are tactics that Wolverine has used quite successfully other powers or abilities that supplement their flight capabilities.