One of the mindsets I often encounter online is a belief by GMs that they must run their NPCs involved in a combat against the players as tactical masters, wise and skilled who never make foolish mistakes. They feel anything else is unrealistic.
How odd, and how unknowing of history.
To take but one example, General Robert E. Lee is considered to rank with the best (if not the best) US generals in history. Yet there was error after error committed by him at the Battle of Gettysburg. GMs of the mindset I noted above wouldn't have allowed such a thing to happen, and by so doing fail in any attempt at realism.
But that example is of one of the greats, a true standout. Most don't rise to the skill of a Lee, but rather more commonly reflect a McClellan. The simple truth is that most leaders of men aren't very good, and they commonly make serious mistakes.
Some shine under some conditions, but fail when the conditions of the test change. Bull Halsey is a good example of this- excelling at times, but failing come the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Such is what it means to be human.
Nor are machines much better, for a AI committed to following the most reasonable course would have failed where C. Wade McClusky succeeded- with a much darker course of the war as a result.
Such things roll all the way down to troops. US Marines are famous for skilled actions, but the same can't be said of WWII troops from Italy.
I tend to run most of the foes in my campaigns rather poorly, reflecting any number of weaknesses both in the 'troops' and in their leadership (Orcs are a wonderful example- powerful and often found in great numbers, but cowards and bullys with little teamwork). My goal is not to have them perform at their best according to the game system- but as they would. And it's rare indeed that I field a elite NPC foe that I pull out all stops on (thus depending only upon my own tactical failings instead of modeling specific ones).
One result is that I tend to field larger numbers, and wait for the players to take advantage of the limits I've placed on the tactical judgement of those numbers. This I feel gives the players both something to test themselves against, and a feeling of earned success when they overcome such an advantage of numbers and resources. Thinking they're backs are up against the wall to start with, it's rare indeed for my players not to find and take advantage of the gaps in their opponents.
As an added advantage, this approach prevents group wipes in what others would consider rather dangerous game systems. Playing the NPCs instead of trying to the kill the players with the near limitless perception of a GM alters such games significantly- and they become far more dangerous to the villians then they are to the heroes.
Banned! And I Complain about the Rogue class
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