[RPG] How to help a player who struggles with a tactics-focused character


I'm a fairly new DM with fairly new players. One such player rolled up a warlord, casting the character as a "tactical genius". Unfortunately, she's having trouble getting "moments of glory", because not only is she new to roleplaying games, she's new to tactical/strategic games as well. She might be a bit of a Watcher as well, albeit an enthusiastic one.

In any case, I've detected frustration on her part. She even mentioned at one point, "My character is [a tactical genius], I'm not." She usually just ends up swinging her sword at the nearest enemy, because she doesn't think of ways to use her plethora of abilities.

My first thought is that, similarly, the ranger's player might not recognize that wolves scatter bones after feeding, but I can certainly tell him that his character recognizes it. But that's a question of knowing trivia, while using warlord tactics is more of a thought process. It makes me very hesitant to say, "You recognize that by pushing this monster over, he'll be trapped and surrounded."

My second thought is that maybe she'd be happier playing a class whose abilities have more immediate consequences, but it seems highly inappropriate to suggest a class change.

How can I help her unlock her character's potential without stealing accomplishment away?

Any related suggestions?

Best Answer

Have dinner with your friend and help her draw up a checklist.

This advise is taken from my own personal experience doing exactly this. And it did help the person I was helping significantly, though as part if it, we also created a character to suit their requirements.

Checklists are an amazing technology that are astonishingly underrated by many people. Functionally, the checklist's role is to enable pre-cognition outside the heat of the moment. With any sort of complexity problems, a checklist is a good way to reduce the granularity of the problem such that a player can concentrate on the novel elements.

So, while I made a checklist for my epic character, with a list of the actions I would take if this or that were true, or on the first turn, the point of the checklist is not to strictly adhere to the thing, but to reduce the need to think about all of the things on the list.

When having this conversation, first discuss common "patterns" in combat. Figure out common situations that she remembers from game. While there are plenty of theoretical situations, it's more important when doing this to let the cognition and inspiration of tactics come from the individual. Just like with making a cheat sheet, the act of making the thing is more important than the thing itself.

After listing all of the common situations that she can remember, work through sample outcomes with her in whatever way suits you two best. (My preference is for statistical analysis, but then I'm very special. One of the simpler ways is to play it through a few times, alternating sides and talking through your decision.)

After each finishes, let her work out a checklist of "if this situation is happening try for X,Y,Z" Then, after a set of checklists are done, let her employ them in game. After she does, make sure to debrief her after game (written or oral, since there is some literature that suggests a written debrief has great learning potential) and talk through what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to change in the lists.

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