On Writing & Roleplaying Characters Who Are Competent Tacticians
Looking to portray someone good with tactics? Here are some things that competent tacticians will do. And remember - they don't just apply to combat or combat-related scenarios, either - they can apply to just about anything that requires or could benefit from any amount of strategy and cunning.
Keeps plans as short and simple as possible: The more complex a plan is and the longer a plan takes, the more there is to go wrong with it. A competent tactician will keep a plan as short and simple as possible to minimize the odds of something getting fouled up, as well as to keep it open-ended enough that if complications arise, it can be adjusted as need be. For example, a plan that runs like "train someone in how to earn our target's trust based on months of careful study we've made, have this person spend several weeks earning the trust of the target, then propose to and get married to the target, then convince the target to go on a honeymoon to a place of our choosing so we can capture and take our target to our secret base without anyone noticing" would take so long and involves so many difficult steps that it's practically asking to fail. On the other hand, "find out where we can corner and capture the target with as few people noticing as possible and send a few competent people out to do so" is a much more feasible plan. As is "figure out how we can lure the target to a secluded spot and capture said target in under ten minutes."
Doesn't put all the eggs in one basket: A good tactician avoids, if possible, having the success of the ultimate plan ride on one single thing, be it a person, weapon, etc. A giant cannon of doom might be able to take a whole city off the map in one go, but if something goes wrong with it and the success of the whole campaign is riding on it, its owners are going to be up a creek without a paddle. A supersoldier might have the strength of ten people, but can only be in one place at a time and only needs killed or incapacitated once to be stopped - and as nature has shown us many times over (EG, with the likes of Japanese honeybees, wolves, and ants), a well-coordinated team can make quick work of something much bigger and stronger than its individual members.
Knows that plans will have to be adjusted. A good tactician knows that no matter how well-laid or well thought-out a plan is, something will eventually go wrong somewhere. Therefore, plans should be kept as flexible as they possibly can under the circumstances.
Takes into account what the enemy has in its favor, then tries figure out how to counter or avoid it. A good tactician takes stock of what's known about what the enemy has and can do that could cause problems and try to come up with ways to prevent the enemy from doing or using it. For example, the enemy grabs your hair? Then you cut or put up your hair. The enemy has a magic voice that can put you under a spell if you listen to it? Then you wear earplugs.
Takes advantage of what's on hand. A good tactician takes stock of what's on hand and asks how it might be used to create an advantage. For example, can certain objects be used as tools or weapons, or be used to construct a tool or weapon? Disney's Mulan is a great example of a character who is proficient this way - she figured out she could hook weights together to make a climbing tool and later on figured out that she could use a rocket to start an avalanche. A great real-life example of someone taking advantage of what was available was Fatu Kekula, a nursing student whose family was infected with the Ebola virus. Lacking proper protective gear, Kekula used trash bags, rain gear, and nylons to create her own protective gear, and was thus able to avoid getting infected while caring for her family until they could be admitted to a hospital.
Looks at an item and sees not simply what it's supposed to do, but what it can do: For example, a good tactician will look at a candle and see not simply a candle, but will also see, among other things:
- A potential source of light.
- A potential source of heat.
- A chunk of wax that can potentially be used for anything one might need a waxy substance for.
- A length of string that can be used to tie something.
Same goes for any object, no matter how ordinary or "boring" it is. A good tactician will not hesitate to consider using anything.
Doesn't get stuck on the same tricks: Someone who sticks to the same few techniques and tricks will be in a pickle if a situation comes up where they end up being unsuitable or insufficient, or if the enemy figures out how to counter or nullify them. For example, a superhero with super strength would do well to learn to use a ranged weapon in the event that an enemy ends up being somewhere out of arm's reach.
Learns from mistakes: When a plan fails, a competent tactician tries to figure out what went wrong and tries to figure out how keep the same thing from happening again in the future, rather than trying the same thing over and expecting different results or hoping for a lucky break.
Fights smarter, not harder: If failing to breach the castle's defenses failed the first time because the battering ram wasn't powerful enough to break through, the question might not be "how can we get ourselves a bigger battering ram?" but rather, "how can we get someone inside the castle to open the gates for us so we don't need a battering ram?"
Knows when to retreat: Contrary to popular belief, retreat does not necessarily make one a coward. In fact, knowing when to disengage is one of the most important parts of tactics. If you pull back when you've reached your limits, then you can potentially recover, rethink your strategy, and go back for another round. However, if you choose to fight down to the last man, then it's that many fewer opponents that your enemies will have standing against them in the future. Similarly, a hit-and-run strategy where one wears down the enemy as much as possible without sustaining serious loss, retreats as soon as things start getting seriously dangerous, then goes back for another strike as soon as it's feasible can be an extremely effective long-term strategy.
Chooses battles carefully: A good tactician asks, "Is this an effective use of my time or resources, or is there somehow or somewhere else I could get more done for less effort?" For example, a politician who tries to win votes by screaming in the faces of those who are already diametrically opposed to what the politician stands for is only going to succeed in annoying a lot of people, but a politician who sweet-talks and appeals to people who already have somewhat similar ideals stands a much better chance of winning them over and getting their votes.
Knows to make friends and allies. A good tactician knows that one's own resources won't always be enough, and so will try to make friends and allies with those who might be able to help. And to that end the tactician would do well to have skills at negotiation and compromise, or else employ or associate with someone who does.
Knows to repay favors if possible and knows not to make enemies needlessly. Because when you're of no benefit to anyone and just go around annoying everyone, nobody will have any reason not to take you out as soon as it's advantageous to them.
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