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I've just watched episode 1-2 of Terranova, and there is a scene in which a military squad goes to the rescue of some teenagers who are surrounded by dinosaurs in a jungle. When the squad arrives, their leader orders, "Establish a perimeter!", and some soldiers form a "circle", protecting the area where the teenagers were trapped. That way, they could operate in relative safety while in the area.

This whole manoeuver thing got me thinking about tactical-level formations for operations (and not for marching!). This kind of strategy could be used by the players or against them, giving more flavour to combate. I went to Google to find out more on this, but just got marching formations, which isn't what I'm looking for.

Does anyone know about some other formations, or can tell me more about orders like these? I'm not asking for rules, but for info on how the real-world tactics work, so anyone could adapt them to their favourite system.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

What you are looking for is squad or platoon level movement and formations. US Army FM 3-21.8 has a lot on this subject, especially chapter 3. It specifically talks about creating a cigar-shaped perimeter when not on the move.

Also research immediate action (IA) drills, about tactical response to certain situations.

In one long AD&D 2e campaign, one fighter character took the initiative to train the entire party in IA drills. In that game I enforced rules like "no table talk" so combat moves couldn't be argued over by the whole group in the sadly common "group competitive chess" model. So there was a lot of "the fighter runs forward and the mage can't get off his fireball" and "someone says retreat, and half the party retreats and the other half keeps fighting and they get split and die." After he trained them up, they were about 300% more effective in combat. Some specific ones were:

  • Upon opening a door and seeing a bunch of melee bad guys, instead of rushing the room form an inverted triangle outside it, so that when they came running out they'd be surrounded and their buddies couldn't help (with an archer and mage at the point so they could shoot into the room if they didn't come right out)
  • The shouted command "Blue" causing everyone to take a step back and shut their eyes, so as to not be affected by the wizard's debilitating Color Spray
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The manual discusses this, but it's important to remember that the formation you choose is almost always a tradeoff between speed and security. A wedge is often the default when you're not trying to get there as fast as possible. I line is preferable when you need to get there ASAP. Also, terrain and visibility impact your options. If you can't see your companions, you can't move together. But the closer together you are, the more vulnerable you are to area effect weapons. There's no silver bullet. –  Erik Schmidt Jul 6 '12 at 18:24
    
As a game specific note, D&D 3.5 introduced "Teamwork Benefits", a mechanic to represent training your party for specific maneuvers. Apparently they're found in Dungeonscape, PHB2, DMG2, and Heroes of Battle; I've only looked at the ones in PHB2. Some examples from Heroes of Battle, 2 include formations like one for finding invisible attackers. –  starwed Sep 19 '12 at 19:57

You may want to check the Tactical Formations category page of Wikipedia, then decide what interests you, what to google and read up on. It's a good starting point, imo.

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