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In systems with a square grid, it seems that melee/close combat characters are limited by their numbers. In one of my games we currently have more than five melee characters, and are now being hindered by the same tactics parties usually use.

For example in a two by two hallway facing melee characters.

X  X

This leaves three characters who are basically unable to engage the enemy.

How can we make full use of our heavy close combat arm?

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What edition are you playing? Or do you want edition-agnostic advice? People are going to assume an edition anyway and give less useful answers. – SevenSidedDie Sep 14 '10 at 19:29
@SevenSidedDie Playing 4.0, but I was looking for general advice about working the grid. – C. Ross Sep 14 '10 at 19:58
up vote 3 down vote accepted

It's always going to be difficult in that situation; I'd personally encourage the GM to tend towards more open spaces, but of course that won't always be reasonable.

I would reserve a spot up front for a defender, to maintain marks on as much of their front line as possible. The remaining spot should cycle between characters: attack, then withdraw, with the defender covering the retreat in the usual fashion. This won't give everyone an attack every round, but it's a start.

Readying actions can help: one of the melee characters in the back who can't reach the front on their turn can ready to charge when there's room. Again, this won't totally solve the problem.

Bigger changes, which may require some rethinking of feat choices and such: some of your melee characters might be better off with polearms. My girlfriend plays a few melee healers, and she tends to prefer polearms with them because she can fall back into the second rank and attack with protection. Barbarians do fine with polearms, as do melee leaders, as do striker-oriented fighters. Oh, and assassins.

If you've got rogues and rangers among your party, they may want to think about the at-wills which allow them to move as part of the attack. That'll make cycling through the front line easier.

Finally, look for powers that allow you to force the enemy line back or that allow you to get behind the enemy line. Barbarians with Pressing Strike can go right through that line. Lots of classes have at-wills that push the enemy; move the enemy on the right back till he's directly south of the enemy on the left, and suddenly you've got a lot of room. Eladrin can teleport, as can assassins.

Or in a pinch, shock your GM by jumping over their front line. The vertical distance you clear with a long jump is 25% of the horizontal distance, so if the enemy is six feet tall, you'd need to clear 24 feet or 5 squares in order to get past them. With a running start, that's only a 25 on your Athletics check. Easier if you're higher level, admittedly. You might also be able to get your GM to allow an Acrobatics check to parkour along the wall and past them. I'd allow it but I'm a Hong Kong action movie fan.

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+1 for the parkour reference LOL now my battles will have a new thematic style to them. – user5 Sep 14 '10 at 17:13
Good point about jumping, I'll have to suggest that. – C. Ross Sep 14 '10 at 20:22

Since you mention D&D, there are 2 ways to handle this:

  1. While the front row gives ground slowly, the three in the back fall back to the last room, and prepare an ambush.
  2. Change weapons from short swords to other weapons. I've not seen 4th edition, but in 2, 3.0, and 3.5, fighters are proficient in pretty much every weapon made. (granted, 2nd Ad&D you need to do the weapon group slots, but it's EASILY possible). For the below ASCII, C = close combat, P = Pole arm/Long weapon, M = missiles, E = enemies.
    X M X
    XP PX
    XC CX
    XE EX
    Close-in combatants can defend with a shield wall and short sword, the second row can use weapons with reach (polearms, spears, etc.), and that missile guy in the back can take his time to pick his shots accordingly. Especially if he yells, "Left" to shoot at the enemies to the Player's left or "Fire in the hole!". I think most parties would have at least
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Reading through your short answer almost forms a whole adventure scenario in my head. Or at least an interesting encounter. +1 – Vorac Sep 21 '12 at 12:23
  1. Use polearms for rank 2 and 3.
  2. fall back to a wider spot.
  3. Push ONE enemy back, and turn it to fighting side by side along one wall, putting the enemy against the other wall.
  4. Rotate who's up front.
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+1 for 'rotate who's up front.' It can make a narrow corridor like this into a real advantage - doubly so if the party has a good healer. – GMJoe Jun 18 '12 at 6:14
4.) sound roman :) +1 – Vorac Sep 21 '12 at 12:20

Aside from the polearm response, the real life tactic to use in this situation is to avoid tight and cramped spaces because they work just like you say, minimizing the number of melee characters who can work at one time. Thats great if your outnumbered, Shitty if you want to do the outnumbering.

Your guys should probably nominate a tank or runner to go rouse up trouble and bring it back to ideally pre set up conditions (baricades, pikes, repurposed traps ,all that)

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In general people get stuck in situations like that mostly because they don't position well. For example, you open a door to a 20x20 room with some bad guys in it. Most of the time, PCs want to just charge in, regardless of whether they block the door and make it so one person's in the room alone, rather than back up and form an inverted pyramid/semicircle around the door and make them come to you. It's impatience at work.

In this case, unless you are in a 120' long 10' wide corridor and happen to come across these guys in the middle, you can always pull back to a more advantageous position - even a side door gives you the opportunity for more folks to get in.

And of course there's powers to get behind them... I don't play 4e but people can just teleport around all the time and stuff right? Eladrin? And in 3e/3.5e/Pathfinder at least there's Tumble/Acrobatics checks to go through a bad guy and get into an interstitial square (if you think you're OK to potentially suck up a bunch of attacks). Often, delaying in initiative order can help as well - wait until someone moves up or kills a front-liner and then move in.

PCs almost never delay in initiative or step back and/or wait for enemies, and that gets them into all kinds of fixes like this. Retreat and conduct a hasty ambush (especially against unintelligent opponents there's no excuse to get bottled up) and use timing to your advantage.

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If hallways are involved in a combat, I try to make sure they can use it strategically. I try to always give the players the ability to either fall back to a larger room or push forward.

Also, keep in mind that players can fall back through allied squares. Your players are doing the group a disservice if just two of them stand there and bash away while everyone else twiddles their thumbs.

Lastly, why all the crowded combats? 4th edition really shines when combat is dynamic with many movement and terrain elements.

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With 10-17 characters most combats seem crowded. – C. Ross Sep 14 '10 at 19:59

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