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Most everyone agrees that the strategy of attacking "the squishies" first in a combat scenario is generally the best idea, except in some specific exceptions. Often, then, the decision on whether or not an NPC is "smart enough" to do this comes down to their intelligence score and cultural upbringing - animals are not smart enough to do this, human opponents are, and orcs may or may not be.

Is this an accurate view on intelligence and strategic planning? It seems possible that this kind of strategic thinking is something that we take for granted in the modern day. Being exposed to tons of video games, roleplaying games, and a wealth of historical records may bias us. Is it possible that people only recognize this kind of strategy as being "obvious" due to massive amount of role-based games and combat situations people see these days? How likely are characters in a fantasy environment with less exposure to games, education, and strategic thinking to know how to properly prioritize characters of different offensive/defensive roles? How common is basic strategic understanding to the uneducated?

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closed as too broad by BESW, Erik Schmidt, starwed, Wibbs, Dakeyras Aug 18 '13 at 12:04

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I think this needs to be tagged as edition-specific. Some editions make it clear that no character knows the mechanics being leveraged against them, while others are the opposite (a D&D 4e character automatically knows all the riders and caveats of a power used against it, for example). As it is, the question doesn't even have a system tag. – BESW Aug 18 '13 at 3:29
Unfortunately, the more you take it away from a system and edition, the more this becomes too broad and primarily opinion-based, as it's inviting us to speculate on the mental ability and martial training of an endless number of races and character types in an endless number of settings. – BESW Aug 18 '13 at 3:37
Perhaps, rather than asking us to opine on the realism of granting strategic planning to various unspecified NPCs, you could ask us either about a specific group of NPCs --or you could ask for experience-based answers about the use of strategic planning as a form of worldbuilding, or the like? Whatever challenge you're actually facing that prompted you to ask this question, bringing it to the fore would be helpful in making the question answerable. If you'd like to talk about it further, please join us in the chat! – BESW Aug 18 '13 at 3:50
This doesn't need a game and edition, but it does need to be a little more specific, it's a bit of an "invitation to discussion" and it's unclear what does the best answer to this look like. – mxyzplk Aug 18 '13 at 15:54
up vote 7 down vote accepted

As the comments on the main question say, this is too broad a topic, and also highly debatable, more fit for extended discussion in a forum or chat than for the general format of this site.

On the other hand, however, this is also very interesting, and if we strip away the explanatory parts and the secondary questions, and focus on the primary two questions, it can be answered, in short (to lend a quick hand):

Do NPCs understand target priority strategy?

Yes, they do, in general. Evolution (or, to avoid debates, your preferred supernatural entity in-game or IRL :)) made it so. Yes, even animals do, who are, contrary to the view suggested by the Q, often more cunning in small scale combat tactics than members of a sentient race. (Check out a few videos about hyenas versus lions, for example.) However, who or what the actual top priority target is depends on a myriad factors ranging from physical prowess and evolutionary instincts through culture and customs to psychological warfare, and morale, so...

Is this an accurate view on intelligence and strategic planning?

No, it's not. Taking out the squishies, as you put it, works best only if you're facing a group of opponents who are determined, willing, and capable of fighting to death, and are totally unlikely to stop fighting even when they obviously won or are losing. In a more realistic combat situation, where morale and such apply, the primary aim of the opposing groups, which determines strategy, tactics and objectives, is to break their opponents' morale and willingness to fight (through taking out their leader with a quick strike, or capturing or starting to kill off their culturally / evolutionarily important, but weak members -- "taking out the squishies" --, and so on, and so on), and to force either surrender or retreat.

Once again, this all is highly debatable, but these are the answers to the core questions. Yes, NPCs understand strategy, to varying levels, and no, this isn't an accurate view. What is, though, is open to discussion.

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Note, that in real battles the casualty rate was rarely above 10-20%, even for the loser's side. In an RPG (or strategy game) setting, the casualty rate is usually 100% for the loser (and anything above 0% for the players means a Pyhrric victory). Even if morale is handled in the game, it only means the last few enemies try to run away if nearly all of their force is killed. In real life, very few armies could keep up fighting after losing so much as 1/5 to 1/4 of their men. – vsz Aug 18 '13 at 10:03
@vsz That's not a true generalisation since it varies heavily between RPGs. As just one example, in AD&D 2e (which retained much of Gygax and Arneson's sensibilities from wargaming) a morale check was made as soon as one of a variety of conditions occurred, including being surprised by a superior force or seeing the leader fall. As a result, the opposition often enough broken with very few or no casualties. Not all RPGs are made equal, especially when it comes to morale. – SevenSidedDie Aug 18 '13 at 13:27

Is this an accurate view on intelligence and strategic planning?

This depends on a lot of things for the NPCs in question. Basically, this can only be answered on a case-by-case basis, by considering what the NPCs know about squishies. The process for this is explained below.

Taking out the squishies first is something most PCs will do, as they understand that magic is more dangerous (usually) than melee combat, and also that spell-casters are usually easier to kill. However, a group of human bandits from the middle of nowhere may have only heard of magic in myths and legends, and maybe a village priest who's not really a threat. They would think that the melee fighters are the most dangerous, based on their past experience (which is really the key for each NPC). Of course, once the mage starts shooting fire at them they may reconsider their priorities, or even just flee.

You'll have to decide this yourself for each group of NPCs you use. Some general information about an area, though, can make this easier. Ask yourself this: have the NPCs seen a magic-user casting before, and could they recognise another caster? If not, do they know about casters from other sources - old legends and the like? If the enemies see an armed and armoured knight and three men wearing dresses and lacking decent weapons, who will they kill first? By placing yourself in their situation, with their background knowledge, it becomes easier to see what they will do.

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