7
\$\begingroup\$

What's the difference between "strategy" and "tactics" in the context of tabletop roleplaying game combat? I have some idea of how these terms differ in English and I've read the SE tag descriptions for and , but I'm not sure where to drawn the line between them. I don't feel like I can confidently use the terms correctly, because I often see them used in subtly different ways that I can't distinguish in the roleplaying context.

This question is meant to be system-agnostic, but for purposes of examples most of my experience is in games like Dungeons & Dragons, Savage Worlds, and Fate.

\$\endgroup\$

closed as primarily opinion-based by Oblivious Sage, Novak, Thomas Jacobs, Pyrotechnical, mxyzplk Aug 24 '17 at 18:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I have voted to close this question as primarily opinion-based. There isn't a clear-cut division between strategy and tactics in the real world, much less in RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Aug 24 '17 at 14:55
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage Military forces seem to have a pretty good idea of the difference between strategy and tactics. And I'm pretty sure GURPS 3e had different Strategy and Tactics skills, making it so sometimes even RPGs make a mechanical distinction. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 24 '17 at 16:24
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage Are you expecting the question to explain at what point strategy and tactics differ when the question is What's the difference between strategy and tactics? Further, rather than closing the question, why not downvote those answers you find not useful? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 24 '17 at 17:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this can't be answered except very hypothetically, and it lacks any real problem to solve. There's no defined answer (especially across systems!), so if I propose an encounter = tactical, an adventure = operational, and a campaign = strategic - so what? What does that help? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 24 '17 at 18:34
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Since I've seen many answers on SE that depended on a differentiation between the two terms and many blog posts in the community as well, I thought there would be a more conventional understanding or consensus. If that is not the case, my apologies for the off-topic question. But it seems like something that the gaming community knows how to differentiate, meaning that the community seems to have a decent facto correct answer. I would ask how to improve the question to be on-topic, if possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Aug 24 '17 at 19:22
6
\$\begingroup\$

According to the US DoD

Strategy - A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives.

Strategic level of warfare — The level of warfare at which a nation, often as a member of a group of nations, determines national or multinational (alliance or coalition) strategic security objectives and guidance, then develops and uses national resources to achieve those objectives.

Tactics - The employment and ordered arrangement of forces in relation to each other.

Tactical level of warfare — The level of warfare at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to achieve military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces.

Operation — 1. A sequence of tactical actions with a common purpose or unifying theme. (JP 1) 2. A military action or the carrying out of a strategic, operational, tactical, service, training, or administrative military mission. (JP 3-0).

Operational level of warfare — The level of warfare at which campaigns and major operations are planned, conducted, and sustained to achieve strategic objectives within theaters or other operational areas.


To put this within the context of an easily referencable D&D "game", I'll talk about the Order of the Stick webcomic.

Roy, the main character, has two strategies. The first is to take down Xykon. The second, later acquired, is to stop the current machinations surrounding the Gates, which contain a god-slaying abomination before the Gods solve the problem themselves, by destroying the planet entirely.

Roy's first Operation, in comic, towards those ends, was when he gathered the Order of the Stick and assaulted Durakan's Tower to fight Xykon head-on.

Later, during a completely different Operation, Roy is dueling Xykon, when Xykon, as a tactic to resolve the duel, offers Roy a new Strategic concern: That Roy needs to first attain additional levels before actually having a legitimate fight with Xykon. The prudence of this strategic advice is proven when the Operation ends(for Roy) with his death.

And while Roy's team often disagree on choice of Operations(Celia and Haley about what towns to search, with Haley failing to share Operational Intelligence she has), or more notably, Tactics(Belkar kills more people than Roy would allow), not even Belkar defies Roy's overarching Strategic goals. This is notable because in a 0-pvp ttrpg, that's what you want. Players, and characters who all agree on or concede to the Team's over-arching Strategic goals. With the OotS comic, that's the same thing, practically as Roy's Strategic goals.

\$\endgroup\$
20
\$\begingroup\$

Both of these words are relative. A strategy is a long-term plan how to achieve a goal, while tactics are the steps to make that strategy happen.

One example might be rather shortsighted: meeting a group of enemies, the strategy might be to kill the enemy mage first. Tactics used might be a teleporting, invisible rogue backstabbing the enemy mage.

Another example might be overthrowing an oppressive regime. Strategy might be to get the people to revolt, tactics might be using persuasion to get important people on your side first.

Generally speaking, Strategy is how players solve an adventure or campaign, while tactics relates to how they solve a specific encounter in that adventure or campaign.

The point is, the words aren't in-game words. They are used as in normal English. To be honest I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "impacts players and Gamemasters". As long as both are on the same page about the normal English meaning, all is fine. If they are not, there will be misunderstandings, the same as with every other English word.

\$\endgroup\$
13
\$\begingroup\$

One uses tactics to win a battle. One uses strategy to win a war.

Tactics is how to overcome a specific situation, limited in time and space. For example, a combat or how to infiltrate the Duke's castle to steal his treasure. In terms of character development, tactics refer to how you use what you get to overcome a specific encounter.

Strategy is how to overcome a general situation, generally covering months or years. For example, how to win a war of succession or how to become the most daring thief in Middleland. In term of character development, strategy is how you build your character so that in X levels, they will be able to achieve their life-long dream.

\$\endgroup\$
8
\$\begingroup\$

Strategy is long-term planning. It's deciding what you want your character build to be. It's adapting that build to events that happen in the gameworld. It's making the choice between buying one piece of equipment or another.

Tactics is making small-scale moves informed by that long-term planning. You have little mana left so you pick between blasting a wall in and hoping to knock out monsters on the other side OR use your new clairvoyancy spell to see what lies on the other side for your companions to fight. Because you've taken the time to improve your people skills and confidence, you make the most of your difficult situation and effectively persuade the gang leader you've been forced to work for to lend your party some enforcers to help ambush the convoy you need to raid to pay off your debt. Depending on whether you bought the lockpicks or the sword, you can fight your way past the guards at the front door or another PC can lure the guards away giving you time to pick the lock.

Strategies are high-level decisions and plans. Tactics are low-level choices and procedures .

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

Strategy typically refers to a more big-picture sort of thing. Tactics would be within the scope of an individual combat.

For example, if a group of PC's were to try to assault a fortress, sending in a Trojan horse filled with soldiers would be a strategy. How those soldiers emerge, and subsequently combat the enemies inside the castle, would be tactics.

In an RPG, strategy tends to be mostly RP. It is influenced, of course, by mechanics, when making decisions of what would work or not, but tends to be done through the PC's talking to each other and laying plans.

Tactics would be the "crunchy" side. How many squares will a blast hit, or which enemies to attack first, or what weapon should I use against this creature? Those sorts of concerns.

\$\endgroup\$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.