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During a turn, a player has so many possible options, movement (e.g. crawl, climb, jump, grapple...), action (e.g. attack, dash, shove, dodge, hide...), bonus action, and reaction. Also to keep in mind are environment, conditions, diplomacy, roleplaying, and imagination.

With that said, the last couple of encounters have the players attacking first, asking questions later, and just running into the enemies without much thought. Rolling off attacks, and using their combat spells in the exact same order each time like a recipe. They don't even move much in the fight as positioning isn't a concern for them, they tend to view them as "if we roll well we win, otherwise we lose".

I've considered adding different environmental obstacles, traps, dialogue-related enemies, and new problems to solve. Maybe them failing, and learning from mistakes is one way to help them learn?

Also I fear just throwing a bunch of text for them to read, or telling them to watch a dnd podcast to get ideas. I want them to realise themselves new methods to approach encounters, and trying out new things.

What are some good strategies to help foster this imagination in an organic way that doesn't involve me telling them to do mandatory homework?

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    \$\begingroup\$ They have complained that fights were too "drawn out", as in they don't necessarily enjoy fights with more than 4 enemies because it's just them standing in the same position, rolling the same basic attack rolls, using heals when they're low, and basic combat spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Feb 29 at 5:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ They have said this after the last session. Not as a hard "we won't play anymore because of it", but rather that the last few fights were "intense", but "too drawn out / boring because they took too long and the conclusion was inevitable". \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Feb 29 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Outside of fights, they do normal roleplaying, diplomacy, and somewhat interesting problem solving. With the last few encounters though, they're pretty much run into the enemy headfirst (encounters have been unique, not like bland enemies). Not a lot of preparation, not a lot of scouting, not a lot of checking traps / trying to strategize. Just run in, pick a spot, roll their swords every time, heal when low. They're somewhat used to the idea of role playing in the game to answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Feb 29 at 5:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you playing online or at a table? Do you use theartre of mind/a grid - generally how do you visualise combat? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 29 at 5:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Table. Grid. Combat is usually descriptions of enemies, environment, and battle descriptions. Grids are usually like a printed off 50x50 grid of forest, winter, desert etc... Maps of the world / cities as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Feb 29 at 5:46
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Experience Is The Best Teacher

Almost all of us learn better by doing than by studying, and almost no one learns exclusively from study, lecture, or just thinking real hard about something.

Unfortunately, what your players seem to be learning so far is that if they do the same things in the same orders, they are going to win. Their comment that the combats were both too long and that the outcomes were (or seemed) inevitable bear that out.

From what you say, they're not necessarily wrong.

Failure Spurs Tactical Innovation

If you want your group to learn to use different tactics on the grid, you have to demonstrate to them somehow that their current tactics are insufficient and will lead to failure.

For instance, if your characters are literally standing there in a neat row, one good line area of effect spell ought to cause them to reconsider. If they're not moving, powerful ranged attacks with a range greater than that of the characters should provoke some activity.

In your post, you yourself provide a number of good ideas:

I've considered adding different environmental obstacles, traps, dialogue-related enemies, and new problems to solve. Maybe them failing, and learning from mistakes is one way to help them learn?

Yes, absolutely!

Any and all of those can work, and they should all be tools in your toolbox, subject to the general style of your campaign. To that, I would add intelligent, mixed tactics from your NPCs (their adversaries) up to and including terrain shaping or lair design that maximizes the NPCs' natural advantages. (This may be what you meant by 'environmental obstacles,' but I just wanted to point it out in case you hadn't thought about it that way.)

If Anything, The Problem Is...

...Not killing your characters while you're teaching this lesson. It's a very rude shock to realize that the thing you've been doing since the game started suddenly doesn't work. It's also hard to calibrate these "lessons" in my experience.

If that's a concern, you may need to resign yourself to having a vocal NPC with them for a little bit, or staging a serendipitous rescue after they've lost, or giving a group of NPCs a reason not to kill them even though they clearly could.

On The Management Of Murderhobos:

(Murderhobo is a term for the ultimate end result of characters whose first, last, and often only resort to problem solving is to kill something. Your players may not be at that stage yet, but your hope that they might eventually consider diplomatic means is addressed here.)

Murderhobos are a bit of a separate problem, and if you were only asking about that, this would probably have been shut down as a duplicate question. As it is, the stack contains many fine questions and answers on this topic, including especially:

How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?

How do I let players know that not every encounter has to be hack and slash?

How to communicate to the players that an encounter can be solved also through diplomacy?

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In chess, some say that you learn more by reading books (i.e., learning and studying new tactics) than playing more games. I'm not sure whether this is true, however, I feel that to an extent, this applies well to D&D battle tactics.

Of course, to the best of my knowledge, there are aren't any books on D&D battle tactics and even if they were, you wouldn't expect your players to read books to play a game. So how to educate your players on tactics? This what I've done successfully:

Discuss their tactics after a session

In the first few sessions of the campaign I'm currently running my players were really bad at battle tactics. So what I did that, after each session, I broke down some their tactical choices and offered them alternatives.

Example: "You fought a Goblin Boss and two goblins. All four of you focused on the Goblin Boss and completely ignored the two goblins. On the surface, this sounds ok but the problem is that these puny monsters can accumulate a lot of damage over 5-6 turns. That's why half of you almost died. Generally speaking, a tactic that works most times is for the tank of the group to hold on to the boss while the rest clear the field of the mobs. Then, you all focus on the boss."

At first, I was unsure whether they will take my advice to heart, however, they did! And not only they used my advice, but they learned to synergize so well that in the last few sessions they surprised me by defeating some enemies who were clearly above their level.

Now, you don't explicitly mention that your players are bad at tactics, only that they use the same tactics all the time, but I don't see how this advice cannot be used to give them some ideas on being more creative.

Example: "Well done on defeating Monster X. You attacked it full-on, however, I was expecting you to take advantage of the barrels of oil that were a few meters away. If you had done so, you would have dealt Y damage points before even that battle had started!"

or

"Interesting choice attacking Z. You know, if you had simply asked him X he would probably have helped you and the village would be in favor of you. Now, the villagers hate you."

If you apply this method I believe that after a few sessions your player will get the idea. Being more creative is worth it.


Beyond my suggestion of simply suggesting things to them after a session, I use another method. This has worked with half of my players and deals specifically with battle tactics, not alternative ways of dealing with a problem (e.g., diplomacy). It's a homemade rule so maybe it's not for you. The rule is called:

This is Hollywood

Description: In battle, when attacking an opponent, instead of simply announcing your attack (e.g., I attack using my knife) describe your (elaborate) method in detail.

Example 1: "I jump over the balcony to the chandelier, backflip over the guard and aim at his neck with my knife! (requires an acrobatics roll)."

Example 2: "I focus on my opponent's defensive technique and attempt to find an opening. She may be heavily armed but this time my war hammer will make contact! (requires an Insight roll)"

Possible Effects: +2 to attack, epic moments, epic fails

This has done wonders with two of my players who enjoy being really flashy with their PCs. But the important thing is that it has made them more creative. In battle, they ask me to describe their surroundings and attempt to make use of them.

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