I'm a fairly new DM with fairly new players. One such player rolled up a warlord, casting the character as a "tactical genius". Unfortunately, she's having trouble getting "moments of glory", because not only is she new to roleplaying games, she's new to tactical/strategic games as well. She might be a bit of a Watcher as well, albeit an enthusiastic one.

In any case, I've detected frustration on her part. She even mentioned at one point, "My character is [a tactical genius], I'm not." She usually just ends up swinging her sword at the nearest enemy, because she doesn't think of ways to use her plethora of abilities.

My first thought is that, similarly, the ranger's player might not recognize that wolves scatter bones after feeding, but I can certainly tell him that his character recognizes it. But that's a question of knowing trivia, while using warlord tactics is more of a thought process. It makes me very hesitant to say, "You recognize that by pushing this monster over, he'll be trapped and surrounded."

My second thought is that maybe she'd be happier playing a class whose abilities have more immediate consequences, but it seems highly inappropriate to suggest a class change.

How can I help her unlock her character's potential without stealing accomplishment away?

Any related suggestions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent, if tricky question. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18, 2014 at 1:28

4 Answers 4


Have dinner with your friend and help her draw up a checklist.

This advise is taken from my own personal experience doing exactly this. And it did help the person I was helping significantly, though as part if it, we also created a character to suit their requirements.

Checklists are an amazing technology that are astonishingly underrated by many people. Functionally, the checklist's role is to enable pre-cognition outside the heat of the moment. With any sort of complexity problems, a checklist is a good way to reduce the granularity of the problem such that a player can concentrate on the novel elements.

So, while I made a checklist for my epic character, with a list of the actions I would take if this or that were true, or on the first turn, the point of the checklist is not to strictly adhere to the thing, but to reduce the need to think about all of the things on the list.

When having this conversation, first discuss common "patterns" in combat. Figure out common situations that she remembers from game. While there are plenty of theoretical situations, it's more important when doing this to let the cognition and inspiration of tactics come from the individual. Just like with making a cheat sheet, the act of making the thing is more important than the thing itself.

After listing all of the common situations that she can remember, work through sample outcomes with her in whatever way suits you two best. (My preference is for statistical analysis, but then I'm very special. One of the simpler ways is to play it through a few times, alternating sides and talking through your decision.)

After each finishes, let her work out a checklist of "if this situation is happening try for X,Y,Z" Then, after a set of checklists are done, let her employ them in game. After she does, make sure to debrief her after game (written or oral, since there is some literature that suggests a written debrief has great learning potential) and talk through what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to change in the lists.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Brian Ballsun-Stanton Let me try again: Your main suggestion, making checklists, is something that will seem tedious and un-fun to many people. You even acknowledge this by stating how 'underrated' they are. I feel your answer would improve enormously if you could explain how to turn your suggestion in something that improves the enjoyment of the game instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jan 21, 2014 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some modifications, but same essential idea: Over lunch, we pull out her character sheet, and go through the powers one by one, asking "What situations would this be useful or strong?" Moving around tokens, salt shakers, etc. to illustrate a tactical situation. "What about this/that/etc?" I note what she says for each power, and this forms a sort of checklist she could reference in the future when she's at a loss for what to do. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2014 at 0:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also consider Lunin's reply below, and especially Ilmari Konen's remark on it, to be part of "the answer;" be sure and check them out. I wish I could accept both, but will have to settle for upvoting :) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2014 at 1:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Andrew, please post your own experiences and their results as an answer. It sounds like they would be useful. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2014 at 2:59

First easy solution: give her the ability to ask, at any time, to any of the other players, "What kind of help would your character need?"

She's playing the tactical genius - so she gets the combined brainpower of all the players to help figure out what's going to work best. (Be mindful, that the other players don't get into "I tell you what to do" mode.) As the players answer, point out which powers/abilities could help do that. Presumably, she asks less as she gets more mastery, but always keep the option open.

Second, look if there's anything useful to pull off the Wizards of the Coast's forums. Here is the "Warlord's Guide Book" and the link to the Tactics Section. Most of the thread is hyper-specific build advice, but I'm guessing the tactics section will have some crossover value no matter what she's playing with.

Third, "If you're still not feeling it after a session or two, let me know if you'd rather play a different class. D&D is generally a complicated game, and not everyone clicks with every character type - it's pretty hard to know what you want if you've never played before, and getting stuck committed to something isn't worth it if you're not having fun."


Tactics don't have to be only represented in the turn by turn decision making of combat.

One option would be allowing your tactician to occasionally grant the party an advantage going into or during a combat encounter due to the use of said tactics, possibly a surprise round if an ambush is possible or some variety of combat advantage either for a duration or when satisfying a condition. I would probably pend this on a reasonable explanation or a roll of some kind, but coming up with strategy is much easier in abstract then in actual combat turns.

In a similar vein you can come up with alternate "hidden" end conditions for some encounters that you discretely give to the player of the tactician such as collapsing a bridge to stop reinforcements or identifying what parts of the unit, if taken down, would cause the group to surrender. Giving the information to the player instead of dispensing it to the group as DM would allow their character can pass the fruit of their tactical knowledge to the rest in character, regardless of player skill.

A third option is to just find situations that are purely fluff and give the tactician knowledge they would know just like you'd give the person who used to live in an area knowledge they (but not their player) would know. This is along the lines of the hypothetical that you mentioned, but rather than using it for questionable utility inside combat you use it to highlight areas where a tactical decision or thought process could be made.

The advantage with any of these methods is that once the player gets used to what they can do in character, they'll look for opportunities to do so without you having to feed them all yourself and it won't be down to learning optimal fighting strategies for 4e.

Overall it boils down to finding ways to allow the character to be a tactical genius without requiring the player to be one, much as you mentioned the player said themselves. While getting them to be better at combat would be nice (and will come naturally with time) requiring it feels too much like assigning homework in my mind.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. One suggestion I'd add is that, if and when the player does start coming up with tactical ideas on her own, go along with them no matter how outlandish or half-baked they might be! She's the tactical genius, so if she thinks that, say, the dragon might be distracted by bawdy singing, then she's probably right. (And do let the player know that this is explicitly a part of her "tactical genius" powers: any tactical plan of hers, no matter how off the wall, will have a better-than-usual chance of working.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18, 2014 at 12:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. This sounds like mental alms, and does not help the player get better, just puts more strain on the DM. Also in 4e tactics do have to be represented in the turn by turn decision making of combat. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Jan 18, 2014 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IlmariKaronen This is a great addition to any answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 19, 2014 at 3:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András Thank you for your feedback. I do agree that the start of this means more work for the DM which is always a resource to watch carefully, but ideally it's a starting cost and not a constant one due to things like Ilmari Karonen's comment. The goal as I read the question seemed to be how to allow a player who has poor tactical skills to play a character who is the opposite and have moments of glory regardless, rather than how to fix said poor tactical skills (which is a totally valid solution which already has some great answers). \$\endgroup\$
    – Lunin
    Jan 20, 2014 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just have a problem considering "I do as the DM just suggested" as a moment of glory. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Jan 25, 2014 at 13:02

You mentioned that she struggles with the multitude of tactical options. Looking at the class at level 1, it seems pretty straightforward. You did not mention which level you started, but it might be a good idea to have a new player start at level 1 to get a feel for the character. Starting at a higher level means there is a lot to learn at once and that's hard and frustrating. If your other players are already higher level, maybe you can prepare a special adventure for her alone or have your other players roll one-time characters so she can experience her character from the ground up.

Not every tactical genius is a good fighter personally. Half (some people may argue even more) of it is preparation, preparation, preparation. Making a plan, getting the resources, applying pressure at the right point and angle. If she can come up with a good plan totally unrelated to any of her characters powers, then executing it on the gaming board should yield benefits at least equal to her powers.

Maybe she's good with people? A leader that cannot come up with a brilliant plan can still be a charming hero gathering allies. There is no better plan than overwhelming the enemy by sheer numbers. If you are charismatic enough to gather those numbers.

And last but not least, it's still a role playing game. Books written by Sun-Tzu or Clausewitz will give her a sense of tactical genius (insert nitpicking about difference between Tactics and Strategy here). If she's able to talk and behave like a tactical genius, who cares if somebody gets +2 in combat at the right time. I've played beautiful females and I'm neither. It's about fantasy!


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