May not be the final product, but I don’t like holding on to material when the main concern is polish.
Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition
Combat Strategy & Tactics Guide
“… 1500 Lost, 100 Ogres, two dozen oni …”
Any combat plan should take into account the relative threat values of each opponent. For instance, a common enough situation is for there to be one enemy spellcaster – maho-tsukai, Soultwister, whatever – and a number of lesser* threats. Kill the Soultwister (spellcaster) first.
* Lesser may still be serious threats, like oni or Tsuno Ravagers, but they still don’t compare to “I cast a spell that you can’t defend against that takes you out of combat.”
One element of threat assessment is paying attention to the Initiative Order. If all of the enemies are the same and one goes much earlier than the others, it can be worth moving up in Initiative to remove the faster threat before it can impact slower party members.
“… I Void off 10. Uh, the second attack kills me. …”
What is the worst use of a Void Point in combat? Typically, to increase an attack roll by 1k1.
What is the most common use of a Void Point in combat? Reducing damage by 10.
What is the second worst use of a Void Point in combat? Typically, reducing damage by 10.
Couple alternatives that are often superior for winning combats:
Fourth Edition is an edition of the game where one is not guaranteed to hit with melee attacks. While it may seem wasteful to spend a VP at the beginning of a round to increase one’s ATN by 10, the math is often better for it than for reducing damage. As with all things, it’s situation dependent. If there is only one enemy, say an ogre, that the party is ganging up on, the chances of it attacking a specific PC may be low. On the other hand, when the antagonists outnumber the protagonists, it’s common to have multiple attacks come in. Also, a high ATN PC may question the value of going even higher, or a low ATN PC may just assume being hit anyway with the difference in ATN not mattering as the enemy will not call Raises or have any ability that triggers off of how much the enemy hits by.
Initiative is not the end all and be all of combat. Initiative Order, however, is exceedingly important. Whether it’s having a PC go before a major threat, having a PC spellcaster fire off an area of effect attack or a combat control spell, or having PCs manipulate Initiative Order to coordinate more devastating attacks, there can be crucial uses of a Void Point to either increase Initiative by 10 for the remainder of the skirmish or to have one of two PCs spend a Void Point to swap Initiative Scores (until end of skirmish).
“… Anyone doing anything weird? No? Maho-tsukai casts a spell. You all die. …”
“Initiative is not the end all and be all of combat. Initiative Order, however, is exceedingly important.” – the words of a genius.
Some examples of manipulating Initiative Order to make combats less painful:
A Kakita Bushi PC and a Isawa Shugenja PC encounter a maho-tsukai that is out of melee range. The bushi does not have a bow ready; the Isawa is an expert immolator of enemies. The PCs know that this maho-tsukai or maho-tsukai in general can cast spells that will take PCs out of combat. The Kakita gets the highest Initiative, the Isawa the lowest. One of the two should spend a Void Point to swap Initiative to have the Isawa immolate the maho-tsukai, hoping to at least inflict wound penalties.
A fight between multiple PCs and multiple enemies has dragged on for several rounds and there are casualties on both sides. One of the big hitters for the PCs goes after a hitter for the antagonists. A Void Point spent to increase Initiative by 10 or to swap Initiative will allow the PC to strike first, hopefully putting an end to the threat before the threat can put an end to a PC.
Hida Knockydown and Suzume Slowbeyondwords are fighting Ronin Reallyhardtohit. Hida goes first, followed by Ronin, followed by Suzume. To give Slowbeyondwords a better chance to murder Reallyhardtohit, Knockydown delays until after the ronin goes, switches to the Full Attack Stance and endeavors to knock over Reallyhardtohit to give Slowbeyondwords an improved chance of hitting Reallyhardtohit due to the prone penalty of -10 to ATN against melee attacks.
Shosuro Stancedancer is a Bayushi Bushi facing off in arena style gladiatorial combat with a single other bushi. Because Stancedancer’s opponent doesn’t use combat tactics, Stancedancer goes into the Full Defense Stance on the first round and wins Initiative. Stancedancer delays until after his opponent goes and his opponent misses the massive ATN Stancedancer has in the Full Defense Stance. On round two, Stancedancer delays again and is missed again. When Stancedancer acts in round two, he shifts to the Full Attack Stance and begins murdering his opponent. On round three, Stancedancer does not delay and finishes murdering his opponent before his opponent can act.
“… I attack whoever just attacked me. …”
Unlike the previous edition, it is not easy to put enemies into wound penalties. Some enemies don’t suffer from wound penalties until a lot of damage is dealt, some don’t suffer from them at all. A strategy of spreading damage around is rarely desirable. While less heroic, ganging up on enemies to finish them off is a better strategy for reducing PC casualties.
Besides ganging up on foes, there are some highly effective strategies for removing threats.
Grappling is an overpowered mechanic in Fourth Edition that is mostly upside, especially for those who lack Simple Action attacks. Those involved in a grapple have ATNs of 5 plus armor benefits, which makes them easy to finish off with Raises for Feint, Increased Damage, or both. Note that there’s usually little downside to using the Full Attack Stance to initiate a grapple as one’s ATN drops to nothing, anyway. Fires of Purity on a grappler is a near guaranteed kill.
Knockdown is another way to make a foe easier for other PCs to hit while removing a minimum of one attack from the foe, unless the foe chooses to attack (at penalties) from the ground. Even if the Contested Strength Roll fails, full damage was dealt.
What about the Increased Damage maneuver? The math is poor for using this maneuver. Feint often averages better damage. In general, Increased Damage is only a good option by itself when the number of kept dice for the attack is high and/or the attacker can only call one Raise and still expect to hit. Between having modest potential gain and the risk of missing an attack by calling Raises, the right move may be to call no Raises rather than Raises for damage.
“… Jade Strike, two Raises for additional targets …”
Spells often have far greater influence on combat than individual melee attacks. Due to the ease of casting low rank spells and how effective some of them are, shugenja are usually best off relying upon rank 1 and rank 2 spells for combat.
The most important spell, after Commune, in the game is Path to Inner Peace for its combat and post-combat uses. While there are other tactics than just healing up PCs that can be more important, managing wounds is essential. After all, if the party never took any significant wounds in the first place to where healing isn’t important, the fight was probably easy.
Having said that, there are plenty of offensive spells that wreck enemies.
Fires of Purity seems like a defensive spell or a two-way play. In practice, it’s the best Fire spell and best murder spell in the game, easily killing enemies, even if the one enchanted doesn’t go the grapple route. Think of it as 4k4 damage per round unless the enemies can profit from not attacking (or attacking from range) the one enchanted. Note how someone with Fires of Purity can leverage the damage dealt to attackers by going into Full Attack Stance to make being hit that much easier.
Tempest of Air may do little damage, but it’s not the damage that’s important. Knockdown usually means removing an attack from an enemy, whether the enemy can attack with Simple Actions or not. Then, as an area of effect spell, multiple knockdowns are possible, which is far more than most bushi can accomplish in a round. Raises should often be called for the knockdown effect rather than damage. Calling Raises to expand the size of the cone depends upon how generous the GM is with number of targets affected.
Jade Strike murders Tainted foes. But, it is still often used incorrectly. When possible, Raises should be called to hit multiple targets. A Raise for damage only increases damage by 1k0. A Raise to target an additional target increases damage by 3k3. As long as there are multiple targets, this is the most deadly spell in the game reasonably cast in combat. Only when there is one target or one key target, such as a Lost leader of a band of goblins, does it make sense to concentrate damage on a single target. Note that some fights can only be won off of the power of Jade Strike – invulnerable foes can make bushi ineffectual or reduce them to doing things like grappling or using the Knockdown maneuver.
Earth’s Stagnation may seem inferior to Grasp of Earth, but as a rank 1 spell that can easily hit multiple targets, it is a powerful combat control tool. The reduction to Agility rolls (basically attack rolls) is helpful, but it’s the ability to prevent enemies from engaging or disengaging in combat that is often more useful.
Force of Will has a combination of offensive and defensive effects and is a possible way to prevent the death of a PC, assuming good timing and a means to heal the PC up in time.
How frequently range in combat matters varies immensely. The number one benefit of Fury of Osano-Wo over other combat tactics is its tremendous range.
For Water, Reversal of Fortunes is always welcome. Stand Against the Waves is a much more tactical spell than it may seem. It’s essentially trading an action for an action. Whether the shugenja’s action could be better spent elsewise is something to consider. It does allow one bushi to hit a high Initiative foe once more before the foe can go.
Touch the Emptiness is brutal against targets who rely on melee attacks and is an annoyance to spellcasters and others who are threatening the party. Where area of effect attacks, like Tempest of Air, shine against a mass of enemies, Touch can make a joke of a fight against a single enemy due to the Dazed condition preventing someone from being in the Attack or Full Attack Stances. Note that “Touch” has a range of 30′.