Stand or Fall? Not Exactly Tips for dealing with tough foes — RPT#457
From: Darren Blair
So here it is. You and your buddies, numerous as they may be, have every reason to believe you’re going to be hammered by an enemy that has a major tactical advantage.
They move faster, have greater numbers, have better firepower and armor, or are led by more competent officers. They might even have some combination of these advantages.
Now’s the time to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and face them down in a final, bloody confrontation, right?
Only if you want to die horribly.
What to do, then? Try a few of these tips on for size.
1. The Booby in Booby Trap
The term “booby” is believed to derive from the Spanish word “bobo,” which is slang for “dunce.” The name “booby trap,” then, is a trap meant to catch someone who is stupid. It is related to the blue footed booby, as once upon a time the birds had no fear of humans and would gladly land within arm’s length of hungry sailors.
The thing with booby traps is that, no matter the tech level or your present situation, you can by with a little foresight and rig some traps that will antagonize, delay, or even cripple anyone who might be chasing after you or trying to invade your territory.
These traps might not be able to stop an invading force by themselves, but they will bring you closer to parity.
Here are some of my favorite traps.
Ye olde snare trap
This works by someone stepping in the middle of a noose-like construction, which proceeds to tighten around the victim’s ankle, possibly hoisting them into the air. It can hypothetically be created with just a little rope or some strong vines, and getting the victim out can be time- consuming.
Dig a pit and cover over it in such a fashion that a careless person could walk right into it. Empty pit traps can injure the point man of an enemy unit and cause a delay while they are retrieved.
However, a more vicious defender can put spikes or pongee sticks inside to impale the victim, poisonous animals to bite them, or water to drown them. In this case, the enemy has lost their point man and those who were with the deceased will now be considerably more uptight.
Stretch a wire or something similar across a known walkway or the equivalent. Anyone who encounters the wire will break it, causing an incident of the defender’s design to occur – anything from swinging logs to explosives detonating. A variation occurs when the trip wires are affixed to windows or doors, such that opening or closing them is what causes the trap to be sprung.
Ever see images of World War II wherein Allied Jeeps are depicted with metal bars affixed vertically to the fronts of the vehicles? There’s a reason for that. When the German army retreated from Western Europe, they strung piano wire across the roadways.
The Jeeps were designed so that the windshields could be lowered down, something that many foolish soldiers did while patrolling supposedly secure areas. Piano wire is thin yet strong, enough so that if it was strung properly any soldier driving into a trap at a high enough speed would be immediately decapitated.
Not only do you have the deceased dying in quite a gruesome fashion, you also have their Jeep rolling freely, raising the prospect of a collision.
The bars were thus required to cut the piano wire lest anyone else lose their head. Although piano wire will likely be absent from historical settings, things such as fishing wire or monofilament wire may be substituted in more futuristic settings.
Many a castle in Western Europe had an entranceway or two wherein there were quite a few holes in the walls and ceiling. These holes were there so archers could ambush invaders.
If an attacker charged in, the archers could open fire, smiting the attackers with relative safety. Modern settings might have gunmen waiting for the ambush, while futuristic jaunts could have robots or independently-controlled lasers.
2. Things That Make You Go Boom
Explosives. Nothing more, nothing less.
A subset of the booby trap is the trap rigged to explode or otherwise do massive damage, be they grenades or Blue Peacocks. Whereas archaic traps are typically limited to delaying or wounding enemy forces, explosive devices can often take entire squads or armored vehicles out of action with ease.
The most basic use of explosives in a defensive position is land mines of all shapes, sizes, and mission types. Mines are typically buried in the ground, making them hard to detect.
Note that while your basic land mine will kill indiscriminately, specialty mines do exist. Claymores fire what can best be described as a massive load of buckshot, mowing down foes with ease. Bouncing Betties pop up out of the ground and spray the area with shrapnel; they were meant to wound instead of kill, forcing several soldiers out of the battle to evacuate their comrades and causing major distress from the moaning of the wounded.
Then you have the Blue Peacock, which was a nuclear land mine meant to take out large groups of Soviet forces if they ever tried to invade the British sector of West Germany, but which never saw production.
Dead-man switches get their name from the fact that once the wielder presses the button, the button must remain pressed or else the explosives will go off. For those of you familiar with movies, such a device was used to destroy the laboratory at Cyberdine near the end of the second Terminator movie.
Note, however, that contrary to their name, they don’t require a person to actually die in order to use them; merely setting a weight of some sort atop a hidden detonator and running like the wind can do the job if a member of the attacking force is foolish enough to take the weight off.
Mercury detonators work by having a small container filled with mercury. If the detonator is tilted beyond a certain angle, the mercury sloshes around until it makes contact with a pair of connectors. The mercury completes the electric circuit represented by the connectors, causing everything to explode. These devices are popular for booby traps and package bombs, although they are very fickle masters and quite often explode on the bomb maker.
Under certain circumstances, grain can be quite incendiary. In the 1950s, it was discovered that if some types of grain were allowed to flow freely through the air, then introducing a spark or other source of flame to the display would cause a fire or even an explosion. The discovery came about after a series of freak explosions at grain refineries and silos, forcing a complete redesign. Regardless of the setting, both grain and fire should be readily available.
A common tactic when retreating is to leave behind something that would be visibly tempting to an attacker, but which is actually rigged to explode. In many instances, this represents dropped military hardware or a corpse; the item may be attached to a wire, or may be suppressing a dead-man switch or pressure plate.
In urban combat there may be casual items so rigged, such as explosives inside hollowed-out books or ink pens wherein the internal mechanism has been replaced with a detonator and a charge. Don’t laugh; the latter was indeed used in WWII.
3. Friends in Low Places
It has been hypothesized that, for the right price, you can find someone willing to do just about anything. That is, if you even have to pay at all. It’s simply a matter of finding someone who has the moral turpitude or naive idealism to assist you in your endeavors.
A simple example is a necromancer. A necromancer can make it a point to have their sanctuary littered with bones, so that skeleton after skeleton can be raised to defend the place. They might even have a few corpses on hand to create more potent undead, such as zombies, ghouls, or ghasts, just in case the skeletons aren’t enough.
Likewise, a criminal with enough coin can hire plenty of underlings, be they kobolds, street thugs, or cheap robots. All they have to do is ensure a steady paycheck and some degree of respectful treatment; in some instances, the underling will supply their own gear. There might even be wild animals or monsters who can be trained for security purposes. Just be careful lest the underlings turn on you.
Or there’s always the under-handed route, whereby you entice someone from the other side to mutiny or even defect. Discord in the ranks can do more damage than an entire fleet of bomber craft, and if a defector has valid information then so much the better.
4. Flat-Out Cheat
Life isn’t fair. Why should your final battle be?
Snipers are soldiers trained to shoot and kill targets from a good distance away. In ancient times, the task of sniping fell to trained bowmen and crossbowmen. In modern times, sniping rifles can hit targets farther than the naked eye can see. At present, Canadian sniper Rob Furlong, a Master Corporal in the nation’s military, holds the world record with a kill from a distance of 2.4 kilometers.
As has been demonstrated time and time again, the psychological impact of watching a comrade die while being unable to directly retaliate can often break a soldier, making the psychological impact of a sniper almost as great as their actual ability to drop targets. And if they drop officers or NCOs, it is even more devastating.
Skilled and experienced snipers, such as Billy Sing, Vasily Zaitzev, and Carlos Hathcock, dropped dozens of men during their careers, with Hathcock and a fellow sniper taking out an entire company of enemy soldiers between them during an operation. An extreme case is Simo Hayha, who was credited with killing well over 500 Soviet soldiers during the Winter War.
In ancient times, you had the Korean hwacka, a device that could fire 200+ rocket-propelled arrows at a single time. Even if they missed, the sight would have still been enough to make a man consider switching careers. You also had lovely things such as the catapult and ballista.
In time, we evolved up to rockets, ballistic rounds, mortars, and missiles. These were often not very accurate, but more often than not they were simply meant to be suppressive fire that could eliminate or pin down groups of targets (or fixed structures) at range.
In the most basic of tech levels, you have gliders.
Don’t forget about magical flight. The person flying this way might only have the ability to carry a telescope or a handful of explosive devices, but this may well be enough to help turn the tide.
Hot air balloons similarly allow for recon and bombing, but are much more noticeable – and vulnerable – targets.
The propeller planes of World War I introduced personal weapons and machine guns to the mix, allowing for strafing runs against ground-based targets and defense against other flying units.
World War II upped the ante with dedicated combat craft, rockets, torpedoes, and even cannons; Hitler even had a jet fighter in the works near the end of the war, and was also toying with a utility helicopter. Korea showed us jet fighters in action, while Vietnam gave us the guided missile.
Nowadays, improved internal electronics, greater payload capacities, smart weapons, and other such joys make air power such a total game-breaker that whoever has air superiority very often wins by default.
Some aircraft, such as the AH-64 family and the A-10, have the capacity to eliminate entire armored columns single-handedly.
Next time you’re in what appears to be a hopeless fight, remember: it’s not so hopeless if you put in a little advanced planning and a lot of playing dirty.
A Brief Word from Johnn
Gaming Paper is great
We used the new Gaming Paper product for battlematts, diagrams, and notes at our last game and we were all very pleased with it.
The paper comes in a long roll and you just unroll more as you need it. By placing the roll end in front of the GM screen, it was easy to unroll fresh new paper to draw on, or rewind to go back to older maps.
We also cut a few sections off so we could stack maps for faster reference.
The paper, despite being tightly rolled up, laid flat right away with no curling. It’s so thin that it was a breeze to scroll/unscroll, cut, or fold. Yet, the stuff is quite strong and didn’t rip or shred once, despite heavy use.
Thanks to Erik over at Gaming Paper for sending me a complimentary pair of rolls to try out. Your paper worked like a charm and was quite useful.
Interested in reviewing the Martialist?
Nick over at The Fantasy Cartographic has released a PDF supplement for D&D 4E titled “Fantasy Class: Martialist.”
It details a new character class and seems to have great game support with 145 print-ready power cards, 61 feats, 8 paragon paths, and other things included in the product.
Nick was wondering if any Roleplaying Tips readers would be interested in doing a review. I said I’d pass the word along.
Email me if you’re interested.
Hazards contest winners draw still pending
A quick update on the combat hazards contest. I’m still organizing entries and have not yet made the random draws for selecting winners. I’ll be doing that soon and then will announce the prize winners in the ezine after emailing all those selected. Sorry for taking so long with this!
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For Your Game
10 Fantasy Prosthetics
1. Hothama’s Fangs
This set of false teeth are equipped with retractable, razor-sharp tips that provide the wearer with a dangerous bite attack.
They are, however, mechanically complicated and have a lot of nooks and crannies for germs to build up, requiring that they be kept meticulously clean. Of course, they bear no labels indicating this. These can only be used if the wearer currently has no teeth.
2. The Medusa Wig
A mass of snakes which, when worn, will give the wearer a fine mane of poisonous vipers. They only grudgingly obey the wearer and draw a small amount of blood from the wearer to survive. Anyone who comes in close proximity (1 to 2 feet) to the wearer will be attacked unless the wearer concentrates to stop them.
The wearer must shave all hair before donning the wig, and it is quite difficult to pry the wig off once worn.
3. The Eye of Seyetha
This ivory eyeball is made to look as realistic as possible, and conceals its origins.
It actually is a spy device for a powerful evil entity – anything seen is relayed back to the entity. It provides its wearer with the ability to see into shadows and is especially good at highlighting items of value.
4. Shaerik’s Talons
This hand is crafted from finely worked steel. It is composed of both forearm and hand, which is fully articulated. The fingers are equipped with retractable claws.
When placed against a stump, it will graft itself and magically link itself to the wearer. The claws are a little unpredictable, and have on occasion extended themselves at inopportune times.
5. The Clay Face of Narad
This mask of magical clay was created for Narad, a wealthy lord who fell victim to leprosy. The mask provides a face one can almost mistake for normal.
When placed on a living being, it will meld itself strongly to the face, taking on an appearance willed by the wearer. In dim light, the mask appears as normal skin and the wearer can assume the appearance of another person.
Peeling the mask off is difficult and it is easily damaged unless removed with great care.
6. Volstokk’s Remote Hand
This replacement hand consists of a metal forearm equipped with a three-fingered metal hand. The hand is capable of detaching itself from the arm and operating up to 100′ feet from the stub. It is capable of minor manipulations and is able to climb walls.
The hand is generally reliable, but does contain a separate spirit that could decide to go its own way.
7. The Black Chains of Mashark
This odd item consists of a set of four 4′ chains attached to a short metal hub, which in turn is fitted with a leather sleeve. The sleeve will fit over a shoulder where the arm is absent, or is only a short stub.
The chains are wrapped together at 6″ intervals by thin leather straps, holding the chains into a roughly arm-like form. The ends of the chains are left loose, enabling them to be used like fingers. The wearer can choose to burst the leather straps, allowing the four chains to operate independently, but with reduced strength.
8. Legs of the Plains-Dwellers
This bizarre item appears to be a small, headless mechanical horse. A huge socket fits the bottom of a legless torso.
Once attached, the legs will provide mobility to the bearer equal to that of a centaur. The item will draw energy from its wearer, causing normal levels of exhaustion.
9. The Stone Heart
This enchanted stone heart will actually function for the owner if magically implanted, but they will lose all empathy and compassion. The stone heart will continue to beat even upon death of its user.
10. The Ribs of Naarun
Torn from the corpse of the dead hero Naarun, this rib cage can be magically implanted. The owner will gain the legendary strength and hardiness of the lost hero.
The downside is that the rib cage does not adjust its size to the new owner, and could lead to much difficulty should the new owner and the old hero vary greatly in size.
Want more fantasy prosthetics? 20 Fantasy Prosthetics.