Guardians of the Past
Most animals like their food raw, so don’t try and feed dried and salted rations to your average animal. Some monsters may be bribed this way though, if hungry enough.
Many goblinoids can be bribed with a few coins if the party isn’t relishing a fight right at the moment. This doesn’t mean you should turn your back on them. They may take this as an opportunity to stick a blade in your backside.
For the intelligent opponent, you may be able to bribe with offers of gold, magic, titles, or such. Don’t assume that every opponent really wants to fight you. You can even get some of them to switch sides if you know what you are doing.
Surrender IS an option- especially when facing insurmountable odds. Learn to recognize when the DM is hinting that you’re outnumbered (forty of the king’s archers with arrows nocked is a good sign), and learn to be able to eat crow and surrender when appropriate. Not every situation will warrant this option, but good players don’t kill off the entire party when they are facing defeat. A good DM will never let your characters rot in jail forever, but will use it to further the plot. What do you think thieves are for?
This is another option that too many players fail to utilize often enough. Not every encounter you face is going to go your way. Critical hits, fumbles, and failed saving throws can take an easy battle and change the tides of fortune in an instant. A good party doesn’t take any opponent lightly and they realize early when it’s best to withdrawal and live to fight another day instead of going down in a blaze of glory.
To fight or not to fight
Know when NOT to fight- A thief or mage who is out of spells is NOT useless in a fight as long as you realize that you can be valuable while not fighting. Reining up the horses, pulling wounded party members out of combat, throwing burning oil. These can all aid the party without placing a wounded or otherwise non-battle ready party member in jeopardy.
Concentrate as many attacks as possible on one opponent: the quicker one is killed; the sooner there’s one less attack on your group. This works well in many cases, but a party should not ignore other targets that may wreak havoc if they are ignored.
Use cover if any is available. Anyone who needlessly stands out in the open during a battle deserves every missile weapon he gets. Remember that cover can sometimes be shot through (not even stone walls can always provide safety), so try to never give away your exact location.
Melee against groups
When fighting against a large group in melee combat, always make sure you have your back against a wall or another large object so you can’t be attacked from behind. Even better, try fighting from an enclosed space such as a doorway or a narrow pass. That way, even less enemies can get at you and, more importantly, you still have the option of retreat. If you yourself have the advantage of numbers, then be sure to use it. Surround your enemy so there’s always someone who can attack from the rear, try to catch the opponent in a cross-fire, etc.
If you have an advantageous position, the enemy might try to lure you out of it by retreating. If you were winning before the withdrawal, you’ll probably feel a strong urge to pursue and continue the fight. Only do this if you’re sure the enemy is broken and disorganized. If they’re not, you’ll most likely be running into an ambush.
Standard operating procedure
Have an S.O.P. for battles, i.e., these guys in front/left/middle/ right, and these guys in back, clerics casting this and this, and mages casting this and this. There aren’t that many different situations you’ll encounter. When you’re under attack, if you ALWAYS set up the same way for the fight, then you’ll get quicker at it and not only will the players react better as a team, but also it can make a difference whether you spend a round coordinating or can get set quickly. i.e., we spent two rounds deciding who does what and in the meantime, the monster was able to close on our mage; or the fighter went to close with the monster, but the mage was casting a lightning bolt at him, so the fighter moved into the path of the bolt and…
Assuming a dungeon setting… When meeting an opposing group in a corridor, any fight which ensues is almost bound to be ‘fair’- i.e. one on one, two on two etc. The odds can easily be weighted in the party’s favor if the party is prepared to retreat to the last chamber they were in, then by clustering around the doorway inside the room, they can get maybe as many as three on one. This works best if the room is off the side of the corridor, rather than at an end – otherwise the opposition can ‘charge’ down the corridor and break through the ‘shield-wall’ in the room, negating any advantage.
While many older players know this, a lot of newer players overlook an important point: Diversify your attack spells. Loading up on Fireballs may sound good, but you’re in trouble as soon as you meet fire-resistant creatures. Try to have as many different attack forms available as you can, so you won’t be stuck with spells that aren’t very effective against a given type of creature. Likewise, while less damaging indirect attacks like summoned creatures or spells that adversely affect the terrain may seem less useful, they can prove their worth many times over when you run into beasties that are highly magic resistant. On the same token, be aware of your spells effects on the environment – fireballs in a forest are not a smart move, and neither is any spell that creates any kind of shockwave or loud sound in an avalanche-prone area. On the other hand, if your opponents are magic resistant, then throwing a lightning bolt at the ceiling over their heads, thus causing a cave in, may be a better tactic than trying to zap them directly. (Just be sure the place isn’t unstable enough to cave in on you at the same time.)