Musical gaming puns mixed with American football? Goddamn culture is weird.

It is a bit strange to see Bard as the poster boy for inflexible character action—his class is famous for being a jack of all trades after all—but tactical tunnel vision is a danger to us all. One-trick pony builds have it worst of course. Optimized eldritch blasters and dedicated combat maneuver specialists (see Los Tiburon) are my go-to examples, but chances are you’ve seen at least one character do the same thing over and over again across multiple combats. I don’t want to pick on these builds too much, because I happen to think they’re more amusing than exasperating. More to the point, good ones will have some kind of backup strategy for those times when the one trick isn’t applicable. Far worse is something I like to the call the “one-trick mindset.”

Take my very first Pathfinder combat for example. It was Crypt of the Everflame, and our intrepid gang of teenage adventurers were getting their asses kicked. A couple of orcs had waylaid the party right outside of town, and a few lucky falchion swings had our fighter down to 2 hp. The rogue and the cleric weren’t looking much better, but my wizard was still undamaged. Since this was first level and I had a good Dex score, my armor was only a point or two worse than the fighter’s. I had nothing left in the tank except crappy crossbow shots, and was far more likely to remain conscious after an orc attack than anybody else. It was by no means an optimal situation, but I decided to make the risky play.

“I step in front of the orcs and, in my most nasally nerdy wizard voice I say, ‘Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size?'”

You should have heard the table of veteran gamers erupt in protest. The wizard stands in the back! It’s the fighter’s job to take hits! You’re going to get yourself killed! 

But the situation had changed. The fighter was a more valuable piece to keep on the board, and it became necessary to use the wrong tool for the job. The orcs rolled, hit, and put my puny wizard down into unconscious-and-dying territory. The fighter survived to swing again, and I am happy to report that she missed, got KO’d the next round, and we only survived the TPK thanks to plot weirdness. It was a learning experience for everyone.

I’m still proud of that call though, and even after years of experience I think it was the right one. When the situation is dire you’ve got to think on your feet. The warlock can blow an action pulling his buddies out of black tentacles. The barbarian can break the mechanism rather than punch the minotaur. The bard can stop singing for five seconds and help man the walls. These are not optimal actions, but they are sometimes necessary. My advice is simply this: Know your best actions, but always be willing to call an audible when the situation changes. In my experience, it tends to yield better results than the one-trick mindset.

How about the rest of you guys? Have you ever seen a player hack at a ghost for negligible damage instead of sensibly retreating? How about dudes that refuse to turn off power attack against high-AC foes? Maybe you’ve seen a cleric go full heal-bot rather than casting useful buffs? Tell us your tales of inflexible adventurers down in the comments!