The Ravenous RPG blog put up a collection of posts, and linked to this post about marching order.
Footprints of Fools and Wanderers: The vagaries of Marching Order
Did I say post? I meant article containing possibly exhaustive discussion of marching order and marching order concepts for D&D games.
It did occasion some thoughts about my own campaign, and how we depict marching order and who goes where.
We represent marching order with minis - it's their primary use, although we do use mapped tactical combat quite often. Marching order is quite literal, and visual - where the minis are on the sample hex sheet is where they are in the game.
Lanes & Marching Order, not Battle Order
What's interesting is the emphasis in our marching order on "lanes." Given a "standard" 3-yard across corridor in a dungeon, the players rarely put three across. Instead, they'll bunch up side by side with a clear lane down one side and place high-mobility characters in those lanes to be able to move forward. Or put ranged attackers there so they can shoot down the lane. In other words, the assumption is marching order is not combat order - it's a mobility-and-protection based employment of space from which bold paper men spring into action when the bad guy minis hit the table. Goal #1 is to protect the weaker characters, goal #2 is to provide lanes for moving into action, and goal #3 is anything like spotting, scouting, and so on.
That could be making lemonade out of lemons, however - if experience tells you berserkers, guys who can't bear to waste a single second of Great Haste, wizards unwilling to take a -1 for range that they don't have to, and so on are going to zip out of "formation," you don't waste time making a formation. You don't create a battle order, you create a marching order and assume it'll explode like a rack of pool balls on a break when combat begins, each character moving to the spot they need to be at the moment. Or want to be in, either way.
No Scouts, So Who Leads?
Another lemons/lemonade issue is who leads.
Same with goal #3 - the party often lacks useful scouts. Lacking literal Scouts - bow-armed Scout-template PCs - and scout-capable templates like Thief or a Per-enhanced fighter-type - the group assumes their Per won't cut it. With that in mind, the "scout" tends to be more of a front-line fighter than an actual scout.
Add in a fear of a low-armor character getting caught out on his or her own, and you get "send the guy with the most DR and HP to scout." It's not a very effective way to avoid traps or trouble, it's more of acceptance that trouble will happen and not dying from it is the way to cope. If your best "scout" is the druid or a wizard who bought up his IQ and got Per in the bargain, or a non-human fighter with Infravision or Dark Vision, then this has merit.
Sometimes this gets extended even with actual scouts - again, fear of a low-armor character getting caught on his or her own. Ironically, this can mean Move 9-10 scouts with Per 15 and Stealth-17 or Move 7 thieves with Per 14 and Stealth-19+ are often crammed in the middle with the wizards to protect them from harm, as a Per-10 DR 9 Knight leads off the group because he's got the most DR and the best Block score. It does have the effect of making the surprise rules (Exploits, p. 26-27) fairly one-sided - the NPCs might surprise the PCs, but PCs leading off with low-Per no-Stealth PCs in close proximity to the others with light extending ahead don't surprise people often. Not even deaf swordsmen!
Clerics, Druids, Wizards, Bards if we ever had any, Artificers, Thieves, and Scouts end up here most often. The latter two function better as actual scouts, but often get put in the middle. The middle is the place of default - the party doesn't build out from the middle, but rather walls in towards the middle. Characters who can't usefully protect others go here.
Generally, the rear rank goes to one of three types:
- cheap hirelings, who are less valuable in the front because they aren't the best fighters;
- high mobility guys who can run to the front if needed or just fight from the back if attacked from there;
- a moderate-mobility, high DR guy who can absorb a back shot.
Per isn't as big of an issue. It's hard to walk backwards in the dungeon all day, so no one tries to force the issue. They simply have PCs check their back as they move, at corners, etc. and routinely turn around when they pause to map or force a door or chit-chat.
The rear is both critical and less important than point. You need a strong rear guard, but most of your combat ends up coming from the front as you're heading into, not fleeing, danger. A hireling who would be an obstacle at best, bad footing after death at worst, in the front rank is a valuable speedbump for rear attacks. A high-mobility PC in the back is both a rear guard and capable of zooming up a lane to get to the front to fight.
And as always, a high-DR high-HP character is useful because they're hard to kill.
And that's how marching order works in my game.