I discovered a definition today that had really got me thinking. To take from Wikipedia;
In chess, a grotesque is a problem or endgame study which features a particularly unlikely initial position, especially one in which White fights with a very small force against a much larger black army. Grotesques are generally intended to be humorous.
So, you take a small set of troops against a large army and the idea is to solve the problem in a way that the small set of troops can win. The Wikipedia page about this topic shows a few examples of how this concept works for chess puzzles and I learned about the term by looking at the details of an RPG game on Steam called Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes which is written up as
a story driven, satirical RPG with a strategic combat system. A party of 10 anti-heroes are fighting in a grotesque world that combines the features and clichés of Western and Asian Strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics, Heroes of Might & Magic and Fire Emblem.
It sounds like a fun game from what I’ve seen, though I haven’t played it yet. It got 65% rating listed so it had to be at least somewhat good. But this is not an advertisement for the game, it’s an advertisement for the idea of Grotesque puzzles and strategies, because the chess concept is essentially what an RPG is. A small group of heroes taking on a much larger force. Even games with huge armies like Shining Force series, you only had 30 heroes in the first game (if you found all the hidden ones) while you were fighting against probably hundreds of enemies across all the different battle maps. Most RPGs are a handful of heroes, maybe like 4-8 characters (especially when it comes to tabletop games) and now you’re focusing on how to get these heroes to survive across all the challenges they face.
It may not mean anything to most people, but it struck a chord with me. I talked about chess in adventure design before, but this idea makes me think of how to incorporate various encounters and events and things to follow in tandem with the moves the players are making. Sure, it doesn’t scale completely, but you can always come up with some parallels. When I think of designing challenges, this concept makes me think about not only the initial setup but how the board may look five or ten moves in and further. If you have a large number of pawns and one big heavy king, do you send the pawns in first or hold them back to protect the king?
Imagine a possible tactical layout for your enemy units; Pawns are minions, bishops are your healers/spellcasters, king is your big boss monster of the encounter, rooks are defensive types perhaps (think linebackers from Football designed not to let the oppenent push past), and so forth. You could use other comparisons or use other markers for some pieces while you plot it out, but if you think of it in a chess style tactic, maybe you’ll come up with some interesting tactics you didn’t see before. I’ve got some new ideas I’d like to try.