I read far too much for my own good. Occasionally I read modern military fiction, such as Tom Clancy. I ran across a term that sparked my interest and I did some quick internet research.
Essentially, overwatch is the process of using one unit of troops to “cover” the movement of another unit. Usually the overwatch unit has the high ground to maximize field of fire and terrain visibility. It is repeatedly called for by heroes in film since World War 2 with the classic refrain of “Cover me!” The overwatch unit fires to supress the enemy. It is hard to shoot straight when someone is shooting at you. This gives the protected unit a chance to get into a better position, retreat or setup heavy equipment. Killing enemy troops is not the primary goal, keeping the enemy busy is the critical task. Although, no one will complain if some of the bad guys have a terminal moment. 😉
In the real world, it works well, but in games it has limited utility, since the players want to be in the action and not sitting on a mountain top providing supressive fire.
There is a solution, with a slight variation on the classic.
Same setup as before, but it is a leapfrog configuration. Assuming two units, A and B are moving through a forest. A moves ahead and finds an nice spot to cover the movement of unit B. B moves past A until it reaches the edge of A’s effective weapon range and sets up to cover A’s movement. A then moves past B and the cycle repeats.
This has several benefits, both in game terms and tactically. Tactically, some of the party members are always “on alert,” weapons at the ready, eyes scanning for enemies. Any DM worth his salt should give some “see the enemy ambush” bonuses for clever player tactics. Players also have to be on their toes, both as the bounding party and the overwatch party. Much more fun all around.
It also gives the party’s token stealthy character a break. All too often parties send the sneaky rogue out as a scout and he cannot handle what he finds. I have scraped many a rogue off the walls after the encounter landed on him with both feet.
I understand this will have limited utility in a dungeon, but outdoors it is excellent.
For further information, I suggest you consult Global Security . I linked directly to the overwatch page, but you should browse the entire site. It is chock full of gaming tactical crunch. Remember, reality makes for better gaming.