The 36 Stratagems is a Chinese essay, derived from various written and oral accounts, offering Machiavellian advice in the realm of warfare and politics. The stratagems are presented as parables, making them flexible enough to apply to modern situations such as business, education, or… killing zombies.
To that end, I present The 36 Stratagems of Left 4 Dead 2, a guide that brings wisdom and cunning to the apocalypse.
All excerpts and translations courtesy Wikipedia.
Chapter 1: Winning Stratagems
Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean
Prepare too much and you lose sight of the big picture; what you see often you do not doubt. Yin (the art of deception) is in Yang (acting in open). Too much Yang (transparency) hides Yin (true ruses).
Versus matches pit four infected against four survivors. As a survivor, you want to lessen those odds. Deceive your opponents by rushing forward into a dangerous area and retreating as they spawn. Once they enter the mortal coil, their gurgling and churning will alert you to their presences. This is especially useful coming out of the safe room!
Besiege Wèi to rescue Zhào
When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.
In the first level of Dead Center, take an incapacitating class (hunter, jockey, smoker, charger) to the doors past the stairwell. Slash them open to create a fiery trap for the survivors.
Kill with a borrowed knife
Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one’s own strength is not favourable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy’s own strength against him.
As a boomer, rely on the strength of others to distract and draw survivors to you. As a bubbly mass of goo, you need others to take the heat. Have a jockey/smoker pull survivors in one direction as you spawn from the other side.
Leisurely await for the laboured
It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.
If survivors are not rushing through the level, there is no reason to attack until you have all for special infected ready. You determine the battleground by spawning all together.
Loot a burning house
When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.
When a survivor falls to about 20 hit points or less, he or she becomes a priority target. Coordinate to bring that first survivor down. When someone is incapacitated, that is when you need to put the pressure on. Every incapacitated survivor is one less gun pointed at your bilious snout.
Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west
In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectation in the enemy’s mind through the use of a feint.
The idea here is to get the enemy to focus his forces in a location, and then attack elsewhere which would be weakly defended.
A hunter is an invaluable tool for distraction. Just crouching and growling can draw the survivor’s attention away from a prospective boom. If you miss a big pounce, head for high ground and stay alive as long as possible. The more guns on you, the fewer on commons and your teammates.
Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems
Create something from nothing
(無中生有／无中生有, Wú zhōng shēng yǒu)
A plain lie. Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing.
One method of using this stratagem is to create an illusion of something’s existence, while it does not exist. Another method is to create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does.
Enabling “alltalk” on the server opens the path to one of the more hilariously evil strategies. As infected, call out blatant lies about enemies lying in the wings, false directions, or being smoked far behind in the safe room. Gamers are generally poor at voice recognition.
Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang
(明修棧道,暗渡陳倉／明修栈道,暗渡陈仓, Míng xiū zhàn dào, àn dù chén cāng)
Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him. As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him.
There are many opportunities to deceive special infected in L4D2. Getting zombies to spawn early is always advantgeous, but you can also pscyhe them out when you reach a fork in the road. For example, at the beginning of No Mercy, survivors can begin by the stairs or through the skylight. Faking one direction then heading another can often prevent the specials from spawning at the right time. If even one gets lost navigating from the bedroom to the stairs, that makes your job 25% easier.
Watch the fires burning across the river
(隔岸觀火／隔岸观火, Gé àn guān huǒ)
Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces.
When a player is incapacitated, zombies tend to follow their biological imperative and throw themselves upon the victim. A smart zombie tempers his enthusiasm and wait until the last possible second to attack before the survivors pick up their comrade. This gives invaluable spawn time to the other special infected. A kamikaze attack of three simultaneous specials is quickly repelled. Take turns preventing pick-up!
Hide a knife behind a smile
(笑裏藏刀／笑里藏刀, Xiào lǐ cáng dāo)
Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret.
Always congratulate your opponent on a good pounce or a good charge. Then destroy him with great vengeance.
Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree
(李代桃僵, Lǐ dài táo jiāng)
There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat stratagem whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
If one survivor in your party is getting hammered and has already lost their health kit, sometimes it’s best to let them die. Move quickly for points while his killer is occupied with his brains.
Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat
(順手牽羊／顺手牵羊, Shùn shǒu qiān yáng)
While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.
If you are aware of how many specials are alive or spawning (always communicate which specials spawn and die), you can take some risks seeking “treasure” (pills, shots, throwables). Know where items spawn on a map, and never seek them alone. Either go in pairs or all together.
Chapter 3: Attacking Stratagems
Stomp the grass to scare the snake
(打草驚蛇／打草惊蛇, Dá cǎo jīng shé)
Do something unaimed, but spectacular (“hitting the grass”) to provoke a response of the enemy (“startle the snake”), thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy’s suspicion and disrupt his thinking. More widely used as “[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass”. An imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
In wide open areas, psychological warfare is sometimes safer than direct attack. Spawn as a boomer behind the survivors and out of harm’s way if you have no good vantage points. The immediate gurgling will startle them and hopefully slow them down.
Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul
(借屍還魂／借尸还魂, Jiè shī huán hún)
Take an institution, a technology, a method, or even an ideology that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.
The new special infected of L4D2 provide a huge range of strategy for separating, blinding, and confusing survivors. However, some of the oldest strategies from L4D1 hold true. There may be no more quad caps, but a perfectly timed tri-cap is more effective than any charge/boom/spit combo. If you have three incap classes, work together to spawn and attack at the exact same time. Your team should have a good sense of where you will be able to spawn when the time is right.
Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair
(調虎離山／调虎离山, Diào hǔ lí shān)
Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength.
Half of all tank battles are mental. You want to do whatever you can to have the tank engage you directly. The faster he comes down from on high, the faster you can light him up. Arrange with your teammates to feign a run for it. So long as you are covered, you don’t risk being picked off by special infected. With any luck, you’ll draw the tank into the fray with a lot of firing distance for your team.
In order to capture, one must let loose
(欲擒故縱／欲擒故纵, Yù qín gū zòng)
Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy’s morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.
When two or more survivors are incapped, resist the temptation to throw everything you have against your remaining foes. In the heat of battle, they are hyper-aware of special spawns and will pre-fire any spawn point before picking up. Lull them into a false sense of security by holding off on your attack until the last possible second.
Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem
(拋磚引玉／抛砖引玉, Pāo zhuān yǐn yù)
Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it (“toss out a brick”) and obtain something valuable from him in return (“get a jade gem”).
Use the hubris of survivors against them. If you’re a fast class like a hunter or a jockey, peek out from around a corner. Sometimes you may convince an opponent to go out of his way to hunt you down. That is when you strike.
Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief
(擒賊擒王／擒贼擒王, Qín zéi qín wáng)
If the enemy’s army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money, superstition or threats, then take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
Often, one player on the team completely overpowers his teammates. In this case, all attacks should begin with him. Few players can lead effectively lying prostrate with a pistol.
Chapter 4: Chaos Stratagems
Remove the firewood from under the pot
(釜底抽薪, Fǔ dǐ chōu xīn)
If something must be destroyed, destroy the source.
Molotov cocktails seem impossible to misuse, but a wise molly can really save a game. For maximum effect, throw them into choke points behind your party and dash ahead while the source of your troubles burns away.
Disturb the water and catch a fish
(混水摸魚／混水摸鱼, Hún shuǐ mō yú)
Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.
Boomer bile is more difficult to use, but it works best when you don’t stick around to clear the fresh horde of zombies. Check to see if everyone is fast enough before you toss, then make a break for it. If you have an embarrassment of throwables, toss some fire onto the bile horde for good measure.
Slough off the cicada’s golden shell
(金蟬脱殼／金蝉脱壳, Jīn chán tuō qiào)
It’s a stratagem mainly used to escape from an enemy of superior force. Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyant traits behind, thus going incognito, or just masquerade yourself and create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others.
During a finale, every second of survival earns you points. When the chips are down and little chance remains of killing the tank, split up and find the tightest, most obscure parts of the map to hole out and bide your time. This kind of separation guarantees your destruction, but it often takes a long time for four distinct incapacitatig classes to spawn and track you down.
Shut the door to catch the thief
(關門捉賊／关门捉贼, Guān mén zhuō zéi)
To deliver capture the enemy, you must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not rush into action. Before you “move in for the kill”, first cut off your enemy’s escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach them.
Make tank battles easier by defining the battle ground. If you have extra molotovs or gas cans, create boundaries the tank can not cross. If the opportunity arises, surround him with fire so that he can’t escape to high ground.
Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour
(遠交近攻／远交近攻, Yuǎn jiāo jìn gōng)
It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field. This policy is associated with Fan Sui of Qin, circa 269 BC.
Cooperate with common infected, however inferior they seem. Some of the best jockeying and smoking happens when you can drive your victim into an oncoming horde. The smoker is nearly powerless without them.
Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Guo
(假道伐虢, Jiǎ dào fá Guó)
Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place. See Duke Xian of Jin.
Sometimes a clown can be your best friend. Melee the clown’s nose to concentrate zombies in one place. Don’t panic and unload your clip right away. Once zombies have clustered, a couple well placed shotgun blasts can clear the whole room.
Chapter 5: Proximate Stratagems
Replace the beams with rotten timbers
(偷梁換柱／偷梁换柱, Tōu liáng huàn zhù)
Disrupt the enemy’s formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to following, go contrary to their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
Negotiating spawn points is one of the key components of high-level Left 4 Dead play. The best survivors look for danger around corners and above ledges. Give such obvious spawn points a wide berth. Moreover, position yourself in line of sight with as many spawn points as possible. This may require a small amount of separation from your team, so stay aware of them as well.
Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree
(指桑罵槐／指桑骂槐, Zhǐ sāng mà huái)
To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. When names are not used directly, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.
Never call out your teammates for mistakes. Players get better when they are confident enough to think about strategies, not when their team gets frustrated. Instead, create plans for attack and refer to the roles of specific infected classes, not specific players. For example, “That might have gone better if the charger went before the jockey” or, “How could that have gone better?”
Feign madness but keep your balance
(假痴不癲／假痴不癫, Jiǎ chī bù diān)
Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
Talk trash. Act silly. Then attack.
Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof
(上屋抽梯, Shàng wū chōu tī)
With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.
Drawing players to the witch is a difficult, but essential strategy. The smoker is best suited to the task, but often you will need more cunning to get players in the general vicinity. Boomers can attack from disadvantageous routes in hopes that the horde will divert survivors toward the witch. Chargers can be invaluable at moving survivors close enough for another special to finish the job in pulling the player into her.
Deck the tree with false blossoms
(樹上開花／树上开花, Shù shàng kāi huā)
Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful. This stratagem is identical to that of the Potemkin village.
Players have little sense of how healthy a tank is. If you are about to die as a tank, retreat completely. Survivors will not advance if a tank is still alive, giving your specials extra opportunities to attack.
Make the host and the guest exchange roles
(反客為主／反客为主, Fǎn kè wéi zhǔ)
Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.
Typically, the hunter, smoker, and jockey must wait for general chaos to occur at the hands of a boomer or charger. Sometimes, however, you can take initiative and track down a reckless survivor on a solo hunt for treasure. Know when to break rank and deviate from the plan.
Chapter 6: Defeat Stratagems
The beauty trap (honey trap)
(美人計／美人计, Měi rén jì)
Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This stratagem can work on three levels. First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane. Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale. Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.
As infected, honestly inform your opponents of particular items that lie just out of the way. Often you can exploit their lust for pills and drugs.
The empty fort strategy
(空城計／空城计, Kōng chéng jì)
When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness and act calmly so that the enemy will think are setting an ambush. This stratagem has to be used sparingly and only after one has first developed a reputation for military prowess. This also depends on having a clever opponent who, in perceiving a trap, may over-think his reaction.
OK, I’m stumped on this one. Anybody?
Let the enemy’s own spy sow discord in the enemy camp (反間計／反间计, Fǎn jiàn jì)
Undermine your enemy’s ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised.
Trash talk with intent. For example, you can challenge your opponents to make rash moves like a low-probability death charge.
Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy’s trust (苦肉計／苦肉计, Kǔ ròu jì)
Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
Choosing not to heal can be a psychological tactic to force specials to spawn quickly and out of sync with each other. So long as you get cover from teammates, you can create disorder and simultaneously appear to be a badass.
(連環計／连环计, Lián huán jì)
In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one stratagem fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.
Even if it feels overwhelming, your team should always be communicating about the next attack. It’s rare to be so in tune with other’s strategies that you don’t need to verbalize them. Realistically, you should announce what your plan is and when you’re attacking.
If all else fails, retreat
(走為上／走为上, Zǒu wéi shàng)
If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.
Going in for a suicide scratch/spit/boom after your initial attack is not always wise. Spawn times are significantly longer than recharge times. Run backwards until you can respawn with ‘E’ so that you get another chance. The boomer’s recharge is a little longer than a spawn time, but it’s well worth it since the boom is so much more important than other classes. A suicide boom may lead to a quicker spawn, but with a non-booming class.