Let's be honest: horde combat can be a boring numbers grind. Old-school D&D-style. It needs to be spiced up.
Let's have a look at the GM's tools to do that:
- Turning points: I would advise to use them sparingly; one can over-do the special snowflake vibe. Much more importantly, the players should have tactically several courses of action on the battle field and only one or two of them should actually have the potential for turning the battle. The others should be "duds" or not have exactly the desired effect. That's where Tactics come in.
- Special Elite-levels or individuals (or even sub-hordes (special weapon teams, snipers)) with dangerous weapons among the horde - creating hopefully unique combat challenges.
- Terrain allowing for special modifiers to combat: fighting back to the wall to reduce horde attacks, fighting from the top of the hill, flanking a horde to rout it, etc.
- A horde employing special, dangerous traits.
- Horde splitting and merging, etc.
That's quite a bit. But how do we properly use these basic ideas? Let's compare with usual (individual) fights in 40K Roleplay: Normal fights can also get boring, when it's clear that your party has an overwhelming advantage against a group of enemies. All your PCs have to do is pull the trigger or keep hacking and the NPCs will be dead sooner or later. Unfortunately that is all too often the way hordes seem to get used. "There's a mag 30 horde of renegade guardsmen with lasguns blocking your path to the city center." This isn't challenging or much fun. The PCs can simply grind them down and move on. So horde combat needs tactical challenges for the players. The odds should be so that the players need to pull of some clever stunts to defeat the horde. Setting this up can be as simple as taking the above set-up and changing it to "Your way to the city center has been blocked off by a whole battallion of soldiers. A direct attack would incure the wrath of at least half a dozen hordes of traitors, each with a mag between 20 and 50." Suddenly the players need a plan, right? The trick is to force the players to come up with an idea other than "Charge!" or "Fire away!"
And here's where I feel official rules are a bit lacking: it would be nice to have more examples for maneuvres that hordes can pull on PCs (and on other hordes), as well as maneuvers that players can do to hordes. Not as a list for the players to pick from but to have some handy mechanics when the kill-team comes up with an idea. And, yes, this should take battlefield conditions into account (trenches, roadblocks, jungle fighting versus fighting in rocky plains, etc.)
I intend to post in this thread ideas for such special maneuvers, battlefield conditions, etc. and would like to invite a debate.