ARTICLES OF COMBAT: PRIORITIES IN COMBAT
"Being overwhelmed is a sign of not recognising your priorities." - Cornelius
The art of fighting as you might have gathered so far is a small-step process. The advice given in HELP BECOMEGREAT is based on the actual steps you follow during a fight. Without knowing each step individually, you cannot hope to keep up in all-out combat. So, there are a number of priorities which you should keep in mind the whole time that you are fighting. I touched on some of them earlier.
THE PRIORITIES OF DEFENCE
The first priority is your own health and mana. You must not let this fall for obvious reasons (physical damage, can't cast spells, absolution by a sorcerer). Let this dwindle and you'll most certainly die.
The second priority is your equilibrium and balance. You must not waste either of them. You must also be aware that they are different. Some attacks use one and not the other, yet in most circumstances one will stop you from using an attack which uses the other -- but be especially observant of the times you can! There are some exceptions in a few professions and you should actively search for them. Do not waste your equilibrium and balance. The reasons for which I explain in HELP LEVELLERS.
The third priority is your state of being, i..e. what afflictions, curses and poisons have been dealt to you. Curing these will make it easier to heal your health and mana as well as to inflict damage on your enemy. If you remain afflicted by something, it will be your undoing.
The fourth priority is your position and agility. Depending on your profession, you need to have quick feet all the time (Seers, Thieves, Rangers), but no matter what your profession, moving is the best way to give yourself some time. Don't stand there like a lemon in pentacle and get scythed. MOVE! Get some fancy footwork going and heal in the process. What's better, it doesn't use balance, though you won't be able to move when your equilibrium/balance is down. Healing on the move is absolutely deadly. It makes you practically invincible.
The fifth priority is your simple defences. This priority includes everything which doesn't take balance/equilibrium or time to come up. For examples: ucklice/wirren, sata, deafness, blindness, iorthir, fire protection, autoclot, regeneration, kathkusa/flexing, vigour/insomnia, immunity, olvar, autowake, etc. You must keep these simple defences up at all times, and be sure to see when they come down, otherwise you will have a harder time taking and dolling out damage, curing afflictions and generally staying on top of your enemy.
The sixth and final priority, but a vital one, is maintaining your complex defences, including such things as ignorance full, trueblend, netdodging, aura, malloran, mounting a steed, levitation (when necessary), arrow shield, mystical barriers, blurring, etc. It is only a complex defence if there is no other way of putting it up but by spending the equilibrium/balance or time it takes to come up (such as malloran). Note: Pentacle and alkar are not complex defences; they are panic buttons. The significance of complex defences lay in their ability to thwart certain attacks at the cost of some preparation time. Only when you've reached this priority should you consider attack...
THE PRIORITIES OF ATTACK
The first priority is their position and agility. In order to get the initiative, it is important that you know where they are and what they are doing, as well as how quickly they will react to your entrance. Swiftly attacking will give you that edge necessary for following priorities.
The second priority is to strip their complex defences for the opposite reasons that you should keep up yours. Part of this priority is also removing demons, rituals and other accessories your opponent might have.
The third priority is to strip their simple defences, so that your afflictions penetrate and to be all the more lethal when you actually deal damage.
The fourth priority is to smother them in afflictions, curses and poisons, so that when you attack, they'll have a harder time healing themselves.
The fifth priority is to unbalance them and remove their equilibrium. There are a host of ways of doing this which makes it difficult for your opponent. When they are off-balance, they are wide open. Controlling their equilibrium timings will give you a significant edge.
The sixth and last priority is to deal them so much damage that they won't recover, now that there is a hole in their defences. When you reach this point, you're already well on top of your enemy and they'll be dying very soon.
THE ART OF JUMPING PRIORITIES
As you can see, the priorities work very much like an arc, where you first fight for the grounds where you will survive and then proceed in a backwards fashion to attack their outermost defences. It is like standing twelve feet apart; with each piece of ground you've sown up well, you step forward, as does your opponent. In many cases, a fight begins face to face with but a single foot between you. In a short space of time, that picture gets a bit messy.
You need to make sure you have your priorities straight, and they may not be exactly as above. Depending on how well your opponent understands that a fight is a bunch of little steps, you will be forced to step back a few priorities or suddenly lunge forward into his territory, should you see him slip up. Just be sure that every piece of ground on your side is secure.
At first, this advice sounds rather boring because it appear like a stalemate. In the first few fights, it will definitely be frustrating and then tedious to not have a defence secured. In later fights you may end up stripping each other's defences because you don't know how to jump priorities well. It may sound like fights are long and drawn out, but you need to realise that shifting priorities happens in a few milliseconds. If you're spending any more time on it, you'll be overwhelmed. And if you aren't thinking about shifting in a stale-mate, you can bet your opponent will.
The wild and unthinking opponent will often afflict you without curing his own afflictions, attack without stripping your defences (thereby wasting his attack), etc. You'll inevitably need to leap between priorities to make sure you are on top of it all. Mixing up your attack priorities will throw your opponent off balance too, so being a bit wild is always advantageous.
However, with a very good opponent, they may deliberately muddy the waters so that they gain the initiative. For example, using vorpal blade on you so that you lose a complex defence and then following up with a darts trap and then jabs. They may even skip their own defensive priorities to do it, thereby giving themselves the aggressive posture necessary to beat you down.
The art of jumping around priorities is too extensive to explain here in full and it is something you should learn by trial and error anyway. Know that to have priorities does not mean to be defensive. It is to be aware. They are two extremely different things. If you are not aggressive, your opponent will be. If you don't go all out, your opponent will. If you don't persist, your opponent will. Be sure you put the first foot forward, stick in the sword and twist it. Otherwise, you'll end up a naive fool with 33 mouths in the belly.