Combating fights to the death
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  1. #1
    Guide (Lvl 11)

    Join Date
    Feb 2019

    Combating fights to the death

    Our DM is taking a break, so we are starting a new campaign and yours truly is in charge! MWAHAHAHA!

    I get to add my own flare and tastes as the reigning DM and am looking for options on combating "normal" fights to the death. I have been thinking about tactics such as grappling, knocking prone, etc. because I find the endless fight after fight where they typically end in every creature on one side being killed as a bit... well... ridiculous. I understand DND is a fantasy game, and combat can be a vital part of it, but even an experienced party of characters suddenly confronted by a band of orcs and outnumbered 4-1 or worse should consider fleeing or surrender.

    So, I am looking for options on how to play out combat encounters. I want the players to think more about getting into a fight and not just rush in confident that the battle of attrition will end in their favor. Any advice?
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  2. #2
    Time Agent (Lvl 24)

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
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  3. #3
    Pit Fiend (Lvl 26)

    DEFCON 1's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Burlington, MA
    Rather than creatures falling unconscious at 0 HP, they instead break and run away full speed never to come back. And attackers do not get to make AoOs against them as they run off, the creature just bolts and gets away.

    This includes PCs by the way. As soon as they hit 0 HP their morale breaks and they make a run for it. Now if you want to allow them the chance to return to help their friends then I might allow it... but I'd keep the "three failed saves equals death" in place. If the PC get hits while at 0 HP they fail a death save, and if they fail three (IE get hit three times) they die.

    Doing this teaches everyone that the survival instinct is strong in every creature and fights to the death are rare. People run off if they know they are in trouble and possibly dying.
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  4. #4
    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    Or you could run encounters where there are goals and combat is just one of the options to meet that goal. Not fighting to the bitter end could also be an explicit part of your encounter design. You could also run combats where you leave lots of room to narrate morale related stuff and make sure the players know that they have options.

    If players are stubborn and fight to their own deaths thats on them, but its on the GM to run a game where the options other than combat, and other than combat to the bitter end are made pretty clear. Taking full afvantage of the rules grappling, knocking prone, and knocking unconscious can help too, obviously.
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  5. #5
    Cutpurse (Lvl 5)

    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Adventurers are used to killing things. If you want to change that have them go up against other adventurer class enemies.

    The orcs they are after are a most renowned seasoned mercenary company with power comparable to their own.

    And never forget the law of Conservation of Ninjitsu. Your players will have an instinctual awareness of CoN so use it to foreshadow the difficulty of the encounter. Adventurers will never run for 40 mooks but 6 or 7 individually described orcs wearing matching (but specialised) armour might give them pause.

    Foreshadow how the baddies are honourable and will accept surrender helps, as does making the baddies likeable so the PC dont resent being beaten by them.
    Last edited by Larnievc; Sunday, 19th May, 2019 at 09:04 PM.

  6. #6
    Gallant (Lvl 3)

    Odysseus's Avatar

    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    niverville new york 12130
    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
    I'd agree with this.
    Part of the issue is trust. The players have to trust you. They have to feel that if they surrender, or get captured you won't just kill or do worse to their characters. So be open and honest with them.
    And have the monsters surrender and run away at times.
    Also look out why the combat is taking place. What are motivations for the combatants? Is combat the best way to get what they want?
    Another alternative is do something with crits and fumbles to make combat a bit more deadly and random.

  7. #7
    Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)

    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    Defcons morale break is a solid mechanic if you want that to be the default in your campaign.

    If you want it to be more here and there, the key is:

    1) different goal other than killing. Its getting the item, saving a person, etc

    2) excessive time pressure. Sure the party will win, but it will weaken them for the next thing, and they dont have time to rest. Now they seriously debate if engaging in the next fight is worth it

  8. #8
    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)

    Join Date
    Sep 2015
    dark rural wet rainy Britain
    I treat my players the same way that they treat various groups of foes. If they murder hobo, no mercy. If they take prisoners and ransom captives then that.

  9. #9
    Enchanter (Lvl 12)

    Join Date
    May 2008
    somewhere in Canada...
    Quote Originally Posted by DEFCON 1 View Post
    Rather than creatures falling unconscious at 0 HP, they instead break and run away full speed never to come back.
    This is a good suggestion. Im a big fan of 0 hp = defeat, which may mean death, unconsciousness, morale break, loosing the face, or whatever concequence that makes sense to the stakes that were set at the beginning of the fight.

  10. #10
    Lama (Lvl 13)

    bedir than's Avatar

    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Renton, Washington, United States
    If you give equal/greater reward for the Party achieving their goals through means other than killing they will likely use means other than killing.

    Give the exact same xP for an encounter that's "won" via social means and even by avoiding it all together (exploration).
    XP DM Dave1, Kurotowa, Mort gave XP for this post

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