Combating fights to the death
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  1. #1
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    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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    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
    Better still: Tell them you want to do this. Just because you're not liking the standard combat experience, that doesn't mean your players are bored of it, or eager to try something else.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
    Not only this, but make sure they are OK with this sort of game.

    Because a lot of players won't be, and that't not anything wrong with them.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    Simplest answer: Tell the players you're doing this.
    Don't tell, show (well, do tell, but also show):

    1. Have enemies flee or surrender, a LOT. Only a few kinds monsters should fight to the death (undead, constructs, summoned creatures); for the rest, they should stop fighting when they are reduced to half strength or so. You can make a formal morale rule for this if you want, but as a DM I usually just eyeball it, and that works fine.

    Important: give full XP for enemies that flee or surrender (if you're doing monster XP). Losing XP is what players fear most about allowing monsters to get away.

    2. Have monsters demand the PCs surrender, and have them treat the captured PCs well. You should do this a few times early-on in the adventure when the PCs are easy to scare. Half-way through the goblin encounter, a dozen hobgoblins show up, with some ogres! After they capture the PCs, they take all their gold and jewels and food, but then turn them loose with all their equipment.

    Important: don't have enemies take the PC's magic items, because this is what players fear most about surrender. It's worse than losing gold or even losing levels because magic items are unique and "irreplaceable." Story-wise, the monster group that's powerful enough to defeat the PCs probably has no need for their paltry magic items. (You can make an exception if the PCs have a plot item that everyone is after, but you should telegraph that. Also, it can be fun to have your gear stolen, and then kill the enemies in revenge and take it back, but be careful with this; it's easy to overdo it.)

    3. Have some enemies call for parley before combat starts. The parties size each other up and the one that thinks its stronger calls for tribute from the one that's weaker. The classic "we are bandits charging a reasonable toll" works well for this. The side that receives the tribute should also offer some kind of minor favor in return, to make it seem fair. "Pay us and we won't kill you, plus we'll tell you how to get past the room with the fire trap" is a more palatable deal for the players.

    Important: Let the players know whether the other side in the parley can be trusted to keep their end of the bargain. Tell them explicitly. Because if the other side betrays the deal, the players will be discouraged from making future deals. But, not every NPC can be trusted, so call for Wisdom (Insight) checks. If the players decide how to deal with the untrustworthy NPCs, the parley remains a fun encounter (but of a somewhat different kind, and possibly erupting into combat).

    4. Put the PCs into conflict with NPCs that they are better off not killing. The City Guard is a good example. Another might be an NPC who knows an important clue, or whose cooperation makes things a lot easier. Or have an NPC that is an enemy to some PCs and an ally to others. This is the most tricky of my suggestions because it's really difficult to predict what kinds of things will motivate the players to keep "enemy" NPCs alive.

    Important: Plan for the NPC to die anyway. Because the players might not realize the benefit of keeping them alive, or may just be in the mood to slaughter somebody. So don't encourage the PCs into combat with a plot-essential NPC. (Really, don't have plot-essential NPCs.)


    None of this will work if your players are dedicated murder-hobos. But if they're willing to try this play-style, moves like this can help them get into character.

  7. #7
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    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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    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. Iím 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.

  9. #9
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    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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  10. #10
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    Adventurers are used to killing things. If you want to change that have them go up against other Ďadventurerí 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 donít resent being beaten by them.
    Last edited by Larnievc; Sunday, 19th May, 2019 at 09:04 PM.

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