5E Villains that are supposed to escape
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  1. #1

    Villains that are supposed to escape

    I was just wondering how you handle it when the module says that a villain escapes when he is about to lose the battle, but actually has no means to escape combat-mechanics-wise (grappled, etc.). Would you just force it and just override any combat rules and switch to narration mode or just let the villain die if he can't get away through combat means, making the players miss out on potentially fun pursue scenes?

  2. #2
    The villain dies. Try repurposing the pursuit material for a future adventure if it is flavorful and meaty enough to be worth the effort.
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  3. #3
    Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)

    Join Date
    Sep 2015
    The Emerald Coast
    Never force a villain to escape. The villain only escapes if the players let him get away.
    If a module says that a villain escapes, that is a dumb module. Ignore it.
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  4. #4
    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)

    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Don't force it. It plays as it plays. Reworking module bits before play is fine and having robust and resilient scenarios is key. But, no, not gonna just poof he gets away.

  5. #5
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Personally, I'd have the villain have a means of escape if he's the type to not go into a fight without a way out. If nothing else, a Ring of Spell Storing with Dimension Door in it would work, or something similar, if he can't cast the spell himself. Make it obvious how he escaped, though, and make it within the rules, so the players know you're not just handwaving his escape.
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  6. #6
    Time Agent (Lvl 24)

    Join Date
    Sep 2015
    Twin Cities, MN
    Many villains (and enemies in general) in my campaigns won't fight to the death if they have a choice. That's different from saying that it's guaranteed that they get away.

    If I really want them to get away I'll give them something such as misty step, ability to polymorph or turn ethereal, etc. For example, a well prepared vampire can be very difficult to kill if you're in their home turf. Hurt them enough? They turn into gaseous form and disappear into vents that are scattered around their lair.

    I almost never set up a supernatural escape route however, it feel like DM cheating to me if it's done too often.
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  7. #7
    Guide (Lvl 11)

    Join Date
    May 2016
    Brooklyn NY
    If you want them to escape then make sure you have a robust escape mechanism in place: not just, they run away when under 50% HP - have a means of getting out of combat and a means of getting out of the combat scene. PCs have an irritating habit of foiling even the best laid plans. That being said make sure it is a plausible mechanism: a bandit captain probably won't have access to dimension door, unless he is a lieutenant to a powerful mage. In which case make sure that you've dropped hints about what the PCs are dealing with. PCs should be able to affect the story in ways you have not planned, otherwise you are just writing a book.

    Secondly, plan for what to do if the BBEG doesn't escape. How will your story continue? Have clues that replace the chase scene, or other lieutenants that step into the BBEG's place. In the latter case don't just have BBEG MII, actually make it something different, as though the PC's actions had an effect. eg the BBE organisation splits into two factions, each under a lesser lieutenant. An all out attack against one will bring them both together or if the PC's are careful they can use subterfuge to play them off against each other.

    Never hand wave it and never have your entire story hinge on something that the PC's have influence over. There is not point even having the fight if the end result is set in stone and required to continue the story. If you absolutely need him to escape, don't have him in the fight. Put the BBEG in his own room and as soon as the PC's enter it simply describe him escaping.

  8. #8
    Mod Squad
    Pit Fiend (Lvl 26)

    Umbran's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Boston, MA
    Quote Originally Posted by TallIan View Post
    That being said make sure it is a plausible mechanism: a bandit captain probably won't have access to dimension door, unless he is a lieutenant to a powerful mage. In which case make sure that you've dropped hints about what the PCs are dealing with.
    The mage helping the bandit captain escape *is* the hint about what they are dealing with.

    You may want to telegraph offensive capabilities that are beyond level appropriate - save-or-die, or "this is a huge ancient dragon, not some punk hatchling". But I don't think you need to telegraph that an enemy has a well-considered escape plan, which doesn't harm the PCs. An escaped villain is one you're likely to meet again later, and *then* the information will be useful.
    Last edited by Umbran; Friday, 21st June, 2019 at 06:57 PM.
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  9. #9
    Superhero (Lvl 15)

    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    It depends in part on the setting. If it's Ravenloft, for example, weird things can happen because it's that kind of place. But for most settings, yeah, the villain just dies, and you have to figure out what happens next!

  10. #10
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    If the villain is supposed to escape but the players are too smart (or lucky) for the published module to work, then you need to figure out a way to make it work for the story (if you're planning on using the villain again). This doesn't mean you need to cheat, just come up with a solution that's logically consistent for your world. If the PCs capture him and turn him over to the authorities, they eventually learn that he has escaped. If they kill him, one of his associates/followers/admirers has him resurrected. If that's not possible, then one of his apprentices/family members/love interests takes his place as antagonist and now has an added reason to hate the PCs.
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