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D&D General Do You Run NPC vs NPC Battles? Why?

So, as a DM I sometimes I find myself playing out battles between NPCs and/or monsters if I have the time.

For example, the previous session of my current campaign ended with a barbarian NPC ally running off to do battle with some monsters out of sheer bloodlust. Today, I had some free time and decided to go ahead and run several rounds of combat between this NPC and some monsters so that when the party catches up with them at the start of the next session they'll join a battle in progress.

For another example, earlier in the campaign the party encountered a squad of tired, injured duergar with little inclination to fight and a dead ally nearby surrounded by the remains of kruthiks. At home I had run this squad of duergar against a number of kruthiks, and their status in the actual session was derived from the results of this battle.

I guess I do it because 1) it helps me familiarize with tactics or test out homebrew creatures, 2) it helps the world feel more real, and 3) it's fun to play out the fight and let the dice help decide what happens (such as if the NPC that ran off has been wrecking all-comers or has bitten-off more than they can chew).

This isn't something I have the time to do often, but I probably would do more if I did. I'm curious if this is something other DMs ever do and why.
 

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I never do this in session (and hate running allied NPCs in session too), since it takes up too much time. If I need to have an idea of how things might shake out, I make a quick glance of averages to determine who would win, how much time it would take, and how many resources lost. In these cases I ignore most other aspects, such at terrain, cover, and other things likely important to combat, mostly because I really don't want to spend the time.
 




mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
So, as a DM I sometimes I find myself playing out battles between NPCs and/or monsters if I have the time.

For example, the previous session of my current campaign ended with a barbarian NPC ally running off to do battle with some monsters out of sheer bloodlust. Today, I had some free time and decided to go ahead and run several rounds of combat between this NPC and some monsters so that when the party catches up with them at the start of the next session they'll join a battle in progress.

For another example, earlier in the campaign the party encountered a squad of tired, injured duergar with little inclination to fight and a dead ally nearby surrounded by the remains of kruthiks. At home I had run this squad of duergar against a number of kruthiks, and their status in the actual session was derived from the results of this battle.

I guess I do it because 1) it helps me familiarize with tactics or test out homebrew creatures, 2) it helps the world feel more real, and 3) it's fun to play out the fight and let the dice help decide what happens (such as if the NPC that ran off has been wrecking all-comers or has bitten-off more than they can chew).

This isn't something I have the time to do often, but I probably would do more if I did. I'm curious if this is something other DMs ever do and why.
I've never done this. Gaming is purely social for me. Friends required!
 

I never do this in session (and hate running allied NPCs in session too), since it takes up too much time. If I need to have an idea of how things might shake out, I make a quick glance of averages to determine who would win, how much time it would take, and how many resources lost. In these cases I ignore most other aspects, such at terrain, cover, and other things likely important to combat, mostly because I really don't want to spend the time.
Oh yeah, I definitely wouldn't do this in-session. I'm all about saving time while DMing a session, such as by pre-rolling damage and recording the results on graph paper for the different ways PCs might take damage. If I need to generate damage during a session I use a dice roller app. The only physical dice I use as a DM are two d20s.

I guess I could use average damage to save time, though I'd like to preserve some swinginess by allowing for critical hits.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
I’ve done this once or twice, when it was towards the end of a campaign and I really wanted to dive into the unpredictability of the situation. But it felt a little like I was surrendering to some sort of newfound compulsion, so I doubt I’d do it again.

Plus I’m being pulled closer and closer to the PbtA perspective, where if it’s not directly related to the PCs, who cares? Determining that sort of outcome might impact the PCs but it’s probably just as easy to roll a d6, with a higher roll indicating a better overall result for them (meaning what they’d want to happen with those NPCs)
 

One thing I like that it seems most of my friends don't is just seeing how the rules for the game and the monsters play out in a "combat arena" sort of scenario. I'd love to have everyone pick a monster of the same CR, throw them into a bounded space and duke it out to see how things shake up. Part of it is getting experience seeing how the various special features and such work out, and part of it is that I don't have another outlet for that sort of combat-only experience (I think my other players do more video games that can scratch that itch than I do).

So I would have no problem running such a combat, but I've only done it once. Basically, the PCs' choices lead to a group of hunters being attacked by 4 giant apes, and I wanted to see what actually would have happened, rather than just decide. So I made a quick battle map, put all the participants on it, and ran through the whole thing. Because I don't like it to go completely to waste for the campaign, one of the characters got to see it in a dream (I gave a really quick description of the battle) and then the party got to show up afterwards later and see the aftermath.

One thing I have done more than once is to test out a battle that the party is likely heading into before the session comes up. I'll just use the PC stats, role-play their choices the way I think the players would, and see how the battle goes. I did that about 7 times when a 3rd level party was going to fight a young black dragon, to see what sorts of outcomes they could get (everything from a TPK to killing it with barely an injury, it turns out--surprise and initiative were huge on this one).
 

Curse of Strahd has a nice way to deal with NPC v NPC action.
Specifically, at the Wizard of Wine Winery, there are four Swarms of Ravens in the rafters of the wine who help the characters by each taking out one twig blight each round of combat. No rolls, just gets narrated. And, it helps speed up the combat as there are 24 twig blights.

Beyond NPC allies, I do believe a three-sided battle - NPCs vs NPCs vs PCs - can be a fun and interesting twist to "standard" combat. Through experience, however, I've found that to pull it off most effectively, the spotlight needs to move quickly past the NPCs if they are attacking each other. IME, it is only truly worth rolling when the PCs are the ones being targeted. The players don't want to sit through the attack and save rolls of NPCs vs NPCs. Those rolls are decidedly an order of magnitude less on the the tension scale. The DM just needs to make a narrative judgement call and move on quickly to something that directly involves the players. I mean, players do get excited when an NPC takes out another NPC as that often gets the party closer to their goal but the players don't really want or need to see the NPC v NPC sausage getting made...
 

If there are NPCs in battle alongside the PCs, I'll assign an average damage output for them per round and leave it at that.

If it's solely NPC vs. NPC, that happens in the background. If the outcome is in question, I'll just roll a d20 to decide who wins, or even just flip a coin.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
For testing purposes, I have occasionally run battles between NPC & monsters since 3e, but never during an actual gaming session. If it ever happens that the PCs are witnessing someone else's battle, I narrate it but I don't actually run it. If I were undecided about the outcome, I might roll a few dice but still definitely not going to run it by the rules.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
I have done this a few times in the past to familiarize myself with the rules. At the gaming table I just make dirty words up when it comes to Non Player Character versus Monster/Non Player Character, and I'll fake-roll some dice to make it look pretty.
 

guachi

Adventurer
I've never done this kind of thing for D&D specifically but it's exactly the kind of thing I'd enjoy doing. I'd play board games by myself and play both sides. But if I did I'd never do it during a session. I mean, I enjoy reading Enworld but I'd never do that during a session, either.

If I have NPCs working with PCs in a fight I've had luck having the PCs run the NPCs. The players seem to have fun getting to do something different during combat.
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
So, as a DM I sometimes I find myself playing out battles between NPCs and/or monsters if I have the time.

For example, the previous session of my current campaign ended with a barbarian NPC ally running off to do battle with some monsters out of sheer bloodlust. Today, I had some free time and decided to go ahead and run several rounds of combat between this NPC and some monsters so that when the party catches up with them at the start of the next session they'll join a battle in progress.

For another example, earlier in the campaign the party encountered a squad of tired, injured duergar with little inclination to fight and a dead ally nearby surrounded by the remains of kruthiks. At home I had run this squad of duergar against a number of kruthiks, and their status in the actual session was derived from the results of this battle.

I guess I do it because 1) it helps me familiarize with tactics or test out homebrew creatures, 2) it helps the world feel more real, and 3) it's fun to play out the fight and let the dice help decide what happens (such as if the NPC that ran off has been wrecking all-comers or has bitten-off more than they can chew).

This isn't something I have the time to do often, but I probably would do more if I did. I'm curious if this is something other DMs ever do and why.
Not me. I narrative the naughty word out of npc combat so the wrong one doesn’t die or we waste too much time in session.
 

Do I ? No. Would I?

Only if I was positive the Players would enjoy it, and rarely even then.
If you can manage to get the players invested enough in an NPC that they care about how a fight they are not taking part in turns out then go for it, but that is far easier said then done. I would expect Players to interfere if they cared about the out come so it would never stay a true NPC VS NPC fight. If the players didnt care about the out come, then this is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Allot of ideas you can get away with rarely as a novelty but if you use them too much will become grating fast. Unless you are positive the players would want to watch the fight play out, I would advise dont do this.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
For me it depends how important the outcome is to what might happen next.

I once ran a situation where the PCs stumbled onto an in-progress three-way battle between some Ogres, some (known-to-be-hostile) Humans, and some [other creatures I forget now]; the immediate backstory being the Humans and Ogres were fighting over the right to hunt and eat/enslave the other creatures, who in turn were fighting back against both.

I expected the PCs would pick a side to support and dive in, but no: instead they took cover, watched, and waited for an easy-to-mop-up winner to emerge. This meant I had to, in the name of both realism and random chance, play out the whole combat round by round and narrate what the PCs saw, much like a play-by-play commentator.

The end winner (and only survivor) was a single Ogre; who the PCs immediately charmed, cured up, and took in to the party as a meat shield.

Most of the time, though, if it matters I'll just roll a situationally-modified d20 each round for each side.
 

Yora

Legend
No need to run the game mechanics for stuff that doesn't involve the PCs.
If I need to know the outcome of a fight between NPCs that isn't obvious, I can roll a dice for each side, perhaps give one side a bigger dice if it's more powerful, like 1d8 against 1d12.
 


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