D&D 5E Less killing

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I'm definitely considering other systems, but there's something about how well-supported D&D is that just gives and gives and gives in terms of compatible content.
5e can't even claim to be "well supported" if we compare it with the number of sourcebooks released for the previous editions. Also, more often than not, 5e rules lean heavily on "DM decides" anyway.


5e can't even claim to be "well supported" if we compare it with the number of sourcebooks released for the previous editions. Also, more often than not, 5e rules lean heavily on "DM decides" anyway.

I always think of "well supported" as settings and adventures, not splat books. How does it do in terms of them?

Li Shenron

  • most enemies stopped attacking after half damage, and tried to reach safety instead
  • most opponents swoon or cower after 3/4 damage
question: does that just ruin D&D or could it still be fun?
I have always done these for typical intelligent enemies and the game never seemed to be less fun than in tables where everyone fights to the death.

Also, I have often encountered player groups whose general strategy is to minimise combat encounters. This is not always easy to encourage without forcing your hand though.


Just wanted to say, having recently finished reading through the Wild Beyond the Witchlight, it‘s not as simple as choosing to never fight. There are some situations where luck is involved. If the dice don’t go your way, or you choose to walk into the wrong place (sometimes with no reason to expect going there will lead to combat), combat is likely to ensue.

Now, the number of those situations is small, and a DM could change them if they really wanted to guarantee combat would only come about by choice, but by default that isn’t the case.
What I have noticed (and I have not read the whole thing) is that the party can be rewarded for not killing defeated foes and the DM is instructed to take the party prisoner instead of a TPK.

Why not state that 0 HP isn't death but simply "enemy decides not to fight any more"?
Classic first response nails it here.

This is the solution to the problem, not complicated rules - though I applaud having enemies run away when it would be sensible for them to do so, it's always weird and immersion-breaking when some random opportunistic bandit or predator, or even more cowardly creature fights to the death, especially when "You only have to run faster than your friends" tends to apply well to situations where people flee from adventurers.

But yeah, just narrate HP loss differently and 0 HP as giving up in whatever form. D&D will continue to work fine. Adventure design may need to be a bit different of course - you need to decide where the baddies are going to go.


My son always loved killing things in D&D/RPGs, from when he first started playing age ca 4. Although he's also keen on befriending monsters, bandits, cultists et al and recruiting them to the ranks of his minions.

I think a disillusion with violent fantasy may tend to come with age. Videogames do their best to desensitise us, I remember when I first started playing Fallout 4 and met the first Raiders, getting quite annoyed: "What do you mean I have to kill these people?!"

I think D&D can definitely be run like a 12-rated Superhero film, without a lot of explicit onscreen death. Make 0 hp unconscious not dead, as suggested upthread. Use enemies who don't necessarily have to be finished off - players may feel they need to kill the unconscious goblins, but Captain America doesn't go around headshotting unconscious Hydra mooks (even though he was doubtless trained to do so in the army, as I was BiTD).


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Even though they’re quite taxing, my take is that exhaustion points have to be at least as far for real psychological trauma as hitpoints are from battlefield wounds. I’m still trying to point at and gamify a boundary, not take them through Apocalypse Now.
You might be interested in checking out my homebrew Stress condition, here:



I haven’t read all the responses, but I do agree with many I have read that if the party and DM (together) decide to change objectives that don’t call for killing, PC behavior may change. Mission objectives like, gather intelligence, find and rescue, steal necessary object, explore unknown areas, negotiate with others (including sentient monsters) etc will cut down on killing if the party is composed of more stealthy, charismatic and utility based PCs, but the DM also has to design encounters that are not presented as combats, or give other options when combat breaks out.

My favorite trick is to make foes so dangerous (and show it) or make them seem so dangerous that PCs try to avoid them. In a way, I condition the players to avoid combat when possible. I also give them ways to escape combat. Plus, I make sure that the sound of battle warns/alerts others so if they fight one group, they may draw more and more enemies into the fray. Once they know that, they tend to think more before killing.

All of this needs the players to buy in to the idea that combat should be rare. Some groups like this; others hate it. Using foes that are clearly overpowered can approximate the feeling that a Call of Cthulhu game may engender (fear, insanity, run, investigate to find the answer rather than kill). It works if that’s what the players sign up for.


B/X Known World
I’ve found players are particularly worried - perhaps even irrationally so - about Opportunity Attacks. Even when they have no hesitation about stepping up into melee range in the first place. Even when it is an enemy whose melee attack doesn't do much damage. Maybe it has something to do with giving the enemy a free attack. IDK.
I've found this, too. Players are hyper cautious and extremely risk adverse. Yet, this edition has the 2nd strongest 1st-level characters (following only 4E) and has some of the weakest monsters compared to the PCs. It's really bizarre how cautious and risk adverse players are in this edition.

That makes the pretty baseless assumption that less quantity leads to greater quality, or on the flip side, that greater quantity leads to fewer products of quality.
Does it?

My point was that it is a false claim that greater quantity (represented by "number of sourcebooks released") automatically correlates with greater quality (represented by the term "well supported"), which was the metric used by the poster I quoted.

Does it?

My point was that it is a false claim that greater quantity (represented by "number of sourcebooks released") automatically correlates with greater quality (represented by the term "well supported"), which was the metric used by the poster I quoted.
Not automatically, but generally it does, just by dint of there being more to choose from. In any case, it definitely does when it comes to D&D. Aside from the people who swear that the original Grey Box is the one true sourcebook for Forgotten Realms, most who have been around long will agree that the best sources for the setting are in the 2E and 3E era, where it was supported by more books. Dark Sun was definitely best supported when there was more material, as was Planescape, Spelljammer, etc.

Sometimes less is more. But when it comes to setting material, more is usually more.


Older editions, or more likely, older DMs from 1e/2e had any monsters that got away come back and hurt you. Players were conditioned to prevent this be killing anything and chase down and kill anything that fled. Change the learned behavior.

My group, now, will tend to not kill anything that surrenders, like goblins and bandits. Over the last couple campaigns, they have even taken a freed cultist on as a henchman and traded with surrendering goblins. One time even bringing a dead boar back to goblins for food. I think part of this has been to not backstab the behavior. I also try to reward the players by having the goblin show up a few levels later and happen to warn the PCs about trouble in a certain direction.

One of the more innovative conditions we kept from 4e was bloodied. It informs the DM and the players the status of the creatures, and gives a dramatic turn. I use that for roleplaying as well. If a character is bloodied, then the bloodthirsty monsters target them. If a monster is bloodied, then they might flee, surrender, or fight like a berserker. It's just good short-hand for predictive behaviors.

Many years ago I ran a D&D game for the kids, and I knew I'd had to adjust the game. I wanted to have heroic battles but not killing. Danger and fear were also prominent. But there were also a bunch of things I did differently because children were involved:
1. Everything talked - To focus on roleplaying every monster would talk. Seems silly but kids react very well to this. The giant spiders in the Dim Forest talked, just like in the Hobbit cartoon. Talking beasts is a common feature of fairytales, and works on many levels for a D&D game. For kids, it keeps them informed but without breaking character. So if I bit one of the PCs I'd say something like, "My poison will get you, and then you'll be my dinner!" Roll a save vs poison. The narrative is more important than the stats.
2. Only Monsters - I had no humanoids poised to fight them, only monsters. I converted The Return to the Keep on the Borderlands and swapped out every humanoid monster with a kind of Undead. All of the humanoids were NPCs who were either helpful or indifferent but could be reasoned with. The bandits in the keep were more like Robinhood rather than killers. They had no quarrel with the PCs or the keep, just the greedy merchants. They asked for help to take care of the Undead problem. I felt it was better to give the kids a sense that you can always talk with people, but not with Zombies.
3. Traps and Terrain - At least when I was a kid, we were always playing outside. Climbing trees, swings, monkeybars, and riding bikes, and pickup games of basketball or street football were common. Dangerous exploration is way more exciting for kids than it is for adults. Don't turn this into a dice rolling exercise. Let the narrative drive the rolls. The Caves of Chaos have a few decent traps, but I wanted something more exotic. Flesh eating fungal spores that turned Zombies into Skeletons changed the demographics of the Undead, and added another unusual layer of danger to the encounter. I put sections waist deep water to have Skeletons spring up and frighten them.
4. Make it Heroic - Skeletons are easy to destroy, and dangerous. It makes them feel more powerful when they smash their way through a dozen skeletons. Lots of these moments make it more heroic when they have to face a Zombie Ogre, bashing at the gates of their Keep. Too often we think of challenging the PCs or players. When everything is a challenge there's no way to accurately gauge your advancement. With kids, you want to make them feel heroic fast. Remember, short attention span. Give them challenges but make them easy. If you notice, I let a lot of the terrain add complications, but victory was all but guaranteed. Then once they're comfortable with combat and danger, you give them a real challenge where they get to test themselves. I got the idea from watching the kids watch Star Wars for the first time. Blasting their way through Storm Troopers, swinging on ropes, sneaking around a star base, and then fighting a trash monster in water with a closing wall trap. That pulp adventure really works well for children, and adults like it too.

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