D&D General Run Away!


Magic Wordsmith
Reviewing the rules again now that I'm back at my desk, it seems to me the intention is for players to just say "We run away" and the DM deciding if the monsters will pursue or not. If they don't, then the characters get away. If they do pursue, then you drop out of combat rules and into chase rules. To optimize the chances of escape, a player has their character ideally get as far away from the monsters as they can first before starting the chase since the first step (outside of rolling for initiative anyone who isn't already in initiative) is determining starting distance.

The chase rules effectively boil down to move+dash, potentially deal with a random complication, then attempt to hide. There are a number of ways to get advantage on hiding, so it does seem to favor those who are running away (with some exceptions).

So, the rules are actually there, whatever anyone may think of them. For my part, I don't love the way they use Inspiration to pay off complications and I don't often care to meticulously track relative distances, preferring more "zone-based" way of tracking it. Then of course we'd need a dungeon complications table. So the chase rules demand some hacking in my view if they are to be used, but the framework is there.

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He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Yep. Part of the problem is that D&D combat lacks a clear emergency state, short of being knocked out of the fight. Sure, you can see how many hit points you have left, but as long as you have any you can keep fighting at full strength, which makes it easy to convince yourself to stick it out “just one more round.” Especially when your allies are all also fighting at full capacity. The game just lacks a clear signal that it’s time to shift gears from offense to defense, until it’s too late to do anything to defend yourself.
Most editions have been like this. The interesting thing to me is a recent experience with PF2. It is VERY obvious when you are outmatched and need to run. Things in the severe/extreme challenge rating (+3/4 lvl) just out math you. It doesn't matter what tactics you apply, you just know the enemy can reliably hit and even crit PCs, while quite the opposite is true for the PCs. Much of the spellcasters options are reduced to whatever minor inconvenience rider they can apply. Its an interesting change of pace from where you really needed a GM to signpost, but PF2 its built right into the system.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Yeah, this is a significant barrier to flight being a viable tactic. Additionally, it can be very difficult to tell when you’re in a situation where you need to run away. In my experience it’s usually only in retrospect that you realize “we should probably have retreated two rounds ago,” and by that time you’re probably going to get TPKd anyway if you try to retreat. So, might as well keep fighting and hope you get enough lucky rolls and the DM gets enough unlucky ones that you somehow pull through.
Knowing when to retreat can be a problem, but does not need to be one. The DM is the window between the characters who are experiencing the world and the players. There's a lot of information that is often glossed over but is very useful for that sort of thing.

"The giant humanoid swings at you with a two handed axe, hitting for 14 points of damage."
"The giant humanoid swings negligently at you, almost losing grip on the two handed axe with it's poor form - but that is still enough to easily penetrate your armor. Luckily this hit was light for such a massive weapon, only doing 14 points of damage."

When playing in person I prefer to roll in front of my players - when they are getting hit on a 6 on the die, and I'm rolling THAT many dice for damage, it gives them information their their character could be able to tell. My players have been told it is not meta-gaming to act on that, I am doing it on purpose. I also still use "bloodied" (or "staggered") as a description of down to half HPs - while that mechanic isn't around in 5e, I figure any adventurer should be able to tell if an opponent they are fighting is above or below half health.

But in general I agree with you - it's often hard to tell you should retreat unless it's blindingly telegraphed (oh look, it's a dragon and you are level 2), and by that time you figure it out with the rules so against it that it may be better odds to just stay and hope for a miracle instead of getting cut down running.


Several factors can contribute to the “fight to the death” mentality seen by some PCs. Often more than 1 factor contribute to the PCs not retreating in a situation. Broadly some of these are:

Game Mechanics: There is no good/viable/easy way to retreat in the rules. If my speed is not faster than my opponent’s than by the rules, I can never get away from them. Also, the AoO rules work against retreating. If I move away from my opponent, they get a free attack on me. If I use “disengage” to move away, then they can just move and attack me on their turn. I’m better staying and fighting then letting them get ‘free’ attacks on me.

Hit Points: I’m just as effective at 1hp as 100hp, why retreat.

Target Fixation: We become so fixated on ‘winning’ the fight we can lose track of our own status. I know this happens to me sometimes during on-line play. Suddenly I’m at 3hp without realizing it’s happened.

Mob Mentality: If everybody else is attacking then I should attack also. In the end nobody called for the retreat that was needed.

Gambler’s reasoning: If I’ve just had bad dice, and the DM has had good dice, that will even out soon. I just need to stick it out.

“Do, or do not, there is no try” or “We’re suppose to be heroes”. Running away just doesn’t feel heroic. If we’re playing a game to be heroes, then retreat isn’t (usually) something we think about heroes doing.

Linearity: Most fights do not occur all alone. Most are part of a series of encounters. We can fall into the thinking of this is fight “A”, I must get through this fight in order to get to “B” then “C” etc. in order to accomplish the goal.

It’s a Game, not a story: D&D is a game played my multiple people. A story is told by a (usually) single author. One can tell a great story from a game. But if one tries to turn a game into a story, problems usually result.

Past Experience: If in past games no PC ever really died. Then this fight should be no different and the incentive is to fight on. Conversely, If in the past the average was at least 1 PC death per session, and by the end of the campaign no original PC was left alive, then death is just an expected part of the game and there’s no reason not to fight to the death because death is expected.


There's a fundamental difference between a Fear condition being applied as a result of a spell or supernatural effect, as opposed to imposing it as an involuntary reaction to an adverse situation.
Is Dragon fear a supernatural effect or the legitimate reaction to 20 tons of enraged beast trying to bite your head off? I have been on the receiving end of a bull and that was a mere ton of angry muscle trying to crush me in to a meaty paste (it did not even have horns). It is not an an experience I would want to repeat.
I was not in terror but I was real anxious to be somewhere else in a hurry.


The fear condition is a mechanical mandate of character combat effectives. What is wrong in applying it to the party level?
Because it is a temporary status effect and because it is universally a magical/supernatural effect that is effecting the character and not the DM reveling in the idea that they made the party flee.

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