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5E 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?
 

Imaculata

Explorer
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.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
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.
 

tglassy

Explorer
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.
 

Oofta

Explorer
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.
 

TallIan

Explorer
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.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
 
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jayoungr

Explorer
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!
 

Arvok

Villager
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.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
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?
Well, I never 'break the rules' to ensure the escape, but I do have a wide list of contingencies available. The big rule here is, keep it new and keep it organic. If the same method is used every time you have a villain escape, it does break your verisimilitude (especially if it's multiple times in a single campaign), but players can build up this distaste for it even if it's over multiple campaigns. Also keep in mind, there are -many- ways for a villain to escape and the players not even know it.

As others have mentioned, giving them a magic item to perform an escape (misty step, dimension door, etc) is a simple way.

Sometimes, however, it's best to let the party go ahead and kill the villain, because escaping from a weak mortal coil is a far better escape for some. The villain can return as a spiritual being (wraiths are always fun), or even a physical undead using whatever lore you desire. His body could be discovered by a Necromancer and be naturally reanimated (those are always a great plot twist - the players encounter the person they could have sworn was dead, can't visually tell if he's undead or not - wonderful player expression on that one).

Just keep the means of escape fresh with each particular encounter need, and make sure its logical to the villain. If I'm grappling a badguy cause he looks flighty, and he manages to disappear with a crunch from his mouth and a grin on his face, I know he was prepared - moreso than me, and that's perfectly fine. It gives me more fuel for later, and I'm sure many characters are on the same wavelength, provided every villain doesn't pop ye-old tooth capsule.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
If you want a villain to get away in a scene, then plan the whole encounter for him to get away. Once he's stuck in combat you're probably burked as the PCs have a ton of ways to ruin your day. Have your villain pull the lever to collapse his hideout and vanish through a door, or whatever. If the PCs manage to ruin your day anyway, then good for them, you have some writing to do.

You can't put him in combat unless you're ok with a pretty clunky deus ex machina to vanish him at an appropriate moment. You can heighten the stake by putting some innocents in peril and make the players pick - try to save the townsfolk/damsel/friend/etc or try to pursue the villain. Or just put the players in peril via the collapsing/exploding hideout. Either way, you aren't getting into combat, and you're presenting the players with a dynamic choice (or choices). Good stroytelling, good drama, and mostly your villain gets away.
 

Paul Farquhar

Explorer
It's one of the things I really hate is when the villain escapes by DM fiat. If the players counterspell the dimension door or otherwise foil the villains escape the plot should change to accommodate it.
 

Oofta

Explorer
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.
I kind of like the idea that if the PCs kill off the BBEG an impostor/second in command takes over. Or the BBEG was just a figurehead and by killing them off the real power behind the throne needs to take a more direct approach.
 

Draegn

Explorer
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?
I do not run modules. However, if the module is well written there should be some sort of explanation as to how the villain escapes. In my game if I want a villain to escape during a specific scene I plan it so the villain is there is taunt and harass the characters.

A medusa turns one character to stone then calmly walks away leaving the players to decide to chase or save the stoned character from being smashed to bits by one of the medusa's minions.

An enemy officer fires a missile weapon from an elevated position at the characters, then rides away as the players begin to defeat his intervening pikemen.

If cornered then the villain might offer to parley unless faced with the murderhobo players who have garnered their reputation. Then it is all out battle.
 

the Jester

Legend
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.).
That's a great example of poor adventure design. Never unfairly rob the pcs of a well-earned victory. Contrived "he gets away no matter what" stuff is great for a novel, but D&D is a game.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
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 override any combat rules and switch to narration mode
In 5e, that's not even a switch or an override, it's just making different rulings. The villain tries to escape, the DM narrates successful escape, the players try to stop him, the DM narrates failure, the party tries to track or pursue him, the DM narrates the pursuit taking them to a side-encounter or dead end.
Perfectly orthodox 5e play dynamic.
 

Dausuul

Legend
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?
I would do one of two things:

  • If I noticed the issue while prepping, I'd give the villain a reasonably reliable means of escape (note that "reliable" is not "foolproof" and the players can still kill the villain if they foil the escape plan). Then I would come to ENWorld and gripe about poor module design.
  • If I noticed the issue mid-combat, I'd shrug and let the villain die, then do what I had to do to get the module back on track. After the session, I would come to ENWorld and gripe about poor module design.
I won't say that I never fudge things as a DM, but these days I do it very conservatively, and only to tweak the pacing of a combat (usually if I realize I've given the monster far too few hit points and the combat is going to be an anticlimax). Fudging to deprive the players of an honestly earned victory is way over the line for me.
 
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DMMike

Game Masticator
I was just wondering how you handle it when the module says that a villain escapes when he is about to lose the battle . . . just let the villain die if he can't get away through combat means
Bloodthirsty PCs, much? You'd better help out your excellent adventure module writer by giving the villain a nice failsafe - like only she knows which well a PC's family member is stuck in, or the villain's thrall lights an orphanage on fire somewhere if she dies.

I kind of like the idea that if the PCs kill off the BBEG an impostor/second in command takes over.
Yup. The PCs sure captured the villain. The adventure is won! Now let's finish him off...wait, is he WEARING A MASK!?
 

iserith

Explorer
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.
I agree. That is just bad adventure design and you'd think professional adventure writers would realize that by now.

Sometimes things that happen in the movies just can't easily be replicated at the table. Be happy when it does, but plan that it won't.
 

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