D&D 5E "When DMing I Avoid Making the PCs have 'pointless' combats." (a poll)

True or False: "When DMing I Avoid Making the PCs have 'pointless' combats."

  • True.

    Votes: 85 56.7%
  • False.

    Votes: 65 43.3%

ART!

Deluxe Unhuman
I will add seemingly trivial combats that serve no greater purpose when I feel like it will spice things up, but in that case it's not pointless, so I voted "true". And honestly they might seem like they serve no greater purpose than entertainment, but they usually result in more than just s little fun, i.e. little plot threads and character development. So, again - not trivial.
 

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Jer

Legend
Supporter
Right. But...the game is balanced around that idea. The PCs have a certain amount of resources and they should be spread across that much combat in between long rests. If you put fewer fights in front of them, their resources have dramatically more impact if you keep the encounters "average" or "hard," so if you have fewer fights but want them to be meaningful, i.e. not pointless, then you also need to ramp up the difficulty of those fewer fights. Because if you don't, the PCs will steamroll those fights.
I get the feeling that your players might be a bit more optimized than mine are. I mean, I do double up on the XP budget for encounters because Medium encounters are super boring even with my players who do not play tactically at all. But I've never seen my players just steamroll an encounter even when they only end up having one encounter in an adventuring day. They usually don't know that it's going to be the the only encounter unless I tell them up front "this one is the last encounter of the day so feel free to go nova on it".

That mostly stems from the designers falsely insisting that D&D is not a combat-focused game, but it is. They try to give a nod and a wink to the idea that there are other types of meaningful encounters, but when designing the game and the modules that go with it, it's almost all combat all the time. Which is why they made such a big deal about being able to gasp complete Witchlight without resorting to combat. Such innovation. Much new. Well, for D&D it is innovative and new.
My apparently controversial opinion is that 5e is the best edition of the game so far for running non-combat encounters. My players are far more likely to go for the non-combat solution in 5e than in any previous edition of the game, and the game has given me enough tools to do the "semi-structured improv" thing that I'm used to doing in other game systems. 3e was too fiddly and 4e was great for fights (best edition for combat ever, IMO), but 5e is the one that really gets out of the way and lets the semi-structured back-and-forth improv work like it does in other games.
 

Celebrim

Legend
And is an optional combat pointless?

You'll have to understand, that just as I don't full agree with some others in the thread here, I don't fully agree with you either. I'm not really on anyone's side. In this case, I was pointing out that an optional combat isn't pointless. It's a decision point with consequences that could be meaningful to the story. Whatever the PC's decide to do, whether laugh at the bandits as they run away or chase them down and mercilessly slaughter them, that's story. So on this I think we pretty much agree, and you being argumentative about things we agree on is weird

On the other hand, while I generally agree that there are not pointless combats, there can be pointless encounters. While in theory I like the idea of color encounters where nothing happens, in practice over the long haul non-encounters become pointless very quickly.

...It must not be only an event. I give a 50% of an encounter to be "just" some noise, the traces of a battle and so on....If a dragon is indeed sighted. It might not attack, just flying by..

I'm sympathetic. Being the full simulation GM that I am there is a part of me that wants to have "Flock of seagulls" as an encounter or similar stuff that you would actually encounter if you were in particular wilderness environments. And yes, in theory even these non-encounters with flocks of seagulls or herds of plant eaters placidly grazing in the distance has potential story, but you have to be careful that you aren't wasting too much time on non-events. Even the good reasons of establishing setting, exposing potential resources to hunt or befriend, or setting up encounters where the PCs can be the active party ultimately isn't necessarily good enough justification when 95% of the time the encounters are going to become redundant and the players are just going to say, "We leave them alone." in order to avoid creating trouble unrelated to their goals. So I would tend to minimize the amount of non-encounter encounters that I was bothering the PC's with, especially after the first day of travel I'd probably just say something like, "You continue to see lots of wildlife similar to what you saw the prior day".
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I get the feeling that your players might be a bit more optimized than mine are. I mean, I do double up on the XP budget for encounters because Medium encounters are super boring even with my players who do not play tactically at all. But I've never seen my players just steamroll an encounter even when they only end up having one encounter in an adventuring day. They usually don't know that it's going to be the the only encounter unless I tell them up front "this one is the last encounter of the day so feel free to go nova on it".
Maybe, but I doubt it. I don't allow charop builds and make the players roll their character's stats specifically to avoid charop. I also don't allow multiclassing. It's an optional rule after all, lol. But a lot of my players seem to come from wargame and video game backgrounds, so playing more tactically is generally how they go. My baseline for a good encounter is deadly. And if allowed to nova, they will, and will steamroll. Apparently I have a uniquely bad experience with 5E. My players will abuse anything they can to avoid risks, so they (until I banned it) would use Leomund's Tiny Hut to get a long rest, face one combat, then turtle up again. Lather rinse repeat...until I banned it. They ignored anything like timers and didn't care about consequences related to just sitting around doing nothing.
My apparently controversial opinion is that 5e is the best edition of the game so far for running non-combat encounters. My players are far more likely to go for the non-combat solution in 5e than in any previous edition of the game, and the game has given me enough tools to do the "semi-structured improv" thing that I'm used to doing in other game systems. 3e was too fiddly and 4e was great for fights (best edition for combat ever, IMO), but 5e is the one that really gets out of the way and lets the semi-structured back-and-forth improv work like it does in other games.
It's better than some, not as good as others. To me. I think 4E with its skill challenges did a great job for non-combat encounters, though I grew to really dislike the specific implementation of skill challenges in 4E. But that's mechanically handled non-combat encounters. The older TSR editions of the game handled them perfectly. The mechanics didn't cover them, so the referee had to. The players had to think their way through problems instead of relying on a button on their character sheet to smash until whatever obstacle the referee put in front of them went away.
 



You'll have to understand, that just as I don't full agree with some others in the thread here, I don't fully agree with you either. I'm not really on anyone's side. In this case, I was pointing out that an optional combat isn't pointless. It's a decision point with consequences that could be meaningful to the story. Whatever the PC's decide to do, whether laugh at the bandits as they run away or chase them down and mercilessly slaughter them, that's story. So on this I think we pretty much agree, and you being argumentative about things we agree on is weird

On the other hand, while I generally agree that there are not pointless combats, there can be pointless encounters. While in theory I like the idea of color encounters where nothing happens, in practice over the long haul non-encounters become pointless very quickly.



I'm sympathetic. Being the full simulation GM that I am there is a part of me that wants to have "Flock of seagulls" as an encounter or similar stuff that you would actually encounter if you were in particular wilderness environments. And yes, in theory even these non-encounters with flocks of seagulls or herds of plant eaters placidly grazing in the distance has potential story, but you have to be careful that you aren't wasting too much time on non-events. Even the good reasons of establishing setting, exposing potential resources to hunt or befriend, or setting up encounters where the PCs can be the active party ultimately isn't necessarily good enough justification when 95% of the time the encounters are going to become redundant and the players are just going to say, "We leave them alone." in order to avoid creating trouble unrelated to their goals. So I would tend to minimize the amount of non-encounter encounters that I was bothering the PC's with, especially after the first day of travel I'd probably just say something like, "You continue to see lots of wildlife similar to what you saw the prior day".
Yep, as the saying goes: "Too much of something makes it boring." The "Art" of DMing is exactly to know when not to go overboard with these types of encounters. It can make the world much more alive to have scenery, too much of it can become booooooooring. The goal is to have enough to spur the imagination and to have some scenery encounters that might spark the adventure in unexpected way. Having the player encountering a burned house might spring them into investigating what happened.

What I often do is to roll in advance the encounters for the trek and to link them somehow into a nice little "side track adventure". So far, my players really love the way I do it.

One thing to note: There is a big difference between a wilderness encounter table and an adventure related random encounter table. While one is there to make the world much more alive, the second is there only to reinforce the sense of danger and unexpectedness of the adventure.
 


Celebrim

Legend
What I often do is to roll in advance the encounters for the trek and to link them somehow into a nice little "side track adventure". So far, my players really love the way I do it.

Now we are getting closer and closer to the same page. Yes, I often build encounters based on random encounter tables.

You know what my favorite entry in a random encounter table has become?

Roll Again Twice.

As inspiring to the imagination rolling up a random monster can be, I find that it's a blast to roll up two random monsters and then figure out what their relationship is to each other. Did the party come into an ongoing conflict between two groups, say a predator/prey type relationship? Is one monster the mininss of the other? Is one monster riding the other one like a steed? Is it a mixed herd of animals? Etc. There is an enormous amount of 'living world' that having the option 'Roll Again Twice' on the table opens up. I used to have it show up just like 1% of the time. But the more I play, the more it's becoming like 10% or 20% chance on the tables I make.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Now we are getting closer and closer to the same page. Yes, I often build encounters based on random encounter tables.

You know what my favorite entry in a random encounter table has become?

Roll Again Twice.

As inspiring to the imagination rolling up a random monster can be, I find that it's a blast to roll up two random monsters and then figure out what their relationship is to each other. Did the party come into an ongoing conflict between two groups, say a predator/prey type relationship? Is one monster the mininss of the other? Is one monster riding the other one like a steed? Is it a mixed herd of animals? Etc. There is an enormous amount of 'living world' that having the option 'Roll Again Twice' on the table opens up. I used to have it show up just like 1% of the time. But the more I play, the more it's becoming like 10% or 20% chance on the tables I make.
What happens if you get roll again twice again?
 

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