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%

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Well, then you are, avoiding them have pointless combats! You are taking steps to make sure it isn't pointless!
I reject the underlying premise though since I don't believe there are any pointless combats except through a certain lens. The through line that I see between many people who do avoid what they perceive to be pointless combats is because they have a story in mind and anything outside that story runs the risk of being pointless. They tend to eschew random encounters as a result, which makes some sense if that's the default approach for their play.

I don't have a story in mind or a plot I'm trying to keep the PCs on. What happens is the story - an exciting, memorable one we all build together while having fun (or, at least, that's the goal). Therefore the combats can't be pointless. They are the story. This is through no special effort I'm making - it's just us playing the game.
 

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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.
I have been doing this since the mid '80s. :)
But I rarely roll twice unless we play a random dungeon. Man this hasn't happened since the '90s...
 


JiffyPopTart

Bree-Yark
I reject the underlying premise though since I don't believe there are any pointless combats except through a certain lens. The through line that I see between many people who do avoid what they perceive to be pointless combats is because they have a story in mind and anything outside that story runs the risk of being pointless. They tend to eschew random encounters as a result, which makes some sense if that's the default approach for their play.

I don't have a story in mind or a plot I'm trying to keep the PCs on. What happens is the story - an exciting, memorable one we all build together while having fun (or, at least, that's the goal). Therefore the combats can't be pointless. They are the story. This is through no special effort I'm making - it's just us playing the game.
Let's go go a massive extreme. You are the GM. You have 5 PCs in your game, all 20th level. They are walking through the forest. You narrate that they see a standard in-no-way-extraordinary robin off in the distance (maybe you want to drop a hint it's a peaceful and non dangerous area, but the reason is unimportant). The rogue decides for no apparent reason to attack the robin and kill it.

If you actually have a combat in this situation, with initiative, stealth checks, attack rolls, etc it would be a pointless combat.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Let's go go a massive extreme. You are the GM. You have 5 PCs in your game, all 20th level. They are walking through the forest. You narrate that they see a standard in-no-way-extraordinary robin off in the distance (maybe you want to drop a hint it's a peaceful and non dangerous area, but the reason is unimportant). The rogue decides for no apparent reason to attack the robin and kill it.

If you actually have a combat in this situation, with initiative, stealth checks, attack rolls, etc it would be a pointless combat.
Is it? I feel like in this situation, either it doesn’t matter whether the robin does or not, in which case DM could just rule that the rogue succeeds in killing the robin without needing to roll, or it does matter, in which case an opposed Dex check to see if the rogue can pull it off before the robin flies away would be appropriate, followed by an attack roll to see if the rogue can hit the robin with the attack before it flies away. Which happens to coincide with the combat rules. Either way, I don’t think a pointless combat has occurred. If a combat occurred, the point was to determine if the meaningful consequence for failure occurred. If there was no meaningful consequence for failure, there was no need for a roll, therefore no combat.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Let's go go a massive extreme. You are the GM. You have 5 PCs in your game, all 20th level. They are walking through the forest. You narrate that they see a standard in-no-way-extraordinary robin off in the distance (maybe you want to drop a hint it's a peaceful and non dangerous area, but the reason is unimportant). The rogue decides for no apparent reason to attack the robin and kill it.

If you actually have a combat in this situation, with initiative, stealth checks, attack rolls, etc it would be a pointless combat.

I get your point, and you are probably right if this was a typical D&D game. In my game, the 20th level Shaman would be like, "Dude?!?!?! What did you do that for? Are you trying to bring curses down on us or something? You better get down on your knees and apologize to the robin right away and come up with some excuse why you had to kill him. Like, you better be making roast robin tonight, or something. Because we aren't exactly random kids anymore. What we do matters. We attract attention. Things are watching us. You never know if that robin has allies. Do you want some nature goddess to decide to smite us? Do you really want the Father of All Robins to swear vengeance against us? And don't tell me you plan to sacrifice it to some fiend to keep the balance, because will just insult everyone involved and we'll end up with nothing but enemies."

But even more importantly, regardless of the cosmology of the universe the D&D game was taking place in, and regardless of whether the DM ran a hugely animistic game partially inspired by his love of fairy tales and growing up in the Caribbean, this combat was not one imposed on the PCs. The DM didn't create this "pointless combat"; the player did. And the DM is under no obligation to tell the player not to make pointless choices or to try to keep the player from making pointless choices.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Let's go go a massive extreme. You are the GM. You have 5 PCs in your game, all 20th level. They are walking through the forest. You narrate that they see a standard in-no-way-extraordinary robin off in the distance (maybe you want to drop a hint it's a peaceful and non dangerous area, but the reason is unimportant). The rogue decides for no apparent reason to attack the robin and kill it.

If you actually have a combat in this situation, with initiative, stealth checks, attack rolls, etc it would be a pointless combat.
I don't really see this as a "massive extreme" or "pointless." Pointless relative to what? It's an event in the game. The rules cover how to handle this as @Charlaquin has already stated, so we'll just have to see how this adds to the story we're creating by playing.

As it happens, the current game I'm running does have a random encounter that might go this way - a single eagle which flies away if it notices anyone approach within 30 feet. That's it, that's the encounter. Do they loose an arrow at it? Sneak up on it and try to stuff it in a sack? Communicate with it from a distance? Give it a wave and pass on by? What does what they do tell us about the nature of the characters and their priorities?
 

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