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You can't win this encounter

Mistwell

Legend
This shouldn't be a problem in an actual game - if as a DM I am putting non-level-appropriate encounters to low to mid level characters (before they get ability to get away via items or magic), I'm going to make sure they have a way to get away. A dragon's flight speed means nothing there's a narrow set of caves. A monster might be defending a nest, or have other reason why it doesn't want to give chase. Or maybe a dragon can be bribed with a service.

Don't turn monsters into murderhobos who will all mindlessly pursue and fight to the death unless it make sense - many will only kill when there is a reason, and a retreating foe satisfies their goals. Thew dragon may want to leave them alive simply to spread the word of "Don't go there! It's a dragon's domain".
Your players don't know you've got a monster who won't pursue. All they know is if they flee and the monster pursues they're dead. And they know the dragon is trying to kill them and they just tried to kill it so they don't have time to suddenly open unlikely negotiations instead of taking a more assertive direct action.

A monster who tries to kill a party who JUST TRIED TO KILL IT IN ITS HOME is not a "murderhobo" in any sense of the term. First, it's their home so not hobo. Second, it's self defense so not murder. Monsters killing people who tried to kill them is not mindless, it makes perfect sense and mindful.

This is, in my opinion, bad DMing if you're expecting your party to know this sort of stuff about a foe because it's in your head. Unless you're strongly signally these things and you have a lot of trust in your own ability to adequately convey those signals to the people you're playing with, expect the party to not flee because they see it as not a logical course of action in the situation.
 

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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Your players don't know you've got a monster who won't pursue. All they know is if they flee and the monster pursues they're dead. And they know the dragon is trying to kill them and they just tried to kill it so they don't have time to suddenly open unlikely negotiations instead of taking a more assertive direct action
You are starting pretty far down the line here. The players have already decided to engage with the creature(s), and have decided to turn that engagement into a combat. The players have not looked around for things that may make their escape easier. And this assumes that their assessment is "if they flee their dead". Starting with all those what if's already decided gives you a real corner case that you describe, not the general case of play.

.

A monster who tries to kill a party who JUST TRIED TO KILL IT IN ITS HOME is not a "murderhobo" in any sense of the term. First, it's their home so not hobo. Second, it's self defense so not murder. Monsters killing people who tried to kill them is not mindless, it makes perfect sense and mindful.
Which is not the case we're talking about. The heroes are attempting to leave, which usually means disengages or dashs, not attacks. So not attacking any more, trying to flee, and soon not where you encountered them which may or may not have been their home in the first place.

This is, in my opinion, bad DMing if you're expecting your party to know this sort of stuff about a foe because it's in your head. Unless you're strongly signally these things and you have a lot of trust in your own ability to adequately convey those signals to the people you're playing with, expect the party to not flee because they see it as not a logical course of action in the situation.
Pardon this if it's not true, but it feels like "we can win any encounter" is how you've been playing so long that you don't realize it's a not how the world works. Instead it is a concious choice on the DM's part and meta nowledge on your part.

Know what's less meta that assuming all combats are winnable? Assuming a DM doesn't want to intentionally set them up with a predetermined TPK as it is for players to assume that every encounter is winnable and at an appropriate level to fight. To make that assumption is not "bad DMing", it's foundational. Every DM can kill the characters, they have all the monsters, all the traps, all the hazards, even before they can change the rules. Assuming a DM isn't trying to intentionally set up a TPK is a perfectly acceptable assumption and not "bad DMing".
 

Mistwell

Legend
You are starting pretty far down the line here. The players have already decided to engage with the creature(s), and have decided to turn that engagement into a combat. The players have not looked around for things that may make their escape easier. And this assumes that their assessment is "if they flee their dead". Starting with all those what if's already decided gives you a real corner case that you describe, not the general case of play.


Which is not the case we're talking about. The heroes are attempting to leave, which usually means disengages or dashs, not attacks. So not attacking any more, trying to flee, and soon not where you encountered them which may or may not have been their home in the first place.


Pardon this if it's not true, but it feels like "we can win any encounter" is how you've been playing so long that you don't realize it's a not how the world works. Instead it is a concious choice on the DM's part and meta nowledge on your part.

Not at all. I didn't say a word about how I am playing. I was talking about common situations like this in play (no reason to make it personal to me). It's not at all metagaming anything - the players themselves may know you have built in a way to get out, but their PC likely don't know and part of the game would be that they wouldn't know. Indeed, because you as the DM set up a situation where they could not win, you've already communicated to the PCs that the world is a harsh place that will kill them for making a mistake. And the mistake characters are most likely to jump to in that situation, because of the way the mechanics of that world work, is that 1) monsters will try to kill you once you've tried to kill them, and 2) monsters, particularly big ones with wings, will move faster than you and will kill you if you give them the opportunity like by turning you back on them and slowly (relatively to them) flee.

Predators kill prey that flees. That's part of being a predator. Dragons in this situation are the predators. That's not meta knowledge, that's PC knowledge. That's the world those PCs live in. They are not assuming all combats are winnable. They are assuming any combat is more winnable than fleeing and dying a certain death. Which is the position they are in - if they flee, they die, so might as well try to win a combat they don't think they can win. They could roll all criticals and the dragon could roll poorly or make a mistake in combat. Those odds might be incredibly low, but they're still better than the PCs not trying to attack at all and running away slower than the dragon chasing them can catch them AND attack at the same time.
Know what's less meta that assuming all combats are winnable? Assuming a DM doesn't want to intentionally set them up with a predetermined TPK as it is for players to assume that every encounter is winnable and at an appropriate level to fight. To make that assumption is not "bad DMing", it's foundational. Every DM can kill the characters, they have all the monsters, all the traps, all the hazards, even before they can change the rules. Assuming a DM isn't trying to intentionally set up a TPK is a perfectly acceptable assumption and not "bad DMing".
When a DM sends a monster against the party where the party cannot win, AND ALSO doesn't signal to the party that combat is not a winnable option but there are other options which would let the party survive sufficiently that the party can and is likely to pick up on those signals, THEN it's the DM either intentionally or recklessly setting them up for a predetermined TPK. Because the DM should know that fleeing doesn't work well in D&D. And you might have noticed that fleeing was in fact the topic raised in the original post, which is why I keep coming back to it.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Your players don't know you've got a monster who won't pursue. All they know is if they flee and the monster pursues they're dead.
A safe getaway shouldn't be a guarantee either IMO. Trespassing in a dragon's lair (to borrow your example) is a risky endeavor no matter what unfolds. You aren't guaranteed a safe exit any more than you're guaranteed a fair fight or a victorious battle.

The only thing you can do is plan carefully. Make sure everyone has something they can do when it's time to bug out: drink a potion of gaseous form, cast Expeditious Retreat, save a spell slot for Haste, wildshape into hummingbirds, whatever. Expecting the DM to rig the game in your favor every time* isn't much of a plan.

*I say 'every time' because sometimes, the story requires it. Sometimes the party is supposed to be captured, sometimes there's a rescue mission to undertake, sometimes a character needs to exit the story in a heroic manner.
 

Mistwell

Legend
A safe getaway shouldn't be a guarantee either IMO. Trespassing in a dragon's lair (to borrow your example) is a risky endeavor no matter what unfolds. You aren't guaranteed a safe exit any more than you're guaranteed a fair fight or a victorious battle.

The only thing you can do is plan carefully. Make sure everyone has something they can do when it's time to bug out: drink a potion of gaseous form, cast Expeditious Retreat, save a spell slot for Haste, wildshape into hummingbirds, whatever. Expecting the DM to rig the game in your favor every time* isn't much of a plan.

*I say 'every time' because sometimes, the story requires it. Sometimes the party is supposed to be captured, sometimes there's a rescue mission to undertake, sometimes a character needs to exit the story in a heroic manner.
Oh I absolutely agree. I am speaking to the "they should just flee once they realize mid-combat that they are unlikely to win." That's usually suicide in that situation. The certainty of their losing from fleeing is greater than the remaining uncertainty of trying to win through incredible luck during combat against the odds.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
But maybe that's it. Maybe some people consider "rigging the game in the party's favor" to be adjusting the encounter CRs so that the risk to the players is low. And that's fine; that's a pretty good way to rig it while keeping most of the players' agency intact. But not all DMs do it that way, and that's fine too.

It's easy enough to tell the party in-game, "The mountains to the west are filled with terrible monsters, and the elves of the west once told a tale of a great red dragon that made the area its home." If the low-level characters insist on heading west, have them encounter guards that warn them away. Guides will refuse to take them. Locals will shun them. Eventually they start finding burned-out ruins and charred bodies. And if the continue to press on, well, you can flat-out tell them "look, these mountains are for 16th level characters. One random encounter here will destroy you. Do you wish to proceed?" If they go further and something tragic happens, they have only themselves to blame.

It's slightly more work to make sure all encounters are of an appropriate level to the party, and then adjust and readjust the encounter tables every time the party gains level or finds a powerful magic item, eventually adding the Great Red Wyrm to the list once they reach the proper level. It's more work than some DMs are willing to do, but there's nothing wrong with it. I don't like it because it tends to diminish the tension and risk of the game. But to each their own.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Not at all. I didn't say a word about how I am playing. I was talking about common situations like this in play (no reason to make it personal to me).
The "you" was responding to your words, not an assumption on how you play. Because the scenario you described was already way past most of the safeguards of non-level-specific play and was cherry-picking an example where they all had been ignored. I wasn't judging your play, I was saying that the scenario you gave was already many player decisions in and we can't just look at that tiny slice.

Any time a scenario starts with "they are in an encounter", there are significant decisions in a non-level-specific world that have already been skipped that make the scenario incomplete and not useful for discussing this.

Predators kill prey that flees. That's part of being a predator.
Absolute statement not true absolutely. Have described multiple scenarios, from defending young, to having a slower speed, to the DM providing caves unnavigable to a larger creature. Yes, in many cases a predator will attempt to give chase, but again that is already multiple intentional player descisions down the road which may lead to death - just like any other character decision.

They are not assuming all combats are winnable. They are assuming any combat is more winnable than fleeing and dying a certain death.
Citation please on "certain death". That's rhetoric that's not backed up by anything, especially with the discussion you have repeated not engaged with that DMing a non-level-specific world does build in flee points for some combats, especially while getting players retrained from a "if the DM put it here it's a level-appropriate encounter" mindset.

When a DM sends a monster against the party where the party cannot win, AND ALSO doesn't signal to the party that combat is not a winnable option but there are other options which would let the party survive sufficiently that the party can and is likely to pick up on those signals, THEN it's the DM either intentionally or recklessly setting them up for a predetermined TPK. Because the DM should know that fleeing doesn't work well in D&D. And you might have noticed that fleeing was in fact the topic raised in the original post, which is why I keep coming back to it.
We agree here. Bad DMing is bad DMing. But that's a corner case not the norm when a table that is aware the world is non-level-specific so players know they need to be cautious in their choices and investigate, and the players chose to engage somethng they can't win in combat (as opposed to other methods), and the players did not investigate and the DM did not provide clues and the players have not prepared any way to flee and the DM also has no reasonable way to flee. There's a lot of ifs going on there, and a lot going wrong on both sides of the screen there to get to that niche.
 

Generally:

Me: Make a Nature or History check or something
Player: I rolled 14
Me: On a scale of 20, Chungus the Humongous looks like he's about a 12.
Player: And let me guess, on that same scale, I'm a 5.
Me: You betcha.

This usually works. I have one player who is super-paranoid from having had some really bad DMs, so I have to occasionally intervene and directly tell him that no, I did not plan a TPK for tonight, the players should not pack up and go home.
 

Mistwell

Legend
The "you" was responding to your words, not an assumption on how you play. Because the scenario you described was already way past most of the safeguards of non-level-specific play and was cherry-picking an example where they all had been ignored. I wasn't judging your play, I was saying that the scenario you gave was already many player decisions in and we can't just look at that tiny slice.

The premise of "flee" assumes they already engaged in a combat encounter. "Decided to leave" or "Decided to negotiate" are not "flee" situations. So I am starting where the thread started.

If you don't like that, that's fine. How about you respond to the scenario where the party has already started combat, they no longer thing they can win, and comment how you think that goes from there? If you don't want to talk about that aspect, then maybe ignore my posts in the thread? But nit picking that you don't like where I started to talk about the scenario accomplishes nothing.

Any time a scenario starts with "they are in an encounter", there are significant decisions in a non-level-specific world that have already been skipped that make the scenario incomplete and not useful for discussing this.


Absolute statement not true absolutely. Have described multiple scenarios, from defending young, to having a slower speed, to the DM providing caves unnavigable to a larger creature. Yes, in many cases a predator will attempt to give chase, but again that is already multiple intentional player descisions down the road which may lead to death - just like any other character decision.

I used the presented sample, a dragon. But MOST monsters in the monster manual have a speed of at least the slowest member of a common adventuring party. And MOST monsters the party would attack will want to kill you, particularly if you just tried to kill them. If you want to talk about exceptions to that rule, that's fine. I am talking about the general rule though.

A cave which the monster cannot navigate, in general, makes no sense. The monster got there to begin with! It's their lair! And again, if you don't like those completely normal, common scenarios for something like a dragon or similar encounters...don't comment on it then. Telling me you can imagine other scenarios doesn't do anything. OK, you can imagine other scenarios but what do you have to say about this one?

Citation please on "certain death". That's rhetoric that's not backed up by anything, especially with the discussion you have repeated not engaged with that DMing a non-level-specific world does build in flee points for some combats, especially while getting players retrained from a "if the DM put it here it's a level-appropriate encounter" mindset.

If you flee at a speed which, even with a full retreat where you are moving your full speed twice in a round and the foe can move their full speed once in a round and also attack you, then it's certain death. You will never get away. You will die from attacks, and as you're not attacking back there is no escape. That's certain death.

I never, never one time, said or implied in any way shape or form, that the players were coming at it from a "if the DM put it here it's a level-appropriate encounter" mindset. That was always your strawman. I already corrected your misunderstanding of that position. Please stop repeating it as if that's my position. It's not. Clear?

I don't think the scenario presented is that niche or unusual. Party runs into a creature that's more powerful than they thought, or the party is weaker than they though. They start combat and realize they're outmatched. Do they flee or continue the fight?

I am commenting on how darn hard it is to flee in D&D. It's essentially a non-choice in many common scenarios. If the party flees, the monster can usually just kill them for fleeing. Because the mechanics of fleeing are such that monsters have a huge advantage against them.

I think the game designers realize this, at least in part. There are a handful of mid and higher level spells intended to allow a party to basically pull the emergency rip cord and get the heck out of there. And I think they're there, at least in part, because fleeing by foot is usually a disaster.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
If you don't like that, that's fine. How about you respond to the scenario where the party has already started combat, they no longer thing they can win, and comment how you think that goes from there?
That's like saying "How about you evaluate the survivability of a 15th fighter but only when it has 23 HPs."

That everything will start to be evaluated only after the party gets into combat is missing important gameplay steps that differ a non-level specific game. You say that it's not your position, which I will believe because you say it, but you make assumptions that would never fly in a non-level specific game, so it's clear from your words that's not your position either.

You're refusal to engage with that because "the original post says they are started combat before realizing they must flee" means we can't have a reasonable discussion about actual non-level-specific games.
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I have in encounters killed a character, or NPC or two; I don't ascribe to the "killer GM" philosophy, but things happen. Usually afterwards the players are more cautious next time around.

bad GM.jpg
 
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pemerton

Legend
What is the reason for including an encounter which (1) presents itself as a combat encounter, in the sense that it includes all the standard trappings (it takes place in a dungeon, the creature is pretty obviously a "baddy", the creature is all that stands between the PCs and wealth, etc), but which (2) the players are expected to have their PCs run from rather than tackle as they would the typical encounter presented in this fashion?

Is it to test the player's skill at reading the GM's cues? Or for some other reason?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
What is the reason for including an encounter which (1) presents itself as a combat encounter, in the sense that it includes all the standard trappings (it takes place in a dungeon, the creature is pretty obviously a "baddy", the creature is all that stands between the PCs and wealth, etc), but which (2) the players are expected to have their PCs run from rather than tackle as they would the typical encounter presented in this fashion?

Is it to test the player's skill at reading the GM's cues? Or for some other reason?
This 100%.

And D&D really needs a flee combat mechanic.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
That's like saying "How about you evaluate the survivability of a 15th fighter but only when it has 23 HPs."

That everything will start to be evaluated only after the party gets into combat is missing important gameplay steps that differ a non-level specific game. You say that it's not your position, which I will believe because you say it, but you make assumptions that would never fly in a non-level specific game, so it's clear from your words that's not your position either.

You're refusal to engage with that because "the original post says they are started combat before realizing they must flee" means we can't have a reasonable discussion about actual non-level-specific games.
To jump in here - it sounds like you agree the players often have little recourse when it comes to fleeing mid fight?
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
My question wasn't really meant as rhetorical, though I can see how you read it that way.

And I do find the idea a bit puzzling or counter-intuitive, at least in a context where the GM is taken to have principal authority over telling the players what they encounter.


That seems like a plausible claim.
I think the idea is more that the challenge should cease to be the combat and instead become avoiding the combat - by either finding a clever way around it now or coming back when you are stronger.

the style in theory should work really well IMO but there’s quite a few complicating factors:

It’s extradionaroly difficult to gauge combat difficulty even with all the information available. There’s typically some degree of information missing in any scenario. Also, the information is not always properly conveyed or received leading to misconceptions. There’s the fail and die issue where many actions you take to avoid the combat if failed can logically lead to certain death (fail a stealth check and the creature sees you as an example)
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the idea is more that the challenge should cease to be the combat and instead become avoiding the combat - by either finding a clever way around it now or coming back when you are stronger.

the style in theory should work really well IMO but there’s quite a few complicating factors:

It’s extradionaroly difficult to gauge combat difficulty even with all the information available. There’s typically some degree of information missing in any scenario. Also, the information is not always properly conveyed or received leading to misconceptions.
Gygax talks about this sort of thing in his PHB: scouting the dungeon to gain information, so that then it is the players who get to decide what encounters take place.

I think you're 100% right that there are complicating factors.

In Gygax's game, there is an assumption that you can (typically) tell what level of the dungeon you are on. (There are GM-side tricks that muck with that, like sloping passages and sliding chutes and the like, but there are also player-side counters to those tricks like demi-humans who can sense distance and direction underground.) This helps gauge difficulty (eg the lich vs wight example upthread).

There is also the assumption of the widespread use of detection magic: hence Detect Evil, ESP, Wands of Enemy Detection, magic swords, etc. I don't think this is as prevalent or commonly used in contemporary play - I would say at least in part because, frankly, it's a bit boring!

A third assumption for all this to work is that the dungeon is largely static between the PCs' incursions. Because if it's not, then the information will be unreliable. You can see that Gygax was changing his mind in relation to this assumption even in the course of writing up his AD&D manuals, as the DMG has an emphasis on a "living, breathing, organic" approach to the way a dungeon changes over time that isn't a good fit with the play advice given in the earlier-published PHB.

In this thread, a widespread assumption seems to be that the players will gain the necessary information, and act on it, not in advance of any encounter as Gygax had in mind, but during the encounter itself. As you say that is a recipe for disaster, particularly in the absence of robust rules for fleeing.
 

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