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 Encouraging non-combat solutions

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Mezlo
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PostSubject: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Mon May 27, 2013 11:10 am

I recently introduced a couple of encounters in our game that involved combatants, but with goals that did not specifically require combat to take place. In both encounters, the party immediately fell on combat to approach their goals. In the first encounter, the combatants were a force of undead (zombies and wraiths) sustained by a necromantic power source. The intended goal being to destroy the power source in order to stop the horde. In this instance, as the horde could not be killed, the party eventually got around to destroying the power source, but not after an entire session of trying.

In the second encounter, the party was confronted with halls and chambers swarming with homunculi. The intended goal being to escape the dungeon. The party is now in a battle against overwhelming odds after revealing themselves. I have no doubts that they will pull something out of the bag, however.

Now, I don't see it as a problem if the party decides to resort to head-on combat, especially if the group is made up of players that enjoy combat. Really, I just try to present problems that could have any number of ways to achieve the goal. However, I have spoken to the group who have said that they would definitely avoid combat if it seemed like a viable option. In both encounters, they did not realise it would be possible to avoid combat, or that combat was not the way to achieve their goal.

I'm obviously failing to get across that combat isn't necessary in the way I present an encounter. What I'm basically asking is: How do you encourage non-combat solutions to encounters that include possible combatants? What do you say? How do you lay out the situation?, etc. I try to avoid explicitly stating possible solutions and instead leave it up to the players to come up with them. In both encounters, my attempts to encourage non-combat solutions included: laying out battle maps with lots of avenues and wide-open spaces, suggesting skill checks, inserting overwhelming numbers of enemies to discourage head-on combat.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Mon May 27, 2013 2:43 pm

The reason is that the non combat challenges you presented thus far are one sided towards the players. The monsters have no reason to not attack the players and nothing but, so the players react in kind. Try giving the players something to do where the monsters also have to complete that goal. It's definitely a shift in gears when the players gotta race a group of orcs to the mcguffin and get off the map before they get it.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Mon May 27, 2013 3:04 pm

Also try showing them the rewards of not just killing everything. In a game I played in not to long ago I'm a 3rd level cleric who speaks goblin. We (The Party) were wondering around in this dungeon, a very weird dungeon at that, when we heard a "Who's out there" in goblin. The DM had planned for us to fight the goblins but one thing led to another, and now I have some goblin companions that have been able to help us find our way out. Of course we could still fight the goblins, but I took a different route as I was the only one who spoke goblin. Well.... that and the little guys where outnumbered. All that goes to show is that there can be very different outcomes for every encounter, even one intended to be combat.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Tue May 28, 2013 11:14 am

Thanks guys. You've both suggested excellent ways for potential combat encounters to turn into non-combat encounters and to encourage non-combat choice. I have a few more resulting questions if you'd be willing to indulge me.

As DM, how would you present your respective encounter examples? Would you outrightly present them as having possible non-combat solutions ("You could try to speak with the goblins, if you like?"), or would you rely primarily on player realisation ("You hear a voice call out in goblin...")? Or is it something in between ("You see a goblin standing before you. He has one hand on the sword at his waist, but he hasn't drawn it yet."). I'm disinclined to be too obvious, but I don't think I've struck the right balance yet. How would you present your personal preference against a less obvious situation?

Also, in your experience, should the encounter design itself encourage non-combat solutions, such as forcing realisation on the players ("We need to avoid attacking, otherwise we'll fail our goal") or encouraging imitation ("They aren't attacking, so maybe we don't need to either.")? How would you accomplish this?

Though I accept that there are better encounters in which to encourage non-combat choices, such as those presented by yourselves, I think it'll be likely, especially considering how I often throw together encounters on the spot, that another encounter will end up really just being a choice of either "Fight your way through" or "Sneak your way passed". Should I present the encounter as such, whether or not I present it outrightly or suggestively? How would you present such a situation?

Thanks again.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:09 pm

I have been using the "combat out" for a while now. Essentially, my encounters all have at least one condition under which the encounter will end that isn't "all enemies are reduced to 0 hp". I don't necessarily reveal it to the players, but it is there. The idea is that if the party simply wants to "go in swinging" then they can do that. But there have already been times when they did that and then failed to get some key information that could have helped them later. It has made them a bit more observant in potential combat scenarios.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Mon Oct 28, 2013 9:40 am

I really don't need to my players aren't actually that blood thirsty. I guess I do go with the flow of their ideas about how they want to resolve issues ie I am enabler for their ideas in this arena.

@skwyd - its a good idea to think in advance about as many approaches as possible.. of course did you expect them to decide to befriend the goblins? Or pretend to be a midget troll? or ????

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Mon Oct 28, 2013 9:38 pm

I do think of many possible options, however given my current set of players, they don't. I'm working on guiding them in this though. Right now I'm putting some more obvious things into the encounter which are not "roll to hit this" things but still have a directly observable effect on combat. For example, in one encounter, there were magical "warpings" around the room. Anyone could take a Standard action to try to "unwarp" them. This required an Arcana check. On a success, the Flesh Golem they were fighting would be visibly injured. This was one step to indicate to them that there are ways out of combat other than "beat it to death!!!" It's a slow process, but it is working.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:57 pm

One thing I really love (and have been using) is the fact that Spellcasters really do wield great cosmic power. Get them to use those powers outside of combat. Got a Spell/power that does cold damage? You can freeze something. Same with fire, acid, lighting, anything.

Put those combat powers to a mundane use!
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:15 am

cyvaris wrote:
One thing I really love (and have been using) is the fact that Spellcasters really do wield great cosmic power. Get them to use those powers outside of combat. Got a Spell/power that does cold damage? You can freeze something. Same with fire, acid, lighting, anything.

Put those combat powers to a mundane use!
Use an at-will cold power to walk across a lake... hells yes. ;p

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:20 pm

Garthanos wrote:
cyvaris wrote:
One thing I really love (and have been using) is the fact that Spellcasters really do wield great cosmic power. Get them to use those powers outside of combat. Got a Spell/power that does cold damage? You can freeze something. Same with fire, acid, lighting, anything.

Put those combat powers to a mundane use!
Use an at-will cold power to walk across a lake... hells yes. ;p
Yep, that's the sort of thing I do/try to encourage. I'm able to freeze enemies so why can't I freeze water? It really helps for non-combat/non-lateral thinking and opens up 4e a great deal.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:36 pm

I seem to recall taking freezing burst as a half-elf dilettante power just for that capability. bounce bounce

I guess dilletant ruins it as it becomes an encounter power.

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:28 pm

An encounter power recharges after each short rest. And a short rest can be taken as many times a day as you want. And technique don't have to be sitting down or anything like that. Yo just have to be not doing strenuous activity. So, unless you're running across that frozen lake, you can use that encounter freezing burst every five minutes.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:49 pm

skwyd42 wrote:
An encounter power recharges after each short rest. And a short rest can be taken as many times a day as you want. And technique don't have to be sitting down or anything like that. Yo just have to be not doing strenuous activity. So, unless you're running across that frozen lake, you can use that encounter freezing burst every five minutes.
Seems more likely to make an iceburg to float on if its once per 5 its a pretty small burst ;p

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“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Lazarus Long via Robert Heinlein.

One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:52 pm

skwyd42 wrote:
An encounter power recharges after each short rest. And a short rest can be taken as many times a day as you want. And technique don't have to be sitting down or anything like that. Yo just have to be not doing strenuous activity. So, unless you're running across that frozen lake, you can use that encounter freezing burst every five minutes.
Seems more likely to make an iceburg to float on if its once per 5 its a pretty small burst ;p
but at-will well every 6 seconds you could walk fairly slowly me thinks. You arent aiming this effect unlike when targetting an enemy so I might give it a bit of a break in some regards.

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“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Lazarus Long via Robert Heinlein.

One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:09 am

Garthanos wrote:
skwyd42 wrote:
An encounter power recharges after each short rest. And a short rest can be taken as many times a day as you want. And technique don't have to be sitting down or anything like that. Yo just have to be not doing strenuous activity. So, unless you're running across that frozen lake, you can use that encounter freezing burst every five minutes.
Seems more likely to make an iceburg to float on if its once per 5 its a pretty small burst ;p
That just encourages one to be creative!!!!

I have a player in my campaign that is playing a Tiefling Monk that focuses on fire-based powers. He often uses his "fire mastery" outside of combat encounters. He has caused drinks to boil over, heated a meal, and incinerated the heart of a dying body (to put them out of their misery). In none of these cases was this any sort of game-breaking action. In fact, I encourage all of the players to "play up" their characters and "show off" what they do. He just has had the most examples of doing this. I actually give an XP bonus award for doing this stuff.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Fri Nov 01, 2013 2:09 am

One way I've gotten the PC's to not kill everything on sight was to have a situation come up where a temporary alliance between the PC's and a similar-sized group of intelligent monsters both benefit from not fighting each other.

This could be an 'impassable' barrier, that they have to work together to cross. Fixing a bridge during a volcano eruption, for example. No one wants to be buried in magma. It could be a ravenous monster that neither party could take alone, like an undead tyrannosaurus Rex. (I used that once. Weird necro-island in my campaign world. Zombies and dinosaurs. Fun stuff.) It works well with creatures that are willing to compromise. Like goblinoids, bandits, even a dragon.

I've also try to tug at their hearts sometimes...You know, make a 'monster' look weak, pathetic, cute, and/or in need of help. That always works, as my players are not super blood thirsty. A kobold left behind by his tribe because his leg was pinned under a boulder. Two displacer beast cubs nuzzling their dead mother; recently killed by a group of Eladrin rangers...From the same Eladrin town where the PC's were hired by the watch captain to catch poachers.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Fri Nov 01, 2013 7:32 pm

seti wrote:


I've also try to tug at their hearts sometimes...You know, make a 'monster' look weak, pathetic, cute, and/or in need of help. That always works, as my players are not super blood thirsty. A kobold left behind by his tribe because his leg was pinned under a boulder. Two displacer beast cubs nuzzling their dead mother; recently killed by a group of Eladrin rangers...From the same Eladrin town where the PC's were hired by the watch captain to catch poachers.

Hilarious story in that way. My players are rather......blood thirsty to say the least. We had a player join a game we were playing in a "Waterworld" they brought out their map where about half the cities are crossed out. Their quick explanation was they burned them down.

Even with my players being, like that they always save the ugly-cute Kobold/Goblin thing. It's always rather amusing, especially since I end up doing voices for them.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Sat Nov 02, 2013 12:05 am

[/quote]Hilarious story in that way. My players are rather......blood thirsty to say the least. We had a player join a game we were playing in a "Waterworld" they brought out their map where about half the cities are crossed out. Their quick explanation was they burned them down.

Even with my players being, like that they always save the ugly-cute Kobold/Goblin thing. It's always rather amusing, especially since I end up doing voices for them.[/quote]That's awesome. The map indicating PC-burned towns. Hey, maybe they deserved it. If I evil up some cabal, or individual; my PCs relish in killing them. Being a party of 'good' (neutral, chaotic, and lawful are all represented) doesn't mean pacifist. Incidentally, we use the old alignment system. That is something that bugged me about 4e. The 9 alignments just...worked. Although I could psychologically and philosophically argue that 'true neutral' cannot exist in a human being.

I agree with making the game's old alignment effects go away (ie: a monster being resist 10/lawful) but I do like the older alignment system. It really seems to fit. I've talked to psychologists who have been very interested in D&D for many reasons...But one actually went 'wow' at the alignment system and the descriptions of said alignments. He referred to them as 'succinct'. One of my favorite words. I often label many business types, lawyers, and politicians as 'lawful evil'. It just fits, IMO. No offence if any of you guys are politicians, businessmen, or lawyers. In the real world, 'lawful evil' often means making good money, after all.

edit: PS: Something I should have thought of earlier...Another way to encourage non-combat solutions is to give your PCs cool weird items that are useless in combat. Like the collapsible pole idea I mentioned in another thread. Its a wooden pole that can go from 1 foot, to 10 feet with a word. And back again. Not hard enough or fast enough to hurt anything, mind you. it just does that. Really useful for exploring/dungeoneering/etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Sat Nov 02, 2013 8:34 am

Their burning down towns...uhh isn't usually a good thing. This world was basically a series of floating fortresses and islands. One of them I started a zombie plot. They kill some of the zombies, lit a fire, and left, dooming the few thousand people who lived there. This group of players is rather hilarious. Three of them tend towards the chaotic evil side of neutral good. One basically plays the only sane person and tries to keep them doing good things. It never works.
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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Sat Nov 02, 2013 2:29 pm

seti wrote:

I've also try to tug at their hearts sometimes...You know, make a 'monster' look weak, pathetic, cute, and/or in need of help. That always works, as my players are not super blood thirsty. A kobold left behind by his tribe because his leg was pinned under a boulder. Two displacer beast cubs nuzzling their dead mother; recently killed by a group of Eladrin rangers...From the same Eladrin town where the PC's were hired by the watch captain to catch poachers.
I do this to. For instance there was a time when my PCs had to explain to a 6 year old boy his mothers death. Turn out he had no other family. His dad ran off with a barmaid, and all the others dead. So off to the orphanage he went.

Another time I had some PCs encounter a baby (wyrmling) white dragon, only for them to see it be squashed by a falling rock. One player in particular didn't care for that...

I've done more but these are the most recent ones I can remember.

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PostSubject: Re: Encouraging non-combat solutions   Sat Nov 02, 2013 2:32 pm

If I ever use an alignment system (which I prefer not to), it would be D&D's 9 alignment system.

I also agree that true neutral is an impossible alignment for one to truly follow.

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