How to make it clear to players that a fight is beyond their capabilities?


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PCs got the unhealthy notion that whatever encounter the GM sets before them will somehow be level appropriate. So the question of "Can we really do this?" usually never occurs to them, instead it's "How can we best kill them all?"

But what if they stumble into something that is truly beyond them (for the time being at least)?

Just tell them straight "Guys, I don't think you'll survive this, find another way"?


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Knowledge checks. That is one of the things they are there for.


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Choose a random character. Slip him a note saying, "Your Common Sense is tingling!"

Sovereign Court

Knowledge Checks and Player Deaths are good wakeup calls. If they can make a Knowledge Check they can tell what they are really up against, without a knowledge check they should be able to tell the bare minimum (it's big, it's some kind of giant. or it appears to be some kind of undead create. etc. etc.)

It helps to give out some detailed description of the encountered creature on what it looks like and what it has. Play it up as "it has a huge club that looks like it could easily crush a human with a single blow." or etc. Try to get into the narrative and paint the picture for them.

If they can't take hints then maybe a player death is what's needed. The question is whether you're playing a sandbox game and they are adventuring out thinking they can take anything or if you're doing an adventure path / module and just wanting to throw in stuff to make them not feel like they're gods. My suggestions are all geared towards the former and not the latter.

EDIT: Your player's behavior shows that either -
A) They've had past GM's and never been challenged enough to consider retreat.
B) They are completely new and you're not "selling" the realism and danger of monsters in your game.
C) They are murder hobos that think they can solve everything by killing it.

If they're either A or B go easy with them but if they're C then it'll probably require a player death or two.

Grand Lodge

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Bad guy turns to them, analyzes them, thrashes them, non lethally, then laughs and leaves.

Good way to introduce a foe and allow the players to see his tactics. Also, him beating the party with nonlethal (ie the -4 penalty) is a good way to show he is very strong.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

You bloody well tell them.

I've had players roll Knowledge checks around 30ish, and when I tell them the name I add "With that check you get....one question."

They have never backed down at that point.

Shadow Lodge

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Why is it a fight? If it's an intelligent opponent then have them talk. If the PCs are truly not a threat to the opponent perhaps it ignores them or swats at them like shooing away flies. If you want to introduce a horrific monster that they can't beat yet, show it killing something/someone the PCs know is tougher than they are. 2nd level PCs emerge into a clearing to see the monster tear apart a dire tiger, PCs tip toe back the way they came.

Sczarni

Knowledge (local) or (nobility) is good reference for telling players about humanoids that might be beyond their ability to handle. NPCs with 10 levels of some class should be fairly famous around. Regarding other monsters, I usually believe that effects, cinematics and monster size can help but if you see that it's not working, just say it. It's better to metagame at that point then to cause TPK which nobody likes anyway.

Alternatively, if you have players that never back of, it's probably best to teach them a lesson or two about it. If players cannot understand that "It's beyond your capabilities", then only option left is to resolve the fight, right?

Adam

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Have an NPC or two in the party that have shown to be very strong combatants. Have this NPC(s) get totally destroyed by said enemy.

Shadow Lodge

Also... Pathfinder is a game. There's an assumption that the game is played by a set of rules. One of the rules is the list of challenge ratings and appropriate encounters based on party level. So unless you have set up precedence or outright told the players that you are going to break this rule, they may just assume you are following it and therefore if you put a monster in their path, they must be able to defeat it. So in a way placing monsters widely above appropriate CR is a house rule and you should thus inform players before the game that this may occur.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
gnoams wrote:
One of the rules is the list of challenge ratings and appropriate encounters based on party level.

This is a misunderstanding of the rules, actually, as explained here.

Scarab Sages

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Kieviel wrote:
Have an NPC or two in the party that have shown to be very strong combatants. Have this NPC(s) get totally destroyed by said enemy.

Ah, the Worf effect.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Imbicatus wrote:
Kieviel wrote:
Have an NPC or two in the party that have shown to be very strong combatants. Have this NPC(s) get totally destroyed by said enemy.
Ah, the Worf effect.

Huh, didn't know about that. Cool :-)

Shadow Lodge

TriOmegaZero wrote:
gnoams wrote:
One of the rules is the list of challenge ratings and appropriate encounters based on party level.
This is a misunderstanding of the rules, actually, as explained here.

That may be true for some other game published by some other company back 7 years ago, but misunderstanding or not, it is a common understanding. So if you intend to not adhere to it, I would suggest informing your players of said decision before the game.

If your players think they can kill everything, than something led them to that belief. It was either their previous experience with playing pathfinder, or their experience thus far with you as a GM.
As GM you control a lot of what your players perceptions are of the game world. If you introduce all your npcs as monsters to be stabbed to death and looted of xps, then do not be surprised if the players view npcs as loot filled piñatas. If you introduce all your npcs as complex personas with hopes and dreams then don't be surprised when your players try to diplomacise the rampaging ogre.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
gnoams wrote:
That may be true for some other game published by some other company back 7 years ago, but misunderstanding or not, it is a common understanding.

I don't find it to be a common misunderstanding anymore, except in the cases of old guard players indoctrinating new players into it.

Sczarni

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Gnoams,

The gamemastery rules about setting the appropriate CR to your players are recommended rules, but that's it. They are recommended rules, nothing else. GM's are free to throw any encounter they wish at their players, but if they plan to throw something beyond their ability to handle it, players should receive proper warnings.

Shadow Lodge

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Which goes back to my original post. :)

TriOmegaZero wrote:
You bloody well tell them.


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First, you should make it clear before the campaign starts that the fights won't all be tailor made for the party. They may run into something that WILL kill them if they fight it head on.

Second, if the characters are about to fight said unbeatable encounter, give them all DC 5 wisdom checks to realize that this is a really bad idea. By having a roll be involved, that makes it feel like their characters realized this rather than an out of game voice saying "no you shouldn't fight this".

Sovereign Court

This post makes me think of Gandalf telling the rest of the fellowship that the Balrog is beyond their abilities.

Some signs that made it clear to the audience the Balrog could eat any of them (save Gandalf) for breakfast:

* its mere presence made thousands of goblins flee
* Gandalf flat out warned them that "This foe is beyond any of you."
* it fricken breathed fire and carried a flaming blade and whip.
* it was 15 feet tall and made of shadow and fire.


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Quote:
First, you should make it clear before the campaign starts that the fights won't all be tailor made for the party. They may run into something that WILL kill them if they fight it head on.

This is the most important thing, I think.

The second most important is to ensure that these over-the-top unbeatable encounters have an escape hatch of some sort. Taking a 1st level party and tossing them in a room with a single locked door (DC 40 to pick) and three hungry trolls who immediately attack is patently unfair. But three hungry trolls who rummage through the parties' packs out in the wilderness at night is a different story. There, your players have the option to run, try to intimidate the trolls (good luck with that one), or even try to bluff/outwit them.


I guess that would depend on a combination of the players, the characters and the encounter itself.

A player who has gotten it in his head, that whatever the GM drops in front of him, is within his capacity to defeat(not counting exceptional luck, or clever in-world thinking), will probably need to have it made abundantly clear, in a very direct way, that by playing in the campaign, you risk facing down creatures way above your paygrade. Off the top of my mind, you either do this by flat out telling the players that they may experience such encounters, and that you do not intend to hold back if the players decide to piss off a CR 20 foe at APL 10 or you inform them through in-world occurences. If you want to inform such a player through in-world happenings, the only thing I can think of is A) beating the snot out of your party (lethally or non-lethally) or B) hope the players possess enough system-savvy to recognize that their lvl 4 characters probably don't stand much of a chance vs that Wendigo you just sprung on them, and instead opt to run for dear life.

Characters are trickier than players, because you risk having fearless characters in your party, or characters who for some reason do not fear death, are looking for tougher and tougher opponents to beat, or simply don't allow themselves to shy away in the face of imminent asswhoppage. With such characters there is nothing for you to do, except encourage change in the character, use leverage against the character ("will your battle-code allow you to drag your allies into certain death with you, despite them not following your ways?"), or roll for initiative and see who comes up stronger, the character or the enemy. Nothing else for it, really.

An encounter can be made so as to provide a hint that it is too much for the party to handle. This is especially true for enemies who like to "play with their food", or animals who may stalk around the players for a few rounds, after making their initial attack. The point is the same in most of these encounters. You attack the players, you let them see that you're only rolling 2d6 for damage, so that when you tell them that they recieve 30 dmg, someone at the table does the math, realizes that whatever they're fighting gets minimum +18dmg per attack, and then decide that now would be a good time to leg it. If you do this, just make sure you set the encounter in a location where the players can escape on their own, so they get it through their skulls that it was not just a case of you telling them how to escape, but they themselves who had to realize that now was the time to get out. Having magic escape-portals open to save them will not teach them anything. Having someone succeed at a perception-check/engineering-check to realize that "that stonework up there looks awfully old and rickety" and realize that they can dump it between them and their enemy, thereby giving themselves time to escape, will teach them to take care of themselves, and pick their fights more carefully next time.

Hope it helps.

-Nearyn


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The Human Diversion wrote:
This post makes me think of Gandalf telling the rest of the fellowship that the Balrog is beyond their abilities.

An OP GMPC is exactly what the campaign needs.The players will love him telling them how weak they are all the time.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Heh, my first thought was to make the stereotypical DMPC who is better than the party at everything, who all the folk love, whose smile dispels lower level darkness effects. Then have the bad guy step on him and reduce him to red goo in one attack.

In a less joking sense, you have a metagaming problem in that the players expect every fight to be "fair" at some level. I'm a fan of flat out telling the players, OOG, that not every fight is intended to be winnable. Then don't pull your punches if they don't take the hint. That having been said, if they really need a wake up call but you want to avoid a TPK, have them fight an overwhelming threat in an area that is easy to escape. Next time they see it there won't be the safety net of constraints but the first time let them get away once they realize things aren't working.


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

If there are instances where you expect the party to retreat from or not engage threats that are beyond them, there must be ways for them to judge the threat accurately. If they can't do that and get curb-stomped by something they thought was a pushover, they might begin to retreat before threats that they should be able to take on.

Engaging or not becomes a coin-flip.


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Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

Most published adventures tend to avoid anything that is seriously beyond the players.

Step 1: Tell the players flat out, at the beginning of the campaign, that there will be encounters they simply cannot handle. Some people may love that. Others may hate it. But they need to know (I've had so many problems in games I'm in due to players and the DM having different expectations and not realizing it).

Step 2: Unless you're very good at it, don't spend your time trying to describe how deadly the creature is in abstract terms. Just tell them that their characters (especially whoever made the knowledge check) don't think they can take it.

One thing I've very rarely found is a DM using a knowledge check to give a relative power level. I've seen descriptions of creatures far weaker than the party that sounded no less powerful than descriptions of creatures far more powerful than the same party (at the same point in time). Maybe every knowledge check should begin with an estimate of how dangerous the foe is, in terms of CR vs. APL (but, presumably, not the actual numbers; think an MMO's color-coding).

The Worf Effect works if you're in a position to introduce the foe early, stomp some NPC or creature, and let the party walk away to level up before coming back. It's very awkward to do repeatedly, though (how many NPCs of known capability are available? Ok, you can use other monsters, but then the players need to know how powerful the monster is relative to the party, to be able to judge whether that demonstration is meaningful. Which works best if the party has fought a lot of that monster.

Recent example from a game: a monster trivially destroyed a pair of frost worms. This was supposed to communicate to the party how much damage it could do, and at what range it noticed and attacked creatures. All we got out of it was "some sort of disintegration ray, ok". Never trust your players to understand what you're trying to communicate unless you are saying it straight out.


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PhelanArcetus wrote:
Never trust your players to understand what you're trying to communicate unless you are saying it straight out.

"...the PCs will probably miss the first [clue]; ignore the second; and misinterpret the third..."

Silver Crusade

My players had a really fun encounter like this, once:

Cloud Giant Castle and a$$-whuppage:

The (10th level) PCs wished to assault a floating cloud giant castle. They flew close and checked out the front entrance. Some observations and a few knowledge checks clearly showed that a frontal assault would fail. The tactical situation was great for the gate guard and awful for the PCs. As GM, I told them flat out that a frontal assault on the (already warned and ready) front gate would be foolhardy.

Player Johanna, who played an intelligent, utterly fearless, and very foolish Fighter named Milotha, played it like this:

* First, she gave her tactical analysis of the situation. Along the lines of "Well, a frontal assault here is doomed to failure. Sneaking in the back door is our best bet."

* Then Milotha said, "Well, we could sneak around and be all clever, but I'm for a frontal assault!" The player knew a frontal assault was an awful idea, and the character knew it, but the PC was too unwise to choose another option. That's good roleplaying.

* Johanna then played up Milotha's pretty decent Charisma by convincing the other PCs to do a frontal assault. Several players and characters knew a Frontal Assault was a terrible idea, but allowed themselves to be easily swayed by peer pressure.

* Milotha lead a frontal assault on the front gate, screaming a battle cry. The result was an utter debacle in which two PCs died and the rest had to flee. Milotha was just fine, and covered the party retreat.

* Despite it being a debacle with multiple character deaths, the players thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.


gnoams wrote:
Also... Pathfinder is a game. There's an assumption that the game is played by a set of rules. One of the rules is the list of challenge ratings and appropriate encounters based on party level. So unless you have set up precedence or outright told the players that you are going to break this rule, they may just assume you are following it and therefore if you put a monster in their path, they must be able to defeat it. So in a way placing monsters widely above appropriate CR is a house rule and you should thus inform players before the game that this may occur.

I'm sorry, but this is an outrageous interpretation of the "set of rules".

Pathfinder is about telling a story, and the adventurers/players are the stars. That said, there are myriad circumstances where a party should be introduced to encounters that are out of their league, and/or way below their abilities. It adds depth and realism. It shows them that they're part of a vast world where occasionally things come up that are beyond their (current) ability to overcome.

We know almost nothing about the scenario the OP is referring to, but it could be almost anything.
-If 2nd level PCs attacked the captain of the guards, they just initiated a combat they can't win.
-If 4th level PCs witness an ancient white dragon icing a town to death, that doesn't mean that they should attack it. It is part of the story told by the GM.

PCs need to make judgment calls on their own. It is a bit ludicrous to assume that every single "encounter" will be a combat encounter, and more ludicrous to assume that every encounter can be overcome with force or player ability. Sometimes you're simply out of your league and you need to walk away.


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Magda Luckbender wrote:

My players had a really fun encounter like this, once:

** spoiler omitted **

Was the Fighter forever cast into another plane (preferably one populated by demons) for her blatant disregard for the lives of her teammates?

If it was a goofy game, whatever, but any serious interaction with her after that should have been full of spite and regret and finger pointing. That wouldn't even fly in an Evil campaign.


Most GM's only use beatable encounters, so if that is not how you GM then tell them up front they might run into something they can not defeat.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
gnoams wrote:
One of the rules is the list of challenge ratings and appropriate encounters based on party level.
This is a misunderstanding of the rules, actually, as explained here.

That article is outdated and talking about a prior game system. In any case, it doesnt talk about throwing encounters at a party which are impossible.


The Human Diversion wrote:

This post makes me think of Gandalf telling the rest of the fellowship that the Balrog is beyond their abilities.

Some signs that made it clear to the audience the Balrog could eat any of them (save Gandalf) for breakfast:

* its mere presence made thousands of goblins flee
* Gandalf flat out warned them that "This foe is beyond any of you."
* it fricken breathed fire and carried a flaming blade and whip.
* it was 15 feet tall and made of shadow and fire.

Unforunately, PCs in Pathfinder can be 10ft tall and wield firey swords around level 5, so for obvious displays of power it can be a little difficult.

I've yet to find a way to introduce an enemy that is too powerful for PCs to fight and have them understand such without directly telling them. Other methods of trying to provide in game information usually result in campy approaches that I don't care for.

So I'm interested to see some suggestion, but I think the examples you provide in terms of LoTR doesn't translate well to Pathfinder. About the only thing I can think of is, it it's a high level spell caster you can allow the players to see the NPC cast a spell of significant level and know that it is well beyond their level when they identify it.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
DrDeth wrote:
That article is outdated and talking about a prior game system.

The 'outdated' point can still be referenced to understand that Pathfinder games are not meant to be played as 'PCs vs APL-equal challenges' only, and that encounters you are not supposed to win are not house ruled against the system.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

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Have a conversation at the beginning of a session about your expectations vs. their expectations. Open honesty, that an encounter just may be unbeatable at their current level if they blindly go in swinging, I've found makes for the best policy. I've had much better group stories when the random, alone, small creature is approached with care and caution because the group knows that I can and will put a CR 20 creature in a place it belongs, even if they as a group are APL 2. If they choose to go to a place that is appropriate for that high of a CR creature to be, and they then choose to antagonize it...well...


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If we're going to talk about whether a Pathfinder game should include level-inappropriate encounters at all ... I think it comes down to what do you want in your game. Do you want a living world? Or do you want a video game theme park? If you want a living world, then sometimes you're going to encounter stuff that you ought to run away from very quickly, and sometimes you're going to encounter stuff that runs away from you very quickly. If you want a video game theme park, then stuff is going to stay pretty much at your APL until you go to the zone that his signs reading "Here There Be CR 12 Encounters."

If you want a theme park, fine. But I think there's something to be said for a living world approach.


It depends on what you mean by beyond their capabilities. For example do you mean fight a god, or more like a CR+10 encounter? I had A DM once that thought the latter was beyond our capabilities, and man did we prove him wrong… very, very wrong!


TriOmegaZero wrote:
DrDeth wrote:
That article is outdated and talking about a prior game system.
The 'outdated' point can still be referenced to understand that Pathfinder games are not meant to be played as 'PCs vs APL-equal challenges' only, and that encounters you are not supposed to win are not house ruled against the system.

No one thinks that Pathfinder games are meant to be played as 'PCs vs APL-equal challenges' only. CR +1 or +2 are not uncommon. "level appropriate" does not mean Equal level, never has. It means "within a couple CRs of level".

It's CR +10 which are problematic.

Sure, just common sense will say you're not supposed to attack the Captain of the Guards at the Palace. But that doesnt matter his CR.

It's when you meet some aggressive monster, the DM idea that you're REALLY supposed to run or surrender is mostly not a good idea.


pennywit wrote:
If you want a living world, then sometimes you're going to encounter stuff that you ought to run away from very quickly,

So, why dont those monsters chase down the Adventurers and kill them? Just cause you run, doesnt mean it works, in fact many predators will attack because you run. And if there the whole world is full of occasional high level monsters, why aren't all the peasants now monster-chow?

The world works as it is assumed that closer to civilization there are Patrols, Knight-errant, ect that keep the big monsters down, leaving bandits,wolves and other annoyances only. Further you get out, the more dangerous the monsters get.


DrDeth wrote:
pennywit wrote:
If you want a living world, then sometimes you're going to encounter stuff that you ought to run away from very quickly,

So, why dont those monsters chase down the Adventurers and kill them? Just cause you run, doesnt mean it works, in fact many predators will attack because you run. And if there the whole world is full of occasional high level monsters, why aren't all the peasants now monster-chow?

The world works as it is assumed that closer to civilization there are Patrols, Knight-errant, ect that keep the big monsters down, leaving bandits,wolves and other annoyances only. Further you get out, the more dangerous the monsters get.

That's pretty much how I run my world -- closer to civilization, fewer big monsters. Further away from civilization, you're more likely to see high-level nasties.

Silver Crusade

1. Out of game, preferably before the campaign, make it clear that not all encounters are adjusted based on the PCs' level. Level 20 PCs will occasionally run into level 1 bandits who don't recognize them (especially if the PCs are in disguise). Level 1 PCs could come across giants, dragons, and tribes of ogres which are beyond their ability. It's up to the players to figure out what their characters want to do.

2. Make it happen more than once. If every encounter is winnable from level 1 to 10 but you drop a "you must flee" encounter at level 11, it's likely the players won't get it. After all, the world just changed the way it worked. However, if they run into a Chimera at level 2, a couple ogre warbands at level 3, a legendary vampire at level 4, and a single kobold scout at level 5, then they should be accustomed to the idea that they need to evaluate each situation to see whether they should fight, hide, flee, or negotiate.

3. Setting. Others already addressed this but if the party just had a tough fight with an owlbear, seeing an uninjured dragon munching on an owlbear it killed with one blow should communicate that the dragon can take the PCs. This can't be done every time but should be done from time to time. It is often good storytelling and can also be used to highlight how far the PCs have changed when eventually they take down an enemy who has demonstrated its fearsomeness

4. Worf Effect. Again, others already addressed this, but occasionally, you can have the monster or villain take down an NPC who is known to be tough in order to demonstrate how tough it is. This should be done even less often than 3 above but can be good storytelling.

5. Knowledge checks. Metagame, PCs know that a DC 25 knowledge check means that the monster is tough. But there should be some in-game knowledge communicated too. When they see a balor, the knowledge check might include that this demon, once classified as type VI, is the most powerful of demons and that many legendary heroes have fallen by his hand. Again, this is good storytelling. A balor, Marilith, or other high end foe should not be just another stat-block; it should have a name and a history. When the PCs defeat one, they aren't just getting several thousand XP; they're joining the ranks of a select group of legendary heroes who have defeated such monsters.

6. Let them find out the hard way. Nothing says "this guy is too tough, we should flee" like actually defeating the PCs in combat. Now, unless you want a TPK, you should be very careful with this, but having characters knocked out or killed is not the same thing as a TPK. If you do go this route, I would suggest including a variety of escape routes for the PCs. For example:
A. The monster is interested in eating and there is other, easier food available if the PCs retreat. For example, I wrote an encounter where a Chimera attacked a herd of cattle. If the PCs attacked it and were outmatched, they could run away because it was really there for food. It might vindictively kill a few PCs who were fool enough to challenge it but it wasn't going to leave the good eatings of as many cows as it could want in order to chase after PCs.
B. There are only one or two monsters. If the PCs split up, at least some of them should be able to escape (unless the monsters are much faster than the PCs).
C. There are obstacles the PCs can get beyond in order to escape. For example, if the PCs cross the stream, the vampire can't follow them; if the PCs destroy the bridge, the hobgoblin army can't attack them; if the PCs drop the portcullis, it will delay the troll long enough for them to get away; if the PCs cross the unstable bridge, the ogres are too heavy to follow them.
D. Deus ex Machina. Someone can come and chase the monster off. Generally, this is poor storytelling, but it can work occasionally--especially if foreshadowed. It's not always a bad thing if the cavalry shows up to save the day.


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Elder Basilisk wrote:

1. Out of game, preferably before the campaign, make it clear that not all encounters are adjusted based on the PCs' level. Level 20 PCs will occasionally run into level 1 bandits who don't recognize them (especially if the PCs are in disguise). Level 1 PCs could come across giants, dragons, and tribes of ogres which are beyond their ability. It's up to the players to figure out what their characters want to do.

2. Make it happen more than once. If every encounter is winnable from level 1 to 10 but you drop a "you must flee" encounter at level 11, it's likely the players won't get it. After all, the world just changed the way it worked. However, if they run into a Chimera at level 2, a couple ogre warbands at level 3, a legendary vampire at level 4, and a single kobold scout at level 5, then they should be accustomed to the idea that they need to evaluate each situation to see whether they should fight, hide, flee, or negotiate.

It's up to the players to figure out what their characters want to do..... and then die.

However, if they run into a Chimera at level 2, a couple ogre warbands at level 3, a legendary vampire at level 4... they will then die.

How do you flee from a Chimera at Level 2? So, the DM engineers that encounter, right? Well, they cant outrun a chimera. Fly 50, remember? So what would be the purpose of that encounter? To show the Players that the DM is boss? Why not "rocks fall, everyone dies"? Negotiate? CE remember?

If the DM lets them get away or talk their way out, it's DM fiat as much as not having the Chimera encounter in the first place.


I think telling the players directly what the CR of the monster is would be a pretty good step. If they knowingly take it on despite that they've made an informed decision.

You also might want to ask yourself why you want to present such a creature to the PCs though. I used to like the idea of having a BBEG show up early in the game, give a BBEG speech, and maybe do something that will make the players hate and pursue him, but it can often lead to the PCs fighting somebody they can't beat (or at least aren't "supposed" to beat). It can also lead to Retreating Villain Syndrome, something I've suffered from several times as a DM. The Evil Wizard/Succubus/Diabolical Summoner is being set upon by pesky PCs? Why not Teleport to safety? Because it annoys the heck out of the players...took me a while to learn that...

@TriOmegaZero - I think the most interesting thing about the article you linked is that it actually seems to suggest using more “easy” encounters.

Shadow Lodge

DrDeth wrote:
How do you flee from a Chimera at Level 2?

Figure out who the heroic sacrifice is. Probably the halfling. :)

Devilkiller wrote:
@TriOmegaZero - I think the most interesting thing about the article you linked is that it actually seems to suggest using more “easy” encounters.

Yep. If every encounter is a hard fight, then it quickly becomes the grind.


I think it depends on how the encounter seems to the player characters. Just as a for instance, I was running a 4th level party through a city-based campaign. On their way to work (they worked at a magical bug-extermination company) the tram was delayed and they had to continue on foot. Half a mile down the tram line they found out what had been delaying it: four epic-level Paladins fighting a Pit Fiend a few hundred feet away. I described the Pit Fiend thoroughly, mentioned how it was massive and terrifying and awful. Four members of the party looked at it, said the equivalent of "Nope" and kept walking, but the party druid decided that this was his time to shine and immediately sent his flying animal companion up to the devil while he started to cast a spell.

The Pit Fiend chuckled, said something in Infernal and crushed the animal companion between it's thumb and index finger, then kept fighting the Paladins.

The moral of the story is that if you are trying to demonstrate to the party that they should avoid some things, a good first step is to make an avoidable encounter painfully easy to recognize, and if your players are still too dumb to understand what you're trying to tell them, punish them accordingly. I let that druid get a replacement animal companion the next day in-game, but I'm pretty sure after that he started to attempt to roleplay more realistically.


TOZ wrote:
DrDeth wrote:
How do you flee from a Chimera at Level 2?

Figure out who the heroic sacrifice is. Probably the halfling. :)

Too often,my friend, too often.


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DrDeth wrote:
How do you flee from a Chimera at Level 2? So, the DM engineers that encounter, right? Well, they cant outrun a chimera. Fly 50, remember? So what would be the purpose of that encounter? To show the Players that the DM is boss? Why not "rocks fall, everyone dies"? Negotiate? CE remember?

Reading forward, he had an example of a chimera that was hunting and plentiful easy prey (a herd of cattle) was available. So the players could run away, because the chimera was hungry rather than spoiling for a fight.

It's something that was mentioned earlier in the thread too, that if there's ever an unwinnable fight there needs to be an escape clause. Otherwise, yes, they're dead.

Personally, I dislike any encounter without there being a reason for it, so building in the escape clause comes with the territory. One idea I've toyed with is for 'the cavalry' to be either a totally unknown force (so now you have a plot hook; the dragon's dead but who are these knights in black armor who helped kill it?) or a force that's known to be unfriendly to the PCs: do they develop the situation into "the enemy of my enemy"? And if so, how? Pair up with the new force? Pair up with the force they were fighting? Try to slink away in the chaos?

That provides player agency (yeah, they got deus-ex-machina'd to stay alive, but they're not just sitting back and watching) and plenty of plot hooks (so long as you're prepared for the PCs' response, because I can name about five obvious ways for players to go about the enemy-of-my-enemy scenario).

Fun times to spring said cavalry on the PCs too, if they're stomping somebody weaker. You just watched a coalition be formed against you and suddenly you're outmatched. What now?

The Exchange

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It's a little hard for me as I play PFS a lot where you're expected to finish the encounter. Also it might be a GM issue, but some GMs expect characters to act like heroes and not flee when presented with an encounter.

spoiler:

"What I roll a 23 to hit at level 3 and I'm still not hitting that thing? And it has a touch attack?"
and intending to run for the hills. - Me

GM : "your character is chaotic good and should not be letting the thing harass innocent passerbys, do you want me to mark an alignment change?"

X'cuse me, chaotic good doesn't mean stupid.

Urm for GMs, if you want to make it clear that fights are beyond the players capabilities, tell them at the start not everything can be fought, and some encounters they need to run away from. And if they choose to run away from encounters with a plausible plan, let them succeed, and do not force arbitary alignment changes etc.


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The adventure path Crown of Shadow for the Midnight campaign setting has an encounter with a group of goblins escorting a controlled stone golem to a dwarven city (to help destroy the city).

The party is currently escorting a trio of higher level elves through mountains elves are completely unfamiliar with. The encounter is designed so that the PCs face the goblins while the elves handle the golem.

It is a pretty standard 2nd level encounter with the huge complication of having a high-level encounter right int he middle of it.

I've run it three times now for different groups, and every single time there's a player who makes the mistake of ending up within reach of the golem, assuming (for whatever reason) it won't attack them.

Every time the players seem very shocked when the giant stone monster one-shots a PC frontliner. The CR rules always make them think there won't ever be anything around them that they can't handle. Shattering that assumption can be used as an amazing storytelling tool.

2d10+9 isn't quite enough to outright kill most 2nd level characters, but it will generally take them out of the fight.

After that encounter, the PCs suddenly become a lot more careful, and also a lot more invested. The stakes are suddenly a lot higher, so everything matters more.

I highly recommend trying something similar in your own games.

Silver Crusade

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I think it's important to note the difference between an actual encounter and a possible encounter. The Chimera being suggested is either an actual encounter (it sees the party and dives towards them) or a possible encounter (it's attacking something else, the party spots it first, etc).

It's fine to throw in possible encounters, it shows that there's things in the world that the party isn't ready to deal with, which is fun. A possible encounter is also one they can talk their way out of (good luck with talking to a chimera), since it's not actual pitched combat.

An actual encounter is death, pure and simple. There's rarely ANYTHING that can beat the PCs that can't kill at least one of them due to their speed generally being faster than the party's (unless you have a LOT of full plate wearing halfings in your world), so actually putting the chimera dive bombing towards them is telling them "Your GM is disappointed in you, know death."

As for "theme park vs. real world" might I note that theme parks are FUN, which is the reason we play the game. Sure, there's tons of things like this in the game, and we've all made the jokes about evil overlords continuing to send level appropriate encounters, but there's a reason why it works like that, because it's a game.

You want to say "Oh, it's a story" about this? It's a pretty crappy story for the party to run into a green dragon they couldn't possibly beat and get killed, great story of that time a green dragon killed some random scrubs and added some gold to its hoard.

If you want an 'unwinnable' encounter, tell the party, don't make it ambiguous at all. And most of all, don't specifically make it unwinnable by completely negating party tactics that they've used up to this point and act like you've accomplished something special. Oh, Lord Kilgor has fire immunity and DR 20/- when the main damage dealers in the party do fire damage and have lots of attacks? You've only shown you're willing to spite your players specifically instead of challenging them.

Trust me, I've had enough 'bully' GMs, and often unwinnable battles are used as that "I'm better than you" moment which only serve to make the players feel needlessly weak in situations where they were enjoying themselves before. We rarely need a reminder that we're mortal, and giving the party a tough encounter instead of a impossible super challenge does the same thing.

As I've stated, unwinnable possible encounters are fine, if the party does something stupid or doesn't take the chance to leave after you've made it certain that they're not prepared for this threat is more acceptable, but once you've put them in the encounter, at least 1 of them is going to die unless some hardcore luck starts happening (which is possible and some of the times a great moment in gaming, but know you're basically giving them a 5% chance to do something awesome).

This is just a subject that really annoys me.

Silver Crusade

DrDeth wrote:
Elder Basilisk wrote:

1. Out of game, preferably before the campaign, make it clear that not all encounters are adjusted based on the PCs' level. Level 20 PCs will occasionally run into level 1 bandits who don't recognize them (especially if the PCs are in disguise). Level 1 PCs could come across giants, dragons, and tribes of ogres which are beyond their ability. It's up to the players to figure out what their characters want to do.

2. Make it happen more than once. If every encounter is winnable from level 1 to 10 but you drop a "you must flee" encounter at level 11, it's likely the players won't get it. After all, the world just changed the way it worked. However, if they run into a Chimera at level 2, a couple ogre warbands at level 3, a legendary vampire at level 4, and a single kobold scout at level 5, then they should be accustomed to the idea that they need to evaluate each situation to see whether they should fight, hide, flee, or negotiate.

It's up to the players to figure out what their characters want to do..... and then die.

However, if they run into a Chimera at level 2, a couple ogre warbands at level 3, a legendary vampire at level 4... they will then die.

How do you flee from a Chimera at Level 2? So, the DM engineers that encounter, right? Well, they cant outrun a chimera. Fly 50, remember? So what would be the purpose of that encounter? To show the Players that the DM is boss? Why not "rocks fall, everyone dies"? Negotiate? CE remember?

If the DM lets them get away or talk their way out, it's DM fiat as much as not having the Chimera encounter in the first place.

It depends how the encounters are structured. If the PCs were attacked by those creatures when the creatures intended to kill them, then, yes they would die. But being attacked by a creature isn't the only way to encounter it. I'll expand on the examples: The ogre warbands and legendary vampire are hypothetical encounters, but the Chimera is an actual encounter I wrote into a Living Greyhawk adventure and which characters starting at level 2 could have run into. I never heard about any PCs dying to it, so it seems that it worked out. Here's how:

1. The PCs were traveling and they ran into a group of NPCs driving a herd of cattle across a narrow bridge.
2. While the PCs were waiting, trying to convince the herdsmen to hurry up, or looking for a way around, a chimera swooped down to the bridge and started attacking the herd.
3. The survivors of the attack stampeded.

Now, at second level, the stampede was intended as the actual experience generating encounter. Never-the-less, it is an example of what I have in mind by suggesting that level 2 characters might encounter a chimera. The PCs do have the opportunity to attack it if they really want to (the NPC herdsmen would warn them, "are you crazy? That's a Chimera") but if they wanted to they could fight it. They would lose. But if they didn't want to fight it, all they had to do is hide or wait around until it left. If they did choose to fight it, it would quickly become clear that they were outmatched and some of the characters would probably die. But retreat is a real option despite it's 50' fly speed. A. There is only one chimera, so they can split up. B. They are outside and if they have horses, they are at least as fast. C. There was a nearby wood where they could hide. D. The chimera was primarily interested in eating the cows so unless they really ticked it off, it was not going to hunt them down one by one anyway.

That kind of approach could be applied to the other encounters that I described. Yes, if 3rd level PCs are jumped by an entire ogre warband or 4th level PCs are jumped by a legendary vampire, they will die. On the other hand, spotting an ogre warband in the distance is still encountering it. If the PCs attack it, they will probably die but they have other options. They can hide. They can run away. Especially if they spotted the ogres a long way away, the entire warband won't chase them. They can try to sneak up and listen in on the ogres when they camp and figure out where they are going. They can do a forced march to the nearest army outpost and warn the cavalry about the marauding ogres. The legendary vampire could try to dominate a PC or use them to do something in the daylight. He could simply be seen from a distance at the head of his army. The PCs could be waiting until his grim carriage leaves his castle so they can sneak in and steal some artifact while he is away.

The bottom line is that there are lots of different ways for the PCs to encounter creatures and even enemies who are beyond their power without fighting them and that the experience of encountering foes where they have to hide, flee, negotiate, or interact with in other ways than fighting conditions players to keep their options open rather than assuming that they are supposed to take down every bad guy they encounter.

Other than training the PCs to keep their options open, what purpose do those kinds of encounters serve?
A. They let the players know that the world does not revolve around them. A lot of players like that and feel like it makes them feel like they're in a world rather than a computer game.
B. Such encounters can create a long-term sense of accomplishment because when the 8th level fighter sees that Chimera again, he knows he's now the kind of hero who can kill it and doesn't have to run or hide. And when the PCs are 20th level and don't have to be afraid of anything, it feels different because at one time they did have to worry about what kind of monsters they might meet.
C. They give urgency to missions requiring stealth or speed. It's one thing to know you need to be stealthy. It's another to know you need to be stealthy because there is a tribe of ogres in the cavern to the right and you know that failing your stealth check won't just bring them out in level-appropriate groups.

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