I read an excellent post on Dungeon Fantastic by Peter V. Dell'Orto about
players negotiating with monsters.
GURPS uses an objective
mechanical interface for social encounters. This isn't too common in the old
school world. It was really refreshing to hear from someone else using
objective social mechanics in play. What's interesting is the wildly different
experiences he has.
ostensibly, is about errors players make during negotiations with monsters.
This is a whole knot of complexity, but I don't think
anything players choose to do in play is an error because I don't have
an outcome in mind.
players make during negotiations:
from imagined strength
are expanded on in his post. Not negotiating is
always fighting to the death. Negotiating from imagined strength is acting as
if the monsters can't challenge the party. The original article is worth
match my experience of play at all. And it's not just with the groups
that know me. My players are constantly aware of dangers. They know they can't
do the above things. Well, they can, but it probably ends up with someone in
the party dying.
an illusion of threat, but how often does the party really lose a fight? Even
if the GM doesn’t fudge any die rolls, they’re still building encounters that
are designed for your party to win. That’s illusionism, too; and so is fudging
die rolls: The decision not to flee from combat against the wandering monster
has no consequences if the GM fudges the dice to prevent a TPK from a pointless
random encounter, but rolling behind the screen, the players don’t know you’re
fudging the dice, so you preserve the tension if you do it we."
I feel like
an alien on an alien planet.
at the top. How often does the party really lose a fight? I've been part of two
total party kills since spring. Once as the Dungeon Master and once as a
player. So, like, frequently?
Who is still
building encounters designed for the party to win? I mean, pathfinder players,
sure. Anyone who wants to run a combat gauntlet. But what part of "the
party should win this encounter" is part of the design? The introductory
adventure for 5th edition contains multiple deadly encounters. No one was
expected to win the Venomfang fight.
Have we not
exhaustively covered the territory of why random encounters aren't pointless?
Haven't we exhaustively covered the topic of how players can tell that you're
fudging dice, because you're not a trained actor/liar?
experiences with the players and monster negotiations have been different. First, players talk with anything that isn't immediately
attacking them, because talking is safer and more productive than fighting. They don't
have to be encouraged to negotiate. It's usually the first thing they try to
do. (In more than one instance, players have said, "It's
attacking us? Are you sure we can't talk to it?". Once they even used their turn in combat, just to make sure that it
Even when vastly outnumbering the opponents they choose to parley
because of the risk that reinforcements could be called. They know they have a
reputation and that even if an enemy is weak, there's always more enemies than
nervous around monsters because they never know what they can do. When you
randomize abilities and have creatures like undead and dragons that can have
unknown abilities players become very cautious.
Second, they never feel like they are so much stronger than the
monsters that they can 'not negotiate'. I give them the target number
of whatever they are trying to negotiate for; they don't choose to
negotiate from imagined strength. And because of the way relationships work,
I've seen them build trust with factions and individuals.
putting the blame on Peter here. Clearly the baseline expectation of most
gamers is different and somewhat shocking when exposed to this different
playstyle. Someone out there is creating encounters that the players are
designed to win.
Even in my
set encounters, there's a high variability in encounter numbers. It's possible
they might run into only a few creatures, or maybe a lot of them. This isn't
even counting wandering encounters from creatures nearby that might be
attracted to the sounds of a fight or people talking, nor random encounters
from creatures indigenous to the area.
I don't know
about other people, but specifically what and how many are encountered is
unknown to me. I decide the creatures, yes. But generally the range of the
encounter goes from completely trivial to unwinnable fight.
What I am
saying is that these aren't mistakes. They are natural outgrowths of
behavior in the players due to their environment. I'm assuming Peter talks
about these being mistakes because they aren't successful tactics for the
players. But as a Dungeon Master, that's not my problem. My problem is running
a responsive and living game world, which very quickly visits negative
consequences on people who do such stupid things when talking about monsters.
talking about punishing anyone or playing "mother may I" or any of the other
quick accusations. Sometimes mechanically the players can get away with tactics
such as these. But, much like other things you can get away with, the cost
comes around sooner or later, just due to the way the world works.