"You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept"
~The Princess Bride
Yeah, that isn't my normal intro for a post, but I felt it was especially fitting for today. Surrender is a weird concept to see in games. At least, in the games I've been a part of. I think I can count on one hand how many times I have actually seen someone - a player or group of players - actually surrender against overwhelming odds in an RPG. Which is strange when you consider just how often main characters are surrendering in other stories. I want to talk about that today.
The Core Problem
I think the core problem behind the PCs surrendering is that it feels like giving in and losing to the players. After all, when you surrender you have admitted defeat and a lot of players don't like to do that. We'd rather sit there, pissed off that the GM has hit us with overwhelming odds that we can't handle, than even consider surrender. Of course, there is more to this problem than just that PCs don't like losing. After all, that feeling that a surrender is the same as a loss may also be a trained response.
Every Fight Is To The Death
As a GM, when was the last time you had someone surrender when the PCs turned the tide? When was the last time someone dropped their weapon and ran away after watching one guy maul three of their friends? We tend to run our fights to the death. Two groups enter, one group is victorious. If the PCs want to take someone alive they have to put in extra effort to get it done.
This just gets a bit worse when you also consider that most games have the PCs fighting against the assorted "minions of darkness." Do you honestly expect a group of orks to take prisoners? How about goblins? Yeah, I didn't think so. Hell, even bandits aren't likely to do it - especially not with the group that almost wiped the floor with them.
Means The Real Problem...
Which means that the real problem is that we have spent our games training our players to not surrender. Some games even support this. After all, it is hard to see a group in L5R wanting to give in with their proud samurai. The same with a group of inquisitorial investigators in Dark Heresy. We've already mentioned the problem with the monsters in D&D.
How To Solve?
The first step to solving this is probably pretty obvious. Offer the PCs the chance to surrender. Have someone among the enemies tell them that if they surrender they won't be harmed, just taken prisoner. This may take some building up. Perhaps have reports that the enemy is taking prisoners, even if it is just for execution later it still gives the players a chance to do something about it. Either way, bring it up and show the PCs that it is viable. Go further and have the enemy run, or try and surrender themselves. Now, if the PCs just kill everyone who tries to surrender than the surrendering will stop, but it could be a way for the PCs to get some useful information and you to sell different aspects of your story.