Wednesday, September 28, 2011


"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.


  1. I found a house rule for getting PCs to surrender in 4ED&D that said something along the lines of "If half the group is killed, or if the leader is taken out, each enemy makes a morale check at the beginning of his/her turn against a DC10 to see if the enemy flees. If the check fails, the enemy immediately drops its weapons and runs to its closest allies. On a success, the enemy will fight to the death, unless a frightened ally is near him/her. Then, each round that frightened ally is adjacent to that enemy that enemy must make a new morale check at DC10."

    It was a bit complicated and I often forgot to make the rolls, so I just said, "Forget that rule, if I think they should run now, they'll run." And, that's the way I do it now. Almost none of my enemies fight to the death anymore. Wolves, bandits, it doesn't matter (not undead usually) because they all have a will to live and aren't so stupid as to not realize when they should run.

    I think the important thing to remember is that a victory is a victory whether the enemy runs or not. Don't take half the XP away because half of the enemies fled.

    It took my group a little while to get used to the idea of enemies running away. At first, they would chase them down and either capture or kill them, now they've learned to just let them go. It didn't teach them to run away from a fight, but I think that was partially because I always gave them fights they could eventually win. They did run away one time and that fight was unwinnable for them; however, it took them about 20 rounds of combat to realize that despite my meta-hints that "hey, you probably can't kill this guy."

  2. For systems where XP is based around winning encounters, your comment is absolutely necessary. Just because some of the bad guys ran doesn't mean the encounter was easier.

    The other fun thing you can do with runaways is have those guys show up later with more people to try again. Granted when that happens you need a good reason, but it can still be fun and you can get a lot of connection with the PCs over the "bandit leader that keeps getting away."

  3. Once again, great post. As a GM, not something I was thinking about.

    I have to say I like the set guideline of bad guys might run away after leader or certain % of them are killed. May have to try that & see if it's too much paperwork.