Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What Are You Really Telling Your Players?

In my Star Wars game - the one that I run - I see a problem developing, and I am the root cause of it. See, four of the six players are force sensitive, and they are trying to be the good guys. The fun thing is they actually are trying. They've taken harder roads to avoid confrontation and pointless death at every turn where it was feasible. I'm really proud of them for doing that. So what is the problem? Well, one of the players keeps trying to get people to surrender...and it just occurred to me that no one ever really has.

Why Is This A Problem?
Why is this a problem? Well, while it may be good for the setting that Storm Troopers don't surrender, there is something else going on as well. See, if my PC is never rewarded for offering surrender, and every fight is always to the death and last man standing...then why even offer? By not having the offer taken up, I'm telling my players that I'm running a world where once initiative is rolled the bad guys will fight to the very last man.

For some bad guys this is ok. Like I said, I'm fine with storm troopers standing and fighting. But what about others? What about random gang members? What about thugs? What about mercenaries? What about Imperials that aren't storm troopers? None of those have really surrendered yet either, and every time it happens it becomes more and more of a "wasted" action to even offer or ask for it to happen.

The Fix Is Easy
Fortunately for me the fix is easy. All I need to do is have some enemies surrender and have it work out for the players. Let them avoid a fight by showing that they're strong enough to not be messed with (and my god, are they ever) and offer a different way out. Sprinkle those in here and there, make it a key point of stormtroopers that they don't surrender, and it works for the game.

So why talk about it?

Because it is something to think about in your games as well. Actions need to have consequences, and what those consequences are teaches your players how to act in the game world. If you want your PCs to run away they need to know that running is an option, and running actually does need to be an option. If you want your PCs to not engage in fights casually, there needs to be consequences for that too. If you want your characters to offer peaceful means to resolve conflicts, that needs to also have consequences and that consequence needs to be that sometimes the deal is taken.

Let them turn an enemy into an ally an then run with it. It makes for good story.

What are you teaching your players? Do you really want them thinking that?


  1. A similar issue I've discovered is that if a trusted NPC betrays the PCs early on in a game, they will never trust another PC again ever! Heck, sometimes the player never trusts another NPC again ever, no matter how many years and games later.

  2. Communication, both in and out of game, is king. So, I entirely agree with your central point here.

  3. This is a great topic. My players offer surrender often, despite being fascist secret police in a grimdark setting. Some of their foes surrender & some not - I feel like that's gone well. After all, captives are a great opportunity for interrogation skill rolls & imparting information to the group.

    The aspect of this subject that's come up in my game, is my players are highly unlikely to run from foes. Generally, secret police don't run - but historically they've learned towards the absolute on this.

    There's plenty of indication that their metagame mindset is that, unless they see 100 of them, foes have been designed for them to beat, even if very hard. I've periodically tried to dissuade them off this notion verbally, however, up to now in our long running campaign, they've never run into a foe that was impossible to beat. So I can't wonder where they got this nostrum.

    Obviously, I can simply have them go up against the unbeatable, though there's a pretty good chance of a TPK.

    I'm not really looking at all this as a "problem" exactly, but thought I'd share.