One of the common things GMs want out of their games is a lack of murder hobos. For those not in the know 'murder hoboing' is the term used when the PCs in an RPG tend to just wander around and kill everyone who won't do whatever they want. The problem is some GMs want their PCs to not be murder-hobos, but almost all the problems they present in game are the kind that force - or seem to force - combat.
In other words, the GM wants their PCs to be more than murder-hobos, but over the course of the game do little but teach the players that they should resolve any and all problems with combat.
This isn't a problem for just new GMs either. I've seen it in my own. Even in games without murder hobo PCs it can be easy to make encounters that only have one solution: combat. But there is one trick I've found to keep myself open to non-combat solutions and keeping things going. That solution is pretty simple too: start with a name.
Humanizing the Encounter
In truth I start with two things for building an encounter: a name for the main adversarial NPC and a problem they're trying to solve.
These problems don't have to be super complex, but there has to be a reason. Some bullywugs might be kidnapping children to sacrifice to their froghemoth god. Some bandits might be robbing merchants on the road to feed their families. Some goblins may be moving into the area because they are being chased out of their old area.
By knowing the problem they are trying to solve, you know their motivation (solving that problem.) So if the players find another way to solve that problem, or to circumvent that problem, they don't need to have the combat because they solved the problem.
Add that to a name, and now you don't have "some goblins attack the PC" you have "the goblin Burga is looking for food for his clan." You have a character, trying to solve a problem, and maybe that brings them into violent altercation with the party and maybe it doesn't.
Some Fights Will Still Happen
Sometimes fights will still happen. If goblins ambush the party at night looking for food, andit becomes a fight, odds are the PCs are going to kill and not talk. And that is ok. However, if you approach these encounters from the perspective of making an encounter that could result in combat, as opposed to a combat encounter, you leave the door open for non-murder solutions.
When the players deploy those options, work with them. Show them it doesn't always have to be a fight. Reward them for not always making it a fight. Let it be easier. Let it be rewarding. If combat is not the easiest solution to problems, it won't be the go to solution. And isn't that grand?
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