Monday, March 30, 2020

De-escalation & You Choose What Actions to Reward

One of my goals in the newer of the two D&D games i'm running is to keep situations where it has to end in combat a minority. This has been easier than I expected simply by having goals for each side. After all, if there are orcs because they are hungry then it stands to reason that asking for food might work instead of just attacking. I haven't used that specific example, but you get the idea.

My players have, without knowing it was a stated goal, also played into this. They have investigated and inquired where other groups might just jump into combat. And it's resulted in fewer combats in the game overall, which has left more room for story exploration and character interaction. One thing that happened on Friday that I liked though w as the PCs took efforts to de-escalate a situation that broke into combat, which allowed me to play into that and long story short they made potential allies out of what I expected to be a fight.

After the game my players thanked me for letting the de-escalation happen, and that they enjoyed being able to pull back and not just get attacked in turn for it. I wasn't thinking of it in the moment. In the moment I was seeing clear signs of the PCs trying to signal they didn't want to fight and that the start was a misunderstanding, and that it made sense for one of the NPCs to also thinking talking could prove more informative.

However, since the game I've been considering this. How many games full of murder hobos have games full of murder hoboing because when the PCs have tried to talk or sort things out, the monsters have just attacked? How often do players resort to bullying because bullying and use of violence is the only thing that works? How much blame for that is PCs just wanting to kill things and taking the shortest path, and how much is because systems are built where combat is the meatiest part of the interaction with the rules, and the game is built to be a game where you tell stories about people who get into fights - as opposed to games where people try to avoid fights.

It is a problem I know several game designers have tried to tackle in various ways. But it is also something that is by approach of the GM.  What of your players actions are you encouraging? What are you rewarding? Do you even understand the intentions of what they are trying for when they make a bid, or are you going off your interpretation of them and their characters only?

If I didn't allow this situation to de-escalate, and it just became a fight, I'd have no one but myself to blame when an enemy tried to talk and was instead just shot. Even in a game as coded for combat as D&D there is room for this. You just need players willing to engage with it, and a GM willing to reward and encourage it.

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