Death to innocent civilians!

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The players confront the evil boss in a room with some innocent civilians. A fight breaks out.

The first question is how tough to make the civilians. My first thought was to make them minions. This obvious makes them extremely fragile and they were knocked down by AE fire by the boss.

The next question is about "revivability". The party wanted to try to revive the civilians. My understanding of the death rules indicate that (unlike older versions of the game), non-PCs no longer go into negative HP, so the civilians died instantly upon going to 0 hp. Going by that, there's no way for the PCs to revive the civilians. This is fine, I guess, but between that and the fact that they're minions results in a strong breeze able to massacre civilians and there isn't much to do about it.

I'm tempted to give civilians some "time frame" where they could be revived with a heal check. Or perhaps treat them as PCs and let them make death saves. For the record, the civilians are in no way related to the plot nor are important - it's just that the PCs had some "good" characters who wanted to save them.

I'd like your input on this situation.

- How would you treat the civilians? As minions? Or give them some non-trivial amount of HP?
- Is simply letting the civilians die upon 0hp reasonable? Or should I provide some way for the players to help them?



Panicked Townsfolk: Blocking terrain. Acrobatics, Intimidate, or Strength check (moderate DC) as a free action during a move to move through a square containing panicked townsfolk. A panicked townsfolk caught in a blast or burst attack is incapacitated and becomes difficult terrain instead of blocking. An incapacitated townsfolk can be restored to life and removed from play with a Heal check (moderate DC) as a minor action (though I might make that free action 1/round on your own turn instead). Townsfolk that are incapacitated when the encounter ends die.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
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The first question is how tough to make the civilians. My first thought was to make them minions. This obvious makes them extremely fragile and they were knocked down by AE fire by the boss.

Yep, make them minions, or just specify that they're killed by a certain trigger.

The next question is about "revivability". The party wanted to try to revive the civilians. My understanding of the death rules indicate that (unlike older versions of the game), non-PCs no longer go into negative HP, so the civilians died instantly upon going to 0 hp. Going by that, there's no way for the PCs to revive the civilians. This is fine, I guess, but between that and the fact that they're minions results in a strong breeze able to massacre civilians and there isn't much to do about it.

Isn't there?

- Is simply letting the civilians die upon 0hp reasonable? Or should I provide some way for the players to help them?

Yes, it's reasonable. I especially like it because it's a way to "fail" the encounter even if they defeat the monster.

In this particular example, the way to save the civilians was to avoid a fight in the first place. It's a classic trope, in which the heroes can't cut loose because innocents might be caught in the crossfire. The enemy holds all the cards, but the PCs could try to deal, offering an exchange, for instance.

There are lots of ways to prevent an enemy from acting, or to move them into a better (for the PCs) position, or give them incentives to act a certain way. I don't know the set up here, but if the players had been concerned about the civilians and wanted to keep them safe, they could have led with powers that would shift and push the monster. For that matter, they each could have opened up with a daily, followed by an action point, followed by another daily. I bet if they'd really wanted to they could have killed the monster before it even had a chance to act.

Finally, this seems to me like a great way for a player to choose death over failure. The DM could tell the player that the civilians are going to die unless the player's PC shields them and takes the brunt of the attack, which would kill the PC. Or maim them, or just damage them. The DM can offer any deal he or she wants. If the PCs are good, they might even accept this willingly.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

- How would you treat the civilians? As minions?

Often yes. Or terrain.

Is simply letting the civilians die upon 0hp reasonable?

Sure: players would normally expect this and act accordingly. However, if a player really wanted to save a mortally injured NPC, I'd probably allow it as a DMG p.42 stunt (using the heal skill).

Also: narrative-wise, a portion of the casualties are often treatable after the battle ends, and PC's are often encouraged to do so.

I just remembered why I don't like to treat "civilians" as actual monsters: attack rolls. If I want to have a group of non-combatants on the scene, I don't want to bother figuring out their defenses. They're non-combatants: they don't have even the training or instinct necessary to warrant defenses, so if it's plausible for them to be affected by an attack then they just are. But being affected doesn't mean they need to die in swaths. The genius of minions is that a missed attack doesn't kill them, so if I want I can just say they're injured, but not dead.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I just remembered why I don't like to treat "civilians" as actual monsters: attack rolls. If I want to have a group of non-combatants on the scene, I don't want to bother figuring out their defenses. They're non-combatants: they don't have even the training or instinct necessary to warrant defenses, so if it's plausible for them to be affected by an attack then they just are. But being affected doesn't mean they need to die in swaths. The genius of minions is that a missed attack doesn't kill them, so if I want I can just say they're injured, but not dead.



That's exactly the reason why I did them up as terrain, above.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

IIRC, a few adventures treated "panicked townsfolk" as a swarm creature (or mob in 3.xE), including two or three such swarms in the relevant encounter. That keeps the overhead down while still allowing them to be potential targets (and obstacles).
IIRC, a few adventures treated "panicked townsfolk" as a swarm creature (or mob in 3.xE), including two or three such swarms in the relevant encounter. That keeps the overhead down while still allowing them to be potential targets (and obstacles).

Another reason that I don't want them to have defenses is if the monsters DO want to kill them, and the characters aren't doing anything directly to prevent that, then the monster should succeed. I'd never want the civilian to succeed just because the monster rolled poorly. The civilian should survive (or not) due to the actions of the PCs.

It seems like I'm always running into things that make it hard to play that way. Someone will cast something giving all the civilians cover or something, or granting them a bonus to their defenses. My preference is just to have the monsters attempts to kill the civilians fail as long as the protection is in effect, since that was the player's intent anyway.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

This seems like one of the things that the Minion was designed to do. 

Turning them into terrain, however, seems like a cool alternative, and nine out of ten Big Bad Evil Guys agree:  defenseless civilians provide excellent cover in combat!


The only thing I'd add is to remember Gun Safety Rule #5:  "Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy forever."  The dice and the PCs are loaded guns, so don't put those helpless civilians on the table, unless you are prepared for stray crossbow bolts to hit them, for villains to use them as human shields and PCs to accept the collateral damage when throwing fireballs around, for PCs to extort money from them and then kill them for the Evulz, for PCs to fail to realize they are helpless civilians and assume they are collaborators or doppelgangers or something, for PCs to give them swords and then intimidate them into becoming a cannon-fodder distraction to the monsters, and so on.  Assume that any civilian you put into the encounter will not survive it, and be sure you have a fun and interesting failure planned for when all civilians are dead.  By the same token, avoid putting all the key clues needed for the adventure to continue into the one basket of needing at least one civilian to survive.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri