Alternate Goals in Combat

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Hey everyone,

So something I've seen trending a lot lately among the threads here have been people saying that they like to use different sorts of goals in combat than "kill everything" as it gives the game more depth, entertainment, and much less of a grind of roll, hit, roll, miss, etc.  

I've noticed, though, that many times it's just been said that DMs should do this, but to those who may not have any ideas how, I thought they might be struggling and would be in need of some examples.

I have no idea if any other DMs would find this useful, but I figured I would start a thread where some DMs who have used this idea could give an example (or two, or more) of one that they used that they/their players found particularly successful or engaging just to get the creative juices flowing so battles can be more interesting and meaningful for everyone!

One that I liked was a group of crazy cultists had kidnapped a group of children and were using them as a sacrifice to their god who had yet to reveal himself, hoping that by doing this he finally would (homebrew campaign).  My players rushed in and found one of the captives as they were going to begin the ritual to sacrifice her.  As a result, the combat became the cultists pushing the PCs back and keeping them away from the corner, where one other cultist had begun the ritual.  The PCs suddenly ignored killing the cultists and rushed to try and free the girl (succesfully, I would add).  

What have you guys done that has been exciting or fun?  (Also, do you think this is useful to anyone?  I know it would help me think of some new, interesting ideas.)
Our most recent adventure had the players protecting the carriage of a Fey lord from harm. The enemies were mostly at a range with a few who would ride in to attempt melee. The players couldn't get to every enemy, so for the most part they focused on providing cover to the carriage and the driver. Aid defense, total defense while hanging on and even some attempts to reflect range attacks were some of the more common things they did. The fighter's was particularly glad he chose to sword and board that day. It was also pretty awesome to watch a Wizard charge a Monk's feet with dispel magic so she could kick a fireball spell at oncoming mounted enemies behind them. They managed to succeed at keeping the Fey lord safe before we had to call it in for the week.
The cool thing about it is that chances are good that you see examples of this in action all the time, in movies and television. 

Take, for example, the Die Hard film series:  John McClane gets to do his fair share of beating the pudding out of the films' black-hats, sure.  But he also has moments where he's got to dodge bullets while getting hostages to safety, avoid getting hit with friendly fire by SWAT and FBI guys who mistake him for a terrorist, sneak past villains, get messages to the outside world, pretend to negotiate with or surrender to villains he knows would murder him in an instant so that he can improvise a plan to get an advantage over them, choose between putting the hurt on the villains and helping hostages, go through a lot of trouble to hide the fact that one of the hostages is his wife because the villains can use that against him by putting her in direct danger, and more.

And, these aren't just things that you can try to find ways to encourage PCs to do.  Your NPCs, monsters, and villains can do many of the same things:  rather than killing a vulnerable PC, for example, they can hold the PC as a hostage.  They can pick a fight just long enough to distract the PCs so that something else can happen, and then flee.  They can send decoys to trick the PCs into chasing them into a trap.  They might simply be happy to keep the PCs from kicking in the door of their dungeon, killing their families, and stealing their stuff.  Some monsters might only be fighting the PCs because they are following orders - kill their boss, and they might even thank the PCs.  Give your monsters and villains 3D personalities, motives, and goals, and chances are good that the PCs will start thinking outside of the box, and looking for 3D ways  to take advantage of that.

By default, D&D seems to assume that the only interesting PC decisions are those that lead to the next combat and truck-load of treasure.  In many ways, DMs tend to unconsciously encourage that assumption, by spending the most time carefully crafting the combat encounters, and treating the stuff that happens in between as filler.  One of the best ways to change that is to ensure that the non-combat decisions your players choose to make have consequences on the game that are even more fun and interesting than straightforward combat and death-dealing. 

Change your way of looking at combat encounters:  in the real world, a fight is what happens when every other attempt to solve a problem has failed... reason, flattery, bribery, threats, begging, procrastination, ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away, and so on.  Treat combat in your routine encounter designs the same way:  spend more time in thinking of things the monsters can do besides try to kill the PCs on sight, and ways to complicate the monsters' best efforts to avoid trouble, than you do in planning the fight.  The Goblins are raiding human farmlands to steal food, because they have been too scared to work their own fields ever since a Bugbear dressed as a scarecrow suddenly appeared and started stalking and killing Goblin farmers and leaving their mutilated remains behind to terrorize the Goblins; the Bugbear has taken up murder and slaughter because The Voices tell him to do it; the 'Voices' are actually ghosts and a devil who are haunting the Bugbear to get him to fulfilll some conflicting and mysterious goals for them, relating to something a Necromancer is about to unearth while experimenting in a nearby Goblin Burial Ground, which the Goblins have allowed him to do because....  The Goblins don't care to fight the PCs to the death and would just as soon flee someplace safe, they just want to feed their families without getting murdered by the Bugbear bogeyman.  The PCs could exterminate the Goblins or chase them away to some other location, but then the psychopathic Bugbear would be driven to seek other victims, which would only cause new trouble.  In short, use those fights as the last resort for when the PCs fail to find a more interesting way of dealing with these interlocking problems, and the rest will start to fall into place fairly naturally!
[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
Some from a recent game I ran:

- A great treasure at the bottom of a ziggurat guarded by four nasty slaad, the floor dotted with vats filled with slaad porwigles. The PCs had a goal of getting the treasure - a spelljammer helm buried in a pile of bones at the center of the map. The slaad had their own goal: push the PCs into the vats and infect them then let them leave unharmed.

- The PCs have reconned a bullywug pirate encampment on a beach. At the center of their camp is a statue of one of the PCs who was petrified earlier in the adventure. Surrounding the camp were foxholes filled with juju zombie musketeers. In the center, some bullywug pirates led by the notorious Captain Burrp. The goal? Capture the statue of the Major General and get the hell out of dodge.

- The PCs investigate a fresh meteor crater. In the center, special ore they need to make some wicked githyanki weapons and/or to restore their petrified friend. Illithids have discovered the crash site and are sending down mutated land octopi by way of a planeshift teleporter to capture the ore as well for their own purposes. Who gets it first?

One from one I played in recently:

- Nymph is cornered by displacer beasts as the PCs come upon the area. The displacer beasts set upon the PCs. Stirges in a tower near the nymph fly out and begin attacking her. Save the nymph before she's sucked dry.

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 | 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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

We had a recent encounter in a temple where a group of cultists were trying to complete a ritual (okay, this is sounding like the example from above, lol). This ritual involved dropping Drow priestesses out of cages in the ceiling onto swords that were fixed pointing upright above an altar. Minions in the back were pulling levers to release the victims, while a priest and some big constructs kept us occupied. At first this made our goal seem pretty clear: Stop the minions. But then once a few victims had been impaled, we found out that every time one of them took damage (and while impaled, they were taking ongoing damage) the altar charged up a little more with some dark magic. This led one party member to climb up there and try to get them free, and another to start making skill checks to power down the altar. The Defender ended up spending most of the combat keeping things away from the one making skill checks.

After we'd disrupted the ritual too far for it to be completed (although we didn't know that yet), the priest started making a mad dash for a sarcophogas in the back. We assumed he was going to summon something with it and threw most of our resources into stopping him. Turned out it contained a portal and he was just running away since the ritual failed, abandoning his underlings to us.

The other thing making that encounter really interesting were a bunch of wooden benches (set up like pews) in the middle of the room. The large-sized constructs were strong enough to throw them at us, and they made moving around really difficult if you didn't have decent athletics for jumping on and off of them. This is one of the rare times I've seen a fairly large combat map, with an encounter in which almost the entire map got used at some point, rather than everything bunching up at one location and hitting each other until onoe side was dead.
I had a chessmaster-type schemer NPC. The PCs were not sure what he was up to, only that something was "off".

It turns out he suspected the PCs of being pawns in some fairly labyrinthine politics. He wanted to work out whether they were willing pawns or had simply been manipulated by his enemies. So he took them out on a dangerous feywild hunting trip. 

They got attacked by the wildlife, but the actual purpose of the encounter was to see how the PCs treated the NPC during this. Would they think it was a full-on trap and atack him? Try and escape? Protect themselves and ignore him?

In the end the party treated him as an ally during the combat, gaining his trust - partially - and leading to him explaining his actions to them along with some more of what was going on.

This was a tricky one, as I couldn't tell the players exactly what was going on, but I still had to let them know that they were being "tested" in some way. It required a lot of non-combat roleplay buildup, but it paid off nicely, with the players really feeling like the lid had just been taken off their world. 
One that my players enjoyed the most they called "minefield bridge."
It was an 8X30 square bridge that they had to cross in order to flip a switch to turn off a machine spitting out clockwork stirges. It used the computer game "minefield" mechanics as a technical obstacle.

When a player entered a square, gnomish runes magically appeared on the ajacent squares requiring an Arcana check to decipher (into a number) thus letting them know how many teleport squares were adjacent. If a player moved into a teleport square, he was then teleported back to the begining of bridge and slowed for one turn.

Each time a player ended a move action, 1-3 aggressive clockwork stirges were spit out of the machine at the start of the bridge.

At the end of the bridge, was a machine that had a variety of levers and dials (each requiring skill checks to understand and operate) . All of them except three spit out more stirges. One shut all of the stirges down, another turned off the machine, and the final switch turned of the teleporter.

By the time the characters turned everything off, one of their allies lay unconscious and bleeding to death at the beginning of the bridge.

They loved that battle.
Another adventure in which I was a party member had us fighting a giant golem that seemed impossible to take down (hard to hit and resist to boot). We found out that it shared an HP pool with an evil crystal floating near the center of the battlefield. Unfortunately, the golem has the Battlemind Mindspike power against anybody who attacks the crystal. If the crystal and golem were not both hit at the end of a turn, the HP pool heals slightly.
So, each character had to made a decision to either attack the crystal and take the same damage, or attack on the Golem, and risk a miss.
-------
A campaign that was meant to go to level 24ish and climax with a battle against the evil drow lich ended early in PP when the characters made an uneasy alliance with a death knight by tricking him into attacking the lich queen. This distracted the lich queen enough for the characters to teleport to the plane where her phylactery was kept safe. They drank some potions of invisibility to get past the heavy guards, and then only had to deal with the phylactery (which wasn't real easy in itself since it was disguised as an Armored Brain-in-a-Jar and placed on a pedestal with three real Armored Brains-in-a-Jar). The excellent coordination of the death knight's attack and the character's attack caught the lich off-guard long enough to kill and destroy her forever.
Unfortunately, the charcters only succeeded in replacing the currently feared demagogue with different unknown evil overseer. :-(
I've had success recently by focusing on chase scenarios and other movement-heavy things.  They're easier to come up with than some other unique objectives, and they really break the "stand and fight" mentality.

-I ran a short adventure that included escorting a wagon carrying the MacGuffin to its destination.  In the first encounter, it was a runaway wagon, following a space-filling path around some walls and hills that the PCs could climb over.  Both the PCs and the bandits were trying to catch up to the wagon, hop on, and take control, all while taking shots at each other to try to hold the other group back.  The players loved it.

-Later in the same adventure, they had to drive the wagon through enemy lines.  I gave the enemies a huge block of reinforcements (almost all minions) that trickled in round-by-round, so standing and fighting would have taken a few PCs down.   Instead, they had to get it through the gates before the NPC defenders fell.  Very mobile, and a bit panicky when the enemy archers decided the smartest move would be to start firing at the horses.

-Similarly, trap gauntlets have been received positively.  Usually I handle them with a crossbow turret or other constant threat, a few relativley safe places on the approach (alcoves, cover, side tunnels, etc.), a shut-off switch at the end, and a smattering of weak monsters to harrass them if they try to stick to the safe zones.  I've tried cutting out the monsters, but some players (especially those running strikers) are a little put off if they don't get to use their powers and other toys.

In one scenario, the players had to steal a MacGuffin from an iron dragon way above their level. Said MacGuffin was in a class casing, inscribed with runes. They correctly guessed that it was protected by a glyph of warding, but with nobody being trained in Arcana, they wouldn't risk opening it and alerting the dragon's lackeys. So a player made a makeshift "backpack" out of some rope and they tied the casing to the Warden's back. A chase scene with said dragon ensued later in the adventure. Its objective was to recover the MacGuffin above all else, targetting the Warden. The PC's objective was to meet with an NPC who had their horses so they could escape. I ruled that if the Warden took too many hits, the glass would shatter and the glyph would trigger. That alone would have knocked two PCs unconcsious, as they were already low in HP. Thankfully, they managed to escape without trigerring the trap, even though the dragon just needed to get one last hit to blow them up.


In another one, the PCs were falsely accused of a failed assassination attempt on the kingdom's Soveriegn. The elite guard came to arrest them, and they resisted. The guards had to arrest the PCs (by knocking them prone and handcuffing them); the PCs had to unravel the plot while being careful not to kill any of the guardsmen. I've never seen so many combat actions being used for Diplomacy, Insight and Perception. They found out the captain was in fact a doppelganger that had infiltrated the guard. Once they exposed the real traitor, combat ended.

 porwigles. .



Is that a real word? If it is, I'm gonna use it. A lot.
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
The many responses to this thread warm the cockles of my heart.

Here's a list of side goals and alternate goals I've seen or used.

Dungeon Delve 11: The third encounter involves a portal that is empowering the solo. The party can fight the solo directly, but it's a hydra so doing so makes the encounter substantially more difficult. If they close the portal first, they might save themselves a lot of damage in the long run.

Dungeon Delve 1: It's not part of the original write-up, but I changed it so that the kobolds have some captured loot that they're loading into the hole in the map. The more valuable stuff goes first and it would be extremely difficult to prevent the first few items from being loaded. The kobolds run once all the loot in their possession is loaded.

The PCs' goal was to protect an NPC. The monsters had the opposite goal. I haven't used this directly, though I had a good opportunity. DMGII actually advises this goal.

The PC had to plant a magic seed in a magic garden. The dryad lich in the garden didn't want this to happen. Her goal was to block and bind the PC to keep him away from the designated spot for the seed. The seed was a Seed of War, so she could also win if the PC used the Seed of War and she destroyed the conjuration. The party just killed the dryad, but did have an alternate victory condition.

The PCs had to cross a series of rope bridges over an area guarded by two blind fomorians and shrouded in a strange darkness one could see into but not out of. All they had to do was cross. They wound up also trying to help some prisoners and having the bridges cut. They didn't bother killing the fomorians.

The PCs had to save a child of a noble family who had been inducted into a cult. They arrived as the cultists were throwing themselves into a river. Stopping them was easy, but the PCs didn't risk hanging out where they could stop them. The PCs grabbed their targets but the rest of the cultists completed their ritual and got away.

The PCs had to obtain the "Index." The Index is composed of a young eladrin girl and a book. An NPC wanted the girl for other reasons and thinking she was just the bearer threatened to toss the book out a window if not allowed to escape with the girl. The PCs grabbed the girl and the book, and tangled with the kidnapper. Two star spawn showed up, demanding the Index and the wizard took them both out with Slumber of the Winter Court. The kidnapper still almost escaped with the girl, but they stopped her at the last moment.

That last is an example of a combat that might normally be considered a failure. The wizard dropped a daily and knocked out two very troublesome combatants. If taking those combatants to zero had been the point of the encounter, I might have been very put out, but it wasn't, so I wasn't. The main goals (keeping the book and keeping the girl safe) were things that couldn't necessarily be easily solved by a single power and so posed more of a challenge.

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

Is that a real word? If it is, I'm gonna use it. A lot.



Yes, it sure is. It's another word for "pollywog." I thought it sounded a little silly and contrasted well with the nastiness of having one gestate in your belly and tear itself free some days later.

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 | 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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

This is a great idea for a thread, and it nicely expands on the suggestions offered to me in my 4E Combat Length thread. I have a few questions about how to implement encounter objectives:

Firstly, one of the problems with combat objectives is that there isn't any numeric means of judging the difficulty posed by the objective. For example, adding an NPC to defend, a position to reach, or an item to steal doesn't affect the XP budget for the encounter, so it becomes difficult to judge if an encounter has become too easy or too hard as a result of the included objective.

Secondly, while a lot of proposed combat objectives add unique flavor to encounters, most don't cut down on encounter length, which is the main reason I'm trying to include them: for example, an objective that requires about 3 rounds to accomplish by either the monsters of the PCs, and when accomplished, ends the encounter in victory or defeat.

Lastly, most of the proposed combat objectives make the most sense in a stand-alone encounter and not part of a traditional dungeon. A classical dungeon is teeming with guardians whose raison d'etre is to kill parties, die trying, or flee, and I've been unable to think of very many ways to end an encounter beyond those three outcomes when the enemy is a horde of zombies or a beholder.
Firstly, one of the problems with combat objectives is that there isn't any numeric means of judging the difficulty posed by the objective. For example, adding an NPC to defend, a position to reach, or an item to steal doesn't affect the XP budget for the encounter, so it becomes difficult to judge if an encounter has become too easy or too hard as a result of the included objective.

I question whether "too easy" or "too hard" is really meaningful. A key point of alternate combat goals is that they make combat more like skill challenges, in that it's possible to fail and still have an interesting game. Go ahead and make it to hard. Err on the side of making it too hard. The players will still probably succeed, but if they don't the game goes on.

Secondly, while a lot of proposed combat objectives add unique flavor to encounters, most don't cut down on encounter length, which is the main reason I'm trying to include them: for example, an objective that requires about 3 rounds to accomplish by either the monsters of the PCs, and when accomplished, ends the encounter in victory or defeat.

I don't follow you. If you want a quicker encounter, make the objective easier to achieve for one side or the other or both. Again, whether it ends in victory or defeat is not ultimately important. The game goes on in an interesting way.

Lastly, most of the proposed combat objectives make the most sense in a stand-alone encounter and not part of a traditional dungeon. A classical dungeon is teeming with guardians whose raison d'etre is to kill parties, die trying, or flee, and I've been unable to think of very many ways to end an encounter beyond those three outcomes when the enemy is a horde of zombies or a beholder.

Zombies can have orders beyond "kill the intruders" and there's nothing to preclude them having vestiges of personality that lead them to other approaches to an encounter. A beholder is not necessarily just a killing machine; it might have highly alien motives.

Other than that, DMs generally control the inhabitants of their dungeons and other areas. If a DM wants monsters to have alternate goals, he or she should choose monsters that will plausibly have alternate goals.

All I have time for right now, but I love this discussion. It might go better in another thread, actually.

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

I suppose what I mean is that I'm having difficulty coming up with encounters at the beginning or middle of a dungeon (i.e. those incidental encounters with dungeon denizens that don't include the dungeon's particular maguffin) with objectives that, once completed, end the encounter in a way that makes sense. I just can't think of a way for a pack of gravehounds or carrion crawlers to call it a day and punch out once the players complete an objective, unless the act of completing the objective destroys the monsters.
I suppose what I mean is that I'm having difficulty coming up with encounters at the beginning or middle of a dungeon (i.e. those incidental encounters with dungeon denizens that don't include the dungeon's particular maguffin) with objectives that, once completed, end the encounter in a way that makes sense. I just can't think of a way for a pack of gravehounds or carrion crawlers to call it a day and punch out once the players complete an objective, unless the act of completing the objective destroys the monsters.



Maybe they were sent to retrieve an object in that room, something the BBEG left there but needs back at his BBEL.
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
I suppose what I mean is that I'm having difficulty coming up with encounters at the beginning or middle of a dungeon (i.e. those incidental encounters with dungeon denizens that don't include the dungeon's particular maguffin) with objectives that, once completed, end the encounter in a way that makes sense. I just can't think of a way for a pack of gravehounds or carrion crawlers to call it a day and punch out once the players complete an objective, unless the act of completing the objective destroys the monsters.




I see this and I just think.. what would Zelda logic tell me to do. 

Maybe its a map, maybe its the secret item that lets them kill the boss who knows. 
A lot of these examples boil down to the same scenario's, like "Prevent the NPC from getting killed" . I think it would be good to catalogue these scenario's and turn them into a sticky. I will do this in another thread, so both new and experienced DMs have a resource they can always draw on when designing combat encounters.
I suppose what I mean is that I'm having difficulty coming up with encounters at the beginning or middle of a dungeon (i.e. those incidental encounters with dungeon denizens that don't include the dungeon's particular maguffin) with objectives that, once completed, end the encounter in a way that makes sense. I just can't think of a way for a pack of gravehounds or carrion crawlers to call it a day and punch out once the players complete an objective, unless the act of completing the objective destroys the monsters.

Well, one approach is not to have "incidental encounters" that "don't include" the McGuffin. Don't include monsters for which you can't concoct alternat goals. Another related approach is not to assume the monsters "punch out," just that after the monsters' goal is achieved (or utterly failed) the combat is basically over.

But assuming you want to, and feel there's benefit to providing alternate goals to the monsters, I think it helps to consider what the monsters are doing in the dungeon, independent of the existence of the PCs. I'll work from your two examples.

Gravehounds: they might be created as servants or might have arisen on their own. As servants, they might be patrolling for intruders, sent to fetch something, sent to guard something, sent to attack another denizen of the dungeon.

Of these, "guard something" seems most likely to lead to a kill-or-be-killed scenario, so should be avoided unless there's high incentive for the PCs to want to grab the thing and run.

Patrolling could mean engaging but sending a runner back, a complex order, but a plausible one. As soon as the runner makes it "off the board," the PCs have lost. Play out the combat if you want, but it's just as well to describe the PCs finishing the creatures off, since they failed to stop the runner.

If they're sent to fetch something, then they will prefer not to engage: losing too many of their number will endanger their mission. Better to escape and evade. If they have the item on them, again they'll want to get away with it. If the PCs take the item, or are found with the item on them, the creatures will prioritize obtaining the item, and returning with it as soon as they do.

That approach seems like it would work for any mission the creatures are on. So-called "mindless" creatures have a built in excuse for preferring to ignore the PCs when they can, so as to complete their primary orders.

If the creatures rose on their own we might expect them to have simpler motivations, but also not as much dedication to them. It might become more of a puzzle for the players, to figure out who the creatures will and won't bother to attack. Perhaps they haunt a region of the dungeon and their in-game purpose is just to harrass people moving through that region. Once the PCs make it through (which could and should involve a time pressure of some sort - perhaps as part of a chase scene) the hounds relent.

Carrion crawler: It's an aberration, so the DM benefits from being able to give it utterly alien motivations. Without the PCs on the scene, it would probably just be scouring the dungeon for bodies. It might have young it shows some semblance of care for, or some other possession that it wants to protect and therefore tries to draw the PCs away from some location: if it can, it then tries to get away. It might have prey that it has paralyzed and just wants to get back with, so it might have the goal of just paralyzing every player. If it can achieve that, it leaves with its original quarry, hoping to come back for them. If the PCs have an NPC with them or some other reason for wanting someone to be alive that is who the carrion crawler has a hankering for.

Again, "mindless" or "alien" or "bestial" creatures are easy to have "punch out." They should be able to see that they're not going to win and that sticking with the fight will endanger their larger purpose (orders for mindless creatures, bizarre agendas for aliens, survival for beasts). "Will escape when dropped to X hp" is already something I've seen in use. Just add "or when Y occurs."

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

I once put a group of carrion crawlers on the garbage heap underneath a wizard's tower. It was a wizard who liked to create hybrid creatures, so there was a lot of biowaste. The PC's didn't actually fight them, but they were trying to run from another threat at the time, and just having them in that direction made it not such a viable way to flee.
I suppose what I mean is that I'm having difficulty coming up with encounters at the beginning or middle of a dungeon (i.e. those incidental encounters with dungeon denizens that don't include the dungeon's particular maguffin) with objectives that, once completed, end the encounter in a way that makes sense. I just can't think of a way for a pack of gravehounds or carrion crawlers to call it a day and punch out once the players complete an objective, unless the act of completing the objective destroys the monsters.


Well, the players' objective is to get past the monsters in that room and leave them behind.

NOT to kill them.

For some monsters, killing them will be necessary to avoid being followed. But for others, not so much.

And heck, being followed isn't even necessarily such a huge problem. If there is a big, nasty, very unintelligent, slow monster, it might be worthwhile to have that monster follow the party. Then in the next encounter get to the far side of the room, so that the current monsters are between you and the slow monster. It'll go after the nearest meal...


"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
For stuff in-dungeon:

I've had altars charing up magical power (using a d6 or d4 to show when it fills), people being sacrificed (again using a dX to determine the time your players have), open portals to other planes with their evil denizens pouring out, etc.

I'm currently toying with one where the floor is rigged to drop the players to their deaths and there is a magical barrier they need to destroy before it happens. I'd have them roll initiave, but there wouldn't be any 'enemies' persay.
If you're on a map where things can happen, rolling initiative is sometimes useful anyway.