The Comprehensive Guide to Alternate Goals in Combat

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The Comprehensive Guide to Alternate Goals in Combat
Source/inspiration.

Thanks to:
- iserith and Centauri for tirelessly advising everyone to insert alternate goals into their combats
- everyone posting

The purpose of this thread is to collect and list the different goals you, as the DM, can include in your combats for the players.

What? Why would I want to do that?
Failure should always be an option in combat. However, it should not result in a plotstopper like the deaths of all the players. That's not fun for anyone. If you instead make the combat about something besides killing all the monsters, like saving an NPC from getting killed, it not only challenges the players to approach combat tactics differently, but you also introduce interesting ways to fail. For example, all the monsters may be dead, but so is the NPC because the players didn't protect her properly.
This can take the story in an unexpected direction, which is good. It also challenges players to use their powers, items and skills in ways they had never imagined before. Lastly, it challenges you to really think about the motivations of your monsters apart from "adventurers = food and gold". 

Below you find the list of different goals you can insert in your combats. But this list is far from complete. That's why we need you to come up with more alternate goals so we can keep expanding this list. So if you think a goal is missing, please post it in the thread!

Goals


Prevent Enemies from Killing the NPC.



  • Basics: the players need to stop the enemies from killing an important NPC.

  • Set-ups: the NPC can be travelling with the players, travelling on his own or already be in the clutches of the enemies. It can be one NPC or multiple NPCs.

  • Progression: the enemies try to reach the NPC or try to prevent the players from reaching her. The NPC can usually take one or two hits before she dies.

  • Success: the players get the NPC to safety by killing all the monsters or moving the NPC off the map. The NPC is grateful and shares valuable items or information with them, or agrees to cooperate with their outrageous plan.

  • Failure: the enemies kill the NPC and run or try to slaughter the players as well. Alternatively, the death could trigger a catastrophic event. The players need to find another way to fulfill the goal they needed the NPC for, or save the world from the catastrophy that the enemies have unleashed.

  • Risks: don't let the NPC die too easily, give the players a chance to succeed. But don't be afraid to kill her either when it's obvious the players are failing the goal.


Prevent Enemies from Kidnapping the NPC.



  • Basics: the players need to stop the enemies from kidnapping and escaping with an important NPC.

  • Set-ups: the NPC can be travelling with the players or travelling on his own. It can be one NPC or multiple NPCs.

  • Progression: the enemies try to reach the NPC and try to prevent the players from reaching her. When the enemies have reached the NPC, they try to grab her and move away with her. This can be on foot, through the air, by teleporting, or through a portal.

  • Success: the players save the NPC by killing the enemies or moving the NPC off the map. The NPC is grateful and shares valuable items or information with them, or agrees to cooperate with their outrageous plan.

  • Failure: the enemies get away with the NPC. The players need to find another way to fulfill the goal they needed the NPC for, or rescue the NPC from the enemies' lair.

  • Risks: don't let the enemies reach and get away with the NPC too easily, give the players a chance to succeed.


Protect the Caravan.



  • Basics: the players need to protect one or more vehicles from enemies who try rob, board or destroy them.

  • Set-ups: the players are on board of the vehicles or encounter them during their travels. The enemies charge the vehicles or ambush them.

  • Progression: the enemies can use a mix of ranged and melee tactics to fulfill their goal. The players not only need to defend the vehicles themselves, but also the cargo and the crew. 

  • Success: the enemies decide to retreat because the players killed a lot of them, or because the players managed to get the vehicles away from the ambush site. The crew are grateful and bring the players to their destination and/or reward them for their help.

  • Failure: the enemies capture the cargo, kill the crew or hijack the vehicles. The players now need to continue on foot, are stranded, or are captured by the enemies. Alternatively, the crew are disappointed that the players couldn't protect their vehicles and deny to pay them or bring them to their destination.

  • Risks: don't let the enemies ignore the players when trying to kill the crew or capture the cargo.


Disable the Trap.



  • Basics: the enemies try to lure the players into a trap while fighting them.

  • Set-up: the players encounter a group of enemies who seem only interested in fighting. Something about their tactics is off, though.

  • Progression: during the fight, the enemies behave a bit weird. Unbeknownst to the players, the enemies try to trigger a certain condition. Then they spring a trap that turns the combat dramatically in their favor.

  • Success: the players prevent the enemies from triggering the condition, thus preventing the trap from triggering. Alternatively, they see the trap coming and disable it before it can be sprung.

  • Failure: the trap is sprung on the players, and they have to deal with the consequences. These consequences don't have to be immediately apparent. For example, the players might find out after the fight that they've been infected with a disease or that an important item has been pickpocketed.

  • Risks: don't make it too hard on yourself to spring the trap ("players have to be in 5 exact squares on the map"), but also don't make it too easy ("when someone draws their weapon, the trap is sprung"). A common trigger is when an important/powerful enemy becomes bloodied. A famous one is the lair of kobolds who boobytrapped their lair and make it come down around the players while they are safely behind their arrowslits.


Steal the Idol.



  • Basics: the players need something that's guarded by enemies. 

  • Set-up: the players reach a location that holds an item they need. Enemies and traps await the players to prevent them from taking the item.

  • Progression: the enemies and traps focus on players who approach or capture the item. When it becomes apparent that the players are winning, the enemies try to take off with the item or even destroy it  to prevent it from falling in the hands of the players.

  • Success: the players manage to capture the item and get away with it. The location collapses behind them in true Indiana Jones fashion

  • Failure: the enemies chase the players off or escape with/destroy the item before the players can capture it. The enemies now know that the players want the item, so they move it or double the guard. 

  • Risks: don't be afraid to exceed the XP-budget by a good margin. You don't want the players to first kill the enemies and then pick up the item at their leisure. Bring in reinforcements after the first few rounds if you need to.


Capture the Loot.



  • Basics: players and enemies compete for a number of items that both parties want.

  • Set-up: the players and a group of enemies both happen upon a site that holds a limited number of items that both groups want. 

  • Progression: both parties simultaneously try to capture as many items as they can while preventing the other party from capturing the items. The enemies might have unusual ways to escape with the items, like flying or teleporting away.

  • Success: the players capture enough of the items to accomplish their goal, or kill enough enemies to force them to retreat with only a small number of items. 

  • Failure: the enemies get away with most of the items, or send the players running with only a small number of items. The players now need to figure out how to steal the items from the enemies or get them some other way.

  • Risks: initiative plays a big part in this. If you see players rolling exceptionally high or low on their initiative, consider placing the enemies in different spots between the players' initiative counts instead of rolling for it. Also make sure the number of items is limited to keep it tense.


Cross the Room.



  • Basics: the players must get to a certain spot while facing an enemy force. 

  • Set-ups: the players encounter a group of enemies they can't fight for some reason. They may be carrying a wounded NPC, they might be on a time limit, or there may simply be too many enemies to fight. They need to break through and get to a certain spot on the battlefield (or off the edge of the map).

  • Progression: the enemies try to slow the players down while they're moving. If there are too many enemies to fight, they join the battle in waves so as not to instantly overwhelm the players. The players might not immediately notice the destination, or it could change over the course of the fight because the original route to the destination becomes blocked, or the original destination collapses. The players may need to cross or destroy barriers before they can reach the destination. 

  • Success: all of the players reach the spot and leave the enemies behind or close off the way behind them.

  • Failure: some or all of the players are captured or killed, or they had to leave their cargo or the wounded NPC behind to make it to the escape route in time.

  • Risks: slowing and immobilizing effects and forced movement can be incredibly cool or incredibly unfair. When used in moderation (only a limited number of enemies can do it) it adds another dimension to the combat: take out the controller while running away.


Prevent the Enemy from Escaping.



  • Basics: one or more enemies are caught redhanded by the players and try to get to safety.

  • Set-ups: the players discover enemies doing something not so nice, and want them to surrender or fight. The enemies however are more interested in getting away from the players. Alternatively, the enemies might decide during a combat that they'd rather run away to fight another day than die at the players' hands.

  • Progression: the enemies try to reach one or more spots on the map (could also be the edge of the map). If an enemy reaches that spot, it's safe from further attacks from the players.

  • Success: the players prevent the enemies from escaping to safety. They have captured them and can interrogate them or hand them over to the authorities. 

  • Failure: the enemies get away from the players. They are now free to continue their evil activities. The players need to find their lair or get the information they need from somewhere else. This result could also lead to a chase scene where the players try to capture the enemies through a skill challenge.

  • Risks: don't make it too easy for enemies to get to safety. Also give the players an indication beforehand that the enemies are going to flee.


Disable the Device.



  • Basics: a device is making life hard on the players. They need to shut it down to have a chance of surviving.

  • Set-ups: the players encounter a device that's actively making life more difficult for the players. It might spawn enemies, empower them, or threaten to outright kill the players with damage or status effects. It doesn't have to be the only threat during the fight, but while it's active the players will have a hard time defeating the other threats.

  • Progression: the device can be disabled by damage, skill checks or other methods you deem applicable. The players need to go through several stages to disable the device. The device doesn't have to be defenseless - it might retaliate when the players complete a stage. The effects of the device may increase or decrease when the players get closer to disabling it.

  • Success: the players go through the final stage and disable the device. It powers down and its effects are no longer noticable. 

  • Failure: the players don't disable it and need to flee. The effects of the device continue haunting the land. Alternatively, the players do manage to disable the device, but it explodes violently, harming both friend and foe. The explosion might also collapse the location or destroy something the players need.

  • Risks: be careful that the fight doesn't become about only making skill checks to disable the device, because that gets boring really quickly.


Stop the Ritual.



  • Basics: the players happen upon an enemy activity like a ritual that is near completion. If the enemies manage to complete the activity in time, it's bad news for the players. 

  • Set-ups: the players enter an area where enemies are busy doing something. It may be obvious what's going on, or the players will only suspect there's something going on because a number of enemies don't fight them. 

  • Progression: there are two ways to run this. The first is with a time limit: if the players haven't prevented the enemies from completing the ritual in a set number of rounds, they fail. The second is an enemy skill challenge: the enemies need a number of successes to complete their activity, which they automatically get during their turn. The players can prevent them from getting successes by killing them, with status effects or with opposing skill checks. 

  • Success: the players prevent the enemies from completing their activity, and the enemies will either get mad and try to kill the players or surrender/run away. 

  • Failure: the enemies complete their activity. This either ends the encounter or introduces a new element to the fight, like a demon-possessed cultist or some freshly awoken undead. It could also transition into Disable the Device. 

  • Risk: make sure the players can prevent the activity by fighting as well as through other methods like skill checks. Also know your players when choosing a time limit or number of enemy skill checks, since an optimized party can beat a time limit much easier than an unoptimized one.


Hold the Line.



  • Basics: for some reason, enemies can't be allowed access to a certain spot on the battlefield. It's up to the players to make sure they don't get there. 

  • Set-ups: there are one or more spots on the battlefield that the enemies may not reach before something is completed, for example a cart being repaired or a ritual being performed. The players stand between the enemies and the spot(s). The players might have had time to prepare the battlefield, due to a previously succesful skill challenge for example. 

  • Progression: the enemies divide their focus between the players and their objectives. Controllers, brutes and artillery mainly focus on players, skirmishers and lurkers focus on the objectives. The players might speed up the goal by assisting in the action being performed by making skill checks instead of attacks. When the players have things firmly under control, another wave may arrive to assault the line. 

  • Success: the goal is completed. This may greatly help the players in winning the fight or escaping from the scene. The latter case may change the goal to Cross the Room. 

  • Failure: the enemies succesfully stop the goal from being reached. This may change the goal to Prevent the Enemy from Escaping or to Cross the Room.

  • Risks: don't overload the players on control effects like dazed, or make it too easy (or hard) for enemies to stop the goal. Don't be afraid to exceed your XP budget by bringing more enemies to the fight and make it more challenging, but be careful not to introduce too many enemies at once.


Survive in a Three-way Fight.



  • Basics: there are two groups of enemies who are just as hostile towards the players as to each other. The players need to be smart enough to set them upon each other, lest they end up fighting both groups at the same time.

  • Set-up: two groups of enemies appear on different spots on the battlefield. They are obviously as hostile towards each other as to the players. Both groups would give the players a challenging fight if they were fighting one-on-one.

  • Progression: both enemy groups try to come out on top. They fight tactically and try to stay at range when the players are fighting the other group, peppering both groups with ranged attacks. If one of the three groups is winning, the losing enemy group joins forces with the other losing group to take down the winning group. Everyone can try to be diplomatic and persuade one group into a temporary alliance.

  • Success: the players either take out both groups or send them running, or they forge an alliance with one group that lasts beyond the initial fight. 

  • Failure: the players are sent running or killed. They might also have inadvertently joined the two enemy groups together into an evil alliance.

  • Risks: you need to be fair when choosing the actions of each enemy group. Remember that both groups initially hate each other as much as they do the players, though that can change over the course of the battle. An easy way to handle the diplomacy part is to assign each group a commander who orders his forces to fight one group or the other.



Reversing Goals


You can already see a few examples of this in the list, but if you think about it, just about every goal can be mirrored. Take Stop the Ritual and Hold the Line for example. Be mindful of this when looking through the list. Eventually I'll include all the mirrored goals in the list as well. 

Combining Goals


The most interesting encounters arise when you start combining different goals. For example, protecting an NPC while a magical ballista is shooting at the players (and the NPC!) is an example of combining Prevent Enemies from Killing the NPC and Disable the Device. The more of these goals you insert into an encounter, the less important the objective of "killing all the enemies on the battlefield" becomes. In the thread that's the inspiration for this one, there are some great examples of memorable encounters where the DM combined several goals. Some even got to the point where most players were not even fighting the enemies anymore because accomplishing the goals was much more important! If you manage to achieve this as a DM, you have truly taken your game to the next level.

To do:

  • Expand the list with more alternate goals, including mirrored goals

  • Make a list of interesting combined goals

  • List a couple of examples for each goal

What do you think, should this be a sticky on top of the What's a DM To Do forum?
Thanks for pulling this together, and for the recognition. I think recognition is also due to the game itself. Skill challenges really helped foster the idea of interesting failure, and the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 has a section on "Encounter as Story" that provides a list of encounter objectives, including
"Protect a Person or Item."

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

I'd add, "Stop the enemies from completing a task." Most common thing I've seen is a ritual, but there could be other possibilities.

We just had an encounter with a group of draegloths fighting a group of blood oozes, and we needed to keep the draegloths alive, even though they were probably going to turn on us as soon as the oozes were dead. I'm the bard who ends up doing most of the diplomacy. You try negotiating with an enraged draegloth who considers your paladin a religious abomination.
Good, keep it up! I really need to get myself a copy of the DMG2 sometimes.
Another one that I've seen is "Point A to Point B". Having to move from one side of the map to the other, while traps and monsters slow your path, and hazards punish you for moving too slowly.

This could be a sub-point of "escape from the enemies".
Indeed, thanks for the recognition as well and for your efforts in this regard. I'm a sucker for nice formatting, too! Let me know if you need anything. 

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I wouldn't stress the idea that making the encounter too hard or too easy is a "risk." Or, put another way, I wouldn't imply that that kind of a risk is present in alternate-goal scenarios but not in straight combat scenarios. Straight combat is well-known for being surprisingly lethal or surprisingly easy, even when the encounter creation guidelines are followed.

What alternate goals do is side-step this issue somewhat. An encounter can be massively overpowering, and that's very possibly okay because the PCs can pick themselves up from it and continue on with lessons learned both in and out of character. They can mitigate the failure after the fact, instead of having to get it right the first time. Very interesting failures might even themselves be an incentive to find in-character reasons to fail.

Making an encounter too easy is mainly only a problem of expectations and time. If a DM expects an encounter to be really tough or spent a lot of time crafting it and a daily-AP-daily combo shuts it down that can be a real downer. We see a few threads a month here with that theme.

The main way to mitigate these problems is to manage one's expectations. Make both success and failure interesting. If they succeed quickly, great. There's a general uproar for quicker encounters. If they fail quickly, or even not that quickly, great. Something cool happens and the characters get to deal with it.

Mitigating the issue of time spent gets easier when expectations are managed. Encounters no longer have to be "balanced" quite so finely. The DM doesn't have to make sure there's a way to succeed, because if there isn't who cares? But if there is, then it's probably something the DM didn't even consider and so he or she can rejoice with the players at their cleverness, instead of lamenting it.

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

This is really excellent, I would have commented earlier but I somehow missed the thread until iserith pointed it out to me. D:
Could we get this stickied?
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I'm glad to see this post.  As far as I'm concerned even the most basic combat encounter should have more than just 'kill or be killed' as an outcome.  I've really only seen one exception to this rule that worked well, and it was a game run by a fellow DM based in a city slowly overrun and surrounded over thousands of years by an evergrowing horde of undead.  The city had founded a mercenaries guild whereby going out and hacking down a few dozen undead was rewarded with small monetary compensation.

There are a number of great encounters ideas above, but one that I see missing and that seems rarely addressed by others is crafting and materials. 

Gathering the materials necessary for any profession can be turned into both a dangerous or fascinating element of the game.  I know that many DM's fold these errands directly into their quest lines, preferring to give out the materials as quest rewards rather than writing a story around gathering these items to begin with.  In some games this can be critical to the story.  In a game where the PC's are part of colonization effort on a new continent gathering raw materials is an important function of those strong enough to leave the relative safety of home and venture forth. 

So I would like to add, "Gather the material!"  as another alternative goal in combat. 

I think there are some interesting elements to materials gathering that some may overlook.  Descending deep into a cave to gather a sizable chunk of iron can be harrowing, and hauling it back up can be even worse and require substantial teamwork on the part of the players.  Iron is often deposited in heavy rock, and barring the ability to mine it out of the rock on the spot the PC's could be carrying around a great deal of weight, which complicates everything-disabling traps, crossing a ricketing bridge, climbing over a rock wall, and the obvious complications during combat.  Moving substantial amounts of raw material may require a lot more innovation on the PC's part then a normal dungeon crawl. 
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
Material gathering became important in a campaign I was running set on an island where magic was scarce. One of the players was an artificer, and it was difficult for him to find places to buy reagents, so I added in naturally-occurring sources of them frequently.
Thanks for the additional suggestions guys. Now that the weekend is done I'm going to update the list. 

Centauri: the risks I'm talking about is not making the encounter too easy or hard per se, but the risk of making them unfun by making the alternate goals unattainable or too easy to attain.

Take the very first scenario, preventing the NPC from getting killed. If you place the NPC 20 squares away from the players and have an evil priest looming over her who will kill her with his sacrificial dagger as soon as his turn comes up in initiative, most players will call shenanigans on you because the alternate goal is nearly impossible to attain. So some players won't even bother with it, while others who invest significant resources and still fail will be mad. 

Detoxifier: I feel Gather the Material is more a combination of multiple goals: Steal the Idol/Capture the Loot/Escape from the Enemy. Could you elaborate on how you think it's an alternate goal in itself? 
"Defend the MacGuffin until..." is a general one that is related to several of those already on the list.

The party needs to prevent the enemies from capturing an objective for a certain number of rounds. This could be the flip side of "disrupt the ritual", but it covers a much wider range of things - one very common one in movies and games being the elevator (or equivalent) that needs a certain amount of time to arrive/be repaired/etc so that the PCs (and/or NPCs) can escape (or receive reinforcements).

The objective in this case isn't usually to kill all of the attackers (there may be far too many for that to be a practical option) - it's more about using control and survival abilities and terrain to hold the line for X number of rounds. This also means that the PCs being forced away from the objective for whatever reason is a condition for failure.
"Delay the inevitable", probably an even more generalized version of "Defend the mcguffin"

Cover the retreat (heroically of course) against the overwhelming enemy force , keep that ceiling up for a few more rounds while those nasty kobolds are trying to crawl up the barbarian's loincloth, etc.

Sometimes bad stuff will happen no matter how buff/great/near divine the PCs may be, catastrophe, death and/or destruction may be inevitable but the situation should not be without ways to influence the results.  When fighting is not really an option delay may be. Give your npc friends the time they need to run, collapse that cliff so the stream of lava takes an extra hour to reach the orphanage.. etc. etc. 

Combined with interactive terrain, having to delay an approaching enemy can create a lot of tactical otions that are both more effective and more interesting than fighting. Sure I can hit that guy and delay him, maybe even slow/daze/stud a dozen of them...but I could also spread this barrel of tar all over the floor and light it up, or pour this vial of universal solvent on the bridge, or grab the first officer to reach us and force negotiations, or .. well you get the drift. In essense there are countless objectives the players might be given in a combat that could/should outrank the plain killing/attacking of enemies. Often players will think of a few themselves but it helps to hint at other options. Not many players might see the option of taking the captain hostage on their own, but emphasise his troops reacting to him slavishly and they might. Bringing down the ceiling as an alternative objective may not light up in the PCs mind untill you let it crack a little (ok so the examples are heavyhanded..


To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
I presented it as "Defend the MacGuffin until..." because that version involves a relatively short and specific time limit, albeit one where the clock is in the PCs' favor rather than one they have to beat. It also (usually) takes place within the context of a single encounter, whereas "Delay the inevitable" scenarios are very likely to encompass several and may well morph into a skill challenge punctuated by the occasional combat.

Edit: It occurs to me that the preamble ought to more strongly emphasize the point that failure in these sorts of scenarios should not result in a plotstopper, just a different path. Yes, it seems fairly self-evident to most of us, but given the number of threads in WaPtD and elsewhere about DMs who don't quite get that part...
Nice thread.

I suggest the opposite of everything you have.

Like...
Kill/kidnap/disable/capture a paticular NPC/item/vehical:  The setup: PC's try and get the MacGuffin and escape before the enemies overwhelm them.
Set-up: Enemies have a major advantage, but it activates over time.  Such as getting constant reinforcements, undead that keep standing up, the area may be too hot and deal a small amount of fire damage, or they may have to hold their breath underwater.
Progression: PC's should enter and quicky dispatch the first wave of monsters.  It should quickly become obvious that the PC's can't win and must eventually flee.
Success: The PC's achive their objective and escape.
Failure: The PC's can't achive their objective and flee.
Risks: PC's should be able to flee whenever they feel it necessary.  So avoid too many movement affecting powers (immobilize).

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

We just had an encounter with a group of draegloths fighting a group of blood oozes, and we needed to keep the draegloths alive, even though they were probably going to turn on us as soon as the oozes were dead. I'm the bard who ends up doing most of the diplomacy. You try negotiating with an enraged draegloth who considers your paladin a religious abomination.


That's a cool combination of Prevent Enemies from Killing the NPC and Disable the Trap, by the way. (the trap being a group of enraged draegloths coming down on you if you can't sweettalk them)

Another one that I've seen is "Point A to Point B". Having to move from one side of the map to the other, while traps and monsters slow your path, and hazards punish you for moving too slowly.

This could be a sub-point of "escape from the enemies".


Even better, I changed Escape from the Enemies to a new goal: Cross the Room. Escaping is a possible set-up for this goal.

Indeed, thanks for the recognition as well and for your efforts in this regard. I'm a sucker for nice formatting, too! Let me know if you need anything. 



Thanks for the mention in your sig!

Nice thread.

I suggest the opposite of everything you have.

 

Wow, this completely blew my mind (not to mention double my workload). You can already see a few "mirrored" goals in the list, but you're correct that almost every goal can be mirrored. I'll make a mention of this for now, perhaps later I'll make a full list. 
Centauri: the risks I'm talking about is not making the encounter too easy or hard per se, but the risk of making them unfun by making the alternate goals unattainable or too easy to attain.

Right, and I'm saying: don't worry about that risk. The reason I say that is because the same risk exists with pure "kill 'em all" combat encounters, but in that case there's probably no interesting way to fail.

I'm talking here about the risk of setting out for out outcome (a balanced chance of success of failure), not a deliberate design that makes something impossible or trivial. However, even seemingly impossible goals can be attained by some player idea that the DM didn't consider. And sometimes what a DM thinks will be trivial turns out to be trickier than designed.

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

Wow, this completely blew my mind

like so? 

(not to mention double my workload).

Not necciciarly.  Just add


Mirrored: PC's change sides, with perhaps this adjustment.

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

Kill/kidnap/disable/capture a paticular NPC/item/vehical:  The setup: PC's try and get the MacGuffin and escape before the enemies overwhelm them.
Set-up: Enemies have a major advantage, but it activates over time.  Such as getting constant reinforcements, undead that keep standing up, the area may be too hot and deal a small amount of fire damage, or they may have to hold their breath underwater.
Progression: PC's should enter and quicky dispatch the first wave of monsters.  It should quickly become obvious that the PC's can't win and must eventually flee.
Success: The PC's achive their objective and escape.
Failure: The PC's can't achive their objective and flee.
Risks: PC's should be able to flee whenever they feel it necessary.  So avoid too many movement affecting powers (immobilize).

Never count on player having their characters flee, even when doing so is obvious and easy. Try to give the PCs a time limit instead, after which the goal is unattainable. The weapon fires, the NPC escapes, the vehicle departs. The players don't necessarily flee, but the scene can and should change to one in which they're dealing with the aftermath of the failure.

(I once sent a never ending army of what were effectively troll minions at my PCs. They had flaming weapons and I wasn't making them roll. Bodies were piling up in the gap between them and the trolls, so that the trolls could simply walk across, and still they weren't getting that they couldn't fight their way out. I still don't like how that one went, though it was a cool early Paragon scene.)

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

That's a cool combination of Prevent Enemies from Killing the NPC and Disable the Trap, by the way. (the trap being a group of enraged draegloths coming down on you if you can't sweettalk them)



Thing is, if we can't sweet-talk them, it's not fighting them per se that concerns us. The blood oozes were tougher than the draegloths, and we killed them without expending dailies (albeit with draegloth help). The trouble is that if draegloths are killed in the room we're in, it will help complete the dark ritual we were trying to interrupt. So at the very least, we need to talk them into taking the fight outside. 
Thank you for this amazing resource!
This is an Awesome Thread!

I am Blue/White

Here's some ideas and past experiences that may add here, though they may fall into a mix of what is already existing.

Stormy Seas (Heroic)
The Heroes are on board a ship in a storm, and are under the deck when there are sounds of alarm from the top deck. Sahuagin board the ship attacking sailors, and none of the PCs know how to man the ship. They choose to stay under the deck and the Sahuagin eventually engage them there with difficulty, but all the Sailors are already dead by then. Every round the ship lurches, sliding players around, and there is a threat / worry of the ship sinking. Eventually the PCs fight off the Sahuagin before the Ship Sinks, but it still does despite their attempts to sail it, and all the cargo is lost. The PC's might have to make a Skill check just to survive, but I decided to just let them all eventually get washed up on shore.

Illusory Trap / Puzzle (Paragon)
The Heroes find themselves facing Wraiths, that form into spectral versions of themselves and that even can use their powers. The Wraiths generally target whoever that the PCs target on their side, and when the Heroes heal up, on the wraiths side another wraith (typically of the healed up Hero) reappears to join the fight. For the PCs to win, they have realise nothing is real, basically they are attacking themselves, and the damage is just delayed.
(I halve the damage that they deal to themselves, since they are mostly very high damage builds, and damage is meant for monsters HP up.) The only thing they really have to do is to pick open the door at the far end of the hall, and exit. Or as the case might be, stop attacking.
They actually took about 1.5 hours bashing themselves up... then the Healer who came late, joined at the Table (they were playing the Healer's char for him), and he solved it shortly. But not before they unleashed their Nova attack on the enemy Wraith Healer, that promptly reduced the Healer to 0 HP before he could react to his hypothesis.
After exiting the place, they found themselves in a Spiral Stairwell, that immediately caught fire, and they were separated by walls of fire that burned them, and the wall was passable but was DT. The only way out to rush up the stairs and open the door at the top (which BTW, was not locked).
The real trick was to figure out this was a trap as well, they would be entering the door at the top, triggering a new Encounter without having taken a short rest from the "Beat yourselves up" Puzzle. And that would probably have resulted in a wipe.
The Healer again managed to figure this out, and concentrated on dispelling the illusion. After having succeeded in his own mind, he called out to the rest, who fortunately listened and eventually managed to dispel the illusory firewall. From there they managed to have a short rest in the stairwell.

Grab the Clues and Escape the Deadly Blaster (Paragon)
The Heroes enter a room with a Gem / Trap that constantly sends out Close Blast 5 of Drain Soul (basically Demilich attack base, but also deals damage, and when they fail a save they have 1/6 chance of dropping to 0 HP), with 2 Standard Actions and 1 Minor (ie a Solo, but with no HP). 4 Corners of the room have 3 clues, and in 1 Corner is an Elite Guardian. The Guardian does not attack unless attacked by Heroes (basically if you reveal it, attacking it is a trap) or unless the Gem is in Danger.
To leave the room, the Players have to either lower the Wards on the Door (arcana check) and accumulate 3 successes to pick open the Door. Whenever they do so, on the Gem's Turn it will spend a Standard Action to raise the Wards on the Door once more.
They can also attack the large Table that the Gem is on, break it to smaller pieces so they can eventually take the Table Stand the Gem is on and throw it out the Window. They can also use Arcana to lower the wards around the Gem stand and use Thievery etc to accumulate successes to prise the Gem free of the stand, before throwing it out the window. However, if they take any direct action against the Gem, such as attacking the Table or lowering the Wards on the Stand, the Elite Guardian will activate and start to engage the Heroes, and also compensating for the Standard Actions that the Gem uses to raise the Wards on its own stand.
The final way (that I should not have provided, I think) is to simply jump out of the windows, take a horrendous amount of falling damage, and then escape.
In actual game, one of the Heroes died to the Gem, his Soul drained after grabbing it despite warnings from his high Arcana check. Eventually the Heroes jumped out, some fell unconscious, but most survived even after the Elite cut the Rope that the sensible ones were trying to climb out from. They gathered most of the Clues as well.

Phoenix & the Airship (Epic)
Players are on the Airship. Apart from some flying artillery (Furies), they contend with a flaming, Phoenix, that keeps close to the Airship at all times and uses a Close Blast 3 on the Heroes. Every Blast autohits the Airship. When they bloody the Phoenix (that has Standard Monster HP), it explodes in Close Burst 10, dealing damage and ongoing 10 fire. This explosion repeats when it is reduced to 0 HP.
The Phoenix then becomes an Egg, in one of the squares on the Airship. The Egg has Resist XX to all damage (I think it was 20-30) and +4 to all Defenses, with Standard HP that the Players have to smash through to kill the Egg, and they can use Skill checks to reduce the Eggs Resistance and bonus Defenses. The Egg also has -2 to all forced movement and still gets to Save before falling over the edge.
At the start of the Phoenix's next Turn, the Egg itself explodes (repeat said Explosion) and Phoenix rises from the Egg with full HP, and it attacks against with its Close Blast 3 (including the Airship). The Phoenix can raise itself ad infinitum so long the Egg is not destroyed or otherwise got rid of.
So it is a combat and puzzle built in together. They have to time their attacks, take out the Phoenix at close to death, so they have maximum actions to reduce the Egg to 0. Alternatively, they can try and push the Egg off the Ship. They eventually succeeded pushing it off, but just barely, the Airship was almost unflyable by then.

I am Blue/White

This should definitely be stickied.

How about, even for the DMs that absolutely love the mindless to-the-death monster (guilty ):

Capture the Monster.

Something massive and deadly has found it's way to a city, but the PCs, for reasons to be determined, must only subdue the monster instead of killing it. Maybe it belongs to the King and is used in battle in the same way that elephants have been in real life, except that this one has been driven insane by a mad sorcerer's poison and divinations to reveal the mage's identity would not work if the victim is dead, leaving him free to kidnap more monsters from the Royal Family to poison for further attacks?

(How would they know that any mad sorceror is behind this in the first place if they don't know who he is specifically before-hand? Maybe this isn't the first time a Royal monster has been poisoned, and the poison has been identified by alchemists the last time one of these monsters had to be killed, but they need to find the person responsible now that they know that it was poison?)

Also, being in the middle of the city - even with the people evacuated - would put a damper on Area-of-Effect spells that could make rebuilding harder, especially the really important landmarks. Perhaps the city is tending to the only tree within 1000 leagues that grows the most important medicinal fruits?

And even if the tree is destroyed, this could lead to a quest, if the players want, to persuade a neighboring kingdom to share the seeds for the type of tree in question? And even if the players don't want to be the ones to do it, perhaps it could be mentioned off-hand at some much later point that somebody else had done so off-screen?

What do you guys think? 

http://community.wizards.com/group/lgbt-gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Best defense that I've read in favor of having alignment systems as an option
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

As far as deadly combats go, there's ways around it. In the hold the line scenario I've run things where if a PC's HP ran to 0 they had to retreat. You want to make sure you have player buy in but it worked well for us
As far as deadly combats go, there's ways around it. In the hold the line scenario I've run things where if a PC's HP ran to 0 they had to retreat. You want to make sure you have player buy in but it worked well for us

Part of the point of having alternate goals is that merely reducing one side or the other tends to produce long, unengaging combat scenes. A short combat scene can get away with not being very engaging, and an engaging scene can get away with being long, but long and unengaging is a bad mix. And the question of "can the PCs reduce the monsters to zero before they're reduced to zero" tends not to be very interesting, because the PCs almost certainly can. If "reduce the monsters to zero" becomes "prevent the monsters' goal," or "before they're reduced to zero" becomes "before time runs out" already things start to get more interesting.

Aternate goals don't need to mean death doesn't happen, just that it's not necessarily the point of the scene for either PCs or monsters.

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

@ centauri, I think I may not have been clear. If the PCs are trying to hold the line, as it worked in my campaign, the goal was to keep X number of enemies from reaching their end of the map before reinforcements arrived in three rounds. They could push, prone, kill, stun or whatever to team monster but the main goal was not to reduce them to 0hp. Likewise, team monster disn't care too much about killing the PCs. They just wanted to get by. If the PCs were reduced to 0hp though no worries. They'd be present in the next encounter whether or not the PCs succeeded, with different setups for success or defeat
@ centauri, I think I may not have been clear. If the PCs are trying to hold the line, as it worked in my campaign, the goal was to keep X number of enemies from reaching their end of the map before reinforcements arrived in three rounds. They could push, prone, kill, stun or whatever to team monster but the main goal was not to reduce them to 0hp. Likewise, team monster disn't care too much about killing the PCs. They just wanted to get by. If the PCs were reduced to 0hp though no worries. They'd be present in the next encounter whether or not the PCs succeeded, with different setups for success or defeat

Ah, gotcha.

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

How about, depending on how fun a group finds combat-on-the-run, "Create A Distraction:"

The heroes need to lure a very large, very powerful group of enemies into a trap, so they have to


  • stay close enough and kill enough enemies to pose enough of a threat for the enemies to chase after them

  • far enough away to survive the superior numbers and power long enough to get to the point where the trap will be set

  • act desperate enough for the enemy to be convinced that they are chasing the heroes rather than the other way around

  • Possibly, if the group wouldn't find this to be to Deus Ex Machina to be exciting, having the cavalry catch up just when they're dangerously close to failing? Or as a compromise, each round has a small but increasing chance of being when the cavalry catches up?


Or is that basically the opposite of "Hold the Line"?

http://community.wizards.com/group/lgbt-gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Best defense that I've read in favor of having alignment systems as an option
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

It's complicated, but fun. I'll add it. I need to update this thread anyway, so thanks for the suggestion.
It's complicated, but fun. I'll add it. I need to update this thread anyway, so thanks for the suggestion.

I like it. I'd break it down into a few different success/failure pairs, perhaps linked in some way. Or, I'd skip straight to the interesting part, instead of allowing it to fail boringly on an early part.

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

Does anybody else have any cool ideas?

http://community.wizards.com/group/lgbt-gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Best defense that I've read in favor of having alignment systems as an option
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Sticky request!
So many PCs, so little time...
Sticky request!

Any idea how to do that?

http://community.wizards.com/group/lgbt-gamers

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Best defense that I've read in favor of having alignment systems as an option
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Sticky request!

Any idea how to do that?

Not really... Im hoping some helpful moderator is cruising around checking for those requests??
So many PCs, so little time...
I messaged Wrecan (RIP) for this once, and he put it up there with the Useful Links for Dungeon Masters (sticky at the top of this page). But we now see how often that gets used Tongue Out

Very nice guide.

5e should strongly stay away from "I don't like it, so you can't have it either."

 

I once asked the question (in D&D 3.5) "Does a Druid4/Wizard3/ArcaneHierophant1 have Wildshape?". Jesse Decker and Andy Collins: Yes and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Rich Redman and Ed Stark: No and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Skip Williams: Lol, it's worded ambiguously and entirely not how I intended it. (Cust. Serv. Reference# 050815-000323)

I really like how this page boils things down:

 

http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/big-list-of-combat-stakes/

 

Oddly, it sounds like I would have met the author, or have talked with them, or read things they've written, but I don't think I have.

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