Making Encounters for the Party to Run Away From?

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I'm currently designing a list of random encounters for my players to have when their traveling. When I say random encounters, I don't mean necessarily combat encounters. This encounters list includes everything from bandits attacking, to an abandoned caravan, to a random wizard staring at them from the distance before dissappearing, and much more.

But some of the wild animals in the world (it is Dark Sun) are much stronger than the party right now, but I want there to be a chance for them to encounter them. Of course, I could have them encounter them, but if the PC's didn't run away they would die. How do I design encounters, or just do something as a DM to let the party know they should run away without telling them outright "IF YOU STAY AND FIGHT YOU WILL DIE."?

I will be posting this list of random encounters in the Dark Sun subforum here once I'm finished, in case there are people interested in it. 
There's no consistent way to put a monster in front of the PCs and make them run away. At best you can hope, and if there is a perception of unfairness, you're going to get pushback.

You really need the players to buy-in to the scenario if running away from the monster is the point of the scene. Perhaps there is another objective to attain while avoiding the worst of what the monster can dish out and then a hasty skill-based escape. Point is, bring your players in on the setup portion of the encounter, hash out the goals and stakes, and then play to see what happens.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'm currently designing a dungeon encounter where I want the player to flee to the exit of the dungeon, so I'm also interested in any techniques that DMs may use to "convince" players to turn tail without explicitly telling them to.   With players that are more experienced, I've found they are usually able to identify the baddies they cannot defeat (mostly because they are more familiar with the monster manual stats), but in my case I have a new player, unfamiliar with RPGs in anything but theory, and so far he has been pretty willing to bite off more than he can chew when given the chance. 
So far, I intend to use a group of NPCs that have been travelling with the character, as monster fodder.  I'm going to switfly destroy a bulk of the party and hope that one or two of the remaining NPCs shouting at the PC to "run, for your sake, RUN NOW!" will be adequate.
I'm going to catch it for this but: you can't.

They might run away, but they might not. You have to be ready for them not. If you're not ready for them to die, then either don't use that encounter, or use it in a way that doesn't have their deaths as the only possible outcome.

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

I agree with Centauri.

Most players hate running away. You usually cannot get them to do it organically.

Sometimes you can convince the players out-of-character that it would be fun to play out a "running away" scenario. But in my experience running away is a lot less fun for the players than the DM thinks it will be.
They say there's no zealot like the newly converted, and I'm pretty newly converted to full-on collaborative setting creation. Not the whole world, necessarily, but whatever the PCs are going to be encountering next. So, what if you asked your players what are the sorts of things that their characters would run from, or at least try to avoid? Then do that, but in packs. They still might not run away, because they don't think you want to kill them, and they want to see what you'll do if they take away the plausible ways for you to pull your punches. Or because they're being contrary. Whatever. Don't rely on them to run away, but if you still want to, creating the scenario with them has a better chance of that.

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

I'm currently designing a dungeon encounter where I want the player to flee to the exit of the dungeon, so I'm also interested in any techniques that DMs may use to "convince" players to turn tail without explicitly telling them to.   With players that are more experienced, I've found they are usually able to identify the baddies they cannot defeat (mostly because they are more familiar with the monster manual stats), but in my case I have a new player, unfamiliar with RPGs in anything but theory, and so far he has been pretty willing to bite off more than he can chew when given the chance. 
So far, I intend to use a group of NPCs that have been travelling with the character, as monster fodder.  I'm going to switfly destroy a bulk of the party and hope that one or two of the remaining NPCs shouting at the PC to "run, for your sake, RUN NOW!" will be adequate.



Give them a hint, clue, or other in-game/story device that hints at the monster's destruction if they flee the area.

Like the Golem only comes to life while living things are inside the confines of the dungeon and is otherwise indestructible (or perhaps temporarily destroyed but reforms). Thus, getting out of the dungeon alive becomes more important than killing it outright.

I would recommend a journal on a dead body somewhere that chronicles an expedition team's accidental discovery of the golems. Have whoever is writing speculate that the power source is not here in the dungeon but somewhere else far away. Also make mention of his best guards being slaughtered by the golem.

That said, that's a brief overview of an adventure plot off the top of my head. Hopefully it helps give you some ideas. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
one word for you:

STAMPEDE 

Dark Sun is a wild and untamed land, which means there's probably various kinds of creatures that would travel in herds.  Predators would attack them by making the herd run and trying to split up the weak or young from the main herd.  This is a standard practice for predators like lions in the wild.

So basically think of the set up from Jurassic Park 3.  The ground starts shaking, the people are at first confused and don't know what's happening then they start seeing large creatures (in this case dinosaurs) running.  there was also a scene like that in Jurassic Park 2 but that herd was being hunted by the human hunters.  I believe in 3 it was provoked by Raptors.  Anyway that could be an interesting situation to have occur to the party as a random occurence.  These kinds of chases can last for many many miles too so it's not like it wouldn't make sense for it to suddenly get to where the party is.  Or you could have the party come upon the herd and then while they are around it have the predators suddenly attack the herd causing it to run their direction.

If the party stays to fight the predators or the fleeing creatures it probably means a bad time considering the amount of creatures running past them, stomping and / or trampling them so they have to run with the herd or find a place safe enough to avoid getting trampled.  Or heck they can stay their ground, the herd would split around them but then the predators might think that the standing party is food and go from there.
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I brought in a powerful NPC, whose sole purpose was to get completely creamed by said monster as soon as they engaged it.  This scared them enough that they did indeed run away.  It only worked, however, because the monster was much MUCH more powerful than them.
I brought in a powerful NPC, whose sole purpose was to get completely creamed by said monster as soon as they engaged it.  This scared them enough that they did indeed run away.  It only worked, however, because the monster was much MUCH more powerful than them.

What kind of monster?
An Angel of Vengeance.  Don't ask why it was attacking them, it's complicated
Yea, I could see that frightening off a few characters, especially if they are low level enough to know their place.  lol


But some of the wild animals in the world (it is Dark Sun) are much stronger than the party right now, but I want there to be a chance for them to encounter them. Of course, I could have them encounter them, but if the PC's didn't run away they would die. How do I design encounters, or just do something as a DM to let the party know they should run away without telling them outright "IF YOU STAY AND FIGHT YOU WILL DIE."?



Well, this is Dark Sun, where character existence isn't expected to be very long-lasting, so you could just throw the dice and things fall where they may.

If they truly have zero chance, then it's not really a combat encounter.  Don't roll initiative, don't pick up dice.  If a PC attacks the beast, narrate it shrugging off his mighty blow, then the beast backhands (backpaws/whatever) the PC and sends him flying, landing flat on his butt.  Then tell them that they are fully aware that they are helpless before this predator.  Repeat process until the PCs take the hint ... or don't, at which point, well, they're lunch.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I like this idea of narrating the combat as a mechanical way of demonstrating to the players that the encounter isn't about combat.  Especially where the campaign is action heavy, or when the players and DM have played together for awhile and can read each others subtext.   With my new player I'm trying this and I think we'll get on the same page soon (although he's already surprised me a couple of times). 
I brought in a powerful NPC, whose sole purpose was to get completely creamed by said monster as soon as they engaged it.



Was the NPC named Worf? 
But some of the wild animals in the world (it is Dark Sun) are much stronger than the party right now, but I want there to be a chance for them to encounter them. Of course, I could have them encounter them, but if the PC's didn't run away they would die. How do I design encounters, or just do something as a DM to let the party know they should run away without telling them outright "IF YOU STAY AND FIGHT YOU WILL DIE."?



Something to consider is to not put the creatures directly in the party's path.  When I DM I frequently make up "non-encounters" where the party is traveling and they see something in the distance.  They cannot really tell what it/they might be.  This gives them to opportunity to investigate but not necessarily engage.

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RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
Was the NPC named Worf? 



I'm assuming this is a Star Trek reference?  I don't get it

Was the NPC named Worf? 



I'm assuming this is a Star Trek reference?  I don't get it



tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheW...
An important part of getting PCs to run away from an encounter, is to make them understand that fleeing is an option (indeed, generally you want it to be a good option).

Give them a place to escape from, a clear exit zone:  A lockable door, a slashable rope-bridge/zipline, a collapseable archway, an elevator, a magic circle vs the enemy type, a friendly (or stealable) boat/airship, an exit into sunlight, a kill-zone for friendly snipers, etc.

One GM had an encounter with a necklace to recover and an unlimited number of Myconids.  He got frustrated when we got the necklace and turtled up to fight the Myconids, but when we discussed what we where supposed to do, he realised that he hadn't actually drawn the exit (a stone door that locks from the outside) on the map; we knew where we came in, but the exit wasn't emphasized.

People don't generally want to flee because generally... it doesn't work.  Some of the fleeing party will probably get away, but not all of them.  Many parties will want to get everyone out and may see "stand and fight" as a better option for the party, as opposed to "run away!" which is a better option for the elf.
Like other people have said, fleeing needs to be seen as an option by the players. As a player I am used to seeing a monster and killing the monster, and being rewarded for doing so. So you need to be able to somehow reward fleeing to allow players to see it as an option. I would also remind the players that "You can flee from an encounter, its a valid tatic/option"

However, i would limit the amount of encounters that are suppose to be "flee" encounters.

A scenario which you could impose would be that the party just entered a room and there is a huge monster in the middle and the door is on the otherside. From here you could tell them their goal is to get to the door.

To further spice up the scenario you could make the floor starts falling. Each round a piece of the floor falls. This would help to incentivize fleeing/circumventing the creature.
   
If you want them to flee, try giving them a goal that isn't achieved or even helped by staying and fighting. A time limit, the need for stealth, protection of an NPC or item.

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

You could also make a spectacular show about something that the PC's definately will run away from. Especially in Dark Sun, sometimes you just might encounter that grotesquely overpowered monster that will most definately eat you as an appetizer. Describe what is happening, let the PC's make reactions (not necessarily combat reactions) and go from there.

For example, the PC's might be travelling with a caravan. Beyond the occassional small bandit attacks, nothing truly dangerous is happening. However, suddenly the sand underneath the wagon in front of them is falling down and the wagon is falling in. The PC's wagon is also already slipping down, so the PC's might make an skill check to jump off the wagon, float themselves up with spirit energy or whatever.
After they managed that, they are startled by the chunks of the first wagon flying through the air, the driver's body parts flying too. They suddenly see a Gargantuan Purple Worm rise, snapping its jaws on the remains of the wagon. The worm completely surfaces and lashes out with its tail towards the players. Depending on the success of the player's reaction to that, snap off a couple of healing surges or so.
The Worm might make a move on the wagon that has something the players are supposed to protect. They might attempt to distract the Worm at the cost of their own safety. They might run away, weaving through the Worm's flailing and dodging any debris from the carnage. They might be accompanying a very 'high-level' NPC which engages the Worm directly. They would need to worry about getting the other caravan passengers to safety.

In my experience, if you make the description truly dangerous and completely out of the level that the PC's are used to, they will get the hint and act accordingly. Also, most player's won't mind a little nudge like "You see the Worm snapping up the Bulette you were just barely winning against like a tiny morsel. You had hoped never to meet one of these things, but now that you have, your very first instinct is to run away." Let the players decide if they have something to protect (or to steal) before running away. 

And if they still want to fight, use an 4 levels higher monster's statistics for the fight. When the monster's HP reaches 0, have something happen that will cause the monster to leave. It'll give the players a run for their money and they will have found out they didn't actually killed it, but just escaped with their lives.
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And if they still want to fight, use an 4 levels higher monster's statistics for the fight. When the monster's HP reaches 0, have something happen that will cause the monster to leave.



I like this idea. It allows a bit of actual combat, without such a high probability of a total party kill.
How do I design encounters, or just do something as a DM to let the party know they should run away without telling them outright "IF YOU STAY AND FIGHT YOU WILL DIE."?

Firstly, as you said yourself, an encounter doesn't have to mean combat.  Don't make the very mistaken assumption that an encounter with a monster that is weaker than the party can be a non-combat encounter, but if the monster is more powerful than the party it always means combat.

Encounter distance can be a good tool here.  Let the party see the overpowering monster far away and just observing the party before it moves off.  Let the monster already be involved in something that means it isn't observing the PC's - maybe concentrating on trying to get some other prey it can't get at, or is already in the middle of a fight.  It could be discovered as stalking the party but is revealed when some other unfortunate and weaker monster reveals itself and the party gets the chance to observe just how quickly the weaker monster is dispatched.  Maybe the party never sees the monster but sees lots of signs that it's there - and then if they pass through the area again later (at higher level) will have to actually face it.

Secondly, stop immediately this line of thought that you can't or shouldn't talk directly to your players about this.  Talk to them NOW, before the PC's even get into a situation that you think they should run from.  Tell them that if they don't use their heads there will come a time that standing their ground will only result in swift, gruesome death.  When that time comes and you see that they DON'T recognize it - TELL THEM IMMEDIATELY.  Don't just let them all die and then just sneer and say, "Well it's your fault you didn't run."  If their experience in playing the game has already taught them that running is almost never necessary why would you expect them to suddenly act differently, no matter WHAT monsters you throw at them?  Don't think that your silence as DM does NOT contribute to a TPK.  It will take time and a number of "You better run!" encounters for both you and your players to develop indirect communication about this.  You need to learn how to signal when the party needs to run.  They need to learn to recognize those signals.  That isn't going to be done in just one encounter.

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Running away should not be seen as failure, but as the accomplishment or futherence of some goal other than mere survival.

Edit: I remember the other thing I wanted to say which is if the rules specified that "0 HP" could mean different things according to the scenario, so many issues with this game would be resolved.

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

Running away should not be seen as failure, but as the accomplishment or futherence of some goal other than mere survival.

Edit: I remember the other thing I wanted to say which is if the rules specified that "0 HP" could mean different things according to the scenario, so many issues with this game would be resolved.



One day, you should really toy with the idea of reversing failure and success in your games. Might go over well. By that, I mean having the usual/typical ideas of failure being the way to win and actually accomplishing a goal being the way to ruin everything. Death would become good, failing to save the princess is fantastic, letting the lich create an army of undead is applauded, and so on. While preventing these things would suddenly become horrible and result in terrible things....

Hell, I might run with that idea one day. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
One day, you should really toy with the idea of reversing failure and success in your games. Might go over well. By that, I mean having the usual/typical ideas of failure being the way to win and actually accomplishing a goal being the way to ruin everything. Death would become good, failing to save the princess is fantastic, letting the lich create an army of undead is applauded, and so on. While preventing these things would suddenly become horrible and result in terrible things....

Hell, I might run with that idea one day.

That's a fairly standard trope in adventure stories already: killing oneself enables victory, losing the princess is preferable, giving the enemy the upper hand is necessary, etc. Typically, if these are paths to victory it's because there's a larger, longer-term goal that requires some necessary evils, such as when the Allies had to allow certain enemy actions to prevent the enemy from realizing their codes had been cracked.

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

One day, you should really toy with the idea of reversing failure and success in your games. Might go over well. By that, I mean having the usual/typical ideas of failure being the way to win and actually accomplishing a goal being the way to ruin everything. Death would become good, failing to save the princess is fantastic, letting the lich create an army of undead is applauded, and so on. While preventing these things would suddenly become horrible and result in terrible things....

Hell, I might run with that idea one day.

That's a fairly standard trope in adventure stories already: killing oneself enables victory, losing the princess is preferable, giving the enemy the upper hand is necessary, etc. Typically, if these are paths to victory it's because there's a larger, longer-term goal that requires some necessary evils, such as when the Allies had to allow certain enemy actions to prevent the enemy from realizing their codes had been cracked.



No, I'm saying turn that trope on it's head. Have the pointless death award XP (to the dead character). Have the princess dying be a good thing, but only if at the hands of the "villain"...which could be the king or something. If the players stop it, they get penalized (lose their gear, say confiscated). No long term goals that result in a "success" down the line. A completely backwards game. One that rewards bad decisions for almost no reason and penalizes good decisions. But, also give some kind of heavy choice or reason the players might actually just go with standard "success" to mix up the story a bit.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
No, I'm saying turn that trope on it's head. Have the pointless death award XP (to the dead character). Have the princess dying be a good thing, but only if at the hands of the "villain"...which could be the king or something. If the players stop it, they get penalized (lose their gear, say confiscated). No long term goals that result in a "success" down the line. A completely backwards game. One that rewards bad decisions for almost no reason and penalizes good decisions. But, also give some kind of heavy choice or reason the players might actually just go with standard "success" to mix up the story a bit.

Interesting: Misère D&D, sort of. Pretty easily done, just by reflavoring what dice rolls mean, or by reading the bottoms of the dice.

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

No, I'm saying turn that trope on it's head. Have the pointless death award XP (to the dead character). Have the princess dying be a good thing, but only if at the hands of the "villain"...which could be the king or something. If the players stop it, they get penalized (lose their gear, say confiscated). No long term goals that result in a "success" down the line. A completely backwards game. One that rewards bad decisions for almost no reason and penalizes good decisions. But, also give some kind of heavy choice or reason the players might actually just go with standard "success" to mix up the story a bit.

Interesting: Misère D&D, sort of. Pretty easily done, just by reflavoring what dice rolls mean, or by reading the bottoms of the dice.



Hadn't thought of that. I like it. Fear the natural 20! FEAR IT.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Hmm, I can think of a larger plotline in which this could work. Say, the game world is actually something like a holodeck scenario on Star Trek, but for whatever reason, the people in the scenario are playing to lose. Complicate this with the program being designed to adjust its difficulty level on the fly to try to ensure player victory.