The Comprehensive Guide to Alternate Goals in Combat

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The Comprehensive Guide to Alternate Goals in Combat
Reposted here at the request of CorranHorn.

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

Thanks for reposting this svendj! I was going to see if there was anything to suggest, but it looks like you've covered all of the possibilities, bravo!
"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 have only included alternate goals a few times, but I should do it more often. That's a nice list to work from, thanks.
This is an awesome guide! it makes my mind teem with new possibilities!  Thanks!
192523575 wrote:
-In loving memory of all the Squirrel Jedi hunted down during the Dark Times.
"any eye for an eye leaves the world blind" "No it doesn't, there'd be one guy left with one eye" my custom miniatures http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75862/29829771/ChainmailJedis_customs
This is an awesome guide! it makes my mind teem with new possibilities!  Thanks!

svendj is my hero. Seriously. He's awesome.
"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?
Show
Star Wars Minis has a home here http://www.bloomilk.com/ and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG has a home here http://thesagacontinues.createaforum.com/index.php
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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)
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