Making the party want to run away or avoid an area of the dungeon? Help?

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So I'm running a Dark Sun game, and am working on a dungeon for the PC's to go through. After a particularly difficult opening encounter in the dungeon with a psionic spider and some undead, the hallway splits into 2 directions. To the left, they hear the faint howling of wind and smell smoke. To the right, they smell rotting flesh and acid.


If they continue to the left, they find the hallway absolutely LITTERED with skeletons and bodies, all of them in a position where their arms are outstretched in the direction of the hallway's entrance, with scratch or clawmarks on the ground from their hands. The skeletons/bodies also don't have anything below the waist, as in their legs are GONE. And the player's with high enough passive perception will notice that in some places on the walls or floor, be it etched in the stone or written in blood, there are warnings to “RUN!” and “STAY AWAY!” or something along those lines.


They also find broken weapons, wrecked armor, and discarded but useless gear of all kinds. If they continue down the hallway, they find a multi-headed reptilian beast with acid dripping from hits many maws, somehow chained into a big room at the end of the hallway that's just littered with bones.


In case you can't guess it, it's a hydra. And behind the hydra, there's a small fountain, maybe 5 feet across, with water in it. And around the spring is a pile of jewels and treasure. Hydras are level 10, the party is level 2.


With the bodies and the written warnings and the other signs, have I given my player's enough of a sign to tell them to not try to fight the hydra, and to just leave it be?

Why would you put something in your game that you want your players to leave be?

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 not sure I understand the narrative/structural purpose of the hydra. Care to explain?
Why would you put something in your game that you want your players to leave be?



That was eerie.
to paraphrase a common (though not universal) character ideology:

More danger means more treasure/XP.
More danger means we're on the right track
The easy way tends to be the wrong way.
etc.

Putting all those warnings and such, to me (again, all players think different....though tendencies tend to be strong towards...), would be telling the players "this hydra right here....this is the challenge to be overcome.  Beat this and you get your hero reward (whatever it may be)."     

DM fact #1:  whatever you don't want your players to do, they will probably do at some point.    
to paraphrase a common (though not universal) character ideology:

More danger means more treasure/XP.
More danger means we're on the right track
The easy way tends to be the wrong way.
etc.

Putting all those warnings and such, to me (again, all players think different....though tendencies tend to be strong towards...), would be telling the players "this hydra right here....this is the challenge to be overcome.  Beat this and you get your hero reward (whatever it may be)."     

DM fact #1:  whatever you don't want your players to do, they will probably do at some point.    



This hits at the core of the design issue. The players see a choice (relative safety v. greater reward) where you have actually presented a null choice (continuation of session or death). The hydra is the structural equivalent of not having a 2nd path at all.
I'm not sure I understand the narrative/structural purpose of the hydra. Care to explain?



Why would you put something in your game that you want your players to leave be?



My DM reasoning behind it is to try and teach the PC's that sometimes they'll need to run away. The story reason is that the PC's are there to find a source of water. But if the obvious source of water is protected a monster they can't hope to slay, but it's a spring, springs have to get their water from somewhere, right? And maybe the PC's will think of a clever way to get rid of the hydra and still get some water or treasure.
This hits at the core of the design issue. The players see a choice (relative safety v. greater reward) where you have actually presented a null choice (continuation of session or death). The hydra is the structural equivalent of not having a 2nd path at all.



Nicely put.

I'd be okay with this scenario if it was possible the PCs sneak around or otherwise come up with a decent plan to get the treasure and not defeat the hydra. But this wasn't clear in the setup. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
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Would it be better if I made it so if the PC's decided to continue the approach down the hallway, they found the hydra fast asleep?
Would it be better if I made it so if the PC's decided to continue the approach down the hallway, they found the hydra fast asleep?



Possibly. What's your ultimate design goal here? Do you want them to solve a problem without resorting to hack-n-slash?

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

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Would it be better if I made it so if the PC's decided to continue the approach down the hallway, they found the hydra fast asleep?



Possibly. What's your ultimate design goal here? Do you want them to solve a problem without resorting to hack-n-slash?


Yes. And teach them that some situations can't be solved by hack'n'slash, and when they try to, they need to run away if they want to survive.
Yes. And teach them that some situations can't be solved by hack'n'slash, and when they try to, they need to run away if they want to survive.



There's no sure way to do this in-game. In the attempt, you can end up looking pretty bad and straining the trust of your players. "Teaching them" is not a good approach in my experience. It carries great risk.

You can get the scene you want, however, by framing it, along with their help. Let them know - "Hey, guys, this hydra isn't something you're going to be able to defeat with your weapons. You're going to need to use your wits if you want that sweet, sweet treasure. Now, here's the sitch (cleary explain the goals, stakes, and location details). What do you do?"

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

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if you really want to teach the PCs that they need to run away sometimes, please believe the collective wisdom of the DM forums that an impossible fight is NOT the way. 

Possible working ways might include:

 - A tough fight in a dungeon that leaves the players hurt and low or out of resources.  The last monster of the enemies runs through a door saying "guys guys! intruders! Help!"  and then the party immediately hears sounds of several more enemies strapping on shields and pulling weapons.  The party has 1-2 rounds to run.  They MIGHT win the following battle, they might get captured, a few of them might even die.  Or they can run (worked for our party in "descent into undermountain" and we're habitually TERRIBLE at running away).

 - A Macguffin the PCs must safeguard (person, fragile artifact, etc.) combined with really OBVIOUS enemy attacks at the macguffin.  Have it take some damage.  Have the enemies have a erason not to give chase (perhaps they have no REAL chance of defeating the PCs in straight up combat....15 minions works great here).

 - Rooms with easy fights but repeatedly attacking traps (even weak ones) may force a party to pull back out of the room (in which case the monsters may not give chase) or flee from the fight eventually unless they can quickly spot the traps, the countermeasures, and attempt some of the countermeasures.        


an unwinnable fight will not TEACH them to run away....at least not without likely murdering a character or five.  remember, they can't read your mind, they don't know they can't win.  If that isn't enough, even you telling them they can't win can cause problems. 

"Keep Out" signs have got to be one of the most powerful attractive forces in the universe to humans (i'm talking the PLAYERS here, not the characters).  All too often, people hear "you can't do that" and interpret it as "i dare you to do that!"  Its just human nature. 

While a TPK as a result of an impossible fight may teach them to run away, it will also breed strong mistrust and resentment towards you, the DM.        
Yes. And teach them that some situations can't be solved by hack'n'slash, and when they try to, they need to run away if they want to survive.



There's no sure way to do this in-game. In the attempt, you can end up looking pretty bad and straining the trust of your players. "Teaching them" is not a good approach in my experience. It carries great risk.

You can get the scene you want, however, by framing it, along with their help. Let them know - "Hey, guys, this hydra isn't something you're going to be able to defeat with your weapons. You're going to need to use your wits if you want that sweet, sweet treasure. Now, here's the sitch (cleary explain the goals, stakes, and location details). What do you do?"



if you really want to teach the PCs that they need to run away sometimes, please believe the collective wisdom of the DM forums that an impossible fight is NOT the way. 

Possible working ways might include:

 - A tough fight in a dungeon that leaves the players hurt and low or out of resources.  The last monster of the enemies runs through a door saying "guys guys! intruders! Help!"  and then the party immediately hears sounds of several more enemies strapping on shields and pulling weapons.  The party has 1-2 rounds to run.  They MIGHT win the following battle, they might get captured, a few of them might even die.  Or they can run (worked for our party in "descent into undermountain" and we're habitually TERRIBLE at running away).

 - A Macguffin the PCs must safeguard (person, fragile artifact, etc.) combined with really OBVIOUS enemy attacks at the macguffin.  Have it take some damage.  Have the enemies have a erason not to give chase (perhaps they have no REAL chance of defeating the PCs in straight up combat....15 minions works great here).

 - Rooms with easy fights but repeatedly attacking traps (even weak ones) may force a party to pull back out of the room (in which case the monsters may not give chase) or flee from the fight eventually unless they can quickly spot the traps, the countermeasures, and attempt some of the countermeasures.        


an unwinnable fight will not TEACH them to run away....at least not without likely murdering a character or five.  remember, they can't read your mind, they don't know they can't win.  If that isn't enough, even you telling them they can't win can cause problems. 

"Keep Out" signs have got to be one of the most powerful attractive forces in the universe to humans (i'm talking the PLAYERS here, not the characters).  All too often, people hear "you can't do that" and interpret it as "i dare you to do that!"  Its just human nature. 

While a TPK as a result of an impossible fight may teach them to run away, it will also breed strong mistrust and resentment towards you, the DM.        


What if I were to say to the party that their characters recalled legends and information about how powerful hydras were, and the CHARACTERS knew that they couldn't fight it? Would that be fair?
What if I were to say to the party that their characters recalled legends and information about how powerful hydras were, and the CHARACTERS knew that they couldn't fight it? Would that be fair?



Sure, though I don't see how that's any different from just letting the players know it's not a battle they can win through force and letting them decide how their own characters also know this.

I wouldn't even use a stat block for the hydra. It's irrelevant for the purposes of this scene. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
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If you're trying to get the players to solve a problem without resorting to combat, presenting them with a potential combat seems a bit of a screwy approach. A situation that doesn't have a brute force option like a skill challenge is a much better bet.

Getting players to run is incredibly hard for all the reasons mentioned above. Rather than trying to get them to flee in terror (which makes them look wimpy) just present them with an alternate goal where running is the better option and killing all the enemies doesn't mean victory (ie, a band of silt runners just drained the dungeon's cistern and are escaping through the backdoor with their waterskins while the oath wight guarding the cistern tries to stop the party from "stealing" the water that had already been stolen (because the wight's dying instructions were something along the lines of "Let no man touch our sacred well" and it doesn't recognize the silt runners as "men", or something of the like)).  
If the PCs are not intended to fight, don't dress the scenario as a combat encounter.  No minis or maps (if you use them), no rolling for initiative.  Don't let them start a fight.  If they attack, narrate the hydra effortlessly smacking the attacker back, maybe knocking him unconscious for a moment or two.  "If it has stats, we can kill it," so don't present the hydra as if it has stats.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Getting players to run is incredibly hard for all the reasons mentioned above. Rather than trying to get them to flee in terror (which makes them look wimpy) just present them with an alternate goal where running is the better option and killing all the enemies doesn't mean victory (ie, a band of silt runners just drained the dungeon's cistern and are escaping through the backdoor with their waterskins while the oath wight guarding the cistern tries to stop the party from "stealing" the water that had already been stolen (because the wight's dying instructions were something along the lines of "Let no man touch our sacred well" and it doesn't recognize the silt runners as "men", or something of the like)).  



Very cool. Nice job.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
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The question was "How can I make the party...?"

You can't. You can't "make the party" do anything. They might end up doing it, but it's probably because you got lucky, or because they know what you're trying to do and went along with it.

You also can't even "make" your encounters do a certain thing. There are plenty of stories in this forum about groups that either beat the DM's "unbeatable" encounter, or who found a loophole that the DM hadn't considered and wasn't sure how to keep them from using to beat the "unbeatable" encounter.

So, you can't make them run away, and you can't even make them regret not running away. It can happen, but you have next to no real control over it.

But players should fail sometimes, right? They can't beat everything. But we fall into the trap of thinking that if the players can't beat something then the only alternatives are for them to run away, be captured, or be killed. Those aren't the only alternatives. Look for ways that the players can lose without being killed. Look for ways the monsters can win without surviving the encounter.

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

I accomplished a similar task in a recent game: convincing the players to run away without telling them to, by including some obviously high powered NPCs who were promptly and easily dispatched by the monster.  If the NPCs are already in the room dealing with the Hydra when your players enter, if the NPCs are bristling with armor and powers that clearly indicate that they are far more powerful than the PCs, then when the Hydra swiftly croaks one and eats another, the PCs SHOULD get the point. 
If they don't I would probably allow them to engage, and even survive the encounter, but so would the additional powerful NPCs, and a powerful group of NPCs has no reason to share any loot with a bunch of low level green-horns. 
As others have said, this design sounds questoinalbe but you've gotten some solid in-game advice.

One thing I would add is if you want to throw unwinnable encounters at the players, tell them, "Guys, be aware that from time to time I will put monsters in your path that are beyond your ability to defeat through combat. Keep that in mind!"

Remember, however, that players enter dungeons to kill monsters and take their stuff. 
This is a Quantum Ogre Scenario
 
I agree with the above post - if the encounter is not meant to be solved by combat, then definitely don't represent the hydra as a mini and imply any combat.  I would definitely reward the players for coming up with unique and successful methods of defeating the monster. The following things would spring to mind immediately
- Stand as far away from the hydra as possible and shoot arrows at it.
- Poison the well
- Collapse the tunnel
- Wait til the Hydra goes to sleep then send the rogue in. 
- Free the Hydra and run like mad. 


Regardless I think this is a decent time to metagame with the players.  My process would be the following:



  • Give all the information you've listed above. 

  • Give a danger advisory - to engage this creature in combat appears to be well beyond your abilities.  

  • Ask for appropriate knowledge related checks and backgrounds (dice optional)  to give players appropriate clues (hydras hate fire, hydras hate being chained up, hydras respond poorly to bribes, etc. ) - i.e. rule of three. 

  • Confirm with the players what the current party goal is - this is important - is it killing monsters?  getting treasure?  Survival?  Water? 

  • Knowing a party goal and character goals will help define decisions.  For example if one the characters is a brave barbarian he will definitely want to add a hydra pelt to his collection.  I don't see why this is a problem.

  • Ask the players if they have any ideas on what to next and then hold hands with them on the next step - importantly, don't ever say No.  Let them experiment then live with the results.  They are trusting you to bring them a good time. 

  • You want to help them turn this in a winning scenario - maybe they just need to come back with something else to solve this.  But then that should be explicit.  If the goal is "you should run from stuff' then you should be explicit about that as well. 



Meta-meta-scenario:
What's more heroic in a movie?
Running from a rampaging monster, or
Chasing after an escaping criminal?

Both scenarios involve fast paced action and quick decision making, right?  
I think if you want a fleeing survival challenge (the "entire dungeon collapses" game, or the Jurrassic Park T-Rex chase) then it seems like something you insert near the climax of a chapter, not randomly.

Edited to fix the link.





@PoniesNSunshine: Great post. I like your process in the bullet points.

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

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I've never grasped the point of things that were just too tough for the PCs to possibly have a hope of beating them.  Typically these are found in "sandbox" games and are supposed to reinforce "the world is dangerous."  

Mostly what they seem to do is reinforce "the world is dangerous, and you'd be a complete idiot to explore it."

Which is probably pretty damn simulationist, but is not actually very interesting.  

If you set me up with a hydra, I'd go "oh cool, a hydra encounter!"  It wouldn't occur to me that "oh cool, a hydra encounter, I should run away!"  It'd basically be the purest form of metagaming in any case.  

The thing is, hydras aren't sentient.  So they're just not very interesting to interact with.   

I'd pick a much more sentient entity, like a dragon.  Maybe a metallic dragon.  That opens up all sorts of avenues - negotiations, making the lair untenable, finding a different lair, etc.  Plus a HUGE Gold Dragon just says "thou shalt not screw with me" in a way that hydra doesn't.  If they attack you could even have the Gold dragon find it amusing and have them play with the little adventures for a bit (while going on about how funny this is).

Use minis at no point during this "fight."  Have a picture of an ancient Gold Dragon, to scale.

Solutions I can think of offhand:

1) Convince Gold Dragon to help village
2) Reroute water source
3) Find Gold Dragon a better lair
4) Make Gold Dragon hate current lair, preferably without it realizing the PCs are involved (although it doesn't have to kill the PCs if they fail - maybe it comes and asks them very pointedly why they made its lair suck, and then demands the PCs grant it a boon in recompense)

See?  Cool.

Hydra dumb, strikes me as the sort of thing I want to kill.  It's a big dumb threat to everything near it. 
The thing is, hydras aren't sentient.  So they're just not very interesting to interact with.   


I'd pick a much more sentient entity, like a dragon.


Negotiating with dragons can be very fun. I had a party do it at about level 4. 
The thing is, hydras aren't sentient.  So they're just not very interesting to interact with.   


I'd pick a much more sentient entity, like a dragon.



Negotiating with dragons can be very fun. I had a party do it at about level 4. 


This.  My players encountered a lich at level 9.  They knew they were in over their heads if they chose combat, but since he was sentient, it was possible to negotiate with him instead.  And by doing so, they were handsomely rewarded. The lich has become a valuable NPC source of information (who will absolutely betray them and they know it).  Sentient monsters are a great way to learn how to present non-combat encounters.

The key here is trust.  Your players are counting on you to provide a fun adventure, not slaughter them.  You need to explicitly inform your players that some of the encounters with which you will present them cannot be overcome by combat.  You also need to make it very clear which encounters those may be.  Te earlier suggestion about having the creature knock back one of the PCs is a good one.
Next thing you will tell me Browbeat is bad.
Sentience is obviously a good start if you want players to clue in that they can brainstorm a solution other than direct confrontation, but be sure to pay attention to the underlying goals of the scenario. If the goals of the party and the uber-NPC are directly opposed ("Give me the MacGuffin or die") then you're not really creating a meaningful choice and run the risk of alienating your players.

I would propose that a better alternative is to have the goals of the party and the NPC in question tangentially intersect. Giving the factions options on how they can disengage or escalate the conflict.

Take for instance the movie Die Hard. John McClane's goal is to escape Nakatomi Plaza with his wife, who has been taken hostage by a band of heavily-armed thieves at a Christmas party. The thieves want to steal the millions of dollars worth of bearer bonds sealed in the vault of Nakatomi Plaza. At the outset of the scenario neither side has a vested interest in murdering the other, and the hero in particular has little incentive to burst into the stronghold of the thieves guns akimbo because not only would that likely result in that death, it would do very little to accomplish his goal. Instead we see a steady escalation of conflict that does lead to a violent cathartic showdown, but only after the hero has gained relative power (which you could abstract as "levels") and the villains have been weakened.

Come to think of it, Die Hard is the sort of movie that could have been replicated by a LIM, but that's a topic for another day. 
Come to think of it, Die Hard is the sort of movie that could have been replicated by a LIM, but that's a topic for another day. 



Heh, as luck would have it, I've been working on exactly this, set in Eberron!

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

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I've never grasped the point of things that were just too tough for the PCs to possibly have a hope of beating them.  Typically these are found in "sandbox" games and are supposed to reinforce "the world is dangerous."  


Sounds like, to me, that the gaming style of the OP (and his group), although it doesn't sound like it is a sandbox campaign, is more like this kind of game than the playstyle most of the posts in this thread represents.
Both styles have their advantages, I think, including the 'the world is dangerous'-approach - it can add tension and 'interesting' caution on the PCs part to the game. I have played different types of campaigns regarding this danger-issue, and if it is a premise of a campaign that 'the world is dangerous' then this approach can be great fun (as opposed to the players always knowing that all encounters they - well - encounter are designed to be overcomed/are 'balanced'). My players even often prefer this type of campaign.

To OP: I would probably just tell the players before the session as a kind of 'reminder' that 'the world is dangerous' and encounters are often, but not necessarily balanced (at all). Then the players will have this in mind during play, and they may even see it as a hint that one of the encounters of the current session will be of this type, thus building tension and excitement for the dungeon.

That being said, I agree with the previous posts in that players will almost always attempt to defeat a challenge (unless they view it as being way out of their league). A chained hydra would probably just be shot to pieces at range...