I have been DMing my first game of 5e D&D and it has been going great. However, most nights my players end up in combat whether I had planned it or not. Last week I had a puzzle room with a riddle and they loved that, so my question is:
How can I DM and not have combat every night? What are some other options? How do I approach those options?
It sounds silly to say, but literally anything other than combat. Social/RP scenes can be tense and rewarding in their own right. Investigations where the PCs are looking for clues rather than cracking skulls. Puzzle/riddle encounters like you mentioned. A series of traps in the dungeon rather than enemies (think Indiana Jones). "Skill challenges" (its a 4e term) where PCs need to succeed at a number of skill checks to pass (There's a bunch of examples here: https://www.reddit.com/r/mattcolville/comments/8o5vhb/give_me_your_skill_challenge_scenarios/)
Post by DM Onesie Knight on Aug 7, 2019 21:18:31 GMT
To some extent, this is on your players as much as you. What I would say is plan out a few non-combat solutions to a problem. If they need to get past a locked door, maybe a keyholder is willing to bargain, or there's a way to sneak and steal the key without a fight. Or maybe they can learn the guard patrols and break in when nobody is nearby to catch them. But you can give the party a million peaceful options, and they'll still pick a fight. If that happens, it's okay! If the party isn't getting frustrated, then it's no big deal.
Honestly, players are pretty easy to read with stuff like this. If they enjoy finding smart solutions that avoid combat, you'll know because they keep trying out alternate solutions. If they like kicking in the door and stomping ass, you'll know because they keep kicking in the door and stomping ass.
Another thing to consider is how you approach encounters with respect to the reward system. Do your players receive any benefits to resolving encounters peacefully other than not expending their resources (HP, spell slots, consumable and limited-use items, etc.)?
Consider this: your players might not want to avoid combat because they don't get anything (or receive reduced rewards) when they do avoid combat.
This comes back to the terminology I use: encounter. An "encounter" is when your PCs are in the physical presence of and have a potential for combat with creatures that are in direct opposition to the group's objectives. These objectives can be as simple as "a bear wants to eat one of the party," and "the party member does not want to be eaten," or mundane as "the party wants into town to rest at the inn for the night" and "the town guard are under strict orders that no one enters or leaves town without the lord's permission," or as complex as "the party is responsible for escorting an allied NPC safely through a dwarven mine" and "the dwarves want to bring justice to the NPC because they believe the NPC is a thief."
There are two basic ways a party can deal with an encounter: avoidance or confrontation. Avoidance comes in many flavors: perhaps they're using stealth to get past, or maybe they're just turning around and running away. Confrontation, likewise, also comes in many flavors: sure, they can do battle, or perhaps they can engage in negotiation or deception, set traps--there are many methods that players can use to deal directly with the encounter. Ultimately, though, whether they choose avoidance or confrontation to deal with the encounter, reward them if their methods achieve their objective in overcoming the encounter.
The party has encountered a group of guards at the gate. Their objective is to get to the other side of the gate without raising the alarm, and the guard encounter stands between the party and their objective. Regardless of the methods they use to achieve their objective, reward them the full experience value of the encounter as long as they have gotten past the guards and the guards have not raised the alarm. Now, this scenario could work the same whether you're looking at town guards in a city under martial law, goblin guards at a hobgoblin fortress, or the lookouts at a bandit camp. And the methods the players use may vary depending on the situation: they're more likely to try to negotiate with the town guards or the bandit lookouts than with the goblins, and they're more likely to just try to fight their way through the bandits or the goblins than the town guard. Sneaking into a town or a bandit camp might be easier than sneaking into a fortress.
Once you adjust your thinking to rewarding them for dealing with the problem, not how they deal with the problem, it makes the next step easier.
Consider point two: how comfortable are your players dealing with their encounters with something other than combat? As Maslow's Hammer states, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." The players know how to do combat. They are comfortable with it. Remind them that they have other tools in their toolbox, and that the reward will be the same regardless of the tool they use. If you've already been doing that behind the scenes, perhaps it's best to let them know in the open that is what you're doing.
DM: "As you approach the broken city gate, you see a handful of guards split in two ranks: the forward rank readies their tower shields, the back ready their pikes. Two bowmen stand atop the gate tower on the right side, the left having crumbled under trebuchet fire. The soldier in the center of the shield rank calls out to you, 'None may enter or leave this town by order of the field marshal. Any who try to pass these walls are to be met with deadly force. Please leave.'"
Players look to each other and start making plans to attack.
DM: "Look, I know combat's been kind of our go-to, and you're welcome to try that if you want, but I just wanted to remind you that the XP for this encounter is for getting past these guards in whatever way you so choose. If you want to try to convince them, maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. But if you let that whole scenario play out then you get the XP. Sneak past? You're welcome to try. If you manage to give the guards the slip, you get the XP. However you guys want to try it, I'm willing to run you through that. And as long as you make it in, you get the XP for getting past the guards."
Now, if you're going to let them do the alternate method for full XP, don't let it hinge on a single die roll. If a player tries to say "I convince them to let us through" and then rolls a natural 20 on the Persuasion check, that's hardly the equivalent of a combat's worth of experience. Most combats worth any experience don't last for only one decision, and one die roll. Make sure the party knows they're going to have to actually engage the encounter, however they want to do it. Then, when you run the encounter, narrate through the actions of the creatures they're engaging. Is it a negotiation? A chase scene? Stealth maneuvers? Walk them through each action. These encounters should take around as much time at the table whether it's combat or not if you're going to give them XP for it.
Now, last point to consider: is this what the players want? Some players live for "the talky sessions," as a DM friend of mine put it, and some players just want a beer-and-pretzels, kick-in-the-door, no-stress, no-consequences style of play. Most players are somewhere in between. Maybe your players haven't figured that ratio out for themselves yet. Let them know that non-combat resolutions can give them rewards, remind them every so often if it seems they forget, but if they still choose combat over all other options, maybe that's just how they want to play. But if your DMing style doesn't mesh with the kind of game your players want to play, well, that's another discussion entirely.
Couple times a week I hide behind a screen for a few hours and act like an idiot. The rest of the time... I'm not acting.
"On the other side of the screen... it all looks so easy." --Kevin Flynn
I too have found this part of my game somewhat rote. My group tends to dungeon crawl...alot... trying to get them not to "push the button" doesn't seem to be in their personalities. I have thrown some nasty little surprises and some traps as they try to achieve their goal but there is still one that is just the "murderhobo" of the group. I'd like temper the combat with some puzzle/diplomacy but it is a challenge.