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I'm a new GM playing Pathfinder with other newbies.

The problem I'm facing is that the group tries to be friends with almost every humanoid that they meet. It's not that they dislike combat, it's just that they sometimes are able to talk their way out of situations.

Obviously if they're having fun, and it doesn't destroy the game - then I should let them talk their way out of as much as they like. But it's become a bit cumbersome and is slowing the game down that I have to create full dialog etc for every single goblin or orc that they come across.

Any advice on how I can help suggest to the players that the encounter is a fight and not a negotiation?

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33  
Attack them? Is this a trick question? –  mxyzplk Mar 2 at 18:26
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What an awesome problem to have... –  Cristol.GdM Mar 2 at 22:47
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I love how this is the opposite of this –  MrJinPengyou Mar 3 at 0:52
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Is dialogue slower than combat in your game? –  mcv Mar 3 at 10:29

8 Answers 8

up vote 66 down vote accepted

Don't discourage them!

You have a wonderful "problem" that veteran GMs often wish they had. If you train your players out of this now, you will only regret it later.

Instead, take it for what it is: a situation that is hard because you're still gaining skill as a GM. Improvising dialogue is a challenge that will always be part of playing RPGs, and there's no way to eliminate it. It's just something you get better at with practice.

That all said, not every hostile humanoid they come across is interested in giving "invaders" a fair hearing. Don't let every hostile be receptive to attempts to parley—why answer with words when an arrow says everything they want to say?

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I'd wager my group is the 'norm' where we pretty much attack anything that moves. Our last session is the first time that we ended up working with another group we came across and we've been playing for 15 levels. Funny thing is, by not killing them, I know it's going to make the next encounter that much more dynamic. Maybe use these situations to your advantage and have these npc's turn on them once a 2nd group or more of their allies arrive or something. –  silversociety Mar 2 at 20:48
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To build on this answer, do NOT script out every single possible answer for all NPCs. Instead, build a short list of their intentions, explaining how they would behave if approached and why. Sure, the goblins will attack at first sight, but why? Maybe their stronhold is threatened and they're simply protecting it? If the PCs can discover than information and convince them they can help (and actually DO help them), maybe they'll make friends of the goblins in the future. Otherwise, overly chatty people may look like intruders... –  SolarBear Mar 3 at 21:01
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@SolarBear Good points. But its worth pointing out that, especially in a dungeon crawl, you are a human that just entered what they see as their territory is plenty of reason for many types of creatures to attack. –  TimothyAWiseman Mar 3 at 21:10
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@TimothyAWiseman And depending on personality and motivation, many more would seek to probe the intruders to learn their intent and strength, to help them decide whether it would be better to avoid them or interact. The GM can use this to "ramp up" encounters with groups of intelligent creatures, and let the PCs decide how deeply they'd care to get involved. –  Stormhound Apr 2 at 15:49

Learning the hard way, they lose the initiative.

But don't overdo it. Your a lucky one not to play with munchkins killing every farmer for 2 XP. If you have such members in your group group, play the right adventure. More detective story, horror, intrigue or "Indiana Jones" than humanoid monster killing. Have a look at fantasy novels, they are not about killing every non-human humanoid as well.

Back to your story: For example a farmer may cross your group ans ask for help bout those goblin killing his oldest son. "He begged for mercy, but they didn't even listen ...".

The last consequence may be someone has to die (or loose an eye, leg, whatever). Learning the hard way ...

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They obviously enjoy that style of game, and that is fantastic.

If you want more of a mix (and please don't take away all their chances of negotiation, or you'll just end up with unhappy players) simply make more of their opponents unintelligent monsters that can't be communicated with, or that simply speak a language they can't, or that are clearly not there to talk (demonic-looking things covered in flames pointing fingers and throwing fireballs are a good start.)

If you have an orc encampment that's obviously supposed to be evil, make sure they know why they're evil. Have people tell them of how they attacked the town and ate their children. Show them which enemies are there to be hated - and that's an important word, show, don't just tell. Have them encounter the dead, dying, and injured. Something isn't a monster just because you decide it's there to be killed, or because someone has paid them to kill them, let them find out for themselves why they need killing (and conversely, sometimes have the person hiring them be very mistaken about that peaceful tribe of horned, tusked humanoids.)

Finally, just because there are rules for bluff and diplomacy, it doesn't automatically follow that every single NPC and monster is open to them being used on them. Don't feel constrained by the rules, they're there to tell you how to resolve tasks when you need the rules to do that, not to provide automatic choices and loopholes - "Diplomacy is generally ineffective in combat and against creatures that intend to harm you or your allies in the immediate future." (CRB, p94)

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2  
Yes this: "the rules, they're there to tell you how to resolve tasks when you need the rules to do that". Often people get that backwards, assuming the rules tell you what you can do, and even what to do, at all times. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 3 at 7:02

Have those enemies welcome their greetings, agree to communicate, make deals and trades.. But show them in practice why the 'civilized' races don't want to mingle with them.

One option is to repeatedly put their trust up for abuse. If they meet a band of enemies and want to discuss without coming in bow-range, have them agree to meet one-on-one, unarmed, for 'parley', and have the diplomat immediately ambushed and kidnapped. After that, require players to perform some moderately evil miniquest for them if they want to get your buddy back. If you don't want to split the party (although it could end in a heroic fun rescue attempt), then steal/rob a valuable item or an irreplacable questitem.

The other option is to have players to join in the 'evil' lifestyle if they choose to mingle with evil such groups. You can have those groups be perfectly friendly and welcoming, but get the players disgusted enough to keep away from them in future.

Do they agree to join them at dinner? Serve them a roasted human leg or, say, live monkey brains as in that old Indiana Jones movie. Do they agree to talk respectfully about their religion? Have them join a simple prayer chant, at the end of which some NPC (or a part of him) gets sacrificed. Do they agree to be respectful to their social customs? Have those customs include racial/gender/religious denigration, which would involve treating a party member (or better two, so that no out-of-game player gets singled out) as an unworthy thing. And you can go multiple notches higher depending on how sensitive your playing group is and what taboo topics you're willing to touch.

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First of all, I'm going to join the other answerers: "You lucky bastard!" With that out of the way, let's dive in a little bit.

Our goal here is to make the players feel something for the monsters and NPCs that we're talking about. We want the players to be angry, fearful or any other negative emotion we can achieve. If we got that, the players won't try to talk to them too much. The main trick to do that, as I see it, is to use their emotions and connections to other NPCs. In this regard, it seems, you are blessed.

Think for example about the way your PCs and players will react to a kidnapping of their best friend Bob, or for a ransom request in order to get Lisa back. Taking their friends away from them, when used sparingly enough, can get the PCs enraged against the criminals, resulting with them trying to fight their way to rescue their friends. If you won't use this trick too often, the players will still try to make new connections to the people of the world yet they'll fight against the "right" people to fight against. What about a friend who changes sides? Once Melinda they saw their friend but they now discover that she secretly sold them all those weeks. Maybe their BFF Robert is the man who is responsible for the comeback of their enemies. Make the players feel cheated a little bit and they'll surely want their revenge.

If you don't want to use the NPCs that they are connected to, you can always go the other way around and show them how evil their enemies are. After they see the bodies of the earlier victims they won't look at their enemies the same way. If they'll talk with a dying survivor who will tell them how vicious the attackers were, you'll get an even better effect.

Another possibility is to change their enemies a little bit, less humanoids and more unintelligent creatures or outsiders and aberrations and the like. If their enemies are creatures that one can't identify with, for whatever reason it may be, they won't try to talk with them.

Hope it helped a little.

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I very much agree with the other answers--this is a unique and not-so-unfortunate problem you're having. But to add a little something that might help you out...

Consider the mood or atmosphere of your game. If in every encounter the players have the opportunity to strike up a conversation (particularly where you don't intend), something is clearly going wrong. Are they ever being faced with overwhelming odds? Trying sending vicious or unthinking monstrosity that's way beyond their ability to defeat against them. No discussion, no listening to reason--they either retreat or be killed. Throw them up against a nihilistic beast bent on feasting on their flesh with an Intelligence of 2--let them see how far conversation gets them. And maybe even kill a character! I've found this can sort of humble the party, make the more wary. Most importantly, if you want the characters to be inclined to fight, make sure the atmosphere encourages it. Remove their choices, their freedoms. They should be desperate at times, there should be crisis, their companions should lie on their deathbeds, etc. This should darken the mood a bit, push them to the edge. When a character becomes aware of their mortality, and the mood of the game darkens in anticipation of combat, I suspect you'll see much less diplomacy and a bit more violent, reckless abandon.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that if you can subtly alter the mood or atmosphere of your game, it can have a big effect on how the players feel and their characters behave. Hope that helps!

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As the others have said, this is an excellent problem to have as many people start too far the other and it's much harder to train them out of that!

Some simple examples:

Have an orc agree to let them pass, go gather up his mates and then attack them from behind while they are talking with the next group of orcs. (Obviously stat the encounter so it is still manageable.

Just have them attack, either ignoring diplomacy completely or having no common ground. "You on Ughs land. Ugh eat you now!".

As already mentioned show ahead of time that these things are evil. They may talk their way past this monster - but it's just eaten a whole family, are you going to leave it alive to continue doing more of the same?

Non-sentient enemies can't be negotiated with.

Now some more complex examples:

"You want to pass, what's in it for me?"

You could charge gold, you can have them see a necklace that is high sentimental value for one of the characters and decide they want that, you could make them do a side quest.

"Urg like shiny things! Give shiny thing you go." - Ugh points at the pendant your great aunt Edna gave you on her deathbed.

For the side quests prep a couple of side quests with multiple and vague lead ins. You can then re-use the side quest for multiple encounters until the players bite on one and decide to do it. For example:

An ancient temple of evil is overrun by snakes - prep the side quest. Now your encounters:

A paladin wants you to destroy the temple An evil cleric wants you to clear out the snakes A druid wants you to break the curse holding the snakes in place.

Even if they turn down the evil cleric, they still run into the paladin so your side quest still has a good chance to get used, just with a different hook into it.

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I agree with the other answers that you should not be discouraging non-combat resolutions. In my current group we get annoyed with the guy who just wants to punch everything and everybody he comes to even if they are meant to be friendly (especially when he cries out of character because he takes a little damage).

But...

You could add charisma based checks to keep the conversation going which will get harder as the conversation continues and the NPC gets more annoyed.

At a certain point, if the conversation is not getting anywhere (we are going down a tangent that will not get us the necessary loot/clue to continue our adventure), my GM role plays the NPC/monster as getting angry with the silly group of adventurers wasting his time with words and he will make the first attack. Especially if the nature of said NPC is particularly violent. We have yet to run away or be defeated by such an encounter.

And perhaps as a compromise you can remind them about non-lethal damage so they get to fight until he is unconscious and can take a prisoner. Although, that probably won't speed up your game-play either but could be fun... Especially if they try to cast "Stockholm syndrome" on their captive as they progress through the rest of the story.

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