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I want to run a campaign "from the book" for a group of new players (played RPGs before, but stuff much much lighter then D&D, and I've not DMed this edition before. I DMed D&D 4e once: over prepared in some areas, under prepared in others, so the pacing was horrible and off putting. I didn't run it again (although the players seemed happy to try again).

My concern: by trying to run it "from the book" I might accidentally railroad them too much, while they need to fight in order to earn the experience needed from that encounter in order to level for other parts of the adventure, or that changing events too far from the module will cause errors in continuity, that will force me to improvise too much for my first game.

How can I avoid the players "making friends with goblins" - or, in other words, what is the motivation for various random encounter battles that are supposed to be had to level the players up?


This question has been edited to focus solely on the leveling / experience portion of avoiding encounters. For Plot considerations associating with published adventures, I have moved that to: How do I keep a published adventure playthrough 'on rails' without removing player agency?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 31 '18 at 2:57

10 Answers 10

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What’s wrong with making friends with goblins?

The DMG says (p. 260) that you get XP “[w]hen adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing or capturing them ...”

That means there are atypical ways of defeating monsters - turning them into friends is one of these.

Naturally, there should be risk, sacrifice and challenge in the social encounter just as there would be in a combat encounter and as DM you are free to adjust the XP award as you see fit. Remember that players respond to incentives: if war-war pays better than jaw-jaw then that’s what you’ll get and vice versa.

Oh, and friendships in D&D always create complications.

A recent session saw us come face to face with a blue dragon. This is in a sandbox campaign so we had no way of knowing if this was a fight we could win. So we humiliated ourselves, flattered and bribed the dragon and lived to fight another day.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A friend was regaling me yesterday with stories about O/AD&D gameplay from yesteryear where it was normal to always try to parley with goblins and such first — they are thinking creatures and nobody wants to get into a fight. I imagine there's a chance you might have similar past experiences, it might be good to describe this kind of thing on your answer as examples of just normal gameplay too. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 30 '18 at 10:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ In a non-sandbox campaign I'd still consider flattery and bribery to be useful ways to deal with dragons. \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Oct 30 '18 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ +10 Scroll of Diplomacy. Never leave home without it. \$\endgroup\$ – Omegacron Nov 3 '18 at 16:27
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Give them XP for resolving and surviving the encounter.

Yes, D&D is primarily a combat game. However, that doesn't always mean that all encounters must be handled via combat. In practice, combat is just one of several approaches. As it says in the Player's Basic Rules, the "Three Pillars of Adventure" encompass more than just fighting:

Adventurers can try to do anything their players can imagine, but it can be helpful to talk about their activities in three broad categories: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

Player agency is important, which means the players should decide how they want to handle new threats. When goblins introduce a new threat, any of the following methods are possible:

  • Sneak past the goblins, thereby not being attacked

  • Sneak up to the goblins and then defeating them in a surprise attack

  • Charge the goblins head-on and defeating them in brutal combat

  • Use social skills to persuade, intimidate, or trick the goblins so that they don't attack

  • Create a distraction to make the goblins go in a different direction

Whenever NPCs interact with the player characters in a potentially challenging way, the players should earn an amount of XP if they meet the challenge goals (which often means surviving the encounter). The Dungeon Master's Guide explains how to calculate the XP reward:

Each monster has an XP value based on its challenge rating. When adventurers defeat one or more monsters - typically by killing, routing, or capturing them - they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly among themselves.

Even if the challenge is initially presented as a combat, as long as the players survive, they should get the XP for completing the challenge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is another reason why we have abandoned point-based XP in most of the games I'm in, in favor of basically just DM discretion as to when we've leveled. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Oct 30 '18 at 12:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's also worth mentioning that the goblins will have their own motivations and make their own decisions. The players may try to make friends with the goblins, but it's by no means certain that they'll succeed. And if they fail, the goblins may be the ones to decide to initiate combat, regardless of what the players had been hoping for. \$\endgroup\$ – Admiral Jota Oct 30 '18 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AdmiralJota That may be true if the DM decides it. But I will leave it out, because this answer is meant to account for player motives rather than NPC motives. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 30 '18 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd just note that sooner or later some people may notice the strange cause & effect of heroes becoming super-formidable at defeating monsters in combat... by gaining experience through making friends with them. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Nov 1 '18 at 18:10
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You give your goblins personality

Making friends is not as simple as rolling a good persuasion check, you need to have things in common. In the case of goblins who usually see humans as prey (farmers) and death (adventurers / guards) they have no actual reason to trust the party.

A good persuasion check might get the goblins to stop attacking, or allow the party to pass an area, but the party would have to go to exceptional lengths to actually build trust. And friendship can't start until then.

If the party does go to lengths to build trust then just let them. You have already imbued the goblins with personality so it should be a bit easier figuring out what they want, and you have some new (Strange) quest givers!

Less specific to goblins

Every creature in the world has wants and needs, if you think of the world as a living ecosystem instead of wandering bags of hit points it starts to make more sense.

For example, the party runs into a group of wolves, or bandits. Ask yourself:

  1. Why are they there (are they hunting/stalking something - is that the party?)

  2. Why would they fight?

  3. Under what circumstances would they flee? (Most creatures won't fight to the death)

  4. How would they fight?

    This makes each combat different: for example a hunting party might attack from stealth, a group of guards would try to raise an alarm of some kind.

When you have the answers to questions like this you know if making friends is possible, what would be needed in order to do so, and what might happen afterwards.

A note on XP

When I create an encounter I try to make the goal open ended, such as 'free the prisoners' rather than 'clear the goblin camp and free the prisoners'. I then set the XP for that encounter (Usually based around killing everything - which I think is a worst case scenario) and I grant it to the party once they complete the goal.

I also give small bonus' to XP if the party comes up with something really clever that I didn't think about, essentially if they set themselves a goal unrelated to a quest I still give them XP for completing it, based on the challenge.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey Bri, thanks for the info! I found this insightful and helpful, even though it no longer strictly answers the question after the edit, but it had to be done as it was too vague before. With slight editing, this could retain that helpful information, as well as answering the query about XP that it's turned into. Thanks for putting up with the chameleon question :-(. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan The Leach Oct 31 '18 at 8:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanTheLeach I am glad it was helpful. I have added a note on XP, but it looks like you have had a lot of good answers to this question already. Good luck with your campaign! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 1 '18 at 8:09
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In a game of DnD I played a week or two ago (just a single-session one-shot) We pretty much talked to most of the characters we were meant to be fighting.
The one fight we started was because upon seeing a sleeping character our rogue thought it'd be a really good idea to try and disarm him before waking him (which naturally led to him assuming we were hostile when he should have been initially neutral).

Our DM was very accommodating of our largely neutral/friendly approach to what was meant to be a combat dungeon and did his best to roleplay and keep the narrative going to match.

He also awarded XP for social interaction similarly to combat, so he opted to reward the playstyle we clearly wanted rather than railroad us out of our comfort-zone.

The goal of the game was to have fun and ease us into playing DnD (most of us were completely new to the game) so in that regard, full success!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to give your DM a +1 as well. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 30 '18 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Had another session with the same DM last night, character-generation in-character. He had us hold a conversation with his own (very funny) NPC quest-giver and answer questions about ourselves in-character to uncover backstory we hadn't thought about or written down yet. Added bonus, introduced our characters to each other in-setting so we don't have that awkward "you all start around a table at a bar" bit where nobody is sure how to act. \$\endgroup\$ – Rowan Nov 1 '18 at 16:08
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Monsters are generally there to attack. Though if you give your monsters some personality or motivation then players may attempt dialog and try to resolve the situation without combat. If the monsters simply draw weapons and attack then the PCs are likely to do the same.

If the players still attempt a non-combat solution then that is fine too.

It is always going to be up to you as a DM whether this even has a chance of working. A bunch of blood-crazed cultists intent on sacrificing you to their dark lord may simply not listen to reason, regardless of Persuasion checks (and it's best not to roll dice if you know there is no point).

However, goblins who are simply trying to defend their home...they may be more amenable to resolving the encounter peacefully, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Some foes are just unintelligent monsters of course that will attack regardless. Others will have motivations that a wily player may be able to use to their advantage.

But remember that enemies can be successfully counted as "defeated" regardless of how that happens: whether it is with combat or through social interaction. Either way earns players XP!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with the first sentence. It seems to me that monsters are generally there as challenges to overcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Oct 30 '18 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ For my party, if the monster could be considered cute and we have enough HP to tank its attacks for a little while, the monsters are there to tame and to become battle-pets ;) (It rarely works...) \$\endgroup\$ – BunnyKnitter Nov 2 '18 at 18:08
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Congratulations!

Your party is not comprised of murderous specicist cretins that kill members of a different culture creating species based on the species alone but instead forge friendships. If that bothers you, look at My players went from 100% murderous cretins to 100% nonviolent diplomats; how can I achieve a middle ground?

Win = XP

This behavior alone is worth XP, and the one and the best thing I see in 5E is that this XP shall be exactly the same amount as if they had slain them. And it's even better for the players, as they didn't have to spend too many resources (maybe rations or what they gifted to sway them), but the healing potions and spells are still there.

Roll/Role with it!

Define your Goblins!

A little caveat starting here: The standard description of alignment is something that I often ignore if it doesn't match my liking. A race that is evil isn't necessary a bunch of murderous cretins, it has culture and customs that paint it evil, yet still, they manage to forge a culture. Define what makes your Goblins evil, and work out how they behave based on that. To illustrate, I provide a rough picture of my gobos and orcs, both of them having their evil culture:

For my goblins their culture is based on raiding and slavery of other races, trickery and the right of the strongTM, they only honor their word so much that they fear their opponent. But they value the children of their whole tribe, as they are the future warriors, and they value their elders, for staying alive for so long means they must be some of the most badass among them. Atop that, they are pretty much believing in no god and instead spiritistic with an anchestor cults, believing that to apease the spirits of the deceased one has to sacrifice them the blood of animals or strangers, leading to occasional raids just to get hands on someone ot apease the dead.

On the counterside, my Orcs are deeply entrenched in a blood cult that puts shamans into power as they conduct the rites to their blood god and favors warriors. They are also in some kind of hierarchic class system: A double-tip of a high-priest and a warlord can unite several tribes, each tribe has his priest(s) and chieftain and below are warriors that again are above the craftsmen, who still are above the (labor) slaves to mine and farm and then comes the lifestock, which includes females. Service to their god is done by raiding, duels of honor (for rank, slaves and lifestock) and blood sacrifice of as many captives as gruesome as possible.

Further reading

This further reading is to TV-Tropes Warning material, but still worthwile:

The WorldTM behaves accordingly!

Now, a little pet peeve of me is to try to keep games realistic in some way. They did spare these goblins.

The word about them might spread among the goblins and when they meet another group, they might offer them help for just a little help with these pesky murderous cretins that had assaulted one of their hunting parties last week and now threaten their burrow - and they may keep whatever they slay even!1

They might be approached by a man in ragged robes, that asks them to help to relovate this cart full of children to a certain orphan house, because their parents were slain by a bunch of murderous specicist cretins, and these heroes clearly would do such a good deed to protect the innocent... goblin children to be relocated to an orphan house run by a dragon2.

But of course the general populus might not like the happenings, if they learn of this: townfolk are simpleminded. They know of simple things and think simple things: They are good, the others are evil. Raiders are evil. Goblins are evil. Who helps the evil ones must himself be evil. When evil comes, they have to defend their homes. To defend their homes, they send a message to the evil ones. To send a message of this kind, one hangs an evil one at the gallows and lets it rot. How handy that pitchforks and torches are never far in a farming community built as a bastion of the Good Law!3

1 - of course, this bunch of cretins is a typical group of adventurers that call themselves heroes. A cleric, a rogue, a fighter and a wizard for example. Pretty much a mirror duel, if they can't appease them too.
2 - Some examples: Matafleur from the Dragonlance series: old, half-blind, a little deranged but loves children so much that she doesn't care for their species. Don't dare to try to harm them or she might unleash the power of her ancient being! Or she might be a more sinister Mrs. Grindtooth from Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, chaining her kids to the school tables and forcing them to learn algebra and foreign languages
3 - Lawful Good doesn't mean all are nice and inclusive. That's True Neutral! Now, cue an Angry Townfolk encounter for extra XP! Let's see how they deal with members of their species that have the lawful simple, eh, lawful good alignment that try to burn them for small acts percieved as unlafwul/evil by them.

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Charisma is not a magic spell

I have a saying that "D&D is a fighting game". While not every encounter should be a combat encounter, I always sneak in encounters the PCs can defeat/ overcome through other means, such as diplomacy, guile, or stealth.

One of my main reason for this is that when you look at the rule book/PHB, the VAST MAJORITY of the system and player abilities are dedicating to combat. And let's be honest, when you play D&D, you do want to use some cool things you cannot do in real life: cast spells, beat up monsters, fly through the air, etc. If all you do it talk to people, and make friends, that is called LIFE.

Also, when they try and do such things, ask for Charisma-based checks and see what they roll. While the player may be highly convincing, the character may do something really bad during the talks.

That said, not everything and everyone you meet want to have a chat.

  • Ambushers don't stop trying to kill/ overcome their prey because they are asked for parley.
  • The PCs will NOT be able to speak to and understand every creature.
  • Charisma-based skills are not magical charming tool. If you want to do that, cast spells

I have seen (and been responsible for) a lot of diplomacy with random things, but this is not what EVERYONE wants. After a few encounter with the fighter twiddling his thumbs, that player will want to get to use some of his cool things...

I guess this is a question of making sure everyone enjoys the game.

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Adding to what has been said, if you want an encounter to be a fight, it is relatively easy to get it there, without railroading it - imagine you are walking late at night through a dark alley in some big city (NYC, LA, etc.), and a gang comes by with the intention to rob you and beat you up.
Imagine yourself trying to make friends with them, and how that might go - and you will have an approach why it won't work for the players in that encounter. You shouldn't use that every single time, sure, but it's a plan to have in the pocket.

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XP is not just for combat

You're the GM, you can give them XPs for any reason you want, not just resolving combat.

e.g. using their skills, using their wits, using their charm, good role-playing, progressing the plot, coming up with good ideas. Even trying something and failing should arguably be XP awardable (since you learn from failure, in some cases more than from success). (I used to give XPs just for showing up, but that's just my own thing)

Any of the above can be used to award XPs should they make friends with the goblins instead of fighting with them.

But the bigger issue is:

changing events too far from the module will cause errors in continuity, that will force me to improvise too much for my first game

Well that's one of the jobs of the GM!

Luckily you've recognised this possibility in advance. So just prepare some substitutes for any plot points that required the goblins to be dead which somehow get the plot back to "the book". Maybe make the goblins' survival part of it, to avoid the players feeling railroaded.

(e.g. the PCs find themselves stuck now because they didn't kill the goblins, but then maybe some of the goblins come and help them out of it and get them back on track)

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Ok, so the party has befriended some goblins. Therefore, the goblins invite the PC's back to their camp for an evening of festivities. Nothing like a little bit of torturing your food before it's cooked (e.g., cock fighting; seeing how long a rabbit lives once it's ears are pulled off, etc.)

If monsters are EVIL, that means that they get pleasure based upon the suffering of others. If the PC's want to try to redeem the goblins to get them away from their EVIL ways, go for it, but remember that it's their nature to be this way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not quite. You're describing sociopaths & psychopaths. Evil doesn't mean torturing kittens. Being 'evil' means you prioritize the personal good over the common good. That works on a personal level as well as a societal level. Goblins raid villages, not because they like killing humans, but because humans are 'others' (aka: not them), and therefore the well-being of the village matters not a bit relative to the well-being of the goblin tribe. The human village has livestock. The goblins need meat, so they take the meat, and will kill the humans if necessary to do so. Evil, not psycho. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Nov 2 '18 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's not to say that the activities you describe can't be part of the evening's festivities. (After all, human societies throughout the ages are well known for all sorts of horrific behaviors, including cockfighting, as entertainment.) Just that they don't have to behave that way. Goblins could very well be extremely generous and caring to their own, even if they view a random human villager's life as worth less than the opportunity to collect a few eggs. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Nov 2 '18 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Evil =/= Evil. There are different standards. A culture might be Evil because it performs blood sacrifices of non-members to their gods, or it might be evil for it knows only one punishment for its members capital punishment. It might be evil for it has slaves or because it is run by secret police. Or it might be an evil overlord that read the Evil Overlord list and keeps it to the heart! Keep in mind Even Evil has standards [tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvenEvilHasStandards ] \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Nov 3 '18 at 8:38

protected by Oblivious Sage Nov 1 '18 at 13:23

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