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My party is very good at combat since they just kill whatever is in front of them that looks at them wrong. I want to try and make an "encounter" that's harder than any fight they've had previously, but i want the major win condition to be something other than just murdering their enemies. The potential encounter i'm setting up doesn't start with hostiles but i'm sure my party will attack them before asking questions.

I'm a first time DM so i really don't know how to go about this properly but my idea was basically to have the combat be super hard and have my party have to try to talk their way out or make a run for it. Victory in this instance would be more just surviving instead of winning, but i don't know if this would be acceptable or if it would be an uber dick move or what.

Are these lines of thinking something that should be done or avoided?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Purple Monkey, mxyzplk says reinstate Monica, linksassin, Miniman, Kuerten Jun 28 at 2:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour if you haven't already, check out this meta or ask here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more information. If would help if you give us your parties level and composition and what you constitute as "too hard". Are you exceeding the deadly rating in terms of CR? What alternate win condition do you have? The more information you can provide the better we will be able to answer you. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jun 28 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a general comment on murder hobos - make their actions have consequences. They kill people, other people/villages/towns have nothing to do with them, bounty hunters start tracking them, etc. They need a reason to adjust their behaviour. Unless everyone is happy with this style of play... \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jun 28 at 1:59
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Read How can I make my PCs flee? I'll wait.

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Welcome back.

The essential problem is that most modern players are trained from birth on video games and modern RPGs that a) they will win b) if they don't win, they will respawn. You have to overcome this training to make what you want to happen happen. This is really hard - even saying "This is me, the DM, out of game telling you to 'RUN AWAY'!" is sometimes not enough. People are really good at holding onto their beliefs and expectations even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them.

If you are satisfied you can convince your players to run or negotiate, then it doesn't matter what you throw at them.

Just be prepared that you may have to kill their characters a few times to retrain them.

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Yes. Xanathar's Guide to Everything specifically refers to Random Encounters being "too difficult or dangerous for the characters in their present circumstances. They might want to flee to avoid contact or not to approach any closer after perceiving the monsters from a distance". (pg 92)

The real challenge is often communicating to your players that this combat is too difficult and they should flee or negotiate, especially new players, or players in the habit of conquering all. If you're starting a new campaign, this possibility should be something you discuss in your Session 0. Make sure to play up the description of how intimidating the monsters are, and if necessary give wisdom checks to communicate the gut check that this is dangerous and if appropriate Wisdom (Insight) checks to indicate the villains might be willing to talk (Player's Handbook pg 178).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Should i be proactively asking players to roll insight checks for things like "this combat is super dangerous" or "these guys might want to chat" or is that something i should wait for a PC to say, can i make a check on that? Or is it up to me in the end if i think they need the check even if they dont ask for it? \$\endgroup\$ – Xirtrom Jun 28 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ It depends on your situation. If the players don't pick things up, I'll usually ask them to make a roll and give them a hint. It's a softer way of nudging them than just telling them. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jun 28 at 2:02
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Remember that the DM's job is to run a fun adventure. The question you should ask is not: "is this okay?" but "will this be fun?".

There are things you can do to make this work better.

  • You want to make it really clear that "I just need to deal a lot of damage" is not a good solution to the encounter.
  • You can have obvious things in the environment they can mess with. You could ask for perception/arcana/religion checks and give them information about the encounter when they make them.
  • You can have the enemies be copies of big monsters they've fought before. If they fought one fire giant last session and it was a hard fight, and now there are five fire giants, that makes it pretty clear that they shouldn't just be charging into combat.
  • One thing I like to do is make the enemies not just difficult but obviously undefeatable: there's a constant stream of new enemies, or there's a giant enemy that's actually invulnerable, or there's some other mechanic that makes the battle actually unwinnable. When the players notice the battle is actually unwinnable, they tend to search for alternate solutions pretty quickly.

It's probably a bad idea to plan a battle that you expect them to lose just because "I thought it would be interesting if you lost a battle periodically". Most players don't find that fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Limiting D&D to "fun" is ... limiting. Fun might not be what players want - they might want tension, horror, angst, melancholy, despair, challenge, sadness, loss etc. which may not be "fun". \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 28 at 2:42

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