This is effectively the reverse of How can I end combat quickly when the outcome is inevitable?
Lame duck scenarios in game design occur when a player cannot win, but the game isn't over yet. They're obviously undesirable, and good game design would seek to minimize it.
I'm interested to see how role-playing games avoid these scenarios, because they seem especially vulnerable to it. After all, even if the odds are against the players are insurmountable, it can take several rounds before the player's HP actually reaches zero, and they still have to "decide" what to do in those rounds (inverted commas because they're actually dead, they just haven't died yet).
Examples of the scenarios I'm thinking of:
- The scenario given in this question. After the player attempts to shoot the men on horseback, it becomes a 5-on-1 fight. The DM still said "roll dice", but that seems pointless, since realistically the player's not making it out alive.
- Five players attempt to attack five monsters, which does not sound like a stupid thing to do, but the players roll an ungodly amount of misses while the monsters roll an ungodly amount of critical hits, and kill three players.
Basically, anything which in a video game would make the player bring up the "load game" button.
How do role-playing games handle and/or avoid these situations? Some guesses:
- DM decides to go easy on the players. After the critical hits kill three players the DM encourages the survivors to run, and then lets them run without pursuing (even if it makes zero sense story-wise). (Sounds contrived)
- DM decides to directly influence the dice. "Wait a moment this is horribly unlucky for you, we'll pretend this dice actually rolled __ and you survive." (Sounds even more contrived)
- DM says "derp, I guess you guys are all dead, next game?" (This might be beyond the realm of reason)
- DM engineers a real "load game" button, restarting the fight and effectively bringing the three slain players back to life. (But if this is permissible, wouldn't the quest always succeed?)