Most of my group and I share a trait: We all hate the idea of monsters who can be talked or negotiated with, it kills the scary, dangerous part of a monster; that combined with the fact I suck at making secondary objectives or alternate ways of ending a fight make our combats center arround the "kill or be killed" concept.

After 4 years of mastering encounters this way, I still can say I feel unsatisfied as a GM that all of my combats spin arround reducing to 0 HP, and those that don't end up being terrible, also, I feel horrible when a dangerous combat with a powerful sentient monster ends up on one of the PCs trying to end it sooner by negotiating, specially since only ONE PC on our group enjoys social encounters.

So, we're actually playing a campaign where 90% of the beasts out there are savage, most of them have the intelligence of a flesh eating blob and those who can actually speak and think are inherently evil, but I'd like to give my players more options for the encounters to be MORE than just killing everything without making it as simple as rolling persuation/intimidation, and without making the monsters lose that menacing, psycho flesh-eating touch they have.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "How do I design and run [every kind of game activity except one]" is much too broad. Even picking just one play activity and asking "how?" is pretty broad, but would be much better. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2014 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/7991/… \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2014 at 2:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, are you open to "use a different system" answers? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2014 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for non violence or are you looking for ways to end combat without negotiation or hp to 0? These are different things. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Jul 27, 2014 at 6:28

2 Answers 2


Three suggestions!

People as threats

You can keep monsters as monsters, but also include people as threats. People can be "talked to" but that doesn't mean they're reasonable. But what is fun and interesting about people is they can be cunning - they can adapt, and they open up a LOT of possibilities other than "fight to the death". I have a Big List of Combat Stakes which you can use to base these on.

This can still work in a world with monsters - as many monster stories end up showing - people still have rivalries, greed, and ambition - and they may end up trying to engineer ways to get other people screwed over BY USING the monsters to their advantage (or, imagining they can, which then turns around and screws everyone...)


You can't reason with a tiger, but a tiger is not a "monster" in a supernatural sense. A tiger will try to hunt, and if it looks like too much of a problem, if the prey fights back too much, it'll run.

There's a lot of D&D style monsters which are basically trumped up predators (Owlbear, Bulette, Wyvern, etc.). Have them act like a predator - they attack by surprise, try to grab the weakest, most tasty looking victim and run off. Sometimes they make display threats to protect their territory or their young.

This, too, shifts the profile of a "win scenario" - driving off the creature or simply not having it provoked into attacking before you can get away are a win case too. It also means characters with the appropriate Knowledge skills can read what's going on and come up with alternative solutions.

More than what the sword can do

In horror movies, the monster often can only be defeated by doing something specific - you need to close the gate, you need to find the sigil, you need to put the two jewels together, etc. etc. When you make monsters set up like this, and the players know that their weapons will not really avail them, they have to consider fighting defensively and focusing on the goal.

You can also set up situations like the horde of monsters and things like gates that need to be closed. "You have to close the gate in 12 rounds or they WILL over run the town." "You need to get OUT of the woods, once you're out of the woods, they have no power upon you..."

These obviously are more contrived, but they also make more sense than simply having to fight everything down to zero HP.

A key point is to give players XP for however they defeat the monster - show them that beating everything down isn't the only way to get success.


Have you thought of maybe adding puzzle/traps elements?

Why fight the monsters below if a Wizard can just make the ceiling collapse on them, or a Barbarian can use his strength to topple the pillar, or maybe the wall can be brought down so that the cavern gets flooded with water, making the monsters drown. Or why not poison the river so that the monsters die or are sleeping? (This requires a certain alignment in your party of course, as a Lawful Good character may heavily object)

Monsters may be blood thirsty, but they can also be driven by instinct, a trait that can be used against them in many other ways than just "poke with a sharp stick until dead".

By the way: Do you really think that a monster needs to be Savage to by Scary? An intelligent monster is way, way more scary because abusing the feral/instinct won't work.


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