My players kind of have a habit of, "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, WE MUST KILL IT!"

Recently they came across a small goblin camp and one of them (who speaks goblin) verbally bluffed the goblins into thinking he was their leader coming back from a meeting or some such business. "Brilliant," I thought, "let's see where they take this"... Into an ambush it turned out.
Or in another example they learned of an enemy supply caravan heading from one town to another in a couple of days, so they ambushed it the road, rather than thinking of another option.

Now I have no problem with this whatsoever, I'm still new to DMing, not yet great at the role-play side of things in any case, running a published campaign, am running things more or less by the book, which my players don't seem to mind, and the caravan combat at least is in the book.

I guess what I'm getting at is; How do I encourage players to think outside the combat box and how do I, as the DM, give them other options without blatantly saying something like "maybe they don't want to fight"?

To hopefully make things a little more clear and to give another example, of which the PCs haven't actually come across yet.
Say the PCs are camping in the forest and whoever's on watch hears wolves howling and getting closer, whether they wake the others up or not my lead in woud be something like;

Eventually there's a rustling in the bushes nearby and you see pairs of glowing red eyes that seem to watch your movement. After a minute or two a pack of wolves stalk out from behind the bushes and into the light of your camp fire, their eyes set with ravenous hunger and their jaws dipping with saliva.

How can I open up the possibility that if the PCs offer up some of their own food supplies than the wolves would be complacent and either back off or stick around for the night in the warmth of the fire and help protect the PCs?
Not looking for answers specifically relating to that scenario but hopefully you get the idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/7991/… is mandatory reading \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Other mandatory reading rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/8002/… \$\endgroup\$
    – user4000
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm almost tempted to call this a duplicate actually... \$\endgroup\$
    – user4000
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Part of the trouble is that alternatives go against the grain of the game you're playing. Not because 4e is only about combat, but because fighting will always work to solve "I am threatened with violence" problems better than the alternatives. Why solve a threatening-wolf problem with a nuanced, non-violent, creative, maybe-might-fail approach when you can eliminate the problem quickly, easily, decisively, and permanently with all these powers you've spent so much attention on giving your character? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also related: How to communicate to the players that an encounter can be solved also through diplomacy? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 19:25

5 Answers 5


Reward Non-Combat solutions

How you reward your players is dependent on the players. Some players will respond to non-traditional investments of XP (the tradition in D&D is to give XP for the murder of animals, you could offer XP for simply solving a problem†). Some players will respond to material items, others will respond to, you as the GM, buying them soda.

If this feels like bribery, it is. It is also Gameification, which is happily, what this entire network of sites is built on.

Do Not Punish

I have found that trying to encourage one behavior by punishing its opposite does not really work. Reenforce desired behavior, do not punish undesired behavior.

Tell them

Let them know you want to run some scenes with non-combat solutions. Don't tell them when and where it will happen, and don't try and script it. But let them know you are trying it. Let them know you reward solutions, not just kills.

† Yes this is supported in the rules, but rarely used, IME

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a tiny addition: Giving XP for problem solving instead of kills is great, but sometimes giving more XP for non-combat solution works miracles. Avoiding local unrest, or triggering a guild war, may be worth something extra. And while punishing is bad, showing consequences isn't: Like, this bad guy had a cover life as respected citizen? Party killed him? Townspeople are sad, angry, afraid now. If he was tried for his actions and sentenced by court, everyone would be shocked, but glad. No mechanical effect on players, just something for them to think about. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ XP should be given for the resolution of an encounter - in whatever manner the party decides for themselves. You can write or present encounters so that the resolution isn't just combat. Even directly asking the question, "How do you handle/manage/survive these wolves?" instead of saying 'kill' or just rolling initiative could shine some light on the fact that there are options other than the sword. And eventually the players will figure this out and run with it, but the reward should be the same. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aherocalledFrog Sadly, IME, this is not done enough. Which is why I even bothered bringing it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tritium21
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 18:20

The introduction for the wolves you have is great...for a fighting encounter.

If you want them to not fight though you need to set up encounters which make it very clear that combat is not the only or even the best option and get them used to the idea. For example what happens if they find a pair of wolves in their den defending a cub, and all the wolves look hungry. They snarl at the player characters but only if the characters approach too closely.

Alternatively set up completely different encounters, for example they enter a room with a chained up prisoner. They can kill him, release him, leave him there... all interesting options and there can be a lot of role playing around them... but none of them involve fighting. (If they kill him it just automatically happens).


One word; Consequences

And I don't mean for the characters, not entirely, for the NPCs.

If your players are a bunch of happy-go-lucky murder bunnies then they are likely seeing the world in shades of black and white rather than grays that the world really is.

Inject some moral consequences into situations that the players encounter; don't flood them with these, just add one or two now and then and it should be enough to help the players think twice. As has been mentioned, the players may simply enjoy the black/white of such a world where evil and wrongdoing can be easily identified - so after the first encounter like this discuss it with them to see how they felt about it. It may not be their cup of tea.

Some examples of what I mean:

  • Bandits demand a "toll" from the characters to travel through woods. If the players murder them all they can track the bandits back to their camp where there are the wives and starving children of said bandits.
  • A wolf meets the party and snarls a lot. Party kills said wolf. Later on they encounter a druid asking if they've seen his wolf that had eaten some poison ivy gone mad and run off.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good idea, except that if the wolf attacks they will always kill it. It's better if they see the wolf and choose to go after it or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim B
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ A good point; the summaries were fairly brief; but yes; as previously pointed out by @Majestic12 encounters should be description/character reaction rather than description/combat unless it's an ambush \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 12:09

In my years (30 years) I've always found that it's their game not mine. It's really what they would want to play.

If none think this game style is bad or don't feel like the game is Hack n Slash then just go with it.

Now on the other foot as a DM you need to also be the one who's proactive if you want a game to go a certain way. While it is their game you are in charge of the fun.

Case of the wolves:

You have made it so you egg them on into a fight with the great description. Since they are suppose to not fear creatures being adventurers that they are they will attack with that intro. So the trick is have the wolves come up to the camp snarling a bit but add "As if they are hungry" and also "They seem to dislike the fire. Probably why they didn't enter and take the meat you have." Then let them decide to be selfish or to share/hide as it may be.

Now to increase RP:

If they share food or stay close to fire:

A Druid/ess or shape shiftier forms and thanks them for being noble and rewards them with a gift for being the protectors of the forest. Add the mission s/he needs help protecting the forest since their is a _____ enemy harvesting the woods with strong steel and have them out numbered. That can lead to the "gift" being used to help defeat the enemy leader who only flaw is that item.

Then let them know "Good thing you didn't attack and kill the wolves before or this would have been a mess"

Now if they attack:

They defeat the wolves to find a "____" around the neck of one of the wolves. They later that night hear the enemy harvesting lumber (Probably for siege engines) and most likely attack/investigate. The "Leader" goes one on one and beats the snot out of them as if protected by something which allows him to not be harmed by magic or steel. You then have the leader see the "______" in their possession. Enter leader monologue to state "my last worry is gone since that "gift" has no power without the Druid/ess being alive." Allow them to regroup and or escape and you tell them better find out what's going on then just charge and swing.

This is where a town with a bard can come in handy who tells of that leader bragging about the artifact he has and is there to hunt the only item that can stop him...since they killed the druid/ess or Shifter they will need to adventure to bring the Druid/ess Shifter back to life. Then make finding the True Resurrection spell hard as hell and meantime build up friends who they enjoy as NPCs and able to use them as resources. This makes them realize... it's not just them in this world but a whole world with real people they could ruin if they screw up or just attack without mercy.

Another idea for if they attack:

The Druid/ess Shifter escapes and they see Him/Her escape and then if they give chase or later that night do the enemy thing and have them get the idea the only thing the leader fears is the druid/ess Shifter so now they have to get back in good graces and be a friend.This can lead to just as much RP as the finding of a scroll to bring back the dead.

If they try to wipe their hands build up relationships to only have that same villain kill them off when the group feels happy making the villain a thorn in the side. This will also work if they accept but run away from the challenge.


After a few things similar to this style of RP your group will slow down and try different tactics. Right now it's just a war game to them. With this RP you'll start to get the RP you seek.

Be careful I've also had group think about every single action before they start a mission sometimes lasting our whole game day of 12 hours we do every week.

Also be ready for them to think outside the box and figure how to surpass your expectations and defeat your big baddy without trying sometimes creatively using NPCs and resources. At that point I see them in the eyes of a very proud father would seeing his child overcome an obstacle.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, Mostly for pointing out that the asker's encounter lead-in makes it sound like a fight already. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 2:39

What does everyone want?

First and foremost: have you considered the possibility that your players like playing in this style, and are more interested in destroying everything than trying to save villages and feed dire wolves?

I had a match of the Game of Thrones RPG (highly recommend it) where the GM expected us to become choose to be nobles and go to the tournaments to bathe in blood. Instead, we chose to be a bunch of no-ones in the middle of nowhere, more interested in complex scheming than physical fights (except for one guy, who tried to resolve a small conflict by doing a skill roll to shoot an arrow into a sleeping NPC's nuts, but he left the table after two sessions). The GM noticed we weren't interested in doing what he prepared, so he just trashed his campaign, we had an initial session where we all worked together to establish who we are, what moves us etc, and he used all that to come up with a new campaign.

What I'm trying to say is: before you try to change your players out of their current pattern and into what you'd like them to do, maybe discuss with them if they want to do try that. A lot of people prefer sticking to hack-and-slash, and that's fine. If you want to have a more RP-intensive match, maybe you'll need new players.

Also think of what you want, as a GM. I had a friend that got so frustrated at their players killing everything that she pulled a "rocks fall". Don't let it get to that point, explain to them that you'd like to try different stuff, and if they're not okay, part in good terms.

How to steer the game at this stage?

If you all decide you'd like to try something new, you can reset the campaign. Go from scratch and try new things. This is the easiest thing to do, since it gives the players the option to rethink if they actually want to spend all their points in STR.

If they'd like to change their current characters gradually, as Rob said in his answer, you can always introduce consequences to their actions. If they murder everything in their way, maybe they'll get a reputation for it, and be unwelcome in the next village. Maybe authorities will put a bounty on their names. This is the point of no return: do they give themselves over to the authorities or do they become a travelling party of bandits?

If they choose to be arrested, have the king, out of mercy, allow them a second chance to turn their lives around. They'll have to regain the trust they lost in the next villages they visit. Perhaps they'll have to employ that legendary Rod of Lordly Might-made-battleaxe to chop wood for a plate of food. Perhaps you can create a character join them as an in-game observer, a captain who intervened because he saw potential in them—this way you can track their progress and also give in-game advice. Maybe come up with an "alignment" bar and use it to track their decisions—everytime they solve something without killing anybody, they gain a few points. If they kill everybody, they lose some.

Give them bandits to fight on occasion, but in a more balanced manner: they've been allowed to turn their lives around, shouldn't they do the same to others? Kill the manic bandit chief lusting for power, but spare the fellas who made a bad choice in life. And here come in the rewards that [Tritium mentioned in his answer]. Maybe they return to the village where they helped some bandits and receive a few gifts. Or the druid who owns the wolves manages to revert the spell cast on them and rewards the players for feeding them. Or perhaps a few pups join the band and help them hunt.

Reiterating this: they don't have to become Mother Theresa. Give them something to kill every now and then, it's obvious they enjoy doing that. But helping them have a more balanced experience can be rewarding to everyone. Keep in mind the most important thing: the reason you all do this is to have fun. Throwing in a few puzzles can be fun for everyone.


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