26
\$\begingroup\$

In a D&D 5e game, a player rushed into combat with an NPC that wasn't particularly hostile. As a player, I wouldn't have started that combat immediately and the character didn't seem too hostile, so I might try to talk the PC/NPC down rather than get stuck into the fray.

As a PC is there any way to de-escalate the combat by RPing with the characters to just talk things out (with or without e.g. charisma checks) or particular spells?

\$\endgroup\$
13
\$\begingroup\$

A Note

This seems to be more of a culture problem more than a rules problem. Lindybeige has a video about this. It seems that RPG players (in general) jump to lethal force too often, and without any form of escalation to that lethal force. Once in combat, it is a race to 0 HP, with the winner suffering death by deadly death, because people have it in their head that combat is for making things dead.

A solution to this is to run combat is like some fights in the Princess Bride. Such combat involves characters who don't actually want to harm each other, but still have conflicting goals and therefore must use the skills available to them, be they martial, mental, or social. In short: once a character's goal is achieved, they need not do anything more. The Angry DM has a some blog posts about this approach to combat, and I find this advice valuable.

So, the simple, social fix is to allow people to bend rules to allow for deescalation.

That is not your question, though. So what can you do to de-escalate combat and follow RAW? It should be noted that DMs are the ultimate arbiters of when combat ends; the PCs simply take steps towards convincing the DM to end it.

The Disengage/Retreat Option

Yes, you just keep running until the aggressor simply gives up. In 5e, this is taking the "disengage" action as much as needed, and moving away. It deescalates combat by denying the opportunity to do damage.

The Diplomacy Option

This is one that gets a little dicey. Persuasion in 5e seems to be a bit vague, but this sort of thing would fall under "persuasion." In the basic rules, Persuasion is listed as the skill to "negotiate peace between warring tribes," p. 62. If these tribes are actually fighting as the negotiation takes place, it is silent on this.

Pointing out things like "killing me is against your goal" can de-escalate combat. Generally, this appears to be left up to DM judgement. "You don't need to fight me!" is certainly something that can be said in 6 seconds, so it is reasonable to use that argument within a round of combat.

Defensive Stances (Dodge), Nonlethal Damage

You could simply assume defensive stances, which is the "dodge" action, deflecting and parrying blows until the other side gives up. Most people would not consider this ideal, as assuming a defensive stance (dodge) in 5e only inflicts disadvantage, so you might still get damaged.

5e has the option to "pull" blows, allowing for creatures to be knocked unconscious. So you could go full-bore, combat mode and just pull (melee only) attacks when they're about to fall.

Knocking a Creature Out
Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable. (Basic Rules(2018) p. 79)

Spells?

You can use the variety of spells to interrupt or disable combatants so that you can deescalate well. A quick perusal of the 5e basic rules yields: command, sanctuary, dominate person, charm person, suggestion, or also spells like darkness, which can all be useful to hindering or deescalating combat.

Intimidation

This one is also a little tricky. Intimidate can be hard to pull off sometimes, and it is subject to a DM's judgement. Also in this same vein is to cause fear effects, which effectively makes opponents back down because of their own fear. Sometimes that's a spell thing, but sometimes a DM can grant "fear" status for particular actions.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How does combat stop in the case with surviving belligerents? Just drop out of initiative and back into RPing? \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Apr 8 '16 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StuperUser Yes, you drop out of initiative and continue RPing. Alternatively, you don't stop combat, and continue fighting until the bitter end, but that does not always maximize fun. This is all subject to the DM's ideas on what makes an entertaining or good combat. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Apr 8 '16 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Thanks for that! I forgot about the fear effects. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Apr 8 '16 at 15:23
12
\$\begingroup\$

Here are some notes on how I have handled this in the past.

  1. Talking is a free action during combat, assuming the NPC shouts that he does not want to fight and makes a non-threatening stance. As long as the conversation moves toward "lets stop fighting" it probably will.
  2. Assuming the PC wants to react, typically what I have seen is the player will Ready an action for if the NPC attacks. This can generally help ease tensions as well - since who is going to trust the guy asking for a truce while hacking your face?
  3. The combat stops as long as everyone involved opt's to not continue attacking.
  4. As for actual rules - it strikes me that something of this nature would be a Charisma(persuasion) check to see if the combat stops that turn (or technically if the NPC agrees to stop). I'd probably take the NPC's passive nature into account and give it a high chance to succeed.
  5. The Charisma(persuasion) check can be extended to an attempt to negotiate with the NPC and de-escalate the combat. Again, depending on situation I would heavily modify the DC for this check (e.g. an angry dragon is probably a DC 20+, where as a friendly NPC with a family is likely a 1-5).
  6. A problem for a persuasion check is the problem of trying to use it against someone actively hostile towards you. I would not let players abuse this system to get out of combat constantly, since most enemies they fight probably would rather kill them then talk it through. (See Charisma checks, DMG, p. 244, for assessing a DC for a given situation).

A good side note is that "entering combat" is only defined in the rule books to make it easier to manage.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ “The combat stops as long as everyone involved opt's to not continue attacking”. How does the combat stop? Is it as simple as everyone dropping out of initiative and going back to RPing? \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Apr 8 '16 at 13:06
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ More or less - Lets say the combat is three person - NPC, PC1, PC2. If PC1 says "lets stop", if both NPC and PC2 opt to not attack on their turn the combat is done. At which point you are back to role playing. \$\endgroup\$ – Sh4d0wsPlyr Apr 8 '16 at 13:08
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ In that case (combat stops), I always keep the initiative going on for a few more rounds, in order to gradually release the tension (see it as the equivalent of the epic combat music going on for a few seconds before fading out). It adds some dramatics in the "Hold your fire!" scene and allows to make sure no loose cannons (on either side) will go trigger happy and sabotage the truce. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Apr 8 '16 at 13:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've found that having the NPC beg for mercy, maybe mentioning wife and kids, tends to immediately deescalate combat for every group I've played with. It's remarkably effective. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Apr 8 '16 at 17:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When I encounter this situation as a GM and the players use a free action to offer a truce, I usually make them perform a Persuasion roll. It may be good to mention this is a possibility. \$\endgroup\$ – aebabis Apr 8 '16 at 17:42
7
\$\begingroup\$

What your character can do on their own.

Assuming we're in intiative, let's look at some actions available to you:

(Free) Talk. There's a word for this: shouting "parlay!" or "truce!" or even "hold your fire!" can do a lot, especially if you (the player) actually shout it at the table. I've been known (as a GM) to break initiative on this alone.

Attack. Grappling can do a lot, especially applied to one's belligerent party-mate.

Cast a Spell. Many spells can help stop combat. Sleep will hit your allies (and you!) alike. Charm Person, Confusion, a well-worded Command, just for starters. Beware, though--these magical impositions of will tend to escalate intra-party tensions much more rapidly than a grapple will. (For some reasons my players have always tended to resent an intrusion on their PC's mind differently than they do an intrusion on their body.) Fog Cloud, Wall of Force, or the like may be safer bets.

Help. By the rules you could Help an opponent who is trying to Dodge your ally. However, if your ally's Attacking against the opponent's AC, this won't help (since the opponent doesn't execute a roll that you'll advantage.) I've solved this in either of two ways at my table: I've allowed "Hinder" as a house-ruled opposite of Help, or I've had the Attack make use of a "Players make all rolls" mechanic, such that the attack is a static number and the opponent is actively rolling to evade. In the first case your hindrance will disadvantage your ally's attack roll, in the second case your help will advantage your opponent's evasion roll.

What you as a player can do with your DM.

Talk to your DM about your recurrent desire to de-escalate combat. Combat never de-escalates if a combat XP award is the DM's objective, if the opposing party is fully committed to standing their ground 'til their last breath, and if the players have no fear of repercussions.

So all three of those dials may have to move if de-escalation is to be something the party values, and all three of them are largely under the DMs control. Talk to your DM about how combat XP vs. "story" or "objective" XP feature into their thinking. Talk to your DM about how they think about opponents' objectives going into an encounter and how they see you, the players, divining and making use of those objectives. Talk to your DM about why the PCs are so willing to put their lives and reputations at risk drawing steel when talking might suffice.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I particularly like “Grappling can do a lot, especially applied to one's belligerent party-mate.”. Can build to good RP, as long as all the players respect each other. \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Apr 13 '16 at 16:28
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @StuperUser (Just a note: code ticks are reserved for actual computer code and shouldn't be used for visual effect.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 13 '16 at 17:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.