Based on my prior question on signalling alternate end states and Redefining Combat, how do I present PCs with the ability to assign their own tactical goals beyond "clear" to a hostile environment like a dungeon or scenario?

(This question would have been extra credit in the prior question, but it's sufficiently different that it probably deserves its own question)

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Redefining Combat" is a broken link, archive.org doesn't have it, and googling failed. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    May 9 '14 at 12:15

Spell out the alternative win conditions for them. Set up a few combats that very clearly illustrate what a combat with those conditions looks like. Then proceed as normal.

I did something like this in my thieves guild game. I told the players there was a new kind of combat: a chase scene. It played out in initiative order and their combat abilities were all present. But if they stayed and fought they'd lose. Escape was the only way to win.

They actually bought into it pretty well. I didn't have to tell them what type of combat we were doing either. Against a tough foe, they decided it was chase scene time and fled. This made them a lot more open to fleeing, since I told them escape was a victory rather than a defeat.

You would probably have to suggest more tactical goals than just fleeing, but it's not a bad way to start.


This question doesn't make a lot of sense when applied to most RPGs. It's really an artifact of very strongly tactical games.

In most games, PCs define their own goals, and combat isn't a completely separate minigame. So in 90% of the cases, PCs are already assigning their own tactical goals based on their character, team, and other group they are bought into's goals. In those games, when there's a fight, often there is an underlying goal of "survival" but beyond that there are team and individual goals like "no matter what I want to kill our temporary ally because he's got a hit out on my girlfriend" and "protect my girlfriend" and "get as much glory as I can by engaging the biggest enemy" and "we need money, let's harvest boots from as many dead orcs as we can" and "I must follow my god's strictures to heal any who are on death's door" and "let's get to the ship as fast as we can, the other ship is getting away."

"How do you signal other end states the DM has in mind" from the other question is at least focused enough one can get their arms around it. Here, "How do you get players to create goals for themselves" is a fundamental part of a campaign that defies a simple answer. I guess if you want things to stay tactical and game-y, you can do some kind of proposal/voting scheme where players can suggest end states for a specific combat and you/them can bid on them? "I propose we just keep them contained in the cave mouth for 10 rounds, it'll be EL 10, and if we do then we get four Victory Points in the overall conflict and one treasure parcel!" You could use a planning poker variant to gain consensus on risk vs opportunity. Yeah, that could work! You could present several options:

  1. Kill 'em all! EL 10, 2 treasure parcels, 5 VPs
  2. Blocking action EL 8, 1 treasure parcel, 4 VPs
  3. Hit and run EL6, no treasure parcels, 3 VPs

And then run a round of planning poker to bring the party to agreement.


Take some time out from your regular game, and play some with alternate modes besides "survive" and "kill them all"... I'll recommend Houses of the Blooded, Blood & Honor, Mouse Guard and Chronica Feudalis as examples of such systems.

The Burning Wheel "Bloody Versus" subsystem is also excellent: reduce a combat to a single skill roll with a stated goal for each side, agreed to by both before rolling. It's used in Burning Wheel and Burning Empires, and is used in one of the examples of Mouse Guard even tho' the term isn't.

Once they start experiencing the weird and wonderful effects of asymmetric non-casualty-driven goals, they're more likely to make use of them elsewhere.


Remove all explicit goals and replace them with a hidden win condition on a timer. The only thing that the players know about the win condition is that "clearing" and surviving are insufficient. They'll have to start observing and thinking in order to figure out what needs to be accomplished.

Beware though: this can easily become a bad "guess what the DM is thinking" situation. To avoid that, make sure that player effort to discover the objective is easily rewarded with useful, actionable information. There's no need to make discovering the objective hard, only to make it require that the players exert a minimum of attention to alternatives.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by survival timer vs. winning timer. Are you talking about in terms of real world time, game time or turns? \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    May 25 '11 at 18:05

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