2019-10-08 How to run away

I was reading @attercap’s blog post Run on his blog Attercap.net. It’s about running away – why this is good, when it is appropriate, and so on. Not a lot of time is spent on how to telegraph this to players:

Once the group is aware and in agreement that the game they want to play is a deadly game where the best way to fight is run and out-think the monsters, allow characters to die if they put themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not only might characters fall by trying to stand their ground some might perish simply by following the wrong lead. This is the nature of that type of game.

Sure, the blog post also talks about the ongoing conversation that leads up to this, but in my experience this is not enough. Back in the days I would simply announce: “this is dangerous, you will have to run from strong encounters” – but it didn’t change the player’s mindset. They were still proud. They didn’t see the danger until it was too late. There was frustration at the table.

That’s why these days I’m convinced that there is more to it, simple signals that you have to broadcast for running away to be a likely outcome.

How do you surprise players and still say: you are taking a beating and you should run? Also, you really should run and not stop to turn around and use missile weapons because perhaps the dragon can still kill you all...

Here are some elements to a solution of this conundrum:

I think the most important thing for a campaign to work on the premise that characters die “if they put themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” is that the players must put their characters in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only if they gnash their teeth and know that they risked it and they lost, only if they know that it was their own fault, only then can the referee continue to run such a game without turning it into an adversarial setup. You don’t want your players to dislike you on a personal level because you’re treating them unfairly. You want their characters to dislike their opposition. You want the players to love taking real risks for their characters. And you want them to know that – at least for a while – they can always back out. They can run away.

How do you handle this? Did your players simply adapt, or did the old players leave and new players took their place until it worked out for you all?



I had an NPC with the party who suggested ’this room with the narrow door, stairs, etc, would be a nice redoubt if we get into trouble’. They got the hint and after that mostly looked for advantageous terrain to fall back to if necessary (it was rarely necessary but I like that they are thinking tactically).

– Ruprecht 2019-10-08 14:17 UTC

Yeah! And sometimes I think we can these preparations pay off by having foes fall for the traps.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-08 14:28 UTC

Running away is underrated. Not as a survival strategy but as a fun activity. Some of the most enjoyable encounters we had in our last campaign was trying to get away from something.

Like when we our low-level characters broke into a mafia-nobleman’s house and found ourselves hopelessly outmatched. Jumping through windows, hoping to make the DX rolls to not fall prone, as every foot counted. The Barbarian aced it by being able to knock the high level fighter prone (thus slowing him down) and rolling real high to swoop up the fallen PC and jump out the window and land on his feet in one turn. The rogue obviously had no trouble scaling garden the wall, but could then help the rest with rope, with arrows heckling our diminishing HP. But we made it over before they caught up.

It was a great scene. Running for your life can be dead exciting when executed well.

Anders H 2019-10-09 13:07 UTC

It looks super exciting! So what you did was an improvised number of skill or attribute checks, with failures decreasing the distance and thus effectively a certain number of failures allowed before the opposition caught up with you?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-09 13:55 UTC

on the fly ability checks for jumping and landing. Another, easier one, for running in darkness to the wall without stumbling (arrows hitting making it tougher).

It was not a long enough distance for there to be more rolls. The key really was getting up the wall before they closed to melee distance.

Or that other time when we took shelter in a villa fleeing from a murderous village horde (don’t ask). Ended up in a being cornered on the first floor, having set fire to the stairs to keep them out and were now trying to work out how to escape a surrounded building on fire. Two players got the job of doing nothing but frantically trying to work out a plan whilst the other two were doing regular combat rounds to keep the horde at bay (doors, narrow hallways and a burning staircase help a lot to hold your ground).

I don’t remember exactly how they got out of that villa. They somehow found a way to blow stuff up even more, and jumped out of a resultant hole in the wall, before finding shelter in a basement in a narrow street further down.

Let’s just say caltrops are a favored item in the group now.

Anders H 2019-10-10 13:40 UTC

Hilarious! 🤣

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-10 14:48 UTC

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