A quick note, and perhaps a question.

Last game three PCs charged into combat (well, snuck into combat) and went head to head at 1st level into the face of 4:1 odds. The results were predictable.

One commenter on Twitter noted “they should have run away.”

Now, there are two ways to take this. One is that they never should have entered combat to begin with. +Tim Shorts noted that yes, this was the right call, but he’d never had a combat in the game and so wanted to see what it was like. In short, he provoked a losing battle to see what would happen.

Well, he found out. 

Edit: They found out and got dismantled with grace and graciousness. They rolled poorly, and did not complain when the orc horde came screaming down on them. So this “well, he found out” sounds way, way more pejorative than it is meant. He wanted to find out what combat was like, did find out, and we all learned about tactics and emergent behavior in the process. Even me. Or perhaps especially me.

The other way to take it was that once things started to go poorly, they should have withdrawn. I’m wondering how viable that is. I think that as long as each PC decides to run the heck away while their foes are about two moves (usually about 60′, but not always) away this might have worked. But I see no way, really, for a bunch of fighters to extract themselves from melee in the face of a determined foe, unless they have a speed advantage.

I’m not saying this is wrong. In fact, I believe that the typical battlefield archaeology reports will tell you that yeah, the majority of the casualties were taken when one side turned tail and ran. 

But it seems to me that’s darn hard to actually run away in D&D-style games unless you really plan on it beforehand. Once things are already going badly, you’re basically in it unless the foe lets you out.

Does this match your experience? Who’s been chased, killed, and eaten?

8 thoughts on “Sir Robin ran away

  1. I think that this is a case where many GMs and players overthink things. I've been in a couple of games where running away was A Thing, with different responses.

    One was a Pathfinder Society game at a convention. The experience of trying to run was dreadful, trapped in rounds as we were.

    In other games, it's been more of an exchange – crap, we should run away. Ok, you book it, but it's rough.

    Yes, a lot of historical casualties are from armies retreating. But most RPGs aren't modeling armies, and most RPGs aren't modeling realistic medieval combat – certainly not D&D.

    Sometimes we overthink things, looking for the rule, when the answer is to go with what makes sense in the situation at hand.

    Anyway, that's my 2xp. 🙂

  2. For me players tend to think that I made it too difficult for them. There's been numerous occasions where they had an (obvious) uphill battle, or even downright impossible, but reasoned 'if the GM throws this at us, we must be able to beat it'. I find it hard to let characters know if they can beat something or not, without them actually trying it.

  3. As a DM, I have modified the movement rules to add more nuance than "move X each round". Also chase rules. I also run my monsters and NPCs according to their intelligence. So if they're fighting the PCs because the PCs are trespassing in the monster's home, the monster will let them leave, especially if the PCs managed to harm them significantly.

    Being able to run away should usually be available as an option to the players. Of course there are some circumstances that would prevent running away, but those should be clear to the players beforehand so they can make the decision themselves to engage in an inescapable combat or not. It stands to reason that there should be some fights that the players are not up to, they should always have some way to get out of our around those fights.

  4. My experience is that it's hard to run away. Part of this is because PCs often encumber themselves down with fight-winning armor and weaponry, and make movement speed secondary to victory when you finally do get in combat. Second, they're less than willing to discard gear to run away faster (a common historical and realistic tactic).

    Third, and most critically, PCs generally try to run away after they're already engaged in a close-in fight and it starts to go badly. Cap that with an unwillingness to quickly choose a rear guard capable of trying to keep the enemy from pressing too close (giving you a few turns of full movement vs. their move-and-fight), and you get a messy retreat that waves between "we have to leave" and "we can't leave, some of our party members are down or can't get away." The term for that isn't a "withdrawal" but a "rout."

    I have zero issue with all of this – it's a logically consequence of PC decisions about equipment and tactics, and a logical and realistic consequence of the rules.

    If you do like PCs (and their NPC foes) to be able to run away, do a variation on something Archon Shiva suggested and I discussed – give Advantage to any rolls made to simply get away, or Disadvantage to attack a foe that's running away full-tilt. That way you get more survivability, and you still get the realistic effect of those closest to the foe when they turn get killed.

  5. In my experience, the bigger problem isn't if it's possible for the PCs to get away, but that the PC will never even try it. They assume that all potential fights are "balanced" to the PC party. Even when things go south, they don't run. They hope for the tide of battle to turn in their favor… they assume that running away is going to fail… they stay and fight till someone goes down… and then it's to late b/c they also will not leave someone behind.

  6. This is something groups have noted in the past. Everyone has sameish speed, and then there's the dwarf.

    The thing I've asked myself is just how far enemies actually want or need to chase the party away. If bandits have a camp, are they really going to abandon the camp – en masse – and chase PCs away until the PCs are dead or they themselves are dead? As a Bandit, I don't know just what's out there. The 4-5 player PC group could be intentionally trying to draw us out into an ambush. Or, draw us out so the rest can come in and attack a weakened camp.

    As for PCs just getting themselves into a mess, it's not a big deal if their character is supposed to be some impetus knight-errant, looking for glory. Or an INT9 brigand or somekind. The party and players should know what comes of that.

    Sometimes it's OK to lose. Not all stories do or even have to end in victory for the protagonists.

  7. I handle fleeing and pursuit by doing a series of skill checks, usually athletics or similar, by all parties involved.
    Why the athletic skill check? Because everyone is capable of running, but dodging in a crowded street, to duck under branches in a dense forest or running over rough terrain needs skill.
    Furthermore the pursuer might need to make a perception check as well to follow the right path.
    The skill checks produces "success". The fleeing one gets "start-success" (his lead). If success reaches zero or less, he gets caught, if "success" reaches a target hight, he gets away. The fleeing one always goes first.
    The GM can modify the checks to make them harder or easier (a horse-cart coming from a side street, a rabbit-hole in the ground…).

    So imagine A pursuits B, B hast one success and needs three to escape.
    1: B and A pass their checks, success doesn't change
    (success might fall to 0.75 if B is slower than A – you get the point)
    2. A fails and B passes it checks: B has now 2 success
    (A got a branch in it's face)
    3. A passes and B fails: back to one success
    (B stumbles by a foxhole)
    The wood gets more dense, the line of sight gets blocked sometimes, checks get harder, interrupted line of sight
    3. B passes it check and A fails its athletic check AND fails its perception check, 2 success
    4. B passes it check and A needs to make a perception check to orientate himself, no running this time. Even though A is able to get a fix on B, B has now three success and A is to fare away to follow him any further.

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