We Never Start Fights. We Always Finish Them.

It’s odd how rarely I find new angles to old problems in my gaming; maybe it’s because most of my gaming is with the same three or four people, or maybe it’s just that I’ve been dissecting my games for blog material pretty much constantly for the last few years. But last night’s D&D game gave me an interesting look at how complicated trying to balance combat avoidance with a need to destroy the opposition could get while still remaining entirely in character.

We found ourselves in a rather odd situation: while both of us, in character, were more prone to try to talk our way around fights than to actually fight, we’d also been contracted to take out this goblin settlement before they could try to invade our home city again. Further complicating the matter, we had charmed one of the goblins from the settlement into serving as a local guide, so we needed to make sure that we weren’t doing anything too opposed to her inclinations.

This didn’t mean we didn’t get into fights. It just meant that we went to special effort to make sure the fights weren’t our fault. (All right, except for the killer elemental in the treasury, since our escorts wanted to kill it anyway.) We walked in, convinced the guards that we’d rescued our charmed friend from the failed raid on the city (technically true; if we hadn’t charmed her, somebody probably would have killed her) and that we were there to speak to their ultimate leader about said failed raid. They referred us to their chieftain, who gave us an escort and referred us to said leader. That was when the chaos started.

You know how I mentioned we were trying not to start fights? We failed utterly. Ran randomly into a guy who wouldn’t take “The chieftain sent us” for an answer. Fought our way through (at one point sending someone back to get us some reinforcements from the chieftain). Ran into someone else we’d fought a while before, who didn’t even bother asking what we were doing there before trying to kill us. Ducked into a treasury room to hide from yet another resident because our escorts considered him crazy and were quite sure he’d attack us unprovoked—but of course there was a monster there, and fighting monsters is noisy, so the guy found us anyway. While our characters were constantly grousing about this, I found it to be something of a relief; when we made it out of there, we could truthfully claim that yes, we had just been trying to carry out our errand, and the problem was entirely with the trail of bodies we’d left behind us. Clever truthtellers are a lot more fun than straight-out liars.

Then there was the person we were actually trying to get an audience with, who did want to negotiate (if by negotiate you mean “give us a not-a-choice” and let us slowly figure that out, while my character figured it out pretty quickly and just had to figure out how to goad her into a fight without actually attacking or declaring intent). So now, to keep with our objective, we needed to get her to make the first move while looking like we just wanted a little hazard pay for all the trouble we’d had getting to her so we could talk. I love a good balancing act.

I’ll admit, after all that, even I’m finding that it’s nice to be back to a point where we can just fight without worrying about who made the first move.

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