Monster & Morale

As you open the door, you see a pair of goblins arbitrarily standing there, ineffectually wielding spears made of a stick and somewhat sharpened rock, and shields made out of a few planks of wood tied together. They see you, and snarl savagely as they prepare to rush you.

This is one way that The Twisted Halls can open with: a pair of goblins middling about in a room, with a hex hurler and guard drake off camera for a round or two. These goblins are not only outnumbered but also out-gunned, as the party will either be utilizing obviously superior arms and armaments, or hiding behind someone using them. Unfortunately, whoever is doing the hiding is most certainly capable of dropping arcane ordinance. Goblins are pretty cowardly creatures, so it'd make sense of them to run for help, if not for their lives. No, they stand their ground, waiting for backup to arrive. Though the hex hurler jumps in almost immediately, the guard drake only shows up if someone opens the door to the room that its for some reasoned locked in. This costly delay results in a one-sided battle against the goblins, who even when bloodied are content to throw away their lives.

Why don't they beg for mercy, or simply run? Is it because its not in the rules? 2nd Edition had a morale check, though I don't remember what it did. I think one aspect of it is morality. If the monsters are begging for their lives the players might be reluctant to kill them, and even feel very bad for doing so. If they're all too eager to kill the characters, however, it becomes an easy decision rooted in self preservation. Since I like to play D&D as a pleasurable hobby, the latter is preferable even if it means that the world is populated largely by simple-minded antagonists. After all, I'm not trying to write a novel, but provide a few hours of entertainment a week. If this means that I focus my creative efforts on the plot and a handful of major NPCs, I think I'll live.

Another big factor is probably having the players deal with surviving monsters. Do they tie them up and take them to the authorities, chase them off in the hopes that they doesn't return (possibly at an inopportune time, or with reinforcements), or simply put them to the sword when all is said and done? This could lead to a lengthy discussion about how to handle survivors that might just bog the game down, especially if the party doesn't agree on how to handle prisoners. I'd rather not have the players explain that they are going through a routine of slitting throats, burning corpses, or stabbing nuclei. Even if I did, it would become one of those things that everyone agrees happens automatically without anything needing to be said.

On the other hand, leaving someone/thing alive could prove useful, which has been demonstrated in my current campaign on several occasions (especially since I don't require a monster to be killed to garner a XP award). If the party interrogates an intelligent monster they might learn something useful about the dungeon and/or its inhabitants. This information doesn't have to be accurate, and you can use it for foreshadowing. It can also speed up combat. If a monster surrenders, then you can reduce the grind. This could fail if the party takes a long time arguing over one what to do with the survivor(s). After the first batch of successful surrenders, its likely that your players will be quick to reach conclusions. Survivors might come back to haunt the characters, or assist them. Ultimately it leaves the potential for social role-playing opportunities. Just don't over do it, or they'll just go back to gutting the losers like fish in a factory.

When, if ever, should monsters surrender? In my games I try to run monsters logically, basing their combat behaviors off of what I think they'd do. I don't have a hard system for it, instead playing it by ear unless a monster is bloodied, in which case players can try the Intimidate route (as its already in the rules). That being said, I do have some guidelines:

  • Upon being encountered animals might not attack immediately, and could be dissuaded from fighting at all through the use of skills such as Nature, Intimidate, Diplomacy, Bluff, Insight, and others. If combat does break out, I generally have the animal strongly consider fleeing once its bloodied so that it can live to be arbitrarily thrown into another random encounter another day. If the animal is protecting young or its lair, it might fight to the death. Depends on the animal and location.
  • Programmed/bound guardians like animated objects, golems, elementals, devils, undead, and others don't play that way. They are created or compelled to protect an area or fulfill a function. Intelligent guardians do what is tactically advantageous, and some might try various forms of persuasion in order to fulfill their tasks (there could even be a dialogue exchange before and during combat). Unintelligent guardians, like golems, just go after whoever is closest or dealing the most damage. They never give up, even in the face of destruction.
  • Intelligent creatures are a lot more complex. You have to consider race, intelligence, and sometimes other factors like culture and religion. As I mentioned above, goblins are a cowardly lot. When most of them are dead and/or bloodied, I like to have some of them surrender or book it (perhaps to warn another group). Orcs are very bloodthirsty and not prone to giving up. Most major villains probably have a high self-preservation instinct.

My questions are, do you have monsters that surrender? How do your players react to it? How do their characters handle it?


  1. ive had monsters that surrender and monsters that try to trick the heroes they want to surrender to back-stab them. When Scepter Tower of Spellgard adventure came out i ran it for my players and in one occasion, two of my players decided to climb the tower instead of going through the long, underground, and most likely deadly entrance. As they climbed one of the gnome enemies and his ettercaps assaulted them from the top of the tower, the ranger managed to knock him over with a ranged critical and they decided to keep the gnome alive for interrogation. Surprisingly enough the gnome was very cooperative, the players even offered him good gold if he helped them to go inside, he accepted and "G", as they called the gnome, became their companion (They had to toss a few coins though, depending if the mission they had to do was too dangerous for him).

  2. The At-Will blog has been doing a series on skills called "Serious Skills." When they did "intimidate" I was surprised to find that the PCs can intimidate a bloodied foe into surrendering. While I've never seen anyone do this (PCs or monsters), it would be interesting to try.

  3. Many groups would just kill the gnome, or interrogate him and then kill him, or pay him and kill him later. XD

  4. @Brian: Same here.

    @Antioch: Lets just say that they have learned with me that you have to think twice who you are killing, unless its just a random monster. For instance, they once killed an elf in my darksun campaign, two sessions later they were at the oasis ran by the elves (forgot the name) and they were bragging about the kill, an elf merchant heard them (they were talking about it near his tent), and as they entered his tent to bargain for goods, the elf refused to sale them anything. Later they found out, the elf they killed was the son of a friend of his, if they would have spared the young elf, instead of killing it to keep his goods, they could have won a free survival day, given to them by the same merchant.

  5. WHY would you kill an elf and THEN brag about it around other elves? ESPECIALLY in Dark Sun. @_@

  6. because the elf was bragging about catching an ID monster, which wasn't entirely true, so they thought it was funny... until the merchant heard them ^_^


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