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Talking Your Way Out… Fun? Skills before Kills

January 3, 2012

The party has bashed and exploded all the contructs and guardians standing in their way. They chopped off all the heads of the hydra, sent the storm titan back from whence he came, and now it comes to this. The epic champions stare face to face with an aspect of Moradin in the secret soulforge, flanked on either side by massive clockwork juggernauts.

The illusionist starts pulsing with rainbows of energy, the half-orc fighter tests the edge on his legendary great-axe, the barbarian hefts his might maul, and… And?

The artificer convinces the aspect that we’re all on the same side here and none of this violence is really necessary. The aspect agrees and sends you on your way with a bit of advice on where to continue the quest.

While I agree that RPGs should be about options and not just an endless murder-fest, I feel like sometimes talking your way out of fights gets more praise than it should. After the party “defeats” an encounter in this fashion, it can be a refreshing change of pace if you’ve been slogging through endless fights (which can be commonplace in the epic tier) but it doesn’t generally make for the same sense of accomplishment as standing atop a pile of defeated foes.

Last night we had an experience much like the one detailed above in our epic Scales of War campaign. In retrospect, I should have used the tried-and-true comic trope of having the good guys fight the other good guys to a bloody draw before they can convince each other they are on the same side. This probably depends on the group but I’ve found that same players are reluctant to call off combat once those initiative dice hit the mat. Overall, it left me with a bit of a “meh” feeling.

What are your feelings on talking your way out of a fight? Refreshing change of pace? Anti-climactic? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Seventh Son
    January 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    As a GM, I hate unnecessary combats that don’t advance the story. It’s the sort of Gygaxian ‘wandering monster’ time-kill combats that are just there to deplete resources or inject some life into lags between dungeon crawl encounters. These, I find, are best addressed when “outsmarted” or circumvented through diplomacy. I’d say as a rule, your final fight needs bloodshed or at least high-stakes puzzle solving. Maybe a vicious lieutenant preceding the potential diplomacy encounter takes the sting out, but generally, players want that climactic fight at the very end. They may not tell you, but they may grumble about it afterwards.

  2. Robert
    January 10, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I think that skill challenges are too rarely used in the Scales of War modules. A few modules back, we had the opportunity for the first time to play a fight and a skill challenge at the same time. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me to run that type of scenario before, but the DM half of my brain was spinning with possibilities.
    I was the artificer in the Soulforge who talked the aspect of Moradin into giving up before it went to blows and while for me it was a memorable and awesome experience, but I would agree that it may have left our Barbarian wanting more blood. I don’t know why the author didn’t give this as an optional skill challenge during the fight. Maybe not an announced “And now begins a Skill Challenge”, but it seems like it would be an opportunity to put a skill challenge into the fight. Even if it’s a free ‘on your turn’ action to try and talk sense into your enemies. Maybe lowering the enemies hit points makes the challenge easier.

    • January 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      I think its one of the more clumsy and hard-to-implement elements of 4e. It’ll be interesting to see how they address it in 5e.

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