However, if you notice that your encounters are starting to feel a bit samey, there's one thing you should try; alter your victory conditions.
|Ummm... they're running away... did we win?|
What Are Your Victory Conditions?
The party comes upon a dark ritual, and they know if the cultists are allowed to complete it, that it will release a powerful fiend whose been bound for millennia. However, before you ask them to roll initiative, it's important to make sure you've made it clear what the goal is. Is it to stop the ritual from happening? Is it to slay the leader, whose bloodline is required to turn the key in the fiend's lock? Is it to free the sacrifices? To destroy the tome where the ritual is recorded? Or is it to just crash in and keep hitting things until there are no more things left to hit?
As I mentioned back in 3 Ways To Spice Up Combat in RPGs, one of the biggest reasons players get bored with what should be some of the most exciting parts of the campaign is that it turns into a game of burly bastard back and forth. You run up to the bad guy and start kicking their shins, they kick your shins on their turn, and you continue kicking until someone falls over.
Even if you started the fight with some really big boots (in the form of a big magic sword, or tricked-out metamagic spell), that's going to get boring if it's the only thing you do.
|Shamblers? Sigh... right, called shot to the head...|
One way to avoid this shin-kicking is to give your players a different set of victory conditions other than, "kill everything in the room, and loot the bodies."
What should those victory conditions be? Well, that depends entirely on your game, your players, and what they're trying to accomplish. For example, are they escorting a diplomat? If that's the case then they'd likely want to avoid fighting bandits, wandering monsters, etc. This could turn fights into running battles, allowing things like stage coach chases, or attempts to foil assassination at important events. That would allow the meat shields to stand by in sunglasses checking IDs for people who want to meet their charge like a pair of medieval bouncers, but it would also give the characters with detect poison an important role in making sure none of the canapes are deadly. The socialites could run interference, looking for people who are suspicious in the crowd, and trying to detect threats before they're found, etc., etc.
It isn't about killing all the bad guys. It's about ensuring your charge lives through the evening.
There are dozens of scenarios you could use. A siege isn't about how many of the enemy you kill; it's about how few of them you allow inside. If you can rescue the hostages without a single weapon being drawn by sneaking inside, well, you still got them out safely. If you are in prison, then the key is escaping, not killing a whole bunch of guards. If there is a reason the town is being raided by a band of orcs, find out if you can resolve the situation through a means other than slaying the whole tribe. Who knows, a peace treaty for mutual protection might be a possibility.
Change the victory conditions, and you'll get your players out of the same old rut they've been stuck in. Guaranteed.
That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday, even though it's going up on a Tuesday. For more unique gaming content from yours truly, check out my Gamers archive, or take a listen to Dungeon Keeper Radio to hear our skits, DM advice, and world building. If you want to stay up-to-date on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and leave a little love in my cup. All it takes is $1 a month to get some sweet swag from yours truly as a thank you.