Over the past few weeks, I've been teaching a group of D&D newbies the ropes, playing through the Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder adventure path (modified to run on the Pathfinder RPG ruleset). This isn't my first time teaching the game, but I've encountered an anomaly I wasn't prepared for.
The heroes are cowards.
That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. The last combat encounter we ran was against eight goblin warriors, and the five PCs nearly ran. Granted, the goblins surprised the party, but they had things under control. And yet, nearly all of them contemplated fleeing when it came to their turn, and only remained because of my gentle encouragements.
The oddest part of this is that, if you'd asked me only a month or so ago, I'd have given anything to have more cautious PCs. PCs willing to run when outmatched, willing to fight defensively, or even spend a round moving into a defensible position rather than attacking. The enigmatic co-author of this blog, Michael, is infamous in our gaming group for charging anything that moves, and this is the style of play I'd become used to. There's nothing wrong with it, I just thought I'd like a little variety. I may have been wrong.
The thing is, it's not entirely that my newbies are playing defensively. They're playing scared. Their defensive posturing isn't done to gain a legitimate tactical advantage, it's to avoid all foreseeable danger. I suspect this is a side effect of being new to the game, and not knowing what situations actually provide dire threat and which are simply challenging.
My solution to breaking them of their fear? Push them.
- No Escape: I'll start off by creating a situation from which there is no real escape for one or two PCs. That's the most important part: The other PCs will be able to escape no problem, most likely unscathed. They'll have to make the choice to stay, or leave their former allies to die. Victory (the likely outcome) will provide a positive incentive for their choice.
- No Hope: Finally, I want to set the PCs up in at least one situation that seems impossible to survive, provide odds that seem insurmountable... Only to have them persevere. Only when they go through a trial by fire and come out the other end alive will they have the hardened confidence my more experienced players exhibit.
- No Fear: At various points in their adventures, townsfolk NPCs will ask them to recount their exploits, reinforcing the myth of their power. Though they may meet the precipice of death many times, and in fact be very near to tumbling off, these experiences will work to bolster their faith in themselves.