When The Heroes Aren't  

Posted by Spenser Isdahl in

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.
Oh, and by the way: The PCs defeated the eight goblins. Maybe they'll remember that when I've got them surrounded by twelve.

This entry was posted on July 6, 2010 at Tuesday, July 06, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I don't play any of the MMORPs, so this question comes from ignorance -- is there an advantage to running in any of them? Do your players have that kind of gaming background?

July 6, 2010 at 5:14 PM

I'm not big on MMORPGs myself, but from what I understand, you can't run from most enemies, and, now that you mention it, the players least willing to run are the ones who play MMORPGs the most. Interesting correlation...

July 6, 2010 at 6:33 PM

I'm actually running into the same sort of thing in my own RotR campaign, but on a larger scale as we've just moved into the Hook Mountain Massacre. The Party continues to try small hit-and-run attacks against the fortified Ogres, each attack encouraging the Ogres to make their lives more difficult. If they feel any real danger, they immediately retreat into the caves beneath Fort Rannick.

It would be a viable theory if I were to play the Fort as a grouping of static encounters, but the Ogres aren't idiots - they're moving around and reorganizing.

July 6, 2010 at 7:00 PM

I'm infamous for charging, but famous for winning ;)

July 6, 2010 at 7:26 PM

This is good to hear. I'm trying to play with my kids, and after every encounter, they want to retreat and heal, sleep 8 hours to recharge, and buy more healing potions. I had to burn down the General Store and lock them out of the Inn to get them to stop. Instead, they slept outside, waiting for morning, so the inn keeper would unlock the doors.

But, I like the idea of no retreat, and re-telling their exploits to cheering townspeople. That might get them more motivated.

July 9, 2010 at 3:45 AM

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