On Morale, or should enemies run away

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

Baulderstone

Moderator
Moderator
Joined
May 13, 2017
Messages
6,952
Reaction score
18,059
The former mafia capo guy who has a youtube channel (Michael Franzese) says that there's a reason all the real life mafia characters played by Joe Pesci got killed by their own guys, people who act like that are too dangerous to have around and so they get whacked.
Indiscriminate murderers make people uncomfortable for some reason.
 

Voros

Doomed Investigator
Joined
Sep 23, 2017
Messages
10,064
Reaction score
17,026
The former mafia capo guy who has a youtube channel (Michael Franzese) says that there's a reason all the real life mafia characters played by Joe Pesci got killed by their own guys, people who act like that are too dangerous to have around and so they get whacked.

Most of Scorsese's films are set during the time in the 60s and 70s when the increasingly out-of-control behaviour of the younger mobsters, often tied to their drug use and the selling of drugs, helped largely destroy the mob from within.

But almost all gangsters, including the top bosses, ended up dead or in jail, it is kinda the logical outcome of being a career criminal.
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
2,669
Reaction score
5,984
It's only murder if you're caught. Until then, it's an unexplained death.

:hehe: :evil::wink:
Maybe that's true in a modern society with rule of law and well fed, conflict-averse citizens. I can assure you that in a rough and tumble frontier, men will seek vengeance based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.
 

Chris Brady

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2019
Messages
2,394
Reaction score
2,056
Maybe that's true in a modern society with rule of law and well fed, conflict-averse citizens. I can assure you that in a rough and tumble frontier, men will seek vengeance based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.
And honestly, that is my point. In a fantasy setting especially based on D&D and/or just its tropes, we have to accept that the Frontier mentality is prevalent there.
 

xanther

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2018
Messages
1,402
Reaction score
1,533
Maybe that's true in a modern society with rule of law and well fed, conflict-averse citizens. I can assure you that in a rough and tumble frontier, men will seek vengeance based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.
True when they take it personal/as out of the ordinary. Strange though in war, a guys buddy will be shot and he will accept the surrender of an enemy who could well have shot him. Likewise, think on times of old when wergild could make things "right" or those who are defeated may change sides to the stronger force (even when those killed are close to the person). Of course blood feud is also a possibility, but often carried out for political reasons as well...as in wiping out a competing family.

I tend to go with a model more drawn from older societies than potentially the wild west.

In highly violent societies, where killings happen, my view (at least for game purposes) is in large part what is important is how the killing is done.
Is it a stand up fight, was the reason for the fight "honorable", are the dead treated "honorably" according to the deceased peoples.
In short, in societies with a lot of violence as a matter of course, it may not seem as "personal" and mechanisms and psychology and beliefs exist to be able to make it less personal.
Of course betraying a guest, starting to talk then attacking them, torture, failing to accept surrender...all those things make it personal.

Now in more civilized lands, or just more organized ones, even the evil overlord will put a stop to murder hobos. After all only the evil overlord has the right to kill, dare to disrespect the prerogative at your mortal peril. The same applies to less evil rulers, killing one's subjects is a challenge to their authority and disrespect, and no ruler who wishes to rule long can allow that, so says The Prince. :smile:
 

AsenRG

Legendary Member
Joined
Apr 28, 2018
Messages
7,947
Reaction score
8,015
True when they take it personal/as out of the ordinary. Strange though in war, a guys buddy will be shot and he will accept the surrender of an enemy who could well have shot him. Likewise, think on times of old when wergild could make things "right" or those who are defeated may change sides to the stronger force (even when those killed are close to the person). Of course blood feud is also a possibility, but often carried out for political reasons as well...as in wiping out a competing family.

I tend to go with a model more drawn from older societies than potentially the wild west.

In highly violent societies, where killings happen, my view (at least for game purposes) is in large part what is important is how the killing is done.
Is it a stand up fight, was the reason for the fight "honorable", are the dead treated "honorably" according to the deceased peoples.
In short, in societies with a lot of violence as a matter of course, it may not seem as "personal" and mechanisms and psychology and beliefs exist to be able to make it less personal.
Of course betraying a guest, starting to talk then attacking them, torture, failing to accept surrender...all those things make it personal.

Now in more civilized lands, or just more organized ones, even the evil overlord will put a stop to murder hobos. After all only the evil overlord has the right to kill, dare to disrespect the prerogative at your mortal peril. The same applies to less evil rulers, killing one's subjects is a challenge to their authority and disrespect, and no ruler who wishes to rule long can allow that, so says The Prince. :smile:
True enough, but then even wergild wasn't always accepted:shade:.
 

raniE

Resident animal hater
Joined
Feb 10, 2019
Messages
887
Reaction score
1,359
From what I understand of old Swedish law, during the viking age it was a worse crime to kill someone and then cover it up or try to hide your involvement than it was to kill someone and say "I did it, it was me!" The latter was manslaughter, the former an assassination and much worse.
 

Agemegos

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2021
Messages
88
Reaction score
226
Hence why you murder them all immediately. Any enemy left alive is a potential threat that will bring more threats later.
Any enemy left alive is an example to others, teaching them that they have a reasonable alternative to fighting to the death. Accepting surrenders and releasing prisoners unhurt is propaganda. It saps the enemy’s will to fight.
 
Last edited:

Chris Brady

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2019
Messages
2,394
Reaction score
2,056
Any enemy left alive is an example to others, teaching them that they have a reasonable alternative to fighting to the death. Accepting surrenders and releasing prisoners unhurt is propaganda. It saps the enemy’s will to fight.
It depends on the enemy. It wouldn't, for example, work on Orcs. Or Hobgoblins. But on Goblins? Yes. As written in D&D 5e anyway. Don't know enough about settings like Warhammer.
 

Agemegos

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2021
Messages
88
Reaction score
226
It depends on the enemy. It wouldn't, for example, work on Orcs. Or Hobgoblins. But on Goblins? Yes. As written in D&D 5e anyway. Don't know enough about settings like Warhammer.
Ah! Well, I wouldn't know anything about orcs or hobgoblins.
 

raniE

Resident animal hater
Joined
Feb 10, 2019
Messages
887
Reaction score
1,359
Most of Scorsese's films are set during the time in the 60s and 70s when the increasingly out-of-control behaviour of the younger mobsters, often tied to their drug use and the selling of drugs, helped largely destroy the mob from within.

But almost all gangsters, including the top bosses, ended up dead or in jail, it is kinda the logical outcome of being a career criminal.
In the end, everyone ends up dead. But Joe Bonanno (namesake of the Bonanno family) died of heart failure at age 97. Joe Profaci (head of what is now the Colombo family) died of liver cancer at age 64. Lucky Luciano died of a heart attack a free man. So not everyone goes out in prison or with a bullet in their head.
 

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
Any enemy left alive is an example to others, teaching them that they have a reasonable alternative to fighting to the death. Accepting surrenders and releasing prisoners unhurt is propaganda. It saps the enemy’s will to fight.
Indeed, even if you end up facing them again later, the knowledge that they can survive if they flee or surrender will affect their morale from that point on. You don’t want your enemy to feel they have no alternative besides fighting to the death. Build a bridge for your enemy to escape across, as they say.

I might even give them a -1 penalty to morale for every time they’ve fled or surrendered previously, to reflect how it’s better to fight those you’ve already beaten, rather than fresh enemies who aren’t properly afraid of you and don’t have retreat in the backs of their minds from the start.

Slaughtering the opposing side to the last individual is something you often see in games, but in real life it’s rare enough that it tends to make history when it does happen. A good rout is a win. But of course most conflict, terrible though it may be, doesn’t sink to the level of genocide.

It depends on the enemy. It wouldn't, for example, work on Orcs. Or Hobgoblins. But on Goblins? Yes. As written in D&D 5e anyway. Don't know enough about settings like Warhammer.
It’s a problem with how they’re written. If you have a warlike culture, and that culture has not yet gone extinct, then that culture understands the value of retreat, whatever their internal propaganda (or external stereotypes) might suggest. No matter how badass you are, you can’t win every fight.

Mindless zombies are another matter, but mindless zombies don’t have cultures to begin with.
 

Chris Brady

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2019
Messages
2,394
Reaction score
2,056
It’s a problem with how they’re written. If you have a warlike culture, and that culture has not yet gone extinct, then that culture understands the value of retreat, whatever their internal propaganda (or external stereotypes) might suggest. No matter how badass you are, you can’t win every fight.

Mindless zombies are another matter, but mindless zombies don’t have cultures to begin with.
There's a difference between retreat and running away. Not to mention that this is fantasy. Realistically, there would only ever be one dominant species in the same 'family', like how Homo Sapiens killed the Neanderthals to take the top spot.

Not to mention that most of the various races know each other well enough to know that Orcs don't retreat, and can be damn hard to kill. Hobgoblins only retreat to bring back more numbers and Goblins and Kobolds run away like the cowards they are, but don't follow them because they likely got killer traps blocking the way, although that's more likely Kobolds, but don't count the gobbers out.
 

Agemegos

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2021
Messages
88
Reaction score
226
Not to mention that this is fantasy.

The conversation started with a mention of District 9 (which is SF), Blackhawk Down (which is Modern Action), and Band of Brothers (a War series), and the OP asked about morale in RPGs, not just morale in D&D. This is not necessarily fantasy; if it is fantasy it doesn’t necessarily have orcs in it; if it does have orcs they are not necessarily like your orcs.
.
 

Chris Brady

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2019
Messages
2,394
Reaction score
2,056
The conversation started with a mention of District 9 (which is SF), Blackhawk Down (which is Modern Action), and Band of Brothers (a War series), and the OP asked about morale in RPGs, not just morale in D&D. This is not necessarily fantasy; if it is fantasy it doesn’t necessarily have orcs in it; if it does have orcs they are not necessarily like your orcs.
.
Fair enough. But I stand by the general gist. Not all creatures (in a fantasy or science fiction setting) will operate by human rules, and if they've been interacting with each other long enough, some generalizations can and likely will be made.
 

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
There's a difference between retreat and running away. Not to mention that this is fantasy. Realistically, there would only ever be one dominant species in the same 'family', like how Homo Sapiens killed the Neanderthals to take the top spot.

Not to mention that most of the various races know each other well enough to know that Orcs don't retreat, and can be damn hard to kill. Hobgoblins only retreat to bring back more numbers and Goblins and Kobolds run away like the cowards they are, but don't follow them because they likely got killer traps blocking the way, although that's more likely Kobolds, but don't count the gobbers out.
A fantasy in which several entire species are terminally immune to fear and don’t respond meaningfully to tactics isn’t one I find particularly engaging. Nor do I think the tactical side of combat is benefitted by having creatures attack nonstop, so that you have to play through he killing of every individual, even after it’s clear their side has lost.

It also takes tools out of the players’ hands, as a lot of tactics is about breaking your opponents’ morale and triggering a rout, so that you don’t expose yourselves to more risk or use up more resources than necessary. And if enemies are immune to fear, have no sense of self-preservation, and would rather die than cut their losses and withdraw, combat is reduced to that kind of boring mop-up slaughter each and every time, with no variation. Don’t bother taking out the leader first or doing a pincer maneuver or a showy display of magic fireworks; the others will still stand there and fight to the death as if you hadn’t bothered. It also means there’s no difference between mindless undead or constructs and sapient creatures in how you run them, so mindless creatures with perfect morale don’t stand out anymore.

Also, the orcs better reproduce like mold if all they do is charge screaming like a horde of Leroy Jenkinses until they’re all dead. And that’s not getting into racial essentialism, which… is a whole uncomfortable conversation unto itself, but suffice it to say that “all orcs are like X” is hard to support even within the D&D tradition, much less across the board. Maybe orcs in your world are near-mindless bio-weapons like something out of Resident Evil (13th Age flirts with this take), but if not, it’s hard to see how they could have a culture and a history and still be around while acting like that.
 

Voros

Doomed Investigator
Joined
Sep 23, 2017
Messages
10,064
Reaction score
17,026
In the end, everyone ends up dead. But Joe Bonanno (namesake of the Bonanno family) died of heart failure at age 97. Joe Profaci (head of what is now the Colombo family) died of liver cancer at age 64. Lucky Luciano died of a heart attack a free man. So not everyone goes out in prison or with a bullet in their head.

Course there were exceptions but they are notable exactly because they are exceptions. And early on many of the bosses were able to avoid jail due to endemic corruption but once the FBI stepped in in the 70s that free ride came to an end. Bonnano is an odd example though as he was released from prison only due to health reasons and his old age, not exactly a free man.

One thing I've noted reading true crime histories though is that the omerta (within North America at least) was largely a fiction propagated by bosses but when it came down to it and they had to decide to roll over or do hard time, they almost all took a deal if it was available.

I recall one crack Kingpin from the 90s noting that he wasn't willing to die old and in jail without every getting to hug his grandkids based on some bullshit macho code that no one actually followed in practice.

Bodie on The Wire sums it up nicely in this classic scene.

 
Last edited:

ffilz

Legendary Member
Joined
Dec 17, 2018
Messages
1,089
Reaction score
1,705
I wonder if it would help to understand why the culture of fighting to annihilation has become so entrenched in RPGs. I'm not sure all of the factors myself, but there are certainly some thoughts.

One aspect is player belief that leaving an enemy alive means they will cause future harm, but coming back with reinforcements, by ratting out the PCs, or something else. To the extent that the GM has that happen without signalling, even if extremely rare, then yea, players are going to want to wipe out any enemy they perceive as having the ability to do future harm. So maybe the GM has to make it clear "THIS enemy WILL leave you alone if you let them go." And have other enemies that have a reputation of coming back to do more harm. Make THOSE enemies major players in the world (though the occasional misguided gang that will consequently get wiped out to the man by the PCs might fit the campaign).

Another aspect from the GM's chair is when NPCs surrender and the PCs just torture them or kill them anyway. If the world really signals that you're dead no matter what, more opponents ARE going to fight to the death. The flip side of this is that the PCs need to be able to surrender and not be left in a position where the player would prefer their character had just been killed. One of the reasons I bailed out of a Traveller campaign a few years ago was that I had two PCs killed after surrender (and a third killed because I didn't ask the right questions to find the bomb).

I think there are also game influences. Many of us have been exposed to a variety of "play to the bitter end" games. Chess has a grand tradition of surrender, but games like Risk and Monopoly are usually played to the bitter end (and I've seen players in those sorts of games actually get upset when the penultimate player concedes).

I'm not convinced that using morale rules only for NPCs is a good way to go.

On the other hand, I'm not totally against fight to the bitter end. If a fight is really dragging on and it's clear the PCs will win, I will call it. I do have some opponents surrender (and in my current RQ1 Glorantha campaign have rewarded the PCs for accepting surrender in one case by their opponent being ransomed and in another their opponent freely gave information [that didn't put the surrendered opponent in a worse place]).
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
2,669
Reaction score
5,984
Another aspect from the GM's chair is when NPCs surrender and the PCs just torture them or kill them anyway.
The last person I gamed with who did this kind of thing (murdering defenseless prisoners for no reason at all) was a cop on a SWAT Team in Orange County. He had a real hardon for it which made it especially weird and cringey. Crazy huh? Needless to say he wasn't invited back.
 
Last edited:

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
Being summarily killed is always a risk of surrender.
It’s true. On the other hand, even without considering the moral implications, summarily killing those who surrender has some rather serious consequences, including making future surrender less likely and increasing the chance that the enemy will do the same. That goes not only for the fictional sides of the conflict but also for the GM-player relationship.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
1,619
Reaction score
3,046
It’s true. On the other hand, even without considering the moral implications, summarily killing those who surrender has some rather serious consequences, including making future surrender less likely and increasing the chance that the enemy will do the same. That goes not only for the fictional sides of the conflict but also for the GM-player relationship.
Having enemies fight to the death rather than surrendering can in fact be a way of avoiding the moral implications of execution, especially if the PCs are not really in the position to look after prisoners.

Personally as a GM, if surrender looks like an NPCs most viable option then they'll try it. What players have done in response to previous such attempts is only relevant if the NPC is likely to have heard about it. (And who's going to tell them, given that the witnesses are dead?)

If I'm trying to run a game where the PCs are all heroic (in a moral sense) and that's the tone I'm aiming for, then I would be careful about surrender. This is perhaps another reason why GMs have npcs fight to the death, because it avoids the moral implications of surrender when keeping prisoners is not viable, or of chasing down and killing fleeing enemies when you really can't afford to have them getting away.

It seems much more heroic if your enemies die on their feet facing you.
 

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
If the PCs are supposed to be morally good but are prone to executing prisoners because of the inconvenience of doing anything else with them… well, I’m not about to accommodate that by having enemies fight to the death. It seems rather like having NPCs gift them with their property to keep them from stealing it. Only, you know, worse.

What I’ve done, on the other hand, is to make sure that honoring their enemies’ surrender actually proves beneficial to the player characters. Enemies might become allies, or at least cease hostilities and offer concessions. Or at the very least, the PCs can disarm them and send them on their way, that much more reluctant to engage with those who beat them once. Keeping them prisoner long-term isn’t even a real option, so forget about that. They should make a deal and be done with it.

As for the captured enemies, they should be thinking not only “how can I survive this,” but also “how can I turn this to my advantage.” Adventurers strong enough to beat them might also beat their enemies, for example, and a well-placed rumor about treasure or secret about a dungeon can do wonders to point them in a certain direction.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
1,619
Reaction score
3,046
If the PCs are supposed to be morally good but are prone to executing prisoners because of the inconvenience of doing anything else with them… well, I’m not about to accommodate that by having enemies fight to the death. It seems rather like having NPCs gift them with their property to keep them from stealing it. Only, you know, worse.
The point is that if the PCs are playing White hats and the GM runs the game where he expects the players to be faced with hard moral choices all the time, then the game tends to break. Playing characters that are heroic by modern standards in a violent pre-modern setting involves not looking at certain things too closely.

Or they could just play characters of their time and place and therefore you don't worry about them killing surrendered enemies if it's expedient.
What I’ve done, on the other hand, is to make sure that honoring their enemies’ surrender actually proves beneficial to the player characters. Enemies might become allies, or at least cease hostilities and offer concessions. Or at the very least, the PCs can disarm them and send them on their way, that much more reluctant to engage with those who beat them once. Keeping them prisoner long-term isn’t even a real option, so forget about that. They should make a deal and be done with it.

As for the captured enemies, they should be thinking not only “how can I survive this,” but also “how can I turn this to my advantage.” Adventurers strong enough to beat them might also beat their enemies, for example, and a well-placed rumor about treasure or secret about a dungeon can do wonders to point them in a certain direction.
Ok, but the issue I'm talking about is pcs killing surrendered enemies because it's expedient to kill them. I'm not talking about letting them live because they have something to gain if they do.
 

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
Ok, but the issue I'm talking about is pcs killing surrendered enemies because it's expedient to kill them. I'm not talking about letting them live because they have something to gain if they do.
My point is that the GM has a great deal of influence over what is actually expedient.
 

Agemegos

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2021
Messages
88
Reaction score
226
If the PCs are supposed to be morally good but are prone to executing prisoners because of the inconvenience of doing anything else with them… well, I’m not about to accommodate that by having enemies fight to the death. It seems rather like having NPCs gift them with their property to keep them from stealing it. Only, you know, worse.

Well put.
What I’ve done, on the other hand, is to make sure that honoring their enemies’ surrender actually proves beneficial to the player characters. Enemies might become allies, or at least cease hostilities and offer concessions.

I have run a lot of adventures in which the PCs got merit points from arresting the villains and providing the prosecutor with evidence sufficient to secure a conviction, whereas if they killed perpetrators the very best that they got was weeks of writing reports and being interviewed by Internal Affairs or the police.
Or at the very least, the PCs can disarm them and send them on their way, that much more reluctant to engage with those who beat them once. Keeping them prisoner long-term isn’t even a real option, so forget about that. They should make a deal and be done with it.

I'm no expert on guerrilla tactics, but I'm told that Mao's doctrine was that anyone who who surrendered should be disarmed and deprived of his boots, and if possible held overnight, well fed, and released in the morning. It's not so much that that made that Nationalist soldier less likely to fight with determination (execution is effective at that), but the story got around, so that (a) all Nationalist soldiers became less likely to fight with determination and (b) Nationalist propaganda demonising the Communists became less credible in general. The war is fought in the minds of the enemy.

But that is not really what D&D is about for a lot of people. They just want to kill things and take their stuff without having to bother about a lot of subtle and complex intangible considerations. For a lot of people our working lives give us all we want of restraint and circumspection, and it is a recreation to engage in dynamic and forceful direct action with nothing to worry about that is not immediate.
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
The conversation started with a mention of District 9 (which is SF), Blackhawk Down (which is Modern Action), and Band of Brothers (a War series), and the OP asked about morale in RPGs, not just morale in D&D. This is not necessarily fantasy; if it is fantasy it doesn’t necessarily have orcs in it; if it does have orcs they are not necessarily like your orcs.
.

Yes. In fact I've argued some of the discussion in this is overly-fantasy-centric, especially in terms of practicality of retreat.
 

Roseblack

Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2021
Messages
23
Reaction score
39
But that is not really what D&D is about for a lot of people. They just want to kill things and take their stuff without having to bother about a lot of subtle and complex intangible considerations. For a lot of people our working lives give us all we want of restraint and circumspection, and it is a recreation to engage in dynamic and forceful direct action with nothing to worry about that is not immediate.
Well, you get to the stuff faster when the enemies run away after you’ve killed half of them. :wink:

All other considerations aside, I always have (non-mindless) enemies try to flee when it’s clear they’ve lost and are about to be killed, even in systems where there’s no obvious thing to roll for morale, just because it doesn’t seem believable to me otherwise. Also it helps keep combat from dragging on. Generally by the end of the third round you know who’s going to win, unless it’s a very elaborate, climactic setpiece. I just assume NPCs also have a sense for this. Even hungry beasts will tend to cut their losses and seek an easier meal rather than die.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
1,619
Reaction score
3,046
Yes. In fact I've argued some of the discussion in this is overly-fantasy-centric, especially in terms of practicality of retreat.
Eh sometimes. And sometimes it seems to be treating the PCs as if their either part of a military force or an entire army. (Definitely a lot of points brought up here only really seem to apply if the PCs are fighting a consistent set of enemies who are organised enough to communicate with each other - which they might do or they might not).

If you're a English baron in the Hundred Years War then of course you surrender and ask to be ransomed. If you're a Texas Ranger fighting commaches you save one bullet for yourself becaus surrender is not an option.

Really this whole thread is a lot of people making whatever assumptions seem most convenient in the moment to the point that they're making and therefore talking past each other.
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
I wonder if it would help to understand why the culture of fighting to annihilation has become so entrenched in RPGs. I'm not sure all of the factors myself, but there are certainly some thoughts.

One aspect is player belief that leaving an enemy alive means they will cause future harm, but coming back with reinforcements, by ratting out the PCs, or something else. To the extent that the GM has that happen without signalling, even if extremely rare, then yea, players are going to want to wipe out any enemy they perceive as having the ability to do future harm. So maybe the GM has to make it clear "THIS enemy WILL leave you alone if you let them go." And have other enemies that have a reputation of coming back to do more harm. Make THOSE enemies major players in the world (though the occasional misguided gang that will consequently get wiped out to the man by the PCs might fit the campaign).

You run into two things here, I think:

1. There are GMs who have an active distaste for being clear-cut about these things, and think it damages the illusion of the game. This means unless the opponents are a known quantity, they're going to be very muddy in this area.
2. Many GMs are not clear that player perception of frequency is entirely out of sync with the reality of frequency in most cases. It only needs one case where letting someone escape works to their determent, and they will never forget it, even if it isn't a problem a dozen times before that. And of course they'll carry that feeling through to other GMs.

Another aspect from the GM's chair is when NPCs surrender and the PCs just torture them or kill them anyway. If the world really signals that you're dead no matter what, more opponents ARE going to fight to the death. The flip side of this is that the PCs need to be able to surrender and not be left in a position where the player would prefer their character had just been killed. One of the reasons I bailed out of a Traveller campaign a few years ago was that I had two PCs killed after surrender (and a third killed because I didn't ask the right questions to find the bomb).

In a lot of context, its not helped by the fact that PCs have no reasonable way to handle prisoners. They're often in the middle of something, and can't take the time out to guard and escort prisoners. So the best they can do is strip them and send them on their way which can seem--unattractive.

I think there are also game influences. Many of us have been exposed to a variety of "play to the bitter end" games. Chess has a grand tradition of surrender, but games like Risk and Monopoly are usually played to the bitter end (and I've seen players in those sorts of games actually get upset when the penultimate player concedes).

I'm not convinced that using morale rules only for NPCs is a good way to go.

I'm honestly not a fan of socially-related mechanics (which this is) being completely one-sided in general, though I'm willing to have the application work a bit differently so they don't turn into PC mind-control.

On the other hand, I'm not totally against fight to the bitter end. If a fight is really dragging on and it's clear the PCs will win, I will call it. I do have some opponents surrender (and in my current RQ1 Glorantha campaign have rewarded the PCs for accepting surrender in one case by their opponent being ransomed and in another their opponent freely gave information [that didn't put the surrendered opponent in a worse place]).

It really is far easier in settings where a smaller number of combats are with opponents who are representatives of--or themselves are--existential threats to the world or at least the player-character's societies. As an example, I suspect those opponents would neither have surrendered, nor their surrender been accepted, had they been Chaos cultists (assuming this was a Gloranthan setting).
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
Having enemies fight to the death rather than surrendering can in fact be a way of avoiding the moral implications of execution, especially if the PCs are not really in the position to look after prisoners.

Personally as a GM, if surrender looks like an NPCs most viable option then they'll try it. What players have done in response to previous such attempts is only relevant if the NPC is likely to have heard about it. (And who's going to tell them, given that the witnesses are dead?)

Its not actually a given that said witnesses will have been involved in the combat. If its a patrol group or a set of opponents hunting the PCs, a detached scout is not an unheard of thing, and they may well not join in the combat, and thus be at enough distance to see how things play out while being at limited risk.

(And of course there are magical or high-tech observation options, too).

If I'm trying to run a game where the PCs are all heroic (in a moral sense) and that's the tone I'm aiming for, then I would be careful about surrender. This is perhaps another reason why GMs have npcs fight to the death, because it avoids the moral implications of surrender when keeping prisoners is not viable, or of chasing down and killing fleeing enemies when you really can't afford to have them getting away.

It seems much more heroic if your enemies die on their feet facing you.

This, on the other hand, is absolutely a thing.
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
If the PCs are supposed to be morally good but are prone to executing prisoners because of the inconvenience of doing anything else with them… well, I’m not about to accommodate that by having enemies fight to the death. It seems rather like having NPCs gift them with their property to keep them from stealing it. Only, you know, worse.

It may not be so much inconvenient as functionally impossible if they're in the middle of a time-bound mission. At that point they're stuck with either failing or killing people who, presumably, they had a reason to threaten with risk of life and limb in the first place.
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
My point is that the GM has a great deal of influence over what is actually expedient.

He absolutely does, but unless he's very careful with managing the situation I described previously, he's presented a bleak choice to them.
 

Paragon

Legendary Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2020
Messages
721
Reaction score
728
Eh sometimes. And sometimes it seems to be treating the PCs as if their either part of a military force or an entire army. (Definitely a lot of points brought up here only really seem to apply if the PCs are fighting a consistent set of enemies who are organised enough to communicate with each other - which they might do or they might not).

I've argued that's a problem, too. But it still makes a difference how practical a retreat is when you're dealing with a modern or futuristic game depending on the situation.

If you're a English baron in the Hundred Years War then of course you surrender and ask to be ransomed. If you're a Texas Ranger fighting commaches you save one bullet for yourself becaus surrender is not an option.

Really this whole thread is a lot of people making whatever assumptions seem most convenient in the moment to the point that they're making and therefore talking past each other.

There's absolutely some of that, and some of just assuming everyone else is running the same style of game with the same breadth of opponents one is. Its not disingenuous, but its also kind of less than helpful in many ways.
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top