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Jon Lemich @RunAGame
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The initiative thread got unrolled, too. So I'll use this as an opportunity to talk about running away.

Running away from a conflict is absolutely essential to a lot of styles of RPG play. It's common in real-life violent conflicts. But it's also nearly impossible in initiative.
That's because every character gets the same amount of time to do everything, as if they were all acting in turn, but also simultaneously. When you act in turn, you act with full knowledge of the other parties' actions on previous turns.
As a result, the INSTANT Merlin breaks and runs from the goblin, the goblin also starts chasing Merlin. At the end of the goblin's turn, he's adjacent to Merlin again. In reality, the goblin would have a few seconds delay reacting to Merlin, intuiting if it was a feint, etc.
Worse, in initiative, the party doesn't all run at once. Merlin runs. A goblin pursues. Then Ru runs. Then three goblins are left alone with Elantria, and they know, with MINUTES of IRL time, that the party is running... so they mob her. Then she CAN'T run.
This applies just as badly in grid games AND theater of the mind games, by the way.

But it's even worse in games with levels.
If you have levels, that means the monsters have levels (or Challenge Rating). That means you might encounter enemies you cannot beat, or at least cannot beat without half the party dying.

Monsters don't wear hats with their CR proudly displayed on them.
In the real world, there exists no creature that a healthy person with a spear and chain mail cannot kill. Elephants and tigers might be hard opponents, but mail and a spear go a long way toward victory. In #dnd, there's a whole BOOK of creatures such a commoner cannot kill.
In most styles of #dnd, including how I run it, the players are going to come across foes they have nearly 0% chance to defeat. They're going to need to run away, but probably they can't because of initiative, and possibly also because of the creature's abilities, damage, etc.
The combination of initiative making it unrealistically hard to retreat and levels/CR making it unrealistically likely to meet a creature you can't defeat leads to TPKs all the time. A TPK from story choices is fine. But as a system artifact? That sucks!
Informed story choice -> Fight too hard monster -> TPK = Fun!
Uninformed blunder -> Fight too hard monster -> TPK = Bad!
Especially bad when the initiative system prevents you from retreating.
So we have to solve both of those problems.

First, tell the players about the CR of the encounter they're going into, if it's too high for them. "Hey guys, the system says you'll probably all die if you fight this Medusa at level 2."
Do not try to couch that in game-world terms "The innkeeper said that the medusa killed thirty soldiers last week. 'Don't go fight it!' she says, 'you'll all die!'"

That sounds like roleplaying and story, not tactical board game communication. The players won't understand.
There is NO advantage at all to hiding a deadly fight's challenge level from the players. All you'll do is get them killed, and it will be because of a decision you -- the GM -- made.
Every time I hear "my party got TPKed because they foolishly went up against something they shouldn't have" I assume it's YOUR fault, GM. Yours, not theirs.
Because if you're being honest with them, you'd say something like, "my party got TPKed valiantly sacrificing their lives to buy the villagers a few extra seconds to escape."

Because they'd have known going in that they wouldn't survive, and chose to fight anyway.
Now for the second solution:

End initiative when the party decides to retreat. If one PC considers running away, ask them OOC if they're all going to retreat. If they do, drop out of initiative.
Now you have two options:

A hard choice

...or...

A skill challenge
A hard choice: "If you run from this fight, the ogres will drink the blood of their captives. The villagers you came to save will all die. What do you do?"

A skill challenge: "OK, you're running? Group Athletics check!"
A hard choice tells them what's likely to happen if the ogres get what they want from the fight. You shouldn't be using enemies whose only goal is to kill the PCs very often (see runagame.net/2018/08/encoun… ). Then they make a choice: Do they run or stay and risk everything for that?
In a skill challenge they make checks to run away, declaring their actions, hearing from you what to roll, and then having you evaluate the result and declare what happens.
Because it's not the combat system (the bonus tactical board game that comes bundled along with your RPG for free), you get to impose roll stakes OTHER than TPK. Failed checks can make them lose gear, get separated, or break bones -- stuff the combat system doesn't do.
That stuff is interesting; often it's *real* bad, but it doesn't END YOUR FREAKING CAMPAIGN.
So to sum up:

- Initiative and CR make running away suck

- Running away is absolutely essential to many styles of play

- Solve this by being open and clear about deadly challenges OOC and ending initiative once the players decide to flee.

(End)
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