Monday, April 04, 2011

"Take no prisoners"


That phrase, "take no prisoners", makes sense in some contexts, but D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) players seem to take it to extremes. I have almost never encountered a D&D group that takes prisoners (just as I rarely encounter D&Ders who run away). It doesn’t seem to matter which edition is being played. I like to get information about what I'm going to fight (or avoid); prisoners are sometimes a source of such information.

There are spells and techniques (I don't mean torture, which is unreliable even if your world-view approves of it) that have a good chance of getting useful information out of a prisoner (if it's there); especially if you have more than one prisoner.

I suspect that many referees simply refuse to let prisoners provide any useful information. This encourages a hack n slash sort of game. (To me, D&D is mostly about combat (a wargame), but combat informed by good planning, not merely "rush in and slay".)

As I don’t care for pure “hack n slash”, because it tends to be mindless rather than informed with intelligence, I don’t want to discourage planning and thinking. If you can take prisoners, and it makes sense that they know something useful, and you go about getting the information reasonably, then you’ll succeed to a greater or lesser extent. Nor does this involve merely an “intimidation” or “bluff” or “diplomacy” roll (depending on circumstances. Most of my play with D&D was first edition, where no such official character skills existed. In a sense, in third and fourth editions we’ve given players further crutches for not thinking, by the inclusion of such skills and skill rolls.

I mentioned running away. An old mate of mine, having moved away many years ago, recounted a case where he was playing with a new group and urged them to run away from a random encounter. It had never entered their minds; yet all the encounter offered was a chance to get hurt, and to earn a few experience points, it could not further their mission goals. In the end they did run away, and were better off for it. This is another case where a referee (or DM if you prefer) can offer players a chance to use their brains. There is no reason why every encounter should be one they player characters can be expected to cope with. Why not make them decide when they need to run away?

I have recently been playing the “March of the Phantom Brigade” official D&D encounters, to learn about 4th edition (which might be a decent game (though awfully encounter-oriented), but isn’t really D&D). That is a very linear progression, of necessity to keep everyone on the same page throughout the country, of one encounter after another. Taking prisoners might help a little, but there’s certainly no intention that the adventurers should run away. It is quite different from a “normal” campaign, in other words. At least, I should hope your campaign doesn’t work this mostly-mindless way.

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