Some players won't ever have their PCs run. Or surrender. Or negotiate from a position of weakness (read: "Take our money and spare us" instead of "Give us your money and we'll spare you.")
These players always go "all in" - essentially betting the whole campaign, or at least just their characters, on winning every fight.
They have reasons/rationalizations for this:
- our enemies will kill us if we surrender, so it's a fight to the death anyway.
- our stuff is so valuable that it can't be replaced, and if we lose it, it's as bad as starting over, so it's a fight to the death anyway.
- these enemies won't let us surrender, so its . . . (refrain)
- my character wouldn't surrender, (refrain).
- (in town) we'll be arrested and put in prison or sold into slavery, which will end the campaign, (refrain).
- and so on.
I find that some players also regard every fight, especially fights in town versus guardsmen, as a game of chicken with the GM - "He won't kill us in a fight with guards after spending so much time developing this city" is an example of that. To my mind, the solution is to kill them all off if they play chicken with me that way, and use the city with new PCs. They can view the heads of their old PCs on stakes as they come into town. It's winnowing out bad behavior.
If the PCs literally can't surrender (berserkers, say, or under some kind of magical compulsion or curse) you can be nice and spare them when it's not really their fault. But that's case by case, in my opinion. Maybe the downside of that very fine longsword with Puissance +3 and Penetrating Blade (5) is that you go Berserk occasionally and might fight to the death when surrender would have been a valid choice. You knew the breaks when you picked the sword up. Or maybe you chose Compulsive Behavior (Fighting) and Berserk and Bloodlust and Intolerance (all non-humans) and then you get into a bar fight in Dwarftown and get out of hand. Maybe your disads will kill your character.
But, as a GM you do need to make it clear that:
- you aren't going to bail them out if they play chicken with your game, or make characters who can't avoid fights/back out of bad ones, or make terrible choices. Combat is potentially lethal.
- you can flee. Not all encounters are beatable, and running away is acceptable. Some encounters can only be "beaten" by fleeing.
- you can negotiate. For Gygax's sake, talk to them.
- it's just stuff, you can get more stuff. But you start over at the bottom if you die and have to make a new character.
- you can (sometimes) safely surrender, especially if the law is involved.
About that last one, The Law. Zak S. has a great line in Vornheim about the law - basically that legal consequences have to make the game better. To quote him precisely, "the arrest process should lead to something unexpected and interesting rather than just meaning the game grinds to a halt" (Vornheim, pg 39) So one trick to town battles, in any case, is to let the players know that arrest is going somewhere interesting. Maybe they'll be tossed into the gladiator pits and get to fight. Maybe they'll be sent to recover the Soul Gem (see C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness for this exact plot). Maybe they'll be cursed to always tithe 50% of their cash until they pay off their debt and turned loose on the worst dungeon imaginable. All of which are fun, but the players must know that surrendering for crimes committed isn't death.
As a player you need to find out if fighting to the death is the only thing allowed in the game. Odds are, it isn't. Know when to run. Remember permanently dead characters don't advance, and it's better to lose your vorpal blade to a magistrate after surrendering to than to lose to his men after they kill you and burn your corpse to ashes. It's better to bribe the goblins than to die against them. It's not always do-or-die; you can lose a fight and keep playing. And running away isn't really losing, it's just not killing those monsters now. Come back and get them when the odds are unfair in your favor.
Short version: The GM needs to make it clear that running, surrendering, or negotiating are going to be valid options (although not all options are valid at all times). The GM also needs to make clear that these options will lead interesting places, not end the game. And finally, the GM needs to be willing to pull the trigger and kill off characters who don't take these options when they need to.
All in my experience. Maybe it's just my players who won't run . . . how about yours?