Monday, April 7, 2014

What if Fleeing Always Works?

This is yet another post inspired by one of Jeffro's posts. This time, I'm musing on rules to allow fleeing. Jeffro bashed Gamma World 3rd edition - which I've never seen, read, or played, having gotten off that ride after the 2nd edition boxed set - for a rule that encouraged GMs to let low-level guys flee more easily. But me, I kind of like how a rule like that might work out.

So what if you could always flee?

I like the concept of a rule that makes it easier to escape from the bad guys when you're lowly newcomers. It a kind of genre switch, in a way, but limited in use. You're saying, for a while, the world is after you but the fates intervene.

I am curious how a rule that allowed low-level, or starting, or otherwise very weak groups to automatically succeed in fleeing from more powerful foes. The rule would apply for a specific amount of time, specific amount of earned XP, or specific levels, and would work as long as the PCs did not engage the NPCs in a confrontation. In other words, if you decide to flee before the fight, you get lucky and get out.

Some effects I could see happening from this kind of rule

- fleeing is a real option, because it always works. It's never "but you fail to get away." You just do, so you're not choosing a chance at victory vs. certainty of escape, and weighing the odds. It's 100% certainty of success, so if you stick it out and fight you passed up definitely getting away. You'd get less chicken with the GM, and less people thinking "Fleeing still results in death sometimes, so I may as well fight."

- players take more risk interacting with the world, because they have a way out for their PCs and know it works.

- there is an even larger premium on information gathering, because the "fleeing always works" is revoked once you engage with them. So you have a real incentive to learn more information, because of that certainty of choice.

- On the flipside, players might get to blase about running away, and either get too risk-averse (run from everything while we still can) or too risk-happy (we can always run.)

- It can also skew behavior in that you don't learn how the "fleeing" mechanics work at an early stage. This might be a problem if you have mechanical rules for fleeing (like in AD&D), less so in a game where the GM is just deciding based on the situation if you get away or not, or in a game where your ability to get away is plain the PCs, too (you won't get away from the cheetah normally, or you'll always get away from the slugbeasts because they are slow.)

You can even optionally extend this kind of rule to any level, or limit it by numbers ("only if outnumbered"), or limit it by types ("doesn't work against flying creatures or hunter-killer robots") or situations ("not in totally open terrain" or "not when fatigued") or something of that sort. But just as a broad genre switch, if you have some freedom to explore around and know you can run instead of fighting with a certainty of getting away, that does pose a real option. Do you fight, talk, or run? Running gains you little, but hey, it will work . . .

I don't see an issue with players using this as some kind of clever weapon to explore exceedingly dangerous areas or provoke biker gangs or whatever, because it's a tabletop RPG rule and there is a GM. The GM can simply declare it doesn't apply because of perceived abuse and that's that, so it doesn't need to be written so airtight that it survives contact with rules lawyers. Nothing really does, so I don't write rules for them.

I haven't tried this, but it would be nice to see what "emergent behavior" - to quote Doug's favorite concept (aside from the GURPS Speed/Range Table) - comes out of this kind of rule. Do they flee more, flee less, or make choices unforeseen? Hmm . . .


  1. Using DCC, you could always allow escape based on the use of Luck. That way, there is a cost, so that the players care, but the cost is not so great that the players will never cut their losses.

    1. I, too, was looking for a mechanical reason you might not want to run, but that was irrelevant at lower levels. If you lost "status" or "macho" or whatever it is, but at lower levels nobody has that anyway, it might be sufficient.

    2. A cost in status, reputation, etc. is a nice way to extract cost if you don't want it to be "free" but also don't want it to be equipment/special ability based. You can set a DCC Luck cost on it by level - 1 luck for level 1-2, 2 for 3-4, 3 for 5+ . . . that would be sufficiently costly that higher level guys can't really afford to do it often, but low level guys are trading a small amount of Luck away in return for not having to make a new character.

    3. Or "Self-esteem", which might be an interesting base for a few fun modifiers.

  2. You can also make a "Word of Recall" - type neigh-on guaranteed escape type item, let the newbs stumble apon a cash of them for early on, and then let them buy them later at hefty cost.

    1. Making it "equipment" based like this, though, would mean eventually all groups would have that item handy, and you'd have to explain why the newbs don't just sell the damn thing to the richer guys who can also use it! Unless you pull out that old "those rich enough are also powerful enough to just seize it from you" chestnut, but that has holes in it big enough to drive a societal collapse in to. :)

    2. If it's clearly vital for survival, they probably won't sell it. And if they do, well, that's an interesting choice that they might regret later.

      As for why more powerful folks don't take it - if you design it right, the very nature of the item prevents it. "Namelevelfighter von Mightypants is crushing the party so he can steal our Auto-Escape Rings! Oops, that just triggered the conditions on our AERs. I guess that's why Smartypants El Necromaxo never even tries."

    3. That seems like a lot of work just to let the low-power guys escape.

    4. I prefer in game mechanisms whenever possible, even if they are a little more work.

      On reflection, however, there is a serious problem with the suggestion - it means that at some point (when you can reliably afford escape items), it becomes really hard to kill you, and this applies to enemies as well. Which leads to escalating countermeasures, which is possibly more complication than I would want.

      But only possibly. Escalating countermeasures can be fun too.

    5. @Martin: Sell the scrolls, buy better gear, win the fights. An expensive consumable that can be turned into a permanent is munchkinism waiting to happen.

      @Peter: What if it were a rule of the universe? In GURPS terms, everyone gets a use of luck in the process of running away from overwhelming odds. It doesn't work if you are offered reasonably safe surrender - so no free luck for running from the police, or kidnap attemps. On the other hand, stray goblins run better from genocidal PCs.

      This could even extend to fighting when forced against the wall with no hope of escape, so when bloothirsty PCs insist on hunting down every last goblin, they're likely to eat a few desperate called shots for it. Sun Tzu certainly believed in leaving your opponent an avenue for escape, just to avoid just this.

      And no, "give us ALL your gear and you can go" isn't considered a reasonable alternative, either for PCs or NPCs.

    6. @ Archon: you are assuming better gear is enough to win the fights...

    7. You don't have to assume the better gear will win you fights, just that it will provide more value over a longer time than the "run away successfully before combat starts" item does. Then they take their chances running, just like now.

      Plus then you need to explain why the new groups always seem to have one of these "run away" items, why they are expensive, etc. Nevermind that means if you introduce a new character and solo adventure him or something, he needs one of those items or he's in danger.

      I think an expensive consumable has more problems than a genre switch does. The other can get turned off or on without any of the in-game effects an item has. They would certainly have very different effects in the game.

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