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Have we won yet? – coping with villains who have different squad goals

C: So last conversation, we talked a lot about what it’s like when you lose a combat in D&D—and the fight we lost, which sparked that discussion, was also super memorable for another reason.

A: Was it? Oh wait, we talked about this a little already. I remember now. Yes, as we previously spoke about, we did not stop our eldritch enemies from bringing about the start of the apocalypse, and that really was on us because Calder’s character, Oslowe, had the doomsday sword on him—

C: Well, let’s not name names. It wasn’t just Oslowe’s fault.

A: Do you want to let me finish?

C: Sure.

A: Because Oslowe had the doomsday sword and he said, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t take the key to the nuclear device into the bunker?’ And the rest of us all said, ‘No, it’ll be fine.’ So he took it in. Whereupon our enemies promptly took the sword off him and we all went, ‘Who could have seen this coming?’ And Oslowe was like, ‘Well, me.’

C: They didn’t even attack him. They used magical and physical sneaking manoeuvres to get up close, grab the sword and then yeeted. And that made it really interesting and unusual combat.

A: True.

C: Like, this was not a fight about killing people, and that really got me. It caught me—all of us—off guard because we’re so used to combats where the strategy is to run in and just fucking attack, especially in this game where the eldritch creatures want to grab you and eat you and whatnot.

A: Yeah, in retrospect, we did not go into this fight with the right strategy at all. We were all about defeating our enemies in the usual way, by killing them.

C: Right. I wasn’t thinking about the sword and the doomsday device as much as I was thinking, ‘It is combat, let’s attack.’ But our enemies’ whole modus operandi for the entire fight wasn’t to kill us, it was to get the sword and use it. And that made it such a good fight—because it wasn’t just which side can do the most damage, it was all about strategy and sacrifice and the like. Their goal was not to win the combat, and that changed the game on us.

A: Yeah. It made for a really fun fight, though it did take us a while to get used to what the other side were doing—and arguably we did not get used to it fast enough since, as we keep saying, we did not win.

C: And there’s a lesson in that for me as a DM. I’m walking away from that combat thinking I gotta mix it up in my campaign now; I gotta do more combats where the goal isn’t just to be the winning side—there’s got to be more at stake. I feel like a sap for not having realised this before. Three years I’ve been running my campaign and I feel like I’ve been missing out on having tonnes of cool combats like this. I can’t remember the last time in my game there was a fight that wasn’t one side versus the other—

A: We did this in your game three sessions ago: we were fleeing from the Dread Duke’s house after a disastrous dinner party in which a dear friend died and all the soldiers were trying to kill us but rather than fighting them, we were like, ‘We just need to get out of here.’ It was a combat in which our whole goal was to flee.

C: That’s true.

A: But I think this kind of builds on your point about how great these sorts of combats are where the two sides have quite different goals, because that was a really fun session for us. We got to act together as a team in a way we don’t often get to do.

C: That’s true. And that was a fun session for me as a DM too, watching the party crush all the teamwork challenges and not die.

A: I also think that we shouldn’t feel bad for not having done lots of this sort of mismatched combat, because these situations are harder to create than ‘regular’ combat. Like, it felt realistic for the eldritch cult to be prepared to sacrifice their lives to get the doomsday sword. But in my game, my main villain, Thomas Gorey —is he a villain? Who knows—

C: He is a necromancer who tried to kill us and is also trying to raise an army of the dead in a city full of innocents.

A: Maybe he just wants to bring back his horse.

C: …Sure.

A: You don’t know how intense my backstory is for him! He likes Danish pastries, guys.

C: It must have been one fucking horse.

A: Anyway, I don’t think he and his squad are at the point in their stories where they’d be prepared to sacrifice everything for a doomsday sword. He’s very much a ‘flee to fight another day’ type villain.

C: That’s true. He has literally done that before. And yeah, I don’t want to say that all combats should be like this one, but like, I want to see what I can do based off of this and learn for my own benefit about cool new ways to challenge the party in what isn’t just a team death match.

A: Yeah, that’s a very good point.

C: One final thing I think it’s important to note; there was another reason why this combat was so memorable: to activate the doomsday device, the other side needed to put a specific sword in a specific stone, and in order to slow down the enemy’s process, your character had the amazing idea of putting a different fucking sword in the stone to block them.

A: We then had two rounds where my character, with a strength of zero, wrestled with the eldritch leader, who also had pathetic strength, to stop her removing the sword. It was very pitiful.

C: It was fucking sick; I loved it.

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