Applying “Subdual Encounters” to Encounters vs. Solos

Posted on November 30, 2009 by

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I was reading the section on encounters with dragons in the new Draconomicon book, and something stood out:

At its simplest, a subdual encounter is one in which the dragon stops fighting and the characters win when the dragon is bloodied. But the degree of the victory matters, so you will need to keep track of how many characters were bloodied during the course of the battle.

In my review of the book, I wondered if this was a bone thrown at 4e players by WOTC designers as an attempt to reduce encounter lenghts, as fights in 4e have a tendency to drag on a bit.  I was quickly corrected by commenters that subdued dragons have a long history in D&D.  I honestly had no idea.  Either way, it made me think, why not use this mechanic in fights that aren’t against dragons, and shorten those fights?  Let’s look at the mechanic:

A subdued dragon will grant passage through its territory, part with important lore or clues, or end alliances with foes of the characters. Again, you can provide a graduated award. The dragon might part with only cryptic clues if the characters were all bloodied, offer more detailed lore if just one or two were bloodied, and give them an accurate map of their next destination if none of the characters became bloodied.

So we are fighting an intelligent solo creature, and the creature becomes bloodied.  At this point, the creature blasts its when-first-bloodied power, and quickly gives up.  Begs the characters for  forgiveness or mercy, and offers something in return… Passage through its territory, a secret they need, whatever, the degree of the monster’s help would depend on how hurt the party was at the end of the encounter.  The more bloody the party, the less he offers.  The party could take your cue as a DM, and play along, or they could attempt to bring him down, it’s always their choice.  If they subdue the monster, they still get XP for the encounter, depending of course, on how tough the monster was.

The book’s example has the party fighting a dragon 4 levels above theirs, and pointing out that if the battle ends when he’s bloodied, he would have had fewer hit points than a solo of the PC’s level, but with stronger attacks and defenses. A fair fight.

I make no attempts at being a designer or anything of the sort, but I figured this could be an interesting way of getting around a long fight with an intelligent solo.  The idea that the degree of success depends on the number of players that got bloodied during the fight makes it imperative that they stay healthy and not just beat at the monster without giving the fight any though, and some interesting role-playing elements could come out of the whole thing.

This is a little different than using the intimidation skill on a bloodied enemy, and attempting a surrender.  Here, he automatically surrenders and the degree of success is dependent on the party’s health overall.  Who knows, maybe it could be tweaked to a resources expended mechanic. (?)

So what do you think?  Does it make sense to use this beyond the dragon encounters it’s made for?  Would you consider this in your game to try and trim down combat time and battle grind?

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Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming