Whenever characters run into an encounter things work out the same: The characters try to sneak into the fight to get the surprise on their side, already pumped up with every available spell to make the party an army killer, armed to the teeth. And then the slaughter begins ... always (mostly) to the same end. The characters leave the battleground as victors, not to forget the hurried looting of the left-overs of their late enemies.
But has it to be always that same scheme? I thought about it and decided: Definitively not! There are multiple ways to work out an encouter with or without a fight and not always with the player characters winning!
To make all these variations work, though, the players do have to know about them. Thus, it is of utmost importance to tell them about these ways to encouter their next encouter.
Encouter without fightBearbeiten
Try to get around the fight with some perception and stealth checks. The characters can hear the enemy and find clues and ways to hide or sneak around. Of course the game master has to make sure not to give the pcs the chance to fall into the enemies back, granting them the same surprise and advantage they are looking for.
Well, it sounds a bit too pacifistic for high fantasy adventure, but it should always be another option at hand. For example the pcs have something or somebody that is very precious or important for their enemies. Now they have a working lever to talk about the terms of the hostage exchange. Also, intimidation, persuasion or diplomation are three other ways to talk the way free.
Charisma, strenght, constitution can be used as abilities to make a check, if you physically intimidate the enemy. If you don't like rolling dice for subtle threat, it's also a wonderful chance for some nasty verbal roleplay containing strong, brutal, blood-soaked and unscrupulos language.
The quick thinker's friend, persuasion lets the players find a way to convince the enemy not to attack them... yes, even to support them. This can turn out funny, if they really understand the reasons why and change sides on the spot, just to realise later, that they have been fooled...
"Now look, for 500 years our realms were fighting bloody, unnecessary wars, but now, that the king is betrothed to your gentle princess, should we not cross unscathed?" I actually hate the skill of the same name if it's just rolled without the proper use of eloquent and witty language. But if language is used, why should those gentle and tactful orcish barbarians not falter under the weight of these educated words?
Just looking in the skill section of a random character sheet makes me think of at least 5 more ways to avoid a fight. How many can you think of?
Encouter with fightBearbeiten
Showing mercy: Don't look up the rulebook, allow your players to show mercy but only cutting of some fingers and or arms and legs. Maybe the enemy is lawful enough to accept his dishonor of loosing a fight and beeing spared by its opponent. Maybe he will even come back later, having cast his f***ing honor aside!
Sometimes pcs just have to know when they have no chance and face death if they stay and fight it to the end. Open them doors to flee. It definitively will change their attitudes.
They didn't want to flee? So, why should the enemy not show some mercy (if they are not orcish barbarians in blood-rage or a pack of wolves close to starvation)?