There seems to be a tension for a gaming group between an interesting plot, realism, player freedom, and prep time. Through the course of a campaign one of these concerns will beat out the others at various times. Last week we had an encounter, as described by my DM on her blog. The short summary is: the party came across a group of bridge-guarding Spriggans who demanded gold in exchange for passage.
I don’t want to speak for my fellow players, but I think as a party we were responding with “realism.” Or as realistic as it would be for a group of well-armed professional murderers to propose a counter-offer: “move out of our way and not die from our swords.” From her blog, our DM indicates the encounter was designed to be fought and so the DC to diplome the situation was quite high. The result was a good combat with some interesting terrain (there was a bridge with its walls broken in places) and a well designed combination of monsters. I made a few strategic mistakes, and got my character’s ass handed to me.
Despite not wanting to get into the fight, we wound up in a do-or-die battle against the brigands. We managed to capture one alive. The prisoner led us to his cache of treasure and gave us a password needed later in the adventure in exchange for his life. This was a tough situation for us; we did not know that this combat would be useful to the story. By trying to RP our way out of it, we got to make some rolls to see if we could. But the GM want us to fight ,and so we did. Now that we know (meta-game) that even the most “random” of encounters might have a use, we’ll probably listen a little more to the DM’s pressure next time [Editor’s note: we did and it worked out well for us].
The question still remains however: how to get out of a combat if the DM is set on it, especially knowing that the combat moves the plot forward?