309 - Easy Wins Have Value

From our show notes…

We spend a lot of time talking about “The Big Bad” in our games, helping to make those encounters/fights/etc the best they can be. But, how much value do we put on those easy or quick wins in our games? Those times the party quickly dispatches the 5 goblin guards, or when they easily evade the Stormtroopers, or get an important clue without too much fuss?

This episode is scheduled to be recorded on Monday, Sept 7th. Subject to reschedule since it is a holiday.


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I think that if easy wins happen too often, then the GM is misjudging the difficulty level of the encounters. If it happens occasionally, that’s good and provides an ego-boost to the group.

I think that even if an easy win happens against the Big Bad, it can be a good thing if it’s due to excellent planning on the part of the group, an exceptionally good roll, or a fortuitous combination of attacks on the part of the group. A spell is cast that works particularly well in combination with another attack, for instance.

That being said…if this was the actual end of the campaign and meant to be the real capstone fight of the whole game…then such an easy win shouldn’t be possible. But it’s up to the GM to make sure the Big Bad can’t be taken down easily, even by good rolls and strategy. It’s the GMs job to design the Big Bad to be the Big Bad, which means he won’t be easy to take down. Exactly how the GM does this will vary from system to system. If they take him down easily…then the GM messed up. I don’t have a good answer for what to do if this happens. You have to give the group something here…as long as you don’t pull what I describe in my next paragraph.

What I’ve hated with a passion as a player is when we hit the Big Bad with a really effective combination of attacks with excellent rolls…only to have the GM says that he escapes anyway. We immediately followed, only to be told, “No, he’s gone.” When we pressed for how the only answer was “It’s a genre thing. He escapes.” Oh, how I hate that excuse.


Sometimes people don’t just want to know their characters can kick some ass, they want to experience it.

As characters gain in level, players rightfully want to feel that their characters are becoming more effective. This cannot be expressed solely through fighting more powerful creatures - while you can get a certain amount of satisfaction from knowing your party just defeated a foe they couldn’t possibly defeat 6 months before, that satisfaction is very abstract. After all, the amount of stress and effort that went into that fight was the same amount that went into fights against weaker foes a few months before - so while the players know their characters are more powerful based on the foe, the experience is the same as it was before.

That’s why it’s important to have easy wins - especially (but not exclusively) against old foes.

Getting the opportunity to fight old foes at new, higher levels can be so much more satisfying because you have those old fights as a frame of reference. Facing 3 ogres and just trouncing them is really satisfying when you remember that 6 months ago the same challenge almost resulted in a TPK. It’s also just fun to tear through large numbers of weak foes. It gives players a sense of progress, and of course it tickles that thrill of power!

Easy wins can’t be granted all the time or players will get bored. But they have a place. Even better is facing weaker foes with some twist that makes it feel more challenging without actually being that much more challenging - so again, setting up an easy win that looks harder than it is.

I know as a player that I’ve always found it frustrating to get characters more and more powerful, but every single encounter is just as tough as always. You need the easy wins, sometimes!


Lot of good stuff, both in the episode and above.

I feel “easy wins” dove tail into one of what I consider the most underrated elements in RPGs, and what was mentioned on the show after the demi-lich was wiped out. Morale. If the BBG, or A BBG gets taken down, that’s a game changed. I had a “level boss” in a dungeon get taken out in the surprise round (sneak back attacks, prepped spells and ranged attacks). As soon as the room full of mooks knew the group was there, it was because the boss man was dead, and the party was standing at the ready for the slaughter. The whole cavern just set down their weapons.

And in my games, that’s a successful encounter. Full XP.


LaramieWall has a good point. No band of brigands, orcs, or anything are going to fight to the last if there’s any way they can escape and it becomes obvious the battle is against them.

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I have less of a problem with mooks not retreating in D&D, because hit points are an abstraction. The first time they get “hit,” it may just be them getting bruised or winded, so they may not realize how mechanically close to death they are.

That’s why I like to use the optional “bloodied” status in the DMG, because that’s my standard for when people “know” they have been injured, and if they are injured but still outnumber the opposition, I’m not going to worry about them running.

Additionally, there isn’t a good system for retreats, so if monsters do run, it becomes a pain in the ass to figure out when PCs track them down and kill them. It all depends on the stakes going in.

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Speaking of good reasons for easy wins:

One thing I like is to throw easier challenges at PCs when they are engaging with mechanics for the first time. For example, the first time characters encounter an extended test in Star Trek Adventures, I want them to understand the procedure, not be at risk of failing, so it’s probably going to be a simple extended task to get the process down.

I’ve done this with starship combat, group skill checks, and mass combat in multiple systems. Part of my though process is that the characters know what they are doing in these instances, even if the players don’t, so I want them to get a feel for what they need to do in order to “get the win” under more adverse situations.

This also reminds me of minions from 4th edition D&D. They have a good chance to hit, and still do reasonable damage. They are still just as hard to hit as you would expect for their challenge. But once you actually hit them, they go down quick.

The 2d20 system has a similar mechanic, where minor characters may not have any stress, so if you do manage to hit them, they are defeated/dead/taken out, but they have stats that are comparable to other characters, they just don’t have a “stress buffer.”

During my first Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells campaign I had a big bad war robot as a boss fight. Players walked in and the Gifted (Wizard) cast a max spell burn spell and rolled a Nat 20. I rolled to save for half and failed. Giant robot nuked in one shot. There was a player that felt cheated by the situation but the other player got Hella lucky. If he failed the roll he could have killed himself or opened up a portal to another dimension with soul sucking demons potentially. To me it was kind of like a bad ass moment.


Jared, I’m not following you here (puns aside).
Are you saying A system doesn’t have a good system for retreats, or NO system has a good system for retreat?
And this also presumes that PCs always HAVE to track down and kill EVERY fleeing mook, which I think you likely agree isn’t always, and frequently isn’t the case.

Please fill me in here, drop that brilliant Rascher knowledge on my silly brain.

Eric, I’m with you man. Big wins, big losses.

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The easy wins can ber very memorable.
I ran a session for 2 players once - a couple of high level (13+0 AD&D wizards.
They were out and about with their usual daily protective spells (including stoneskin) and were ambushed by a band of wandering ogres.

I remember the ogres grappling one character and hitting the other character with him as an improvised club. With their spells up & protecting them from damage they just shrugged and made jokes for a couple of rounds, then walked away leaving a smoking crater where the ogres had been.
Both loved mowing through a basic threat that would have once been terrifying.

This sort of thing i what I love about wandering monsters - having a mix of easy and hard threats show up.

3e actually recommended a chunk of your encounters for a given scenario be cakewalks - they use SOME resources, but not many and it lets the players have a success.

One of the things i liked in older school adventures is that there was always a mix - take the first Giants module from D&D (SPOILERS) the module is lousy with giants, as well as orcs, bugbears carrion crawlers and trogolodytes.

The giants are a major threat - but the rest - while often gathered in large numbers - are not really a threat to the target level of the module.

Brent mentioned “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil” - the same thing applies - sure there are the “big guns” in each temple - but there are also a ton of mook level guards - whose only real threat is to announce your presence to the more powerful monsters.

If every battle gets harder every time you level up - what’s the point of leveling up?

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Listening to your Curse of Strahd banter was great, guys. Our group wrapped up Curse of Strahd a few months ago, so much of the campaign is fresh in my head. I’m really looking forward to hearing how the game unfolds with your group, Sean.

One piece of advice, introduce Strahd early into the campaign and drop him into the session when it makes sense. I used the von Holtz alias at first as Strahd got a read on the players. When the disguise was revealed the players flipped out. It was a good moment at the table.

Allow Strahd to mock the players. If you can ever get a player alone try and actively manipulate them with various temptations, ie power or freedom from Barovia. If they get too uppity and chirp back during an encounter feel free to flex Strahd’s muscles and drop a fireball on their asses. Strahd brooks no insult!


Good advice @Phil. THank you!

Yeah, I may give updates to patrons if anyone is interested. We shall see.


Phil is absolutely right - having the big bad taunt the players is great.

When I ran it back in AD&D days I had him show up on one of the ramparts when the players were in the courtyard - talk some smack and cast a few spell sat the party just to rile them up.
I had him playing cat & mouse with them throughout the castle.

When a big bad messes with you and leave because you’re not a threat - man oh man does that incentivize a party to get back at him. I love it as a player as well as a DM.

There is still a dwarf from an campaign i played in that I wish we’d killed. Last time we saw him he was fly away over an underground lake - and us with no way to pursue!!!



There is nothing wrong with easy wins especially when the party doesn’t know they are getting them. The last session of my Twisted Land 5e campaign (think alice in wonderland, meets Hansel and Gretel with a little dash of Ravenloft and Frog God’s Lost Lands The Blight) The party has been exploring an area controlled by a hag Pyramid scheme style Coven. (Three GrandMothers each ruling over three covens of Aunties etc…) In the main town in the area a cult has been trying to mine into a mountain with a demonic rift. The party trying to leave made a deal with one of the Aunties to take out the cultists in the mine. Normally I would fill the mine with Tuckers Kobolds or Goblins and Orcs which the party expects. But this time I suppressed the slog which the party expected and in its place filled it with strange encounter caverns and passage ways. The party found the Kobolds long dead taken out by odd demonic powers such as a cavern in which light of any kind only extends 5 ft and only for the person holding it. The room also contains a blind demon with a magic poisoned sword that keeps vanishing into the darkness after it attacks. The party was very happy to have the easy win until the rest of the place turned out to be way creepier than they hoped for.

Keep up the great show guys all the great ideas are certainly making my players lives miserable.

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I think that would be cool, a more in depth break down of your campaign than what you already do in the 'did you get in any gaming" segment of the podcast. Elaborating on the choices you made while planning based off the module and running game. I’d dig hearing about Jeff’s and the others in game antics.

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