A lot of Dungeon Masters make the mistake of thinking that every combat should have the same goal. To kill the monsters and stay alive.
It is as bad as if every barkeep had the same personality or every merchant was trying to screw you over. You know what to expect and then the game gets boring. When players get bored, they find other stuff to do.
If you are a Dungeon Master, challenge yourself to come up with combats that have different goals and see if that delights your players. The goal here is that they are not perfectly balanced. Some are impossible and some are a lot easier and should be easy to win. Here are some examples:
- Survive Until Reinforcements Show Up: Here the monster is way outside your teams ability to defeat it until reinforcements show up…then end the battle because no one wants to play out 5 monsters vs 5 PC + 25 NPCs.
- Handle the Problem Monster Differently: Some monsters can’t be killed and probably needed to be treated as a trap. I have a Reddit post over on the Dungeon World subreddit on this.
- Get To The Other Side: Could be a single or a couple of things outside your ability to defeat but all you have to do is get to the “fair escape” and get out alive. This encounter is begging for an interesting map.
- Get an Object and Get Out: Maybe some cat & mouse stuff here.
- Hold ‘Em Off While I do …: Must defend until a task is accomplished…great to combine with a skills challenge.
- Humor: Yea, this game is supposed to be fun and sometimes even funny. I have thrown some deranged goblins who thought they were invincible due to misreading a prophecy at my adventureres. I think a cow powered siege engine was in the works as well.
- To Feel Heroic: Sometimes it should be something that should be stomped. Make the encounter on the easy side and let the group feel like they whooped butt.
- Because It Made Sense: If the Gnolls were at war in this dungeon against some goblins and the PCs have been at it and surviving (barely) with the Gnolls, doesn’t it make sense that they would run across some goblins who have lost some battles recently. Sure – it enriches the environment and backs up the story.
It gives the players something else to think about. Is this monster even something we can beat? What if we can’t? Why are we fighting it? Why is it here? How else can we deal with that? What the hell are these goblins thinking and why do they have a cow…with war paint?