It’s been a while since I traipsed over to Between Are The Doors, and when I found myself over there this afternoon, I found this delightful article which belongs in every game master’s toolkit: Reasons to Keep Them Alive.

I find there are a lot of reasons why a villain or group of villains might not kill the heroes outright, and while the normal remedy I’d suggest is determining what a creature’s motivations are before a fight ever breaks out, BATD has nearly twenty alternatives to delivering the coup-de-grace to a downed character.

One of the alternatives that really resonated with me was the statement, “we don’t need this kind of attention.” To me this isn’t just an admission by the villain that perhaps the heroes aren’t worth cleaning up a mess, but that they’re aware there’s “always a bigger fish,” and they don’t need to acknowledge the heroes at all.

It’s an opportunity to show the players exactly where other characters think they sit on the totem pole, “if they’re above me, and I’m above you, that means they’re even bigger and badder than who you’re dealing with now. At least for now.” It sends a powerful message (whether they’re paying attention or not is another matter).

See, these kinds of things present opportunities for more drama, better stories, and greater immersion, and they’re why I prefer “knocking out” opponents or simply “removing them from play,” rather than killing them outright. Murder in roleplaying games (medieval or otherwise) is so trite it never receives proper attention.

…And that’s why I think it’s important to make killing the monsters a choice the players have to make during cleanup, rather than the default adventurer modus operandi.

If it just comes down to wiping the floor with the monsters, what’s the treasure matter? Another notch on your blade? What about when the brothers of the thieves you’ve slain come seeking vengeance? What sets Grendel’s mother apart from your typical encounter? These encounters shouldn’t be exceptional, they should be the rule.

Think twice about delivering the deathblow to that enemy. If you just go around killing creatures all willy-nilly, who’s to say they won’t do the same to you?