You tried to escape...And failed! (Repeat 5 times and die). Or...How fair should running away be?

RetroNutcase

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This is just a thought that came to me randomly. It's one of the biggest make or break things in any RPG if you ask me:

When the odds are so stacked against you that you just HAVE to run. Your healer's dead. You have no potions left. But you have an awesome new piece of loot and you just HAVE to escape this dungeon alive and get back to town to heal. Then it happens.

You're cornered by three tough monsters you stand no chance against. You choose to run. Your attempt fails. You're 1/3rd dead. You try to run again. Fail. 2/3rds dead. Final attempt...Nope. Failed. You're dead after the last wave of attacks.

Seems like the simple answer would be "Just make escapes 100%!" That however, brings about a new issue...

You are Lv1. You have no right to be in this dungeon. Yet you are. And you are easily fleeing from everything that would turn you into a red smear on the walls, and you leave with a sword far above your skill level. (For the record, I've played at least one great RPGMaker game where this is possible once you get an item that gives you 100% chance to run. From there you can easily go obtain the best sword in the game with no fear of dying to enemies 30 levels above you. This also lets you easily go through several dungeons to loot their high end contents with no fear of death as you can just escape everything. On one hand, it felt kinda fun, on the other, I felt kinda bad for cheesing my way past so much of the game early on).

So, how does one make escapes fair, but not a "Get out of death free" card? I'd like to see some thoughts on this before I contribute some of my own. (And yes, I do have some thoughts, IE, consumables like smoke bombs, having fixed encounters you must get past to progress through dungeons, etc, I just want to get the ball rolling before I elaborate!)
 

Ms Littlefish

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This may be a personal opinion, but if run is an option, just let me run. If I'm running it's because I don't want to fight. The reason may vary from "these enemies are far too weak" to "holy crap I'm going to die a horrible death and lose my save."

Not only are there other ways to keep people out of areas they aren't supposed to be yet, but there are other ways to play a game. If people can cheese, maybe that is fun for them. But, if you don't want people to cheese than there are a number of solutions as well.
 
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Jeremy Cannady

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Why not make it similar to pokemon? If you are at least as strong as the monsters your are fighting or a few levels below then you can always escape.

This prevents a low level from running from high level.
 

RetroNutcase

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Why not make it similar to pokemon? If you are at least as strong as the monsters your are fighting or a few levels below then you can always escape.

This prevents a low level from running from high level.
That's one thought I had, Suikoden 1 did something similar. If enemies are weak and not even worth your time anymore, your Run option actually changes to "Let Go" and ensures the battle ends, because you're letting your foes live since you'd wipe the floor with them.

This may be a personal opinion, but if run is an option, just let me run. If I'm running it's because I don't want to fight. The reason may vary from "these enemies are far too weak" to "holy crap I'm going to die a horrible death and lose my save."
I've felt the same way at times, but then I think back to how easily I abused Artifact Adventure, the RPGMaker game I mentioned earlier. (It's really good by the way, and it's on Steam. You should play it if you like the 8-bit JRPG era!)

You can literally become an OP monster by just going straight for a specific sidequest dungeon shortly after the beginning of the game. One of the choices in this dungeon gives you an Artifact that provides a passive bonus when held: nearly 100% escape rate. You also do not need to defeat a boss encounter of any kind to obtain this Artifact. You just walk right up and take it. Once you have that, you can go across the entire world map, loot darn near every dungeon, and if you made the right choice early on, you can also obtain the best weapon in the game: A sword any class can equip with the highest ATK of any weapon, and on top of that, you can use it as an item to do a normal attack on every enemy in an encounter, as much as you want. All this from obscenely low level, which makes the game feel far more trivial as you suddenly can wipe everything out in 1-2 turns with a single character, versus your entire party. And all because you could run away from anything.

On one hand, it rewards people who think about that/are clever. On the other, it trivializes game difficulty. Hence why I see a potential balancing problem and wonder what someone could do to make these situations less likely.

Another classic solution I see is the Smoke Bomb or other "Get out of battle free" card that's consumed on use, so you can't just keep using it. Except in some games you can get them like candy, trivializing them. So what about making them somewhat pricey, but still an item you'd want to have when you just absolutely, beyond any doubt, have to escape from combat?
 
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bgillisp

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I currently have it that all my random fights you can run from with 100% chance, but all my fixed fights you cannot run from at all. Since most of my dungeons have a fair number of fixed fights you have to clear out to make it through, this means someone who tries to run from all fights to get the neat item will still be clobbered by the fixed fight and unable to proceed through the dungeon.

Then again, my game is also pretty linear, and there are very few dungeons you should not attempt to enter at the time you find them, so someone who runs from all random fights is going to hurt themselves when they get to the required fixed fight to proceed. Now, if my game was more open world, I could see this being an issue that I'd have to worry about more.
 
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Milennin

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I hate chance escapes. Either completely lock me from running away at all, or give me a 100% chance.
 

Silent Darkness

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Run chances should be heavily dependent on a variety of factors. Unless it's a boss, there should always be a chance of escaping. Even with scripted non-boss battles, perhaps consider coding in support for escaping. Be somewhat merciful on players who underestimate the strength of a dungeon.
 
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I'm personally inclined to think that if you've gotten yourself into such a situation where you are on the verge of defeat with no means to recover and where your only chance is to try to flee from every encounter you run into...that's probably your own fault and you should probably try to not let that happen next time.

Of course, the escape chance shouldn't be pitifully small, but just because you may end up in a desperate situation or you might have just found a fancy new killstick doesn't mean the escape option should save you from certain doom. If you can get to safety because you purchased items that guarantee escape, reduce/eliminate the encounter rate temporarily, or just immediately warp you to safety, then that would be a case of having survived because you were prepared—just like having gone into a dungeon with enough healing items.

A game shouldn't be overly difficult and unfair, but sometimes a player just needs to be smacked with a "Game Over, be more careful/do better next time".
 

jwideman

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Another option would be level locking equipment.
 

Matseb2611

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You can add some sort of penalty upon escaping. So the escape will succeed 100% of the time, but there's still some cost to it and it's up to the player to decide if they want to go through with that. I know some games have you lose money on escape. You could do that with anything that holds some importance in your game. In my current project, for example, I have a morale system, and escaping battles causes the party to lose morale (apart from the casual difficulty, where this penalty doesn't exist). So the player could escape as much as they want, but they have something to lose if they do.
 

jwideman

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That morale penalty sounds interesting. How does morale affect the party?
 

Matseb2611

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That morale penalty sounds interesting. How does morale affect the party?
I used the MP for morale, but it's not used as a skill cost. I have it set up that it does mostly two things. The first one is that it is applied in damage formula for every skill, including basic attack. So the morale contributes to a small bonus damage in every offensive skill the character does. The second thing is that it is used on outside of battle skills. For example in order to hack or lockpick something, the character undergoes a morale check. If their morale is too low, they won't be up to the task.

This sort of system can be used in a variety of ways of course, depending on what fits your game's setting. It's basically like a variable stat.
 

Wavelength

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The situation you're describing sounds more like a risk/reward dungeon crawler type of game (where chance-based death would actually seem appropriate, as long as it feels "fair") rather than a modern narrative-driven JRPG that I personally think of as "the norm" for questions here (where you could get that weapon back anyway and the game over means you're retreading the same ground... and where that kind of "depletion" situation is uncommon anyhow).

Here are some possible options I can think of for more "fair" escape mechanics.  Some of them can be combined together; others can't.  Which one to use - like a lot of other mechanics questions - heavily depends on the type of dungeons, battle system, and overall game you're trying to make:

  • Make Escape into a Character command rather than a Party command (so that failure only wastes one character's action rather than the whole party's turn)
  • Increase the chance of escape significantly each time you fail an escape, so that by the third or fourth attempt you have nearly a 100% chance (assuming equal AGI)
  • Allow escapes with 100% certainty, but enforce a penalty of some sort for using it (perhaps waiving this penalty if you're clearly more powerful than your enemy)
  • Disable escapes in encounters, but let the player choose whether to fight at the start of the encounter (better in games with no "depletion" element in dungeons)
  • Remove the Escape command, but have one-use items that allow a 100% escape
  • Allow party members to individually escape from combat (with relatively high probability); if at least one escapes, the rest of the party falling in battle will not result in a Game Over (better in games without super-easy, cheap Revives)
  • Have the Escape command contribute points to an "Escape Bar"; you escape when this bar is filled
  • Make the Escape command a Quick Time Event or similar so that the player's ability to escape is in their own hands.  Possibly make this QTE easier to succeed at when the party has high AGI or the player has already failed an escape or two
  • For some battle systems, the Escape mechanic can be position-based: Quest 64 and the Tales Of series let you escape by successfully moving outside the boundaries of the Arena
  • Completely remove escapes from combat entirely, but come up with something more creative than a Game Over should the party fall in combat
 

jonthefox

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Run chances should be heavily dependent on a variety of factors. Unless it's a boss, there should always be a chance of escaping. Even with scripted non-boss battles, perhaps consider coding in support for escaping. Be somewhat merciful on players who underestimate the strength of a dungeon.
I strongly disagree with this.  If you're making the typical JRPG then maybe this could be argued.  I definitely don't think there's anything wrong with deciding to make at least some monsters the "these guys are really fast, so if you encounter them you will not be able to run from them" trait.   For example let's say you do this with a pack of wolves.  Maybe they're not as hard-hitting as the big slow Ogre that you could also meet in this cave dungeon, but if you fight the Ogre, get really low hp, and now need to haul ass to town, and you run into the wolves...that's how the game beats you.  I feel there should always be a way for the game to beat you - it shouldn't be oppressive or frustrating for the player, but this provides at least *some* challenge and makes it feel rewarding when I do complete the quest/dungeon.  That's what I like anyway.

In terms of your original question, I think it's a really good one.  My initial thought is:  why not take away the RNG factor (so that you can die simply due to bad luck of 3 missed tries like in your example) but if you have a really open-world style game where you could just cheese your way to high-end EQ...make it so that whether or not you can run away = based on your party's agi vs. the enemy's agi.  Make it something like you can always run away, except if enemy's average AGI is at least double the party's average agi, then you can't.  
 

Silent Darkness

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But suppose that the party members figure out a way to distract the wolves just enough to get out of there? From a 'how does it make sense in the game logic' perspective.

It's situational, I can understand that.
 

jonthefox

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Oh of course-- I absolutely think making all battles 100% escapable is fine if that's what fits in with your game....I just think that making some (non-boss) battles unescapable is also a viable option in some cases.  The wolves scenario was just an example of one way to make it seem realistic.  
 
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Accendor

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Two other possibilities:

1. Let the player escape every fight with 100% chance. However, each successful escape will reduce player HP by a defined amount (e.g. 20% of MAX HP). If a character would die from this his HP is reduced to 1 instead. If he tried to run with 1 HP again, he dies. So he would have to use at least one healing item after every escape then.

2. Make escapes 100% and let them always happen at the end of a turn. So before you are allowed to escape each enemy is allowed to use one action. This rewards player who think a bit ahead and still provides a decent challenge.
 

jonthefox

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Two other possibilities:

1. Let the player escape every fight with 100% chance. However, each successful escape will reduce player HP by a defined amount (e.g. 20% of MAX HP). If a character would die from this his HP is reduced to 1 instead. If he tried to run with 1 HP again, he dies. So he would have to use at least one healing item after every escape then.

2. Make escapes 100% and let them always happen at the end of a turn. So before you are allowed to escape each enemy is allowed to use one action. This rewards player who think a bit ahead and still provides a decent challenge.
These are solid ideas.  
 

bgillisp

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@Accendor: I recall playing a game that used that approach and liked it. It made escape 100%, but you had to endure one round of attacks before you could flee (kind of a parting shot from the bad guys before you run away). Just can't recall what game it is though.

About the level locking equipment idea. I say no to that myself. I personally hate it when I find a sword but it is level locked, as it makes no sense logically. Why would I suddenly be able to swing a sword at level 5, but not at 4? Do I not know which end of the sword to use until level 5? And clothing is worse, why would there be any logical reason I couldn't put on a piece of clothing until I'm x level. Do I not know how to dress myself until I'm level 10 or something? Just my $.02 on that idea.
 

Mouser

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This is one of those things that has to come from the core of the game design and fit in with other objectives, rather than looked at in isolation.

Is this a "save anywhere" game, or are there limited save spots? How heavy is the "risk" involved - are we talking a game like Dark Souls, or is this supposed to be something a bit more easy-going or 'casual'?

An age-old solution was to have running from battle cost you gold. I don't know what factors went into figuring out exactly how much gold you lost, but early Final Fantasy titles used this approach. Later final fantasy titles included a "bribe" ability that let you gain items as well as avoiding battle (Final Fantasy X, in particular).

Consumable items is another approach, but if they're so cheap you can always have a stack of 99 is it worth the bother? Although that may help with the 'immersion' aspect of the game.

Going way back to Wizardry, I remember the groups of level 3 ninjas. Man I hated those guys. You were not getting away from them unless you SERIOUSLY out-leveled them. Having a 'surprise' mechanic that lets you split if you surprise a group can help, especially if you're more likely to surprise lower level groups of enemies. Also, lower level enemies may try to flee on their own if you write it into the AI script. Does the party let them go?

Personally, I like the added risk of 'we found something really cool, but we need to escape the dungeon to keep it!'  Does it lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth if/when I sometimes fail? Yep, but that just makes it all the more sweet when I succeed. Not every gamer is like that, and not every game should be either.
 

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