|Revisitation: a series of posts that each feature a quote from a classic source along with a short discussion. Quotes that make me question some previous assumption I had about the game or that seem to lead to otherwise unexpected consequences will be preferred.
This selection comes from B2 The Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax (page 14):
RANSOMING PRISONERS: Organized tribes can optionally be allowed to take player characters prisoner, freeing one to return to the KEEP in order to bring a ransom back to free the captives. Set the sums low – 10 to 100 gold pieces (or a magic item which the ransoming monsters would find useful) per prisoner. If the ransom is paid, allow the characters to go free. Then, without telling the players, assume that this success brought fame to the capturing monsters, so their numbers will be increased by 2-12 additional members, and the tribe will also be very careful to watch for a return of the adventurers seeking revenge for their humiliating captivity. The period of extra alertness will last for 1-4 weeks; the increase in numbers is permanent.
I am not in favor of all combats being deadly, even when the conflict is with agents of chaos. Cultists need live sacrifices, brigands need information about future targets, and everyone could reasonably desire gold from ransoms. Maybe live human is a goblin delicacy. But more important than narrative or naturalistic justifications, games where loosing a fight does not always mean a total party kill are more interesting and varied.
However, this must be handled carefully. I strive to be an impartial referee, so unless there has been some very dramatic development during the course of a fight, I default to assuming that monsters are using deadly force. In other words, the key to fair play is deciding beforehand what the priorities of the opponents are. I also try to seed the environment with clues where appropriate so that skillful play and engagement with the setting can be rewarded. I never want “waking up captured” to be used to save a party of adventurers. The monsters are either seeking to kill or capture, and I will try to play them appropriately based on their priorities. Some way of tying this to the encounter reaction roll might be reasonable too, for cases where preplanning (random encounters, limited time) are not possible.
Because I believe in giving players information about the consequences of their actions, I would also try to make sure that the players understand what was going on. Otherwise, how can they make informed decisions in the future? Perhaps the tribe starts putting up recruiting posters advertising the fact that they defeated the fearsome adventuring party. Much referee advice suggests that players should learn from their experiences, but if there is no way for the players to connect cause to effect, they are more likely to just assume that developments are by referee fiat or based on dice. Many players by default assume that the referee just does whatever they hell they feel like at any given time (“rocks fall, everyone dies”), so I believe it is worthwhile to spend extra effort countering this assumption.