How To Handle Hack & Slash and Plot-Breaking Character Powers

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1157

Dia Dhuit Johnn,

How can you make travel and exploration more interesting?

And what can we do about players who like to kill everything and ignore roleplay?

I’ll share a couple of tips on these topics, triggered by recent emails, with you today.

Too Hack & Slash Focused

Roleplaying Tips GM JG emailed me yesterday:

Recently, I was running a campaign. It’s been mostly amazing for me and the players.

However, this one session a few weeks ago, I just couldn’t anymore. The players see something and instantly attack. [We] slog through a fight and I’m trying to have them learn something important.

So I try again in a different way. Nope. Hack and slash.


My response:

Hey JG!

For a group that liked to kill stuff and speak with dead later, I asked them why they attacked everything in sight.

They said:

  1. Monsters give them XP
  2. D&D is all about combat
  3. Combat is fun

For #1 I switched to milestone XP and saw an improvement.

For #2, touché.

For #3 I asked why.

Answers I received:

  1. Rolling dice is fun
  2. It’s tangible (counting health, playing with minis, using a battlemap)
  3. It’s easy and clear what to do

For #3.1 I added more dice challenges to other encounter types.

For #3.2 I made roleplay encounters more tangible via maps, minis, and better descriptions.

For #3.3 I helped provide clarity leading up to roleplay encounters about the players’ options.

Another big win for me was Combat Missions. After a few of those, players got used to the idea of early “outs” or alternative ways to end combat without dragging it out to the last hit point.

These steps helped a lot. Maybe some would be of help to you?

Better Travels

RPT GM Teagan P. emailed me this last Friday:

One thing I find about my games is that a lot of focus gets put on combat (so it really should be great), while the supposed other 2 pillars of the [D&D] game, social and exploration, feel like “things between combat.”

I’d love to see a tip in the future on better integrating them with equal spotlight, especially exploration, which has always felt like the emptiness between stuff happening.

Additionally, I’ve been struggling with keeping it present at high levels, when the party can teleport nearly anywhere practically at their whim.

Just something I’d love to hear your thoughts on in the future.

Thanks for the tip request Teagan.


I feel exploration is about discovery.

It’s exciting to learn or experience something for the first time. And if discovery comes with a reward payload, your table might forget all about combat. 🙂

Something I learned from a former GM, Django, was how to build things up before a battle encounter.

Say you’ve got a creature in its cave lair.

What mark would such a creature leave on the countryside? A dearth of ungulates? Ordure swarming with parasites, vermin, and disease? Terrified locals with imaginations running wild?

And then the party finds the cave. What portents there? Dead skin or broken scales? Deep gouges raked into stone walls? A pile of carcasses with no skins or eyeballs?

You eke these details out as the party draws nearer during the exploration phase.

Each discovery provides clues to the creature’s identity and qualities.

Layer these discoveries into roleplay and travel encounters that sometimes need a boost.

By sowing details in exploration and social encounters before the climactic monster encounter and combat, you build up tension, provide additional cool stuff for players to discover and fret about, and give details to help players get tactical if they choose.


With regards to plot-breaking qualities of the party, like a teleport ability, there must be a reason in your adventure plotline why the characters can’t waltz up and solve the problem.

If I recall correctly, teleport has risk. Without a first-person sighting of the destination, the odds of teleporting safely get worse.

So I’d use this in my 5 Room Dungeon or adventure structure.

For example, the Where is the last detail the players should find.

Or once location is revealed, the players learn about terrible defenses or threats they must now get more resources to overcome before teleporting in. I hope this helps!

Discuss these game master tips in this thread at the official Roleplaying Tips community forum.?