Not too long ago I started a campaign in Pathfinder 2e, and at a certain point I hinted at an enemy group’s location and (superior) strength, while telling the party to go somewhere else and complete an objective. It was just foreshadowing, but the players went and tried to fight this group anyway, resulting not in a TPK (enemies are not interested in that, yet) but in the capture of the party. I will let/make the party escape, although with basically random equipment that they will recover while fleeing. But I’m sure they will do something like this again, because most of them do not think before they act. I’d like to know how I can deal with such a situation, aside from telling them directly out of game and/or railroading them.
There’s famine in the region, and a convoy of merchants arrives in the
characters’ walled town while pursued by undead monsters created by
this famine. The players are effectively informed of the famine, and
the de-facto leader of the town’s defenses tells them that the
priority would be to set up a trade route with another town, which is
apparently doing better. Before departing, the merchants of the convoy
explain that, on the road to get to the PC’s town, they were attacked
multiple times: first by goblins, then by bandits, and finally by the
undead. They also say that more than a third of the convoy was wiped
out between the goblins and the bandits. They then mark the positions
of the attacks on the party’s map. The party departs and decides to
follow the same route of the merchants, despite being slower (no
horses) and less in number (the merchants were dozens of people).
The PCs get near the bandits’ attack zone, and not far from it they
find a big multi-family farm. They send the rogue to scout ahead and
investigate; he notices that the farm doesn’t present any sign of
battle, but all the windows are barricaded and there’s no one outside.
He gets to the stables and sees from afar 2 people calmly tending to
two horses. He can see they’re armed, but can’t make out their
equipment exactly. He returns to the party, which decides to approach
the farm. The farm is big enough to be divided in several buildings,
so they get near one of them. They knock, no answer. They then get to
another one and see there is smoke coming out of the chimney and hear
a little noise inside. They knock and the noise stops (the people
inside are slowly and silently getting ready for a possible battle,
alerted by the knocking). They then get to the stables, but this time
not stealthily, and the 2 people inside the stables get out while
drawing their weapons.
A short dialogue commences, and the 2 people order the party to drop
their food (revealing themselves as bandits). The party lies saying
they don’t have any, then the bandits order them to then drop their
weapons and armor. The party tries to lie again to get the bandits to
think there’s an entire army unit nearby, but the far-fetched lie does
not work. The party warrior then insults the bandits, and one of the
bandits calls for reinforcements from the nearby building (the smoking
chimney one). Battle commences when the same warrior from before
charges the bandit. The party takes their turn, and the first 2
bandits "waste their first action" telling the party to surrender
while 8 more get there in 2 turns. The right arm of the bandit leader
even showed up for one turn, but said to the bandits "You can do this
on your own, you don’t need my help" and left immediately after. The
party refuses to surrender until only one of them is on his feet.
Now, the party knew the bandits were not far from where they were, had the chance to notice that something was wrong in the farm, that there were armed people inside, that those same people were too relaxed considering there were undead and bandits roaming around the zone, that the first people (the ones in the smoking chimney building) didn’t interact peacefully (or at all), they were also given 3 chances to surrender without a battle. I considered it clear that the PCs should not have tried to fight. And if it’s not clear that they should not have tried to fight, I tried to at least make it clear that they were approaching a suspicious and almost surely dangerous situation.
The general course of action I predicted was that the party should have gotten to the farm later, first talking to the major city’s authorities to set up the trade route and then cleaning it up, when they would have had more equipment, experience, and maybe allies. They could have even tried to talk to the bandit leader instead of fighting, but insulting the lackeys is not a diplomatic choice.
So, to sum it up, how do I deal with poor choices that PCs may make?