From Dungeon’s Master, an interesting article on why monsters (and players) shouldn’t fight to the death:
Doesn’t it seem kind of dumb for monsters – or PCs for that matter – to fight until they reach their very last hit point? Don’t any of the combatants in D&D have any sort of survival instinct? What ever happened to the flight part of fight or flight? In most combat scenarios the PCs beat up on the monsters and the monsters don’t back down until they’re dead. Unless the monster has good reason to fight to the end, why would they? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t.
Eventually all battles should reach a point where one side either surrenders or flees. Fighting to the bitter end is just stupid. Yet this is how D&D works. The PCs fight the monsters until one side (most often the monsters) is decimated. In those very rare occurrences when one or two monsters manage to flee the players will often complain that the DM robbed them of a totally victory (at least that’s been my experience). I think that we need to introduce a little bit more common sense into D&D combat and I know just the way to do it.
This is something I’ve long thought about, and it’s a part of the “D&D mentality” – the way the game tends to be played – that I don’t particularly like.
Okay, the basis of RPGs is “Kick down the door, kill the monster, take their treasure”, but the more I try and move away from playing RPGs like an arcade game, the more I want, if not “realism”, then verisimilitude. In other words, creatures (monsters, NPCs) that “feel” real. And real creatures don’t fight to the death except in extreme circumstances.
Of course, it’s not just the monsters that have to change their ways, but the PCs and players, too! Read the rest of the article at Dungeon’s Masters.