Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?
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  1. #1
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    Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

    So, this is a thread / thought / discussion starter.

    I am going to start by saying that I am not looking to open this up to general comments about adult themes, etc. in RPGs. So, please don't, okay?

    Instead, it's about a very specific issue- violence.

    Necessary Disclaimer- I know not everyone plays the same way. I know not everyone thinks RPGs are violent, or enjoy violent RPGs.


    Now, I'm as fond of ye ol' murderhoboing as the next person. As I always remark, "If God & Gygax didn't want us to kill Orcs, why did He make them out of XP?"

    But as I've remarked about before, I play a lot of 1e and B/X modules that I convert to 5e. And something has been bugging me.

    And this came to a head recently when I ran B2 for some kids. Generally, Goodman Games did an amazing job, and I reviewed it here-
    https://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...pdated-Classic

    So here's the part of the original I wanted to emphasize-

    Here's the thing- I hadn't run it in a long time. And I had forgotten just how ... um .... hobomurdery the default setting was. Seriously. I was prepping before running it, and I kept reading about the caverns filled with the Kobold Chieftan's women (who would attack) and children and ... yeah. Depending on your audience and/or tolerance for humanoid genocide, you might have to re-work a few things. I know I had to seriously re-work it to keep the old feel while making it acceptable for more modern play.
    There's a fine line between fun happy combat and ... um ... uncomfortable colonialist massacre of women and children, if you catch my drift. Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament, a possibly mentally ill hermit I need to murder for his stuff!

    Thing is- I obviously have a different perspective now. I'm not trying to harsh on anyone's conception of what is, and isn't fun- after all, I was deliriously happy watching John Wick 3, so I'm not getting on any soapboxes when it comes to violence.


    I'm just ... curious ... as to what other people think. I mean, I understand WHY (IMO) violence is part of the scene (legacy of wargaming, advancement through XP, fantasy tropes, etc.), but I'm curious as to what people think of it now?

    So, throwing it out there.

    War, huh, yeahWhat is it good for
    Absolutely nothing
    War, huh, yeah
    What is it good for
    Absolutely nothing
    I mean ... other than XP!
    XP DrunkonDuty gave XP for this post

  2. #2
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    I don't worry about it.
    Last edited by ccs; Tuesday, 11th June, 2019 at 11:11 PM.

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    While I think it always depends on the group-think of the table as to how murdur-y they get, in your case, I think The Caves of Chaos offer PLENTY of opportunities (if the group chooses) to role play through encounters... possibly convincing different groups to go at each other.

    I think a case can be made to show enough of a threat that creatures can be convinced to leave rather than dying.

    I understand you are talking about d&d in general, but I did want to bring that up.

  4. #4
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    Briefly, combat has a unique combination of elements that makes it a suitable focus for social gaming.

    1) It's a team activity where all participants can make meaningful decisions.
    2) It is a conflict that has a clear problem to solve.
    3) Progress toward that problem can be easily observed and measured.
    4) The progress toward that problem is uniquely dynamic, giving all participants an opportunity to imagine something visceral and exciting.

    Almost nothing else shares these features. Even sports are simply attempts to codify combat in ways that reduce the chance the parties hurt each other. One could imagine an RPG revolving around a team sport in the same way that movies can revolve around a team sport, but then the conflicts involved don't clearly mean anything or resolve anything and it's notable that almost all sports movies aren't actually team movies, but movies about the Great Coach or the Underdog Player and everyone else is pretty much an NPC. The conflict is generally over how a single individual proves himself through sports, and it's that inspiring figures choices that really matter.

    There are other sorts of conflicts that can be fun, but they have a tendency to not involve equal cooperation from all party members unless they are carefully contrived. In fact, most of them involve only a central core character that is being helped by at most a supporting cast in a non-dynamic way. I've really just never seen a table top RPG do non-combat puzzles involving collective effort in a consistently interesting manner, because the choices involved in the participants are too granular to effectively run in an RPG. You can do it in a cRPG, but cRPG's allow for more visceral action - think about how a 'match three' type game always involves choices and immediate sensory feedback.

    Too many RPGs that want to have as a focus of play something other than combat, really only work with two or at most three participants because they lack a way to really share spotlight. They also tend to have fortune checks that resolve conflicts without meaningful choices, leaving the player mostly an observer of the game and with little role but to take stage direction from the dice and the story-teller. And you can't really do internal exploration of character with six or eight or twelve players huddled at a table (although you might could split them up among 3 or 4 tables each doing their separate RP).

    In short, while I get bored with a game that has nothing but combat in it, and especially if the combat seems to be just a linear sequence of on the rails staged set pieces, I suspect that if it was more than just a couple of players I'd get bored without it as well.

    So now that I've answered, "Why combat?", I think the answer to "Why violence?" is pretty obvious.

    As for the particular thing that is triggering you, well, good. We hit that trigger at age 15 in a homebrew module where the PC's got to the back of the cave after slaughtering the hobgoblin bandits, and found hobgoblin women and children huddled in the back of the cave. Now what? Things got real. We suffered our actual first moral dilemma. That realization marked one of the most salient points where I can remember my approach to the game becoming more mature.

    It would have worked exactly the same with human bandits I think, only if anything the question got sharper and more pointed with apparent monsters, because there really was no hope that my players could see at the time of assimilating the survivors (and had they tried, that in itself would have been a moral dilemma). So, yeah, I don't play up the violence and revel in it, but I learned then not to play it down either. It's more grown up to really think about the violence as consequential.

    Even so, my 13 and 14 year old players when going through B2 didn't slaughter noncombatants. They generally let anything that didn't attack them flee. At the time, none of us really thought about the consequences of it.

    The closest I can remember in my young play getting 'murder hobo-y' was playing Gamma World. I had this mutant gorilla named Koko, and we were for some reason in this village of bat people. There was this plaster statue in the town square and I decided that the plaster must be hiding some sort of treasure, and broke a piece off to check (also I was bored, the young GM wan't that great). The bat folk, who I suppose weren't a bad sort, decided I'd committed sacrilege and proceeded to attack us. A mass slaughter of many of the otherwise innocent bat folk followed. We were clearly in the wrong and we knew it even then. But, what are you going to do after, "I'm sorry." doesn't cut it?

    None of the bat people represented any sort of real world ethnic group. Nor was my choice of playing a mutant gorilla meant to represent some sort of real world ethnic group. Nor was the conflict that arose between the party and the bat people any sort of colonialist narrative. I'm sure you could create some sort of interpretation in that direction, but to be quite frank, it would be BS and any sort of scholarly method that was that divorced from the intentions and thoughts of the participants would be anti-intellectual to the point of insanity because you would learn less than you started out knowing to engage in such analysis. Some times a pen is just a pen. Sometimes a sword is just a sword. And sometimes an orc is just an orc. Persistently seeing a sword or a pen as a symbol, or persistently seeing minority groups in every monstrous alien thing you meet tells me more about you than it does about anything else.
    Last edited by Celebrim; Wednesday, 12th June, 2019 at 02:05 PM.
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  5. #5
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    To my way of thinking, RPGs were born out of adding more to the already existing wargame mode of groups playing dides for historical orvfictionsl combats. Then that grew into " playing" as characters in the various fictional setting and stories were had shared interest in- be it supers, sword and sorcery, star wars, scifi, B uck Rogers, etc etc etc...

    And so those fictional settings use of violence and combat carried over.

    As RPGs have expanded, you have lots of games and setting with different takes on violence to reflect their source.

    I mean, even today, we see Endgame, John Wick 3, Seal Team, Underworld and countless others where violence and combat are integral.

    So, to me its accepted in the RPGs derived from those because it's part and parcel of their source.

    Now, tossing in a Red Wedding into a session of Honey Bear Heist (or Ocean's 11) would lead to a different take.

  6. #6
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    I think that as a culture we have decided that violence in general is something that it is okay to pretend at. It is in our books, our movies, our games...our very lives. We watch people fight on the television for real with boxing and MMA and such. We sit in fascination as we watch nature documentaries where animals do violence to other animals.

    So it is only natural we allow for it in our tabletop RPGs.

    Note, I would argue that it is currently out of style to have excessive violence within our games. I do not allow scenes of torture...if someone wants to do it, we can fade to black, but I don't need to play it out. Also, I encourage (or try to) non-violent solutions to problems within games...and I think a lot of other games do as well.

    Violence, however, still has its place as a means of conflict resolution. Indeed, it is the last argument of kings as they say. Because we are acting out fantasies through the game, we imagine we stop the Bad Guys from doing whatever it is they are going to do: in general, by any means necessary. The bad guys, as it were, generally do not listen to Reason. Thus, violence is the answer. We allow this because it is something that, again, is pervasive throughout our culture. Every heroic book or story or movie or game has violence in it. So it is expected when we sit down and play the heroes. Or even the villains.

    We are acting out and creating our own stories. The best stories involve Conflict. Sometimes, violence is the only solution to a Conflict. Thus we allow it and expect it.
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  7. #7
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    I, for one, find some RPG killing unsettling/disturbing:
    - Torturing captives
    - Killing captives
    - Killing non-combatants/innocents
    - Sometimes even unnecessarily attacking intelligent humanoids

    Why "humanoids" on the last one? I dunno. Mind flayers, for example, aren't covered by this policy. I don't have a policy...I'm must describing what bothers me.

    In one game (it was The One Ring, so we're in Middle-earth here) we captured and questioned one surviving orc after a fight, then were stuck with the question "What do we do with him?" We ended up giving him back his sword and telling him that if he could beat my character in a fight he could go free. I was pleased with that solution.

    (If you're wondering how it turned out, when the dirty rat realized he was going to lose he threw his shield at my face and ran for it. Everybody failed various rolls, and he got away. We retaliated by parading the shield around the Anduin valley, talking about how its owner was such a coward that he threw his shield and ran. We eventually learned from some other orcs that he was "sent back to guard duty" as punishment for cowardice, and his name was Ufthak. Ufthak, if you recall your Tolkien lore, was captured, toyed with, then eaten by Shelob. So there.)
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    Now, I'm as fond of ye ol' murderhoboing as the next person. As I always remark, "If God & Gygax didn't want us to kill Orcs, why did He make them out of XP?"
    That's actually the thing that people get wrong. Killing orcs in D&D (at least early versions) was not really worth much XP. An orc was worth 15 xp. A fighter would have to kill 134 of them to reach 2nd level.

    XP mostly came from loot. But how do you get that? That's up to the players.

    Violence is an option in early D&D, but it's not the only or even optimal option. The idea was to fight when necessary, but only when necessary.
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  9. #9
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    I think HJFudge has it: culturally we find it ok to pretend at violence. Itĺs not just RPGs, itĺs movies, computer games, novels, wargames, paintball...

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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    So, this is a thread / thought / discussion starter.

    I am going to start by saying that I am not looking to open this up to general comments about adult themes, etc. in RPGs. So, please don't, okay?

    Instead, it's about a very specific issue- violence.

    Necessary Disclaimer- I know not everyone plays the same way. I know not everyone thinks RPGs are violent, or enjoy violent RPGs.


    Now, I'm as fond of ye ol' murderhoboing as the next person. As I always remark, "If God & Gygax didn't want us to kill Orcs, why did He make them out of XP?"

    But as I've remarked about before, I play a lot of 1e and B/X modules that I convert to 5e. And something has been bugging me.

    And this came to a head recently when I ran B2 for some kids. Generally, Goodman Games did an amazing job, and I reviewed it here-
    https://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...pdated-Classic

    So here's the part of the original I wanted to emphasize-



    There's a fine line between fun happy combat and ... um ... uncomfortable colonialist massacre of women and children, if you catch my drift. Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament, a possibly mentally ill hermit I need to murder for his stuff!

    Thing is- I obviously have a different perspective now. I'm not trying to harsh on anyone's conception of what is, and isn't fun- after all, I was deliriously happy watching John Wick 3, so I'm not getting on any soapboxes when it comes to violence.


    I'm just ... curious ... as to what other people think. I mean, I understand WHY (IMO) violence is part of the scene (legacy of wargaming, advancement through XP, fantasy tropes, etc.), but I'm curious as to what people think of it now?

    So, throwing it out there.

    War, huh, yeahWhat is it good for
    Absolutely nothing
    War, huh, yeah
    What is it good for
    Absolutely nothing
    I mean ... other than XP!
    Your quote is blacked out. Hereĺs why, and how to fix it.

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