log in or register to remove this ad

 

Moral Dilemma: Killing and Deaths in RPGs

S'mon

Legend
D&D is extremely centred on fighting and killing. Almost any other RPG - at least any without a Monster Manual equivalent as a core book - will be less so. Traveller, mentioned upthread, is a good example, but really there is not much outside D&D clones that are anything like so combat centric. Even playing Savage Worlds in a zombie apocalypse, we avoided combat where possible.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

payn

Legend
My problem has been finding and keeping players interested in other RPGs. Most of the time I can only find enough new players, or convince current players, to play 2-4 game sessions of anything outside of D&D. Then real life issues come up, or players get tired of the RPG. D&D is most player's entry point to RPGs so games that don't follow those mechanics and ecstatic are hard to attract and keep players interested in.

Old reliable player friends always say after game session 3 or 4 let's just play D&D again. You're really good at running that and we all know the rules for that.

The other struggle I have been having is finding rules lite RPGs where it's not a 100+ page rulebook myself and the players have to read to play.
There is always going to be some churn when you try out a new group. Stick to a series of one shots until you find a good player base of matching play styles. Jumping into a complex or in-depth campaign is not going to work out until you have some new reliables. Avoid your old reliables because D&D is their wheelhouse. Try looking for youtube videos on how to play whatever game you want to try. Being an expert will allow you to lead new gamers into it easier.

Good luck!
 

Victor Spieles

Explorer
There is always going to be some churn when you try out a new group. Stick to a series of one shots until you find a good player base of matching play styles. Jumping into a complex or in-depth campaign is not going to work out until you have some new reliables. Avoid your old reliables because D&D is their wheelhouse. Try looking for youtube videos on how to play whatever game you want to try. Being an expert will allow you to lead new gamers into it easier.

Good luck!
Great suggestions payn. I have had rewarding memorable game moments with those fantasy RPG friends. But I'll study up an do a more thorough search for the right type of players for that next RPG I decide on. I'll also keep it to short adventures to gauge interest in running something long term.
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
One of the most obvious suggestions that hasn't even brought up: Level Up!

With the advertised added emphasis on the exploration pillar, maybe there is more to work with here as well that doesn't require a lot of deadly combat scenarios. Plus, since it's built on the foundation of 5E, everyone already knows the rules, essentially.
 
Last edited:

Ixal

Adventurer
One of the most obvious suggestions that hasn't even brought up: Level Up!

With the advertised added emphasis on the exploration pillar, maybe there is more to here as well that doesn't require a lot of deadly combat scenarios. Plus, since it's built on the foundation of 5E, everyone already knows the rules, essentially.
Being build on 5E is exactly the problem as D&D is the least suitable system for nonviolent gameplay.
 

The other struggle I have been having is finding rules lite RPGs where it's not a 100+ page rulebook myself and the players have to read to play.
If I can suggest some light indie RPGs:

Stories of Love in Manila by Jammi Nedjadi is a Tarot-driven game about a soothsayer helping mythological spirits and creatures to navigate their love lives in modern-day Manila. It's not a long game and it uses playbooks to make it easy to guide new players. And it's free!

And, in a bit of self-promotion, I have written a short game about a group of children encountering a digital ghost of a mech pilot long after a great war - it deals with themes of war and mortality, but all the dying has already happened before the story begins.

In fact, there are a lot of really good small indie games available on pdf on platforms like itch.io, many of them from creators like us from the Global South. And a good number of them go beyond the usual paradigms of kick-down-the-dungeon-door-and-slay-monsters. There's an article about them here. Designers want more visibility for non-Western games
 

Victor Spieles

Explorer
If I can suggest some light indie RPGs:

Stories of Love in Manila by Jammi Nedjadi is a Tarot-driven game about a soothsayer helping mythological spirits and creatures to navigate their love lives in modern-day Manila. It's not a long game and it uses playbooks to make it easy to guide new players. And it's free!

And, in a bit of self-promotion, I have written a short game about a group of children encountering a digital ghost of a mech pilot long after a great war - it deals with themes of war and mortality, but all the dying has already happened before the story begins.

In fact, there are a lot of really good small indie games available on pdf on platforms like itch.io, many of them from creators like us from the Global South. And a good number of them go beyond the usual paradigms of kick-down-the-dungeon-door-and-slay-monsters. There's an article about them here. Designers want more visibility for non-Western games
Thank you for the recommendations and links Tun Kai Poh.
 

Yora

Legend
I've been there since I was 30. And it certainly was a contributing factor for why I got fed up with Dungeons & Dragons. Last year I ended up running a 5th edition game for the first time, and while it was the best campaign I've ever run by far, the way that the rules wants you to hack people and creatures in endless numbers was the main reason why I decided to conclude the campaign after the first story arc, even though the players would absolutely have been up to continuing to another adventure.

Oddly enough, the solution to that problem, which I had been oggling at for a long time before that campaign, is the 1981 Basic/Expert edition of D&D, which is designed even more as a straightforward dungeon crawler than any other edition, except the very first version. They key about that game is that it is designed from top to bottom as an exploration and treasure stealing game, not as a combat system with a diplomacy skill tacked on.

It is a game in which characters die much more easily than in any editions from the last 30 years, but I don't see that as a problem, but as a key component of what makes the game work. With characters consisting only of the most basic stats (attributes, attack bonus, hit points, saves), they are inherently more replaceable, and as such the game does not become about individuals and their personal stories. Instead it naturally tends much more towards a focus on cool and tense things happening in this one scene, and the overall memorable exploits of the players, with the specific characters in the party coming and going. It encourages to make characters who live fast and expect to die young. If you don't have the expectation that you go into the game to see your character becoming a character with a long and deep personal story that develops over 30 adventures, then the death of characters becomes much less of a disruption of the campaign an instead a part of how the game is played.

But the real charm lies in that the game is full of structures and interwoven systems that keep producing obstacles for the characters in which the question is not which of your characters' special abilities will kill the monsters the fastest. Fighting monsters offers very little gain for the PCs, while it poses very considerable risk, even if it looks like an easy fight. Where you get your XP and wealth from is the treasures that are hidden somewhere in the monster's lair. So many things about this game are incentives for the players to avoid getting into fights. As you head to the dungeon with all the supplies you'll be needing, you want to make it quick and avoid losing any people or potions before you even reach the destination. At the dungeon, your concern is how to separate the monsters from their treasures. Killing the monster is always an option but also always risky. Any way to get the treasure without monsters making attack rolls is preferable. And then you have to get back to a town while being slowed down with all the treasure, and you really want to get there as fast as possible to avoid running into anything on the way that could still kill you, or steal your treasures before you get XP for them. You could calculate how much food and water you need for the return trip and which tools you will need for the obstacles along the way, and then ditch all the supplies you can buy new for cheap and would only slow you down. But it could be that one unfortunate random encounter overthrows the whole plan and you could really use the tools you decided to leave behind.
Trying to avoid fighting monsters and people is fun, if the rules reward you for pulling it off.

Another thing I started a few years ago is to no longer have humanoid monsters. There are still various different peoples, but they are not good races and evil races. And it made me realize how common it is in adventures to have a bunch of generic evil people just because the game structure demands that you have a lot of fights. Imagine you replace all orcs, goblins, kobolds, ogers, and so on with human tribesmen in a typical adventure. Suddenly it all looks incredibly messed up. Sure, there certainly are some really bad people among the barbarians living in the hills. But when the adventures assume that you will kill every single person you'll encounter, generally on sight, that just isn't right.
In all encounters with humanoids, I always do the test "Would this encounter work with humans"? You can always make them bandits, but it often very quickly turns into completely ridiculous amounts of bandits if you assume they are all human bandits.
 
Last edited:

Victor Spieles

Explorer
I've been there since I was 30. And it certainly was a contributing factor for why I got fed up with Dungeons & Dragons. Last year I ended up running a 5th edition game for the first time, and while it was the best campaign I've ever run by far, the way that the rules wants you to hack people and creatures in endless numbers was the main reason why I decided to conclude the campaign after the first story arc, even though the players would absolutely have been up to continuing to another adventure.

Oddly enough, the solution to that problem, which I had been oggling at for a long time before that campaign, is the 1981 Basic/Expert edition of D&D, which is designed even more as a straightforward dungeon crawler than any other edition, except the very first version. They key about that game is that it is designed from top to bottom as an exploration and treasure stealing game, not as a combat system with a diplomacy skill tacked on.

It is a game in which characters die much more easily than in any editions from the last 30 years, but I don't see that as a problem, but as a key component of what makes the game work. With characters consisting only of the most basic stats (attributes, attack bonus, hit points, saves), they are inherently more replaceable, and as such the game does not become about individuals and their personal stories. Instead it naturally tends much more towards a focus on cool and tense things happening in this one scene, and the overall memorable exploits of the players, with the specific characters in the party coming and going. It encourages to make characters who live fast and expect to die young. If you don't have the expectation that you go into the game to see your character becoming a character with a long and deep personal story that develops over 30 adventures, then the death of characters becomes much less of a disruption of the campaign an instead a part of how the game is played.

But the real charm lies in that the game is full of structures and interwoven systems that keep producing obstacles for the characters in which the question is not which of your characters' special abilities will kill the monsters the fastest. Fighting monsters offers very little gain for the PCs, while it poses very considerable risk, even if it looks like an easy fight. Where you get your XP and wealth from is the treasures that are hidden somewhere in the monster's lair. So many things about this game are incentives for the players to avoid getting into fights. As you head to the dungeon with all the supplies you'll be needing, you want to make it quick and avoid losing any people or potions before you even reach the destination. At the dungeon, your concern is how to separate the monsters from their treasures. Killing the monster is always an option but also always risky. Any way to get the treasure without monsters making attack rolls is preferable. And then you have to get back to a town while being slowed down with all the treasure, and you really want to get there as fast as possible to avoid running into anything on the way that could still kill you, or steal your treasures before you get XP for them. You could calculate how much food and water you need for the return trip and which tools you will need for the obstacles along the way, and then ditch all the supplies you can buy new for cheap and would only slow you down. But it could be that one unfortunate random encounter overthrows the whole plan and you could really use the tools you decided to leave behind.
Trying to avoid fighting monsters and people is fun, if the rules reward you for pulling it off.

Another thing I started a few years ago is to no longer have humanoid monsters. There are still various different peoples, but they are not good races and evil races. And it made me realize how common it is in adventures to have a bunch of generic evil people just because the game structure demands that you have a lot of fights. Imagine you replace all orcs, goblins, kobolds, ogers, and so on with human tribesmen in a typical adventure. Suddenly it all looks incredibly messed up. Sure, there certainly are some really bad people among the barbarians living in the hills. But when the adventures assume that you will kill every single person you'll encounter, generally on sight, that just isn't right.
In all encounters with humanoids, I always do the test "Would this encounter work with humans"? You can always make them bandits, but it often very quickly turns into completely ridiculous amounts of bandits if you assume they are all human bandits.
Yora that is a great approach to looking at adventures and humanoids. If you take the XP and advancement away from slaying everything the players focus shifts to where the cumulative rewards are earned to advance their characters. Thanks for that insight and the reminder of what the focus was of D&D in 1981 with the Basic/Expert edition.

Personally I don't remember slaying so many creatures in those editions as I have experienced with 3.5 and 5. I remember we seemed to do a lot more group huddles of how to out smart the villain and get their treasure. Treasure seemed to be the goal then versus how slick of a fighter or spellcaster can I create to maximize carnage.
 



MGibster

Legend
I find that my expectations regarding violence vary wildly from game to game. In D&D, Star Wars, Rifts, and many others I don't really concern myself with how many people my character or my PCs (if I'm running the game) kill. But there are a few games such as Call of Cthulhu (and it's variants), Mutant City Blues, and Alien where killing is kind of a big deal.

I plan on running a Deadlands campaign, Horror at Headstone Hill (I think), and I'd like to emphasize to the players to take care in who they kill. The entirety of the campaign takes place in one county in Wyoming, there are different factions in town, and just outright killing someone can sour the party's reputation which will be important at the end of the campaign.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
My problem has been finding and keeping players interested in other RPGs. Most of the time I can only find enough new players, or convince current players, to play 2-4 game sessions of anything outside of D&D. Then real life issues come up, or players get tired of the RPG. D&D is most player's entry point to RPGs so games that don't follow those mechanics and ecstatic are hard to attract and keep players interested in.
FATE was a breakout point for our group, 12-13 years ago. Mostly D&D before that; we tried Reign, Burning Wheel, and various others, and then tried Spirit of the Century (a pre-core pulp-era FATE game). It was the first time all four at the table were jazzed and the first time (ever) that all four wanted to ref. The system was flexible and inviting, and collaborative, and very forgiving for new refs/DMs.

That was a revelation for us.

This led the group to Diaspora, which was FATE doing Traveller. Lots of mechanisms for combat if you wanted that, but there's never a need for character (or NPC) death (they are "taken out" in a way determined by the victim). Again, very forgiving on refs, and kept us happy for years.

My 10-y-o made me FATE-based versions of the characters in Planet of the Apes as a Father's Day gift one year (helped by a patient mom). But the system intuitively spoke to him for translating what he'd seen on the screen to a RPG character.

That gaming group (2 of the originals, three new ones) still plays. Currently, I'm running a classic Traveller game for them -- we're in week 12 or so, and there has been one combat.
 

D&D is extremely centred on fighting and killing. Almost any other RPG - at least any without a Monster Manual equivalent as a core book - will be less so. Traveller, mentioned upthread, is a good example, but really there is not much outside D&D clones that are anything like so combat centric. Even playing Savage Worlds in a zombie apocalypse, we avoided combat where possible.
There are a number... some with recent editions
Twilight 2000
Alien (Colonial Marines mode is all about the kicking ass.)
Warhammer FRP has a lot of groups who fall into the "it's D&D, only Edgier" trope/trap... and rules which enable it.
Star Wars is often heavy on combat.
Traveller is also often heavy on combat - one of the three suggested modes is the mercenary band trying to make a living... (Heavily reinforced with CT Bk 4: Mercenary.
MegaTraveller ups the stakes... by being set during a civil war fought with weapons of mass destruction.
Mongoose Traveller supports the same modes.
2300, including the Mongoose Version, is set around a war with an enemy that only gets smart after being hurt... and hints strongly that mercenary actions are a good campaign option.
Most cyberpunk games are heavy on the ultraviolence... 10% of the story,75% of the playtime... but it is, if the Players aren't clueless, intentionally short and decisive.
Most Supers games are "rubberman physics" high combat...
 

Argyle King

Legend
I'll echo what others have said: try some non-D&D rpgs.

I'm of the opinion that D&D (especially contemporary D&D) is built in a way which incentivizes certain methods of problem-solving.

As the OP has an interest in approaching problems differently, other games may be a better fit.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

(Didn't read every page of this thread, only first...gotta hit the sack, really tired!)

To the OP:
Don't hang up your dice.
Go find a Super Hero RPG System.
I'd suggest "SUPERS! Revised Edition" ( SUPERS! Quick Start - HAZARD Studio | SUPERS! Revised Edition | DriveThruRPG.com ). It handles "damage" in a more player-friendly way; it's basically up to the Player to decide how his PC takes damage for a lot of, if not most, situations. I even went a step further and just say "pick where you want damage to go". It's a very narrative-oriented system.

Short Version: You have 4 "Resistances" (Fortitude, Composure, Will and Reflexes). If you get a car thrown at you and you take 2 damage, you, as a Player, decide where those 2 points are allocated from your Resistances (or other powers, like Armour or something). The player can then describe how the damage occurs: "Ow! Steelwing brings up his steel wings in front of him just in time! The force of the car crashes into him, pushing him back and down onto one knee! ...I'll take 1 off Fortitude and 1 off my Flight: Wings if that's ok?" ...It could even be "Steelwing leaps to the side as the car barely misses his head by INCHES! Small pieces of glass dot the side of his face. He is shaken by the near death occurrence. ... I'll take 2 points off of Composure".

Also...death isn't a thing unless the Player, Players and/or GM want it to be.

If you want to play a fantasy game...no worries. Just use the system and rules then just add fantasy stuff, setting, equipment, and get to it. (and yes, I do have a "SUPERS! Fantasy" campaign supplement and setting in the works; it's surprisingly easy...like...no-brainer type easy; all I'm really needing to create is the setting and fluff...the rules for Powers fit for spells, magic, special abilities, etc, so there's no real "work" there at all; just creation! :) ).

So if I were you... look into SUPERS! or some other Super Hero RPG you are more familiar with and just use that for your game (fantasy, super hero, scifi, etc).

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Yora

Legend
What I like to do as GM is to always think that when a person is killed, someone, probably not that far away, is going to be really upset about it.
Doesn't mean they will chase after the party for revenge. Depending on the circumstances, there might be more of a suspicion about the PCs that they had something to do with the disapearance of some people. Or a town or camp might be in a general state of distrust not targeted at the party specifically. Doesn't have to be that the people particularly liked the ones who got killed, but their deaths might disrupt their own plans, or just the faxt that someone got killed in a place is an unwanted disturbance for others.
Not every time an NPC is killed do the players have to run into a situation that they can connect ditectly to the killing. Chances are high that the upset people are somewhere in the west and the party is travelling to the east.
But it should happen often enough that the players get a feeling that every time someone gets killed in their presence, there might be unpredictable consequences for them, regardless of how justified their actions seem.
Sometimes the unexpected consrquences might even turn out to be a good thing, to really make things feel unpredictable. This avoids the perception that the GM wants the players to stop killing at all without saying it. I would even say that in most cases, the immediate gains from getting into a deadly fight should be bigger than the problems resulting from it. Using lethal force against enemies should not be outright discouraged in most games. The goal is simply to make the players stop and think for a moment before they decide to kill. Killing should not be the default approach taken without thinking.

Another big thing is of course that enemy NPCs want to stay alive. They will continue to fight as long as they think they can still win the fight and come out of it alive. When it becomes clear that they won't be able to kill or drive all of the PCs as they will clearly die first, there is no point to continue fighting. They want to live, so they will try to flee. As GM, make that attempt genuine and don't hobble the fleeing NPCs so the players will be able to kill them before they get away. Have them run in different directions when possible.
Obviously it helps getting across that these are people and not game mechanic entities, and it might make the players reconsider where self-defense ends and murdering begins. But it also helps to get across that it's really difficult to make sure nobody will ever know what they did. People can stll learn of the deaths of NPCs and the party's connection through other means, but having survivors escape is probably the biggest one. And it only takes one who got away to expose everything. If the players decide to follow the tracks of an escaped survivor through the wilderness before he reaches his friends, that's great. It only raises further questions about how justified and sensible everything is that the players are doing.

I think a key to all of this is to set the expectations straight early. Springing it on the players after they already have a body count in the low hundreds won't go over well.
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The very best piece of tabletop roleplaying game advice I have ever seen was walk, don't run, into conflict. It basically means that we should take our time to understand the context of potential conflicts before rushing headlong into them. Basically let the narrative breathe a bit. In our games we might often go 3-4 sessions without a fight. The potential for violence is usually there, but a significant part of the tension is if there will be violence or not. We also make sure that we always consider the ramifications of violence, in the setting and on our characters. Sitting in that fallout for a bit is also part of not running into conflict all the time.

Here's the blog post I saw this in:

 

S'mon

Legend
The very best piece of tabletop roleplaying game advice I have ever seen was walk, don't run, into conflict. It basically means that we should take our time to understand the context of potential conflicts before rushing headlong into them. Basically let the narrative breathe a bit. In our games we might often go 3-4 sessions without a fight. The potential for violence is usually there, but a significant part of the tension is if there will be violence or not. We also make sure that we always consider the ramifications of violence, in the setting and on our characters. Sitting in that fallout for a bit is also part of not running into conflict all the time.

Here's the blog post I saw this in:


Well that post concerns conflict in general, not combat in particular, and allowing space for non-conflict scenes. But you can still have lots of conflict without a fight.

I think it's good advice for GMs like me who tend to want to skip over non-conflict scenes and SKIP TO THE FUN (the conflict). Players need time to establish their characters in the world. Conan the Barbarian starts with two non-conflict scenes - the forging of the sword, and his father telling Conan about the Riddle of Steel. These help establish the world and set the scene for later conflicts.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top