Things to do in a tabletop rpg that are not combat related?

Joe Sumfin

First Post
The Skill Challenges are more along the lines of what I was looking for.

Something not combat related the the PC's can still do. A lot of you spoke about running mysteries and stuff but I asked more specifically about how to run something like a tournment that the PC's attend.

Say the tournament has a strength test, a boxing match, basketball? and ... jousting?

How would you run those specifically? Just make them into skills challenges? I really don't like the idea of roll a d20, anything above 10 and you win. Thats not fun or really interactive at all where they actually have a stake in the matter.

A boxing match could be just a fight non leathal using targeted hits vs their cmd or something. Thats still combat related but eh.

Anyways, thanks for all the feedback and the links and the info on skill challenges.
 

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The Demonscar Ball that I linked to in my post uses 3.5E rules, so they aren't skill challenges in the 4E sense, but you are making rolls vs various skills and/or opposed rolls.

I don't think it would be difficult to convert them to 4E skill challenges.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
What are some things you can do in a table top RPG that are not combat related?

This makes me, as a GM, tremble. How has the roleplaying world so comprehensively failed this lost soul? Anyone who's been reading their Song of Ice and Fire knows that when things devolve to combat, people die. When PCs die, they become just Ps. No one wants to be a P.

Now I know, this isn't always the case. If you're playing a game like D&D, well over half of your rulebook is dedicated to combat, weapons, and hurtful magic spells. The authors are saying, "just go out and kill stuff, would you?" Well, Joe is asking the right question. "Can I do something else, please?"

Joe, the types of things you want to try, like basketball games, don't always translate well into tabletop games. But you have several tools at your disposal, like playing cards, paper-rock-scissors, polyhedral dice, counters, beer-pong, and a table surrounded by brains. Pick up an RPG that lets you make up your own rules (like the one I'm designing), and design any mini-games or sub-rule-systems you want!
 

doghead

thotd
Most of D&D's rules revolve around combat, and IMO it's hard to shoe-horn non-combat things because the skill system is not very robust and there exists very few skill subsystems to accomplish things. Compare combat to say, a game of intrigue with everyone being courtiers, where all you do is roll sense motive vs. bluff all day. There are systems that make social things much heavier (in a way turning it into social combat).

Anyways, whether a system can do non-combat WELL is a different argument than whether you can DO it, and what you can do with it.

This is very much my experience. I think the skill challenge system in 4E is a good idea, although I haven't had much of an opportunity to look at it.

I have recently made two attempts to create a more interactive non-combat encounters. In general, the idea was to allow the use of as broad a range of 'resources' as possible, and to incorporate a risk vs return mechanism.

The first was a chase. In each round there was an obstacle of some sort. Unlike in the Pathfinder chase rules, instead of specifying two skills that could be used, I specified the obstacle and let the players identify the skill they wanted to use to overcome it. The distance they gained or lost was based on the degree of success or failure vs the opponents skill check. I also allowed the players to 'burn' an attribute, each -1 to an attribute gained them an extra d6 to add to their skill roll. Initially they burnt mostly odd numbers, but eventually some were burning even numbers, resulting in reductions in their attribute bonuses. If I was to do it again, I would probably also incorporate a system where wounds inflicted become a penalty to the skill check, thus giving the players the option of sacrificing distance (making an ranged attack) for the chance to slow the opposition down.

As you can see, I have changed/modified the rules in a number of was in order to try and achieve what I wanted. Not everyone is going to be happy with that. I am just lucky that I have a group of players willing to give it a try.

thotd
 

1. I read that in like D&D 2e and previous there was no perception/spot check and you had to actually say what your doing in the room?
D&D has definitely evolved. If you read the original rules - the 1973 three booklets - you can see that it wasn't really even a roleplaying game yet. At least it wasn't what we think of as a roleplaying game TODAY. It was a game of TEAM dungeon exploration. The DM made the dungeon and the players explored it as a team. The fun was to be found in the DM trying to confuse the players with mazes, puzzles, tricks, traps, map elements that might confuse and frustrate the players attempts at accurate maps or whatever wild new stuff he dreamed up. This was all a NEW experience. Where today we would simply have a thief make a skill roll to find a trap the game did not yet HAVE a thief class. Players had to pry clues out of the DM with their questions, try to catch important elements in his descriptions that would suggest that a trap might be present. The DM might then describe HOW the trap worked and the players would have to puzzle out how to disarm it, to get around it, or destroy it. The thief class did arrive in one of the first rules supplements but this illustrates how the gameplay was notably different from D&D or other RPG's of more recent design. The timekeeping was based heavily on the TURN - a time period of about 10 minutes. The 1-minute round was just a sometimes-used subdivision of that. Movement, searching, mapping, spell durations... just about everything was being measured in Turns. All weapons did 1 die of damage - 1d6. Only with the first rules supplement (Greyhawk) were weapons given different damage dice and other mechanical differences.

Now as I said things DID evolve. 1st Edition ADVANCED D&D (1977+) had a gazillion rules by comparison that were really mostly house rules that had been written and used by Gygax or others for those original rules over the preceeding several years. But those rules definitely were having big changes on gameplay. You can probably also see how players who are big fans of the original game might not like how more recent takes on D&D rules approach gameplay with random skill rolls, mathematically efficient character "builds", and players knowing to choose the correct rule out of hundreds or thousands to apply to achieve victory, rather than the DM continually inventing things that DEFY rules and require player ideas and ingenuity that only sometimes rely on their character's abilities as defined by the game rules.

This is not so much a matter of disrespect of any edition of the rules. It is a matter of noting how the editions have ACTUALLY changed.

2. What are some things you can do in a table top RPG that are not combat related?
Anything that isn't combat pretty much fits the description of something not combat-related. There's good reasons why combat occupies so much of the rules for any RPG. Combat happens a LOT, and EVERYONE is involved in it, though perhaps to greater or lesser degrees. Combat has very drastic results - life or death - and that can happen in a very short time. But it isn't much fun to reduce combat to, "You run into a monster and fight it. The fighter and magic-user die." Combat is more fun and interesting when it's slowed down in comparison to the rest of the game - when you can take time to play it out in greater mechanical detail. I guess one of the big questions is how you want to split the time you spend playing - how much combat versus how much exploration, how much verbal interaction with NPC's, how much whatever else.

Combat gets a disproportionate amount of rules devoted to it - it shouldn't always be taken as an indication of how much of the gameplay should BE combat. It's more just an indication of how important combat is when it DOES take place.
 
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Argyle King

Legend
There are plenty of things you can do which are not combat related. Some examples are political intrigue; attempting to stealthily pull off a heist; win the affections of a noble lady; give a rousing speech to compel the townsfolk to stand up to the brigands which have been terrorizing the area... those are just a few ideas.


Some of those activities might very well lead to combat or end up being combat related due to the story of the game or campaign, but they need not necessarily be. I've often been surprised by how much fun I've had in sessions where dice were barely rolled.
 

steenan

Adventurer
Playing a game that doesn't focus its mechanics on combat and uses similar resolution for combat and non-combat conflicts can be a very refreshing experience. Without the system funneling you into violent solutions, it's much easier to think of different types of interesting situations.

I suggest trying Fate Core, Smallville and Mouse Guard.



As for fun non-combat activities:

- Investigation. It's not only about finding a person guilty of a crime, but also determining who a person really is, mapping secret alliances and allegiances or finding out what is causing a trouble.

- Recovering a guarded item or information. Conning someone, stealing it, hacking into a system. Best when you really don't want to leave signs that anything happened.

- Researching how something really works. Collecting information, performing experiments, preparing hipoteses and verifying them. Especially fun if the results are both interesting in themselves and useful in practise, but in the research one needs to balance danger, cost and morally suspicious approaches.

- Untangling complicated personal relationships. Obligations and expectations, love, lust, jealousy, disappointment. Finding out what you really feel, who you are and how you want to guide your life.

- Getting somewhere. Finding your way, facing environmental hazards. Interacting with people in dangerous situations; helping them, abusing them to ensure your own survival, balancing between trust and suspicion.

- Passing judgement. Evaluating people's deeds and beliefs. Deciding how far you will go to stop what you see as evil and how much will you compromise to avoid making enemies.

- Politics. Forging alliances and breaking them when it's useful.

- Shaping what groups of people believe and how they behave. Creating or changing philosophies, religions, belief systems.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
The Skill Challenges are more along the lines of what I was looking for.

Something not combat related the the PC's can still do. A lot of you spoke about running mysteries and stuff but I asked more specifically about how to run something like a tournment that the PC's attend.

Say the tournament has a strength test, a boxing match, basketball? and ... jousting?

How would you run those specifically? Just make them into skills challenges? I really don't like the idea of roll a d20, anything above 10 and you win. Thats not fun or really interactive at all where they actually have a stake in the matter.

A boxing match could be just a fight non leathal using targeted hits vs their cmd or something. Thats still combat related but eh.

Anyways, thanks for all the feedback and the links and the info on skill challenges.

I'm answering your question about tournaments, but it also relates to skill checks/challenges more broadly.

Combat is interesting because D&D provides players with lots of agency (meaningful choices) about how to kill. Skill use in D&D is treated as more binary (10+ on a d20 as you put it) and involves very little agency for players. Thus, whenever you have a skill check / challenge, you want to be thinking about how to increase player agency.

Now, *how* you do this depends a lot on how much you and your players like mechanics to be transparent vs. how much you want to be speaking the language of the narrative without mechanical references.

So here's how I ran a series of Chivalric Hastiludes in 4e (though the ideas transcend system):
  • I came up with several mini-challenges (e.g. battle of bards, archery contest, horse race, love poem, mead hall mystery) that players could interact with.
  • I set up each mini-challenge so that it had presented a choice or dilemma of some kind, and tried to involve three things the player had to overcome or decide to win/resolve the challenge. For example, in the Archery Contest the dilemma became there was a notorious outlaw hidden among the other archers and the PC identified them as the two were clearly honing in on each other as the two best archers there. The final shot was going to be shoot an apple off the head of a nobleman who the outlaw had a grudge against. So the PC faced a dilemma about what to do. It could involve a test of skill, but to test of skill wasn't the main thing, despite it being billed as an "Archery Contest."
  • I wrote up three brief possible outcomes for each mini-challenge and corresponding rewards/consequences. For the Archery Contest these were: (1) Turning in the outlaw: 1000 gp bounty, nobleman grateful, (2) sparing outlaw/tying with outlaw: outlaw promises later assistance, nicks nobleman as warning, (3) winning the contest: a magical arrow, nobleman mistakes PC for outlaw due to obvious archery mastery.

So that's an approach I took to increase player agrncy with skills and it worked like a charm.
 

Derren

Hero
The Skill Challenges are more along the lines of what I was looking for.

Except skill challenges are very bad at what they do.
Not only is their math broken beyond believe, they also devolve every problem in the game into "roll the highest skill you can get away with until it goes away". It is not required to have an actual plan how to handle a situation and no need to improvise when a part of the plan fails. Just roll a single skill over and over again till you succeed.
 

So I'm still new to the whole table top RPG thing. I've been playing for under a year and we currently play Pathfinder. I've only played 1 home brew campaign that teetered off, part of Rappan Athuk before we got sick of the player killer DM and having to reroll a new PC every other session and now we are playing and enjoying Council of Thieves.

I am wondering if my group is just hack'n'slash. We have 6 players, could maybe be 7. 2 are power players, 1 likes sandbox, 1 doesn't really care to much and like 2-3 of us kind of prefer RP'ing rather than crunching numbers.

I am wondering a couple things though.

1. I read that in like D&D 2e and previous there was no perception/spot check and you had to actually say what your doing in the room?

2. What are some things you can do in a table top RPG that are not combat related? Like I've read you can have PC's goto a tournament. Do they compete? What can they compete in?

I was thinking the other day that a I *think* it would be easy to run a game of basketball. It'd be a lot of dice rolling potentially.

Why basketball? Well baketball was invented by the Incans I believe and that was semi medieval times, so why not? Its be a primitive version of todays version.

I figure movement speed would be halved and the court would be at least 60' long and 40' wide.

Rolls would consist of;
If PC has ball and is covered, roll d20. < 3 means a steal
If PC is covered and wants to move roll d20. Acrobatics to spin around defender acro > 12? allows move
To pass a ball roll d20. > 5? equals pass was recieved.
To make a basket roll d20. > 5? scores 1 point. - Percentile roll for being blocked if they are covered.

Theres other rules you could add in I'm sure but I think those would work.

Now my question is what else can be done in a game thats not combat related? I'm looking for things the group can partake in. There could be a non lethal boxing match but that'd be 1 on 1 mostly and make the other players bored. There could be a buffed combat where the PC's buff a fighter and two buffed fighters go in.

Could do a 'find a thing' contest and give clues to the object.

Anything else??

Thanks for the help.

Every game group is different, but Morrus hit it on the head: it is an RPG, you can do anything you want. Most groups when first start out probably lean on combat and mass slaughter (i know that is how i did things when i first started playing). I would suggest you check out some other games and take a look at different adventue modules to get a sense of the scope of the hobby. It may be worth reading over some of the older editions released by WotC.

I have a few suggestions, that may help you out:

1) Check out Call of Cthulu by Chaosium. It has more of an investigative focus and may give you an idea of how less combat heavy games go (there is still combat in Call of Cthulu, but it is a riskier proposition than in D&D).

2) Check out the Ravenloft Realms of Terror boxed set and any if the original Van Richten Guide Books. Ravenloft was meant to be less focused on dungeon crawl and combat. The Van Richten Guides baically show you how to make monster hunts and investigations work through extended examples.

3) Experiment. If you a GM, try running adventures that are not so combat heavy (political intrigue for example). If you are a player try coming up with more non-combat solutions to challenges (try to make a deal with the troll rather than hack him and burn him).
 

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