PDA

View Full Version : Non-lethal/Less lethal combat



The Fury
2016-11-22, 02:34 PM
One of the challenges I've had with switching to a new group has been noting how it differs from the old one. When running Pathfinder for this new group I've been noticing a trend-- this new group doesn't seem to like killing things. Generally, if it seems even remotely possible to talk their way out of a fight, they'll try it. If it's possible to neutralize a threat without killing anyone, that's what they'll do. This runs pretty contrary to what my previous group was like-- lots of violence, party out of pragmatism, but some black humor as well. So I've been trying to keep the tone of the game more like a YA fantasy novel or an action cartoon, and less like an ultra-violent video game. As long as I keep things pretty light, the players seem OK. Though I'm still wondering if I'm giving the players the best game I can. Is a D20-derrived system necessarily the best for a group like this? Does anyone have any tips for running a game that's... not exactly super-lighthearted, but I guess not quite as lethal?

hymer
2016-11-22, 03:03 PM
One of the challenges I've had with switching to a new group has been noting how it differs from the old one. When running Pathfinder for this new group I've been noticing a trend-- this new group doesn't seem to like killing things. Generally, if it seems even remotely possible to talk their way out of a fight, they'll try it. If it's possible to neutralize a threat without killing anyone, that's what they'll do. This runs pretty contrary to what my previous group was like-- lots of violence, party out of pragmatism, but some black humor as well. So I've been trying to keep the tone of the game more like a YA fantasy novel or an action cartoon, and less like an ultra-violent video game. As long as I keep things pretty light, the players seem OK. Though I'm still wondering if I'm giving the players the best game I can. Is a D20-derrived system necessarily the best for a group like this? Does anyone have any tips for running a game that's... not exactly super-lighthearted, but I guess not quite as lethal?

First, it seems to me that a game, where the PCs try their best to avoid killing people is actually more serious and less lighthearted than one, where death is expected in most encounters. Violence begets violence, and may be the less pragmatic of available solutions. But you know the specifics better than I do, of course.
Second, I think this is a conversation you should have with the group. What are they used to playing? Do they feel hamstrung by PF? Are they holding back and would actually like to kill their way through more encounters?

You can accomodate them simply by thinking it into your encounter and scenario designs. Give them as many options as possible over the course of the campaign, even if one will be the optimal solution in a given encounter. Insane human-eating monsters probably need the knife, but maybe the bandits are only doing this out of desperation. Maybe something could be done to get them back to their hunting grounds and fields, so they won't threaten or attack travellers. And the bear can be a terror in a fight, but maybe you can avoid a fight if you're willing to part with the food it smelled that brought it to the PCs. And the guards for the evil emperor are probably just punch-clock villains. Bribery or stealth may be the best options there. It doesn't have to have a lot of game mechanical elements, although certain d20 skills would likely come up depending on the opponents. Most of it is likely to be simple RP and adjudication.

Koo Rehtorb
2016-11-22, 04:05 PM
It's absolutely the wrong system to run anything other than tactical combat in. I don't know what you and your players want out of a system, but there are better options to be had if you want to reduce the amount of combat.

PinkSpray
2016-11-22, 08:02 PM
Your group has spoken indirectly. They prefer negotiation over fighting. Make the encounters more about verbal conflict (negotiations, intrigue, threats) than weapons being drawn. Watching TV dramas can help with that as most of them are about verbal/intellectual conflict vs. Combat.

I recommend soap operas. Rather than using violence against the characters, the threat of calamity to those close to the characters should be enough (village being burned, king in danger of assassination, local sage in danger of imprisonment) .

Make it count emotionally by striking at what matters most to the heroes.

Thrawn4
2016-11-23, 07:31 AM
It's absolutely the wrong system to run anything other than tactical combat in. I don't know what you and your players want out of a system, but there are better options to be had if you want to reduce the amount of combat.
The implication being that a combat with a non-lethal victory requires less tactic?

Anyway, it's a new feeling and I would embrace it. Change is good, and it makes the killings all the more special and necessary. If there are no rules for overwhelming the enemy without killing, you can make some up.

Koo Rehtorb
2016-11-23, 08:03 AM
The implication being that a combat with a non-lethal victory requires less tactic?

The implication being it sounds like they're looking for less combat, lethal or otherwise.

Kitten Champion
2016-11-23, 09:30 AM
The implication being it sounds like they're looking for less combat, lethal or otherwise.

Eh, my group is similar to Fury's and they still enjoy going through combat to an extent. They just prefer subduing enemies and making them surrender or flee rather than slaughtering them.

I don't think it's too hard - if they have a more circuitous non-lethal strategy then let them explore it, give their sapient antagonists a measure of rationality or at least basic survival instinct as to not opt to fight to the death when they reasonably wouldn't like in video games, and if an action is probably going to be deemed lethal make it clear to the player so they can make the decision to go through with it or not.

Besides that, you can have more encounters with morally neutral figures to perpetrate violence upon as they do frequently with YA media, cartoons, and a lot of PG-13 stuff. You aren't "killing" the undead rather you're really saving someone's poor soul from this unnatural physical prison they've been trapped in, slaying demons simply banishes their immediate corporeal presence on your plane but they'll eventually come back after a time in hell, magical objects and automatons have no life and you're just ending a complicated computer program that's gone awry. You as a character can just go at 'em without restraint and not really have to deal with all of those moral ramifications and whatnot.

Lalliman
2016-11-23, 09:47 AM
You should have a look at how the players act when combat does happen. Do they seem to enjoy it? Avoiding combat could mean that they don't particularly like fighting, or it could not. I personally like a good amount of combat in a roleplaying game, but I can't help but treat NPCs as people. I've had games where, despite me wanting a good fight, my character never initiated combat, because the opponents didn't really deserve it. If they're just guards doing their jobs or wild animals defending their territory, I'd feel like a sociopath for killing them without exploring other options.

If, like me, they enjoy combat but don't want to go against the nature of their good-aligned characters, you could present them with some threats that are obviously evil and can't be negotiated with, like undead.

I also agree with things previously said: Nonviolent methods of avoiding conflict don't make the game light-hearted; the way in which violence is treated does. If the players want to avoid violence, that means it's treated as a serious thing, which could serve to increase the grittiness of the game. By comparison, a game where enemies get killed all the time without any real thought sounds pretty light-hearted to me, because it shows that enemies aren't really people, even if their statblock reads "humanoid".

Edit: Kitten Champion ninja'd most of what I just said.

Arbane
2016-11-23, 03:34 PM
d20 might not be the best system for this.

But why not steal 4th Ed D&D's rule that whoever knocks an opponent below 0 hp gets to decide if they're dying or just K.O.ed?

And have enemies try to surrender when injured or clearly outmatched.

Mystral
2016-11-24, 04:47 AM
One of the challenges I've had with switching to a new group has been noting how it differs from the old one. When running Pathfinder for this new group I've been noticing a trend-- this new group doesn't seem to like killing things. Generally, if it seems even remotely possible to talk their way out of a fight, they'll try it. If it's possible to neutralize a threat without killing anyone, that's what they'll do. This runs pretty contrary to what my previous group was like-- lots of violence, party out of pragmatism, but some black humor as well. So I've been trying to keep the tone of the game more like a YA fantasy novel or an action cartoon, and less like an ultra-violent video game. As long as I keep things pretty light, the players seem OK. Though I'm still wondering if I'm giving the players the best game I can. Is a D20-derrived system necessarily the best for a group like this? Does anyone have any tips for running a game that's... not exactly super-lighthearted, but I guess not quite as lethal?

D&D is perfectly suitable for characters that don't want to kill people.

There is a metamagic feat for converting damage spells into nonlethal damage, and weapon enchantments for making weapon attacks non-lethal.

The book of exalted deeds has suitable vows and prestige classes for such characters, as well as non-lethal weapons (lassos, man catchers, truncheons...), and rules for converting people to good.

That's for when they have to fight. There are plenty of classes that specialise on working around fights via talking, trickery or magic. Think the beguiler, the bard or the rogue. You should propably introduce a more extensive system for diplomacy than the one provided, perhaps the one created by Rich Burlew himself.

Koo Rehtorb
2016-11-24, 05:23 AM
Okay taking this back a step. You should first figure out what the group wants, (if you don't know already).

Is this a case if wanting to be nice heroic people who don't go around killing things? Is this a case of not enjoying combat overly much? Both? Neither? Once you have their priorities straight then you have a better idea of where to go with it.

Jay R
2016-11-24, 08:35 AM
You are treating a practical question like it's theoretical. Don't try to figure out if the system is "necessarily the best for a group like this". Ask the players if they are satisfied. A lesser system that they all know and enjoy and have already invested in is often more fun than the "optimal" system that they would need to learn, or re-build characters in.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The Fury
2016-11-27, 02:47 PM
First, it seems to me that a game, where the PCs try their best to avoid killing people is actually more serious and less lighthearted than one, where death is expected in most encounters. Violence begets violence, and may be the less pragmatic of available solutions. But you know the specifics better than I do, of course.
Second, I think this is a conversation you should have with the group. What are they used to playing? Do they feel hamstrung by PF? Are they holding back and would actually like to kill their way through more encounters?

None of my players seem all that experienced. Two of the players have played 3.5 before, the most experienced of the two even owns the Players Handbook, (did you know that it came in paperback? Because I didn't!) The third has never played a tabletop RPG before, so she's not really used to anything yet. I'd generally agree that this is a conversation that I should have with the players, though the campaign I'm running is getting close to the end and I think I'd like to have that conversation to determine the direction of future games rather than this one.


Eh, my group is similar to Fury's and they still enjoy going through combat to an extent. They just prefer subduing enemies and making them surrender or flee rather than slaughtering them.

I don't think it's too hard - if they have a more circuitous non-lethal strategy then let them explore it, give their sapient antagonists a measure of rationality or at least basic survival instinct as to not opt to fight to the death when they reasonably wouldn't like in video games, and if an action is probably going to be deemed lethal make it clear to the player so they can make the decision to go through with it or not.

Yeah, that's about what they're like. I have done my best to accommodate them with sapient villains that would surrender if they find themselves in a situation they can't win. Even more animalistic threats have enough self-preservation instinct that they'd flee if they deem the PCs too much of a threat.


d20 might not be the best system for this.

I'd considered that might be the case. Which system would you recommend?



But why not steal 4th Ed D&D's rule that whoever knocks an opponent below 0 hp gets to decide if they're dying or just K.O.ed?

I hadn't heard of that rule. Good idea.


Okay taking this back a step. You should first figure out what the group wants, (if you don't know already).

Is this a case if wanting to be nice heroic people who don't go around killing things? Is this a case of not enjoying combat overly much? Both? Neither? Once you have their priorities straight then you have a better idea of where to go with it.

I'd say it's more the former. Mostly they don't like killing people in particular, after they managed to kill the campaign villain's lieutenant they seemed a bit upset. The party's wizard hit her with spells after she dropped, thinking that it was some kind of trick. There's also been times that they've taken unnecessary risks to protect named NPCs. I feel like this is why I need advice-- I've never been in a group that plays like this. It's not that I dislike it, I just feel a bit out of my element.

Stormwalker
2016-11-27, 06:26 PM
My character in my main Pathfinder group right now is a Swashbuckler who really dislikes killing someone who is defenseless. For this reason, in a couple of situations where it was necessary for us to use disguise and illusion to infiltrate the enemy's base of operations, she chose non-lethal combat options (using Sleight of Hand to steal an enemy's weapon during the surprise round, for example) when fighting the first group of enemies inside the base (we were still disguised, and they had not seen through it, but it was clear when they started trying to unload the illusionary goods in our wagon that they would realize the ruse). Fortunately for her sensibilities, the rest of the party took her lead and we were able to take down the group of guards without killing them.

She was, unfortunately, forced to kill one person who tried to sound an alarm. Once they were inside the base, however, she declared that she'd had enough of sneaking around and would prefer to meet her opponents head-on, and ditched her disguise ( the reason we were using disguise to begin with was that the enemy had set up archers on approaches to their base and we didn't want to fight through their kill zone).

Remember, you can always deal non-lethal damage with a weapon by taking a penalty on the attack roll. There's even a trait ("Easy Way or the Hard Way") which allows you to reduce that penalty. And there's a metamagic feat which allows you to do non-lethal damage with spells; it doesn't even raise the spell's level.

If you really want to enable your party for non-lethal combat, you could house-rule that any spellcaster can use Merciful Spell without having to prepare it or increase the casting time, and decrease (or even eliminate, if you really want to... it's your game) the penalty for doing non-lethal damage with a lethal weapon. Alternately, if you want to make your party seriously consider the consequences of their stance on not killing, suggest to them that they should carry weapons capable of dealing non-lethal damage as well (via weapon-types that deal non-lethal, or the Merciful weapon ability).

Note that a paladin can add Merciful to his or her weapon via Divine Bond, an ability I've used on several occasions when I preferred to capture an enemy alive (or simply didn't think they'd done anything to deserve death).

Arbane
2016-11-28, 02:09 AM
I'd considered that might be the case. Which system would you recommend?


FATE seems to be the go-to game for '...but not D&D' these days, and it might be a decent choice for this. It's very different than Pathfinder in playstyle, though.

Hm... maybe a superhero game like HERO (rather clunky) or Mutants and Masterminds (about as complex as PF, and d20 based)? Most superhero systems I'm aware of are flexible enough to model most D&Dish powers, and have the odd notion that killing people is morally wrong. :smallwink: (And since they're inspired by comic books, beating people senseless with no lasting ill effects is both common and recommended.)

One problem with PF is (in my opinion) D&D actively punishes players for trying anything in combat more creative than "I stab them in the hitpoints".

Feng Shui might not be a bad choice for a reasonably detailed high-action game that does encourage trying stunts in fights, but you'd need to homebrew a lot of the fantasy stuff.

The Fury
2016-11-29, 04:31 PM
One problem with PF is (in my opinion) D&D actively punishes players for trying anything in combat more creative than "I stab them in the hitpoints".

Firstly, thanks for your alternate system recommendations, you've had some good ideas aside from that as well. I've heard this criticism of D20 systems and I don't entirely agree. I will admit that doing something other than "stab them in the hitpoints" is more difficult, but actively punishing players for trying it? I don't think so.

kyoryu
2016-11-29, 05:40 PM
Fate would actually be a good system for this.

1) any lethality (PC or NPC) is 100% in the hands of the person that defeated the opponent. If you don't want someone to die, they don't (outside of the chunky salsa rule, of course).

2) The system treats non-combat conflicts the same as combat (or, I'd argue more accurately, it treats combat the same as non-combat).

3) More than the vast majority of systems (but not necessarily all), it is not a "combat engine with some other stuff bolted on".

4) It can pretty much do any genre.

5) Fate games kind of tend to feel like TV dramas by default. If that's the kind of thing you want, awesome! If it's not, boo.

Reasons it might not be good:

1) it's fairly different in its base assumptions. This is less of a problem for new players, obviously, but learning to GM Fate can be a bit of a stumbling block for experienced GMs.

2) It has little optimization. This is a problem if you have players that really dig on optimization.

3) It has little character advancement compared to D&D. It's pretty firmly in the "start good, get slightly better" camp (much like GURPS, Savage Worlds, etc.)

4) It doesn't really have a lot of subsystems built up - most notably, magic. This puts a bit of up-front work on the GM. That said, the Toolkit offers some straightforward advice, and there's a few magic variants that have gained wide use, at least in the G+ community.

5) Fate games kind of tend to feel like TV dramas by default. If that's the kind of thing you want, awesome! If it's not, boo.


Firstly, thanks for your alternate system recommendations, you've had some good ideas aside from that as well. I've heard this criticism of D20 systems and I don't entirely agree. I will admit that doing something other than "stab them in the hitpoints" is more difficult, but actively punishing players for trying it? I don't think so.

"Punish" is the wrong word. More like "Oh, you want to do things? Awesome! Let me tell you about all this cool stuff you can do! Oh... you don't want combat??? Um... okay, we've got some other stuff over here, too, I guess.... oh, you're a fighter? Uh... yeah. How about some nice combat?"

Mark Hall
2016-11-29, 06:43 PM
If you want to stick in d20, consider how you're going to approach it... and I think going back to combat is a good option. Instead of BAB v. AC, try skills v. Will saves, or passive Sense Motive if you want to keep the same-ish mechanics, or even opposed charisma checks with synergy bonuses from skills, when they want to dice it out. Instead of flanking, give bonuses for witty arguments or facts.

You might steal a mechanic from Savage Worlds of "Shaken". Whoever loses a given argument pass, they're shaken, and have to make a Will save to gather their thoughts.

PallentisLunam
2016-11-29, 06:58 PM
Firstly, thanks for your alternate system recommendations, you've had some good ideas aside from that as well. I've heard this criticism of D20 systems and I don't entirely agree. I will admit that doing something other than "stab them in the hitpoints" is more difficult, but actively punishing players for trying it? I don't think so.

I find that it's more an issue of certain DMs punish players for trying more creative things in combat. Some people like the rules too much and when a player tries something that falls outside of those rules the DM locks up. Not saying that that's what you're doing, just that it's something I've seen.

I know you're playing PF but have you considered these rules from the 3.5's Unearthed Arcana: Armor As Damage Conversion (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/adventuring/damageConversion.htm)

The TL;DR is that a large portion of incoming damage is converted to nonlethal damage leading to significantly less deadly fights

Vinyadan
2016-11-29, 07:17 PM
I've heard of a game in which, if you are forced to fight, it means you are already dead. Maybe it's Call of Cthulhu?

kyoryu
2016-11-29, 09:44 PM
I've heard of a game in which, if you are forced to fight, it means you are already dead. Maybe it's Call of Cthulhu?

In practice, these types of deadly games usually devolve to "bring more firepower to make sure that you're on the winning side."

digiman619
2016-11-29, 09:55 PM
I'd suggest importing the Mercy Blow (http://phoenixprojectrpg.com/wp/?p=1145) feat, possibly as a bonus feat/houserule. Basically it lets you coup-de-grace a foe to reduce them to -1 HP, stabilized. It was from a superhero game called The Phoenix Project, but you got 10 points per level to buy your powers and a feat was 2 CP, so it wasn't anywhere as pricey as a feat in pathfinder.

RazorChain
2016-11-29, 10:46 PM
Yeah, that's about what they're like. I have done my best to accommodate them with sapient villains that would surrender if they find themselves in a situation they can't win. Even more animalistic threats have enough self-preservation instinct that they'd flee if they deem the PCs too much of a threat.

Well most people would flee, it's better to run away and fight another day or to be taken prisoner instead of fighting to the death.




I'd considered that might be the case. Which system would you recommend?


You can pretty much run anything you like, it's just about focus. Less focus on killing things, more focus on action, adventure, intrigue, mystery, drama, interacting with npc's, problem solving.

My group is like yours, new players that want to focus more on talking and problem solving rather than killing things. I run Gurps where people get decapitated, maimed, crippled in combat. In fact I project combat as a visceral, brutal affair and go into detail how that arrow punched into someones lung and he's frothing pink blood as he falls to his knees. How the force of the mace blow crushed that young mans chest cavity and how his eyes become vacant as he collapses like a broken doll. People will lie moaning and screaming in pain as blood spurts from their wounds. Defeated mooks will beg for their lives or try to get away.

So yes they tend to avoid combat...also it's dangerous.







I'd say it's more the former. Mostly they don't like killing people in particular, after they managed to kill the campaign villain's lieutenant they seemed a bit upset. The party's wizard hit her with spells after she dropped, thinking that it was some kind of trick. There's also been times that they've taken unnecessary risks to protect named NPCs. I feel like this is why I need advice-- I've never been in a group that plays like this. It's not that I dislike it, I just feel a bit out of my element.

Congratulations! You are lucky to have found yourself a group that isn't murderhobos. Take care of them and hope that they won't devolve. Seems like they wan't to immerse themselves and care about your NPC's and that is a good start. This is often the case with new players, they approach the game with their own morals and react maybe more realisticly. I mean if I would stalk the streets smiting everything I perceive as evil to death I would quickly be locked up.

Arbane
2016-11-30, 12:50 AM
Firstly, thanks for your alternate system recommendations, you've had some good ideas aside from that as well. I've heard this criticism of D20 systems and I don't entirely agree. I will admit that doing something other than "stab them in the hitpoints" is more difficult, but actively punishing players for trying it? I don't think so.

Glad I could help!

What I mean is, well, this (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1235). One reason I liked Exalted so much when it first came out - a game that REWARDS players for showing off in combat? :smallbiggrin: This was pretty revolutionary at the time.


Congratulations! You are lucky to have found yourself a group that isn't murderhobos. Take care of them and hope that they won't devolve. Seems like they wan't to immerse themselves and care about your NPC's and that is a good start. This is often the case with new players, they approach the game with their own morals and react maybe more realisticly. I mean if I would stalk the streets smiting everything I perceive as evil to death I would quickly be locked up.

Good advice, this.

Cluedrew
2016-11-30, 08:29 AM
"Punish" is the wrong word. More like "Oh, you want to do things? Awesome! Let me tell you about all this cool stuff you can do! Oh... you don't want combat??? Um... okay, we've got some other stuff over here, too, I guess.... oh, you're a fighter? Uh... yeah. How about some nice combat?""Unsupported" might be what you are looking for. At least that is the one I would use.

The Fury
2016-11-30, 06:34 PM
"Punish" is the wrong word. More like "Oh, you want to do things? Awesome! Let me tell you about all this cool stuff you can do! Oh... you don't want combat??? Um... okay, we've got some other stuff over here, too, I guess.... oh, you're a fighter? Uh... yeah. How about some nice combat?"

I wasn't even concerned with providing stuff other than combat. I was more interested in combat that might not involve killing things, which neutralizing a threat without killing anyone in D20 systems isn't easy but it's not impossible. Just off the top of my head, you could plan to take down a bad guy by disarming them and having a team mate tackle and pin them to the ground. Even without feats geared towards this kind of action, it's possible if risky.

As for out of combat actions, I guess it comes down to how rules-heavy you like it. The rules for things other than combat aren't very robust in D20 in general or Pathfinder in particular. Though if you prefer things more loose that's not always a bad thing.

Fate though, it sounds like it might be a good system for something other than your typical Medieval European Fantasy. I'll have to keep it in mind if I want to do something in a different vein.


In practice, these types of deadly games usually devolve to "bring more firepower to make sure that you're on the winning side."

It can, though at a certain point it's more than fair for the GM to ask thinks like, "OK, why do you have an anti-material rifle in the trunk of your car?"



Congratulations! You are lucky to have found yourself a group that isn't murderhobos. Take care of them and hope that they won't devolve. Seems like they wan't to immerse themselves and care about your NPC's and that is a good start. This is often the case with new players, they approach the game with their own morals and react maybe more realisticly. I mean if I would stalk the streets smiting everything I perceive as evil to death I would quickly be locked up.

That's actually where I'm having problems. I'm so used to groups with at least one murderhobo, that making a game engaging for a group without any is difficult and I'm not even sure what works and what doesn't.