Lots of talk about non-violent RPGs in the community.
To me, the idea of non-violent RPGs is weird.
To me, violence is an approach. Talking is an approach. Climbing is an approach. Theft is an approach. Feeding someone is an approach. Feeding someone to someone else is an approach.
There’s a time and place.
And if you don’t agree, go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender again.
And though Uncle Iroh would no doubt be a fan of taking Zuko’s sister (Princess Azula) out sans force, it’s clear that’s not what he’s advocating for here.
Does Avatar advocate killing? No. Again, go watch the show. Watch all the way to the end.
But a non-violent game? What about a non-talking game? Or a non-climbing game? Like, clearly labelled as such?
It does, to some extent, depend on the measures taken to make it “non-whatever.” To have a group agreement, “hey let’s try a game where we’re monks and not allowed to use force of any sort” works well. Interesting premise, for sure. I’d try it. To have a game designed as such, de-emphasizing violence? Interesting premise, worth exploring. To have a game that bans violence in all forms? I question this.
When people talk non-violent RPGs, I see things like Ryuutama, Wanderhome, Golden Sky Stories, and others. And then I see what they’re usually getting at: a wholesome game.
It must push towards the emotional payoffs of happiness, sadness, triumph, and defeat while being devoid of unwanted content. Violence is usually a culprit listed under “unwanted” for these games.
I like wholesome RPGs. I also love campaigns that have violence and tender moments. Preferences.
So if violence is simply unwanted content, defer to a group agreement. Leverage the design, look, and name of the game to help set expectations about what the game will be about. But if it’s that important to remove force as an approach, talk it out beforehand. Playing a certain game, no matter how well designed, will be less effective than a good pep-talk, guaranteed.
Now saying “force” and “approach” reminded me of a game that I think demonstrates my preferred method of this violence/non-violence dichotomy.
FATE Accelerated gives the player six approaches (careful, clever, flashy, forceful, quick sneaky) for all problems. They’re mechanically identical. Rolling forceful to punch and deal stress to a target does the same (again, mechanically) as rolling clever to pressure and deal stress to the same target. Making someone feel unsure is mechanically the same as using a knife.
Blades in the Dark does this in a similar way, which all of the twelve skills filling progress clocks just the same. Shooting, stabbing, speaking can all fill the clocks that mark your progress towards a complex objective like a crowd, a handful of mooks, or a head honcho.
But the consequences? Oh, they’re very different.
Talk to the princess? Or attack her?
Punch the bear monstrosity? Or try to befriend it after lighting it on fire?
All different effects. I’ll let you imagine the consequences of each action on your own.
There’s a time and place.
I’m not violent. I’m not non-violent. I’m violent-neutral and anti-unwanted content.
It comes back to the group.
For games, balance the approaches. A book that spends 57 pages outlining combat and one paragraph about non-combat things like exploring and talking does not favor it’s “three pillars” equally.
Adventure Hour! has a spread about fighting. It also has a spread for knowledge and perception. And one for troubleshooting the game. In terms of the booklet’s “mechanics” via weight, they’re near-identical.
Adventure Hour! has players rolling dice for fighting, talking, climbing, whatever, as long as it’s uncertain, you roll. Mechanically identical.
But the consequences? The advantages and disadvantages? Violence is very different from other approaches. The consequences make it so.
Defer to logic. Defer to the world.
Make it count. Make it matter.