A very little idea, indeed:

So I was listening to that Durham - 3 podcast the other day, the one about violence in gaming. At some point someone comes up with the idea of a game in which violence was totally not an option. Cool. I imagine a game, in which characters by default walk through your standard fantasy gaming dungeon, only the can't kill anything, of course. Everything else in the dungeon still very much wants to kill them, for sure.

You could tweak an existing game to do this. A PtA show springs to mind, focusing on the interactions between the party members, who are under a curse which prohibits them from using violence. Hm. Naw.

DitV? "I raise! "Dude, don't kill me! Isn't there a luv beam in one of those beholder eyes?". Naw. Well, it might work if the party consisted of some kind of monks trying to convert the dungeon "Brother, let me tell you about the way of non - violence..." Naw.

Why does a game without violence seem so funny? I mean, all that violence in a standard dungeon seems kinda adolesecent. Whole games about killing things and taking their stuff? Come on. But it's fun, seriously, whereas a game in which violence is not an options sounds so awfully educational. Hm.

Ah - Breaking the ice. One's the dungeon, one's the party. Neat.
You could probably just run a a D&D game with like a hand tied behind your back, and only allow for non - lethal methods.

Hum. What would rules in this game focus on, I wonder. Talking? Running? Being invisbile? Befriending the monsters?

Maybe a dungeon is a stupid idea. A thematic game, maybe, all about nasty relationships gone wrong, which is designed as to drive the characters to a point where they actually want to kill someone but just can't.

Does this have potenial at all?


  • Game 1: The rules would focus on stealth. The characters would be rebels against an oppressive, technologically advanced society that is perfectly capable of killing them without any real effort (this isn't violence, this is just the same as saying 'turn in your character sheet'.) Stealth is necessary to increase political turmoil, steal the latest superweapon plans, spraypaint your propaganda on the bridges, etc.

    Game 2: The rules focus on trade. The characters are legit merchants in an interstellar empire, or in France. There are effective law enforcement tools so banditry and piracy is a minimum, so is cheating and thievery, and any character that chooses to undertake such actions are quickly apprehended and taken out of play. The question is balancing relationships with more and more factions, as the characters advance in wealth and stature, and their reach grows, so too grows the diplomatic problem of keeping everyone as happy as possible.

    There was a game for the Apple IIe called "Balance of Power" which was a Cold War simulator that would end the game if a nuclear exchange occurred, but no nuclear exchange ever occurred on screen, there was just a message saying "nukes fly, you lose". There were no nuclear weapons in the game, so to speak.

    Similarly with these ideas. There's no violence in the game because there's no choices to be made about violence.
  • Balance of Power was for Mac. There were a couple PC versions. But yeah, it actually said you don't get a visual reward for blowing up the world.

    Lately I've been thinking a game where you want to kill somebody, but can't, would be interesting. You may have every reason to believe that guy is secretly the crime boss and mutilating puppies and what not, but just like in the real world, he's protected by the law until proven guilty, he's got lawyers and goons and power. Unlike every superhero comic, you don't just charge in and say, "A-ha! Caught you red-handed evildoer! Time to pay!" So you end up with scheming and high-tension verbal confrontations.
  • Returning for a second to the dungeon:

    The players are representatives of a government, military, powerful wizard, demigod, or other significant power. There is a macguffin deep in the dungeon - an artifact, or an old enemy of the employer, or the key to advancing the employer's motives. The dungeon is too big, too populous, and too unknown to take on by sheer force. Instead, the party has been assembled as agents provacateurs - their job is to go in and sell arms, stir up trouble, buy allies for the employer, act as 'training advisors' to the humanoid tribes, etc. They've been given a bunch of coin, some minor magical items to use as bribes, a few more magical items to get them out of scrapes without having to fight (if you're feeling generous), and their wits.

    You populate the dungeon with at least semi-intelligent creatures and draw a big old relationship map for all the various factions/tribes/bosses in the dungeon - what each wants most, who they hate & why, who they cooperate with & why, who they'd love to stab in the back - and you make the goal of the PCs discovering and exploiting those relationships. If violence erupts directly around the players, they have failed their mission. Not to say there won't be violence in-game as the hornet's nest gets going, but the players themselves should never be "rolling to hit". The violence is all implied, off-screen. The players are back with the gnoll warchief in his throne room waiting to hear how it went. As they manipulate their way through the dungeon from faction to faction, will the allies they've made powerful turn on them? Will they reach the final boss with an army of his former minions? Will they recover the macguffin being used as an idol without the thousands of worshipping kuo-toa executing them as spies?

    Suggestions for system?
  • That screams Shadow of Yesterday.
  • Ooh, you're right. I'm ready to play it.
  • Damn, I want to play Bush War Dungeon, now.
  • edited October 2006
    in HeroQuest/Glorantha the Chalana Arroy healers are life-loving pacifist vegeterians. The devout ones renounce all ties of kinship to provide healing without favour - those that don't face the conflict of healing those who may be engaging in violence. They don't use weapons (not even in self-defence), and fro combat have to rely on 'get me out of trouble magic' and dodging skills. Oh and they are the main source of resurrection in Glorantha...

    So playing Chalana Arroy healers removes violence as an option, you have to find another way. Mostly folks won't try to kill them (the local society considers that a capital crime) but 'monsters' might.

    I guess you're likely to end up with a cross between ER and Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, but you can have rich stories without violence (well perhaps its after affects)
  • I'm facing a similar situation with the pilgrimage game. The primary mode of interaction I'm focusing on is teaching and learning by example. That doesn't explicitly prohibit violence, but certainly feels like it's less of an option since your companion is learning from whatever you do and you might not want to teach them that the fist is the only solution to a problem.

    A channel for violence could be ritualized duels, with both participants setting stakes and parameters for the duel in-character. Granted, that doesn't work against monsters...
  • The problem - as in the real world - is that the existence of violent monsters pushes violence front-and-centre as a solution to them. "End existence of the violent monster, end the problem" is the temptation. But ultimately that ends in "nukes fly, you all lose", because you have yourself become the violent monster and legitimated other people trying to destroy you.

    I would really love to see a game that addressed nonviolence in a deep and thoughtful manner. Any Mennonites here?
  • I considered this when introducing my younger siblings to gaming. There's plenty of monster shoot-'em-ups...I mean, my stepson tells me all sorts of "crazy crazy monster" stories and how he adventures through the hidden wood. He's three (currently.) Violence is a part of the television he watches because more complex conflicts aren't as quickly comprehensible.

    For my sisters, though, I ran through an adventure where one of them shot a zombie.
    "Are you leaving it there?"
    "Yeah, sure."
    "Can you really sleep with a ...re-dead?... zombie not ten feet away? Staring at you with the same glassy expression it had as it shambled? "
    I ended up making her character even clean the mop she used to wipe up after the zombie.

    I like that example because I think it marks a breakthrough as to how we dealt with conflicts; just killing things for points is one thing, one type of game, and sure, we love it, but now I'm playing a one-on-one Amber game with my older sister. The conflicts are a little tougher; sure, her character gets frustrated and wants to kill things once in a while, but she knows there are consequences that the other games we've played don't hold. Most of the time no one looks at the environmental impact of dungeoneers.
  • Thanks everybody, there's some awesome ideas floating around here.

    I think a good thematic game dealing with this issue should center on the temptation of violence as the (perhaps) easiest means to solve a conflict, as some of you implicitly or explicitly pointed out. I guess it's not a good idea to rule out violence completely, it's probably more exciting to come up with a setup which drives players into nasty situations, in which violence seems necessary or even reasonably called for. Politics, in some way or other, seems like a good stage for such a game.

    So now I'm thinking a thematic game about politics and negotiations, in which violence is always an option, but with potentially devastating consequences. The game should not end immediately, once players resort to violence. That just only trigger some kind of endgame, during which consequences get resolved mechanically, I guess. Hum.
  • edited October 2006
    Posted By: JasperNicolaisenI guess it's not a good idea to rule out violence completely, it's probably more exciting to come up with a setup which drives players into nasty situations, in which violence seems necessary or even reasonably called for.
    Isn't that game already called Dogs in the Vineyard?
  • Dave,

    in a way, yes. In Dogs, however, the game doesn't build toward the final use of violence and then stops. Violence changes dogs, for sure, but it's not the end of the world or the game if it happens. It's one of many options characters have, but you can take fallout from a discussion, too. I'm thinking about a game which would focus on violence vs. other means of conflict resoultion, and I don't see that in Dogs. I also wanna go for a political/diplomatic setting. So while Dogs would absolutely have to be an inspiration, it's not the game I have in mind...I think.
  • I guarantee Balance of Power had an edition for the Apple II. I remember fighting it all the way.


    It seems weird to say you want a game with no violence to be about violence. Can't figure that out.

    If there's a gun on the stage in act one, someone better be shot by act three, you know?
  • Y'know... I could probably tell you how to accomplish this mechanic in a board game, but as far as making it a story or role-playing game, I'm at a loss. :P
  • This seems kinda artificial to me. If you want violence to be outside the question, then ask a question for which "violence" is not a valid answer, don't cross out one of the bubbles on an already anemic multiple-choice.

  • I've been working on a game similar to Wraith (albeit not quite as dark) in which one would engage in duels of wits against bored and eccentric immortals in the afterlife. Ethereal beings can't hurt eachother, and one's immortal soul may never truly die; so instead, the stakes are Influence, Servitude (time passes differently in the lands of the dead), and ultimately Identity (in the form of power over one's True Name).

    The heroes of the game tether themselves to the mortal realm via their loved ones, whom it is their goal to save from an impending "Fate Worse Than Death." As the game goes on, the heroes gradually lose the last remants of their Mortality (that which makes them themselves; their empathy with the mortal realm), becoming part of the Ethereal. They can sustain themselves however, by consuming Akasha, the essence of life and creation; Which can be found in the "wilderness" of the lands of the dead or won in competition with Ethereal entities.

    Their quest ends when they A) succeed in saving their loved ones and can pass on to their eternal rest, B) become one with the Ethereal without passing to the afterlife; thus becoming a lost soul, or C) are dragged, kicking and screaming to their Fate by agents of the afterlife. In the first, one find's one's Salvation, and in the other two, one meets one's Doom.

    I'd really like to finish working on this one, but it's sort of on the back burner right now. When I first came up with it, I did so not because I wanted to get away from violence (I nearly always make combat characters in RPGS), but because I wanted a game that focused on deceit, puzzle-solving and mind-games.

    The game is meant to be one entry in a trilogy of linked games I am creating, but I see no reason why it (or its concept) couldn't be used alone.
  • Posted By: shreyasThis seems kinda artificial to me. If you want violence to be outside the question, then ask a question for which "violence" is not a valid answer, don't cross out one of the bubbles on an already anemic multiple-choice.
    Insightful as always.

    Is the OP premise a game without violence? Why not set a game in a non-violent modern profession. Advertising, say. Or publishing. There's plenty of meat to be had there without swinging a fist.

    Or was the OP premise a game which forces you to confront a situation where violence could be an option with non-violence? Ghandi: The Resistance. How many of your followers will you watch die at the hands of the imperialists to get what you want?
  • Is the OP premise a game without violence? Why not set a game in a non-violent modern profession. Advertising, say. Or publishing. There's plenty of meat to be had there without swinging a fist.
    I'm the one who mentioned the 'game where violence isn't an option' in the D3 podcast, and this is exactly what I was thinking of. Specifically modern American politics, where person-on-person violence is nearly unheard of (If a Senator punched a dude on the street, no matter how provoked, his/her career would be over). A game where negotiation and power plays would be absolutely necessary, and where violence would only be an option in the most abstract sense. This idea still strikes me as awesome, and awesomely hard. Conflict doesn't have to be defined solely as folks beating each other with sticks, or even threatening to.
  • You know, it's funny, because I've heard similar conversations about video game violence. I was recently talking to someone who asked me why most video games are so violent. I was taken aback. Dear Lord, I said, what else is there? I mean, if you can't shoot or stab, what are you supposed to do? Talk? Of course, there's always simulation (Madden, Sim City, yada yada), but as far as most games are concerned, the focus is on a physical conflict. The exceptions are notable: in Seaman, you do talk. To a fish. With a man's face. In Katamari, you push spheres of debris around. In Facade, you talk with an unhappy couple. Et cetera.

    I think that it's possible to enjoy a tabletop RPG whose conflicts are all intellectual or emotional or interpersonal (or even financial). Imagine walking through a dungeon, and your role is to ensure that the traps and wandering monsters are all prepared for the inevitable arrival of some feckless adventurers. Your mission is to ascertain the efficiency of the killing machinery, to serve as a quality assurance coordinator for the deathtraps and killing machines. You make sure that the monsters are all happy, that they've got everything that they need. However, of course, everything's a mess. You've got rusting machinery, the goblins are irked because the hook horrors keep defecating near their lair, the beholder is unhappy with the low ceilings, and everyone blames you. You have to negotiate, to persuade, to argue, to threaten and bluster. You tap your clipboard and check your watch a lot. And, ultimately, all of the mechanics revolve around the resolution of nonviolent conflict.

    I'm probably way off here. Just typing out loud, sorry.

    -- Rafael
  • This sounds like the webcomic Dungeons and Denizens.
  • Sounds like the comic book "Donjon" by Jonathan Sfar.

    @shreyas: Yup, it's artifical. It's a thought experiment. But we've arrived at some nice answers, no? Yours being one of the best, I think, by the way. Thank you all, I've learned a lot.
  • Deeply important point I don't see being covered explicitly here: "no violence" is emphatically NOT the same as "nonviolence." Nonviolence is a somewhat technical term; it is usually a translation of "ahimsa" from the Sanskrit. Sanskrit has a tradition of expressing difficult spiritual truths in negative terms. So "a-" (non- or not) and "himsa" (harm) together mean something a good deal more than simply "non-harming." These losses of meaning in going to English are exactly why Gandhi went to "satyagraha" (holding fast to the truth) to describe his movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. also eschewed the word "nonviolence," settling on "soul force."

    A game without violence could be an interesting challenge, yes. A curse that one could not commit acts of violence, some kind of incapacity for violence (Clockwork Orange anyone?), and so on, these could actually, IMO, be interesting games without (player character) violence, as a kind of tactical challenge. But nonviolence is a force, one to be reckoned with, which has saved lives and toppled brutal regimes. Such is the very stuff of high drama and it is still waiting for a decent game treatment. That said, a computer strategy game of nonviolent resistance has been done: http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/game/index.php . You can probably rent the DVD of A Force More Powerful from your library. Personally I found it a potently moving film, though I imagine people with a commitment to the idea that it "can't work" or "works only in special circumstances" may find it a yawner. I recommend it anyway especially to anyone who wants to take the idea seriously for gaming.

    I think one can pretty easily put nonviolence of this type into any game that uses conflict resolution. It would work fine in Heroquest or TSoY, for example, since effectiveness is effectiveness in those systems; whether it's violent or not is simply a matter of colour. However, nonviolence has a distinct character to it, so a mechanic to represent its unique strengths and risks does seem like a desirable thing. I'd love to hear ideas about that--it's something I turn over in my head often, but I think it may be un-representable, like enlightenment.


  • Remi: Rock on.

    Okay, here's what I'm thinking. You can totally already play a game with no violence if you've got a good, reasonably abstract conflict resolution system. No? Just agree, "no violence."

    And Dogs, well Dogs is obviously a perfect example of a system where you don't need to use violence, but the system sort of tempts you, C'mon, raise the stakes.

    So what's so special about the dilemma -- of not using violence to resolve gravely important conflicts -- that could be expressed through system?
  • The TSOY game I'm currently playing has been by no means nonviolent, in that there have been physical fights (although so far I don't think anyone has actually purposefully killed an NPC), but we've been in 17 sessions and do you know how many times my PC (an albino ratkin shaman) has actually used her scrapping ability? Exactly once. And she doesn't even have a Key related to nonviolence! We didn't set out to play in a nonviolent manner, although one of the ideas from the first was that killing someone WOULD be a big deal in this world -- if one of us decided to escalate a conflict to the point of murder, we could expect to have the city guard knocking on our door the next morning. We can go there if we want to, but it'll have consequences.

    The way it's just played out for my character is that she's just not a good fighter. So what happens if she gets into a conflict where someone wants to kill her? Running away has been a good option. So has using abilities like Orate and Sway to talk someone out of their murderous intentions. My character has an arch-nemesis now -- her sister is thoroughly crazed and wants to kill her. Talking the situation over with the GM and other players, at this point it seems like my character's best option is to use her Counsel ability in Bringing Down the Pain to heal her sister's insanity and get her to stop trying to kill her. I'm actually pretty psyched about the whole thing -- the idea that you can win a conflict by Counseling, or even by pulling Bureaucracy (one of the other PCs has done this) is pretty badass. So I think TSOY could easily be played as nonviolent on the part of the PCs, with little modification other than an agreement that this was how the players wanted things to go.

    Would this work for a Dungeon Crawl in the classic sense? I have my doubts, simply because the classic Dungeon Crawl is all about fighting baddies and taking their stuff. And you could play it in such a way that you just talk 'em out of their magic swords, but that just doesn't seem that exciting. On the other hand, we have been doing some fairly classic "search for the McGuffin" stuff recently, and with a few exceptions, this has pretty much continued in our "talk them out of killing us or run away" mode.
  • "My Hindu Shooter" is totally gonna be the name of my emo band.
    The coolest feature:

    "During the game, you may die repeatedly, but this doesn't end your adventure. Through reincarnation you resume play in your next life; the storyline's mythic war is assumed to continue unabated for generations. Your karma at the time of death determines your next incarnation. If you have purified yourself and spread enlightenment, you may return as a rich merchant or Brahmin priest; if you have defiled yourself with violent actions, you may instead become a lowly peasant or even a pig, dog or worm. The game is winnable in any human form, but your current
    incarnation governs how much people and other beings will tell you in conversation, the price you must pay for equipment and so on."
    Also, Allan Varney managed to use the term "muy macho."
  • I know this is resurrecting a dead topic, but this topic has given me an ultimately vicious idea.

    I'm in the middle of running a WEGS campaign that is currently chronicling an epic battle that takes place in defense of a fortified village. Talk about violence? In one session alone over 80 goblins and creatures were slain in a horribly bloody encounter in a canyon pass. The next session involves a battle in a rice field and a split defense between two bridges, and I can't help but think about how insane it would be to have a curse inflicted upon the playing group that makes it so that all damage they inflict upon others gets inflicted upon themselves. That would completely force them to seek alternative methods other than fighting, in a fight or die situation. We're not talking dungeon encounters here, we're talking about in the middle of a battle with enemy armies on each side of them. Wow, I'm so going to do it. The players won't know what hit them.
  • Posted By: LordZomaI know this is resurrecting a dead topic
    Necroing threads relentlessly (for good/awesome purposes) is not only legit here, it's totally recommended! So no problem on that front.

  • I like the idea of non-violent games. I think it needs to focus on something other than "dungeons", as it's sorta like setting up a target range and then saying "no guns!"

    Well, okay, I guess you could always walk up to the target and try to poke a hole on it with your finger. But it just seems easier to dump the artificiality of "dungeons" (which are target ranges for people with swords and spells), and come up with something more reasonable.

    In many works of fiction, violence isn't an option because (a) it doesn't work, and (b) it gets you killed. D&D ignores this, but a game in which these still hold true might be a good idea.
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