What if there would be alternative to “combat” when dealing with conflicts?

hermitC’s comment on my previous blog post got me thinking about Dungeon & Dragons game. When I was 10ish years or so, we played D&D role playing game (I was wizard, yes). When our group encountered goblins near treasure cave, we had pretty close to one solution to this problem: combat!

Whatever we encountered, our swords and nasty fireballs would solve. We played D&D for some years and it was cool.

Decade later (or bit less) we tried to run again a campaign. This time things had changed. When we encountered goblins or orcs, we didn’t first shoot and … well, that usually did the trick earlier. No, we tried different ways to deal with encounters.

When goblins were guarding a lair, our group could do things such as:

  • Use sleep spell to get them – well – to sleep so we could go past em (earlier we could naturally have cut their throats of course… but now we just wanted to go pass em)
  • We could try bribe em: giving them gold coins which pays more than their current pay..
  • We could try persuade them that their job sucks and they should join us to attack the evil mage
  • We could have waited them to go to sleep… and then sneak past them
  • We could have tried capture leader of the group, and then use leader to get other goblins to drop their weapons
  • We could have tried to lure them away from the lair, by putting tasty food or such at distance… and then sneak in.

At older age, we tried to avoid combat and the playing style was much more different. Earlier it was hack’n’slash… now we actually were using brain to overcome challenges.

What if RPG would not give you one option – combat – to overcome challenge. What if instead there would be multiple ways to deal with the situation, and only if those fail – combat begins.

Sure, it might require work to get it done. It would require imagination to come up with alternative ways to solve things and think how these solutions affect gameplay, experience, mechanics, character relations, story and so on.

But could it be worth it?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. AI still needs a degree of programming. I was thinking about ‘cheating’.

    A Mechanial Turk approach versus an Eliza approach.

  2. I was thinking AI that would provide goals/motivation for NPCs. If motivations/relationships could be linked with other characters, it might create emergent behavior.

    Perhaps needs another blog post… ;)

  3. Of course there are alternatives to combat – but these have traditionally been limited to:

    1. Tabletop where humans define outcomes on the fly
    2. Choose your own adventure books which provide 1-3 options
    3. Computer RPGs which provide ‘fight now or fight later’

    I think it’s just a case of technology. Designing choices is hard in CRPGS – you end up with scene-led play (Dragons Lair) where a limited number of scenes have been programmed.

    There’s an opportunity to blend play here. To take advantage of the casual gamer in the core gamer demographic. I’ll need to chew on that one for a while.

  4. I recommend reading “Roolipelimanifesti” by Juhana Pettersson from 2005. He writes about tabletop rpgs and larps and how they’ve evolved in Finland from the original D&D. According to Pettersson, the modern (artistic) nordic roleplaying game can be very different from the original D&D, for example it could set place in a modern city, simulating the social relations of normal people. Some CRPGs have also steered away from the dungeon crawling origins of the genre, though they are a very niche group of games. Nevertheless the book is interesting to read, especially if you’re interested in rpgs and where they could be heading to.

  5. Even more interesting is D& D is engineered as a hack and slash dungeon crawl game. I wonder what you’d think if you played something like Changeling or Hunter, where combat is often avoided?

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