Gamers who don’t enjoy combat

Iconic photo of a lone man facing down four tanks in Tiananmen Square

A recent question on /r/rpg caught my eye and I thought I’d write a bit more on my thoughts about it. Here’s the core:

I love the game but everyone (including myself) seems disappointed when combat happens. I try to narrate it a bunch and make it exciting with surprises and stuff but it still pails in comparison to the fun we have when we’re not in combat.

My question is, how can I…eh…reduce the length of combat while still making it seem important. I don’t want to remove combat entirely, I think it’s important my players fight monsters and the baddies. Afterall, fights are an amazing plot device. Still, it takes way to long and it feels like a necessary chore for everyone. Note that ALL of my players have expressed that they prefer non-combat scenarios.

Iconic photo of a lone man facing down four tanks in Tiananmen Square
He rolled a natural 20 on his saving throw against fear.

I feel like this isn’t so unusual. I’ve met many roleplayers who just don’t like tactical play. They want to focus on inhabiting a character, maybe throwing around some magic, solving puzzles, and interacting with people from behind a different pair of eyes.

But no one should feel guilty about this. There’s no shame that anyone should associate with enjoying (or not, as the case may be) certain play styles. Gamers who don’t like narrative and roleplay and instead prefer straight up dungeon crawls shouldn’t feel “guilty”, either. If you like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate, or just prefer carrot cake to ice cream, that doesn’t say anything about your value as a human being. No moral question arises here.

So if the group prefers other aspects of gaming like exploration and RP/social interaction, then the GM should lighten the mechanics considerably. Boil things down to a few numbers (ranged attack / melee attack / defense), roll against those things, then get back to what’s fun for everyone.

Perhaps the group should even switch away from Pathfinder (the system used by the group discussed in the initial post) to another game system that focuses on narrative, like FATE. Groups with philosophical objections to combat should consider this option, because nobody should feel compelled to engage in a pastime that runs counter to their morals for whatever reason.

Spending time on combat scenarios when you and all your players prefer something else seems like a waste of that time. And we all have finite time in life, much less for hobbies like this.

One thought on “Gamers who don’t enjoy combat

  1. If your RPG group feels that they need a break from hack and slash, you will be hard challenged to find many “compelling” plot lines that would keep the players from falling asleep at the table.
    Although combat is inherently a horrible thing to engage in or observe, it is the pinnacle representation of conflict in any story of any genre.
    Combat has the ability to make the world seem surreal in ways that no other humanoid activity can. Time seems to stand still, awareness of your surroundings seems to become muddled. You feel you sense everything, and nothing around you at the same time.
    Other than sex, combative action is top of the list of things to have in any summer blockbuster film that needs to be profitable.
    Humanity is wired to respond to combat in some way. A person that does not have a reaction to combative situations is rare. Flight or fight is a foundation psychological model to describe how humanity responds to stress. And combat is a physical representation of stress.

    So if fighting is not desired as part of a story line, then flight may be the alternative.

    – Lord of the Rings has combat, but it’s main story line involves the flight of the main characters from a deadly force in order to complete their mission.
    – The Dark Crystal movie is a complete story about the main character learning about the world he lives on and what he must do to change it. This includes avoiding conflict with the current powers that exist.
    – The War of the Worlds has a similar theme where the main characters are simply trying to avoid direct engagement an overwhelmingly dangerous force. In this case, time is the measure of success. If they hold out long enough, the situation will change.

    So it may be time to develop a story line where the characters need to avoid capture or awareness to solve a problem successfully. The real challenge in developing this kind of adventure is making the players understand and feel the necessity of laying low and using subterfuge to negotiate their way through the minefield of traps and obstacles. Some players tend to the fight side of the equation simply because their characters are skilled or geared for such a situation.

    It may be necessary to have “escape clause” options and unexpected allies at the ready for when the PCs fail in their efforts and become subject to the wrath of the opposing force(s) that they needed to avoid.

    I think this kind of an adventure can be developed, but the particularly difficult part is the development of a vast volume of story content necessary to keep such an adventure interesting. Because the “bullet time” of combat is out of the equation, all of the activities involved in such a story line need to be extremely detail oriented and seemingly exhausting and exhaustive. Else you may end up with a particularly short RPG session that although possibly memorable, will leave you and your players wondering what next to do that day.

    Those are my thoughts. A great subject to consider in the RPG hobby.
    Fortunately, all of my players cannot wait for that moment when I say “roll initiative”.
    But after considering this idea, I may have to throw them a situation where avoidance is the key to success. We will see how they fair. 🙂


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