Why We Don't See More Pacifist Adventures

by Richard Lunsford (drrich@iglou.com)

The idea of adventures where people don't use lethal force (edged weapons, missile weapons, fire-blasts and such) isn't new. It's a good idea. I don't pursue 'pacifist' adventures so much as try to keep violence in realistic perspective.

First, how many of your real world enemies would you actually kill if you could? There are a very few people who I don't like for various reasons, and at times I've tried to move behind the scenes to bring ill happenings to some of them. But actually kill one? Remember: Judge Not Least Ye Be Judged. We are none of us perfect. Any person actually deserving of death is likely to go to Hell for eternity, right (at least in the mind of a Christian character). Never mind his widow, his orphaned children, the good he might have done simply as a tax-payer and working man in the community... many characters are religious, and to hold somebody by the hair with an axe and willfully consign him to Hell's eternal pain makes you think. Won't God hold you someday? I believe in the death penalty. I am sympathetic to women who kill abusive husbands. I am conservative. And I am very much afraid of what it would mean for me to kill someone.

Second, empathy. Ever burned yourself? Just a little? Hurts, doesn't it? Now, think what it'd be like to hold a tennis ball sized orange sphere in your hand, throw it on a guy who, say, picked your pocket and ran... you're mad, justifiably angry, no question about it. They've cut peoples' hands off for that, certainly. So you throw the fireball. And then the screaming begins. The horrible, thrashing and soul-numbing horror of watching a man, a human just like you, his clothes enveloped in flame, twist on the cobblestone street crying and begging. Watching fire eat into his charring body, second and third degree burns that'll never really heal and will almost certainly get infected and kill him... they didn't have burn wards back then. And the sickening smell of burning meat and fat. Think the local citizenry will be glad you ridded them of a criminal? Think you'll feel good about yourself? But hey, those 15 gold coins survived. Yes, a small price to pay for a little money. After all, you didn't have to pay it.

Third, society. In the modern day if you are attacked, fighting back with much greater force is frowned upon. I'm pretty allowing about it myself, but the idea of shooting someone for punching you is often considered excessive. Yet, PCs snicker when they get to do this. Nothing pleases PCs more than tossing an explosive fireball into some Orcs and getting a real good damage roll. They're not human. They're inferior. They should die. Anyway, fireball tossing in medieval cities is a bad idea. Trust me. Real bad. And legal restrictions on armor and weapons and cities come into play; players blow character points buying enough status to hold onto their expensive armor and weapons, then walk around looking like pretentious fools to their peers and opportunities to criminals. After all, a sword alone costs a lot of money. Walking around town in plate armor with a broadsword is not unlike walking around in an Armani with a sportscar.

What ever happened to honor and chivalry? If a Knight kills an unarmed man with a sword, gee, that's unfair. But to kill normal fighting men with a broadsword +4 while you wear enchanted plate and have a friend standing by to heal you almost instantly, hey, that's 'practical'. Most PCs wouldn't know honor if it bit them on the ass.

And often people we don't like actually help us in the long run. If you as GM make PCs fools for letting enemies live, they'll kill. Players will adapt to reality and the bottom line. The ramifications of cutting people, burning people and killing have to be BIG. And letting foes live shouldn't be stupid. When was the last time your PCs attended somebody's funeral? Saw their family grieve?

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton have been adversaries. Each has seen the other an dangerous. Yet they've worked together, and perhaps achieved a balanced budget for our country without either side having extremist laws passed. Rush Limbaugh and Bill Clinton are adversaries, but both share a desire for this country to be great, to support good values, to make life better for honest, working people. And maybe when both sides contribute to the public domain, we're all the richer for it. I don't think either Limbaugh or Clinton would have the other 'assassinated.' They have powerful disagreements. They may have low opinions of each other. I don't think they hate each other.

In real life, most of our enemies aren't actually evil. PC's are. Don't think so? Most PCs are out to gain power fast, be in magic items, skill, experience, hit points, money, status or whatever. Part of that is to survive, but the terms Monty Haul and Hack-N-Slash are too widespread for that. Almost every one of us has gone through both those stages. Games like Doom II and Descent run off the same principle. You get tougher, get better weapons and kill things in interesting and spectacular ways. And pocket assets along the way. Only unrealistic twisted story-lines let you call yourself a 'good' guy.

And in RPGs, when we see an NPC with magic items, we want him to do something evil. It gives us an excuse to kill him and take his stuff. And while helping people is common in published adventures, some form of material gain is almost universal. In real life, our enemies aren't that much more evil than us. They don't conveniently do things that justify killing them. If they died, heirs would inherit their property; we wouldn't 'cash in' even on a justified vigilante killing. And cutting and burning people isn't a whole lot of fun.

When people stop running PCs evil at heart with over-convenient rationalizations available for taking what they want and killing whoever's in the way, maybe there'll be more pacifist adventures. Something to think about, no?

Richard (Fireball in the hole!!!!!!!!)