Games that don't revolve around combat


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My long-time gaming group has run over 100 campaigns. I’ve noticed that they almost all center around killing something (or re-killing undead).

My favorite game ever was a Star Trek campaign where the GM had the guiding principle that whatever the problem was in the episode, it couldn’t be solved with a phaser.

I’m not looking to start a philosophical debate—just looking for some campaign/game system suggestions where combat isn't the main focus.


The first that springs to mind (at least for me) is Call of Cthulhu. Fighting is rarely emphasised and usually a bad idea, investigation is far more significant.

Alternatively, Traveller campaigns can and have been created around trade and exploration/science (and exploratory trade). You can run a combat-oriented campaign, but there's plenty of adventures where the only time you'd shoot a gun would be for practice or if you'd seriously messed something up.

For good measure I'll add Exalted, which can be all about "high octane action", but also can be about careful social-fu to build alliances, create kingdoms, and persuade people to your side.

So, that's the first three that come to mind for me, because they're the ones with campaigns I've played which had the lowest amount of combat in.


My favorite tends to be the high-level campaign where the PCs end up governing their own dominions.

There's still going to be the occasional rampaging monster to slay, or village to save from [insert villain of the week here] but there's also plenty of opportunity to make decisions that will affect the larger campaign world. Political alliances with NPCs, directing continent-spanning battles rather than participating in them directly, solving the problems of a society that you've nurtured and overseen for the last ten years.

Alternatively, sometimes just changing the focus of how and when combat is used is good - there's a big difference between clearing out a monster lair and sneaking around the evil baron's fortress to steal the papers that prove he's a traitor, dealing with the occasional guard that you disturb by accident or cutting their throat before they can raise the alarm. Then there's the campaign where the PCs are members of a government or council along with a bunch of NPCs, and having to make deals or do favors in order to get certain votes passed - and perhaps making (or foiling!) the occasional assassination attempt.


Thanks for the first suggestions. We tried Traveller, but it went into more of a colonial marines meets privateer meets cyberpunk direction (mostly combat). A couple people want to give it another try. Unfortunately, we've run multiple Star Wars campaigns where we were supposedly traders--and they all have a similar feel of doing jobs to get money and spending the money to upgrade the ship. It's fun for awhile, but then you see the pattern.

I've only heard of Exalted--don't know much about it. Thanks for the tip. I'll research it tonight.

We're running PF Kingmaker now. About a third of the group is into the kingdom building and the rest hate it (it takes time away from combat).

I thought about a sci-fi game where each player gets to design a couple races/cultures and then the game would revolve around how those cultures interact.

Years ago we started the rule of rotating between fantasy then modern/sci-fi campaigns (so we didn't get burned out on any one setting). So, the next thing we'll run will probably be modern/sci-fi.

We've played so long, everyone in the group has a long list of different systems/settings he or she hates (i.e., won't play). It's getting hard to find a place where the Venn diagrams converge of what people will agree to play.


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If two thirds of your group wants combat, why are you looking for a system with no combat?


Most of my group views games very mechanically. Some people are there just to hang out with friends and make jokes, whiles others are very focused on the game itself. In PF, for the most part, if you're not in combat, you're not earning XP or getting loot. So, in other words, stuff outside of combat is a waste of time for the serious gamers.

I believe that the game system does influence play style. I think that if we were playing a system that had more rewards for out-of-combat activities, people would be perfectly happy to do more on the roleplaying side.

We generally play PF in 3-5 hour sessions once a week, and the vast majority of our time is spent resolving one or two combats.

I view combat as a sort of lowest common denominator in roleplaying. If players look bored, you can always throw in a fight. But, people eventually get bored with level-rinse-repeat if there is nothing else.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I'll second Call of Cthulhu, or just about any horror game for that matter. Fighting the monsters is generally a very bad idea.

GURPS can be combat-heavy, or not, depending on the campaign style. Regardless, GURPS combat tends to be very deadly, meaning that nonviolent solutions to problems tend to be preferable.

If you're looking for a mechanics-light, role-playing heavy game, it's hard to top Amber Diceless Role-Playing. Since that game is set in Roger Zelazny's Amber multiverse, you don't have to limit yourself to playing with the main characters of the books: by its nature, you can set your campaign anywhere, in any genre or time. ADRP is long out-of-print, but its successor, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, retains the mechanics in a new game-world.


Amber: I suppose, like GURPS, it depends on the gm style it could be combat or lots of roleplaying. I remember keeping a journal. It helps to have read Nine Princes of Amber.

Another one is Stargate SG-1: It can get into combat but it can be all about the exploring too.

You can also play a game I saw Recently Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. You don't play Jedi but smugglers and the like. Depending on how the GM runs it, you could be fighting TIE fighters or constantly running from the empire from one encounter to the next.


I have run a few horror games based on Silent Hill using a mishmash of the d20 Modern and d20 Call of Cthulhu rules. Though these were d20-based games, and there was occasional combat, the meat of the games revolved around investigation, clue-finding, puzzle-solving and plot.

As with the original CoC system, combat was often a bad idea. (The Silent Hill video games also encourage running away at times, as many of the series' protagonists are very ordinary people utilizing a very clunky and difficult combat system.)

Sorry to inject some philosophy, as I know you are trying to avoid that, but I don't think it can be avoided. You see, any system can be used for at least a minimum combat game, depending on the goals of the GM and the playing group.

Most of the time, when we play these games, the combat system is just waiting in the background for when a combat situation is unavoidable. I'd say 90% of the rest of the time we are relying on the players' brains to figure out clues and unravel plots.


GURPS is the first one that comes to mind.

I have actually seen 3.5/PF games with very little combat work out fine. Most of the time it involves either high-level PCs with near-god-like powers, whose focus is on far greater things than killing a monster in a room...
or an intrigue-focused campaign (Eberron games sometimes go in this direction).

Exalted also works for the situation where the PCs are above petty dungeon crawls...as does the 2e Immortal Handbook.

Basically, if you want a very high-powered game without too much combat, there are a bunch of systems that help, including the normally-combat-focused D&D. Exalted is also great for this sort of game...
if you want to go to even higher power, you could check out the 3.0 book Deities and Demigods. It wasn't intended for player use, but it could sort of work.

If, on the other hand, you want a lower-power gritty game with the focus on something other than combat, GURPS would be my top recommendation.


I appreciate all of the suggestions.

I've never played the Amber diceless game. I know it's a classic.

Oddly, I don't think my group has even given GURPS much of a chance. I'm not sure why.

I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.

We had 8 players when our current PF campaign started. We're down to 5 players after 5 months. I'm not even sure combat is the problem, but I know we need a change of pace. We've done so much hack and slash, people don't seem that interested anymore. PF seems really rules heavy at times.


One houserule I can suggest for any d20-based game is the theft of the 4e skill encounters with some modification.

Having a challenge that resorts to 1 of a couple skills relevant to the task at hand where so many successes are required before so many failures, can add depth and gravity to the skill points allocated in a game.

I'll give an example: A chase scene btwn two active opponents.

Chase scene:
3 successes before 2 failures.

Round 1: Give ride checks or (in my campaigns we swapped climb and swim for athletics) athletics to chase the escaping assassin.

Round 2: The assassin is going into an alley. Knowledge: local to figure out typical bolt-holes for the criminal element in this district of the city, or engineering to find where he'll have to come out, or just keep running after him. (each option can have different situational mods).

Round 3: You're about to catch up to the fleeing assassin. Intimidate to convince him to give himself up, a combat maneuver check to tackle him, a ranged attack roll to trip him up, or an athletics to run him down.

Round 4: Round 3 failed, and the assassin tipped over a cart that blocked the alley he dashed into next. This time, the challenge is overcoming an alley with broken pottery and oil on the street. Acrobatics to leap over the wagon, local to know a better way around, or strength check to move the wagon. These would be against unchanging DCs, where the active opponent rounds would be against opposed rolls by the assassin NPC.

This little trick has done a great deal to enrich our games out of combat.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

The Pathfinder chase rules work pretty well, actually.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Rite Publishing is doing a diceless game as well.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space is a game where combat isn't encouraged, indeed the initiative system is centred around this - people who want to talk go first, then people who want to run, then people who want to do stuff (e.g. hack a computer, barricade a door) and finally people who want to attack anyone go last. Very in genre!

Grand Lodge

If you're willing to change the way you think a bit, I would recommend FATE Core or even the FATE Accelerated Edition. Both are "pay what you want" in pdf form from DriveThru, etc. (meaning you can legally download them for free, if you want).

Personally, the Fate system has become my "go to" gaming system, especially when I have an idea that I can't figure out how to immediately translate into another game. It works for me because it's focused more on a narrative approach to gaming using Aspects (short, descriptive phrases) to describe character abilities, personalities, backgrounds, etc. Aspects are also used to describe scenes ("Dark and Stormy Night", for example) or items ("This Was My Father's Lightsaber"), rather than crunching numbers, min-maxing, etc.

It can take a little getting used to if your group is mostly used to killing things and looting the bodies, but it's actually pretty user friendly overall. Definitely worth a look.

But yeah, it doesn't really matter what system you use if the players just want to roll dice and kill things. You might need to have a "round table" type discussion with all of them and just say you want to step outside the box for a little bit and try something different. If you think they'll be really resistant to the idea, pitch it as a "one shot" game or brief series of two or three sessions and then make sure you have a really cool premise that they won't get bored with. That way you won't need to lively it up by throwing in the obligatory fight scene.

The Exchange

I agree with Mr. Fox: You should check out FATE.

Incidentally, the discussion about games where the focus isn't on combat reminded me of the fact that Ryuutama is getting translated into English. It's a Japanese RPG with a focus on travel and exploration instead of killing orcs. It seems like the cutest thing.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/diamondsutra/ryuutama-natural-fantasy-r ole-playing-game

Dark Archive

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Yet another vote for Call of Cthulhu - the d100 version.

More recent systems, The One Ring (set 5 years after the Battle of Five Armies) which deals a lot with travelling and social interactions with the people of the Middle Earth; and A song of Ice and Fire RPG, which has a robust social interaction system and an equally developed domain management part.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Ed. (with the Lure of Power supplement) can be easily used for a political/social campaign in which physical combat is the least frequent option.

Also, Thousand Suns is a good sci-fi game that has combat not in the forefront, and I seem to recall that Rogue Trader features an interesting commercial focus, with a great concept of managing your own space vessel and its crew.

A lot of Cortex based games, like Leverage, also do not have combat as the main element of the game.


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I don't think it's really a system concern. I've had AD&D sessions entirely without combat. It's mostly a matter of the kind of plots the GM is designing, and the kind of game the players want to be in.

Of course, you can find a system that makes that kind of game more or less attractive (like, in D&D, if you're better than 95% of the populace, 'killing them and taking their stuff' quickly becomes the easy way). Generally you want a system where combat is really dangerous or where the players aren't shepherded into a "superhuman" role so that combat becomes less of a 'no-brainer' solution to everything.

Call of Cthulhu is a good example of such a system. Especially in a not-modern setting (I don't know why, but modern Call settings tend to degenerate into 'shoot deep ones with assault rifles' games for some reason.) Another favourite of mine is Dark Heresy. I'd also venture to suggest various World of Darkness games or even Exalted (while Exalted generally revolve around epic over-the-top combat, it's also a game that lends itself easily to the players ruling nations and city states and involve themselves in 'grand intrigue' rather than fighting the Tyrant Lizard of the Week).

The Exchange

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Slaunyeh wrote:
I don't think it's really a system concern. I've had AD&D sessions entirely without combat. It's mostly a matter of the kind of plots the GM is designing, and the kind of game the players want to be in.

I both agree and disagree: while you can definitely run D&D without it revolving around combat, the very fact that the majority of the rules volume in pretty much all versions of the game is dedicated to combat rules pretty clearly says that the game has a combat focus. You can absolutely run games of social intrigue and manipulation in D&D, but the system itself provides very little support for those activities beyond binary pass/fail skill/ability checks and/or reaction rolls.

And that actually raises an interesting question: what is Time's Memory specifically looking for in terms of a game that doesn't revolve around combat? There is a lot of ground to be explored outside of combat, like exploration and survival, courtly intrigue and espionage, diplomacy and trade, and investigation and discovery just to name a few. The thing is, coming from a viewpoint informed by D&D we tend to lump all the latter non-combat activities under one huge umbrella, simply because D&D (and a lot of other RPGs for that matter) have portrayed the situation as "Rules for Combat" and "Rules for Everything Else."

That said, when you say you want a game that doesn't revolve around combat there's a lot of systems around that can support activities outside of combat with rules focused towards specific activities. To name a few:

The Burning Wheel has the Duel of Wits system, which can be used to model debate and negotiation. The game does have a very detailed combat system, but it's one of those systems you can opt to only use if it becomes really important to find out the result of the combat blow-by-blow. You could easily run a game of medieval fantasy intrigue using The Burning Wheel never having to touch its tactical combat system and the game's system would support the intrigue and politics beyond it being just a simple pass/fail skill check.

Mouse Guard uses a simplified version of The Burning Wheel's system, and while it's a game where combat can happen by my understanding it's more about travel and exploration. Can't talk about how much focus the game's rules actually give to these activities, since I haven't actually read it.

Fate is not so much a system as it is a toolkit, and you can model almost any activity with its system. The game has a number of layers to its mechanic, and depending on the sort of game you're going for you could choose to use the more detailed mechanics for what you want to focus on. Say you want to run a game of crime-scene investigation with next to no combat, you might say that "Okay, physical combats will just be handled as a simple contest where the winner gets what they want, whether it's to get away or to catch whoever they're trying to get, but actually investigating the crime scene will be an extended contest requiring a number of successes with your investigative skills before you find what you're looking for, and interrogating witnesses will be handled through the combat system but mainly through trying to deal mental stress to the target."

Monsterhearts is my guilty pleasure: it's based on emulating a genre that I hate (teenage monster melodrama in the style of Twilight, Buffy, Charmed, etc.) but the system is just so good at supporting that particular genre that I love it. Also, it's really fun to play a stupid teenager whose main concerns are petty high school politics and gazing wistfully at the cutest boy/girl in class. The game does allow for physical combat, but it's not really the game's main focus: most of the game is about exploring teenage life, the struggles of growing up, and not quite fitting in, and a lot of the mechanical weight in the game is given to playing games of teenage drama by gaining emotional leverage on other people and pulling their strings. Okay, you still play as werewolves, vampires, witches and such, but you're still playing stupid petty teenagers who are really volatile and unsure of themselves, and the game's system does a great job of supporting that kind of play (even though it might not be to everyone's tastes, understandably).

Also, since somebody mentioned Call of Cthulhu, I need to mention Unknown Armies. Unknown Armies is basically post-modern Call of Cthulhu. There's magic in the world, but it doesn't flow from mystical alien entities, but from human consciousness itself. It's mostly focused around perfectly normal people getting involved with the occult (which is really, really weird in this game) and eventually going insane as a consequence, while gaining more power through their insanity. It's got probably the best insanity system of any RPG out there, and it's very much meant to be a game about paranormal investigation rather than combat: the game's section of combat rules actually begins with a list of things you should consider doing before you get into combat, and for a good reason: combat is very deadly and ugly in the game. The game also has a very clear theme of agency: while in Call of Cthulhu humans are pretty much victims, beneath the notice of the eldritch monstrosities that are actually in charge of the universe, in Unknown Armies humans run the show and have full agency, and that makes it all the more scary. "You dedicated yourself to a magical discipline that requires you to develop an unhealthy obsession for something, and it's all on you! You can't blame it on anyone other than yourself, you were the one who could've said 'No, maybe I shouldn't do this,' but you still did it. YOU DID IT."


Not to bash that post, there's a lot of neat stuff in there, but there's something to be said for running much of the non-combat stuff more freeform. Having a complex system for intrigue or investigation has it's points, but it also tends to reduce it to a series of dice rolls. Much like combat is most games.

I'm torn by this. There are definitely advantages and drawbacks to both sides and I've yet to find a good balance between handling non-combat things mechanically and freeform.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Try playing a game of Fiasco, it's not great for a long-form campaign, but for a few single sessions it's pretty fantastic. Fiasco definitely is a game that rarely becomes combat focused (although occasional acts of stupid violence are a good way to keep the story moving!)


thejeff wrote:


I'm torn by this. There are definitely advantages and drawbacks to both sides and I've yet to find a good balance between handling non-combat things mechanically and freeform.

For conversations, I tend towards freeform for GM-initiated events, while going with mechanics for Player-initiated events. If I've got an NPC specifically confronting them about something, I usually don't want to leave the negotiation to the luck of the dice, and instead require the players to come up with ideas to convince that NPC. On the other hand, if they announce they're looking for a random NPC to interrogate over some matter, I'll leave that to their skills and the dice.

Something like kingdom running, I prefer do go completely with mechanics, although I may well throw in some events of my own creation to liven things up.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You might also want to consider giving "Lady Blackbird" a go.


Wow -- thanks for all of the suggestions.

I've been doing some research on roleplaying -- reading Ron Edward's GNS theory of rpgs. It is eye opening. Most of my group is very gamist, but others are more into simulation. I see now that a lot of the suggestions I'm getting (FATE, GURPs, CoC) move away from simply gamist play. Identifying a problem and actually fixing it are two different things . . . but it's a start.

Some of the games mentioned sound awesome. I would love to play Doctor Who, Leverage, and Monsterhearts. They all sound like a lot of fun. But, they would probably all be a no-go in my group.

Basically, several of my group could give you a list of 20 genres/settings/systems/styles that they utterly despise, but would have trouble coming up with a list of 3 games they like -- and no one's 3 would be the same. We're playing PF now because everyone was neutral on it.

I know some people might say the obvious -- to disband or take a break, but we really want to have fun roleplaying (and have).

It is interesting how Call of Cthulu keeps coming up. We played one Conan campaign were the gm wanted us to learn to run from stuff (to play smarter), but that plan lead to over 20 pc deaths and a fair amount of resentment. I wonder if we'd do better in Cthulu.

Keep the suggestions coming though. I'm going to start pitching some ideas to the group in the coming weeks. Our gms (we rotate) are usually secretive about exactly where campaigns are going -- but I think maybe some more discussion before we start this time might help.

The Exchange

thejeff wrote:

Not to bash that post, there's a lot of neat stuff in there, but there's something to be said for running much of the non-combat stuff more freeform. Having a complex system for intrigue or investigation has it's points, but it also tends to reduce it to a series of dice rolls. Much like combat is most games.

I'm torn by this. There are definitely advantages and drawbacks to both sides and I've yet to find a good balance between handling non-combat things mechanically and freeform.

I personally think that it all comes down to consequences and just how you model the non-combat parts of the game. Most games have very detailed combat systems where combat doesn't boil down to just a series of dice rolls, but has a lot of back and forth and no matter who wins there are still consequences, and potentially even "losing" doesn't mean that the game has to end there (i.e. the players might get captured, they might run away, and so on).

The very reason D&D and its simulacra dedicate a lot of page space to combat is because when you get down to it combat is the most important thing in those games. If you decide not to focus on combat and rather on something else, you might want to model whatever activity you're going for with the same amount of detail and nuance as you would model combat in D&D. The idea is not to reduce whatever it is you're trying to model to "You must roll this many successes in this scene to move on to the next scene," but to set up actual consequences for failure within the scene.

Fate is a great example of this: the Fate fractal allows for stuff like modeling an investigation as an extended combat where the investigation can "attack" the players (either through giving them false testimonies, red herrings, or maybe even throwing a random hit man at the players when it seems they're getting too close to the solution).

The point is that whatever you want to be the most important thing in your game should have the most nuanced and interesting mechanics to it, without reducing it to a bunch of meaningless dice rolls with no consequences.

That's not to say that there's anything wrong with freeform: the aforementioned Fiasco is a game entirely based around freeform narration, and it produces exactly the sort of gameplay it's supposed to through what little mechanics it has. The important distinction between something like Fiasco and a more traditional game is that there is no GM in Fiasco, and thus in an investigation scenario you don't have to guess at the GM's thoughts to find out the critical clue. You can narrate it, and if the rest of the table (and the player whose turn it is to resolve that scene) agree that it makes sense, then you find the clue. Fiasco is also a really bad example, because even if you find the critical clue during the investigation, your character will still probably die a very stupid death at the end of the session, because that's the sort of genre that Fiasco tries to emulate.

Anyway, because we're talking about intrigue and investigation now, I thought I should mention this:

The GUMSHOE system by Robin Laws is dedicated entirely to investigation. This game just might have the right balance of freeform and handling things mechanically that thejeff is looking for: investigative scenes are not rolled for, if you use an investigative skill in a scene and there's a clue to be found there, you find it, but you can spend points to find more clues. The idea is that there is no "Roll to see if you figure out the mystery" skill roll, but that the players can use their character's resources to find more clues which will help the players to piece together the mystery.

There's already a bunch of games that make use of the GUMSHOE system: Esoterrorists is paranormal investigation and fighting occult terrorists. Trail of Cthulhu is GUMSHOE in the world of the Cthulhu mythos. Mutant City Blues is crime scene investigation in a future where 1% of the population has gained mutant powers. Ashen Stars has the players as freelance troubleshooters in SPAAAAACE! And finally, Night's Black Agents is about uncovering vampiric conspiracies.


You can actually run almost any roleplaying game without combat. The thing is it comes down to player expectations. In Cthulhu games everyone expects to have to run away, whereas in pathfinder everyone expects to fight.

You can wean players off the combat expectation, but the trick is to do it gradually, rather than all at once.

, i'm not a fan of indie/burning wheel game style interaction-duels. I've yet to find a game where its actually been *fun* in practice....and have frequently found it to be the opposite. Ymmv, of course.

Personally, I'm (yet another) big fan of Call of Cthulhu. Or of course you could go Cthulhu Dark, that has a great set of combat rules:-)


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
Rite Publishing is doing a diceless game as well.

Yup-- Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is the same ruleset as Amber Diceless Role-Playing, with the Zelazny intellectual property stripped out and replaced with a new game world that is functionally equivalent.

ADRP went out of print a decade ago, the original designer died, and the publishing company lost the rights to use Zelazny's IP.

(And, yes, I've been a kickstarter backer of LoG&S for a while now...}


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Oh, and I regularly run Pathfinder sessions without any combat. You can use the PFRPG rules to run an investigation and role-playing heavy game if you want.

The rules are skewed for combat, but if the GM lays out that non-combat encounters will be emphasized, there will be an incentive for the players not to optimize their PCs to maximage their damage-per-round.

It's more a matter of play style than ruleset, honestly.


Haladir wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
Rite Publishing is doing a diceless game as well.

Yup-- Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is the same ruleset as Amber Diceless Role-Playing, with the Zelazny intellectual property stripped out and replaced with a new game world that is functionally equivalent.

ADRP went out of print a decade ago, the original designer died, and the publishing company lost the rights to use Zelazny's IP.

(And, yes, I've been a kickstarter backer of LoG&S for a while now...}

It's not quite a functionally equivalent world. I mean the basics of travel between Shadows are there, but the mechanics of it are very different.

And the politics are very different. I'm not entirely sure losing the family aspect will work out well in a game where the characters are generally tough enough to function on their own and can go literally anywhere. It always provided a reason to keep from killing each other and to always have to come back to deal with each other.
The dynamics change drastically.


I'm a big fan of Over The Edge. A bizarre, surreal world with a rules-light system, the characters are experts at... whatever they want to be experts at. Their expertise gets quantified and becomes the basis for their own advancement.

Another game to look at is TORG. The genre is, essentially, everything at once. It's a bit chart heavy but there are a number of non-combat actions that are still very effective in combat, so if Bob wants a fantasy controller wizard, Joe wants a super-cybered street samurai, and Dave wants a pacifist and persuasive modern-day priest, you totally can do that. One of my favorite tense moments involved a two-PC party fighting a pair of executives trying to destroy a high-tech company. The PCs were a no-nonsense movie producer and his stuntman friend. The stuntman entered into a high-octane combat with the Chief of Security that involved all sorts of things getting smashed and incredible maneuvers. The producer ended up in a high-pressure conversation with the CFO, both attempting to convince the other of the superiority of working with him--while being carefully listened on by a team of ninjas would would utterly decimate the less convincing party.


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Time's Memory wrote:
I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.

CoC is better if the players don't know Lovecraft.


I feel that one point that is missing is to have the Dm give level up at story points instead of exp per encounter. This gives the players the chance to be more flexible without having to worry about killing/defeating so many things to just level up


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I don't really have much in the way of system or campaign suggestions, but I'd like to make some observations based on what you've said here. Correct me if any of my assumptions are off. You've got several players that are interested in the mechanical/crunchy parts of the "game" element of RPG. At the same time, these same players don't seem to embrace the kingmaker kingdom building rules (even though these can be crunchy enough to require the use of spreadsheets for some groups). Therefore, I would haphazard a guess that not only is this subgroup of your players gamist; they could also be really interested in action and competition ("kicking butts" which is most often associated with physical combat in RPGs). More specifically, competition against face-to-face/visible opponents.

OTOH, your sim- players may also embrace the kingdom building rules (which again can be fairly crunchy) because it involves the creation of something to simulate an environment.

It sounds like right now these interests are at odds with each other to some degree. One side is destructive (in that it's about kicking butt/defeating opponents/killing things) whereas the other side is creative (in that it's about building things up and simulating them.)

However, what if you could get these interests aligned? Like say, create an environment where the organizational/sim- aspects of the second group feeds into the competition/kick-butt aspects. For example, there is more than one way to destroy a person- physical defeat need not be the only way of winning a conflict or combat. Psychologically breaking a person might be just as gratifying. And there's no reason a debate or a trial ending in the absolute defeat and utter humiliation couldn't use some kind of resolution system resembling a combat system just as much as a physical one.

What I'm getting at is that you might consider a system and game setup with a social/political combat system that approaches a physical combat system with winners and losers fighting against each other. For example, I've used the core engine in Dynasties and Demagogues (for 3.5 D&D) to good effect as a change of pace from normal adventuring in D&D/PF campaigns. The table of all the little legal maneuvers you can do is too much for me to keep track of, but I find the core mechanics to fit well with my group (political hit points, skills as attack rolls, political AC) when supplemented with more free-form situational modifiers based on what the players have found and how they frame their arguments.

Now, the thing is, it sounds like you might want a set-up where regular conflicts can occur in a fairly systematic way. Check with your players, but maybe some kind of legal procedural set-up could work here (in that the trials will be setups for regular combats)? The prep work for the trials and the sim aspects of the court might be able to engage your sim-oriented players. Since they would all be working at the same game (as opposed to separate minigames of kingdom-building and combat), perhaps there might be less conflict as well?

So summing it all up, it sounds like your challenge is finding some kind of set-up where your gamist/kickbutt-oriented players can enjoy the thrill of mechanically-engaging competition at the same time your sim-oriented players can enjoy a complex simulation oriented set-up.


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Dreaming Psion wrote:
What I'm getting at is that you might consider a system and game setup with a social/political combat system that approaches a physical combat system with winners and losers fighting against each...

+1 to that!

It sounds like your first issue is the players - most of them like combat.

The second issue is the game system.

The game system does matter: Pathfinder (and all of the D&D variants before it) use Encounter-Based Experience. In other words, you have to encounter monsters, or traps, or experience-awarding situations, to advance. The more you encounter, the more you advance. Consequently, adventure paths (just to pick on an easy target) are full of encounters that don't matter to the story, but are simply there to improve your characters. The expectation in the game becomes: The more you kill, the better you get.

Many other games use Plot-Based Experience. The experience is awarded for finishing or advancing, a storyline. In game using plot-based experience, players will often avoid combat, because they get nothing extra out of it except murderhobo jollies, and a chance to die. The problem is that players who are used to encounter-based experience often have a hard time transitioning to plot-based. They feel that 'something is missing'. Plot based games require more work on the part of the GM, and more intellectual work on the part of the players.

The third issue is group participation.

Combat is one of the few things in a game that all of the players can participate in at once. Most other situations involve one or two players doing everything, and the rest waiting for their character's particular skill-set to come up.

Not knowing your group, I really can't say how they'd feel about Call of Cthulhu, but I've used it in the past to break players of the D&D "kill the monster-take the treasure" mindset. It's all about getting the players in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.


pachristian wrote:


The second issue is the game system.

The game system does matter: Pathfinder (and all of the D&D variants before it) use Encounter-Based Experience. In other words, you have to encounter monsters, or traps, or experience-awarding situations, to advance. The more you encounter, the more you advance. Consequently, adventure paths (just to pick on an easy target) are full of encounters that don't matter to the story, but are simply there to improve your characters. The expectation in the game becomes: The more you kill, the better you get.

Many other games use Plot-Based Experience. The experience is awarded for finishing or advancing, a storyline. In game using plot-based experience, players will often avoid combat, because they get nothing extra out of it except murderhobo jollies, and a chance to die. The problem is that players who are used to encounter-based experience often have a hard time transitioning to plot-based. They feel that 'something is missing'. Plot based games require more work on the part of the GM, and more intellectual work on the part of the players.

I'd advise anyone running into this issue (for those for whom it is an issue) to go with the alternative system the AP's mention - just decide what point in the overall plot the party will level up, and lose XP altogether.

For prewritten adventures, I go a bit further and level up when it feels the PCs are getting out of their depth. It's like having an automatic gearbox instead of a stick shift, as you then use the system to drop down a gear when things get difficult, then let the party run into increasingly difficult encounters until it gets too much again. It can make a huge change in gameplay, as it becomes plot-centric rather than encounter-centric.


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Matt Thomason wrote:


I'd advise anyone running into this issue (for those for whom it is an issue) to go with the alternative system the AP's mention - just decide what point in the overall plot the party will level up, and lose XP altogether.

This is what my GM does in the adventure path in which I'm currently playing: She just levels us up at the appropriate times. It works, and we focus more on playing our characters, and less on getting every possible XP out of the encounters.

Sovereign Court

The system issue is one thing : it would be possible to design adventures even in Pathfinder without (mandatory) combat, but then you would need to design adventure goals and rewards that stimulate non combat behaviour.

And also, NPCs attitudes and behaviours that discourage the murderhobo attitude. Like credible law enforcement.

And then also, that would require a lot more deisgn work on NPCs, dialog, and such, to make it worth the time.

Also, the skill system is very limited as it stands now, and a talented player can reach absurd modifiers of diplomacy. Some spells also, are very detrimental to murder mystery solving, as they give away far too much information, at far too low levels.


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Sarcasmancer wrote:
Time's Memory wrote:
I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.
CoC is better if the players don't know Lovecraft.

CoC is best when the players don't even know their playing in it.


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PsychoticWarrior wrote:
Sarcasmancer wrote:
Time's Memory wrote:
I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.
CoC is better if the players don't know Lovecraft.
CoC is best when the players don't even know their playing in it.

Second, pick up a copy of BRP (or a d100 system which fits the background) and tell the players you are running a Fantasy Europe RQ or updated Top Secret game. Hmm, spy versus cultist - that could make an interesting campaign.

The Exchange

I needed to crawl back into this thread to give yet another suggestion for a game that doesn't revolve around combat. Golden Sky Stories.

In Golden Sky Stories the player characters are all magical animals with the ability to turn into humans, or henge as they are known in Japanese folklore and myth. The characters all live in/around a rural Japanese village where they act as mediators between the wilderness (and the many animals and local deities that live there) and the town. It's very much a game of nonviolent problem-solving and making friends. The problems of the people you meet in the game are very mundane and the stakes aren't life-threatening, but the players still need to get involved to make life in town run more smoothly.

Basically, it's a game of producing heartwarming and saccharine little stories in a heavily romanticized version of rural Japan, and aesthetically it's very similar to Totoro and other Japanese films and shows of that type. It's pretty great. :3


Seconded. =)

Sovereign Court

Ars Magica


Nobilis is one of my favorite systems, and it is hard to decide to bother with combat when starting characters can get immortality for less than half their point buy and for less than a 5th they can survive a nuke on their face. I also love it when English doesn't have proper tenses for what you need to say. "There once will have never been evolution" is still one of my favorite phrases to come out of a game.


cnetarian wrote:
PsychoticWarrior wrote:
Sarcasmancer wrote:
Time's Memory wrote:
I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.
CoC is better if the players don't know Lovecraft.
CoC is best when the players don't even know their playing in it.
Second, pick up a copy of BRP (or a d100 system which fits the background) and tell the players you are running a Fantasy Europe RQ or updated Top Secret game. Hmm, spy versus cultist - that could make an interesting campaign.

There's a game for that, Night's Black Agents (though there's definitely combat in that one). The players are all top-level spies (James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer) who discover that their agency is secretly run by vampires, who have been operating a massive conspiracy for decades or even centuries. The game is customizable too, you can make the vampires different types of vampires, or even include multiple types.

It's done in the Gumshoe system, which is normally not a very combat focused game. Because you're super-spies, they added more combat elements, but it's still a system that has strengths in other areas (particularly investigation).

The game won 2 silver ENnies last year: Best game and best writing.

The Exchange

Caineach wrote:
Nobilis is one of my favorite systems, and it is hard to decide to bother with combat when starting characters can get immortality for less than half their point buy and for less than a 5th they can survive a nuke on their face. I also love it when English doesn't have proper tenses for what you need to say. "There once will have never been evolution" is still one of my favorite phrases to come out of a game.

I've heard good things about Nobilis, and it sounds perfect for running what is essentially Neil Gaiman's Sandman: The RPG. Messing around as immortal representatives of abstract concepts sounds pretty boss.

Incidentally, Jenna Moran of Nobilis fame recently managed to Kickstart another diceless RPG that apparently uses the same rules set as Nobilis, called Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. I didn't back the Kickstarter, but from the sounds of it it's basically heart-warming pastoral fantasy with a focus on slice-of-life play. I've been on a huge Golden Sky Stories kick recently and the two games sound very similar conceptually, so I'm definitely going to be checking this out when it comes out.

cnetarian wrote:
PsychoticWarrior wrote:
Sarcasmancer wrote:
Time's Memory wrote:
I did a poll a couple weeks ago -- no one in my group has ever read any Lovecraft. It might be hard to drum up enthusiasm for Cthulu.
CoC is better if the players don't know Lovecraft.
CoC is best when the players don't even know their playing in it.
Second, pick up a copy of BRP (or a d100 system which fits the background) and tell the players you are running a Fantasy Europe RQ or updated Top Secret game. Hmm, spy versus cultist - that could make an interesting campaign.

Also, Delta Green, the modern era setting book for Call of Cthulhu, is basically Spy Versus Cultist. It's basically X Files meets Call of Cthulhu, where all the big conspiracies you read about on the internet are actually true and somehow Mythos monstrosities are somehow involved.

It's very 90s though, so some of the setting's assumptions would need to be updated to the modern day, but I've had a hell of a good time in the couple of games I've played with it. There was hardly any combat, just our hardened government agents s+!&ting themselves in the face of mind-destroying monstrosities and while on a pretty routine surveillance mission.


Ratpick wrote:
Incidentally, Jenna Moran of Nobilis fame recently managed to Kickstart another diceless RPG that apparently uses the same rules set as Nobilis, called Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. I didn't back the Kickstarter, but from the sounds of it it's basically heart-warming pastoral fantasy with a focus on slice-of-life play. I've been on a huge Golden Sky Stories kick recently and the two games sound very similar conceptually, so I'm definitely going to be checking this out when it comes out.

That sounds pretty awesome. I'll have to check it out.

Scarab Sages

If you're willing to try a new system, Savage Worlds has a new setting out shortly called East Texas University (ETU). It's a Call of Cthluhu-esque horror crossed with a Scooby Doo vibe of young adults investigating mysteries.

The best part is there's no linking between combat rewards / progression and combat, so there's no need to fight enemies, you can trick them, talk them around or even just run away.

If the setting itself doesn't intrigue you, it is a generic system and supports most, if not all, settin types and has plenty of different publishers supporting it.

The Exchange

thejeff wrote:
Ratpick wrote:
Incidentally, Jenna Moran of Nobilis fame recently managed to Kickstart another diceless RPG that apparently uses the same rules set as Nobilis, called Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. I didn't back the Kickstarter, but from the sounds of it it's basically heart-warming pastoral fantasy with a focus on slice-of-life play. I've been on a huge Golden Sky Stories kick recently and the two games sound very similar conceptually, so I'm definitely going to be checking this out when it comes out.
That sounds pretty awesome. I'll have to check it out.

Apparently the PDF is already available on DriveThru, something I hadn't even noticed before making my post. I'll still wait for the actual physical version to come out, because my there's still room on my shelf for a couple more dead-tree RPGs.


World of Darkness and Shadowrun can both be played just fine with an emphasis away from combat.

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