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Yora
2016-06-02, 09:38 AM
This is both kind of philosophical and also a concrete issue of gamemastering.

Even as a pretty much completely nonviolent person I find the human capacity and instinct to violence extremely fascinating. And all forms of narrative entertainment have always been very violent, and perhaps even more so today than ever before, while at the same time the average exposure to actual violence in the western world is lower than it has ever been for people throughout history.

But something that regularly bugs me is the indifference towards violence and death that is shown in most modern entertainment that includes it. Particularly in the action and fantasy genres nobody bats an eye when hundreds of people are killed in a fight, and then immediately forgotten 30 seconds later. Most of the time there isn't even any blood or more than split-second sights of corpses. And of course, every non-major character who is hit by an attack is instantly dead, even though an actual human might survive the injury for hours or days.

Even though fictional heroes have been killing thousands of enemies without ever questioning it for thousands of years, we know that this is not how this actually works even for veteran warriors and soldiers. Some of the oldest known pieces of fiction deal extensively with the actual fighting and killing being horrifying and how it takes a toll on he heroes.

I find both the standard Hollywood action movies and standard fantasy RPG adventures very unsatisfying because of this. Not that I object to the inclusion and prominent role of violence in them, but I have a problem with the triviality of it.

My homebrew setting I use for my campaigns is all about tribal warriors and mercenaries who don't find mindless beasts for treasure in abandoned ruins, but over control of land and resources and for the protection of their people. And I think it would be such a huge waste of potential to play the game in a way that treats enemies as unthinking robots and killing as something you do during your lunch break that is never mentioned again.

I've also been thinking about how I want to incorporate horror into my games, and demons and tentacle beasts just aren't doing in for various reasons. I would want a more human horror and human evil instead of just random demonic mayhem. And when does human interaction become more scary then when it ends in violence?

However, I am absolutely not a fan of slasher movies and torture porn. I find those kinds of movies repulsive and few people would want to play in a long running game with such a focus. So what methods can GMs use to make violence more horrifying and less trivial than usual, without relying on torture and gore?

Geddy2112
2016-06-02, 10:06 AM
For this kind of thing, there is no substitute for my favorite enemy, ghosts.

Most ghosts died a horrific/tragic/awful death. You get a lot of sympathy for the devil when the party realizes that their now evil enemy was once a real person, subject to something truly terrible. Most ghosts won't die if you kill their ghost, you actually have to lay the spirit to rest. This might mean confronting the body, or perhaps destroying an item or place that made them human, or restoring their corpse to some level of humanity with a proper burial. This requires the party to figure out and understand the horrific violent event, but not have to see it. Motive is a multiplier here-was the ghost created from a crime of passion, freak accident, war, something really dark? These things become psychological horror as the PC's won't see them, but know that they happened. This holds true for some other undead, but ghosts are like this across the board. Each ghost is it's own story, maybe it plays into the greater setting, maybe not.

The Japanese ghost Kuchisake-onna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuchisake-onna) is a perfect example of this. With only a little bit of slasher, you get a TON of horror. Dark contrast on human beauty standards, spousal violence, crime of passion...these things are the horrors of humanity here on earth, no need to go find a Lovecraftian monster beyond the cosmos. All in one cool incorporeal monster.

Also, if you want the campaign to be a bit more primal, I would recommend watching The Revenant. It portrays violence as far less that trivial, really gets into the horrific psychological aspects of human on human violence, and has a similar vibe of the tribes fighting over resources you are looking for. Plus it is an amazing movie.

Comet
2016-06-02, 10:10 AM
This comes back to the classic question of combat-as-sport versus combat-as-war in RPGs. I prefer the latter, but I do also enjoy the former in the proper context.

If you want violence to have gravity without lingering on blood and guts and gore you could try leaning on the emotional aspects of killing. Remind the players that the people they see die have families, hopes and regrets. It might actually work that much better if you don't spend too much time describing the actual physical death. Blood and gore are cool, you see them in horror movies and metal album covers all the time. A sudden death that just happens without fanfare and which is followed by nothing but silence feels much more uncomfortable, at least to me.

Making the combat actually dangerous to the PCs does the trick, too, or at least it gives them a healthy respect for violence and its consequences. Might not work for everyone, but there it is.

Edit: Oh, just remembered: if the game you're playing has lots of interesting systems for combat, gives the players tools for thinking about combat or even rewards them for participating in combat then your players will find combat fun. After that it's a bit of an uphill battle to make them feel the tragedy and pathos when they start killing their opponents. Consider finding a system or tweaking one where every combat doesn't need to end in death. That way you can preserve the fun of combat-as-sport but also bring out the horrific death of a friend or foe every now and then.

Max_Killjoy
2016-06-02, 10:20 AM
Part of the problem is that in certain times and places in human history, violence WAS somewhat trivial. It was an assumed part of life. Wars happened, and were often glorified. You fought to protect your village or tribe, or you all died, simple as that. Part of the impact of killing on the person doing the killing comes from the dissonance between the expectation that one not kill, versus the knowledge that one has killed and might kill again -- the negative internal and external stigma associated with being "a killer" within that values system.

You'll also the process of "othering", as I've seen it termed -- the idea that the enemy is somehow "not human" in an important way. Look at the depiction of the Germans in the Allied countries in WW1, or the depiction of the Japanese in the US in WW2. Making "them" into vicious monsters who seem to deserve what they're getting and/or have to be stopped by whatever means necessary is a common process. Orcs and goblins and kobolds and whatnot are, in much of fantasy games and literature, "those unhuman monsters" that can be killed without guilt or remorse.


This is not to say that characters in "fantasy" RPGs or fiction should never feel remorse or guilt or confliction about killing, or that killing should be depicted in a sanitized and saccharine manner. However, as you do seem to be saying, there's a balance between "breakfast, shopping, kill kill kill, afternoon tea, home to sea the kids, all well and good" on one hand, and a piece of fiction reveling in gore and torment.

CharonsHelper
2016-06-02, 10:35 AM
Part of the question is if you want it too be horror for the players, or for the characters.

If you want it to feel more real for the players, you can have world-building which semi-forces them to do things to make the killing feel more real.

Ex: In order to get paid, the mercenaries have to cut off the left ears of all of their defeated foes. To the character who lives in such a world, it means nothing. But to the players, it might seem rather macabre. They might even have enemies who, rather than be killed, offer to cut off their own left ears. (In the world - people without left ears might be known as cowards/turncoats.)

It's not really horrifying, but it might make the violence seem more real.

The other big thing is to greatly limit magic healing. Even if there is no Raise Dead, all violence/death feels less real when magic healing is around.

Hoosigander
2016-06-02, 10:40 AM
Even though fictional heroes have been killing thousands of enemies without ever questioning it for thousands of years, we know that this is not how this actually works even for veteran warriors and soldiers. Some of the oldest known pieces of fiction deal extensively with the actual fighting and killing being horrifying and how it takes a toll on he heroes.

This bit made me think a bit about how violence is handled in the Iliad, the most obvisious part being how specific it is. Homer tells you where the spear enters the body and where it exits and numerous details. But I think the most important thing is, as you said, to ensure the PCs view the enemies as humans. There is an interesting episode in Book Six where Diomedes and Glaucus are about to fight, but first they tell each other their lineages. As a result they discover that their grandfathers were Guest-Friends (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenia_(Greek)) and it would be taboo to fight one another. Maybe have your PCs have relationships (but not necessarily close ones) or links to people on the other side?

Yora
2016-06-02, 10:42 AM
Yeah, I am very much in the combat as war camp. And I think it's probably mandatory to have violence with meaning.

One interesting, and somewhat ironic thing about combat as war is that combat is optional. In a game with combat as sport there is not reason to not fight. Fighting is kind of the whole point of such a game. If you don't fight you don't really get much value out of playing.

There are three half-forgotten tools for GMs which I think greatly increase the optional nature of combat: Random encounters, reaction rolls, and morale checks.
With random encounters fights are not pre-scheduled and may happen at very inconvenient times. They might also result in opponents that are dangerously powerful for the PCs. That's a good reason to not always attack.
Reaction rolls mean that you don't always have to fight because the potential opponents might want to avoid a fight themselves, even if they are not friendly.
Morale checks lead to opponents sometimes fleeing from a battle. Failing morale can sometimes even mean that the players win a fight even though they would not have had the strength to beat all the enemies. It helps to show that not all fights have to end with one side being annihilated. Once that is established players might even want to trick or persuade an enemy to leave a battle so they don't have to risk more injuries.

But for all this to work, I think players must not be rewarded with XP for winning fights. Avoiding fights and fleeing from battles should not mean that the players are losing out on a reward they expected to get. Instead it would be better to give XP for completing goals, regardless of the method. Nonviolent solutions become more attractive and at the same time wasting time with fights that could have been avoided could mean they take too long and don't get any reward at all. The game should not reward chosing violence over nonviolence.

And another thing, as mentioned, is consequences. When surviving enemies flee from a battle they don't have to cease to exist as far as the game is concerned. Even if the PCs manage to kill everyone, these people will have had friends and allies who might want to come after the PCs. Or their friends and allies. The use of violence should have a real chance of it coming back to you and biting you in the ass. Even when you clearly have all the advantage in a potential fight (and no problem with killing), making enemies regardless of whether you win or lose is one of the big reasons people chose to not use violence even if they would like to.

Something that is always problematic, and I've done it a lot in the past, is local authorities who let PCs get away with everything because they are the heroes and the GM doesn't want to throw them in prison and become outlaws for the rest of the campaign. There are many cases where that's okay, but it shouldn't be the default outcome of lethal fights within cities and castles. Though I don't have any good ideas how to handle such situations when they happen unexpectedly either.

What also might help with making violence less attractive and players more hesitant is to make the opponents not a unified force and not obviously fully evil. Even if the leader is pure evil, not all of the warriors and guards need to be as well. Occasionally showing enemies not wanting to do the evil stuff or beginning a fight would probably be good, but I don't have any good ideas how to actually do that in practice. Giving the enemies reasonable motives instead of world conquering or demon apocalypse summoning should also make a difference. Killing them all doesn't look nearly as attractive when the goal is something that your side in a similar situation would probaby want too.

tensai_oni
2016-06-02, 10:52 AM
Very important question:
Do you want the players to experience horror at violence they witness as a third party, or violence they are themselves a part of?

Depending on your answer, what I have to say will be very different. But one shared thing is that you have to be careful when threading this ground. Roleplaying is very often an escapist hobby which players indulge in because they don't want to have to think about such heavy topics. If you try it in your game, make sure the players are on board with it.

Tiktakkat
2016-06-02, 11:28 AM
And when does human interaction become more scary then when it ends in violence?


When it ends in fear, terror, or dread.

Violence is generally the low-hanging fruit of horror, which is why slasher movies degrade to torture pr0n so quickly, easily, and profitably.
Rather than focusing on the violence, look at the things around the violence.

Anticipation is one of the best. Rather than the violence itself, play it up to make the players worry about when the violence is coming, what form it will take, and how bad it will be.
For that last in particular, consider how to make it bad within the game structure rather than "personally". It is difficult to worry about your fingers being flayed in an RPG, but it is quite easy for players to angst about their magic items being "flayed alive".

Lack of functional knowledge is also very useful, particularly with a game structure. Never mind not knowing when the violence will come, leave them hanging on what the stats are for what is causing the violence.
You may have to tweak knowledge skills significantly to achieve that, but vague descriptions, similar appearances requiring superior perception checks to be able to make a proper knowledge check, and similar techniques can keep the players on edge until the combat shows up.

For long term campaigning, a critical element will be to personalize things. Create a home base, set up interesting NPCs, get the players to care about those NPCs . . . then abuse them mercilessly. And have that abuse come from other NPCs that the players want to deal with but can't for whatever reason (power level, politics, and so forth). And have yet other NPCs available to offer "deals" that always have a catch to make things worse.
You need a delicate touch to keep the players from giving up or going nova on the place, but set up right and you will have raw mortal evil that the players itch to destroy because of the looming threat to everyone and everything around them that they have invested in.
Whether or not you let them finally destroy it all depends on the subtype of horror you want to end with of course.

Yora
2016-06-02, 01:13 PM
Very important question:
Do you want the players to experience horror at violence they witness as a third party, or violence they are themselves a part of?
Very good question. I was starting this thread rather open ended, so any comments are welcome. Always good to have options.

But in my own specific case, my goal is to get players to really hate the villains and become very passionate about stopping them. I want the players to approach the choice of using violence as a very significant decision, but in the end conclude that they did the right thing and that they had to. I want them to be reluctant to resort to violence and not terribly proud of themselves when they do.
If all goes perfect, I want the players to say at the end "This was awesome! I am so glad it's over." :smallwink:

To get there, I think making violence unpleasant instead of "fun" is probably the way to go.

I actually feel more comfortable to have the PCs suffer a lot of the "on screen" violence instead of background NPCs. Because the PCs are people who can fight back and probably will come out on top at the end, despite the amount of hurt they get on the way. Going into detail about the violence done to other people the players are supposed to protect seems considerably more nastier and unpleasant to me. The PCs are more acceptable casualties than victims.
As mentioned, I don't want to get to deeply into the gory details either. I am more interested in the underlying aspects of power and intimidation. Outside of tactical situations the use of violence rarely has the goal to kill people. Instead it's about establishing power over others through pain and fear.


Anticipation is one of the best. Rather than the violence itself, play it up to make the players worry about when the violence is coming, what form it will take, and how bad it will be.

Oh yes, a very good point. What I would really love to see in my campaign is seeing the players dreading the start of a fight that they already see coming and believe they are unable to prevent. Cheering when a fight is won is perfectly fine and great, but I think when a fight breaks out there should be a feeling that something has gone terribly wrong.

One problem that I see with all this is that it probably requires both a significant level of lethality and a considerable attachment to the characters. Which is generally a less ideal situation unless you're playing with really commited players. High lethality games usually lead to characters being seen as disposable and easily replaced.

Another form of violence, that has not been mentioned yet, is animal attacks. This might actually be a bigger aspect of my campaign compared to violence between people. I want fights with something like a tiger or an owlbear to be a major event in the campaign and a lot more than just three or four rounds of attack rolls. And I think with these you can get a lot more savage and brutal without anyone sleeping badly later that night.
Anticipation would certainly be a big thing here as well. The occasional surprise attack could be quite effective, but I don't think that would work as a regular thing. Some threatening and roaring would probably help.

tensai_oni
2016-06-02, 01:39 PM
It feels like the two are mutually exclusive. If the players will really hate the villains because of the villains' actions, then they won't hesitate to use the option of violence against them.

And on the other hand, if you make it so the players are hesitant to pick violence as an option, they will probably end up not hating the villains that much and in fact may be somewhat sympathetic towards them, which is why they are reluctant to fight and/or kill them.

Let's take an example I wanted to use: you can make violence look horrifying by writing the enemies' actions to be more lifelike. Have the enemies cry out in pain, stop to grasp at their wounds in shock, try to surrender or flee if things go badly - or the other way around, fly into a tear-powered rage at the sight of their comrades being slaughtered. This is effective without having to go into any gruesome gorey details at all... but it works because the players start, to some extent, to sympathize with the enemies they are fighting.

But if they know the same enemies raided a village which housed NPCs the players knew and liked and killed everyone, the players won't think "this guy is suffering because of me, he was a bad guy of course but maybe there should've been a better option", they will think "you had it coming, die you bastard".

RyumaruMG
2016-06-02, 01:56 PM
I think one of the best ways to show the horror of violence in a game is to show the aftermath - not the fields of corpses with carrion birds picking them clean, charnel stench everywhere, but the aftermath for the survivors.

Show the people who are missing limbs and have crude replacements. Show the people who were blinded in battle. Show the people dying slowly of battlefield infections. Show the people covered in burn scars from fireballs or pots of boiling oil.

Show the people who had to be mercy-killed to end their pain.

(And, as someone pointed out, ghosts. Combine that with these ideas for extra fun! :smallbiggrin:)

Telonius
2016-06-02, 02:12 PM
I'd suggest an encounter with a level-13 Cleric - the highest-level healer around, who's beside himself at only getting 1 Regenerate spell per day compared with the dozens of patients in need.

Yora
2016-06-02, 02:19 PM
Yes, there's indeed two rather distinct categories at play here.

My idea is that violence, and especially lethal force, should not be the standard method to deal with any opposition. I want it to be something that is either forced on the players, or the result of the players deciding that an enemy can not be allowed to live. What is important to me is that this decision is made because the players see no other way, not because it's convenient. It should be reserved for prominent villains for whom the players have a personal hatred. The average soldier on the other side should be seen in a different light.

Making combat into more of an action scene with a lot going on instead of a tactical game of numbers (combat as war instead of combat as sport) should be an important part of such a campaign. I already mentioned morale checks for having the opponents flee in fear (as opposed to retreat from a disadvantagous poisition). Something I generally dislike in action movies is how everyone dies so amazingly quickly. At the end of a fight there should be more than just the unharmed and the dead. Having conscious wounded on the ground should make quite a big difference on how fights are seen by the players.
And perhaps "a little bit of mutiliation" here and there? They say it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Eyes, fingers, and bad scars are things that make the effects of combat last without having to have an impact on the mechanical side of the game. This goes for PCs, enemy NPCs, and friendly NPCs as well. Recognizing an old enemy by his scars a PC gave him should add some character and personal element to a confrontation. As would be the mention of scars an ally took in a fight at the PCs' side.

I think unarmed combat could also make a difference. There are actually a lot of situations in RPGs where a fistfight would be a much more believable outcome than stabbing each other with sharp blades. When nonlethal combat becomes a viable option I think it raises the bar to start lethal combat. When you make enemies more human conflicts don't have to take the form of mutual attempts at completely annihilating the other side. Beating them into submission becomes a viable alternative. Once you have established that confrontations with enemies don't have to end with people dead, it becomes more significant when this does come to happen.

Something that most RPG combat is missing is the chaos and dirt. Videogame combat really doesn't help with that as all characters have their standard animations and mostly stand in place while swaying on their feet. But simple rules for tripping and shoving go a long way. Have NPCs attempt to kick PCs down stairs or throw them over a railing, and the players should catch on soon.
And going back to unarmed combat, improvised weapons can also set a very distinctive tone. Fighting with swords and spears is noble and civilized killing a tripped enemy with a fire poker or a meat cleaver... well, that's a different story altogether. (Nasty business, really.)

Beleriphon
2016-06-02, 03:09 PM
I find The Witcher games do a good take on this. Sure they're violent, bloody and brutal, but in context of video games nothing out of the ordinary. What makes it kind of sad is that the bandits often have letters they intend, or have received from loved ones. The saddest letter is the one a bandit has written to his children and wife about how he doesn't really want to do this anymore, and then Geralt kills him.

As for killing people in The Witcher Geralt tends to finish them off pretty quickly, although being superhumanly strong he has a tendency to literally chop people in half.

Yora
2016-06-02, 03:31 PM
The Witcher games are a good example of the disconnect between the story that is being told and the reality of the gameplay that most violent videogames suffer from.
Outside of combat I think the game handles the topic of violence really well. Probably one of the best examples that exist. But in the end you still find yourself in a huge number of fights, the vast majority of which being attacks on sight, and all of them ending in the death of 100% of the enemies that are present. And once the fight is over nobody seems even a little bit distressed or uncomfortable. It is acceptable with Geralt who really does have decades of constant combat experience and who is actively removing himself from his humanity. But most other people involved will just thank you as if you helped them carry their shoping bags home and are on their merry way.
The games are very good when they are addressing the topic. But the rest of the time violence is just as trivial and casual as everywhere else.

Having spend a lot more thought on the subject and considering the great amount of good comments, I think my goal is actually two different things: One is to make violence against NPCs are more rare and significant thing than it usually is, and the other is creating scary monsters by having them appear as sources of savage brutality.
For my purpose, the average fight against bandits and henchmen does not need to be "horrific". Being unpleasant and something that players would want to avoid is probably entirely sufficient for me and much less stressful for everyone involved. It's not meant to be a bleak and nightmarish horror game after all. Just a game of heroic action in which violence has a greater weight and significance than normally.

But that still leaves the issue for extremely violent monsters that are believably terrifying to the NPCs and intimidating forthe PCs. I want the players to be tense and a little bit worried when hunting them. Often such monsters are some kind of demonic evil, but that doesn't work for me. (It doesn't mesh with the metaphysics of the setting that doesn't have concepts of hell, damnation, and temptation.) Can you make truly bestial monsters a little bit scary without a lot of gore? I think making them relentless and savage could be an approach to do so, but I am uncertain about the specific methods to put it into action.

Beleriphon
2016-06-02, 03:43 PM
The Witcher games are a good example of the disconnect between the story that is being told and the reality of the gameplay that most violent videogames suffer from.
Outside of combat I think the game handles the topic of violence really well. Probably one of the best examples that exist. But in the end you still find yourself in a huge number of fights, the vast majority of which being attacks on sight, and all of them ending in the death of 100% of the enemies that are present. And once the fight is over nobody seems even a little bit distressed or uncomfortable. It is acceptable with Geralt who really does have decades of constant combat experience and who is actively removing himself from his humanity. But most other people involved will just thank you as if you helped them carry their shoping bags home and are on their merry way.
The games are very good when they are addressing the topic. But the rest of the time violence is just as trivial and casual as everywhere else.

I think the biggest one is the level of casual violence in The Witcher series, most people to a degree are going to inured to the whole thing, that is to say people are used to death to a certain degree, and violence being committed around them while not great isn't so uncommon they find it shocking. If you had to slaughter your own food, would seeing a man die really bother you that much? The Witcher 3 in particular is a state of war, and Skellige are basically Welsh/Irish vikings with a penchant of violence and accepting death by virtue of their culture.

Other examples if you save people from raiders, whether bandits, or deserters, they're pretty thankful to Geralt and again probably not overly upset that a bunch of kidnapping, murders just got slaughtered. Triss and the mages aren't exactly upset that Geralt slaughters his way through the witch-hunters, and that's taking into account the fact that most of them aren't combatants or have seen any combat.


Having spend a lot more thought on the subject and considering the great amount of good comments, I think my goal is actually two different things: One is to make violence against NPCs are more rare and significant thing than it usually is, and the other is creating scary monsters by having them appear as sources of savage brutality.

For my purpose, the average fight against bandits and henchmen does not need to be "horrific". Being unpleasant and something that players would want to avoid is probably entirely sufficient for me and much less stressful for everyone involved. It's not meant to be a bleak and nightmarish horror game after all. Just a game of heroic action in which violence has a greater weight and significance than normally.

Casual violence is a bigger problem in other media. Batman for example should be leaving a trail of cripple and broken bodies everywhere he goes. He probably costs Gotham's health care system more than just letting petty thugs run loose cost in police presence. Regardless of your opinion of Frank Miller the description that Batman provides in DKR are accurate, they are life changing injuries that he dishes out. These are the kinds of injuries that can permanently disable a person and leave them in near constant pain.


But that still leaves the issue for extremely violent monsters that are believably terrifying to the NPCs and intimidating for the PCs. I want the players to be tense and a little bit worried when hunting them. Often such monsters are some kind of demonic evil, but that doesn't work for me. (It doesn't mesh with the metaphysics of the setting that doesn't have concepts of hell, damnation, and temptation.) Can you make truly bestial monsters a little bit scary without a lot of gore? I think making them relentless and savage could be an approach to do so, but I am uncertain about the specific methods to put it into action.

Again, refer to The Witcher. Geralt has no problem slaughter nekkers, water hags, undead, and most other unintelligent creatures. When it comes to other creatures that are considered sapient there tends to be a bit more consideration. Dragons for example are exempt, they can't be killed according The Witcher's code of conduct because they are intelligent (also exceedingly rare and stupid dangerous).

Tiktakkat
2016-06-02, 09:03 PM
Oh yes, a very good point. What I would really love to see in my campaign is seeing the players dreading the start of a fight that they already see coming and believe they are unable to prevent. Cheering when a fight is won is perfectly fine and great, but I think when a fight breaks out there should be a feeling that something has gone terribly wrong.

To some degree this requires "cheating" around some of the rules, but you can get a pretty good build up with lots of sounds hinting at pending attacks. Indeed playing on your third paragraph, I got a LOT of mileage recently doing a "rats in the walls" style approach to cleaning out a mine filled with xvarts and wererats. Rather than a bunch of easily defeated encounters, they got to wander for an hour, checking room after room, finding nothing but hearing the skittering CONSTANTLY, until the final encounter was a roiling mass of creatures that swarmed at them. A few spellcasters in the back to be an actual threat, and the final victory was intensely more satisfying than defeating a sequence of EL 1 mook fights.


One problem that I see with all this is that it probably requires both a significant level of lethality and a considerable attachment to the characters. Which is generally a less ideal situation unless you're playing with really commited players. High lethality games usually lead to characters being seen as disposable and easily replaced.

Yes it does. One way to bypass that is, as I suggested, investing the PCs in the NPCs around them.
Another recent example, the PCs got ambushed coming out of the dungeon, and the NPC bard they'd been with for 5 adventures and the riding cat that had joined up last adventure but provided VERY significant damage boosts were killed. The play with the riding cat simply refused to get a replacement he was so upset over losing that one, while the whole party made a special memorial for the NPC.


Another form of violence, that has not been mentioned yet, is animal attacks. This might actually be a bigger aspect of my campaign compared to violence between people. I want fights with something like a tiger or an owlbear to be a major event in the campaign and a lot more than just three or four rounds of attack rolls. And I think with these you can get a lot more savage and brutal without anyone sleeping badly later that night.
Anticipation would certainly be a big thing here as well. The occasional surprise attack could be quite effective, but I don't think that would work as a regular thing. Some threatening and roaring would probably help.

Plus lots of tracks and previous kills, particularly if NPCs are involved.
Have the "cute bar wench turned love interest" show up with claw marks down half her face, and the "happy go lucky hero worshipping street orphan" found half-eaten, and both the horror and emotional investment will be there without any PC event getting scratched.
And THEN throw in a clue that their rival/nemesis trained the beast/arranged for it to be brought into the region . . .

Comet
2016-06-02, 11:38 PM
Making combat into more of an action scene with a lot going on instead of a tactical game of numbers (combat as war instead of combat as sport) should be an important part of such a campaign. I already mentioned morale checks for having the opponents flee in fear (as opposed to retreat from a disadvantagous poisition). Something I generally dislike in action movies is how everyone dies so amazingly quickly. At the end of a fight there should be more than just the unharmed and the dead. Having conscious wounded on the ground should make quite a big difference on how fights are seen by the players.
And perhaps "a little bit of mutiliation" here and there? They say it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Eyes, fingers, and bad scars are things that make the effects of combat last without having to have an impact on the mechanical side of the game. This goes for PCs, enemy NPCs, and friendly NPCs as well. Recognizing an old enemy by his scars a PC gave him should add some character and personal element to a confrontation. As would be the mention of scars an ally took in a fight at the PCs' side.

I think unarmed combat could also make a difference. There are actually a lot of situations in RPGs where a fistfight would be a much more believable outcome than stabbing each other with sharp blades. When nonlethal combat becomes a viable option I think it raises the bar to start lethal combat. When you make enemies more human conflicts don't have to take the form of mutual attempts at completely annihilating the other side. Beating them into submission becomes a viable alternative. Once you have established that confrontations with enemies don't have to end with people dead, it becomes more significant when this does come to happen.


Right on. I'm trying to be very conscious about these things when I run games, at least games that are heavy on the fighting. Fistfights, especially, just fit right into any action story and yet I'm having a hard time making full use of them. Could be habit, could be lack of support from the system's side of things. Either way, I think it's super worthwhile and exciting to think about how you can make combat exist beyond the gamey binary of winner/dead.

You've already caught on to morale and reaction checks, which are really simple mechanics but really do add a whole lot to any encounter. I'm sure there are also all kinds of interesting mutilation tables and brawling systems out there for D&D-simulacra that you can use to reach that intended aesthetic.

goto124
2016-06-03, 01:37 AM
But one shared thing is that you have to be careful when threading this ground. Roleplaying is very often an escapist hobby which players indulge in because they don't want to have to think about such heavy topics. If you try it in your game, make sure the players are on board with it.

Wait, what does Heroic Fantasy even mean? I figured it means a world of black and white where the players are there to enjoy mowing down clearly evil enemies in droves while eating pretzels and drinking beer. A combat as sport kind of thing:


In a game with combat as sport there is not reason to not fight. Fighting is kind of the whole point of such a game. If you don't fight you don't really get much value out of playing.

Which would kind of preclude making violence horrible.


What I would really love to see in my campaign is seeing the players dreading the start of a fight that they already see coming and believe they are unable to prevent. Cheering when a fight is won is perfectly fine and great, but I think when a fight breaks out there should be a feeling that something has gone terribly wrong.

This goes against my highly personal definition of Heroic Fantasy, as bolded above. Before we go on, what is yours?


On a slightly different note, you say you want to make the players feel as if they were forced into violence. How could one pull this off without making said players feel they're being needlessly railroaded into debilitating injuries and all the nasty stuff that comes in a high-risk game?

AMFV
2016-06-03, 02:07 AM
This is both kind of philosophical and also a concrete issue of gamemastering.

Even as a pretty much completely nonviolent person I find the human capacity and instinct to violence extremely fascinating. And all forms of narrative entertainment have always been very violent, and perhaps even more so today than ever before, while at the same time the average exposure to actual violence in the western world is lower than it has ever been for people throughout history.


Well as a relatively violent person, I've been in fist fights as a teenager and a child (and a couple as an adult), participated in violent sports, have butchered animals, and have been to war. I'll say this: The violence you see in the media is about as removed from real world violence as you can get. It's stylized and absurdist. Our instinct to violence is principally a survival one, people fight when there isn't another option, even in war, people tend to try to avoid unnecessary fighting or pointless fighting. Movies of course, can't really depict this, since lots of patrol time isn't really all that exciting.



But something that regularly bugs me is the indifference towards violence and death that is shown in most modern entertainment that includes it. Particularly in the action and fantasy genres nobody bats an eye when hundreds of people are killed in a fight, and then immediately forgotten 30 seconds later. Most of the time there isn't even any blood or more than split-second sights of corpses. And of course, every non-major character who is hit by an attack is instantly dead, even though an actual human might survive the injury for hours or days.

Well certainly fantasy settings and most action movies have a LOT less blood than actual combat typically involves. Part of the thing that's missing in terms of horror is the smell and stench of it.



Even though fictional heroes have been killing thousands of enemies without ever questioning it for thousands of years, we know that this is not how this actually works even for veteran warriors and soldiers. Some of the oldest known pieces of fiction deal extensively with the actual fighting and killing being horrifying and how it takes a toll on he heroes.

I find both the standard Hollywood action movies and standard fantasy RPG adventures very unsatisfying because of this. Not that I object to the inclusion and prominent role of violence in them, but I have a problem with the triviality of it.


I'll be honest, my experience is that it takes far less of a toll once you get used to it. The human psyche is incredibly good at getting used to violence or horrible things. I mean people watching videos of a slaughterhouse might find it deplorable, but people who work there wouldn't even blink an eye at it. Most of the combat soldiers I know, are regular, well-adjusted people. Well-adjusted people who would be fine with killing somebody if the need arose. The thing is that you can adjust to real world violence quickly because you have to. It's when there's violence in places that it's not expected that the human psyche has trouble. A soldier returning home and seeing somebody get shot for example, might be much more jarring to them than seeing twenty people get shot in-country.

After all, something you do every day is going to be mundane, if you shoot somebody often enough, it's not going to raise any moral quandaries or issues, because you'll consider part of daily life. People who deal with gore every day aren't going to be phased by it. It'll be as trivial to them as any of your regular daily tasks at your job. Again, look at people who work in slaughterhouses, or people who work with guts and gore processing meat.

Of course, there are things that will be jarring for them, or things they'll have to work through, but it'll have to be particularly unusual. Dead children usually evoke that sort of response even with people who are used to violence. Dead women can do the same, in cultures where violence against women isn't considered to be appropriate.



My homebrew setting I use for my campaigns is all about tribal warriors and mercenaries who don't find mindless beasts for treasure in abandoned ruins, but over control of land and resources and for the protection of their people. And I think it would be such a huge waste of potential to play the game in a way that treats enemies as unthinking robots and killing as something you do during your lunch break that is never mentioned again.


Well that depends, if you're using veteran soldiers, then they aren't going to make as big a deal out of the whole thing. Tribal Warriors who have been engaged in a lot of battles aren't really likely to be particularly phased by violence in battle. Although unexpected violence may have a similar effect, or violence against targets that were considered safe.



I've also been thinking about how I want to incorporate horror into my games, and demons and tentacle beasts just aren't doing in for various reasons. I would want a more human horror and human evil instead of just random demonic mayhem. And when does human interaction become more scary then when it ends in violence?

Well violence is one of the least scary moments. All the adrenaline in the world is pumping through you. You're way too hyped up to really be afraid. The scariest moment is the few seconds before violence, when you realize it's inevitable and you're just getting ready to fight, and the few seconds after when you're calming down enough to try to figure out if it's over.



However, I am absolutely not a fan of slasher movies and torture porn. I find those kinds of movies repulsive and few people would want to play in a long running game with such a focus. So what methods can GMs use to make violence more horrifying and less trivial than usual, without relying on torture and gore?

Make violence less typical. Remember that Hitchcock said "Suspense is better than surprise". If combat is rarer and gorier it'll leave an impact. Make sure you describe the smell. After all there's a reason that charnel houses had the reputation they did. Describe the quantity of blood, there's a lot of it in the human body. Remember that actual violence in tribal cultures was relatively rare, especially if you compare it to modern conflicts.

The more often your players and their characters are exposed to something, the less frightening it will be. If you want violence to be scary, make it rare. If you want people to be really terrified by it, make it rare and seemingly random. Those things inspire more fear than any actual danger will. Since the human psyche is good at adjusting to circumstance.

goto124
2016-06-03, 02:22 AM
Well certainly fantasy settings and most action movies have a LOT less blood than actual combat typically involves. Part of the thing that's missing in terms of horror is the smell and stench of it.

Make sure you describe the smell. After all there's a reason that charnel houses had the reputation they did. Describe the quantity of blood, there's a lot of it in the human body.


Serve up the blood pudding! Helps in immersion! :smallbiggrin:

Yora
2016-06-03, 07:20 AM
And THEN throw in a clue that their rival/nemesis trained the beast/arranged for it to be brought into the region . . .
Nice... :smallbiggrin:


Well as a relatively violent person, I've been in fist fights as a teenager and a child (and a couple as an adult), participated in violent sports, have butchered animals, and have been to war. I'll say this: The violence you see in the media is about as removed from real world violence as you can get. It's stylized and absurdist. Our instinct to violence is principally a survival one, people fight when there isn't another option, even in war, people tend to try to avoid unnecessary fighting or pointless fighting.
Growing up in middle-class 80's Germany, we were pretty much raised under the paradigm that kids will grow up to be nonviolent if they are not exposed to any kind of violence. I think with the children a generation after us it was even more pronounced. Violence and even pretend-violence was often strictly forbidden and stopped immediately when seen by adults.
Which I now believe was all total nonsense. I was as pacifist a kid as you can get (because ignoring bullies always worked really great for me, not because of any moral reasons) but I still enjoy the violence is pretty brutal movies and videogames. I believe it's an intrinsic part of being a human and one of our deep instincts. We can chose when to use violence, but we can not remove the instinct for it. Teaching kids to understand it and have a healthy respect for it is a much better approach than trying to completely surpress it. Might have been a bit of a media panic, but 10-15 years or so ago, there was a considerable concern for what seemed an unusual high number of messed up kids who were excessively violent. And the most plausible sounding reason that people brought forth for it was that those kids had not been given opportunities to learn about different degrees of violence and different intensities of fighting. (You also got the same thing going on with small dogs that are completely off their rockers because any time they got into fights they got picked up and carried on the arm so they wouldn't get hurt. There's a lot more small nutty dogs than large nutty dogs.) 3-year-olds already have an instinct for violence but at that age they can't really seriously injure each other but still experience pain and anger. At 14 that's a completely different story.

Even if it doesn't fit into modern middle-class European world views, humans are violent creatures. It's part of our survivial instinct and even when we have learned to fully control it, there's still a subconscious craving for it and a thrill from seeing it in ways that are morally acceptable, such as sport or fiction. We wouldn't call boxing, judo, or rugby blood sport today, but at the core there isn't any real difference.
While no-blood, no casualty movie violence has its place, I mostly find it disappointingly unsatisfying. I think more realism would be a lot more exciting. Not in the amount of blood and mutilation, but in its effect on people. I actually don't like watching most movie fight scenes. I find them very boring. The scenes right before and after the action are always the much more interesting to me. I don't care for the choreographed moves and the scores of faceless henchmen falling over in various dramatic ways. (The Return of the King is such a mindcrushingly dull movie.) Tension is the exciting part, and that's something that a lot of published RPG adventures seem to miss. There's too much opening of doors and rolling of initiative as starts for an encounter.


Of course, there are things that will be jarring for them, or things they'll have to work through, but it'll have to be particularly unusual. Dead children usually evoke that sort of response even with people who are used to violence. Dead women can do the same, in cultures where violence against women isn't considered to be appropriate.
I think that was the point of the Joker's speech in The Dark Knight where he says that nobody panics when "it's all part of the plan". Soldiers killing soldiers and criminals shoting policemen is part of the rules of the game. It's bad, but unless you're directly involved it's considered business as usual. And in the classic dungeon crawl all violence that's going to happen is part of the regular game. In most of the published adventures as well. (Again, the combat as sport approach.)

This goes into the point I made about attempting to make combat feel like something went very wrong. It's about establishing some kind of new standard what forms of violence are "regular" and which ones "extraordinary". And in most fantasy RPGs that bar is set incredibly high. When adventure writers want to do something more edgy, it has to go well beyond that already high level of regular violence and then it often just becomes excessive and either goofy or disgusting.

CharonsHelper
2016-06-03, 07:51 AM
If you want your game to be all about the suspense before the violence, I would suggest that you not use d20. (seems to be implied in a few posts)

I'd suggest a system where being caught off guard is especially vicious, and a single attack from such is potentially deadly.

This combined with ambush predator beasts could help you mechanically.

I'm with posters above who say that it's mostly about building the adventures. Pacing/world-building etc. But you'll also want to get the mechanics to work with your game goals; not against them. In d20, being ambushed isn't really all that dangerous (I'd call it an intended feature rather than a bug, but it's definitely not what you seem to be going for.) and suspense of when the ambush is coming isn't all that scary when the ambush doesn't mean much.

AMFV
2016-06-03, 08:25 AM
If you want your game to be all about the suspense before the violence, I would suggest that you not use d20. (seems to be implied in a few posts)

I'd suggest a system where being caught off guard is especially vicious, and a single attack from such is potentially deadly.

This combined with ambush predator beasts could help you mechanically.

I'm with posters above who say that it's mostly about building the adventures. Pacing/world-building etc. But you'll also want to get the mechanics to work with your game goals; not against them. In d20, being ambushed isn't really all that dangerous (I'd call it an intended feature rather than a bug, but it's definitely not what you seem to be going for.) and suspense of when the ambush is coming isn't all that scary when the ambush doesn't mean much.

I second this. D&D is much more based around the idea of combat as sport more literally than most other systems, a system where violence is horrific needs to be one where it's more random and horrible. Somebody might die from getting their ankle wounded because of the tendons down there, and people might alternatively survive getting shot in the head. There are quite a few systems where that kind of bloody violence is really bad.

Also of note, as far as avoiding unnecessary violence, the higher in-game lethality, the less likely your players will want to engage in unnecessary violence. Which will work to make the violence less common place and therefore more shocking.

Yora
2016-06-03, 10:23 AM
I'd like to try something that allows for characters to be disabled but survive and remain conscious, or to continue fighting for a while with lethal injuries.
But it seems like something that could get quite fiddly very quickly and involve a lot of bookkeeping, which I always find very annoying and distracting. Especially in the middle of a dramatic combat scene.

This is a very good and long post (http://theangrygm.com/four-things-youve-never-heard-of-that-make-encounters-not-suck/) on the matter of running fights and making them more meaningful.

I am actually surprised how well this thread turned out. I didn't actually expect more than one or two replies.

CharonsHelper
2016-06-03, 10:53 AM
I'd like to try something that allows for characters to be disabled but survive and remain conscious, or to continue fighting for a while with lethal injuries.
But it seems like something that could get quite fiddly very quickly and involve a lot of bookkeeping, which I always find very annoying and distracting. Especially in the middle of a dramatic combat scene.

If you're coming up with houserules for this - the KISS method would probably just be to have rules for bleeding out when you keep fighting.

Basically, as soon as you're very wounded you would have to spend time getting bandaged up. If you keep fighting instead, you take damage each round of strenuous activity due to bleeding. (But do you really want to just stop fighting and risk you or your buddies getting wounded more instead!?)

This would probably work better in a hp/vitality system. Perhaps one where surprise attacks are able to ignore the vitality buffer. (So even though you might be mauled by surprise, your vitality buffer then snaps into place so that you won't die to the next hit.)

Yora
2016-06-03, 11:23 AM
An idea I am currently tinkering with is this:

Positive hit points represent endurance. Hits are bruises and an abstract measure of how tiring the fight is. When a character ends a fight with hp left, they are fully regained after a rest of a few minutes.
Negative hp represent injury. Any time an attack leaves a character at negative hp, he has to make a saving throw to avoid falling unconscious or being disabled. A character at negative hp does not regain hp after a fight. Instead another saving throw is made once per day to regain 1 hit point. This continues until the character is back to at least 1 hp.
Simple and easy to remember.

But the threshold at which a character is dead is something I have not decided yet. In a B/X type game like I usually use, most attacks deal simply 1-6 damage. Having characters die at -10 hp would allow for one to three additional hits before the character is dead. Which I think doesn't seem bad.
This system would not cover unconscious characters dying after a while, but I think that might not actually be necessary. For PCs I would just say that they all pull through. I can't imagine anyone having fun with their character dying after the fight is over because of a few die rolls they had absolutely no influence over. And with NPCs the GM can just make something up, I'd probably go with dead by default. (But as long as the players don't make sure they are dead, any downed NPC returning later in the campaign is fair game. :smalltongue:)

AMFV
2016-06-03, 11:34 AM
I'd like to try something that allows for characters to be disabled but survive and remain conscious, or to continue fighting for a while with lethal injuries.
But it seems like something that could get quite fiddly very quickly and involve a lot of bookkeeping, which I always find very annoying and distracting. Especially in the middle of a dramatic combat scene.


Well the thing is, as far as narrative tone goes, fighting despite nasty injuries is very much a heroic fantasy trope, and not a dark fantasy or horror trope. Dark Fantasy and horror would have injuries potentially affect you for the rest of the game (lost limbs, eyeballs gouged, prosthetic, TBIs). Which again would make people want to avoid combat which would make it considerably frightening.

Remember that in horror your source of dramatic tension is more the fear of the players, rather than the actual monsters and adversaries.

Since you're going for a mix though, you might be able to do something like this, unless an injury kills a player outright they can keep fighting, but then the injury will affect them later. So the Black Knight could continue to fight after you'd disarmed him, but then the player has to deal with the very real consequences of being armless later in the game. So then you've got the heroic ability to stand up to the darkness, and your combat is grim and dark and would have lasting consequences.

As far as the book-keeping goes. That would depend on your system, if you're going for high lethality, I would go for a system with wounding areas or somesuch, define when something is lethal (like on a crit or what-not), those would be immediately lethal, any other hit would be likely to maim and injure, perhaps permanently. This also increases the advantage of avoiding getting hit, which is also comparable to real combat.

Thrudd
2016-06-03, 12:12 PM
An idea I am currently tinkering with is this:

Positive hit points represent endurance. Hits are bruises and an abstract measure of how tiring the fight is. When a character ends a fight with hp left, they are fully regained after a rest of a few minutes.
Negative hp represent injury. Any time an attack leaves a character at negative hp, he has to make a saving throw to avoid falling unconscious or being disabled. A character at negative hp does not regain hp after a fight. Instead another saving throw is made once per day to regain 1 hit point. This continues until the character is back to at least 1 hp.
Simple and easy to remember.

But the threshold at which a character is dead is something I have not decided yet. In a B/X type game like I usually use, most attacks deal simply 1-6 damage. Having characters die at -10 hp would allow for one to three additional hits before the character is dead. Which I think doesn't seem bad.
This system would not cover unconscious characters dying after a while, but I think that might not actually be necessary. For PCs I would just say that they all pull through. I can't imagine anyone having fun with their character dying after the fight is over because of a few die rolls they had absolutely no influence over. And with NPCs the GM can just make something up, I'd probably go with dead by default. (But as long as the players don't make sure they are dead, any downed NPC returning later in the campaign is fair game. :smalltongue:)

Have you looked at the mortal wounds table from Adventurer, Conqueror, King? It is similar to what you're thinking about. It could easily be a template to base your own system on. The system is based on B/X, but instead of death at 0 HP you roll on the table and have the potential to recover, die, or have various temporary or permanent disabilities. Plus it is written with nice flavorful entries that are great ideas for giving the feel of the game you want...grisly and meaningful but not too gory.

In ACKS, the table is rolled on after healing or first aid is applied, and is modified both by how much damage was taken and how quickly an ally was able to reach the downed character to provide aid and whether magical healing was used. If they just barely hit zero and someone got to them immediately, the result will probably be good. Some results will require bed rest and slow HP recovery, similar to your suggestion, some are permanent injuries that give a penalty to something.

You could add a saving throw to see if they can keep fighting despite being injured, and risk a worse result on the mortal wounds because they refused immediate aid (or don't, and just roll normally).

CharonsHelper
2016-06-03, 12:28 PM
An idea I am currently tinkering with is this:

Positive hit points represent endurance. Hits are bruises and an abstract measure of how tiring the fight is. When a character ends a fight with hp left, they are fully regained after a rest of a few minutes.
Negative hp represent injury. Any time an attack leaves a character at negative hp, he has to make a saving throw to avoid falling unconscious or being disabled. A character at negative hp does not regain hp after a fight. Instead another saving throw is made once per day to regain 1 hit point. This continues until the character is back to at least 1 hp.
Simple and easy to remember.

That pretty much sounds like a vitality/lifepoint system by another name. Just change positive HP to Vitality and negative HP to Lifepoints, and it's the same thing. (except that those systems often have ways to bypass Vitality such as ambush or crit hits)

the OOD
2016-06-05, 01:12 AM
[things that are true]


An idea I am currently tinkering with is this:

Positive hit points represent endurance. Hits are bruises and an abstract measure of how tiring the fight is. When a character ends a fight with hp left, they are fully regained after a rest of a few minutes.
Negative hp represent injury. Any time an attack leaves a character at negative hp, he has to make a saving throw to avoid falling unconscious or being disabled. A character at negative hp does not regain hp after a fight. Instead another saving throw is made once per day to regain 1 hit point. This continues until the character is back to at least 1 hp.
Simple and easy to remember.

But the threshold at which a character is dead is something I have not decided yet. In a B/X type game like I usually use, most attacks deal simply 1-6 damage. Having characters die at -10 hp would allow for one to three additional hits before the character is dead. Which I think doesn't seem bad.
This system would not cover unconscious characters dying after a while, but I think that might not actually be necessary. For PCs I would just say that they all pull through. I can't imagine anyone having fun with their character dying after the fight is over because of a few die rolls they had absolutely no influence over. And with NPCs the GM can just make something up, I'd probably go with dead by default. (But as long as the players don't make sure they are dead, any downed NPC returning later in the campaign is fair game. :smalltongue:)


rather than having a predictable injury/unconsciousness/death threshold, how about a system that totals the damage taken, and forces progressively harder and more dangerous saving throws as damage accumulates.
to adapt that to d20-ish terms, every 5 points of damage forces a save (DC 5+damage taken)
on a failure, roll on an injury chart(1d20+damage taken). lower results can end in momentary disorientation, black eyes, broken noses, and such, while higher results include permanent injuries, significant internal bleeding, unconsciousness, and death.

ideally, this should add uncertainty to combat, as you don't know how many "hit points" you have left, and the risk of one lucky shot injuring a character. additionally, making effects like unconsciousness/blood loss/immobility occur randomly, you will end up with character who fight on with injuries and blood loss(while D&D would have then fall unconscious). if the characters end up in any kind of extended fight, there is also the danger on increasing injuries and penalties hindering you, leading to more injuries, an so on, with makes combat brutal and terrifying.

other possible tweaks to the mechanics:
include entries on the injury charts that require significant medical care, and have rules to support this.
create multiple charts for different damage types, so slashing and bludgeoning give different types of injuries
possibly require rolls on the injury chart even if the character passes their saving throw, rolling (1d20-the amount the save was passed by) instead of the standard (1d20+damage taken), so the minor bruises still accumulate.
include some injuries that increase future rolls on the injury chart


any thoughts? need clarifications? I overlook something?

dps
2016-06-06, 02:51 PM
A big part of the problem, IMO, is that you need conflict in order to have drama, and overt physical conflict (i.e., violence) is the easiest type of conflict for DMs and players to deal with. Plus, fantasy and RPGs are both ways to escape from everyday life, and in everyday life most of us don't engage in violence very often and (whether it is a regular part of our life or not) are well aware of how dangerous and horrific it can be--so violence in RPGs is not only expected by many players, but may be something they want in the game since they can't really engage in it IRL. Which means that your players might not be happy playing campaigns where violence is rare to start with and can be realistically counter-productive, especially if resorted to too often. In short, you need players who will be happy doing things like negotiating a peace treaty or trade pact between two cities rather than sacking one or both of them, and you need the skill as a DM to set up interesting situations where solutions other than combat will A) be interesting to play out, B) will work, and C) will reward the players.

lacco36
2016-06-08, 08:22 AM
To answer the question from the thread title: I believe it can.

To answer the opening post question: If you have HPs, as a "cushion" or "ok, nothing really happened because you still have 1 HP left", it will not work.

What works for me - damage tables from Riddle of Steel or Trauma PDF. Trauma would be actually preferred, since it's system agnostic and I think there are some rules within for d20 systems. Will check it out when I'm near the book and let you know.

But basically, if you drop the HPs and look at each "damage" as real damage, then it would work. You'd need to estimate what kind of "damage" the weapon does and apply.

Best way - the above advice about keeping HPs secret and just "eyeballing" the damage would be great to really let your players feel the fear, but would increase your workload. So, let's keep the HPs. They represent overall capacity of the person to deal with trauma & damage & stuff...

...now, based on an attack type (blunt/piercing/cutting/electricity/frost/etc.), the damage done (1d6 for rapier, 1d10 for longsword) you could estimate the effect...

The orc swings his longsword diagonally...and hits...for 1 damage? Small laceration on shoulder. It hurts, it bleeds, but it won't kill you.
The same for 10 damage? The guy just managed to cut open your throat, and you feel your breast wet from the blood. You try to stop the bleeding with your hand, but you feel that your throat is filling with blood - you'll soon choke on your own blood if you don't finish him...
Rapier for 6 damage? He just poked your eye out! Or pinned you to the wall with one clean stab through your belly...

Another possibility: use HP as "cushion" - these are the "near misses", "bruises", "scratches". After you're at 0, you start getting hit. Each attack costs you fingers, appendages, bleeds you to death, severs the tendons or mutilates you (=decrease basic attributes according to the damage). Or just plainly kills you if you get below -10 at one attack... :smallbiggrin:

Of course, criticals do this immediately - they don't only deal additional damage, they bypass the "cusion".

Dunno what this will do with the game balance. Would be maybe fine with the OD&D style of games (low-hp, low-damage), bad for high-level 3.5.

Mr.Moron
2016-06-08, 10:54 AM
Beyond the mechanics, description & framing play a lot into how violence feels. Consider two descriptions

GM: Your tracking check is successful. You find your way to the bandit's hideout. Through the window you can see them sitting around, and can overhear them talking. They're playing cards and nothing that seems too important, mostly drunk rabble rousing.
Player: I'll throw chuck one of my grenades through the window.
GM: Critical Success roll damage:
Player: <high number>
GM: The grenade goes off and everything goes flying. One of the bandits is totally ****ed up and it blows him arm off, the other one is just totally dead his brains exploded like a melon. The rest are all stunned and totally defenseless for the moment.
Player 2: While they're stunned I charge in and attack one of the stunned bandits with my axe. Critical Hit! Tons of Damage!
GM: You cut him in half across the middle, his guts go everywhere! Total "Clean up on Isle 7" there.. you know if this is was like a grocery store or something and not an old timey inn, you know what I mean.
GM: Anyway bandits turns. they're totally pissed you took out their buddy so the three dudes still up all charge you. miss, miss, hit. <damage>
Player: holy crap that's a critical injury =/.
GM: Yeah. He comes in with his knife you almost dodge but then grabs your head and he ****ing slices off your ear.

vs


GM: Your tracking check is successful. You find your way to the bandits hideout and are close enough to overhear them. One of them apparently named Paul is pretty drunk, he's throwing cards at another "Oh shut up George", she so wasn't into you. So, nothing important just the usual stupid drunk teenager stuff.
Player: I'll throw chuck one of my grenades through the window.
GM: Critical success, roll damage.
Player: <high number>
GM: The grenade goes off and everything goes flying. The one throwing the cards is thrown back, he screams for a moment grasping at the stump of his arm. What little is left of George bounces off the opposite wall. The others cough and stagger in place, stunned.
Player 2:While they're stunned I charge in and attack one of the stunned bandits with my Axe. Critical Hit! Tons of Damage!
GM: You land a solid blow on his shoulder, as you follow through you can feel a stiff but inadequate resistance to the momentum. The bandit is dead.
GM: Their turn. Screaming they charge you wildly. Two miss as they stumble over a slack patch at you feet. The last hits for <damage>
Player: holy crap that's a critical injury =/.
GM: Teary-eyed and grimacing he screams "**** You, **** You", and is barely able to grab your head. With a wild slash, you feel a sharp pain as the blade catches your ear.




The exact same events mechanically and in terms of narrative events. The word counts are very similar as well. The first example has the more graphics descriptions of violence. However the violence in the second example is certainly going to feel a lot more real and potentially unnerving. In fact I've found using something closer to the second style actively discourages players from being trigger happy. Actually if I'm feeling particularly manipulative I'll use things closer to the first for monsters or when the players have been forced into a violent conformation, while the second or even more intense when player actions are less-than-heoric.

Kami2awa
2016-06-10, 02:17 AM
You really don't need blood and guts to make things horrifying. The greatest horror tends to work through implication, not through the explicit. Compare the two images here:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Category:Images_of_the_Hill_of_the_Slain

One shows just bodies, in some detail. The other, with the weeping figure in the foreground and the hill fading away into the background, presumably covered in bodies as far as the eye can see, shows both the scale of the tragedy and the direct impact.

AceOfFools
2016-06-10, 12:54 PM
I worked on an action/survival horror game that had moral as an impotant mechanic. If your moral ever dropped to 0, you're character would go mad, and was equivalent to dying. Moral was also used to fuel abilities, such as self-healing.

Whenever you killed a monster, you'd gain one moral, as your survival started to seem more likely. Whenever you saw a person die, you'd lose one moral, as your death seemed more likely. If you were the killer, you'd lose another moral due to the emotional turmoil.

I always liked that mechanic, but it's really not fit for heroic fantasy.

AMFV
2016-06-10, 03:48 PM
I worked on an action/survival horror game that had moral as an impotant mechanic. If your moral ever dropped to 0, you're character would go mad, and was equivalent to dying. Moral was also used to fuel abilities, such as self-healing.

Whenever you killed a monster, you'd gain one moral, as your survival started to seem more likely. Whenever you saw a person die, you'd lose one moral, as your death seemed more likely. If you were the killer, you'd lose another moral due to the emotional turmoil.

I always liked that mechanic, but it's really not fit for heroic fantasy.

Sorry, are you referring to morality as in one's morals. Or morale, as in one's belief in one's success?

goto124
2016-06-10, 08:29 PM
The OP wanted a game where the players wanted to minimize combat due to the physical and mental turmoil. However, such mechanics would mean seeking out monsters to kill while avoiding whatever counts as 'people' in the setting. And what if the player and GM can't agree on what counts as a 'monster' or a 'person'?

The mechanic would also affect how the GM structures the game. Such as trying to balance instances where 'people' are trying to kill the PCs, and instances where PCs get to kill monsters.


I always liked that mechanic, but it's really not fit for heroic fantasy.

I'd asked earlier on what was meant by 'heroic fantasy', which I'd taken to mean 'players play heroes who go around killing things without worrying about the effects on other people', whether because they ever encounter only monsters to kill or the consequences of killing people are handwaved.

D20ragon
2016-06-11, 08:14 PM
I sorta default to the definition on TV Tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HeroicFantasy)

Fizban
2016-06-12, 07:56 AM
Sounds like you're gonna need less combat. If the characters are generally trying to avoid fights, they shouldn't get in fights too often. Even with the occasional non-lethal brawl or beat-down to make a point and fighting off wild animals there shouldn't be much fighting. People have mentioned survivors and the people who cared about the guys you killed, but you don't have to kill to reap consequences.

A non-lethal brawl to avoid getting beat up and mugged yourself still destroys the pride of whoever thought they were better than you, and people with the right connections can retaliate in other ways. You try to avoid the fight but you end up having to anyway because reasons, even knowing it's going to make things worse down the line and require even more cleanup, all thanks to the people in power disliking you and the fact that you can't just kill them.

Or maybe you can? As long as the guy's alive he won't stop and his position is untouchable, but maybe if you can whittle away some support you can avoid reprisal if you kill him in a proper duel? And then after all the talking and brawling and talking and talking some more and the real fight to end it, then you can bring out the widow and orphan.

In short: a game about navigating the different factions and trying to get things done without provoking them, where fighting at all is gonna piss someone off and all you really make is a short term gain with a long term loss. But sometimes you've gotta do it. I don't know if that's horror but I think it could be suitably tense.

lacco36
2016-06-13, 03:02 AM
I'll use a quote from recruiting thread I did some time ago. A guy, who played Riddle of Steel before popped in just to write this:


A tip to all players: The last time I ran a Riddle of Steel game ( a VERY fun oneshot at a convention), I dropped my 4 players (each with pregenerated characters) in an invade the mansion scene. They were in the outskirts of the mansion, hidden in bushes, watching the two (armored) guards.

The FIRST ACTION of a player was "I'll draw my bow and shoot at a guard". He drew his bow, prepared his shot, and let the arrow go. We counted sucesses: a hit. Finally, I checked where the arrow hit, and then described something like:

"Your arrow strikes true, hitting its mark in the chest. The power of the arrowhead pierces through the man's chain mail shirt, flesh and bones. The guard drops to the ground, still living, while his punctured lung fills with blood until he chokes on it and dies." Then I looked to the other players, each with melee-weapon characters. "Do you charge into melee?"

I'll never forget their terrified look.

I'd add this up to what Mr. Moron said. The description shouldn't cover only "mechanics" - it should evoke a feeling.

And yes, most of people who play RoS for first time are usually shocked when their characters get their fingers cut-off, slowly bleed to death or get blinded by blood from their head wounds...

...and they get more careful. Or don't play.

If the game supports the descriptive results of wounds - and long-term wounds - instead of only "generic" HP, which is then quickly replenished by local healer, it will be better.
However, and this is supported by several discussions of high-lethality games I've had, this may lead to the feeling of "powerlessness", or even fearing to do anything.
This can be offset by providing clear motivation and rewarding (smart) courage - as opposed to charging into melee without thinking.

As for the monster vs. person discussion: the same - clear motivation - works for this issue too. I usually don't separate monster vs. person for the morale/psychologic consequences. Players do it for me.

If the players know their characters would risk their lives to kill the monster (either because the vision of dragon hoard full of glinty golden coins & artefacts makes them drool, or the dragon kidnapped the princess and they are sworn to protect her life, including one who is secretly in love with her), then it's fine and dandy. If they know they will risk their lives venturing after group of bandits for poor 10 copper coins and the loot will be worth almost nothing, will they will think about it twice. But if they are given 10 coppers by a 11-year old who saved the money for his whole life and he wants them to rescue his mom...

...they won't hesitate. It helps that RoS rewards players via them following their PC motivations.

But the use of this basically boils down to "will the players enjoy it?". In my opinion, certain types of players will. I know I have a game like that running and it works pretty well.

goto124
2016-06-13, 10:10 AM
While pitching the game, did you let the players know that unlike 'traditional DnD' (where violence is the only solution that actually works), it's the kind of game where violence is horrific and meant to be used as a last resort?

Because without such an understanding, it comes off as a lot of guilt-tripping.

What system is that? Hopefully one where non-combat solutions are viable.

Thrudd
2016-06-13, 11:32 AM
While pitching the game, did you let the players know that unlike 'traditional DnD' (where violence is the only solution that actually works), it's the kind of game where violence is horrific and meant to be used as a last resort?

Because without such an understanding, it comes off as a lot of guilt-tripping.

What system is that? Hopefully one where non-combat solutions are viable.

Why is it guilt-tripping? I do get that some players need to be told that, unlike a video game, you don't need to immediately fight everything and not everything will immediately and necessarily be an enemy trying to kill you. But describing how a guy dies doesn't mean it was wrong to have killed him.

Describing the results of violence somewhat realistically doesn't mean combat isn't or shouldn't be a favorable solution. This is Swords & Sorcery. In the ancient world life is brutal, slaughter is a part of life. It's the kind of world where people routinely make blood sacrifices to the gods, and sometimes it's human blood, and that doesn't surprise anyone. Raiding the villages of "others" to get better farm land, livestock, metal, and enslaving anyone you don't kill is normal practice. For characters who are supposed to be warriors, adventurers, rogues, seeing a guy get shot with an arrow and choking on his own blood until he dies is nothing, business as usual. Did they absolutely need to kill that guy? Maybe, maybe not. Was it a good tactical decision? Maybe.

The players should know if a game is going to be lethal for characters or if it is more cinematic and there is little/no real danger for them. If the game is lethal, then they will be careful to make sure combat is in their favor. But when it is necessary and in their favor, I would not expect anyone to hesitate to inflict gruesome violence on their foes.

"Conan! What is best in life?"

lacco36
2016-06-13, 11:39 AM
While pitching the game, did you let the players know that unlike 'traditional DnD' (where violence is the only solution that actually works), it's the kind of game where violence is horrific and meant to be used as a last resort?

Because without such an understanding, it comes off as a lot of guilt-tripping.

What system is that? Hopefully one where non-combat solutions are viable.

If that was a question for me, let's see:

Yes, I do and yes, I did. I also gave them a "training field" - ran few combats so they get the idea how dangerous it is. I don't usually use the words "unlike traditional DnD", or tell them that violence is horrific and meant to be used as last resort, but most of them (except for the ones that took "overconfident", "troublemaker" or "rage" flaws) try to solve stuff without combat.

Also, I asked everyone to "roll up" characters that are ex-army. So used to these things. So they don't vomit on their shoes when they cut someone's head off... but the players seem to understand - the game is lethal and if they don't fight to their fullest, their characters will die.

However, once the swords are drawn, they try to dispatch the enemy by all means possible. No guilt-tripping there, just the usual horrors of combat... :smallbiggrin: The interesting thing is, that victory in this type of combat is usually rather... wildly celebrated :smallbiggrin:

It's Riddle of Steel. There are non-combat solutions available.

"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!"

Slay33
2016-06-13, 02:09 PM
Violence is horrific to all. Even if they don't show it.

Soldiers in the United States military see violence and killing whenever they are on the field. They have received training to minimize the mental and emotional damage killing impacts people with. But still, some of them see just too much violence or just end up killing one to many hostiles.

Thats where PTSD comes in. For them violence and the horrors of war have tortured their mind so bad that they can hardly sleep. They are never at rest. They can have terrifying flashbacks of the violence they were exposed to at any time.

You want to make violence horrifying? Whenever an enemy is killed, have a non-humorous death sound soundtrack on your phone/device next to you whenever they are waging bloody war.

Have enemies weep in pain and suffering as they lay on the ground bleeding out. Have wounded NPCs cry for their mothers as their life slips away while they lay in a pool of their own blood. Have NPC families in town frantically ask the players if they have heard any news of their sons and daughters who went to fight the battle with the party, but never returned.

Have that NPC war veteran in the tavern have a terrifying flashback of the time he was forced to slaughter that family of innocents by locking them in their house and setting it ablaze.

Have an NPC little girl receive some grim news from her already crying mother about her father and then begin crying aswell.

Have a small boy wearing a helmet to big for him try to knife one of the party members while they are traveling on the road because the rogue slit his big brother's throat.