Thursday, June 27, 2019

D&D Without Combat Rebuttal

               I recently read an article on Master the Dungeon called D&D Without Combat and I had a few thoughts on that idea. Can D&D be done without combat? Yes, but why would you? D&D does roughly three things each progressively worse, Combat, Exploration, and Roleplay. The rules support the first portion, Combat, quite explicitly. The rules are decent for Exploration as well, though you have to dig into the most DMGs to get the main thrust of that. D&D, regardless of edition, has either none or very few rules in support of Roleplaying.

This is the blog in question.

               Often I will be on the Facebook groups and a question will come up like this, “I want to run a game where my players are trying to solve a mystery and I don’t want to have any combat. How should I do it?” My standard answer is, “Don’t use D&D.” Why would you try and fit a square peg into a round hole? To be fair, the article admits, “Other systems might be more convenient for this, but we play DnD(sic)”. I find this to be a very silly conceit, “We play D&D therefore”. You don’t have to play D&D, there are other games out there that do not do combat well, but do mysteries very well. The Gumshoe System springs to mind, but there are plenty of other. 

Trying to cram D&D into every paradigm of gaming.

               I have literally played over 200 different RPG in my day, and for the past several years I was very into the Indie RPG scene. The games people produce can be ultra-specific to the exact thing you want to do. Why are you trying to shoehorn D&D into a one size fits all model? Do you want to play a game about the stresses of war and the bonds it can create, play Night Witches? Do you want a game about inexperience, young adults having to make life and death decisions about others, play Dogs in the Vineyard? Want to play a game about supernatural creatures and the torrid relationships they can get into, play, Monsterhearts? These games all have small premises, but do that one thing really well. 
               I do not want to get too hyperbolic, but this was the issue that brought about the “Dark Days” of D&D when 3.5 was out, and the entire RPG industry was making 3.5 products. The creativity in the market was stripped bare, because everything had to be “3.5 compatible” or it was not wanted and could not sell. This created a glut of product on the market, and the entire industry suffered, not just WotC. I think the people at WotC are being smart these days and not trying to make D&D an “everything” system, and focusing it on its strengths; Combat, Exploration, and some light Roleplaying.
            I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with playing a non-combat D&D game. The author of the articles does have some good ideas if you choose to do it. I just think you might be better served to try and find a game that does what you want in a better fashion. We are not living in the 1970s anymore, and only have a few games to choose from. There are thousands of choices out there, you just have to open to it. 


  1. "Why would you try and fit a square peg into a round hole?" More than once I have done a D&D game where while combat was a major element, the focus was on non combat elements. In each case the reason was that D&D is more than a set of combat rules.

    For example I recently ran a Planescape game where the characters were focused on making a profit from the inn they had created- and latter focused on governing the community that grew around their inn. I used D&D rather than the Ice and Fire game I also had on my shelf (which would be a more natural system for governing a community) because Planescape is a D&D setting with the assumptions appropriate for that.

    Likewise I ran a game long before hand of espionage as a group of villains infiltrated the government of a city. I could have found a fantasy cloak and dagger system- but the city I designed assumed D&D races. I don't just mean elves and halflings, but aboleth and kou-toa.

  2. You can use a tennis racket to hit a baseball, but a bat works better. I can run just about any RPG with any system, some are just better than others for certain things. D&D is a fantasy combat system, with light RP elements.