Last week we looked at two ways to create non combat encounters – natural hazards, and contests. This week we’ll look at a few more. Tasks where violence is simply not an option, troublesome individuals and peaceful high stakes tasks.
When violence is not an option
“Break into the castle, get past the guards, sneak into the Prince’s bedchamber and steal his prized gauntlets. If you’re seen – you’ve failed. If you harm any of the guards, you’ve failed.”
In this situation it’s clear that the challenge should involve no violence. Perhaps the patron simply doesn’t want to be responsible for bloodshed, perhaps the quest need attract no attention. Perhaps the party are having to carry out their activities on friendly territory. For whatever reason every challenge that would ordinarily be resolved at the point of a sword now has to find a different solution.
If you’re going for this approach put the onus of finding the non-violent solutions onto the players. Just because the task has to be resolved peacefully doesn’t mean that doing that is going to be easy. Make them impress you with their ingenuity.
You might also find that having solved one seemingly ‘combat ready’ problem peacefully they start to take the approach more frequently when it’s not explicitly required, something which in my experience often leads to more enjoyable games.
A character doesn’t have to be actively hostile to be a problem, some people are just difficult to deal with. Here are some options for troublesome encounters
The shadow has decided to follow the heroes around for a while. It could be because they think the heroes are interesting, it could be because they think the heroes are up to no good, it could be because they’re the hero’s biggest fans. It’s hard to be stealthy or secretive with a shadow, and they might get themselves into trouble and need rescuing.
Remember that heroes are often remarkable individuals, it’s only natural they’d attract attention.
The diligent have a job to do and are determined to do it well. Perhaps they’re a guard. Perhaps they’re an inspector. Perhaps they’re a particularly fussy chambermaid. Regardless they have a task to do and will do it to the best of their ability. Might this delay the heroes? Yes it might. Might it cost them money? Yes it might. Might offending the diligent mean they can’t get what they want at all? Yes it might.
Here’s Alan Rickman encountering a particularly diligent sales assistant
The grifter is someone who is out to relieve the heroes of their hard earned cash. This is particularly easy for a grifter who is travelling one way while the heroes are travelling in another. Perhaps they have valuable information on the lands ahead. Perhaps they have holy water or magical herbs for sale (how would you tell them apart from regular water and herbs?). Heroes are naturally disposed to believe stories about mysterious goings on, magic items and the like, making adventuring parties easy prey for con-artists.
If you’re looking for cons to run on your players there’s a wealth of ideas in this book.
High stakes tasks
Try giving your party something to organise that should have nothing to do with violence. Don’t just ask them to travel through the jungle, ask them to take an expedition of 200 through the jungle, supported by elephants. Or perhaps the king has made them responsible for the famously hard to please prince’s fifth birthday party. Their budget is unlimited, but if the prince isn’t pleased, the dungeons await!
I once ran a game in which the players were soldiers in a Napoleonic era army. The officers ordered some men from the ranks (the party) to prepare a dinner party for them.
The party had one factor in their favour – one of them was a butler’s son, and one against them – the NPC chef was blind drunk.
Do the job well and they’d impress their officers, perhaps gain useful information and a chance to help themselves to some choice supplies. Do it badly and their officers would remember them for all the wrong reasons.
As part of the game the dinner party was a great success, forcing the players to dive into parts of their character sheets usually left undisturbed and drove a lot of role-playing as the enlisted ranks struggled with the idea of needing three spoons per person…
So there you have it, a whole range of ways to keep a game moving without asking anyone to roll initiative. If you’ve got ideas of your own – leave them in the comments.