This post was inspired by a post earlier this week (this one, for those curious) that seemed to get a good response. So often in RPGs we get so obsessed with busting out the combat dice that we forget to consider the alternatives. It isn't like there isn't tons of inspiration for the alternatives either, but we seem to stick to what the books know and love to do. Which, sadly, is almost always bust out the +3 sword of ass whooping and go to town on the village of kobolds. So, today, let's take a look at some other ways that conflicts can be resolved.
The Anime Connection
First off, this isn't what I intended with this topic but it does need to be brought up. Those of you who watch anime regularly, or even certain types of movies, are probably familiar with this concept but for those of you who don't I'll put it simply. Combat doesn't necessarily have to be combat. There are "battle manga" and "battle anime" where the fights take place in a wide variety of other formats. Games of Go, street races, tennis matches, and even competitive bread baking are all possible. They can all be used - in place of combat - for a game if you wanted a bit of a silly twist. This isn't what I'm talking about, but I wanted to bring it up.
Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Put simply, your average monster isn't too big on talking. Most monster encounters the only motivation for the NPCs seems to be "my sole reason for existence is to kill those people!" and that's that. I mention this because, as a GM, this is the first issue you need to resolve. Enemies need to be there for a reason other than "kill the PCs" because, seriously, how the heck do they know the PCs will be there at that time? This can be as simple as bandits setting up a toll booth on the road to an Orcish hunting party stumbling on the group. The point is: if you want alternative conflict resolution, you need more reason for an enemy to exist other than "to fight and kill/be killed."
After all, if the enemy only exists to kill then it is hard to reason or otherwise deal with them, right? Right.
Play Up The Motivation
Now that you have a reason for the NPC to exist, you need to play that up. If the Bandits have a toll for money, then why are they doing it? Do they just want money? Just need to feed themselves? These reasons are important to have as they open up the number of ways that the players can approach them. Bandits wanting to get rich and live the good life will probably back down to threats a bit more readily than a group trying to raise money to save their village. At the same time, the group trying to save a village will likely leave the party alone if the PCs make an offer of aid to the village. That Orcish hunting party I was talking about may just want the deer they were tracking, or to make sure the party isn't going to come near their village and attack the young orcs that are kept there.
These might be hard to play up, but if you don't at least hint at them then the PCs will never see that there is more to the NPC than just a sack of XP and a roll on the loot table. So, play up that motivation.
Be Open Minded
The last step that you, as the GM, need to follow is to be open minded. If the situation is set up believably, and the NPCs' motivations are played up, then your PCs will come up with ideas to deal with them. Be open to those ideas and give them a few moments thought to determine how well, or poorly, it might go over with the enemies.
Bandits that normally prey upon a village of un-trained farmers are likely to back down to intimidation from an armored and seasoned warrior, no matter the numerical advantage. Orcish hunters aren't likely to be too keen on fighting to the last man considering they have other things to do and aren't, necessarily, warriors. A toll booth may be willing to negotiate for a lower toll, or threatened/charmed into not charging one.
Be open about it. Let your players surprise you.
Any other advice you'd give to GMs looking to bring some ACR into their game? Sound off in the comments.
P.S. there won't be a post Thursday or Friday. Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is Black Friday. So for Thursday I'll be travelling and Friday I have a retail job on the biggest shopping day of the year here. Hopefully I'll make it out the other end ok!