RPG Blog Carnival: Combat Avoidance

The last couple months of scheduled blog carnivals have focused on system meta, so I’m going to bring us back into the complex dance of GM and player for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, with a look at one of the most perennial issues of the RP-heavy game: combat avoidance.

Let’s face it—much though tabletop RPGs may owe to wargames, not everybody wants to fight. When we think about combat avoidance, usually it’s an issue of players or their PCs going out of their way to do anything but engage the enemy in face to face battle over the GM’s objections, and inconvenience ensues. But there are also cases where the GM doesn’t feel like fighting, but the players want to; where the GM is trying to encourage a habit of combat avoidance in the players so they don’t start taking on things they’re not ready for; where it’s near the end of session and nobody really wants to get the swords out when there won’t be time to get them sheathed again before someone has to go home.

I myself have a long and complicated history with combat avoidance. Once I realized that ’sequence of fights’ wasn’t a required format for a game, and came into my own as a player of social characters, I found more and more reasons not to fight, from as supported by the surrounding game as “we’re on a diplomatic/stealth mission here, if we’re fighting something’s gone horribly wrong” to “dang I hate these mechanics” to “Did I just really schedule a fight in my game in which none of the opponents is capable of battle banter? BACKTRACK!” At the same time, though, I’ve been on the receiving end of plans being completely hashed and nifty scenes lost due to the players going nonviolent; my entire game’s plot was irrevocably changed due to one early combat avoidance episode, my players once managed to avoid the only fight in about four months of gaming that I’d actually been looking forward to, and then there was the incident with the PCs running away from my first arc’s major antagonist.

The more I look at this topic, the more complex it seems. People’s motivations, IC and OOC, for wanting to avoid a fight or wanting to keep someone else from avoiding a fight; ways of sidestepping combat, and ways of making sure it happens anyway; what effect combat avoidance has on a game, and how to mitigate it; balancing the needs of combat evaders with some earlier games’ experience mechanics, what else to do when having regular fight scenes just doesn’t seem to fit the needs of the group….

Let’s have some fun, then! Post away, link back here, and leave a comment so I know you’re participating. This carnival runs through the thirtieth of April.


  1. Philo Pharynx says:

    A lot of this depends on the game style. If a party has goals beyond “get us some loot”, then they can think about if fighting accomplishes these goals. If the fight doesn’t help you get what you want, why waste the resources? One of the groups I run for has managed to negotiate through every dragon encounter they’ve had.

    Another idea is that the opponents might not always want to fight. Sometimes the players force the issue, but the monsters don’t have to fight to the death. If they see that they can’t win, sometimes they’ll talk in order to save themselves. If the monster offers treasure and information about other threats, the PC’s might go for it. And what happens when one monster goes down and the other offers to surrender if they don’t kill their parent/child/sibling/spouse? After all, monsters have family too.

  2. Ravyn says:

    That, too! Though as my experiences indicate, there’s a lot more than just game style to complicate things. I wouldn’t have considered this a full-on Blog-Carnival-worthy topic if I didn’t think I could get a couple weeks’ posts out of it myself; it’s no fun having a carnival on a topic with only one or two real viewpoints or approaches, right?

  3. burnedfx says:

    I broke my carnival post into two parts, so the titles are deliberately transposed.

    Part 1: http://thedelvers.com/2012/fantasy-fighting
    Part 2: http://thedelvers.com/2012/fighting-fantasy

  4. satyre says:

    A late entry for the Carnival – because not all combat avoidance is peaceful…

    Fabian Strategies

  5. Ravyn says:


  6. JourneymanGM says:

    A late submission, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share some thoughts about such a great topic:


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Combat Avoidance: Why Won’t They Fight? | Exchange of Realities
  2. Rewards That Aren’t the Fight | Exchange of Realities
  3. Getting a Character Into the Fray | Exchange of Realities
  4. The Gassy Gnoll: How I Came to Love/Hate Combat | Game Knight Reviews
  5. » Fantasy Fighting - The Delvers
  6. » Fighting Fantasy - The Delvers
  7. Reassuring the Mechanically Unsure | Exchange of Realities
  8. The Generic Villain Isn’t Fighting Today | Exchange of Realities
  9. Why a GM Might Not Fight | Exchange of Realities
  10. Weekly Assembly: The Crunchyfluff Debate | The Gamer Assembly
  11. Meta-Fight Rewards: GMs vs. Players | Exchange of Realities
  12. More Meta-Fight Rewards for GMs | Exchange of Realities
  13. Impractical Applications (And That, Your Honor…) | Exchange of Realities
  14. The Generic Villain on Destroying the World to… Ummmm…. | Exchange of Realities
  15. On Curious Creatures as a Character Challenge | Exchange of Realities

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