In the most recent episode of the Digital and Dice Podcast, our hosts talked about playing campaigns where all of the PCs are monster races. One of the major topics that came up was prejudice towards monsters by the "civilized" world. I'd like to explore that a little further, especially as it applies to more traditional campaigns.
Often, when we find a monster the PCs will cut it down without a second thought. But as Brian mentioned in passing, the PCs are the ones kicking down the doors to the homes of the monsters and killing them and taking their things. In the eyes of the monsters, the PCs are the bad guys. They come in and immediately start attacking things and destroying their way of life. And this is because the PCs are often prejudiced towards these monster races. They instantly see them as enemies, and not as other sentient being capable of thought and emotion.
Let's say for a moment that we discard this prejudice. If the PCs were to not initiate combat with every monster they see, they might be able to reason with these creatures. Perhaps reach compromise, or even steer them towards good. Just like Lindo did with Zug-tug in Hazardous Endeavors. But we can apply this more broadly beyond one case. We could make a habit of this. If the PCs set out to avoid combat, they might be able to still accomplish great things, sheerly through reasoning and kindness. And there's precedent for this from a narrative standpoint. An immediate example that comes to mind would be a pacifist run of Undertale.
With this in mind, GMs can design their encounters with an added layer of depth. GMs can think about alternatives to combat, and plan according. This works especially well when going back to consider elements of dungeon ecology. By keeping in mind what is in the dungeon and why it is there in the first place, you might better understand the goals and motives of the monsters, as well as what they value. Keep this in mind when figuring out what they might want, and with that in mind, you can conceptualize what it might take to reason with them. A carrion crawler in a crypt beneath the city probably doesn't want gold. It's down there for food. So if you feed it some decaying flesh that you happen to be carrying around, it probably won't want to fight, since it tends to prefer that to fresh meat. Giving players that option to circumvent the encounters encourages creative thinking, and not murderhoboing everything on sight, which are generally good traits for players to have.
Simply put, discarding our prejudices about monsters as players and as GMs can lead to some interesting and unexpected outcomes, and allow you to approach the game from an entirely different angle. And it might be worth exploring where that takes us.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. If you want to read more in relation to playing a game with the focus away from combat, you should go check out my article "Slice of Life - Roleplaying without Combat" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.