5 Tips For Playing a Better Pacifist
A Tabletop RPG Tip Guide
When our adventures start, battle can seem a foregone conclusion. After all, you don't overthrow the ironclad grip of a despot with peaceful protests, nor can you win a war through diplomacy alone. However, there are many players who may enjoy the challenge of playing peaceful characters; characters who will shed no blood, and cause no harm throughout the entire campaign.
While this can seem like a frustrating person to have along in your party, there are a lot of ways you can make a pacifist character work. However, having seen this concept go down in flames more times than I can count, I would recommend keeping the following tips in mind.
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Tip #1: Check To Make Sure The Concept Will Work
While I'm an advocate for players and Game Masters working together to find characters and stories they're both interested in, not every campaign is going to work for every character, or every type of character. As such, you should sit down with your GM, explain what you want to do, and ask if playing a pacifist is going to work/be an effective option.
Because if violence is going to be central to the story, and fights are going to be a not-insignificant percentage of your encounters, then it might be better to save your pacifist for a game where that isn't going to be the case. Players who want a challenge might still try it (essentially trying to participate with one hand tied behind their backs), but at least get the lay of the land before you get too entrenched in your concept.
Tip #2: Decide The Specifics of Your Pacifism
As I said in both 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins as well as 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics, you should never leave your character's personal codes too vague and undefined. So before you get to any specific mechanics, any background details, or anything else, figure out what specific form of pacifism your character practices, as well as where it comes from.
For instance, is your character a hardcore pacifist, where they can do no harm to another living being even in defense of themselves or others? Are they allowed to use violence, or the threat of violence, to protect themselves and others if they are being attacked? Or is it killing, rather than fighting, that the proscription is specifically against? Are they allowed to use violence on mindless undead? Automatons? Animals?
There's a lot of nuance here, and it's important to decide where you fall when it comes to being a "pacifist," however you are defining that term for your character. And once you have the specifics of the character's doctrine, ask yourself where it comes from. Is it religious? Cultural? Were they part of a cult? Or perhaps the character was once a dedicated soldier or deadly warrior who is trying to turn over a new leaf, and maintain this new belief structure?
Tip #3: Ask What Your Non-Combat Role Is
Even in the most combat-heavy RPGs, there's usually some non-combat role your character can fit in a party. Whether you're the party face, the trap detector, the nature guide, the politically-savvy information gatherer, there are all sorts of roles your character can fill. This is, generally speaking, a place where pacifist characters should excel, because it allows them to fill a niche outside of combat that still helps progress the story, and makes them a valuable part of the party.
Make you sure keep tip #1 in mind here, as well, because there may be certain skill sets, and certain jobs, that simply aren't necessary when it comes to your game, and the campaign your GM is playing. After all, if there aren't going to be any dungeon delves, then you may not need a trap finder or lock picker, but you may still need someone to talk with the duke, negotiate with merchants, and to use subtle diplomacy when you want to avoid bringing down the hammer.
Tip #4: What Do You Do In Combat?
With very few exceptions, combat is still likely to happen in any given RPG, and that's particularly true if you're playing DND, Pathfinder, or other games that have the clash of steel and explosions of magic as part of their thematic makeup. So even if you manage to evade rolling initiative by using guile, stealth, and diplomacy, there's a good chance that sooner or later the party is going to throw hands... and when that happens, you don't want to be just standing on the sidelines doing nothing while everyone else is participating.
Do you, for instance, use non-lethal damage to knock targets out if they choose to attack you? Do you use poisons that render someone unconscious if they fail a save? Do you use spells that can hamper someone without harming them, or focus on magic that can twist an enemy's emotions so they see you as friends instead of foes? Or do you instead focus on healing your allies, fallen foes, and preventing as much death as possible?
Combat may not be a totally foregone conclusion in a particular campaign, but you should be ready with a battle plan when it does eventually happen, and you all have to roll initiative.
Tip #5: How Are You Going To Work With Non-Pacifists?
Too often when we have a character concept that focuses on an unusual method of achieving a goal, we don't stop and think about how that's going to affect the rest of the table. With pacifist characters, though, you really need to look around and ask how much give and take you have with fellow players, what kind of friction this decision might make, and if there's anything you can do to help head off problems before they begin.
For example, if your character cannot do harm to other living creatures, does that mean you will try to prevent other members of the party from doing so? Or would you try to establish that while your character is peaceful that you leave matters of violence up to those who are trained for it, and whose judgment you yield to? Or, citing the above terms, would your character be a whirling storm of spells and steel where the undead, constructs, or even devils and demons are concerned, but you cannot harm the living because of your vows and beliefs?
All of this might lead to interesting discussions among your companions. The goal is to make sure that playing a pacifist character doesn't spoil anyone else's fun, and that it adds something to the game. And, if you work with your fellow players beforehand, you can all mechanically build toward cooperative goals, such as making sure that the whole party can deal non-lethal damage, or that everyone has the tools on-hand to disable threats without harming them except in the most extreme of circumstances.
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About the Creator
Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.
Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary
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