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8 Non-Combat Roleplaying Games for When You're a Lover, Not a Fighter

Clockwise from left: Romance in the Sky, Golden Sky Stories, Threadbare, The Play’s the Thing.
Clockwise from left: Romance in the Sky, Golden Sky Stories, Threadbare, The Play’s the Thing.
Image: Evil Hat Productions, Star Line Publishing, Stephanie Bryant, Magpie Games

It can be fun getting into a squabble with some goblins in a dungeon, or facing off against an army of Jem’Hadar. But what about those times you want to play a roleplaying game where violence is off the table? Here are some picks for those times when you’d prefer a little romance, mystery, or some good old fashioned Shakespearean drama.

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We’ve put together a list of some excellent non-combat tabletop roleplaying games—or ones where it’s very easy to remove any form of combat. That said, most tabletop RPGs can be combat-lite or free with a bit of adjusting, including Mouse Guard and Call of Cthulhu. Even Dungeons & Dragons can be free of combat, though it would take a lot of modification. Let us know some of your favorite non-combat roleplaying games in the comments.

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Battles have been replaced with dance battles.
Battles have been replaced with dance battles.
Image: Evil Hat Productions

Til Dawn

I previously mentioned this campaign in my list of RPG resources for playing online, but I wanted to give it a special shout-out because it is so much fun. Taking place in a distant future where music has become a multi-layered form of expression, Til Dawn is a campaign that uses the Fate Core system. Players take on the role of deejays who’ve been sent to a futuristic music festival to battle it out for audible supremacy (think Eurovision meets RuPaul’s Drag Race). What’s great about Til Dawn is that it’s not about combat, it’s about performance. Players use a mix of rich, detailed costumes and heart-stopping music to create fabulous shows, describing every moment in extreme detail. Til Dawn is available on DriveThruRPG for a “pay what you can” suggested donation. The Fate Core system is required to play it.

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Intrigue, espionage, and glorious outfits.
Intrigue, espionage, and glorious outfits.
Image: Evil Hat Productions

Romance in the Air

Romance in the Air is another Fate World adventure, this time taking us back in time to an alternate version of fin de siècle Europe—one where dirigibles and international intrigue reign supreme. Players take on the role of passengers and crew on an airship that’s dripping in luxury, but hiding behind the fabulous parties, high-stakes gambling, and excursions around the world lies a conspiracy involving the succession of a Central European province...and possibly a world war. With everyone trying to win something—whether it’s love, money, or power—it’s only a matter of time before the dream of this ship comes crashing down. Romance in the Air is available on itch.io for a “pay what you can” suggested donation. The Fate Core system is required to play it.

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Maybe they’re breaking up, or a giant earthquake happened?
Maybe they’re breaking up, or a giant earthquake happened?
Image: Dog Eared Designs

Primetime Adventures

Primetime Adventures is a tabletop roleplaying game where players work together to create their own television show. One player takes on the role of the producer who’s building the story while the others are protagonists helping (or hindering) to move things along. What’s great about this RPG is you can play it as an easy one-off, like a single episode or made-for-TV movie, or string together multiple sessions to make a season of a television show. Primetime Adventures is available to purchase on Dog Eared Designs’ website. It costs $25 for the print edition, which comes with a free digital PDF.

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A world we all want to live in.
A world we all want to live in.
Image: Free League Publishing

Tales From the Loop

Anyone who knows me knows I love the Tales From the Loop tabletop roleplaying game. Players take on the roles of 10- to 15-year-old kids living in a small town where anything and everything is possible, struggling to deal with otherworldly events and the “stranger things” about coming of age in the 1980s. Combat is heavily discouraged in this game and easy to avoid entirely—in fact, the rulebook makes a point of stating that player characters cannot be killed. Instead, the focus is on investigation, cooperation, and emotional connection. Tales From the Loop is available on Modiphius’ website for $25.

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They’re cute, sweet, and very very anime.
They’re cute, sweet, and very very anime.
Image: Star Line Publishing
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Golden Sky Stories

Golden Sky Stories is an English-language adaptation of Yuuyake Koyake, a family-friendly tabletop roleplaying game where players take on the role of henge, or “animals with just a little magical power, including the ability to temporarily take human form.” Not only is combat forbidden in Golden Sky Stories, but violent acts can also be punished in the game. Instead, it’s about working together to solve problems, growing as friends in the meantime. There are plenty of expansions that add new characters and scenarios, including an English countryside with fairies and even a village in a high fantasy realm. Golden Sky Stories is available on DriveThruRPG for $10.

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Just please don’t do a pandemic fiasco.
Just please don’t do a pandemic fiasco.
Image: Bully Pulpit Games

Fiasco

Fiasco is a hilarious disaster—and I mean that in the best sense. The GM-less roleplaying game dumps all players smack dab in the middle of a caper going horribly wrong. Taking on the role of average people trying to do something way out of their depth, everyone “works” together to make things as terrible as possible, going from one disastrous situation to the next as every person tries to get ahead of the game. Players can technically fight each other if they get mad enough, but it’s not a set game mechanic and is easily avoided. Fiasco is available at DriveThruRPG for $12.

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Fuck yeah. This teddy bear’s living her best life.
Fuck yeah. This teddy bear’s living her best life.
Image: Stephanie Bryant

Threadbare

Threadbare is a “stitchpunk” roleplaying game where each player is a jury-rigged toy that lives in a broken world. Using the Apocalypse World engine, this is a game about creation and repair—combat in Threadbare is extremely rare, and if it ever happens it’s resolved quickly without the use of dice. Instead, players focus on patching themselves up, creating new inventions, and making friends with fellow players. After all: It’s a dangerous world out there, for a toy. Threadbare is available on DriveThruRPG for $9.

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I AM A SKELETON AND I’M SCREAMING AT YOU. ACTING.
I AM A SKELETON AND I’M SCREAMING AT YOU. ACTING.
Image: Magpie Games

The Play’s the Thing

I’ve saved what might be the wackiest one for last. The Play’s the Thing is your chance to rewrite Shakespeare...and get it right, dammit! Players take on the role of actors performing a production from the Playwright, but they all have “ideas” on how they want to improve the source material. As everyone works through the different acts of the play, actors can make suggestions to the Playwright to improve the work...or even try and sabotage it if things aren’t going their way. Anything goes when you’re on the stage. The Play’s the Thing is available on DriveThruRPG for $7 on sale (normally $20).

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

brianburns123
Brian Burns

When I was in middle school, we played a modified version of the TMNT roleplaying game (shut up! It was cool! Based on the violent comics, not the silly kids’ cartoon!). We played entirely dice-less, making it easy to start up/continue a story at any time.

In our case, there was quite a lot of combat (cuz we were hardcore. TOO hardcore for sports cuz...umm...you can’t kill people in sportsball?). But the emphasis really was on storytelling. There were some set stats about characters that we established during character creation, physical stats, equipment, magic/psionic powers and uses per day and so on. But the emphasis really was on the collaborative storytelling, with the presumption that the good guys are likely to win (or losing one encounter is just a temporary set back for a longer story). I would present them with puzzles for which I had a solution in mind, but I would totally reward creative approaches. Combat would run something like,

Player character: “my character attacks the bad guy!”

GM: Okay, so let’s see. Your character is a mutant Lynx (hardcore!) who is trained in military combat (totally hardcore!) but is relatively inexperienced in direct combat. The bad guy is a mutant tiger champion pro wrestler (oh yeah!). Seems like you’d be at a disadvantage in strength and experience. How would you beat this guy?

Player: I’d trick him. Make it look like I want to engage him in some WWF showmanship. Then pull a sneak attack

GM: Okay, describe an example

Player: I put my hands up and growl at him, challenging him to grab my hands for a test of strength.

GM: He grabs your hands and immediately starts to bend them back, causing serious pain. He is significantly stronger than you.

Player: while he’s busy trying to show off his superior strength, I kick him in the kneecap.

GM: okay, that’s funny! His kneecap pops off the joint and he crumbles, screaming like a cub.

I will admit this approach sometimes lead to conflict over certain details. Like I remember a pretty serious fight erupting over how much damage a stick of dynamite should cause or one adventure that involved a demon invasion and one of my friends made the point that if demons are showing up, he should be able to call in angels to fight them. Still, overall it was all done in the name of telling a good story and having fun. It was good times!