Some time ago, I posed a question about the casual nature of violence in many RPGs on RPG Stack Exchange. I also posted a longer version here on the blog, Your PCs Are Murderous Cretins, that got a lot of good discussion.
For whatever odd internet reason, the somewhat old question has gotten a big spate of activity lately, but sadly not answers I’m finding useful, but two varying contentions.
1. It’s not true! RPGs do not have high levels of casual violence!
Oddly, this mainly seems to be coming from RPG notable Frank Mentzer. I think he thinks I’m a member of BADD or something and is jus targuing against me because he figures I’m “anti” RPGs or D&D in general (but the only game I am “anti-” is 4e, as far as I know, and the question is specifically tagged as system agnostic). But is this really even debatable? I mean, you can say “well but it doesn’t warp your fragile little mind” or “Violence – I like it!” but I think it is fair to say every single player of every RPG ever has killed more sentient beings in the game than outside it. (Oh please let me not meet an exception…)
While mulling this over, I saw an interesting post on Lamentations of the Flame Princess bringing in a Forge discussion where there is a fairly quotable bit:
D&D does not easily lend itself to moralistic horror stories. The rules of the game directly reward getting rich and, if necessary, killing whoever gets in your way. As an emergent property it encourages operating from a position of overwhelming tactical advantage. These are shitty moral values if taken seriously: in the real world, they would be the values of a psychopath. Therefore Vance’s sense of irony as a method of detachment.
I mean, I’m not a Forgie, but this is pretty much true, right? I play D&D, I like D&D, but true is true…
2. The only way to promote or retard casual violence in your game is via game mechanics.
So I totally understand the argument that you CAN try to influence your game’s murder level by providing either strict game mechanics (like in Pendragon) or mechanical negatives (like Vampire or Unknown Armies) or removing mechanical encouragements (like the D&D murder-for-XP system) – but a lot of the newer answers say that this is the ONLY way to do it.
I agree that to a degree, “System Does Matter.” But I think that can be overstated; it would seem that in a simulationist game, you actively do NOT want any specific mechanics bearing on this. Sim games model the real world. In the real world, besides the cops getting you, there are no “mechanical disadvantages” to killing someone. They are all psychological and social and moral. Many games leave that to the player, not the rules. So for those games, you really can’t influence the killiness (and other behavior) in your game except by grafting on more rules? I think this is trivially incorrect; I ran a 2e game with stock “XP for kills” rules and via setting crafting had it be a realistic, personal game where killing people wasn’t job 1…
Both of these claims attempt to invalidate the frame of my question, but they don’t seem to hold water to me. What do y’all think?