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Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth

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The soldier, the diplomat, and the spy

"There is a locked door and your goal lies on the other side. What do you do?"
1. Smash the door down.
2. Try and pick the lock.

A form of gameplay non-linearity, found mostly in Role-Playing Games, especially Western RPGs, wherein the player can beat individual levels or subquests (or sometimes even the entire game) by sticking largely to one of the three playing styles:

This trope is about having to choose between these three approaches, not about having a specialist for each in the Player Party (though they usually do — for that, see Cast Speciation).

Subtrope to Three Approach System. Compare Fighter, Mage, Thief where all three are combat-oriented, just with different approaches at it. Contrast RPGs Equal Combat, where no (meaningful) non-combat options are provided, and Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities, where non-combat paths are available in theory but rendered useless by the game design.

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General examples:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Future Card Buddyfight: The three protagonists form a team following this approach.
    • Gao: Combat.
    • Tasuku: Diplomacy.
    • Gaito: Stealth.
  • Naruto:
    • The InoShikaCho formations. The Yamanaka Clan (Ino) with their mind-reading techniques and ample knowledge of human psychology are the Diplomats. The Nara Clan (Shika) employ mid-ranged, shadow-possession jutsu and are remarkable strategists. Therefore, they fill the Stealth role. The Akimichi Clan (Cho) are the heavy-hitters of the team seeing they enlarge their body parts to fight. They are the Combatants.
      • Alternatively, the Nara are the Diplomats stalling for time with their shadows while the Yamanaka Stealthily sneak upon the enemies to knock them out with their mind jutsu. The Akimichi remain as diversions and the front line Combatants, though.
    • In a sense, despite all of them being proficient in combat, Konoha's Hokage fit either of these in terms of their preferred methods when in war. The Fourth is well-known for teleporting around to stab unsuspecting enemies along with his nearly unmatched speed — he is Stealth. The Third is an accomplished politician able to manipulate situations (and people) to his favor — he is Diplomacy. This role he shares with the Fifth, who managed to ally the great five Hidden Villages under the same banner during the Fourth Shinobi War. The First and the Second are both much more combat-oriented, something well backed by their abilities — they are Combat, though the Second's forte is his wits. The Sixth didn't see a full-out war nor any major conflict during his tenure, therefore complicating his classification besides the mandatory combat progress. Finally, the Seventh is undoubtedly a Combat type Hokage.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU's TrinitySuperman, Wonder Woman and Batman. Superman is the most powerful of the three, Wonder Woman while no stranger to combat is the Ambadassador of the Amazon people to the rest of the world and the most politically and socially active of the three, and Batman is a Stealth Expert. Superman and Wonder Woman can interchangeably serve in the Diplomat and Combat role with Diana being the best combatant among her people while Superman has been known to be a diplomat of sorts for Kryptonians to Earth.

    Fan Works 
  • Contract Labor:
    • The Urashima at the Hinata Inn — Keitaro (Combat), Haruka (Diplomacy), and Kanako (Stealth).
    • Three of the younger residents at the Hinata Inn. Nyamo and Su interchange between Combat and Stealth, while Sarah handles Diplomacy and Combat as needed.
  • Second Chance (Code Geass/Cross Ange): The Power Trio fits this trope to a T. Ange is the Combatant, Lelouch is the Diplomat, and Sylvia is Stealthy.
  • The Apprentice, the Student, and the Charlatan:
    • Nova Shine is the Stealth. He prefers subterfuge and sneaking around. The only time this changes is when someone pushes his Berserk Button, and he completely discards subterfuge in favor of kicking that stallion's teeth in.
    • Twilight Sparkle is the Diplomacy. She has an eye for the logical solution that doesn't involve being needlessly confrontational or needlessly subtle.
    • Aegis, Sharp Eye, and Trixie serve as the Combat option, with Aegis and Sharp Eye being experienced fighters, and Trixie being an experienced, ruthless Magic Duelist.
  • The Warder Cycle:
    • Respectively Arbert, Dagbert, and Slyte.
    • Alfyn, Thordan and Egil as well.


  • The Fan Convention Otakon LARP allows any of the three styles, but due to the large shonen genre population, it is most commonly completed with Combat. The climax of the LARP has been ended with one or two players using Diplomacy on uncommon occasions.

  • Masks of Aygrima has Hayram, the aggressive fighter, Chell the Ambadassador who was willing to talk to The Autarch directly, and Keltan, who has experience sneaking around Tamita and is young enough to walk around unmasked.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Played with regarding the main POV Stark siblings: Jon (skilled swordsman) is primarily a fighter, Sansa (a lady of the court) is a diplomat, and Arya (street urchin turned assassin-in-training) uses stealth. However, both Jon and Arya also develop skills in diplomacy, with Jon managing complex negotiations, relationships, and back-room deals as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and Arya getting up-close with Northern politics at Harrenhal, learning how to manipulate people as a Faceless Man and known for being able to make friends with anyone.
    • Meanwhile, the fourth Stark sibling Bran starts out wanting to be a knight (combat, though he never takes part in a fight), goes on to serve as Lord of Winterfell (diplomacy), and is currently learning to operate an omniscient magical spy network (stealth).
  • The Sundering portrays the dark mirrors of Haomane's Counselers, composed of Tanaros (the General), Ushahin (the spymaster), and Vorax (in charge of logistics).
  • Shallan's three Alternate Selves in The Stormlight Archive: "Veil" specializes in stealth and spy work, "Radiant" in swordplay and combat, and "Shallan" in social interaction.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Three of the main Stark siblings - Jon, Sansa and Arya - develop into this. (In a more basic version compared to their book counterparts, where Jon, Arya, and the fourth sibling Bran all have a wider range of diplomatic and spy skills).
    • Jon as a member of the Night's Watch is a master swordsman and battle commander.
    • Sansa in the back-biting royal court becomes a shrewd politician.
    • Arya, living amongst commoners and later assassins, learns skills in observation, trickery and stealth.


  • Girl Genius has two different groups that fall into this.
    • Agatha and her companions: Zeetha is The Big Girl who is incredibly strong, Agatha uses her role as the Heterodyne to get through bad situations and is much more personable than the others, and Violetta is a Smoke Knight.
    • Agatha and her love interests are this in a more political and social sense: Gil is very aggressive and strong and usually resorts to threats or violence in a pinch, Agatha is friendly and personable, and Tavrek is sly and resorts to underhanded methods to get what he wants.
  • In Oceanfalls, whenever the main character Nino enters a Random Encounter, he is offered a choice between these three options.

    Web Original 
  • Fallout: Nuka Break: The protagonists form the trifecta. When faced with a problem, Scar is shown to favor Combat, Twig prefers Diplomacy, while Ben tends to use Stealth.
  • Hyde: Hyde usually attempts to stab his problems, Goole is rather skilled at talking people into doing what he wants, and the Invisible Man is, well, invisible.

    Western Animation 
  • Among the key male Demons of Hazbin Hotel we have. Alastor who is the Stealth, since much of his role is underhandedly taking down both his rivals and any threats to the hotel. It's also worth noting, that he keeps his true intentions a closely guarded secret. Angel Dust is the Combat, since he's no stranger to physical pleasure and wields four Tommy Guns. Husk is the blunt Diplomat, since he was able to deduce the personalities of others quite quickly. He knows how to handle people, rather he likes it or not.
  • The most recurring minor antagonists of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are this. Scorpia is a Big Gal who later obtains lightning powers (Combat). Double Trouble is a conniving shapeshifter (Stealth). Entrapta is a Diplomat but not in the usual sense of the term. She's a rare example of a Diplomat overlapping with the Wild Card. This means she can be persuaded to join any side of the war as long as they provide her with technology to tinker with, therefore making her much more approachable. It helps she's usually pants at both combat and stealth. Catra, their leader and the main antagonist, makes use of all three methods as she sees fit but doesn't excel at any.
  • The Great Diamond Authority from Steven Universe. Blue Diamond is responsible for enforcing the laws and rules of the Gem Empire promulgated by White (Diplomacy). In fact, most blue gems tend to have diplomacy roles assigned. Yellow Diamond is in charge of Homeworld's military and, thus, of colonizing planets and developing weapons (Combat). White Diamond, ironically, controls it all from the shadows, mind raping or shattering any rebellious gem, and well hidden in her Head — not literally, is a gigantic spaceship (Stealth).
  • Total Drama: The three main antagonists and strategists of the reboot are all on the same team and follow this dynamic:
    • Julia is the Combat since having no allies or manipulation skills post-merge left her with only one choice: brute-force her way through challenges in the single-minded pursuit of immunity, which often works to her advantage, and isn't afraid to use her sharp tongue and fists to fight dirty.
    • Bowie is the Diplomacy with the best social game and the most strategic-minded, compartmentalizing his schemes to eliminate the competition and his actual feelings towards them. He's also the only one out of the three to have genuine or even any connections with the other contestants at all.
    • MK is the Stealth as evidenced by her ability to fly under the radar without coming off as either a threat or The Load. She usually operates behind the scenes with borderline cheating tactics such as hacking into the confessionals for blackmail material and stealing her teammates' belongings to auction off.

Gaming examples:

  • Dreamfall: The Longest Journey occasionally offers you the choice of talking, fighting, or sneaking around, especially when playing as Zoe (the other two protagonists are more action-oriented). However, the faulty implementation of the combat and stealth gameplay results in these options being generally harder to follow through.

    Action Games 
  • In E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, most storyline missions involving human characters can be solved with either speech (often by bribing or accepting another sidequest), combat, or stealth/combat.
  • The No One Lives Forever series generally encourages you to stay stealthy but the penalties for breaking stealth with guns blazing are not as high as in other stealth games, and at some points, you are outright forced into open combat. All diplomacy is, however, delegated to cutscenes.

    Immersive Sims 
  • In Deus Ex (and its sequels) you have the option of sneaking past enemies or fighting them and can often bypass areas by saying the right thing to the right people.
  • Dishonored lets players choose between High Chaos and Low Chaos runs: the former means going into missions guns-blazing and sword-swinging and leaving a trail of corpses in Corvo's wake, while the latter is all about stealth and non-lethal takedowns. Diplomacy, however, is not an option, since Corvo is both a pariah/enemy of the state and a Silent Protagonist.
  • The Hitman series generally encourages Stealth (via blending in and using disguises to access restricted areas), and Diplomacy (by using the aforementioned disguises to talk to people you couldn't otherwise) in order to reach your target. Combat is possible, but discouraged — non-target casualties are penalized, civilian casualties especially so.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Especially when discussing 5th Edition, Wizards of the Coast defines the "three pillars" of Dungeons & Dragons as Combat, Exploration, and Interaction.
  • Blades in the Dark explicitly supports all three types of play, in both its crew types and its playbooks. The Bravos crew, the Cutter, and the Hound represent the combat-heavy play; the Hawkers and, to a lesser extent, the Cult crews, the Slide, and the Spider cover the diplomacy side; while the Assassins, the Shadows, the Smugglers, and the Lurk playbook are largely about stealth. It also avoids Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities because, mechanically, all action checks work the same way, so the usefulness of each rating depends mainly on the type of campaign a group is playing, rather than on the system itself.

    RPG — Western 
  • The Fallout series was among the first games to have offered all three paths in most quests. The playstyles are later referred to as Combat Boy, Science Boy, and Stealth Boy. The three pre-set characters in the first game also fit: you have a musclebound meathead, a Russian Femme Fatale who is good at spy stuff, and a charismatic smooth-talker who probably would have been a lawyer if he was born in the pre-War world.
  • In Planescape: Torment, Diplomacy is king, but Combat and Stealth are also available because your starting class is always the Fighter but you can switch to Thief later on to bypass most of the fights. Notable for the possibility of finishing the entire game with only a handful of unavoidable combat scenarios.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura has the three playing styles mentioned above, plus Magick and Technology, which allows your character to either cast spells or build and maintain items that complement those playstyles.
  • Most quests in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines offer just stealth and combat paths, but diplomatic skills (including seduction, subterfuge, intimidation, and supernatural powers of Domination) earn you a lot of other nifty bonuses, as do hacking and security skills. Right up until the last levels where all your fancy skills become useless in endless dungeon crawls filled to the brim with enemies.
  • Present but downplayed in The Elder Scrolls series. Mechanically, the series offers these options, with "Diplomacy" skills (the Speechcraft and Mercantile) rolled into Stealth. In practice, resolving most quests requires someone dying with the option of sometimes sneaking past. As such, pure Diplomacy isn't really a viable option. Stealth is more useful, but still tends toward Combat (using sneak attacks to get Critical Hits and Backstabs for bonus damage). Diplomacy is also present in Mage builds via the Illusion school of magic, such as using spells to turn you into a temporary Charm Person. However, these spells are generally ineffective against targets that lack a mind (constructs, many forms of undead), so tend to be less useful than pure offensive spells.
  • A Dance with Rogues usually offers all three paths, though stealth is preferred to combat (because you can only play as a rogue) and attempts at diplomacy more often than not inevitably lead to Sex for Services.
  • One quest in Drakensang: The River of Time has you deal with a group of not-completely-evil pirates who plan to raid the local elven village. The Elves ask you to find a way to get rid of them—non-lethally if possible. Your three companions offer three solutions: kill the pirates (you get to loot all their stuff but the elves won't speak with you anymore), deceive them (the fastest and easiest way, requires a lot of charisma) and finally, negotiate with the elves (the longest but ultimately the most advantageous alternative).
  • Comes up in the Geneforge series quite often. The diplomacy and stealth options often blur together and usually include use of the Mechanics skill to disable or subvert devices and pick locks, but there is almost always a way around combat for plotline quests and many sidequests.
  • Divinity: Original Sin often offers the choice of sneaking past enemies who don't let you talk your way out of fighting them. However, combat is still the biggest source of XP in the game, and you will need those character levels for the endgame bosses.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition literally applies this trope in the form of the Inquisitor's War Table Advisers. The ex-Templar Commander Cullen Rutherford serves as Commander of the Inquisition, Lady Josephine Montilyet serves as Ambassador of the Inquisition, and the Left Hand of the Divine, Leliana, serves as the Inquisition's Spymaster. You can complete missions on the War Table by choosing an adviser to handle each one. Each one takes a different amount of time to complete a particular mission and potentially can have different outcomes.
  • Alpha Protocol usually allows either stealth or combat-oriented playstyles. Diplomacy can help with either, but Talking the Monster to Death is rarely an option; good social skills are much more useful for getting help with missions.
  • In page quote provider Knights of the Old Republic, this option shows up throughout the game, most noticeably during a mission where the player has to infiltrate the Sith base on Manaan; the player can either raid a Sith landing bay and steal a shuttle to get in (Combat), interrogate a Sith prisoner to obtain a passcode (Diplomacy), or forge a key card in order to sneak into the base (Stealth).
  • Mass Effect: The 'Verse's three Citadel races (i.e. the primary decision-makers in intergalactic politics) follow this dynamic with their own approaches to solving problems. The turians have a militaristic culture and their powerful space fleet is usually called on if combat is required. The salarians primarily utilize intelligence and espionage and their Special Tasks Group is one of the best in the galaxy. The asari, in addition to their powerful biotics, are incredibly long-lived and use those centuries of experience in working out diplomatic solutions.