LuccaRPG: Well... no, because this is an RPG, and the only way to get around in an RPG is to fight things!
Gwyn: Ruby, I wish there were, but there's not. We've just got to outsmart it.
LuccaRPG: Outsmart it by hitting it a lot. Yes!
When a video game is described as having "RPG Elements", you generally don't expect that to mean a branching story path with lots of opportunities for you to decide how the character acts. That's more like an Adventure Game. No, it usually just means that you kill enemies, take their stuff, and Level Up.
Of course, the way that character choice is expressed in rules-heavy RPGs is through your choice of character exerting a direct influence on how you are, and aren't, able to play the game. Since most computer games are primarily about combat, that character customization naturally boils down to choosing between different ways to kill things. This is exacerbated if combat is the primary or sole source of Experience Points, money, or other resources, so that Violence Is the Only Option. But that's no problem, since there are Monsters Everywhere. However, it is possible that it is an actual legitimate RPG; it's just that everyone considers the plot a side benefit at best.
This trope is also often in effect in Tabletop RPGs, as most of them are still aimed at "action" genres, where combat is a common mode of conflict resolution by definition. Since combat is supposed to be dangerous and exciting, yet also "fair" so the players don't feel cheated if their character suffers appropriate consequences, such games tend to have combat systems that can easily be an order of magnitude or two more complex than their rules for resolving non-combat challenges (which frequently are handled with just a die roll or two before moving on). This quite naturally tends to reinforce the impression that this trope is in effect regardless of how things actually work out at any individual gaming table in practice.
Some pen-and-paper RPG designers, however, maintain that putting a combat system distinct from the rest of the resolution system leads the players to rely mostly on fights (similarly, the presence of an elaborate magic system would hint the importance of supernatural forces in the verse). Most games with no focus on combat do solve conflicts of any nature the same way, be it a rough negotiation or a duel. Games like Sweet Agatha or Breaking the Ice, focusing on investigation and romance respectively, do not have such systems at all, since it is unlikely any physical confrontation will happen.
So many RPGs do this, it's easier just to list the aversions. Where other genres are concerned, this leads into RPG Elements, which usually work exactly the same.
- Deus Ex, which almost always had multiple ways to proceed through any given part of a level, only some of which involve killing anyone. In fact, you don't get cash or XP for fighting people, as all XP is doled out by prescripted locational triggers.
- The Nameless Mod wisely follows this design philosophy. In fact, Deus Ex had five required kills (though all are commonly skipped by hardcore players.) The Nameless Mod has none.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution awards a lot more XP for sneaking around enemies unnoticed and peacefully solving the quests instead of rushing into combat all-out. Though the non-Director's Cut version does have unavoidable, full face-to-face boss fights; a stealth or non-combat character can have a hell of a time with those.
- Strife was one of the first First-person Shooters to include RPG Elements, but managed to avert this trope. In addition to being able to enhance the player character's abilities, it also included NPCs that you could talk to, as well as Multiple Endings. And even then, ability upgrades weren't obtained by killing enemies for Experience Points, but instead were obtained over the course of the story. Namely, these came in the form of training sessions and biotech implants which became available one by one as you advanced in the main storyline.
- The Precursors, unusually for a game that is partly First-Person Shooter, allows you to complete most missions with diplomacy or stealth. You can even kind of not-kill enemies in Space Battles, they usually run away when low on health.
- Elona allows you to gain experience and level up from cooking, playing music, fishing, farming, or simply completing odd jobs. Beating bosses is required to complete the main quest, but it's pretty much optional, and because of the nature of the game, it's quite possible to enjoy the game without ever setting foot in a dungeon.
- In the Fallout CRPG series, it is possible to gain a great deal of XP and even complete the game just by talking to people, sneaking around, messing with machines, or stealing stuff.
- This holds true even for New Vegas. 10 INT and 10 CHR is just as much as a Game-Breaker as carrying around 20 Epic weapons and a good portion of the stuff you find has non-combat value. You can even avoid the majority of the non-random combats (including the final boss of the main storyline) if your speech and barter skills are high enough.
- Fallout 4 on the other hand pushes straight into "shoot first, ask vague questions when the story tells you to". Stealth becomes a lot harder to even do as you need to be at least level 38 to max out your "Sneak" perk (no more skills) and then find the rest of the stuff to actually be able to sneak around better. You can't talk your way out of boss fights as easily and some can't let you do that at all.
- Even the DLC do this: Nuka-World's good ending is solely slaughtering the entirety of the raiders that inhabit the theme park.
- Planescape: Torment, where there are plenty of potential combat situations, but only about three people that absolutely have to be fought and one of those is part of the tutorial.
- Mass Effect gives you XP for not just mowing down hordes of Mecha-Mooks, but for talking to people, successfully picking locks and hacking computers, finding things, and even looking at points of interest. Although most of the XP you get comes from mowing down the mooks, and actually advancing through the plot pretty much requires it. Though you can still gain 10+ levels on the Citadel, where the vast majority of missions are talking and diplomacy-based.
- Not only do enemies give a far greater proportion of your EXP than anything else, and avoiding enemies with negotiation does not get you the same EXP as killing them (in one notable example, there was a base filled with fairly easily killed enemies. They were peaceful unless you couldn't come to an agreement with their leader or shot them… but you could still talk to the leader after shooting them (and get no Renegade points, which are supposed to be what you get for being impulsive and using violence over persuasion). So the most EXP was acquired by killing everybody in a base, and then convincing their leader that you didn't want to hurt anybody.
- Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, doesn't give any XP for killing enemies; all experience is gained by completing quests. However, this doesn't make much of a difference in practice since, like the previous game, most quests involve killing large amounts of enemies.
- Ultima VII; while the early games in the series were essentially the Trope Maker, The Black Gate focuses so much on dialogue and puzzle-solving that you can play 6-7 hours in before even encountering any combat, and then discover you have no idea how combat works in the game.
- While not an aversion, the Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords turned this trope into a plot point: the Jedi masters see the Exile grow stronger in the Force by killing people, and claim this to be proof that the Exile has been turned into a walking wound in the Force.
- Might and Magic games tend to play this trope very straight, but you could top level ten or so in the final installment without getting in a single fight. This, of course, was unintentional.
- Geneforge, while strongly combat-oriented, isn't exactly combat-focused. The fourth game even allows for a Pacifist Run, though it's described as unreasonably difficult. It's either less or more straight because there's no way to Level Grind, so if you miss opportunities to level up by killing everything that moves, it'll be harder to kill the enemies in the next, tougher area of the game if you do resort to combat.
- The series also has branching story paths in each game, and the player character has a strong impact on the course of the game.
- Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus also gives you experience for casting spells and visiting previously unseen map squares.
- Alpha Protocol gave you a good amount of EXP for sneaking past enemies, and also gave you EXP for hacking, lockpicking, and circuit breaking. There are also many bonuses and allies to be gained by besting a foe in combat but choosing to spare their life, though the game has been criticized for lulling players of pacifist or stealthy characters into a false sense of security prior to surprising them when these elements evaporate upon the introduction of unavoidable boss battles.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Avert this most of the time. Both experience and money is gained through plot triggers and quest solving rather than fighting. Several quests give you more XP for being stealthy or non-violent and there are very little quests available in general that has no solution other than violence. Unfortunately, at least 6 mandatory boss fights and 2 encounters with mooks would needs to be finished in order to complete the main story and they will require an actual confrontation. But aside from those rare situations most of the time the player will just explore the world, read, pick locks, solve puzzles, hack the computers, search something, do some platforming, talk to a lot of characters and runaway/hide from enemies if playing as an diplomacy- or stealth-oriented hero. Contrary to popular belief, the infamous sewers section has no actual unavoidable fights and both final stages is on 99%(cause bosses) beatable by sneaking.
- In Rune Factory 3, while you still only gain experience towards leveling up from combat, everything else you do in the game also has a direct effect on your stats, be it fishing, farming, mining, cooking... even walking and sleeping will power you up in some way.
- Even in the games in the Rune Factory series which don't use this system, although you still need to fight to progress in the story, there's a huge emphasis on non-combat activities such as farming, raising monsters, crafting, and social interaction with townspeople. Given the series started as a Harvest Moon spinoff, this isn't terribly surprising.
- Jade Empire gives you experience points for reading the book stands and scrolls found all over the game world. The yield from each read increases the more you've read before, with some prodigious sums at the end. There's even a gem you can equip that increases the bonus you get. You can essentially get massive levels from light reading. Most of the time it not even essential information, just background setting material.
- The Elder Scrolls
- The series averts this trope in general by having Skills increase through use, rather than give you an EXP gain. After you've increased a certain number of skills (typically 10), you'll level up. What this means in practice is that a Warrior character who smashes everything that moves with an axe, a Mage who makes extensive use of charms to make others do his dirty work for him, and a Thief who sneaks around and robs people blind will all level up at roughly the same rate.
- That said, there are typically several cases per game where combat is unavoidable. Given that (with the sole exception of Morrowind) the series uses fairly strict Level Scaling, increasing non-combat related skills can leave you at a severe disadvantage in these situations as the enemy will be scaled to your level, not your actual combat ability.
- This trope also heavily sticks out in the Mages Guild (or equivalent) questlines. being set in universities or research institutions, NPC mages are often shown doing weird and wonderful things and investigating the fabric of the universe, but for obvious reasons the player is left unable to actually do anything with magic other than fight or buff using other people's spells. One of the weirdest examples of this is in Skyrim with Arniel Gane; the Winterhold mage, Alteration professor, and researcher of the Dwemer tries to figure out what happened to them and recreate it. He does. Later you can summon him (or rather, his shade) to aid in combat in combat. A three-part quest about the fascinating question on how the Dwemer disappeared spent running errands and combating Dwemer mechs only to get a (admittedly useful) Conjuring spell.
- Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale completely averts this in the core game aspect of running the store. Your Merchant level increases based on sucessful sales, nothing else. Played straight for the Dungeon-crawling aspect.
- Its inspiration, the Atelier series, also holds true to this. The point of the games are to successfully operate an alchemy lab, and you basically dungeon crawl solely to get ingredients or field-test creations (direct combat is left up to the overpowered mercenaries you can hire for protection.) A couple of games in the series reversed this for a standard "save the world" plot, but they were the exceptions rather than the norm.
- Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle feels far more like an Adventure Game, or a Tabletop Game in video game form, than anything else. Combat is limited to certain scenarios that are only unlocked later in the game; experience is mostly earned through interaction with the game's many characters. To drive the point home, any actual fights are introduced with the message, "Negotiations have failed!"
- Tell Tale Games tend to do this. They will feature the occasional fight but the game is mostly interactive story and roleplay.
- World of Warcraft is mostly combat oriented, but you also get experience from discovering new areas, completing quests that don't involve combat such as most fishing and cooking dailies, gathering herbs and ore and surveying for archeology fragments. A handful of players attempted to avert this and make it to the maximum level (varied depending on which expansion they did it during) without ever killing anything or setting foot in a dungeon, opting only to gather materials, craft, and explore. The most recent reported case was the druid Irenic, who made it to level 90 during Mists of Pandaria.
- Batman: Arkham Series isn't an RPG, but the RPG elements actually implies more than combat. You get experience to level up, and also to heal (which is why you continue to get experience once you reach the cap). A lot of it is from straight up combat, with the experience you get being based on how effectively you fought, but there are also predator missions where you have to take down groups of enemies in a stealthy manner, with the experience gained actually being influenced by the amount of fear you inflict on the enemies, as well as a lot of experience gained being from non-combat side missions, like solving puzzles, collecting riddler trophies and answering riddles, destroying objects, hacking into devices and collecting clues from crime scenes Batman sets up.
- In Live A Live, combat is downplayed in the Wild West and Science Fiction chapters. Neither scenario includes any Random Encounters or any opportunity for Level Grinding. The Wild West chapter has a total of two player-controlled battles, and what little combat the Science Fiction chapter has takes place inside an arcade cabinet. The present-day chapter, by contrast, is focused exclusively on combat.
- It's possible to go through Undertale without killing anything. Every monster and boss can be either fought or negated in a different manner, turning every enemy into a Puzzle Boss to one degree or another.
- A Dance with Rogues gives more XP for non-combat solutions and makes combat really hard in general, particularly before you level up enough to effectively Take a Level in Badass. It plays almost like Survival Horror at the beginning, except with sexual molesters instead of monsters, and more "survival" than "horror".
- OneShot has no combat, only item puzzles and Fetch Quests.
- Dins Curse is a rare case of this averted in the Roguelike genre. The Rogue class has the Trickster specialization, which gives you both stealth and the ability to Set a Mook to Kill a Mook. Since quests only require certain monsters to die (and not you killing them), and you get experience points for disarming traps and completing quests, a Rogue can progress nicely through the game with a minimum of direct fighting, mainly using trap and quest XP to level up while having monsters kill other monsters for you.
- Call Of Cthulhu 2018 Averted, and with good reason; you're a mere human with a few dozen cantrips. Your enemies are Eldritch Abominations whose weakest mooks could swat you to death. When you're not dealing with humans or fishmen, the best way to 'win' an encounter is to run and hide for exp.
- The cursed RPG in Nanashi no Game has absolutely no combat. Or leveling. The very concept of a console RPG is deconstructed to the point that all you do is walk around and talk to people. And pick up hidden items.
Non-video game examples:
- While the monstrously popular Dungeons & Dragons largely plays this straight, many new indie RPGs have been trying to avert it in claimed contrast with Dungeons & Dragons. In recent years, there's been an RPG (Dead Inside by Atomic Sock Monkey Press) described as “reverse D&D” and one where you help people in order to regrow your lost soul. Ironically, Dungeons & Dragons itself has had experience rewards for non-combative actions since the 1980s, longer than almost all of its competitors have even existed (though they typically only existed through the intervention of Rule Zero.)
- The original editions of D&D only gave you experience for the treasure you successfully collected, regardless of whether or not you defeated the monster. Fights were actually things to avoid, as they expended your resources with no direct reward.
- The 3.5 rulebook even gives another example - if your goal is to get a minotaur's treasure, then obtaining the treasure means that you have overcome the challenge, regardless of whether you did this by killing the minotaur or by sneaking past it. Either way, you earn the same amount of XP.
- 2nd Edition stresses that the XP rewards are for defeating enemies, which includes intimidating them into surrender, tricking them, etc. as well as just killing them, and basically states that if you could talk a dragon out of destroying the village, you probably deserve more XP than you would get for killing it.
- And in 4th Edition, there are even explicit rules for gaining XP for solving Skill Challenges - roughly speaking, skill tests that are particularly important to progress in an adventure. There are also guidelines for how much XP the GM should award for completed quests.
- The party also gains experience for overcoming traps. This may mean disabling it, finding an alternate route, or setting it off and somehow surviving it.
- In reality, it's only because of console and computer gaming that the concept of experience-only-as-reward-for-monster-killing exists, as the limits of a computer program are still heavily trumped by human imagination and ingenuity. Every edition of DnD encourages in print the rewarding of xp for overcoming non combat challenges. Its just that depending on the edition and the type of challenge, there may or may not be explicit rules for calculating this XP.
- Pathfinder mostly follows D&D conventions (it is a spinoff of 3rd edition), granting experience rewards based on your "overcoming" a challenge, regardless of whether you did so through combat, stealth, diplomacy, etc. The Adventure Paths also have guidelines for what level a character should be at a certain point in the storyline, so the GM can dispense with experience entirely and just level the party when they get to the right story event.
- Averted in Risus. The majority of the (four-page) rulebook describes the all-important combat rules, and the Risus RPG really does equal combat. However, combat doesn't necessarily equal violence - possible combats described include playing chess, getting an unreliable vending machine to work, beating rush-hour traffic to stop the Big Bad…
- The Dark Eye's commercially available adventure sets have experience gains for killing, but most points come from finishing the adventure (Not finishing it alive, but solving it). In the 3rd edition, most creatures had no experience rewards anymore, and in the 4th edition, players only get experience for seeing or dealing with a creature for the first time (like it's a new experience). The first edition was released in 1983.
- Averted in Rifts, of all things. The experience tables list rewards for accomplishing goals or neutralizing threats, with no direct correlation between enemies killed and XP gained.
- In The Riddle of Steel, characters have special stats called Spiritual Attributes. Five of these are selected at character creations, with the details filled out by the player (for instance, one Spiritual Attribute may be Drive: To rescue his daughter). Whenever an action contributes to the goal, temperament or ethics of a Spiritual Attribute, that Spiritual Attribute grows. They can be used to ways:
- They can be used in-game temporarily to contribute to rolls that are relevant to the Spiritual Attribute. From the example above, the character would get bonus dice equal to his Drive for any task related to saving his daughter.
- They can be spent permanently at the end of a game session to include regular attributes, weapon proficiencies and so on and so forth. The only way to level up is to roleplay.
- Massively averted in Golden Sky Stories. Not only is combat resolved with a single opposed check like any other contest between two different characters, but it's actively disincentivized — if you have a Connection to the town of more more than 2, getting in a fight will drop it back to 2, hurting your ability to generate the Wonder used to fuel your Henge's supernatural abilities and wasting the Dreams and roleplaying used to increase it. Thus, violence is an absolute last resort to be used only when there's absolutely no other options for solving the current problem.
- The Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem are supposed to be more about politics, intrigue, social interaction, background fluff and the internal struggles of its characters as they try to avoid becoming monsters, so combat is intended as more of a climactic experience, rather than an everyday occurence. A pure combat-built character generally wouldn't make it long in vampiric society without political allies to shield them from betrayal, at least in theory. In practice, many groups prefered to ditch the whole psychological horror aspect and play it as an action game instead.
- Making pure combat viable involves a lot of house rules and removing a lot of mechanics (meaning such games are more a custom homebrew than a World of Darkness game). In the rules-as-written game it's not really possible, because serial murder is the second worst sin on the morality scale and your character will quickly become insane and then an NPC. Even just intentionally using violence as a problem-solving tool will drop you fairly low and drive you insane fairly quickly.
- And even if you manage to avoid the actual breaking point, even mildly lowered humanity makes it increasingly difficult not to crawl into your grave and sleep for a century.