There’s a certain image that comes up in “Fantasy” settings – usually some monstrous creature, a dragon, say, is facing off with a knight and his (or her) sword. A horse might be there too, for color.
After a couple of sessions of Caravel Island, what I’m finding is that the combat is actually the least interesting part of the game. I don’t think this is the result of “boring” systems (though, perhaps, there is too much emphasis on combat abilities in the classes and whatnot) but rather because the players have so rarely been in situations where “stab them” is the first thing that comes to mind.
From a story perspective, this has interesting implications for how characters would really react. For example, when confronted with the possibility of physical conflict, would the dashing rogue really draw the knife or shoot the pistol first, or would they do everything they could to talk their way out of a situation (or just run)?
As entertaining as grand battle sequences are, it’s often in the interest of all parties to avoid risking life and limb for non-essential fights. What I’ve been seeing is that this translates to the players and their characters too – if there’s not a compelling reason to attack something, they’re not going to do it. In fact, the only actual combat that’s taken place so far came when the players were more or less forced to fight by some creatures they unwittingly antagonized. As soon as the players were able to end the fight (without murdering everything), they searched for and found a way to do so.
I should note that this isn’t necessarily because they feared that they would lose said fight, but more because there appeared to be a way out of it without conflict. It’s a perspective that I haven’t considered as much in my own writing because, generally, the stories build towards these scenes of swinging swords and blasting rifles. Getting to that point and then not having a fight would seem odd. Right?
Now I’m not so sure. Thing was, watching the players find ways out of the fights was more interesting than the combat itself. The sheer ingenuity the players used to squeeze their way out of danger was fascinating to see – moreso than the by-the-numbers roll dice and stabby stab.
I’m going to play with this in my own fiction, just because having characters that employ all of their energies in avoiding fights would be fun to play with, provided that their only solution isn’t a panicked flight to anywhere. And, for the game, I’m going to put more energy into making sure every conflict has some potential means of resolution that doesn’t involve an ax to the skull.