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You Wanna Fight?

Fifth Commandment

by Bryan Jonker
Oct 14,2002


Fifth Commandment


This series has been focusing on, among other things, the fight: why people fight and what the outcomes of the fight are. This is natural, because role-playing came from war games - fighting is fairly common in most role-playing games. Another font of inspiration are TV and movie shows, which has combat galore. Finally, we go back to classic literature. Put simply, combat is one of the easiest ways to portray conflict, an essential part of a story. In some games, this feeling goes overboard; everyone (and certainly the PCs) is battle-hardened, ready for a fight like some bad Hong Kong movie.

But, reality, and the games the more accurately portray reality, shows another side. Some people do not have the ability to fight. Others are not trained. And then there are those who choose not to fight: the pacifists. This column discusses pacifism in a campaign, and how you can introduce pacifism in a campaign while still keeping conflict.


First, a few myths need to be exposed. Pacifism is neither easier nor harder than fighting. To use an example, a 5th level fighter can fight an orc, an ogre, or an adult dragon. Would you consider the fight to be difficult? Defeating the orc is trivial, the ogre difficult, and the dragon near impossible. Similarly, being a pacifist depends on the social context of the government, the peer group, and other factors. Is military compulsory, like in Israel? Is there a strong movement of pacifism within the country? Are moral rights upheld? Are there laws to specifically deal with pacifism?

The second myth is pacifism is without a struggle. This comes from two views: first, the idea that fighting is inherently more difficult than staying at home protesting. The second is more literary - the idea that if a pacifist doesn't hurt anyone, then no one will hurt the pacifist. Neither of these cases are automatically true. To be honest, pacifists die a lot. Some of the accounts can be found at this Quaker site.

Finally, pacifists themselves are not two-dimensional, defined by their pacifism. By definition, they don't fight physically, but some can fight verbally or politically to get their way. Some are very serene in their decision not to fight, while others may get tempted to deck someone who gets violent with them. A few people may call themselves pacifists, but then renounce that label when they get into a life-or-death struggle. Quakers and pacifists struggle in our current, post-September 11th world, where killing is evil, but letting a person kill thousands is just as evil.


"Most believers in democracy and all pacifists begin, of course, with an area of agreement as to the moral necessity, the validity and the possible social value of No-saying or Holy Disobedience."

A. J. Muste, Of Holy Disobedience.

You can divide pacifists into two types: those who privately hold their message and those who are public. Private pacifists, in a sense, are easy to roleplay - they simply won't fight. This is the GURPS "Pacifism" disadvantage. They may be pacifists through religious belief or simply because they are too squeamish to kill. One can call them "convenient pacifists". However, they don't necessarily have the moral conviction to prevent death. Instead, they will do good and hope that others will do the same.

However, there's a second group of pacifists - those who not only won't fight, but protest wars. These people have a whole range of techniques to popularize their cause (for a list, I'd suggest The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp - the following information is paraphrased from this source). These techniques include your standard protests, strikes, pilgrimages, and boycotts, all of which are legal in your typical democracy. More radical techniques include withholding taxes, holding sit-ins, civil disobedience of certain laws, or vandalism. Fasting and hunger strikes are more options; the American colonies proclaimed several days of fasting to protest King George's regulations. There are many other options: in the 1970's, the Selective Service law required registrants to inform the draft board of any changes of status. The New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam organized a "comply-in" that resulted in hundreds of thousands of letters to the Selective Service office. Colonel Paul Feeney described what happened: "Some of the mail says 'I've changed my status, I've moved from the first floor to the third floor.' Or we'll get a letter saying, 'I'm going to Europe.' A few days later we'll get another letter saying, 'I've changed my mind. I am not going to Europe.'"

There's another option that is often ignored but effective. Those who have power can stop a lot of violence from behind the scenes, either by neglecting to pass along orders or by sabotage. This was surprisingly common in Nazi Germany. For example, the Commissar Decree, issued in 1941 by Hitler, called for the execution of captured Communist political officials. Many field marshals disagreed with this decree, and simply refused to pass the information to their subordinates. Nuclear scientists in Nazi Germany hid their true research while pursuing dead ends. Of course, mutiny is the extreme form of protest - actively removing the people making the policy.

Government Responses

" long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God that the established government be obeyed."

William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy.

Barbara Enhrenreich, in Blood Rights, addresses the issue of wars as propaganda. "In 1982 Margaret Thatcher's brief war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands occasioned an outburst of British nationalism and an enormous boost for Thatcher in the polls." Similarly, Grenada, the Gulf War, and the war in Afghanistan have boosted the popularity of the presidents. A common enemy unites people in a way that very few things can. A cynic may say that one of the reasons a country goes to war is to build unity in a country.

When a government goes to war, those who question the war are often seen as traitors. For example, in the 1950's, those who disagreed with standard United States policies were branded as Communist. During the American Revolutionary War, William Rotch was branded as a traitor to the early nation by refusing to deliver weapons (an act that conflicted with his Quaker religion). In Nazi Germany, pacifists were treated with worse fates. George Orwell wrote, "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other." And it is true - pacifism can slow a country to fight, and perhaps allowing others to commit atrocities.

Some countries (like the United States) will accept conscientious objector as a status, and will allow the objector to work in a non-war related field. However, some people will not accept this; during the Vietnam War, Richard Boardman writes: "As one brought up to believe in the American principles of individualism and voluntarism I must reject any system of imposed and involuntary recruitment of manpower, and as one brought up to believe in the basic equality of all people and to respect the law only when it is equally administered to all citizens regardless of race, creed, color, social class, or education, I must reject a system of conscription that defers the most fortunate members of society and forces the least fortunate to bear the burden of responsibility and risk in the military."

Magic and Psionic Abilities

"Disobedience is a long step beyond dissent"

Charles E. Wyzanski, On Civil Disobedience and Draft Resistance

In the "real world", pacifists had and can have a tough time. Especially in the ancient world, most of the power was gained by violence, and pacifists were usually enslaved or killed. In the fantasy world, pacifists have more of an option. What are some options for the magically or psionically gifted pacifist?

Bombs and long-ranged attacks: not a refuge for the true pacifist, the technique of long-ranged attacks is for those who personally detest violence. Fireballs and ice storms are good to not get one's hands bloody. But, it does kill.

Defensive Shields: This is perhaps one of the best techniques - it allows the pacifist to be protected while the attackers are left outside. Or is it? One of the issues with pacifism is that a devoted pacifist doesn't merely wish to not kill, he wishes to end violence altogether. Hiding behind a shield is a way to be protected, but it doesn't help others (unless, of course, all the other pacifists are in the shield with you). One can imagine a whole nation of pacifists, able to isolate themselves from invaders but allowing peaceful trade.

Invisibility: Another technique that could be useful for the pacifist. What the enemies cannot see, the enemies cannot hurt. Invisible, the pacifist has an easy way of slipping into enemy camps and fouling weapons or distributing propaganda. However, one of the strongest weapons of the pacifist is being known - publicity. A pacifist who isn't known isn't affecting others or changing opinion. And while an invisible pacifist can be known as a shadow figure, the ability to influence governments comes with "true publicity."

Mind Control: A militant pacifist (if you excuse the term) may make the decision that it is better that people get re-educated than lose their will. A pacifist that has mind control can literally drain the violence from a community. But, is this ethical? Most people would rather educate the people as opposed to forcing them to obey certain morals against their will.

Communication and Empathy: I'd argue that this series of power is one of the most effective for pacifists. A pacifist with this power can broadcast what happens in wars, broadcast what a dictatorship is doing, etc. etc. etc. Empathy can be used to try to convince others that pacifism is the correct path, that hurting others is not the way to solve problems.

Stun: Even the most dedicated and powerful pacifist is going to have enemies. Killing them, even in self-defense, is not allowed. Stunning is an option that is safe and ethical, yet it protects the pacifist.


Again, I'm not necessarily promoting pacifism as a lifestyle, or saying that pacifism is the correct way to solve problems. However, pacifists did influence nations and cultures, and it would be a shame to neglect pacifism in a campaign world. Next month, it's back to the fight.

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Wanna Fight by Bryan Jonker