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D&D Spell, spellcaster

Is a Pacifist Character in D&D Fun or a Drag?

Nerdarchists Dave and Ted are talking about playing a pacifist character in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and if you know me, I’m not one to shut up during a divisive conversation. While they’re tackling the question of how to play a non-damage wizard head on, I’ll be going into why you would, should you and dabble a bit on what I believe can be an engaging way to be a less direct spellcaster. It’s not all fireballs after all.

pacifist character in D&D

Is your D&D wizard the sort who prefers to control the battlefield and debuff enemies rather than get all messy with damaging spells? You might be a pacifist spellcaster. [Art from Magic: The Gathering ‘Battle of Wits’ by Jason Chan]

What’s a non-damage wizard like?

Dungeons & Dragons and combat

A warlock as depicted in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. Good luck trying to play one of these as a pacifist. Eldritch blast doesn’t exactly scream “I don’t want to hurt you!” [Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast]

You can’t have fun wrong. Now with that out of the way, let’s poke at this pacifist trope. D&D and games created in its vision are very combat centric. It comes from their roots as a war game and those games inherently need conflict. In the need for conflict, combat is incredibly simple to latch onto and deploy in a way everyone can grasp. It’s easy to see that in these game, combat is a major focus because a vast majority of rules are written with combat in mind. Ultimately, playing a pacifist character in D&D and keeping it one dimensional is a drag on everyone at the table, as you’re likely not participating in a major component of the game and at worst, endangering the fun of the other players by not helping them. Why you would play a game built on and themed around going into ancient ruins and fighting monsters while having no intention of doing those things is bewildering to me. Can it be done in an enjoyable and engaging way? It can, you just need some re-framing.

Pacifist character in D&D is a dirty word

The biggest issue with the label of a pacifist character in D&D is the frame of mind it puts you in. You are saying you will not fight. This is ridiculous in a world where fighting is the language of solving discourse. It’s baked into the very core of the game. However, adjusting this thought process can really open up a creative door. A wizard, whether eccentric or just dangerously curious, may think evocation or direct damage spells are a little dirty. Not that he hasn’t had to dirty up his beard in the past out of necessity, but has it in his head finding other ways to overcome a violent foe to almost be a puzzle to solve.

“How can I get this herd of raging axebeaks to stop, without killing them?” – some wizard puzzling out how to be a pacifist character in D&D

The wizard knows a fireball can end the whole fight in a fiery instant, but where is the fun in that? No thought, no creativity. Wouldn’t it be more fun to overcome this challenge with a metaphorical hand tied behind his back? This makes it super interesting for the player, having to mull over lesser-used spells and find utility in them. Not to mention, the reaction of the party when the wizard senses a truly dangerous foe and they see the true might of their companion come to the fore.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on pacifist characters in D&D? Are you wanting to infuse some weird into your next character and try a non-damage wizard now? As always, I’m always interested in having a conversation about the hobby, especially down in the comments below.

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Jacob Kosman

Child of the Midwest, spending his adolescence dreaming of creating joy for gaming between sessions of cattle tending. He holds a fondness for the macabre, humorous and even a dash of grim dark. Aspiring designer spending most of his time writing and speculating on this beautiful hobby when he isn't separating planes.

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