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But if players are used to attack attack attack, getting them to use less lethal options is tough.
Yeah I’m learning that this is a really entrenched style of play, essentially an endless series of more or less rote encounters, balanced precisely to the players abilities, with an unwritten but firm contract that the players can’t die. I’ve never played that way. I’ve played in games where there is almost no combat, but instead it’s about solving a mystery and / or engaging in a lot of social drama, and games where there is violence but it’s kind of rare and intense (like a Clint Eastwood Western as distinct from a John Wayne Western), and games where it’s almost continuous (ala Mad Max or one of the Resident Evil films).
What kind of creeps me out is that everyone seems to play now in one specific manner, ala dungeon crawl that is essentially like one of those haunted house rides in an amusement park that is guaranteed harmless and literally on rails.
The bottom line for me is that DnD is supposed to be a ‘gateway drug’ of RPGs, so people who play it should always have the option of playing a wide variety of ways. As in, almost no combat or a lot, or very lethal or safe as a pillow fight if that’s what they really want.
Low Magic / Low Fantasy, and Historical or Historical / adjacent games seem to be popular based on the chatter I’ve been reading on RPG forums and Social Media in these last few weeks, but it’s clearly a niche. Some of the people into that type of game seem to be more drawn to the “Old School Renaissance” variations which are out there.
Codex Martialis handles violence, including grappling, very well but it also makes it quite a bit more dangerous, especially if you are using the recommended Hit Point cap. So the “standard” 5 combats per session is probably a bit much. Using Codex rules, you probably want to plan a fight as best you can, and try to maximize your advantages as much as possible. When I ran games using Codex, serious fights were fairly rare, maybe one every session or even every other session. More inconclusive skirmishes might happen a bit more often than that.
As for bandits robbing heavily armed travelers – actually yes they did that quite a bit, I have numerous (primary source) anecdotes from the 15th and 16th Century where exactly that happened. In one case, a group of 40 knights and supporters were accosted by robbers in Germany and the bandits only backed off when they revealed every one of them had a loaded crossbow ready to shoot. In another case, Henry Bollingbroke of England, the future King Henry IV of England, was robbed, kidnapped, and ‘shamefully mishandled’ by Robber knights in Mecklenburg while on his way to Crusade in the Baltic with an entourage of about 80 men including mounted knights and longbowmen in his party.
In a High Fantasy game where you are slaughtering gelatinous cubes and ogres and orcs all day, perhaps a Conquer or Perish mindset makes sense, but if you are playing in a more Low Fantasy or Historical setting then I think the constant slaughter / never retreat / no quarter asked and none given, makes a lot less sense, and you don’t have to be entangled in guild relationships or feudal obligations for that to be the case. We don’t gratuitously kill people like that in real life or in even moderately plausible genre shows (unless they are zombies or something).
That said I don’t think there is anything remotely bad about your character being in a guild or having feudal obligations, I think that sort of thing makes the game more interesting. It’s pretty much what this whole website is all about – bringing the history into the role playing (and as context into HEMA).
I agree with you that murdering people with smallswords is decidedly not somehow more civilized than throwing them down in an armlock. Sydney Anglo just has that Victorian horror of the medieval which is still quite common.