I recently had a new Dungeons & Dragons player ask about whether they can play as a nonviolent character. I appreciated the query because it’s something I’ve thought about a bit, but haven’t really tried out. One of the things that makes it less straightforward is that so much of the design space in the game is given to combat. But I do think there are a few approaches that could be tried.
You could play as a cleric and assist your comrades during combat without actually fighting. If you’re just concerned about keeping your own hands clean, this could be an option. However, you’d still be enabling others to act violently.
You could play a combat-focussed class and participate in combat, but not fight to kill. I can particularly see this working well narrative-wise for a monk.
You could make your character a bard who uses their charismatic presence to influence, inspire or manipulate other people.
You could use the playtest rules for the mystic class. It looks like the most recent iteration has a lot of options for using psychic power for material or mental manipulation.
I think all of these options bring up questions about what we mean by nonviolence or satyagraha (‘truth force’) as Mahatma Gandhi called it. If we’re just keeping our own hands clean, are we really nonviolent? If we choose to overpower others but not kill are we really being nonviolent? If we choose to manipulate others are we being nonviolent?
I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes when we play. (My player ended up choosing a bard.) I’ve got some more thoughts about violence and nonviolence in the game, so I plan to write some more soon.