If you want a less violent game, then you have to make conflict possible without a fight to the death. Characters who think they’ll be killed if they lose will get violent fast, and stay in that mode until they feel safe again.
Having trouble coming up with reasons your bad guys don’t just obliterate the player characters and leave them in shallow graves? Here are some ideas that can come from the rational parts of their brains, from their henchmen, from fast-talking captives, or from an analysis of possible outcomes.
- Prisoners can be useful as bait.
- Death is too quick; I want you to see the bad thing I’m doing, suffer as you lose things you care about, and accept that you are powerless to stop it.
- Only you can truly appreciate what I am doing. (And I need it to be appreciated.)
- Worthy foes are valuable for sharpening the wits, skills, and instinct! (It is a game.)
- Dead foes become martyrs, drawing avengers and lending credence to the causes they upheld. Instead, embarrass the foe and destroy the reputation, so no one will listen to their ranting.
- We don’t need that kind of attention from the law (or more powerful foes) at this sensitive time.
- Wait until you have both this prisoner and another in hand before killing either; otherwise, the other is likely to tear everything apart looking for revenge, and that is inconvenient.
- Prisoners can “escape” and “steal proof” and see the inner workings of “the plot.” They are useful as counter-intelligence agents, to feed incorrect information to those who hunt you.
- This particular criminal career is for artists, not thugs. Any brute can kneecap a nosy investigator. You would not stoop to anything as gauche as violence, your intellect gives you many other options.
- Persuasive foes can introduce doubt in a prisoner, about the motives of bigger fish. Tell them they are being misled, then let them go, and arrange some incidents to get them questioning. Recruit traitors.
- Prisoners are leverage. If the investigators don’t back off, start sending pieces to them in the mail.
- You want to learn everything about your foe, and your prisoner has some useful insights.
- Prisoners have been promised as payment to a traitor or lackey who has unpleasant plans.
- Arrange for a trade, one prisoner for someone or something the investigators captured.
- The villain fell in love with the prisoner from afar, and now can turn up the romance.
- Revenge is essentially hollow, and villains often try to make it more filling by prolonging the torment with an elaborate death trap.
- Food for pets, who are not yet hungry but prefer live meat.