When we talk about mods, we tend to focus on those that make games bigger and more bombastic. More explosions, extra gore, fountains upon fountains of blood. Our hunger for graphic violence seems to know no bounds. Morals aside, it can all feel a bit excessive.
Back in the day, games used to include “low-violence” or “no-blood” modes for those of us wanting a lighter experience, but the practice is becoming increasingly rare these days. Fortunately, what mods can give, they can also take away. Thanks to the work of dedicated modders, low-violence options are making a comeback, and they’re no longer just about removing blood splatters and disabling dismemberment; the most creative find ways to reduce graphic content without neutering enjoyment, producing experiences that often feel like entirely new games. Whether you’ve had your fill of blood and guts, or you’re simply looking for a way to reinvigorate a familiar experience, this list of the most creative low-violence, pacifist, and kid-friendly mods is sure to pique your interest.
Tired of games that bill themselves as photorealistic, immersive experiences yet limit the player to violence, violence, and more violence, modder zalteredbeastz resolved to be the change they wished to see within the gaming space. Taking aim at Fallout 4, they set out to diversify the game’s gore-tastic combat with a variety of non-lethal options. The result was the Peaceful Resolution mod, a simple yet powerful add-on ideal for players who want to preserve their morals no matter how bleak the post-apocalypse might be.
Included in the mod is a tranquilizer pistol, inspired by Snake’s sidearm from Metal Gear Solid and varying in its efficacy depending on where the enemy is shot; flashbangs and sleeping gas grenades that can backfire on the player if they’re not wearing a gas mask; and enhanced blunt weapons designed to knockdown and disarm enemies instead of putting them six feet under.
Though fairly small in scope, Peaceful Resolution provides enough tools to rewrite the Fallout 4 playbook, opening the game up not just to players weary of endless violence, but to anyone looking for a fresh approach to the Boston wasteland. Just make sure you’re far, far away when your enemies wake up. A groggy Super Mutant is not a happy Super Mutant.
Grand Theft Auto might not be the first series that comes to mind when you hear the words ‘family friendly’, but sandbox cities are surprisingly well-suited to low-violence leisure. Rockstar’s devotion to creating a living world extends beyond crime sprees and gang warfare; beneath the violence lies a versatile ecosystem capable of much more than gunfights and beatdowns.
When modder R3QQ realized this, they saw an opportunity to bring GTA to a new audience. Leveraging the rich world of Grand Theft Auto V, they created the Family Friendly Free Roaming mod, stripping out the gratuitous violence and general hostility while leaving the bustling city intact.
At first, this might seem like an oxymoron. After all, the mod takes no prisoners: it disables weapons, ragdoll animations, and explosions; it renders all characters invincible and non-hostile; and it removes the less salubrious elements like strippers, prostitutes, and cultists, along with tweaking many other gameplay elements. Give it a chance, though, and you’ll find civilian life can be just as exciting as life on the wrong side of the law. Since pedestrians magically slide out of the way of oncoming vehicles, you no longer have to worry about getting blood on your hands as you race through the streets of San Andreas. The removal of cops means accidentally bumping into your fellow drivers no longer triggers a frustrating, ten-minute long police chase. And with the added ability to ferry pedestrians around town while they cling to the side of your vehicle ala an old-school fire engine, it’s the closest thing to the next-gen Crazy Taxi we’ve all been wishing for.
Cogneter recalls their first Fallout experience quite well. Early on in the original Fallout, they managed to knock one of their enemies unconscious instead of killing them. Since Cogneter had rope in their inventory, they figured they’d be able to use it to tie the enemy up; that would be in the spirit of Fallout’s RPG roots, after all. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t quite as flexible as Cogneter had hoped, resisting their creative solution and forcing them to kill their enemy in order to safely advance.
13 years later, you’d think the Fallout franchise would have learned from its shortcomings, but alas, when Cogneter jumped into Fallout: New Vegas, they discovered the game still offered no way to tie up incapacitated opponents. Frustrated by this, Cogneter took it upon themselves to build Stun and Tie Up NPCs, a mod that does exactly what it says on the tin: after knocking an enemy unconscious, you can use rope, duct tape, or handcuffs to neutralize them without getting their blood on your hands.
Strategically, this adds a new layer of depth to the game’s stealth system. There are two options when tying enemies up: binding just their hands, or binding both their hands and legs. Going for both leaves you exposed for longer and uses two restraints instead of one, but also prevents the enemy from running away and alerting their allies. Furthermore, since enemies can untie their allies to bring them back into the fight, it’s important to hide bodies if you want to stealth your way through hostile territory. This added complexity channels the likes of Hitman and Thief, granting pacifists and sneaky players alike the ability to play the game the way they want. And that’s what role-playing games are supposed to be all about.
SOMA is a creepy game. Set on an abandoned research station buried deep beneath the sea, corpses litter the dank, blood-stained halls, your only hope for escape to trust in the guidance of the disembodied AI whispering promises of paradise inside your head. Fear and tension drip from the bones of your underwater prison, the atmosphere disturbing enough on its own that the addition of actual monsters seems almost unnecessary. Yet SOMA has its fair share of beasts and baddies, and the anxiety they add to the game can feel overwhelming.
Enter The Dreamer, a modder with previous experience in the world of SOMA modding. Though The Dreamer personally enjoyed the threat the game’s monsters posed, they could see that not everyone felt the same way, so they created ‘Wuss Mode: Monsters Don’t Attack’, a mod that turns nearly all of the enemies in the game non-hostile. Despite the name, the mod does more than just neuter the threat of SOMA’s creatures; it changes the entire mood of the game, trading tension and fear for despair and sorrow. The decaying world and its impotent inhabitants no longer seem scary but pitiful, a testament to the fall of humankind and the hopelessness of its future. In this way, more so than the hostile environment of the base game, the eerie, sepulchral atmosphere of a deathless world captures the grim artificial consciousness SOMA is all about.
StarCraft isn’t usually thought of as a casual game. From its origins as one of the first professional eSports, to its range of custom-made keyboards and mice designed to maximize your APM (actions per minute), it’s safe to say the StarCraft scene is pretty hardcore. Even from a purely visual perspective, the action on-screen can feel like chaos, in no small part thanks to the pools of blood and chunks of viscera coating the battlefield.
Fortunately, for those of us who find it all a bit much, the StarCrafts mod for StarCraft II reimagines the bloody RTS as a cute, colorful cartoon based on the Carbot Animations YouTube show of the same name. Gone are the grotesque Zerg abominations and the gibblets of exploding marines, replaced with puppy-eyed Zerglings and a chubby-cheeked Jim Raynor. Rendered so cheerfully, the violence is far easier to digest.
Better yet, the clearer and cleaner visuals make StarCraft II more approachable from a gameplay perspective, too. Colors don’t bleed together as much as the browns and greys of the base game, making it easier to distinguish between different units and keep track of what’s going on in the heat of battle. For an aspiring player wanting to get a handle on basic strategies, the StarCrafts mod can serve as a useful learning tool, stripping away the visual chaos and focusing in on pure action. And for the rest of us, at least it won’t look so gruesome when some SC pro mows us down without breaking a sweat. gg
2. Treebalance, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Considering that one of the Dragonborn’s key traits is their ability to literally turn words into weapons, it’s disappointing how limited the Speech system in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is. Not only does its skill hierarchy make little sense, but many of its requirements are so high that, by the time the player can afford them, they’re practically useless. Woe betide anyone who wanted to play Skyrim as a silver-tongued pacifist.
Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a modder with a way. In the case of Skyrim, that modder was Sushisquid, their way the speech-enhancing Treebalance mod. By reorganizing the Speech tree into separate branches for criminal perks, mercantile perks, and conversational perks, as well as dropping the inflated skill requirements, Treebalance makes Speech a viable pursuit for the peace-minded Dovakhiin.
The real kicker, though, comes from the mod’s enhanced yielding mechanic. If you find yourself in combat with a non-undead, speech-capable foe, you can attempt to resolve the bout peacefully by targeting them and hitting the talk button. Success in yielding is based on your Speech skill, the enemy’s level, and their remaining health, and will result in the enemy turning non-hostile at the cost of a level-dependent amount of gold. Failure, on the other hand, results in a 20-second cooldown before you can try again.
Though simple, this upgraded yield system grants Skyrim some much-needed moral diversity, allowing players to spare enemies as they see fit, or even abstain from violence entirely if they so wish. You are the Dragonborn, after all; if you can shout a dragon into submission, why shouldn’t you be able to sweet talk a witless bandit, too?
No list of low-violence mods would be complete without mentioning Chex Quest. Developed as a promotion for the titular cereal, Chex Quest was a mod for the original DOOM that traded the latter’s demons and bloody chainsaws for brightly-colored mucus aliens and non-lethal energy weapons. Packed in as a freebie in Chex cereal boxes, it was originally intended as more of an advertisement than a game, but it ended up being a remarkably competent non-violent first-person shooter, one of the first of its kind.
Thanks to its welcoming aesthetic, not only did Chex Quest boost sales of the cereal by 295%, it introduced countless kids to both the FPS genre and gaming in general. Parents were far more willing to let their children fire zorch energy into booger creatures than pump lead into bloody hellspawn, and the wealth of positive feedback led to a sequel that, due to a shortened development time, did not prove quite so popular. Nevertheless, Chex Quest remains one of the most influential low-violence mods in the history of gaming and a testament to the value of accessibility.
You can download Chex Quest, Chex Quest 2, and the decade-late follow-up Chex Quest 3 for free here.
Matt Sayer is an analyst programmer from Melbourne, Australia with a passion for psychology and the cognitive biases that subconsciously influence our daily life. If you spot any typos or inexplicable references to birds, it’s probably one of his cats ‘helping out.’ You can find him on Twitter @sezonguitar.