For a number of years I've been writing fantasy novels in which I refuse to have villains as the driving force of the plot.
Don't get me wrong - I greatly enjoy stories in which characters must struggle against dark forces, such as LotR or the Matrix - but only when these are done well. When you get into this kind of story, you know what you're in for: the Chosen One goes up against the Dark Lord and despite staggering odds win in the end, saving the world. Powerful archetypes used, and if used effectively can make for good story-telling.
But there's not a lot of likelihood that characters in any other type of fantasy story are going to come up against really powerful human villains. This is not to say that there isn't villainy present, but I see it more as taking the form of deceitful politicians, or manipulative clergymen. This is far more human and when one understands that real villainy is an expression of human weakness, it's hard to envision bad guys that aren't just cliche card-board cut-outs. I can see pride, in a sorcerer, leading to disaster a lot more easily than I can imagine someone who's genuinely bent on world domination.
So what are some good techniques for writing fantasy stories in which the characters are driven to fulfil quests that don't involve a Final Confrontation? How do you generate the feeling in your readers of climactic satisfaction at the end of your tale without a big fight? Is it possible to write a compelling tale in which the heroes don't have to fight even once?