Some of the best roleplaying experiences I’ve had stem from fellow players exploring their PCs’ personalities and background. A good way to force the PCs to do so is through the judicious use of moral dilemmas.
I’ve used moral dilemmas in my Borderland of Adventure campaign with great success. Not only have great roleplaying moments resulted, the players have had to delve into their PCs’ personalities. For some of the dilemmas I posed them, they are still dealing with the consequences.
Some of the moral dilemmas I’ve used include:
- Kill the Innocents: Lots of adventures are set in an evil humanoid’s tribal lair. The PCs attack and kill all the warriors, loot their bodies and complete their quest. After the dust has settled, what should happen to the tribe’s young and noncombatants? Depending on your worldview all orcs (for example) could be evil or they could just be predominantly evil. In any case, slaughtering the young (in particular) is likely to cause moral problems for some PCs. But, if the PCs don’t kill them, what is to become of them? Will they be left to starve to death, are the PCs going to cast them out of their home, leave them to be preyed on by stronger neighbouring tribes etc.? If the PCs don’t deal with them, what will the consequences of their inaction be?
- Kill the Helpless: After the battle is done and the PCs stand triumphant, the dead and the dying likely litter the battlefield. I’ve seen some PCs who — after a hard battle — like nothing more than a good beheading, but others might object strenuously to this practise. Beyond those they have vanquished in battle, the party could also encounter imprisoned evil doers (such as members of rival tribes), the ill, injured or infirm. Do they all deserve death? If so, should they be slaughtered out of hand?
- Kill the Prisoners: If the PCs take prisoners, they’ll likely interrogate them (see “Torture” below). Once they have learned all the prisoner knows, what will they do with them? Kill them? Take them back to town to stand trial for their trials? Set them free? Whatever the solution, it is likely to engender a lively debate.
- Torture: How far are the PCs willing to go to get the information they need? Lawful good types are unlikely to condone torture while for others it might be more of a hobby. However, if the PCs have captured someone who clearly has important information they desperately need (perhaps to save innocent lives) the issue becomes more thorny. This situation often results in the objecting PC being easily distracted by one his fellows. This is a cop-out and I highly recommend styming this approach to the problem, if at all possible!
- Rescue the Prisoners: The PCs are deep in a dungeon when they rescue some prisoners. The prisoners are grateful to be rescued and beg the PCs to escort them to the surface or nearby town. The prisoners are clearly weak and unable to survive without the PCs (and indeed may not survive the party’s continuing adventures), but if the PCs retreat they give their enemy time to retreat or regroup. What should they do?
- Work with Evil: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. In some cases this might mean an evil NPC or group offers an alliance with the PCs against another evil group. Some PCs my baulk at this, while others might be prepared to work with anyone to achieve victory. Working with evil raises many questions, including: Can they be trusted? Why are they doing this? What do they want in return for their help?
At the end of the day, such moral dilemmas are not for all groups. Even in games when they come up, they shouldn’t come up that often. The downside of introducing moral dilemmas into your game is that the ensuing discussion can go on for quite sometime. While this is fun on occasion, such rambling discussions can slow play dramatically, and kill the game’s momentum.
Help Fellow GMs
Do you use moral dilemmas in your game? Have I missed one or do you have a tactic for making it work? Let us know in the comments below, and help your fellow GMs run a better game today!