Dealing with Morally Difficult Situations in RPGs

This is a tough topic. I emphasize in my seminars at the CONs that the GM needs to be honest with himself and only work inside his moral comfort zone.

This is a piece I wrote for a discussion group dealing with how to bring a party back to the preferred path when they are distracted by other concerns

--- In XXX, YYY wrote: Now, here's where it gets interesting... The evil wizard ... [snipped] ... The players agreed to join with him ... [snipped] ... I need help planning further adventures. ... [snipped] ... Help me out here, please!

Interesting issue. Here are some random thoughts that I hope are useful.

My assumptions:

* You want to portray being evil, working with evil as a Bad Thing(tm)

* You don't want to kill off the entire party or end the campaign in an embittering (although potentially morally satisfying) way like having the entire party taken prisoner by the good king and his men and having the party sentenced to life-long servitude in an iron mine

* There is at least some hope that certain of the party members could "see the light" and "do the right" thing if given appropriate motivation

If those assumptions are reasonably accurate then, ...

First, nothing works like social learning! :-) My first course of action would be to introduce some other good natured, but clearly not-so-clever-as-the-smart-players NPCs to work for said wizard. These NCPs should do something in good conscience that turns out horribly, horribly wrong, and then these NPCs should be made to suffer hideously for their poor choices. "See those ghouls down there? Yeah, those used to be the Gobstock Gang. Hideous when you think about it, trapped in an undead body, but always aware what they were and could have been. Too bad they fell in with Magnus Eeeeevil! Hey, does that remind you of anyone else?" ;-)

The rest really depends on the level of maturity and sophistication of your players and the social dynamics of the group.

If the party takes the message that they've done wrong then I would give them the chance to make amends and be done with it. The Allies were the good guys in WW-II even if the Soviets weren't really all that nice.

If the party needs a bit more of a reminder then I would give them the chance to make partial amends and then punish them in some kind of lasting way. For example:

* Every time they come into an area ruled by decent folk, the people give the party a bit of a cold shoulder, e.g., icey stares, pulling the kids in to protect them from the party, people making charms against evil when they see the party, people get up and move away when the party sits down in an inn; or,

* The party is captured toward the end of the adventure and branded with some type of significant mark showing them to have served the Bad Guy(tm). You could even play this as a rash mistake -- "oh sooo sorry about my men! They are rash! Well, nothing to be done about those missing ears and brand on the forehead now. Please accept my royal apology. Serving evil, always risky, eh?" ;-)

If the party is unrepentent in the face of obvious reminders that they are Serving Evil(tm) then I would "let the chips fall where they may" and tighten the grip of Good Everywhere(tm) around the party member's collective necks until they deservably experience "a short drop and a sudden stop."

In service,


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