Picture by Todd Huffman
Fictional Characters vs. The Real World
Your average D&D character will face orcs, dragons, the ravenous forces of the undead, impostor kings and many other problems, most of which can be solved by bashing the creature’s face/snout/gelatinous cubic body in. All of which the character is well equipped to deal with. Other challenges come in the form of deadly traps and vexing brain teasers. Still, adventurers are constantly dealing with problems that are easy for them to overcome and are fixed moral absolutes. How often in your ordinary life do you encounter problems like that? True to life problems are very tricky situations when applied to your D&D games.
A note of caution about this one, this path is not for every group. It works best with a roleplay heavy group. Even then, some people play Dungeons & Dragons specifically to get away from problems like this. They want to play a world of heroics and moral absolutes. There is nothing wrong with that and they will be very grumpy if you take that away from them. However if it is right for you group you can get some amazing roleplaying moments. Here are a few examples of the types of big, real world problems that your players can face.
Many of the biggest problems in our world have no solution and continue to not have one even with magic added to the mix. Most D&D parties have a character who can spontaneously create food and water from nothing. But what if they were faced with a natural famine or drought? With all their resources the adventurers might be able to keep one town fed if they stayed there and dedicated themselves to it. If faced with a natural plague the players may be able to save a few people with their disease curing abilities but more than likely it will prove to simply be too big for them.
Lets say for example that a group of adventurer’s is confronted by a situation of domestic abuse. The first instinct of the players will likely be to solve it how they solve all their other problems, bash the villain’s face in. Sadly, in a historical setting that sort of vigilante justice is illegal but some scumbag harming his wife and children is well within his rights. If the players tried to convince the wife to leave her abusive husband she would likely be confused. It is fairly normal behavior for the time. Even if she wanted to leave she’s likely to be completely dependent on the husband for survival. It is a case of our (correct) modern sensibilities creating difficult situations in a historical setting.
The Solution is Worse than the Problem
Fantasy characters regularly depose tyrants, it is one of the staples of the genre. In those cases there is usually a hero of the revolution ready to step up and be a benevolent rulers. Other times the rightful heir, who was robbed is his throne by the scheming of the tyrant, is conveniently waiting in the wings to take over and restore justice to the land. But what if those figures aren’t available? Dethroning a tyrant can lead to a bloody civil war for control of the crown. For a time it could be far worse than his rule ever was. Even after all that is over with there is no guarantee the replacement will be any better. Is that a choice the party is willing to make?
Have you thrown the tricky situations and moral grey areas of real life into your games?