The too clear moral choice

I think some moral choices can have an answer which is too clear – to much of an expected result. Do you save the bus load of orphans or instead spend your time eating a cheeseburger? And indeed players will probably have a character who will eat the cheeseburger sometimes, since they ostensibly get a choice about their choice.

One moral choice situation I read recently was where your group has a pressing mission elsewhere, but a deal you’ve done is with a guy who turns out is probably going to do some bad things to some strangers. Stay and deal with this, but potentially jeopardize your mission, or leave.

There’s a few issues with this – with relatively good characters, the outcome is pretty clear cut.

Another thing is that it is ambiguous – something going to be jeopardized? What? It’s ambiguous. What is actually, definitely going to happen and be a change in the game world if we stick around?

Finally, its kind of walking away from action – with action being the stuff a lot of people actually find super fun and engaging.

So let’s workshop this!

The Good Guys Problem – I think adding a third option to the mix alleviates the automatic response here. See, you can be the devil and tempt the PC’s – say for example the PC’s could drop off armamentss for the threatened strangers to use to defend themselves, then the PC’s leave. That’s nice. But what if the PC’s would just shrug and do it – it’s still too clear cut. So increase the costs of the armaments, for example. Or that the strangers are ill or old and/or very young. But be careful you don’t swing the other way and make it clear cut the other way ‘OMG, child soldiers! We have to stay and fight for them’. The situation can be primed to make the choice agonising! This is the sort of agony you want to inflict on your players, because you hate them (in a good way!), because you’re the Devil Master…wait, I said Dungeon Master, right? Right! *shifty eyes*

Anyway, it can take fine tuning until you nail a real bitch of a moral problem to deliver. though keep in mind sometimes the problem still misses – you think it’s really difficult to answer, but then a PC just instantly decides, like they are Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot in twain! It happens – and frankly when its unexpected clear cut decision making, it’s entertaining. It’s only when you can see the decision in advance does it raise the question ‘Is this really worth gaming?’

The Ambiguity Problem – To me, it’s too easy to go ‘Wooo, something might go wrong at some unspecified point in future if you don’t go back to the mission’, but then the GM completely wimps out ’cause he loves you and your PC’s so much (likely if playing good guys) he’d rather just kinda forget about doing anything in regard to that whole threat thing. But screw that, I want things to blow up. Okay, we stay and fight the villain – what concrete, objective thing gets wrecked? Maybe if we don’t get back, tankers of fuel will be stolen. Not might – WILL! Maybe add a moral component – and the oil for fueling heaters in the village. How many ill or elderly will die when winter comes (OMG, it’s coming!). But then again that might be making the choice too clear cut ‘We can’t let granny die! We go to the mission!’. Damn, too clear cut. Okay, maybe people will get sick rather than die during winter. It’ll be miserable. But then again these strangers might die? What to MFing do?

And then once you have a concrete effect, STILL add on ‘and it might jeopardize the mission…in other ways as well!’. Leave yourself that blank cheque for adding bad stuff latter, which themselves are just excuses for more moral choices. Maybe, or maybe you’ll leave it because you love the group and PC’s and you’re soft and wont twist the screws…just admit it! >:)

The Walking Away From The Action Problem – This is probably the easiest – going back to the mission has to have some defined action we are going to. When faced with action now or ambiguity, players and their PC might just choose action automatically. Again, it’s too clear cut. But we don’t have to be fancy here – if we make sure choice A: is action and choice B: is action, then we are choosing action no matter what. So now were kind of perfectly even, it makes sure one choice doesn’t outshine the other by dint of having action when the other doesn’t.

~~ And there are some ideas on making moral choices less clear cut and more agonising!

But yeah, there was this guy who I’d totally primed to stop the mugger. He had all sorts of super powers, but he just wanted to be a wrestler. So he ignores the mugger, saying ‘It’s what my character would do!’ – which is something only ‘that guy’ says, am I right? That character was going absolutely no where in terms of story, that’s for sure!

Sorry, just finishing off by having a bit of fun of the idea if someone wanted to make a player take a certain choice. But no one ever does that, right?

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