PDA

View Full Version : DM Help Morally gray quests



Pinjata
2016-01-19, 07:55 AM
I'm setting up a short campaign to go from lvl 1 to lvl 5. (dnd 5e) I have encounters and NPCs set, but as I played Witcher a bit, I'd like to rework the thing a bit and introduce some morally gray quests. Short things, like "Mill is crucial for village, but dam has cut off water from kobold village ..." Thing is I'm not very good at coming up with this material. If anyone has any ideas, can you guys drop them in a form of sentence of two?

thanks

goto124
2016-01-19, 08:04 AM
Are there any paladins or other alignment-based classes in the party?

Do you want your players to spend hours arguing how to approach a gray situation?

OldTrees1
2016-01-19, 08:10 AM
Give every NPC a realistic reason for doing what they are doing. Suddenly that Orc raiding party is less a bunch of dehumanized pure evil monsters and more of desperate violent humanoids. This will not remove all the black and white from your campaign overnight but will render most of your quests shades of gray (Billy Joel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jD6x3b1y40&ab_channel=billyjoelVEVO)) by default.

goto124
2016-01-19, 08:14 AM
Better yet, don't intentionally aim for moral grayness. Just build realistic and believable characters, societies, situations.

Wouldn't be nice if a 'gray' situation came up, the players suggest a solution that realistically should work, only for the solution to get shut down to keep the situation 'gray'.

Ettina
2016-01-19, 08:18 AM
Best way to do morally grey quests is to set up the monster races as deserving of empathy.

Douche
2016-01-19, 08:30 AM
Joe is a human whose father was a merchant. As a child, they traveled the world, until Joe was about 8 years old and they arrived in Dwarfland (or whatever) at which point his father fell ill and died. Joe was left alone, with a tidy sum of gold, but otherwise vulnerable in a strange city with few humans to look out for him.

Lloyd, Dwarven industrialist, took pity upon Joe and took him under his wing, teaching him the ways of the Dwarven and inadvertently divulging the secrets of Dwarven technology (metallurgy, golemcraft, I dunno. Your world. Pick what dwarves would want to keep secret from other races) to him, believing that Joe was a good kid who would side with the Dwarves always.

Being an ambitious human and not a traditionalist dwarf, Joe left Dwarfland when he was older to go make a fortune selling secret dwarven technology to humans. He becomes a corporate baron/rich enough to be considered a noble/whatever. As a result of allowing secrets that were kept for generations out to the humans, Lloyd was exiled from his clan.

Being that exile is the worst fate that can befall a dwarf - worse than death - Lloyd makes it his mission to execute Joe, in the deluded logic that it would restore his honor and his place in his clan. Of course, killing Joe wouldn't un-reveal the dwarven secrets, but that's subtext.

No one is really right in that situation, but no one is truly wrong either. Gives your players the opportunity to decide who they would want to side with. You could even make it a multi-part questline. Joe might still be with the dwarves when the PCs encounter him, he would half-truthfully say that he's being held against his will and needs their help to escape. A few months later, Joe Incorporated is suddenly making a hundred thousand gold a month selling household golems to everyone in Humantown. Dwarves catch wind and exile Lloyd, he runs into the party, etc.

NichG
2016-01-19, 08:30 AM
The tricky thing with morally gray quests is to make the deadlock believable. Lets take the two-villages example above. There are two villages in the area that both need water. There is one river, and it can only be diverted in one of two ways, so only one village can get the water. That sounds like a deadlock at construction, but the solution which doesn't require killing an entire village either literally or by starving it of a necessary resource is to merge the two settlements and share the water, or move one of the villages to the opposite banks, or things like that.

So if that solution comes up, and one of the villages says 'no, we couldn't possibly live with X', it's no longer morally gray - one side has identified themselves as unreasonable. If both sides say 'no, we couldn't possibly live with X' its still neutral, but now there really isn't any impetus to help either side, because it has become a manufactured problem.

There will often be these kinds of compromise solutions. To make it convincing, you have to figure out situations where the compromise is going to obviously not be reasonable from the beginning, so that refusing the compromise doesn't make one side the obvious bad guy.

GloatingSwine
2016-01-19, 08:41 AM
If you want this kind of quest, you need to start from the basis that everyone is people (except animals). That Kobold village? They need to just be a village of people with no particular antagonism with the human village next door, because there needs to be a reason why people don't just go "meh, it's only Kobolds".

Then they all need reasonable reasons to come into conflict, a limited resource they can't all use because there isn't enough is the ur example because, well, it's been the driver for a vast amount of conflict throughout history and is easily graspable.

It's not just something you can plug in to any old campaign setting though, it works in The Witcher because everyone in The Witcher is people, (Read the Sword of Destiny short story collection for some great examples*, it's repeatedly pointed out that a Witcher doesn't hunt anything intelligent, because they're not monsters, they're just people you happen not to like.) it's baked right into the setting.

The setting needs to be constructed from the ground up to look like a setting where everyone is people, with the kind of social structures, trade, and integration you'd expect from that. (Maybe the pcs were sent by the local lord because both the human and kobold villages are in his land and he just wants all his subjects sorted out without them fighting, breaking things, ruining crops, and reducing his tax revenue)



*The first story with the dragon and the one with the doppelganger. The latter is, I think, my favourite Witcher story.

OldTrees1
2016-01-19, 09:42 AM
The tricky thing with morally gray quests is to make the deadlock believable. Lets take the two-villages example above. There are two villages in the area that both need water. There is one river, and it can only be diverted in one of two ways, so only one village can get the water. That sounds like a deadlock at construction, but the solution which doesn't require killing an entire village either literally or by starving it of a necessary resource is to merge the two settlements and share the water, or move one of the villages to the opposite banks, or things like that.

So if that solution comes up, and one of the villages says 'no, we couldn't possibly live with X', it's no longer morally gray - one side has identified themselves as unreasonable. If both sides say 'no, we couldn't possibly live with X' its still neutral, but now there really isn't any impetus to help either side, because it has become a manufactured problem.

There will often be these kinds of compromise solutions. To make it convincing, you have to figure out situations where the compromise is going to obviously not be reasonable from the beginning, so that refusing the compromise doesn't make one side the obvious bad guy.

I don't think a deadlock is necessary for a morally gray quest provided a perfect solution does not exist. Often compromises are imperfect solutions even in cases where they are better than the alternative solutions.

Example: There are the same 2 villages and the same river. Each village has a meager alternative source of water that is insufficient to sustain their entire population. Likewise the river is insufficient to sustain both populations. This problem has 3 obvious solutions (and uncountable ones that I missed)
1) Divert the river to either village
(most saved but high inequality)
2) Divert the river to either village and merge the populations
(medium amount saved, slightly favors one side, side effects based upon interactions between the populations)
3) Merge both populations at a new village next to the river
(least saved, most equal solution, side effects based upon interactions between the populations)

Even without a deadlock, none of the 3 obvious solutions is pure.

Douche
2016-01-19, 10:09 AM
The river thing is one of the storylines in a Game of Thrones comic.

The two main characters arrive at some lowly lords land, his lands are dying cuz his river has been diverted. He's doesn't actually know what's going on cuz I guess in those months he hasn't thought to send anyone. Ser Duncan goes to investigate and see's the river has been diverted. Some stuff happens, Duncan sleeps with the lady of the other land (whose husband has recently died) then there's like about to be a battle but it turns out the lady is expected to marry and she's got all these suitors harassing her. She ends up marrying the lord of the other land and they merge their lands. Everyone is happy

Anyway, is two sides having a dispute over resources really "grey"? There's certainly morality involved but it's pretty clear that the kindergarten teacher in all of us would see the best solution as "learn to share". Contrast that to the Witcher, where

You have to choose between saving a group of orphans, sacrificing an entire village in the process & freeing an ambiguously ancient evil... or you can side with the clearly evil, creepy as hell witches that end up eating the children and were going to kill your daughter. And all of that has the sanity/humanity of an old lady hanging in the balance, with the guy who gave you the quest potentially committing suicide if you mess up

There's no happy ending in that storyline, and they don't broadcast any of the outcomes ahead of time. You just have to choose what you think sucks least and hope for the best.

OldTrees1
2016-01-19, 11:01 AM
Anyway, is two sides having a dispute over resources really "grey"? There's certainly morality involved but it's pretty clear that the kindergarten teacher in all of us would see the best solution as "learn to share". Contrast that to the Witcher, where

You have to choose between saving a group of orphans, sacrificing an entire village in the process & freeing an ambiguously ancient evil... or you can side with the clearly evil, creepy as hell witches that end up eating the children and were going to kill your daughter. And all of that has the sanity/humanity of an old lady hanging in the balance, with the guy who gave you the quest potentially committing suicide if you mess up

There's no happy ending in that storyline, and they don't broadcast any of the outcomes ahead of time. You just have to choose what you think sucks least and hope for the best.

Limited resources/scarcity always throws a wrench in the utopian concept of sharing. See my 3 sharing solutions for examples of the various imperfections that arise. The "gray" is the result of the difficulty in selecting which solution as a result of the morally relevant details not clumping nicely into a strictly superior option.

This is not to detract from the moral dilemma example from Witcher 3, although one needs to realize that moral dilemmas are merely a subset of grey situations. Moral dilemmas often have a flaw in their construction that requires limiting the available option further than verisimilitude would call for. (lacking context examples: forcing the witches to cooperate with your means or defeat the ancient evil) The broader category of grey situations avoids this flaw by utilizing the messy nature of reality rather than trying to test isolated moral variables. (decently written but still flawed moral dilemmas tend to remain grey when other options are permitted to be explored)

Douche
2016-01-19, 11:36 AM
Limited resources/scarcity always throws a wrench in the utopian concept of sharing. See my 3 sharing solutions for examples of the various imperfections that arise. The "gray" is the result of the difficulty in selecting which solution as a result of the morally relevant details not clumping nicely into a strictly superior option.

This is not to detract from the moral dilemma example from Witcher 3, although one needs to realize that moral dilemmas are merely a subset of grey situations. Moral dilemmas often have a flaw in their construction that requires limiting the available option further than verisimilitude would call for. (lacking context examples: forcing the witches to cooperate with your means or defeat the ancient evil) The broader category of grey situations avoids this flaw by utilizing the messy nature of reality rather than trying to test isolated moral variables. (decently written but still flawed moral dilemmas tend to remain grey when other options are permitted to be explored)

Well here's the thing about the river... Why would two villages be located so close together and not be part of the same community? Why are they both located in such close proximity to this tiny trickle of water that can barely sustain one village? If resources are scarce, then two villages would never have realistically spawned there.

When you take it to a larger scale, like nations disputing over oceans or mountains, they're just going to use military strength. Might makes right. Like, America claims to own the Alaskan sea, but we have like 2 destroyers there. China and Russia have like 20 each. We basically have no military presence there. They can do whatever they want, not because of actual violence but because they have a stronger presence.

So really, what place does a group of 4-5 adventurers have when it comes to deciding who gets to claim the river? Whoever lives upriver owns it. If the village downriver has the strength to claim it, then they can do so... So I suppose it's grey in the sense that there's really no good or evil involved.. But at the same time, I wouldn't consider it grey because there is no good and evil in the equation. It's more like.. brown?

In my opinion, a good "morally grey" scenario would have both parties have good and evil aspects. There would be something for the player to gain by helping either side, but also something off about them that makes them question whether they should work with this guy... Like one of the PCs die, and they absolutely must be resurrected. The only person capable of a resurrection is a local necromancer - but in exchange he demands, i dunno, a vial of orphan tears.

OldTrees1
2016-01-19, 12:25 PM
Well here's the thing about the river... Why would two villages be located so close together and not be part of the same community? Why are they both located in such close proximity to this tiny trickle of water that can barely sustain one village? If resources are scarce, then two villages would never have realistically spawned there.

Scarcity exists ubiquitous throughout real life to the point that one would need to explain a lack of scarcity. Sudden scarcity is less common but common enough to have specific words like drought or famine.

Social divisions also exist everywhere in real life, although not to such a point that they don't each have individual explanations.


In my opinion, a good "morally grey" scenario would have both parties have good and evil aspects. There would be something for the player to gain by helping either side, but also something off about them that makes them question whether they should work with this guy... Like one of the PCs die, and they absolutely must be resurrected. The only person capable of a resurrection is a local necromancer - but in exchange he demands, i dunno, a vial of orphan tears.

That example makes me think that you personally set a high bar for details to pass from amoral to either moral or immoral. If that is the case then it makes sense that what I have been describing would seem amoral rather than morally grey.

Test example:
You are out hiking with your mother when a rockslide traps your mother's leg under a rock too heavy for you to lift alone. A passing stranger is willing to move the rock but only if you first give your mother a paper cut.

Now don't answer immediately, I left it with a fairly clear answer. Instead examine the paper cut. It is obviously negligible compared to whatever damage the rock on her leg is doing. However is it non zero or is inflicting paper cuts on others a zero/morally irrelevant/amoral act?

Now bare with me on mild variations of grey. In my 3 solutions to the river problem there were 2 morally relevant details I want to highlight: Lives and Fairness. The least fair solution saved the most lives by just choosing a village while the most fair solution saved the least lives by having everyone resettle at the river. In choosing between these 3 solutions one was weighting the marginal morality of each life saved vs the marginal immorality of the inequality cost incurred for that additional life saved.

Sure one can make stark contrasts between a resurrection and causing suffering on orphans, but don't discount the little things.

Sidenote: The resurrection in exchange for orphan tears example is not a great example since it has an obvious answer of either forgoing the resurrection (personal benefit in exchange from inflicting suffering is not grey) or accepting the charity of the orphans (tears given freely is not suffering).

NichG
2016-01-19, 05:10 PM
By making the river also a small source of water, you're stabilizing the deadlock so that its actually a reasonable action for either group to refuse compromise. It's a bit forced, mostly because 'river' implies quite a lot of water, but it has the necessary structure. That's essentially what my point was - you have to be careful to make sure that if you have a moral conflict surrounding the deadlock, the deadlock must be sufficiently stable or it will just collapse and make one or both sides look like they've got a self-inflicted problem.

CharonsHelper
2016-01-19, 11:40 PM
I really wouldn't try too hard. Just make both sides of a conflict reasonable, make at least one side want the adventurers to help them 'win', and morally grey things result. If you try too hard - it just feels awkward.

Even The Witcher 3 thing with the orphans seemed a bit forced, though still interesting. Why couldn't he have led the orphans away himself? Or gotten Johnny to do it? It was pretty obvious they were going to be eaten.

Even in a game as grey as The Witcher 3, many of the quests were pretty black & white. (Go kill the creepy necrophage that eats children etc.) Mostly the grey was just people doing bad things for reasons other than "Bwhahaha - I like being evil and no one can stop me!!!". And things like how there were some pretty decent guys in The Church of the Eternal Fire, but much of it was corrupt.

The whole Bloody Baron thing was interesting... but he still beat his wife... and she still killed their kid. I sort of felt that they deserved each-other.

Vitruviansquid
2016-01-20, 12:30 AM
A lot of times, Geralt's monster slaying in The Witcher is equated to a moral judgment.

Here's a hypothetical quest:

Bill drowns his wife in a river by the village. Unbeknownst to Bill or any of the villagers, Bill's wife comes back as some kind of ghost and, blinded by rage at her death, lashes out randomly against anyone coming close to the river where she died. After enough people are found murdered by the river, the villagers stop going there to get water or fish or whatever other resources the river provides.

The PC's roll around to the village, and find the villagers desperate for anyone to get rid of the river ghost. Eventually, they piece together the origins of the ghost. Now, the party can simply fight the ghost and destroy her, but the ghost is strong and dangerous. Alternately, the party can attempt to assuage the ghost's rage by getting Bill to apologize to her and beg her forgiveness - the ghost may either forgive/spare him or kill him, but either way, that will likely cause the ghost to leave.

On Bill's part, he would be extremely reluctant to go possibly sacrifice his life for the good of the village. But maybe he isn't as loathesome a person as he used to be. Maybe he really turned his life around since he's committed the murder and has become an upstanding member of society. He argues that the PCs should give him another chance, if at least to pay society back for his crime.

Thus, the PCs' role in the quest more than just casting judgment on one morally grey NPC. Symbolically, they are determining whether a crime can be paid for by good deeds, or blood must pay for blood.

goto124
2016-01-20, 01:49 AM
Ooooh, I like the river ghost story! I personally would try to convince Bill to follow the party to the river and convince the ghost to stop, promising him that the party will protect him.

Vitruviansquid
2016-01-20, 09:59 AM
At this point, the ghost asks The party to cut off Bill's hands that drowned her and throw them in the river, just to show Bill means his apology.

Or something like that. Try to force your players to really choose, at some point.

Segev
2016-01-20, 10:42 AM
This one's more than a bit contrived, but imagine a setting wherein the last surviving elven city manages to survive because of the magical radiation of a powerful artifact. Without it, their people will go sterile and their city wither away and die.

However, a dreadful plague is sweeping through the dwarven kingdoms, and only forging this artifact into a mill to pump now-enchanted water throughout the land will allow enough of the cure to grow to save the dwarven people.

The dwarves and elves are ready to go to war over this, and the dwarves (because this is D&D and fetch quests are a thing) ask the PCs to try to retrieve the artifact for them to prevent the need for a full-on war.

Do your PCs, upon learning the importance of the artifact to the elven people, take it anyway and doom them, or do they refuse, dooming the dwarves?



Heck, a classic example is the sacrifice story: A sweet and innocent child or maiden is the destined sacrifice required to keep an ancient doom from descending upon a nation or world. Do you sacrifice the kid for the world's sake, or do you let the world be destroyed? The kid doesn't want to die, but it is quite possible she's doomed either way. But even if she is...do YOU sacrifice her?

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 10:51 AM
So here is something I had my players encounter not too long ago; they came across a kind of plantation and small village to go with it. Turns out that the farmers themselves do not run the fields, they actually use zombies that work continuously in the fields, though the farmers refer to it more as a kind of indentured servitude.

All of the zombies are from people who freely signed a contract before death to give their body over in exchange for payment to their family, or anywhere else they want. These proceedings themselves are overseen by the magistrate and clerical leaders in the closest city. Leaders in local churches allow it to continue even though they hate the idea of it because they feel a greater good is served (they are the ones who demanded the proceedings in the city to vet the contracts and the people signing them).

However, there is no denying the inherent evil (at least in D&D terms) behind the zombies. The Paladin's spidey sense tingles pretty bad, all wildlife stays away, the magics and process being used to reanimate the bodies, etc.

Along come a group of clerics and paladins who feel that this should not be allowed to continue at all, and have been raiding the plantation. They are not torching the fields or harming people, only destroying zombies when they can. If they were able to destroy all the zombies and force the farmers to work the fields themselves, the plantation/village would hardly suffer, merely become less prosperous as they would have to downsize the fields. And anyone they sell to would have other options for goods if their needs could still not be met.

Primary dilemma for the players: help the plantation or help the raider clerics/paladins?

Segev
2016-01-20, 11:05 AM
Primary dilemma for the players: help the plantation or help the raider clerics/paladins?

One of the troubles with a lot of mechanics-induced "moral dilemmas" is that the mechanics TELL us that both sides are Evil, but they don't SHOW the Evil of one side. In this case, we're TOLD that skeletons and zombies are a terrible evil that must not be promulgated, but nothing about the nature of the spell really seems to cause, well, evil to befall anybody.

For this to have the gut-wrenching impact you want from a moral dilemma, both "gray" choices have to cause appreciable harm in some fashion.

If, for instance, it were revealed that skeletons and zombies trap the souls of the former owners of the corpses inside, as slaves who feel the pains of the body as it decays away and is beaten up, but unable to so much as indicate their presence within, then suddenly the practice takes on a horrific element of slavery and torture. Of course, that leans it pretty sharply the other way: slavery-based economies suffering from the loss of the slaves doesn't justify the slavery.

Balancing the harm that qualifies animated dead for the "Evil" tag with the harm caused by denying the farmers their laborforce is hard. Get it wrong, and there's a clear right answer.

Douche
2016-01-20, 11:07 AM
So here is something I had my players encounter not too long ago; they came across a kind of plantation and small village to go with it. Turns out that the farmers themselves do not run the fields, they actually use zombies that work continuously in the fields, though the farmers refer to it more as a kind of indentured servitude.

All of the zombies are from people who freely signed a contract before death to give their body over in exchange for payment to their family, or anywhere else they want. These proceedings themselves are overseen by the magistrate and clerical leaders in the closest city. Leaders in local churches allow it to continue even though they hate the idea of it because they feel a greater good is served (they are the ones who demanded the proceedings in the city to vet the contracts and the people signing them).

However, there is no denying the inherent evil (at least in D&D terms) behind the zombies. The Paladin's spidey sense tingles pretty bad, all wildlife stays away, the magics and process being used to reanimate the bodies, etc.

Along come a group of clerics and paladins who feel that this should not be allowed to continue at all, and have been raiding the plantation. They are not torching the fields or harming people, only destroying zombies when they can. If they were able to destroy all the zombies and force the farmers to work the fields themselves, the plantation/village would hardly suffer, merely become less prosperous as they would have to downsize the fields. And anyone they sell to would have other options for goods if their needs could still not be met.

Primary dilemma for the players: help the plantation or help the raider clerics/paladins?

Depends... are the former souls of the zombies suffering from infinite pain, powerless to do anything while they are used as puppets? Or is the zombie just a lifeless husk being supernaturally animated, with no connection to it's former life?

Do the zombie farmers somehow ambiguously taint the food, like GMOs? Is this an allegory for Monsanto?

Or are the zealots just obsessed with maintaining the status quo cuz they're afraid of progress, while the zombies are clearly a superior form of agriculture?

I actually like this scenario. Lots of different questions and perspectives to consider. Although at first glance, I want to say that the paladins are just being needlessly zombie-phobic

CharonsHelper
2016-01-20, 11:13 AM
This one's more than a bit contrived, but imagine a setting wherein the last surviving elven city manages to survive because of the magical radiation of a powerful artifact. Without it, their people will go sterile and their city wither away and die.

However, a dreadful plague is sweeping through the dwarven kingdoms, and only forging this artifact into a mill to pump now-enchanted water throughout the land will allow enough of the cure to grow to save the dwarven people.

The dwarves and elves are ready to go to war over this, and the dwarves (because this is D&D and fetch quests are a thing) ask the PCs to try to retrieve the artifact for them to prevent the need for a full-on war.

Do your PCs, upon learning the importance of the artifact to the elven people, take it anyway and doom them, or do they refuse, dooming the dwarves?

Yeah - you're right. That feels pretty contrived. WHY is there no other way? Where did the magical evil disease come from? (Beyond a DM need to force a catch-22.) Why can't they make another magical whatsit?




Heck, a classic example is the sacrifice story: A sweet and innocent child or maiden is the destined sacrifice required to keep an ancient doom from descending upon a nation or world. Do you sacrifice the kid for the world's sake, or do you let the world be destroyed? The kid doesn't want to die, but it is quite possible she's doomed either way. But even if she is...do YOU sacrifice her?

So... the classic 'hose the paladin' dilemma? WHY are they the only way to keep the doom away? You can't sacrifice a serial killer instead? Frankly - that sounds like classic villain propaganda rather than a real need. (I totally need to have Prima Nocta - or the boogeyman will get you!)

CharonsHelper
2016-01-20, 11:26 AM
Depends... are the former souls of the zombies suffering from infinite pain, powerless to do anything while they are used as puppets? Or is the zombie just a lifeless husk being supernaturally animated, with no connection to it's former life?

Do the zombie farmers somehow ambiguously taint the food, like GMOs? Is this an allegory for Monsanto?

Or are the zealots just obsessed with maintaining the status quo cuz they're afraid of progress, while the zombies are clearly a superior form of agriculture?

I actually like this scenario. Lots of different questions and perspectives to consider. Although at first glance, I want to say that the paladins are just being needlessly zombie-phobic

That's an answer which would vary with the fundamental laws of the world. If the [evil] aspect of undead is some sort of fundamental thing where their evil slowly seeps out from them - infecting the land & people around them... then it's bad and needs to be stopped. (Maybe the village has a much higher murder rate than normal. Even possibly killing people early to raise them as workers.)

If the zombies are just creepy automatons - then it's fine. (That doesn't really seem to be the default D&D assumption though. Do zombies never break away and start eating innocents?)

Note: Killing people for their skeletons was actually an issue in India at one point when they used to be the #1 supplier of them for med-schools etc. That's why it's illegal for people in India to export skeletons.

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 11:36 AM
Although at first glance, I want to say that the paladins are just being needlessly zombie-phobic

This has to be the first time that has ever been said, haha

Also, you and Segev do make a good point about there not seeming to be anything evil other than that it 'is' evil. I did not elaborate on that as, while the party was talking to everyone else to figure out what they should do (obviously all that info was only gained bit by bit), they never actually went to talk to the person who creates the zombies. And I know at least one of them has an account on here, so it will remain a mystery for now.

Oh, also, on the surface, and my original intent was that the clerics and paladins would be so firm in their belief was that the only way to stop them was through to the death combat, adding in the wrinkle that stopping them would mean killing good people only trying to do what they thought was right. The party managed to come up with an idea out of left field from a completely different ball park than I was thinking, and found an alternative, as PCs are want to do.

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 12:03 PM
That's an answer which would vary with the fundamental laws of the world. If the [evil] aspect of undead is some sort of fundamental thing where their evil slowly seeps out from them - infecting the land & people around them... then it's bad and needs to be stopped. (Maybe the village has a much higher murder rate than normal. Even possibly killing people early to raise them as workers.)

If the zombies are just creepy automatons - then it's fine. (That doesn't really seem to be the default D&D assumption though. Do zombies never break away and start eating innocents?)

Note: Killing people for their skeletons was actually an issue in India at one point when they used to be the #1 supplier of them for med-schools etc. That's why it's illegal for people in India to export skeletons.

As far as the party is aware they are just mindless automatons, I had them be created by a Druid and with what they were told, it kind of has a Native American flair of not wasting any part of the body that may be useful, even if that body was a humanoid. Though as I said in my above post, that was all hear say to them as they never went and actually talked to the guy. So I am saving those plot threads i my back pocket for later

Pinjata
2016-01-20, 12:03 PM
Great work. With some modification and thinking I came to this:

NPC drowned his wife at village pier, thus spawning her and several ghosts that attack all who approach the pier. Villagers ask PCs for help, but malevolent spirit shares its tale. It turns out her sweet husband is in fact a sweet and caring guy, but has occasional bouts of insanity. He wants to hang himself for doing this.

Miner village will sacrfice a child to local monsters who protect the village and enable mining to take place. Many families depend on mining, but childs' brother has sent for help of PCs.

Evil cleric is preaching in a village. He did no harm, but has already turned some villagers to his faith. He also cured some of them and has supposedly brought a fruitful fall.

Mining village under siege by the druids. Opened dig has already consumed holy tree and threatens another holy site.

Villagers have turned into moose-lycantropes. PCs must discover a harmless alcimist who is looking for a potion to change his best friend albino moos into a sentient creature, but has dumped alchemic waste into a stream that villagers drink from. Afterwords villagers want to lynch the guy.

illyahr
2016-01-20, 12:08 PM
Villagers have turned into moose-lycantropes. PCs must discover a harmless alcimist who is looking for a potion to change his best friend albino moos into a sentient creature, but has dumped alchemic waste into a stream that villagers drink from. Afterwords villagers want to lynch the guy.

This has to be the greatest plot-hook ever!

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 12:22 PM
This has to be the greatest plot-hook ever!

Mynd you, moose bites Kan be pretti nasti...

illyahr
2016-01-20, 12:23 PM
Mynd you, moose bites Kan be pretti nasti...

Ja, a moos bit my sister once

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 12:25 PM
Miner village will sacrfice a child to local monsters who protect the village and enable mining to take place. Many families depend on mining, but childs' brother has sent for help of PCs.

I think this needs a reason why they couldn't just get rid of the monsters (Maybe it is an offering to their god or the monster is stupid strong?) or move away (Maybe it is the only known source of what they are mining?)

CharonsHelper
2016-01-20, 12:37 PM
(Maybe it is the only known source of what they are mining?)

Unobtainium? >.<

Pinjata
2016-01-20, 12:44 PM
I think this needs a reason why they couldn't just get rid of the monsters (Maybe it is an offering to their god or the monster is stupid strong?) or move away (Maybe it is the only known source of what they are mining?)

Maybe monsters are just strong enough to keep other mosnters away? maybe this is a small copper mine that provides some wealth, but not so much that villagers would want their "patrons" dead? Also moving away is a hassle. They have it good here.

Mark Hall
2016-01-20, 01:16 PM
I'm setting up a short campaign to go from lvl 1 to lvl 5. (dnd 5e) I have encounters and NPCs set, but as I played Witcher a bit, I'd like to rework the thing a bit and introduce some morally gray quests. Short things, like "Mill is crucial for village, but dam has cut off water from kobold village ..." Thing is I'm not very good at coming up with this material. If anyone has any ideas, can you guys drop them in a form of sentence of two?

thanks

One thing that works is to take the humanoids out of the equation... just deal with demihumans. So, instead of "The humans want a mill and it will cut off water from the kobolds", what if it is HALFLINGS who need a mill and it will cut off water from a GNOME village? This moves it from an "us v. them" scenario and into a "good actors seeking a solution."

A few ideas I have used in the past:

a) Elves are moving back into their ancestral homelands and insisting on enforcing a treaty signed more than a thousand years ago that they've largely let lapse.

b) A human nation wants to drain a sizable swamp to create cropland. The inhabitants of the swamp (mostly human themselves) oppose this, since it will destroy their way of life and some sacred spaces.

c) (Contrary to my advice before) a LN group of traditionally LE humanoids (I use hobgoblins) have set up a nation nearby. They have sent envoys and are in the process of erecting and guarding their borders. Their actions displace some elves, traditional but contentious allies of the humans, while the hobgoblins promise to be both strong and lucrative partners.

Pinjata
2016-01-20, 01:29 PM
One thing that works is to take the humanoids out of the equation... just deal with demihumans. So, instead of "The humans want a mill and it will cut off water from the kobolds", what if it is HALFLINGS who need a mill and it will cut off water from a GNOME village? This moves it from an "us v. them" scenario and into a "good actors seeking a solution."

A few ideas I have used in the past:

a) Elves are moving back into their ancestral homelands and insisting on enforcing a treaty signed more than a thousand years ago that they've largely let lapse.

b) A human nation wants to drain a sizable swamp to create cropland. The inhabitants of the swamp (mostly human themselves) oppose this, since it will destroy their way of life and some sacred spaces.

c) (Contrary to my advice before) a LN group of traditionally LE humanoids (I use hobgoblins) have set up a nation nearby. They have sent envoys and are in the process of erecting and guarding their borders. Their actions displace some elves, traditional but contentious allies of the humans, while the hobgoblins promise to be both strong and lucrative partners.
These sound like made for rather high-level adventurers. Otherwise are not bad IMO.

Segev
2016-01-20, 01:31 PM
Yeah - you're right. That feels pretty contrived. WHY is there no other way? Where did the magical evil disease come from? (Beyond a DM need to force a catch-22.) Why can't they make another magical whatsit?





So... the classic 'hose the paladin' dilemma? WHY are they the only way to keep the doom away? You can't sacrifice a serial killer instead? Frankly - that sounds like classic villain propaganda rather than a real need. (I totally need to have Prima Nocta - or the boogeyman will get you!)

Note that I didn't say that "take a third option" wasn't a possibility. That's the big key to most of these: there almost ALWAYS is at least one third option. It may be much harder. The party may fail in trying (and lead to a default of the worse ending, from their perspective, in so doing). But a key to not making these feel particularly contrived is to allow the PCs to explore options for alternatives.



Somebody else's "miner town sacrificing kid to monsters; kid's brother sent for PC help" issue's 'third option' might well just be the PCs kicking in the monsters' door and beating them up until they stop demanding kidsnacks.

Mark Hall
2016-01-20, 01:41 PM
These sound like made for rather high-level adventurers. Otherwise are not bad IMO.

They've got options for lower-level play, depending on where you start them.

An example for each:

a) The elves are enforcing their treaty rights, but humans think they have a loophole... resettle some places that they once did. Need adventurers to explore the area and deal with any threats. Conversely, the elves might be looking to set up new camps, and want teams to deal with threats, exploring human burial sites, etc. to make sure that new settlements in their lands are safe.

b) The Nation wants to drain the swamp, so they want to know what kinds of threats there are, and if there are any good places to set up their engineering camps. Enter PCs as scouts.

c) Hobgoblin scouts are probing the borders of one of the settlements near their claimed lands. The PCs are to protect a surveying team that will establish signposts that show the hobgoblins clearly what is the human-claimed land.

CharonsHelper
2016-01-20, 02:34 PM
One thing that works is to take the humanoids out of the equation... just deal with demihumans. So, instead of "The humans want a mill and it will cut off water from the kobolds", what if it is HALFLINGS who need a mill and it will cut off water from a GNOME village? This moves it from an "us v. them" scenario and into a "good actors seeking a solution."

Just have to point out - mills don't cut off water - they just use the water's flow. I think you're thinking of a dam cutting off water (especially in the short term) and the new lake it creates displacing tons of peoples. I know that for the giant dam in China (biggest in the world/massive turbines and whatnot), the cost of moving all of those displaced people & their economic losses while they weren't working etc. was ball-parked at being a smidge higher than the cost of building the dam.

Vitruviansquid
2016-01-20, 03:20 PM
I'm seeing that a lot of the proposed quests involve deciding whether A should survive or B should survive. While these might be morally grey, I don't think they are all that compelling. After all, the answer is a simple, "whoever is paying me more" or "they're the same, I don't care. Someone pay me."

A good morally grey decision is one between two equally compelling options, not between two equally inconsequential ones.

Dhuraal
2016-01-20, 03:46 PM
I'm seeing that a lot of the proposed quests involve deciding whether A should survive or B should survive. While these might be morally grey, I don't think they are all that compelling. After all, the answer is a simple, "whoever is paying me more" or "they're the same, I don't care. Someone pay me."

A good morally grey decision is one between two equally compelling options, not between two equally inconsequential ones.


That is only the case if your character has absolutely no personal beliefs or values that are represented in the situation. This is about a morally grey situation. A character who in that kind of situation simply ask who is paying more is amoral, and they simply do not care about the moral implications of the situation, so what does it matter to them?

Segev
2016-01-20, 04:43 PM
For "equally compelling," perhaps you'd prefer something along the lines of either helping put the vile leader of the organized crime ring in the city behind bars to punish him for his crimes against you and your loved ones (as well as myriad other innocents), but allowing the chaos that will fall out in the underworld and unfortunately aiding the corrupt prosecutor that you loathe personally in gaining more political power and a higher position of influence in the city...or helping the criminal get away - AGAIN - but knowing that the crime world in town stays...stable...and that it will knock that horrid prick of a prosecutor down a few pegs so he can't keep making your life difficult when it comes to getting things done.

goto124
2016-01-21, 12:00 AM
A sweet and innocent child or maiden is the destined sacrifice required to keep an ancient doom from descending upon a nation or world. Do you sacrifice the kid for the world's sake, or do you let the world be destroyed? The kid doesn't want to die, but it is quite possible she's doomed either way. But even if she is...do YOU sacrifice her?

One way this could go wrong: with insufficient time to make the 'innocent child' an actual character the players can sympathize with, they could just choose to sacrifice that child because they don't see the kid as a real person, but part of a "rather lame excuse of a moral dilemma".

On the other end, it would be even worse if the DM had hammered the whole "she's innocent and pure and must not die!" thing into the players. Now she's a Purity Sue DMPC, and the players would probably stab her without even bothering with the proper sacrificial rituals. If the players don't just stomp out of the room and quit the campaign.

A more effective approach: Look at whatever NPC the players have taken a shine to, and use that NPC. If no such NPC exists, use one of the PCs! ... okay, I'm not sure if that's a terribly good idea.

Satinavian
2016-01-21, 05:28 AM
One way this could go wrong: with insufficient time to make the 'innocent child' an actual character the players can sympathize with, they could just choose to sacrifice that child because they don't see the kid as a real person, but part of a "rather lame excuse of a moral dilemma".Where is the "going wrong" there ? The thing about grey decisions is that both options are acceptable choices. If the PCs sacrifice the child, well, that is how the story goes. Nothing wrong here.

Although the scenario is pretty lame. There is no reason not to sacrifice the child. It comes from philosophy to drive certain moral ideals to the edge, trying everything to let the sacrifice seem to be the reasonable option.
That doesn't work in an RPG. PCs doen't have an all-important ideal to never harm an innocent, no matter what. They will safe the world with a sacrifice of someone pretty much doomed to die anyway and don't feel particularly sorry about it. That is why you don't import thought experiments from philosophical disputes into RPGs as plot. They are always extreme fringe cases that only work to challange absolute moral standards.

To make a plot out of it, i would consider two changes :
- The sacrifice doesn't safe the world, but a lot of people.
- The success even with the sacrifice is not certain, only very likely. Maybe parts of the ritual discription come from dubious translation or something.

Both parameters (how many safed, how reliable the sources) can be adjusted to how much those particular players don't like the sacrifice to craft a real moral dilemma instead of one with an obviously better solution.

lothos
2016-01-21, 05:50 AM
A long time ago (20+ years) I DM'd a 1st Edition game, based around the series of modules starting with "Bloodstone pass". The PCs had completed the modules and were pretty high level. Part of the series involves re-opening the bloodstone mines.

The PCs had 2 Magic Users (1st edition Wizards) who decided to use a LOT of wall of stone, disintegrate, "dig" (the 1st edition version of move earth) and several other spells to create almost industrial sized shafts, ramps and such. They also diverted a very large river (The Beaumeris River from the module), which used to disappear down in to the underdark.

I wanted there to be consequences for them using magic in this way. I mean, if this was that easy, surely every high level magic user would be doing this.. So I thought about how this would affect all the other creatures underground. I had a group of drow elves attack pretty much right away (it cut off their water supply), taking a whole bunch of children hostage from bloodstone pass in the middle of the night.

While the players were cursing the drow and asking how vile they were to attack innocent, weak children... I had some neutrally aligned deep gnomes come peacefully up to the PCs and sob as they related how all thier gnome children were so thirsty and how all the drow had come and driven them out of the areas near the remaining water holes underground. The players realized they had inadvertently caused suffering to all the poor little (very little) gnome children. Both through the obvious action of the river diversion, but the reaction by the drow elves to their act of diverting the river.

Should they try and wipe out the drow ? What about the drow children ? If they restored the river to it's regular flow, it would diminish the prosperity of bloodstone. Would the drow return the human child hostages ? Would the drow relinquish the previously gnome held water holes ?

It wasn't the most interesting or impressive plot ever devised (I'm no Rich Burlew :-) ), but it did cause some lengthy discussions. I think the key was creating a situation they couldn't fix with magic easily, but that they had caused themselves, so felt responsible for fixing.

GloatingSwine
2016-01-21, 06:08 AM
There are a number of problems with any "sacrifice the innocent" plot.

The first is that it's almost always going to be super contrived why this one particular sacrifice is going to have any effect at all on the problem it is intended to stop.

The second is that it isn't even slightly morally grey, it's absolutely the morally wrong thing to do, acceding to the demands of a tyrannical evil*. It's only an acceptable course of action if the player characters are insufficiently mighty to kill the **** out of whatever thing is demanding the sacrifice of innocents, and even then they should be taking note of its name to come back and kill its ass later.



* There's a reason that the common philosophical trolley problem uses a neutral physical process, when the trolley is a voluntary actor then it is inevitably evil and so the morally good option is "kill the driver and hit the brakes".

Satinavian
2016-01-21, 07:27 AM
The first is that it's almost always going to be super contrived why this one particular sacrifice is going to have any effect at all on the problem it is intended to stop.Not really. You only need a connection of the problem and the person. There is a myriad of options to do this, most used in various folk tales. Family curses, people bound to the land, prophecies, reincarnation, rare hereditary powers...

It's so common to require a specific sacrifice that it is nearly iconic. Except for situations with the more sacrifices the better.

The second is that it isn't even slightly morally grey, it's absolutely the morally wrong thing to do, acceding to the demands of a tyrannical evil*. It's only an acceptable course of action if the player characters are insufficiently mighty to kill the **** out of whatever thing is demanding the sacrifice of innocents, and even then they should be taking note of its name to come back and kill its ass later.
* There's a reason that the common philosophical trolley problem uses a neutral physical process, when the trolley is a voluntary actor then it is inevitably evil and so the morally good option is "kill the driver and hit the brakes".Which is usually done also if used for stories. Either natural processes or beings that are so removed and powerful that they are basically personified forces of nature themself.

The only reason to use an actual, sentient evil creature is to highlight the sacrifice option as wrong, the creature as evil and make the "kill it instead"-option possible.

goto124
2016-01-21, 08:25 AM
Might want to plan a 'switch', a change in situation that turns the moral grayness into something black and white.

Useful when the group's spent an hour arguing what to do next, and doesn't look like they'll stop anytime soon.

The trope's called Debate and Switch. Not linking to TVTropes for obvious reasons.

Segev
2016-01-21, 10:50 AM
At least part of my point is that it usually is painfully contrived. The "third option" almost always exists.

The trouble arises from a few factors:

The third option is harder and/or uncertain, so even trying it may bring about one of the other two outcomes
The third option requires one side or the other to make an unequal sacrifice (e.g. one of the two towns has to uproot and move to join the other)
The third option requires that one side TRUST the other, with no guarantees and no reason other than moral uprightness on the other side's part for the other side not to screw them over completely
The third option is worse for not just one, but multiple power groups who form a ruling minority in one or both sides of the conflict, and the majority being convinced to side against all of them is also difficult.

This isn't even a comprehensive list, just a quick one to illustrate how you make morally gray situations interesting without feeling contrived. It doesn't have to truly have no "good" solution. The "good" solution just has to be a LOT harder, or a LOT riskier.

In the "sacrifice to a demon or he kills the whole town" scenario, the third option is "kill the stupid demon." But the town can't. The big brother who hired the PCs can't. Even trying is the same as the "let the town be destroyed" option. Worse, the demon is powerful enough that he is a significant challenge for the PCs. He may or may not be beyond their power to destroy. And if they try and fail, the town fears the demon will destroy it in retaliation, so now the town is still debating over "sacrifice the innocent or let the PCs take on the demon." The grayness here comes from whether it's right to force the town to accept the risk of its own destruction if the PCs aren't able to handle it. But most PCs will feel righteous about that one, so it's not a moral dilemma for them so much as it's a challenging scenario due to more factors than just "the demon" to deal with.

GrayGriffin
2016-01-21, 12:57 PM
We had a situation somewhat like this in our PTU game the week before last. We encountered several Pokemon stuck in spiderwebs and decided to cut them down, which alerted the spiders themselves to come and attack us. Before they actually could, my Weedle, the most charming of them all, and a total pacifist, spoke up, apologizing and asking if we could do anything to make it up to them. They decided that we had to get them some more food to replace the ones we'd freed. And also maybe fix their webs. One character suggested we offer them a group of bandits who had recently been repeatedly antagonizing us. It was actually our ex-pirate character who objected most to this plan. At the very least, it was a moral dilemma for my Weedle, who didn't want to fight or get anyone killed.

Yeah, we caught the bandits, but while some of us were doing that, the characters back at camp managed to convince one of the spider leaders that she'd be better served trading silk and the like with the humans in a nearby town, and that they could turn the bandits in for bounties as well.

Beleriphon
2016-01-21, 01:58 PM
I really wouldn't try too hard. Just make both sides of a conflict reasonable, make at least one side want the adventurers to help them 'win', and morally grey things result. If you try too hard - it just feels awkward.

Even The Witcher 3 thing with the orphans seemed a bit forced, though still interesting. Why couldn't he have led the orphans away himself? Or gotten Johnny to do it? It was pretty obvious they were going to be eaten.

Even in a game as grey as The Witcher 3, many of the quests were pretty black & white. (Go kill the creepy necrophage that eats children etc.) Mostly the grey was just people doing bad things for reasons other than "Bwhahaha - I like being evil and no one can stop me!!!". And things like how there were some pretty decent guys in The Church of the Eternal Fire, but much of it was corrupt.

The whole Bloody Baron thing was interesting... but he still beat his wife... and she still killed their kid. I sort of felt that they deserved each-other.

I like that in The Witcher 3 often the most horrible things that Geralt fights are people. The monsters are monsters and never going to change very much (a drowner isn't going to change, sure its scary and horrible but its an understood undead abomination). The greyness in The Witcher is the fact that the most monstrous creatures Geralt fights are often other people.

Segev
2016-01-21, 05:24 PM
Yeah, we caught the bandits, but while some of us were doing that, the characters back at camp managed to convince one of the spider leaders that she'd be better served trading silk and the like with the humans in a nearby town, and that they could turn the bandits in for bounties as well.

I'm not sure how this resolved the whole "need to eat" thing.

Gray Mage
2016-01-21, 06:55 PM
I'm not sure how this resolved the whole "need to eat" thing.

They probably traded the silk for food (the non sentient kind) I assume.

Kane0
2016-01-21, 07:47 PM
1. Locals are falling ill and need medicinal herbs from woods. Woods are protected by druid(s) and loss of herbs would impact the area, including the local's game and lumber.
2. Locals stole some valuables and an egg from a nearby dragon lair. Mama dragon wants her egg back but doesn't want to risk losing it by attacking.
3. Owlbear attacks are on the rise. Its breeding season, and trolls from the south have pushed them towards more settled areas.
4. Relic has been stolen from local temple by thieves. Thieves used it to bribe local lord into reducing taxes on locals, which are collected by the church.
5. Merchant wants shipment moved safely to another location, but 3rd party provides convincing information that he is extremely shady. Said source is also shady so information may or may not be correct.
6. Local lord is increasing taxes and conscription to a brutal degree in order to support soldier and mercenary forces defending the norther border from invasion
7. Murderer is hiding in town and striking down innocents randomly. He is actually doing so in order to lure out the guard captain (who isn't pursuing the murders) and kill him for far worse crimes.
8. Local hedge mage has been asked to aid a little girl who is suffering, but the only way he can do so will lead to the death of a family member.
9. Holy man wanders into town, determined to find and end the corruption hidden... somewhere. Poor fellow received a sending that went to the wrong recipient, but his interpretation of his 'vision' has him hellbent on purging the town.
10. Necromancer/Cultist stumbles into town half dead, demanding medical attention and aid in ridding the undead from the nearby graveyard/old battlefield. May or may not have had something to do with the appearance of said undead.

GrayGriffin
2016-01-21, 09:37 PM
I'm not sure how this resolved the whole "need to eat" thing.
Money can be exchanged for goods and services.

Shackel
2016-01-22, 02:34 AM
My personal favorite form of morally gray quests are those that are between "unfair and easy" and "fair but difficult/sacrificial". It's not only the easiest to make viable even with the groups involved likely knowing these two options but not being the one who wants to sacrifice/otherwise wanting the easier option... but it avoids what I think is a rather easy problem to create with these quests:

Apathy.

If the choices boil down to just shunting the negatives onto one side (the dwarven/elven artifact comes to mind, or "kill a child or the village is destroyed"), it's astoundingly easy(in my experience, mind you) for players to just grow annoyed and want to get it over with. They lose either way, and it's not a real choice.

But it's easy to sympathize with one side for being unfair when its the easiest or cleanest way for them, and the other side bares consequences that are genuinely hard for that side to accept(like a family being forced to give up their child). If, in the Elven artifact situation, the dark plague would destroy dwarven society unless they took the artifact and concentrated it into, say, a potion or antidote, that could be a good quest: the Elves do not want to give up control of the magic that allows them to breed to dwarves(unfair, but an easy option). The dwarves demand the artifact, or it's war, even though a mistake could cost the elves their lives(fair, but difficult).

Vknight
2016-01-22, 07:20 AM
Moral Grey quests come down to what you want from the group, the game, and the story.
I'm running Base Raiders so I expect the players to at some point deal with a unsavory person and just say have a portion of the loot and we can team up rather then fight.

Martin Greywolf
2016-01-22, 10:17 AM
This needs to be said: for the love of d20, make sure players are on the same page with you.

No matter how good a quest, bad (as in, not tailored to this style of play) player attitude an ruin them pretty damn fast. Let's take the kobold and human villages fight for water as an example.

If players arrive to the human village, where the mayor tells them that kobolds are stealing human water, and they need to stop that, players could just as well decide to just blow up the kobold dam without looking further into anything but kobold patrol routes and local prices of gunpowder.

If you want to run a game like this, you pretty much need to sit the players down and tell them they should look into everything and trust no quest-givers.

Last pitfall to look out for is player vs player or player vs DM conflict when it comes to morals. Your respective views on the morals (be it is organized religion, or stealing to feed yourself) are most likely different in several cases, and it can be really hard to present the situation in an unbiased way.

With that comes the risk that certain players will just clam up and refuse to compromise or cooperate with the rest, which is usually not a good thing.

Segev
2016-01-22, 10:33 AM
This needs to be said: for the love of d20, make sure players are on the same page with you.

No matter how good a quest, bad (as in, not tailored to this style of play) player attitude an ruin them pretty damn fast. Let's take the kobold and human villages fight for water as an example.

If players arrive to the human village, where the mayor tells them that kobolds are stealing human water, and they need to stop that, players could just as well decide to just blow up the kobold dam without looking further into anything but kobold patrol routes and local prices of gunpowder.

To be fair, if the players do this, and you're willing to just roll with it, that's fine, too.

In fact, it could be amusing to, later on, have a village of gnomes who just finished building a dam put out a quest to help protect it against the tribe of orcs that keep trying to blow it up (because it cut off their water supply).

And see if the players catch on. (And don't be disappointed if they don't. Just...run with it.)

CharonsHelper
2016-01-22, 11:30 AM
Sometimes the best moral grey quests don't look that way at all to start.

Probably still my favorite quest (in terms of the bones of it - I was a pretty new DM, so it had some flow issues) that I ever gave my players involved such. It opened with a captain of the guard (whom they'd previously befriended) asking them to clear a girl (young woman really) that they had in for murder. She'd been discovered at the scene of the killing on the street (high bridge in Sharn/Eberron) and they'd been forced to take her in. The victim was an important government official, and the powers that be wanted someone held accountable fast, so if she wasn't cleared in the next week - probably just by finding the real killer - she'd be hung!

So - the players questioned her - investigated her (she was a serving girl) - used Sense Motive etc. Everything they found indicated that she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then some toughs told them to stop investigating the case! (classic hard-boiled style) The captured a prisoner who told them about a conspiracy by a noble house because the killed official was working on a new law. There was a well-known assassin behind it who he was terrified of. Standard conspiracy stuff. They put the prisoner in the guardhouse jail... and he ended up dead to poison! (2-3 sessions of investigating various crime syndicates - fighting them off - random monsters in sewers etc.)

The group kept finding hints of conspiracy, but they ran out of time before they had enough hard evidence. The girl was to be hung. The players actually put up a nonlethal fight at the hanging, and for an instant the girl got away (I actually rolled a 20 in front of everyone on her slipping away - which was amazing!) but she was quickly caught again... she was hung in front of the players! The players then started to cry out against the noble house to anyone who would listen, and they kept investigating, digging up dirt etc.

HOWEVER - little did they know... the girl WAS the assassin. . They'd believed her because she had a jacked up bluff skill, and the prisoner had died because she'd been in the cell across from him and had killed him with poisoned mouth needles. (they'd failed a Search check to find the needles) She hadn't actually needed a 20 to slip away from the guard, as she was much higher level than the NPC guards. The actual assassin girl had gotten away. While she was in the crowd she'd been replaced by an innocent look-alike who had been hung in front of the players.

The entire thing was actually done to make the PCs patsies against the noble house which they thought was behind the killing. The PCs were well-known and had an excellent reputation in Sharn, and them coming out against the noble house hurt it politically even if they didn't have enough evidence for a court of law.

Several sessions later the PCs started uncovering evidence of all this and had a final showdown with the assassin girl who now wanted to shut them up. (Boy did they had a double-take moment when - after one had literally been stabbed in the back - he turned around and "the attacker looks exactly like the girl you tried to save who was hung". They spent a couple minutes arguing with me about whether or not this was a surreal moment - asking for will saves against illusion etc.)

There was never a moment of 'should we let bad thing A happen or bad thing B', but I don't think anyone would say that it was all black & white.

On the negative side, my players never trusted NPCs, especially girls, ever again!!!

goto124
2016-01-22, 09:00 PM
I'm not sure if that was a moral dilemma... but it was a highly interesting campaign regardless.

CharonsHelper
2016-01-22, 09:54 PM
I'm not sure if that was a moral dilemma... but it was a highly interesting campaign regardless.

I totally agree. It wasn't a dilemma. I actually intended it as an example of how you can have a morally grey quest which isn't about a moral dilemma at all. (Which I apparently explained poorly. >.<)

goto124
2016-01-22, 09:56 PM
What was morally grey about it, by the way?

CharonsHelper
2016-01-22, 11:00 PM
What was morally grey about it, by the way?

Just the whole idea of being mislead on who was the good-guy/bad-guy. The group finding out that they'd been playing into the villain's hands. etc.

Maybe that doesn't qualify as morally grey to you. *shrug* It's not exactly a well-defined term.

NichG
2016-01-23, 04:19 AM
Aesthetic conflicts might be an interesting subtype of morally grey. A city has an established guild structure that's a bit traditionalist, but self-regulates towards economic stability. However, there's a faction of scholars who are developing new ideas that would destabilize the system but might create a lot of progress. The PCs don't have to sign up on either side, but find themselves in the position to influence a new city law that will channel those factions in a certain way. So the PCs must decide what they want the city to be like, rather than deciding which side is 'right'. The law could be bad for both factions but direct the city to grow in the PCs image, for example.

Segev
2016-01-23, 09:51 AM
The law could be bad for both factions but direct the city to grow in the PCs image, for example.

"All new buildings must be constructed so-as to cast shadows in the shape of the party posing in this dramatic fashion."

NichG
2016-01-23, 01:03 PM
"All new buildings must be constructed so-as to cast shadows in the shape of the party posing in this dramatic fashion."

I ran a campaign once where advertising and fame actually mattered mechanically, and I could totally see this happening. One PC had abilities that scaled with the size of her fanbase.

Yuushi
2016-01-23, 09:00 PM
You could put them into a situation where they have to retrieve an insanely rare root to cure the magical illness of a single father of a young child in Village A. In order to get that root, they must travel a days journey to Village B where they'll stay the night with a family. They then travel to said location and gather said root.

Upon passing through Village B, the mother of the family that they stayed with comes to them in need of the same cure for her own young daughter's magical illness.

The problem becomes obvious when you reveal that they can't split the root as all of it is needed for a single cure, and the only other location to find said root is too far away for them to reach in time. So, the question is do they save a child or save a father.

One solution could be to have bring both families together and step back from the situation. Another may be to let the father die but bring the orphaned child to live with the second family. Either way, it puts the party in a situation that they have to make a sacrifice in.

goto124
2016-01-23, 10:06 PM
Or, the murderhobo PCs kill the entire second family (sick father, mother and child) so that no one has to suffer :smallamused:

Pinjata
2016-01-24, 06:43 AM
Or, the murderhobo PCs kill the entire second family (sick father, mother and child) so that no one has to suffer :smallamused:
"Add them to our ressurection list, Mark. How many we have so far? 61? According to my estimates and WBL charts we can rez all of them by lvl 13. Nine more sessions, guys."

Martin Greywolf
2016-01-25, 08:04 AM
To be fair, if the players do this, and you're willing to just roll with it, that's fine, too.

In fact, it could be amusing to, later on, have a village of gnomes who just finished building a dam put out a quest to help protect it against the tribe of orcs that keep trying to blow it up (because it cut off their water supply).

And see if the players catch on. (And don't be disappointed if they don't. Just...run with it.)

Well, it isn't really fine, IMHO. Thing here is that the DM wants to create Sapkowski-esque world of gray morality with no one being (too) right or wrong. If all the players see is "rar bad kobolds", then DM is likely gonna end up frustrated, and atmosphere of the entire campaign/world goes tango uniform.

If the players want to play mindless hack'n'slash, cool, but everyone needs to be on the same page about it. If I was the DM going for moral ambiguity and players did the mindless slaughter unto the kobolds, I'd roll with it and then made them sure to hit them with "My Pelor, what have we done" scene. Think Spec Ops: The Line white phosphorous scene (you know the one, the one that scars you forever and ever).

Segev
2016-01-25, 09:01 AM
Well, it isn't really fine, IMHO. Thing here is that the DM wants to create Sapkowski-esque world of gray morality with no one being (too) right or wrong. If all the players see is "rar bad kobolds", then DM is likely gonna end up frustrated, and atmosphere of the entire campaign/world goes tango uniform.

If the players want to play mindless hack'n'slash, cool, but everyone needs to be on the same page about it. If I was the DM going for moral ambiguity and players did the mindless slaughter unto the kobolds, I'd roll with it and then made them sure to hit them with "My Pelor, what have we done" scene. Think Spec Ops: The Line white phosphorous scene (you know the one, the one that scars you forever and ever).

Not seen that movie. I will say, however, that trying to narm up the guilt often backfires. Which is why the second similar-but-backwards scene is my suggested way to do this. The best lessons are those that people come upon themselves. Telling somebody, "You're a bad person for having done this," just gets them defensive and, in a game environment, makes the players feel browbeaten and annoyed. Having them come to the realization, themselves, without you actually saying anything...that's powerful.

Of course, there's still room for player indignance if the "rar smash evil kobolds" response was related to a miscommunication about the tone of the game. As DM, it is your responsibility to communicate tone throughout, overtly and subtly, and to do things like make sure the kobolds don't act unreasonably surly to the players compared to how a village of gnomes doing the same thing would. If they attack first and ask questions later, the PCs are NOT being amoral jerks for responding in kind. Signals that a group are not just kill-fodder include things like having them post warning signs, or have guards who actively warn off intruders.