D&D 5E About Morally Correct Outcomes in D&D Adventures [+]

I am curious what sort of situation you have in mind that is feel good, while morally grey/black?
That would depend on what the PCs are trying to achieve. But "we get to keep the huge pile of loot" is a fairly common one. Treasure Island for example. Jim Hawkins gets to keep a huge pile of stolen gold, and the murderous pirate Long John Silver escapes punishment.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
To also borrow a concept from video games, there are often degrees of success, with the "golden" ending the most difficult to achieve. I don't think in an RPG the "best" ending should be automatic. The players should have to work for it. Players should always be aware that "you fail and the world ends" is always a possible outcome.
Oh, most certainly. To paraphrase myself from the ending-voting thread, the idealized adventure in my head has:
(a) a difficult but highly satisfying morally good ending that is maximally heroic etc. etc.,
(b) an acceptably good but imperfect ending that is easier to achieve,
(c) a weakly bad ending that is sort of the natural failure state from lack/waste of effort, and
(d) a strongly bad "you really screwed up" ending that might be very difficult for the area/setting to recover from.

Some adventures generally shouldn't go HAM for moral endings (sometimes it's just fun to explore a ruined city or whatever), but some adventures should. A good healthy mix of light-hearted and heavy, pure-adventure and morally-charged, colorful and grounded, etc. is what keeps gaming fresh.
 

Enrahim2

Adventurer
That would depend on what the PCs are trying to achieve. But "we get to keep the huge pile of loot" is a fairly common one.
But do it make a difference to the feel good aspect if this pile came from the hoard of an evil dragon, or by plundering the taxman of a benevolent king? I think it would..
 

Emoshin

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Also I think there's another great point which have been touched upon by @Steampunkette and @Enrahim2 and maybe others.

In "How to Be Perfect", here are some examples of angst one can go through when making moral decisions:
  • Oh, You Bought a New iPhone? That's Cool. Did You Know That Millions of People Are Starving in South Asia?!
  • This Sandwich is Morally Problematic. But It's Also Delicious. Can I Still Eat It?
  • I Gave a Twenty-Seven Cent Tip to My Barista, and Now Everyone's Yelling at Me on Twitter, Just Because I'm a Billionaire! I Can't Even Enjoy the Soft-Shell Crab Rolls That My Sushi Chef Made for My Private Dirigible Trip to the Dutch Antilles! How Is That Fair?!

IMO, it's important to be cognizant that, when we talk about a "heroically good" or "feel good" or "morally correct" ending, this is in context of the genre of those who are desiring that "good" ending.

Which is to say that for some tables, being an escape from reality, D&D allows for (not automatically, but through heroic effort) actualizing that perfect outcome without all the angst.

For other tables, an escape from reality might be an opportunity to transpose and explore those moral nuances, where that angst is a feature, not a bug.

If that's true, then perhaps the twain shall never meet across those two kinds of tables.
 
Last edited:

Enrahim2

Adventurer
That would depend on what the PCs are trying to achieve. But "we get to keep the huge pile of loot" is a fairly common one. Treasure Island for example. Jim Hawkins gets to keep a huge pile of stolen gold, and the murderous pirate Long John Silver escapes punishment.
Ah, you edited in a great example! I agree that Treasure Island has quite a feel good ending. But would this have worked in an RPG as the provided "good" ending of a written adventure? I am not sure. While in the book we can get the feel good by accepting the protagonists values as the important focus, and provide a moral framework for the reader to understand the text trough.

In a rpg however it is more likely one of the protagonists would have been strongly opiniated about the fate of LJS, and hence the adventure not allowing for an outcome where he is put to justice would have been problematic.

I think this point to an important distinction between how to acheive a feel good ending in rpgs and other media. In other media you have more tools to dictate the moral framework the ending should be interpreted under. In starwars, if one of the characters had as a main goal to somehow get to use the death star to the rebel's advantage, the ending might have been quite tragic.

Hence I think my proposition that morally good and feel good is tightly coupled still holds. But it is only for rpgs seeking "universality" of the moral might be needed, due to lack of other tools for dictating morality. In this case, striving for feel good ending still appear like a good tool for trying to acheive a sufficiently "morally good" ending for most interested.

Of course if you just make an adventure for a known set of players/characters, you have a lot more to work with to determine what would make aproperiate "win" conditions.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I am curious what sort of situation you have in mind that is feel good, while morally grey/black? I could not think of any when I formulated my post. At least I would say they appear very tightly coupled from all feel good examples I have in mind.

Maybe I should emphasize that I here are talking about the surface obvious elements of the ending. For instance starwars has a feel good ending, despite it involving vandalised decades worth of work, and killed thousands of people. It acheives this by putting front and center the focus on this being the destruction of a weapon in the hands of someone that happily just used it to kill millions of innocents.

And I think it is this kind of surficial moral good ending players of D&D should reasonably expect. After all once you start looking deeper into the morality of killing sentient beings, basically all published adventures quickly falls appart..
I don't actually consider the destruction of the Death Star a morally ambiguous ending. Anyone who died on board the station was an active combatant engaged in a (civil) war, who had participated in outright war crimes (the destruction of Alderaan, an explicitly civilian target.) Preventing the commission of even more war crimes by destroying the Death Star is not some sort of horrible mass murder. It is a terrible loss of life, and the deaths of the crew absolutely should be mourned (because all deaths are tragedies!), but it is not something to beat oneself up over.

I would consider it a "feel good" but morally-questionable ending in any of the following cases:

(1) A very bad person, who has done bad things and gotten away with it, and whom the party strongly and justifiably dislikes, gets punished for crimes they did not commit. The PCs enjoy watching them get their comeuppance. This is morally wrong--no one should be punished for deeds they didn't commit, even if they have done other wicked things--but it is almost certainly going to be satisfying, hence, feeling good.

(2) The players have successfully stolen something very valuable without getting caught. Taking something that doesn't belong to you is morally wrong, yet such heist-type stuff is often thrilling, exciting, and deeply satisfying if you can pull it off and get away with it (consider Ocean's Eleven.) This is especially a "feel-good, morally-questionable" ending if the stolen item(s) weren't themselves ill-gotten gains or the like, but rather legitimate goods/purchases/etc.

(3) The party successfully starts a war between two rival powers, ensuring that those powers won't team up against their allies. This is less blatantly "big moral wrong" than the previous two, but it's still very morally questionable. They will have intentionally caused a lot of unnecessary death (among people who aren't massive war criminals, unlike the Death Star crew) for their own benefit. That benefit might be an overall good thing, but it's still a very morally-questionable method of achieving that end.*

(4) Basically any game where the PCs are actually evil or doing the bidding of actually evil employers. Whatever victories they get, whatever things make them "feel good," it's pretty much definitionally going to be morally-dubious at best. These are of course rarer, since a lot of DMs don't run games with evil characters, but it's a relevant example.

(5) Resurrecting a beloved dead friend/lover/family-member/etc., even though it means doing something nefarious. Relatively simple, that one. Getting back the person you love even though it means a deal with the (literal) devil? There are a lot of people who would take that without a second thought and be happy about it, but it's clearly morally dubious.

*You can see a reversed version of this (killing someone innocent, albeit unpleasant, in order to ensure that their people ally with the "player character" allies) in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight." TL;DR: The station commander recruited an ex-spy to get the Romulans to help in the war against the Dominion. It works...but only because a Romulan senator and his two bodyguards, all innocents, were murdered by the ex-spy. It is a genuine victory for "the good guys" (Sisko himself says that much) that the Romulans are now helping, but it was won through blatantly immoral means--and Sisko finds that he can live with his guilty conscience, somewhat to his surprise.
 

But would this have worked in an RPG as the provided "good" ending of a written adventure?
I would be happy with it, so would my players, on the assumption that the players had developed a fondness for the villain, as in the book.
While in the book we can get the feel good by accepting the protagonists values as the important focus
No different in an RPG. Remember, the PCs' values may not be the same as the players' values. If they want gold, then getting gold is the "good" ending.
provide a moral framework for the reader to understand the text trough.
For a Victorian novel, Treasure Island is decidedly amoral, as the whole pirate genre is wont to be.
In a rpg however it is more likely one of the protagonists would have been strongly opiniated about the fate of LJS, and hence the adventure not allowing for an outcome where he is put to justice would have been problematic.
Maybe so, but that would emerge naturally through gameplay, there would be no need to decide what the players do with LJS ahead of play. But if I told my players they where playing a pirate campaign, they would likely create characters who were scoundrels.
In other media you have more tools to dictate the moral framework the ending should be interpreted under.
Which is why the only moral framework should be the one provided by the players, in accordance with the characters they have created.
 

Emoshin

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Which is why the only moral framework should be the one provided by the players, in accordance with the characters they have created.
Friendly reminder that this is a +++++ thread, which is experimental and means a lot of things, including positive contributions to the "What if"? hypothetical premise in the OP.

The hypothetical premise includes the possible question of what moral framework the author of the adventure might be leveraging, not putting the onus on the players for this specific thread.

I cannot say for sure, but I am feeling a little worried that your posts are inching away from the OP premise.

I just wanted to check in with you and see if you're OK with aligning your posts to the thread rules of engagement?
 
Last edited:

Enrahim2

Adventurer
I don't actually consider the destruction of the Death Star a morally ambiguous ending. Anyone who died on board the station was an active combatant engaged in a (civil) war, who had participated in outright war crimes (the destruction of Alderaan, an explicitly civilian target.) Preventing the commission of even more war crimes by destroying the Death Star is not some sort of horrible mass murder. It is a terrible loss of life, and the deaths of the crew absolutely should be mourned (because all deaths are tragedies!), but it is not something to beat oneself up over.

I would consider it a "feel good" but morally-questionable ending in any of the following cases:

(1) A very bad person, who has done bad things and gotten away with it, and whom the party strongly and justifiably dislikes, gets punished for crimes they did not commit. The PCs enjoy watching them get their comeuppance. This is morally wrong--no one should be punished for deeds they didn't commit, even if they have done other wicked things--but it is almost certainly going to be satisfying, hence, feeling good.

(2) The players have successfully stolen something very valuable without getting caught. Taking something that doesn't belong to you is morally wrong, yet such heist-type stuff is often thrilling, exciting, and deeply satisfying if you can pull it off and get away with it (consider Ocean's Eleven.) This is especially a "feel-good, morally-questionable" ending if the stolen item(s) weren't themselves ill-gotten gains or the like, but rather legitimate goods/purchases/etc.

(3) The party successfully starts a war between two rival powers, ensuring that those powers won't team up against their allies. This is less blatantly "big moral wrong" than the previous two, but it's still very morally questionable. They will have intentionally caused a lot of unnecessary death (among people who aren't massive war criminals, unlike the Death Star crew) for their own benefit. That benefit might be an overall good thing, but it's still a very morally-questionable method of achieving that end.*

(4) Basically any game where the PCs are actually evil or doing the bidding of actually evil employers. Whatever victories they get, whatever things make them "feel good," it's pretty much definitionally going to be morally-dubious at best. These are of course rarer, since a lot of DMs don't run games with evil characters, but it's a relevant example.

(5) Resurrecting a beloved dead friend/lover/family-member/etc., even though it means doing something nefarious. Relatively simple, that one. Getting back the person you love even though it means a deal with the (literal) devil? There are a lot of people who would take that without a second thought and be happy about it, but it's clearly morally dubious.

*You can see a reversed version of this (killing someone innocent, albeit unpleasant, in order to ensure that their people ally with the "player character" allies) in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight." TL;DR: The station commander recruited an ex-spy to get the Romulans to help in the war against the Dominion. It works...but only because a Romulan senator and his two bodyguards, all innocents, were murdered by the ex-spy. It is a genuine victory for "the good guys" (Sisko himself says that much) that the Romulans are now helping, but it was won through blatantly immoral means--and Sisko finds that he can live with his guilty conscience, somewhat to his surprise.
Thank you! I think these are great examples of endings that would work great for a tailored adventures. However I think all of these would be very dubious to put as the only "good" ending in a published adventure. While it is easy to see some players that would highly enjoy these outcomes, I also can as easily envision players tooth and nail working against these outcomes. I have some additional thoughts on each.

1) I think is a strong potential second best possible outcome of an adventure, while the adventure should make it hard, but not impossible to get the bad person based on the actual crimes.
2) I think a huge reason oceans 11 work, is that they are robbing a casino. Corrupt governments, criminal gangs and businesses that profit from people's vices are popular heist locations, because it is morally defendable - hence the focus on the win for the gang is the focus, while the loss for the previous owner easily fade into the background. I think an adventure about a heist on the orphanage donation box would likely have a very niche audience..
3) The more vile the two nations, and all members of them you can portray, the more likely you are that the players actually come out of it with a feel good notion. My gut feeling though is that most parties would be more of congratulating themselves about a "job well done", but not really feel very celebratory about it. Again a strong contender for a second best outcome of an adventure, where the best perhaps might have been to be able to assassin the heads of the nations?
4) Evil campaigns is a weird beast. In particular the assumption that player joy and character joy is tightly interlinked can quickly fall apart. Players feeling joy on seeing their characters fail can often be the case. FIASCO as an rpg is an example that spesifically caters to such tastes. It could also be an indication of players wanting to explore more morally problematic issues in the game - in which case they likely fall outside the scope of this thread, and aren't really looking for a feel good experience either.
5) This one is one where I struggle to see how the outcome can be "feel good" at all? It is a closure, and a possible ending to a scenario - but it sound very much like the kind of adventure that do not really have any "good" ending. If indeed there should be a good ending to the adventure, it would have involved the resurrection happening without any moral cost?

So I still think the moral component is essential to modify the level of "feel good" for all these cases. I still hence fail to see how these concerns could be considered "orthogonal".
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I think this is orthagonal to what I am looking for (and mentioned in that other thread). I want shades of grey as well as black and white, and real moral choices. And I want rewards that make sense either direectly based on what the characters do, and from what the various factions are offering for their own agendas.

That's multiple endings because of choices that matter. That's wanting morality of the characters to be part of it, because those choices should be hard and meaningful, promote in-party debate, and character growth.

But none of that requires or is even enhanced by the adventure writer moralizing on the "best" answer. There may not be one. There may be several. There may be options that don't come up because of choices made along the way. It might be that doing something morally ambiguous gets the most rewards as that's what pays best, or can satisfy the most NPCs willing to reward.

I do want at least one "good" ending possible, so that characters that strive to be heroic aren't locked out. But this isn't about the characters finding the morally best path, it's about characters finding their own path and having endings to fit those options.

The adventure designer moralizing isn't helpful and may be actively contrary to that.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top