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D&D 5E Dark Sun, problematic content, and 5E…

Is problematic content acceptable if obviously, explicitly evil and meant to be fought?

  • Yes.

    Votes: 204 89.5%
  • No.

    Votes: 24 10.5%

Faolyn

(she/her)
I'm not saying that it is justified in the Matrix, but I am saying that -in our real world- there are (and have been) points of view which heavily favor authority over individual expression. The Matrix is especially relevant because humans are "slaves" to a fabricated illusion. Many real world arguments (both past and present) are based around the idea that control most be exerted over [insert group of people here] for their own good; for the betterment of the collective whole of a society; and similar reasons.
(Note: I am not advocating such positions. I am simply stating that such positions do exist, and whether or not they are 'justified' depends upon who you ask.)
Right, but that's still not justified (in real life) because there are other ways that do the same thing without actually harming or subjugating others.

And, more importantly, in a game world, slavery isn't really necessary because it's the GM who decides what's going on. There's no history or societal norms or cultural mores that influence decisions. It's just the GM. @Hussar just came up with another idea, or using controlled undead in place of slaves, and how that ties in with climate change disaster (because of the defiling magic used to animate them). I can see expanding that even further--waging wars to procure more corpses, perhaps, or having the inhabitants have discovered either long-buried ruins from an earlier age or the fossilized remains of ancient creatures, and strip-mining the world (and ousting natives to the area) looking for more. Whether or not you (generic you) like that idea, it shows that the GM can easily come up with an idea that both is thematic for Dark Sun and doesn't include enslaving people for labor, sex, and bloodsports.

Here in this very thread, the idea that Sorcerer Kings could exert psionic mind control over a popular -and thus create situations similar to the Matrix and Equilibrium- has been expressed as being more acceptable than physical chains. While that was also not an attempt to justify such things, it does illustrate that there are many who would view that as more palatable and acceptable than physical chains, even though it's arguably a worse form of slavery to have your mind and spirit controlled.
I'd say it's more acceptable for this reason alone: dispel magic. It's relatively easy to end such mind control. With saving throws, such mind control would be iffy at best. The GM could even decide that "Cognitive Recalibration" can end the control (I'm finally getting to see all the MCU movies and shows in order), or that people can eventually develop an immunity to it. Plus, the game could also say that, like with the friends cantrip, a person who breaks free of the mind control becomes automatically hostile to the caster, whereas with regular slavery, the former slaves would likely be too weak and afraid to be able to fight back.

Personally, I'd view the mind control as being even worse than regular slavery and wouldn't want that to be the canonical form of slavery used--I would actually prefer normal slavery over that.

Is it better to live in bliss being ignorant of reality, or to face what really is and have an opportunity (however small) to deal with it?

Bringing things back to slavery: Let's say you are a slave owner thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that slavery is a good thing, including for the slaves because of its "civilizing" influence. Would I be a villain for trying to explain reality to you?
No, you wouldn't, because real-life slavery isn't like the Matrix, where people lived ordinary lives doing ordinary things--the exact same life they would have led if they weren't actually being used as a battery or whatever they were used for in the movie; it's been forever since I've seen it and I preferred the brain gestalt computer idea anyway.

Real-life (and game) slavery, even at it's "kindest," still involved the subjugation of another person without their consent (brainwashing does not equal consent) and forced labor without payment or ability to leave, and more often included physical, mental, and sexual abuse, all without the freedom to actually live even the illusion of an ordinary life doing ordinary things.
 

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Argyle King

Legend
Right, but that's still not justified (in real life) because there are other ways that do the same thing without actually harming or subjugating others.

And, more importantly, in a game world, slavery isn't really necessary because it's the GM who decides what's going on. There's no history or societal norms or cultural mores that influence decisions. It's just the GM. @Hussar just came up with another idea, or using controlled undead in place of slaves, and how that ties in with climate change disaster (because of the defiling magic used to animate them). I can see expanding that even further--waging wars to procure more corpses, perhaps, or having the inhabitants have discovered either long-buried ruins from an earlier age or the fossilized remains of ancient creatures, and strip-mining the world (and ousting natives to the area) looking for more. Whether or not you (generic you) like that idea, it shows that the GM can easily come up with an idea that both is thematic for Dark Sun and doesn't include enslaving people for labor, sex, and bloodsports.


I'd say it's more acceptable for this reason alone: dispel magic. It's relatively easy to end such mind control. With saving throws, such mind control would be iffy at best. The GM could even decide that "Cognitive Recalibration" can end the control (I'm finally getting to see all the MCU movies and shows in order), or that people can eventually develop an immunity to it. Plus, the game could also say that, like with the friends cantrip, a person who breaks free of the mind control becomes automatically hostile to the caster, whereas with regular slavery, the former slaves would likely be too weak and afraid to be able to fight back.

Personally, I'd view the mind control as being even worse than regular slavery and wouldn't want that to be the canonical form of slavery used--I would actually prefer normal slavery over that.


No, you wouldn't, because real-life slavery isn't like the Matrix, where people lived ordinary lives doing ordinary things--the exact same life they would have led if they weren't actually being used as a battery or whatever they were used for in the movie; it's been forever since I've seen it and I preferred the brain gestalt computer idea anyway.

Real-life (and game) slavery, even at it's "kindest," still involved the subjugation of another person without their consent (brainwashing does not equal consent) and forced labor without payment or ability to leave, and more often included physical, mental, and sexual abuse, all without the freedom to actually live even the illusion of an ordinary life doing ordinary things.

I mostly (I think) agree with you. At least, I get the impression that we have similar views about what we'd find acceptable in day-to-day life. But, that doesn't change that other points of view exist; points of view which would argue that certain things are "justified" even if you or I personally feel differently.

For a setting, I feel that conflict among viewpoints could be explored. For a while, WoTC was pushing the idea of factions as part of a setting and the play experience. Differently philosophical views concerning individual liberty versus authority and perceived obligations to collective society are conflicts which would be relevant to different factions.

I also agree that different things (such as undead, psionic control, etc) could be used. Many of those ideas are ideas which I find interesting. At the same time, I do think that changing an underlying assumption of the setting would influence the themes, tones, and 'feel' of the rest of the setting. I'm not saying that's either good nor bad, only that it would be a change and may produce a very different setting.

I also agree that a GM can make changes for their game.

I imagine that Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino would each produce very different films, even if both were given the same script. I may even enjoy both films, but I imagine they would be different.

In terms of building a setting, sure, there's no reason to stick to a certain set of societal norms if the experience you want doesn't include them.

If they don't, and I'm a player in your game, I am perfectly fine with doing something different. But I would want to know what the norms for your setting are so that I could choose my advantages and disadvantages in a way which fit with the vision for the game you have as GM.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Page back, I got asked what it would take for me to buy into Dark Sun. I thought it a bit of a dodge at the time, but, on reflection, it's a perfectly understandable question.

So, here are the two possible ways I would approach it.

1. Instead of Sorcerer Kings, we have Necromancer kings. Slavery in Dark Sun doesn't really make much sense. In a setting where basic necessities - food and water - are a premium, having a huge number of people that you have to feed and whatnot is a huge drain on resources. But, Dark Sun is old. As in really old. So, what do they have in abundance? Corpses. So, the Sorcerer Kings use all sorts of undead to till the fields, build the roads, that sort of thing. And, since defiling magic is killing the world, it makes for a pretty good allegory for climate change.
Neat side effect is this concept provides endless opportunities for adventuring:

low-level: rounding up and destroying undead that have broken their control somehow and are wandering wild
mid-to-high-level: some of the Necromancer Kings have bigger plans for their stables of undead than simple grunt work, namely turning them into armies and waging wars or invasions
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
If they don't, and I'm a player in your game, I am perfectly fine with doing something different. But I would want to know what the norms for your setting are so that I could choose my advantages and disadvantages in a way which fit with the vision for the game you have as GM.
Sure, and this is my point. WotC doesn't know what anyone's norms are and are choosing to play it safe.
 

Argyle King

Legend
Sure, and this is my point. WotC doesn't know what anyone's norms are and are choosing to play it safe.

Fair enough. I can understand that.

I think different settings should be different though.

If I were playing in a Dark Sun game (whether using D&D, Pathfinder, GURPS, or something else, ) I would have a different set of expectations than if I were playing Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or Banestorm. I think those expectations can be set by devoting a page or two to a brief primer for a setting, combined with pieces of fluff attached to creatures, characters, and locations.

In a similar way, I would prepare for a camping trip to Canada and expect different things than I would on a cruise to Trinidad.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Fair enough. I can understand that.

I think different settings should be different though.

If I were playing in a Dark Sun game (whether using D&D, Pathfinder, GURPS, or something else, ) I would have a different set of expectations than if I were playing Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or Banestorm. I think those expectations can be set by devoting a page or two to a brief primer for a setting, combined with pieces of fluff attached to creatures, characters, and locations.

In a similar way, I would prepare for a camping trip to Canada and expect different things than I would on a cruise to Trinidad.
I agree--but the different expectations would be defiling magic, post-apocalypse desert setting, the lack of metal, the ubiquitous of psionics, the strange new monsters and lack of standard ones, the strange new PC races/species and unusual twists on typical ones, elementals instead of gods, etc. You don't need slavery to make Dark Sun unique or interesting.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I agree--but the different expectations would be defiling magic, post-apocalypse desert setting, the lack of metal, the ubiquitous of psionics, the strange new monsters and lack of standard ones, the strange new PC races/species and unusual twists on typical ones, elementals instead of gods, etc. You don't need slavery to make Dark Sun unique or interesting.

Need? No, certainly not.

But I can understand how, for some, changing a part of the in-world social structure would be a change which echoes throughout the setting's presentation as a whole.

Personally, I'm not enough of a fan of Dark Sun to have a particular attachment to how the setting is presented. However, I can understand the appeal of a setting which incorporates some harsher elements as a way of presenting a particular experience.

Changes to how Dragonlance has been approached recently has -for some portion of the D&D community- created a setting which is not the same as what was wanted.

Many of the proposed changes in this thread are pretty cool ideas. Heck, if I were to create a setting intended to be in the same ballpark as Dark Sun, I may even use many of those ideas (with different Sorcerer King city-states taking different approaches). But I can see how an audience wanting a particular experience from a Dark Sun label would have a certain set of expectations.

For me personally, what I don't want is for the multi-verse approach to 5e to mean that every setting is expected to adhere to the same set of assumptions. I understand the reasons for why WoTC won't print certain things, but I also understand why an audience would want to buy a product by using those same reasons.
 

For me personally, what I don't want is for the multi-verse approach to 5e to mean that every setting is expected to adhere to the same set of assumptions. I understand the reasons for why WoTC won't print certain things, but I also understand why an audience would want to buy a product by using those same reasons.

If WOTC won't cater to them, there are plenty of other publishers out there with super gritty settings. This is the perfect opportunity for them to gain some market share!
 

Hussar

Legend
Neat side effect is this concept provides endless opportunities for adventuring:

low-level: rounding up and destroying undead that have broken their control somehow and are wandering wild
mid-to-high-level: some of the Necromancer Kings have bigger plans for their stables of undead than simple grunt work, namely turning them into armies and waging wars or invasions

Another way to go is to lean into the actual “mature” setting than simple shock factor.

Kalak is dead and Tyr is free. But all the constructs/undead have stopped working. The city must now do all that work.

And there aren’t enough people to do the work anymore.

So what do you do? Search for alternative resources hoping you can find them before everyone starves to death? Or start defiling yourself to feed the people, knowing that you’re only delaying the inevitable?

To me, that’s a mature setting and scenario. You have to make difficult choices and there are no guarantees that any of the choices are the right one.

Just having slavery doesn’t make a setting “mature”. Actually having to make adult choices is what makes it mature.

And, again, the very clear analogies to the real world just make it hit home really well.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
That's not muddling at all.

The blissful ignorance is part of the point and a way that such things can (and have been) justified. "It's for the good of [insert people] because [controlling authority] provides a better life and happiness for [insert people] than they are capable of providing for themselves."
There was never anything blissful or ignorant about the enslaved. Certain people just pretend (present tense entirely intentional because some dude with way more power than he should ever be allowed will say so every month or so) it was the case. Cypher making the choice to go back to not knowing is vastly removed).
Likewise, the second part of what you've said is a position from which the perceived merits of slavery could be argued. Left to their own devices, a group is deemed dangerous and in need of a controlled environment.
Again, not in the Matrix. The Machines were enslaved before they decided to deal with us and then ultimately chose to use a Matrix that kept us contained but mentally free (to the point of originally trying to make us perfectly happy).
There is also (as expressed above) the idea that some people are happier being in a controlled environment -content to give up their autonomy in exchange for happiness. That may even be true for some individuals.
But that's not what's being shown. Cypher isn't going to end up in a controlled environment from his perspective. He's deciding to loose the knowledge of the truth he's learned. The Matrix is more about truth vs falsehood than slavery vs freedom.
 

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