D&D General Modules with a political message?

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When it comes to films and books, some just tell entertaining stories, but some have a political message, sometimes very explicit. Do we get similar things in tabletop RPGs?

Like sure, Indy beats up Nazis. Luke fights space fascists. But Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars weren't trying to change people's minds about present day politics.

Something like Star Trek 4 or 6, though, has a message. Care about endangered species. Or try to find a way to coexist with former enemies, even if some in power want to keep the conflict going - which was an obvious allegory for the end of the Cold War.

Iron Man was a cool hero with nifty tech, but he also was a repentant war profiteer. Captain America fought Hydra in Germany, but then he fought the same strain of tyrannical intent in SHIELD.

Have you played any published modules that sear to have a political message? Maybe they're more common in games other than Dungeons & Dragons, so don't limit yourself to just D&D. Like, ideally it would be something more than just dictators are bad.

Has anyone written an abortion allegory in Pathfinder? Has there been a debate about misinformation in a Call of Cthulhu adventure? Did mutants and masterminds criticize our involvement in neo-colonial military interventions in the Middle East?

And if those adventures don't exist, should they? Do you want your games to have a political slant?
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The works of Chris A. Field comes to mind:



Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
My current D&D setting has a backdrop theme regarding the inequalities of a representative democracy, the old guard who both have the majority of power in that system but work to undermine it in hopes of even more, and an exploited labor class - though the PCs can decide to what degree they want to engage with any or all of it.

So I guess the answer is yes?
 


Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
The extremely popular Uncaged series is, among other things, a re-examination of classic female monsters through a feminist lens, and fairly political: Uncaged | Volume I - Dungeon Masters Guild | Dungeon Masters Guild

Eat the Rich is a series of explicitly anti-capitalist D&D adventures:
Eat the Rich | Volume 1 - Dungeon Masters Guild | Dungeon Masters Guild

Eat the Rich ran afoul of a OneBookShelf policy that states that overtly political works are not allowed on DMsGuild. Only one of the planned 4 volumes was published, and after publication the description had to be changed to remove the term "anti-capitalist." I don't think the 3 other volumes were ever published anywhere. You can read an explanation here of what happened with the first book (which did go Platinum on DMsGuild): A Statement Regarding Volume 1 | Eat the Rich Anthology

EDIT: Correction, the rest of the Eat the Rich series was stripped of WotC IP and published on DriveThruRPG, which doesn't have the same restrictions on political content: DriveThruRPG.com - Eat the Rich Anthology - The Largest RPG Download Store!

I wrote this short tier one adventure; it includes some ideas about health care as a human right (vis-a-vis D&D's diamonds-for-resurrection spell mechanics) that are a fairly obvious political allegory, although I didn't write, like, the whole adventure as a screed about the U.S. health care system: The Girl Who Woke the Dead - Dungeon Masters Guild | Dungeon Masters Guild
 

Celebrim

Legend
Given just how poorly I feel D&D writers understand ethics or ethical considerations, I shudder to imagine what overt political points would look like. Let's just say I wouldn't trust most writers to run the world. Lucas made great movies, but his politics, theology, and belief systems are just cringe and the more overt he was in those regards the more ridiculous it tended to be. His successful messages tended to be the ones where he was just trying to tell a timeless story, and oh look, a timeless story often carries timeless wisdom. Ditto a novel writer like Rawlings, whose stories are at their best (and make the strongest points) when she's not trying to make points.

One of the things I like in a novel is when philosophical positions are treated by the writer like playthings, not taking them fully seriously all the time and not having a character be an author insert - just representative of some position, often in a complex and nuanced way. For example, the better Heinlein fiction has this quality and even has some self-criticism, whereas later Heinlein fiction with more and more self-inserts and more and more taking himself really seriously just has cringy horrible politics, philosophy and theology. I recently read UKL's "The Dispossessed" and I loved how despite her obvious biases she was really trying to explore the political positions in a deep and even self-critical way and not just preaching her point of view.

As soon as an author starts to get didactic, they generally get terrible. It's a pride thing. Starting to passionately preach to the world as a nerd is generally a sign you are losing it. This happens with nerds all the time. Consider a writer like HG Wells whose space opera and sci fi is wonderful, but you don't want to get into his later political writings. Or for that matter, who really wants to be getting their politics from HP Lovecraft, however much insight he may have into neurosis and fear and existential crisis? Or consider a guy like China Mieville who I feel has never lived up to his potential because he got told early on how great he is and he's gone almost full blown self-indulgent late period didactic HG Wells almost his whole career.

In short, just no. I don't think artists are nearly as politically insightful as they think they are. It can be well done, as with 'Twilight Zone', but usually you want to make a story good first and then worry about the meaning.
 

And if those adventures don't exist, should they? Do you want your games to have a political slant?
Making real world parallels on politics or hot topics of the day is not something I'm interested in seeing in adventures anymore the older I get. An adventure set in a specific world/setting is probably going to have some scenarios with political leanings based on the settings interworking's. That's OK with me, but I play D&D/RPGs as a reprieve from everyday life for a few hours, so I don't want to see an adventure mirroring social commentary. I'm guilty myself of doing this, I've written one-shots that were influenced by current events. Consciously or subconsciously its bound to happen so it's understandable if it does, but when its blatant, its off-putting.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I think a challenge of working political messages into RPG adventures is it's hard to tell how players are going to take them or where they're going to take them. But I've seen political elements enter into them.

Freedom City for Mutants and Masterminds is written to reflect a variety of historical phases of comics, but it also highlights Johnny Rocket, the first openly gay superhero in the setting. The interesting part about looking at it now, as opposed to when it was first published, that reference feels a tad dated. I don't see that as a bad thing because it means society has been changing around us.

Various historical elements, some with political weight, appear in various Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Harlem Unbound has some worthwhile scenarios to look at. Even Masks of Nyarlathotep, with its unflattering depictions of overt racism, includes people opposed to the racism of the British Empire and includes an encounter with the Kenyan nationalist who will eventually become Jomo Kenyatta.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I wish there were more of it in some D&D campaigns. I feel that WotC focus a lot on the political aspect of the release of some material itself, but when it come to the content in-game, its still same-old-same-old.

For example, while is pretty great they are pushing representation, doing so in a single, stand-alone book is pretty tame. I think they this kind of push should be seen in regular adventure paths, not just one-of themed book. And those themes could be explored in adventure paths, even if they arent the main focus.

As another example, with the major push to remove the monster tags from some humanoids, not doing an adventure with these idea seems like a wasted opportunity to explore some deeply political themes!

Anyway, that's me. I dont personally find political messages adverse to a good game night, but my table is pretty much united of most of the subjects, so there's no real danger of discord.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
On some level I do not see how it can be avoided. Every game I run and every setting I create will at least somewhat reflect my understanding of how the world works which will inherently reflect my beliefs. That does not of course mean there's overt or intentional messaging.

I cannot believe the same is not also true of published settings and adventures.
 




pointofyou

Adventurer
Can't this just be a case of someone not wishing to add a political message or revealing their political position/loyalty?
Not wishing to add a political message is not the same as not having one. I do not set out to score political points when I run but it is probably not hard to discern my real-world positions or to see some point or theme. Because not all my players agree with my politics I try to keep such things in the subtext but I do not always succeed at that.
 

Every game is political, if you're really looking closely.

  • Humans are people with a society worth protecting, and adventurers steal from other peoples who are seen as less than human.
  • An invading empire is authoritarian and the PCs are freedom fighters killing their troops in order to push them out of the country.
  • The PC is a cleric of a religion, and goes around proselytizing his agenda.
  • The PCs work for a rich and powerful benefactor and commit violence against other people in order to further the agenda of said benefactor.

Now, a lot of people on the internet are going to rush in and say that some of the common tropes are not really political and that it's just some woke ideology to claim that they are, but that just shows us that when people become so comfortable and complacent with their very, very, very political ideas, they cease to see them as political at all.
 



There's an argument that certain things are implicit in the plotlines even if you don't intend them to be--for example, superheroes are inherently fascist, since you are relying on the single leader to solve everything, RPG parties are colonialist in their invasion of other groups' spaces and plundering of their possessions, police procedurals discourage questioning of the police force, and the 'chosen one' plotline encourages individualism and/or acceptance of hierarchy. (I think there may be something to this but am unwilling to litmus-test all my entertainment for adherence to a party line.)

Underground, by Ray Winninger, who went on to do many other things, had a 60s-90s liberal rage-against-the-Man plot, with allusions to the problems of returning Vietnam veterans and criticisms of consumerism and urban social disintegration as a big part of the plot. It even had rules for attempting positive social change.

Greyhawk's Scarlet Brotherhood were basically Nazis, fanatical followers of an absolute leader and obsessed with bloodline purity.

Hive insects have sometimes been used as metaphors for Communism, though not in a game as far as I know.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Every game is political, if you're really looking closely.

  • Humans are people with a society worth protecting, and adventurers steal from other peoples who are seen as less than human.
  • An invading empire is authoritarian and the PCs are freedom fighters killing their troops in order to push them out of the country.
  • The PC is a cleric of a religion, and goes around proselytizing his agenda.
  • The PCs work for a rich and powerful benefactor and commit violence against other people in order to further the agenda of said benefactor.

Now, a lot of people on the internet are going to rush in and say that some of the common tropes are not really political and that it's just some woke ideology to claim that they are, but that just shows us that when people become so comfortable and complacent with their very, very, very political ideas, they cease to see them as political at all.

If the tropes are all political, and if posting about politics is banned here, then is posting about <vanishes in a gout of flame>
 

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