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Moral Choices in RPGs

MGibster

Legend
For the vast majority of games I run, I expect the PCs to be good guys. Well, more or less. While they don't have to be paragons of goodness, they're not going to side with slavers, shoot nuns, steal from orphans, or talk on their cell phones during movies. But when I typically write my scenarios, I do so with the assumption that the PCs want to do the right thing. Yes, that has bitten me in the butt on more than one occasion. The thread on Twilight 2000 has me seriously thinking of purchasing the game and I find it difficult to think about post apocalyptic games without thinking of the Fallout series of computer games. Well, at least the first two games in the franchise.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fallout (the both of you), the game is set in California many years in the future decades after nuclear war has devastated the planet. Your character is a vault dweller, the descendant of those who went into fallout shelters to keep society alive until such a time as they could return to the surface. Your character goes on a series of quests to recover a much needed spare part for your home to survive and on your journeys you can be a cold hearted killer and thief or a paragon of virtue. At the end of the game, the narrator tells you the long term results of your choices during game play.

And now I'm thinking of following a similar model for a Twilight 2000 campaign. I would set up the scenarios without assuming the characters will do the right thing or the wrong thing. If they hear cries of help over the radio from a settlement under attack from raiders what will the PCs do? They can ignore it, they can help the settlers, they can help the raiders, or maybe they wait until the battle is over, go mop up whoever is left, and then take the spoils of war for themselves. I'll just let their choices shape the future of the campaign. If they help the settlers, maybe they gain new friends who are able to help out with some food a few months down the road. If they help the raiders, maybe they get some new friends who help them pick some juicy targets in the future. If they defeat both the settlers and the raiders, they get a short term boost to their supplies, weapons, and ammunition.

The thing is, I don't want to punish the player characters for doing the "wrong" thing or necessarily reward them for doing the "right" thing. I just want their actions to have an impact on the flow of the campaign. And and the end of the campaign I'd have an opportunity to tell them the long term impact of their choices. Does that sound like fun?
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And now I'm thinking of following a similar model for a Twilight 2000 campaign. I would set up the scenarios without assuming the characters will do the right thing or the wrong thing. If they hear cries of help over the radio from a settlement under attack from raiders what will the PCs do? They can ignore it, they can help the settlers, they can help the raiders, or maybe they wait until the battle is over, go mop up whoever is left, and then take the spoils of war for themselves.

So, I haven't seen the new edition, but I played the original, back in the day.

My memory is of a game that was... a lot of bean counting and resource management. Resources tight enough that PCs were very, very reticent to stick their necks out unless they had to. Heroes need not apply - they waste too much ammunition and fuel. Villains also need not apply, because they waste what little goodwill can be had in a resource-constrained environment.

Make sure the rules support the characters actually having a choice in the matter.

The thing is, I don't want to punish the player characters for doing the "wrong" thing or necessarily reward them for doing the "right" thing. I just want their actions to have an impact on the flow of the campaign. And and the end of the campaign I'd have an opportunity to tell them the long term impact of their choices. Does that sound like fun?

As above - I found the game quickly became about risk and payoff, and very little to do with people.
 

I never impose moral choices, other than a general ban on murder hoboes.

Nothing is duller than OoC debates about morality. Why a PC risks his life is a personal choice.

Over the years, my players' in-game value system has been based on the four pillars of: petty-mindedness, spite, greed, and illogical reactions to random NPCs; this cuts across all settings.
 

Voadam

Legend
Sounds like you are describing a sandbox style with things going on and places to see but freedom as PCs to go different directions or approaches with things. My view is that normally a gaming group gets on mostly the same page as to whether they want to be heroes or vampire politics players or full on bad guys or mercenaries who go with the flow of what's in front of them. I've played in games where that was a conscious day zero discussion about whether we were going to be white or black hats this game. If there is no discussion and coordination of characters beforehand and no clear guidance from the GM in setting up characters or the consistent scenarios that hit you, you can get the paladin and the assassin in the same party but eventually there is usually a coalescing of a style for one group as everybody adjusts to each other and what is going on. Even if it is something like when I was the only good guy in an evil D&D party but we were mercenaries and I as an outnumbered and outgunned pragmatic mercenary good guy got them to work their evil against other evil in the name of profit and loot and ended up getting stuff done I'd want to do with a good party.
 

payn

Legend
The thing is, I don't want to punish the player characters for doing the "wrong" thing or necessarily reward them for doing the "right" thing. I just want their actions to have an impact on the flow of the campaign. And and the end of the campaign I'd have an opportunity to tell them the long term impact of their choices. Does that sound like fun?
Im running a sandbox campaign in Traveller right now. I have these situations come up often where the travellers have pretty tough choices. I dont back them in the corner to have to choose people lives if I can help it, but there are consequences to making decisions. I think the key is to have a positive and negative response to their choices. Usually, it amounts to help A and annoy B. Sometimes its pretty minor, but it can get heavy. Im assuming the post apocalypse theme is going to lean heavy so Id be mindful.
 

MGibster

Legend
My memory is of a game that was... a lot of bean counting and resource management. Resources tight enough that PCs were very, very reticent to stick their necks out unless they had to. Heroes need not apply - they waste too much ammunition and fuel. Villains also need not apply, because they waste what little goodwill can be had in a resource-constrained environment.
I fear bean counting and resource management might be the bugbear of many post-apocalyptic settings. And truth be told, as I've grown older I've come to despise resource management and bean counting. I don't have Twilight 2000 yet, but in Alien, which uses a similar system, they abstract resources like air, food, and even ammunition.
As above - I found the game quickly became about risk and payoff, and very little to do with people.
I'm hoping to make it about people. And probably the best thing to do is to talk about the campaign during session zero. (It's amazing how much session zero can do for people.) We can discuss expectations, what they'd like to do, and given the grim setting establish anything they don't want to see in the campaign. Out of my six regular players, only one of them would be happy with a campaign where he gets to run around shooting everyone he meets in the face.

Nothing is duller than OoC debates about morality. Why a PC risks his life is a personal choice.
I'm with you on that. In character debates can be a lot of fun though.

Even if it is something like when I was the only good guy in an evil D&D party but we were mercenaries and I as an outnumbered and outgunned pragmatic mercenary good guy got them to work their evil against other evil in the name of profit and loot and ended up getting stuff done I'd want to do with a good party.
We had a problem in the last Hell on Earth campaign I ran like that. Out of six players, there was only one with a character who was motivated to do any real good in the setting. He would often be disappointed when he wanted to investigate something and the others said, "No. We don't have any reason to do it."

I think the key is to have a positive and negative response to their choices. Usually, it amounts to help A and annoy B. Sometimes its pretty minor, but it can get heavy. Im assuming the post apocalypse theme is going to lean heavy so Id be mindful.
That make sense. I want to present situations where, yeah, if they do the morally questionable thing they might come out way ahead in something they want. And still others where if they do the wrong thing maybe it has a long term negative effect on them. And the same with good actions. I want it to be more about how their characters act versus treating their characters like game pieces.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I think it would be great fun. The challenge would be writing up the end-of-campaign postlogue in such a way that it does come across as a report card. Another challenge: what if the campaign has to end prematurely? I like having results of party actions resolve in game.

As I think about it, I think it would be fun to run a campaign consisting of a number of mini-campaigns. The results of the actions of party in the first campaign set the scene for the next mini-campaign, where a new set of characters have to live in the world shaped by the prior set of characters. A cycle of three mini campaigns in a year long greater campaign would be interesting.
 

John R Davis

Adventurer
I have TW:2000 new version.
It does have bean counting.
And lots morale questions.
You are not setting out to be a hero, just to get out of the terrible situation.
Though until I play/run it, I won't really know!!
 


aco175

Legend
If I am trying to flee a collapsed Europe and get back home to my family, there is a lot of moral choices that get lowered on the scale of goodness I have. May make a for a solid party where they are basically your family and if the rest of the support from your country is gone, then there are many small groups around trying to protect their own family and each becomes a collection of good and bad and less clear on if they will help or hurt you.
 

And now I'm thinking of following a similar model for a Twilight 2000 campaign. I would set up the scenarios without assuming the characters will do the right thing or the wrong thing. If they hear cries of help over the radio from a settlement under attack from raiders what will the PCs do? They can ignore it, they can help the settlers, they can help the raiders, or maybe they wait until the battle is over, go mop up whoever is left, and then take the spoils of war for themselves. I'll just let their choices shape the future of the campaign. If they help the settlers, maybe they gain new friends who are able to help out with some food a few months down the road. If they help the raiders, maybe they get some new friends who help them pick some juicy targets in the future. If they defeat both the settlers and the raiders, they get a short term boost to their supplies, weapons, and ammunition.

The thing is, I don't want to punish the player characters for doing the "wrong" thing or necessarily reward them for doing the "right" thing. I just want their actions to have an impact on the flow of the campaign. And and the end of the campaign I'd have an opportunity to tell them the long term impact of their choices. Does that sound like fun?

I've only run a handful of sessions of new Twilight 2000, but here are my impressions, related to what you're discussing here:

-There are some mechanical nudges toward being something less than crazed survivor bandits, but nothing massively overbearing. For example, there's something called Unit Morale, which gives you bonuses to Coolness Under Fire rolls (hugely important), and it goes up and down based on various factors. One of the things that can increase it is helping other people. There's also a great rule about executing people who are incapacitated or helpless--you have to fail an Empathy roll, and even then it gives you a point of Stress (of which you only have a handful, and running out is very bad).

-Also mechanically speaking, it's not like you have levels or magic items to seek out. There's XP-based progression, for sure, but there's no sense of a progression-based finish line you're racing toward. So, if anything, players looking for a power fantasy are pretty likely (imo) to want to set up a compound or similar of their own. That means dealing with friendly NPCs, and interactions that are likely to create bonds.

-Unlike in Fallout, or similar settings where the post-apocalyptic environment is established, the default setting for T2K is basically right after things have fully fallen apart. So there's desperation and scarcity, but things haven't progressed to a full Road Warrior state of depravity and decay. That means you're more likely to come across people who need help. And if you present those people in an honest and vibrant way, I think most players will, like most humans in real life, feel a tug of empathy. In the sessions I ran both players made characters who were defined by being selfish, kill or be killed survivors (reflected in their one-sentence Moral Codes that the game has you come up with during creation). And yet they wound up helping civilians under attack, and later defending them, at great risk to themselves. I think that's the real dramatic punch of the game--do you help other people?

-The encounters and environments that come with the boxed set lean on that central question, in ways that are smart, imo. Like you can draw an encounter card that says a dog shows up, and if you succeed at a Persuasion test it becomes super loyal. If you as a player aren't willing to share some rations with a friendly, loyal dog...well, that's pretty messed up.

-Vehicles are a pain to keep running, and make you a target. So if you're constantly on the move, and just murder-hobo-ing across Poland (or wherever it's set), there's only so much loot you can carry. So, again, being the bandit with the best stuff is a goal that would lose its appeal pretty quickly.

-Finally, this is just my take, but I don't really see T2K being a good long-term, fully open-ended campaign unless PCs discover or come up with some sort of purpose behind survival. Survival might get you through the material that's in the boxed set, as far as the encounter sites and random encounters go, but at some point you'll get across the map or to whatever destination you're after...and then what? There are tons of things you could do as GM to keep things going, including moving to another locale (like making it back to the U.S., if the PCs are from there) and helping to restore order, or fight against those who are using restoration to set up a dictatorship. But whatever direction it takes, I can't imagine things lasting very long if it's just more slitting throats to score another meal. So I think even if PCs start by making nothing but morally "wrong" decisions, the inertia of the campaign will make them true believers in something more interesting.
 

Reynard

Legend
I don't mind games and settings that have a morally grey quality, and/or where players get to decide where they point on the moral compass. What I LOATHE are what I call "gotcha moral quandaries" in play. "Do you kill these baby monsters, or let them gorw up to eat people!?!" kind of thing that some GMs love to pull on players. I know one GM that likes to do this to super hero PCs in particular, and the more upstanding the hero the more egregious the quandary.
 

The encounters and environments that come with the boxed set lean on that central question, in ways that are smart, imo. Like you can draw an encounter card that says a dog shows up, and if you succeed at a Persuasion test it becomes super loyal. If you as a player aren't willing to share some rations with a friendly, loyal dog...well, that's pretty messed up.
I seriously question the idea of dog loyalty at first sight.

My players would think 'meat's on the menu tonight, boys!' :p

-Vehicles are a pain to keep running, and make you a target. So if you're constantly on the move, and just murder-hobo-ing across Poland (or wherever it's set), there's only so much loot you can carry. So, again, being the bandit with the best stuff is a goal that would lose its appeal pretty quickly.
Not IME. But YRMV. The Eternal Quest for Something Better seems to imbue my players to a high degree. Not as a campaign motivation by itself, but a solid secondary motive.

-Finally, this is just my take, but I don't really see T2K being a good long-term, fully open-ended campaign unless PCs discover or come up with some sort of purpose behind survival. Survival might get you through the material that's in the boxed set, as far as the encounter sites and random encounters go, but at some point you'll get across the map or to whatever destination you're after...and then what? There are tons of things you could do as GM to keep things going, including moving to another locale (like making it back to the U.S., if the PCs are from there) and helping to restore order, or fight against those who are using restoration to set up a dictatorship. But whatever direction it takes, I can't imagine things lasting very long if it's just more slitting throats to score another meal. So I think even if PCs start by making nothing but morally "wrong" decisions, the inertia of the campaign will make them true believers in something more interesting.
I agree, pure survival gets old quick. While I loved T2K when it first came out, and ran it countless times in its early days, the fact is that the players like more motivation. I found by tweaking the setting so that the war was still on, albeit on a very low-intensity level, worked much better than the book setting. The players still checked for gold dental work and wedding rings, but they liked having a purpose to the missions, even as their PCs complained about getting missions.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think it would be great fun. The challenge would be writing up the end-of-campaign postlogue in such a way that it does come across as a report card. Another challenge: what if the campaign has to end prematurely? I like having results of party actions resolve in game.
I've had campaigns end early for one reason or another and I usually talk about the direction we were going in and possible scenarios we might have run. And the "what if" at the end isn't supposed to be a report card, surviving is the best measure of success. I just thought it'd be a nice way to review the campaign as a whole and give them an idea of the long term ramifications of the PC's choices.

If I am trying to flee a collapsed Europe and get back home to my family, there is a lot of moral choices that get lowered on the scale of goodness I have.
And I think that might be fun to explore.
Unlike in Fallout, or similar settings where the post-apocalyptic environment is established, the default setting for T2K is basically right after things have fully fallen apart. So there's desperation and scarcity, but things haven't progressed to a full Road Warrior state of depravity and decay. That means you're more likely to come across people who need help. And if you present those people in an honest and vibrant way, I think most players will, like most humans in real life, feel a tug of empathy.
I can imagine the confusion at the beginning of the campaign. PCs running across Polish soldiers with both sides trying to figure out if they're supposed to be killing each other, just trying to figure out where their next meal will come from, and trying to decide what their next step might be. It's all well and good to say their goal is to get back to the United States, but there's a lot of little steps between where you start in Poland and getting to the US. And as you mentioned, they can only get so far on their own. They're going to have to form bonds with civilians and probably some of the Warsaw Pact soldiers they were shooting at just last week.

don't mind games and settings that have a morally grey quality, and/or where players get to decide where they point on the moral compass. What I LOATHE are what I call "gotcha moral quandaries" in play. "Do you kill these baby monsters, or let them gorw up to eat people!?!" kind of thing that some GMs love to pull on players. I know one GM that likes to do this to super hero PCs in particular, and the more upstanding the hero the more egregious the quandary.
That is something I definitely want to avoid and it's not something I generally do. I don't mind presenting situations where it isn't clear what the best course of action to take is, but I don't like setting up got'cha situations. Especially in games like D&D or superheroes where it's expected the PCs are white hats.

Finally, this is just my take, but I don't really see T2K being a good long-term, fully open-ended campaign unless PCs discover or come up with some sort of purpose behind survival.
That's pretty much how I see it. But that's okay, because I plan my campaigns to end after certain goals are reached.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
My feelings about putting moral choices forward in the games, is that usually the players will ignore them to "win" or choose opposite to spite. I mean I know someone who ran a series of Traveller games at GenCon, and they hand a moral quandry of what to do with some innocent prisoners, and almost universally the players killed them.

That said, I played Twilight 2000 back in the day, a GRU Officer that was playing dumb as a regular conscript. However, now I sort of feel I wish that game had been left in the past, because things are even worse now for Slavic people, and they (including me, I am Slavic) don't deserve to be portrayed as Orcs, with foreign soldiers in their lands. Which is what I am afraid it is, or will be.
 

MGibster

Legend
My feelings about putting moral choices forward in the games, is that usually the players will ignore them to "win" or choose opposite to spite. I mean I know someone who ran a series of Traveller games at GenCon, and they hand a moral quandry of what to do with some innocent prisoners, and almost universally the players killed them.
I honestly find that rather surprising. Not shocking, mind you, because I've observed some very odd behavior on the part of PCs at convention games, but still surprising. I saw an interview with one of the creators of Bioshock Infinite and he was talking about how the game shared the player's choices with the company (assuming you had that function turned on I guess). There's a scene early in the game where your character "wins" the change the throw the first baseball at an interracial couple as part of stoning them to death for the crime of miscegenation. The way it's presented, if you throw the baseball your cover will be protected and the people of Columbia won't know you're an outsider. If you don't throw the baseball then people know you're an outsider and you're in for a fight. The truth is that you're in for a fight no matter what but the player doesn't know that the first time through. Anyway, the developer said that nearly 80% of all players elect not to throw the baseball at the couple.

That said, I played Twilight 2000 back in the day, a GRU Officer that was playing dumb as a regular conscript. However, now I sort of feel I wish that game had been left in the past, because things are even worse now for Slavic people, and they (including me, I am Slavic) don't deserve to be portrayed as Orcs, with foreign soldiers in their lands. Which is what I am afraid it is, or will be.
You most certainly do not deserve to be portrayed as an orc. I'll probably set the game in Poland and it isn't my intention to treat Slavic people like orcs and I'll probably have some NATO members as the bad guys in some scenarios.
 

Chris Currie

Villager
I guess the important thing is making sure the PCs are always short of something so they have to make these moral choices, instead of looking at their supplies and saying "Nah, I'm good." Mad Max would have just drove by everyone and not gotten involved, if he could have.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Anyway, the developer said that nearly 80% of all players elect not to throw the baseball at the couple.
I am not that surprised at the difference, as attacking the couple is much less socially acceptable than killing prisoners. Both are bad though, and I think both are a bit about framing the scene, and its effect on outcomes.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Don't stint in the time you spend on this concept in Session 0.

Some players will take a plea over the radio as "this is the adventure the DM planned" and will automatically take it. You need to make them realize that they must be willing go to their own thing and go "off script" of what you are laying in front of them if their characters want something else.

Another thing is this can easily end up with sessions full of moral debating and a party that should split except that they are the PCs. Some inter-party drama is good as long as it doesn't lead to inter-player drama, but moral gridlock on a regular basis and characters who would leave (or shoot) each other if it wasn't that they were fellow PCs doesn't make the best game. This is hard, as even if the players are up for it upfront, it may and likely will wander during actual play.
 

MGibster

Legend
Some players will take a plea over the radio as "this is the adventure the DM planned" and will automatically take it. You need to make them realize that they must be willing go to their own thing and go "off script" of what you are laying in front of them if their characters want something else.
Oh, goodness! Earlier in this thread I posted that thinking the PCs would do the right thing ended up biting me in the butt. This exact thing has happened with this group in other games. They received cries of help and without mulling it over declared, "This isn't part of our mission so we'll just skip it." Now part of this is because my players tend to make a beeline towards whatever the mission/quest is. I've had other times where I describe something interesting happen and they'll just skip right by it because it doesn't directly relate to what they're on their way to do.

Another thing is this can easily end up with sessions full of moral debating and a party that should split except that they are the PCs. Some inter-party drama is good as long as it doesn't lead to inter-player drama, but moral gridlock on a regular basis and characters who would leave (or shoot) each other if it wasn't that they were fellow PCs doesn't make the best game. This is hard, as even if the players are up for it upfront, it may and likely will wander during actual play.

We had this happen in another game. The long and short of it is that one of the PCs ended up destroying a critical piece of equipment, that PC ended up dead at the hands of other PCs, and when the campaign ended their home city was destroyed for lack of that critical piece of equipment. Good times. The nice thing about Twilight 2000 is that it's always easy to find another PC.
 

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