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Moral Choices in RPGs

MarkB

Legend
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.
Yeah, where the analogy with games like Fallout falters is that, in a collaborative RPG it isn't so much about moral choices as about moral debates. Because the player is not just choosing for themselves but for the entire party, and because they're not just making that choice in the privacy of their own heart and PC but doing it in front of others, the choice tends to lose the sense of immediacy and intimacy that it has within a single-player game - it goes from being a fundamental building-block of the type of character they're trying to play, to being merely one voice among several, trying to second-guess, rationalise and out-talk the others.

It's never going to feel meaningful in quite the same way, and that eventual after-action report won't feel nearly as personal or character-defining.

I wouldn't say don't do it - I'd just say know what you're actually going to be achieving, and don't try to make it something it's not.
 

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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.

Even with some abstraction you can get that with most post-apoc games, just because the lack of resources is part of the shape of the setting. Even a game as abstract as Atomic Highway pays some attention here.
 

MGibster

Legend
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.
I went ahead and bit the bullet and purchased the PDF of Twilight 2000 and I can confirm that Slavic people are not orcs. In this version of the game, the events up until 1991 are largely the same so Poland has gained its independence. I had assumed (wrongly) that the Warsaw Pact would still be intact and Poland would be a part of it. A few years later, the Soviets were rattling their sabers about coming back and Bill Clinton promises Poland the support of and eventual membership into NATO. The Poles are specifically called out as allies and the NATO forces were there to assist them in repelling the Soviet invaders. And while the Soviets are mostly antagonistic, there's a war going on after all, they're not depicted as inhuman monsters.

  1. The leader of the Red Army in Poland is known to make an effort to mitigate civilian casualties. He also sends his soldiers out to help rebuilt parts of Poland (though admittedly this is partly to appeal to hearts & minds).
  2. A faction of Spetsnaz soldiers makes it a point to go after marauders and protect civilians. These soldiers are no longer interested in fighting the war and just want to go home.
  3. In most encounters with Soviet forces, they're willing to take prisoners.
Now whether or not that translates to individual gaming tables is hard to say. But at least the authors of the game don't portray the Soviet forces as monsters.
 

Now whether or not that translates to individual gaming tables is hard to say. But at least the authors of the game don't portray the Soviet forces as monsters.
While that is fair, IMO that also weakens the campaign possibilities. T2k is about a war that is, or has, faded out. That brings us back to pure survival as a motivation, and that's a short-term game.

I'm not suggesting that Russians are worse than Swedes (who are, in fact, evil, as IKEA amply demonstrates), but it is a problem.

Which is why I prefer tossing in a dash of CoC into these sort of campaigns, to bring back that honest, down-home flavor of 'oh, crap', and to put things more into 'harsh lines of contrast' footing.

CoC is the Johnny's Seasoning Salt of the RPG world. You don't need a lot of it, and it always makes things better.

Anyway, my point is, while having a no-question enemy in the CoC aspect gives the campaign breadth, it will also give the PCs freedom for moral choices, because it will be easier to separate 'moral choice' from 'plot hook'.
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
I have to admit, if a GM came to me with a campaign pitch that included "I don't expect that the party must stay together - PCs may leave or be exiled/killed by other PCs" I would probably turn it down myself. It's a valid playstyle for that type of thing, it's just not mine.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Which is why I prefer tossing in a dash of CoC into these sort of campaigns, to bring back that honest, down-home flavor of 'oh, crap', and to put things more into 'harsh lines of contrast' footing.

CoC is the Johnny's Seasoning Salt of the RPG world. You don't need a lot of it, and it always makes things better.
In a game centering around moral choices like the OP is discussing, CoC seems like it would be the wrong seasoning since it's morally absolute. It would take away the need for moral choices whereever involved. I don't think you understand the type of campaign the OP is asking about, or if you do you don't care and are just trying to change it into a campaign of a style you like.

And I'm saying this not particularly enamoured with the style he's going for in terms of my own likes/dislikes, but at least respecting what he's asking and trying to help.
 


I think this stuff very much depends on the game. Some games will have assumptions that the PCs will at least lean toward heroics. Modern D&D, going by what’s published, is almost universally about stopping the bad guys. It doesn’t have to be, and there are plenty of other games that allow for a more nuanced take.

I’m running a campaign of Spire. The PCs are members of a resistance cell operating in the eponymous city, members of the drow underclass fighting against the tyranny of the high elves. The group is the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress. The players in that game have had to make some interesting choices.

They’ve uncovered a bit of a conspiracy, which involves the production and sale of an illicit substance, and they’re working to disrupt that operation. They also need to maintain anonymity; they can’t let people know they’re members of the Ministry. So they spent one session essentially wandering about the district where they’ve been operating, Red Row, eliminating their loose ends.

One instance of that was getting rid of a drug addled drow who pointed them toward some of the key players in the drug trade. They grabbed him off the street and made him OD. Another loose end was a human retroengineer who was unknowingly involved in the manufacture of the drug (he treated one ingredient of it and sold it to the main drug dealing faction, not knowing or caring what they did with it). They snatched him from his lab and used one of the PC’s ability to teleport back to their base, where they questioned him and then finished him off.

What makes this work is that the game mechanics allow for these acts to take a serious toll. One of the PCs is a cold-blooded killer, but the other two are not, and they’ve both taken fallout from these violent acts. One has been fairly minor, but the other has permanent effects that are causing him to crack. He’s slowly losing his mind.

I think that games like this that expect to put PCs into such situations and want to see how they handle them are best when there are some kinds of mechanics that are involved. That if you simply allow the player to decide how the PC handles all this trauma, then it’s kind of dodging the issue. That works for a typically heroic approach like D&D or Star Wars and the like, where the PCs are heroes and can slaughter any number of bad guys and be essentially fine because it’s only bad guys. But if you want a little more nuance, then there needs to be something the player puts at risk.
 

MGibster

Legend
I have to admit, if a GM came to me with a campaign pitch that included "I don't expect that the party must stay together - PCs may leave or be exiled/killed by other PCs" I would probably turn it down myself. It's a valid playstyle for that type of thing, it's just not mine.
I didn't pitch the campaign that way and the individual PC's actions were completely unexpected by all of us. For some reason, one of the PCs got it into their head that their home city was just as bad as the mutant city to the west and the cyborg city to the east who had joined forces to wipe their home city out. And while the home city wasn't exactly a shining beacon on the hill, the mutants to the west wanted to commit genocide and the cyborgs to the east wanted to enslave everyone. So a fight broke out when one of the PCs tried to destroy the nuclear football that belonged to the last president of the United States. During the fight, one of the other PCs thought it was a good idea to start lobbing grenades into melee. This ended up destroying the nuclear football, the PC who started it was killed, and at the end of the campaign the city was wiped out by the combined forces of the mutants and cyborgs. It wasn't a total loss though, the PCs managed to remove a world wide threat at the end. It just cost them their home and the 10,000 people who lived there.
 

I didn't pitch the campaign that way and the individual PC's actions were completely unexpected by all of us. For some reason, one of the PCs got it into their head that their home city was just as bad as the mutant city to the west and the cyborg city to the east who had joined forces to wipe their home city out. And while the home city wasn't exactly a shining beacon on the hill, the mutants to the west wanted to commit genocide and the cyborgs to the east wanted to enslave everyone. So a fight broke out when one of the PCs tried to destroy the nuclear football that belonged to the last president of the United States. During the fight, one of the other PCs thought it was a good idea to start lobbing grenades into melee. This ended up destroying the nuclear football, the PC who started it was killed, and at the end of the campaign the city was wiped out by the combined forces of the mutants and cyborgs. It wasn't a total loss though, the PCs managed to remove a world wide threat at the end. It just cost them their home and the 10,000 people who lived there.

Why were the PCs the only people among 10,000 who had a say in the fate of the city?
 

MGibster

Legend
Why were the PCs the only people among 10,000 who had a say in the fate of the city?

They weren't the only ones. The ruling council sent the PCs to investigate the alleged crash site of Air Force 1 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the hopes that they could find and recover the nuclear football. The PCs had a proven track record of successful missions on behalf of the rulers, and a small force was sent to avoid attracting the attention of the more numerous and better armed cyborg forces from the east patrolling the area.

The PCs were successful in recovering the nuclear football but one of them got cold feet on the way back home. He came to the conclusion that home city was just as bad as genocidal mutants and slaver cyborgs and decided they shouldn't have control of a nuclear device. So in the middle of the night, he crept through camp and tried to destroy it but was noticed by the other PCs and stopped in a most violent manner. The funny thing is that he actually failed to sabotage the NF. The NF was instead rendered non-functional by another PC who thought it was a good idea to add grenades to the struggle. So the PCs returned with a non-functional NF which the city tried and failed to repair. They were able to launch a nuclear device as the invaders approached their city, but the targeting was off and the bomb landed (mostly) harmlessly on a nearby mountain. The combined might of the cyborg and mutant forces overwhelmed the city defenses.
 

MGibster

Legend
While that is fair, IMO that also weakens the campaign possibilities. T2k is about a war that is, or has, faded out. That brings us back to pure survival as a motivation, and that's a short-term game.
Almost all my campaigns are rather short and I don't envision Twilight 2000 being any different. Well, shorter than most perhaps. But I do think it won't take long for a game that's just about survival to get rather boring. So you really need to have some other goals in mind.

Anyway, my point is, while having a no-question enemy in the CoC aspect gives the campaign breadth, it will also give the PCs freedom for moral choices, because it will be easier to separate 'moral choice' from 'plot hook'.
While the Soviets aren't monsters, they're pretty much set up as no-question enemies. Red Army patrols won't generally hesitate to open fire on those wearing NATO member uniforms. And the Soviets have more soldiers, more fighting vehicles, and artillery than the NATO forces so they're a pretty serious threat. Even with a lull in the war, winter isn't so far away and everyone's going to need food.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
While the Soviets aren't monsters, they're pretty much set up as no-question enemies. Red Army patrols won't generally hesitate to open fire on those wearing NATO member uniforms. And the Soviets have more soldiers, more fighting vehicles, and artillery than the NATO forces so they're a pretty serious threat.
It feels like a wehraboo ww3 scenario, I mean Red Army is ww2, they are the heroes, they stop germany ... etc.; just not a well researched game imo.
 


dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I don't think the book refers to them as the Red Army that's just me.
That's fine. It's me too, and I understand you are probably looking back with nostalgia towards a time when you were young. Except hindsight also gives a certain clarity, which in a way is weird, because the original was more of a comment on current affairs, and "the coming war" by Vietnam veterans, so there was a certain ambivalence there. This is just different, and I should not get drawn in by it, but I do.
 

MarkB

Legend
They weren't the only ones. The ruling council sent the PCs to investigate the alleged crash site of Air Force 1 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the hopes that they could find and recover the nuclear football. The PCs had a proven track record of successful missions on behalf of the rulers, and a small force was sent to avoid attracting the attention of the more numerous and better armed cyborg forces from the east patrolling the area.

The PCs were successful in recovering the nuclear football but one of them got cold feet on the way back home. He came to the conclusion that home city was just as bad as genocidal mutants and slaver cyborgs and decided they shouldn't have control of a nuclear device. So in the middle of the night, he crept through camp and tried to destroy it but was noticed by the other PCs and stopped in a most violent manner. The funny thing is that he actually failed to sabotage the NF. The NF was instead rendered non-functional by another PC who thought it was a good idea to add grenades to the struggle. So the PCs returned with a non-functional NF which the city tried and failed to repair. They were able to launch a nuclear device as the invaders approached their city, but the targeting was off and the bomb landed (mostly) harmlessly on a nearby mountain. The combined might of the cyborg and mutant forces overwhelmed the city defenses.
I tend to see the lone PC's point. Adding further nuclear strikes into a post-apocalyptic scenario doesn't seem like the most civilised thing to do.
 

MGibster

Legend
I tend to see the lone PC's point. Adding further nuclear strikes into a post-apocalyptic scenario doesn't seem like the most civilised thing to do.
They were facing an existential threat in the form of both genocide and enslavement which I think we can all agree aren't very civilized in and of themselves. All of the PCs understood their city was no match for the combined might of the mutants and cyborgs and none of them voiced any concern about recovering the nuclear football so it was very surprising when one of the them just up and decided to sabotage the plan. I was using a published adventure and I often wonder how many other groups had something similar happen. None that I've heard of. I've never had a PC condemn thousands of people to their death before so at least it's a fun conversation piece.
 

MGibster

Legend
That's fine. It's me too, and I understand you are probably looking back with nostalgia towards a time when you were young. Except hindsight also gives a certain clarity, which in a way is weird, because the original was more of a comment on current affairs, and "the coming war" by Vietnam veterans, so there was a certain ambivalence there. This is just different, and I should not get drawn in by it, but I do.
I sometimes say Red China as well, a phrase from before I was born which was often used to differentiate mainland China from what the US referred to as the legitimate government in exile in Taiwan. I expect a modern audience for Twilight 2000 will not relate to the subject matter in the same way people born in the 60s or 70s might have. And the fact that it's made by Swedes instead of Americans probably changes things as well.
 

Almost all my campaigns are rather short and I don't envision Twilight 2000 being any different. Well, shorter than most perhaps. But I do think it won't take long for a game that's just about survival to get rather boring. So you really need to have some other goals in mind.
Hence my love for CoC. But I also tend towards long campaigns.
While the Soviets aren't monsters, they're pretty much set up as no-question enemies. Red Army patrols won't generally hesitate to open fire on those wearing NATO member uniforms. And the Soviets have more soldiers, more fighting vehicles, and artillery than the NATO forces so they're a pretty serious threat. Even with a lull in the war, winter isn't so far away and everyone's going to need food.
I wouldn't think either side would hesitate to open fire. But I get your point.
 

They weren't the only ones. The ruling council sent the PCs to investigate the alleged crash site of Air Force 1 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the hopes that they could find and recover the nuclear football. The PCs had a proven track record of successful missions on behalf of the rulers, and a small force was sent to avoid attracting the attention of the more numerous and better armed cyborg forces from the east patrolling the area.

The PCs were successful in recovering the nuclear football but one of them got cold feet on the way back home. He came to the conclusion that home city was just as bad as genocidal mutants and slaver cyborgs and decided they shouldn't have control of a nuclear device. So in the middle of the night, he crept through camp and tried to destroy it but was noticed by the other PCs and stopped in a most violent manner. The funny thing is that he actually failed to sabotage the NF. The NF was instead rendered non-functional by another PC who thought it was a good idea to add grenades to the struggle. So the PCs returned with a non-functional NF which the city tried and failed to repair. They were able to launch a nuclear device as the invaders approached their city, but the targeting was off and the bomb landed (mostly) harmlessly on a nearby mountain. The combined might of the cyborg and mutant forces overwhelmed the city defenses.
Ah, that makes a lot more sense.

I would boot a player for that stunt (trying to wreck the football). The time to make a moral choice is when the job is offered, not after the PCs have invested time and risk. At that point,. the football was the property of the group, and the PC had no right to deprive the others of their share.

Of course, I have a permanent and unbreakable rule banning PvP, to include theft from the party.
 

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