Shades of Gray in D&D
Two articles that have recently appeared on RPGBloggers really got me thinking about the way people play D&D. The first one, the, in my opinion, poorly titled “Dungeons & Dragons & Racism” tackled the idea that races in D&D are stereotyped. The second, “Don’t Play Monsters the Same Way“, deals with exactly what you’d think; not every enemy in D&D should be run the same way by the DM. To me, both articles drove home an all-important point; black and white D&D is boring.
Here’s a scenario: You’re walking through a city and catch a scene out of the corner of your eye. There’s an orc in an alley. He’s hassling a human for money. They get into a fight. Who does your character help? The human? Why? The orc? Why? That’s what I’m talking about when I say “shades of gray.” According to the Monster Manual, orcs are evil. In that world, the PC would attack the orc because he’s evil.
But what if the orc wasn’t evil? What if the human had approached the orc for protection money and what your character witnessed was the orc trying to take his money back? Or what if the human had simply short-changed the orc on a business transaction and the orc had asked the human “to step outside” for a moment? Both of those scenarios, to me, are a lot more interesting than “orcs are evil, orc takes money from human, pc protects human from orc,” ad nauseam.
in my corner of the world, gm/dm is a role accepted by default. everyone wants to play, no-one wants to be dm.
we buy adventures, and ad-lib the surrounding world and generally accept that meticulous planning hasn’t happened.
While that obviously flies for their group, and as long as they’re having fun, don’t look to me to knock their gaming style , I would find it boring to have every species, every race, pretty much every character/npc/monster act in the exact same fashion. Heck, I can see someone pulling out the Monster Manual, looking at the tactics for each monster, and decide that every monster attacks like it says in the book.
So here’s my challenge to all you DMs past, present, and future: Shake it up! Don’t play the monsters as written. Don’t play the races as written! Make them unique. Make them stand out. Make them surprising. Challenge the PC to decide whether the orc in the alley is innocent or victim! You never know; you might just have fun doing it.
And here’s my challenge to my readers: Comment below and tell me about the times you’ve shaken things up and challenged your players by “going against type.”