Oh there’s a wealth of powers at your disposal as a DM, deception, impossible odds, the very style of your play is a weapon in the right hands. You have to be careful with how cruel you are to your group, don’t forget that most of them are designed to fight, not chase shadows, or run screaming. Let them engage in the action sometimes, give them a few fair fights to make let them feel useful, but there are plenty of other tricks you can use to keep players guessing and second guessing, whilst still giving them chances to be the hero.
A man emerges from a side-street, twitching violently he approaches you, raising a heavy club over his head. Before he attacks, he locks eyes with you and says “Please, help me!”
It is the truest mark of heroism that ultimately the hardest decisions will fall to you, at first by stumbling into difficult situations, but in time because those who traditionally hold power – kings, generals, CEO’s – may come to rely on the group to help resolve their worst dilemmas. How do you resolve a scenario without a right answer? Especially when lives are at stake.
There are many dilemmas that you can take and adjust for your own purposes, modifying for genre and situation. Often morality and moral greys are intrinsic to noir style settings, and help set a grim tone. Throwing in the occasional quandary into a regular game – even a straight forward dungeon crawl – can shake up a group and make for a more memorable session.
More important than resolving the moral dilemma, is building the after effects. Take the scenario above, should the group kill the webbed man will it be considered self-defence, or will they forever be marked as murderers? If they can find no solution to the crisis, do they put the affected people out of their misery, or allow them life such as it is?
The Tiniest Enemies
If you can’t shoot it, stab it or blow it up, how do you fight your enemy? If it has no plans to thwart, if no cage can hold it, how do you scheme against it?
Diseases, plagues and pestilences are some of the worst enemies players can face. They can kill in large numbers, cannot be held by walls, and cruelty to the afflicted is often the only way to keep it contained.
The hunt for a cure can be long, prone to lethal failures, and can often leave the players incapable of helping. Scientifically inclined and medically trained characters can aid research and development of a cure. Combat oriented characters can aid in enforcing quarantines and keeping the peace, or can go in pursuit of hard to come by ingredients for a cure.
A plague is not that fun from the gameplay perspective, and should form a backdrop against an adventure, but one in which the players may be able to participate actively. For example, a criminal syndicate may be controlling vital supplies, the group may be called in to help root them out, while helping maintain the peace in between.