So a few weeks ago on Critical Role (Campaign 2, Episode 93) the Mighty Nein faced the age old impossible choice. In their circumstances it is an evil entity making them choose between happiness of one for the misery of another. While a bit unfortunate at least it seems pretty cut and dry. Sometimes the impossible choice is far more esoteric in nature, leading to broad and sometimes incomprehensible consequences. In any case, while I will not reveal the specifics of the short term outcome of the encounter, it was a great D&D moment.
The impossible choice is a trope in entertainment as far back as stories go. As I DM I want to put my players in that situation. Not to stress them out or make them uncomfortable but to help them define their character and perhaps learn a bit about themselves. Grunt the half-orc is the hardest barbarian you’ve ever encountered, but how does he react when he is forced to choose between his son and his soul mate? Will he accept the Axe of Corruption knowing he might succumb to it one day? Will he trade the hag a piece of his soul for eternal glory in combat? I wonder…
Is it fun to be put in those situations? Perhaps, perhaps not. I wonder though… I mean it has to be in some way. Entire pen and paper games revolve around worlds where your options are to choose between awful and horrible. Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness are great examples.
Call of Cthulhu pits you against a world where Loftcraft’s Old Gods exist and cause the madness captured in his works. Your role is that of an investigator and generally leads you into cases where you find evidence of things humans are not meant to know, let alone study or investigate. You are constantly hounded by things you can scarcely comprehend let alone defend against. All the while you slowly go mad simply trying to survive. The only way out is to run and never look back, leaving it all behind and hope it doesn’t find you again. Running usually means leaving friends and loved ones to die, driving home the harrowing corner of life you have chosen to experience.
World of Darkness, specifically Vampire the Masquerade, the subgame with which I am most familiar, releases you into a world you generally know nothing about. The world is filled with rules you could not know nor understand at the start of your rebirth into unlife. You have to be taught by those older than you who seem to want to use you for their own ends no matter the personal cost to you. That just hits the tip of the iceberg as vampires whose ages can only be guessed use everyone to play their ancient and nearly incomprehensible game. You live a mean existence that demands you choose between your very humanity and surviving as a ravenous beast within you rages against your will in an attempt to be released. Indeed, should it be released it will simply slink back to it’s cage to rest while you are left to deal with the fallout of its actions. Difficult choices followed by difficult choices interspersed with impossible ones.
Games are generally used to vacate your own personal life for a few hours. Some decide to play that out in a world with an unbelievable amount of stress. Perhaps imagining these places gives us perspective. Maybe it reminds us that things could be much worse and the piddly problems we worry about each day are so inane in the grand scheme of things. Or is it that humans just love conflict? Maybe it’s all three or neither.
Personally, I enjoy it in the moment. As a DM being put on the spot when players do something you don’t expect is fun and interesting. It makes you think and come up with a solution. It’s an odd feeling for me specifically because I am an anxious person and prone to drastically overthink decisions if I have too much time to dwell on them.
So, are they fun? Or is it something you would rather avoid in your recreation?