How far is too far?


Advice


*Warning*

This discussion is not in anyway meant to be offensive or in any way derogatory to any race/sex, and being seemingly indifferent/uncaring to real life situations that are mentioned here. Thank you in advance for discussing these topics in an adult manner.

Topic:
In the Pathfinder games I GM inwith often wonder, how far is going too far? Where do you personally draw the line in the game with adding the crudeness and vile behavior that humanity preforms on a daily occurrence? Also, is it necessary to add these things to a game? I'm talking about slavery, rape, murder, violent and gruesome deaths, those kinds of things.

Personally in one of my past campaigns I did implement some of these into the campaign. The PCs went to a Black Market Auction, they all thought while going into this auction that only weapons, armor, and items were to be sold. But while those things were included at the end, this auction was far more sinister. I made this auction, auction off slaves of women, children, men and elders that were taken from small towns scattered throughout the continent. Those who were not bought, were executed on the spot (to promote more buyers if they did not want to see them die).

I added this in to really add some emotion and really tough decision making into the campaign, And that is exactly what happened. The pure taken a-back, disgusted, and horrified look on my players faces was exactly what I wanted to happen. Immediately they began to try and save those who they could, but due to lack of money on them they had to Message the Paladin who was standing outside of the city waiting for them and holding all the gold. As you can probably guess, all hell broke loose when the Paladin arrived to see this auction. He was a Paladin/Sorcerer/Dragon Disciple.

The party also found a new enemy to fight when they saw a bald man with a slender goatee begin to buy the children and women, as he slowly fiddled with his mustache. As you can probably guess what is being implied. He then continued to buy 15+ slaves only to have them executed on stage when he saw how much the Paladin was in distraught, causing the Paladin to grow claws and have to be knocked unconscious and dragged out.

So, my question to you all. How far is too far? Is any of this even necessary to add to your campaigns? Tell your opinions and remember that to discuss this in an adult manner.

Silver Crusade

I add a little in here and there. Many players are uncomfortable with the dark side of life and so many groups shy away. I have never gone as dark as the auction you discuss.

However, if I were to do so I would give the players some inkling of the darkness to come rather than just springing it upon them.

Silver Crusade

YMMV from group to group, but I'd think that too far is when someone at the table signals to you that the game is making them uncomfortable.

Fantasy worlds are not nice, and I think that most people who play D&D know this, it's supposed to be set in a medieval setting with magic tacked on. The medieval times in our own history (and, arguably, current times) were horrible. Now we start adding in ripping souls out of people, or using magic to dominate peoples' minds.

In my groups, we deal with slavery, murder and all manner of bad stuff, but we never deal with anything sexual, good or otherwise. Sometimes it is implied but never described, as I believe most of us would be uncomfortable with that. (None of us want to play FATAL :P)

But I can see what you are getting at, without these topics there is often not a real conflict. Personally I like campaigns where everyone is grey, and nothing is black and white, it makes for interesting situations, and makes it challenging for the paladin/good players.

In the example that you gave, that stuff happens. Many races in pathfinder use slaves, and slavery is accepted in a number of countries. Nothing feels better than freeing slaves when you're a good guy too. Even evil moustache guy, you're putting a face/painting a target for the group to exact vengeance, even if there might be implied rape/pedophilia.

TL:DR Depends on your players, as long as everyone's having fun I think you're fine.


It varies by group (including whether a particular group includes children). But in general, I think graphic descriptions should be off the table.

What you did, IMO, was the right thing. You showed the existence and misery slavery in your setting, and even though your players were horrified with it, they took in-game action in a way that let them be heroes ... and from your description, they had fun doing it.


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

Personally, I would have no problem in playing a game with that. It would be kind of fun, and give the heroes a reason to beat the crap out of the bad guys. It is far better than saying "they are orcs, let's kill them". Things like this add to the game in my opinion. They give a reason for the heroes to be heroic.

Silver Crusade

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Really, all that is normally needed is the implication...

A little implied horror will go a long way as the players minds quickly fill in the gaps. You do not need to spell out an act in graphic detail to evoke an emotional response...


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This is the sort of thing that varies by group. Your best bet is to discuss this with your players prior to gaming.

The terms "lines" and "veils" are great for this discussion.

Lines - things people in your group are sufficiently upset/disturbed/uncomfortable with that you don't even reference them. Rape of a player character is one for my group. It will not happen, even by reference.

Veils - are things that are uncomfortable to get too close to, but the group is willing to use to explore or reinforce themes and atmosphere. Think old movies where deaths happen off-screen. For my group, torture of a character, or NPC-on-NPC rape is veiled. They might occur, or have occurred in the past, but will never occur "on stage".


My general rule is if you would not discuss the matter in a public place you should not do it in the game. So as long you would feel comfortable taking about the subject in a Starbucks at lunch time you are good to go. There will of course be a lot of innuendo and implying on these subject which is fine.

That being said I think some of the things you did were a little over the top. Just as lawful good does not mean lawful stupid; neither does evil have to be mindless. Killing off slave to get someone to buy more is a really dumb thing to do. You do not destroy valuable merchandise because someone does not want to buy it. If one of the slaves was being troublesome than maybe, but just to kill them for no reason is pointless. Having the villains so obviously evil is a little two dimensional. There is also the fact that most evil people do not consider themselves evil. Keep your villains real and it is more of a moral dilemma.


Table top is a good place to explore the dark depths of humanity, but you need to address where the lines are for people. Of the things that have been mentioned, only explicit rape would be off the table. The implication of slaves being used for sex, whether women or children is harrowing but it should be acceptable. These sorts of evil make for very emotionally poigant campaigns, it makes evil truly evil and less flat and more dimensional. Evil is no longer "lets just burn everything down and kill everyone". Sure some evil wants to do that, chaotic evil. But most evil creatures are more subtle than that, and don't wear their evil on the cuff. Slavery, rape, pedophilia, sex slaves are all very dark subjects. You need to make sure your players are okay with these sorts of things before you bring them in, or at least warn them that difficult topics are going to be added and if they feel uncomfortable that you can change the events.

Honestly, what you've described seems like a fun game to play in with very polarizing events to move the players to action.


Mysterious Stranger wrote:

My general rule is if you would not discuss the matter in a public place you should not do it in the game. So as long you would feel comfortable taking about the subject in a Starbucks at lunch time you are good to go. There will of course be a lot of innuendo and implying on these subject which is fine.

That being said I think some of the things you did were a little over the top. Just as lawful good does not mean lawful stupid; neither does evil have to be mindless. Killing off slave to get someone to buy more is a really dumb thing to do. You do not destroy valuable merchandise because someone does not want to buy it. If one of the slaves was being troublesome than maybe, but just to kill them for no reason is pointless. Having the villains so obviously evil is a little two dimensional. There is also the fact that most evil people do not consider themselves evil. Keep your villains real and it is more of a moral dilemma.

I only made it so black and white because the players seemed to be lost in their direction. The main antagonist is a behind the scenes sort of fellow who is slowly controling the minds of key important people throughout the continent to establish complete control of it and eventually rule out magic in all so onlu he has it.

This was more of a side quest. Something to really hit home and be bold and in their face. I didn't want a trickle of this, I wanted it to be everything is going normal. Killing gobs here, bandits there and then BAM. Stuff hits the fan. Causing more of a shock factor and causing them to take some actions of their own into account.

Also, that is the bald man's character. He is a buisness man. But, he.. Gets a kick from seeing people in pain or discomfort. Hence why he had then killed.

But I don't believe the Paladin overreacted. The Paladin saw this horrific scene of slavery and death filled in a room of people who cared less. What would you have a holy riotous man do? Sit idely and plot how to stop it. Or become infuriated and try to stop this perverse auction from happening.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Ashmit wrote:
Mysterious Stranger wrote:

My general rule is if you would not discuss the matter in a public place you should not do it in the game. So as long you would feel comfortable taking about the subject in a Starbucks at lunch time you are good to go. There will of course be a lot of innuendo and implying on these subject which is fine.

That being said I think some of the things you did were a little over the top. Just as lawful good does not mean lawful stupid; neither does evil have to be mindless. Killing off slave to get someone to buy more is a really dumb thing to do. You do not destroy valuable merchandise because someone does not want to buy it. If one of the slaves was being troublesome than maybe, but just to kill them for no reason is pointless. Having the villains so obviously evil is a little two dimensional. There is also the fact that most evil people do not consider themselves evil. Keep your villains real and it is more of a moral dilemma.

I only made it so black and white because the players seemed to be lost in their direction. The main antagonist is a behind the scenes sort of fellow who is slowly controling the minds of key important people throughout the continent to establish complete control of it and eventually rule out magic in all so onlu he has it.

This was more of a side quest. Something to really hit home and be bold and in their face. I didn't want a trickle of this, I wanted it to be everything is going normal. Killing gobs here, bandits there and then BAM. Stuff hits the fan. Causing more of a shock factor and causing them to take some actions of their own into account.

Also, that is the bald man's character. He is a buisness man. But, he.. Gets a kick from seeing people in pain or discomfort. Hence why he had then killed.

But I don't believe the Paladin overreacted. The Paladin saw this horrific scene of slavery and death filled in a room of people who cared less. What would you have a holy riotous man do? Sit idely and plot how to stop it. Or...

What's the larger context? Is this taking place in a city? Keep in mind that murdering slaves in public view would garner some unfavorable attention in any city that's the slightest less evil than a Drow Capital. Is this under the full view of the city watch? In that case the Paladin should be having problems even before such scenes are played out. Things don't exist in a vacuum, they are grounded in the environment that hosts them and that environment MUST be considered.

A Paladin may not abide evil, but he also knows that sucidal moves only advance the cause if he's cut down without making any real difference. The wise Paladin picks his battles with consequences in mind. He leaves the jumping in wildly without a thought to chaotic good barbarians.


The auction took place in a small hidden stage type room with about 20-30 buyers and 2 city guards who were corrupted. These auctions are not public knowledge. The hidden room was in a basically gambling town full of theives and drunks with a few corrupted Cydial (the capitol city of the continent) guards there.


Also, the Paladin was played as a young man who was having trouble controling his temper. Thus why he became a paladin to try and go in a strict righteous way of life. He believe in good to the fullest and was quick to anger.
This is why he was a paladin/sorcerer/dragon disciple.


I should also mention that I talked to my players before hand. That if anything ever made them uncomfortable or not wanting to continue that they should have no problem letting me know. I want everyone to have fun and enjoy themselves.


SeeleyOne wrote:
Personally, I would have no problem in playing a game with that. It would be kind of fun, and give the heroes a reason to beat the crap out of the bad guys. It is far better than saying "they are orcs, let's kill them". Things like this add to the game in my opinion. They give a reason for the heroes to be heroic.

That's exactly it. I didn't want a boring campaign with the same old fight orcs, slay a dragon. I want my players to have emotional attachments to npcs. To be emotionally invested in it.


I've talked about it before but my group runs DnD raw. We're all mature and older players (with families). We like our DnD to be gritty and realistic, we avoid sex descriptions and glaze over the acts. However, I've seen characters commit some horrible atrocities that were hand waved and laughed off after their characters committed them. It's a game, we happen to like ours this way.


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

We have no rape and no graphic violence. Slavery exists, but it's abhorrent in principle rather than by virtue of its effects (we wouldn't generally describe the worst excesses that would probably happen). I think thats largely driven by my preferences and it's probably not unrelated that I don't like gory violent crime in movies either. Stuff like that doesn't entertain me, which is the only reason I play.


It depends on the group, but I think that evil is necessary in the game since the characters are usually good and need something to fight.

I really like what BillyGoat says about the veil. For example, we all know that childhood exploitation exists in the real world, and we all probably support any efforts to fight it, and a lot of people will run in and help if it happens in their presence in some way (like in the Ariel Castro's neighbor kicking down the door story), but we don't want to see the videos of it.

So I think adult themes are fine in games with adults, but presentation is important. You can definitely keep it classy or make it horribly uncomfortable, entirely based on your words describing the situation.

That being said, I play in a pretty loose and graphic group. Let's just say that Black Tentacles is a very UNCOMFORTABLE spell at my table. But we are all okay with that. Our biggest taboo is probably misogyny, as we have liberated female players that play big hit melee characters that will yell at you if you're feeding any weak woman tropes.


When it comes to reading and playing fantasy fiction stories, two types come to mind recently that offer differing approaches. The Middle Earth stories of JRR Tolkien offer a "high fantasy" approach, where many things are black-and-white, and major characters do not get involved in minute details. Herein, orcs are evil by nature. Rulers are not shown involving themselves with tax collection, refugee camps, etc. There is little in the way of political intrigue - but its rarity makes the few events more poignant (Consider the events surrounding Turin, in the court of Doriath).
The Game of Thrones story from George RR Martin (occasionally referred to as "the American Tolkien")offer a different - almost opposite - approach. Herein, the fantasy world feels more real, and addresses situations that readers and identify from real-world examples. Almost all characters are "grey" having good sides and bad. If the character is bad, then their good sides offer a softer view, or chance for redemption. If the characters are good, then their bad sides show their flaws and the times when they can fall to darkness. Rulers are shown as heavily involved in taxation, intrigue, prisoner and refugee issues, etc.
For my RPG preference, I lean to high fantasy. To Drannor Hawksley's point, I offer an almost mirror-view: Personally I like campaigns where most things are black-and-white, and few things are grey; it makes for interesting situations, and makes it challenging for the neutral players.
To SeeleyOne's point I don't think it is far better than saying "they are orcs, let's kill them", but I would say it is a different approach, and some people prefer one over the other. Or, even more likely, prefer one over the other for given situations (campaigns, community of players, etc.). In stories where there are evil races, the things that make the race evil are factored into the defining characteristics of that race. Drow are evil because they are selfish, cruel, and use any means available to further personal ends. Orcs are evil because they are hostile, overbearing, and seek to pillage, burn, conquer, or destroy neighboring societies. Without such fantasy staples, the DM can still create evil NPCs and societies, but will have to make up the justifications to fully flesh them out.

To the OP, I agree with much of what Mysterious Stranger said earlier. Only mindless evil acts "evilly" without thought or reason. The businessman slave seller would not kill his fleshy goods in order to drive a sale from someone who would rather pay for a slave than see someone die, because that kind of person is not in his demographic. That trips dangerously close to a plot trap, in my opinion; most NPCs in a black market are not the type to care about slaves in that manner, so the biggest audience for that line of reasoning would be the PCs. Spend money on slaves you do not want, or watch slaves die. As for the evil buyer, there would be so many more options than killing the goods he just paid for. Human shields. Barter for his own escape. Speed bumps to slow pursuit.
As many have stated here, the line should be drawn to least tolerable. In a pastime where the goal is to have fun in a group setting, no one should leave saying "I didn't have fun because the events that took place made me uncomfortable", and I hope no one leaves saying "I didn't have fun because so-and-so said 'no torture' and I really wanted to pop some eyeballs."


Ashmit wrote:
I'm talking about slavery, rape, murder, violent and gruesome deaths, those kinds of things.

First of all, know your audience. If I were gaming with a bunch of 13-year-olds, I'd tone things down considerably. But I don't. I've got two groups of adults.

Gruesome deaths... that's pretty much normal. That is to say... when someone crits a BBEG, I'll be as graphic as I can when describing what happens. Brain-splatter and the whole deal. Epic hits just don't deserve "you drop him", which is what happens with mooks.

Slavery... is something that happens. I treat it much like Paizo does. It's happening. In some countries it's legal and in some it's not. It's up to the players to recognize that and act accordingly. They can elect to go against the grain in a pro-slavery environment or not. That said, I don't bring this to the forefront of storytelling. One group of two has met - and freed - a single slave in Katapesh. That there are others is a background fact, secondary to their daily lives.

Murder... is what happens when you disagree violently with an intelligent creature. Adventurers do it all day long. It's not a goal, and if it's senseless then it's evil. I don't do evil campaigns.

Rape... is - like torture - a topic that I keep behind the curtain. Yes, it's likely that such-and-such a prisoner that just got rescued was abused before the heroes arrived. This just never happens in front of the camera. Nobody at my table - myself included - wants a description of this.

Again, know your audience.

Grand Lodge

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
That being said I think some of the things you did were a little over the top. Just as lawful good does not mean lawful stupid; neither does evil have to be mindless. Killing off slave to get someone to buy more is a really dumb thing to do. You do not destroy valuable merchandise because someone does not want to buy it. If one of the slaves was being troublesome than maybe, but just to kill them for no reason is pointless. Having the villains so obviously evil is a little two dimensional. There is also the fact that most evil people do not consider themselves evil. Keep your villains real and it is more of a moral dilemma.

Yeah, this pretty much says it all for me. Evil is rarely stupid and almost neverthinks of itself as evil. And you essentially created a society where sociopaths and psychopaths walk around without a care in the world, doing as they please. Its just not that believable. Personalities like this come out and people like that slip up and are dealt with long before they can get to this point.

Shadow Lodge

Wow. That auction scene is really jaw dropping. I think you were on the money in wanting to get emotional reactions from your players - that's what can make a great and memorable game. Also good that you're doing a double take on what might be too far.

Personally, for me, the auction scene is fantastic. I don't see killing the slaves as "mindless evil" or "unnecessarily graphic" as was suggested earlier - that's their plan for marketing.

Rape is the most sensitive subject we're talking about here, so I'd suspect you'd want to be absolutely sure that your players are ready for anything when they sign up. If rape is unacceptable, script it out, or if you absolutely need to include it, cover it as much as possible - absolutely no graphic detail, only "hinting" at it. For some people, even that's too much, so tread carefully.

If it were my game, I'd be loathe to give them any clue as to what's to come, short of asking/warning them that the game may become incredibly dark to a point that they may feel uncomfortable, and are they okay with that? If they press you for clarity, don't provide it, because that's part of the deal, and telling them would take away from the game.

Seriously, I'd love to play your game.


It all depends on your players (close friends, casual friends, acquaintances) and your surroundings (game store or living room), and what sort of game everyone is expecting.

Things that are sexual, erotic, naughty, stirring, violent, gross, suggestive, sexist, etc. are all handled with an air of maturity. I'm not GMing games so that others can enjoy sexual content, but if there is sexual content, I'll "fade to black", or imply it in a general sort of way "She takes you into the back room where you have a good time. You pay the madam on the way". No need for details. If I'm in my FLGS, then its "You want to do what while you're in town? Okay, that happens. What's next?"

It sounds to me like you successfully hooked your players. Congratulations. Welcome to the world of storytelling.

"How far is too far" is a common sense and common respect issue. The current politically-correct idea of "triggers" is unnecessarily confusing and pointless.


Avatar-1 wrote:

Wow. That auction scene is really jaw dropping. I think you were on the money in wanting to get emotional reactions from your players - that's what can make a great and memorable game. Also good that you're doing a double take on what might be too far.

Personally, for me, the auction scene is fantastic. I don't see killing the slaves as "mindless evil" or "unnecessarily graphic" as was suggested earlier - that's their plan for marketing.

Rape is the most sensitive subject we're talking about here, so I'd suspect you'd want to be absolutely sure that your players are ready for anything when they sign up. If rape is unacceptable, script it out, or if you absolutely need to include it, cover it as much as possible - absolutely no graphic detail, only "hinting" at it. For some people, even that's too much, so tread carefully.

If it were my game, I'd be loathe to give them any clue as to what's to come, short of asking/warning them that the game may become incredibly dark to a point that they may feel uncomfortable, and are they okay with that? If they press you for clarity, don't provide it, because that's part of the deal, and telling them would take away from the game.

Seriously, I'd love to play your game.

Thank you :) I appreciate your kind words.

And no, neither do I see killing the slaves as "mindless killing". It was and is exactly that plus more, a marketing tactic. It pushes people, NPCs as well as PCs to buy them.

Also, seeing as some people seem confused on how or why it happened I'll give you a short summary of how it played out and came to be in the next post I post.


My players were Tor, a dwarf fighter, Ash, a human pally/sorc/dd, and Duran, a dwarf magus, (there were a few others but they weren't consistent.

The three walked into Tunka Town, a gambling town filled with thieves and drunks. They all played some various games, both losing and winning money. Then the magus's familiar over heard two men talking of an auction being held in the NW corner of the town, and a pass-phrase was required to enter. They found the pass-phrase and gained entry. Tor and Duran did not speak of this to Ash though because of his Lawful-Good Nature, Ash also did not wish to be in the town either as it made him uncomfortable.

Duran went into the auction with Duran and sat down after giving Ash all of their GP. They also left Durans Crow Familiar with ash so they could speak with him if they wished.

The auction began and the darkness ensued. The first up was a young girl, around 15, two young boys, around 10-12 and an elderly man. This is when the mutsached man began buying them. Seemingly no one wanted to buy the elderly man. He began pleading for someone to purchase him, (at this time the PCs did not know of the executions) but no one did. The elder began begging and crying on the stage being he only one who was not bought. A tall strongly built man slowly walked up to the elder and unsheathed his sword. (At this point the PCs began to see what was happening), and before they could do anything the elder let out a cry of terror as the blade fell upon his bound outstretched hands, in an attempt to block the blade, and through his neck.

His body fell limp to the stage floor as his fingers and head rolled off the stage. After this three men came out and took the body away, also sprinkling saw-dust like material to help clot up the blood and clean it with a broom.

This is where the PCs now they knew what they got themselves into.


So, how much of this sort of thing do you find in other media? Such as movies, TV shows, video games, books, etc?

It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish, and what tone you want to set. Sometimes I like the dark settings, sometimes I don't.

In the book I am trying to get published, I found myself constantly asking myself "Do I really want my kids to read this?"

Dark Archive

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I'll use dark or bleak if it fits the theme (my Freeport game had the PCs bust up a child-slavery ring, for instance), but the example sounds kind of weird to me, because you've got people who are, in theory, kind of greedy (willing to sell people for cash) and selfish (willing to buy people for cash), who are killing their hard-won slaves *to mess with other people's heads.*

That doesn't really make a lick of sense, to me.

Evil 'for the lulz' may exist, but it isn't the sort of evil that could run a slave market or, indeed, any sort of business venture. Running a business, one needs to turn a profit, not petulantly destroy your own wares to spite potential customers or annoy individuals who find your business practices objectionable. I go to Home Goods, and there's not a dude in front of me in the aisle, "Quick, buy this lamp or Imma smash it!" <Smash!> "Too late! Quick, buy this carpet before I set it on fire!" Similarly, I walk into a butcher's shop, and I don't expect to see owner shoving all the bacon into his mouth in an attempt to offend any potential vegetarians, Jews or Moslems in the place.

And if there is, I know that I've wandered into a universe that functions on Joker-logic...

I don't find the scenario where the owners of a slave market might kill anyone that doesn't sell after a few days to be more cost-effective than feeding them to be all that shocking (getting rid of / removing from the shelves 'inventory' that doesn't sell is a time-honored business practice, after all), but the manner in which it occurred seems to be purely meta, to shock the players, and therefore, not so much 'morally offensive' as 'implausible, dragging people out of the game and making it feel more obviously like something the GM is doing to affect the players, and not an organic part of the game.'

Instead of the on-stage executions, a slower-dawning horror, perhaps even more horrible for its banality, would be for the party to leave the area to find a cart with some human bodies stacked on it, of elderly people or ugly people or whatever, and to hear one guard tossing a body on the cart complaining about having to get rid of the 'merchandise' that didn't sell (not complaining about the morality, just annoyed that he has to drag these bodies out and throw them on the cart). Same thing, just as evil and monstrous, but not 'staged' to specifically annoy the players (and, from a business standpoint, less likely to drive away potential customers!).


Drannor Hawksley wrote:
TL:DR Depends on your players, as long as everyone's having fun I think you're fine.

I'd say that's really what the issue boils down to. As a storyteller, you need to have a story that matches your audience's interests. If the players want something so dark that it makes Game of Thrones look like My Little Pony, go with that. If they want a lighthearted epic adventure, then give them that. The only inflexible rule of running an RPG is "make it fun."


Ashmit wrote:

*Warning*

OP's spoiler:

In the Pathfinder games I GM i[ . . . ]wonder, how far is going too far? Where do you personally draw the line in the game with adding the crudeness and vile behavior that humanity preforms on a daily occurrence? Also, is it necessary to add these things to a game? I'm talking about
[(1)]slavery,
[(2)]rape,
[(3)]murder,
[(4)]violent and gruesome deaths[ . . . .]

I just want to point out that most of the above (1 - 3) can be seen as boons to society based on the society. The Romans, venerated in history, art, and mythology almost to the same levels as the Norse, partook in (1-2) all the time, and (3) wasn't extremely uncommon, but when (3) happened it was probably done by means of (4) because someone made someone very angry.

(1) and (2) are still commonplace in the world right now, and the societies who partake in such actions see them as boons to their society, not as horrible things that only terrible people do. Furthermore, as wealth inequality skyrockets it becomes evident that (1) being done in a different way when people are having to work 60-80-100 hours a week to make ends meet. We are sitting at needing around 40 to be single, 80 to have a family, and as inflation rises this will probably raise to 100 hours a week eventually until it becomes unable to sustain itself.

Many cultures (I am assuming you are either European or North American) tend to frown on (1), so this is where your viewpoint is coming from.

However, keep in mind that Pathfinder isn't set in modern times, it is set in, as far as I can tell, round the 15 hundreds since guns are just becoming available and people are still running around in full plate.

Based on that (1) is fully acceptable in many parts of Europe, (2) is frowned upon, and (3 and 4) is outright illegal and will get you killed.

However, Pathfinder isn't Europe, Pathfinder is Pathfinder; Pathfinder is a setting; Pathfinder is the rough story that you want to tell.
So now we must come down to genre, and what story your setting is trying to tell.

Lets face it, Villains ~NEED~ to be badasses, a badbutt is just a joke that is ultimately harmless even if all of his plans come fruition. A Badass, on the other hand, changes things, be it a settlement, a county, a state, a country, an international alliance, the world, or even the universe, or even the mutliverse.

So, back to genre, I LOVE telling stories that are in Dark Fantasy. I need to show that this world, as idealized as it is in many way, is dirty. The clean exterior holds a tainted interior that is out of its ability to control.
I regularly include (1) and (3) and (4), though I tend to exclude (2) unless it is important. I've had it happen to PCs, or important NPCs that the PCs care about, but whenever it does come up it is because the villain who is doing it is depraved as all hell. He wants to send them a message, he wants to show them that he doesn't even view them as a threat after they just tried to kill him and he left them stabilized at negative HP.

Then again, that is considering the Villain is evil and wants to do evil. My villains have a tendency to be goal oriented, and that goal has bed, very bad, implications.
A powerful necromancer is already a problem, but when he is building a possessed warship that is self aware, self healing, can teleport, and seeks to draw people into it then we have a problem.

Also, just to point this out, all mindless undead and constructs are technically under the umbrella of (1), but they just do not realize it. They obey because they must, they do not know another option. This is what makes necromancy, among other things, inherently evil.

In Pathfinder (1) is considered to be inherently evil, mostly because it takes advantage of others for the exclusive gain of 1 or a few.
Remember:
Good = Wants to help make the world a better place.
Neutral = Wants to help self, but not at the extortion of others (Generally goes for win-win situations)
Evil = Wants to help self at the extortion of others because this minimizes the personal threat and personal resources required for success.

Long story short:
It is too far when . . .
. . . it is the entire focus of the story.
. . . the players don't want to continue playing because they are getting overwhelmed.
. . . the players are disgusted beyond just wanting to kill the villain, but instead want to kill everyone in the area to "purge" it of villainy because there isn't anything redeemable there.

If your players are walking around in the criminal underworld then they are going to see what criminals do. They are going to see what the scum of the society is up to, and if the society is already evil then no stretch of depravity is impossible.

But--on a side note:
You CAN have (1) be used in a manner that isn't extremely distasteful. An "employee" at a brothel might be resentful of his job, even if he is very good at pleasing his customers, but at the same time he might realize that he only has one or two skills that do not involve his profession. He doesn't want the brothel to be burned to the ground by adventurers who want to give him his "freedom" if freedom means he is on the streets, poor, and forced to beg for money as everyone probably just knows him as "the whore." If the adventurers are going to take him with them, however, then that is a different story, they become his liberators from his imprisonment and he is likely to be loyal to them unless they start trying to get him to do certain . . . things . . . that he is very good at when he doesn't want to do them.


After having played some in the Warhammer 40K setting (Dark Heresy), I have gotten a deep appreciation that horror must needs be a thing of balance. Not to put too fine a point to it, there is NOTHING positive in that setting. The Empire is threatened by monstrous, evil forces. To fight these, the Empire is itself evil and monstrous, with an enslaved population. That is all there is. So... why bother? This is what I have felt when I played it. Sure, there is ample opportunity for horror, but it lacks anything emotional.

One old thread here deals with "why don't the heroes just burn Korvosa when it's full of s$$*?" The answer, from several posters, was "If that's how they feel, you must have missed the following NPCs that are good people". You can't dump grimderp on people and expect an emotional reaction. Insidiously, showing many facets of something, some of which are good and likable, makes the darkness even darker, by contrast. Regarding the black market, something like someone finding a cheap potion to heal their disease could be a good thing.

I find it severely annoying that a roughly medieval fantasy world should be held to modern-day standards of morality. Good requires evil, and if that's the struggle you want to depict, then evil must mean something. Also, suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing. If you have orcs and bandits invading a village, they aren't going to knock unconscious the men fighting them, spare everyone else, in fact, not even touch anyone else, just take their valuables and then leave. Dragons leave charred remains of entire settlements. A villain wanting to make an example and intimidate people will likely do very macabre things. Executions aren't clean, nice affairs. Even "good" kingdoms will have torturers. There is widespread suffering among the poor anywhere. And yes, this includes children. What balances this is that through their work, heroes can actually make things better (unless there is a huge, massive Empire that consists only of corruption and fanaticism, grumble grumble). If everyone is fat and happy already, heroes won't be needed.


Ashmit wrote:

*Warning*

This discussion is not in anyway meant to be offensive or in any way derogatory to any race/sex, and being seemingly indifferent/uncaring to real life situations that are mentioned here. Thank you in advance for discussing these topics in an adult manner.

** spoiler omitted **...

I think this will vary by who is in the group so you should probably ask the players. If even one of them does not like it then I would not do it if I were you.


Yeah, this is a question I often ask myself. I run a few horror games as well, where these things come up as even more of an issue.

All of my group are adults and most of us have gamed together for quite a few years. We've got a fairly clear idea of where everyone's limits lie and while we sometimes step a little outside of the comfort zone, we try to always avoid causing real distress.

We've had some pretty dark themes come up. I ran a world of darkness innocents game (where the PCs play children in an urban fantasy version of our modern world), in which we dealt with some of the characters losing parents. I felt so worried that I'd gone to far, but when I talked with everyone after the game they were all glad with how it turned out and thought that it was respectfully handled.

We haven't really had issues yet, but that's because we've been careful with how we've handled it.


I don't think you went over the top on this one. I've played with the same group for almost 10 years now, and we've been in post-apo games, where we were forced to eat our own partymembers legs to the amusement of the cannibal captors.

Of course it depends a lot on the participants. One of our players recently got a daughter, and it has been an unsaid agreement that explicit vile things done to children is off the table, but beside that, we pretty much goes with it.

Its important to stress the fact that the vile actions need to have some kind of meaning. You shouldn't just go "nasty" because you can. If it's used to convey some kind of important feel in the campaign, then great, but if you just want to describe horrible things, then maybe its not that important.

I, as a player, enjoy these truly horrific aspects of life, because for me RPG is about being in situations that you wont ever encounter in your real life. RPG gives you the opportunity to decide how your character would do in these situations, and then reflect on what other choice you as a person would have taken.


The group I play with now is fairly lighthearted, and bad things are usually not explicit and usually taken as jokes. There were torture-jokes during Second Darkness and they still tease one player about a PC of his back in 3.5 who refused to buy an anklet of translocation despite being grappled and "raped" to death by monkey demons twice.

Interestingly enough, one of the events that really bothered some people happened recently while I was DMing a game with (evil or neutral) goblin PCs. They were sneaking around, raiding a farm, and accidentally confronted a couple kids. I left it pretty open about what they could do, but although the players talked a little about diplomatic options, one PC ran in and attacked and then they all joined in the murder. The players felt really bad about it afterwards, so I'm planning to adjust the "evil" in the game to be a little more cosmetic. (If they decide to stab themselves in the feels again, I will try not to twist the knife, even if I am tempted by the dramatic.)


Ashmit wrote:

*Warning*

This discussion is not in anyway meant to be offensive or in any way derogatory to any race/sex, and being seemingly indifferent/uncaring to real life situations that are mentioned here. Thank you in advance for discussing these topics in an adult manner.

.

We have had some adult situations in our games as well as some pretty intense moments - the most being during the Wormwood Mutiny when one of our female players was raped. Now its never role-played in explicit detail, the 'good' sex nor the bad and its never gratuitous or without purpose germaine to the story. As well, we're a group of adult players who are very open with what we find acceptable to us at the table and what isn't. I was running the SnS game (I'm a woman) and if I had not felt that the player of the character raped (also a woman) wouldn't have been 100% alright with that scenario, I never would have considered it. As it happened, it and the actions taken after in revenge were transformative for the character and player both and went a long, long way towards defining the direction the game went. The other female player and two female NPC's colluded to murder the perpetrator (Scourge) and pulled it off amazingly - I still get chills thinking about Sandara whispering in the pirate's ear exactly what Besmara was going to do to him as he bled out... The male players went from seeing the new girl as an add-on to revering her and that moment and its aftermath is still talked about.

We've had other adult scenarios as well. The characters we made for Reign of Winter (on hold for a while with Wrath of the Righteous out now) were three sisters (all members of a witch's coven) who shared a single husband (barbarian). Rise of the Runelords as written had plenty of gruesome moments, especially in the first two books and in Wrath there's going to have to be some moments which are suitably 'demonic' to keep the theme and feel of the campaign alive. By and large though, while we take our gaming seriously, it tends to have a lot more light-hearted and even comedic moments than that sort of drama... we try for a Game of Thrones 'feel' but often fall short simply due to being doofuses of the highest order.

As always, the answer to the question how far is too far resides within the shared opinions and maturity level of the group. To this end consideration and communication are paramount. I'll never forget walking out of the movie Rob Roy marvelling to my girlfriend over how amazing the rape scene with Jessica Lange was, how powerful it had been and how brilliantly performed... until I discovered that she (my girlfriend) had once been raped and that scene for her had been anything but entertainment. It taught me a valuable lesson that I try to carry over into my gaming.


In our games things are fairly tame in regards to sexual stuff and whenever children are involved (basically its only hinted like: "The whole village has been slaughtered" and not "You see dead children lying around").

So yeah... basically like a Hollywood movie.


Wow, just...wow. I imply darkness but rarely actually show it off. Last game the PCs met a dying man in a cell that was at the back of a tortrure room. His skin had been flayed. I didn't describe the wounds, nor the graphic nature of the chamber. After finding him they got grim news - the kobolds are using the skin collected as vellum. That session concluded with the party being sheltered in the dungeon by a kobold "courtesan" in her brothel where it was implied that one of the PCs and one of the NPCs "didn't get much sleep."

However I don't know that I actually unleash real darkness on my players. My plan with the vellum using kobolds is

Spoiler:
There's a slaver ring called the Chain and Sickle operating out of the character's main city. They cruise the poorer neighborhoods, prisons, and cris-cross the countryside offering to either pay money or perform a service for the next of kin if folks will give themselves to them. The Chain and Sickle then deliver these slaves to the Scritedra (the scroll-writing office of the kobolds in the dungeon). These transactions help maintain a tenative peace between these kobolds and the city of Ravenhurst. There's an NPC who's going to uncover this on her crusade for vengeance and rope the party into it with her.

I guess if I'm really honest, I don't think I have the stomach for true darkness in my own games. I can allude to it, but in RL I have a wife, kids, and am very close to family and friends; my stomach churns when I think about RL horrors like crimes involving children, genocide, graphic murder and such. Silence of the Lambs in my opinion is still one of the most horrific horror movies ever made IMO.

Kudos to those of you that can actually pull it off. I just can't get that dark.


Let's see... darkest moments in my career as a GM...

1. The demons who ritually torture and mutilate their victims, usually dwarves. The party twice came upon the scene of the ritual torture/mutilation and I described it in pretty stark terms, including the disemboweling involved.

2. The torture room in the kobold lair with the dead prisoner who had been flayed alive.

3. The critters that paralyzed their victims to keep them alive for their larvae to feed on.

What I have not really explored in my games beyond some cursory descriptions intended to set a tone are the following:

Rape
Cannibalism
Slavery (it exists, but it is pretty rare and I don't get graphic about it).
Deviance (other than the ritual torture described above).

I mostly just don't see the point to putting my players through the discomfort of dealing with such things. I know a lot of GMs greatly enjoy that sort of thing and think it makes their games "grittier" or something. I just think it doesn't match my groups preferences. I've PLAYED in games that do that sort of thing and for the most part it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Mark Hoover wrote:

Wow, just...wow. I imply darkness but rarely actually show it off. Last game the PCs met a dying man in a cell that was at the back of a tortrure room. His skin had been flayed. I didn't describe the wounds, nor the graphic nature of the chamber. After finding him they got grim news - the kobolds are using the skin collected as vellum. That session concluded with the party being sheltered in the dungeon by a kobold "courtesan" in her brothel where it was implied that one of the PCs and one of the NPCs "didn't get much sleep."

However I don't know that I actually unleash real darkness on my players. My plan with the vellum using kobolds is
** spoiler omitted **

I guess if I'm really honest, I don't think I have the stomach for true darkness in my own games. I can allude to it, but in RL I have a wife, kids, and am very close to family and friends; my stomach churns when I think about RL horrors like crimes involving children, genocide, graphic murder and such. Silence of the Lambs in my opinion is still one of the most horrific horror movies ever made IMO.

Kudos to those of you that can actually pull it off. I just can't get that dark.

I also have a wife and it too makes my stomach knot and infuriates me when I think of anything happening to her. Because those things are terrible god awful things that no one should ever commit.

But I talked to my players, and implemented it because of what I said. For most people these are vile things that should be stopped. Its a goal with heavy emotion behind it.

Also, I never do graphic descriptions of these events. Except deaths at times.


Set wrote:

I'll use dark or bleak if it fits the theme (my Freeport game had the PCs bust up a child-slavery ring, for instance), but the example sounds kind of weird to me, because you've got people who are, in theory, kind of greedy (willing to sell people for cash) and selfish (willing to buy people for cash), who are killing their hard-won slaves *to mess with other people's heads.*

That doesn't really make a lick of sense, to me.

Evil 'for the lulz' may exist, but it isn't the sort of evil that could run a slave market or, indeed, any sort of business venture. Running a business, one needs to turn a profit, not petulantly destroy your own wares to spite potential customers or annoy individuals who find your business practices objectionable. I go to Home Goods, and there's not a dude in front of me in the aisle, "Quick, buy this lamp or Imma smash it!" <Smash!> "Too late! Quick, buy this carpet before I set it on fire!" Similarly, I walk into a butcher's shop, and I don't expect to see owner shoving all the bacon into his mouth in an attempt to offend any potential vegetarians, Jews or Moslems in the place.

And if there is, I know that I've wandered into a universe that functions on Joker-logic...

I don't find the scenario where the owners of a slave market might kill anyone that doesn't sell after a few days to be more cost-effective than feeding them to be all that shocking (getting rid of / removing from the shelves 'inventory' that doesn't sell is a time-honored business practice, after all), but the manner in which it occurred seems to be purely meta, to shock the players, and therefore, not so much 'morally offensive' as 'implausible, dragging people out of the game and making it feel more obviously like something the GM is doing to affect the players, and not an organic part of the game.'

Instead of the on-stage executions, a slower-dawning horror, perhaps even more horrible for its banality, would be for the party to leave the area to find a cart with some human bodies stacked on it, of...

While I understand what you're saying. Human lives are, at least in my opinion, more valuable then lamps or carpets or even bacon. Of course you're not going to buy those things from a salesman who is smashing or destroying his own wares. Some guy on the corner going "Get 'em while they last!" As he's smashing his own watermelons on he side of the street. "They won't last long!" *Smash*

But with human/humanoid lives it a bit more like a ransom. Pushinh buyers to buy these people or watch them die in front of them. While some people might not care or even enjoy such a thing because they're twisted. Most, even some evil character will see it as a waste or just distasteful.

It the same as if you walked into a room with people in it and a guy told you to give him money or they all die. Would you? I believe most people would.

Also, these auctions were not public knowledge and there is an abundance of slaves that have been taken throughout the continent. Same as slavery and sex slaves in todays world. Do you think low end "merchandise" is cared for? Or do they see this "merchandise" as numbers or even cattle.

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