The other week I ran a Sunday Chin Scratcher about the 'tastefulness' of using current, or recent, real world events in your contemporary roleplaying campaigns.
I guess I was being too obtuse, as I was referring to heinous crimes like the Charlie Hebdo murders, the attacks in Australia and Canada, kidnappings, beheadings etc that populate the 24-hour news cycle.
I was trying not to politicise what I thought would be a discussion of taste (and respect) in gaming, but my mistake was clearly not namechecking these events directly. I also wanted to leave the door open for people to mention anything along those lines that they have considered either gameworthy or totally off-the-table and not feel bound by the examples I cited.
Instead, of the people who replied to the topic in various online fora, the subject of natural disasters came up quite frequently.
Justice Carmon, on the Villains & Vigilantes page on Facebook, said: "I like to use the natural disasters and grant a more sinister plot behind them ... to allow the PCs to scratch the emotional itch of 'what they would do if they could' stuff."
However, he did express reservations about using real people in games: "I avoid personalities and famous people because I am too afraid of a slant. The one time I used an iconic figure or two, I found out that one p layer was offended that I'd altered the political outlook of the NPC to fit my classic view of them.
"I was not utterly wrong - the story had such gravitas that the figure may indeed have decided along the lines I stated, but it warned me right then to not assume and be more accurate."
Over on Google+, Lysander Propolis wrote: "It's clearly a question of the players involved, whether it comes out as a wish-fulfillment of their heroes preventing/reversing these events in their Earth, or becomes and unfortunate trigger for real anxiety.
"I like the 'similar Earth with different explanations for why things happen' campaign but would probably avoid running games with, say, school shootings.
"But I suppose if you're running a very dark campaign that's the first place you'd go, and more power to you if the players rejoice in saving the day, or have great roleplaying in their failure.
"Always worth asking the players first unless you've already known them well for a long time."
The belief that it's always best to sound out your players before embarking on a storyline with a potentially sensitive subject was echoed by Miller Ramos.
He also stressed the point that if you are looking to run an adventure based on a real world event, then you have to make sure your research is spot on before-hand.
Miller wrote: "If anything, it'd be like speculative history playing out in the now and that could be fun. The main logistical hurdle I can see in such an implementation, though, is keeping track of where things branched off differently in your world versus what's happened in the real world. If, ultimately, it's a situation that doesn't have long-lasting effects on the real world/campaign world, you can probably have a lot of freedom.
"Additionally, if it's something that's well-documented, you may run into a situation wherein your players may know more about the world details than you. if you're not that resourceful or flexible a GM, this could potentially compromise your game."
The takeaway from this exercise is:
- If you think your adventure idea might be controversial, sound out the players ahead of time to ensure none will be offended;
- Do your research to ensure you are presenting your scenario in an honest and accurate fashion.
- Don't pussyfoot around - ask the question direct. If you're dealing with a controversial subject, ask the controversial question.