The Dungeon Master’s Guide for fifth edition D&D gives a slew of great advice for tackling the role of the Dungeon Master. Being a Dungeon Master means making quick decisions and anticipating the actions of your players at the table, but it also means thinking up vast worlds and creating adventures for your players to overcome. After your players have played roleplaying games for a while, adventures can become formulaic in this manner: hear about a problem, have an offer of reward, fight minions, search for clues, fight the boss, get the reward. The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers moral quandaries that will present your players with difficult choices and create memorable adventures that are different from the norm.
On page 79 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, there’s a short section on moral quandaries, which as the book describes, is “a problem of conscience for which the adventures must make a single choice—but never a simple one.” The section details five moral quandaries: the ally quandary, the friend quandary, the honor quandary, the rescue quandary, and the respect quandary. Each of these quandaries are given a paragraph of description and an example of how you can use them in your game. However, not all quandaries must be moral in nature, and below are several more quandaries to keep your characters and players engaged in your game.
Natural Quandary. The natural world should constantly force characters to make decisions that affect them and the adventure they’re playing in. When the orcs attack during the worst blizzard in forty years and kidnap the prince, do the characters brave the frigid night and swirling winds to save him? The consequences of this choice could be far reaching: if they do not face the storm, the prince could be sacrificed that very night in a foul ritual. On the other hand, if they do charge headlong into the storm, they may become separated from each other due to obscuring snow and risk frostbite or worse from the chilling winds.
Societal Quandary. Players’ characters are usually heroes who use their supernatural powers for the betterment of others, but what happens when a society the characters need to enter do not see it that way? When the characters go into a city where the open casting of magic means the possibility of a death sentence at the hands of a city judge, do they flaunt the law or work within it? How about when they or innocents are attacked in the city streets? What if the city’s laws dictate that elves are denied access the city? Do your players’ elves stay outside the city while the rest of the party goes in or does the party figure out another way to solve whatever problem has led them to the city gates?
Prophetic Quandary. A staple of the fantasy genre is the prophecy. If the characters know of a prophecy, what happens when the characters are given a choice that could make the prophecy come true or fly in the face of it? When it is prophesied that the Heroes of Dragonhold will defeat the great green beast (their green dragon foe) on a certain night in a certain place—for which the character have been meticulously planning—but then that night a great calamity happens that demands the characters’ presence, what do they do? Do they stay in line with the prophecy or do they chart a new course? In the end, maybe the details on the prophecy were not as they thought and the foretelling could still happen, despite the fact that they made different choices. That’s up to you, the Dungeon Master.
Temporal Quandary. The age-old problem of the tortoise and the hare—as the cultists prepare their foul ritual to sacrifice the heir, the characters race toward the defiled temple to stop the cultists. The question is this: how fast do they push their horses through the putrid bog? Pushing the horses will get them to the temple with enough time to stop the ritual, but a failed Animal Handling check could cost them time as the horses are bogged down in the mud.
The above quandaries are just a few examples of complications that you can add to your adventures. Ultimately these choices and the players’ reactions to them is what makes tabletop roleplaying games so engaging.