In order to clarify. There are always factions in my games with a variety of ideologies ranging from political ideologies (such as monarchy or oligarchy or theocracy) to philosophical ideologies (such as pacifism, xenophilia/xenophobia). My problem is that, like every human being, I have my own biases, and they may occasionally leak into the game from time to time.

To give an example from my current situation, my group is about to meet with a kobold tribe, which has been split into two factions in the absence of the dragon they served. One faction supports the chieftain and believes that the dragon considered them to be lacking in power, and that if they go to wage war against other tribes, then they will prove themselves to their dragon, which will return. The other faction supports the chieftain's son and believes that the dragon either permanently abandoned them or died. So they need to drop the pretense of superiority and start planning for the future. (PS: My opinion here is probably obvious.)

Now I don't want to portray the first factions as "people who are stuck in the past waiting for someone that will never come back" as I feel that carries an anti-religion rhetoric, but I don't know what kind of techniques I can use in order to add nuance to the first faction.

So my question is that what kind of techniques are there that can be used to add nuance and legitimacy to in game ideologies that you personally disagree with?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems either unanswerably broad (different techniques work for different ideologies and listing all possible ideologies and how to balance them is infeasible) or unclear. I'm voting to put this question on hold until it is narrowed or clarified. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Sep 1, 2022 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm inclined to agree that this is probably not a good question for this site and should probably be closed. This question (which was also closed) may be relevant though: How can I avoid straw manning any belief I am against in my game? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2022 at 23:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman good spot - that seems to be a duplicate of this question honestly. While not conclusively a point, the answer I just wrote is very similar to your top answer there. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Sep 1, 2022 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question? How can I avoid straw manning any belief I am against in my game? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Sep 1, 2022 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ That was my question two years ago. I forgot it existed. >.> \$\endgroup\$ Sep 1, 2022 at 23:49

4 Answers 4


Understand NPC's worldview

It's not a flashy answer, but really it boils down to understanding the worldview of your NPCs - which is basically the same as understanding the worldview of others today or historically. Look for modern or historical analogues, and read about them from their perspective - it's rare for outsiders to ever understand insiders as much as the insiders themselves. I have a monotheistic worldview, but in order to better under the default polytheism of my setting (Golarion in Pathfinder), I've done quite a bit of reading historically how polytheistic religions and cultures worked.

Don't Make One-Dimensional NPCs

People are quite complicated, and will believe things for a variety of reasons. But make the Kobold chieftain really distraught about his son's rebellion, and torn between preserving his kingdom or saving his son (King David and his son Absalom's rebellion is a good example of this). Make the son torn about the veracity of his claims, or perhaps with a personal grudge and family of his own to protect. One-dimensional people don't exist in real life - if you want avoid bias, give even NPCs whose philosophies you disagree with robust and complex lives. I've done this for a villain in my game who leads a devilish empire, of which his nephew (one of the PCs) is a wanted criminal who should justly get the death penalty, but also his only living relative. It's provided a lot of great interaction, as the PC is actively working against him but neither want to kill each other.


There is a variety of storytelling and writing techniques that work for this.

I don't have a resource on hand that lists them though. It ranges from creating a convincing argument to yourself for the character's point of view so you are more sympathetic to them, to intentionally using a more neutral voice when describing both sides of the argument (think like a newsreader) with more 'seem to be' etc so it shifts to the player receiving this information and not you giving them extra metainformation from your tone.

However what I like to do is simply tilt things towards whichever side I disagree with. In the above scenario, perhaps the dragon left after the kobolds relied on it too much, always talked about how it liked strong, warlike people, was an evil dragon that would think warmongering was fine, and all the people who actually knew the dragon/cared for it/talked to it are adamant (and in agreement) as to why it left. So there's strong evidence for the 'clinging to the past' people actually having some plausibility, and not so strong evidence for the 'preparing for the future' people as they don't actually have any proof the dragon is permanently gone.

That should allow you to create more ambiguity in the 'who is right' sort of situation so your players can have some fun trying to work it out and making a decision as to who to support.

In general when telling stories, the discovery of additional parts of information should be part of the story, not apparent at first glance. If you think one side is wrong, that will remove a lot of fun from the story for your audience (the players). As you are creating this world from scratch though, you can just make one side 'more right' until it's more balanced and you can more easily create a situation where it is not obvious who is right or wrong until additional information comes to light (such as finding the dead dragon's body with a kobold dagger buried in its heart, say) and adds either further mystery or a solution/outcome to the situation.


I have tried, with varied success, to do this kind of thing in every game I've run for the past twenty-plus years. It's not easy, and it tends to require a big sprawling game and a consistent vision on the part of the GM. And unfortunately I can't say what the player experience of this is because for miscellaneous reasons I haven't gotten a lot of feedback on it.

Complex, Non-Absolute Issues

The first thing I find helpful here, is to look at different sides or angles of large, complex, non-absolute issues. Your kobold example is maybe not the best example of that because the reality in-game is settled before the players ever arrive on screen: That dragon is either dead or permanently gone (the kid is right) or is waiting for or open to the kobolds reforging themselves in the blood of their enemies (the chief is right.)

That by itself is not a moral or ideological example, it's just a thing that's objectively true or false.

You generally want something complicated that doesn't have an objectively true or false answer. A huge, cosmic example might be fate vs free will (maybe phrased as law vs chaos?) A smaller, more political, but still large example might be subjugation of (some or all) of the wilderness and advanced trade links vs a more defensive, isolationist posture that leaves the wilderness free.

These are big questions that reasonable people can disagree on. These are big questions that a single person can sometimes disagree with themselves about. And of course, they are big questions that can attract violent people to either side.

Variations, Plural, On A Theme

The other big thing is that, if you restrict yourself to a small setting playing out just one local iteration of these questions, you probably can't do much about fairness. Even in grand open questions, if your village is starving, you are probably going to come down on the side of clearing some land. If the Tree King rouses himself to definitively punish that behavior, you will probably shift to some other attitude.

However, if you play out three or four thematically linked scenarios (not even one right after the other-- that can feel heavy handed) some slanted one way, some slanted the other, some just genuinely difficult situations, you can start to get to something approximating "fair" over the course of the whole campaign. You can also get to explore an issue, instead of just instantly resolving it.

To take your kobold example, if your take the broader theme to be "Embrace the new vs Loyalty to tradition" then that's a great theme. The specific situation with the kobolds still seems a little lop-sided and obvious to me personally but if this is something that just speaks to you, I have faith that you'll figure out a way to incorporate it. (What would I do? Have the tribe split between an old, static overlord and a new and dynamic one, perhaps. Now it's not a question of objectively right or wrong, it's a question of trade-offs.)


There are a lot of ways to add balance, depth and nuance to conflicting groups, but a good way I find is the following dichotomy:

Principle Vs Pragmatism

One of your factions follows a principal driven view of morality. They believe that what is right and good is determined by following principles that are important to them. For example, your traditionalist Kobolds may have previously sworn fealty to the dragon. To abandon it is to abandon a promise, that would make them liars and oath breakers. What would their society be if they cannot trust themselves to keep promises? The principal of honestly keeping promises is something that we would generally regard as as honourable and moral, so it is something we can agree with.

The reformers focus on pragmatism. They believe that what is moral and right is best determined by what brings the most people prosperity and happiness. If they stopped worrying about their former master, they could find a new dragon to protect them, or they could form alliances and trade with other tribes in ways that were previously forbidden. People's lives could genuinely be improved. What good is a tradition that will lead to bloodshed and misery?

The important part is not about which sides use which arguments. You could have pragmatic traditionalists ("If we don't display our faith to the dragon, and it comes back, then we will be roasted!") and principled reformers ("Self determination of kobolds, by kobolds, for kobolds is the only way to build a better future!"). What is important is that one side makes their main arguments from a principled standpoint, and the other makes primarily pragmatic arguments.

The reason why structuring a conflict this way works is that the two sides are not just making different points, they are making two entirely different kinds of argument. If you put representatives of these factions in a room and try to reach an agreement, it won't work, because they will talk past each other. They have fundamentally different philosophical positions in terms of morality, and thus will be irreconcilable. It means that players have to weigh up entirely different kinds of argument, rather than comparing different arguments along the same spectrum, which a GM's own biases may lead in an obvious direction.


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