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For reference, this question is about a game via voice chat, with people from all around the globe (but most are from the US), and we are playing D&D 5e in a homebrew setting. I don't know the other players nor the DM personally outside of those games but the game is, overall, pretty good.

I started to notice a trend. The setting is supposed to be high fantasy, but it is also deeply influenced by US culture, in some ways that are, I think, problematic. For example, in this universe, all NPCs consider taxes as theft, defend unironically the trickle down theory, and consider that "it isn't slavery if you signed a contract for it". I don't have an issue with some NPCs having those political opinions, but I have an issue with fact that the world considers those things as normal.

I don't want to have a political debate with this DM: I think our cultures are too different to find a common ground anyway, but I would be very satisfied if those issues wouldn't come up at all.

In my current situation, I have a PC who wants to become a Darksmith (those are basically magical blacksmith), and for this he has to join a guild. To join, he is told that he has to sign a contract that basically forces him to work under the authority of a powerful evil wizard, with details that I see as absurd loopholes in their advantage, but that the DM finds perfectly normal for such a contract. As it stands, my PC can't accept those terms, but this is the only way in universe to get to that Darksmith path. I wouldn't have minded it if the abusive functioning of this guild was part of their identity, but it isn't: from what I read between the lines, all the guilds of the setting operate in more or less the same way and everybody thinks this is normal.

I haven't talked yet with the other players about this: as I said I don't know them personally and my character joining the guild is a kind of mini-solo-adventure, so I don't know how I would explain it to them.

What can I do to fix the situation? I am asking for "good subjective" kind of answers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is (or at least was) at least one official D&D world/campaign that featured real slavery, with the PCs escaping as one of the first adventures. Even if the campaign world features something, it does not neccessarily mean the DM is a fan of the concept or their real world political views align. Would you be okay with the campaign, if they were a glowing socialist IRL and build this world so your fantasy can be to break the shakles of evil capitalism and it's devious exploitative contracts? \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Jan 5, 2023 at 18:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt probably \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2023 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dan B I'm sorry you deleted your answer before I had a chance to upvote it. It is essentially the same answer I would have left. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 5, 2023 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi HNQ visitors! I would just like to remind you that comments are not for answering the question. If you have advice to solve the problem, please put it in an answer below along with the support to back it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ In a previous, now deleted, comment you alluded to thinking that your DM shared the political opinions of that in the world, and that is the problem. Could you clarify in the question if that is the case? Because I find that would be an important part of an answer. An answer that does not cover your root issue will not lead to a solution. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Jan 7, 2023 at 7:46

9 Answers 9

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You're really asking (and overtly so) two questions: How do you politely address this issue, and how do you fix this issue.

Address The Question: "Are You Perhaps Problematizing These Issues?"

Your phrasing may obviously vary, but that's what several other answers are getting to when they talk about dystopias, etc-- the idea that the GM may be incorporating unpleasant things ('problems') in the background in order to give the PCs something to oppose.

If I included slavery in a game, for instance, it would be with the full expectation that the players would oppose it. With the players I select for in my games, I don't think I could prevent them from going full Guardians of the Flame and opposing it to the extent of everything else.

I don't think there's really a surefire gentle and polite way to address this (I will explain why, shortly) but the best I have is just that: "Are our characters supposed to agree with all this? Or is this maybe something we can (eventually) effectively oppose?"

(You are, of course, not required to suddenly like the campaign even if this is a problematization. If it does not work for you, it does not work for you. But it might provide enough context for you to find enjoyment.)

Fix The Problem: You Maybe Probably Can't.

But here's the thing: From your descriptions, I don't think this is a problematization, not really. Basically, I trust your judgment because you're closer to the situation than me or anyone else here.

If it is a problematization, then in theory there is no problem, or at least, you have a different problem.

But if not, then what you are probably dealing with is the GM unconsciously or uncritically injecting their political beliefs, their notions of justice and fairness, maybe even a whole ideology into the game. That's why I don't think there's a surefire way to even address this painlessly. If this is the situation you're in, even gentle criticism is going to rub pretty raw-- it's hard to get past someone instinctively and un-ironically interpreting what you intend to be in-game heroes as villains, and vice-versa.

And if this is the situation you're in, what exactly is the solution going to be? Potentially a very rapid overhaul of the game on the GM's part, or you both coming to the conclusion that you are not well-matched to this game. It's not impossible that a rapid overhaul might happen, but it's not entirely likely.

I will hasten to make a related point:

Regardless what you or I think of it, I do not think this is unique to trickle-down economics. I can easily imagine many points on the modern ideological canvass that will be uncomfortable for people toward the center, and outright chafe for people at opposite points. I've even accidentally done a similar thing myself at least once. (In my defense, it was almost 35 years ago.) Even though I recognized I was in the wrong, it was some non-trivial effort, the recovery was not easy-- I had de-emphasize a lot of things with no ready replacement at hand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer shows a very good understanding of the issue. After I talked with them (trying to follow a bit of all the other advice), I understood that indeed some of the issues I was uncomfortable with were intended by the DM to be opposed. Still, not all of them were: there are some that are just part of DM's ideology. I was able to have a peaceful discussion where they agreed to avoid those topics. I don't think it will be perfect because I don't think they really understood what was the issue, but I don't think I could get better than that. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2023 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm glad this helped you toward a successful resolution. Thanks for letting me know! \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jan 11, 2023 at 3:38
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Just tell them politely and be okay with the fact that this might not be the table for you.

Ask the DM for a private conversation at their convenience, and just tell them that some of the setting elements make you uncomfortable. It is okay for you to be uncomfortable with certain elements of the fiction - you're not wrong for having feelings and opinions. However, from what I can glean from your question, the DM hasn't really done anything wrong and does not seem to have any ill intent. They just made a world with elements that make you uncomfortable. None of the things you describe in the question are things I have thought to treat as "approval only mode"; that is, there are certain elements that I would never bring to the table without discussing with and getting approval from all the players at the table first. This would include things like descriptive torture, certain kinds of horror, most sexual content, basically anything bad happening to kids, and some others - you get the idea. But what you describe, an unfortunately realistic dystopian parallel to things happening in our world, isn't something I would have thought to include on my "off-limits unless approved" list. I will now, so thanks for this question, but I've never thought to include it, so it seems understandable that your DM wouldn't either.

There may be something to be said about content vs. execution, and this may be where the two of you can find some compromise. I've have certainly seen and experienced things where I was generally okay with the content being a part of the game, but the delivery or execution was tacky, or even harmful. So you might consider as part of your discussion something like "the way this particular element of the setting is presented makes me uncomfortable, can we find a different way to engage with it as players?" This approach says "This made me uncomfortable, but we may be able to find a way to approach it without deleting it from the world". To be clear, you do not have to compromise in this way if you don't want to, and you don't have to have a reason. But if you think your problem with a particular issue was more that it was mishandled, there may be room to compromise if you think there would be a way for your to engage with the content without feeling uncomfortable.

That said, you may just have to be okay with this not being the game for you. It is entirely valid for you to feel uncomfortable with these things, but it is also valid for them to want to build a world including these elements. You just need to discuss it together to decide if you can meet in the middle, or determine that you each just want something different out of the game. Either one is okay. Just be respectful, whatever happens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not quite the same as "some setting elements make OP uncomfortable". "Content vs. execution" is closer, but it seems like the crux of the problem is not essence of the political views of the DMNPCs, but the fact that they are represented as universal. As OP says "I don't have an issue with some NPCs having those political opinions, but I have an issue with fact that the world considers those things as normal." OP is not reacting to the fact that these elements are presented, but that they are so universal and monolithic that effectively they cannot play their character concept. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 5, 2023 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "This made me uncomfortable", maybe it's said too much, but its so important to focus on how something makes you feel as opposed to appealing to ethics. How you feel is more persuasive and prevents the other person losing face if they concede. \$\endgroup\$
    – Clumsy cat
    Jan 6, 2023 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ "an unfortunately realistic dystopian parallel to things happening in our world" - let this lurker who hasn't played a tabletop since his teens, post a drive by comment, I still invite you to consider. How many players treat RPGs as an escape? Something to, for a moment, be free of the drudgery of real life? For those kinds people something that reminds them of reality is absolutely an uncomfortable game. \$\endgroup\$
    – jaskij
    Jan 6, 2023 at 14:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jaskij Yes, I understand that. But it's also okay if that isn't the sort of game others are interested in playing. It is important for everyone to agree what sort of game we are playing, and we can't force other people to play a game they don't want to. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2023 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or to put it another way: Everyone wants some issue in the setting—a Problem if you will—or there isn’t anything to play for. But there’s three kinds of Problem: the ones you want to face in the game; the ones you want to play a game to escape from; and the ones you thought weren’t a Problem, but someone else feels differently. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 7, 2023 at 12:24
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Your DM is creating a world that doesn't sound fun for you to play in once you start inspecting it. You're looking for a fantasy world to escape into, not one that is a grim reminder of how bleak our real one is at times.

This is a human relations problem and not really a roleplaying game problem. There's only one way to solve a problem like this: communicate that there is an issue in a tactful way and see if there is a change in behavior.

Have a conversation with your DM stating that you know he's building a world he wants, but some of the elements are starting to become barriers to enjoyment. Let him know some of the elements you'd like to start finding: rebellion against the system, non-dreary senses of whimsy, towns that function in harmony. a Darksmith master who broke away from the evil wizard. That gives him an idea of what he could create to throw at you if the story lends itself to it.

Ultimately, your GM will either be receptive to your feedback and adjust the setting, or he won't. If he doesn't, you'll have to choose if you derive enough enjoyment from the game to continue attending it.

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Ask the DM about whether this is simply historical accuracy

Basically everything you describe is historically accurate in a medieval setting.

There was no such thing as public services. Some local lords used the taxes they collected for things which would benefit their people, such as building bridges. Others didn't. And the king imposed taxes to fund their latest war. Taxes were genuinely seen as the next thing to theft, and tax collectors always had to be guarded.

Some lords put their money into building projects - castles and houses, or (for those worried about their souls) churches and cathedrals. These building projects genuinely did provide work for the town. No-one would have known the phrase "trickle-down economics", but they would have known about the new cathedral giving them jobs.

At the lower end of society too, indentured work was commonplace. And there was a definite distinction between indentured workers who could leave at the end of a contract and serfs who could not; and even there, serfs (who had some rights, at least in theory) were distinct from slaves (who were merely property).

And then there's guilds. Historically, training with a master was not only indentured work, but you (or your family) even had to pay for the privilege. In a society where most people are dirt poor, this was a rare opportunity for people to get out of the dirt. And not all masters were good people.

You may consider this a dystopian setting. In fact it's difficult to be more dystopian than medieval Europe genuinely was. This is a society where every town had severed heads preserved in tar hung over their gates, kids were taken to public executions for entertainment, and the rich were always above the law.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Historically, tax collectors took their salary from the difference between what they collected and what they were required to pass up the chain. Corruption was the norm. \$\endgroup\$
    – ValhallaGH
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ (1/2) All the things in the campaign may be historically accurate to some degree, but what is not accurate is the DM's position that these practices are both universal and universally agreed upon. In the RL Middle Ages, the church was constantly at war with heretics, and even among the faithful regularly organized "Disputations" between opposing views. Bathilde outlawed slavery in the Merovingian Empire, but only of other Christians. William of Ockham's importance as a philosopher was as the leader of a dissident movement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 10, 2023 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ (2/2) @AnneAunyme would like their character to 'believe differently' and the DM is saying that no one in the world will agree with them. That is not historically accurate (and it's bad world building). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 10, 2023 at 22:11
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Something to keep in mind here--this may not be the DM's political leaning. This could be a dystopian setting, perhaps even something where the PCs will eventually upset the current order.

I would talk to him before categorically rejecting this campaign.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a GM and socialist myself, I could definitely see myself running this type of setting, with the BBEG having "won" and shaped society along his Lawful Evil morals. The whole "indenturing yourself to an evil wizard" seems to hint in this direction. As a player, I'd probably consider it funny enough to go all-in with my character, and try to out-capitalist the capitalists. \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Jan 9, 2023 at 16:50
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Talk with the DM respectfully and be prepared to let go

Your options are simple: respectfully talk with them, best in a one-on-one session, and recognize it is their world and they did a lot of work for it. So don't criticize what they are doing, but present what you personally don't enjoy in that setup, and ask if something can be done. If they are willing to entertain your needs, great.

It however is quite possible that they are not willing to change their world to accommodate you, especially if the other players have no issue with it. In that case, you need to decide:

  1. you enjoy the game enough to ignore these aspects and continue (after all you say "the game is, overall, pretty good"), or
  2. you do not, and leave. You say that you do not even know them outside the game, so that should not have much of any other negative side-effects on friendships. Just find another game that fits better to what you are looking for.
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Since this question kind of has two questions, I'll try to answer both. My take on the questions:

  • Telling the DM "political opinions make the game uncomfortable"?

    • Common issue with a lot of society, and why many people completely avoid discussing politics anywhere except political arenas / races / votes. If its a serious issue, enough that it leads towards losing interest in the game, then it needs to be discussed. If you don't discuss it, then the DM also has no idea you have an issue.
    • Like others have noted, polite, yet not ambiguous. 'Enjoy the game, "overall, pretty good", however, this certain issue is making me uncomfortable (maybe with some adjective for "degree" of uncomfortable)' (especially since it seems to come up a lot). Want to keep playing the game, and with a slight change in setting behavior, would not really have any issues.
    • Similar to a lot of job conversations that people often do not want to have. 'Enjoy working here, the job itself is satisfying, yet the work environment has become "hostile"'
    • Further note, the DM also has some interest in not losing players, at least if they're a DM that wants to keep running a game. Not in any way implying threats, just that as an understanding from your side, most DMs have an interest in running games and having players. May not want to completely rewrite the setting, yet toning down certain aspects may be palatable.
  • How do I fix the situation? ("good subjective")

    • Tougher question, since its more vague. Talking with the DM is obviously a start. However, do agree with @Dave answer that another issue also seems to be the specific class progression you're set on, and that the class progression is effectively hidden behind an "exploitation" paywall. Has parallels to many video games that trap the player in "you must be douche to proceed." The benefit of pen-and-paper RP is you can often avoid those issues with some creativity, planning, lateral thinking, or out-of-game discussions. Another way to state this is 'the conversation tree is much larger than "do this or fail."'
    • Also at least somewhat disagree with other answers quoting medieval history. Stated by the question poser, its supposed to be a "high-fantasy" game. Caveat, often, this is just a bait-and-switch. Yet, if its supposed to be a high-fantasy game then there should also be high-fantasy alternatives available, rather than "lipstick on a pig" cosmetic changes to what is effectively medieval Europe. When there are 9th level spells, and spells for Artificer / Bard / Cleric / Druid / Paladin / Ranger / Sorcerer / Warlock / Wizard, there should be some alternatives available. Further, its "high-fantasy", this implies that there are 9th level spells available somewhere in the campaign setting. Consider how much of a change seriously considering spell availability had on the Eberron campaign setting?
    • Final thought is also taking at least a moment to ask yourself what fixing the situation looks like? Figuring out how much you need to change for it to be "ok." Whether its a single pain point, or multiple pain points, and how much is also tied up with career / class progression. This may also help you have a more productive conversation with your DM. Similar comparison to a job, if you try to negotiate with your boss, but you have no idea what you even want, you're starting from a difficult position.
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In terms of game play this part jumps out at me:

As it stands, my PC can't accept those terms, but this is the only way in universe to get to that Darksmith path.

If you're able to find satisfaction in regards to the overall tone (c.f. the other answers), you'll still need to work through with the DM how your character can find a way to get on the Darksmith path w/o accepting the contract terms. Are there ways to steal/co-opt the required knowledge? Are there secrets to Darksmithing locked away in some long abandoned temple or city? Are there distant lands, requiring a perilous journey, where the Darksmithing (or Darksmithing-like) arts are practiced without the onerous contractual obligations?

If the DM is locking your character development options behind a single in-world gate (that they've completely defined the terms for) and are unable to accommodate the possibility of work-around solutions, then I could see that being a problem as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, but -1, the problem OP has is that they don't enjoy the setting at all, not a locked path of character development and focusing on that instead of the bigger picture isn't really helping \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jan 6, 2023 at 8:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG other answers cover the bigger problem. I include this just to flag that even if the bigger problem is addressed there may be a remaining game-play problem. Would you have me block quote one of the other answers to make this answer complete? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jan 6, 2023 at 15:53
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Take down their sorry system

Build a character who takes on the prevailing political system. Extra points if the character is lawful good, based on their own ideas of righteousness. Take it to the absurd to point out the inconsistencies in the DM's worldview.

This isn't really very uncommon in typical fantasy lands where the prevailing feudal political systems are no less terrible. My characters tend to fight tyranny and injustice wherever they find it, regardless of "local customs." Slaver NPC, "I'm not a slaver, I have a contract." Me, "I swing."

Or just quit; this person probably doesn't have values that line up with yours, and that is unlikely to change.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Such behavior is usually resulting in a ban from multiple tables and is super toxic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jan 7, 2023 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trish, fighting injustice results in bans? Really? That isn't my experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tiger Guy
    Jan 8, 2023 at 1:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Deliberately messing up the game does get you banned as a difficult player. If the campaign is in the underdark and you play a male drow, you accept that you are second class citizen at best and that taking down the system is impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jan 8, 2023 at 10:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ This really depends how you handle it and how the GM has laid things out. I don't think we have enough information from the question to tell whether this would be ok but I would at least talk to the GM first - tell them the vibes you're getting from the NPCs and the way that makes you feel. Ask whether it would interfere with the game if your character wanted to fight back against that system. Always have those conversations outside of the game - not committing to them in character at the table. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2023 at 11:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TigerGuy Although I would also take the challenge to take down the tyranical system or die trying, this doesn't help the OP's situation since they don't want to quit or change the current character. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2023 at 16:23

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