Should we have slavery in D&D or should we not? That question can trigger some people for either answer, but it depends on you and your game.
We should have slavery in D&D if your group is alright with it and it fits in your world. You will need to really think about slavery to make it work.
It does depend on your group and your game, but slavery can work in D&D. More than that, it can make your game even better than if it was left out when done right.
Why we should or shouldn’t use slavery in D&D
If you are concerned about slavery in D&D and if you should use it, then don’t. It is most likely that your group is going to be uncomfortable with it and it will not work. You yourself are most likely not comfortable with the concept of using slavery in your game, so don’t use slavery if either of these apply.
If you are alright with the concept of slavery, you and your group, then you should consider using it. But why should you use slavery in D&D?
- It is a cheap and practical way to gain labor.
- Slavery can add a sense of realism that connects D&D to our history. It isn’t pretty, but it is realistic.
- Racism and how to improve our perception of others.
- It can bring about moral dilemmas for characters. Rarely for players.
- It can be a great plot point for your players. Just don’t go too far.
These are 5 excellent reasons why you should use slavery in D&D. If your group can handle it, then slavery can be great for the story. Before we get into why it should be used we have to consider some factors.
Why is slavery in effect? We will go over a few of the reasons why slavery is implemented and has been for historical reasons in our world, but you need to know why it exists. Why go through the effort of subjugating people who want to rebel? You have to constantly watch them, train them, and it isn’t worth the effort. There has to be a good reason.
Next consider what purpose slavery serves. It can be just to make others feel good about themselves, but there will probably be a better reason.
Lastly, consider how terrible slavery is. In different parts of the world at different times slavery was less terrible. Some time in our own history slaves were treated worse than animals. Other times they were treated as part of the family. Figure out how terrible slavery will be since it can create an interesting moral quandary.
Already you might have learned that slavery isn’t just bad and shouldn’t be talked about. Slavery can be an important part of the world and your game to enhance your campaign.
What purpose does slavery serve?
We all agree that slavery is bad, but it becomes an aspect of life for a reason. You need to figure out why that is, and it isn’t just to lord over someone.
Slavery in the past served a labor purpose. The Romans used slaves to work in the mines and do other terrible tasks that had harsh living conditions or high mortality rates. This is practical when you don’t want your citizens to do these jobs and don’t have the technology to supplement the labor.
The Romans eventually stagnated technology-wise because they had slaves and can be used as a reason why technology hasn’t progressed for hundreds of years.
This purpose is to help explain certain aspects of the world and can catapult you into a new story. For example, past civilizations, government elitism and coverups, almost anything you want.
That is a plot purpose for slavery, but the use of labor is extremely important. This alone is a sensible reason for why slavery in D&D exists. Once again it isn’t a good or moral reason, but to societies who don’t care about other’s moral rights it is an excellent solution.
There are other reasons that you can come up. Having a slave of a dying or rare species can be used to show status. People have always loved collecting things, and in the past people have been among those collections. There are many other purposes that you can find for slavery, and they can be even less savory, but there is something that you need to keep in mind.
Slavery is a horrible thing and your players will feel good about stopping it. While a villain might have some ambiguity to their situation, it is very rare to have moral ambiguity when slavery is involved. Your players will most likely try to stop slavery, and that is just like what happened in history.
Real life slavery vs D&D slavery
In the real world, slavery has existed for longer than it hasn’t. At least in recorded history. Slavery in D&D can be the same way. It has just always existed and to the winner go the spoils. But! It does not mean that it always has to go that way.
In our real world people eventually realized the horrors of slavery and decided to stop it. It took time and a lot of progressive movements, but in D&D things can happen much quicker.
In D&D you do not have to wait on the entire political system to change. If you want to run a political game of D&D, you can but you do not need to in order to stop slavery. You can stop it in just one adventure.
Slavery does not have to be a sanctioned event for an entire society. A grand city might have slavery that happens, but it doesn’t need to be sanctioned by the government. Instead, someone else is running it. This allows the players to put a stop to that group and thus to slavery. At least, in that area.
The nice thing about slavery in D&D is that you can put a stop to it fairly easy and feel good about doing so. I would encourage you to never make your players suffer for stopping slavery, but that is ultimately up to you and the game that you are running.
Instead of just a feel good session, slavery in D&D can also be a learning session, or at least one that lets others show their core beliefs.
Slavery, racism, and positive values.
Slavery happens due to a disconnect. “They are not like us” is a common phrase used to make this disconnect happen. It is even easier to do so when someone isn’t part of the same race as you. I am not just talking about a difference in skin tone or upbringing (although that is all we had in history). Instead, I am talking about completely different races.
An orc is very different than a human. It isn’t where there are only minor differences between each group. There are enough differences to consider each other completely different on a racial level. Like cats and dogs instead of an orange vs brown cat.
This makes the process of slavery in D&D even easier to happen than it would in our real world. This is exaggerated from our real world, but it can still be used to teach real-world lessons.
Players will find that race doesn’t matter. We talked about how goblins are evil, but what that means depends on the setting. You can’t just label anyone bad due to their race in D&D and have to consider the person instead of just their race.
This allows players to judge others not based on race, but on their values and who the person is. This can be applied to real-life situations as well and will help shape how people view others.
Slavery can be used in a positive light in this way. It teaches people to, or at least lets them show, how race doesn’t matter. This doesn’t mean that there will not be moral dilemmas though.
Moral dilemmas around slavery
Slavery is bad, so how is there going to be a moral dilemma involving slavery? We as players will most likely never have a moral dilemma with slavery but it can happen. Here is an example of how a moral dilemma can effect a player.
The humans are enslaved to the dwarves for some reason. Upon finding out that the humans are slaves, the players want to free the humans but the humans beg the players not to do so. Why? The humans have been enslaved for centuries and are unable to care for themselves or protect themselves from the outside world. It is better for them to live as slaves than die in the wilderness.
This is an extremely situational example, but it can happen. In these instances, it will make the players question if freedom is worth death. The players can’t stay with the humans forever so they need to think of something or state that liberty isn’t better than death.
A more character based dilemma would be if the slaves are legal in a country and the character is lawful. This is a character building experience where the character can grow. Will they abide by the law or will they break it? There are reasons character wise to go on either side, but it can develop the character. Do they value law or good more?
All of these are great ways to use slavery to develop a character, but what about plot points?
Slavery and the plot
By now you have already gained a few ideas on how to use slavery in D&D with the plot. If the players want to stop a slave trade that is a plot point or even an entire campaign worth of material. If the slaves do not want to be free for any reason, that is a good plot point for you to expand upon.
Making slavery outdated by developing a new technology can also be a plot point. You don’t need slaves if the work is changed from 100 people to only 5 people who need to do the work. There are almost limitless options that your players can jump on in order to stop slavery in D&D!
Slavery has a lot of good ways to be integrated into the plot, but you should be cautious when doing so. There are some topics that are generally too dark and should be off the table for most groups.
The worst type of slavery to add to the plot is human trafficking or slave torture. Sex in D&D is most of the time a no go. You do not want to add sex to your game a lot of the time and human trafficking is far worse. I would not recommend this.
Furthermore, torture is also a grotesque display that many players do not want. Describing torture scenes or the scares generally do not add to the game. Descriptors can be a good thing when done right, but don’t use them here.
Slavery can be used to enhance the plot, but just be careful about getting too dark. It is already a delicate subject to be handled with care, but just do not make the game too dark.
There is one last type of slavery which should be discussed.
Indentured servitude is where a person is working for pay, but they have to pay more expanses than what they get or have to work for free for a long while. Does this sound familiar?
Real life can be harsh. We can chose to have a standard of living where our jobs can’t keep up, but imagine that you are kept in a cupboard somewhere and are unable to pay off the rent for that cupboard. It is much more dramatic and this is a more modern form of slavery.
Effectively, the boss of the indentured servant is able to charge the servant a 200$ expense while paying them 110$. This means that the servant will never get out of debt and they will have to do whatever the ‘boss’ says.
The purpose of indentured servitude is for labor, but it is also less obvious than slavery. While a slave knows their place an indentured servant may be grateful for their lot in life. They were helped by the boss and even thinks the boss is running at a loss for them.
This is a much more advanced version of slavery that will require your players to think a little bit more.
Slavery comes about for many reasons. You have to first find out why slavery exists, and how you should use it in D&D.
Slavery in D&D can be solved much quicker than in real life and has many different purposes. It can help develop your players characters, the plot, or even add to the world.
Strangely enough, slavery can even have moral dilemmas. It is not always overtly bad for those oppressed and those oppressed might not even know they are. This is especially the case with indentured servitude.
Slavery can be used for many purposes and can add to your game. It is not something that should never be discussed. It can be a good thing for your game so think about adding slavery to your D&D game and what it will add.
Just, don’t go too dark when using slavery or use it if you and your table are unable to handle this in your game.
Until next time this has been Wizo and keep rolling!