On today's Digital and Dice podcast, our wonderful hosts discussed using drugs in games, and tended to focus the discussion on the effects of the drugs on player characters. While this discussion was interesting, I'd like to focus on the criminality of drugs and their manufacture and distribution, topics which were only briefly addressed in the show tonight.
In most cases, controlled substances with mind altering or medically detrimental effects are illegal for public health reasons. This is not necessarily any different in fantasy settings. It is very likely that a kingdom could be waging a war on drugs, in much the same way as some modern countries do. A prime example of this is in the Elder Scrolls Series, where Skooma and Moonsugar are illegal, especially in the earlier games. This opens up several plot points, such as cracking down on local drug rings.
Or, you can do the inverse, as some of my players once did. I've actually ran a campaign set in the Elder Scrolls setting, and I had two of my player characters were khajiit who used and sold Skooma and Moonsugar on the side in addition to their regular questing. Naturally, they were'nt exactly good people, but this was an interesting way to make some money for their characters, and it often brought them into conflict with the law, which led to some pretty interesting adventure hooks. If everyone at your table is comfortable, you might even be able to run a sort of "Breaking Bad" style campaign where drugs are central to the action. Perhaps you engage in turf wars with other criminal elements and have to evade or confront the law to move product. Honestly, I've thought a lot about this and similar concepts, and I present them on my personal blog in relation to a campaign concept I call "D&D Vice," which I highly recommend you read.
Even in cases where drugs are decriminalized, you can still create some interesting plot points around the presence of drugs. Maybe a new drug has hit the market and it's said that the high is incredible, and people are tripping over themselves to get a hold of it. The only problem is that it's highly imperfect and people are being seriously hurt or killed by it. Even though it might not be illegal, it might be in the interests of a good-aligned PC to intervene and stop the flow of the drug, manufacture a cure or fix the drug, or to deal with the fallout of it on the community. Another potential plot hook is for an antagonistic force such as an invading army or evil overlord to create drug-abusing supersoldiers. Regardless of the negative affects that the soldiers may suffer later, they're simply too powerful right now to be dealt with by anyone other than competent adventurers, who may find it in their best interest to destroy the supply of these stimulants.
Consider expanding the scope of your drug use to encompass your fantasy world, not just that of your players. Though your players may not choose to partake, it could still be something that they have to deal with in the form of encountering other users and addicts. Ultimately, drugs have a place in your world (if you choose to use them) that influences and is influenced by other factors, such as legality and profitability. It's easy to focus on what the drug does to someone who takes it, but if we look at it from a different angle, we can also find some really interesting things about how the drugs affect the landscape of your narrative.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For those who are interested in reading further on drug affected characters, I suggest checking out the article "Motivational Memes: Alcoholism and Character Development" on my personal blog to have a look at how alcoholism might be used as a character trait or flaw. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.