on Apr 9, 2009
If nothing else, perhaps this setup could be adapted to serve as a quest hook if you find yourself running a D&D game.
You’re the new kid in the neighborhood. This neighborhood runs alongside a fast-moving stretch of a four-lane highway. On each side of the highway are nice little houses with yards. You meet the other kids. They seem friendly enough. Soon after meeting them you discover that they have a rule: Never, ever go near the road.
No child is permitted within ten paces of the road. The grass in the yards reveals that they obey this rule unfailingly. The grass is green and untrampled for the ten paces closest to the road. There is a visible line in the grass between the yellow grass where they travel freely, and the green grass where they Do Not Go. They seem to even be a bit apprehensive about getting close to this line. They do so only at need, and only for a few seconds before running back to their friends near the center of the yard. Nobody ever told them explicitly that approaching the road would lead to death, but the rules were laid out so firmly and so carefully and with such sternness that the kids have concluded it would. None of them has even had the nerve to test this theory.
While it isn’t nearly as deadly as they think, the highway can be pretty dangerous if you’re careless. You figure that whoever made the rule was probably thinking, better safe than sorry.
To help make friends, you have brought with you a brand-new bright red kickball. The kids admire the ball and welcome you into their group. A game of kickball starts up. Once the game is going strong and everyone is having fun the unthinkable happens: Your ball gets knocked right over the road and lands in the opposite yard. Your new friends are horrified. They act as though the ball had just plunged into a pit of deadly vipers.
As far as they are concerned, the ball is gone forever. It’s unrecoverable. But you know better. You’ve been around roads like this before and you’ve been taught how to cross them. You could, if you wanted, walk right up to the edge of the road, wait for a gap in traffic, and get to the opposite side with little risk. You’ve done it before and you know it’s not that hard. Your parents never made any rules against crossing the road, and none of the other parents has any authority over you, so by doing so you won’t be breaking any rules. However, you also know you will be utterly smashing a taboo for these kids. To them just getting near the road is a suicidal act. To cross is unthinkable.
You could do it. You could get your ball and bring it back, but to do so you would overthrow their thinking in regards to the highway. Once they knew the road could be crossed, they would inevitably want to do it themselves. Sooner or later, they would try it on their own. They might not do it right away. They might not do it when you’re around, but it will happen. You could tell them not to do as you do, but you’re a smart kid and you know that telling them not to do something you are doing is tantamount to a dare. Are you going to let the new kid get away with that? Get over there and show him he’s not so special.
So what do you do? It took you a little while to learn to cross safely. Crossing takes patience and clear thinking. If you choose to break this taboo, are you willing to take on the responsibility of teaching all of them how to do it? If so, you will be aiding them in defying the rules. You are free to cross, but teaching these other kids against the will of their parents is quite another thing. What about the younger hyperactive kid that is watching you? He doesn’t seem to have the patience or the maturity for crossing safely, and you don’t have the authority to forbid him. He wouldn’t listen to you anyway. In fact, he’s most likely going to be the first of the kids to get up the nerve to try.
You are free to cross. No rules forbid you from doing so. It is (for you) reasonably safe. Your new ball is over there. Should you follow the overbearing rules and accept the loss of your ball? Or do you get the ball, knowing that to do so may lead one of these kids to endanger themselves?
We’re talking about kids, but approach the question with your grown-up mind: Would you get the ball?
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.