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How a Story of the Choctaw can take our Attention away from Armageddon and toward a Hopeful Moment in our Roleplaying Campaign

In these confusing, troubled times it’s hard to find common ground between the two Americas. We seem almost utterly divided culturally and politically, all along red and blue lines. Yet one belief holds us together as a people: the belief that, in one way or another, we’re all screwed.

In the days of yesteryear, only those of a particular political bent toward conspiracy theories were convinced that society hung on the verge of collapse and therefore stockpiled months worth of emergency supplies. But now coastal elites, rust belt blue collar workers, and midwest farmers alike can unite in a shared vision of preparing for armageddon, the zombie apocalypse, a Chitari invasion, or a Thanksgiving visit from family members.

With sure death and doom being around every corner, it’s hard to see the flowers that may have popped up in the springtime mud. Could any goodness still exist on planet Earth?!? Let’s not despair, dear nerds, and instead let’s take a serious turn, stopping to smell the roses and consider how they might impact our tabletop roleplaying games.

The Native American Choctaw were exiled from their ancestral land and marched to Oklahoma in 1847, where they slowly began to make a new home for themselves. An estimated 4,000 Choctaw died in their thousand mile march to Oklahoma.

Once in Oklahoma, conditions were bleak. In a 1849 telling of the event it was said by one Choctaw that “our habitations [were] torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields, and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered, and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died.”

But in the midst of that suffering, the Choctaw people heard that due to a failure of the Irish potato crop, an all-consuming famine was sweeping across Ireland. Upon hearing this news, the Choctaw–folks who were perhaps the least able to give–made a donation to benefit those starving strangers, who were thousands of miles away.

These were people with very little to give and had just been pressured to cede 11 million acres of their land, then force marched along the Trail of Tears. They were still grieving lost loved ones. Yet they gave $170, which would be about $5,000 in today’s dollars.

It was an absolutely amazing gesture of empathy, generosity, and kindness.

Maybe it’s just a quick side quest or a single encounter, but why not add a moment of good ‘ole big-hearted benevolence to an RPG session?

I’m an unrepentant Murder Hobo, so I love gaming sessions that are nothing more than killing monsters, then looting their corpses. But it’s also important to show quiet moments of heroism and kindness toward others. Otherwise, what kind of world are the heroes trying to save anyway?

It need not be as remarkable of the gesture of the Choctaw, but it would be a nice move to implement an occasional bit of hopeful sunshine into your RPG. Here are some ideas:

  • How about a little girl in an otherwise nondescript village that passes out fresh cut flowers to each of the PCs and wishes them good luck on their adventures.
  • Consider a halfling couple that brings in an cares for a human orphan child, despite the fact that the larger child taxes their meager food stores.
  • A noticeably poor NPC could come up to the heroes and press a copper piece into the palm of a PC, wanting to give whatever she can to benefit the fight against evil.
  • A group of religious leaders could be stationed in the village to help the less fortunate and *gasp* the GM doesn’t write them to ultimately be evil cultists.

Maybe Thanos will indeed destroy us all, red and blue America alike. Until then it’s important to celebrate small moments of hope from time to time. But that’s just in our RPGs. As for us personally? Well, we could do worse than to take a lesson from the Choctaw.

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