Varying Up Conflict

D&D is a type of game that allows us to explore different types of conflicts in the form of a story. We can easily add more metaphorical tools to our DMing toolbox by being aware of different literary conflicts in mind while preparing our sessions. Below are some common types of conflicts and monsters you can use to personify them in your game.

Man vs Man

This is the standard conflict birthed from differing interests. The protagonists of the story (the adventurers) have a clear antagonist (the Big Bad Evil Guy) and they struggle against each other.

In years past, you would cast the antagonist as an orc or some other monstrous humanoid and be done with it. This is problematic for several reasons, but I don’t want to digress into that can of worms in this article. But regardless, this simplistic method of casting the villain is shallow and kinda boring.

It can be more fun using regular player races anyway. Its one thing having a troll walk into town which everyone wants dead, and something completely different when a giant of a man walks into town. By removing the ‘monster’ aspect of an NPC you can more easily place them in your world.

Appendix B in the monster manual is filled with stat blocks you can use for these types of conflicts. You can also reskin any of the humanoid monsters to have more options available.

Man vs Nature

This is where D&D really shines. This conflict is the struggle of surviving in an inhospitable world. The struggle of surviving in harsh weather, the fear of the unknown, the heartless ferocity of the wild are all lumped together in this literary conflict.

Most of the creatures in the Monster Manual are meant to portray a feature of our conflict with the natural world. Elementals, Oozes, and Plants are literal personifications of the brutal qualities of the nature world. Beasts and Monstrosities allow us to flesh out the world with feral creatures with more basic instincts. Aberrations and Demons are multifaceted allowing us to explore the fear of the unknown, a predator’s interests, and nature’s apathetic stance when it views what we believe it natural.

Man vs Society

This is my favorite literary conflict. This is the conflict between the protagonist and their government or cultural traditions. Its one thing providing the heroes with a vast wilderness that wants to eat them, but its something completely different when the town they call home is rotten.

There are so many ways this game allows us to characterize society. We have celestials and fiends (devils) allowing us to explore the full spectrum of moral conflicts. There are constructs which allow us to explore technology and its influence in society. Fey allow us to strip the veneer of ‘civility’ away and hit more primitive notes. Giants, Humanoids, and Undead allow us to view entities in a society differently allowing them to be larger than life.

Man vs Self

This literary conflict is the hardest to portray in game since it leans so heavily on the players. This conflict is the literal internal struggle of a person with some ideal .

This conflict rarely takes the form of a creature and is mostly presented as a choice given to the heroes. For example, your player may believe that their character will stand with the king at all cost, but you can test this by having the king’s opponent hold the character’s daughter hostage until they abandon the king. Forcing the players to choose between bad options will force the player to determine how they truly want to play their character.

So, keep the different types of conflict in mind as you write your sessions. Having a few conflicts overlap make the entire thing feel more dynamic. A quick example would be having A Man vs Society plot ( a duke that’s being influenced by a celestial to impose harsh sentencing on crimes) mixed with a Man vs Nature issue(fire elementals have caused a serious drought forcing many normal citizens to resort to stealing food).