I’d like to share an anecdote from a Dungeons and Dragons game I ran a few years ago.
The group of player-character adventurers was attending an aristocrat’s ball. Their goal was to ingratiate themselves with the rich dilettante hosting the ball, to gain passage on his flying whale-cum-airship to their next destination.
The six adventurers were well-placed to gain the aristocrat’s favor, having rescued one of his associates in a previous quest and having spent some of their loot on making sure they didn’t look out of place in the airship hangar full of old money. The party was a motley bunch at best—a well-spoken robot psychic, a clumsy dragonborn warrior, a bloodthirsty wood elf archer, a pompous high elf mage, a grim minotaur soldier, and a quietly regal shaman from a race of shapechangers with ties to rats and ravens—but they gave it the good D&D try.
And the moment the shapechanger tried to speak to that nobleman, he glared in the direction of the two elves and the robot and barked, “Control your livestock!” The rest of the brief conversation transpired between the three “civilized”-looking characters and the nobleman, with the more “monstrous” dragonborn, shapechanger, and minotaur cowed and silent.
The players controlling those characters were, then, too taken aback by the force of the rebuke their characters received to contest it, either in-game or out-of-game. They simply accepted that they would be excluded from this particular plot point, and dallied with their smartphones until they would again have a meaningful way to contribute to their party’s benefit. But what if they hadn’t been?
The aristocrat’s racism was not something I’d thought about in advance. It came unbidden in a moment’s improvisation, perhaps as a not-entirely-conscious effort to keep from having to juggle six conversations at once. It wasn’t presaged with prior information about his behavior, it wasn’t an established feature of the region’s culture (which none of the PCs were from), and it wasn’t something the characters had encountered before. Just spontaneous, unexpected bigotry cutting those players out of part of the adventure, to no discernible benefit to them or to the plot, with no obvious means of escape and the promise of ruining the negotiations and wrecking everyone else’s fun if their characters protested.
Did I mention that all three of those players were at least one letter of QUILTBAG?