A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monsters and Morality

I think I touched on this subject awhile back, during my D&D 4e game.

This has been on my mind again lately, and I've read or heard a few clever and/or insightful perspectives and thoughts on this subject.

In short, we're taking about killing stuff in your role playing game.

To give us a little more focus, lets talk solely about D&D/fantasy gaming.

Another blogger (if I were less lazy I'd link and credit, but I suck) recently had some similar musings, discussing how "intelligent monsters" in fantasy were largely an invention of Tolkien. Before him, most of the bad guys that Conan and others fought were human in nature. Whatever clever fellow it was that I'm talking about went on to describe that Conan typically did battle with whoever stood in his way and tried to stop him, and we did not really have evil races, the way we do in Tolkien with orcs and such.

Killing orcs and other baddies is a staple of D&D. And in its most simple (pure, if you will) form, there is no morality to it. It just never comes up, from players or the GM. Orcs and goblins and so forth live in dungeons, and its up the adventurers to go in and kill them and take all of their shit.

But as we all grow up, or invest a little more thought into our games, we wonder things like "What do we do with orcish children, or orcish prisoners?". Many a paladin has shuddered and writhed in angst and confusion, trying to justify killing defenseless children, despite his or her Lawful Good alignment.

Another clever fellow suggested that there's no such thing as orcish kids. Orcs, and all other manner of nasty monsters are not mundane biological creatures, the way that humans are. No, they are spawned from the energies produced from murders and rapes and torture hatred and all sorts of other nastiness. They aren't born and raised. They are formed from some nameless and invisible mist, and spring fully-formed and armed, ready to spread hate. In this scenario, there are no monstrous humanoid societies. Bands, maybe. This removes much of the morality from it, nipping it in the bud, so to say. They are, quite simply, evil. And I'm a big fan of this strategy.

You can certainly go far with morality plays in D&D, and have a great time with it, but I think that it depends on what kind of D&D game you and your players are after. Political and religious infighting and such is great territory for shades of gray.

But I think that killing monsters and taking their stuff is easier when you don't have to agonize over it.

'Course, there are whole games devoted to the morality of it all, like Vampire and Sorcerer and such. And I love those too.

(mmmm its nice to blog about gaming and get some of this stuff off of my chest!)


R. Lawrence Blake said...

I had this morality problem when my paladin faced off against a baby gelatinous cube. What to do with the gelatinous cube children?

Just kidding. ;)

Jeff Crook said...

Under this scenario, then all half-orc characters would have to have human mothers. Of course that is the most common situation anyway, but I once played a half-orc barbarian whose father was human. He begat a child by an orc prostitute who specialized in "unusual requests."