Definitely Good and Evil

For a while, I thought it was easier to define evil than good.  Evil to me was intentionally causing others to suffer, where unintentional causing of suffering to others was more complicated.  But, what was good?  The lack of causing suffering not so good.  Relieving suffering in others?  Yeah, sure.  But, there was something not terribly clear about self vs. others.

Not long ago, for whatever reason, I was thinking about how obvious good is as determined by humanity.  More specifically, humanity has produced entertainment and that entertainment makes good easy.  Good is helping others.  The only thing good has to do with the self is that if you suffer to do more for others, you are more gooder.

Philosophers can debate the rationale for this, but it’s ubiquitous.  Heroes sacrifice themselves so that others, even the baddies, gain more/suffer less.  A trope, because apparently it’s impossible to avoid using the term trope anymore, is that only the heroes are in the know and knowing sucks because horror, but it’s to save/protect innocents.  It’s always about someone else.

Which makes sense in that society has an incentive to encourage helping others as that makes for more society.  D&D originally just had Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, whether because it took inspiration from Moorcock’s and others’ use of Law vs. Chaos or because it realized that adventurers in games don’t tend towards good or evil but do tend towards collaboration (to varying degrees from what I’ve seen) or schism, where being some loner monster fits the Chaotic side.

Okay, so once you settle on good = do stuff for others and the more it sucks for you the more gooder and evil = cause others to suffer and the more you enjoy it the more eviler, what then?

RPG parties are often dysfunctional.  One way that they can end up being so is that some folks want to be good guys and some folks don’t.  I personally have a hard time with the don’t.  It’s not that I can’t see settings where the protagonists aren’t goodies, it’s that I don’t see the point in playing any of those settings.

This lack of interest in being the goodies, meanwhile, kills certain settings.  Star Wars, in my experience is an awful setting for role-playing because so few people embrace being a goodie.  Superhero campaigns aren’t something I’ve gotten to experience, but I think my lack of experience with them has something to do with the lack of interest in people playing goodies.  I’ve found fantasy role-playing to be problematic because good just gets thrown off the cliff so regularly.

There are some who believe good is boring.  I don’t know how that’s the case when the vast majority of fantasy and other genres that RPGs set in have goodies as protagonists.  Can read a book, watch a TV show or movie, watch anime – helping others is all the rage.  Nevermind that the actual amount of getting into character I find to be much less than the looking up of numbers on character sheets in my play, so why spend what little time role-playing as a jerk?

Maybe it comes down to thinking being a goodie is simplistic or, even, difficult.  Ha ha, you are a naive goodie while I’m a badass ninja with my own code.

Well, different strokes for different blokes.  I find not being good to be hollow in my play.  If I’m not trying to help someone or make the world a better place, why do I care about anything?  Any set up where you are just trying to survive or trying to get rich or whatever just seems like a setup more suited for a boardgame, where mechanics can just rule the day.

Great, why does this matter now?

I might end up running Legend of the Burning Sands.  There are a lot of factions.  There are way more factions than L5R.  Unlike L5R, there’s no standard for good (essentially Honor in Rokugan, Integrity is the same mechanic but it doesn’t feel like a standard).  Every faction has its own issues, which makes for a much more realismish and complex milieu.  I can easily anticipate that the party won’t be good if the players are left to build their own characters.

One of my problems with Mechwarrior is that I don’t feel like anyone is good in the setting, it’s all point of view based.  That sort of realistic, shades of grey morality just defeats any sort of moral component to a campaign.  Many mech pilots righteously battle in character … and I just think “Why would anyone think they have moral high ground?”

As said, I have a hard time seeing playing a supers game except online because supers games, more than other settings, just don’t make any sense unless you are willing to embrace good.  I would say Star Wars games almost never end up making sense for the same reason, but I think I already said that.

Shadowrun, I think, is supposed to be a heist game.  Again, at the point where good is meaningless, the game becomes mechanical to me.  Gritty space games strike me the same way – I’m never trying to do good, so why do I care what I’m doing?

Feng Shui assumes goodness.  Maybe that’s why I like it so much.  Players of the game seem to buy into the idea that they are goodies.

Call of Cthulhu seems to me to be run with the intention of showing how PCs can be destroyed no matter what they do.

Vampire is kind of funny because I’ve seen it played a number of times where the PCs are goodies, maybe because the setting does so much to bring up those that are worst.  In our Conan play, we moved in and out of goodness, sometimes being quite selfish or even awful, but, as little time as we may have spent being good, it felt like we would sometimes be heroic.  I guess it was a game/campaign in which moral complexity actually arose, built up over years of trying to figure out who our characters actually were and what we were trying to accomplish.  For some, it was self-interested prick who learns to give a damn, though, for me, it was more dashing hero who ends up doing horrible things at times.  Anyway, I always much more enjoyed the sessions when I got to be heroic.

Heroic.  That’s a good word to bring up, some 900+ words in.  I always want to play heroic characters in RPGs.  Heroes are good.  They suffer so that others don’t or suffer less.  I could have avoided using goodie and just used hero this whole time, I suppose.

Anyway, I know what I like.  The question becomes how to end up playing or running the games I like.  Is it a conversation with the players beforehand?  Yeah, I think that’s an obvious step.  Is it choosing genres that are heroic?  Yeah, that helps, though I kind of expect the PCs to be heroic in every genre.  I kind of question how much enthusiasm I’ll have for LBS if the players gravitate to the darker elements.

Because it can really suck when some players want to do one thing and others don’t.  Just as much as some players hate social challenges or combat or investigating or sneaking or whatever, some players hate having no moral compass … and, I suppose, some players hate having one.  What I’ve found with some groups is that what annoys players the most are loose cannons, whether those loose cannons are Chaotic Good or Chaotic Evil.  Gets back to how Lawful/Chaotic is not so bad for gaming.

I just had another thought.  I think I so often embrace the idea of playing a sidekick to another PC or to the party because of one of two reasons:  either the sidekick is being good by helping someone else or the party is not good/heroic and being a sidekick removes any sort of feeling of responsibility for the party’s actions.  “Master, I have procured for you many more sacrifices so that we can more effectively release Hell on Earth.  I do good, right?”

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3 Responses to Definitely Good and Evil

  1. Brad says:

    As for the Conan campaign. My feel was that you all were amoral, but with a vague inkling of goodness. Arkoff the exception of course (with one short period of decency). I found the party’s moral ambiguity interesting. But there was just enough ‘goodness’ to keep me liking most of your characters.
    The few times I get to play (The Colonel in SK), I tend to be (if I may be archaic here) Lawful good. A bit more lawful than good.

  2. Matt Green says:

    I ran a game of CyberGeneration once where the PCs aim was to get a cherry tree to blossom.

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