Here’s what I thought were interesting statements in Gleichman’s post:
I’m not sure I agree with the pursuit of power for power’s sake. The first problem I have is the meaning of “for power’s sake” – it’s hard to think of an example where this would apply. I think everybody in power has an agenda. Thus, I think it’s important to look at intents and consequences. Corruption, subjugation, plundering, war? I think we have to look at particular situations in the game before we can pass judgement on Good and Evil.
I also prefer to leave the judgement of intent and consequences up to my players. It’s more interesting that way. It’s how their characters take on a personality.
But I don’t think I’m a moral relativist. All actions are not equal. They are not equal in-game, and they are not equal out-of-game. But I prefer not to codify good or evil in the abstract. I prefer to look at the actual game setup. In the Alder King game, goblins are bullies and cowards, and they worship Orcus (because he promises a second life), but other than that, they don’t seem to be inherently evil. There is another Orcus temple where human cultists keep slaves and sacrifice them to Orcus. They are clearly evil.
Does that contradict my statement about “keeping the definition of good and evil muddied on purpose?” I don’t think so. I’m talking about two different things. I don’t want to get involved in a discussion about the definitions of good and evil. I don’t want to discuss whether torturing prisoners is justified when the victims are suspected terrorists, for example. I don’t want to discuss at the gaming table whether killing a creature of evil alignment begging for forgiveness is evil. That’s the kind of discussion I don’t want at the table.
In real life I have strong opinions about the US keeping innocent people incarcerated on an island for years and torturing them. I have strong opinions about the Spanish police torturing suspects in the Basque country. I have strong opinions about sending poor people back into terrible poverty out of fear for our prosperity. But I want to keep these discussion out of my game. If my players insist on breaking the orc’s fingers and ripping out its toe nails, then I ask said players to stop. I’m not interested in hearing it, and I don’t want to discuss it with my players.
What about me making everybody evil in my game? Or at least listing many evil gods? I guess I am a cynic when it comes to organized Good. Mistakes are made. I believe that using force to fight evil taints those who fight. I often think back to a statement Christa Wolf made in her book Cassandra: “What use is fighting when we can only win by becoming like our enemies?” To take it back to the game: There’s a paladin who decided to retire to Delan and help them out by protecting them against their enemies. He doesn’t need a church, he doesn’t need an army, he doesn’t own a lot of land, he doesn’t have a lot of gold. This is what allows him to be good, on an individual level, as far as I’m concerned.
So, based on my belief that Good is something individual, something that gets lost in a larger organisation, the consequences are obvious: Powerful individuals, powerful organisations, gods, churches, rulers, anybody who has the means to fight a war, must necessarily be tainted. They don’t need to be evil, but thinking of the “host of heaven” in a military sense, an army fighting for Mt. Celestia if you will, makes me think of “Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity!” Fighting will tempt soldiers into doing evil deeds. Conquest will corrupt the victors. Maybe that’s because I did not grow up with stories about the Second World War but about the wars in Indochine, Central America, Palestine and Iraq.
I also happen to think that it makes for a more interesting game. If players want to do good, they will have to sacrifice something for it. The church of Pelor or Heironeus just don’t seem very interesting in game terms. If players want to introduce such a god because they feel better being a paladin of this or that god, then that’s fine. But it doesn’t introduce interesting decisions, it doesn’t generate interesting stories. It’s the most obvious choice and an indication (to me) that morality and the sacrifice required for good deeds are not going to be the focus of the game.
I said in my first article that the point of having a small list of gods ready was to use them for temples and clerics all over the region. With that it mind, I prefer to use more ambigious beliefs. The lines of Good and Evil are supposed to be muddied because it leads to a better game, not because I’m confused about ethics.