Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Slave Trader & Auctioneer

I was supposed to write something on learning to design D&D today, but ... well, what the hell, I'm not in the mood. Instead I want to show & tell something I finished last night, the result of work I did over the weekend.

Up until August 2011, I was regularly working on a series of equipment lists, which I posted on this blog, and which can be looked at here. It had gotten up to the S's, with Sculptor, and then I'd run out of steam, intending to get back to it. I did not until August 2012, when I put up ONE table, that of Shipwright ... and then I realized I really should rebuild the availables list on my Prices Table.

I started to do so, and then I crashed. I haven't looked at it seriously in more than a year. Ah well. Can't rush these things. To be honest, it was the same problem as the Hear Noise thing I mentioned in the last post - no real solution had presented itself, and why work if its not going to work?

Well, I had a small epiphany on Friday and so I dug out the table and started reformatting the algorithm for item availability. I am at last ready to start posting tables again.

Technically, the next table is 'Silversmith' ... but its very close to the goldsmith table and somehow that didn't seem all that interesting for a grand re-launch. So I decided to do this table instead:

revised image

Outwardly, it looks more or less alike the other tables I've already posted ... but that is one of my mandates: whenever possible, make it so the players can't tell the difference. There are differences. For instance, I've rebuilt it so that now all the prices show even though the item is unavailable. I've gotten rid of the selling to the public feature (players did not use it). But the biggest change, what's available and what's not, that's all hidden.

This particular table is for prices in Constantinople, where part of my online party is going. Constantinople is, and should be, a central hub of commerce; it is more so now, with regards to the Pricing Table - I've heightened the impact of large trading cities over smaller ones (though not as much as I might have liked ... will have to work on that in future).

So let's talk about slavery.

I'm guessing that a LOT of DMs and players will be greatly offended by the presence of this table, and the availability of items on this table, and argue with me that these things should not be included in D&D. I'm a bit amused by that. It is like the total German ban on the swastika, which is presented as though the image itself has the magical power to spontaneously create a 4th Reich if it is not gainfully suppressed. Arguably, it's a tourist thing, the Germans not anxiously wishing to be identified with the period 70 years ago, but there's still an odd sort of paranoia involved there.

People tend to treat slavery the same way ... as if to say, if we deny its existence, or at least speak of it ONLY in terms of how bad it is and how WRONG it was and why it should never have happened, this will magically remove its effect upon society and somehow we will grow to be brothers. The mindset totally ignores that there are literally millions of slaves in the world right now, who receive little or no attention at all, digging up the precious minerals that construct your cellphone or tablet or enable the wedding ring you give your spouse, both diamond and gold together. As a culture we choose to be guilty only of things we choose to pay attention to, and we point our fingers in condemnation at only those things that chance to fall into the orbit of our gaze. There will be those who will express angry at this post, which merely takes the position that slavery 400 years ago was common and ordinary, but who will do nothing whatsoever to combat real slavery, in fact rising and escaping the efforts of those who dare to talk about the need to do something openly.

Moral outrage works like a convenience store.

So yes, the year is 1650, and slavery exists, just as it does now. Serfs are exchanged for debts, prisoners are worked to death in mines and upon plantations, slaves are raised from birth to do both, and to provide entertainment, to offer sex in slave cathouses built for the purpose, people who cannot pay their debts are given over to masters for six year periods, deportees are gathered for religious and social reasons and shipped to the Americas or Africa to die of disease while building a new colony, ownership deeds are written out by the hundreds and lines of slaves stand at every port waiting to be processed, their noses and ears punched and fitted with rings and their ankles fitted with manacles.

Would I allow a player in my world to own slaves, to punish slaves, to kill a slave, if that player so desired?


Why? Because we're not talking about real people. D&D is a fiction. It isn't real. For those people who believe somehow that speaking of it in game somehow 'makes it real,' I'm sorry, I cannot buy into that delusion ... and it is a delusion. The idea that this happens - that watching guns fire on television creates the gun culture, or that rock music causes suicide, or that internet porn creates rape or any other ridiculous association that is drummed together in order to assuage infantile fears - is a manifestation of the mind. It is a belief. A belief that, like religion, feeds upon fear.

I don't accept it. I do believe that fear, and the manipulation of fear, by censorship or contrived morale superiority, is the engine that actually produces the crime. It is not discussion of the crime, it is the refusal to discuss the crime, that produces evil. Discussion ended slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, that presented slavery as it existed in her time, prior to the Civil War, compelled millions of people to rise against slavery.

But I don't pretend that my little D&D world exists to end slavery. Just as I don't believe my willingness to present a 17th century world in all its evil and nature produces slavery. Either end of the see-saw is utter nonsense ... which will not stop many a gentle reader from spouting nonsense all the same. Fear is a powerful motivator.

What will a player get out of owning slaves? It is not for me to say. It is not for me to judge. I don't care to judge. I'm perfectly prepared to believe that any person at my table who receives a vicarious interest in possessing a fictional slave through the running of a fictional character is a citizen upstanding enough to recognize the difference between a fiction and a reality. Why? Because I talk to my players, O idiot who might ask. I know them, I know where they stand. I would no more presume to think a player who owned a slave was any worse than a player who robbed a purse or a player who murdered a hundred villagers in a fit of berserk rage. It's a game.

Are there players at my table who would be offended by a player who would own a slave? No. The reason for 'no' is because I do not have infants nor fools at my table. A few weeks ago I listened as people cried out in mock-indignation, "What about the other players, who have to endure someone wanting to have sex in a game?" What a crock. I don't run Mrs. Grundy at my table. I don't know people like Mrs. Grundy. If we're talking about the sort of creature who gets his or her knickers in a flap at the mention of sex - or slavery - then it should be known I wouldn't have a prig like that in my house. I wouldn't give a prig like that the time of day. There are too many prigs in the world, and too many frozen, empty islands to where they could all be deported.

Alas, I don't believe in such solutions. More's the pity. It only means I must tolerate the silliness of a small group of children who may squawk and shrill about my immorality while tacitly approving the system they proport offends them.

Let's end actual slavery. Let's not waste our time weeping over poor fictional creatures that don't exist.


Vlad Malkav said...

Wow, another nice coincidence ...

In my Conan game, which I try to run as honestly harsh and "evil" as I can, my players got to their first metropolis, with slaves readily available. I didn't hide it, didn't overplay it, it was just a part of the world.
And I'm glad to say they didn't react in any childish "scarred" way. But your table give me some ideas for next time ...

Why harsh and "evil" ? Same as you, I think the world is such a place and that's not something to downplay.
Why slaves ? They plan to stay for 2 months and reasoned that renting some place to crash in and buying labor to work for them would be cheapper in the long run.
Why do I like your table ? Inspiration, because they plan to sell the slaves back, after training them during their stay.
And why staying so long ? Because real fitting armor of good quality don't appear overnight.

All this thanks to your inspiration of a sandbox free of GM intervention, letting players drive their own adventures, failing and succeeding and dealing with condequences, good and bad, without remorse or regret.

And now, off to the game. My slave merchants will definitely be better this time ...

Thanks for the inspiration, and sharing your work. I'm avidly curious about the comments on this post ...

Matt Judge said...

In the fairly simple situation where you have tough-minded adults at the table, I agree. There should be no problem dealing with the moral dimension of the game.

But there is the potential for a person to exploit the moral dimension, all while appearing to be absorbed in the milieu, as a vehicle for their own dysfunction, and for it to become intolerable to the (still tough-minded) other players.

Example: Player, a normally reasonable adult male gamer, goes through a horrible divorce. In-game, Player seems obsessed with playing out all kinds of misogynist scenarios, gets some kind of sick glee out of it. Player is always quick to point out that he's only playing a character, and it's true, the explanation is plausible on its face. But everyone at the table knows what's really going on. Some are disturbed, not necessarily by the puerile scenes played out, but by the embarrassing emotional spiral Player is in, that they're forced to play along with and feign ignorance of, because no one would want to infringe on Player's liberty to do whatever he likes.

I'm not advocating a particular action in a situation like this. I wouldn't know what to do. Maybe I'd do nothing. I'm just saying that people don't ignore these subtexts for long. They can get uncomfortable, not in a namby-pamby way, but just intellectually uncomfortable with the level of denial, the group's collective occlusion, the distraction.

But then maybe Player's playing it out is part of his weird process. Maybe that's ok. Maybe everyone should go along with it knowing that Player is a good guy who'll return to doing sick stuff in game not because he's sick, but because the character is, or the world is. Like a good gamer again.

So yeah, I don't have a problem with the game going into dark, morbid territory. I guess it's the how and why of it that gets more complicated.

Anyway, I haven't thought about this at great length. Most games I've played are like "I rolled an 18, did 16 points of damage," for four hours. Hope my response doesn't seem too cursory.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I wrote another comment, and posted it, saying that what you suggested was unavoidable, but I felt it was skimming the surface and that a proper answer deserved more.

Granted, people who are working out twisted parts of their lives in the game gets creepy and so on ... but I have to say from my point of view that if I had the player you were describing at my table, and found him working out the horrible divorce he had gone through at my table, I'd stop playing D&D, and spend the rest of the evening talking about him and his partner. Because obviously that's what he needs more than a D&D game. And the kind of friends I play with would want to do that to, because emotional suffering is something my friends try to meet head on. Fuck the game, a friend is in pain.

But in the lesser instance, where we are just talking about playing through something that is weird, perhaps the game DOES have something to offer. Having a slave means thinking about having a slave, and that sort of introspection can lead people into all sorts of self-discovery. It's a matter of comprehension ... see the dark morbid territory and come away with greater understanding.

Your comment isn't cursory, Mike, it's appreciated. But I do wonder what you mean by 'tough.' I don't think I'm very tough. I'm far too neurotic for that. I am, however, indulgent and open-minded. This seems more useful in this situation than being tough. 'Tough' implies dislike-but-tolerance, while 'indulgent' suggests a whatever-floats-your-boat sort of tolerance.

It's not a storm you have to weather. It's an idea you have to embrace.

Matt Judge said...

Re "tough-minded": I was trying to find a simple phrase that encompassed intellectual rigor and resilience, the opposite of squeamish, reactionary, and soft-headed. Perhaps not the best word, but I mean to include open-mindedness, intellectual indulgence.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Accepted; but 'rigor' implies inflexibility, severity and strictness; 'resilience' implies a thing that returns to its original shape after stress. I have trouble reconciling either with indulgence or open-mindedness. Perhaps your phrase belies your deeper instinct ... "the full rigor of the law," for example, is the literal definition of reactionary without being soft-headed.

There's a bit of a shotgun application in terms here and I'm fairly certain that through the haze you mean none of what the words suggest. I tend to be very literal, however, and so do others, so my answer included points which I meant to define my position, and not yours.