Monday, February 2, 2009

It's a Cruel World

Jim of LOTFP has written posts on Sexuality and D&D and D&D and Racism…I suggest that my gentle reader should have a look.

I did not comment on either post, for a number of reasons, first and foremost being the absurd emotional argument that was bound to arise about the modern world, political correctness, approvals, social responsibility and blah, blah, blah.

I have lots to say about that, but not within the subject of D&D. Briefly, I state that I’m opposed. To racism, prejudice, abuse, etc. Who wouldn’t be?

That said, I accept that such things go on in the world; and often I feel responsible for pointing out that they continue regardless of all the sobbing, pontificating, accusing, stamping do-gooders in the world. I don’t dispute that particular method of relating—I do it enough myself, as anyone knows—but I do despise the self-imposed blindness that insists that anything believed now must be retroactively incorporated into any described history dogmatically and without restraint.

That is, if we don’t mass-slaughter people now, we must condemn people who have been dead 400 years repeatedly for having done it. As though somehow that changes the event.

I run a world that is a distorted simulation of Earth history circa 1650. It is distorted in that magic and monsters exist, thus changing many of the borders, historical events and social perceptions.

For example, my 17th century religious leaders don’t burn witches in order to gain their property, since witchcraft is an accepted practice and often necessary for the defense of the state.

However, my 17th century religious leaders DO burn witches who are seen as potentially threatening the state…or the religious authority of those same religious leaders. They also burn non-witches for being “hidden” witches threatening the power structure. This is done gleefully, pragmatically, extensively and methodically. I don’t apologize as a DM for the massacre of hundreds of innocent people, for two reasons. One, it was done, the art reflects the reality, and get over yourself. Two, no one is actually dying. Nor do I think it likely that someone is going to play in my world, rush out, seize a person and burn them just because they heard me describing it in my world.

It is MORE likely that one of them will read the BIBLE, seize a person and burn them for being a witch. So you might want to start your protests with that elephant, and not with me.

Of course, I’m more accessible.

My various emperors, kings, viziers and dukes massacre, assassinate, fornicate and appropriate at will. Being monarchs in a monarchical system, their only opponents are lesser nobles, whose primary interests are in that the King doesn’t get to be the only one massacring and fornicating. I don’t apologize for all this activity, or the fields of dead, staked victims, clogged river courses or other circumstances which I have occasionally had reason to include for dramatic effect. I have also included rampant disease, crippling worldwide poverty and famine. I have yet to have a player decide to do anything about these horrors on any kind of scale, but of course the potential is there. It could be a quest—but then, I don’t give quests.

Nor have I ever heard of a DM suggest, as a quest, that the players should “bring about the welfare of the kingdom” as part of their activities. Oh sure, they might be instructed to remove the Evil Usurper to the throne…but like American foreign policy, it is always assumed that this will instantly produce a kind, considerate ruler and everything will be fine.

Which is really the height of hubris.

Given an environment with this kind of ongoing bastardy, I find it vaguely humorous that players would have trouble with the homosexuality of other players. It might be that I am playing with people who have little interest in sex in my game—not that they don’t talk about it constantly before the game starts, after the game stops or during the necessary convenience store run that must occur at half-time. I play with some fairly young people, in their early 20s, so sex is a major issue for them (it is for me, too, but for different reasons than my being young).

Since I run a 17th century reality, homosexuality wouldn’t last long on the streets if a player pursued it. With clerics wandering around using Know Intent (my version of Know Alignment), which indicates only if a person intends on doing evil, things get freaky pretty fast. A party member would only need to wander in the vicinity of a cathedral where one of the many 3rd-level deacons of the church, sweeping the street at random, was able to discover that the particular homosexual party member was a very nasty creature indeed. A foreigner, too, walking past with all that equipment, nice clothes and probable wealth, all to go automatically into the pocket of the church when that individual is RIGHTLY executed for being a non-approved member of society.

No, I’m not a nice guy.

My societies are repressive. Just like a 17th century world, only WITH the actual magical ability to find out what you’re thinking.

I don’t do this just to be a shit. I do it because I want my players on their toes, because this creates tension, drama, adventure and a real desire to get tougher and stronger, just so the player can do whatever the fuck he or she fucking wants.

You see, the average homosexual gay wannabe player is usually able to do this with no consequences whatsoever, being able to throw out into the game a lot of droll sexual innuendo, lame juvenile attempts at roleplaying and a lot of predictable childishness. Whereas I have this feeling that IF someone wants to play a homosexual in a world, then they ought to be damn well aware that they’re hated, that forces want them fucking DEAD and that those forces are in charge of everything. Creating the sense of mind that a homosexual player just wants to change his/her world enough that they can practice in peace.

This is a much better driver for story than butt cheeks and cum jokes.

The same goes for anyone who is a Jew, a Cathar, a worshipper of Satan, a Hindu in England or a Christian in Borneo. You are fighting the status quo. To win against the status quo will require more than just a lot of stupid jokes. You will have to face prejudice, hatred, abuse, persecution and assassination. If you win against all that, you will feel as a player as though you are on top of the world.

Now, everything I’ve just said above applies to race, as well. Negros are captured and shipped in miserable conditions to America, where they are beaten. While my demi-humans tend to get on with each other (unlike the PHB), there are quite a lot of blood feuds between dwarves and goblins, elves/gnomes and gnolls, orcs and humans, hobgoblins and everyone, and so on. In a few cases, where land has long been in dispute, there are some blood feuds between humans and demi-humans, most notably between the Swedes and the elves over the territory of central Finland. For the most part, however, segregation is the rule and they just don’t live in the same room. Which doesn’t keep them for going to war occasionally just to kill as many as possible.

Which brings me to the subject of women.

In 1650, it was easier to be a woman if you were born to a rich family, or nobility. Joan of Arc, two hundred years earlier, was much rarer than adventurous women in the 17th century.

That doesn’t mean they were respected; only tolerated. I tend to ease up somewhat on my women characters, since for the most part the company they keep is within the party. It is easier for female demi-humans, as the race is seen first and the sex second. It is also mitigated in that most of would-be rapists are considerably lower level that any party member who might venture off on her own.

Given the chance, however, I won’t hesitate to describe the rape of a party member, whatever their sex (orcs are pretty indiscriminate). I have yet to have any such occurrence happen in my world (and it hasn’t with these present players) where it turned out to be funny.

But that is the way I tell the story.

To sum up. I run a world steeped in evil. The ordinary, historical evil that has always been a part of history. I run it indiscriminately and without regret. I run it that way to give the party a chance to rise above it, to feel the indecency and—if they want to—do something about it. I also run it that way so that if the party feels they want to wallow in it, they can. I haven’t noticed that many of the sort of people I call my friends want to wallow in it for very long.

That, too, is the way I tell the story. Because wallowing has its own consequences. Recently a player made the point that the party—by their actions—are more monsters than the monsters. And that she feels that this ought to change, since they seem to be constantly pursued wherever they go by people who hate them.

This is how stories develop. First, the injustice is made clear. After, it might be ignored. Then it becomes too hideous to ignore. And steps begin to do something about it.

I won’t, however, sanitize my world the way people want to sanitize all human history. Fuck that. Let’s have a clear understanding of what we are, as thinking beings, and then let’s play in a world where we’re not afraid to face the evil.

Let’s grow up.


Anonymous said...

Great post. It sounds like your campaign is grimmer than my own.

Will Douglas said...

All in all, another very good post. Always food for thought here.

One category of "problem player" that you left out was atheists, who I feel should be dealt with rather severely in a world where gods are real.

I know one player who is himself an atheist, although his characters are not. But you would hardly know it sometimes, as he sits at the game table ranting on about how all religious should be abolished and similar sentiments. I find it just as distracting as the jokes you mentioned would be.

Will said...

I dunno. Kind of sounds like a tremendous drag to me.

Fantasy is supposed to transport me away from the worst impulses of the human race, no let me wallow in it more than I'm already forced to.

Kelly Bailey said...

It sounds like you're saying that homosexuality in your game is evil. Or if it's just the interpretation of these priests, doesn't their intent to murder and thieve from non-evil people register as "objectively" evil? Or is Know Intent more like "Detect Heresy"?

Alexis said...

See? There's that political correctness crap that plagued Jim. Kelly, get a grip on yourself and realize that through most of history, homosexuality was "evil." If you did any research on the author of this blog (such as following the link of my name) you'd discover that my own sexuality is highly suspect.

"Evil" is always defined as "opposite to the intent of what we personally consider virtuous." Alternately, many actual evil people, like myself, define evil as a positive, satisfying way to live, and "good" as a myopically stupid compulsion towards guilt and obedience. But of course, a religious church will define "good" as the proper behavior for the masses towards "right thinking."

STOP, please stop, thinking in ordinary, inflexible terms. ALL conditions of evil/good are might begin from the perception that morality is a movable feast.