Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Duty IV: The Flow

I had a tremendous urge to call this post "Call of Duty IV" ... but that seemed disingenious, in spite of the obvious pun that's been set up by me writing three long posts beforehand.  All the same, this is the last post on this subject, and I am good to move onto other things.

One's Moral Expectations for Oneself

Once again it's necessary to return to etymology in order to have a proper sense of 'morals' as it pertains to Cicero's philosophy about character - mostly to wash away the crud and gunk that has been attached to the word since the Victorian era.  Cicero used the word mos,moris ... "one's disposition."  In Cicero's case, this disposition was directed very positively towards the service of the res publica, or "the public thing" in strict translation, what we call the Republic.  A good Roman, as gathered from a great many of Cicero's writings, sacrificed his own comfort for the general welfare ... a sentiment echoed by JFK quite a long time later, and by many American idealists who place the country before themselves.

I personally view Cicero pretty much as a stuffed shirt, albeit a bright one; I'm not an American, but a Canadian, and like any good Canadian I believe the government and the country was created to serve my needs, and not the other way around.  My 'disposition,' as it were, is not a desire to sacrifice, but rather to be left alone.

Where it comes to D&D, the scale does not reach from sacrifice to isolation, but rather from sacrifice to exploitation.  Your character may love his or her family; but is there acquiescence to the needs of the family, or does is there instead a righteous knowledge of what the family needs?  Does he or she address the family respectfully; does he or she demand respect?  This is the disposition that is described here.

Cicero lived in the time of Sulla, Crassus and Julius Caesar, and the fall of the Republic, and had good reason to question the restraint of power, given the manner in which he saw it used.  Without question, most players would rather be Caesar before Cicero - but a balance of both characters is evident most of the time.

A player in the midst of role-play will often show mercy and kindness to NPC's of all classes and circumstances.  Many players fancy themselves to be heroes (which I insist is a delusion), and in acting the hero they are more willing to sacrifice than exploit.  They need nothing but freedom of action (and X.P.) and they are happy.  They are traits that greatly serve the railroaded game, since the DM can count on the party's compliance with whatever the DM has in mind - allowing the DM to exploit the well-meaning party.

I don't seem to have this sort of player in my campaigns.  This is possibly because my own particular method of abusing (and sometimes exploiting) parties is based on a lifetime of cynicism.  My NPC's tend to take advantage of 'reasonable' players, who try to be fair, who try to talk - since in reality, it is remarkably easy to take advantage of people who prefer to talk as opposed to taking action.  Thus my players - those who survive most successfully - tend to do their talking from a good distance, with a hand on the pommel of their sword.  Yes, that's right, my parties are a mistrustful bunch.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that first, the campaign tends to define a character's sense of duty to the moral climate of that particular world.  And that second, it is up to the player to decide whether the character is the sort that goes with the flow, or against it.  This is up to YOU.  I have players who buck the flow in my world, and successfully, by being very careful.  And I have been the sort of player who bucked the flow in a moral, heroic-conceived world just to be a shit.

There are gradations to either.  And most are pre-disposed to either the 'moral' or the 'immoral' ... that morality being a movable feast.  Being a butcherous asshole in my world is 'moral', because the morality of my world is based upon absolute survival at any cost.  Most worlds would frown on that sort of behavior.

However you perceive your character, remember that if you are moving against the flow to pick your battles.  I wouldn't recommend a strategy of universal obstinacy.  I'd throw your ass out the door.  If you're in the world, you ought to have a good reason for being there - and your character's behavior towards that world ought to reflect the DM's comfort level.  Be immoral if you like; beware that it will flow out of your character and into your own behavior.

The dividing line should be clear.