Friday, August 13, 2010

Duty I: Intro & Everyone Else

I'm just going to go ahead and steal from Wikipedia.  It is clear enough and simple enough that I don't feel any need to improve upon it.  Cicero's four sources from which an individual gains a sense of 'duty':
  • A result of being human.
  • A result of one's particular place in life (your family, your country, your job)
  • A result of one's character.
  • A result of one's moral expectations for oneself.
But what is duty?  The word derives from the Latin, debere, which is "to owe," and comes to English through the French duete.  It is merely a debt, vis a vis Cicero, a debt to humanity, a debt to one's family, nation and employer, a debt to one's self-respect and a debt to one's hopes, ambitions and well-being.

It is not, therefore, something that necessarily derives from the military, though the military forces of society have co-opted the word to the Nth degree with the expectation that it will encourage souls to allow themselves to be executed for the sake of safe, preserved, wealthy power-brokers.  Duty is that sense of our conscience that harasses us almost constantly - the sense that right now I should be doing my job and not writing this blog.  The sense that I should write a post today and not put it off tomorrow because I have readers.  The sense that the blog and my job should both be put aside for my doing something more important, like paying attention to my writing career.

In short, a terrific source for guilt.

In the development of characters, I have often seen duty applied to a state or a king in the classic military way.  In virtually every case I've seen duty applied to a player's ambition for their character's improvement.  And to some degree I've seen a sense of duty adopted by players towards family, or the betterment of the world, or towards a characterization that has been created.  I have even seen duty carried to the point of a character committing suicide - something which I feel has quite defined the length a player will go to make a character real.

I am not certain that I have heard the word 'duty' used, however, with consciously intended purpose.

A couple of weeks ago Matt Conlon made a comment about motivations for characters deriving from dead parents and a hunger for revenge, and how much that bored him.  I concurred to the point where I wrote a bit of satire about it.  And now I want to make a pitch for the creation of three-dimensional characters, as opposed to the wooden kind.  Thankfully, we can return to Cicero's notes.

(If Cicero had been taking notes for me in University, I'd be a doctor now)

The key is to pick your character's duty (read: motivation) from two different categories.  It's not enough that your character feels a responsibility towards family AND the state ... those together are just one category.  What is the character's duty towards his or herself?  Don't just throw it out there that the character wants the same things the state wants - that's deadly dull.  Where's the conflict?

Ah, says the gentle reader.  Don't ask us to come up with a duty - give us examples.

Very well.  Let's start from the first premise.

Being Human

I want to present the fundamental sides to this question: does an individual owe anything to humanity, or does an individual owe everything to his or herself?  Is humanity truly served by altruism - giving of oneself for the betterment of others - or is humanity truly served through selfishness - promoting the individual?

Let us be clear: I won't quibble about what is right or wrong behavior for a human being at this time.  I'm only presenting options.  I don't play with alignments, but ... D&D would usually demand that any individual who is altruistic is by definition Lawful; and that any individual who is selfish by nature is by definition Chaotic.  If the individual applied his chaotic nature towards the betterment of mankind (through the creation of devices or curatives, say, that brought about the general good not through the individual's direct involvement, but second hand), then we would say the character was Chaotic Good.  If the individual twisted altruism, or lawfulness, to order to destroy the well-being of others and make them dependent and willing slaves, we would say the character was Lawful Evil.

I'm not a big fan of those labels.  Rather than attempting to catalog a character's actions according to a regime, I prefer to bring it down to ordinary behaviors.  Does the character enjoy the company of others?  Is the character generous?  Does the character betray spitefulness?  That sort of thing.

Well, how would a player employ a spiteful character?  It can be much more complicated than merely taking absolute revenge on another party member at first opportunity.  Consider.  Spite is a cowardly enmity towards another individual's good fortune or abilities.  The instigation begins with seeing another player do well - being lauded for killing an enemy, or being the winner in lots for a piece of prime equipment, or even being chosen as a favorite by the lovely princess.  The spiteful character holds this to their bosom, then plots petty methods of compensating for the perceived slight against them - slipping one of the lucky character's torches out of their pack and throwing it on the fire during watch, for instance.  Or pouring a glass of ale sereptitiously into a party member's shoes the morning people are to strike out for the mountains.  Giving things when they're asked for, but in a grumbling, recalcitrant manner, with the self-promise of spitting in that individual's bean curd later that night.  This can be carried out blatantly, or through notes to the DM ... and the level of spitefulness can climb steadily throughout an entire campaign.  It is a question of how imaginative one can be.

Very well, what about generousity?  What about being generous to the point of absurdity, to where you must tell your fellow party members, "No, sorry, can't go kill the dragon today - I've given my mace to the schoolchildren in the last town; can you believe they had no weapons at all?"

All right, let's roll that back a bit.  Say your character's generousity is less random.  You take it upon yourself to systematically improve everyone else's armor, equipment, comfort level - what have you.  I have some experience with this - my mage in my daughter's campaign is doing this.  I have few needs, so I spend my money on liquor that I can dispense to others, or on healing salves when the time comes, or on someone else's expensive plate mail or upon buying the higher level fighter a fine sword that won't break.  I'm consciously playing it this way.  What is my reward?  Well, the fighters are bigger and stronger and harder to hit, making them better meat shields between me and the monsters.  That's important.  Also, someday I might need a favor ...

I have played inordinately virtuous or pious players - who you did not swear in the presence of, I promise you - and harlots who preferred to slit the throats of their clients.  D&D is a pretty open forum for how one chooses to act towards the rest of humanity: they are either sheep to be shorn, sheep to be led, sheep to be butchered for food or sheep to be driven off to get rid of the endless bleating.  When you are met by the lord, will you criticize his clothing rather than toadying to his power?  When the thief robs you, will you run him down and kill him, or will you let him go with a laugh; or will you run him down in order to buy him a drink?  Do you fight for money or for sport?  And if for sport, do you let others win their fights, or do you, rather, shout out with: "AHA!  I kick the halfling away and kill the orc myself!"  Are you moody?  Do you despise clerics, or jugglers - or children?  How much do you despise them, exactly?  I mean, would you bad mouth the juggler, or are you prepared to take him out to the alley for a good drubbing with his clubs?

I'm not trying to give a list.  I'm trying to awake the possibilities, not in terms of your specific behavior, but in terms of how you view others.  Start with positively or negatively ... and then start outlining some descriminations.  Which peoples are you favorable towards; which peoples are bound to have a good time with you?  And once you have sorted that out, resolve for your character the degree of commitment you feel towards the positive treatment of these people, or the negative treatment of those.  Scratch it out: I'm a pretty negative person.  Especially when it comes to mimes.  I'll tell them to bugger off once.  If that's not enough, I'll draw my sword and make it clear.  And if those pansy bastards keep up with the whole wall-between-them-and-I business, well I have a friend who owns an oubliette and it's EMPTY right now, got it?

Good, enough for now.  We can move onto the rest next week.