Strip 134 - "It was bound to come up, eventually"

12th Feb 2015, 12:00 AM in Corvus Village
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Halosty45 12th Feb 2015, 12:30 AM edit delete reply
I wonder if you can switch deities without knowing it...
Raxon 12th Feb 2015, 12:59 AM edit delete reply
The way I see it, alignment acts as a sort o cross between someone's moral compass, and their personality. Very few classes, regardless of alignment, are restricted to a set code of conduct outside their control.
Greywander 12th Feb 2015, 2:20 AM edit delete reply
Crap, I see I missed last page's discussion on alignment.

Anyway, I've been fiddling around with the idea of making an RPG that "feels like DnD" while getting rid of much of the clutter and streamlining the whole thing. One of the few things I've addressed so far is alignment.

I decided to scrap the Good vs. Evil axis, because no one sees themselves as evil (unless they are a card carrying villain). Also, because players are generally forced to play either Good or Neutral anyway, as players with Evil PCs seem to feel almost obligated to backstab their party members. And yes, I realize this isn't how Evil characters are supposed to be played, but practically speaking the Good vs. Evil axis just ends up not being useful.

Instead, I replaced it with Disciplined vs. Harmonious, with Disciplined taking on some of the traits that previously fell under Lawful. This, I feel, is a lot more interesting, as there is no explicit Good or Evil as far as alignment goes; instead, any alignment has the potential for heroism or villainy.

However, I wound up missing some of the other aspects of the Good and Evil alignments, such as how they fit in to paladins, the undead, and channeling positive and negative energy. So I added a third axis: Light vs. Dark. Really, I probably should have just renamed Good and Evil to Light and Dark from the start.

In fact, if I didn't find alignment useful for giving at least a semblance of personality to a character, I might just axe it entirely. Or, you know, replace it with personality types or something similar. Pretty much, I think alignments should be descriptive, not definitive.

Speaking of paladins and losing powers, what I'd probably do is, rather than going by alignment, is write up a specific set of deities, including lists of cleric and paladin spells for each deity, and a list of vows that paladins must follow. Break a vow and you lose your paladin status. It gives a much more concrete idea of what does and does not revoke your paladinhood. And of course the deities would be smart enough to know when a paladin is going by the letter of the law and not the spirit, but having your paladinhood revoked without breaking a vow should generally be proceeded by a warning of some kind.

Oh yeah, and slaughting a village of pagan heathens would probably fall under Lawful Evil in my book. Lawful, in that (I assume) paganism is expressly forbidden by his god (and therefore the heathens must be brought to justice), and Evil in that the first resort is to kill them rather than convert them.

Alignment has potential to make many types of games more interesting, whether it's an RPG or a Strategy game, or whatever. The one thing I suggest, though, is that you don't have a Good and Evil axis, as it tends to devolve into silliness (in videogames, at least). Actually, one that I've seen popping up in Civ games recently is to have three opposed ideologies, each granting different bonuses. I find this interesting because you don't have one alignment/ideology that directly opposes another. In fact, in general a group of three "opposed" things tends to be more interesting than a group of four, as a group of four will generally devolve into the simpler two groups of two things that oppose each other.

Blegh, I'm rambling...
Yuko Hoon 12th Feb 2015, 11:00 AM edit delete reply
Yuko Hoon
I would not recommend the Light vs. Dark alignment to substitute the Good vs. Evil alignment. Why? Just an example: a dhampir set in black armor, complete with broodig demeanor and silent as a freaking tomb. That was the paladin who crit'd and one-hit-ko'd the last dragon we fought against. Dark is not Evil, anyone? Alignment is a simple way to put you in one side or the other. But if you really want to have a more realistic output, the best thing to do is to get rid of the alignment system, period.
Greywander 13th Feb 2015, 3:07 PM edit delete reply
If you clicked on the links in "Light vs. Dark" in my previous post, you would see that they link to the "Light is not Good" and "Dark is not Evil" TV Tropes pages. The big reason I prefer Light/Dark over Good/Evil is that drops (at least explicit) moral connotations while retaining the other aspects, such as the association with undead, demons, angels, and healing. While most people in a fantasy world might consider something like a lich to be Evil (and, most of the time, they'd probably be right), it is not explicitely so, and the potential for a character who is Dark but also a good guy, or Light but a bad guy would exist.

Of course, the paladin character you described sounds like he'd be more of a Dark alignment, which, while that certainly wouldn't make him evil, it might mean that he could only channel negative energy and cast Inflict Wound spells rather than Cure Wound spells. Basically, a not-evil antipaladin. Although, while he might act Dark, if he's actually fighting against the undead and a champion of Light, then he'd probably still be Light aligned, regardless of appearances.
SeriousBiz 12th Feb 2015, 2:03 PM edit delete reply

"On the ethical implications of the alignment system"
One of the problems I personally see with the alignment system is that while there most certainly are acts that most people agree can be described as either evil, neutral or good (kicking a helpless puppy, not kicking a helpless puppy, actively working to alter the messed-up circumstances which lead to and allow said sporadic puppy-kicking), it becomes problematic when we apply the same descriptors to people (characters, in this case, but you get what I'm saying).

For instance, "evil must not be tolerated" would be a great code of conduct for a paladin character. Problem is, there is a crucial difference between "evil acts must not be tolerated", and "evil people must not be tolerated". The former follows the spirit of the paladin code and takes into account matters such as the possibility for both fall and redemption, while the latter quite accurately describes ends-justify-the-means knight templar type attitudes, as in, "it is okay for me to commit the same heinous acts which I would never tolerate in my enemies (and which I tell myself they are doing even with little to no evidence, in order to justify my own acts against them), since I am good and they are evil." The former mindset focuses on prevention, the latter on punishment.

Any system that deals with ethical and moral dilemmas should make the act of dehumanizing one's enemies by labeling them "evil" or otherwise "lesser" a watershed in that character's own personal start of darkness. In justifying a supposedly good character calling another character "chaotic evil" and smiting them in the name of "good", the D&D alignment system is, sadly, allowing a very dehumanizing mindset in so-called good characters. By making good and evil active forces instead of convenient descriptors for acts that either help or harm others, the alignment system trips itself up. The act of dehumanizing one's enemies is a very problematic thing since it condones unprovoked violence as long as it is used against "acceptable targets". This mindset is not just an alignment issue, it has real-life implications.

When Gimli and Legolas are light-heartedly competing on who slays the most orcs, that's not them making the best of a crappy situation, that's them dehumanizing their opponents to the point where the orcs are no more than obstacles in a video game. At that point, the "heroes" don't want to have to consider whether they act just as cruelly and sadistically as their enemies. (For the record, despite this... gringe-worthy aspect to the story, I absolutely adore LotR. Don't get me started on a certain narcissistic, bullying, sadistic, murderous, yet annoyingly self-righteous drow. "Not like his evil kin", my ass...)

Once your enemy is tagged as "evil", you can justify the most cruel acts you can think to do to them and still maintain that you're a "good person". The thing is, you don't prevent evil acts by committing evil acts against evil people. That way, you're effectively stating that it's not the evil acts that are the problem - it's the evil people. And, as we know, at that point, it's all about deciding who's evil and who's not.
Raxon 12th Feb 2015, 4:44 PM edit delete reply
I would argue that people can be evil. Evil people exist in real life. People who harm innocents simply because the innocent being hurt amuses them. "This action is evil. I know it is evil, but I don't care." That is how I perceive villains. Quite frankly, a villain who does his thing and doesn't care at all about the innocent lives he destroys is evil, in my mind.

You can be the hero and be evil, and you can be the villain, and be good. From the way I look at it, it's all aboutactions and intentions. To quote, "By their fruits will you know them."

Committing evil acts for the sake of committing evil acts makes that character evil.
Malroth 12th Feb 2015, 10:01 PM edit delete reply
and it doesn't take much to be "evil", the merchant who lies about how old the horse he's selling is, the jaded doctor who snickers when stupid people get sick when they don't follow his advice, the 5 year old who takes the 4 year old's lunch money all will ping as "evil" to anything that detects it but smiting them will be as much if not more of an evil act than anything they actually do.
Raxon 12th Feb 2015, 10:10 PM edit delete reply
Exactly. The monarch may be lawful evil, but if he follows and obeys the laws put in place by his predecessors, he may not necessarily be a bad king.

Killing someone who is evil just for existing is also an evil act.
DamonIsa 14th Feb 2015, 2:55 AM edit delete reply

Funny thing is, it would take more than that. I mean... going by the rules in DnD/Pathfinder as that's what sets up the scenario in question and thinking Paladins just go and Paladin the Shit out of anyone who has ever done a single "Evil" thing in their life. Because... they don't detect as 'Evil' Unless they are high level AND aligned to Evil. Including the fact that Alignment is described as a "general pattern of behavior". The 5 year old kid who is probably a 1 HD Human and bullies other kids isn't going to ping the Evil-Dar. The level 7 Bandit King who has made his life in a rapine and looting style for years however would detect on the Evil-Dar... faintly.

Even if that "Lawful Evil Monarch who's a good ruler" exists in the example below... he wouldn't actually BE Lawful Evil unless there was some serious skeletons in his closet. If he was just like a lay worshiping Devil Worshiper he'd probably be Lawful Neutral anyway. Just saying. If he actually is pinging on the "evil" scale he's probably doing something squicky.

I mean you can say that's the dehumanization of an enemy and such but it is actually tied to the mechanics. You're not "Evil" because you were starving to death as a homeless guy once and stole a sandwich. You're "evil" because you do things like make a habit of doing things like blood sacrifices to dark powers, stealing trinkets you don't need just because you delight in the suffering it causes in others, etc.

You kinda have to work to be Evil. So if you're actually at the point where you detect as "Evil" to a Paladin... you kind of have it coming.

With the exception of creatures from Evil Aligned Planes of course, as they detect as Evil as a Matter of Birth. Which does actually open up the "humanization" thing where you can't just necessarily go "... well she's a Succubus, Evil, Smite!" and actually do have to discover more particulars.

But yeah, point I had because I see it come up a lot. The "Crooked Horse Merchant" who's some Level 1 Expert isn't going to Ping Evil and such. When you actually take that into mind that these "minor slights of morality" won't actually ping an Evil-Dar spell/ability it takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of people who claim its extremist.
SeriousBiz 12th Feb 2015, 10:38 PM edit delete reply

"More ethical ramblings"
See, that is what I was talking about: Next, one might argue that committing evil acts against those kinds of people is justifiable, since they are evil and deserve it.

I don't deny these kind of people actually exist. I'm arguing that it takes less than that to do evil. Anyone can enjoy individual acts of evil, as long as it is targeted towards people who, in their mind, "deserve" it. A much larger ethical issue than evil individuals who enjoy committing evil acts indiscriminately is large groups of neutral and/or good people committing evil acts towards certain people who are seen as "acceptable targets".

This is why we have many (in my mind) pointless conversations about "this character cannot be evil because they don't see themselves as evil." Very few people in real life see themselves as evil, and restricting the role of the villain to these kind of characters only serves to remove all ambiguity from the equation. A person can see themself as a great human rights champion while ordering the burning of a whole village with its people locked inside the houses. It's committing the acts that makes the person evil, not whether or not they care to justify the acts to themselves.

Worse still, defining an "evil character" as only someone who sees themself as evil makes defining "good" characters even more problematic. Seeing oneself as "good" does not make it so.

Point is, people who do the nastiest things but still manage to justify the actions to themselves as "not really that evil" is one heck of a lot bigger ethical problem than the very few people who go full Joker. The latter can be dealt with easily. The former requires people to be vigilant of their own actions and motivations, something many are not willing to do as long as they can keep playing ethical rules lawyer and justifying their actions as "not really that bad because reasons reasons." That, in my mind, is also evil.
Rooker 13th Feb 2015, 3:21 AM edit delete reply
Ooh! I can participate in today's discussion!

I especially like SeriousBiz's argument of "good vs. evil" and "acceptable vs. unacceptable" in the realm of how people decide which is which. I bought the D&D 5th Edition core books plus Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. It describes that "acceptability" trait in what is considered good or bad with the way Tiefling and Dragonborn and Half-Orcs are often treated. Tieflings are considered in 5e to be a humanoid race that was once normal until a member of their ancestry made a pact with the Lord of the Nine Hells. The taint on their bloodline then extended to future generations who were cursed to be born with a demonic appearance. But, the common man does not often see it this way. If it looks like a demon, it MUST be a demon and it MUST be evil! It offered a summary description that people will go out of their way to avoid it like a superstitious person will cross the street to get away from a black cat. If a Dragonborn had heritage related to one of the Chromatic Dragons (who are typically Evil alignment) then people were more likely to fear the presence, but unless Dragonborn were actively breathing on things, they weren't given much regard except "OH SHIT! A drag--Oh, it's a man...I think." Any that care to know and don't already; I have heard from an experienced 3.5 player Dragonborn were made and not actually born, and that anyone who made the transformation to Dragonborn were rendered infertile. 5th Edition Dragonborn are regarded as their own race and culture, complete with reproductive capability. Then the Half-Orcs, obviously, look like an orc! Orcs were made by Gruumsh, a decidedly Evil deity, and the Half-Orcs are no more free from the madness of the War God than their full-blooded compatriots are. So unlike the Dragonborn and Tieflings who are assumed evil because of their heritage, Half-Orcs actually struggle with the maddening whispers of Gruumsh in their dreams and during battle. So the racial natures there is where that whole "acceptable vs. unacceptable" gets a lot of attention because you go into a room with an half-orc, a tiefling, and a dragonborn and you're most likely to have trouble from the orc who has a tendency toward violence to solve any problem, the tiefling is either going to be very demure or irritated that you call them evil based on their appearance. The dragonborn will probably be the least of your worries because while they have a fear-based discrimination to deal with, like the Orc, they are largely just left the hell alone.

Back when I was first learning D&D I had the same hatred of the alignment system as many argue is reasonable here, until I had a realization. It's not about "being the hero" or "being the villain" it's about the intention and nature of what you are going to do for the most part. I had a friend who did a great job explaining certain aspects. He played a Lawful Good Gold Dragon while I played an Underdark version of a human Sorcerer, or non-Drow elf. I forget now. I was adapted to tunnel life and I didn't automatically hate the rest of the universe, so I know I wasn't Drow based on their initial descriptor (also wasn't allowed to be because of their inclination toward Evil alignment and this was a Good campaign). The way my friend portrayed this lawful good Dragon was that we had found out through allies of the dragon that a large force of Underdark Raiders were coming to kill everyone that stood against them and enslave the survivors. He in his association with Good and Valor to protect the innocent deemed that, if necessary, everyone that he was training us all to fight against was going to need to die. HOWEVER, in accord with his LAWFUL side, it was our duty to defeat these foes and offer them the opportunity to surrender if we did not kill them or were not forced to kill them. Anyone who put their weapon down and fled was not to be pursued or struck down. This included a threat toward anyone that if he reviewed the dead and found someone on either side dead by a wound in the back, he would exact a price against the offender. Execution, surprisingly, was low on the list, but it was a valid option if he could not convince the offender to repent for their wrongdoing.

SO, where I was going with all that about the Dragon is that "Good" and "Evil" is more an overall view of how you're doing things. Although there is the subjectivity of all of it, for the sake of dictating a specific way of doing things, D&D applies a kind of science to a very subjective description. If you stand for valor and order and life and (generally) light, you are Good Alignment. And you don't necessarily require all four of those qualities. Even just one can be acceptable to count as Good. If you serve a very particular sense of balance and right vs. wrong and observing and respecting the cycle of the universe, you are neutral. Usually Lawful Neutral based on that description, but Neutral on the current argument. Finally, if you support malice and madness and death and (normally) darkness. If you act in self-interest and only help others to either hurt somebody else or put a greater plan into motion, you can often be considered Evil...or a Rogue, still not where I'm going with it. An Evil Alignment character, even Lawful, acts with ideals of ambition and desire as some of their greatest driving forces. If they are acting on behalf of a greater power, like Lolth or Gruumsh or Tiamat then they are often planning heinous things like mass murder, casting blights on the world, or even wholesale genocide in the name of their dark Patron. The gray area that can start a fight there is that allegedly Good heroes are often also ambitious and can be extremely greedy, but they are often convinced they are doing what's right for a "greater good" where an inherently Evil alignment character is probably going to say either "screw the greater good" or "this is something I need" as many Evil aligned characters have some degree of addiction to power or other applicable obsession. Again, a trait that can just easily be found in Good characters, but that fact is ignored or overshadowed by the presence of their desire to apply it for "good" reasons.

The challenge we as players come across with Alignment is that we are overthinking it. This is a high fantasy story with heroes and villains and monsters and munchkins. Good and Evil, while fun to tinker with, are much more cut and dry than real life.

Can there be a Lawful Good Paladin villain? OH YEAH! But, more often than not, that villain is typically falling into Lawful Evil and not realizing it, but following his patron's laws he won't lose his powers until he makes a clear and obvious transition to Evil Alignment. After all, the truly skilled Evil characters will be twisting our Lawful Good Paladin and making him dance as their puppet who believes the Evil character is an ally sent to help him in his quest, convincing him that these are enemies of his idea of what is right and true and must be snuffed out before they can spread their evil ways.
SeriousBiz 13th Feb 2015, 1:53 PM edit delete reply

"Some more thoughts on ethics and D&D"
I disagree with the idea that heroic fantasy should get a free pass on having to examine its moral implications because “it's fantasy”. Yes, the setting may be different from real life, but that does not mean the ethical implications are removed from our world. The "heroic murderous hobo" archetype may be a staple in classic fantasy, but maybe that's something that should change as we're becoming increasingly aware of the impact the stories we tell have on people. Despite what we tell ourselves, fiction does affect the way we think, so we must examine what the message is and not just accept the stories the way they are. Without considering the epic-scale racism of H.P. Lovecraft, fans may not realize that “The Shadow Over Innsmouth“ is one enormous anti-race-mixing message, and might naturally come to assume that “mixing blood” is inherently a bad thing. Impressionable Twilight fans might not see anything wrong with a 100-year old stalker sneaking in to watch a 16-year-old sleep, or in someone using attempted suicide as a way to guilt-trip their ex.

If the imaginary world has actual ethics that stray from ours, that should be a huge frickin' deal, not something that is glossed over. If killing another human being for being on the wrong side (other than in self-defense) is a “good” thing in that world, then there should be a darn good explanation for why it's “good”. People already have a tendency to underthink ethical problems as “somebody else's problems”, so we don't really need fiction to reinforce that belief.

In my opinion, it is never problematic to “overthink” the ethical implications of a story. It's when we underthink it – and absorb the message without considering it – that we stray, as a society.

The "good guy must kill bad guy" mentality has its place - in the same stress-relieving, action-packed, don't-even-worry-about-it scenarios that warrant the "kick-the-door-in" style of gameplay. When we're just looking for a convenient release of aggression that has been building up since that annoying customer/coworker/boss made us mad this Friday afternoon, we turn to these types of games. And it's okay, as long as we don't expect these kinds of games to deal with moral behavior. Like an uber-violent video game, they're there to let us escape a world of ambiguity and conflicting interests and pretend for a second that "evil" has a face that can be punched. It's okay as long as we acknowledge that the world has nothing in common with ours.

But the second we want to tell an epic story about good and evil, about loyalty and freedom, about caring for others while recognising your own limitations as just a single human being trying to be a human being in a world full of other sapient beings just like ourselves - that's when we need to delve deeper than "me hero, you bad guy" tropes, or we're going to be creating some pretty messed-up stories. We should not use “cut-and-dry” tropes to tell an epic story, or we're being part of the problem. That there are so many of these kind of stories says something profound about our messed-up society.
NeoPhantom 13th Feb 2015, 9:47 PM edit delete reply

"Alignment Elements"
A few years ago, I made quite a complex graph detailing a vast majority of elements separated in separate groups: Physical, Property, Spiritual, Omniscient, Occasional, Dimensional, Primordial, Eventual.

Because of the sheer complexity of this graph, I'll only detail my findings ragarding the elements related to Alignments: the Omniscient Elements.

They compose half the Conscious Sphere, being the twin of the Spiritual Elements. While the spiritual elements create the Spiritual Plane of each person (their spiritual existence) the Omniscient Elements determine the conduct of the individual.

The Omniscient Elements can be divided in 10 opposite pairs which cancel each other out. The method is mostly simple, if you have an affinity with one element (say an affinity of 60% for "x" then you will have an affinity to it's twin element "y" by 40%. This leaves a 20% True affinity to element "x". The greater this percentage, the greater the chance that you will blindly follow that element. The closer to zero it is, the greater the chance of you to make use of its twin in times of great need. A 100% affinity to an Omniscient element makes the individual unstable to mortals, but a grand vassal towards their god.

The 10 Omniscient Pairs are:

Ethic: Havok VS Order

Moral: Amity VS Malice
This is a modification of Good and Evil, taking in consideration the reason behind the action and whether the person who did the action had a different motive. A hero who saved people for money does not have Amity Affinity. A villain who kills to save his friends does not have Malice Affinity.

Action: Astir VS Idle
Whether the individual is willing to intervene, or would rather turn their hands and not get involved. It is not Malice to not help when you know you will get killed, it is deplorably Idle, but not evil. But too much Astir can be bad as well as one may push their responsibility too far and cause many more problems than they solve with their actions.

Ego: Pride VS Demure
Pride and Humility may not seem likely candidates for alignments until you reason the fact that these can drastically change the actions of people. A hero with a cool head may hold his tongue to insult, but a hot blooded hero may do something he might regret if his pride is injured. At the greatest Pride Affinity.. . look at corrupted noblemen in most stories.

Drive: Instinct VS Ideal
To live each day following your instincts, what you see, what you hear... Or follow a great ideal which you deeply regard. Instinct may lead to separation from others due to your distrust of others whilst Ideal may cause friction if you impose it upon others.

Motive: Duty VS Gaety
For you or for another? Due to your will to help a friend or in order to help yourself? This pair encompass three of the cardinal sins (list, greed, envy). However, a perfect soldier who follows any order without question is not the best answer without a single care to his person is not the best either.

Promise: Karma VS Geis
A bit more abstract, but... Geis is a vow, a promise made that must be kept at any cost and will never be broken. Karma is the will of the person to break the promise if the situation is dire. A person with large mount of Karma is likely to break his promises more easily while a person of great Geis will keep his promise even if it will doom everyone in the universe.

Method: Dogma VS Equity
Simply put, do you see others as different beings that must be treated with prejudice or are you capable of treating everyone exactly the same even when its best to take into consideration the differences? Will you put a level 80 and a level 1 on a mission to kill an ancient demon of level 100? Or will you outright refuse the level 1 any request whatsoever regardless of difficulty due to him being weak?

Perception: Occult VS Honour
Due you prefer to hide in the darkness or follow a path visible to all? Are you a villain who with great Honour proclaims to the world his will to conquer it or are you a schemeing lord who controls the games to his own interests without alerting others of his presence? Are you a hero who walks around proclaiming your identity and your acts of heroism or are you the type to prefer to not receive rewards for actions you believe are natural?

Determinant: Loyalty VS Logic
This last pair has a great effect on the other elements of this Plane, as they determine the likelihood of the others changing their percentage of affinity. Even the most dutiful of guards may betray their lord if their loyalty falls due to the actions of said lord, no?

The name Omniscient comes from a theory I once thought of about the gods having selected a specific combination of Alignments in order to empower themselves with the energy from every individual who possesses said combination of alignment elements. Their religions being a method to cultivate the young to develop the type of affinity that will give them strength as well as eliminate others with vastly differing alignments in order to weaken other rivaling gods. Due to the nature of the gods, they all possess a single Alignment towards which they excibit complete loyalty with the exception of the minor gods of neutrality which may or may not be loyal to true neutrality of all Omniscient Elements.

This wall of text is a shortened version of the descriptions which were incomplete even back then. Hope you enjoyed reading them!
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