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It's Not Just A Game!

Why All Adventurers Are Chaotic Evil

by Coilean mac Caiside
Aug 07,2002

 

Why All Adventurers Are Chaotic Evil

The Mini-Summary

So noone loses track of the theme of the article halfway through a paragraph, or otherwise gets lost in the words, I've provided a minor summation of what I'm saying below. I've come to expect that people will rant against my points without reading my reasoning first, but at least this way, I [the person who translated concepts into words to create this article] will have specified what these assumptions are.

Part One: If you don't like it . . . don't play it! Motivations.
What to expect, my own impressions on the matter, a few thoughts to get started.

Part Two: Peer Pressure. Global - Personal
A different way of defining the axis'.

Part Three: Passive - Active
Alignment as the execution of motivations.


If you don't like it . . .

Many games operate without an alignment system. Many gamers are capable of roleplaying without an alignment. I myself, have yet to find an alignment system I can condone . . . as is.

. . . don't play it!

Unfortunately, this is one of those "choices" that give the illusion of Free Will while making the alternatives so unenjoyable that there is really no choice at all. Where the group you are with is keeping a given aspect of a system [even if only for the sake of game balance], and your options are to play by the rules or give up gaming, another solution may have to be found. Instead of entirely tossing out the bad parts, to haphazardly mix with old, trusted, proven systems, you may decide to slowly tweak the bad parts. Coming up with an enhancement [to the rules] is so much quicker, and easier, than writing a new system from scratch.

Motivations

"The only thing worse than evil is incompetent evil."
- Jenny Barker, Dragons on the Town, Thorarinn Gunnarsson

I've never really agreed with the common stereotypes about evil. Now, I will refrain from mentioning any evil characters that I have played in a party without killing anyone, because the reason they haven't killed anyone is to keep their cover, and telling anyone about them would kind of break that; just because you're "evil", doesn't mean you're stupid/suicidal. I was probably playing a devout coward, too ;)

The earliest alignment system I have on the shelf [to quote from] is the Advanced Dungeons&Dragons Player's Handbook. Since this article is about alignment, it made sense to start there.

"When chaotic evil characters band together, they are not motivated by a desire to cooperate, but rather to oppose powerful enemies. . . . Since leadership is based on raw power, a leader is likely to be replaced at the first sign of weakness by anyone who can take his position away from him by any method."
- excerpted from the description of Chaotic Evil

I dunno. It sounds to me like the top is a pretty dangerous place to be. I'd rather rule from the shadows, pulling the strings for the brightly-painted guy on the well-lit stage; let said leader be the target of assassinations. I may well be more powerful, but do I really need to let them know that? [Subtlety: not aggressively responding to perceived challenges/threats with every iota of power at one's disposal.]

A chaotic evil character might work [if it wasn't too difficult] to keep the party alive, knowing they would be needed later as scapegoat or to take some blows from the more powerful monsters. A lawful good character might have respect for the party's choices, whatsoever those might be, and show it by not interfering in their right to make those choices. There is not a single, unique, defined action for each given alignment in each different situation. I take those which are appropriate to my character.

Likewise, there are not often alignments available which precisely match your character concept. So, in the interest of not playing a two-dimensional character, I'm going to throw a few more axis' into the spin[ning jumble].

Peer Pressure

The first thing is to get rid of this silly Absolute alignment system. The one where we say "You have this quality, and it is Evil; thus you have all these other qualities, which are also Evil; and you may not have any of these qualities, for they are reserved for Good people only.". Your actual behavior [drawing from "real life" experience here, as foolish as that may be in a high fantasy genre] is more a product of the struggle between what you want to be, and how the people around you think you should be. What do they expect of you? Call it what you will, but not everyone gets their way [all of the time].

Global - Personal

I recall a priest character in an AD&D campaign I was once fortunate enough to participate in. His alignment was Lawful Evil. It should've been Lawful Good. By the standards of AD&D, he would have been insanely chaotic.

Seem contradictory?

The Good/Evil axis: He viewed death as a gift, which was only given to the most worthy. All the attacks were 3/4 temporary damage, and the player always tried for knockout; healing spells were dispensed to accidentally felled enemies. Now, that's a bit different from your average adventurer, who goes around slaughtering everything that looks threatening or attacks first, not thinking twice about the slaying. The character was good, in that for the most part noone was ever killed - and, if someone proved themselves worthy, he was doing the ultimate of good deeds by rewarding them with a trip to the next plane of existence, to serve the Deity of Death in the form they had in the prime of their life, not as an aging slowing grizzled fighter whose last days had come a few decades later. It may not have been "good" by everyone else's standards, but his misunderstandings were being roleplayed - and who knows, maybe they really were rewarded in that plane beyond.

The Law/Chaos axis: He carried out the edicts of his Deity he served [more important to him personally than the mundane laws were, despite being the only person in that country who did]. This resulted in utter chaos spreading across the entire area. Almost no living being [not-quite-mortals included] appreciated the disruption he caused in their domain.

So, alignment should not always be clear cut good/evil/law/chaos; there should be the personal alignment, which is how you view your actions, and the global alignment, which is how the majority of people around you in whatever area you're in would feel about your beliefs. If someone has a problem with you themselves? Well, the world isn't a peaceful perfect one, people don't always agree - in fact, they often disagree, or would - with each other's views. But for some reason we don't always come to blows, we somehow manage to ignore those parts of everyone else, and not go totally insane because there's almost noone out there who is completely in agreement with our world-view [enough people around us are still generally compatible]. So, characters should not be likely to have the issue get in the way of the party [or whatever else they're doing], unless they feel strongly about it [or are high-strung, prone to impulsive bahavior, other extenuating circumstances], or they feel everyone else would agree with them [the geographical/social area they live in]. It could be argued that every country is lawful good within its borders, because whatever the majority of people believe, seems right and proper to them; anyone else, say a pacifist in an area where everyone rapes, murders, razes, and pillages at will, would be considered sociopathic. Anyone else who doesn't believe as they do, could be called "chaotic" or "evil" because their actions are so distanced from what everyone knows should be, regardless of what they were before. Of course, to the rest of the world, that entire area might have a different alignment [like the only country of paladins being thought evil by the rest of the world, which freely engages in the aforementioned acts], hence Global Alignment differs depending on where you are, and who is doing the evalutions [you are in a bandit hideout, and backstabbing is the norm; you are also in the county, where it is outlawed; you go a bit farther out, and it might be something different].

You don't match an Absolute alignment, then? So are you good with evil tendencies, or evil with good tendencies? That depends. Which side is more important to the one judging you, more highly valued by them? Those qualities will be placed above the rest. What are they looking for - some common ground, or a rationale to kill you? Will you be ruthlessly cross-interrogated until they find some excuse to take your experience?

Passive - Active

While examining the beliefs of my own characters in a routine attempt to learn more about them, I discovered something fascinating. My characters don't think of themselves as adventurers. They think of the world as something that has plopped them into a new situation, and they are just trying to get by [or get what they deserve].

Adventurers become such because their life is less than "perfect"; most people have average lives, with some good parts and some bad parts, but then, most people manage to be happy most of the time, by enjoying the good and just tolerating the bad. Only a small portion of the population is so angered by the imperfection of everything, that they must go out there and Do Unto Others, forcing their own beliefs into the lives of anyone different [or removing those lives when conversion seems difficult].

I prefer to use the terms "passive" and "adventuring" [or "pro-active"] alignment. The passive ones are willing to get along; the pro-active ones feel a need to Do Something about it [all the world's wrongs are theirs to right].

Yet the mentality has its weaknesses; the adventurers are out there to Fix things, so they are naturally looking for 1) problems, and 2) easy solutions.

Military commanders like to see neat, tidy problems, and their oversimplified mission statements reflect this. The dog is howling: shoot the dog. The contract colonists are rioting: shoot the colonists. The contract corporation reneged on its contract to provide medical services: shoot the corporation CEO. This can easily complicate matters in an already complex situation. If you want something to happen, you must specify that something with great care and as much completeness as possible. Then, and only then, can you devise a strategy to accomplish what you really want - all of it - and not some little bit that turns out to be meaningless when everything else falls apart.
- Unknown [salvaged as the only worthwhile section of a Sci-Fi book I read]

Whenever something happens, adventurers ask "What can we do to stop/reverse it?"; we ask "How can I look at this to make it useful to me?". In setting yourself up to always oppose something, you can lose track of your own interests. Selfless dedications have occasionally been held up as a thing of virtue; when the Quest becomes its own reason, the risk of losing the meaning [the purpose] is highlighted. The template quote might be "I'm not against X; I'm for me!".

Alas, the alternatives may not seem much better. There is a Shadowrun novel entitled "Shadowboxer"; in it, what is left of the team blackmails an organization for powerful positions in their hierarchy, threatening to reveal murders of elven mages to large/powerful elven enclaves. An adventurer could very well claim that "We try to kill the enemy - you [thiefy types] would turn coat and join them.". This, however, is only possible in a one-sided world where True Evil and Good exist, and are obvious ["You are Lawful Good, aye? I am Lawful Good too. Therefore, you must join me, for mine is the rightful cause. Thank me for ending the misguided portion of your existence - follow me, and join the Light!" - speech delivered in tandem by two paladins from opposing sides, upon first meeting one another] - with worlds that have Motivations, we know to say instead "Ah, let's invite him to join our side."

[Take out a piece of raw steak. Sniff it. Eww! Stab it to death, dammit! Or . . . cook it, and eat :)]

Neutral is not quite the word for a cross between passive and pro-active characters; such a character might weaken rather than slaughter. There's no need to expend a great deal of energy on defeating a problem, driving it utterly into the ground so as to last for all time . . . just make the problem, no longer a problem. Besides, you never know when it might be useful to have an ally*, especially one who has been humbled earlier, and is now appropriately grateful to you for sparing their life.

* How well can you imagine bringing your players through a storyline of "This minion has captured one of the gemstones used to hold the evil in check, and is abusing the powers of the gemstone to further the plots of the evil masters who can now reach to the world.", and having them promptly smash the thing because "It was used for evil once, it might be again."?

The Title

What is "evil", anyway? Has this even been touched on? Well, here's a definition for you: the attempted "rape" of everyone else's morals, beliefs, ideals, etcetera. Evil is using violence or less crude forms of compulsion to force your own ways upon another. And it may not be done in accordance with the laws of the area [just the person's own, personal, laws - which are, of course, paramount]. Which, tying back in with the title, concludes my article: Why I think all adventurers are Chaotic Evil.

Next time: Intrigue

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What do you think?

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