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Re: (TFT) Man To Man & GURPS - hack/n/slash ethics

Interestingly, in terms of their characterization, and not their background, orcs pretty much act the way the Scots or Irish would've been characterized in Medieval times, or the Saxons would've been characterized in the Dark Ages. Except of course that they had families.

So basically they're mongols, or huns, or whatever, Tolkein just gives them a wholly malevolent force behind them with Sauron as their big baddie. Still, I'd prefer a redemptive quality to the orcs altho perhaps "Satan" cannot be redeemed, just as Saruman cannot be redeemed - by their purposeful choice.

-----Original Message----- From: Tapley, Mark
Sent: Monday, August 04, 2014 11:32 AM
To: tft@brainiac.com
Subject: Re: (TFT) Man To Man & GURPS - hack/n/slash ethics


On Aug 3, 2014, at 2:05 PM, gem6868 wrote:

 you have to get thru the minions before you can deliver the death
blow to the chief baddie.

This is a pretty interesting statement. Leaving aside the motives for creation of each specific game, there is a fascinating conflict inherent in a lot of role-playing (and electronic game, etc.) experiences that I want to address, and which the Slate article did a good job of highlighting. I guess my question boils down to, “When (if ever) is it OK to behave like a terrorist?”

D&D and TFT both contain experience rules that lean heavily toward “always”, although TFT does have a good “out” in Referee-awarded experience points for good role-playing. TFT also explicitly prohibits the idea of rounding up innocent prisoners and slaughtering them for their experience. But even in TFT, say my wizard has a fighter nearly helpless with “Rope” in an arena. At first blush, it looks like I get a lot more experience for beating him to death quickly than I do for defending until he topples over hog-tied. Is that the humane thing to do? At my last look, D&D had not even those restrictions, so the more hacking and slashing the better. “Clever” solutions to problems, and negotiations where everybody goes home happy, don’t appear anywhere I can find them, and definitely not in the experience rules.

All of this goes back to Tolkien, who needed a way for his heroic fantasy figures to demonstrate valor and courage and skill. And *his* background was the trenches of WWI, where the enemy was faceless, spoke a different language, and with very few exceptions was remorseless. (But, even there, there *were* exceptions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce .)

In real life, there are no (or very very few) totally “evil” opponents, and on the other hand every one of us can and probably has put ourselves in a situation where we may be seen as “evil” by someone else.

(By the way, Tolkien’s contemporary and writing buddy, C.S. Lewis, addresses the question of evil vs. good characters in a more realistic fashion. One of his “orcs” is actually invited to join the chosen of Aslan, near the conclusion of his Narnia series - because the “orc” has lived a good life, and is a good person. And one of his “heros” has serious flaws in his character. Even in “The Screwtape Letters”, which are nominally written by and about demons, fraternity, kinship, and concern are evident in each communication. )

So, back to Tolkien, because his vision is the one most of FRP sprang from, and he saw fit to include orcs in that vision, and spiders and Gollum and the like. Orcs provided sword-fodder, and a deadly threat, and a conflict his audience could understand immediately. So he used them, he invented them out of whole cloth, and wrote (and later published, in the Silmarillion and elsewhere) a background for them that made them functionally irredeemable. Orcs, to Tolkien, personify evil. There is no mention of orc mothers or babies, because there *are* none - they were elves, immortal and un-birthing, twisted by captivity under the source of all evil in the universe, and presumably incapable of being un-twisted. Better dead, as it were - freeing them from their bondage and suffering is reasonably easy to see as a mercy to them, depending on how you read the background story.

Okay, I get it. Aragorn cutting his way through a wall of orcs isn’t cause for dismay or to question his suitability as a King; Legolas and Gimli competing to see which can slay more orcs isn’t a travesty or horror, the way a terrorist’s body-count competition would be; it’s just battlefield humor and cameraderie, with a little healthy competitiveness mixed in. A test of strength and skill, allowing us to see that the dwarf and the elf have common ground, are well-matched, and can base a friendship on their common striving. It’s a useful literary device, and I and a *lot* of other people really like the result. “He twitched!’

But, we are on dangerous ethical ground here, because orcs are one of the most dangerous forms of fantasy beings. Their status as completely evil is utterly fictional, and at odds with almost anything else in Tolkien’s world and with anything in our world.

Think about it. What’s the most evil creature in Tolkien’s universe that has a speaking part? I’ll nominate Gollum. Greed, murderous lust, deceit - he’s sword fodder for sure. But he’s not. Whence came Gollum? One of the small folk, twisted by the power of the evil Ring, but with elements of good left in him - elements which save the ringbearer at times. Frodo himself has the chance to kill Gollum, many chances actually, and spares him out of mercy, and what is the result? All unknowing, Gollum inadvertently saves Middle-Earth. Gollum is as far from sword-fodder as could possibly be; Frodo collecting experience for him back in the Goblin tunnels would have meant the undoing of all Middle-Earth. Tolkien, in the case of Gollum, sees reality, and holds our feet to that fire. There is “good” even in Gollum; even he has a reason to continue to exist, and we hack and slash his neck at our peril. Mercy, on Frodo’s part, saves not only Gollum but later Aragorn and Eowyn and Galadri!
el and Sam and Treebeard and …

So, to my original question. When *is* it OK to slay indiscriminately, and just add up the hash-marks under he XP: heading? In Tolkien’s universe:
Shelob? Probably.
Gollum? Decidedly not.
Orcs? Uruk-Hai? Well, in a literary sense that’s their job, so probably.
Rohirrim? Uh, no, duh, they are going to win the battle of Pelennor Fields if you just let them live. Conversely, the three trespassers on the lands of Rohan (Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas) as seen by the Rohirrim? Uh, no.
Thorin Oakenshield & company, “raiding” the wood-elves’ land? Uh, no.
The wood-elves themselves as seen by Thorin? (Legolas, I believe?) Uh, no.

So this is why I think orcs are ethically so dangerous. Tolkien set them up very carefully to be ethically OK to kill; and this is *unique* to them.

I have never seen orcs so treated anywhere else, *possibly* excepting D&D which does pretty much nothing to set up the origins of any of its monsters. TFT utterly misses the boat, here; TFT orcs are just like the other races, explcitly including cross-breeding with humans, etc. which clearly implies families, young, etc. etc. and puts them squarely into the “real creatures” domain. And *that* means they are mixtures of good and evil, same as humans, same as elves and dwarves. Maybe more volatile or bad-tempered - I guess they invented coffee before the rest of the races - but creatures such that their indiscriminate slaughter is truly a Bad Thing; a terrorist action; evil in itself. Same goes for orcs in WarCraft, and every other source I’ve seen save Tolkien. Clearly, this is a subtle point and just as clearly, it is most often missed.

Sometimes they have to be killed. Sometimes the path of least evil lies in the death of an aggressor; the fact that he’s trying to steal food to feed his children doesn’t change the fact that my children still need that food, and if he forces the issue, I may have, regretfully, to stop him permanently, whether he’s an orc or an elf. But, that’s a far cry from the usual reaction of “Oh, orcs, lock and load”.

And that leads me to the quote above. *Do* you have to “get through” the minions? Do you *have* to deliver a death blow to the chief baddie? The chief baddie wants something, and he’s got scars in his past that make him take unsavory means to get it. And he’s got minions (and by the way, wasn’t there a movie a while back about that whole “minion” idea that made them a little more friendly-sounding?) so you maybe can see having to cut a path through the minions. But, maybe there’s a better way. Maybe you can find out what the chief wants. Maybe you can figure out how to erase his past, how to heal his wounds and meet his needs without notching up a zillion hash-marks in the XP: column. There are practically no baddies in real life for which there’s not a good answer, somewhere. And there are practically none of us, players or characters, who won’t in some small way appear in the “chief baddie” role at some point.

Tolkien introduced into his world something that doesn’t exist in ours - purely evil man-like things that it’s OK to slaughter. Many games and campaigns have an insidiously deadly travesty of that thing - *ethically* man-like things which it is *not* OK to slaughter but which players are nevertheless expected to slaughter, because they carry the same name, “orc”. This is bad.

In my case, this is so bad that I can’t deal with it as referee. I pretty much don’t have utterly evil characters - orcs or anything else. Utterly evil orcs are clearly not TFT canon; demons are, but they are a little overpowered to use much. So I have to go with “real-world” opponents.

What price verismilitude? When I referee, I want the world to make sense - the geography, the weather, the economics. (Hi, Jay!)

But if the world is to make sense, evil and good have to be mixed, in my NPC’s as in the party I’m refereeing for, because that’s the way it is in the real world - always has been, always will be. So, when the party muses, “What are we going to do with these prisoners? Our pet wolves could save a couple of days’ supplies by eating them…” NPC’s are going to be aghast and the experience hammer is going to be out. Conversely, when they realize they could dig a short irrigation ditch, quadruple the pig farm output, and put an end to the orc settlement’s *need* to raid, rather than simply killing all of the orcs in the settlement, I’ll reward that copiously.

This places some complexity both on me as referee - I have to come up with a painful situation where killing is actually the path of least evil, if I want a melee (and then I have to deal with orphans in the aftermath of the battle) - and on my players - what *do* they do with prisoners; when do they choose “subduing blows” or “Rope” instead of “Fireball”? If all that’s wanted is a hack/n/slash, hash-marks in the XP column, bloodfest, this stuff gets in the way.

I claim that’s not what a role-playing game is about.

- Mark

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