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Re: (TFT) Man To Man & GURPS - hack/n/slash ethics
All right, I provide two counter arguments given the premise you seized upo
n for this lengthy discussion of comparative morality and ethics:
heat of the moment: when you're in the middle of a fight (or even a
dungeon crawl, which you've explicitly undertaken for the purpose of gettin
g into a fight, then clearly, if you need to kill the big baddie in order t
o accomplish your goal (and the term "baddie" does seem to sort of define t
he individual you're fighting), and a bunch of his minions are between you
and him and trying to kill YOU too, then sitting down to debate whether or
not they're acting the way they are because their mothers didn't actually l
ove them very much doesn't seem like a reasonable choice of action. P
erhaps that's a discussion that should be had at the tavern where you were
planning this little soiree in the beginning. And oh, by the way, I'm
guessing that such a discussion would never happen in just about any game
you or I have ever played in, which brings me to my second point;
literary licence: the entire point of this form of escapism (both bo
oks and games) is to experience something different from the mundane world
in which we all live. Yes, we want some form of verisimilitude in our
game worlds (trees have leaves and lose them in the fall, soil grows stuff
), but we are playing these games and reading these books precisely because
they DO allow us to explore "good" and "evil" or "ethical" versus "unethic
al" or maybe just that nebula in the Orglon quadrant -- all of which are pl
aces we CAN'T go right now in reality. If I want moral quandaries ove
r whether or not a certain group of people is innately good or evil, and wh
ether or not my response is proportional given the provocation, all I have
to do is open a newspaper or watch TV. The whole point of these games
is that colors are more primary and certain circumstances have been presen
ted to us to explore their nature. Tolkien made orcs bad because he n
orcs for his literary development, not because he felt that one particular
class of people ("Germans" from your discussion?) were innately and inhere
ntly evil. Indeed, in his books he made it clear they were either twi
sted to evil (driven insane, if you will) by Morgoth, or, perhaps "bred" th
at way using Morgoth's twisted powers and perceptions -- depending on which
of the various back stories he included in his works that you happen to be
lieve (and maybe both were true). But the real bottom line here is th
at the whole thing is make-believe -- an opportunity to explore a world wit
h different paradigms than our own, and to experience that world by living
out a different life (even if it is nasty, brutish, and short) without bein
g judged for it. If your DM chooses to make that world some sort of n
eo-Nazi super-race fantasy world where all women are slaves (John Norman, a
nyone?) then maybe you need to do the actual moral thinking before you agre
be a part of that game.
I'm not saying that your points are invalid,
but I am saying that maybe that level of thinking needs to be applied by th
e GM before he or she ever sets pen to paper. There may be a valid pl
ace for games that test your moral compass by presenting you with these kin
ds of conundrums to unravel during the course of the scenario, but at the s
ame time, most of us got into these games just to play an elf or a dwarf, o
r some other thing that we never could or would become in real life.
From: "Tapley, Mark" <mtapley@
To: "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, Augu
st 4, 2014 8:32 AM
Subject: Re: (TFT) Man To Man & GURPS - hack/n/slash
On Aug 3, 2014, at 2:05 PM, ge
> you have to get thru the minions before you can d
eliver the death
> blow to the chief baddie.
s is a pretty interesting statement. Leaving aside the motives for creation
of each specific game, there is a fascinating conflict inherent in a lot o
f role-playing (and electronic game, etc.) experiences that I want to addre
ss, 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 t
D&D and TFT both contain experi
ence 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 experien
ce for beating him to death quickly than I do for defending until he topple
s over hog-tied. Is that the humane thing to do?
last look, D&D had not even those restrictions, so the more hacking and sl
ashing the better. “Clever” solutions to problems, and nego
tiations where everybody goes home happy, don’t appear anywhere I c
an find them, and definitely not in the experience rules.
All of this goes back to Tolkien, who needed a way for his heroic fa
ntasy figures to demonstrate valor and courage and skill. And *his* backgro
und was the trenches of WWI, where the enemy was faceless, spoke a differen
t language, and with very few exceptions was remorseless.
(But, even there, there *were* exceptions: http://en.wikipedia.org/w
In real life, there are no (
or very very few) totally “evil” opponents, and on the othe
r hand every one of us can and probably has put ourselves in a situation wh
ere 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 r
ealistic fashion. One of his “orcs” is actually invited to
join the chosen of Aslan, near the conclusion of his Narnia series - becaus
e the “orc” has lived a good life, and is a good person. An
d one of his “heros” has serious flaws in his character. Ev
en in “The Screwtape Letters”, which are nominally written
by and about demons, fraternity, kinship, and concern are evident in each c
So, back to Tolkien, because his vi
sion 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.
s provided sword-fodder, and a deadly threat, and a conflict his audience c
ould 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 To
lkien, personify evil. There is no mention of orc mothers or babies, becaus
e there *are* none - they were elves, immortal and un-birthing, twisted by
captivity under the source of all evil in the universe, and presumably inca
pable of being un-twisted. Better dead, as it were - freeing them from thei
r bondage and suffering is reasonably easy to see as a mercy to them, depen
ding on how you read the background story.
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 com
peting 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 competitiven
ess mixed in. A test of strength and skill, allowing us to see that the dwa
rf and the elf have common ground, are well-matched, and can base a friends
hip 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 h
ere, because orcs are one of the most dangerous forms of fantasy beings. Th
eir 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 creat
ure in Tolkien’s universe that has a speaking part? I’ll no
minate Gollum. Greed, murderous lust, deceit - he’s sword fodder fo
r sure. But he’s not. Whence came Gollum? One of the small folk, tw
isted 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 wh
at is the result? All unknowing, Gollum inadvertently saves Middle-Earth. G
ollum is as far from sword-fodder as could possibly be; Frodo collecting ex
perience 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 ou
r peril. Mercy, on Frodo’s part, saves not only
Gollum but later Aragorn and Eowyn and Galadri!
el and Sam and Treebeard
So, to my original question. When *i
s* it OK to slay indiscriminately, and just add up the hash-marks under he
XP: heading? In Tolkien’s universe:
Gollum? Decidedly not.
Orcs? Uruk-Hai? Well, in a literary sense that’s their job, so prob
Rohirrim? Uh, no, duh, they are going to win th
e battle of Pelennor Fields if you just let them live.
Conversely, the three trespassers on the lands of Rohan (Aragorn, Gimli, L
egolas) as seen by the Rohirrim? Uh, no.
hield & company, “raiding” the wood-elves’ land? Uh
The wood-elves themselves as seen by Thorin? (Le
golas, I believe?) Uh, no.
So this is why I think o
rcs are ethically so dangerous. Tolkien set them up very carefully to be et
hically OK to kill; and this is *unique* to them.
I have never seen orcs so treated anywhere else, *possibly* excepting D&D w
hich 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 c
reatures” domain. And *that* means they are mixtures of good and ev
il, same as humans, same as elves and dwarves. Maybe more volatile or bad-t
empered - I guess they invented coffee before the rest of the races - but c
reatures such that their indiscriminate slaughter is truly a Bad Thing; a t
errorist action; evil in itself. Same goes for orcs in WarCraft, and every
other source I’ve seen save Tolkien. Clearly, this is a subtle poin
t and just as clearly, it is most often missed.
etimes 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 ne
ed 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 del
iver a death blow to the chief baddie? The chief baddie wants something, an
d he’s got scars in his past that make him take unsavory means to g
et it. And he’s got minions (and by the way, wasn’t there a
movie a while back about that whole “minion” idea that mad
e 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 c
an figure out how to erase his past, how to heal his wounds and meet his ne
eds without notching up a zillion hash-marks in the XP: column. There are p
ractically no baddies in real life for which there’s not a good ans
wer, 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 i
nto his world something that doesn’t exist in ours - purely evil ma
n-like things that it’s OK to slaughter. Many games and campaigns h
ave an insidiously deadly travesty of that thing - *ethically* man-like thi
ngs which it is *not* OK to slaughter but which players are nevertheless ex
pected 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 ut
terly evil characters - orcs or anything else. Utterly evil orcs are clearl
y 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, a
lways will be. So, when the party muses, “What are we going to do w
ith these prisoners? Our pet wolves could save a couple of days’ su
pplies by eating them…” NPC’s are going to be aghas
t and the experience hammer is going to be out. Conversely, when they reali
ze 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
This places some complexity both on me a
s referee - I have to come up with a painful situation where killing is act
ually the path of least evil, if I want a melee (and then I have to deal wi
th 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 t
hat’s not what a role-playing game is about.
�� - Mark
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