Monday, January 28, 2013

Predestination


Brian and Drew brought up some very good ideas/questions about the spontaneous generation idea I mentioned a few posts back, and I wanted to take a moment and focus on those before moving further with the world creation.

As a quick reminder, Spontaneous Generation is a now defunct theory that living creatures can develop without descent from similar organisms.  So, fleas can develop from dust, and maggots develop from meat.  It’s obviously bunk to modern people, but it was a fairly respected theory for millennia.  Now, the reason why I like this is that it allows for the creation of evil monsters and creatures without needing to explain how exactly they evolved, or if there are groups of little orcish children being sung to sleep by their orcish mothers before getting up in the morning, being fed a healthy breakfast, and then going off to orcish school and playing with their orcish classmates at recess before a group of heavily armed humans show up and murder their parents.  It’s not that I don’t care for moral quandaries in RPG’s, but I don’t want this one.

On one hand, it’s been done, to death.  And it’s annoying.  It’s not fun or shocking anymore.  On the other, sometimes you want the monsters to just be monsters and not have to worry about complicated societies.  Of course, there is nothing that precludes the development of a society and a culture after the generation occurred, so I certainly still have the freedom to bring that in, if and when it makes sense.  At the same time, it also helps to justify the weird and bizarre monsters like hippogriffs and owlbears and tendriculos.  Anyway, to spare you from having to read through earlier posts, here’s what Drew said:

Just a thought experiment: what if "elf" and "orc" were sort of possibilities, instead of absolute peoples? Elves could have become human once they lost sight of the Light of Elsassar (or whatever). Humans could become Orcs over too many generations in the Broken Lands (or whatever).
And Brian: 
What would you say to spontaneous generation of all races; goblins and orcs, but also humans, dwarves, and elves? If tragedies and violence creates orcs, maybe acts of charity or civility creates the good races. If a church was devout, it would generate its own orphans... and like all good spontaneous generation phenomenon, it is indistinguishable from more mundane/accurate explanations like people hiding babies in the pews. Anyway, it might be a good hook for a character, especially a cleric or paladin, if they were literally a child of a church or a city.
There's also a neat bit in the spontaneous generation article about "had to be trials of combinations of parts of animals that spontaneously arose. Successful combinations formed the species we now see, unsuccessful forms failed to reproduce." There's your bestiary, there's your explanation of why there are owlbears.
I like both of these ideas and concepts—as they allow for the chance for change among a person or persons, as well as justifying “miracle” births and truly bizarre creations.  I don’t want to go into too much detail or thought about what the actual “cosmic rules” are for such creations, as I don’t feel I can effectively map it out in advance, nor do I believe it would benefit the game.  Obviously, in this world, philosophers and theologians have numerous and heavily debated theories about these rules, and there would be scholars and sages who spend their lives trying to catalogue and explain this phenomenon.  For now, we’re going with certain creatures are created based on the world around them, and strong and powerful events can create new species or new people, or even fundamentally change a person or persons based on their choices and experiences.

It also implies a very strong sense of predestination in peoples general world view.  And this might explain the “Lawful” element I rolled up earlier for my setting.  In a world like D&D (and, again, I’m building this world assuming that the standard rules of AD&D 2nd Edition are the default), alignments are more than just a person’s general behavior or worldview.  They are cosmic powers and constants.  There is something of an absolute Law and Chaos and Good and Evil. 

As an aside, one of the issues with standard D&D alignment is how subjective it is.  One of my friends made a very compelling case for playing an “evil” Paladin as the “typical” Paladin can easily slide into religious fundamentalism, an inherently Evil state of being.  I had to deny her that character--the game we were talking about was an out an out “evil” game and was intended more of a “yes, we’re evil!” and less of a “I’m good and I know what’s best for everyone around me—do what I say or I’ll kill you for your own good.”  Also, I’m not sure I was convinced by her logic.  I mean, sure, for a normal person, that risk is very present; but a Paladin is, at least in my mind and definitely in Galicia a person who is both purely Lawful and purely Good.  Now, this raises the question of what is “good” but I would have a hard time coming up a definition of good that does not include toleration and compassion. 
Anyway, I’m not as interested in Good vs. Evil as I am in Law vs. Chaos.  In the fantasy literature upon which D&D is based, it was this conflict that drove most of the plots, not the classic good against evil.  Of course, even in these pulp novels, Law and Good were almost always intertwined, along with Chaos and Evil.  But is that necessarily the case?  And what really is “Law” and “Chaos” anyways?  Chaotic Good is often an alignment assigned to a “freedom fighter”, but what about someone like the American Revolutionaries, who were, after all, fighting a conservative rebellion initially to maintain the status quo—would they not be Lawful? 

So, I’m going to use my own definitions of Law and Chaos, at least on a cosmic scale.  With spontaneous generation, there is a belief in the land that how one is born is how one is supposed to live one’s life.  If you are born the son of a pig farmer, you are supposed to BE a pig farmer, marry another pig farmer’s daughter, and raise children who are to become pig farmers. If you are born a noble, you are supposed to be a noble—fight, rule, and conquer. You don’t challenge the status quo—you do what you are told, eat your vegetables, and get to work.  While society is still recovering from the collapse of the Elven Empire and the forming of new Kingdoms, castes and social classes remain rigid, with strong distinctions made between them.  Peasants wear brown and earth tones, nobles get to wear bright colors, and only priests can get away with wearing all black. Purple is right out unless you are a sovereign. In this world, everyone knows their place, and everyone expects you to know your place. When you live in a world where some giant underground ant thing can burst out of your field at any time and eat all your animals, you damn well cling to traditions and proper behavior to keep some semblance of life going. 

But, there’s always another force, isn’t there?  For every garden, there’s a serpent, whispering in your ear, asking questions—questions you can’t answer.  Questions that make you doubt what you’ve been told.  That makes you want to try something different.  To stop being a pig farmer and pick up a sword.  To defy the fate that has been handed to you and strike out on your own.  To become powerful enough to put on a slimming all black outfit with a giant purple hat because what are the priests going to do to you?  You’re 7th level!

These are the adventurers, those people who aren’t going to play by society’s rules.  Some are rude and crude punks who love to challenge the social norms just because they can.  Some are called to a higher purpose, to fight the great fights no one else will.  Some were just born different, strange children with odd hair or are left handed.  And some…some were just dissatisfied with their lot in life.  They look at the Galts and see not a race “born to conquer and rule” but a group of illiterate savages who stole the purple from the elves with daring and guts, and realize that could be them too.

So, again, most people are Lawful; they do what they’re told, and live the lives that have been laid out for them.  In terms of gender, women are, generally, second class subjects.  Though how “second class” depends on your class.  Noble women are really just there to manage estates, bear children, and to be passed around in the ever shifting game of alliances and betrayals.  The lower you go down the social ladder, the more rights they enjoy and the more equal they’re treated—it’s hard to keep someone locked up in a house when everyone has to work.  Of course, mechanically, there’s no difference between male and female characters, and if women have even more of the deck stacked against them in terms of what they are supposed to do, then they merely have all the more motivation to throw off the shackles of society and form their own lives. 

But how does society deal with Chaotics?  Well, on the local level, it varies.  In general, the Chaotics are viewed with a mixture of fear and disdain.  So long as times are ok, and the Chaotics seem to be having it worse than those around them, they’re tolerated and maybe pitied.  Cities tend to be more accepting of these odd balls, and many temples become safe refuge for them—certain faiths believe that the Chaotics are just waiting for their fate to be revealed to them.  In times of hardship, or if the Chaotics seem to be having it better than those around them or are perceived to be making a nuisance of themselves…well, things can get nasty for those who are different.  The close familiar ties of most villages and towns prevent outright persecution of such people—but it doesn’t mean that violence up to and including killings don’t occur.

Which leads me to spell casters.  Clerics, to one extent or another, are pretty much always seen as being Lawful.  Even if a particular character is chaotic in their personal alignment, they are part of the society.  Even if they are hermits In the woods or itinerant preachers, they are following the gods’ will and are expected to be a bit “weird” compared to average folks.  Wizards, on the other hand, are always viewed with suspicion and fear.  By definition, they are not following the rules; they break out of the places man was placed by the gods, and challenge the very idea of how the world should be.  They’re not killed on site (most of the time), and many people secretly hope to either learn magic or to avail themselves of the services of a spell caster, but they are few and distrusted all the same. 

No one really likes having someone challenge their deeply held beliefs, especially if that person does it while flying over their muddy village and lobbying fireballs everywhere.  Seriously, screw that guy. 

Of course, success confers legitimacy.  The pig farmer who grabs a sword is greeted with laughter and a bit of pity.  If he survives his first battle, he was lucky.  If her survives ten battles and shows up with a small army at his back, he’s no longer treated as a pig farmer; he’s now a noble.  Same thing with woman—sure, they might be second class citizens, but Sir Elaina is no longer a pig farmers daughter, she’s a damn bad ass who held the pass for an hour against the Goblin Horde! 

As an aside, the handful of women who do manage to attain knighthood are referred to as “Sir,” same as a man.  None of this “Lady” or “Dame” crap or what have you.  A knight is a knight, a knight is called “Sir” and you will address her as such, or she will gut you like a pig—and Sir Elaina has had plenty of experience gutting pigs.

And maybe that’s how society deals with these weirdoes—you just put them in a different category.  A woman who wears armor, carries a big honking sword and kills everyone who looks at her cross-eyed?  Clearly a man who was born into a woman’s body.  A man who likes to sleep with other men?  Clearly a woman born in a man’s body—so long as he wears a dress and behaves as a woman, everyone can accept him in “her” new category.  Of course, getting to that point isn’t easy—your family and village want to keep you in the same box they thing you “belong” in, but people make it work.  Many of them end up leaving their villages, to move somewhere else where they can more easily adopt their new roles,

Having said that, I think I’m going to change the results of my “society alignment” roll from Lawful Good to Lawful Neutral.  Seems a bit more fitting for what I’m thinking of.

MoMj: The Corruption Saga - Session 12

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