Saturday, May 5, 2018

The (Unnecessary) Moral Dilemma Question (An OERAD Offering ) (Original Edition RPG Appreciation Day)

Celebrating Original Edition RPG Appreciation Day on May 5th, 2018. The below is in reference to OD&D specifically and to related games generically.

A recurring question on forums and other places is when Referees DM's and GM's throw in the proverbial humanoid females (mothers) and humanoid children and the question of what players do when they are encountered, especially after a battle and all the male humanoid's have been killed. It is usually stated that the mothers and children were noncombatants, but these children will grow up to be evil and kill innocent people. This is for the purpose of making the players look like bad guys if they kill, but stupid if they do not.

I contend that this is a false moral dilemma that is forced on players by DM's and GM's that do not understand OD&D, how alignment works and whom have failed to define good and evil in their campaigns and how it works in their campaigns. Because players are provided both incomplete and inaccurate information, they are left with trying to make decisions with no good solution.

Now I would like to say upfront that as a Referee and as a Player I have no interest in presenting my players with these types of choices, nor would I want to play in such a game. IRL people sometimes face (are forced into) these no win choices and I can do without such things in a game I am playing to have fun and forget the real world for a while.

As I said, I think these situations arise in games do to some fundamental misunderstandings and ignorance and to be fair because some "DM's" and "GM's" are just jerks who want to play the "Gotcha" game with their players.

1. Some presume that there is an adversarial relationship between the DM and the players. In an old school game nothing could be farther from the truth. The Referee is not an adversary, he is neither for nor against the players. The role of the Referee is to create the campaign world where the game will take place and to present a lot of interesting stuff in that world. The Referee gives voice to all the NPC's. The nature of the NPC's will vary across the entire spectrum of possibilities from close friends of the PC's to bitter enemies of the PC's and the Referee gives life to this whole range of possibilities. So we see that some NPC's are adversaries, but the Referee is not the adversary.

This mistaken and erroneous belief that the Referee is the adversary has wasted more opportunities for fun and caused more players to give up on D&D than any one other thing. It has also lead to the longtime fad of devising games where the DM lacks the authority needed to fulfill his role.

2. This leads into the second misunderstanding that the DM should present the players with difficult moral choices and other emotionally distressing non-fun things because the role of the DM is to be a sadistic dirtbag. Again this is the farthest thing from old school that it can be.

The old school role of the Referee is to provide an environment that can range from a light-hearted romp to dark, deadly, tough, and gritty as each group desires, but will be mutual fun for both the players and the referee. There is nothing in the whole range noted that implies that heartbreaking moral dilemma's are part of the package.

3. The third misunderstanding is how alignment works. Alignment in OD&D is Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. These are not to be misunderstood as Lawful is Good and Chaotic is Evil, because that is not the case.

There are multiple sides to alignment. First as it pertains to the PC's. Alignment does not dictate player actions - I repeat, alignment does not dictate player actions. How it works is this, you have explained to your players how alignment works in your campaign and what is Lawful and Neutral and Chaotic. So, for example, a PC starts as Lawful and along the way he picks up a Lawful aligned Sword. At some point his behavior starts to become Neutral or even Chaotic. The Referee immediately lets the player know that if this change continues, then his alignment will change. The Magic Sword may balk at certain things or not provide a bonus or even twists out of the players hand as the alignment change proceeds until the player cannot handle the sword. This is a gradual fully informed decision that the player makes for the PC they are running with full feedback. It is not and never should be a DM fiat "Gotcha" situation.

Now as for NPC's alignment is a strong, but not absolute, guideline to the behavior of all monsters. Monsters are able to make decisions and may make odd decisions for their own purposes, this gives them more depth and complexity. Nevertheless, NPC's will generally act in accordance with their alignment.

Now how does Good and Evil come into the picture since it is not part of alignment in OD&D? That is up to the referee. If the referee establishes that all goblins are all evil all the time. Then there is no moral dilemma, when killing goblin children. Because if they are all evil all the time, there will be no non-combatants. Now the goblin child might wait until you are close enough to sink their teeth into your throat, but they will try to kill you. You do not have to set up goblin orphanages.

The PC's regardless of alignment will be Good or Evil as they choose. The NPC's will be Good or Evil or variable along the spectrum of Good and Evil as the Referee chooses. If the monsters are all evil all the time, the players can act accordingly. It still does not mean that fighting is the only option, evil will negotiate and trade at times to suit their purposes.

The players just need to have accurate information about how you are running your campaign, because the PCs growing up in such a world would already know this pretty accurately.

If a humanoid race is all evil all the time and is an implacable foe of civilization, then the PC's know that and there are no moral quandaries. If a particular humanoid race is not all evil, then the PC's should know that and would deal with the humanoids the same as with other humans.

I have run it both ways. If all humanoid monsters are all evil all the time, then do not be a jerk, there is no reason to throw in orc babies and make the players kill them. If the monsters are not all evil all the time, but are much as humans, then throw in a ogre bar tenders and a few other humanoids in your town just to drive home that some of them are good guys the same as some humans are good guys. Bottom line, just give your players the information they need to play the game without unnecessary angst and drama.