Good vs. Evil

It’s the age-old question: what makes good good and evil evil? D&D is a game about killing monsters and stealing their treasure. Is that kind of killing wrong? Even though they’re evil, does that make us right for killing them?

D&D attempts to answer this dilemma by imposing an alignment system that overrides any kind of ethical or theological debate which could spring forth. Something with an evil alignment is wholly and irredeemable evil and must be dispatched without prejudice. In fact, a lot of games don’t seek to alter this view, making it extremely easy to play good-aligned characters (especially paladins). Killing an orc or kobold and taking it’s (ill-gotten) gain is par for the course. But what if it’s a kobold woman? D&D doesn’t seek to discriminate based on sex. But what if she’s current nursing a small child?

That’s where the D&D morality train derails. In game terms, a creature is evil by nature and not nurture. However, this is not so in games run by me. Creatures are evil when they do evil things. In fact, I’d prefer doing away with the alignment system altogether, removing spells like detect evil and its ilk from all spell lists. Case in point, I have already done this with my homebrew campaign setting. But I’m not trying to rewrite the D&D rules for a dungeon-delving campaign set in Greyhawk. I want vanilla D&D. I want classic races and classes and spells and rules, all intermingling to give that “1st Edition feel” that everyone’s always clamoring about.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t even worry about it. Good, neutral, evil, whatever. Just play your characters the way you want to and if there are consequences, there are consequences (I seem to remember a certain fighter peeing on altars devoted to an orc god and having said orc god kick him in the jimmy because of it). But now we have a paladin. The paladin is the one D&D class that is strictly held to an alignment (monk and bard alignment restrictions notwithstanding). Many of the paladin’s special abilities are tied to doing away with evil—and here we’ve been playing with two characters with evil alignments for four months and I never knew! To be fair, it’s never come up in the game. No one’s tried to rape women or rip entrails out of babies or anything like that. But now that we have a paladin, alignments are starting to creep into the game—especially since one of the evil characters in question was thinking of summoning a fiendish creature with his summon monster spell. Would the paladin let him?

I have no problem with evil characters in an evil-themed campaign (something I’ve always wanted to run). Unfortunately, this is an extremely good-aligned campaign with a theme of “good vanquishing evil.” It’s never tried to clothe itself as anything but. Perhaps I should have asked the group what they were interested in before running off with a campaign idea; maybe their input would have helped shape the campaign into a more “evil friendly” way.

Another issue cropped up in-game: is summoning monsters to eat them an evil act? As far as the campaign is concerned, food and water are supposed to be an issue (the group is, after all, trapped in a dungeon with no natural resources). Although I don’t want to turn this campaign into D&D Survivor, I also don’t want food and water issues to be solved so easily (at least, not until our cleric has access to create food and water). Game obstacles aside, is it right to summon celestial creatures to eat them? What about using them to spring traps?

There is no clear right or wrong answer to these questions. For our campaign, I’ve decreed that celestial meat does not provide sustenance due to its extraplanar origin (kind of like eating food on the holodeck in Star Trek). Also, I’ve been able to come up with excellent reasons to keep the evil-themed characters in play without any major retooling of their respective backgrounds. So in the end, it all worked itself out.

I think there’s a lesson to be learned here. First, remember to check with your group to find out if your campaign idea is something they’re interested in. Second, it’s important to create characters as a group. I’m not saying you have to get together and have a pow-wow. Just shoot some e-mails or phone calls to each other. Or talk about it in a forum. When you create a character or a campaign plot in a vacuum, problems crop up. You’ll find that many issues can be squashed before they begin by opening a dialogue with your compatriots. As a player, if you think you have an idea that would disrupt the group, but are up to the roleplaying challenge (such as an evil-aligned character in a good-aligned party), point it out to the DM and see if he can work with you.

Despite the 30-minute intermission discussing the finer points of good vs. evil, the group had an excellent game session tonight. The extended roleplaying with a lonely lantern archon was my personal favorite. A lot of exposition was passed on to the PCs in an interesting way—and they now have an ally in a world of opposition.

Pictures from tonight’s session were posted (as well as the following new photo albums: Something Below: The Lift, Set Addition: Burned Tower, and Preview: Caves Evolved).