Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Orc Baby Dilemma or Whether Good Has To Be Nice

 This is something that popped into my head over the week and I felt the need to write about it.

For those not in the know, the "Orc Baby Dilemma" is an old chestnut of D&D lore. Just to explain the scenario requires some setup.

First we have alignments. You may have heard of them. There are all sorts of "alignment chart" memes out there with the 3 x 3 grid of alignments. In D&D, the 2 axes of alignment are Law vs. Chaos and Good vs. Evil, with Neutral in the middle of each. So you can be Lawful Neutral or Neutral Good, along with Chaotic Evil and so on.

Next we have the paladin class. This character class has several special powers, but in order to maintain them must maintain a Lawful Good alignment. Which tends to make them unpopular among certain Dungeon Masters. For one thing, the special powers have the potential to make exciting encounters deflate as the party can now steamroll over them. The other issue is that the player is so dedicated to keeping their Lawful Good alignment that they often don't bite at all of the adventure hooks that the DM presents.

The Orc Baby Dilemma then exists as a brute force method to force the paladin to "fall" and lose their powers. The premise is simple: The party has probably killed all of the orcs at an encampment/dungeon lair and as they are looting, they encounter an orc baby. And the DM asks the player if they kill the orc baby.

There are two possible outcomes.

1) The paladin refuses to kill the baby orc. But since it's an orc, it's bound to grow up to become just as evil and marauding as its parents. The paladin loses their powers since they failed to stop the potential evil from happening.

2) The paladin kills the baby. The paladin loses their powers because they have harmed an innocent, who has done no wrong.

To be clear, this is a Stupid DM Trick. It's not terribly smart or clever and only exists to smack around players and their characters.

But it does bring up perspectives on alignment in an interesting way.

One of the things that's been debated for almost as long as alignment has existed is exactly what alignment is. The two main schools of thought are that 1) Alignment is about your behavior and 2) Alignment is about your position relative to cosmological forces.

Most discussions lean on the first school, that alignment is about behavior. If you are Good-aligned, then you are a good person. If you stop acting like a good person, you cease to be of Good alignment. That's one of the things that enables the Orc Baby Dilemma to work.

But alignment entered the D&D game through the inspiration of the Elric stories by Micheal Moorcock, in which the forces of Law and Chaos are in eternal struggle, and as D&D's cosmology expanded, the idea of a cosmological origin (or at least reflection) of alignment makes a lot of sense. There are many spells and items that have specific effects that depend on the user or subject having a specific alignment.

In this model, what determines your alignment is the faction you've chosen to support when Law and Chaos, and/or Good and Evil do battle with each other. It's also useful because one of the core activities of D&D is violence, and killing is not considered a "nice" thing to do. Being aligned with the Forces of Good does not require you to be nice. You may not even by required to be particularly good. Just so long as your actions advance the cause of Good in the world.

This is the point where I started feeling smug about how I had figured things out, but then the Orc Baby Dilemma popped into my head. And then I deflated.

Because in the cosmological interpretation, the Orc Baby Dilemma is not a dilemma at all. There's a clear answer. Kill the baby.

The Forces of Good have little interest in whether or not a paladin is nice, so whether or not the baby is innocent is not a real consideration. The paladin has presumably killed a large number of orcs of many ages. So the only standard is whether the action harms the Forces of Evil.

That thought disturbed me for a while.

If there's a saving grace here, it's that in the cosmological interpretation, the requirements of behavior are fairly loose. While there's no barrier to killing the baby, there's also no strong incentive.

I think that's my next question: What behavior or actions would cause a paladin to fall (or any other person to change alignment) under the cosmological interpretation?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

 It was the monthly RPG Meetup last Saturday.

I only got two players for my "It's Not My Fault!" Fate Accelerated game. While Fate isn't like D&D in that it assumes a certain minimum party size, the premise of "It's Not My Fault!" is that the story starts in the midst of a sticky situation and the players are supposed to fill in details as they blame their woes on the next person at the table. With only 2 players and me (for the purposes of fleshing out the scenario, I participated in the "It's Not My Fault!" portion of the game, while serving as GM for the resulting scenario), there was a limited number of juicy and interesting details that were brought up.

The good news is that I now feel like I have sunk my teeth into Fate. When trying out new RPG systems, it can be tempting to treat it as just another way to build characters and roll dice. And that's kinda what it felt like in my prior experiences with Fate. But this time, I made a point of going over things, deciding which of the 4 actions that people were doing, how they used their Create Advantage actions to create Aspects and all of that fun stuff. There were a couple of fights so we got to explore Stress and Consequences. There are always things that I would like to have done better, but it's definitely something I want to try again.

But for the Meetup next month, I think I'll try to run The Great Ork Gods, which is a comedy game about playing Orks as well as their Gods, who hate them.

I don't know if I'll get a lot of gaming in during the interim because I'll be going to Wasteland Weekend near the end of the month and that should be exciting enough by itself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Has it been that long?

 Well, I had a little breathing room from these weekly updates, which is nice. It feels like I don't do enough or not enough happens to really justify a weekly update. But at the same time, I don't want to lose the habit of blogging again.

I've been playing Magic at Bards & Cards, which is the name of my Friendly Local Gaming Store. It might just be my generation, but I'm very careful about posting "identifying" information freely online. It was probably a few years before I got around to mentioning the name of the city I lived in because of that.

I'm not great at the game, but that's not the point. It's to create a point of contact with other gamers/nerds. And it's doing that rather well.

I also got a chance to play Dungeon Crawl Classics. The gaming Meetup group I belong to posted a Dungeon Crawl Classics one-shot at Bards & Cards, which was something that I just couldn't refuse. The GM was very well prepared, with sheets of pregenerated characters and laminated maps of the scenario's combat encounters. Since it was a pick up game of DCC, the adventure was a "character funnel:" a scenario for large numbers of 0-level characters such that whoever survives achieves 1st level and becomes a proper adventurer.

Everyone started with 4 characters printed on a single sheet of paper. Whenever one died, the GM had a stamp that said "Dead" on it and he would stamp the section of the page that was that character. All of my characters died, but the important thing is that I had fun.

Next week is the monthly Meetup group meeting. I'm bringing the "It's Not My Fault" story starter cards for Fate Accelerated that I've had in my collection for many years, but haven't gotten around to trying out. I've even brought them to the monthly Meetups, but I made the mistake of bringing several other options. I'm a collector, and it also serves as a chance to show off my collection. By bringing multiple game options, I wind up competing with not only the other potential GMs, but also myself. By bringing only 1 game option, it's more likely that I'll actually get to play/run the thing that I bring.

That doesn't make the choice of what to bring much easier. Shortly after I had decided to do "It's Not My Fault," a random conversation on the internet reminded me of another game that I hadn't played in ages and I got excited about it all over again. For a while, I worried that the conversation that got me thinking about this other game (The Great Ork Gods) had been seen by the others in the Meetup group so I would be feel obligated to put off "It's Not My Fault" for at least another month. Then I went over the chat logs, found the conversation and realized that it was far from their prying eyes.

Which gives me something to present for next month.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

RPGaDay 2022 #31 When did you first take part in #RPGaDAY?

 I've actually been doing RPGaDay since it began. Like I said yesterday, the thing I probably am the most in my gaming life is a collector and that early "shelfie in prose" set of prompts appealed to me.

I kept going more or less out of habit and to try and extend my readership with the gaming public. Not sure if that worked.

It also reminds me to put myself out there. Without some sort of pressure, it's very easy for me to crawl into a very small hole and hide from the world. I know that's not really good for me, so some reminder to interact with people and get out in the world is important.

With any luck, I'll use this writing group to work on my gaming content and keep things updated here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

RPGaDay 2022 #30 What should #RPGaDAY do for its 10th anniversary next year?

 When RPGaDay first started, it interested me because it was a chance to talk about the games on my shelf. A sort of written "shelfie," if you will. Since I was very much a collector (still am when I can get away with it), that appealed to me.

The other thing that I am is a GM. While I haven't run as many games as I've collected, I've enjoyed answering questions about games I've run or that I want to run.

 While I do enjoy playing at times, I have never really been able to do it enough to collect a lot of stories to fill all of the questions about playing.

If I had a suggestion, it would be to have questions that either work for a player or a GM, or maybe questions that can be "flipped" to apply to someone on either side of the screen.

Monday, August 29, 2022

RPGaDay 2022 #29 Who would you like to see take part in #RPGaDAY?

Kris Newton.

I know that I mentioned him before, but I really appreciate his insights.

He's not much of a blogger, and he's stepped away from podcasting for the foreseeable future, but he's a brilliant guy and a heck of a player and GM.

Also, John, Rudy and Chris from the San Diego Roleplayng Association Meetup group. Mostly because I know them only very casually/virtually and it would be an opportunity to get to know them better.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

RPGaDay 2022 #28 Style Sunday: Roll 1d8+1, tag that many friends with your favourite RPG cover art.

 Tooting my own horn a bit, I'm going to say that my favorite cover art is my own. Well, not that I did the art itself, but I did commission it for the cover of my game, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

Although AiO is not technically licensed, there's a tendency for games based on existing properties to feature the main characters on the cover in some way. Star Trek RPGs usually have the cast from one of the shows on the cover, for example. Some other games will have characters on the cover that resemble the characters you could be playing. The most recent Star Trek RPG went this route, with unidentified Starfleet characters on the cover.

I didn't want to put existing characters on the cover of AiO for 2 reasons. First of all, one of the main reasons to do an Oz RPG is to expose people to the wider world of Oz from the books and putting Dorothy & Company on the cover would feel like just another retread rather than offering them something they might not have seen before. The second reason is that I had intended to release my own edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and they were going to be on the cover of that.

In fact, because of that plan, I commissioned the same artist to do both covers and intended them as companion pieces. The WWOz cover featured the characters from that novel, while the AiO cover featured characters from the deeper canon that shared some similarity with one of those characters. So I wound up with the best of both worlds: I got canon characters that fans of the novels could appreciate, while those coming with fresh eyes would see something familiar, but also distinct.

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