Another Christianity and D&D post

This is another Christianity and D&D post.  There were a bunch last week, and I thought about posting something, didn't because my thoughts were muddled, and then bam! power outage.  So it's coming in a bit late for that discussion.  If you're not interested, no worries, I'll be back to gonzo D&D adventure in the next post - this is a content-based blog after all, non-content bits like this are almost nonexistent, so please forgive me this exception.

Nevertheless, in my recent "my players are evil!" post, I described some of the characters' interesting "developments".  As I've been DM'ing the world, I've been trying to be a purely neutral arbiter, letting the players determine the story and simply presenting a sandbox.  Those of you who've read ASE1 know it's a really bleak environment, but with a spark of hope.  The city of Denethix is ushering in a human renaissance in the midst of sorcerous tyranny.  My basically cynical world-view is that we are all brutal savages, and you don't have to look beyond the mirror to find the most horrifying monsters imaginable - and it is only through our seeking of God that we rise above our animal nature.  The campaign setting is a reflection of this world-view, tempered with humor, as the human situation can be ridiculous in so many ways.

From a PC's point of view, there's not a lot of immediate consequence for bad behavior.  I let things slide, because the players' actions are the same as the populace at large - self-serving and manipulative.  Of course, I don't intend this to be a condemnation of my players - they view the NPC's in the game as pawns on a chessboard, and there's no moral consequence to sacrificing pawns.  So Roger the Slave is the door opener, Chrissie & Janet are fair game if it means leveling up...

But I worry that I'm creating a moral cesspool out of the game.  I do not want to codify bad behavior.  There's no huge moral consequence - none of my players are going to murder anybody, for instance.  It's all make believe, and a really fun Vancian story is emerging.  On the other hand, playing out behaviors like this is, I believe, morally corrosive.  It conditions a person to be a bit more callous (just a bit!), and from there it's a bit easier to be just a bit more callous than that...  So it's a lot of little moral consequences instead of a great big one.

So how do I reconcile Vancian fun with creeping moral corrosion?

I believe that I have failed my players here in not having consequences for bad behavior.  The real world permits evil men to continue in their evil ways, but make-believe-land doesn't have to operate that way.  The villains are villainous only so far as I permit them, and likewise there's no reason I have to create an environment where immoral actions are implicitly encouraged through lack of consequence.  So, a few of my dilemmas and how I plan to address them:

a. The Evil Book.  I introduced a magic book on a lark, rolled some dice, and decided it was an Evil Book.  So I had it trying to tempt Mongo into doing evil things.  It's led to a few laughs, but in the end I'm not interested in actually tempting Mongo.  So I've changed the book slightly so that it is demanding socially unacceptable behaviors - there's no way Mongo is going to be killing his fellow players.  I've also made it more threatening, so there's no mistaking Evil Book for a potential asset.

b. Purchasing Slaves.  There's a whole Society of the Luminous Spark dedicated to violently murdering slave-owners, a la John Brown.  When I put the setting together, I wanted some opportunity for interesting moral dilemmas between law-abiding slavers and cruel, violent abolitionist terrorists.  No non-violent resistance here, only two very nasty groups of people going at it.  When Netal gets out of the dungeon, he's going to find that the Society has taken an interest, and there's going to be consequences for the slaving going on.

As for encouraging good behavior, there would have to be some good behavior to reward first...  this would easier to play out in city adventures, but I'm all about the dungeon, so unless the players are going out of their way I try to get the city bits done as fast as possible.  The dungeon, of course, is not an opportunity for rampant good deeds- it's an opportunity to try to figure out all my death traps and get the gold.  Maybe when the players reach Under-Miami there will be some opportunity for do-goodery.
So that's where I'm at.  I'm fairly sure this post has been rambling and semi-incoherent, but I am trying to work through the moral repercussions of my DM'ing style, and if anyone has any advice I'd love to hear it.  It's possibly also useful for the non-Christians in the audience to understand at least one Christian's perspective (and please do not take it as even a correct perspective - I have many failings and I am likely blowing it big time here, theologically).

God bless you all!


  1. That's intended to be John Brown, not Joseph Brown, I take it? His real goal wasn't to kill slaveownwers, but to start a successful slave revolt, from the sources I've seen. Have there been any "slaves fail morale rolls and try to run away/backstab their masters" incidents yet? I can't recall any from the session recaps...

    I'm an atheist, but I find a similar moral quandary in D&D. John Costikyan's Violence RPG is a pretty trenchant commentary on this.

  2. Or would that be "slaves SUCCED in morale rolls and try to run away/backstab their masters"?

  3. a. Right, John Brown. I'd argue the goals are immaterial when the method is in question.

    b. No, they haven't failed any morale rolls yet. I make plenty, the players have been getting lucky in that respect.

  4. Well, I'm going to disagree with you a bit on the morally corrosive effects of high NPC mortality rates and whatnot in D&D games. When I sit down with a fellow group of players, I think how they treat each other (as humans in real space) is the real agent that either makes people have fun and forget their troubles a little bit (which I would term a moral good) or go away mad and treat each other badly (a moral bad). The few times I have encountered players who acted like shitheels (i.e.: arguing with the other players, being condescending if a new player asked a question, being verbally abusive or trying to spoil the experience and fun for others), it really poisoned the game for me and made me not want to play with that person again. In the few cases (and they have been few) that this came up, it had very little to do with whether or not the players were making the torchbearer walk in front, etc. It was the real humans at the table treating each other badly.
    From my perspective, the form this usually takes is when players are in disagreement over what kind of game they want, or there are other unspoken hostilities that come out in the game --- in one game I was involved in, I think one player had some resentments towards another player that he acted on in the game (doing things in game to try to frustrate the player he didn't like), which ended up spoiling the game for everyone. In another game, there were two guys who were just jerks. Another player was just too competitive and would constantly interrupt other people. These people were doing things that annoyed and upset others, which is pretty much the opposite of what I want from sitting down to play a fun game with friends.
    It's been a while since I read the Vance stories about Kugel (Cugel?) the Clever, but if I remember right, most of them started off with Kugel attempting some scam and getting hoisted on his own petard by the end, so, while the humans of Vance's world were greedy, venal, etc., Fate always ended up giving them the finger.
    I don't know if it's any comfort to you, but I think good people can have their characters 'do bad things' in a D&D game and I don't think it really corrodes them. I don't think I share your belief system, so I can't comment on that aspect.