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Offline Drul Morbok

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Modern values and Fantasy world
« on: July 31, 2017, 03:20:03 PM »
Hi,
there's some conflict I can't avoid as a GM, and I'd be happy to hear other opinions:

I can't seem to stop feeling responsible for the moral within the world I create...maybe conflicting with my feeling that players often carry their ideals into my game world.
No matter the characters, they naturally seem to have a tendency to disobey authority, especially authority that RL would consider outdated like monarchistic and/or hereditary authority, or hierarchy based on race, gender, and the like.

This is kind of a dilemma, resulting in roleplaying taboos:
If I was to introduce some hints of let's say domestic violence or slavery into my campaign, I'd either expect my players to naturally be against it and base the campaign/adventure on the assupmtion that they do so - or feel kind of guilty for creating a world where such concepts would not just be considered normal, but where there never even was public duscussion questioning them.

I even feel strange for asking that question...saying that I *want* to ceate a game world where players see a husband publically beat up his wife and think "oh what a naughty thing she must have been" is not quite what I *want* to say, because..well, as I initially said, I find it hard to distinguish between my personal ideals, and the values of the world I create. But creating a world where such situations don't arise...well, to be honest, would mean creating a world that's "better" than even the society we live in.
I have to admit - I ended up in not creating such situation, where players resp. their characters would be expected not to behave somewhere between humanism and anarcholiberalism (not sure if this term really fits)...

All that said - yes, roleplaying is about fun, and some topics are not suited for fun, so if the conclusion is to keep them out of RPing, that's fine.
But then again...dystopic literature might not be "fun", but I consider it valuable literature, and..well, maybe all I said boils down to the conclusion that I find it hard to GM dystopic scenarios, because I think that a dystopic GM might be blamed more than a dystopic author...
So maybe the question is about how to display negative aspects of a game world, yet avoid appearing to idealize the world you create..
« Last Edit: July 31, 2017, 03:27:01 PM by Drul Morbok »

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2017, 05:52:39 PM »
Tanis here, coming to you from everyone's favorite contemporary dystopia, the US. I'm really happy you brought this up, because it is a really tough topic, and it's also a theoretically relevant concept for world-building and RPGs that I think is too often ignored, especially because contemporary culture and values are so intrinsically at odds with the sorts of world we might want to create.

Obviously, not everyone who plays D&D or other tabletop games is going to hold the most en vogue set of values, but in general, tabletop players are in my experience more socially conscious than the average person, and thus it tends to be uncomfortable for them to RP as characters with fundamentally un-modern values and mores. However, I think that, as you've kind of suggested, especially in medieval fantasy settings, the base value systems should be quite different from our modern ones, and often those differences will result in clashes between the values of the setting and our own values as players.

I think that were I to try and run a more realistic campaign, I would start off by letting my players know where my mind is at with the in-game value system, what I'm trying to achieve, and why I think it would be interesting to explore. Then I would see if they were likewise interested in those ideas, and whether they'd be willing to try to play characters with different basic values, with the goal being to consciously set aside our real-world views in order to play in accordance with the views of the setting.

If done in this way, everyone gets the option to opt out if they don't think they'd find that kind of experience interesting or enjoyable, and you can get everyone thinking along the same lines as you on the topic, so that there's less squeamishness when something unpleasant happens. I also think that it's fine to have characters who question that value system, especially if their questioning of those values represents something different from our contemporary modernist worldviews. Plenty of people in the past thought that literally beating your wife was horrendous, even if they didn't think that women had the same social standing and rights as men, and that they were meant to be subservient to their husbands. If people didn't have views on the subject, no one would have ever thought enough about the topic for people to disagree and begin to change the values of their society. So having people who question things like social roles, hierarchical social institutions, etc. might work great, if you can get players doing that questioning in a clever and inventive way, not directly informed by humanistic beliefs about things like natural rights, and suchlike.

A good role model might be older pulp fantasy stories, like Conan the Barbarian. The characters in these stories don't function with the sort of morality we hold today. Conan is an amoral figure in many ways, viewed from our perspective. He represents archetypes like those of the heroes of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Norse, and other pre-modern warrior cultures, as well as things like the Byronic hero, far more than he does the sort of Carolingian Paladin/Knight of the Round Table sort of ideal that we tend to play with so much these days. He's the scion of a subjugated tribe who rises to become a king and conquering general through his wits, skill-at-arms, and strength of will, and he believed that glory and fame were the keys to greatness, as well as morally good in and of themselves. He frequently defeated opponents that we would consider evil, and that he thought were worth stopping, but the goal is never purely to "do the right thing."

Of course, all of that said, the best way, I think, for this to work is to have a group whose knowledge of pre-modern culture is deeper than the sorts of stereotypes that we as modern people typically have about older paradigms, and the best results will probably come when the players aren't playing barbaric brutes, but nuanced, human characters who merely have different values than we ourselves do. Regardless, it's certainly a topic that I think is interesting and valuable to consider when dealing with RPGs not set in societal conditions similar to our own. If you want to deal with "liberal" values which are held up while being actively corroded by the actually dominant hyper-capitalist paradigms of modern society, then cyberpunk is a much better setting, in my opinion.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2017, 11:22:57 PM by tanis »
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2017, 07:28:09 PM »
You both bring up a lot of good points. There's no easy answer to your dilemma, Drul. Medieval and ancient time periods were rife with torture, public executions, slavery, rape, abuse, witch hunts, burning at the stake and suffering of every imaginable kind. The Dark Ages were NOT a fun time period, especially for the poverty stricken masses. Stuff like going to a public execution and witnessing the horrific torture and execution of the accused was considered NORMAL for the time. Can you imagine?

When we role play, we are putting our characters in such a world. Furthermore, characters tend to be adventurers and tend to get into all kinds of scrapes with the law, with slavers, with villains of every kind. Player characters often find themselves neck deep in these kinds of conflicts.

I've noticed that in my own group, the players bring their 20th century morals with them and just own it. They are constantly rescuing slaves, stopping executions, stepping in to prevent someone's torture, freeing a prisoner, etc. They fight "evil" according to 20th century morals and don't regret it. I've found that I'm totally ok with that. I actually prefer it. When I play, I do the same thing. I fight for good and oppose evil, even when the "evil" is being perpetrated by the local baron or a slaver who is following the law. Then again, these adventure worlds need to have all these horrible things as it creates easy villains and lots of opportunity for adventure.

I have a related problem with my other group. I recently started gaming with another group of people. They were all strangers when I first met them, but I am rapidly getting to know them. Good guys, all of them. I like being just a player in this new group. Anyway, the campaign is a viking setting and we are vikings. Of course, that means raiding and butchering villages along the coast, etc. We got swept up in such a raid when the king ordered it, but then when we sacked a village, our king publicly tortured and executed the lordling that we had just captured.A couple of us had a real problem with that. We don't want to be a part of an army that rapes women and tortures prisoners. A couple of the players said "well, this is what we're supposed to do... we're Vikings!" We couldn't stop the torture/execution, but we were able to hide his wife and daughter and eventually helped them escape. For the time being, this is an open question that is being discussed in the group. Do we want to raid and rape and pillage and burn with the other vikings? Or do we oppose our legitimate King and go our own way? There's no easy answer to this because these characters actually do belong to a culture where this is the norm. And our 20th century morals are making it very uncomfortable for some of us.

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Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2017, 10:50:48 AM »
As to the apparent barbarism of past cultures, or raiders like the Vikings, a few things to remember are that much of these peoples' comfort with what to us is horrendous brutality comes from the very different circumstances of their lives. For one thing, there were no slaughterhouses, so people grew up from a very young age raising and butchering their own livestock, and their diets were poor enough that eating less meat often wasn't a viable option, so gore and death were much less foreign and shocking to them. In addition, injury and disease tended to have much more severe consequences, so personal familiarity with even human death was much, much more common, and these people were forced by necessity to find a way to accommodate that psychologically, meaning that suffering and death were much more normalized and, frankly, unavoidable than they are today, with all of our technological advancements in things like agriculture, industry, and medicine.

Add to that the far more decentralized and unstable nature of the political institutions of the day, and warrior cultures focused on honor, courage, and the attainment of personal glory were far more important to the survival and protection of the common man, and it was far more likely that an individual person would need to be able to defend themselves, even if they weren't called to use that skill in their lifetimes. Many pagan religions included war gods, such as Athena and Mars, further glorifying the role of conflict in society, though Ares was a notably unpopular figure with the Greeks, since he was associated not so much with war in the sense of strategy and victory as he was with war in the sense of carnage, butchery, and terror. Plus, some pagan religions, such as that of the Germanic peoples (including the Norse), included some degree of human sacrifice, making the killing of humans for various reasons far less morally problematic than it is for us, with our largely Judeo-Christian values (they might have taken on a more secular flavor of late, but Western culture's value system is intrinsically Christian at heart, with some Greek, Roman, and Germanic values thrown in).

One word of caution, though: despite what we tend to think of earlier cultures, the idea that life was cheap isn't entirely accurate. People still mourned their losses just as we do, even if they were used to a far higher proportion of suffering and violence relative to our "normal". But they also weren't that different from us, it's just that their thresholds were different. Remember that public hangings were a fixture of American culture, at least in the West, right up until the turn of the 20th Century, and lynchings and hangings were common in various culturally Western regions until much, much more recently. And these are very much aspects of Western culture. The Japanese in WWII had very, VERY different views on what was acceptable behavior, and the Allies' imposition of war crime trials in some ways represented an imposition of Western values over a "backwards" society.

I guess the point I'm making is, I don't blame anyone for not wanting to play a psychopathic butcher, or wanting to, for instance, throw infants and toddlers in the air and try to catch them on their spear-points after raiding a village like historical Vikings sometimes did, but I do think that those sorts of decisions are made more sensible and easier to grapple with when you have a strong sense of historical context, and by that I don't mean the sort of "medieval Europe was horrible and cruel" or "ancient people were mindlessly violent" kinds of revisionist ideas of "context".

Having said all of that, I agree with Dave; I have a very humanistic, Judeo-Christian value system influenced by ideas from ethics, psychology, and a lot of other sources, and I just plain prefer to play "Neutral Good" sorts of hero-complex type characters, and that's what most of my characters tend to be: paladins, in the sense of being shining examples of goodness, rather than the actual class (I've never been too fond of the Paladin class, actually).
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2017, 01:14:15 PM »
For one thing, there were no slaughterhouses, so people grew up from a very young age raising and butchering their own livestock,

And we, living in a world where slaughtering animals is performed within industrialized plants from which it is illegal to publish photos and films as to not let consumers know what they actually eat - we consider such cultures morally impaired?

Sorry, could not resist to jump in there, will be commenting more on roleplaying topic soon, as you both mentionned very interesting points I want to consider an comment.

Edit: I also wanted to add that there's one big difference between historical past, and pseudo-historical fantasy:
Fantasy worlds often seem to be built "on the shoulders of giants"...in the past, mages cast spells that nowadays mages are unable to even slightly understand, structures where build that are beyond the scope of contempory architecture, scientific knowledge is a shade of what it was in earlier days.
So even in a fantasy setting involving witch-burning, slavery and the like , humanistic ideals might be less anachronistic than they would be in a strictly historical setting...we might call witch-burning pre-humanistic (even if it did not happen in the so-called Dark Ages, but in more modern times than we often like to admit), but in fantasy settings, it might be conceivable to have some post-humanistic society based upon values we consider historically pre-humanistic (considering Tanis' greeting from everyone's favorite contemporary dystopia, we even might have such a thing in the setting we call RL...)
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 01:46:52 PM by Drul Morbok »

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2017, 03:36:36 PM »
Lol. Unfortunately, I'd say we're far closer to a global systems collapse than we'd like to admit.

I really like your comment about fantasy worlds being set, typically, in a somehow degraded world. It fits in really well with the Greek conception of Ages, starting with a Golden Age, and then moving through Silver, etc. to the present, decayed world of everyday humanity. And tied up with that, I think you might find it interesting to read a bit about the Bronze Age Collapse and the ensuing Pan-Mediterranean Dark Age. We often refer to the Early (or Low) Middle Ages as the Dark Ages, but the Early Middle Ages were actually far less awful than we typically imagine, and Europe, while not attaining the level of development of the Muslim world and the Far East, was actually quite stable and functional by the end of the High Middle Ages, until the Black Death swept through and killed everybody, destabilizing and depopulating the continent. The Dark Age that succeeded the Bronze Age Collapse was the most significant setback in human history, and it heavily affected the myths and legends of the later Mediterranean cultures.

Given your idea of "standing on the shoulders of giants", especially with the great magic of the past (a great thought, btw. I'm already beginning to feel some interesting ideas forming regarding my views on typical medieval fantasy), I think that would be an excellent point of reference for you.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2017, 10:04:27 PM by tanis »
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2017, 02:13:33 PM »
The idea of a degrading world struck me most apparently when only a few years ago, I read Tolkien's Silmarillion. I would guess that Tolkien was more than familiar with greek mythology - and that he in turn had a major impact on modern fantasy and might very well be the most influential person on fantasy roleplaying.

Especially it seemed like quite the opposite of the idea of us living in an evolving world, where civilization almost got some teleologic reading, as I find it perfectly embodied in the "tech tree" concept and the whole idea in computer games like...uh, well, "Civilization" ;-)
Start small, and grow by adding the new, each step improving the whole. There is no such thing as good old thays, there's only better new days.

So fantasy versus reality would be kind of "standing on the shoulders of giants" versus "growing from dwarves to giants" world settings.
Yeah, we admit some "backward" steps - especially here in Germany you can't avoid mentioning The One backward step in modern history - but as temporary setbacks rather than just another step in a process that has no direction and no goal.

But I said I wanted to go back to the issues I brought up about roleplaying:
I think the most important point is of course that players and GM find a way everyone is comfortable with.
I for my part grew uncomfortable with players' "humanistic" motivations being ambivalent at best, like when killing guards to free slaves. Again here in Germany, the view that guards are only following orders and are not responsible for the moral of the system that commands them, has become somewhat unpopular, to say the least. But even if you put aside questions like if guards don't have family and children, I still consider it somewhat inconsistent if players free every slave they see, but do not seem to care about any slave they do not see. Killing pawns rather than questioning the system.

I like the mentioning of Conan the Barbarian, especially the term "amoral", which is very different from "antimoral" (although I'm not sure if the dictionary knows the second one).
"Antimoral" would be what the D&D handbook calls "evil" alignment...and I guess none of us likes D&D alignments. "Amoral" might be "neutral", but more often than not "neutral" seems to mean "selectively good", as in killig guards to free prisoners, or somewhat erratic.

I for my part would not want to run an antimoral campaign...for example, within the Viking game settings Dave described, if players were to enjoy raiding, torturing and raping because it contradicts our views on moral, that would not be what I wanted.
If I remember correctly, the Conan movie has a scene where a young woman is sent into Conan's cell, in a context that seems like planned breeding rather than romance. While this is far away from modern ideals, I think most would not consider it as abhorrent as rape...or they'd even consider it a pragmatic way of surviving as a tribe in a world that's too harsh to allow for mating being based on romance/love.

Or as another example, here's a situation fro a video RPG I played:
A young boy was posessed by a demon to whom he had sold his soul in exchange for magic ability to save his sick father - a spell that went awry and caused much trouble to the village.
I as the group's main character had to decide between fighting the demon here and now, but as the bonds of posession were tight, killing the demon would kill the child.
The other option was fighting the demon on its home plane, but travelling there would involve the help of mages living some days travel away, time the main story would not allow for...and also fighting the demon on its own plane was siginficantly more dangerous.
OK, as a 21st century video gamer, I might have relied on the second option being possible as such and within the main story, but as the character, I did not take the risk and went the first way.

So as far as my initial question is concerned:
I've come to the conclusion that if I want a morally challenging campaign, I should build situations that are equally challenging in many moral settings, rather than situations that focus on a dilemma between player and character moral.
(Edit: I came to some triple distinction here: The character, the player and the person. The person's moral has nothing to do with what happens ingame, and I think this one is crucial and the very point of roleplaying.
However the person defines the kind of game the player likes, which is also fine. Maybe as you gain roleplaying experience, you accept bigger differences between you as person and you as player, but that does not mean you have to incorporate big differences to qualify as experienced or good at roleplaying.
Also the player is different from the character. The player has knowledge, often metagame, the character should not have, and the character would have traits the player should encorporate, but not actually have)

So thanks a lot to both of you for your contribution to this conclusion - and much beyond.

Oh, and as second edit: Yes, I also think that reading about the topic you mentioned would greatly interest me as well as enrich my further roleplaying/worldbuilding.
I hope I find somewhere to start.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 02:42:16 PM by Drul Morbok »

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2017, 08:26:30 PM »
Tolkien is certainly not the worst example of the idea of a degrading world, though his passion was especially large for Germanic mythology (he was the world's foremost scholar of Beowulf during his lifetime, and he was familiar with the Ring of the Nibelung and other Germanic myths), though that's not to say that he was unfamiliar with or uninterested in Greco-Roman mythology, or even later Medieval Christian stories.

And that's really a pretty great point you made regarding the teleology underpinning Modernism being reflected in ideas like tech trees in game design.

One thing I do want to say is that, while you're certainly right that anti-moral behavior would probably qualify as evil in the D&D sense, amoral actors can just as easily do "evil" things. I think a good comparison here would be Hannah Arendt's idea of the banality of evil. Writing about the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt put forward this idea that, while we usually think of evil as being the work of "monsters", quite often if we actually look at the people who do evil things, their evil is more of a sort of thoughtless disregard of the considerations necessary for morality than an outright denunciation of goodness. So in that sense, perhaps anti-moral behavior might be similar to what we think of as monstrous evil, while amoral actors, being unconcerned with morality in general, could act in both "good" and "bad" ways, because their behavior isn't tethered to any moral system, and we might further conjecture that they might be more prone to acts of "banal evil".

As to your conclusion regarding the different interactions, between the person, the person as player, and the character, I think that's a really good way to look at it.

Addenda:

1) The video game you were playing wouldn't happen to have been Dragon Age: Origins, would it?

2) If you search YouTube, there are some good videos on the Bronze Age Collapse, though they're in English so I don't know if they'd be ideal for you as a non-native English speaker. The channel Extra Credits has a recent series of videos in their "Extra History" series about the Bronze Age Collapse that aren't too difficult to watch, with lots of fun animations, or, if you're up for something a bit more dry, I can link you to a YouTube video of a lecture on the topic by a professor.

If nothing else, you can always go to Wikipedia and fall down a rabbit hole. :D
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2017, 01:08:56 PM »
Ok, you're right, in that my conclusion from Greek mythology to Tolkien is volatile at best.
I also agree with that amoral figures would by no means be restricted to "neutral(tm)" alignment...or I'd rather say they might be another argument why alignment poorly reflects judgements about actual behavior and motivation.

I like what you said about living conditions and moral, and I also saw an iportant tipp for GMing:
If I describe a village as tiny houses along a clean main road surrounded by green meadows with fat happy cows grazing, players might find it hard to understand that some poor fellow is publically flogged to death for stealing a chicken.
If i describe the same village as wild assortment of clay huts, each filled with smoke from a central fireplace that hardly lets it been seen that there are 10 or more people living together with a goat, a dog and some chicken in a space we might have as living room...toothless mouths or solitary back teeth at best in any face of age 20+, limbs lost or crippled due to infection...a ground that's an ancle-deep mixture of mud, excements, and some curdled blood where animals are slaughtered, combining into an overwhelming stench...with ragged apathic people sitting there, later to be packed on a waggons, the living to the next village so they might take care of them, the dead to some anonymous unceremonial mass grave...a society where it is more common to mourn the loss of a child than the loss of a parent...they might look at it different.
I'm not saying that either concept of villages is better for roleplaying, like I don't say there is a better player moral...but I now see that as a GM, I have to focus more on how both living conditions and moral  might work together.

And one more thing I noticed about player motivation:
Quite often, the RPG system and the GM also seem to reward action over words - and "action" often means behaving morally.
If for example the players meet slaves with guards, they might get some of the following for freeing the slaves:
- XP for defeating the guards
- loot from the guards...some coins at least, maybe also some potions or poisons, euqipment and so on
- XP for playing out their character...for example if one of the characters once was a slave, or had his family captured by slavers, and now hates slavery.
- ingame/story rewards. They might have rescued a relative of someone they need help from later in the campaign, find a useful NPC or in an other way profit from their deed.

If they just pass by...well, if one of the characters once was a slave and freed himself, and now thinks that freedom has to be earned, not given, therefore not helping others, he might get roleplying XP.
So after all, I think that even purely utilitarian players will end up playing somehow humanistic characters, or at least charactersperforming humanistic deeds.

In the D&D system, it is often said that players "lose" hitpoints in a fight, but I think they are rather "investing" them...reduce them now, so sooner or later, there will be more of it.
Depending how you handle healing, ingame time is the main regulating factor here...if recovering from a fight into which players get ist way more costly than the benefits of it - well, I guess THAN we are talking about moral if they still fight.


Also I came up with the idea of a degrading character system:
What does not kill them, leaves them weaker. A physical body can take only so much strain before it is too much, so any character would start at the prime of their physiacl health, and keeping it is the best he might hope for. He could learn skills, feats, talents, and so on... that prevent taking damage (and of course make him better at doing anything that could be improved now), but a full strike with a war axe or an arrow bolt would be equally lethal, no matter how experienced.

A broken bone will never be as stable as before, cut tissue will never completely grow together to be as agile as before, damaged arteries will be slightly impaired at supplying body parts, and so on.
Most characters would end adventuring as veterans (or as cripple or dead), so this might not be well suited for a single campaign that depends on the players achieving something (like saving the world), but rather for some kind of persistent sandbox world, where there will be new characters that hear about the deeds of the others, who might follow the trails of lost adventure parties.
I guess I might like such as system.


Oh, and finally - yes, of course, the game was Dragon Age: Origins  :D
I liked a lot how Moral issues were played out there.

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2017, 04:25:03 AM »
What you're describing sounds a lot like Rogue-like gameplay elements, with things like perma-death and serious consequences for even minor failures. That would be pretty fun, I think, to experience, since most D&D-type fantasy RPGs are basically just power fantasies writ large. I especially like the idea that players would be more concerned with avoiding injury and surviving battle than with doing damage and winning encounters, because that's how real combat in the real world works, especially in the past when melee weapons were the primary armament of most soldiers, and getting injured, even slightly, in combat could be lethal even if you walked away from the field of battle victorious.

It's especially annoying to me that PCs will generally, in very little time, have more HP than a freaking horse, as Dave once commented. If the excitement of combat in RPGs is the perceived danger combined with the feeling of triumph when, against apparently overwhelming odds, you succeed, then how much more exciting if death is that much more to be feared, and tactical prowess, good planning, and mastery of one's weapons and abilities are that much more crucial to one's success?

And it's funny, then, because you best believe that I fought that Lust Demon and saved the kid. I take my hero complex seriously. XD;
« Last Edit: August 12, 2017, 10:25:05 PM by tanis »
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2017, 01:55:15 AM »
Yes, rogue-like games surely were an inspiration...and I also got some ideas here at http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/, which Roman mentionned in http://www.khoras.net/chat/index.php?topic=459.msg2862#msg2862.

Guess I try to get the best of both worlds and mix this one with Khoras...and of course my own world :D
« Last Edit: August 12, 2017, 11:05:09 AM by Drul Morbok »

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2017, 11:15:45 PM »
I neglected to mention this initially, because I got distracted by all the other things I wanted to discuss at the time in response to the relevant comment you had posted, but I did want to circle back to your comment on presenting your players with two different interpretations of the same village.

While I think you're right that players would probably be much less surprised by, and better able to reconcile with their preconceptions, a chicken-thief being publically flogged to death (historically that would actually have been a BIT harsh, but not unthinkable under a really strict regime) in a run-down, dirty, and smoky village, the thought occurred to me as I was reading about the fat, happily grazing cattle of the perfectly manicured and generally pleasant village that it might say something about how that village had gotten that way.

I think a nice parallel might be Singapore. A friend of mine lived there for some years with his wife and young daughter, teaching philosophy at a university (if I recall correctly), and he had some interesting things to say about the experience. While Singapore has famously strict laws, and is even arguably an outright fascist nation (though not, of course, associated with European-style fascism), he quite liked living there, and he couldn't deny that there simply wasn't much crime. In a city of millions, he regularly allowed his pre-teen daughter to go to the mall alone and go entertain herself, whether with shopping or whatever else, and never once felt insecure about her safety in doing so.

So perhaps a consideration that might be fruitful is: is the public flogging of chicken-thieves one of the necessary conditions for these people having and maintaining the nice, orderly, and generally agreeable society that allows for so much general prosperity and such a high standard-of-living? And if so, is the alternative becoming that run-down, dirty, smoky, and extremely impoverished and unhealthy village to which they're being compared? Does that justify their harshness? And if these people are happy, and their happiness is dependent on being ruthless in their enforcement of laws, can the party justify robbing these people of their prosperity, security, and happiness simply to assuage their own personal discomfort?

It might even make for a nice experiment on the part of a GM: give the party this exact situation, or an equivalent one, and let the party impose their own morality on the village. Then give the party reason to go back some time later, only to find that their actions directly undermined the happiness and security in the villagers' lives, make them see that their actions, though noble in intention, have had an unambiguously negative impact on these people, and see how they react to being forced to question how well-advised their actions were, and whether they ultimately rethink how they act in such situations. Do they try to better understand such scenarios before making decisions? Do they reverse position entirely, actively seeking to maximize security at the cost of barbarism? Do they simply incorporate the events, and justify their actions as right on principle, viewing the unfortunate results as and unpleasant outcome of a world where fundamentally right actions don't always lead to optimal outcomes, nonetheless arguing that reorienting their moral decision-making wouldn't guarantee better outcomes, but rather simply lead them to make less virtuous choices in the hopes that in so doing they could ensure their preferred outcome, even if it was then built on a vicious foundation?

In effect, you'd be getting your players to think more deeply about their moral outlooks; are they deontologists? Utilitarians? Virtue/Aretaic (Aretaic as in arete, the Greek word for excellence, which in Latin is virtus) ethicists? It might be a really good opportunity to learn directly about your players, and perhaps even for them to learn a bit about themselves.

Finally, one other thing it made me think of, and which I suggest you read if you can, is the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K. LeGuin, the author of the Earthsea series. It's a polemic against utilitarian ethics, and it's only two or three pages long, so it's a really quick read, and a really interesting story that would contrast really nicely with my previous comments about Singapore.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to you.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline tanis

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2017, 01:06:41 AM »
I'd also like to mention something else, going back to Dave's comments on the Viking setting game he's playing. In Old Norse, viking isn't a noun, and it's certainly not a demonym or ethnonym. It's a verb, and it translates roughly to "raiding". In other words, when Norsemen said, "blah blah viking...", they were saying, "blah blah raiding...". Viking is something you went and did, and "a Viking" was a person who went and did that thing. You might say to your friend, "Oh, so I went viking recently, and look at all this shiny gold I got from those dumb Christian monks who keep all their shiny gold in undefended churches devoted to their silly (and, apparently, powerless and inferior) foreign god!"

The reason I'm pointing this out is that, for most of the Viking Age, actual vikings were effectively small-ish bands of pirates and raiders from a culture where such behavior was acceptable, especially if done to outsiders, rather than something that was done in a top-down fashion on the orders of a central authority. Well, mostly. The Viking Age actually coincided with a population boom in Scandinavia which was beginning to allow for more advanced forms of social organization, and was part of a complex process that would eventually see the foundation of the modern Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Eventually, Scandinavian kings WOULD build their power to a greater or lesser extent upon organized invasions, such as the Danish/Norwegian conquest of large portions of England, Scotland, and Ireland, or Rollo's siege of the Īle de Paris, and subsequent receipt of a large ransom and control of the region of Normandy as an official vassal of the French king in return for stopping all this troublesome plundering and raiding, but this largely happened right towards the end of the Viking Age, and the Scandinavian kings pretty much gave up on going viking after the death of the last real Viking king, Harald Hardrada, after his failed attempt to reassert Norwegian rights to the English throne in 1066.

The truth is, the vikings just liked shiny things, and the Christian kingdoms of Northern Europe at the time had lots of juicy, poorly defended targets just lying around, because Christians hadn't been making a habit of pillaging churches and monasteries, so they started taking stuff. Then, as they saw how poorly prepared their victims were to defend against small bands of seaborne raiders, as opposed to proper armies, they got bolder and bolder until they got beaten, conquered places, or were approached for negotiations. Because they were a lot like other Germanic peoples of the time (including the Anglo-Saxons and the Franks), in behavior if not necessarily in religion and culture, and they really just wanted to improve their own material conditions. They just happened to be really good seafarers, and Northern European defenses were geared toward addressing threats from other European land powers (obviously, the British Isles were a bit different, but still).

Actually, while they did love fighting, and the ideal of dying gloriously in battle was a big part of their religion and culture, what they REALLY loved was trading with people, and that's what they mostly did as they became more organized and better acquainted with their neighbors.

So, I guess what I'm saying is... if you guys want to form your own band of vikings and do whatever makes you feel good, whether that means raiding villages on your own terms instead of under the orders of a king too ruthless for your tastes, or having one of them, as their leader, straight up just challenge him for control, then that would be perfectly acceptable behavior on the characters' parts. Though, if they went so far as to challenge their king, their leader's loss would certainly result, at least historically, in him (if not all of them) being made to suffer horribly as an example of what happens to failed usurpers (assuming he lived through the failed challenge in the first place), and if they won they might still have ruffled a lot of their new followers' feathers by doing so in such a manner, which could mean anything from breaking up the raiding party into multiple disassociated groups all the way to outright denial of authority and attack by the men (if they were fond enough of the defeated king/disdainful enough of the usurper, if they just didn't think the usurper could lead them to as much wealth and glory as their more ruthless predecessor, or if they felt their standing and authority under the new ruler would be reduced in favor of new lieutenants, such as the other party members). Either way, though, you have plenty of options in a Viking setting (and if it's actually a NORSE setting, rather than a specifically Viking setting, then even more so), and I think that you guys should be able to find ways to deal with those problems in an historically believable way.

Hell, Harald Hardrada's story is pretty telling: he spent years of his adolescence and early manhood in exile in Kievan Rus' under the protection, and in the service of, Yaroslav the Wise; then moved to Constantinople, became the commander of the Varangian Guard, fought a ton for the Byzantines, and made a fortune in the process; and finally went home and regained the throne of Norway, and spent the rest of his life centralizing the administration of Norway, minting coins, and trying to conquer Denmark, and failing that, England. Also, just a note about Harald, his death at Stamford Bridge in 1066 is considered the end of the Viking Age, and just to show how much things had changed some three hundred-odd years after the beginning of that era, Harald was a Christian; his twenty-year reign was one of peace, stability, and prosperity for Norway; and most of his raiding was of Denmark, as part of his attempts to gain the Danish throne, rather than of somewhere outside of Scandinavia.

Anyway, I don't know that any of this will actually be helpful (or new information) to you, Dave, or even still relevant this long after your initial comment, but I enjoyed talking about one of my favorite historical periods (and as a history major, among other subjects, that means something ;D), and maybe you'll find something useful in my ramblings on the topic of Vikings.

As a separate note, I'd be really interested in any thoughts you have on all of the other things Drul and I have discussed here, if you get the time and happen to have anything to say on the subject. :)
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2017, 04:55:47 AM »
When I came of with that poor chicken-thief, I imagined the punishent as instant self-administered justice without formal trial brought upon someone caught in the act rather than as administration of a codified law that set that specific punishment for that specific crime...which in turn seemed more likely to me within the poverty scenario. Now I think that in that case, a hanging might be more plausible...but such details aside, you made a valuable point.
I intended the fat happily grazing cattle and the clean main road as romantization of rural medieval idyll, and while I think that romantization might be an issue of its own when it comes to roleplaying in pseudo-historical scenarios, I admit my argumentation tends to imply that high living standards and a liberal legal system are mutual implication ("if they lived under better conditions, they'd punish thieves less hard").

So slightly more precise, yet still generelizing, I might say that players with a "modern western background" might expect it that way. Other backgorunds (or even different interpretations of "modern western background") might find the flogging appropriate in the setting of happily grazing cattle, and expect that in the poverty scenario, theft would be common and even generally accepted or at least not fought hard enough ("If they punished thieves harder, they'd live under better conditions").


I like the GM experiment you mentionned, I also planned something like you said, and also had something else in mind:
An NPC scolding players along the lines of "Just who do you think you are, some moral imperialists, shedding your shining light down upon us unwashed backward natives who are yet unable to grasp the superiority of what your oh so fine history taught you to behave like in your oh so fine society" (I intend to generally not set my campaigns within the characters' background setting, just to avoid out-of-place morals as well as question like "what does my character know about this central cultural aspect").

Let's take slaves as an example...I expect you can go on for pages of historical knowledge where I can contribute smattering at best, but I think most of historical slavery was not as abhorrent as its current reputation (at least if compared to general living conditions in the same time, rather than compared to our living standards):
First of all, I think quite often it was even economic reason to treat slaves not too bad. Not equal of course, and replaceable, but too valuable to be wasted.
Empires might have masses of expandable slaves, especially when they were expanding/conquering...I think that in some phase of the Roman Empire, they would have had the knowledge and other possibilities to use rather complex machinery for construction, but slaves were more economically efficient. But still then, I would not claim that let's say a conscripted soldier could be envied in expanding/conquering empires.
Also slaves did not always perform menial labor or even get worked to death (and getting worked to death no only happened to slaves), but some were house teachers or in otherwise respected intellectual or artist jobs.
Last but not least, not all slaves were captured villagers (or "natives" captured by "civilized" intruders). Some were prisoners (who did not lose that much freedom compared to prison cells...and freeing them might be a somewhat doubtful principle for heroic characters), others were personally indebted which is regrettable but still not that condemnable if it means that in turn the debtor's familiy is spared a life in misery. Latter slaves might be horrified if "rescued", since this means they failed to fulfill their part of the agreement to equalize debts.

After all, I do not want to play the judge about realworld historic slavery, especiallly since my actual knowledge is somewhat lacking...But I also do not want player characters to judge my game world based upon their players' judgement on realworld historic slavery (maybe more precisely: modern history of western slavery), so that's why I came up with said NPC scolding.


Editing in one contribution:
Very recently, I heard that someone I know was sent to prison for failing to pay the fine for fare evasion.
It might be more of a mental issue than a purely financial one (handled properly, people do not get jailed that easily, but she seems to have ignored it entirely...but her behavior is not the point I want to discuss) and I'd assume diminished responsibility rather than criminal intent.
My main point why I consider it relevant here: As I understand it, the total debt is now at around 2000 Euro, which is multiple times the original fine...and around tousand times the price of one ticket (OK, it might have been multiple occasions).

Personally I think we move into some debt industry where debt collectors can get rich by charging debtors multiple times the original debt, preventing those that are poor (or sometimes naive) enough to get indebted from ever realistically becoming debt-free. It would be too polemic to make a too direct link to the slavery issue I brought up...but what I want to say is:
I do not agree with every aspect oft law enforcement, nor do I say it is unavoidable to maintain social stability. I also would not say this person (or many others) deserves prison, nor that she'd learn a lesson or something...and still, I would be horrified if someone would attack the prison, killing a few guards in the process, and free her - and expect some kind of reward from me.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 08:15:53 AM by Drul Morbok »

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Modern values and Fantasy world
« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2017, 09:31:55 AM »
I also thought about your mentionning of Hannah Arendt's banality of evil and the Eichmann trial.

In the end, I concluded that I consider all heroic RPG characters to be amoral figures, and even further, that their behavior, if displayed in our real world, would rise questions about personality disorder rather than about alignment or moral.
Here I beg to keep in mind my distinction between person, player and character...if someone said the same thing about me as a chess player, I might consider it unintuitive to have such thoghts, but to me it would be a valid judgement - it would not say anything about me as a person.... and about me as a chess player, it's natural that all I care about when moving figures is to win the game.
Judgements about figures as characters seem inappropriate.

I came up with the conclusion that players playing heroic characters (and even more so "evil" characters if a GM allows them) do not play that much different (and that they have every right to do so, it's their game).
Their behavior is driven by what they think (and learn) the GM and the system encourage and reward - and thats heroism. Sometimes, this reward is countable (gold and XP), sometimes its more abstract  - but for example, "spotlight time" and attention is also a (if not THE) ressource in RPGing, i.e. time when the character actions are the focus of the game, when other players comment on the action and talk abot it afterwards ("remember when this crazy bastard did THAT?")...all of this I consider reward for character behavior (and as many psychologists might confirm, even negative attention is attention).

Yet neither DM nor group talk, spotlight time and attention are ingame, so players are motivated by values and factors beyond the world they are supposed to live in.
Then again, this attitude of "I shall not be judged within your world, I'm only subject to rules beyond your comprehension" is often associated with some sense of mission....and if someone decides to base decisions on other people's life and death on this basis - well, I think we tend to call them zealots if this basis is at least somewhat integrated into society, and we start talking about personality issues when the basis only lies within the person itself...
I also tend to think this sense of mission is often rather prominent in people that were afterwards called ruthless dictators, but themselves might never had such thing as guilty conscience

In some way, I think such players banalize the world and every non-PC living being in it by never ever thinking of such a thing of peace of the death or reverence or any other kind of respect towards live and moral that does not translate into said rewards.

I just came up with an even more grim experiment:
I mentionned in an other thread that I intend some mission where players are sent to the Mandalar and might or might not doubt their orders.
I think about their mission being sent to Mandalar territory as advance party of a masterplan of mass deportation of Mandalar into detention centers in order to get new living space for the Empire's population, using ingame euphemisms that might initially make it seem a rather humane and sensible measure, where carrying out the order will be the most profitable way of character behavior.
I hope I can keep this one from getting tasteless, since the last thing I intend is some "genocide simulator", but rather some kind of parable (more or less the same way The Lord Of Flies is not tasteless for displaying children displaying fascist tendencies).

Edit: I mean...let it be argued that as long as the Border Clans remain "unclaimed", the Kingdom of Anquar and the Great Padashan Republic will fight for them, and such dispute will inevitably escalate into all-out war that neither of both contrahents (nor the Mandalar) will survive.
However as soon as both contrahents share a common border, they will enter into a "cold war stalemate", both sides grudgingly acknowledging that open confrontation will end in total annihalition of both sides.

I'm not saying this is "true" as far as the World of Khoras is concerned, but..ordinary soldiers would be sent into the Border Clans fueled up with propagand about glorious victory, while elite forces proving too smart for this propaganda (like the players might sooner or later), would be taken aside into a confidential talk where this argumentation would be presented...who are the characters to say this is "wrong", especially after they already are into it?
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 12:51:12 PM by Drul Morbok »