Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just Dumb Things, Episode 3

So this one isn’t quite as much a “just dumb things” as a “things that make you ask more questions than you wanted to” feature.  I was helping a new player build a character for third edition dungeons and dragons game, and she ended up building a ranger, and we got to the question of favored enemies.  She wasn’t so sure that she wanted to pick a sentient race as her favored enemy because she as a player wasn’t sure about the ethics or morality of it.  It’s an interesting question after all.  This spawned a discussion that lasted for almost three hours between the various members of the gaming group and the new girl, about the morality of having favored enemies and what that meant in terms of how her character would interact with those enemies, and the world around her.

There are several awful points brought up by various members of the group including:

“Yep, that means we’re going to kick in the door to their caves, kill every last one of them, loot their bodies, and set everything on fire, and you’re going to be laughing all the way.”  If you’re familiar with this series you can guess which one of my regular players this is.

“OMFG, pick one, you’re holding up the game!  You’re first F’ing level and are going to get murdered by goblins!”  The guy who made his character in ten minutes.

“Well….*two hour lecture about the nature of ethics and morality*.”  The guy who took twenty minutes to concede a game at a Legend of the Five Rings tournament because he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss something.

“Well, we’re probably going to encounter goblins and orcs at our level, so picking those as favored enemies is the most advantageous for you as a gamer.”  Kid Min-maxer.

The answer i finally gave her about this topic is basically what follows.

“D &D is not like the real world, and there are things that you wouldn’t consider doing in the real world that you might do a lot in D & D.  Effectively, there are several different adventures you might participate in where you’re going to effectively kick in someone’s front door, murder them and all of their family members, and take their stuff.  Is it right?  In the context of the game world we are playing, the answer is maybe.  Some things in the game world are objectively evil, and given the chance, will kill you and leave you laying in the dirt.  So real world morality and ethics aren’t necessarily going to be immediately applicable.  Figure out what your character’s alignment is, and we can figure this out a little further without commentary from the peanut gallery.”  

So D &D presents us with an opportunity to explore a lot of different ideas and perspectives on how to behave as people, and that’s a wonderful thing.  One of my favorite gaming friends was devoutly religious and probably the single best human being i have ever encountered.  His characters were completely batshit crazy bordering on psychotic evil.  He saw the opportunity to explore a different way of looking at the universe and wanted to play with it.  We had a lot of fun tinkering with ideas and playing around a bunch of different ideas and characters.  Not all of them were good people.

Coming to a gaming perspective of the world means that occasionally you’re going to need to separate your personal perspectives of how the universe works from how the character you’re playing perceives the world around them.  Enjoy that separation and look for interesting ways to explore out from those new perspectives and see where they take you!

To finish the originating question, our new player settled on Giants as her favored enemy, because she didn’t like ogres or giants and had decided that she could rationalize a monstrous foe that didn’t have a real world analogue.  Her happy little neutral good ranger didn’t ever encounter any of them, but she had a lot of fun with the game.  


  1. I think you did alright here, and as long as she eventually had fun, that's great.

    I would suggest that even the D&D world does not have objective evil or good. The prime material plane allows a lot more free will than that. Objective evil or good is a common trait in the outer planes where those aspects are a function of the plane the beings reside in. Not to belabor the point, but Drizzt demonstrates that Drow are not objectively evil. It is a primary trait of their race, but it is not absolute.

    In the case of your ranger, to me, the more interesting course might have been to find out WHY her CHARACTER would deviate from the norm in her case. Perhaps giving some campaign related incidents with those creatures might have helped her better understand what was expected. However, if she was going to deviate from the norm, it might be interesting to discover why, and make it a part of her background.

    Seems to me, there are some great role playing opportunities there.

  2. Dungeons and Dragons as a world DOES feature the outer planes where creatures that are objectively good or evil do exist, and that's one of those interesting things to deal with when interacting with the larger world.

    The other issue that was cropping up with this particular case was the rest of her gaming group agitating strongly that they wanted to play, and balancing everyone's wants/desires/needs was causing some issues at the table right then. After the fact, and in between sessions we talked about the issue, and while she never really dug deeply into her character motivations, she was a brand new role-player, so at that point I think my responsibility is to teach her the game's basics and mechanics, and over time discuss the role-playing side of the game.