Evil and Something.

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Nodens
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Evil and Something.

Postby Nodens » Thu Mar 09, 2017 6:15 am

Hello. I figured I should probably just make a new thread.

Edit: This is, of course, just one player's interpretation. Although alignments in TER are much more relaxed than in many D&D settings, if you're looking to incorporate alignments as a large factor in the narrative of your character's story, I hope this helps.

I want to talk about the contrast between good and evil, if for no other reason than perhaps to provide a little clarity. It's been my experience that no matter the medium, when roleplay involves 'alignments' there is the potential for a lot of different interpretation. I won't say misinterpretation, because the nine-step alignment we have is in itself imperfect. In the end, it is no more than an attempt to separate and segment different outlooks/behaviors. In a sense, it allows a player to acquire a better understanding of their own character by fitting a portion of him(/her) into a box. The alignment box.
So the nine-step alignment is arbitrary, vague, and potentially contentious. Each alignment can be interpreted in an introverted, or extroverted way, and this further complicated things. I won't drown this post in examples, but please ask if you don't understand what I mean.
When you apply an alignment to a character, it comes with the expectation of limitations. Through these limitations, we're guided somewhat in how to better portray our characters. There are only so many ways in which a lawful good character might react so a given situation, and they are certainly NOT the same ways that a chaotic evil character would. But given that many alignments have an introverted and an extroverted interpretation (as well as that no alignment is inherently reckless or foolhardy), it's entirely possible that on the surface the difference is hard to see.

I find that being reductive about the essential nature of alignments can help with interpreting them. So from good down to evil, this is my take:
Good: Help others.
Neutral: Help self.
Evil: Help self at any cost.
With this in mind, no evil character with an intelligence of, say, ten is going to act in a way that will get him in trouble if he does not think he can get away with it. Not even a chaotic evil character.
Speaking of chaotic evil, I've heard from a great many players over the course of my time roleplaying that chaotic evil is taken to mean 'chaotic stupid', or in other words, the sadist with no impulse control.
This is entirely untrue.
To compare with the other two evils, a lawful evil character may bribe the local government to allow him to purchase a merchant's stall out from under her nose, and then demand a weekly tithe or else run the merchant off. OR, he may simply steal every last penny from the merchant, her entire livelihood - but refuse to lay hands on her. OR, he may mug the merchant and leave her broken and bleeding on the street - but refuse to actually kill her. OR.... you get the picture. There is /some/ limitation, some manner of code, and it certainly need not be the code of the land. Some things, essentially, are not permitted, and this allows the character to feel elevated above those who are willing to stoop lower than his arbitrarily placed line. The lawful evil character is possibly the most likely of evils to believe they are still neutral, or even still good. If they do, it is because they believe that in this world, the boundary they have set somehow matters.
A neutral evil character, in my estimation, is as the lawful evil character, except that anything is permissible - and whatever is most expedient is what is done. They may be less likely to hold illusions about their own nature, but may hold to the idea that the world around them is equally cruel and therefore they are justified when responding in kind. In their mind, there might be very little evil in the world - and no good. Instead, most everything is grey and there are those who know this and those who don't.
A chaotic evil character will do any of those things - but, like the neutral evil character, expediency takes precedence. There is no code to prevent him from taking an easier option, but neither is there (necessarily) a madness to force him down a path which endangers him in the future. He will make demands of the merchant, threaten her, and then possibly not follow through. Is he proud? It isn't a requirement to be chaotic evil. Is he violent? This is also not a requirement. The chaotic neutral character values his goals above all (though they are likely to be selfish goals), while the chaotic evil character values himself above all. His goals may be epic in scale - there is nothing to say they must be simple. But realistically, the chaotic evil character does not hold them high enough in his list of priorities to accomplish them (by) himself.
The chaotic evil character is the least likely to hold illusions about himself or the world, because he is less concerned with what he looks like to the world, or what the world looks like to him.
A compulsive liar would be very suited to a chaotic evil role.

I think it is important to make note of one area in which the nine-step alignment cannot be applied to real life the same way it can be applied to our setting.

This area is superstition. This ties into my last post about all this. In our modern world, we have the information and the cultural diversity to learn to think for ourselves and develop our own understanding of virtues and their value. We establish our own boundaries. This enlightenment is something rarely, if ever, found in fantasy settings. The lower the magic scale, the more rare, because there is less and less exposure to those situations which might force a character to think.
Instead, we have superstition.
Superstition is a tool of the common folk, in a way an oral tradition, which provides a set of directions in the event of exposure to things generally deemed nefarious. Those who are superstitious are more likely to shun what they don't understand, and this protects them from the corrupting influence of evil. Needless to say, the less familiar an evil is, the more superstition surrounds it. Is the evil unfamiliar because the superstition exists to oppose it? Or is the superstition there only because the evil was so unfamiliar? Well, I'm not sure. An interesting question.
There is a broader, more comprehensive form of superstition that serves to protect paladins and their ilk from evil, though it goes by the name of doctrine. Through their training and their sub-culture, the folk of the church usually know better than to expose themselves to evil. The most common difference between the doctrine of the church and the superstition of commoners is that the doctrine also covers most or all of mundane evil, the better to protect its adherents. With tenets such as justice, honesty and charity, members are encouraged to perform in a way that limits their ability to commit evil acts. In this they are also usually made to feel that to break out of such teaching is in itself an act of evil. If the tenets are comprehensive enough, I suppose it probably would be..

This brings me to my last point. In our setting, the vast majority of evil you will see from player-character to player-character is mundane evil.
Mundane evil is a failure or an unwillingness to hold to virtues that come with being good. Mundane good, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of those virtues. Those who strive for complete goodness their entire lives are unlikely ever to find it; it is the nature of being human that such perfection is elusive at best and a myth at worst. The most fascinating goodly characters are those whose players manage to illustrate that struggle - to reveal second by second the endless dance between virtue and darkness. There is nothing sweeter to see than a good man who is who he is because he struggles to be so. His effort is our reward.
So, too, for evil characters. Whether they struggle towards good and fail (due to supernatural evil), or they have given up hope of ever getting there, or even decided (as it is less painful) that such perfection is unattainable altogether - their struggle not to fall TOO far (or, occasionally, to fall further still..) is what gives them narrative power. We as humans can understand and appreciate such struggle. We find a certain greatness in it, and through it, ourselves.
Last edited by Nodens on Thu Mar 09, 2017 6:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

Nodens
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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby Nodens » Thu Mar 09, 2017 6:16 am

I want to bring to light the nature of what I call 'supernatural evil', and how it changes one's moral compass in a given situation.
Below this post, Toros and Blatob already made some extremely compelling points here, so much so that I'm going to directly incorporate them :)

As a roleplayer of evil (And usually clever evil at that) I like to consider how a given character may manipulate situations in order to put the people around him at risk of corruption and moral compromise. Many times in the past I've made the mistake of overestimating the depth of human compassion in a fantasy setting. You might expect that a goodly character to behave how YOU would behave in a given situation, but there comes a point in this setting where the water is muddy for us and crystal clear for them.
Toros wrote:Orcs are inherently evil, so slaughtering them is considered morally good. Yet what makes killing an orc infant less awful than killing a human one? There are a number of sapient races this reasoning could be applied to. It's natural to have a tribal mindset, with humans, elves, dwarves and hin on one side, and all the other races on the other. Adventurers don't have oversight.
As Toros said. This is, I think, something very much worth remembering whether you are a paladin raiding a kobold mine, or a blackguard looking to trick others into darkness. Toros refers to this as a tribal mindset, and he isn't wrong. I'm going to lump this into the category of supernatural evil, because there is something about newborn monsters which warrants their death regardless of the fact that they have never committed evils themselves.
Cue blatob.
blatob wrote:One thing to consider is a simple fact that we play in setting where you do have defined Good and Evil absolutes - in the plains, etc. Therefore, killing an orc, no matter how old it is, since those creatures follow evil deity, is considered good and kind act.
This is the essence of what supernatural evil is. It is a tangible thing which exists outside of the hearts of humans and is capable of spreading itself in ways beyond mere 'evil culture' (Such as 'orcs are inherently evil because of their ways and beliefs').
When I think about this, I like to look at the overlap between mundane evil and supernatural evil. A rogue who performs acts of mundane evil within the confines of a small city, never actually getting involved with evil of a magical (supernatural) nature, will still find herself marked by supernatural evil. When she dies, however she dies, she will find that the evil outside of her - the tangible force that is evil in the realms - has 'claimed' her because of her deeds in life. Let us say that she has also been faithless, rare as that generally is, and follow her progression after death.
Assuming my information is correct, she finds herself being fused to a wall which circles the perimeter of a ghostly fortress-citadel. The process is agony and seems to be permanent, good job Lady Stabsteal.
But it isn't permanent. Eventually, fiends from the lower realms come and seek her out. There may not be much left of her by now, but when she is found they pry her back out of the wall and steal her away to their own realm. There she becomes one either one of them, or one of the sufferers which fuel a lower realm's machinations, or both.
The point being that even leading a mundane life, supernatural evil waits at the perimeter, and mundane evil could let it in. This is relevant because of its inverse: those races which are considered inherently evil may well be marked by supernatural evil, even from birth (See drow?) , and so marked they almost always grow up to become characters who are willing to perform acts of mundane evil.
Last edited by Nodens on Thu Mar 09, 2017 4:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kerstman
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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby Kerstman » Thu Mar 09, 2017 6:41 am

I said it before, but whenever there is al alignment discussion I urge every participant to fully drop the classical DnD concept and instead apply that what is outlined in this thread. It saves a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby Toros » Thu Mar 09, 2017 7:25 am

I think you bring up a lot of excellent points with good vs evil, and intentions vs results.

I also find both good and evil characters most interesting when they are struggling with themselves.

From a good perspective, grappling with their darker nature is common and fertile territory, and in a larger context there's a struggle to navigate what is good vs what is effective or expedient.

From an evil or selfish perspective, there's many reasons not to betray someone for short term gain when you can fatten them up like a pig for slaughter.

It's also worth mentioning that many evil individuals are driven just as often by desperation and fear as greed and malice. Many are both victim and perpetrator.

It would be difficult to say that Gollum from Tolkien's works is anything but evil, but while he is violent and selfish he's also motivated by fear and self-loathing and his mind and body being warped by something far more powerful than he is. But that makes him dynamic and interesting and you can see a failed redemption and ultimately many lives are saved due to mercy and his nature being allowed to meet its natural end. His story is compelling in a way that if Sam had simply killed him it would not otherwise be.

The strength of good comes from stability, unity, and trust. The social rules good characters follow tend to preserve those qualities. Evil power is potent, but often unstable and comes at a price only the desperate and mad would be willing to pay. What makes these individuals interesting is what drives them to make a choice to burn brighter and typically die horribly.

Honor also has limits. A paladin will typically avoid breaking their vows, but at what point is a cause worth falling for? Saving 100 lives, 1000 lives, 10,000 lives make a strong argument for a choice that could either be a slippery slope into becoming a monster themselves, or sacrificing their honor for the good of others. For some, there is no price worth sacrificing honor for, and whether that perspective is a good thing is a matter of perspective. Sometimes a martyr does more to advance a cause in death than they could have in life.

In college one of the topics we covered was moral development, and the most interesting framework to describe it I've been exposed to was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_ ... evelopment. I was taught that roughly 70% of the adult population never progresses beyond the third stage, which is basically "Good people follow the law." This interpretation doesn't question whether the law is just to begin with, or whether it is the best option to apply to each case. For me, this is a terrifying thing to consider so many people believing.

I didn't care for Watchmen in general, but Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan come to the conclusion that it's better if thousands of innocent lives are lost in a false attack to drive unification that may ultimately save the species. It's not an evil goal, nor necessarily even wrong. It is however, bitterly cynical about the capabilities of the human race, and makes Rorschach a far more sympathetic figure. However, Rorschach's own methods were brutal and unsustainable on a large scale, so while his goals were "good" they are almost certainly less effective.

Dnd makes this simple on the surface but brings up complex questions. Orcs are inherently evil, so slaughtering them is considered morally good. Yet what makes killing an orc infant less awful than killing a human one? There are a number of sapient races this reasoning could be applied to. It's natural to have a tribal mindset, with humans, elves, dwarves and hin on one side, and all the other races on the other. Adventurers don't have oversight.

What I would hope is that anywhere on the spectrum people find ways to give characters depth. Sir Goodhero who never wavers, never doubts, and acts predictably is just as one-dimensional as Lady Stabsteal, who kills anyone she can get away with and takes everything that isn't nailed down. Neither story is going to be as compelling as someone who is looking to restore the lost fortune and status of his family, and willing to go further than he believed possible to do so. Or someone who made a bad deal to save someone's life, and is now a reluctant servant to an evil master.

These are topics I always find endlessly interesting, and I'm glad you made a thread for them.
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blatob
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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby blatob » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:02 am

One thing to consider is a simple fact that we play in setting where you do have defined Good and Evil absolutes - in the plains, etc. Therefore, killing an orc, no matter how old it is, since those creatures follow evil deity, is considered good and kind act.

In real life, in most situations, there are no moral absolutes. Usually. And the Universe, being inanimate, gives a @[email protected]%$# to what we do with each other. So, we are dealing with making a compromise between these 2 extremes. And add to that your PCs personal moral system. So, aye, Nodens good work on them writings.

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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby Kilaana » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:15 am

It is refreshing to see such discourse on the forums. I am personally both enlightened and humbled to be able to share in these perspectives. Thank you to Nodens and Toros.
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Nodens
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Re: Evil and Something.

Postby Nodens » Thu Mar 09, 2017 4:23 pm

Perfectly put, Toros. I'm very glad glad to see your post - and your examples are absolutely spot-on. :)

Second post up, for monsters and supernatural evil.
Toros wrote:From an evil or selfish perspective, there's many reasons not to betray someone for short term gain when you can fatten them up like a pig for slaughter.
.....
It's also worth mentioning that many evil individuals are driven just as often by desperation and fear as greed and malice. Many are both victim and perpetrator.
I love these lines.


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