Sunday, June 2, 2019

Problematic Content I Like

My experiments with Alexis's trade system is, unfortunately, going to go on hold for the moment (family stuff takes precedence on the weekends, and the boy had a baseball double-header Saturday).

However, I still have some time have a bit of time now, in the wee hours of the morning (while everyone else is asleep) to blog a bit more on the South American campaign setting. The more I consider it and research it, the more I like the whole concept. As long as I treat the indigenous humans like, you know, humans and not some sort of cardboard fantasy antagonists, I think the setting can still provide plenty of ground for adventure while not becoming some sort of sick colonialist fantasy. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that humans are a diverse bunch of people: no group is inherently "good" or "evil," though self-interest can look like the latter when it's at the expense of others. Regardless, the game will probably have a bit more "moral ambiguity" than your average D&D campaign, especially those latter day editions that presume players to be some sort of heroic do-gooder types.

And that's fine. If a PC is murdering a fictional human in a game, does it it matter that the NPC is an Incan or a Spaniard? Is it really any different from murdering a (fictional) Traladaran or Thyatian? I think it only becomes offensive when the game states (explicitly or not) that a particular group of people is "orc equivalent" in the setting, i.e. a species of less-than-humans existing only to be slaughtered, and that there's no moral quandary for doing so, as the culture is all "evil" anyway.

I suppose we'll have to see how it works in practice which...considering my lack of gaming at the moment...might take a while. Still, I'll try to keep it in consideration as I do my prep work and world building. For now, let's just figure it's all "doable" and move on to the next offensive thing I've got planned: religion.

Specifically the re-skinning of alignment as "religion" for the campaign setting.

The whole Law-Neutral-Chaos axis doesn't really work in a setting of moral ambiguities: if you don't have a Dark Lord Sauron on one side and some sort of Council of Good Peoples on the other, the idea of alignment becomes either a means of measuring temperament (do I like to steal and cheat?) or one that measures some type of "cosmic force" interaction. The latter works great for settings that pit players against extra-natural entities (Cthulhu and the like) or define the conflict as one of order/civilization versus chaos/wilderness. But those don't really work for my setting: there isn't any cosmic evil force the PCs are striving against, and the "wilderness" of South America already had plenty of order/civilization in the form of the native peoples of the continent. The conquistadors were really the ones introducing chaos (to the eyes of the indigenous population) even as their perception was one of bringing "the light of reason and faith" to the region.

[oh...and if you just want alignment to be temperament, then why bother with it at all? Humans change their minds and behaviors all the time. No one is inherently Lawful or Neutral or Chaotic]

However, I do have reasons for wanting "sides" in the setting (and a shorthand description for characters), and instead of traditional alignment, I've decided that the term religion will do just fine. In this case, I break it into three categories:

True Christian

Part of this is tied directly to the history of the setting. When the Church allowed the Spanish and Portuguese to divide up the non-Christian world between them, part of the justification for this was the conversion of the non-Christian populations. As such, only Christians were allowed to emigrate to the Americas, individuals in fact needing to be able to prove that they were Christians (of two Christian parents) in order to participate in the colonization. For the Spanish and Portuguese, going to the New World wasn't a search for "religious freedom;" it was about expanding the Church's dominion. As such, all European explorers in South America were exclusively (if nominally) "Christian" during this time period.

Now Christianity, like most world religions, is generally pretty nice when people follow its laws and tenets. Thing is, though, you actually have to practice what the priest is preaching...just because you've been baptized and take Communion regularly doesn't mean you're not an asshole. Walking in the steps of walking the path of any holy person...can be frigging hard especially the more attachments you have to the worldly. Not just money and power mind you, but your family, personal honor, and self-identity (status, place in society). It's tough dissolving one's ego and "trusting in the Lord," and most of us get too caught up in the immediate stuff in front of our noses to see (or care) about the larger picture.

Those that DO see that picture, or who can at least glimpse it and care enough to try to live it, are the folks that fall into the "True Christian" category. Baptized Christians (i.e. European explorers) who habitually forget or ignore either the letter or the spirit of Church teachings fall into the "Practical" category; they still believe in heaven, and are respectful of priests and the Eucharist (superstitiously so) but they're not really trying to live Christ's example. "Non-Christians" are people who actively disbelieve or despise the Church; it includes both atheists and apostates, and any pagan peoples (like all the indigenous folk at the start of the campaign).

In addition to helping define where one falls in the conflict between New World and Old World, these alignments serve a practical purpose of helping to distinguish and categorize the character classes in the campaign; at the moment, I see them breaking down like this:

Cleric: True Christian or Practical only
- Druid: Non-Christian only
Fighter: Any
- Paladin: True Christian only
- Ranger: Any
Magic-User: Practical or Non-Christian only
- Illusionist: Practical or Non-Christian only
Thief: Any*
- Assassin: Practical or Non-Christian only
- Bard: Any
Monk: Non-Christian only, if used

I haven't decided whether or not I actually want to include the monk character class...if I do, it will probably be some sort of fantasy order/cult found among the indigenous. I toyed with limiting thieves' alignment, but I figure there might be some "reformed" types who retain their skills refraining from their sinful (stealing) ways. Mage-types and assassins are limited because, regardless of any particular devotion they might have, they continue to practice crafts (sorcery and murder) that are distinctly counter to Church law.

Being a True Christian matters mostly to the cleric and paladin classes. It is possible to be a priest or knightly warrior without being a devoted Christian, but the supernatural powers of these classes are tied to their faith. As such, I've defined seven Saintly Virtues (based on the Cardinal and Theological Virtues) that True Christians must observe to retain their status:

Charity, Chastity, Faith, Fortitude, Mercy, Modesty, and Temperance

I have notes about how each might be broken, but the effects of breaking them differ between classes.

Because "to err is human," a player may choose a single virtue that their character may safely disregard while still retaining their status as a True Christian; it is assumed this is a personal flaw/vice that they are struggling with and so long as they show proper remorse (and seek confession) there is no alignment penalty (changing alignments carries the usual penalty of losing an experience level, but it's pretty damn difficult to switch between Practical and Non-Christian without actual religious conversion!).

Paladins who fall from True Christian to Practical alignment lose all class benefits, becoming a normal fighter (though one with a tougher XP table...oh, that guilty conscience!). The nice thing about this system is that I have actual "sins" (well, vices really) with practical limits that regulate if the character is being true to her alignment or not, rather than some arbitrary (i.e. DM defined) "act of evil." Players who want to play a more typical (and historical) "robber knight" can play a fighter of Practical alignment instead.

For clerics, the seven Saintly Virtues are tied directly to their spell-casting ability: the cleric may not cast spells of a greater level than the maximum number of virtues they obediently observe. This applies even to clerics of Practical alignment: each character has seven boxes that will be checked off by the DM if and win a character falls to the Vice that corresponds to a particular Virtue. For example, "lust" is the sin associated with Chastity, which here is defined as "sex outside the sanctity of Holy Matrimony." Since priests and nuns are prohibited from being married by Church law, this Virtue would be broken with ANY sexual relationship. This might not cause a change in alignment (especially if the cleric was already of the Practical bent) but would prohibit the character's ability to cast spells higher than 6th least without proper atonement and penance.

[I am still deciding whether or not undead turning is linked to which it would only be available to True Christians...or to class (in which case alignment matters little). Probably will depend on what I decide is the reason the ability works and how]

Aside from these things, I intend to have certain magical effects that function differently (or not at all) depending on the alignment/religion of a character: these include some spells (especially clerical and druidic magic) and some magic items as well: a pagan may burn (and take damage) from touching a holy Christian relic, and some Christians will face similar (and worse) penalties from particular pagan artifacts...though, of course, the effects will be less pronounced for "Practical" Christians.

It should be noted that while alignment might affect some societal structures, it need have no effect on which characters will adventure together. A True Christian will happily join a party that includes a pagan or an assassin with the hope that her shining example will inspire such characters to religious conversion (or, at least, to "mend their evil ways"). There is, thus, no proscription against paladins adventuring with a band of faithless miscreants.
: )


  1. Here's someone who has built a system for colonial Brazil. Might be an interesting read as you develop your own campaign...

    1. @ Matthias:

      Thanks! I'll be sure to check this out!

  2. Although Orthodox Christianity does not use the Seven Deadly Sins (there were originally eight and got expanded upon rather than codified), I really like your use of them here in context of an RPG. I'd be sore tested not to steal this idea...

    I fall on the side of power residing in the Cross, not in the faith of the person wielding the Cross. To quote Holmes:

    "Vampires...withdraw from... a cross...if it is strongly presented. All vampires, regardless of religious background, are affected by the cross which is sovereign against them. They will not flee these symbols, but it can keep them from their intended victim if interposed between the vampire and its prey."

    Undeath is a rejection of the eternal life freely given by Christ on the Cross. Therefore, the Cross itself is antithetical to the very being of the Undead.

    Faith helps in that the faithful trust that God and HIs Cross are protecting them, and thus will hold out much more confidently and longer than those sans faith.

    Thus, I would argue against Turning being linked to alignment in this case.

    1. @ FrDave:

      Thanks for the feedback, Padre. I really appreciate your take on the subject.

      I've got to think a bit about what "undead" actually look like in the setting and how they might interact with the characters, but I will definitely be mulling over your thoughts.

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  4. Different location, similar premise:

    The author's got an anthropology degree, and it shows - I wish there was an Appendix N post here.

    Christianity (as presented in 60s-70s cinema like Ben-Hur and Hammer horror movies) is built into D&D, it's pretty well-trodden ground. Does Tekumel overly concern itself with the beliefs of the invading barbarian PCs, or does it ask the players to pick up the details of the setting?

    1. @ Eric:

      Yes, someone else pointed me to this site a while back. Wish the author would update it!

      Tekumel has its own inherent mythology. Since my game would be set in Earth's past, I have to take into consideration our own historical theologies.

      However, similar to Tekumel, I'd expect new PCs to be learning a LOT about the new cultures and religions to which they're being exposed, once they step off the boat.

  5. Very interesting! I liked this approach.

  6. For what it's worth I think if you tweaked the premise somewhat to have the players be the crew of a British privateer, like earlier versions of Sir Francis Drake, raiding pre-Columbia sites before the Spanish get the chance you could have something pretty amazing and turn the problematic elements to your advantage.

  7. This is a setting I would love to try out.