Monday, July 6, 2009


In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, the lines between good and evil were often a bit blurry. After all, characters were essentially thieves and grave-robbers, slaughtering monsters and taking their stuff. Oh, sure, you could run a good guy, but in many of the original dungeon crawls the motivation was little more than wealth and fame—not exactly 'heroic'. Quite notably, the alignment system detailed good, neutral and evil—and made no suggestions towards one over the other. From what I've read of the earliest D&D campaigns, they included quite a few neutral and evil characters. So, simply put, games like D&D easily allowed 'evil' campaigns.

Evil characters and evil campaigning never really interested me. When I read about the evil alignments I thought they were interesting in helping define villains, but never thought characters would actually PLAY (or even want to play) them. I tried an evil campaign in high-school and it quickly degenerated into just murdering people (villagers and the like) and taking their stuff. I lost interest—though I'm not sure if it degenerated because I lost interest or vice versa. It is a problem I have noticed in my outlook. Simply put: I can't sympathize with evil characters. And thus, from a gaming viewpoint, I can't get excited about running stuff for them.

This extends past gaming, however, into movies. The Godfather is a prime example. While I can recognize the cinematic artistry of the film, I still do not enjoy it overall—because I don't CARE about the Corleones. At the core they're bad people who hurt and kill others to make a living. As far as I'm concerned, they all get what's coming to them. The same things applies to a lot of other 'Dark Heroes' and 'Anti-Heroes' in movies and literature. I can't sympathize.

And that is probably the root of the problem I have with villainous campaigns. I don't care about the success or failure of the characters—and indeed, I am sort of rooting for them to fail (even if I don't necessarily stack the game against them). 

There has been only been one exception to this rule, and I think it is only an exception because the game was relatively brief. I was running a D&D campaign where one of the characters—the aptly named 'Orcus' the half-orc—was Lawful Evil. He was ambitious and (relatively) 'moderate' in his evilness. He didn't (usually) kill people randomly, but woe to those who stood in his way. I think the reason I found this campaign palatable (and actually fun) was because he DID have an ultimate goal in mind—to create/take control of an Orcish empire. Thus, he wasn't aimlessly slaughtering villagers to take their stuff, he was rather doggedly building a power-base to 'tame' the orcish hordes to his will. Interestingly enough, Orcus' party consisted of a Lawful Neutral fighter (Hugh) and a Lawful Good Ranger (Miles). Hugh, a former town guardsman, tagged along because he too was interested in having the Orc hordes tamed. Miles likewise had a similar goal. So despite their differences, they worked rather well together, and in the end, they managed to depose the Orc Warlord and put Orcus in his stead, thus preventing (for the moment at least) what could have been a massive humanoid invasion. That's where the campaign ended, in fact. And I'm kind of glad it did, as it may have turned quickly more 'evil' from that point.

That exception aside, my dislike of and inability to play villains has even translated into video (console) gaming. Vice city was my first real encounter with this. While it was initially fun to run over pedestrians, cops and hookers, I rather quickly lost interest in my character. In fact, I was kind of frustrated by the decisions the game forced him to make. But then I realized that the game WAS all about becoming a drug lord—not a nice guy.

A lot of games and RPGs now allow for you to play as either good or evil. The first of these that I played was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I, of course, played through as a good guy, then pondered playing through as a bad guy, but...I just could not bring myself to do it. I felt BAD about being such a Jerk in most cases, and had grown to love the other characters so much that it actually bothered me to consider having to kill them (no way could I do that to Jolee...though, well...maybe I wouldn't feel QUITE so bad killing Juhani). Thus, the 'evil' path of that game was never taken by me. Nor was it taken in the sequel, KotOR II or in any other game I played since (Fable II, Fallout 3). 

About the only time I did go the 'evil' route was in Mass Effect—but there it really isn't a distinction between good and evil. The 'Renegade' path is more about being a callous, brutal jerk than it is about mustache-twirling evil. After all, you're still out to stop the bad guys, but the Renegade just doesn't care who gets in his way. In fact, there are a few times in ME that the Renegade was more fun than the Paragon—like when the good guy councilor teases you:

Councilor: "There is a saying on your Earth: Even a broken clock is right twice a day."
Me: "We have another saying, councilor: Go to hell."

There is also the time where you encounter your 'biggest fan' and he wants to become your sidekick. The renegade response is to stick your gun in the guy's face and ask (I paraphrase): "This is my life. This is what I have to put up with every day, people trying to kill me. You sure you want to do this?"

Hehe. Good stuff.

But in any case, how this brings me back around to Star Wars (hah! Bet you didn't see that coming!) is that I LOVED the fact that it was designed around heroic roleplay, and how specifically it states that if a player turns evil (gains too many Dark Side points) they become an NPC under the control of the GM. That dovetailed nicely with my own dislike of running villainy. The Force point system also encouraged good and heroic roleplay by only rewarding players for heroically using their points. 

But with such a specific 'genre' like Star Wars, you'd almost expect it to be like that. You're trying to recapture the feeling of the movies, and in the movies, the good guys are the heroes. Oh sure, you can use the D6 rule system to run an evil or a 'neutral' campaign, but if you do, it just doesn't feel like Star Wars (I know, I ran a short-lived smuggler-crew campaign and it just felt...wrong). And that is kind of what turned me off of the d20 edition of the game (well, that and the entire system). It just felt like D&D in space, complete with the lack of implied morality.

So yes, I know this is all just my personal feelings, preferences and opinion, but its my blog, so I thought I'd throw them out there.

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