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"What is D&D without good and evil?" Topic

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13 Jul 2020 4:26 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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SBminisguy13 Jul 2020 3:52 p.m. PST

A continuing flame war is bubbling across the RPG-sphere over morality in Dungeons and Dragons and of course other games -- that is, is it racist to call Orcs and Drow evil? Is the idea of good vs evil an outmoded concept? Should the idea of moral alignments be cancelled?

As one article making the rounds on D&D chat/groups says:

"The essential problem is that Dungeons & Dragons does have a cosmic sense of morality….

Here's the real reason why alignment is being cancelled – the people influencing the game now reject the idea that there is objective standard of morality that derives from a "cosmic" source… aka, God. It accepted that there is objective good and objective evil. And in making up the pantheon of Deities they ascribed "good" and "bad" based upon objective cosmic measures.

Hate, kill, main, steal and destroy = evil
Love, protect, heal, build and create = good

But since the controllers of D&D personally do not want to be judged against objective standards and reject God, they must also reject objective morality and replace it with weak and fuzzy subjective human derived morality. That's why this article goes on to state:

"As a result, we come to this new perspective of morality, where personal ideals become driving motivations rather than vague notions of good or evil. This is how Dungeons & Dragons ought to be played going forward: characters have wants, needs and morals that should guide their actions rather than slavish devotion to "doing good" or "doing evil."

Where then does a character's "morals" come from if there is no objective morality of right vs wrong, if there is no good or evil?

If morals only derive from yourself, well, we end up very quickly in a brutal Darwinistic society of survival of the fittest. What if my wants and needs clash with yours, and my morals include self-actualization by tearing off your head and sticking it on a pike to terrify others into giving in to my wants and needs? Absent cosmic morality that just -- is…it is neither objectively right nor wrong…just subjectively good for me or bad for me (or YOU in this case since your head is now oozing at the tip of a pike).

So the alignment system, as flawed as it is, is an attempt to provide a general objective guideline for character morality in order to help guide behavior in game.


Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian13 Jul 2020 4:33 p.m. PST

Today, we generally reject the idea that a person's character or morality is determined (or influenced) by genetic inheritance. No human race is inferior; no human has less potential because a parent was a murderer; and so forth.

So… should we ban the same concept in fantasy?

You can argue that it's fantasy, so depending on the 'universe', there could be good reasons that an entire race is cursed or inferior to another race. Just like Tolken's Orcs are damaged Elves.

On the other hand, you can imagine a fantasy universe in which 'race' is not the reason someone is bad: it's the culture, kingdom, cult, tradition, etc. That gives a lot more freedom for interesting characters: the 'good' Orc, bad societies that can be redeemed, etc.

saltflats192913 Jul 2020 4:34 p.m. PST

Without good and evil? Neutral.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 4:41 p.m. PST

Not sure about Drows (didn't play with them), but always presumed Orcs were bad because they were made that way, an unholy distortion and corruption of elves by some demonic mage.

And without good or evil, it's not neutral, but amoral. And that leads to the means justifying the ends. And on down the drain…

GamesPoet Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 4:44 p.m. PST

The game is a game, it isn't real. Some folks come up with the silliest stuff when it is just a game.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian13 Jul 2020 4:55 p.m. PST

Just because races aren't inherently good or evil, doesn't mean there is no good or evil in the fantasy world.

Skeets Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 5:16 p.m. PST

PC again rears its' ugly head!

Goober13 Jul 2020 5:16 p.m. PST

I've always found the Alignment system in D&D to be a major limiting factor in crafting a good story – especially when you can bring detection magic into the mix. You can craft a complex plot, but if your bad guy is LE then just one spell later they are outed and might as well be outlined in glowing red neon.

Syrinx013 Jul 2020 5:33 p.m. PST

That is what an amulet of conceal/alter alignment is useful for.

Never let them ruin the story…

SBminisguy13 Jul 2020 5:39 p.m. PST

Its not really the alignment mechanism they are doing away with, you can easily derive a better system. No, the real issue is getting rid of objective morality. Without that there is no scale of morality and behavior to judge against – pure survival of the fittest.

nnascati Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 5:42 p.m. PST

Wow, the world as we knew really has completely changed, hasn't it?

Tgerritsen Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 6:03 p.m. PST

This is how we should judge anything by the new morality. Was it fun in the before times? Then do this until you realize the depth of your error.


Nothing is fun. Nothing should be allowed to be fun. There is only sin, and the depths of that sin, for which you will be punished.

Thresher0113 Jul 2020 6:05 p.m. PST


Actually, now, a lot of people and/or societies are being called out for the sins of their ancestors. That seems to be all the rage now, so……….

What's olde is new again.

DisasterWargamer13 Jul 2020 7:30 p.m. PST

There is no good or evil – just a lot of misunderstood people

USAFpilot13 Jul 2020 7:38 p.m. PST

It's a fantasy game. Don't overthink it. Remember when you were a little kid and played cops and robbers with your friends. The cops were the good guys and the robbers the bad guys. It was that simple.

If you want to discuss the nature of good and evil in the real world, then I think evil is best defined by one word, and that word is selfishness. To be evil is to put your own wants and needs above everybody else's. To be good is to treat others how you would want to be treated.

Once again, D&D is a game. The monsters are not real, but are symbolic representations of good and evil.

USAFpilot13 Jul 2020 7:45 p.m. PST

There is no good or evil just a lot of misunderstood people

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

DisasterWargamer13 Jul 2020 7:56 p.m. PST


Zephyr113 Jul 2020 8:09 p.m. PST

Expect soon to see D&D t-shirts proclaiming "Balrog Lives Matter!"


SBminisguy13 Jul 2020 8:18 p.m. PST

Yep. And I'm guessing the people pushing for these changes to D&D and other games had some bad experience at some point with a "Christian" (since in Islam, well, there's not much lee way for playing D&D in a Sharia Law society…) who judged them or injured them in some way. I had a crazy aunt who was horrible, and used selected Bible quotes to remind me how awful I was. If that was my only experience with faith, yep, keep it away.

If you want to discuss the nature of good and evil in the real world, then I think evil is best defined by one word, and that word is selfishness. To be evil is to put your own wants and needs above everybody else's. To be good is to treat others how you would want to be treated.

Yep, having an objective source of morality means you may have to *shudder* reflect on your actions compared to what is Right and Wrong what is destructively selfish and what is not -- accept responsibility, change your ways and/or accommodate others needs. But again, this cannot come just from the heart of humans -- left to our own devices to create our own Darwinian morality we always seem to end up with skull pyramids, death camps and gulags…

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jul 2020 9:44 p.m. PST

It seems to me the religion of any culture determines what is viewed as "moral or immoral?"
A person's concept of morality will be determined by this.
I am quite sure a 9th viking did not view murder as " immoral" -- where as a modern western person -- churched or not -- would.
I have had conversations with plenty of people who disdained religion -- who claim they "do not need religion to be moral!" -- when asked to describe their morals they then begin to list all the standard Judea/ Christianity principles we are all mostly aware of.

Russ Dunaway

Tacitus14 Jul 2020 1:03 a.m. PST

life has become a meme…

ChrisBrantley14 Jul 2020 4:41 a.m. PST

On the other hand, you can reject the good versus evil dichotomy like Michael Moorcock did in his various Eternal Champions series (Elric, Corum, etc.) and make it all about the struggle between universal forces of law versus chaos.

McWong7314 Jul 2020 5:07 a.m. PST

Storm, meet teacup.

cavcrazy14 Jul 2020 5:38 a.m. PST


Thresher0114 Jul 2020 9:48 a.m. PST


Now you're dragging 40K into this.

I wonder if they'll be the "good guys" too, soon?

Andrew Walters14 Jul 2020 10:16 a.m. PST

I think there's danger here. If we don't ask the larger question about the role of morality in non-realistic vs realistic games and other media we are going to make small fixes like creating lawful good Drow that *seem* to make sense only to create larger contradictions that come back to bite us later. And there are other, very profound questions here, such as culture vs race, that we seem to be walking right past in order to get to the part where we have an easy, if superficial, answer.

Personally, I think it's dumb to say that any race, even an artificially constructed race, are inherently morally similar. That just seems unlikely. And both orks and orcs have been around enough (in any setting I've heard of) for culture divergence, so it's dumb to say they all belong to the same culture.

It seems reasonable to me to say that somewhere there's a bunch of lawful good Drow who spend their time feeding orphans and playing with puppies. But it also seems reasonable to say that despite the existence of that group (groups?) that all the Drow near *us* belong to a culture or set of related cultures whose values are despicable to us. It also seems reasonable that when an Elf chooses evil they physiologically change and become Drow. Why not, it's fantasy.

But I'm concerned that bringing the idea of culture into it will lead to the adoption of one of two dangerous views, the first that some cultures are evil, the second that no cultural tradition can be evil.

And I wonder, though it may be treacherous to hold to tightly to this simplification, if we didn't create these fantasy worlds with all their signposts telling us they are not real so we could play in and tell stories in a reality where morality was such that there could be violence for the sake of its concomitant excitement without all the qualms and repercussions it has in the real world. If we created a world with a simplified moral scheme for a reason and then complicated that moral scheme to make the fantasy more like reality, are we making the fantasy world unusable for its intended purpose? Are we saying the original intended purpose was morally unsound?

Does the moral scheme of fantasy have to harmonize with that of the real world? If so are people with different moral beliefs going to need different fantasy worlds? Do we have to prevent children from reading Tolkien because it will convince them that some races are evil? Does every game, book, and movie need to be a moral lesson? Are people going to start drawing more and more parallels between race in fantasy and sci fi and race in real life?

I am not opposed to the idea of good Orcs and Drow. I think that will create a more interesting fantasy world. I am concerned that the people making this change are not making it to create a more interesting fantasy world but to absolve themselves of a sin that may not exist. (Not the sin of racism, which obviously exists, but the sin of describing a decidedly not-real world where things that are not true in the real world are true.)

I'm concerned that if we don't address the larger questions a lot of fuzzy thinking is going to creep in and where there was once creative, escapist fun there will be moralizing, division, acrimony, self-censoring, and the problem that everyone thinks they are solving will continue unabated.

I don't play D&D at the moment, and if I did I can't imagine this decision impacting actual play. So I guess I'm on the sidelines, but this could damage gaming if it goes too far without enough deep thought.

rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2020 11:50 a.m. PST

But aren't we talking about a fantasy RPG where one can build there world however one wants? I've never understood the need to slavishly follow TSR or WotC on such matters, and it's one of the reasons I could never get into Warhammer – the requirement to buy official models to use with official rules. Even back when I played D&D on a regular basis – more than 30 yrs ago! – I never paid much attention to alignment. My world was more like R.E. Howard's Hyboria in that respect.

Gokiburi14 Jul 2020 1:20 p.m. PST

Stop dragging Charles Darwin's name through the mud, "Social Darwinism" is an extreme misapplication of his theory, and using it only serves to make the speaker look ignorant about science.

Morals don't have to exclusively derive from a godhead, and probably shouldn't. If a person cannot arrive at the concept of what is good for society and themselves without a deity telling them, then that person has something very wrong with them.

And finally: Gygax started D&D with only the Law/Chaos axis, and D&D can survive the loss of cosmic morality.

Dragon Gunner14 Jul 2020 1:24 p.m. PST

I use alignment as a guide line for how NPCs and monsters will function.

As far as players go I ignore alignment because it causes far too many moral and ethical arguments. I have found players can justify their actions for the "greater good". The best example I can come up with is Jack Bauer on 24 who does horrific things for a higher cause.

I will have consequences for actions come back to haunt the characters later. They could be famous or infamous…

lkmjbc314 Jul 2020 1:36 p.m. PST

The only good orc… is a dead orc…

Joe Collins

Toaster14 Jul 2020 2:06 p.m. PST

And the elephant in the room appears to be 'race', Orcs and elves aren't races the're species. The entire concept of different races of the human species holds as much water as a colander genetically speaking.

Indeed it can be pointed out that D&D has no trait for skin colour as all humans of any colour all consider themselves human and have done since at least the dragonlance books in the mid 80's.


Uparmored15 Jul 2020 2:01 a.m. PST

I have had conversations with plenty of people who disdained religion -- who claim they "do not need religion to be moral!" -- when asked to describe their morals they then begin to list all the standard Judea/ Christianity principles we are all mostly aware of.

Hey Russ. I like religious people, me though, I'm agnostic, I can't bring myself to believe or disbelieve.

I have one basic moral principle: don't hurt others. Is this Judeo Christian? Or is my idea an agnostic principle in your opinion?

The Beast Rampant15 Jul 2020 8:04 a.m. PST

We're barreling headlong toward "two plus two equals five".

I've got my Schadenfreude set to '10' for what GW is going to do to the 40K Universe in the name of Almighty Virtue Signalling. Like it's not parody in the first place. What about all that xenophobia now?

It's like watching a castaway floating in the middle of the ocean deciding to repurpose his lifeboat into an Adirondack chair.

rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2020 8:23 a.m. PST

I am not qualified to speak for Russ, but what you are speaking of as an "agnostic" principal, should be more thought of as a near-universal principal. Most known religions, maybe all?, have a similar concept to what in Christianity is known as the Golden Rule, even if it is almost universally "honored in the breach." Reciprocity is the term, I think, and is considered a human universal.

nnascati Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2020 4:55 p.m. PST

Seriously, what difference does it make? You are playing games in your own home or a friend's, who is going to know?

Uparmored18 Jul 2020 2:07 a.m. PST

rvandusen – thanks for your reply. Yes I think that is universal to "do unto others as you would want done to you".

Selfish? I dunno, but I don't want to do damage during my time here, I want to leave this place better than I found it and make the story of human-kind in this time and place a little bit better.

nnascati – if certain forces get their way (they are currently maneuvering for power) then your own home or own friends won't be private anymore. Everything you do, in and out of your own and your "wrongs" will be known and the power elite will use it to denigrate you, put you down and feel power over you. Mark my words.

Albus Malum01 Aug 2020 6:05 p.m. PST

The world is getting screwed up, and calling racism is being used as a political weapon, not against people of different races, but people of different political views, and now as a means of injecting their political ploy of calling racism even deeper into our culture, they are trying to inject political hatred into our games, buy calling everyone who played DnD in the past a racist.

Just about every pastime people engage in, whether its watching sports on TV, people running from the Bulls in Spain, or people sitting down to a game of D&D with their friends, they are under political attack by those making phony charges or racism. What is going on, is they are trying to force everyone to submit to their political agenda.

Everybody who plays Dnd knows that they are not racists just because their human characters fight against orcs, or drow, or even undead. But if we submit to their demands, then they have again political advantage over us.

Throughout the history of the world, different tribes of people have been at war with other tribes of people, trying to kill or steal from the other tribe. That is not racism. many times those different tribes are the same race. It is a safety mechanism that is built into people, when you encounter someone who is not of your tribe, you are weary of them. WHen your player Characters encounter orc (essentially a different tribe) you prepare for combat. Dungeons and Dragons is nothing but a military similation game. When you invade the space of another tribe, or another tribe invades your space, combat happens, that is the game.

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