Friday, February 17, 2012

Player & Character morality

Read these two descriptions of how two different groups of players deal with a potential threat of otherwise incapacitated humanoids.



Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that both groups are equally as dangerous to the PCs and if given the chance will kill them.  Which is the "better" solution?

Now this is not limited to adults or kids as one or the other.  I just played a 4e game with a bunch of 10-11 year olds that wanted "to slaughter everyone" and fight the other characters.  I have played with adults that are the same way.  I have played with both age groups that would rather fine a more rational action.

Here is a question from Tenkar on "Why are PC's so hooked on Torture?"

And we wonder sometimes why we can't get new blood into our games.

Do we as a group encourage this sort of play?  Is it something inherent in the rules or the agreed upon reality?  That is a "violence begat violence" sort of deal?

I did my fair share of immature violence back n the day, but my DM quickly cured me of that.
I had a thief that I felt was a real bad ass.  So while going through the adventure "Death's Ride" he shot a guy in the back with a crossbow.  The NPC was annoying him (aka me) so I shot him.  Throughout the entire run of the classic H-Series modules (Throne of Bloodstone) this NPC, now an undead revenant kept coming back to screw things up for me at the exact wrong moments.  He went from a vague pest to a Deadpool like character that couldn't be killed or turned.  And that included the insane humor.  In the process the already deadly modules turned into a meat grinder with this guy (Kirkroy was his name) letting all the demons know we were coming.

In the adventures above if I were the DM for both.  In #2 (which I was the DM) the characters were rewarded and considered to be heroes and saviors, not mass murdering thugs.  In #1 (where I wasn't), well nothing screws up your day like a bunch of unstoppable undead warriors claiming vengeance on the murder of innocents.  

What do you all think?  Am I being overly sensitive?
Mind you for this argument I am not accepting "it's just a game" as an excuse. Maybe it is just a game.  But I am talking about in-game behavior.  You might as well say "oh that is because we are on Earth".


Johanna Garth said...

This is an interesting question. I've often wondered why parents are okay with brutal violence but the mere suggestion of sex makes them uncomfortable.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


My wife and I were just having that exact conversation the other night.

A show we were all watching had some brief nudity in it and we decided not to censor it from the kids.

If they are going to play violent games, at least this is more natural.

Shockgrubz said...

I just found your blog and I like it. I used to play casually, and we usually had to deal with PC's that wanted to cause all sorts of mayhem for NPC's. Sometimes I think it is in tune with the character, but sometimes I think it is just sophomoric entertainment. When done in the name of keeping in character( evil classes), then it's fine, but if it's just someone getting their jollies off on hacking an unsuspecting victim to death, then the DM should come down with a heavy dice-hand.

instantapathy said...

My initial reaction would be o say "Yes, you are over thinking this because it's a game." But, since you don't want the "it's a game thing"... :P

But, honestly, it is a game. It's an outlet I use to have fun and blow off steam, and sometimes I just want to stab things with my sword and not worry about the moral/ethical dilemmas of those actions. Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so.

There is a balance, of course, and the group as a whole needs to come to an understanding as to what is appropriate for them, but I don't really have a problem with "I use my violence" being one of the main problem solvers.

As for torture... I dunno. I think partly it's the "I want to use violence" thing. But i also think it's a thing where it necessary to ask how often non-torture has been shown to work to the players. If the players have experienced games (like I have) where the antagonists never break under interrogation, at some point "I beat them till they talk" just becomes more expedient to say.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I can't remember many torture-porn re-enactments in my D&D past, but I can remember a wholesale slaughter of captives - usually followed by a ritual piling up and burning of the corpses by at least one member of the party. I think the problem is that in most D&D games there is no simple way of dealing with captives, especially potentially large numbers of them. One solution for D&D: it strikes me that the sadism of adventurers would be well known by all humanoid tribes, thus surely they would all be hard-wired to fight to the death... Another possibility is to make all captured orcs to bite off their own tongues or have suicide pills... This approach might not cure the players from their pathology but it would make it a rarer occurrence. Another possibility is to make the tortured orc's screams attract a wandering monster every round... But I like your vengeful dead idea best. Personally, I'd dig out one of the nasty undead out of the old Fiend Folio. Or maybe humanoids that suffer extreme and prolonged pain violently explode... The possibilities are endless...

As to why? Well, (and I realise that this might not go down to well, but...) I'd have to say that RPGs are inherently adolescent in their appeal. I don't consider this a bad thing per se, as pretty much all hobbies and interest, when boiled down, are an extension of our adolescent selves (they are for me). This is why musos get into massive arguments about which is the greatest Pink Floyd album (rather than just agreeing to disagree), football fans riot and why role-players tend to behave immaturely. Dare I say it but I also imagine that the maleness of most RPG groups is also a factor. I'm just guessing, but I doubt a mixed group of players would descend into the usual pit of ritual sadism with such frequency and I'd fall off my chair if an all female group ever did (if such a thing has ever existed?).

I'd also wonder if certain RPGs are more prone to this behaviour than others? Its hard to imagine a game of Traveller or even Vampire collapsing into a game of 'lets make art out of goblin entrails' as often as D&D is prone to... But I could be wrong.

Unknown said...

I would have to say that part of it has to do with wanting to "vent" frustrations that PCs have int he real world. Yet, there are times this can go to far. There is still one story that my group ponders once and again, I won't go into it at length. A PC captured a bandit who killed a small thorp. The PC broke his arms and legs instead of killing him and said it was "more humane." Most of us are still baffled by why this player thought that. And, yes he still plays with us and he has played much less bloodthirsty characters. I have tried to talk to him and his only real "excuse" was that it helped to blow off steam. This is also a guy who wants to play monster PCs because he believes the world of D&D can be gray and not black and white. Which starts up whole new arguments.

Keith Davies said...

Regarding Tenkar's question (I was in the RPG session that prompted his question), I suspect part of the torture thing comes down to what in video games would be called 'pixel bitching'.

If you capture a hobgoblin, say (to use a completely unhypothetical example), what do you do?

Killing him is simple and all, but distasteful. Letting him go free is hazardous (though evidently not as hazardous as killing him might be, weirdly). So we went for a third path: interrogate, take parole, and send him home.

And he wouldn't talk. We had nothing to offer him to convince him (or hadn't found the magic words the DM was looking for that would get him to talk). We tried the gentle way, got nowhere.

I suspect the "kill them all" mentality comes in part from lack of viable options. Kill them, and barring something causing them to reanimate as undead you probably have no further problem with them.

Philo Pharynx said...

I think that both the problem of overly kill-happy characters and the conundrum of kids being exposed to sex and violence is the same. Context matters.
Having the murdered victim come back as undead can look like sour grapes from the GM. But if they were important or connected, the guard may look into it. Or they see the widow at the city gates asking people if they've seen her husband. If the victim was religious a priest might look for him (perhaps using zone of truth). The idea is to plant the seed that actions have consequences.

As for kids being exposed to sex and violence, once again context matters. Most people consider the age and explicitness of the content, but I suggest also factoring in the subtleties around it. For sex, is this a casual hookup or a loving relationship? For violence, how is it started. Does it show any of the consequences of the violence?

A last take on sex and violence. Sex is legal, and even conservatice cultures expect people to get married and have sex. Violence is usually illegal, and society stops people who do this. You'd think we'd be psuhing the sex instead of the violence.