Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Book of Vile Darkness: Part One


Not half as good as Heroes of Horror
The Book of Vile Darkness begins by warning the reader to "Hide this book! . . . [The] Book of Vile Darkness is for Dungeon Masters (DMs) only. Just as you would keep the contents of a published adventure to yourself, restrict your players' access to this book as well. Don't let them know what's in store for their characters . . ." (pg 4). I wish that I could tell you that the book is going to live up to such a wonderful little addendum, but I have a feeling that will not be the case. Still, let's proceed.

The book properly begins by addressing the nature of evil. There are two type of evil: Objective and Relative. The Objective view holds that good, neutral, and evil are clearly defined traits and that an act, person, or what-have-you can clearly be put into one of these three categories. The Relative view, on the other hand, holds that good, neutral, and evil are subjective to the individual and the culture in which the act is committed. It further holds that a valuation of the act from an outside observer is not possible as the observer is subject to their own social mores and would not be capable of accurately determining the nature of the act. As we are playing a game in which we are able to use magic to determine another's alignment and to protect ourselves from people of the opposite alignment the book would like you to use the Objective version of evil. I am fine with using the Objective version of evil as relativism is a real pain in the ass in terms of the game. I understand its value in real life, but it can get fucked when it comes to my game.

Now on page six we come to the first major problem this book has: it can not value good and evil correctly. Allow me to quote the book and then I'll explain.
. . . Consider the paladin Zophas. When climbing to the very top of a hill of loose rocks to get away from some owlbears, he triggers a rockslide that buries the owlbears and continues down the hill, crushing a hut full of commoners. Is Zophas an evil murderer who must suddenly lose his lawful good alignment? No, although Zophas might still feel guilt and responsibility . . . But what if Zophas' friend Shurrin said, "Don't climb up there, Zophas! You might start a rockslide that will crush the hut!" Zophas goes anyway. Now is it evil? Probably. Zophas was either carelessly endangering the commoners or so overconfident of his climbing prowess that he acted out of hubris. At this point, Zophas isn't exactly a murderer, but he should probably lose his paladin abilities until he receives an atonement spell or otherwise makes amends.

If Zophas can clearly see the danger of the rockslide but climbs up anyway because he wants to get away from the owlbears, that's clearly evil. In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act. Sacrificing yourself for the good of others is a good act. It's a high standard, but that's the way it is . . .

Sometimes, however . .  . [the] categories . . . [of accidental acts, reckless acts, and negligent acts] are insufficient to determine evil intent. You are free to judge an act in the context of other actions . . . A maniac puts poison in a town's water supply, believing (wrongly!) that all of the people in the town are demons. Is that evil? Yes. A glabrezu convinces a good character that the townsfolk are all fiends that must be destroyed, so the character pours poison into the town's water supply. Is that evil? Probably not - at least, not in the context of the rest of the character's actions and the circumstances involved. Still, good characters shouldn't commit even remotely questionable acts on a large scale unless they're absolutely sure there's no other way to succeed . . . But let's make it even more complicated. Another character witnesses the good character about to put the poison in the town's drinking water. Is it evil for the witness to kill the poisoning character in order to stop him? No. Again, the intent isn't evil, and the context makes such an act preferable to the alternative. Standing by while a mass murder occurs - the other choice the witness has - is far more evil than preventing the poisoning . . . (pg 6-7)
Let me begin with the situation involving Zophas and Shurrin: according to Monte if Shurrin warns Zophas that the slope might slide if he climbs it to get away from the owlbears, and Zophas ignores his warning, then Zophas has probably committed an evil act because innocents will have died as an indirect result of his direct action.

To quote one of my favorite philosophy professors, bullshit.

Zophas can only be responsible for his own actions and not for every subsequent reaction to his actions. If we break down the event into its parts we find that the act of escaping from the owlbears is not evil. Climbing the hillside is not evil. Ignoring Shurrin's warning is not evil. The resulting rockslide is not evil. The death of innocents in the hut is not evil, tragic yes, but not an evil act. Evil has intent behind it. An accident has no intent behind it and therefore cannot be an evil act.

Monte, however, is not done with our paladin. He goes on to say that " . . . If Zophas can clearly see the danger of the rockslide but climbs up anyway because he wants to get away from the owlbears, that's clearly evil. In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act. Sacrificing yourself for the good of others is a good act. It's a high standard, but that's the way it is . . ." (pg 6).

What asinine logic!

Even if Zophas can clearly see the potential for danger there is nothing wrong with him taking the chance to save his own life as prior to him actually climbing the hillside as there is no way for him to know if the slide will occur or not. Yet Monte would have us believe that an accident is the same as an intentional act. For in the ruling on the scenario Zophas is as guilty of committing an evil act as if he had poisoned the family in the hut to use them as bait for the owlbears.

The ruling is wrong and the logic is bankrupt.

Let's move on and look more closely at the maniac and the player character.

. . . A maniac puts poison in a town's water supply, believing (wrongly!) that all of the people in the town are demons. Is that evil? Yes. A glabrezu convinces a good character that the townsfolk are all fiends that must be destroyed, so the character pours poison into the town's water supply. Is that evil? Probably not . . . (pg 6)
In this situation Monte would like us to believe that the maniac is guilty essentially because he is a non-player character while the player character is innocent because there are mitigating circumstances behind his action.
Seriously?

Both examples are convinced that the people in town are demons, the difference is that in the first example the character is mislead by his own mind while in the second he is mislead by a evil entity. Essentially there is no difference between the two acts. So why then would one be evil and one not?

The answer, quite simply, is that there is no difference between the acts: both are evil.

Before I move on let's look at the last part of this scenario:
. . . let's make it even more complicated. Another character witnesses the good character about to put the poison in the town's drinking water. Is it evil for the witness to kill the poisoning character in order to stop him? No. Again, the intent isn't evil, and the context makes such an act preferable to the alternative. Standing by while a mass murder occurs - the other choice the witness has - is far more evil than preventing the poisoning . . . (pg 6-7)
Standing by while a mass murder occurs is not evil, it's cowardice. Participating in the act - getting the poison, opening the well, encouraging the character to pour the poison - those are evil acts. Not acting in a situation where your help is needed because you're unsure of what to do or afraid to interfere is not evil. It's sad, pathetic and most probably an act of a coward, but it is not an evil act.

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