Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Book of Exalted Deeds: Part One, Where Our Moral Code is Lost in the Weeds.


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Unlike the Book of Vile Darkness the Book of Exalted Deeds is designed for the players. It's supposed to provide a narrative goal for players the world over in how to strive towards being good. It provides feats, prestige classes, weapons, artifacts, monsters and a grouping of variant rules.

In many regards it ultimately fails because of the underpinning of logic that is used in defining what is good, and what it meas to be good. 
Being good requires a certain quality of temperament, the presence of virtues that spur a character, not just to avoid evil or its appearance, but to actively promote good . . . Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others . . . Good is not nice, polite, well mannered, prudish, self-righteous, or naive, though good-aligned characters might be some of those things. Good is the awesome holy energy that radiates from the celestial planes and crushes evil. Good is selfless, just, hopeful, benevolent, and righteous . . . (pg 5)
To put these definitions in a simpler manner to be good it's not enough to act in a manner that does not negatively impact the rest of the world you have to actively engage the world and attempt combat the forces of evil. Good itself is described through implications that collectively are righteous but they create a very narrow definition. If a person is good they are charitable, they hold a respect for all life - which means that they don't actively attempt to take the life of even evil creatures, and they only observe any sense of righteousness for sentient beings (a tricky word in and of itself). 

Now this definition of good, which is incredibly restrictive, is supposed to be observed by anyone who puts good in their alignment choice; and that's a problem. If you hold that definition of good then you have three alignments (Lawful Good, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good) that most players can not use. 

The book attempts to mollify the situation by stating that ". . .  the standards expected of good characters in D&D, especially those who lay claim to exalted status, bear much more similarity to modern sensibilities about justice, equality, and respect for life than to the actual medieval world that D&D is loosely based on, and that is quite intentional . . ." (pg 11). 

This is a huge step away from those initial definitions of good and of being good - which is very nice. But in doing so it begs the question what happened to those alignments
Lawful Good characters possess a sense of discipline, honor, and community that other good characters do not necessarily share. Lawful good characters are members of monastic or knightly orders, church hierarchies, or organizations devoted to righteous causes. They believe that morality can be legislated, and promote the establishment of just societies whose laws and customs inculcate (instill) good behavior in their citizens. Lawful good adventures fight evil knowing that they have the support of legal systems behind them: they are bringing criminals to justice as well as opposing evil.

In an evil culture or one that tolerates evil, lawful good characters are in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they abhor evil and cannot stand to see it institutionalized. On the other hand, they believe in legitimate authority and will not overthrow a kingdom because of evil practices within it. Lawful good characters usually try to work to change flawed social structures from within, using whatever political power is available to them rather than toppling those structures by force (pg 12).
So lawful good is the same as those assholes who try to legislate away a woman's right to choose and the right of a gay man and woman to be counted as human beings because their religious texts tell them those things are bad?

I think not.  

And at some point along the way I am sure that I am going to find a series of books on what it means to be lawful and chaotic; and when that day comes I'll finally understand why the fuck it is that lawful characters are just supposed to lay down to any old law they come across. Until that day I'm going to follow the teachings of John Rawls the dominant voice in modern theories of politics and justice. According to Rawls an unjust law is one that must be counteracted through the courts, through civil disobedience, and through the legislature. To follow the unjust law is to, in effect, legitimize it. With that as my understanding of the modern sensibility when it comes to laws it makes no sense what so ever to expect a lawful good character to roll over to an unjust law.

Just one more bone: why the fuck does every lawful good character have to belong to some organization.
Chaotic Good characters are strong-willed individualists who tolerate no oppression, even in the name of the common good. They usually work alone or in loose bands, rather than as part of some organization or hierarchy. They have no confidence in the ability of laws and social mores to train people in good behavior. Indeed, they have seen all too often how people hide behind rules and laws as an excuse for evil or at lest irresponsible acts. While promoting a legal system that places few restrictions on individual freedom, chaotic good individuals look to other forces - religion, philosophy, or community, for example - to encourage good behavior and punish evil. Chaotic good adventurers fight evil because it's evil, not because it's illegal. 

In societies where evil practices are tolerated, chaotic good characters are the most likely rebels, and they have few hesitations about overthrowing the existing order if it means eliminating those evils (pg 12).
So chaotic good characters are Che Guevara and Abbie Hoffman? Great. Now I have to deal with a bunch of beret wearing hippies at my gaming table.

At least this is closer to something that I can tolerate.
Neutral Good characters occupy an indistinct middle ground. they espouse the ideals of good and none other. As a rule, they don't care whether good is imposed through laws and customs or encouraged by temples and philosophers; they simply want goodness to flourish. Legislating morality sometimes works, and is good as far as it goes. When lawful good societies begin legislating every detail of their citizens' lives, however, passing laws on subject that have no bearing on good and evil, the neutral good citizen become impatient. They support law when it promotes good, but not law for its own sake. Similarly, they like the idea of personal freedom, but they're not sure everyone should have it: too much freedom gives evildoers too much room to prosper. Like chaotic good adventurers, neutral good ones fight evil because it's evil, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have the backing of legal authority whenever possible. 

Neutral good characters in societies that tolerate evil resist evil to the extent they can, without actively working to overthrow the government. They protest injustice, sometimes engaging in civil disobedience since unjust laws are useless and not binding in their view (pg 12).
I hate this definition in so many ways. It would be so much better if it were to read as follows: A neutral good character is your average person who attempts to do the best they can in the world. Sometimes they're selfish, but more often than not they try to do the best they can for those around them and their community. 

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