RPG Blogger’s Carnival: Going Too Far

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoWhere are the ethical limits in Role-Playing?

There are different challenges in different games. In D&D, Vampires are a creature of evil, nicely clean cut and lined up for your party to slaughter without a second thought. On the other hand, Vampire: The Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade set you up as the vampire, having to take into account the required for frequent doses of fresh, human blood, so even if you’re character is good, you still have to engage in a hunt for humans and a rather horrible act which has been compared to a variety of other morally reprehensible crimes.

Some games, such as the Warhammer roleplaying games even go so far as to encourage what we would regard as immoral behaviour. In WFRP, in the Human Empire, Elves are not allowed to enter buildings and must be chained up outside. Dark Heresy goes one step further, with all Alien races deemed heretical and subject to summery execution.

So given this context, where do you just turn round and say no?

Of course, at the extreme end of the spectrum there are a variety of games that no right-minded gamer would every touch. F.A.T.A.L. and Racial Holy War are two of the more notorious example – both glorifying a very real-world racial hatred against various groups. F.A.T.A.L., of course, takes this right up to 11, with the rules encouraging rape and demonstrating a lack of taste, common-sense and general human decency.

Very far over the acceptable line indeed, but then not at all representative of your average gamer.

So where is the line for the average gamer, to wit, Me?

Well, I’ve done some pretty bad things in character.

One of my favourite gaming stories is the complete and utter carnage that half my Dark Heresy group got caught up in a one-shot story. The plot involved a Death Cult on a graveyard planet and remains the only time I’ve ever seen a Party actively try and kill it’s-self. The short version is, through the use of disguises made from the skin of dead Imperial Guard, we infiltrated the Cult, didn’t realise when we should probably have stopped and opened fire and ended up conducting a Demonic summoning. I ended up killing a pregnant women as a sacrifice.

I’m not terribly proud of that, even though on of my colleagues promptly scarified me in return for immortality or some such. I even rolled a dice to decide to go through with it or not, because while I thought my character would be happy with it, I wasn’t. Would I do it again? Probably not, because I admit that was over my personal line and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it.

The second time that I know I went too far was shooting a Kobold pup. This was during Castles & Crusades, in a world where we were religiously mandated to kill all evil creatures. The Cleric even got bonus XP in an earlier session for a stunning in-character tirade laying out exactly why evil creatures couldn’t be redeemed.

To be clear, several people did say that they weren’t comfortable with the pups being introduced (this was in an ‘official’ module as well, not the product of a particularly sadistic GM’s mind). I also roleplayed a loss of faith after that, although not particularly well.

So, yeah, where do I think the moral lines are in a roleplaying situation?

Killing kids of any type is right out. It’s not smart, it’s not clever, it’s not funny, no matter how annoying the pint-sized MacGuffin the GM’s saddled you with is.

Anything relating to sex is out. I’ve heard of people introducing rape as a plot element, in particular in World of Darkness, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable dealing with.

In-game racism varies from game to game. It can be a good way to generate friction or provide plot. It’s still not something I feel that comfortable with, but backstory and motivation make a world of difference. Any game where I was asked to hate on a specific real world group or a fantasy group without motivation would be out.

Murder, theft, pillaging, unleashing demonic hoards, destroying planets, killing PCs: No problem with any of that. That’s just good old fashioned fun.

This post isn’t really what I was expecting it to be, although it has given me quite a lot of things to think about. I do like to play my own values in some games, which is why my brand new Rogue Trader character is a heretic, an idealist and a renegade. Maybe this is a bad thing, maybe I should be trying to roleplay outside of my moral comfort zone. But then again, if I feel bad after roleplaying a situation I’m not comfortable with, then eventually I’m going to stop wanting to roleplay.

RPG Blog Carnival October ’09 – Morality: In-Game & Real Life

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoFirst of all, thanks to Johnn at Campaign Mastery for hosting September’s Blogger Carnival (even if my entry was a bit late).

This month, I’ve chosen a rather philosophical topic for discussion: morality. Everything from alignments to your limits as a player.

There is good and there is Evil. Evil must be Punished. Even in the Face of Armageddon, I will not compromise on this.
– Rorschach illustrating his black and white moral sense, Watchmen

I’ve encountered games which encourage depravity from the darkest depths of the human psyche and which result in nobel behaviour that would put a saint to shame. I’ve personally murdered innocents on a whim, encouraged genocide, been sacrificed by my companions and have sliced my way through thousands of characters, creatures and assorted NPCs, often the in name of a deity or king.

Is there any chance I would ever act like that in real life? Not even the slightest chance.

Likewise, I’ve heard stories about in-game racism, misogyny, ethnic cleansing and the sort of death tolls that would make history’s greatest warlords turn pale. All this is before we even get started with notorious games such as F.A.T.A.L. or Racial Holy War, where all sense of conventional morals is abandoned in favour of blatant racism and disturbing mechanics. In fact those examples I cited come from Vampire, a home brew system and Dark Heresy – we’re talking mainstream games and normal, well adjusted players.

I’ll be discussing some of these stories in my own entry for the carnival, later this month. What I want to hear from you guys is how you deal with morals in-game and in real life. What are your limits as a player? How evil can you be? Do you just like to play by alignment or do you like a more realistic moral system? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done as a player? How much difference is there between your real life morals and your in-game morals? If a God mandates Kolbolds are evil and must be destroyed, could your character kill a Kolbold pup in cold blood?

What ever your answer is to these questions, then, as always, post an entry about it to your blog. Once it’s up, come back here and leave a link in the comments. At the end of the month, I’ll compile the links and have a bit of a discussion about each.

For previous carnivals, please see the Carnival Archive at The Dicebag.