On the Righteous

We are beset by a plague of the righteous.

That feeling is a glorious one, too often set aside by the unrelenting hostility and blunt reality of the real world. When are you within your body, when you are hungry, tired from hard labor, in struggle and pain, we no longer have the clarity of being righteous.

But when those things are set aside, deferred in the same way evolution is deferred by actions we take to dictate our convenience, oh how righteous we can become. There's even science in it. Even the worst of us believes he's above average. Nearly everyone who thinks that is wrong.

The reason this is important is because we are at or near an apogee. Things are, by every quantifiable metric, the best the have ever been. To note: Parents are half as likely to lose a child as they were in 1990. In thirty years, global poverty has dropped from 40 to 10%. [source] The world is so at peace, open warfare has almost been eliminated [source], Historically, violence has been all but eliminated [source][source], Nearly every human worldwide (6.5 billion) has access to drinkable water [source], in 1820, only 12% of all humans could read. Now over 83% can [source] World production has increased over 100 times in the last 200 years. [source] Access to electricity, food, I mean, it's nearly impossible for you to understand just how blinking wonderful ever little last damn thing is.

Your Warlords
But there's a war on, and don't doubt that it's a war. Those waging it simply desire power and control. It isn't even about money—they have more than they need. This isn't imaginary. We are involved in a culture war. It's a war because harm is being done. There is a public space (the internet) and people are being driven away from it and livelihoods are being destroyed. We're beyond physical warfare, for now, we're engaged in a war of culture between various factions, who wish to co-op you for your own ends.

You see, the insanity that the culture war is thriving on, doesn't exist. Not to dismiss their concerns. But the realities of these situations is well educated, well meaning people, are gaining more and more power and resources to make things better and better for all people everywhere all the time. In all cases. Do you not believe me?

Behold, the infamous C-16! The Canadian "transgender law" of great dispute. No matter what you think, no one can read the discourse over the bill and claim for one second that the people discussing it aren't well-educated, well-meaning, and passionately interested in creating the best society possible.

So if you're caught up in this culture war, because you've voluntarily entered yourself into someone's system of control or perhaps have become a victim to it, driven out of spaces, harrassed, and just not involved because it's too difficult to bear the constant conflict, then, well, you are a sign that the culture war is winning and we are losing.

I was guilty of being a righteous man. It is a trait of youth, and now that I am older, I fear myself then. I think a smarter man than I am would also fear the righteous. They are so pure and certain in a world with no certainty. By it's nature, someone has to suffer from that.

One of the prime conflict of adulthood is assimilating into society. It's always been difficult to do so, perhaps more today without rites of passage and the changing world. Much easier to claim corruption of what came before and in your own certainty to attack the old world with fire. Those who would create this new better pure world (over our insanely good one) never imagine that the gun they wish to aim at others would ever be aimed at themselves.

I'm just a man, who like you, longs to not suffer indignity and maintain my pride. But that is not the way the world works. You cannot exist, they must have you within their control. Shared articles, advertisements, data mining, facebook and cambridge analytical. All lies to get you within a system of control.

And now that we're almost to the point of sounding like a paranoid rant. . . this is relevant to Dungeons and Dragons because-

Fire down below

This is the nature of man. In a world of Dungeons & Dragons, you have, by definition, tremendous inequality. There are archmages with incalculable power, god-cults, hoards driven forth by demi-gods. One group of people is focused on their basic needs. Another, with power, immortality, and wealth—they can become the most righteous of all.

Secondly, it reminds us that the environments that we explore, ultimately are the workings of the nature of men. In a literal sense, it is a man who creates the adventure, so it is his depths you are exploring. In a more figurative sense, the real encounters in Dungeons and Dragons are those of thinking peoples. Peoples who not only have been co-opted into someones system of control, but also individuals who are human.
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

Many people have difficulty imagining that other people are truly different than them.A large portion of the world finds the idea of wiping with paper and sitting on toilets to be a disgusting practice. Ancient romans had no concept of hetero- or homo-sexuality, rather they viewed sexual preference (and sexual power dynamics) related to who was the penetrator or penetratee.

Yes, functionally we are all human. But the ways in which we approach and think about life are radically different. Those ancient peoples would seem alien. But to their thinking, their beliefs and logic are irrefutable.

When the players interact with someone, they are not a caricature. As different as they were, there were a million romans smarter then you. You know your well held beliefs? There are people with 50 more IQ points than you that hold the opposite beliefs for extremely logical reasons you may struggle to understand. Why is this not so for all people?

It is.

Your environments should be shaped by minds like these.
Your characters should have minds that make them people, not caricatures.
Your monsters should have interactions with characters that make them monstrous.
The worst monsters should be people. It isn't Tiamat that's the danger in Dragon Queen, it's her cult.

The game is a form of catharsis, one made all the more meaningful by real choices, choices that feel real when people are represented as people. The mechanical nature of this is simple. They should have concerns outside of whatever purpose they serve in the game, monsters and humans alike.

Oh, but why this topic? I've long passed a time of righteousness. I'm going to enter the culture war just as far as designing adventures that are easy to use and creativing evocative dungeons enters it. I'm not going to worry about how others or society might describe me. I know my truth, and how I'm viewed by other people—my own conscious will guide me, as difficult and treacherous a road that is. . .

Any day you're drawing dungeons is a good day. Relax, live your best life and enjoy. And I hope to see you free.

Hack & Slash 


  1. There's a lot to be said for Neutrality. Live and let live, and don't get dragged into other peoples' crusades, unless you really know what you are getting into.

    1. There's a lot of these political conversations, but an unfortunately large percentage of the endless arguments that go nowhere are tied up in people having sticky words with multiple definitions which are just begging. BEGGING. To get conflated.

      What is orthodox is not righteous. What is revolutionary is not righteous. Whatever you were into "before it was cool" is not righteous. What is righteous is righteous. But, now...how do we go about figuring what that is?

      Because, if we can't define Good, we can't really define Neutrality. And this becomes another one of those flame wars over alignment which goes nowhere.

      I mean, geopolitical neutrality (as opposed to moral neutrality, a concept which only really is discussed in D&D, but hey, good on D&D, because the world really needed that as a concept) really is basically isolationism, and yeah. There can be a lot said about isolationism. You don't get involved into the problems of outside nations, you don't invade anybody else and start some of those problems, your nation just...exists.

      But, animals are neutral, not for their universally acclaimed polite manners and unobtrusiveness, but for their lack of higher moral thinking. You might be upset over a snake poisoning your grandmother, but unless you're mad, you won't go all Captain Ahab on its non-existent ass and swear undying, globe-hopping, crewmen-endangering revenge against it. If both dangerous and benign animals are neutral (well, they are "unaligned" as of 5e, but that's just because 5e mixes concepts from 3e and 4e even when it kind of complicates the setting needlessly. Unaligned IS True Neutral), then that kind of implies that neutrality is simply non-malicious selfishness. Lizardfolk eat humans from time to time because survival of their species is the highest sacred value to them, and outside of their own tribe they don't benefit from getting too, too, too hung up over keeping an impenetrable solid line between trading partners and food sources when the dry season starts killing off all the game from dehydration.

      Charles Sonnenburg recent said, in the latest entry of his Dragon Age 2 review, something I think . "I want to make the world less evil. Zealots are so obsessed with the need to stop one kind of evil they'll insist that their own crimes are actually righteous."

      I would say that a "crusade", complete with invading of foreign countries and mass slaughtering of nonbelievers to fix something you think is wrong with the world might actually turn out to be one of the more neutral things you could do. Ironically.

      "I agree this cultural institution is a force for good. So much that I can only imagine that a life without it must be a wicked, irredeemable thing. I, with pure innocent belief in my authority figures, go forth on a quest to bring a glorious tomorrow that will come because of our efforts and sacrifices to the rightfulness of this cause. Therefore, BURN PATHETIC HEREITC DOCTORS, WIDOWS, AND ORPHANS, bURRRRRRNN!!!111!!!1111!!1one! I'M NOT AN ASSHOLE, YOU'RE THE ASSHOLE! HISTORY WILL SAY SO BECAUSE I'M GOING TO WRITE IT!"

      C'est le Vie.
      ...unless....you disagree.

      But, if you would,
      then does that make you....Good?

  2. Excellent post! There is almost a meditative quality to it. My question to you is this: how does a DM create and run an NPC of intelligence greater than his own? Asking that, I just wondered: can the process of imagining himself to be smarter than he is actually expand his mental capabilities?

    Please keep writing!

  3. C-16 is infamous? Where?

    Seriously, I know its not the point of the post, but that debate gave me hope. And made me a little proud.

  4. It sucks being frustrated, right? Im figuring that these days people left, right or other can turn on the news or read some things online and it be enough to spit and throw something. I decline to support or oppose your position, just saying letting it out is better than holding it in and that can be scary without an anonymous audience. I mean sometimes i argue my opinions with the evening news. Also, not shutting down comments is the one true way daniel san lol

  5. It's a bit off-putting when you use "righteous" as a synonym for "self-righteous." D&D is a game which recognizes good as well as evil, but by equating righteousness with hypocrisy and self-righteousness instead of [virtue/courage/purity/mercy/compassion/truth/humility] you're painting a picture of a dark, cynical world populated by heroes with Black-and-Grey morality.

    That isn't to say that a given (N)PC couldn't strive to be genuinely righteous even in such a world, but it definitely sends signals that such a PC may be out of place in that setting, and that anyone who doesn't enjoy stories about vile people butchering each other in foul ways a la GRRM ought to steer clear of the campaign. As I say, it's off-putting.

  6. For most of us, the culture war was lost without even a battle. The social spaces where the current generation of player and GM exist is one where the price of that defeat is apparent: a general feeling of malaise and fear, where Game Masters must often sacrifice nuance, meaning or impact less the game implode from the player finding the subject matter either deeply offensive or simply alien to them.

    Maybe it's just me and because I've played with people younger than 25 for the most part, but I find that most people into RPG today are more often than not people who seem to understand very little of fantasy and imagination and who are horrified whenever a fantastical or historically-inspired world does not conform to their vision of what is and isn't moral to someone living in 2018.

    1. I should add: the issue here is that I'm increasingly put into a position where attempting to base my games in the roots of RPG (Pulp Fantasy and Mythology) is increasingly difficult because the very source material is filled with material which is invariably offensive and/or alien to the player's values.


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