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Good, evil, and fantasy cultures

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So I've been considering running D&D in an exotic-ish setting (ref), but I think there's a broad issue about this.

In D&D and other games with an absolute good and evil, it's usually true that good and evil are defined by modern standards. So, for example, D&D has always defined slavery as evil - even though slavery of various sorts was considered normal and even good in medieval times. I think this is usually considered a feature rather than a bug. In some games, you play grim-dark bastards who leave a trail of horror and destruction -- but some fantasy games you want to be genuine heroes who fight for truth and justice. There is simple good and evil and the heroes are good.

The latter is more what I want my upcoming D&D game to be. Real history was often grim and horrible, but if I'm playing a good-vs-evil fantasy, that's not what I'm looking for. I'm going for more escapist high fantasy.

The problem is that modern morality can be a disconnect with a setting even remotely based on history.

So I guess this is about - when have you had a problem with difference between what is good by modern morality and good in a fantasy RPG? What were ways that you dealt with it? I'll think if I can come up with some more examples.

I guess the big one for me would be Rifts and specifically the Coalition.  We played enough that we fell on various different sides of the coin at different times.  The thing that often came up was how does one cope with a world where some random person without warning can invade/conquer your mind or kill you without effort.  Even on the anti-Coalition side we had the questions about teaming up with the human supremacists when its against menaces like the Splugorth or the Vampires.

You just need to have everyone on the same page and try to get everyone to imagine what they'd do in that situation.  Some people it just doesn't dawn on them that their mage is ball shrinkingly scary.

I haven't had an issue with it. Even in Dark Sun, where slavery is common, I play it that good characters dislike slavery, but can't run around freeing every slave they see. It's just not practically feasible.

Things also get murky with different types of slavery. Bonded labor, chattel slavery, slave armies that wind up running things.
There's fertile ground for rpg politics in slavery, but it's understandable that many don't want to go there.

I think my approach is to recognize that there isn't a floating sign in the sky that goes "Ding!" whenever a Good character does something Evil, so they can stop it. It's not that slavery can be Good, it's that slavery is not always cartoony moustache twirling Evil.

But the only time I've gone into the topic of slavery is in Dark Sun, where most societies are at best ruthlessly pragmatic, or downright oppressive.

I haven't run much realistic historical settings. I have run the very 1970s sword & sorcery Wilderlands, and slavery has been a bit of an issue, with PCs going all out to abolish slavery, a very marginal ideological position in the setting. I don't recall anything else being such a trigger - serfdom certainly is not!

Steven Mitchell:
To me, it's no different than any other edge issue, such as how much sexuality is "on screen" versus how much is "fade to black".  There's a whole set of things that are happening in the world, that are needed to make the world sufficiently different from now such that it feels right to the players.  Then there's the subset of things that are there, but you don't pay much attention to them.  Then there's maybe a handful of things that we just decide that we don't even gloss over, because it doesn't fit the tone or we simply don't want to.  Point being, you can draw the line anywhere you want on any given thing, as long as you leave enough in there to get the feeling across.

For us, one that comes up quite a bit as something that gets only a nod is the whole noble/commoner thing.  Yeah, it's there.  It's in the backdrop.  Most of the people in the world deal with it.  Players in my game largely don't want to play in a game where there is effectively no social mobility along those lines.  So we tend not to, or assume that adventurers are one of the rare exceptions.  A game where adventurers have some social status and responsibilities to go with it?  They are all over that.  A game where adventurers are hobos, murder type or otherwise, trying to live below the social radar?  They want nothing to do with it.  Long as I get everyone on board on the issue, the rest of the world can be as dark or epic as we want on everything else, no one will even blink.  Though admittedly, there's only so far I'd want to push the dark part.  So not sure I know where the edge truly is. 


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