Thursday, July 2, 2009

Villains should be Villainous

We live in morally confused times, so I really shouldn't be surprised that it's very common to see people expressing the morally confused idea that killing Orcs is murder.

I commented on one such occurrence recently here, where Zzarchov from Unofficial Games goes on a crusade declaring that killing villains is murder. One doesn't have to try in order to find more examples, even Jeff Rients gets into the act with a new blog entry tossing out "orc-murdering" while defining all characters as bastards.

Jeff's entry is likely something of a parody, but it serves to illustrate just how common this mindset is. It seems one born out of modern Moral Relativism (which states that no one is evil, just different) and Kindergarten rules ("Don't hit, that's always wrong").

Thus orcs aren't evil, they're different but equal to you. And killing (i.e. hitting) is always wrong. The perfect combination of abrogating one's moral responsiblity while replacing it with a mindset suited to a five year old.

Taking this viewpoint to rpgs is silly in the extreme of course. For one thing, the recommended age for rpgs is higher than five.

For another, it's typically done by the exact same people who claim that rpgs don't reflect (or affect) their real views or real life (thus they can steal from other players, rape various characters for fun and otherwise run evil characters etc), but for some reason still want to define rational and moral acts in rpgs as 'murder' and attempt to act against them either in 'moral' rants or game mechanic driven punishment. Interesting mix of thoughts there isn't it?

The following shouldn't be neccessary for anyone who has a basic grounding in morality, but here goes:

1. Villians by definition are evil. They are not just a simple law abiding folk blocking the desires of your characters. They are someone who is presenting a clear and present (or near future) danger to life, limb & property of innocent people.

2. In the fiction upon which most rpgs are founded, the heroes have the moral requirement (and often legal right) to deal with the villain.

Quick Examples:

Magnificent Seven- Normal law is completely missing and the bandits are in control, so the heroes intervene in effect as 'law for hire'.

Robin Hood- in most versions is a landed noble and supporter of the rightful King acting against injustice.

Star Wars- Luke and the entire rebellion are acting against tyrannical rule.

Known and accepted heroes, likely cheered on even by those writing articles like those linked above. And yet by their reasoning Chris, Robin and Luke are all murderers for killing bandits, Gisbourne , and stormtroopers.

Yeah, right.

People can play Teletubbies the RPG if the like, but stop calling my characters murderers when they're defending innocent people from death and worse. It ticks me off, and makes you look like the amoral five year old you are.


Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James V said...

Sometimes an orc is just an orc and in some games, orcs are just there to get killed. I agree that this kind of play could be considered shallow if you're after more dramatic play (and that's your point isn't it ZZarchov?), but that's it, and that's the problem when this discussion comes up.

This subject becomes fodder for some folks to make arguments that imply this kind of play betrays the people who engage in it as some kind of racist or socicopath, (and trust me I have heard that argument made in various sly fashions over the years)and those arguments are missing the point completely.

My bad guys are BAD. It's okay to take them down, because they really do represent bad things, and sometimes thats even applies to a whole race of beings. Players should have the freedom to beat the baddies anyway they want, and killing is one of those ways.

And I've belabored these points myself the last time this subject went around, but I'm willing to repeat myself, if nothing else but to short circuit the wrong argument:

- If my PCs choose to kill the baddies, it isn't indiscriminate, because they're the baddies.
- The baddies in these types of games are not representative of any real world analog, they are imaginary. There is no more moral equivalent between an orc and a live person then there would be comparing a person to a alien from Space Invaders.

Vedron said...


Your definition of murder includes the "unlawful" sense, but another sense of the word which is equally or more important is the killing with malice.

In fact, the etymology of the word emphasizes the secretive and malicious nature of murderous killing. It is malice, not illegality, that separates murder from other killings.

Additionally, you are defining "unlawfully" very narrowly. American Revolutionaries killing redcoats might argue that they were acting in accordance with natural law if not English Law, for example.

R. Lawrence Blake said...

Thanks for this post. I've said it before: I'll wipe out a village of orcs in an RPG the same way I'll destroy an entire star fleet in Galaga. It is a game.

rainswept said...

As far as RPGs go, I have to agree with you Blake... this is not very much ado about even less.

I don't know what about Zzarchov's post pushed your buttons Brian, but They are someone who is presenting a clear and present (or near future) danger to life, limb & property of innocent people seems to include the kids who went joyriding down the street and smashed the windshield of my brother's parked car yesterday while excluding CIA torturers.

You will have to think a bit harder than "clear", "danger" and - please! - "innocent", imply if you are hoping to rectify the moral confusion that appears to bother you so much.

Gleichman said...

@Zzarchov: Your post stopped dealing with cinematics the instant you accused players of murder.

Rather you should have accused them of not playing to genre expectations.

And I find it telling that you considered all the three examples to be murder. It reveals just what little thought you put into it- but it is at least a consistent lack of thought.

@Vedron: Your remark about the American Revolutionaries is spot on.

It has been a long standing concept in Western Culture that any government that fails to meet basic requirements and/or pursues evil ends must be opposed and even overthown. For the Revolutionaries, the reasons were defined in detail in the Declaration of Independence.

Star Wars and Robin Hood fall within this concept.

A second natural law concept is that individual or groups have the right of self defense when the government fails in its duty to protect its own citizens. This is especially true when a government has completely abandoned the people to predators.

The Magnificent Seven operates under this concept.

Gleichman said...


Having trouble with english are we?

"life, limb & property"

The 'and' means all three, I did not use the word 'or'. That means your kids in order to fit my statement must also be killing and maiming people in their joyride.

Yes, in the US you can legally kill them as an act of self-defense and not be charged with murder.

I understand that other nations have removed that right from their citizens in order to better enforce government control.

Your CIA comment is out of line (and is also wrong). This isn't a political site. Don't however attempt to defend it further- I will delete your post as counter to purpose of this blog.

Helmsman said...

Sometimes I just like to tell stupid stories that amuse me:

One of my favorite comic series' The Authority starring a group of epically superpowered vigilantes. At one point in the series a Hero from the DC universe came to them trying to find his way home. (The Authority being the sort to hop-between alternate universes for coffee.)

Well this DC Hero and one of the Authority members decided to go hop between some universes and ended up on one version of Earth where the Nazi's won WWII. So the Authority member, the Engineer, immediately and enthusiastically begins killing them while the DC Hero is crapping his unsuccessfully trying not to kill any. (DC Heroes having eh mandate not to kill villains).

Anyhow, the action scene fades to black and then comes back with the Engineer sitting on a pile of corpses smoking a cigarette like she'd just been well-fucked while the DC Hero is huddling in the fetal position murmuring traumatized from all the killing he just did.

The Engineer's line: "Relaaax Cap. They're Nazis, if you can't kill Nazis, who can you kill?"

So to that I ask the same: If you can't kill Orc's who can you kill?

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...

@Zzarchov: I see that you've never read the Declaration of Independence, or that you'd be aware that there was far more than a simple dispute of taxes listed in it.

So we can add that to your growing wealth of body of ignorance.

Beyond that I find your claim that murder is a legal issue only to be an ineffective dodge.

Ineffective in that the legal definition requires malice (something that none of the example you can murder have) among other things. Yet you still insist on applying it to everything.

And a dodge because that is plainly not what you were saying in your blog article. For it was, the proper response for a RPG campaign is to hold the PCs accountable for murder and then put them on trial.

You just wanted to dock them XP.

I think in the end you were sloppy with words, inclined to make a flawed moral judgment of players, and now are just weaseling as much as possible to get out of being caught at it.

Gleichman said...

@Zzarchov: As a note, your view of the Christain concept of murder is also warped. This however is not a religious blog- thus we will not have that debate.

I'd delete any further such references.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...

@Zzarchov: You're a true work of art, launching from a debate over you calling PCs everywhere murderers for killing villains to what appears to be a minority canadian-chip-on-shoulder attack on the American Founders.

Speaking of slander, one doesn't get a much better example than what you just provided. My thanks for providing it and showing how detached from objective fact you are.

Again, this isn't a political site. It's not for political debate. No more warnings will be given to you or anyone else in this exchange- such posts will now be delete without warning.

Let's move on and speak of moving targets. First you speak about murder as a universal concept (i.e. you didn't specify any legal or other requirement in your first post) and now it’s come to the point where you want to hide behind Canada's own specific legal code- which obviously would not apply to very many rpgs at all. Or for any place but Canada actually.

Where is your respect for the laws of other nations when you made your claim about all PCs being murders- this is the World Wide Web in your words isn’t? Missing it seems.

How convenient that you found it now.

And I’m hardly going to trust you when you claim that Canada has no exceptions for murder considering self-defense, defense of others, actions taken during war, etc. Somehow I think you’re being highly dishonest here. But I don’t care enough to go digging to prove it. That you’ve taken this course at all (after slandering PCs the world over as murderers when they aren’t subject to the laws of Canada you now claim to use in making that statement) shows that you’re thoughtless and dishonest upfront.

And in all this you haven't mentioned why you think that someone committing legal murder (by the laws of Canada as stated by you) shouldn’t be subjected to criminal trial under those laws- but instead should be docked XP.

I don’t recall an XP dock being in the Canada’s criminal code. Just did a search on it (the whole code is online), nope. Doesn’t appear.

Maybe those laws didn’t apply when you called them murderers. Maybe you just ran to this as a weak debate tactic.

I’ll let the readers decide.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...

Zzarchov:I'm not interested in your rules or your justification of gods in a setting I don't care about.

I care about you calling my and ther characters others murderers.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...


Below I quote your entire second paragraph. It says all that needs to be said- it's where you call my characters and many characters in many campaigns in many settings murderers.

After such a display of ego you go on to tell us how you would solve that problem. But by that point, I have no interest in solving any problem but your slander.

This one deals with the problem of wholesale slaughter of your enemies. In this particular post I'll deal with murdering opposing villains, the big villain or at least the stalwart dark lieutenant. Many GM's are frustrated that they cannot have a recurring villain because PC's will not stop until they murder them. Its like a party of Terminators.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...

You show me where in that paragraph you state anyone surrendered or was otherwised captured.

It's not there. Just you calling my characters and the characters of others murderers.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...

@Zzarchov: How about you try to honestly read what you wrote instead of adding after-fact meaning.

"PC will not stop" to me means only that they don't give up no matter the odds. Not that they kill surrendering foes.

Which matches all the I examples listed, and which you btw did call murder- indicating this this line of debate by you is a new construction that you've pulled out your backside.

If you NOW wish to place very specific limits on your slander of PCs in RPGs, please do so- and apologize for your open claim made previously.

It's the right thing to do. I also have come to believe it's beyond you.

Zzarchov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gleichman said...


Let's review:

1. You make a wide ranging claim that PCs are murderers for killing villains.

2. When given examples of famous movie heroes- you call them murderers as well.

3. You attempt to deflect this by falling back on Canadian law and the idea that this is the World Wide Web and you have that right (even if that condition wasn't listed in the original post).

4. When it's pointed out that Canadian Law doesn't apply to either the movies or most of the PCs you're calling murderers, you drop it and move to 'killing surrendering people'.

5. When it's noted that is the first time you used the word 'surrendered' and that you've previously agree the the movie heroes were murderers (none killed surrendering villains)you...

...repeat yourself.

And now I'm not only disgusted with you. I'm bored.

This is your last post here. Goodbye.

Zzarchov said...

To confer with your wishes I removed my posts, I do not wish to interfere with your blogs operation in anyway, I do not wish to engage in any petty posting back and forth on my blog like children nor do I assume you wish the same. Consider this my notice of a peace offering, as I shall refrain from mentioning you in any way nor further commenting on your blog.

Gleichman said...

ZZarchov has deleted his comments and that leaves me with something of a question.

Do I leave my responses or remove them as well as it now appears I'm talking to air?

Something to think about I guess, as it doesn't seem to be a matter of much importance at the moment.

John Morrow said...

I know his posts have been self-deleted but I found this statement interesting: "Many GM's are frustrated that they cannot have a recurring villain because PC's will not stop until they murder them. Its like a party of Terminators." I would like to add that many players are also frustrated that they cannot finally solve a problem and defeat a villain for good and have to keep fighting the same enemy over and over again. I would argue that it's a desire to solve the problem for good and prevent the GM from wheeling out the same villain again and again for more mayhem that motivates the players to kill villains. A dead villain can't come back and harm innocent people ever again.

Gleichman said...

JohnYes, this was talked about a post or two previous to this one some extent.

Given a conflict of goals between players and GM (to have or not to have reoccuring villains), a too common solution is to bribe them the players into behaving.

Proponents of this tend to be big ones for believing that the game mechanics are more important in determing player behavior than say- player goals or personality.

I'm very tempted to chalk this up to pure "But I'm a special person, mommy and school told me so" self-ego. To the point where they can't see what they are actually doing.

To me it's a simple isssue. The players aren't liking what you're doing, and paying them to accept it anyway is never a good choice.