Non-sapient intelligent antagonists (Blindsight)

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Shipyard Locked

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It seems like you want to have your gaming cake and eat the moral/possibly political? cake too.

Well yes, it's gaming, a liberating exercise in wish fulfillment among other things. If I can't have my cake and eat it too in this pursuit, where can I? :wink:

In the end, you're going to have to - either accept that your conscience is right, and stop murder hoboing, or accept that you're edging close to the deep end, and get over yourself and have fun.

I'm not sure what I'm contemplating is really that close to 'the deep end'. Plenty of people other than me draw highly personal moral lines in gaming. Some revel in grimdark battlefield carnage, but no hurting children please! Some laugh when the huge explosion the group set off levels a populated block, but oh my god is the dog ok!? Some meticulously describe torture and pale at the mere implication of rape.

I think if I hadn't said anything and you had joined this theoretical D&D campaign, you wouldn't have noticed anything particular was up.

Tough words I know, but that circle has to be squared.

It's alright, I appreciate that aspect of you. Maybe you're right, maybe I'll calm down in time.
 

CRKrueger

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Well yes, it's gaming, a liberating exercise in wish fulfillment among other things. If I can't have my cake and eat it too in this pursuit, where can I? :wink:
Ok, fair enough, but what about all the creatures I listed? Hell, look at standard D&D Orcs...

This is the tale the shamans tell, in the camps of the orcs when the night is deep on the world and dawn is far away:
In the beginning all the gods met and drew lots for the parts of the world in which their representative races would dwell. The human gods drew the lot that allowed humans to dwell where they pleased, in any environment. The elven gods drew the green forests, the dwarven gods drew the high mountains, the gnomish gods the rocky, sunlit hills, and the halfling gods picked the lot that gave them the fields and meadows. Then the assembled gods turned to the orcish gods and laughed loud and long. “All the lots are taken!” they said tauntingly. “Where will your people dwell, One- Eye? There is no place left!”
There was silence upon the world then, as Gruumsh One-Eye lifted his great iron spear and stretched it forth over the world. The shaft blotted out the sun over a great part of the lands as he spoke: “No. You lie. You have rigged the drawing of the lots, hoping to cheat me and my followers. But One-Eye never sleeps; One-Eye sees all. There is a place for orcs to dwell . . . here!” With that, Gruumsh struck the forests with his spear, and a part of them withered with rot. “And here!” he bellowed, and his spear pierced the mountains, opening mighty rifts and chasms. “And here!” and the spearhead split the hills and made them shake and covered them in dust. “And here!” and the black spear gouged the meadows, and made them barren.
“There!” roared He-Who-Watches triumphantly, and his voice carried to the ends of the world. “There is where the orcs shall dwell! There they shall survive, and multiply, and grow stronger, and a day shall come when they cover the world, and shall slay all of your collected peoples! Orcs shall inherit the world you sought to cheat me of!”

These Orcs are going to spread across the land making eternal war in the name of Gruumsh. Who cares if the tale is true. The Orcs think it is and they want your head as tribute to their god who demands it in vengeance. These aren’t noble savages or some human analog, they’re a different species and the fact that they can think doesn’t make it morally reprehensible to kill them. You don’t have to hunt every last Orc to the ends of the Earth, but if you let them get too close and too strong, the blood they shed is on your hands.
I'm not sure what I'm contemplating is really that close to 'the deep end'. Plenty of people other than me draw highly personal moral lines in gaming. Some revel in grimdark battlefield carnage, but no hurting children please! Some laugh when the huge explosion the group set off levels a populated block, but oh my god is the dog ok!? Some meticulously describe torture and pale at the mere implication of rape.
You’re letting off steam and stress through simulated violence against things that don’t exist and are having a problem with it because when they’re not trying to kill you, the other species have lives, hopes and dreams...Dreams of dancing around a mound of human skulls, wearing the flayed skins of your neighbors and friends, hoping to be strong enough one day to kill the current leader and all his offspring, take his mates and warband and slaughter an even greater human town. You’re sipping the kool-aid brother. D&D worlds ain’t Earth, they’re not Azeroth.

The baseline assumptions of D&D worlds posit the existence of beings that are intelligent, and sapient, yet still can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, and don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. If they are strong enough to remove you, they will.

You buy in to the concept of intelligent evil the moment you utter the words Dungeons and Dragons. It doesn’t matter if it exists or not in reality, D&D isn’t reality.
I think if I hadn't said anything and you had joined this theoretical D&D campaign, you wouldn't have noticed anything particular was up.
If there’s no humanoids, or other worshippers of evil outsiders, just Undead, or the Insect Hives, it wouldn’t bother me, it’s just a different setting is all.
It's alright, I appreciate that aspect of you. Maybe you're right, maybe I'll calm down in time.
Maybe come up with another way to get rid of stress and get some physical action in to replace D&D combat. Sports, working out, martial arts, gun range, archery range, paintball, air soft, etc. Miniature wargames.

Or give a system like Mythras a try, where there’s tons of non-lethal ways to take someone out while fighting, and even if you go the melee route, it frequently results in incapacitation. Knock the bad guys down, give them medical attention and turn them in to the authorities. Of course they’ll come back as revenants to haunt you because you denied them a clean death in combat and since they were hung, they’ll never enter the Halls of their Fathers. But you can’t be expected to know every religion and culture bandits, brigands and raiding barbarians belong to. :devil:

It’s a Roleplaying Game bro, fuck our world, leave it behind and inhabit a place with a different reality.
 

Fenris-77

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Does it make me weird that the idea of hurting sentient beings in the ruck of doing something important (to me) isn't something that bothers me? At least in terma of RPGs. Why the fuck should I worry about the politics of 2021 in an RPG? Up to a point of course.
 

Atelerix

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I think a lot depends on what you see as the "real world". In my village, there's the usual deaths from old age, maybe an annual traffic accident, and illness. An old lady fell into a pond and drowned in about 2009.

Even when I lived in Liverpool during a gang drugs war in the 90s, there were shootings and stabbings, and one "assassination" style murder. I heard a gunshot once in 6 years.

People who come back from war are often not ultimate badasses. Plenty of interviews with men who have killed where they talk about their shame and disgust at taking another life. My dad often said that his generation (boomers) was raised by broken and damaged men - WWII veterans. Pretty sure that telling them to "man up" did sweet FA for them.

Violence on TV, movies, novels and even the news are the "unreality" - brutality packaged and concentrated as entertainment to the desensitised.

Although as a counterpoint, there are plenty of times/places/people in history where some did become utterly desensitised, murdered hundreds and went home to their families.

Violence is easy conflict in RPGs, usually abstracted, and murder is often consequence-free in many campaigns. A consequence of the hobby's wargaming roots, perhaps. Conflict without violence, problem-solving, survival can be mechanically harder to make satisfying in games where they're reduced to a single skill roll. Weapon skill, range and damage are right below stats on the character sheet in many games where there's no thought given to contacts, motivations or personality. And yet as players, what do we have more experience with?

Got a project brief to write this afternoon, but I'll come back to possible solutions - including non-lethal and lethal violence - later this evening.
 

Fenris-77

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Fenris-77 Fenris-77, this isn't political for me, it's personal/psychological. I'm not condemning anything you do in your own games. Any resemblance my topic has to any current ideological bandwagons is coincidental except inasmuch as I'd like to avoid getting caught up in them from one angle or the other.
My apologies, good fellow, my post wasn't intended to imply anything of the sort. I was yelling at the clouds, not you. :grin:
 

Lofgeornost

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This isn't political for me, it's personal/psychological... Any resemblance my topic has to any current ideological bandwagons is coincidental except inasmuch as I'd like to avoid getting caught up in them from one angle or the other.

That makes a lot of sense. If you are worried about current bandwagons--maybe because of your players, or for some other reason--then I think the 'super ants as antagonists' approach may not get you out of hot water.

From my very limited understanding of ideological/philosophical objections to opponent species in RPGs, it seems to boil down to two issues:
  • The species designed to be sword-fodder is dehumanized.
  • Specific tropes or images that have historically been used to stigmatize one or another oppressed group are applied to the opponent species.
Obviously, the 'super-ants' are about as dehumanized as opponents can be. I realize that's what you are going for, but if you are worried about the ideological objections of others, I think you'll hit them on that front. Also, I'm sure some group at some point has been defamed by comparing them to ants or colonial insects--I have a vague memory of this sort of thing for 'Red Menace' treatments of Chinese Communism, for instance.

I wonder if another valid answer for you would be not a change of opponents, but a change in genre? There are genres where nobody ever dies--some approaches to superhero comics, for instance, or the very G-rated cowboys stuff I recall from my childhood, where the hero shot the pistols out of the bad guys' hands. You could take this approach to a straightforward fantasy world--you can reduce characters to 0 hit points or below (or whatever the system uses) but that doesn't kill them--it just incapacitates them.

This probably sounds like the same solution that I offered upthread, but it's a little different. There I was suggesting it as a characteristic of the actual game world. That would be interesting, but it means rethinking a setting significantly--what does it mean if people don't actually die permanently? The genre fix is much less sweeping, because it is a limit on the game-play, but not on the world. So the setting can be a normal fantasy reality, it's just that for genre reasons when the players fight opponents, nobody actually dies.

The rub would come if your players actually want to kill their opponents rather than simply beat them, and do things like chopping them up after they have been rendered unconscious. At that point there is nothing for it but to impose genre conventions by fiat, I suppose.
 

Shipyard Locked

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Lofgeornost Lofgeornost, the bandwagon in question is an interesting topic, but it is too political for this forum and I think we should drop this aspect of the conversation. As for "no-kill" genres, I'm definitely going to try that in a modern setting.
 

Lofgeornost

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Lofgeornost Lofgeornost, the bandwagon in question is an interesting topic, but it is too political for this forum and I think we should drop this aspect of the conversation. As for "no-kill" genres, I'm definitely going to try that in a modern setting.

Fair enough; I definitely want to keep out of political waters on this topic. They make Scylla and Charybdis look inviting.

Scylla and Charybdis.jpg
 
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Atelerix

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So... you want violence as an option, but not wholesale murder. You chose martial arts as a modern example, as you want smart and worthy opponents.

It seems to me that people feel they can commit that kind of ultimate violence in a number of circumstances.

When there's no law to stop them. On the Frontier, in a failed state. Guess where games often happen? Interestingly, on the Frontier there often IS some law, and many people try to uphold it. Gunfights in the Old West became almost a legal ritual (the other guy has to draw first to make shooting them legal) - when others are watching.

Duelling crops up repeatedly through history. The holmgang was part of the Viking legal system, Spanish diestros duelled to prove the relative merits of their schools of swordsmanship. Nobles duelled everywhere. SF has honourable aliens like Traveller's Aslan who duel over everything. Sometimes lethal, sometimes not. You want tripping, disarming, feints, sand in the face.

A duel could be the culmination of a session of NPCs taunting and making life difficult for the characters.

Or stay away from the frontier! Where the law is stronger, you may only be allowed to carry nonlethal (or hidden) weapons. Gangs will posture and strut, and it may spill over into beatings, but murder is a last resort because the law is coming right after you if someone vanishes (I mean, this is West Side Story, not modern cartels). Traveller starports have Law Levels that determine what you can carry. Lack of armour in a lethal game may make you cautious.

Where people don't have a stake in another culture, and they have no stake in yours (no legal response), atrocities can happen. Give the orcs the right to demand trial, or weregild for their dead.

Legal outcasts from medieval Icelandic society could be killed on sight, but could also redeem themselves. How does your outcast group rejoin society without killing anyone (and attracting a manhunt).

Iain M Banks' SF book Against a Dark Background has the concept of limited, legal war. For different levels of conflict, more and more powerful ancient tech can be released for use. Maybe the lowest level must be non-lethal.

The PCs are fighting their own shadow-selves. They must be defeated but not killed to become whole again (Skeksis: "Hmmmmmm").

Wanted: alive. The PCs need to keep the enemy alive for information.

Avoid all-out war situations, where people will do anything to save their way of life.

Counting coup - warriors show their skill by pulling their blows to insult the foe. Ahumiliated enemy loses all face.

If you have to have lethal conflict, make death the significant culmination of the campaign. Klingon officers or Vargr pirates conspire against their captain and each other. A Norse family dies at the hands of its enemies after decades of scheming, feuds and missed opportunities for peace. Maim the losers in various skirmishes along the way, rather than killing them off.

It's reasonable to end a Cthulhu campaign in the asylum, with a noose round your neck, or blowing yourself up with the town mayor and members of his "lodge" to prevent the ritual.

Make violent death as shocking as it really is.

Rambling now. I won't talk too much about non-combat conflict and natural problems like survival, except to say they probably need detailed subsystems as complete as combat to work as serious alternatives. Forbidden Lands has a great wilderness survival and travel system, and adds conditions like "thirsty" and "cold" to simple HP.
 
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