Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Vs. Evil

Some of the best storylines are the good 'ol good vs evil. However, I don't believe that it's all just as simple as "good and evil", but a matter of perception. Many times, we talk about the good guys, handsome rugged men in their mid twenties who stand for justice and defend beautiful women VS. the old, ugly Evil guy bent on destruction and carnage. Murder is evil. However, the world isn't quite as black-and-white as this. There are a million shades of grey in between, and often what is evil is only a matter of perception.

For instance, take into account the villainous Grand vizier, who has plotted his heirless King's death, clearing the way to seize control of the country for himself. On the surface, this seems like a fairly evil fellow.

But what if this happened two decades ago? What if the King had been losing his marbles and was about to declare war against a neighboring, friendly, vastly superior military power? What if today the kingdom, ruled by the now-emperor (which is what he decided to call himself), is in the throes of unprecedented peace? Is he still a villainously evil fellow? Or is he a patriot?

Here in America we think of Benedict Arnold as a traitor ? a bad guy. Wasn't he just a spy? Don't we have them of our own? Wasn't he an English patriot? A good guy in someone's point of view?

One of the keys to whether or not a person falls into the "evil" bucket is what he is thinking, or more precisely, how he thinks. This is not to say that just because he can justify his actions to himself, that makes him good, but whether something is good or bad can sometimes be a question of perspective.

Now to bark up a tree:

It has been said that superior ability breeds superior ambition (I think Mr. Spock said it, actually). The villain in your game may be trying to conquer the kingdom, or the world, not because of an inherent lust for power, but because he or she really thinks that, being the most intelligent sentient in the land, and the wisest besides, then they are naturally the best suited for the task. How can a complete moron run the show and give the people the best that they deserve?

The current King may be well-liked, but his poor administration of the economy is going to bankrupt the system, and then where will the kingdom be? His other moron advisors don't see the danger, and the people are just glad that taxes are low and the crops are good. One bad season will turn the current good days into the worst kind.

The military is sorely lacking (and one attack from the north and the kingdom would be lost); they are undermanned (a draft or mandatory service policy may be necessary) and poorly trained. Sure, there's peace in the land today, but how long can that last? And when it ends, will they be able to weather the war to come? If they act now and strengthen themselves, then the answer will be yes, but going the way the current king is going, that won't happen. He might be observing a peace accord, but that accord, so thinks our villain, is one-sided and sorely hamstringing this, our homeland. Time to act!

Players may run into this scenario a year or two later, when the taxes are high, the military are aggressive thugs, there's no food (just as predicted by the now-emperor, the weather turned bad and there hasn't been any crops the last couple of seasons). There's plenty of food for the military, of course (because they steal what little there is from the peasants and augment that by stealing more from the neighboring counties) but the tyranny from the palace is insufferable. The population hates the current administration, but what can they do? The military is loyal to the emperor; there's no hope.

Sure, the emperor is the bad guy here, but is he evil?
Probably not.
Will your characters ever find out?
Probably not.
Does it matter?
Probably not.

To many civilizations the Roman Empire was the evil body. They came to conquer and absorb into their territory the known world, kind of like the Borg, when you think of it. But even the Borg (if you're a Star Trek TNG fan you'll recall an episode called "I, Borg") didn't realize that the civilizations that they absorbed didn't want to be integrated into Borg society. I'm thinking the Romans knew, though.

Were the Romans evil? I certainly don't think so; they went out of their way to support and protect those regions that they conquered (remember the Life of Brian: "Sure, but in addition to the aqueducts, the roads, schools, and the safe streets, what have the Romans brought to us? Nothing!?"). They were the bad guys in most cases, to be sure, but they weren't evil.

Bottom line: the simple fact that someone is doing something that other people don't like, doesn't make the first party evil, or even bad. In any conflict, the other side is the enemy. They are generally considered the bad guy, and often portrayed as evil. That means, in most any conflict there are two teams of bad guys: us and them. There are also two teams of good guys: them and us.

I think.

An article by Johan

*Photo saved many years ago from a site I do not recall. I'll gladly give credit if someone recognizes it.