Good, Evil, Nature, and Druids
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  1. #1
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    Good, Evil, Nature, and Druids

    If you have some sort of druid-type characters in your campaign (i.e., some sort of magic user who channels the forces of the natural world), how do they fit into your cosmology and metaphysics?

    Is Nature aligned with gods of Good or Evil? Does it have a moral component? Could you have an evil druid? Would Nature care about that? Or a druid of death (since death is a part of life)?

    What about the trope of a tainted wilderness? Might there be druids who have strayed so far from Nature's path that the animals they create are warped abominations? What's the fluff behind this? Could there be a druid who is partial to Lovecraftian horrors (or demons, elementals, undead creatures, etc.), drawing power from a different "Nature" entirely?

    How do you imagine druids, Nature, and druidic orders and organizations in your game world(s)?

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    Nature is one of those elements that I always write up as almost something of a "blue/orange" alignment. From the perspective of humans, nature can seem violent and chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous, but from the perspective of nature, there's a rhythm and order to everything. Druids subscribe to the ideas of natural order, but like the various civilizations of men, "order" can mean anything from survival of the fittest to an "everything in its place and a place for everything".

    Nature is typically not aligned with traditional good and evil (which even in D&D, is at worst judeo-christian in design or at best greco-roman). The "natural order" favors bringing life when it is needed, and death when it is needed, but rarely when either of those things are wanted, but not in a Thanos perfect-balance "true neutral" way either. Most people (in my worlds) see nature as good, they associate it with life and food and things like that, but there are elements associated with evil (winter, floods, droughts). Nature just sees these things as "things" they're not good or evil.

    An "evil" druid would likely be more of a "we think he's evil because he kills people and destroys villages sometimes, even of those people are jerks to trees or those villages are destroying the forest". Mushrooms and swamps are no more "evil" to druids than pine trees and posies are "good". If an "evil" druid got out of hand by going full eco-terrorist, "Nature" would respond by getting other druids to deal with it. You'll never find a druid who destroys nature, but you may find a druid who heals one tree and kills another with (to the outside viewer) seemingly no rhyme or reason why he saved one and not the other.

    There are certainly druids who take "sides" on life and death and thus get perceived as good or evil by outsiders but they're no more good or evil from an internal perspective than rot or new growth.

    Yes, there are "warped" druids. They're typically druids who buy in to (either on purpose, or by outside influence) external morality systems. "Nature" does consider them bad. But these aren't necessarily ones driven mad by old gods or corrupted by demons (though they're more likely to be), in the same way that you can be too lawful good, you can want to sprout more trees than an area can support, birth too many rabbits or birds beyond what a biome can support, save every tree from rot, wipe away all fungus and so forth.

    I once made an entire cult of demon-corrupted druids, the demons were trying to sever the material plane's connection to the "plane of life" (a Beastlands sort of plane) and driven mad by the effects of that they were unable to hold any one form, so their features were constantly shifting between various animals. (it was some good body horror times) They went on a massive war against civilization (and were winning) though with some irony they tried to actually bring the Plane of Life to the material plane, which certainly didn't help.

    Other than that, Druidic orders tend to be transient, learning to be a druid is mostly self-taught, you go into nature and harmonize with the plants and the trees and the earth and revere nature and maybe you'll become a druid. Druids otherwise are inclined to a nomadic existence to experience as much of nature as possible. They are drawn towards places where nature is in danger and that's when they're most likely to meet up but even then they're not likely to stick around unless some threat persists.
    Last edited by Immortal Sun; Saturday, 27th April, 2019 at 02:17 AM.
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  3. #3
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    @uzirath - my conception of druids for FRGP purposes is heavily shaped by the following passages from the 1st ed AD&D rulebooks (sblocked for space):

    Spoiler:
    PHB pp 20-21, 33:

    [Druids] are the only absolute neutrals . . . . viewing good and evil, law and chaos, as balancing forces of nature which are necessary for the continuation of all things. . . . They hold trees (particularly oak and ash), the sun, and the moon as deities. . . . They have an obligation to protect trees and wild plants, crops, and to a lesser extent, their human followers and animals. . . .

    The "true" neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect - evil and good, chaos and law - of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the "wheel" surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces - such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be.

    DMG, p 23:

    Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary part or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order for chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this naturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. Absolute neutrality is in the central or fulcrum position quite logically, as
    the neutral sees all other alignments as parts of a necessary whole. This alignment is the narrowest in scope.


    This is different from the 2nd ed AD&D notion of true neutral = actively maintaining the balance of power between aligned forces. And we don't see the ridiculous I must do evil because the paladins have been winning lately nonsense. Rather, the original AD&D conception of the true neutral outlook is as a naturallistic one: human agency is a threat to the balance. So the goal isn't to exert agency in order to counteract others' agency, but is to avoid the exercise of agency, so as to allow nature to take its course.

    The contrast beteween the TN druid and the good character, therefore, is not in what they hope for - of course both prefer a world in which there is less suffering, more truth and beauty, etc - but in their view of what is to be done. The good character believes that human agency can improve things, and that humans therefore have a duty to act, and thus the good character will tend to regard the TN as (at best) too passive and (at worst) as cynical or uncaring.

    I think there are clear examples of this sort of outlook to be found in real-world religous and philosophical traditions, but for reasons of board rules I'll refrain from naming them.

    This understanding of the TN outlook tends to make it not a very good alignment for a typical PC: it's the outlook of hermits, a certain sort of prophet, a certain sort of mentor, etc. As a PC alignment/orientation, it could work if the druid was played as an aspect of nature, working (but without agency) to blunt the unbalancing effects of others' agency.

    There is the following passage on p 21 of the PHB which I think is, on its surface, in tension with the general tenor of true neutrality:

    If druids observe any creature destroying their charges, the druids are unlikely to risk their lives to prevent the destruction. Rather, it is probable that the druids will seek retribution and revenge at a later date as opportunity presents itself.

    I think this only makes sense if we see (and if we take the druids to regard themselves) as aspects of nature working itself out. Again, this might be a way of setting up a TN PC.
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    Quote Originally Posted by uzirath View Post
    If you have some sort of druid-type characters in your campaign (i.e., some sort of magic user who channels the forces of the natural world), how do they fit into your cosmology and metaphysics?

    Is Nature aligned with gods of Good or Evil? Does it have a moral component? Could you have an evil druid? Would Nature care about that? Or a druid of death (since death is a part of life)?
    Good and evil are largely about impact on sentient beings, and about the motivations of sentient beings. Nature does not make moral distinctions between people. It acts outside the moral and ethical frameworks of societies.

    It takes a little bit of effort to be a particularly evil (or good) druid in my worlds, largely because having an alignment typically requires actions taken specifically to have good or evil outcomes - and since nature does not make that distinction, but the character is making that distinction, we have a case where the character's goals are not in alignment with their patron power's goals, and that's a recipe of having your powers taken away.

    "Look, you were assigned to protect this forest from harm, excesses and abuse. You chose to implement this by systematically destroying every village within a day's ride of the border. That's... excessive, and not needed for your charge. We asked you to keep them from clear-cutting the trees, and instead you clear-cut them? That's not what we are about here in the Druid's Conclave..."

    It can be managed if you have druids representing specific aspects of nature, rather than *all* of nature at once. A druid focused on storms can rip the crap out of human towns, so long as they are being all stormy about it. If they do it by poison... well, again, they are going out of their bailiwick.

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    Druids to me can be good, evil or neither in the settings I run, as these are orthagonal to base morality the druid needs to embrace.

    Even within the druids there can be a lot of variation. Wildfires are a necessary part of forest management, yet many would look askance at that from someone they would consider "nature loving". But that word "loving" is the trap there - nature is. Just like predators and prey or flashfloods are part of the natural balance, there are many ways to play a druid who encourages/protects/enhances the cycles of nature in addition to the "hippie tree hugger" that are a druid stereotype. (No disrespect to "hippie tree huggers", I myself was an avid hiker, camper and "nature lover" when younger.)

    Do others view them as good, evil, indifferent? Well, they will have different priorities than many of the civilized (or uncivilized) races. I actually think it's pretty easy for settlement dwellers to call a druid evil when their expansion hits into a area protected by a druid, even though the druid works with the best of intentions and would consider themselves good.
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    Quote Originally Posted by uzirath View Post
    If you have some sort of druid-type characters in your campaign (i.e., some sort of magic user who channels the forces of the natural world), how do they fit into your cosmology and metaphysics?

    Is Nature aligned with gods of Good or Evil? Does it have a moral component? Could you have an evil druid? Would Nature care about that? Or a druid of death (since death is a part of life)?

    What about the trope of a tainted wilderness? Might there be druids who have strayed so far from Nature's path that the animals they create are warped abominations? What's the fluff behind this? Could there be a druid who is partial to Lovecraftian horrors (or demons, elementals, undead creatures, etc.), drawing power from a different "Nature" entirely?

    How do you imagine druids, Nature, and druidic orders and organizations in your game world(s)?
    Yes to all.
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    Nature, per se, at least in the sense that you mean it, is neutral. The universal framework or character of the universe has an alignment and nature is a product of that. Morale philosophers can argue over whether the universe is good, evil, chaotic, or lawful, or else leans towards one of those things, or else should lean toward one of those things. But nature itself is indifferent to it and makes no choices about it, but rather simply acts out its own nature. Nature is not conscious enough to make choices about it. Druids themselves, in the typical D&D cosmology believe, perhaps correctly, that the universal framework in which nature resides is morally neutral, and the neutrality of nature is proof of this, and that the universe is and ought to be neutral. Balance and harmony are perceived by not allowing sentient beings to upset this neutrality and shift the universe too far from its natural state.

    Heretical druids, as it were, perceive that this is short sighted, or that the universe is already out of balance and has to be made to tilt hard in one direction or the other to right that problem. For example, I can imagine a hypothetical evil druid deciding that sentient beings are inherently unbalancing and don't belong within the natural order at all, and therefore they all have to be eradicated.

    I should note that the Druid as a class, if not necessarily as a philosophy, has been itself eradicated from my homebrew world, and is replaced with the Shaman which I consider more flexible and to fit better within the setting.

    One bit of philosophizing further, it seems to me that the Good/Evil axis and the Chaos/Law axis differ in that Chaos/Law seem to differ mostly over what the universe is, where as Good/Evil seem to differ mostly over what the universe ought to be. But I suppose of course there might be exceptions to that, for example someone agreeing that the universe is chaos but asserting that it ought to be lawful. However, for my part, if you assert the universe is chaos but ought to be lawful, or the other way around, then your tending toward asserting that the universe as it is ought to be destroyed, and unless that statement contains or is followed up with some sort of rescue plan, then it is fundamentally hard to distinguish that position from the position of absolute evil.

    Nature on the other hand is just there, and if it actually reached the point where it was conscious enough to start asking these questions, it wouldn't be 'Nature' as you mean it any more.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue View Post
    Do others view them as good, evil, indifferent? Well, they will have different priorities than many of the civilized (or uncivilized) races. I actually think it's pretty easy for settlement dwellers to call a druid evil when their expansion hits into a area protected by a druid, even though the druid works with the best of intentions and would consider themselves good.
    This reminds me of the complex moral landscape in one of my favorite movies, Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. In D&D terms, Lady Eboshi was some flavor of "good," yet she was despoiling the wilderness and was thus opposed by the wolf god, Moro, and her ward, San. If there were druids in the story, they would likely be allied with the latter two. I like that sort of complexity in my games.

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    Seed Growth Disease Rot Death and Decay, what is Life? Nature is the process of creation and destruction, it cares not for your petty moralities. The Druid understands the Cycle of Life, the Druid is the growth of the seed and its final rot, the prey and the predator, the gentle rains and the raging hurricane, all is Life and it is Life that must Survive.

    A Shark Druid might be a fierce and blood-frenzied eater of humanoids, a Rot Druid might have a mission of encouraging disease and decay, they would be antagonistic to humanoids but in their own minds they arent evil.

    the caveat is that Humanoids are also a Living creature and thus part of Nature - a Druid who becomes genocidal to the extent that she threatened the survival of Humans would be considered a heretic by other Druids.
    Last edited by Tonguez; Sunday, 28th April, 2019 at 02:54 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tonguez View Post
    A Shark Druid might be a fierce and blood-frenzied eater of humanoids, a Rot Druid might have a mission of encouraging disease and decay, they would be antagonistic to humanoids but in their own minds they arent evil.
    This brings up a good point.

    For one thing, a great many vile people out there don't consider themselves to be evil. But, in several editions of D&D, what you consider yourself to be is irrelevant - the Multiverse stands as an absolute judge, and that judgement has implications about how some magics interact with you.

    5e? Not so much. Alignment has no mechanical implications, and is only a quick guideline for the GM when playing NPCs.
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