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D&D General D&D doesn't need Evil

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Here's an idea:

D&D doesn't need evil.

I would argue that no D&D adventure actually needs the concepts of "good" and "evil" to be successful. D&D only needs the idea of an "objective" and "adversaries." Good and Evil are often shorthand for these, but are not needed.

Let's take an extremely simple adventure:

A necromancer has occupied a local dungeon, and their skeletons and zombies are raiding a nearby village for resources. The characters are hired to stop the necromancer.

Does the necromancer have to be evil? Let's say the necromancer has hired some Tough Guys as guards. Do they need to be evil?

In my opinion, no. They only need to oppose the characters, and try to prevent the characters from achieving their goal. This is all the justification needed for characters to use their tools and abilities against them.

In this sample adventure, all the "enemies" just need motivation- what they want. The necromancer wants to raise an army of undead in order to attack a nearby kingdom. The Toughs want to protect the necromancer because they're getting paid. The villagers want to be left alone in peace. Whether the necromancer or the toughs or even the villagers are good, neutral, or evil are pretty irrelevant.

Now I'll admit that Good and Evil tend to be shorthands for motivation. But to me, the ideas of Good and Evil are so subjective that they are less useful than actual motivations.

What do you think?

QUICK NOTE: Because past threads about alignment have gotten heated, let's please stay away from prescribing what other people should do at their own tables, or passing judgment on if other people are doing things right or wrong. This can be a constructive argument!
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
First, although D&D indeed does not need evil in itself, D&D has been designed to simulate High Fantasy, where evil is a common concept.

Second, just because you don't put evil labels doesn't mean that evil does not exist. Raising dead people and condemning them to an eternity of suffering as your servants is clearly evil. Defending someone that is doing this to villagers is certainly not good.

You can indeed create more subtle adventures than this one where characters have more murky motivations, and Eberron (which is still D&D as far as I checked) does this very well.

So it's not a question of D&D needing evil or not, it's all about the setting and you clearly have settings which don't need evil (although Eberron still enjoys it where it makes sense, which loops back to Fantasy principles).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Given that very few games have Evil (with a capital-E), pretty much, yeah. D&D doesn't need it.

Though, I don't think "objective" or "adversary" really function, because that which is wrong in the world is as often associated with the method as it is with the objective.

Describe the necromancer as a reprehensible, power hungry man with no respect for life, and a willingness to destroy or corrupt anything in his way, and the point gets made more thoroughly.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
Given that very few games have Evil (with a capital-E), pretty much, yeah. D&D doesn't need it.
  • Baldur's Gate - Descent into Avernus: Devils
  • Ghost of Saltmarsh: Sa****ins
  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen / Rise of Tiamat: Tiamat
  • Icewind Dale - Rime of the Frostmaiden: A***l
  • Out of the Abyss: Demon Lords
  • Princes of the Apocalypse: Elemental Evil(s)
  • Tomb of Annihilation: A*****k
So I dare say that most published campaigns have Evil with a capital E, and I've not done the whole list because of spoilers...
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
A term that cannot be defined, is worthless as a 'crunch' or game defined term.

Absolutes don't serve well in these discussions. It is hard to argue that it is completely without worth, when the game has used it for decades, and likely dozens of folks here who are willing to say it worked just find for them. It has some value, but that value is mitigated by the vague nature of the thing.

But, the same can be said for a great many of the rules - Gygax was not actually a very good technical writer.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Describe the necromancer as a reprehensible, power hungry man with no respect for life, and a willingness to destroy or corrupt anything in his way, and the point gets made more thoroughly.
Sure, but if you described him that way to a group that has never even heard of alignment, they'd still be like, "That's an evil dude." The real world concepts of good and evil are so common that even if it's not spoken out loud, they will still occur to the players and be easily recognizable in the game when they happen. I don't think good and evil can be removed from D&D, even if they are never explicitly mentioned.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So I dare say that most published campaigns have Evil with a capital E..

I said games not campaigns.

White Wolf? Nope.
Shadowrun? Nope.
GURPS? Nope.
Fate? Nope.
Cortex? Nope.
Gumshoe? Nope.
Savage Worlds? Nope.

I daresay Evil with a capital E as a game term is pretty much restricted to D&D and it's blood-kin. The rest of the RPG world largely does without it.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
I said games not campaigns.

White Wolf? Nope.
Shadowrun? Nope.
GURPS? Nope.
Fate? Nope.
Cortex? Nope.
Gumshoe? Nope.
Savage Worlds? Nope.

I daresay Evil with a capital E is pretty much restricted to D&D and it's blood-kin. The rest of the RPG world largely does without it.

My apologies for misunderstanding (I thought you were speaking about D&D games being run since this is a D&D board) but then it ties back to what D&D is simulating and the associated settings....
 


Scribe

Hero
Absolutes don't serve well in these discussions. It is hard to argue that it is completely without worth, when the game has used it for decades, and likely dozens of folks here who are willing to say it worked just find for them. It has some value, but that value is mitigated by the vague nature of the thing.
Fair enough, but I have to wonder for those who get some value, if they are not subconscious or consciously filling out more what Evil is, or means within either their game, or setting.

I'm talking big E, Evil as game construct, vs evil as behavior or perspective on behavior.

Big E Evil, in all the threads we have had on this has no universally accepted definition.

At least not when I've asked.
 



Lyxen

Great Old One
Big E Evil, in all the threads we have had on this has no universally accepted definition.

Whether it's accepted or not is another matter, but every single edition of the game that had evil as an alignment has had a definition for it. It might have been fuzzy, and some people might have disliked or refused it, but every single edition made an attempt at defining it.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
I admit those play evil with a flavored style. Just the others!

I know, I was teasing you a bit there, but I find it interesting that, with GRRM trying his best to break as many conventions of the genre as possible, and creating very deep characters with complex motivations, he still added Evil (with a very big E) to his world as main adversaries.
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I'm fairly certain that normal people don't sleep with their sisters and toss little boys off of towers to their deaths. :p
Well, it's an interesting case. Because I know that my love for Game of Thrones is mostly because of its gray characters. Characters that do bad things, yet are shown to be doing it for reasons that makes sense for them. People that have good hearts, but do terrible things as they deem them necessary.

You can't really watch the show, or read the books and say that Jaime Lannister is an evil character. And for the history period/setting? He's not so far from what you'd consider normal.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, it's an interesting case. Because I know that my love for Game of Thrones is mostly because of its gray characters. Characters that do bad things, yet are shown to be doing it for reasons that makes sense for them. People that have good hearts, but do terrible things as they deem them necessary.

You can't really watch the show, or read the books and say that Jaime Lannister is an evil character. And for the history period/setting? He's not so far from what you'd consider normal.
He changed after he lost his hand, but before that he was a right evil bastard. Not a whole lot of redeeming anything going on up until that point.
 

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