The Political Philosophy of Dungeons And Dragons Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the DM
What is the first rule of being a Dungeon Master who wants to enjoy a long campaign of Dungeons and Dragons with his friends?
Maybe, “know the rules.”
Maybe, “it’s about the players, not about you.” Not bad candidates. But there is another:
Do not allow evil characters.
Do not allow one evil character. Do not allow an entire party of evil characters.
Why does every DM know this rule?
Is it because DM and players are moral prudes? Far from it.
Is it because it’s rare that a group can feel comfortable role playing evil characters? I can almost assure you, they probably all play and enjoyed immensely the deeply evil game Grand Theft Auto.
Because every DM knows, from experience and conversations with more experienced players and dungeon masters, that evil doesn’t work.
Evil players destroy the party. Evil parties destroy themselves. Every now and then a group tries, they all promise to play “evil, not stupid evil.”
And, everything falls apart.
Evil doesn’t work. Or rather, it’s incredibly hard to make it work. Harder even than being good. It’s allure is that it looks easy, not that it is. It’s literally as hard as hell.
This is not a trait of role-playing games, but it a trait of good and evil.
Being good does not gaurantee success, not in DND, not in real-life.
But being evil almost always gaurantees failure, or at least a sub-optimal outcome.
Con artists know this. They are themselves evil and greedy and will openly declare that it is extraordinarily hard to con a good person, smart or dumb. But they can con a greedy person.
Think of the evil people. Not the phantoms of your imagination, and not the venal sins of everyone, but that extraordinarily evil ones you’ve met face-to-face.
How many of them, be honest, is it really working all that well for?
Having things go badly is not a sign of being evil, but being evil makes things go badly.
The schemes never work.
The brutal landlord…he’s a slum lord, isn’t he?
The lying salesman…works on a sleezy used-car lot, doesn’t he?
The drug dealer sells poison for the promise of wealth…and the latest data shows that he mostly has less to show for it than he would have made devoting the same effort at a MacDonalds.
But, aren’t there bad rich people? Yes, there are, but their story is usually a little different. They don’t set out with a crooked scheme. They set out with an idea, an invention, something cool, something they think other people will think is cool. They get rich, they become successful and powerful, and then the choice comes: they can be even richer, even more successful, even more powerful….but they have to backstab someone. They have to pay a bribe. Google’s “first, do no evil” becomes “for billions, of course we will censor the Xinxiang genocide.”
But the wheels start coming off. A decade ago, Google was everyone programmer’s dream job. Now, it’s much more ambivalent. Regulators are looking at them under a harsh light, and no one really cares to stick up for them.
Evil doesn’t work.
What about Nazism? Nazism “worked” for about a decade, and then died under the artillery fire of nearly every other nation on earth.
What about Communism? Soviet communism worked for 60 years and collapsed under the weight of its own lies. Chinese communism, born 30 years later, is slowly collapsing before our eyes now, 30 years later.
What about slavery? Slavery did work for a very long time, but it too died, and not so differently than Nazism, when you look at the history of Sherman’s “march to the sea.” And it didn’t exactly work all that well. The Northern tycoon was richer after paying his workers than the Southern plantation owner could dream of being after not.
What about the evil excesses of capitalism? The robber baron phase lasted no more than a few decades.
What are the implications?
That anything which says that evil is winning, that things are evil through and through, that success is because of (and not despite) evil, should be suspect. If it seems evil, and it is working, one of three things is most likely true:
- It isn’t evil.
- It is evil and isn’t working.
- It is evil and is working because the evil is venal: it is incidental. It drags upon but does not destroy the host.
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