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    2e Greyhawk and Moral "Gray Areas"
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    Joined: Mar 17, 2021
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    Fri Mar 26, 2021 7:33 am  
    2e Greyhawk and Moral "Gray Areas"

    I noticed a minor but persistent theme in AD&D 2nd Edition Greyhawk products that emphasized the "gray area" in moral matters. Examples would include the "honest bandits" adventure in From the Ashes, the grieving Verbeeg in one of the City of Greyhawk adventures or the Ogre converts to Pholtus from the same boxed set. Monsters are not always what they seem in later AD&D Greyhawk. What is your take on this? Did Greyhawk regularly delve into the "grey" areas as a setting?
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    Fri Apr 02, 2021 8:34 am  

    Your post made me recall the old essay by Nitescreed, which is available in a Best of Greyhawk PDF.

    I think the original post was compiled into its own PDF, and possibly revised, but this version is the much-debated original, and it provides a time portal into the early online Greyhawk community on the AOL message boards.
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    Sat Apr 03, 2021 2:26 am  

    Personally I like an element of moral ambiguity. I think Greyhawk totally lends itself to that vibe too. For example, during the Greyhawk Wars Perrenland made a truce with the unabashedly evil Iuz. Perrenland is officially a LG nation but they were prepared to overlook Iuz's horrific actions to safeguard themselves. Ket even sided with Iuz but they're not an 'evil' nation. I mean even most of the 'Good' nations have a history of seizing territory through force of arms and let's not get started on the genocide committed in the Hateful Wars by the goodly demihumans!

    So yeah, moral ambiguity is definitely there in Greyhawk.

    That being said it, how much ambiguity I use depends on my players. Some players enjoy the moral quandary of are orcs born evil or should they be given a chance whereas others just want to wind down and hack up some things whilst graverobbing the tonbs of their ancestors.
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    Wed Apr 07, 2021 7:49 am  

    Neutral alignments= moral ambiguity.

    It was always present in the game.

    But I think it can easily be taken too far. Good-aligned guys don't have to all be saints, but they ought to generally behave in a virtuous manner and try to do what's right.
    Evil characters needn't all kick puppies, but they really should be bad. If they aren't generally nasty and corrupt, then N may be a better choice.[/b]
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    Thu Apr 08, 2021 10:45 pm  

    FormerlyKnownasNorker wrote:

    Evil characters needn't all kick puppies..

    I'm pretty sure that it states this as a requirement in the DMG!:D

    For me, moral quandaries are something that grow, organically, out of the game. Sure, you can set things up that way (I've used the Dungeon adventure 'Trouble at Grog's' for this very purpose), but I prefer it when the players themselves start questioning the motives of the good guys, the bad guys or their patron.

    I really, really hate WotC's corporate guff about 'not all drow are evil'. That is to confuse fantasy with reality & potentially devalues the seriousness of discrimination & oppression in the real world.
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    Sat Apr 10, 2021 10:46 am  

    DriveByPoster wrote:

    I really, really hate WotC's corporate guff about 'not all drow are evil'. That is to confuse fantasy with reality & potentially devalues the seriousness of discrimination & oppression in the real world.

    I get what you mean but I don't think it devalues the seriousness of these topics in the real world at all. I don't think that it's possible to separate fantasy from reality as the former is a distortion of the latter. Topics such as discrimination & oppression are core themes in the majority of fantasy settings and in settings like Greyhawk they are understood to be cruel things not performed by good people.

    Personally I think that the 'not all drow are evil guff' or 'evil is nurture not nature' can be a really important thing to explore. In the real world it's very easy to point your finger and say 'oh this group are the villains' but reality is shades of grey not black and white. If anything, I'd say that perpetuating that binary moral approach undermines open-mindedness in the real world.

    I guess it very much comes down to the preferences of the players & the DM. Some players would rather not have a moral quandary during a game - they just want to kill some drow/orcs/cultists, take their treasure and go to sleep happy they stopped the bad guy which is a perfectly valid desire for a recreational game. Others are drawn to those moral quandaries.

    I belong to a historically much vilified minority as do many of the people I game with. To us, exploring the concept of people who vary from the assumed social expectation (eg a good drow/tiefling, cultured orc) is engaging & sometimes cathartic to explore through roleplay. Sometimes we also just want to blat things but having the option there is really nice. I think what Wizards & Paizo are enabling is variety of options to appeal to a wider range of players. Inclusion is a good thing. Plus it's not like you have to go with it as a DM I suppose and at the end of the day it simply comes down to whether or not alignment, in your campaign, is nature or nurture.
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    Mon Sep 05, 2022 10:21 am  

    An old thread but a fascinating subject.

    Greyhawk is fantastic for incorporating moral ambiguities. I recall Gygax mentioning someplace that Prince Thrommel was kidnapped by the Scarlet Brotherhood but SB was acting in the employ of Nyrond! How could that bastion of good justify using the SB or abducting a paladin??

    Or in the Marklands some Knights of the Hart want to annex Dyvers (whether Dyvers wants it or not).

    The thing I’ve had to keep telling myself is that alignment isn’t etched on anyone’s forehead. And what’s right and good has both subjective and objective components to it. If you believe that a strong Nyrond is the best hope for good in the Flanaess, that belief can justify a lot of things without shifting alignment from good to neutral. At least I think (I’m not convinced anyone really understands how alignment is supposed to work, even Gygax himself).

    I’ve never liked the “not all drow are evil” concept either (though Gygax had a neutral drow being tortured in the Fane of Lolth). But I don’t think moral grayness requires such ham fisted scenarios of dealing with a band of good drow, or orcs, etc,

    There are many “enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenarios in classic Greyhawk modules that can create these dilemmas for players. My LG dwarf character had no trouble teaming up with the water temple to take out the fire temple in ToEE, but couldn’t bring himself to work with the rebel orcs in the giant series. Maybe that was discrimination at work. Or maybe just bad role playing on my part (I do think back on ToEE and can only justify how I played based on expediency, which now doesn’t sound very LG to me).

    When I played through the GDQ series, my DM threw a curve ball at me by showing a group of dwarves (the smith-slaves from the female fighters society) being whipped by a group of female drow. Setting aside the inherent evilness of the scene, my dwarf PC hated slavery. But we are on a ticking clock to stop Lolth at that point and I decided my character’s vow to save Sterich took precedence over saving those dwarves. The DM did a nice job of making me feel really guilty about it. So much so that the survivors of the Demonweb promptly returned to the Vault to free them (the chaos of Lolth’s defeat was probably the only thing that allowed us to accomplish that goal, so maybe we made the right call). The DM was sometimes a softy, which was probably why the dwarves were still alive to free.

    S4 starts out with the PCs being hired by the Marquis of Bissel, whose objective is to obtain Iggwilv’s treasure before Ket or Veluna can get hold of it. I always thought a great addition to that adventure would be a confrontation between the PCs and a group of adventures in the service of Veluna. Both groups have sworn to recover the treasure for their respective patron and must fight for possession. A tragic ending, but not one that would make either group evil, in my mind.
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    Thu Dec 15, 2022 11:38 am  

    It's probably worth mentioning that Gygax himself opened the possibility of non-evil or at least less evil drow in D3 Vault of the Drow.

    Under the Rakes random encounter (page 16): "The bands with elven-Drow members will be hostile to all they perceive as part of the system which prevails in their world, and the Dark Elves with them are of the few who are neither totally degenerate nor wholly evil--they are haters of the society around them and see no good in it."

    Then there is Nilonim, who "is of neutral alignment with a slight tendency towards good deeds" (page 21) that Califor mentioned.

    But, yes, drow are generally Chaotic Evil, much like Halflings are generally Lawful Good. There's plenty of wiggle room for specific characters who are different. Though I feel that there are probably more evil Halflings in print than canonically good Drow.
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    Sat Dec 17, 2022 10:19 am  

    I always find the demihumans who veer away from their standard racial alignment interesting: Obmi and Markessa leap to mind.

    It also makes much more sense that there would be more variance in demihuman alignment than we often see. To be honest half the time elves and dwarves seem more neutral than good and the hierarchical description of grey elves doesn't seem very Choatic either. Interestingly, on p.44 of the WoG Guide Celene's predominant alignments are shown as NG, TN & LN whereas Highvale is indeed CG as is the County of Ulek.

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    Sat Dec 17, 2022 8:01 pm  

    I have always considered demi-humans, including drow, to have agency. The alignments given to them in the Monster Manual(s) are no more than generalities.

    As Califor and Lareth mentioned, the non-evil drow in D3 Vault of the Drow make that perfectly canon. Arguing that all drow are inherently evil is as unsupportable a claim as arguing that all dwarves are Lawful Good and all elves are Chaotic Good. Canon has already proved otherwise. Those listed alignments are simply societal tendencies.

    In my own campaign, I justify it by demonstrating that the human and demi-human pantheons of gods include members of all alignments. Conversely, the humanoid pantheons include only gods of evil alignments. Humanoids were not blessed with agency by their creator pantheons.

    Drow society as evil may be explained by the myth that Lolth and the other elven gods that rebelled against the original elven pantheon (led by Corellan Larethion) were all evil. However, two things prevent all drow from being inherently evil. First, they still have agency, being elves. Second, some few of those elven deities that rebelled with Lolth turned from their evil ways and sought to bring the drow back to the light (e.g. Eilistraee). Thus, though few may turn from the darkness they are taught to embrace since infancy, they still may do so. Humanoids lack the capacity to do anything more than imitate goodness. They can never freely choose it.

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    Fri Sep 15, 2023 9:26 pm  

    One thing to consider is the spirits versus souls split in Deities and Demigods and Manual of the Planes.

    Drow are elves, and elves don't have souls. That's why raise dead doesn't work on them. Elves, like orcs and goblins, have spirits.

    Humans, hobbits, dwarves, and gnomes all have souls.

    Critters with spirits reincarnate. Their afterlives in the Outer Planes are transitory. They ordinarily come back to the Prime as beings of the same sort.

    Critters with souls ordinarily live one life and then pass on permanently to the Outer Planes.

    So, most orcs are nasty baddies, and when they die, the go to Acheron (or the Hells) for a time before being recycled into new orcs on the Prime.

    Most elves are goodies and when they die, they go to Olympus/Arvandor. After a time, their spirits return to the Prime as new elves.

    Orcs are incarnated evil spirits.

    Elves are incarnated good spirits.

    Something think is implied by the spirit stuff about reincarnation is the concept of racial tendencies toward alignment based on a genetic memory or psychic echo of past lives.
    Maybe the books even state that outright? I'd have to check.

    I think both races have free will. An individual orc can repent from evil, and an elf can turn out wicked and cruel.
    But this alignment shift breaks the cycle. When the aberrant one dies, his spirit goes to the 'wrong' outer plane. And when it comes back, it presumably comes back as something else. An evil elf doesn't see Arvandor when he dies, but a Lower Plane. Like, say, the Abyss...
    Combine this selecting out with an inborn tendency to the spirits' alignment and you get (true) elves who are chaotic good by default and drow who are predominately chaotic evil.

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    Fri Sep 15, 2023 9:35 pm  

    In GH, Ehlonna may be a more important elf deity than the Seldarine in the Ulek lands and some other places. That may skew some elves toward Neutrality in the Ulek lands.
    I'm presuming Ehlonna sends her elf followers back as elves. And, if they do go to her when they die...Well, she lives on the Prime! That's going to be interesting.

    RE evil hobbits, I agree. Iuz and his evil hobbits! Minifigs!
    Hobbits have souls and free will, so it makes sense to me more of them go bad than drow, orcs, etc go good.

    Unlike the elves, the racial pantheon for dwarves includes an evil god, Abbathor.
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