Elemental Dragons 1: Black/Water Dragons

These are full write-ups, from my notes, of the five types of elemental dragon in the setting I was calling Tian Xia, but am now calling Heaven and Earth. They are based on the Taoist elemental system, with inspiration from East Asian mythology. These are all a work in progress, so feedback is welcome.

Panel with Dragon, 17th Century, China. The Met

Black/Water Dragons

Territorial and secretive, black dragons are found near water, and some never come onto land at all. They are comfortable swimming beneath the ice or through tropical shallows, and their lairs are usually only accessible by underwater passages. Black dragons often have long, coiling bodies and tails, four limbs, and beards, though they can come in a wide variety of body types drawing inspiration from any aquatic animal. When threatened, black dragons will often try to evoke fear and uncertainty, though like any dragon they are more than formidable in combat.

Black/Water Dragon Wyrmling

Medium dragon, balanced (Neutral)

Armor Class 17 (natural)

6d8 +12

Speed 30’, swim 30’

Str 17 +3, Dex 12 +1, Con 15 +2, Int 12 +1, Wis 13 +1, Cha 15 +2

Saving Throws Dex +3, Con +4, Int +3, Cha +4

Skills Perception +4, Stealth +3

Damage Immunities Cold

Damage Vulnerabilities Acid and poison

Condition Immunities frightened

Senses Blindsight 10’, Darkvision 60’, Passive perception DC 14

Languages Draconic, Primordial (water)

Challenge 2

Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target. Hit: (1d10 +3) piercing damage.

Breath Weapon (5-6) Cold breath. The dragon exhales an icy blast in a 15’ cone. Each creature in the area must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw, taking 4d8 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

Black Qi Aura (5-6). The dragon channels and radiates black elemental qi in a 15’ radius. Each creature in the area must make a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened. If a creature ends its turn outside the aura, it can re-roll the saving throw.

Young Black/Water Dragon

Large dragon, balanced (Neutral)

Armor Class 18 (natural)

16d10 +64

Speed 30’, swim 30’

Str 21 +5, Dex 12 +1, Con 19 +4, Int 14 +2, Wis 13 +1, Cha 19 +4

Saving Throws Dex +5, Con +8, Int +6, Cha +8

Skills Arcana +6, Intimidation +8, Perception +9, Stealth +5

Damage Immunities Cold

Damage Vulnerabilities Acid and poison

Condition Immunities frightened

Senses Blindsight 30’, Darkvision 120’, Passive perception DC 19

Languages Regional language, Draconic, Primordial (water)

Challenge 9

Actions

Multiattack. The dragon makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 feet, one target. Hit: (2d10 +5) piercing damage.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target. Hit: (2d6 +5) slashing damage.

Breath Weapon (5-6) Cold breath. The dragon exhales an icy blast in a 30’ cone. Each creature in the area must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw, taking 12d8 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

Black Qi Aura (5-6). The dragon channels and radiates black elemental qi in a 30’ radius. Each creature in the area must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened. If a creature ends its turn outside the aura, it can re-roll the saving throw.

Adult Black/Water Dragon

Huge dragon, balanced

Armor Class 19 (natural)

18d12 +72

Speed 40’, swim 30’

Str 25 +7, Dex 12 +1, Con 23 +6, Int 16 +3, Wis 13 +1, Cha 21 +5

Saving Throws Dex +6, Con +11, Int +8, Cha +10

Skills Arcana +8, Intimidation +10, Perception +11, Stealth +6

Damage Immunities Cold

Damage Vulnerabilities Acid and poison

Condition Immunities frightened

Senses Blindsight 60’, Darkvision 120’, Passive perception DC 21

Languages Regional language, Draconic, Primordial (water)

Challenge 16

Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If the dragon fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.

Actions

Multiattack. The dragon can use its Black Qi Aura. It then makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 10 feet, one target. Hit: (3d10 +5) piercing damage.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target. Hit: (3d6 +5) slashing damage.

Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 15 feet, one target. Hit: (3d8 +5) bludgeoning damage.

Constrict. (if the dragon hits with the tail attack, it grapples if it wishes)

Breath Weapon (5-6) Cold breath. The dragon exhales an icy blast in a 60’ cone. Each creature in the area must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw, taking 13d8 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

Black Qi Aura. The dragon channels and radiates black elemental qi in a 60’ radius. Each creature in the area must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened. If a creature ends its turn outside the aura, it can re-roll the saving throw.

Legendary Actions

Detect.

Tail Attack. (costs 2 actions)

Constrict. (costs 2 actions)

Writhe (?) (twists suddenly, moving up to its speed but provokes no attacks of opportunity. Costs 3 actions)

Ancient Black/Water Dragon

Gargantuan dragon, balanced (Neutral)

Armor Class 23 (natural)

25d20 +200

Speed 40’, swim 30’

Str 29 +9, Dex 12 +1, Con 27 +8, Int 18 +4, Wis 15 +2, Cha 23 +6

Saving Throws Dex +8, Con +15, Int +11, Cha +13

Skills Arcana +11, Intimidation +13, Perception +16, Stealth +8

Damage Immunities Cold

Damage Vulnerabilities Acid and poison

Condition Immunities frightened

Senses Blindsight 60’, Darkvision 120’, Passive perception DC 26

Languages Regional language, Draconic, Primordial (water)

Challenge ?

Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If the dragon fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.

Actions

Multiattack. The dragon can use its Black Qi Aura. It then makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +16 to hit, reach 15 feet, one target. Hit: (4d10 +9) piercing damage.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +16 to hit, reach 10 feet, one target. Hit: (4d6 +9) slashing damage.

Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +16 to hit, reach 20 feet, one target. Hit: (4d8 +5) bludgeoning damage.

Constrict. If the dragon hits with its tail attack, it can immediately attempt to grapple the target. The DC to escape the grapple is 26.

Breath Weapon (5-6) Cold breath. The dragon exhales an icy blast in a 90’ cone. Each creature in the area must make a DC 24 Constitution saving throw, taking 15d8 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

Black Qi Aura. The dragon channels and radiates black elemental qi in a 90’ radius. Each creature in the area must make a DC 24 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened. If a creature ends its turn outside the aura, it can re-roll the saving throw.

Legendary Actions

Detect.

Tail Attack. (costs 2 actions)

Constrict. (costs 2 actions)

Writhe (?) (twists suddenly, moving up to its speed but provoking no attacks of opportunity. Costs 3 actions)

Black Dragon Lairs

Black dragons lair along remote coastlines and underwater in sunken cities, shipwrecks, and vast coral reefs. In cold waters they will augment their lair with ice created from their breath and shaped by patience and magic. Black dragons are often served by naga and stranger amphibious or aquatic creatures, and sometimes keep captives from the surface world trapped beneath the waves in pockets of air.

Black Dragon Lair Actions

On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the dragon takes a lair action to cause one of the following effects:

  • The dragon creates an area of fog, or cloudy water, as if it had cast the fog cloud spell.
  • The dragon shifts the direction of the tide or current within a 120 radius. This will clear area effects from the water and imposes disadvantage on swim rolls to swim against the direction of the tide or current.

Regional Effects

The region containing a legendary silver dragon’s lair is warped by the dragon’s magic, which creates one or more of the following effects.

  • Once per day, the dragon can alter the weather within 6 miles of its lair. Aside from the range, this is identical to the effects of a control weather spell. Usually, the dragon will call up storms and harsh weather to make approaching their lair more difficult.
  • Within 1 mile of the dragon’s lair, aquatic and amphibious creatures tend to grow larger and more intelligent than their kin, and the dragon is able to see through their eyes in order to spy on anyone approaching.
  • Because of their elemental nature, underwater vegetation within 1 mile of the dragon’s lair will tend to be lush and vibrant, and the rich shoals of fish have been known to attract fishermen who are never seen again.

 

Call of Cthulhu, Morality, and Sanity

I have an itch to run Call of Cthulhu, largely as a result of loving How We Roll’s podcast actual plays. I also know that my spouse likes Call of Cthulhu, or has in the past. One result of this is I have to decide which version of CoC to run. I own 5.1.2 and 5.6; they also recently released 7th edition, which looks awesome, and is also expensive.

(As a side note, I created my own hack of Call of Cthulhu, and I released rough PDFs of it for anyone who wants to use it here.)

Thinking of running Call of Cthulhu leads to me thinking about the Sanity mechanic. It has existed for a few decades now, and it is interesting, and sometimes controversial I think, and overall troublesome, and not just personally because I struggle with mental illness. It is troublesome because of the changing way we have come to understand mental illness since the game first came out in the 80s.

Morality and Sanity

One of the things that I think are missing from Call of Cthulhu’s Sanity mechanic is the idea that morality can insulate you from some kinds of trauma. If someone suffers for the sake of a higher ideal, it is different than just suffering as a victim of violence or abuse. Onyx Path games represent this, in that you often roll a dice pool based on your morality score to resist suffering derangement. It is far from a perfect system, but I like that it gives a motivation to have a high morality score, and also represents something I think that is a real part of how trauma works – that moral growth and moral commitment can insulate a person from some psychological harm.

Honestly, I don’t think that this can easily be added to Call of Cthulhu. A morality mechanic would be out of place in the system, which basically depends on a high starting Sanity score and careful play to keep investigators sane longer. (This is one of the reasons that we have a Conviction and Fear mechanic in Reckoning, a horror game designed in part due to frustration with other horror RPGs. It’s also a reason that I decided to use Mothership’s Stress mechanic in the hack I linked to above)

One idea would be to have ways to increase one’s Sanity between adventures through self-cultivation, which of course could take a lot of forms. Another idea could be moral ‘armor’ to protect against Sanity loss. Say you take a sacred vow, and it gives you a Sanity Armor score of 1, reducing all Sanity losses rolled by 1 as long as you maintain your vow. That’s a rough example, and I’m sure there are better ones, but I imagine you get the idea.

What Sanity Represents In Call of Cthulhu

When I think of insanity in Call of Cthulhu, I think of detachment rather than drooling or gibbering madness, much less the various things we’d think of as mental illness now. The horror in Lovecraft’s mythos is meaninglessness, or insignificance. There is the immediacy of fear and revulsion, but what follows is worse. There’s the famous quote from The Call of Cthulhu that I’ve seen so many times:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

That is the horror of detachment. It is the horror that causes the psyche to retreat from what it knows but doesn’t want to know – specifically, that one is adrift in an uncaring universe populated by monstrosities that are beyond comprehension. I also see this as an emotional detachment – one who has learned of the meaninglessness of human life and striving in the midst of the mythos hardly cares much about other people or even themselves. They are cut off, and those affected by the Mythos in the various stories seem to isolate themselves, or to become isolated, in various ways. They tend to disappear, or become hermits, or are committed to psychiatric wards (such as they were in the 20s and 30s).

Sanity and Empathy at The Mountains of Madness

One of the most interesting missing elements in Call of Cthulhu as a game is something reflecting the empathy shown in At the Mountains of Madness. A great example is this quote:

“Poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last — what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had faced things only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn — whatever they had been, they were men!”

Compared to the Shoggoths, the Old Ones seem like men to the narrator, geologist William Dyer. He has learned something of their ancient civilization, and though they first struck the expedition as dangerous monsters, by learning about them he comes to empathize with them. This empathy is what is missing from every version of Call of Cthulhu the RPG, as well as every Mythos story I can think of. I think that At the Mountains of Madness was something Lovecraft wrote late in his writing career, and that would make sense, as it shows some of his development as a writer and thinker.

Maybe it is that very empathy that enables Dyer to come out of the ordeal sane enough to write the story, framed as a warning to future expeditions to leave what was found in Antarctica alone. It would be interesting to see something of that empathy reflected in Mythos-inspired game design.

Maybe greater empathy would help keep us all sane.

Star Wars Thoughts: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Foreboding (Before I see it)

I already don’t like this movie’s title. It is a bad omen. Because this is the story of the end of the Skywalker saga. That’s the idea, anyway. We also already know that there was some last-minute post-production a month from release, and we know that this is once again a JJ Abrams joint, and he is famously bad at endings. Is this going to be Lost-ending-bad? I remember the crushing feeling of watching A Phantom Menace and realizing I was in for a Terrible Movie. I hope that isn’t true again. I have to think that Disney wouldn’t do that.

SHOUTING EXPOSITION!

The film is once again very much JJ Abrams, with characters shouting exposition to one another during action scenes. This isn’t in itself a bad thing in an action movie that demands some exposition, but the problem that I saw was that so much exposition was added in this, the final film. There wasn’t NEARLY enough time to give any character interactions or moments room to breathe and actually have an impact because we immediate raced to the next thing.

There’s the fakeout death and you’re not positive it isn’t a real death because nothing else in this thrill-ride has been given the slightest bit of time to develop so why would this? Then a scene later oh there it is, it’s a fake-out. But the characters don’t know that, and they are basically unmoved emotionally by what happened. Because we have to get to the next damn MacGuffin!

So Many MacGuffins!

This was just too much. Find the dagger and then find the person to reprogram the droid to read the dagger to find the planet to use the dagger to find the spot to find the Sith wayfinder to find the random ice-planet in the Unknown Regions so we can see the Infinite Fleet of Star Destroyers (who built them? Where did they find the millions of people to staff them? Have they just been sanding there waiting for 30 years!?) all so we can undo the climax of the original trilogy and then re-hash it with Palpatine giving the exact same speech.

It Couldn’t Have Been Enough (But it could have been better than this)

Ending a nine-film, 42-year saga on a note that resonated with millions and satisfied artistically and emotionally would have been an epic artistic achievement. This film was not that film. It was a Star Wars movie. I mostly had fun watching it, in the moment. Upon closer examination, it mostly falls apart as a film and as a narrative. That being said, yes I’m sure I’ll watch it again many times.

But it could have been better than this. Easily better. Even significantly better. Apparently it was significantly better, as far as Reddit is concerned – see below.

The JJ Edit (After reading about it)

A number of the stupid things in the movie were apparently straight from Disney for the purpose of merchandising (“They fly now”). There were also apparently more than 30 minutes knocked off of what JJ turned in, including some great scenes that absolutely should been in the movie – more Rose Tico, live Jedi and life Sith facing off through Rey and Palpatine, etc.

It Is What It Is

The greatness of Star Wars is ephemeral. It is a mix of the actual films, what we remember about the films, our feelings at the time, our memories of playing with the toys and various Star Wars games, and what it implies about the larger galaxy where the stories take place. It echoes some mythic themes and stories, but doesn’t quite do them justice. It delivers incredibly, and just as often fails spectacularly to deliver.

It’s mythology. I mean, if you really get into a mythology, including real-world ones, they are a huge mess. Stories contradict themselves. They reflect the deep flaws of their creators. They change over time, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. They include strangeness that we’ll never understand because we weren’t there. We return to them later in our lives and find them both deeper and more disappointing in turns.

Star Wars is mythology, and the core mythological cycle has ended. No one is satisfied. Very few are entirely dissatisfied. Everyone has different favorite moments. Thousands more stories will spin off of these stories. It isn’t better than mythology, but I wouldn’t say it’s worse either. At this point, 42 years later, Star Wars simply is.

Star Wars Thoughts: The Last Jedi

First Impressions

The bombing run is many kinds of stupid. One of the least space-like things to ever happen in space, I’m afraid. I kind of get the impression that Rian Johnson will be struggling with the material of a Star Wars story. I don’t remember my exact feelings when I saw this movie for the first time, but I think I was hopeful that a new director would mean a new direction. I was also expecting it to be an Empire-style second film with some darker events and themes perhaps. (Later I would learn that the true time of darkness would be for a contingent of Star Wars fans, apparently)

Rian Johnson doesn’t understand space. Bombers fall as they are taken out. Bombs have to drop from above a dreadnought. Etc. I guess there’s a limit to how much Star Wars can violate physics, at least for me. This sort of makes sense as an homage to the WWII air battle footage that inspired Lucas originally, but…I just can’t suspend enough disbelief here.

The opening with General Hugs was pretty funny. It’s a move that has come up in the past but is used at more length here – that is, a character temporarily trolling Imperial/First Order authorities to buy time.

“What did you think was going to happen here?” It’s like Rian Johnson is speaking to JJ Abrams directly through Luke speaking to Rey.

Some Significant Mistakes, and One Huge One

Tossing the lightsaber over Luke’s shoulder is such a clear “screw you” to JJ Abrams’ hand-off. It’s too bad that this part of the movie starts with a dick move, honestly.  Luke could have grimaced, quietly handed it back, and walked away to the same effect. His face was so eloquent at the end of TFA, we know that he’s not happy to see Rey or the weapon. But neither Johnson, nor Abrams in TROS, seem able to handle the other’s material respectfully. And the screw you to JJ’s mystery boxes, which I think is totally justified, was felt as a screw you to the fans as well. Handled better, I think there would have been a wider audience.

The big mistake with Luke, though, is the reveal of what happened with Ben Solo. It is many kinds of mistake:

  • What happened has nothing to do with the failure of the Jedi Order – it’s not connected to what Luke decided had to happen
  • The Rashamon-esque repeat of the same story from various points of view falls flat because…
  • The moment is not earned in the story itself. It feels like we were supposed to all read a novelization or comic or something to have any idea what was going on. We see none of Luke training Ben. We see none of Ben’s fall into darkness, somehow seduced by Snoke from light-years away. We don’t see Ben do anything bad, don’t see him kill the other students. We don’t learn what he did with the other students he made off with – are those supposed to be the Knights of Ren? Where does the name Ren even come from?

So we have a pivotal moment in the story, the moment that is supposed to explain Luke’s behavior, Ben Solo becoming Kylo Ren, Luke lying to Rey, everything, based on things we never saw for ourselves. In the context of the story as it exists on the screen, that’s nigh unforgivable. It is asking far too much of the audience to fill in an entire fall-from-grace story into a single moment, especially when the moment itself is so hard to buy. (“in a moment of pure instinct” does not account for it by a long shot)

The Good and the Great

Watching this again after having seen The Rise of Skywalker, you can really see how Rian Johnson gives the characters time to act, to have actual scenes, instead of shouting exposition at each other, periodically interrupted by action sequences.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is one of the best relationships in the whole of the saga. They are so fortunate to have such superb actors in this trilogy, to squeeze every drop from what they are given.

Everything having to do with Rey arriving on Snoke’s flagship to her escape is superb.  Still a retread of previous material, but a good one, and it takes a hard detour early on.

And the fact that Luke Skywalker ‘walks out with a laser sword and faces down the entire First Order’ is great. He does exactly the thing he bitterly tells Rey he can’t possibly do, and it has exactly the effect that Rey thought that it would all along.

But the story that is being told in The Last Jedi is echoed by the story that is being un-told. The Last Jedi is a reaction to all of the rest of Star Wars that has come before.

The Story That’s Being Un-Told

  • One hotshot pilot can save the Resistance no matter the odds. They disobey orders and are always right in the end.
  • Luke Skywalker was waiting this whole time to suddenly save the day.
  • You only matter in the grand scale if you have a certain name. Even Snoke is seduced by this idea. He sees it as Kylo’s main feature, and it is Kylo’s main fear that he won’t live up to his name.
  • The Jedi are right and good.
  • The rogue has a heart of gold.
  • (Women don’t know what they’re doing)
  • The galaxy is run on a bunch of exploitation that we just don’t think about.

And the thing is, many of the above things are elements of the stories that were first told. But Rian Johnson does something new with Star Wars, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s one of the things JJ Abrams failed to do. And it’s sad because this was the last chance, for this saga of sagas at least.

Star Wars Thoughts: The Force Awakens

Initial Questions the Movie Asks

Where is Luke Skywalker? Will Kylo Ren reconcile with Han and Leia? Who is Rey? Who is Finn? Is Finn Force-sensitive? Are Rey and Finn going to be A thing? How about ReyLo? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? How did yet another ravaged, elderly Force-user come to find himself in charge of another space-fascist organization?

Of course, this is just JJ being JJ. This’ll all probably be like Lost, and completely meaningless by the end. Mystery boxes with nothing inside.

We get some more questions from the visions that Rey has when she touches the lightsaber. Pretending we haven’t read anything about the movie beforehand – how did Luke fail Ben Kenobi so thoroughly? He’s already got some black-clad followers. Why isn’t R2 with Luke? (Later we’ll learn that it’s just in the immediate service of finding the Luke-guffin)

Also, as we progress, where is Luke’s green lightsaber?

The Luke-Guffin

Luke Skywalker is the McGuffin of the entire film. We learn that he’s disappeared from the world, and not only that, but hidden records of his journeys so that no one can follow him. Years have been spent hunting him and seeking his whereabouts. So, why would he have hidden himself away? There are only a few answers, and the most likely one is the one that Rian Johnson will explore, and which fans of Luke will in some cases detest – he’s hidden himself away to die, so that the Jedi will die out. The only real options are:

  1. He’s off seeking his own McGuffin
  2. He’s dead
  3. He’s delving into the mysteries of the Force so deeply he isn’t concerned with the rise of the First Order, the destruction of multiple Republic worlds, etc.
  4. He’s in hiding on purpose and doesn’t want to be found

So the things about him that some people didn’t like about The Last Jedi, that Luke is a broken man, hiding away from the world, refusing to intervene; that he is no longer his younger self – that is all set up from the very beginning.

Lazy Re-Hash

This has been discussed many times in the past couple of years, but it stands out every time I watch the film. We have Resistance = Rebel Alliance, New Order = Empire, Masked Kylo = Masked Vader, Snoke = Emperor, Desert Rey = Desert Luke, Mysterious Parents = Mysterious Parents, Starkiller Base = Death Star, Fly into Starkiller Base = Fly into Second Death Star; on and on and on. I can feel the storytelling opportunities die as I watch. And I don’t think this is what JJ had to do to get us invested again. It’s Star Wars. We’re invested. Tell a new damn story.

Fun Nonetheless

I genuinely enjoyed the experience of watching The Force Awakens, and I’ve watched it a few times since. There are some very funny moments (“That’s not how the Force works!”) and exciting moments, and I’ll be left hoping that FinnPoe was a thing. Because that should have been a thing.

So it’s a fun movie, but has a lot of flaws upon closer inspection. There is so much lost opportunity, in my opinion. At least with a stupid trade dispute and a soul-less romance, the Prequels tried to tell a different story.

Call of Cthulhu Hack – PDFs

Lovecraft fan art "The call"

I’ve been working on a hack of Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium that is backward compatible but also simpler and a bit more reasonable than their 7th Edition system. Meaning no offence, there’s just some redundancy there. Then I decided to use a version of the Stress system from Mothership as a more interesting way to handle Sanity damage. A few more tweaks, and there you have it. I have a character sheet, a character creation worksheet, and a rules reference for the reworking of the rules. I’ve run it past one veteran CoC Keeper who liked it, and it’s what I’ll use next time I run Call of Cthulhu. Here you go! Enjoy. As always, comments welcome.

CoC Hack Character Creation Worksheet 0.3

CoC Hack Character Sheet 0.4

CoC Hack Rules Reference Sheet 0.4

These are unfinished, and not near publishable, even if I could publish them, but as notes you could use them to run a Call of Cthulhu game, including a published campaign almost exactly as written.

D&D Alignment and the “Big Six” Moral Values

This is another of my responses to Saving the Game’s alignment series they are currently producing (and still will be producing when this post drops). I added that link in here so you can find them, and so maybe they see the pingback and read this article 🙂

Briefly, a moral philosopher named Jonathan Haidt is a proponent of what is sometimes known as the “Big Five” moral values as a way to understand why, for example, liberals and conservatives can have strong moral intuitions that do not seem to overlap. It is kind of like D&D alignments, but for actual people. Those Big Five are Authority and Tradition, Care and Compassion, Fairness and Justice, Loyalty, and Purity. To those five some have added a sixth, Liberty, and I’ll be keeping that change, resulting in a Big Six.

There is a lot more to this conversation, and a good place to start is Haidt’s TED Talk about why conservatives and liberals seem to see moral questions so differently:

<div style=”max-width:854px”><div style=”position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%”>https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jonathan_haidt_the_moral_roots_of_liberals_and_conservatives</div></div>

All that being said, what I would like to do in thinking about alignment in D&D and similar games is to look at the Big Six and see if they can map onto D&D-style alignment in any interesting ways. (If you want to see the Big Six used as an alignment system in an OSR game, check out my own Iron Pax hack on DriveThru) Let’s take a look at how they might map to 5E’s standard alignments:

Authority & Tradition : Lawful

This first one is kind of a gimme. Clearly, if a character values authority and tradition highly, then they are going to lean toward a Lawful alignment of some kind. Of course, this could easily be Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, or Lawful Evil, depending on the traditions in question and how they are interpreted.

Care & Compassion : Good

This one also seems straightforward. If a character values care and compassion for others, it is hard to argue that they would be other than Good in alignment. If they were only concerned for people in their own in-group, then that would coincide with Loyalty. If they were only interested in caring for those who deserved it, that would lean more toward Fairness & Justice.

We can also immediately see how these alignments could be combined. Just from the first two, if someone interprets the Authority & Tradition of their culture in a way that prioritizes Care & Compassion, we could easily call that Lawful Good. Part of my point here is, isn’t it more interesting to take an in-depth look at what these alignments mean, beyond just “Lawful” or “Good”? I think that using more robust moral language is a way to deepen alignment and make it a more interesting rule, or even just a more interesting roleplaying guide. But I’ve said plenty about that before, and I digress.

Fairness & Justice : Lawful or Neutral

I can see Fairness & Justice being interpreted either in terms of legality or impartiality. If someone sees Fairness & Justice as applying the law to everyone equally, I think that this would indicate what we usually mean by Lawful. If, on the other hand, they see this as someone being impartial, that is, judging situations and people on even terms without preference for one group or another, then that would in my mind tend more toward the Neutrality. Is justice judging everything dispassionately on its merits? Or is justice judging everything according to the same laws or standards? The difference isn’t a huge one, but I think it’s noteworthy, in terms of the stance being ‘I am applying these rules to everything’ compared to ‘I consider everything on its own merits.’ I think that both could be interpretations of Fairness & Justice.

Liberty : Chaotic

Liberty was added by others to Haidt’s moral system, and I think it makes a lot of sense as the ‘sixth.’ And connecting Liberty to Chaotic alignments fits with my experience of people who play Chaotic alignments in game – what they seem to want more than anything else is no one telling them what to do. They want to function without an external standard to which they need to adhere. (That’s the best of it, anyway. Certainly there are players who play any given alignment to be jerks, but just don’t game with them)

Normally Chaotic isn’t so much a desire for chaos for its own sake, but rather a desire for freedom, which fits the moral value of Liberty perfectly I think. We can also see how some of these moral values overlap and others do not, or at least not as well. It is harder to imagine someone valuing both Liberty and Authority & Tradition, for example, though not impossible. I suppose that character would end up being a complicated version of Neutral – but I can think if people I’ve met who seem to value both. The classic rural family that has traditional values but also wants to be left to their own devices comes to mind – values/small government voters in the US. For me it is easier to imagine where Liberty and Care & Compassion overlap – I want to care for people, but in my own way and on my own terms. Chaotic Good.

Loyalty : Lawful

Here I think of Valerie in the Pathfinder: Kingmaker computer game (which I’m currently playing and is a great game). Her alignment is Lawful Neutral, and I think they did a great job with her character. Her comments on your choices are always in terms of loyalty and duty – not cruel, but not particularly compassionate either. After you become the baron of the Stolen Lands, she is continually reminding you of your duty as a ruler and your duty to your people over everything else. But even when she disagrees with your decisions, her loyalty remains.

When I think of the moral value of Loyalty, I think of the “My country love it or leave it” types in the United States. Patriotism is to a large degree composed of Loyalty. It is a sense that “these are my people”, almost a pack mentality in a way. This is also one of the moral values that I can easily see sliding into Evil, depending on to whom you are loyal, and how you live that loyalty out. Where Care & Compassion as a primary value could just make you vulnerable and idealistic, I could easily see where Loyalty as a primary value could be turned to evil ends.

Purity : Good, or Neutral, or Evil

Purity is interesting – there is a whole sub-category of disgust psychology that I find fascinating. As always, I recommend for Christians the book Unclean by Richard Beck. Really for anyone, but for Christians in particular, as that is his approach.

Disgust is powerful – it comes to mind that pretty much every genocide that has ever occurred has largely been motivated by Purity-style rhetoric and thinking. Even the name we use, “ethnic cleansing” (a term I dislike), has echoes of Purity and cleanliness to it. Think of films like The Purge for another example of how Purity can be bent toward evil quite readily. “Purity culture” is an example of the damaging influence this value can have in Evangelical Christianity, in the United States at least.

Though valuing purity might also motivate a Jain practitioner to adhere to nonviolence and veganism, for example, or a Shinto priest to diligently serve their community, in the real world. It depends on how one defines what, or whom, is unclean. And, basically, if you are defining any person as unclean, you’re flirting with evil right there in my view. That’s why I say that Purity as a value could map to Good (vegan pacifists), Neutral (cleansing ancestral shrines) or Evil (genocide) quite readily.

Alright, this is a first-thought type of post. What do you think? What did I miss? Would you, like me, prefer to use the Big Six in place of the classic D&D alignments?