Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Response to 'Shocked and Flabbergasted'

Here is my contrarian response to a post I stumbled across today over at Halfling's Luck Blog titled 'What Just Happened? Shocked and Flabbergasted'

Hmmm... Ok, I'm going to be the contrarian here. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to present an alternative point of view. In order to do so I'm going to present my thoughts with the full weight of their invective, in order to counter the emotional intensity of the original post, and perhaps turn the entire argument on it's head. But first I want to say that some players, and some GMs are indeed dicks. In this case, however, I will question this assumption despite the appearance.

First, based on what was said in the original post, we really have no idea of what this player was actually thinking. So I'm going to speculate as to what I think may have happened. Let me suppose that the players was steeped in medieval literature from an early age, having read a plethora of medieval literature, folklore and fairy tales and was fully aware of what medieval legends held the Fey and the Sidhe in particular to be like.  He might have been thinking that the 'real' Sidhe in the medieval world would have been treated with a great deal more respect (and fear) than what the boorish lumberjack showed.

Sidhe, to those who were true believers, as people from the medieval world surely were, were not merely another class, or people from another tribe who were normal humans with different social and political institutions. They were otherworldly, powerful, often fearsome, often malevolent supernatural beings who could do things like alter the weather to cause famines or floods, transport people to the fey world for hundreds of years at a time, or turn them to stone with a baleful glance.

As such, were you this player thinking this way (and showing up specifically with a pre-genned Sidhe suggests he may well have been just such a player) and not knowing this new GM's world or his players attitude, you too might have concluded that the Sidhe would not have taken too kindly to insulting behavior of the Lumberjack, who on seeing the Sidhe said,  "Ahh, a fey!" and spits on the ground and makes a religious sign to protect himself.

For one thing, I suspect that in medieval parlance such behavior would have been considered unwise by most woodsmen who might actually believe in the Sidhe.  Seeing a Sidhe would have elicited more likely than not a feeling of awe, or dread, rather than outright contempt and an obvious display of fear and loathing.  One should , we learn from all fairy tales, always try to be as polite as possible to the Fey.  They are powerful beings who can cause a great deal of trouble to those who slight them.  And it is well known that the fey are easily insulted, and have little tolerance for poor manners.

So, playing his characters as he felt he should, the Sidhe was probably shocked that a mere peasant would dare to be so overtly rude, and that this constituted an insult against all that is Fey, and something that no Sidhe could reasonably be expected to tolerate. In this case the choice would be between bringing down a major Doom upon the man, and perhaps his family, and perhaps the entire village, or ... a more immediate and direct display of Sidhe Justice by simply killing the fool as with a single blow - a just and overt reward for a blatant and overt insult.   In fact, in the medieval era one might easily expect this kind of response between two villagers of the same clan, let alone between a villager and a Sidhe.  Such might have been the thinking of our Sidhe player.  And such thinking would not have been unreasonable to someone who was role playing according to a medieval fantasy mind-set.   We should even note that the original poster characterized the Sidhe as follows:  "The Sidhe are basically Tolkienesque High Elves or True Fey type characters with some minor magic and an aura of grandeur."

One playing such a 'High Elven' character might have easily concluded that such insolence when first met must be responded to in no uncertain terms.  Hence, his immediate response.  But why, I might ask, did he not opt for a more circuitous, and sinister plan... something to avenge the insult in a way that would teach the village a lesson for a long time... perhaps by destroying the lumberjack and his family in some magical way?   Well, maybe that didn't seem fitting.  After all the insult was overt, so shouldn't the response be equally overt?  On the other hand, the player might have declared his intention by saying something like "You filthy peasant!  How do you dare to spit and cross yourself at me in my very sight?  Have you no manners at all?" and given the man at least one chance to correct his error.  Yet, even this would have likely felt to a Sidhe as being an option one might reserve for an accidental rather than intentional insult, as this appeared to be.  Hence, it is not hard to see the logic of his reaction.  Swift Justice may have seem to been demanded by the situation.  The GM created that situation, by the way, not the player.  I would suggest that the player's response was at least in part provoked by the GM's playing of the lumberjack.  After all, it does seem from the description that the lumberjack had indeed deliberately insulted the Sidhe character.  Clearly, something had to be done.  Or was the GM expecting the Sidhe with all of his High Elven pride and glamour to simply ignore the insult without saying anything in order to play nicely and be a nice guy and not mind too much and just go along meekly being insulted by random peasants?  I can imagine that would have felt a bit galling for some people.

Unfortunately, what the player, if my theory is correct (it may well not be, but I suspect it is), would have failed to realize is that his character was too low level to effectively kill the lumberjack in a single blow, and achieve his goal of glamorously over-awing all around with the deadly truth that the Sidhe are not to be slighted by anyone, least of all mere rural bumpkins.

Aside from having a character too low level to execute the attack, we might also note the player probably should have realized that he must test the waters of this new GM and fellow Players before taking such a decisive action, no matter how compelled he felt to avenge the honor of the Sidhe. On the other hand, had he done so, he would not have been truly role playing his character as he saw fit. Instead he would have been meta gaming his character in order to "fit in" with the group and been acting in accordance with the modern rules of political correctness.  In our society today no one is allowed to respond to passive aggressive assaults with any kind of direct response, but instead we're all expected to perpetuate the passive aggressive mode of retaliating in kind.  We have crafted a culture of back-biters and snide-remarkers, and we are supposed to abide by those rules.  At least according to those who so vociferously insist we do.  This after all is the new nice-nice way for civilized men to behave in our highly sophisticated culture, and that, as they say, is that.

I imagine, however, that this would not have been very satisfying to such a player as we are reading about in the post. After all, some people enjoin in medieval fantasy, one would think, in order to get away from such modern-day pressures.  Some actually want, after all, to do in fantasy what we are not able, or not allowed to do in reality.  Fantasy is called, as C.S. Lewis so aptly pointed out, escapism for a reason, is it not?

On the other hand, the low chance the Sidhe character must have had to make a swift end of the lumberjack (anything less than 80% should be considered too low in this case, I think) and teach the villagers a valuable and unerring lesson in manners is significant.  It means that he should have stopped himself and thought before so rashly acting. The very worst reaction would be one that actually does the opposite of its intent. Which is to say he only served, by luck of the dice, to reveal to the under awed villagers that the Sidhe are actually quite easily defeated and therefore contemptible blowhards. No Sidhe in their right mind would have taken a risk like that. Instead, he ought to have gone with Plan A - destroy the lumberjack from afar, via some curse or bane or poison, and perhaps take out his family, and possibly the village as well. Not to be a murder hobo, of course, but because the Sidhe are supernatural beings from the world between life and death and are absolutely not to be insulted by some jackass woodchuck spitting on the ground and casting insults. The Sidhe, if those steeped in the lore of the medieval world would know, could not possibly, and never would tolerate such behavior from mortal men.

Yet, what would the chances of this player being able to execute such a sinister plot have been in the world of this particular GM?  I am going to guess what I think he probably guessed - zero.  So when all was said and done, if the honor of the Sidhe was to be avenged at all it would have to have been done immediately.  A hunch, but I do think a reasonably fair one.

The entire tale strikes me as a case of a group of people from the 21st century imposing their own morality (and miscomprehension) on a fantastical medieval (Tolkienesque) past which is based largely on myths of the medieval era - a time in which people were so steeped in superstition as to burn witches at the stake with whole hearted zeal, and hideously torture fellow Christians for the sake of saving their souls from the devil.  Although it is completely alien to our way of thinking today, that's how people in the medieval world thought, and no matter how nice-nice modern people want to make the world you really can't change the historic reality of the past. But what very often happens, especially in fantasy based RPGs these days, is that the moral code and conceptions of "reality" that we hold so dear today (including our own ridiculous biases and absurd ideologies) is plopped down into settings wherein those moral codes would make absolutely no sense to anyone who actually lived in such a setting.

So here we have a lumberjack who acts more like a modern redneck rather than a rural medieval woodsman (who would have more likely than not shown good manners and deference to any Sidhe he might actually met). The Sidhe behaved rashly and inadvisability, tis true, but not beyond the realm of what a Sidhe might have at least wanted to do in that situation. One might imagine him grinding his teeth in anger and plotting a hellish revenge rather than outright assaulting the lumberjack, but that possibility was probably averted by the GM and other players.  Their shock at the Sidhe player's response was likely plainly evident by exclamations of "what?" and "OMG, are you serious?" The original post does say, "I paused in utter shock at this guy's choice of actions. The other two players clearly tense as the situation quickly becomes awkward." ... under such a circumstance the player may have felt cornered.  Either do nothing, and go along with the crowd or ... well, ... die trying, as it were.

Also, I would like to note that the other party members, instead of being shocked by this 7th century (and accurate) Sidhe behavior, might have reacted quite differently than doing what most 21st century politically correct people would do when confronted with a scene of sudden violence. Instead of shrinking away and declaring their non-involvement with "the trouble maker" they might have stepped in and tried to quell the violence before it resulted in anyone's death. They certainly had the arms and armor and man power to do so, had they not been typical 21st century weenies about it.  In other words, they had a golden opportunity to behave heroically.  That they weren't so inclined produced the fatal results.  They could have stopped the fight easily had they stepped up to do so.

However, because the GM was shocked by the Sidhe player's horrendous anti-nice-nice behavior, the other players may themselves have meta game role played the way they thought the GM would find acceptable - so their characters instead of acting anything remotely like heroes shrunk backwards in horror, their hands over their mouths, eyes bulging with anxiety, and decried the "pointless violence" of the Sidhe character, this achieving the opposite of what their characters stated they wanted - a cessation of violence. In the end, the reality was that six lumberjacks ganged up on a downed Sidhe who was provoked to an unwise and futile act of violence by redneck insults, and chopped him to death. All of which caused the entire universe to recoil in such horror at this obscenity that it was forced to roll back the sands of time itself so that the event never took place in the world at all. That's how bad it was!

Perhaps in this way of looking at it, the Sidhe was an actual hero suddenly cast into a world where honor has no value, and immediately upon encountering the reality of it, died like a hero - avenging his honor to his last breath under considerably dire odds, and with the local crowd of cowards looking on in horror and dismay, unable to act.  Perhaps.

But I don't now how much I want to blame the player who showed up with a Sidhe for all of that. I suspect he was quite possibly simply role playing what he thought his character as he conceived it, a real medieval world Sidhe, would have done in that situation. With a rude country bumpkin who has no manners at all, a Sidhe might well have concluded that a swift execution of Ultimate-Justice was in order, to the end that the dumb bell mortals learn their proper place in life.  Below that of the Sidhe.  Perhaps, perhaps.

I don't mean to sound insulting, and I hope people will forgive my impertinence, but I wanted to forcefully convey an alternate interpretation of this event for no particular reason other than someone ought to step up now and then and offer the contrarian point of view. 
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