I was curious to hear how other GMs handle the question of Evil in their worlds and campaigns. So I posted the question to Google+ and got a bunch of replies. It was very interesting to see the preponderance of answers leaning in the same direction. The original post can be found here. My reply includes how I handle Good and Evil in my world, and I thought it was probably something that deserves its own post on my blog, so here it is.
For me, since 1978 I have run things in my world the opposite way. The Gods, of which there is one for each alignment as represented by the zodiac and planets, maintain the order (stability) of the universe and there is an objective reality regarding good and evil, as well as law and chaos.I thought I would elaborate on this here a little bit and answer my own question. How do I define Evil in Elthos?
However, mortal beings are finite and can not see the objective reality. So there are no GM statements like "Orcs are Evil", though they may well be, despite possible exceptions. nor do I tell players they can't do XYZ because of Alignment conflicts. Instead they do what they want, and I track their Alignment shifts over the course of the game. So they establish their alignments by their actions. Their current and recent Alignment is what determines their relationship to the Gods. And based on this they may obtain appropriate powers, or lose them, or change them as the game progresses.
As far as play is concerned I like to toy around with moral dilemmas, but they tend to be ambiguous. For example there is an ongoing subtext regarding the conflict between mysticism, science, and the law, wherein the law views both science and mysticism as potential existential threats to civilization, and possibly life itself, while at the same time needing both for survival in a hostile universe. Player characters get caught up in the whirlwind of these conflicts but I never give a flat exposition on the nature of the thing - I simply let it play out via the PCs and NPCs words and deeds in the game. Sometimes they catch an idea from it, but most often they whirl past on their way towards completing the objectives they have set for themselves.
Obviously this conceptual framework is not as popular as I thought, though I am also going to guess I'm not at all unique in running my world this way, as that would be too good to be true. But it does seem that this style is in the (extreme?) minority, at least.
The objective reality of my world has it that Evil is that which intentionally causes harm out of a desire for sadistic pleasure or pathological hatred for anything that is so intense as to manifest evil behaviors. Evil, in Elthos, is a primordial force, and linked to the converse of Creation, which is Destruction. Both of these are necessary for the fluctuating ebb and flow of the Universe, and so pain and suffering are as much a part of the nature of the Universe as joy and pleasure. Evil is that force which induces pain and suffering, and it manifests itself in various forms throughout the cosmos. So the intention of Evil is to cause harm and suffering. That is evil.
To contrast this to other forms of pathological behavior, one might conduct the same action, let's say torture, but for a different motive... for example the acquisition of wealth, or power, or knowledge. While such actions may have a component of evil within them, the evil aspect is the one that causes pain and suffering for its own sake. Lust for power is not in and of itself considered Evil by the Elkron (Deities) of Elthos. This is because all of the Celestial and Archetypal Elkron are each at a pinnacle of power themselves, and it is clear to them that Power alone is neither Good nor Evil. Nor is the desire to acquire power necessarily Good or Evil, as some desire Power in order to overcome Evil Beings and establish law and order. This view point is held by the Elkron in general, though there are several Elkron in the set, those that represent Evil, who may declare otherwise. But these declarations are deceptions used to fool some of their more naive followers, or trick those who might not understand these things into making poor choices, which can be turned to the evil Elkron's advantage. In any case, all of the Elkron are equally aware of the nature of Evil, its parameters and boundaries. So that's my definition of Evil for my world of Elthos.
|The Cosmological Framework of the Elkron|