Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Boundary pushing in alternate worlds

I have a new Heroes By Trade campaign that started yesterday.  It began with a bang, and lots of fantastic character interaction.  That to my mind is a great sign for things to come because I have had lots of experiences on both sides of the GM screen where the players bond instantly and unrealistically and there is nothing between them of interest.  I always found it difficult when I posed hard questions to a group and the answer was rapidly and democratically decided even though by any reasonable reading of character histories there *should* have been conflict.  I get that some people really just want to be a happy group of heroes who fight external enemies but some tension makes it so much more interesting!

The trick in this case primarily revolves around the fact that we have a necromancer in our group.  He isn't letting it just sit at raising the dead as shambling zombies though, he also has a very unusual sexual 'orientation' in that he is only interested in the dead he has animated.  He raises them, marries them, and a month later they decay into dust and he starts anew.  It seems at first glance like a teenage prank character but it really doesn't play that way both because he has a good character history that supports this, the rest of the character is real and this isn't a one trick pony, and that this actually raises powerful questions.

In standard fantasy worlds necromancy is the standard EVIL thing that everyone can feel happy bashing on.  Thing is, that is based on a pervasive idea in our culture that bodies belong to someone after they die and is, I think, inextricably tied up in the idea of the soul.  My personal view is that once my mind is gone my body is just a hunk of meat which is incapable of experiencing either joy or suffering and therefore I don't think that moral arguments about respecting the dead need be universal.  Obviously in a world that has completely different physics, mythology, culture, and is occupied by creatures that have been around for a thousand years since the Beings created the place the dominant ideas about what should be done with bodies after death would be completely different than Western tradition.

All of this means that it isn't actually reasonable to assume that necromancy is EVIL.  It is entirely plausible that people would view it as a way to extend the useful life of a body, or perhaps just as an oddity but without significant moral implications.  Obviously the loved ones of the dead would likely find watching the body of someone they cared about shambling around very difficult but if removed from that immediacy I can see people not worrying about it overly much.

Of course that doesn't yet touch the topic of necrophilia.  Interestingly the character doesn't view his tendencies as such - rather he thinks of undeath as another later form of life rather than a form of death.  It is all a bit bizarre but I think it will very successfully push our boundaries and get us to think about how our characters would view something we personally would find abhorrent.  We aren't playing people in a modern civilization, but rather a satyr, an elf, and a troll who grew up with totally alien traditions and with minds constructed by ancient Beings for a particular purpose.

I am excited.  At some point we are going to come to an agreement about how we deal with this particular problem but it is clear our various characters have a bunch of crazy traditions, neuroses, and goals that we will have to reconcile if we want to work together.  And work together we must as one would certainly hope that there is some chunk of the world that needs saving and naturally nobody else will be able to accomplish that.

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