The first three essays in Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy have been more miss than hit, but I have some hope that, as I write this bridging post before settling in to read essay four, we’re about to get better. See, the first three essays are categorized under a section heading called Lawful Good vs. Chaotic Evil, which gives the lie to why the whole section was pretty much gonna be a trainwreck from the start: Because D&D is not GURPS.
Let me explain. GURPS is famous for its meticulous research into every topic they ever covered. The image above is not a real thing, but most of the books on it are. The only one I can make out that isn’t a real, actual GURPS book is GURPS Asparagus. Each one of those books is a phenomenal sourcebook not just for GURPS specifically, but for the subject in general. If you are running a game with mecha in it for any system, I recommend reading GURPS Mecha (which is actually a third edition book, because the above image is a Photoshop, but again, if you want to run a mecha game for any system, including other editions of GURPS, I recommend reading GURPS Mecha). If there were a GURPS Asparagus, it would be written by a passionate asparagus enthusiast who would spend hours in the library or online and consult with any expert who’d return his calls to make sure that he got asparagus exactly right.
D&D is not GURPS. D&D’s studded leather armor only exists because someone saw the rivets on a brigadine poking through the leather vest and thought that adding metal studs to armor somehow made it better than regular leather. GUPRS Cyberpunk consulted with actual cyber criminals to the point where the FBI raided their offices because they thought they might be part of an illegal operation (no charges were ever pressed because they were not, but they never got their files back). That’s the research gap we’ve got between the two products.
If GURPS did alignment, they would start by checking out tons of philosophical texts from the library and reading them. Not just grabbing one overview book to read on a lazy Sunday and going from there, but actually getting the Critique of Pure Reason, and Nicomachaean Ethics, and Utilitarianism, and the Analects of Confucius, and so on. Then they’d call up the philosophy departments of every university they can find in the phone book and consult with any professor who has the time to make sure they’re not overlooking anything. The authors would be people with a deep interest in moral philosophy in the first place, and by the end of a packed week or two of research, they’d have enough knowledge to hammer out something that can stand up to serious examination.
D&D decided that a 3×3 grid with a good/evil and a law/chaos axis sounded neat, extrapolated a few paragraphs on each of the alignments from there, and shipped it before it even occurred to them that the system they’d designed probably grouped radically different philosophies together and put very similar ones far away from one another, and worse, even agreeing on which is which would require argument at the table.
The fundamental problem with D&D alignments is that little thought was put into them. The answer to the question of “what does it really mean to be Chaotic Evil” is “nothing, because the alignment grid is shallow and better suited to be a meme than any kind of effective categorization of moral philosophy or human motivation.”
But we’re past all that. We’re done talking about alignment, and we’re moving on to meditations on other, hopefully more fruitful subjects. I dunno, I haven’t read any of the essays yet. I’ll tell you tomorrow.