Friday, February 21, 2014

Dark Greyhawk

So I was organizing some game books and magazines and came upon the very familiar cover to Dragon Magazine #273. The theme was swashbucklers which is perfect as I've been running a lot of Sea Princes/pirate themed stuff in recent years. This issue isn't important to me for the content, but because of the letters pages. I couldn't recall if I've talked about my published letter in #273 before, so this time I decided to repost the entirety of it here. Evidently there was a reader response question in an earlier issue and there was discussion in the Forum section of Dragon (before people started bickering online full time) about playing evil characters and I felt I needed to weigh in. Check it out:

"Dark Greyhawk
I wrote this in response to the "Question of the Month" and also to add to the discussion in #264 through #270 about evil characters.
The campaign I run is set in the northwest corner of the Greyhawk campaign setting and uses heavy Al-Qadim sources. The Arabic feel is very refreshing. All the characters are foreigners and have had a wonderful time trying to blend in by learning new customs, dress, and especially language. They have adopted new names and even acquired their hirelings from this area. New and exotic locales always liven a static campaign.
The land is full of mystery and intrigue, but the PCs fit in perfectly because they are all schemers and shady fellows as well. They always parlay or even deal with villains rather than just outright slay them. Every monster or encounter is assessed for its benefit, not just used as a stepping stone for the next encounter. Their motto is, dealing with evil is better than a pat on the back. Then, if necessary, you can always turn on evil and side with good in the end.
I do not rigidly control alignments, except in the case of priests. All the characters are decidedly shady, but not evil. As long as the PCs can at least trust one another, then it doesn't matter what their alignments are. The lawful evil fighter in my group has shown many instances of paladin-like behavior toward the common man and even his foes. You don't wear alignment like a badge; your actions define you character.
In fantasy literature, the greatest heroes are what I term "shady." Elric, Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are all shady characters. Alignment never stopped any of them from doing the right thing in the end. The only recent characters from literature I can imagine fitting this description are Raistlin or Drizzt. Why are the shady ones the favorites? They have more fun.
It seems to me the only classes purely concerned with their alignment are the religious ones (cleric, druid, paladin). They are the ones who have their beliefs dictated by a higher power. I am not saying you shouldn't play good guys, but some campaigns could use a change of locale and attitude."

So this was published in 2000. Yeah my feelings in that letter still hold true over a decade later. Since then I've had several Greyhawk campaigns with shady characters mainly on the high seas. I should also note, the campaign referred to in this letter was what led to my involvement in writing for Canonfire and Oerth Journal. It's captured in my epic series of Ull articles. I also find it interesting that since this letter was written one of the biggest crazes in fantasy literature and TV is the "Game of Thrones" series. Doesn't get much more shady than that. In addition, 2000 was the start of a surge in dark and gritty super hero films with X-Men and then followed by Batman Begins. Since then nearly every "hero" movie has been shady-antihero types.
So yeah, go ahead and play that LE fighter. I'm sure he'll fit in the story just fine.

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