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War Theory and The Evolution of Language, or “Don’t Worry, We’re Doing Diplomacy!”

May 8, 2012

Part of a continuing series I’ve dubbed, “To Be A Young Necromancer In Love,” updating Tuesdays and whenever the hell I feel like it.

There was once a game I ran where the Player Characters’ overarching goal was to carve out a nation for Good people in a world that was overtaken by the forces of evil. (“Why Ducks Shouldn’t Wear Long Pants,” for a description)

In the first session of this game, after meeting along a crossroads, the characters found themselves in a town that was preparing tribute to their sorcerer overlord. This being a world where travelers were rare and often feared, the players needed a quick lie to explain what exactly it was that they were doing in this town. At a loss for a good explanation, one of the players decided to just lie and explain that they were “diplomats.”

The players all agreed that this wasn’t actually untrue, they were in this village with the goal of swaying its leader to the side of good. They just didn’t necessarily plan on doing it diplomatically. In fact, they couldn’t survive a single day without being confronted with something they labeled a misdeed worth rebelling against.

The town was preparing an over-sized tribute of food to their sorcerer overlord, and when his orc troops came to obtain it they began to take a little bit more than foodstuffs. The players already outraged by the way this village had entirely given up before a sorcerer, were further enraged that the townsfolk wouldn’t even fight back against clear injustice. Therefore, they began their first entry into realpolitik…

By attacking the orcs. (Clausewitz would be proud)

As an intense battle raged across the village square, the villagers frightened by what was occurring asked the players what exactly was going on. The party fighter announced very quickly that the villagers should not worry, as they were “doing diplomacy.” The villagers, already known to be entirely uncertain what this actually meant, decided that “diplomacy,” meant fighting back against oppression.

The players ended up liberating the village, and convinced the villagers to embrace their new philosophy under a body of laws meant to promote equality, and fairness. The laws were eventually dubbed, “The Code of Diplomacy,” and the players themselves became, “The Diplomats.”

This became the first of many instances in the game where the players would learn that in a world where Evil had triumphed and been oppressing people for the past century, it would take more than kind words and stirring speeches to bring people to their way of thinking. The players had to face first hand what the famed Prussian theorist Clausewitz claims is the basis of war: the use of force to impose your will upon another nation.

The players were not exactly a sovereign nation, at least not at first, but it became very clear that they had their own way of viewing the world that was in direct conflict with those that ruled that world and that there was only one way to resolve such a conflict. The players as modern Americans, playing a game designed by people of a similar mindset, took on the role of the “good guys.” They were, in their minds, liberating heroes seeking to establish a fair rule of law.

Of course, the society they constructed was not perfect. Their society encouraged prostitution as a suitable role for women, the punishment for crime was conscription into the military, which was done in an effort to replace the existing slave-soldiers (that they sought to reintegrate into society), and numerous other issues. Some might be offended by the fact their economy was largely planned by a centralized government, run by the players who gained their right to governance through personal skill at combat, and the fact that that personal skill was false.

However to the players, their characters, and their characters’ subjects, it was a far better alternative to being ruled over by insane wizards who might demand that all vegetables were purple. Yet, they could not achieve these aims without force, without attempting to force their ideologies upon their opponents.

One could argue that this was a result of the game occurring in Dungeons and Dragons, which to a large extent is built to simulate combat. It could of course also be argued that our roleplaying games seek to emulate our varied media (literature, film, video games, etc), as well as to some extent the real world that inspires that media (historical wars, philosophy, etc).

The point is, that to the players, their ideology was worth fighting for. It was in some instances, worth going to total war over. Many times at our table, the call of, “For Diplomacy!” would be the precursor to what happens when some say diplomacy fails.

Which brings me to the ironic humor, and interesting lesson on language, that happens when you consider that the players took on the mantle of, “The Diplomats.”

The players introduced themselves as diplomats in a fit of panic to explain why they might actually be braving across strange and dangerous lands. Interestingly enough though, their ultimate goal was to once again create a world in which the rule of law mattered. A world where there could be arbitration that didn’t necessarily come from the end of a blade. Granted, their creation was imperfect, but then again name a revolutionary’s creation that is. Many states in the real world have had turbulent periods that follow their revolts, and imperfect governments that need to be fixed with further legislation. Some days I find I would have been interested to see what the players would have done if we had continued.

What is interesting is the way the people of this world took to the notion of Diplomacy. To them, diplomacy was an alien word, only one of the player’s characters actually had a concept of the term before they began slaying the orcs. While early on in the game it was a running gag for him to state, “Well, that’s not what it means but…” this was quickly dropped. Why did we drop it?

We dropped that running gag because simply put: language evolves and changes. When we sat down around the table to play that game, Diplomacy was no longer just a skill roll to be made or a word referring to discussion. Diplomacy became the players’ word for imposing their will on other forces, the term for their code of laws, and ultimately their philosophy on how people should act within their society. To their subjects Diplomacy meant; freedom from extreme oppression, the ability to know what constituted a crime or a right, the ability to on some level “be free.”

In a sense, the Diplomats stayed true to their original mission to be a force for good in their world. While it could be argued that their methods don’t necessarily hold up to their ideals, that argument only raises questions on how anyone truly measures up to their own ideals.

All I can really say is, “For Diplomacy!”

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