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Sin, Absolution, Justice, Retribution or: Well You See, Werewolves Worship the Devil.

June 12, 2012

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

One of my favorite settings of all time is one called Northern Crown.

Northern Crown was a fantastical version of colonial America where due to a number of different reasons several European nations as well as New World nations vied for control of the eastern seaboard. The descendants of Vikings raided the coast line of the Puritan Commonwealth in Massachusetts, while the British King-in-Exile ruled in the Carolinas, ever at odds with the independent Republic of Sophia. It is simply put one of the more ridiculous third-party campaign settings out for Dungeons and Dragons, while still fostering a great sense of adventure and epic scope.

It is also home to one of my favorite campaigns.

This campaign was my favorite for a number of reasons, though the fact that it hinged on my ability to anticipate my player’s actions in the second session was one of them. What really made this game though, were the characters. There was an Albion Agent/Sorcerer, in this setting the Old Ways had retaken the British Isles and installed the Half-Fey Gloriana on the throne, and agents were a more urban Rogue replacement. A Carolingian Scout who specialized in two-weapon fighting with light maces*, he possessed the lowest Social Ranking of the party being a lowly farmer. Then there was John Promiter, a Puritan Cleric who was a very judgmental member of the party, not quite the party’s conscience but more of an internal adversary to their insanity. Finally, was Kyle McCloud, a Scotian Bard who played the bagpipes and wielded a greatsword. They were far from the most cooperative of parties, as this story sort of demonstrates…

While traveling through the northern forests of Northern Crown, away from the French colonies of Canada, the party was beset by a pack of werewolves**, and Kyle McCloud was stricken with lycanthropy. In this setting, werewolves are generally associated with the Devil and need to be cured immediately and if they can’t be cured then smiting is the answer. John Promiter being a Puritan took it upon himself to tie Kyle McCloud up, cage him, and wait till he could prepare a cure disease spell. Kyle was not necessarily happy since he rather liked being a werewolf, since it made him better, stronger, and faster. However, after some arguing, the party finally agreed that having a werewolf wandering with them, particularly the closer they got to Puritan lands, was probably a bad idea. And so, Kyle was cured, and the party moved on.

They eventually came to John Promiter’s hometown of Concord.

John Promiter delivered his report to the town council on what was going on in the world, the evil he and the party were fighting, and so on. He also informed them that Kyle McCloud had been infected with lycanthropy and then cured. Puritan Paladins and Clerics are not known for bending the rules though. Lycanthropy is akin to signing your name in the Devil’s black book, and there’s no coming back from that sin. They were in fact appalled by Dr. Promiter (he had attended Harvard) for not killing him, worrying over the nature of his soul while traveling with the rest of the party. Lycanthropy plus Kyle’s described actions gave the council little choice, hanging was the solution.

Kyle McCloud was captured while on his own, and the other two party members were appalled by John Promiter’s willingness to go along with the decisions of his Church. The Scout and Agent then decided that a daring mid-execution rescue was the obvious answer. John, wishing to avoid watching his traveling companion be killed for questionable sins, returned home.

The Scout and Agent freed Kyle McCloud who then set fire to the courthouse, and subsequently the town. The three of them reined up and laughed at the town’s destruction, and the fact that they had gotten one over on their cleric and his Church (Kyle and the Agent both being pagans really enjoyed this).

Meanwhile, John had found his home a wreck and his family murdered. This, he would learn later was because of an agent of their enemy trying to hit him where it hurts. However, assuming that his traveling companions were responsible for it, in a fit of rage he stormed to the center of town to find it aflame and his traveling companions laughing.

Realizing what was happening the party tried to escape. John ended up nearly killing the Agent with his pike***, and demanded satisfaction from the rest. Ultimately, the group came together, and reconciled. Still as a result of this session, several alignments were downgraded away from good.

The reason I share this story however is to follow up on last week’s themes of justice, and to discuss sin, evil, religion, and justice/rehabilitation.

In this encounter, Kyle McCloud was labeled forever tainted with sin for his “associations,” with the Devil. His refusal to join the church and be saved, further marked him as forever ruined to the puritans. In this case, there was no retribution possible, and the only solution was to remove the evil from the world.

In the eyes of the Puritans, this was more than justified, it was the will of God. Once more raising the question of whether or not Divine Will is always just or morally correct. This is because the divine can have its own perceptions, or more appropriately (if in the Christian sense that God is infallible) God’s actors have their own perceptions and interpretations that are not objective. Being possessed of Free Will dooms us with the ability of being wrong and failing.

Even amongst the Puritan clerics, clearly John Promiter dissented. He avoided the execution, and didn’t believe that when he mentioned the curing of lycanthropy that it would result in his companion’s death. In his mind, the sin of lycanthropy could be absolved, the man rehabilitated.

This disagreement is not unlike our own discussions regarding the very nature of our prison systems. Is the point of prison to punish a criminal, or is it to rehabilitate them and help them do better when they’re brought back into society. It could be argued that if punishment were the goal, there are far more efficient ways of punishing someone than prison****. Yet, statistics show that rehabilitation is not occurring, and a prison is certainly not an environment suitable for self-reflection and growth.

The question regarding Kyle McCloud’s nature of having been infected with lycanthropy was never in question. The question was whether or not such a sin could be absolved, and the man prepared to avoid the temptation of sin again. In the eyes of the town’s leaders the answer was no, and it is often that feeling in the eyes of many judges and juries across the world.

Repeat offenders are not looked at with kindness regardless of their situation. People that find religion in prison are more likely to be considered ready for parole, because they’ve supposedly learned ways to avoid temptation. The same goes for people who are willing to undergo court-ordered therapy, and counseling, the modern hand-washing method for the Devil’s touch.

The idea of sin, of moral wrongdoing, and mixing it with a notion of justice, can become very dangerous.

*: For the first eight or ten levels we made fun of this player mercilessly for choosing such shitty weapons. Then around level nine or twelve he finally qualified for a feat from Complete Warrior called Lightning Maces. This let him do a lot of cool things, though shortly after getting he demolished something like five or six mooks in a single turn.

**: Rolling on encounter tables is weird.

***: John Promiter actually did kill the Agent, I just didn’t believe that PCs should just kill PCs in fits of rage so I fudged it. Both players were aware of this at the time.

****: That would be if we were to presume that prisons weren’t places where rape is a common tool of control and punishment, gangs formed, and people didn’t discuss better ways to commit crimes.

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