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Duty, Truth, and Violence or: The Time The Whole Party Died For Its Beliefs

October 23, 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.

There was a game I took part in that was actually a particularly long game, but I was only involved with it for a few sessions. It was, amongst my circle of friends, called the High Fantasy game. It had gone through several incarnations (and systems), all of which fell apart due to players moving or dropping out and a few other things.

The incarnation that I became a part of was, at the time of my joining, preparing for a third party to be assembled by the only character who remained from when the game had started. The world in which the game was set was a world of high fantasy and adventure. The type of place where two master wizards might meet along a country road and then hold a contest of magical skill to prove who was mightier (or as we often described it, ‘kung fu fight’). There were a number of different races, several homebrewed, and a few borrowed from other settings with a cultural twist or two.

The original party had been a group of four adventurers that due to being in the right place at the wrong time became wrapped up in trying to get to the bottom of a demonic cult. In this world, the laws of magic are rigidly defined (for example, it is known that magic can’t work past a certain point in the planet’s atmosphere), and through them there is an understanding of the metaphysical realm. Demons are creatures whose souls are different, and this difference makes them monstrous and evil.

Out of the original four, the druid and martial artist left, leaving Victor the Archmage and the sword-wielding J’naelar (cat-people). They were joined by another character named Fugax, a wizard who had been trapped in a time-distortion of his own creation, after freeing himself he discovered that his loved ones were gone and he was still slightly “ahead,” of normal time.

In their investigations into understanding the demon cult, and thus demons and the world in general, they discovered a magical artifact (called a Cylex) that much like the planet produced a field of magic that could be manipulated. Fugax used this artifact to see if he could travel to the moon (another magical place, and the supposed afterlife in Dwarven religion). Along with him, Fugax took an NPC known as Esmee.

It was at this point, that I joined the campaign. The sword-wielding J’naelar left, and Fugax was replaced by Jonathan Smith, a Dwarven super-soldier who due to complications in the process that made him super-strong and extra-magical had greatly reduced intelligence. Smith was a Demon-Hunter by description, though it quickly became obvious to the party that Smith (while capable of fighting many things) had regularly been manipulated into fighting non-demons by people more intelligent than himself.

I entered my zealous paladin-like character into the mix. Waldorf was a powerful martial artist and elemental mage who worked as a trouble-shooter for the Church of Pure Light. He began his career dealing with criminal elements while assisting the urban poor (sort of a mix of Shaft and a social worker), and after making too many enemies was transferred to this demon cult issue.

While investigating the demon issue, the party all witnessed a massive shaft of light that seemed to shoot all the way to the moon or all the way from the moon. The shaft of light was literally a continent wide event, noticed by major powers across the world though due to the distance, our party of adventurers were the only people interested in dropping everything to go investigate. Of course, we also knew that Fugax, a wizard who didn’t always think things ahead, very well might be on the moon or trying to get back from the moon. There was also a lot of random stuff about prophecies and possibly the end of the world.

What ended up happening when we got there was not what we had been expecting.

The blast of magical energy had landed in the middle of a continent sized desert, similar to the outback but with less vegetation. Where it had landed though was awash with vegetation. While in this sudden jungle, we encountered a group of adventurers from the other side of the wastes who revealed a bundle of information regarding demons, the Earth, the Moon, and the Gnaritas (largely believed to be the cultural progenitors of most of our races, also responsible for the construction of the Cylex). We were unsure whether or not to take their word on these matters but we all agreed that this shaft of magical energy from the moon needed further investigation.

In the center of the jungle, there was a massive tower that was being constructed seemingly by itself. Within this tower were automatons that we mind-probed to learn more about. What we learned was that the tower was some sort of large teleportation amplifier that would allow people to travel to and from the moon, and was in fact constructed by a Gnaritas. The Gnaritas, apparently still alive after thousands upon thousands of years.

Our party ended up confronting the Gnaritas who built the giant tower (called The Traveler). This became a massive info-dump that basically completely assaulted the very world view of our characters. Essentially what we learned was that all of our species were created by the Gnaritas for their own experiments and amusements, and he viewed us as no more than philosophical zombies. Demons had different “souls,” than us and could live forever because they were not like us, in the views of the Gnaritas there were non-automatons. The Gnaritas also lived forever, and had different souls but were not like demons, though he refused to elaborate on how this was possible (it was something that Fugax theorized as possible at some point in the campaign). Further information was given to us from the Gnaritas that basically continued to make us question things like the very nature of our own existence, and the cornerstones of our lives.

So, we did what seemed to be the logical conclusion.

We fought him. In the name of our beliefs, in the name of answers, in the name of the truth.

And we died, all of us…*

 

The reason why I bring this up is it raises a few important questions regarding morality, belief, and truth.

Truth is a difficult concept to wrap our heads around especially the more that we learn about our world through empirical measurement. Even though we’re met with these empirical, (theoretically) objective truths, at the same time we’re advancing technology and discovering that these empirical truths might not always be objectively true. Thus truth becomes once again a malleable and subjective concept. Yet, it is from our understanding of truth, and our duty to the truth, that we derive many of our beliefs and morals.

In this setting, all of the characters labored under the belief that demons were inherently evil. They were inherently evil because of the fact that the very nature of their souls had been altered. This had formed the basis for religions, such as that of my character. My character was a Knight of the Church of Pure Light, which took a militant view against demons and by extension sin, and societal evil. It was his sacred duty to seek out demons, and more mundane villainy, at any cost, and remove it.

Suddenly centuries of church doctrine were being upended because standing before them was a Gnaritas. Of course, that Gnaritas very well might have been a demon, at least as far as the characters were concerned. At the same time, it was hard to believe the very idea that the progenitors of their civilizations would lie to them.

There was also the flip side, the Gnaritas’ view that we were mere automatons and no different than the day we had been created (if his creation story is true). Our societies had grown, and we had developed free will. Or, at least, we seemed to feel that we had developed free will. We could recall choices that we had made, if that’s what’s required to establish free will.

However, either way when we are confronted with something that flies in the face of our beliefs, our truths, there is an almost instinctive reaction to defend ourselves. The question is whether or not that instinct is morally correct?

What if we are wrong?

Do you still come out swinging, or is the morally correct path to take a step back and process things?

When is it morally correct to resort to violence?

As I go back and think about it, I know that my character would not have done differently. Waldorf was a man of his beliefs, and he would not stand for them being dismissed in such a manner, nor would he stand the idea that he was some mere automaton. His gut reaction was that this was some sort of demonic trick, and that he must blast it from the face of the earth.**

However, Waldorf wasn’t constructed to necessarily grapple with harsh moral realities.

Nor was he necessarily someone who might be able to argue the beauty inherent in the idea that a created species had gained sapience and sentience and free will. So perhaps he wasn’t the best prepared to have his worldview upended. Then again, who is ready for that?

Which brings back to the question of what is the morally appropriate response to having our world views challenged. We have a duty to our beliefs and to defend them because they are a part of ourselves, but do we not have a greater duty to the truth?

Do we not in our very nature as Homo sapiens sapiens, Man the Thinker, have an imperative to think, to wonder, and to reflect?

The truth is a difficult thing to understand because there is not some guidebook to the universe that tells us what is and is not true. However that does not mean that we do not have a duty to search out that guidebook, to try and define what is and isn’t true. Even if the world is truly subjective, we have a duty to discover what subjective reality we ascribe to.

And if truth is our polestar, then is a hostile response ever morally appropriate when our views are challenged?

 

*: Well actually, two of the NPCs from the other party of adventurers survived and ended up on the Moon where they met Fugax and Esmee…
**: And he tried. He summoned lightning and fire to aid him. When given a chance to surrender, he spat in the Gnaritas’ face. He was then killed.

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