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Conspicuous Charity or: When Bug Gave the Gift of Addiction

December 25, 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.

As we all know the Fantasy Pirate game could get very whacky, but I feel like little was as consistently whacky as the actual player character Bug. Bug was a bugbear, a monster of a bugbear to say the least. Yet, Bug also had dreams of being not so violent. In fact, despite carrying a club the size of a small tree, Bug didn’t consider himself violent at all. This was because Bug was a pastry chef.

Bug didn’t start out this way.

Bugbears were a slave race, who provided labor throughout the Imperium and were the cannon fodder of the Imperium. Their lives are hard, and their culture is all but gone. Most Bugbears have names that are normally related to the tasks they perform. For example, the party would eventually encounter and free a Bugbear of exceedingly low intelligence named “Clean,” eventually renamed, “Mr. Clean,” who literally knew nothing else in life than cleaning.

Bug’s initial back story seemed to have him as some sort of embittered slave-soldier who yearned to one day free his people from the oppressive yoke of generational slavery. Then this became narrowed down to how Bug wanted to free his family from slavery. Eventually, this was dropped off from Bug’s character entirely, replaced with his desire to become the best pastry chef in the world.

I’m not sure where Bug’s desire to become a pastry chef came from. It developed early on with the character, but I can’t find a discernible reason why Bug started thinking this. Either way, Bug not only viewed himself as a pastry chef, but as one who was going to make lots of money. So, it was always intriguing when Bug gave away pastries for free.

One of the first and major instances where this occurred was while the party was trying to deal with a demonic artifact. The group had obtained it after investigating a mining colony that had gone silent. The colony had gone silent because of the influence of this artifact, that had turned many people insane, as well as mentally enslaved a small cult lead by the possessed former security chief. Even though they banished the demon, they knew it was only a matter of time before it started to influence the world through the artifact again. So they needed to seek the advice of a sagely mage, and they didn’t want to risk going back to Freven with a demonic artifact. Therefore, they sought out a Lizardfolk settlement.

While the Lizardfolk did point them in the direction of an enclave of Shaman who did assist the party in determining the proper course of action (namely, dump it in the bottom of the ocean and hope for the best), it was what Bug did for the Lizardfolk that was strange. Bug would often offer people pastries in an attempt to get on their good side, or turn them into customers. When he offered pastries to the Lizardfolk he discovered that they had little concept of sweets because they didn’t harvest sugar. Their introduction to sugar seemed to be extremely intense, and they desired large quantities of pastries and sugar. However, the party went on their way once they knew how to contact the shamans.

What became of the Lizardfolk who were now enraged by their need for sweets is unknown…

 

The reason this story came up in my mind is because today is Christmas, which means that today is a day for giving. This time of year is when we’re all to really try and be as generous as possible, not only to our friends and family but to society as a whole. To those who truly need our assistance.

However, I’m left thinking about the notion of giving, and how the act of giving has further dimensions than most of us normally think about. There’s the simple fact, that most of us become aware of, that giving a gift begins a cycle of reciprocity that generally perpetuates itself and expands over time. A gift given, even when provided without any expectation of a gift to be returned, still begs for something done in return. This is because of how the person who receives the gift feels, you feel indebted whether you really are or not.

Yet, there can be further dimensions to gifts. As in the case of Bug, Bug was giving them all “gifts,” in the form of a taste of his product so that he could theoretically sell them more of his product to the Lizardfolk. This is the same type of gift that we see from all types of salespersons. It’s not really a gift, it’s an enticement to get you to buy something. It is, of course, also the tactic of drug dealers to get people addicted.

While Bug’s gift wasn’t this malicious, I’m also reminded of the many gifts given to Native Americans from both the expanding British and American militaries. A continuous scheme was to gift rum to tribes, get them addicted, and then begin the process of having them trade for it. The most common item traded for the rum was white-tail deer, which would be hunted to extinction by the alcoholic hunters who then would have to go further and further afield. Being further from home, the hunters aren’t at home passing on their knowledge. Within a generation or two, the culture starts to fracture, or disappear.

There is truly no pure gift, since as I’ve mentioned cycles of reciprocity involve multiple people. The receiver of the gift is going to feel indebted no matter what, and will try to pay back the gift in some way. This is not an immoral gift, there’s no wrong doing on the part of the giver or receiver. However, there are clearly ways that gift-giving can be unethical. When a gift is not about maintaining a cycle of reciprocity but about creating a disparity between two parties we see the issue. This is what happens when the salesperson tries to sell his product, or the pusher attempts to create the addict. While you could argue that people who go above spending limits on gifts are also giving gifts immorally, I believe that this is a minor transgression not worth agonizing over.*
It’s important, especially at this time of year, to reflect on how we give gifts and why. None of our actions occur in a vacuum, but they are influenced by our own ideologies, experiences, and the actions of others. All of this naturally creates an ethical guide to assist us in our actions. It’s important to not only understand what good giving is, but how the act of giving itself can be tainted.

*: Unless the person goes obnoxiously above a spending limit, like a fucking asshole.

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