The Library of Table

Given an infinite combination of games & food . . .

Paladins for the Ethical Treatment of the Animate

Ethics get tricky when they’re imaginary.

Just for a moment, consider the lowly orc. There’s all manner of debate in the roleplaying crowds about whether or not it’s okay to fight them unless you are in imminent peril or there’s clear evidence they’re up to no good. Do you need just cause to kill an orc, or because orcs are considered by their very nature to be evil, is it cool to kill them on sight?

Paladin in Hell(Or is it even out and out racist to have a race of purely evil beings in your game to begin with. Though those who object to universally qualifying orcs as evil start to lose their objections when we swap orcs with the various sorts of undead, demons, or devils, who in our pseudo-Christian culture it’s downright kosher to think of as inherently evil. And they pretty much think it’s a-okay to do whatever you want to a Nazi soldier in your game, which raises all sort of questions about priorities when you stop to consider they’re the only folks on the list to have ever existed and are not by their inherent nature beings of evil. These, of course, are questions I won’t be addressing here.)

But D&D has far deeper ethical issue than who you take a sword to.

Speak With Animals

You can comprehend and communicate with animals. You are able to ask questions of and receive answers from animals, although the spell doesn’t make them any more friendly or cooperative than normal. Furthermore, wary and cunning animals are likely to be terse and evasive, while the more stupid ones make inane comments. If an animal is friendly toward you, it may do some favor or service for you.

Now editions differ on just how this works, but the quote above (from the 3.5 edition System Reference Document) is pretty typical. Druids and other like-minded nature folk in the game generally have the ability to talk with animals. Hold conversations with them. Even have tea with them as Mr. Tumnus might.

This pretty staggering. Speak with motherfucking animals. And not like crazy cat lady speak with animals, either. You get to literally ask them what’s on their minds and they can, if they so wish, respond.

Conversations one would imagine would go something very much like this:

Frankie the Druid: Hey Bessie, how about some steak for dinner?

Bessie the Cow: Fuck you, Frankie.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

The elves, dwarves, halflings, humans and sundry other peoples of D&D have, at their disposal, a clear and succinct method of settling 97.34% of all the vegan v. non-vegan debates I have ever witnesses or participated in. One little spell (or spell-like ability, or ritual, or whatever your edition calls for) and we’re done. Animals can finally tell us their thoughts on our diets. Case closed.

Well, that was a pretty good VeganMoFo post. Got to talk about D&D, made some a Narnia reference, posted one of my favorite pieces of art from the original Players’ Handbook, and ended with a strong message about how even imaginary people should be vegan. All in all, I’d say a job well–

Speak with Plants

You can comprehend and communicate with plants, including both normal plants and plant creatures. You are able to ask questions of and receive answers from plants. A regular plant’s sense of its surroundings is limited, so it won’t be able to give (or recognize) detailed descriptions of creatures or answer questions about events outside its immediate vicinity.

Fuck!

I don’t what to know what a goddamn potato thinks about being sliced and deep fried. I suspect it’s not happy about it. This is the end of guilt-free cuisine.

And it doesn’t stop with plants. No. Last Thursday night, a bunch of mushroom dudes mopped the dungeon floor with my sorcerer and his companions. In then end, we bested them. But not until after we took a savage beating.

Some copper miners dug too deep into a mountainside and uncovered a colony of these myconid bastards, who then enslaved the miners–and I half suspect they were using them as fertilizer for their young.

So we stepped in and put a stop to it. But as I shot spouts of flame from my magic staff* to broil the beds of baby mushrooms, I couldn’t help but wonder about the ethical ramifications of the miners’ industrial encroachment on this indigenous species in the first place.

And I was also thinking about how I could go for a nice mushroom masala.

*Yes, my magic staff spouts flame and, no, I haven’t seen a doctor about it. I’m waiting to see if it clears up on it’s own.

All right, enough beating around the shrubbery, it’s confession time.

Several summers ago I had a chance to play in Ben Lehman‘s as of yet unpublished game Adventures in the Land of a Thousand Kings. A delightful romp in the style of Alice in Wonderland or Narnia, where you play yourselves as you’re transport through some portal in the room you’re playing in to the Land of a Thousand Kings.

The game has all these charming bits that help the players get to know each other better and encourages them to go out and play with strangers. I loved it. But at this first session, something happened that’s cast a long shadow over the intervening years.

We were confronted with the Kingdom of the Empty Heart Vegetables–botanical beasts I remember being something like a cross between an eggplant and Ripley’s alien. They had been invading a neighboring kingdom or kingdoms, I’m not sure how many. It’s a bit telling that I can’t recall many details of the beyond the vegetables themselves. This horrid vegetation devoured all in its path. And we were pressed into stopping the invasion.

I hit upon a plan. With some steam and a crop-dusting of spices, and we made them smell so delicious that the vegetables turned their insatiable hunger on themselves. Ally ravenously consumed ally. A horrible cannibal ghannouj holocaust.

We saved the day! Big fucking heroes! And in the heat of the moment I was elated.

But soon after it started to set in. I was the instrument for a near genocide. Sure, they were vegetables, and their hearts were empty, but they were at least as aware as any pig or cow. It was just a game, but I couldn’t hide behind that. I wasn’t playing some crafty wizard or dashing spaceman. I was playing myself, Epidiah Ravachol, in the Land of a Thousand Kings.

To illustrate this point, several times in during the adventure my veganism was an issue. I needed clothes and they had to be vegan. I needed food and it had to be vegan. Because I was Eppy and Eppy is vegan. There’s no escaping my ethics here.

And so I became the Chef de Mort. The guilt of my actions swiftly got to me, but not swift enough. I now have a standing invitation with Ben Lehman to play the game again so I could return to Kingdom of the Empty Heart Vegetables and make my reparations. But he lives on another coast and in all that time since my crimes I’ve not seen him.

So I stand before you, a war criminal and a lousy imaginary vegan.

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3 Comments»

  Jimbles wrote @

Another great post!

From the D&D 4E Monster Manual II:
“Myconids are plant creatures touched by the madness of the Fomorians. Although not necessarily evil, Myconids strive to expand their territory and numbers”

So, unlike orcs, myconids are not inherently evil. They are “touched by madness”, whatever the hell that means. And they do sound a bit imperialistic.

I think we were all working under the assumption that the miners cracked their way into the Myconid lair and the Myconids went berserk and started killing and enslaving them. If that’s the case, I’d say shame on the Myconids. They all have reasonable intelligence scores so there’s no excuse for that kind of behavior. I mean if bunch of miners accidentally dug their way into my apartment, my first reaction wouldn’t be to kill them. If I did, and then a bunch of adventurers showed up a few days later and killed me, I kinda had it coming.

On the other hand, what if the miners saw the Myconids and attacked first? Perhaps the Myconids only fought back in self defense? And then you adventurers show up and the first thing you do is shoot a fireball down the hallway where you suspect the Myconids are hanging out? So of course they would defend themselves again.

Maybe those were peaceful Myconids who didn’t want to fight! Maybe you should consider that next time we play. In fact, as a gesture of good faith, I think you should all go into the next dungeon with no weapons and no armor, and walk right up to the monsters with your hands extended in friendship. I think that will go really well for you.

  Epidiah wrote @

The way I’ve been rolling lately, I might as well walk in naked and unarmed.

But you bring up a very interesting point about the “touched by madness.” Is it a mercy to kill a mad myconid? Like one might put down a mad dog?

If so and if they’re all touched by the madness, what grim mission awaits these angels of mercy who’ve taken it upon themselves to bring peace to these fungi?

Can we cure the madness with magic? Perhaps a ritual that removes curses and afflictions. Then a much more difficult task awaits. To capture without injury, cure and release.

Could other such crazed creatures be cured? Could we finally see owlbears as companion animals?

  Matt Wilson wrote @

“Touched by madness” sounds like the D&D version of the religious right. Who are you to suggest that owlbears need to be cured?

Then again, I would love to see the camp they’re sent off to.


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