Good and Evil: Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant.I'd been intending to talk briefly about the underlying morality of Dungeons & Dragons, because I'd mentioned it as part of critique of Carcosa in Part 4 of my review. There I said that D&D is "built on a remarkably traditionalist moral structure." I fully expected that that line would raise hackles in some quarters and so it did. Geoffrey McKinney objects, saying:
--Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979)
I must admit to seeing no such things, whether in the D&D game or in its supplements. What is there in the OD&D game + supplements to prevent the PCs from being chaotic worshippers of Set, slaying and tormenting innocents, etc? What is there in a WWII miniatures wargame preventing players from playing the Axis powers? What is there in either case preventing such players from succeeding in their aims? I see no strictures on chaotic characters in D&D. Each type of playing piece has its own strengths and weaknesses, but I do not see that the game is weighted one way or the other. Neither do I see strictures or even admonitions to ensure that Law prevails over Chaos. Indeed, I think such things would cause the game to be less fun.I find this a strange objection, because my point was not that D&D in any way prevents a player from creating and portraying an evil character; that's clearly not the case. When I said that the game is built on a remarkably traditionalist moral structure, I had in mind quotes like the one from the DMG above. That quote makes it clear that moral relativism has no place in D&D. Good and evil are very clearly defined and certain actions, such as treating creatures as means rather than ends, are always and without question evil.
The consequence of these objective definitions of good and evil is not that players are -- or even should be -- limited in their choice of alignment for their characters. Rather, it's that the text of the game itself does not support the notion that evil actions are in any way right, correct, or otherwise commendable -- quite the contrary! This is important for two reasons. First, it's useful as a reminder to players that, for example, torturing orc captives isn't appropriate behavior for supposedly good characters. Second, it's useful for when outsiders come along and read the books and erroneously think the game promotes murder and mayhem (among other things).
My concern with Carcosa is that its alignment system provides no means in-game to be able to say that the followers of Chaos, the servants of the Great Old Ones, are in fact evil and thus morally reprehensible. One might be able to infer this, given the likely reaction most people have to the idea of human sacrifice, but that inference is undercut, as I noted in my review, by the book's statement that all behaviors, "including the most noble and altruistic," can be found among adherents of all alignments. If true, if being Chaotically-aligned, which is defined in Carcosa as being a servant of the Great Old Ones, is in no way objectively wrong, then one could then reasonably suppose that the actions of Chaotics, up to and including human sacrifice, are not wrong, merely undesirable to the human sacrificed.
That may not seem like an important to thing to some and I grant that. However, I think it does put Carcosa at odds with the moral structure implicit in OD&D and explicit in AD&D, where moral evil is the realm of inhuman monsters and those men and women who choose to make themselves similarly inhuman by their actions.