Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Apparently Devils in D&D 5e are Just Misunderstood

Bad Mike and I touched on this story earlier tonight on the Talking Crit Livestream, but I thought it was worthy of sharing on the blog:

D&D lead rules designer: Devils don’t have to be evil any more 

While the title may be a bit extreme and expands upon a topic that has already been touched upon (orcs and drow no longer necessarily being evil) Jeremy Crawford takes it to the next level:

Almost all other creatures will either be listed as “Any Alignment” or, in a few cases, “Unaligned” – and even creatures with a “strong moral inclination” such as Angels, Devils, and Demons, will merely be listed as “Typically” Good or Evil, to be customised at the DM’s discretion. It’s aimed at underlining the idea that alignment – which plots a creature’s position on the twin spectrums of Good to Evil, and Lawful to Chaotic – is meant as a “narrative suggestion” and “roleplaying aid” rather than a fundamental, cast-iron rule.

I don't remember alignment being a cast-iron rule. I always thought it was meant as a guideline and a narrative shortcut.

"It's a raiding party of orcs" - evil

"It's a hunting party of elves" - good

Individuals were always potentially exceptional. That is the narrative power behind characters like Drizzt - he is exceptional. If all Drow could be good heroes, he'd no longer be special.

Devils are just misunderstood in D&D 5e. I knew it all along...

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  1. So. Is this going to be the latest outrage du jour?

    It reads EXACTLY like how we played in the day. Monsters will have an alignment and they will typically act in that matter. All that is different here is they are saying the "typically" part out loud.

    There was a Lawful Good Succubus in 3e. I seem to recall there also being atypically aligned individual outsiders in 2e Planescape. This is not without precedent.

    Once again I'll say this if you don't play 5e, or in this case, 5.5, then why do you even care? Or if you do play it get a pencil and draw a line through "typically".

    I mean JFC there are articles in Dragon dating back to the Paleolithic Age of D&D about getting rid of or changing or doing something different with alignment and when the current publisher actually tries something new people start getting the vapors and start fainting in the halls.

    1. I never got the impression people were getting the vapors because something new was going on, but rather because people were just kind of laughing at how stupid WotC apparently
      thinks their customers are.

      As you say, D&D has always been written, and played, to give the users the ultimate discretion on all rules and has always portrayed rules as guidelines only. And yet, WotC apparently thinks
      they have to update the rules to say this, not once, as in previous editions, but perhaps on every page, or even every stat block. How many pages will be added to the already 1000+
      page core books in order to make explicit that which has been known for decades? It just seems ridiculous to do this when the game has always included a
      paragraph in each book telling players they can do what they want and that the printed rules were simply a baseline for modification.

      Wotc apparently thinks their current audience is too stupid to understand the game as it has always been written. I'm afraid they may be right. So this probably isn't a bad move for those gamers
      who can't understand a general statement about a ruleset.

    2. The ability of people to "pencil a line through it" for the past 40 years on alignment didn't stop them from complaining about it. So why should anyone who dislikes it feel they should be quiet when the shoe is on the other foot?

  2. I think the implication is to allow for corruption and redemption. After all, how often do we see the trope of the fallen angel in stories, movies, or games? Add to that the origin of devils literally has to do with angels being corrupted and falling from grace. Perhaps they could be redeemed at some point. It's incredibly unlikely, but not impossible.

    I don't think it's bad for alignment to be given a more nuanced place in the game. It's not like debates about whether this or that act is good or evil or violates one's alignment, or whether those noncombatants in the orc village should be left to live because all orcs are (were) evil haven't been going on since the game's early history.

  3. I'm with Brannan on this. Phony outrage about a non-starter of an issue. There are probably some tables out there that treat alignment as cast-iron rules and have done so since OD&D, and they can keep right on doing so. I've never met a group that actually does so in practice (the closest being tables that didn't allow some traditionally-evil races as PCs) and for everyone who's always treated exceptional alignments as something that happens this is just explicit rather than tacit approval from the publisher. Which yeah, we didn't need, but I fail to see how it hurts anyone. It's not like they're insisting "cast-iron" groups change the way they play.

  4. It's true. The only Devils that HAVE to be evil are the ones that go into law and politics.

  5. At what point do we just ignore the habitual shark jumper that is Jeremy Crawford?

    I couldn’t care less what WotC does with, WOTC’s Fantasy RPG 3rd edition, more commonly known as 5E or mistakenly called D&D 5th edition.

    Nope, not any kind of D&D I know. I’m going to steal this line from Senator Benson, it’s quite famous and matches this to a tee.

    “I played Dungeons & Dragons, I wrote using the game system, I ran Dungeons and Dragons for decades, Dungeons and Dragons is my all time favorite TTRPG…..

    So to Jeremy Crawford, “I know Dungeons & Dragons, and you have no creative mind for it”.

    He does not understand nor probably respects how Dungeons & Dragons is supposed to be played.

  6. Agreed no need to get worked up. Pathfinder wrath of the righteous has chances to redeem demons and corrupt angels. Planes are Torment the PC game has a good succubus. Lord Robilar has an orc henchman (mind you Robilar did become a bad guy)

  7. Orcus is really a nice guy, once you get to know him. Fighting against his cause is unjust. An Elhonna, that b*tch seems nice, but her and her elf ilk are nothin' but eco terrorists.

    Yeah, I'll pass.

  8. I think that some people that object to the change may believe that it is based on real-world ideology rather than what makes for a better game.

  9. I can't wait until I run The Keep on the Borderlands, my millennial players are all "oh, they're kids, they aren't evil" when they encounter the child-orcs and then get their backsides handed to them by the cannibalistic little critters.

    Of course, my devils are nice to their victims. Extraordinarily nice, in fact. Devils know you get more flies with honey, and so are very quick to keep their word and establish a rapport. Little things that players don't even know taint their souls are always the first things asked for. The Screwtape Letters is such a better sourcebook about devils than anything WOTC can put out.

    1. > I can't wait until I run The Keep on the Borderlands, my millennial players are all "oh, they're kids, they aren't evil" when they encounter the child-orcs and then get their backsides handed to them by the cannibalistic little critters.

      The way I see it, here are attitudes about orcs and other goblinoids that exist among players and DMs, ranked in increasing order of how interesting they make the existence of orc "females and young" in Keep on the Borderlands:

      1. "Orcs are evil, orc babies are evil, and evil should be destroyed. That's all there is to it." This means that there is no moral dilemma about what the do about the juvenile orcs, and doing the right thing (killing them) is either no different from doing the right thing about the adults, other than being slightly easier (if they fight back) OR a rather ugly (even if morally correct) business, and without any real difficulty (if they don't).

      2. "No race is inherently predisposed to good or evil, or to any other personality trait, and if you think they are, you're racist. Also, no one in the PCs' society is racist, aside from maybe a few obvious villains, because this is fantasy, and if you want to fantasize about racism, there's something wrong with you." I have *ZERO* interest in playing with these people, but this attitude does actually make the this particular situation slightly more interesting than the first attitude. There's no moral dilemma, but there are novel logistical problems in dealing with a bunch of orphans (or at least, fatherless children and widowed mothers, depending on whether the females are included in the "do not fight" category) that you have (at least arguably) just assumed moral responsibility for, when (a) said orphans are probably rather upset (to put it mildly) with and/or terrified of you, and (b) you're potentially going to be coming under attack between here and the nearest safe location.

      3. "No race is inherently predisposed to good or evil, but that doesn't stop a whole lot of people from believing that they are." Still no initial moral dilemma, but the potential for some later ones, and a lot more complicated logistics. Should you take them back to the keep or to a town further from the frontier, and try to find parents who will care for them, despite their being orcs? What if you can't, or the only ones you can find are awful? Give them to a religious order? Which one, will they take them, and how confident are you that *they're* not going to be awful, in relation to this particular issue. Try to find an orc tribe that *isn't* at war your realm, and see if *they're* interested in adopting the orphans? Or . . . (If the mothers are still alive, this solves some problems, but creates others, given that whatever may be *inherently* true, this particular group of orcs is pretty clear *culturally* problematic, to say the least, given the whole "greeted by rotting human and demi-human heads" thing.)

      4. Most interesting, and certainly most interesting in the moment: "Orcs are not inherently evil, but are inherently *predisposed* to evil, and rather strongly so. They have free will, but Gruumsh whispers ever in the ears, telling to burn, kill, rape, and ravage. Most give in to these promptings entirely, and even those who do not are more prone to give in to temptation when angered or frustrated." Now there's an actual hard moral question: What do you do about beings that aren't evil, and aren't *guaranteed* to become evil, but who very probably will. If you kill them, your hands are stained with innocent blood, but if you do not, and they grow up to be the sort of people they *probably will*, then what of the blood of *their* victims?

      That, to my mind, is a far more *interesting* situation to put players in than *either* "okay, well, we clearly need to murder them" *or* "okay, well, we clearly can't just murder them."

  10. I've heard a lot of oldsters like myself moaning about this change and gnashing their teeth about it. The word 'woke' comes up a lot.

    I think the part that most of them are missing is that we don't 'own' the game, just because we've been playing it forever. This change is for the young 'uns.

    WotC knows its customer base, and if you think this rule is stupid, I hate to break it to you-- but you're an increasingly marginal part of the game's current audience.

    1. This. I'm not really surprised that they are moving away from hard alignments but for me that is one of many signs that d&d ain't for me anymore. I wish those who play it much enjoyment and many a grand adventure. But I'll be doing something else.

  11. LoL … on the interwebs, some of the people complaining that WOTC doesn’t need to explicitly remind us that not all Demons and Devils are evil are bumping up against the “all devils, demons, orcs, vampires, etc. MUST be evil, and WOTC should be burned at the stake as heretics for even suggesting otherwise” crowd.

    In at least one instance a gamer currently arguing that “everyone has known for 40+ years that it’s just a suggestion that devils are evil”, was in the “all orcs - most humanoids, in fact - must be irremediably evil” camp a couple of months back. 🤣

  12. As a developer of 5e content, I viewed this clarification around the information architecture as prescriptive for 3rd parties to prepare for 5x. It is a chance to get ahead for backward compatibility.


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