To defeat the Death Cult, the Church is gonna have to roll up her sleeves, get her hands dirty, and make some messes.
Gamer and fellow systematic theologian Rick Stump addresses the misperception among D&D players that good is weak and dumb.
Many years ago I had been only DMing for months when a guy I knew invited me to sit in on a game he played. He said it had a ranger, a cleric, a magic-user and two thieves. I sat with him and rolled up a paladin on my first try. I was very eager to play and described how my character rode up to the small country home they used as a base and dismounted, and introduced myself as So and So the paladin.
At that point the entire party attacked my character and killed him in a single round.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Paladin,” said one of the players, “We hate paladins. Can’t stand that lawful good bull.”
“But I thought you were a ranger?” I said.
“I am! But we’re all chaotic neutral – the DM let’s rangers be neutral.” he replied.
The DM felt that killing a good person for no reason was at worst a chaotic act, which surprised me even more until, sitting in (I had a spare character because that is the way I roll) I watched this party ofchaotic neutral players loot and pillage a hamlet because one of them only needed 80 experience points to level up. When they were done they even burned the farms and barns. When I asked what they thought would happen to the 60-80 innocent men, women, and children whom they had just left foodless, penniless, homeless, and without any livestock, tools, or weapons since Winter was less than a month away they replied ‘who cares? Just NPCs, man’. When I asked them why they never played or liked good characters they were near universal in saying, ‘Good is stupid and weak’.
I was once sitting in with a party, just observing, as the DM ran an NPC paladin who was guiding them. The party was neutral but on a mission from the Bishop and the paladin was the only guy that knew the way. The DM rolled an encounter and boom! red dragon attacks the party. After the first round I quietly asked the DM,
“Did you forget the paladin? He’s just sitting there.”
“What? He would never help neutral people!”
The paladin sat there on his horse, sword in its sheath and lance rested doing nothing until the dragon breathed fire, killing half the party as well as the paladin and his warhorse. The party, with no guide and too weak from the encounter anyway, turned back. When I asked the DM why he did things that way he said (as close to a direct quote as I can get after the years),
“Have you read the books? No paladin would ever help a neutral person, ever!”
“But his inaction let an evil creature triumph! That wasn’t about helping neutral people, that was about destroying evil!”
“The lawful part means he has to do that even if it is stupid.”
Note that the evil-masquerading-as-neutral players and DMs had their concept of good formed by post-1980 fantasy books.
As for Rick…
I had been running my Seaward campaign for 6 years before I read The Hobbit and for 8 before I read The Lord of the Rings. I had spent my early years reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Andre Norton, Le Morte D’Arthur, and (especially) the stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers. Heck, I read Vance’s Lyonesse before I read The Fellowship of the Ring.
The great thing about the books that I read first and most, from the Twelve Peers to the Return of the King, was that they all give a very clear idea of what is meant by good and evil, especially within the milieu of fantasy, be it literature or tabletop role playing.
The Twelve Peers, John Carter, Allan Quatermaine all shared a few traits – they were brave, they were honest, the protected the weak, and they were decisive. They also laughed, had close friends, drank, and fought. But they also were champions of the weak, loyal friends, fierce enemies, and able to judge others by their words and deeds rather than being bigoted (John Carter not only has friends of all of the races of Mars he forges close ties between them for the first time in millenia; Allan Quatermaine admires and supports Umbopa/Ignosi long before he learns he is a king; if a man is a good fighter and a Catholic his past is his past to the paladins.
Once again, we see the stark difference–not just in quality, but underlying morality–between post-1980 fiction and the pulps/classics.
As for good being stupid and weak, ask the golden calf worshipers about Moses. Ask the priests of Baal about Elijah. Ask the heresiarch Arius about St. Nicholas and the traitorous French nobles about St. Joan of Arc.
Not only is goodness the truth, it is being. Evil is nothing more than a lacking in the good with no positive existence of its own.
Sickness is the absence of health. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. Sin is a lack of charity.
This parasitic relationship means that evil is not only weaker than the good, evil is wholly dependent on it.
Similarly, defeat is the lack of victory. Evil can only win if good men cooperate with it through act or omission. Let’s act accordingly.
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