Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

How Lawful Are You?

LawIn the beginning of time as we know it (1973), Dungeons & Dragons had a single alignment scale – Law vs. Chaos. Law was mostly synonymous with Good, and Chaos with Evil. Four years later, AD&D added a second scale, Good vs. Evil, so a character could now be Chaotic Good or Lawful Evil.

D&D Paladins are unbending, unwavering goody-two-shoes. They always do what’s right, escort little old ladies across streets, and never run a red light. They stay in the extreme “Lawful Good” corner of the alignment chart.

Lori and I had a different vision of “what is a Paladin?” when we created Quest for Glory, and that affects the School for Heroes view of a Paladin as well. Our Paladins are total individualists. They do what they believe to be Good regardless of laws or conventions. A Quest for Glory Paladin is closer to Neutral Good than to Lawful Good.

Most people consider “law-abiding” and “good” to be like cake and icing. They just naturally go together. If you’re one, you’re probably the other. But what do you do when these ideas are in conflict? What action do you take when a law forbids what you know to be right? For that matter, how do you behave when a law is merely inconvenient to you?

Who Wrote These Laws Anyway?

Not all laws were created with the wisdom of Hammurabi. Some range from poorly-conceived to downright stupid. If you drive at night on a rural road in Pennsylvania, there is still a law on the books that requires you to stop every mile, shoot a flare, and wait ten minutes before proceeding. That gives the local farmers time to get their livestock off the road. How many Pennsylvanians – or visitors to the state – have any idea that law exists? How many would even consider obeying it if they were aware of it?

You may laugh, but how lawful are you when it comes to more reasonable traffic laws? Do you scrupulously drive under the speed limit at all times? Do you come to a full and complete stop, then look both ways and wait, before continuing at a stop sign? Have you ever downloaded software, videos, or music from a pirate site or copied a friend’s CD or MP3?

There’s an old joke about a policeman pulling a woman over and asking her if she knows what a yellow traffic light means. She answers, “Of course I do, officer! It means drive like Hell because the light is about to turn red.” How about the opposite? I read a story in the Fresno Bee about a man who stopped suddenly when the light turned yellow. His car was rear-ended by a police cruiser, and the officer told him that he was at fault for driving unsafely.

Joke again, right? No. It happened. I remember the story because I almost had a similar accident at that same intersection. I stopped for the yellow light and the car behind me slammed on his brakes, then swerved to pass me (after the light had turned red). Contrary to the California Driver’s Handbook, apparently a yellow light does mean, “Drive like Hell.”

I wonder how well engineers in Indiana (this may be apocryphal – I’ve heard it told about other states) were able to do their work after the state legislature decreed that Pi = 3. Or whether anyone has been arrested under the Blythe, California ordinance that makes it illegal to wear cowboy boots unless you own at least two cows.

The thing is, legislators are people. The fact that they have discussion and debate before passing laws does not mean they get it right all the time. Sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes they get caught up in their own “authority”, and maybe they even get bored occasionally and throw something in as a joke. In any case, all laws are not created equal, and some aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. Yet our legal system insists that “law is law” and we must obey every single one of them to the letter… even those that most of us have never heard of.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

JusticeWe grew up reading comic books in the 60’s. Most of the heroes, including Superman and Batman, had a “code against killing”. They relied on the police and courts to put criminals in jail because killing the criminals would make them criminals too.

“The Dark Knight” questions that cookie-cutter morality. The Joker asks Batman, “How many have died?” The implication is that Batman is responsible for every criminal whom he helped imprison, and who later escaped or was released. It’s a little like the Chinese philosophy that, if you save a man’s life, you are responsible to him forever after.

“Thou shalt not kill” is a pretty straightforward law. And yet there are many exceptions. Soldiers are expected to kill “the enemy”. Criminals are put to death in many states and countries. Police are authorized to use deadly force when they consider it necessary. Is it immoral, unethical, or illegal to kill when that seems to be the only way to save your own life?

Put yourself in the boots of the Batman. What would you do when a despicable villain who has killed dozens of innocent people is hanging from a ledge and you have the opportunity to save him? Would you rescue him so that he can “face justice” (knowing that he has escaped from prison before)? Would you give him a push to make sure there is no escape this time? Or would you stand back and let destiny make your decision? What if the police are watching and you know you will be held accountable for your decision – Does that change your answer?

Life, Death, and Free Will

ChaosBreaking the law to “do good” is rarely an easy choice, for Heroes know that laws are important. Without them, might society descend into anarchy? Would “The Lord of the Flies” become our new guide to survival? Consistent enforcement of the law gives people guidelines for behavior that benefits society.

Striving for “the greatest good” is a challenge because we have neither perfect knowledge nor perfect ability to calculate tradeoffs. Nevertheless, as Heroes, we need to try.

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  1. Mookah Says:

    There are some philosophers who believed that order and goodness were inseparable, because they believed in only one ultimate good.

    Plato was one of these; he believed that good exists in the same way numbers exist.

    For example, he believed that there is a thing called ‘two,’ and it is one thing that exists in many forms: two apples, two oranges, two wonderful game designers who put a lot of work into a site which brings many people a lot of hope and joy, two examples of the same phenomenon.

    Similarly, he believed that there is a thing called ‘good’ which exists in many forms: helping old ladies across the street, saving cats from trees, putting a lot of work into a site which brings many people a lot of joy and hope, and showing people the truth in the way that most effectively gets them to like it.

    Plato would believe that if only the worldly law could reflect true goodness, which he viewed as being as immutable and perfect as mathematical truths.

    For this reason, I’ve always wished that there were another dimension to the D&D alignment scale: orderly versus chaotic and lawful versus unlawful. Because chaotic is not the same as unlawful. Many mythical fairies, for example, had a set of nonsensical, chaotic rules that they followed to the letter (no matter how frequently those rules changed.) Law seems to be a particular human institution that can change from state to state, while order and chaos are more universal. (Of course, that would make it a cube instead of a square, so I guess it’s not going to happen… but a girl can dream.)

    People view the law as being an embodiment of order, but it isn’t necessarily so. The law of the land is a golem, a robot, made from what we program it with – and it is subject to bugs. It need not reflect goodness in any way, shape, or form (and in some unfortunate cases it actively destroys goodness.)

    Whether order has a direct effect on goodness or not, however, is a more difficult question to determine. Someone who is chaotic enough, random enough, is eventually going to do some bad with the good. But if someone is orderly enough in their way of going about good, won’t they consistently do good with perfect precision?

    Of course, humans might never reach that level of perfection, so it may be a moot point… but it is possible that for some people, an orderly approach is the one more likely to lead them to do good than a chaotic one.

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