Faith in Play #3: Javan’s Feast

This is Faith in Play #3: Javan’s Feast, for February 2018.

Have you ever been in a game in which a character in the game did something that impacted all the players at the table? It happened to me once.

Well, it probably has happened to many of us. It happens sometimes when one player crosses a line, bringing something into a game that makes everyone uncomfortable, such as a rape or graphic slaughter scene; or when a player gets the idea that because his character is a thief the other characters are not going to be offended if he cheats them and steals from them, and they realize this. However, have you ever been in a game where the action of a character had a positive impact on the gaming group?

I have such a story.

Javan was a cavalier, neutral good under Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ rules. He was definitely a boor. It was joked that he thought he was the party leader because they insisted he walk in the front. There was a flamboyance about him—most characters who kicked open doors would secure them with a wooden stake, but he carried half a dozen daggers to jam into doorframes for that purpose. He was arrogant, assuming always that he was the best fighter in the room, but in an unassuming way that did not require him to prove it to anyone. He was also good—he would not kill any creature without a reason, to the point that when they were exploring a cave complex looking for a specific object and happened upon an orc lair he started no fights with the orcs—although he finished several. There was a chaotic good half-elven ranger/cleric in the area who did not like him at all, because he was just rude to people, oblivious to the fact that they were real people with real feelings.

(Yes, I know, none of them were real people and none of them had real feelings, because it was all about fictional characters in a fictional world in a game. Just go with the fiction, O.K.?)

Of course, character parties exploring dungeons often become wealthy, and players often fail to recognize that a couple thousand gold coins is more money than the typical peasant family will see in several generations. He had advanced a couple of levels and accumulated some wealth and had no pressing needs. Unlike some other classes, such as the paladin, the cavalier is not required to divest himself of excess cash (which usually means that the character announces he is paying his necessary tithe or contribution and the money simply evaporates from the world theoretically to some worthy cause). However, being good—and as I have often said, if you are neutral good, you do not stand for anything but the best outcome for the largest number of people, however that might be achieved—he was inherently concerned about doing good.

Let me digress. Most of us seem to have the notion that “being good” means nothing more than not doing anything bad. We probably get this notion in our childhood, when our parents say to us “be good” when what they really mean is “don’t do anything for which I am going to have to punish you.” Not doing anything bad is not really being, in an active sense, good. It’s merely not being bad. Javan was intent on being, and thus on doing, good.

The opportunity arose when he had about eight thousand gold and it was the middle of winter—the equivalent of February, as I recall. The snow lay on the ground, and the fields were white but not for harvest. He realized that food would be in short supply, and there would be many ordinary peasants struggling to survive the winter. So he decided to do something about it. He spoke with the innkeeper where they were staying, and said that on one particular day—and they picked the date, about two weeks away—he wanted to hold a huge feast and feed all the poor of the village and surrounding countryside. He was willing to spend up to four thousand gold to do so. The innkeeper was to work with him on this, hiring help to cook and serve, buying game from hunters, bringing in food from wherever he could get it, all of which Javan would finance.

This completely shocked everyone at the table. No one had ever in memory seen any character perform a good deed on that scale—and several had been playing for nearly two decades (almost as long as there had been role playing games), and those who had not been had been playing for most of their shorter lives. A player running a cleric, perhaps embarrassed that he had not thought of it first, announced that his character would join in the effort by contributing another two thousand on top of what was already being spent. The members of the party became involved in finding ways to make it work. Even that ranger/cleric who did not like the cavalier joined in the effort, working with teamsters to deliver food to nearby farms and villages whose elderly owners would have trouble reaching the town for the feast day.

And all the players realized that to be good it is not sufficient that you simply never do anything bad; you must actively do something good.

I can think of a dozen reasons why in reality that feast would be a bad idea. Buying up all that food only increased the shortages for the days ahead; people would gorge themselves, even make themselves sick, on the free feast, only to suffer for it thereafter; cooked leftover food could not easily be saved for long, nor distributed adequately. But these practical problems were not of concern to anyone in the game world, and none of them were realized in play. What was seen was a good character actually being good, instead of simply not being evil. And that made a difference not merely to characters in a game, but to people playing at the table.

It was not that difficult, really. The player simply had to think about what concerns a good person would have, and what could be done to address them, and then put it into action. I’ll bet you could stir up a few things in your gaming group with something like this, and I’d love to hear the outcome.

Previous article: Portals.
Next article: Bad Friends.

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