Tag: dungeon & dragons

RPG-ology #38: Polyglot

This is RPG-ology #38:  Polyglot, for January 2021.


I was going to call this article I Speak Jive, but it just happens that earlier this week I was chatting with someone about movies and he suggested that a movie could not get away with that joke today.  Given the recent clime (I am writing this the summer before it publishes, because I like to stay ahead of schedule on my deadlines) I decided that maybe I could mention it, but I couldn’t use it for the title.

It is important to mention, though, because it illustrates the problem being addressed here.  How do you communicate in a world in which many languages are spoken?  Last month I wrote about inscriptions, and gave a link to a table of one hundred sixty-nine identifiable recognized languages in original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and I won’t swear I got them all.  At any moment a character’s life might depend on his ability to talk to someone, or something, that doesn’t happen to speak the same language.  What are the options?  Complicating it further, even people who speak the same language can have trouble understanding each other.  There are jokes about Scotsman, Irishmen, and Welshmen speaking English to Englishmen, and when you mix in Yorkshire, Liverpool, and the East End of London, you wind up with the beginnings of a new Tower of Babel.  Indeed, Chinese may be the same written language, but those who speak the various dialects from different parts of the country are incomprehensible to each other.

The “common language” of the Dungeons & Dragons world is not so absurd as we might think.  The Greeks conquered a substantial part of eastern Europe and the Middle East, and when the Romans took over that territory, the Greek language became established as the language of trade throughout what they called the civilized world.  Still, although most even modestly educated people were at least trilingual (their native language, the commercial language Greek, and law language Latin), there were many who spoke only the local tongue, and as with Americans traveling in Europe you might suddenly find yourself faced with someone who doesn’t have a clue how to speak English, and doesn’t understand even when you speak it loudly and slowly.  Not everyone speaks common.

Star Trek resolved the issue by giving everyone “universal translators,” implanted in the ears, which automatically converted anything anyone said to the language of the listener.  Of course, from time to time the travelers encountered people whose language was too alien for the translator to render, and Spock had to do a computer analysis of the new language and reprogram the devices to handle it.  Not everyone speaks a language the device can translate.

Historically the solution has been to find interpreters, persons who speak more than one language and can translate what each party says to the language of the other.  This is tricky.  My high school French teacher commented once that she could get around Paris quite comfortably, but if her car broke down she would be clueless concerning how to talk about the distributor.

There’s a joke about gangsters questioning a foreigner about the location of some loot they had stolen.  They found a translator, who put the question to the prisoner.  “I don’t want to die,” he said.  “It’s not worth it.  The million dollars is in a suitcase behind the basement furnace at 1212 Delancy Street.”  The interpreter turned to the gangsters and said, “He says, you can kill me if you want, I’m never going to tell you what you want to know.”  Interpreters are not always reliable.

My sister speaks three languages—English, French, and Chinese—well enough that she worked as a United Nations translator for a while, but she sometimes gets thrown by words that are apparently not uncommon.  Still, multi-lingual interpreters are the go-to for communication between those who don’t speak a common language.

Even when they do, sometimes an interpreter or two is needed to avoid the kinds of misunderstandings that arise when neither party speaks the shared language well.


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Faith in Play #37: Balancing on the Corner

This is Faith in Play #37:  Balancing on the Corner, for December 2020.


When “balance” is mentioned in connection with Dungeons & Dragons™ alignment, thoughts immediately leap to neutrality, and of course neutrality is frequently about balance—but not always.  As we noted in connection with the side alignments neutrality can often mean simply ignoring one axis in favor of the other.  Thus a character who is neutral in one axis can be religiously devoted to one value, whether Good, or Evil, or Law, or Chaos.

Yet there is another aspect of alignment in which balance is happening constantly, and players seldom recognize it.

When I was talking about the side alignments, I told the story of a Neutral Good cleric/fighter who tortured a criminal suspect in an effort to obtain a confession.  When I penalized him for violating his alignment, he said that he was “only” Neutral Good, and he could justify a penalty if he were Lawful Good.  What does a Neutral Good stand for, I asked, if not Good?

He might have been able to make an argument that torturing that particular acolyte ultimately would benefit the greatest number of people; he did not.  On the other hand, at least one of the characters who participated in this, who was also penalized, was Lawful Good, and he could have made a more cogent argument:  the preservation of order in the settlement demanded the solving of the murder, and so justified the use of torture to obtain critical information from one of the key suspects.  That is, in this particular situation my commitment to Law outweighs my commitment to Good.

That is the balancing act of the corner alignments.  If I am Chaotic Evil, in this particular situation do I stand by my commitment to individual freedoms or pursue my own selfishness?  Sometimes it looks simple.  When Chaotic Good Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor, he is fighting against an oppressive system that takes the rights—and the money—from the peasants by restoring it to the peasants.  When Lawful Evil Darth Vader kills people on behalf of the Emperor, he is both maintaining the rule of his master and securing his own position.  Yet when Lawful Good Ivanhoe comes to the aid of the Jewess Rebecca, it is because he has decided that Good—the benefit of Rebecca and her family and her people—is more important than Law—the authority of the Paladin who would demand her servitude.  Yet even as he takes this more chaotic stand, he does so in as lawful a manner as he can.

It is, I find, the characters on the corner alignments who make the toughest choices in following their faith.  Law does not always align with Good, nor Chaos with Evil.  Someone once pointed out to me that an American Soldier had to be Neutral Good, because usually for the sake of protecting people he became part of a very structured and orderly organization to maintain another social structure which was primarily built on Chaos, that is, on preserving the rights of individuals.  He of course still had to make difficult choices for his neutrality, but could more easily justify them.  Those who have chosen to commit to two separate values, one moral and one ethical, face the most difficult choices in balancing their distinct commitments.

That, it strikes me, is very like us, as we find ourselves committed to more than one value and have to make choices between them.


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Next article:  Places of Worship.

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. Read more

Grimvaling Ambush

Background

Early in the campaign, the PCs traveled north on behalf of their employer, Master Krueger, to settle a dispute with a somewhat wild group called the Grimvalings. Kinsmen of Master Grimvalt and his bride Bricta, they lived in a large dacha just beyond the northern borders of Strakannian land. Grimvalt despises foreigners and intruders, and the meeting turned bloody. Diego himself struck the head from Grimvalt’s hulking shoulders. Many weeks passed without word from the Grimvalings. Unbeknownst to the PCs, Bricta used her pagan druidic magic on Samhain to revive the body of her dead husband, whose head she had sewn back on. She then ordered her henchmen to start leaving diseased animals near the walls of Arianport, threatening contagion unless the murderer, Master Krueger, was slain or turned over. The threats caused a near riot in the panicked town so the PCs volunteered to visit the dacha again to somehow resolve the dispute. Using her magic, Bricta saw them coming and led the Grimvalings south to ambush the party on the road. With her is her pet brown bear.

FROM THE DM

I designed this encounter to be a simple warm-up, but a series of critical hits and critical misses made the battle memorable. The Grimvalings proved to be dangerous in the wilderness, but Bricta broke off the ambush early, for she planned to kill the PCs at the dacha. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Making Peace

In recent months we have drifted away from the central purpose of this series—that of examining how our faith and our gaming hobby may be integrated—into responding to the criticisms of other Christians. This is in some ways a necessary part of what we are doing. If well-intentioned Christians think that our hobby is wrong, we need to examine what they say and what we do very closely. But to some degree, the critics have derailed us, pulling us away from the basics of our discussion. It’s time to get back on track. To do this, we’re going to travel back to the fundamentals, where we began.

And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
—James 3:18, UNASB Read more