Flawed Protagonists and high fantasy: An open debate

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Following a discussion on the 'No wrong way to play D&D mentality', (link), I have been wondering about the viability of flawed protagonists in a true high fantasy game.
In my personal opinion, the two are, if not mutually exclusive, at least hard to make co-exist. This is because of one of the foundations of high fantasy- the objective morality. Put simply, if the heroes are fighting an objectively Evil villain, the assumption can be made that they are objectively Good, in the sense of acting to lower the total Evil in the world. If that is the case, it severely limits the possibility for moral relativism, meaning there cannot be a real argument made for the characters being evil. In my campaigns, this is a crucial point, as the more inhumane tactics are often far more effective, but lead to the players being reviled for their actions, meaning they have to dance the knife edge between being a complete monster and simply being too good to be effective. I personally cannot see how flawed protagonists of this sort can exist in a high fantasy game, but I could be wrong. Anyone got any points to make?
I can see this discussion turning into a quagmire quickly, mostly over definitions, but what the heck.

The enemies in "high fantasy" are often so unredeemable that there are no methods that can be used against them that would cause any revulsion. Take orcs in LotR: as far as I can tell, there are no orc babies or women, or farmers, or scholars. They're brutal, barbaric warriors, not part of the natural order, and killing them can only be righteous. Other stories have armies of undead, which amount to the same thing: there's basically no wrong way to put paid to them. I'm put in mind of "The Soldier and Death" in which the protagonist cheats a pack of devils with some magic cards, tricks them into a magic sack, and then beats them mercilessly. And he's the hero of the land.

As soon as the heroes' enemies are just like the heroes but on the other side of an issue, you're likely to move out of high fantasy. Into what, I'm not sure.

If heroes in high fantasy are flawed, it often because they have been tainted or tricked. Boromir was not evil; the Ring was evil. Even if orcs do have families, as long as they're the unwitting pawns of some purely evil force, the heroes' actions will eventually be redeemed by facing that force. They might even save the orcs in the process.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

That's pretty much exactly my point. As for the definitions, maybe we should agree on something now. For example, it's high fantasy if the protagonists are fighting against an objectively Evil antagonist, whereas in my style of games the antagonist's oly crime is disagreeing with the players.
That's pretty much exactly my point. As for the definitions, maybe we should agree on something now. For example, it's high fantasy if the protagonists are fighting against an objectively Evil antagonist, whereas in my style of games the antagonist's oly crime is disagreeing with the players.

High fantasy can have that latter aspect, of course, but any warcrimes or atrocities are either off-screen, are committed equally by all parties, or are actually driven by the objectively Evil antagonist.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Following a discussion on the 'No wrong way to play D&D mentality', (link), I have been wondering about the viability of flawed protagonists in a true high fantasy game.
In my personal opinion, the two are, if not mutually exclusive, at least hard to make co-exist. This is because of one of the foundations of high fantasy- the objective morality. Put simply, if the heroes are fighting an objectively Evil villain, the assumption can be made that they are objectively Good, in the sense of acting to lower the total Evil in the world. If that is the case, it severely limits the possibility for moral relativism, meaning there cannot be a real argument made for the characters being evil. In my campaigns, this is a crucial point, as the more inhumane tactics are often far more effective, but lead to the players being reviled for their actions, meaning they have to dance the knife edge between being a complete monster and simply being too good to be effective. I personally cannot see how flawed protagonists of this sort can exist in a high fantasy game, but I could be wrong. Anyone got any points to make?


A few points:

1.  The DM should learn the motivations of his characters before he builds very much of his campaign.   Whatever motivates them are strong indicators of the type of antagonists the DM should be creating.   Good and evil are very subjective, obviously, but as long as the DM creates opportunities for the characters to pursue the things that motivate them most, it doesn't really matter who is good and who is evil.   It is, at best, an outside judgement, IMO.

2.  The 'evil villain' does not think of himself as evil.  He thinks his goals are the correct ones, and pursues them accordingly.   You could take many examples from history about people or organizations who never thought of themselves as evil, but are certainly regarded as such by most.   I hesitate to suggest real life samples, but hopefully no one will object to me saying that The Inquisition was a good example of this.

3.  If the characters act in an inhumane manner, it's an absolute guarantee that someone else in the world will see their actions as such.   Maybe that someone else will do something about it...   Unless your characters are the most powerful beings in the world, or they exist in a largely inhumane world already, it's inevitable that their will be consequences for thier actions.    As a DM, I don't feel this is punishing, but rather a reasonable extrapolation of what might happen if the party started acting in an inhumane way.

4.  Flawed doesn't have to mean inhumane, I would think that's an extreme.   It might mean frequently selfish, or have an addiction, or be rude, have a limp or lisp, be racist, shallow, arrogant, covered in warts, etc etc.



Consquences are not punishment. Boring consequences are punishment, no matter how realistic they might be.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Consquences are not punishment. Boring consequences are punishment, no matter how realistic they might be.



Completely agreed.   I was preemptively attempting to head off comments suggesting that creating consequences was somehow curtailing player freedom.
Following a discussion on the 'No wrong way to play D&D mentality', (link), I have been wondering about the viability of flawed protagonists in a true high fantasy game.
In my personal opinion, the two are, if not mutually exclusive, at least hard to make co-exist. This is because of one of the foundations of high fantasy- the objective morality. Put simply, if the heroes are fighting an objectively Evil villain, the assumption can be made that they are objectively Good, in the sense of acting to lower the total Evil in the world. If that is the case, it severely limits the possibility for moral relativism, meaning there cannot be a real argument made for the characters being evil. In my campaigns, this is a crucial point, as the more inhumane tactics are often far more effective, but lead to the players being reviled for their actions, meaning they have to dance the knife edge between being a complete monster and simply being too good to be effective. I personally cannot see how flawed protagonists of this sort can exist in a high fantasy game, but I could be wrong. Anyone got any points to make?



It only negates prescriptive moral relativism, which is negated in the real world anyway, as no sane person would ever seriously give credence to it, not even other moral relativists. Descriptive moral relativism can still exist quite easily for a variety of reasons. One, who says the "hard and fast rules of good and evil" have to be widely known? If no one knows "the rules," everyone will do what is right in their own eyes.

Two, even if they are widely known, who says anyone has to give a rat's ass? Would I rather be "good," or have what I want? Maybe someone places more personal value on accomplishing a goal, rather than maintaining moral purity. Once you qauntify moral purity, you can judge it's value against other things that have already been qauntified, and moral purity may not come out to be the most desired thing for a lot of people. After all, evil people don't see being evil as a bad thing.

Three, (And this is where I'm going to draw the wrath of the entire forums down on my head but I don't care.) The nature of morality is a stupid theme to explore in a story anyway. Springboarding off reason two, it's much more interesting to examine the human (Mortal?) condition, ideas like love, death, hopes, dreams, fears, what people do, and why. This is why A Song of Ice and Fire does so well, because it doesn't even deal with morality at all. It questions perception, presents a faithful yet fantastic re-creation of worldly society, and shows you what real heroes and real villains are, and still allows them to fall flat on their faces.

Another good example of this is half of the quality anime out there. Ghost in the Shell, Iria, Berserk, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, the list goes on. If you're more into bookish literature (Hehe, see what I did there? ) there's To Kill a Mockingbird, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Watchmen, or Gulliver's Travels. If you're more into fantasy books for this kind of stuff, Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser, Elric of Melnibone, or Acts of Caine will scratch that itch. None of those bother with waxing philosophically about morality because no one cares.

I'll never forget what Stover once said in an interview. To paraphrase, a lot of people think it's not literature unless the protagonist gets their ass kicked by life, but just because the protagonist has their ass kicked by life, doesn't mean they can't do some ass-kicking of their own. In another interview, he said the most inspiring characters he had ever seen, were not the ones that had potential and fell, or the ones that had potential and lived up to it, but the ones that had potential, fell, and then rose from the ashes to live up to that potential.

Epic heroic journies make for a much better story than satire or didactic pieces, because all they do is preach. Now, satire can be well-written, and have compelling characters, but too many times satire relies on it's message to keep readers interested amidst the boring characters and their worthless struggles no one can be assed to care about. High fantasy and flawed protagonists can work quite well together, because high fantasy is a ripe spot for the epic heroic journey. Just look at Star Wars. Luke was pretty flawed, and there was a kind of objective good and evil posited in the setting.
Descriptive moral relativism can still exist quite easily for a variety of reasons.
IMHO, moral relativism is an exercise in futility. All is really says is "morality does not exist" and any code of behavior is based purely on subjective fancy; but it masks this by attempting to redefine what morality means. Morality refers to the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad conduct. If this term is used in a subjective sense, it only functions as a useful semantic tool when describing the actions/motivations of a culture or group of people. Otherwise, it's pointless.

Three, (And this is where I'm going to draw the wrath of the entire forums down on my head but I don't care.) The nature of morality is a stupid theme to explore in a story anyway.
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Okay, serious note, I disagree on this. I've read the Song of Ice and Fire, and I find morality to be a potent theme in the stories. It doesn't deal with Good and Evil the way D&D does, but it still deals with morality and the nature of right and wrong. If you disagree on that, then we can discuss The Lord of the Rings, one of the best literary masterpieces ever written.  I don't think you could logically deny that the nature of right and wrong is a central theme of those books, and expressed in various ways (i.e. the proper use of power, the inherently evil nature of war (even when done for good reasons), and so on). You may not like stories that have moral themes, but that doesn't make them bad stories.

I think you see the term "Morality" and think "D&D Good and Evil".  If that's how you see morality, then yeah, it's gonna be boring to explore it's nature.  One of the best quotes in Lord of the Rings: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."  In classic by-the-book D&D (ignoring complex moral themes), you cast "detect evil" then smite anything that glows, and you're doing "the right thing".  But if your story has a more complex (and realistic) approach to morality (the nature of right and wrong and a proper code of conduct), then it's a good darn story indeed.
Gandalf was talking about what people deserve, and that seeing/understanding the nature of people (or what they deserve) is very difficult.  But it's not nonexistant, nor entirely subjective; otherwise, there's nothing to discuss on what people "deserve", or what there is for the wise to "see".  It's whatever the heck you feel like.
This one single quote could be analyzed regarding it's context of morality, the nature of right and wrong, the nature of people and the world, and the immense complexity of it all.  And that's just one quote; the book is chalked full of this stuff.  And this book rocks. 
In my personal opinion, the two are, if not mutually exclusive, at least hard to make co-exist.


Wrong. The traditional heroic protagonist is DEEPLY flawed. Gilgamesh, Achilles, Lancelot, all heroes defined as much by their moral failings as their material accomplishments.

This is because of one of the foundations of high fantasy- the objective morality.


Nope. The foundations of "high fantasy" make no statement about morality, much less objective morality. High fantasy is defined by its well-formed fictional universe and the world-spanning scope of its plotline.

Put simply, if the heroes are fighting an objectively Evil villain, the assumption can be made that they are objectively Good


Complete and utter crap. The obvious counterexample being Stalin v. Hitler.

If that is the case


It isn't.

it severely limits the possibility for moral relativism


It doesn't.

meaning there cannot be a real argument made for the characters being evil.


There can.

In short, from his definitions to his conclusions, every single thing Max has said is wrong. I blame the 3.5 fundamentalists --and more specifically the alignment supporters-- for miseducating him. This sort of cultural ignorance is the direct result of pretending your little pigeon-holes were meaningful.



Was heavily agreeing with this until it was turned into an edition war.

Isn't there a rule against that? Hmm.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

In my personal opinion, the two are, if not mutually exclusive, at least hard to make co-exist.


Wrong. The traditional heroic protagonist is DEEPLY flawed. Gilgamesh, Achilles, Lancelot, all heroes defined as much by their moral failings as their material accomplishments.

This is because of one of the foundations of high fantasy- the objective morality.


Nope. The foundations of "high fantasy" make no statement about morality, much less objective morality. High fantasy is defined by its well-formed fictional universe and the world-spanning scope of its plotline.

Put simply, if the heroes are fighting an objectively Evil villain, the assumption can be made that they are objectively Good


Complete and utter crap. The obvious counterexample being Stalin v. Hitler.

If that is the case


It isn't.

it severely limits the possibility for moral relativism


It doesn't.

meaning there cannot be a real argument made for the characters being evil.


There can.

In short, from his definitions to his conclusions, every single thing Max has said is wrong. I blame the 3.5 fundamentalists --and more specifically the alignment supporters-- for miseducating him. This sort of cultural ignorance is the direct result of pretending your little pigeon-holes were meaningful.



And you were doing so well too. I'm a 3.5 fan and an alignment supporter, and I've actively tried to argue these very points with him on more than one ocassion. No, this sort of cultural ignorance is the direct result of children being brought up to value abstracts like good and evil, and then have shaky examples filtered down to them to drive the point home.

That isn't the kind of thought process that gets adopted because of something someone said on the forums. it's the kind of thought process created by conditioned thinking and a lack of real literature for children. Bring back George MacDonald I say.
Um, there's a whole sourcebook Player Options: Heroes of Shadow, pretty much devoted to the idea of flawed heroes. The Necromancer, the Paladin gone mean, the Priest that uses divine power to inflict injuries, and of course, the warlocks. Then there's the revenant (The Crow for those who need a comic book example), the quasi vampire, the actual vampire class, and the tortured shade from the Shadowfell.
Now, the mechanics of these classes is arguably lacking or poorly done, but story wise and fluff-text wise, these are great tools, and cannot be simply dismissed.
So, gotta completely disagree with the OP on this, even if it means agreeing with several people on this board I normally don't.
IMHO, moral relativism is an exercise in futility.



So is morality in general.

All is really says is "morality does not exist" and any code of behavior is based purely on subjective fancy; but it masks this by attempting to redefine what morality means. Morality refers to the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad conduct. If this term is used in a subjective sense, it only functions as a useful semantic tool when describing the actions/motivations of a culture or group of people. Otherwise, it's pointless.



All descriptive relativism states is that people can place different levels of value on different things. You can like one thing and dislike the other. It doesn't make those feelings of like or dislike right or wrong.


Okay, serious note, I disagree on this. I've read the Song of Ice and Fire, and I find morality to be a potent theme in the stories. It doesn't deal with Good and Evil the way D&D does, but it still deals with morality and the nature of right and wrong.



Yeah, it does. It shows what happens when "being a good person" is your highest priority. Your little girls get to watch some bitchboy chop of your head. Imaginei how poor Ayra felt. She knew she had the chance to prevent it, when she pointed the sword at Joffrey's breast. But she didn't. I don't know if I could live with myself after that.

If you disagree on that, then we can discuss The Lord of the Rings, one of the best literary masterpieces ever written.  I don't think you could logically deny that the nature of right and wrong is a central theme of those books, and expressed in various ways (i.e. the proper use of power, the inherently evil nature of war (even when done for good reasons), and so on). You may not like stories that have moral themes, but that doesn't make them bad stories.



I don't remember anywhere in Lord of the Rings where war is called out as evil. In fact there is very little moral value assigned to a lot of what you're talking about in Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings is a story about the desire for power, and what happens to people who can't let go and live their lives. It exemplifies, "He who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who hates his life will find it." It's a story about life, freedom, and people. It isn't that I don't like stories that have moral themes, I don't like stories with a moral. I hate didactic literature. With a passion. I absolutely will not cave when an author tries to tell me what to think, especially about a moral subject.

I think you see the term "Morality" and think "D&D Good and Evil".  If that's how you see morality, then yeah, it's gonna be boring to explore it's nature.



No, I mean morals in general. Take your pick. Hedonism, asceticism, utilitarianism, deontology, I'm pretty much against moral codes of all forms as a rule. 

One of the best quotes in Lord of the Rings: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."  In classic by-the-book D&D (ignoring complex moral themes), you cast "detect evil" then smite anything that glows, and you're doing "the right thing".  But if your story has a more complex (and realistic) approach to morality (the nature of right and wrong and a proper code of conduct), then it's a good darn story indeed.



You should read more satire, if you don't already. You'd love Jonathan Swift. I like some of his stuff, but the rest I can use for toilet paper and kindling. No, I hate stories with "moral complexity." I literaly cannot express how much I hate them without breaking the CoC. If I had the capability, I would go back in time and make sure satire never existed. Here, let me provide a quote from an interview one of my favorite authors did with The SF Site. It pretty much sums up my take on this.

Moral ambiguity plays a strong role in your fiction. In fact, ambiguities of all sorts are threaded throughout your work, which is a far cry from the black-and-white approach of most fantasy. Was that a deliberate choice of yours?







There is no moral ambiguity in my work.

Did everybody hear that? Let me say it again, louder: THERE IS NO MORAL AMBIGUITY IN MY WORK.



It only looks ambiguous if you insist on framing a story's conflict in terms of Good vs. Evil. It's not that simple. Real life does not operate in those terms. Neither does my fiction.



I know it's sometimes hard for people to get their minds around, but the whole concept of the Good/Evil duality was, essentially, invented circa 600 BCE in Persia. You'll discover that evil qua Evil does not even appear in the Old Testament of the Bible until the Prophets -- the books that were written after the Persian Captivity. It doesn't appear in the Illiad, or the Odyssey, or any work by Sophocles, Euripides, or Aeschylus.



People who try to tell you that life is about the struggle between Good and Evil are either 1) fooling themselves, 2) lying to you, or 3) both. As Caine himself put it, "When somebody starts talking about good and evil, better keep one hand on your wallet."



The black-and-white approach of most fantasy is bullshit. It's laziness. By positing a Force of Supernatural Evil, the writer is relieved of the necessity of motivating his antagonists. "The Devil made me do it!" Or his protagonists, for that matter. "Of course they must be destroyed! They're EEEEEvil!"



Yeesh. I don't think I'm the only one who's sick to death of that crap.





Gandalf was talking about what people deserve, and that seeing/understanding the nature of people (or what they deserve) is very difficult.  But it's not nonexistant, nor entirely subjective; otherwise, there's nothing to discuss on what people "deserve", or what there is for the wise to "see".  It's whatever the heck you feel like.
This one single quote could be analyzed regarding it's context of morality, the nature of right and wrong, the nature of people and the world, and the immense complexity of it all.  And that's just one quote; the book is chalked full of this stuff.  And this book rocks. 



See, Gandalf's idea on what someone deserves, is his idea. It may not be my idea. And Gandalf may be wise, but what really makes him more qualified to judge morality than me? Gandalf's entire quote actually shoots down what you're saying. He seems to treat who deserves what as obvious, matter-of-fact. His own response to this idea he presents, is that you shouldn't be necessarily kill someone that deserves death, because you don't know what may or may not happen because of that. That's not a moral lesson. That's a practical lesson. If anything, he's making a case for moral purity being subordinate to practicality.
Yeah, it does. It shows what happens when "being a good person" is your highest priority. Your little girls get to watch some bitchboy chop of your head. Imaginei how poor Ayra felt. She knew she had the chance to prevent it, when she pointed the sword at Joffrey's breast. But she didn't. I don't know if I could live with myself after that.
The "right moral thing" does not equate to "the best results for you".
I would call Ned's death a moral victory, even if it was not a military victory. The two are not the same.

Gandalf's entire quote actually shoots down what you're saying. He seems to treat who deserves what as obvious, matter-of-fact.
No, his quote clearly shows that he does not think it's obvious, but it is matter-of-fact. In other words, moral objectivity does exist (in some situations), but understanding it properly is not easy, even for the very wise. So while there is a "right way", it's often very difficult to ascertain what that way is, particularly when there's so much involved (like what you said, regarding the end-result of killing the bad guy). That's what he's saying.
If there is no code of conduct, then no one "deserves" anything.

As far as the inherent evil of war (despite it's occasional need), the book is absolutely chalk full of it. But no need to get into a huge discussion here, as we could literally write entire dissertations on the subject to elaborate each of our points.

Now I do understand that you don't like stories with a moral, as opposed to stories with moral themes. I don't think anyone can read Lord of the Rings, and then say "the moral of the story is ..." But it certainly has a lot of moral theme to it, in various different ways.
Yeah, it does. It shows what happens when "being a good person" is your highest priority. Your little girls get to watch some bitchboy chop of your head. Imaginei how poor Ayra felt. She knew she had the chance to prevent it, when she pointed the sword at Joffrey's breast. But she didn't. I don't know if I could live with myself after that. The "right moral thing" does not equate to "the best results for you". I would call Ned's death a moral victory, even if it was not a military victory. The two are not the same.



A man willing to allow his girls to watch him get butchered so he could still be a good person is not someone I can respect. There was no "good moral choice" there, there was only what was best for him and his, and he made the wrong damn choice, so he payed for it with his life, his wife payed for it with her suffering, and his daughters will likely pay for it for the rest of their lives in dealing with the trauma that caused.

But hey, at least he got to die as one of the good guys, right, right? Yeah, f*** Ned Stark. He was a man that valued imaginary things like honor more than the well-being of the people he cared about. I think he's pretty much the very definition of "sick bastard." I hated him since the first episode/chapter he was introduced in. There's a reason people say the letter of the law brings death.

Gandalf's entire quote actually shoots down what you're saying. He seems to treat who deserves what as obvious, matter-of-fact. No, his quote clearly shows that he does not think it's obvious, but it is matter-of-fact. In other words, moral objectivity does exist (in some situations), but understanding it properly is not easy, even for the very wise. So while there is a "right way", it's often very difficult to ascertain what that way is, particularly when there's so much involved (like what you said, regarding the end-result of killing the bad guy). That's what he's saying. If there is no code of conduct, then no one "deserves" anything. As far as the inherent evil of war (despite it's occasional need), the book is absolutely chalk full of it. But no need to get into a huge discussion here, as we could literally write entire dissertations on the subject to elaborate each of our points. Now I do understand that you don't like stories with a moral, as opposed to stories with moral themes. I don't think anyone can read Lord of the Rings, and then say "the moral of the story is ..." But it certainly has a lot of moral theme to it, in various different ways.



His whole point was that you don't know what could happen as a result of passing moral judgment. Not even the wise. His cautionary note was one of consequence and not principle. But what I quoted still makes the point about "evil qua evil" as Stover put it. For a story to have a moral, it has to have some kind of morality as a foundation.
depends whether you are talking

Moral: lesson to educate

or the more common usage

Morality: this is how you should behave

or the obnoxious

Fanatic "morality": this is how you should behave because we say so and don't you dare question it or you are a bad person and our enemy.

I find stories where the author tries to slip in a personal bias toward his/her faith as some sort of indoctrination a little annoying. Sure, everyone is influenced by their own perspective, including authors. It is one thing to be influenced, and another to be trying to exert influence unto others. Tolkien was influenced, maybe with some influencing (arguable). Whoever wrote the screenplay to the Guardians of Ga'Hoolie owls movie was influencing (or trying to be) in a very heavy-handed and sloppy manner. (and as I understand it, deviated vastly from the books) At least the movie was pretty.
depends whether you are talking

Moral: lesson to educate

or the more common usage

Morality: this is how you should behave

or the obnoxious

Fanatic "morality": this is how you should behave because we say so and don't you dare question it or you are a bad person and our enemy.



I think the first two are just as bad as the third.
But hey, at least he got to die as one of the good guys, right, right? Yeah, f*** Ned Stark. He was a man that valued imaginary things like honor more than the well-being of the people he cared about. I think he's pretty much the very definition of "sick bastard." I hated him since the first episode/chapter he was introduced in. There's a reason people say the letter of the law brings death.
Would you have preferred him to be a sell-out, honorless craven? I don't think his family, or anyone, would respect him if he tossed his most valued principles to the trash when in the face of pain and death. It's easy to be honorable and valiant when you're fat-and-happy; it takes a real man/woman to keep to those values when the s*** is hitting the fan.

His whole point was that you don't know what could happen as a result of passing moral judgment. Not even the wise. His cautionary note was one of consequence and not principle.
I still beg to differ. Even if the consequence held no negative outcomes for you, I still think Gandalf would caution you not to deal out judgment so quickly and brazenly, based on moral principles. He even talks about how Bilbo's obtaining the ring through pity and mercy kept him from being corrupted too quickly (pity and mercy being a moral value; obtaining the ring through greed or immoral values hastens your demise). He also says there is a chance of Gollum being cured of his evil, suggesting that to be a reason not to kill him (which has nothing to do with consequence, but the principle of killing someone who has a chance at moral redemption).
For starters, I've never run 3.5e. I run 4e, planning on switching to pathfider soon. On to my main point:
At their core, there can be no real arguments made for high fantasy heroes to be anything other than heroes. Their enemies are generally objectively Evil.
Examples include The lord of the rings, where Sauron controlled a blasted pit, with oodles of hellish imagery, and his footsoldiers were the product of torturing and corrupting the pure until the two towers, where they became supersoldiers that had a tendency to commit warcrimes. Not really a nice guy.
In Eragon, Galbatorix took power for semi- justifiable reasons, and then allowed his soldiers to cause countless warcrimes, thus swelling the ranks of the rebels and increasing pointless killing on both sides, with obvious paralllels to Vietnam. Again, the argument cannot really be made that the heroes actions haven't made the world a better place.
I'll admit to never having read a song of ice and fire, so I won't mention it, if there is a case to be made for both sides grand, if not it adds all the more to my point.
Also, in these books, there cannot be an argument for the world being worse due to the protagonists- In LOTR, without the protagonists the orcs would have killed, pillaged etc, and so increased the sum of all the suffering.
In Eragon, the race of elves would have been wiped out due to one powerful racist (specieist?)

In both cases, the protagonists did nothing majorly questionable- sure, Frodo almost fell, but then the issue got solved by Gollum. The most flack Eragon gets is for getting his home involved- not for killing hundred, if not thousands, of conscripts that had no choice either way.

The point I'm trying to make here is that in two popular high fantasy books, there is no argument, from the source material, for the protagonist being anything other than good.

As a final point, to take your Hitler/Stalin example, a high fantasy book written on that wouldn't be about either of them- It'd be about the British, who are the clear cut protagonists being enforcers of the status quo (same as lord of the rings), not responsible for any major atrocities, and the besieged city. If a high fantasy style retelling of WW2 did come from Hitler's or Stalin's point of view, it'd be told as a villain protagonist, meaning the morality is once again clear cut. While my point about 'The enemy of Evil is Good' doesn't hold up in real life, neither do most fantasy tropes, And I've never encountered a case of the protagonists in a high fantasy book being brought to account for their evils. Quite often, they have none..
But hey, at least he got to die as one of the good guys, right, right? Yeah, f*** Ned Stark. He was a man that valued imaginary things like honor more than the well-being of the people he cared about. I think he's pretty much the very definition of "sick bastard." I hated him since the first episode/chapter he was introduced in. There's a reason people say the letter of the law brings death. Would you have preferred him to be a sell-out, honorless craven? I don't think his family, or anyone, would respect him if he tossed his most valued principles to the trash when in the face of pain and death. It's easy to be honorable and valiant when you're fat-and-happy; it takes a real man/woman to keep to those values when the s*** is hitting the fan.



I would have prefered he stab Circe and Joffrey when he had the chance. He had a million different opportunities to back out and protect his family, or wreak some serious havoc and nip all that crap in the bud before it happened. The only reason things turned to complete hell in that setting was because everyone who could have done something about it didn't, all because of their morals. Ned could have taken power, but no, that would have been "morally wrong." /Spit.

His whole point was that you don't know what could happen as a result of passing moral judgment. Not even the wise. His cautionary note was one of consequence and not principle. I still beg to differ. Even if the consequence held no negative outcomes for you, I still think Gandalf would caution you not to deal out judgment so quickly and brazenly, based on moral principles. He even talks about how Bilbo's obtaining the ring through pity and mercy kept him from being corrupted too quickly (pity and mercy being a moral value; obtaining the ring through greed or immoral values hastens your demise). He also says there is a chance of Gollum being cured of his evil, suggesting that to be a reason not to kill him (which has nothing to do with consequence, but the principle of killing someone who has a chance at moral redemption).



Pity is a feeling, and mercy is an act. Assign moral values to them if you wish. Everything you're saying about the ring points to it being all about someone unable to let go and make peace with the grave.
Why did you want Cerse/Joff ousted? Oh yeah, because they were immoral SOBs. If you want them replaced, I'd hope you'd have it be someone who was a just, moral ruler. (And before you say it: No, theocracies like Islam or medieval Catholicism are not moral agencies.) You know darn well Ned Stark would have been 1000x better at being king then Robert, Cerse and Joff combined. Why? Because he was just and honorable.
Somehow I think you'll still find a way to disagree, so let's agree to disagree on this point. The horse is below its bloodied value, and I'm rolling natural 20s on my attacks.

Mercy is a display of compassion or forgiveness. It is the nature of an action, not the action itself. The same action (i.e. thrusting your sword in someone's heart) could be merciful or merciless, depending on context.

The One Ring was a metaphorical representation of something that is inherently evil, and as such cannot be wielded for good, despite good intentions. The books make this abundantly clear, to the point where multiple characters (Galadriel and Gandalf most obviously) say so directly.
Edition doesn't matter
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />As a final point, to take your Hitler/Stalin example, a high fantasy book written on that wouldn't be about either of them- It'd be about the British, who are the clear cut protagonists being enforcers of the status quo (same as lord of the rings), not responsible for any major atrocities, and the besieged city. If a high fantasy style retelling of WW2 did come from Hitler's or Stalin's point of view, it'd be told as a villain protagonist, meaning the morality is once again clear cut. While my point about 'The enemy of Evil is Good' doesn't hold up in real life, neither do most fantasy tropes, And I've never encountered a case of the protagonists in a high fantasy book being brought to account for their evils. Quite often, they have none..



Sure, the British never committed any attrocities. Just ask them. But not the Irish. Or the Indians (asian or american tribes). Or any of the other people they conquered as part of their empire.

And let's look at your fantasy books. The orcs are evil because they want to take over the world. Maybe because the Elves like to slaughter them? Raid their towns? Kill them and their Children? Maybe they... Had a reason to Side with the Big Glowing Eye that Protects them and gives them the power to fight back? Just saying, look at it.
"And I've never encountered a case of the protagonists in a high fantasy book being brought to account for their evils." That doesn't mean they don't have them. It just means they got away with it.
Need high fantasy example of an anti-hero? Well, the first that comes to mind is really more of a historical fiction series called Flashman by George MacDonnald Fraiser. Rollicking high fantasy with a character self-admittedly bereft of any virtue.

I won't get started on the Game of Thrones. You don't want my opinion on this. No one does. Ever.

Once again, Heroes of Shadow, people. WotC made a whole book about this topic.
Why did you want Cerse/Joff ousted? Oh yeah, because they were immoral SOBs.



Their morals had nothing to do with my ire toward them. While were at it we can lump Sansa in there too.

If you want them replaced, I'd hope you'd have it be someone who was a just, moral ruler.



There is no such thing as a just and moral ruler, because there is no such thing as a just and moral person.

(And before you say it: No, theocracies like Islam or medieval Catholicism are not moral agencies.) You know darn well Ned Stark would have been 1000x better at being king then Robert, Cerse and Joff combined. Why? Because he was just and honorable.



I think Ned proved just how bad of a ruler he would have really been, given how he handled that situation. What caused him to screw things up so badly? His "honor." His all-consuming pre-eminent principles and codes of behavior that he loved more than his own family.

Somehow I think you'll still find a way to disagree, so let's agree to disagree on this point. The horse is below its bloodied value, and I'm rolling natural 20s on my attacks. Mercy is a display of compassion or forgiveness. It is the nature of an action, not the action itself. The same action (i.e. thrusting your sword in someone's heart) could be merciful or merciless, depending on context.



So you're attaching moral values to the abstracts of compassion and forgiveness?

The One Ring was a metaphorical representation of something that is inherently evil, and as such cannot be wielded for good, despite good intentions. The books make this abundantly clear, to the point where multiple characters (Galadriel and Gandalf most obviously) say so directly.



The one ring wasn't "morally" evil at all. It was the same kind of evil Stormbringer mentioned after he stabbed Elric when he said, "I was a thousand times more evil than thou." Entropy. Calamity. Destruction. Death. Pain. That was what Stormbringer was, and that's exactly what the ring was. The ring was power for power's sake, or death for death's sake. It didn't have subtle mind-control powers or other crap like that. The only thing it ever did was try to get back to Sauron.

It didn't exert some magical evil field of ring-lust. The truth of the matter is people saw it, and a part of them realized what it was, and so they wanted it. This was exactly what Galadriel had to deal with. There was a desire in her to not diminish, but to choose that meant choosing the ring, because the ring was just a metaphor for the preservation of the power of the moment. That's why people don't age when they wear it. That's why everyone wants it, because it means they don't have to die, and everyone always fears the end.

That was a large part of what the story was about, the fear of the dark, the fear of the end. Gandalf addresses this very point when talking to Frodo in RotK. The ring is the power of Holdfast, the power of the tyrant, the power to control, to exert will. That's also why it could control all other ring-bearers, even the ones who bore the rings not sullied by his touch. The ring is a part of life that we all have to learn to live with, and learn how to let go. Holding onto it only leads to pain. Letting go leads to freedom. That's also why only a sufficiently strong will could master it. Remember, that was one of Sauron's biggest fears, that someone would master the ring.

I won't get started on the Game of Thrones. You don't want my opinion on this. No one does. Ever.

Once again, Heroes of Shadow, people. WotC made a whole book about this topic.



Would you believe me if I told you I'm capable of discussing something with you even if you blast something I like into tiny tiny bits? Because now that you've said that, I'm curious...