Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A Question of Animals

I see by the widget on the page that ten of you have decided to follow this site. I commend you on both your wisdom and your taste. Today, I'm going through the text and filling holes that are easily filled. For example, every chapter begins with a little short fiction. Wiggleleaf sneaking past some rat guards. Mugglelight leaping from branch to branch.... The usual stuff that RPGs do these days to give the chapter a bit of tone. Partially, this is easy stuff that I should've done months ago. Partially, this is work avoidance to stall getting to the bigger stuff.

It's the bigger stuff I want to write about today.

One of the issues that's come up repeatedly during the design of this game has been the question of "other animals." Most settings define who is a player character, and who is not. For example, in D&D, dwarves and elves are PCs, while goblins are not. Or, at least they didn't used to be. To me, this sort of blurs the lines between "people we can murder" and "people we can't." Older editions of D&D allowed you to justify sneaking into a goblin lair and murdering everyone by "de-humanizing" them. They were monsters. Now, goblins are actually "people," so I'm not sure why it's still okay to sneak into their homes and kill them.... In fact, I'd love to see a game that treats this seriously. But I'm off my point....

Anyway. In settings such as this, the writer is careful to define who is "animal" and who is "not-animal." Bunnies, squirrels, and mice are "not animal," while ducks remain "animal." Or, they take the Disney approach. There are talking, singing "not-animals" and animals. Or the entire issue is sort of skirted entirely; every animal is a "not-animal" (they sing, and think, and talk) but we never really get to murdering them. That is to say, the moral implications of skewering Templeton the Rat are avoided simply by giving him a good come-uppance.

Cairn took the kitchen sink approach. Mostly, as a way to goose the sales on the Kickstarter, I presume. You were all given the opportunity to contribute an intelligent animal. So in addition to mice and squirrel and weasels, we've got platypuses, pandas, and sugar-gliders. Hey, no problem.

But, does this mean every animal has been given thumbs and intelligence?

It's a question, and a problem, that runs through the entire game. For example, are ducks intelligent? What about robins? The answers are not simple and have far-reaching implications.

What do hunters hunt? Are there hunters? If I'm a marksman, what do I shoot at besides apples, targets, and other intelligent beings? In other words, my only role as a marksman is to shoot pointy death at others of my kind. Is this Dirty Harry? Death Wish? Thus, marksmen really have no other function in society that doesn't involve murder. Obviously, this is a point made by the "meat is murder" crowd, but for most of us we accept that killing and eating animals is fine. You can't do that in a setting where the dinner you're hunting can talk back to you.

(As an aside, look at The Little Mermaid. Ariel knows the fish under da sea are intelligent. They sing and talk, have hopes and dreams. And she seems to have no problem with her human boyfriend and the rest of humanity shoveling her dancing, singing kind into their mouths. If I ever come home to find my girlfriend gnawing on someone's arm, I'm calling the cops.... Not singing a happy little tune.)

But this is largely a philosophical question. You can argue that marksmen train in order to protect their communities from danger by shooting arrows at it. Ok. A little specialized for my tastes, but you can sort of hand-wave it away. What about spells? Druids can't really have a "call animal" spell, now can they? What are they calling? Another intelligent being? That's more like mind control then, isn't it? What about Shifters? They're supposed to shift into other animals. Do we mean other PC races? Are they dopplegangers? Or do we mean animals, like ducks, robins, and carp? In that case, the list is going to be pretty limited. (Also, "form of a carp" isn't really that impressive to say, is it?)

What about the monsters chapter? This is where my thinking started. It's a chapter that's in need of a lot of love. Inserted into that chapter is the idea that there are proto-animals. Animals that haven't been uplifted by the gods. So your great-great-great-great Uncle Longthumper was chosen to be uplifted by the Gods, but there are animals that weren't so gifted. In other words, some frogs were Awakened, and some were not. To distinguish between the two, the Uplifted Frogs are Frogs, and the ones left in the mud are called Hoppers.

Ok. Then why can't we eat Hoppers? That's another fundamental assumption of the text. The carnivores in particular had to give up being carnivores. So either the Frogs have no problem with the Weasels eating Hoppers (which I'm okay with, really) or they do. But nowhere is this really covered. Which means yours truly is faced with a decision. One he's not really morally or ethically qualified to make. My doctorate in philosophy is out at the cleaners right now.... Also, how am I going to explain in the spells and Shifter description that you're dealing with Hoppers and Diggers? It's sort of an added perceptual step.

So, either every animal in the animal kingdom is intelligent, which brings some limitations, or some animals aren't uplifted, which adds complication and obfuscation. Or I ignore the entire question and let you deal with it. I'm tempted to pull certain elements out of the game.... like Shifter.

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