Why Chaos is a cop-out

From Smith family
Jump to: navigation, search

People are arguing about how Chaos is perceived by Gloranthans. But I think it's useful to consider how Chaos is considered by us, the people that create Glorantha the game world. From that point of view, I think that Chaos is bad because Chaos is boring.

The things that attracted me, as a player and GM, to Glorantha were its depth and the lack of easy moral decisions (Are the Lunars evil? Were the Romans evil?). This meant that I could imagine world as rich and complex as this one, and use it as a vehicle in which to tell engaging and satisfying stories. The presence of Chaos acts against this. There are several reasons for this.

Chaos is a cop-out for plot writers

It's very easy to write a plot with obvious "Good Guys" (the PCs) and "Bad Guys" (the chaotics). It gives the PCs a good motivation. Chaos has nifty "weird stuff" for a challenge. But doing so cheapens Glorantha. Good drama needs well-rounded characters, with both good and evil aspects to their personalities. They need complexity, and the ability to change and take on different roles at different times. Turning everything into two-dimensional "Good vs Evil" prevents that happening. Very often, conflicts are not caused by differences between Good and Evil, but simply by different sets of people having different agendas. Giving the opposition believable reasons for their actions allows me as a GM to run those characters better and more easily.

This trend towards the "Good vs Evil" cop-out has been developing "recently". As far as I know, some 17% of Chaosium-published RQ2 scenarios revolved around chaos. Some 40% of Chaosium/AH-published RQ3 scenarios did. This is a dangerous trend, turning adventures into simple munchkin-friendly hack'n'slay sessions. Glorantha can be so much more than that.

This trend might be reversed with the greater emphasis on socially-situated 'adventures' that might follow from the publication of Hero Wars and HeroQuest. I wait in hope.

Chaos means no moral or ethical decisions

The assumption that chaos = evil means that characters, and therefore players, never have to consider the ethics of their actions. For example, at the end of Gamauta's Vision, the PCs have to decide what to do with a bunch of chaotic children. An interesting moral question. Lots of MGF there as the PCs explore and argue the options. At least, there would be if it wasn't obvious to the PCs that chaos = evil, therefore the children must be killed.

At the beginning of the Troubled Waters campaign, the PCs had real qualms about slaughtering the cute, innocent, little mudsharks. At the end of the campaign, they had no problem killing cute, innocent, little chaos monstrosities. Guess which episode they talk about more?

And removing the big "Beware: Evil! Soul Destruction in Progress!" sign from cults like Thanatar makes them more appealing, more seductive, more interesting. Humakt offers great power, but at a cost to society. Thanatar offers great power, but at a cost to society. Is one better than the other? Are there situations where gaining Thanatari or Humakti powers are justified? Does the end ever justify the means? Without chaos, you can ask this question.

Chaos makes characters lack depth

If the focus of a campaign is simply killing chaos, all the PCs will be concerned with is killing chaos. The characters will be one-dimensional. Their opponents will be chaos, and exist simply to be killed (eventually). Also one-dimensional. But give all the characters, PCs and NPCs, more objectives, more avenues, and you'll get a more rewarding and enjoyable game.

Chaotic villains are treated as victims

At present, players have no reason to sympathise with their enemies. If a character is evil, does evil things, it's not their fault. They're chaotic: they can't help it. There's no sense of people being responsible for their actions, and the effects they have. Nobody has to think why evil happens, how it can be stopped, what role they play in bringing it about.

Chaotics make for second-rate antagonists

"Humans are the only race more dangerous that broos in the [Zola Fel] Valley"
(RoC, p. 109)

If I want to give my players a run for their money, why should I give them second-rate opposition? Why not set them against the most dangerous opposition there is?

In fact, I think that the presence of Chaos in Glorantha is so pernicious that I think it should be removed from all out contacts with the world. If we do that, what do we loose? Very little, if anything.

  • Illumination remains, as a theist version of mysticism. It would have exactly the same game effects.
  • Storm Bulls remain psychopathic killers, but instead of being anti-chaos, they become anti-everyone. This raises more interesting questions for their clan leaders, increasing MGF and leading to a better game.
  • The Orlanthi will still hate the Lunars: the Lunars have invaded, are changing the Orlanthi way of life, changing the mythic landscape.
  • "Chaos" gods remain hated or feared. Thanatari still steal knowledge, Krarshti still conspire, Thedi still rape. Humakti still kill.
  • The lesser and greater darkness from the godtime remain, but are the same thing. Very few of the myths change.
  • The Compromise remains, to include and control the changes of the Storm Age into the stability of the Golden Age.

The real world doesn't have clearly labelled evil. This makes for difficult judgements. Gameworlds like Call of Cthulhu don't have clearly labelled evil. That makes for interesting play. Why should Glorantha be so impoverished?

(For some related thoughts on morality and RPGs, have a look at John Tynes's game Power Kill.)