I had an interesting realization today- all the good roleplaying games that deal with evil, make a core part of play the issue of collaborating or compromising with evil. I don’t know if it’s a requirement to treat the subject seriously, but it seems like thus far, the most successful means of making evil acts no longer black and white, but a result of choices made in the moment, under pressure, that end up in terrible places and regret.
Direct Deals with the Devil
Drifter’s Escape and Polaris both deal with making deals and taking offers in the heat of the moment. Of the two, Polaris is kinder – you know from the beginning that your character is doomed, so there’s no surprises there, and the Mistaken with whom you deal, is actually telling the truth when the deals go down. Drifter’s Escape holds hope in front of you by a thread, and you have two actively hostile GMs who are offering power…but quite possibly lying at any juncture in play. It puts you in much more desperate straits and you find yourself accepting evil acts that, sometimes don’t pay off, and worse, sometimes do- you get to spend the rest of the game asking if it was worth it either way.
Indirect Deals with the Devil
Funny enough, Sorcerer falls into this category, despite the core premise being summoning and binding demons. You may suffer constant pressure from your demons, but you also have recourse to be rid of them- you can use the rules for banishing. The games that directly have you making bad deals – there’s no way to be rid of the pressure, at any point. Rather, the temptation to evil has mostly to do with the cross goals of Humanity and the Sorcerer’s personal goals, with the demons usually advocating along the way.
Steal Away Jordan also has indirect deals – nothing “forces” you to seek out white allies… but the fact that they have so much more Worth dice makes it always a temptation. And, inevitably, what that means when you have to make choices between the goals of your white allies vs. your fellow slaves, vs. your own.
Dog Eat Dog’s indirect deals come from the Colonizer having no functional way to deal with the Natives outside of arbitrary rules and punishment. The Rules do not deal, compromise, or bend, so then it becomes a question of how do you survive in the face of them?
A constant temptation and external pressure
In Dogs in the Vineyard, the Town Creation rules always start with a reasonable motivation, and either sets it up against people twisting the social system, or the social system itself keeping injustice in place.
The Watchdogs come in to fix the problems, but the thing that always plays out, over and over, is that the morally right thing to do is not well served by the social system itself- the morally correct thing to do demands abandoning the rules of society. (Every session drives you to rebel against Mormonism, might be one way to put it…)
Aside from that, each conflict tempts players to escalate to violence by offering dice. But if you’re actually trying to help people in a community, violence is often the least useful thing…
Poison’d, by comparison, goes the other way around – violence is constant for pirates, and rewards people for committing violence, suffering violence… but more importantly – it also rewards people for actually accomplishing goals… and the real way to do that is through making deals. Although you can make a deal with the Devil in Poison’d, for the most part, the pressure towards evil is more built into the situation of being a pirate rather than anything else. Eventually, though, the questions start becoming – who do you ally with, who do you break trust with, what do you do with people who break trust with you, etc. The inability to leave and the casual acceptance of violence which produces the abusive structure… and how do you navigate it?