Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5D): Application of the Code of Chivalry

Earlier in the series, I spoke about Chivalry and the code of conduct from a historical perspective. In the origins of the term Chivalry, there was a direct connection to a code of conduct in a military context and in social settings. For the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus in on the military aspects. While I believe that the social implications are important, and they are useful for role playing in urban settings, I find that this is not as interesting as the direct application of the military aspect of Chivalry in the dungeon environment. From the social perspective, paladins and knights should obey the common rules of courtesy, especially towards women, and I am going to leave it at that.

As I mentioned earlier, Chivalry was the predecessor of codes of conduct that we have today. The Geneva Convention outlines what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. The Convention serves as a standard by which we can measure behavior and determine whether this behavior is in compliance or out of compliance. Those that find themselves on the wrong side of the Convention will find themselves subject to criminal proceedings in the world court. Working our way backwards, we do not have the luxury of world courts and treaties, however I think there are lessons that we can apply to our games.

One of the underlying themes of the Chivalry, and I think this is a very important point, is that it is very specific on who is covered under the rules of Chivalry and who is not. I mentioned that normally only gentry (and I am using this term to refer to any noble or knight) are covered under the rules of Chivalry and that the common foot solider was not. This was a commonly held belief, and widely accepted by the gentry as acceptable behavior. This was the norm in society at that time. I think this is a norm that can be ported directly over to our game. I will argue that in general, our games are modeled loosely after the medieval and renaissance periods of history. Clearly the paladin, cavalier and knight classes are modeled after the knights of this historical and literature period, which I have described in the beginning of my series on the paladin. With this linkage established, we can dig into the application of this on our games.

In my blog on the orc from last week, I wanted to draw the connection between orc and monster. I am picking on the orc, but I am also making a broader statement with my usage of the term orc, to include any one of a number of evil creatures that are in the numerous monster manuals. One of the strengths of the alignment system is that it allows us to make broad accurate generalizations that are very useful for a number of reasons. One of the uses is to clearly identify which creatures are inherently evil. The orc is a deviation from mankind, and should be considered a monster in every sense of the word. It is the persona of evil, and they are a blight to civilized society. This is clearly the intent of the write up in the Monster Manual.

I once read on one of the message boards, granted this was a while ago, that asked the question of what should a paladin do if he was adventuring through B1 Keep on the Borderlands, or a similar module, where he came upon an encounter with an orc female and young orcs. The question is intended present a moral dilemma on the paladin’s code of conduct. What is the right thing to do? In this case the answer is a simple one. Let me walk through the analysis. The code of conduct applies to gentry with a special note that the knight should be courteous to women. In that definition, there is the implied assumption that the gentry and women are of a race that the paladin has a favorable preference towards. In 1st ed/OSRIC paladins can only be human, which makes this very easy to work out the preferences. The newer versions of the game open up the racial possibilities, which requires a bit more attention on what the racial preferences of the paladin are. Going back to my earlier comment, the orc is a monster and a persona of evil. Based on this, I think it is safe to say that the preference would be hatred. Given this, it is clear that orcs do not fall under the code of conduct, and the paladin is free to do what ever he wants. For game terms, it is important to note that not every creature will fall under the code of conduct. Creatures outside the acceptance range of the racial preference chart, especially creatures with an evil alignment, which I would classify as a “monster,” fall in this category.

The orc example is a very straightforward example as any evil creature would be. Creatures that are neutral, and that fall under the neutral category under the racial preference chart, are in a grey area. However, I think the code of conduct can be leveraged in this case as well. If the neutral creature is a leader type, and is acting with honor, the paladin would probably be inclined to treat the leader as it would gentry, and extend it the courtesies offered under the code. If the neutral creatures are not leader types, and are acting like common soldiers, the paladin is free to do whatever he wants, as they would fall outside the bounds of the code.

To go back to my earlier example, I made it very clear where I stand with regards to the definition of an orc, and what that means. There maybe some GM’s that consider an orc as a noble savage, rather than a monster. When this is true, it changes things a bit. The first thing I would say is that noble savage does not equal evil, and there needs to be an alignment shift on the orc. In this case, the orc should be treated as a neutral creature, and the above discussion on neutral creatures applies.

I do want to take a moment a define honor a little more. A creature fighting in a regular army wearing the colors of a recognized country will be considered as an honorable foe. If the creature is not wearing the colors of a recognized country, they should be treated as bandits or worse. I would use the term terrorist, but that term was not commonly used in that time period. The terms bandit, terrorist, and pirate all are ways of defining a criminal and by definition is not an honorable foe. I will also through in spies, as when they are captured it usually results in a sentence of capital punishment. No one tolerates spies (both past and present), as they fall into the category of traitor, which is a term that is devoid of honor. Honor has an implied lawful meaning to it. Persons obeying laws and acting in accordance with commonly held norms are generally going to be considered honorable.

As a final comment, the code of conduct is a rule that defines what it means to act with honor and how to treat honorable foes. In simple terms, honorable creatures will be dealt with fairly, but that does not equate to gentle treatment or with undeserved (or irrational) mercy. Not everyone is covered by the code. I realize that I have stated this numerous times, but it is fundamental to the definition. It sounds obvious, but I have seen folks on the message boards lose track of this and try to defend why a dishonorable foe/monster should be given an unreasonable amount of mercy. The code of conduct clearly does not support this position.

In this discussion, I have specifically avoided the religious undertones of the class, which I will tackle in my next blog.

Next up – The Paladin and Religion
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

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