Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bernard Gui Was Lawful Good

James Raggi over at LotFP has put up a series of articles over the last week about alignment. Here's the latest in the series. What's interesting is that the articles are not the standard dithering over defining what Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil really mean as if the definitions in the books weren't already clear, but about larger, farther reaching ramifications, such as what a being of evil incarnate might be like when the evils perpetrated by ordinary humans (even in the name of good) are so heinous as to turn your stomach. A demon or devil, even a relatively low level example, would be evil on a level unknown to lowly humans.

I wanted to get into some of the smaller, closer to home aspects of alignment. How a normal mortal might operate within the framework of the nine-point dual axis (i.e., AD&D alignment system) alignment codification and still break from a 1970's conception of right and wrong and morality: which is not to say anything disparaging against such conceptions, merely that good and evil within the framework of D&D seem to be largely judged from the paradigm of a 1970's educated man, which makes perfect sense since it was written and largely written for 1970's educated men.

My first object lesson is Bernardo Gui, born 1261, died 1331, and arguably the most famous member of the Medieval Inquisition (as VERY distinct from the infamous Spanish Inquisition which he had absolutely nothing to do with). It's remarkable how few people know Bernardo outside of the near caricature by F. Murray Abraham and Umberto Ecco in The Name of the Rose: you see, Umberto disliked the Church in general and the Inquisition in particular and it bled into his writing (which I'm sure he'll be the first to tell you is open to the audience's interpretation) and when the movie was created, it was decided that there was a need for a stronger antagonist than an old monk who hated laughter during the climax, thus was born the enhanced antagonism of Abraham's Gui.

In reality, the man quite literally wrote the book on how the Papal Inquisition was supposed to conduct and comport itself as well as its overall purpose: Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis or "Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness." The work discusses the purpose of the Inquisition, describes its "targets" (including a very good description of the Cathars and why they are designated heretical by the Church of the time), and the methodology of accusations, interrogation, indictment, and punishment by members of the Inquisition. Gui did, indeed, advise the use of torture as a method to extract information from accused persons, an act that almost anybody in the Western World would consider irredeemably evil. During his tenure in this position, Gui obtained about 900 convictions, but only turned over a mere 42 to the state for execution. He was very reticent to see the people brought before him executed arguing convincingly that such would be considered a failure of one of the most important purposes of the Inquisition: the detection and rehabilitation of those persons who had strayed from the "correct" teachings of the Church. More common and preferred forms of punishment and rehabilitative therapy included pennance, joining an aesthetic monastic order for a time, a long pilgrimage, flogging, or simply time in the stocks. Killing somebody in this situation would be effectively damning them to hell, something that was to be strenuously avoided as the Church truly believed itself to be in the business of helping to save souls, not condemning them. Thus, execution was reserved for only the most vile and unrepentant heretics.

In the end, and within the context of his historical setting, I would argue that Bernardo Gui would fit in well within the Lawful Good alignment, despite what we would view as reprehensibly evil methods, much of which could be attributed to a Medieval sense of jurisprudence really. Which brings me to my point, at last; while it's certainly great to play D&D within the moral framework of modern folk, there's a lot to be said about opening up to a different moral paradigm. To continue within our example of the Inquisition, how would the players themselves interact with such a person? Upon realizing that torture was being used as a method to seek out and identify heretics (or, perhaps, slightly easier on our modern sensibilities, hidden evil moles), what would the party's attendant Paladin do? The party may be asked to perform tasks for such an inquisition and to abide by its regulations.

Travelling this way is difficult to do without getting hokey and over simplified, but done right, it challenges more than just the technical and role playing skills of the players, it challenges the players themselves. A little narativist in a way? Sure, but even the oldest and grognardiest of games can benefit from some of the better lessons of the White Wolf and Hickman/Weiss revolutions. Dealing with good and evil on a more than just lip service level, forcing players to confront some of their own personal demons within the game, is, in my opinion of course, one of those good lessons. It's another layer of challenge beyond disarming traps, killing monsters with clever tactics, and hauling treasure out from under the nose of a sleeping dragon. How, as a player of a Lawful Good character, do you work within a game world where not only is slavery and martial interrogation (torture) are not only accepted and acceptable functions of society, but are so widespread as to be near universal?


  1. Thought-provoking stuff Hamlet.

    Personally I'd say Bernardo Gui would be Lawful Neutral rather than LG, even in medieval terms. Sure, torturing people to obtain evidence was perfectly legal; but it certainly wasn't living in the image of Christ (probably the ideal of medieval goodness). That's just IMO though.

    It's nice to throw this sort of 'they do things differently here' moral dilemma at players. We've had some real rip-roaring arguments on the subject of (Roman-style) contractual slavery, for instance.

    Saved to the DM folder.