Friday, November 1, 2013

The Big E

I've already taken a few posts to talk about approaching alignments among the player characters and their world, but what about supernatural alignment?

While the Rifts setting has lots of room for moral grey, there's also been tons and tons of big, black evil. Supernatural Evil. Cosmic Evil. The Big E.

Which is something that has never really sat well with me. For one thing, Supernatural Evil has always struck me as "evil for evil's sake," or "mustache-twirling evil," the sort of thing that works on Saturday morning cartoons but doesn't really hold up under inspection. If your villain every says anything remotely like "I love being bad!" I'm going to have a hard time respecting them.

That's how I see most of the Evil Intelligences of the Rifts setting. Some of the things they do in pursuit of evil are cool, but their sole reason for doing anything is to be evil and show everyone how evil they are. I'm not trying to suggest that every Evil Intelligence has to have a tragic backstory. Just that they have goals and motivations that are understandable.

(Yeah, I know the Evil Intelligences are supposed to be from dimensions beyond our understanding. Then why are they all inherently evil? Why not just let them be amoral, adhering to moral codes that are, like themselves, beyond our understanding? They can still be horrible and destructive, but they do it because they don't care or don't appreciate what it is they're destroying. Which is actually how I understand Lovecraftian cosmic horror to work.)

The other thing about supernatural evil is that it implies the existence of supernatural good, which is notably missing from the Rifts multiverse. I admit to not having every Rifts book, but what I do have features a good number of demons and deevils (Which always makes me chuckle. I'm sure it started as a typo, but then it probably became an excuse to tell the Religious Right "See? Our game has deevils, not devils!") and I'm having a hard time spotting anything resembling a good divine entity.

I've got Dragons & Gods for Palladium Fantasy, which does cover both good and evil dieties in the Palladium Fantasy setting. But in terms of divine servitors (being more likely to interact directly with mortals), demons and deevils again dominate.

There are a couple of understandable reasons for this that I can think of.

1) The PCs are supposed to be the heroes. If supernatural good were as powerful as supernatural evil, there would be little need for the PCs to go rushing off to thwart demonic schemes.

2) God is supposed to be a mystery in the "Real World." Fantasy worlds can have fantasy gods out the wazoo (and many do), but once you start encroaching on the real world (like far future Rifts Earth), talk of dieties goes vague, quiet, or both. This is probably a holdover from the Satanic Panic of the 80's, but it does also respect the potentially deeply held beliefs of some players.

Even though it has its reasons, it still has the ability to rub me the wrong way. Like the Coalition War. One of the justifications for the Coalition winning over Tolkeen is that Tolkeen summoned demons and was therefore morally corrupt. The problem is that they didn't have much choice. Not just in the "needed big fighting power quickly" sort of way, but also because they never had the option to summon good creatures, or even neutral entities to fight for them.

All of this does bring up the question of how supernatural good and evil will be presented in the BTR setting.

Gods: Are there gods in the setting? Are they gods that we know about and have worshipped on Earth? Do they grant divine powers of any kind? Or do we go with something a bit more "ancient astronauts"? i.e There are entities out there that inspired our myths and legends, but they're not exactly as advertised.

Angels, Demons, and Elementals: What sort of spirits and entities exist in the setting? Can they be summoned by magic? Where do they live when they're not in normal space? Do they have an inherent morality to them? Why? What are their goals and motivations?

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