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Author Topic: On Dragons and Evil  (Read 3459 times)
Ben Lehman
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« on: April 10, 2004, 10:32:31 PM »

"Fairy Tales do not tell children that dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."
--GK Chesterton

This is a topic which might be better discussed after the book has come out, and the forum is teeming with rabid fans, because it has to do with the nature of morality in the setting and thus could produce a wonderful balkanizing debate.

But I think I'll talk about it now.

As I understand the setting material, Dragons are wretched and horrible creatures whose vile nature eliminates any fundamental right to exist.  But, also as far as I can tell, they are not evil.

Why?  These are the embodiment of evil?  Mr. ben Ezra says so himself, in as plain words.

Dragons, in Alyria, are not evil because dragons have no choices.  They need pain and suffering to survive.  They are simply a creature fulfilling its life cycle.  In many ways, they could be compared in this way, to carnivores.  They must prey on sentients, but the impulse is the same, and the moral choice is simply not present.

(This raises questions about the real end of the Rape of Alyria, and the switch to Dragon cultists, not as a matter of political necessity, but simply as a natural change from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society.  Pondering this makes chills run up and down my spine, as it should.)

But dragons are evil.  This is present in the text and so it ought to be true.  The question is *why* they are evil?  What choice to they make that makes them so pathetic?  This is one of those great places where Alyria can be filled in by the play group.

I have two thoughts on this matter.

The first is quite simple -- dragons feed on any sentient emotion.  The dragons of Alyria have developed a cultural bias towards feeding on pain, fear, suffering and despair.  It tastes better.  Sort of like Fois Grois.

The second is a little more complex -- the dragons are humans.
They have genetically engineered themselves to be more "native" to the Alyrian environment, to be imbued with vast psychic powers, etc.  They have also, in the process, rendered themselves immune to the Outsiders, and perhaps this was the original purpose of the draconic engineering.
The trick is that they can give it up.  At any time, they can decide to live as humans, and not eat the pain, suffering and fear.  But, in doing so, they either
a) Lose their immunity to the Outsider's infestation.
b) Lose their psychic abilities.
Or, my favorite
c) Lose control of their psychic abilities, blasting their own bodies away into pure light just like the Blessed when they lose control.  The difference between the Blessed and the Dragons is that the Dragons can hold their door "closed" through sadism, and thus don't have the self control to do it through other means, so stopping the sadism means destroying themselves.

I like c, here, because I have this image that Dragons with the moral clarity to actually do this are transformed, physically, into beings of light and valor...

Where do Unicorns come from, anyway?

yrs--
--Ben
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2004, 05:46:16 AM »

That is a really fascinating idea, Ben.

Yes, it does lead to all sorts of moral questions, but that's a good thing, isn't it?

A peek behind the curtain:  as I wrote the unicorns and dragons, I designed them to be my angel/demon analogues.  (Yes, I believe in the existence of angels and demons, but that's a discussion for another time and another place.)  The reason that the dragons are evil is the result of a choice that they already made, just like the demons.  As a result, they represent total Evil, and it was to the dragon cultists that I turned my attention for issues of choices and redemption.

But don't let that stop you.  After all, the nature of the dragons is intentionally left vague.  And, I must admit, the idea of an entire story revolving around the possible redemption of a dragon strikes me as laden with potential.  In fact, going with your option (c), which is also my favorite of the ones you propose, tends to reinforce the demonic nature of the dragons.  After all, aren't the demons fallen angels?  And what if a demon could be redeemed?  Wouldn't he return to his previous angelic state?  Makes sense to me.

Also, the visuals are pretty cool.  Imagine it.  The dragon lays down his head and closes his eyes.  Then his body begins to crack and shatter.  Blazing light bursts forth, immolating him and, from the crumbled ruins, emerges a fiery unicorn....

Yeah, it has legs.  So, when you going to run it, Ben?  ;-)

Interestingly, your discussion of a predator's needs is exactly what I had in mind when writing the Outsiders.  I thought a lot about the movie Alien.  You can't say that the Alien is evil per se; it's just following its life cycle.  The same is true of the Outsiders.  They are not evil, mostly because they are not deliberate in their actions.  Rather, they are like a force of nature:  a flood or, better, a plague.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
(who thinks that G.K. Chesterton is really, really cool)
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Trevis Martin
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Posts: 499


« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2004, 08:37:55 AM »

Interesting Seth,

That reminds me of the books Unicornis and Quest: In search of the Dragontooth, both by Michael Green.  Did you look at either of those in the process of your design?

regards,

Trevis
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2004, 03:47:28 PM »

Trevor,

I've never heard of either book.  Can you tell me more?

Here was my thought process on developing these setting elements.  Dragons seem a pretty natural choice for "demons".  In Western symbolism, dragons have been evil for a long time.  Unicorns are a little more of a stretch, but not much.  In general, they are symbols of purity, which is why only a virgin could touch one.  In the original myths, they were also a lot more aggressive than they are usually depicted, attacking those who tried to sully them.  Therefore, they seemed to fit my vision of avenging angels.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ben Lehman
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Posts: 2094

Blissed


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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2004, 10:57:51 PM »

Quote from: GreatWolf

Unicorns are a little more of a stretch, but not much.  In general, they are symbols of purity, which is why only a virgin could touch one.  In the original myths, they were also a lot more aggressive than they are usually depicted, attacking those who tried to sully them.


BL>  Dude.  You weren't hip to the Unicorn = Christ symbolism?  It's definitely there (unicorns are depcited as being able to bring back the dude, heal wounds and poisons with a touch, etc.)

Reference:
http://www.lair2000.net/Unicorn_Dreams/Unicorn_History/midievil_unicorns.html

As for when I'm going to run Alyria... well... that depends on when it comes out, doesn't it ;-)  If I can buy it at the next GenCon, possibly very soon, although my Chorus/Riddle of Steel game has precedence...

yrs--
--Ben
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Trevis Martin
Member

Posts: 499


« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2004, 12:19:44 AM »

Seth,

Unicornis, On the History and Truth of the Unicorn, was published by Running Press about 1983 or so and released again in 88 (about the time I got it.)  Its a treasure hunt book.  The book presents itself as a facsimile of an ancient manuscript on unicorns kept by a Gnostic Christian brotherhood. Supposedly if you were able to decipher the clues in the manuscript you could find the 'horn of the Unicorn' an object buried somewhere in the U.S.

I bought the book for the illustrations, which are beautiful (I've always been a fan of illuminated manuscripts.)  The illustrations look very Italian Renaissance (think daVinci) combined with some medival illumination, appropriate considering the 'author' of the manuscript was supposed to have been born in 1457.

It describes a cosmology where the unicorn was created by God to be a guiding spirit to man.  Here's a good passage.

"While the Unicorn seeks to divine the secrets of creation that he may more perfectly know the Creator, the Dragon desires the same that it may goin dominion over all the world, and thereby conquer death.

"Now the Dragon feircly hates the Unicorn for its primacy, because it is not self-created, but owes to him its being.  And so it has ever been the bane of the Unicorn, its fixed intent being to devour him, that it may no longer be an aftercomer, but the Oldest of All Things."

Good stuff and a fun book just to look at.  I got my most recent copy off of ebay, but its around.

Quest: The Search for the Dragontooth is similar.  Again a puzzle book, but the prize this time is a Dragontooth (go figure.)  Neither puzzle was ever solved and the locations of the items have been forgotten.  Quest is more of a story, told mostly in the journals of the fictional author of the original Unicornis manuscript. It goes somewhat more extensivly into the lore of the Dragons and how the talisman of the Dragontooth extended corruption to all of its owners.

Both of em are good,  you might find them interesting.

regards,

Trevis
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