Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Importance of Presuppositions

In my line of work, I have to be acutely aware of presuppositions (one of the demands of doing theology). Our culture does not do a very good job of exploring or even being aware that we make them all the time. So, a definition is in order: a presupposition is a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.

Let’s explore an element of D&D that is near and dear to my heart, but is widely rejected by those who play: Race-as-Class. I think part of the reason that so many people balk at the idea of Race-as-Class is that they believe it fundamentaly prevents people from playing a particular race the way they want to. Personally, I have a metal figure in my collection that is a dwarven wizard. I love the personality that exudes from the sculpt. Race-as-Class seems to dictate that I can never use that character concept in my favorite versions of the game. 

What this perspective fails to see is the presupposition that must be made in gaming worlds that have no Race-as-Class: since the mechanics of dwarf and human characters are so similar, there isn’t much actual difference between humans and dwarves.

In contrast, Race-as-Class poses siginificant mechanical differences between the two races. The culture that arises from humans as clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves is necessarily very different from that of Dwarves. One is mechanically diverse, the other isn’t.

Thus, when I pull out that dwarven wizard figure the machanics of Race-as-Class put far more weight on my choice of class than the versions of D&D that don’t use it. In both cases, I will essentially be playing a human character; however, while the mechanics of a dwarven wizard don’t say a lot about my character, playing a dwarven magic-user that uses the mechanics of a human magic-user says a tremendous amount about the world, the history of my character, and dwarves themselves. In order to become a magic-user, my dwarf has had to reject his culture and his people to the point that mechanically he no longer functions as a dwarf. For all intents and purposed he is a human.

In both scenerios, I come to the same basic conclusion: mechanically a dwarven magic-user/wizard is essentially a re-skinned human; however, when one looks at the necessary presuppositions that Race-as-Class demands, I get a much more interesting re-skinned human — one that I don’t think I would have arrived at without Race-as-Class.

I say all this as a preamble, because I did something quite outside my comfort zone this week. Chris Gore of Film Threat is producing a new show on his YouTube channel which seeks to bring Star Wars fans together to discuss whether or not Disney has murdered the franchise. The format is that of a court with those who are on the side of the prosecution and those who are on the defense.

I was asked to be on the first show, because so few people in the sphere of YouTube Star Wars fandom were willing to argue the defense. It was all in good fun and I think the overwhelming consensus is that my side lost the argument (not surprising, since Chris Gore’s audience is largely unhappy with Disney Star Wars). I want to explain why I was willing to be on the Defense and that has to do with presuppositions.

While the language “Disney Murdered Star Wars” is hyberbolic, there is a necesssary presupposition behind that statement: Star Wars fans are beholden to Disney for all things Star Wars. I vehemently disagree. 

The presupposition that I make is one that I believe better reflects reality: Star Wars is part of our culture. It no longer belongs to Disney or George Lucas in any way other than the legal right to produce Star Wars products. We, as the fandom have far more power than Disney thinks we do (or we do, depressingly). The Audience is a vital part of any artistic endeavor, especially when it comes to beloved franchises like Star Wars.

Very few Tolkien fans, for example, would argue that Amazon’s Rings of Power has any real place in the lore of Middle-earth. Likewise, the fans have the ability to embrace or reject anything Star Wars. As an example, few Star Wars fans acknowledge that the Star Wars Christmas Special has any real standing in Star Wars lore. Yes, it is the first appearance of Boba Fett, but does anyone argue that the Mandolorian, or any other Disney product, isn’t following the lore established in the Christmas Special? No, because the fandom doesn’t care about the Christmas Special. It does about the EU and the many ways Disney has contradicted it. Despite the fact that Disney has de-canonized the EU, it still lives on because the fans have embraced it.

The only way that Disney can murder Star Wars, in other words, is if we aid and abett them by rejecting Star Wars as a whole. As long as the fandom exists, Star Wars lives. And, if the fandom wakes up and realizes its own power and importance, we may see a day when the owners of the legal right to produce Star Wars products will listen.


Jmac said...

I watched that stream. I thought you did a good job, even though the audience (jury) was probably universally against the Sequel Trilogy. But, you made some good points, so kudos to you for doing that.

Also, it introduced me to your blog on RPGs which I am also a fan of. A fellow grognard here. So I'll check it out from time to time.


FrDave said...

@Jmac Thanks for the kind words. I hope you find something here useful and/or inspiring.

Muga said...

I don't think I agree that a character whose class is Dwarf is inherently more mechanically distinct. They play exactly the same as a dwarfen fighter in later editions; those editions just separated the unique dwarf bits from the generic fighter bits. You can, and some games do, have racial class restrictions if you really want to say that all dwarves must be fighters.

The classic Dwarf class is, in fact, just a human fighter with a couple of tricks. (A dwarven wizard has exactly as many powers related to their race as the "dwarf" class had.) Same with the other racial classes; they were just reskinned fighter/wizards and rogues. The designers were either unwilling or unable to make them feel truly unique. *That's* the problem.

I do agree that the idea of dwarves who lose their dwarven powers if they adopt an un-dwarven profession is potentially interesting - contorting your world building to justify it is an interesting challenge; maybe dwarves require regular training to see in the dark? - but trying to apply that to every single species in your world will quickly start to seem goofy, I suspect. And some dwarven traits clearly should be innate; if your system has a speed penalty for their short legs, for example, becoming a wizard clearly should not remove that.

With all that said, I think there's something to be said for racial classes *with multiclassing*. That puts an obvious inherent weight on nonhuman species choice, and allows for gradiation in how dwarfy your dwarven wizard is; he is literally less of a dwarf than if he had focused on more traditional dwarven pursuits, but he's still a dwarf on some level.

FrDave said...

It seems to me like you are still approaching this from the presupposition of Dwarves are just re-skinned humans. Dwarves are distinct from human fighters:
•They can’t use large weapons
•They require more xp to advance levels
•They can’t progress beyond 12th level
•They can only build strongholds in hills or mountains
•Thay can only hire dwarven mercenaries
•They know several humanoid languages
•They get infravision, detect slopes, etc.
In addition, this defines ALL dwarves. Thus, their culture is not a variation on humanity, rather it is a mono-culture so strong that it defines what a dwarf can and cannot be. In contrast, humanity is varied and diverse. The presupposition that dwarves are not just re-skinned humans, but very different from humans allows these mechanics to sing and brings a feel to demi-humans that I never get at the table when playing without race-as-class…