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Old Screeds

Splat Books Are Insulting And Offensive [15 June 2011] The PF Halfling and the Holy Vindicator.

Is specific content in the Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide offensive? Sure, all splat books are bad. And people discussing the issues in good faith can disagree. But as for me, I intensely dislike certain elements. Let's start with the Holy Vindicator.

It is interesting to compare the Holy Vindicator to a base class I created using the witch archtype for the Wold online game world. The Woldian Blood Witch uses "Woldsblood," a magical fluid that runs through the campaign's equivalent of the ethereal plane. The witch refrains from drawing blood, other than Woldsblood. Moreover, the Woldian Blood Witch (so named to set the class off from the APG Witch) is carefully designed to tie in with Woldsblood and it is clearly spelled out that in the Wold witches are seen as suspect, as outcasts, and as strange. That shows the witch and blood to be a taboo -- the class is walking a fine line.

The "Holy Vindicator" has NO recognition of that line and stomps all over it. There is no sign that smearing your own blood all over your weapons is a suspect thing. Also, what about the fact that "stigmata" is an actual real world phenomenon / miracle that millions of people believe to be a sign of God (capital G, real world)? We're not talking about medieval stuff, here, we're talking about the 1960s. I personally remember my father telling me about the miracles of Padre Pio, and taking it entirely seriously. IMNSHO, this prestige class is potentially quite offensive to many Christians, and especially to Catholics.

There is also no mention that the issues of self-harm (aka "cutting") are significant and triggering to people who might prefer not to stumble upon them in a game meant for fun and recreation.

And can we talk about the name? "Holy Vindicator"!? What does "vindicator" mean? To me, personally, it calls to mind being "vindictive," in the negative sense. Look at the PrC flavor text:

Many faiths have within their membership an order of the church militant, be they holy knights or dark warriors, who put their lives and immortal souls on the line for their faith. They are paragons of battle, eschewing sermons for steel. These men and women are living conduits of divine power, down to their very blood, which they happily shed in a moment if it brings greater glory to their deity or judgment upon heretics, infidels, and all enemies of the faith.
Excuse me, but words like "church militant," "happily shedding their own blood for the greater glory," and "judgment upon heretics, infidels, and all enemies of the faith" -- what images and concepts are we evoking here? Flagellants? The Inquisition? The Crusades? In other words, some of the darkest chapters of the Roman Catholic Church's history? Why oh why are we glorifying as a good choice for our players such outright offensive content? It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I left the Church decades ago.

We are treading close to real world stuff, here, in my opinion. Compare with how the Core Rules handle matters of faith and religion ...

Does the Cleric class use a specific belief of the Catholic faith? Transubstantiation? The Eucharist? The Trinity? No. Note that many religions use holy or blessed water. Does the cleric use any of this disrespectfully? No. Does the Holy Vindicator, with its use of "Stigmata"? In my opinion, yes.

The Paladin class implicitly recognizes that the concept of being a crusader is one fraught with moral ambiguity; in fact, it requires a lawful good alignment and has a code of conduct. In contrast, the Holy Vindicator explicitly embraces the worst stereotypes of the crusader who runs roughly over other beliefs, spreading religion by blade and blasphemy, through fear and fire, specifically using means generally considered evil.

For example, the HV PrC gets to inflict Bestow Curse and evil Death Knell spells on enemies -- but it's okay, it's not evil, because you are saying your god tells you it is okay. My word, the moral bleakness here astounds. It's okay to torture, to make a conversion. It's okay to stone adulterers, burn witches, and kill homosexuals, since your god says so. This is just so disquieting on several levels.

More on the name, "vindicator." You can say that the word means "to clear from guilt, accusation, blame ... to provide justification for ... to uphold, maintain, or defend."

But what in the prestige class's actual abilities refer to any of that? Is there any ability to detect truth? To convince someone that an innocent has been wrongly convicted? To provide justification for anything? The entire purpose of the PrC is to make a self-healing battlebot that leaves enemies doomed, sickened, and bleeding. This PrC makes enemies sick by hitting them with weapons the HV has coated with his or her own blood. It is disgusting and evil.

I don't see any way the "Holy Vindicator" clears anyone of guilt except by Might Makes Right. Ugh. It is foul, in my opinion.

I oppose the Holy Vindicator because (1) The prestige class uses a specific Roman Catholic belief, "stigmata," and applies it in ways that are potentially offensive to Christians and Catholics; (2) A central mechanic is to let the blood from your stigmata flow all over your weapons or rain down on enemies, giving them the "sickened" condition. This is not only offensive, but it is disgusting, triggering, and evil; and (3) The entire tone of the prestige class is non-heroic, especially the use of abilities such as Doom, Death Knell, and Bestow Curse, and it poorly fits games that appeal to one's better nature.

And even if you disagree with my moral points, even if you think that evil options should exist for players in the game, you still might think about the effect on the game as a whole, on Dungeons and Dragons in the wider culture, were a mainstream religious organization get wind of the offensive content in this offering. You love being evil -- fine. But think about the bad press! The black eye this could give the game.

Compared to the pure offensiveness of the Holy Vindicator, my next example of offensive content seems more trivial. But it sticks in my craw nonetheless. It is the APG treatment of halflings.

First off, of all the player races in Pathfinder, Might as well mention that halflings are totally nerfed in PF compared with D&D 3.5. The designers decided that halflings were too good, too powerful, that they needed to be taken down a notch. Here's how ... Let's put the 3.5 racial rules vs the PF rules, head to head, looking only at the differences.
3.5 D&D PF Notes
+2 racial bonus on Climb, Jump, Listen, and Move Silently checks. Keen Senses and Sure-Footed: Halflings receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception, Acrobatics and Climb skill checks. PF Halflings lose a +2 bonus on stealth
+1 racial bonus on attack rolls with thrown weapons and slings. Weapon Familiarity: Halflings are proficient with slings and treat any weapon with the word “halfling” in its name as a martial weapon. PF Halflings lose a +1 bonus on attacks with many weapons to gain proficiency in an obscure exotic weapon that is still not as effective as a strongbow.
Everything else -- size, speed, luck bonus, fear bonus, and languages -- are essentially the same. PF stats get a +2 boost, but ALL PF races get a +2 compared with their 3.5 counterparts. Halflings in PF lose stealth and a +1 to attack that 3.5 halflings get. With no substantive compensation.

But aside from issues of game balance, and how PF nerfs halflings, the Pathfinder game designers actually hate halflings. Just look at the APG Alternate Racial Traits for halflings. The APG designers opted to create options that highlighted halflings as cowards and worse. Consider the "Craven, Low Blow, and Underfoot" abilities -- these are simply offensive and actually demeaning. Why do the PF designers think that players who model themselves after heroes like Frodo and Bilbo want to take on traits that portray them as cowardly, cheap-shot artists who you are as likely to trip over as notice? That is to ask, why are we insulting players? Shameful.

In fairness, the APG also mistreats half-orcs with similar insulting stereotypes, but here at least there is justification for that in the source material that inspired the race. In explanation, if not in excuse.

For more on the APG and splat books generally, read my all splat books are bad screed.

This screed was posted here on 15 April 2013, but it was mostly written as a message board post in June-July 2011.

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