Defiling, Preserving, and Alignment


#1

In my experience discussions regarding alignments can be divisive at the best of times, but this is something I’ve wondered about since I first started playing Dark Sun.

Is defiling inherently evil and preserving inherently good? I’m curious about people’s opinions regarding this issue. To take this conversation a step further does/should becoming a dragon or avangion have alignment restrictions or be regarded as inherently evil/good acts? This point in particular got me curious, especially given the different takes we’ve seen on Dragons and Avangions throughout the editions (some editions require noble acts from avangions, while others don’t, some are more human sacrifice focused on dragons, others just focus on life energy).

Personally I’m inclined to say that no, defiling and preserving by itself does not effect your alignment, but what you do with it does. For instance if we have a defiler that never learned about preserving and may not even know preserving exists, he may only cast spells when absolutely necessary. If he later learns about preserving, but remains a defiler because he considers the magic more powerful that is certainly questionable. However as long as he never uses the magic flippantly he’s not doing anything necessarily evil. Conversely a preserver may simply prefer using magic that doesn’t render the land he lives in uninhabitable as has an alignment as mutable as a mage from any other setting. These are both extreme examples, but I feel they illustrate my point nicely.

Dragons and Avangions are a much trickier issue. I believe their alignment will only be determined if the ritual to become a dragon or avangion requires acts of good or evil, which will depend on the edition of the game and whether or not the DM altered the rituals. But even if we’re being generous here and assuming a dragon doesn’t need to sacrifice sapient life and can just sacrifice hundreds if not thousands of animals, I sincerely doubt anyone on the path of defiler metamorphosis is a good person. Oronis of Kurn was an example of someone who was on the path of dragonhood and once he redeemed himself he stopped any further dragon rituals and instead somehow became an avangion instead (the transition between the two metamorphoses offers a fair few unanswered questions in its own right).

So even in the scenario that transforming into an avangion or dragon requires acts of good or evil I suspect that it might even be possible for an avangion or dragon to shift alignment and remain an avangion or dragon as long as they no longer advance down the metamorphosis. For instance a repentant sorcerer king may simply not know how to become an avangion or doesn’t wish to attract the suspiscions of his peers in attempting it. Or perhaps an avangion has grown jaded and places the perceived needs of Athas above the lives of its people.

This is just my own take from my experience running Dark Sun, let me know where you think alignment fits in if at all. Funny enough I’m inclined to say alignment doesn’t really matter in Dark Sun given the amoral nature of divine magic, but it does seem to pop into relevance occasionally.


(Brent Welborn) #2

In my opinion, defiling is inherently not good. Destroying life, especially when the planet is dying, to power spells is not something a good person would do. Even if they did not know about preserving, they just wouldn’t learn to cast magic. I imagine a good person would learn to do something else instead.
Also in my opinion, preserving is not inherently good. An evil person, who is smart, would realize that defilers are just destroying their own power source and learn to preserve.
Defilers and Preservers has rules on Defilers turning to Preserving. I imagine that dragon metamorphosis is undone if a defiler leaves that path, they become human again, or a half-elf.


(Joshua Slane) #3

Defiling is, absolutely, evil. In planescape the evil outsiders admire defilers. They are killing an already damaged planet for their own gain. And dragon transformation requires thousands of lives sacrificed.

I think if a defiler had the resources and the desire they could possibly achieve a neutral alignment. This would involve multiple trees of life and giving up ever pursuing the dragon metamorphosis.

Preservation, IMO, has no alignment but I believe it would appeal more to good aligned characters than evil ones.


#4

I’ve always seen defiling as an inherently evil act. Even when done with the best intentions, you need to understand defileing destroys the land for generations to come. It can’t be good, even if you are using the power for a good deed (saving people). At best you can be neutral rationalizing that it’s a small price to pay to achieve the result you wish.

Preserving on the other hand is not necessarily a good act, it can be that one simply wants to be able to use that specific piece of land more then one. Don’t destroy your power base, even if that power is only being used to kill people.

I don’t actually use alignments much in my campaigns (I prefer allegiances), but that’s the way I’ve always seen it.


(Stuart Lynch) #5

IMHO Defiling isn’t necesssarily evil, but you certainly aren’t being good by using it. You could make the argument that a new wizard who’s only been taught to defile could maintain a good alignment for the first few levels but after that whether you kmow of preserving or not what you’re doing to the planet should sink in (I think DSR3 Veiled Alliance makes this point when saying the VA will sometimes offer to teach apprentice defilers the way if preserving before looking at killing them).

By the same token a Preserver doesn’t have to be good aligned. Imagine a megalomanical wizard intent on overthrowing the SKs and ruling the world - destroying the very world he wants to rule and kill the people he wants to subjugate would be counterproductive. You could even have an evil aligned Avangion on that kind of basis. As others have said though, the sacrificial element inherent to draconic transformation would certainly rule out a good aligned Dragon, even if you somehow allowed a high level defiler to maintain a good alignment.


#6

The defilers would have to be aware of what they are doing. For example, defiling your neighbor’s garden is a gross act of property destruction. That would be an evil act.

I suppose its possible that there is a defiler that has access to many trees of life that he himself owns, and thus is only taking what is his anyway. I suppose in such a situation it may be possible for a defiler to maintain a good alignment.

Preservers can be either alignment. No doubt there are plenty of evil preservers that prefer to use magic on the downlow. Having plant ash everywhere is a sure sign of a defiler, and thus a personal risk.


#7

preservers are just normal wizards. their power is not considered good or evil because wizardry in general is not considered good or evil. you could just as easily have an evil preserver as a good one.

defiling on the other hand is more charged. defiling would certainly be considered an evil act, by its very nature. However, a wizard could attempt to justify it by thinking that the end justifies the means. For example, if a defiler used his magic to kill a dragon, he could convincingly reason that by killing said dragon he would be preventing future defilings on a far wider scale, so his own comparatively minor defiling is practically insignificant in light of the good done. Further, a preserver might turn to defiling in order to protect his village from invading bandits, and justify his actions by the lives saved.

Athas is a world of shades of grey, a world of desperate people doing desperate things to stay alive and protect those they care about. The magic system is made the way it is on purpose to highlight the desperate nature: should the PCs turn to such destructive methods if in the end it leads to a better world?


#8

that’s one of the reasons why i thing the Oba has made such a point of growing her forest. I thinks she might be mass producing Trees of Life near it’s center, allowing her to use defiling magic without attracting attention to herself or breaking her ruse as a forest goddess.

according to the second edition rules, it is possible for a defiler to make a tree of life if they are very careful to keep their defiling circle away from the plant during the nurturing phase (though doing so would probably result in a very ugly tree of life). she also has a veritable legion of templars and druids to make them as well using their elemental magic.


(Zeque) #9

I’m dming a 5e game using many fanmade adaptations. I’m running the original first 5 modules. In Asticlian Gambit the module is not tied to anything so they decided to change characters and now we have our first wizard pc: a defiler.
I was looking for 2e books and resources to see which adaptation feels more like “original” defilers. I was looking at “Preserver’s Choice” article in an old magazine and read something that reminds me this post.
It says: defilers are not necessarily evil, if they use their powers only in need. This is, more or less, what the article says.
If they spread lightings and fire all day long, well yes they are evil.
Still, in my opinion it’s a grey topic in a world without morale. Do you know you can preserve? Do you know you are killing living plants? What are you using your powers for?
Any answer we give for those (or more questions) will still be ambiguous about being evil or good. Also good people sometimes commit evil acts and vice versa.
The more I play D&D the more I care about personality and motivations and less about “mechanical alignment”.


(Andrea Ferrari) #10

Imho, defiling is evil. Athas is already damaged so badly, and I think that no good guy would damage the planet even further.
Preserving, otoh, is not necessarely good. I can envision an evil preserver who’s simply pragmatic.


#11

If a defiler had his own supply of trees of life, and he didn’t damage nature or the property of others, I don’t see how that could be evil.


(Joshua Slane) #12

I suspect a preserver would ask if you would feel the same if the defiler had a supply of slaves and an obsidian orb or 10.


#13

That’s quite different. Dragon magic 90% of the time involves outright murdering people to fuel your sorcery (or at a minimum killing all sorts of animals for magical power which is morally questionable at a minimum and outright evil if you consider animal lives as precious as sapient lives). Exploiting trees of life for sorcerous power is if anything less evil than normal defiling since the tree of life isn’t guaranteed to be destroyed if our defiler is being careful with his spell choice. Especially if the defiling taps into multiple trees of life, ensuring no single tree dies, a wise tactic given the sheer value these trees possess.


(Matthew T Laux) #14

Is leeching all life-sustaining force from a parcel of land an evil act, in a world with little arable land, just so you can use supernatural abilities? Yeah.
Are all defilers evil? No, some are probably just neutral.
Is preserving magic inherently good? No, it depends on what you use it for.


#15

How about this - a defiler using the energy of living beings to cast a prolific vegetation (or forestation) spell to restore the environment?

NB4U say “but its evil to kill people”, the defiler could be using livestock like kanks, erdlus, and the like. Lay waste to a few hundred erdlus for over half a mile of restored land that can be used for grazing for more edlus.


(Brent Welborn) #16

Defiler’s can’t cast prolific vegetation or forestation. At least in the original ad&d rules.

Only really powerful defilers can take energy from animal lifex so they’d have killed a lot of plants by then.

Defiler’s are not good, but they can be neutral.


#17

I think the assumption in 2E was that the defilers would be using plant life to fuel profilic vegetation (forestation), and thus the spell would be a wash. There should be no reason why animal energy couldn’t be used to fuel plant growth at epic levels.

Makes for an interesting moral quandry - there is a defiler bringing back grass and forest, but is killing people to do so.


(Joshua Slane) #18

Making up ridiculous scenarios doesn’t show defiler can be good, it only highlights how far from good they really are. If a defiler wishes to cast spells to heal the land he learns to preserve.


#19

I will say that this discussion of defilers stealing life energy from animals/people to reforest their territory does touch up on how I chose to depict Lalali-Pui. Basically human sacrifices are offered to her and she uses her dragon magic to slowly grow her forest, though this was done through a complex ritual rather than a simple spell. Naturally these sacrifices are almost exclusively criminals, prisoners of war, and disfavored slaves. I had toyed with the idea of this actually winning evil druids over to her side and perverting the nature of Gulg’s forest, making the trees twisted with bloody sap and terrible spirits haunting the woods.


#20

The Oba is a fun one. In my opinion all the SMs were kinda sold on the idea of having to choose when to defile for the greater good and slowly grew addicted to the extra power. With the Oba she’s completely addicted to both the power of defilement and the adoration of her subjects.

I once had an avangion try to “save” her and teach her the ways of the preserver, reminding her of how she first learned wizardry (she failed miserably and got nearly the entire party killed). She was the group’s best bet at converting the SMs since she was the forest goddess.

Turns out she while she wants to spread the forest it’s so she has an unlimited source of power. Unlike the other SMs in my campaign, she only allows preserver magic in her city and has been using trees of life to hide the fact that she’s the most powerful defiler any of them have ever seen. She works with druids to create the trees of life (to protect the forests). Enslaving “evil” spirits and elementals bent on destroying Gulg, it’s people’s, and it’s Queen is just par for the course. The poor things have been driven mad by the rampant defilement and must be controlled until a cure can be found.

In truth, I believe she could easily be convinced to become an avangion like Oronis, but only if she could do it without giving up the extra power she gets from defilement and even better if she could gain more out of the bargain.