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I've been playing Iron Kingdoms now for a few months as a player in the largely generic region of Llael. Now I want to start running my own game in the Iron Kingdoms, which I haven't ran before (though I have a lot of experience in other RPGs).

I like the idea of having the player characters be initiates into the Protectorate of Menoth (with Circle and Cygnar being the main opposition, but Legion of Everblight making an appearance also).

One of my big goals is to try convey that the people in the Protectorate really believe that what they are doing is right, even though with the knowledge of the bigger picture most would agree that they are evil (lawful evil, I guess). Part of the issue here is that Protectorate should be burning down forests to deprive their enemies(Circle) of the power they grant, but doing this might change the tone of the adventure to being more sinister than I intend.

That being said, I have two main questions:

  • What limitations on careers and/ or races make the most sense to impose on the players?

  • What techniques would be useful to try run this campaign in a way which the players felt like heroes as opposed to feeling like villains?

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I think you might be asking the wrong question here. The nations of the Iron Kingdoms are all a shade of grey. They each have good and evil, lawful and chaotic tendencies, particularly when compared to each other. Asking for lawful-evil tips distracts from what you're really asking: "what are the goals of the Protectorate of Menoth and how would a character in that setting act?" –  Ellesedil Nov 15 '13 at 16:18
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+1 to Ellesedil. Ask your real question, not a pretend question that's tangential. –  mxyzplk Nov 15 '13 at 22:07
    
In the real world, organizations aren't composed of all evil or all good people. There's a mixture. Maybe the characters are good and are misled to believe that the group's intentions are good. During the course of adventuring they learn otherwise. They can then decide to leave the group or to reform it from within. –  E L Nov 16 '13 at 21:01
    
Too much focus is being put on "lawful" and "evil", which do not exist in IKRPG as a concept like they do in D&D (thankfully). The Protectorate of Menoth is a nation in the Iron Kingdoms. It happens to be mostly populated by devout/zealous followers of Menoth, the creator of man. This question should be focusing on the Protectorate and not what "lawful evil" means. –  Ellesedil Nov 16 '13 at 23:24
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6 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Alignment doesn't exist as a concept in Iron Kingdoms

I think you actually need to remove the concept of an "alignment" from your campaign for the Iron Kingdoms setting. For starters, IKRPG doesn't have such a concept.

In addition, alignment doesn't really have a useful place it can be applied, even as a description. Khador, for instance, is largely a warmongering nation intent on expanding their borders. Are they evil? Maybe according to Cygnar, maybe not according to the Protectorate, and certainly not to themselves as they feel to have been wronged several centuries ago and are simply reclaiming what is rightfully their's. And look at Ios - the Retribution of Scyrah (an extremist sect within Ios) blames the decline of their deities on the human use of magic, and they have some strong circumstantial reasons to believe that. Does that make all human magic users evil? And Cygnar is plenty capable of acts that a typical person would consider evil, or at least "dark-grey".

And that's my point. There's no concept of an alignment other than what a citizen of the Iron Kingdoms might find offensive, and that will vary from nation to nation.

As for the Protectorate of Menoth, they're lawful as far as their faith is concerned (they follow the True Law and Menoth is often called The Lawgiver), and can be chaotic as far as Cygnar is concerned. But trying to define them as lawful/chaotic is burdensome and doesn't do the Menites justice. They're neither good nor evil and are easily capable of both good acts and evil acts. They're just different.

It's more about allegiances than good/evil

What you need to do instead is color your campaign with the faction your party will be allied to, rather than to an arbitrary alignment concept. The Protectorate is a religious extremist organization intent on shepherding humans back to devout worship of Menoth. Menities aren't evil, and are plenty capable of acts of kindness. They're simply zealous.

Careers

There are also some dedicated careers in the IKRPG for devout followers of Menoth, if they are so inclined, including a Priest of Menoth or Paladin of the Order of the Wall.

As for career restrictions, there probably shouldn't be any. The Protectorate works with mercenary forces, just as most other nations in the Iron Kingdoms do, which can include all sorts of races and careers. And loyal Protectorate forces certainly have their fair share of your typical infantry, support, and crafters. But some choices will certainly be better than others. A Priest of Morrow is probably going to be a poor idea. Since the Protectorate are pretty fanatical about their worship to Menoth, they don't particularly tolerate other human religions, especially followers of Morrow or the Devourer Wurm(1) who they consider to be directly competing with for the souls of man. I wouldn't restrict any careers, but there are definitely some that players could find problematic.

Before you start

I would spend some time reading more in-depth on the Protectorate of Menoth. Based on the direction of your question, it sounds like you might need some more information to really understand what they are about.

To start, re-read the fluff in the Core Rules and pay particularly close attention to the War of Souls (pages 12 and 26) that Menoth, Morrow, Thamar, and the Devourer Wurm are engaged in and the founding of the Protectorate (pages 45, 47, and 57). It probably wouldn't hurt to go through the book for anything pertaining to Menoth in general. Another good source of information is the Forces of WARMACHINE: Protectorate of Menoth book (particularly if you have a friend that plays the war game - you can ignore the model stats or use them as templates for some important NPCs) which will have more detail on the Protectorate with a lot of it in a first-person perspective.

Some tips

Keep in mind that the Protectorate are absolutely fanatical about Menoth and effectively have access to the military might of a nation, but are also capable of picking their battles, can be reasoned with, and can be merciful if the situation warrants it.

As such, loyal citizens of the Protectorate will be striving to convert more of humanity to Menoth. They'll focus particularly on the membership of Morrow, which is the religion's largest competitor on Caen. There is also some effort in converting more of the tribal communities in the wilds, which often worship the Devourer Wurm, but not as much compared to the focus against Morrow. This naturally creates a lot of tension with Cygnar, where Morrow is the dominate religion after the Mentie pilgrimage to the Protectorate once it was formed after the Cygnarian civil war.

You can probably come up with some more interesting tips on your own if you dive more into the Protectorate's history.

Footnotes

(1): Circle of Orboros is often misconstrued by IK citizens as worshiping the Devourer Wurm. While the blackclad druids do derive their power from the world and thus from the Devourer Wurm, they actively work to prevent his return to Caen as it would be cataclysmic.

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The answers in this question may prove to be useful for those following this advice: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/28954/… –  Cypher Nov 16 '13 at 2:07
    
@Cypher: Probably not. The Iron Kingdoms RPG has no concept of alignment at all. No spells, abilities, or anything is based on an alignment. The question in question (ha) is trying to cram an IKRPG peg into a D&D hole and it's not really fitting. –  Ellesedil Nov 16 '13 at 4:17
    
Accepted because you actually answered the two questions I asked. Thanks for your insight :-) –  Conor Pender Nov 20 '13 at 10:30
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One of the big things that differentiates LE characters from other types of characters is the idea that their evil is somehow necessary. They have an almost compulsive need to justify what they do, at least to themselves.

This doesn't mean they have to be forced to commit evil acts: if they had to be forced, they wouldn't be evil. But they do need to be able to tell themselves that it had to be done (note the use of the passive voice). Maybe no other method would have gotten the job done, as far as the character could tell. Or maybe this evil prevented something even worse from happening. Or maybe it was bound to happen regardless: "If I hadn't done it, someone else would have." It's also possible that the victim deserved it, and you can invent all sorts of reasons for that. There are lots of ways you can do it, and different characters will favor different methods.

One big thing to keep in mind about LE characters' justifications is that they don't actually have to be true. Even if they are true, they don't have to be the sort of thing other characters would accept. They just have to be "truthy" enough to satisfy the character's conscience, and there's plenty of room in there for ignorance, prejudice, doublethink, insane troll logic, or other dubious ways to construct a justification.

But the character does need to be convinced. Question an LE character's justifications at your peril, because few things are more universally guaranteed to enrage them. It's one of the reasons LE tyrants tend to lash out at dissenters: by questioning them, you make them question themselves. That is not a pleasant process for anyone to go through, and LE characters get hit harder than most.

Therein lies the key. LE characters need validation, and the shakier their justifications, the more validation they need. So the best way to make an LE character feel like a hero is to just give him good PR, and let him start to believe his own hype. This is where an NPC who travels with the party can work well. Set him up as essentially a mouthpiece (knowingly or otherwise) for the local government: he feeds propaganda to the party as justification for their actions, and he'll hype their deeds to surrounding NPCs who would accept those justifications. That should give them plenty of validation, which is what LE characters really crave.

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(+1) LE "heroes" are easier, because they follow the laws of the land, they might just enforce it in a really "bad" way or the laws themselves may be considered evil. (Ours is not to reasons why, ours are but to do or die) –  AquaAlex Nov 15 '13 at 18:27
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Lawful evil characters often view themselves as the lesser of two evils. Work with this.

Make your bad guy truly despicable. How far you can push this depends on your players, so check first, but if the enemy is composed of chaos demons and their thralls, who are powerful combatants but cannibalistic and warmongering, then you can justify a lot of lesser evils to stop them. Warhammer 40,000 does this well- the Imperium is a fanatic dictatorship with a habit of nuking their own inhabited worlds and they're still arguably the good guys because the enemy is just that nasty. When encountering the enemy, push them as hard as you can go without making your players not have fun. Torture civilians for kicks. Burn anything that burns and salt the earth. When killing, go for women and children first.

Or, you know, just have the player's superiors tell them that's what the enemy does. And the local press. Add in some rumors, the kind of pervasive "but everyone knows" information. Check out propaganda from WWI and WWII. Have little children wave to the party as they head off to fight the good fight, cheering them on. I would greatly prefer the first way over the deception, as there's less chance of the players finding out and doing a face-heel turn.

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Possibly helpful: The old TIE Fighter video game (~1996) had the main player character working for the Empire. Many of the missions were doing things like suppressing rebellions, stopping civil wars, and fighting piracy, and felt heroic even though the character was working for a lawful-evil organization.

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First off, nobody will describe their actions as evil. All but the most twisted minds will rationalize their actions and find reasons to explain why they are in fact good. If you look back in history, even the most brutal oppressors would always justify their reign with a greater good. Nobody, really nobody will perceive themselves as evil.

Real world example: The "Democratic People's Republic" (yeah, sure) "of North Korea".

Although Alignment is a personal thing, it may be influenced by organisations. As you said, working for an objectively "evil" government as an enforcer or police officer might be lawful evil.

So how heroic can someone be, working for an evil organization? Well, most evil organizations are not evil because they mindlessly destroy stuff. All those organisations exist to provide help to individuals. We perceive them as evil, because those target individuals are not "us". But they exist. And sometimes, the common good and the advantage of the ruling class even mix.

Scenario A: A cop catches a serial killer. This does not get less heroic because the cop works for an oppressive government. A killer is a killer and it's heroic to catch him.

Scenario B: A soldier defends a village long enough so the women and children can flee from the enemy soldiers. The fact that he fights for an aggressive warmonger doesn't make it less heroic to risk your life for the safety of others.

Scenario C: You are attacked. Sure, the goblin is officially evil, but I don't think he'd consider it an evil act to not get senselessly slaughtered by a paladin looking for XP and loot. "Evil" is in the eye of the beholder. From the point of the goblin, I'd consider people evil that assault my home and kill my friends just because their codex states they can. If the rulebook says they are lawful good... ** the rulebook.

So you should always give your players the option to rationalize their behaviour and see it as something good. Maybe the evil act was a "neccessary evil". What doctors do would be illegal outside of a medical environment. But with the right setting and justification, even causing great pain can be seen as a means to an helpful and productive end.

For a taste of propaganda and rationalization at it's finest, you may want to have a look at the Space Marines of Warhammer 40K. They are depicted as Paladins, Great Knights of Justice and peace. But if you can read between the lines, you will see that they are the spearhead military force of a racist empire that's kind of a stalinist Holy Inquisition. But they don't perceive themselves that way.

Make sure your characters (not players) have a way to believe they do the right thing, and it can be a very heroic campaign.

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To me, Lawful Evil is using the rules to your best advantage no matter who gets hurt. Lawful Good characters will do their best to follow the law but in the efforts to help as many people as they can. One of the best examples I can summon to mind without making you go watch crime dramas (although they can provide interesting perspectives) actually comes to mind with the Star Trek universe, specifically where it applies to the Ferengi race. To me these are a prime example of an LE society, using "Greed is Eternal" as their mantra. Encountering Star Fleet, they constantly try to wheel and deal to their own benefit, but can in fact have their own ways turned against them.

A character working for something equivalent to an LG end must usually not care about the same objectives. If the character has want for a type of power or for possession of certain items, contact with certain people, etc., but these are not the objects of their foe it can easily be worked out that both get exactly what they want and think the other is the fool for taking the deal.

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