The Alton Road to the Rule of Law and Dungeons & Dragons

The Alton Road to the Rule of Law and Dungeons & Dragons

By Richard A.C. Alton, Esq.

What is the Rule of Law and what does it have to do with rolling a twelve-sided die in hopes of not being the next victim of a dragon’s strike? You would probably think “not much” but that is actually incorrect. As attorneys, one of our main personal and professional pillars is to respect the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law acknowledges that even the most gruesome of criminal actors, for example serial killers, receive a fair and partial trial. If we begin to allow an arbitrary government to gain the power to punish individuals without due process, our whole justice system would collapse. A similar understanding can be found in the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (“D&D”) where in it there is a world fixed in good and evil, and if that presupposed contrast is removed, the entire game would fall apart. To further illuminate this, let us look at each of these in kind.

Rule of Law

The Rule of Law is generally defined as the restriction of arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws. It finds itself in most common places such as a police officer being required to read you your Miranda Rights during an arrest, or a prosecutor being unable to use evidence collected in violation of your Constitutional rights as they are considered fruits of a poisonous tree. If we begin to allow those ill gained fruits to be used against our more gruesome criminal actors, because we find their actions morally unjustifiable, our whole justice system would be subject to arbitrary and capricious decision making, whether it be through the will of the mob or the vagaries of an unchecked overlord.

Dungeons & Dragons

A similar requirement to maintain a subordination to well-defined and established laws is found in D&D. This exists in the presupposed contrast between good and evil that is a requirement for the game to be playable. In D&D, someone playing usually draws up a character, for example a Dwarf, and picks the kind of adventurer that character would be, say a paladin (imagine a knight with magic), and then picks what that character’s alignment would be (good, neutral, or evil). The game basically works by having our Dwarf Paladin (and his traveling companion, say maybe an Elf Rogue), travel a fictional world while going on adventures, slaying evil creatures, rescuing townspeople, and finding hidden treasures. It is to the former of these that we turn to discuss the Rule of Law comparison.

The Law of Dragons and the Rule of Dungeons

D&D generally requires a fixed understanding that some creatures, whether it be a bugbear or fiendish ghoul, are evil and villainous. Thus, the established rules allow for our Dwarf Paladin and his traveling companion, the Elf Rogue, to vanquish these creatures without an arbitrary discussion on the philosophical meaning behind whether something can be truly evil and unredeemable. You may be asking yourself, “well if something is just innately evil and should be dealt with as such, isn’t that true of the gruesome criminal actor you mentioned before?”. However, that question ignores the fact that the focus of the game is not on the evilness or goodness, but that D&D has a presupposed and set contrast between good and evil, and if that is removed it no longer becomes a workable venture, merely a never-ending debate of philosophy or morality (which may be fun for some, but defeats the ability to actually finish an adventure). As such, it is the adherence to those rules that makes D&D not only enjoyable, but also creates a structure in which the game operates in.

The Rule of Law and D&D thus share a common element that may at times be against some of our moralistic desires. On a basic level, we as human beings agree that gruesome criminal offenses should not be forgiven or dismissed on a technicality, yet it can also be said that we believe that evil is redeemable. However, if we ignore the Rule of Law in criminal trials, we are chipping away at the very core of the justice system. In D&D if we allow for the moral debate of evilness, the game loses its original design. It is with the understanding that well-defined and established laws are an important part of not only our real lives, but of the lives we create for fun, that we can begin to appreciate its utility.

Finishing the Adventure

We at Alton Law pride ourselves on understanding and appreciating the Rule of Law, both in the courtroom and in the mythical realm of the Nine Kingdoms, where bugbears are harassing a local farming community and only the heartiest of adventures can save them. And with Alton Law you know you are on the Alton Road to a Brighter Tomorrow.

Also, a special thanks to my research colleague, Eric S. Heim, for his help on this topic.