This piece of writing is not what you think it is. I am not going to argue that there is an undercurrent of fascism within Dungeons and Dragons, nor am I saying there is anything fundamentally fascistic about the way we play games. I am simply a bored sociology grad who decided to apply the features of Ur-Fascism to adventuring groups after having a little thought experiment. This is what passes for a joke when you miss writing essays. Most of what I put on the little blog bit of the site will not be things like this, I am currently working on a piece about Queer roleplaying and Gaming in the Age of Covid (I am looking for more people to contribute on both, if you are interested please contact us!)
In his seminal work “Ur Fascism”, writer and intellectual Umberto Eco wrote down what he believed to be the 14 fundamental aspects of fascist movements. It’s an interesting piece of literature that I would recommend reading, it’s only 9 pages long and is framed from his experiences growing up in Italy in the run up and conclusion of the second world war. Ur-Fascism has been used as a framework to understand nascent fascist movements and how groups that do not appear to be linked on the surface share a common narrative thread.
A narrative thread that, in part, can be applied to most adventures undertaken by adventuring groups in Dungeons and Dragons.
So. Lets begin!
“3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation”
Anyone who has run a role playing game in the past would understand that the average group seems to hold irrationalism as its foundational aspect. By that I mean a lack of forward thinking or planning seems to encapsulate the average group’s attempts to get things done. We adventure because we adventure, we attack because we attack, we do not sit back and consider the consequences of our actions. Now, this is largely down to how adventures are written. Attack the goblin cave because the goblins attacked us, we don’t need to think about the why, they attacked us and the narrative has been constructed in such a way to imply that fighting back is good and necessary. The party does not need to consider why they are taking a course of action because, almost without fail, the course of action a narrative presents is right and needs to be taken with exigency.
“5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus UrFascism is racist by definition.”
Many adventures are based on an outside antagonistic force that has entered an area and needs to be exterminated. Adventurers will with glee kill those who are different, those who are known to be bad, largely thanks to the fact that they exist in a world where “Evil” is a fixed construct and the annihilation of that evil, be they goblins, orcs, or otherwise, is immediately rewarded with experience and loot.
“7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. “
In the case of point 7, I would argue that the adventuring group is the most common link of a group and its origin myth. This would explain why groups of adventurers with inherently different moral outlooks stay together. Why else would a chaotic evil rogue who exists to cheat and steal adventure with a lawful good paladin out to protect the world from other evil people? Simply because they share a clear social identity: That of an adventuring group.
“8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
And now we hit the point that inspired this little essay: Due to the nature of how adventures are written, the party is exposed to the overwhelming force of their enemies (Although more rarely they can also be shown the ostentatious wealth of their enemies). Almost all adventures within Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition are based on the adventurers attempting to prevent the apocalypse. The Enemy, be they giants, cultists, dragon cultists, quasi-godlike necromancers, the lords of hell, all of their machinations speak doom for the party and for the world. However, due to how these adventures are written, ultimately all of these foes, with their power to unmake reality, destroy entire cities or otherwise terrorise the good people of Faerun, all of them can be simply defeated by a group of 4 – 6 people working together, at least if they have brought a healer along. Thus their foes are overwhelmingly strong, yet too weak.
“9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world.”
Particularly within the narratives of the adventures written for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, every single threat that the party faces is apocalyptic in scale. Adventurers exist in perpetual struggle, their lives are literally lived for this struggle as without which there would be no adventure. Enemies must be defeated. The core difference here is that over the course of an adventure there is a final battle eventually, after which the movement (Party) have saved the world, not controlled it.
“10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world”
If, as above, we are using the adventuring group as the stand in for the state, then the members of the adventuring group would be stand ins for the citizens of the state. Once you do this it becomes clear: An adventuring group sees itself to be the best people, and due to its shared foundational structure, are inherently militaristic in nature. Adventurers exist to fight against the perceived threats to the world and the group as a whole.
“11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm.”
This is clearest: Adventuring groups are by their nature heroes and see themselves as exceptional beings. This is because in the majority of narratives this is true, the party are exceptional and capable of feats of strength far above regular, normal people. Heroism is the norm for a group of heroes, to be part of an adventuring group is to be a hero. Even when people choose to roleplay less heroic characters, it is usually as part of a transformative story in which they become heroic and are educated in the ways of heroism by their adventures.
To extend on point 11: “By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.” This aspect of ur-fascism is also extremely present within adventuring parties, particularly in the way that many people choose to roleplay barbarians but more broadly. No adventurer wants to die a peaceful death in bed, but a death atop the piles of their enemies. In their impatience to achieve a heroic death they will inevitably murder their enemies in ever more gruesome ways.
“12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.”
From this framework I hope I have successfully outlined how the average adventuring group embodies 7 of the 14 core aspects of Ur-Fascism. Please go read Ur-Fascism, this was a pointless little piece of writing because I am bored. Most of the future posts here won’t be on such weird topics and won’t be paraacademic navel gazing, I promise!