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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aligning things properly

George posted an interesting summation of "old-school D&D" alignment over at his blog the other day. It got me to thinking about how I handle this in my games, so in the spirit of the blogosphere, I will now inflict my ramblings upon the unlucky souls who stumbled across this intertube backwater.

I use the three alignment model found in B/X (Law, Neutrality, and Chaos). Why no good and evil? Well, two reasons mainly. First of all, I dislike the idea of "inherent" good or evil (except in cases of supernatural origins). Secondly, I don't emphasize alignment in my games (For example, I do not use alignment languages.), but I do want players to pick a general viewpoint for their PCs. This is mostly a roleplaying aid more than a game mechanic for my games. Here's how I describe the 3 alignments. The following concepts are entirely IMHO.

60-70% of people you meet are going to be Neutral. They are primarily motivated by reasonable self-interest. They understand that things like laws and customs help a civilization function, and thus improve their lives (or preserve it), but most people are only deeply concerned about "me and mine." Life, Family, Property, etc.

Lawful people tend to be ideologues. They are dedicated to some group, cause, or belief. They believe in these things firmly enough that they will (sometimes) put their ideals ahead of their well-being. Not every lawful person will lay down their lives for a group or cause, but those who do are almost always lawful in nature. Because lawful people put a group's interest ahead of their own, they are also more likely to eschew needless violence or destruction when their "cause" is part of the status quo. The idea is that such acts are inherently disruptive and counter to the maintaining of "order." Ironically, a "freedom fighter" that burns down the magistrate's office of an "oppressive regime" may consider himself quite lawful. Two lawful characters do not always agree.

Chaotics are not "evil." Rather they dislike rules and authority. They prize personal freedom and often rebel against so-called "normal" behavior. A chaotic isn't untrustworthy if you understand his motives, but to count on him playing fair because that's what "nice" people do is just naive. Also, a chaotic person is not utterly selfish. They may be intensely loyal, but their loyalty is based on their own choices, not some outside standard or rule.

Using the 3-point alignment system can be tricky when dealing with things like protection from and detect spells, but if you look at the spell descriptions in the old rule books, it's fairly easy to adjudicate. Detect Evil registered things like hostile intent, not that the alignment of some NPC (though I would allow DE to ping on something like sentient undead or a demon or similar). Likewise Protection from Evil blocks things like summoned creatures. Maybe that Fire Elemental isn't EVIL, but it's certainly an alien/other being.

Frankly, I see it as a case of poor wording for the spell names, but I don't think the gang at Lake Geneva really anticipated the hordes of rampaging fan-loons that they ended up with, picking over every comma.

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