Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Checking Our Alignment(s)...

Chaotic good?  Neutral evil?  We shall know them by their alignments, except that some players aren't too keen on the concept.  It's irrelevant, they say.  Their characters will develop through play and do what they're gonna do, so formalizing it is pointless...  

Sure, makes sense.  And the fact is, most of us like to think that what we do is good or, for the more philosophically obsessed among us, at least justified.  Few (if any) of us cackle maniacally while twirling our mustaches.  Evil is something others call us when we fail to live up to their expectations, although in ten thousand years of human history, we've come to a reasonable consensus of what might count as evil.  I align with Sam Harris and view morality as an issue of well-being.  Rape and murder violate the well-being of others and, rightly so, qualify as "evil" is many (hopefully) contemporary moral systems.    

So we can jettison alignment and let the water find its depth. And for that matter, let whatever fictional societies may exist in a campaign weigh in on what a character's behavior maps to, complete with pitchforks and/or angry mobs.  It's the realistic approach.

But then, dragons and elves aren't realistic either, and we miss opportunities...

First and foremost, fantasy is a genre predisposed to view good and evil as bona fide manifestations in the universe.  Good and evil aren't just choices.  They're actual forces no less real than gravity in the scheme of things.  Alignment becomes an actual thing.

Moreover, while the gods might have chosen good or evil, their respective servitors may or may not enjoy such liberties, although good-aligned deities are more likely to value individual liberty in their followers.  Evil creatures, in particular, tend more towards a selfish, slavish devotion to their masters, whether under the usual pain of death or because they're literally manifestations of evil who can be no other way.  And perhaps the mortal races are unique in actually having a choice, making this approach far from unenlightened.  Hmmm...

I say this because there's a small wine and cheese segment* of the hobby that assures me I'm an unenlightened philistine for liking both alignments and archetypes!

Finally, if good and evil are palpable things, then certain spells (and magic items) will absolutely channel their power to great consequence in a campaign.  And if we imagine the characters as among the few true "free agents" in the cosmos, it opens the door to many intriguing ideas.  That Staff of Corruption is literally corrupt.  And the players may approach something close to Moorcockian tragedy while binding (or enslaving) themselves to one side of an everlasting struggle.  Cogs in the wheel.  Champions, slaves, and probably both...

And now, at last, we understand the situation poor Elric found himself mired in!

Of course, this doesn't apply universally.  Pits & Perils and Opherian Scrolls (Blood of Pangea) are the only two of our own titles to address this.  But given how modern games are more than happy to mechanize every other social interaction, the aversion to any sort of alignment system seems particularly strange.  Especially in a fantasy game where the idea is seemingly right at home.  To them I say, alignment is the ultimate social mechanic...

*Not everyone who eschews alignment is part of this set, and we mean no offense here!


  1. It’s your choice to remove alignments but you’re missing out!

    At the very least you can have GOOD GUY, MERCENARY, and TWIST or something

  2. That's why I stick to the good old(e) Law vs. Chaos.
    A cleric can uphold the law and be good and evil (when torturing those who follow some "evil" cult, for example, to get to their leaders who sacrifice humans to their deity), similarly a wizard of chaotic alignment might just pursue his thirst for knowledge and while people may suffer on the way ("evil"), the result of the research may benefit an entire country ("good"). The chaotic wizard just doesn't care for any laws and will do whatever he deems necessary, including pacts with other chaotic forces which might harm people.
    And of course there's neutral, which is probably the most common alignment. People who will usually obey the law, unless it's too restricting, but they will usually stick to the moral concept of good and will try to avoid harming others. They will not go out of their way to uphold the law, but they will usually not do evil deeds and they will not pact with chaotic creatures.

    1. Pits & Perils goes with Law/Chaos for that very reason, with the stated understanding that most adventurers fall squarely within the neutral camp...

    2. And that's just one thing I like about P&P ;)

  3. Law can mean “affirmatively aligned with civilization” and Chaos “affirmatively aligned against it” whereas Neutral is “anything else”

    Whatever it is, you should have a short description of what you expect from players.

    OHR has this, even though they are not using an alignment mechanic per se. therefore it woks for me!

  4. For me it really depends on the players, sometimes they use it sometimes they don't. I remember after the first session I introduced alignment and one guy was like "oh yeah! Glad you told us about that." he was genuinely excited. For me I like bx alignment, but don't stick to it. I sorta like alignment as follows:good, neutral, gray area.