Friday, October 17, 2008

Alignment Thoughts

I'm putting this here partially to remind myself of it later and partially to get some feedback for further refinement.

The way I'm envisaging it right now, there are three forces at work in the cosmos: Nature, which simply is (and is thus Neutrality); Law, which seeks to control/subdue Nature to one degree or another; Chaos, which seeks to undermine/destroy Nature.

Neutrality is made up both of creatures who simply go about their daily existence without regard to why and creatures who have chosen, for philosophical reasons, to uphold/protect "the Balance" that Nature represents, said Balance being often impersonal and even amoral.

Law is made up of those who favor Order, whether that order be civilization, hierarchy, or outright domination. There are thus "ethical" distinctions between adherents of Law, some being Good, some being Neutral, and some being Evil. Regardless of such distinctions, all Lawful aligned creatures seek to impose structure on Nature and oppose the entropic character of Chaos.

Chaos is made up of those who revel in destruction, whether it be outright destruction or gradual corruption. Despite different approaches, there are no ethical distinctions between Chaotic beings, since all wish to bring Nature crashing down because they see even its disinterested "order" as too restrictive and stifling. Only destroying Nature will bring ultimate freedom -- the freedom of total annihilation.

So, this gives me the following alignments for my campaign:

Chaotic
Neutral
Neutral (Balance)
Lawful (Good)
Lawful
Lawful (Evil)

I still need to work out how these various alignments relate to one another for the purposes of spells, etc. but I am starting to like this setup a great deal, because it's a nice middle course between the wargam-ish "pick a side" mentality of straight OD&D and the overly schematized to the point of incoherence of AD&D.

13 comments:

  1. Shouldn't Neutral (Balance) actually be Lawful (Balance) under your schema, in that they are trying to create and maintain a cosmic balance (between Good and Evil and Law and Chaos)? Which really is a Lawful activity, even if they must occasionally act chaotically in order to do so.

    [One eventually ended up using a similar tripartite alignment system in one's own campaign. The humans were LG, the goblins were LE, and the elves were chaotic (although in this case they were purely chaotic rather than actually being purposefully destructive). Then again, the Law vs Chaos duality in one's original D&D campaign was actually more of an Order (Civilization) vs Disorder (Wilderness) than the Moorcockian cosmic equivalents.]

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  2. Which really is a Lawful activity, even if they must occasionally act chaotically in order to do so.

    I see what you're saying and I agree in a sense. At the same time, being Neutral (Balance) is fundamentally grounded in the rejection of civilization, hierarchy, and domination, so it doesn't quite fit what I'd consider "Lawful." I'll grant that it's a fine distinction and maybe even a slightly arbitrary one, but I'd like to leave space in my scheme for those who philosophically reject both civilization and entropy.

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  3. I've always been a fan of Law/ Order/ Stasis versus Chaos/ Disorder/ Flux.

    The world we live in exists in a delicate balance of the two.

    If Law/ Order wins everything will stagnate, and life will die out; replaced by perfect beings of logic.

    If Chaos/ Disorder wins life will be completely out of control and you'll end up with a maelstrom of constant flux.

    In order for there to be life...you MUST have chaos. Same goes with all magic.

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  4. Out of curiosity, how would you classify a character that embraces civilization, but rejects any kind of imposition of order?

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  5. how would you classify a character that embraces civilization, but rejects any kind of imposition of order?

    An anarcho-capitalist?

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  6. I think based on other posts, the question is what does that person do when the hordes of Chaos boil out of the sky and attack the city? Does he help them, run and hide, or fight next to the city guard?

    If he fights with the city guard he's Lawful.

    Now, the interesting thing about this structure is that I would expect Elves to be Neutral, rather than the traditional Chaotic.

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  7. In order for there to be life...you MUST have chaos. Same goes with all magic.

    That's a valid perspective, but it's not the one I've adopted here, since Chaos is completely inimical to ordinary life.

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  8. If he fights with the city guard he's Lawful.

    Correct. Someone who is simply Lawful is one who is willing to defend civilization against both the depredations of Nature and Chaos alike, regardless of whether or not he's a professional thief or a stand-up soldier.

    Now, the interesting thing about this structure is that I would expect Elves to be Neutral, rather than the traditional Chaotic.

    Terrestrial elves are generally either Lawful or Neutral depending on their relationship with civilization. There are some Chaotic elves, but they're mostly either degenerate Eld or under Eldritch influence.

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  9. I'm intrigued that you've made Chaotic stand for the basically destructive impulse that is unacceptable in society - can you play a chaotic PC? If you do, is there any chance of association with other PCs?

    This position - the archetypal destroyer - used to be the meaning of evil, but now evil seems to have become an alternative order, I'm guessing influenced somehow by Nazism. Is that right? Would you allow Lawful evil PCs, and how would they behave?

    I've always wondered how this was supposed to work in AD&D. Inevitably, because we were early teens, someone would play a chaotic evil character and inevitably, unless they ignored their alignment, it would destroy the group.

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  10. can you play a chaotic PC? If you do, is there any chance of association with other PCs?

    I would not allow the playing of a Chaotic PC under this alignment system. Such a character is, for all intents and purposes, insane. That may not be literally true, but their allegiance is such that I can see no basis for intelligible, let alone fun, adventures involving them. Even Elric abandoned Chaos, after all.

    I'm guessing influenced somehow by Nazism. Is that right? Would you allow Lawful evil PCs, and how would they behave?

    Not sure what you mean about Nazism. The idea of an unjust order is a very old one and lots of pulp stories and old movies portray the Romans, for example, as what I'd call Lawful (Evil). I'd certainly allow PCs of this alignment, because they could still function as protagonists, even if their specific goals are villainous.

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  11. In this scheme, I think Chaotic characters would be like Cthulhu cultists or the Joker from the Dark Knight. These are people who revel in destruction just because. As Alfred said, "Some men just want to watch the world burn".

    In traditional AD&D through 3e terms, Lawful meant that you believed in a well-ordered society and Chaotic meant that you were more concerned with personal freedom. In the terms here both those viewpoints are Lawful. Lawful just means you believe that civilization in some form is desirable. You can oppose the current structure and want to tear it down, but you're still Lawful as long as you would replace it with something.

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  12. lots of pulp stories and old movies portray the Romans, for example, as what I'd call Lawful (Evil).
    You're right of course that the archetype of organised evil goes back further than the 1930s/40s. I've never seen the Romans given a treatment as being systemically/systematically evil and worthy of slaughter, though - corrupt, perhaps, and whimsical or venal.

    I note also that a historical Genghis Khan wouldn't qualify as chaotic. What about the various mythical Genghisoids? I'm trying to figure out if chaos is always an inhuman/insane threat per Cthulhu. CoC manages to maintain a division between human and GOO evil by dint of the GOOs being incomprehensibly other and unknowable: we know nothing about them so they can do anything at all without it seeming wrong (in story). I guess I think I know something about chaos - it seems like it shouldn't self-organise, so it can only pose certain kinds of threats. That strikes me as potentially limiting, but maybe it's OK if you also have lawful evil. Maybe then chaos is always (as in CoC) the enemy of last resort.

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  13. Why do we think Chaos as only destruction, it means disorder but chaos also means creation and transformation, and also beside other things law could also mean stagnance and degeneration in the extreme. I think that a balanced nature is logical since evolution is a balance process, mutations and recombiantions has a large random effect in them but natural selection is not a random process, so we can say that nature is order in chaos itself or balance.

    Also there is an interesting interpretation of law by moorcock in elric series (influenced by zen i think). When Rackhir the red archer comes to a plane dominated by law there is nothing but a flat lanscape with a single individual, later it is revealed that the individual is a lord of law and trying to forget everything to reach nothingness, because nothing is absolute order as absolute chaos is everything.

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