Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Changing Meaning of "Alignment" in OD&D

The term "alignment" doesn't appear once in Chainmail or its fantasy supplement, but those rules do divide figures into the categories of "Law," "Neutral," and "Chaos" as "a general guide for the wargamer designing orders of battle involving fantastic creatures." These categories serve a primarily practical purpose in helping players of Chainmail to select units that could plausibly fight side by side. There's no explicit explanation of what the category names mean beyond the obvious fact that Law and Chaos are opposed, while Neutral beings might join other side, depending on circumstances. One could reasonably equate "Law" with goodness and "Chaos" with evil from context, but neither is stated outright in the text. They are just two "sides," no different perhaps than "Romans" and "Gauls" in an ancient world wargame.

OD&D is where alignment first enters the picture and it uses the same categories as Chainmail, again without any explanation of their meaning. The text states that "Before the game begins, it is not only necessary to select a role [i.e. a character class -JDM], but it is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take [italics mine] -- Law, Neutrality, or Chaos." The term "stance" is vague but, once again, seems to imply an allegiance rather than an ethical outlook or moral code. At the same time, among the prominent members of Chaos listed are "Evil High Priests," suggesting a connection between Chaos and evil. Also of note is that there are no spells in the three little brown books (or their supplements) that allow the detection or knowledge of alignment. (And, in a shift from Chainmail, elves go from being Neutral with tendencies toward Law to full-fledged members of Law)

The Holmes-edited Dungeons & Dragons speaks at greater length about alignment. The text reads:
Characters may be lawful (good or evil), neutral or chaotic (good or evil). Lawful characters always act according to a highly regulated code of behavior, whether for good or evil. Chaotic characters ore quite unpredictable and con not be depended upon to do anything except the unexpected - they are often, but not always, evil. Neutral characters. such as all thieves, are motivated by self interest and may steal from their companions or betray them if it is in their own best interest. Players may choose any alignment they wont and need not reveal it to others. Note that the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful. There are some magical items that can be used only by one alignment of characters. If the Dungeon Master feels that a character has begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment he may rule that he or she has changed alignment and penalize the character with a loss of experience points. An example of such behavior would be a "good" character who kills or tortures a prisoner.
Here we see not only greater definition of alignment, with practical and mechanical examples, but also a shift away from the "us vs. them" approach of Chainmail and OD&D and into something that prescribes and proscribes behavior. Holmes also introduces the know alignment spell.

Of course, predating Holmes was an article in the February 1976 issue of The Strategic Review by Gary Gygax. Entitled "The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil," it's a very odd piece. I posted the chart that accompanies it in an earlier entry. The article basically argues that alignment is much misunderstood in OD&D and that it needs to be clarified by adding the categories of "Good" and "Evil" so that there are now five alignments rather than just three. Gygax goes on to note that "While they [i.e. Law and Chaos -- JDM] are nothing if not opposites, they are neither good nor evil in their definitions." He also notes that, in settings that emphasize the showdown between Law and Chaos, Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil creatures ultimately both serve the same end, namely anarchy and lawlessness and would, to some degree, cooperate to prevent the ascendancy of Law. Of course, he goes on to say that, "Barring such a showdown, however, it is far more plausible that those creatures predisposed to good actions will tend to ally themselves against any threat of evil, while creatures of evil will likewise make (uneasy) alliance in order to gain some mutually beneficial end."

The Strategic Review article also marks a shift in its imputation of an ethical/moral dimension to alignment. Indeed, one of the purposes of the article is to delineate the characteristics of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil so that a referee might track a character's behavior on a chart to determine how closely he hews to his stated alignment, with repercussions should he stray too far. To this, Gygax adds, "Alignment does not preclude actions which typify a different alignment, but such actions will necessarily affect the position of the character performing them, and the class or the alignment of the character in question can change due to such actions, unless counter-deeds are performed to balance things." I distinctly recall playing in games where players took this to heart in a very literal way, doing equal and opposite things to ensure they "remained Neutral."

Despite this, some questions remain murky. Gygax says that "law and chaos are not subject to interpretation in their ultimate meanings of order and disorder respectively, but good and evil are not absolutes but must be judged from a frame of reference, some ethos. The placement of creatures on the chart of Illustration II. reflects the ethos of this author to some extent." [italics mine -- JDM] That's quite a bombshell, if you ask me, and one that adds several new wrinkles to attempts to grapple with the meaning of alignment in OD&D, the most important of which being that, at least in 1976, Gary felt the game required that it be seen through some lens that the players and referee brought to it on questions of good and evil. I can't help but find that remarkable, assuming I am reading him correctly.

(Also interesting is the idea that "The player-character who continually follows any alignment (save neutrality) to the absolute letter of its definition must eventually move off the chart
(Illustration I) and into another plane of existence as indicated," but that's probably a topic for another post.)

40 comments:

  1. "Note that the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful."

    So, Holmes is saying that lawful-aligned characters literally walk around informing people that they are lawful? "Hi, I'm Dirk the Veteran, and I'm lawful."

    Much like alignment languages, this is one of those old-school D&Disms that made my head explode when I read it. I find it hard to believe anybody ever played this way, but I guess Holmes, at least, did.

    Even when I first started playing as a kid, I understood that alignment wasn't something characters talked about - it was a game mechanic like level or hit points. I guess not everybody interpreted it that way.

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  2. "good and evil are not absolutes but must be judged from a frame of reference, some ethos. The placement of creatures on the chart of Illustration II. reflects the ethos of this author to some extent."

    It seems like Gygax agreed with what Stephen and I and some others were saying on the earlier moral compass post, that good and evil are essentially meaningless unless given an in-game context. My problem with alignment was always what seemed to be the underlying assumption that good and evil were absolutes. On a slightly different topic, I am curious as to why a character would get an experience penalty for actions outside of his/her alignment. Is that a reflection of experience being tied to good roleplaying, and a character acting outside his/her alignment must by default not be doing a good job of roleplaying?

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  3. In my game, alignments are the political/philosofical ideologies of the setting, and as much as we talk about conservatives, liberals, libertarians, socialists and anarchist, communist and fascists, people talk openly about Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral, Evil, Good as different the different "stances". So yes, you could say "I'm Lawful Neutral" in a bar conversation.

    This idea is derived from the City State of the Invincible Overlord:

    ""BACKGROUND GUIDELINES
    A hereditary monarch and the Senate rule the City State of the Invincible Overlord. There is only a one-third chance per year of a Clanute (Senate) being summoned by the Overlord. The Overlord can overrule any act by the Senate by generally remaining above alignment struggles. He also disbands the Senate, depending on his whim of the mommt (1 in 12 chance per day). The Senate consists of 30-36 Lords, 12-16 Patriarchs and EHPs). O-5 Wizards., 1-4 Druids. 1-4 Master Bards, 1 Master of Monks.. 1 Ranger Lord, and 1 Paladin Lord. Each alignment group sets in a quadrant of the Stadium. Senators act one vote for every 200 troops at their command. and other Senators receive one vote for every 3 levels they have advanced. Each Senator supplies the Overlord with palace guards: the temples each supply one Bishop, the WiDrds each supply a Magic User (ofLVL 2-8 ), the Lords each supply 1-6 Fighting Men (ofLVL 3-8 ), etc""

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  4. To continue a bit with the above, a Lawful Good senator would vote against a bill proposed by a Chaotic Evil senator that would allow trolls to enter the city freely. A Lawful Evil senator would propose a bill that would enable prison authorities to hand in prisoners to temples that perform human sacrifice.

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  5. He also notes that, in settings that emphasize the showdown between Law and Chaos, Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil creatures ultimately both serve the same end, namely anarchy and lawlessness and would, to some degree, cooperate to prevent the ascendancy of Law.That must be the Moorcock talking, yes?

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  6. Regarding Gygax and alignment--he stated he stopped using it in his newer games because of the horrible misunderstanding it brings.

    Good and Evil, like Law and Chaos, only really make sense as absolutes on the alignment chart when you bring gods into play. If you have clerics and a metaphysical reality like the outer planes, you HAVE to have absolute definitions, since that thing can't work with a "moral relative" viewpoint.

    In his other games, Gygax removed it from being alignment and made use of other concepts, such as ethos for deities and supernatural creatures, and reputation for the mundane world.

    I always felt the whole Law and Chaos thing didn't really go over well in the basic sets. I felt it was even more confusing than good and evil, and wished D&D had used those two poles instead of Law and Chaos, since it seemed that all chaotic creatures were considered "evil" except for some rare exceptions. You'd have to specifically read Moorcock to understand, and a lot of young-un's didn't.

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  7. I think the idea of any parts of the alignment system being relative instantly renders the concept pointless; I suspect this is why that text did not make it into AD&D.

    As to why Gygax even considered such a stance, it's probably nothing more than a brief dalliance with the post-modern concept that most of us, particularly Americans, were brought up in post the two World Wars. The futility of the Great War and the ability of senior Nazis, especially Goering, to mount an intellectual justification of their actions lead to a gradual dissillusion with concepts of absolute good and evil, especially in the face of slow revelations about attrocities commited by the "good guys" in those wars.

    In 1976 this relativist outlook was very much the "in" thing as a new generation questioned the ideals of their parents and Vietnam finally came to its utterly pointless conclusion. But, as in real life, it's about as much use as a chocolate teapot for giving a foundation for heroic action and it's no surprise to me that it's appearance was brief in a game supposedly about exactly those sorts of heroic actions. It fits in as well as an LCD watch would.

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  8. So, Holmes is saying that lawful-aligned characters literally walk around informing people that they are lawful? "Hi, I'm Dirk the Veteran, and I'm lawful."

    I took it to mean that a Lawful character won't lie about his Lawful philosophical commitments, not that he goes around telling anyone he meets that he's aligned with Law.

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  9. Nagora,

    I'm not so sure Gary is arguing for relativism in any grand sense here so much as saying that, in each referee's game, he needs to provide a context for understanding what "good" and "evil" mean, whereas that's not the case with "law" and "chaos."

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  10. I am curious as to why a character would get an experience penalty for actions outside of his/her alignment. Is that a reflection of experience being tied to good roleplaying, and a character acting outside his/her alignment must by default not be doing a good job of roleplaying?Remember, there are benefits to claiming a certain alignment: utilizing certain magic items, paladinhood, even just appearing sympathetic to an alignment detecting spellcaster. Without penalties, players could engage in some nasty metagaming, "becoming" chaotic good to use a particular sword, or remaining "lawful good" just long enough to get close to a rich spell caster and then stab him in the back, for instance.

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  11. As usual, that raises at least as many questions as it answers :)

    The issue of which units might fight together in a wargame is illuminating - the PBM Serim Ral got into quite a complex model for the effects of mixing troop types on morale, obedience and reproduction (although it stopped short of having dragons eat goblins if they were placed in the same garrisons). I can see that this would be a first, low book-keeping approximation of such a thing.

    The concession that play groups should decide on creature alignments for themselves is interesting, in that it keeps the racial aspect (no free will for non-humans). I can see this as reflecting a particular pulp fantasy flavour, but it's also an interestingly single-viewpoint take on world-building: you can really see EGG trying to feel his way through some complicated issues.

    As for Law and Chaos being absolutes, that seems like a mindset it's easy to get from reading Moorcock: if you're not steeped in it, perhaps it's easier to see that cultures make their own laws, and (especially in imperial contexts) regard those of others as chaotic. Really, really interesting: thanks for stirring the pot.

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  12. As in so many things, Jeff Rients has my favorite take on alignment:
    http://jrients.blogspot.com/2008/07/jeffs-threefold-apocalyptic-alignment.html

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  13. lawful-aligned characters literally walk around informing people that they are lawful?Why not? Sikhs consider themselves law-upholding and wear 5 visible signs to inform everyone of their orientation and values at a glance. Goths do something similar, although the exact signs aren't quite as formalised. Fantasy illos regularly show people so marked (funnily enough especially the non-humans and "evils").

    Nowadays most of us don't wear our tribal identifications on our sleeves, but in the history of world cultures, that's a relatively uncommon situation.

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  14. @Geoffrey - thanks for the link, good food for thought there.
    "Good and evil, for purposes of detection spells and such, measure intentions. A man with malice on his mind detects as evil, no matter how good his previous deeds."
    I think that is a marvelous way to deal with alignment detecting spells, etc., without having to resort to an alignment system. I am going to steal that, because I already don't have my player's choose an alignment, but in the past when the whole alignment detecting spell/effect came up, then I had to make some judgement calls on how the player's behavior had matched up to their society's norms.

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  15. I'm leaning towards the Moorcock end of the pool in my Classic game - Lawful powers are loosely-aligned and dedicated towards universal order and structure (often to a fault), Chaos powers are either opposed to such structure or byt their nature inimical to it (Cthulhu and friends) - often to the point of opposing even the physical laws of the universe. Neutral powers are either unaligned in this struggle or simply not taking part in it. (I don't think I'm going to have any dedicated towards some "true Neutral" balance concept, but things could change.) Some of the Lawful (and Neutral) powers would definitely come down as "evil" were I using that axis, while a scarce few of the Chaos powers could be viewed as "Good," providing you're not too attached to things like property laws (or, I don't know, the law of gravity).

    All of this is probably over the heads / outside the interests of most of my players, and it'll all probably change at some point anyway. But it's a start.

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  16. "I'm not so sure Gary is arguing for relativism in any grand sense here so much as saying that, in each referee's game, he needs to provide a context for understanding what "good" and "evil" mean, whereas that's not the case with "law" and "chaos.""

    Whether he is or not - and I think it's more by way of a concession to modern life than a positive espousing of it - the "relative system" simply isn't going to work when you have Hell explicitly mapped to Lawful Evil in D&DG. The close association of Outer Planes to alignments and to particular deities and entities of "known" bad/goodness really just destroys any attempt to keep Good and Evil as loose concepts, IMO.

    So I'd see the SR text as simply a sign of a modern person firing off something based on modern life before realising that that outlook isn't going to fly in the game of heroic stereotypes that he is still developing.

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  17. Blizak - I always interpreted that to mean that a Lawful character had an obvious code of conduct, one that made it easy to pick them out.

    Alignment has always made my head hurt. I've always liked its presentation in B2. The realm of law is a place of justice and order, surrounded by swirling lands dominated by chaos. The come into conflict at the borderlands.

    The armies of law protect those borderlands, and brave adventurers push past them in search of gold and glory. As a kid, I loved the idea of the forest turning creepy and weird as you ventured deeper into it, of distant mountains just visible on the horizon where dragons, giants, and other monsters lurked.

    There are strains of Three Hearts and Three Lions there, if I remember the book correctly (it's been a long while), and that really appeals to me.

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  18. Law and Chaos as functions of allegiance with good and evil being matters of intent was always the easiest method of understanding alignment for me. The nine-fold alignment system, was just too hard to implement beyond guidelines for NPCs.

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  19. A while back I posted about my own in-game alignment troubles here:

    http://templeofdemogorgon.blogspot.com/2009/03/alignment-great-role-playing-device-or.html

    And all the talk about alignment and the ruthless killing of things like orcs in yesterday's post had me thinking during my game session last night. The party had decimated and ogre and a squad of kobolds, but three alive and kicking kobolds were still caught in the female druids entangle spell. After the combat, a couple of the archer characters enjoyed using their bows for target practice on the helpless and terrified creatures.

    Some people on James blog yesterday got me thinking about an evil goblinoids feeling for the first time. I felt bad for the little fucks.

    My players are good, kind people, but put them in a fantasy world and cross them, then you probably are going to die a horrible death. Jeez.

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  20. Some people on James blog yesterday got me thinking about an evil goblinoids feeling for the first time. I felt bad for the little fucks. That makes me happy. I mean, all you can really ever hope for is that somebody takes your perspective into consideration, isn't it? Thanks for posting that.

    As far as alignment goes, I don't get it, I've never really gotten, and I don't expect to be getting it anytime in the future. Even in my current "back to '74" campaign, I've pretty much dispensed with alignment entirely. Although, I do refer to the dungeon as a "place of Chaos". Because it sounds cool.

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  21. @ Nagora -
    Even if you stick with the standard D&D cosmology mapping alignments to planes (which I certainly don't do), that does not render the question of the relative meaning of good and evil a moot point. Just because a plane, or a creature associated with that plane (a devil for instance) has a default alignment, that does not clarify what actions are good and evil. You still need some sort of guidelines for what behavior is considered good in a given society in order to properly roleplay your lawful good paladin, for example. If you don't, you have the problem of the paladin not knowing whether or not he should kill that poor baby orc, etc.

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  24. James said: (And, in a shift from Chainmail, elves go from being Neutral with tendencies toward Law to full-fledged members of Law)FWIW, my copy of Men & Magic shows that Elves---among a number of other races like Dwarves/Gnomes, Rocs, and Centaurs---are represented in both the Law & Neutral columns for alignment, while other races like Orcs, Ogres, Dragons, Chimerae, Minotaurs, and Giants appear in both the Neutral & Chaos columns (and Liches IIRC from Greyhawk). Only two races span all three columns in OD&D: Men and Lycanthropes.

    So, while OD&D postulates a "pick a side" mentality, there are still shades of grey as to which side members of many races belong to.

    Allan.

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  25. If you don't, you have the problem of the paladin not knowing whether or not he should kill that poor baby orc, etc.That's why if I do have to use classes that would be typically bound by alignment, I throw them out. Sometimes it's too easy to misinterpret aligments into nonsense ideas like killing every evil being that walks.

    I find house ruling a code of conduct to be much better. It can be explicit in a way that alignment can't.

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  26. http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7745

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=11739

    A couple links to old Dragonsfoot discussions on the subject. In the latter thread, on the third page I post the paragraph from Three Hearts and Three Lions where introduced alignment.

    For me, alignment really only works as "which side you're on" and only then if the DM builds his world around the assumption of great cosmic sides. It's not all that hard to do, nor is it particularly foreign to the genre - Star Wars Light Side v. Dark Side as just one example.

    I think turning alignment into anything other than which color hat the character wears is problematic.

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  27. D'oh! How can it be that I've had "alignment" in my vocabulary for close to 30 years and I've never thought of casting it as light/dark sides of the Force in Star Wars? Perhaps I'm stupid. Because suddenly I have a workable system (with a backstory that makes just enough sense of it), where before I had absurdities. And that system allows for fairly small minorities that identify as non-neutral, whose actions have concrete (meta)physical consequences.

    I guess this is also fairly close to Dwimmermount alignment, now I think of it, except IJC conscious adherence to the light is not so much restricted to jedi/priests/paladins.

    Of course, that still doesn't help me regarding what EGG et al were thinking, but it does give me a version I can use. Thanks.

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  28. I had a few email chats with Gary about alignment. Here are some of them:

    (Someone asked Gary on a forum what political parties' alignment would be. He couldn't answer since politics were not allowed to be discussed. So I emailed him 'cause I was curious)

    Gary: Actually, no, as alignments are meant mainly for use by the DM and to guide players in developing the moral and ethical nature of their PC, acting accordingly.

    First remember that law is FORCE. Thus all political parties advocating strong government advocate strong laws and force to back them up. Libertarians are the least lawful of the American political parties.

    In general, the AD&D alignments do not mesh well with political parties, as the alignments are too absolute.

    I believe that the Natural rights of man--life, liberty, and property--are in the neutral good to neutral position in regards alignment.

    (On paladins, after I learned about their origins) I find it very interesting the origins of the character classes. I'll never run a Paladin in the same light after learning about their origin. So they're not holy warriors but knights of a holy themed nation.

    Gary: Yes, the paladin was not meant to be a knight serving some holy order but rather a knight living up to his vows ;)

    The funniest alignment comment from Gary was when someone told Gary that that True Neutral was all about "ying and yang", then went on to write a dull essay to explain. To which Gary replies, that isn't even close to what TN is.

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  29. Remember Alignment started as labels for factions. Here are the good guys and they cheer you on. Here are the bad guys and you kill them.

    However the labels (Law, Neutral,Chaos) combined with the description of the faction members (elves, dwarves, humans vs monsters lead by evil high priests) naturally lead to people attach philosophical ramification to these labels.

    The culminated in the introduction of the second axis of good vs evil. Originally only five alignments but later expanded to the familiar 9.

    This entire progression was logical at every step. However the end result was less than stellar as a system designed to for wargame factions was shoehorned as the moral philosophy of the D&D universe. Also it got wrapped up with the personality of the character.

    Now I am not a fan of moral relativism. However I am also not a fan of alignment labels either. The last series of AD&D campaign I ran in the mid 80s jettisoned alignment. Instead which god you followed and which factions you belonged too was more important.

    The various Detect Evil and Know Alignment spells were adapted to work with this or jettisoned.

    For me all of this evolved into something similar to D&D 4th. You have a great muddled grey area involving many cultures and people with different creed doing what people do over history. Then you have the Demons which represent the creatures that rejected creation and are the enemy of all life in my campaign. They are evil. Even the dark gods of my realm like Set and Kali will happy go hunt demons.

    This is similar to D&D 4th where you have Lawful Good, Good, and Neutral. With Chaotic Evil fighting all of them.

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  30. Carl: "Even if you stick with the standard D&D cosmology mapping alignments to planes (which I certainly don't do), that does not render the question of the relative meaning of good and evil a moot point."

    That's why I think that the terms were defined absolutely in AD&D: to avoid the issue of having "devils" who might be characterised as "Good". The SR article's approach was not tenable in the expanded cosmology.

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  31. @ Nagora -
    I think you missed the point of what I was saying entirely, which is that defining the terms absolutely, or defining a creature as evil absolutely, etc., does not clear up at all what actions in particular are taken by a good or evil character. It is all well and good to say that your cleric is good and that devil is evil, but what does your cleric do when the devil grabs the innocent little girl standing next to him and says drop your weapons and leave or I kill her (to paraphrase and steal an example from someone, Steven I believe, in the orc discussion of morality yesterday). Does being a good cleric mean you have to back off so the little girl doesn't get killed? Do you assume the devil is going to kill her anyway? The devil is lawful evil, so he will probably let her go if he makes a deal with you that he will let her go if you quit harrassing him. Does the good cleric call upon the power of his god to smite the devil and girl both because he thinks the greater evil would be to let the devil go free, knowing that probably many more people would end up suffering? That is what I mean in terms of defining good and evil actions a little more clearly, by giving a code of conduct or morals that is the ideal of a particular in-game society or organization. If nothing else, you should rule on whether or not the ends justify the means as far as good characters go (in which case the answer would be to just blow them both up to eliminate future evil caused by the devil, as unpleasant as that might be to the good character). If you ignore this and just go with the alignments as written without couching them in any sort of context, the player and DM could have very different ideas of what a lawful or good aligned character would do, and the player might even end up being penalized unfairly because these matters were not cleared up before hand.

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  32. Hey James, what are you talking about at the end of the post when you mention moving into another plane of existence if you truly exemplify your alignment - I know you said that might be a topic for another post, but now I am really curious. Do you transcend the material plane and become the embodiment of good or evil or law or chaos or whatever and float off to the plane of your alignments choice? Do you become an aspect of the divine on the prime material plane? And is the quote you referenced from the same Gygax article that mentions that good and evil are not absolutes?

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  33. "If nothing else, you should rule on whether or not the ends justify the means as far as good characters go"

    But this is a case which is specifically addressed in the AD&D DMG - I'm trying to point out that AD&D resolved this whole issue by defining Good and Evil. The suggested system in SR of leaving the terms undefined would not work so it was scrapped.

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  34. I've got some more time so I'll expand:

    The DMG specifies that for Evil "purpose is the determinant". IE, ends justify means. So the case of the little girl is clear: killing her is an evil act regardless of any other motive. But there is more.

    One of the things which I think is most interesting, vexing, and frequently ignored aspects of (A)D&D's alignment system is that choosing the lesser of two evils or doing evil unknowingly is still "judged" as evil - the entire purpose of the Atonement spell is to "remove the onus of unwilling or unknown deeds" while the spell specifically does not work on "Deliberate misdeeds and acts of a knowing or wilful nature".

    This is very tough on modern people who are very much used to the idea that being forced to do something, or doing it unknowingly, removes both blame and credit. Not so in the view of the mediaeval Church and not so in (A)D&D.

    The problem in-game with this is that it makes Paladins' lives hell, of course. But it is an interesting facet of the default gameworld which a lot of people ignore and I think that's actually partly because they find it very uncomfortable.

    The alignment system in AD&D is much more workable than the one outlined in the SR article quoted and, IMO, it serves EGG's purpose of making a world of architypes taken largely from European Myth, Legend and Literature* better than the distinctly modern "well, good and evil, they're things you need to define for yourself" idea in SR. AD&D is much much more clear on what is Good and Evil and the result is a better design, I think. It puts demons and devils into their traditional roles and makes various other aspects of the outer planes work better. But it also gives the DM much more information about how Evil will work against, and tempt, Good characters.

    *I don't know why I capitalised them either.

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  35. Now that I am off work and have had a chance to dig out my AD&D DM's guide, my suspicions were confirmed; the section on alignment was just as muddled and confusing as I remembered it to be. Good is defined as human/creature rights (a modern concept if I ever heard one, and one that shoots holes in many people's arguments in yesterdays post that a good character should kill orcs et al because they are evil); "Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable." Wow, that clears up everything. Basically, almost every single adventuring party that I am familiar with was not "good" by that definition. Regarding the moral dilemma presented above regarding the paladin's choice and the girl hostage, the entry on lawful good confuses matters even farther. "Creatures of lawful good alignment view the cosmos with varying degrees of lawfulness or desire for good (wow, talk about a circular definition). They are convinced that order and law are absolutely necessary to assure good, and that good is best defined as whatever brings the most benefit to the greater number of decent, thinking creatures and the least woe to the rest."
    What exactly is a decent creature, pray tell? Well, presumably a human is decent but an orc is not, but that is exactly the kind of ambiguity that I am arguing makes it imperative to establish the code of conduct or moral code for each culture/organization that a character belongs to. If a lawful good character must act to bring the most benefit to the greater number of decent, thinking creatures then he or she might very well have to kill both the little girl and the devil. Interestingly, while the section on evil does mention that evil believes the ends justify the means, the section on good does not specify the reverse. While I personally do not use alignments in my game, I am fine with them being included in the official rules but they should have the caveat that the DM needs to ground them in campaign specifics so that they make sense.
    Word verification: nosences. Alignments make nosences to me.

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  36. Two items on the history of OD&D alignment:

    One, somewhat minor, is that the Vol. I Languages section has as much info on alignments as anyplace: "One can attempt to communicate through the common tongue, language particular to a creature class, or one of the divisional languages (law, etc.). While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack."

    Two, more interesting is that the first implication of a second moral axis appears in Supplement III. Here you add various demons and psionic monsters (couatl, ki-rin, shedu) who are "highly evil" and/or "highly good" seemingly in the sense of "super-chaos" and "super-law".

    There's one single exception, though, and that's this: the Mind Flayers are the sole race listed as "highly evil but otherwise lawful" (p. 2). I tend to read that as: "here's one single psionic race so alien and strange that they escape the very reality of our alignment system". But that later on spawned the evolution of the two-axis alignment system, as the extrapolations of that were worked out.

    I do now tend to favor the simple Law vs. Chaos axis, and my players are very willing to immediately think of Moorcock, and the Warhammer philosophy when it comes up. I think that the 9-element system is too complicated, and tying it into planes and gods was an unfortunate inflexibility.

    The Anderson quote is very helpful (something of a relief). Now if I could just figure out what to do with baby goblins.

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  37. Having never played using the simpler law vs. chaos system, I can only comment from how I imagine it working. But man, that seems like it would be a lot easier to implement than the 9 element system. One thing I don't see as being as obvious as Gygax did however is the whole bit about two chaotic or two lawful factions quitting in-fighting to face off against a threat from the opposing alignment. It seems just as likely, if not more likely, that if an invading lawful army happened upon two chaotic armies that one or both of the chaotic armies would attempt to pin the other chaotic army between themselves and the lawful army. After all, a lawful armies sense of honor and duty and all that might make them hesitant to attack an erstwhile ally, while the chaotic army would have no problem, after dispatching their other chaotic rival, of surprise attacking the lawful army.

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  38. The single-axis system broke down almost immediately with charcters like Conan being clearly Chaotic but oppossed to many other Chaotic beings - the idea is just too simple and as Delta said, the cracks really started to appear in Vol III.

    The question of creature rights and evil creatures is just the old "un-American activities" problem again (if your country is founded on the idea of everyone being allowed free-speech what do you do with people who support the ending of free-speech?).

    If orcs etc are inherently evil then logically the answer is that Good must destroy them before they eliminate all existing Good. If they are not inherently evil then they must be converted. If they have free will but are also damned to backslide because of their nature then, as Gary often said, convert them and then kill them thereby sending them off to "a better place" where they are freed from their curse and lost to Evil.

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  39. Wow. Internet funny-man Lore Sjoberg nails the whole alignment debate in one comic:
    http://badgods.com/orc.html

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  40. On the lawful person going around tell people he is lawful the quote actually says "the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful". So I took this to mean that people like paladins should add in the fact that they are on the side of the law when they first meet someone. Its like I have "the dragon hearted" on my name only instead I would have it something like "Akhier the Just". People just love their titles so a little something extra to your name would go a long way. Another thing to consider is that most people that are part of a civilization in the end are just not lawful good or chaotic evil unless they are stated to be for some reason, the two sides are just to extreme. the average townsfolk you meet is more likely to be some flavor of neutral or there about.

    To add on to this, the way I see alignments is that good/evil is the main conflict. chaos/lawful is something you go to once evil is vanquished. This is my view because good/evil actually goes and tells you how you treat others. chaos/lawful just tells us how consistent you are and how likely you will do something out of the ordinary.

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