Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Law

Among the philosophies of Men, none is more widespread -- or debated -- than that of Law. For many, if not most, Law is little more than a shorthand term for "civilization" and the order that supports it. It is the opposite of Chaos, which is likewise understood merely as disorder and the inevitable outcome of failing to defend civilization against the Men and monsters who would destroy it. A minority, mostly clerics and those strongly devoted to a god or gods, take Law very seriously, aligning their lives with it in such a way as to work magic. This magic is different than that of magicians, which has a touch -- or more -- of Chaos about it, for clerical magic exists to strengthen and defend civilization rather than to bend reality to one's will.

For an even smaller minority, though, Law has nothing to do with the gods, as they see it as existing before and beyond the gods. To these few, Law is the cosmic principle upon which everything, even the gods, depend. There are even some who believe that Law is a god itself, though one as far above other gods as the gods are above Men. According to this understanding, Law is the true identity of Anyastos, as revered in the Thulian Great Church and is the true source of all things. Intriguingly, the dwarven concept of "the Great Maker" bears some similarities to this interpretation of Law, for it was the Great Maker who brought into being the cosmos by laying down the axioms under which it would operate.

The mysterious paladins are are so strongly associated with Law that they are popularly called "the paladins of Law," despite clerical disapproval of this epithet. Paladins lead simple lives in accordance with Law, whose dictates, they say, are written into the very fabric of all beings and can easily be learned by those willing to seek them out. They see Law as inseparable from Goodness and view the teachings of most god-faiths on the meaning of Law to be, at best, lacking and, at worst, actually contrary to the true nature of Law, at least as they understand it. Needless to say, paladins find few friends among clerics of any faith, though some (particularly those of Typhon) consider paladins every bit as much as threat as they do demons and other agents of Chaos.

12 comments:

  1. Do you define Lawful and Good as those who dont take a life under any condition as there are plenty of non-living things out there that are the real threat?

    Or do you prefer orienting the game towards 'it is designed to reward those who kill people and take their stuff' so even Lawful Good Must kill the fluffy bunny when it bares it's teeth?

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  2. Do you define Lawful and Good as those who dont take a life under any condition as there are plenty of non-living things out there that are the real threat?

    Or do you prefer orienting the game towards 'it is designed to reward those who kill people and take their stuff' so even Lawful Good Must kill the fluffy bunny when it bares it's teeth?


    Comparatively few people in my campaign world speak of "goodness" in the abstract. Consequently, their ethics are generally much more situational. This is in contrast to the approach paladins take, which defines Law and Goodness in absolute terms, applying to all Men and at all times -- which is precisely why so many view paladins as a danger.

    As for the broader question, paladins at least try to avoid taking human life when at all possible but they are not pacifists.

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  3. Good stuff; I am enjoying seeing more of your setting in this series. It is interesting to see the intertwined similarities and differences paralleling, but not aping, other campaign settings and imaginary worlds. The mysterious lawful "over deity" who may or may not exist is one of the foundation blocks of my Silver Blade campaign (and many others, I imagine).

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  4. Oh, interesting philosophical post, even for someone who isn't a gamer. It hadn't occurred to me to think about this level.

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  5. Hardly abstract though James. Good sees Life as an absolute right, and Lawful Good Enforces that right. So killing under any Condition would require any Good to regard the Killer as Evil. And Lawful Good is forced to police the actions of everyone - especially those whose 'ethics are situational'.

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  6. I particularly like the short little note about how magicians have a little bit of chaos in them because they are bending reality to their will.

    That's the perfect and concise way to say something that's absolutely true in my campaign as well but which I've failed to explain so eloquently.

    Plus, it's just a cool idea.

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  7. So now I want to know what "good" means and what Paladins think Lawful actions are and what various clerics think they are. And I guess magic users too. "Supporting civilisation" is an umbrella that can contain all the organized enemies of all time - it's just a question of which civilisation you prefer to support. I understand that you posit a Chaos pole against all this that is fundamentally inhuman. I'm wondering if any human actions (beside those directly allied with chaos entities) would fall in the "chaos" basket.

    I'm also curious that collective desires might be lawful while individual ones are tinged with chaos. Or is it more that clerical effects operate somehow within the rules of the universe while magical ones have to mutate the rules?

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  8. yellowdingo -
    "Do you define Lawful and Good as those who don’t take a life under any condition as there are plenty of non-living things out there that are the real threat?
    Or do you prefer orienting the game towards 'it is designed to reward those who kill people and take their stuff' so even Lawful Good Must kill the fluffy bunny when it bares it's teeth?"

    I have never seen any campaign that follows either of these extremes you mention.

    "Hardly abstract though James. Good sees Life as an absolute right, and Lawful Good Enforces that right. So killing under any Condition would require any Good to regard the Killer as Evil. And Lawful Good is forced to police the actions of everyone - especially those whose 'ethics are situational'."

    I don’t think good is required to not take any life unless they consider who they are killing is evil. I also don’t see Lawful Good as any more or less likely to police other peoples actions, than others actions. Im not sure where these extremes are coming from.

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  9. Very inspiring , James.

    You wrote:
    clerical magic exists to strengthen and defend civilization rather than bend reality to it's will

    This overlaps a lot with the Law v. Chaos axis in my own campaign. Law (and clerical magic, which is all Lawful) is that which strengthens and defends civilization and Chaos is that which seeks to bend reality to its will. All non-clerical magic is more or less Chaotic.

    All of the gods in the campaign are Lawful, to a greater or lesser degree. And, despite their differences, they all oppose the demons of Chaos. Law has many meanings for its followers. Different religions treat Law differently, and often regard the theologies of opposing religions as heretical, a "foot in the door for Chaos" (not unlike much modern politics where everyone supports some form of political order, they argue endlessly about what it should be, demonizing the opposition in the process). There is a lot of inter-religious conflict and intrigue in my campaign.

    N.B. The notion of the gods as agents of Law harks back to the earliest creation myths in which the world was created by a divine champion of Order (e.g. Marduk) who conquers a demon of Chaos (e.g. Tiamat).

    Chaos is anti-Nature (or anti-Tao, to use a Chinese term). It attempts to bend Nature to serve one's personal desires, to alter the natural balance in order to amass greater power for oneself. It is associated with excess, surpassing due limits. Chaos disrupts the natural balance and thus unleashes destructive energies.

    Chaos cannot create (hence there are no Chaotic gods, only demons). The forces of Chaos can only manipulate what Law has already created; they can only pervert it and bend it toward their own purposes. Chaos is inherently unstable. It can only temporarily amass power for itself, but can never build any lasting order for itself. It contains the seeds of its own destruction. All Chaotic "organizations" eventually succumb to in-fighting.

    Chaotic magic releases unstable, "radioactive" energies which can cause mutations and distortions. Thus, those heavily involved with Chaotic magic are often marked by physical and mental deformities. Long-term exposure to Chaotic forces leads to madness. In the superstitions of common folk, the appearance of mutations and freaks (two-headed calves, etc) is an omen of the local unleashing of Chaotic forces.

    I use this Chaotic aspect of magic to explain the daily limitations on the casting of spells. The spell limits in the rulebooks describe the safe daily maximum based one the spellcaster's level of experience. Sure, a magic-user can cast more -- but with each additional exposure to Chaotic magic beyond the safe limits there is a risk to physical and mental health. In the long term, Chaotic characters often bear a grotesque mark of Chaos (extra digits, assymetrical features, etc) and, in extreme cases, wear hoods or keep to the shadows to hide the track marks of their Chaos habit.

    I'd love to hear how others homebrew Law v. Chaos in their campaigns so I just went ahead and started a thread about this over at Dragonsfoot

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  10. "Supporting civilisation" is an umbrella that can contain all the organized enemies of all time - it's just a question of which civilisation you prefer to support.

    That's more or less the point of why I presented such a broad definition of Law in the campaign :) It's also why I suggest but do not outright state that such a definition doesn't quite match up to the metaphysical reality of Law in the setting.

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  11. I based Lawful Good on Gary Gygax's original definition in DMG Ed.1. 'Harmless' - as in never inflicting harm (or taking a life).

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  12. Very inspiring, James.

    This overlaps a lot with the Law v. Chaos axis in my own campaign. Law (and clerical magic, which is all Lawful) is that which strengthens and defends order, justice and civilization in the world, and Chaos is that which seeks to bend reality to its will. All non-clerical magic is more or less Chaotic.

    All of the gods in the campaign are Lawful, to a greater or lesser degree. And, despite their differences, they all oppose the demons of Chaos.

    Chaos cannot create (hence there are no Chaotic gods, only demons). The forces of Chaos can only manipulate what Law has already created; they can only pervert it and bend it toward their own purposes. Chaos is inherently unstable. Chaotic magic releases unstable, "radioactive" energies which can cause mutations and distortions. Thus, those heavily involved with Chaotic magic are often marked by physical and mental deformities. If one is not careful and does not takes necessary precautions, long-term exposure to Chaotic forces leads to madness.

    I use this Chaotic aspect of magic to explain the daily limitations on the casting of spells. The spell limits in the rulebooks describe the safe daily maximum based on the spellcaster's level of experience. Sure, a magic-user can cast more -- but with each additional exposure to Chaotic magic beyond the safe limits there is a risk to physical and mental health.

    I'd love to hear how others conceive Law v. Order in their campaigns, so I went ahead and opened a topic inspired by your post over at Dragonsfoot.

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