Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blast from the Past

So, I was looking at back issues of Dragon thanks to my CD-ROM collection and, while reading issue 105 from January 1986, I come across this fascinating piece of "wisdom" in The Forum, which was a section where they let any gamer with an opinion voice it
The debate about character alignment of late has driven me to give my thoughts on the subject. In the original edition of the D&D® game, all characters were told that “it is not only necessary to select a role, but it is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take.” To the new hobby of fantasy role-playing, character alignment was an important concept. Not only did it state what the imaginary player character believed, but it also served to help the player to better take on the role of his or her persona.

In later supplements of the original rules set, alignment was taken a step farther. It was used as a means (along with ability scores) to determine whether or not a PC was eligible for one of the more specialized (and often more powerful) subclasses. In this way, alignment was a tool used by both the players and the Dungeon Master to relate to the characters’ beliefs, ways of acting, and to restrict entrance into certain sub-classes.

It has been eleven years since the original D&D game appeared. While many of the ideas found in those little brown booklets and supplements were expanded and revised for inclusion in the AD&D game, alignment was not one of them. Even though the number of possible alignments has been tripled and more detailed descriptions of each ethos given, they are used as little more than tools for the players and Dungeon Master, in much the same way as was done over a decade ago.

My belief is that alignment should be used to restrict entrance into certain character classes and to determine how a player character will act in most circumstances. For example, an assassin, no matter how evil or chaotic he or she may be, would not attack the first group of good and/or neutral adventurers sighted simply because of their conflicting alignments. The assassin character class as written is composed of very intelligent individuals who make a living by killing those individuals who are deemed “troublesome” by the assassin’s employer. Being as intelligent as he is, an assassin would know when a particular job was over his head. Intelligence, not only alignment, should dictate how a character reacts to certain situations. Similarly, paladins do not charge the first demon prince they see, even though such a creature is diametrically opposed in its beliefs and actions.

Thus, alignment has been around with fantasy role-playing games too long simply to be forgotten. It is still an integral part of the game. Alignment, like other aspects of the game, needs only to be restructured in order to once again take its place of importance among the minds of players and their fantasy personae. Remember that all that needs to be done is use your head!

James Maliszewski
Baltimore, Md.
Now you can see why The Forum was eventually abandoned. This guy couldn't have been any more than 17 or 18 years old and his knowledge of the history of D&D is clearly lacking (He seems to think OD&D was released in 1975 -- madness!). And the pseudo-intellectual verbiage is the mark of someone overcompensating for the vapidity of his thought. What a moron.


  1. That punk should be found and walled up in an abandoned coke oven.

  2. In your defense, given the January '86 publication date of the magazine, and given the several-month lead time for periodicals, you surely wrote that in '85 and thus had the correct 11 year age for OD&D when you wrote it.

    But I'm sure you knew that :)

  3. That is just plain awesome, weird to think I was reading your writing in high school and here I am 20 years later reading your words again...

  4. getting published in Dragon in '86... hook ups! hook ups! hook ups! Man.. those chicgeeks must have been fighting over you for weeks!

    i sent in somethings back in those days too - 87 and 88 i think. It never made it to print though... heh... not much has changed ...

  5. Amusing. As it goes, when I was rereading some issues of Dragon (from the early to mid nineties) a few years back, I was struck by just how much of an influence some of those letters had on my thinking about the game, perhaps even more than the articles themselves (for good or ill).

  6. That is so cool. I have to bust out my Dragon CD and look at that.

  7. @ James
    He seems to think OD&D was released in 1975 -- madness!

    Doh! Unspeakable prophany! Iconoclasm! Blasphemer! :D

    Cool post. :)

  8. I think there's a typo at a crucial bit. Judging from the argument that follows, the sentence beginning the fourth paragraph should read: "My belief is that alignment should be used to restrict entrance into certain character classes and NOT to determine how a player character will act in most circumstances."

    I wonder why this young lad from Baltimore thought that alignment was necessary at all. If the main function of alignment is to allow you entrance into different classes (i.e. professions), why not just have the classes without the alignment? If you're an assassin, then of course you're a cold-blooded murder. If you're a thief than obviously you don't respect the law or other people's property. Etc. As a game mechanic it seems superfluous.

    But then, why beat up on a 17 year old kid? Who knows what he thinks now that he's wiser and older?

  9. >>But then, why beat up on a 17 year old kid? Who knows what he thinks now that he's wiser and older?

    I hope he grew up and realized that these silly games are nothing to get all worked up over.

  10. But I'm sure you knew that :)

    Shhh -- you'll spoil a good bit of self-deprecatory humor. :)

  11. Who knows what he thinks now that he's wiser and older?

    He's probably still a pretentious know-it-all; some people never change.

  12. I hope he grew up and realized that these silly games are nothing to get all worked up over.

    Somehow I doubt it.

  13. What high school did you attend, James? I'd graduated from Milford Mill a few years before you wrote that letter...

  14. Elliot,

    I graduated from Loyola Blakefield.

  15. Okay, that threw me for a few minutes. I guess they changed the name shortly after I left for college. To me it was just Loyola High. I'll contact out of band to compare notes.

  16. James, this is gold...haha. Your younger self makes a great point, though! Especially for a young person as a new player, Alignments provide moral directions and inspire character actions one may not have thought about otherwise. They also provide a deeper sense to players for roleplaying character archetypes; for example the "Robin Hood" or "Gallant Knight" type. As a young player, Alignment helped inspire and flesh out new characters. Heck, just reading all the Alignment descriptions was a head trip at a young age!

    I'm curious to what everyone's thoughts are on the Alignment Languages or "tongues" in AD&D. It wasn't until I was much older that I perceived them to be not a weird and completely different language, but talking in a way that someone with a similar world-view could relate to you and know "where your coming from"., by using certain slang, buzzwords, subject matter, emphasis, political jargon, and even epithets, with someone of the same "mindset". Does that make sense?

  17. I just realized this post is 15+ years old. Hahahaha...!