Thursday, April 30, 2009

Anderson on Alignment

Thanks to Chris Tichenor for pointing out this superb quote from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions on the subject of alignment:
Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them were almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faerie, Trollheim, and the Giants--an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos; under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning. But this was so alien to the Middle Worlders that they were forever working to prevent it and extend their own shadowy dominion.
That's pretty much OD&D-style alignment in a nutshell, or at least how I read the admittedly vague text on the subject.


  1. I notice that you've included "moorcock" among the tags for this post. How do you think Michael Moorcock's treatment of Law vs Chaos (in Elric et al) compares to Anderson?

  2. I included it because Moorcock's admitted that he cribbed the whole idea from Anderson. The implementation is obviously different, but the germ of the idea comes from Anderson.

  3. from this tiny fragment I can derive another workable model of Law/Chaos alignments, which is that the civilised and mundane are Law and the fantastical and chimerical are Chaos (or Christians and orthodox Muslims are Law, while pagans and the heterodox are tinged with Chaos - something I think I could get both my Christian and pagan players to buy into). It's been a good day for me.

    (this is a bit of willed misunderstanding on my part - I'm trying to come up with options that could work for me)

  4. This one lines up with the way I see law and chaos ... humanity is the chief force of law, even though it includes many who serve chaos. I don't use the Moorcockian concept in which law becomes stultifying when it wins. For a game, law works better when it's a fairly simple label for "good guys."

  5. I began reading Three Hearts and Three Lions today as I ate my cereal. I ended on page twenty five- right after reading this passage. My life is apparently imitating your blog.

  6. This is especially interesting because many newer takes on alignment take it for granted that personal freedoms suffer under lawfully aligned governments. Anderson makes it very clear that lawful doesn't automatically mean tyrannical.

  7. I have to say, this is a much more compelling model for me than a good/evil axis or the nine-point alignment scale. More interesting, more gameable, and says more about the "bad guys" than "they kick puppies!"

    And that line about giants being agents of chaos -- that's got some gears going. Might be the angle I need to finally run that giant-centered game I've had in the back of my head for a while.

  8. Lawful=Good and Chaotic=Bad is just not going to fly for me. It didn't make sense in OD&D and it doesn't make sense in the quote. Lawful and Good doesn't fit with the Nazi's and Chaotic and Evil doesn't work with the Marx Brothers.

  9. Mr Finch - I think it is Chaos that ultimately ends up staler than law ever could be.

    I always wondered if that was Mr Moorcock's comment on the 60's counterculture, myself.

  10. that liberty which only Law could give meaning

    are we going to end up talking about Hobbes?

    verification word: obeency. Spooky: either a fantasied-up version of "obedience" or "obey-and-see."

  11. I find Anderson's suggestion very interesting, but maybe too "original" to want it incorporated in every D&D campaign.

    When I first played D&D, the three-alignment system really confused me and it seemed like just another example of D&D trying to be cute: wizards are magic-users, hobbits are halflings, health is constitution and evil is chaos. So for me, the nine-alignment system was clarifying-- it was easier to understand the law vs. chaos question when I separated it from the good and evil question. For many people however, the nine-alignment system demotes the law vs. chaos question to just a matter of personality where being lawful just means uptight and chaos means being kinda crazy.

    I find alignment most useful as a shorthand-- I wouldn't think about it for a PC or for an adventure that I created to run myself. But if I run someone else's adventure, it could be useful to know that the bandit leader is LE and his men are CE. That tells a story very concisely and leaves room for me to work out the details.

  12. This seems to pretty much line up with my take on the whole "are orcs irredeemably evil?" discussion which is that orcs are basically the terrorists of the fantasy world. Though they've doubtlessly got some legit gripes and aren't always totally without honor, and are probably often the pawns of others, they are the enemies of all.

  13. It might be worth reading Gygax's column in Dragon #38 - "Good isn't Stupid, Paladins and Rangers"

  14. Isn't "Good isn't Stupid," the article where he suggests the "convert-and-then-kill" approach to dealing with those recalcitrant orcs? If stupidity is the opposite of intelligence, then what is the opposite of wisdom-- because that's where I'd like to file that suggestion. (And there are a lot of LG characters with low wisdom, but hopefully not paladins and rangers.)

    And I don't think I'm insulting Gary by suggesting wisdom was not his prime ability. Somewhere, I think he used himself to explain how someone could have high inelligence but low wisdom-- I think cigarette smoking had something to do with it.

  15. Another example of a situation where Law basically equals good and Chaos basically equals evil would be Stephen King's Dark Tower series. In it, All-World is a prime example of what happens when Chaos starts to win and the world 'moves on' - there are all kinds of mutations, demons, irradiated wastelands, and even the laws of nature such as how time passes or where the sun rises start to break down. The Crimson King and his cohorts are thoroughly Chaotic and attempting to bring the center of the universe's order in the form of the Dark Tower, while Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger, as the last 'sherriff' in town, is about as emblematic of Law as you can get.

    Of course, unlike with Moorcock, King never shows us what the outcome of too much Law would look like.

    Word verification: fistrake. Is that what Wolverine and his ilk do?

  16. Brian: Yes indeed, though focusing on that particular element of the discourse is to neglect the meaning of the whole. In the article Gygax suggests it as a corner case possibility dependent on the game master's own view of the meaning of "good" [i.e. it was intended to be inflammatory].

  17. MJS: I think you might be doing the same to me (neglecting the meaning of the whole) though I think it's probably my fault in both cases.

    What I was trying to suggest is that in these musings about alignment, we should be open to the possibility of characters getting it wrong, that is articulating a justification for their actions that doesn't really work. And I don't even know if it's the GM's role to make corrections, excpet perhaps through an also possibly wrong NPC mouthpiece.

  18. Of course, player characters need not know good from evil in every instance; some degree of uncertainty and moral ambiguity is desirable in the game. That is why, I imagine, paladins only fall when they knowingly and willingly commit an evil act.

  19. richard -

    Why would in D&D terms a pagan be chaotic? Wouldn't you think that they'd be neutral (like a druid), and the faithless be chaotic with your version of Law vs. Chaos.

    I'm currently reading the Broken Sword, and your version of real world religion and D&D's alignments fit such a pattern, should one want it to fit such a pattern.

    (After reading years ago 3H3L, I never thought I'd read another Poul Andersan book, because it was such a dull book. I'm halfway though this one and it's pretty good. Very similar, and I do mean VERY, to JRRT's Children of Hurin. They both must of based their stories off the same source.)

  20. Hi Veil

    Pagans being neutral would fit the usual D&D setup better but I don't see any sign of neutrality as an option in Anderson's scheme, while Chaos appears to apply to "fantastical nature," including the whole world of faerie and any use of magic. Many modern pagans also seem to enjoy a sense of the chaotic as freeing. Nothing deeper than that, I'm afraid.

  21. I never had a problem with the nine fold model . . .
    DnD is set in a fantasy/ parallel universe where good & evil and law & chaos wage epic battles for survival or supremacy. Although PCs may not be intimately involved in this cosmic balancing act or in wars between gods, their behavior and allegiance will determine how many NPCs will treat them. . .

    GOOD creatures respect truth, nature, beauty, charity and innocence. Good PCs will pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to defeat a malevolent and powerful tyrant.

    EVIL creatures do not appreciate life, art or chastity. They are motivated by personal gain. They kill without remorse and usually follow leaders because of fear or greed, not devotion.

    NEUTRAL characters value their families and personal security over cosmic or moral issues. They will only take a risk if the gains are large and/ or if their lifestyle or family is threatened.

    CHAOTIC creatures avoid details, commitment and platitudes. Chaotic creatures tolerate diversity, but tend to be reckless and undependable.

    LAWFUL creatures are reliable and dependable. They respect authority and tradition. Lawful characters can be counted on to follow rules and leaders, even when such rules or leadership appears to be inconsistent or erroneous.

    Thinking of alignment as an
    X axis of chaos (left) and law (right) and
    Y axis of good (top) and evil (left), then
    there are 9 possible alignments:
    N, NG, LG, LN, LE, NE, CE, CN, CG.

    Due to the nature of DnD adventures most PCs/ protagonists are either good and/or lawful as most foes/ antagonists will be evil or chaotic. Examples:

    N = neutral (“uncommitted”) is typical for humans, lizard men and herbivores.

    NG = neutral good (“beatific”) is the norm for halflings, centaurs and giant eagles.

    LG = lawful good (“crusader”) is common for knights, angels and gold dragons.

    LN =lawful neutral (“legalist”) is standard for dwarves, dogs and mercenaries.

    LE = lawful evil (“diabolical”) is typical for hobgoblins, devils and vampires.

    NE = neutral evil (“opportunist”) describes goblins, bugbears, most giants, many undead and organized crime.

    CE = chaotic evil (“sociopath”) is emblematic for orcs, demons and ogres.

    CN = chaotic neutral (“feral”) is typical of carnivores, ½ elves and the mentally ill.

    CG =chaotic good (“libertine”) is standard for elves, sprites, unicorns and rangers.

  22. From a medieval point of view, there isn't really a distinction between Lawful and Good. The concept of "Chaotic Good" doesn't really fit in. That's what Poul Anderson and originally Gary Gygax were working from. The modern notion of a lone avenger who exists outside the law and doesn't follow the normal rules doesn't really have a place here.

    On the other hand, a lot of the lone avengers of modern fiction could be regarded as agents of Law in a Chaotic realm. They may not follow formal rules, but that's usually because there are no formal rules to follow. So someone like Philip Marlowe or a typical John Wayne character could be regarded as a Lawful hero in a Chaotic land. They only seem chaotic because no one else is lawful.

    Pagans as Neutral would fit pretty well into a medieval model. Dante's Inferno had the First Circle of Hell - a fairly pleasant place - for good pagans, Muslims and Jews who by Christian theology could not go into heaven. Medieval Christianity and Islam (sometimes!) recognized people could be outside their faith and still be bascially good.

    Finally, and I realize I'm being pedantic, Orcs as terrorists just doesn't make sense. Terrorists by definition direct violence at non-combatants in order to frighten people into supporting the terrorists' politics. D&D Orcs attack anyone and aren't concerned with winning self determination for the South Moldavian people or any other cause. They're just after loot and bloodshed.

    - DW

  23. Lawful and Good doesn't fit with the Nazi's and Chaotic and Evil doesn't work with the Marx Brothers.I'd like to challenge this notion, because the Nazis (and all despots and dictatorships) are really forces of Chaos and the Marx Bros. were Lawful.

    The Nazis brought chaos into the world through their slaughter of innocents and war. The SS represent a force of Chaos that can arrest anyone at anytime for any reason. That isn't Law and that isn't Lawful. It brings a sense of chaos into the daily life of anyone who must endure that kind of regime.

    The Marx Bros. represent the Fool — a person that is perceived to be entertaining, funny and harmless but also has the freedom to tell the truth and to put up a mirror to the culture around them. The purpose of this mirror is not to bring chaos into the world, but rather to reign in the chaos that we have unconsciously allowed into our lives.

  24. I think it is a mistake to assume that "Lawful" means "Obeys the law"; the mafia are lawful but illegal; many resistance movements have been illegal but hierarchical. It's about how the individual relates to the group, not necessarily how the group relates to society as a whole.

  25. Evil people depend upon duplicity and deceit to further their selfish and malicious goals. Evil people do not usually declare their intentions, i.e.,
    “Hi, I am Josef Stalin, I am chaotic evil.”

    Evil characters will attend charity events, political rallies and worship services alongside decent and loyal citizens. Many evil people actually have little insight into their true nature preferring to hide behind excuses and half-truths insisting that the problem lies in other people’s misinterpretation of their behavior. Part of being an effective conman, charlatan, politician or trial lawyer is to actually deceive yourself to believe that the product, cure, cause or argument that you champion is just or righteous.

    Understanding and tact dictate that is best to avoid categorizing your peers (in real life) as good or evil, lawful or chaotic, as real people (your friends, family and neighbors) are often more complex than DnD/ fantasy characters.

    If we were to express 2nd century BC Greek mythology in DnD terminology, we could obtain the following pantheon of deities:

    Apollo (LG) is the god of light & medicine and ruler of the angels. His sacred metal is gold and his symbol is the long-sword. His color is yellow and sacred animal is the lion; worship day is Sunday. His priests/followers may use longswords and gain +1 WIS at 5th Level.

    Artemis (CG) is the goddess of forests, rivers & elves and she commands the water elementals. Her sacred metal is silver and her symbol is the crescent. Her color is silver and her sacred animal is the unicorn; worship time is the full Moon. Her priests may use short or composite bows and gain +1 CHA at 5th Level.

    Demeter (NG) is goddess of livestock, agriculture & Halflings, and ruler of the earth elementals. Her sacred metal is copper and her symbol is the square. Her color is green and her sacred animal is the ox; worship day is dawn on Teasday. Her priests gain +1 CON at 5th Level.

    Jove (N) is the god of lightning & weather and he is ruler of the air elementals. His sacred metal is tin and his symbol is the circle. His color is blue and his sacred animal is the eagle; his worship day is Windsday or during thunderstorms. His priests may use javelins and gain an additional +1 to saving throws at 5th Level.

    Hermes (CN or CE) is the god of the travelers, thieves and deception, as well as mediator of the demons. His sacred metal is mercury and his symbol is the caduceus. His color is orange and his sacred animal is the sheep; his followers gather on midnight on Ramsday. His priests may use daggers and gain +1 DEX at 5th Level.

    Ares (LN) is the god of fire, war & engineering and ruler of the fire elementals. His sacred metal is iron and symbol is the triangle. His color is red and his sacred animal is the wolf; worship day is Fireday. His priests may use spears or shortswords and gain +1 STR at 5th Level.

    Hades (LE or NE) is the god of wealth & the Underworld and ruler of the devils. He created the subterranean race of goblins. His sacred metal is lead and his symbol is the pentagram. His color is purple and his sacred animal is the goat; his appointed day is Starday although he has few worshipers. His priests may use scythes and gain +1 INT at 5th Level.

    In addition to these seven major deities, many cities or city-states may have their own local or regional deities or demi-gods whom can grant his priests up to 5th level spells. Some hamlets, villages or towns may have local cults lead by a minor deity (demon prince?) whom can grant his priests up to 3rd level spells.

  26. For a good idea of how Pagans could be considered Chaos, check out the Thief series, which features a Law/Chaos axis, with perhaps the Keepers being the neutral ground in that axis.

  27. Nazis, Mafia and Ares: all Chaotic.
    Likewise Nietzsche, neo-Conservatism, and other 'smash the system' ideologies.

    Catholicism and Enlightenment Liberalism (Aquinas, Locke): Lawful.

    Real (paleo?) pagan beliefs: mostly Lawful or Neutral. Look at Hinduism.

    Neo-paganism, being a reaction to Lawful Christianity, is generally Chaotic, in my experience.

    Orthodox Islam states that the world is ordered not by natural Law, but by the will of Allah, through which anything may happen at any moment. This is certainly not a Lawful belief. Arab societies are highly Chaotic; I'm not sure I'd classify Islam per se, or Salafism, as inherently Chaotic, but Takfiri Islam certainly is, with its emphasis on violent murder of fellow Muslims declared to fall short on various arbitrary criteria. And Islam's emphasis on strife (jihad) to expand its sphere fits with Chaotic tendencies.

    The most important point to grasp is that 'submission' or 'obedience' are not Law, nor is liberty dependent on Chaos - quite the reverse.

  28. S'mon - are you elaborating Anderson's categories or offering a personal cosmology?

    I'm guessing that according to this scheme Calvin would be Chaotic. I'm not sure about Luther, or whether his particular conception of limited free will is relevant here. What about Hobbes? His assumed, coerced "social contract" seems like a totalitarian entry pass to a realm of supposed peace.

    ...this is also the first time I've ever thought about Calvin and Hobbes together outside a Bill Watterson cartoon. Either you've opened up new vistas in my thinking or this law/chaos thing is a seriously blunt instrument.

    veriword: mingsh. Mongo-Yiddish term for an unsympathetic or unkind person.

  29. Hobbes would be 'Lawful' by anyone's definition. Freedom without authority invariably leads to a State of War (even amongst fully rational persons) because of (a) competition, (b) 'diffidence' (what we would call 'suspicion' or 'distrust' today), and (c) desire for glory. Thus the need for a sovereign -- the Leviathan -- with overwhelming power to limit individual freedom for the sake of personal security (i.e., to best secure the 'Right of Nature' for all). All rational persons would recognize this fact, willingly submit to the sovereign, and thus be 'lawful' in this sense.

    Hobbes's take on Law and Chaos plays nicely into the OD&D alignment system. It can explain why humans would tend to be lawful, and view unlawful persons and creatures as 'evil'. Moreover, if certain non-human creatures (e.g., Faerie) did not naturally find themselves in a State of War without a sovereign, or did not value personal security as much as humans do (e.g., Orcs, etc.), then it makes sense that they would be inclined towards either Neutrality or Chaos.

  30. if certain non-human creatures... did not naturally find themselves in a State of War without a sovereign... then it makes sense that they would be inclined towards either Neutrality or Chaos

    Now that's really interesting: Lawful people are those who cannot flourish in chaotic systems - possibly because they're too aggressive, territorial or expansionist. I might be able to use that. It would certainly fit the Eurocentrism of the whole schema.

  31. richard:
    "S'mon - are you elaborating Anderson's categories or offering a personal cosmology? "

    I was going off what I understand to be Anderson's categories and the Natural Law thinkers (to whom I was very hostile as a University undergrad studying Jurisprudence at Oxford, now I think maybe they weren't all bad.

    I don't know enough about Calvin to classify him; gut says Neutral.

  32. Akrasia:
    "Hobbes would be 'Lawful' by anyone's definition. Freedom without authority invariably leads to a State of War (even amongst fully rational persons) because of (a) competition, (b) 'diffidence' (what we would call 'suspicion' or 'distrust' today), and (c) desire for glory."

    Yes, I agree with Akrasia about Hobbes being Lawful in intent (though I would probably have been a Roundhead myself); we disagree about Rousseau - I think his concept of the General Will and romantic individualism make for the grandfather of Chaotic ideologies.

  33. richard:
    "Lawful people are those who cannot flourish in chaotic systems - possibly because they're too aggressive, territorial or expansionist..."

    IRL Lawfuls may well be territorial and expansionist, but aggression will be directed almost entirely towards outsiders. Expansion-era United States would fit. I tend to see Japanese society as Lawful - certainly orderly - though Moorcock classed WW2-era Imperial Japan as Chaotic in "The Warlord of the Air"; likewise the Nazis (he may have amended that); opposed to the Lawful British Empire.

    Moorcock/Anderson 'Lawful' nations are those of 'Ordered Liberty'. Highly Chaotic societies such as that of the Pashtun/Pathan tribes may long for a force of order to end the constant strife, as the Pashtun welcomed the Taleban, but are not thereby Lawful. Law =/= Order.

  34. > I included it because Moorcock's admitted that he cribbed the whole idea from Anderson. The implementation is obviously different, but the germ of the idea comes from Anderson.

    postscripting old link, aside;