Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alignment in C&S

As I plow my way through the first edition of Chivalry & Sorcery, I find myself simultaneously fascinated and horrified by what I read -- fascinated because there are some truly excellent expansions/developments of D&D-derived concepts in the rulebook and horrified because very often the authors take these expansions/developments a couple of steps too far for my tastes. Anyway, one D&D-derived concept they retain is alignment, which, like OD&D, comes in three varieties: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. Interestingly, C&S explicitly equates Law with good and Chaos with evil, something wasn't done in D&D until the 1981 Moldvay rules so far as I know. The rulebook explains alignment in this fashion:
Alignment should not be regarded as meaning that Lawful and Chaotic characters must immediately attack each other, or even that they have a "right" to do it. It is in fact possible for characters of opposite Alignment to develop deep respect for each other, and friendship is not impossible. Even the most Chaotic of characters will have his code of honour. Alignment is merely a guide to players so that they can build their character's personality in an orderly manner.
There's lots to comment upon here, but what I immediately notice is that the first sentence is phrased negatively: "Alignment should not be regarded ..." That right there is why I have not yet abandoned my initial impression that C&S is parasitic upon Dungeons & Dragons and the culture surrounding it. C&S is implicitly setting itself up in opposition to the way things are done in D&D, or at least the way many players of D&D did things at the time (circa 1977). I won't go so far as to say C&S is unintelligible without first understanding D&D, but I do think it makes more sense within that context.

Given that Lawful characters are noted as "serving the forces of Good" and Chaotic characters are said to "opt for dishonesty, evil, and treachery," I'm not really sure on what basis the authors can claim Lawful and Chaotic characters might develop deep respect for and even friendship with one another. That seems implausible to me, but perhaps I am placing too much emphasis on the thumbnail descriptions of each alignment. As it turns out, C&S has 15 alignments, grouped into the three broad categories of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic.
  • Lawful: Saintly, Devout, Good, Virtuous, Worthy, Trustworthy, Honourable.
  • Neutral: Law Abiding, Worldly, Corruptible.
  • Chaotic: Unscrupulous, Base, Immoral, Villainous, Diabolic.
The distinctions between these various sub-alignments are often very fine, but I must confess to liking them, as they're similar in some respects to the way I handle alignment in Dwimmermount. If you read the descriptions, you'll see that an Unscrupulous Chaotic is someone who "will try to weasel out of any of his obligations or cheat his friends" while a Base Chaotic is one who "will stoop pretty low on occasion, pays lip-service to all of the conventional prattlings about good and decency, and never lets himself be blinded to a profitable deal when he sees it." As I said, these are fine distinctions but, I think, useful ones in getting a practical sense of what alignment means in C&S. Because of these distinctions, I think it possible that certain types of Lawfuls and Chaotics could probably get along with one another without too much trouble, but the earlier equation of Law with good and Chaos with evil only highlights the game's unspoken dependency on D&D for a lot of its foundational concepts.

Oh yes: alignment is determined randomly by a 1D20 roll. 8 out of 20 rolls will result in a Neutral alignment of some sort, 7 out of 20 in a Lawful one, and 5 out of 20 in a Chaotic one.


  1. I think the list of descriptors they attached to the three basic alignments also represents an attempt to deal with the problem of individuals having differing interpretations of just what "Lawful," etc., mean. The added adjective aids common understanding.

    What I find bizarre, though not quite "horrifying," is the idea of rolling one's alignment. I can see a reason --much like rolling stats, it can be a challenge to play what the dice give you-- but still that seems like taking an awfully personal choice out of the player's hands.

  2. What I find bizarre, though not quite "horrifying," is the idea of rolling one's alignment.

    If you look at creating a character as being similar to being dealt a hand in a game of cards, I think it seems a lot less bizarre. Of course, nearly 40 years after OD&D's publication, I think most gamers have a hard time seeing a character as the equivalent of a hand of cards anymore; we invest too much of ourselves in them from the first.

  3. I share Anthony's reaction to random alignments. I've heard of special dice that have alignments etched on rather than numbers, but this is the first I've heard of a game that defaults to random alignment. And I can't say I'm a fan of the idea, any more than I'm a fan of random abilities or HP.

    Aside from personal distaste though, what does C&S say about a player who decides to simply ignore the alignment he rolled and role play what he wants instead? Are the random alignments a toothless rule, or are alignments really straightjackets in C&S?

  4. what does C&S say about a player who decides to simply ignore the alignment he rolled and role play what he wants instead? Are the random alignments a toothless rule, or are alignments really straightjackets in C&S?

    Having not fully absorbed the whole rulebook yet, I can't answer this question authoritatively. My guess is that, like most old school RPGs, there are no (or few) penalties for failing to play according to one's rolled alignment beyond being considered a "bad" player. Back in the day, many gamers considered it bad form not to accept the results of the dice and, from personal experience, many of the best characters ever to appear in those old campaigns were not planned beforehand but the results of rolls contrary to the hopes of the players.

  5. In the Twin Cities, C&S 1st Edition was seen in 1977 by many gamers as a logical successor to D&D. "Logical" in the sense that it attempted to bring together actual medieval circumstances (cribbed without enough credit from Life in a Medieval Barony, IIRC) with mythic elements that were tantalizingly presented in a semi-coherent way. Much of it was simply ignored, and some of the more clearly developed elements, e.g. Water Trolls, Magickal Orders, etc., were often changed around. C&S therefore was seen as a more accessible "tool set" than D&D, as the latter was scattered over 3 booklets, 4 supplements, and a bunch of magazine articles. I recall quite distinctly an "early gunpowder and pirates" C&S game started up by some of the more inventive wargamers, and there were even stranger things done.

    Not unlike what happened with D&D when interpreted by So. Cal. gamers sans Gary and Dave's commentary, C&S was re-interpreted and re-purposed to fit what people wanted to play. The magic system (or "magick" if you will) was seen as some kind of Holy Grail - if you could figure out how to make it actually work in game play, you were clearly Destined for Greater Things.

    In retrospect, C&S 1st Edition seems full of grand ideas - and a few strange ones - cobbled together into a bricolage earnestly intended to be a successor to OD&D. But there's a lot of bad ideas and organization there, as well. I thought about running a C&S campaign again recently, and realized just how much work would be necessary to make it all "fit" what I wanted to do. "Aw, heck," I thought. "I might as well just use OD&D and build up from there."

  6. I ran and participated in several C&S campaigns starting about '78 through the late 80's. As I recall, Alignment was always a secondary consideration to Social Class in determining how the characters acted. James is correct that no penalties were attached to acting outside of your alignment. In fact, for Chaotic characters there could be substantial in game penalties for acting WITHIN their alignment.

    I still have my original book in the upstairs office. It's long since fallen apart and been transferred to a three ring binder. I find its nation creation rules an excellent guideline when developing feudal settings.

    I'm looking forward to James' comments about the 'Magick' system and how experience points are gained.

  7. I still like to break out the C&S boxed set from time to time. Way back then it was quite an eye opener to see how other mechanics and ways of implementing ideas were handled outside of what was presented in D&D. I can also see the occasional influence from C&S in N. Robin Crossby's Harnmaster RPG.

  8. Perhaps they were influenced by Moorcock. The Eternal Champion casts heroes in a similar light, i.e., Chaos is associated with Evil, while Law is associated with Good.

  9. One things is how is this any more parasitic than Arduin and other early games?

  10. I don't necessarily mind the idea of rolling for alignment. I actually like characters that are quite random and agree that some of the most memorable situations and gaming sessions come out of random characters.

    Marvel Super-Heroes, for example, allowed you to either choose the powers you wanted or go completely random for stats and powers. Those second types tended to be the best and do I, as a two-legged talking dog, take out Doctor Doom with my power of Plant Mimicry?

    And if you're willing to accept randomness in your ability scores, randomness in alignment makes even more sense. You have some say in life over your ability scores, not so much in alignment. If I really wanted my strength to go up, I can exercise more...I can't really just wake up today and decide I'm going to work towards being Chaotic Evil...well, I guess you maybe could, but it would be unusual.

  11. That right there is why I have not yet abandoned my initial impression that C&S is parasitic upon Dungeons & Dragons and the culture surrounding it.

    Why would you abandon it? The authors have as good as said that they were not happy with their D&D campaign and wished to improve on it. D&D wasn't mentioned by name, but it isn't going to be, is it. Remember that Wilf was a lawyer so he wasn't going to callously open himself to law suits or requests for licensing fees.

    They felt that the whole social structure thing was vastly under-presented in D&D, so they set out to develop a set of rules where social status and influence was vitally important. They chose to set their game in a world loosely based on a fantastic 12th Century France. As they say in the intro: "It could easily have been one of Howard's Hyborean kingdoms or the world of Tolkein. It could have been a purely imaginary world never before encountered in history, legend, or fiction."

    [If you get a chance, read Saurians for an interesting example of how it is possible to apply the social system models that are at the heart of C&S to an alien culture.]

    It is parasitic on D&D as much as both D&D and C&S are parasitic on medieval and fantasy wargaming campaigns. It draws heavily on both progenitors. Original D&D was a set of rules for turning a fantasy minatures campaign into something else. It was only with later editions that D&D left the wargaming tradition firmly behind (although it did reinvent the wheel a time or two). After all, the role-playing aspects were a lot more fun.

    [Oh and alignment is not just a random roll in C&S. That random roll marks where you are on the divide between Sainthood (1) and Diabolic (20). Alignment has become a characteristic...]

    [PS: The gamemaster was expected to give rewards for good role-playing of a couple of 100xp per session. Such as acting your alignment. Or even better, being conflicted and tormented by your natural alignment tendencies...]

  12. I'm not sure why you find it unlikely that people of Good and Evil alignments could develop respect for each other. Joan of Arc fought along side a child-raping and -killing baron. I've gamed with people who were nice to game with, who I respected as gamers but really were complete dicks; they weren't flamingly evil, but if you define the average human as neutral, I could put their alignment over the edge.

  13. Alignment has always been problematic, and I'd suggest that it is because players take it far too seriously. I always ran alignment as a guideline. In reality, people's alignments vary based on situation. Take Brad Pitt's character in SE7EN, for example--the trauma he experiences causes him to betray his alignment (I'd suggest lawful good). Or perhaps a better example would be LAW ABIDING CITIZEN.

    To that extent, I run alignment as a guideline and play fast-and-loose with it. I also try to distinguish between bad and evil. Plenty of people are bad, but not really EVIL. Similarly, Lawful doesn't necessarily equate with Good (see FASCISM). Chaos could represent natural selection, competition, laissez-faire capitalism, diffuse political power amongst various localities, etc. The cut-and-dry approach to alignment has some problems, and honestly, beyond simple dungeon-crawls, I've found to be unplayable in any sort of broader context--at least as alignment is strictly defined.

  14. I have no problem with Lawful being "basically" Good, and Chaotic being "basically" Evil. That's really how it's meant in the literary sources that D&D used for the concept, namely Anderson/Moorcock. The later separation of the concepts in AD&D is the place where I think more of the complication and argumentation comes from, and I don't see it as useful.

    I run my OD&D with attention to rules like: "Languages... While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional [alignment] tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack." [OD&D Vol-1, p. 12] Etc.

  15. Personally I like that alignment is cross cut with a good-evil pole and a chaotic-lawful pole and that they're not synonymous. It's like the difference between a line and a plane in geometry. It just leaves too much out of the equation otherwise when you weld evil to chaos and good to lawfulness. It's like the world seen only through a lawful good lens,or bias and shrinks the field of possibilities down to the kind of stereotypes that make really bad cliched fiction. All 1950's Superman, no Watchmen. I think the most interesting characters have sides of their personalities that cut across and contradict even the more complex AD&D alignments, let alone the reduced C&S ones. I'd like to see games without alignment rules.

  16. Not strictly related to C&S, but there is an excellent article by Len Lakofka in an old Dragon Magazine, where he gives some hints as to the possible concept underlying an alignment. He reports the following:

    (A) Absolute Order (High Law)
    (B) Harmony/Goodness
    (C) Justice/Vengeance
    (D) Knowledge
    (E) Evolution (Social Darwinism )
    (F) War

    (A) Preserve the Balance (High Neutrality)
    (B) Ambition
    (C) Nature
    (D) Aesthetics
    (E) The Four Elements
    (F) Battle Glory

    (A) Absolute Randomness (High Chaos)
    (B) Ambition
    (C) Life/Fertility
    (D) Evil/Death
    (E) Devolution
    (F) War

    I really like this division, and I have been using it as inspiration both for PCs, NPCs and organizations to a good effect.

  17. @jay: It's weird to say you'd like to see games without alignment. Except for D&D and immediate derivatives, and Palladium games, alignment is pretty rare in RPGs.

  18. @Prosfilaes

    You're right. My experience is almost exclusively with AD&D, Warhammer and Rifts (all Ed.), so that's my own ignorance talking.