Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chaos Theory

In the last post I wrote about me troubles with alignment in D&D. Over the last days I've been thinking about the dichotomy chaos vs order and why I do not like it in RPG settings. I found out that it is a philosophical issue.

I'll start with Telecanter's Priest of Chaos. Think about that: "Priest of Chaos"... You can not be a priest without having a religion. And there is no religion without at least some kind of rules, virtues, taboos etc. In other words, no religion without some kind of ordering. The Priest of Chaos is a philosophical impossibility when chaos is assumed to be the antithesis to order. The reason why Telecanter's priest can make his statements and still make sense is that Telecanter's "Priest of Chaos" is not a priest of chaos - he is in reality a Daoist. His "chaos" is not against order - it is against control! I'm fine with that as long we agree that "chaos" is a misnomer here.

There is another way to look at chaos vs order: One man's chaos is another man's home. For the romans, Celtic lands were barbaric, dangerous, lawless - in short: chaotic. But in reverse, roman life might seem honorless, confused, unsafe, misguided to the Celts. Here chaos vs order is not about which gods you pray to - its about the predictable vs the unpredictable. The Egyptians assigned foreigners to the god of desert, sandstorms and chaos. If you look at it like this, then praying to a god of chaos starts to make sense. What you want from him is not more chaos, but less. You want him to protect you from the unknown.

Our ancestors tried to understand the world just as we try to do today. But laking the tools of empiric science and confronted with devastating phenomena like famines and plagues every human being would be desperate to come up with an explanation, so at least he might sleep quietly at night without fear. Offering to gods is a perfect solution to this problem: ritually suffering or destroying own property creates the impression that you really can negotiate with that which is otherwise absolutely beyond your control. It means you can feel safe, that the world is predictable, that your life is ordered.

One last thought: All that may be philosophically interesting to you (or not) and it may make sense to you (or not). But that by itself does not mean that it should be part of an RPG setting. The reason an aspect should be included in a setting is that it produces fun situations. If it does not, as interesting and smart as it may be, it is still just fluff. You can have it in your setting if you want, but do not expect the players to get fun out of it in relation to the amount of work you spend constructing it. The measure for choosing themes for RPG settings should not be "hey players, look what neat philosophical idea I came up with". It should be "this idea will lead to kick-ass trouble".


Sunday, June 26, 2011

To align or not to align..

Telecanter started with a sort of a chaotic alignment creed. Alex adds to that the inverse for lawful alignment and goes on to explain alignment in his campaigns (in German). I could add the missing creed for the neutral priest, who said:
Lawful shmaful, chaos shmaos. meh!
...But that would be sort of cheap.

The truth is, in all those AD&D sessions I played long ago, I cannot remember one instance where the labels written on the character sheet next to "Alignment" really mattered. So what is the actual influence of alignment in play?

Granted, alignment can be a flag: "Look GM, I'm a neutral priest, hit me with lots of conflicts where I must decide which side to take". But really, is that the way it is used? D&D, in normal play, relies on group cooperation. If your priest decides not to act on a fight-by-fight basis (sorry, its "encounter-by-encounter" in D&D parlance), then your group "combos" will be weakened. In effect, the alignment will have little or no influence other than making a philosophical statement about your character.

Or think about it from a different perspective: Instead of saying that your character is affine or averse to order - a very abstract aspect - try to say explain why your character likes and tries to conform to this particular organization and why that same character has no regards whatsoever to that other one. That is a much more useful flag to a GM because it is concrete instead of abstract. And it automatically deepens the character by hinting at past experiences.

So, to recap: I'm all for droppin abstract alignments in favor of more concrete statements about the characters relationship to the setting.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

So, here is my first post in the reincarnation of my old blog. May this life be longer and more fruitful than the last one.