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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4 Comments:

Anonymous Jonas said...

I take it you never played a planescape game. You should.

Sunday, June 26, 2011 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Schroeder said...

I agree with the sentiment. The GM and the players have to make alignment important, if they want it to be important. Alignment also works as a simple us vs. them categorization ("it's ok to kill orcs") or as a simple complication ("this sword will only bear a lawful wielder" or "this spell only works against chaotic creatures"). This is how I use alignment most of the time. A very, very simple tool.

I actually dislike alignment dictating player decisions too much. If alignment is not abstract enough, if it influences individual decisions, then we're getting closer to the "but it is what my character would do" excuse.

I think allegiance to factions is more interesting in terms of plot and decision making. The only other aspect I like about the crude alignment distinction is that it ties the various struggling factions into a greater struggle. In the campaigns I'm running in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, the "meta struggle" if you like is the struggle between the wilderness and civilization, the cities and the ruins, the new frontier towns and the natives. In this context, I find that the old law vs. chaos distinction allows me to better improvise quick and dirty motivations.

Sunday, June 26, 2011 7:44:00 PM  
Blogger lior said...

Alex, you're right of course. Whether and how much alignment matters is up to the players and the GM. They can take it up and deepen it's meaning if they like.

This talk about a struggle between Chaos and Order reminds me of the Egyptian pantheon. There, chaos (Seth) is strongly linked to the desert, to decay and to wilderness. I understand that chaos not to be wilderness in our modern, romanticized notions but wilderness in the sense of hazard (as in random, senseless destruction), injustice and all that goes against what humans associate with "order" in the widest sense. So I guess my critique is also a philosophical one. I find it hard to see "chaos" in elves building dwellings on trees... After all, that is just another ordering, another "culturization" of nature.

Monday, June 27, 2011 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Schroeder said...

Indeed, the Labyrinth Lord rules list elf as neutral. :)

I guess Telecanter was also trying to find a pro-humanoid interpretation of Chaos. The lords of chaos in Moorcock's books were basically against all civilization, tree hugging or not.

Monday, June 27, 2011 10:37:00 PM  

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