13 January 2013

The Good, the Bad, Etc.

Whenever I contemplate alignment rules, I become more dissatisfied with the very concept of them. There is little to justify their existence outside of settings in which a dualistic cosmic struggle is affecting the universe (or at least the campaign world). Apart from the situations presented in the worldviews of Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, Zarathustra, and the like, what excuse is there for forcing all beings to align with Law, Chaos, or Neutrality?

Supposedly, the earliest presentation of the alignment system was in the pages of Chainmail wherein the various fantasy units were designated as Lawful, Chaotic, or Neutral in order to guide players as to which units would be willing to fight on the same side. In other words, it all boils down to Good Guys, Bad Guys, and all the rest. Does it really really matter what a unicorn's views on the nature of Law are? Is it of any consequence what an ogre's thoughts on the nature of Chaos are and where he fits into the scheme of things? In the end, unicorns and ogres don't work well together and the ogre will try to devour you. That's all that matters.

Let's translate the essence of that functional alignment system in role-playing terms. An adventurer who willingly allies himself with ogres is probably one of the Bad Guys. An adventuress who is permitted by a unicorn to ride it is probably one of the Good Guys. Is the adventurer comfortable or uncomfortable with the laws of society (whatever laws or society they may be)? Is the adventurer more concerned with the common welfare or self interest? Is he more of a Luke Skywalker or a Han Solo? It doesn't matter! You can be on the side of Good or you can be on the side of Bad. If you have trouble deciding you are Undecided. If you decide to choose neither, then you are actively Neutral.

One may split hairs about one person's evil being another person's good, but this is not about philosophy. This proto-alignment system is purely about identifying characters in a role-playing game as either Good Guys or Bad Guys from the point of view of the players (including the referee). There are no alignment languages; there are no magic items that can only be used by characters of Bad alignment; there are no spells to detect whether someone is Good or Bad. The proto-alignment system is strictly a meta-rule designed for the convenience of the referee and the players.

Good: Those of a Good alignment generally try to do the right thing. Some even dedicate their lives to it. Pursuing justice, protecting the innocent, and seeking to alleviate the suffering of others are three examples of a Good agenda.

Bad: Those of a Bad alignment pursue their own ends with little or no regard for any suffering that may result. Some even go out of their way to cause suffering.

Undecided: Those of an Undecided alignment are unable to commit themselves to actively pursuing a Good or Bad agenda.

Neutral: Those of a Neutral alignment are unwilling to support a Good or Bad agenda and prefer to promote a balance of the two if not an absence of both.

This proto-alignment system may be the one I finally choose. Even if I use the words Law and Chaos in place of Good and Bad, these will probably be the working definitions in effect in my old school games. Just so you know.

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