Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Case For One Axis Alignment


What's wrong with this? Within the confines of D&D, it makes sense. Law is associated with people and society, chaos is monsters and sorcerers and elder gods and crap like that. Law is organized, chaos seeks to destroy everything. Do we really need a Good-Evil axis as well? Using a Real World view within a game is doomed to failure. How many times do people have arguments about whether or not it's evil to kill orcs? Baby orcs? Are orcs inherently evil, incapable of performing good acts? That's an ethical question and quite honestly not much fun for a game, at least for me. But it's also irrelevant if we ditch the Good-Evil axis and focus on upon Law-Chaos. Orcs are chaotic and seek to bring down civilization. Killing orcs makes perfect sense, there's no need to worry about such actions being good nor evil. It also means there's no need to define rival human nations as good or evil, either. Yeah, they fight each other and disagree on everything, but they'll always join up to destroy orc settlements that threaten their lands. Further instead of pigeonholing PCs into a specific, required behavior, we allow them act more "realistically". This does of course mean chaotic PCs are actually on the side of the monsters; or maybe they're just crazy. Being chaotic doesn't mean you support a particular group. It's entirely possible within the game to be chaotic and truly enjoy society, yet bring upon its downfall. Thieves thrive only within lawful environments, but are directly at odds with law. I suppose they're chaotic, but less extreme than orcs. And no one would be that upset if you killed a bunch of thieves who were threatening the city, would they?

So...suppose we dump Good-Evil from AD&D. Now what? Nothing changes, really. The problem with paladins and assassins working within the same party go away as they're probably both lawful anyway. Yes, assassins kill people for money, but if they're using their talents to kill orcs, why would a paladin care? Really, getting rid of the ethical component of alignment makes the game much more gamey, back to its roots in wargaming as opposed to a thin excuse to use funny voices and engage in amateur theatre. It turns back into an Us-vs-Them boardgame, people vs. monsters. It's also much more human-centric. Elves and dwarves and hobbits, yes they like humans, but they're still "different", and thus not trusted. Humans are primary with demi-human races taking a backseat. And honestly, that resembles what I want out of a swords and sorcery rpg...evil human sorcerers and strange monsters working together to bring about the downfall of humanity, a motley group of heroes banded together to thwart the threat. All that other tripe like half-dragons and gay teleporting elves can stay firmly within the realm of "modern gaming".


  1. Yeah, I've been trying to figure out how to make the characters into something other than "thieving, murderous hoboes." Looks like (a) making the monsters an actual threat to civilization and (b) making them more alien and scary is a start.... Letting it all just be a game would help.... But yeah, the good-evil bit in AD&D would appear to muddy the waters far too much....

  2. Hmmm. I've been using (or, at least flipping back and forth between) a system of Law-Chaos and steadfast-corrupt. Blatantly stolen from Mythos (Best. CCG. EvaR.) alternately with Good-Evil & steadfast-corrupt. mainly, it adds some granularity to neutral and keeps the extremes very limited, generally to non character types or things. basically, you choose sides in the big cosmic axis, and then specify how well you live up to it. Steadfast Law tries real hard, whereas corrupt Law keeps trying, but secretly keeps giving in to the siren song of -I dunno, huffing acrylics ?

    Very Steve Ditko-esque, but comics are agood model for most FRP setting when it comes to morality.

    Also, eliminating neutral as a category works for me - I mean, realy what the hell does neutral mean ? It means 'enemy to all' as far as I can tell.

  3. I wouldn't eliminate Neutral as an alignment, because it really means, "neutral to the conflict between humans and monsters." I suppose elves would be neutral if they were more fae and less human-like. They really don't care either way as long as they're left alone. Perhaps Neutral could just be renamed "Natural" or something; that makes Druids much more defined and helps differentiate between the environment and some conflict between warring humans and orcs. Either way, you're right, Neutral means they're inimical to both Law and Chaos. I'm fine with that.

  4. Alignment has been associated with language, too. How does that affect your human vs. monster paradigm of alignment?

  5. Alignment languages are kind of stupid but justifiable in-game. I don't see any reason to ditch them completely. If I can buy into dragons and magic, why not buy into a language shared between supporters of chaos?