Sunday, May 29, 2016

Alignment & Inclination

One thing I never knew until I started this crazy project of mine is that right from the start Alignment in D&D was supposed to be a character's religion. Some characters worshiped Law. Others worshiped Chaos. Neutral characters were unaffiliated.

Although in no way sanctioned by the game, you could have easily replaced Law and Chaos with Catholicism and Protestantism, Christianity and Paganism, or to put it in tune with the 60's & 70's the Establishment and the Counter-Culture. Ultimately it all boiled down to the Us and Them. I will say that spells like "Detect Alignment" now make more sense. It's not really a spell so much as a character's ability to judge another character and know just what side of the fence they sit on. As well as does penalizing characters for alignment changes or going to a heavenly abode based on it.

Hmm. Considering that last one, how did we not pick it up as a matter of religion?

For us, back in the 80's, alignment was a general statement of personality. As we grew to become teenagers and began to realize that moods do swing and can cause a person act chaotic one day and lawful the next, the system began to break down. I remember a friend of mine and I talking about it and coming to the conclusion that the only real alignment is True Neutral since it's the only one which allows for such waffling. With this said, Frank still wasn't going to let me dodge Detect Alignment spells by simply thinking good or evil thoughts.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and now I have my own game to build. I don't think that we as a society are as squeamish about religion as we used to be. We forget just how antagonistic the different denominations of Christianity used to be towards one another. My father, who was Catholic, used to love to tell the story of how he was almost ex-communicated from the church for playing the tuba in a parade with some friends who were in a group sponsored by the Episcopalians (Or possibly the Methodists? I forget). Yeah, there was a reason separation of church and state was seen in a better light back then than it is now.

Nowadays, no fantasy world is complete without some named religious orders of the game world's design. Alignment is still around but largely for nostalgia's sake and as a general statement of a characters opinion towards morality and society. My system - the Red EFT - is shamelessly fueled by nostalgia. If you haven't noticed it yet, I go out of my way to re-purpose established terms such as Hit Points, Morale, and Prime Requisites.

I had to let it go.

The problem with alignment is that the word itself always struck me as a conscious choice a character makes. They choose to align themselves with the forces of Lawful Goodness or Chaotic Evil. Meanwhile, what we really want is to know a character's nature - who they are when their guard is down. That's why I chucked Alignment in favor of Inclination, as in how one may be inclined to act in any given situation. Characters don't have to act according to their inclination, they just usually do.

And in a move that will probably make me no friends whatsoever, I also tossed out Law and Chaos. You can still add Lawful or Chaotic to a character's traits but they no longer hold the celestial bearing they once had. Why? Because they never made much sense to me. Consider Robin Hood and the Sherrif of Nottingham. Granted there is no definitive Robin Hood story but it can be said that Robin is usually a Chaotic Good character while the sherrif is Lawful Evil. And yet, Robin does act according to laws of his own making and will continue to do so until King Richard the Lion-Hearted returns. Meanwhile the Sherrif upholds the law but he does so arbitrarily which sows more chaos than order.

I hear he once even tried to cancel Christmas. The Bastard!

I chose to replace Law & Chaos with.... And do swallow whatever you have been drinking so you don't spit it out all over the screen.

Violent and Peaceful.

And the nine alignments they combine to create:

Violent Good | Neutral Good | Peaceful Good
Violent Neutral | True Neutral | Peaceful Neutral
Violent Evil | Neutral Evil | Peaceful Evil

Yes, I know it lacks a certain monster truck bombastity that Law Vs Chaos brings, but Violent and Peaceful make more sense since they don't rely on external forces for definition. They are expressions of the ways in which people solve problems.

Violent characters hit problems head-on. When something opposes them they force a way through it. As I had been writing on a different blog post recently, we have been cultured to accept violence as always being a bad thing but it is really just a means to an end. The same violence which causes a violent evil character to set a house ablaze is the force which pushes a violent good character to charge into the burning building to save the sleeping orphans within it.

Peaceful characters, on the other hand, prefer to not make waves. They bandy about the issue until the best possible answer can be found. This doesn't mean they are incapable of aggression. They are just more passive in the aggression they mete out. A peaceful evil character might use ones political connections to use some obscure law to swindle the house out from under the sleeping orphans. Meanwhile a peaceful good character might organize a fund drive to buy it back for after the peaceful evil character has put it up for sale.

By now you are probably thinking, "Alright, yeah that makes more sense but how on earth do you run an RPG for peaceful characters? At least with Law & Chaos the violence is always an option. What do I do when one of my characters wants to hold a bake-sale?"

Well, a few things about the Red EFT itself....

  • The GM is more a representative of the game world than the runner of adventures. If a player want to run a peaceful character it is up to them to figure out how to make it work. 
  • There are no experience points gained for killing creatures. Your character levels up when the GM tells you it is time to level up. Leveling up is not really a reward after all, just a way to keep the game interesting by changing its dynamics (and that's not just my game, that is all games). 
  • And last but not least, I think it will make for a more entertaining game as it forces people to find different ways to solve a problem while still keeping their sense of character in tact.

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