Friday, 6 February 2009

To be chaotic or lawful?

A fairly recent blog post about evil campaigns It’s So Good To Be Bad! on Dungeon Mastery had a comment added to it by "GiacomoArt" that has really got me thinking about alignment in D&D.

Anyone worth telling a (non-comedic) story about has a dark side, but the biggest problem with “evil” campaigns has nothing to do with logistics or morality, but with the very psychology that compels gamers to call them “evil”. You can tell lots of interesting stories about “antiheroes”, but however wrongheaded, selfish, or desperate an antihero may be, he ultimately sees himself as reasonable and justifiable, not “evil”. You can be sure that even Adolph Hitler, arguably the most evil individual in the history of the history, saw himself as a hero. What we call evil, he would have called, well… ANYTHING else. Something along the lines of “pragmatic” or “expedient”. Evil is something that the other guy does. So call them “dark” campaigns, or “gritty” or “edgy” or even “sadistic”… but calling them “evil” just turns the whole thing into a self-conscious farce.

I agree wholeheartedly with this point of view.

When Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created Dungeons and Dragons, it was pretty clear that the view of the universe they want with was absolutely black and white in terms of alignment. They had three types: Law, Neutral and Chaos. Law, supposedly represents your good guys and Chaos your bad guys, while Neutrality are animals and anything else that doesn't fit. Which, if you try to map this back into anything you can relate to, would put *everyone* into neutral.

Perhaps this was why later editions then added alignment subtypes: good, evil and neutral. These then get appended on to the end of the original trio of types to form nine types; e.g. you can be Chaotic Good, meaning something like you will break laws to perform good deeds. Or something. Maybe this is Robin Hood. Who knows. Its only a game and who cares if it doesn't really match reality... only after accepting this for years and years, I now think its completely flawed. As the above poster points out, no one sees themselves as being *evil*.

I suspect that the original trio of alignments are based on the philosophies of natural law which is based on their idea that there is a sort of ultimate good and ultimate evil in the universe and all good and evil flows from that. Well, that's a loose description of it anyway. I don't think many of us subscribe to such a simplistic world view though, daily life is much too complex to be shoe horned into such a simple philosophy.

Why does Lawful equate to good anyway? Who's laws are being followed, exactly? If they are the suppressive laws of a brutal tyrant who delights in torture and human sacrifice, lawful is not a good thing. Chaotic would be. Perhaps that is why the original alignment trio were expanded - but it's still too simplistic. Perhaps it needs replacing with an allegiance system or broad morality or ethics rating. I'm still thinking this through.

As nobody ever thinks of themselves as being evil and following laws, or breaking them, doesn't make you one or the other (just clean or a criminal within the society being modelled in the game world), I wonder what could replace this system to give a basic idea of a character's motivation and / or morality?


Ben said...

I agree with the recursion king.. All the most evil men on the earth thought they were doing good by doing what we see is evil.. Take another example of the Roman empire.. they attacked and stole whole country's in the name of the empire so the Romans could survive... they saw that as a good thing... also what about Iraq and Afghanistan.. whats with all the violence over there... the Taliban think they are doing good by trying to get enemy forces out of there country.. if you were in there shoes then you would do the same.. So taking the whole idea of evil thinking there good gives a good a real life gaming exp.. this also opens many doors which were closed, an example: a paladin in Ad&d says he can only be lawful good... but why? what about a lawful evil, why should good have all the power and evil have non.. it just seems very bias to me personally.. what makes the good side good? what makes evil side evil as if you are evil you will think your good... so it makes a whole new side to the story..

I love this idea and it makes both evil and good equal in power on a player point of view and in turn changes the whole bias view on the game! ;-)
Nice post mate :-D

The History Follower said...

I first heared of paladins in the old computer game Quest for Glory. Their description of them always made me think paladins should be Netural Good. Good above all else, even unjust laws.

I know there's some .pdf someone was selling on RPG Drive Thru about expanding aliments. I've only flipped through the demo of it but it looked kind of interesting.

The Recursion King said...

Do you know what this PDF is called, I wouldn't mind taking a look. I'm still working on a replacement system, which I may blog about, but so far I have the fuzzy idea of allegiances (which automatically create allies and enemies) and a cruelty / kind yard stick measure. By no means complete.

m17hr4nd1r said...

When I wrote this originally, it was a lot clearer. Damn wikis.