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Saturday, December 3, 2011

D&D and Alignment

I use alignment in my D&D games, and I am unabashedly in favor of doing so. My Garnia campaign world is designed around the concept of an alignment based multi-planar war, so it's one of the key concepts in D&D/AD&D that I am totally OK with. Alignment is also so wholly and completely integrated into the system that removing it is more trouble than it's worth. Plus, since I am a Paladin, or so my wife's been telling me for decades, and now that test has confirmed, I kind of need alignments to keep my class functions. All that being said, I'd be lying if I said I use every part of the alignment rules completely as written, because, quite honestly, some of them are just plain stupid.

I guess I am mainly thinking of alignment languages here. I never really understood a reason why all sentient creatures that followed a similar moral code should have a secret language, known only to them, and only for as long as they adhered to that moral code, for the discussion of the precepts and concepts of that moral code. That is so blindingly stupid that I cannot even think of a good reason from a gamist perspective that they should have ever existed, so I can only conclude that they must have come from some piece of Appendix N literature that I never got around to reading or EGG really needed his players to be able to communicate with, say, Blink Dogs one day and that was the best idea he could come up with on the spur of the moment so we were stuck with it after that.

I never really used some of the other alignment rules as a DM either, partly because I pretty much never used the training times and costs rules, so there was a whole section of AD&D alignment rules that just fell by the wayside, not because I didn't feel it was necessary to occasionally nudge a player back towards their professed alignment, but just because I never gave away so much loot that it was a problem for me to suck it back out of the campaign via the somewhat artificial mechanism of training times and costs to level up**.

Experience point penalties and level loss for alignment change I have never used, but I can't say that I wouldn't, it just has never come up that I can recall. Actually, now that I think about it, I am pretty sure I have used it; once. The player was OK with it, he had a good in character reason for changing his alignment, but you do tend to shift to evil when your raison d'être is revenge on a Paladin. So I guess I am OK with that rule and declare it to not be a stupid waste of my time.

Speaking of Paladins, and to a lesser extent Rangers, Monks, Druids and anyone else whose class is based, at least partly, on their alignment; I ask this question of alignment haters out there- How do you really run Paladins (in particular) without an alignment system? Do you just substitute in a code of conduct or ethical code? That's the same thing as an alignment. Sure, I have always hate their "Detect Evil" sonar as much as the next DM and worked as hard as I could to nerf it as often as possible, pointing out the social restriction of using it in civilized society, having ambient evil screw with it's sensitivity, stuff like that; because otherwise it gets pretty tough to have a hidden evil infiltrator in any organization. Try hiring some Henchmen or Hirelings with a Paladin there to check their alignments, certain allegedly good Clerics and their Acolytes are unlikely to be brought on expeditions to some famous caves if you are playing with AD&D rules and have a Paladin in the party.

I started playing D&D with Holmes Basic, and it gave us an almost complete AD&D alignment axis, more than the Law vs. Chaos axis of Moorcock* including five alignments instead of the three included in OD&D (or later versions of Basic), but clearly showing where the other four fit; it wasn't a very difficult leap for me to the AD&D nine alignment system. Good vs. Evil was always a more important axis for me than the Law vs. Chaos axis, but I assume that's a relic of my upbringing in the vaguely Christian western world. Law vs. Chaos always seemed to me more like a battle between individualism and authoritarianism, which it really isn't, but that's how I perceived it when I was younger. Now I see it more as a function of civilization versus barbarism, and I still fall a little more on the side of barbarism in my heart of hearts. I do live in the woods after all.

AD&D 1st edition codified alignments between the PH and the DMG better than any version of the game since. AD&D 2nd edition made a valiant effort, but managed to screw Chaotic Neutral up so bad it became the alignment that was the sole preserve of lunatics; there is an entire generation of D&D players out there that cannot be trusted with a Chaotic Neutral character.

Lastly, in keeping with my desire to expand a little bit about my Garnia campaign world, if only to open it up for discussion amongst my blog followers, who are some damned smart and creative people in their own rights, I have been thinking about the idea of adding the OA style social class, ancestry/birth rights and honor to Garnia; I think it fits pretty well given the almost caste structure of Celtic society, and I am thinking that my next campaign set there will be in the earlier period, before they've had so long a time to evolve away from their ancient Gaulish, Celt-Iberian, British, Caledonian, Pictish & Irish roots. Some of this I can lift from the 2nd edition AD&D Celtic Campaign Sourcebook, other stuff I'll adapt from 1st edition OA and I am leaning towards making Social Class a new 3-18 stat, although apparently I am not the first person to have thought of this.

*Or Zelazny's Amber chronicles, also mentioned in Appendix N, and they have the virtue of me having read them, I've always wondered why people always jump immediately to the conclusion that D&D's alignment system is solely lifted from Elric)

**OK, essentially when you are training under a higher level mentor they are giving you experience, which is exactly the same thing you just earned on the job while you were adventuring. As an actual Armored Fighter, I can say that training under people better than you is a great experience, as is regular practice. So too is the practical experience of fighting in tourney or mêlée or going to war. Most of my real life XP as a Fighter comes from practice, in fact I got significantly better as a Fighter myself when I started teaching newer Fighters because it made me examine how I did things myself, what worked for me, and what would work for any one of my student Fighters.