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Friday, April 6, 2012

Bonus Post- B/X Alignment Musings

I know I have been rushing trying to get all Norse stuff in during April here for the A-Z Posting Blitz, but I have been thinking about Alignment in B/X D&D since I rolled up all those pregens for my new Norse campaign and wanted to get some of those thoughts out before I forgot about them. I know that OD&D had the Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic Axis, and so does B/X, but I never really gave it much thought because I started playing D&D with Holmes Basic which had a proto-AD&D Alignment axis, and I never saw or heard about the older, original three alignment axis until much later, so when I saw the B/X version of Alignment I assumed it was dumbed down from Holmes or AD&D for the younger audience it was aimed at and never really gave it much more thought.

Now it occurs to me that I was just wrong. I was wrong first because I was misinformed, original D&D used the same Alignment system as B/X, which was later adopted by BECMI and Cyclopedia D&D. Secondly, I was wrong because I think the Alignment system in D&D, as opposed to AD&D, is not a simplified system at all, it just doesn't encompass all of the moral choices that a Character can make in a game, rather it is about where their ultimate loyalties lie. AD&D muddied the waters there, it was AD&D that made Alignment not so much a statement of allegiance, but a moral code. In OD&D, B/X, BECMI & Cyclopedia D&D, Law represents a commitment to civilization, Chaos to those forces that oppose it. To be fair, they don't do the best job of explaining this clearly.

I am not sure how I feel about this to be honest. I have lived most of my life with the nine-fold Alignment system. I have defended it, often, against it's various detractors. I have found it to be a useful role-playing tool for helping to get players to consistently play their Characters with the same moral and ethical standards from game to game, and I think we all know players that need the help out there. Mostly, I think in AD&D Alignment terms most of the time. So this conclusion that Law and Chaos aren't really moral/ethical/behavioral outlooks on life, but rather an allegiance to the concept of being pro or anti civilization, while groundbreaking for me, leaves me at another one of those places where I have to wonder whether AD&D was a good idea or not, and I grew up with AD&D, it's like asking me if I love my mother or America.

I consider almost every day switching from B/X to AD&D. AD&D is like home to me, I know it like the back of my hand. B/X is the experiment for me, so I can get some experience playing the "other" D&D game that was out back then. I have to say that there is a whole lot of stuff I like in B/X D&D, stuff I remember using back in the day in AD&D that I probably took from the Expert book and other stuff like the way that all the spells are better, Morale is easier to use, and probably a dozen other things; but I keep defaulting back to AD&D at weird times too, like when I rolled D6s for all the Thief's Hit Points or the way I keep thinking of all the ACs as starting at 10.

All that said, the more that I think about it, the more I realize the way I have always played AD&D was closer in spirit to OD&D or B/X, probably because I started with Holmes; but I whittled away the rules from AD&D that I didn't like or didn't understand. I won't go through the usual litany of AD&D rules that get listed as superfluous, everyone knows them by now, and each one of them has their supporters and detractors; I support some myself and dislike others.

It does make me think though, that the D&D Next team should maybe be looking at Labyrinth Lord as a model for the 5th edition of D&D. Labyrinth Lord already has "modules" for what you want to add to your game, from "Original Edition Characters" to the "Advanced Edition Companion" you cover the D&D games from the time period of 1974-1985. If they added an "AEC II" that covered all the crazy late first edition AD&D stuff and an "Oriental AEC", we'd be covered up to the advent of 2nd edition. Some sort of "2nd edition companion" would get us through the 1990s, although I know most OSR types hate post Gygax era TSR D&D, it would at least give us completeness and show the robustness of the system.


  1. Nice post. I've considered before that when I was playing AD&D in the 80's it was actually closer to an expanded Holmes, since we ignored a lot of the extra details of AD&D (weapon vs AC, material components, etc).

  2. Good post. My experience moving from Moldvay/Cook B/X to AD&D created a little confusion amongst our group with respect to sorting out the additional "refinements" of the 9-point alignment system.

    In retrospect, I think that at that time we changed from an alignment system that modeled the struggle "out there", in the world, to a more elaborate system that modeled a character's subtleties of ethics and morality.

    Most of that had to do with the descriptions and examples in the relevant alignment sections of the rules.