Sunday, October 1, 2017

Alignment in my game

[alignment rules at the bottom, alignment rant here]

I'm sure most regular players of D&D could recite one or more anecdotes of arguments over whether a character of that alignment would really act in such a way, or of the party's "Lawful Good" paladin policing other characters' actions like an authoritarian/officious dick (after which the other characters then go behind the paladin's back when the orc-prisoner requires "special" incentive to talk, but the paladin won't allow "torture").

I know I've had my fair share of such arguments (and I've been both the paladin policing others' behavior and the thief sneaking a few extra gps from a newly discovered treasure). When refereeing, I even used to try to dutifully track characters' drifts in alignment per Gygax's suggestion, despite the fact that the changing "alignment" didn't affect anyone who wasn't a paladin, ranger, or druid.

Then, several years ago, I got into a particularly egregious argument that laid bare to me the paucity of the whole learned tradition of writing "Chaotic Neutral" (or "True Neutral" or "Lawful Evil") on a character as if it determined anything. The argument was over what to do about some gnoll children (re: orc children) left in the gnoll-fortress after we killed the adults. My "evil" character was arguing to save the gnoll children (to sell into slavery, sure, but still, not kill them), and a "good" fellow-adventurer wanted to exterminate them all because they were future threats to "Goodness".

It wasn't the proposed fate of the imagined monster-children that got to me, but that anyone could associate the word "good" with an idea that seems to me self-evidently evil, or at best morally grey--and yet, no one else at the table even flinched at the idea that a "good" character could propose such a thing in the fiction and still be considered "good". And thus I learned--if people at the table have different notions of what "good" is metaphysically, and how characters can "be good" in the shared fiction, then alignment as a traditionally included character element is empty and pointless.

So I worked up my own rules for alignment, rules for my own games when I run them, and which would be explicit as to what any particular "alignment" required of its adherents. The group within which the argument arose balked at these rules--"I don't want to have to join a club to be good," said one--but subsequent groups I've formed/played with have used them without problem, and even adapted them further with new alignments.

In my game, "alignments" are mystery cults in the best tradition of the classical world, requiring initiation, and with initiation into higher "circles" revealing certain "truths" about the world. Each has its own "tongue" of metaphors and imagery that can be used to convey one's identity within the cult, or to convey certain truths ungraspable by non-initiates.

I ultimately retained the terms Lawful and Chaotic, Good and Evil, because they're familiar and easy to use. Characters can even be "Lawful Good" still, because any character can join up to two cults (but not mutually exclusive cults, e.g. no "Lawful Chaotics"). I've also added a few new alignments with my constant tinkering (Arcane, Clannish, and Natural); and, because Gygax's AD&D Player's Handbook is close to my heart, I restricted the demi-humans in my games from certain alignments.

Characters may not begin play as Evil
Humans may not be of Clannish alignment; only Magic-Users may begin play as Arcane
Halflings and Dwarves may not be Lawful, nor may they begin play as Arcane
Elves and Free Goblins nay not be Good, Evil, or Lawful
Man-Apes may not be Lawful or Clannish, and may not begin play as Arcane

Good characters may not initiate combat, nor may they take any part in the slave trade (except perhaps to buy slaves for the purpose of freeing them). Furthermore, on returning from an expedition, a Good character may donate up to 10% of treasure earned from that expedition to the local Good cult to receive a commensurate bonus in xp (1 xp :: 1 gp)

Lawful characters must carry dead comrades out of the dungeon for proper burial. Like Good characters, Lawful characters may donate up to 10% of earned treasure to a Lawful cult to gain a commensurate xp bonus

Clannish characters are Dwarves or Halflings. They must carry their fallen comrades out of the dungeon for burial, and may send a stipend of up to 10% of earned treasure to the Clan for commensurate bonus xp (yep, this is just "Lawful" for demi-humans, and still needs tinkering ... but every Halfling character who has come through my game has been either unaligned or some species of Chaotic asshole)

Chaotic characters may not let an insult go without responding to it in kind. They earn 5% bonus xp for three conditions, 1) earning the most treasure from the dungeon, 2) killing the most monsters, 3) surviving where another player-character died, all for a cumulative maximum of +15%

Arcane characters may not sell, lend, or give away magic items that are useful to themselves. They gain 5% extra xp from any expedition on which they acquire any magic item, and also earn 50 xp per spell level of any new spell learned (excluding those learned from character advancement)

Natural characters may not allow the unnatural destruction of any natural wonder (e.g. the Great Barrier Reef, or the Grove of the Silver Unicorn), and they must attempt to destroy or drive off any undead encountered. Per expedition, Natural characters may cumulatively earn 5% extra xp for destroying undead, 5% extra for aiding any nature spirit encountered in some way (e.g. naiads, dryads, woodland-Elves, etc.), and 5% extra xp for overcoming natural encounters (with wolves, plants, insects, etc.) without combat, for a +15% maximum

Evil cults are rumored to exist, but must be discovered through interactions in play. Evil characters insist that "evil" is an unfair appellation, that rumors of human sacrifices to Evil powers are distortions of cultic metaphors, and that all these restrictions on behaviors propounded by other cults just restrict the pursuit of human pleasure. Everyone agrees, however, that the best way to find one's way into the mysteries of Evil is to be nice to cats.

Finally, beyond this baseline restrictions and bonuses, there are means by which characters may advance into the higher circles of initiation for each cult ... but I've rambled on long enough, so I'll detail such things, and the benefits thereby gained another time.

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