Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A different take on alignments

An interesting discussion over at the Piazza's Dark Dungeon forum, made me think about alignments again. I am wondering if the original OD&D system of only the Law - Chaos axis might not be more suitable for what I am about to present than the more complex double axis system introduced in AD&D. I believe the Law/Chaos duality came from Michael Moorcock's fiction, and before that from Babylonian mythology. This could lead to endless philosophical discussions. However, playing Red Dead Redemption on my XBox 360 the other day, I was wondering if the Old West analogies might not work just as well. The question would then become whether you operate within the law (Lawful) or outside the law (Chaotic).

This is quite different from the early Arnesonian concept of Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. We know that in Western movies, the good guy can sometimes be the Sherrif, but just as often he will be the Outlaw working to bring down corrupt officials. So lets be clear that Chaotic does not mean evil, even if there in many scenarios will be more villainous elements working outside the law.

This take on alignments is linked to the idea of reputation. Many different systems of reputation have been invented for D&D, but to keep it simple, lets say that reputation equals your character's level. 9th level represents the point where you have truly carved out a name for yourself that is, reached Name Level. Reputation is based on level, but is also linked to alignment. At first level, nobody cares who you are or what kind of person you are, but as you gain levels, people will have heard of you and your exploits. This is different from many D&D games where alignment is secret. Using this model, a high level character is pretty much a celebrity. People you meet will know who you are and what you have done, good or bad. More importantly, their reactions will depend on your reputation. A reputation as a Chaotic will gain you respect among criminals, orcs and evil wizards, but most cityfolk will react negatively towards you. Borrowing ideas from The Dark Dungeons discussion, a +4 bonus to charisma (or a -4 penalty) might be appropriate. Prices for weapons, equipment and lodging in towns will normally be higher for a chaotic. OTOH, buying shady goods from smugglers will probably not be an option for a Lawful character. (Note: I would also charge higher prices to characters using Cha as a dump stat regardless of reputation).

Chaotic Realms
While most civilized places will favor lawfuls, there will be regions, city districts, or even kingdoms where the situation is reversed. In a Pirate City, a known lawman will be viewed with suspicion if not outright attacked. A Champion of Chaos may find that the Black Gates of Mordor will open for him.

In general, it is more tempting to play an unscrupulous character. Because of this, I do suggest making it harder for these guys and rewarding those who play lawful characters and act according to their alignment.



  1. I think for most games this would work great. Some settings (like Tekumel) have an approach that's sort of interwoven into the world, but those are the exception rather than the rule.

  2. I believe Three Hearts and Three Lions was at least as strong an influence on the OD&D alignment system as Moorcock.

    Along similar lines to what you're talking about here, I posted some time ago about imposing a false wargaming origin on alignment, where Law would be the loyalist side and Chaos the rebels in a civil war.