Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Trying To Make Sense Of Alignment
As a part of my work on streamlining the Pathfinder/d20 system, I have had to ask myself if I want to keep the alignment system, modify it, or drop it. I'm not a fan of alignment in general. I like the idea, but it seems too broad to really be useful, and all the spells and abilities that are tied to it opens up a can of worms. Having a "holy" sword that is "good" sounds nice - but how does a holy weapon to a deity of nature respond to a good-aligned cleric of artifice? You would think that despite both being essentially "good" they would still not get along. That's just something true about life - we can see another person as being good, but still disagree or even fight with them. Now, adding the second axis of law-chaos helps a little, so maybe the nature item is chaotic while the artifice is lawful, but that doesn't help enough. The problem is that so many things get filed under one general heading.
I was reading through Ultimate Campaign, looking at the alignment section in there, and I noticed something. That book gives a list of core concepts for each alignment, and I saw that sometimes the same thing appeared on different alignments. For example, the concept of "freedom" appears in chaotic good and chaotic neutral. But that made me wonder, maybe the system was backwards? Instead of the alignment as a top-level group with concepts under them, maybe instead it should be looked at as core concepts and how each alignment views them? So I though I'd try to work a short, trial list of core concepts, and how each alignment would view them:
So, take Freedom. The big question is, what does freedom mean to you? and each alignment reads it differently:
⦁ LG- Responsibility. Freedom means having to accept and stand for the consequences of your actions.
⦁ NG- Happiness. Freedom is what makes you a better person, allows you to grow.
⦁ CG- Conscience. Freedom is listening to your inner voice that tells you right from wrong, not being coerced or tricked by fickle feelings.
⦁ LN- Obedience. Freedom is when you fulfill your alotted place, where you belong, and do not strive or fight for more that you are, or are worthy of.
⦁ N- Detachment. Freedom is when you are removed from concern about the consequences of your actions, when you flow in harmony with your purpose.
⦁ CN- Independence. Freedom is when you can be your own self, your own identity, and are not beholden to anyone or anything else.
⦁ LE- Control. Freedom is when everything and everyone bows to your will.
⦁ NE- Amorality. Freedom is not caring, not tying yourself to some dogma that says you are such and such for whatever it is you do, having nothing over your head to rebuke your desires.
⦁ CE- Power. Freedom is when you have absolute power so that nothing and no one can stand in the way of your doing whatever it is that you want.
And let's try a few others:
⦁ LG- Faith. Love is belief in and obedience to a higher power (or principle) than the flawed and earthly.
⦁ NG- Sacrifice. Love is giving of oneself for another, putting aside your own desires, possibly even life, for a person or goal or principle.
⦁ CG- Amor. Love is a meeting of the eyes, a recognition of one unique identity to another.
⦁ LN- Agape. Love is loving thy neighbor as thyself, a gift given to all.
⦁ N- Respect. Love is acknowledging the divine in the other and oneself.
⦁ CN- Eros. Love is passion, desire, the fire of life.
⦁ LE- Pleasure. Love is what you desire, what feels good, lust.
⦁ NE- Chains. Love is bondage, to another or one's emotions.
⦁ CE- Betrayal. Love is a weakness, something to be used against your enemies.
⦁ LG- A Gift. Truth is greater than mortals, a gift of insight.
⦁ NG- Reason. Truth is found from careful thought and examination.
⦁ CG- Mutable. Truth is in the eye of the beholder.
⦁ LN- Tradition. Truth is following the wisdom of the ages.
⦁ N- Silence. Truth is found when one stops seeking it, and simply listens for it.
⦁ CN- Unknowable. Truth is beyond mortal understanding, everyone clings to their ideas and desires, no one knows the real truth.
⦁ LE- Absolute. Truth is what has been spoken, and there is no room for question and no other truth.
⦁ NE- Need. Truth is whatever you need it to be for your benefit.
⦁ CE- Will. Truth is what you desire and impose on reality, what you make of the world.
⦁ LG- Divine. Justice is right and wrong, as laid down by a higher power/principle.
⦁ NG- Relative. Justice is dependent on the thing done and the people involved.
⦁ CG- Forgiveness. Justice is only meaningful when it helps to change people for the better.
⦁ LN- Penance. Justice is paying what you owe for your misdeeds.
⦁ N- Balance. Justice is restoring balance.
⦁ CN- Revenge. Justice is an eye for an eye, a hurt for a hurt.
⦁ LE- Punishment. Justice is pain to alter behavior.
⦁ NE- Failure. Justice is for the stupid and incompetent who get caught.
⦁ CE- Cowardice. Justice is for the weak, who hide behind laws and law-bringers instead of doing what they will and enforcing it themselves.
⦁ LG- Purpose. Existence is finding and fulfilling one's purpose, to help both self and others.
⦁ NG- Compassion. Existence is understanding yourself and all life around you.
⦁ CG- Betterment. Existence is growth and struggle to improve oneself.
⦁ LN- Obligation. Existence is a duty to those who gave you life and those you share life with.
⦁ N- Discovery. Existence is constantly finding out new things about oneself and the world.
⦁ CN- Acceptance. Existence is knowing oneself and one's place in the world.
⦁ LE- Discipline. Existence is a wild chaos that must be tamed and brought to order.
⦁ NE- Fulfillment. Existence is experiences to be lived to the fullest.
⦁ CE- Struggle. Existence is survival of the fittest, nothing is given, it must be taken.
The thing that I like about this idea is that you might be different alignments for each concept. Or, even, you might be a different alignment for different aspects of each concept. For example, you might think that between people love is betrayal (CE), because you were once deeply scarred, and now believe that true love is faith (LG) in a higher, non-human power. That seems more "real" to me, people are rarely one single dimension, we have contradictions and exceptions and places where we just don't fit into the box.
Really though, the question is: what good is having an alignment system? Why do we bother? Why not just hand-wave it and say it's "role playing" and leave it at that? Alignment is funny since it is a subjective thing given objective mechanical application. There are items with alignments, that will fight any owners who don't match. There are the detect good/evil/law/chaos spells, and attacks that do extra damage against certain alignments. So it's not just used as a guide to role-playing, it actually comes up in the game. Which is where I have a problem with it. It's a little too vague to hang so much on mechanically. If Detect Evil can instantly identify a murderer that short-circuits the whole point of having an investigation, and if it can't then that limits the usefulness of the spell. I would rather make it role-playing only, just a guide and inspiration for how the character acts, and drop it from the rules altogether. Still, I think of the aspects in Fate, how they are both benefit and hindrance, and that seems more like a system I could get behind using. But it would mean essentially adding a third axis to the system.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do. For now I'm dropping alignment from my own little home-brew. It gives too many problems for too little benefit. But it has just enough of an appeal to make me want to find or forge a system to use it.