Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Considering Alignment Anew

Yes, I have debated whether or not to use Ye Auld's Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic alignment system before.  I more-or-less dismissed it here and brought it back here, both over a year ago.  Sigh.  But I'm back with renewed vigour on the project and I find myself going back to my original rejection of Alignment as-is.  I'd stress that this is purely in regards to Under the Dying Sun and not Ye Auld Game in general; as I posted before, the triune alignment system works very well for most of the straight-up fantasy settings I can imagine.  But, as I said in the first post on the subject: 

...grand cosmic conceptions of Chaos and Order seem a bit alien to my vision of Athas [obviously not Athas anymore]. This is an intellectually impoverished world where people are mostly just trying to not die from dehydration, falling into silt lakes, or being eaten by Halflings...er...Wild Men.

And mechanically,  it seems useless as there is no Protection from Evil Discipline or alignment-bearing magic swords.

I find myself going back to the idea of what might be called "Basic Instinct" (although I'm of an age where I don't think I could actually use that name without making a beaver joke).  The idea was for the player to define one elemental urge around which the character operates: Food, Love, Sex, Power, Knowledge, Freedom, and so on.  It won't have any mechanical meaning, but it would serve as a kind of one word resume of back-story and motivation and all those other role-playing concepts that are cool and all, but which take up a lot of time to create and which seem to have really been a waste of time when you die five minutes into the game, having been eaten by an ill-tempered weed or a crafty, psychic octopus.

Still, even a one-word thing might be more work than you want to demand from a player.  Maybe the concept isn't worth keeping at all.  I'm struggling on this one.


  1. I liked the system used in d20 modern. Stripped down you have each player pick some things that they owe allegiance to. This could be a person, themselves, an ideal or anything else they want to pick. You then put them in order from most influence over the character to least. While mostly a roleplaying guide you could tie items or spells to it: A sword that only works for those that have Preserving as their first allegiance or such. Your concept is pretty cool though.

  2. Gee, that's actually pretty similar. Hunh.

  3. Sadly it was not used, as it was such a generic game, so the best they could give was 'Evil' or 'Law' and it was just used as a stand-in for alignment. At least Rouges put down 'Self' and you could resolve 'What would the paladin do' with 'Did he put Law or Good first on the character sheet?'

  4. Alignment is about setting up implicit conflict, usually with those of other alignment.

    BUT - If we apply the Rule of 3 differently:

    In UTDS we already have the character vs. the Land (the harsh setting), and due to race and classes, we've set up the character vs. others (do they trust you, hate you, because of what you are and do) - so why not have Alignment as the character vs. themself.

    Let's face it, most players are gonna play their character's as neutral, self-centred, survivalists - especially at 1st Level. So don't let them pick Neutral - that's an empty choice. Law and Chaos don't fit, it's a cop out.

    So why not pose the question, 'what would the character put themself at great risk for?' - The trick is that is has to potentially involve them acting against their better judgement. Drives and passions could change over time, due to new experiences. As you say, a person, an ideal, a settlement, a goal etc. An Achilles Heel but maybe also something that drives them further into the unknown or a spur to advancement (I will become the best slayer I can be so I can...)

    Whether you could rely on the player sticking to that drive I don't know, I suppose they could roll against WIS, to go against it if necessary.

    By having a drive/passion it makes sandbox play more vivid, stuff happens and they respond, or they are driven to act and there's consequences.
    Obviously this may create in-party friction from time to time.

    I'm probably just rambling but I think the themes of Survival, Exploration and Conflict can be built into the mechanics without having to mention those themes - you don't then have to say 'this is what the game is about - cause it emerges through play'.

    So the short answer is, that I agree with your basic instinct idea - I think it's important, even if it's just one word - but don't include self-preservation, that's a given.

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  6. Great post, Sean. This is one of those ideas that work really well in more narrative games (like, um, Heroes of Industry), where you can play the Hero Point wager game. Trickier proposition in Ye Auld Game.

    I always hated the "stick" approach of AD&D to force players to follow alignment. Much preferable, IMO, was in making alignment-oriented magic items a "carrot". Why should you take the burden of being Lawful if you're just a Fighter or MU? Well, maybe because the cool items are also Lawful.

    But with all that gone, what does Alignment, or for that matter, Allegiance or Instinct do? I don't know. I guess I'm wrestling with whether it adds soemthing to the game or if it's just a useless appendix.

  7. Actually, if you ditch alignment altogether you get round that godawful Warhammer-ism: "ooh, he's chaotic therefore he's ok to kill". Also as you say morality becomes less prescribed, so more of a sliding scale dependent on situation.

    By ditching it, the allegience/instincts etc become emergent through play instead, you get that 'fruitful void' Vincent Baker wrote about.

    Alignment may add more by being absent :)

  8. I was also playing with the idea of making new Alignments. Maybe "Civilization" and "Barbarism". But, although kind of neat, I couldn't quite figure out what to do with that.