The D&D Alignment System


I don’t disagree that D&D‘s nine-point alignment system has issues, but I think it’s interesting to look at how those issues are a direct consequence of how the framework of alignment has developed over the course of the game’s history.

Folks tend to think of D&D as being based on epic, good-versus-evil fantasy in the mode of J R R Tolkien – which is totally understandable, given that many highly visible elements of the game, like having elves, dwarves and hobbits as playable races, are clearly lifted directly from Lord of the Rings. However, in terms of its actual storytelling conventions, the game owes a much larger debt to swords-and-sorcery fantasy and weird fiction – especially authors like Jack Vance, Robert Howard and Michael Moorcock.

One of the common features of these genres – and of Moorcock in particular – is the notion of an eternal battle between cosmic forces of Order and Chaos. These forces are characterised as vast, inhuman and largely alien to conventional morality. Early versions of D&D followed suit and included not the more familiar nine-point alignment system, but a three-point system: Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Though player characters weren’t necessarily expected to take an active role in this cosmic battle, it was assumed that most would be notionally aligned with one of these forces. (Indeed, this is why it’s called “alignment”!)

Trouble is, folks who weren’t familiar with the source material tended to  assume that “Lawful” was a code-word for “good”, and “Chaotic” for “evil”. (Or possibly the other way ‘round, depending on their political bent.) Subsequent versions of the game attempted to clarify the matter by adding the Good/Evil axis to complement the Law/Chaos axis. The idea was to emphasise that the universe didn’t particularly care if you were a good or bad person, as long as you served the appropriate cause. As far as the monstrously inhuman gods were concerned, the most virtuous saint and the most brutal tyrant were morally equivalent, as they were equal in their commitment to cosmic Order. Likewise, a heroic freedom fighter and a cannibalistic serial killer were equally good exemplars of cosmic Chaos.

Of course, that was a really weird perspective, so a lot of players continued to ignore the whole “cosmic battle between Order and Chaos” thing and simply treated “Lawful Good” as “Extra Good”, and similarly, “Chaotic Evil” as “Extra Evil”. Compounding the issue, while later iterations of the game still included the notion of Law and Chaos as cosmic forces, they de-emphasised the battle between Law and Chaos in favour of foregrounding more accessible Good-versus-Evil conflicts, and discarded the notion that player characters would be actively aligned with those cosmic forces – yet they retained the nine-point alignment grid as a legacy feature.

With the nine-point grid still in place, but its original rationale now downplayed or absent, it was necessary to find alternative justifications for it. The Law/Chaos axis gradually shifted from being described in terms of cosmic principles to being described in terms of social conventions: a Lawful character was now merely one who believed in a well-ordered society and was inclined to respect and obey legal authority. This is where awkward questions like “how does a Lawful Good character react to unjust laws?” rear their ugly heads; note that this question wouldn’t even be on the radar in earlier versions of the alignment framework, since human laws don’t necessarily serve the cause of cosmic Order (and may well serve Chaos).

And that’s basically where we are now: the nine-point alignment grid is a semi-successful patch job on a feature designed to give rules-based weight to an aspect of the game’s default/assumed setting that no longer exists, subsequently kept around as a legacy feature. It’s not really surprising that its conceptual basis is full of glitches and weird edge cases – really, it’s kind of amazing that it works at all!

What Did Medieval Items Really Cost? And How Much Did An Archer Make?

Link: What Did Medieval Items Really Cost? And How Much Did An Archer Make?


There’s an interesting table here of the wage rates of various jobs (and if you click through, goods and livestock). The snapshots were taken in different decades, often different centuries, so may not be directly comparable, since there was some major economic upheaval between the 14th and 16th centuries, and this doesn’t count benefits, which may include room, board, and equipment, and prices even varied pretty dramatically before then; they list war horse prices ranging from “up to 50 shillings” in the 12th century to “up to 80 pounds [1,600 shillings]” in the 13th century.

For reference

Update on the RPG Project in Uganda


Update on the RPG Project in Uganda

Koro has gone wild.jpgIn March I wrote about a cool set up that a young man in Uganda.

Patrick had started where he is encouraging other youngsters to develop their imaginations and team working through Pathfinder – the love-child of Dungeons & Dragons that is published by Paizo.

So far there are from what I understand three or four tabletop groups playing Pathfinder. This is Patrick’s project as part of the Butterfly…

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This story is inspiring, and I feel the project very much worth backing.