Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GM Notes: Checking the Poles in Dungeons & Dragons

Lately there have been many discussions on Alignment in the various groups that I attend, facebook, tabletop and general talk with other gamers.

Hitler, Stalin and Mao
At some point in discussing the Alignment system of D&D (all incarnations) someone pipes in about how <insert Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc> could be viewed as Lawful Good, and then speaks about how they saw themselves and how they thought or felt like they were doing the right thing, etc

This is rubbish.

In D&D, Alignment is more than just how you view what you do.  It is a manifestation of cosmic forces.  Lawful, Chaotic, Good and Evil are present in the universe and represent absolutes.

A Lawful character, or creature, believes in order and fights against the forces of Chaos.  Likewise, a Good character or creature, believes in others over self and fights against the forces of Evil.

Notice the use of capital letters.  There is a difference here between good and Good, lawful and Lawful, they are pronouns, they are named Forces that manifest in the universe at large.

I can go on for lengths of time regarding how the Empire from Star Wars was a Lawful Good society, sometimes it can be fun to argue that, but everytime I do, I have to admit to myself that it is complete and utter balderdash.

Yes, the Empire brought about Order, yes, that makes them Lawful.  But the Emperor, and Vader, were Evil.  They were power hungry despots that had not a care in the world for who they destroyed, as long as they were on top.

The Rebellion, honestly, was also Lawful.  They believed in Order, but they were also founded on principles of Good.  Fair people, and fair laws, must be the rule, and differences should be handled with discussion and compromise.

Again, these are universal, cosmic, definitions.  Not definitions imposed by a single person, their friends/enemies, or society.

At the basic level, a lawful person obeys the laws of the land, a Lawful person instinctively strives towards order and away from Chaos without really understanding, or even caring, why, it is "right" to them while Chaos is just fundamentally "wrong," even alien in their thinking.

Classic Good vs Evil
In the real world, Evil may not realize it is evil, but in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, it knows what it is, it embraces what it is, in order to act good, it has to force itself.  And the same goes for Good, Lawful and Chaotic also.

One of the major aspects that separate Fantasy from other genre is the fact that these cosmic forces are there in the world, tangible, definitive and absolute.  Evil creatures destroy because they are Evil, Good creatures protect others, because they are Good.  There needs to be no other reason.

Science Fiction, and our real world, have come to view good and evil as merely gray areas instead of the black and white that is presented in the Fantasy genre.  Evil is a term used by the other side that believes itself to be Good, and the other side feels exactly the same.  Both sides cannot be Good, one side has to be Evil, or both sides have to be Evil, because if both sides were Good, there would be no conflict.

As someone who goes from game to game, genre to genre, I get where things can become clouded and grey-areas may pop up.  But there is a huge difference in the fantasy genre were "Humans are Evil says the Orc from his perspective" and "Orcs are Evil, because that is their cosmic alignment."

I am speaking in generalizations, not ALL Orcs are Evil, not ALL Dwarves are Lawful, those that stray from their racial alignment are outcasts (like Drizz't from R.A. Salvatore's novels), and will invariably end up killed by their own kind, exiled, or self-outcast from their race.

I feel like I am starting to ramble and type ad nausea at this point, so I will end it here.

For those that skipped to the end for the final statement:  Law, Chaos, Good and Evil are presented as cosmic absolutes in the game Dungeons & Dragons.  They are black and white, there are no "grey areas."

Last thought:  "What about Neutrals?"

They just have not picked a side yet.