Wednesday, March 2, 2011

World Skeletons

For me, the core of a fantasy world has always been it's spiritual side.  Players may never know or care anything about it, but in actually building the world it's vital.  The spiritual side of a fantasy world  is the skeleton you hang everything else from.  In my quest to build a universe from D&D/Labyrinth Lord basics, I'll focus on alignment, plannar structure, and deities.

Alignment is an important feature in any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  Even it's absence from a DM's creation is very telling about that world.  Entire planes of existence were even created along the nine point alignment system.  But it sure has been a pain in the ass.

In thirty years of wrestling with the alignment system, I've come down to a simple thought.  It doesn't mean a great deal to say your character is Lawful Good of Chaotic Neutral or whatever.  It matters what you do.

People are what they do.  Not the other way around.  A frog can sit around and do geometry problems and recite lines from the movie Toxic Avenger, but it's not being a very good frog.  In fact, we probably need an entirely new word for this frog-like entity.  Characters are the same.  They probably shouldn't even bother writing down an alignment.  The DM should just assign one based on past behavior.

In breaking down alignment, good and evil are the simplest part.  There is nothing particularly spiritual about the continuum in itself.  It's really just how beneficial your actions are to the groups of which you are a part.  That group can be an adventuring group, a village, a nation, a race, or all intelligent creatures.  A person can't define themselves as good.  Group members have to do that.  Evil is pursuing self interests that conflict with the group's.  Of course, the definitions are always subjective, depending on who is doing the labeling, and what group they belong to.

I think Law and Chaos are where it gets interesting.  Chaos can be likened to entropy, the universe's inclination to break down into disorder and randomness.  Law can be likened to life itself.  Life is not only organized, it tends to create even more organization.  The Life = Law idea is borne out in the fact that Lawful clerics have turn undead, while Chaotic clerics have create undead.  The undead appear to be a subversion of Law.  Skeletons, ghouls, and zombies rarely build cities or formulate tax codes.  They kill the living without benefiting the living.

I've read bits of James Raggi's LotFP alignment system and love it.  All magic users and elves are chaotic.  It's great.  It's not quite what I am striving for with this world, but man, do I want to use it.  It fits in with my Law/Chaos theories as well.  I'll probably sneak as much as I can in, though.

In D&D and Labyrinth Lord, Law and Chaos stretch off the edges of the page, so to speak, into other planes,  indicating that they are Platonic ideals with their 'source perfection' somewhere beyond the realm of mortals. These places tend to be the planes of the Gods.  

In thinking about the nature of the alignments, I am thinking of breaking away with tradition, well, at least D&D tradition.  It only makes sense to me that Law, it it's purest form, would be purified into a singularity.  There would be one, and only one, Lawful deity.  I have surprised myself by becoming a fantasy monotheist.

The human culture that I envision eventual came to understand that all clerics received the same spells and abilities, whichever god or goddess they were worshipping.  They could hop from one deity to another even, with little issue.  It dawned on the spiritual leaders that there was only one God of Law.  More 'primitive' cultures might have a whole slew of lawful deities, but they were only worshipping aspects, or avatars, of the one true source of Law.

Furthermore, they believed that this Lawful God could not be represented in any suitable visual form, and to attempt to do so was silly - to the point of being dangerous.  The best you could do was to represent this god with geometric shapes or abstract symbols.

Chaos, on the other hand, has a thousand gibbering mouths and a million tiny little hands and feet, all busy disassembling the universe and eating it from the inside out.  There is no one Chaos - it is infinite. 

So, there are some of the bones I am using for this new campaign world I am working on.  Not like the players will ever know - since they will only see the flesh.  They won't even care - but you know, it's not about them. :)

- Ark


  1. I like it, and it makes sense - both in general, and in light of the D&D rules and information on alignments. And I agree about the importance of these things in a game world, at least if you want it to have some amount of believability and root characters in it. If you study the ancient peoples of Earth their beliefs and mythologies are all over the place in the cultures, and are often the reasons behind a lot of monuments and so forth (and structures that make good D&D dungeons!)

  2. @Anon - Thanks. I do like to have things in the campaign worlds make sense. It doesn't have to be 'earth logic,' but some internal consistency does a world of good for my world-building.

    - Ark