Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Players Pondering Alignment

Tim, one of the players in my Labyrinth Lord campaign wrote me today about alignment.  He came of age in the 2e time frame, so his understanding of alignment can be sometimes different than mine.  He wrote:

I was thinking about the game world, with the razing lands and everything, and how things seem to be divided among chaos and law, rather than good and evil, and it got me thinking.  What would a lawful society with no regard for good vs evil look like?  I mean, I think that Imbroglio (Tim's character) is pretty obviously straight Chaos - or Chaotic Neutral in 2E parlance.  He commits acts of kindness with the same lack of regard as he does acts of . . . questionable morals.  So what would the lawful version of Imbroglio be, writ large to a society?  This got me thinking, and it reminded me of a game that I'm playing on my X-Box, Dragon Age 2 .  In it, there is a race of beings called the Qunari that are as close to an amoral Lawful society that I can think of.  It's actually kind of interesting.  They have a philosophy called the Qun, which basically amounts to institutionalized slavery, but slavery to themselves - the goal of their every action being the betterment of their society.  Over the course of the game, some Qunari come to the human lands and are disgusted by the rampant chaos endemic to human society.  Eventually, their need for order overcomes them and they try and take over the city, which I thought was fascinating - their need for order was so intense that they had to capture the world around it and bend it to their will. 

Tim continues on with interesting quotes and links about the Qunari, which you can go dive into with Google's help if you want. I don't know much about Dragon Age,but the Qunari do seem like an interesting spin on Lawful Neutral.

My idea of Lawful Neutral, on an organizational level, is a mindless machine - like the US Post Office, or the British Civil Service.  It's a soulless machine bent on doing what it was designed to do and following the rules, with no attention paid to whether the results are good or evil, beneficial or destructive.

So are the Qunari Lawful Neutral, or is Tim high on drugs?  What does Lawful Neutral look like in your games?  Are your games more involved with the struggle between good and evil, or law and chaos?

- Ark


  1. I think you've stumbled upon one of the weak points of the 9-point alignment system. Gygax and later D&D writers discovered it for Neutral, but never bothered to go into it with the other alignments. There can easily be an Active-Passive z axis bolted over the top of the system.

    The Qunari sound like active Lawful-Neutrals, while the British Civil Service would be passive Lawful-Neutrals. Just like how Druids are typically depicted as actively working for balance, but a typical neutral monster just wants to be left alone.

  2. While I haven't played with allignment for a dog's age, I've been pondering it quite a bit. I too grew up with 2nd Ed, and so my first exposure to the topic was the Lawful/Chaotic/Neutral + Evil/Neutral/Good approach.

    I've played a bit of Birthright in my time, and there they have a neat twist to alignment-implementation. Each realm has an allignment. An LG realm and an LE realm may be allies, while most Chaotic realms are regarded as rouge fiefdoms at best. In this approach, the relationship between Law and Chaos is more relevant than the one between Good and Evil, at least on the realpolitik-level.

    Being a TSR-produced fantasy-setting, Good vs. Evil plays a big role of course. Still, there's evil, and there's Evil.

    Personally, I find the Law vs. Chaos conflict to be much more interesting than the simple good-guys vs. bad-guys battle.

    As for whether Tim is high on drugs, I can't tell for sure, but seeing as he's a grown-up playing roleplaying games, I'd say the odds are good ;)

  3. @Lord Gwydion - Yeah, there is a lot of wiggle room inside each of the alignment pockets. After all, we've been arguing about them for decades now. :) Back in the day, I think Lawful Neutral was probably the alignment that I least thought about. Ever.

    @Harald - I don't really use alignment as far as the characters are concerned in my campaign. I will attempt to classify them based on their actions for fun, and I will point out loudly when the characters actions are veering towards evil - but that's mainly because I don't dig a 'kill the babies' type of story. Not exactly where my happy place is.

    I don't know much about Birthright, but that does sound like a very interesting mechanic to govern the interactions between realms. A leader can deal with a Lawful group - good or evil - since they have an idea what to expect. Those Chaotic dudes - no way - too much or a variable. Gotta get rid of those psychopaths - or at least try to point them at the neighbor you don't like. :)

    - Ark