Monday, November 26, 2018

Alignment Distributions

What should the alignment distribution for men in the OD&D game look like? I tend to have a bias towards Anderson's original presentation of the Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Three Hearts and Three Lions;
"In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faeries, Trollheim, and the Giants...
This seems to nicely fit the model of a Chainmail-style wargame, in which the game is basically Men versus Monsters, as typified by the Law and Chaos alignments. However, this isn't actually how alignments are identified in Chainmail or OD&D. Specifically: Alignments for men are entirely undefined in Chainmail, and in OD&D, men appear in all 3 categories (per Vol-1 p. 9: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos).

So what happens when I need to roll a random NPC, such as a merchant, guard, or potential hireling? Previously I've been using a uniform distribution, i.e., 1-2: Lawful, 3-4: Neutral, 5-6: Chaotic. However, in my recent campaign games something has felt off about that: for example, too many Chaotic-types for them to really get away without notice. Compare to the DMG chart (p. 100) which likewise gives a near-uniform distribution: on d10, 1 pip for each of the 9 AD&D alignments, and 1 extra pip for "neutral".

So what I've recently switched to is a quasi-normal distribution, in which the majority of men are Neutral, and only the exceptional outlier has some ethical commitment, thus: 1: Lawful, 2-5: Neutral, 6: Chaotic. This seems to give a better flavor to my background campaign. Most men are merely self-interested, mercenary, and incurious; as seen, for example, in a Vancian or Leiberian work. The Lawful and Chaotic types are more rare and surprising (and the Chaotic one thus easier to hide themselves unexpected and unrecognized). Now that I look at it closely, this can even be interpreted as compatible with Anderson's view, with regards to the clause, "most of them were so [Lawful] only unconsciously"(which tends to fade in my recollection compared to the other parts).

So this "normal alignment" distribution feels about right for Men in my campaign these days.

Open question: What about other PC/NPC types? Dwarves are Lawful in Chainmail, Lawful/Neutral in OD&D. Elves are Neutral in CM, Lawful/Neutral in OD&D. Halflings are simply Lawful in both. Does this imply some different variable distribution should be used for these types? At the moment I'm using the same distribution as for Men, for simplicity and the general idea that any adventuring NPCs of these races are equally likely to be exceptional. Other thoughts?


Bonus side note on PC alignment: Many recent editions have general restrictions on PCs taking evil/chaotic alignments, for which I understand the motivation (e.g., disruptive party behavior). For some time in my OED house rules I've had the dictum, "New characters should list either Lawful or Neutral (if Chaotic, secretly inform the DM)". Without giving away the exact number, I'll say that the number of players who have taken me up on this is: very small. Especially for new/casual players, the extra step needed to document a Chaotic alignment itself seems to reduce the number, without a rule explicitly forbidding it. This is a nice counter to the AD&D-style convention that Chaotic means "independent free spirit", as opposed to our OD&D usage here, taken to mean "committed to the fiery destruction of all civilization".

13 comments:

  1. The latter distribution seems better to me too. I have not had the opportunity to roll up alignments in a long time since I use a stock list of about 110 NPCs. However if I were to do it today, I would go 1: lawful 2-7 neutral 8 chaotic. For dwarves, 1-3 lawful.

    Here is why: for men, in order to be lawful or chaotic, they must both declare their intent to themselves and affirmatively act that way, for they are by nature neural.

    So it is for the other common kinds except for dwarves who tend toward law.

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  2. This matches what I ended up doing over the years in my games. Pushing "Good/Evil" and alignment off onto Clerics, Monsters, and other "meaningful" beings. Most people are neutral enough that they don't blip on the radar.
    In some ways, it matched 4e's "Unaligned" approach.
    Lately though I have been taking the view that "lawful" creatures build, "Chaotic" take (or destroy)
    So while an individual may not have a strong ethos, if they work, farm, craft, etc. they are "lawful", so most Demi-Humans would fall under this.
    Also helps if we just bite the bullet and change Law to Order :)

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  3. What about the duality of neutrality?
    Some neutrals are just uninterested in a larger point of view and are just trying to get by. But others might be dedicated to NEUTRALITY in "a balance must be maintained" and will actively work against whichever is in the ascendant to maintain that balance.

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    1. True, although that's never formally distinguished (rule or status-wise) in OD&D -- or much any other D&D that I'm familiar with. Brainstorming here: I might think to interpret a very high-Wisdom, Neutral character, as being in that latter category.

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  4. While OD&D's Men are in all three alignments, it's also interesting to consider which Men are where.
    Chaos has 50% of Bandits, Nomads and Buccaneers, and all Brigands/Pirates.
    Law has Dervishes.
    Neutrality has the other 50% and also Berserkers, Cavemen and Mermen.

    And then, of course, there's the Castles. Patriarchs are of Law, Evil High Priests of Chaos, and the rest have a 50/50 chance of either being hostile to the adventurers or neutral (note the lack of alignment beyond "not yours").

    What should become immediately apparent is that unlike Anderson Law is lacking in Men - in a complete 180 from 3H3L, demihumans like Elves are a better bet! Most of Men are Neutral, with a scant few religious types being of Law and a great number of malcontents of Chaos. Perhaps comparisons can be made to the Gold Dragon?

    If you were to just throw on OD&D's Men (Typical) table (and assume that name-level characters are as castles), the distribution is:
    1/12 (8%) Law
    4.5/12 (38%) Neutrality
    4.5/12 (38%) Chaos
    2/12 (17%) Specifically Opposed To You In Particular

    Men (Desert (Not Mars)) is the haven of Law, but not much better:
    1/6 (17%) Law
    2/6 (33%) Neutral
    2/6 (33%) Chaos
    1/6 (17%) SOTYIP

    However, I suspect that most of this is just because OD&D's encounter tables are primarily about setting you up for a fight. The Neutral Bandits are still going to rob you, and the Lawful Dervishes are likely to be played as religious zealots.
    As the Implied OD&D Setting posts rightly noted, OD&Dland is filled with jerks and ne'er-do-wells.

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    1. I think that's an excellent analysis. Thank you for that!

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  5. I've written before that I consider the faeries of Three Hearts and Three Lions to be an excellent model for the elves of early edition D&D (being all fighter-magicians). Whether the acted as the inspiration...or simply influenced... the class is debatable, but I use that as a good indicator that elves are chaotic in nature (certainly they are depicted as such in the 1E MM with a "Chaotic Good" alignment).

    With regard to humans, I am rather partial to James Raggi's take in his B/X-based Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I think it's right in line with your THaTL quote and works well with the alignment as "supernatural alliance." In my own games my tendency is to look at alignment more as "personality" with Capital-E Evil being something separate and apart from alignment...though I realize that doesn't jibe 100% with the concept of alignment (certainly not with regard to alignment language).

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    1. Elves in Men & Magic are enlisted in both the Law and Neutrality columns.
      If we interprete the Alignment system with the wargaming mindset, it could boil down to "which troops can be allied under the same flag?"
      So, Neutral elfs could side either with Law or Chaos: Lawful elves are the tolkienian, noldor type. Neutral ones are Anderson's "fair folk" type.

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  6. Delta wrote "Now that I look at it closely, this can even be interpreted as compatible with Anderson's view, with regards to the clause, "most of them were so [Lawful] only unconsciously"(which tends to fade in my recollection compared to the other parts)".

    Delta, your quasi-normal distribution (1 2-5 6) is rather elegant and in some ways reflects the Sword and Sorcery ethos. However, I believe there is more to Anderson's clause than has been stated. Anderson's notions of Law and Chaos are derived from Medieval philosophy, from its beginning in Plato and Aristotle to its realization in Aquinas. Law or Logos and its relationship to men is a metaphysical rather than a psychological or sociological one. Most men are 'so (Lawful) only unconsciously'; that is to say, they are lawful by nature, but know not their own nature. Alignment then is more philosophical than behavioral. I would pen your table something like 1 Neutral 2-5 Lawful 6 Chaotic. What we glean from this is that Lawful men, are striving with their own nature/logos to be men, Neutrals are men who live by bonds of blood and beasts - half men even, and Chaotics are men wholly subsumed by their lowest appetites. Behavior then is really something secondary to alignment.

    This rendering of the table satisfies the demand of the 'weird' underlying Sword and Sorcery and OD&D in that despite reason and artifice derived by culture and civilization, men collectively remain unknown to themselves, caught on the other side of the wall of sleep and perhaps recollecting something that shimmers, haunts or continues to fade.

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    1. Well, that's a very interesting philosophical take on the matter. I must admit on this issue that I don't dig much deeper than the pulp authors on it. Thanks for that!

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  7. Of course. I mention this as Anderson is part of the S&S revival in the late 20th century and appears rather influential in your consideration of alignment. Philosophically, he threads a narrow passage few if any other pulp writers observed. Though many leverage Neoplatonic language to describe the powers of chaos and darkness, most of the well-known authors of weird fiction regard law as a cleaving to modernity and all of its course/blunt trappings. It is for that reason that Anderson's subtle account of man and the cosmos is exceptional.

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