The Fruits of Evil

The idea of alignment – a mishmash of ethics, morality and game play – is probably familiar to most role playing gamers of the D&D persuasion – I’m not sure how (or if) the newer versions of the game use it. Whether its Law vs. Chaos (which was always really Good vs. Evil by another name) or the nine-alignment schmeer, alignment was much more integral to the earlier versions of the game than to the later.

Oft evil will shalt evil mar … and it doesn’t do good will any favors either!

In Chainmail, Law – Neutrality – Chaos was a fantasy version of the army lists you would see in many wargames. For those unfamiliar, an army based on the Normans would be chosen from a list of the kinds of soldiers common to a Norman army. For a fantasy game, lists based on Law and Chaos, with Neutrals serving in either army, made sense. This is the earliest version of alignment.

When the wargame became a role playing game, alignment was retained but became a bit more than just a cosmic allegiance, although it would still have had that role to play for characters who were building strongholds and armies for the endgame that was assumed/intended for older editions. Hey folks – that’s what all that dang treasure was for – building a stronghold and recruiting an army so you could play Chainmail!

Alignment now governed how your character behaved. This was just a simple description in Moldvay/Cook, but in AD&D it also governed access to certain tactics – i.e. evil can use poison, good cannot – and helped determined how expensive it was to gain a new level. Again, for those who do not know how AD&D worked, to reach a higher level you required training, and the cost of that training was more expensive if you had acted outside your alignment while earning your experience points.

Later editions took a path more like “good guys are supposed to be good, evil are supposed to be evil … but then what is evil really?” Sort of like “alignment relatavism”.

What if evil simply corrupts a character and ruins his or her plans? I don’t mean a supernatural corruption here – like the taint of Chaos in Warhammer. I mean, by committing an evil act, a character begins a chain of events that eventually overtakes and destroys them unless they find their way back to the path of good. Here, you don’t really even need a character to have an alignment, you just have to know what is good and what is evil, and no that by accomplishing goals with evil methods, that evil is going

He eventually made his point

to come back to haunt you eventually. We find this theme in many stories, especially the folktales, fables and fairy tales that form part of the foundation of D&D.

I just recently watched Majin: The Monster of Terror (or Daimajin in its original title), and its one representation of this concept. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t seen it – and I do heartily recommend it – but if you watch it you will see how the bad guy ultimately screws himself. You can create a tragic and powerful storyline as characters find success by employing evil tactics and then gradually find themselves corrupted, choosing evil over good to get out of bad situations they have precipitated, until all seems lost.

“So we used poison to kill the orc king – so what? The orcs are evil, so what’s the big deal?”

How might that act come back to haunt the adventurers?

Well, where did they get the poison – perhaps some evil organization or creature who will become a bigger threat than the orcs. Maybe the use of poison negates the protection provided by a good entity to a kingdom – the short cut in fighting evil then ushers in more sorrows for the kingdom, and gradually the king and his people find out who is responsible. Maybe the orcs had friends who would have accepted their defeat in combat as fair, but figure poisoning requires vengeance. You destroy 100 orcs only to raise the ire of 10,000 orcs living deeper underground. There’s also the issue of trust. Can the player characters trust one another when they’ll use any means to get what they want?

Can the adventurers find their way back to the path of good? Role playing of this variety can add another dimension to a game about adventuring, fighting and treasure hunting, and reveal the philosophies behind “alignment” in a way that arbitrary rules about who can use poison and how much gold it takes it get to 5th level do not.

Alignment as Religion



This is something that has been kicking around in my head for a while, so read this as nothing more than me tossing around a few ideas.

When alignment first reared its soon-to-be controversial head, it was in the form of factions for war gaming. There was Law and Chaos – they opposed one another – and then Neutrality. The neutrals would fight for either side, and thus neither favored Law or Chaos. The terms “Law” and “Chaos” came from either Michael Moorcock or Poul Anderson – I’ve heard both get credit, and haven’t researched it enough to have my own opinion on the matter. They may have already had the good vs. evil vibe, but I think the main point was in building fantasy army lists, not modeling ethics and morality in a fantasy game.

With the addition of the Lawful cleric (and later paladin), and the Chaotic anti-cleric,  alignment seemed to become a stand-in for religion. Instead of treading on the dangerous ground of Christians vs. Satan, they used Law vs. Chaos.

Eventually, alignment was expanded from the original three factions (or two factions plus neutrals) to five alignments and then to nine. Once you get to nine alignments, with sometimes vague divisions between them, the alignment as religion scheme starts to fall apart. Is Chaotic Good more aligned with Chaos or Good? Is it player’s choice, or does one override the other?

The Notion

What if you stick to three main religious/philosophical factions – Law, Chaos, Neutrality (or Good, Evil, Neutrality to be more precise) – and use the smaller divisions as sects within those three great factions.

For example, Lawful Good and Chaotic Good may argue and fuss with one another – they might even come to blows on rare occasions – but they’re still ostensibly on the same side, and will always rally to one another when Chaos comes marching over the hill. Both are part of the Good faith, they just differ on the details.

So, how might we characterize these alignment sects?

First and foremost, let’s assume that the main divide is Good vs. Evil. Why focus on the good/evil divide? Because I think it’s more pronounced and contentious than the law/chaos divide. Oscar and Felix managed to live together without killing one another. Superman and Lex Luthor … just not going to see eye to eye (you don’t believe me? Click HERE. You just can’t trust the guy).

I’m pretty sure they inspired Moorcock’s Law vs. Chaos

Good supports virtuous action, self-discipline (i.e. telling yourself “no”), kindness, justice and law – not tyranny, but rather the idea of “natural law” or God’s law – no murder, no theft, etc. The basics without which people cannot live in relative peace and tranquility.

Evil, on the other hand, scoffs at these ideas. It is interested in power for the sake of power. It might work within a system of law, but will always seek to distort and manipulate the system for its own benefit. Evil loves technicalities. Evil doesn’t think of itself as “good” – it knows it is not, and it doesn’t care, but it also doesn’t see itself as wrong. Evil is okay, because the universe rewards it. Everyone is evil at heart. Good is naive. Good is nonsense. Good is a chicken waiting to be plucked. You good guys can deny yourselves pleasure and wealth and all the rest if you want to, but don’t try to force me to deny those pleasures and power.

Simplify, man!

Neutrality is somewhere in between. Maybe pragmatic, maybe a dogmatic resistance to pick sides, maybe it just doesn’t think much about it. For druids who actually need a functioning philosophy, perhaps it is something akin to Taoism. We probably need to separate True Neutral (the philosophy) from Neutral (a cow chewing cud in a field). On the other hand, maybe druid’s just serve the immediate, practical needs of their parishioners OR nature without worrying about whether what they do is good or evil. Perhaps they have an ideal held higher than moral and ethical concerns.

You can play with those definitions, but I think they make enough sense to inform the way a character behaves in a fantasy game environment.

Now, let’s examine how the alignment sects might work.

Within the Good alignment faction, we have Lawful Good, Neutral Good and Chaotic Good. I can see Lawful Good as being something like the Catholic Church or similar religious organizations. It believes in virtue and civilization, and believes that the only way to preserve virtue and civilization is through hierarchical organizations and institutions. Its members also believe that the institutions are only legitimate, be they religious or political, if they uphold virtue. They hold their institutions to a high standard, and though they will rarely destroy an institution outright, they will work against its leadership to put a more virtuous person in charge when the institution appears to have lost its way. They believe in reformation rather than rebellion.

Chaotic Good is not so big on institutions. Human freedom and liberty are the key to maintaining virtue and civilization. Institutions are about power, and power corrupts. Give a Lawful Good institution enough time, and it will become Lawful Neutral or even Lawful Evil. The individual must not be run over by the institutions. They would probably prefer a republic over a monarchy, and would be loathe to join with others except on a temporary basis.

Neutral Good

Neutral Good can, like most neutrals, see both sides of the argument. There is value in institutions – they can do things individuals cannot, things that must be done. On the other hand, they can also lose their way, and thus must not be depended on overmuch. A thriving civilization needs institutions, but it also needs freedom and dynamism. Neutral Good also makes me think about some of the Christian sects that wanted to go back to a more “primitive” faith. They were often nudists, trying to recreate Eden, and not entirely unlike the original hippies. Neutral Good hippies could be fun in a campaign, annoying Lawful Good and Chaotic Good alike.

The divisions might be similar on the Evil side. The Lawful Evils worship the devils and imitate their evil hierarchy. The Chaotic Evils worship demons and believe that no creature in the cosmos is more important than themselves – you might call them psychopaths. Neutral Evil seeks to forward itself on the backs of Lawful and Chaotic Evil – maybe they see themselves as the true faith, the puppet masters of the other sects, using and abusing them as events merit.

Neutrality is a little tougher. I would think Lawful Neutrality is conservative, while Chaotic Neutrality is radical. Both favor a balance – either locally among personalities or cosmically between factions – but Lawful Neutral thinks that change might throw things out of balance, so one should be wary of change. Chaotic Neutrality likes change for the sake of change. It rushes here and there, always looking for something new. By spinning the top, it balances. If the top is left at rest, it does not. Neither Lawful Neutral nor Chaotic Neutral want to be enmeshed in a wider struggle between Good and Evil. One faction is too preachy, the other is too scary, and why don’t they just leave us the heck alone?

Yes, Evil can work together … for a while

To recap – Europe’s Catholics and Protestants were at odds, often at war, but would have likely joined forces against the Ottoman Turks had they launched a major invasion. Likewise, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman hate one another, but they’ll form the United Underworld if they think they can get rid of Batman and Robin.

One More Lame Alignment Idea Before I’m Done

I also thought about characterizing alignments in a string, rather than a square. One is permitted a certain number of vices at each alignment “level”. The good alignments are permitted vices that hurt themselves but not others, while the other alignments permit more active vices.

The breakout could be something like:

Lawful Good: 0 vices (the toughest alignment to adhere to)
Neutral Good: 1 vice
Chaotic Good: 2 vices

Lawful Neutral: 3 vices (but only personal vices, as with the good alignments)
True Neutral: 3 vices
Chaotic Neutral: 4 vices

Lawful Evil: 5 vices
Neutral Evil: 6 vices
Chaotic Evil: 7 vices

So Chaotic Evil is permitted to glory in all seven deadly sins, while Lawful Good has to be perfect all the time. If a Lawful Good character sins, but only hurts herself, she becomes Neutral Good. If she does something sinful that hurts another, she drops all the way down to True Neutral (at best), and can feel free to dabble in a couple other sins as well. Reformation might come one level at a time, as the character swears off of different vices and proves their virtue by keeping away from that vice for some period of time set by the GM or through some other meaningful way.

This is what the planes should look like, right?