Sunday, August 26, 2018

Deciphering Alignment - Part 1

Yesterday I posted a fairly lengthy list of alignment appearing in D&D over the years. Today, I am going to break it down. I may jump around a bit, as this will be a stream-of-consciousness blog.

Starting at the beginning, OD&D had very little in exposition of alignment. In Men & Magic, the book almost literally states "pick an alignment." Now, elves and dwarves could only be Lawful or Neutral. Halflings could only be Lawful. Humans were open to all three alignments. It's interesting to me that Gary Gygax doesn't expound on the way that alignments behave.
He somewhat rectifies this in Greyhawk (Supplement I.) Specifically, he outlines how to adjudicate chaotic characters. They are likely to stab friends in the back for something they want. Gary suggests that lawful characters should move against chaotic characters as needed. This is also the first instance of a required specific alignment (paladins and thieves.)

Holmes and Gygax introduced the 9-point alignment in 1978. This is the first alignment system that looks like the modern system. Let's take a look at the similarities and differences between the two.
First, Holmes mentions that thieves are neutral. Meanwhile Gygax states a "thief can be neutral or evil." Even early on, we see divisions on how the alignments to be adjudicated.
In the AD&D PHB Gygax suggests that the DM keep an alignment chart for PCs. This is an interesting idea for me. What would this chart look like? The chart to the right seems like a good start. How would you keep track? Choose a color for each character? Would the player get a say or be able to explain thoughts?
Did anyone actually do this? How did it work?
Gygax makes a two paragraph statement on changing alignments. He talks of requiring quests and sacrifices to change alignments voluntarily. Meanwhile, Holmes says the DM can decide that a player is not using an alignment properly and force a change (possibly with a penalty.)

Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer move Basic D&D back to the three-point alignment. I'm sure this is as much to differentiate the Basic and Advanced lines as it is to keep it "basic." As they were effectively the same product*, there are few differences. Both compare the Lawful alignment to "good," and Chaos to "evil."
I feel that this is where one of the greatest misconstructions of the alignment system comes from. While in AD&D at this time we have LE and CG, these alignments are pointed at (indirectly) as impossible from a sister product. This has skewed the alignment system moving forward (and probably directly gave rise to the 4E aberrant alignment system.)

2E is where the alignment system gained the most understanding, because an entire chapter was devoted to it. David "Zeb" Cook (the same one who wrote the Expert set of the Moldvay/Cook era) treated alignment to a necessary exploration. He looks carefully at the alignments individually (Law, Chaos, Good, Evil, and Neutrality) and completely (LG, LN, LE, NG, N, NE, CG, CN, CE.) If someone is struggling to understand the alignment system in the context of role-playing games, this is where I point them (start on pg 46 of the 2E PHB.) Zeb gives us so much information, it could be a blog to itself (and is a chapter for the only time in the history of D&D.)

So far, we see the alignment systems building on each other (mostly.) Next blog I will take a look at 3-5E.

*Mentzer revised the Moldvay/Cook rules and edited it into the Red Box. He didn't really change the rules, just presentation.

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