Reading Keep on the Borderland (KotB) I was struck by the Gygaxian worldview.
“The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave it’s populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasure.” Then a little later. “…turn from Law and good and serve masters of Chaos.”
It’s the capital-C for Chaos and the L for Law that impresses me. They mean something – they have a capital.
I suspect the most faithful descendant of the Gygaxian worldview is Warhammer not D&D. So planning my KotB sessions I started reflecting on the Cosmic Battle that Gygax and Warhammer encapsulate and how this relates to alignment.
Alignment discussions in blogs and forums have long debated the merits of different alignment systems so what can I offer? Probably nothing, I am not sure I am even original, someone, somewhere will have surely said this before me. But anyway, here goes…
Most sentient beings are unaligned. That is they have not committed themselves to the Cosmic Battle between Law and Chaos. They may have an opinion as to which they prefer and even work toward one end, but they haven’t aligned themselves wholeheartedly. Unaligned are like most of us. We do good most of the time, are fairly selfish some of the time and occasionally we do evil. These are choices we make day to day. Were there to be a god of Law or demons of Chaos, most of us would side with Law but would generally prefer not to die for the cause.
Aligned characters are different. They actively choose to side with Law or Chaos (note the capitals). They have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the Cosmic Battle. It is through this commitment that clerics gain access to spells. They are the generals and knights of this battle. But Alignment is not just for clerics but all characters and sentient begins in the world, if they wish to commit themselves to a side in the cosmic battle (see below). What of Neutral? I think one can suppose there are spiritual powers one can worship that are neither fully in the Law camp nor fully in the Chaos camp, which would allow one to worship and thus gain access to clerical spells. In my campaign world such worship will be extremely rare. So rare it will only be available for NPCs.
Thus alignment will look like this.
Aligned I unaligned
Alignment Languages and Know Alignment
The immediate implication to me is that alignment languages start to mean something as does the spell Know Alignment. Most people are unaligned, even many of the underlings supporting Chaos. Detect evil may still reveal intentions of the unaligned, since evil intentions are not necessarily linked to Chaos. As a side note on Know Alignment - many have problems with it, as do I. How can Chaos infiltrate civilisation if Know Alignment is so easily cast. I intend to adopt 2nd edition AD&D, which I have never played, reverse version of the spell which allows the caster to hide alignment for 24 hours. I would also make Chaos have many magical items, a small broach or ring perhaps, that have this identical effect.
Another implication is that Law does not equal good just as Chaos does not equal evil. Generally those aligned with Law do good but when the cause of Law is not threatened by Chaos those in the church of Law can still be downright selfish and occasionally evil (a detect evil may be of more use in a church than Know Alignment). The difference is that those Aligned must actively seek as one of the primary purposes of their life to advance the cause they are aligned to.
As a B/X fan I am very fond of the fact that clerics do not get access to spells until 2nd level. This makes that moment pretty special. On consideration I have concluded that starting characters are never Aligned they are all unaligned. Only with experience do characters have an opportunity to choose a side in the Cosmic Battle. For clerics I propose this moment is 2nd level – it’s the choosing of a side, and undergoing some special ceremony, that grants them access to spells.
Upon reaching 2nd level a cleric must choose to worship Law or Chaos - they gain spell casting as their reward. A 2nd level cleric of Law is called a martyr, that of Chaos a minion. Neutral clerics if encountered, are NPCs, confined perhaps to a sacred grove worshiping ancient woodland spirits of nature.
From Level 7, a Chaotic Cleric must choose to worship a specific fallen spirit / demon of Chaos. Were that demon to ever to be destroyed, all Chaotic Clerics of Level 7 and higher would be reduced in XP to 49999 ie 1 XP short of Level 7 and have to choose another demon before they would be able to advance in XP again. It therefore encourages a high level Chaotic Cleric to protect their master! No such penalty exists for the high level Lawful Cleric, as only the end of the world would signal this situation. Further explained below in Cosmic Battle.
Unbeknownst to me when I first drafted this some months ago I was stumbling unwittingly into D&D history which I realised when following up an Anti-Cleric posting by Grognardia but now can’t find the exact link.
OD&D says Vol 1page 7:
“Note that Clerics of 7th level and greater are either "Law" or "Chaos", and there is a sharp distinction between them. If a Patriarch receiving the above benefits changes sides, all the benefits will immediately be removed!”
So my suggestion moves the choice point to second level but retains the 7th level importance, for it is at this point a Cleric of Chaos must choose a specific master.
The Cosmic Battle
This is how I am imagining it.
Law – the monotheistic creator.
Chaos – the horde and legion – fallen spirits / demons.
“The Book of Law says that the world will end at the time preordained by Law when Chaos will be ordered and judgment will come. But the Scribblings of Chaos tell that there is a way to avert the final judgment. Whilst one martyr (cleric of Law 2nd level or higher) remains true, Law is unassailable to them in his heavenly kingdom but – were darkness to cover the world and all goodness vanish, who then would stand ready to be martyred for Law.”
Chaos devotes itself to bringing about that eventuality by eradicating humans and demi-human civilizations and all the good they stand for.
Characters other then clerics
Characters other than clerics may be inducted by clerics into Law or Chaos. They become the captains of their cause. Most characters, general population, demihumans and monsters will remain unaligned serving their own causes and their own sense of right and wrong. That is not to say they will not worship Law or Chaos, they worship as their culture and beliefs encourage but their moral fight remains predominantly personal not cosmic.
From Level 3 other character classes can choose to be inducted. If for some reason the characters are inducted at a lower level they will gain no benefit until they reach 3rd level.
The benefits of being Aligned.
Clerics get spell casting.
I felt the need to give other aligned characters something, apart from an Alignment language. To keep game balance unaligned characters can do what they wish – they will simply reap what they sow. Aligned characters – more is expected of them to aid their cause. The DM must demand this if they are to keep their benefits.
Spell casting from Level 2
Law - 'protected' the magic-user gains +1 to AC and +1 to saving throws vs spells.
Chaos - 'possessed' cast spells as if one level higher (for range, duration, damage etc)
Law - 'valiant' gain a saving throw vs energy drain, immune to fear or charm caused by undead
Chaos - 'beloved' skeletons and zombies will ignore the character unless pre-programmed to attack, wights and higher undead have a +1 reaction roll to the character. Ghouls are unaffected.
Thief – thieves by nature are to free living to seriously commit to the Cosmic Battle, those that do become legends
Law - 'watched over' re-roll a failed climb Walls or failed remove traps (not find traps)
Chaos - 'beware of the dark' hide in shadows +10%
Whilst demi-humans generally oppose Chaos it is rare for a demi-human to commit fully to the cause of Law and extremely rare to find a Chaotic demi-human. Such Chaotic demi-humans are infamous whispers for dark conversations on dark nights.
Law - 'hardy' +1 to all saving throws (minimum 2)
Chaos - 'dirty fighter' - +1 to attack in melée
Law - 'dwarf sense' - never lost underground, Find large traps and Understand Mines (detect slanting passages, shifting walls, new constructions) 1-3 on a d6.
Chaos - 'gold lust’ - on a 1 on a d6 (DM rolls) the Chaotic dwarf will sense the general location of any collection of gold, raw, wrought or coin of more than 150cn in gold weight
A Lawful or Chaotic Elf may advance to 11th level (other elves are just not that ambitious). The Lawful or Chaotic elf requires 800,000 XP and gains +2 HP, fights as Fighter 11th level, can cast spells as per 11th Level wizard including access to 1 Sixth level spell, saving throws remain unchanged.
That’s it for now.