The Magic Tree


The best of the web – magical, mythical and majestical! Fantasy and Mythic websites and materials/downloads. Roleplaying, Tabletop and Esoteric Games.

A History of Alignment in D&D Part II


by Gary Gygax - September 1977

Alignment troubles a considerable number of Dungeon Masters, possibly due to the value judgements which are involved, and certainly due to the activities and pressures of the players participating in the campaign. Because of this I thought a few words might help those DMs struggling with the problem, and at the same time confirm alignment variation and interaction with those referees not particularly troubled.

The most common problem area seems to lie in established campaigns with a co-operating block of players, all of whom are of like alignment. These higher level player characters force new entrants into the same alignment, and if the newcomers fail to conform they dispatch them. In such campaigns, the DM should advise new players that the situation exists. If the new player suspects that the alignment of his or her character will be subject to discovery, it is incumbent upon the player to dissemble with regard to alignment. There is no reason why the new character cannot be listed as neutral — or as some alignment which is agreeable to the strong player characters in the game — and carefully played that way until the character rises in level and strength. At such time as the player feels relatively certain that the character can survive in opposition to the block, an abrupt alignment change can be made (often at great reward to the character).

As an aside to players, I stress that this planned alignment change must be carefully concealed — perhaps even from the DM. This is fair, for the DM is supposedly absolutely disinterested and impartial, and if the DM is biased, it is up to the players to balance the campaign on their own initiative.

In general, player characters will not know the alignment of the various persons they encounter, for in the normal course of affairs such knowledge is not important. Naturally, this does not apply during “adventures”. This brings me to a discussion of the typical interaction of varied alignments. The Greyhawk Campaign is built around the precept that “good” is the desired end sought by the majority of humanity and its allied races (gnomes, elves, et al.). I have this preference because the general aim is such that more than self-interest (or mental abberation) motivates the alignment. This is not to say that a war of lawful good against chaotic good is precluded, either or both opponents being allied with evil beings of lawful or chaotic alignment. What is said is that most planned actions which are written into the campaign are based on a threat to the overall good by the forces of evil.

While there are some areas where nearly all creatures encountered will be of like alignment, most places will contain a mixture of alignments, good and neutral, evil and neutral, or all of the varying alignments. A case in point for the latter mixture is the “Free City of Greyhawk”. This walled town was the area trade center and seat of feudal power, then began to decline when the overlordship transferred from a suzerain to the city itself, but is now undergoing a boom due to the activities of adventurers and the particular world system events (a new struggle between lawful good and chaotic evil, with the latter on the upswing).

The oligarchs of the city are neutral in outlook, if not in alignment, viewing anything which benefits their city as desirable. Therefore, all sorts of creatures inhabit the city, commerce is free, persons of lawful alignment rub elbows with chaotics, evil and good co-exist on equitable terms. Any preeminence of alignment is carefully thwarted by the rulers of the place, for it would tend to be detrimental to the city trade. There are movements and plots aplenty, but they are merely a part of the mosaic of city intrigue, and player characters can seldom find personal advantage in them, let alone assume a commanding position in municipal affairs.

Consider the following examples: An enterprising cleric establishes a small shrine where he spends his non-adventuring time. He attracts a few devotees and followers of his professed god, and after a few weeks the religious establishment he has engendered makes a small profit from contributions and the sale of holy water, blessings, and so forth. This sort of operation is not really meaningful in the overall society of the town or city in which it operates, and the enterprising cleric has benefited by cutting his expenses to zero — if not actually showing a small profit — and has probably gained also in his ability to find new hirelings and successfully bring them into his service. Now, however, the cleric begins to rise in his level and ambition. He builds a substantial edifice— a temple or church — proclaims himself its patriarch or high priest, and seeks mass conversions in order to create a powerful following and amass wealth. This activity immediately arouses the enmity of other leading clerics in the city and attracts the attention of the government. His enemies seek to thwart his gains, and it is quite possible that assassination attempts will begin to occur. The leaders of the metropolis will look upon his activities with suspicion. Taxes will be levied. Bribes will have to be paid by the cleric in order to maintain a hope of survival in the morass of hatred and intrigue he has become immersed in. If hostilities come to open conflict, the city leaders may eject him as an undesirable influence, and at the very least bribes would skyrocket in such circumstances. Should the cleric survive the initial difficulties his ambition has engendered, he will nonetheless be considered an outsider for years, have the undying hatred of many rivals, and be forced to expend considerable sums on a regular basis in order to maintain his status. The way will be long, arduous, and fraught with peril . . .

It is desirable to have powerful player characters shape some of the “world” events in a campaign, but a worthwhile DM will not wish to yield the campaign to these individuals, so the player characters will act and react within a frame which is developed and controlled overall by the D.M. (The terms .DM., .judge. & .referee. are all synonymous in D&D; largely a matter of choice. ED.) The stage is set by, and the flow of action directed by, the DM; but the acts and lines are mutable, provided that the player characters have the force to alter what is scripted, and the final act is entirely open to revision by the players. Now, in the same vein, the DM must not allow campaign participants to preclude freedom of choice by new players. That which disrupts the campaign or causes it to become stale should be discouraged or expunged. Variety of alignment is one of the most lively interactivity spots of a D&D campaign, and the knowledgeable DM will certainly wish to encourage differences by scripting them into the campaign background and making sure that participants have the right of uncoerced choice.

Ideally, then, the DM will set up the campaign in order to display a complete variety of alignments, emphasizing whichever of the alignments he or she desires in order to fit personal views. Most governments will at least tolerate variation of alignment, compromising in order to assure the continued viability of the state. In a well-run campaign, player characters will, perforce, likewise have to tolerate alignment variation. The authorities will view disruptive activities with a very jaundiced eye. Value judgements must be left in the hands of each individual DM, and each DM must always keep in mind that he or she is the moving force behind the campaign. All that takes place in the campaign is subject to intervention by the DM, and players must always understand that fact. The influence of any player character, or group of them, is proportionate to their power in their own area, and the overall effect is relative to the importance of their area to the whole of the campaign world. Influence upon alignment is quite allowable, but dictation is not.


Post a Comment