Sunday, December 13, 2015

Alignment Ain't for 1st Level

I had this thought last night while talking to the gorgeous wife: there is no reason for PCs to choose an alignment at first level, so why not save the decision to align oneself with the forces of Law or Chaos until the point where such a decision (a) makes sense for the character and (b) will contribute one way or the other toward the "eternal struggle" between the two forces?

Allow me to elucidate.

First, I'd like to re-introduce my concept of alignment as "that with which a character aligns himself." This is both a literal interpretation of the word "alignment" and a reference to how the concepts of Law and Chaos are used in the source literature of D&D, Chainmail and White Box D&D itself. The idea of alignment as a guide to behavior is, I feel, ridiculous. One does not "act lawful" or "act chaotic;" one has aligned himself with one of these "sides" or not. (As a side note, I won't even consider a "good vs. evil" axis as part of an alignment; it misinterprets alignment and is not the game I want to play.) "Chaos" is not "hey I'm a mischievous anarchist who loves personal freedom!" it's "I have dedicated myself to the cause of Chaos."

This distinction, I feel, requires that I discuss my ideas of what Law and Chaos represent and for this, I'll be using my Philosophy background. Law is the side of the eternal conflict that is governed by the logic of Kant's categorical imperative; that is, that (a) there is a universal "right" and a universal "wrong" in that if something is "right" now, it is always right, and if something is "wrong" now it is always wrong and that (b) a deeds "right-ness" or "wrong-ness" is determined by the following axiom.
If all people throughout history were to practice deed/action X, would society fall apart or flourish? 
If society crumbles, the thing is wrong. If society flourishes, it is right. Thus, the focus of Law is the society (whatever society) and placing the collective above the individual. Thus, the Lawful are expected to give and sacrifice of themselves in favor of the greater good while being vigilant against the deeds and actions that could cause society to crumble.

Similarly, Chaos's guiding principle is that of Nietzsche's nihilism and Rand's "enlightened self-interest:" that I, the individual, am supreme and not bound by any morality except that I should do as I will. As the plant lifts its leaves toward the rays of the sun, so too should I seek out the greatest personal power, for such is the way of nature. Sort of. As a "side" in the eternal struggle, Chaos exists by the seizing of personal power by leaders, the investiture of power to wizards and clerics by Chaotic supernatural beings like demons and by the exercise of personal will against beings lower on the Chaos totem pole than the exerciser. "Shit rolls downhill, so do everything you can to not be downhill."

Allow me to make a proposition at this point: it makes no sense for first-level characters to join the forces of Law or Chaos. If they are Chaotic, 1st-level characters start out at the bottom of the hill down which shit will roll. At best, they're amoral bandits who take what they want. At worst, they're hench-mooks in service to some greater, demanding Chaotic personality. The flip side is true of Lawful characters: at 1st level, can they expect to be anything but cannon fodder for the front lines of the war between Law and Chaos.

Or rather, shouldn't they be?

Shouldn't alignment matter? If it doesn't, what's the point in choosing it?

If alignment doesn't matter at first level (the way I've outlined it above or in some other thought-out way) then why should we waste the time writing one down?

Personally, I think that alignment must matter, even at first level and, precisely for that reason, it shouldn't be chosen at first level.

I'll develop that a little further.

In my Iron Coast game, we've had a mix of alignment for the past few years and it didn't really seem to matter (my bad). Now, as we're getting into the Conqueror phase of the ACKS game, I've been forced to ask myself, "what are each of these dudes conquering things for?" What does the fact that this character is Chaotic mean for anything that he chooses to build or the way in which he chooses to build it?

And then the realization hit me: if he hadn't needed to make an alignment decision at first level, but could have made it later on in his career he would have made a decision that fit the way the character has developed. Sure, Chaotic may sound great at level one when "no one's gonna tell me what to do, I'm out for teh phat lewts, son!" But at level 9 when you're carving out a kingdom for yourself, do you really want that kingdom to be all full of orcs and goblins and ogres and such? Maybe you do, that's cool. That's what Chaos is for.

My point, though, is that maybe we should hold off making that decision until it's an educated one.