Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Basic D&D: Your Character, Alignment


Alignment in Basic D&D is far coarser than the granularity introduced in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or AD&D. The evolution of Alignment is fairly well documented.

BECMI can trace its Alignment "poles" to the original releases and many recent "retro clones" or "simulacrums" that seek to capture BECMI or B/X or the Rules Compendium return to this three pole Alignment system.


In Dragon #60 John Lees tried to get very analytical on Alignment in the AD&D ruleset and looked at three factors in any behavior that might be modeled in play from Alignment, morality, ethics, and laws

Basic D&D simply introduces Alignment with: "Take a moment, and think about how your character behaved. The fighter was one of the 'good guys.'" The magic user and goblin were "the bad guys."

In contemporary games of D&D, Alignment still exists and players struggle with the aspects of behavior defined by it. This is, in my opinion, due to the tilting of the scales in favor of story development in the game, and to some extent the rise of "Character Concepts." Adherence to an Alignment gets in the way.

"It's what my character's alignment says she would do!" is a not a joke that we laugh about, it's a real thing.

So, in Basic D&D we are presented with the three Alignments and the common behaviors attributed to them in the context of good and bad guys.

Lawful. Our Fighter-with-No-Name "tries to protect others and defeat monsters." This is a broad behavior that defines our fighter in the narrative. Aleena was too, and besides our Charisma attributes, affects our attitudes toward one another. "...if [our] Alignments were different, [we] probably wouldn't have been so friendly..."

Chaotic. Bargle, and the gobbo, are Chaotic, the polar opposite of Lawful. Interesting enough "most people don't like Chaotics" we're told. Normally. I emphasize normally because, as we will find in AD&D, the almost binary definition of Alignment behaviors creates artificial limits in play as attributable to the above idea that Lawful and Chaotic characters at the table would be morally and ethically opposed. In fact, Frank suggests in the example, only magic could make us get along and cooperate.

Neutral. We find that monsters and NPCs and even Characters can be Neutral. It is a balance, not "stupid"—in fact, we are reminded that the Intelligence attribute has nothing to do with Alignment. Snakes and many animals are Neutral.

THAC0, the movie.

In THAC0 Bill Stiteler, writer-director-producer, reminds us in a scene recalling the Satanic Panic of the 80s, that "most of the time we were good characters fighting evil." Alignment in many ways was a mechanic to reinforce these behaviors.

Cookie Jar Philosophy

Unfortunately, in the subtext of introducing Alignment, Frank is making Chaotic synonymous with Evil. The "temptation" to play Chaotic almost becomes an expectation. In fact, we learn in the history of D&D many of the most iconic characters of players in the development of D&D were in fact Chaotic or Lawful Evil (an AD&D alignment and often compared to Darth Vader, if he had an Alignment).

More on Alignment

We will learn specifics about each Alignment much later in the rules, including examples of behaviors in a game. On the very next page, we will also learn about Alignment Languages! And oh what wonderful debates have been had about that mechanic.

But before that, we'll take a tour of the Character Sheet.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10
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