Alignment – Tradition vs. Change

I got the basic idea for this from Haven and Hearth, a free Java-based MMORPG. That stewed in my mind for some time, eventually becoming a philosophical piece that I’m not going to write up here. Instead you get the way I think it applies to D&D.

The typical alignment axis is Lawful to Chaotic, and Good to Evil. Early D&D had just Law-Neutrality-Chaos. The concept was the same as in many scifi fantasy books where the forces of humanity were Lawful and those of the Fairy “otherworld” were Chaotic. See “The Broken Sword” and “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Poul Anderson and “Lud-In-The-Mist” by Hope Mirlees.

Furthermore, the alignment system has been not a continuum but a series of hard lines, so for example you cannot be 80% Good (though the Dragonlance Adventures hardback had a good solution to slow progression of alignment change by introducing steps in between, those steps weren’t named so you were Good until you became Neutral with no change in actual status in between). I’ll leave that for another post sometime.

What I want to talk about is how we think about Law and Chaos. If Law is Humanity, then it is also Good, as we see it. Likewise those Chaotic creatures see Chaos as Good. Law-Chaos seems to be objectively ethical, while Good-Evil is subjective. Law controls and makes life safe, Chaos frees and makes life unpredictable.

What if we talked about Law as Tradition, and Chaos as Change?

There are times in any civilization where Tradition works better and times when Change works better. Generally a healthy society would go with what works better, right? Let’s say you have a society where people use three-legged cauldrons (example taken from Tales of Neveryon). They’re easy to make, and they automatically balance properly, but they can get knocked over easily. What if someone came up with a four-legged pot design that was as easy to make and balance as a three-legged pot? Here we have a technological Change vs. technological Tradition. It would be better for that society to make four-legged pots. They’re just better. But what if the shift were not beneficial? It’s possible that the society would benefit from staying with what is Traditional instead.

Now think about societies as typically Tradition or Change. Societies that have strong Tradition will have fewer ups and downs, but will remain sturdy. Societies with strong Change will shift around a lot, plenty of ups and downs, may have boom times, but may also have busts.

Now take a D&D society. What if the strongest nearby agents of Change want to do bad shifts? Offensive war is Change. The opposing society might also be Change oriented, but it could be a defensive one, where Tradition is prominent. We now have a motivational reason why Law is different from Chaos. The Human Lawful kingdom has done things its way for so long, and it has worked well. Times have been fine as long as anyone can remember. Now a Chaotic kingdom either hits hard times and attacks, or else hits a boom time and becomes an economic threat, or in its boom time it flexes its muscles and tries to take over its neighbors.

Humans, and especially Dwarves and Halflings, all value safety and security. They are Tradition oriented (Lawful). Elves value new ideas, methods, arguments, etc. so they look upon the staid, static Lawfuls as boring and backward. Elves are Chaotic. Goblins’ motivations may be similar, but maybe they have baser needs such as feeding a burgeoning population, getting rid of a troublesome young male majority, expanding territory, or finding new places to live once they devastate a local ecology (lumberjacking, hunting, pasturage, etc). Dragons are interesting, because you could argue that they are strongly Tradition or Change depending on how you see them. The fact that Dragons are willing to sit still for long hibernations on piles of coins suggests that once they see a good thing they stick with it regardless.

If you agree that D&D is post-apocalyptic, then the safe Human societies will probably be the ones that found something that works and did it over and over to survive. The malleable bandits and monsters in the wasteland / wilderness fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t farm, they don’t mine, they don’t dig for treasure. They just roam around and steal from whoever else does those things.

And now my Joesky Tax.

Random Arrowhead Designs
1. Long, narrow, single point
2. Broad, double hook-back
3. Crescent with two points facing forward
4. Four angled spikes facing generally forward
5. Single point and single barbed hook-back
6. Cone-shaped
7. Long, tightly-spiraling screw
8. Triangular view looking at the point
9. Whistling (roll 1d8 for type)
10. Detaches in wound (roll 1d8 for type)
11. Flaming (+1 HP damage, light & shoot in 1 round if you have nearby flames, but always go last) (roll 1d8 for type)
12. Weak poison (save to negate 1d3 HP damage) (roll 1d8 for arrow type)

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