Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jeff's Threefold Apocalyptic Alignment System

Here's how alignment worked the last couple times I ran OD&D, Basic/Expert D&D, etc. Answer the quiz below to determine your alignment.

1) Ragnarok just started. Aligned on one side are the Kirby versions of Thor, Odin, etc. On the other side are Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath. Where does your PC stand?

A) I fight alongside Thor!
B) I fight alongside Cthulhu!
C) Where do I stand? Are you crazy? I get the hell out of there and find a place to hide!

If you answered A your character is Lawful. If you answered B then your character is Chaotic. If you chose C then you're Neutral. It's that simple.

No other behavior matters for alignment purposes. You can sleep with your best friend's spouse and steal your grandma's last gold piece. If when the chips are down you fight alongside the inexplicable vikings with bad English accents or their proxies, then you're on the side of Law. You can fund orphanages and pay for Aunt Tilly's spleendectomy, but if you pal up with Yog-Sothoth it just doesn't count for anything alignment-wise.

Lawfuls can fight wars against each other, as can Chaotics. But if two Chaotic groups are fighting and the Lawfuls attack, be prepared for those Orcs and Goblins to suddenly act like fast friends. Good and evil, for purposes of detection spells and such, measure intentions. A man with malice on his mind detects as evil, no matter how good his previous deeds.

In short, Lawful and Chaotic are a decision (conscious or not) made by a character as to what side they are on in the grand cosmic throwdown between the barbarian gods and the outer gods. Good and Evil usually indicate a temporary state of mind. And no one is bound to any particular code of conduct, unless they take such a code upon themselves.


  1. This is my only "official" position on Alignment for my OD&D campaigns:

    "Before play begins, it is necessary to select not only race and class, but what broad ethical stance the character will favor – Law, Neutrality, or Chaos."

    I emphasize "broad ethical stance" and "favor" ... there's a huge amount of room for interpretation. As you noted, there are Lawful folks who aren't good (IMC, the Invincible Overlord) and Chaotic folks who aren't evil (IMC, most Elves).

    I never presume to tell a player how his character should be acting for alignment reasons, with the occasional exception of Paladins. Even Lawful Clerics can be gits. I try to look at alignment as a useful descriptor rather than a straitjacket; if every action is dictated by my strict interpretation of acceptable alignment behavior, there might as well be a Boolean flow chart instead of a player.

  2. Anonymous5:15 PM

    You know, I've been wracking my brains trying to figure out how to tweak the 4e alignment system to better suit my needs - which isn't a system problem, it's just an 'explaining it to my players' problem - and I think you've summed it up perfectly. I never had this clearly in mind when I ran my BD&D games as a kid, but looking at the campaign, it's right on the money.

  3. Anonymous9:41 PM

    Jeff, your alignment system is brilliant.


  4. To my embarassment, I actually suffered brief confusion over the phrase "fight with;" I wasn't sure if "fight with Cthulhu" (for example) meant "have a fight with Cthulhu" or "fight alongside Cthulhu." :)

    So my alignment is presumably Stupid :)

  5. Uh, upon reflection I could have worded that more clearly.

  6. Some further discussion on this topic on this ODD74 thread. Geoffrey seems to get what I'm saying.

  7. I think this system says it all.
    Kudos, Jeff!

  8. this is brilliant! And models Everyman perfectly!

    Can you avoid stating your alignment until Ragnarok actually happens?

  9. Tacoma11:45 AM


    I think maybe that means you're Neutral. And then it becomes a question of whether you can change alignment. But note that alignment here isn't what you do, it's what you feel. A Lawful could side with Chaos. But there's no reason why he would since the outcome of his success would be horrible in his opinion.