Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lopsided for Law

I'm still musing over 1st edition Oriental Adventures here. I decided to compare the class options by alignment between baseline AD&D and OA. Here are the classes from the 1st edition PHB laid out in standard the standard alignment format (Lawful Good upper left, Chaotic Evil lower right).

Ever alignment has six or seven class choices, except for Chaotic Good. CG gets the short end of the stick with only five. If you take out the ever-problematic Bard then CN also only has 5 options and the LG and LE become the only alignments with seven class options. Either way you cut it, each alignment has 6 +/-1 classes associated with it. Law is slightly favored over Chaos, but not by much.

Looking at OA, the situation is much more asymmetrical. Dig it:

The Lawfuls get seven classes and every other alignment only get four. This design choice seems aimed at an overall theme in OA: that the Mysterious East has a more rigidly organized societies than good ol' Pseudo-Europe. I'm not really against this particular conceptualizing of Totally Fake Orientland, but that uneven distribution feels pretty odd compared to normal Gygaxian set-up where every alignment has a fair share of the goodies.


  1. Also significant is that in the Occident four classes have complete freedom of alignment but only the Bushi in the Orient is free to choose. Classes in OA were designed with alignment in mind so it is surprising they aren't balanced.

    You are a very experienced DM. Did you ever try gaming for a period without alignment?

  2. The other thing I found very different about OA classes was the heavy emphasis on non-violence for shukenja. What with the rest of the party being lawful (equals goody two-shoes in my old games) I always wondered what the party actually *did*?

  3. Your site looks awsome! I like the drawings and so on :)

  4. Wait, 1st edition AD&D really allowed NG thieves but not CG thieves? That's... interesting.

  5. There is something you good people are not considering.

    Yes, OA does have a slant towards Law, which makes sense given the more rigid and traditional fantasy vanilla society of the East; but what "law" does each class follow?

    I'm assuming is its own personal code of honor, which for Samurai includes chopping the heads off peasants who look at you the wrong way; for Yakuza, cutting body parts of people who don't pay their dues when the oyabun says so, and for Sohei leading peasant revolts against the powers that be when things get insuportable.

    I don't think there is anything odd in the OA table compared with stardard AD&D, its just the consequence of trying to shore-horn a non-western mindset into a fictional FRP moral/ethical gradient.

  6. Was I supposed to toss you some Scooby Snacks with a question?

  7. It certainly wouldn't hurt!

    I don't recall ever playing D&D without at least a vestigal alignment system. It's just too much fun to write down "Chaotic" on your character sheet and then go around breaking stuff!

    But I've played games where the Gygaxian concept of alignment as a metaphysical force was eliminated or at least subdued. I think I tend to go that way because some days I think the ninefold system introduces unnecessary complication rather than the nuance that was intended. The threefold system Law-Neutral-Chaos does everything I need.

  8. Here are some, ooOo.OO..oo, snacks for the phrase the Gygaxian concept of alignment as a metaphysical force. I get high on language like that. It also reminds me of Philotomy's thoughts on the Dungeon, that is there is something unreal about it that should survive scrutiny.

    I have found alignment too pungent an influence on campaign background and too strong an identifier for NPCs or PCs. Im not happy leaving it out though, as it has always been core to D&D and every time I disagree with Gygax I feel I'm wrong. But I want my PCs to be free. Maybe when they retire we could look back and laugh, 'You were a right Chaotic bastard after all.'

    I get the sense you could run a game in any style you pleased which makes the style you have settled on all the more interesting.

    alignment as a metaphysical force