Friday, July 25, 2014

Do You Have An Alignment or Does It Have You?


What follows is some brainstorming on a conception of alignment that probably just over-complicates things, but hopefully will be of some interest to somebody.

As we all know, alignment is derived from Moorcock and Anderson and is suppose to provide some moral and ethical structure to--well, the universe--and to provide a behavioral check on certain character types, but any attempt to relate it to actual moral quandaries, leads to discussion of baby orcs. Some people (myself included) have suggested at times the obvious solution of just viewing the sides as teams or opposing armies free of a moral dimension, but mostly it seems like people just ignore it. While I'm still advocating for a bit of blue and orange morality here, I want to suggest another wrinkle.

I recently finished the third of Hannu Rajaniemi's science fiction novels, The Causal Angel (more on that another time, maybe). One of the futuristic societies, the zoku, tend to form group minds, but individuals joining one or more zoku (Japanese for "clan") related hobbies, interests, or vocation. This process involves "entanglement," a sort of co-mingling of though and desires. The higher one's rank (i.e. the longer one is a member or the more "good" they do for the group) the more entanglement the individual becomes and so the more their thoughts and desires are reflected in the group consensus and action, or "volition." This effect is reciprocal, though, so the higher rank, the more one's on thoughts and actions are shaped by the zoku volition.

Maybe alignments could be a bit like that? Joining up with a fundamental metaphysical power of the universe means getting benefits (positive reaction, access to power) but also means you lose a bit of your individuality (or at least have that individuality altered). for someone powered by alignment (a paladin, a cleric), the higher level you become the worse it gets. A high level Paladin would be unlikely to worry about straying from their alignment; they would become one with it, or at least part of it.

This would make adhering to any alignment sort of like bartering your soul for magical power. The only difference is, with bartering your soul you are still quite aware you've given something up. With this approach, it would get harder and harder to ever imagine yourself doing anything differently.

This of course means that gods and other beings of great power and strong alignment allegiance have probably become more or less avatars for the consensus overmind/soul of the alignment.

11 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

You'd have to do a lot of leg work up front. I guess with some minor tweaking you could get 'societies' developed with this alignment adherence.

In most of the fantasy genres, power is being bartered. It can come in the form if magic ability, immunity to something, or a powerful item or artifact. Something that could be easily taken away if the alignment code was not followed.

I like it and use it for some of my societies. But not for all of them. And I still don't use 'alignment' tags. Just a code of conduct.

Scott Anderson said...

I don't think this is all that much different from real life actually. Or that much different from game alignment. Maybe this is an important way to explain it. I am not smart enough to know whether this is persuasive. It seems tautological to me.

Trey said...

@Scott - Alignment in game doesn't stop someone from doing anything or make them do anything--it just may lead to consequences if they do or do not do it.

In the real world, being a part of an organization may change the way someone thinks, but people are perfectly capable of acting against the organization or being deceitful about their allegiance to it.

In the situation I describe, neither of these things would be possible, at least not in the long term. The thinking of the individual would alter so that they had no desire to work covertly against the organization. The control on volition would only allow them to act in the ways the organization wanted (though admittedly their would probably be some fuzziness in their, still leading to the possibility of the organization being unhappy.

This is not someone telling you what to do, this is mind meld.

Trey said...

@Scott - Alignment in game doesn't stop someone from doing anything or make them do anything--it just may lead to consequences if they do or do not do it.

In the real world, being a part of an organization may change the way someone thinks, but people are perfectly capable of acting against the organization or being deceitful about their allegiance to it.

In the situation I describe, neither of these things would be possible, at least not in the long term. The thinking of the individual would alter so that they had no desire to work covertly against the organization. The control on volition would only allow them to act in the ways the organization wanted (though admittedly their would probably be some fuzziness in their, still leading to the possibility of the organization being unhappy.

This is not someone telling you what to do, this is mind meld.

seaofstarsrpg said...

That would be interesting, challenging to design mechanically, but intriguing.

As I am sure I have mentioned, I have dropped alignment from my campaign but I have pondered various allegiances sort of systems as quasi-replacements. Maybe not as extreme as this though.

jdh417 said...

I have issues with Alignment as well. It might be worthwhile for monsters and NPC's for the DM's use, but not for players, even Paladins.

http://jdh417.blogspot.com/2012/09/fantasy-core-rpg-paladin.html

Excerpt:
As a general guideline, they are powerful representatives of the church and are fearless and unrelenting in confronting evil; supernatural or mortal.

However, keep in mind that God won't hesitate to use flawed people for good ends. The brothers and sisters of the order are held together more by the seriousness of their mission, than the ability to quote scripture or the projection of virtue. Likewise, for some paladins, confrontation may mean attack always, while others will seek negotiation first if possible.

Gus L said...

I've been thinking of faction in a somewhat similar way - faction reputation as an absolute value that grants a character access to things of value (henchmen, equipment, spells) but demands they do things for it and after a certain point (usually fairly soon) renounce other factions. I suspect it would be easy to expand this idea to alignment, or mess with it, but if one is making alignment that central to a game it should have a metric that defines when exactly the PC can summon angelic hordes.

Trey said...

Yeah, certainly, if you were going to require everyone to do it as d&d typically does. What I sort of envisioned (though didn't say in the
post) was having it be optional except for classes that required it.

Unlikely Lass said...

This makes me think of two things, both from Chaosium: Elric!/Stormbringer allegiances and Pendragon's virtues and vices.

I always thought someone needed to use those in a superhero game...

Chris C. said...

Alignment is always problematic, I think, since it can be read simultaneously a group organization ("alignment languages") and as a code of conduct ("a paladin must/must not do X or else he loses all his special abilities), and as a state of being ("only lawful good characters can wield this sword"), all of which can easily be fractured and go off in different directions for the same entity. I think your idea has merit in that it would tend (I think) to make the possibility of fracture less likely (maybe even less possible).

Where it could get tricky in its own right is in the dynamic between individual and group, since whatever code of action/state of being/other could fluctuate dynamically in the interaction between individual and group. And there is also the question of agency that could become tricky (depending how you set it up).

In some ways it reminds me (slightly) of the Borg mentality from Star Trek. Does the Borg Queen control the collective, or does it control her, or both? (On the surface it looks like she's in control, but who really knows?)

I do find the idea quite thought-provoking.

Trey said...

@Unlikely Lass - Good call!

@Chris C - Thought provoking was the effect I was after, definitely.