Monday, May 28, 2012

Cosmic Alignment

John (of Thistledown Post) put up an interesting discussion on alignment in the DCC RPG. As he relates...

"The system of alignment in the DCC RPG is one that reflects its old-school heritage... Law is given as the choice of those who would uphold society's system of order and rules, producing the common good. Chaos is all about over-throwing authority, exercising personal power, and self-serving ends. The middle ground is Neutrality, the choice of those who choose not to decide, (hmmm...sounds like a famous Rush song of which I'm fond.)"

It is interesting that DCC specifically chooses not to equate Law with "good" and Chaos with "evil." Point in fact, the DCC RPG core book describes bugbears, goblins, hobgoblins, and troglodytes as being Lawful, and thus vulnerable to be Turned by chaotic Clerics. It is undoubtedly surprising to some that such traditionally evil creatures would be categorically Lawful in alignment, until you consider that there may be multiple axes that the struggles of the "urth" orbit around. Morality and Order are two such axes that do not necessarily always converge, as they have their own alien interests and objectives. Rather than seen as a graph or chart, perhaps aligning morality with order is better seen as a complex gyroscope, where good and evil is one ring and law and order are another (where even further alignments, include political, planar and magical could be included).

Certainly, neither pole of order (Law or Chaos) apparently comports itself to morality. As John describes:

"In my campaign, Law and Chaos will be struggling for dominance. Either potential outcome will not be good for the mortal folks of the world. If Law wins, the world become stagnant and unmoving. If Chaos wins, the world becomes a place of ever-changing pain and torment."

As the sun burns away and the old stars draw ever closer, ethics are increasingly merely short term sources of guidance. In truth, the dominion of either Law or Chaos will have an ultimately tyranical effect that will blot out all life. Law will crush its own people under heel, or simply allow them to die out and fade away in a perfect utopia, doomed by entropy like Tolkien's elves. Chaos will turn the world over into rioting and ruin. Neutral forces are aligned to the very passage of time itself, and seek either to prolong the titanic struggle that lays waste to the urth as long as possible before the imminent and inevitable end, or are entirely uninterested in the world's fate and worship the very fatality of it all. Dread Cthulhu, who would mindlesly tear the urth to pieces like a wet paper towel were he ever to turn over in his sleep, is notably Neutral in the DCC RPG book.

What I like here is that morality is something that veils the perhaps less obvious, but in the long term more dire, conflict. Morality concerns itself with the present, contingent and earthly situation, and represents an entirely different axis that intersects at times with Law and Chaos, which are more cosmic in origin. Ultimately, it is the ancient struggle between the latter forces, however, that march the world ever closer to inexorable collapse.

Here, the world is never to be saved, and the downfall is more or less inevitable. The urth is doomed, and stands in the shadows of a late age where the powers of order have long since committed to mutually assured destruction. This long tide from the deep oceans of the cosmos is drawing in upon the tiny urth, and will wash over its edifices and civilizations.

We can start to see a convergence between the concept of different planes of existence and the different interpretations of alignment (which has been, at times, a stand in for morality, psychology, planar politics or societal disposition). In the ancient mind, the world was seen as flat and the cosmos extended above it, with each heavenly body moving in perfect circles above (an attempt to understand why the same star would occupy a different part of the sky at different times of the year). What if these cosmic rotations of the empyrean were the wheels of countless irreconcilable alignments and orders, each arrayed against each other and against the terrestial surface in complex webs of machinations, alliances and feuds. Only when the different forces arrayed against the urth had come into perfect balance, and these stars were in perfectly aligned, would true Neutrality reign and draw forth the old ones. At last, the stars are right.

Appendix A: Alternate Alignments
I find it is important to move alignments away from Platonic absolutes. In the Warhammer setting, the human psyche itself makes an impression on the metaphysical, and massed human emotions and thought can empower or even create entities in the raw chaos of the beyond. When you stare into the void, sometimes the void stares back. Here are d24 alternate alignments to drop into your campaign.

1 Psychological (from the village's deep-seated fears)
2 Chemical
3 Radiation (from the nearby nebula)
4 Planar
5 Linguistic (from the dead language recovered by the scribe)
6 Magnetic
7 Musical (from the mindless cacophony echoing in the deep)
8 Ethical
9 Elemental
10 Rhetorical (from an argument long forgotten)
11 Temporal (pouring forth from the black hole)
12 Cultural
13 Political (of the local petty barons)
14 Familial
15 Artistic (of the last masterpiece of the legendary painter)
16 Energy
17 Ancestral (from the forefathers that look down upon their tribesmen)
18 Philosophical
19 Moral
20 Gravitic
21 Mechanical
22 Mythic
23 Poetic
24 Organic (from the puddle of mossy slime by the roadside)

1 comment:

  1. Never saw why alignment was needed at all except for clerics to make sure they are in line with their deities and NPCs to gauge their reaction to PC actions.



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