Monday, March 7, 2011

Triple-Axis Alignment System

Recently, Delta posted two quotes from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Clearly, this is at least a large part of the inspiration for alignment as originally conceived in DnD.

I think, for my purpose, the most important line in what Delta quoted is, "Decent humanity would, on the other hand, always want to strengthen and extend Law, safety, predictability." That's the main problem I have with the traditional definitions of the Law-Chaos spectrum: when all the PCs, and just about everyone they meet that they aren't killing is too, what's really the point of saying they are Lawful? Categories only work if they provide useful distinctions.

So, while the original DnD Law-Chaos spectrum is cool, I think it might be best left in the inspirational material. (Then again, I might be missing something- I suspect not, though, since, from what I can tell from reading the blogs, alignment is something everyone deals with differently. This just happens to be the way I deal with alignment.) In my games, I instead use a triple-axis alignment system. It's based off of the 1e-3.5 double-axis alignment system, with another axis that resembles, but is certainly not identical to, the original Law-Chaos spectrum.

I'm not going to include the write-ups of the Law-Chaos and Good-Evil spectrums that I included in my players' handbooklets that I typed up, partly because they are long and everyone is probably already familiar with them, and partly because I'm not sure, technically, about the rights to everything in them. I borrowed some from the 3.5 SRD and am also pretty sure that I got some inspiration from ChicagoWiz, but I don't know just which parts, and I don't know the particular blog post, so it's safer if I keep that offline. I call this third spectrum of alignment the "Civilization-Barbarism" spectrum. Here's what I included in my handbooklet:
The Civilization-Barbarism axis concerns the way a character views the spread of large nations and the homogenization of culture and progression of science that comes with it. A Civilized character will view the expansion of great civilizations to be bringing light to dark places, making the world safer and advancing progress. He will value cosmopolitanism and science and will make sacrifices to bring other places within the influence of his civilization or just civilization in general. A Neutral character may not care about such things as progress or the destruction of old ways, or he may see both good and bad in the growth of great civilizations. A Barbaric character views the growth of nations and civilizations to be a destructive influence, destroying the sacred traditions passed down for generations and forcing all in its wake to adopt the soulless ways of life of the conqueror, or else become extinct. A Barbaric character will fight against the imposition of a dominant culture upon others of different cultures and will work towards the preservation of diverse races and ways of life, whether his own or others'.
A good test to see where your character falls on the Civilization-Barbarism axis is to imagine that your character is leading a squad of crack fighting men through a forest when they come upon a battle between the Imperial Guard and some nomadic tribesmen. If your character sides with the Imperial Guard, your character is Civilized. If your character sides with the nomadic tribesmen, your character is Barbaric. If your character sides with neither side, your character is Neutral.
How do you use alignment in your games? Is my triple-axis alignment system too complicated, do you think? Is there something I'm missing that is causing me to abandon the original Law-Chaos spectrum?