Saturday, January 24, 2015

Law, Chaos, and Conflict

I just posted an update to the Skybourne kickstarter explaining a little bit about how alignment works in the Skybourne universe, and now that I've explained the 'how' of alignment there, I thought I would take some time here to explain the 'why'.

As a designer, one of the things I do is identify places where the game could be expanded, explained, or attempted differently, and alignment fits the bill. In every forum that I've ever seen dealing with Pathfinder or D&D, I don't think I've seen a topic discussed more frequently than alignment: "Why does a paladin have to be Lawful?", "Why can't I make a barbarian/monk?", "Is the PC rogue who stole the party's things and slit their throats in their sleep a dick or does 'I'm just playing my Chaotic Neutral alignment!' really work there?"

The reason why interpreting alignment is so important in the above-situations is that it is hard-coded into Pathfinder; alignment requirements for classes, magic like dispel evil or protection from good, outsiders who have aligned subtypes; it's not just a guide for players, it's a part of the adventuring life. As such, the thing that seems the most intriguing to me about alignment isn't defining what is or is not a chaotic good personality, but really unpacking these mechanics; why are they there, and what do they mean?

For the Good/Evil divide, we generally seem to know what we're doing: heroes going off to defeat the evil dragon/necromancer/lich is such a part of the adventuring mythos that even neutral parties find themselves doing it for money, and almost every cleric casts protection from evil at some point in their career. The class with Good as a prerequisite (paladin) and the class with Evil as a prerequisite (Antipaladin) are literally polar opposites, and it isn't hard to imagine campaign conflicts that would pit these two against each other.

But what about Law and Chaos? They have the same mechanics; law and chaos have their own cleric domains like good and evil, and spells like protection from law and chaos hammer exist right alongside their good and evil companions. Stories are based around conflict, and the law/chaos divide seems to be designed to provide just as much conflict as the good/evil divide, but I've rarely seen this done in a way that seems satisfying. Sure, I've seen campaigns that tried to pit freedom fighters (chaos) against tyranny (law), but I've never seen that quite work; aside from the fact that even then I rarely see the law/chaos spells and mechanics being used, it raises all sort of new questions: If those freedom fighters win, won't they set up a government too, and would that make them suddenly lawful? Many revolutions throughout history have created governments just as oppressive as the ones they overthrew (often just targeted at different sub-groups). Is it only about attitudes toward personal freedoms and colonialism? And what does that say about classes with lawful/chaotic prerequisites? If paladins and antipaladins are defined by their conflict along the good/evil axis, what about monks and barbarians? True a barbarian must be nonlawful which leaves neutrality an option, but if we define the lawful/chaotic divide as opinions toward personal freedom or revolution, are we saying monks must always side with the tyrant and barbarians in opposition to him?

The answer given in Skybourne as detailed in our update (forest vs civilization) is an attempt to answer these questions by giving a visceral conflict to the law/chaos divide just as poignant as the good/evil divide. In Skybourne, lawful and chaotic forces fight for control of the destiny of a world, lawful to tame it, chaotic to free it.

Lawful evil forces could descend on chaotic good villages to enslave them, or lawful good forces could rally to defend a monastery against chaotic evil invaders, but as often as not it could simply be lawful neutral force plundering the forest for desperately-needed resources, or chaotic neutral forces invading lawful lands to stop what they see as the cruel and unusual subjugation of the natural world. In this setup not only do we provide players and GMs a reason to use spells that affect the lawful/chaotic divide, but also provide a series of potential adventure hooks for entire campaigns built around exploring this axis.

How about you all? Have you ever played a game that dealt with the law/chaos alignment axis? How did it go?


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