Servants of Order and Entropy: Alignment and Allegiance

Earlier this week, Keith Davies posted a comparison of three different “alignment” systems: The nine alignments of AD&D, the three alignments of OD&D, and the allegiance system of FantasyCraft and d20 Modern. In a bit of synchronicity, last week I was reading the Beyond the Black Gate Compendium 2010, which touches on the ideas from these two posts about the difficulty with alignment in sword & sorcery and shifting the OD&D alignment system toward an allegiance system. As I was reading BtBG, I was thinking that the allegiance scheme might be more in keeping with the tone of DCC RPG, and reading Keith’s post put me over the edge.

Elric of Melnibone
deviantART by Isra2007

So what is the fundamental difference between the classic conception of D&D alignment and the allegiance concept? A comment on one of the BtBG posts sums it up best: “It’s basically the idea of Alignment as something one does, roughly, as opposed to something one is.” Essentially, it is viewing alignment as the devotion of a character to certain higher cosmic forces rather than as a descriptor of a character’s behavior or attitude. In the allegiance view, a character who is quite honest and believes in strong government could very likely still be Neutral in alignment — a character is only aligned with Law if they work as an active servant of cosmic order and the eternal. It works very well for DCC, as it actually hearkens back to the Appendix N inspiration for the OD&D three-alignment system, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories.

Looking at how the various classes’ alignment tendencies play out in the allegiance model, I’d expect that spellcasting characters wouldn’t see any change in alignment diversity, as magical characters are those most likely to serve a patron of a cosmic force. Likewise, demi-humans could be seen as inherently magical and therefore tending toward an actual alignment, though halflings would probably shift strongly toward Neutral. (In fact, there’s a nice, simple elegance to dwarves = Law, halflings = Neutral, elves = Chaos.) Warriors, thieves, and all of the other folk in the world would overwhelming tend toward Neutral alignment, not getting involved with the machinations of otherworldy beings save for when they are swept up in them by the world around them.

In light of this differing outlook, I’m giving all of my current players a one-time shot at changing their characters’ alignment. Since I don’t plan to incorporate any new mechanical twists to alignment beyond the already-present Luck rewards, the shift here is purely one of meaning.  This works out well, as DCC doesn’t have any real integration of alignment explicitly into the mechanics as it stands, even with cleric spells and abilities, which simply refer to “evil” and the “unholy” as relative concepts defined by the role-playing of the character’s faith. There is, however, one point in the system where alignment is integrated in a mechanical manner that marginally complicates things: Thief skills.

In the DCC rules as written, there are three progressions of thief skills, each based on one of the alignments. But if thieves are almost universally Neutral, this would mean they all follow the same progression. I think that the simplest solution will work just fine here: When a character hits 1st level as a thief, they must choose to follow either the Path of the Boss, Path of the Assassin, or Path of the Swindler, and alignment has zero bearing on the matter. I can’t see any way this complicates or unbalances the system, as players were essentially already making this arbitrary choice when determining the alignment of potential thief zeroes. If any DCC peeps can foresee a issues or complications I’m not accounting for, I’d greatly appreciate the feedback.

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3 Responses to Servants of Order and Entropy: Alignment and Allegiance

  1. Keith J Davies April 5, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Hi John, I’m glad you found my article interesting and useful. I think shifting to using allegiance rather than alignment, even if you have more than one allegiance, simplifies a lot in the game. Having more than one allegiance might complicate the situation, of course, but that is to be expected when you try to serve more than one master… but at least the expectations being made on you are clear cut.

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