Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #6 Part 1

The Strategic Review #6 sees a definite branching out of subject matter as compared to previous issues. With some fiction, reviews, as well as articles ongames like Fight in the Skies, War of Wizards, Dungeon, and Ancient Conquest, it's getting much closer to its later incarnation as The Dragon. There are also a number of fascinating D&D articles, as usual, starting with an overhaul of alignment.

THE MEANING OF LAW AND CHAOS IN DUNGEONS & DRAGONS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIPS TO GOOD AND EVIL: It seems that even in the old days alignment caused a lot of arguments, so here comes Gary to clarify things. But it's more than a clarification – this is a revamp of the whole system.

We already have Law, Neutrality and Chaos as alignments from the OD&D boxed set. This article introduces another axis of alignments – Good and Evil. These can combine in in six different ways – Lawful/Good, Lawful/Evil, Chaotic/Good, Chaotic/Evil and Neutral. It's pretty much the system used in AD&D, with a few options missing (Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, etc.). And it's exactly the system that was used in the Eric Holmes version of Basic D&D.

Before this point Law and Chaos were the only real cosmic considerations in the campaign, so I'll need to introduce something pretty drastic to justify the inclusion of Good and Evil to the system. I've already set up Law and Chaos as the two primal forces of the universe, constantly at war. Clerics before this don't worship specific gods, but are devoted to Law or Chaos. I'm thinking that this is the point where I will introduce specific churches, splintering the Church of Law and its chaotic counterpart into factions. From that point on a character's stance on Good vs. Evil will be just as important as his stance on Law vs. Chaos.

The article provides a chart to be used for tracking alignment shifts in PCs, but of greater interest are the details around the edge – our first glimpse of the Outer Planes! Eight of the planes are named and assigned to an alignment: Heaven (Lawful/Good), Paradise (Good), Elysium (Chaotic/Good), Limbo (Chaos), The Abyss (Chaotic/Evil), Hades (Evil), Hell (Lawful/Evil), and Nirvana (Law). Small details, but it's the clearest picture yet of the Greyhawk cosmology. However, further reading indicates that these planes have shifted a little in alignment once 1e comes around. I'll chalk this chart up as faulty research on the part of some sage or another. They've managed to explore into some of the Outer Planes, and discerned that they are related to the cosmic forces of Law, Chaos, Good and Evil, but their conclusions are wrong, as there are a whole lot more planes out there they don't yet know about.

There are also four types of beings that epitomize the most extreme alignments: Saints are Lawful/Good, Godlings are Chaotic/Good, Demons are Chaotic/Evil, and Devils are Lawful/Good. This is the first real mention of demons and devils, and their alignments here match later depictions. There are no Saints in later editions so far as I know, but there are Angels – I believe that I can safely equate the two terms. Godlings are another matter. Nothing in later D&D mentions them, but to me the term conjures up images of demi-gods such as Heracles. Still, I'm not all that inclined to create a new race of demi-gods just yet – I'm placing these guys on the back-burner until further reading gives me some ideas.

Following this is another big old chart, the same as the previous one, but with D&D monsters scattered over it to indicate their new alignments. No real surprises here, although it should be noted that Orcs are Chaotic/Evil, not Lawful/Evil as AD&D has them. Liches are also listed as Lawful/Good and Lawful/Evil, indicating that the process of becoming undead to live forever doesn't necessarily make you a bad guy. Finally, the Chromatic Dragon and the Platinum Dragon, said in Supplement I to be unique, are here listed as plural. I'll take that in a multiversal sense – each world has only one, but there is more than one of each spread across multiple worlds.

After that Gary gives some rough guidelines on tracking PC alignments, and provides the following interesting line: "The player-character who continually follows any alignment (save neutrality) to the absolute letter of its definition must eventually move off the chart and into another plane of existence as indicated." That's cool, and I'll definitely be implementing it as a possibility for super-high-level characters.

It's also interesting to note that while good and evil are said by Gary to be subjective, Law and Chaos are not.

There's another line that gives a good indication of the D&D cosmology: "If we presuppose that the universal contest is between Law and Chaos we must assume that in any final struggle the minions of each division would be represented by both good and evil beings." So Law and Chaos are still the ultimate forces in the universe, with Good and Evil simply being modifiers within those factions. The former shows what side you're on in the universal struggle, and the latter shows how you act in pursuit of that struggle. Gary's also quick to point out, though, that outside of some epic final battle between Law and Chaos, Good beings are more likely to ally with others who are Good, and the same goes for Evil.

There's a bit about paladins, and how they must toe the line as far as being Lawful/Good goes. The loss of their powers still occurs if they violate their alignment, but a divine quest or intervention can now help them be restored to paladinhood.

This bit about Clerics is interesting, and contradicts some of my assumptions from earlier. Clerics of either Good or Evil alignment must remain so – but they are able to switch between Law and Chaos without retribution? I find this strange... But I'll tie this in with the burgeoning of specific deities and churches. Law and Chaos might be the fundamental forces driving the universe, but the gods who grant clerical powers are in general more concerned with matters of good and evil, and more likely to withold powers on that basis. The one mechanical thing to take out of this is that your standard clerics are Good, and anti-clerics are evil.

There's a final note that most of humanity is Lawful, and about halfway between Good and Evil. Few are Chaotic, and very few Chaotic/Evil. Sounds fair enough to me.

Whew. That was one hell of an article, so I'll be stopping here, I think. Next time I'll be looking at the latest class for D&D – the Bard.

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