Law vs. chaos: close-minded vs. open-minded

This is sort of a logical extension of my earlier comments about looking at law vs. chaos in term so moral relativism. A lawful character is more likely to be close-minded, or at least set in his or her ways, whereas a chaotic character is more likely to be open-minded or willing to entertain different points of view. 

Note, this doesn't have to mean that a lawful character would look down on people with other points of view, or that they'll feel compelled to push those views onto other people. Both of these traits could be excellent for a lawful evil character, and could still be played will for even a lawful good character, but I don't feel that they're necessary. For example, if we apply this to religious beliefs then a lawful character could just as easily be praying for people to "see the light" as he or she would be to go about actively proselytizing.

On the chaotic side, the character is more likely to be accepting of different beliefs and points of view. Taking the same religious argument, then a chaotic good character could very easily still see the good that is done by believers of other gods and see them as kindred spirits, even if they don't follow the same god. 

Similarly, a lawful character is more likely to hold to their beliefs more strongly and feel more threatened if they are challenged, whereas the chaotic character would be more likely to hear the person out and be swayed by their words. 

This doesn't have to mean that a chaotic character can't have strongly held convictions, it can simply be a matter that they see those as their own personal convictions and they see how they might not necessarily work for everyone.

Exploring good and evil

When I started my law vs. chaos alignment series I glossed over good and evil. I did this for 2 reasons, the first is that I was intentionally focusing on just the law and chaos axis on the alignment scale. The second reason was that I do feel that good vs. evil is much easier for players to wrap their heads around.

In both my initial post, and my post on moral relativism, I made some quick comments about good vs. evil being more easily definable. In particular in the moral relativism one I briefly touched on the concept that mechanically good vs. evil should be absolute. That's what I wanted to expand on a little more here.

The reason I said it needs to be absolute in the game mechanics is that in Dungeons and Dragons, and Pathfinder, there are game mechanics built around alignment. There are several spells and effects that only work on characters with a certain alignment. If you allow the mechanics to bend on what it means to be good or evil then it becomes far too easy for a character to write one alignment on their sheet but play another. I've seen this quite a bit with neutral characters, who by rights should really be evil, except for the fact that they're playing with the "good guys".

In a game system that has hard and fast rules around being good or evil I think there needs to be a well defined criteria for what it means to be good or evil. Otherwise you run the risk of arguments around alignment shifts or how somebody can have a certain alignment on their sheet (player or NPC) yet still perform a certain act.

I think it's a very worthwhile exercise for a GM to figure out exactly what that criteria will be and to spell it out for the players. Feel free to engage them in the discussion as well. Some food for thought that tend to come up a lot would be things like torture, killing defenseless foes, killing innocents, etc. Where things can really get hazy though is if you start applying this to a society. For instance, can a society that allows slavery be a good-aligned society? 

GM Advice: Don't let your characters be as dumb as your players

Taking a break from the law vs. chaos topic. Sorry about being a day late on this as well. I am trying to stick to a Tuesdays and Thursdays schedule.

I'm taking a bit of a different approach today and offering up some GM advice. While I tend to be more of a player I do put a great deal of thought into what it takes to run a good game. Sometimes I think I over think that and that's why I don't tend to run stuff, I'm waiting for that perfect campaign. That said, I figure I can at least offer some advice from the player's perspective.

One of the issues that has come up a lot in my current gaming group is when the GM lets the players' lack of focus, or poor memory, to allow for the characters to do something monumentally stupid. 

Case in point, we had one situation where we were attacking a large group and wanted to capture at least a few people alive in order to question them about the big bad's plans. It was a large combat and we ended the session right after the combat. In the next session I think we were down a player and we spent a lot of the time just socializing and dealing with the bookkeeping of collecting the treasure from the previous combat. Then we started to move the story along a little bit but I know personally I just wasn't in the groove that night.  In the process, we completely forgot about the goal of getting some captives so we made no efforts to stabilize or revive any of the enemies, so they all died. 

This is definitely a situation where I think the GM should speak up. To the characters this is just after the battle, for the players it was a week later and we weren't all that focused. Because of this we failed to take advantage of the situation and were left sort of floundering for how to proceed. 

Obviously it is possible to go too far with this. You don't want a GM to second guess the players at every turn, but I think it's at least acceptable to remind the players about something they'd discussed in the previous session, when it makes sense that their characters would certainly not have forgotten that. 

Your players will have off nights, they won't be focused, they'll forget what happened in the last session. Heck, sometimes they'll just go to make some ridiculously dumb move without realizing it when their character really should know better. As a GM I think it's important to catch those situations and at least nudge the players along. 

Law vs. Chaos: Tradition vs. progress

Continuing on with my exploration of the law vs. chaos alignment axis I have a little bit of a different take. One possible interpretation of law vs. chaos is in terms of attitudes toward tradition or progress.

On the lawful side you could have a very conservative attitude where traditions are valued and change only happens slowly after careful consideration. On the chaotic side you could have a character who feels that most, or perhaps all, traditions have little value anymore and need to be cast aside in the interests of progress. Such an individual could be in favour of rapid technological advancement or exploring new ways to do things, or simply be railing against a rigid culture based on strongly held traditions.

Again, I feel this interpretation adds some excellent meat for a neutral character on this axis. Such a character could still strongly value some traditions but not others. Or, they could feel that progress in some areas is important but not all. Or perhaps they do try to maintain a balance between progress and sticking to the "old ways". For example, take a character who wants to be a craftsman and truly values the traditional methods of the craft but grates against the rigid guild structure that controls who can practice that craft. 

The other area I feel this interpretation can really shine is when applied to an entire society or culture. It's fairly common to apply an alignment to an entire culture and this interpretation really lends itself to that. It can allow for a chaotic society that still has some rules or laws, they're simply more likely to be far less and far less rigidly stuck to. This is a society that is not very held up on tradition and doing things a certain way just because they always had been. It could be a society of free-thinkers, artists and inventors, or at least one where those types of people are valued. 

Law vs. Chaos: Moral relativism

Picking up on my exploration of different ways to look at law vs. chaos on the alignment scale. I thought moral relativism was a very good one to start with. For a lawful character, they could tend to see morality as very absolute, possibly completely so, while a chaotic character could tend to see morality as far more relative.

For instance, a lawful good character is going to be far more likely to see certain things as always being wrong, no matter what the reason. This often leads to trouble if you have a thief in the party. On the other hand, a chaotic good character could be far more willing to do some morally questionable acts if it's in the interest of furthering a greater good, they might be more willing to take an attitude that the ends justify the means. 

Now one area to watch out for with moral relativism is how this will apply to good vs. evil in game mechanics. Personally, I tend to believe that if the game is going to have certain game mechanics hard tied to good or evil alignment then it necessitates that good vs. evil be fairly rigidly defined. This doesn't mean that you can't play morally relativistic characters, it just means you may have to be prepared for some of those actions to trigger an alignment shift on the good vs. evil axis. For instance, if that chaotic good character mentioned above were to start making frequent use of torture as a way to extract information I'd be very tempted to shift them to chaotic neutral, even if they were using that information to further a good goal. I realize that not everybody sees things in this way so GMs would be well advised to clarify their position at the start of a campaign so that this doesn't result in conflict later. 

Where I think this gets particularly interesting is it allows for a good amount of room for playing an interesting neutral character on the law vs. chaos axis. For them, certain things would always be right or wrong whereas others would depend on circumstances. Which things fall into those categories and why? Or perhaps there's certain circumstances that always make something right or wrong, again why? I find that typically playing a neutral character on the law vs. chaos axis just tends to mean that law vs. chaos really isn't that important, it just fades into the background, and I like the idea of this approach allowing some real meaningful "meat" for a neutral character, as well as for each extreme.

Exploring alignment: Law vs. Chaos

One of the things I wanted to do with the relaunched site was to have a forum for posting some of my thoughts on tabletop roleplaying games. I first got into the hobby when I was in elementary school and played quite a bit with my brother as well as some friends early in jr. high.

For most of my later teens and twenties I didn't have a group to game with and I fell out of things but I've always remained very interested in the hobby and aspects of the way different games work.  Over the past 8 years or so I've been playing with one group in a variety of different campaigns and it's really rekindled my interest to try more things.

One of the areas I wanted to explore was alignment. It's a pretty core concept in Dungeons and Dragons (although 4th edition has seriously changed it) and Pathfinder and it seems to be a big area of contention.

Good versus evil is fairly definable and tends to not trip people up too much, but it's the law vs. chaos axis where I've seen the most problems, particularly with chaotic aligned characters. Often players use chaotic to just mean "random" and to almost be a bit of a cop out where they can just do whatever they want at any time and justify it by saying, "but my character's chaotic". 

I'm a firm believer that "chaotic" doesn't have to mean "insane" and that's often how players play it. I think it's the term "chaos" that really throws people. But, let's take it from the opposite angle, if you have a lawful character then they should be completely predictable in every situation right? In fact the GM shouldn't even have to bother asking the player what their character is going to do because it should be completely predictable. Taken from this perspective I think it shows how utterly ridiculous it is to act in a completely random fashion just because your alignment is chaotic. 

I have several different ideas to approaches to the law vs. chaos axis that I think can add a lot more flavour, depth and realism to your character and allow for you to play a chaotic character who isn't chaotic stupid. I'm going to try to keep these posts short so I'll keep this to an intro post and will continue this series for different approaches to the law vs. chaos axis of the alignments.