Friday, July 16, 2010

Alignment as Allegiance

Alignment as Allegiance

While pondering the idiosyncrasies of Alignment in the Sword & Sorcery realm, I suggested that alignment, as a code of ethics or behavior, was somewhat counter-intuitive to a true, pulpy, Sword & Sorcery setting. The concepts implied by Allegiances, rather than those implied by Alignments (or at least what they seem to be commonly viewed), would seem to be more in line with fantasy gaming inspired by Howard, Leiber, Vance, or Moorcock.

But in a universe where 99% or so of adventurers (or "freebooters", as I like to think of them) would most rightly be considered "Neutral", how best to differentiate those who have thrown in their lot with "Law" or "Chaos"?

In Sword & Sorcery genre terms, the motivations for an individual to pledge themselves may be primarily class-based. A sorcerer, I would assume, would be most likely to pledge himself to Chaos so that he or she could more easily become a more powerful sorcerer. A cleric may pledge him or herself to Law to become a more powerful cleric and therefore more easily impose order on a world that has committed some perceived injustice. There must be some tangible benefit for a character to formally declare an allegiance with one side or the other. With the benefit must come some great penalty for failing to honor that allegiance. The penalties must be terrible to contemplate!

One possible way to handle this could be something like this:

Allegiance to Law or Chaos:
A character of at least 2nd level formally declares his or her intention to obey and further the ends of either Chaos or Law. The exact process necessary to make this formal declaration is up to the referee - perhaps a period of vigil and fasting, perhaps a terrible sacrifice or ritual, perhaps merely uttering a terrible oath following some personal tragedy. The character then gains a particular class-based advantage, provided that character remains faithful to his or her chosen cause and commits no great infraction. If such a character should fail to do so, he or she immediately loses any benefits of the allegiance, loses 1d2 levels of experience, and must roll on the dire consequences chart below.

Choosing an allegiance to Law or Chaos provides two important benefits. One is a supernatural enhancement to the character's effectiveness. This enhancement is typically class-based, and may vary depending on the character's goals or desires. Magic-Users and Clerics typically receive the benefit of functioning as a caster of one level higher than their current level of experience (i.e. a 6th level magic user would gain extra spells as a 7th level character, and spells would function at 7th level). Fighting Men typically receive bonus hit points equal to an extra HD at maximum potential, a +3 bonus to-hit and damage against foes of an oppositional power, and a +1 bonus to-hit and damage against all other foes. The second benefit of Allegiance is that all other true believers are sworn to assist the character in any way possible when that character is engaged upon an errand to further the ends of that power (this of course does not prevent treachery or infighting once that errand is satisfactorily completed.

The most favored servants of Law and Chaos have been known to cheat death if their patrons have further use for them. In situations where the aligned character has been killed, or faces certain death, their is a percentile chance of 5% per level of experience of divine intervention. This intervention may be expressed in different ways, from miraculous healing, to sending an ally, or whatever the referee feels is appropriate to the situation.

Dire Consequences:
When an aligned character fails their patron or power in some inexcusable fashion, he or she immediately loses all allegiance benefits, loses a level of experience, and must roll on the chart below (d20):
1 - Character is visited by patron, and killed in some horrific fashion.
2 - Appearance is forever cursed, suffer a loss of 3d6 points of charisma (to a minimum Cha of 3).
3 - Health is forever cursed, suffer a loss of 3d6 points of constitution (to a minimum Con of 3).
4 - Vision is cursed, permanent blindness.
5 - Future is cursed, permanent penalty of -20% to experience point gain.
6 - Performance is cursed, permanent penalty of -1 to all attack, damage, and saving throw rolls.
7 - Referee's Choice, or invent a new, appropriate penalty.
8-18 - No further penalty.
19 - Patron shows gratitude for character's past service by waiving the normal level loss.
20 - Character is forgiven, patron restores all benefits and gives character one more chance.

What about the Neutral guys?
All that excitement above may seem like an impossible lure to players, which could potentially defeat the whole purpose of making changes to the alignment system - creating a world where most adventurers are Neutral. So maybe a couple of simple, but not terribly unbalancing, benefits are appropriate for those who hold the honorable character trait of Selfishness on its proper high pedestal, such as a +5% bonus to xp and the option to re-roll one failed saving throw a day.

This is all just brain-storming, of course, but seems like it could be an entertaining alternative to the "traditional" system of alignment.


  1. This is great. I'd actually just written up an Alignment-as-Allegiance house rule doc, but it has no actual mechanics associated with it. I like what you've got here, and will probably be borrowing heavily.

  2. I like the idea of alignment as allegiance, as well as the idea of favored champions of each ethos. I'm planning to use Law, Chaos, and Balance similarly in my game. One thing to think about, though, is allowing the option for a character to commit to Balance as a cosmic force in addition to Law or Chaos. That way a player can play an active Neutral trying to equalize the two extremes, rather than just having neutral alignment be unconcerned.

    As far as the benefits and penalties in your system, they remind me a lot of the Chaos champions from Warhammer. Great benefits, but lots of cost if you fail to live up to them. Good work!

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  4. Very thorough and thoughtful post with detailed mechanics. My only concern would be how it would impact the parties individual players are in. For example, in the group I regularly play in, there is one guy who always plays lawful characters while the rest of us play neutral or chaotic alignments. It only is an issue during role playing for the reasons you've mentioned, but it *does* come up during the role play and was awkward enough at that. How would a group possibly function under this system unless they all were committed to the same allegiance/alliance? Wouldn't it inevitably break up the group or weaken it by making sure that at least some of the members would suffer a penalty while others received bonuses?

  5. @Good points - I imagine it would come down to what the Ref feels he or she can handle in their games. I've played with Refs who are adept at rolling with different alignments, inter-party intrigues, etc, and others who outright forbid it.

  6. Alignments-as-Allegiances creates a significantly different atmosphere than the traditional alignment system, perhaps to the degree that lawfully & chaotically aligned adventurers might have to part ways and/or kill each other on sight. But I see that as a feature, not a bug. The decision to sign your name to the Lords of Chaos roster should not be taken lightly; it's a significantly bigger deal than choosing to play the thief who keeps picking fellow party-members' pockets.

  7. It's basically the idea of Alignment as something one does, roughly, as opposed to something one is, isn't it? I really like it, and almost more so the fact that it hearkens to the original meaning of alignment, or aligning oneself to a specific ideological faction, rather than just behaving in a certain loosely 'chaotic' way.
    (Or does it? I just like the word align, in fact.)

    But it's interesting to think that, by changing the function of Alignment so drastically, you are actually eschewing behavioural Alignment altogether (and in effect not replacing it with allegiance-based Alignment), since their functions are very different:
    While behavioural Alignment is a catch-all game mechanic, essentially a bit of crunch-without-numbers, or a spell- and magic item-limiting mechanic if you will, allegiance-based Alignment is much more of a setting-specific thing, which can be possible towards Chaos and Law, or Good and Evil, or different panthea or even belief systems—think of alignment in an Arthurian setting; it's an unbelievable fit! And I posit it would be so for countless other paradigms.

    In all, 'your' Alignment is a much more interesting and much more atmospheric one. I love this blog!

    PS. Your Alignment-as-Allegiance image has vanished! Was it nice? Would you replace it for us? With a cherry on top?

  8. I dig this. It reminds me of the system from Stormbringer with the Agents of Law and Chaos. I wrote up this version of something similar:

    But I like your actual 'benefit' mechanic. I think I might use yours for people who go a step beyond simply joining an alignment but prove themselves somehow and become Agents.



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