ALIGNMENT IS A TOOL, this is said over and over again, but that is kind of an eclectic statement, isn’t it? A tool for what? It is a tool for the characters to figure out their motivation, it is also a tool to help the Dungeon Master to figure out how his NPCs act. Individuals are not the only things which have alignments. Society, religion, orders, kingdoms, everything has alignments, and by pitting these alignments up against one another, we get possibilities for adventure!
KINGDOMS & RULING SOCIETY
The makers of law and the keepers of the peace should have an alignment. If this alignment is no longer the kings, or the majority ruler of a system, then it is out of balance and needs to be corrected before a rebellion starts. HELLO! This is exciting stuff! This is the foundation of many great stories centered around betrayal. Find the betrayer before the entire kingdom is corrupted. When King Richard left to fight in the Crusades, the exploit of King John are still remembered to this day! If this Alignment suddenly changes, it could be more catastrophic then simply losing some experience points, and if it is a big enough change, other groups are going to become upset and attempt to either restore the order of the kingdom, else take it over completely.
Differing alignments also tell us what kingdoms are at peace, and which are at war! Chaotic Evil kingdoms would be poorly ruled, but extremely aggressive towards their neighbors. Lawful Neutral are highly militant and are usually easily offended and persuaded by neighboring kingdoms with a dark agenda.
Anybody who has ever played a cleric knows how important alignments are to their characters. A religion itself should always have the same alignment as the deity that they represent. With kingdoms, these alignments tell us how they are excepted by society, how they view it, and how excepting that they are towards other religions.
Lawful religions are the most corrupt. They seek to destroy kingdoms, and manage the laws themselves. Many except no alternatives, and consider their god, the one true god! If they have law on their side, then they can be very demanding on the people in which the govern . . . and some how they always will have people to govern. Either they will leave a kingdom, or they will have the ear of the ruling party in such a way that it can’t be separated any longer.
Religions can become corrupt as well. Just look at the evil which happened during the Inquisition. This wasn’t an evil order! Greed, fear, and zealotry drove the church into some kind of temporary insanity which has left a large scar on it’s creed to this day. Many clerics believed that what they were doing was a good thing! They were righteous, and good, but their overall actions were steeped in evil.
Society’s alignment may differ greatly from the Kingdom, or even be broken up within a large city itself. Society alignment is typically common for a city, village, or town. Bandits can successfully hide in a deep forest for years in a lawful good kingdom, and this rogues are not Lawful Good.
This is not individual, but can be a tool which the DM can use to quickly chose an alignment for a specific character who lives in, or hails from, that society. Societies who suffer a kingship alignment change are still going to stay their alignment, and they won’t be happy about the new direction which the ruling class is taking. Heroes such as Zorro, and Robin Hood, who under different circumstances would be considered criminals, would now be embraced as defenders of the common man, and protected by society itself.
Society can also change alignment, warfare or disaster can quickly change the way a society sees the world. A town who is locked in a cycle of famine will have to turn to either raiding or begging. If enough societies band together, then they can topple Royal alignments through bloodshed and civil disobedience.
The mayor or lord of the area can also be of a vastly different alignment then his king, everybody is capable of hiding their alignment, at least short term. He was do everything in his power to stop his victims from seeking justice, and the potential for adventure here can be very exciting. An evil lord within a good kingdom can be ignored for years simply because he pays the king off, but the entire time he is plotting against him to gain more power. Should the King stop this wonderful source of wealth just because it offends his own ego? What about the people who live under this tyrant?
SECRET SOCIETIES AND SOCIAL ORDERS
Lawful kingdoms usually have Knights, while Chaotic kingdoms depends more on Warlords. Society under severe religious turmoil must practice their religions underground. Even kingdoms which are working will have secret societies that are not content with how things are, and if these secret societies get tired of simply complaining, and start doing something about it, then this is a source for adventure as well.
What are the knights doing with there time? Is there an enemy nearby that constantly keeps them occupied? Do they wander the land as keepers of the peace? Are they charged by their god to embark upon a seemingly impossible task? All of this effects how society views them.
Warlords typically control the masses through fear and violence, else ignorance and refusal to deal with a problem until it spirals out of control. Rangers also fit into this equation, they also perform the duties of knights, protecting large areas, but they aren’t as orderly as the Knights, and clashes with these different orders can result in conflict, and possibly war.
SOCIAL ALIGNMENTS AND PLAYER CHARACTERS
A good writer hides his plot so that it cannot easily be found within the manuscript. We must do the same thing with alignments. These are tools for us, not PCs. Just because a Village is Lawful Good doesn’t mean that everybody within that village will have this alignment, individuals can have any alignment out there! Nor are they slaves to this alignment, a Lawful Good fishermen is still going to haggle to get the best price for himself, and if he finds a way to rip off another individual then of course he’s going to do it! That is what, Alignment is a tool, means.
PITFALLS OF ALIGNMENTS AS ADVENTURE
Now, naturally if one relies on this adventure source too much, you are going to run into some problems. Namely, if the players figure out what you are doing, then they are going to realize that they are never going to get anywhere. Conflict is the name of the game, and if this isn’t hidden behind great creativity then your players are going to get really bored.
Foils are needed, Elves need Drows, The Shield Lands require The Horned Society and the followers of Izu, and the land itself just cries for a Dragon to curse it. Without conflict then we have nothing to do. We can’t afford to let the players hunt down and kill Lilith, but we can spoil her plans and derail her plots. We can chase the Drow away from the city, maybe even out of the kingdom, but where will they go? To a chaotic evil country where they can form an alliance with the country and eventually return to reclaim their rightful homeland, and hopefully crush the good kingdom once and for all.
Having a wide variety of goals, and playing styles is still going to be necessary. Grand adventures in regards to mass alignments get old just as fast as constant dungeon-crawling does. Secretly, we’ll know that it is all related, but on the surface, the players will be able to ignore it and focus on the here and now. If we depend to much on social alignments, then we’ll remove much of the magic that people play the game for, and once you learn the trick, then that trick will never amaze or amuse you ever again. Keep your secrets, focus on creating creative scenarios, and remember that presentation is key to running a game successfully.
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