(by chris the cynic)
[Something went wrong so this didn’t go up when scheduled, oops.]
So, basically, make an alignment system. Or describe one you like and how you like it. Remember that the idea is not to fully describe anything, but rather to create a model that approximates the desired thing well enough to be useful in some fashion.
For those familiar with alignment systems, go, do this thing, for those who want a bit more detail, read on.
Dungeons and Dragons, which the above chart is taken from, says that alignment describes ethos. Ethos is an ancient Greek word and it’s a very important one. It’s one of Aristotle three modes of argument; it’s what gives us words like ethical and ethics. It means “character”. Not character in a play, or character in an RPG, but who a person IS.
An alignment system is supposed to describe that ethos in a way that is simultaneously simple and complex enough to be useful. If it’s too simple then it won’t really describe, if it’s too complex it might describe stunningly but it won’t be terribly useful as any kind of shorthand.
Generally, to create an alignment system you need two things:
- Axes (the plural of axis, not ax/axe)
- An understanding of how they relate to each other
So first Axes
The two most obvious are probably the ones that DnD uses. Let us start there.
Good vs. Evil is a very old system of thought, though what constitutes good and evil is subject to variation and change.
Lawful gives us our first wrinkle in things. One might construct a Lawful axis as going from completely following the law always, to completely disregarding the law. That would go from Lawful to Neutral. DnD instead extends it passed Neutral to completely hostile to the very idea of law and order (Chaotic) thus equal and opposite of Lawful.
Point being, if you’re making something up, you get to choose the poles of the spectrum. And by no means feel constrained by DnD’s choices.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight introduced an alignment system for American politicians that had one axis be conservative-moderate-liberal and the other as populist vs technocrat.
I’ve seen a nice role playing game that had selfless vs selfish as its only axis.
means vs. ends works fine
big picture vs. little picture
individual rights vs. good of the group
diversity vs conformity
individuality vs conformity (yes, I did just have two axes with the same pole)
In Star Wars Jedi are guided by the Force to do the right things while Sith contort the force to their whims, so:
submission to (the force) vs. domination of (the force)
protect the powerless vs. please the powerful
Luddite vs. Borg
silly vs. serious
How they relate
I’m not sure if the diagram above was my introduction to DnD alignment, there’s some evidence it was, but I could have sworn that there was less internal curves and grey space and more showing of the axes. Regardless, my introduction was a circle, not a square, and I always liked that because the descriptions given didn’t allow one to be pure X without completely disregarding the adjacent positions.
Totally committed to lawfulness means you obey the law, be it good or evil, so to become more Good you must become less Lawful. To become more Evil you must also become less Lawful.
The way that DnD’s two axes relate is that they share a common center, are at right angles, and it’s impossible to get more than a certain distance (say 100%) from that center. So Chaotic Evil isn’t 100% Chaotic and 100% Evil because (by Pythagoras, blessings be upon his name) that would be about 141.42% away from neutral, impossible. In fact it’s (again, Pythagoras) about 70.71% Chaotic and an equal percent Evil.
But it’s possible for two axes to be completely independent of each other, in which case they’d form a square.
Or it’s possible for them to be dependent in a non-Pythagorean way.
Imagine that we added, “Commitment” to the DnD circle. If you’re 0% committed to your position it doesn’t matter what the position is, so at 0% commitment the alignment circle disappears into a point. If you’re 100% committed then you’ve got the full DnD circle. If you’re 50% committed you’ve got the circle but half as big. What we have is an inverted cone.
But, like with lawful, we can extend this beyond indifference. You could be negative 100% committed to a position in which case your ethos is anything but that. Rather than being described by one point on the chart where you are, you freely roam all over the chart except for one part of it.
This is silly, but the point was to be able to say that now we’ve got an alignment system that is two cones that meet at the tip, a weird shape indeed.
If instead of “commitment” I’d said to add “ends vs. means”, well, that doesn’t interact with the DnD system at all. It’s perpendicular and increasing it (in either direction) from neutral doesn’t change the DnD alignment at all. Regardless of where you stand on ends v.s means you still have the full DnD circle. Instead of a cone you have an alignment cylinder.
The point here is that sometimes things interact, sometimes they don’t. If they do, there are various ways they can interact.
Once you work out your axes and work out how they (do or don’t) interact you’ve got a fully formed alignment system.
Mind you if it’s the populist vs technocrat / submission to the force vs. domination of the force hexagon, I may look at you somewhat funny. (And I want a good explanation for why these two axes create a hexagon; show your work.)
But regardless, please do share in the comments.