THE RPG ALIGNMENT GRID
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Recasting the Fantasy RPG Alignment Grid
– Aug. 7, 2013
Those who know me or this site will see this essay as a natural extension of the ideas that inform my general thinking. But in truth I have always found the RPG alignment grid to be daftly crafted: so this is my attempt at a correction.
For when it comes to it, there can be no such thing as a "good" paladin. If their entire philosophy is to follow, to the letter, whatever code they follow, then there can be no "good" in their actions. They are doing what they are told to do; they have abrograted any decision-making, and thus any moral "good." In truth – and I may write up a short piece to this point – paladins can only be evil: they have no morality, no consideration for other persons or beings; they have only their code. Indeed, variation from the code – even in the pursuit of the good – is forbidden.
I admit, this is a very theory-driven essay. But then what did you expect?
Finally, I recognize that this could still use some editing work. In truth, though, if I come back to it, I will probably rework it entirely. Which is why I am reluctant to come back to it: I've too many other things on the desk already.
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I am sure I am not the only person to have never been able to come to terms with the standard alignment grid for Pathfinder/AD&D-type games. No matter how much effort gets put into the explanations, it seems that there is always far more hand-waving than there is solidity: definitions are never distinct enough for each of the nine categories to have its own, readily understood identity. I have to give it to Pathfinder, they have come upon as good a description of the nine types as I have seen. But, even their descriptions has it difficulties. For example, the opening description of "Chaotic" in the Game Master's Guide goes as follows:
|Chaotic characters follow their consciences, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over tradition, and do what they promise if they feel like it.|
|Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient.|
[FN] Later on, in my own alignment schema, a similar situation of conflict will occur in the corners of the Lawful side of the grid. But where here the conflict is one of contradiction in meaning, later the conflict will be one of conflicting impulses within the character. Plus, the contradiction is explained – even, expected – by the system itself.
Another example from the language: how can you use the word "good" (even if with a slightly different meaning) in the definition of "neutral": "The neutral character does what seems to be a good idea"? Even with the correction of "she's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way," it still seems as though the description opened up with a predilection for good. One would think, by the nature of the table, that true neutral would somehow be attempting to transcend the issue of good and evil, or, be unconcerned with it, or be simply living a life where they are avoiding moving toward either extreme.
And it takes very little looking about the gaming world as mirror on-line to see that the confusion with the alignment grid is pervasive, especially with that bugbear of distinguishing chaos and evil. Here's a cartoon recently posted to a Facebook gaming page:
In all truth, how can those character actions not be described as evil? By what justification would they fall under chaotic-neutral as opposed to neutral-evil (or chaotic-evil)?
The chart itself, as offered, seems a gross over-simplification – to the point of absurdity – created out of two impulses. The first was to maintain the contemporary fantasy novel concept of such a thing as inherent "good" and inherent "evil." Which makes sense in the terms of game design, because it sets up your primary cosmic opposition: there are powers for good, there are powers for evil; they are at war with each other, and the game world is their battle ground. But the idea of evil quickly falls apart in the game play when alignment is brought into the realm of the societal: specifically, in the want for their to be "evil cultures," or, even, evil states within the fantasy world, and for those societies to be able to co-exist in a stable relationship with both itself (if shakily) and with neighboring cultures (if antagonistically). When in truth, the fantasy setting of good versus evil would generally result in something like that found in Lord of the Rings: evil societies would be the constant enemies of everyone else (and each other, and even themselves), because evil societies would always be about conquering and killing everyone else, even – and inevitably – to their own detriment. They would never be "Well, we've got our Mordor. If we can just get trade access to the river, that would be good enough." While the world might be the battle ground of good versus evil, the world itself would always be primarily good (or neutral). Evil would only ever be small scale, local incidents or groups: i.e., the more the evil expands, the more it will tend to fall apart for its own evilness.[FN]
[FN] For example, an race of inherently evil beings would constantly fragment for power struggles, and never grow to any great extent. State stability for evil empires always rests, ultimately, on that the population is itself primarily not evil, and thus readily controllable. A truly evil race, however, would never be able to establish such control on a larger scale, because every member of the society would constantly be acting in mostly uncontrollable ways.
The second impulse, equally natural, was the impulse to keep it simple, for the sake of player understanding and game design. I say this because the alignment grid has always seemed to me created rather in a way of "well, obviously, there is the good versus evil axis; which is ‘well, duh'; and then we have law and order; so what is the opposite of law? Chaos!" It has always seemed to me the grid came first: then was the effort made to develop descriptions of the alignments that could be used to encompass morality/ethics in a fantasy setting. And since the ideas came after the design of the grid – rather than the other way around – those descriptions never quite sufficed.[FN]
[FN] Of course, this is conjecture; but, conjecture based upon the nature and characteristics of the alignment grid. As such, they are more than conjecture: they are also pathology.
The same problem of artificiality is demonstrated through the Neutrals, on both axes. There is a want to have them be identifiable, as though with each line (vertical or horizontal) the spectrums are constituted by three distinct members, A-B-C. But in any half-witted understanding of a good-evil axis (to pick one), there would be no distinct center. The axis would be A-C, and B would be some vague are where both A and C are not strong enough in presence to insist on solid identification as A or C. As such, B is far less "neither" are far more "both, but only a little bit of either."
And then, above it all, and so annoyingly, that opposition of law and chaos just never quite wants to fit snugly in that grid. That word, chaos, just seems . . . . well . . . too evil. Take the loner, ranger eco-warriors who have charged themselves with defending the Forests Glengarry Glen Ross against incursions from the polluting, poaching goblins up in the mountains to the north. Are they chaotic as the word would be used in any sense in every-day English? No. They are very much defending an order of things; only that order is an order found in Nature, rather than found in the societal. The word chaos just does not fit. Yes, it can be used as an opposite for law, but if the evil is already taken up in the good-evil axis, then the opposite of law has to be something that is free of the idea of evil. And the standard alignment grid just does not pull it off to any successful degree. In every reading, chaos and evil are hopeless mingled ideas.
It is in there, within the law-chaos axis, that I think the far majority of the problems of the alignment grid resides. And so I would like to offer a different grid. Something that first attempts to correct the law-chaos difficulty by proposing a more natural opposite to law, and which then flushes out the rest of the grid into something far more workable, with nine resulting alignments far more easily self-identifiable; but mostly with something that offers far more depth, possibility, and potential to game play.
Now, I don't perceive this as an act of destroy and replace. Rather, I see it as a re-description; as a correction of a flaw inherent to the standard grid – though, granted, one that pretty much wholly re-conceives the idea of that which is the opposite of law. But, a modification that still preserves the potential for classic good-vs.-evil, archetypal world-design.
Unfortunately, the path to this requires de-simplifying the grid. Which means this is not going to be pulled off without some decent amount of explanation. And in that I am going to change the law-chaos axis based on millennia old, philosophical concepts, it will momentarily get a touch erudite. So bear with me.[FN] What I will do is first re-design the law-chaos axis. Then, in accordance with that redesign, I will show how the good-evil axis naturally unfolds. I will then explore the nine alignments of the completed grid. After that, I will give a moment to exploring one of the failings of the standard grid: the recognition that the grid will look different whether viewed by a lawful or a non-lawful. Finally, there is a rather long bullet list of notes, whose purpose is to sometimes to help explain and sometimes to expand the ideas of the new grid. I leave them for the end so as to keep the main descriptions tighter.
[FN] I offer the philosophy primarily to give basis to my re-conceiving, to tell you from where I am coming. It is, however, not necessary to the new grid's usefulness or play value.
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While many of the difficulties with the standard grid lies in the idea of chaos as the opposite of law, the source of the difficulties actually begins within the definition of law. Within the standard grid, law is perceived as something inherent to the world, as "the natural ordering of things," as it were. It is as fundamental as is good and evil. From that, the idea of chaos as the opposite of law flows quite readily. The problem is (and I am being very brief here) that idea of law as natural to the cosmos is, in fact, the idea of law as perceived by the lawful. Law, ordering, rationality, however, is a construct of the human mind, not something natural to the cosmos. The ancient Greeks recognized this in their distinction between nomos – the societal laws of mankind – and cosmos – the being of the natural world. By the time of Plato, the natural world was itself being seen as carrying inherent laws, so the nomos/cosmos opposition was seen as the two sources of law. However, the pre-Socratics rather disagreed with that idea; and in Renaissance, and now again in contemporary philosophy, we are finally coming back around: law, the nomos, is wholly a human, abstract, and artificial construct. Nature, the cosmos, is simply itself. The laws of physics and what that we ascribe to it, are only ever descriptions, that work so far as they are practical. But the cosmos knows know law. It simply is itself in its own being.
So, then, to give brief definition:
Now, we can expand the two ideas through how they relate to the individual and to society. Nomos is societal by definition. It is created out of man-as-social-creature, and includes not only law (as a legal system) but conventionality, tradition, ethics, social mores, social organization, and political organization and identity. Also, the establishment of religion, doctrinality, standardization (of anything), genre, language as a device for the communication of information, and language as performance of the nomos – which is to say, language as meaning. Also, the law is the modality of the factual, and in turn the factual taken to the extreme, the ideal.
Cosmos, on the other hand, is individual by definition. It is not the modality of the person as a social creature, but that of the individual as a consciousness (and, equally importantly, unconsciousness). It is the individual in experience of the cosmos. It is the world of engagement, of myth, of spirituality (as opposed to doctrinal religion). It is the individual as microcosmos. And with language, it is language as experience, language as the metaphoric rather than the definitional. It is the modality of beauty. The farther out a person moves on the cosmos side of the axis, the more that individual is in union with the cosmos-as-whole. On the other side, the more extreme the person toward the nomic, the more divorced the person is from the cosmos, and the more they define their world through their social selves: which must not be understood through individuality, but through society/state/social caste. The greatly nomic person abandons individuality for identity through the nomos: they are as the nomos speaks who they are. The cosmic individual however, speaks themselves, in, out of, and through engagement with the cosmos.
Now, this does not mean a cosmic society is a lawless society. What it does mean is that laws would have a different nature, a different understanding, a different authority, and a different source of derivation. Within our own (Anglo-American) legal history, we can see the difference as it once played out in the functioning of the courts of law and equity. The courts of law are appeals to a codified system of ethics and acceptable behavior. Whereas the courts of equity were appeals, essentially, to fairness. Where the law brought about a result that was obviously not "good" in the moral sense of the term, one could appeal to the courts of equity on that basis. (Again, I'm a little simplifying for brevity's sake.) As such, a mythic society can still be an ordered society; but, that ordering will not find its definition and purpose and reality within the codification of laws. Rather, laws will always play second fiddle to that which is fair, and, greatly, to the individual. (And, in a chaotic-good society, what is understood as good.)
Now, how do these two ideas relate to each other? Not in opposition. The cosmic is the base. Before the first village, before the first moment of sentience, there was the cosmos. The nomic develops out of the base, and through the societal. The nomic is an ordering of the universe, a describing of it, a naming of it.[FN] But it is an abstract ordering, applied to the cosmos, overlaid upon it, accepted where it fits, ignored at the edges where the fit doesn't quite work so well. As such, because the nomic can only every be laid over the cosmic, the cosmic by its nature presents a constant destabilization of that ordering, a constant reminder that the "truths" of that ordering are not really "truth" in the cosmic sense. So the nomic must constantly act to defeat the presence of the cosmic in society. Thus we see the "opposition" of society and the individual is, actually, rather one-sided: within the nomic, the individual is not good for stability. From the view of the cosmic, on the other hand, the nomic is recognized as a "part" of the cosmos: which is to say, something created by social beings which are themselves a natural part of the cosmos. So the cosmic has no problem with "law" per se: it is a necessary thing to the self of humans. However, by its very nature, it constantly points out that law is not "cosmic" in derivation, but abstract; it is only and ever conventional in nature. In sum, while the nomic must constantly reinforce and re-establish itself against the cosmic, the cosmic, again, simply is.
[FN] One might here see how law is considered, in the original grid, as inherent to the cosmos, if you here think of "naming" and the fantasy idea of a thing's "true name." The core idea is not lost to game play in my scheme: only the execution. What is lost is the "true name" of inanimate objects and non-sentient creatures, which really does not exist in the fairy tale or mythic tradition to any real degree. But there is still the individual: and while it would not bear a cosmic "name" per se, it could still bear a cosmic identity . . . . and thus the door opens to creative gameplay.
By now, anyone who has read anything about the mythic is recognizing that I have moved the law-chaos out of a description of the axis as it would be stated by someone on the law side to a description of the axis as it would be stated by someone on the cosmic side. That is, I am describing the archetypal masculine-archetypal feminine opposition. Which is somewhat correct, except that the archetypal masculine and the archetypal feminine are both inherent to the cosmos. It is not that the cosmos is feminine and the law is masculine. Rather, the law is the masculine codified, it is the masculine taken out of its engagement with the feminine. So then what is the feminine taken out of its engagement with the masculine? Mythically, it is unformed chaos, the black, moist coiling dark, as opposed to the singular, pure light of the masculine. (Understanding this, I would advise against making a simplification of the nomic-cosmic axis as masculine feminine. It's not the same axis.[FN])
[FN] I'm dissatisfied with how that paragraph went, because of its brevity. But I don't want to dwell overly on it within this description. If you would like more explanation, let me know, and I'll expand on it.
And I think that albeit brief explication is sufficient to my intention for this moment in re-casting the law-chaos axis as the nomic-cosmic axis; enough to move on to the good-evil. However, there are obvious problems with what is, for game-play purposes, a rather clunky terminology: "cosmic-good" just sounds silly. So I propose instead:
law(ful) -------------------- myth(ic)
Also, I dislike the term neutral when it comes to that between the law and the myth. Rather, for reasons seen below, I will use balance. (Better would be middle, but that creates a problem with abbreviations in that M would stand for both mythic and middle. Though, MP, standing for "middle path," might be wholly workable if it is to your taste.)
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Now a complexity arises. How does the new law-myth axis change the good-evil axis? The you might not yet have recognized it, but the Law-Myth axis has now become the primary axis, and the Good-Evil axis the secondary. And there is now a new question: Given the law-myth axis, especially given that the alignment grid will look different depending on whether viewed from law or myth, what now are the definitions of good and evil?
Simply put, from the law viewpoint, things that are not-law will now fall within the category of evil. And the more lawful the person or society, the more good will be defined by its lawfulness, and evil defined by its unlawfulness. Though, that is not enough. For a lawful person does not merely recognize "law" as good, they recognize law as better then non-law, but their nomos is what is good, and all other societies, cultures, belief systems, and persons-not-following-their-nomos are less than good, if not outright evil. A lawful person is not merely lawful: they are lawful within a particular nomos. That is because the nomos is the world of truth; so, obviously, there can only be one truth. And as any lawful person will tell you, their truth is obviously the truth. (Just ask a conservative Protestant if you need demonstration.) For example, one within the fantasy RPG context, an established religion that is based on worshiping a god of light would very readily demonize, and declare evil, its opposite: the dark and its worshipers, whether the god is actually evil or not. All that matters is that dark is directly opposed to the truth of the light, and therefore is evil. From outside that religion, however, it would be apparent that the "evil" aspects of the dark reside wholly within the doctrine of the established religion of light, and are not actual qualities of the dark at all. From the mythic viewpoint, the god of dark is merely being that which it is: there is nothing inherently evil about it.[FN]
[FN] This adds something to gameplay, I rather think, in that evil is perceived as much as it is performed. Which is a very interesting idea when the god of dark actually is, by alignment terms, evil: the "evilness" of the followers of dark as defined by the doctrine of light could still be completely different from the actual evilness of the doctrine of dark. That the dark-siders are actually evil will just make it more morally and conscientiously acceptable to the light-siders when they go out to slaughter them.
To give another example, one which has functioned throughout the history of our world, a society that is organized upon a religion can readily demonize any other society whose societal structure and beliefs are a big enough threat to their own beliefs. (Specific examples are too abundant to bother listing.) After all, the nomic modality is the world-defining, meaning-giving aspect of the psyche. For a society to exist that says your nomos is incorrect is tantamount to a society existing that is a walking neon sign stating that what you think is Truth is not at all truth. A very disconcerting thing it is for a lawful to have something constantly questioning the truthfulness of Truth (which is why law is always also opposed to myth and individuality). And then that doubter of Truth is doubting by direct reference the Truth of your godhead, well, something needs to be done. Ergo the Catholic Church spending centuries slaughtering heretical sects and factions.
So, since good and evil seem to depend entirely on whose doing the labeling, let's give a minor correction here as well. We'll move from some solid definition by which every act can be identified as "good" or "evil," to a looser description. Simply:
Two things to note. (1) I am talking here about morality, not ethics. Morality here to be understood as the more broader, more philosophical-religious-spiritual concept; while ethics is the actual code of conduct that operates within a society (from the minor mores of manners up to legislated law). (2) In the idea of evil, you must (of course) make the distinction between absence of morality in the self-aware, and the absence of morality within the animalistic (or inanimate). To be evil a thing has to be first capable of moral principles. Though, obviously, that is evil as understood from the mythic. To be evil in the lawful, a thing need only be counter to their societal nomos: for examples, one need only think about conservative Christianity's continual railing against popular music, or their the outrages and protests against art and film. Most of you are probably too young to remember, but for Protestant Christianity, Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ was once considered most definitely evil and Satanic, wholly because it called into question their ultimate Truths. (Curiously, far more Satanic than The Exorcist, which, despite its horror-aspect, nonetheless mostly upheld Christian truths, if, unfortunately by the thought of the Protestants, Catholic-flavored truths.)
The division between morality and ethics is important, because it is wholly bound up in the law-myth axis. Good for the mythic is good across the board. (Not any particular good act, but the idea of goodness.) But good for the lawful is wholly tied into the nomos of the particular lawful. Indeed, good is defined by the nomos. Which is important in that it makes it clear that it is the law-myth axis that is in no small way the dominant axis, not the good evil axis. In fact, the good-evil axis changes in meaning as to where you are on the law-myth axis. For the lawful find their good within society and social codes; whereas the mythic find their good in individual spirituality. For a lawful, if their society says their act is good, then it is good. Likewise, from the other side, any act that is not congruous with or is threatening to their society is by definition bad – the question is rather can it be tolerated or not. We use the word "blasphemy" to designate acts against the godhead, but the same applies in principle to the lawful society: acts against society are blasphemous to that society – which is to say they, by there very nature, call into question the "truth" and righteousness of the society – and thus must be ended and their perpetrators expelled.[FN1] Which is all to say, "good" in a lawful society is what that society accepts as "good"; and, "evil" is anything that is counter to the societal – though the actual word evil might be with withheld for only the more severe incidents.[FN2]
[FN1] We have two very interesting examples of this very thing occurring right now with two persons who for a great many people have committed the good of revealing the secret workings of their government, and their government very desperately trying to demonize those two persons as being "unlawful," and thus by direct correlation, threats to the Truth that is U.S. government and society, and expected the belief and support by the latter for the former.
[FN2] A clarifying statement is due here: that "good" is defined within and by the societal nomos of the lawful is to say that it is inherently part of the society's laws and being. Yes, good will still be an inherent part of the mythic society: but that society, as will be seen below, will be more concerned with the individual than with the society. In the lawful, individuality is a threat, conformity is the expected norm. In the mythic, conformity is seen as abandoning the search for the development of the self.
So, understanding that "good" and "evil" mean two different things to the lawful and the mythic is key to re-considering the alignment grid. In fact, I would argue that it is not recognizing that good and evil would mean different things to the lawful and the chaotic that creates much of the difficulty in the standard alignment grid: even within the standard grid, chaos as the opposite of law does not mean the same thing as chaos as viewed by good.
With that bit of explanation, I think we can move to the grid, and use it to explain the details.
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So let's see where we've gotten to, and go through the chart. Now, keep in mind that in the end there are going to be two charts: one from the view of the mythic, one from the view of the lawful. The mythic is the base chart, that of the "outsider looking in" as it were (the stance assumed with the standard grid), because the mythic recognizes the presence of the nomic as part of the cosmos: i.e., it recognizes that all notions of "truth" are really conventional and societal in nature; the only real "truth" is the reality of the entirety of the cosmos; everything else is interpretation. The lawful chart, however, is from the view of a modality whose nature refuses the cosmic: i.e., from the viewpoint of a modality that identifies a overlying "truth" to the cosmos, and struggles to maintain the necessary idea of the possibility of "truth" against the mythic insistence that truth is in the end arbitrary.
Also, recognize that there is an inherent falsity in identifying nine categories: the idea of "neutral" has, with the removal artificiality of opposites, become difficult if not impossible to identify as something distinct from the polar ends (of whichever axis). They are, after all, axes and not squares. As such, neutral is going to be seen as more "the middle of the road" than as something particularly identifiable. In turn, the four characteristics – lawful, mythic, good, and evil – must be understood as being far enough out from the center of their respective axes to be readily defined by that characteristic (i.e., the word law really marks a degree of lawfulness where lawfulness becomes a primary characteristic). Finding the characteristic in its more extreme form makes for easier understanding. We use hindu monks and archetypal wise men to demonstrate the mythic good; not any joe schmoe who had a spiritual experience under the bleachers. Also, player characters are generally set at more extreme positions on the alignment grid: even when neutral, they tend to try to take their middle-of-the-roadness to monkish performances. But remember, while we reduce it to a chart of nine square, even in game play the terms are not definitive in their quality: there are always degrees of lawfulness or evilness or what. And the closer toward the middle, the more both sides of the spectrum can (and will) appear.
First, the base (mythic) chart. Because the law-myth axis is the dominant axis, I will follow those lines. Since evil is here considered the absence of the concern for the good, rather than a positive characteristic in its own, I'll move within each line from top to bottom. For sake of the flow of the demonstration, I will start with the law line, move to the mythic line, and then finish with the neutral line.
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As said above, the more lawful the society, the more the concept of good is defined by that society's nomos. Therefore, a lawful-good society, as defined from within that society, is not merely a lawful society with a moral basis behind its legalism. It is, rather, a lawful society based upon the correct moral basis: i.e., a society that has found the Truth. You cannot have two lawful-good societies, with opposing world-views, from the standpoint of either one of those societies. The other society will be, by definition, considered neutral or evil by the first, even if still recognized as lawful, because the only possible "good" society would be the society that believes in the correct good.
Once you recognize that a lawful society defines what it considers to be good, then you will see that the alignment grid is viewed quite differently from within the lawful mindset. Key to it are two assumptions within the law: (1) that law is inherently good for society (and its opposite, lawlessness, is inherently bad); and (2) that law is derived from ultimate truths, which are inherent to societal makeup and identity.
As such, lawful-good society is a law-oriented society that believes that its idea of good is the true idea of good. That is to say, from the viewpoint of lawful-good society K, the only truly good society is society K. Lawful-good individuals are individuals that are upstanding members of that society, and defend its traditions and mores. Indeed, within the lawful-good viewpoint (that is, with a very strong law aspect), the alignment grid is made hugely distorted. Because of their identification of law as good, and the good as that which can only be manifested through law, the mythic can be perceived as evil as much as the absence of morality is perceived as evil. In fact, within certain world views (certain types of U.S. Protestantism, for example), the mythic is openly identified as evil. It is an us-against-them-world within the lawful, even the lawful-good.
A lawful-neutral society as viewed by the lawful is still "good" in the sense that law is good. However, it has the wrong bases for its laws, and so will get laws wrong. And as such, it begins to be perceived as evil. But, as noted above, from within the lawful, most lawful-neutral societies would still see themselves as being lawful-good: while the actual bases for the laws may be different, the lawful-neutral society would still the end result as the instituting of the truth within society.
Likewise with a lawful-evil society: the nature of the populace would still be to find a righteous justification for their society somewhere. One need only look at the cultural and religious lengths that U.S., antebellum, southern culture went to morally justify slavery, and the social cognitive dissonance that resulted to see just how far a society can go into the lawful evil and still believe itself to be wholly lawful-good, despite all the moral evidence to the contrary. An even better example might be seen in the often brutal legalism of early American pilgrims/religious settlers. Within the law, good is always defined through the law. Thus, society is its own validating affirmation. The performance of tradition, custom, convention, supplies the lawful with the validation and justification of the performance of tradition, custom, and convention: all because those performances are performances of Truth. This is also seen today in fundamentalist Christianity's continued adherence to their far right legalism: they see themselves as uphold Truth and good, even though the rest of society is increasingly looking upon them as amoral nutjobs.
The relationship between the lawful and the mythic is not merely one of competing belief systems. The lawful belief system is a system of truths, especially, ultimate Truth. The mythic belief system rejects the idea of ultimate truths: there is only truth as it is understood in the moment, and such truth is ever-changing. As such, the mythic is anathema to the lawful society, and is generally considered blasphemous thereto. (Just look at the reaction of U.S. Protestantism to rock & roll and, in the 50s and 60s and then again with rock in the early 80s. Pleasure, something inherently mythic, is not generally healthy to legalism.) The threat of the mythic to the lawful is far greater than the threat of a competing lawful society. True blasphemy lies in the mythic, because the mythic denies the existence of the godhead of the lawful society. As such, the lawful has an easier time relating to other lawful societies because they might have the wrong idea of god, but at least they understand that there is a god, even if they've gotten it wrong. (Though, the greater the gulf in the societies' respective Truths, the greater the antagonism.)
The members of the vertical neutral column suffer similarly, only with less threat. The less lawful the society, the easier that society will be able to cope with such types within its cultural bounds.
Just as the idea of "good" is defined by the lawful nomos, so also is the idea of "evil." As such, a mythic good society can still fall in the category of evil in the view of the lawful society. All-in-all, the alignment grid does not exist as equal points, if even as nine types, within the lawful view. There is, rather, for them, only the "good" of their society, the lesser but acceptable "good" of similar lawful societies, and the "evil" of those societies that, whether through conflicting beliefs or a mythic modality, conflict with and thus threaten their own beliefs.
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Most of these are in no particular order.
••• I thought create some rather run-on descriptions of the four primaries. They are here to flush them out more fully:
••• What I see as the primary benefit to the above is simply that it re-casts the grid in a form that gives more identity to the notions of law, good, myth, and evil. In consequence, in that neutrality is no longer some balance between to opposing elements, there is a solid place to be, for example, mythic-neutral. Take an example from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, where I change one word:
|A chaotic-evil character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn't strive to protect others' freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions.|
Having the neutrals on the law-myth spectrum shift from absence to either to philosophical or natural balance between, and having the good-evil axis shift from one of opposites to one oif degree of presence solves this difficulty in trying to describe through negation. Neutral is no longer something that is somehow both"not evil" and "not good." Mythic-neutral is now a person mostly concerned with their individual, mythic self. They have no immediate concern with promoting or pursuing the good (which is to say the good of others), except where such goes with their life philosophy of seeking out the mythic. On the moral scale, neutral is now very everyday, instead of having to be "performed." Just be Joe Public, in the moral sense, and you're being morally neutral. In turn, beings planted solidly within the good and evil are now also exceptions to the norm of a quotidian average.
Plus, acts are no longer evil by inherent characteristic. They are now evil according to the absence of a moral world-view (be it lawful, mythic, or balanced in nature). Which is to say, they now evil dependent upon their context, and the context as viewed by the moral judges. This adds a ton of possibilities to game play, especially as concerns the lawful-good and the self-perceived lawful-good. You now can legitimately have a paladin that slaughters dwarves on sight, if their moral reality has identified dwarves as inherently evil. Of course, the rest of the world might not see it as quite a good thing as does the paladin . . .
••• Most people would exist somewhere along the horizontal neutral line: somewhere between lawful-neutral and balance-good. To be on the upper, good line, requires intentional emphasis on the good. You average joes might approach such at times, but to truly lie within the good is to make exceptional, life governing efforts. The same can be said, in inverse, for the evil line.
How does this "extreme takes effort" idea play out on the law-myth line? As said above, in our own world, people move most naturally toward the law side of the spectrum. And, if you look anywhere within the tradition of the mythic, you will see it stated that the development of the self (that is, moving toward the mythic) can only be performed through effort. But, I believe is a degree that a mythic society would naturally pull its members toward the mythic, if not so far as to bring the deeply within the mythic side of the grid. But I wonder if such a society could exist on a very large scale, or if there is a degree that a mythic society needs smallness and, perhaps, a sense of intimacy on the part of its members. Not that such smaller societies couldn't work together as a coalition or confederation; but grand scale political identity would for me naturally move both itself and its members, merely if by necessity of governance, toward the law side.
••• It seems to me that the aspects of the mythic-evil would apply equally to the other two types on the evil line. That is, evil can be had in three forms: either through following of the modality of the type (lawful, mythic, or balanced) to the degree of ignoring the issue of morality, through a natural situating of the psyche of the person within the lawful, mythic, or balanced; or through a psychopathy or sociopathy that takes on lawful, mythic, or balanced characteristics.
Likewise, it seems to me that the "balance" within the vertical line could also be either active or passive. That is, a society is balanced because it is striving to be such, or a society is balanced just by happenstance. The former would be more wanting to defend its nature from outside (and inside) threat than the latter.
••• Though I admit my knowledge of fantasy-RPG game systems is in no way encyclopedic, I cannot come up with an example of where alignment-oriented monsters or societies within Pathfinder or AD&D are brought into conflict with their alignments through a recasting like the above system. Indeed, where I've looked it seems to be they find better definition with the above. To use a previous example, the idea of the demon as mythic-evil makes far more sense than the demon as the tradition chaotic-evil. The issue of the conflict stemming from the word conscience as described above disappears in that demons now are creatures of the mythic, creatures of the cosmos: but, they are those which have no moral persuasions behind their actions, either individual or collective. With the removal of the word chaotic from their alignment, so also is the confusion between the descriptions of the chaotic and the evil. Calling them "mythic" as opposed to "lawful" just makes much more sense than calling them "chaotic."
Though, granting the above, there is yet one that might be a bit problematized: the druid. Under the re-cast scheme, it might be argued that the druids true place would be a little more toward the mythic-neutral than within the true neutral. Also, it might be argued that the druid could readily belong in the mythic-evil. The reason the druid is put in the true neutral normally is because the druid is supposed to be living a life that is most like nature: neither lawful nor chaotic, without concern for the evil or the good. That is, in a fantasy world where evil, good, law, and chaos exist as positively identifiable, archetypal traits, the true neutral druid somehow finds a place where it avoids all of them. Which is fine within the normal nine-point grid in that that grid was created out of opposites. There is good and there is also evil, as a thing (rather than an absence.) Except the idea of true neutral as it was applied to the druid for me never really worked that way: to me it always made far more sense to consider a druid not as finding balance but, in the nature of the natural world about them, try to find a way off the grid entirely. A druid – of the fantasy RPG mold – would not try to have an alignment, but try to not have alignment, much in the manner that a dog or a pigeon or a rhododendron would not have alignment.
In the above system, however, where law is an abstraction applied to the natural cosmos, and the mythic is engagement with the cosmos at the fundamental level, the druid would instead be mythic-neutral; only with a very strong spiritual bend that melds the self with the cosmos, and as an extension of the cosmos. That is, the standard fantasy-RPG druid would be a solidly mythic-neutral individual, who, instead of following a path toward exploration of the divine as perceived within the cosmos, is following a path of union with the cosmos as manifested world: the physical, tangible cosmos. Druids would, in no small may, take the earth sciences into the mythic. They would biologists, geologists, climatologists extraordinaire: though not in the manner of rational define the world by its laws, but in communion with nature and the subject of their studies. While they would be able to explain, rationally, why a particular rose is is a particular red; their most honest explanation would be "because that is the color that that rose is."
Indeed, the druids of history were not neutrals. They were a mythic society. And as such, I have no qualms, myself, putting the druids into the neutral mythic. While it moves their place on the grid, it doesn't really change their game play: so long as you take to the understanding in the paragraph preceding. But I could very readily see druids as still being played within the balanced neutral. With such, I see two possible paths. In both, the druid would seek balance on the law-myth axis, and thus pull toward the middle. However, the law-good axis could be played two ways: either, in the nature of nature, the druid would attempt to remove themselves from the axis entirely; or, they would embrace both good and evil as part of the cosmos, and rather than contract toward the middle, expand outward to both directions at once.
••• I believe there is a fallacy created with the visual of the nine-square grid: specifically, if you were to plot out the possible places where individuals (and societies) could possible be situated on the grid, it would not at all be square. Rather, the shape would be distorted. Myth goes together naturally with good and evil, so the shape would bulge in those corners. Contrarily, law naturally conflicts with both good and evil, and the shape in those corners would naturally contract. Thus looking something like this:
••• There is a mirror image to the aspect that a lawful society will view itself as good, even if its laws are not based in a good-oriented morality. That is, a society that considers itself lawful-good my not appear as good, at all, to other peoples; nor, from a mythic aspect, actually be good, at all. (Think of the Spanish inquisition.) Of course, this is because "good" for lawfuls are defined by society, from within. Thus a society could enact laws to expel from their lands a certain social group, and see it as a morally justifiable – if not morally uplifting – act. This is where fundmentalism converts a lawful-good society into a lawful-neutral if not lawful-evil society, without ever losing faith that it is indeed, through and through, a good society.
••• The fact that a society can believe itself to be good without actually being such opens fascinating world-making doors. For example, the players could begin within such a society, knowing only that society as the realm of the game, and being righteous defenders of the good – and yet, once they move out of that society, they will be faced with the possibility that they are, actually, not good at all. And in no point will there be conflicts with the alignment: because while their true alignments might be neutral or evil, it is their believed alignments that are good. And even with the standard fantasy RPG game system, everything a paladin (for example) is, is about belief.
••• It should be pointed out that even though "good" now has two identities: that of the mythic and that of the lawful, it really does not create any problems with alignment as an element of game play, even with such things as "detect alignment." What has changed is such acts now include the caster/doer in their operations: that is, the results of an alignment oriented act will depend on who is doing the acting. For example, when a lawful-good casts a "detect" spell, the results they get will correspond to their definitions of reality. If a lawful-good paladin is casting "detect good," they would get their strongest hits from people who are most like them: knights for the right of their society. People who would ride against them, whatever the reason, them would not be considered "good" by the paladin. Though, the paladin would still recognize a lesser glow (as it were) from the mythic good, because of the shared aim of "goodness." Likewise in reverse. On the other side, "detect evil" becomes even more interesting a spell. For when an extremely lawful person detected evil, they would get their strongest hits from the mythic evil, their second strongest hits from the balanced-evil and lawful-evil, and beyond that a weaker hit from the mythic-neutral to the degree that the target is anti-law: that because "anti-law" to a lawful would be tantamount to evil.
But I don't see this as complications in any way. Rather, I see it as flavorful complexity. Indeed, as the most natural result of the spell: if a person was casting detect X, they would want results that actually fit with their own conceptions of X. With the case above, a paladin would naturally distrust a mythic-neutral whose primary life energies are to the promotion of a belief that, in essence, says that everything the paladin believes is lie.
••• One critical aspect of the alignment chart that has always been understated – if stated at all – in whatever RPG system, is that alignments are defined by moving to their extremes (at least in the case of the four aspects of the two axes). I said this above. But simultaneous to that is the unstated recognition that the far majority of people of nearly any RPG world would lie in an oval shaped blob along the central, horizontal line. Though, it would not lie equally between law and myth, but significantly shifted to the lawful side. Various cultures and sub-cultures would obviously move left or right. And as for movement up and down, into the good and evil, I would expect it to be even less common (on the large scale) than movement left or right. The larger the group, the larger the sampling, the more the results would condense within that lawful-neutral/balance-neutral region.
Looking at real life examples, I would accept (if not argue) that Hindu culture and Taoist culture are much more to the mythic side, and Christian (especially Protestant) culture and Islamic culture are very much farther to the lawful side. Indeed, I would say easily 99.99% of people in our world would fall into that central oval. Which is to say only one in ten thousand would move substantially outside it. But, then, such is the"heroic" nature of the RPG character. (And, potentially, why they would, as they developed, not fit terribly well in a normal populous.)
Why is it to the left and not to the right (or centered)? The answer lies in that the lawful side is the psychically passive side. The mind naturally settles into convention, habit, tradition, etc. (Consider the adage that a person, as they get older, tends to get more conservative.) A mythic life demands more, if not constant effort. Thus, the expected place of the oval would be shifted towards the left, toward the lawful. And, I would argue that the more neutral an individual (or culture) is, the more their psyche shifts toward the lawful. Now, again, I am speaking large scale. The smaller the scale the more it would be capable for a culture and its people to be farther into the mythic, and to maintain positioning within the mythic.
One of the realizations that comes from this is that there will be a difference between the leadership of a society and its rank and file. That is, even if a society is fully established within the mythic-good, and as a societal whole develops a continual progression into the mythic-good, the populous itself would still be shifted somewhat toward the lawful. Perhaps this is most easily exemplified with the made-up example of a land whose whole identity is based uon the creation and development of mythic saints. Even in such a society, in a society that prides itself on those saints, most people will still be living their lives on far more quotidian terms. I am not saying the lawful shift would be so pronounced that populous would be substantially lawful; I am only saying leadership will always be more mythic than the population as a whole. Taken outward, the populous of any society would be closer to that lawful-neutral/balance-neutral blob than the ruling elements of that society and the general alignment traits of the society itself.
And the the same event will happen even from the lawful side, except to not so great an extreme, and to a somewhat different conclusion. It is far easier to pull a psyche to the law side than it is to pull them to the myth side: because the mythic, as an individual spirituality, takes individual effort; while the lawful, as a community identity, takes only passive conformity. History around the globe repeatedly demonstrates this (U.S. history seems to excel in such, and the history of the Reformation is emblematic). Whatever their start and ideals, societies (and sub-societies) will, sooner or later, start to concretize and stabilize into the traditional and the socially organized. But, as an extreme lawful society strives to pull their populous farther and farther into the lawful, there will arise a point where morality – goodness – begins to kick in and create the same dilemma within the populous that the lawful-good face in their own pursuits: the conflict between morality and ethics (that is, the unconscious sense that "that can't be right") with its resulting cognitive dissonance will lead to disruptions in the society and, ultimately, chaotic upheaval and reformation upon more psychically and morally acceptable standards.
It should be noted, however, that "acceptable" here does not mean a rejection of the lawful in favor of the good; it means a reformation of the "truths" that underlie the society and culture, and consequent reformation of the laws and ideas that define that culture. Yes it means a shift in the direction of the mythic, but it does not mean abandonment of the law. Though, on a more individual level it could mean more dramatic shifts to the mythic. Note also that the degree into the lawful where the social situation becomes intolerable depends upon the society. Even a deeply mythic-neutral society will still slowly move to the left, to the lawful, until some mechanism of change pulls it back to the mythic.
••• To me, the changes I offer in the alignment chart offer a stronger basis for the presence of alignment within the campaign world. There is more solidity and identity between law and myth than there is between law and chaos, even with the more oppositional nature of the terms "law" and "chaos" as is found in the standard alignment grid. That is primarily because the idea of "chaos" just does not seem to work as a societal descriptor without it dragging in "evil" along with it in one way or another. Chaos seems to always carry with it the idea of anarchy: mythic society has no such elements, except, perhaps, in the mythic evil. With the above I can far more readily see creating a mythic society without having to constantly face the questions like "how can you have an organized legal and political system if your society is defined by chaos?" Much of this lies in the simple introduction of the likes of equity – fairness – back into the societal mix, giving a tangible and workable idea for the creation of mythic societies not oriented around legalistic principles.
••• Here is a different way of saying the corners, one that speaks much to their psyches (be it personal or societal):
Us versus them.
We are the righteous, and god fights for us.
All for one, and one for all.
We are all cogs in the great machine, and that is all we need to know.
The self above everything.
Me! Me! Me!
In this vein, another description of the law-myth axis is to call it the digital-analog axis.
••• There is much potential in the new relationship between the lawful and the mythic. They are not merely different flavors of the same desert any more. There is now a fundamental difference between the two. Lawful societies will be inherently threatened by mythic societies, even though they are good. Indeed, if push came to shove, lawful-good societies probably would rather align with a lawful-evil society than a mythic-good, because at least they are at least lawful.
There is also great potential in that a lawful society will very naturally breed their own lawful-evil sub-societies. The same with mythic. Though, the mythic might look upon such as a more natural order of things and deal with them in different ways than the lawful, which would know only legislate and destroy.
••• Concepts of religion and worship are now greatly expanded, in that a lawful religion is now very different from a mythic religion. A lawful religion is a religion of ethics, strictures, rules, and stations. A mythic religion is a religion about the individual and their question for the spiritual. That does not mean ritual exists only in the lawful. Ritual exists in the mythic most naturally; ritual in the lawful is ritual codified, such that the spiritual element of the ritual takes second seat to the fact that the ritual is and official ritual and to do it right you have to do it this way. Indeed, the farther toward law, the more the spiritual aspect of the ritual loses its value and energy.
••• The more lawful a society, the more it will on its own attempt to coalesce (or unified by force) into a monotheistic and mono-philosophic society. Lawful gods will have no other gods about them, because if they are about, then people might think that the god's laws might not be quite as "truth-laden" as their priests insist.
••• Another thing that adds depth within game play and world design is the expansion of the understanding of "lawful" to move out from merely "rule oriented" to "truth oriented" (and thus, in turn, rule oriented). This not only expands the idea of the lawful, but orients lawful individuals as something deeper than mere "rule followers." As such the Core Rulebook description of lawful-good reveals its limitations:
|She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished.|
As for compassion, as said above, the lawful-good lives in conflict with itself. The lawful-good is happiest when "good" aligns with their social code – and they will find good first of all within their social code. When good comes in conflict with their social code is when the lawfuls find themselves in moral dilemmas, because the conflict is questioning the truth of their nomos.
So, yes, there is compassion in the lawful good. But there is also the judgment "We will slaughter the whole of your cult, for they are contagions of evil within your society!" Remember, for the lawful, society is more important than the individual. So, in turn, lawful-good can include the righteous decision "We will also "interrogate" those we capture [which is to say torture within the permissible bounds of their societal code] and slaughter everyone they name, to make sure this terrible contagion does not spread!" Remember: "good" for the lawful does not mean the same thing as "good" for the mythic.