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D&D General Alignment: the problem is Chaos


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The problem is both Law and Chaos get mixed up, even in lots of offical rule books. Law is not "obeying the law", Cosmic Law, or better Cosmic Order is structure, orginization and planning. In nature it is thing like honeybees making perfect hexagons vs mice just making a mess. Or how weather is just about 100% pure random, as after all forecasting is another word for guessing....but the phases of the Moon are 100% exact on a set unchanging cycle.
i can appreciate where this take is coming from, but I think it is impossible to reconcile these two approaches.

This first approach is interesting, but by its nature, it is something that would be relevant to only a certain subset of longterm campaigns. Also, this would lead to giving alignment only to a few creatures/PCs: those that have a strong investment in the Cosmic Law/Chaos dispute.

When you get to people it is someone who carries around food and kitchen items and plans out ever future meal vs someone who just finds food when they are hungry.
This is the astrological approach to alignment. Split every entity in the universe into one of 9 categories based on arbitrary criteria. It has its own problems, among them, the persistant idea that people who plan meals and those who just find food when they are hungry cannot possibly work together, and the idea that just because you like to plan meals, you apply that quirk to all aspects of your life.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
In my twenty years playing the game, I'm not entirely sure that they do for most people. This distinction seems to matter more for people who invested years in the game lore, and the difference in feel may be the result of those people bringing additional cognitive information to play rather than something that's actually present in play.

For what little my observation is worth and in full sincerity: One of the common lore hurdles I have seen with people coming into the game is (1) learning the difference between fiends (e.g., devils, demons, yugoloths); (2) even remotely caring about that difference; and then (3) seeing that difference actually play out in the game in a meaningful and clear way. While I think that it's easy to blame the GM in such scenarios, I have played with a fair number of GMs and new players over my years.

As to why this might be the case: I think that the game's heroic emphasis means that the Law vs. Chaos aspect generally gets ignored in favor of Good vs. Evil. This means that a lot of players - again IME - tend to broadly depict, see, and regard fiends under the more general catch-all umbrella of "evil" rather than fixate on differences like Chaotic Evil vs. Lawful Evil.

Edit: this is to say that I think for a lot of casual players Demons and Devils are not so much, respectively, Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil, but, rather, they are seen as EVIL (chaotic) and EVIL (lawful).

I also don't think that most lay people coming into this hobby, for example, would really be able to understand why demons and devils are separate entities, especially since these terms are fairly interchangeable in the wider cultural lexicon.

Obviously your experience may (and likely does) vary, but I thought that I would offer my 2 cents.
For me it's useful to have a difference. All fiends are evil incarnate (except for that one in a gazillion exception), but if you want it you can make them feel very different.

Now, I agree someone new to the game isn't going to know the difference. A person new to the game doesn't know the difference between a dragon and a purple worm. Heck, quite a few groups probably run them pretty much the same, as brutes that show up and engage in melee with no distinguishing tactics other than different attacks. But for the DM that cares they can have similarities and vast differences. Either approach is perfectly fine.

But I like the idea that demons are just about destruction and tearing down anything orderly while devils want to subvert and revel in that moment when their victim realizes that they missed the fine print. Both can just be extraplanar enemies that want to kill you or corrupt your soul. But with the split? Demon's preference is to just tear you apart and enjoy being covered in blood, Devils will do it wearing a tux while speaking with sophistication. Kind of like the chainsaw killer Leatherface and Hannibal Lecter.
 

For me it's useful to have a difference. All fiends are evil incarnate (except for that one in a gazillion exception), but if you want it you can make them feel very different.

Now, I agree someone new to the game isn't going to know the difference. A person new to the game doesn't know the difference between a dragon and a purple worm. Heck, quite a few groups probably run them pretty much the same, as brutes that show up and engage in melee with no distinguishing tactics other than different attacks. But for the DM that cares they can have similarities and vast differences. Either approach is perfectly fine.

But I like the idea that demons are just about destruction and tearing down anything orderly while devils want to subvert and revel in that moment when their victim realizes that they missed the fine print. Both can just be extraplanar enemies that want to kill you or corrupt your soul. But with the split? Demon's preference is to just tear you apart and enjoy being covered in blood, Devils will do it wearing a tux while speaking with sophistication. Kind of like the chainsaw killer Leatherface and Hannibal Lecter.
look honestly they still seem super similar and need far greater differences, and that is before we get into the upper plane things which just kinda suck.
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester
Others may have said this upthread (I don't have time right now to read 12 pages), but this is part of why 4e broke the 2-dimensional alignment into a single axis (the other part is to echo the World Axis cosmology they were adopting).

Lawful Good - Good - Unaligned - Evil - Chaotic Evil.

This essentially meant that Lawful Neutral entities had to be redefined as Lawful Good or Unaligned, and similarly Chaotic Neutral entities as Chaotic Evil or Unaligned. Chaotic Good and Neutral Good were condensed and Lawful Evil and Neutral Evil into one grouping too.

The point is to say that "Lawful Evil" characters aren't particularly lawful, they're just less chaotic in their evil. And when we say Chaotic Good, we're meaning Good characters that aren't so beholden to law and order, so a bit more Robin-Hoody. We're not saying they're opposed to good laws, just that they're willing to break the rules for the sake of good. Lawful Good characters are doing everything by the book and in that sense are the most good and the hardest path to walk. Chaotic Evil are doing nothing by the book and are the most evil and the easiest and most violently problematic path to walk.

This also harkens back to the single alignment axis of Law vs Chaos of D&D's early inspirations. Law = Good, Chaos = Evil in those books, and the splitting of the two was somewhat arbitrary and attempting to cut hairs in ways that didn't always make sense.
 

Aldarc

Legend
look honestly they still seem super similar and need far greater differences, and that is before we get into the upper plane things which just kinda suck.
I can deal with the co-existence of demons and devils, but yugoloths, angels, and the other celestials feel like D&D artificially filling in alignment boxes.* The need to fill every planar alignment with its own brand of outsiders has always felt like a hot mess to me.

* The irony is not lost on me of people criticizing 4e's classes as about filling in power/role boxes - which they never fully did (e.g., martial controller) - while ignoring how the Great Wheel is one giant exercise in artificial box filling.

Others may have said this upthread (I don't have time right now to read 12 pages), but this is part of why 4e broke the 2-dimensional alignment into a single axis (the other part is to echo the World Axis cosmology they were adopting).

Lawful Good - Good - Unaligned - Evil - Chaotic Evil.

This essentially meant that Lawful Neutral entities had to be redefined as Lawful Good or Unaligned, and similarly Chaotic Neutral entities as Chaotic Evil or Unaligned. Chaotic Good and Neutral Good were condensed and Lawful Evil and Neutral Evil into one grouping too.

The point is to say that "Lawful Evil" characters aren't particularly lawful, they're just less chaotic in their evil. And when we say Chaotic Good, we're meaning Good characters that aren't so beholden to law and order, so a bit more Robin-Hoody. We're not saying they're opposed to good laws, just that they're willing to break the rules for the sake of good. Lawful Good characters are doing everything by the book and in that sense are the most good and the hardest path to walk. Chaotic Evil are doing nothing by the book and are the most evil and the easiest and most violently problematic path to walk.

This also harkens back to the single alignment axis of Law vs Chaos of D&D's early inspirations. Law = Good, Chaos = Evil in those books, and the splitting of the two was somewhat arbitrary and attempting to cut hairs in ways that didn't always make sense.
Again, this worked well IMHO of evoking ancient notions of the Chaoskampf found in human mythologies. A common idea therein is that moral evil (i.e., Evil) leads to cosmological chaos (i.e., Chaotic Evil) and conversely that moral goodness (i.e., Good) leads to and preserves cosmological order (i.e., Lawful Good).

This is likely why 4e's use of alignment and its mythic cosmology resonated better with me than prior iterations, such as 2e and 3e's.
 

I can deal with the co-existence of demons and devils, but yugoloths, angels, and the other celestials feel like D&D artificially filling in alignment boxes.* The need to fill every planar alignment with its own brand of outsiders has always felt like a hot mess to me.

* The irony is not lost on me of people criticizing 4e's classes as about filling in power/role boxes - which they never fully did (e.g., martial controller) - while ignoring how the Great Wheel is one giant exercise in artificial box filling.


Again, this worked well IMHO of evoking ancient notions of the Chaoskampf found in human mythologies. A common idea therein is that moral evil (i.e., Evil) leads to cosmological chaos (i.e., Chaotic Evil) and conversely that moral goodness (i.e., Good) leads to and preserves cosmological order (i.e., Lawful Good).

This is likely why 4e's use of alignment and its mythic cosmology resonated better with me than prior iterations, such as 2e and 3e's.
gods do we need a better plane system and better plane entities.

I never saw why 4e even bother with alignment they should have just killed it.
 





Aldarc

Legend
gods do we need a better plane system and better plane entities.

I never saw why 4e even bother with alignment they should have just killed it.
The Dawn War cosmos of 4e was essentially built from the ground-up in conjunction with its new alignment system, so I think that it fits fairly well. It's not perfect though because it still had to reconcile a lot of older lore and shuffle things around in this new version.

On a conceptual and organizational level, I do think that one bizarre issue, which I believe has been discussed in a forum thread in the past year, was the interrelation of the gods with these various outsiders, archdevils, demon lords, etc. This is to say, why bother with having both? What's the functional difference between a demon lord like Orcus and a chaotic evil god like Gruumsh when they occupy an overlapping conceptual space of powerful godlike CE entities?
 

The Dawn War cosmos of 4e was essentially built from the ground-up in conjunction with its new alignment system, so I think that it fits fairly well. It's not perfect though because it still had to reconcile a lot of older lore and shuffle things around in this new version.

On a conceptual and organizational level, I do think that one bizarre issue, which I believe has been discussed in a forum thread in the past year, was the interrelation of the gods with these various outsiders, archdevils, demon lords, etc. This is to say, why bother with having both? What's the functional difference between a demon lord like Orcus and a chaotic evil god like Gruumsh when they occupy an overlapping conceptual space of powerful godlike CE entities?
I think demon lords are supposed to be more killable, like the archdukes compared to Asmodeus.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think demon lords are supposed to be more killable, like the archdukes compared to Asmodeus.
But are they really when they seemingly come back as easily as Saturday morning cartoon villains?* "Oh, no Orcus is back for the 20th time in the past 10 years." Any setting could just about set their calendar to the number of comeback appearances by Orcus and the like. There's not too much of a functional difference between killing a demon lord and the avatar of a CE god.

* Understandably so since D&D wants to continue using their IPs' Rogues' Gallery.
 

But are they really when they seemingly come back as easily as Saturday morning cartoon villains?* "Oh, no Orcus is back for the 20th time in the past 10 years." There's not too much of a functional difference between killing a demon lord and the avatar of a CE god.

* Understandably so since D&D wants to continue using their IPs' Rogues' Gallery.
there are days when I just want to make my own setting so I can be in charge of it and do things my way but I suck and am too tired to do it.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I apologize to the OP for this digression of mine.

But I would posit that the problem is not the existence or framing of Chaos as a conflict, but, rather, it's Good.

Chevy Chase Community GIF


The existence of Good as an Alignment fundamentally invalidates a lot of actual moral and philosophic complexities in the 5e D&D mythos and cosmology. What is Good? Let's ask Neutral Good, which some would regard as the purest manifestation of Goodness. What is the social value of Law and/or Chaos when objective Good exists? What are the downsides of Good again? Not sure if there are any. The objective existence of Good seems like a winning ticket. What are the actual conflicts, plot hooks, and dramatic tension between Chaotic Good and Lawful Good in the cosmos? Pretty non-existent. Why? Because Good. They seem to mostly either cooperate, peacefully co-exist, or get along. This is what drives the Blood War as the popular metaplot. This is because, repeat after me, Good is boring. Although Gygax likely thought that introducing Good vs. Evil into the mix of Law vs. Chaos would add greater complexity to the game, it ironically had the opposite effect because the existence of Good nullifies a lot of that complexity.

This is also why Michael Moorcock opted to pick up Poul Anderson's use of Law and Chaos. It shifts the debate from Good vs. Evil to something more morally ambiguous.

Additionally, this is also what I appreciate about the color White in the Magic the Gathering. It's not framed as being fundamentally "good." It's framed as being concerned about Morality, which provides a lot of breathing room about questions of goodness, morality, and ethics. White is not necessarily "good," but it does have ideas on goodness, morality, and virtue that it wants to sell you on.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
look honestly they still seem super similar and need far greater differences, and that is before we get into the upper plane things which just kinda suck.
They may seem similar to you. The do not to me. Just like to some people a purple worm and dragon are just a pile of stats.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think they should have gone further in terms of stripping it then.
If it can be easily and completely ignored, then removing would just be petty spitefulness. At that point you're just doing it to take it away from those who use it and like it.
 

look honestly they still seem super similar and need far greater differences, and that is before we get into the upper plane things which just kinda suck.
Powerscore RPG has an amazing set of articles full of information from every edition of D&D on devils, the layers of the Nine Hells, and the Archdukes that went a long way in making me appreciate how different devils are from demons and wanting to use them primarily as noncombatant NPCs in games I run:

Guide to Devils
Guide to the Nine Hells
Guide to Archdevils

I especially recommend that last one. I also recommend Powerscore RPG in general, which is pretty much the first place I go to look for D&D lore on various subjects.

This same author released Emirikol's Guide to Devils on DM's Guild, which is over 200 pages long. I would direct link to it but I'm not sure if we have rules against that here.
 

They may seem similar to you. The do not to me. Just like to some people a purple worm and dragon are just a pile of stats.
I never said it was the stats but both look and goal which is just make a terrible reality.
Powerscore RPG has an amazing set of articles full of information from every edition of D&D on devils, the layers of the Nine Hells, and the Archdukes that went a long way in making me appreciate how different devils are from demons and wanting to use them primarily as noncombatant NPCs in games I run:

Guide to Devils
Guide to the Nine Hells
Guide to Archdevils

I especially recommend that last one. I also recommend Powerscore RPG in general, which is pretty much the first place I go to look for D&D lore on various subjects.

This same author released Emirikol's Guide to Devils on DM's Guild, which is over 200 pages long. I would direct link to it but I'm not sure if we have rules against that here.
I know those I just see little difference beyond what can be expressed with these.
 

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