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OD&D Monster alignment was more flexible in OD&D

JEB

Legend
One of the surprises when prepping my OD&D one-shot was that monster alignment was originally more varied. While many monsters still followed only one of the three alignments (law, chaos, and neutrality), many were listed under more than one. Per page 9 of Book I in the OD&D boxed set:
  • Men (humans) and all lycanthropes (werewolves, wereboars, weretigers, and werebears) could be any alignment: law, chaos, or neutrality.
  • Elves, rocs, dwarves, gnomes, and centaurs could follow law or neutrality.
  • Orcs, ogres, chimeras, minotaurs, all giants (hill, stone, frost, fire, cloud), and nearly all dragons (white, black, green, blue, red; but not golden) could follow neutrality or chaos.
This resulted in the dungeon and wilderness I built for the one-shot containing a fair number of neutral orcs, for example. Which was pretty neat to have in a 1974-authentic version of the game.

A skim of the supplements shows that this trend continued into Greyhawk. However, Blackmoor never assigned alignments to its new monsters, and Eldritch Wizardry only described good/evil tendencies when it covered monster alignments. By the time of the 1977 AD&D Monster Manual, such nuances were no longer explicitly supported (though they didn't explicit forbid them either, FWIW). Wonder why the shift?
 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Remember that original alignments were effectively factions, not definitions of moral standing or personality as it became by AD&D. When D&D still hewed close to its wargame roots in the design, it made sense to have creatures be potentially aligned with different factions.
Well, I'm a bit unclear at the moment exactly how soon alignment started being treated as a matter of morality and philosophy, but I would guess that it was some time in the first year. Supplement I: Greyhawk talks about Lawful and Chaotic deeds and behavior (see pages 6-8).

By the time The Strategic Review Vol 2 issue 1 (Feb '76) comes out, Gary is saying that "many questions continue to arise" on the subject and includes a 2.5 page issue discussing alignment and expanding it to a five alignment system from three, differentiating Good and Evil from Lawful and Chaotic.
 

Gus L

Explorer
My own suspicion having read a lot of the documents from the era of OD&D and then the ones that followed in the TSR years is that alignment in OD&D is meant largely as a tool for determining army lists...

In things like Blackmore and other early games (per First Fantasy Campaign, Strategic Review and Alarums & Excursions) it doesn't seem to have been treated as the sort of absolute, cosmic, "good v. evil" tag that says "Players, always commit genocide and atrocity against this group of exotified others, but not this group". AD&D seems to start that and I think primarily because it's aimed at tournament design - where combat is far more the favored way challenges are to be solved (likely because it's more consistent across tables/easier to 'score'). Additionally the wargame aspect of D&D is disfavored and to some extent removed in AD&D in favor of a high-level game that involves plane's walking and cosmic threats where gods, good v. evil and a paladin in hell make alignment as absolutes more interesting/useful then as a way of determining if you recruit treants to your demense's forces.

Alignment as a means of defining character expected behavior ... "Black Dougal! Not Again!" and encouraging binary thinking (e.g. "killing orc babies") in the B/X and especially BECMI days. I suspect this is because the concept of what I like to call "moral play" - that is playing with morality and player decisions about moral quandaries or character ethics was itself an aspect of the game that freaked the heck out of the Patricia Pullings and such of the satanic panic. Far better a game that explicitly instructs killing off the evil baddies rather then cutting deals with them. Much like the "Hays Code" in movies, D&D starts defining evil as always having to be punished, and clarifies the lines of good and bad very strictly because this allows TSR to push back against wackadoos who insist it's teaching their kids to cast spells, sacrifice cats and worship Satan.

Again I suspect
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
My own suspicion having read a lot of the documents from the era of OD&D and then the ones that followed in the TSR years is that alignment in OD&D is meant largely as a tool for determining army lists...

....

Alignment as a means of defining character expected behavior ... "Black Dougal! Not Again!" and encouraging binary thinking (e.g. "killing orc babies") in the B/X and especially BECMI days. I suspect this is because the concept of what I like to call "moral play" - that is playing with morality and player decisions about moral quandaries or character ethics was itself an aspect of the game that freaked the heck out of the Patricia Pullings and such of the satanic panic. Far better a game that explicitly instructs killing off the evil baddies rather then cutting deals with them. Much like the "Hays Code" in movies, D&D starts defining evil as always having to be punished, and clarifies the lines of good and bad very strictly because this allows TSR to push back against wackadoos who insist it's teaching their kids to cast spells, sacrifice cats and worship Satan.

Again I suspect
I think that's largely correct, but remember that there was also a very fertile and frenetically creative (a bit less visible in TSR products but clearly visible in the zine scene and the explosion of other RPGs) period before the game took off and really came into the awareness of normies and reactionaries like Pulling. And people were definitely exploring more character-centered and dramatic play, which would feature such moral dilemmas, pretty early. We know Lee Gold's crew among them. Starting out with simple puzzle/exploration/combat dungeon play and rapidly wanting to expand that to the more character and play-acting style of roleplaying.

There was a five and half year period between the game being released in Feb '74 and Aug or Sept '79, when the fad kicked off after stories about James Dallas Egbert III's disappearance and William Dear speculating to the media about steam tunnels and connections to D&D made national news.

While Law, Chaos, and Neutrality were absolutely army list "who can ally with whom", "which units can I select for my army" tools in Chainmail, and the 1974 set doesn't specify what they mean by "stance", it's also clearly not there for army list selection anymore. The game isn't about armies. It does control what kinds of monsters you can "lure into service" (page 12). It doesn't specify what it means in terms of character behavior and morality, but clearly by 1975 at the latest people were using it to describe moral orientation and behavior. Chaotic vs. Lawful acts as Greyhawk discusses. And given that Anderson does use it both for sides and for philosophical stance in Three Hearts and Three Lions, it seems reasonable to guess that folks were conceptualizing at least SOME of their Fighting Men (and other characters, especially Clerics) as Champions of Law against the forces of Chaos and Darkness right from the beginning.

Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faeries, Trollheim, and the Giants -- an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos; under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning. But this was so alien to the Middle Worlders that they were forever working to prevent it and to extend their own shadowy dominion.

There were still many miles of wilderness to travel on the other side of the range, but she had seen a few clearings, isolated farmsteads, and hamlets. "And where'er several men dwell, if they be not evil doers, will belike lie hallowed ground -- a shrine, if naught else -- which most o' the creatures that dog us dare no approach closely."

"But in that case," Holger asked, "how can the Middle World even think of seizing human land?"

"By help o' beings who need no fear daylicht or priestcraft. Animals like yon dragon; creatures wi' souls, like bad dwarfs. However, such allies be too few, and mostly too stupid, to have more than special use. Chiefly, methinks, the Middle World will depend on humans who'll fight for Chaos. Witches, warlocks, bandits, murderers, 'fore all the heathen savages o' the north and south. These can desecrate the sacred places and slay such men as battle against them. Then the rest o' the humans will flee, and there'll be naught left to prevent the blue gloaming being drawn over hundreds o' leagues more. With every such advance, the realms of Law will grow weaker; not alone in numbers, but in spirit, for the near presence o' Chaos must affect the good folk, turning them skittish, lawless, and inclined to devilments o' their own." Alianora shook her head, troubled. "As evil waxes, the very men who stand for good will in their fear use ever worse means o' fighting; and thereby give evil a free beachhead."
While Gygax would make a big point of differentiating Chaos from Evil in that '76 Strategic Review article on alignments, definitely the two were closely associated at first, and re-associated in the separate D&D line starting in 1981.

In things like Blackmore and other early games (per First Fantasy Campaign, Strategic Review and Alarums & Excursions) it doesn't seem to have been treated as the sort of absolute, cosmic, "good v. evil" tag that says "Players, always commit genocide and atrocity against this group of exotified others, but not this group". AD&D seems to start that and I think primarily because it's aimed at tournament design - where combat is far more the favored way challenges are to be solved (likely because it's more consistent across tables/easier to 'score'). Additionally the wargame aspect of D&D is disfavored and to some extent removed in AD&D in favor of a high-level game that involves plane's walking and cosmic threats where gods, good v. evil and a paladin in hell make alignment as absolutes more interesting/useful then as a way of determining if you recruit treants to your demense's forces.
I suspect the shift in conception of high level play was from multiple factors. I'm sure you're right that tournament play was part of it. I'm guessing that Gary & co also observed in that first 4-5 years (before the AD&D PH came out) the phenomenon that so many of us have seen in subsequent years- that, having fallen in love with the action/adventure/dungeons and monsters play of the adventuring party, most players prefer to stick with that and are not particularly interested in switching to domain-focused play when they hit 9th+ level. They're not all that interested in taking the focus off the daring heroics of a small band of heroes and switching to wargaming, logistics and politics.

We also do see in Gary's explanations of hit points and saving throws in AD&D this conception of PCs as fortified and protected by divine forces, and it's made more explicit in "The Ongoing Campaign" on page 112 of the DMG.

THE ONGOING CAMPAIGN
While it might seem highly unlikely to those who have not been involved in fantasy adventure gaming for an extended period of time, after the flush of excitement wears off - perhaps a few months or a year, depending on the intensity of play - some participants will become bored and move to other gaming forms, returning to your campaign only occasionally. Shortly thereafter even your most dedicated players will occasionally find that dungeon levels and wilderness castles grow stale, regardless of subtle differences and unusual challenges. It is possible, however, for you to devise a campaign which will have a very minimal amount of participant attrition and enthusiast ennui, and it is not parrticularly difficult to do so.

Is has been mentioned already, the game must be neither too difficult to survive nor so easy as to offer little excitement or challenge. There must always be something desirable to gain, something important to lose, and the chance of having either happen. Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in experience, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement.

Gary later showed exactly this sort of progression in his own Gord the Rogue novels. His protagonist Gord starting as a lowly street rat beggar/thief, becoming involved in greater struggles between nations and the agents of divine forces as he got higher level, and then finally directly becoming a player in and fighting against deific entities at the end of his career.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Great thread, @JEB

Here's a prior run-down on the history that might contain some useful information, although it doesn't detail the direct points you are making.

 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Well, here is one thing I mention as a fun fact-

All this said, the concept that there were, basically, two "sides" (good and evil, law and chaos) and you would either choose a side, or remain "neutral" persisted. In Blackmoor, you can see this made explicit - if you attack or kill a sage, you become Chaotic (evil). On the other hand, because assassins assumedly could kill for either side, the OD&D rules have them as a required .... neutral alignment. HA!
 

Gus L

Explorer
I think that's largely correct, but remember that there was also a very fertile and frenetically creative (a bit less visible in TSR products but clearly visible in the zine scene and the explosion of other RPGs) period before the game took off and really came into the awareness of normies and reactionaries like Pulling.
Yes this is precisely the period I'm referencing. I think the style of play varied among regional affinity groups (West Coast, Twin Cities, Lake Geneva etc), preferred periodicals - you are right to mention Alarums & Excursion, which has more than one style of play at work in it (though I think it takes a while before the "Dungeons & Beavers" style really develops as something with different goals then Lake Geneva's/Gygax's) and of course specific tables. Early stories of D&D are all about characters becoming vampires, leading orc armies, tricking demons and such. The morality of it, as much as one thing can be said, all appears rather roguish and very much in line with the wargamer ethos of playing the baddies for fun.

While Law, Chaos, and Neutrality were absolutely army list "who can ally with whom", "which units can I select for my army" tools in Chainmail, and the 1974 set doesn't specify what they mean by "stance", it's also clearly not there for army list selection anymore. The game isn't about armies. It does control what kinds of monsters you can "lure into service" (page 12).
This is something I increasingly wonder about - not the new thing (an RPG) that D&D became (even during publication, the seemingly sudden addition of the alternate combat system suggests a change in focus to me for example), but the game (RPG/wargame/hybrid) that it started as in Gygax and Arneson's minds. I know this is foolish - an authorial fallacy among other things .. but it's fascinating.

I mentioned my thoughts on this in the Odd Rules thread I think - but basically, to me there increasingly seems to be a skirmish and domain game under OD&D and I think alignment, No App. for monsters the in Wilderness, equipment prices vs. XP needed to level and a few other touches are it peering through the seams. It's fascinating because many of these rules both have had lingering effects on play and the development of subsequent editions and because while they appear as kludgey or odd in the context of a dungeon crawl RPG ... they make a lot of sense for a skirmish game of commando raids that serves as an adjunct system for a domain based wargame.

It doesn't specify what it means in terms of character behavior and morality, but clearly by 1975 at the latest people were using it to describe moral orientation and behavior ... it seems reasonable to guess that folks were conceptualizing at least SOME of their Fighting Men (and other characters, especially Clerics) as Champions of Law against the forces of Chaos and Darkness right from the beginning.

Absolutely. Though this strikes me as a far cry from the way alignment has evolved into a fairly ironclad system of monster to kill vs. NPC to receive quests from. It's this modern conception of alignment I find galling because to me it eliminates some of the positive and most interesting elements of play - and tends to reinforce a combat centric game where evil creatures fight good PCs. A blue team/red team style of design that makes the kind of dubious alliances, corrupt deals, treachery and player driven schemes I love to see in play far less common or viable. Now if some player wants to declare their PC as someone who won't cut deals with the undead or 'evil' say - this is still possible but I think far more interesting in a setting where 'evil' isn't a specific marker on a monster description that applies universally by monster type.

To put it another way. I don't need Poppa Xagyg to says only talk to Gold Dragons... the rest are stranger danger. I want all dragons to be strange, dangerous and potentially something you can cut a deal with.

This tendency, to me at least really seems to get going with B/X, AD&D and BECMI (for various and I suspect slightly different reasons). Certainly it has antecedents and it's an easy read from the OD&D alignment table to cosmic conflict of either the Anderson or Moorcock variety (AD&D only for that one).

For me though - I haven't used alignment since I started playing again in 2012 and it's been a generally good decision.

I suspect the shift in conception of high level play was from multiple factors. I'm sure you're right that tournament play was part of it. I'm guessing that Gary & co also observed in that first 4-5 years (before the AD&D PH came out) the phenomenon that so many of us have seen in subsequent years- that, having fallen in love with the action/adventure/dungeons and monsters play of the adventuring party, most players prefer to stick with that and are not particularly interested in switching to domain-focused play when they hit 9th+ level. They're not all that interested in taking the focus off the daring heroics of a small band of heroes and switching to wargaming, logistics and politics.

Gary later showed exactly this sort of progression in his own Gord the Rogue novels. His protagonist Gord starting as a lowly street rat beggar/thief, becoming involved in greater struggles between nations and the agents of divine forces as he got higher level, and then finally directly becoming a player in and fighting against deific entities at the end of his career.
We're agreed here - as much as AD&D has consistency this is the play style progressions - high level play is fighting gods and demons in strange new worlds (something that 5E seems to be locking into as well with the new Vecna book btw). To me it's an interesting juxtaposition with the OSR cliche around "tiers of play" - e.g. dungeon, wilderness and domain.
 

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