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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rolemaster and Alignment

Fortuitous Bandwagoneering!

Rolemaster, at first, had little to say about alignment. The book dedicated to character development actually has no use of the word in it! Regular Garden of Eden...

Evil showed up in Spell Law, where there were lists of spells that were supposed to be available to evil magicians, clerics, and mentalists. Spell Law provided the game's 'take' on Good vs Evil - which was essentially a small blurb that left it up to the Referee to decide what the terms meant in their game-world! How about that!

Enter the Companion products (of course!). Early companions were essentially fan-projects - optional rules and sub-systems submitted from players across the world - of course someone out there would submit their version of alignment for Rolemaster. It was inevitable.

Now, the latest version of Rolemaster has two pages dedicated to it, with three tables occupying one of them. It gives a variety of binary pairs (good vs evil, law/government vs anarchy/rebels/opposing government, law/principle vs opportunism, religion vs atheism/other religion, free enterprise vs cartel/guild/monopoly/socialism, asceticism vs hedonism, altruism vs egoism, spiritual vs materialist, metaphorical vs literalistic). This table, while interesting, is a simplification of an earlier table, which contains 'Personality Traits' set up in the same fashion (as pairs of extreme traits). A character was to roll on this table. Lets say this roll is 58 (yes, I rolled!). 58 gives us "Valorous, Brave, Bold, Audacious vs Timid, Cowardly, Craven".

OK. We roll again to determine where the character stands in this abstract scale (where low rolls are closer to the Valorous, Brave, etc end, and high rolls cleave to the Timid, Cowardly and Craven heights) - and get 50!. Really (again - I rolled!) How appropriate. So this particular character stands exactly midway between Valor and Timidity, as Brave and as Cowardly as the average Josef.

How about a roll on the alignment table? 71 - this will determine the character's alignment on the scale of "Metaphorical vs Literalism". OK - 32 puts him much closer to the metaphorical than the literal. A man, then, of average bravery, prone to metaphorical interpretations and understanding of the self and world.

Alignment? Apparently this character does not acknowledge a struggle between universal good and evil. Nor is the importance of individuality defined - or the value of whatever groups he associates with. Granted, with different rolls on the table, a closer approximation of AD&D alignment could have happened. And dispensing with the die-rolls altogether would simply that further...

I didn't grow-up gaming with this approach, though - it's AD&D alignment that has that honor. Honor? Anyway - ZZARCHOV has posted his approach, and it is similar to mine (though I do use Neutrality - in fact, variations on Neutrality comprise 75% of alignments). The important part is that alignment defines the positions an individual takes on the issues of self/group and selfish/altruistic - in a purely social sense. This is where I prefer alignment - as definitions of relations of self/group and then relations of groups to other groups. At this point I would have a hard time demanding that a player choose an alignment (unless the class dictated it). Alignment is something I use generally just to generate conflicts between individuals and groups.

Let's populate hex #5437 with two dwarf tribes, both Neutral Good. What stories are there in this hex? Two Dwarf tribes co-exist because of similar temperaments and mine high quality iron ores, etc. Great. Sounds like a decent place to rest and recuperate while wandering the wilds.

Why are there two Dwarf tribes fighting over in hex #7853? Because one was randomly generated Chaotic Evil and the other Neutral Good. So an antagonistic relationship between them is not hard to imagine here, the details of which could be left to development until such a time as the area is entered: which tribe is encountered first? How do they cast their differences with the other tribe?

These kinds of things could be modelled anyway you wanted - give each hex a Conflict score or something... the point of this ramble has become pretty much lost to me. Oh yeah - just that alignment has become shorthand for hex map filling, city populace factions, etc. I kind of cringe when players try to bring alignment into play...

Now. Universal powers in unending struggle...There's a wonderful thread on OD&D that is probably what got me hooked on the boards.

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