I like alignment systems.
I think the D&D Nine get a short shrift by most people, who’ve decided they don’t like a game that tells them what they can and can’t do. (I think that’s a misunderstanding of the system.) But there’s also the various Morality scales in White Wolf’s World of Darkness (Morality, Humanity, Clarity, etc); the Palladium Seven (two Good, two Selfish, and three Evil), though they strike me as much more prescriptive than D&D; and a variety of similar “this is how my character thinks and perceives the world” systems in other games. I think they’re very useful tools for Role Playing and give a quick handle for internal and external conflicts.
One gripe I have with the D&D Nine is the choice of Good vs Evil as an axis. It’s a reasonable choice to make, and like many things in D&D I’m pretty sure it developed organically over decades, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of baggage that comes with those terms. After all, no one gets up in the morning and thinks “I’m going to be evil today” (with the possible exception of cosmic forces, I guess). No one thinks of themselves as a bad person (even if they do bad things, it’s always justifiable, at least in their minds). The catch, of course, is that the definition D&D gives these terms doesn’t line up with the baggage they come with — Good talks about putting the needs of others above your own needs, even to the point of risk to yourself; Evil talks about a willingness to hurt and enslave others if it is convenient or expedient, essentially putting your needs above anyone else’s. It could be properly recast as “Altruistic vs Egoistic,” but that’s hardly as approachable as “Good vs Evil.” It’s also a lot less vague.
Yesterday, the Gassy Gnoll proposed that “Holy vs Unholy” should replace “Good vs Evil” and that it should be relative to the character, so what’s Holy for a follower of Pelor is very different from what’s Holy for a follower of Nerull. Brendan commented that he liked the idea of Holy vs Unholy, but that it shouldn’t be relative, so Holy meant the same thing whether you followed Pelor or Nerull, it’s just Nerull’s followers oppose the Holy. I don’t think that fixes the problems I have with Good vs Evil, and in fact it probably makes them worse, but it struck me that it could be an interesting addition to alignment, a Cubed Alignment instead of 3×3.
But what would that look like? What’s the difference between Lawful Good Holy and Lawful Good Unholy? Wait, scratch that. Saying someone is Good Unholy or Evil Holy is going to quickly turn in to nonsense, so let’s start by replacing the current Good and Evil with Altruistic and Egoistic. So what’s the difference between Lawful Altruistic Holy and Lawful Altruistic Unholy? Can we even make sense of what this third axis could be?
Let’s look at the Axises we currently have, first. In Law vs Chaos, Law represents order, honor, tradition, and authority; Chaos represents individualism, freedom, and impulse. Neutral characters are neither particularly bound to honor or tradition, but also don’t chafe under it or feel a need to resist or rebel. In Altruism vs Egoism, Altruism is about putting the needs of others before your own, even to the point of sacrifice; Egoism is about putting your needs above the needs of others, to the point of being callous or cruel. Neutral characters try to be good neighbors, but generally are neither willing to sacrifice themselves nor victimize others.
So what about Holy vs Unholy? I’m honestly not really sure how we should cast the terms. In some cases, Holy refers to association with or supporting the gods, and unholy would be anything aimed against them. I don’t think that’s what we’re aiming for. In other cases, Unholy is the same as wickedness, and Holy is some combination of Lawfulness and Altruism. I don’t think that’s what we want either. We could put it in terms of suffering, where Holy creatures strive to decrease suffering and Unholy creatures strive to increase it; or we could put it in vague terms like Good and Evil, or Light and Dark, where Unholy creatures strive for negative ends and Holy creatures strive for positive ends. But the more I think of it, the less I feel it really adds anything.
Maybe I just need to give it more thought. Anyone out there have ideas I might be missing?