Feb 6, 2009

Alignment and Languages for D&D

cantingThe alignment rules in the various version of Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most frequently discussed, and often dismissed aspects of the game.  Some players feel that the rules as written prevent them from playing the types of characters that they want to in their role-playing game.

I happen to enjoy fantasy literature and movies that includes heroes and villains, and so the alignment system doesn't bother me as much as it does some other people.  I do have a few ideas about how to make the alignment system in the Moldvay Basic edition of D&D work a bit better for the kind of game I want to play, and I'm going to share those house-rules here.


Alignments

All characters in the game world are represented by one of 3 alignments - Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic.  Player Characters are Lawful or Neutral, while the DM controls characters of all 3 alignments.
Lawful - Heroes
These characters believe in the value of civilization, orderly life, and the welfare of others.  They are the decent, law-abiding peoples and heroes of the world.  In literature and film this would include most protagonists.  Luke Skywalker, Spiderman, and Frodo Baggins would all be Lawful characters.

Neutral - Rogues
Individuals that are Neutral are the selfish, indifferent, rogues, or anti-heroes of the world.  While not villainous, they may be more concerned with their own well-being than that of the group.  Sometimes they are a good person who simply believes in following their own rules. Han Solo, The Punisher, and Conan the Cimmerian would be examples of Neutral characters.

Chaotic - Villains
Knaves and villains, the chaotic characters are the antagonists of the game world.  They may work as individuals, or with an organization - but their goals are always nefarious. They take a step beyond simply being a criminal and are actively 'evil' characters. Darth Vader, Venom, and Voldemort are a few examples of Chaotic characters.

Most players who would have chosen chaotic to represent their characters in other campaigns would find them well represented by Neutral in this system.  Characters that crossed over into malicious and 'evil' behaviour would become chaotic in this system, and NPCs under the control of the DM.

Because, that's how I roll. :)

Alignment Languages

Next I took a look at Alignment Languages.  As much as I wanted to use these as written, I just couldn't get my head around how they'd work in a believable way - particularly with a mixed group of alignments working together and people learning and forgetting secret 'languages' if they changed alignment during a campaign.

What I settled on was a language that was generally associated with each of the 3 alignments, but that could be learned by other characters if they so desired.  However, starting characters were limited to learning the "alignment language" corresponding to their own alignment at the beginning of the game - unless their class provided them additional language options...
Ancient
Lawful characters may choose to learn Ancient as a bonus language (if they have one available).  Much like Latin, this is a dead language that is primarily found in ancient texts and used by clerics.

Thieves Cant
Neutral characters are more likely to associate with outlaws, thieves and criminals.  They may choose to learn Thieves Cant as a bonus language.  While not used in regular day-to-day life for honest citizens, it can be heard in back alleys and seedier taverns.

Black Tongue
A vile, guttural language that most people would not dare to speak. It is said that merely saying a few words in this dark language attracts the attention of demonic ears.  Orcs, cultists, and dark wizards are known to speak this dread language.

Publishing these articles has really inspired me to keep on working on the campaign world for my game.  Future posts will include more custom rules, monsters, maps, etc!