Monday, 17 April 2017

Alignment in the Crater

I'll level with you guys: I've never read Elric.

I know, I know.

I do know that it's what the alignment system, in its initial Law/Neutral/Chaos form, was drawn from, and I know that the conception of Chaos, at least, was an inspiration for the Warhammer universe, but I don't know much about it apart from that.

I will read this, obviously. I mean,
look at that cover.

But I've kind of already got some thoughts about a way to frame OD&D-style alignment, in a way appropriate for a heavily Lovecraft-inspired setting like mine. I get the impression that it's pretty close to how Moorcock does it anyway, but my own angle on has to do with that classic Lovecraft dichotomy of "things that make sense in terms of our limited ability to make sense of the universe" vs. "things that make clear we have no fucking idea what the universe is actually like and couldn't deal with it even if we did." You know, like this in this old sawhorse, the opening lines of "The Call of Cthulhu":
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piercing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or fee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
See where I'm going with this? "Law" designates stuff that belongs to, and makes sense within the bounds of the "placid island of ignorance" that most humanoids live in, "Chaos" is the stuff that belongs to the "terrifying vistas of reality," and "Neutral" represents some precarious navigation of the two. I like this because it shifts alignment's job from the relatively subjective realm of "ethics" or "world view" (I gather this is already true of the Moorcock-inspired original, at least compared to what happens when you add "Good" and "Evil" to the mix) to a simple objective classification.

Most humans and humanoids in Xish are going to be Lawful or at least Neutral (outside of Xish, goat-men are for sure Chaotic, and anyone from the barbarian tribes, who often live in close proximity to goatman tribes, are more likely to be as well). Adventurers who've seen a lot of shit are more likely to be Neutral, and in extreme cases Chaotic - the exception being clerics, who are always Chaotic, since they get their powers from the gods, which are obviously Chaotic as fuck. Magic is chaotic by nature but wizards aren't, necessarily; they can be, and then you get the classic Lovecraft/Smith/Howard wizard or witch who might be able to manage themselves day to day but who nonetheless, in some deep and fundamental way, see the world differently. But other wizards will take precautions against going too far down that rabbit hole, and maintain themselves, with effort, at Neutral.

Most monsters, especially anything living in the Crater, are going to be Chaotic - but, again, note that this doesn't say anything about behaviour or disposition. It's more like, anyone Lawful or Neutral who sees or interacts with one at best gets kind of a hinky feeling and at worst ends up having to throw up and lie down after it's all over (you can see that I could easily tie this into some kind of sanity mechanic, but I probably won't; I've thought about it, and unless I'm really committed to turning this into a straight-out horror game, which I'm not, it doesn't really seem worth it).

Obviously, the world of the Chain, even outside the Crater, is more Chaotic than not; the rise of apocalyptic death cults, and the brazenness with which cultists and wizards alike operate in the open are all signs that man's placid island of ignorance is as on the verge of just being swallowed up by the ocean as Xish itself. Because of that, just seeing a wizard perform a spell or watching something fucked up fly by isn't going to do much to even the average villager except give them the shivers. That said, someone trying to raise the dead, or even just parading around the corpse of something from one of the Crater's deeper levels, is going to find themselves on the wrong end of an angry/terrified mob right fucking quick.

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