Decline of Alignment

While I have previously on numerous occasions taken time to disparage Dungeons and Dragons and its consequent effects on Roleplaying, its fall into subversion and liberalism remains an entertaining case study. The effects of this fall have given rise to discussions on the appropriate use of the term race (of course ignoring classical definitions), the use of feudal trappings, and of course, D&D’s most famous mechanic after the critical hit; the alignment chart. I am entirely certain that most anyone reading this has some idea of the alignment system. However, its mechanics and implications have not remained stagnant in D&D’s history and its changes reflect the ideological subversion of what was originally a very interesting albeit niche metaphysical thought experiment.

Alignment as originally envisioned by Gary Gygax (whose legacy on tabletop games is mixed to say the least) totalistically encompassed the entirety of metaphysics and spirituality within Dungeons and Dragons. Action emerged from alignment, as alignment was an intrinsic quality, incapable of being changed. Alignment was furthermore linked to races, their tendencies intrinsically forcing them into an alignment, creating a physical manifestation of a spiritual hierarchy of order, chaos, good, and evil. Alignments even further manifested themselves as planes (alternate dimensions) and afterlives, locked in spiritual battle for dominance. Someone’s existence within an alignment therefore gave them a political, spiritual, and religious worldview as even the gods within this system where aligned.

Many readers are certainly noting the immense similarities of this system to traditionalist modes of thought, either of the Evolian or the Feudal variety. Certainly, these are not identical, but the intrinsic rigidity of the overarching status of the individual within the system is of note. And the similarities shouldn’t surprise anyone, the framers of the Alignment system drew their world’s metaphysics from Tolkien and those inspired by him, the legacy of feudal thought echoing through the aprioristic moral firmament of their work. In a sense they drew deep into a tradition they didn’t quite understand, nor know they were interacting with, as it was so deeply imparted into the cultural literature immersing them. The originators of D&D never truly knew the magnitude of what they would make, nor how their original morality system had dealt so deeply with western culture.

Given that these alignments as essentially “ethno-spiritual-political teams” the allowed actions within an alignment were quiet broad. Gygax himself endorsed Lawful Good characters killing children based on the implications of their racial categories, and even justified it with pre-modern cultural examples. (insert gygax on alignment from email)

This understanding of reality is anathema to liberalism, and so as D&D became more corporate (and as Gygax himself attempted to appeal to corporate interests even as early as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons), D&D’s rhetoric about a myriad of topics (morality, race, sexes to name a few) began to shift. Gygax himself put the first aside about inclusion and equality in RPG history in the preface of AD&D after all (I personally have theories as to why, but perhaps that will wait for a later post). So, we began to see D&D’s explicit literary roots become implicit as its pseudo-medievalist outlook needed to be subsumed to mass marketability.

While I could walk us through the long and winding path of D&D’s history as a product (a quite boring one to anyone who has little investment in the old system), it is most illustrative to contrast this understanding of metaphysics with the understanding now advocated by the successors of the original D&D. Where originally alignment was intrinsic and largely based on heritage, new alignment primarily emerged from character action, players chose alignments based on how they thought their character would act. Dungeon Masters now would arbitrarily change player’s alignments based on their actions, as alignment became less fluid. To use a modern metaphor, the difference essentially was of a similar tenor to my being a Lutheran because my parents are Lutherans and most of my family were Lutherans in the past compared to the phenomenon of Twitter trads shopping for religion based on theological nitpicking, trappings, and who appears the most based.

Naturally fictional characters fleshing out the setting reflected this understanding as well, Drizzt is a good drow who struggles against his evil race who would go on to inspire a bunch of exception to the rule character. Of course, this trend continued and now a Dungeons and Dragons player who thinks of alignment as anything more than just an easy moral descriptor can scarcely be found. As this understanding cemented itself further, alignment became another portion of a special snowflake character’s battery of super cool and unique traits that separate them from everyone else. Alignment went from an intrinsic trait to as superficial as a character’s eye color.

This of course naturally follows from liberalism’s central premise. Individual wants come above any collective or group. Immutable characteristics and associated stereotypes/group associated activities therefore pose an obstacle and impediment to freedom. The alignment therefore cannot be a characteristic immutable to race or even a transcendent category/ideology to be forwarded. After all, metaphysics based on subjugating others to one’s own moral view and religion are anathema to liberalism, at least in theory (it is worth noting that Liberalism seeks to subjugate others more so than any other ideology, it merely pretends not to). So, it follows that a liberal would consequently need to morph such a system to meet liberal priors.

Therefore, the system of alignment would necessarily morph into a system based on choice. The previously mentioned flippancy with which modern D20 RPGs treat alignment should be expected. Just like the medievalism it was set in, all forms of deeper ideology, spirituality, and expression must be subsumed to liberalism, merely serving as trappings for it. Lawful good characters now within common conception could never hurt a child, even if it were from a “evil race” because there are always exceptions, losing its legalistic Dura Lex Sed Lex distinction from other good alignments much the way any distinction between liberal Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics has been boiled down to mere name and trappings.

Nowadays, any interesting value the early primitive forms of D&D had in exploring the myriad of medievalist and pseudo-traditional influences on their rules and settings has been lost to Liberalism with Lords and Ladies, a magical cleaned middle ages devoid of any nasty hierarchy, superstition, and transcendent virtue.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Go ahead and insert the Gygax reference you clearly meant to include (it sucks having to be your own editor – my works are full of little errors like that too).

    Re:Twitter trads nitpicking to find the “most based” religious expression, I think this comparison falls slightly flat. True, a lot of those kids are “shopping”, in a sense, because we are all trained from youth to be consumers. The difference, though, and the reason I take exception to the comparison, is that defiance to dominant trends (being “based”) is founded in a hermeneutic of suspicion. The fundamental claim on the part of most of those engaged in this kind of searching is that the current order is altogether corrupted, and therefore absolute Truth must reside wherever it is altogether rejected. They aren’t looking for fluidity, i.e. a church, they are looking for solidity: The Church. True, their fundamentals make it difficult for them to find it, but the motive is nevertheless more solid than I think you’re giving them credit for.

    Forgive the nitpick, it’s meant to dispel a general trend of thought, not attack or dismiss your piece as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I prioristically reject the premise that people on twitter are A: sincere and B: actually invested in anything. That’s why I left, and when I was on there I barely even talked about being Lutheran. E-Christianity, in my opinion, within our circles has been largely harmful, with people adopting denominations as fads more than anything. Beyond that the argument is anecdotal, so you are free to disagree with me if your lived experience differs, I won’t be particularly offended.

      The Gygax reference is actually a picture, I suppose I’ll put it up on my blog and link it here:

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Insincerity takes a lot more effort than sincerity, and I’m given to believe that most people are more genuine than they let on. Especially since we’re all constantly being pulled by different demons in different directions, some of those lost at sea are more likely to get pulled downward, but I think it’s fair to assume they don’t, in their hearts, want that or they’d be wallowing in more popular and accessible sins.

        I don’t know that my experience is any different than yours, so I definitely see where you’re coming from. And I think you’ll agree that everyone needs Jesus. I think, ironically or not, the Twitter-Christians know what they need too, they just are more willing to be pushed and pulled in wrong directions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I disagree, ironic detachment has always, and will always be the easiest course of action.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree that religion shoppers are ~looking~ for solidity, but I would posit that they are ~exhibiting~ fluidity in how they go about doing so.

      Fluids go wherever the surrounding terrain has a path to follow, to settle at the lowest point. They bring along sediment with them and in doing so muddy the larger body that they try to slide into. They pool up in the pond carved out for them and then proclaim to be part of a great ocean despite being thousands of miles away from said ocean.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. MishaBurnett says:

    What I remember most about Alignment in early D&D is it’s use in determining which spells would work on which creature types.

    Intelligent monsters were usually evil–orcs, kobalds, trolls and such. Animal type monsters–owlbears, wolves, gelatinous cubes–were generally neutral. Cleric and Paladin PCs had to be lawful, thieves had to be neutral, other PC classes could be either lawful or neutral.

    In rare cases I can remember a GM telling a player, “You wouldn’t do that because you’re lawful,” but in general it never came up. Detect/Protection from Evil spells would work on some monsters and not on others, and that was about all alignment was used for.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. info says:

    “While I have previously on numerous occasions taken time to disparage Dungeons and Dragons and its consequent effects on Roleplaying, its fall into subversion and liberalism remains an entertaining case study. The effects of this fall have given rise to discussions on the appropriate use of the term race (of course ignoring classical definitions),”

    Dungeons and Dragons were already tainted by subversion and liberalism since the lack of sex differences apart from appearance and bodily form.

    There is strangely no difference between male and female in sexually dimorphic abilities or sexual dimorphic personality besides race.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. NC says:

    Ohhh, the days of THAC0! and forcing the party to be “good” so the subvert-er in the group is gelded before he (usually in the 80s) destroy real friendships.

    Liked by 1 person

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