Monday, April 19, 2010

Alignment, LotFP Style? Law (Technology) vs Chaos (Magic)

With the alignment system I've put in place, it's pretty obvious that I don't have the first clue about what to do about Law. Chaos = Magic, Neutral = Normal. But law?

But yesterday, after the players discovered that the meteorite they were hired to recover turned out to instead be a crashed flying saucer, one of my players had a big idea.

If Chaos is magic, perhaps Law is technology?

(one thing about having my rules be OGL and deciding the rules will be a free downloadable PDF is I feel no guilt about freely adapting ideas like this... if I was doing a closed system with a "must buy to see it" I'd always be worrying that I'd need to compensate people for their ideas lest I be profiting off of others' work... but with the OGL/freebie angle it's obvious that when it comes to the big rules ideas that if they are available for free, that's not what I'm charging for when I sell the for-pay version)

The idea was fascinating. It would support a common conflict in fantasy campaigns, give all the alignments something to stand for, and provide many interesting little bits as a consequence.

Two problems I have with the idea, and maybe you guys can help me smooth this out.

We're playing a fantasy game, so Chaos = Magic doesn't kill a lot of common ways of play. We all use magic in our fantasy. Making Law = Technology would almost coerce people into thinking that using this alignment system means their game needs some sort of real technology in it to be playing it to form.

(and when I mean "technology," I'm not meaning "normal medieval/Renaissance advances")

Part of what I'm doing is trying to make a baseline campaign world mundane, with the weird stuff out on the fringes. So while I have no problem making a flying saucer the twist to an adventure, I don't want such a thing to be part of the campaign world, if you understand the distinction. If the decision is made that the alien flying such a thing is Lawful because he uses supertech, the want to balance Law and Chaos by having as much of this stuff as magic spells will be strong. Especially to someone picking up the game and just reading the text and seeing Law right there as the equal of Chaos as part of the game. I don't want to encourage a steampunk setting or anything of the sort.

I'm afraid that embracing this will change the entire perceived flavor of the game.

My other concern... Tower of the Stargazer has a wizard using both magic and obvious examples of wondrous technology. I think that's a fair thing to do, but to establish a dichotomy would be in a lot of ways preventing that from happening. I have visions of Lawful types not being able to use magic or magic items and Chaotic types not being able to use the high tech stuff because those are "Lawful" items. And regular neutral people can use both because they're not "married" to either concept in any way.

A lot of Lovecraftian weirdness is this mystitech as well and I don't want a really good idea to neutralize a core influence.

So what do you guys think?


  1. Technology v/s Magic in a medieval fantasy setting is an interesting concept, however, I would be careful as it could pose other repercussions if it is set as the alignment system.

    If the dividing line between good and evil is technology and magic, will there be enough weird technology inherent in the game design to balance the equation?

    Are all non-magic using PC's, such as Dwarves, specialists, and fighters all naturally neutral? This would mean that they probably have no care of the fight between the techno-users and magic-users. A laser sword may not work for a magic user, but will it work for the specialist? If a fighter decks out in loads of looted technology, will he eventually become lawful? Will his chaotic mage buddy eventually throw a fireball in his face?

    Otherwise, I think that it could still fit with your Lovecraftian ideals as he rarely mentioned outright the technology involved to bring the otherworldly creatures to Earth. Rather, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This can easily be applied to your system, just make the technology appropriately weird; perhaps some mixed biotechnology to make it binding to the user (which could explain the shifting alignment).

  2. >>If the dividing line between good and evil is technology and magic

    Alignment will have nothing to do with good and evil or morality or personality in any event.

    >>I think that it could still fit with your Lovecraftian ideals as he rarely mentioned outright the technology involved to bring the otherworldly creatures to Earth.

    Cool Air and Whisperer in Darkness certainly points to technology and SCIENCE! rather than pure mysticism being elements of his universe.

  3. I have no problems with Law = technology and Chaos = magic as long as its clear that sane folk choose neither.

  4. >>Alignment will have nothing to do with good and evil or morality or personality in any event.

    Yes, but as an alignment system it still sounds as if they are to be violently opposed to each other (as in the classic good v/s evil theme).

    >>Cool Air and Whisperer in Darkness certainly points to technology and SCIENCE! rather than pure mysticism being elements of his universe.

    Forgive me if I don't recall all of the details of the stories, most of my books are in storage at the moment. Cool Air goes into descriptions of the cooling technology, which wasn't that far advanced (in our eyes). However, I don't remember the details, if they were given, of how the doctor became undead, and the other technologies involved would probably seem very much like magic to us.

    In Whisperer in the Darkness, I think only the jar was described in detail. The crabmen could have really looked liked crabs, or maybe it was some sort of biomechanical suit they wore. Did the story ever describe their spacecraft or the type of propulsion it utilized? Perhaps the aliens had some type of portable wormhole generator that would allow them to travel through folded space. These are the things that weren't mentioned outright or thoroughly describe.

    I'm not saying that I'm against the idea, just be careful with it. I've been following your site for a while, and LotFP sounds wonderful so far. I admit I don't know exactly what your final vision is for the game, but it sounds like throwing this idea in could be a major alteration of its course. Take your time, get lots of input and think on it ^^. I'm sure you can make it work if you decide to put it into the final draft!

    I also like Jeff Rients' comment.

  5. Perhaps another approach which is in keeping with the mood you are trying to establish is to envision law as representing rationality in the Lovecraftian sense of someone who be believes the universe to be both orderly and in some sense benign or compatible with humans' (or humanoids, whatever) drives, goals, and ambitions. In other words, an adherent of law would not accept that "the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up ... terrifying vistas of reality" whereas an adherent of chaos holds that there is no humanly comprehensible notion of rationality to the universe. "Normal" people float in between by accepting some degree of rationality in their daily lives while coming to terms with what they don't (or feel they can't) understand.

    Note that I'm not talking about something that implies any kind of ethical code, so I'm not (intentionally) trying to mirror the traditional alignment system. I'm suggesting that Reason vs. Magic reflects a more useful dichotomy here than "Technology" vs. Magic.

    Also re: Jeff's comment: I'm not sure why choosing "technology" or "magic" is indicative of a lack of sanity unless Jeff is trying to make a point about people who seek medical help or post on blogs. :)

  6. Sorry, not "Reason vs. Magic"; something like Reason vs. Unreason or Disorder or, you know, Chaos. I don't want to suggest that Lawful people wouldn't use magic items or something; they would, however, assume a "magic item" is some form of technology they don't understand.

  7. I really think the concept, while interesting, will detract from your game more than add to it. I kinda thought a cthulhu dark ages / warhammer fantasy roleplay style worldview was more in the spirit of your weird fantasy works. I think if you were able to find another word to use instead of technology the concept might come across in a clearer manner. M. Buice has a good point about the reason / order style of thought.

  8. I'm intrigued. Perhaps "normal medieval/Renaissance advances" could be the flip side to 'normal' fantasy magic. A, adventuring magic-user is harnessing the power of chaos like an engineer harnesses the power of law.

    And maybe then neutral=nature... Making the dichotomy into an almost, uh, 'trichotomy.'

    I'm half asleep, and these our just my first, barely-formed, proto-thoughts; but you've got my brain working - and i think that's a good thing for a game to do.

  9. I'm thinking I cannot wait to buy this game.

  10. Technology, Science and other rational approaches to the world depend on (and arguably create) a morphogenetic field of deterministic laws.

    A view of Magic as Chaotic, but creating definite effects, therefore most logically uses Free Will as its engine. Magical effects are created by bargaining and suasion of intelligent spirits, not "Push button A, fireball go boom." That is technology masquerading as magic.

    Possibly the best expression of this in an RPG is, well, the RPG that most faithfully represents the Moorcock idea of Law and Chaos: Stormbringer. Magic there depends on bargaining with and binding ever more powerful demons and spirits.

    Has anyone ever pointed out that one of the most logical explanations for the Vancean level/slot system also involves the ability to strike and call in bargains with spirits at different levels of a celestial or infernal hierarchy?

    In such a game world, the relics and interplanetary incursions of high technology stand in the same relation to medieval attempts at science as the will-workings of Demon Lords relate to hedge-wizardry and witch-doctoring. If you have ever read Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series you know how effectively starfaring visitors and eldritch sorcery can co-inhabit the same setting, while reflecting profoundly different metaphysical forces.

  11. I like where Michael Buice is going with this, but I would articulate it alittle more like a the dispute within science between natural Law and quantum mechanical Chaos. Basically, Law would be the Newtonian and absolutist version of metaphysics/truth. God does not play dice with the universe. There are fundamental underlying laws which ultimately control everything and keep everything in order. Our reason and understanding are imperfect, so we as humans don't always 'get' the law, but its there. This is reassuring and makes life more predictable, and gives a reason for inflexible human laws and inflexible scientific ones. Some mages even could believe in this conception of Law, where they access the power of Natural Law unknown to the ignorant non-magic users. Repeatable, and explanable, magical powers and technologies are these folks' bread and butter. Set moral codes are another guiding principle.

    To contrast this, others believe in the inherently random and unknowable nature of the universe (Chaos). Like in quantum mechanics, every result is inherently random. What I choose to do is simply my choice, and it has effects on the world, but the randomness of the universe means there is no set predictability. This is much more like medieval fey conceptions, or like the characterization of mother nature or fortune as tricksterish. Morality is more relative and situation, since there is no ultimate correct moral act at all. Chaotic can still be good, but looks to the situation and what might help others now more than an abstract Law or code. Magic users manipulate the inherent chaos of all of this.

    I actually like this as an awesome and very modern (and real) inherent difference in worldviews between people. Absolutism v. Relativism, Law v. Chaos.

  12. I think that this would be a real mistake. While it's not necessarily a bad concept (although I feel it's a little tired at this point), I don't see how it fits the implied world of your adventures. Don't change your vision to try and shoehorn something in! To me, the best options are to either let the DM/players define what alignment means for their world, or just say that a cosmic X vs. Y conflict doesn't mesh with your vision of the game and dump it.

  13. In my head, anyway, Magic and Technology are both Law; they're just logical systems built atop different sets of axioms.

    Which is to say, the proposed system doesn't do anything for me.


  14. Neutral characters could have an affinity with items that are neither magic nor high-technology, such as normal weapons and armour. Or, if you distinguish 'natural balance neutrality' and 'selfish neutrality', the former towards wood and stone, and the latter towards metal.

  15. Fred Saberhagen: Empire of the East.

    Also, consider that the alignments are not magic or technology, but rather the mind-set that establishes the primacy of either one in the areas in which they are strongest. Neutrals can thus make use of either magic or technology, but those who adopt a more extreme affiliation will be more limited, but their capabilities will probably go farther. This lets you establish zones of influence, similar to sacred sites, have things shift from one to the other, or even create null-zones where one or the other or both will not work...

    It will help you to reign in the more egregious abuses. It could also help in the development of some adventures where various zones have to be crossed one after another, forcing the PCs to carry items that they can't use here but will need over there, and so on...

    Looking forward to how this works out!