Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Alignment" part 4

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

What Have I Got: Magic the Gathering
            Two weeks ago, (I was going to write this for last week but I instead went to Disney World) I wrote about one of my favorite game franchises, “Fallout”.  Though that seems to be somewhat inaccurate, as the more I think about it I only loved “New Vegas” and “Fallout 4” was kind of a letdown, but I digress.  “New Vegas” and “Fallout 3” had two different ways of establishing what Dungeons and Dragons’ players would call “Alignment” within their games.

            “New Vegas” had the complicated but fun and creative Alliances system, in which you are judged based on your loyalty and past actions in regards to different groups in the context of a larger conflict.  “Fallout 3” had the incredibly lazy “Karma” system which either made you wasteland Jesus or Mephistopheles but rarely if ever presented a third or fourth option to consider.
            Then there is the system I wanted to talk about this week, Magic the Gathering.  For those who are unaware, Magic is a collectible card game created by math guy Richard Garfield roughly 20 years ago.  He was the first person to patent the idea of a collectible card game and as such has made money off of every Pokemon, Magic, or Yu-Gi-Oh card sold since then.  Richard is quite wealthy.
            Magic is one of those golden games, quick enough to learn, but of such depth and size that mastery of it is effectively a full-time job for many players.  They have their own invitation only tournaments including a world championship.
            Production of Magic the Gathering has created more fantasy art than anything else ever.  There are thousands of images of pirates, genies, samurai, power armor, kaiju, monkeys, swords, goblins, vampires, and landscapes that can be used to inspire any writer who just wants a picture to look at when asking themselves, “What is the story behind this?”
            Magic the Gathering is deep, rich, and gorgeous.
            I should also warn you that a drug habit would be cheaper.
For instance, this is the rarest and most expensive card in existence.
Copies have sold for more than $20,000.
            Magic is owned by Wizards of the Coast, the same company that owns Dungeons and Dragons and the company has been dipping their toe into crossovers between the two games for a couple years now, but they have not fully taken the plunge of integrating the mythology of the two.
            I think the Dungeons and Dragon’s Alignment system and Magic’s Color system are the best starting point for better tying the two properties together in such a way to promote each.  For no other reason than the Color system works so well.
It is also prettier to look at compared to the Alignment-Axis Chart.
I feel that aesthetic appeal should count for something.

Multi-faceted Magical Morality: “No two-ways about it… There’s five”
            In all worlds there exists a magical energy called mana.  Mana comes in five colors: White, the color of order, light, and giving; Blue, the color of water, introspection, and curiosity; Black, the color of greed, ambition, and decay; Red, the color of chaos, passion, and fire; and Green, the color of instinct, wood, and beasts.
            All beings possess all five colors to some amount, and some objects and places have only generic colorless mana, but ultimately one or two colors will be more pronounced in any particular individual, and mana of each color is associated with certain types of places.
            White mana is most associated with humanity and the plains of the world, more often angels and knights see this color as their core guiding philosophy.  Blue is associated with islands, with sphinxes, genies, and merfolk.  Black is associated to swamps, and undead and demons being creatures that embody the color.  Red is associated with Mountains (and volcanoes), with goblins, dragons, and barbarians tied to it.  Green is in the forest, with hydras, animals, and elves.

            But even these associations can be blended.  Many monsters, characters, and spells in Magic have multiple colors, some require multiple colors, others have an either/or color symbol meaning that rather than having a particular color be dominate, these creatures and spells are more fluid and have traits spread across the philosophies but are not constrained by them.
            A lot of thought has been put into this system, both for the purposes of game balance, but also for the sake of making a cohesive philosophy toward the game’s look and feel.

My Preferred Method: “Not just 5… there can be 15 combinations before things get too silly”
            The reason I like this so much mostly stems from playing the card game for 10 years and occasionally picking up some cards for nostalgia’s sake.  Beyond that though, it is a mechanic that is both more codified for spells and more flexible for behavior of characters.
            For instance, a player chooses two primary colors to serve as his alignment, or just one color twice if he really wants to commit.  A Red-Red barbarian has a lot of… Passion, but would be doubly hit by a Circle of Protection (Red).  Conversely a character that is Black-White would have to deal with the internal conflict that creates, seeking order and unity, but to a very tight group that he still can’t bring himself to entirely trust.
            With each two-color combination (or double pairing) you have 15 possible combinations, 15 possible alignments than can help to illuminate how your character views the world, their methodology, and even their goals to some degree.
            This could also have real impact on how magical weapons work.  No more Anarchic-Unholy battle axes, but having a Black sword that does additional damage to White and Green characters (or exceptional damage to someone who is both White and Green) is one example as the conflict between the different colors leads to a deluge of different items and spells to target things.
            There is something I forgot to mention!  The Color Wheel and its conflicts.

There are many useful charts.
Though this one is sideways.

The Color Wheel: “Not everyone gets along, sometimes even with themselves”
            The colors are arranged in a standard order forming a ring.  White->Blue->Black->Red->Green->White.  Each color has two allies, those two colors that it is next to one the wheel, each color shares certain values with those allied colors.  And each color has two enemies, those that it does not touch on the wheel and with which they have key conflicting ideologies.
            White and Black are the most traditional natural rivalry, as the greed and self-destructive aspects of Black’s darkness clash with the altruism and life giving nature of White’s light.  But, they also have things in common.

One of the things they have in common is great art by the talented Greg Staples.
            White and Black each have ties to the afterlife, ties to divinity/diabolism, and they both have a lot of clerics and human characters.  They are opposites, but there is a lot of overlap between them over which they play tug of war.  As I mentioned before, the conflicting nature of the two would make for an interesting character, a person who doesn’t really trust anyone, but also recognizes the need for allies.  The Mafia would fit this classic mold, as each little clique of people within the larger organization is constantly jockeying for more power and influence, but that in turn makes them a target by other members, gaining and losing allies as they go.
            Each combination has been explored in depth by Wizards of the Coast for short stories and novels for the Magic the Gathering settings (Magic has a multiverse just like Dungeons and Dragons and each universe has permutations on how the Colors have evolved based on unique starting points).
            Ravnica is perhaps the world that best explains how brilliant the use of Magic’s colors as Alignment could work.  A world ruled by 10 guilds, each guild representing a pairing of colors does the most to illustrate the rich opportunities presented by Magic as a guide.  Each guild looks distinct, has a distinct philosophy, has distinct goals, members, and resources… But they all make sense in the same world together.
And you can bet your ass there are even more gorgeous colorful charts to look at.
            Green and Red make up a barbarian horde led by a Cyclopes.  White and Green make up a powerful order of Druids with a council of Dryads leading them.  Black and Red are a demon worshiping hedonism cult with the arch demon Rakdos being “in charge”.  All 10 of the guilds have their own goons and spells that illustrate how they operate and can serve to illustrate to players how they could play their characters.  A Paladin of Red-White is very different from a Paladin of Blue-White or Green-White.

Alignment and Gaming: “Why does this all even mater?”
            Alignment starts arguments that can split up gaming groups.  That is why.  In real life words like Good and Evil are judgments about people’s values and methods.  I have gotten into explosive arguments about whether a Neutral Good Cleric of Pelor would prostitute themselves for money.  And when you are gaming with someone who thinks prostitution is “Good” and you think that “Prostitution would not be proper conduct for a cleric of Pelor, do something else” ... ARGUMENTS AHOY!
            In the Color system, there are no longer any tortured arguments about “It’s not Evil to raise the dead if I am using them to defend the innocent” because it isn’t about good and evil, he would be Black-White because his methodology and goals would point toward that combination, and it fits logically enough that you are not splitting any hairs.  Since it is broader and draws both on ends and means in a soft way people can make a call and get on with it.
            And the prostitution thing?  That is the color of, “before we start this game let’s all agree to a lighter tone and try not to drag in subject matter like the sex industry,” and those conversations are all White-Blue.  But profiting off of humiliating sex seems more Red-Black.  Whatever is comfortable with your group, but I still don’t think a cleric of Pelor would sell themselves sexually.  Maybe I am just a prude?
And for some reason, "I am the GG" never seems to end an argument.
            This is not perfect, but I do think that it fits comfortably in both the “Game Mechanic” category and the “Moral Guidance” category.  Players want to have a sense of the world they are playing in, and a quick way to tell who they will have immediate disagreements with and over what. 
            Getting bogged down in the inherent Good and Evil or Law and Chaos of things isn’t fun.  Having someone playing Lawful-Killjoy or Chaotic-Disruptive isn’t fun either.  You need guidelines.  *Shrug*

Next Time: Something other than Alignment
            I started this series of Dungeons and Dragons blogs with a discussion of the language of Common and where such a concept would fit into a world of Dungeons and Dragons.  So, next time (probably next Sunday) I will return to the idea of language in fiction writing and one of my own personal bugbears on that topic.  Maybe it will be somewhat entertaining or thought provoking.
            I hope you enjoyed this series of discussions on the topic of Alignment and perhaps each of these systems have helped you understand different perspectives on the topic in Dungeons and Dragons, other games like World of Darkness, and fiction in general.  Let me know if you like the idea of integrating the Color Wheel into DnD and if you see some holes in the idea that you have suggestions for patching.  Sadly, I have not had any time to play for months and this blog is kind of my outlet for now.

The Beg for Attention
            If you venomously disagree with me, please tell me why in the comments.  Feel free to leave links to your own blog on the topic or articles that you have found helpful.  Or write your own counterpoint to all this (or parts of it) and come back and post a link.  If you have any interesting moral conflicts from pop culture or your own gaming group, post those too.
            Alignment is the most debated thing in Dungeons and Dragons and Color philosophy is a big deal in Magic the Gathering (though less so than Alignment).  This is because, as I wrote in part 1, we all have personal values.  We all have things we will not do under any circumstance (even if we don’t know it yet because we have never been tested) so if you disagree with me about the question of prostitution just keep in mind that sex can be a touchy subject and that for most people this is a game about killing monsters for gold, not selling your anal virginity.
            Have Fun!
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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