Monday, November 16, 2009

A Dreddful Appetite

Those of us who have at one time or another, sheepishly or otherwise, have cracked open a D&D book know of the character alignment system. Two dimensions are plotted: a good vs evil dimension and a law vs chaos dimension. Neither dimension is especially well defined, not at least to my satisfaction. Ostensibly, a lawful good character will obey the law and serve his fellow man, but what happens if you find yourself living in a land ruled by a tyrant whose idea of law is to imprison dissidents and, I dunno, raise an army of ghouls to wage war on his neighbors? The same dude who might have been all law-abiding and junk in his home country is now at odds with the law, and becomes chaotic good. The Platonist in me tells me that this arrangement is smellier than a haversack that's been sitting under Smaug's dorsal vent for well nigh on a month.

I like to think of law as arising as that set (bundle if you will) of rights and protections that best serve the community from which they arise. A corrupt dictator no sooner makes law than a Vogon makes fine poetry (pardon the liquid universe borders). His decrees are arbitrary and serve only him. Obedience to spurious legislation is not necessarily lawful, and so say the Civil Rights Movement. However, just as the cleric of Tymora in Thay, so Martin Luther King in Alabama. The good Reverend was following natural law, divine law if you will, in that he righteously opposed the unjust rule of man. This was an inherently lawful act, even if it was illegal. MLK was LG.

Chaotic Good is arbitrary do-goodiness. You find this sort engaged in humanistic radicalism and optimistic social engineering. It's chaotic for the very reason that it's untested, whimsical social engineering. Anti-goblin discrimination legislation might be fine and dandy for homo-gobloid relations in the marble chambers of Waterdeep, but without the Hayekian emergent order, history has shown again and again how nature points out the folly of men.


On the evil side, LE is tough to categorize. Traditionally, and according to Bryan Caplan's comment on my facebook page, LE types cherish obeying the letter of the law, especially if it means getting to smash a few faces in. These are the guys responsible for holocausts, purges, and the worst sort of organized violence that the imagination has to offer. Okay, I can buy that, but on the condition that "lawful" in this sense means "predictable", as if the cruelty and violence runs consonant with the emergent order of that particular society. In a world populated by multiple sentient races, it's utterly conceivable that one race will be completely inimical to another. Indeed, one can well imagine orcish bedtime stories where mama snoutface tells her wee little porker to go to sleep or the vicious dwarves will come and eat him in his sleep. Evil is relative, see? It then becomes a matter of identifying predictable vs unpredictable behavior. If I'm in a country with a known predilection for slaughtering those of my particular race, I can consider the inhabitants of that land to be lawful, so long as that sort of behavior results in some sort of evolutionary advantage for that race. Elves (some of them anyway) can be considered lawful in this sense because they rarely skip an opportunity to dispatch members of the so-called evil races without so much as a how-do-you-do.

I still haven't made up my mind about the conditionality of goodness. The right kind of political assassination can be considered a good act, though again, the view changes whether you're near or far, and an outsider or an insider.

Maybe there are other dimensions along which we could expand the character alignment space. Perhaps we could have attributes that illustrate political beliefs as well as beliefs about the size and scope of government, or about interracial tolerance.

Then again, it's just a game. I'm almost positive I'm fretting over nothing.

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