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December 23, 2011 / Wythe

Literary alignment

The traditional alignments are attitudes toward events in-game. They have two tri-axes: Good/Neutral/Evil and Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic.

DnD With Pornstars suggests a totally new octo-axial alignment system including: ADD, Sneaky, Greedy, Bloodthirsty, Curious, Righteous, Fancy, Laid Back. (Disruptive, Helpful, or Apathetic are also listed as alignment-like descriptors, but ones that every character phases through, at different points in a game.)

These are great and, I think, work together with the old system just fine (not that I recommend using any alignment system). You can be worried about legality but also greedy. You can look out for #1, all neutral-style, but also incredibly flighty and inattentive, ADD-style. Alignments come into conflict; these systems, together, feel real and begin to describe real ethics. People see themselves as not just “good” or “greedy,” but, if they’re honest, maybe a little of each of these, with a few descriptors dominating, most days. (I’m Sneaky Curious Fancy, btw.)

Here I’d like to propose my own para-alignment system—integrable with the others, theoretically—based on the styles of some of my favorite writers of fiction and philosophy:

  • Lovecraftian (PARANOID/TRANSCENDENT: the wizardly wizard, the mystic bullshiteer, the mad bard/thief who’s seen too much, the seemingly normal Norm McNorman who turns into a sick fuck when the monsters show up) – There is something out there… There is more to know—no! it cannot be known… There is some secret. It is evil… but powerful. You are tempted. You are going mad. Or your madness resides only in that you think you are going mad… You always seek the thing behind the thing you’re working on. You want Ultimate Power, Ultimate Knowledge, the Final Thing, the Best, Coolest, Spaciest Thing, etc. And you’d kill your own peeps to get it… By turns Bloodthirsty or Greedy and Fancy. Often just terrified. You are more concerned with the Transcendent Gnostic Secret than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Kafkan (NEUROTIC/IMMANENT: the grandmother, the grad student, the tightwad, the victim) – There has got to be some way to appease everyone and have what you want… right? It simply must be worked out. But how? Whenever you try to solve a problem, the world seems to turn against you. The world is against you. You’re the type of player who’s always getting arguments with the other players about what to do, even when a good consensus is obvious/has just been reached. You’re arguing with the DM about what’s allowed/what’s really allowed (wink). You get off on arguing, and people know it and let you have some fun. At some point, you figure, things have to go your way… Probably Curious/certainly terrified. You are more concerned with What the Hell the Rules of the World/Table Are (in-game and extra-game) than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Jamesian (PSYCHOLOGICAL/CONTROLLING: Dr. House on House [yes, House is far more Jamesian than Holmesian; he doesn’t care about solving crimes; he cares about fucking with people’s heads], dandy, designer, networker, sex worker, priest, politico) – It will all work out. The human mind is mysterious, wonderful, and so complex that you need practically nothing else to entertain you except the mind of another. And of course practice makes perfect: You are the consummate observer. Everyone you meet, you want to interact with (a la Fancy); you want to figure out (a la Sneaky); you want to know (a la Curious). You are more concerned with in-game (and, only by extension, extra-game) relationships (network, parasites; homeorhetic [river-shape-like] objects) than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Borgesian / Oulipian (META/”BLUE” MAGIC: the inventor, the min/max-er, the writer, the RPG fanatic) – You like rules, not because you’re a tightwad, but because rules are freeing; rules promote thought the way topiary promotes hedges to grow—in a shape… You find out about New Game Thing X and want to have fun with it; combine it with other game things; tweak it just a little (N+7). You probably play Sneaky/Fancy, but it really doesn’t matter. Your in-game persona can be anyone. Your meta-game persona, however, is excited/hacky. You probably have DM experience. You are more concerned with a game framework (a meta-object) than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Jungian / Holmesian (DEDUCTIVE/COINCIDENTAL: the careful notetaker, the “winner,” the out-riddler, the plot guesser) – It’s all connected. Not just regular connected, psychologically reminiscent, etc. It’s all *Connected*, in a *Plot*, one you will discover and foil (or advance, if it’s to your liking). By turns Righteous, Sneaky, Curious, Greedy… You are more concerned with a Plot (an in-game object that is actually discoverable/conquerable/non-Kafkan) than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Deleuzean / Cyclonopedic (HACKY/DIABOLICAL: the shadow-DM, the void priest, the full-bore madman [as opposed to the Lovecraftian almost-madman]) – It’s all happening at once. You are working to unground/mutate the game as the game is mutating you. [I don’t really know how the hell you could play Deleuzean as an alignment and am open to suggestions; I just wanted to keep it in the list a thoughtstarter.] Sneaky pur sang with a touch of ole skool Chaotic (Zurvanite). You are more concerned with the anti-game than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Bataillean (EXTREME/SOVEREIGN: the provocateur, Nietzsche, the aphorist/anti-prophet, the sovereign/madman/man beyond ethics [De Sade, Artaud], the post-ethical pragmatist [Derrida, Howard Zinn], the librarian) – Another thoughtstarter. You want to be the true sovereign man, by facing eros/death, by facing sadism and masochism, by exempting yourself from use value, by escaping the Solar Empire. Translation: You don’t want people to tell you what to do. Maybe fighting the monster is important; maybe getting some hookers is important; maybe lying down and ignoring the rest of the party is important. Capital, necessary evil, has run its course. Onward to some ecstatic other future. Sneaky/Bloodthirsty/Curious/Laid Back with fits of Greedy (though generally Greedy viz-a-viz sex and near-death experiences, limits, books, knowledge, drunkenness). You are more concerned with the sovereignty than an in-game ethical pose.
  • Fitzgeraldesque (DRUNK: the washed-up fighter, the old rich fuck, the divorcée) – You are perhaps brilliant, but wasted—if not on one thing, than another. Drugs, drink, gambling. You are useless. Perhaps a little out-of-game inutility creeps in and becomes “funny” in-game. (I know sometimes even DMing I get a lil sloppy on Modelo and slide into the Fitzgeraldesque.) ADD but slothful. You are more concerned with in-game and by extension extra-game numbing/distraction than an in-game ethical pose. The true anti-gamer.

On the interrelation of the systems:

The original DnD alignment axes answer two questions: How does PC X behave morally (Good/Evil) and ethically (Lawful/Chaotic)? This is pretty useful stuff to know/think about, I guess, except that it always sounds silly; no one IRL says “I’m Lawful Good, so I can’t shoot up that heroin with you, Doug.”

DnD With Pornstars adds another dimension, answering: What does Player X really cause PC X to act like—i.e., what is their instinct, behaviorally? They may be a totally righteously Good person, and even Lawful, but so ADD or Bloodthirsty that this matters more, game-to-game, moment-to-moment.

This meta-system addresses the fold/axis between in-game and out-of-game, between Player X and PC X. This axis is never neatly or entirely bridged, despite the best efforts of Mz. Fancy to inhabit the PC (“Baron Fongo, your time is up!”) or the worst efforts of Mr. ADD to trivialize the PC (“It’s just a game; I shoot Fongo while she’s blathering”).

The game’s system addresses in-game-only morals and ethics, and DnDWP’s system addresses in-game-only consequences of out-of-game behavioral tendencies. My para-alignment (paralignment?) system complicates things even more, addressing a third axis, rarely discussed—the one between PC X and DM Y, or even between PC X and the Game Z. My idea is, the Player doesn’t just have an ethical stance toward the PC, and the PC toward the goblins/Steam Dukes/oil monsters/irradiated giant eels in the game: The Player also has some kind of relationship toward the story the DM is trying to tell.

Not sure I’ve chosen the best or only examples, but I wanted to get down this basic idea, and these are the authors that sprung to mind. Comments welcome.

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2 Comments

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  1. Wythe / Dec 23 2011 1:59 pm
  2. Wythe / Dec 31 2011 12:54 am

    Also, this awesome NPC Motivations Table explores yet another axis: http://www.rolang.com/archives/343

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