Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alignment and the Underworld

As my previous post should indicate, I'm once again giving thought to how one might run the Underworld setting.  Last night I managed to cook up an almost complete rules document for players participating in such a campaign.  I've hit a bit of a snag though: what do I do about alignment?

Until last night, I had given very little thought to alignment in the Underworld setting.  Nightwick's world is one that is entirely based around alignment.  The God of Law struggles against the myriad of Demons who wish to unmake all of creation to end their suffering.  Underworld has no such struggle.  Sure the various civilizations in the Hollow Earth are attempting to expand into the dark jungles and blasted deserts, but there is little ideology wrapped up in this.  The heroes of Underworld seek glory and riches not the betterment of the human condition.

But what about the Gods? Surely some of the ones I've selected for the setting would be Good or Evil (or Lawful or Chaotic as the case may be).  Well... no.  I have drawn a line between the various demons that magicians conjure and the beings that provide priests with spells.  However, both are equally wicked and demand the foulest rites to be carried out in their name.  One can see my treatment of Apollo to see what I mean.

I could just dispense with it altogether; however, this is probably more trouble than it is worth.  I've decided to include the three basic classes in the Underworld setting (if it worked for Tekumel it'll work for me) and too much of Clerical magic is tied to their alignment.  Cure v. Cause wounds, protection from Evil, detect Chaos, the list goes on.

Until I figure out this issue it seems that development on the rules side will stall.


  1. You might go with an approach similar to Gothic Greyhawk that I find fairly workable with mythology - that Law = Order and Chaos = Entropy. (What follows is an amalgam of ideas I've seen at Beyond the Black Gate, LOTFP, and even 4E's cosmology).

    Before the gods, everything was Chaos - the seething maelstrom - the home of demons.

    The gods came along and created order, crafting the mortal world and their own realms from the stuff of chaos.

    All gods are Lawful (even the evil ones) because they exert their will to shape the cosmos. Most myth cycles (in the real world) have the creation of order out of chaos as the first divine act. The demons are always seeking to return the world to chaos.

    Good or evil then becomes merely a human perspective. Detect good/evil become Detect Law/Chaos for game purposes.

    I go a step further and make all of the mortal races Neutral, unless they align themselves with Law or Chaos through supernatural means. (A cleric, even an evil one, channels power from the gods and would be Lawful).

  2. Sounds like a pretty cool setting.

  3. I have a two page word file that might give you some ideas
    works well mmy DnD 3.x system

    I use CLERICs as members of the universal church,
    while PRIESTs can be of any slignment . . . .

    if interested send Email to
    clov isitho gAtHotm ailD otcom

  4. If you're into "foulest rites" territory for gods and demons alike, would it be meaningful to say that goodness is a purely human (or mortal) capacity? That is, the world might have alignment*, possibly on the good-evil axis rather than law-chaos, but all the cosmic players are on the dark side. Goodness: mercy, selflessness or kindness would all be unique to mortals, and seen as foolish, weak or inexplicable by greater powers.

    Certain spells, then, would not themselves be good aligned in the usual D&D sense, but simply beneficial applications of power earned or credited by the aforementioned foulest rites. Curing or causing wounds being all one to your distant god as long they've been properly propitiated. Detect evil and protection from evil might be just the names attached to detecting and warding off extra-planar powers rather than literally warding off evil alignment. (So perhaps no protection or detection against purely mortal evils either. Possibly some use against an enemy priest, but useless against a secular serial killer.) Detect and protection from good would not exist at all.

    *Or maybe the game world doesn't have alignment in the mechanical sense of positive and negative energy and their associations, but in character, good and evil would acquire (debatable) meaning just as they do in real life.