Hackbut – Alignment

Alignment never really sat right with me. As typically presented, it tends to prescribe player character morality, and imply monolithic, unidimensional world views. Judging by its absence from many contemporary OSR games I’m not alone in that sentiment. But Castle Xyntillan features alignment in its stat blocks, Swords & Wizardry includes it (of course) and the goal of Hackbut was to have full compatibility with the classic editions, so I felt I had to include some statement of what alignment means.

I went trawling through my collection of retroclones and hit the OSR search engine again. This turned up more than a few useful sources of inspiration.

The things that clicked the most for me were those that presented alignment as allegiance to a faction in an ongoing supernatural battle of cosmic proportions. Lamentations of the Flame Princess does this quite well, although the way it conflates arcane magic with chaos and divine magic with law makes it too far removed from classic D&D’s implied setting.

I also like Talysman’s take on alignment. Like him I prefer the simplicity of the chaos/law split. I too prefer alignment not to prescribe morality. In light of this, I likewise interpret spells that relate to “evil” as not targeting alignment but harmful intent.

Finally, I’ll point to the Wandering DMs episode on alignment. In particular, there is a moment when Dan boils alignment down to the following: “When Cthulhu rises, do you run, stay and fight it, or join its side?”

I guess the one thing that makes my take a little out of sync with the original game is that neutrality is not a faction or cosmic force. I realize that in AD&D in particular, this idea is that classes like druids adhere to a belief system that is about balance between chaos and law. I kind of dislike that interpretation, and although it features a little bit in Castle Xyntillan — for example there are intelligent swords that are of neutral alignment — I don’t consider it a huge problem and can easily work around it on the fly.

That’s about all I have to say about alignment at this point. It hasn’t come up much in our game so far. But I expect once we hit higher levels and players begin to acquire intelligent swords for example, it might become more of a thing. I’m pretty happy with where I ended up with this, and it makes me comfortable with having alignment in my game. Perhaps some of these ideas make you reconsider completely ignoring it yourself, too.

2 replies on “Hackbut – Alignment”

How did my search not turn this up? Interesting to see similarities to both Delta’s framing of it, as well as Talysman’s. Thanks for sharing. (This has got me thinking I should give my players more leeway when determining alignment.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *