Thursday, May 7, 2009

Alignment & Worldview

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9: And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10: And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13: And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19: And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23: And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28: And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Before there was earth or sea or heaven, there existed only chaos: shapeless, unorganized, lifeless matter. There was no sun, no moon, and no air. Elements existed, but they had neither form nor character. The earth was without firmness, the water without fluidity, and the sky without light.

There was opposition in all things: hot conflicted with cold, wet with dry, heavy with light, and hard with soft.

Finally a god, a natural higher force, resolved this conflict, separating earth from heaven, parting the dry land from the waters, and dividing the clear air from the clouds, thus organizing all things into a balanced union. In the highest sphere he made a heavenly vault of weightless and untainted ether. The next lower region he filled with air, light but not without substance. Then came the heavy earth, which sank down under its own weight and was encircled by the sea.

Thus did the god, whichever god it was, set order to the chaotic mass by separating it into its components, then organizing them into a harmonious whole.

Then the god shaped the earth into a great ball and caused the seas to spread in one direction and the other. He created springs, pools, and lakes, then formed rivers, causing them to flow toward the seas. He flattened out the plains, caused valleys to sink down, and pushed up mountains from the level places.

The earth he organized into five zones, the same number that exist in heaven, which is divided into two regions on the right, two on the left, and one in the center. On earth the middle zone is too hot for habitation and the two outer zones are too cold, but between these extremes the god created two temperate zones where heat and cold are balanced.

Beneath the ether and above the earth hangs the air, where the god formed mist and clouds, placing thunderbolts within the clouds. To each of the four winds he assigned limits and purpose. He caused the stars, which heretofore had been veiled in darkness, to shine forth across the sky.

The waters he filled with fishes, the earth with wild animals, and the air with birds. But none of these creatures approached the gods in intelligence; none could rightly be called master over all the others.

Then man was born. Either the god who had created this better earth made man from divine seed, or Prometheus, molded an image of the gods from a clump of earth that had been newly separated from the ether and thus still retained some divine qualities. Whoever created man, this new being was made to stand erect with his eyes directed toward heaven and the stars, unlike other animals who hang their heads and gaze toward the ground.

3. Of old was the age | when Ymir lived;
Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were;
Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.

4. Then Bur's sons lifted | the level land,
Mithgarth the mighty | there they made;
The sun from the south | warmed the stones of earth,
And green was the ground | with growing leeks.

5. The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast | over heaven's rim;
No knowledge she had | where her home should be,
The moon knew not | what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.
THE POETIC EDDA - VOLUSPO (Trans. Henry Adams Bellows)

The World has many creation myths, and the actual story of creation known to the players in S&W: OB will be highly dependent on the Game Master's campaign setting and goals. The myth will vary based on the nature of divinity; is there one true god? Is there one god with many servants or angels? Is there a polytheistic Pantheon? Are there no Gods, at least as we popularly define them?

The Great Chain of Being

Whatever the actual origins of the world (it may be appropriate to the setting to have several competing cults with different explanations!), one thing is certain. The established authorities generally like how things work now. Theologians and philosophers have created an intellectual framework to justify the racking and stacking of all creation known as the Great Chain of Being, and what a surprise -- kings are at the top! Imagine it as a ladder, with each part of creation occupying a discrete rung that is higher (closer to Heaven) or lower (further from Heaven).

In a nutshell:
Scala Naturæ:
Stars and the moon
King, prince, noble men,
lion, other animals
oak, gold, and other minerals

One can imagine the broad steps in the scale as being:
MINERALS - Add the Quality of Existence
PLANTS - Possess the Quality of Life
ANIMALS - Possess Existence, Life, and a new quality -- Appetites and Passions
MEN - Add Reason
HEAVENS - Add Divinity, with God & his Angels being above Devils (rebellious Angels)

Each step is subdivided as is suggested above; gold is more noble than coal; oaks are closer to the gods than thorn bushes; lions are the king of all animals.

Relationship to the Languages & Elements

One can view the "proper" arrangement of things, in a simple model suitable for game terms, as a Pentagram.

At the peak of the Pentagram, the Aether has been placed. This is the golden light of Heaven.

The top two points of the Pentagram are Air and Fire. Air is close to heaven; the gods literally breathed life into man, after all. And Fire has long been a symbol for intellect and reason and virtue.

The bottom two points are Earth and Water. Earth represents base, materialistic desires. Water is passive and reactive.

A circle circumscribed around the pentagram might represent nature (our "Lingua Rustica"). Nature binds together all of the elements and creatures of creation in the rightful ordering of things. Entropy is not even mentioned, as such weak passions and base desires lie outside the perfect circle of nature.

This represents the interdependence and hierarchy of the traditional medieval economic classes, leading to an authentic feel and flavor for the campaign. But it can equally well represent the balance of power in global geopolitics (north vs. south, etc) or the potency of various mythical creatures.

Enter Alignment

"The Courtier disdaineth the citizen;
The citizen the countryman;
the shoemaker the cobbler.
But unfortunate is the man who does not have anyone he can look down upon."
~ Tomas Nash, 1593

LAWFUL characters believe in the Great Chain of Being, and accept that things are generally in their proper places. The Pentagram has been drawn properly. Kings give orders to Knights, because Kings are closer to Heaven. Lions are more noble than hyenas. The Undead are a blasphemy, for they possess existence like a mineral, and appetites like an animal, but lack life. Likewise, Barbarians that attempt to usurp the legitimate authority of Rulers are perverting the natural order of things as well.

That is not to say that Law means Tyranny. To be a just king, a king must govern in accordance with the Mandate of Heaven. This is a broad Mandate, but depending on the setting and the pantheon, it may be possible for the Gods to revoke the King's Divine Right to Rule. Alternatively, while regicide is a terrible sin, some might allow rulers to be challenged in accordance with the ancient laws and traditions. Likewise, ancient tradition may even provide for a Republican form of government, or an empire. The point is that Lawful characters will support the idea that the established hierarchy is legitimate, and give superiors wide latitude within the bounds of tradition.

Also, Law doesn't mean stagnation. An illegitimate warlord can be toppled from the throne. A barbarian prince has no right to rule. Mystical creatures such as Dragons might rightfully be lumped in by civilized authorities as mere animals controlled by their passions, ensuring that there are a steady stream of external foes to conquer.

CHAOTIC characters believe that the Great Chain of Being has been somehow misordered. Orcs belong atop Humans. Devils rightfully usurp the Angels. The Giants rightfully belong in Valhalla, not those pissant Gods. Slimes, molds, and oozes should be placed above the oak. Kings have no rightful authority to rule, at least no more than any cobbler, or knight, or warlord... or, say, why can't I be the king?

To go back to our Pentagram analogy, a mild chaotic might simply desire to switch the place of Air/Fire with Water/Earth (a Dwarf might certainly agree!). One could envision a world where an alliance of creative freemen and artisans (representing traditional "Fire" interests) band together with wealthy peasant merchants and traders ("Earth" interests) to usurp "Air;" one might expect the landed nobility to be upset about this! A strong Chaotic might seek to invert the Pentagram; i.e., to eliminate Aether altogether and replace it with Barbarism or darkness.

This is not necessarily evil. After all, Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality were the goals of the French revolution. The Blood of Patriots is necessary to refresh the Tree of Liberty from time to time. However, there is a very real danger of excess in Chaos.

Chaos is disruptive because it violates the established hierarchy. Once precedent has been set, it is difficult to protect one's own position; once the Devils depose the Angels, who is to stop the Demons from deposing the Devils? Chaotic groups have difficulty maintaining cohesion. Additionally, lawful authorities see the Chaotic view as disturbing at best and heresy at worst. Many chaotic organizations are discouraged, suppressed, or ruthlessly eliminated.

The Game Master will need to decide if his world has already had an Oliver Cromwell or French Revolution, and if so, what the consequences have been. The default assumption is that such ideas are buried not so deeply below the surface; a small but growing group of wealthy middle-class freemen is rising out of the peasantry, guilds are powerful and wield increasing influence, and the "third estate" is starting to question why they must follow the edicts of the privileged elite. The established authorities will not hesitate to burn a few heretics if they step out of line too far, but a limited degree of dissent within the system might be tolerated.

NEUTRAL characters are indifferent. The concerns of angels and devils are not their affair. They don't want to be caught up in Revolution. They just go about their business; they will support the establishment if doing so seems easier, but will not be opposed to some revolution if their personal interests look like they will be protected. A neutral character might quietly agree that some rulers are despots that should step down; they might decline to actively support the institution; but they are unlikely to join in open rebellion against it, either.

Note that in this conception of alignment, there is no concept of Active Neutrality. Either you think things are basically correct, or they are not. Either Thor should be feasting in Valhalla, or the Giants should be. Trying to play the Gods against the Giants so that neither grows too powerful would be chaotic in and of itself, because it denies the Gods their "rightful" place by tradition.

This default system is strongly grounded in Western thought; informed heavily by Greco-Roman tradition as well as Judeo-Christian philosophy. However, it is flexible to adopt alternative worldviews. Reincarnation can be seen as just moving up or down the chain; the fundamental issue is whether one agrees with how things are arranged, or not.

Moving off the Chart

The DM should consider if this worldview can be rejected altogether, and if so, what the consequences of that are. What if an individual believes in Partial Equality, within broad classes; that is, all plants are equally distant from heaven, and all men of reason are equally close? What about the more radical idea of ABSOLUTE EQUALITY: that is, the idea that an oak tree is just as close to Heaven as a lion, or a King? Or, one might find a dragon cult supporting the Golden Rule (i.e., the one with the most gold makes the rules). One need not look further than a comparative religion text to find competing worldviews.

Going back to our Pentagram worldview model, this means that one wants to shatter the Pentagram altogether. Perhaps it is just a circle (nature) with all elements coexisting at equal distances from Aether. Perhaps it is a triangle, with one of the elements being destroyed utterly, creating a new balance. Maybe one wants to break the circle of Nature that binds the system together; even altruistic goals like staving off death might unintentionally break the grip of natural processes on the world, leading to an imbalance.

These worldviews could be off-limits for Player Characters. Or, they could be permissible. In any event, unless (or perhaps, especially if!) the campaign is explicitly intended to explore such themes, it may be safest to rule that such thoughts are pushed by a lunatic fringe minority seen as dangerous by both chaotic and lawful powers, and that such dangerous heretics are actively suppressed by chaotic and lawful powers. After all, our believer in Absolute Equality would no more support the Devils ruling over the firmament than the Angels; both are illegitimate in the eyes of our cosmic democrat. Likewise, the Merchants might want to bump the nobles out of their privileged place, but they don't want to see the pentagram become a triangle.

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