The following was prepared for the Eldritch Frontier wiki after the topic of alignment came up briefly at Sunday's meeting. It's not the end-all-be-all solution for what some folks call "the alignment problem," but it will hopefully give the players a better understanding of what the threefold alignment system of early D&D means in the context of the Eldritch Frontier campaign setting.
Law vs. Chaos
What exactly “Lawful,” “Chaotic,” “good,” or “evil” means in the context of a D&D campaign has been debated for more than thirty years with various degrees of success. I’m not going to attempt to provide a definitive answer that solves the debate once and for all. Instead, this page defines what alignment means in terms of the Eldritch Frontier campaign.
Before we begin, I’ll state outright that the concept of alignment in the Eldritch Frontier is extremely human-centric and does not take into account the philosophies and outlooks of most of the other (fictional) races, nor does it necessarily reflect the attitudes of me, the referee. The following alignment descriptions are also specific to this campaign setting and do not represent a one-size-fits-all definition that can be applied to any D&D campaign. Please keep this in mind before you choose to argue with my depictions.
Like in original Dungeons & Dragons and its descendent Holmes/Moldvay/Cook/Mentzer Dungeons & Dragons, Labyrinth Lord features the threefold alignment system of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic alignments. According to the descriptions given in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook, Lawful is equal to being a “good” person, Chaotics are “bad” villains, and Neutrals are wishy-washy individuals. Simplistic but useful when deciding what sort of moral compass your character has. Since I’m looking to run the Eldritch Frontier campaign in a style closer to its historical hobby roots, I’ll be keeping the threefold alignment system. The definitions of each alignment, however, are somewhat different from those given in Labyrinth Lord (and earlier versions of D&D). A better explanation of the threefold alignment system in the Eldritch Frontier campaign is presented below.
The underlying theme of the Eldritch Frontier campaign is “civilization vs. the wilderness.” At the beginning of play the player characters find themselves in a settlement on the edge of the frontier. To the east lies the civilized lands, while the west contains tracts of wilderness occasionally punctuated with areas of law and order. The alignment of each PC generally determines where they stand in the conflict between civilization and the wild lands beyond the River Ahkyl.
Those characters who align themselves with the forces of Law are working to bring order to the wilderness beyond the frontier, usually by way of introducing civilization. The farmer who clears the woods abutting his land so he has more arable fields for his crops is Lawful; the warden ranger who patrols the frontier and fights the humanoid tribes who dwell in the wilderness, thereby protecting the farmer and his family, is also aligned with Law. The local lord who collects the taxes from the farmer to pay for soldiers to patrol the streets and hunt down bandits works to maintain civilization and is thus a Lawful ruler.
However, not all who seek to impose civilization on the wilderness have the best interests of everyone in mind. The despot warlord who carved a barony out of the wild lands and now maintains his holdings through crushing taxation, slavery, and sacrifice to blasphemous godlings would also be considered a Lawful creature in the context of the “civilization vs. wilderness” theme. The assassin who ruthlessly slays the opponents of westward expansion into the wilderness would also be serving the cause of Law in the Eldritch Frontier. “Lawful” and “good” are usually synonymous but not always.
In short, if the character is generally looking to leave the world a somewhat better place than he found it (for himself, his allies, or descendents anyway), he is considered to be of Lawful alignment.
At the other end of the axis is Chaos, which seeks to prevent civilization from expanding into the wilderness—and not through passive resistance. The forces of Chaos put the “wild” in wilderness, actively seeking to thwart the goals of Law and civilization at every turn. The goblins, orcs, and other humanoids who ride out under darkness to burn down a farmer’s croft and put him and his family to the sword serve Chaos. The bandits and brigands who prey upon merchant caravans and stifle the growth of free trade work to advance Chaos. The undead whose very existence defies both the natural law and the concept of orderly cemeteries where the dead remain unmoving are forces of Chaos.
As with Lawful creatures, not everyone who opposes the spread of civilization does so for personal gain or because of antipathy towards men. Some are enemies to civilization because of the threat it poses to the wilderness. In the Eldritch Frontier campaign, the druid—long the poster child for Neutrality in D&D—is considered to serve Chaos since he seeks to defend the wild lands from the forces of law and order. He is an enemy of progress as far as Law is concerned, placing him firmly on the far side of the alignment axis. Some militant elves and hurgs are also aligned with Chaos solely due to the fact that they wish to keep civilization from taming their forest homes and will pick up arms to deter pioneers from entering their lands.
If your PC actively—that’s the key word here—seeks to oppose the spread of human civilization, he serves the forces of Chaos. He’s likely to be in the minority along the frontier so secrecy should be his watchword.
Lastly, there is Neutrality, the center of the alignment axis. In the Eldritch Frontier campaign, Neutrals simply do not care one way or the other whether civilization grows. Instead of seeking to advance or thwart order, they simply live amidst it, usually with no larger goal than daily survival or fattening their purses. Tomorrow will bring what it will and the best way to meet it is by looking out for oneself. It’s best not to get involved with bigger ideals.
If your character is only concerned with himself and how he can best make a buck, he’s in the middle of the alignment axis and serves neither side.