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Inside lives a goblin that feeds on indecision.

Alignment Heresy and A Reformation: Shades of Neutrality

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In Moorcock's writing the Cosmic Balance is a force unto itself, albeit less forceful than Chaos or Law. Agents of the Balance battle Chaos's attempts to dominate worlds. (Law, apparently, is too lawful to violate the Balance, which doesn't ring true to me.) AD&D had a similar concept in True Neutral, a notably tenet of Druids. Unlike regular neutrals, who for the most part don't care about things that don't affect them, True Neutrals are neutrality extremists, intent on correcting any tilt towards Law and Chaos. One could take this to absurd levels -- for every new Church of Law, build a temple to Nyarlathotep -- but crusaders against the encroachment of Law who reluctantly ally with Chaos sounds like a great premise for a campaign.

Within neutrality one can posit several shades between Law and Chaos. "Lawful Neutral" and "Chaotic Neutral" sound boring. Let's use more descriptive and flavorful names.

Imagine, for example, that Law doesn't have a monopoly on benevolent deities. "Neutral" deities have no allegiance to Law and Chaos, but they have their own biases and purposes.

Chthonic: Known also as the Dionysian deities, the Chthonic powers represent man's passions, irrationality, and selfish desires. Many Chthonic deities present an inoffensive facade to laymen, but the inner circle propitiate them with orgiastic rites.

Bacchus, god of wine, exemplifies the Chthonic deities. To most people Bacchus is a happy drunk, patron of hedonists and pub crawlers. On nights of the new moon, priestesses of Bacchus's inner circle imbibe large quantities of wine and hallucinogenic herbs until they become a mindless frenzied mob. These Bacchae attack any man or beast in their path and rend them limb from limb as sacrifices to Bacchus. Bacchus also drives men into alcohol abuse, despair, and death.

Despite a resemblance to Chaos cults, Chthonic cults don't want to remake the world, and frequently support the status quo. The facade of civilization allows the Chthonic deities and their worshippers to indulge their dark urges. Not all Chthonic beings are destructive, but all are dangerous.

Humanistic: Sometimes called the Apollonian deities, they are patrons of civilization, arts, and sciences. Their creeds encourage reason, excellence, and learning; ignorance, laziness, and emotion-driven decisions are anathema. This faction of gods includes mainly tutelary gods and household gods, but include Menrva, goddess of war and wisdom, and the prophet/trickster/hero Sabazios which southern barbarians worship as a god.

Some might call them biased toward Law because they value rules and predictability. Unlike the Church of Law, Humanistic deities provide no divine guidance, but enourage self-reliance and virtue for virtue's sake.

Primal: Primal deities guard the natural world against the depredations of humankind. They are not inimical to all humans, as their human devotees prove. Humans are part of nature, and humans may fell trees and hunt if they honor the spirits after doing so and take only what they need to survive. Any mortals felling a whole forest, slaughtering herds, or riddling a mountain with holes will face their wrath. Prominent among the Primal faction are the Beast Lords, each of whom rule and protect a single species of animal.

Unlike most Neutral beings, Primal gods and their adherents do care about the state of the world ... from their point of view.


So, how does this matter? Bacchus and Menrva are both Neutral, but their goals and philosophies are diametrically opposed. Their cults might not include clerics and paladins, but their members have distinct motivations, ready-made allies, and potentially weird and unexpected abilities.

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Updated 04-29-2012 at 09:13 PM by fmitchell

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  1. Ryklu's Avatar
    I think this is a very good understanding of a singular component of alignment. If a setting, campaign, or adventure dealt only with a given alignment (neutral, in this instance), the other alignments fade into the background as a subtle hum of activity while the primary alignment is explored. I like this idea, and I think it holds a great deal of promise in accommodating adventures and groups of characters.