Building the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG pt.2 – Alignment
Alignment in the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG
One of the major problems with this is the concept of evil as embodied in fantasy literature. The forces of evil always wear black and usually have the name Dark or Shadow somewhere in their title. Their magic always deals with corruption or other unpleasant aspects. They also tend to work alone or in secretive bands.
Considering that in many fantasy RPG pantheons, there are many ‘evil’ gods, yet they must somehow inspire some to follow them, by example or by might. The god, Bane (as used in Against the Odds), is a god of tyranny, but also one of warriors. Yes, he may be unforgiving, cruel and pitiless – but he does have some positive qualities that attract followers to him. It’s a pretty common mistake that many new GMs make: evil for evil’s sake. An evil NPC cleric may not see himself that way – he is a devout and loyal follower of his chosen deity, after all (or he wouldn’t have those powers!). They may have a family or fond of their pet cat (a fluffy white one of course!). Evil, as such, is a perception: the paladin (or padawan!) that wipes out a village of Orcs (sandpeople!) has committed an act of systematic murder, but would likely justify the act as Orcs are ‘evil’.
Alignment is not going to feature in the Ashes of Freedom RPG. In my opinion, it damages gameplay and the Mandragora aren’t bound by human morality anyway! However, ‘evil’ acts such as daemon summoning (or HellBinding as they call it) add to something I’ll call DARKNESS POINTS (at least until something better pitches up in my head), as can some kinds of destructive behaviour such as murder. There is the chance that something takes an interest from another plane when a character commits such acts…
This system also helps to create a shades-of-grey style of play. Every Mandragora knows that the use of HellBinder magic is a heinous use of the Art, and that no sane Mandragora would try it: yet what of the PC who unknowingly researches a HellBinder spell or artefact? Does that make them ‘evil’? No, but it they use it’s power, then they may find themselves enticed to use it more and more, becoming increasingly tainted. DARKNESS POINTS represent the PC going over to the “Dark Side” as it were: eventually they will be completely consumed by it.
A PC may decide to learn Daemon summoning magic in order to defeat another HellBinder, and while the ends justifies the means, the PC will still be tainted by the power they’ve wielded. The ‘black mark’ against the character stays in the form of DARKNESS POINTS. The more they use such powers the stronger the taint becomes…
These can even become the focus of an adventure as characters try to atone for past misdeeds or destroy an item that is corrupting them. For example in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s mission to destroy the One Ring becomes a personal one too, as the Ring continues to drain Frodo of his life force, he realises that he must be rid of it forever. Yet he still uses it, knowing the dangers, on Mount Doom…
Considering the average Mandragora is deceitful and manipulative by nature, the concepts of Law and Chaos don’t really hold true either. After all, a Mandragora may wish to alter the status quo, but only to enrich him in some way and then preserve this new status quo!
Supernatural entities are also distinct from alignment in most cases. Daemons themselves are beyond the concepts of good and evil – they are chaos and destruction incarnate and seek only to feed, kill, and destroy: they may have a sly intelligence, but they are still little more than killing machines. However, the Dukes and Nobility of the Hells will be far smarter; they have been dealing with foolish mortals for aeons. They are highly intelligent, conniving, and extremely skilled in manipulation.
Elementals have only a minimal intelligence and are unlikely to be more than extensions of their summoner’s will. They can be mindlessly destructive but there is no malice on their part, they simply carry out their commands without prejudice on their part.
Undead are strong contenders for the evil tag though, particularly the powerful free-willed varieties. They demonstrate the same traits they had in life, now coupled with a number of malign abilities. They are likely insane in some shape or form, or could be considered such. As free-willed undead are rare, they should be portrayed by the GM as having extreme power and not to be dealt with lightly.
To summarise, the morality ‘polarisation’ (alignment) found in most RPGs will not be used in the Mandragora Series RPG. A PC can commit any act, but those that are inimical to Mandragora society can earn them DARKNESS POINTS.