The Logos and Alignment
Law is more than just having laws
Ah, alignment. The finest vintage for causing arguments around a table. Perhaps the oldest argument, though that can not be confirmed. Those arguments stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Alignment actually is. Not only from players, but from the Gygax himself. It widely believed that Alignment, specifically three point Alignment, is a matter of moral relativism. That’s why many people use the nine point system. Since they believe it, unlike the three point system, makes moral statements. Since you could be Good, Evil, or Neutral but still follow laws (Good, Evil, or Neutral laws) thereby being Lawful.
This view was brought to my attention by the gentleman and scholar Bos of Borderland Baronies. Specifically, he mentioned an article in the February ‘76 edition of the Strategic Review in which Gygax claimed that Chaos and Law were never meant to imply a moral stance. This, dear reader, is nonsense. When they were first conceived, Gygax was unconsciously borrowing from a likely unexpected source, religion. Specifically, Christian religion and Logos Theology.
The Satanic Panic and its Consequences.
The overreaction of evangelicals in the 80s and 90s caused the scouring of much of the history of Dungeons and Dragons. One of the most important facts that was lost in the churn is that Gary Gygax was a Christian (aside from a stint in the Jehovah’s Witnesses), living in a predominately culturally Christian society. These facts alone imply that he would have been familiar with the concepts that are to follow. Though given the low church culture of America, he likely would not have been able to articulate them well. Hence his backing off from the initial stance that Law and Chaos were moral traditions, in order to appease the creeping moral relativism that was gaining a foothold in the culture of the time.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Gospel of John 1:1-3, KJV
These verses are familiar to anyone who has been in the Church for an appreciable amount of time, and likely many who have not. It’s the beginning the Gospel of John. John is an odd Gospel, it is structured differently than the other three Gospels (the Synoptic Gospels) and offers a unique perspective on who Jesus was. Specifically, John is laser focused on proving that Jesus was Divine. However, the language used is even more specific. The Greek word for “Word” in the verses above is “Logos” which at the time John was written had very specific connotations with Hellenic Jewish philosophers, John’s target audience. The Logos, in their parlance, was the “Logic” or “Law” of the universe. They believed that the universe had both a Telos, an end, and a Logos, the rational order behind the universe. The Logos was often deified, and John’s point was that Jesus was the incarnation of the Logos, which lead into his broader point that Jesus was fully Divine. This is called Logos Theology, it is the idea that the created universe has logic behind it which stems from the Lord and that Jesus was the incarnation of it in human form and which the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and obey. Crucially, baked into Logos Theology is the idea that to disobey the Logos is an immoral act.
Arguing with Dead Statesmen
In the article Bos wrote about our conversation on this subject, deep within the confines of the Clerics Wear Ringmail media empire, he makes reference to the great Roman statesmen Cicero. That article comes highly recommended though the summary is this: Cicero argues that Law itself exists independent of man, and could be discovered through reason. Any being with reason is bound to the Law and must attempt to discover its strictures and obey them. To do otherwise is immoral. Notably, men and gods are both bound. Meaning Men can pass judgement on the actions of gods, since those actions may follow or disobey the Law. This can be applied directly to the tabletop conception, in that Law is the omnipresent moral good and right mode of living, irrespective of what laws are on paper.
The Christian response to Cicero’s statement is essentially a “yes and.” Yes, the Law exists independent of man, because it flows directly from the Creator of the universe, the Logos. He has revealed His Law to us, and we are bound to it irrevocably. We may choose to disobey it, but we cannot do so in ignorance. This is called Natural Revelation. It is why even the most depraved societies have laws against stealing and the like. The Law is written on every human heart, and we know when we disobey it, whether we admit to it or not. The worst offenders in history knew what they did was abhorrent, and did so anyway. They reveled in evil. In Cicero’s conception, man must choose to discover the Law and then obey it, while in the Christian conception man simply chooses to obey or not (the fact that the Fall means we are incline to disobey is beyond the scope of this article).
Yes this has implications for Elf Games. As I stated earlier, it is unlikely that Gygax had a formalized understanding of this. America, for better or worse, is primarily a low church culture. Most congregants are not schooled in technical theological arguments and positions. Pastors are concerned with shepherding their flocks with more practical applications of the theological points and doctrines. However, I believe that if Gygax had this knowledge, he would have used it fight back against the moral relativism that demanded a five point or even nine point alignment system. These demands were after all to have a way to distinguish between Good laws and Evil laws.
From the Strategic Review article:
Now consider the term “Law” as opposed to “Chaos”. While they are nothing if not opposites, they are neither good nor evil in their definitions. A highly regimented society is typically governed by strict law, i.e., a dictatorship, while societies which allow more individual freedom tend to be more chaotic. -Gary Gygax February 1976
Gary argues here that a society with strict laws may be Good or Evil, just like a society which lax laws. However, this is easily refuted by scrutinizing the laws against the Logos. Do the strict regimental laws align with the Logos? If not, then the society is Chaotic. Not because it is individually chaotic, as the freer society, but because it introduces Chaos in relation to the Logos, the logic of the universe. Contrary-wise, the free individualistic society may be Lawful, in that its laws align with the Logos, and the people who live there align themselves with the Logos and seek to live in accordance with it. Crucially, both societies are aware of what they are doing and making a conscious choice to obey or disobey.
This conception, that the Law is the Logos of the table top, means in effect that the only beings who can have an alignment are those which can choose to obey or disobey. This means neutral creatures are not moral agents at all. This would be animals, natural spirits, etc. Beings who have no moral compass whatsoever and have no choice but to behave as their natures dictate. Contrast to say, an Orc. An Orc is a chaotic being. This means the Orc knows that pillaging farms, killing travelers, stealing goods, etc is wrong, and that the Orc revels in the wrongness of it. The Orc knows, possibly only on a subconscious level, that it will lose in the end. It knows that it commits crimes against the very logic of the universe, and does not care. By the same token, the paladin knows he lives in accordance with that Logos, and knows what the Logos is and wants. He can not accidentally disobey, but he can do so willingly. That is why falling is so harsh, it is a conscious act on the part of the paladin to disobey the expressed will of the Logos.
The Logos is a powerful concept. It is why the statement “only Christians can play Dungeons and Dragons” rings somewhat true. Christians are able to accept the idea that not only are there objective moral goods and evils, but that the objective moral good is the law of the universe. We also have a framework for what rebelling against that object moral good is and looks like, a thing not shared by moral relativists. The nature of Law is not in having and following laws, but in if you choose to obey the Law, the Logos. Following all the laws of Rome, Athens, America and Egypt combined will not make you Lawful if you are rebelling against the Logos in deed and heart. Alignment is about choosing to submit to the Logos of the universe in game, not about having any number of laws. Players may initially balk at this, since our society is largely morally relativistic. But usually once it is explained that the Logos of the game world takes priority over any law that a game culture may make, they get it. Hopefully, this piece, in conjunction with Bos’s, has helped clear some of the fog around Alignment, specifically the three point Alignment system. The comments are open and I’ll be happy to discuss further. It has come to my attention in recent days that I am not particularly good at making myself clear, and likely this is a muddled mess. But for now