Image by: Miguel Coibra
I’ve been working on another setting and, for a time, original game system called Twilight of the Gods. It is an epic fantasy set during the events of Ragnarok – in this case, a mix of the Eddas and Vagner and some other sources, since they are all fragmentary and sometimes contradictory. But I liked the idea of a an epic fantasy set during the end of the world, rather than set during the fight to prevent the end of the world.
I’m currently hoping to run a periodic 5th Edition D&D game set during the Twilight of the Gods. One thing I did with Dragonblade! (which I still hope to continue running) that I’m doing again with Twilight of the Gods is to re-image the alignment system. For many reasons and in many ways, the Norse belief system and moral assumptions are quite different from those underpinning Dungeons and Dragons. Good and evil, law and chaos, are not quite the categories I find in the Norse imagination, as far as I understand it.
In the players guide I’m writing for this setting, I just finished a draft of my thoughts on alignment for what I’m calling the mythic dark ages Norse world. This is before the influence of Christianity, or really the “Western World” as we often imagine it, rooted in Plato and Aristotle, the Bible and Rome. In this setting, Christianity is a new but swiftly spreading religion from the south, and I like the idea that if one of the PCs converts to the new religion, their alignment will actually change, because it will be based on Christian assumptions rather than Norse ones. Anyway, here’s what I have:
Alignment is customized for a mythic Scandinavian setting, largely because what the dark ages Norse thought to be good and evil, lawful and chaotic, are quite different from our view now, and even the view in a lot of epic fantasy. (If your character is a Christian and not a follower of the old gods, he or she will have a different alignment yet) The axes of alignment for this game are different from the book’s good/evil law/chaos. Not entirely different, but different in important ways (and we will figure this out when we fill out our character backgrounds and roll for, or choose, ideals)
Rather than good and evil, Norse characters are honest or treacherous. The Norse did not have so much of a problem with sometimes stabbing one another, but it was very important whether one was stabbed in the front or the back, so to speak. Honest individuals were respected and their word was trusted; the treacherous, on the other hand, were considered dangerous and cowardly.
Rather than law and chaos, Norse characters are civilized or wild. Civilized characters build towns and cities and engage in trade. They farm and fish and sell their produce. Wild characters tend herds and hunt and gather. They go raiding and worship at ancient, natural places rather than the temples of the gods.
The nine alignments, then, are as follows for the Norse: honest and civilized, always honest, honest and wild; always civilized, balanced, always wild; treacherous and civilized, always treacherous, treacherous and wild.
An honest and civilized character is a stalwart of society, trustworthy and dependable. Her word is heard and respected, but she is uncomfortable when far from a town or city. One who is always honest is a truth-teller, perhaps a bard or a prophet, who is hardly afraid to tell the uncomfortable truth. An honest and wild person doesn’t pull punches and has no time for social niceties. They are generous to allies and harsh to enemies.
One who is always civilized is eager for urbanization and increased trade. She dreams of a return of the order and glory of ancient Rome, and might be very open to Christianity. One who is balanced tries to be wise and to consider all angles before making a decision, and does not declare allegiance to any particular cause. A character who is always wild is in many ways more like an animal. She lives by her instincts and immediate needs, is fiercely loyal and fiercely territorial.
A character who is treacherous and civilized is often influential and feared. He plays politics very effectively and always seems to come out in top despite being reviled by some. One who is always treacherous is just what you’d think – untrustworthy in all things and utterly selfish. Finally, a person who is treacherous and wild is like a wounded animal, just as likely to bite you as help you, delighting in undermining community and society.
Baldr is honest and civilized. Thor is always honest. Freyr is honest and wild. Heimdall is always civilized. Freyja is balanced. Surtr is always wild. Hel is treacherous and civlized. Loki is always treacherous. Fenrir is treacherous and wild.