Alignment Part 3: Some Examples!

Part 1

Part 2

From the comments the other day:

I’m baffled.
Baffled by living in a world where people can’t figure out what words like ‘good’ and ‘chaotic’ mean and act like it is some obscure mystery.

You know, this is interesting, because in the first part of my explanation, I pretty much state that a major reason that Alignment doesn’t work is because people don’t understand what “good” and “chaotic” mean. The relativist approach means that someone can be playing as a demon whose very existence is a blasphemy upon creation and the laws of nature, but because the player wants the demon to be a “nice guy” or within the confines of his demonic culture he is an upstanding citizen, the player is able to declare for Lawful or Neutral Good, and then the rest of the group wonders why Alignment doesn’t matter at their table.

People DON’T understand the Law/Chaos spectrum any more than they understand the Good/Evil spectrum. For instance, many people think of Chaotic Good as the either the guy who does some good but is inherently selfish or someone who tries to do good but breaks laws while doing so. A lot of people would give Robin Hood as an example of Chaotic Good, but they’d be wrong, and here’s why:

While Robin Hood lived in the wilds and opposed King John and the Sheriff, he was not doing so from an angle meant to upset Nature’s law and/or the will of the heavens. On the contrary, he understood the natural and divinely bestowed rights of Man and fought against a power that was usurping them. Additionally, the power he opposed (John and the Sheriff) are portrayed as being in opposition to the rightful rule of King Richard – in this sense, Robin has positioned himself as an agent of the legitimate and rightful law that is respectful of the rights of man, acting on behalf of Richard, the true authority. Though certain trickster elements are incorporated, the classic portrayal of Robin Hood throughout many iterations in the 19th and 20th century* would be Lawful Good.

So, what would be Chaotic Good? One of the most remarkable literary examples in fantasy would be Tom Bombadil. He is good and beneficent, but he is outside the realm of Nature and Nature’s law. He is unaffected by the magic of the Maiar; in fact, he is so far outside of the scope of the strugle that Middle Earth is going through, it’s acknowledged by the characters in the book that it would be irresponsible to rely on him – though he’s unaffected by the Ring’s power and evil, he’d probably forget about it!

Melkor would be Chaotic Evil, because his modus operandi was the corruption of creation; everything related to him is described in terms of perversion and marring the true and good intentions of benevolent creators. As an agent of perversion, the more he took on a fixed, absolute, corporeal form with which to rule over his Earthly domain, the weaker he became.

Sauron, as a created being within nature (one of the fallen Maiar) adheres to the laws of creation set forth by the Gods (it’s one of the reasons why he is so vulnerable), and though he wields great power and is able to use that power to corrupt the minds of his foes and cast a shadow over the land, he is still within the sphere of Law. Yes, the struggle in Middle Earth during the 3rd Age is between Lawful Good and Lawful Evil, with Lawful Neutral free people and Neutral Good elder races throwing in with LG against Lawful Evil.

Okay, let’s break away from Lord of the Rings for a minute.

I think that one of the best examples of a True Neutral character might be Garrett from the Thief games.

“But he steals things!” you say; “He’s a law-breaker!” you say; “He may save the world, but he’s probably a bad guy! He’s Chaotic Neutral at best!” you say.

All right, those things are all true, but you need to look at the bigger picture.

While Garrett is a Thief who steals things and breaks the law, he is not a wholly evil person. Assuming that Expert is the canonical way in which Garrett completes the missions, it’s clear that he has a code, part of which is to avoid killing at all costs. There is, if my memory serves, only one mission in which Garrett is allowed to kill his fellow man, and that’s because of an oversight in updating the goals for a mission that did not originally feature human opponents (the magi in the Gold version of The Lost City).

In Thief’s cosmology, there is a conflict between Law, as embodied by the Hammers, and Chaos, as embodied by the Pagans and Fae.** The Hammers aren’t the nicest dudes, in part because from a thief’s perspective, they crack down and crack down hard on criminality; while the current crop of Hammers may seem unnecessarily cruel, their order and the God they serve ultimately fall into the schema of Lawful Good. The Fae who are worshiped by the Pagans are inimical to human life (as it is currently being lived), and the Woodsy Lord is intent on pushing man back into a primeval state. His domain is the Maw of Chaos, so it’s right there in the name.

Someone pointed out in the comments on the previous post that Planes can shift in the relationship to alignment as their leaders change, and we see something of that in Thief 2 with Victoria. Constantine is the sworn foe of the Builder and stands against everything they represent; he is Chaotic Evil in Thief’s cosmology. Victoria, on the other hand, is more pragmatic; I’d place her as Chaotic Neutral – while acting as Constantine’s second, she will have his back, but on her own, her primary concern is not a victory of Evil over Good but preserving Chaos against an encroaching order of Law. Even Garrett notices that the nature of the Maw has changed subtly under her. Neutral Good characters like Lt. Mosley are aiming to find some sort of middle ground between the “Chaos” of the pagans and fae and the Law of the Mechanists.

So Garrett’s place in the “prophecies” is as a balancing agent; when the pendulum swings towards Chaos in Thief: the Dark Project, he ends up finding himself allied with Law via the Hammerites who aid him in sealing the Maw of Chaos. In Thief 2: The Metal Age, the pendulum has swung back the other way, too far in the favor of Law, so he becomes an ally of Chaos to fight against the Mechanist takeover of the city. He is not in those positions because he is a nice guy or a bad guy, but because it is his destiny to act as an agent of balance in the greater cosmic struggle around him.

 

*:Earliest incarnations of Robin Hood which do not incorporate much of the now established lore would be closer to Neutral Good or Lawful Neutral, depending on the telling; before the notion that Robin Hood was stealing money from nobles and returning it to the unjustly taxed, most folks were happy with a Robin who was stealing from nobles because fuck the nobility; with nobles as pieces of a framework of divinely ordained Law, such a Robin would be slightly more chaotic, since he was acting against the natural order of things (divinely righted stripped of their rightful treasures) – when the definition of the order which Robin was opposing changed, along with his reasons for opposing it, the character became Lawful Good.

**:Note that Nature in Thief’s cosmology is depicted as chaos/chaotic as opposed to the mechanical order believed to be set upon the universe by the Master Builder.

Building a Better Zombie Pt 2: Pestilent Dead

Thief 2x substantially changes how undead are handled. In Thief 1 and 2, Zombies are all but unkillable unless you have explosives or holy water. Thief 2x zombies retain this invulnerability, but you can hack off their limbs and head. Of course this means that you end up with creepy gross unkillable torsos with legs wandering around, not doing much and unable to hurt you, but likely to alert other Zombies and haunts to your presence. Not to make things easier, some Zombies now have breath attacks, where they spew some dark green liquid and a swarm of insects at you if you don’t chop their heads off quickly enough. They can kill you pretty quick if they sneak up on you, and they attack in groups.

As you don’t have near as much firepower as Garrett and no access to holy water, there’s not a lot you can do put these guys down completely. Unless, of course, you fulfill the optional quest where you round up the disparate parts of the Necromancer’s corpse and tossle him into the incinerator to break the curse that animates the dead in the Masouleum.

So, for those who are interested in mixing things up with your undead and taking your players by surprise, here’s a new zombie type that you can supplement your regular undead with. Cackle with glee as your players wonder why this one particular zombie seems to be fighting harder and taking more hits than the rest of the swarm, and hey, why isn’t this one turning!?

Pestilent Dead

AC: 8
HD: 2***
Move: 90’(30’)
Attacks: 3
Damage: 2 claw 1d4 / 1 breath 2d4
No. Appearing: 1-4 (2-12)
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Chaotic

The Pestilent Dead are a particularly noxious variety of zombie animated by powerful curses and evil magics. As all undead, they may be “Turned” by a cleric but are not affected by sleep or charm spells or any form of mind reading. They typically appear with other undead (1-3 Zombies for each Pestilent Dead). If close enough (10′) and possessing its head, Pestilent Dead will vomit forth a vile liquid accompanied by a swarm of stinging or biting insects. Victims may save vs. breath for half-damage. When a Pestilent Dead is hit, it receives no damage (though allow the players to roll for damage); instead roll a d6. 5-6 an arm is severed; 3-4, the head is severed; 1-2, nothing happens. Subtract 1 from the roll if using a blunt rather than slashing weapon. Subtract 1 from the roll for each severed arm. Players may attempt to target a particular appendage with 75% accuracy with a slashing weapon and 50% accuracy with a blunt weapon (roll after a successful to-hit roll). Pestilent Dead lose attacks corresponding to the appendages destroyed. When both arms and head are lost, the Pestilent Dead is not vanquished but impotent; they may flee aimlessly, alerting other monsters to the PCs’ presence. Pestilent Dead may be damaged and destroyed normally by fire; treat them as having 6HP, + 3HP for each arm and head remaining. Pestilent Dead are turned as wraiths.

Thief 2x: Shadows of the Metal Age

Over the weekend, I had a chance to dig into Thief 2x: Shadows of the Metal Age.

For any gripes I may have about Thief 2x, they are small in comparison to the fact that this is an entirely new freaking game in the Thief universe. It took me a bit to get used to, because of some minor technical and graphic issues. For whatever reason going to map, objective or menu with briefly drop to the desktop before opening the correct page (like at most 1 second with half a second lag time, during which the screen is black and the game still running; you CAN be seen, attacked and killed during this lag between exiting menus). Also, the textures and lighting seemed really wonky on the first mission, so despite some really neat atmospheric tricks and well done visual story-telling, it just didn’t look or feel right.

Another part of the disconnected feeling comes from using new health icons, a new shadow crystal and a few other cosmetic and semi-cosmetic changes. For instance, water arrows look different and cost more, but this is no big deal, because unless you’re fighting steam beasts or fire elementals, you always end up with way more water arrows than you needed generally. I liked the idea early on of combining the lock picks into a single item (hair pin), but this meant that it couldn’t be hotkeyed, so the return of the classic lock picks a few missions in was a welcome event. Zaya’s new sword is cool, but the knock-out hammer seems like a silly replacement for the blackjack, though it does kinda lampshade the whole dead vs. unconscious distinction which is even less meaningful in this game.

The first REAL mission (the Prologue has no weapons or sneak-mechanics, though there were some obnoxious instant-kill traps), while impressively built felt kind of off. A few of the subsequent early missions felt the same way, but gave me enough of a Thief fix to keep going. Thief 2x really hits its stride after you reach Sunnyport. The train-ride mission was a cool bit of world-building and atmosphere, but felt rather unrewarding as a mission; the following mission where you have to sneak into the smuggler’s hide-out, raid the place and get out without even knocking anyone out, however, was pure Thief bliss. The Hammer temple was great, but the Masoleum!

Down Among Dead Men is probably one of the best Thief levels I’ve ever played and is by far one of my favorites; it’s creepier and more colorful than Down in the Bonehoard or either of the Haunted Cathedral levels, and has supplanted Trail of Blood as my favorite mission. It has some of the coolest set pieces, wild puzzles and traps, and creepiest undead filling a webbed catacomb of crypts which includes the final resting place of an evil necromancer whose ghost has caused the dead to rise at his beck and call. I can’t think of a level from either Thief or Thief 2 that comes close to how awesome this is in terms of storytelling, play or level design with the possible exception of The Sword (and this was more fun and had less accidental fall deaths). This would absolutely be the sort of level where, if you could get a decent floorplan of it, would be an AMAZING dungeon crawl for low-to-mid-level characters. Plus, it introduces new zombie mechanics which I’ll probably write up for tomorrow.

zaya

Meet Zaya, the alluring sociopathic murder-hobo protagonist of Thief 2x: Shadows of the Metal Age.  As a woman of color with a crippling lack of empathy, she hits at least three diversity checkboxes!  Just kidding; I’ve never heard ANYONE bring her up when talking about diversity in video games.

As far as the character Zaya goes, I’m still warming up to her.  I haven’t found her particularly likable or interesting, and she’s got a bit of a one-track mind.  Her arc of losing her cousin to murderous thieves so that she herself becomes a murderous thief (because revenge) is a bit silly.  There are a lot of ways that they could’ve addressed this within the game’s mechanics to make it less ridiculous.  One of my biggest gripes – and one which feeds into this – is that the difficulty does not affect the objectives in any meaningful way.  If one plays Thief and assumes Expert is the ‘canonical’ way in which the missions are done, Garrett is a consummate professional and wholly above murder, even against the despicable child-killing Mechanists; indeed, one of the biggest challenges is making it through a mission without getting into lethal altercations.  Zaya has no such compunctions against killing and is free to do so wantonly on the highest difficulties, so one may assume that she doesn’t have Garrett’s moral code and is pretty much a murder hobo.  Which explains why she knocks people out with a hammer rather than a leather truncheon.  In large part, this is why the missions in the smugglers’ hideout and the Hammer temple felt so Thief-like – you weren’t allowed to just kill people (or even knock them out in the case of the former).

I’m entirely expecting that the guy who took Zaya in and taught her thieving ways is going to end up being a bad guy. I just hope that I’m invested enough in Zaya by that point to have some sort of emotional response. For all of the amazing effort that went into fleshing out this new world and integrating it into the existing Thief lore, I wish that Zaya herself were better done. Even if the rest of the game ends up being garbage and there is nothing else good about it, it will have totally been worth it for missions 5-7, where I really felt like I was playing a brand new Looking Glass Studios Thief game.

Haunts: More Thief-Inspired B/X Undead

If the Zombies in Thief were scary, the Hammer Haunts were absolutely terrifying.  The second that one of them knew where you were, many of the rest of them would know soon as well.  From well over 100 feet away, a Haunt that saw you would not only know where you were but know how to get there by the shortest means.  Even if you could get away, they would keep looking for you, and unless you found a really good hiding spot, there was a good chance they would still find you.  If a Haunt saw you and there was nothing between him and you, you were pretty much done for – unlike many of the human guards or the rather weak Monkey Men, Haunts are far better swordsmen than Garrett; even if they don’t block your first or even second attack, they will quickly slice you pieces in a matter of seconds.  There’s little worse than in Return to the Haunted Cathedral when all three of the patrolling Haunts in the main Cathedral floor are alerted to your presence and make a beeline for you, even cutting through boarded up doors to do so.

Fortunately, once you were out of the Cathedral and into the second half of the mission, you could set up a kill zone in the quad between St. Tennor’s and St. Jenel’s; after killing the first one or two with backstabs, you’d have multiple zombies, multiple haunts and a ghost all looking for you, and you’d have to carefully toss out mines and bide your time lest one of these grim dudes gets within 50 feet of you.  It took about 10 minutes of patience and planning, but if you were lucky, the undead carnage on the quad would account for most of the remaining enemies in that oh-so-dreadful mission.

Haunts

AC:5
HD 4+2 (15HP)
Move: 120’(40’)
Attacks: 3
Damage: 1-6 or weapon
No. Appearing: 1-4
Save As: F4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Chaotic

Haunts are vicious and incredibly dangerous undead warriors whose fanaticism in life has carried over and beyond the grave into their unlife.  Haunts are surprisingly human in their apparent behavior and may well be mistaken for the living until approached or seen head-on.  As with all undead, haunts are unaffected by Sleep or Charm and are unaffected by mind control.  Unlike many lesser undead, Haunts are clever hunters and can easily (4 in 6 chance when within 50’ or less) locate nearby living trespassers, including those hiding in shadows.  A Haunt will pursue its prey until one or the other is vanquished.  Haunts may only be turned by clerics of the gods they served in life.  If taken by surprise (1 in 6 change), a Haunt may be dispatched single successful backstab.

Building a Better Zombie

One of the problems that D&D has, I feel, is that low level undead just aren’t all that scary.  Ghouls are frightening because they have paralysis and aetherial undead are terrifying because of their level drain, but Zombies and Skeletons tend to be kind of boring mooks who are usually less threatening than encountering a group of 1st level human bandits.  Besides, they can be turned!  The only real ‘scary’ part is that they don’t have to make morale checks, so you have to kill all of them.  As such, the only way that skeletons or zombies are a real threat is if you throw a ton of them at the party.

Thief: the Dark Project is one of the few places where small numbers of undead are truly scary – they’re very different from how your living (even monstrous living) opponents behave.  While Ghosts are creepy and hard to kill, and Hammer Haunts cut you to pieces in seconds once they find you (and they WILL find you), I think that how Thief treats Zombies is particularly special.  They’re always in the way, they’re always groaning loudly, and, unless you’ve got things planned just so, you can’t kill them.  One zombie can be an annoyance, but two zombies can be downright deadly.  Once you have 4 or more zombies on you, it’s time to hit the quickload button.

So here’s a reimagining of the B/X zombie based on those found in Thief: The Dark Project.

Zombies

AC: 8
HD 2 + 3* (15HP)
Move: 90’(30’)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1-8 or weapon
No. Appearing: 2-8 (4-24)
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Chaotic

Zombies are undead humans or demi-humans animated by powerful curses and evil magics that stone and steel alone cannot unmake. As all undead, they may be “Turned” by a cleric but are not affected by sleep or charm spells or any form of mind reading. They typically resemble normal rotting and bloated corpses, and when still may be indistinguishable from a normal corpse.  If approached by a living creature foolish enough to linger about (3 rounds), the Zombie will rise and attack.  Treat prone Zombies as having 3 HP; upon rising, a Zombie will have its full 15 HP.  After receiving 12 HP of damage, a risen Zombie will fall prone and remain so until a living creature remains nearby for 3 rounds, at which time the Zombie will rise with full health.  Zombies will always attack last regardless of initiative.

Zombies can only be killed with fire or Holy Water.  Holy Water will do 3d6 damage to Zombies.  Zombies that are turned do not run away but will fall prone.

I’ll probably be stating out some more monsters from Thief over the next few days, including Burricks, Hammer Haunts, Insect Beasts, Fire Spirits, Crab Men and  Crab Beasts, and Monkey Men.  I’ll be working on a few base assumptions, including d6 hit dice and Garrett as a d4 thief of around 4th level; I may even stat him.

Thief Returns

I am so profoundly sad that this is a Playstation Exclusive title.  Thief is probably the ONLY steampunk setting that I actually enjoy.  This looks beautiful.  But at the same time, the over the top violence and warning of “strong sexual content” gives me a lot of pause.

The original Thief games were fairly violent, but due to the character models (which were primitive even for their time) and extensive ingame dialogue, which gave the game a dark comic feel, they would come across as much less graphic than a game like Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Playing them now, the violence would seem almost cartoony.  A lot of the video highlights some of innovative and brutal kills available in the new game despite the fact that the original, in pretty much every mode except for Easy, strongly discouraged killing to the point of prompting an instant mission failure for killing anything non-monstrous.  As for sexual content, I really can’t think of anything at all in the original games.  The Woodsy Lord’s alluring tree-monster henchlady appeared briefly looking kind of slinky in a Poison Ivy kind of way  in a cutscene, and I think she may have delivered some PG innuendo before/after a mission before betraying Garrett, but there wasn’t anything I could imagine warranting a content warning.

No matter what the actual content of this new game, I’ll not be playing it in all likelihood because -DAMNIT!- exclusivity.  I just hope they get back the original voices for Garrett and Benny.  A Thief game without Benny is hardly a Thief game.

Also, I can’t help but wonder if the part about “your protege is dead” or whatever is a shoutout to the fan-sequel to Thief 2 which featured a female protagonist.  Even though I never played the Thief 2.5 campaign, I’ll be sad if they stuff Zaya in a refrigerator.

Edit:
So I guess it WILL be for 360, too!  Now to wait to see how things pan out content-wise…