Mar 4, 2012

Heroes are Extremists (Part One: Some alignment basics)

This is the beginning of a four-parter about the classic alignment systems and assumptions that are often made. Allow me to illustrate the general assumption about the two axes:

And now if I may be allowed to blow your dice-addled mind: this is wrong.

And perhaps you already knew that. Batman is a good guy, but obviously not completely lawful (more on that later). Robin hood is another case, more to the chaotic end of the spectrum. But there is little question that each of these characters is still unquestionably good.
No, see: what I intend to do here is prove that on my own chart
Again, nothing revolutionary, I know. Give it a moment.
A hero, or rather a protagonist, may be chaotic evil or an antagonist lawful good.

Now the observant among you have noticed that I make a distinction between hero and protagonist. I do this on purpose and so to avoid any confusion will here establish some terms I will use:

Some Terms:

Hero- A hero is the traditional figure that prevails in myth and legend. Odysseus, Superman, Hercules, Batman. The hero has principles, he is noble, he does not seek actively to harm but will often do what it takes to ensure justice and protect his own, whether that be his friends or the world. The important aspect of a hero is that we admire him, we look up to a hero and often agree with his morals, if not in action at least in principle.

Protagonist- The protagonist, on the other hand, is simply someone the story follows. We are given the protagonist's perspective and we follow his actions. In a game we are always the protagonist because we can see the story from no other perspective. We don't have to agree with the protagonist, he is simply a vehicle for the story. In The Road Warrior, Max is kind of a jerk, and we may not like him for being selfish and uncooperative, but we are given the story from his perspective and so he is the protagonist, but not a hero.

Villain- The villain is the antithesis of the hero, again a traditional character that opposes all our morals and concept of what is good. Satan corrupts and promotes misdeed, the Joker kills for the sheer joy of it or some elaborate plot. Our reaction is again the most important part of the villain: we hate him, or if not hate, we want him to be stopped. We want our own worldview to prevail over him, we want the forces of good to win the day and reinforce the rectitude of our own values.

Antagonist- An antagonist is not a villain. We may not like an antagonist, we may hate him, but he is not a direct threat to our values. Draco Malfoy is an antagonist, surely, but he cannot be a villain because he has so few of his own schemes that he is really not responsible for his own misdeeds (to the extent of my knowledge. Sorry fanboys, I've only seen the flicks). An antagonist is the speed bump that makes you slow down when you're already late. An antagonist is that guy in class who always has some juvenile comment: annoying, but not actively threatening the world as we know it.

So I do say deliberately that an antagonist or protagonist may lie on any end of the spectrum, or right in the middle more often.

Now we all know that the alignment system consists of two axes:


or what I call the Axis of Intent and the Axis of Means

The Axis of Intent is, as it sounds, the intent of the character. A good character acts on behalf of the common good, acting with intent to do good by as many people as possible. An evil character is selfish, acting with intent only to serve himself, often at the expense of others. A neutral character lies somewhere in between, either serving only him and his, or not acting intentionally toward any one side of the axis.

The Axis of Means is the manner by which a character acts on that intent. A lawful character uses rules, regulations, laws, and technicalities to achieve his goals, whether keeping the peace or cheating people out of their money. A chaotic character believes absolute and total free will is his own right and supersedes any law. This character would without thought kill one to save many, or run a red light to get somewhere quickly. A neutral character believes in the necessity of law, but also accepts that some situations demand uninhibited action.

What does all this gobbledygook mean? Well stay tuned for Part Two: Good up next.

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