I never made a secret of my opinion that the introduction of alignment in Dungeons & Dragons was one of the biggest mistakes ever made in the history of RPGs and that we’re all suffering from it to this day.
A few years ago I made an attempt to find out what alignment was originally meant to represent, since you probably won’t find any two rulebooks that agree on this rather important question. In the Original D&D game, alignment is just there without any comment or information what it means and what it is for. Holmes Basic and Moldvay Basic remained very fuzzy about what it means and AD&D didn’t really clear up anything either. This is where my research ended, assuming that alignment had just been thrown in at an afterthought because Michael Moorcock had it in his stories and it was cool. But as far as the evidence went, there had never been a clear concept of alignment. Only the interpretation of people who were just as baffled by the terms as all the other players.
But today I came across this interesting quote, which was apparently written by Dave Arneson himself.
We began without the multitude of character classes and three alignments that exists today. I felt that as a team working towards common goals there would be it was all pretty straight forward. Wrong!
“Give me my sword back!” “Nah your old character is dead, it’s mine now!”
Well I couldn’t really make him give it to the new character. But then came the treasure question. The Thieves question. Finally there were the two new guys. One decided that there was no reason to share the goodies. Since there was no one else around and a +3 for rear attacks . . .. well . . Of course everyone actually KNEW what had happened, especially the target.
After a great deal of discussion . . . yes let us call it “discussion” the culprit promised to make amends. He, and his associate did. The next time the orcs attacked the two opened the door and let the Orcs in. They shared the loot and fled North to the lands of the EGG OF COOT. (Sigh)
We now had alignment. Spells to detect alignment, and rules forbidding actions not allowed by ones alignment. Actually not as much fun as not knowing. Chuck and John had a great time being the ‘official’ evil players. They would draw up adventures to trap the others (under my supervision) and otherwise make trouble.
Finally, finally! there appears to be an explanation of what alignment was supposed to be and what it was created for. A very simple “stop fighting each other and play as a team!” It didn’t work and the creator himself admits that it was a mistake.
Why it ended up in the eventually published product anyway, I really do not know. But we’re still having regular “Should the Paladin fall Mondays” all over the internet to this very day.