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Marcus Bone

Allegiance Rules - The Balance of Chaos and Law

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Hi All,

I thought I'd raise an aspect of the Stormbringer/Elric! game system that I've always struggled with, and have secretly wished would better reflect what I think is a core aspect of roleplaying in the Young Kingdoms - the Allegiance rules.

I don't know about you, but I've never been happy with the way they've been presented in any edition of the game, and even my own attempt at sorting them out (over at Stormbringer! » 20sided Conversion) leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Now that might all sound a bit odd, but let me explain why I think this way (about the Allegiance rules as a whole, not my ill thought-out attempt :P). You see, I have always thought that the struggle characters should face in Stormbringer is how to balance their support for the three powers - Law, Chaos and the Balance - and how this in turn influences their opinions and actions. To me these three things should be a driver for all events in the setting, and should lead characters into making hard decisions.

Ideally I see them working something like the 'passions' from Pendragon, where opposite forces work against each other to form a characters outlook on the world. However, with three elements this is a little harder, and I can't see a way in which you could align all three. The other thing is that, IMO, these influences should not dictate the character's actions. In the Young Kingdoms the most chaotic character should still be able to act in the name of law, if the circumstances benefits them, and vice versa.

I also believe that dedication to one of these powers should provide benefits to a character, especially when one acts in their name. However doing this in a way that doesn't seem contrived looks difficult.

So is it just me, or do others have the same difficulties with these mechanics? Why oh why couldn't this be as simple and yet meaningful as say Call of Cthulhu's Sanity system, or the Insanity/Chaos rules from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying!

Marcus

P.S. Just writing this post as put a few mental notes in order, and I might post my thoughts here is anyone is interested...

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I have been thinking and your post let me put past gameplay in perspective. I'd be interested in seeing what you eventually put together.

For myself, I view allegiance as a means of both opening up opportunity and inviting obligations. As players adventure and make choices they invite the attention of those who might appeal to their disposition. This is somewhat guided by the forces of the multiverse because the PCs are important and the multiverse ensnares important people as a rule. The eternal question is whether the PCs are independent agents or pawns in a larger game.

When one is aligned with Chaos, well chaos is the tempter, the rebel, the creative destroyer, change. Chaos offers gifts and opportunities to the individual. It offers cheats, escapes, easy routes to power. These gifts lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences but when the recipient of Chaos’ affections balks, Chaos softly coos, “I just gave you what you asked for. Don’t worry, if you do this minor favor for me I will help you fix your mistake.” The Chaos penitent continues to bargain until they find themselves trapped in a twisted web of obligation and destruction.

Law is the builder, the disciplined, the community, stability. Law rewards those who are focused and driven. Through perfecting one’s self, one becomes closer to Law. As one excels, one’s fame grows. The Lawful acolyte finds themselves the subject of esteem, even adulation. They are looked to for guidance and help and the more they provide, the further they are tied to the community surrounding them. As one progresses though, the decisions one faces become more complex. One driven by the tenants of Law eventual find themselves trapped in a twisted web of obligation and destruction.

The Balance is the zen of autonomy. It is both living within and apart. It is stillness, acceptance and tranquility in the face of devastation. Those who give themselves to the Balance receive only the endurance to weather the present and the promise of peace at the end of their struggle. Perhaps also the hope that their journey has somehow made possible, in some way, a world free of the excesses of Law and Chaos.

Which is all well and good but is not very mechanically driven. But there’s an interesting mechanic we can snag from the Corum book. In Corum, when a PC has a Chaos Allegiance higher than their Law or Balance they start rolling for the chance of developing a Chaotic Feature. The change is the difference between Chaos and the next higher Allegiance score. So if Burgo Jark, Scourge of Kral’ak, has Chaos 32, Balance 3, Law 17, he has a 15% chance of developing a Chaotic Feature (32-17+15). This is triggered whenever Burgo gains another point of Chaos.

If we extend that to Law and swap out ‘Chaotic Feature’ for ‘complicates PC’s life’ then we have a pretty nifty mechanic. The forces of Law should be just as selfish and vindictive as the forces of Chaos. It’s just that they have different approaches. Also, triggering this isn’t always a punishment. It’s a complication and complications can be fun.

I do Allegiance a little different than written. I might award a few points during gameplay depending on actions but at the end of play I ask the players to honestly assess where they think their characters fell that session in regards to Law, Chaos and the Balance, and to defend their answer. Then I let them increase whatever they choose by 1d4.

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FYI: There's going to be some neat stuff in the MW Chronicler's Companion that'll make Allegiance very cool indeed. It allows you to take the simple essence of Allegiance, and use it to build out full pantheons with unique outlooks and philosophies.

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In Mongooses, Elric of Melnibone for MRQII/Legend, allegiance isn't used at all. Adherents to one of the powers have a PACT with either the higher power in general, or in the case of the Lords of Chaos and Law, a particular deity, Arioch, Arkyn, Xiombarg or whomever. Gifts and Compulsions are accrued with each pact (generally as a pair). When trying to avoid behaviour imposed by the compulsion, PC's roll against the Pact score and if they 'succeed' the compulsion wins and they act accordingly, if they 'fail' then they are able to exercise free will.

A similar mechanic can be adopted for use with allegiance scores for example; Terak Ghastarn rolls D100 and gets a result of 43. His allegiance scores are; Chaos 35, Balance 45, Law 40. So for this action he would take the 'middle' balanced path. If his result was 30, he would act in a chaotic manner.

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One driven by the (tenets) of Law eventual find themselves trapped in a twisted web of obligation and destruction.

...

The forces of Law should be just as selfish and vindictive as the forces of Chaos.

I've always regarded the path of Law as deterministic and prescribed. The symbol of Law is a single arrow, after all. Champions of Law have few if any choices; their life and their fate is laid out for them, like the aforementioned web of obligations that permit only one course, or a Greek tragedy where the protagonist sees their doom approaching and by their very nature cannot avoid it. The pawns of Law may find themselves adored heroes who cannot rest on their laurels, or reviled villains whose high ideals led to unspeakable atrocities. Like feudal Japanese, Champions of Law would rather die than abandon their obligations.

If the end-goal of Chaos is utter randomness, endless turmoil, and the triumph of passion over stability, the end-goal of Law is a clockwork universe, sterile and unchanging, whose residents plod through their lives like automatons even if a tiny spark of humanity within screams in horror. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down (to quote the Japanese again); any spanner in the works cannot stop the endless grinding gears.

If Moorcock never wrote of a world being taken over by Law where Chaos has to restore the Balance -- and I vaguely remember a really preachy Eternal Champion novel about a totalitarian queen -- then he probably should.

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Sorry to bring this thread back to life, but last night my age old concern with the purpose and function of the Allegiance rules reared its ugly head again. In my mind the rules as written make no sense, and don't reflect the background.

 

In the Elric stories, the main protagonists are always looking for Tanelorn - the City open to those who follow Balance. However, this is a difficult path, and the balance is a fine line between Chaos and Law. It is hard to attain, and even harder for one to maintain. To reflect this, I think that devotion to Chaos and Law tend to be two ends of a spectrum, and followers of the Balance look to attain a true equilibrium.

 

Mechanically the rules could go like this:

  • There are only two Allegiances - Law & Chaos.
  • All Characters start with 40% in one trait and 60% in the other (depending on background, race, etc).
  • The two totals are counter matched, so as one goes up the other goes down.
  • To achieve the Balance a character must get both to 50%.
  • If either Law or Chaos reaches 100%, then the character becomes an Agent of that Power.
  • At various times, based on events or actions, a player could be asked to roll against an Allegiance to see if they succumb to it's influence.

Any thoughts?

 

Marcus

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I always found the treatment of the three forces a little off the source material. In an Elric game I'm designing and testing, Balance is just staying away from the tempting power of Law and Chaos, maintaining true freedom. Chaos and Law points aid the character whenever he asks for help, as many times as wanted, but every time this happens, the character rolls allegiance and may acquire temporal or permanent chaotic or lawful traits, physical or mental in nature. So Chaos and Law points work as an easy and very tempting way to overcome difficult obstacles, but at a price. Balance is staying away from a fast rising to power.

 

In play this is working like magic, and creates the tragic inevitable destiny from the novels. Supernatural help is soooo atractive and powerful that players end up recurring it and being affected.

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You could just as easily be describing the Light Side and Dark Side of The Force - it is a perfect fit for an Allegiance system like this...

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Sorry to bring this thread back to life, but last night my age old concern with the purpose and function of the Allegiance rules reared its ugly head again. In my mind the rules as written make no sense, and don't reflect the background.

 

In the Elric stories, the main protagonists are always looking for Tanelorn - the City open to those who follow Balance. However, this is a difficult path, and the balance is a fine line between Chaos and Law. It is hard to attain, and even harder for one to maintain. To reflect this, I think that devotion to Chaos and Law tend to be two ends of a spectrum, and followers of the Balance look to attain a true equilibrium.

 

Mechanically the rules could go like this:

  • There are only two Allegiances - Law & Chaos.
  • All Characters start with 40% in one trait and 60% in the other (depending on background, race, etc).
  • The two totals are counter matched, so as one goes up the other goes down.
  • To achieve the Balance a character must get both to 50%.
  • If either Law or Chaos reaches 100%, then the character becomes an Agent of that Power.
  • At various times, based on events or actions, a player could be asked to roll against an Allegiance to see if they succumb to it's influence.

Any thoughts?

 

Marcus

I actually had a similar idea some time back. Drop Balance, and only use Law and Chaos. To achieve Balance, Law and Chaos must be kept in check, and moving too far in one direction or the other moves you into Agent/Champion. I also had an idea for Redemption - moving back towards the Balance should a character become an Agent/Champion (a la Rackhir). Basically pulling from Pendragon's Passions/Traits, various Allegiance rules from Elric!/SB5, and elsewhere. I also tapped into some corruption/madness stuff to add to the power gained from becoming an Agent/Champion.

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I don't have a problem with having three forces. Characters always have choices and the allegiance points represent the consequences of those choices. Even if you accumulate a lot of points for one force or the other, you are never *required* to swear allegiance to that force (though agents of the force may increasingly try to woo you to their side once and for all). Balance is difficult to achieve not because you have to do equal amounts of Chaotic and Lawful deeds, but because it is just hard to always act in a way that is true and free and human -- just as in the Elric saga, and in real life. In my long-running Nehwon campaign I have had 2 characters which have achieved Apotheosis: one for Law and one for Chaos (see the Apotheosis thread). But no one has ever become a Champion of the Balance, though some have tried. One reason is that serving the Balance is more of a roleplaying reward than a mechanistic one -- the min/maxers will always prefer the rewards of Law or Chaos. This is as it should be. Allegiance points are a good mechanistic way of rewarding *consistency* of behaviour (ie. roleplaying in character).

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