Political Alignment (3.5e Variant Rule)
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One of the first things to do upon entering a new nation is to try to identify the general outlook of its systems — or, at least, its government. How strong is the power of law? Is the law used to protect the citizens, or it is used to oppress them?
The alignment of a power center should have a considerable impact on the laws of the land and how they are enforced. The alignment of the majority of the citizens will also play a role; many nations rely on the population to help the guard enforce the laws. Most power centers with strong systems of law will be lawful, but this isn’t always the case. This section assumes that the society has some level of laws and structures; for ideas on life in a truly chaotic power center.
In a typical lawful good society, the laws are designed to protect the citizenry from crime and treachery. When possible, a justice will seek a wise solution as opposed to a simple one; will executing a murderer actually heal the damage he has caused in the community?
If the citizens of a lawful good society share the alignment of their community, they will do their best to abide by the rule of law, trusting in the government to protect them and look out for their best interests. At its best, this results in citizens helping one another, cooperating to prevent crime, and working together to strengthen the community. Of course, while the citizens may protect one another, this does not necessarily extend to outsiders; if anything, the community will unite to keep an eye on suspicious travelers — including most adventurers. Likewise, extreme lawful good societies are the sorts of places where a citizen might turn in a friend or relative for a seemingly harmless crime — because the informer believes that he’s acting in the best interests of the community and, potentially, even the “criminal.”
In a lawful neutral nation, justice truly is blind. The law is an impartial force, and justices and nobles follow the precise letter of the law. Lawful neutral states are especially well-suited to common law. If the nation uses a legislative system, it is likely to build up a similar mass of precedents, collecting the writs of kings back to the founding of the nation and following each one as closely as possible.
In some cases this can go to ridiculous extremes, with bizarre outdated laws that have long outlived their intended purpose coming to the fore. Most of the time the laws will make sense, but they may or may not have been designed with the best interests of the community in mind — and justices will always choose the law over the people. In some cases, the people of a lawful neutral society may be extremely litigious — constantly debating slights based on violations of obscure laws. In other societies, the citizens do their best to stay out of the way of the lawkeepers, so as not to interfere with the process of justice.
A lawful neutral citizenry will obey the law not because they believe that it has their best interests at heart, but because it is the law. Traditions are very important to such a society, and people are more likely to unquestioningly cling to the ways of the past than to try to change the future.
In a lawful evil country, the law is a tool the rulers use to maintain their power. Graft and corruption are extremely common in lawful evil cultures. Law may provide a basic structure for a society, but it is something to be manipulated and used for the benefit of the powerful, the wealthy, and the clever; the laws oppress the masses, as opposed to protecting them. A lawful evil society is far more likely to use a legislative system than common law, since those in power will want to be in control of the law, not the other way around. In general, the citizens of a lawful evil nation do their best to avoid the agents of the law; the city guards are more likely to extort gold from you than to protect you. The penalties for breaking the law will be extremely harsh — unless, of course, you can afford to pay off the so-called justice.
Most nations that have lawful evil power centers do not have a primarily lawful evil population. More often than not, the evil forces in power use the law to oppress the more neutrally-aligned masses. In a culture that is itself lawful evil, the citizens fully accept the idea that law is just a tool to be used. These nations are extremely Machiavellian; virtually all interactions and relationships are based around self-interest and greed (whether a desire for gold or power). Lawful evil citizens will betray one another at a moment’s notice — in accord with the proper forms, of course. In comparison to a chaotic evil society, lawful evil citizens are careful planners; they form highly structured guilds with their own laws and bylaws.
Murder on the streets is frowned upon, but subtle assassination, blackmail, a carefully arranged fall from grace — these are all expected risks. And if you think it’s dangerous to live in a lawful evil nation — well, it’s much worse if you’re a stranger and don’t know the lay of the land!
In a neutral good nation, the law is a relatively passive force. Whether it’s based on the traditions of common law or the legislative decrees of a wise ruler, the law is there to resolve conflicts and maintain order. However, the forces of the law are less powerful than in a lawful society. The laws are simple and designed with the best interests of the people in mind. As a result, most citizens will solve their own problems in accordance with the law, without actually calling upon the official representatives of justice.
The people are not afraid to use the forces of the law; they just rarely see the need, and the government prefers not to interfere unless it has to. Members of a neutral good population will work together to create strong communities. Neutral good villages are likely to form citizen militias and other informal groups — organizations that serve the laws of the land, but that have no official connection to the government itself.
A true neutral realm is a watered-down version of a lawful neutral society. The laws are functional and sufficient to keep the nation running. The government is not extremely strict about enforcing the laws; when they are enforced, it is typically without regard to the circumstances of a situation. A true neutral government may have no interest in interfering with the daily lives of its citizens, or it may not have the power to enforce the law. A lawful neutral power center that loses the support of its citizens may slowly drift toward true neutral, as it loses its resources and control over the population. In such a situation there may still be justices who are devoted to the law — they just don’t have the influence to make much of an impact on their nation.
While a true neutral citizen may be roused to action by a charismatic local or national leader, left to his own devices he will mind his own business and take care of his own property.
A neutral evil nation is similar to a lawful evil society, but worse. While a lawful evil nation may use the law to oppress its citizens, at least the law is a respected power. In a neutral evil society the rulers hold absolute power, and there is rarely any pretense that the citizens have any rights. Slavery is extremely common in neutral evil societies; members of the ruling class may have certain privileges and a legal code, but the teeming masses have no rights whatsoever, and no recourse to the law. In a nation where the majority of the population is neutral evil, opportunism is the name of the game. If there’s any way the lower classes can move up in the world, they will do anything to do so. If not, they will stoop to any depths to gain a modicum of long-term security and comfort.
Chaotic good countries can have laws. However, a chaotic country will tend to have a very simple legal system, with as few laws as possible. A chaotic good kingdom may use common law or legislative law, following ancient traditions or the guidance of a wise king. The critical thing about a chaotic society is that an individual justice is much more likely to ignore or reinterpret the law in order to do what she considers to be the right thing. The laws are seen as guidelines for proper behavior, not immutable rules that must be obeyed.
A chaotic good population follows the same path as a chaotic good justice. As a rule, the citizens will obey the laws, because the laws serve the common good. However, if an individual feels that the law does not apply to his particular situation, he will break it without a second thought. Where a lawful good citizen may place the law above friendship, a chaotic good citizen will almost always shield an ally from persecution.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily good for you; if the only way to save a local boy is to blame his crime on a suspicious stranger — which is to say you, the wandering adventurer — a group of chaotic good villagers may do just that.
Chaotic neutral nations vary tremendously. A chaotic neutral society may be pure anarchy, with no central government or legal system whatsoever. Alternately, it may have a legislative system that shifts on a daily basis. In any case, life in a chaotic neutral society will be unpredictable at best. See Chapter Six for more details on chaotic societies.
A chaotic evil realm may resemble a chaotic good or chaotic neutral nation. It could have a basic structure that holds society together, or it may be complete anarchy. Power is what matters in a chaotic evil society; the strong rule the weak, and any rules created by the strong will generally disappear as soon as someone stronger comes along.