Detect Evil

I’m having some trouble with Detect Evil-type spells. If we’re throwing out the Good/Evil axis and going with Law/Chaos, why is “detecting chaotic creatures” equated to “detecting evil intentions”? It struck a really sour note when I was reading the text. Everything in the text - especially in light of the autarch blog posts - reads as extremely carefully thought out, though. So, before I houserule it, perhaps you could help me understand the intentions behind it?


(btw, the site search function doesn’t appear to be working. I tried to check the forums before posting, and got a courier-on-white “array” output with a single line of text on it. Using Chrome 25.0.13)

Great question.

First, let’s be clear what the spell does: it detects “creatures with evil intentions, magic items with evil enchantments, undead, sinkholes of evil, and summoned creatures of Chaotic alignment.” So it doesn’t detect all creatures of Chaotic alignment, just summoned creatures of Chaotic alignment. There are only two creatures in the ACKS Core Rules that qualify - Frost Salamanders and Efreeti. Essentially, when we talk about summoned creatures of Chaotic alignment, we are talking about demons and their ilk.

So why do such creatures always detect as evil? There’s two reasons, a philosophical one and a pragmatic one.

  1. Philosophically, chaotic aligned characters are “agents of entropy and destruction”. Summoned chaotic monsters, being inherently chaotic, are inherently agents of entropy and destruction. Therefore they always have evil intentions towards all things. Any good intentions in the near-term are simply drowned out by their long-term commitment to entropy and destruction.

  2. Pragmatically, if demons didn’t always detect as evil, then the spell could detect their intentions. I didn’t (and don’t) feel that Detect Evil should be able to tell you whether or not a demon’s intentions are evil or not. I think the demon should alway radiates malevolence!

“Is this demon going to honor my pact? [detect evil]” “Hmm, he’s radiating as actively evil.” “Oh, guess not, then.” Lame.

The intentions-of-entropic-creatures part makes sense, but then I guess it makes me wonder why use Chaos vs Law instead of Good vs Evil? Or is that to make the setting more morally gray (“chaos is always ‘evil’, and law is… well, probably not all that good”)?

My first idea for a chaotic PC was something like an anarcho-pacifist thief (with two ranks of profession: banker… heh), and I suppose that although he’d have a thorough philosophical allegiance to Chaos, I didn’t picture that as equating to his being loyal to the cause of evil. On the contrary, he’d be loyal to chaos because he considers law inherently evil (I won’t recap the whole anarcho-pacifist philosophy here; sufficient to say law = forced obedience = evil).

I’m not that fond of the ACKS alignment system too. When I heard it at first, I thought it was supposed to break down the black and white, good and evil alignment system, but it just seems to double-down on it. Chaotic is the new evil and considered unsuitable for most parties, neutrals are described as spineless and apathetic, with only lawful described in a truly positive light. Makes it hard to rail against “The Man.” Then again, nothing makes civilization, even somewhat oppressive rulership, look better than the constant threat of monster attacks and starvation.

Neutrality: Neutral beings generally enjoy the benefits of law and civilization, but it is not something they directly fight for. They tend to focus on their own ends, whether those are family, fame, fortune, pleasure, or power. A Neutral mercenary might be found fighting on behalf of Law or Chaos; a Neutral farmer tends his crops and pays his taxes, whether to the Patriarch or the Lich-King.

That doesn’t come across as spineless & apathetic to me. At least not unduly so. Isn’t that a fair descriptor of most of mankind across most of history?

In my view, Law vs Chaos really does give us a different opposition than good vs evil. Law can be either good or evil. Chaos is usually an enemy to player characters, but situationally need not be.

ACKS alignment system suggests a Moorcock/LotFP supernatural factionalism, but doesn’t go quite as far as Raggi did.

Chaotic Stupid alignment has never made for good party members, especially in the hands of 16-year-olds.

I actually like the ACKS alignment system as it is a system of allegiance rather than a set of morals. A villain may be Lawful - he might be greedy, selfish and downright evil in everyday life, but when civilization is threatened by demons, he’ll side with civilization. On the other hand, a Chaotic character needs not be a raving murderous lunatic - Elric, for example, was, for the most part, Chaotic and in pact with ruinous Chaotic powers, yet he was not a villain most of the time.

In other words, as long as mundane matters and the affairs of mortals are at hand, alignment does not come into play, and characters may be as good or evil as their players desire. Alignment matters only when it is the ruinous powers of Chaos (read: Cthulhu-type monstrosities) threaten civilization - will the character ally himself with the terrible power of Chaos or protect the crumbling Lawful civilization?

And most people are Neutral - they are concerned with the everyday affairs of their lives (or the kingdoms they rule) rather with the cosmic struggle of Law versus Chaos.

In fact, you can play an entire ACKS campaign in which alignment matters little - there is enough mortal intrigue, politics and warfare to fill whole volumes without putting too many devils into the equation.

It also works quite nicely for a setting like Thief, with the Hammerites falling on Law and the Heathens on Chaos, and neither being exactly good or evil…

Chaos: Chaotic beings actively seek to destroy civil society.
“Chaotic characters are often madmen or cultists of forgotten,
chthonic gods. To the extent they have any order at all, societies
of Chaotic characters are ruled by force and fear, and are often
characterized by all manner of corruption and vice. Even
decadent Lawful civilizations at least pay homage to civilizing
virtue, but chaotic civilizations embrace their corruption.”

This how the chaotic alignment is described in the ACKs rulebook. Notice the “often madmen or cultists of forgotten, cthonic gods” part and the worse-than-the-worst-lawful-societies part.

Law: “Despite its vices and villainies, civilization must be defended against those who would destroy it. Lawful beings tend to see wars among civilizations as aiding the cause of Chaos, and so they seek peace among Lawful civilizations where possible.” i.e. hero alignment

Neutral: “To paraphrase George Orwell, Neutral humans sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because Lawful heroes stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” “A Neutral mercenary might be found fighting on behalf of Law or Chaos; a Neutral farmer tends his crops and pays his taxes, whether to the Patriarch or the Lich-King.” i.e. Not really much of a hero.

Chaos: “often madmen or cultists of forgotten, chthonic gods” “societies of Chaotic characters are ruled by force and fear” “Chaotic societies are characterized by their monstrous vices: Genocide, human sacrifice, wanton destruction, cannibalism, necrophilia, and so on. Evil is all-too-human in every civilization, but Chaotic is something both less and more than human.” i.e. Monsters worse than Hitler.

I like the idea of getting away from the tired old good-vs.-evil alignment system, but Chaos seems to be described as UBER-evil. Only chaotic mages can perform necromancy and only chaotic clerics can make human sacrifices, something that would be restricted to EVIL characters in other alignment systems.

Don’t get me wrong, I like ACKS in general, but it definitely seems to be backing one horse more than the other.

As with all alignment systems, modify to taste :stuck_out_tongue: I think I like the law/chaos alignment system because even though the default interpretation from the rulebook maps pretty well to good / neutral / really evil, it unbinds the alignment system from the language of good and evil, which allows easier reinterpretation. If I want to build a setting where the primary axis of conflict is arcane / titanic / fey powers against divine / deific / celestial powers, I can easily say that the gods (even ‘evil’ ones) and their servants are lawful (imposing structure on an inherently disordered universe) while wizards and elves are chaotic (tapping into natural ‘wild’ energy). And it’s easy for my players to accept such a change, because the terms ‘lawful’ and ‘chaotic’ are not such loaded concepts as good and evil are; there’s no implied value judgement.

In my reading, I imagined the “evil” bits of Chaos generally as not being E-vil, so much as “evil” from the perspective of the people on the receiving end. The dead don’t rise because it’s evil, but because the underlying laws of life and death are up for grabs in the domain of Chaos. They don’t try to destroy villages; they just stop respecting the laws preventing that, which sometimes leads to Beastmen invading those villages, and sometimes leads to those beastmen dancing a tarantella under the light of the noontime moon. It’s not evil-with-intent, it’s evil-as-perceived-by-the-helpless-people-deprived-of-the-civil-and-physical-laws-they’ve-built-their-lives-around.

On the other hand, I feel like an excess of law, stasis, determinism, etc. should also be depicted as a negative in the setting. It shouldn’t be black and white which side to give your allegiance to: chaos gives rise to innovation, creativity, freedom, surprise, common sense (vs. bureaucracy), the spirit of the pact rather than the letter of it, etc. Low-level chaos ought to be as sympathetic as low-level law; excess law should be as horrific as excess law.

Honestly, I don’t envisage a summoned Lawful creature being all that benign. They have their goals. They’ll manipulate the letter of a law/pact/bargain better than a Chaotic creature will, and just as readily. And you, so-called summoner? You with your whims and changeable nature? Well, it will work with you while the benefits outweigh the costs. After that… well, you’re still far too chaotic for a properly Lawful world. You can die last.

er, I meant excess law should be as horrific as excess chaos*.

I’d call this an advantage, personally. You get some clear “Those guys are bad!” if you need it to nudge players into conflict, but no “Your good character can’t kill them! They surrendered!” type arguments.

It also leaves lots of room for Law-on-Law (because some of those Lawful-types are going to be vile people) and Chaos-on-Chaos battles (because they don’t really like anybody but themselves, and even that’s questionable).

Great discussion. So, a few notes.

First, I’ve written two extensive articles giving my thoughts on alignment. You can find them below:

With regard to those of you who have suggested that Chaos is Evil, I’d refer to my first article, “All About Alignment”. What I discuss there is that the behavior you deem “evil” is going to depend on your ethical selection, which is itself a pre-ethical (meta-ethical) decision. The traditional 2-axis system is essentially written from the Lawful Good point of view, where Lawful Good closely maps to Kantianism.

Based on this reasoning, I decided not to use “good” and “evil” as the alignments in ACKS. I do not think the contemporary (21st century) usage of those terms is helpful in a game about adventuring, conquering, and kingship. Since most people, consciously or subconsciously, have taken the contemporary usage to heart, it creates a cognitive dissonance that’s not helpful.

For instance, the prevailing morality in the contemporary West would not describe any of the following as good:

  • Establishing a monarchy
  • Putting enemy settlements to the torch
  • Executing rebels
  • Crusading against enemies of your god
  • Accumulating vast wealth by conquering your realm’s foes
  • Killing rare animals for their body parts
  • Exploring the tombs of other civilizations and taking their rarest relics back home
    But all of the behaviors above are typical of heroes in the myths, legends, and heroes of the real world during the eras resembling ACKS. And all of them are certainly typical of characters in ACKS.

In “All About Alignment Part II,” I mention “Alignment as Allegiance” as one simple method, and that’s what I adopted in ACKS. While I offer a default set of allegiances based on vaguely Greco-Roman notions of civilization and chaos, the beauty of this system is that each Judge can choose for himself what the Allegiances are, and what being a member of those Allegiances stands for.

Sometimes the range of morality encompassed by the Allegiance can be very broad. The real-world example of the Axis & Allies in WWII is a good example. Everyone agrees that the Nazis were very evil. But were the Italian Fascist more evil than the Russian Stalinists? Meh… But the Fascists were Axis and the Stalinists were Allied, and that’s what matters.

Given the default assumptions of ACKS, an anarcho-pacifist would qualify as a “madman”, I think.

Anarcho-pacifism seeks the elimination of violence from social relations. ACKS assumes the existence of intelligent species engineered for violence and incapable of non-violent relations (e.g. Beastmen, Ghouls) An anarcho-pacifist could not hope to achieve a better world; he would merely achieve the extinction of his species. An anarcho-pacifist should be locked up before his rotten ideas damage the safety of the Realm… or treated the way Ripley treats Burke in Aliens when he suggests they shouldn’t kill the aliens.

Consider that Edward Gibbon famously argued that the Christian philosophy of non-violence was the ruin of Rome. More than one ancient Roman would have said that the pagan Roman way of life was Lawful and that Christianity was a dangerous Chaotic religion that sought to bring about the end of this world!)

Obviously there is wide room for latitude here given the width of possible campaign settings. If one altered the assumptions - e.g. beastmen and undead are not innately destructive, merely the tools of authoritarian dark lords who prevent them from self-actualizing to virtue - then of course it’s a different outcome. The more you stray from the default assumptions of the setting, the more the default alignments won’t make sense.

Hmmm. I wouldn’t say that Chaos, as I’ve described it, is worse than Hitler. In fact, I’d say the Nazi regime was a Chaotic one.

  • Nazi government was based on force and fear
  • Nazism embraced genocide. The very word arose from Nazism’s practices!
  • Nazism embraced human sacrifice. To quote Nietzsche, “Mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man—that would be an advance.” (See S. Hicks, “Nietzsche and the Nazis”)
  • Nazism embraced wanton destruction. “Nietzsche and the Nazis were in almost full agreement. Nietzsche praised war and urged its coming. He wished for a great purge that would wipe out most humans whose lives he thought worthless and an embarrassment to the human species. “All-too-many live, and all-too-long they hang on their branches. Would that a storm came to shake all this worm-eaten rot from the tree!” (S. Hicks)
  • The Nazi ideal was “a brutal, domineering, fearless, cruel youth. Youth must be all that. It must bear pain. There must be nothing weak and gentle about it. The free, splendid beast of prey must once again flash from its eyes.” This is the perfect description of a beastmen.

Perhaps the focus on cannibalism and necrophilia disguises this… It’s not intended to be a checklist where if you ain’t cannibalistic you ain’t chaotic I just picked those as exemplary of behaviors against the norms of a Lawful civilization: eating the flesh of your species is unhealthy and unwholesome. Wasting your reproductive energies on the dead is not a healthy norm for a civilization.

Interesting… What alignment would you suggest for a moral, yet roguish type with no respect or like for governing authority? Would he be neutral?

In general, if you’re not willing to put yourself in harms way for some greater cause, you’re neutral.

If you are, you’re aligned with that cause.

Arrows of Indra and Testament reskin alignment into holy/unholy, reflecting level of religious devotion. Its not good/evil, exactly, but observance of religious rites and taboos. Thats another option, though it would have a major effect on the setting.

That system might break down if you have more than one or two groups of gods with different rites and taboos. Turns out the goddess of fertility and the god of chastity don’t always see eye-to-eye…

I tend not to like to link morality and religion in a game system too strongly because there have been too many real inquisitions, crusades, jihads, and witch-hunts for me to think of the two concepts as synonymous.

The idea is not to use morality, but religious laws and taboos. Testament has a pretty score which goes up if you file the laws of your god(s))
and goes down if you break them or give into temptation. You can get points for things like sacrificing to the gods, and lose them for things like murder theft and eating ask unclean creature. More interesting for adventurers is that everyone can cast curses (the evil eye) for the cost of a few points, our get some for accomplishing quests for their god or country.

The key being that they are civilization dependent. They would have a significant impact on behavior, I think, and it wouldn’t be your run of the mill D&D, though.