Thursday, August 27, 2020

Sold Out -- Again

Apologies for the spotty posting lately. Pretty busy with something at the moment.

However, just wanted to say my last print run of The Complete B/X Adventurer is totally sold out. Not sure when I'll be able to get another order; however, the PDF is still available at DriveThruRPG. Some on-line retailers may still have print copies...interested folks can check with Noble Knight or Wayne's Books.

Sorry about that, folks. Thanks to all my wonderful customers who've given me their business!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"New" Stuff

"New" being pretty much a relative term.

My world building has taken a small backseat to a couple-three other projects the last week or so. Part of this is normal delay and procrastination, of course: the work is hard, with very little immediate reward, and so it gets put aside in favor of the latest hotness. I am used to my proclivity for this type of distraction, and it bothers me less these days (i.e. I don't feel as guilty about it as I did in the past), knowing that I'm in for the "long haul" and shall be returning to it soon enough.

However: publications! As I mentioned, oh, sometime last year (or two years ago...time is slippery recently) I have a couple books that want publishing and the sole thing they're waiting on is the artwork. My artists have (understandably) been preoccupied in recent months (as have we all), but I have been in contact with both in the last week, and received a number of "final" illustrations.

Which is exciting and amazing and makes me want to do stuff with those (B/X based) books.

Thus, the last few days have been spent repurposing a certain classic adventure (hint: the title begins with the word "Keep" and ends with the word "Lands") with the idea of doing a little play-testing. The fam and I are heading out on a mini-vacation tomorrow (we'll be up in the mountains...far away from the densely populated plague lands), and I'm hoping to have some D&Dish fun with them. Depending on how it goes, I might write up the notes in some useable form, to be released with the book (when it's finally finally ready). We shall see.  Here's hoping.

Oh, yeah...and I have an idea for a "new" project (again, very loosely defined). It is (duh) rather masochistic of me to work on yet another book when I already have 2+ in the hopper with no publication date in sight, but what's a guy gonna' do? Just sit on my hands and bitch&moan? One of these days, perhaps, I'll have an idea for an actual non-gaming product (like a novel or screenplay or something), and I'll bang the thing out and sell it on Amazon. But that's not today. The concept needs a little tinkering and a lot of polishing, but...well, it IS interesting. If I find the thing has legs, I'll write more about it.

All right...that's all the updates I have time for at the moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Elves in Red Earth

Still lots and lots to talk (and rant) about these days, and I haven't yet gotten to around to the subject of elves in my Red Earth campaign; I just can't seem to help but get sidetracked.

Let's go ahead and get to it.

The original draft for this post spends the first thousand words quoting all the information found in the OD&D books as a foundation; but I've since decided NOT to go down that road. Here are the basic takeaways of note (with regard to OD&D elves):

  • They are never noted as having an exceptionally long life span; there is no mention of longevity at all in any of the books (nor are there special notes regarding elves under the entries for the potion of longevity or the staff of withering as there are in later editions, like B/X).
  • With regard to appearance, there are no notes stating elves have pointed ears or that they are beardless (contrariwise, the illustration labeled "ELF" on page 32 shows an individual with a longer beard than the "DWARF" on page 8). Per Greyhawk, elf skin color ranges from "tan to fair" with "wood elves being the darkest." Height is given as "five or more" leaving open the possibility of rather tall individuals.
  • The original books state that "elves are of two general sorts, those who make their homes in woodlands and those who seek the remote meadowlands." No distinction is made between these two types. In the Greyhawk description of the elf class, four types of elves are listed: wood, high elves, meadow elves, and fairies...this last being a term found in the Chainmail fantasy supplement where it was used interchangeably with "elf," much as was done with dwarves/gnomes, goblins/kobolds, and pixies/sprites. The 1E Monster Manual will "clarify" this by stating "faerie" is the term for Grey Elves, even as it removes the term "meadow elves" from the game lexicon. Aquatic elves are added (along with a host of other underwater variant monsters) in the Blackmoor supplement.
  • Elves are "not naturally adapted to horseback." While they have the split-move-and-fire ability found in Chainmail (and originally used to model the speed of horse-born archers like Huns, Mongols, etc.), it only applies to elves on foot.
  • In the wilderness encounter tables, elves are on the GIANT TYPES sub-list (along with dwarves, gnomes, and treants). It would appear that the "giant class" of monsters (i.e. the enemies against whom rangers receive a special damage bonus) was meant to apply to ANY type of nonhuman humanoid. 

It is highly interesting to me that elves, as originally presented in Chainmail, were NEUTRAL in alignment (albeit with "a slight pre-disposition for LAW"). By OD&D, of course, they appear on both the Law and Neutrality lists, but this explains why elven clerics (only available as NPCs) are limited to 6th level of experience...per OD&D no cleric may progress above 6th level unless aligned with either Law or Chaos.

So it is with MY elves: these are not the goody-goodies found in Tolkien, but something far more aloof from humanity. An ancient race, not in terms of longevity, but in terms of culture...these elves have been around for a looong time, and have already passed the apex of their civilization. Not demihumans but protohumans...another species of humanity (like neanderthals or denisovans) destined to one day be extinct or subsumed into what we know as the modern human race.

The main inspiration for my elves are Moorcock's Melnibonean fantasy race (Elric and all his kin). I've written before about the general similarities between the Elric books and D&D, and the specific similarities between Melniboneans and the D&D elf. For my campaign world, I am embracing these parallels, although they are not an island or sea-going people (I already have my Numenorean/Valyrian sea king-types in the descendants of Atlantean refugees...and they are all "normal" humans). Instead, elves are a coastal-mountain folk living in the Chilean region of the Andes...though I admit to being tempted to move them farther north.

Another inspiration for my campaign setting is the artwork of Bob Pepper, and specifically his illustrations for the old Milton-Bradley card game, Dragonmaster. Each of the "suits" found in the game provide visual clues and inspiration for distinct factions of my campaign setting. Considering the Moorcock influence, it should come as no surprise that the DragonLords are the model for my elves, although they are not literally "dragon lords" in the Melnibonean sense.

Still, they are an ancient culture with access to metallurgy and sorcery that is hard to find (or equal) in the young human kingdoms. Though they ceased their wars of conquest centuries before the coming of the Sea Lords to the temperate eastern plains, the elves maintain enough might to remain independent from the ever-expanding Red Empire of the north, and most human communities continue to hold them in superstitious awe.

[the Sea Lords being a notable exception]

For once upon a time, the elves were conquerors, and the early humans of the continent little more than primitive, nomadic tribes and a ready slave population. These slaves would eventually throw off the yoke of servitude, using lessons learned from their decadent masters to forge their own kingdoms in the lowlands (thus was the Red Empire born), but the animosity and dread of their former oppressors remain.

Nor is this their only legacy, for in elder days the elves experimented with dark magics and sorceries best left unknown. The result: fell beasts and twisted monsters, demonic enchantments and dangerous pockets of enchantment that continue to plague and bedevil those who stumble upon them. It is said that dragons were created by elvish magic, but most sages consider the possibility unlikely in the extreme. However, it is a certainty that both the orc and gnoll species were products of the elves' attempts to create pliant slave races that would not rebel as their human servants did. Unfortunately (for everyone), this was a disastrous failure.

In these latter days, the elves are very much a diminished people, but they still retain secrets and powers unknown to the younger human race. It is unlikely that they will ever return to their former splendor, but the occasional elvish adventurer has been known to come down from the mountains, searching for treasure and glory among humans of like mind.

These are the elves of Red Earth. They are otherwise as found in the OD&D books.
: )

Friday, August 7, 2020

Elegant Design

I don't write a lot of posts about "the biz" of publishing books, but this is a little strange...there seems to be a slight resurgence in interest in my books.

The B/X Companion for sure: just checked the PDF sales report on DriveThruRPG, and it's on pace to have its best year since 2013. Just to put that in perspective: my Companion was only made available as a PDF in 2012, and the total sales for the first two years exceeds all sales combined from 2014-2019.  

[which is still peanuts, of course (total sales over the life of the product is a bit north of 1000), but considering my lack of business skills and marketing savvy...not to mention the niche market to which my product belongs...I'll take pride in my home-baked slice of the pie]

If I had to guess about a reason for the recent sales spike, I'd probably give credit to the expanding popularity of the recent Old School Essentials (B/X) retro-clone. Back in "The Time Before Covid" I had a chance to take a look at Ye Local Gamestore and it was a pretty nice set of books. Didn't purchase it myself (money's a little tight for picking up products I already own in their original form), but I've heard plenty of praise for the thing, both in-person (from actual people) and on-line (from virtual people). 

ANYway, that's the only reason I can think of...I don't see any reviews or internet mentions of the Companion more recently than 2012 or so. Regardless, my thanks to all the people doing the purchasing...considering the many pirate PDFs of my book floating around the internet these days, I appreciate the money some folks are actually willing to put in my pocket.

Now the stranger part: while OSE offers some explanation for my B/X Companion, I don't know what could account for the renewed interest in Five Ancient Kingdoms, which is also on pace to have its best sales since 2013 (the first year it was published). 

Are people actually playing 5AK?

Allow me to be a skosh amazed at the idea. I mean, I'm not playing the game at the moment, though maybe I should be. I spent much of yesterday reading through the PDFs (for the first time in years) and, man, there is some good stuff in there. Elegant design, if I do say so myself (and I do).  Yeah, yeah...patting myself on the back again. But I like how I solved a lot of particular design issues I had with D&D, adding interesting nuance while still keeping the system streamlined and abstract.

Why did I abandon this line of gaming? 

Now THAT is a good question. I definitely remember feeling a bit pingeon-holed by the setting...even thought the books themselves offer ways to modify the system for other settings. But mostly, I think, that I felt the game lacked appeal...I could never get more than 2 or 3 players together that were willing to give it a go, back during the play-testing stage. Compare that with the offer of most any edition of D&D and you get half a dozen hands (or more) go up in the air, crying to join the table.

*sigh* I'm such a slave to what is trendy.

But no, it's more than that, I think. I worked hard on the probabilities and dice outcomes for 5AK, and they work well, but they're not as intuitive to grasp as a more granular, incremental system based on a D20 or percentile dice. Or perhaps it's just me...I am too used to these simpler granular systems, having been steeped in them for decades. Rolling 2d6 and tossing out "zeroes" just seems too "weird" from my perspective. I need some sort of damn chart/matrix to reference or I feel naked out there!

*sigh again*

As I continue to work on my own world and tinker the rules to better match the parameters of my design needs I read through these books...the three volumes of 5AK...and I keep coming across things that make me wonder "is there a way to add this to D&D?" A way to somehow incorporate these ideas into the standard D&D design without upsetting the entire apple cart? Sadly, I'm not sure there is. Systems in 5AK are built to inter-lock with each other. D&D is a hodge-podge of mechanics created on a "need" or "cool idea" basis (and often as patches when "cool ideas" ended up creating other "needs"). Functional as D&D is, fun as D&D is, its very nature precludes the addition of elegant mechanics.

Doesn't it?

Mentzer's BECMI tried to file off a lot of the "rough edges" and the game suffered for it (in my opinion). Same with 3rd edition...and 3.5 and 4th and 5th. The more well-oiled the machine becomes, the less room there is for imagination. 5AK works because it is, in the main, small scale and firmly based in its fairy tale genre. But D&D's heritage is founded in a wilder and woolier period of imaginings. 

What was it I was listening to the other day? Oh, yeah: Mother Love Bone. Andrew Wood is one of the greatest singer/songwriters that...unless you're really deep into musical've probably never heard or heard of. Unless you're, like, my age (mid-late 40s) and grew up in Seattle and liked rock music instead of pop and rap. Because Wood died right on the verge of becoming famous, and his bandmates ended up becoming Pearl Jam instead. And Vedder's a great singer and frontman, don't get me wrong, but Wood was a special talent. His music mixed the sacred with the profane, at time profound at times adolescent, all combined with sincerity and humor and beautiful singing ability, emphasizing love in all its expressions (for God, for children, for sex, for the world). I found my old CD in a mislabeled box and ended up listening to it 3 or 4 times through, just feeling...sad.

Because even if I played their CD for, say, my children or some 20-something year olds, there's just such a depth of meaning that would be lost on kids from a different generation. They just wouldn't grasp references because there's so much that doesn't exist anymore in this day and age of internet saturation and multi-hundred TV channels and social media bubbles. It's like: once upon a time the world was a smaller place, but so much more specific...and now its not. Once upon a time, every kid watched Bugs Bunny or Scoobie-Doo because you were a kid and you watched cartoons and there was only a couple channels and a couple times a week that you could watch them. Once upon a time there was only a handful of news outlets and rather than market themselves to a particular "fan base" they tried to report as quickly and accurately as possible. Once upon a time everyone knew the same songs because radio stations that catered to a particular taste only rotated the same handful of bands. We had shared understandings, shared touchstones.

We have so few of those these days, except for world-shattering events. Good things? Or fun things? Or nice things? Those are all over the board. You might know something about it if you're In The Group that cares about a particular thing (role-playing games, for example)...otherwise, it's outside your bubble, outside your sphere of interest. And you chance of having a shared knowledge with someone outside that thing is...slim. I can bitch about Trump or Covid with the other soccer parents while watching our kids practice or I can talk about soccer and soccer kids. Anything else? Chaff in the wind.

D&D...the D&D that I play and that I prefer...belongs to that older time. It wasn't created to be elegant or universal or easily consumed. It gained ascendance by being pretty much the only (or main) game in town at a time when the world was a much smaller place, when choices were more limited, and when people...players...had more shared understandings. Me writing 5AK was an attempt at...hell, I don't really know (or remember) exactly what I was attempting. But with regard to mechanics, I tried to make it as "elegant" as possible, while maintaining some sort of soul and imagination. I just don't know if imagination can exist alongside "elegant" certainly seems more readily found in the inelegant systems of the wilder, woolier past. 

Ugh. This post has gone completely off the rails. Probably need to reset (and maybe eat some breakfast).  Later, gators.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Working Cycles

Been doing "world building stuff" the last few days. It's slow going.

The advantage of using a real world setting is that a lot of things have been done for you: placement of natural features (mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.), lists of resources, climate maps, topography, vegetation, etc. All that stuff is "in place" and easy to suss out given access to the internet and a decent atlas (which I have).

The hard part is dealing with the people of 11,000 years ago. Not a lot of info about that period of time, and "accepted" archaeology would make the indigenous populations a bunch of tiny family units and "tribes" of neolithic cave folk.

Which is definitely NOT what I'm doing. Prehistoric: yes. Stone age: no. This is a prehistoric iron (and bronze) age, based heavily on a mix of Atlantis mythology mixed with sword & sorcery fiction. It's not Kull the Conqueror...more Edgar Cayce, MZB, and Peter Timlett's Seedbearers trilogy...the main idea based on the idea that there was a more advanced civilization that will (eventually) fall on a very hard dark age long before our (current) recorded history begins. Call it the Orichalcum Age of man. Or, perhaps, the Tumbaga Age (since tumbaga appears to be the orichalcum equivalent in South America).

[oh, yeah: plus dwarves and elves and goblins, etc. It IS D&D after all. My world has dragons...though maybe not blue ones, as lightning-breathing monsters are a little too "Friday night monster flick" for my taste]

But, of course, there's no record of communities in South America from more than the last couple-four centuries, and precious little info from pre-colonial times that would be useful to world building. Furthermore, my deliberate placement of the setting at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, means the climate (especially in the region I'm concerned with) is far more cool-temperate in range, resulting in vastly different flora, fauna, and agricultural practices.

So I'm cheating. I'm operating under the assumption that life moves in more-or-less regular cycles. Communities (towns and cities) tend to form in the same places for the same reasons (convenience of landscape, access to resources, etc.); populations are greatly reduced in number but, so far as glaciation allows, they're more or less the same as today. Livestock and crops might change over 10,000 years, but not their presence, nor placement in the overall geography. Mined resources are the same, of course, though with reductions in the amount of ore produced.

[I'm actually using 16th century gold production rates, divvied up proportionally by region based on 21st century percentages...calculates out to a bit more than 3.3 tons (107k ounces) of gold per year in regions south of Panama. This works under the assumption that the population is pretty close to the same, that Atlantean/dwarven/elven mining methods are at least as advanced as Spain's in the 1500s, and that there was more gold and gold more easily/conveniently found.  Consider that modern accounts of pre-modern gold mining generally ignores what was being done in the Americas prior to colonization, and that a LOT of gold was found when Europeans did arrive]

Names of places are a problem, of course. Wikipedia states there are about 600 indigenous languages in Latin America, and I don't see myself learning Quechua-Mayan just to make the setting feel more "authentic" (and it's doubtful that any of these languages were the same thousands of years ago anyway...). On the other hand, making up "fantasy names" for towns is a pretty ridiculous prospect. I suppose I could simply research the etymology of existing names and come up with English equivalents, but that poses its own problems. For example, Cochabamba (the 4th largest city in Bolivia) takes its name from a transliteration of the Quechua word for the region which means "Lake Plain." However, the city itself was called Llajta which just means "town." There's probably more than a few llajtas in South America.

In the short term, I'm using the modern names for places, landmarks, etc. because it would be damn near impossible to locate things otherwise using modern maps and atlases. If I told you to locate Antofagasta (in Peru), you could easily do so with an internet search; if I renamed it Salt Lake City (which is, more or less, how the name translates)...well, you can see the difficulty there, right?

Maybe I should organize communities
around language isolates.
Still, work progresses and I'm enjoying the world building (despite my complaints). And parts of it are fun (locating dwarves in a hilly region of Brazil known for its titanium deposits, for example; who needs mithril-steel!). It's just slooow going.

Okay, my kids are up. Got to go.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Morality and the Cosmic Struggle

[quick note: I've decide to try moderating comments for the time being as I've been getting an excessive amount of spam lately, and it's become a real irritation]

This isn't really what I planned on writing about, but after reading Father Dave's recent post, I figured it was time to finally throw down my two cents on alignment, my (current) thoughts on the concept, and how it will apply in my game setting.

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on the subject many, many times. My current stance (which I've had for less than six months) is to use alignment in my game. Multiple reasons go into this decision that I [still] don't want to enumerate [yet]. However, I will assure the reader that NONE of those reasons stem from a personal desire to simplify the game ("Rules As Written!") nor make my DMing life easier. Finding a way to use alignment in a meaningful and effective way is actually more difficult and not a headache to be readily embraced; it certainly isn't a headache I've found terribly enjoyable.

Still, I think alignment is important to my game world, as the cosmology of the setting is at least as important as the physical geography to its overall design.

SO...having said that (and having spent the last few days going though the OD&D monsters and figuring out the IFs and HOWs needed to slot them into my setting), please indulge me a moment to talk about my personal viewpoints on evil and how it works in a game context.

Father Dave's post discusses the importance of evil as a concept for an RPG; how reducing the game setting to one of moral relativism (if I may be allowed to paraphrase) makes the struggle between selfish individuals (and the stories told of those struggles) both boring and pointless. I assume some folks would take umbrage with this statement, as "boring" can be recognized as a matter of taste (television shows that I find tedious are undoubtably stimulating to others) and "pointless" ...well, what can be more pointed than watching humans (and/or tieflings, etc.) struggle in the face of adversity? That IS the point of The Game, after all.

But I understand the good padre is writing from his stance as a Christian theologian and I respect his perspective.

[ooo...I can see the potential for this discussion to get nasty. Lots of people get LOTS of things out of D&D besides any potential "meaning" or morality lesson, people who hold the game on an equally high (or higher) pedestal. I really, really don't want to have that debate here. Please don't go down that particular road in the comments; yes, I understand D&D holds a lot of juice for a lot of people of all stripes and persuasions...]

For ME, it is important that my campaign setting is sensible; if the setting doesn't make sense to me, I will (eventually) become tired of and frustrated with the nonsensical elements until I chuck the whole thing...something that has happened many, many times to me in the past. I'd rather have a game setting that will last, oh say, a hundred years or so (enough time that it should outlive me) and my best strategy for doing so is picking an epoch in our real world past that is so far removed from today that who knows WHAT might have happened "way back then" (knowledge does tend to get lost after a few thousand years...). However, making use of our Real World means using a real world cosmology or, at least, a close approximation given the circumstances of the setting and the rules of the game; that, to me, is sensible.

So then what is "evil" as I believe it? Father Dave defines evil as the absence of God. "Goodness" is the same as God...God is the source of all goodness. The more you remove good/God from the equation the higher the degree of evil; the padre compares evil to cold, and God/goodness to warmth. Cold increases the more you remove yourself from the source of heat; add heat and cold is diminished. Easy-peasy...that's a fairly typical Christian perspective on the way the cosmos functions.

My own take is a little more New Age-y (I'm not the world's greatest Christian by any stretch): God is All; All is One. "Evil" comes from denying this separating ourselves (through thought and/or action) from the truth (or Truth) that All is One. Forgetting our place and our purpose as "higher beings," parts of God's whole, destined and designed to do God's will because we are one with God. Forgetting our higher purpose...or ignoring it, or working against it...results in the only "sin" that matters: selfishly separating ourselves from God. This causes suffering in the whole (for All is One) is a sin against God, against ourselves, and against our fellows for we are all part of a single whole.

But why does such sin (or the possibility of it) exist? Here, I'll take a page from Tolkien and draw the analogy that Eternity is like a grand symphony, composed of many notes, chords, rhythms, and movements. Only with an omniscient understanding can its whole be observed at once; only with the perspective of God can it be seen how one part leads to the next, how each portion is necessary to the whole. The struggles and challenges of those humans residing on our planet may seem terrible and terrifying...or petty and sordid...when viewed with only a limited ability to perceive. But that limitation, too, is part of the overall scheme and design of the composition.

Putting that into D&D language: I am using the three-point alignment system of Law, Neutrality, and Chaos in my setting. A Lawful person is one who actively does God's will (purposefully, though regardless of whether or not there exists understanding). "Persons" mean creatures with a level of intelligence rising to the level of sentience; "God's will" generally means living in harmony (with others and with nature), and generally promoting the same. There are very few species in my game that are (culturally) of the Lawful disposition; most are angelic beings.

By my definitions, anyone NOT actively doing God's will would be in the "evil" category (to greater or lesser degree), but the difference between Neutrality and Chaotic is a preferred distinction for my setting. While there are certainly selfish people out there who are more interested in their personal  desires than following the Law of One, not all are so wicked as to actively be working AGAINST the cosmic design (i.e. trying to create MORE separation from God). This, then, is the distinction: a Neutral person is not working to create a closer bond with God, nor are they working to undermine oneness (and, generally due to ignorance and disinterest, these may perform deeds at various times that move the needle one way or the other: helping an individual in need one day, while cheating someone else another). These maintain the "status quo" of life on Earth, perpetuating its cycles, and maintaining the possibility to join one side or the other. In contrast, the Chaotic person, by thought and deed, continuously pushes to destroy One-ness through selfish aggrandizement, exploitation of others, and general awfulness.

Regarding non-sentient beings: most are of the Neutral alignment (all "natural" creatures, for example) unless their very nature is an offense to the natural order: undead creatures, for example, or certain magical abominations created by stray and terrible magics (like trolls). "Demons" are not "fallen angels" in the Milton sense, but there are certain ethereal beings whose interaction with humans usually take a malignant turn (for the humans), much the same way that interacting with other "forces" (fire, gravity, etc.) have the potential to cause harm to the unwary; such forces are labeled as "Chaotic" due to the danger their interference poses to humans attempting to follow God's will. Such creatures (and those who harness them as tools in their quest for personal power) provide a steady source of conflict in the setting.

Hope that all makes sense.

This, by the way, has brought up other, "interesting challenges"...with regard to the design of the campaign's mega-dungeon. Licancabur is a natural formation, one that in recent centuries has been sacred and holy to the people of the region, much as such sites (Olympus, Rainier, Danali) have been sacred to other peoples throughout history. Moreover, nature may be aloof and uncaring to the wants and needs of human beings, but that doesn't make it evil...merely dangerous. So what "lawful" reason could there be for adventurers to delve its ancient depths, explore its hollowed out volcanic tubes, slay its denizens, and pillage its treasures? If Licancabur is not some sort of gateway to hell, what gives them the right to ravish it, sword in hand?

Corruption. Perversion. The temple has become a den of inequity. The hallowed halls are defiled with mutants and monsters of the vilest sort. Something must be done to return the place to a state of grace, though it may take years, and the blood of many would-be heroes, to do so.

And, for now, that's enough to kick-off a campaign. Because my setting takes place some 9000 years before the time of Christ, there are no Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions in the game, but there are religious orders and clerics. The line between magic-users and clerics is very thin, in my setting, the difference being mainly one of perspective and mission. Only followers of the Law of One have access to the full range of healing powers; worshippers of false gods and natural powers are little more than hedge wizards, and idolatrous demon-worshippers have no access to healing magic at all, being only capable of harnessing the powers of malice and harm for their personal "benefit."

Magic-users as a class hold themselves aloof from matters of the spirit and worship, but they are aware of the way the cosmos works, and ignore it at their own peril. Many wizards, lacking wisdom or lost in their pursuit of knowledge and power, will tread the path of chaos. Bad things undoubtably await them (in this life or in the next), but such a road will not curtail their progression.

My use of alignment in D&D isn't meant to dictate behavior, neither with regard to players, nor their characters. With regard to player characters, alignment is a stamp and statement of where their souls lie in terms of the cosmic struggle. There is no requirement to "act one's alignment:" presumably, a character's actions will stem from a [Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic] motivation, and even if not, so what? Individuals slip up, make mistakes, and act against type. Lancelot sleeps with the wife of his friend and liege. Hercules gets drunk and kills his family. Darth Vader decides he'd rather go out a hero than watch his son be murdered. Do such deeds make up for a lifetime of goodness/badness? Maybe, maybe not...the player is free to discuss a possible alignment change with the DM (me) if she wants to entertain that possibility.

Regardless, I'll assume that the character is doing plenty of acts "off-screen" that readily bolster and justify the alignment chosen.

Actions have consequences...all sorts of consequences. Kill all the lizard men in the local swamp and you have no lizard men. In some ways, this is a good thing: fewer dangers in the swamp (if the lizard men were apt to ambush unwary travelers), perhaps more game to be found by the locals (since the lizard men aren't hunting it). Perhaps, though, the lizard men acted as a natural "buffer zone" between the local village and a different threat of some sort, a more dangerous tribe of creatures that will now take their place. Perhaps the lizard folk worshipped a black dragon and their occasional "sacrifices" kept the thing from looking for prey elsewhere. Perhaps they hunted a particular type of animal that is difficult for a non-scaly hunter to eradicate, and now the unchecked pest threatens to overrun the swamp...maybe some sort of giant spider whose venom was ineffective against the lizard people (but is fatal to humans).

The point is: the genocide of the lizard people isn't necessarily may have been an expedient solution to a very real problem. But actions have consequences, and there may have been more than one solution to "the lizard man question." Finding a harmonious approach is, generally, the Lawful way, as I'm defining the term...but sometimes, stamping out a Chaotic threat IS the "Lawful" method needed.

But that isn't to say my world is one of moral relativism; I personally don't believe in moral relativism, and since my setting is my own, personal creation, I get to determine the truth of the matter. So there are absolutes of good and evil, right and wrong, broadly defined as moving in alignment with God or against God. And unfortunately, for most humans trapped in a fallible bodies of limited perception, having actual knowledge of what is God's will is pretty much impossible to fathom. Which is why we rely on the wisdom of priests and the teachings of religions for guidance. It's only too bad that the priesthood and writers of religious tracts are (mostly) composed of fallible humans of limited perception.

*ahem* Anyway, having a system of alignment allows me to shape the scope of my setting in (morally) absolute terms: these creatures are an abomination, these magic items are designed for the use of Law, these spells can only be used in the service of Chaos, etc. Alignment allows me to steer the tone of the game and provides a convenient shorthand for defining the nature of the cosmic struggle in my own morally absolute terms. It provides another layer to the physics of the game world, an extra dimension of challenge to be navigated, an additional meaning to the experience of play.

Again: its purpose is not an edict of player (or character) behavior.

That being said, it would probably be strange to have both Lawful and Chaotic characters in the same adventuring party.