scripture as alignment language

Alignment languages didn’t make it into late D&D editions, but they do make a little more sense in a religious context. They don’t even have to be languages: perhaps, although it’s written in Common, only the faithful Cuthbertian can quote you chapter and verse from the Chronicles of St. Cuthbert. The unfaithful cannot bring themselves to say the words. (Under these rules, the Devil cannot quote scripture. If he does, he takes Radiant damage.)

Furthermore, people of opposed alignments cannot understand words quoted from a religion’s holy writings. To a priest of Nerull, the scripture of Pelor, even if spoken by a peasant in simple Common, will sound like “argle bargle zip nip” or whatever.

Unaligned/neutral people — people who haven’t chosen a deity to worship — can understand the holy words of all religions. That’s how they’re proselytized.

Thus, common quotes from scriptures can be used to fulfill the original purpose of alignment languages: finding people of the same moral code, without allowing much else in the way of secret communication (unless, Dogs in the Vineyard style, you allow players to make up apropos verses from holy books). That seems to be in keeping with the original intent of alignment languages:

From Gary Gygax’s enworld QA:

As for alignment languages … it seemed to me that each such groups would have developed their own patoise as a recognition means, more or less like secret societies have signs and signals to ID their fellows.

Never did I envisage characters announcing their moral-ethical (or lack thereof) beliefs and convictions. Rather, the alignment languages were meant to be the means by which one might discover a like-natured individual. Similarly, conveyance of information or general conversation was not contemplated using such “language.”

3 Responses to “scripture as alignment language”

  1. Baf says:

    So, it’s like the so-called “dog whistles” in political speeches that say “I’m one of you” to the evangelicals but pass unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t raised in that culture and doesn’t recognize the references.

    Or perhaps it’s more like the Darmok dialect? I’m undecided.

  2. This is an interesting idea. Going with all instead of none for the unaligned is also an interesting take.

    That Gary never envisioned this consequences of alignment languages is rather amazing and raises all sorts of questions.

    Of course, if you are playing in a Law/Chaos struggle milieu, then the languages become in effect planar languages, and you can then treat alignment languages as either the holy/unholy tongues of the power-that-be of each plane, or, following Raggi’s division of spellcasters, as the Holy tongue versus the Magical tongue.

  3. paul paul says:

    Yes, alignment language is totally a collection of dog whistles. Like when you meet someone who you think might play D&D and and you talk about your “constitution” and “charisma.” Is it weird to do that?

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