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Thursday, March 14, 2013

How "Defined" Should Alignment Be?

I guess you could consider this a follow up to yesterday's Paladin Post.

When you think about alignment in D&D / AD&D and their clones, you have 2 basic choices (as the third choice is omitting alignment altogether and I think that would be the least satisfying of the choices): the D&D style of Law and Chaos, with the majority of Neutral somewhere in the middle and the AD&D style of 9 diametrically opposed alignment niches.

When I first came to the hobby of RPGs, my gateway drug was AD&D and 9 alignments seemed like a natural. 9 precisely and narrowly defined alignments. D&D and it's 3 alignments seemed so "backwards".

Well, I appreciate "backwards" these days it seems. There is a certain grace and natural balance to the 3 alignments of D&D and the general catchall of "neutral" sitting right there in the middle.

Of course, the whole Law and Chaos in opposition deal is very reminiscent of Elric and the others in the Eternal Champions Series.

Law and Chaos are the extremes, and the vast majority fall somewhere in between.

I actually like the idea of Lawful Paladins following opposing goals. I guess I could allow Paladins in a game like Swords & Wizardry (it isn't as juiced up as the AD&D Pally in any case either ;)

So, Nine Points or Three for your alignment flavor?


  1. I really like nine point alignments, but did away with neutrality. I think "Neutrality" lacks flavor personally, so came up with:

    "Dominant / Power" as a third point altogether different from "Lawful / Order" and "Chaotic / Chaos."

    Good and Evil are in a triad with "Dexter" now, which represents "Opposition / Survival" in its purest form.

  2. I like the three way system; LotFP's version is quite evocative.

  3. I've enjoyed all the alignmnent variants, although lately I've been really digging the way Magic World has adapted a light/balance/shadow mechanic with actual ratings and in-game effects and consequences from the old Stormbringer and Elric systems. I'm otherwise like you, in that back in the day AD&D alignmnent seemed more relevant, but these days I sort of like the simplicity of a good/neutrality/chaos approach. On the other hand one of my current campaigns using Pathfinder operates under esplicit guidelines that alignments are merely "states of mind" and that there is no over-arching absolute, which usually means that detection spells show the caster the world from "his perspective" rather than some hard-coded morality system. My players have really gotten into it, realizing that they are in a non-morally deterministic D&D universe and all the associated implications.

  4. I find that alignments are often misrepresented as straight jackets that narrowly define characters.

    Give me nine, nine, nine, baby.

  5. I think alignment works better defined world by world. Warhammer, 3 baby! AD&D, 9! World Between, spectrums!

  6. I rather like FantasyCraft's take on alignments: you actually are aligned with a powerful figure. You work toward their goals, oppose their enemies, and so on.

    No abstract "good vs. evil" here (unless those are the powers you choose to use in the campaign), but concrete figures. This removes a lot of complication -- to loosely quote Belgarath in The Mallorean, this isn't about good versus evil, but "us against them, it removes a lot of complication and lets us get down to cases". There is no longer a concern of what color abstract cosmic team jersey a creature wears, but whether it shares your alignment, is aligned with an ally, aligned with an enemy, or not involved.

    There is also no such thing as 'neutral alignment'. You may or may not be involved in any particular alignment (which admittedly may make you 'neutral' to that framework), but there is nothing saying you can't be lawful or chaotic, good or evil.

    For instance, you can be aligned with the 'god of nature' and be opposed to 'unnatural things' (demons, undead, and so on; 'civilization' might be the 'natural state of man'). Your powers might look like those of a lawful good character in D&D terms, but you are not necessary lawful or good -- you just do your best to crush demons and undead because they are contrary to the natural order. So are angels, of course, but they are generally harmless to the environment so you tend to ignore them.

    1. Here I was, coming in to mention that there's a fourth option of overhauling the alignment system, such as the one in the article "For King And Country" from Dragon magazine, and I come in to find that you're talking about someone who has adapted something like that method in a published RPG (OK, a published set of house rules for 3.X). Well, that saves me from having to say anything meaningful. Thanks!

  7. I'm with Keith on this one. I've always had problems with the "get in the damned box!" alignment systems. Even when it's Chaos/Neutrality/Law, it seems pretty damned arbitrary at times.

    However, if alignment is about being aligned *with* some being, cause, group or faction, then we're talking sense. This makes clerics make sense in some ways, but not in others (e.g., rebuking unholy is a bit more understandable in the Law/Chaos, Evil/Good sense than in the "aligned with" sense). I think this could be overcome with a better definition of pantheons and how they relate to each other, and about the relationships between the gods/patrons/etc. (e.g., friends, enemies, etc.). However, if you don't do the work of figuring out these relationships and how they impact the clerics of particular gods/pantheons, it's pretty arbitrary.

    I think that I'm most comfortable with the idea that we all choose sides. Even when we refuse to choose a side, it is a choice. When we make the choice (or fail to), we define our relationships with other factions and powers. Those factions and powers should be defined in the game world, and their relationships should be understood and taken for granted facts about that game world.

    I think Warhammer and Dark Heresy do a pretty good job of this in a lot of ways, though I think they tend to overassociate Chaos with Evil. Babylon 5's take on the Vorlon and Shadows is maybe a bit better in showing how Chaos and Law are both blind in some ways, and how they may need each other despite their enmity.

    1. One thing I can really appreciate about the way FantasyCraft goes about it, more 'allegiance' than the common 'alignment' model, you can readily and trivially collapse the entire alignment system into "us, them, and everyone else".

      There is no more need for "protection from evil/good/chaos/law", it's just "protection from them". If you have something like "empower good" (spell or power that does nice things for 'co-aligned' creatures) you no longer need four different versions, it becomes "empower us".

      It also lets us ditch the 'divine/profane' dichotomy. I cast "empower us" and "my team" gets a divine bonus. The apostate (betrayed our gracious god to embrace the vile thoughts of the dark pretender) casts "empower us" and... his team gets a divine bonus.

      Simple. "Us vs. Them" is a very easy to understand framework. It does take a little more effort to set up because you need to identify who "us" and "them" are, but that's usually pretty easy, and once it's done you're set.

  8. Honestly, I'm tempted to go with option 3. What's the point of alignment when the players are all Neutral Good? Rarely do I see a player really play the alignment, and never with any consistency. I'll include myself in that statement - I have to think about it to get my current character to act chaotically. When the role isn't natural to the actor, the performance leaves much to be desired.
    As for NPCs, it a useful gauge on how they'll approach the PCs, but the bad guy is bad by definition. Does anyone have an example of how the party figuring out the villain's alignment affected play?

    1. And at that, I've had 'evil' characters as 'sympathetic characters' (not heroes, more anti-heroes, but allies nonetheless). There is a place for utter ruthlessness in achieving goals, and the ability to disregard what is generally considered good can be valuable.

  9. In Fictive Hack, you can take a belief system that helps you resist influences that would be against your code or religion. Also, I have spell sets that can affect the "faithful." So that's anyone with a belief system strong enough to be mechanically reflected as affecting their behavior. That's quick, simple, and really helps.

    The gods themselves each represent some idea or realm of influence, but the CHURCHES to those gods vary wildly. A church to the god of death in one area might be benevolent in their support of civilization and opposition of invaders, and in another area a church to the same god might be into human sacrifice and necromancy.

  10. I find the Nine too constraining; if I have to play with them, I tend to play true neutral. I may perform good or evil acts, but the motive is never simply "doing good" or "doing evil". If forced out of true neutral, I tend to go to lawful evil or chaotic good depending on the ruthlessness of the character; I find that these alignments do not encumber my freedom of action, while also being generally non-disruptive to a party dynamic.

    I much prefer the OD&D / Warhammer model, though, where "Chaos is real and scary and wants to eat you, Law wants to protect the peasants and impose order by whatever means necessary, and Neutral is stuck in the middle just trying to get by."

  11. This is where I'm at, these days, in regards to Alignment:


    The starting character chooses one or two traits from any list. Each Improvement Mark the character receives requires the character to choose an additional entry from any list (or take an existing trait again at a +1, etc.). Contradictory traits cause conflict within and outside the character, marking the character as peculiar or even unstable.







    Characters and figures that share traits understand each other more readily than those that do not, even if other traits of theirs are at odds. This forms a sort of unspoken or empathic communication, transcending even spoken means, and allows these creatures to operate in tandem with minimal effort, with either party receiving a +2 Bonus to either Chance or Quality (each party’s choice of which) when cooperating. Likewise, diametrically opposed figures when confronted with each other’s agendas receive a +2 Bonus (as above) to engage each other in conflict.

  12. The Law vs Chaos as expressed in OD&D is not the conflict of Moorcock's Eternal Champion. It is more the Law vs Chaos that can be seen in the surviving Norse Myths with the Gods and Societies being better than the lawless savagery of the Giants and their Ragnarock resulting Chaos. Thereby making Law a good thing and chaos an evil thing.

    Acts that build bonds between people help society and are good while selfish acts ultimately erode society and lead towards decadence, sloth, and the ultimate downfall.

  13. I also grew up with the 9 and have lately found the simplicity of 3 to be more to my liking. As someone pointed out, all too often players do not play their alignments and you get people who choose Neutral Evil (or Chaotic Neutral) just so they can do what they want and not have to worry about alignment.
    I have to say that one of the best alignment systems I've seen in any game though is the one from Secret Fire. Instead of having one alignment to define your character, in the Secret Fire every character has a character trait (ie: honest, rude, gambler, liar, loyal, brash, etc.) for Good, Neutral, and Evil. So every character has some of each inside them and then they choose which is dominant. The players then have a kind of role playing profile of their character. In games I've played with George, he has the players write their traits on a card with the character's name and it sits in front of them for the other players to see. This allows the GM and other players to see the personality of the other characters and play off them with their own. In all honesty, it is the only alignment system I found where players willingly (and enthusiastically) role play their alignments.

    1. I'd steal the idea of trait cards, but there's no place for them in our regular location. Nice example of a metadata mechanic to aid game play. Oddly enough someone pulled one of my old posts on alignment today. To paraphrase my question there: We're discussing alignment in a game that rewards murder hoboing as a lifestyle choice?

  14. I find L/N/C more elegant and more sophisticated. I don't like mechanically defined G/N/E, it leads to horrible stuff like 3e's symmetry where Evil burned Good because Good burned Evil.
    I think I prefer what 99% of games do - not have Alignment.

  15. Five alignments:
    - Lawful: combination of LG and the most benevolent fraction of the LN bunch.
    - Good: NG plus CG
    - Neutral: true Neutral, and maybe some CN
    - Evil: LE, NE, and the most dickhead of the LN
    - Chaotic: the worst of CN and the usual despicable CE