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Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Big a Role Does Alignment Play in Your Campaign? Is it Even Needed?

Assuming your system of choice includes alignment in anywhere from three to nine flavors, how big a role does alignment play in your campaign?

Back in my High School years, I used to plot that out on a grid for each PC, much like the DMG suggested. What a fucking waste of time. With the exception of any Paladins in the party, the average PC could at best be defined as Chaotic Selfish. Paladins were Lawful Stupid, Deaf and Blind.

These days I mostly hand wave it "So, you take the Orc hostage, put him tied up in a mining cart, pour oil on him, light him and send him screaming and flaming down the tracks? Neutral Good you say you are? You gave him a choice: talk and live or stay silent and burn and the choice was his? This would have been fair game on 24 with Jack Baur? Sigh. Lets move on to the mobile flaming orc."

Do we need alignment? Is good and evil a matter of perspective? Should alignment be kept but redefined?

23 comments:

  1. Alignment as a quantifier of ethical outlook was a huge design blunder, leading to such stupidity as DM and players arguing what good is, or telling other people what their characters would or wouldn't do.

    A few years ago someone was circulating one of Gary's typewritten Chainmail scenarios, and suddenly it made sense - alignment is affiliation, allegiance.

    You, sir, stand with the forces of law, as a servant of King Osric. Even when those forces are misbehaving.

    It's way more interesting and useful for the DM to let the players know what Cuthbert thinks of their actions than it is to stop the game with an OOC argument about what 'good' means.

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  2. I've run games where alignment played a large role and where it wasn't used at all. Law vs Chaos games are interesting to me, as are good vs evil.

    Yes, alignment is allegiance and it can be characterized as faith (and suitably punished by the gods of that particular faith). Gods rewarding players for acting justly or punishing them for betraying their faith is interesting. (I feel DCC handles this well.) Having a bunch of atheists running around in a world of magic and miracles doesn't make so much sense to me: why wouldn't you believe in the gods if you've seen the power of a cure spell or a resurrection? I'm pretty sure that if I'm starving and someone cast Create Food and Drink, I'd become a believer tout de suite.

    It also allows for alignment tongues, which I think can be a cool rule. Ever use an alignment tongue to "pass notes"? Ever use it to identify friend or foe? Cool stuff. Makes more sense if you don't think of it as a language like French or Japanese, but more like speaking in tongues or Catholics speaking in Latin (or in modern terms, lawyers speaking legalese or doctors using "fancy terms" that make sense to others in the medical community but are jibberish to those outside of it). A god's followers are all gifted with his language: if they fall from grace, they lose the ability.

    It is necessary? From an OSR perspective, I think it is a major component to the game. However, it can be house ruled away with minimal effect -- it's not as large a component as to hit (or THAC0), saving throws, hit points, and levels. I've seen cleric turning, initiative, and thief ability tables changed beyond recognition in house rules and it can still feel like D&D. House rule enough away and you lose the flavor of the game, so it's a call by the players and DM.

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  3. I use alignment (disallowing evil ones), mainly so players know they can't solve everything with murder or go on rape sprees. I have no desire to run "Game of the Thrones: The RPG."

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    1. But is it really D&D without the rape sprees? :p

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    2. Has anyone ever really played that way? Not in my experience. No murderous rapists encountered in any games to date.

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  4. Alignment is useless and utterly unnecessary. It's a needless complication that serves no useful purpose. I like that 5E only mentions alignment but it has fuck - all to do with mechanics so it's easy to ignore.

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  5. Alignment is useless and utterly unnecessary. It's a needless complication that serves no useful purpose. I like that 5E only mentions alignment but it has fuck - all to do with mechanics so it's easy to ignore.

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  6. Rarely see it used. Although as a player, it makes an excellent hook for role playing. might make more sense to assume the character is "Chaotic Selfish" (wonderful term) unless the player explicitly says otherwise.

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  7. I used to "use" alignment, by that i mean have the players write it on their character sheet and then ignore it. It didn't add anything to the game for us, so eventually I dropped it entirely. My players don't need a "carefully defined" moral and ethical system of axes to roleplay properly. They know what their characters will do.

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  8. I used to "use" alignment, by that i mean have the players write it on their character sheet and then ignore it. It didn't add anything to the game for us, so eventually I dropped it entirely. My players don't need a "carefully defined" moral and ethical system of axes to roleplay properly. They know what their characters will do.

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  9. Alignment was a useful idea for choosing armies in Chainmail but is rather superfluous in D&D except as a shorthand for monster behaviour. There's a hilarious wikipedia article on it which completely omits references to Chainmail, and has such great lines as "Gary Gygax's ideas have greatly influenced video game design. MMORPGs such as Ultima Online and EverQuest have good and evil races which actively oppose each other.". I hadn't realised before that Gary Gygax invented the concepts of Good and Evil!

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    1. Gary invented everything. Just ask the OSR blog roll stars!

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  10. I like the way Lamentations of the Flame Princess handles it, and I doubled down on that system - I don't even give players a choice. "All humans that have ever lived are Neutral." So all PCs are neutral. Except, if you are a MU, you are chaotic (and subject to spells/ effects that target "evil" or chaotic beings). Clerics must be Lawful.

    Players can act however they want, this system is purely mechanical to clarify how messing with magic or gods makes you susceptible to certain forces.

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  11. The essence of drama is conflict. Alignment is a tool for creating conflict. If you need more conflict, use alignment. otherwise, don't bother.

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  12. I've been liking the idea of alignment as allegiance. However, AD&D-style alignment can work if players don't choose it. The DM should simply evaluate the players' actions to determine their characters' alignments. That way you can still have consequences for behavior without that whole mess of whether or not you're playing your character correctly

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  13. I wasn't familiar that Gary recommended the idea of drawing an alignment chart for the PCs and tracking their moral shifts like you would the passing of time or the consumption of supplies.

    "Placement of characters upon a graph similar to that in Illustration I is necessary if the dungeonmaster is to maintain a record of player-character alignment. Initially, each character should be placed squarely on the center point of his alignment, i.e., lawful/good, lawful/evil, etc. The actions of each game week will then be taken into account when determining the current position of each character. Adjustment is perforce often subjective, but as a guide the referee can consider the actions of a given player in light of those characteristics which typify his alignment, and opposed actions can further be weighed with regard to intensity."
    http://themagictreerpg.blogspot.com/2008/09/history-of-alignment-in-d-part-i.html

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  14. The only alignment systems I like:

    *The Law-Neutral-Chaos trinity of OD&D, because it really has nothing to do with ethics.

    *Palladium's system, because it gives specific guides for behavior rather than the DM's arbitrary definition of good or evil.

    *My alignment system, which is by far superior to anything ever published:
    http://savevspoison.blogspot.com/2011/06/alignment-system-courtesy-of-josh-and-i.html

    I do agree with the notion that most PCs are pretty much Chaotic Asshole. (Well, I renamed it to be a little more diplomatic.) I find alignment to be a pretty vestigial concept, adding little to the game aside from arguing over murdering baby goblins.

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    1. Dragon Magazine #26 has specific guidelines for the nine-fold alignment system that is eerily similar to Palladium's alignment guidelines. Makes me wonder which came first.

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  15. I've found alignment is pretty handy, but only for D&D, and it also sets the tone and feel pretty well for my players who like having it. Honestly most of my goody-toe-shoes alignment days were back in the dawn of the 80's and early 90's, when evil campaigns were a weird concept no one exercised. These days my older gang of players often describe their adventuring gang as the "Neutral company" or occasionally the morally-challenged gang. But after a long stint of decidedly non-good characters they gravitated back toward PCs with vaguely correct moral compasses if only because games where the villains are often outshined by the evil of the PCs were getting a bit tepid.

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  16. Alignment woks fine when you actually use it. Having it as a "mother may I" straght jacket just isn't using it properly. Anyone can murder in the proper set of circumstances if the player of a LG pc has that pc comit murder and than not be anguished and repentant for that murder the player of the LG character is playing poorly. If the band of Chaotic Neutral murder hobos wants to follow assault plan 3B and always follows the same marching order, they aren't very chaotic at all. Alignments should be goals with some difficulties to encourage payers to play characters that are not themselves in an alien world and time.

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    1. This falls under the aforementioned category of arguing ethics and morality with the GM. If LG character commits murder, he isn't LG in the first place. Ipso facto. So why would he be repentant? And does repentance suddenly make it okay for LG character to murder?

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  17. Only clerics use it as they need to conform to their deity's laws. Paladins would use it if we had any. Otherwise it's pointless to me.

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  18. I don't use it mechanically, but I keep it as a guideline or shorthand for NPC descriptions/motivations. I don't make players use it and assume nothing unless they expressly choose an alignment, which usually means some additional definition of what they mean. It still has no mechanical effect, but does help with making quests and NPCs to interact with their character (for good or ill).

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