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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Alignment - Is It Better Left Out?

Over my commute the last 2 days I've been listening to the Save or Die podcast wherein they discuss the Basic Fantasy RPG+Chris Gonnerman is the special guest.) It's and excellent episode and very informative, but it got me thinking when it was mentioned that there is no alignment system in BFRPG.

Is alignment really needed in an RPG?

How many RPGs that aren't derived or inspired by RPGs have alignment?

Does the removal of an alignment system open up the game to moreor less defined monsters and NPCs?

If 90% of PCs are either Chaotic Selfish (or Chaotic Crazy Homicidal Murder Hobos) and the other 10% are Lawful Rules Lawyers, is the 9 point alignment chart even accurate?

32 comments:

  1. The original 3-point chart was better, but only to address on whose side someone is. Good, evil, behavior, screw it in alignment. Keep it to 3H3L's system: the creatures of Law are of civilization, the creatures of Chaos are of the wild and creeping upon civilization.

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    1. I agree with this 100%. Furthermore, the alignments available should reflect the main conflict in the game setting. E.g. "Allies/Neutral/Axis", or "Rebels/Neutral/Empire", or "Hatfields/Neutral/McCoys".

      This has the added benefit of making things like Helmets of Alignment Change easy to adjudicate and play.

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    2. This is where I generally tend to fall, except that I've drifted away from the idea of Law and Chaos as representing civilization and the wild. It should have more to do with the broad, setting-wide lines of conflict than anything else. It's a wargame construct and works best when treated as such.

      The spiel I give new players anymore when I explain alignment goes something like this:

      "Alignment is what side your character is on, in the broadest possible sense. It doesn't have anything to do with how your character behaves, or what (s)he believes. Lawful characters are on the side of the 'good guys', and Chaotic characters are on the side of the 'bad guys'. In a D&D game, heroes and commoners and most adventurers are Lawful; the monsters and villains are Chaotic; but in another setting it could just as easily be Gondor (Law) vs. Mordor (Chaos), or the Rebellion (Law) vs. the Empire (Chaos).

      "The most important thing to remember is this: murdering psycho who takes candy from babies can still be Lawful if he sides with townsfolk against monsters, and an honorable duelist who would never stab a foe in the back or attack an injured opponent can still be Chaotic if he sides with monsters against townsfolk. And if you don't care about anything I've just explained, that's Neutral."

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  2. Alignment works well when itis defined as a general tendecy or alliance and not a straight jacket for individual behavior. When there are few if any game mechanics that deal directly with alignmentand and alignmentis are treated as something to impose it's un-fun. When mechanics suppport and give meaning to alignment choices and present themselves as a challenge tobe mastered insteadofavoided thegame is better.
    Wheher the game has 3 point, 5 point, or 9 point alignment is irrelevant if the DM and campaign don't support the relevance of the alignments. In AD&D the rules for alignment restricted access to classes andwere a factor in measuring player performance as their. character and would have an impact on training costs, most DMs seem tohave ignored this over the year So alignment had little relvance beyond "mother may I" to retain membership and advancement in a class.
    Give alignment a wider and clearer role. in ac ampaign and it is useful and campaign ennriching.

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  3. Alignment = unnecessary. And if a GM feels the PC needs to behave according to tenets of his religion to keep receiving boons from his deity, that can be tracked without alignment charts as it's just a judgment call either way.

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  4. Thanks for the shout out, Erik! And regarding alignment, the only thing I really "lost" was the Helm of Alignment Changing... a questionable item at best, in my opinion.

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    1. If a campaign or game doesn't want to use alignments it's best it be built as yours was to just not have them.

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  5. Alignment works well (imho) as a meta tag to show NPC and momster reactions.

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    1. ...impressive. In all the years that I've read about this topic, this is the first that I've heard someone who echoes my position.

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  6. a lot of the spells and some class functions in 1e seem tied, perhaps inextricably, to the alignment system (detect evil, prot from evil 10' radius, etc). I toyed with the idea of abandoning alignment in favor of players acting as they liked, but found it daunting to consider reworking spells. Those who have done it, do you have any tips to make those changes easier?

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    1. Detect Malevolence and Protection From Malevolence. Work just the same, but use intent to do physical harm to the caster as the defining trait rather than alignment. Make sense?

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  7. The origin of the alignment system is from wargaming and should be understood that way. The 9-point alignment system strays from this understanding and becomes both limiting and meaningless at the same time.

    The 3-point system adheres much more to the wargaming origin of the system is therefore very useful:

    1) It helps define a setting by demonstrating what the overall sides of the setting's conflict are and what those sides expect in terms of behavior from their allies.

    2) This, in turn, offers players true choice. In a system that refuses to define what choice is, how can there be any player choice?

    3) It empowers the NPCs of the world to deal with Chaotic-Selfish-Murder-Hobos in a manner that not only makes sense, but can be seen as just by players. The alignment system gave them a choice as to what side they wanted to support through their behavior. When that behavior ran afoul of the Lawful Civilization they are supposedly working for, it should come as no surprise that that Civilization now sees them (rightly) as the equivalent of monsters which need to be imprisoned or wiped out.

    4) Without these definitions, the DM/GM/Referee/whatever is actually shackled because any decision to have their world react to PC behavior can be deemed arbitrary from the perspective of the player. This endangers the potential life-span of a campaign and the potential fun that everyone at the table can have.

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  8. Yes. Fuck alignment. It's unnecessary and no benefit that it has will outweigh it's flaws.

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  9. Yes. Fuck alignment. It's unnecessary and no benefit that it has will outweigh it's flaws.

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  10. I have a player with a paladin character in my group. I don't force the players to choose an alignment. The player in question knows what being a paladin means, and when he doesn't, he asks questions. If he forgets to ask questions, I will let him know that actions are questionable, because his character knows. Thus far, he's not had a problem. He's pretty intelligent an mature for a 16 year old.

    For DMing, as rjschwarz says, alignment is metadata I can use to quickly decide how this creature fits in my world and how it will react to various stimuli. It is not a straightjacket.

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  11. This reminds me of a recent meme passing around on G+ claiming Chaotic Neutral could commit a heinous crime or buy ice cream without repercussion. But it's obvious whoever created it hadn't read any of the writing on alignment. Sure,they may be up with the individual and opposed to civilization and it's rules, but neutral isn't do one good, do one evil, call it good. Neutral is an ethos keeps to itself. It neither helps or harms without compelling cause.Heinous crime is a benchmark of evil, and committing such acts would move the alignment guage to E.

    In a similar and unrelated post, another pointed to an early play experience where the party was allegedly chaotic neutral, but they happily plunder and looted villages, and when it was pointed out that the villagers would starve and/or freeze in the coming winter, in true murder-hobo style replied they were just NPCs... Again, clearly the concept of chaotic neutral was lost. Chaotic rejects the order of civilization, but neutral does not stop respecting the right to live and get along of other creatures, it simply accepts that some must live while others must die, but it makes no effort to hasten that process unduly.

    Now with all that said, I really can't stand the Alignment system, mostly because it seems so few people ever bothered to figure out how to apply it, which makes it basically useless. I like the idea that things like 'detect evil' are only capable of detecting supernatural evil, and otherwise are only able to suss out some mediocre shade of grey, a little lighter or darker, but none of it truly good or evil except in the most extreme of cases.

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    1. Depends on the Edition in question. In fact, 1st Edition AD&D encourages the Chaotic Neutral emphasizes randomness for the sake of it.

      The problem with alignment debates is that a lot of people have different editions of choice which all have their own definitions. Combined with folks injecting their own moral belief systems onto the game, any alignment debate is doomed to have people talking over each other and misunderstanding the others.

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    2. Chaotic encourages randomness, but neutral on the Good-Evil axis seeks neither to harm nor aid others.

      Chaotic Neutral would be 'should I get ice-cream or take a kayak out on the lake?'

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  12. It's helpful for some new players who don't understand what roleplaying is. The Palladium FRPG had a much better system for that though.

    The wargamey aspect could work if your game world really has forces of good/chaos/etc. In a world like Warhammer (or something our of Moorcock or Poul Anderson) the law vs chaos thing makes sense and I'd use the three-point system, but the Warhammer five point (L, G, N, E, C) is probably better for that. The AD&D 9-point system is kind of a mess, but more because players and DMs don't bother figuring out the implications of them (& the associated mechanics like magic items and spells) and what it implies about the setting.
    Which leads to the downside, where players think that alignment is prescriptive rather than descriptive, and do things "because that's my alignment". See enough of that in play and you're ready to scrap alignments in general.

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  13. It's an ass-whip and a straitjacket. Everyone in my campaign world is either NG or NE with tendencies in one or the other direction.

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  14. I'm always a little confused by people who claim it's a straightjacket. Aside from a very small selection of classes (Paladins, maybe Monks) there's basically no case where violating your alignment actually has any real mechanical consequences.

    However, I tend to agree with Ken Hite's comments in a recent "Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff" podcast: The problem with alignment isn't that it's doing too much to keep D&D characters from being murderhobos.

    Alignment is oft misunderstood and oft misused, but basically there are two perspectives I see on it. If you're a story-gamer, you can use alignment as a general lose guideline and disregard it when it's inconvenient to the story, much like any other mechanic in the game. If you're a crunch gamer, you can either use alignment exactly as written, or if you think it's too "fluffy" you can replace it with a crunchier mechanic like the Morality Paths from World of Darkness, or the Aspects from Fate, where you get bennies for acting "in line" with your character as written.

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    1. My only issue with this is all claims of how Alignment works perfectly should start with "In my experience/campaign, ...." because after 30+ years of gaming I can recite plenty of cases where DMs not understanding the rules or players bent on abusing the rules used it as a straitjacket or ass-whip.

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  15. I always thought alignment was just a convenient shorthand. Back in the old days (when we were 11-year olds playing 1st ed. AD&D), we made up our characters, decided what their personality would be like, and wrote down an alignment on our character sheets that fit it best. Detect Evil didn't detect a being's alignment, but spiritual evil. A demon would be detected, an evil fighter probably not. Even an assassin would have to be particularly devoted to the cause of Evil in order to register. Even in the worst throes of powergaming, it never caused us any problems; but then no one ever played a paladin unless they wanted a PC who acted like a paladin.

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  16. Also, I talked about this extensively with a multi-Edition examination of alignment. It's interesting to see how some alignments have changed, and others stayed the same.

    http://www.minmaxboards.com/index.php?topic=8417.0

    Personally I feel that alignment is an unnecessary game mechanic, in that the way it's applied even in a single Edition is inconsistent, and certain races and factions gain preferential treatment by the writers where if done by another group would result in a less favorable (and more evil) take.

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  17. There are really two topics at work here: 1) How well the alignment system (whatever one is used) fits into the overall rules of the game, and 2) How good the players are at playing under the chosen alignment system. A ruleset can have any rule, and it can be debated whether it is a good, bad or neutral rule. Once the rules are decided upon, it is up to the players to play within, and use, those rules. Some people have fun seeing how much they can get away with under the rules of the game, or try to break the rules. Alignment has been around in one form or another since the beginning of RPG's, and it seems to be pretty standard. Many attempts have been made to describe what each alignment is like, and that is fine, but in the end it is up to the players to play within the chosen rules to the best of their ability. And it is up to the DM/GM to interpret the chosen rules to the best of their ability. If something gets in the way of play, all that is required is a House Rule. If the rules in general are that bad, choose a different set of rules until you find one that is acceptable. Personally, I give the current rules a lot of leeway, since they have longevity on their side and there has been plenty of time for things to be added and dropped. I always try to play a character the best I can under the rules that are chosen. Remember, Lawful Good is not Lawful Stupid, and two Lawful Goods can fight to the death over something they both hold dear. It is the same for any alignment. Except perhaps Chaotic Neutral, but that is another topic.

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  18. I use alignment as a tool to track various things ( Reaction from known associates, Ruling powers, Authorities, Monsters and deities. Etc.). Not as a straight jacket. They can act however they want to act, but there will be consequences for behavior ( good or bad).

    It may seem odd but I Ry to run PC/NPC interaction like the real world. You can be a "murder hobo", if you really want to. But consider what happens to murder hoboes in a lawful society...

    Actions have consequences and alignment is more useful to me, the DM as a tool to track all of the variables.

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  19. As has been stated by so many others, I also subscribe to the idea that alignment is merely a shorthand means to describe a general framework of perspective in terms of the metagame. It definitely made it easier for pre teens to better understand how things fit into the world, but over time it became unnecessary as we came to a better understanding of morality and how it motivates decision making,

    One of my favorite arguments that appeared in Dragon magazine asked how there could be paladins in opposing armies. After all, if all paladins are Lawful Good, then they would surely work together, instead of trying to kill each other. The simple answer was that Good was defined by the culture and how the paladin fit into it.
    I forget if it was in the same issue, but then, they further diluted the alignment issue by creating paladin variants to fit each alignment option. As I recall some were fairly interesting, and others were kind of silly as they tried to make each variation different from each other. It really helped to highlight that alignment was really not as important on paper as it was in action and belief. Thus many of the various spells that were alignment oriented became useless, in much the same way that a lie detector is useless against a person who truly believes that they are telling the truth. Alignment oriented spells can only be truly effective in a world where alignment is an objective absolute, instead of a subjective variable. So, for us, we ended up ditiching them, in favor of more logical spells, such as Bless, which didn't require an alignment component, merely a faith component. It actually make things a lot smoother, and also helped to quell the overenthusiatic paladin who would automatically detect evil on everyone he met. I merely redefined the paladin powers as a shield of faith that was effective against opponents of his faith. Detect evil became detect lie/illusion to better allow the paladin to seek out those who seek to undermine the status quo. Both seemed much more fitting for the paladins role as supreme defender of the realm.

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  20. To expand outside OSR -- one of the interesting facets of the World of Darkness setting what that there is no defined alignment system, but rather an embodiment of Law vs. Chaos as defined by the Camarilla vs. the Sabbat. And so there were clans that had members on both side of the war without any earth shattering ramifications. In fact, we had some of the most interesting gaming sessions as we had debates regarding whether we should take particular actions would be perceived as acceptable by our allies, and thus damage our reputations.
    That can't happen as readily in an alignment driven system. If the alignment system were removed from D&D, I think the most significant impact would be the idea of alignment defined societies and cultures.... For example, the idea of 'Good' Drow would be meaningless. There would just be Drow that seek to thrive within the domineering framework that has developed in that society, and then there would be those that strive to merely get through the day without causing any waves, and then there would be the counter culture rebels that try to make a difference...

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  21. I'm apparently in the minority, as I quite like alignment, preferring the 9 point scale. I've found it very useful and a means to improving the game. Many comments I read come across as not really getting how it's supposed to work and therefore declaring it broken, useless, a straightjack, etc. But that's just how they read, I can't say for sure what anyones understanding of the concept is.

    The thing I like best about alignment rules in games is that they give a baseline of comparison, not to necessarily punish (asswhip) or prohibit (straighjacket), but to bring the concept of alignment into actual gameplay. If someone is an alignment (any alignment), and they behave outside of the tables understanding of that alignment, that means something. Think about this in the real world. Let's assume we all have an ethos. I think most people do. I think it's safe to say no one is perfect. We all contradict our beliefs from time to time. Perhaps for personal gain, or expedience, or to help someone else in need. But to me, those moments are more interesting than people just doing their thing.

    When someone goes against their nature, their belief or whatever, that's a fantastic opportunity to look in the window and expand the character. Without alignment of some sort, those moments will never happen. I love BFRPG and so much of Gonnermans work but I houserule alignment into the game when I use it, pretty much as a first order of business.

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  22. I like how DCC handles it. It is a bit more free for with L,N,C. I appreciate that alignment has mechanical impacts for clerics and thieves, etc without tying down too much which I find to be the case with D&D 9 point system.

    But really without the mechanical aspects in DCC, I would pretty much scrap alignment like I do when playing BECM. I really don't need an entry in a Stat block to tell me how the typical goblin, dragon, or villager for that matter would react to a party of people plundering a lair and then bringing back the spoils to pump into the local economy.

    Except when I was a teenager, I admit it helped then, so nevermind... leave it in the book for the next generation maybe?

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  23. If we can spark this level of even-keeled discussion, then we've done our job. Thanks for listening, Mr. Tenkar!

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