Alignment in Dungeons & Dragons is a confusing topic at the best of times. Can a thief be Lawful? Should an Evil character be killed if they haven’t done anything yet? What alignment is Batman?
A lot of people have some really weird ideas about what alignment means. I once DMed for a cleric who argued that that it’s not evil to use negative energy (raising undead) if you use an equal amount of positive energy (cure spells, cast on yourself). Another great argument was the paladin who found a way to do any evil act as long as it was in the “common good”, loosely defined as anything that furthers the quest.
Here’s what alignment seems to mean, at least according to my players.
- What I call it: Playing a paladin
- What it means; Plays for XP
- What I call it: Model player
- What it means; Plays for XP
- What I call it: Unaligned
- What it means; Looks for treasure to get more plusses to things
- What I call it: Asshole
- What it means; Steals party treasure and acts snooty
- What I call it: Get out of my game
- What it means; As above, but more disruptive
I’m not a fan of alignment. It seems to pigeon hole characters with broad brushstrokes for the sake of a few magical effects (4e being rather worse than 3.x for this). A good, um, that is to say “interesting” character usually has enough shades of grey in their background that they don’t fit neatly into any slot.
I’ve got a fantasy campaign in mind, which I’m going to look at running when the current season of Spycraft comes to an end and I can buy FantasyCraft. Assuming FantasyCraft still uses alignment, I think I’ll ditch it. Items and spells which depend on alignment will be dropped or rewritten, and the Gods will have lists of commandments (some players I might let write those commandments themselves before I tweak them, others are too talented at finding loopholes to be allowed to create them).
As for the paladin of common good… I think I might let him inspire a city govenor. It will be a beautiful city, clean, quiet and full of polite people. It is ruled by a pious man who weeps every time he orders another criminal hung and raised (by arcane means, not by the work of dark Gods) as a zombie to join the worker legions who come out by night to repair and imporve the city.
I still haven’t made the switch to 4e, making that clear. And the only reason I play 3.x e is because I like the d20 stuff and don’t want to deal with thac0. In general I try to give my games a 2e kind of look and feel.
The way I see alignment, is that it’s simply the sum of all your previous actions in life. Definitely not something that can’t change. Though in how far it changes, I’m very influenced by videogames since I prefer to use a sliding scale of 0-100 Good vs Evil and 0-100 Lawful vs Chaotic.
Like, when I make my character - I write down some key happenings of his life before the adventure (age 6: tortured the neighbour’s cat … just for fun), I write down his personality, I write down stuff like that. Only when all that is done do I end up with an alignment.
When I play a Paladin, I play that Paladin as bound to the code he closed with his god. Whether that is an individual code, or the code of a big knightly order the paladin belongs to - that I don’t care about. But either way, what I don’t care about is whether person X or person Y decided that Lawful Good means doing X or doing Y. The person decided whether the paladin falls or not is after all still his deity, so as long as the contract with the deity isn’t broken, shouldn’t the paladin retain his divine powers?
Should an evil character be killed when he hasn’t done anything yet? Under my definition of alignment it means the character definitely did more evil than good in the past. Whether or not you want to kill him already, that should depend on the character. Is your character someone who is very rash and impulsive and who hates evil? Or is your character someone who believes in due process and habea corpus?
About lawful thieves. Of course. The government even has a special department for them. It’s called the tax department.
Really, I find 4e more liberating because the alignments are so brushstroke broad. I’ve always treated alignment as, “okay, I’ve come up with my character, attitudes and motivations, which of these categories fits that most closely?” then I never think about it again.
Though I’ve never seen Chaotic Neutral played as anything other than Random Stupid.
You know, we’ve gone further and further away from strict alignments. They’re sort of signposts to give a rather broad, initial view of possible character morality, but that’s about it. We’re more about actions.
I once had a DM (excellent otherwise) who claimed EVERYONE was Chaotic Neutral. Hmm.
I houserule them all out. In 4e, everything is unaligned and acts on motivations and ambitions, or however it feels like. In 3.5, when I actually played it, I houseruled alignment out. I think the only reason it’s still alive in 4e is it’s a legacy item that Wizard’s is afraid to touch. The way it exists now it might as well not, and I would not miss it.
I think the main problem with alignments and traits is that most groups and DM don’t use it. If you craft certain quests to take advantage/disadvantage of alignments (for instance, certain quest can consist on the material plane being coterminous with a heavily aligned plane (imagine a dungeon where PCs with chaotic alignment become useless and prone (cot. with Daanvi) or lawful folks will have a hell of a time (cot. with Xoriat)). It would be really awesome if there were true consequences to choosing a given alignment.
A dungeon where PCs with chaotic alignment become useless is a dungeon players will not willingly run (assuming some of them are chaotic — and if not, the effect is pretty irrelevant to them). And they would be right to avoid it. Who wants to sit on the sidelines for as many sessions as it takes to clear that dungeon and watch other players do stuff? Might as well stay home.
But a dungeon in which chaotic characters get a +2 to hit, but also take an additional 2 point of damage every time they get hit would be interesting…
If you can balance it so that people aren’t penalised for choosing a given alignment (or at least don’t become irrelevant), but that there’s a distinct difference that stems from it… Well, I’d go into that dungeon.
I see alignment as no different than any sentence in a character’s background description. It’s not a hard fact intended to limit gameplay; it’s there to make the game more fun and interesting.
I encourage my players to pick alignments, but we don’t pay close attention to them. Often, my players don’t know exactly how they want to play their characters, so they’ll pick an alignment that feels right, then after a few sessions, will change it.
Which is perfectly fine. It’s a role-playing aid.
I’ve always treated the alignments this way:
"How willing is your character to follow rules?"
Willing = Lawful; completely unwilling = Chaotic
“Does your character help others all the time, or is he selfish?”
Helps others = Good; selfish = Evil
That’s not a perfectly accurate definition of the alignments, but it gets at the point, I think: how does your character act?
I for one like alignments. No, they are not very well defined, but they shouldn’t be - their purpose is to provide players (especially new ones) with vague guidelines on how to play a consistent character. With experience, it becomes easy to drop alignment (from a rules perspective), though I don’t think it is necessary to do; it still serves the purpose of quickly summarizing a set of characteristics the character may have.
Personally, I prefer to describe characters in terms of the colours of Magic: the Gathering, since that system does a much better job of capturing the characters motivations and means of achieving their goals. It also has the benefit of being extremely subjective (as compared to the objective alignments of DnD). (Also, a colour alignment reveals much more to a DM on how to design hooks for a character.) The main downside is that the system is a lot harder to explain, and a player needs to really understand the motivations of each of the 5 colours before they can really know what their character is (so a lot more prep work).
[I do note that although I like alignment itself as a simple, vague system, I do NOT like Detect Good/Evil/Law/Chaos, as I do not like the idea of directly tying the alignment components to the Outer planes.]
Alignments are a tool. Like any other tool they will only be as useful as the player and the DM make them. 4e has looser definitions which allows for more varience when a player selects an alignment. It allows for those ‘shades of grey’.
I currently play a rogue who is a ‘good’ guy. However, through his back story he’s realized that he is very good at killing people. He finds it easy and enjoys it a little more than he should. This thought terrifies him as he realizes that he could become a murderer. These shades of grey that he has bring him to life and allow me to enjoy role playing him.
I like Jeff’s threefold apocalyptic alignment system http://jrients.blogspot.com/2008/07/jeffs-threefold-apocalyptic-alignment.html
And the allegiance system from Fantasy Concepts http://www.lulu.com/content/1444818 which is the best way to handle paladins and other fervent types.
The Basics of Allegiance
A character may have up to three allegiances, listed in order
from most important to least important. These allegiances
are indications of what the character values in life, and may
encompass people, organizations, or ideals. A character will
rarely have no allegiances (as a free spirit or a lone wolf will
almost always have a single allegiance to Self), and may
change allegiances as he or she goes through life. Also, just
because the character fits into a certain category of people
doesn’t mean the character has to have that category as an
allegiance. If the character acts in a way that is detrimental
to his or her allegiance, the GM may choose to strip the
character of that allegiance (and all its benefits) and assign
an allegiance more suitable to those actions.
A hero’s allegiance can take the form of loyalty to a person,
to an organization, to a belief system, to a nation, or to an
ethical or moral philosophy. In general, a character can
discard an allegiance at any time, but may only gain a new
allegiance after attaining a new level.
Well I am a rather new DM [3-4 Campaigns], and I try to stay away from alignment quiet a bit, I’ve just never been that big on it.
But one thing I do to attempt to do is, I advise the players to start out as neutral and allow them to change their alignment over levels according to their actions in the game, but some classes require a certain alignment [paladin, cleric] so outside of said classes, I do ask for neutrality it makes things so much faster at startup, and startup seems to be the most nerve racking and annoying part of D/D [we’re all inpatient]
All alignments are allowed in games I run. No character is allowed to steal from, intimidate, plot against or harm another character without the player’s consent, and my consent. Character actions are what define their alignment. Their alignment does not restrict their actions. I keep an alignment chart for each of my players. I will not tell them that they have changed alighnment. If the do change alignment I will give them 1% bonus XP for four levels. I never tell my player’s I do this. I award XP by secret note passing. On average Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil will have as much in common as they do differences. The same goes for the other alignments and their opposites. Smite Evil /Good/Law/Chaos are now Smite Infidel. It can be used on anyone that does not align with your character’s deity or their alignment. Detect/Evil/Good/Law/Chaos does not exist.
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