All About Alignment

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Mutak:
I find this whole discussion of consequences coming from Alignment to be pretty bizarre in general because aside from a few specific cases (Paladins are LG, Druids and Barbarians must be Chaotic, etc.)

Druids have to be neutral actually, any type of neutral, LN, TN, CN, NG or NE

I for one like the LN Druid circle. Making deals with the surrounding farmlands or cities: "We will keep the rain coming, your land will flourish and the bountiful harvests will make you the envy of all of the kingdom - as long as you promise not to encroach upon these holy lands, or kill the wolves in the forest. If you do, the rains will not stop until your crops are washed away. then you will all starve and your children will die in their beds."

Scow2:
What's this bullshit about a Paladin needing to uphold the ideals of his diety? That's only in 4e (Which took the Crusader's fluff, instead of 4e's). In fact, MOST Paladins don't have a Patron Diety, and are sworn to Good (though many turn to a Good or Lawful Good Diety for support).

in 3rd and 3.5, a paladin makes an oath to either a good diety or an ideal. Lots of paladins are patrons of dieties, particularly Heironeous (although elven paladins typically venerate Corellon and dwarf typically venerate Moradin, both chiefly for their Good natures). I personally like Paladins who venerate St Cuthbert, and try to reflect his blind justice with a hopeful benevolence.

Really it just depends on the player's concept of his character, and the DM's interpretation of where the divine power of the Paladin comes from - divine power comes from divine sources - powerful outsiders and dieties, so it's not a logical stretch to assume that paladins are usually associated with a Diety. It's really not spelled out super clearly in the core rulebooks, which is intentional. The idea is that a paladin generally attaches himself to a diety and acts like a stricter, more combat oriented cleric, but if you want, you can choose a paladin that is just a force of goodness. Incidentally you can do the exact same thing with clerics if you choose - you don't HAVE to pick a Diety to make a cleric. The Dieties are just guides, and you can theoretically choose any domains you want (Even Evil and Good if you were a neutral cleric, although you would have to choose whether you turn undead or rebuke undead, and that doesn't change (or doesn't according to the rules, a DM could rule that it COULD potentially happen))

However, I despise the idea of "Anti-paladins".. Blackguards I can stand, and I like how they gain power from gaining paladin levels prior to corrupting - there's a very Darth Vader feel to the class... But the idea of Paladins of other dieties that are not Lawful Good just seems wrong to me. Paladins are Lawful Good. Whatever diety they choose to worship, the characters are lawful good.

A friend just sent me a link to this article and having read it I just had to register here to post my thanks for laying out such a great view of alignments. Apparently our takes on alignment are very similar, though you express it much better than I've ever been able to before. This will be required reading for any of my future games.

Mutak:
Ah...this is good.
Alignment doesn't remove agency - it limits it. The extent to which it limits agency is dependent on how thoroughly and rigidly you define and enforce the alignments. Alignment is not the only source of consequence. As i said before - Culture, Religion, Deities, etc. Plenty of other forces are available to provide consequences for actions.

I find this whole discussion of consequences coming from Alignment to be pretty bizarre in general because aside from a few specific cases (Paladins are LG, Druids and Barbarians must be Chaotic, etc.) the alignment system does not have any consequences associated with it. Example: A Chaotic Good rogue kills an innocent shopkeep just to steal his money - pure greed. DM says, "Oh naughty boy - you're chaotic neutral now. Keep it up and you'll be Chaotic Evil." But what are the real consequences? Nothing. Even with this alignment system in place, the consequences (if any) are coming from an outside source. That's why i keep saying the alignment mechanic is so weak that you ought to ignore it completely and focus instead on the other sources of consequence.

Incidentally, if the game is meaningless without alignment then life is meaningless because human beings don't have alignments, at least not ones you can reliably check with a quick incantation.

Actually, Alignment doesn't limit agency, since anybody can take any act, and deal with the consequences of an alignment act (A Barbarian becoming too fettered to let his passions soar in combat, a bard unable to draw inspiration from a rigid thought-process). For others, their are real consequences of acting as a certain alignment. Classes without alignment restrictions are like that to cover a wide variety of people (there can be Good and Evil fighters). Once-Good characters find themselves subject to the effects of Holy Smite, mechanically, and the target of any Celestials they pass. The GM gets to choose how far alignment has consequences.

I find having the defined alignment system allows the game system to judge a character's Character, and reward or punish the player for what it sees. There can be benefits to being a humble, compassionate person even if doing so sets the world against you. And there can be Commupance to an evil overlord who has brought the Material Plane down to its knees.

Alignment allows a character to be judged under a Realist Morality system. It takes the GM to act on the results. Without the Judgement, there can be no sentence.

Scow2:
Actually, Alignment doesn't limit agency, since anybody can take any act, and deal with the consequences of an alignment act

That's really splitting some hairs. "I am the champion of free choice. Yay freedom. You're free to do anything you want, but if you do this or this or this or this i'm going to hit you with this club. But hey - you're still free to do those things."

With a definition like yours, just about the only thing a GM could do to limit a players' agency is take the character sheet out of their hands and kick them out of the game. Maybe not even that.

GMs shouldn't try to hide behind the rules, especially not weak, deeply debatable ones like alignment. If your setting has moral realism you don't need alignment to enforce that, especially since alignment does it so poorly on its own.

Mutak:

Scow2:
Actually, Alignment doesn't limit agency, since anybody can take any act, and deal with the consequences of an alignment act

That's really splitting some hairs. "I am the champion of free choice. Yay freedom. You're free to do anything you want, but if you do this or this or this or this i'm going to hit you with this club. But hey - you're still free to do those things."

With a definition like yours, just about the only thing a GM could do to limit a players' agency is take the character sheet out of their hands and kick them out of the game. Maybe not even that.

GMs shouldn't try to hide behind the rules, especially not weak, deeply debatable ones like alignment. If your setting has moral realism you don't need alignment to enforce that, especially since alignment does it so poorly on its own.

That's not splitting hairs at all. It actually highlights the key difference between two different schools of thought with regard to what freedom or liberty includes - "positive liberty", which means that you must have freedom of choice between several alternatives without any of them having consequences which make the choice unacceptable, or "negative liberty", which means that you are able to act how you choose provided your negative rights aren't being violated.

I think Scow2 and I both subscribe to the negative view of liberty. So if a person who has voluntarily chosen to be a Paladin chooses to act in evil ways, and loses his Paladinhood for it, that's not a loss of agency. If a person chooses to do evil deeds, and then begins to radiate evil under Detect Evil spells, again that's not a loss of agency.

And, really, the worst thing a GM can do to limit a player's agency is to work behind the scenes to ensure that no matter what the player does the same outcome occurs. It's called Illusionism.

Archon:
I think Scow2 and I both subscribe to the negative view of liberty. So if a person who has voluntarily chosen to be a Paladin chooses to act in evil ways, and loses his Paladinhood for it, that's not a loss of agency. If a person chooses to do evil deeds, and then begins to radiate evil under Detect Evil spells, again that's not a loss of agency.

The agency issue was really just an aside anyway, so i'll concede it. Alignment can be used like a club to dictate players' actions but it is not necessarily and unavoidably so.

The real argument is that alignment is a weak, fuzzy mechanic, and brings no substantive benefit to the game. The original article does a good job of refining the fuzzy definitions that the system is based on, but it's not going to turn a bad system into a good one - it's just going to make it slightly less bad.

1) Alignment has almost no consequences for the vast majority of characters and actions.
2) To the extent that it does provide consequences, they are already entirely adjudicated by the GM.
3)You can have consequences for behavior without alignment.
In light of these three facts and the fact that even after 30-odd years of using alignment, it still leads to long, rambling arguments on the nature of good, evil, law, chaos, and neutrality, i ask again, why use it at all?

After you have dealt with effects keyed off of alignment, adjudicating the consequences of moral actions becomes relatively simple. Is this action in keeping with the moral code the character must follow? How significant is the action? Is this action part of larger pattern of behavior or is it a one-time thing? Assign consequences as appropriate.

Hmm, I'm still a bit puzzled about something. I've been meaning to make a character with the moral outlook of, say, Baron von Wulfenbach from Girl Genius or Lord Vetinari from the Discworld. That is, a kind of enlightened despot, someone who defends (or rules, but if I make a character I doubt I'll have a ruler-role) a tyranny not out of self interest but to prevent a chaos which (they believe) would be worse than a harsh-but-fair dictatorship.

That sounds posterboy Lawfull Evil, but what bugs me is that one could also argue (certainly when using this definition of the morality axis) that such a character is Chaotic Good. These oppressors are not oppressing for their own gain or fun (both of the examples I showed are quite explicit about it), but for the benefit of the population. In short they use rather nasty means for a Good end. Although CG and LE should be opposing moralities, I honestly can't tell which allignment is the most accurate description of these characters. Or perhaps it should be True Neutral, since it's such a mixture of moralities? I honestly don't know. It's a bit of a puzzle that while "Lawfull means for an evil end" is supposed to be Lawfull Evil, "Evil means for a Lawfull end." is not

Is this confusing to anyone else? Or are others much clearer on this?

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