All About Alignment, Part II

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All About Alignment, Part II

Need a simpler way of looking at alignment? How about Star Wars and Inglourious Basterds?

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I personally like the Virtue and Vice system of World of Darkness. It actually gives a very detailed idea of the faults of your character and how they would act in certain situations...very human. I guess that doesn't fall under alignment though, as they'd all be neutral.

The 'hacked' chart is what my friends and I do, for the most part.

And here we thought we were being so clever...

Side note: Kudos to whoever picked the art for my article today. Cracked me up.

LogicNProportion:
The 'hacked' chart is what my friends and I do, for the most part.

And here we thought we were being so clever...

We always assumed that they were copying AD&D and had to rename their stuff just to avoid getting sued.

Krakyn:
I personally like the Virtue and Vice system of World of Darkness. It actually gives a very detailed idea of the faults of your character and how they would act in certain situations...very human. I guess that doesn't fall under alignment though, as they'd all be neutral.

The morality scale is more of the alignment while the virtue and vices are their characteristics. My favorite part is that the more "evil" things you do, the more likely you are to go crazy throughout the game. However, it only works well in survival horror when you have to question if stealing the gun in the room is worth the loss in morality and possibly becoming a kleptomaniac.

Never really been fond of "alignment" and definitely prefer systems which require and reinforce players deciding upon the morality of their character and then being rewarded for either sticking by it or challenging it (not flopping about like a fish).

The best example of this would be "BITs" from the Burning Wheel System by Luke Crane, your characters have Beliefs, Instincts and Traits. Beliefs are the important replacement for alignment as they determine what is important to your character and what they are "fighting for". These are decided on by the players but reinforced by the GM through the excellent "Artha" system in which you earn rewards for playing to your beliefs or challenging them in a meaningful way. Instincts and Traits are similar, though these are more about the nuances of your characters personality.

No all encompassing moral order here.

Another system I like is one my group adapted from D20 Modern. It was initially called "allegiances" but I prefer to think of it as something more like "Beliefs". Essentially each PC writes, in descending order, what is most important to them, from Most Important to Least Important. Keep in mind that these are all written on your sheet, so they are all "Important" some of them just more than others. For say... Mal Reynolds of Firefly Fame they might look something like this...

1. My Crew
2. Freedom
3. My Own Personal Code of Honor

At least that's my best guess, I think it's a lot more three dimensional than just saying "I'm Chaotic Good so I'm Freedom Loving and Good according to my sheet and that's all I'm required to be" or "I'm Chaotic Neutral, so I have license to be an asshole!"

I really enjoyed the discussion of alignment as philosophy, but I think the only way Dungeons and Dragons would be playable is as "alignment as allegiance." Basically, you are going around killing and looting "monsters" who have committed no discernable crime against you. Even someone whose philosophical alignment was squarely neutral (objectivism, as an example you gave) would have a lot of problems with that. The rationale in D&D is that they are categorically evil as a race which gives you license to treat them that way as if the parties were opposing combattants in an ongoing war. I don't see how any philosophically good or neutral alignment could justify routine D&D gameplay, at least without a complex backstory that might account for behaving in this way toward creatures which are otherwise innocent.

That said, the philosophical system is the deepest to use, so probably that would be the one I would attempt. But for short quick campaigns I think we have to go with allegiance.

Philosophically good alignments are easier in games like Call of Cthulhu where the goal of gameplay is not self-empowerment at the core, but rather to beat the campaign and stop the cultists.

Fearzone:
I really enjoyed the discussion of alignment as philosophy, but I think the only way Dungeons and Dragons would be playable is as "alignment as allegiance." Basically, you are going around killing and looting "monsters" who have committed no discernable crime against you. Even someone whose philosophical alignment was squarely neutral (objectivism, as an example you gave) would have a lot of problems with that. The rationale in D&D is that they are categorically evil as a race which gives you license to treat them that way as if the parties were opposing combattants in an ongoing war. I don't see how any philosophically good or neutral alignment could justify routine D&D gameplay, at least without a complex backstory that might account for behaving in this way toward creatures which are otherwise innocent.

That said, the philosophical system is the deepest to use, so probably that would be the one I would attempt. But for short quick campaigns I think we have to go with allegiance.

Philosophically good alignments are easier in games like Call of Cthulhu where the goal of gameplay is not self-empowerment at the core, but rather to beat the campaign and stop the cultists.

Great point! In both of my campaigns, the adventurers operate in a world where some races *are* categorically evil. All of the humanoid races (goblins, orcs, etc.) were specifically created as warrior races for a long-lost war and are devoid of compassion, conscience, or moral sentiment. They are the organic equivalent of Terminators or Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers.

In the Classic campaign, this plays out simply with the normal races aligned with Law or Neutral, while all of the magically engineered 'warrior races' are Chaos because they are actively seeking constant war.

In the 3.5 campaign, the intricacies of Druid characters and so on has resulted in some more philosophical complexity (i.e. by killing an orc you can free the corrupt soul for the possibility of reincarnation into a non-corrupt body), but it still boils down to innately evil things can be killed.

I don't personally play D&D to explore the moral nuances of slaying humanoids. I have other RPGs for that sort of thing...

I guess I would say that my games come closer to the third type of Alignment, even though I am GMing AD&D. I had to throw out a player who was playing a Chaotic Good Barbarian because, under the influence of essentially magic, he raped a female NPC. (He was bitten by Bliss faeries, which makes you very turned on and he decided to just go over and stick himself in her, without asking permission or speaking to her in any way.) Needless to say, I called that an evil act, and the player just couldn't figure out why it was wrong. O.O

I told him it was because he didn't even ask her if it was okay, and that this was incompatible with his alignment. Now, the character should have known this, but the player's attitude was "It's just an NPC, so it shouldn't matter. It wasn't like I did it to another PC or something." And that just made me feel like my brain was dribbling out of my ears. I set up a means of redemption for his PC, but he fuffed it up by telling a representative of his God that he hadn't done anything wrong. He had been knocked down to negative hit points at the time, so I let his character die and booted him from the game.

Guy, you are in your 20's. If you haven't learned by now that Rape is wrong... it doesn't matter if the character was an NPC. Do you say, "I only rape women I don't know well, so it's not wrong."? Feh. I reacted to it strongly because I happen to be female, but I was completely taken aback by the player's attitude.

Anyone else a bit perturbed by the Lucas comment of "they are only cockroaches?" Seems a bit dimissive of an alien race to me. Anywho it depends on the game methinks, I personnally prefer the alingment system of DnD as I feel there is more depth to that then simply "what side are?". I do feel with the DnD system it's possible to have LG and CE fighting on the same side for different motivations and thus having a different morally standing.

I have to say I've never really bothered with "alignment" in any of the RPG's I've played, those being Cyberpunk 2020 and WHFRP.
Cyberpunk being fairly close to reality it just felt unnecessary, there's no need to determine whether someone can use magic item X only useable by characters of alignment Y.
WHFRP system of Lawful, Good, Neutral, evil, chaotic was only really useful for the magic where certain things would affect different alignments or for pre written adventures as a quick way of determining how an NPC might behave.

I really liked the Philosophical application! It fact, that was a good coding of how I always approached the application of alignment.

As to the third way, I care more about principles than habits and have always bucked such duckings of the question. It is of greater importance to know why the character will make his next move than what that next move may be. A character I play will follow a set of principles, but don't shackle me to a list of actions.

LadyRhian:
I guess I would say that my games come closer to the third type of Alignment, even though I am GMing AD&D. I had to throw out a player who was playing a Chaotic Good Barbarian because... I told him it was because he didn't even ask her if it was okay, and that this was incompatible with his alignment. Now, the character should have known this, but the player's attitude was "It's just an NPC, so it shouldn't matter. It wasn't like I did it to another PC or something."

I would have changed him to chaotic neutral ( aka, selfish bastard )
- tend to assign alignments rather than ask - and you and i discussed other D&D versions before, where clerics earned their spells and you changed to a paladin as a sort of prestige class at level 9 - by earning it -
( which i blame on wizradry :D )

Anyway, the reason i responded to this post was it reminded me so much of that anti-hero i hated so much as kid, Thomas Covenant... and an argument I had with a friend who loved the books ( and was of dubious moral character himself )

We could split hairs on CN versus "evil" - after all, is it not selfishness, not just greed for money, that is the root of evil?
But IMO, evil alignment implies a degree of dedication to malice, rather than just sociopathy- which is what we call it in real life when someoen doesn't think as others as "real", no?
I can't help but wonder to what degree this guy was just, not a roleplayer and not engaging in the RP element of the game ( barbarian class appeals )...
But maybe that's yet another separate tangent.

Love my tangents, ya know... nice seeing you post again, Lady.

As a ps; I am fond of the big 5 and myers-briggs personality tests, was recently discussing that with my psych study partner, how the alignment system is a 2-axis/3 position version.
Odd timing there...

Well, as most of the tabletopping I do is GURPS nowadays, I don't really use an alignment system. However, if backed into a corner, I'd say I use the Myers-Briggs personality definitions as much as anything. Admittedly, I have only a superficial understanding of the system and its in and outs, but I know enough to note the personalities of my PCs and reward them for good roleplaying.

My group seems to work on the Alignment as Allegiance system in that we have a couple of good/neutral characters, one bloodthirsty murdering paladin, and one retarded cleric who is entirely unpredictable. There are obviously some big disagreements among this group, but we all still stick together and fight for similar goals.

Thought-provoking piece, as usual.

I tended not to include alignment except for unnatural beings--you were never going to find a "good" demon or an "evil" solar. You might find a demon willing to do something for you--but watch your back, and likewise for a solar, as it was simply beyond most human ken as to what motivated such creatures.

As a DM, I told the players that they didn't need to worry about their alignment--it's not something characters would know or talk about for the most part. Instead, I would judge (since that was my job) their behavior and assign consequences and rewards accordingly. Most important, those consequences may play out over the course of the characters' lives.

This way, I had the freedom to incorporate alignment as I wished and use it to shape the entire campaign--but in the background. I also had the freedom not to worry about the nitty-gritty details (which as pointed out, more often turn out to be character traits) and instead look at the whole.

Anyway, it was always very satisfactory for me and the players and led to a richness in the campaigns, I think.

I actually really like the alignment system in Robotech. I ran BESM for my friends and created a multiverse that went through various areas in games, books, movies, and the like, but BESM doesn't really have an alignment system.

I like the alignment system that can cover both allegiance and attitude, but sadly, not all of the people in the Empire from Star Wars are evil, controlling, kick your puppy just for grins kind of people, and the Rebels have plenty of people who are just slimy and make your skin crawl.

One of my main problems with the alignment system, especially as far as D&D goes, is that almost everyone sees Lawful Good as Lawful Stupid, and that's one of the nicer names I've heard it called. This bothers me because of two reasons. The first being that I tend to play lawful good characters, and the second being that just because someone is good and obeys the law does not mean that they will sit there and try to hold off the whole horde of zombies by themselves when they could easily go to the town they would defend and tell them to commence operation GTFO.

The whole point of a Lawful Good character, as least as I play them, is that they know the laws and can use them to their advantage, not get in trouble with the law, and generally have a good standing with authority. The idea being that the law is there to protect the people and if the law is unjust, it can be changed. Lawful Good characters don't need to be naive or tell the truth to people that they know are evil. They might save a villain from falling off the cliff, but only so that who they've wronged can see them stand trial.

I think the alignment that my friends would call one of my famous characters, at least in my group, is "Ruthlessly Pragmatic." That character isn't very likeable, but he gets the job done.

Badger Kyre:

LadyRhian:
I guess I would say that my games come closer to the third type of Alignment, even though I am GMing AD&D. I had to throw out a player who was playing a Chaotic Good Barbarian because... I told him it was because he didn't even ask her if it was okay, and that this was incompatible with his alignment. Now, the character should have known this, but the player's attitude was "It's just an NPC, so it shouldn't matter. It wasn't like I did it to another PC or something."

I would have changed him to chaotic neutral ( aka, selfish bastard )
- tend to assign alignments rather than ask - and you and i discussed other D&D versions before, where clerics earned their spells and you changed to a paladin as a sort of prestige class at level 9 - by earning it -
( which i blame on wizradry :D )

Anyway, the reason i responded to this post was it reminded me so much of that anti-hero i hated so much as kid, Thomas Covenant... and an argument I had with a friend who loved the books ( and was of dubious moral character himself )

We could split hairs on CN versus "evil" - after all, is it not selfishness, not just greed for money, that is the root of evil?
But IMO, evil alignment implies a degree of dedication to malice, rather than just sociopathy- which is what we call it in real life when someoen doesn't think as others as "real", no?
I can't help but wonder to what degree this guy was just, not a roleplayer and not engaging in the RP element of the game ( barbarian class appeals )...
But maybe that's yet another separate tangent.

Love my tangents, ya know... nice seeing you post again, Lady.

As a ps; I am fond of the big 5 and myers-briggs personality tests, was recently discussing that with my psych study partner, how the alignment system is a 2-axis/3 position version.
Odd timing there...

It was that whole "Didn't see anything wrong with it" that I felt crossed the line into evil. I felt that evil characters see people as tools and toys for their amusement and pleasure. Here's my reading of the AD&D alignment chart-
Lawful Good- thinks laws are good because they protect people from bad things happening to them (generally). Hates unjust laws, will work within the system to see them changed. Obeys the law.

Lawful Neutral- The Law is the Law and is meant to be followed, good, bad or indifferent. If anyone knows Les MisÚrables, this is Inspector Javert to a T. You will be held to the standard of following the law, and if you break a law, woe to you. The law is all.

Lawful Evil- The law is very useful, but will use the laws to benefit him or herself. Never breaks their word, but getting it can be difficult. Likes the law insofar as it makes society easier to control. Unjust laws are just too bad for the people they discriminate against. Likes laws that favor himself.

Chaotic Good- Freedom is better than any laws. Laws can hurt people as well as help them and more often hurt. Will ignore unjust laws and even break them to prove how unjust they are. Wants good for people, but laws don't generally help in this regard. The person with the most freedom can do the most good. Has a personal code of morality that may conform to some laws in society, but not all of them.

Chaotic Neutral- I have the freedom to do what I want, when I want. Is contemptuous of laws and doesn't give a flying leap. Personal freedom is all, and if that causes someone else grief, so be it.

Chaotic Evil- Not only will I do what I want, when I want, but I will tread over everyone else to get my way. I have mine, now root, hog, or die! If you're not strong enough to defend your stuff from me, I should be able to take it, and you can cry about it until you dessicate, I don't care. I am the only one who matters.

True Neutral- Either a fence sitter, or someone who truly doesn't care about morals or laws or lack of either. Druids only respect the laws of nature and nothing else. At times, they can seem benevolent or malevolent depending on what they are doing (from the view of others), but they are only following the uncaring law of mother nature. For example a druid may kill a rabid bear because of the damage it is doing to the ecosystem. To a community suffering the attacks of said bear, he's doing a good deed. Two years later, there is a blight on the crops and the druid does nothing because that's how nature is- and now the same community sees him as evil for not fighting the blight.

Neutral Good- Good is the aim. Laws are fine if they promote it, likewise Chaos. All that matters is that Good is done.

Neutral Evil- Here is the same, but mainly for evil. If I can work within the law and use the law to steal your farm from you, that's what I'll do. If showing up with 20 of my best buds on horseback with swords and killing everyone works better, I can do that, too.

Essentially, evil alignment is all about "me", whereas good is all about others and doing for other people.

MasterOfWorlds:
I actually really like the alignment system in Robotech. I ran BESM for my friends and created a multiverse that went through various areas in games, books, movies, and the like, but BESM doesn't really have an alignment system.

I like the alignment system that can cover both allegiance and attitude, but sadly, not all of the people in the Empire from Star Wars are evil, controlling, kick your puppy just for grins kind of people, and the Rebels have plenty of people who are just slimy and make your skin crawl.

One of my main problems with the alignment system, especially as far as D&D goes, is that almost everyone sees Lawful Good as Lawful Stupid, and that's one of the nicer names I've heard it called. This bothers me because of two reasons. The first being that I tend to play lawful good characters, and the second being that just because someone is good and obeys the law does not mean that they will sit there and try to hold off the whole horde of zombies by themselves when they could easily go to the town they would defend and tell them to commence operation GTFO.

The whole point of a Lawful Good character, as least as I play them, is that they know the laws and can use them to their advantage, not get in trouble with the law, and generally have a good standing with authority. The idea being that the law is there to protect the people and if the law is unjust, it can be changed. Lawful Good characters don't need to be naive or tell the truth to people that they know are evil. They might save a villain from falling off the cliff, but only so that who they've wronged can see them stand trial.

I think the alignment that my friends would call one of my famous characters, at least in my group, is "Ruthlessly Pragmatic." That character isn't very likeable, but he gets the job done.

Yeah, I remember when Paladins were considered stupid. I remember a party that wanted to send the Paladin out of the room so that they could slaughter the prisoners. The Paladin went (it was couched as checking the area for patrols), but when he got back and saw what they did, he was not pleased, and ended up leaving the party. After turning them in to the appropriate authorities.

You don't even need to be a Paladin to make moral choices like that. In my earliest days playing D&D, I got my party slaughtered by following my alignment. I chose lawful good, and the two morally ambiguous neutral elves in my party decided to get into the Keep on the Borderlands and attack the powers that be there, kill them and loot the keep. My character stayed quiet, took the last watch and lit out for the keep to warn them. When the elves showed up and were asked "Friend or Foe?" They said "Friend!", got told "You lie!" and were ballista bolted for their bending of the truth. Neither survived, and the players were quite upset with me. But the GM said I had played my alignment well and gave me bonus experience.

See, I think the problem with the "Lawful Stupid" is not that the person is misplaying their alignment, but the player believes he shouldn't rock the party's boat by getting the rest of the players killed by opposing them- because that would make the other players dislike him. So he bends and allows his character to fall for stuff that they would vigorously oppose if they were really playing their alignment correctly. "Hell no, I am not going to walk out so you can slaughter these prisoners- we are supposed to be better than them, and better than that."

LadyRhian:
See, I think the problem with the "Lawful Stupid" is not that the person is misplaying their alignment, but the player believes he shouldn't rock the party's boat by getting the rest of the players killed by opposing them- because that would make the other players dislike him. So he bends and allows his character to fall for stuff that they would vigorously oppose if they were really playing their alignment correctly. "Hell no, I am not going to walk out so you can slaughter these prisoners- we are supposed to be better than them, and better than that."

Oh, I have no problem rocking the boat. I was once playing a non-Force Sensitive character (the only one in the group) and to prove to the party that even non-Force users could take down a force user, and a powerful one, if the circumstances were right, I had my character snipe Obi-Wan in the head after betraying the Republic and leading like half of their troops into a trap based on false intel I fed them. We were playing an alternate universe. I made one of the guys cry, and pretty much set the Republic back quite a ways. I did it for two reasons. The first was to prove that Force users can be brought down with careful enough planning, and the second was that I just liked the main villain that was in charge of the Sith on that planet.

Oh man, my group still won't let that drop. Now, whenever someone royally screws someone over, they call it being Con Dar-ed. Since my character was a Zabrak named Con Dar. It was pretty epic, even if I do say so myself. XD

This was getting a bit long, so... in a new post... The other system this article reminded me of was the Paul Jacquays Central Casting books. In it, alignment was split into three general sections. You had the good alignments of Ethical (Equates to LG), Conscientious (CG) and Chivalrous (Explicitly defined as Lawful neutral with good tendencies). The Evil alignments were the three D's: Depraved (Neutral Evil), Deviant (Lawful Evil) and Diabolical (Chaotic Evil).

In between were: Self-Centered (Neutral Good, believe it or not), Apathetic (straight Neutral), Materialistic and Anarchic (both N with Evil tendencies) and Egalitarian (Neutral with both tendencies to Lawful and Good).

In a way, I sort of liked this system, but... there was something that held me back from using it. And that was the personality trait section. This was a character background generator and everytime something happened to your character, it could have a good effect on his personality, a neutral one, or a dark one. Even strange events could make you develop what was called "Exotic personality traits", and they gave lists of all of them, from stuff like insanity to exotic sexual behaviors including Too Prude, Hermaphrodite (which is less a behavior than a medical condition, but given this is generally about games with magic, I was able to swallow that one with difficulty), Complete Disinterest and homosexuality. The problem for me was that each of these was considered to be a darkside trait, and more likely to turn your character evil. Now I can understand that there were some things on that table that would definitely be repulsive and maybe even evil by society at large, like Necrophilia. I failed to understand how someone liking people of the same sex would be more likely to make them evil.

And that was where the alignment system fell down for me, so I never ended up using it, because I vehemently disagreed with that part of it. That was from the first book, Heroes of Legend, and the same system came into play in the next two books, Heroes of Tomorrow and Heroes Now, but they removed the table and just reiterated that anyone developing one of these traits also developed a Darkside trait, except the books came across as even more moralizing and preachy. It gave me a bad taste in my mouth.

I still have and keep the books because of the plenty neat backgrounds you can roll up for your characters. But I don't use the trait system or the alignment system. I feel it is fatally flawed. (You determine alignment by counting the number of traits for each and picking one alignment from the section where you have the most traits.)

Ignore this post. Accidental double post.

I don't have enough time to explain it for people who aren't familiar right now, but I love the Colours of Magic: The Gathering. They follow a person's motives, which makes more sense to me than anything else.

Honestly, I've found that in a party that takes roleplaying seriously, an alignment system is unnecessary (unless there are some in-game mechanics to it, which there rarely are outside D&D). An experienced roleplayer will do things that make sense for their character simply because that's what that character would do, not because some pre-picked alignment says that is what the character would do.

Mind you, alignment systems can be very useful for newer players who aren't sure how their character would react in a given situation, but I really don't think every system needs it.

Fearzone:
I really enjoyed the discussion of alignment as philosophy, but I think the only way Dungeons and Dragons would be playable is as "alignment as allegiance." Basically, you are going around killing and looting "monsters" who have committed no discernable crime against you. Even someone whose philosophical alignment was squarely neutral (objectivism, as an example you gave) would have a lot of problems with that. The rationale in D&D is that they are categorically evil as a race which gives you license to treat them that way as if the parties were opposing combattants in an ongoing war. I don't see how any philosophically good or neutral alignment could justify routine D&D gameplay, at least without a complex backstory that might account for behaving in this way toward creatures which are otherwise innocent.

That said, the philosophical system is the deepest to use, so probably that would be the one I would attempt. But for short quick campaigns I think we have to go with allegiance.

Philosophically good alignments are easier in games like Call of Cthulhu where the goal of gameplay is not self-empowerment at the core, but rather to beat the campaign and stop the cultists.

You are not far from the truth there.

I have little experience with the lore of the original Dungeons and Dragons Greyhawk setting, but in the Forgotten Realms, which seems to have taken precedence of late as one of, if not the most famous of settings for DnD, Good, Evil, Law and Chaos are actually factions in their own right. The War of Light and Darkness lore pretty much designates that at every waking moment in the world, the cosmic forces that comprise those four concepts are ever struggling against and changing one another in the hearts of mortals and even Gods. The alignment of a god or a mortal becomes more than a simple tag to become the very expression of that soul's nature, putting it as a metaphorical 'soldier' in that eternal struggle. It is one that is not, at any length, paid heed to on a normal basis, but every time that paladin makes a Good decision or that wizard chooses to bomb that house filled with innocents with a fireball, it is a victory for either Good or Evil, as factions in their own right of a perpetual war that began before Time.

It makes for a very clear-cut way of defining human actions and deriving an alignment from them, as based on the DnD scaling. As far as I can tell from most of my readings, it is the character that makes the alignment and becomes the alignment, not the other way around, with the character sort of falling into the right slot for him or her. This way of looking into alignment does not completely clear the faults in the DnD alignment system, and it certainly does not help explain what Good, Evil, Law and Chaos are (which barely is explained, save for Good and Evil in the books of Exalted Deeds and Vile Darkness, and even so not completely satisfactorily), but still, I believe it provides enough insight into how to use the alignment system without philosophical herniae.

While I use the traditional D&D alignment system, it generally works out to be the last one you mentioned in practice.

Personally I think its helpful to remove the moral continuations of the word hero. If you look at the Greek heroes, most of them are brutal psychopaths who come to violent end. Theseus is murdered in revenge for the rape of the 12 year old Helen of troy, Agamemnon is killed by his wife for sacrificing their daughter and Hercules kills his wife and children. A quick perusal of Viking and Saxon literature reveals much the same thing. I think if you define hero as someone capable of great and famous deeds the whole thinks makes more sense, especially in a fantasy setting.

Ernil Menegil:

I have little experience with the lore of the original Dungeons and Dragons Greyhawk setting, but in the Forgotten Realms, which seems to have taken precedence of late as one of, if not the most famous of settings for DnD, Good, Evil, Law and Chaos are actually factions in their own right. The War of Light and Darkness lore pretty much designates that at every waking moment in the world, the cosmic forces that comprise those four concepts are ever struggling against and changing one another in the hearts of mortals and even Gods. The alignment of a god or a mortal becomes more than a simple tag to become the very expression of that soul's nature, putting it as a metaphorical 'soldier' in that eternal struggle. It is one that is not, at any length, paid heed to on a normal basis, but every time that paladin makes a Good decision or that wizard chooses to bomb that house filled with innocents with a fireball, it is a victory for either Good or Evil, as factions in their own right of a perpetual war that began before Time.

It makes for a very clear-cut way of defining human actions and deriving an alignment from them, as based on the DnD scaling. As far as I can tell from most of my readings, it is the character that makes the alignment and becomes the alignment, not the other way around, with the character sort of falling into the right slot for him or her. This way of looking into alignment does not completely clear the faults in the DnD alignment system, and it certainly does not help explain what Good, Evil, Law and Chaos are (which barely is explained, save for Good and Evil in the books of Exalted Deeds and Vile Darkness, and even so not completely satisfactorily), but still, I believe it provides enough insight into how to use the alignment system without philosophical herniae.

There is nothing new under the sun, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism . In other words they stole the idea from a 2500 year old religious philosophy.

I've never had a problem with alignments as far as their actual philosophical and character behavior goes. I'm currently running a D&D 4th ed. campaign, and while I feel alignments a a bit truncated in this edition, I'm not at all sad to see the more cumbersome mechanics (certain classes can only have certain alignments, clerics within "one step" of their deity, all those alignment based planes, and so on) associated with it.

In practice I've found that traditional D&D alignments work fine in conjunction with an "alignment as allegiance approach." PCs who are invested in the game world tend to join guilds, support governments, have clan or family ties, belong to religious traditions, and all such organizations are comprised of other individuals that may share the same goals or general outlook but not necessarily the same alignment. As a DM I use this inherent friction to push the PCs to make choices such as breaking ties with a church the PC follows but is being pulled in a different moral direction by a charismatic preacher, or make the PCs debate whether to overthrow a local autocrat who is grafting the populace but knowing that doing so will create a power vacuum that will likely be exploited by another villainous entity.

albino boo:
Personally I think its helpful to remove the moral continuations of the word hero. If you look at the Greek heroes, most of them are brutal psychopaths who come to violent end. Theseus is murdered in revenge for the rape of the 12 year old Helen of troy, Agamemnon is killed by his wife for sacrificing their daughter and Hercules kills his wife and children. A quick perusal of Viking and Saxon literature reveals much the same thing. I think if you define hero as someone capable of great and famous deeds the whole thinks makes more sense, especially in a fantasy setting.

Albino, that's a really brilliant point. Thanks for sharing that. It's entirely true that to the ancient and medieval bards and storytellers, "hero" meant something totally different. Nietzsche speaks about this when he refers to "good" as in strong, proud, and powerful as compared to "good" as compassionate and humble.

It's only in modern Western civilization that we have developed the concept of the hero as the selfless altruist who does great deeds for no reward. To the classical civilizations, a hero was a noble warrior who did great deeds for the reward of glory.

In both my D&D campaigns all characters of all alignments earn gold for XP. Some of the players early on wondered why a hero would care about treasure, and I harkened back to heroes like Beowulf and Achilles, who absolutely did care about treasure, as it was the physical manifestation of their glorious wins.

In an effort to eliminate the philosophical overtones that come up with alignment, I think you can break down character behavior into 4 "Loyalties":

Self
Party
Nation
Ideology

Any character can describe their alignment in terms of the priority each of these 4 loyalties takes in how they behave. For example, the order used above could very easily describe a Neutral character - self preservation and ensuring a steady cash flow by adventuring with a party are more important than any king or god. If the party is getting completely annihilated, this character would switch sides, take the loot and run, or any other act that ensures survival.


This could be applied to game-world consequences as well. You could map spells, feats, and other abilities to the 4 "Loyalties", and how the character prioritizes them will determine how well they can use the ability. For example, turning undead is a function of Ideology. The example Paladin from above would have a better chance to turn a Vampire than the cleric Balbus.

Similarly, a character that spontaneously shifts priorities would suffer penalties on abilities. A magic-user that casts Invisibility 10ft radius (Party loyalty) to escape, but leaves some party members behind might not be able to use the spell as easily anymore. Perhaps a chance to fizzle that increases every time something like this happens.

It's certainly not without drawbacks, and it's not a flawless replacement for the classic Law/Chaos/Good/Evil system, but I think it would help us keep our distance from the ingrained Judeo-Christian ideology we often see applied to alignment.

That's a really cool system, Nick.

So for Erik's thief we'd have: Self, Self, Self, Self...

Well, right now I never had a D&D campaign. I always wanted to, but I'm in the most stressful time of my life, and D&D players are rare within my circle of friends. One of them asked me if I could be the dungeon master in a campaign, but since I never even played, I don't know if I can make it. IF I do it, I know I am going to use the philosophical approach - my group of friends is quite into discussing morality, so that would be fitting. I also like that you can flesh out what your particular alignment means - as long as you can justify it, you are as right as anyone else at the table. Also, I can really already see who would take which alignment... I know them quite well, so I am confident that I could predict their next move. But I really don't know how to start with a campaign. Hm.

Archon:
That's a really cool system, Nick.

So for Erik's thief we'd have: Self, Self, Self, Self...

I forgot to say that every character has all 4 Loyalties. :P

Joking aside, Viktor would be: Self, Ideology, Party, Nation. Ideology is higher because of his tendency to act upon his personal code of thiefy ethics. (Like killing a rescued wizard for not helping us in a fight.)

CaptainCrunch:

Archon:
That's a really cool system, Nick.

So for Erik's thief we'd have: Self, Self, Self, Self...

I forgot to say that every character has all 4 Loyalties. :P

Joking aside, Viktor would be: Self, Ideology, Party, Nation. Ideology is higher because of his tendency to act upon his personal code of thiefy ethics. (Like killing a rescued wizard for not helping us in a fight.)

Man, I regret saving that guy from his stony hell more every day.

Lawful Good- thinks laws are good because they protect people from bad things happening to them (generally). Hates unjust laws, will work within the system to see them changed. Obeys the law.

Lawful Neutral- The Law is the Law and is meant to be followed, good, bad or indifferent. If anyone knows Les MisÚrables, this is Inspector Javert to a T. You will be held to the standard of following the law, and if you break a law, woe to you. The law is all.

Lawful Evil- The law is very useful, but will use the laws to benefit him or herself. Never breaks their word, but getting it can be difficult. Likes the law insofar as it makes society easier to control. Unjust laws are just too bad for the people they discriminate against. Likes laws that favor himself.

Chaotic Good- Freedom is better than any laws. Laws can hurt people as well as help them and more often hurt. Will ignore unjust laws and even break them to prove how unjust they are. Wants good for people, but laws don't generally help in this regard. The person with the most freedom can do the most good. Has a personal code of morality that may conform to some laws in society, but not all of them.

Chaotic Neutral- I have the freedom to do what I want, when I want. Is contemptuous of laws and doesn't give a flying leap. Personal freedom is all, and if that causes someone else grief, so be it.

Chaotic Evil- Not only will I do what I want, when I want, but I will tread over everyone else to get my way. I have mine, now root, hog, or die! If you're not strong enough to defend your stuff from me, I should be able to take it, and you can cry about it until you dessicate, I don't care. I am the only one who matters.

True Neutral- Either a fence sitter, or someone who truly doesn't care about morals or laws or lack of either. Druids only respect the laws of nature and nothing else. At times, they can seem benevolent or malevolent depending on what they are doing (from the view of others), but they are only following the uncaring law of mother nature. For example a druid may kill a rabid bear because of the damage it is doing to the ecosystem. To a community suffering the attacks of said bear, he's doing a good deed. Two years later, there is a blight on the crops and the druid does nothing because that's how nature is- and now the same community sees him as evil for not fighting the blight.

Neutral Good- Good is the aim. Laws are fine if they promote it, likewise Chaos. All that matters is that Good is done.

Neutral Evil- Here is the same, but mainly for evil. If I can work within the law and use the law to steal your farm from you, that's what I'll do. If showing up with 20 of my best buds on horseback with swords and killing everyone works better, I can do that, too.

Essentially, evil alignment is all about "me", whereas good is all about others and doing for other people.

Neat system, I however differ. For me the whole crux between lawful and chaotic was similar to the difference between collectivism and individualism.

So to me a LG character would value group harmony and want to see people working together and getting along. A CG character woudl value individual liberties and freedoms and as such would want to ensure that party members were able to engage in self expression and voice dissent.

The LG's main desire was that of liberty, the CG that of liberty.

If the part wanted ot embark ona course of action that the LG character didn't agree with he would be much more likely to bute his tongune. The CG player would be much more likely to understand that players have different opinions and not want to force his.

The difference between evil though is harder. To me, LE is essentialy the Soviet Union, where the evildoer believes that he does what he has to do to benefit the group. If ten has to die so that a hundred survive then that is a good decision. If someone is publishing art that is deemed inappropiate then they must be stopped.

CE is, to me at least, anarcho-capitalism. It is the belief that people should stand solely by their own efforts and if they die then tough. It won't make judegments on things like sexual orientation but it won't be likely to protect it's weak either. Rapture from BioShock is roughly what it is.

I thinkt he best thing about an alignment system is discussing what the alignment means to your character and how you are going to roleplay it. While mine and your definition of Lawful Good may differ, that is good as many would differ in how they interpret Justice or Liberty.

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