Wednesday, December 24, 2014

More on Alignment

Continuing about alignment...

So the 3-point system of Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic covers a lot of motivational territory. In other words it expresses what might drive your PC to behave a certain way. In the previous post I expressed that this seems loose and gives a lot of freedom. But I think it also comes at a price.

If you are playing a Chaotic PC and there is a temple that only "good" creatures may enter. Can you enter? Let's say you do not describe your PC as evil. But what if  your DM perceives your actions as evil? What if you tend to ignore suffering, look out for yourself, and disregard the needs of the group? Is that evil?

If your DM considers those tendencies to be evil then he might say you cannot enter the good temple. And what if this is really important to the game? Does this shut your PC out of some important part of the story?

It seems to me that as a game function the labels matter. A spell that targets evil should target any creature with an evil alignment. If Chaotic is not inherently evil how do you determine if the spell will target the creature in question? DM fiat? Perhaps. But, considering this is a game and not just improv theater and storytelling, doesn't that seem less than satisfying?

So from that perspective I can see an argument made for the language of the Basic book of the B/X set:

In this view, Lawful is equal to good and Chaotic is equal to evil. Here the labels aren't merely about your habits of organization and attitudes about structure, laws, and so on. The labels indicate which side of the eternal struggle you really are on.

Now for some folks this is all a bunch of useless navel-gazing. You could have a very brutal, basic campaign setting in which ideas about good and evil are simply not addressed at the game level. Good and evil are what comes out of play, not what is codified in the rules. Perhaps in this type of setting the gods are aloof (ala Conan) or weird and unintelligible. Or nonexistent. In these schemes "good" and "evil" are not real in the sense of the greater structure of the universe. They are labels we assign down here on earth in the daily grind. They have value to us because we give them value, not because of some external source.

In that sort of setting you could do with Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic as indicators of habit, organization, and attitudes about society without any mention of good or evil. Spells that target "good" and "evil" would then have to be re-interpreted. What is "good"? "Evil"? Is it merely the intention to do harm or the intention to help? Then what is harm? What is help?

I can sympathize with the DM who, puzzling this out, simply ditches alignment altogether. Who needs it? In fact in my current Doomslakers campaign my house rules document basically does that (more-or-less):

(You can see how I was hedging my bets, weaseling out of commitment...I just wasn't sure about this whole alignment thing. Still not sure!)


  1. We also had this debate and dumped alignment for characters. Characters are assumed to be good, unless it is an evil campaign, which up the DM. Monsters on the other hand keep their alignment to help RP them in the game world.

    1. That's pretty much exactly how I'm playing it currently. Of course I allow players to choose an alignment if it suits them. One player didn't, one chose "Lawful" and another chose "Chaotic Neutral". These are merely to help them establish behavioral parameters I think.