5E How do you measure, and enforce, alignment?
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  1. #1

    How do you measure, and enforce, alignment?

    After listening to Matt Colville explain his view on Alignment I was thinking how Iíve been describing alignment to myself when thinking about character motivations and how I view players at the table (I only have a couple of PbP games Iím GM-ing, so I havenít got round to an pre-game alignment discussion routine).

    I came to realise I have a very precise view on how the 2 axis of alignment (Law-Chaos, Good-Evil) interact, and thatís itís not just different from Matt Colvilleís, but also from the differing ways Iíve heard alignment talked about. For me both axis are continuums; I can put my character motivations largely anywhere. For some people the 9 options are encompassing descriptions Ė you have to be in one of the nine. Otherís only use 1 of the 2 axis Ė and I suspect other people uses a third or fourth.

    So Iíd be interested to hear how everyone else personally views alignment, and how they bring that to the table as a player or GM Ė and if you are a GM, do you press that view early on and insist players follow it, or do you only deal with it if the characters behaviour gets too far out of tolerance?

    Also, Iíd like to keep this as a conversational, pleasant thread Ė So if youíre intending to rubbish someone elseís viewpoint directly or through inference (e.g. ďI find the whole Law-Chaos thing dumb, pointless, and ruins gamesĒ, which infers that anyone who really likes the Law-Chaos distinction is a bit of an idiot), or the alignment system in general. I canít stop you, but Iíd kindly ask you to keep your thoughts to yourself, and go start your own post.

    This is ideally a celebration of how people use alignment to enhance and define their games Ė not a heroic tale of how your personal brilliance overcame the evil tyranny of alignment
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  2. #2
    So I’ll kick off.

    Generally speaking, I treat the Good-Evil axis as a continuum between who wins and who loses. At one end of the scale is Good, where the maximum number of people must win (often with the character themselves being expendable). Loss here is unfortunate, but even then the best outcomes are sought. Bang on halfway are Neutral characters, who only want to win themselves – they are ambivalent to the plight of others. And at the far end, Evil characters must win and everyone else must lose – it’s not enough to beat someone, you have to make them worse off for being in the game to begin with.

    The Law-Chaos axis I treat as where the character looks to for his moral compass. Lawful characters look externally for their source of ethics (either religion, social justice, the Harvester’s Guild, etc etc). At the far end is chaos, where the only source of morality is yourself and your view: you cannot ever be wrong as you are the source of your own moral view. Neutral floats somewhere in between external structural rules and internal validation, where you’re more looking at the world from a more traditional, philosophical moral viewpoint.

    From here I can sort of use those motivations to map how my character would react to differing stresses: In the classic “Save your Girlfriend, Save a dozen civilians, or attack the BBEG”, which way would they jump……

    As a GM, I only sort of vaguely apply those principles to my Players Alignment. As long as it doesn’t feel like they are making a small escape hatch for themselves in case they want to go on a hobo-killing rampage or sacrifice themselves heroically for no reason, I’ll let them treat alignment in their own way. Occasionally I might ask for an alignment if I don’t think a character is particularly well defined and they haven’t listed one…..
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  3. #3
    A "Drizzit" Type-Thing (Lvl 28)

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    I include it, but I don't enforce it; if a player doesn't get on well with the alignment system, I'm not going to push it. I do generally disallow evil characters though, as they're often just to much a a PITA at the table, and it's not worth the hassle.

  4. #4
    Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)

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    Players in my games are free to write whatever alignment they like on their character sheets and then I'm free to ignore it, i.e our take on alignment is descriptive, not prescriptive and also entirely optional.

    Alignment, like everything else in the rule books, is a tool used to build the game. It's a tool some people put to good use, some to terrible use, and others choose to leave in the toolbox, untouched.

    edit: to be I honest, and somewhat nostalgic, I love the delightful beating Gygax gave the English language with terms like "lawful good' & "chaotic evil". They're clumsy and lovely at the same time and I'm glad then entered the somewhat popular lexicon via early D&D.
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  5. #5
    Hydra (Lvl 25)

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    I typically ignore alignment except when running something like a Planescape game where it seemingly has more relevance. In this case, I either grant bonus XP or Inspiration if the player can point out how a particular choice or the like was appropriate for the character's alignment, given the specific alignment definitions given on page 34 of the Basic Rules. So, for example, if a LG character does something that is "the right thing as expected by society," the player can claim Inspiration. As with personality traits, ideals, bonds, or flaws, the player can only claim Inspiration once per session for the given characteristic.

    Doing it this way means I don't have to keep track of or enforce anything and the player is incentivized to either act at least occasionally in line with what the alignment description says and/or make sure the character's alignment fits with the sort of choices the player typically makes for it.
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  6. #6
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    To me, alignment is like Traits, Bonds, Ideals, and Flaws. They are one more way of wording particular aspects of a character's personality so as to help define that character *and* to give the player a sign-post to possibly follow when they are unsure of how their PC might act or react to something. But alignment in no ways restricts a player in how their PC gets to act.

    At this point in time, I think on a character sheet alignment should really be moved from up top where the character's name, class, background, and XP total are located, down to being one of the fields alongside personality traits, ideas, bonds, and flaws. Because that's really what alignment has now become, an identifier on how the PC usually acts and behaves.
    Last edited by DEFCON 1; Tuesday, 18th July, 2017 at 02:26 PM.

  7. #7
    As a DM I look at alignment in 5E similarly to how I look at bonds/flaws/ideals - something to help a player define his character and give them some guidance on how to role play, but not something I should micromanage. If a character was behaving in a way that was clearly inconsistent with the alignment (e.g. a lawful character repeatedly stealing) I might suggest that they change alignment, but as long as they could make a reasonable case for why they thought their actions were consistent with their alignment I would let it go.

    I see "good" as doing things to help others without expectation of personal gain (giving the poor money, protecting the weak from danger) while "evil" is harming others for selfish reasons (stealing, killing). "Lawful" is following the rules and authority even when it is inconvenient, while "chaotic" is ignoring the rules and authorities you don't like. Obviously very simplified, but I think that is the gist of it.

    One idea I had would be to run a campaign where all the characters start as neutral. Over the course of the games players would face role playing situations that would test their behavior on the good/evil and lawful/chaotic spectrum. For example, when a wanted bad guy surrenders, do the characters want to execute him (+1 chaotic) or turn him over to the authorities (+1 lawful). A bit video-gamey perhaps but I thought it could be fun, and would make alignment descriptive rather than prescriptive (i.e. describing how the character has acted, not how they were supposed to act).
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  8. #8
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    I see adventurer alignment as a continuum:

    Socially acceptable murder hobo
    Questionable murder hobo
    Problematic murder hobo


    I don't enforce alignment. That's the player's purview - it can change, and it should based on character growth and evolution. What I enforce is consequences, but only on situations that I've clearly set expectations for.

    Sometimes that means things characters know more than players, so I call for knowledge checks early and often. (My table is full of grown-ups and they 'get' the D&D 'fiction', so right now it's an easy job.)

    The only time I could ever see 'enforcing' alignment is if a Cleric is really, really different than their God, but even then, it can be a discussion - 'is this where you want to go? If it means you don't really fit in this god's portfolio any more, are you cool with role-playing out the transition?' - rather than enforcement.
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  9. #9
    I don't make it a big issue or pay particular attention to it for the most part. I guess I use moral relativity of the culture and era I live in now to model what is "good" and "evil". I generally do not allow evil PCs though unless I know and trust the player very well. IME, most times when a player wants to play an evil PC, it's just an excuse for them as a player to act like a selfish jerk.

    To me, alignment is less about words, and more about actions. Words is what charisma is for. For example, in GOT, I would consider The Hound as "good", but with a horribly low charisma score. Not just the physical scarring, but his insulting and crude behavior. I do not ascribe to the belief that a "good" character is also polite and tactful. Again, actions vs. words....alignment vs. charisma.
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  10. #10
    I've always found the nine point Cartesian Coordinates Alignment system as being flawed and giving a false sense of depth. One of my big problems with the Great Wheel cosmology is that so much it is based or derived from this system. I would probably be better to have a simplified alignment system of BECMI, with law->chaos (or good -> evil). I did find 4e's Lawful good->good->unaligned->evil->chaotic evil to be interesting, mostly the 'unaligned' which had some subtle differences from the traditional 'neutral' alignment in D&D. One of the best things 5e did was decouple alignment from most of the mechanics of the system. I like the idea of a moral knight in shinning armor, but trying to codify morality/ethics into the rules is problematic.
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