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D&D 5E A different take on Alignment

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Einlanzer0

Explorer
I don't know about you, but it took me a long time to get here. I actually used to think of D&D (back in the '80s) as something like a setting-agnostic system. It's only after digging into those early books with fresh eyes after many years that I came to realize that the game Arneson and Gygax created is set in a world where all their influences from swords and sorcery and medieval high fantasy are in play. So Alignment isn't a way of understanding characters from fiction that was put in to help players role-play. It's part of the setting of D&D which is a place where Moorcockian Law and Chaos are really at odds with one another. That's why I use alignment in my D&D games, because when I play D&D, I want to play that game. I want to play the most D&D version of D&D I can play.

I think that's totally fair. But I also think it's fair to acknowledge that the game has evolved in all kinds of ways, that this isn't what suits everyone's tastes, and that there's a lot of opportunity to bring it to life in a totally different way for different settings and/or tables.

I'm not saying you're doing this, but I think anyone who feels the need to try to push how they view alignment as something that is objectively correct and that others are wrong for disagreeing with is behaving with extraordinary arrogance, and there are definitely people doing it in this thread.
 
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MCU:
  • Iron Man: CG (initially CN pre Iron Man, then CG then moving to NG as the series progresses and he becomes more of a stand up guy and less of a wild card)
  • Captain America: LG (Remains so even as his arc takes him rejecting the Government and becoming a fugitive. He and his code never changes, the world around him does)
  • Thor: NG (Strong code of honor, and values family but also reckless and impulsive. Straddles the line between law and chaos with one foot in each camp)
  • Bruce Banner/ Hulk: NG/CN (As the Hulk he was initially CN and hard to control and even outright dangerous, however his green alter ego mellows a bit as the film progresses the Hulk person from wild man to a CG as more of Banner shines through)
  • Spiderman: NG (The poster boy for NG)
  • Warmachine: LG (honorable, disciplined and values tradition and family, not 'as good' as Captain America, but arguably even more Lawful)
  • Dr Strange: NG (initially N before gaining his powers)
  • Thanos: LE (Twisted code of honor)
  • Loki: CN (Moves to full blown CE for 2 films, but his arc has him redeeming himself back to a more manageable treacherous CN)
  • Scarlet Witch: N (She's gone back and forth, but recent events have her imprisoning a whole town and mind controlling them, even children. She lacks the callousness to kill people, but also lacks the moral compass of the effects of her actions)
  • Vision: LG (Wandas moral compass)

Harder ones to locate are Black Panther (he moves from LN towards LG), Hawkeye (who starts as a morally ambiguous hitman, becomes a good guy, goes full on evil in 'post Snap' Ronin mode, then comes back to good again with Black Widows sacrifice) and Black Widow (NE in her past life, but NG now) and Antman (whose arc moves him from CG 'petty criminal with a heart of gold' towards NG 'doing the best he can').
 


I wasn't the DM in these scenarios. I only started DMing a few years ago, having exclusively played for several years prior to that.

Thats poor DMing, not the fault of Alignment.

The central issue (that needs to be covered in session zero) is which of these statements is objectively true (from the POV of the Gods):

1) The ends justify the means. If this is the objective standard of morality, then killing Baby Hitler is 'morally Good'.

One could wage a war of genocide would make Thanos blush, and as long as it was 'for a good reason' you objectively remain good aligned (and wind up in the Seven Heavens on death, wield a talisman of pure good, gain a benefit in a unicorn lair etc)

2) The road to Hell is lined with good intentions. If this is the objective standard of alignment, then killing Baby Hitler is 'morally Evil'.

Regardless of your reasons for your evil actions, they remain evil, and likely so are you for comitting them. Murders, rapists and their ilk go to Hell, even if they were doing what they do for 'good reasons'.

In my session zeroes I clearly articulate that 2 is how my Gods view alignment.

You don't have to have an objective standard for alignment (you could use a subjective one). But in that case, even mass rapists and serial killers go to heaven, and hang out with unicorns as long as they think they're good (and genuinely believe it) and, while great for an existentialist game, I reject that outcome in mine.
 

So then you don't support the removal of alignment?
Ok, so I had the same conversation with Oofta above but he didn’t say this.

Is this what people are saying when they say “leave Alignment alone?” They’re saying “don’t advocate on public forums for curating D&D in a way that might lead to future change?”

Two thoughts on that (if true):

1) There is very little chance that my voice or pemerton’s voice holds any real sway on the ENWorld collective. As I said upthread, I’ve gotten people on here to see things differently and/or have gotten people to play new/different games maybe 2 handfuls of times in the nearly 10 years I’ve been posting.

This place is all about the design imperatives, cultural zeitgeist, and GMing techniques that powered 2e and 3.x D&D, and, through that, 5e D&D. To the extent that we are alternative voices, we don’t even register “tears in the rain” status. We’re more like “tears in a tidal wave.”

2) From 2008-2014 D&D culture and conversation was besieged, en masse, by a profound, (both mobilized and decentralized) revolt. You were right there and I don’t recall you asking the above question then! THAT effort to curate the (then) current iteration of D&D (in dozens of ways) was the topic of every single conversation on the boards...insidiously bringing even benign conversations that had no interest in edition warring into the thrall of its rage.

“So you don’t support the removal of x” would have had a place there. Here? Due to a vastly comparatively lacking magnitude, scale, potency (shot out to Blades!), not so much. Alignment is going nowhere. This is just a conversation about design utility and Alignment’s functionality vs alternatives.

Pemerton and I aren’t Alignment Bogeymen.
 
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pemerton

Legend
So then you don't support the removal of alignment?
My response to this is similar to @Manbearcat's.

I neither support nor don't support the continued existence of the Dog Star. It's something utterly beyond my control.

My degree of influence over what WotC publishes is much the same.

However, on a message board whose purpose is to foster discussion of RPGs, including FRPGs, and including D&D, I will cheerfully express my reasoning about the utility (or non-utility) of alignment in D&D and in FRPGing more generally.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Alignment is extremely specific: it locates a creature on a matrix invented by Gygax for purposes other than being a behavioural descriptor, and not a great deal more.

The second claim also is equally true of alignment. If a red dragon is Chaotic Evil does it love its children, or eat them as they hatch? Does it detest Vermeer's paintings, or admire them? Does a Lawful Good gold dragon ever spy on people, or does it always announce its presence? Does it make sentimental choices or abstractly impersonal ones?

I can't even tell, from the alignment descriptor, if the red dragon will admire the swagger of the adventurer who boldly confronts it, and let her pass - or rather will fire breath her do death and be done with it.
It really isn’t specific, it gives broad themes with naturally grey boundaries that are up for discussion and debate.

You’re trying to apply specific values (key words like aggressive) to behaviour which is most definitely not specific.

A person could be extremely aggressive in a boxing match and extremely caring and loving to his baby. Key words add very little or than just playing to stereotypes and easy labels.

An alignment system (which can be adjusted to different individuals) allows us to get a rough idea on outlook with a broad brush without needing to agonize over it.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Why tolerate them?

'This is my campaign, this is how it is, this is why, if you don't like it, someone else can DM'.

The arguments only ever come when [murderhobo PC]s player wants to torture or murder or worse to some random NPC, and realizes they have 'LG' on their character sheet. Then comes the justifications.

Unless it's a 'Good PC' only heroic campaign, there is no need to argue. I advise the player the act is evil, ensure they want to proceed, make a note of what occurred if so, and the game goes on.
Precisely! Alignment is no longer a shackle its a reflection of behaviour. I don’t tell them not to interrogate the villain with hot irons, I just warn them of the consequences of the behaviour. I’ve asked players to adjust their alignments occasionally after repeated activities and a few gentle warnings. They either embrace the change or correct the behaviour. It’s never an issue unless the alignment moves to evil in a no-evil game. (Where it’s CN PvP that’s a jerk issue not an alignment issue)
 

Aldarc

Legend
Anakin Skywalker (Start of RotS):, Male human Jedi 7/ Ace Pilot 2/ Jedi Knight 4

Alignment CG
Bond: I am the strongest Jedi that ever lived. The council are holding me back
Ideal: I am reckless and overconfident (Chaotic)
Flaw: I am terrified of losing things I love.

The above is not enough to go on as a snapshot of the above character?

What about this one:

Darth Vader (Start of ANH):, Male human Jedi 7/ Ace Pilot 2/ Jedi Knight 4/ Sith Apprentice 3/ Sith Lord 3

Alignment CE
Bond: I must follow the Emperor, until I can betray him and take his place
Ideal: The power to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the dark side of the force (Evil)
Flaw: Underneath all my hatred, a part of me is still good.
If your goal was to convince me that alignment is pointless and redundant, then congratulations, you succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I don't see any value or contribution that Alignment adds to what you put forth, particularly since the Bond/Ideal/Flaw is far more informative about how to roleplay the character. If I removed alignment from the above, what would I lose for roleplay purposes regarding the character? If anything, this suggests to me that roleplaying character and monsters would be furthered more than alignment by something more akin to Fate's use of Aspects.

I don't know about you, but it took me a long time to get here. I actually used to think of D&D (back in the '80s) as something like a setting-agnostic system. It's only after digging into those early books with fresh eyes after many years that I came to realize that the game Arneson and Gygax created is set in a world where all their influences from swords and sorcery and medieval high fantasy are in play. So Alignment isn't a way of understanding characters from fiction that was put in to help players role-play. It's part of the setting of D&D which is a place where Moorcockian Law and Chaos are really at odds with one another. That's why I use alignment in my D&D games, because when I play D&D, I want to play that game. I want to play the most D&D version of D&D I can play.
I nowadays think that Warhammer may be a better place for that conflict than D&D. I would enjoy playing D&D in a way where alignment mattered and had teeth to it, though not the MBTI personality type Alignment that has since emerged and is being fiercely advocated for in this thread, but, rather, a real conscientious aligning one's character to the forces of Good, Evil, Law, or Chaos (or even simply Law vs. Chaos). Pick one. Further the goals of its most powerful agents in the cosmos and attract heat from their enemies.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I am honestly glad this has been your experience.

I would not wish on anyone the incredibly frustrating problems I have had with actual player-group alignment arguments. It really, well and truly is NOT solely confined to academic arguments between forum-goers who have never slung dice at the same table.


Since 4e defanged it and 5e mostly preserved that, yes. But in editions prior to 4e, and in things like Pathfinder, it is and has been a real issue in actual games I have played.
Some people love to argue. Those arguments are going to continue whether or not alignment is part of the game. Just like we're going to have that disruptive person that, instead of writing LG on their character sheet will write down "Leader, seeker of justice and truth".

Alignment isn't the root cause of the issues it gets blamed for, it just an attribute of the game that people latch onto; the problems will remain.
 

/Sarcastic example incoming

Yes, it is a tool. A TOOL, don't I understand?

Like you use a hammer to drive nails.
You use a screwdriver is used to screw in screws.
You use a measuring tape to measure distances.

So, what useful function does Alignment provide me?

Well, it allows me, to take a good character or creature.... and say that they are good.

mindblown

I can even take someone who is evil and cares about keeping his word, and then say that he is lawful evil... which you know, saying it out loud, sounds kind of like sorting through a big pile of colored balls, and taking the blue ball, and putting it in the blue slot, to confirm that it is blue.


After all, how could I possibly tell if something is good or evil, if I didn't have alignment to tell me if they were good or evil?

/Sarcasm ending

I know that was a bit harsh, but really, alignment is recursive. It labels something as evil, so that we know it is evil, so that we can label it as evil. As a DM or player making something, I need to decide that it is evil first, so alignment is no help at all.

AHA! People might shout, but what if you open a book and see a new monster, one you've never seen before! What would you do then without that ever useful tool of alignment!

(cough, sorry, still some sarcasm stuck in my throat)

I'd read the monster description.

I know that I'm unique in feeling perfectly fine reading three to seven paragraphs to learn about a new monster in a 300 page book I spent $60 to own, but I find that these descriptions give me so much more information. They tell me where the monster might be found, who its allies might be, what some basic tactics are, why it has some of those abilities it has, all of these other... oh what is a good term... tools, all of these other tools I might want to use. And usually includes enough information to also let me run it, without the need for alignment.

I mean, sure, I might have no idea that there are evil beings who are selfish and only care about their own gain if I didn't have the alignment chart to tell me that, but somehow, I think reading about how a monstrous being used to be a human before being twisted by their lust for power into something monstrous might give me the same idea.

Yes, Alignment is a tool. A single tool in my toolbox. And it is a poor tool, outstripped by an entire second tool box provided alongside every monster that people refuse to use because they must defend the honor of Alignment. A single
And again you fail to see the subtelity of the tool.
Take two fighters.
Both have the same ideal, bonds and flaw.
Both are humans and come from the same town. Make them twins for all I care.
But one is LE the other is LG.
They will play very differently from each other even if otherwise they are exactly the same. Good enough for me to justify the use of alignment.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Some people love to argue. Those arguments are going to continue whether or not alignment is part of the game. Just like we're going to have that disruptive person that, instead of writing LG on their character sheet will write down "Leader, seeker of justice and truth".

Alignment isn't the root cause of the issues it gets blamed for, it just an attribute of the game that people latch onto; the problems will remain.
My experience in this respect is similar to @EzekielRaiden's: I have found that GM adjudication of alignment generates disagreements that don't arise if that is not part of the game.
 

It really isn’t specific, it gives broad themes with naturally grey boundaries that are up for discussion and debate.
I would suggest that this is another problem with alignment, and not one that has been brought up in this thread. Back in 3e, alignment wasn’t just about ethics and penchant towards order and chaos, it was also about personality, that has absolutely nothing to do with either ethics or order/chaos.

So the monk wasn’t required to be lawful because all monks tend to support the status quo, he had to be lawful because all monks are disciplined, and therefore they tend towards law. Bards weren’t chaotic because they were all iconoclasts, it was because Chaos something something creative process.

Fast-forward to 5e, and the PHB does identify alignment with ethics and penchant for order and chaos, yet players and forumites still tend to ascribe personality traits to alignments.

Like above. Saying someone is LG actually tells you nothing about broad swathes of their personality. It only tells you about their alignment and THAT is only important in the exceedingly rare cases where their alignment is relevant to what is happening.

A person could be extremely aggressive in a boxing match and extremely caring and loving to his baby. Key words add very little or than just playing to stereotypes and easy labels.
This is just wrong. The English language has thousands of words, so using two or three to describe an NPC yields many thousand possibilities. This is the opposite of a stereotype.

Meanwhile, alignment by its nature MUST assign one of 9 boxes to people, and in doing so purports to determine both their ethics and their penchant to Order or Chaos. By its nature, this is orders more likely to tend towards “stereotypes and easy labels”.

Suppose we were to replace alignment by the creature’s result of the Meyers-Briggs test. That in and of itself would expand the categories because there are 16 possible results rather than 9.
 

pemerton

Legend
Take two fighters.
Both have the same ideal, bonds and flaw.
Both are humans and come from the same town. Make them twins for all I care.
But one is LE the other is LG.
This seems rather incoherent to me.

Consider a paladin type:

Ideal: I will defend the weak. Or maybe I will exact righteous vengeance upon the wicked!
Bond: My king. Or perhaps My god.
Flaw: Lack of humility. Or for a different flavour, Sometimes I doubt.

Or a gentle monastic type:

Ideal: I will relieve suffering. Or My prayers will bring salvation to all.
Bond: My abbot. Or My monastery. Or Those in whose company I travel.
Flaw: I long for a comfortable bed. Or I lack patience with unbelievers. Or maybe I speak too much.

How could either of those characters be LE?
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My experience in this respect is similar to @EzekielRaiden's: I have found that GM adjudication of alignment generates disagreements that don't arise if that is not part of the game.
So a DM can't make a ruling?

If the DM is telling players what they can or cannot believe/think, that can be an issue. On the other hand I have a strong no evil policy which includes no torture. I'm going to have that same policy in whatever game I run, no matter whether there's alignment or not.

Would that a problem for you?
 

pemerton

Legend
An alignment system (which can be adjusted to different individuals) allows us to get a rough idea on outlook with a broad brush without needing to agonize over it.
So what's the answer to my questions? Does a CE dragon love its children, or eat them as they hatch? Is it impressed by the swagger of an adventurer who boldly confronts it, and let her pass - or rather will it fire breath her to death and be done with it? Does it detest or admire Vermeers?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think some of the complaints about alignment are simple frequency illusions. Basically if you don't like alignment, any time alignment comes up in a game it's going to stick out like a sore thumb.

So if you don't like alignment it's the reason Bob is playing a jackass, even if Bob always plays a jackass in other games that don't use alignment. Rulings by a DM are "bad" if they involve anything to do with alignment but not anything else that comes up in the game. Arguments about alignment cause games to fall apart even when there are a dozen other reasons. Having default alignment on orcs is bad, even though there will inevitably be some version of signaling "usually a bad guy" in most games.
 

pemerton

Legend
So a DM can't make a ruling?

If the DM is telling players what they can or cannot believe/think, that can be an issue. On the other hand I have a strong no evil policy which includes no torture. I'm going to have that same policy in whatever game I run, no matter whether there's alignment or not.

Would that a problem for you?
I have only ever had one PC in a (Rolemaster) game that I GMed who used torture as a standard method of operation: he had vats of magically-created acid in the basement of his house to facilitate the process. For reasons of good taste these deeds took place off screen.

The player was a relatively devout Catholic who was doing research on non-Newtonian fluids. He also liked playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and had an army of dwarves.

I have never played a character who used torture as a method.

If I wanted to talk to a player or a GM about the limits of good taste in characterisation, I would not need to point to a game-mechanical label of evil to do so. I'd just talk about the limits that I thought were salient.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I have only ever had one PC in a (Rolemaster) game that I GMed who used torture as a standard method of operation: he had vats of magically-created acid in the basement of his house to facilitate the process. For reasons of good taste these deeds took place off screen.

The player was a relatively devout Catholic who was doing research on non-Newtonian fluids. He also liked playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and had an army of dwarves.

I have never played a character who used torture as a method.

If I wanted to talk to a player or a GM about the limits of good taste in characterisation, I would not need to point to a game-mechanical label of evil to do so. I'd just talk about the limits that I thought were salient.

Which doesn't answer my question. Is it okay for a DM to have restrictions and make judgement calls on moral issues? In my case it's "torture is evil, I don't allow evil in my game". It's not a question about torture per se, it's a question about the DM setting boundaries on acceptable play.

I don't point to any "game mechanic". I simply state "no evil". The concept of evil is not limited to the game.
 

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