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D&D 5E Breaking down alignment to a basic core

Scribe

Hero
I've tried several times to figure out how to remove the 'good/evil' from the equation, since most people find Law vs Chaos easier to accept.

It starts to fall down once you look at it as a subjective moral judgement. I then try to look at it from a Self vs Holistic vs Group focus.

Law + Self = You want a system of controls to exist but you are concerned with your ability to navigate that system.
Chaos + Self = You want no system of controls to exist, you are only concerned with your own desires.
Law/Chaos + Holistic = Self/Group ceases to matter in relation to Law/Organization or Chaos/Disorder.
Law + Group = The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual and there must be order imposed on individuals.
Chaos + Group = The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual, and groups must be free from control by individuals.

I've never really tried to clean up the concept, because I dont really have an issue with the alignment system (and I love the great wheel that depends on it really) anyway.
 

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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I've tried several times over the years to remove one or more axis from the alignment chart or to use something else in their place but generally the results are not pretty. Whenever the alignment actually mattered it was awkward to hash out but not such a big deal. A good number of players seem to be so reliant on it as a railroad that they break down into either being the joker but more vicious & evil or some extreme paragon of virtue & goodness with very little of benefit being added to the game in turn. The only version of it I've seen that worked well & added something without causing players to breakdown was this thematic alignment
 

Scribe

Hero
Yes, the problem I run into is one of the core elements of High Fantasy, you presence of a 'great evil'. Well if we have great evil, there must be great good, and if there is, why does this system of morality not apply to the PCs?

You also have almost immediately spells like Protection from Evil and Good, which could just be changed to "protection from non-natural" or something but yeah, at that point its simply not so clean.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Yes, the problem I run into is one of the core elements of High Fantasy, you presence of a 'great evil'. Well if we have great evil, there must be great good, and if there is, why does this system of morality not apply to the PCs?

You also have almost immediately spells like Protection from Evil and Good, which could just be changed to "protection from non-natural" or something but yeah, at that point its simply not so clean.
Mortals have free will, immortal beings & some cursed mortals (ie werecreatures) are more bound by their nature or curse. A hurricane tornado or forest fire is a decidedly bad thing that could even be called some shade of evil if it were sentient & capable of exerting any choices but just gets called a natural disaster because they aren't & can't. A fiend celestial or whatever has intelligence & more free will than a natural disaster but is still limited in terms of how much they can exercise that free will.

For cursed mortals like were wolves & such, the kate daniels books are a nice set of books targeted similarly as the dresden files books that do a great job of exploring how people might live with such a curse & how it might shape them culturally without getting twilighty. (spoiler: a lot like hardcore AA if AA members really wanted to tear people apart & eat them rather than have too many drinks but with a few twists). The cupcake dowser books also touch on it a bit though differently. The iron druid does as well but to an even lesser degree but with more gods. For how immortals exist with limited free will... The Dresden files books somewhat get into it wih the fae courts to interesting degrees with harry acting as a catspaw to direct through loopholes while walker papers does a great job of showing how one could exist nonlinearly as cernunnos starts having problems due to the influence of time travel & free willed mortals generating multiple timelines yet to develop that he has trouble sorting. Over time The hollows series does a great job of showing how immortal beings view being summoned by sketchy mortals wanting them to do nonsense before they can go back to doing whatever they were doing (think answering the door dripping wet with shampoo still in your hair)

At least that's how I handle it
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Drop alignment from PCs. Their decisions in the game / how they portray their adventurers defines their value system.

Use alignment on NPCs as a shorthand for their AI, generally. Lawful creatures will announce themselves and attempt to parlay prior to violence. They will accept surrender. They will uphold agreements and cooperate / use tactics. Chaotic creatures will ambush, fight to the death & refuse surrender, are generally unwilling to negotiate; they engage in violence first, and attack downed PCs. They don’t use complex tactics.

good creatures can be counted on to behave altruistically, to provide help when asked, to defend the vulnerable, to value others.
Evil creatures can be counted on to behave selfishly (I’m not talking about a greedy merchant here, I mean really toxic), to lie, cheat, steal, or whatever it takes to achieve their own pursuit.

unaligned creatures like things that are good and dislike things that are bad. They’re helpful but won’t stick their own necks out. They’ll go to the mat for their own (family or group or pack or whatever) but are unlikely to help a stranger at cost. They’ll keep their word as long as it’s easy to but cave in if it gets too hard.

start with that, mix and match, and add any cultural mores that are appropriate to the creature for the setting. Now your players can observe these behaviors and predict/rely on them in game. They’ll know what most dwarves are like and what to expect when dealing with the encroaching orc horde.

TL/DR use alignment to shorthand modes of behavior for NPCs and don’t worry about some objective morality system for players.

Except Paladins who should all be lawful good like Superman.
 


TheSword

Legend
2DE359A2-E92C-457F-B7E9-365C6E78D863.jpeg


Responsible for more memes than any other part of D&D. Only a madman would remove 9 stage alignment from D&D.

The perfect opportunity to remove it, was during 5e after it was partly streamlined for 4e. Guess what, they didn’t.

Alignment works fine for most people... most people who just agree as a table what means what. There’s only a certain type of tyrannical DM getting off on tormenting players and THAT Player who believes the Great Wheel revolves around them, that turn it into an issue.

There is no philosophical or grammar/dictionary based argument for why it’s bad because Alignment is entirely subjective to the group. Nebulous, loose and open to interpretation... just like any universal system (applicable to a world full of cultures ) of morality should be.

Alignment is a result (not the cause) of player behaviours and is a useful shorthand for informing NPC behaviours. See 5e can treat PCs and NPCs different... in the rules.

Anyway, you’ll never be rid of Alignment cuz of the Blood War, the Great Wheel, the Robes of the Archmagi and Asmodeus. At least a few of which are the current design team’s favourite things.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
View attachment 132029

Responsible for more memes than any other part of D&D. Only a madman would remove 9 stage alignment from D&D.

The perfect opportunity to remove it, was during 5e after it was partly streamlined for 4e. Guess what, they didn’t.

Alignment works fine for most people... most people who just agree as a table what means what. There’s only a certain type of tyrannical DM getting off on tormenting players and THAT Player who believes the Great Wheel revolves around them, that turn it into an issue.

There is no philosophical or grammar/dictionary based argument for why it’s bad because Alignment is entirely subjective to the group. Nebulous, loose and open to interpretation... just like any universal system (applicable to a world full of cultures ) of morality should be.

Alignment is a result (not the cause) of player behaviours and is a useful shorthand for informing NPC behaviours. See 5e can treat PCs and NPCs different... in the rules.

Anyway, you’ll never be rid of Alignment cuz of the Blood War, the Great Wheel, the Robes of the Archmagi and Asmodeus. At least a few of which are the current design team’s favourite things.
Your meme is incorrect. An extended pinky is lawful evil, not lawful good.

Extending your pinky while drinking your tea is terrible etiquette. Three fingers is for holding your tea sandwich. Your teacup should be held with the pinky tucked away.

Unless, of course, you wish to inform your tea companions that you are an uncultured boor with a head full of misconceptions.
 

TheSword

Legend
Your meme is incorrect. An extended pinky is lawful evil, not lawful good.

Extending your pinky while drinking your tea is terrible etiquette. Three fingers is for holding your tea sandwich. Your teacup should be held with the pinky tucked away.

Unless, of course, you wish to inform your tea companions that you are an uncultured boor with a head full of misconceptions.
In 41 years I’ve never heard of a tea sandwich! Please share.
 


embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
In 41 years I’ve never heard of a tea sandwich! Please share.
You've never had afternoon tea?

800px-Canapes_and_finger_sandwiches._High_Tea_at_the_Savoy_Hotel.jpg


You have little sandwiches (cucumber sandwiches are the quintessential tea sandwich) and canapes or scones or crumpets.

My wife had gotten a nice little 3-tiered serving stand as a present (bought from Etsy, I suspect). It's very frou-frou and, sometimes, as a little treat for our daughters, we'll do afternoon high tea at home, complete with sandwiches and biscuits.
 

TheSword

Legend
You've never had afternoon tea?

View attachment 132064

You have little sandwiches (cucumber sandwiches are the quintessential tea sandwich) and canapes or scones or crumpets.

My wife had gotten a nice little 3-tiered serving stand as a present (bought from Etsy, I suspect). It's very frou-frou and, sometimes, as a little treat for our daughters, we'll do afternoon high tea at home, complete with sandwiches and biscuits.
My god. I’m English and I’ve never had sandwiches like that. I’ve heard that they exist, though I thought they were just sandwiches. Where are the crusts man? What holds them together when you take them down the mine?
 


I've never really tried to clean up the concept, because I dont really have an issue with the alignment system (and I love the great wheel that depends on it really) anyway.
Personally, I prefer Righteous vs Pragmatic and Disciplined vs Spontaneous. Note that this implies that any of the nine resulting alignments can be "good" or "evil"--a Righteous Disciplined person may simply view themselves righteously, or act as though certain principles of morality are paramont, while still doing ridiculously evil things. (I would even say that many of the most evil people who have ever lived saw themselves as righteous!)

Righteousness vs Pragmatism is the "what" of moral action: what is worth doing, what costs are acceptable, what results are desirable. Most "Evil" characters in D&D are actually Pragmatic ones, who prioritize efficiency and success over doing things the "right" way. The best representation of the difference is the "who you are in the dark" scenario: a pragmatic individual will give a frank evaluation and say, "if there are no consequences, then I should do whatever is most advantageous," while a righteous individual would say, "even if I could know for sure no one else would know, I would know it was Just Wrong." Fundamentally, Righteousness says some acts are virtuous (or villainous) in and of themselves, and should thus be pursued (or avoided), while Pragmatism says that (in principle) nothing is verboten, it's the costs, impacts, and consequences that set those terms.

Discipline vs Spontaneity is the "how" of moral action: how should we carry out our goals (whether they are righteous or pragmatic or neutral). This one maps more cleanly to Law vs Chaos, but is not a perfect fit, since you can have a Chaotic person (Chaotic because they oppose socially-enforced rules) who upholds a code of personal honor (Disciplined), and you can have a Lawful person (Lawful because they help enforce and support the legal apparatus) who takes a "living law" attitude that laws can and should be interpreted differently if meaningfully different situations arise (Spontaneous). Demonstrations of this can be found with stuff like the "Soldier vs Warrior" or "Technician vs Performer" tropes: one is precise and regimented, the other is passionate and dynamic. Fundamentally, Discipline says an organized, structured, "proper" approach is required for meaningful success lest you waste your efforts, while Spontaneity says that every rule will have exceptions and every pattern will have holes, so it's best to refine your ability to adapt and choose whatever makes sense in each situation.

The Paladin, obviously, is still in general Disciplined Righteous, but it is entirely possible to have a Spontaneous Pragmatic Paladin, you just have to work harder for it. (Some might argue Yoda is akin to this kind of character.) A Righteous Spontaneous person may hold that some actions are inherently morally dubious, but the best way to combat such things is to keep your options open--sure, murder is bad, but forcing everything to go through the proper channels and due process can let the guilty go unpunished and the innocent suffer.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Maybe it's time to make the Wizard of the Coast merger truly complete: dump D&D alignment in favor of the Color Pie. :devilish:
 


So... to be clear, the reason that everything in the game world needs to be assigned an arbitrary spiritual/ideological category pertaining to the metaphysical underpinnings of the cosmology... is because you don't want your game to be bogged down in a bunch of philosophical minutia? Is that really an accurate summary of the position you're taking here?
It is, in fact, the reason alignment exists and persists. It permits the myriad details of religion, philosophy, sociology, etc. to be summed up in a SHORTHAND reference. Exceptionally few people want or need a deeply detailed accounting of beliefs and behaviors for PC's, NPC's and monsters. But (more or less) players at a table have SOME understanding of what you mean when you say, for example, Chaotic Good instead of Chaotic Neutral.

People have lived and gamed with 9 alignments quite well actually for over 40 years. They argue about it constantly but they are overwhelmingly arguing over the miniscule details and edge cases - and it's those arguments that alignment is largely intended to eliminate. Don't mistake persistent online "discussions" about alignment minutia and abuses for uselessness and universal disfunction.
 

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