D&D 5E Designing (Neutral)Good Mechanics For Alignment In DnD And Ways To Interact With It (+)

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
Alignment is a divisive thing in DnD with a history of being misused and misinterpreted both intentionally and accidentally by both players and DMs, but I personally think it still is an interesting concept that holds potential if only it could be worked the right way, in 5E alignment is mostly vestigial and on the level of impact of TBIF so I made this thread to discuss options of how to make it both meaningful and enjoyable.

Part of the crux of what makes alignment the source of so many arguments IMO is it’s subjectivity, there needs to be concrete established explanations of what defines the fundamental principles of each point on the two axis’s that are both broad, nuanced and intricate in their definitions, which traits are more fundamental in defining a creature’s alignment when they have conflicting interpretations (IE: is it more important to his alignment that batman has a strict lawful personal code of conduct or that he is a chaotic vigilante breaking the law), “What really is Evil when you get down to it?” Or “Well from my character’s perspective and their values I actually did a Good act” Should not be things your group should be able to debate because you have the definitions right there to refer to telling you ‘By these metrics, this is what is Evil’ and ‘No, Killing the widow so she didn’t have to suffer learning the knowledge her partner is dead isn’t actually a Good act’.

Now, as for actual mechanical implementations I think would be interesting, and the mindset of Alignment should be a springboard to jump higher creatively, not a shackle to tie you down,
Alignment Boons: each alignment has a number of benefits you can gain for being said alignment, unique familiars (like a angel/cherub for good characters), resisting certain damage or conditions (chaotic resists mind control, neutral resists radiant and necrotic) and other benefits (good characters have bonuses to defend innocents, lawful has an extra attunement slot).
Faction Compatibly: characters get different modifiers to interacting with various people, groups and extraplanar gods, demons and other similar entities based on their respective alignments and personalities, hopefully in a more nuanced fashion than ‘lawful and chaotic don’t get along’.
Aligned Items: Not ‘your alignment is forcibly changed if you use this’ or ‘penalties if you don’t match alignment’ just ‘you don’t get to use all the special bonus tricks if you don’t match it’s Good alignment but it’s still a +2 greatsword that deals radiant damage’ or that does something different for a character of each alignment that wields it.

Those are just my few thoughts, What are all yours on how to give alignment a reboot into something worthwhile? And please remember this is a plus thread so no trashing other people’s ideas or the concept of alignment in general.

TLDR: what mechanics or tweaks would you add to alignment to make it more meaningful and fun
 
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Stormonu

Legend
I don't think you're going to get concrete definitions, there's going to be variance in folks opinions. Probably something to hash out by the table in a broad sense in session 0 terms. During play, I think I would probably go with a table vote - if someone at the table thinks an act grossly violates an alignment, rather than the DM being the sole arbitrator, let the table discuss and vote on it. Yes, this could slow down the game somewhat if it comes up and everyone starts arguing their case, but agreeing to use alignment in the first place is pulling philosophy into the game, and it's a good idea to determine everyone's stance on the subject so its clear.

Still, I do like the idea of allowing abilities, spells, boons, monsters and the like that have a tie to alignment in some form or fashion. After the first few conversations, most tables should have a good idea of what aligns to what and things should hopefully flow naturally from there.
 

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
I don't think you're going to get concrete definitions, there's going to be variance in folks opinions. Probably something to hash out by the table in a broad sense in session 0 terms. During play, I think I would probably go with a table vote - if someone at the table thinks an act grossly violates an alignment, rather than the DM being the sole arbitrator, let the table discuss and vote on it. Yes, this could slow down the game somewhat if it comes up and everyone starts arguing their case, but agreeing to use alignment in the first place is pulling philosophy into the game, and it's a good idea to determine everyone's stance on the subject so its clear.

Still, I do like the idea of allowing abilities, spells, boons, monsters and the like that have a tie to alignment in some form or fashion. After the first few conversations, most tables should have a good idea of what aligns to what and things should hopefully flow naturally from there.
Oh i agree you’re never going to get perfect definitions for alignments but it’d really help if the explanations the game gives us were much less ambiguous on what defines them, leaving it less up to interpretation.
‘for the purposes of gameplay the fundamentals of each alignment are X, Y and Z’
 

Alignment is a divisive thing in DnD with a history of being misused and misinterpreted both intentionally and accidentally by both players and DMs, but I personally think it still is an interesting concept that holds potential if only it could be worked the right way, in 5E alignment is mostly vestigial and on the level of impact of TBIF so I made this thread to discuss options of how to make it both meaningful and enjoyable.

Part of the crux of what makes alignment the source of so many arguments IMO is it’s subjectivity, there needs to be concrete established explanations of what defines the fundamental principles of each point on the two axis’s that are both broad, nuanced and intricate in their definitions, which traits are more fundamental in defining a creature’s alignment when they have conflicting interpretations (IE: is it more important to his alignment that batman has a strict lawful personal code of conduct or that he is a chaotic vigilante breaking the law), “What really is Evil when you get down to it?” Or “Well from my character’s perspective and their values I actually did a Good act” Should not be things your group should be able to debate because you have the definitions right there to refer to telling you ‘By these metrics, this is what is Evil’ and ‘No, Killing the widow so she didn’t have to suffer learning the knowledge her partner is dead isn’t actually a Good act’.

Now, as for actual mechanical implementations I think would be interesting, and the mindset of Alignment should be a springboard to jump higher creatively, not a shackle to tie you down,
Alignment Boons: each alignment has a number of benefits you can gain for being said alignment, unique familiars (like a angel/cherub for good characters), resisting certain damage or conditions (chaotic resists mind control, neutral resists radiant and necrotic) and other benefits (good characters have bonuses to defend innocents, lawful has an extra attunement slot).
Faction Compatibly: characters get different modifiers to interacting with various people, groups and extraplanar gods, demons and other similar entities based on their respective alignments and personalities, hopefully in a more nuanced fashion than ‘lawful and chaotic don’t get along’.
Aligned Items: Not ‘your alignment is forcibly changed if you use this’ or ‘penalties if you don’t match alignment’ just ‘you don’t get to use all the special bonus tricks if you don’t match it’s Good alignment but it’s still a +2 greatsword that deals radiant damage’ or that does something different for a character of each alignment that wields it.

Those are just my few thoughts, What are all yours on how to give alignment a reboot into something worthwhile? And please remember this is a plus thread so no trashing other people’s ideas or the concept of alignment in general.


After playing/running games exclusively with 5E rules for years, I plan to run a DCC campaign someday in the next 6 months (fingers crossed). One of things that compelled me to search for an OSR type game is Moldvay's 3-Alignment system that uses Law, Neutral, and Chaos. Anyway, I found this article that was written in 2014 that i think gives a great description of this system.

As far as the 5e Alignment system goes; I don't really pay much attention to it. I think the Personality Traits are a good replacement for the 9-Alignment system.



Edit: i might port Moldvay system to 5e after running some DCC. Not sure if it'll work though
 
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Micah Sweet

Legend
I have always gone by the 2e definitions, as depicted in that editions first printing PH. That was the basis of the Planescape setting, which did more with alignment than anything else in D&D.
 

payn

Legend
I like the 3E/PF1 era of alignment. It gives an extra mechanical playground with spells and combat. I like the weaponry in effects of axiomatic and anarchic. I always liked cosmic battles between Law and Chaos with PC/NPCs tossed in the middle. I dont recall what neutral got in benefit. Was it that it took no damage from either law/chaos or does it take damage from all of it? Either way I feel neutral could get a boost in things. Though, enough is there for folks who just dont want to join that cosmic battle.
 

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
If Alignment was more of a prominent factor then book of specifically based alignment quests and monsters might be interesting, like ‘hey, got a player or group of X alignment who needs a little boost? Here’s a god or some such who might be interested in recruiting them, a ready made mini-dungeon with appropriate alignment rewards at the end of things’

EDIT: specific random encounter tables that only appear if you have a member of the appropriate alignment in your group, you’re evil? Well this unicorn wants a piece of you, lawful? Here’s a storm spirit to ruin your day.
 
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payn

Legend
If Alignment was more of a prominent factor then book of specifically based alignment quests and monsters might be interesting, like ‘hey, got a player or group of X alignment who needs a little boost? Here’s a god or some such who might be interested in recruiting them, a ready made mini-dungeon with appropriate alignment rewards at the end of things’
I like where this is going. I could see some adventure mods that put the PCs in the middle of a big alignment clash. Like a Marut chasing down a Simbul.
 

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
After playing/running games exclusively with 5E rules for years, I plan to run a DCC campaign someday in the next 6 months (fingers crossed). One of things that compelled me to search for an OSR type game is Moldvay's 3-Alignment system that uses Law, Neutral, and Chaos. Anyway, I found this article that was written in 2014 that i think gives a great description of this system.

As far as the 5e Alignment system goes; I don't really pay much attention to it. I think the Personality Traits are a good replacement for the 9-Alignment system.



Edit: i might port Moldvay system to 5e after running some DCC. Not sure if it'll work though
Although I do think this is something good to include, specifying that there’s both mortal level ‘personality/characteristics’ and outer plains ‘inherent nature’ levels of alignment, there’s ‘I follow the rules lawful’ and then there’s ‘invested in cosmic order LAWFUL’

EDIT: sorry that wasn’t the link I thought it was, i was actually thinking of this post in another thread
D&D General - Alignment: the problem is Chaos
 
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I use alignment as what the PC or NPC is at the moment. Law is about fitting in (although who you are fitting in with may not reflect who is around you), but you want a pat on the head (if only from yourself) for fitting in. Chaos is about standing out. Both of those are based on the notion that you want someone (even if it is only in your own head) to pay attention to you. Neutrality is about acting in a way that others don't pay close attention to you. So, NG is the sneaky good and that lends itself to all kinds of mechanical goodness: advantages on stealth or persuasion checks, being able to cast disguise self or pass without trace without using a spell slot, or fun with inspiration points.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Alignment is a big part of my current campaign. It is an old-school-inspired megadungeon, but run using 5e.

I like to take mechanics and make them part of the real world experience. Turns and rounds are part of arcane magic theory, classes are a thing, etc.

Alignment is part of the cosmology of my game. It is that way because that's how the gods have ordered themselves. It may be simplistic, just like the Vorlons vs the Shadows was simplistic, but it can still make for good story telling.

In game terms it affects a lot.
  • To receive divine magic, you must be aligned with the divinity providing it.
  • Many magic items can only be attuned to by creatures of specific alignments.
  • I use homebrewed reputation and faction rules that involve where a faction's alignment (or alignments it tolerates) can impact you renown or infamy.
  • I use Matt Coleville's Strongholds and Followers rules for Concordance. Concordance can be used by clerics to petition for short term boons. The actions that earn concordance are dependent on acting with the deities alignment.
  • Magical traps and wards can target based on alignment
It is gamist, because it is a game. But it does not break versimiltude to me, because there have always been groups in history who have created and worked hard to adhere to strong moral codes. Most people don't. Most people can only vaguely articulate what is good, evil, chaotic, or lawful. Most people are not expending great effort on studying philosophy, meditating on reality, or praying to stay on the right path. But most people are also not heroes or villians with supernatural powers.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I decided I wanted a city vs wilderness theme. So I defined Law and Chaos based on that.

Lawful/Chaotic is based on loyalty.

A Lawful person is loyal to systems.
A Chaotic person is loyal to people.

So if you are loyal to the King personally, that is a Chaotic bond. If you are loyal to the Crown as an institution, that is a Lawful bond.

The city people societies tend to be Lawful, with institutions more important than individuals. The wilderness people societies tend to be Chaotic, with individuals more important than institutions.

A Chaotic ruler selection process tests the ruler, or relies on consensus of other powerful people - personal bonds. A Lawful ruler selection process is based on rules, not the personal characteristics of the ruler in question or personal loyalties.

So "heir" based inheritance is Lawful, Democratic elections are Chaotic.

No society or mortal person is pure Law or Chaos.

This matcges how most Chaotic Evil societies are described; the weak are subserviant to the strong (so long as they are strong).

In a Lawful Evil society, the ruler might not have personal power; in a Chaotic Evil society, that is very unlikely.

---

Pulling back, we can now have characters with Bonds that are Lawful/Chaotic/Good/Evil or Neutral in any axis.

If I wanted to make this mechanical, I might assign Bonds levels. And tie what you can use them for to their alignment.

You could "tap" a Chaotic bond to resist mind control, for example. "Tap"ing a bond might give you a reroll with a bonus equal to the bond's level.

Chaos: Freedom
Lawful: Standing firm
Good: Protective
Evil: Harming

Evil: Can tap to reroll attack you make and damage you do.
Good: Can tap to reroll attacks on you and your allies.
Lawful: Can tap to resist being moved, knocked prone, or damaged.
Chaos: Can tap to avoid having your speed reduced, or reactions against your actions.

After you tap a bond, you cannot tap it again until you complete a short rest.

Naturally tapping a bond defensively subtracts the value of the bond. For damage, it might even be a number of die sizes that scales with PC level.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Pulling back, we can now have characters with Bonds that are Lawful/Chaotic/Good/Evil or Neutral in any axis.

If I wanted to make this mechanical, I might assign Bonds levels. And tie what you can use them for to their alignment.

You could "tap" a Chaotic bond to resist mind control, for example. "Tap"ing a bond might give you a reroll with a bonus equal to the bond's level.

Chaos: Freedom
Lawful: Standing firm
Good: Protective
Evil: Harming

Evil: Can tap to reroll attack you make and damage you do.
Good: Can tap to reroll attacks on you and your allies.
Lawful: Can tap to resist being moved, knocked prone, or damaged.
Chaos: Can tap to avoid having your speed reduced, or reactions against your actions.

After you tap a bond, you cannot tap it again until you complete a short rest.

Naturally tapping a bond defensively subtracts the value of the bond. For damage, it might even be a number of die sizes that scales with PC level.

That's very interesting. I could tying this into inspiration. Instead of something that is recharged on a short rest, if you act in a way that accords with your alignment, e.g. a lawful character standing firm even when its against his interest or a good character taking personal risk to protect someone, you can earn inspiration. The problem I've always had with inspiration, however, is that it becomes the DMs award for players playing "well". I would like it to be something more in the player's control. Some tables let other player award inspiration to each other, but that's just another flavor of the same problem. I think that I would instead just let the player roleplay a situation where they uphold their alignment in a way that poses some difficulty for them. For some players it may just be mechanical, and that's fine. But it gives another opportunity for role play and a bit of theater for players that are into that. Either way, I would rather a player say why they are inspired or inspiring than the GM or other players.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That's very interesting. I could tying this into inspiration. Instead of something that is recharged on a short rest, if you act in a way that accords with your alignment, e.g. a lawful character standing firm even when its against his interest or a good character taking personal risk to protect someone, you can earn inspiration. The problem I've always had with inspiration, however, is that it becomes the DMs award for players playing "well". I would like it to be something more in the player's control. Some tables let other player award inspiration to each other, but that's just another flavor of the same problem. I think that I would instead just let the player roleplay a situation where they uphold their alignment in a way that poses some difficulty for them. For some players it may just be mechanical, and that's fine. But it gives another opportunity for role play and a bit of theater for players that are into that. Either way, I would rather a player say why they are inspired or inspiring than the GM or other players.
When I ran my Planescape campaign (or any other game where I think alignment being more front-and-center plays to the theme), I swap out Ideal for a statement based on the chosen alignment, derived from the definitions of each alignment in the rules. For example, Lawful Good is "I can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society."

If a player does something that speaks to that Ideal, they can claim Inspiration, but only once that session. To claim more Inspiration that session, they must play to a Trait, Bond, or Flaw. See my post on The Case for Inspiration. This is the most common thing people take from my games to their own games, based on their feedback.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
I think one really helpful way to use Alignment concretely in D&D is to tie it to universal cultural values. There was an article I found online that tried to match each alignment to Shalom Schwartz's study on the subject, and I think they're really useful in defining what each group stands for while remaining sensitive as humanly possible. The whole point of these values is that they are (as far as the research can tell) universal to every culture on the planet, so there should be smaller risk of cultural insensitivity. The essay also ties each alignment to much more concrete terms (so Chaotic Neutral isn't just lolrandom but Self-Direction and Stimulation, which paints the concrete picture of a person seeking novelty in life and caring a lot about their personal freedoms) without being moralistic about it. You can have believable conflicts about clashing values, make mechanical effects on believing in a specific value over another, but avoid falling into stereotypes and banalities.

I actually combined this system with Magic's five colours in my own game, and describing characters by their mana colour which ties into specific values has been met rather positively.
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
If you're going to do this, I suggest not doing definitions at all. Go straight up old school and make it teams. You are on the side of Good, no matter what kind of a scumbag you are. You are on Team Evil no matter how much of a huggable cinnamon roll you are. Chaos has bureaucrats, and Law has mercenaries.

Make it so Alignment is an active choice. If you don't know about it or haven't picked a side, you don't have one. But if you do, you get the bennies for it and the other guys have it out for you.

That way you get all the loaded terminology and espoused ideals the game is going to ignore anyway, and don't end up policing the players' behavior or making them feel judged where you and them disagree ethically or morally.
 

The fundamental problem of alignment is that it's a generalised two axis alignment system rather than a setting specific one axis alignment system.
  • In the Keep on the Borderlands pseudo-Western setting Law (representing the forces Back East and "civilisation") vs Chaos (representing the orcs/folks in the Caves of Chaos) makes perfect sense, with the Neutrals liking that they live in "free" or "balanced" territory and wanting survival but not law. Good vs Evil is secondary to the great clash.
  • In the Dragonlance setting there is a bright Good (metallic dragons, Paladine, white robes) vs Evil (chromatic dragons, Takhsis, black robes) clash with the sides coming colour coded for your convenience and the morality of a Saturday morning cartoon. And law vs chaos isn't really a thing.
  • In the Eberron setting morality is shades of grey. And the Lawful Good Queen is the person who is most keen on restarting the Last War while the evil vampire usurper king is the royal most keen on saving the world from the horrors of another war.
In all these cases having the right alignment system really accentuates the themes of the setting (in Eberron's case by subverting it and showing how even someone who follows Lawful Good tenets can be a real danger to everyone, emphasising that the entire setting is shades of grey).

So the problem is that the alignment mechanics shouldn't be designed for D&D. They should be designed for each separate D&D setting and applied to that setting. Or possibly for each separate campaign or subsetting within one of the larger settings, like the Realms. An adventure set in and around Waterdeep dealing with protecting people from raiders and one set in and around Menzobarranzan dealing with house politics might want entirely different alignment systems.
 

Aldarc

Legend
If you're going to do this, I suggest not doing definitions at all. Go straight up old school and make it teams. You are on the side of Good, no matter what kind of a scumbag you are. You are on Team Evil no matter how much of a huggable cinnamon roll you are. Chaos has bureaucrats, and Law has mercenaries.

Make it so Alignment is an active choice. If you don't know about it or haven't picked a side, you don't have one. But if you do, you get the bennies for it and the other guys have it out for you.

That way you get all the loaded terminology and espoused ideals the game is going to ignore anyway, and don't end up policing the players' behavior or making them feel judged where you and them disagree ethically or morally.
This is closer to how I would do it. Make it about teams and factions. I would look at Piety from Theros and possibly use it as the basis for Alignment. The characters can pick an Alignment: Good, Law, Evil, or Chaos. They can get benefits from their Piety/Alignment, but gaining points in your Piety/Alignment also attracts heat from the opposing Alignment. You can pick Neutral/Balance, but you get no benefit from it just as you take no heat for it.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
This is closer to how I would do it. Make it about teams and factions. I would look at Piety from Theros and possibly use it as the basis for Alignment. The characters can pick an Alignment: Good, Law, Evil, or Chaos. They can get benefits from their Piety/Alignment, but gaining points in your Piety/Alignment also attracts heat from the opposing Alignment. You can pick Neutral/Balance, but you get no benefit from it just as you take no heat for it.
If you'll go that way, Theros also has a Piety track for nonbelievers that you could replicate for Neutrally-aligned people (I believe it's the Iconoclast option under Supernatural Gifts).
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
TLDR: what mechanics or tweaks would you add to alignment to make it more meaningful and fun?
In 5E it triggers some spell effects and magic items. Besides that, nothing. But what alignment is supposed to be for is how different factions react people of different alignments. Your PCs are all chaotic evil and you go before a lawful good king to ask for help. You can replace chaotic evil and lawful good with specific names of factions that despise each other and you get the same effect. It's short hand. But that short hand is in natural language so has a lot...a lot...a lot of baggage. We mostly get hung up on that baggage and argue about that.

The trouble is that people have different moralities and everyone thinks they're good. Especially the evil people. So you end up with endless arguments about what is good and what is evil. And it's mostly down to people arguing that their own personal morality system is the objective good and everyone else is wrong. It's like the "does sales = quality" discussion only with morality. What people like they say is good or quality and they will endlessly justify that. Likewise, what people dislike they say is evil or low quality and they will endlessly justify that.

Alignment is an abstraction that tries really hard to be (and people try really hard to make it into) something that's concrete. It can work as an abstraction, but it doesn't work as anything concrete. At least not with the present 3x3 grid of alignment. You could easily do a sliding scale / gradient of law vs chaos and add mechanics to that. But what it comes down to is why? What do you need an alignment system for? What does it do?

It is short hand for how various factions interact with each other. You can achieve the same results with a robust faction system. Or change the names to not have real world connotations. Or change them to more explicitly descriptive...like Utterly Selfish instead of chaotic evil. Or something. But it all comes down to how others react to you. A decent DM can do that with or without an alignment system.
 

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