How welcome would a wordy and somewhat philosophical treatment of alignment be here? [Thread resolved, thank you.]

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yep. Several. Over the course of the years, I've had opportunity to teach several folks how to play, who really needed a handle on what a "role" really was, and how you build a character and personality that isn't your own, and display it for the rest of the players. For several of these folks, having a guideline to work with was instrumental.
The new players I have introduced to D&D understood concepts of role and differing personalities oft times better than myself. Something about lets pretend being a thing and the kids in question being very dramatic personalities themselves ;-p

Also, for several tables that were admittedly playing in large part for escapism, the mechanical ability to just figure out, once and for all, whether the bad guys really were bad, was a solid way for them to be ale to relax more into the game.
I admit being able to say see... that one is the bad guy has an appeal
And, in a couple, the system was well-used to drive some of the metaphysics of the world - when Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos are palpable forces, as much as gravity is, that can be a great story-driving tool.
I think that came across in Stormbringer better that D&D ... more like allegiance than alignment it didnt try to be a personality measurement so much.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think that came across in Stormbringer better that D&D ... more like allegiance than alignment it didnt try to be a personality measurement so much.
I think that the confusion that alignment measures personality is a big part of the problem with the acceptance of it. If you've been taught that alignment is personality, then yes, it's terrible as a measure of personality.

One of the classic Dragon magazine articles is, "The Seven Sentence NPC", C.M. Cline, published in Dragon #184. If you haven't encountered it, and you are a RPer of any sort (and a GM certainly) it is well worth your time to track it down.

At the end of the article Cline gives three or four sample NPCs whom he's given his seven sentence treatment. Each one has a clear cut personality.

But none of them have an alignment. Thus a personality can exist independently of an alignment.

However, while none of the NPCs are given an alignment, if one of those NPCs - say the tough Baron - is given an alignment then it tells us a great deal about the character and how he is likely to behave when faced with difficult choices which the personality itself does not tell us. Interestingly, most of those NPCs can reasonably be given any of the nine alignments, and the result is nine very different NPCs with very similar personalities but very different characters.

Thus one may prove that alignment isn't a measure of personality per se, but is something like a measure of allegiance.
 
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Aebir-Toril

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So, um... was this an attempt at trollery, or perhaps an essay that has yet to be written?

OP, I'm willing to read your essay and offer my thoughts if you ever get around to posting it.

Edit: Sorry, I didn't realize when the OP posted originally, carry on! I was being a tad impatient.
 
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I've seen alignment detract from a lot of tables. Not all of them I was sitting at.

Have you ever seen a table benefit from it?
I think the only clear benefit I've ever seen actually work out is the escapist one of clearly-labelled goodies and baddies which Umbran mentions. The shape of the Planes kind of benefits, but doesn't actually require actual people to have alignments (and comes from a source - Moorcock - where clearly most people did not!).

Interestingly all the most problematic stuff I've seen at tables with alignment has revolved around Lawful Good, and not just the expected "Lawful Stupid" or "Lawful Stick-in-the-mud" stuff. I once saw a campaign end and a DM quit because of a nurture/nature debate and the fact that he believed genocide and literal baby-killing (of Orcs, in the FR, long after we had specific, named examples of non-Evil Orcs in said setting, though that didn't come up until he tried to re-litigate this a year or two later) was not only morally justifiable but morally imperative if you were Lawful Good. Not even one of the players was having it though. Especially not the Paladin, who was told he would lose his Paladin-hood by failing to kill cowering, weeping orc toddlers because it was required for him to remain LG... Chaotic Neutral has also produced more real problems in my experience, at table, than Chaotic Evil.

Yes. And you cannot blame someone for not liking Brussels sprouts, if the only preparation they've had was having them boiled to death. If the only version of the thing you've seen is a bad one, yeah, you'll want to avoid it. That's understandable.
To be fair though many of us have had Brussel sprouts every way from boiled to mush to what we are told is absolutely perfect (mustardy and sproingy and with butter) and even at best, they've just not been something you would seek out. That's not even intended as an analogy - that's honestly my experience. Peak Brussel Sprout is, like, okay. It's fine, I don't hate it. I'll happily eat it as part of the meal.

And whilst that isn't intended as an analogy (i.e. I'm not making up how I feel about them), I do think it works as one, because the best alignment systems I've seen can be said to "not get in the way", or work okay with making really hack-n-slash campaigns seem more reasonable (so long as not pushed too far, a la Mr Orc Genocide), but I've never seen an alignment system I'd seek out in any edition D&D or a D&D-relative. It's like, if D&D didn't already have alignment, if it had been added in a sourcebook, I think it would be an extremely unpopular rule (even if WotC were inexplicably supporting it).

But I also kind of feel like we're all chatting here in the foyer before some four-hour opera kicks off so what do I know! ;)
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I once saw a campaign end and a DM quit because of a nurture/nature debate and the fact that he believed genocide and literal baby-killing (of Orcs, in the FR, long after we had specific, named examples of non-Evil Orcs in said setting, though that didn't come up until he tried to re-litigate this a year or two later) was not only morally justifiable but morally imperative if you were Lawful Good.
I don't think you need to have alignments for this to be a problem. Basically any time you have an exploration of good and evil, and you have an utterly incoherent definition of good and evil, you are going to run into this sort of thing whether you have mechanical repercussions or not. Some groups avoid it by discouraging there from being any repercussions to player actions, whether divine, legal, or social, but then if actions don't have repercussions it's not really a serious exploration of anything but a dungeon.

I'm a bit agnostic on the whole orc baby killing thing, simply because orcs aren't real. I don't even have orcs in my game. The goblins I do have I'm pretty clear on the fact that they have personhood equal to humanity (although there is debate about that, my secret word from on high here would be they are wrong, and the big hint of that is that goblins are a PC race), and there are certainly named non-evil goblins and my hand was forced I'd assess attempts at goblin genocide to be evil.

But on the other hand, gnolls are emphatically not people and there are no non-evil examples. Gnoll pup killing has never come up, but attempts at gnoll genocide would be justifiable. They are all basically evil flesh puppets with an evil creator. But I'd have no particular problems one way or the other with a DM saying for the purposes of his campaign, "All intelligent humanoids have free will and are people.", or conversely designating goblins or orcs as non-people as long as the setting is coherent. And I really wouldn't see a lot in that choice beyond personal preference.

But yeah, once it's been demonstrated that at least one is non-evil, then they are people - you made your choice. You can't have it both ways.

(How this debate would play out in a science fiction setting is somewhat different, and involves questions like, "Are the Alien xenomorphs people, and if they are does that even matter?" And it would be perfectly fine to import that sci-fi perspective to a superficially fantasy setting.)

Not even one of the players was having it though. Especially not the Paladin, who was told he would lose his Paladin-hood by failing to kill cowering, weeping orc toddlers because it was required for him to remain LG...
Which of course is what an actual LG person would say - darn the consequences, I'm standing by my honor. Sounds like the player is qualified to play the character he was running.

Chaotic Neutral has also produced more real problems in my experience, at table, than Chaotic Evil.
The big problem I usually see with CN is people want to play it as CE but without repercussions. Thus after a typically indulgent spree of violence, murder, and theft, they typically are upset with me when I change their alignment from CN to CE in my own records. I've come up with the solution to this though. I bribe them. Instead of just telling them that they've been playing CE instead of CN, when they do something particularly loathsome and disrespectful of the personhood of others, I'll say something like, "Ok, I'll give you 100XP if you change your alignment to Chaotic Evil." And typically the player's underlying motivation is actually "win more", and so typically they take this offer as a good deal. It solves the problem without getting into an argument whose actual root is usually they don't want to be "punished" because it interferes with their "winning".
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I think the only clear benefit I've ever seen actually work out is the escapist one of clearly-labelled goodies and baddies which Umbran mentions. The shape of the Planes kind of benefits, but doesn't actually require actual people to have alignments (and comes from a source - Moorcock - where clearly most people did not!).
Me three... Elric himself pretty much demonstrated the ambiguity of those allegiances in spite of interacting directly with the forces of law and chaos. He was fond of law and neutral and got along well with their agents often and his acts often aided chaos but sometimes definitely not. Stormbringer was a force of chaos that was created to tear down the forces of chaos and law both.
 
I don't think you need to have alignments for this to be a problem.
"You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!"

I mean, yes, you can have stupid philosophical arguments without alignments. Vampire and Mage certainly caused a few, though Mage was literally about stupid philosophical arguments so we should probably cut it a break on that front.

But early D&D (up to and including 3.XE, I would personally assert, though it was much worse in 2E), had some unfortunate design elements that made such arguments far more likely to occur than they were in equivalent pulpy fantasy games. I mean, this kind of thing didn't happen in Earthdawn - sure you got arguments, but they were in-character arguments about right and wrong, not player vs DM "this is what LG" means arguments.

So not to go on too long but I think AD&D accidentally facilitated this kind of thing. Particularly with LG which was commonly tied to magical powers (not just Paladins, but LG Specialty Priests too). And by having formalized alignments, at least for teenagers and young people it made calling out bad behaviour a little harder, because the "IM ROLEPLAYING!!!" defense rang at least a little true. I think we all stopped buying that by about 22 but...

But yeah, once it's been demonstrated that at least one is non-evil, then they are people - you made your choice. You can't have it both ways.
Our opinion was that orcs were people - just usually bad people. The fact that their children were weeping and cowering rather than trying to gnaw our ankles off seemed to support this, in broad terms. We even challenged the DM to say they were demons or something, which he wouldn't.

Which of course is what an actual LG person would say - darn the consequences, I'm standing by my honor. Sounds like the player is qualified to play the character he was running.
100%. He was a great Paladin. Honestly I don't think I've ever otherwise felt good about a campaign ending prematurely, but we all felt pretty okay about that. Said DM was a perfectly fine and harmless player, I note.

The big problem I usually see with CN is people want to play it as CE but without repercussions.
Ah, interesting! That's slightly different to what I've usually seen go wrong with CN, which was more along the lines of "I'm CN so I should act completely randomly and point-blank refuse to go along with any plan, even if I agree with it and just randomly help the enemy or attack friendly NPCs or wander off", which I think it's fair to blame in part on the wording/description of CN in 2E in some sourcebooks. Also note "acting completely randomly" often does coincide with "acting in my own best interests in the extreme, extreme short term", so it's not entirely different! Whereas I've seen CE characters who were entirely reasonable and could play well with others, just heartless, utterly selfish monsters. I do think the fact that no-one played a non-monster CE PC until we were in our twenties factors in there, though.
 

Aebir-Toril

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Alignment philosophy has only rarely actually benefited my game, but it rarely retracts from it. This is largely because I'm not the type of DM who says "play by your alignment" all the time. In fact, I use such restrictions very, very rarely.

That being said, I believe that the alignment system can function as a good approximation of ideological tendencies as long as you treat it more as a tool than an explicit rule, except in terms of Celestials and Fiends.

Let me explain.

If a PC who is Chaotic Neutral decides that it is in his or her interest to murder people in their sleep (cultists, in this case), I won't pass a moral judgement. I won't even pass a moral judgement if a Paladin who is Lawful Good does so, although their oath's terms may be violated.

The explicit aspect of alignment is only really important when you consider outsiders, or if you have an unusally-alignment-attuned campaign. For example, a mortal can be inclined to take Chaotic Good actions most of the time, but a CG Celestial is by its nature always Chaotic Good.

Of course, this varies by game, and by your conception of Celestial versus Fiend and such concerns.

The central thesis at my table is that the DM doesn't tell you what your character would intrinsically be "not good" for doing. After all, a Lawful Good missionary whose creed includes slaying and drowning nonbelievers is still Lawful Good because of their conception of their actions according to what they see as Lawful Good.

In my opinion, it's not exactly my place to pass judgement on what "Chaotic Good" means to an individual PC.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So not to go on too long but I think AD&D accidentally facilitated this kind of thing.
I never had the problem with it in AD&D that others report, in part because I tended to play with people similar to myself. It was only when I found myself in a mixed group with some self-declared Satanists (at age 13), that I ever had the first alignment problems. For example, simply declaring that I was playing a LG character, was met with voiced disgust on the grounds that LG people were simply stupid and their morals just got in the way of winning. CE was the best alignment because you were free to do whatever you wanted, and having a LG player in the party got in the way of that. That fellowship didn't last long for a lot of reasons, but it led me to the rule as a DM that players had to play characters of compatible alignments.

I do see why applying the strict letter of the AD&D rules would lead to problems in many groups, and there is a ton of advise on campaign management in the 1e DMG that seems highly adversarial and which I never really understood until I ran an open gaming table at a local store that approximated what I think Gygax's experience as a DM was like - running games for 12 players at a time, different players every week, running games for strangers and near strangers, etc. Gygax writes the DMG with a bunch of advice that assumes that chaotic environment is more or less normal, and in that context the seemingly weird rules about having designated callers, training, alignment, and never giving the players an inch start to make sense.

I think alignment in those early games was something like alignment in Nethack, and it made sense in that context. Gygax was tracking alignment loosely based on actions that were explicitly against your alignment - saying using poison as a 'lawful' in either system or withholding treasure from your fellow party members. As in Nethack, there is an intended loose balance between the mechanical advantages of different alignments, and a player that is attempting to garner the advantages and avoid the penalties of multiple alignments is basically cheating, and no cries of "but I'm just playing my character" or appeals to thepian virtues overturns that fundamental assessment.

In practice, the hard lever of class or level loss isn't one that Gygax needed to pull often, because he had the more subtle lever of increased training time and costs that would take a character out of the game for an extended period and force the player to roll up a replacement starting at level 1. But that lever wasn't one that fit with the usual way tables that had a small number of close friends and lacked Gygax's rigorous dungeon and delve format played. Training time and costs were the one rule I never saw enforced by any table I played with.

Ah, interesting! That's slightly different to what I've usually seen go wrong with CN, which was more along the lines of "I'm CN so I should act completely randomly and point-blank refuse to go along with any plan, even if I agree with it and just randomly help the enemy or attack friendly NPCs or wander off", which I think it's fair to blame in part on the wording/description of CN in 2E in some sourcebooks.
Much of your discussion makes it seem like you came into D&D late in 1e or in 2e, and 2e had a very different write up of the alignments than classic Gygax. I don't think any writer - TSR or WotC - has done a really good job of explaining what the alignments mean, and I think the situation has been made worse by the fact that each writer has subtly disagreed with the others. Worse, each writer has had their own biases that introduced subtle incoherence into the description, starting with Gygax's tendency based on his background to both treat Lawful Good as 'more good' and 'Chaotic Evil' as 'more evil', and yet at the same time present rather scathing critiques of lawful good.

Or in short, I think of alignment as being one of those things that can go very right and can lead to a lot of cool play, but in the hands of many DMs left with little or even poor guidance - like the guy who claimed Lawful Evil is a contradiction (because in some canonical writer's write ups it actually is!) - tends to go very badly.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The central thesis at my table is that the DM doesn't tell you what your character would intrinsically be "not good" for doing. After all, a Lawful Good missionary whose creed includes slaying and drowning nonbelievers is still Lawful Good because of their conception of their actions according to what they see as Lawful Good.
This is an inherent contradiction, since something is lawful if and only if an outside observer can agree it is lawful. What the missionary thinks of his own actions, if he is Lawful, is irrelevant by lawful's own standards.

In my opinion, it's not exactly my place to pass judgement on what "Chaotic Good" means to an individual PC.
Conversely, that may well be true, since something is chaotic if and only if the individual defines meaning for themselves. (Although whether Good is that wide open to interpretation is another discussion.)
 

Aebir-Toril

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This is an inherent contradiction, since something is lawful if and only if an outside observer can agree it is lawful. What the missionary thinks of his own actions, if he is Lawful, is irrelevant by lawful's own standards.
Not necessarily. In my campaigns, at least, "Lawful" has taken the meaning "has a strict personal code which is followed", rather than what Chaotic beings have, which is more "no plan other than instinctual moral judgements on an irregular basis".

It depends on your definition of "Lawful".

For example, a crusader may be Lawful Good, because of an inherent religious doctrine which is adhered to, but Robin Hood may only be Chaotic Good, given that Robin Hood does not live a life based on strict systems, such as chastity, faith, and personal doctrine.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I never had the problem with it in AD&D that others report, in part because I tended to play with people similar to myself. It was only when I found myself in a mixed group with some self-declared Satanists (at age 13), that I ever had the first alignment problems.
LOL the laVeyan Satanists of back when were very lawful in D&D terms. There were elements of support for what I call excessive territorialism and punishment for transgressions even. Of course i wasnt 13 when I read of it and was perhaps not pasting on my own expectations as much.
 
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Aebir-Toril

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Massive ummmm rabbit hole perhaps.. alignment always has been.
Indeed, can someone be lawful in that they believe that they are lawful, but be unable to be recognized as lawful, even though they define themselves as lawful?

I daresay it all comes back to religion.
 

Aebir-Toril

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@Celebrim we might actually agree more than you think, as one point is that, overall, is that it varies by campaign, the efficacy and importance of alignment that it.

As for those who say that it's a straightjacket in terms of roleplaying, that only seems to be so when the DM makes it so.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
I've seen alignment detract from a lot of tables. Not all of them I was sitting at.

Have you ever seen a table benefit from it?
Not d&d's alignment because it's tied to absolute morality rather than things that free willed mortals would find relevant. The star wars calm & controlled detached light vrs impassioned fear/anger/hatred dark side sometimes.. Rifts style uhh hard to summarize alignment... yes very much because it's based on how players & their character would probably act at the table after choosing a course of action. I don't believe I've ever seen d&d's alignment improve the game for anyone but the stereotype lawfulAnal paladin & that jerk who thinks kender should be a core race again.
 

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