D&D General Reconstructing Neutral: Two Scores or Four?

So, we all know alignment has its issues. Even if you're a big fan, the utility is heavily questioned by enough people that there's a good chance you'll play with, or run for, someone who dislikes it. And the arguments themselves are legion.

But it just occurred to me: Is part of the problem the fact that we view opposing alignments as one single axis, rather than two opposing "pools" or separate "scores"?

That is, as it stands, most players (and essentially all video games) seem to treat alignment as though it were two scores, "lawfulness" and "goodness." Zero in both? Chaotic Evil. 100 in both? Lawful Good. 50/100? Neutral Good. Etc.

But is that the only way? Something generally recognized (though not always happily) is that there are two faces of True Neutral: the "I don't care," "I have no strong feelings one way or the other" school of disinterested neutrality, and the "both sides have a point" school (or, in extreme cases, the "defects to Team Evil when Team Good wins too much" school) of active and supportive neutrality.

But if we treat each edge of the alignment grid as its own score, rather than as an endpoint of a score, this distinction naturally falls out all on its own, with the added benefit that one can be "actively" neutral on one axis and "disinterestedly" neutral on the other. E.g.: Barry Balancekind is G:0 E:0 L:100 C:100. He actively avoids thinking about things in terms of good or evil, seeing the former as indulgent and the latter as wastefully selfish. Instead, what matters to him is the conflict of law and chaos...but not ending it, rather he wishes to see it always remaining in dynamic equilibrium, never truly favoring either one. He wants both things to thrive.

Meanwhile, Samantha Shadow has G:100 E:100 L:0 C:0. She thinks worrying about laws or freedom, tradition or independence, is something of a waste of time. Better to focus on actually getting things done, rather than the method used. But she is open to most any approach, so long as it secures results without compromising the purpose. Selfish, hurtful actions are worth it if they succeed. Altruism is valuable, it secures alliances and fosters loyalty and morale. Never limit yourself unless the limitation provides more value than the lack of one....but don't be such a fool that you reject limitations before you actually consider whether they're worthwhile or not.

Further, this gives formal distinction to the difference between a "neutralizing" action, and an action which pushes you toward a certain alignment. That is, an action which makes Chaos go up isn't the same as one that makes Lawful go down (unless one decides that "overflow" from one axis results in a reduction to its sibling axis, e.g. if you're already at Good 100 and rescue a cartload of orphans, your +5 Good Boi Points instead reduce you to Evil:95. An action which reduces Good is likewise not the same as one which outright increases Evil.

Point being: if we rebuild alignment to allow someone to be "Chaotic Lawful" (or vice-versa), not only do we get some useful distinctions out of it, we might even address at least one of the many problems with the nine-square grid.
 

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delericho

Legend
The best thing (possibly the only good thing) that 4e did for alignment was the introduction of Unaligned. Add that to the existing nine alignments, and you cover both the 'active' and 'inactive' flavours of Neutrality.

That said, if I still used alignment I'd be strongly inclined to remove Neutral as an option for PCs - require them to pick a side!

(That would give eight options for alignment: LG, G, CG, L, C, LE, E, and CE.)
 

Oofta

Legend
I think alignment is one descriptor of many and no one is 100% consistent. It works well enough as is, but it's only a baseline that can easily have exceptions and changes of heart. That CE serial killer may have a soft spot for orphans because they were one. Everyone else? Fresh meat for the grinder. Someone that is neutral may see balance in all things or simply not care much.

I appreciate the effort, I just think it's better to acknowledge that people are too complex to be defined by one measurement, that we need multiple descriptors for NPCs that are going to show up for more than 15 seconds of fame. It's okay if motivations and behaviors are contradictory sometimes.

I'm reminded of the old chart, and that there is quite a bit of differentiation even in an alignment.
Alignment Chart.jpeg
 

aco175

Legend
I like the old chart, but feel a bunch of Venn diagrams overlapping would make it make sense more. NG is more the overlap of LG and CG. True N is the overlap of all four corners, but could be just overlapping opposite corners. It would be hard to be half LG and half CE but Neutral is just code for "do whatever I want and say it is my character and not me being a jerk"
 

payn

Legend
As someone who really likes Alignment, I greatly dislike this score attribution idea. I understand why videogames do it, and why many mechanics minded gamers would like it, but its one part of the game id prefer wasnt numerically mechanical. I enjoy the ambiguity with alignment and like to let it play out organically at the table. Planes, spells, and magic items are enough mechanical heft for me.

Second, chaotic/lawful isn't a distinction I want or have ever needed. I view it like this, the first axis is how you view society and what the aims of you actions attempt to achieve, the second axis is the moral restraint a character has in achieving their goals. What I see above is very convoluted way of saying "I like laws, but not all laws, and sometimes no laws, but ok mostly laws, just kidding no laws...." You dont need this level of distinction because the alignments are not only expansive, but also fluid. Not every single idea and/or action needs to be accounted for on the alignment map. Just an average of them and/or a great act of defiance that leads to a character arc.
 


Dausuul

Legend
As someone who dislikes alignment, this solves none of my problems with it.

I'd rather shift to alignment as a matter of allegiance, not personal behavior. There is a cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos, and you have aligned yourself with one side or the other. This alignment might take the form of worshiping a Lawful or Chaotic deity; swearing fealty to a leader who is empowered by Law or Chaos; using magic to draw on the raw cosmic force of Law or Chaos; etc. If you don't do any of these things, you are Neutral.

The important thing is that it doesn't matter if you act "chaotically" or "lawfully." You don't have a slaad and a modron on your shoulders tallying up scores. You may face consequences if you act against the interests of your chosen faction, but those consequences are of the form "You swore allegiance to Chaotic Phil, and then betrayed him and got half his army killed. Chaotic Phil is pissed. Watch your back." Your alignment doesn't change unless you deliberately renounce your former allegiance... which takes time, and is hard, and also has consequences.

(One could, in theory, use Good and Evil as the factions, but I don't think it works nearly as well. The concepts of Good and Evil are too closely tied to personal behavior. Law and Chaos are better suited to being impersonal cosmic forces.)

A system like this makes it possible to have mechanics tied to alignment without the headaches that normally come with it. This lets D&D incorporate themes that are very widespread in fantasy and myth; the sword that can only be used by a worthy wielder, the power accessible only to those who have embraced the darkness, etc.
 

payn

Legend
As someone who dislikes alignment, this solves none of my problems with it.

I'd rather shift to alignment as a matter of allegiance, not personal behavior. There is a cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos, and you have aligned yourself with one side or the other. This alignment might take the form of worshiping a Lawful or Chaotic deity; swearing fealty to a leader who is empowered by Law or Chaos; using magic to draw on the raw cosmic force of Law or Chaos; etc. If you don't do any of these things, you are Neutral.

The important thing is that it doesn't matter if you act "chaotically" or "lawfully." You don't have a slaad and a modron on your shoulders tallying up scores. You may face consequences if you act against the interests of your chosen faction, but those consequences are of the form "You swore allegiance to Chaotic Phil, and then betrayed him and got half his army killed. Chaotic Phil is pissed. Watch your back." Your alignment doesn't change unless you deliberately renounce your former allegiance... which takes time, and is hard, and also has consequences.

(One could, in theory, use Good and Evil as the factions, but I don't think it works nearly as well. The concepts of Good and Evil are too closely tied to personal behavior. Law and Chaos are better suited to being impersonal cosmic forces.)

A system like this makes it possible to have mechanics tied to alignment without the headaches that normally come with it. This lets D&D incorporate themes that are very widespread in fantasy and myth; the sword that can only be used by a worthy wielder, the power accessible only to those who have embraced the darkness, etc.
As someone who really likes alignment, I think this is a very sensible take. Cutting out good and evil will reduce greatly the arguments folks have. Particularly around mechanics and application in game rules.
 

As someone who really likes alignment, I think this is a very sensible take. Cutting out good and evil will reduce greatly the arguments folks have. Particularly around mechanics and application in game rules.
Speaking from personal experience...

I really don't think it will. It's just transforming one form of energy into another. Acrimonious debates about whether Batman is Lawful because he has a personal code and fights crime, or Chaotic because he works outside the system and distrusts any form of central authority that isn't himself, are more than ample evidence to me that Law and Chaos are just as fraught.

-----

Ah well. Thought it might be a neat idea for those still wanting the mechanical aspects of alignment.
 



A possible house rule would be "grace" working like the levels of humanity in "Vampire: the Masquerade". If you are very good then your score of grace is high, and with 20, the top, you are practically a saint, literally.

My house rule is spells with aligment key can hurt enemies with same aligment but different allegiance(family, nation, religion, brotherhood, guild), for example a drow cleric vs a orc shaman (then being neutral wouldn't help to avoid worse damage). And I add allegiance to aligment, even when these could be opposite. For example a fanatic witch-hunter would be evil-aligment with good allegiance, and a sheriff who breaks rules to fight the crime would be caothic aligment with law allegiance.
 

payn

Legend
Speaking from personal experience...

I really don't think it will. It's just transforming one form of energy into another. Acrimonious debates about whether Batman is Lawful because he has a personal code and fights crime, or Chaotic because he works outside the system and distrusts any form of central authority that isn't himself, are more than ample evidence to me that Law and Chaos are just as fraught.
I blanket write off all batman alignment arguments. Every person who uses them takes from 12 different batmans to make their case.
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Ah well. Thought it might be a neat idea for those still wanting the mechanical aspects of alignment.
I appreciate the effort, but I dont think alignment needs to be more complex to satisfy folks.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Speaking from personal experience...

I really don't think it will. It's just transforming one form of energy into another. Acrimonious debates about whether Batman is Lawful because he has a personal code and fights crime, or Chaotic because he works outside the system and distrusts any form of central authority that isn't himself, are more than ample evidence to me that Law and Chaos are just as fraught.
I find that Law/Chaos is more fraught than Good/Evil. But that's the point of shifting to an "alignment = allegiance" model instead of "alignment = behavior." All you have to do is ask: Which side of the cosmic conflict between Law and Chaos has Batman cast his allegiance with?

Presuming that "criminals and supervillains" are the DCU equivalent of cosmic Chaos, and "police and the Justice League" are Law, then Batman has certainly picked the latter. And that's all you need to know. He's Lawful. His behavior is irrelevant.

Now, anyone who makes the effort of picking a faction has a reason for doing so. Maybe you approve of that faction's goals, or you feel comfortable working within it, or all your friends are there... whatever. Furthermore, people tend to adapt themselves to the groups in which they live and work. Therefore, most people in the Law faction will exhibit "law-like" traits. But you'll also get the occasional "chaos-like" oddball who had some strange reason to hook up with Law. And likewise, Chaos will have a handful of "law-like" people who chose Chaos. I regard this as a feature rather than a bug--it adds a new dimension to the system and opens up cool RP options.
 

I find that Law/Chaos is more fraught than Good/Evil. But that's the point of shifting to an "alignment = allegiance" model instead of "alignment = behavior." All you have to do is ask: Which side of the cosmic conflict between Law and Chaos has Batman cast his allegiance with?

Presuming that "criminals and supervillains" are the DCU equivalent of cosmic Chaos, and "police and the Justice League" are Law, then Batman has certainly picked the latter. And that's all you need to know. He's Lawful. His behavior is irrelevant.

Now, anyone who makes the effort of picking a faction has a reason for doing so. Maybe you approve of that faction's goals, or you feel comfortable working within it, or all your friends are there... whatever. Furthermore, people tend to adapt themselves to the groups in which they live and work. Therefore, most people in the Law faction will exhibit "law-like" traits. But you'll also get the occasional "chaos-like" oddball who had some strange reason to hook up with Law. And likewise, Chaos will have a handful of "law-like" people who chose Chaos. I regard this as a feature rather than a bug--it adds a new dimension to the system and opens up cool RP options.
While I personally find this very interesting, I suspect a lot of folks who like alignment enough to want to keep it would have issues. That is, by making it so behavior explicitly and completely does not matter, you may have made it something other than what (many) fans would consider "alignment" to be.
 

I blanket write off all batman alignment arguments. Every person who uses them takes from 12 different batmans to make their case.
Then consider Monks being required to be Lawful in 3e despite the whole "drunken master" archetype, while Bards have to be Chaotic despite the rote memorization and practice required to do a goodly amount of performance art.

I appreciate the effort, but I dont think alignment needs to be more complex to satisfy folks.
Alright.
 

The best thing (possibly the only good thing) that 4e did for alignment was the introduction of Unaligned. Add that to the existing nine alignments, and you cover both the 'active' and 'inactive' flavours of Neutrality.

That said, if I still used alignment I'd be strongly inclined to remove Neutral as an option for PCs - require them to pick a side!

(That would give eight options for alignment: LG, G, CG, L, C, LE, E, and CE.)
I would go the other direction and give 10 options: LG, NG, CG, LN, TN, CN, LE, NE, CE, U. The classic 9 are tied to the four fundamental forces of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil, with the Balance between them. Unaligned is for unintelligent beings and those who deliberately choose not to care. I can see the argument for avoiding PC's being unaligned, but choosing True Neutral is making a choice.
 

payn

Legend
Then consider Monks being required to be Lawful in 3e despite the whole "drunken master" archetype, while Bards have to be Chaotic despite the rote memorization and practice required to do a goodly amount of performance art.
3E varied the alignments per class to try and shuffle parties up, and/or avoid some overpowered multiclass combos. On one hand, I like the idea of parties being varied, on the other, I am not in favor of tying abilities to strict behavioral adherences. Moving away from that trend is not something you will hear me protest.

However, I'm not sure what a precludes a drunken monk from being lawful? Nor do I see why a chaotic person cant be disciplined?
 


3E varied the alignments per class to try and shuffle parties up, and/or avoid some overpowered multiclass combos. On one hand, I like the idea of parties being varied, on the other, I am not in favor of tying abilities to strict behavioral adherences. Moving away from that trend is not something you will hear me protest.

However, I'm not sure what a precludes a drunken monk from being lawful? Nor do I see why a chaotic person cant be disciplined?
...which would be a great demonstration of how Law and Chaos can be controversial.

Having had a family member go through alcoholism and get out the other side, yeah, being drunk all the time (note that I said the archetype, not the style; the former almost always actually DOES have to drink alcohol to use their powers, the latter simply uses moves which sway like a drunken person) is absolutely a Chaotic thing, and terribly self-destructive.

But there's not really much point in debating it. The fact that we disagree at all--and that both of us find it strange that the other could disagree--is ample demonstration that the thing in question isn't anything like "commonly agreed."
 

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