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Rethinking Alignment, Inspiration, and the Great Wheel

Aldarc

Legend
There is a discussion here regarding alignment. Needless to say, opinions are divided on the utility of alignment. Shocker.

I would like to use this thread, however, to brainstorm some possible ideas I had about how to make alignment and inspiration both more meaningful in 5e play. It's kinda well-acknowledged by this point that alignment does not have much mechanical weight in this edition. I vaguely recall the comment somewhere that in 5e a cleric's magic items care about their alignment more than their god does. Why Inspiration? Because it's also kinda vestigial to play, with some people loving it, but often kinda "meh" at most tables for various reasons. I also think that Alignment and Inspiration could potentially reinforce each other better while addressing a few criticisms that people have of both. But first, let's talk about the Great Wheel.

The Great Wheel provides a backdrop for the mythos of D&D and where its cosmic forces of evil, chaos, law, and good transpires. So let's lean into that for both Alignment and Inspiration. The cosmic forces of Evil, Good, Law, and Chaos want to "win" and bring free-willed mortals to their respective sides. So they try to induct mortals who further their goals by showing them their favor. (Here I am admittedly implying a potential agency to these cosmic forces that may be utterly lacking. However, one could easily imagine that a warlock's patron or cleric's deity may be active agents in this process.)

PCs devote themselves (or not) to an alignment (or two). Choosing an alignment is not so much about choosing your character's MBTI or astrological sign. It's about actively choosing your character's allegiance to the various cosmic forces. Whose cosmic favor are you, O Mortal One, trying to court? The forces of Chaos, Law, Good, or Evil? Because these cosmic forces are far more substantial than the inhabitants of the planes themselves, even the gods and demon princes. A character who is Chaotic Neutral is devoting themselves to Chaos. A character who is Lawful Good is devoting themselves to Law AND Good.

So how does Inspiration factor into this? It's the subtle way in which cosmic powers bestow their favor on mortals. To reinforce this idea, let's rename inspiration to favor. PCs can gain favor by committing acts, deeds, and the like in the service of their allied forces. One possible way to handle this is in a similar manner as per Dungeon World. In DW, characters devote themselves to an alignment. (Though class availability varies, these can either be Good, Law, Neutral, Evil, or Chaos, but not blended alignments like Chaotic Good, or Lawful Evil, etc.). At the end of the session characters gain bonus XP for performing the class-derived method for adhering to an alignment.

For example, below is the alignment entry for DW clerics:
Good
Endanger yourself to heal another.

Lawful
Endanger yourself following the precepts of your church or god.

Evil
Harm another to prove the superiority of your church or god.

In this brainstormed proposal, players may gain Favor for likewise demonstrating allegiance to the four cosmic alignments (Chaos, Law, Good, Evil) via either class-derived or other methods. This ties Inspiration/Favor into the cosmology of the Great Wheel and its constituent alignment forces. It becomes less of a meta-currency rewarded by the GM and spent by the player (for who knows what?) and more about the feedback relationship between the player and their place in the Universe.

A character may devote themselves to up to two forces via their alignment. A Neutral Good character devotes themselves solely to Good. A Chaotic Evil character devotes themselves to Chaos and Evil. A Neutral character does not devote themselves to any of the cosmic forces. Here, I am imagining that Neutrality is less a cosmic force in itself and more a byproduct of the Great Wheel. This does mean, however, that a character devoted to two of these forces has potentially more ways to garner favor than a character devoted to one or none of these forces. Also, there are some potential reasons why I'm thinking of not having Neutrality be something that one devotes oneself to. The reason for that pertains to my next point.

Consequences: By earning and using your cosmic favor to further the interests of your "cosmic patrons," you are yourself becoming saturated with that cosmic force. This is what lets you activate alignment-based magic items. This may come with benefits as your favor increases with your benefactors, it also decreases with your benefactors cosmic opponents. You become a greater nuisance to their interests, and they will have a greater invested interest in stopping you as an agent of their enemies. Thus, if one devotes themselves to two alignments (e.g., Law and Good) then that character will have at least two opposing factions to deal with. This is a part of the potential risk/reward of the alignment feedback loop. The "extreme" alignments (e.g., LG, CE, LE, CG) come with greater risks to compensate for their greater opportunities to garner Favor. This is why I'm kinda okay with Neutrality not getting anything. It represents the character not playing the alignment game or trying to take an allied stance with these cosmic powers. So they don't get Favor, but they also don't risk "disfavor" with other factions.

But if players can earn Inspiration with a more player-facing mechanic, such as performing some good class-based deed or what not, what is the drawback? Here I also have in mind the possible idea of a Countdown Clock for players with alignment. When the player earns Favor with one faction/alignment, the GM ticks a countdown clock with the opposing alignment/faction. I also am thinking that when a player uses Favor/Inspiration, the GM gets their own that they can spend on enemies with the opposing alignment. So a player spending their favor to ease their challenges can also be used by the GM for further challenges.

I am also now musing about the idea of players being about to make "cosmic bargains" (much as Devil's Bargains in Blades in the Dark) that provide a potential short-term gain at the cost of a long-term consequence.

Again, half-baked, but if there must be alignment in this game, I would rather see it in a more palpable form that is based in and reinforced by the fiction and its gameplay in a way more meaningful than MBTI "what your alignment says about you" mumbo-jumbo.
 

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TheSword

Legend
Something adapted from Mystic Odyssey of Theros’ Piety could work.

Maybe “Alignment is now a score“ the numbers below are an example.

Evil -8 -6 -4 Neutral -2 0 +2 Neutral +4 +6 +8 Good

Chaos -8 -6 -4 Neutral -2 0 +3 Neutral +4 +6 +8 Law

Everyone has a starting point depending on factors background, patron or just their own choice. Strongly aligned actions move them up or down.

Abilities key off alignment just like piety with being closest to true alignment granting the most powers. Plus interactions with some strongly aligned creatures etc.

just a thought.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
When I ran my Planescape campaign, I replaced Ideal with Alignment and just reworked the statements in the Basic Rules (page 36) as to the alignment's definition. For example, if the PC was a LN member of the Fraternity of Order, then the Ideal was replaced with "I act in accordance with law, tradition, or moral codes." When the player had the character act in that fashion, he or she claimed Inspiration as laid out in my Case for Inspiration rules.

The Basic Rules have done all the work already. Just need to change the definition given to be first person and you're good to go.
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
I don't really like alignment because it is rarely a good metric of anything at all. If you take a character with enough stories written about them like Batman, for example, one could argue them to be just about any alignment even though the character has consistent motivations. No character who is not artificially trying to adhere to the alignment system is going to demonstrate a consistent alignment at all. One could argue that "Captain America" is Lawful Good, but the moment the U.S. government he is so patriotic for and loyal to decides that they want to properly register and track people who have super powers for the safety of the general populace, he goes rogue.

A character who is perfectly consistent acting on the same goals and motivations is often going to act Lawful when it is laws they generally agree with and Chaotic when it is laws they disagree with, and any character who is generally socially conscious is going to act good as long as it is pretty easy to act good and they will receive emotional support for doing so and once a situation turns to "put yourself first or you and those you care about die" they will begin acting evil.

And so much of good and evil comes down to just personal opinion. Which is good-- refusing to kill anyone if it can be avoided, including psychopathic serial killers who will go on to kill again and again so long as they live, or someone who riddles people with bullets over the most minor violations of the law with the belief that anyone who would violate any law would surely violate all laws. Those two point of views cannot be rectified by just the lawful and chaotic spectrums, if they encountered each other they would clearly believe each other is fundamentally evil and do everything in their power to end one another.

That is why I have always seen alignment as quite stupid-- a consistent character is going to be consistent about why they are doing things than whether their actions fit into an arbitrarily decided grid of law/chaos and good/evil. Any decently written character is naturally going to shift their "alignment" based entirely upon the circumstances presented to them while being perfectly consistent as to what goals they are aiming to achieve (and, of course, those aims could change due to experience).
 

I think the only way to use alignment is to take it too literally - which side you are aligned with. So a character being Good isn't a statement about how they behave, just which team they are on when the gods go to war. Like how Dragonlance used the terms - the "good" guys had the racists and the "evil" side was more goth than actually mean.

This makes a little more sense with a Law/Chaos divide where both sides have a point, but could work for a nominal good/evil split, or a three- or four-sided conflict. But it does require the whole setting to be written around the idea.
 

Dave Goff

Explorer
I've been thinking that having players declare a set of beliefs and see how well they stick to them would be better.

For example, I had a cleric that was adamantly against anything involving necromancy or slavery. This actually caused some difficulties a few times, like when another player gave mine a magic spear we found and I broke it because it was determined to have necromantic energies. When my cleric did things that were disadvantageous to himself but supported his beliefs the DM secretly gave him something like inspiration points.
We discussed penalties for living outside those beliefs- including losing cleric abilities- but it never came up.
 

TheSword

Legend
I don't really like alignment because it is rarely a good metric of anything at all. If you take a character with enough stories written about them like Batman, for example, one could argue them to be just about any alignment even though the character has consistent motivations. No character who is not artificially trying to adhere to the alignment system is going to demonstrate a consistent alignment at all. One could argue that "Captain America" is Lawful Good, but the moment the U.S. government he is so patriotic for and loyal to decides that they want to properly register and track people who have super powers for the safety of the general populace, he goes rogue.

A character who is perfectly consistent acting on the same goals and motivations is often going to act Lawful when it is laws they generally agree with and Chaotic when it is laws they disagree with, and any character who is generally socially conscious is going to act good as long as it is pretty easy to act good and they will receive emotional support for doing so and once a situation turns to "put yourself first or you and those you care about die" they will begin acting evil.

And so much of good and evil comes down to just personal opinion. Which is good-- refusing to kill anyone if it can be avoided, including psychopathic serial killers who will go on to kill again and again so long as they live, or someone who riddles people with bullets over the most minor violations of the law with the belief that anyone who would violate any law would surely violate all laws. Those two point of views cannot be rectified by just the lawful and chaotic spectrums, if they encountered each other they would clearly believe each other is fundamentally evil and do everything in their power to end one another.

That is why I have always seen alignment as quite stupid-- a consistent character is going to be consistent about why they are doing things than whether their actions fit into an arbitrarily decided grid of law/chaos and good/evil. Any decently written character is naturally going to shift their "alignment" based entirely upon the circumstances presented to them while being perfectly consistent as to what goals they are aiming to achieve (and, of course, those aims could change due to experience).
Probably the wrong thread for you then. There is another 1000 post thread for people to say why they don’t like it.

I think this is about working out what would make alignment cool and relevant. Not saying why you think it will never be...
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
Probably the wrong thread for you then. There is another 1000 post thread for people to say why they don’t like it.

I think this is about working out what would make alignment cool and relevant. Not saying why you think it will never be...

Why it fundamentally fails in its current role, form and execution is key to finding a way to fix it. When something is wrong with you, do you go to the doctor who says "let's cut you open and do the usual thing" before remotely diagnosing the problem?

When you have a serious issue with your car, do you bring it to the place that will just do an oil change and presume that it fixes the problem?

No-- before you can find any way in which such a thing could work, one first has to acknowledge and address why it fundamentally doesn't work in the way it has always been presented. Trying to ignore why it is a stupid system and could never be used to describe any character in a long-running serial means that any proposed "solution" is going to fundamentally fail because you've never actually diagnosed and addressed the fundamental issues with it.
 

TheSword

Legend
Why it fundamentally fails in its current role, form and execution is key to finding a way to fix it. When something is wrong with you, do you go to the doctor who says "let's cut you open and do the usual thing" before remotely diagnosing the problem?

When you have a serious issue with your car, do you bring it to the place that will just do an oil change and presume that it fixes the problem?

No-- before you can find any way in which such a thing could work, one first has to acknowledge and address why it fundamentally doesn't work in the way it has always been presented. Trying to ignore why it is a stupid system and could never be used to describe any character in a long-running serial means that any proposed "solution" is going to fundamentally fail because you've never actually diagnosed and addressed the fundamental issues with it.
I’d say this is more a case of surgery meaning someone loses a large amount of muscle in their leg. Instead of running they want to know what other exercise they can do keep fit.

We know the problem, irrelevance to the mechanical aspects of the game.

What would be interesting is a solution.
 

Campbell

Legend
The two games I have exposure to that make alignment relevant without becoming a burden on the players are Freebooters on the Frontier and The Nightmares Underneath. They both use an independent 5-point alignment system where a character can be chaotic, evil, good, neutral, or lawful. A lawful character is not more good or evil than a chaotic one.

In The Nightmares Underneath you choose your alignment when you create your character and changing it is also generally a player choice. Here are the definitions :

The Nightmares Underneath said:
Chaotic characters believe in the power of self-expression, imagination, and every person’s inner life. They reject complicated and coercive social structures, advocate for personal liberty even when such liberty proves to be dangerous, and believe that individuals should be free to make their own choices and either reap the rewards or suffer the consequences.
• Chaotic characters may not become scholars.

Evil means your primary motivation is to cause harm. You might be seeking revenge on a specific foe or you might be a violent psychopath. You might be righteous, you might have friends—you might even be generous and charitable—but you have enemies to fight and this is what consumes you, more than anything else.
• Evil characters may not become bards.

Good characters want to help people more than anything, whether through charity, healing, effective organization and management, counselling and therapy, or even building space for them to live in comfortably.
• Good characters may not become assassins.

Lawful characters believe in a well-ordered society. If you’re lawful, preserving law and order in your community is your primary goal, and you work toward this goal more than anything else.
• Lawful characters may not become cultists.

Neutral characters are perhaps the most self-serving of all. If you’re neutral, you’re all about personal gain (which can, of course, include your friends and family). You don’t pick sides, other people do. They’re either on your side, or they’re not—or it’s not your business and you stay the hell out of it. Neutral is often considered to not be a “real” alignment by more ideologically fervent adventurers.
• Neutral characters may not become champions.

While there are some other mechanics that interface with alignment the main use of alignment is to help determine how your character interacts with social institutions in the settlements they become a part of and spend time between delves into the nightmare realms. Spending money on institutions can shift the institutions alignment over time, shifting its nature closer to your alignment. Also characters of different alignments have access to social opportunities unique to their alignment so it can be helpful to have varied alignments in the group. Here is an example:

The Nightmares Underneath said:
If you regularly patronize a tea house that matches your alignment, you can meet important people on an equal footing, and perhaps even get the opportunity to persuade them into lending you their aid. At a tea house aligned to chaos, chaotic characters can meet abolitionists, anarchists, crazy wizards, cultists, revolutionaries, and utopian philosophers. At an evil tea house, evil characters can meet criminals and corrupt officials. At a good-aligned tea house, good characters can meet doctors, healers, physicians, professors, and teachers. At a lawful tea house, lawful characters can meet judges, lawyers, nobles, officials, politicians, scholars, and anyone involved in enforcement.

Freebooters on the Frontier uses a carrot based model to alignment rather than a stick based one. Your alignment is based on a set of character traits voted on by the group at the end of each session so alignment can fairly fluid. You gain an experience trigger to check against at the end of each session based on your alignment. Here they are:

Freebooters on the Frontier said:
traits.PNG

The nice thing it's one of many sources of experience. There are also triggers for playing to your traits, realizing a class specific goal, finding memorable treasure, overcoming a dangerous obstacle, and finding stuff out about the world.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
There is a potential contradiction between strengthening the allegiance to an alignment or two, and wanting to use the great wheel where half the universe is "mildly" aligned. I would rather use maximum 9 outer planes, possibly even just 4 or 5.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Something adapted from Mystic Odyssey of Theros’ Piety could work.

just a thought.
I have not had a chance yet to take a close look at Theros, but I could see how piety could work for alignment too.

I think the only way to use alignment is to take it too literally - which side you are aligned with. So a character being Good isn't a statement about how they behave, just which team they are on when the gods go to war. Like how Dragonlance used the terms - the "good" guys had the racists and the "evil" side was more goth than actually mean.

This makes a little more sense with a Law/Chaos divide where both sides have a point, but could work for a nominal good/evil split, or a three- or four-sided conflict. But it does require the whole setting to be written around the idea.
That's kinda the main idea here. Embrace the Moorcockian aspects of the D&D Multiverse. You align yourself to Chaos or Law or Good or Evil.
 

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