D&D General Rethinking alignment yet again

Kinematics

Adventurer
So, I was watching an interview with Alexander Macris, a game developer promoting his Kickstarter (link) on dwarven civilizations. During the interview, a bit of a discussion on alignment came up, and he made an interesting point: the alignment system (and particularly the chaotic and evil axes) really only make sense from the perspective of Lawful Good. Creatures and races that are commonly described as evil (and all the problematic discussions such an idea devolves into) only make sense to think of that way if the person making the assessment is lawful good. They don't make sense from an internal perspective (for example, the Drow wouldn't think of themselves as evil).

In fact, we know this in a broader sense. The villain is the hero of his own story. Nobody thinks of themselves as the bad guys. Being evil is bad, and people just don't think of themselves that way. Aristotelian ethics is brought up as a way of understanding this: That "the good" is that which best represents that which allows the creature in question to flourish, to be 'itself' to as great an extent as possible. A wolf will have a different concept of The Good than a human would, which would be different than an elf (Drow or otherwise), a dwarf, an orc, etc.

This understanding of The Good is not an abstract utilitarian concept. It is embedded in the identity of the being. How can one be the best human? The best Drow? The best dragon?

So where does this lead? Alex's example was that Drow wouldn't view law as good and chaos as bad, or choose the same sorts of good and evil as humans. This is part of the problem of trying to understand different races using the law/chaos/good/evil grid. Instead, he suggests that Drow would likely have a grid of something like Honorable vs Dishonorable, and Strong vs Weak. The society is structured around families, obeying those higher than you in the hierarchy, and nasty repercussions for betrayal. Honor holds society together, while Strength is the primary virtue.

A similar approach could be made with orc warband societies. While strength is still a thing, it's different than with the Drow. I'd say that the primary virtue is Bravery (vs Cowardice), and that what holds society together is Loyalty. To them, humans might seem to be cowards who are easily swayed by a bit of gold, and thus 'evil'.

Overall, then, the Law-Chaos axis is about what keeps society stable, while the Good-Evil axis is about what the primary virtue of the individual should be to achieve the Aristotelian 'Good', and be held in high regard, vs the failure to hold that virtue, and be correspondingly looked down upon. Put in more generic terms, we'd have the Social Axis crossed with the Virtue Axis.

In a typical human kingdom, Law is paramount, and those who break or flout the law undermine the stability of the society (even if excused as being "for the greater good"). Thus, Chaos is bad. For the Virtue Axis, the game kind of cheaps out by just saying 'good' vs 'evil', but we can kind of understand what the intent of those words are.

Personally, I'm really liking this approach. I'm wondering what other people's thoughts are on this model, and maybe what sort of axes you think other racial (or other) societies might adopt.

Note: This divorces alignment almost entirely from the cosmic/celestial approach to alignment from the earliest editions of D&D. I have different ideas of how things work from the cosmic perspective.
 

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Oofta

Legend
Meh. I think people overthink alignment. Alignment is just one descriptor. Is that descriptor from the perspective of general consensus of our society? Sure. It's a game. A game that oversimplified just about everything.

Do what you makes sense to you, I just don't see that it adds anything that's just a handy descriptor, one of a few.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
. They don't make sense from an internal perspective (for example, the Drow wouldn't think of themselves as evil).

What the drow think of themselves is irrelevant. Traditional alignment is where your actions and their results sit with respect to an objective standard of the universe/multiverse. It is a metaphysical truth about yourself. Denial doesn't change it.

The Dread Necromancer Bob: "Really, what I do is for the greater good!"
Anyone, casting Detect Evil: "Bzzzt! Wrong answer, Bob!"
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
For me, the alignment system is objective enough.

• Chaotic = individual
• Lawful = group

• Evil = helping ONLY oneself or ones own group
• Good = making a strong sustainable effort to help other individuals or other groups



Useful enough too.

I consider the alignment a personality trait relating to ideal and flaw.

On the character sheet that I use, there is space to add both the alignment, plus one or two sentences to specify one way that the character typically expresses this alignment.
 



Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
This assumes that alignment is a construct within the world, when it's not. The drow don't assign themselves an alignment any more than a LG civilization does. Instead it's a meta-descriptor used to describe the base or common actions of the described beings. The point of view it has to describe is necessarily detached, since it is people around the table.
 


So, I was watching an interview with Alexander Macris, a game developer promoting his Kickstarter (link) on dwarven civilizations. During the interview, a bit of a discussion on alignment came up, and he made an interesting point

I think this makes sense. Let’s think of a real world example: Alexander Macris played a central role in promoting gamergate and was the CEO of Milo Yiannopoulos company (after the latter was fired by Breitbart), and who in that latter capacity promoted and published anti-gay, anti-feminist, and islamophobic views. Despite all that, he probably thinks of himself as a great person.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
This is why I prefer to frame it as altruism vs egoism rather than selflessness vs selfishness. Likewise, I prefer to frame law vs chaos as authoritarian vs libertarian.
Perfect.


In this context, it is good to have an "ego", an identity, but one needs to help empower the egos of others as well.
 

From my point of view the Jedi are evil!!

For all it's faults Palladium RPG has very well described alignments

The talisman RPG, my current fave has Good, neutral and evil as all essential parts of the Alignment triangle.

Use alignment as you wish, and don't sweat and stress about it.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
Yeah alignment isn’t something that should be able to be finagled because of in-universe perspective, that’s been my stance on it for a while now, there are things you do that will make you a Good person, and things that make you Evil, and Lawful, or Chaotic, these things are not measured or changed by any internal standards.
As simply put while still meaningful i think the four alignments can be described as such:
Good: all life is important, i may go out of my way to help others simply because i can.
Evil: i care only about my own wants, i may go out of my way to harm others simply because it would amuse me.
Lawful: i think the structure and stability rules provide is important, even if they sometimes go against what I actually want i will follow them.
Chaotic: personal freedom is the most important, to not be held back from doing what you want to by anything, even your own previous choices.

Some people are saying lawful and chaotic are group vs individual but I personally disagree with that interpretation, it’s just as possible to have a complete individual loner have a very strict set of rules for themselves or a large group of people gathered for the common cause of doing what they want.

Also
-Lawful people do not subscribe to any one single set of rules, they generally will follow the law on principle but not necessarily, two entirely lawful people may have two entirely different sets of rules that directly conflict each other but they’re still both just as lawful.
-Chaotic people are not inherently allergic to rules and can follow them perfectly if they so choose to at any given moment.
-Nor are they ‘lol so random XD’ ‘I’ll walk through the river because the bridge is too normal’, that behaviour is from players misinterpreting the principals of chaos either genuinely, or maliciously as an excuse to justify getting away with dumb crap

EDIT
G/E-Neutral: i take care of myself first so long it’s not causing undue harm to others, I might help others if the mood takes me, it doesn’t take me too far off my own path or if I benefit from doing so
L/C-Neutral: I generally follow the laws in most circumstances unless I have a reason not to but typically will not go out of my way to enforce them, I might break the laws in small ways sometimes or in extenuating circumstances
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
For me, the alignment system is objective enough.

• Chaotic = individual
• Lawful = group
The big problem here is that lawful objectively =/= group. It can be group as demonstrated in LG, but it does not = group and hasn't for multiple editions now.

According to the 5e alignment system lawful can also be acting in accordance with law OR acting in accordance with tradition OR acting in accordance with a personal code.
 


This perspective from the OP is interesting. And I can understand how one might look at alignment in such a way. But, it assumes alignment and good, evil, right, wrong is subjective. And that is a difficult view to hold, even in a fantasy world. It is easy to think of things that would disgust any of us objectively. At least in my fantasy worlds, I insist that their are things that are objectively good, and objectively bad.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm not a huge fan of alignment, and mentioned above that it's an out-of-game concept, so it doesn't matter what beings think of themselves or others.

But I do want to walk that back slightly - back in AD&D 2nd I was playing a cleric (well a dual classed human, bard/cleric) who came to realize that no matter what deity you worshiped the spells that detected good or evil or let you know alignment always returned the same thing. It wasn't related to the tenants of the faith. It lead him to believe there was a universal sense of Good and Evil, perhaps from AO (this was in the FR), that transcended the gods.

And well, he was right. ;)
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Folks have covered the point well enough in the thread already, but I also dislike the idea of divorcing the cosmic/celestial approach.
I agree with this but the problem is that if Law and Good and Chaos and Evil are all "cosmic forces" then they really can't be personality descriptors too.

The fundamental flaw with alignment IMO is taking something that was intended to be "what side are you on" (i.e. who are you aligned with) and turning into "here's a two word description of your character's personality". The same concept can be both in certain limited cases but it constrains the world building IMO too much to require that it do that double duty.

(I thread that needle by making alignment just about "what side are you on" and leave the personality descriptors off the table. And then only use it in campaigns where the sides you're on in the cosmic battle actually makes sense and will have game ramifications and not just be a thing on the character sheet. Unsatisfying to some, but it works well IMO and my players prefer it over using alignment as a summary of their character's personality).
 

Reynard

Legend
Honestly, if you aren't going to connect alignment in some way to the greater cosmic forces of good and evil, law and chaos (i have talked about my "zodiac sign" take on alignment before) then I don't think it serves any useful purpose in the game at all. Just describe the culture in two sentences.
 

payn

Legend
I agree with this but the problem is that if Law and Good and Chaos and Evil are all "cosmic forces" then they really can't be personality descriptors too.

The fundamental flaw with alignment IMO is taking something that was intended to be "what side are you on" (i.e. who are you aligned with) and turning into "here's a two word description of your character's personality". The same concept can be both in certain limited cases but it constrains the world building IMO too much to require that it do that double duty.

(I thread that needle by making alignment just about "what side are you on" and leave the personality descriptors off the table. And then only use it in campaigns where the sides you're on in the cosmic battle actually makes sense and will have game ramifications and not just be a thing on the character sheet. Unsatisfying to some, but it works well IMO and my players prefer it over using alignment as a summary of their character's personality).
I guess I have never looked at alignment as strictly personality. It's an outlook on society and willingness to engage certain actions to achieve goals. Personality certainly spills over into this, but alignment doesn't dictate it, IME. It's the same "straight jacket" argument that pops up that really doesn't effect alignment in anything but the paladin and older edition items.

I mean are you saying you cant be lawful and/or chaotic while being surly? That an optimist has to be good instead of evil?
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The big problem here is that lawful objectively =/= group. It can be group as demonstrated in LG, but it does not = group and hasn't for multiple editions now.

According to the 5e alignment system lawful can also be acting in accordance with law OR acting in accordance with tradition OR acting in accordance with a personal code.
We discussed this in detail in an other thread.

In brief, I view the description of Lawful as if including a "personal code" to be an error.

The fact that it is "personal", by definition, makes it Chaotic.

Chaotic people can be orderly − they just dont care if the way that oneself is being orderly conforms to the way a group is being orderly.
 

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