D&D General Rethinking alignment yet again


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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Acting against the character's defined nature isn't a moral dilemma. And deciding to do evil when you have already established the character is good, doesn't demonstrate any usefulness of an alignment system.
Alignment has never constrained a PC. You've always been able to act outside of your alignment. The big useful part of alignment for players is that it's just there to guide your roleplay. That's it. It's not a straightjacket and never has been.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Even the one that deals 24d6 to you for being naughty.
That's not teeth. It literally does nothing to alter how you play your PC and alignment or force you to do anything. At all. Teeth would be the 1e system where the DM could force an alignment change or losing paladinhood. Not that that prevent you from roleplaying your PC how you wished, but at least there were some teeth that the DM could use.
 


Vaalingrade

Legend
That's not teeth. It literally does nothing to alter how you play your PC and alignment. At all. Teeth would be the 1e system where the DM could force an alignment change or losing paladinhood. Not that that prevent you from roleplaying your PC how you wished, but at least there were some teeth that the DM could use.
Wait, but I thought alignment has never been a straitjacket?

Also, being raptured into dust by a book feels like teeth.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Historically, it's been more of a shock collar. It doesn't stop you, just punishes you for getting out of line.
Ancient history, yes. It hasn't been that way since 2e, maybe 3e if you count paladins, monks, etc. Even if you include 3e, that's still 14 years since the last time such a collar existed.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Wait, but I thought alignment has never been a straitjacket?
It wasn't. I had the complete freedom to act however I wished in any edition, including 1e. I just had to be willing to accept the consequences of my actions, which was no different than deciding to have my PC murder the Mayor and risk death or life in prison.

Also, this is from the 1e DMG page 24 on alignment.

"It is of importance to keep track of player character behavior with respect to their professed alignment. Actions do speak far more eloquently than professions, and each activity of a player character should reflect his or her alignment. If a professed lawful evil character is consistently seeking to be helpful and is respecting the lesser creatures, he or she is certainly tending towards good, while if he or she ignores regulations and consistent behavior the trend is towards chaotic alignment..."

And...

"It is quite possible for a character to drift around in an alignment area, making only small shifts due to behavior."

Notice how it uses the language "consistently seeking" and "Consistent behavior." Stepping outside of your alignment every so often wasn't something you needed to worry about in 1e, unless you were a paladin and willingly did something evil or chaotic. Or if you did something major like walk into an orphanage and murder all the children in cold blood.
Also, being raptured into dust by a book feels like teeth.
Just..............................let go. It can't kill you if you stop touching it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Acting against the character's defined nature isn't a moral dilemma. And deciding to do evil when you have already established the character is good, doesn't demonstrate any usefulness of an alignment system.

I'm not sure what you are trying to state. What do you think is a moral dilemma? If acting against the character's defined nature as a result of a moral dilemma isn't a moral dilemma then neither is acting with the character's defined nature. The only alternative to that would be trinary logic with no defined nature, but in practice what I find from no defined nature is that there definitely then is no moral dilemma as the nature will be defined at the moment as what is convenient and then redefined conveniently at the next test. At least if there is a buoy marking the waters, the player is forced to consider they are bobbing back and forth to either side of it.

Let me give a concrete example of a moral dilemma. You have the trolley problem, with 5 strangers bound to one track and your fiance bound to the other. Does this problem change in difficulty if you have an alignment system? For like 5 of the 9 alignments, this isn't really a hard dilemma in theory. Chaotic evil or neutral obviously saves your fiance. Only four have a difficult choice because they have competing moral guidelines or competing self interest. But because both choices are evil, it probable that neither of those four alignments thank that either answer wrong or right. You can come up with Lawful Good answer for both based on duty. And yes, lawful systems generally define this as a hierarchy of personal duty. The answer they give will be different if your liege, child, or spouse is on one side or the other.

You know who has the biggest moral dilemma though? Suppose you have a lawful neutral character that knows his duty is to sacrifice his self-interest and save the many over the few. It's entirely possible that RP could cause him to pull a Javert here and forgo his duty and that would be interesting.

But my guess is that if you never made the player choose then this not a hard choice for a player and you'll never have a moral dilemma.

However that doesn't even touch on whether presenting a trolley problem deliberately in play is good DMing. If it comes up fine, but what is the motivation in deliberately creating "you can't win scenarios"?
 

Medic

Neutral Evil
He can have every NPC in the world react to you as if you were a demon. He can have you ostracized from all places he considers Good or Lawful. He can treat your character as a pariah, and claim that the world is right and your character is actually evil.
Oh, please. If we abolished alignment right this moment, the plurality of GMs would still be mortified if one of my characters espouses the merits of chattel slavery, or endorses sacrificing a baby to the Dark Gods™. I am a connoisseur of evil clerics, and removing the "evil" label that gets glued to them won't stop other people at the table from making frowny faces when they get up to their shenanigans.
 

Kinematics

Adventurer
I had avoided going into the cosmological side of things, but the recent thread trend seems to need to step into that arena.

When considering alignment as an objective "thing", that pretty much has to be the cosmological side of alignment. Personality and behavior can't be considered objectively defined in that way, so deeper thought needs to be given when considering absolute good/evil/law/chaos (GELC).

Each of the alignment edges is so intrinsic to the universe that there are entire planes of existence dedicated to them. They define part of the structure of the universe. One might even ask whether the gods determine the alignments, or whether they merely settle into place within an alignment that the universe already defined? Is a cleric doing good by following his god's precepts, or were those precepts something the god had no control over, and it just transcribed what the universe said belonged in that box?

To consider GELC to be absolute and objective, they kind of have to be outside the control of even the gods. After all, the gods have their own motivations and goals, and many would surely twist what is good or evil for their own purposes. However doing so would put them out of step with what other gods say, and it shouldn't take long for followers to start noticing those discrepancies. While there are disagreements in dogma, I don't recall disagreements in principals.

So, how are these absolute concepts even defined? Obviously, from a Doylist perspective, by the GM. However from the Watsonian perspective, there must either be some fundamental principals that everything can be derived from, or some uber-arch-god-being whose will supersedes everything else in the universe.

That level of abstraction makes it very difficult to reason about, though, so I'm going to set it aside for the moment.

The next question is, what do the GELC alignments even mean? Some posters have provided basic concepts. For example, Group vs Individual for Lawful/Chaos, and selfless vs selfish for Good vs Evil. Personally, I don't find those sufficient to describe the alignments. They work as traits of the alignments, but are otherwise inadequate.

If I were to describe Good and Evil in a more abstract way, the terms I would use would be "moral" and "rational" (as in the rational actor of game theory, or rational self interest from capitalism).

The example about the gnolls earlier in the thread had them choose a "survival of the fittest" approach to life because it was rational. The rational actor in game theory will always make the choice that provides the greatest personal benefit, because it's not rational to not do so. Yet, as anyone who has studied game theory knows, multiple rational actors making the best possible choice can end up with the worst possible outcome. Making a less optimal choice (ie: not being greedy) can end up with a better overall outcome. The rules that govern making less personally optimal, but more globally optimal choices are "morals".

Because rationality and morals can be defined in terms of game theory ethics, it's entirely possible for these to be objective truths, at least insofar as the context within which they are evaluated is static, such as in an artificial game world. Not that such evaluations are easy; it took humanity thousands of years of trial and error just to work out moral rules that are pretty broadly applicable in most circumstances, and they still struggle to adapt to world and societal changes, which are not artificially static.

So what about Law vs Chaos?

Well, based on articles about the planes, the pinnacle of Law is "order" — predetermination, predestination, scheduled, structured, measured, controlled. Everything is real and concrete; there are no illusions. I am reminded of the governing principals* (each of which has an aspirational state and a grounded state), with Law being tied to all the "grounded" principals (typically described as conservative principals).

Chaos, on the other hand, is change, unpredictable, primordial (unstructured, immeasurable, uncontrolled), and the domain of choice and self-determination. Many of the principals associated with it match the aspirational governing principals.

I bring up the governing principals because each pair of principals is on a tension with the other, and pushing to 100% of one side or the other tends to be destructive. Yet it is also something we'd expect when we have a concept that can be "pure" in a cosmological sense. 100% Law is pure order, rigid and unchanging. 100% Chaos is pure disorder and madness. And they can be considered objective measures of a tension that struggles to find the best balance between the two, because the concepts are not bound to personal perspectives. It's not a "human" measure, it's a tension within any social fabric that simply can't not exist.

~~
* Governing principals:
Liberty/Freedom (aspirational) vs Order (grounded)
Equality (aspirational) vs Hierarchy (grounded)
Fraternity [broadly: nationalist identity] (aspirational) vs Family (grounded)
Cooperation (aspirational) vs Self-Reliance (grounded) {some debate over the framing of this principal}
Trust (aspirational) vs Force (grounded)

~~~

So, overall we have the Law-Chaos axis, which describes how society deals with the individual, and we have the Good-Evil axis, which deals with how individuals deal with society or each other. Law-Chaos is a tension between grounded and aspirational social designs, and Good-Evil is the tension between moral and rational behavior.

Each of them can be considered "objective" (though I'm not sure any of them can be considered "truths"), in a way that can be considered "universal", and thus fit with the idea of a cosmological alignment system.

Note that this still leaves completely open the question of what "good" and "evil" really are (in the moral sense, not the alignment sense), which means there's still the flexibility and conflict of having characters try to answer those difficult questions.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Just..............................let go. It can't kill you if you stop touching it.

But then he wouldn't get the foozle!

Believe me I've seen the sort of players that do walk into orphanages and slaughter all the innocents get outraged that the Book of Virtue blasts them when they open it. I've seen so much Cake Eating around the alignment system where the player plays a ruthless murder hobo with nothing but self-interest and then when it's in his self-interest to have a Good alignment, claims he's Good because he's the hero. It took me 25 years to come up with an effective non-confrontational counter to the Chaotic Evil Cake Eaters that wanted to have everything their way with no consequences.
 

Alignment has never constrained a PC. You've always been able to act outside of your alignment. The big useful part of alignment for players is that it's just there to guide your roleplay. That's it. It's not a straightjacket and never has been.
Not much of a roleplaying guide if everyone has their own definition, and no one actually has to follow it.

But that's all besides the point, as there are consequences to alignment, which are described as "whatever the DM says they are".
 


Oh, please. If we abolished alignment right this moment, the plurality of GMs would still be mortified if one of my characters espouses the merits of chattel slavery, or endorses sacrificing a baby to the Dark Gods™. I am a connoisseur of evil clerics, and removing the "evil" label that gets glued to them won't stop other people at the table from making frowny faces when they get up to their shenanigans.
If removing alignment changes nothing,
I'm not sure what you are trying to state. What do you think is a moral dilemma? If acting against the character's defined nature as a result of a moral dilemma isn't a moral dilemma then neither is acting with the character's defined nature. The only alternative to that would be trinary logic with no defined nature, but in practice what I find from no defined nature is that there definitely then is no moral dilemma as the nature will be defined at the moment as what is convenient and then redefined conveniently at the next test. At least if there is a buoy marking the waters, the player is forced to consider they are bobbing back and forth to either side of it.

Let me give a concrete example of a moral dilemma. You have the trolley problem, with 5 strangers bound to one track and your fiance bound to the other. Does this problem change in difficulty if you have an alignment system? For like 5 of the 9 alignments, this isn't really a hard dilemma in theory. Chaotic evil or neutral obviously saves your fiance. Only four have a difficult choice because they have competing moral guidelines or competing self interest. But because both choices are evil, it probable that neither of those four alignments thank that either answer wrong or right. You can come up with Lawful Good answer for both based on duty. And yes, lawful systems generally define this as a hierarchy of personal duty. The answer they give will be different if your liege, child, or spouse is on one side or the other.

You know who has the biggest moral dilemma though? Suppose you have a lawful neutral character that knows his duty is to sacrifice his self-interest and save the many over the few. It's entirely possible that RP could cause him to pull a Javert here and forgo his duty and that would be interesting.

But my guess is that if you never made the player choose then this not a hard choice for a player and you'll never have a moral dilemma.

However that doesn't even touch on whether presenting a trolley problem deliberately in play is good DMing. If it comes up fine, but what is the motivation in deliberately creating "you can't win scenarios"?
No, the Trolley Problem isn't good in play, yet whenever paladins show up it seems DMs make it their personal goal to trip them up.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Not much of a roleplaying guide if everyone has their own definition, and no one actually has to follow it.
A roleplaying guide isn't a guide if it forces you into anything. So alignment is a fantastic guide, in that it......................guides you. It gives you advice.
But that's all besides the point, as there are consequences to alignment, which are described as "whatever the DM says they are".
So there's this thing called the social contract. If a DM is an arse and just does whatever he wants and abuses that power, he loses his players over it. The DM has the authority to change any rule. Abusing that authority is bad faith DMing. There needs to be a good reason to change something and if a DM wants alignment to have teeth, he has to change it before the campaign begins and let the players know in case they want to find a different game. If they stay with his game after he has changed the alignment rules and informed them, then they have accepted those teeth and have no right to complain about it.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
In ye olde days, there was drift. One thing did not generally cause a change in and of itself save something extreme.

Alignment led to one major debate in our group over decades. Of course it was related to a lawful good Paladin and the harlot table.

One.

On the flip side we talked about evil and good. There are some fairly recognizable sign posts and a lot are cross cultural.

A discussion and DM definitions are enough. I won’t get into the chaotic neutral stuff beyond saying people play them too narrowly.

To each their own. For our group alignment was fine. That it interfaces with holy avengers, evil books and magic candles tripped up no one.

I can see how people they relish pushing limits and engaging in debates could make it a miserable slog.
 

A roleplaying guide isn't a guide if it forces you into anything. So alignment is a fantastic guide, in that it......................guides you. It gives you advice.

So there's this thing called the social contract. If a DM is an arse and just does whatever he wants and abuses that power, he loses his players over it. The DM has the authority to change any rule. Abusing that authority is bad faith DMing. There needs to be a good reason to change something and if a DM wants alignment to have teeth, he has to change it before the campaign begins and let the players know in case they want to find a different game. If they stay with his game after he has changed the alignment rules and informed them, then they have accepted those teeth and have no right to complain about it.
And just like level limits, it's the DM who is enforcing it, not the rules. So your statement of "Alignment had teeth in 1e" is only true if the DM chose to enforce it. Otherwise 1e and 5e can handle alignment exactly the same way.
 

Celebrim

Legend
No, the Trolley Problem isn't good in play, yet whenever paladins show up it seems DMs make it their personal goal to trip them up.

Then you have a "The DM is Satan" problem and you have a more fundamental problem than the Alignment system. Which since this is coming up in multiple threads I should probably write an essay on it at some point.

If you are dealing with a DM that is metagaming against the players and is trying to put them in no win situations, usually the best move is just play evil characters because if the universe you live in is heavily biased to evil and the supreme power of that world is in fact diabolical and perverse, then you really can't fight the system - especially not openly by declaring you are a Paladin or something.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
And just like level limits, it's the DM who is enforcing it, not the rules. So your statement of "Alignment had teeth in 1e" is only true if the DM chose to enforce it. Otherwise 1e and 5e can handle alignment exactly the same way.
Back during 1e, the groups I played in decided against level limits And yes, if a group or DM opted not to enforce 1e's teeth, they didn't exist for that game. My point, though, is that 1e's RAW had alignment teeth where 5e's RAW does not. There hasn't been RAW alignment teeth for at least 14 years.
 

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