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D&D General So how about alignment, eh?

Oofta

Legend
I was in your boat. I too played AD&D before I was even a teenager and also felt like alignment was odd, though I couldn't put my finger on it. By the time I got to my teens, I didn't like it at all.


I think it infects players perceptions more than just with D&D. The kool-aid also made some of my players scratch their heads why other game systems didn't have it. This is why I rue the stranglehold that D&D has on the TTRPG ecosystem.

I think that an alignment system in this day and age is kind of beyond the pale. If the argument about making Orcs not fully "evil" was to get away from stereotyping about "races", is the problem with the stereotyping of races, or is it also fundamentally with the classification of alignment along 3 axes? I'd be just as concerned with calling a race Neutral Good...because what does that even mean to be Neutral Good?

If the argument is that alignments give color and "it's just a game", I would say that there are better alternatives. When I bought Pendragon around 1984 I think, I found their Principles system infinitely better than D&D alignments. Even the short lived The Riddle of Steel's Passion mechanic was far superior to an alignment system. I can't think of any game (that isn't a D&D derivative like Pathfinder) made after the mid 80s that even has an alignment system. That D&D has carried it forward for almost 50 years is telling. It is telling to me, because I think D&D has maintained this because it has existed inside an echo chamber for so long.

Maybe they carry it forward but give it no teeth because some people find it a useful quick descriptor that they can use or easily ignore? :unsure:

As far as monsters, D&D oversimplifies everything. The alignments listed in the MM are just defaults, even if that clarification is buried in the intro.
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I still find alignment a useful lingua franca in the sense that when I say "no chaotic evil or neutral evil" characters, it sets a pretty clear table rule.

The problem comes when the rubber meets the road though. Because ask three people whether something is good or not and you'll get 4 different answers. And then the endless arguments start. I can't think of another element in the game that has caused more flaming rows at the table than alignment. Not because people are being unreasonable or asshats or anything like that (although that's one aspect too) but simply because trying to neatly categorize morality is something that thousands and thousands of years of some really smart people haven't been able to do and expecting five sixteen year olds hopped up on caffeine and cheetos to figure it out is ... well... let's just say that's not going to happen.
Emphasis added.

But that is also an argument FOR alignment. How often do you get a group of middle/highschool kids to debate morality? Alignment provides a baked in way to force those conversations and make them part of the game. I still find it to be an interesting role play mechanic. I don't mind those discussions and arguments at the table. I find it much more interesting than arguing about cover, use of fire magic underwater, and the myriad other edge case rules lawyering.

There are other mechanical ways to accomplish the same thing, but alignment has worked fine for me for over 35 years.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
What do folks who use alignment think about the DM stepping in like this? I tend to think it was justified, given that they were playing a campaign with alignments more strictly built into the setting.
It depends on the campaign. In some campaigns we don't really use it. In my current campaign, it is an important mechanic that is connected to homebrewed rules regarding reputation, followers, concordance, and magic. I'm running an old-school inspired adventure/setting (Rappan Athuk) which has areas and magic items that can affect characters differently based on their alignment. I took that an ran with it and made alignment part of the cosmology and social organization.

So, in this game I "police" alignment in a way, but it would never come as a surprise to a player because they'll see their faction points, concordance, and followers change based on their actions or inactions. This makes it more organic as it is coming from NPC perceptions and social norms. Once most of society sees you as "good" or "evil" or "lawful" or "chaotic", etc., it really isn't a surprise if not long after you find that certain magic items don't work for you, certain wards affect you differently, you god forsakes you, etc.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
So... to fix the problem of it being a straitjacket is to keep all the parts that make the straitjacket onerous and frustrating?
To you onerous and frustrating, to many others interesting and fun.

All rules are a straitjacket to some degree. If I didn't want to play with any rules I'd join an improv troupe that doesn't enforce that "yes, and..." straitjacket.

5e handles this well. If you like the rule use it, if not, don't. I suppose I could accept alignment being relegated to the DMG as a variant rule, put I would not want it take out of the game completely for those who like it.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
See the Vex example illustrates exactly the problem with alignment.

And the problem is enforcement.

Because when you as DM tell a player, “your alignment is changed” or “that good aligned item doesn’t work for you” then you are telling the player that your understanding of their character is the right one and they are wrong.

That’s a conversation that very rarely goes well. Doesn’t matter if you are 100% right and can cite a hundred examples. You are telling a player that they are playing their character wrong.

And that’s a conversation that should never, ever be had.
If the DM is ham fisted about it, sure. But really, it is more about how society sees you, how the cosmology of the world works. Yes, it gives the DM a lot of power over how the world reacts to and affects the player, but that is the case with most of the game. So I disagree with this being a conversation that should never be had. As long as expectations are set at session zero, it can be part of the fun.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Mechanics.

Actual mechanical repercussions for the PC's actions.
Except that's not true. People are quick to tell you here that it has practically zero mechanical weight in 5e so tables can easily ignore it. So can you explain what are the "actual mechanical repercussions for the PCs's actions" when it comes to alignment in 5e D&D? What are the actual mechanics for alignment in 5e? Can you explain how alignment exists as a game mechanic in 5e?
 


RareBreed

Adventurer
Maybe they carry it forward but give it no teeth because some people find it a useful quick descriptor that they can use or easily ignore? :unsure:

As far as monsters, D&D oversimplifies everything. The alignments listed in the MM are just defaults, even if that clarification is buried in the intro.
I think some of this betrays D&D's roots as a wargame system. You needed to easily distinguish who the "bad guys" were so the players could promptly kill them. Unless of course your players were a bunch of murder hobos anyway :unsure:

As D&D evolved past dungeon looting, I think that's when the alignment system got more problematic. That's why I like either ignoring it all together, or if push came to shove, for spell reasons like for detecting someone with malicious or harmful intent as "detect evil".
 

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