D&D General The Problem with Evil or what if we don't use alignments?

hopeless

Adventurer
I don't know if this is addressed at all in the other thread, but what I wanted to ask is would the game be better if alignment wasn't present?

A few months ago I ran a game where the Dawnfather Church was usurped by members of the Strife Emperor Cult.
This had been ongoing for years and past unnoticed due to the influence of the gods was stymied by an event centuries past leaving them needing their followers worship more than its commonly known.

Anyway have you ever run games where the PCs eventually discover the various churches aren't exactly the alignment their god is supposed to be?

If this ever came up in your games how did you or your players react to such a reveal?

Prior to the game I mentioned above I was asked to convert a Ranger into a Cleric for a game, then had my dm mess up my character's back story when he couldn't recognise the potential of the game being run at a hamlet over a large city where heroes or mercenary troubleshooter's are more likely present.

Anyway I got a little into the character that I developed a faith for her, but I'm getting off topic how do you handle alignments in your game?
 

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Yora

Legend
Yes. Alignment only adds problems and doesn't provide a single benefit. After over 40 years, I've yet to see anyone make a good argument for what the purpose of alignment is supposed to be.
Never use it in any of my campaigns. Sometimes players still write it on their character sheets, but I just ignore it, since it never comes up anyway.
 


Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Opinions! Our table uses alignment as a descriptive term, not prescriptive. No one is pigeon-holed to an alignment.

We also use alignment to describe the general views of all the races and monsters - red dragons are CE, as are demons.... angels are usually LG, perhaps NG... some humanoid races are considered generally evil (not everyone folks, don;t get excited). We also use alignment spells such as detect evil, chaos hammer, etc. Alignment also describes all the planes in our homebrew world. Also it helps guide divine classes keep an ethos. We don't allow clerics or paladin to act opposite to their ethos and still keep their spellcasting ability, at least until they switch to a more appropriate deity, atonement, etc.

Personally, as an old school player (and my table too) we love it and see no controversy about it. No one at our table feels alignment was ever used in some racist way, so.... yeah. Some people do, so use it if it fits your game, disregard if not.
Yes. Alignment only adds problems and doesn't provide a single benefit. After over 40 years, I've yet to see anyone make a good argument for what the purpose of alignment is supposed to be.
In 40 years (1983 I think I started) I have not seen a good argument NOT to use it. Just my view (and all my players).
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
There are lots of RPG systems that don’t use alignments, including my favorite, HERO. However, I have found alignment to be a useful & enjoyable mechanic in D&D*.

And to answer your question:

…have you ever run games where the PCs eventually discover the various churches aren't exactly the alignment their god is supposed to be?

If this ever came up in your games how did you or your players react to such a reveal?

Not ALL churches, but YES, certain churches. Most of the players found it a nifty plot twist.





* the system I started with in 1977.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That's why I don't use G-E L-C alignment anymore

I have used Wrestling and Humanity alignment for a year or so and it works fine.

Good or Evil, everyone knows the Heels will do anything to win and the Monsters use Monster logic.
 

Alignments are a shorthand guideline for how your character (broadly) acts, with certain in game cosmic ramifications (afterlife etc).

If your character is Good they are (broadly speaking) altruistic, kind, merciful and self sacrificing and avoid harming others. If they're Evil, they're prepared to step over and harm others to accomplish their own ends (whatever ends that may be). If they're Lawful they follow a code of honor, and respect family and tradition. If they're Chaotic they're independent, free spirited, reckless and unpredictable.

I dont have alignment arguments at my table, because this is discussed at session zero.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I don't know if this is addressed at all in the other thread, but what I wanted to ask is would the game be better if alignment wasn't present?

A few months ago I ran a game where the Dawnfather Church was usurped by members of the Strife Emperor Cult.
This had been ongoing for years and past unnoticed due to the influence of the gods was stymied by an event centuries past leaving them needing their followers worship more than its commonly known.

Anyway have you ever run games where the PCs eventually discover the various churches aren't exactly the alignment their god is supposed to be?

If this ever came up in your games how did you or your players react to such a reveal?

Prior to the game I mentioned above I was asked to convert a Ranger into a Cleric for a game, then had my dm mess up my character's back story when he couldn't recognise the potential of the game being run at a hamlet over a large city where heroes or mercenary troubleshooter's are more likely present.

Anyway I got a little into the character that I developed a faith for her, but I'm getting off topic how do you handle alignments in your game?
The church things yes here's how.

1. The cleric is false/evil posing as a cleric of the other faith. Bonus points if they were raised in the faith they're pretending to be.

2. The god is dead/indisposed and another being is granting the spells or subverting the faith.

3. The god is a liar/trickster or tolerates clergy of a wide variety of alignment.

4. The clergy are heretics or corrupt and haven't yet been exposed or punished for whatever reason. Or the game mechanics allow it Eg Eberron or FR heretic of the faith feat in 3.5.
 

I've used alignment for 30 some odd years with only a few issues. In 1E there were a few problems, as changing alignment voluntarily (i.e. by action, not magical compulsion) had some mechanical penalties involved, but few players did so except after having their alignment magically changed (and they'd forget). Paladins had the potential to cause a great number of problems due to their built in LG requirements, but in AD&D they were pretty rare, so I didn't have too many issues except in 3E. Clerics theoretically can cause an issue, since they're suppose to be at least similar to their deity, but honestly I can only recall 1 particularly problematic character (which was really a problematic player).

I like that 5E has minimized alignment, since it's an excellent tool. As the paladin and 1E shows, however, putting mechanics built into it causes problems. I might be okay with having a few minor mechanics based on alignment, such as an angel's attack that deals extra damage to evil creatures and less damage to good creatures, but they should be pretty rare.
 




I still find Alignment to be of use as shorthand for NPCs and monsters. That said, I don't use it as a straight jacket. A listed alignment of a creature in the MM is a starting point, speaking to a "typical" example of said creature. My campaign just culminated in the PCs fighting against a LE angel. I do like that 5e has greatly downplayed the inherency of alignments mechanically. I could see alignment disappearing in future editions of the game however, replaced by the short sentences we use for Trait/Ideal/bond/flaw, as we got for the Darklords in the new Ravenloft book.
 

Oofta

Legend
Just because every member of an organization doesn't support the purported ideals of an organization, it does not follow that alignment is useless. That, and just because to individuals or groups share the same alignment it doesn't mean they'll always agree or get along.

I don't care what alignment my PCs are (I do ban evil acts, and yes, I get to decide what is evil) but it is useful for NPCs and monsters. For my own PCs, it's just one descriptor of many. Alignment isn't a straightjacket, it's just a general descriptor.

But seriously, do we need yet another alignment thread that will inevitably be shut down? I find alignment useful, others don't. Don't find it useful? Don't use it.
 

Oofta

Legend
I still find Alignment to be of use as shorthand for NPCs and monsters. That said, I don't use it as a straight jacket. A listed alignment of a creature in the MM is a starting point, speaking to a "typical" example of said creature. My campaign just culminated in the PCs fighting against a LE angel. I do like that 5e has greatly downplayed the inherency of alignments mechanically. I could see alignment disappearing in future editions of the game however, replaced by the short sentences we use for Trait/Ideal/bond/flaw, as we got for the Darklords in the new Ravenloft book.

While I find TBIF useful, I have yet to see a list that tells me the same things as alignment (I don't have the Ravenloft book). The combination is more useful than either alone for me. I think getting rid of alignment, especially for individuals, is a mistake.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Yup. I use alignment in my games. It's a simple guideline that helps me.

I don't do a lot of campaigns focused on good versus evil or law versus chaos. Nor do I make it a big mechanical function. But I have used it with Mechanical Functions to mess with people.

Like a powerful sword that can only be wielded by the pure of heart... The party learned that only the NG member of the party could wield it because their heart was "Pure" even though other members of the party were LG, CG, and CN.

And then the BBEG wound up using it against the party... Because he was Pure of Heart. Purely -evil- of Heart. Could only be used by NG and NE characters without penalty. Because their hearts were "Pure". Unaffected by Law or Chaos.

It was a neat undermining of expectations.
 


Reynard

Legend
Gygax also thought storming a creche and murdering Orc children by the score by bashing their brains in with a hammer was 'Lawful Good' because 'Nits make Lice'.

Not exactly the greatest moral arbiter.
This here is a perfect example of why Alignment is such a problem in D&D.

NOT killing the future raiders and murderers of good people simply because they are in their larval form would, by some, be considered an evil act itself. By showing mercy to creatures incapable of not being what they are, you are condemning some future innocent to their depredations -- all for a selfish, misguided reason on top of it. What is evil if not acting in a selfish way that causes harm to innocents?

Before anyone comes storming in with pitchforks and cries of "biological essentialism" I am not making any argument about whether it makes any sense or is okay to say "all orcs are inherently evil." But in the scenario where they are in fact inherently evil, it is not "good" to leave them to kill in the future. Moral absolutism is weird that way.
 

What's the point of alignment?

Mechanically, (nearly) nothing. You're not gonna hit the enemy any harder.

But smart DMs figure out the alignment of their players to design good challenges. For example:
  • Chaotic players will have a natural hatred for large institutions with rules and regulations
  • Lawful players will have a natural hatred for whimsical decisions and NPCs that act on intuition
Likewise, you can tease your players into doing something against their natural alignment. For example:
  • A lawful good character gets a choice to commit a crime for the benefit of a much greater good
  • A lawful evil character gets the chance to save a kitten

Such things can be interesting from a roleplay and character development point of view.

I never ask for the alignment of my players... they don't need to put it on their character sheets. I'll instead observe and take notes. (Mu ha ha ha).
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
What's the point of alignment?

Mechanically, (nearly) nothing. You're not gonna hit the enemy any harder.
That depends on edition. In 5e, true, it doesn't help you hit the enemy any harder, but in 3e (and PF) it can have a real impact in combat scenes that's fun to work with. It can, however, have all sorts of influence in a campaign in a non-mechanical manner, even in 5e.

Ultimately, alignment is a tools to use (or misuse) like any other. I've made good use of it but it isn't necessary for me when playing D&D either.
 

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