D&D 5E What kinds of design space is there in alignments?

ART!

Legend
The focus on alignments has changed a lot from early editions of D&D to 5E. For instance, early D&D had alignment restrictions to classes. 5E is (somewhat?) more story-focused and use of alignment seems to vary greatly from table to table.
In my group, PC alignment rarely comes up, and I know this is true at lots of other tables. I have no problem with how anyone runs or plays their games, but I feel like given the tradition of alignments in D&D, maybe there's a new way to make alignments mean more mechanically, that adds new and exciting possibilities without being burdensome.

Level Up added more Conditions to 5E, and that creates more design space for class features, spells, monster abilities, etc. I can't remember if LU added more damage types, but doing so would add more design space, too.

What if we could do something like that with alignment?

My first thoughts on this were about some magic items having somewhat different powers depending on the alignment of the user, or certain alignments unlocking an additional power of that item.
I think doing something similar with spells could get very complicated very fast, but I'm an optimist and the world is full of clever people, so there's probably a way to add alignment features to the spell system somehow.

Alignment could probably open up design spaces in other parts of the game, too.

Thoughts.
 

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Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Class Features
Magic Item Use
Spell Results
Could all hinge off your alignment.

For examples spells that harm "Only the Wicked" dealing damage to people of Evil alignment and dealing no damage to good or neutral aligned targets in the area. Or a magic weapon that changes it's appearance and function based on the alignment of the person wielding it. Or a class feature that changes damage type or swaps persuasion for intimidation when it comes to advantage based on your alignment. Maybe an arch will not allow anyone who isn't "Pure of Heart" to step through... so only LN, CN, NG, NE, and N characters can pass through it.

Archetypes
Feats
Boons and Rewards
Could all be gated by your alignment.

A CG deity of joy might never provide a boon of healing to a LE character, for example. Or a kingdom may employ "Detect Evil" upon anyone they're about to offer a knighthood to just to make sure they're not going to abuse the populace and try to overthrow the king in a few months.

Lots of options.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What if we could do something like that with alignment?

My first thoughts on this were about some magic items having somewhat different powers depending on the alignment of the user, or certain alignments unlocking an additional power of that item.
I think doing something similar with spells could get very complicated very fast, but I'm an optimist and the world is full of clever people, so there's probably a way to add alignment features to the spell system somehow.

Alignment could probably open up design spaces in other parts of the game, too.

Thoughts.

All that is old is new again.

Alignment, ye olden days, served the following primary purposes:

1. It restricted choice in terms of character. For example, certain classes had alignment restrictions.
2. It gave you an alignment language. Yeah ...
3. It provided bonuses or penalties for roleplaying (playing to your alignment).
4. If provided use of certain magic items and/or spells.

The last is, perhaps, the most interesting. It was definitely the case that the use of some spells (often the "reverse" of certain cleric spells) would vary depending on the alignment, or, at a minimum, that good clerics would not cast the reverse spells. Magic items would have different effects depending on both class and alignment (such as the Books of Vile Darkness and Exalted Deeds).

As a general rule, I think that having items respond to "good" or "evil" (or "law" or "chaos" is that's what you're into) is still a good and fun idea.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
2. It gave you an alignment language. Yeah ...
To this day I remain fascinated by the entire idea of alignment languages.

A secret language that the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos use to communicate with each other and their allies that is completely unintelligible by their foes? A way of using tone and body language that only folks who are of the same alignment will truly understand? A mechanic that made sense when it was a simple little dungeon crawling game where alignment basically designed to indicate what side the players were on and who it was okay to kill that made less and less sense as the game moved from being a dungeon crawler and into a more generic fantasy simulation game?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
To this day I remain fascinated by the entire idea of alignment languages.

A secret language that the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos use to communicate with each other and their allies that is completely unintelligible by their foes? A way of using tone and body language that only folks who are of the same alignment will truly understand? A mechanic that made sense when it was a simple little dungeon crawling game where alignment basically designed to indicate what side the players were on and who it was okay to kill that made less and less sense as the game moved from being a dungeon crawler and into a more generic fantasy simulation game?

I was going to go with, "Something you wrote on your character sheet at the very beginning of the game and then never thought about again ...."

But I like your perspective better!
 

So for me, items tied to alignment, especially sentient or semi sentient ones, are about the last holdout for alignment demands mechanically. If I did use such items, I would likely turn the alignment dial to be more behavioral specific than just "The sword is LE". For example, instead of having the blade won off a tainted knight be merely LE, perhaps it grants only the simplest of blessings when used, unless used to attack "those rising up against a recognized authority, to smite them and fill their allies with terror." In those cases, new abilities become available for such actions. Or have a holy shield's bonus increase when the user "stands between an innocent and harm."
 

Oofta

Legend
We have a little bit of that now with spells like Spirit Guardians. If your PC is good they do radiant, if you're evil they do necrotic. I could see extending that to other spells and/or weapons. Instead of a flame tongue or frost brand it does damage based on your outlook as an example.

Only problem is, when one came up I'd have to look at my character sheet to remember what alignment I put down. ;)
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
I doubt that alignment will be a thing in D&D from 2024 on, as from how things has developed. So it might be better to put creative energy on something else :)
I'm going to argue against that - I doubt that alignment will ever go away for the same reason I doubt that they'll ever drop the raw numbers on abilities and just use the bonus/penalty value, or why they won't give up on having something called a "saving throw" even if the mechanics around them keep changing.

There are some things that if you remove from the game it loses the "pop cultural" vibe of being D&D. Alignment is one of those things - that dang 9-point alignment grid is embedded into the cultural consciousness and associated with D&D now. Just like having an 18 Strength or "missing your save" is.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm going to argue against that - I doubt that alignment will ever go away for the same reason I doubt that they'll ever drop the raw numbers on abilities and just use the bonus/penalty value, or why they won't give up on having something called a "saving throw" even if the mechanics around them keep changing.

There are some things that if you remove from the game it loses the "pop cultural" vibe of being D&D. Alignment is one of those things - that dang 9-point alignment grid is embedded into the cultural consciousness and associated with D&D now. Just like having an 18 Strength or "missing your save" is.

Without alignment, how are we going to argue about Batman??????
 

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
The focus on alignments has changed a lot from early editions of D&D to 5E. For instance, early D&D had alignment restrictions to classes. 5E is (somewhat?) more story-focused and use of alignment seems to vary greatly from table to table.
In my group, PC alignment rarely comes up, and I know this is true at lots of other tables. I have no problem with how anyone runs or plays their games, but I feel like given the tradition of alignments in D&D, maybe there's a new way to make alignments mean more mechanically, that adds new and exciting possibilities without being burdensome.

Level Up added more Conditions to 5E, and that creates more design space for class features, spells, monster abilities, etc. I can't remember if LU added more damage types, but doing so would add more design space, too.

What if we could do something like that with alignment?

My first thoughts on this were about some magic items having somewhat different powers depending on the alignment of the user, or certain alignments unlocking an additional power of that item.
I think doing something similar with spells could get very complicated very fast, but I'm an optimist and the world is full of clever people, so there's probably a way to add alignment features to the spell system somehow.

Alignment could probably open up design spaces in other parts of the game, too.

Thoughts.
I think these are all good ideas, I really like alignment conceptually and what could be done with it but I don’t deny it causes issues, the main problem is rooted in when people start trying to get relativistic with their interpretations of morality and order/chaos rather than the game giving us proper solid meta-definitions where it lays down the law and says ‘good is good and these are the traits that define someone as good in universe for the use of this game, no arguing.’
EDIT: yes, you might have grown up in a treacherous backstabbing bandit town where everyone is Evil, but saying ‘well this is what I consider good because of that’ is not an argument, the cosmic definition of Good and Evil persist and your upbringing doesn’t morally justify stabbing that old man.

Alignment based encounter and event tables are something I really like as an idea, if you have certain alignments in your party or have been a big nuisance to aligned entities then you’ll be finding your enemies sending their forces to mess with you, or the side that likes you might drop a little something nice your way.

I also think it would be nice if alignment got you something, just out of the gate for being that alignment, a specific spell or feat or resistance or proficiency or a familiar option or something:
you are Chaotic, you can pick [appropriate number] of the following features:
You can cast charm person PB/LR times,
You are proficient with hand crossbows,
Add PBd4 damage whenever you deal psychic damage,
You have resistance to lightning damage
Ect, ect, ect...’

Staying loyal to an alignment would gain you more boons, if you swapped maybe loose one temporarily and have to repick the others from your new alignment’s options, if you were repeatedly changing alignment it’d cause you to loose all your boons.
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
As someone who is a die-hard DC Comics fan and has been for 40 years - trust me when I say that we DC fans have never needed an alignment grid to argue about Batman.
He is the single most important and smartest and powerful being in the universe. He easily defeats Superman all the time and doesn't afraid of anything.
 


Scribe

Hero
Class/Subclass Requirements.
Spell Requirement.
Damage Types.
Damage Resistances.
Item Usage, Penalty, Bonuses.
Feats/Skill Requirements.
God Restrictions.

All things present in other editions or systems.

"Hi, I'm the LG Black Robe of the Tower of High Sorcery." - Nope.
 



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