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5E WotC's Jeremy Crawford Talks D&D Alignment Changes

Jeremy Crawford has spoken about changes to the way alignment will be referred to in future D&D books. It starts with a reminder that no rule in D&D dictates your alignment.


(Note that in the transcript below, the questions in quotes were his own words but presumably refer to questions he's seen asked previously).

Friendly reminder: no rule in D&D mandates your character's alignment, and no class is restricted to certain alignments. You determine your character's moral compass. I see discussions that refer to such rules, yet they don't exist in 5th edition D&D.

Your character's alignment in D&D doesn't prescribe their behavior. Alignment describes inclinations. It's a roleplaying tool, like flaws, bonds, and ideals. If any of those tools don't serve your group's bliss, don't use them. The game's system doesn't rely on those tools.

D&D has general rules and exceptions to those rules. For example, you choose whatever alignment you want for your character at creation (general rule). There are a few magic items and other transformative effects that might affect a character's alignment (exceptions).

Want a benevolent green dragon in your D&D campaign or a sweet werewolf candlemaker? Do it. The rule in the Monster Manual is that the DM determines a monster's alignment. The DM plays that monster. The DM decides who that monster is in play.

Regarding a D&D monster's alignment, here's the general rule from the Monster Manual: "The alignment specified in a monster's stat block is the default. Feel free to depart from it and change a monster's alignment to suit the needs of your campaign."

"What about the Oathbreaker? It says you have to be evil." The Oathbreaker is a paladin subclass (not a class) designed for NPCs. If your DM lets you use it, you're already being experimental, so if you want to play a kindhearted Oathbreaker, follow your bliss!

"Why are player characters punished for changing their alignment?" There is no general system in 5th-edition D&D for changing your alignment and there are no punishments or rewards in the core rules for changing it. You can just change it. Older editions had such rules.

Even though the rules of 5th-edition D&D state that players and DMs determine alignment, the suggested alignments in our books have undeniably caused confusion. That's why future books will ditch such suggestions for player characters and reframe such things for the DM.

"What about the werewolf's curse of lycanthropy? It makes you evil like the werewolf." The DM determines the alignment of the werewolf. For example, the werewolf you face might be a sweetheart. The alignment in a stat block is a suggestion to the DM, nothing more.

"What about demons, devils, and angels in D&D? Their alignments can't change." They can change. The default story makes the mythological assumptions we expect, but the Monster Manual tells the DM to change any monster's alignment without hesitation to serve the campaign.

"You've reminded us that alignment is a suggestion. Does that mean you're not changing anything about D&D peoples after all?" We are working to remove racist tropes from D&D. Alignment is only one part of that work, and alignment will be treated differently in the future.

"Why are you telling us to ignore the alignment rules in D&D?" I'm not. I'm sharing what the alignment rules have been in the Player's Handbook & Monster Manual since 2014. We know that those rules are insufficient and have changes coming in future products.
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

the Jester

Legend
Don't get anywhere near me with that Miracle Whip crap. Too sweet, too vinegary, and you can't cook Sisig with it.
Well- Miracle Whip is not mayonnaise, but it has its uses. Mayo goes well with meat, like lunchmeat or on a burger, while Miracle Whip pairs well with peanut butter.
 

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Raduin711

Adventurer
So... Werewolves...

The traditional werewolf story, with a person getting infected with lycanthropy, once a month turns into a furry murder machine against their will... how does that work in 5th edition? I apologize I do not have my Monster Manual handy.
 

the Jester

Legend
Sure 5e did away with Know Alignment, but that's a bug rather than a feature.
Actually, know alignment has been gone since 3e, and it was an intentional omission- I'm pretty sure it was even mentioned as being excised from the game in an early 3e era (or maybe even 3e preview era) issue of Dragon Magazine. So I think it's an intentional choice/feature.
 

I've always hated the idea of alignment because are people 1 alignment on every aspect of life? It seems to drift depending on who we are talking with, what we are talking about, and the relationships that we have with that person in how we want to treat them.
And I would argue strongly that that IS True Neutral. It fits it to a tee perfectly: doing whatever seems appropriate to each given situation without any strong predisposition towards any extreme, and typically avoiding conflicts with said extremes unless given no other choice. A large vast majority of people ARE True Neutral.

The problem is in part that no one wants to admit they aren't "good", even those who are evil, and in part that people view the through entirely different lenses based on both their upbringing and arguably what alignment they would naturally lean towards.

To someone strongly lawful good the world seems to be extremes of good or evil and apathy or inaction ARE evil. We call them social justice warriors in modern society.

We don’t call ANYONE a social justice warrior on ENWorld. Thank you very much for your cooperation.


While someone neutral evil will view the world as just about themselves.

People aren't as simple as one alignment mainly because we can actively seek to change ourselves at any point.
 
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dwayne

Adventurer
I always loved the allegiance system from the d20 modern game as you could have good paladins vs good paladins based off who they were aliened with. But really I never seen the alignment as a issue, just feels like they are making a big deal out of nothing that was ever an issue, same thing for the fantasy races. As if to say look at me we care look at what we are doing, but really folks it is all about the money i do fear, and bowing down to the noisy few who would not know a role play game form a board game. Any way this too will pass much like the name change for the demons and the "D&D is evil and satanic" period back in the day. people will come together with friends and play their game their way and look at all this as just a waste of time and money they could have spent on putting out something else. I for one would have liked an updated greyhawk, darksun or planescape
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
I remember chatting with Andy (Collins) about this around the time 4e was released, when he related the dev team's view that Chaos is inherently evil because it puts the needs of the individual above the community whereas Law is inherently good for prioritizing the community. From that point of view, you can see how it would make perfect sense to delete the "irrational" alignments of CG/CN and LE/LN -- though from the chart Jeremy presented here you can see why so many players would be unhappy about that.
huh, I always thought it was more like CG is gone because NG and CG are roughly the same idea and LG is the outlier for putting law over good, same with NE and LE, CE is less self serving. idk if "law is intrinsically good" is necessarily a good policy.
Roleplaying is not acting. D&D is slowly but surely losing its distinctive characteristics. It is just a kitchen sink now with orc waiters and hobbit black guards.
uh, considering what D&D was originally like compared to now idk what exactly it is we're losing. you can still be an elf in a fantasy world.
but really folks it is all about the money i do fear, and bowing down to the noisy few who would not know a role play game form a board game.
what does this even mean? I'm pretty sure the "noisy few" you speak of have discovered role playing games are something entirely different from board games, thanks.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And now I remember the last time alignment was a significant issue in a game. Way back when Living City was still a thing, I was running a game at an event and one of the player's was constantly having his paladin detect evil. Every single NPC the group ran into was subjected to a detect evil spell before I finally told him to knock it off.
If that's how the player wanted to play the Pally then have at it.

All it'd take would be someone halfway powerful - and preferably just as Goodly as the Paladin - taking offense to being subjected to such a spell and haughtily dressing the Pally down in public (or even reporting him to the authorities for suspicious use of spells!) and the issue would subside... :)
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I remember chatting with Andy (Collins) about this around the time 4e was released, when he related the dev team's view that Chaos is inherently evil because it puts the needs of the individual above the community whereas Law is inherently good for prioritizing the community. From that point of view, you can see how it would make perfect sense to delete the "irrational" alignments of CG/CN and LE/LN -- though from the chart Jeremy presented here you can see why so many players would be unhappy about that.
Of course, if you believe Michael Moorcock’s work as being where GG lifted the underpinnings of alignment from, you realize that Law = Good and Chaos = Evil is simply untrue. I forget which book(s) or story in the Eternal Champion cycle talked about it, but the ultimate expression of pure Law as complete unchanging stasis and stagnation. It’s like being frozen in amber.

Chaos- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows change to happen. Go too far in that direction, though, and there is no continuity, not even for an instant. Law- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows stability to happen.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I always loved the allegiance system from the d20 modern game as you could have good paladins vs good paladins based off who they were aliened with.
That predates D20 Modern. There were articles in Dragon Magazine’s TSR days discussing Paladins at deadly odds with each other.
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
The problem is in part that no one wants to admit they aren't "good", even those who are evil, and in part that people view the through entirely different lenses based on both their upbringing and arguably what alignment they would naturally lean towards.
Not to divert from the topic too much but this makes me think of all of the discussion recently over the Last of Us games. Without spoiling anything, pretty much every main character in the game has contexts where they're warm, loving, passionate humans with families, friends, and community. Each main character is also a brutal murder who has shot, stabbed and killed people who may or may not be innocent. From everyone's perspective, they're the good guy or a victim, and from everyone else's perspective, they're monsters.
 

Aldarc

Legend
From a 21st-century perspective, maybe. But from the perspective of, for example, classical Greeks and Romans to whom the deities were very much a part of life - at least according to the surviving myths etc. - it isn't right at all; nor is it right for any other culture whose mythos includes tales of those who actually met deities and-or whose deities directly interfered with day-to-day life.
Actually from the perspective of classical Greeks and Romans, the pantheon of the Sovereign Host of Eberron would be closer to their worldview than Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. For the people of Eberron, the gods are active in their lives. This is even seen in one of the primary doctrines of the Church of the Sovereign Host:
The Doctrine of Universal Sovereignty (As is the world, so are the gods. As are the gods, so is the world.) Which basically says that the gods are always present in all things.
However, the gods of Eberron are not trapped in some mad wizard's tower or being forced to walk the earth in any Time of Troubles. They are not siring demigod children and manifesting in humanoid form to join in adventuring melodrama (apart from maybe the Stranger). If you are thinking Greek myths of gods manifesting concretely and siring heroic children, then you are thinking pre-Classical Greece (i.e., pre-5th century BCE) and pre-Classical Rome.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
I recently saw a self-professed fan taking Tom Morello to task because he was being too political for a guitarist; it was ruining the fan’s enjoyment of his music.

...Tom Morello...

...who has a degree in political science from Harvard and became famous for being the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, arguably the most visible & famous political bands of the past several decades.
okay but I do find it...sad? that Rage Against the Machine was gonna headline this year's rich kid desert party, like there's some weird cognitive dissonance going on when I think about it.

(yeah I know they've headlined coachella before, that's beside the point)
Of course, if you believe Michael Moorcock’s work as being where GG lifted the underpinnings of alignment from, you realize that Law = Good and Chaos = Evil is simply untrue. I forget which book(s) or story in the Eternal Champion cycle talked about it, but the ultimate expression of pure Law as complete unchanging stasis and stagnation. It’s like being frozen in amber.

Chaos- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows change to happen. Go too far in that direction, though, and there is no continuity, not even for an instant. Law- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows stability to happen.
I always found the whole law vs. chaos thing to be a lot more interesting, and less subjective than good vs. evil? I feel at the very least you can point at actual tangible evidence of the effects of law and chaos.
 

Plageman

Explorer
I've adopted and adapted D20 Modern Allegiance system and a simplified version of Pendragon virtue/vice system in many RPG. They have no tied in game mechanic, they are just here to help keep a character behavior consistent between sessions. And just to be clear, these aren't set in stone and can evolve too. In short they're a good tool.

WotC reintroducing the Alignment with 5e was a reactionary move and like many things that were included took a sharp 180° turn to what came before. They look a criticisms, what worked (Pathfinder, OSR) and tried to work something out of it.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Of course, if you believe Michael Moorcock’s work as being where GG lifted the underpinnings of alignment from, you realize that Law = Good and Chaos = Evil is simply untrue. I forget which book(s) or story in the Eternal Champion cycle talked about it, but the ultimate expression of pure Law as complete unchanging stasis and stagnation. It’s like being frozen in amber.

Chaos- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows change to happen. Go too far in that direction, though, and there is no continuity, not even for an instant. Law- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows stability to happen.
Moorcockian Law vs. Chaos stands at odds with how the Chaoskampf was imagined in the ancient mythologies. In ancient Near Eastern conceptions, for example, creation and life are "very good" acts/processes associated with the establishment of (royal) Order out of unformed, stagnant Chaos. In this way, the 4E World Axis mythos with LG-G-UA-E-CE is actually far closer to many of the real world mythologies we are most familiar with.

I always found the whole law vs. chaos thing to be a lot more interesting, and less subjective than good vs. evil? I feel at the very least you can point at actual tangible evidence of the effects of law and chaos.
Agreed. It seems like there are more complex stories you can tell if the forces of chaos, include good and evil, and they are actively opposing the forces of law, which likewise include good and evil. But the nature of good/evil in D&D basically means that the only place where law vs. chaos really gets played out is with devils vs. demons.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
okay but I do find it...sad? that Rage Against the Machine was gonna headline this year's rich kid desert party, like there's some weird cognitive dissonance going on when I think about it.

(yeah I know they've headlined coachella before, that's beside the point)
Are you talking about how they’re obviously pretty left wing, but making (possibly) lots of money as a big, important band?

Remember- and I’m saying this as an economist and capitalist- socialism isn’t inherently anti-profit motive. It’s more accurate to say socialists want the profits of labor to largely go to those performing the labor.
 
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excuse me, you said "most games have the PCs plow through loads of unnamed human bandits" to which I said I haven't played a game like that in a long time, which now means that I've never killed a human ever? you done moved the goalposts out of the stadium and into the next town, damn.

I mean idk if that stopped them from making 3.5? though I guess as others have pointed out this was a very unpopular move internally.

this millenial can't even drive. there's an alternate universe where I own a neat sports car, but that never happened :/

okay if we're gonna bring this up in a thread about stereotypes, some people will take articles like that as proof that millenials are beyond redemption and the human race is doomed.

last I heard automatic transmission technology will get to the point where manual transmissions will become obsolete. that or we'll actually somehow make transition to electric cars which don't even need manual transmissions? I could be wrong on that, but it seems to be the case.
Well I guess there was two ways to take my post.

1) Understand that hyperbole and exaggeration can, in fact, be used as rhetorical devices, particularly when trying to make a point about how D&D characters have never required enemies to be "born irredeemably evil" to justify killing them, and understand that over the decades most players will have racked up quite a kill count of ordinary human foes aside.

2) Take the post in the absolute literal sense, and assuming I was referring to some hypothetical campaign where players literally plow through large numbers of bandits, perhaps using oxen and the farm implement, or maybe even on an actual modern snow plough, deny that such a game exists, and then when it is clarified to you insist that the goalposts have been moved.
 


Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Are you talking about how they obviously pretty left wing, but making (possibly) lots of money as a big, important band?

Remember- and I’m saying this as an economist and capitalist- socialism isn’t inherently anti-profit motive. It’s more accurate to say socialists want the profits of labor to largely go to those performing the labor.
no, I'm not arguing that Rage Against the Machine shouldn't be making money, I'm not wont to suggest something that impractical. it's more like Coachella has gained a reputation of being a symbol of wealth and excess. it's like if a well-known vegetarian gave the keynote speech at the bbq meat-a-thon or something like that. for similar reasons, some musicians have taken legal action against political campaigns for using their songs because they don't want their image associated with that politician.

I'm sure some of the people attending take their message to heart, but it seems like a weird place to be spreading that message.
Well I guess there was two ways to take my post.

1) Understand that hyperbole and exaggeration can, in fact, be used as rhetorical devices, particularly when trying to make a point about how D&D characters have never required enemies to be "born irredeemably evil" to justify killing them, and understand that over the decades most players will have racked up quite a kill count of ordinary human foes aside.

2) Take the post in the absolute literal sense, and assuming I was referring to some hypothetical campaign where players literally plow through large numbers of bandits, perhaps using oxen and the farm implement, or maybe even on an actual modern snow plough, deny that such a game exists, and then when it is clarified to you insist that the goalposts have been moved.
okay no, your first post implied mass killing in a single campaign, but when I said I've never had that sort of campaign before you come back with "lol you never killed a single human ever". like you can't just make a hyperbolic statement and then come back at me with something different.

it's not like I haven't had campaigns where I've killed humans or other humanoids, but it tends to be the case that fighting them is part of some larger conflict and they were definitely out to kill the party or others. hell my last two characters have tended toward diplomacy and non-violence when practical (this despite being strongly melee oriented).
 

The thing is, alignment in D&D used to have two purposes, to describe the tendencies of an individual and to describe the overwhelming tendencies of a group of people, be it a town, nation, organization, guild, religion or (yes) a race or species. It didn't describe EVERY memeber of said group, but used to be a way of summarizing the tendencies and danger level of the larger group. Hommlett was NG, Cormyr was LG, The Zhentarium was LE, etc.

For example, the First Order in Star Wars is pretty Lawful Evil. Snoke seems very LE, Phasma is very LE, and Hux is quintessential LE. However, Finn is clearly not Evil, or even Lawful. Even Kylo Renn, while very dagnasty evil, is way too emotional and hectic to be at all Lawful. Yet I doubt anyone would argue that the First Order isnt' LE due to these outliers, nor that those two must be LE due to the fact they were associated with the FO.

What WotC is now reacting to this notion that larger groups of people can have a social alignment that may not align personally with the individual. Its starting with removing racial tendencies (so that orcs won't be generally CE and elves CG) but it will expand to not giving any group an alignment. Not all citizens of Thay are evil or Cormyr good, Not all Zhents are evil or Harpers good, and not all stormtroopers evil and resistance good. So the social alignment is going to disappear as a concept.

That will only leave alignment as a tool to describe individuals, and there is a better system for handling that: bonds/flaws/ideals. Its almost trivial to keep alignment at this point outside a few archaic magic item interaction rules.

Believe me, Alignment is dead-rule walking.
In Star Wars, the First Order is Lawful Evil because its IDEOLOGY is Lawful Evil. The ideology is Lawful because of prioritizing the group over the individual, maintaining social expectations, organizational infrastructure, and collective obligations and duties. The ideology is Evil because of its disrespect for human life and its dehumanization of human dignity.

D&D can easily and usefully assign an ideology to a particular alignment. Thus the leadership of this ideology will normally share the same alignment personally, and members of the group will tend towards the alignment of its ideology. But there will also be members of the group who are only partially enthusiastic about the ideology or even in active conflict against it.

Moving alignment away from a biological species and more clearly onto a specific ideology improves the usefulness of the D&D alignment system. Stories make more sense.

For example, Drow are humanoid with freewill. But those members who adhere to the ideology of Lolth tend toward Evil. (I would argue the Drow Lolthian ideology is strictly Neutral Evil, being the purest form of Evil possible, and being ready to sacrifice either order or freedom in order to further as much inhumanity as possible.)
 
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Of course, if you believe Michael Moorcock’s work as being where GG lifted the underpinnings of alignment from, you realize that Law = Good and Chaos = Evil is simply untrue. I forget which book(s) or story in the Eternal Champion cycle talked about it, but the ultimate expression of pure Law as complete unchanging stasis and stagnation. It’s like being frozen in amber.

Chaos- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows change to happen. Go too far in that direction, though, and there is no continuity, not even for an instant. Law- in moderation- allows life to happen because it allows stability to happen.
Yeah, D&D Law v Chaos, is more like Yang v Yin, where balance as a dynamic equilibrium is optimal, but imbalance is problematic.
 

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