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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.

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Data from D&D Beyond in June 2019

(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

Russ Morrissey

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
None of this is really the point (no offense). Other games aren't D&D.

Other games do not use the six abilities of D&D.
Other games do not use levels.
Other games do not use hit points.
Other games do not use saving throws.
Other games do not use the d20.
Other games do not use a "class" system.

...and so on. As JC pointed out (and as others have noted), alignment really is just a vestigial tail in the game now. If you don't use it, there are no mechanical impacts.

The only reason for its continued inclusion is because D&D has always had alignment. shrug Whether they just want to state this even more explicitly in the rules (ALIGNMENT REALLY, REALLY DOESN'T MATTER) or just drop it, it's just legacy words in 5e.

Now how could one take offense to such a dismissive tone. :)

Maybe it’s not THE point (i.e. the one that matters to you), but I do think it’s a worthwhile contribution to note that Alignment can be a useful “gauge” on a dashboard that a DM uses to pilot a game. We seem to be in violent agreement that it’s not mechanically necessary.

I’m not sure why you raise the (stretched) uniqueness of D&D in this conversation. When discussing potential “changes” to a game’s design, I think it’s perfectly sensible to look to other game design examples. Obviously 5e’s current design been heavily influenced by other games.
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
For all of the trashing of alignment, I think people are ignoring something. The current version of the game is incredibly popular. I think part of that is because of overall simplicity we get out of the box . Alignment is a quick to grasp and easy to explain in a sentence or two. At the same time, it really is completely optional.

The ease of adjusting the game to suit your personal preference is a major strength, not a weakness. I like alignment because with 2 characters I get a quick understanding of what NPCs and monsters are like by default. I can glance at that and have a decent judge of how they're going to respond and act. It's fast, simple, reliable.

Is it nuanced? Detailed? Heck no. But most of the time I don't need or want that nuance or detail. When I do? Then I'll make notes and create fluff that has nothing to do with a coded system of set values of any kind, they'll be unique to that actor.

So reinforce that alignment is just a guideline, point out the paragraph in the MM that alignment is a default and not a straight jacket. But keep those little 2 characters as a quick descriptor, it's not a sacred cow it's a quick lookup guide with a ton of meaning packed in.
 

Azzy

Newtype
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.

There have been people that complain when some punk band gets political and then says that punk shouldn't be political. I want slap them upside the head with the Clash and the Dead Kennedys (for starters) until they get a clue.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I’m not sure why you raise the (stretched) uniqueness of D&D in this conversation. When discussing potential “changes” to a game’s design, I think it’s perfectly sensible to look to other game design examples. Obviously 5e’s current design been heavily influenced by other games.

"You know, I'm not sure why you care about the shape of the bottle. Or the red and white. Or the occasional polar bear imagery. Or the particular typeface used.

Really, Coca Cola is just another kind of sugar water, so why does any of this matter? Why bother with the (stretched) uniqueness of Coca Cola?"

It's not my job to define D&D; but clearly, D&D is doing something right that other games aren't. That doesn't mean that D&D can't, or shouldn't, borrow and steal from other games.

But when you are the market leader, you should be paying a lot more attention to the things (both good and bad) that make you different, not thinking about the ways you can be the same.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
For all of the trashing of alignment, I think people are ignoring something. The current version of the game is incredibly popular. I think part of that is because of overall simplicity we get out of the box . Alignment is a quick to grasp and easy to explain in a sentence or two. At the same time, it really is completely optional.

The ease of adjusting the game to suit your personal preference is a major strength, not a weakness. I like alignment because with 2 characters I get a quick understanding of what NPCs and monsters are like by default. I can glance at that and have a decent judge of how they're going to respond and act. It's fast, simple, reliable.

Is it nuanced? Detailed? Heck no. But most of the time I don't need or want that nuance or detail. When I do? Then I'll make notes and create fluff that has nothing to do with a coded system of set values of any kind, they'll be unique to that actor.

So reinforce that alignment is just a guideline, point out the paragraph in the MM that alignment is a default and not a straight jacket. But keep those little 2 characters as a quick descriptor, it's not a sacred cow it's a quick lookup guide with a ton of meaning packed in.

My group flat out ignores alignment for PC's. Traditional alignment has never made sense to me personally. That said I understand why some like traditional alignment. The ability to know who is okay to fight and who is not. It's a way of simplifying the morality of the gameworld. It's also a fairly good guardrail for new players and/or immature players as they can be prone to having their characters behave very erratically just because they have the freedom to do so. Alignment can help reign that in.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
There have been people that complain when some punk band gets political and then says that punk shouldn't be political. I want slap them upside the head with the Clash and the Dead Kennedys (for starters) until they get a clue.

I don't like when anything gets very political. This applies to entertainers/businesses/RPG's/etc.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
For all of the trashing of alignment, I think people are ignoring something. The current version of the game is incredibly popular. I think part of that is because of overall simplicity we get out of the box . Alignment is a quick to grasp and easy to explain in a sentence or two. At the same time, it really is completely optional.

So, that's an interesting point.

But, the problem is that while the popularity of the game is high, I don't think we can trace that to any particular feature.

Alignment, now, is very simple.. But back in the day, how many arguments over what behavior constituted what alignment were there? Answer: tons. Experienced gamers the world over could not, based on alignment, agree on how a paladin should behave, for example.

Which can just as easily work against your suggestion - the power may not be in "alignment is simple". It may be "alignment is now meaningless to the player" that is at work. Its removal may be making the game more popular.
 




Jeremy Crawford:
"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."

5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook (emphasis mine):
"The evil deities who created other races, though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods. Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh. and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life. (Even half-orcs feel the lingering pull of the orc god's influence.)"

Volo’s Guide to Monsters:
"No matter how domesticated an orc might seem, its blood lust flows just beneath the surface. With its instinctive love of battle and its desire to prove its strength, an orc trying to live within the confines of civilization is faced with a difficult task."

That statement is not inconsistent with those two passages. Orcs can be good aligned, but they struggle with tendencies towards violence (evil). The Orc still chooses its alignment (even LG), and how it chooses to roleplay that urge towards violence within the scope of that alignment choice is up the the player.

That said, the game is moving away from 'innate tendencies' towards certain behaviours for humanoids (like orcs) due to the racist implications thereof.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't like when anything gets very political. This applies to entertainers/businesses/RPG's/etc.

You live in the USA? That's a country with nearly 330 million other people, on a planet with over 7 billion other people. If you live a life such that you can choose to ignore those other people... you're lucky.

The entertainers, businesses, RPGs, etc are trying to sell into that world, though, so they don't generally get to ignore how it operates.
 

Remathilis

Legend
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.)

Right, but here's the thing: if you were running a Star Wars D&D game, would you make the stat-block for generic Stormtrooper "medium humanoid, lawful evil"? Clearly, they're all not (Finn and Jana are two recent examples of that). What if the stormtrooper interacts with a glyph of warding set to affect LE characters, does the affect them or does the DM now have to determine, on the fly, if that stormtrooper is good/evil/lawful/chaotic?

I always read the alignment section on monsters are a guide to their default ideology; an orc (in lieu of something more specific) is a CE raider bound to slaughter for the slaughter-God. This is akin to the generic stormtrooper being faceless baddies for an evil military organization. Clearly, there are exceptions to the rule, Finn being the prime SW example while Drizzt the D&D posterboy for it. But the rank-and-file stormtrooper or orc was of default alignment whenever the DM didn't have anything more specific to say about them. It helps heroes mow-down hordes of orcs or blow up battle-stations full of strormtroopers.

But now what? Clearly the implicit "orcs default to evil unless the DM says otherwise" model isn't working. So we're cutting humanoid alignment tendencies. Orcs and stormtroopers don't default to Evil. Which means one of two things: either the five orcs in room 2b of the dungeon are still evil (except the stat block no-longer says it) and nothing really changed, or the five orcs could be any alignment and killing them is no different than killing five random people in a tavern. Or maybe that stormtrooper Han blasted in Empire was another Finn, questioning his loyalty to the Empire but not yet ready to live his life as a deserter. Hell, A New Hope contains some throw-away dialogue between two stormtroopers on the Death Star small-talking about a new model of landspeeder that came out; implying they have lives and dreams beyond service to the Empire... And Luke blew them up with a proton torpedo. Way to go hero.

Ultimately, this ends up going two ways: we change the orc to "orc raider" and continue use them as CE mooks (and thus nothing really has changed) or you have to make orcs as diverse as elves or humans and you have to question if the orc you are fighting is really good-but-conflicted, neutral-and-just-wants-to-get-paid, or evil-and-loving-every-minute. The story of D&D is going to go from a battle of good-vs-evil to questioning every enemy combatant's participation. It will interject a level of nuance and reality, but it will effectively end the "kill things and take their stuff" model if you give it half-a-thought.

Or, just keep plowing through strormtroopers because they're evil, whichever works.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
Use of "SJW" to dismiss people or their positions is not acceptable under our Inclusivity Policy.
Honestly, I don’t think these changes amount to a .5 edition. They’re mostly a relatively minor revision like the 2e reprinting with new art direction.

These are fundamental changes regarding the entire Cosmology of what D&D is and what it means. These are not just tweaks.

To change the foubdation of what's been D&D for 40 years to appease the SJW today to redo the entire Cosmology is a big shift. To recreate D&D in this new image, get rid of alignments, etc... Along with all the other changes they want to make to strip out defined Ability Score modifiers so any race can have any ability score modifier and take away alignments from all the 'monster races' so they all become flavors of Humans... After all, they said it themselves that D&D is all about playing and being Humans in their Diversity statement.

What better way to celebrate diversity than by stripping away all the uniqueness from the non-human races of your game.

They are re-envisioning D&D into an entirely new version of D&D. And it's really not D&D anymore.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
You live in the USA? That's a country with nearly 330 million other people, on a planet with over 7 billion other people. If you live a life such that you can choose to ignore those other people... you're lucky.

The entertainers, businesses, RPGs, etc are trying to sell into that world, though, so they don't generally get to ignore how it operates.

seems like any reply I could make disagreeing with this post would likely fall into some category of being against the rules so I’m going to note my disagreement and now bow out from discussing specifics.
 
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Hilariously I have been trying to explain what Crawford has been saying here to plenty of people in this forum and others. This has always been my understanding of alignment.

See the 'Orcs are evil unless the DM houserules it away' arguments that have been had on here ad nausea.

Its a tendency or generalisation, nothing more or less.

There can be LG Red dragons or even LG Succubi (although the latter cease being Fiends and turn into Angels if they change alignment) as incredibly rare as both would be (particularly in the case of the Succubi).

The only place I deviate from Crawford is I (as DM) reserve the right to alter a Players chosen alignment if he constantly plays against that alignment, changing to the alignment that better suits his actions. Such change has no effect on game play at all; it's just an indication to the player of how I (on behalf of Ao/ Kelemvor/ the Gods) view his actions.

As an alternative, I have considered simply keeping track myself of a players 'actual' objective alignment, as viewed through the lens of the Gods, and keeping that information secret from the PCs.

That way when a 'Good' aligned PC who has engaged in repeated acts of murder, torture and so forth (is actually evil) encounters an alignment related effect (a talisman of ultimate evil, or the book of exalted deeds, or enters a Unicorns lair etc) they are affected according to the alignment they have been playing, not the letters they wrote on their character sheet.
 

Alignment is a sacred cow that shouldn't be messed with.
Oh no, I agree that it should be messed with, because they clearly still haven't got it right. But I feel I can just about guarantee they still don't have a solid idea what it is they actually want alignment to do, much less how to have it accomplish that - and WITHOUT everybody being able to come up with their own personal interpretations of what individual alignments mean in terms of what character behaviors they allow and don't allow.

Best use of Alignment was 3rd Edition. Creating mechanics that mesh with the Alignment system was genius.
:LOL: Hardly genius. The one really good thing they did with alignment in 3E (IMO) is to categorize it as description (like gender, age, height and weight, or choice of deity), but they had no more idea what they really wanted it to do or not do within the game than anyone had previously. It was just another sacred cow that they couldn't mess with. The fact that arguments about alignment slowed down not one whit makes it obvious they failed to really address it as it needed to be addressed.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Why are you tipping bigfoot into mayonnaise?

I probably dated myself with that post. for those that don't know, it was in reference to another gaming forum that had major flame wars over those topics gee...must have been 20 years ago now? Good lord I'm getting old.
 

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