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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

jedijon

Explorer
It’s a little weird to think we’ve just been told that all future worlds will lack statements like “these are people of culture X, they usually like this...(they’re bad)...it’s where they fit—their piece of the puzzle in THIS story (unless you’re an “off-trope” storybreaker”.

Which seemed pretty enlightened to me. Pretty IN TUNE with the exigencies of narrative and collective vision experiences.

To ostensibly be replaced with two statements; first “hey guys, as in the real world let’s stop coming to judgements about beings sentient, but also non, based on appearances, preconceived notions, etc.—dig in, know them, make cautious conclusions and still stay tentative—everybody has value and they change”, and second “this is an X, what makes them great is they’re Y, also feel free to ignore that as well as insist your group does also in your shared narrative—time to stand up for yourself and your individuality.”

Chaos?

I always preferred RAW to Houserules due to a high value placed on getting started and a low value on remembering exceptions. 5E itself fits those values of streamlined utility. Until of course it doesn’t. When everything is anything, it’s also all nothing.
 

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I have a later printing of 2nd edition, which had new art, New layout and cleaned up some stuff. It started with a full page "This is not a 3rd edition" explanation. I think we will see something like this. A new PHB, but not titled 5.5 and certainly not 6th. Their hope will be to create a new (continued?) Wave of high sales while cleaning up problematic issues
 

in all fairness that does seem more like a weird lore thing than an actual rule. if it said "orcs have to be evil" or "orcs will do evil acts for no reason" that'd be different.

uh, I don't think "most games" are like that anymore. like I can't remember the last time I played a game like that, and I've been playing for about 15 years now.

No one's killed a human bandit, or cultist, or warrior or any other sort of human in your games for fifteen years? Really?
 

I think it is meant to refute a particular argument by some of the players. When it comes to ideas of Racial alignment, some people are arguing that "they have no choice. Orcs are evil." He's just making clear that DMs and Players have nothing but choice. Is it hamfisted and repetitive yes, but to be blunt, the people who are bemoaning the changes in tone and presentation are often repetitive in their arguments, so like to like.

I have been using alignment for 30+ years. It's a good tool, a shorthand to help me guide behavior for monsters or npcs as a DM or PCs when I am on the other side of the screen. However, no rule should be a defense to reinforce bigotry. Times change and we can do better.

My observation is that Orcs and the like will be getting the Klingon treatment. Look at the shift in presentation of Klingons from the original series to the Next Generation era. From using clearly racist cultural cues to being depicted as being dangerous but having admirable qualities. Will it be a perfect fix? No. It will instead be a process.

I think alignment will continue to recede but will remain a tool, instead of a demand like it was in earlier editions.
 

I think it is meant to refute a particular argument by some of the players. When it comes to ideas of Racial alignment, some people are arguing that "they have no choice. Orcs are evil." He's just making clear that DMs and Players have nothing but choice. Is it hamfisted and repetitive yes, but to be blunt, the people who are bemoaning the changes in tone and presentation are often repetitive in their arguments, so like to like.

I have been using alignment for 30+ years. It's a good tool, a shorthand to help me guide behavior for monsters or npcs as a DM or PCs when I am on the other side of the screen. However, no rule should be a defense to reinforce bigotry. Times change and we can do better.

My observation is that Orcs and the like will be getting the Klingon treatment. Look at the shift in presentation of Klingons from the original series to the Next Generation era. From using clearly racist cultural cues to being depicted as being dangerous but having admirable qualities. Will it be a perfect fix? No. It will instead be a process.

I think alignment will continue to recede but will remain a tool, instead of a demand like it was in earlier editions.

I have no argument against that, but orcs haven't been evil without choice for decades. Even Robilar had a non-evil orc companion. Hell, from about 2nd edition onwards drow character seem to have been more likely to be non-evil than anything else. An entire race of angsty renegades rebelling against an evil hegemony...
 

lewpuls

Adventurer
I think of this in game designer's terms, of course. Alignment was a way to reflect religion without specifying real-world gods, but more a way to steer people away from the default of "Chaotic Neutral hoodlum who can do whatever he/she wants". Neutering alignment removes a useful GM tool. Lew Pulsipher
 

I think of this in game designer's terms, of course. Alignment was a way to reflect religion without specifying real-world gods, but more a way to steer people away from the default of "Chaotic Neutral hoodlum who can do whatever he/she wants". Neutering alignment removes a useful GM tool.

Trust me alignment did nothing to steer people away from that. In fact, people picked Chaotic Neutral to act to act like they could do whatever they wanted without consequence.

 


I have no argument against that, but orcs haven't been evil without choice for decades. Even Robilar had a non-evil orc companion. Hell, from about 2nd edition onwards drow character seem to have been more likely to be non-evil than anything else. An entire race of angsty renegades rebelling against an evil hegemony...
I'd argue that non evil Orcs and Drow have always been framed as notable exceptions and that culturally, as a race, both were default evil. My expectation is the Eberron model will become more prevalent, with cultures getting a more flexible depiction will become the norm. the depiction of Drow society, one that includes such practices as slavery, but without explicit alignment labels. There is a danger in this approach also.
 





Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've viewed alignment as a guideline and another descriptor for a long time. Other than a blanket ban on evil PCs so I can tell players when they cross the line and letting people know I don't want chaotic insane characters I don't even know my player's alignments.

As far as creatures listed in the monster manual I think alignment still serves a purpose, most of the time there's not really a whole lot on motivations and goals of monsters. I'll still use evil monsters as evil because I want bad guys who are identifiable as bad guys. Well, that and I don't want vampires that sparkle in the sunlight. Personally I hope they don't go overboard with this, even if they are more explicit in what alignment means to the game.

Funny that he goes out of his way to mention fiends and angels. Kind of my thoughts as well, if you're going to open up your world to alignments being the general rule it makes sense. Also opens it up more to a rebellion in heaven scenarios with a handful of evil angels starting a civil war. Could be interesting in the right campaign.

As far a Crawford's statement this is nothing new, it's just never been spelled out prominently. It's in a paragraph in the MM in the alignment section that most people probably never read. If there is another guidebook targeted at DMs I suspect it may be given more prominent treatment.
 

Rhianni32

Adventurer
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.

How how LAWFUL is a lawful good person? No murder? sure. No theft ? probably. no speeding over the speed limit or coming to a complete stop at a stop sign? ehhhhh shrug.
 

M.L. Martin

Adventurer
"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.

So, are we setting up for PCs allying with freedom-fighting demons against tyrannical angels?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Or to put it a lot more simply — when D&D outgrows stories of good guys and bad guys, there’s not going to be a whole lotta ground left to cover.

Well, that's an interesting take, given that the origins of D&D aren't heroic fantasy and "good guys and bad guys," but are instead rooted in more of a "swords and sorcery," and murky and morally gray atmosphere; and that's before getting into the Moocockian Law v. Chaos vibe from the OG alignment system.

Sure, when I think of old-school D&D, all I can think of are classic morality tales of vanquishing evil; certainly no old-school adventurer was motivated by base or pecuniary concerns!

Eh, anyway, in the previously codified system, alignment was useful. Now, it is more of a vestigial tail, whose primary purpose seems to be twofold:

1. Providing fodder for on-line arguments about it; and

2. Allowing for the creations of memes about alignment. Hey, what alignment is Batman????

That said, I will be sad if it is removed entirely, if only because there will be a generation that grows up that doesn't understand bad jokes about alignment.

Now, I have to go to the car dealership and find me a stick shift.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I have for decades considered it a useful shorthand description of a being's attitudes, something on which to base behavior in the absence of other clear motive. I shall continue to do so, both as a player and as a DM. I have not in decades punished a PC for straying from their listed alignment, and I shall not start now.

NPCs (and "monsters") can be whatever alignment the DM wants, of course. If a scenario would be made better by having a monster with an atypical alignment, have at it. I worry about the possibility of there being so many exceptions that they come to be expected, but each DM can make that sort of determination on their own.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Or to put it a lot more simply — when D&D outgrows stories of good guys and bad guys, there’s not going to be a whole lotta ground left to cover.
This argument is tired and flawed.

We aren't losing evil antagonists, just races that are inherently evil. We aren't even losing evil orcs, it just that evil orcs will be evil by choice rather than birth. We aren't losing alignment, we are just shifting how we treat it, which quite frankly is where the hobby mostly is already at anyway.

With the changes suggested, if you can't run a campaign with stellar bad guys for your PCs to struggle against . . . turn in your DM card and retire.
 

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