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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

Catolias

Explorer
Hopefully not. But .... are there applications to join the D&D Police?

"YOU! Drop that d20 right now! That's right. Drop it! We have reports that there have been people playing Druids wearing metal armor in this household. We are going to have to bring you down to the dunge... um, station."
I suspect if they are 5e D&D police they’d probably allow druids wearing metal armour. After all, as Mr Crawford reminds us, “D&D has general rules and exceptions to those rules.” Ergo, if everything is general, than nothing is specific and there are no rules.
 

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Remathilis

Legend
Which is why flavor text matters. Flavor informs play − especially as default.

So for the sake of gaming, removing race tropes from flavor texts helps end the recycling of racist assumptions from an earlier era.
Remove and replace with...

That's the thing I think gives more than a few people pause: what after you replacing those race trope with? Are orcs no longer raiders but have towns, cities and nations? Do they have merchants and traders coming to local towns? Are there crafters and artisans? More importantly, if we are going to change both their physical and cultural elements to be less problematic, are they going to retain enough identity to still be orcs?

Even if D&D punts and says "orc culture is solely up to the DM to determine", you are just replacing the default with blank space. I kinda want to know WHAT is/will/should fill that gap now that orcs aren't CE raiders and destroyers.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I suspect if they are 5e D&D police they’d probably allow druids wearing metal armour. After all, as Mr Crawford reminds us, “D&D has general rules and exceptions to those rules.” Ergo, if everything is general, than nothing is specific and there are no rules.
Druids wearing nonmetallic armor IS the exception; the general rule is "a PC can wear any armor they're proficient with." Druids are proficient in all light, medium and shields, but only can wear them if they are made nonmetallic.
 

Catolias

Explorer
Druids wearing nonmetallic armor IS the exception; the general rule is "a PC can wear any armor they're proficient with." Druids are proficient in all light, medium and shields, but only can wear them if they are made nonmetallic.
I know. However, my point (sarcastically) was that rules are sliding into guidelines to be used at the DM’s discretion. Discretion’s great but it becomes a real problem when that’s all there is. Too much discretion means the absence of rules and that creates confusion and one helluva mess.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
I know. However, my point (sarcastically) was that rules are sliding into guidelines to be used at the DM’s discretion. Discretion’s great but it becomes a real problem when that’s all there is. Too much discretion means the absence of rules and that creates confusion and one helluva mess.
yeah, can we not devolve into weird slippery slope arguments where D&D becomes a meaningless chaos of vague ideas?

seriously, the people in charge make a few statements about race and alignment going forward and some of you acting like ability scores are now meaningless and dice are literally getting thrown out the window.
Gary Gygax expressed such a view in 2005 across several posts on pages 3 and 4 of the linked thread.



Kay Wright Lewis, A Curse Upon the Nation (2017), on the 17th century origins of the term "nits make lice":

John Nalson, an English clergyman and historian, was told by a captain in the English army that “no manner of Compassion or Discrimination was shewed either to Age or Sex, but that the little Children were promiscuously sufferers with the Gulley [large knife], and that if any who had some grains of Compassion reprehended the Soldiers for this unchristian inhumanity, they would scoffingly reply, Why? Nits will be Lice, and so would dispatch them.” It is at this point that “the saying ‘Nits will make lice,’ which was constantly employed to justify the murder of Irish children,” became part of English vernacular.​

Gary Gygax is referring to its use by US Army Colonel John Chivington with regards to the Sand Creek massacre in 1864.
Sigh. I guess Gary, like Tolkien or Lovecraft, is a product of his time. Gary especially was a wargamer before RPGs existed, so I can imagine a lot of 60's and 70's era military think colored his perceptions. That said, Gary said these things 20 years after he had relinquished creative control of D&D and while that may have been a personal view of his, I don't necessarily see how it was a core element of D&D itself. It's not like that attitude is specifically reflected in the paladin, orc, or alignment sections of the PHB, for example.

That all being said, it probably explains Mordenkainen and Rolibar having an army of orcs far better than anything I saw prior...
I feel like Gary had this really antagonistic view of life in general. like not everything needs to be antagonistic, but when things seem diametrically opposed it's like a strength contest that always needs to be tested. I'm pretty sure he made it clear in 1st ed. AD&D that Dungeons & Dragons was supposed to be a primarily humano-centric game, and humans were generally neutral, which is why the things he says about good and evil are extreme; I'm pretty sure he laid out that being good or evil meant having some kind of absolute morality. the LG paladin might be obligated to kill an evil prisoner, but that probably doesn't apply to neutral characters.

this also appears as the DM (or rather, the "referee") being described as having an antagonistic relationship to the players. this of course is no longer the paradigm, instead most DMs today focus on collaborative storytelling (or at least that seems to be the general idea). I don't think this is tied to "fun" either, I'm pretty sure for Gary (and hopefully his players) being antagonistic was supposed to be "fun" the same way telling a story together is "supposed" to be fun.
 


jsaving

Adventurer
seriously, the people in charge make a few statements about race and alignment going forward and some of you acting like ability scores are now meaningless and dice are literally getting thrown out the window.
I am very puzzled by this as well. The only thing Jeremy actually said is something everyone who's read a Salvatore book or played BG/BG2 already knows -- people can choose their own alignment irrespective of the race that is written on their character sheet. If a reminder that people have free will causes you to conclude everything in the game is subjective now, you may want to reassess some of your assumptions.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Well, it remains to be seen.



Disagree. Between cultural and religious indoctrination being very strong (we can look at the real world for many examples), and evil people don't typically think of themselves as evil (for instance proponents of imperialism and chattle slavery would tell you that what they are doing is proper and good for the people they oppress (see the whole "white man's burden" ideology). A lot of evil has been done with the justification that it was the right, moral thing to do. Even the nazis that they were moral and in the right.



They aren't the same. They just have free will like the other sapient species.





See, that's a very problematic worldview—the same worldview that was used to justify many, many nasty thing throughout history.



We don't need biological evil to have people rebel against or overcome their "nature". One can overcome indoctrination, vices, etc. We can see this with Joe Bednarsky, a former grand dragon off the kkk who has done many bad things, repented his former life and now worships in a black church and acts as the bodyguard for the (black) preacher. Another example is Malcolm X (who was not evil, let's get that out of the way). As a member of the Nation of Islam, he became indoctrinated into some very problematic worldviews that NOI has (anti-Semetism being among them, and the "white devil" thing). However, his travels to Africa and the Middle East opened his eyes to his prejudices and helped him overcome that to become more inclusive and distance himself from the NOI. It's truly a shame that he was assassinated only a few years later. We can have redemption stories without implicit evil.
In the grand scheme of things the truth is never problematic. The reason that the notion of people of different skin colors having different natures is dangerous in the real world is that it isn't true. In a fantasy world people of different species or even of different skin colors can actually have different natures. That can be a truth of a given fantasy world. That is to say, it's not inherently wrong for such a fantasy world to exist and be played in. It's not racist, it makes no one racist, etc. That said I can understand why someone might prefer a different fantasy setting - one where there's a sameness to the various humanoid races natures toward good and evil.

My objection is not the inclusion of such a fantasy setting. My objection is the outright removal of the other.

IMO cultural and religious indoctrination and stories of redemption of those involved in problematic ideologies are not the same as stories about overcoming your inherent nature.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Again. Until the core books specifically outline what is defined as Good and what is Evil, D&D morality might as well be subjective.

You're trying to point to the in-universe cosmology as a justification for arguing objective morality, but as far as I can remember, D&D has never actually done so.

Since RAW doesn't bother to define what Good and Evil actually are, players are left in the dark. What is Good, what is Evil? D&D's lore has never answered that satisfactorily, no matter how insistently they claim to have done so.

At that point, the morality of the world ends up being up to player adjudication, so the idea of D&D morality being objective is a non-starter.
Yes and no. The morality will be what those running the game decide it is, sure. But that morality will become objective within the game. If the DM decides that all killing, even in self-defense is evil, then in the game it doesn't matter how good a race thinks killing is, it's going to be evil for them anyway.
 

FaerieGodfather

Aberrant Druid
I am very puzzled by this as well. The only thing Jeremy actually said is something everyone who's read a Salvatore book or played BG/BG2 already knows -- people can choose their own alignment irrespective of the race that is written on their character sheet. If a reminder that people have free will causes you to conclude everything in the game is subjective now, you may want to reassess some of your assumptions.
No, I've actually seen a lot of people do their solemn best to explain to me that Drow are only culturally Evil while the various humanoids are intrinsically Evil, and thus the former are free to choose their alignment while the latter are not. They're both still going to be killed on sight by any Good-aligned NPC in their games if I try to play one, though, because only Neutral and Evil people believe that morality is determined by a person's actions.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, the PCs get into the seven heavens because the PLAYERS viewed what they did was good, not D&D RAW. See the list of bad behavior I mentioned in that post you quoted but left off for some reason. A whole lot of bad behavior justified as good by the players for numerous reasons. Ergo, it’s subjective. Plenty of good aligned PCs are still murder hobos and drunken philanderers and those players still consider them good.

If alignment wasn’t subjective, we’d never have table arguments about the acceptable behavior of paladins going back to day 1.
Alignment is vague and subjective. However, once the DM determines an act to be evil, it is objectively evil in D&D regardless of how any race within the game views that act. Once he determines an act to be good, it will always be good regardless of how any race within the game views that act. By RAW, good and evil within the game are objective forces.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Don't restrict your search space to the world's religions. Philosophers have built all kinds of secular models of morality as well. That "natural law" verbiage that was getting batted around earlier is straight out of Thomas Hobbes, whose account of morality was deity-free to the point of being scandalous in its time. To him, morality is an optimal set of behaviors for a society to keep human beings alive and happy given that they exist in a world of physical laws where actions have predictable consequences. It's kind of like a D&D character build or a chess opening, an abstract logicky-mathy sort of thing that is discovered rather than invented by a god or other lawgiver. It's stored and conveyed however those things are.

And of course Hobbes is just one example. This is a very rich subject.
Did he ever explain how the Big Bang or whatever came up with these natural laws or why the universe(not God) would want to keep human society alive and happy?
 

Remathilis

Legend
I am very puzzled by this as well. The only thing Jeremy actually said is something everyone who's read a Salvatore book or played BG/BG2 already knows -- people can choose their own alignment irrespective of the race that is written on their character sheet. If a reminder that people have free will causes you to conclude everything in the game is subjective now, you may want to reassess some of your assumptions.
Yet that doesn't seem enough. Saying orcs can be any alignment but most are CE has been policy since 2000 or earlier, but enough criticism has come down the pipe for WotC to have to keep coming out on Twitter or with Press Releases that discuss they are going to do more.

Which leads to the question: How Much More? Is it enough to remove the alignment from stat blocks and Int penalty to orcs? What about removing alignment tendencies from all monsters? Disassociating ability bumps from race? Maybe remove all instances of the word "race"? New lore for humanoids removing good and evil alignment tendencies? Orcs in the PHB? All alignment gone? All orcs gone?

It's easy to point at problematic elements. It's easy to say "don't do that". It's harder to say what should be done instead. And I don't think you, I, anyone in this thread, or even WotC right now has the faintest clue what to do that will satisfy the critics.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Allrighty then. But Crawford didn't say "Lycanthropy is an exception." He only spoke about the werewolf creature specifically, but not the curse of lycanthropy itself. If we take the idea that 5e does not impose alignment mandates as gospel, then lycanthropy... doesn't... work like that? I am just trying to figure out what the rules are actually saying in the context of his statement.
It’s easy. Crawford said that while the rules state that a characters alignment changes when bitten by a werewolf, the DM is free to use or ignore that rule, and besides the werewolf can be of any alignment the DM wants. In other words, barring a houserule, you are the alignment of the werewolf that bit you, be that chaotic evil, lawful good, or somewhere in between.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Alignment is vague and subjective. However, once the DM determines an act to be evil, it is objectively evil in D&D regardless of how any race within the game views that act. Once he determines an act to be good, it will always be good regardless of how any race within the game views that act. By RAW, good and evil within the game are objective forces.
No, this isn’t true either. DMs change their mind all the time, and different contexts can mean different definitions of good and evil for the same act. It happens all the time. If the DM decides PC Bob didn’t do an evil act by breaking into NPC Jills house and stealing her family necklace because of plot, that doesn’t mean the DM has ruled that it’s never an evil act to break into someone’s house and steal their stuff.

I don’t know why you keep getting hung up on race and ignoring behavior like I’ve mentioned twice already that has nothing to do with race.

But even to humor you, if we are only talking about race, then just because the DM ruled it a non evil act to kill a goblin tribe, that doesn’t mean that the DM always rules it’s not evil. You’re completely ignoring context.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, this isn’t true either. DMs change their mind all the time, and different contexts can mean different definitions of good and evil for the same act. It happens all the time.
Yes it is true. Changing a rule does not mean that the rule wasn't objective before the change. Right now it is an objective rule that normal humans get +1 to each stat. If I change that rule to be +2 to each stat, the former rule doesn't suddenly become subjective, nor do all rules suddenly become subjective simply because rules can be changed by the DM.

If I as DM decide that all killing is evil, then all killing is objectively evil within the D&D world, because good and evil are objective forces within the game. If I later change my mind to make an exception for self-defense, then all that happens is that the objective morality for killing has been altered within the game. Killing does not somehow become subjective to each of the D&D races.

I don’t know why you keep getting hung up on race and ignoring behavior like I’ve mentioned twice already that has nothing to do with race.
Because we are talking about good and evil being objective WITHIN the D&D worlds, because that's what RAW says it is. Morality in the D&D universe is black and white based on what the DM rules it is.

But even to humor you, if we are only talking about race, then just because the DM ruled it a non evil act to kill a goblin tribe, that doesn’t mean that the DM always rules it’s not evil. You’re completely ignoring context.
Uh uh! You don't get to change my scenario and apply your changes to me like that. I explicitly chose the DM making ALL killing an evil act no matter what, for a reason.

Context may or may not change other scenarios, but once the DM makes a decision that an act is evil or good, that act under those circumstances is always evil or good, because morality is objective in the D&D multiverse.
 

GiacomoArt

Explorer
My own experiences with the alignment system have been universally bad. Players argue over their meaning. Players squabble over their application. Players point to them on a character sheet to excuse being jerks to their fellow players as "good role-play". Players slap the label "evil" on their character sheet and think that somehow makes them cool and edgy instead of petty and childish. As far as I'm concerned, alignments have always been useless, meaningless, and destructive. I'd as soon see them dumped entirely.
 

Did he ever explain how the Big Bang or whatever came up with these natural laws or why the universe(not God) would want to keep human society alive and happy?
He was writing in the 1600s and notwithstanding his critics he actually was Christian, so he believed God created the universe. But the how and why of all that are irrelevant to his theory -- that's what makes it so distinctive for its time. When you sit down to work on chess strategies, it doesn't matter who invented chess or what they intended. The rules are the rules, however they got there, and your task is to work within them to get not what the universe wants, but what you want.
 


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