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D&D 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.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
1) If they are "Objectively Lawful" and "Objectively Good" then they must agree.

Um... I don't think that's accurate.

For one thing, they are not omniscient. They could disagree in the area where one, the other, or both do not have full knowledge. You cold, n fact, interpret this to actually mean that objectivity requires omniscience.

For another, and perhaps more important, gods have spheres of influence and care. And "lawful", for example, contains both following of writen law, and following tradition. One objectively lawful creature that is focused on the law of the land, while another can be focused on tradition, and thus come to disagreement on some point that concerns both.
 

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Okay, I'll take a stab

Loyal: to whom? Loyalty to friends? Well, that's how people keep friends.
Methodical: They've decided that's the best way to achieve their goals, doesn't affect what those goals are
Careful: same as methodical. CN doesn't mean insane or reckless
Never rash or impulsive: so they like to think things through. CN is their outlook on life, this is behavior. CN does not mean mentally unstable.
Honest: do they have a reason to lie? Are they smart enough to realize they won't get away with it?

To me CN just means you don't see a static order or predefined guiding principles to the universe. You think concepts of order, law, justice, good and evil are concepts made up by narrow minded people. Alignment affects how you view the world and what your goals are not how you achieve those goals.


The part I underlined?

How many people go about their lives thinking deeply about whether the universe is a well-oiled machine or a bag of dice falling down the stairs? I mean if that is your definition, go for it, but that is about the most useless part of the definition I can think of.

Especially in a game where we know for a fact, most of it is determined by a random die roll. Playing a character who believes utterly in divine fate when the player knows that it is in fact all random feels like you are playing a joke character. (It's why I never have prophecies or visions of the future in my games, because I know I can't tell my players "You will fight the dragon king" if they might all die in the woods to a giant.


Um... I don't think that's accurate.

For one thing, they are not omniscient. They could disagree in the area where one, the other, or both do not have full knowledge. You cold, n fact, interpret this to actually mean that objectivity requires omniscience.

For another, and perhaps more important, gods have spheres of influence and care. And "lawful", for example, contains both following of writen law, and following tradition. One objectively lawful creature that is focused on the law of the land, while another can be focused on tradition, and thus come to disagreement on some point that concerns both.

Perhaps Objectivity does require omnisicience and therefor the gods do not know what the objective truth of alignment is. But in that case, like I said, then you might as well be playing with subjective alignment, because if even the gods can't tell you what the objective truth is, then it might as well not exist.


Which I think is where your "law of the land" vs "tradition" example can be used to highlight it.

In a subjective alignment world, this conflict makes sense. You can argue whether or not a new law is better than an old tradition. You could even get into a rather heated discussion about whether it is actually lawful or not.

But, in an objective alignment world, you cannot do this. It is an objective fact on whether that new law is lawful or not. IT is an objective fact whether that new law is good or not. Even if you have an LG and an LN, and they can tell the law is more good than it is lawful, there still can't be an argument about that. It is objectively true how good it is and how lawful it is, and both sides would acknowledge that, and while you could have a debate on whether good is more important than law, they cannot disagree about where that law falls in terms of alignment.

Because alignment is objectively true.



This is why I prefer subjective alignments. Because "Objective Fact" can only be argued when one side refuses to acknowledge the truth, and that is a boring story for me compared to arguing about what is the most true.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Which I think is where your "law of the land" vs "tradition" example can be used to highlight it.

In a subjective alignment world, this conflict makes sense. You can argue whether or not a new law is better than an old tradition. You could even get into a rather heated discussion about whether it is actually lawful or not.

But, in an objective alignment world, you cannot do this.

Yes you can. Because "lawful" is a pretty big tent.

I have a desk I am typing at. I also have a bookshelf next to me. They are both "objectively" members of the set "furnishings in my house", but they are not the same. A person who builds desks is objectively a furnishing-maker. But they still aren't an expert on bookshelves. They are objective, but limited in scope. If you ask an objective but limited being about things outside their scope, and the answers will not necessarily eman what a mortal thinks they do.

You may also be missing a major element - the fact that "objective" and "explainable to a mortal mind" are not equivalent. It is possible that, from a mortal point of view, two lawful gods seem to be in conflict or disagreement, when in fact the whole thing together is in in some ineffable way still objectively lawful.

Consider Chaos, andthe issue gets worse - two objectively chaotic beings are rather prone to disagree because that disagreement is itself an aspect of chaos!

There is also another element here - Objective does not mean complete. Take an entity that is objectivley lawful good. They are objectively lawful, and objectively good... but sometimes that which is good is not lawful, and vice versa. In order to be objectively LG, they may sometimes have to lean a bit to L or a bit to G to make it work out.
 
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You may also be missing a major element - the fact that "objective" and "explainable to a mortal mind" are not equivalent. It is possible that, from a mortal point of view, two lawful gods seem to be in conflict or disagreement, when in fact the whole thing together is in in some ineffable way still objectively lawful.
Things being 'ineffably objectively lawful' is in practical terms exactly the same situation than lawfulness being subjective.
 

Voadam

Legend
If we assume that "Good" and "Law" have objective truths. And then we assume that their are Dieties who are themselves aligned with "Good" and "Law". And then we assume that these dieties play an active role in the world (as shown in Faerun) then it follows naturally that they will lay down laws and practices which are objectively "Good" and "Lawful".

I think you need some qualifiers in there.

The default cosomolgy is not that gods are elementals of their alignment and bound by their alignments so they can only have aspects consistent with their alignment and cannot act contrary to their alignment. A Good god need not be omni-benevolent.

Generally Deities get assigned alignments just like mortals do, overall they are a specific alignment but their individual actions and individual values can be all over the alignment spectrum.

Apollo is the god of enlightenment and the arts and healing and is generally good overall, but he also shoots people with disease arrows and has been a jerk to a lot of nymphs and satyrs and mortals at points.

A Lawful Good god will probably lay down some law and practices that are Good and Lawful, but there is no guarantee that all such laws and practices handed down will be objectively Lawful and Good or that they will even lay down laws and practices.

Any laws and practices they hand down can be objectively evaluated as to their lawfulness and goodness, or their neutrality, or their chaoticness or their evilness.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Things being 'ineffably objectively lawful' is in practical terms exactly the same situation than lawfulness being subjective.

Most of the time, yes. There will be exceptions when it isn't - specifically when it is mechanically relevant, and the universe says things are one way, and the PC thinks it is another.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The part I underlined?

How many people go about their lives thinking deeply about whether the universe is a well-oiled machine or a bag of dice falling down the stairs? I mean if that is your definition, go for it, but that is about the most useless part of the definition I can think of.

Especially in a game where we know for a fact, most of it is determined by a random die roll. Playing a character who believes utterly in divine fate when the player knows that it is in fact all random feels like you are playing a joke character. (It's why I never have prophecies or visions of the future in my games, because I know I can't tell my players "You will fight the dragon king" if they might all die in the woods to a giant.

One prominent theory in psychology is that of schemas. In simplified terms is that we see the world as we expect to see it. We frame everything based on experience, preferences, biases. You can read about the basic theory here, it has nothing to do with introspection, people automatically put cognitive input into understandable categories, frameworks and schemas. It's how we know the difference between a cat and a dog.

Some people see a clockwork universe with a logical order and mathematical precision. If they are killed by a giant, it was meant to be. It was their time. Others see any order that we assign to the universe as being arbitrary. There is no "reason" someone is killed by the giant it just happens because of luck. In other words, law versus chaos.
 

dmgorgon

Explorer
Thing is, if one removes alignment, which has already been significantly neutered in 5e, then paladins still are obligated to follow their class oaths. Plus, most of D&D, particularly in the de facto default setting of Forgotten Realms, caters towards heroic play. So I do not think that characters of principle would disappear if alignment did. Much as my point much earlier, heroic play is the norm in a number of non-D&D fantasy games that lack alignment, and those games get along swimmingly.

Gygax didn't see things that way. He noticed that players would quickly forget that they were heros and do things no hero would ever do. I see it in my own games from time to time even with alignment. Thankfully, we have alignment in my game to remind players that they are role playing and not just doing whatever the players want and then attempting to justifying in character later on. There is at least an upfront analysis taking place. The players are quickly double checking that the action falls within their LG alignment, which is no different than following an oath.

If you can follow an paladin's oath then I don't see why you can't follow the simple abstraction that is alignment. It's probably even simpler to follow an alignment.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Gygax didn't see things that way. He noticed that players would quickly forget that they were heros and do things no hero would ever do. I see it in my own games from time to time even with alignment. Thankfully, we have alignment in my game to remind players that they are role playing and not just doing whatever the players want and then attempting to justifying in character later on. There is at least an upfront analysis taking place. The players are quickly double checking that the action falls within their LG alignment, which is no different than following an oath.

If you can follow an paladin's oath then I don't see why you can't follow the simple abstraction that is alignment. It's probably even simpler to follow an alignment.

What is good? What is evil?

Is murdering 1 person to save 1,000,000 lives good or evil?
 

Gygax didn't see things that way. He noticed that players would quickly forget that they were heros and do things no hero would ever do. I see it in my own games from time to time even with alignment. Thankfully, we have alignment in my game to remind players that they are role playing and not just doing whatever the players want and then attempting to justifying in character later on. There is at least an upfront analysis taking place. The players are quickly double checking that the action falls within their LG alignment, which is no different than following an oath.
Sorry, but this sounds like training-wheels level roleplaying. If I ever had to rely on alignment for people to properly roleplay the situation would be dire indeed! Beside, if I wanted to do 'just whatever I wanted' I could still easily write 'Chaotic Neutral' or 'Chaotic Evil' on my sheet. It's not like anyone ever complains about chaotic characters acting in too orderly manner or neutral or evil characters acting too decently.

If you can follow an paladin's oath then I don't see why you can't follow the simple abstraction that is alignment. It's probably even simpler to follow an alignment.
Paaldin's Oath is a specific thing is easily observable to the character's in the setting (they can know what the oaths and traditions of various Paladin orders are) and it is evocative of similar thing in the real life.
 

dmgorgon

Explorer
This may be our "What setting we came in ons" talking, but as someone who came in via the 3E route.... No. Alignment was a straightjacket. All assassins gotta be evil, so, y'know, Agent 47 couldn't work in that universe. All paladins gotta be Lawful Good and hoo boy the history of bad DM decisions to screw over the paladin. And then there's Dragonlance which I actually hate its interpretation of the alignment shift and could argue for weeks about, what with a big unabashed downright evil character in that setting being called "Good" by word of authors

It has an idea of value deep in there somewhere, sure. But every single time its been mechanically enforced its been a mess, and especially when attempting to ascribe it to a group of people

That's funny because the 2e book I quoted explicitly stated that alignment was not a straitjacket. So if that's the way it was being played at your table then it was being played incorrectly. At least you admit that that.

On the other hand, I really don't understand why the alignments are so difficult to understand.

Take Lawful Neutral

Lawful Neutral: Order and organization are of paramount importance to characters of this alignment. They believe in a strong, well-ordered government, whether that government is a tyranny or benevolent democracy. The benefits of organization and regimentation outweigh any moral questions raised by their actions. An inquisitor determined to ferret out traitors at any cost or a soldier who never questions his orders are good examples of lawful neutral behavior.

now, what is the dumb guy version?

Me no break law. Morality less important than law. Me think government is right. Me no question orders


Is that really so hard?

Now does this create conflict? Of course it does! that's the entire point. Characters should be conflicted at times, just like real people are.


Now do I think that Paladins should be LG only and Assassins should be evil. Absolutely.

Do I think that an entire group of people / faction/ society/ religion can have be prescribed an alignment? Yes, that works very well IMO. It's a great guide that really helps the DM.
 

dmgorgon

Explorer
What is good? What is evil?

Is murdering 1 person to save 1,000,000 lives good or evil?

That's a great internal conflict that just begs to be roleplayed.

There are two actions here though. Murdering one (assume innocent) person is an evil act. Saving the 1,000,000 lives is a good thing.

In this case, the LG paladin may be willing to lose his paladin hood over it. I'd have to consult the 2e paladins handbook for this. To see exactly what would happen.
 

dmgorgon

Explorer
Sorry, but this sounds like training-wheels level roleplaying. If I ever had to rely on alignment for people to properly roleplay the situation would be dire indeed! Beside, if I wanted to do 'just whatever I wanted' I could still easily write 'Chaotic Neutral' or 'Chaotic Evil' on my sheet. It's not like anyone ever complains about chaotic characters acting in too orderly manner or neutral or evil characters acting too decently.

Paaldin's Oath is a specific thing is easily observable to the character's in the setting (they can know what the oaths and traditions of various Paladin orders are) and it is evocative of similar thing in the real life.

Yeah and that would be fine to be CN or CE, but the point of choosing a different alignment is to challenge yourself. If you do just whatever you want in game, the DM may tell you that your alignment changed to that based on your actions.

The point is that you can play as you see fit, but as the DM I will tell you want your alignment currently IS. you have no say in that.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
That's a great internal conflict that just begs to be roleplayed.

There are two actions here though. Murdering one (assume innocent) person is an evil act. Saving the 1,000,000 lives is a good thing.

In this case, the LG paladin may be willing to lose his paladin hood over it. I'd have to consult the 2e paladins handbook for this. To see exactly what would happen.

Would not saving 1,000,000 loves be evil?
 

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
My personal take is that all the "Lawful" gods and extraplanar entities are still in the process of hammering out what exactly the ideal form of "Law" is. Ironically, this results in Chaos.

Chaos is basically a tree of infinite possibilities and the followers of Law want to prune it and remove possibilities. However, they don't all agree what needs to be pruned and what needs to be kept. The ultimate goal is that eventually a single, coherent standard of what Law is will be accepted by all beings.

The modrons believe that Primus would be the ultimate arbiter of Law, unhindered by Good and Evil (well, those modrons high enough in the caste system to be capable of thought and belief). A reality in which they have constructed the final, true incarnation of Law would probably be indistinguishable from their home plane of Mechanus. It would be a reality where there are no other possibilities than the ones pre-ordained by Primus. Stability, coherence, conformity, and most of all predictability would be the Law, with the former concepts of "free will" and "chance" having been purged.

Not even the Hells is that restrictive. The devils want the multiverse under their Law to be dystopian and ambition driven, not a clockwork machine that runs for its own sake with no one capable of contemplating it.

4e_modrons_-_Craig_J._Spearing.jpg


The Chaotic Neutral slaadi are fun goofballs in comparison to these things.
 

Yeah and that would be fine to be CN or CE, but the point of choosing a different alignment is to challenge yourself. If you do just whatever you want in game, the DM may tell you that your alignment changed to that based on your actions.

The point is that you can play as you see fit, but as the DM I will tell you want your alignment currently IS. you have no say in that.
What does it matter? Why would I care? Earlier you tried to claim that you can use alignment to 'force' people play in certain way. You can't and even if you could you shouldn't.
 


dmgorgon

Explorer
What does it matter? Why would I care? Earlier you tried to claim that you can use alignment to 'force' people play in certain way. You can't and even if you could you shouldn't.
I don't remember doing that at all. Alignment is not there to force you to do anything. If you don't want to play a LG character then don't pick it. Why lie to yourself?
 

Aldarc

Legend
Gygax didn't see things that way. He noticed that players would quickly forget that they were heros and do things no hero would ever do. I see it in my own games from time to time even with alignment. Thankfully, we have alignment in my game to remind players that they are role playing and not just doing whatever the players want and then attempting to justifying in character later on. There is at least an upfront analysis taking place. The players are quickly double checking that the action falls within their LG alignment, which is no different than following an oath.
The game has changed since Gygax exited the scene. I don't recall the premise of the game being about playing characters of principle, especially when one considers that his game about adventurers robbing tombs was heavily influenced by the works of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock. The idea that these characters are heroes has been part of a gradual game in the cultural core assumptions of the game. In my games, I have noticed that my players don't need alignment to roleplay their characters well. However, if your players need roleplaying training-wheels, then that's fine.

If you can follow an paladin's oath then I don't see why you can't follow the simple abstraction that is alignment. It's probably even simpler to follow an alignment.
If you can follow a paladin's oath, then why do you need alignment? It seems like an oath is more concrete than alignment.

The point is that you can play as you see fit, but as the DM I will tell you want your alignment currently IS. you have no say in that.
I'm not a fan of any "GM as the Great Dictator" styles of GMing practices.
 

dmgorgon

Explorer
The game has changed since Gygax exited the scene. I don't recall the premise of the game being about playing characters of principle, especially when one considers that his game about adventurers robbing tombs was heavily influenced by the works of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock. The idea that these characters are heroes has been part of a gradual game in the cultural core assumptions of the game. In my games, I have noticed that my players don't need alignment to roleplay their characters well. However, if your players need roleplaying training-wheels, then that's fine.

Considering entire handbooks have been written on the subject I disagree that the game isn't about playing characters of principle.

If you can follow a paladin's oath, then why do you need alignment? It seems like an oath is more concrete than alignment.

I'm not a fan of any "GM as the Great Dictator" styles of GMing practices.

The answer is simple, alignment is a more broad and useful abstraction. As the DM, I don't have the time to write an oath for all my npcs or write a detailed psychoanalysis. . With alignment I can convey a wide range of principles to anyone wanting to pick up a module without having to write long lists of oaths and principles for each of my npcs, races, groups etc.
 

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